Thursday, May 5, 2011

Morocco - What a surprise!

As the Royal Air Maroc jet liner arrives in Casablanca at dawn in the mist, I of course lean over to Mary Ann and ask her if she thinks Humphrey Bogart will be on the dark tarmac waiting to greet us.  I have never been able to think about Casablanca without my mind clicking on the classic movie of the same name.  Well, we didn't see Humphrey or Ingrid but we did have to walk onto the tarmac as there were no jetways, as sometimes happens in third world countries.

 Morocco comes onto the travel radar because I have always had a wish to visit, so Mary Ann got the trip as a birthday present.  It was surely never  on her radar!  We don't usually travel using an escorted tour, but this was an experiment using Gate1Travel, which is an economy tour company, advertised heavily in Budget Travel magazine (  Besides, I wasn't quite ready to drive in an African country where all the signs were in Arabic or French.  We climb on the tour bus knowing no one, but are ready for the experience.  We had not been on a tour since nearly a decade ago, when we were on church sponsored trips to Israel, Turkey and Italy, where we knew everyone.  And then comes the first surprise.  Morocco is green for goodness sake!  Preconceptions can be dangerous and I thought we were going to be in a lot of desert.  Au contraire!  It is explained by our guide that Morocco has built many dams in the middle Atlas mountains creating both electricity and reservoirs.  This allowed for irrigated farming for most of the country north of Marrakech, thus all the green, orchards, vineyards, ranching and small farms. 

Our first city was Rabat, the nation's capital.  Another great surprise.  It was historically built by the French and is full of wide boulevards, beautiful white government buildings and the old medina surrounded by a still standing brick wall and original city gates.  After settling in our hotel we start walking and exploring and come upon the souk (market).  What a great way to start learning of the culture of Morocco.  The next day on a city tour of Rabat we visit King Mohammad VI's palace, I fully expecting him to come out and greet our group, but he must have been tied up with kingly business.  The city is spending a lot of money developing their waterfront with parks, condos, shopping and related improvements.  It will be fun to visit again in a few years.  All of these changes are overlooking the medina and the Kasbah (the fort overlooking the Atlantic and the river).

 Joining a group of 40 odd other travelers presents a great opportunity to meet and enjoy new friends.  We had a great time with court employees from Bermuda, an independent professional photographer and his wife who is a transportation consultant from Boston, the photo editor of Forbes magazine, a lady contractor from New Jersey, an assistant U.S. attorney from Chicago, a doctor from Atlanta and many more.  What was interesting was that the group was relatively young, well traveled, and not a lot of senior travelers.  Our guide Ibrahim was a real gem, and a very proud citizen of Morocco and all it has to offer.  He was very descriptive of all that the King has done for the country since ascending the throne in 1999.  Since the trip in February 2011, it has been interesting to watch the events in the North Africa countries, including the very peaceful demonstrations in Morocco.  We had several people on our tour that had been diverted from a trip to Tunisia because of the revolution there.

 Departing Rabat, we discovered that Morocco has excellent four lane divided toll-ways over the entire length of the country.  We travelled though the ancient (and University town) of Meknes and onto the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis before our final stop in Fes.  The old city of Fes is one of those unique places in the world that you can never forget, kind of like going to the Cappadocia region of Turkey.  When you enter into the narrow corridors of the souks of the Medina the tour group is aided with a couple of more minders to make sure no one gets separated.  If you get separated you could very likely still be there!  All of the walkways through the Medina are so narrow that the only way to get supplies and merchandise in and out is by burro train.  When the burros come rushing through you hear the call of "belak, belak" meaning (I think) attention or move over, as the burros have the right of way.  You better spread yourself against the wall as you sure don't want one of the burros brushing you, otherwise you will spend hours in getting the smell off of you.  All of the three sections of Fes are interesting in their own way, with the city surrounded by mountains.

Leaving Fes we spent a full day traveling the eastern valleys and mountain areas of the Middle Atlas range on our southerly way to Marrakech.  In this high country you appreciate the cattle and sheep ranches and the strong agricultural nature of Morocco.  Fifty per cent of all the Moroccan citizens work in agriculture and to encourage this the country imposes no taxes on farm workers.  As we neared Marrakech the terrain started to flatten out and become more arid but with the views south to the High Atlas.  Marrakesh is a flat city with the old Medina surrounded by very upscale neighborhoods of apartments, condos, and commercial areas.  Marrakech has been discovered by Europeans who have cheap flights and have bought second homes and enjoy the skiing in the High Atlas.  South of the city and towards the ocean you get into the desert areas and beach resort cities of the country.  Exploring the city, both by tour and independently was great fun.  The souks (craft and native shopping areas) in the old Medina inside the walls and gates was a shopper's paradise, especially for a craft nut like Mary Ann.  We even ventured in and out of the souks on our own, but often I felt like I should leave a crumb trail!  The central square where the famous night market is held is a "happening" place day or night. 

 The conclusion of our journey was a drive back to Casablanca which we toured to visit what must be the world's largest mosque and the hustle and bustle of a large commercial city.  We even went by Rick's Place but again we missed Humphrey and Ingrid.  Bummer!  For photos of Morocco go to Mary Ann's web album:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Author's Note

Recently, I had a couple of travel friends comment that I had not been writing on nor updating my blog. They were certainly correct as I had not added anything, nor written anything on the blog since 2009. When I went back into the blog, it took me some time to even remember how to write on and navigate the blog.

It has been my intention for some time to put all of my travel articles on to the blog, so anyone could have access to them, and print them off as needed if traveling to somewhere I have written about. Other than on my computer, they have been scattered if published. Some were published by the American Bar Association Judicial Division, some by the ABA Senior Lawyers Division, some by The Good Life magazine, and nearly all by the Chelan County (Washington) Employee newsletter.

So I have posted all 55 (as of this writing) articles on the blog, all appearing now under the 2011 date on the right side. As I write new articles (two are in the thought process) I will add them to the blog at the same time that I distribute them to all my travel friends.

If you are interested in my in depth daily blogs from our past long visits to various countries, just click on the past years:
                Panama - 2009
                New Zealand - 2008
                San Miguel de Allende & Mexico - 2007

All of my "Time Off The Bench" and "A Lot of Time Off The Bench" articles have been copyrighted at one time or the other. Please feel free to print any of them for personal use. If anyone would like to publish an article, please contact me for permission which I can assure you will be freely given. Enjoy your travels. Judge Tom Warren


San Miguel Redux

      Tom reading Attencion in the casita living room

Sometimes I actually do something right! Mary Ann was groaning (maybe even approaching whining) this past fall about not having any trips planned during what was shaping up as a very cold Chelan winter. Having no trips planned around here is pretty much of a crisis. We have not been planning the long trips in the winter lately because of my having got overextended with community volunteering as Rotary President, city planning commission, and joining the hospital commission. Alas, I needed to find a solution.

On to the internet for a long look at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We had spent 10 weeks in SMA in 2007 right after retirement and just fell in love with this high altitude central Mexico city brimming with art, culture, warmth, and great cuisine. I had looked last year, trying to find a casa, but because of the amazing popularity of San Miguel in the winter I was unable to find a casa to rent. This year I lucked out, even though I did not start until mid-November . Fortunately, a property came on to VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) following a remodeling. I was able to rent it and keep it a secret for Mary Ann's Christmas present. You can check it out at which includes my review published at the bottom.

The rental and trip was for two weeks in January, and it was a great renewal of our past love for San Miguel. As usual we lucked into interesting native festivals, continuing research in 15 wonderful restaurants, a lovely casita in the heart of the historic centro, a great parade celebrating the 242nd birthday of Ignacio Allende, and making the world's greatest shopper very happy. Needless to say, we had to ship home two boxes of handicraft purchases and a wonderful new painting which is showing off above our fireplace.

Travel often makes for some interesting contacts and this trip was no exception. I have developed a fun email connection with the owner of our casita. Cheryl Finnegan is an international acclaimed jewelry designer from San Miguel. We have discussed by email, books about San Miguel and Mexico, art including that of her husband, writing, and renovation of wonderful properties in San Miguel. Mary Ann and I visited her studio, which was around the corner from our casita, and ate in a restaurant (Café Rama) that she is a partner of. Interestingly, she was a featured local personality in a December article in Smithsonian Magazine. You can check her out, and what Smithsonian thinks of San Miguel de Allende at:

Well, needless to say, we are hooked. We thought, wouldn't it really be neat to share this wonderful place with all of our family, so rather than wait until November, I went to work and found what looks like a wonderful three bedroom casa for a month over Christmas and New Years. Now I am a hero with Mary Ann - and all the kids! Check it out at:

Which one was best: the phone booth or the McDonald's Bathroom?

              Making friends in a TGV train vestibule!

Sometimes the highlights of a foreign country can remain just a little bit elusive as the headline above will reveal. In a few of my prior travel articles I have advocated that if a few things don't go wrong it must have been a pretty boring trip. It is the mistakes and problems that really create discussion when safely back in the comfort of your living room. In this age of internet travel scheduling I have always prided myself on meticulous planning and scheduling, and many of our travel companions have likewise appreciated these efforts. We have laughingly referred to this as Tom's No Fees-No Commission Travel Agency. After our last grand trip it is now referred to as the No Fees-No Commission-No Sleep-No Seats Travel Agency. Read on for the exciting details!

Our recent trip to Europe was a wonderful three week experience, but was a bit complicated with different travel segments involving planes, ferries, trains, metros, boats, cars and ultimately just a few little (in my opinion) glitches. On various parts of the trip our companions included Les and Carol Cooper of Chelan and Tom and Mall Boyd of Leavenworth. Each had an opportunity to experience a "glitch" or two.

So Les and Carol arrive in London ahead of us and check into the hotel I have arranged. Can I account for the fact that they were put in the basement with a view of a concrete wall and a shower made for midgets? When we arrived we of course had a beautiful room on the second floor with real windows, a view and perfectly acceptable shower. I just do not know how this happens! Now I am aware that the Cooper's do have some bad luck with room assignments. The classic was when we went on an African Safari together. This was their plan and had bought us the same deal at a charity auction. How could I account for management assigning us the lodge suite with surround windows viewing the savannah, walk-in closets, hot tub, animals walking outside our windows, while they received a room about the size of our closet. Go figure!

I think Les really has a perspective problem. As he travels around the world for his employer he of course only travels business or first class and stays in the five star famous hotels. He just does not get out and mingle with the people enough, or find out how the rest of world, and frugal world travelers, really live. On this trip it just was not my fault that I planned ahead, way ahead, for Mary Ann and I, and we were able to make our first visit to Europe with all of our flights being first class or business class. When you use frequent flyer miles you really do have to work at it months ahead. Is it my fault that Les seems to procrastinate! By the time they booked their tickets, unfortunately Les could not find any upgrades even though he has a jillion frequent flyer miles and is a preferred super duper mvp whatever on numerous airlines. So they have to fly in steerage. It is just not my fault!

On occasion I do arrange some really early bookings! The difference on a European train leaving at 5:30 a.m. and one leaving at 8:00 a.m. can be as much as $100 a ticket or more. I am just looking out for their ultimate retirement and I am sure Carol appreciates this, even thought Les might be just a bit spoiled. I am not cheap, just frugal. So maybe we did have a little problem with the ticket machines in the train stations. My travel planning does not have guarantees. You pay for what you get. Travel crises are what makes a trip memorable. Who can account for different machines for different types of trains. Wow, only the French could think up that one. So we miss a train or two. This just gives us a chance to help the French trainmaster and his assistant speak English. How did I know many trains were going to be cancelled because of this little wildcat strike problem over the French pension issue. Besides, quit whining, we did get on the TGV train, albeit in the vestibule between cars, and we did sit down…on our luggage. And really, it was only a three hour train trip and it gave us a chance to meet a lot of very nice French citizens, shoulder to shoulder, who found themselves in the same predicament.

After another wonderful self drive yacht cruise on the canals in France, this time in the Aquitaine region of Southwest France, we were off on a road trip to the Pyrenees' and Northern Spain with Tom and Mall. I do have a little (?) quirk about adding countries to my world travel list, so this journey was going to add at least the small remote mountain country of Andorra to the list. Following a beautiful mountain drive from Luchon, France to enter Andorra, we came upon an immigration and customs center. Mary Ann says to me, do you have the passports? Huh? This trip I was in charge of those little gems, ostensibly in my handy dandy neck pack. I said no, I thought you had them. Tom Boyd, with his laid back travel attitude, without a hesitation pulls the car to road edge. Mary Ann goes to the trunk and looks through all the luggage. Nothing. There was no actual check at the Andorra border, so as we enter the first town we pull over at the next phone booth we find. We of course can't make the phone work when trying to call our previous hotel in Luchon, but with the help of some great office people nearby, we connect. Cheers break out all around when the delightful owner says has found a lot of things left by his guests, but this was the first time he has found passports, which had slid down the edge of an extra bed. Thus my experience in Andorra was the use of a phone booth, then using the bathroom at the McDonald's across the street. This country experience obviously beat just buying gas in Luxembourg. I now believe our passports hate each other. You might remember when Mary Ann was carrying them in Johannesburg and had her purse stolen. We are now each carrying our own passports!

Have You Read Any Good Travel Books Lately? 3rd Edition!

I confess, I am addicted to travel literature, as well as traveling every chance possible. It is time to again share with you some of the books I have recently completed and which I think you might enjoy. As you review my selections, think back on some of the travel literature that you may have enjoyed, then send me an email suggesting what I might read next!

Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck with Erol Munuz (Broadway Books 2007)

Five Stars by both Barnes and Noble, and Amazon  This is not just a travel book about the French and Italian Mediterranean coast, but also a book that will appeal to those who love cook books, and like to sail. David Shalleck was a San Francisco and New York Chef, who decided he needed European cooking experience. After four years of interning in Italian restaurants he signed on for the summer season as Chef of a classic sailing yacht owned by one of Italy’s most prominent couples. He then spent five months cooking out of a small galley for the rich and famous while sailing in and out of the great Mediterranean ports of France, Italy, Sardinia and Corsica. The book contains all of his delightful Italian food recipes and the great experiences of the summer. I heartily recommend the book as did Amazon and Barnes & Nobel, who both gave the book five stars.

the media relations department of hisbollah wishes you a happy birthday by Neil MacFarquhar (Public Affairs 2009, paperback edition 2010)  A Washington Post and Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year

I have to admit that my understanding of the problems of the middle east and the impact of Islam have been lacking. We have traveled to Israel and Egypt but, alas we were pursuing Christian education rather than paying a lot of attention to the developing politics of the region. Neil Macfarquhar was raised in Libya and after a Stanford education became a mid-east correspondent for the Associated Press. He then became the bureau chief for the New York Times in Cairo. Neil brings an interesting perspective to the stress and trauma from Morocco to Iraq and everything in between. He speaks fluent Arabic and his long tenure covering the wars, dictators, fatwa’s, and growth of extreme religious governments has given a unique look at the current situation in the Arab and Persian countries. He gives many stories of his contacts with dissidents and their struggle for human rights. Neil pulls no punches with criticism of the U.S. government in their foreign policy and dealings with these countries. For a real eye opening travel/history/politics book about the middle east this is a great place to start.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Penguin Books 2007)  #1 New York Times Bestseller

I know, I know, I probably was one of the last readers of this book in America. I had seen it on the bookstore shelves for years and for some reason could just not get interested in it. When I did buy it, my reading of it was pretty slow, as the first few chapters really seamed to bog down. Eventually, though when you get into Greg Mortenson’s efforts to create schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and battle the Taliban to educate girls where no education had ever happened before, it literally brought tears to my eyes. As a result of his work he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. His foundation to help build and fund additional schools has become one of our new charities. He has become quite a world famous humanitarian. I now have his new book “Stones into Schools” and will be embarking on it soon. Greg is speaking to the Rotary International convention in Montreal this summer and we plan to not miss his presentation.

I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a small village in Brittany by Mark Greenside (Free Press 2008)

For those of you who have previously read my travel book recommendations, you know I really do have a soft spot for stories of expatriates living in France. I swear, they just jump out at me off the book store shelves (and Half Price Books). Maybe I am looking for successes of foreigners who can conquer the difficulties of traveling and living in France. This book is a really funny story of one problem after another of a guy who buys a house in Brittany having never lived in France, did not speak French, and ultimately ends up being continually rescued by his neighbors. Naturally, he ends up falling in love with his rural town and the people in it. There are so many incidents in the book that you will recognize if you have ever traveled in France, that it is really fun to read. Presently I have loaned the book to one of the couples that have traveled with us to France, so they can also chuckle through it. So, you will have to buy your own copy!

Cruise Characters

Cruising is an interesting way to travel. It has become a real cult for some people and they book their cruises nearly as an exclusive way to get away from home. It is a very comfortable and safe way to be pampered, with just a bit of exploration. A cruise takes all the hassle out of travel and if you have cruised before you know what to expect. We have had four cruises now, and I have to say that I have observed some very predictable characters that you will find on just about any cruise ship. No one falls into just one category, but see if you recognize yourself in any of the following:

The Shopper: The cruise lines tempt you with their shops and sales. The world’s greatest shopper seems to always buy a new watch on every cruise. Each day of the cruise there will be a special sale of some class of items you cannot live without. These include perfumes, gems, cruise line logo wear, watches and the list goes on. The objective is to have you spend all your shipboard credits (used to entice you on to the cruise) and then get you into spending new money. As wonder woman can attest you can go through a lot of those credits by using the spa. A massage, manicure, pedicure, and leg treatment (whatever that is) can make a big dent. The bigger the ship the more shops and opportunities to satisfy that buying urge. Everyone has a bit of shopper in them!

The Sun Worshiper: As you walk on to the pool and hot tub decks you immediately see signs everywhere that say not to save the deck chairs and lounges. Ha! If you arrive after 8 a.m. the place is covered with books, towels, hats, and related paraphernalia, but very few people. Obviously, this is a very tough issue for the cruise staff. They don’t want people to be left out of the sun worshiping, but they also do not want to irritate their guests by being deck police. Oh heck, I get bored lying in the sun anyway.

The Professional: In the back of my mind I knew that some people were really addicted to cruises, but I had no idea to what extent. On our recent cruise to the Caribbean, we were by ourselves, so at every meal we asked to share a table. Thus we talked to a lot of people and found out how really serious some people were about this travel “genre”. Over half the people on our ship had traveled on this cruise line before. We talked with many people who were on their 20th, 30th, or even a higher number of cruises. Our cruise line, Oceania, has only been in existence since 2002, and there was a lady on board who was on her 18th cruise with Oceania. Figure out how many cruises a year she must take!

The Impaired: You always hear a lot of comment about how cruising is for those really “old” people! On our previous cruises I really did not feel the guests were really old, just maybe middle aged. Needless to say we are not traveling on the “young family” cruise lines like Walt Disney or Carnival. However, on our recent cruise there were some really, really old people there. I am going to attribute this to their always escaping from the cold of the northeast to the warmth of the Caribbean and just haven’t bought a condo or mobile home in the Florida tornado alley! And how did I know there were so many old people? It is a tip-off when you see a whole lot of people on a ship with walkers, canes, wheel-chairs, and motorized scooters. Thank goodness there is a doctor and nurse on the ship because there were always people falling down on our shore excursions.

The Players: On a cruise, especially on “at sea” days, there are so many things you can find to do. My idea is to sit down and read a book or take a nap. Others however, are constantly going from one playing activity to another all day long. The options seem endless. You can partake in golf putting, shuffleboard, ping pong, team trivia, wine sampling, martini sampling, dancing lessons (preferably before you sample wine and martinis), mahjong, bridge lessons, political and history lectures, computer lessons, and for total addiction just sit down all day in the casino.

The Affinities: A good part of the ship population can be taken up with the affinities. These are groups who have booked together and have something in common. They tend to stick pretty much together and have special events such as before dinner cocktail parties that we weren’t invited to. On our most recent cruise these groups included the Texas A&M alumni, the Victoria, British Columbia, ballroom dance club, and a group of 50+ who always book together from Sun Tours in Albuquerque. You sure couldn’t miss the “Aggies” as they were always wearing lanyards with ID cards and had signs on their stateroom doors that said “Aggie on Board”. They are obviously not traveling incognito.

The Drinker: Speaking of wine, martinis, and cocktail parties, there are just an incredible number of ways on a cruise to hit the booze. If you sit down in any public area expect to talk with a cocktail waitress. You can drink in any of the four restaurants, pool deck, casino, cocktail lounges, entertainment lounge, your room service, and in the disco club. My, you do have to pace yourself, but keep in mind you have to use up all those shipboard credits!

The Staff: One of the really fun things about a cruise, particularly on a smaller cruise ship, is meeting and talking with the staff. On Oceania every staff member wears a name tag which includes their country of origin. They are more than willing to talk about themselves, their work experiences, and the pride they have in their cruise line. The staff was very international and really there are very few Americans. However, they all speak excellent English and had received excellent training.

The Eaters: You cannot discuss a cruise without visualizing all the characters that are eating - seemingly all the time! It must be a contest between cruise lines as to who has the best and the most eating experiences. To start with, you have 24 hour room service and so you might never leave your room while eating all the time. It was surely more fun to eat breakfast in the grand dining room enjoying white tablecloth breakfasts and choices from smoked salmon to breakfast steaks. Being still hungry you could go to the cooking class taught by the Executive Chef and sample all the food demos. Then move on to lunch and you could go formal or casual. You could eat gourmet sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, or full multi-course lunches, or an 80 foot buffet. In the mid-afternoon why not enjoy the ice cream and milk shake bar! Certainly you can’t make it all the way to dinner so take in the 4 p.m. tea, with all the little sandwiches, and elegant desserts. You could then roll right out of the tea into happy hour so you can wash down all the food and satisfy your appetite with peanuts and pretzels! Finally you could fill yourself up with a five course (at least 2 ½ hour) dinner. The choices were endless with the formal grand dining room, the steak specialty restaurant, the Italian restaurant, or the Tapas buffet. And please don’t forget the wine and drinks at dinner so you can work on those credits! And to complete the day, don’t forget to enjoy the mint left on your pillow, next to the Tums you placed on the nightstand.

Check out the Caribbean Photos:  

Our Favorite Barcelona Experiences!

                    Mercat de La Boqueria

In my last travel article you discovered why you should make Barcelona, Spain, one of the first destinations of any visit to Europe. Now I want to share with you what you should plan to see in this cosmopolitan city. Of course travel is more than just seeing “things”. As you know from many of my prior articles (I have now written 51 of them, not counting my travel blog) Mary Ann and I often have some very often unplanned travel luck experiences. Whether it is seeing the President of Ecuador, escaping a stampede of animals in Mexico, or sheep shearing competitions in New Zealand, we often seem to have some of these “over the top” events. In Barcelona it was arriving, unbeknownst to us, during the biggest festival of the year. It is called the Festes de la Merce, and is a week long very riotous festival honoring the patron saint of Barcelona. For us this festival resulted in thinking no one worked, and they all were spending all of their time with the paseo (the stroll), as there were literally thousands of people on the streets. We enjoyed this fun with seeing street parades such as the parade of the giants and many of the squares filled with human pyramids, and the Plaza blasting out live music and dancing. Our last two days were after the end of the festival, so we did get a perspective of what normal life was like.

Now on to sharing our favorite “things”:

La Rambla: The strolling boulevard is one of a kind. You experience music buskers; local artists; flower and bird stalls, book stalls; human painted statues; open air restaurants, and at each cross street you can enter the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) on the narrow alleys and streets into the original city of Barcelona. At the end of the street you are at the Port Olympic and Rambla de Mar. The waterfront has been completely modernized and has shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, trams to Montjuic (the Olympic site), trade centers, and a great pedestrian bridge to the boat harbor.

Mercat de La Boqueria: This has to be one of the best food and flower markets in all of Europe. It is about midway down La Rambla and off to one side. It is a huge covered collection of hundreds of fruit, meat, poultry, and every other kind of stand you would need to satisfy your fresh food shopping. It is very photo friendly and there are a lot of little stands to buy fresh food snacks.

Antoni Gaudi: You can hardly go anywhere in Barcelona without experiencing the influence of Gaudi, a modernist late 19th century architect who designed some really crazy stuff. You can see his buildings on the Passeig de Gracia (the shopping boulevard), along La Rambla, the Park Guell (don’t miss this), and the Sagrada Familia church. Even apart from the specific Gaudi buildings and designs, he influenced much of the Barcelona architecture. A building not to be missed is the icon of Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia Church. It is #1 of the tourist stops. It was only partially finished by Gaudi’s death in 1926 and is not expected to be complete until 2030. Good luck!

Barri Gotic and La Riberia: These two neighborhoods are the historic central district of the city. You can spend days wandering the narrow lanes and it is mostly vehicle free other than an occasional motorbike trying to skewer you. These areas contain not only some interesting tourist sites, but also many quaint craft shops. The world’s greatest shopper spent many hours here, while I leaned against walls in the lanes enjoying the people watching. In these neighborhoods you also will find the exceptional Picasso Museum which concentrates on his early works, and the huge Barcelona Cathedral which currently is getting a needed cleaning and is covered with scaffold.

Parc de la Ciutadella: This was an amazing first find for us. A former fortress (Ciutadella) converted into a huge public park near La Riberia and not far from the waterfront. This is where the zoo and the Catalan Parliament are located. I am sure there is no connection there! It is pleasant quiet park with some outstanding fountains and lakes. A good retreat from the busy city.

Montjuic: This is one of several mountains overlooking the sprawling city. It is the location of several major tourist venues which will require more exploration by us when we return again. Located on the mountain are the Olympic stadium and other Olympic venues, the Catalunya National Art Museum, the Joan Miro Museum, the Spanish village and much, much more. You always need to leave some things unexplored giving a great reason for a return visit.

For a complete look at the selected photos of the trip to:

                              Gaudi Buildings everywhere

(Published in the Winter 2011 issue of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division The Voice of Experience Newsletter)

Could Barcelona be just about the best city in Europe to visit?

                 A beautiful visitor to Montserrat

When you have traveled a lot, many people ask what is your favorite place to visit. This is always a hard question, as rarely do we not like somewhere we have traveled. However, a good test of a favorite is whether we have made a return trip to the destination. A few years ago we enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise and it happened to start with a couple of days in Barcelona, Spain, a favorite beginning of many cruises. At that time we thoroughly enjoyed our short visit in Barcelona, and always thought it would be a great place for a more in depth visit.

This thought became a reality this fall, when we booked a full week in Barcelona. So what makes this city worthy of such an investment in time and travel? The city has all the characteristics of what great travel is all about. It is walk-able and the Spanish citizens enjoy being out on the streets at all times of the day and night, so it is a great people watching place. There are wonderful sights to check out with the influence of the architect Gaudi and the city having been made very clean and safe as a result of the Olympics a few years ago. Barcelona is known for its cuisine so there is great eating and socializing.

Barcelona is located on the northeast edge of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. It is proud of its Catalan heritage and language and the citizens consider themselves Catalan first and Spanish second. Because of its geographic location the weather is pleasant with very few extremes. Our visit in October had constant temperatures in the high 70’s. You can always enjoy a city in more depth when you conquer the public transit system. Walking into a subway and trying to figure out how everything works is always somewhat intimidating. The subway stop near our hotel was an important one with two lines crossing so they had people who were very helpful in showing us how to buy and use the ticket system. We bought a multiple day ticket so we were good to go all over the city, thus gaining access to many interesting unique tourist sites.

As you know from previous articles, I am a big believer in taking a city tour on the first full day after arrival. Barcelona has two excellent choices with hop-on and hop-off open top bus companies. This gave us the orientation we needed and gave us the options for later exploration. Even without exploring out from the city center there are wonderful things to do in the downtown area. The city center is bisected by two amazing boulevards. The first is La Rambla, which is a pedestrian walk along the edge of the Gothic historical quarter going from the main city square (Plaza de Catalunya) to the waterfront. Thousands of people walk it, sit in sidewalk cafés, and enjoy the ambience of street performers and some of the best people watching in Europe. The second is the magnificent shopping boulevard called the Passeig de Gracia which goes the opposite direction from the Plaza. This magnificent tree lined street rivals Paris’ boulevards for shopping and beautiful unusual architecture. Many of the Gaudi buildings are on this street.

We had enough time on this visit to spend a day on a tour outside of the city enjoying exploration of the Catalunya countryside. Our all day tour started with a visit to one of the famous local wineries, the Torres family estate winery. Needless to say we sampled even though it was about 10 in the morning and brought back some to sample later. Next it was on to the famous mountain area of Montserrat and the remote Benedictine Monastery at the top of the mountain. We arrived at the monastery by an excellent modern cog railway. It is quite a tourist destination and the Benedictines are reaping the benefits of tours, shops, and restaurants. The views from the mountain are spectacular and worth the visit. We then drove around the mountain range on roads certainly not built for 40 passenger buses, and then on to the seaside town of Sitges which is about 50 miles south of Barcelona. This is the summer destination of the wealthy and chic Barcelona citizens. It is a gem of a beach town with great beaches, historic homes, shopping, and beachside seafood restaurants. This is a place you would like to return to for a longer stay.

In my next article I will share with you our favorite Barcelona sites and why you must visit this easy to enjoy city.

(Published in Summer 2010 issue of ABA Senior Lawyers Division The Voice of Experience Newsletter)

Eastern Europe? Let’s Go!

               Checking out the square in Krakow

When checking out travel opportunities recently, I was reminded that many destinations in Eastern Europe are now travel hot spots, and at some very reasonable prices. We have traditionally traveled in the fall, spring, and early winter for the reasons of reduced prices and fewer tourists. Our trips have included November in Vienna, Thanksgiving in Tuscany, and Poland in the spring. Mary Ann and I have enjoyed generally good weather, although certainly not beach temperatures.

Prices for such locations are so cheap you can hardly stay home. Checking on two different websites I found that starting November 1, you can head for Budapest, Prague, Vienna, or Moscow for $1,500 for two persons from New York City and $1,900 for two starting from Seattle. These prices include airfare, hotel (usually for six nights), breakfast, and in some cases, transfers from and to the airport. Our travel pattern has been to often use these city destination city packages, and on occasion have added days when we wanted to stay longer. We always start with a city tour to get our bearings, and then explore on our own for the rest of the stay. Mary Ann has enjoyed these vacations as you get to stay in the same hotel for the week, and you don’t end up in a rat race of changing hotels each night with the unpacking and repacking that you sometimes find with on a traditional guided tour that often tries to include too much in too short of time.

As I thought back about the trips we have made, I realized I have never written about our trip to Poland. That adventure included a week split between Warsaw and Krakow, connecting the two with a train journey. The two cities are completely different due to their experience in World War II. Warsaw was nearly completely destroyed by the Germans and the Russians, and so the current city was completely rebuilt since the 1950’s. They have even rebuilt the “old town” as a replica of what was historically there. The old town and its connection with the “new town” are easily walkable and can be explored and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There are a lot of tour opportunities (which we took advantage of) so you can visit the World War II memorial sites, the Royal Route connecting the very nice parks, and the public buildings to include the Parliament, Warsaw being the capital of Poland.

The train trip to Krakow was a real pleasure as it gave us the perspective of what the rural Poland was like, and the agricultural plains that tempted so many conquerors to overrun to the country. Krakow is very different from Warsaw. It has the feeling of a small town. This city has become the new discovery tourist destination supplanting the lure of Prague, Czech Republic. Krakow is a university town so it is loaded with beautiful Polish young people. The city was never destroyed in the war so it is quite a delight to explore. The old town portion is ringed with the city wall, and the moat has been made into a walking park around the entire historic section. Inside and outside the old town are the historic markets, churches, squares, castles, cathedral and a lot to discover. We thoroughly enjoyed Krakow, and if you have to make a choice between Warsaw and Krakow, Krakow is the one to visit. Krakow is clearly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The region around Krakow, in the southern part of Poland, is one area we would definitely return to for a driving visit.

If you are contemplating a trip to Eastern Europe and I can provide any insight or help, please send me an e-mail to So many places to travel and so little time!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Exploring Central Colorado

                      Pikes Peak Cog Railway

It is amazing how many things you can see and do when you do not have to attend meetings! Our trip to Denver was just for unadulterated fun with no commitments to anyone or anything. Some cities are very difficult for arrival, but Denver is a breeze. The airport (, if you have not been there, is a real wonder (one of the newest in the country). It is easy to get around, easy to get to the car rental areas, and easy to drive into downtown. You realize early on that Denver is built on the plain, not in the mountains and they thus have a very efficient and well built freeway system.

Our full three days in Colorado were sort of planned to explore a lot of territory. On Friday we headed to Boulder to check out the gorgeous University of Colorado (I just love visiting colleges) and all of the stone colors of the city.

We then headed west up Boulder Canyon enjoying the roaring creek and then cut north to Estes Park, the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Of course I had left my senior lifetime park pass (an old guy perk) at home, so now Mary Ann also has a pass. We can now enter the parks free with two cars and all the passengers! When traversing the park we realized we had never visited this park before and were enchanted with the mountains and views.

Our route took us over Trail Ridge Road (US 34) through the arctic tundra, crossed the continental divide, and reached 12,183 feet. The park loop took us to the three lakes area, to Winter Park, and back to Denver on Interstate 70. A great day and the little Chevrolet Cobalt rental car just hopped over the mountains.

While driving through Winter Park, which looks like a great ski area, Mary Ann saw that the next day that they were going to have an outdoor art show. She also heard on the radio that a big show was also on Saturday in Greeley, and she suspected correctly that I would not retrace our trip to Winter Park. So on Saturday we drove north to Greeley (, on the great plain of eastern Colorado. Yes, you thought right, it is named after, and was founded by Horace Greeley of “Go West Young Man” fame. Their summer art show called the Art Picnic was a great event with about 200 artists, food and music. I escaped with the world’s greatest shopper making only one modest purchase. I thought it was going to be page one of the great pay-back for that air flight scheduling fiasco! In the afternoon we returned to explore downtown Denver and then go to the Rockies baseball game. I had bought some very good tickets with good food areas, good view, and covered from a little bit of rain. Mary Ann did not complain at all, and I suspect she is now becoming a baseball lover. Probably because the Rockies won. Oh Right!

For Sunday I had made reservations for taking the cog railway trip up Pikes Peak just outside Colorado Springs. It is a beautiful drive to Colorado Springs and the railway trip ( up the mountain was fascinating. The trip took about three hours round trip and saved the Cobalt from what would have been a real struggle driving up that mountain. Our timing was excellent as a real cloud buster hit right after our return. This made us miss the Garden of the Gods, but you always need something to bring you back.

                  Rocky Mountain National Park

The whole long weekend was a wonderful visit and well worth the potential payback! Ouch, that first class ticket for Mary Ann next time will hurt.