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Sunday, March 27, 2011

News Roundup

Taking a break from my recent travel themed posts, I wanted to comment on some current events.  To readers of this blog, I welcome your own comments and opinions, so please leave a word or two at the end of this post.  In the words of Jackie Gleason, "and away we go":

Libya - US led airstrikes against Libya continued this month with eventual transfer of command to NATO troops.  The airstrikes and support of a no-fly zone in Libya are meant to aid the rebels of the country seeking to oust Khadafy.  There is an article in todays NY Times which examines the constant deluge of other news events as a reason many Americans are unsure and underwhemled at our actions against Libya.   Already, we have troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Has another military incursion in the Middle East left the American public fatigued and less sensitive to the news being reported from Libya?  Has the news coverage been comprehensive?  I don't know but I welcome your comments on these questions.

Inundated with News, Many Find It Difficult To Keep Up on Libya

Japan - The news from Japan this month has been heartbreaking.  From the earthquake and tsunami sustained by the land of the rising sun to the release of radiation into the atmosphere from its Fukushima nuclear complex, Japan faces significant rebuilding challenges in the months ahead.  Another Times article today points out that Japanese safety rules with respect to its nuclear plants, grossly underestimated the threat posed by earthquakes and tsunamis.  Essentially, the Japanese nuclear plants were designed and built long before science made greater understanding seismic and tsunami events.  Could the Japanese have done anything to prepare for the events following their recent disaster?  Did the Japanese fall behind?  What does that say to the United States as our infrastructure crumbles around us?

Old Science on Tsunami Risk Guided Japan's Nuclear Safety Rules

Geraldine Ferraro dies - She was the first female to be nominated vice-president for the Democratic party in 1984.  She died yesterday after a long illness.  While her place in history is certain, the campaign she ran with the presidential nominee, Walter Mondale was trounced by incumbent President Reagan and Vice President Bush.  I suppose her selection led the way for many other female politicans and for Sarah Palin's nomination as vice -president for the Republicans in 2008. 

Sports convergence - The end of March brings a convergence of stories relating to the sports world.  March Madness reaches a fever ptich as the NCAA men's basketball tournament reaches its final four.  This year's tournament has featured many upsets and that is always a fun thing to watch.  Well, as of this writing, I have Kansas and U Conn still in it but so does mostly everyone else.  Who do you having winning your NCAA selection pool?

Blogger's edit:  After posting this blog post, Kansas was eliminated from the NCAA men's basketball tournament, losing to 71 to 61 to Virginia Commonwealth.  Well that just leaves U Conn for me and I think President Obama's picks for the final four have all been eliminated.

Baseball season begins at the end of the upcoming week.  Let's go Yankees and Mets in this area and to your favorite team.  The Mets are a mess but I hope they are a bit entertaining.  The behind the scenes shenanigans and revelations regarding the lack of money by the Mets majority ownership, the Wilpon's, and their role in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme will be a subtext to this season.  I hope fans stay away in droves from Citifield and pray that the Wilpons sell the team to an owner who is a big fish and not the small time posers the Wilpons seem to be.  What do you think Mets fans?

Finally, the Knicks have become unhinged lately, losing to the lowly Bobcats last night.  They are three games under .500 for the season and the benefits following the trade for Carmelo Anthony so far are unrealized.  They better pick it up for the remainder of the season or else they will exit quickly from the playoffs.  What do you think?

Anyway, that's all for now.  I would love to hear back from the readers of this blog.  As I have been able to determine, I have been viewed by readers from Canada, Hungary, Vietnam, Singapore ansd Denmark.

Thanks for your time and I appreciate any suggestions you may have for me for future blog posts.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Golf - Pebble Beach

This blog post continues my theme of  writing about previous trips I have taken.  As I write this post, the calendar notes that it is officially Spring but the weather is still stuck in Winter mode.  So, my thoughts turn to a sport I enjoy playing during the other three seasons of the year: golf.

One golf trip I made was in September 1998.  I went out to California and played The Links at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach Golf Links, and the Bayonet Course at Ford Ord.  This trip took was planned a year in advance and our group's plans were assisted by my Brother-in-law, Glen, who helped reserve our tee times and hotel accomadations.

We arrived on a Thursday night and planned to head out to Monterey early the next morning.  Monterey was amazing with the picturesque vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the lone cypress jutting out on the 17 mile drive.  After checking in at The Inn at Spanish Bay, we were off to play the Links at Spanish Bay.  This golf course was an open links style with amazing views of the ocean.  Wind was a factor as it knocked down tee shots and carried sliced iron shots routinely. 

Finishing the round,  we watched the bagpiper playing near the clubhouse what sounded like a mournful dirge.  It was appropriate as I felt as though I had survived playing 36 holes instead of the 18 I actually played.  Anyway, we were looking forward to our evening dinner plans and playing Pebble Beach the next day.  That evening we ate at a restaurant in Monterey on Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck.

Sunday, we played Pebble Beach.  This was the highlight of the trip.  In order to play Pebble, we had to employ a caddy to carry our bags.  My caddy was very nice and he was helpful with his advice.  On the first tee, I made a nice drive and was off.  The tee box was near the clubhouse, so many spectators were around making me nervous to begin, making a nice drive on the first tee eased my nerves considerably.  My highlight at Pebble was hole # 7, it's listed 109 yards but was playing 99 yards.  The wind really is a factor here and I was lucky on my shot that the wind held up my pitching wedge tee shot and my ball landed about 7 feet from the flag.  I was psyched and had a birdie chance which I ended up pushing my birdie putt and made par. 

The next hole #8 has it's second shot considered the hardest second shot in golf.  At the tee, my caddy handed me my driver and pointed out a large rock and said to aim above that rock.  I ripped a nice tee shot as instructed and awaited what else was in store.  My second shot was probably too ambitious as I attempted to use a 5 iron to hit over the ocean and land my ball near the green.  Instead, I sliced it severely and it landed into the Pacific Ocean. 

Oh well, the rest of the round was more of the same.  It was very easy to get lost in the beauty of the golf course and the blue color and sound of the ocean.  After our round, we enjoyed dinner and drinks at the Lodge's Tap Room. 

Our final day in Monterey, we played the Bayonet Course at Ford Ord.  This was a former Army golf course which was open to the public in the 1990's.  The course was nice and tough.  The weather was a factor as I recall with rain causing some challenges.

All in all, the trip to the Monterey Peninsula was a lot of fun and the golf was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.  If given the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

France, J'taime - 2001 Trip

Continuing with my recollections of some of my travels, I wanted to reflect on a trip taken a decade ago to France.  In the winter of 2001, my father organized a trip to France.  Traveling with him and my mother would be myself, my girlfriend then and now my wife Aimee, my sister Karen and my Uncle Dan and Aunt Gen.  My sister Karen was able to secure our travel thru Lufthansa, which had a special winter travel airfare rates.

I would like to add that two years prior to this trip, I had gone to Paris with my parents and we stayed at the Neuilly Courtyard at a special rate since I was working for Marriott at the time.  Neuilly is a beautiful suburb just outside of Paris and close to the Paris Metro making it a great location for a week long trip to Paris.  Our stay was a lot of fun and we saw so much so returning two years later was something that I was really looking forward to doing.

Our plans for this trip was to rent two cars in Paris and then begin our trip traveling to three towns in Northern France.  On our first day, we would go to Rouen, then to Bayeux, and then off to Mont St. Michel.  On our fourth day we would travel to Paris and spent the next three days there before returning home.

Day one was interesting, we left NY in the afternoon and traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to catch a connecting flight to Paris.  When we arrived in Paris, we then secured our rental cars.  I then followed my father on the road out and headed for Rouen.  I vaugely remembered our way out of the airport from two years earlier and I recognized that my father was headed into the roadway which travels around Paris.  He realized it and then moved out of the lane with not much room to spare and I followed him while fighing the Paris a.m. rush hour traffic.  I began to think my father was trying to shake me loose, just kidding.

We made our way up to Rouen and after some circling around we found our hotel.  We rested for a while and then met up for dinner.  We walked past the Cathedral Monet painted in some of his impressionistic paintings and also by the space Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and we enjoyed dinner at a small, quaint Italian restaurant.  Our waiter was a good sport named Jean-Michel, my Uncle Dan called him John Michael throughout and that was amusing.  I did my best to order in French and I did a good job throughout speaking to the locals in French.  I was aided in this by referring to a pocket sized translation book which had helpful phrases color coordinated for easy reference. I also channeled the three years of French I took in High School, God Bless you Sister Margaret.

Day two, we traveled to Bayeux.  On the way there we stopped for lunch and took a tour of a World War II Museum in Caen which was pretty cool.  In Bayeux, our accomadations were really nice.  The chateau we stayed at was large and it had decent parking for our cars.  Bayeux,  the town, was a nice walking town and there we went to see the Bayeux tapestry.  The tapestry was a work which was housed in a large room and as you walked around we looked at the tapestry as it depicts the Norman conquest of Great Britain in 1066.

On day three, we left Bayeux and visited the American Cemetery near the D-Day landing beaches in Colleville-sur Mer.  The cemetery, overlooks the Omaha Beach D-Day landing site and there are over 9,000 Americans buried there.  It was a cold, overcast day as we walked the gounds and paid our respects to our valiant lost heroes.  I was struck by the ages of the dead, 19, 20, 22.  These young men helped to liberate France and later the European continent and I was glad to pay my respects to them.  On the way out we stopped at several other D-Day sites, Pont du hoc and St. Mere Eglise, which was the first French town liberated from the Nazi's.  They had a dummy there on display attached to the church steeple.  This comemerates an American soldier whose parachute was caught on the church steeple in the town during the landings.  He pretended to be dead as the Nazi's were fighting the Allied invasion force.

We made our way to Mont St. Michel which was a sight to see.  Mont St. Michel sits on a rock tidal island.  At one time it was a monestary and today it is an architectural wonder and quite a beautiful place to visit.  We had a nice dinner next to our hotel, which was located just down the road from Mont St. Michel and then rested for our journey to Paris the next day.

We made our way to Paris the next day but our rendez-vous at our Paris hotel proved difficult.  The road our hotel was located on was a pedestrian path only, so no cars could ride down the street.  At first, we parked in the garage of a nearby mall but after checking in we moved the car to the street.  Aimee and I explored on our own, finding a nearby restaurant to have dinner and later walking around our hotel's arrondisment. 

On the next day, which I remember was St. Patrick's Day, we drove to Versailles and we walked around the palace enjoying the ornate landscaped grounds.  The Hall of Mirrors was cool and this was the place where the WW I Peace Treaty was signed.  We then returned to Paris and visited the Eiffel Tower and then had a late lunch at a restaurant near the tower.  The next day, I happily returned the rental car back to Hertz, since we didn't need the car anymore and I didn't want to deal with the psycho French drivers.  Aimee and I then walked to the Arch De Triomphe and down the Champs Elysees.  We then made our way to the Louvre and enjoyed all the works of art we saw. 

On our last full day in Paris, on Monday, we went to Montmarte and visited Sacre Coeur.  The view of the city from outside the church was nice.  There were many street mimes, performers, and street artists in Montmarte so be prepared if you go there.  We eventually made our way to Notre Dame Cathedral and I was happy to see the entire front end of the cathedral as it was being repaired in 1999 and was unable to be seen on my first trip.  Outside and above the doors there are some amazing sculpture work and gargoyles.  Inside was impressive with bright stained glass windows.  There was a service going on so we were quiet as we walked through. 

That evening, we had dinner at a very nice restaurant called La Gare which is housed in a former railroad station.  Dinner was delicious.  I had a rack of Lamb and my French beer 1664.  It was a fitting end to a wonderful trip and we were set to return home the next day.  On our return home, we ran into some travel snags and we were routed home through Washington D.C. but it was okay.  It's amazing how much the world has changed in the last ten years since this trip.  This was a full six months before 9-11 and our country was not at war and traveling abroad did not seem so different as I am sure it is now with more intensive security.

I enjoyed France and Paris and I hope to get back there with Aimee again some day.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Golf Mecca

Well this rainy and very wet Sunday has left me for most of the day homebound.  In an effort to combat the grey skies, my thoughts turn to a sunnier subject and one I plan to periodically return to from time to time: the places I have been fortunate to travel to. 

For the better part of the mid 1990's and early years of 2000's, I would travel with a group of golfers to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and play four days at a different golf course.  Each golfer had a handicap and based on his play could earn skins money, in addition to any side action he would wager with another golfer.

The Myrtle Beach area is certainly a golf mecca and my impending pilgrimage each year, in early spring, during those years was always the right motivator to get through a long, cold New York winter.

The golf courses were usually selected through the hotel/resort we stayed at.  For many years we were lodged at Ocean Creek Resort in North Myrtle Beach and for the last few years I went on this trip we stayed at Barefoot Landing.

Some of the golf courses we played:  The Surf Club, The Dunes, Caledonia, Legends - Parkland, Wild Wing Plantation, Heritage Club, Barefoot Courses, Blackmoor, Arrowhead, The Pearl, Possum Trot,  Tidewater, Tradition, Willbrook Plantation, and the "grandaddy of them all"  Pine Lakes International. 

Pine Lakes was cool in that they had a guy there who served chowder at one of the par three holes.

There were always a lot of laughs during the golf and back at the 19th hole.  In the evenings, there were numerous choices for dining and other entertainment opportunities.  Our group would always dine at New York Prime every Saturday night and the food there was very good.  There was also a tourist trap entertainment destination called Broadway at the Beach with restaurants, clubs and other attractions.

Well as my life has changed since the years of my annual pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach, I do look forward to taking my family there someday and playing golf with my kids at Myrtle's fine courses.