You Say Baath; I Say Bath.

ex·pec·ta·tion: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.

A persons expectations can be the key to enjoyment or the riposte to disappointment. If you project your ideas too low then no one gets interested; if you tout too high, no one ever feels quite appeased. It could be said then that managing people’s expectations is one of the principle secrets to success.

You might surmise then that McDonalds has done a great job of it. They’ve demonstrated expertise at branding their burger chain as being the best deal in town, not necessarily the best burger. This despite the fact that their entire identity is built around hamburgers.

What does all this have to do with traveling to Bath, England you say? For starters, I’m writing to you about my personal observations of Bath; Bath through the eyes of Chris. I’m hoping to help you discover things about Bath that go well beyond the scope of what you might expect to find in Bath. So, while others may focus on its most obvious attributes such as the Roman Baths, I wanted to better illuminate Bath’s more obscure but interesting facts, history and architectural features.

The Roman baths are indeed amazingly well-preserved and definitely worthy of explanation; so, I will do my best to describe them for you in as descriptively visual terms as I’m capable. But, when I drove away from that uniquely singular place, my first thoughts were of how challenging it may be, given my limited writing skills, to convince vacationing travelers to look more deeply at Bath, to peel back the layers, and to venture outside the city center to discover its other gems.

A gem in and of itself is the scenic drive into Bath. Bath sits at the southern edge of the Cotswolds, a range of limestone hills and valleys designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The limestone quarried from there is particularly unique and has this creamy honey golden color. The stone is known world-wide as Bath Stone. Every house, cottage, mansion or castle in the vicinity is constructed from this beautifully rich and distinctive stone. While there, I learned that one of the zoning restrictions for all new construction inside the city of Bath requires builders to use this same stone on the façade to ensure that modern buildings pay homage to the city’s 18th century heritage.

Bath has long been an ancient borough with high status. First, with its close proximity to Stonehenge and its Neolithic/early Celtic Briton inhabitants. Afterwards, its Roman occupants constructed spa’s and baths around the first century AD where it became a well-known Roman vacation destination. After the fall of the Roman Empire it remained as a rare gem for the Kingdom of Mercia until the year 878 when it became a royal borough of Alfred the Great when it was ceded to the Kingdom of Wessex. If you’re a King Arthur fan, it is believed that Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Badon (c 500 AD) in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons.

Despite the city name and its historical changing of landlords, Bath continued to be an important place. The Roman baths and impressive stone infrastructures continued to serve whomever claimed it. By the 18th century, Bath evolved into a posh village for Britain’s elite. Its hot mineral baths were advertised as having curative properties so people migrated from far away to find respite for whatever ailments they suffered. If you had any sort of illness from leprosy to acne, and also had money, you were definitely moving to Bath. It all sounds great until you find yourself in a hot bath tub with a leper. But despite my negative thinking, Bath is now one of the best preserved 18th century cities in the world; designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In fact, the famous 18th century author/novelist Jane Austen lived in Bath for many years. You might have read a few of her famous novels such as Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. If you read them deeply, you will find traces of Bath scattered throughout her writings. An example would be Bath’s Holburne Museum of Art – The impressive creamy gold Bath Stone façade mansion housing today’s museum. The manor and its grounds were a favorite walk for Jane Austen while she lived in Bath, she thus set part of her novel “Northanger Abbey” across from the Holburne Mansion.

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Today, the impressive manor home houses the late Sir William Holburne’s collection of fine and decorative arts. Some of the artists represented inside will include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany. The manor home has also been used for filming numerous movies such as Persuasion (1994), The Duchess (2008) staring Keira Knightley, Vanity Fair (2004) with Reese Witherspoon, as well as numerous other foreign films.

By far, one of the most impressive things I visited in Bath was the Royal Crescent. The Crescent is a 500-foot-long row of Georgian styled terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. Designed by the famed architect John Wood-the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is among the finest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom. It boasts over one hundred Ionic columns on its first floors with an entablature in a Palladian style above.

Architect John Wood-the Elder, father of the Crescent’s architecthad earlier designed the Bath Circus in 1754 which is also regarded as a preeminent example of Georgian architecture. The name comes from the Latin word ‘circus’ which means a ring, oval or circle. The Circus is essentially an incredibly fancy roundabout divided into three segments of equal length with a lawn in the center and Georgian styled buildings at its perimeters. Each of the three building segments faces one of the three entrances to the roundabout, ensuring a classical façade is always presented straight ahead. After my left-handed, standard shift, two-day drive in Wales, I decided that I don’t particularly like roundabouts anymore, but this one is very special.

The senior Wood, as its architect, was convinced that Bath was historically the principle center of Druid activity in Britain so he studied nearby Stonehenge to ensure that his Circus design would pay homage to what most people believed to be an ancient Druid ceremonial ground (There are some different ideas about Stonehenge today). Three classical orders (Doric, Roman/Composite, and Corinthian) are used, one above the other, in the elegant curved facades. The frieze of the Doric entablature is decorated with altering triglyphs and pictorial emblems. One very interesting fact is that when viewed from the air, the Circus, along with Queens Square and the adjoining Gay Street, form a key shape, which is a masonic symbol found frequently in many of Wood’s other building designs.

My wife and I particularly enjoy visiting impressive cathedrals and abbey’s when traveling and Bath Abbey was one of those sites on my bucket list. Particularly because of its unique vaulted ceiling. Founded in the 7th century, reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, Bath Abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West. It’s most unique feature, in my opinion, is its notable fan vaulting. We actually know that brothers Robert and William Vertue, architects and stone masons for King Henry VII, were the designers and builders of this particular fan vault. They not only built Bath Abbey’s fan vault, they also built the vaulted ceilings inside the Tower of London, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster.

Our hotel in Bath, the Hilton Bath City, was located just a block from the extraordinary Pulteney Bridge. This interesting bridge crossing the river Avon, is reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge we saw while traveling in Florence, Italy. I say this essentially because it is a bridge with shops built across its full span on both sides. The bridge was built in 1774 in the Palladian style by Robert Adam. My wife, my sister and I not only walked along the bridge visiting the shops but we also found a stone path and stairway that led us to the river’s edge so that we could snap a few glamor shots of the bridge from below.

Something I hadn’t mentioned before is that I had accidently forgotten my razor when packing for the trip. That led to the obvious annoyances to both Emily and I, but alas, my stroll to the Pulteney Bridge allowed me to discover a cool little barber shop along the way called New Saville Row. I made the proper arrangements with the gentleman who told me that although they were about to close, that I could return in 30 minutes and he’d give me a shave. Thirty minutes later I was comfortably laid back in an old style barber chair with a hot towel on my face about to embark on my very first professional straight razor shave. I had no idea what I’d been missing all these years. These guys were unbelievably courteous to stay open for me and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

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Jane Austen wrote, in her 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” Bath is certainly much more than it was when Jane Austen lived there. Although it is now a very modern city with both a professional Rugby team and Football club, two universities and nearly one hundred-thousand people, it is still very much still trapped in the wrinkled skin of its 18th century past. In my book, its a hard act to follow, even for a very cool and mostly intact two thousand year old Roman bath.

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I can’t say for sure what my expectations actually were when I arrived in Bath but what I can say without any pause is that Bath exceeded, no a better word might be trounced, any notion of what I had first imagined it to be. The name is Bath and of course there are Roman baths there so I guess that was where my mind was initially. But Bath is far more than just its namesake. If you decide to be one of the three million annual visitors of Bath in the near future, and I hope you are, don’t just tour the baths and the abbey and leave. Bath is far more than that. If you stay long enough, you might even start pronouncing it Baath.

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Penny Lane On A Budget

For some curious reason, of which I am completely ignorant, I have always thought of Liverpool, England as being this quaint little working-class English village. As you will soon learn, it is anything but quaint.

If you’re like me and over fifty, you’ll instantly recognize the name Liverpool and with whom the city-name is most famously associated. That would of course be the Beatles.

I personally found Liverpool to be an amazingly vibrant city with an incredible night life where people speak, straight face, with an incomprehensible pirate-like, half English/half Irish brogue. I, of course, say this in full self-realization that my own southern (a la redneck) accent is likely and equally incomprehensible to the typical Liverpudlian or Scouse.

But without any exaggeration whatsoever, and despite the fact that you cannot understand what people are saying (except of course the occasional “Arrhh”), I say that Liverpool is an architectural gem, worthy of exploration despite any Beatles connection.

In Liverpool’s core are fantastic 19th century Greek and Romanesque public structures that tell all its visitors of an important and strategic historical presence. Its outer perimeter boasts a number of quaint and quiet villages; exactly reminiscent of the sort of place I’d once thought about when trying to visualize the supposed working-class city where our fab-four incubated their talent for what was to become legendary transformations to music itself.

Driving into the outskirts of Liverpool from its southeastern side through a quiet little borough of the city called Woolton, the very first thing we consciously encountered was the famous Penny Lane. This literally happened like twenty-seconds after I mentally penned the cutesy title of this blog.

Yes, the street name is real along with the bank (no-mac banker now missing), the barber shop (photographs still ever present on its walls), and the curious bus transfer station in the center of the roundabout – all mentioned in the famous lyrics to which we’ve all sang along.

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Now, as fate and a love for travel would have it, Penny Lane has become equally real to me. It is indelibly imprinted “in my ears and in my eyes”, just as vividly as it was for young Paul McCartney as he reminisced about taking the bus to the Penny Lane roundabout to attend St. Barnabas Church as a young choir altar boy.

While in discovery mode, we drove up Menlove Street passing John Lennon’s boyhood home along the way to Beaconsfield Road where the gates to “Strawberry Fields” still lie in a state of hopelessness. Meanwhile,
I’m looking up at Liverpool’s “blue suburban skies” not yet knowing what other treasures await me and my traveling companions.

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To my surprise and delight, Liverpool is infinitely more. A person can learn a great deal about a population by observing its churches. In that light, Liverpool has one of the largest Protestant churches in the entire world – too large in fact to fit the entire thing in my camera lens from 2500 feet away. Liverpool also has one of the most unique Catholic Churches in the world. The striking architecture and multi-spire tower was designed in-the-round so that the congregation can completely surround the pulpit.

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What might also be of anecdotal interest to my American friends living in the South, is that when the war of Northern Aggression broke out, Liverpool became a genuine hotbed of international political intrigue. Cotton was an enormous import to Liverpool, its shipping industry was entirely propped up on the African slave trade, and the shipbuilding industry (prevalent in Liverpool) was mutually important to all parties. In the words of the famous historian Sven Beckert, Liverpool was “the most pro-Confederate place in the world outside the Confederacy itself.”

In fact, the Confederate Navy ship, CSS Alabama, was built at Birkenhead (across the river) on the Mersey River in Liverpool. And in an odd twist I’d never before heard about, the CSS Shenandoah actually surrendered at the Liverpool Salt House Docks (being the final surrender and official end of the Civil War) a full three months after the whole Appomattox affair – being the last holdout of the American civil war.

In a related and controversial side-note, you may find it interesting that Penny Lane itself has been under attack by local social re-constructionists who’d very much like to change its iconic name. It seems that the famous roadway took its name from George Penny who made his fortune in the sugar and slave trade back during the height of that awful period of the histories perpetrated by the entire Western hemisphere.

The sugar industry was quite dependent upon slave labor. As a result, and fully reminiscent of similar movements back home in America, there’s a powerfully convincing movement in Liverpool to eliminate all remnants of bigotry and racism brought about by humming the street names of people known to have contributed to that horrible past. I can’t say that I agree with whitewashing any history, good or bad, but I can fully empathize with their motives. I’m just thankful that Lennon and McCartney didn’t write ditties about Jefferson or Washington.

Did you know that both companies Cunard and White Star, ship builders of insignificant little boats such as the Titanic and Queen Elizabeth II, once had their corporate headquarters located in Liverpool? The docks area along the Mersey is conspicuously littered with impressive Victorian skyscrapers including the buildings that once served these two famous companies. Liverpool has done a fabulous job of re-purposing some of these older structures and the area around those docks is quite impressive for dining or shopping and for just walking around snapping interesting architectural photographs.

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This port suburban city of nearly one half-million people is not only known for its architecture but also for its abundant green space. There are loads of parks throughout the city. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in Liverpool, as well as in other places scattered throughout Greater Britain, are the public green spaces used as free gardening spots.

While some of our more urban cities in the United States have been starting similar projects, I found that these in particular all suffer from the same sort of conundrum – acceptable blight. I do like the idea as a whole but what I don’t like is the thought that we should be promoting irresponsibility of the environment at the expense of simultaneous generosity to our less fortunate. Not when we penalize others for the same thing. It’s kind of like a prosecutor trying a case against Joe Schmo for gambling after he stops at a convenient store to buy his weekly budgeted lotto ticket.

What I’m referring to are green spaces that are no longer green; loaded up with hundreds of miniature home-made shanties for gardening tools with tiny plots of gardens inside little squares – collectively inside bigger squares. The little crude shelters are built by people with no tools, no skill, and no otherwise acceptable building materials. Each square of dirt is fenced uniquely using whatever can be found in someone else’s trash. They’re designed using the theory that “necessity breeds ingenuity” except that “ingenuity” generally means desperation and “desperation” generally translates to “old shower curtain”.

Enough about blighted gardens or inappropriate comic relief as I’m so famous for perfecting. I think I’ve made my case that Liverpool is much more interesting than my rants about greenspaces gone wrong. I do sincerely hope that you find the right opportunity to explore this amazing city for yourself. Perhaps you can walk the dark-steps downward into the famous Cavern Club where the Beatles played their first big gigs and buy a tee shirt like I did or explore the narrow streets of the city proper looking for the perfect “four of fish” or even a “finger pie” if you’re single and adventurous.

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What happened to the CSS Shenandoah you ask? Well, its battle flag eventually made its way back home and now rests peacefully in a museum in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The ship itself was sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar where it later sunk off the East African coast during a Hurricane. How can you not believe in Karma when a former confederate states ship ends up being owned by an African country (Tanzania) where so many of its people lost their entire and future identities in the lands represented by the ships namesake?

What happened to poor Eleanor Rigby? Well, her bronze twin sits quietly on a bench on Stanley Street in Liverpool, not far from her burial place, where it was appropriately dedicated to “all the lonely people”.

What will happen to our beloved Penny Lane, I don’t exactly know. Maybe you should weigh in on the matter electronically if you feel a powerful urge to voice your support for either side.

What about Strawberry Field? If you’re at all curious as to what Lennon was writing about it, or how you can be a part of his story too, visit the website http://www.strawberryfieldliverpool.com. Maybe you could even start a GoFundMe campaign to support it. McCartney and Lennon have brought pieces of Liverpool to your ears, now it’s up to you to hop on a plane and let your eyes share in the experience.

Traveling Ecuador

Lying in bed in an utter state of anxiety over a lack of restful sleep, realizing that I’m about to spend two sweaty nights in little more than a screened-in porch without air conditioning. Sweltering humidity and intense sun-exposure has caused me to be slightly less-fun and a lot more damp than my normal self and I begin to reflect on our day at Anaconda Island, the balsa wood raft ride through the white-capping Napo river, and the hairy Tarantula that attempted to take a swim with me before dinner. The details of my health-coverage being sketchy, I’m thinking yeah, Ecuador is to die for – literally.

Of course I’m just kidding although there are probably many ways to die here, of which might possibly be the river Cayman, Piranha, Anaconda, the mysterious Tatura flower’s “sweet dreams” tea, and possibly choking on the fried “Iron Palm” pork served at the restaurant at the Center of the Earth Lat’ 000 marker. Truthfully, all I’ve accomplished thus far is to prove to everyone just how entitled I may be because mostly, the Ecuador I’ve visited has been found to be immensely beautiful but I’m still here whining about two hot nights. The temperatures throughout much of Ecuador are actually perfect due to high elevations. You’ve just royally screwed up and found the blog of a spoiled and sarcastic traveler.

Honestly, if bucket lists are something you often think about, traversing through the Amazon jungle has to be somewhere on everyone’s list. It was for me. And now I have the wounds and bug bites to prove it. I’m kinda hoping I end up with a few permanent scars from all of the bug bites so I end up with a few great conversation starters with my unborn grandchildren. The jungle can be dangerous but it can also be uniquely entertaining. On one outing, a grey-winged trumpeter sort of imprinted on Emily while touring an animal rescue center deep in the jungle and proceeded to follow her everywhere she went. It was kinda like having a big chicken for a buddy. She liked it cuz they kill snakes.

Rita, our new friend from Hong Kong, was wearing some sort of bug patch she purchased in Hong Kong. She never got a single bite. I, on the other hand, took a sponge-bath in a mosquito and tick repellent so strong that the warning label warned against applying it directly to your skin. The Amazonian jungle vermin simply laughed at me and my silly Yankee bug potion. Who says the Chinese are always borrowing American technology – I say “bug-bite mitigation technology” is clearly an area where we need to start stealing secrets from the Chinese. Who gives a shit about 3 stage rockets and advanced cell phone technology when you can repel every annoying bug known to mankind?

I’ll admit that Ecuador surprised even me: half of a globe-trotting duo hell-bent on visiting less-traveled destinations. To answer everyone who intimated that we might be crazy for traveling here, I’ve herein provided you with a list of great reasons to travel lovely Ecuador. Y’all know that “facetious is as facetious does” so please try to humor my Southern sarcasm because there really are a few valuable lessons strewn all about. The trick is to find them so sit back and I’ll do my best to educate.

One of my first observations was that traveling Ecuador just may be the polar opposite of traveling around Europe. In Europe, you travel over mostly uninteresting landscapes – forgeries of which you could find somewhere in the U.S. – in order to find magnificent “old towns” and walk among or study the ancient art and architecture. Many of these places are so inundated with the tourist trade that much of the intrinsic beauty of the culture, language, and the natural state of the site is lost. In Ecuador, the travel between places is through a continuity of spectacular landscapes and ecological masterpieces to find cities and villages that will mostly underwhelm the typical European traveler but are instead wrapped in an endearing naïveté. The tourist trade is so new that the destinations are mostly unspoiled and the people are unwitting subjects of our curiosities.

Of course there are architectural masterpieces to be found in Ecuador such as the Jesuit built Church of the Society of Jesus in Quito, but for the most part the masterpieces of interest for travelers to Ecuador are going to be the natural-wonders created by God. There are 84 volcanos in this tiny country, 24 of which are active. It seems that everywhere you travel is within a telephoto lens distance of one of these magnificent geological features. There are also a number of fantastic Haciendas scattered throughout the country. One of which we visited was built in 1680 and included its own beautifully appointed chapel built just 10 years later. Another sitting atop a steep mountain in full view of an active snow-capped volcano was 200 years old and once boasted 200,000 acres of land.

Driving through the country of Ecuador can at one moment mesmerize you with its deep river canyons, cascading waterfalls or the patchwork-quilt of agricultural art that canvas the mountainsides in unpredictable patterns at unexplainable elevations. At other times, it can be dizzying by an uninterrupted sea of unfinished or collapsing concrete homes, storefronts and brick walls that secure the perimeter of every palace and pig pen. It’s not what we’re used to but it is this simplicity of life that draws us in and says without words that these are simple and hard-working people worth every moment of our allotted eight days to better discover and explore.

Regardless of whether you’re seeing straw and bamboo homes on stilts or modern concrete structures accented by clay tile roofs, the homes and villages of Ecuador are almost always resting in the shadows of magnificent volcanoes or foreboding mountain vistas that can instantly turn your attention away from any lessor inspiring view such as the occasional road-side pee-pee bandito. The city of Baños, for instance, sits at the base of an active volcano with a lovely cascading waterfall in full view of its public square, completely nestled inside a circumference of steep mountainous terrain.

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Every city seems to have its own specialties of locally-produced products; a city for roses, one for jeans, leather products, alpaca wool products, chocolate, tobacco, Panama hats (see explanation below), seafood…, you name it. Ecuador also boasts several fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers that one can only find here. Whether you’re in the high elevations where the sweet tree-tomato grows or in the jungles of the Amazon eating lemon flavored ants, you’re always surprised by something new to try.

Ecuadorians are a complex homogeneous tribe of haves and have-nots just like the snobs we love at home. They’re a tall, short, skinny, chubby & lovable, dark or light skinned group of hard-working and honorable people who want all the same things we want. They just ask for them in a completely unintelligible language called Spanish. In case you’ve never heard of it, I can say that when spoken by a local it does sound somewhat romantic (pun intended).

One thing I couldn’t help but notice along our way is that there is seemingly an endless strand of aluminum clothesline wire stretching all the way from Quito to the Amazon Jungle dressed in the most intimate of Ecuadorian couture – framed between every porch post and elaborate perimeter wall – of which is dressed atop by shards of colorful broken glass and Dr. Pepper bottles. The rainbow of cotton and alpaca fabric is like a woven fanfare that welcomes visitors to every village and community. I’ve begun to believe that the common Ecuadorian architecture doesn’t include clothes storage and that everyone just uses these clotheslines as permanent open-air storage for their entire wardrobe. The Spanish totally got it wrong, El-Dorado lies at the end of the clothesline rainbow, not on the shores of Lake Parime.

I promise it doesn’t take long to grow a real appreciation for some of the local rituals as the people here are so genuinely kind and accepting of tourists and our own little tourist proclivities such as taking photographs of them in the marketplace like they’re circus animals. You soon grow to love the Ecuadorian people and all of their quirky roadside displays. One trip through West Virginia will remind us that the “other” America isn’t all that shiny on all its surfaces.

Be prepared, however, many of the public restrooms require a “tipping fee” in order to partake of the convenience of a porcelain solution to your biological travel-needs…but the “fee” only provides for three or four tiny little squares of toilet tissue, perhaps enough to remove only the coarsest of organics made from unfamiliar diets. The unintentional consequence of hoarding all that precious paper is that many locals can be found with their “plantains” in-hand urinating in public places or on the side of roadways as a way of national protest. It’s OK though, it helps you to feel like part of the family.

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If ornamental iron is your thing, Ecuadorians have lots and lots of it. That said, most of it is carefully shaped and sculpted from rebar. If you have lots of leftover rebar from a building project and have absolutely no idea of what you’re going to do with it, come to Ecuador for inspiration. You won’t be disappointed.

The Panama hat? You’ve heard of it? It’s really from Ecuador only there was a mix-up at the hospital and it went home with the wrong parents. It’s a very old story that ends in the collaboration of an indigenous Ecuadorian hat and a Spanish hat which resulted in the famous head cover known the world over by its alias because the hat was exported to Europe and North America through the port of Panama before the canal was built. Now, you know the rest of the story.

I cannot fail to mention that Ecuador is very travel-friendly for Americans. In fact, the U.S. Dollar is their official currency. They have a representative democracy, national healthcare and education, good roads, and all the colada morada you can drink. If exotic birds and animals get your blood boiling, they have way too many to mention individually. Individually speaking though, just for reference purposes – the Ecuadorian camel-toe can be found in vivid abundance – just sayin.

If you’ve dreamed of visiting an indigenous Quichua village; trading for shrunken heads; climbing an active volcano; eating BBQ Guinea Pig; floating on a balsa raft down an Amazon basin river; seeing the Galápagos Islands; or watching a monkey ride a chicken through a town square, Ecuador is definitely your next destination. When you make up your mind and decide to book your trip, there’s no doubt that some of your friends might say, “Why Ecuador”! There are many reasons for you to visit here, no doubt, but seriously…a monkey riding a chicken? Where else can you see that?

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I have to give kudos to our travel partner, Gate One Travel. This was our 4th Gate One trip and each one continues to surpass the former – and our expectations. Its just so easy. Also, our wonderful 13 fellow travel companions. We loved our entire gang and I know we will stay in touch with many of them. FYI, Duncan, someone found some damp underwear in your room, they’re waiting for you at the reception desk at Casa del Suizo. Last but not least, our local tour guide Javier Estrella was fantastic. He’s a wealth of knowledge, kind, with a mother-hen commitment to his flock of inquisitive followers. You’ll never find a better person to spend eight days without air conditioning. He also free-lances so if anyone is convinced that Ecuador might be perfect for their next adventure, his contact information is as follows: 59-398-007-5760.

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Traveling In Style

I’ve put off blogging about traveling intentionally. Mainly because most people who write about their travels seem to always come-off sounding pretentious or like they’re bragging about going here or there. I certainly don’t want to reinvent new passive-aggressive ways to brag about the same ole things but there are a few observations I’d like to make and a few experiences I’d love to share with others about traveling.

I especially want to recommend others to visit some of our favorite places and introduce the special people we’ve met along he way. I won’t even try to discuss food because we all have so many personal likes and dislikes that it’s far too subjective a topic to even attempt. Being used to a southern diet, I’d be the last person in the world to offer a fair assessment of international cuisine.

I hope by the end of this blog I can both achieve my goal of sharing and entertaining without losing what few subscribers I actually do have…so; here I go.

I turned 50 this week and some of you know that I’ve been traveling with two bulging discs and spinal stenosis. The last several trips we’ve gone on were during some pretty painful times as well…suffering with plantar fasciitis of both feet – so it has become painfully obvious to me and Emily that we should do his sort of thing while we are young instead of waiting till we can actually afford it. At least that’s how we’ve been justifying it anyway.

First, let’s talk about the people…the ones you travel with (I.e., friends or motor-coach-mates) and the ones you meet along the way (I.e., hosts and locals). People – the good, bad, and obnoxious – factor very high among what makes for special or particularly memorable trips. Emily and I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled to some amazing places but also to have met and traveled with some pretty incredible folks.

We’ve also fanned the stench of a few turds along the way too. Being from the South, I have a tendency to placate offensive behavior under normal circumstances as a way to just be nice and get along but I’ve learned that when you’re spending money and trying your best to enjoy yourself and the amazing things you’re getting to see, you just have to speak up and quickly neutralize any negativity wherever it pops up or you’ll end up having more bad memories than good ones.

Believe it or not, on one trip we actually met a guy who thought that America should formally adopt French inspired economic and tax policies but also told me that he was appalled that southern white people indiscriminately kill black people whenever they want. Wow! What are they drinking in Cleveland these days? For the rest of the blue-necks out there, NO we don’t, nor would anyone want to. It’s amazing what dramatic television and a little news bias can conjure up in people’s minds. We have the same sets of demographics as everyone else in America, we just talk funny and eat better food.

When a mandatory seat rotation forced us to sit next to each other, I just politely told him that political conversations just piss people off and magically he became a decent conversationalist. Imagine me telling someone to stop talking politics…you know it had to be bad. But it was a lesson learned. It’s your vacation too so set some boundaries and let loose – after all, you may only be going to visit ancient Roman toilets once in your life!

We were fortunate, however, to sit next to a retired 76 year old Catholic Nun this trip too. Darlene and her traveling companion Ruth were terrific to travel with. There are a few pictures of them scattered on my Facebook pics…the best one is Darlene holding up a small plastic water bottle with an alcoholic beverage inside on our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Darlene and Ruth were excited to see the ancient cave churches by air but also a little apprehensive of what the balloon ride might be like. I asked her what was inside the bottle and she pricelessly responded, “holy spirits”. We loved them so much.

Eileen and Don were from Boston and we had such a great time traveling with them. Eileen was so sweet, like the mom in your neighborhood that all the other kids wanted, always checking on us and making sure we were comfortable. With a perpetual smile on her face she livened up the crowd no matter how tired we were. Her husband Don has a wonderful Boston accent and we cracked up all day long listening to Angel, from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, trying to banter with him using a Mayberry – Boston brogue.

Speaking of Angel, her and her companion Gary turned out to be the most awesome traveling partners ever. Gary is from Wytheville, Virginia and owns “Old Fort” with his cousins, a western store that Emily sells Wrangler products to. If you’re in the area, look him up and buy some Wrangler jeans. We’ve had so much fun traveling with them and have laughed incessantly for two thousand miles. You never really know someone until you’ve spent two weeks with them eating questionable meat products that defy the rules of pronunciation. Gary and Angel are two of those people you’d want to be with if you’re suddenly trapped in a place that’s government has banned the use of toilet paper.

Last but not least, I have to give honorable mention to our Asian friends. Let’s get one thing straight…I love Asian people. Having been to Japan, I can say that it was one of my more awesome traveling experiences. BUT, hum, how do I say this politely? Ok, I’ll just let it out; as nice as Asian people usually are, as a rule they absolutely cannot wrap their minds around the concept of an orderly line. One minute you’re thinking, “oh, that Asian couple is so sweet, let’s invite them over for the weekend”, and the next minute they’ve jumped ahead of you in a line that you’ve been patiently waiting your turn in for 20 minutes. Oh well, we all have a different set of norms don’t we?

What about the facilities? You know what I’m talking about don’t ya? Yes, I’m talking about the good ole porcelain throne…well, in some cases it’s more like a “porcelain stone” with a hole in it. If you haven’t seen one, they’re actually pretty common in public restrooms in the Near and Far East. It’s like a flat or “flush” (pun intended) porcelain contraption with a hole in it that you must be an professional athlete to use. I avoided it as long as I could but eventually “stuff” happens and one must “doo” in Rome as the Romans “doo”. Be forewarned that decent upper body strength, the ability to ignore the occasional shoe faux-pas and having anatomically forgiving body-parts may be required.

Now let’s talk about places. Every place has its focal point or its special attributes. Germany has its Castles, quaint walled riverside villages and great beer. France has its wine, beautiful language and art. Italy has two-thirds of the worlds ancient treasures, overly expressive hand gestures, and great food. Hawaii has beautiful beaches, volcanos and beautiful people doing the hula and other ethnic or war dances. If you’ve been to these places then you know what I’m talking about.

But Emily and I have made a conscious decision to go to some places that most Americans seldom visit. Last year it was the Dalmatian Coast of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. This year it was a two-week / two-thousand mile cultural saturation of Turkey. We’d been to Turkey once before with another couple, Keith and Sheri, who were very generous to include us in their family vacation 5 years ago but we’d only seen a small portion of Turkey in the two days we were there which sort of percolated an interest for us to see even more.

Little did we know at the time that Turkey held so many historical treasures, especially for Christians. As you may know, Christianity was not allowed to be practiced legally until he 4th century. The Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who’s mother was Greek, finally authorized the religion to be openly practiced in the 380 A.D. as the Greek Orthodox Church, in tribute to his beloved mom. Well, despite the risk of death, Christianity was secretly being taught in tiny cave churches in Cappadocia, Turkey, in the first century A.D..

These were the first Christian churches known to have existed. The villages in that region lie squarely between two now extinct volcanoes which formed some pretty amazing and unusual conical shaped stone formations that the early Christians carved caves inside. The locals call them fairy chimneys. Think dakota badlands meet hobbit villages and you’ll have a general idea of how they look. You could also Google it if you want to see what they look like but that would just be boring, go see it because it’s amazing. People still actually live in some of these caves.

Most of Christ’s Apostles taught, preached, and lived for periods of time in many of these now Turkish cities which were part of the Roman Empire at the time. The seven churches of Revelation are all in Turkey – we visited 4 of them. Two of the 7 wonders of the ancient world were in Turkey – we visited one. Mount Ararat is also in Turkey. The first known use of he word “Christian” was in ancient Antioch in southeast Turkey. Having the privilege to stand where the Apostles would have stood to preach is truly an amazing thing.

If I had to pick my choice of my top 3 places I’ve visited in terms of beauty or just the plain cool factor, I’d say my choices would be:
Hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia;
Prague (old city); and,
The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.

If you’re thinking of traveling to see early Christianity sites and you’re terrified to travel to Israel, try Turkey. The people love Americans, can speak decent English (for the most part) and the country is undergoing an infrastructure transformation in an attempt to be accepted to the EU so their roads are improving and their accommodations for tourists are very good. Plus, they have this cool meat called Doner…whatever in the heck that is.