Saturday, September 11, 2010

Antiquities Overload

I take back some of what I said about the Greeks not doing a good job of  preserving and displaying their antiquities. Today we went to the Greek Archeaological Museum and the Benaki Museum. They turned out to be two of the most spectacular museums we have visited anywhere. They weren’t very crowded, because most shore excursions from the massive cruise ships do not include these sites.

It’s hard to determine which characters are from mythology and which were real people. The Greek history goes back several thousand years and most of the “good stuff” is from hundreds or thousands of years B.C.. After several hours in the two museums, it was mind dulling. One could spend weeks in these two places studying the exhibits and appreciating the historical significance of all of it.

You are allowed to take pictures in some of the museums, but you are not allowed to use flash or to take pictures posing next to the statues. I couldn’t figure out the rationale for the latter rule until I started to study the Greek statues. Unlike the Egyptian statues, the Greek statues are naked. I guess they don’t want people taking photos in sexually suggestive poses with the naked statues (use your imagination).

Athens was a small city until sometime in the 1800s. Now it is a city of 5M+ people in a country of only 11M people. The 2004 Olympic Games were both a curse and a blessing for the city. They undertook a number of massive construction projects and infrastructure improvements that have greatly enhanced the city. But it put the country into deep debt and a lot of the construction projects have little use in today’s Athens.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Our Collection of Greek “Crapola” Photos

Every city has its horde of tourist shops and Athens is no exception. The Plaka area is the oldest part of the city, with many narrow streets, pedestrian lanes, and loads of shops geared to the tourist traffic. Most tourists stay in hotels in or near the Plaka. Even the passengers from the numerous large cruise ships spend at least an afternoon or evening in the Plaka.

Every storefront is either a cafĂ©, bar, restaurant, clothing store, jeweler, or tourist-oriented gift (crapola) shop. We’ve made it a habit of taking photos of the crapola highlights from each city we visit. Athens got its share of photos.
What’s remarkable about all these tourist items is that 1) people actually buy them in quantity – the inventory seems to turn over rapidly, and 2) most of the stuff is actually made in China.

My favorite crapola item in Athens was the ridiculous looking shoes/slippers.

Check out the latest additions to our collection of crapola photos:

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Climbing the Acropolis

I know it is Rosh Hashonah, but the tour schedule is the tour schedule. This morning we climbed to the top of the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. The climb wasn't a problem.

The thousands of tourists from the cruise ships docked in the harbor, piling out of the dozens of buses, and descending on the Acropolis the same time as we did - that was the problem.

If you are into people watching, it was a hilarious scene to see the German, Italian, Spanish, and of course, American tourists. It was easy to pick out the nationalities without even listening to them speak. The Italians were all dressed in designer fashions (including the women in high heels) and seemingly oblivious to the 90 degree heat. Most of the Americans were overweight and dressed like slobs, but comfortable slobs. The Spanish talked nonstop, and the Germans dressed with no eye for color coordination or style.

The Greeks need to do a much better job restoring all their ancient sites. The only way they are going to expand their economy is with tourism, yet the historical sites aren't that impressive.

The new Acropolis museum was the most interesting thing we saw. Just completed a couple of years ago, it does a nice job of displaying the history of the Greek civilization. Too bad the British "stole" some of the best pieces back in the early 1800s (including chunks of the Parthenon) and now display them in the British Museum in London. Good luck trying to get the British to give them back to Greece.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

24 Hours in Athens

It's now been a bit over 24 hours since we arrived in Athens. We had a great view of the Acropolis from our hotel room. Tomorrow, we climb up there.

We met the people on the pre-trip tour of Athens before our cruise. Eleven of us on the pre-trip. As we expected, there are some unusual characters. Caren especially liked this couple from Sacramento that looked equipped to venture into the bush on safari.

Caren and I are in our typical California casual wear - shorts, golf shirts, and flip-flops.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

John, the New Jersey Taxi Driver

First of all, the international terminal at LAX wasn't as bad as I remembered from a few months ago. There is a lot of construction going on to improve the concourses and add new gates. But, just when I was about to change my mind, we found that the elevator to the Star Alliance lounge was broken. Two flights of stairs later, we made it up there. And then two flights of stairs back down - good exercise.

As expected, our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt was right on schedule. Our connection to Athens was in an older section of Frankfurt airport - no access to the business class lounge. Aargh!

When we arrived in Athens, our car driver John was waiting for us. He sounded like he was straight out of New Jersey - he was. His family moved back to Greece more than 15 years ago. He asked how the Yankees and (football) Giants were doing. Caren wanted to ask him if his parents owned a diner in Jersey, but I told her that was a stereotype she should drop.

A shower and short nap later, we walked down the street from our hotel to a small, family run restaurant. Mom and Dad were in the kitchen and the two sons handled the tables out front. Tzasiki, zucchini croquettes, moussaka, fresh fried anchovies, and two carafes of wine. The bill came to 30 Euros (US$39). Try matching that in LA.

Now to catch up on our sleep and start touring tomorrow.

Monday, September 06, 2010

On Our Way to Greece and the Dalmatian Coast

Today, we're off on another journey - this time to Greece and the Dalmatian Coast (i.e. the Balkans). The families of many of our friends originally came from Croatia so we have received lots of advice about what to see, what to eat, and especially, what to drink.

This is a Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic trip like our trip to Egypt and Jordan last year. Not a luxury cruise; more an expedition with lecturers and visits to lots of historical sites. (I hope we visit some "historic" wineries, pastry shops, and restaurants.)

After a few days in Athens, we board our boat (not big enough to be called a ship). 175' long, three masted sailing vessel that holds 44 passengers. Yes, it also has an engine. We're not planning to climb the mast, operate the winches for the sails, and clean the bilge. It looks modern, luxurious, and comfy.

Been reading some travel and history books about Greece, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, and Croatia. Looks like we're going to see a LOT of old ruins in Greece. Maybe not as old as some of the stuff we saw in Egypt, but still old.

The Balkan countries seem to have been invaded and ruled by nearly everyone over the years. I think we'll be seeing quite a few old forts, castles, and churches, as well as a lot of beautiful scenery.

Here's a map of our itinerary:

Of course, this means another opportunity to traverse the "third world" international terminal at LAX. What a terrible facility! Seriously, we've traveled to over 50 countries around the world and this rates as the third worst airport terminal I can remember (Delhi's international terminal is the worst, followed closely by Yangon (Rangoon), Burma).

We're flying Lufthansa to Frankfurt, then connecting to Athens. I hope they take good care of our luggage. I'm bringing along a "six pack" of wine to drink at dinner on the boat.

More to follow when we get to Athens.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Recent Readings

Here are some books that we recently finished:

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga. A series of stories about various people living in a fictional city in south India. If you read this book (or his book The White Tiger) and still want to go to India, you are as crazy as we are.

Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre. Another book about Nazis and double agents. Caren loves to read this genre of books.

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva. Another is the series of spy thrillers he's written with a fictional Israeli agent, Gabriel Allon. First book I read on Caren's new Kindle 3.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Caren's Photo Wins

Caren entered this photo in the weekly travel picture contest on And she won!! Congratulations.

She took this picture one morning on the streets of Narlai in the state of Rajasthan during our bicycle trip in India in October 2008. She used her Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 ultrazoom digital camera.

The woman's son is disabled and she walks him around town every day in a large bowl balanced on her head. She stopped to speak with Caren and explained that the boy enjoys the daily walks. He also has a wheelchair that she uses some of the time.

This was one of the many memorable "up close and personal" experiences we had on our trip to India. Check out the other blog postings and links to the photo albums from the trip.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Exploring Egypt and Jordan (the country)

Tomorrow, we are headed off on another adventurous journey - this time to Egypt and Jordan. We are going on a tour organized by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.

Our first stop is Cairo and we are arriving two days ahead of the start of the tour. So, I've arranged a couple of days of interesting activities before the formal program begins. No......we are not going to sit down with the Palestinians and the Israelis to try hammering out a peace agreement. And no....we are NOT going carpet shopping. (We've done far too much of that in Morocco and India.)

One day, we are going to take a cooking class in a woman's home and learn to make several Egyptian/Middle Eastern recipes. (Get ready for an invitation to dinner at our house and a showing of a DVD of our photos and video - just like watching boring home movies when we were kids.) The next day, I hired a guide to show us around sites in Cairo that our tour isn't going to visit - lots of mosques, churches, and even a synagogue.

This all assumes we arrive in Cairo - I think the chances are pretty good. We've flown the Air France flight from LAX to Paris a couple of times before and it's reliable. The Paris to Cairo leg I'm not too sure about.

If you want a good laugh and see a bit of Cairo ahead of our dinner, check out Anthony Bourdain's show on The Travel Channel. If they broadcast his episode visiting Cairo, it's hilarious. He went the entire trip and refused to visit the pyramids. It's also on The Travel Channel's website and YouTube for viewing.

Check out the map below and the links to the itineraries for our tour to each country.

Trip Itinerary (Egypt)

Trip Itinerary (Jordan)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Our First Wine Has Arrived

Yesterday, our UPS driver delivered a case of the first wine that we produced at Crushpad in San Francisco under the name of Brandywine Wine Cellars. Brandywine is Barry, Laurie, Caren, and me.

2007 Satire Pinot Noir from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County.

Throwing fears of bottle shock to the winds, we opened a bottle and tasted it. This is a dark, complex, age-worthy Pinot. Purple/red in color. Nose of earth, tar, black cherry, and oak. Not a hugely fruit-forward wine. Lush palate with an array of berry fruits. Long finish for a Pinot this young. This will definitely improve with age.

Now we need to price it and start to sell it. We have a commercial license and need to build a website so people can place orders. Caren and I have 12 cases of the stuff.

Or we can drink it and give some away to friends.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Challenges with the Granddog

The last two months, our daughter Erin has had a few problems with her dog Colbie.

First, Colbie got hit by a car when she was being walked (and on her leash). Hit and run driver. The dog got bruised and was shook up, but all is well (after Dad picked up the vet bill).

While at the vet hospital, they took an X-ray and found not one, but two items in the dog's stomach. She had swallowed two balls. Time to schedule surgery.

While we were in D.C., Colbie went in for surgery to have the items in her stomach removed. Colbie's surgery was one of FOUR such surgeries the vet performed that day. The vet said that she does an average of six such procedures every week.

Here is a photo of what they pulled from the dog's stomach - a small tennis ball and a deflated, inflatable football dog toy.

Dad picked up the vet bill for this one too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama's Inauguration

Last week, we traveled to Washington, DC to visit Erin and to attend parts of the Presidential Inauguration for Barack Obama. Here is a photo and video show of some of the events. Click on the caption icon in the bottom left to view the captions. On a few slides, you will see a movie icon in the lower left. Click on the icon to see the video run.

It was VERY COLD back East. It reminded me why we live in California.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Out with the Old, In with the New

Today was the day we sold the old wheels and officially went back to being a two car family. Our friend "The Sheriff" bought our old Lexus after we bought a new Beemer a few weeks ago. He has to give up his "company car" in a few months when he retires from LASD. He fell in love with the Lexus so we made him a deal.

Kumquat is sorry to see his "perch" in the garage go.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chanra's Bicycle Racing Team

Our friend Chanra in Siem Reap, Cambodia, participated in a mountain biking race this past weekend. He finished 16 out of 150 riders. Chanra is the one in the orange jersey holding up the bicycle. That's his wife in some of the photos.

Our friends John and Pauline recently returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. They met Chanra when they arrived in Siem Reap. Coincidentally, their tour guide rented bicycles for them from Chanra. Little did they know that they helped Chanra (and me) make some money.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Barrel Tasting the Good Stuff

Our friends Margot and JP are over from Australia. They spent the Thanksgiving holiday on the East Coast and then headed to LA before their long flight back to Sydney.

We took them up to Santa Barbara County for a night to do some wine tasting, enjoy the scenery, and sample some good food.

We spent a couple of hours at Tantara Winery outside of Santa Maria. We last visited Tantara about three years ago. This is the winery where we know one of the owners.

We sampled various Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Chardonnays from the barrels for about two hours. Fortunately, we didn't have to drive back to LA that night.

After the barrel tasting experience, we headed to Solvang to spend the night and had dinner at The Hitching Post in Buellton. This restaurant was made famous in the movie "Sideways" and is famous for their wood grilled dishes. We did NOT order Merlot (the big joke in the movie).