Category Archives: Travel

First Cornhole… Maybe Featherbowling Is Next?

Back in 2007, I wrote about the game "Cornhole"which I had just heard about.  Since then, it has become an ingrained part of our social life – thanks to my discovery, friends of ours created boards that have been used at numerous parties and traveled to several states.   We even had them at our wedding reception!   In addition, I've seen it show up in a lot of other places, not the least of which was seeing some pre-fab boards in the seasonal aisle of Target and Walmart this past summer.  Clearly I was onto something.

Tonight, I was sitting here watching the "Rust Belt" episode of Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations.  During the course of the show, he visited Baltimore, Detroit and Buffalo.  While in Detroit, he visited the Cadieux Cafe, where he participated in a game of Feather Bowling

Could this be the next Cornhole?  It requires a bit more work and isn't as portable as Cornhole, but it looks like a blast.  Let me describe it: there is a what looks like a bowling alley in the floor that isn't flat, but rather is rounded, like a half pipe.  At one end is a feather sticking out of the floor – yes, a feather.  At the other end are people holding "balls" that look like squat rounds of cheese – they are rounded, but flat on each end.   Kinda like an over sized Gouda or mini Parmesan cheese wheel.

The object of the game is a bit like bocce or horseshoes: roll the ball towards the feather, and try to be the closest to the feather after all the balls have been thrown.  Like any great, addictive game, it is incredibly simple, easy to understand, but difficult to master.  I now want to travel to Detroit just to give this game a try.  If anyone has ever played it, please let me know if it is as much fun as it looks!  

If You’re Wearing A Flowered Shirt and Shorts, Stay Away From Me!

As I’ve referenced before, I’m a pretty frequent flier.  Unfortunately, I fly a lot around in the Northeast US, so while I’m often on a plane, I don’t rack up a lot of miles, which means that my frequent flier mileage doesn’t necessarily reflect how much of an experienced traveler  I am.  But I am an experienced traveler – I’m the guy that the TSA agents like… I make sure I pat myself down before going through the metal detector, know that I have to take my laptop out of my briefcase and always take off my shoes.  I even know that I need to move down to the end of the x-ray belt and what order things need to go through the x-ray so that I can get my shoes on, put my laptop in my briefcase, put my quart bag of toiletries in my rolling suitcase, and then put my briefcase on my suitcase and then put on my jacket so I can go tie my shoes away from the line of people trying to get through security.

OK, so I’m a bit "type A" about going through security, but it works and it makes it much less stressful.

So what drives someone like me crazy is getting stuck behind "amateurs."  If I’m not in a rush, I find it humorous, like the time a TSA guard asked an older gentleman to take off his shoes and he responded by asking "why?"  Here’s a hint: when the nice man with the gun/taser/mace spray/ability to lock you up tells you to take off your shoes, you simply take off your shoes.  One of my all-time favorites is the couple that didn’t quite understand the way that the carry-on liquids rule works.   Not only did they not have a quart bag, but in the bag they DID have, they had large containers of hair gel, shampoo, etc.  I actually heard them arguing with a TSA agent, saying that there was two of them, so couldn’t they have a 6 ounce bottle of shampoo?   You’re allowed 3 ounce containers per person, so why not a 6 ounce container if you’re traveling together?  Why not indeed? 

I’ve often wished for an "expert" lane at airport security.  A lane where the frequent travelers – usually identified by a briefcase, a rolling carry-on, and a quart bag filled with generic travel sized toiletry containers written on with a black Sharpie – can do their thing and not get frustrated by the family of four that hasn’t flown in 5 years, didn’t bother to read what they are supposed to do before getting on the plane and are now in their third pass through the metal detector.

Turns out I’m not alone – Logan airport in Boston is considering such a plan, and apparently it is being tested in Denver and Salt Lake City.  Reading that Denver article is interesting – it says that the last thing families want to do is hold up people in the line.  I am sure this is true, and I’ve seen very apologetic people if they are messing up the security line, and I appreciate the apology.  But I’ve also seen people that are completely ignorant of their surrounding and fellow travelers.  Those are the people who REALLY bug me.  Maybe we should have these three lanes: 1) Know what you’re doing and care about getting through quickly  2) Kind of know what you’re doing and don’t mind waiting with others 3) No clue and ignorant of anyone else. 

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center

I almost hesitate to share this with everyone, lest it gets overrun with people…  this weekend we went to the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. What a great, relatively unknown oasis in the great little city of Providence! 

Open only about a year at this point, the Botanical Center is three massive greenhouses, two of which are open to the public and filled with a wide assortment of tropical flowers, plants and orchids, all arranged around beautiful fountains and ponds.  The other greenhouse is used for lectures and classes. 

A highlight is the carnivorous plant exhibit (brought to you by the New England Carnivorous Plant Society) which allows you to see all those cool plants that trap and digest insects (and rodents!).  If you find yourself with an hour to spare after checking out the Roger Williams Zoo, for $3, you can’t go wrong at the botanical center.

Reflections on Europe

So after 11 days of sightseeing and traveling in two of the greatest capitol cities in the world, we came home and eventually returned to our usual routine.  We were smart enough to come back on a Thursday, take Friday off from work and catch up on email and voice mail then.  Monday was like returning after a long weekend.

People ask what was the highlight of the trip.  We went there for Jono’s Ordination as a Deacon, so that was a highlight.  And we got engaged under the Eiffel tower at night – that is another natural highlight.  Other highlights were seeing the Colleseum, St. Peter’s Basillica, the Arc de Triumph, and the Eiffel tower.   

Another question is which city I liked better.  I really enjoyed Paris, but wouldn’t return again without taking some French lessons.  Rome was much more English-friendly, with nearly every restaurant offering menus in English as well as Italian.  Paris had a more contemporary feel, like a modern city that was still changing and growing.  Rome is more like a city-sized museum, but I don’t view that as a negative.  It is a great city and an amazing place to visit.  If I were to head back to Italy, I would probably explore other parts of the country, not just Rome.  Paris though, I could easily spend another week in, especially if I knew more French.

As for the food, we definitely had more consistently good food in Rome than in Paris, but that may have also been a function of the English-friendliness of Rome: we were simply more capable of ordering what we wanted and knowing what we were ordering.

However, more than the food or specific things we saw or did, what really made a difference was just the cultural learning and expanding my mind.  To see how another culture lives; the cars they drive, the food they eat, where and how they shop, where they live, how they live.  To see the places they worship and where they commit their sins… 

Memories to last a lifetime, though I hope I do make it back someday.  I feel that in some small way I am a better person for having gone overseas; not better than everyone else, but just better for having a greater understanding of how other cultures live.  And isn’t that what travel is supposed to be all about?

Paris, Day Trois

After a busy day and eventful evening in Paris, we slept in until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, finally feeling like we’re on vacation!  After waking, we stopped by our local crepe stand for crepes avec sucre and took the tour bus to the Arc de Triomphe.  Seeing this up close was a personal highlight of the trip.  I’m French by heritage and the Arc is such a symbol of the culture, I was in awe of seeing it up close and personal.  I had read that the view from the top is spectacular, so we got in line to get tickets and then saw the sign: "There are 284 steps to the top.  There is no elevator."  This being our eleventh day of this trip and basically our 10th day of walking around major cities, we bailed.  If it had been a week earlier we probably would have gone for it, but at that point, we just couldn’t muster up the strength.

Instead, we headed to another landmark that DID have an elevator (thank goodness!), the Eiffel Tower.  We got off at the Trocadero where we searched for something for lunch.  We were reaching the end of our trip and we – me in particular – were getting near the end of our rope of dealing with foreign languages while eating and we opted for some sidewalk food, a hot dog in a baguette.  It was good, though not as good as the hot dog panini in Rome.  We followed it up with a much more Parisian dessert: crepes with meil (honey) and chocolate.

The trip up the Eiffel tower was another highlight.  We decided to go all the way to the third level platform, which costs more.  I’m glad that we went up to the top just to say we did it, but wouldn’t do it again.  The view from the top isn’t any better than the one from the second platform and you have to deal with more fog, clouds and smog the further up you get, and everything gets so small you really can’t see too much detail.  But the view is phenomenal regardless – the grey-blue roofs of Paris and the Seine river passing through it all is a great memory to have.

We then got back onto our tour bus and took it to Montmarte, to see Sacre Coeur.  This is the area that holds the Moulin Rouge, which turns out to be quite the seedy "red light" district.  Lots of adult toy and video stores line the streets, and my favorite, the "gadgetierre," a French word that I’m not exactly sure of the meaning of, but pretty sure I have a good idea.

Sacre Coeur was like Notre Dame in that it was a holy place marked by a number of non-sacred features: a book store right in the church, a souvenir coin maker in the back of the church and several street performers on the front stairs of the church. We did get a chance to see some great soccer ball jugglers though.

The tour bus route ended and we took a subway back to our hotel and got ready to go out to dinner and our show at Moulin Rouge.  We had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, fulfilling our obligation to visit there.  We then got to the Moulin Rouge about 20 minutes before show time.  It was raining that night and we figured that 20 minutes before would be good timing to get in and get our seats.  Unfortunately, apparently, the shows start late and we found ourselves standing in the rain for nearly 40 minutes.  We did have a great little show in front of us though: this couple from Minnesota were fondling and making out with each other to the point of coitus.  His hand was grabbing the underside of her ass, starting to "reach around" and they were hiding behind an umbrella, making audible sucking noises as they made out.  Then we realized that her left hand was no where to be seen and his pants were bunched oddly.  Like there was… a… hand… down… the… front… 

Anyway – after that graphic show, we were finally ushered into the Moulin Rouge.  I wish I could tell you how they figure out how to seat everyone, but I’m clueless.  We showed our Internet reservation, and told us to follow them.  We wound our way through all these close-set tables, reminiscent of the nightclub scene in Good Fellas, to a table on the far side of the club, close to the stage. 

One of my favorite memories came next: the sound of champagne corks popping throughout the club.  You get a bottle of champagne for every couple, so there were hundreds of corks being expertly popped by the busy waiters, who carried small penlights between their teeth once the lights went down. 

The Moulin Rouge show itself was far more spectacular than I thought it would be.  We could only understand about half the show, since it was split between French and English, but it was all enjoyable.  There were a few juggling/magic skits and many singing/dancing numbers.  The stage sets would changes so fast and seamlessly that you wouldn’t even notice that they had gone from a Middle-Eastern set to a Latin American set.  One of the highlights was when a large water tank rose out of the stage – about 10 feet wide and 20 feet long – with three boa constrictors in it.  A topless dancer (oh yeah – most of them are topless and it must be VERY COLD back stage) jumped in and danced and writhed with the snakes for 5 minutes.

After the show, we tried to catch a cab across town.  One cab driver wanted 35 Euro for the ride, but another took us for 15.

Another busy and long day… but only one more day in Paris left!

Paris, Day Deux

Monday morning we got up at a reasonable time – around 9 a.m. or so, and had breakfast from a sidewalk crêpe shop down the street from the hotel.  This brought back fond memories of childhood, as it happened to be Columbus Day back in the states and I had a crêpe filled with raspberry preserves (after it took me about 5 minutes of struggling to remember that raspberry in French was "framboise"), something that I hadn’t had since our local French club served crêpes at the local Autumnfest, and I always had them with raspberry.  The little old woman who served us made the crêpes on the large flat pan with grace and ease. 

We walked over to Notre Dame cathedral, which was a great starting point for our Parisian trip, as it provided a point of reference in comparison to the many churches we saw in Rome.  While the Roman churches were ostentatious and bold, Notre Dame was dark and reserved.  The tourists were also different, as they were less respectful of the church as a holy place than the tourists in Rome were.  Of course, the Churches are a bit more sanctimonious as well, with all the Parisian churches we visited offering gift shops and book stores right in the churches, and most of them offering souvenir coins made out of a penny that dropped into the machine and then you turn the crank.  Hardly all basins of holy water and crucifixes.

We walked from Notre Dame to Île de la Cité, then tried to get into St. Chappell, but we weren’t able to figure out if were in the line for that or the courthouse, and bailed.  We found ourselves near the Pompidou Center, so we spent some time in that area, admiring the contrast of modern and classic architecture.  After that we had lunch at a classic-looking bistro where we enjoyed excellent French onion soup.

From there, we headed to an area that I was anxious to explore – Place de la Madeleine.  It is well known for its many gourmet stores, including a Maille store, a boutique store of Maille brand mustards.  This was a really unique experience, where buying mustards was like buying jewelry: you picked what you wanted from the glass cases and then the clerk pulled it out of the drawers, wrapped it in custom printed black and gold paper with a seal and then put it a beautiful heavy bag.  They also sell ceramic jars of various sizes that you can bring in to be refilled from the draught pumps on the sales counter.  Even the sampling method was impressive, with small dabs of mustard served on small rounds of paper.  We bought a sample pack, a jar of peach-chili mustard and some of their ancienne style chardonnay grainy mustard.

We also visited a tea store, a honey store (over 200 types of honey), and Marquise De Sevigne chocolates (try the apple filled chocolates if you get a chance.  very, very good).  We also had a little taste of home by resting our feet in a Starbucks and enjoying the chocolates we had just purchased.

We were now near the Opera House, which would be a must-see for me on a second trip to Paris.  We then bought some touristy open-air double decker bus tickets for the next two days since were getting sick of walking everywhere after a week of walking everywhere in Rome and all day in Paris thus far.  We rode around the city for a while, seeing the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.  Things were getting a bit chilly by that point, so we took a subway to the hotel where we got ready for dinner.  We tried going to Brasserie Lipp, but unlike Rome, not all restaurants are all English friendly.   We chickened out of that and a few other places before settling on another place, Brasserie Saint Benoit, which offered up a decent, if not fantastic meal.

We left there and headed over to the Trocadero, where we stopped for a glass of champagne, mainly to use the bathroom at L’Ancien Trocadero.  Unfortunately, the glass of champagne was definitely the better of the deal, since the bathroom was pretty nasty.

We walked over to the area overlooking the Eiffel tower, admiring the beautiful sight.  It was a sight that sent chills up and down my spine, as it is an icon that I wasn’t sure I would ever see.  Even with a giant rugby ball in the middle (did I mention that it was the World Rugby Cup while were were in Paris?  No?  It was hard to miss… there was rugby everywhere), it was gorgeous.  I took some photos and then as we started to walk down towards the tower, it began to glitter and sparkle.  It is something that started back in 2000, for the new millennium, and happens each night.  I asked as we walked towards it, "how long do you think it lasts, a half hour or so?" to which Meghan said incredulously "I don’t think so babe… probably a few minutes." 

As we got closer, she kept offering to stop so I could take a photo, and I kept saying "no, let’s get closer" which she found strange.  Once we were right underneath the tower, with it still glittering and sparkling, I started fumbling around in my camera bag, saying that I wanted to try something new with the camera.  Instead of a new lens or filter though, I explained I had something else that sparkles and got down on one knee…  it was a bit of planned spontaneity and one that took my now fiance quite by surprise, since she never would have thought I had managed to pull it off. 

Now you know what I’ll probably be writing about in the next year: being engaged, getting married and planning a wedding.  I already have at least five blog entries worth of material and its only been about a month….

Anyway – we still had two more days in Paris.  After our very eventful night and a late night cab ride back to the hotel, we rested up in preparation of our first day in Paris as a newly engaged couple.

Here Oui Are In Paris!

I’m approaching blogging critical mass, so please excuse the bad pun of a title.

We left Rome on October 7, heading to London to catch our connecting flight.  We had heard horror stories about Heathrow and were concerned that nearly 3 hours wouldn’t be enough to catch our connecting flight.  Clearly a lot of people don’t know how to handle airports, since we found it easy to navigate and got there with plenty of time.  We were starving by the time we got there and grabbed lunch at the first place we found in our terminal, which turned out to be an Italian place.  Of course, we found an English style pub at the other end of the terminal later on, but it was too late at that point.

Once on our flight to Paris, we grabbed a cab to our hotel.  On the ride into the city, the differences between Rome and Paris were apparent.  The increased number of tall buildings and modern architecture was obvious.

We stayed at Hotel du Commerce, another recommendation based on Meghan’s past travels.  It offers basic accommodations, but clean rooms and bathrooms with a good location.  Unfortunately, we were on the fifth floor and there’s no elevator.  We left some of our luggage in the storage room, since it was bad enough hauling two weeks’ worth of luggage – including formal wear for all the masses and dinners we had in Rome – up five flights of very narrow and curvy stairs.

After the climb we had a late dinner at the bistro next to the hotel, L’Authre Bistro.  I had steak au poivre while Meghan had a great hamburger.  And yes, the french fries were great!  This meal gave our first lesson in Paris: cocktails are EXPENSIVE.  Usually we’ll have a gin & tonic and vodka & tonic before dinner, but hadn’t the whole time in Rome.  We ordered drinks and were shocked first by the way it was served: all the liquor in the glass with a bottle of tonic on the side with a glowing straw in the glass.  Then when we got the bill, we were shocked by the price: twelve Euro for a drink!

After a long day of traveling, we were ready for bed, so we rested up for our first full day in Paris.

Rome… on the Seventh Day, We Rested

So we began our last full day in Rome by having breakfast with Jono.  I had my first chocolate-filled cornetto, which depressed me a little bit, since I clearly should have been having this every morning.  I also love the light fruit juices that they have in the bars.  We walked off the breakfast with a trip to Palatine Hill, which offers beautiful views over the city, the Roman Forum and Circus Maximus

Then we went to Crypta Balbi, a museum that had been listed in a tour guide book as a great place to go to escape the crowd.  Why there isn’t a crowd there is beyond me (other than the fact that it isn’t very well marked).  The museum is basically an enclosed archaeological dig showcasing how the layers of Rome have been built over each other through the centuries.  You can see where the ancient wagon wheels created ruts in ancient roads and how a theater and houses were built on top of that. 

We stopped at the Church of the Gesù so that Jono could pray, but it was a great stop for that, allowing us to see a beautiful church with an amazing ceiling featuring the Triumph of the Name of Jesus.

We had lunch at the same place we had the first day in Rome, having some more excellent pizza, and then went back to our hotel to start packing.  Our last night in Rome concluded with a Mass closing out the ordination week.  It was beautiful even though the newly ordained deacon who gave the sermon was a bit long.  He gave what could have been three good sermons….

Dinner was back at Sor’eva where I had a phenomenal shrimp risotto with lots of Parmesan cheese, and then we retired back to the NAC for drinks and Cuban cigars on the rooftop.  It had rained a bit earlier in the day, and while the rain had cleared out over Rome, there was still lightning in the clouds around the city.  We sat there overlooking the lit city of Rome and lightning all around us, drinking our wine and prosesco and smoking our cigars.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect week in Rome.

We went to bed, reluctantly knowing that it was our last night in Rome.  We awoke the next day to a light rain, providing a sadly romantic ending to the Rome leg of our trip.  Unbelievably we still had a whole other city to go!!