Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Live, Love Pittsburgh. Experience the Warhol

All eyes will be on one of my favorite cities this week. The G-20 Summit meets in Pittsburgh Sept. 24-25 and the world will get a glimpse at the Burgh voted "Most Livable City." Pittsburgh, clean and green, has long shed its steel mill and rust belt image. I can't count the times I have visited
Pittsburgh, but it has to be in the hundreds, and
I see something new. On my last trip this past May,
my aunt and I visited the Warhol Museum
in honor of its native son Andy Warhol. It was
The museum, housed in a renovated warehouse on the north side, is one of four Carnegie Museums in the city and the single largest museum in the
country devoted to a single artist.

But what is the very best part of Pittsburgh? It is hard to miss: the point where three rivers--the Allegheny, Monongohela, and the Ohio come together. Make sure to view it from a high vantage point.

About Pittsburgh:

About the Summit:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blues Cruisin'--Delbert McClinton's Sandy Beaches Cruise 15

I had not been on a cruise in many years and was dying to get shipboard again. So when I had
the chance to go on Delbert McClinton's Sandy Beaches Cruise 15, I made my reservation faster than you can say "Book my flight!"

Actually, I did pause for a moment to think whether it was a wise decision. The cruise was leaving out of San Diego January 17 and sailing down to Ixtapa, Zihuatanego, and Manzanillo, Mexico, returning to San Diego January 24. I had a unique situation: I was taking the bar exam exactly a month later on February 24-25. Should I take the risk of going on vacation that close to the exam date?

Never having turned down the possibility of a vacation before, I wasn't going to start now. Armed with my Law Decks flashcard set, one BarBri question book, and my paper outlines, I did set out for adventure. I worked out a schedule as to how many flashcards I would study every day. My motto is why study at home when you can study in a really fun place? (Find out if I passed or not at the end of this post.)

The long flight enabled me to do a full-day test on the plane. Didn't do too badly, which reinforced the idea that I had made the right decision to go. I stayed that night with my friend Alice in Coronado. Coronado, of course, is lovely, but I wouldn't have much time to see it this time. That's OK, because I have been there before and am sure I will come back.

(Molly, Delbert's merchandise queen,
holds up the shirt I bought.)

Alice drove me to the shipyard the next morning, and I waved goodbye as I got in line to enter the ship. The MS Oosterdam was lovely. I was getting more excited by the minute.

My cabin was fantastic--a verdanah with my own private balcony. I took full advantage of the luxury and ordered fresh fruit and coffee every morning, and put on my bathing suit and sat on my balcony and did MBE questions. Could life be any better?

Being on the Sandy Beaches Cruise is like being on a floating Beale Street. So much talent and you can just wander around the ship and hear different performers. There were 20+ acts performing during the week, and they all performed at least twice. I made a point of hearing everyone.

The first act I heard was Marcia Ball. She is self-described as groove-laden New Orleans R&B and driving Gulf Coast blues. She performed a lot from her latest CD: Peace, Love & BBQ.

I was a newbie in the blues cruisin' world, but
it didn't take me long to find out the names of the legends. Four such guys are pictured right. Being
from Nashville, I of course knew Gary Nicholson,
second from left, and Delbert McClinton, second from right, and our host. At left is Raul Malo, and "Big Al" Anderson, at right. Nicholson, whose style is blues and country, pop and rock, has won 26 ASCAP awards, plus a string of other achievements. Anderson, whose vocals range from country to rock, was 2000 BMI Writer of the Year and has amassed many other awards.

Malo, performing right, performs multiple genres, including country, pop, and opera. He performed his song "Moonlight," which caused anyone not already on their feet to jump up and start dancing. He has a lively fan club to say the least.

"Hey Baby." Who doesn't like that song? No one apparently, as it received BMI's Two Million Radio Plays Award. Bruce Channel, below left, shown singing on the lido deck stage with Delbert(in red shirt) wrote and recorded that song in 1962. He sang it numerous times during the cruise to the delight of all the passengers. Delbert calls his own style "feel-good music, Texas roadhouse, rocking country blues." Delbert's achievements include the 2005 Contemporary Blues Album of the Year Grammy for Cost of Living; the 2001 Contemporary Blues Album of the Year Grammy for Nothing Personal; and the 1992 Grammy for duet with Bonnie Raitt, "Good Man, Good Woman."

Plus he puts on this really cool cruise. He claims the Sandy Beaches Cruise 16 in 2010 will be the last. We need to convince him otherwise.

Many of the acts were performed on the Lido Deck stage. Night or day, it was the perfect place to relax and have a drink and listen to your favorite music or kick up your dancing heels. We even saw whales one day.

I had the world's prettiest margarita to celebrate a hard day of swimming with the dolphins in Ixtapa. Not only did we get to swim with them, but we got to ride on their stomachs as they swam on their backs, and also got to do a manuever, where they pushed us upright from a floating position by our feet, simulating water skiing. Hard to picture, I know.
At the right is a city sculpture in Manzanillo. I had wanted to sign up for the shore excursion to the Santiago Bay Resort, where the movie 10 was filmed, but it was cancelled. Good excuse to stay in town and have some more margaritas.

The music would start everyday about noon and go non-stop until about 11 p.m. or so, and sometimes continue in informal jamming sessions until 6 a.m. But on the cruise you could also find other activities--you could exercise, watch almost first run movies in your cabin, gamble, get a makeover, swim, and of course, eat! I wish I had learned about the free back and neck massage offered every afternoon before my last day on the cruise! Being a theme cruise, it was more informal than regular cruises, and you didn't have to dress up for dinner or eat at assigned times.

A late night session in the Crow's Nest.

Molly and Patti enjoying late-night music in the Crow's Nest.

Cyril Neville & Tribe 13 pumped us up late night on the Lido Deck stage. The youngest of the Neville brothers, he describes his music as a Funk and Jam Band, "The gumbo spillin' into the chili."

Roger Blevins, Jr., right, with Mingo Fishtrap
The schedule also contained star-studded performances by Geoff Achison, Tab Benoit, Big Joe & Bill, Nick Connolly, Bob DiPiero, the Doyle & Debbie Show, the hilarious Fred Eaglesmith, Mike Farris, Jimmy Hall, Paul Thorn, Tom Hambridge and the Rattlesnakes, Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps, Clay McClinton, Whitey Johnson, and Seth Walker.

The weather was perfect; the seas calm. All in all, delightful. I met a lot of new people, had a blast, and gained an even greater appreciation for blues music.

Back in San Diego, I sat on the patio of the coffeeshop across the street from the dock and felt sad as I looked at the beautiful Oosterdam. I wish I just had a few more days. My friend Alice was picking me back up, and we were going for a manicure. I was heading back to Nashville the next day.

And yes, I passed the bar exam. Remember to always say "yes" to vacation!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thumbs Down On Nashville Airport's WiFi Charges

BOINGO! That is the sound of me thumping the Nashville airport officials on their heads. Nashville's airport seems to be about the only one around that charges for using Wifi. If you want to work on your computer, you have to pay about $6 through Boingo, an annoying service whose icon I still can't get off my computer. You can't even use your AT&T wireless in the Starbucks there. It is unfortunate as you only have to fly to the next airport on your itinerary to be able to use its wifi for free, and to realize how poor BNA's policy is.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't Miss White Tiger Cubs At Nashville Zoo

If you haven't already seen the two beautiful six-month-old white tiger cubs at the Nashville Zoo, don't despair; you still have about two weeks until they are moved to their permanent home in Florida. But if you go see them, be prepared to get feline frenzy. The two sister cubs, Benwa and Taboo, are mesmerizing, and you might find it hard to pull yourself away from their enclosure. Check it out:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Charlotte's U.S. National Whitewater Center--Fun Even For Bystanders

I recently visited Charlotte, N.C. for the first time on a trip to visit my friend Mary Alice. I couldn't believe I hadn't been there before. My friend drove me around, and then we took the train from her suburb to downtown. The downtown is neat and clean, and there is also an "artsy" part of town. We didn't stop there, but it looked very interesting as we rode by.

My biggest surprise came when we went out to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. It is a U.S. Olympic training site, but anyone can go there to have fun whitewater rafting, kayaking, wall climbing, riding trails, or doing the zipline. We grabbed a chair down by the water and enjoyed watching people raft or kayak in the rapids. Just watching the rapids was relaxing. The zipline looked very promising--I am sure we will go back to do that sometime. A one-day pass for an adult participant is $49, and an adult season pass is $139. Wall climbing by itself is $15, and the zipline is $10. But watching is free!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Country Music Marathon--A View From The Row

I woke up at an ungodly hour this morning, made coffee, walked the dog, and headed to the street behind my house for one of my favorite events: the Country Music Marathon. The course runs both ways down famed music row-- 16th and 17th Avenue South. I live right near there so I get to see the runners and walkers twice without moving more than a few feet. They come up 17th Ave. South, wind around the Belmont and 12 South neighborhoods, and then head back on 16th Ave South. on their way back downtown. Bands are located at strategic points along the route, and from my vantage point, I get to hear two. Randy McClellan (warming up above before the marathon started) played this year at the 17th and Wedgewood spot, and Jessica Miller at 16th and Wedgewood. They played great music today, and it wasn't all country music. The tunes included music by Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, among others. It was a real party, and I loved it.

This year was the marathon's 10th anniversary, which is awesome because in the early years they had trouble attracting enough participants, and there was a fear it would not continue. But for the last year or so, more than 30,000 people have signed up, the majority running the half marathon.

I donned one of my purple leukemia and lymphoma T-shirts and went out to root for my fellow fundraisers who are helping to stamp out leukemia. When I ran my three marathons for leukemia in the '90s, it meant a lot to me that others wearing the purple shirts were on the sidelines cheering us on, so I always try to reciprocate in my home city. The crowd support near my house gets better every year. I hear the support in the latter miles of the race is not so good---maybe we can work on that in coming years.

I always stake a place on the sidewalk in time to see the frontrunners. They come up 17th Ave. preceded by a police escort and the media truck, and every time it takes my breath away.

Below are the leaders of the pack. There is one other runner ahead of them.

This morning when I walked outside at 7 a.m., it was already warm, and I was comfortable in a sleeveless shirt. I thought to myself that may not be a good sign for the runners and walkers, as usually it is cool enough in the morning to wear a jacket. Even a few degrees difference in temperature can cause problems for marathoners. During the course of the day, the temperature got up into the mid-80s, which is almost 20 degrees hotter than the average temperature on that day. Sure enough, it did take a toll on the runners and walkers, and one man died after finishing the half marathon.

This marathon, like all of them, had its light moments. Some participants dress up in costumes or do funny things. One person was wearing a bear mascot suit, which I am sure was discarded in record time due to the heat. One man was jogging and juggling at the same time. The group above was hulahooping and walking at the same time!

Watching the marathon always puts me in the best mood. Everyone doing a marathon is at some interesting point in their life, and it is inspirational to see them push toward their goal. My dog Stuey really enjoyed it too. He can run like the
wind. He knew that if he could off his leash, he
would be the winner.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nashville Film Festival

Lordy, lordy, Nashville's Film Festival is 40! That is good news for Nashville as it shows the city remains serious about showcasing quality film. It also means it is the 4th longest running film festival in the U.S.

I have not been able to attend for the last five years, as the festival always hits in April when I was studying for law finals. This year I am done with that and will attend two screenings. One is Girlfriends. When I lived in Knoxville many years ago, and HBO was in its infancy, this film seemed to be about the only movie the channel offered. I must have watched the film a million times, just because nothing else was on. (Why did we pay for HBO in this case then--oh yeah--my roommate was in TV, and we had to "check it out.") I remember it being very good though and starred Melanie Mayron, who later starred in one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Thirtysomething.

(Note: I stayed for director Claudia Weills' talk after the showing last night, and she mentioned something interesting--that Melanie Mayron's character in Thirtysomething was patterned after her character Susan in Girlfriends! I love symmetry!)

The other film I'll see is Big River Man about Martin Strel, a Slovenian man in his 50s, who drinks two bottles of wine a day and has swum some of the longest rivers in the world--the Mississippi, Danube and Yangtze, and now the Amazon--as a way to bring attention to pollution. My kind of film. Watching the film reminded me how much I would love to go to the Amazon. But I would stay inside the boat rather than in the water. The difficult elements really took a toll on Strel and his crew. Boo on the talk show hosts who wouldn't have Martin on their shows.

Between you and me though, I still miss the days when the festival was called Sinking Creek Film Festival. The name was considered provincial by those in the know, but I thought it was unique and wonderful.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Flights From Hell: You're Not Alone

Finally there is a place to vent about our flying travails. Check out It will make you laugh; it will make you cry; it may make you want to stay out of sky! But it is a lot of fun to read and commiserate with others. Not to miss: The post about "Mr. Poopy Pants."

I am a very tolerant traveler, but I do have a couple of hellish stories of my own.

I used to travel quite a bit to Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother. It was cheaper to fly to Detroit on Northwest and take a commuter flight into a town near hers than to fly directly into her small town on another airline. So, over the course of several years, I flew this particular route a lot. The same flight attendant often worked the commuter leg. She was an older, attractive woman who was very pleasant while on the ground. But once we were airborne, she would become, dare I say, wicked witch-like???

She only picked on one traveler each time, and she would become very strident and almost hateful to whomever was in her crosshairs at the moment. One time I was sitting next to a gentleman who became her victim. She started arguing about his coat or something else trivial. She became demanding and obnoxious--I don't remember their exact exchange, but he was in the right and was very taken aback. At one point, he muttered "You have got to be kidding!" I sat there silently enjoying the display and witnessed several others on other flights.

Little did I know I would be caught in her web on a subsequent flight! I had just started law school, and was traveling to visit some other relatives. I had a torts test looming, and my notes and cases in my bag were my lifeblood, so much so that I would have run into a burning building to save them. If I lost those papers, I was sunk. I had a set of notes out to read during the flight, but the rest of my material was in a bag nicely tucked under the seat in front of me. Well, FA didn't think so. She kept trying to take the bag upfront. I told her I really needed to keep the bag with me. She kept on and on and was getting hateful. I showed her that the bag fit fine under the seat. But on and on she kept harassing. I told her that if the bag went up front, do did I. I was not to be separated from that bag! Somehow it wasn't so enjoyable when I was the butt of her problem. She really should not be an FA. I wonder if she is still working.

Another situation: I really don't like it when people ask you to switch seats. For the most part, it is an imposition. I usually book my seat way in advance and choose the seat that I want. I am sorry if you can't sit with your SO, BFF, or whoever else you are traveling with, but that is not my problem. On a flight from Europe a while back a couple didn't have seats together. The man asked if I would change seats so they could sit together. He was asking me to give him my great seat and sit in his awful seat. I said no. Then he asked another passenger, who did agree, but who was going to get a better seat out of the deal. Why did they not ask him to begin with? I would never ask someone to change their seat unless they would get a better seat out of the bargain. And the icing on the cake: The girlfriend glared at me for the entire flight! Grow up!

Monday, March 23, 2009

David Cassidy: "I think I love you"

Former teen idol David Cassidy to perform this Friday at the Barrow Civic Theatre in Franklin, PA. I would love to go to this concert. If I could run up there, I definitely would. I used to go to movies as a child in this theater. Apparently it is a sell out. Come on get happy!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rotary's Group Study Exchange Program--A Look Back On A Month In Patagonia, Argentina

I recently learned that a group from Nashville participating in Rotary's Group Study Exchange program will be heading to Argentina soon. This made me think about my own GSE experience to Argentina 11 years ago , and I pulled out my journal that I haven't looked at since my trip to relive my wonderful experience.

The Prelude
As a travel hound and budget traveler, Rotary's Group Study Exchange (GSE) was just my thing. The program offers a month in a foreign country with all expenses paid. Can't beat that deal! During the month, team members generally stay in private homes of Rotary members in the host country, and attend Rotary meetings, which fits in with Rotary's mission of building goodwill and better friendships. The idea is that building one on one friendships around the world can only lead to good things.

I found out about the program through an article in the local paper and that the trip that year for our Rotary district was to Patagonia, Argentina in mid-March. I showed up at the interview location along with the other candidates. We were told to expect the interview to last the greater part of the day.

Shortly after arriving in the lobby of the hotel where the interviews were to occur, Emily, David, Patrick, and I congregated in the middle of the room and began talking. We were the only ones really interacting with any of the others--we were laughing, talking, and already bonding. Later, after the four of us were selected as the team, we asked some of the committee members if they had noticed that--that we had already formed our group--and they said no, that it was just a coincidence. But maybe they saw the same qualities in us that we saw in each other--friendliness, a sense of humor, an outgoingness--that served us well on our extended trip.

Part of the deal with the GSE is that you also get free language lessons. Very cool! We met every Saturday for a while to study their version of Spanish, what they call castellano. Reading and writing a foreign language is easier for me than speaking or aurally comprehending it, so I was struggling quite a bit with the lessons. We each had to prepare about a 5-7 minute presentation about our lives and occupations, complete with slides, which we would have to present in castellano at the various Rotary club meetings we would attend. For these meetings, we were to wear uniforms of blue blazer and khaki pants.

We were also supposed to get a gift for each of our host families, and we came up with some creative ideas. Since we are from Music City, I thought I would approach some record companies to see if they would donate some CDs for me to take. One of the record companies was very interested in me distributing some CDs of a little known group at that time--the Dixie Chicks--that they wanted to promote in South America. None of us at the time knew who they were, but of course later they became a household name.

Last but not least, each of us had to make our individual plans to be gone for a whole month. There is a lot to think about: We had to get work caught up a whole month ahead, or plan for someone else to do it, pay bills in advance, arrange for pet or child care, etc. I had so much to attend to I didn't have time to get excited about the trip until right before we left.

Day OneThe four of us and our team leader, Sonny, met at the Nashville Airport and flew to Dallas, then to Miami to catch the plane to Buenos Aires. However, a delay on one of the legs caused us to miss the flight in Miami, and American Airlines instead flew us to Santiago, Chile. We arrived the next morning in Chile and then caught a flight to Buenos Aires, rather than going as originally planned to Ushuaia at the very southern tip of the country.

The airlines put us up in a hotel for the night in Buenos Aires, which turned out to be a lucky break actually, because we got a chance to rest and clean up before starting on the rest of our journey. We took a walk around the city, and Sonny found the apartment he had lived in 30 years earlier when he worked in Buenos Aires. The next day, a member of one of the Buenos Aires Rotary Clubs came by the hotel to tell us that we were in store for a wonderful time and some beautiful scenery on our trip. He wondered how we could be in Rotary however, since we were not Italians???? That struck us as humorous and is a testament to how many Argentines are of Italian descent.

My favorite part of the trip was probably the very beginning: Ushuaia. Known as "the end of the world," Ushuaia appealed to my sense of fancy. We knew that Ushuaia is not that far from Antartica, so we packed our warmest clothes. How surprised we were to find it was fairly warm there and we didn't even need our coats.

Rather than staying in homes, we stayed in a hotel owned by one of the Rotary members. Ushuaia is a quaint city with some nice shops, and it immediately struck me as a very pleasant place. We went to a park, where you could look out at the water, and to the "end of the earth." They told us that many times rainbows would appear and people would make wishes. Sure enough, on cue, a rainbow appeared, and I made several wishes, some of which actually came true.

Part of our obligation as team members was to meet with people in each town who worked in our same professions. We had to improvise some, as not every profession was represented. For example, I was an editor of an alumni publication at a university, but universities in Argentina do not have such publications. So instead, I met with people from the local newspapers. In fact, I had earlier worked at a newspaper myself.

In Ushuaia, we were first introduced to mate, the national drink of Argentina. Drinking mate is a ritual there, and some of our guests had elaborate bong-like apparati they would use to drink it. To me, it tasted and looked like green tea, but they would get upset if you said this. Ushuaia was a very good beginning to our journey.

Rio Grande
We left Ushuaia by bus for Rio Grande and started on our journey back north towards Buenos Aires, which would be our final destination at the end of the month before heading back to Nashville. During the bus ride, we had our first taste of the expansiveness of Argentina. The scenery reminds me of areas in the western U.S. During our bus ride, we started to really bond as a group. We discovered we had all brought John Grisham novels to read!

Rotary members met us on arrival, as they did in each of the locations, and showed us where we were going and gave us the lay of the land for the next few days. In Rio Grande, we once again stayed in a hotel rather than private homes.

We spent the next day at a school where one of our hosts worked as an information officer. The school served as an elementary school by day and a technical school by night. We were treated to a barbecue at that same man's home that evening. Our schedule included a stop at the newspaper, where we were interviewed and photographed. It reminded me of when I worked at a newspaper and interviewed the GSE team from another part of the world that came to tour Tennessee.

Rio Gallegos
We left for Rio Gallegos a couple of days later in a little commuter plane we weren't sure was going to make it. But it did, and we were grateful! For the first time, we stayed in private homes, and Emily and I stayed with a doctor and his wife. They did not speak English, and our castellano was not good enough to communicate with them, which made it difficult. The doctor had a son who did speak English, and other people dropped by who did as well, so we very able to communicate then.

We were beginning to feel our fatique as we had stayed up late every night since the beginning of our trip to socialize with our hosts or attend Rotary meetings, and events were always planned again for early in the mornings. We all had good stamina but were starting to feel the need to rest a bit. Rest time was not included in the schedule, however, so that had to wait.

We took a city tour and saw a home that had been brought over from the British Isles. Not only are there a lot of people of Italian descent in Argentina, but of English and Irish descent as well. There are little hot spots in Argentina where people talk with Irish accents, but they have lived their whole lives in Argentina! Very interesting.

Here, we visited a kindergarten school that Rotary sponsors. The kindergarten was celebrating its third anniversary, and we took part in the celebration. We also got a chance to visit an estancia, the largest sheep shearing farm in the world. It reminded me of Drogeda from The Thorn Birds.

El Calafate
We took a side trip to El Calafate, which has amazing blue glaciers, and is a neat resort town. The glaciers there seemed to be larger than the ones I had just seen in Alaska the year before. This was definitely a highlight of our trip. As we rode to a lake near there called Lago Roca, we saw a gaucho on a horse. We are really in Argentina.
That night at the Rotary meeting, rather than giving our individual presentations, we sat around at tables and talked with whomever wanted to meet with us. Unfortunately, the club was confused about what I did for a living and thought I worked in book publishing rather than in magazine editing. Members of a local writing group came to the meeting and were asking me questions about how to publish a book, and I answered them the best I could but explained that I was not in that business. Interestingly enough, we also got a lot of questions about Bill and Hillary Clinton and of all things, the U.S. jury system. I was able to answer the questions about the jury system pretty well, because at that time I was the editor of a law publication, and I had just published a pretty in-depth article about our jury system. During our stay here, we also got a private ecology lecture on ecosystem paradigm shifts from a professor Jerry Franklin. See
Another highlight of this part of the trip was a climb to the top of a lighthouse and then going on a mission to find penguins. I was so excited--I had always wanted to see penguins. These penguins were shy, however, and stayed in pairs under bushes and did not come out and waddle around as they do in other locations. Up close, I was surprised to see how "birdy" the penguins looked. I expected them to seem a little more like mammals for some reason. If we did happen to see one up and walking, they would dart away before we got too close.
We had lunch at an estancia that also served as a small hotel. It had some of the most beautiful fireplaces I have ever seen! After lunch, we saw both sheep herding and sheep shearing operations. There was a young woman from the states who was working there temporarily. That would have to rank as one of the best summer jobs ever, I thought.
Comodoro Rivadavia
This stop occurred halfway through our month in Argentina and a couple of shifts occurred here. Argentina is very proud of its red meat and red wine, and we had had more than our share of both up until now. And as I mentioned before, we were also fatigued. Here in Comodoro Rivadavia, we got a little relief. There was a shift here toward lighter eating--more salads and fish and vegetables, and less red meat. Still plenty of wine and that was fine! And things slowed down some, and we got some much needed rest. As a matter of fact, the family I stayed with had a separate apartment across the hall from them, used normally for their inlaws, that they offered me. For a few days, I had my own space for a while that was utter luxury. You can't be that!
While there we visited a petrified forest. We also went to an asado, or Argentinian barbecue, at a ranch and played with a litter of border collie puppies. The only awkward part to this visit was that we were scheduled to go to a slaughterhouse. I had to say no. They were gracious and said that was OK. That was very nice of them. I think that was the right thing to do, because if the tables were turned, I would not want to insist on my guests doing something that made them uncomfortable. Back at my hosts' apartment, I watched the most popular soap opera on TV with them. Even though I could not understand what they were saying, I could tell from the actors' body language what was going on. That was a fun and bonding experience for us.
Puerto Madryn
We traveled to Puerto Madryn in a very nice bus and were delighted to find that we were staying in a condominium on the beach. How nice! We got in a lot of walks on the beach during our stay here. We were treated to a boat ride, during which we saw a submarine, an abandoned Russian ship, and a Korean boat. A lot of cute sea lions were swimming close to our boat and sunning themsevles on nearby rocks. Our tour guide loved the word "excellent" and pointed at everything along the way, calling it "excellent!" We thought that was funny. We ate most of our meals at the Rotary office, and one of our hosts, Juan Carlos, was quite a card.
Next stop on our itinerary was Trelew. While there, we visited a textile manufacturer which delighted Emily since she is a weaver. Around this time, we also visited a museum that has the only dinosaur egg with minerals in it and also went to a national park with some wonderful rock formations.
In Trelew, I stayed with a nice family, but again had trouble communicating with them. Luckily, their eldest daughter, who was in law school, had a friend who was very fluent in English, and she basically camped out with us. Like me, she was addicted to the show Melrose Place. However in Argentina, they were a few seasons behind, so I was told not to talk about the next two seasons to not spoil it for her!
Continuting north, we soon came to Bariloche. We stayed in a wonderful home that looked down on this lake. A little bit of heaven. 'Nuff said.

We traveled to Esquel on an all night bus trip. It was hard sleeping on the bus, in no small measure because the bus almost hit a pack of wild horses that ran across the road in front of us, causing the driver to do some tricky manuevering to avoid hitting them.
The End of A Great Thing
My notes in my journal unfortunately end there, even though we still had at least another week of our trip left. Along the way, we joined up with another GSE team from Pennsylvania from a district where some of my relatives used to live. I enjoyed talking about PA with them. We also met the team from Argentina which later came to tour our district in TN. It was nice to get to know them there, and later upon their arrival in Nashville, I took the two women team members out to lunch.
On our last leg in Argentina, we and the other GSE teams arrived at the district conference, where we reunited with Rotary members we had met along the way. Some members in the audience smiled at me when I was onstage giving my presentation in castellano for the last time, silently giving their approval at how much I had improved since the last time they had heard my talk.
Back in Buenos Aires, we had a couple of days free. At that point, we were not doing Rotary activities anymore, and we were free to tour the city as we wished. Even though I caught a 24 hour stomach bug, I did walk around and see the sights, including the presidential palace and pictured Eva Peron there.
It was a wonderful experience, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel, learning about other cultures, and learning about themselves.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Headin' For The Hills + Glenstone Lodge Review

What is the best thing you can do for yourself after finishing the bar exam? Get out of town, at least for a couple of days. I decided to go to Gatlinburg, in the Smoky Mountains, because it is close to Nashville and a perfect weekend getaway.

I invited my friend P up to join me, and we were looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend. Dinner at the Bubba Gump Seafood restaurant was good. The wait staff know how to take birthday celebrations a notch above.

Breakfast at the Log Cabin Pancake House was also good. You can never go wrong with pancakes, and like many pancake restaurants, this one offers any variety imaginable. Back to the hotel room to play on the computer and read a novel that has been on my shelf for too long. This afternoon we will go downtown and shop a little and find a nice steakhouse for dinner. Tomorrow we will leave at checkout and see what else we want to do before we meander out of town.

In other words, the perfect getaway after finishing the bar exam is to find a good place to do nothing. Some place that forces you to relax.

On the Glenstone Lodge: I stayed here many years ago and I have to say it is faded from its former glory. The centerpiece of the hotel is its great indoor two-level pool with a waterfall going from the top level to the bottom level. It is certainly wonderful, but like the rest of the hotel needs a facelift. Sitting in the hot tub connected to the pool you can see rust and chipped plaster (or whatever the material is) on the area right above the hot tub.

The lobby and hallways definitely need to be updated. There was a problem with getting hot water too. Twice I had to call the front desk and say there was no hot water to take a shower. The woman answering the phone told me sometimes you have to leave the water running for as long as 20 minutes before you get hot water. "Hmmm? "I said. "The $70 price tag for the room seems a little high for that." "But your room normally goes for as high as $110, and the hotel was built in the '70s," she answered. "Hmmm, even more so," I replied. "And a lot of hotels were built in the '70s, or earlier, and they don't have this problem."

Gatlinburg can charge high rates, especially in the summer, because a ton of people come here and want hotel rooms, so it is a seller's market. But Glenstone should take some of those profits and update the hotel so it is worth the money.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bear Naked Vanderbilt Alum Appears In Survivor Tocantins

I am always up for a big travel adventure and would love to go to the Brazilian jungle. But for 39 days? Hmmm. That might be a bit much with the temps over 100 degrees and torrential downpours and dangerous wildlife. But Brendan Synnott, Bear Naked co-founder and CEO, and Vanderbilt alum (class of 2000), is up for the challenge and is competing in this season's Survivor. It is hard to believe that this is the show's 18th season. As a fellow Vanderbilt alum and previous employee of the University, my bets are on Brandon. Wonder if he will get to sneak in any of his wonderful health snacks?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bonnaroo For You

If the chance of seeing the Beastie Boys and Nine Inch Nails doesn't entice you to Manchester, Tennessee, June 11-14, for the 2009 Bonnaroo Festival, how about Bruce Springsteen or Al Green. Merle Haggard, anyone?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How 'Bout Them Steelers? Getting To The Point

I am not a football fan, but I do love my Steelers. And boy did they shine tonight. (And wasn't Springsteen fabulous?)
But getting to the Point, do you know about the Point in Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh is my kind of town and it probably is your kind of town too. Click on the link to get to the Point. I have spent many an hour in the Steel City, and you should too.

Snowfall in Franklin, PA

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. I had to feature this photo from the Jan. 29 edition of the Derrick., the newspaper for Venango County, PA. It's a picture of the main street in downtown Franklin, PA, my old hometown. Isn't it wonderful? It almost looks like a painting.
Photo by Jerry Sowden

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Univ. of Tenn. Band Heads To D.C. For Fun Times At the Presidential Inauguration Parade

I am a UT Pride of the Southland Band nut and am not alone. There are many of us. I was a member of the band and continue to be an avid supporter. The band will be performing for the 12th consecutive time in the presidential inauguration parade in Washington D.C. next Thursday. They will have a blast. I know--I performed in one of the previous parades. There is nothing like riding up in one of the buses in the caravan and checking into the hotel (Ours had a mental hospital on the top floor. Hmmmm. We never could figure that one out.). The whole city is abuzz with excitement. Going to parties and sightseeing. Practicing marching the parade in a parking lot covered with solid ice. The fancy restaurants, the people, the fun, the memories that stay with you forever.
Ask any Pride member about their trip to the Inauguration and you will invariably hear two things: the bitter, ass numbing cold that besets the city like clockwork for every Inauguration, and the memories. Yes, the memories. There is nothing like passing the grandstand and playing Rocky Top.
List of Events for the Inauguration:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brokedown Palace--A Nightmare Travel Story

I am watching Brokedown Palace again today, and once again it is giving me the willies. It is the story of two American girls who go to Thailand for an adventure. They meet up with a charming and good looking Australian (Yes, young American women always have charming and good looking, and some not so good looking men, wanting to befriend them on trips abroad.) and he invites them to travel to Hong Kong. Gosh darn, he just forgot to mention he had slipped some heroin into one of their bags, and they get caught at the airport. They may have to spend the rest of their lives in a Thai jail. What also gives me the willies is the behavior of the father of one of the girls toward the other girl when he arrives at the Thai jail. His comments to the other girl are just creepy and mean at that point in the story.

The scariest thing is how easily this could happen, and I am grateful it never happened to me. I never traveled to Thailand, but I did travel to Mexico, Greece, Spain, and Egypt, etc., sometimes just with another young woman, and this could have been our story too. I have a good sense about people, and I always seemed to know what was in our bags, but I guess these drug smugglers are just really good at setting people up.

I remember when a friend and I traveled to Egypt, I was 25. When I came back through U.S. customs, the custom agent spent an inordinate amount of time rifling through my bags. "Egypt--that is a wierd place to go," he said, watching me closely, as he went through my things with a finetooth comb. "Not really, I said." I was mad that he was taking so much time going through my things. I was tired and thought he was being a jerk. I guess he thought I might be a "mule," the name for young women, such as those in Brokedown Palace who bring drugs in and out of countries, often without knowing they are doing so. Egypt is one of those countries. Luckily, that wasn't my situation and I could move on. But I feel for those who have been trapped in these kind of situations.