zephyr illusions photo by donna October 1992. The view atop Chasseral, Jura Mountains looking across Switzerland to The Alps on the horizon. Fog, intensely thick, rising from Lac Bienne and stretching its fingers high onto the Lignières-Plateau de Diesse after wholly filling the valley below the plateau.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Dedicated To 2 People... 2 Friends...












...whom i've never met *in real life*, but have had only 'online' contact. online contact very true and genuine and i am sure if we were to ever meet up in real time and space we would enjoy a conventional 'real world' friendship, too.

To Prof. Kienstra, (real identity reserved to maintain his freedom of expression in anonymity) who reads this blog and gave me great recommendations and support on my recent trip to his home country... beautiful, diverse, historic, modern, progressive and paradoxical The Netherlands. Prof. Kienstra made my Netherlands Adventure more exciting and fun by following my travels via my blog journal entries and posting comments and suggesting sights to see and places to check out. he also continues to give me incentive to keep writing and using this blog as an outlet for self-expression. bedankt voor alles en voor je energie, Prof.! :)

and,
To Dreadful Snake Guy (real identity reserved to protect all super heros of the world; lol :p ) who seems to connect with my inner feelings, my experiences, my basic emotions in some abstract, but very real way. while DSG and i lead very different day-to-day lives, he somehow seems to share much the same fundamental perspective and value of life as do i. i'm always pleased and happy to listen to his audio postings via his podcasts and enjoy exchanging mails and messages with him from time-to-time. hehee, and besides, DSG plays/enjoys some totally awesome music, possesses a deep understanding of music and appreciates how music moves the soul... gotta love that quality in anybody with whom we share this world! :)

So, after Prof.'s recent comment asking me what's up with me and why i don't post blog entries very often anymore (thanks for missing me and my writings :D ) and to DSG's most recent podcast sharing his beautiful and moving Christmas Mass experience in Shanghai, China (see my comment on his website) i want to say...
thank you for adding to my most eventful, exciting and fulfilling year 2005. 2005 is the Chinese year of the Rooster. i am a child of the Year of the Rooster and my discovery of friendship with you both (among the other people who have touched my life) has only added positivity and beauty to this past year of life on this Earth.

oh, and it cannot go unsaid... i have also, in this Year of the Rooster, renewed through more frequent contact, my lifelong friendship with my first inspiring friend, Camille. Camille, my first really understanding *real life* friend, has always been dear in my heart. i'm very content that we've again began to exchange communiques on a regular basis... i send out my love to you and yours... please consider this entry dedicated to you, too, Camille :)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Had another of those nights where live music lifted me to that place where i love to be...



Feeling bored, i decided to venture out on a Saturday night for a couple of beers and what i thought would be the usual local fare of listening to boring talk of football and getting hit on by redneck men drunk on Budweiser and testosterone. fortunately, i can say that i got lucky and the evening went otherwise...
On impulse, i went to a pool hall bar that in years past had a reputation as a place of barroom brawls ... what the hell, i was feeling adventurous and wanting to break my boredom, so why not check the place out. upon entering, i was surprised when asked to pay a $3 cover charge. i was delighted to discover that i had chanced upon one of the rare occasions to hear live music in this near music-barren town. woohoo! what a great unexpected treat to break my boredom.
I gladly paid the $3 charge to hear 'Free Shots', the talented cover band who i had the good fortune of hearing for the first time a couple of weeks or so ago (see 20 november 2005 entry of this blog).
It was a great evening... the crowd was friendly, happy, dancing and totally into the music, no fights occurred, there was no boring talk of football and everybody was very warmly socializing and interacting with each other. there was no negative vibe in the air and it seemed all were having a good time.
It was a very enjoyable 4 hours of hearing great covers of rockin' tunes by a great variety of '70s & '80's bands including (but not limited to) Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Guns 'n Roses, AC/DC, Van Halen, ZZ Top, Golden Earring, Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Eric Clapton, Neil Young... so many great songs. there was even some fun one-hit-wonder songs like Wild Cherry's 'Play That Funky Music' and that 'Jenny 8675309' song (who did that one?). hehee, a highlight for me, personally, was when the two rhythm guitarists and the bass player left the stage area and stood right in front of me playing during the finale.... i felt like they were playing to me and i loved it! :D i guess the evening was as fun for Free Shots as it was for the crowd because the band responded to an encore request before saying goodbye and calling it an evening. there was a nice connection between band and audience, indeed.

A real standout feature of Free Shots is their amazing ability to recreate the illusion that you are hearing the original band perform.... for instance, i can say with absolutely no hesitation that there is no AC/DC tribute band that could out perform Free Shots either musically or vocally. Free Shots do an amazing job of covering all the songs on their extensive playlist, but something uncanny happens when the rhythm guitarist straps on the bass guitar and the bass player takes front stage behind the mic for AC/DC and Guns 'n Roses tunes... i find it incredible that anybody can hit those high notes with such completeness and consistency. wow, gotta hear it to believe it.
I used to (erroneously) think cover bands and the musicians who play in cover bands to be a bit inferior to bands and musicians who play original music. but, my opinion regarding cover bands has been changing over the last few years and experiencing Free Shots is truly reinforcing my growing respect for good cover bands. i'm realizing that good cover band musicians are like good studio musicians.... although under-rated, under-appreciated and under-recognized for their skills and contributions, it takes a lot of talent to effectively duplicate a particular and recognized sound. i asked why Free Shots doesn't perform original music (they are certainly talented enough) and various members of the band said that even though they do write original material they cannot get together to rehearse due to scheduling conflicts with their individual day jobs. further reinforces how skilled these guys are as musicians since they only get together to play when they are working a gig. wow!
The major characteristics that make Free Shots so successful and incredibly appealing as an act is the versatility among the members as far as the ability to play multiple instruments and their diversity of vocal range and confidence to do lead vocals. it's this aspect of multiple skills that sets Free Shots apart from other cover bands that i've heard and lends them the freedom to cover songs of a great spectrum of bands..... this diversity and the fact that they've got an awesome lead guitarist who knows how to use a fretboard well beyond amateur status.
I've always been a drummer & bass player kinda fan, but i do appreciate good guitar playing when i hear/see it. and, Free Shots has one helluva lead guitarist, J.Z. Lucas... quite accomplished at playing in a clean, fast style using tapping and legato to capture and captivate. J.Z.'s skill definitely plays a big part in Free Shots' ability to cover songs by Van Halen and other high profile rock-guitar bands that most cover bands might be hesitant to attempt. interestingly enough, J.Z. plays left-handed guitar even though he is right-handed! ? [gotta find out more about how this came about next time i see them play!] truly amazing stuff. keeping true to the versatility that sets Free Shots apart, J.Z. plays more than lead guitar... he also plays keyboard, and, [this is my favorite part!], he plays drums, too. i'm not sure why, but to the music fan inside me there is something especially captivating about an accomplished tapping-and-legato-playing guitarist who can also pick up drumsticks and play a drumkit with skill.
Anyway, i'm happy to have found a good band to look forward to hearing from time to time since moving back to this hick hometown of mine. it's really reassuring to me that i'm not the only one around here that loves music and finds a way to pursue the passion while holding down a day job... i may not have the talent to play, but i do have the appreciation for how music touches and moves the soul. my contribution to the whole music vibe is to be a fan... and i'm looking forward to the next time i can see/hear Free Shots play, again :)

Btw, another cool thing about that unexpectedly fun Saturday night was the fact that during the evening we got our first real snow of the season... my first snow in 12 years since returning from living in Florida. it was pretty to see the snow falling and refreshing to feel the snowflakes on my face. there was already about 2 inches (5 centimetres) of snow on the ground and it was my first time to drive on snow in 12 years. i made it home without incident feeling quite content with the events of the evening. lol, but, the next day i suffered when i had to shovel the snow from the front walkway of my apartment :p

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Some Time To Share















I sleep
To escape into darkness
And awaken
In a dream of light
Unsaid words once misunderstood
Are now visions
Flashing brilliant like dawn
Confusion fading into shadows

Always knowing
We live in worlds apart
Each with a different reality
Yet sharing in common
Simple songs in our heart

No misplaced thoughts
No intentions untrue
No reasons to seek anything
Other than some time to share
To talk with each other
Only some time to enjoy
The caring friendship that grew

For too long
But now no longer
Questions haunting
Flooding my mind
What words did I say
What things did I do
To make you not want to stay
To make you want to go away
Into a world made of blues

Waking from cold darkness
The fading shadows pass
In the welcomed light
It becomes clear
It wasn’t just me
Seeking some time to share
Seeking some time to talk
Only wanting to enjoy
Some time in warm friendship
So true

I know now…
You were there, too

Sleep comes
With dreams of the day
I will awaken to the visions
Of unsaid words understood
Friends in the warm open light
With no shadows of doubt
Finding some more time to share
Finding some more time to talk
Only wanting to enjoy
Some more time in friendship
So true

Now I wonder…
Are You here, too
In a world made of many hues
Not a world made only of blues

Friday, November 25, 2005

"My" Part of the World from Space


















There's something about satellite images that really intriques me... i've always loved aerial views. when i first looked upon this satellite image of a section of eastern North America my attention was immediately caught by the Chesapeake Bay, North America's largest estuary, and the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes of North America, was the next feature to catch my eye. i'm pretty sure i see the Pennsylvania Turnpike (a manmade feature) running east/west at just about center of the image cutting through the mountain ridges and lying underneath the jet contrails.
oh, yeah, the jet contrails.... that's the associated story with this image. check it out here, it's pretty interesting itself.
btw, click on image to see more detail :)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

'Beautiful Loser'

Went on a little roadtrip to the next town south of my town to heard a cover band play live. this is the first live music i've heard locally since i moved back to this prettymuchstill-smalltownaction-hicktown-fulla-rednecks... but, that's beside the point and other story altogether...

The live cover band was really pretty good musically with a very cool 70's-80's rock playlist and i was delighted to see that the lead guitarist/singer was an old acquaintance who fronted the best rock band in the whole county when we were in high school all those years (decades!?) ago. teeheehee, he also gave me guitar lessons way back then when i was dreaming that i might be a musician one day, but that's another story, too :)

anyway, on the way home from live-coverband-night, i heard this Bob Seger song that has always touched me ever since the first time i heard it in '74, or maybe '75,...can't remember exactly. i just know that i heard it for the first time when played live at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA when Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band opened for Bachman Turner Overdrive. wow, BTO may have been the headliner, but Seger & his band blew the show away that night. one of the earliest concerts i ever went to and i still remember the energy and emotion of Bob Seger on stage...
(maybe, neither here nor there, but on my recent road trip to Detroit, Michigan to see another live show i was reminded by locals that Bob Seger is from Detroit, Michigan. hehehee, just thought of this as i post this message :-] )

these lyrics may first read as negative, a downer, but that's completely opposite of what the song is about. ... imvho,


'Beautiful Loser' speaks with the inner voice of our heart
to the dreamer in our soul,
reminding us to embrace humility
while we seek meaningful and satisfying existence...

...if you ever have the opportunity, give a listen...it's a great song
and i'm happy to have been reminded, again.... :)

Beautiful Loser
He wants to dream like a young man
With the wisdom of an old man
He wants his home and security,
He wants to live like a sailor at sea

Beautiful loser, where you gonna fall?
You realize you just can’t have it all

He’s your oldest and your best friend,
If you need him, he’ll be there again
He’s always willing to be second best,
A perfect lodger, a perfect guest

Beautiful loser, read it on the wall
And realize, you just can’t have it all
...you can’t have it all, you don't need it all,

Oh, oh, ... you can try, but can’t have it all

He’ll never make any enemies,
He won’t complain if he’s caught in a freeze
He’ll always ask, he’ll always say please

Beautiful loser, never take it all
’cause it’s easier, faster when you fall,
You just don’t need it all
Oh, oh, ... you just don’t need it all


words and music by Bob Seger

Saturday, November 12, 2005

elusive















drifting in a river familiar
floating the waves of discovery
my own
alone
whispering with the many restless voices
shadows and strange faces
race along the shore
tripping,
sliding,
rising,
blending into one

mysterious muse on the move
waiting…
just beyond the crowd
beckoning...
'round the curve of the horizon
glowing...
above the tranquility of sunset
glimmering...
below the brilliance of sunrise
shimmering...
amidst the luminance of starshine
elusive...

wandering paths yet unknown
never alone,
on my own

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Photo Album


Finally, i have organized some of my photos from my recent trip to The Netherlands and set up an online photo album. (see the link for Flickr on the right margin of this blog)
i have posted some photos of Amsterdam and will soon put up some from Utrecht and Groningen.

i'm not such a good photographer, but i hope you enjoy looking at them as much as i did making them :)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

U2 @ Detroit.... there and back again


It was 6am on Monday, 24 October, that i set out for Detroit to see a long anticipated U2 concert. My old car did great… even with 3 pit stops, a construction detour around Toledo, Ohio and an accident-related traffic jam on Interstate-75 in Detroit, i arrived in Auburn Hills (a suburb 40 miles north of Detroit) at 3 pm. so, it took me 9-hours (7 of those hours were in the rain) to drive the 500 miles (800 kilometres)… not bad, if you ask me.



I was really looking forward to seeing the Autumn colors of the leaves as i drove on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (the oldest ‘superhighway’ in USA; originating in my hometown, too :) ) through the mountains of western Pennsylvania and i was not disappointed.




the brilliant golds, reds, oranges and browns mixed with the greens of the pine trees were absolutely stunning as i drove through the ridges and valleys of Pennsylvania (which took me through 4 tunnels) and continued through the more gently rolling landscape and farmland of northeastern Ohio. even muted in the mist and rain, the colors were vivid and beautiful. the leg of the drive that took me through Michigan was rather stark in comparison as most of it goes through highly populated commercial and industrialized areas. I didn’t mind so much, though… it just made the gorgeous landscapes i had just spent most of the day driving through even prettier :)

Something really cool happened just as i was passing the sign on I-75 that announces the city limits of Auburn Hills… U2’s ‘With Or Without You’ came on the radio! woohoo!... i couldn’t believe it! i had been driving all day with the good luck to keep finding radio stations with the classic rock format, my favorite for music for driving. i hadn’t heard one U2 song all day long… but, when i reached the city limits of the town in which i was going to see U2 perform live a classic U2 song comes over the airwaves! dang, i love it when cool stuff like this happens :D
Anyway, i exited the highway and easily found my hotel which was right down the street from The Palace of Auburn Hills, the very nice arena where U2 was scheduled to play two shows; one on Monday, 24 October and another on Tuesday, 25 October, the show i was attending. after settling into my very convenient ground floor room equipped with excellent Wifi (groovy, i could stay in touch with the world) and a kitchenette (cool, could keep my beer cold in the fridge and have coffee any time of day with the coffeemaker :) ), i found my way to the restaurant/lounge and washed away travel fatigue with a couple of lagers and some conversation with the other U2 fans who were there for the concert. there were fans there who were local to Detroit area and others who had traveled from other areas of Michigan, Illinois, Canada, England and Ireland. everybody i spoke with had seen U2 at least once before and was totally psyched for the show… U2 fans tend to be very passionate about the band and love to exchange stories about past tours/shows they have seen, favorite albums/songs, favorite band members, what they anticipate the next show to be like, etc. i remember asking the bartender if she noticed any different kind of vibe with U2 fans since she saw lots of pre/post-concert activity working so close to The Palace. heheee, she said most definitely that she saw a sort of camaraderie among U2 fans that she didn’t see among other bands’ fans and also that she was totally blown away by the distances U2 fans travel to see the band. hmmm, well, maybe that’s one of the things that defines a real international band? the music and energy of the band makes physical and political borders disappear :)

When the lounge began to clear as ticket holders for Monday night’s show headed across the street to the arena for the concert, i ordered dinner of a very mediocre-but-expensive Santa Fe Grilled Chicken Salad to take back to my hotel room and had my dinner with a couple of Yuengling lagers I had brought with me while catching up with some emails & surfing through my favorite websites. stayed up way too late watching a really powerful thought-provoking, emotion-eliciting film with Ben Kingsley called ‘House Of Sand And Fog’.
Spent Tuesday, the day of the U2 show i would be attending, not doing much… enjoyed sleeping in late, checked all the fluids in the car, found a garage where the nice young guy checked my car tires and inflated the tires to proper air pressure, found a grocery store where I bought a couple Chinese vegetable rolls to heat in the hotel room microwave for brunch and listened to some podcasts. i would have went exploring the local area, but it didn’t really inspire me… it was mostly under construction with commercial/industrial zones and new characterless housing developments springing up where, as the locals told me, cornfields and rural areas used to be. also, it was drizzling rain and windy and I didn’t feel like driving around exploring that construction zones in weather like that.
Around mid-afternoon, i decided to go hang at the hotel lounge for some conversation and a couple brews. i got lucky and there were a couple of local U2 fans there for the show as well as a couple of locals who had seen Monday night’s show. the folks that attended Monday night’s show gave great reviews saying the crowd as well as the band was really into it and U2 ended up doing 4 encores. sounded great to me and i was really getting psyched. soon, there were lots of local guys coming into the bar for their after-work-‘happyhour’-beers and as i chit-chatted with them i got the lowdown on which route to take to/from the arena to avoid the heaviest traffic… the guys even drew me a detailed map, which came in very handy. hehee, always talk with the local when on a roadtrip!... you get the best info and i made a very smooth entrance and exit from The Palace for the show thanks to those local guys (who drive local delivery trucks so they REALLY know their way around :) )

OK, so about the concert….
This was my 4th U2 show and i have to say that it was the only show that gave me feelings of disappointment. my feelings of disappointment have nothing to do with the band, their music, the location of my side-of-stage-high-up seat or the arena facilities…
my disappointment was in the audience. this is the only U2 show I have attended where the majority of the crowd didn’t know the music, the songs, the lyrics… hell, i don’t even think most of the crowd even knew anything about U2 other than the fact that they are a big-name band (and that’s the only reason why they were there).
U2 played before a sold-out crowd of about 25,000, but it appeared that only about one-third of the audience actually got into the concert and sang along (something U2 crowds are famous for doing), cheered when recognizing the intro to a song, cheered during the song at key musical breaks, cheered after a great finish to a song, waving lit lighters/cellphone in the air, dancing/jumping around…. you know, the usual stuff fans do when enjoying a concert and wanting to show appreciation to the band.
Cripes, when U2 did ‘I Will Follow’, ‘Gloria’ and ‘The Ocean’ (3 classic old U2 songs) i was the only one i could see in any the sections as far as I could see around me excited to be hearing such great U2 songs performed live… especially, ‘Gloria’ & ‘The Ocean’! a real treat as they are rarely performed live :D everybody around me sat there looking so stoic, or completely confused, looking like they wondered what the hell U2 was playing.
For cripe's sake, the only time the crowd came alive was when U2 played their most famous radio hits… ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘With Or Without You’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, oh, and of course the crowd knew ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Beautiful Day’.
I cannot believe U2 even bothered giving that crowd an encore, let alone two encores. lol, when U2 did ‘WOWY’ during an encore, Bono did this really bizarre off key, out of time vocal rendition and it was my sense he was sending the unresponsive crowd a message… you're too cool, Bono! ;-}

It was so incredibly annoying for me to be among that boring crowd that after ‘The Ocean’ finished, i had just decided that i was going to leave my seat and look for a place in the arena where i could find even just one U2 fan to be near. i was gathering my bag from underneath my seat when the 20-something woman in the seat next to me turned to me, pointed down at Bono and said “he’s British, isn’t he?” WTF?! for a moment my mind went blank as i rewound what i had just heard to be sure i had heard correctly. all i could do was grab my bag and say “no, he’s very much Irish” as i ran from there. lmao, i have to say that that question is probably the most mind-boggling thing i have heard in a looooong looooong time. i mean, can you imagine going to a U2 concert and being asked if Bono is British??! Jeeesh!

I found a section of the arena almost opposite the stage where security didn’t seem to mind that some of us were standing in the aisle and not in a seat. great… the other renegades in this section were U2 fans, too :) woohoo!! i spent the rest of the concert there thoroughly enjoying my favorite band with others around me who knew the songs and were singing and dancing. it’s really amazing how different the vibe is when you are among others who are hooting and hollering and dancing and cheering and having a good time enjoying great music.

The highlight of the show for me was hearing ‘Gloria’, ‘The First Time’ and ‘Bad’ performed live…. ‘Gloria’ is the very first U2 song i remember hearing, ‘The First Time’ is among my favorites songs and ‘Bad’ is such a powerful and classic U2 song which is rarely ever done live. actually, all 3 of these songs (plus ‘The Ocean’) are rarely performed live… hearing these live performances seemed like a real treat for the few real fans that were at that show. also, loved hearing ‘Love And Peace or Else’ from the latest album…. that song caught my attention the first time i heard it and love the dark, heavy, funky sound of it.
U2 and Bono did a really nice tribute to Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist and long time resident of Detroit who recently died, which included ‘Pride’, ‘MLK’ ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and ‘One’.
The setlist for the show was awesome…. included old classics, some rare songs, some new stuff including a couple that surprised me.


Vertigo Tour (Leg 3)
Detroit, 25 October 2005


Setlist:

01. City Of Blinding Lights
02. Vertigo
03. Elevation
04. I Will Follow
05. Gloria
06. The Ocean
07. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/In A Little While
08. Beautiful Day
09. Miracle Drug
10. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
11. Love And Peace Or Else
12. Sunday Bloody Sunday
13. Bullet The Blue Sky
14. Miss Sarajevo
15. Pride (In The Name Of Love)/MLK
16. Where The Streets Have No Name
17. One
18. The First Time
19. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
20. With or Without you
21. Crumbs From Your Table
22. Bad




All-in-all another great show by U2… too bad that more of the audience at that 2nd night in Detroit wasn’t into it as much as some of us… i hope U2 weren’t too disappointed.

I slept in kind of late the next morning… didn’t get on the road home until 9am. i deliberated waited until after 9 because i wanted to make the drive through Detroit city traffic after the morning rush hour. as it was, i still sat in a traffic jam caused by an accident. well, kinda balance things since i entered Detroit in a traffic jam and left the city the same way. once past Detroit, it was smooth sailing. i only made one pit stop on the way home and the return drive only took me 8 hours. the weather was cold but sunny… until i crossed the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line. the rains started as soon as i entered Pennsylvania and made for sloppy driving. also, there seemed to be more heavy commercial truck traffic sharing the roadway with me than on my trip westward to Detroit. But, still, my old car did good and brought me home by 5 pm.

Oh! besides seeing gorgeous colorful Autumn leaves on the trees, i saw something else… the first Pennsylvania snow of the season! it had snowed the day/night before and had put a few inches of snow on the ground at the higher elevations of the Allegheny Mountains.

Another interesting sight that makes me think of my Dutch friends… we have turbine windmills in Pennsylvania, too :) only instead of putting ours on polders and dykes, we put ours on high valleys between mountain ridges :D
[click on pic for better view... it was raining and the PA Turnpike isn't the sort of highway you can easily stop on for photo opportunities]

So, even though a long drive, it was a good couple of days out of town and, while not as exotic as traveling to another country, i enjoyed my U2/Detriot adventure a lot. now, gotta decide on and plan for my next excursion…
but, until that time, guess i’ll focus on my work and studies…

Monday, October 24, 2005

Detroit, Michigan.... here i come!



It's almost daybreak and in a short while, i'm off on a little roadtrip which has been planned for 6 months. i'm off to Detroit, Michigan for a U2 concert. the last time i was through Detroit was circa 1984... the summer i spent touring the USA in a 1965 Dodge Dart and took the northern route through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, south through Detroit, on the way back to Pennsylvania. This trip to Detroit will be in a 1996 Chevrolet Corsica and my approach will be from the south through Ohio.


The drive is about 500 miles (800 kilometres and should take about 8 - 10 hours. my route will take me through the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania, the glacial till country of northern Ohio and southern Michigan along the southwestern end of Lake Erie, the smallest of North America's Great Lakes.

This will be a fast, quick getaway trip... expecting to arrive Detroit sometime mid-to-late -afternoon and will spend the night in a hotel near The Palace of Auburn Hills, the sports arena where U2 will perform for an audience of about 25,000. my seat is waaaaay up high in the nosebleed section off to side stage (the side of the stage that The Edge, lead guitarist, usually takes), but that's ok. even though i would love to be down on the floor in General Admission, i'll enjoy having a reserved seat and being up high enough to see the whole of all the activity below me. [hehee, who knows, maybe i'll even be lucky enough to see some cool backstage stuff happening, but i suspect that all the cool stuff happens under the stage.] should prove to be a great seat to see the light show and, hopefully, the big screens projecting the show. i'll take my small binoculars so i can zoom in on the guys playing and watch Bono dripping in sweat as he works his non-stop unique charismatic magic on the crowd. as i type this message, i can almost feel the high energy that i know will fill the arena :) after the show i will return to the hotel and catch some sleep before hitting the road back to Pennsylvania, again. so, it'll be a whirlwind couple of days, but should still be a good way to keep the batteries recharged after my recent adventure in The Netherlands.

I'm looking forward to the drive through the western mountains of Pennsylvania.... this is my first Autumn season after 12 years in Florida and i'm anxious to see the rainbows of colorful leaves on the abundant deciduous trees growing among the evergreens as they prepare for winter. hopefully, the weather will remain bright and sunny for my journey, enhancing the brilliant earth tones of reds, golds, oranges and browns.[btw, this pic was taken the other day from the mountain ridge where i grew up as a child...pretty, eh?]

One more thought... one of U2's earliest albums is titled 'October' and upon the very first time i listened to their latest album, 'How To Disable An Atomic Bomb', i heard so many similarities to their early work. U2 have even said themselves that they have come full circle with this album, so it'll be cool to see them on this 'Vertigo Tour' in this month of October.

I hope to find good Wifi connection so i can post updates while i'm off on my U2 excursion. so..... stay tuned! :)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Anticipating U2 Live


Tomorrow, i'm off to see a U2 concert. This will be my 4th time to experience the high-energy of U2 playing live before an audience of devoted fans. i've been a fan of U2 since the early '80's when i first saw the video for their song 'Gloria' during the birth of MTV. when i saw those 4 young Irish lads on a barge at Dublin Harbor rocking out in that video something sparked inside of me and i just knew they had something special.
I first saw U2 live in Tampa, Florida during the 'PopMart' tour... won tickets in a local radio contest... and that was when i came to know what a great live act is U2. such incredible energy they project to the audience. Then, i saw them twice on their 'Elevation' tour... attended the tour's opening show at Fort Lauderdale, Florida (it was touted as Miami, but Miami is actually long way from Fort Lauderdale which is distinctly a whole other city) and, again, the next-to-last show of the 'Elevation' tour in Tampa, Florida. the Tampa 'Elevation' show was very exciting because i was one of the lucky ones to obtain a General Admission ticket and was right up front of the heart-shaped runway that jutted out into the audience where Bono and The Edge spent so much time performing. it was so cool for me, a huge fan of Bono, to be so close to him during that evening's performance. dang, i can still close my eyes and see him singing and sweating and dancing in that weirdly awkward, yet cool, way of his hoping to make eye contact with him even if only for a second. i was mesmerized that evening. Bono surely does possess a unique charisma. i find him to be a rather inspirational person, too.
Even though, i have become less avid in my fanhood due to U2's recent over-blown commercialism (i blame the biz machine that surrounds U2), i still admire the 4 lifelong friends who comprise the rock band called U2. i think they are men who have struggled with finding 'who they are' as humans and have a lot of integrity... something not easily held onto when so successful.
i, also, find U2's music to be inspirational. when i am feeling a bit depressed or down on myself for not accomplishing all that i dream or want to do, i listen to my favorite U2 songs and am lifted out of my blue mood.


So, now, as i anticipate another evening of rocking out to the live sounds of a very special band, i've got U2 cranked on the stereo as i prepare for my early morning departure, heading off to the U.S.A.'s upper midwest region.

Here are the lyrics to a couple of my fav songs from the most recent U2 album, 'How To Disable An Atomic Bomb'....


The first, 'All Because Of You' Bono wrote about himself, to himself and is about recognizing and appreciating that we are the result of our experiences/ideas/dreams and that we should not doubt our selves nor our self worth.

All Because Of You


I was born a child of grace
Nothing else about the place
Everything was ugly but your beautiful face
And it left me no illusion

I saw you in the curve of the moon
In the shadow cast across my room
You heard me in my tune
When I just heard confusion

All because of you
All because of you
All because of you
I am… I am

I like the sound of my own voice
I didn’t give anyone else a choice
An intellectual tortoise
Racing with your bullet train

Some people get squashed crossing the tracks
Some people got high rises on their backs
I’m not broke but you can see the cracks
You can make me perfect again

All because of you
All because of you
All because of you
I am… I am

I’m alive
I’m being born
I just arrived, I’m at the door
Of the place I started out from
And I want back inside

All because of you
All because of you
All because of you
I am


(Bono)

The second, A Man And A Woman', a beautiful song Bono wrote to his wife, his childhood sweetheart, which somehow manages to further confirm my belief that fairy tales really do exist :)

A Man and A Woman

Little sister don’t you worry about a thing today
Take the heat from the sun
Little sister
I know that everything is not ok
But you’re like honey on my tongue

True love never can be rent
But only true love can keep beauty innocent

I could never take a chance
Of losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
No I could never take a chance
‘Cos I could never understand
The mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman

You can run from love
And if it’s really love it will find you
Catch you by the heel
But you can’t be numb for love
The only pain is to feel nothing at all
How can I hurt when I’m holding you?

I could never take a chance
Of losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman

And you’re the one, there’s no-one else
You make me want to lose myself
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman

Brown eyed girl across the street
On rue Saint Divine
I thought this is the one for me
But she was already mine
You were already mine…

Little sister
I’ve been sleeping in the street again
Like a stray dog
Little sister
I’ve been trying to feel complete again
But you’re gone and so is God

The soul needs beauty for a soul mate
When the soul wants… the soul waits …

No I could never take a chance
On losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman

For love and sex and faith and fear
And all the things that keep us here
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman

How can I hurt when I’m holding you?

(Bono)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Feeling Buzzed on Life


It's already been 15 days since i've returned to Pennsylvania from my Netherlands adventure and i've still got a buzz goin' on in my head from the experience. i knew that i would enjoy The Netherlands because i've always loved to travel (could call it a passion of mine), but my expectations were exceeded and i enjoyed my short time in Holland more than even i had imagined.
I really needed that trip... was very good for me to travel and recharge the batteries. it was the stimulation that i needed to give myself a kick start and re-awaken interest in living, being alive, taking part in life.

Since getting back to my 'regular' life and routine, things have been anything but routine.... i find myself busier with work than before, upgrading my Mac's hardware & PC's software, upgrading my knowledge of website maintenance, sifting through the boxes of 'stuff' i moved from Florida to Pennsylvania to prepare for the local auction house (feel the need to downsize and unload excessive crap... a step in freeing myself from the bondage of materialism), spending time with family & friends and getting ready for my next roadtrip...

The next roadtrip for me is scheduled to happen in another 10 days.... will be a 470 mile (756 kilometre) 8 hour drive to Detroit, Michigan for a U2 concert. this will be my 4th U2 concert and, even though, i've a ticket for a really bad location in the arena (high up and to the side of stage) i'm looking forward to seeing/hearing U2 live, again. they are a great live act and i'll be soaking up the energy with which they'll be filling the arena.
I'll make a mini-trip of about 3 or 4 days as i will stay overnight in Detroit and then spend a little time enjoying the beauty of western Pennsylvania in Autumn. this is my first Autumn in 12 years (lived the last 12 years in Florida and there is no Autumn season there) and i'm really looking forward to seeing the pretty colors of the deciduous trees as they prepare to shed their leaves before Winter. just hoping the rains don't wash the leaves off the trees before they have a chance to display the beautiful golds, reds, browns and oranges of Autumn.

Dang, it's good to look forward to what each day has to offer... really feels good to feel buzzed on life, again :)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

European Adventure... Departure Day

I arose early so i could finalize my packing and enjoy my last ‘typical Dutch breakfast’ before setting off to find my way to Schiphol Airport. it’s only a 17 kilometre (10.5 miles) drive to Schiphol and i needn’t to be at the airport until noon, but i wanted to give myself plenty of “getting lost” time. :p

Sipping coffee and enjoying the view of VondelPark from the breakfast room, i watched the morning activity of pedestrians and bicyclists moving by on the pathway and thought back to my first day in The Netherlands and how i was nearly trampled by Amsterdam bicyclists at this very spot in VondelPark. heheheee, if I have learned one thing during the last three weeks, it’s to respect and never underestimate the power of the Dutch bicycle!! :D

After breakfast, i studied my map of Amsterdam trying to imprint on my mind the street names of my route to the airport (lol, not sure why because it’s next to impossible to see any street signs anywhere!) and then gathered my bags from my room to take to the car. as I exited the hotel i saw a little slip of paper on the windshield... oh, no, was I ticketed, again??! nope, the nice hotel owners had paid €3 to the parking pass machine and put the pass on my car not knowing that I planned to check out of the hotel by 9AM… very considerate of them to watch out for me :) such nice people!

So, after saying bedankt voor alles, tot ziens, i got behind the wheel of the car, referred once more to my map, took a deep breath wishing myself luck (hahahaa) and began my final drive to the airport… something very cool happened… i drove direct to Schiphol… didn’t make any wrong turns… didn’t find myself in the wrong lane… didn't get lost at all... didn’t encounter any trams… smooth sailing all the way :) :) … i think in large part thanks to 9 AM rush hour traffic... i had time to read signs/think/make the correct decisions… also, once out of the city and on the highways, the signage for the airport is very clear. I even kept up with the speeding mad Dutch drivers :D

I arrived to the car rental garage feeling quite proud of myself and as the attendant checked for any damage to the car (there was none :D) i told him of my impressions of driving in Dutch traffic in the cities. he seemed to be rather impressed that this was the first time i had driven in Amsterdam traffic and was returning the car unscathed. teeheehee, i didn’t tell him that i drove very little and had the car parked most of my trip. lol

Having arrived to Schiphol Airport without getting lost, i was well ahead of schedule so i went outside and watched the planes taking off and landing until it was time that i could check my bags. after checking in my bags, i proceeded through security, was given a very thorough pat-down by the woman security agent and then browsed the Duty-Free shops where i found my favorite French parfums and spent some of my last Euros before making the 15 minute walk through Schiphol Airport to my departure terminal. i still had a couple of hours to burn before my Icelandair flight would begin boarding so i found the lounge nearest my departure gate and settle down with a frothy-headed Heineken (what else? lol), cracked open my PowerBook to see if i could grab some free Wifi… but, no Wifi, so i just made some quick notes about the morning's happenings until a good looking guy sat down next to me and struck up conversation.
‘Rob', a Dutch musician (Jazz trumpet player) on way to Reykjavík, Iceland to play a Jazz festival, bought me beers while he told me about his life as a musician and i told him about my fabulous adventure in his country. it was a very nice send off from the Netherlands.
[btw, i’m still convinced that the government must hide the unattractive Dutchmen! :p ☺]


The flights from Amsterdam to Reykjavík to Baltimore went smoothly, except for an hour delay in Reykjavík and another hour delay in collecting my bags in Baltimore.
So, by 9 PM local time (03:00 CET, the time in which my body was still operating) i found my car still in the long-term parking lot (yay!) of BWI Airport and started the 2-hour drive home, the final leg of my 2005 Adventure.
LMFAO, what should have been a 2 hour drive home became a 3 hour drive when I took the wrong exit off a highway through a construction zone and found myself in heavy fast-moving traffic headed east toward Washington, D.C. instead of north toward my Pennsylvania hometown. Hhahahaaheeeeheee, while very frustrated as i was very tired, i laughed at myself for getting lost so close to home on my last leg of travel…
But, i was able to find my way since i recognized the highways and could use my good sense to make my way back in the right direction.
At midnight (06:00 CET), i finally pulled into the apartment complex where i’m currently living and was welcomed by my three cats who were very pleased to see me.
I made a toast to the wonderful adventure that I wished didn’t have to end with a good Pennsylvania Yuengling Lager then fell into my bed dreaming of returning to Holland…

Friday, September 30, 2005

European Adventure 2005 Day 21


My last day in The Netherlands dawns sunny, but a bit cold.... the first day weather that has a chill in the air. i was very lucky with the weather during my trip. only had about 3 or 4 days of rain, but today i can feel Autumn.
After breakfast of ham, cheese, fruit juice and a pot of good black coffee, i went outside with a handful of coins to purchase my parking pass for the day from the automated parking pass machine. damn! on the windshield of my rental car, which was parked on the street directly in front of the hotel, was a small piece of paper..... i immediately knew i had been ticketed, but for what reason?! i pulled the ticket out from under the windshield wiper and discovered that i hadn't bought enough time yesterday. shit! i mistakenly thought that paid parking ended at 17:00, but it is actually 19:00 so i was illegally parked for 2 hours. the fine for my expired parking pass was €47.00!!!! eeeekks!! oh well, my silly mistake, so i'll just have to use some of my last day in The Netherlands dealing with the Amsterdam parking-police.
So, i went online to the website address listed on the ticket to find info on payment procedure and to find out where the Amsterdam Oude Zuid parking-police office is located. lol, of course, the entire website is written in Dutch and no map on the website so i was clueless.
i went to the reception desk and told the owners, Gregorius and Olga, of my dilemma and asked if i could take a tram to the parking authority’s office. they asked me rather incredulously if i really wanted to pay the fine immediately? well, yes, i do... don't want to be met at the airport by Amsterdam police and detained for a parking ticket! they both broke into big smiles (i think holding back giggles at my seriousness) and Olga said that The Netherlands is a "democratic society" (something i sense to be an extremely important to them as Russians immigrants) and that there is not need to rush to pay the fine and i did not have to fear the Amsterdam police awaiting me at the airport to arrest me for a parking fine. Gregorius and Olga went on to explain that quarterly the Amsterdam police send out billing statements to parking and traffic violators. They also said that because the Amsterdam police are very good at watching for parking infractions Amsterdammers build into their annual budget funds for covering traffic fines. So, in 3 months or so the owners of the car, the rental car agency, would be billed for my parking fine and sometime within 4-6 months my credit card may, in turn, be charged for the fine. Or, maybe not. Gregorius and Olga told me to just “take it easy and not worry”.
lol, i think i like this “democratic society” system :D


After putting my parking ticket concerns to rest, Olga suggested that I might like to go to the Concertgebouw and hear the free lunchtime concert open to the public on Wednesdays. She told me that the Amsterdam Concertgebouw is world renown for it’s grandeur and excellent acoustics and the Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra is said to be one of the very best orchestras in Europe, second only to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. intrigued by what she told me i set off to Concertgebouw (built in 1888), which is located near the Museumplein, a 15-minute walk from the hotel. i arrived at the concert hall just in time to seat myself on the balcony of the beautifully elegant concert hall before the concert began. Wow! is that place ever grand!... beautifully painted in soft white, pastel green accents and gold gilding, crystal chandeliers, rich deep-red plush velvet upholstery on dark-grained wood seats, matching heavy velvet drapes, and a giant pipe organ dominates the wall behind the big orchestral stage.
the concert lasted only ½ hour and was actually a rehearsal for the full concert to be given later that evening. it’s hard to think of what i heard as a rehearsal because the orchestra was incredibly good and the sound nothing less than awesome. i was impressed with the first violinist… he was able to created such captivatingly delicate and sustained notes from his violin that filled in the air with such intensity and feeling. I’m not sure, but I think it was Peter Sánta because Olga told me that i would be hearing a famous young Dutch conductor playing and he sure looked like Peter Sánta. at the end of the performance, the conductor asked the first violinist to take an individual bow (so incredible was his performance), but he declined and took a bow with the entire orchestra. i thought that said something about his modesty and it was endearing.
i’m so happy Olga told me about the free lunchtime concert… again, the best travel tips come from locals if you really want to experience the culture and true ambiance of the country visited ☺

After the concert, i decided to make the short walk (about 10 minutes) to Albert Cuyp Market where i had lunch at one of the nearby cafes. even though still a bit chilly, it was very nice to have a leisurely lunch sitting at an outdoor table in the sun. i had the_best turkey club sandwich served on the_best crusty lightly toasted bread and a beer. dang, the beer sure is consistently good in Holland! ☺

After i finished lunch, i strolled along a canal and made my way to the Museumplein where i caught the tram and returned to the hotel to get a start on doing some creative packing trying to squeeze all of my things and all the gifts i had bought into my 2 small bags and backpack so that i would be ready for the trip back home the next morning. lol, it was a complicated task, but I accomplished the feat successfully.

Having prepared my packing for morning departure, i took one last walk through Vondelpark at dusk. the air had a real nip to it and the walk was relaxing. there were a few joggers and bicyclist about, but the park was quite still… i guess because of the time of day and the chill in the air.
On my way back to the hotel, i took a route through the neighborhood of my hotel and admired the large brick houses with their huge open windows brightly lit by life going on behind closed doors. many of the windows are partially or completely of stained glass. the stained glass windows were so pretty with the interior lights shining through their colorful designs…. it was so peaceful, even with the din of city noise and sirens of Amsterdam City in the near distance. which makes me think of something I noticed - a difference in the sounds of life in Amsterdam as compared to life in Utrecht and Groningen… in Amsterdam the quarter hours are marked by police & emergency vehicle sirens (or at least it seems this way) ; in Utrecht and Groningen the quarter hours are marked by the chiming of clock towers…

i reached Hotel Villa Borgmann feeling a real sense of satisfaction and contentment, with my last day in The Netherlands… [despite my parking fine, lol :p], yet feeling a bit sad and reluctant that my holiday in this wonderfully exciting country was ending.
So, i enjoyed a bottle of Amstel Pilsner and a bag of peanuts from the mini-bar in my room and made a toast to The Netherlands and her good friendly citizens. Proost!!



*NOTE: go to October 2005 archive and scroll down to 1st October entry to read the final post of my Holland Adventure, "Departure Day".

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

European Adventure 2005 Day 20


Awoke at daybreak to get an early start... leaving Utrecht and returning to Amsterdam for a couple days before catching a ride back to the States on Icelandair.
Got a some good suggestions from a friend for some traditional Dutch candies and thought it a great gift idea for my nieces and nephews. so, after breakfast i headed for the Hoog Catherijna.... a modern shopping mall that seems completely out of place juxtaposed to the old town centre. i arrived at the Jamin candy shop a few minutes before they opened for business so i walked around the mall and noticed how these sorts of places all look and feel the same. i worked for many years at malls just like this one and find them very boring.
Anyway, when the shop opened i filled three big bags with the loose candies of many varieties. the shop clerks helped me find the kinds my friend suggested... Kaneelstokjes, red & white mice, black & white sticks, Maria statues and red & black berries (those look good!) and then i just went wild scooping up others that looked interesting.
After having a good time laughing with the shop clerks about how funny it sounds when i try to say Dutch words, I left the shopping mall and headed into the old town to find a shop where i saw some of the pretty Delft blue & white ceramics that i want for other family members. the ceramics aren't the genuine Delfts Blauw made in Delft, but are very well done, have nice color and are hand-painted, so i bought them.
My shopping done, i went back to the hotel buying a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers on the way (don't know why... i had no vase or place to put them, but i had been admiring them ever since arriving Holland), checked out of the hotel, said 'tot ziens' to Utrecht and was on the road to Amsterdam.

On another recommendation from my friend (who figured i could handle with ease small rural roundabouts without getting lost :p ), i made a sidetrip to Kasteel de Haar.
Wow, how pretty is the castle out in the middle of the tranquil countryside with horses and sheep grazing the surrounding meadows. Lots of tall trees were everywhere around the village and castle grounds. i wish i could have toured castle De Haar and its gardens, but the owners are currently in residence and the grounds are not open to the public.





I really enjoyed seeing the castle, complete with moat and drawbridge from the gatehouse and road (more like a country lane) that runs along the moat.... well, maybe it's a canal, but what is a canal around a castle if not a moat? even though i admired the castle from afar rather than up close, i'm really glad i made the sidetrip. it was a nice way to leave Utrecht.

I found my way back to the highway and continued to drive in the rain to Amsterdam. hehehee, the drive went well until i made the wrong exit from the highway and got lost somewhere in Amsterdam. very quickly i decided that being lost in a car in the rain (those tram tracks on the streets are very slick when wet!) in fast driving Amsterdam was not a fun thing and my good vibe from castle De Haar was deteriorating rapidly. so, being the clever lass that i am, i drove looking for parking, parked the car, found the nearest cafe and asked for help.... would the cafe worker be ever so kind as to phone for me a taxi. the taxi arrived quickly and i paid the driver €13.00 to lead me to my hotel. LOL, mission accomplished!! :D

With the help of the taxi driver escorting me, i arrived at Hotel Villa Borgmann to be greeted with big friendly smiles and a hearty welcome from the owners and was surprised when they immediately handed over a key to a room without putting me through the check-in procedure. Villa Borgmann is the small, quaint, privately owned hotel located on the south side of Vondelpark where i stayed and enjoyed a typical Amsterdam single with park view the first week i arrived Holland. this time the owners gave me a HUGE room with full bath. it's almost like a suite in size..... (and, again, i am totally impressed with the size of the windows!! yeah, it's the little things that get me excited :) the large room is on the front of the hotel and is not as quiet as the single parkview room i had previously, but the Wifi connection is much better. the owners know i like having a good internet connection so this is why they chose this huge double room for me. cool people :)
The hotel is operated more like a bed & breakfast rather than a hotel.... personalized service (the concern about my good Wifi connection, for example) and bright clean rooms with individual character is what i really like about Villa Borgmann. i offered the sunflowers that i had bought that morning in Utrecht for the lobby/reception area (they were surprised, but delighted to have them), got settled in my nice accommodations and then took the tram going to town centrum.

Or at least, i had planned to go to the centrum... the tram was running 10 minutes late and i boarded a very crowded tram with hardly any standing room (a nice man offered me his seat :) ). after the tram began to slowly move, an announcement was made by the tram operator... something in Dutch, of course, and i didn't understand... and there was a big noise of disapproval made by the tram riders. i was confused, not knowing what the disapproval was about, and waiting to see what would happen. then, all hell broke loose.... a young (he looked about 16 years old) man looking very dirty and smelling like he had bathed in beer began staggering and pushing his way back toward the ticket agent booth where he stood next to me yelling belligerently in Dutch at the ticket agent. she yelled back angrily at him and the two of them really got into it. the tram reached it's next stop by this time and the ticket agent came out of her booth and was aggressively telling the young man to exit the tram. he didn't, she was a tall waoman and towered over him shouting angrily, the young man was yelling back, a couple of the nearby male passengers began to lend support to the ticket agent (lol, she was in command and didn't need any help, though!). and then, appearing at the open tram door a woman police officer. (now, that i think about it, i think the tram must have stopped in front of the Police station that i had seen on the route .) the police officer was demanding the young drunk guy to exit the tram and he refused. i remember being amazed that all this highly aggressive behavior was happening (still not knowing why) and yet nobody had gotten physical. but, then, the ticket agent moved in closer to the young man still shouting out him to exit the tram and kind of pushed him with her whole body, edging him out the tram door. damn, that young drunk guy reached out and struck at the ticket woman. that was it, show over... the police officer and one of the male passengers took hold of the drunk guy by the arms and put him off the tram and sent him reeling up the street still shouting over his shoulder. the ticket agent shouted 'biatch!' (this was the only word i understood during the whole episode, lol) at him and resumed her position back in her ticket booth. whew. guess that's big city life for ya, eh? :)
The tram began to move ahead, again, very slowly. at the next stop it became clear what the earlier announcement was all about. we were informed to all exit the tram because it was not operating properly and to get on the tram behind us. i'm not sure, but i'm guessing that the young drunk guy was demanding his money back since the tram was not taking him to his destination. in his drunken state, i'm supposing that he didn't understand that we were being moved onto another tram to continue our journey.
Anyway, we were deboarded the malfunctioning tram at the Museumplein and i decided that i would just walk to the nearby Leidesplein and have my evening meal there rather than continue on into Amsterdam Centrum.
The Leidesplein wasn't very busy, probably because it was a rainy wet kinda cold day, but still there was plenty of activity. lots of sports fans were awaiting some football (soccer) game to be televised in the sports bars, cafe employees were drying off outdoor tables and chairs, tourists wandering about and the best busker i've heard since being in here was playing guitar and harmonica. he was really quite good and i tossed €4 into his guitarcase and asked if i could have a photograph. he said 'sure' (noticing the two coins i had tossed) and went on playing. i listened to him for about 10 minutes then went off in search of a dry table for food and drink. i found a place under a canopy (just in case the rains came back) and had a very tasty Tosti of ham, cheese & tomato and a tall Heineken while chatting with the Canadian couple at the table next to me. they were doing a whirlwind 2 week European holiday and had just arrived from Antwerp. after 2 days in Amsterdam sampling the menus at coffee shops, they would be on their way to Nice where they would rent a Porsche convertible for a drive to Paris.
I finished my dinner and wished the Canadians a pleasant holiday. as i headed off to find the tram that would take me back to my hotel (without incident), i thought about how glad i was that i decided to spend the entirety of my 3 week holiday in The Netherlands and not do the whirlwind tour thing... something i had originally intended. 3 weeks is not enough time to really know a country, its culture and its people, but i really feel like i have soaked up a good bit... i'm sure that i have gotten a closer look into life in Holland by walking through the streets, looking at and touching the historic buildings, talking to local people, sharing the same spaces....
don't think spending my time behind the wheel driving through countries would have given me any where close to the same thing.

When i got back to the hotel, i was pleased to see the sunflowers i had brought with me from Utrecht in a vase in the center of the reception area. they really are happy pretty flowers and looked lovely in the lobby adding a vibrance. when i opened the door to my first floor room (second floor for americans) and turned on the light i had a real nice surprise... there was a vase of the sunflowers brightening my room, too :) that really made me smile for some reason.

life is good :)

European Adventure 2005 Day 19


Woke up this morning to the soothing sound of rain and i almost blew off breakfast to continue laying cozily in bed drifting in sleep.
But, since i was looking forward to climbing Dom toren before leaving Utrecht, i threw back the duvet and got the day rolling.
By the time i finished breakfast and replied to a few emails, the rain had subsided. so, under grey but clearing skies, i walked into town centre taking an alternate route than my usual and was pleased to discover that my sense of direction on the winding and confusing streets had improved... i didn't get lost this time! :D
I arrived at the Dom tour office just in time to catch the noon tour group (the guided tours are scheduled hourly). besides the tour guide, there were only twelve other members of the tour group (25 is the usual group size) which was good... i would be sharing the Dom toren with a smaller crowd.
Dom tower, built between 1321 and 1382) rises an impressive 112 metres (368 feet) and is set upon a foundation 8 metres (26 feet) deep. gaining access to the highest gallery, the steeple gallery, requires walking up 465 steps. on the way up, we would stop on each level of the tower and the guide would explain to us about the construction and history of Dom Toren.
The second level of the tower is very impressive with 13 giant bronze bells dating from 1500, the largest weighing 8,222 kilos (18,127 pounds!!!), suspended from giant timbers.


The next level houses bellworks for the clock chimes and there are a total of 75 bells. wow, that's a lot of bells! every quarter hour, they can be heard chiming... and, it's nice.

The stairway winds up the interior of the tower, beginning relatively wide and gently steep gradually narrowing and becoming quite steep. the last 100 or so steps gave me one helluva workout... i felt like i was climbing a ladder made of tiny rungs of smooth stone inside a stone and mortar cocoon.

But, the view from the occasional small window and the thought of feeling the wind on my face while looking upon the town below inspired me. just when i was nearly convinced that the stairway would go on winding upward and narrowing forever into the heavens, i rounded a turn and there was the low door leading out onto the steeple gallery.
Wow! to stand there on the narrow walkway that circles the perimeter of the base of the steeple with only an open stone barrier of Gothic design separating me from the openness of the sky was literally breath-taking. the sky was still a bit grey, but the view was incredibly expansive stretching beyond the limits of Utrecht city into the Province beyond. somehow, the greyness of the sky seem to enhance the colors of the rooftops and buildings of the town below, the green leaves of the trees seemed brilliant and almost glowing, the water in the canals seem to almost shine and sparkle... it was simply and utterly beautiful. i felt like i was standing on the greatest balcony that mankind has ever built.
I hung out admiring the view, walking the perimeter, touching the ancient building stones and wondering about their stories of what they had witnessed over the centuries...
Then, the tour leader broke the magic and told us it was time to descend before the next group would begin their climb.


After the invigorating (albeit, challenging) climb, i decided to would be apropos to seek out the 'Stairway To Heaven' cafe as recommended by a local friend. the rock cafe is owned by Henk Westbroek, a famous Dutch musician/music industry celebrity. i knew in which area of the old town the cafe is located and had no trouble finding the place. whooaaa, is that place ever cool! a nice mix of old world charm and modern rock music memorablia... kinda like that American chain of clubs, 'Hard Rock Cafe', but with style and class.
On the walls hang an impressive collection of guitars donated by famous rock musicians and bands... including (among others) guitars of Slash, Metallica, INXS, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page, Cream, Eric Clapton, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Peter Frampton, Steve Vai and Live (cool for me to see because that band is from York, Pennsylvania, a small town very near my hometown). there is also a tom-tom drum from Def Leppard. great rock music from the '60's - '90's was playing and he staff was very friendly. lots of students were sitting at tables studying, other customers having lunch and some guys were just hanging out at the bar having a good time. there was even a guy working on a laptop. when i commented how cool it is that there was Wifi availability, the guy offered me a few minutes on his laptop if i wanted to access the internet. what a nice guy, eh?!
I had a couple beers at the bar and chatted with the bartender then decided this would be a good cafe to see if the Dutch know how to make a good burger and fries. so, i moved over to a table with a fresh beer and was quickly served what i consider the official american meal. the burger was quite large and good (but too salty... why to European burgers always taste too salty?), the fries were heaped on the plate looking like a small mountain and a delicious salad garnished the plate. oh, and of course, there was a generous portion of seasoned mayonnaise accompanying the fries... no, i didn't ask for ketchup. :p other than the burger being too salty, everything was quite good, but the portions way too much and i could only eat about half of the meal. i completed the meal with a nice strong black coffee. considering the great atmosphere of the place, the excellent friendly service and the quality & quantity of the food the price of €11.50 was quite reasonable. i'd recommend the 'Stairway To Heaven' cafe as a great lunch spot.

After enjoying my respite, i set off to find the docking station for the canal boat ride. i found the station with little problem and bought a ticket just in time for the next departure. i really enjoyed the canal boat tour a lot. it was soooo much better than the Amsterdam canal boat tour i took a couple of weeks earlier (and only 1/3 the price). not exactly sure why.... maybe, because the wharves housing businesses and apartments at water level with the streets and town above make the canal more interesting? also, the tour wasn't a recorded speech, but a real live woman who did an excellent job of describing what we were seeing and pointing out buildings of interest. she did the tour in 3 languages... Dutch, German & English. she would have done it in French, too, but there were no French-speaking persons aboard. still impresses me how multi-lingual are Europeans.
Anyway, the canal boat tour was very interesting and very relaxing. very nice and enjoyable way to complete a day after climbing to the top of Utrecht and rocking out at lunch :)
When the tour ended, i walked leisurely back to the hotel and had a quiet evening and blissful sleep after such an active day.

In short, today was another awesome day in The Netherlands :)

Monday, September 26, 2005

European Adventure 2005 Day 18


Today, i was very lazy and did nothing more than spend several hours outside in the sun listening to my iPod while walking, then back to the hotel to recharge iPod battery, write postcards (meant to do this the first week i arrived here so that the postcards would arrive home before i do! lol), exchanged correspondence mails with family members and do some other writing (ain't laptops & Wifi great?!!).
Began my lazy day by visiting Wilhelmina Park and spent a couple of hours strolling the park and sitting on park benches enjoying the warm sun, watching the aquatic birdlife on the pond, listening to music and just spacing out with my thoughts about life, dreams, goals, and other stuff.

Wilhelmina Park is very pretty with a variety of tall trees, large grassy areas, walking/biking paths, a large pond and interesting art sculptures sprinkled throughout. there is a pretty building with thatched roof that i think must be a restaurant, but it was closed so i couldn't check it out.




The activity in the park was relaxed, mostly couples and families with small children... walking leisurely, rollerblading, children with baskets collecting the chestnuts fallen from the old trees (i picked up a few, too... i like the smooth feel of them in my hand, yeah, i'm wierd. lol), a couple guys practicing karate moves... just enough people out enjoying the sunshine to give a bit of energy to the park. even saw a guy preparing to pack up his tent which made me wonder if he had made overnight camp there... reminded me of the time, years ago, when i jumped a wall and pitched tent overnight on a football field in Sligo, Ireland [got out of there at daybreak so as to avoid being noticed by the police, lol].

Some time midday, after enjoying the park, i walked up the Nachengaalstraat and window-shopped the closed shops getting ideas of gifts to take home to my family and friends. i was struck by how quiet and lacking of activity was the main thoroughfare. it was so still, it was like a ghost town. only a few of the ever-present bicyclists and a few buses, but no traffic and no other pedestrians. quite the opposite of the previous afternoon/evening when Utrecht was filled with people moving about. it was kind of eerie, yet peacefully calming, to hear church bells tolling giving sound to the quiet streets and amplifying the feeling that i had the town to myself.

As i entered the old town centre, i began to see others wandering about or sitting in the sun having coffee. i walked aimlessly and continued to window-shop stopping occasionally for a cappuccino.
After a couple hours of drifting around town centre, i had an early dinner of mixed green salad with tomato and cucumber drizzled with a bit of creamy garlic dressing and topped with salmon, a piece of very good bread and a glass of Heineken. the salad was quite tasty, but very large and i couldn't finish it all.

Then, i walked leisurely back to the hotel.. taking a new route. hehehee, after spending a few days walking around Utrecht, i'm getting a better sense of the streets and neighborhoods.... i'm finding that i'm getting lost less frequently. Yay! :)
Back at the hotel, i sipped another beer as i wrote the postcards and mails, read a bit, watched an old American western on BBC TV and then fell asleep.

A very laid-back, relaxed day.... sometimes, it's nice to just kick back when on holiday :)
oh, yeah.... can't decide which of these cars is the coolest :)