Friday, December 29, 2017

The Best of What We Did in 2017

Blue flowers in Bohemia
One of the reasons we travel around the world is to see and do things that help us understand people and cultures better. As our country becomes more diverse, it behooves us to learn more about our very interesting world. This blog is a summary of all the activities we gave a rating of four or more carrots. If you want to read about the places we played, just follow the links to the associated blog. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews. Within the blogs are more pictures and tons of information about the places the NearNormal Travelers have visited.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Best of Where We Stayed, and Shopped in 2017

Journeying around the world we’ve stayed at some absolutely awful
Sweet pea
places, but they were overshadowed by delightful places. We also did a bit of shopping in some really great shops. This blog is a consolidation of all the establishments we gave a rating of four or more carrots. If you want to read about where these are located, just follow the links to the associated blog. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews. Within the blogs are oodles of images and more information about the locations the NearNormal Travelers have wandered.

Friday, December 15, 2017

To Tunisia – somewhere in Texas

Dido was a legendary queen of Carthage in Virgil's Aeneid. She killed
Pasture land near Dido
herself when Aeneas left her. That didn’t stop folks in Texas from naming a town after her. Now a ghost town, Dido has lots history and still is connected to the community.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Springing around Springtown

After loading up on holiday food, watching old movies, and generally
Area around Springtown
being lazy it was time to go exploring. We’ve been south of the Metroplex frequently, so taking some jaunts in a more northwardly direction seemed a good idea. Springtown was our destination, partly because we’d never been there, and partly because there was supposed to be a good Mexican restaurant within the environs.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Winding up in Whitney

Whitney is a small town in Hill County was named after, surprisingly enough, Charles A. Whitney. Although it
Dave and Vince, on the road
is near Lake Whitney, that’s not why the town appeared in its location. We took a ride out to Whitney just to get out of the city and to see if the trees had begun to reflect the change from summer to autumn. We were, of course, also looking for somewhere new for lunch.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Going by Blum

Trees beginning to change colors - slightly
Autumn in Texas can be beautiful, but this year it’s been fairly blah when it comes to leaves changing color. Lack of color didn’t stop us from getting out and about looking for some adventure. It was in this pursuit that we discovered Blum, Texas.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Adventuring in Avon

Fall in Connecticut – what a great time of year! I’ve been through the
Top L to R: Four Seasons Necklace,
Autumn Acorn Necklace
Bottom: Harvest Moon Bracelet
state at other times of the year, but I’d never stayed in any particular city and I’d not spent any time exploring. This year I got to participate in the Fall Foliage Bead Retreat in Avon, Connecticut. This event is led by Amy Blevins; each year she brings nationally known beading instructors in for a few days of playing in the beads. This year the instructors were Nancy Cain, Laura McCabe, and Melissa Grakowsky-Shippee. We began two necklaces and a bracelet. I’m still not finished with any of them, but I’m enjoying the work.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sliding through San Diego

I love to go to beading retreats. I get to see old friends, meet new friends,
Top L to R: Varvona by Marcia De Coster,
Siena by Sabine Lippert
Bottom: Woodland Jewels by Beki Haley
learn from excellent teachers, and create some lovely jewelry. Beaders Dream Retreat was back in San Diego this year and completely met my expectations. I’d taken lessons from two of the instructors previously, Marcia DeCoster and Beki Haley. The person I’d not met before was Sabine Lippert. The pieces for this year were inventive and intricate – I love them all.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Weaving to Weaverville

Main Street in Weaverville
Although I’ve been to the Asheville area several times, I haven’t ventured far from that city. However, this year Linnea and I heard about an art festival in Weaverville. This is a town with a population of about 3000 people just to the north of Asheville. It’s going to be worth another visit whether there is an art festival or not!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Traveling through Tolar

On the road between Granbury and Stephenville in southwestern Hood
Site of Antioch
County is Tolar. This is another of those tiny Texas towns that was settled because of stage couch routes and the railroad.  The stage route from Tolar to Fort Worth provided transportation for the residents of Antioch to these two cities. Now within the city limits of Tolar, Antioch was the site of the last Indian fight in the county, the battle of the Point of the Timbers or the Battle of Lookout Point, in September 1869. Organized settlement of Antioch began in the 1870s, when ranches were established at the head of Stroud's Creek, making this town about twenty years older than Tolar.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Pondering Ponder

Historic house in Ponder
One of our small communities has had a rather infamous history. According to local legend, Bonnie and Clyde tried to rob the Ponder State Bank the week after it went broke. This may not be true since it’s not listed in the Barrow Gang's activities; the robbery may have been attempted by another outlaw, Eddie Bentz. This didn’t prevent movie makers from filming the Bonnie and Clyde in the north Texas area with some of the actors and other workers visiting Ponder during their time in near this town.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wroclaw Reviews

Girl Statue
I had no expectations coming to this city beyond that it would have cobblestone streets. And although it did have those ankle breakers, the city has lots to recommend it. There are all sorts of hotels, many more good restaurants than I had anticipated in a city this size, and a myriad of things to do in town. It is also located relatively close to other places of interest, such as the Baltic Sea, Krakow, and the concentration/extermination camp museums. If it were not so difficult to get to Wroclaw, I would certainly come back. Lots of tourist areas are closed at odd times. The market is closed on Wednesdays; some museums are closed Mondays; and somethings are supposed to be open and aren’t and vice versa. If you want to do something and it’s available to do right then, do it! Also, don’t be afraid to open what looks like a closed door to a site. It may just be shut rather than closed.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Going after Gnomes

They are hiding in plain sight and are usually found first by children since
Welcome to Wroclaw
the kids are much closer to the ground. You’d think that it would be easy to find many of these 400 statues, but that’s not the case! They eluded us at every turn. We finally bought a map only to learn that the little beasties had changed locations, or simply vanished; and there were many more that weren’t on the map at all! The Gnomes of Wroclaw (or Dwarfs as they are called locally) are two-foot tall statues that lend great whimsy to the city and captivate visitors into seeing the sights by going on a Gnome hunt. Their history, however, is much more political.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Lest we forget…

While World War II and its aftermath were horrible and there were more
Grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkeniu
State Museum
tragic occurrences than have ever been reported, the worst was the Holocaust. This came about because of bigotry and hatred, two characteristics of mankind that the winning of any war or the embracing of any religion has not obliterated from our collective consciences. One of the most interesting stories was told by Jakob, our Free Walking Tour guide, was about his grandmother. For many of the people in Poland the war didn’t end in 1945; his grandmother still overbuys when she goes to the grocery just in case they need the food to flee. When US leaders start talking about ‘registering’ people, the first thing that springs to mind is how the Jews and other minorities were ‘registered’. Let’s hope the population in this country never has to make the choices that the people in Europe had to make.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Walking in Wrocław, Part 2

And walking was what I did most often during my visit. Although I spent a
Wall art
week in the city, I don’t feel as though I scratched the surface of Wrocław’s history; I still don’t know why there are so many churches in such a small area. In this blog you’ll see several of the sites I visited that were around the main square. Wandering around the square is a good way to spend time; the map makes it look as though everything is very far away and Google maps gives walking times that are only accurate if you are dragging your feet. The old town is mostly traffic free and the cars do have to yield to you IF you are in a crosswalk. People are friendly and will try to help you find your way; once you’ve found a particular landmark, it’s an easy city to navigate. Many of tourist areas are closed at odd times. For instance, the Hala Targowa (Market Hall) is closed on Wednesdays while some museums are closed Mondays; and somethings are supposed to be open at specific times aren’t, and vice versa. If you want to do something and it’s available to do right then, do it! Also, don’t be afraid to open what looks like a closed door to a site; it may just be shut rather than closed.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Walking in Wrocław, Part 1

My friend, Barb, said, ‘The IFLA Annual Conference is in Wrocław,
Wrocław city square
Poland this year. Do you want to go?’ I’d never been in Poland, nor did I know anything about Wrocław so I replied, ‘Of course!’ And off we went on a rather unusual adventure. Wrocław has a history dating back a thousand years and throughout that time has functioned as the capital of Silesia and Lower Silesia; it’s still the capital of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship (a governmental region similar to a county).  Currently it’s considered one of the best places in Europe to live because of the high level of art appreciation, education, and international business; this is probably why it is the fourth-largest city in Poland. While the part of the city that we saw was attractive, I particularly liked the historic part. It’s very walkable with plenty of things to see and do as well as good places to eat and shop.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Just in Justin

Bishop Park, Justin
What I didn’t know about this town would fit in a boot. Back before the settlers arrived, this fertile land was home to Native Americans, specifically the Navajo. Conflict between these people and the settlers arose in about 1841, resulting in the Battle of Village Creek. About seven years later, French utopian socialists established an Icarian community at the juncture of Denton and Oliver Creeks. They were given several thousand acres by the Peters Colony, but conflict with Peters and unforgiving conditions brought on by Texas weather caused the 70 or so settlers to abandon the area within two years.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Linking to Lipan

Pasture land
Where in the world is Lipan, Texas? It’s actually a little town just northwest of Granbury (see Getting Grub in Granbury) in Hood County. The day we were in that area was a non-traditional one for a summer in Texas. It has rained substantially, and even at the height of the summer the fields are filled with green grass. With a bright blue sky as a back drop it’s easy to see why someone would want to move here to raise horses and cattle.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Loitering in Lake Highlands

White Rock Lake
Rebekah and I didn’t actually mean to tour Lake Highlands. We were off to see the Dallas Arboretum, but bad weather had disrupted the park causing an unexpected closure. So instead of our planned outing, we took a drive around the area and did a bit of shopping. Lake Highlands, the neighborhood around the Arboretum, extends north to Richardson, east to Garland, south to White Rock Lake and East Dallas, and west to Lakewood and North Dallas. Most of the area is populated with historic homes and older places of business.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Been There, Ate That

One of the nice things about living where we do is that there is always a new restaurant springing up. This post reviews four places we’d not tried, one that changed management, and three that we visited previously.  For information on my rating scheme, take a look at Reading the Reviews. To get some information on the towns you’ll find these eateries in, click on the links that will lead you to previous blogs.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Beading through Bohemia Reviews Part 2

Roasting meat
t’s all about the food – or at least good food makes a trip better. We did have several nice meals made even better with a group of new friends. I’m a bit spoiled; even though I have food allergies that make getting common items sometimes a bit difficult, chefs and cooks generally do their best to accommodate me. On this trip if I ordered on my own I could talk to the wait staff and find something that was local but acceptable to my dietary needs. When I was with the group, I got grilled or roasted chicken at each meal; this was disappointing. Again, to see how my rating system works, take a look at
Reading the Reviews.

Beading through Bohemia Reviews Part 1

This was an interesting trip. Barb and I booked it with the idea that we’d see some places we’d never been, get in some good bead shopping, and have some beading time. As with any trip, there were some things we really liked, and some we weren’t too happy about. Also, our perceptions of the trip didn’t necessarily match those of other travelers. For instance, we really liked our first local guide, Blanca. She had a wealth of knowledge and filled the air with information. Our expectations for group behavior seemed to be the same as Blanca’s: keep up, ask questions, pay attention, and realize that the local guide wasn’t there to service just one person. Blanca did far better with some of the folks in our group than I did; I’d have sent them home on day one. Since this is a very long blog, it’s divided into two parts. This one covers Where We Stayed and What We Did; What We Ate is in the second post. In previous blog posts I've written about many of the things we did, so rather than rehash those experiences, I've given you links back to the specific pages. To see how my rating system works, take a look at Reading the Reviews.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Being in Budapest

Parliament Building
Each morning on the Danube was beautiful, but this day was special. We were awakened to a wonderful view of the House of Parliament with the rising sun’s rays on it. Although it was close on to 5:00AM, it was hard to go back to sleep with the stunning scenery sliding by. Budapest was officially created by merging Pest, Buda and Óbuda in 1873. But back in the first century BC the Celts built the first town that would become a portion of Budapest. This was a densely populated settlement with potteries and bronze foundries, and perhaps a trading center. Romans colonized an area immediately west of the Danube, using the natural thermal springs; the new baths in Budapest reminded me of those in Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic. By 106 AD the city had become the
Exterior of a bath house
capital of the province Pannonia Inferior and the headquarters of the governor and a significant military force. Of course this means that it was frequently involved in wars along the Danube. A parade of conquerors made the city their headquarters from the 5
th century AD through the Middle Ages. Buda and Pest started their development in the 12th century because the French, Walloon, and German settlers worked and traded under royal protection along the Danube. The history of Hungary followed the path of Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria with prosperity, and the flourishing of the arts followed by wars and destruction; in some instances Buda was a leading in others Pest was preeminent.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Bratislava Byways

One of the first things we saw when we docked at Bratislava was a UFO.
UFO Bridge
Actually it’s a restaurant on a bridge that looks like a flying saucer. Slovakia, where Bratislava is located, became its own country in 1993 and has been on its way to establishing itself as a world leader in economics and politics. To that end it has participated in the European Union, NATO, the Eurozone, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Although this is a very forward looking country, it has not lost its links to its past. The area we visited was just as charming as the other small towns we saw along the Danube.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mincing in Melk and Dancing in Dürnstein

Cruising down the Danube brought us through some lovely country with
Castles and churches along the Danube River
scenic towns, churches, and castles in various stages of disrepair. This is a swiftly moving river, which really surprised me since I had always imagined it as a languid, barely moving stream. Around the towns were vineyard covered hills, thick forests, and a few outcrops of rocks. All in all it was a charming trip through an amazing riparian landscape. The two small Austrian towns we were off to explore were a step back in time to the days when the church was not only the religious center, but the guardian of the law, culture, and government. The religious leaders were also involved in business, with the church being able to levy tolls and people bringing goods up and down the river.

Melk is the home of a massive baroque Benedictine monastery named Melk Abbey that was founded in 1089. It houses the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau as well as those of several members of Austria's
Top L to R: Melk Abbey, Spiral staircase
Bottom L to R: Library, View from the Abbey
first ruling dynasty. About 100 years before, Margrave Leopold I used the area around Melk as a barrier between the Magyars to east and Bavaria (see Along the Rhine) to the west. This kept marauders at bay and the town remained relatively safe until about 1938. Where the abbey currently stands was originally the Babenberger castle; it was given to the Benedictine monks from nearby Lambach by Margrave Leopold II in 1089. The abbey was successful and in the 12th century the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, a monastic school, was founded; their monastic library quickly became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection and the production of manuscripts. Because the abbey was so well known, it has survived political threats during the Napoleonic Wars; however, the abbey and the school were confiscated by the state just after annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany (Anschluss) in 1938. The school was returned at the end of World War II and now is a co-educational institution from almost 900 students.

The views of the river and town from the abbey were spectacular, as was
Left: Walking in the gardens (by Tony Chin)
Center T to B: Smelling the roses (by Tony Chin), Crows
Right: Rabbit
the abbey, itself. Although we were not allowed to take pictures inside, there were postcards with images of what Barb and I were most interested in, the library. These manuscripts are hundreds of years old and badly in need of curating to protect the moldering pages and cracked covers. Once outside, we discovered that the gardens that are attached to the abbey were quite fanciful. The lawns had been decorated with imaginary creatures, and the hedges had ceramic birds that made us smile. The rose bushes made us want to see if they smelled as sweet and the hedges made us want to take a walk.

Down in town the streets are as rough and narrow as they were when the town was built. A visitor trying to park a van was caught between two
Left: Down the steps into town
Center T to B: Ceramics, Melk
Right: Yarn shop
buildings, a giant flower pot and a tree. Some town folk and several visitors gave him lots of advice. After about 15 minutes of machinations he successfully parked the van and received a round of applause. Meanwhile, several of us were adding to the fiscal stability of Melk. Barb and I found a potter who had some delightful goods; she had to take a crow home and I needed just one more bowl. We also found a yarn shop and even though it was hot and humid we bought yet another few skeins of the fluffy stuff. There were lots of other interesting shops we visited, but nothing else came back to Texas with us, so it was back on the ship and on to our next port of call: Dürnstein.

This small town is in a well-known wine growing area and is one of the
Day and night views of the castle
most-visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region. The town was first mentioned in manuscripts in 1192 when Dürnstein Castle became infamous as the prison for King Richard the Lionheart. Duke Leopold V suspected that King Richard ordered the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem, so he captured him and gave him to Emperor Henry VI. Of course, this angered Pope Celestine III who excommunicated Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader.

Down the hill and near the center of town is Stift Dürnstein (Dürnstein Abbey). This Baroque monastery was created in 1410 and reconstructed at the beginning of the 18th century. Since 1788 it has belonged to the Herringburg Augustinian choristers who have maintained and renovated the structure as needed. The Augustine exhibition and views from the Danube terrace made this a wonderful place to visit. We were turned loose to wander through the abbey by ourselves, so we took the opportunity to poke into all of the rooms and go out onto the terrace. There was a winding staircase that was blocked off with a flower pot, but that was about the only place we didn’t explore.
Exterior and Interior scenes from the abbey

The town is tiny, but there are lots of picturesque shops, interesting streets, and great views. We wandered up and down, literally, since this is
Top L to R: Vineyard, City gate
Bottom L to R: View from the terrace,
Narrow streets
a very hilly town. One of its highlights was an artist who made jewelry from rocks polished by the Danube. There were also people making their own candy, wine, and schnapps out of apricots, and while these were interesting, they simply wouldn’t fit in our luggage.

Bratislava is the topic of next week’s blog – stay tuned!
Purple flowers along the street
©2017 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Viewing Vienna

Vienna architecture spans the gamut from Gothic to Baroque to Rococo and for those of us who like all sorts of architecture, it was eye-candy. Some of this architecture dates back to
Examples of different sorts of architecture plus a
rabbit and a man on a clock for whimsy
when Vienna was a Roman military camp during the 1st century; even today there are streets show evidence of the encampment’s walls and moats. The Romans hung around until the 5th century when a fire destroyed the encampment but didn’t discourage the settlers who had been steadily arriving from Germany, Slavic and Russian areas. Vienna continued to develop as a gateway to trade routes and a staging area for troops going off to fight wars throughout the Middle Ages. The capture of Richard the Lionhearted at the end of the 12th century and his subsequent ransom to Duke Leopold V the Virtuous for 10 to 12 tons of silver allowed the creation of a mint and the construction of city walls. Pride of place vacillated between Prague and Vienna with each city competing with the other for the holy seat and the political power that accompanied the honor. The distinction of founder of the city goes to Rudolf IV of Austria. His sensible economic policies raised the level of prosperity as did the establishment of the University of Vienna in 1365 and the construction of the gothic nave in the Stephansdom which was a symbolic substitute for a bishop. Under German King Albert II, Vienna became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and in about 1441 he tossed out the Jewish population of Vienna supporting the anti-Semitism that has been present ever since. Political upheavals continued through this city’s history with the inevitable destruction and restoration of buildings. In both of the World Wars, Vienna was on the losing side, finally being occupied by allied troops in 1945. Vienna was then divided into five occupation zones among France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and with the city center (first district) being patrolled by all four. Since 1955, the country regained its political independence and sovereignty; it now serves as a political center in Europe with more than 17,000 diplomats. Its city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site making it a tourist hub.

We began our visit at Maria Teresa’s house, the Schönbrunn Palace. Although this was the Imperial Summer Residence, as hot as it was in Vienna when we visited, I wondered
Top L to R: Neptune's Fountain, Janus and Bellona, Gloriette
Schönbrunn Palace
whether this shouldn’t have been the winter palace. The building reminded me a great deal of the palaces I’d seen in Russia (see Underground Art) with its numerous bedrooms, ballrooms, dining rooms, waiting rooms and lots of other rooms – in this case 1,441 rooms in total. Built in the early 17th Century but rebuilt and remodeled by Marie Theresa in the 1740s. She was one of the most prolific monarchs, bearing 16 children, most of them girls who she married off to the princes around Europe. This gave Maria Teresa the unofficial title as ‘mother-in-law to Europe’. Her daughters became the Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily, the Duchess of Parma, and her five sons, included two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II. While the castle was impressive, the gardens were even more so. I particularly liked the Neptune Fountain set into the hillside. This sculptured water feature was designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg. The fountain sits just below a 200 foot hill, which is topped by the Gloriette; this was supposed to be the entrance to the palace at one time, but Maria Theresa wanted it to represent a ‘Just War’ won by the Hapsburgs. There are many other sculptures in the garden, all of them Roman in origin.

One of the other places I particularly wanted to see what the Belvedere Museum. It is housed in part of the Belvedere Palace and although smaller than the Louvre in Paris, still
Top L to R: Belvedere Palace, Cinnabar statue, Belevedere Gardens
Bottom L to R: Baroque sculpture, Three Graces, Entrance hall
takes the better part of a day to see the art in all of the buildings. The Belvedere actually consists of the Upper and Lower palaces, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and wrought iron gates decorate the gentle gradient on which the complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736) by the famous Baroque architect, Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The art collection dates from the Middle Ages to the present day, and is complemented by the works of international artists. Of course, being set in rooms of state only enhances the presentation of these works. The collection of Gustav Klimt was what had drawn me to this particular museum and I wasn’t disappointed. Two of his pictures are perhaps his most well-known. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I came to the forefront with the popularization of the book and movie, The Woman in Gold. Of course this painting was not in the museum, but ‘The Kiss’ was. I had seen pictures of piece, but I had no idea how large it is nor just how shiny. Painted during his ‘golden phase’ it is quite amazing. There were two other paintings that I really liked. One was ‘Judith’ and the other was ‘Portrait of Fritza Riedler’; both of these emphasize Klimt’s favorite subject, the female body.

Of course, the centerpiece, both literally and figuratively, of Vienna is Saint Stephan’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP. This Romanesque and Gothic monolith dominates the skyline and sits in the center of the old town. Its placement is
Top L to R:Spire, High Alter, Blackened stones
Bottom L to R: Roof tiles, Capistran Chancel, Hapsburg Eagles
particularly nice when you’re trying to find your way through the maze of streets; just look along the housetops and you’ll usually see the steeple of the church. Built of limestone, the cathedral is 351 feet long, 130 feet wide, and 446 feet tall at its highest point; it stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the earliest of which was consecrated in 1147. One of its most striking characteristics is its ornately patterned roof made up of 230,000 glazed tiles. On the south side of the building the tiles form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle symbolizing the rein of the Habsburg dynasty. The north side displays the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria. The roof is so steep that it is cleansed by the rain and is rarely covered by snow. The rest of the building isn’t as clean. Over the centuries, soot and air pollution have accumulated on the exterior walls, giving them a black color. Recently restoration projects have returned some portions to their original white, which is one reason that the area around the cathedral is under construction. However, visitors can still get inside, and the inside is worth seeing. The high alter, is a baroque carving designed by Tobias Pock that tells the story of Saint Stephan’s stoning. Flanking the nave are chapels dedicated to saints that include works of art, and the pulpit, a late Gothic design, sits on one of the main pillars positioned so that the audience can hear the sermon.

Vienna was a wonderful city and the brief time we spent there certainly wasn’t enough. I can’t wait to go back and see all of the things I missed. Next week I’ll write about two of the towns we visited while on a brief, but lovely, cruise down the Danube.
National Library
©2017 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Prague, again

View of the Vltava from one of the bridges
Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have believed that I would travel to Prague once. Now I’ve been there three times. This time it was with Triple M Tours and SocialBeadia on a trip called Beading through Bohemia. Our mission was to do some sightseeing, visit cradle of Czech beads, and learn some new beading skills taught by Marcia DeCoster. There are several previous blogs that include information about Prague, so if you’d like to read about other visits there (including reviews), take a look at Art, Time after Time, Weirdness in Bohemia, Peeking in on Prague, Review of Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris.

Friday, June 30, 2017

与维京下来长江 - Down the Yangtze with Viking

Let the adventure begin!
Neither Dave nor I had ever traveled in China so we wanted professional help on this adventure. Now that I’ve been there, I would not hesitate to go by myself rather than on a tour; the people are friendly, many speak English, and most of the street signs are in English. My friend who grew up in Hong Kong reminded me that the Chinese people are raised to be polite and to behave appropriately; this does not mean that they agree with you or understand how you think. They will treat you with respect and they expect the same in return; I’m quite comfortable with that and ready to go to China, again. Simply sitting in a garden or a café is entertaining, but these activities do not begin to span the variety of amusements available. Also, there is no shortage of places to eat or places to stay. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Friday, June 23, 2017

与勇士一起走 - Walking with the Warriors

Sculpture of dancing prince and princess
When I booked this trip I had only a few things on my ‘bucket list’ that I was going to check off and the Terracotta Warriors were one of them. However, the more I learned about the Xi’an area, the more excited I got to visit this city. When we arrived, it appeared that we were going to have some clear days, but that didn’t happen. As with Beijing, smog is a significant problem, and for all of the same reasons; the mountains never did make an appearance, but what we did see was jaw-dropping.

Friday, June 16, 2017

踏上上海 - Stepping out in Shanghai

What a mix of old and new…On one side of the Huangpu River are the colonial buildings
Protective dragon
that mark Shanghai as a world banking center since the 1930s. On the other side are new high rise office and apartment buildings rivaling any city with a vision of the future. Touring this city may have been my favorite part of the trip.

Friday, June 9, 2017

跳到荆州和武汉 Jumping over to Jingzhou and Wuhan

Jingzhou was believed to have been built by Guan Yu at the same time he made the earth.
Wall outside of Jingzhou
And while this may not be strictly true, it has been a transportation hub and commodity distribution center for more than 5,000 years. Because of its location, Jingzhou served as the capital for 20 kings from around 1046 BCE until 256 BCE. This rich history has provided archeologists with numerous sites to explore. Within Jiangling County are ruins of five Chu cities, 73 sites containing Chu Culture items and more than 800 ancient tombs, including those of 18 Chu kings; there is also a well-preserved 2,000-year-old male corpse. The city walls, city gates, watchtowers, and battlements have been well maintained.

Friday, June 2, 2017

穿過重慶和三峽 Chugging through Chongqing and the Three Gorges

Chongqing, once called Chungking, is one of the Five National Central Cities in China. It is traditionally associated with the State of Ba and the Ba who arrived in the area in about 316 BC. As with Beijing, it underwent the same sort of wars and name changes from the late 200s BC through the Ming Dynasty. The area was eventually conquered by the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty with immigration to Chongqing and Sichuan in support of Qing emperor.  Foreigners were first allowed into the area in 1890 when the British Consulate General was opened. The Japanese, French, German, and US consulates were opened in Chongqing between 1896 and 1904. The big excitement came during the Second Sino-Japanese War when Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek made Chongqing his provisional capital. The mountainous environment was protection from bombs leading factories and universities to relocate here. Coming into this area made me realize why so many Chinese pieces of art show mountains shrouded in clouds. Chongqing has over 100 days of fog per year with 68 of those days occurring during the spring and autumn. Of course it’s not all fog. Chongqing is among one of the ten most air-polluted cities in the world; the list includes Beijing, Jinan, Lanzhou, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, and Urumqi.

Friday, May 26, 2017

在北京 - Being in Beijing

Although I always wanted to go to China, I didn’t know much about the country except that it
Bell Tower
had the Great Wall, a Forbidden City, some Terracotta Soldiers, and the ancestors of Charlie Chan. What I found on this trip was a rich history, engaging people, and a much wider variety of foods than I had imagined. Dave and I started our trek in the capital of China, Beijing. With its population of 21.5 million, China’s second largest city has thousands of years of history.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bounding to Burleson

It came to my attention rather recently that although we visit Burleson frequently, I’d never
Decorated fence
written a blog about it. Burleson is the closest ‘city’ to Vince; this is where he does most of his shopping. It has lots of chain restaurants, some ‘big box’ stores, and medical facilities. It was also the location of my first venture into the job market. I was about 16 and had just gotten a driver’s license so I needed money to support the life-style to which I wanted to become accustom. While the other students in my high school were driving into Fort Worth to work as salesclerks, burger flippers, or other jobs suitable for that age group, I went to work on Saturdays for a medical doctor; I also worked there in the summers. It seemed like a good idea at the time and did give me a chance to decide if I really wanted to work in the blood, tears, and other bodily fluids that could on occasion spew forth from a human being. The answer to that question was a profound, ‘No’!

Friday, May 12, 2017

History on Headstones

Headstone art
Dave plays golf at a number of clubs in near Keller and never likes to take the same route to them more than a couple of times. This means that he see some out-of-the-way places, discovers things of interest and gets lost a lot. Old cemeteries catch his attention because of the artwork on the monuments and the sometimes odd places they are located. One day neither of us was content to stay home, so we went to visit two of these graveyards that had aroused his curiosity.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Looking around Lantana

Entrance to Lantana
Lantana is a community that was developed around the Lantana Golf Course. There is not much history to it since it was established in 1999. Near-Normal Traveler, Dave, discovered it when he met a group of men to play golf at the course there. What neither of us realized, until we explored the area, was that is site ‘cheek by jowl’ with Bartonville.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Going to Glen Rose

It’s not lions and tigers and bears, but reptiles and water and mud, Oh My! One of my
Old tree and blue sky
memories from the 1950s is traveling to the Paluxy River to see the dinosaur tracks. I thought that the tracks were made the day before and was rather disappointed when I was told that they were trace fossils; I wouldn’t see any actual dinosaurs lurking in the woods. We clambered down the side of the river and stared into the muddy water to see holes in rocks. My other disappointment was that there had been lots of rain and the water was too deep for me to sit in the tracks. I was underwhelmed. I’m fairly sure that I hadn’t been back to Glen Rose until this last visit. This time, although there had been rain, the water was clear and the tracks were visible, plus it was a warm day with a bright, blue, Texas sky – it was worth the drive!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Out in Oakland and Reviews

Across the Bay Bridge is the municipality of Oakland. As complex as San Francisco, it has a
Getting on the Bay Bridge
completely different flair. There are neighborhoods rather than Districts and the downtown has a much more industrial feel to it. With the same background as the other cities (Huchiun Indians then Spanish settlers, then part of Mexico, and finally claimed by the US) Oakland was originally called encinal, Spanish for ‘oak grove’, because of the extensive oak forest that covered the area. The Oakland Long Wharf at Oakland Point and the major terminus for the Central Pacific Railroad proved the wisdom of Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon in establishing the city in the mid-1800s. Other entrepreneurs, such as Francis "Borax" Smith developed a streetcar company; other such innovations as electric service and telephones connected Oakland and Berkeley, making both cities desirable places to live and work. By 1920, Oakland boasted many manufacturing industries, including metals, canneries, bakeries, internal combustion engines, automobiles, and shipbuilding. A short nine years later, Chrysler added another automobile manufacturing plant, making Oakland the ‘Detroit of the West’. Thankfully, it has not suffered the same fate as Detroit. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Berkeley Byways

When Teri was a young child living in Texas she told her parents she wanted to go live in
View of San Francisco Bay from Lawrence Hall of Science
Berkeley. Twenty years ago she made this dream come true. She and John live in a pretty house that is often visited by opossums and skunks raiding the cat food dish on the back deck. And the wild turkeys still get the right-of-way on the hilly streets. Whatever I expected the Berkeley area to be, a home to wild animals wasn’t in the picture. Looking up into the hills you see houses surrounded by lush vegetation, while in the other direction there is a wonderful view of the bay. Perched nearly at the top of a hill is an iconic institute: Lawrence Hall of Science. Out of this organization come the underpinnings of innovative science education programs that have been adopted around the country. Before I left academia I was privileged to participate in the distribution of one of these programs, FOSS. I still believe that the best method for teaching science and for getting students intellectually involved is through experimentation; FOSS develops both intellectual involvement and curiosity to support life-long learning. Teri has one of the best jobs on the planet; she writes and tests the curriculum for the FOSS modules.