Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

Annette and I printed some Christmas cards with the above photo (fourth from top) at Costco, and in my never-very-humble opinion, they came out too dark. Nonetheless, it's the thought that counts, though I will apologize for not writing (or insisting that my wife writes) a 2009 X-mas letter. Yes, long, self-indulgent Christmas letters are irritating, but there's nothing wrong with a short-and-sweet family update with a bunch of pics. We just didn't do one. Sorry.
To make up for that, here are a few family photos, all involving travel from 2009. My apologies for not blogging more frequently lately. That's mostly been due to me waffling on Eurotour 2010. Still not ruling it out, and in fact, the past couple of days, inner momentum has been building. Will try to get motivated again over the holidays.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Great video link: Rick Steves on Martin Luther

Opening the Door to Luther - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

A religious pilgrimage of sorts

This trip will be part religious pilgrimage for this lifelong Lutheran. I intend to visit the Vatican and all the Roman Catholic holy sites in Italy, as well as some of the major cathedrals around Europe. But I definitely intend to pay my respects at the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, where my guy Martin Luther is buried. Not only did Luther spark Protestantism (ever notice that you can't say Protestant without saying "Protest") but he also ultimately changed the Roman Catholic Church, for the better. Some Catholics might argue that with me, but they're simply wrong. Read up on your own church's history and you'll thank Marty Luther for no longer having to pay indulgences for shorter sidetrips to Purgatory.

Luther would be cool today. He was quick with a quip, loved music, and liked beer – perhaps the latter helped generate his many clever quotes on the human condition. Making the case for allowing priests, or pastors, to marry, he wrote: "Marriage is a better school for the character than any monastery for it's here that your corners are rubbed off." Whoa, has anyone better characterized marriage in the 500 years since? I've always wondered how priests can give advice on marriage when they can't marry themselves. Yeah, yeah, I know: Priests are married to God. Well, I would propose that living with God is easier than living with a spouse. And I say that fully realizing that no spouse is more difficult to live with than yours truly.

Despite my respect and dedication to Luther and Lutheranism, my boys attend a Catholic grade school for a number of reasons. They're getting a good education with the children of other great families. Most of all, I know the Catholic Church of today is not the one that Luther challenged, and these two branches of Christianity teach the same core beliefs about the life of Jesus Christ and the religion his disciples have carried around the world. I love the history of Christianity, and that's inexorably linked to the pageantry and theology of Catholicism. I just wish Christians spent less time worrying about our differences and more time unifying to make the world a better place. Perhaps exposing my family to the Catholic Church, while attending our ELCA Lutheran Church every Sunday (in 11 hours, in fact) is my way of trying to live that belief a bit.

America's travel buddy Rick Steves produced this excellent video for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on the life of Luther. It provides a great description of the world where Luther grew up and eventually changed the history of Christianity forever. I'd highly recommend it for Lutherans, Catholics, and all people of faith.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hedging vs. Mr. Mojo Risin'

Booking the ticket hasn’t stopped me from hedging about this trip. Just feel irresponsible even considering being away this long. My wife has her hands full with three boys when I am around to help, and I worry they’ll turn her into a shivering shell of a human while I'm away. (That's me if she's away a few hours.) The lawn will be three feet high, and a revolution will have occurred at my office. Who do I think I am just taking off? Leaning heavily toward pulling the plug and eating the frequent flyer miles.

Caught a few minutes of a PBS funding drive last night that included classic rock-and-roll footage from the old Ed Sullivan show. It reminded me of a reason I want to visit Europe and in particular, Paris. Annette and I visited Paris for four days back in 1997, but we didn’t visit Jim Morrison’s grave at at Père-Lachaise Cemetery. I’ve always regretted that. Why do Americans, or frankly, young people from around the world feel the need to see the Lizard King’s finally resting place?

The few minutes of the Sullivan footage I viewed last night included the classic The Doors performance of Sept. 17, 1967. The story is legend. Sullivan and his producers asked the band to change the lyric “Girl, we couldn't get much higher” from Light My Fire to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better.” Morrison, of course, sang the song with the lyrics intact, and you can see other bandmates, particularly guitarist Robbie Krieger chuckling in the background. Sullivan, who apparently could hold a grudge with the best of them, banned the band from future performances to which Morrison replied, “We just did The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The silly Sullivan censorship story aside, I remain incredibly struck by Morrison’s stage presence. He had a good voice, but by today’s musical standards, where American Idol churns out super-human falsettos on an annual basis, Morrison’s baritone doesn’t stand out. Yet has there been a more charismatic lead singer in the history of rock-and-roll? As a viewer 42 years after the Sullivan performance, you still can’t take your eyes off the man. Confident, cool, vulnerable, theatrical… a living, breathing Adonis. The Doors cranked out a lot of music before a bearded, bloated 27-year-old Morrison died in Paris in 1971, so the man didn’t exit at the peak of his career. Nonetheless, he was still too young, and his attitude and abilities as a poet and lyricist have helped generations of literary adolescents survive their teenage years.

Of course, sometimes we look too hard for heroes. While Morrison was strutting around the Sullivan stage and inspiring future generations of rebellious teenagers, my dad (who was born the same year as Morrison) was on an airplane to Vietnam. He and my mom, just recently married, would spend the first 13 months of their marriage apart while dad served his country in a brutal war. Four years later, when Morrison died, The Doors' lead singer reportedly had 20 paternity suits pending against him. (According to Wikipedia, none of the claims against his estate actually were successful.) Just wanted to add a little levity to this fawning review of a dead celebrity.

Nonetheless, I still want to see the grave of Mr. Mojo Risin (an anagram of Jim Morrison) And that’s one reason I haven’t completely nuked Eurotrek 2010.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

First TripAdvisor review posted

Just to make my TripAdvisor page legit, I wrote a review last night of Walt Disney World's Polynesian Resort. Annette and I and the boys stayed there for a week in October. Had a fine time though not so sure we'd stay at that same resort if we ever visit WDW again. Anyway, you can read all about it here. Have not determined how to automate tweets or blog posts with new TripAdvisor reviews (which is very odd if you ask me), but the link is listed below, at right, or you can simply bookmark www.tripadvisor.com/members/IntenseTraveler. That takes you to my member profile, then click Contributions on left side for my reviews.

As time permits this winter, perhaps Annette and I will post other reviews of past destinations on the site.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The TripAdvisor factor

Traded a few Skype messages with a college buddy now living in Vienna, Austria. Annette and I visited that fine city a decade ago so it’s unlikely my 2010 trip will swing through “Wien,” but who knows, perhaps my Madison-era acquaintance and I will rendezvous somehow.

Anyway, “Gracy” introduced me to TripAdvisor, a website where I launched my own companion page to this blog tonight. It’s more review-oriented vs. the blog, which frankly is all about me. (And I’m OK with that.) Obviously, no Euro-reviews will exist until May, but when I craft one, a link will appear on this page, or via an IntenseTraveler tweet. I did write a quick review of the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World from our October trip, and the spontaneous lil' notes at TripAdvisor tell me that it should be posted within 48 hours. So you can read my stellar profile now, then be sure to check back for that must-read about WDW!

My old buddy – and I do mean “old” since he turned 40 this week – has traveled extensively. Though he doesn’t write massive “megamails” anymore about his journeys, you can see his TripAdvisor reviews here.

Historical aside. During our conversation, Gracy reminded me that this week marks the anniversary of the so-called Black Friday birthday party on the first floor of UW-Madison’s Sullivan Hall our sophomore year. The party ultimately deteriorated into cops busting the place up, writing dozens of drinking tickets (none for me), and my acquaintenance being booted from the dormitory – hence the moniker “Black Friday.” I understand that a few other survivors are commemorating the event's 20th anniversary this evening (probably as I type this) beginning at Der Rathskellar at UW's Memorial Union. Wow, 20 years since I mouthed off to a cop busting the place up (we nicknamed him Rambo) and got my head bashed into a wall. I may have even yelled, “I’m being repressed! I’m being repressed!”

No wonder I’m planning a middle-aged crisis walk-about.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It’s booked!

Less than 24 hours from the point of no return. Last night, my lovely bride booked a flight across the pond, and Delta Airlines gives me until tomorrow to drop the hold on the ticket. Timing will be early to mid-day, during decent spring weather but – in theory – before the massive legions of college students and tourists descend on The Continent. To eliminate a leg of train travel, I’ve decided to land in one city but depart from another. Beginning in Amsterdam on May 7, I will work my way clockwise through Germany, Czech Republic, south to Italy, then back north for a couple days in Switzerland. Two nights in Paris with a flight departing from Chuck de Gaulle airport on Sunday, May 23, rounds it out. Leaving from Paris was a wash from a frequent-flyer-mile perspective, and it eliminates several hours of rail back to Holland, plus the flight back to the States runs an hour shorter.

Even though the ticket only cost $82 (taxes and surcharges) thanks to my frequent-flyer-mile collection, owning a non-refundable ticket should squelch my personal inner conflict about whether to embark at all. It took several years to build those miles, and they’re not going to waste! Railpass will be my single-largest expense of this trip, and after consulting with a travel agent friend, that’s probably my next purchase.

Whoa, this is really going to happen.