Montana - Glacier National Park

by Kimp 22. November 2014 09:30

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Whitefish

Sam and I stayed about 30 minutes away from the main park entrance in a town named Whitefish.

Whitefish is a small but sweet resort town, catering to skiing in the winter and kicking back in the summer. It's very quaint, has a great looking historic section and is full of artistic people. 

I loved everything about Whitefish. It was a little costly, but I saved some money by staying in a motel that was being renovated.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is in Northwestern Montana near the Canadian Border.

Consisting of a very large pristine ecosystem, it is full of animal and plant life. This is nature at its finest. A hundred years ago there were 150 glaciers in the park, but due to global warming there are now only 25 and these are deteriorating quickly. It is expected that all of the glaciers will be gone my 2030.

Only one road that crosses the park, called the "going to the sun" road. It starts at a low elevation winding along a river whose source is the melting mountain snow,  takes a beautiful ascent into the mountains, crosses a pass (Logan's pass) then descends back down. There are a few other park roads at each end of this road, that go to different parts of the park.

Logan's Pass was very crowded with a small parking lot, but we managed to find a spot to park. A small structure houses rest rooms, food, and park rangers. Cross country skiers often start at Logan Pass and explore the cross country mountain trails and wildlife.

There are many hiking trails in the park that are not snow covered. About 1/2 of the people visiting this park take a hike. Beware that this park is full of large mammals. Grizzly Bears, Moose, and Elk, so be prepared.  

The "going to the sun road" is a beautiful, but very slow scenic drive. Lots of people are making stops to take in the scenery. There are also, special 1932 tourist vans, that have been renovated recently and  that are still used today. we drove, but you could rent a seat in one of those and just sit back and relax while the tour guide introduces you to all of the sites.

Some of the larger lakes in this park, have antique boats that provide lake tours as well.

On the way out, I stopped to see about a helicopter tour, but it was a minimum of four people and for Sam and I to take the tour on our own, it would have been fairly expensive, so I decided not to do that. Looking back, I think that would have been well worth it. Another problem that deterred me, was that the winds were high that day, so they were only offering a short tour of one part of the park. I still think it would have been worth it. It's not often that I get to see pristine wilderness.

Wild Fires

Every year there are about 14 wild fires in the park. The fires are allowed to burn until they go out on their own, unless it looks like they might damage existing buildings. In 2003 about 15% of the park was burnt. That was the worst. Fires are natural part of the eco system and serve to regenerate it, by allowing new growth which attracts wildlife. it's kind of like building a new house for them.

Enjoy the pictures.

Craig 

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Travel

Montana - Bozeman

by Kimp 21. November 2014 12:27

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History

Bozeman is the home of main campus of "Montana State University".

It's in a very interesting location, because there aren't any cities within 80 miles (130 km) of Bozeman. Entering from any direction we are driving though the wilderness for more then an hour, and all of a sudden a city of about 40,000 people appears out of nowhere.

Nelson Story, was a gold miner from Ohio, who had struck gold in nearby Virginia City. Wanting to get out of the prospecting business, Nelson bought 1000 head of Longhorn Cattle. In 1866, he and his partner drove all of the cattle down the Bozeman trail, looking for a good place to graze them and set up a homestead. The Bozeman trail was a trail that connected Virginia City with the Oregon Trail.

In 1866 the area around the Bozeman trail was heavy with hostile Indian tribes. The US Army wanted to turn them around to protect him and his partner, but they disregarded the warning and took an evasive measure to get around them.

When they got to the beautiful valley of Paradise near the small town of Bozeman, they made a claim and set up a homestead.

Nelson became a very successful rancher and later donated land for the establishment of Montana State University.

Today

Bozeman's main industry is Montana State University, with side industries dedicated to laser optics, bio technology and software engineering.

The large university population gives Bozeman an average age of 25 years old.

People are attracted to Bozeman for its activities such as fly fishing, hiking, white water, mountain climbing, skiing; its scenery; and its quality of life.   

American Computer Museum

Having been in the industry for a very long time, I have two very old and rare personal computers in storage, that I have been wanting to donate to a museum for a long time. One is a very early business PC and another is a very early portable computer. I think I have found a good home for them.

The "American Computer Museum" is the largest museum in the United States that is dedicated to personal computer history. It also has a complete history of computing devices that pre-date personal computers.

I have yet another computer that I will donate, but it might end up in the trash or in a cobweb filled dark corner in the basement never to be seen again. That would be the Kimpel 1 and only 1.

When I was in the US Navy, in the early 1980's, I built my own S-100 bus computer for personal use. In the Navy, I had access to and developed PC software on a  very high end, Vector Graphic computer. Vector Graphic computer's pre dated the IBM PC and were about 10 times better and faster then the first IBM PC's for only about 5 times the cost. I remember seeing the first IBM PC and thought it was just a toy when compared to the Vector Graphic I had been using for years. My exact thoughts were, "Who would buy that cheap piece of crap?". 

The S-100 bus was what all of the early personal computers were based on. It was called a passive back plane design. Rather then having a mother board, like modern computers, the central processing unit was in a daughter card that plugged into the back plane. A back plane is just a row of sockets with 100 pins in each socket (picture is in the photo blog). Say 6 sockets, which meant 600 hand soldered connections, in my case.

I can remember the hassle I had purchasing some of the integrated circuits to support the Central Processing Unit. In those days, some of the cheaper Integrated Circuits are only 25 cents each and because they were so cheap, the weren't sold separately. I had to buy them in a batch of 50 or 100. What I did was purchase a whole batch, then take one out and send the rest back saying that I had ordered the wrong item, getting my money back. I had to use different distributors, so they didn't catch on. I justified that practice by purchasing other higher cost items from them, that I intended to keep.  I had no plans of mass production, this was just for my own education.

I got it running using the CP/M (Control Programing/Monitor) operating system at first and later was able to get it running under MS-DOS. CP/M is the only computer software that I would characterize as an art form. It was beautiful in its simplicity and amazing in what could easily be built upon it. 

I used that computer at home for about 10 years, developing software, being an active forum member on CompuServe,  and writing articles for several early software magazines with it. The Kimpel 1 still runs, but eventually I needed something that was faster.

When you've invested a lot of time and thought into building something for yourself, it sure is hard to part with.

Museum of the Rockies (Dinosaurs)

The Museum of the Rockies has the largest Dinosaur Collection in the United States.

Sam and I meet a beautiful young Montana State University student who was volunteering there. Yowsa, Yowsa, Yowsa, sure wish I was 20 something again. Besides the great smile, she gave us a sweet looking dinosaur sticker, said that was her favorite part of the museum, and gave us a great description of what was inside, and gave us directions to get to that part of the museum. I was hoping a free tour was going to be offered, but we had to go that one alone.

I used to think that humans would have become extinct, if we existed during the age of the dinosaurs. But what I learned from this museum has changed my mind.

I now believe, that humans would have been able to conquer even the huge predator dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurs Rex. My basis is on the fact that there were many dinosaurs much smaller then humans, who were able to survive and thrive in that environment.

Enjoy the pictures.

Craig

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Travel

Wyoming - Yellowstone National Park

by Kimp 4. November 2014 04:23

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My History

There was about 100 acres of lightly forested and natural land across the street from the house I grew up in. It was small enough that my parents didn't worry about me getting lost in, yet large enough to provide lots of fun while growing up. I would spend countless hours in that area; exploring, imagining, constructing, and playing alone or with my friends.

I believe sometimes we do things when we are younger, that when older, we look back on and say, "What the hell was I thinking !!!". This next story falls along those lines.

One of the things a few of us would do, is find a sturdy tree that was next to a much younger flimsy tree. We would climb the sturdy tree to the top of the flimsy tree (Probably about 15-20 feet high). Then jump from the sturdy tree, grabbing the top of the flimsy tree and use it as an type of elevator, swinging gently to the ground.

I used to climb lots of trees and over the course of the years I've fallen from a few. Luckily the ones I fell out of had enough branches in them to break my falling speed and all I ended up with was several scraps, scratches and bruises. Somehow I also managed to maintain two intact eyes.

My grandparents house had very high trees (probably around 40 feet (13 m) or higher). One was a challenging climb, but it had good sturdy branches, so climbing it felt secure. When I was about 10 year old, I would climb that tree to a height of about 30 ft (10 m). High enough that the tree was flimsy up there. Then I would rock the tree back and force will all of my might, shaking the top of it. That never seemed to bother my mom, but it sure did bother my aunt (moms much younger sister). Now I look at that same tree, and say, "What the hell was I thinking? I'd never let my kids do that !!!". It has been said that every other generation is the opposite of their parents. People with strict parents are usually lenient parents and  people with lenient parents are usually strict parents. Since Mom usually raises the kids, it is usually the mother that determines the outcome of the off spring. 

My parents never minded having lots of kids around our house. About twice each month, in the summer, when there were light clouds, my brother or I would host a sleep over in our back yard. We would have a fire, sleep out under the stars, and have a blast with our friends.

My older and only brother Dean, was a trapper when he was young. He studied the laws, asked several people if he could trap on their land, studied the terrain and determined where to set his traps. He religiously got up hours before school started, to check his trap's. He caught muskrat, mink, and raccoon. Would skin them and take them to the someone who would pay him for the furs. He also hunted squirrels and birds, studied taxidermy, and stuffed a few of them. That was never in my blood, but I've always respected my brother for his skills.

Dean owns 60 acres of mostly wooden land, with a beautiful log cabin in the middle of it. His house is so well hidden that some hunters don't even realize it is there until they stumble upon it. Wear something bright and colorful when visiting Dean's during hunting season :)  Dean has been a very good big brother to me his whole life, I really enjoy visiting with him and his family, and I really enjoy his land as well.

I think that's why I really enjoy nature and the outdoors.

American Indians

The American Indians didn't mind the white man hunting buffalo in the west. The herds were so vast and plentiful, that they could never imagine not having Buffalo around to hunt.

National Parks

In many parts of the world, a beautiful place is preserved because a wealthy person, purchased it and out of the kindness of their heart, they allow the masses to enjoy it. Or they preserve and share it for personal financial gain. Done right, that can be a beautiful thing, but since someone owns it, and ownership is passed down, it's immortality is always in jeopardy.

National Parks are one of the great symbols of Democracy. It is something that is purchased by the people for the benefit of all of today's people and all people whom forever follow.

Yellowstone Discovery

The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1806-1808 mapped the first route from the eastern part of the United States to the West Coast. During that expedition, one of the members, named John Colter proved himself as a valued explorer, who was able to go out in small groups and explore relentlessly. He was considered one of the best hunters in the expedition. 

When the expedition was headed back, the expedition came across two trappers in South Dakota, who, after listening to the expeditions stories, wanted to venture West into the newly mapped territory. William Clark arranged for John Colter to be honorably discharged two months early, so that he could lead the trappers to a good trapping area.

John lead them there, dropped them off, then one his own, he decided to take a different route back to Saint Louis, exploring new territory. He made his way to about 100 miles from St Louis, when he decided to head back out west and continue exploration. He became the worlds first mountain man, traveling on his own and living completely off of the land.

He traveled the entire winter of 1807-1808, in about -30F (-34C) weather exploring much of what is present day Wyoming, all by himself. In 1910 he returned to St Louis, met up with William Clark and added his details to Clark's exploration map. That map was the most comprehensive map of the west and was used for the next 75 years. 

John Colter wrote several articles in popular journal's of that day, about his exploration of Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton's and some place which always had hot water, smelled strange, had bubbling mud, steam and water spewing from the ground, strange landscapes and colors, and seemed overly eerie and spooky. 

He was the laughing stock of disbelieving civilized American's who gave the nickname "Colter's Hell", to the northwestern part of present day Wyoming .

Over the next 60 years, several fur trappers would enter that area and corroborate Colter's story, but trappers were known to tell tall stories and most people believed they were just perpetrating the myth.    

Founding of Yellowstone National Park

After the civil war, the government sent a Military survey team into that area. Their survey results were presented to President Ulysses S Grant, who dedicated the area which would later be known as the World's first National Park . Normally it would have been up to a State to dedicated an area, but since Wyoming was only a territory at that time, it was dedicated on the National level. It took a long time, but eventually worked out so well, that other areas, even inside of state boundaries would eventually be dedicated as national parks.

The reason the government rushed to do that, when few people inhabited that area, is because of the catastrophe that happened at Niagara Falls. At one time, Niagara Falls was a pristine and beautiful natural wonder. Then commercialization took over and quickly destroyed much of its beauty. To the point, that Europeans often poked fun at American's, citing Niagara Falls as a great American tragedy.

Being the first of its kind, not much thought was put into it and very little funding was allocated to it. In the beginning the national park rules were fairly vague. For the most part it stated that the government was to be in control park development and that the land was protected from hunting and trapping of wildlife, yet also open to the general public.

Yellowstone Mistakes

Many of the national park rules that are now in effect, are a result of the many mistakes that the US government made at Yellowstone.

In the early day's of the park, congress did not appropriate any funding, in fact the appointed park superintendent was not even given a salary. 

In those days everyone carried rifles out west and it was common to hunt for food. The only park rule was that if a person were caught hunting in the park, they were evicted from the park. That didn't stop anyone from hunting. In fact, when Buffalo's were nearly extinct, except for Yellowstone, hunters would go to Yellowstone just to hunt the only remaining Buffalo, not caring if they got caught, because there wasn't any real penalty.

In 1877, Naturalist George Bird Grinnell performed an expedition of the park and reported many issues, the biggest of which was illegal poaching. He also studied and published the natural migration paths of the wildlife.

After the Grinnell report was published, the first park superintendent resigned. Congress appropriated a new park superintendent and funding for some park development and protection. Soon a game warden and much stiffer penalties were added and park boundaries were expanded to include the wildlife's natural migration areas. 

Everything was under control until the early 1880's when a rail line was run to the Northern Park Entrance. Within a short time, park visitation increased by 20 fold. Without any additional funding to support park development, the park superintendent decided to leased out parts of the park for private development. Within 5 years, development and park destruction started to get out of hand. 

In 1887, the park was salvaged by US Army general Philip Sheridan. A firm believer in conservation and preservation, he took it upon himself to make sure that Yellowstone would be brought under control and maintained. He dispatched a company of Calvary to Yellowstone and kept them there for 22 years to enforce strict control of the park.

In addition to forcing out the poachers, and maintaining crowd control, they built trails and bridges to the parts of the park that most visitor's were interested in visiting. They built foot paths and wooden platforms to protect both the park and visitors. In the 1880's it was common for American's to scratch their name and address in a landmark. The Army would write down the name and address, then go to the hotel, find the person who defaced it, and escort them back to clean it off. Or send a fine letter to their house and clean it themselves.

Another problem they had, was shepherds driving their flocks inside of the park boundaries for grazing. To stop that, they would evict the sheep off to one side of the park and the shepherds to the other side of the park. Months later, the shepherds would work their way back around the park and reunite with their flocks, in the mean time learning that they should not graze within the park. 

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was a very passionate and outspoken President of the United States from 1901-1909. He was also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. In his youth, he had hurried out west to hunt Buffalo, while there were still a few outside of the park, worrying that they would be extinct outside of the park, before he could hunt one. He was successful and brought back a trophy that was mounted next to his mantle. 

Being a hunter, he knew that all unprotected species eventually become extinct. The top of the food chain shows no mercy.

While president, Teddy was known for going to scenic places and staging an elaborate party were many people would attend hoping to see him. But instead, he would ditch the party, and take of into the wilderness with just a conversationalist, sleeping under the stars and returning a few days later.

In 1903 while campaigning, he visited Yellowstone and gave the following speech at the dedication of an Arch that was being built at the North Entrance Gate of the park. It happened by accident, that he was there during the construction of the arch, but like a good politician he seized the opportunity:

" ... Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors, where at the same time not only the scenery of the wilderness, but the wild creatures of the Park are scrupulously preserved; the only change being that these same wild creatures have been so carefully protected as to show a literally astounding tameness. The creation and preservation of such a great natural playground in the interest of our people as a whole is a credit to the nation; but above all a credit to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. It has been preserved with wise foresight. The scheme of its preservation is noteworthy in its essential democracy. Private game preserves, though they may be handled in such a way as to be not only good things for themselves, but good things for the surrounding community, can yet never be more than poor substitutes, from the standpoint of the public, for great national playgrounds such as this Yellowstone Park. This Park was created, and is now administered, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. ..." 

That arch would forever after be known as the Roosevelt Arch bearing the inscription, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People". To be fair, he borrowed that exact phrase from Ulysses S. Grant. They were first sighted in Grant's original dedication of the park in 1872.

In those days, the park roads were dirt and most visitors rented a stage coach tour to take them around. Teddy, ditched his whole security staff (to their objection) and rode around it on horseback with just the park superintendent.

After Roosevelt left Yellowstone, he visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona and he gave another great conservation speech.

"... I want you to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country--to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.  ...  I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the loneliness and beauty of the canyon.  Leave it as it is.  Man cannot improve on it; not a bit.  The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.  What you can do is to keep it for your children and your children's children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see. ,,,"

During Roosevelt's presidency, he would champion the effort for the creation of several national parks, prompting congress to think about the preservation of items that were uniquely American in heritage, as well as unique natural resources.

National Park Service

In 1916 Congress created the National Park Service to enforce park rules. After that, the US Army was no longer needed in US national parks.

Description of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone gets its name from the yellow canyon that is in it. Geyser's have weakened the mountain stone and carried yellow minerals there. The water flowing through Yellowstone river cut right through the stone, revealing a beautiful and deep yellow canyon.

Yellowstone Park is about 60 miles (100 km) high and 60 miles wide (100 km). The states of Rhode Island and Delaware, both would fit within it's boundaries, with space left over. Parts of it are still uncharted and most of the 3,000,000 visitors each year, only see parts that are near the access roads, which is relatively little of the park. 

The park is open year around and I believe that the best time to go would be in the middle of winter. Most of the roads are not plowed, but snowmobiles are allowed on the roads and cross country skies are allowed on the trails.  Snowmobiles can be brought or rented, but if you bring your own, study up on the requirements. Visit Non-commercially Guided Snowmobile Access Program for more information on snowmobiling in small private groups in Yellowstone. There are also commercially guided programs available to the general public. In winter it will be much less crowded and you will see a part of wildlife that most people never get to see in a lifetime.

There are 4 main easily accessible sections of Yellowstone National Park:
1)  Thermal sites; geysers, hot springs, colorful areas where minerals have concentrated.

2)  A mountainous area; Yellow stone's grand canyon and waterfalls.

3)  Yellowstone Lake - 110 miles of shoreline, frozen half of the year and full of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. A few non-native trout are also in the lake. We are allowed to fish via angling, but if the catch is Yellowstone cutthroat trout then it is catch and release. We are not allowed to kill and eat Yellowstone cutthroat trout. 
However, any non-native trout is catch, always kill, and hopefully eat, as there is an eradication program that supports that. 
With a Yellowstone boating permit, powerboats, sailboats, canoes and kayaks are allowed on the lake.
In the early 1900's many other species of fish were stocked in the lake, but all of those died off. 

4) Wildlife - Bears, Bison, Elk, Pronghorns, Wolves, and smaller creatures all inhabit various sections of the park. At one time, Lion's were in the park, but they were eradicated in the late 1800's for the protection of the people. Wolves were also eradicated at one time, but were reintroduced a few years ago, to much success. 

There are many horse trails in Yellowstone. I believe most people rent and join a guided excursion, but I believe you can also bring your own. Check with the park for the rules.

Yellowstone has lots of hiking trails. I believe that a person could probably hike there for a week, every year, and still not see all of the trails.

Food

There are only a few places in the park where food can be purchased. These are around the lodging areas. I would suggest bringing your own food, but please take all trash back out with you. There are only a few designated trash reception areas. Those areas have special containers that bears cannot get into.

Expenses

Entrance fees to the park are steep for a park, in my opinion, but well worth it. Maintaining a place that large with the amount of traffic is gets, must be very costly. There are park passes of various durations.

There are expensive places to stay within the park, but inexpensive Craig found an awesome deal, in a small village just outside of the North Entrance of the park. Staying outside the park, takes a few extra hours to get to some of the places within the park, unless we get up early and beat the crowd. Which I would want to do, even if I stayed within the park.

In my opinion, the best approach to Yellowstone is via Bear Tooth highway. That's the scenic drive that most bikers take and it is very beautiful. It will bring us into the park through the summer grazing grounds where wildlife will be plentiful.

Traffic

Beware of long traffic jams. The park speed limit is 45 mph (70 kph), but with the sight seeing traffic we will be lucky to average half of that. It is stop, go, and slow for the most part. When we are at a dead stop, it means there is some awesome wildlife viewing up ahead. There are not any turnoff's or side brims for traffic. It is two lanes and people should stay on the road, unless you are an inconsiderate person in a motor home and decide you are allowed to pull your 10 ton vehicle off into the grass, destroying it, because you said that's allowed back home in Kentucky. 

Super Volcano

The geyser basin area is inside the huge caldera of Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a super volcano with a caldera that is 34 miles in one direction, 45 miles in the other, and 7 miles deep. If it erupted, the eruption is expected to be 2,000 times stronger then the Mount St Helen's eruption. In the upper geyser basin, sometimes the ground vibrates. That's probably a very small earthquake, no need to be alarmed. While we were in yellowstone, Sam was asking me if I thought it was going to erupt. I told him, if it erupts, it isn't going to matter if you are here or in Ohio, you are going to see the effects of that eruption. It might even be better to be consumed by it. While standing in the middle geyser basin, we can look far off in the distance and see some of the edges of the caldera that we are standing in.

Animal Knowledge

More people are hurt by Bison (Buffalo) in the park, then by Bears. Bison are wild, their eyesight isn't that good, and they can feel threatened by humans who are only a few feet away. A Bison's personal space is much larger then a humans. There are a few Bison strikes on YouTube. For the most part, it looks like they pick us up with their head and throw us high into the air.

Black bears are usually scared of people. Make lots of noise and usually they will stay or run away.  

Map

I included a simplified map of Yellowstone in my photo blog. For the most part,  easy park access consists of a figure 8 road in the middle, along with a single access road near the upper right.

The upper right road from Tower Junction to Cooke City Montana is where most of the wild life is located. Most of it is prey, like Buffalo, Elk, Pronghorns, and smaller cute animals. But where their is prey, there are also going to be small predators, like wolf's.

The yellow road through Dunraven Pass is where the Bears hang out. For the most part, the park does not want people to stop there, but inconsiderate people ignore common courteously and stop anyway. Expect a huge traffic jam in this area.

Near Tower Fall is Yellowstone's grand canyon.

The bottom left from Madison to Old Faithful contains all of the Geyser basins.

The bottom right is Yellowstone lake.

Dunraven pass is the high hiking area.

Indian creek is the low hiking area and horse riding area.

If you really want to see the best of Yellowstone, get a permit and hike inside of the two circle roads where few people go.

Enjoy the pictures.


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Travel

Wyoming - Cheyenne

by Kimp 1. November 2014 11:49

Photo Blog (click to view) 

Wyoming Today

More than 50% of Wyoming is owned by the Federal and State Government. It is the home of several large National Grasslands, National Forests, and National and State Parks. Wyoming is about becoming one with nature and leaving most of civilization behind. 

My favorite part is that it is nice and inexpensive. Lodging, food, museums and entertainment are about as low as I have ever paid for any tourist area.

Year after year, Wyoming remains one the most tax-friendly states in the United States. No state tax, no estate tax upon death, no state gas or food tax, no real estate sales tax, low property tax and dynasty trusts. In Wyoming, you can shield your real estate from federal estate taxes for up to 1,000 years through a dynasty trust. You can establish a trust in Wyoming for the benefit of your family or other beneficiaries.

I have often thought of retiring in or near Cheyenne. It is peaceful, inexpensive, open and free, and excellent health care is only about 45 minutes away in Fort Collins Colorado. But, I also never know where I am headed until that day comes, so I could end up anywhere. If my health holds out, I may never fully retire, in which case, having a homestead and hanging my hat there might not be a bad idea.

The Francis E Warren Air Force Base is located about 3 miles (5km) west of Cheyenne. It's one of the only Air Force Bases that doesn't have a runway. This Air Force doesn't use planes, it uses missile's. When the inbound missile detection alarm sounds, they are the one's who are responsible for figuring out what to do.

Forever West

Wyoming's motto is forever west and it starts as soon as we cross the border. It's amazing that Denver Colorado and Cheyenne Wyoming are only about 100 miles (180 km) apart in distance, but are two worlds apart in every other detail.

In Wyoming, the 1/2 ton pickup is the prevalent means of mechanized transportation. You won't see many SUV's, because you can't put bails of hay for your horse in the back of an SUV. You won't see a lot of frills. This isn't a place where people spend a lot of time shining up or fussing with their pickup's, its more about getting out on the open range with their horse and enjoying nature. The pickup is merely a means of transporting oneself and our supplies from town to country. Solid and durable are the prime adjectives in Wyoming.

My History

Of all of the places I have been in the world. There is one that has long held a special place in my mind and heart. Whenever anyone asks me the most beautiful place I have ever been in the world, my answer, without hesitation, is always the same, "The Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna river".

Gertrude of Wyoming

The Scottish Poet, Thomas Campbell, was of the same opinion in 1809 when he wrote the poem, "Gertrude of Wyoming; a Pennsylvania tale." 

"... So sweet a spot of earth, you might (I ween,)
Have guess'd some congregation of the elves,
To sport by summer moons, had shaped it for themselves ..."

"...O Love! in such a wilderness as this,
Where transport and security entwine,
Here is the empire of thy perfect bliss,
And here thou art a god indeed divine.
Here shall no forms abridge, no hours confine
The views, the walks, that boundless joy inspire!
Nor, blind with ecstacy's celestial fire,
Shall love behold the spark of earth-born time expire. ..."

This poem is long and centers on July 3, 1778. People meet in the Wyoming Valley, and destroyed the most beautiful place on earth. Their intent wasn't to destroy it, the destruction happened as a byproduct of an attempt to resolve a conflict of ideals. On one side were the American Revolutionaries and on the other side were American Loyalists. This battle wasn't about American's fighting the British over government, it was about American's fighting other American's over government. In the end, the Revolutionaries took heavy loses and it is alleged that several whom had surrendered were tortured until death. Their homestead's in the Wyoming valley were pillaged, burned and destroyed.

This poem was very powerful and popular in 1800's America.  

Wyoming History

Wyoming had the unfortunate geographical condition of being on the border of several conflicting territorial disputes. Over it's history,  it belonged to the independent states of Great Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, and Texas. Later as the territories of  Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Dakota, Nebraska and Utah were being formed, it meet that same fate, with several territories fighting for its land.

In 1865, to put an end to the dispute, a representative from Ohio, introduced a bill to congress to provide a temporary government for the territory of Wyoming. This area was called the Wyoming Territory before that bill, and It is thought that the name came from the poem "Gertrude of Wyoming".

Cheyenne - Magic Town

On July 5, 1867 the crew surveying the transcontinental railroad placed a stake in the ground where the railroad was to cross Crow Creek. Crow creek is the point where the great planes end and the ascent into the Rocky Mountains begins. 

At this time, there weren't any major cities in Wyoming and Denver had been lobbying to have Denver, an established city, be the train station where the plains met the Rocky's.   But Cheyenne was chosen, because it has a much more gradual ascent into the Rocky Mountains.

In those day's, trains ran on steam and it was known that the Cheyenne train station would be one of the most significant in the transcontinental railroad. All trains would have to stop in Cheyenne to take on water and fuel before traversing the Rocky Mountains. Cheyenne  would be a place where people from the East would want to visit, to see the Great West, so many stage and supply lines traversed Cheyenne. It was an important railroad hub housing lots of maintenance facilities and highly paid railroad workers.

Transcontinental Telegraph lines ran along the rail lines as well, making Cheyenne an important communication hub.

President Lincoln recognized the importance of Cheyenne to the growth of America and he commissioned the US Army to build Fort Russell nearby to protect the town of Cheyenne and the railroad workers.    

With Cheyenne being a safe haven and place of unlimited possibilities, it grew so fast, that people gave it the name of Magic City. Within 3 months of driving that stake, a town of 4,000 people had appeared out of nowhere, that continued its quick growth.

Speculators flourished to Cheyenne to take advantage of the transcontinental railroad for the transport of cattle. In those days a beef cow in Texas sold for $5 per head, and in New York for $50 a head. Wyoming was wide open range land, so cattle barons could raise the cattle right next to the transcontinental railroad, and ship it at a low cost to the big markets in the East.

Cheyenne became one of the wealthiest cities per capita in the United States. It included a large development of competing mansions, high end apartment complexes, a huge shopping complex (mall), an Opera House, a theater showcasing the world's best talent, three horse drawn street car lines, lots of socialites, and big time finance (banking).

The banking industry grew out of the need to transport money. In those days, America was a cash based society and money needed to be moved to support the economy.

When telephone's became available, the telephone industry boomed here, because of all of the businessmen needing quick communications to places far away from Cheyenne.

As a byproduct of their wealth, the cattle barons controlled all of the politics in Wyoming. They controlled the cattle rules and the railroad shipment schedule, giving them the power to extort more money from outside parties wanting the use the railroad for cattle shipments. Something to the effect of, "Sure we'll ship those Texas long horn cattle that you drove up from Texas, but you'll need to pay to store them in our stables and buy your hay from our suppliers while waiting on the shipment. Then there is a surcharge on each head shipped and also a small state transportation and handling fee that needs to be paid in advance. We only accept cash. Any questions???"

Cattle barons would also lobby for power causing big time disputes over cattle and land, which weren't always dealt with in a civil manner. One of the biggest fears they had was cattle rustling. To the point that there where several innocent people lynched for suspected rustling. 

Cattle barons had an abundance of money, influence, and power until the winter of 1887. That was a very long and severe winter killing about 90% of the cattle. All of the cattle barons went bust and fled town. By that time, there were other railroad options in the West and Cheyenne never recovered the wealth it had lost in 1887.

Today, it is probably a better place for having lost all of its wealth.

Outlaws

If you have ever heard the term "The Hole in the Wall Gang.". That wasn't one gang, is was a consortium of gangs who all used the same home base as a hide out. The Hole in the Wall Pass in Johnson County Wyoming geographically had all the advantages needed for a gang hideout. Impossible for lawmen to enter without detection and easy to defend.

The gangs didn't intermingle in crime, they only intermingled as neighbors, and they were good neighbors. Each gang had their own structures and stockpiled their own supplies; food, livestock, and horses. Each gang honored the other gangs belongings and no one gang nor person was in charge.

It was a safe haven, where they went when they no longer wanted to practice their criminal ways or they wanted to wait out a harsh winter. 

The were also, somewhat protected by the people of Wyoming. These criminals weren't stealing from or causing havoc in Wyoming. They were stealing from other places and bringing the loot back into Wyoming, buying supplies and spending money in the local economy, helping its economical growth.    

Cheyenne Frontier Days

A rodeo is a sporting competition that centers around the use of animals and the skills needed to herd cattle and work on a ranch.

The 1920's are called the Golden Age of the Rodeo's. Cheyenne still upholds that era with a week long festival (ten days centered around the last full week in July) dedicated to rodeo's. There is a rodeo there every night hosting the biggest talent in the rodeo industry.

Frontier Days started in 1897 but didn't become popular until two people glamorized it to the United States. Tim McCoy was in Cheyenne for two years before he moved to Hollywood to become a consultant for the movie industry. T. Joe Cahill was a hometown boy from Cheyenne,  who became a promoter for Tex Rickards rodeo's in New York. While in New York he never missed an opportunity to also promote Cheyenne Frontier Days saying that it was the "daddy of 'em all".  

Stetson Hats

Now a days, when a women wants to feel successful, she goes out and purchases a high end hand bag or shoes. In the early 1900's every man wore a hat, and when a man wanted to feel successful, he purchased a high end hat.

John B Stetson was the son of a New York hat maker, but his health was not good. He worked in the family business, until he was old enough to move to the fresh air West, which he thought would improve his health. In those days western hats were made of leather and not of the best quality craftsmanship.

Stetson, changed the western hat industry,  when he figured out how to make felt out of thick beaver fur. It was quicker then tanning leather, always of high quality, and it was water proof. He then studied the features that were needed for a western hat. Wide brim to fight the elements (sun, sand, dirt), and a tall head section to keep the heat in at night when the temperature sharply drops. This tall head section also doubled as a bucket for carrying water. Stetson also knew how to make high quality hats that looked stylish, but were functional and durable.

In 1865, his health improved and he moved back east, to Philadelphia to start the Stetson hat company, which quickly grew in size. By 1897 the Stetson hat factory was a massive 9 acres in size producing 2,000,000 hats per year. Today, it still produces the premium western hat.

In my youth, I was fascinated with hats. In high school I had several hats that I would wear, my favorite being a derby. In early adulthood, I had amassed a fairly large hat collection (close to 50 hats) including a stylish Stetson and a purple cowboy hat (my personality used to be kind of colorful). Tired of carting the collection around and never wearing them, because I always had a full head of hair, I got rid of all of them at the same time. As with all things in life, tastes change over time. 

Glamorization of the West

In the early 1900's, William S. Hart was a Shakespearian actor on Broadway and also touring on stages in the United States and England.

He was successful and could have lively comfortably doing that, but his fascination was with the West.  He bought "Billy the Kid's" six shooters and befriended the legendary lawman Bat Masterson who was now in New York City.

In his late 40's he headed west, at the dawn of motion picture industry, to become a motion picture pioneer in California in the area of western films. At some point in his travels out west, he befriended another legendary lawman, named Wyatt Earp. Between the stories of Earp and Masterson, William had acquired a vast knowledge of the real West.

In the motion picture industry William was know for his realistic costumes and props, and for making movies with good morale plots. In addition to acting, he went on to write screen plays, direct and produce westerns that American's loved. 

In the 1920's people wanted more flash, boom, and bang in their movies. Enter action hero, Tom Mix. Tom's movies were full of expensive suits, big bright oversized overcoats, shiny cowboy boots and huge hats. He popularized the 10 gallon hat. His movies weren't very authentic and were always quick to bring in the action and keep the action coming. The fascination of the west was transformed into the glamorization and fantasy of the west. Tom paved the way for many of the western stars who followed his lead.       


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Travel

Denver Colorado

by Kimp 13. October 2014 06:41

Photo Blog

Denver was one of the places that Sam and I visited this Summer.

Sunshine city
  The prevailing winds in the United States always flow from West to East. Winds coming from the West, have a hard time pushing the clouds over Colorado's high and dense Rocky Mountains. This leaves Denver, which is on a high plain near the eastern border of the Rocky Mountains, nice and sunny. Denver has more sunny days then the Sunshine State of Florida.

Denver is on a high plain, about 1 mile (1.8 km) in elevation and has both mild summers and mild winters.

The contrast of the plains and the Mountains make judging distance impossible. On the drive from the Airport into Denver we were driving straight towards the Mountains. It looked like the Mountains were only about 5 minutes away, for about 30 minutes, and we turned before we actually got to the mountains.

If your vision of beauty is Sun, fresh air, cleanliness and relaxed friendly people, topping Denver is going to be difficult.

Denver is a sprawling metropolis. Since the Eastern part of Colorado is a huge plain, there isn't any need to crowd structures in a small area. It spreads out for what seems like forever. Different parts of Denver also have similar street names. I put the address of the hotel in my GPS and ended up in a rural neighborhood completely void of any commercial buildings. Thoroughly confused for several minutes, I finally figured it out, and got the right address in the GPS. It was another 20 minutes to our destination.

  We didn't get to see as much of Denver as I would have liked, but we did get around to quite a few things. I had a tough schedule before I left for the States, plus several long flights, lots of jet lag, and adjusting to the high altitude. I slept for 22 hours straight after we arrived. Then I was feeling sick and groggy for the other two days that we were there. For the most part we walked everywhere or rode the free 16th street mall shuttle.

On our way out of town I stopped to see something and forgot to lock our car (It was a pain finding a place to park and I got side tracked). I realized that about an hour later. Since we were on our way out of town, the car had all of our luggage in it. Luckily nobody else noticed it as unlocked, and nothing was stolen. 

The 14er's
  Colorado's Rock Mountains are dense and high. A 14er is a mountain whose peak exceeds 14,000 ft (4,270 m). Colorado has 53 14er's. California is in second place with 12. Pikes Peak in South eastern Colorado, about 80 miles from Denver is the most famous. That's because it is the fist 14er seen when heading West towards Colorado. When traveling was slow, they would see that mountain for about a week before they got to it. In 1859 when Gold was found in Denver, Eastern folk heading to Denver would say, "Pike's Peak or Bust", because at that time, Pike's peak was more famous then Denver. The first Gold coins minted in Denver, had the words, "Pike's Peak Gold" engraved on them.

Today there is an annual hill climb race, that has been held on Pike's Peak Highway, every year since 1916. It starts at mile 7 and ends 12 miles later at the summit. There are 156 turns in the "Race to the Clouds" course and sometimes contestants don't make on of them, resulting in a horrific accident as they plummet down the side of the mountain.

Colorado History

  Colorado was a favorite for several Native American Indian tribes. A very large plain with mild winters and summers coupled with lots of sun, ample fresh water from the snow in the Rocky Mountain, and the lack of predators made for very large Buffalo Herds al throughout Eastern Colorado. This made it an ideal location for Native American Indians as well. 

  In the 1700's the Apache nation had settled in Northern and Eastern Colorado. The Ute nation had settled in the Western and Southern parts of Colorado.

  The Apache were fierce warriors and skilled strategists and the Ute's were nomadic and kept to themselves. The Spaniard's claimed Colorado as Spanish Territory in 1706, but they never settled there. All the did in Colorado was trade with the Indian's. The Spainsh tried to start a settlement in Southern Colorado, just south of the Arkansas river in 1787, but it failed in short order.

  In 1803 the French sold the Louisiana Purchase to the United States which included Colorado. By this time the Apache nation had moved into New Mexico, allowing the Cheyenne and Comanche Nations to take their place. The Ute's who had traded to get horses from the Spanish, had become expert horsemen and were very skilled at fighting on horseback. In 1806 Zebulon Pike lead a US Military expedition into Southwestern Colorado for exploration of that region, but was discovered and captured by the Spanish.

  In 1820 Mexico declared it's independence from Spain and the United States created a Treaty with Mexico, granting them all of the land South of the Arkansas river which ran through Southern Colorado. With the Spanish no longer a threat, traders set up trading posts on the Northern Arkansas river in Colorado.

  In 1846 the United States went to war with Mexico over Mexico's Northern Territories and won. This freed up all of Colorado.

  In 1850 the United States signed a peace treaty with the Ute Nation, allowing settlers to start settling in Colorado. 1849 was the California God Rush. Most gold prospectors took the friendlier Northern route to California, because the Colorado Rockies were to difficult to traverse in a wagon train. In 1850 a wagon train of prospectors from Georgia, who were headed to California, went through Colorado, since it was now a somewhat peaceful place. Crossing the South Platte river at a location near present day Denver, they headed down a small creek named, Clear creek that as nearby.

  They decided to stop for a short time on the creek. That is when a dude named Lewis Ralson stuck his gold pan in a small mountain stream, that was emptying into Clear creek. He immediately found $5 in gold, he made a note and a claim of that location, naming the stream Ralston's creek, and continued to California.

  Eight years later, Raltson returned with Willam Russell and his party (a Georgia group of prospector's heading back home to Georgia). They started panning in the area. After a few weeks, most of the prospector's gave up and left for Georgia. Then Willam Russell found a significant gold deposit. That started the Colorado gold rush of 1859 and the boom town of Denver. Actually, it wasn't named Denver at that time.

  In those days, if there was unclaimed land in Colorado, all you had to do was stake it out and file a claim to it. While most people were in the process of looking for Gold, General William Larimer decided to go to Colorado and stake out a big claim. Draw up city streets on this claim and sell lots to people who came later. He named it Denver, because at that time Colorado was in the Kansas territory, whose Governor was named James Denver.  The General figured that the Governor would give favor to a city named after him. Whoops, come to find out later, that James Denver had resigned a few month's prior to the naming. Word travelled slowly in those days.

  Denver grew quickly and just about the time the growth evened off, Gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains about 30 miles West of Denver. Denver shrunk as fast as it had grown. It would have became a ghost town, but miners soon discovered that Denver's mild winter climate was a lot nicer then living in the mountains. Miners started moving back to Denver for permanent housing.

  All of the settlers coming into Colorado, upset the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. Tensions between them and the settlers continued to rise. The large tribes formed an alliance between themselves and two other tribes. Tensions continued to rise until 1863, when  the US Military was deployed to Colorado, to protect the settlers from the Indians. It took two years for the US Military to win the battle, after which the tribes were relocated to Oklahoma.

  Colorado became a state in 1875 and Silver was discovered there in 1879 starting the Silver boom.

Modern Day Colorado
  Colorado has always been a state with liberal minded people. It was the first state in the Union to grant Women the Right to Vote. Colorado was one of the first states to have legalized medical and recreational Marijuana.  

Modern Day Denver
 Since Colorado recently legalized recreational Marijuana, I had expected it to be similar to Amsterdam. I wasn't really looking for that, but was surprised that I didn't see nor smell any evidence of marijuana the whole time I was there. I thought maybe I would see some shops and see and smell some people smoking it outdoors in the streets. But nothing at all.

  The people in Denver are fairly laid back and casual. Its an outdoor town with lots of very nice college aged people and bikes.

  The city has lots of modern architecture and is very clean, artistic and appealing. It was immediately apparent to me that Denver expends mental energy protecting its environment. Sam and I came to the mutual consensus that their tap water beats any bottled water we have ever consumed. 

  The Denver Art Museum is massive. Not sure what all was in it, as I was time constrained, so I quickly narrowed my selection to a small Western Art section and a large Native American Indian section. The Native American Art exhibit was really enjoyable. I love great craftsmanship and the Native Americans took European Beads that they traded for and brought them to life. Each tribe had their own master artist, who taught other artists in their tribe, their local style. So each tribe ended up with a unique style.

  Denver also has the CELL (Counter Terrorism Education Learning Lab). The CELL does not allow photography in most of it, so I will tell about it here, instead of in the photo captions. It is divided into several rooms each with a distinct theme. The rooms have automatic doors on each end. You can only go one way and the doors are timed to open giving you a pre defined time in each section. 

  It starts by making the statement that Terrorism is a world wide problem, then displays some artifacts related to the September 11, 2001 attack. Progression is demonstrated through several terrorist acts since then. The next section is several questions that test your knowlege of weather they are facts or myths. This interactive part allows you to expand your knowledge on the subject. Next is a section on the many different fund raising efforts that support terrorism. The next section shows the tools that terrorist use, such as bomb vests, assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, and improvised explosive devices. The last section was how Media helps both sides, media supports both the prevention and proliferation of terrorism. Both the terrorist and the counter terrorists are trying to get their messages to as large of an audience as possible. All in all, it demonstrates how heinous these organizations are, how the evil spreads, and how difficult this problem is to solve. 

Enjoy the pictures.

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Art | Travel

Scotland - Edinburgh International Festival

by Kimp 15. August 2013 17:11

Photo Blog

In August of every year, Edinburgh hosts the 3rd largest Theatre festival in the world. But, I didn't really go for the Theatre festival Itself, I went for the sub culture, called the Fringe, that has grow up around this festival.  

Coexisting with the International Festival is that Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is an impressive showing of Military marching bands based on a yearly theme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMmn00iXf38
I didn't have time to attend that this year, but will probably catch it for one day next year before heading up into the Scottish High lands.  

Thinking about visiting Scotland. Bring a jacket (preferable layer's) and something waterproof. Doesn't matter what time of year, Scotland has 4 seasons every single day. Wind's are slight to very strong. Rain is slight to strong, but usually doesn't last very long in August. Or if you are like me. I left my umbrella in the hotel on purpose, because I was trying out a new piece of water resistant gear, and as I was standing in a que (line waiting for an event), on the University of Edinburgh campus, a young platinum blonde, pure bred Scottish women, felt sorry for me and shared her umbrella.  

I was quietly standing comfortably in the rain, but was the only person without an umbrella during a sudden, heavy down pour. Next thing I knew, there's an umbrella over my head and attached to the handle was a platinum blonde, Scottish talking machine. She was sweet, however, I think someone wound her up too tight, cause she was talking 900 miles an hour, and with the Scottish accent, I was having a hard time processing whole sections of the one-sided conversation.

I assumed she was a Masters or Phd college student, but as she told me her short life's story,  I discovered that she taken a job with a company three years ago, which has her traveling, literally, all of the time. Sounded like some type of trade show circuit work. She had just bought a house out in the country about 30 minutes from Edinburgh. It has an office in it, because she only needs to go to the home office, 4 times a year. She was in the process of moving, and she said that she had twenty, huge boxes, of nothing but clothes and shoes. I'm thinking, yep, that sounds exactly like a high maintenance nightmare that males often have. That and the constant chatter are huge red flags. She'll probably never be married, and never understand why. After a while, I kind of had the feeling, that if I were a pigeon standing on a ledge near her, we would be having the exact same conversation. 

Does this qualify as a conversation? Am I really a part of it, or am I just an inanimate object, caught in the eye, of someone having a conversation with themselves? Reminded me of a few women, who had constantly asked me for advice, yet never seemed to ever take any of the advice I had offered. Why bother even asking?

Scotland History:
Most of it was en extension of the expanding Roman Empire. Rome fell and the Kingdom of Scotland was formed. In the 13th century the Scottish Kings succession was in question and King Edward I of England took advantage of that scuffle to move in a take over. In the 14th century Scotland won independence and in 1567 King James VI inherited the crown of England. In 1707 the two were merged and the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed.

Now, Scotland wants its independence back. Today they are still part of the UK, but in 2004 they were granted their own parliament. I think the UK is trying to buy some time. One of Scottish peoples main complaints with being part of the UK, is that Scottish soldiers have had very large death numbers compared to the other UK compatriots. 

Bagpipe Player:
The dude playing the bagpipe outside of my open hotel window at 8:00 A.M. was cute for about the first 5 minutes. By the second day, I was about to go out and ask him how much he needed in order to take the third day off. Amazing Grace sounded awesome the first time I heard him play it, after that it's amazingness started wearing off, until it wasn't so amazing anymore.

The other song I recognized is the standard Stottish March that is the trademark for the Bagpipes. I don't know the name of it, but it used to be on the Old Spice aftershave commercials when I was a kid. Every time I heard that one, I wanted to jump up, shave, and splash on some Old Spice after-shave. Ahhh, nice and refreshing.  However, if Old Spice were Scottish it would have been name Auld Spice.

Some of the songs were nice folksy ballad's which I didn't mind so much. The ones that drive me nuts are what I call "Flag waving in the wind songs." They are monotonous in harmony, do not appear to have a standard rhythm, and the melody just kind of goes all over the place. Just like a flag waving in the wind.

Once, I saw a young kid walking by, totting a set of bagpipes. I was plotting, but didn't carry through with it. "Hey kid, here's a 20 pound note, and another 10 to get yourself something to eat. I just want to rent your bagpipes for 10 minutes." Then tune them 1/2 step higher then the dude who was playing, and stand beside him playing a monotonous discord, to see if I could drive him away to a different corner.

The Fringe:
The Fringe occurs in about 100 very small venues with about 5 different performances at each venue. Over the course of the festival, there are about 5000 act's. Some have multiple act's that they rotate through. They are usually experimenting with new material or idea's. It's a place to get some intimate and constructive feedback. The people attending are usually artistic types who have an opinion and whom will voice it.

That's about 500, up-close and personal shows per day to choose from. It's so small and intimate that I didn't feel like I was watching a performance, I felt like I was a part of the performance. I got sucked right up into it and attended 5 performances each day.

Each show is only about an hour long (a few are 2 hours) and most are around 7 UK Pounds ($10, 8 Euro) per hour. In many dance venues the stage is bigger then the audience seating. Five deep is about as high as the rows go. Number of seats ranges from around 30 to 100 (one venue I was at, held about 500). Many of the venues are in the basement of a church or a non-theater club-house or a room in an old Mansion. Some of the Mansion rooms are really nice, with original paintings on the walls and some are just old rooms that haven't been used in years. It kind of feels like the type of entertainment that was probably around in the 1500's in wealthy households.

The performers are probably living on the cheap, not eating much and not making any money at all. A few are probably breaking even and most are probably taking a loss, just to perform here and gain the exposure and constructive criticism.

Many of these performers are very good, but for whatever reason, they aren't currently in a main steam performance. All are highly artistic, some want the full control that a small venue gives them, some are honing their craft, some have day jobs that they just haven't broken away from yet, some just want a change from the craft they had been performing, some are here to gain exposure from other performances or performers, some are here to make friends, and some are not very talented and are just squeezing out a living. but are having a great time.

I really enjoyed every show that I attended.
The shows come in the following flavors:

Music
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On the music side, I ran into nothing but world class talent.

The Black Diamond Express:
-Scottish women go nuts over these guys. I was in the second row directly in front of the front man and by the third tune, I was completely surrounded by women in a high state of excitement. I was nearly trampled to death while they were rushing the stage. If your a dude, and there's a Scottish women next you who's had a few drinks. After a song or two, she's wanting to take you home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgcm5VunBgc 

Antonio Forcione:
This dude has 17 albums of mostly original music, yet he is relatively unknown in the mainstream.He's an Italian who mixed a Spanish Classical sound with African Rhythms and blues, and then threw in a little percussion guitar as a topper. A phenomenal guitar talent and a decent vocalist as well. The reason his music is so percussive, is because he started playing drums when he was 10 years old, but his playing all of the time, drove the shoe maker who lived down stairs crazy, so he switched to guitar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7z84VCgnfc
Another nice one, showing his speed and versatility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yd2kKZmUaM

Root's Blues:
Lee Parson's is a top of the line Root's Blues Singer. Root's Bues is usually accompanied by an African drum rhythm or sung a cappella. It gets its name, from sounding very close to what the slaves would have sounded like in the fields or around home. Lee is white, but I'm thinking he has some black blood from somewhere in his veins. One of the best, I've ever heard, but I could not find him on you-tube. It's possible that his name is a little off, I just heard someone say it and that is what it sounded like.

Comedy
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Comedy comes in many flavors but for the most part, it is anything that someone would find amusement in. Live comedy is all about timing. Not only do they have to have the content down, but they also need the timing. The timing is to give the audience a chance to find the humor that was presented to them or to anticipate the humor that is about to be presented to them.

Brownie Michelle:
The first comedy show that I attended had five comedians and each was given ten minutes to produce their best work. I was first in the door and was trying to find a strategic place in the middle to sit down. I was contemplating, a place where the comedian is least likely to single me out. As I was assessing the situation the female drill instructor usher, was in a hurry to get everyone in the door efficiently. She barked orders to me, that I was to sit in the front row, "Go all of the way to the front and fill from the front back!!!." was what she yelled inches from my ear. I looked her in the eyes, and timidly shook my head, in a No way, gesture. "GO all of the way to the front and fill from the front back!!!." she barked again. I froze and tried to grab ahold of the nearest seat to claim it instead. That's when she grabbed my hand and lead me to the seat that was closest to the mike and gestured sternly for me to sit right there and not move.

I was so close to the mike, that as the comedians came out to perform, I could hear my breathing in the loud speakers. 10 dudes grabbed the seats next to me in the front row. I was pretty quick to figure out that they were all buddies, whom had come to the Fringe together. It was only only 2 P.M. (1400) and they were already drunk. I think they might have actually still been drunk from the night before.

Somehow I managed to escape the eyes of the first 4 comedians as they scanned the crowd for targets. The 5th comedian took the stage, a beautiful British women who was acting out a comedy skit. In the skit she was the Brownie Troop leader from Hell. Cussing, swearing and teaching her young brownies how to be strong and obnoxious women. I was feeling very confident that she was not going to pick me for a Brownie skit. That was when she singled me out to be "Brownie Michelle". To make it even worse, the 10 bubbies sitting next to me all busted a gut laughing at me. They got a big kick out of Brownie Michelle, "Yea!!! Brownie Michelle!!!" For me, that skit didn't end fast enough.

The other comedy that I attended was a fairly high dollar affair. It was a parody on the muppet's. They all come out on stage looking cheerie and happy and G rated, but the theme was "My Life Sucks!!!" with an R+ rating. It was about a women (played by a cute monster puppet) looking for love, but the normal looking dude she picks doesn't pay any attention to her at first. After he does, he can't hold a job, then he takes a bunch of advice from the bad idea bears (these were two cute looking bears playing the devil) betrays her. She pushes him away but she really wants him back.

In the last 5 minutes, there is a turn in his ways, as he had been lost in his ways, then he finds himself and it ends all cuddly and sweet, with a G rating. My favorite characters were the bad idea bears, I know they've gotten me in trouble a time or too. I would pay to see this one a few more times. I think it has cult classic appeal to it.

Dance:
Dance theater in any variation, is about telling a story without any words. It's up the viewer to interpret what they see.

My favorite has always been Modern dance. When the dancers are barefoot, that's modern dance. The movements are usually very fluid and nature like. It's like water flowing down a stream or a tree blowing in the wind. Modern allows prop's, but the prop's are often simple and their meaning changes based on the context within which they are used.

Ballet is when they wear slippers or toe shoes, and is the very formal dance with strict movements and style. Dancers must have lots of discipline and spend years perfecting the basic moves that make up the dance. Ballet never uses prop's.

Freestyle, by definition is completely improvisational. A dance, which cannot, by definition, be repeated.

Jazz Dance is a dance set to jazz music and as such, shares movements that are in tune with a jazz rhythm.

I went to a show that was created by a former North Carolina State (go Wolf pack) School of the Arts graduate. Eowyn Emerald Barrett. She moved to Portland Oregon and is the creative producer for Pacific Dance Makers, which is a consortium of West Coast Choreographers. This was her European Debut and she brought some great talent along with her.

She brought Josh Murry http://www.joshmurry.com/. Oh man, what a phenomenal talent. He performed a solo dance where his middle and index fingers, of one hand (actually it looked like he was switching hands based on crowd perspective), were trying to attack him, and he was trying to get away from them. Super creative, super talented, and super entertaining.

Theater:
Theater has lots of flavors, but for the most part it is the live telling of a story, using set's, prop's and spoken language.

Physical theater means that there are unspoken dance elements interwoven with the telling of the story. The physical theater piece that I saw was pretty awesome. It was about letting go of someone who was once dear to you. It followed the story of a brother and sister who were very different, yet very close. The sister died at some point and the brother kept holding onto her memory, until she convinced him from the afterlife, to let go of her, and continue on with his life.

I had purchased a ticket for an early theater show, but decided to sleep in and miss it. I was up very late the night before and also had a very late show scheduled for the next day as well.

Musical Confusion:
I have played in several pit orchestras for several musicals. I always loved playing that music, because it is very chalanging to play. There are lots of key changes, lots of mixed meter changes and lots of different range changes. Pit orchestras have a reduced instrumentation, so music arrangers end up writing parts for Trombone that would not normally be played by a trombone. It's fun, exciting and chalanging all at the same time.

The musical that I watched was very nice, but it was also kind of confusing. Musical's are usually about 2 1/2 hours long with very large casts. I have a hard time remembering characters when the cast is large, it's a mental block that I have always had.  I remember lots of details, so it is hard for me to remember lots of characters and their details. It takes me a long time to get to know a character and to put the correct face with the correct character.

The musical I saw only had a cast of about 10 and had cut the musical down to under an hour. So character development was compressed. On top of that, I would see the same face, but they were playing a different character (Each actor played 3 or 4 characters). They would wear different clothes and speak with a different voice, but the face didn't change. I finally caught up with all of the characters, but I was way behind the plot for most of the musical. However, it was pleasing since the cast was very good, both at acting and in singing.

Cabaret:
Combines all aspects of theater (music, dance, story telling and comedy) in one show.

The first Cabaret piece that I saw was hysterical. It's what I call whimsical theater. Its kind of like being in a dream state. There is a theme, but at the same time, all kinds of weird and out of place things were happening. It looked for real, but at the same time it didn't look for real. Often times the way a dream occurs. It looks real at the time, but after you wake up and think about the dream, it can get really weird. Like why did I believe that, while I was dreaming it.

The second Cabaret show was by a one women Oprea singer named Sarah Ann Cromwell from Birmingham England. She told a condensed version of the major highlights in her college days and her whole career, interlacing it with Operetic songs,  Operetic parody and personal philosophy. Not knowing much about Opera I found it educational as well. One point she made was that there is Opera and then there is Oratorio. She said that there are two big differences between them. Opera pays a lot of money and is usually based on a religious theme. Oratorio just puts food on the table and is usually based on sex. She then said that she preferred performing in Oratorio's more then in Opera's. Gee is there a hidden message in their somewhere?

The pianist that Sarah brought with her was a young Romanian women named Ana-Maria Andritoiu. She dressed and looks about 15, but based on her achievements and high acclaim, I think she might be about 25. That was some really hard music she was playing and it sounded flawless.

My History:
All of this reminded me of many similar performances that used to go on around Boston when I was a college student. I was first introduced to this type of sub culture quite by accident.

During the time, that I was in Boston, there was a severe shortage of Trombone players (my primary instrument). In those days, there weren't cell phone and I didn't even have a home phone. I had a pay phone down the hall and if someone needed me, they would either show up at my door or if they knew the number to the pay phone, they would call that hoping someone who answered it, knew me, and would go and get me.

 

I liked to perform, so I was out performing or rehearsing a lot, rather then being at home. When I had spare time, often times, I would go to a music studio in Boston and just hang out. It was a great place to meet a lot of good musicians.

Much of the time, I would write out sheet music for individual parts from a score that I had composed at an earlier time. After a while, people would see me there with my Trombone and just assume that I was a studio musician. Some scheduled trombone player would not show up, and they would ask me if I wanted to fill in. Hell yea!!!

Most studio music has an ultra easy trombone part. It's seldom the principle instrument.  So most of the time, I was either
playing some simple ad jingle, or quiet guide tone lines, or fill behind a vocalist. That lead to people inviting me to play in the studio in advance as well.

One day, a dude saw me writing out some individual parts from a score that was for 20 instruments. He say's, Holly Cow that looks like a lot of work and he started asking me about it. He wanted to know when it was going to be performed. I said, 'Oh I don't know? Maybe never. I just hear this music in my head all of the time and if it hangs around for long enough, I'll write it down, so it's not lost forever. Sometimes it gets finished and sometimes it just stays in a state of limbo for an undetermined time. This one was feeling like I might finish it, so I strarted writing out the individual parts before it is finished, so that would not be so overwhelming later on.'

I then showed him a notebook that I used to carry around, that had had zillions of music scraps in it. I used to write down small chunks of music and categorize it in words expressing the felling that I thought it represented. There were loose leaf papers and torn scraps and napkin's all falling out of it. When an idea comes, I would just write it down on whatever I had available at the time.

That's when the dude asked me if I was interested in writing some really short show pieces for experimental theater. I was reluctant, until he invited me to see a few of them. I meet some of the artists and quickly got hooked. It was really nice, because I got a chance to write a lot of very short and very artistic snippets of music. He would give me a rough amount of time and a theme and I had cart blanche to do whatever I wanted. We would record them and occasionally I would go and see how they were used. I started experimenting with a lot of different instrumentation. Since they were short pieces I liked to keep the instrumentation very sparse. It's easier to get musicians to show up for short pieces, if you have lots of them to record at the same time. One of my favorite combinations was flute, trombone and jazz acoustic/electric guitar. I could get a lot of different sounds out of that combination by using different trombone mutes. The nice thing about jazz musicians, is that I didn't need to write much down. For the most part, I would just sketch a melody and some cords. Then let the magic produce the final product. I learned early on, that if I gave jazz musicians a lot of freedom, they would often produce something much nicer then I could have scripted out.

I worked on that fairly heavy for about 4 months, then moved onto something else. I was only a serious composer for about 12-18 months and during that time I experimented with lots of variety. There were times when every single day was something completely different. If I ever write up my Boston album, I will probably touch a lot of the different things that I was into.  I've always felt, that it's impossible to judge oneself, the gauge of accomplishments comes from the opinion's of others whom we respect.

I had a lot of pictures of the performances. At this level, performers love to have their picture taken, while performing. However, the SIMM card in my small camera crashed and I lost all of them. But, I use a different SIMM Card in my normal camera, so the pictures of Edinburgh survived.

Tags:

Culture | Travel

Estonia - Tallinn

by Kimp 28. July 2013 02:52

Photo Blog

Estonia, knock knock knocking on Russia's door. 

Tallinn gets my vote for the strangest place I have ever been. It's got all kinds of crazy in it. A beautifully preserved medieval town with most of the walls still intact. There is even a Medieval pharmacy that is still in business, just in case you need some unicorn shavings for that special recipe. Old town Tallinn is surrounded on two sides by old defunct Russian factories. Heavy industry, that appeared to have had no pollution controls at all, while they were active. Then the side that borders the Baltic Sea, has an old defunct concert hall that was built for the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were in Moscow, but whose
yachting events were held in Tallinn. Looks like it was beautiful 32 years ago, but was abandoned shortly after and has never been maintained.  

Then there is a brand new part with high rise business towers and lots of auto traffic. From the right vantage point all of these can be seen in the same frame, giving Tallinn a very mysterious physic. Ethnic Estonian's claim to be Nordic, but what I see is an eclectic mixture of Nordic and Scandinavian in the their features. I am guessing that might be due to the large Russian population in Tallinn. I would like to get out in the country to see if that looks more Nordic. Most Estonian's are very intelligent, introverted, and prefer to live in the woods away from other people. One would think that they live a fairly primitive lifestyle, yet we will often see an ethnic Estonian bellied up to a computer. They are the inventor's of skype, in my opinion, so they could communicate with their neighbors without having to go to their neighbors house. Estonia is the world leader is eGovernment. They even vote on-line, using an ID card that has a chip which identifies them.

Estonia itself is equally as crazy. The northern coast is mostly limestone cliffs, there are some really rustic looking islands, and about 10% is a foggy quagmire that just plain looks down right spooky.
 
Estonia History
Tallinn has been passed around for so long, they aren't really sure who's in charge. Tallinn was found by the Danish as the main trading port between Scandinavia and Russia.

It was then sold to the Tectonic Knights (powerful German's). The Knight's built an amazing fortress around Tallinn, with high strong walls and 66 defense towers. Much of which still stands today. During the Protestant reformation, Sweden got in a scuffle with Denmark, Poland and Russia. The German's vacated Tallinn and when it was all over Sweden had control of the upper part of Estonia while Poland had control of the lower part.

Two hundred years later, Sweden and Russia got into it again and Estonia ended up under the Czar of Russia. Near the end of WWI, the Russian revolution occurred and Estonia used that chance to claim independence. They were an independent nation for exactly one day, before they were occupied by the Germans. Three years later Germany was defeated and Estonia regained independence. 

In WWII Hitler and Stalin meet to form a secret pact. Stalin was to get uncontested control of Estonia, Finland and Latvia and Hitler received uncontested control of Norway and some other parts of Eastern Europe. Estonia had no Army, so the Russian Army just moved in and occupied their country without actually controlling the government. When Hitler gained control of Eastern Europe he decided to keep going and moved in and took Estonia on his way into Russia. When Germany retreated, Estonia was taken over again by Russia.

After WWII, Stalin took control of the Estonian government. In 1991 the Iron curtain falls and Estonia was once again an independent country. 

Religion
Only 20% of Estonian's practice religion and most of those are Russian Orthodox (a branch of Christianity). From the few pure breed native Estonian's I talked to, it sounded like their beliefs are similar to the American Indians. They believe that nature is here to be enjoyed by all and as thus, it should be highly valued, respected, and preserved. Since many of the Russian's moved on, most of the churches in Tallinn have been converted into museums. I stuck my head inside one ancient church (it had a rustic wooden ceiling), that was actually having a mass. On the way out, I saw a dude on the street looking at me with a great deal of excitement, so I asked him what was up? "Oh man, that dude standing right next to you is Estonia's funniest comedian. I can't believe that I just saw him out on the street and that he goes to church."

My Visit

By the time I rolled into Tallinn, it was about 11:30 PM (2330). I was beat, but found a town that was wide awake and busting at the steams with youthful activity. As we rolled up near the hostel where I was staying (very close to the old town square), the cab driver was complaining that all of the youth's on the street were both drunk and stoned on drugs. He said that with such a conviction, I assumed he was either the father of a teenager who was struggling with both of those issues, or was raising daughter in this mess and was worried about protecting her.  As the cab rolled to a stop and I got out, to walk the last block which was a pedestrian only zone, on my own, about all I could think to say was, "Man, that's terrible, I sure am glad I stayed away from that in my youth.".  

The street that the hostel was on, was mostly bars spilling out onto tables in the street. I went to sleep and was treated to loud noises that repeatedly woke me up, until about 7:30 A.M. I could easily see, how this lifestyle would be conducive to an epidemic, drug and an alcohol problem.  

Happy to finally have peace and quiet, I sleep in, until 10:30 A.M. After awakening I headed into the main town square, which was busting at the seams with tourists. Holy smokes, where did all of the tourists come from. I had no idea that this place was that popular. Tallinn is a beautifully preserved medieval town. Many say the finest in all of Europe, (but my vote is for Toledo Spain). I had no idea that Tallinn drew such huge crowds. There were so many tourists, I felt like I had found a worm hole and had been transported to Disney World.

The Russian college girls
While under Russian control, both Stalin and Khruschev wanted ethnically Russian people to relocate to Tallinn, so they built many blocks of brand new apartments and offered them for free to any Russian who wanted to relocate there. Many jumped at the chance. As a result, Tallinn now has a 30% ethnic Russian population.

I quickly became exhausted at wandering around in the tourist filth and headed back near my room. It was a little quieter there, so I settled in at a place called the Arizona Saloon. I would find out later that Tallinnians have a fascination with the Wild West. I ordered up a local brew, while I was pondering what my next move was going to be. My brew arrived and a few sips later I found myself engaged in a polite conversation with a few young women sitting at the table right next to me.

I asked where they were from?

"Moscow Russia. We are on holiday from college and are just visiting."

They asked me where I was from.

With a big smile, I said, "I just vising as well. I'm from Tombstone, Arizona, have you ever been there?". 

"Really? No we haven't, but we're dying to go to Arizona."

"It's a lot different then this. The front yard is all dirt, rocks, and cactus, and the back porch is slightly off of the ground cause rattle snakes often come up to pay a visit."

"Yikes, rattle snakes, that's scary."

"Oh, little darling, it's no big deal, most of them are friendly and they eat all of the bugs. So it's a good thing."

"What about the unfriendly rattle snakes?"

"That's why you choose the cowboy boots with an extra thick leather lower leg guard. They always strike near the ankle. There's nothing to fear, so long as you picked the right boots."

"Really???"

"Yea !!! Really !!!"

Yep, they passed the gullibility test with an A+. Looking like it's going to be a great day for Craig.

Later, I said to them, "Man, if I'd known this place was so crowded with tourists, I would've gone somewhere else in Estonia."

"That's only until about 1400.", One of them replied.

"They come in on the cruise ships around 1000 and are gone by 1400. They don't stop here long because the big draw is St. Petersburg where they stay for a few days. They are just passing through here."

I responded with, "Gee what am I going to do until 1400?  I sure wish I had a bike to ride around outside of town for a while.".

"Oh, we can get you a bike to ride!"

That sounded really inviting, but I was a little leery because I figured it would be some old beat up piece of junk that would break down under my weight and I was also scared that I would not be able to return it quickly to the owner and would be stuck baby sitting it all day when I got back. So I said, "I don't think I want a bike because I would probably get lost riding it."

"You don't have to worry about getting lost. It's a beautiful day, we'll ride with you."

Hot Damn. I was just trying to bunt and ended up hitting a homerun.
Let me see, I can swim around in the tourist cesspool for another 3 hours or go on an innocent bike ride, on a beautiful day, with a couple of young beauties.

Big smile simultaneous with, "We ain't on them bikes yet???"

They lead me down a few alleys into a kind of dingy looking section nearby. They stop at a house, use a key, but struggle to get the door open. Once open, they scurry down into a very dark basement. Having been robbed before I was kind of hesitating on following closely. In fact I was fine just standing at the outside of the door. The first one grabbed the only flash light at the top and disappeared around the corner at the bottom before I even started on my way down. After that, I was just froze, looking into a black hole, and listening attentively for other voices.

Noticing that I hadn't followed them, the one with the flashlight came back up and grabbed me by the hand to lead me down into the basement. She say's, "Be careful, the stairs are all uneven and watch your head too." . We turn the corner at the bottom and she puts my hand on a bike and tells me to take it outside. Which I did, at the speed of lightening.

I thought it was going to be some old piece of crap, but it was a pretty nice Trek in great shape. What I call a conversion bike. Kind of a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. It has some qualities of both. And it was a dude's bike. That's when I started thinking, maybe this is her large, muscle building Russian boyfriend's bike. He's going to be on his way home from his daily morning workout at the boxing gym, is going to see me out riding with them, smiling and laughing, get really jealous, and commence to kick my ass without asking any questions first.

We made a quick jaunt near the train station, where the Russian market is. The Russian market is a large complex without any real structure to it. Part's of it look like a flea market, parts look like outdoor retail market, part looks like a food market and just about everything in between. The layout is very random as well. It was like being in a crazy dream where nothing really makes any sense. The girl's took off on their own, and I was just kind of hanging out around the edge trying to make sense of any of it.

That's when an old Russian grandma spotted her next victim. It was me. She didn't speak a word of English, but she was bound and determined to sell me something. She had a very soft grandmotherly way about her. She grabbed me by the arm and jerked me over to her shop. I looked around and there was nothing but junk in it. It looked like Sanford and Son's junk yard. It was a bunch of household items, but absolutely nothing was whole. There were pieces missing from every single item. 

I hatched a plan to pull a coin out of my pocket and proclaim that was all I had. I reached in my pocket and dug out a single coin. It was a 1 Euro coin (about $1.40). I held it out in my palm and looked at it really bummed, like that was all I had. I figured there wasn't anything she was going to sell me for that. She snatched that coin up like a it was a canteen of water and she'd been in the dessert for days without water.

Then she reached down and replaced it with this old beat up table lamp. It was hilarious. At one time, it had probably been a really nice looking cast iron 18 inch (50 cm) high table lamp, I'm thinking with a stained glass or other nice ornamental lamp shade. A real show piece. But now, it was lampshade less, not just lampshade less but the loop was missing to hold the lampshade up, it was all beat up and scratched, the light socket was partially busted, and the cord was cut off, leaving only about 1 foot (35 cm) still attached to the lamp. No plug or switch on the end of the cord, just a few inches of frayed and twisted bare wires sticking out of the end of the cord.

At first I was going to go around the corner and throw it in the trash, but the more I carried it around, the more I started to taking a liking to it. This lamp had a lot of character and lots of storied to tell. It had obviously been through several wars, was all beat up and disabled, and yet someone still found value in it. I knew I couldn't take it on the plane without it raising some suspicion on the X-Ray and with the TSA police. So I decided to just take it back to the hostel and leave it there. I envisioning, returning to that hostel in a few years, to see it nursed back to health and serving its intended function, at the hostel.

The girls finally hooked back up with me. I proudly showed them my booty. They gave me a thumbs up approval,  then I stuck it in my back pack and we hit the road again.

After our shopping trip, we headed right out of town at a sprint that eventually slowed down to a nice pace. I didn't have a clue where we were going, but I was perfectly content following the picture that was in front of me, for like, the rest of my life. We rode due East for a really long time. I was half expecting to see a sign proclaiming "Welcome to St. Petersburg", any second, when we pulled off, into some old communist apartment complex.

These looked like the Brezhnev era structures. Stalin had a lot of money and built some nice sized apartment's. Kruschev didn't have as much money and they got smaller and cheaper. Brezhnev was broke and built really tiny and crude apartments. We headed into one where the ceiling was only about 6' 4" high. The kitchen kind of looked like a small closet. There was only room for one person to stand in the kitchen. The sink was in front, the stove to the right and the counter to the left. The owner said, she liked that kitchen because everything was right there in arms reach. She could cut the onions on the counter, just turn around and cook them, then just turn once again to clean up. All without hardly moving.

The girls asked me to show her the lamp that I had just bought at the market. By now I was proud of that awesome deal I had made. I pulled the lamp out of my backpack and displayed it with great pride. She asked me how much. Trying to make it sound like an even better deal, I said "50 cents Euro". She snatched the lamp out of my hands and disappeared with it. A second later, she returned with the lamp and stuck a 50 Euro cent piece in my hand. She misunderstood and thought that I was selling it. Now, I'm trying to figure out how to get the lamp back, cause I had gotten attached to it. "You really don't want that lamp. Look, it doesn't even have a cord on it.". She say's. "Oh, it's OK." A Tsk sound coupled with a no problem hand movement, "I can manage that. That's easy.", then she disappeared and stuck it in a room that was out of my sight and reach.

We hung out there for a short time while the ladies talked and I just smiled on the outside, but was thinking, Damn it, I lost my lamp, on the inside.

Then we headed back. On the return trip, we stopped at an old Russian jail that was about as dilapidated as it gets.  It was in use up until just a few years ago, when the European Union demanded that it was inhumane, and must be shut down, if Estonia wanted to be part of the European Union. Estonia complied and are now part of the European Union.

After that, it became a hang out for huge gypsy parties for several years. Now it's a museum of sorts and a convention center of sorts. You'll have to look at the pictures and read the captions.

The prison experience
Ever wander what it would have been like to he a political prisoner in a communistic state. Well, wonder no longer, you can get that experience in Tallinn for just a small fee. For only about $75 (50 Euro) you get to act like a political dissident for a few minutes before you are arrested, interrogated, then thrown into a dark, dingy and musty smelling prison cell all by yourself. It is supposed to last a few hours. I wanted to give it a try, but I couldn't talk either Russian girl into joining me. "Oh come on, it'll be fun :)" . I guess it was a little too close to home for them.

About 4 hours after we started, we returned from one of the better times in my life. I thanked them for the use of the bike, asked if there was some way of compensating them for it.  They refused any type of payment. I smiled heartily and politely went on my way. After all of the tourist had left, Tallinn was a great place to visit.

The free internet that cost me $700 (500 Euro)
On my way out, I get to the airport 3 hours early. Beautiful airport, one of the nicest I have ever seen. As I am headed to the departure gate I see a cafe that is only 2 gates away, so I stop to get a cup of coffee. As I am sitting there, I get out my tablet and discover they have free internet. Sweet, the table is just the right size for surfing so I stay there.

I'm monitoring my tablet clock and when it gets 1 hour from my flight, I decide to shut down, go take a pee and head to the gate. As I am headed to the toilet, I pass a display screen and look to make sure the gate hasn't changed. It says that my flight had departed. That's when I realize, SOB I'm in a time zone that is an hour behind where I am going. Look at my watch, sure enough, it just left the gate. They were probably calling my name several times over the load speaker, but mispronouncing it, so it didn't register.

I go to the connection counter in the terminal to see of she can change my flight and she says that I need to exit and go to the departure counter. I go there, and they tell me I need to go to the transfer counter. She tells me that she can't change a flight after it has already departed, so I will need to buy a last second, one-way ticket leaving the next morning, but I needed to go the Estoninan Air counter and buy it. The lady at the Estonian air counter doesn't speak any English at all. Of course, that's because English speaking people don't buy their tickets in Estonia. I write down the destination location, write down today's date and motion one-way. She figured it out. She turn's her monitor around and it's $450 (300 Euro) and leaves at 6:45 A.M. That means I am going to have to get up around 5:00 A.M.

Now I need to find a really close place to stay. Small airport, so I go outside and am looking around. Geeze, there has got to be a freaking hotel near the airport. At least a flea bag place. Scan and scan and scan in all directions and I can't see anything. I am headed back inside to ask someone, but pass the taxi stand first, so I thought that I'd try him. 

I explain (to a dude who doesn't speak hardly any English) and ask the dude to take me to the closest hotel. He looks at me like, "I'm a Taxi driver who lives 20 miles (30 km) away, I never stay at a hotel near the airport, I stay at my house when I fly from here. I said, "Just drive towards town and I'll tell you when to stop.".

The main road is about 1 block from the airport, he turns right,  we go another block and there's a freaking 5 story 200 room hotel right there. I just couldn't see it, cause there was a grove of trees blocking it from the part of the airport I was scanning from. $15 for the cab ride (I think he got confused and forgot to reset the meter, but I wasn't going to argue). At this point, I just want to eat and go to bed.

I get out and can see a path worn in the hotel grass from where people take a short cut when walking to the airport from the hotel. Later I walked it and timed the walk, it was 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Diagonally, it was about 1 block in length from the hotel back door to the Terminal front door. I go inside and there isn't anybody in the lobby, nobody is in front of me or behind me to check in. Nobody is at the hotel bar except a very lonely looking bartender, it's supper time and it doesn't look like anybody is in the hotel restaurant either.

The only human's beside myself, the receptionist and the bartender are four dude's, long past retirement, who were sitting at a table out front playing cards. I'm guessing that they probably live nearby and are just here to get away from their wives.

Gee, by the looks of it, there has got to be plenty of rooms.

I explain to the receptionist and ask her to book me the cheapest room she has. Clickety, click, click. Quick scan. Clickety, click, click. Quick scan. Clickety, click, click. Quick scan. "Sir, I'm sorry, but all we have left are business rooms." "Great, I'll take your cheapest business room.". "That will be $160 (120 Euro) and breakfast starts at 6:30 A.M..".

"Do I get a discount if I don't want the breakfast, cause I'm checking out at 5:15 A.M.?".

"Sorry, the breakfast is complementary in all business rooms.".

"Awesome, that's a really nice benefit. Could I please have my room key"

I pay and go into the hotel restaurant (only restaurant in site, other then the airport cafe) to eat. The whole meal (probably like 45 minutes), I am the only person in the restaurant. Stressed out, expensive hotel restaurant meal with 2 large beers, another $45 (30 Euro). The whole time, I am kicking myself in the ass. Man, if they didn't have free internet, I would have drank my coffee and went to the more comfortable seats at the gate. In fact, the gate had really nice comfortable looking seats. It was more like a nice hotel lounge then an airport gate.

Put that down to the school of hard knocks, I'll never make that same mistake again.

Actually, I was thinking about it. I've flown at least 40 times in the last two years and probably 200 times in my life (at least 3 per year). So actually that is only $3.50 (2 Euros) per flight. Other then feeling really stupid, it's not so bad. 

Tags:

Travel

Switzerland - Montreux Jazz Festival

by Kimp 13. July 2013 03:18

Photo Blog

My History
I started playing Trombone in the 5th grade and that's also when I cemented a relationship with another Trombone player named Jim, who was to become one of my close and life long friends. Not long after Jim and I started playing, we were asked to play for the parents of other kids in the band. That was a big hit and later that week a teacher who had heard us play, asked us to play in front of a school assembly. We played a slightly jazzed up version of "When the Saint's go marching in." That's when I fell in love with Jazz.
 
Around that same time, I was in a record store (everything was on records in those days) and discovered the Jazz section. As I was perusing through the Jazz albums I noticed a common motif. Lots of jazz musicians had albums entitled "Live from Montreux". That's when Montreux went on my bucket list. However, realistically, I didn't think I would ever make it there.
 
I'd been to Montreux several times (love all of Switzerland, except for the expense, any time of year), but never made it to the Jazz Festival until this year. And it was a lot nicer then I had envisioned. It exceed, even my vision of heaven. If heaven is nicer then Montruex during the Jazz festival, then I sure hope I'm going.
 
The Montreux Jazz festival was also the very last thing on my bucket list. What do I do now???
 
Montreux Jazz Festival History
Jazz migrated to Europe during World War II, then the American Soldiers joined the allied cause. After World War II, jazz flourished in Europe. 
 
In the mid 60's an up and coming American Jazz producer named Quincy Jones started a label in Montreux and appointed Claude Knobs as the manager. Claude was also the director of the Tourism Office of Montreux. In 1967 Claude started the Montreux Jazz Festival at the Montreux Casino. Immediately, it was a huge hit. In 1970 Calude decided to open it up to popular musician's who were outside of the Jazz idiom but whom had made a difference in music. He also added a new layer which consisted of new and upcoming musicians, who have a lot of talent, but deviate from the main stream.
 
Claude died just a few months before this years festival, but his memory is still very much alive, in many of the big name musician's, who performed or attended this year.
 
Artistic Theme
Every year, the Montreux Jazz Festival has a different theme for its outdoor art. This year it was based on the song "Like a Tree" by Maxime Le Forestier. The lyrics are tell the story, that after people have completely destroyed the earth (an apocalypse), nature will come back and reclaim the land. Love the concept and loved the art. However, untrue to the theme, there was nothing natural in the art. It was all definitely touched and arranged and manicured and maintained by humans. Nature's growth is dictated by so many variables that it appears to be uncontrolled and human's want to control all aspects of it. 
 
Where I stayed
I booked a hotel a long time ago (like 9 months before) and managed to find a really nice one that was at a decent price and was right on Lake Geneva. Even that early, everything else was very expensive. Like me, they know the festival schedule. Not sure why that one was so cheap, but I probably cashed in on a mistake that someone had made. It was about a 2k (1 mi) walk down the path around the lake from the festival, but that actually made it nice and peaceful (See map and captions in photos).
 
My Arrival
I was feeling pretty sick when I arrived, so I asked a dude at the hotel where I staying, if it was OK, for me to just leave my car parked out front for a few hours, while I rested. Then I promised to find a parking area to move it into. The dude raises his hand and snaps his fingers. I could see another dude scurrying over to see what he wanted, as he said to me, "Yes sir, mister Kimpel. Please wait out front and I'll send someone right out to tell me where to park it."
 
I figured a dude was just going to come out and point somewhere. A few minutes later the dude that was running over, appeared out front, shortly followed by three dudes wearing black tuxedos, and sporting white gloves, who stood at attention in front of him. He commenced to instruct them to move these huge, heavy planters, out of the way, so I could park my car where they had been sitting. Pretty much inches away from the front door.  About 10 minutes later, the planters had been moved, and the three dudes, who were now sweating profusely, were back at attention awaiting the bosses approval. The boss, sends them to make a few adjustments, then releases them to go back inside, after which, he gives me instructions on parking my car, inches away from the front door.
 
I park my car according to the bosses instructions and am getting my bags out of the car, when I notice a women, adorned  in some powerful looking business attire, looking directly at me with a disgruntled look on her face. Not sure what was going on, so I politely ask her if there is a problem. "Yes, please move your car over here.", as she proceeded back inside. I'm figuring that I am going to have to look for a place to park my car in town, but I load my bags back in the car, move it as directed, and wait. 
 
This time, as I 'm getting out of my car, she reappears followed by the same three dudes wearing black tuxedos, sporting white gloves and still sweating profusely.  She commences to instruct them to put the planter's back exactly where they had been in the first place.  This is when I figured it out. She was either the owner or the owners wife, who had hand picked those plants as decorations, and carefully put a lot of thought into exactly where they should go to never be moved again.
 
About 10 minutes later, the planters had been moved back, and the three dudes, who now looked completely exhausted, were back at attention awaiting approval. The women, sends them to make a few adjustments, then releases them to go back inside, after which, she gives me stern instructions on parking my car. "Back it in sideways, right here, make sure it's angled like so and don't hit the hotel nor that planter that is in the back.". I cautiously, but nervously followed her instruction, as she watched. I get out and ask her if that is good. "Yes and you can leave it there for your whole stay.". I managed to squeak out ,a "Thank you ma'am, that was very kind of you.", as she was disappearing inside.
 
I guess she must have liked the look of my vintage Beamer in front of her fine hotel.  The rest of the time that I was there, I did everything I could to avoid the dudes in the black Tux's. They are going to be talking about that day for the rest of their lives.
 
Crowd
The Hotel and the Venues are very expensive, so four basic types of people tend to visit in large numbers. People around my age from all over the world, who attend the shows, sometimes eat at restaurants, purchase the expensive drinks at the venues or at the festival, and take it slow and easy. Another type are young people from Switzerland, who come to hang out with their friends, see the free shows, eat the festival food (they have junk food from around the world at this festival), bring their own drinks, and live the fast life. A third type, though small in numbers are backpackers passing through, who stop for a day or two.  And the last type, backpacking musicians who are just plain happy to be here, even if they're eating and sleeping on the cheap (from the grocery store and under the stars).
 
The Venues
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Venue  format
Their are usually two bands per major venue and the prices are fairly step. However, usually they are two very big name acts (Multiple Grammy Winners and/or Hall of famers ) and the venues are very small. For instance, ZZ-top can easily fill up a stadium and they played in Montreux, in an Auditorium, that only held 4,000. The biggest name act always plays the first set. Then there is a 30 minute break while the equipment is swapped out. Then the lesser big name act plays second. I like that format, because some of the people either don't show up for the second act or stay a short while and filter out during the second act. It becomes relaxed and intimate. Plus you can get something to eat or drink in-between. If the big name was on second, then nobody would want to leave and loose their place. The Auditorium is general admission on the floor, so there are not any chairs and its first come, first serve. There is a balcony that has assigned seats, but you pay VIP prices up there.
 
They often play lots of encores and usually several other musicians come out and play during the encores. The usual scenario goes like this. They leave the stage and back stage they run into an old friend who came to see them. The friend gets invited out for an encore. Then that scenario repeats about another 5 times, until the stage is packed with big name talent. A lot of these bands are touring all of the time, so they don't ever run into their friends when they are playing a gig. This is a special treat for all of them.
 
Stravinski Auditorium
Capacity 3500, but pretty sure they pack 4000 into it. In the past it had seats, but this year it was general admission standing room (same as most European Venues that don't have permanent seats). There is a small balcony that has seats, but those are much more expensive.
 
Montreux Jazz Club
Capacity 350. Set up like an old Comedy/Cabaret/Jazz club with small tables near the stage. Tries to create an intimate and smoky atmosphere like the old jazz clubs, but was way to nice to pull it off. It's a tourist version of an old jazz club.  
 
Montreux Jazz Lab
Capacity 2000. This is a new experience for experimentation in the Audio Visual realm. Did not attend that this year, so not sure exactly what the set up is.
 
Montreux Jazz Creations
Stages at the Montreux Palace, Chillon Chateau, and the Trois Couronnes, host creative and lively tributes to the styles and artists who have marked the history of music.
 
Montreux Jazz Boats
Themed boats for the lively partying crowd. This year there was a Brazil theme, a Salsa Theme, and a Funky Theme boat.
 
Montreux Jazz Trains
Two trains with live jazz for the more relaxed partying crowd.
 
Montreux Jazz Workshops (Free)
Just like they sound. A jazz clinic where you can get into the heads of the musicians.
 
Music in the Park (Free)
A jam session that starts as soon as the sun goes down and ends early in the morning.
 
The Studio (Free)
An outdoor club that holds 1000 people. Starts at 11 P.M. and musicians sometimes stop by here to jam after their shows. Ends sometime before sun up.
 
A whole bunch of theme bars and the Montreux Jazz Café
Not really a venue but where some people hang out.
 
Jazz Mass
Some of the churches host a Jazz Mass on Sunday.
 
Artists that I saw
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ZZ Top
Texas Bluesmen and Rock-and-Roll hall of famers, from as far back as Jimi Hendrix. 
 
George Throrogood and the Delaware Destroyers
Old time Boogie Blues artist from Delaware. When I lived in upstate New York, George was a huge hit with the college crowd. Have seen him many times, always enjoyed his shows, and he is pretty much still the same. Energetic and entertaining.
 
Sugar Blue
Sugar Blue is a very high energy, 65 year old Grammy award winning Harp player and bluesman.
Here's a nice short sample (his wife, an excellent bass player, is on this as well): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EmDnJHAKqc. Raised in Harlem, he mostly plays Chicago Blues. He moved to Paris in the 70's, meet the rolling stones and was featured on several Rolling Stones tunes in the late 70's. Mick Jagger says that Sugar Blue is a very strange and talented musician. His band was stocked full of great talent as well. His Italian keyboard player, besides being awesome, is really creative. Check him out playing the accordion (and the dude playing the water drums) here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgmvbKCZoGc . His wife is Italian bassist Ilaria Lantieri. Ilaria is a world class musician. Her rhythm is right on the money and she makes complex bass passages look easy. Playing a 6 string bass, which has one string that is lower then a normal bass and one string that is higher then a normal bass. She covers the whole range with ease. 
 
Shemekia Copeland
I was watching Shemeika, when Sugar Blue came out from back stage and sat in a chair next to me towards the end of her set. Later she came out for an encore and Sugar joined her on stage and played a song with her, that he hadn't played since he had recorded it with her about 10 years ago and hasn't played since. Early in her career, Shemekia had asked several old timer's to record with her and everyone had turned her down except Sugar Blue. She thought that maybe he saw something in her, but found out later that he only accepted because he was a good friend of her fathers (Bluesman, Ray Copeland).
 
Prince
The auditorium is general admission, so the first people in get the pick of their position, but it also means that there are not any seats. I performed some very strategic pre-entrance maneuvers that allowed me to arrive 60 minutes before the show and still sit down for the 30 minutes before they let us in. I managed to get a spot about 20 people deep of the stage. However, up that close the bodies are packed so tight that I couldn't move my feet at all without stepping on someone else's food. I was in physical contract with 8 other people (front, back, each side and every diagonal) for the whole performance.  
 
Princes backup section is called the New Power Generation (NPG). He brought a mostly female rhythm section that, besides being talented, could have all been models. Along with a ten piece jazz horn section and a professional dancer. The whole concert was pretty much just a big jam session.  Prince does a lot of stunts where he just slams down on the floor. I think he was a little out of shape, cause he would be down for a long time, and I would see the dancer making her way over to him and bending down to see if he was alright. Prince is a great guitar player, but on the day I saw him (1st day), he didn't even get his guitar out and play until the encore: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmX3lDan4JY .
 
Bonnie Raitt
I always loved Bonnie's low, raspy, and slightly rough around the edges voice. She created her own fusion of Mississippi Delta Blues, folk and country. As if that wasn't sweet enough, she added lyrics that burn into your sole. I think she has about a zillion Grammy's. An amazing talent that is impossible to imitate nor reproduce. She said that there are a bunch of twenty year old people who are just now discovering her, and she is starting to experience yet another round of popularity. Bonnie performed 5 encores. She said that every time she went back stage, another musician that she always wanted to play with was there, so she dragged them on stage for another encore. One of them was Shemika, and they sang a powerful tribute to the late Etta James (one of Christina Aguilera's favorite singers as well).
 
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
Take a great blues folk artist (Ben Harper) and mix him with an old school harp player (Charlie Musselwhite) and you have the likes of something that just plain sounds down home and sweet. Women seem to really dig Ben. Women came in large droves with all of their girlfriends to the show I was at. That was pretty nice, but I felt kind of out of place as I was definitely in the minority. Here is nice trailer featuring Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idpYuJeAi0U
 
It's really hard to find good Ben Harper youtube videos, because most are shot with a cell phone which doesn't record very well. Here's one of his entire concerts that has decent sound, but it's an outdoor concert so the acoustics are pretty crappy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NDw8CJy7wg If you start at about 30 minutes in and 34.5, you'll hear Ben Harper soloing and at his best.
 
Both of these guys sound a lot better in person then they do on any youtube recording.

Tags:

Travel

Spain - Toledo

by Kimp 30. June 2013 02:23

Photo Blog

 
History:
Toledo sits on top of a hill and was the Medieval Capital of Spain. The hill is surrounded on three sides by the Tajo river. In early times it was Roman. When Rome fell, Spain separated from Rome, but was able maintain Roman culture. That period was called Visigothic. That ended in 711 when Moor's attacked from Africa and took control of Spain.
 
In 932 Toledo was captured by Abd-ar-Rahman III who enforced freedom of Religion. That's when Jewish people started immigrating there. For a time, Jewish, Christian and Muslim all lived and practiced their own religions in Toledo. The Jewish people stayed until after WWII, when they started migrating to the United States. 
 
In 1085 it was reconquered by Christians and it remained Spain's capital until the 1500's when the capital was moved to Madrid because there wasn't any land near Toledo, that would allow easy expansion. The movement of the capital caused a strong economic decline in Toledo so it remained relatively stagnant until around 1980 when it started to attract the eye of tourism.
 
Cathedral of St Mary:
Toledo is the home of Spain's largest and most iconic Cathedral. Built on the site of an old Mosque, it took 250 years to complete. During construction, it went through several addition's and changes. It's a Hodge Podge of architectural styles, showing the many different tastes of the powerful people who rolled through Toledo. 
 
St Peter and St Paul festival:
I was there on June 29th, which happened to be a Saturday this year. June 29th is the joint feast in commemoration of the martyrdom (in Rome) of St. Peter and St. Paul. It's one of the largest Christian festivals, along the same lines as Christmas or Easter. In Spain they have a Spanish translation of the Mozarabic Rite Mass. Mozarabic means that the ceremony is the same as it was when Christian's in Spain were under Muslim rule. They had adopted Muslim language and culture but remained Christians. I was part of the capacity crowd attending the mass and it was several hours long. Normally I would not take pictures during a mass. However, when a few, probably non-Christian, Asian tourist's, crashed the mass near the end and started snapping zillion's of pictures. I discretely joined in, and snapped a few of my own.
 
There is a huge and long ceremony that occurs outside before the mass starts. It's easier to look at the pictures and follow the captions, then to read it here. Pretty much, they have several hand carried iconic floats, flag bearer's, axe bearer's and virgin's who parade through the city before assembling in front of the Cathedral, where a small ceremony takes place. Then they line up and move inside of the Cathedral for mass. 
 
Float Assembly/Disassembly:
The pre-festival activities, the day and night before were pretty amazing. I was outside when the police motorcade escorted several moving van's up to the Cathedral. Many of the floats that they use, were made in Medieval times and have lots of gold in them. I am guessing these are normally in Museum's elsewhere in Spain, where they are dismantled, moved to the Cathedral, then reassembled. They unloaded about a zillion wooden boxes, then opened them. Some poor dude (without any instructions) had to figure out how to reassemble them. He looked completely overwhelmed, like he was saying, "Damn, I wish I would have played closer attention when Josepi was putting these together !!!". On the plus side, he had lots of very attractive women helping him. I would have offered, but I don't think the dudes with the guns would have approved of that. 
 
After the mass was over, there is a mad rush to get them disassembled, put back in the wooden cases and back on the moving van's. All under the watchful eye of the Spanish police.
 
El Greco:
Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a Greek artist, who studied in Rome, then moved to Toledo where he was commissioned to make several religious pieces. Unable to pronounce his name, they just called him the Greek (El Greco). The Santa Cruz museum in Toledo has a bunch of his work's in it. Simply fantastic. His medium was oil on canvas which blended vibrant colors, translucency and majesty in both the natural and supernatural worlds. El Greco is the best supernatural painter of all time, in my opinion. 
 
War Museum:
Toledo has a pretty sweet military arms museum as well. It has a few piece's that I have never seen before and also has some very high quality ancient armor displays.
 
The city itself is awesome. About as Medieval as it gets.

Tags:

Travel

Spain - Madrid

by Kimp 21. June 2013 23:40
 
I love Spain:
One of these times, I'm going to go to Spain and one of two things is going to happen. I'm either not going to leave, or I'm going to leave with a wife. This time, I didn't leave with a wife, but I think that I may have been adopted by a family while I was there.  It's been said, that the people we are most attracted to are a result of experiences we had before we were 5 years old. Not sure what Spanish cutie, I really liked, when I was under 5, but she must have really been something. I can remember one that looked Spanish when I was in 3rd grade and yes, she was really something.
 
I was attending a large European Technical conference and was really sick the whole time I was in Spain (the sickness ended up lasting 6 weeks, I'll write about that later), but someone had paid a lot for me to be there, so I didn't want to back out at the last second. I did cancel several trips after this one. The sickness slowed me down a little but I kept up a pretty good pace and continued to function while I learned to live with the disabilities that I had. I had a very close friend, named Tina, who went though a lot of serious health problems, and I watched her continue to function and not let that slow her down. I use those memories, to give me strength, when I'm less then 100%. 
 
Spain as a whole is really struggling economically, but Madrid is doing very well, much better then most of Europe. Most of Spain's large companies are in Madrid and its standard of living is relatively high. 
 
Madrid History:
Madrid wasn't always the capital of Spain. Toledo was. In the 9th century, the Muslims built a fortress at Madrid (which means three rivers), to protect Toledo from attack by the Christians. The Christians were able to conquer it in 1085 and in 1561 it became the Capital of Spain, mostly because Toledo is on the top of a hill and could not be expanded. In 1806 France and Spain were allies against the United Kingdom after the UK wiped out the Spanish Navy. Spain was unable to convince Portugal to take their side in the matter, so they invited French troops to enter their country to attack Portugal. The Spanish people were upset that French troops were allowed to enter and revolted against the king. Napoleon siezed that opportunity to capture the Spanish kingdom for himself. However there was a large resistance to this amongst the Spanish population and eventually the resistance teamed up with Portugal and the UK to retake the throne in 1813.
 
A civil war broke in Spain in 1936. The dictator Francisco Franco's Nationalist party won the civil war and he became Spain's Ruler. Under Franco the Spanish economy flourished, however, shortly before his death in 1975, he appointed the grandson of Spain's former King, Juan Carlos, as the king. After Franco died the new king implemented democracy.
 
One of the nice features of Madrid is that it's elevation is fairly high, 2200 ft (700 m), and there are mountains in the vicinity. This gives it both low humidity and cool nights. by days its warm and dry, and by night, it is cool and dry.

Madrid metro (subway):
Madrid's metro is a web design (similar to Paris). That means that you can pretty much get on any train going any direction and find a route to your destination that doesn't backtrack. Makes for easily taking a section out for maintenance at any time. It probably sounded great when they were first selling the concept. The problem is that it is difficult to predict the traffic patterns and most subway stop's are extremely congested with people in transition as well as people entering and exiting at that stop. Also there are long transition paths when changing trains with multiple levels of stairs and it is easy to get on a train in the wrong direction. The congestion is also magnified when a section is out for service, or a special event is taking place. Many stop about every block which slows things down as well. Just plan for a long subway ride. The one nice thing is that they are air conditioned and quite comfortable on the inside. Picture the days before there were interstates and you had to drive on secondary roads through cities.
 
Conference:
The conference was in the Madrid Exposition Center, which has a beautiful long courtyard going down the center of it. During the conference, by lunch time,  I was completely exhausted (due to being sick) and my stomach could not handle much food, so I would go into the courtyard and lay down on one of the benches and just bask in the sun. It was like laying on the beach. Just that hour of laying the sun, gave me enough energy to make it through the rest of the day.
 
Family I stayed with:
While attending the conference I stayed with a Spanish family. The father was named Ignacio and the mother was named Maria. They had been married for about 25 years. From my point of view, it looked like a fairly close and loving marriage. Their was a famous Spanish priest named Ignacio, who started a revolt against Napoleon on May 2nd, 1808.  He inspired the citizens of Madrid to revolt against the French troops and the revolutionaries were slaughtered. The next day the French troops, rounded up the ring leaders and put them in front of a public firing squad. When I heard this dudes name was Ignacio, I wasn't sure what I was in for. I was picturing a fairly radical dude. He turned out to be about my age and was an old school software developer that I really got along well with.
 
 As soon as I saw his wife, I knew I was in good hands. She grew up in the era when Franco was dictator. Franco stressed that a woman's role was taking care of her parents, her brothers, and her children.  From very early on, it was evident to me that she was treating me like I was her brother. Her dad had owned a construction company and had built the entire upscale development that they lived in. He had given a house to her and most of her relatives lived in houses that were adjacent to their house.
 
They had a brilliant daughter who was attending private college majoring in Economy, under a 5 year program. Four years of economy then one year of marketing. All of their daughters friends were extremely smart. One was in pre-med, and another was in engineering. I seldom meet women engineers, so her and I talked a lot. She spoke excellent English and was told by many that she should have taken language studies, but she choose engineering instead. All I kept thinking was, "Man, wish I was 30 years younger."
 
The end of the second day of conference left me completely drained.  I just wanted to go back to their house and sleep until I had to get up the next day. I get there and Maria wants me to eat supper with them. Spanish people are late people. They get up late, eat supper around 9 P.M. and go to bed after midnight. She didn't ask me if I wanted to eat with them, she told me that I was eating supper with them. In fact she was headed to the market to get something special for the meal. So I went with them. We walked to a local market that looked like a convenience store. In the US this type of store would have mostly junk food in it. In Spain, there is a Deli counter in the back, a whole wall of fresh meat, fresh fruit and healthy snacks. No junk food at all. Oh man, it was awesome.
 
We ate on the outdoor patio and, oh man, what an awesome meal. It was like a smorgasbord of regular and special home cooked Spanish Cuisine. I was about to sit down at the side of the table and Maria adamantly commands, "No, you are no sitting there. Sit there!!!" as she points to the head of the table. "You are the Presidente." They had a few people over and I ended up hanging out and talking until around midnight. One of the funniest parts was after the meal. Ignacio and I were the only males and all of the rest were females. All of the women jump up at the same time to clear off the table, so I get up to help. Ignacio says quietly but sternly, "Dude! Sit back down!!!". After they left, he tells me that I need to learn a lesson in machismo. He says, "Let the women, do the women's work. You and I are supposed to just sit here, relax, and have a beer.". From my point of view, this machismo thing, is growing on me pretty quick.
 
Cooking isn't a science, its an art form:
After they clean up, all of the young girls in the house gather around, and mom teaches them how to make an awesome desert. It doesn't matter if they are family, friends, friends of family, or complete strangers, all young women in the house are required to and enjoy participating in this art class. Unlike the recipe science where you have to have certain ingredients, it has to be perfectly measured and the science procedure has to be followed perfectly, this is an art class. You just take a little of this, a little of that, oh I think I'll try a little of this today cause it's in season and I just got it at the market, gee we're out of something I normally use, so I'll just substitute this for that. It all comes together nicely and magically appears at the table as simply scrumptious.      
 
Party at the Casa de Campo:
One of the days after the conference, we were all treated to a huge party at a place called Casa De Campo. I told Maria that I wouldn't be home for dinner that night because I was meeting some friends for dinner and that I would be home very late.
 
Casa de Campo is a park district on the edge of Madrid. It's a picnic place, amusement park and zoo by day, but takes a complete 180 degree switch at night, read on.  It was getting near dark when we got there, so we all just hurried on in. It was one of those stand up parties, where you just mingle the whole time and women dressed up in either French Maid outfits or wearing a Tuxedo with a bow tie serve you drinks and hors d'oeuvres. About four hours later, it was extremely dark as I was leaving for the long walk to the subway train back to where I was staying. A short distance in front of me, under a light I could see a women wearing what looked like an extremely short shirt. As I got closer, it kind of looked like it wasn't a skirt, but was more of a stretchy type top. She had a nice physic, so I figured that was probably a dancer who was wearing skin tone leggings. As I closed in, I could clearly tell that those weren't leggings, that was skin tone colored skin. As I started to look around, gee there's another, then another, then another. Oh, I am smack dap in the middle of the red light district. This was quite a sight and I couldn't help but take in the rest of the sights as I was on my way to the subway station.
 
When I got back to the place I was staying, Maria asked me where I had dinner at. I immediately said, "Casa De Campo, and it was really good!". All she said was, "Oh", with a surprised look on her face. That's when I remembered that, that's the red light district. Gee, if I was thinking, I could have just said that we didn't really eat, we just kind of hung out and snacked and drank and I wasn't sure exactly where we were at. 
 
The next day during a break, I researched and found out that people have complained about how skimpy the women dress there, but the police will not do anything about it, citing that their dress is a requirement of their job.
 
Art Museums:
Another day, Maria says to me that she is going to have a little party. When I arrived I could tell that Maria liked to entertain. They had a sectional couch that sat about a dozen and a table that seated about 15, plus a nice outdoor patio with a big table.  She says, "It's just going to be a small party. Not going to be too many people. Probably just 25 or 30.". Holy smokes, what's big??? Madrid's museums are open late (until 10 P.M.), so I decided that would be a great night to hit two of Spain's museums.
 
Madrid has the best painting museum in the world. It's called the Prado. The Spanish kings were fascinated by the Italian Renaissance, so there are Italian Renaissance paintings as well as painting's from some of the Spanish Masters; El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. They don't have just a few masterpieces from each, they have entire rooms of masterpieces.
 
The Francisco Goya exhibit covered his entire life, which was the most fascinating for me. He was the official Royal court painter. Besides the normal formal royal portraits, he also created several paintings of the royal family out having a great time. Playing games, dancing, picnicking, partying and relaxing. For a short while, he created several risqué paintings. One of the them was the first of a mortal nude woman. Before this time, only goddesses were painted in the nude. 
 
Then during the Napoleon era, he became a political rebel, painting the firing squad of May 3rd,1808 and also several other's depicting disasters of war.  It is suspected that the lead in his paint made him both deaf and insane in his later years. He hide in seclusion and painted several very dark paintings on the walls of the house. Dark both in color and mood. All of this is in the Prado. Simply the biggest and most awesome exhibit I have ever seen. I could feel, what he was feeling, during the span of his life. 
 
The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is a modern art museum which had a huge Dali exhibit while I was there and it also always has Picasso's famous Guernica painting. Its one of Spain's national treasures. Guernica was a town in Spain that Franco (the dictator) had bombed during Spain's civil war. During the civil war, Franco was allied with Hitler and Mussolini. In 1937, Hitler who was preparing for WWII, sent his Luftwaffe on a bombing run of Guernica to see what kind of destruction they would cause. At that time, Picasso was in exile in Paris and had been commissioned by the side fighting against Franco, to create a painting for the 1937 Worlds fair in Paris. After Picasso read (in the NY Times) the account of the slaughtering of innocent civilians in Guernica, he changed his plans, and painted a very large mural sized canvas portraying the effects of that attack. He completed it in a little more than one month. After the World's fair it went on a world tour. To stand in the Reina Sofia, amongst all of Spanish people, and feel the powerful message that painting portrays, is really emotional. 
   
Flamenco Dancers:
I went to the Flamenco district one Saturday night to catch a show. In my opinion, it wasn't quite the caliber of the impromptu shows that Jason and I had seen in Seville, but it was very nice. It was about midnight when I got up to leave and the waitress was pretty much begging me to stay, "You can't leave, it's not finished yet!!!". That was extremly tempting, but I was just too sick to stay. All I could think about was getting back to the air conditioned room, where I was staying, and sleeping until noon the next day.    
 
The covert nun operation:
There is a cookie speakeasy in Madrid. It is inside of a monestary. I rang the door bell, and heard a woman's voice say "Si". Then I clearly pronounced the magic password "Dulces". (Dol-thays) is the code word for, "I'm a fat American and I want me some cake". The latch was remotely released and I entered alone. Once inside, I was still alone. Kind of spooky, since I thought I would see another human after I entered. A smart person would have probably followed the arrows, which I didn't see at first. I kind of wandered around the monestary on my own for a while, looking for the cake dispenser I had heard about (a lazy Susan). Not finding it, I returned to the entrance then saw the arrows, which lead me to it. I ordered my goodies from a menu, a nun's voice appeared from nowhere, telling me what to pay. I placed the money on the lazy Susan and it spun, then magically my money was replaced with cookies and change. The lemon biscuit cookies are exceptional.
 

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