Review of ‘Doing Germany’

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Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta is a different kind of travelogue. Follow the adventures and misadventures of the author, a Polish-Canadian who loves Italy, as she leaves Italy with M after accidentally stepping on his toes in a crowded Italian night club.

Lovers of travel stories will be enthralled by this author’s view of an alien country, its differences and similarities to her hybrid native culture, and her responses as she learns to call Germany ‘home.’

This book will make you laugh until you shed tears, and in some places will just cause tears, but in the end, you’ll be aching to read the follow-on book to see where life goes for Agnieszka, now a wife and mother, and you’ll wonder, is she ‘doing’ Germany, or is Germany ‘doing’ her.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars for its sheer chutzpah.

Review of ‘In Search of Robinson Crusoe’

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Since the time the sun never set on the British Empire, and despite having a rather gray and lackluster cuisine, Brits have excelled as travel writers. Tim Severin’s In Search of Robinson Crusoe is but another example of that excellence. An intrepid explorer and excellent scribe, Severin traveled the lands described in Daniel Defoe’s books to see if he could discover the identity of the real life castaway upon whom Defoe based his book, or if it was based upon the voluntary castaway, Alexander Selkirk, as many believe.

Moving back and forth in time, with summaries of the past interspersed with descriptions of his own often hazardous, sometimes hilarious, journeys, Severn effectively debunks the myths, and comes to the conclusion that Defoe based his character upon an entirely different castaway. I won’t spoil the book for you by identifying that worthy. I’ll just suggest you get the book and find out for yourself.

Severn writes in a vivid style, complete with self-deprecating wit that will make this  perhaps one of the best travelogues, historical narratives, adventure books you’ll read in a while. I give it five stars!

Capturing the Moment – Preserving the Memory

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In addition to writing, photography and art have always been my passions. I use all three to capture the essence of the places I’ve been in my life. Travel, by the way, is another passion, which makes a great quartet.

I’d like to share here some of the images I’ve captured with my camera over the past several years – just a few of the thousands of images I’ve snapped across the globe. Missing from my collection are photos taken during my visits to South and Central America – I was unable to take a camera on those trips, so I’m limited to describing them in writing.

The different faces of Africa

The people and places of the continent are a lot more varied than most foreigners think.

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And, of course, one mustn’t forget the animals

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Just a few shots of Cambodian scenes, one of the ten countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Pacifica I’ve visited.

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Just a few snaps of western Europe.

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Finally, I’ve done thousands of photos of various regions right here in the good old USA – animals, people, and places of interest – some quite literally in my back yard.

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Just a sampling which I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed.


My Top 5 Trips in 2013

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This year, 2013, which is almost over, is the first full year since my retirement from government service. Having spent 50 years traveling for the government, I’ve become addicted to packing and spending a fair amount of time in hotels around the world. I feared that being retired would put a huge crimp in one of my favorite pastimes, but so far, I’ve been pleased to discover that, even in retirement, there are many travel opportunities.

Despite an accident in July, when I fell and broke my right hip, resulting in six weeks of limited mobility when the doctors thought it was just a bruise, and another twelve weeks of being confined to my house when they found a small fracture that required surgery, I’ve still accumulated a lot of travel miles. With a month and a half left in the year, my travel will be restricted to subway trips from my home in suburbia to downtown Washington, DC, but I still had five great journeys that have made 2013 a memorable year.

Arizona and New Mexico

In March, I was invited to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona to participate in the Air Force’s major personnel recover exercise, Angel Thunder. Unlike past exercises, I didn’t get to do any helicopter trips, but did do several road trips between Tucson and Playas, New Mexico, with a side trip to historic Tombstone, Arizona.









The Canada-based magazine Afrique Expansion invited me to join a media delegation traveling to Cameroon in May to cover Cameroon’s national day celebrations. In addition, we did road trips around the capital Yaounde and then drove to the port city of Douala. Included were visits to a tourist village and an ape sanctuary.









Dearborn, Michigan

After returning to the U.S. from Cameroon, I left home the next day for Dearborn, MI, where I was the grand marshal for the city’s Memorial Day parade. Great visits to the Ford Museum and Ford Village, which included a ride on a turn-of-the century carousel.









Chautauqua Institution, New York

Chautauqua Institution, in western New York, is home to the country’s oldest public book club. Despite a broken hip (which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time) I drove up to participate in the institution’s activities. A historic site, and a great place to spend a week in the summer.










Suffolk, Virginia

After my hip fracture was diagnosed and I had surgery, I was housebound for more than ten weeks. My doctor, however, cleared me to drive and move around on crutches just in time for me to travel to Virginia’s east coast to work with a team of defense consultants in Suffolk, VA during the second week in November.








In addition to some great scenery, which I photographed madly, each trip was a culinary delight. From eating some rather exotic dishes in Cameroon to mouth-watering barbecue in Suffolk, I partook of local delights at each venue. For the rest of 2013, I plan to rest up and get ready for 2014.

Come Fly With Me: Traveling from the Bottom to the Top of the World

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I’m hip deep in NaNoWriMo, doing pro bono work for a professional association, in the formative stages of a consulting job with the Department of Defense, and recovering from a hip operation; so, participating in NoBloPoMo, while tempting, is just a keyboard too far. I couldn’t pass up, though, a chance to blog about traveling suggested by the Daily Prompt: Come Fly With Me.

I spent the past 50 years traveling from one end of the earth to another. Beginning in 2012 in a little town in East Texas with a population of just over 700, I’ve since lived in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central America, and have visited every continent except Antarctica. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve effectively circumnavigated the earth – between 2006 and 2009, for instance, I flew an average of 200,000 miles per year, including multiple trips to Western Europe, East and Southeast Asia, South America, and Russia. I think South Dakota is the only U.S. state I’ve never visited.

So, it becomes a bit difficult to describe the furthest I’ve ever traveled from home, because home has changed location almost every year for me until I retired from public service last year and more or less settled in suburban Maryland, just outside DC, to write, consult, and speak full time from a fixed base of operations. No single trip stands out as being the farthest. They’ve all been far in one way or another – either in distance traveled, or cultural change experienced. There is, though, one trip that stands out as probably the oddest.

When I lived in Zimbabwe, in southern Africa, I was asked to attend two conferences that were taking place in the same week. The problem is, one was in Cape Town, South Africa and the other was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and it was in December. It took some juggling, but my travel office figured out how to make it happen. So, on a warm December day, I left Harare, Zimbabwe and flew to Cape Town, where the weather was also balmy. I got up the next day and attended the meetings. When they were finished, I rushed to the airport and took off for Denmark, arriving in Copenhagen around midday the next day. I was greeted by ice hanging from eaves and piles of snow all over the place. Me and my two suitcases (yes, I had to pack one for warm weather and one for cold) survived the trip, though, and I now have the bragging rights of traveling from near the bottom to near the top of the world in one day. That’s a trip that’s not only far, but far out.

Golden Lion with the bay and Table Mountain in the background.
Golden Lion with the bay and Table Mountain in the background.
Building in Copenhagen across the river from my hotel.
Building in Copenhagen across the river from my hotel.

Cameroon: A Photographic Tour

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Located in West-Central Africa on the Atlantic coast, Cameroon has Nigeria to the north, Chad to the northeast, Central African Republic to the east, and the countries of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Republic of the Congo to the south. Its location makes it easy to see why many consider it the ‘crossroads of Africa;’ a place where many tribes and cultures meet. A francophone country, with both French and English as the official languages (although French predominates), it has more than 50 tribes, each with its own language.

I had a chance to visit Cameroon in May as part of a Canadian-US media delegation invited to participate in the country’s 38th Unity Day celebration. After the Unity Day parade, my delegation toured Yaoundé and its environs, including a visit to a primate sanctuary, the tourist village of Ebogo, and along the coast, from Batanga Beach in the south to the sprawling port city of Douala (the country’s largest city).

During our tours, we encountered the exotic cuisine, a fusion of France and West Africa, and saw a lot of what the country has to offer in friendly people and magnificent scenery. The visit was all too short, but nonetheless interesting, and I hope one day to return to explore those regions that I didn’t have time for on this short one-week visit.

Following are some of the photos of this memorable journey.

The Unity Memorial in Yaounde
The Unity Memorial in Yaounde
Yaoundé is called 'the city of seven hills,' and in this picture you can see why.
Yaoundé is called ‘the city of seven hills,’ and in this picture you can see why.
A chimpanzee at the primate sanctuary located southeast of Yaoundé.
A chimpanzee at the primate sanctuary located southeast of Yaoundé.
Our guide, who called himself 'the last crocodile,' in front of a tree that's more than 1,000 years old, in the equatorial forest near Ebogo.
Our guide, who called himself ‘the last crocodile,’ in front of a tree that’s more than 1,000 years old, in the equatorial forest near Ebogo.
A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.
A hammock on Grand Batanga Beach, south of Douala.
Vendors walking along the beach south of Douala.
Vendors walking along the beach south of Douala.
A scene in the grand market in Douala, where vendors from all over the region converge to sell their wares.
A scene in the grand market in Douala, where vendors from all over the region converge to sell their wares.
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Dearborn, Michigan: American History on Display

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Dearborn, Michigan, one of the many small towns that gird Detroit, is the world headquarters of Ford Motor Company. Little known to many outside the Great Lakes area except for the occasional news story about clashes between fundamentalist Christian outsiders and the town’s Middle Eastern community, it might not make the short list for vacation spots. And, that’s really too bad, because it’s actually quite a nice place to visit.

The bus that Rosa Parks rode in when she refused to give up her seat to a white man.
The bus that Rosa Parks rode in when she refused to give up her seat to a white man.

Dearborn, in its present incarnation, came into being on January 9, 1929, when voters approved a charter consolidating the towns of Fordson and Dearborn. The new, enlarged Dearborn was on the way to becoming one of the major cities in Michigan. As might be intuited from the ‘Fordson’ name, even then this area was dominated by Ford, which is why, even with a population of only around 250,000, the city still looms large in state affairs.

Located astride I-64, and abutting Detroit’s southwest, Dearborn is only fifteen minutes from Detroit Metro Airport, making it easy to get to be plane or by car.  Once there, you’ll find yourself immersed in history like never before – and, that is the main reason this city is a must for your summer vacation itinerary.

An historical starting point for a stay in Dearborn is the Dearborn Inn, located at 20301 Oakwood Boulevard.  On 23 acres of landscaped grounds, this colonial-style hotel was the first airport hotel in America, built to serve passengers at the now-defunct Ford Airport, which was located across the street on what is now part of the expansive Ford Motor Company campus. A fireplace in the large lobby, complete with oil paintings and period furniture, evoke images of upscale life at the turn of the century. The Edison Room offers modern dining, but still has the table reserved for Henry Ford’s visits.  The spacious rooms, overlooking the tree-covered grounds, have large screen HD TV and wireless internet for today’s business traveler.

Presidential limos: from Teddy Roosevelt's horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan's armored car. On display at the Henry Ford Museum.
Presidential limos: from Teddy Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan’s armored car. On display at the Henry Ford Museum.

Within walking distance of Dearborn Inn, are the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford is a 12-acre museum, built by Ford in 1929 to showcase Yankee ingenuity. Exhibits include Thomas Edison’s laboratory and the bus upon which started civil rights protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Exhibits from the various world fairs show the visionary musings of past eras in America, and the country’s journey from an agrarian to an industrialized society.  Adjacent to the Henry Ford is Greenfield Village, where many of the actual buildings and shops that figured in American history are on display. At the village, you can take a ride on a steam of diesel train, be chauffeured around in a vintage Model T, a horse-drawn carriage ride, or ride on a hundred-year-old carousel. Volunteers in period costumes operate a farm, workshops, and stores. Admission to the museum and village is a bit expensive, but worth the price for the exposure to aspects of American history that are often left out of school curricula, and the fun for children from eight to eighty.

One doesn’t have to be in Dearborn long to realize that it’s a company town – and, the company is Ford. Members of the Ford family are immortalized in street names, school names, and plaques all over. But, it’s a company town with a difference, reflecting the personality of Henry Ford, a farmer at heart who liked to build things. As Ford built his auto empire (which also included aircraft manufacture before World War II), he provided employment to all regardless of race, nationality, or religion (although Henry Ford was thought to be somewhat anti-Semitic, he also employed Jews in his plants). The most notable community, though, is from the Middle East. Dearborn is home to more Arab-speaking people than anywhere else outside the Middle East. To get a look at this community, a visit to the Arab-American National Museum is a must.

Take a ride in a vintage Ford at Greenfield Village.
Take a ride in a vintage Ford at Greenfield Village.

From the affluent west and south sides to town to the more working class neighborhoods of the north and east, near Ford’s Rouge River Plant, Dearborn has a small-town atmosphere; where people say hello as they pass on the street; with big city convenience. As might be expected, because of the large Arab population from diverse regions of the Arab world, there is an astonishing selection of Middle Eastern restaurants.

Did You Miss Me?

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I’ll be disappointed if no one noticed that I’ve been strangely silent for the past week. I spent the week in Cameroon, in West-Central Africa, as part of a Canadian-US media delegation that attended the country’s national day. Just got back home early today. We also had a chance to visit some of the tourist spots around Yaounde and along the Atlantic coast. I’ll be doing more detailed articles here on the blog and on Yahoo, but here are a few of the phot

Lobe Waterfall.
Lobe Waterfall.

os I took while there.

Chimpanzee at primate sanctuary south of Yaounde.
Chimpanzee at primate sanctuary south of Yaounde.
Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.
Boat on the Atlantic beach south of the port city of Douala.

Hiking the Shenandoah Hills – It Hurts and Feels Good at the Same Time

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I recently let my wife talk me into going mountain climbing with her and some of her Korean friends.  Read more here.

"Hiking the Shenandoah"
My wife, Myung (r) and one of her friends with my ‘true’ friends, two bottles of ‘makoli,’ or Korean rice beer. That made the climb worth it.