Seattle

July 28, 2013

June 26. The 2013 Western Economic Association Meetings were in Seattle, so we left two days early to spend some time at Mount Rainier. Melanie was free, so she joined us. We arrived at Sea-Tac airport, rented a car, and drove to Alta Crystal Resort. It was smaller and more rustic than we had anticipated, but the housing (a loft, with Melanie upstairs and us downstairs) was very nice. It came with a kitchen, so we cooked our own meals. The best part of the condo was the skylight, which poured indirect light into the living room to make it cheerful, even when it was overcast. The complex was surrounded by tall evergreens, so we felt in a secluded in wilderness.

Our first afternoon there, we went for a short hike to “Goat Falls”. The falls were not very high; they reminded us of Bushkill Falls in Pennsylvania. There was a light but steady drizzle, not enough to soak us but enough to get us wet.

Eva and Melanie enjoying the drizzle

Eva and Melanie enjoying the drizzle

We decided to take a different route back and took a wrong turn, which we realized after we stepped over several fallen trees and ducked down under many branches. As the path became less and less penetrable, so we doubled back, which made for a fairly long walk home.
June 27. The second day, we went to the Grove of the Patriarchs in Mount Rainier National Park. A deer greeted us as the entrance to the park. The grove has some extremely old, extremely large trees.

At the Grove of the Patriarchs

At the Grove of the Patriarchs

Big trees!

Big trees!

Eva and Melanie by a fallen tree

Eva and Melanie by a fallen tree

Beautiful patterns in the wood

Beautiful patterns in the wood

There was also a rope bridge, which Eva greatly enjoyed.

Eva sets out on the bridge

Eva sets out on the bridge

We then set out on a slightly longer hike to Silver Falls. Again, the falls were not very high, but the water here ran so fast that the whole area was shrouded in mist.

Eva at Silver Falls

Eva at Silver Falls

Melanie and Mike downriver

Melanie and Mike downriver

The resort held a bonfire that evening, complete with the fixings for S’mores, which proved great fun. The owner of the resort recommended that we take the light rail form the airport, where we had to return the car, to Seattle. We did not know that there was a train connecting the airport, so appreciated the advice.
June 28. Our last day in the mountains, we checked out and set out relatively early for Sunrise, which had opened for the summer just that morning. All the staff the tourist center was still excited about the season starting and urged us to buy stuff. At 6400 feet, it was still covered with snow.

Sunrise was pretty high

Sunrise was pretty high

But the surrounding mountains were even higher

But the surrounding mountains were even higher

A windy day

A windy day

And still lots of snow!

And still lots of snow!

We got our first views of Mount Rainier, as Alta Crystal was in a forest. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

The hiking trails were still closed that far up, so we walked along a service road for a while and then drove down to the White River Campground to hike a bit on the Emmons Moraine Trail. The contrast was stark. In the space of a few minutes, we went from snow to a warm summer day. Fortunately, the area was heavily forested as well as spectacular, so we did not get overheated.

It was hot lower down!

It was hot lower down!

But Eva still enjoyed the hike

But Eva still enjoyed the hike

We then drove back to the airport, dropped off the Hertz car (an amazingly efficient operation), and caught the Rail Link into downtown Seattle. The link is very new – it began operations in 2009 – and very efficient. We got off a short walk from our hotel, checked in, and registered for the conference.

There were lots of interesting places near the hotel

There were lots of interesting places near the hotel

June 29. The conference went very well. It is always fun to get together with other sports economists. The WEAI held a trip to a baseball game, so the three of us went. We were also able to get a ticket for Bill Ridmann. He met us at the hotel and we walked to the ballpark, enjoying the lovely setting of Seattle. The modern architecture, as well as the looks of the public transportation system with its trolley busses, reminded Eva a little of Kopenhagen. Bill is the grandson of Bobina, a school friend of Eva’s mother (got that?). Bobina emigrated to the US well before Eva’s family, and they reconnected in the late 1960s. Eva has stayed in contact with Bobina’s daughter, Marcella, and she put us in touch with her oldest son Bill, who now works for Microsoft.
The game turned out to be “Turn Back the Clock Day,” which is no small feat for the Seattle Mariners, who date back to only 1977. For one day, they became the Seattle Turks, a team that played in the old Northwest League in 1909. Their opponent was the Chicago Cubs, a team that last won a World Series the year before the Turks came (and went). It was a fun game between two also-ran teams in old-style uniforms, with the Cubs winning in extra innings. We were told how lucky we were to come to this game, as the special effects during the previous day were ear-shattering/deafening. Our game was quiet in comparison.
June 30. Eva was busy preparing for her talk, so Melanie entertained herself sightseeing. We had dinner with Peter on the verranda of a fourth-floor Mexican restaurant just across from our hotel. It was so calming and soothing to sit outside!
On July 1, Eva took off after lunch to see the Aquarium with Melanie—and it was worth it! The seals and sea otters could not be more fun and the giant octopus turned deep purple when fed. After the last session, we had dinner at a sidewalk stand that served delightful crepes. We then took the monorail to the Space Needle. We had hoped to see Chihuly Garden, which displays glasswork by Dale Chihuly near the needle. Unfortunately, there was a private event that evening, so all we could do was peek through the shrubbery, which gave us a surprisingly good idea of the grounds. As the sun slowly set and illuminated the skyscrapers in front of us, the view of the city, the bay, and especially Mount Rainier was magnificent. We could see as far south as the airport, and Eva was fascinated by the small “stars” emerging from the darkness beyond the airport, growing as they approached the airport until they seemed like real stars, and then disappearing again upon landing.
July 2. Eva visited the Woodland Zoo with Melanie in the morning and saw a young, still light brown, Japanese crane.

There were cranes

There were cranes

 

There were otters too!

There were otters too!

The conference ended at midday, so we spent the afternoon at the Seattle Arboretum. It is a beautiful, if under-labeled park. The high point of the arboretum proper was as stand of giant sequoias that were – well – giant.

At the Arboretum

At the Arboretum

There is also a beautiful Japanese garden adjacent to the arboretum.

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

We all got together with Bill Ridmann for dinner at Quinn’s, a very nice bar/restaurant in Seattle. One always associates Seattle with coffee, but the city has also become a hub for microbreweries. Our waiter described the beers with a passion that rivaled a sommelier at some posh French restaurant.

With Bill Ridmann at Quinn's

With Bill Ridmann at Quinn’s

July 3. We checked out of the hotel, left our bags in storage, and took the bus to Redmond, the home of Microsoft. Bill had graciously offered to take us to lunch there and to show us around. They call it a campus for good reason. It reminded us of a very pretty college campus.

On campus with Bill

On “campus” with Bill

Even the cafeteria looked like a modern college cafeteria, with different food stations – though the food was of a considerably higher quality.

In front of Bill's office

In front of Bill’s office building

It felt like a college cafeteria since most of the customers looked like college-age males. It was “bring your child to work” day (we were Bill’s children for the day), so there was something of a festival atmosphere to the campus, with sports and other games in progress on many parts of campus.

Melanie on "campus"

Melanie on “campus”

After saying goodbye to Bill, we returned to Seattle, picked up our bags, and took the Link to Sea-Tac Airport. To our pleasant surprise, we managed to get one last look at Mount Rainier before getting on the plane.

A last look at Mount Rainier

A last look at Mount Rainier

An Unexpected Trip to China

June 15, 2013

An Unexpected Trip to China

Shortly after returning from a week in Japan for the Western Economic Association Pacific Rim Conference, I received a message from Temple’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISS) Office asking whether I wanted to be part of a delegation to schools in China and Taiwan. How could I answer anything but “yes”? The trip was not finalized until late April and was to take place in mid-May, so the arrangements were rushed, but it all worked out, and on May 17, I met Jeffrey Montague, Assistant Dean of the School of Tourism and Hospitality, and Martyn Miller, Senior Director of Student Services at ISS, for a limo from Temple to JFK. The flights from JFK to Narita (how odd not to take the train to Tokyo Station!) and from Narita to Taiwan went smoothly, and I soon found myself in the Sheraton Four Points in New Taipei City, the first of six hotels.

A view from my hotel room in New Taipei City

A view from my hotel room in New Taipei City

 
May 19 (Sunday)
There really was no May 18 for me, between crossing the international dateline and about 21 hours traveling from North Philadelphia. With a free day to adjust to the 12-hour time difference before beginning our visits, our day was dominated by food. After breakfast in the hotel, Jeffrey and I set about exploring the neighborhood. I initially thought that the area had nothing but motorcycle shops until I realized that motor scooters were the dominant form of transportation and that people simply parked their scooters in front of their place of employment. On our walk, Jeffrey and I bought what turned out to be a mix between a scallion pancake and okonomiyaki. We agreed on toppings by pointing, nodding, and smiling. The result was delicious.
Not long after, we met several former Temple students at a vegetarian restaurant in town. Jeffrey eats no red meat, and Martyn eats only vegetables and fish, so my own dietary limits were not significantly binding. The students, one of whom – Sherry – I had met at Temple, showed a real affection for Martyn.

Lunch in Taipei

Lunch in Taipei

 

We returned to the hotel after several hours of enjoyable food and conversation. By comparison, dinner in the hotel’s “Western” restaurant was undistinguished. The most notable part of dinner was seeing Manny Ramirez, who now plays in Taiwan’s professional baseball league, on TV.

May 20 (Monday)
Today I was a spectator on a trip to Tamkung University. There had been hopes that I would visit Tamkung’s economics department at a different campus, but they fell through. The trip to Tamkung was over an hour and had three highlights. First, we went through the Hsuehshuan (Snow Mountain) Tunnel. It is 8 miles long, making it the fifth longest passenger tunnel in the world. The second highlight was the lushness of the countryside. I had always thought of Taiwan as highly urbanized, but we drove past some highly forested areas. In fact, some were so dense that they resembled a rainforest. The final highlight was our trip up a steep hill to the campus. The location makes for dramatic views (though clouds and rain limited what we could see), but the cabbie was so unnerved that he stopped the cab several times to ask whether we really meant to go any farther.
Jeffrey’s presentation went well, though we were all a bit unnerved by seeing that the (mostly female) audience was dressed to the nines. When we asked why, we were told that the students in the Tourism program had to dress up every Monday as part of their “professional development.” Maybe Temple should try something like this. Ironically, after returning home, I realized that I had encountered Tamkung University before. A group of faculty and administrators had visited TUJ while I was there.

May 21
In contrast to our long ride the previous day, our ride to National Taipei University (NTPU) was only five minutes long. We met with officials from the International Affairs office and exchanged gifts. It was a good thing that Pearson sent me copies of my sports text because it helped balance out the exchange, as NTPU – and most of the other stops – gave us very nice gifts.

Jeff Montague and me at welcome sign from NTPU

Jeff Montague and me at welcome sign from NTPU

Two “student ambassadors” led us on a tour of NTPU’s seven-year old campus. It is very pretty and is marked by “theme buildings”.

Jeff, Martyn, and me with our student guides

Jeff, Martyn, and me with our student guides

 

For example, the law school was made to resemble a government office.

With representative from international affairs office at NTPU

With representative from international affairs office at NTPU

My seminar, the determinants of women’s Olympic performance, went fairly well. One Taiwanese student asked a question that would have caused a stir in the US: “Shouldn’t one account for the number of blacks in a country when looking at athletic performance?” Her question showed both an innocence of the volatility of race issues in the US and a willingness to speak up that distinguished the Taiwanese students from their Chinese counterparts. Interestingly the student, who will be an exchange student at Temple in the fall, said she wanted to take my course when she arrives. We’ll see if she does.
At lunch I discussed several possible programs with members of the economics program. We discussed their sending students to our “3+2” program in which students come to Temple as seniors and in two years receive a BA from their home school and an MA from Temple. To my surprise, the faculty from NTPU were even more interested in a “2+2” program, in which students spend their last two years at the other school and then receive two BAs. I’ll have to discuss this with the powers that be at Temple.
With time to kill before our plane left for China, we relaxed in the lobby of hour hotel and were joined by Tiffany, a charming young woman whom I had met at lunch a few days earlier. Because Tiffany lives close to the airport, she accompanied us there, where we caught our flight to Xiamen.
May 22
Xiamen is on a small island just off the coast of the mainland. Like the weather in Taiwan, it was hot, humid, and frequently raining. At the Xiamen Millennium Hotel, we met up with Dan and Tissa Canney. Dan is a professor in Temple’s Pharmacy School. Because the schools we visited in Taiwan did not have Pharmacy programs, they met us here.
My talk at Xiamen University was in front of students and several faculty, and it went fairly well. Interestingly, one of the faculty is from Ohio.

Martyn and me with our Xiamen hosts

Martyn and me with our Xiamen hosts

 

They took us to a vegetarian restaurant near campus, located – amusingly enough – next to a place called “Prague Café.”

Probably the best Czech food in Xiamen!

Probably the best Czech food in Xiamen!

 

The faculty at Xiamen are eager to promote exchanges of faculty and students. They proposed 3-2, 2-2, and even 1-3 programs. They also have 3-week long summer programs, which might be a good opportunity for us to bring students from Temple, and numerous summer conferences. I am envious of their conferences, some of which feature prominent economists. One of the conferences this summer will honor Cheng Hsiao, for whom I was a TA in grad school!
We also spoke with a group of students who will be coming to Temple this fall. None of them will be in economics, though I spoke at length to one who will study Human Resources in the Fox School.

With Temple-bound Xiamen students

With Temple-bound Xiamen students

 

All of the students we met here and elsewhere were thoroughly delightful. The students accompanied us on a tour of campus, which completely floored me. Xiamen has to be the most beautiful campus I have ever seen.

A building on the Xiamen campus

A building on the Xiamen campus

 

Topping it off was a pond containing black swans.

A black swan!

A black swan!

 

The tour ended with a visit to the Nanputuo Temple, which abuts the campus.

Nanputuo Temple

Nanputuo Temple

 

It is a beautiful temple, though the swastika-like symbols were jarring.

Disturbing note in a beautiful setting

Disturbing note in a beautiful setting

 

Two of the students asked if we knew about the cakes that the Temple sold, which, apparently, are a local delicacy. When we said “no,” they bought us a box. The cakes were moist and coconutty.
After our visit, we headed straight to the airport, but our plane was delayed. As a result, we did not get to our hotel in Beijing (the Crowne Plaza U-town) until 12:30 am. On the positive side, we got upgrades to the executive club, which gave us all sorts of nice perks, such as more personalized concierge service.
May 23
We arose somewhat bleary-eyed at 6:00 the next morning to catch a shinkansen-like train to Tianjin, an attractive city an hour or so outside of Beijing, and Nankai University. I had a good conversation with a labor economist at Nankai who is analyzing changes in the income distribution in China. Again, Nankai is interested in expanding exchanges. They are concerned about balancing out exchanges, as not enough TU students go to Nankai. They mention a one-month summer visit as a way Temple could balance things out. Perhaps the most interesting part of the (huge) banquet lunch was the phallic napkin at one table setting. Apparently, it designates where the most important person should sit.
Jeff, Dan, and I gave back-to-back-to-back talks to the same audience, so I abbreviated and simplified my talk on the fly. As was typically the case in China, the students had no questions after my talk, but several students approached me informally afterward. Two of them might still try to enroll in the dual bachelors-masters degree (DBMD) program in the fall.
After the talks, we had a tour of town and went for a coffee in “Italian-style town.” It might have once been settled by Italians – there is a statue that appears to commemorate an Italian World Cup championship – but now it appears to be dominated by German restaurants, complete with Chinese waiters in lederhosen.

My batteries ran out, so this is my only picture of Tianjin

My batteries ran out, so this is my only picture of Tianjin

We returned to Beijing and immediately went to Tsinghua University, where John Smagula, the Director of Temple’s “Rule of Law” program, and Temple’s China recruiting staff meet us for dinner. We ate at a Buddhist restaurant whose philosophy is very different from the other restaurants we have visited. Rather than serving more food than one could possibly eat, this restaurant offers a discount to regular customers – but only if they eat everything that is served. The waiters actually come over to check to make sure the plates were empty!

May 24
Our party shrinks, as Jeffrey leaves for home. The remaining schools do not have Tourism programs. Today is my show, a visit to the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE). Our visit – technically to the School of Risk Management and Insurance – gets off to a rocky start, as the initial questions are all about how to expand ties to the Fox School. Things begin to improve when a professor from the School of International Relations joins the conversation. UIBE will be sending three students to the DBMD program, two to economics and one to communications.

At UIBE with the communications student and the two economics students

At UIBE with the communications student and the two economics students

 

They, too, are interested in bringing faculty over. They are willing to pay $300,000 over two years if a professor agrees to spend two 3-month periods teaching there. I’m not sure this offer is for people like me. Perhaps more on my level is a one-month program in July and August, for which they are willing to pay travel and hotel expenses as well as $200 per hour. Like several other schools, they are interested in a 2+2 BA program – as well as a 1+1 MA program.
The tour has several highlights. Before we even leave the building, I see a poster that has a picture of Fox Students, two of whom – Amber Ziminski and Kirk Czontska – were in Fox Honors when I was director. According to Martyn, the poster just uses their photo but has nothing to do with Temple.

An unexpected sight at UIBE

An unexpected sight at UIBE

 

The other is our seeing what may be the largest dormitory in the world. It holds up to 10,000 students (all women!). It houses 5 students in each 3 meter by 4 meter room. Ouch!
My talk is attended only by undergrads, so I again simplify. As before, there are no questions, so I offer to talk individually with the students about Temple. After a few very quiet, awkward moments, I am surrounded by six girls, who pepper me with questions about Temple.
After a very nice lunch, we go back to the hotel, where Martyn informs me that Chinese Pharmaceutical University – the last stop on our grand tour – is not particularly interested in hearing about Olympic medals and would like me to lecture on health economics. Fortunately, I built a senior seminar around health care reform a few years ago, so I sit with Martyn in the lobby, having a free beer (another perk of the “Executive Club”) and pounding out a health care presentation. The two UIBE students who will join the econ department come to the hotel to turn in their matriculation forms and $200 in cash (Temple does not yet realize that the rest of the world does not use checking accounts). They stay and talk with us for the rest of the afternoon. We eventually join Dan and Tissa for a (free) light dinner in the Executive Club.

May 25
This is our one true day off, so we head to the Great Wall. A driver recommended by John Smagula takes us to the Mutianyu section – the area Eva, Melanie, and I visited with the Rockoffs four years earlier. The views are magnificent. We go to a different section of the wall than I had visited previously, and the air is clearer this time. This allows us to admire the wall as it winds into the distance.

The wall follows the contour of the mountain

The wall follows the contour of the mountain

 

Another view from the wall

Another view from the wall

 

At the wall with Martyn, Dan, and Tissa

At the wall with Martyn, Dan, and Tissa

 

On the way back to Beijing, we stop at one of the Ming tombs. I had forgotten that there were several tombs in the area, and most of them are not even excavated. I was confused when things did not look the way I had remembered them. This tomb featured above-ground buildings, one of which had been converted into an interesting historical museum. As a result, we really didn’t see a tomb, but it was a nice visit nonetheless.

 

Ming tomb

Ming tomb

 

Another view of the tomb

Another view of the tomb

 

For dinner, John Smagula took us to a “Western-friendly” restaurant near the hotel. Interestingly, the area caters to Russians, to the degree that several storefronts had Cyrillic lettering in front. Over dinner John told us about a tea farm that he owns. Apparently, what I do not know about tea could fill several encyclopedias.

 

May 26
This is a travel day. We take a train ride to Hefei (over 700 miles in under 4 hrs). Hefei is a city that has outgrown its infrastructure. According to people there, it has gone from 500,000 to about 5 million people over the last decade or so. As a result, the streets and train station are overflowing, and the pollution rivals Beijing’s.

View from my room in Heifei

View from my room in Heifei

 

Still, dinner at our hotel (a nice Holiday Inn) is enjoyable, especially because Lu Futao, a DBMD student who had just received his MA from Temple made a 4-hour trip to Hefei to join us. Futao had been a student at the University of Science and Technology in China (USTC) in Hefei. Adding to the fun at dinner, a waitress, who remained vigilantly at our table, spoke Japanese, so I was able to practice what little I retain. I find that I often fall in to “Japanisms” in China, inadvertently saying “dozo” or “arigato” (please and thank you) and bowing to everyone in sight – apparently bowing is somewhat frowned upon in China.

May 27
It’s back to the routine, though with a bit of a twist. Many (all?) of the schools we have visited are part of the “211” Chinese Educational Program. That means that the government has designated each for particular investment in the 21st century (“21”) as one of the top 100 schools (“1”) in the country. USTC is elite even in this company – and it is not afraid of saying so. It is clear that we are selling to them, rather than their selling to us. There is no talk of our coming over or bringing students. They regard us as an outlet for their second-tier students. The best ones go – first as grad students and then as faculty – to Harvard or Stanford. Apparently, the youngest person ever to be granted tenure at Harvard is a chemist who got her (!) undergraduate degree at USTC. I don’t mind taking lesser USTC students because their second-best shine for us. There is some discussion of how to submit the senior theses that their students write at Temple. They want us to send the theses to Martyn with a few evaluative paragraphs on separate paper.
USTC has an interesting history. It is a new school, founded only in 1958 by faculty who came from the West. As a result, the school has always followed a US model, rather than a Soviet model, which is apparently unique in China. They do not fully explain what this means, but I assume that it involves combining teaching with research (“active learning” to use current jargon). The school was originally in Beijing but was moved south to Hefei in 1970. Our hosts tell us that the move was in response to fears of a Soviet attack, but we have heard separately that it was actually to protect the faculty and school from the Cultural Revolution.
My talk to Public Administration students and faculty seems to go pretty well. This school is only a few years old, but it is already inviting top faculty from around the world to a variety of conferences. My one entrée here might be the fact that they have a Sports Administration segment that consists partly of former elite athletes. Given my expertise, they might be interested in even my modest skills. There had been no formal exchange of gifts, but when I give a copy of my textbook to the Dean of the School, a tin of tea suddenly materializes in exchange.
I meet the two students from USTC who will come to Temple in the fall. I do not know whether they have the same skills as Futao and his cohort (who were all math majors), but they seem smart and very nice.

With Han Jiao, Zhou Yuchen and Lu Futao

With Han Jiao, Zhou Yuchen and Lu Futao

 

An engineering student who will come to Temple is a particular personality. He is also more fluent in English than many of my native-speaking undergraduates.

Hefei is not very pretty, but the USTC campus is

Hefei is not very pretty, but the USTC campus is

 

After our visit, we board a train to Nanjing. Our second-class accommodations (previously, we had traveled first-class but there was no room on this short trip) are comical. The compartment consists of two sets of bunk beds. Three of us sit on one lower bed, facing three other people, while our luggage rests on the upper bunk. Martyn, ever the watchful host, is mortified, but Tissa and I find the arrangements so amusing that we cannot stop giggling for the entire trip.

Our cozy compartment

Our cozy compartment

 

May 28
Nanjing means “South Capital,” as opposed to Beijing, which means “North Capital.” Thanks to my smattering of Japanese, I can actually read the symbols, though I have no idea how to pronounce them. Between the end of WWII and the Communist takeover, it was the center of government under Chiang Kai-Shek. During the war, it was the site of one of the war’s most horrific atrocities, the “Rape of Nanking.”  It has always been a puzzlement to me how a country I love as much as Japan could have gone so badly off the tracks in the 1930s and 1940s. With its wide, tree-lined boulevards, Nanjing must have once been a magnificent city. It is still attractive, but the pollution is taking a toll.

View from my hotel in Nanjing

View from my hotel in Nanjing

At first, I wondered whether there was any purpose to my visiting Chinese Pharmaceutical University, but – as Martyn promised – the school has a genuine economics department. Unfortunately, it is located on their other campus, so my only exposure to it is through two faculty with such limited English that we communicate largely through an interpreter.

Our warm welcome at CPU - the two economists are to my left.

Our warm welcome at CPU – the two economists are to my left.

 

Still, they make it clear that they want to have contact with Temple and again are particularly interested in the 2+2 option. Despite her limited English, one of the professors makes it clear that she is interested in coming to Temple as a visiting scholar.
We take a tour of CPU’s pharmaceutical research facilities, and Dan is extremely impressed. with their world-class labs. After yet another sumptuous lunch, we return to campus to give back-to-back talks.

Lunch in Nanjing with a Freudian napkin

Lunch in Nanjing with a Freudian napkin

 

My general health econ talk seems to go well, perhaps because the audience – except for the two econ faculty – is entirely Pharmaceutical faculty and students.
Returning to the hotel, we go off in search of a Chinese lantern, which Dan and Tissa have promised to one of their sons. We are directed to the neighborhood of a Confucian temple, which one of the hotel staff (again, a nice Holiday Inn, which also provides us with an upgrade to executive status) refers to as a “commercial temple”. Indeed, the area has all sorts of shops, ranging from small shops (one of which sells lanterns!) to Haagen-Dazs vendors.

Shopping in Nanjing

Shopping in Nanjing

 

May 29
Dan and Tissa leave early by way of Beijing. Because Martyn and I arrived via Taiwan, we will head back to Taiwan later in the day, stay overnight and then head home. I use my free time to walk to Zhonhua Men, the south gate of the wall that once encircled Nanjing. The wall and gate were built by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming Emperor in the 14th century. The gate is really more of a citadel than a gate. It could hold thousands of soldiers to defend the city. The gate is now just a remnant of what was once there, but it is still extremely impressive.

The South Gate

The South Gate

 

Our trip to Taiwan is delayed a bit but is otherwise uneventful.

May 30
The trip home starts smoothly. We actually land in JFK a bit ahead of schedule and sail through customs, but thanks to set of misadventures, I do not arrive home until after 10:30, eight hours after landing. Bear this in mind, Philadelphia travelers when you consider using Dave’s Limo Company!

Our Weekend in France

December 26, 2012

In the summer, we received a wedding invitation from our cousins Dany and Martine.  Their older son, Noam, was marrying his fiancée, Anna-Lena in October.  We had met them both in Bonn – where they work –the previous summer, so we felt a connection with them.  A quick check of the calendar revealed that the wedding was the weekend of Eva’s October break, and a look at our frequent flier miles showed that we could make the trip at minimal cost.  Thus it was that we spent a long weekend in France.

We met on the Airport Express train.  The flight was smooth, as was our travel on the local train and metro to Paris, where we met our elderly cousins, Rene and Raymonde.   We have worried about them after our visit the previous summer.  Rene was still feisty, but Raymonde was clearly not been well.  We were happily surprised to see that they both were in reasonably good shape and spirtis, despite being in their 90s.  We again went to the Moroccan restaurant that we had visited when we first went to France in 1998 and again last summer.  Rene still remembered that Daniel had called it the most beautiful restaurant in the world.  The meal was a variety of (hallal) meats over couscous and was as good as we remembered it.

After lunch, Rene insisted on taking us to the Gare St. Lazare, where we were to catch our train to Caen.  His driving terrified Eva, though Michael slept through most of it.  Traffic was extremely heavy, but waters partied for Rene when other drivers saw him.  At the train station, we met Claire Jacqmin, our friend from Temple University Japan.  Claire now lives in Paris and is almost finished with her dissertation.  She has also finished her conversion to Judaism (which she started in Japan) and is engaged, so there was lots to catch up on.

The train ride again went smoothly, though it was surprisingly crowded.  Apparently, many people spend the week working in Paris but come home to Caen for the weekend.  Martine and Dany picked us up at the train station—it were very happy to see them again.  They filled us in on the various people whom we would be meeting and took us to the bed and breakfast where the wedding guests were staying.  We briefly met Anna-Lena’s mother (her father died about six years ago), aunt, and cousin, as well as an international group of friends from Bonn, mostly French and German, but one was also from Spain.

After briefly settling in, we joined Dany, Martine, Noam, Anna-Lena, and the most of the German guests at a nearby restaurant – Maitre Corbeau.  We shared a fondue with Anna-Lena’s maid of honor, Katarina.  Like Anna-Lena, she spent a year as an exchange student in the US and is very involved in model UN.  Eva got the first of several opportunities to practice her German.

The wedding day dawned cloudy and occasionally rainy.  We had a delightful breakfast (by ourselves!) of croissants and jam and yogurt in a large dining room with classical music playing in the background.  The weather kept us inside until it was time to go to the mairie, the town hall, where the wedding was to take place.  This is not at all like our town hall in Ardmore.  The mairie in Caen is attached to the Abbaye aux Hommes, and abbey built by William the Conqueror (“Guillaume le conquérant”) as a gift to the church so that it would approve his marriage to his cousin Mathilde.  Fortunately, the rain had let up, so we walked over and had a chance to poke around a bit before the wedding.

Mike in front of the Abbaye aux Hommes

Mike in front of the Abbaye aux Hommes

Noam and Anna-Lena were not the only ones getting married that day.  We waited for another wedding to clear the hall, and another was waiting behind us.

Natacha , Noam, Anna-Lena, Anna, and Eilon before the ceremony

Natacha , Noam, Anna-Lena, Anna, and Eilon before the ceremony

The ceremony was very different from one in the US.  A woman wearing a bleu-blanc-et-rouge sash (presumably a town official) stood at a table and read what sounded like a civics lesson on the responsibilities of married couples.  Noam and Anna-Lena sat at the table listening to the lecture.

A different kind of ceremony

A different kind of ceremony

A woman waited patiently at a lectern nearby, whom we initially expected to sing or give a reading, but instead turned out to be a notary of sorts, who certified the signatures of the couple and their witnesses on the marriage contract.

After the ceremony, we filed into the Abbaye itself, where we greeted the newlyweds by blowing bubbles at them from liquid in containers that looked like miniature champagne bottles.   The weather kept picture-taking indoors, so we moved from spot to spot in the abbey, taking a variety of photos.

Anna-Lena's aunt and mother, Anna-Lena, Noam,  Martine, and Dany

Anna-Lena’s aunt and mother, Anna-Lena, Noam, Martine, and Dany

Everyone got into the photos!

Everyone got into the photos!

Dany and Martine with children and grandchildren

Dany and Martine with children and grandchildren

Fortunately, the setting was magnificent.  We finally got a chance to talk to Noam’s brother, Eilon, and his sisters, Anna and Natacha (pronounced “Natasha”).

A view of the Abbaye from inside the cloister

A view of the Abbaye from inside the cloister

The interior garden

The interior garden

By the time we finished with pictures, it was raining in earnest, so we went with Dany and Martine to the site of the reception, though the reception was not due to begin for over an hour.  The reception was in a 19th century chateau that belonged to the county and was in the process of being renovated.  It had been built by a textile merchant from Le Havre in 1864.  It reminded Eva of the Newport mansions.   The ground floor was already re-done and was the site of the dinner.

A side-view of the chateau (Sunday morning)

A side-view of the chateau (Sunday morning)

Eva in front of the chateau

Eva in front of the chateau

The grounds were full of lavender flowers

The grounds were full of wild cyclamen

The cyclamen up close

The cyclamen up close

The cocktail hour, which took place in a tent just behind the chateau, was delightful and could have served as dinner all by itself.  There were numerous “stations” with all sorts of different foods.  There was a station with grilled meats and Eva had fois gras (that was grilled to perfection!) and still talks about it!  We were excited to see the pseudo-Viking ship that Dany and Martine have used in their catering business.

Patrick's wife, Anna, in front of the Viking ship

Patrick’s wife, Anna, in front of the Viking ship

Eva talked to Swenja, a cousin of Anna-Lena, who is getting a PhD in ethnography and is writing about Sierra Leone (if memory serves right).  Then we both talked to a couple: she is a lawyer like Anna Lena and he runs a car-rental logistics business, which keeps him busy 24/7.  It was refreshing to see that the entrepreneurial spirit has not disappeared from Germany.

At the dinner, tables were arranged geographically, in concert with the international guests.  We sat at the “Paris-New York” table (“NY” still equals “US” in much of the world).

Our table

Our table

Eva loved the table setting, which was provided by Dany and Martine's party supply business

Eva loved the table setting, which was provided by Dany and Martine’s party supply business

We sat between cousins of Dany’s (from his mother’s side) and a married couple who are long-time friends of Dany and Martine.  The couple, Patrick and Anna, was very nice to us and wound up driving us home early in the morning and around much of the weekend.

As befits a French dinner, the food was outstanding, though the highlight was the wedding cake.  It was huge and covered with sparklers.  The tiers had such different flavors that one might have thought they came from different cakes – one of which was filled with cream and apple bits – and  It was all topped with small, green fresh plums encrusted with green marzipan.

The cake makes a dramatic entrance

The cake makes a dramatic entrance

Note the marizipan encrusted plum!

Note the marzipan encrusted plum!

The speeches were interesting, as much the audience did not understand French and much did not understand German, so everything had to be translated into one language or the other.  Fortunately some of the guests were sufficiently fluent in both languages to provide a nearly-simultaneous translation.  One particularly fun part of the reception came when Noam and Anna-Lena sat back-to-back and removed their shoes, giving one shoe to the other, so they had different shoes in each hand.  They were then asked a long series of questions, such as, “Who is neater?” “Who wins most of the arguments?” and “Who is more romantic?”  Noam and Anna-Lena had to respond by raising one shoe or the other.  Fortunately, they agreed on almost everything (though Noam did seem to cheat a bit and sneak a look at what shoe went up behind him).

Anna-Lena and Noam agree!

Anna-Lena and Noam agree!

We danced!

As is the case in Southern Europe, the dinner started later than in the US (8 PM) and lasted longer.  Patrick and Anna kindly agreed to take us home at 2:30 am.  The party went on for several hours after we left.  Here was one case where jet lag had its advantages.

The next morning, which was bright and sunny, Patrick and Anna picked us up for a brunch back at the chateau.   It was largely leftovers from the night before, which made us very happy, as there were several dishes that we had not gotten the chance to sample or took only a little of at the reception.  After that, we took apart the furniture, packed up the dishes, and put everything in a truck.

Packing up the party

Packing up the party

Dany and Martine now run a party supply business, so they had supplied much of what we had used the night before.  If Melanie had been there, she probably would have regarded it as similar to striking a set.

After everything was put away, Anne and Patrick took us to Dany and Martine’s apartment via the train station to pick up tickets for the next morning’s train to Paris. We visited very briefly because they had not slept at all the night before, so Dany took us back to the hotel and showed us where to catch the tram in the morning.  It was still light, so we walked around William’s castle and poked around l’église St. Étienne, the church where William the Conqueror was buried.  By then, it was dark, but the church was still open and we could see William’s grave in the middle of the nave.

A night view of the Abbaye

A night view of the Abbaye

Because angry Huguenots broke in a few centuries ago and scattered his bones, all that’s left is a leg bone, but you don’t see it anyway.  A voice in the dark informed us that the church was closed, so we left.

The next morning’s trip to Orly went smoothly, with only one glitch. For some reason, our credit cards stopped working, and the ticket machine for the trip to the airport would not take bills.  Fortunately, a kind passenger saw our plight and changed the cards and we paid him.   On the flight home, after rearranging at least three times, we sat next to a young women from NY who was returning from Tunisia.  Her fiancé is opening a hotel there and she loved it.  She had an even greater adventure than we!  We were back in Philadelphia Monday evening and back in the classroom on Tuesday.  Quite a weekend!

Into – And Out of – Africa Part 1: South Africa

December 24, 2012

July 7-8

Our great adventure began slowly – with a trip to New Jersey the evening of July 6.  We spent the night with our fellow travelers Hope Corman and Hugh Rockoff so that we could catch a limo to Kennedy at 6:00 the next morning.  There was so little traffic that we got to JFK Airport in only one hour.  After a 14.5-hour flight to Johannesburg and a two-hour flight to Cape Town, we arrived.  It felt pretty close to Antarctica.  Cape Town greeted us with cold and wet weather.

Hayley, who had been an au pair for Hope and Hugh about 12 years earlier, met us at the airport, along with her mother (Merrill) and 10-year old daughter (Alyssa), and drove us to Stellenbosch, about an hour east.  Along the way, we encountered the infamous townships (Cape Flats), which consist of cardboard houses and corrugated roofs and stretch along the main roads from Cape Town almost to Stellenbosch.

One of South Africa's major challenges

One of South Africa’s major challenges

At the Batavia Boutique Hotel, a lovely place that resembles a large B&B, we had four rooms, almost half the hotel.  We ate dinner in a mediocre fish place where Eva learned that “grilled” in Africa (we encountered it once more) does not mean the same thing as “grilled” in the US.  Eva’s grilled fish was lightly battered and then grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich.  The service was terrible but the TV was on, so we could follow the final between Murray and Federer, whose victory we saw later in the hotel.

The décor in the hotel consisted of many containers full of ostrich eggs, which are the size of a tea pot.  Apparently, the owners of the hotel had an ostrich farm.  Eva liked the eggs so much that she bought some the next day and then spent the rest of the trip making sure they would not break.

Monday, July 9

We began by accompanying Hugh to the University of Stellenbosch so that he could register for the International Economic History Conference – our ostensible reason for going to Africa.  While waiting for Hugh outside, Mike heard someone call his name and turned to see Susan Wolcott and her husband Chris Haines, who were also attending the conference.  Small world.   We then fumbled our way (passing the hospital where Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant) to the Two Oceans Aquarium at the waterfront in Cape Town. The aquarium features sea life from where the (warm) Indian Ocean meets the (cold) Atlantic Ocean.  It was small but impressive, as it has one of only three kelp forests in the world and the local penguins.  Eva was very excited to discover shrimpfish, which swim with their heads down.

Eva and Alyssa "inside" a fishtank

Eva and Alyssa “inside” a fishtank

Shrimpfish

Shrimpfish

Eva checks the kelp

Eva checks the kelp

Afterwards, we went to Nobel Square, which features statues of four South African Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Lutuli (1960), Desmond Tutu (1984), F.W. de Klerk (1993), and – of course – Nelson Mandela (also 1993).  In the background was a very funky statue of a person made out of milk crates.

Nobel Square

Nobel Square

We had lunch near the aquarium, where Eva and Hugh had a game kebab with wildebeest, impala, springbok, and kudu.  The impala was extremely gamey!  We thought we would eat game meet regularly, but it was the only time we did.

We then visited the Jewish Museum of Cape Town and made it just before closing.  The guide book recommended the museum because of its architecture, whose most captivating feature was a “floating” circular staircase.   The museum had a reproduction of a shtetl that reminded us of a similar reproduction of an early 20th century Tokyo neighborhood at the Shitamachi Museum.  Continuing the Japanese connection was a collection of netsuke, ornamental Japanese clasps.  Finally, there were some beautiful sculptures by Herman Wald.  Eva saw heavy influences of Brancusi in his work.

For dinner, we met up with Hayley’s Aunt Susan, who lives in Cape Town and stayed with us for the rest of our stay there.  We went to The Big Easy, a restaurant owned by the South African golfer Ernie Els.  Because there were so many of us, we ate in a private room.  It was a delightful meal, which featured wines from Els’ winery.  Eva really like the cabernet sauvignon, which was more vegetably than fruity.

Dinner at The Big Easy

Dinner at The Big Easy

Wednesday, July 10

Susan guided us to the Cape of Good Hope, and the day ended up as a drive along the whole cape.

The coast was rough

The coast was rough

Our first stop was to greet sea lions at a fishing pier, and they greeted us!!

Sea lions say hello

Sea lions say hello

We also stopped at a small but famous nature preserve to see penguins that live in a hedge.

Cape penguins

Cape penguins

At the entrance to the national park, we noticed a baboon.  We finally reached a huge parking lot at Cape Point, the southernmost point of the Cape of Good Hope.

At the Cape

At the Cape

From there, a moderately steep hill led to a lighthouse.  We could have ridden a funicular, but Eva, Hope, and Mike climbed to the top.  It was cool and very windy at the top.

Cape Point

The Cape of Good Hope

We realized that it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but we still were surprised at how cold things could get.  The scenery was on the cape was unique and beautiful, a lot of green waxy bushy plants. (Click on photo gallery.)

Local flora

Cape protea

On the way back, we stopped at an ostrich farm, where we fed the ostriches.

Feeding the ostriches

Feeding the ostriches

We also stopped for an early dinner at Snoekies Fish and Chips, a local eatery that Susan – rightly – thought we’d enjoy.  Finally, we stopped at Spier, an upscale winery very close to Stellenbosch, where we had some wine at the wine bar.  We also made reservations for later in the week at Moyo, an African-themed restaurant at Spier, which Swint – our friend from Temple University Japan – strongly recommended.

Wednesday, July 11

While Hugh was at the conference, the rest of us went on a tour of vineyards.   We started at Neil Ellis winery, called Inglewood in the US.  It was in a sleek, modern building surrounded by spectacular mountains.

The view at Neil Ellis

The view at Neil Ellis

Upon the recommendation of the server, we then went to Oldenberg, which involved driving about 3 km down a very muddy dirt road – apparently the people who live near the winery don’t want people to come, so they refuse to pay for a paved road.  Getting there was worth it.  We tasted incredible wine (the best Chenin Blanc I have ever had) in a chalet with magnificent vistas.

The view at Oldenberg

The view at Oldenberg

On the way out we stopped at a fruit farm and bought some local jam, including cape gooseberries, which are orange and very different from European gooseberries.

From there, we drove to Frankenhoek (or Franschhoek), a “French” town that was preparing for Bastille Day.  Blue, white, and red bunting was everywhere.

Frankenhoek

Frankenhoek

We had lunch at, naturally, a French café named Café des Artistes.  Eva had a very memorable salad of broiled mushrooms and tomatoes with spinach and brie.

A very French cafe

A very French cafe

On the way out of town we saw an amazing incident.  A person opened the passenger-side door of a Mercedes (btw, people drive on the left in all 3 countries we visited) just as a truck was driving by. The truck struck the door of the Mercedes and “hypextended” it.  To our surprise, Hayley took off after the truck and, while driving, scolded the driver.

As we headed out of town passed the Huguenot monument at the end of the main road.  ThenHayley noticed a sign to a winery that she recognized and drove up a small hill.

Hayley

Hayley

Another fabulous view opened to us, and it was time for more wine tasting, this time at the Haute Cabriere, whose tasting rooms were made to look like a wine cellar.

Outside Haute Corbiere

Outside Haute Cabriere

Inside Haute Cabriere

Inside Haute Cabriere

The wine again was outstanding (particularly the Pierre Jourdain champagne) and the views awe-inspiring.

Because we were chasing wine and not history, we missed the Groot Drakenstein (Victor Verster) prison near Paarl and Franschhoek from where Mandela was released in 1990.

Our last stop of the day was Fairview Vineyards, which – we think – puts out the Goats do Roam (get it?) label wine.  They actually have many goats on the premises, which probably explains why they have both cheese and wine tasting.  Thanks to a balky GPS, we were pretty badly off target when we stopped to ask directions of another driver, who – to our surprise – led us several miles out of town (and out of his way) to the road leading to the winery.  (Susan, after scolding him for throwing trash on the road—before he offered to help us–gave him a large tip afterward.) At another time, we might have been more impressed with Fairview, but, after experiencing the previous stunning wineries, we were a bit let down here, though Alyssa (and not only Alyssa) loved the goats.  The one negative to the day came at the very end.  As we were pulling into the hotel’s small parking lot, the automatic door closed too early and hit the side of the van.  Hayley was very upset because there was a R7000 damage penalty.  Fortunately, the manager said that her father knew someone who could repair it for much less (the damage was minor) on the 13th.

Thursday, July 12

Hope had ordered tickets at 11:00 for a trip from Cape Town to Robben Island, the infamous prison that held Nelson Mandela (among others) for so long.  (Ordering tickets was wise because they were sold out, even though capacity was everywhere.) You can find a good account of Mandela’s stay at Robben Island in the book Playing the Enemy (now called Invictus).  It provides much deeper insights into Mandela’s character than the movie of the same name, which is a better-than-average sports movie.  One of the highlights came just before we got on the boat.  Everyone had told us about the magnificent sight of Table Mountain looming over Cape Town, but on Monday and Tuesday the cloud cover had been so dense that the Mountain was nowhere in sight.  Now it was in full view, and it was worth the wait.

On the way to Robben Island with Table Mountain in the background

View from the harbor with Table Mountain in the background

We had a long, choppy ride to the island, and the choppiness did not end when we disembarked.  Apparently, despite having precise limits to admission, they did not have enough buses to carry all the visitors on board, so we split into two groups.  Our initial guide (all guides are former political prisoners) took us through the prison and told us about the life in the prison and the differences between the treatment of political and ordinary prisoners.

Eva and our guide in the exercise yard

Eva and our guide in the exercise yard

It was a pretty grim place, and the guide  gave a heartfelt account of what life had been like. He took us to see Mandela’s cell, where he had been kept in solitary confinement for several years.

Mandela's cell

Mandela’s cell

It was the size of a typical US bathroom.  After seeing the prison, we got a ride around the island, which had been a leper colony.  We saw the quarry where the prisoners worked.

The quarry

The quarry

The boat ride back was even worse than the ride there, so we were all happy to dock.

Despite some cloudiness, we went to Table Mountain, and – while Hayley’s mother and aunt waited below – we all took the gondola to the top.  While riding up, the clouds broke, which afforded beautiful views of Cape Town to one side and the Cape of Good Hope to the other.

The ride up Table Mountain

The ride up Table Mountain

The green brush vegetation was very bright and beautiful.  It would have been wonderful to hike there in better weather. It was so cold (2oC or about 35.5oF) and windy, we spent very little time on the top.

It was COLD up there!

It was COLD up there!

Hot chocolate in the café was a welcome relief!

It was tasty, too!

It was tasty, too!

For dinner, we went to Moyo, the African-style restaurant at the Spier Winery, where we were introduced to such South African staples, such as samp and beans and “crooked lady”.

Dinner at Moyo

Dinner at Moyo

Friday, July 13

Our last day in Stellenbosch!  While Hayley was getting the van repaired, we packed and walked through town and saw some of the best and worst of it.  The backdrop of mountains makes it a very lovely place, but people seem to be prisoners in their homes.  The fear of theft or violence must be intense because so many houses have concertina wire on the top of their fences.  When Hayley returned (repair bill under R2000), we went to the Vredenheim winery, not for the wines but for the animals that are kept there.  We did not expect much but came away very impressed.  They had a lynx, a pride of white lions, baby tigers (okay – not all the animals were native), and a cheetah and leopard, who were fed (dead) chickens while we were there.  To our surprise, the leopard fastidiously plucked off all the feathers before eating.  The cheetah had no such scruples.

A white lion at Vredenheim

A white lion at Vredenheim

White lion family

Lion family

We then went to one last winery – J.C. LaRoux – for champagne tasting, the best-known sparkling wine producer in South Africa.  We arrived late, so we were the last ones to leave.  The champagne was not as good as at Haute Cobriere, but it was fun and the setting was again beautiful and very contemporary.  Hayley really wanted to see this winery but was disappointed because she could not taste their best-known label.

J.C. LaRoux

Tasting champagne at J.C. LaRoux

From there we sought out our hotel near the airport (with a 6 am departure, we thought it best to locate as close as possible).  It was no easy thing.  While we could see the hotel, there was no clear way to get there.  We finally (after asking directions) went through the entire airport to get there.  We had a lovely dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant with the unlikely name Curry Quest (which served authentic Durban Curry—Hayley is from Durban) and ended the day with champagne bought at J.C. LaRoux.

Into – And Out of – Africa Part 2: Zambia

December 24, 2012

Saturday, July 14
We got up at 4 for a 6:00 flight to Johannesburg and an 11:00 flight to Lusaka, Zambia. Despite the long layover in Johannesburg, it almost got to be a close call because of badly mismanaged passport control, but South African Airways fed us on both legs. To our surprise, we were met at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (which has probably not changed much since Zambia became in dependent in 1964) before going through passport control by a gentleman who helped us wind our way through the maze of passports customs and airport taxes that had to be paid in the local currency (exchange rate roughly 5000 kwacha per dollar).

At last in a country that starts with a Z

At last in a country that starts with a Z

After almost a 3-hour layover, we boarded a Jetstream 32, which seats 18 people, and flew to MFuwe (again – a full beverage service!). The international (!) airport in MFuwe is essentially a landing strip and a small building, which services people going on safari.
We were met by Abraham, who would be our guide for the first two days. We drove for about 45 minutes through “town,” which consisted of huts and some ramshackle stores along the road. Even though there were green trees and bushes and even some fields, there was no grass, so the ground was dry, dusty mud. Most people walked, some had bicycles, and all signage was in English.
At one intersection, we were met by another jeep, onto which we loaded our belongings, and – to our surprise – set off on our first evening drive, with Patience, a student guide and Abraham’s assistant. We drove a while longer and entered South Luangwa National Park. The guides stopped on a bridge to serve us wine and assorted nuts and to show us hippos in the river. (It was our first reminder of the scene in which the Dread Pirate Roberts confronts Vizzini the Dwarf in The Princess Bride.)
By this time, it was dark, and Patience operates a spotlight. Almost immediately, we encountered a leopard on the road and another in the bushes nearby. We also saw civets, bushbucks, mongoose, and – on the way to the lodge – elephants and hippos. The night sky was incredible. We cannot remember ever having seen so many stars. We did not recognize any constellations because we were in the southern hemisphere. Abraham pointed out the Southern Cross and two indicator stars that help determine “true South.”

Ready to set out with Patience and Abraham

Ready to set out with Patience and Abraham

Kapani Lodge is a complex of huts, pavilions, and a very modern swimming pool. Our hut is rustic, with a mosquito net around the bed and a candle nearby in case power cuts out at night. Still, we have a very elegant dinner with Abraham and the other guests, a British family, on the veranda, looking out at an antelope herd and a hippo in a dry riverbed (it is now the dry season).
Sunday, July 15
Here is our routine for our days on safari in Zambia:
5:30 – Woken up by a knock on the door of our hut—it is pitch dark as well as cold
6:00 – Breakfast of toast, eggs, “porridge”, etc. as the sun starts to rise
6:30 – Start the morning safari ride
10:00 – Pause for tea or coffee and a snack
11:30 – Return for lunch of salads a baked dish (not sandwiches) and dessert
12 – 3:30 – Siesta
3:30 – High tea
4:00 – Depart for the “evening drive”
6:00 – pause for a “sundowner” of soft drinks, wine, beer, or liquor—the sun really sets and it is again pitch dark
8:00 – Return for more drinks and dinner–it is very dark, and we dine by candlelight, but the meal is delicious
Eating six times a day, it felt like we were on a “cruise with gnus.” Breakfast time, which is around a campfire, tends to attract some very cute animals – though the staff does not find them so. Baboons gather around, and a very persistent vervet monkey kept trying to steal scraps.

An uninvited guest

An uninvited guest

The camps in Zambia had an interesting – and slightly discomforting – structure. The guides and employees were all black, but they were overseen by perky, twenty-something English girls. The overall supervisor was Christina Carr, the daughter-in-law of founder Norman Carr. She had come for a six-month stay about 13 years ago.
We again saw all sorts of animals and actually had to back out of the way of a mother elephant and her baby.

Mother and child

Mother and child

Abraham and guest

Abraham and guest

We began to learn to identify impalas by the “McDonald’s sign” on their butts, while waterbucks have toilet seat-shapes on theirs.

Can you tell which antelopes these are?

Can you tell which antelopes these are?

How about these?

How about these?

We spent siesta time having a very nice swim in the pool. The highlight of the evening was seeing a series of hyenas, one of which walked within a couple feet of our jeep.
We also began to learn more about and from Abraham. He seems very thoughtful and ambitious. Unlike most Zambians, he has traveled abroad, even coming to the US once, where he was amazed at the supermarkets. He also told us that drunk driving is a huge problem in Zambia (we notice that he never drinks).

Monday, July 16
Our new guides – Aubrey and Edgar – took us out for the morning drive and for two nights at the “bush camp” Kakuli. As its description attests, Kakuli is more rustic than Kapani. We are in a combination tent and thatched hut that overlooks the Luangwa River. During the day, the front “wall” of our dwelling is up, so we have a view of the river and the many hippos in it.

Our accommodations at Kikuli

Our accommodations at Kakuli

The view from our tent

The view from our tent

Eva inspects the heating system at Kakuli

Eva inspects the heating system at Kakuli

Our shower has a space between the roof and walls, so we can look out at the hippos. We can hear them bellow through the night. Kakuli is inside South Luangwa Park (Kapani was just outside). The touring will apparently be a bit harder core – while Aubrey is very jovial, Edgar carries a rifle. Aubrey also seems more into birds than Abraham was, which is fine because we see many of them – we become so excited about the birds that we see, we can finally appreciate what true “birders” feel.

One of many beautiful birds - a lilac breasted roller

One of many beautiful birds – a lilac breasted roller

At the camp, we meet Katie, who is in her second year at Norman Carr and does quality control for the bush camps. She is filling in for Amy, the normal hostess, who is away. Katie came to Norman Carr after majoring in African History at the University of Leeds (of all places).

A sausage tree

A sausage tree

We are the only guests at Kakuli this evening, though Helgaard, a South African who is there to install solar panels, joins us for dinner. Unlike at Kapani, we are not allowed to leave our huts – or whatever building we are in – unescorted after dark. Apparently, critters – including lions – like to wander through the camp.

Tuesday, July 17
Today we had a morning walk rather than a drive. The theme for the day was largely poop. It is everywhere. The plains are one giant toilet!

The Plains of Poop!

The Plains of Poop!

Some interesting facts we learn:
– Water buffalo “poop constantly”
– Elephants’ digestive systems are so poor that their poop is largely undigested food. Other animals regularly go through it, looking for something to eat. Trees often sprout from it.
– Hyena poop is white because it eats so many bones (ugh!)
– Birds pee and poop from the same orifice, which explains its multi-colored appearance
– Civets, like house cats, return to poop in the same place
– During mating season, a dominant male impala has all the females poop in the same place, and he then smells it to see who is ready to mate

A poop machine

A poop machine

Aubrey explains dung beetles to Eva

Aubrey explains dung beetles to Eva

An unusual spot for a tree!

An unusual spot for a tree!

The midday break is interesting. There is a shower overlooking the hippos, and a pleasant tea with new guests (Keith and Lisa, a couple from Yorkshire). Eva has the most fun, when she meets up with “Dixon, the rogue elephant.”

Dixon the rogue elephant

Dixon the rogue elephant

Apparently, he is a loner, who has wandered through the area since before Kakuli was built. Eva was wandering about (it’s allowed during daylight), and practically ran into him when she turned a corner. Fortunately, Dixon did not see her because he was walking away from her.

Mike at the lunch pavilion with Dixon in the distance

Mike at the lunch pavilion with Dixon in the distance

During the evening drive, our guides looked for lions but are unsuccessful until just before returning to camp, when we saw a pride of six lionesses and young males sitting together.

Lions at night

Lions at night

We watch them (unsuccessfully) stalk an impala. To our surprise, the impala squawks an alarm – all this time, we had never heard a sound from them. Daniel and Rachel will be pleased to hear that we also saw a honey badger. At dinner we met Amy, the normal hostess, who has a degree in Hospitality Management from East Anglia.

At the jeep with Edgar and Amy

At the jeep with Edgar and Amy

Wednesday, July 18
A travel day with one last safari treat. On the ride to the Mfuwe Airport, Aubrey notices a leopard in a tree with an impala it has killed and dragged up.

We have no idea how it got the impala up there

We have no idea how it got the impala up there

Stopping to admire this sight makes us a bit late, so Aubrey drives quickly. Hope and Hugh, who are sitting in front of us, freeze, despite being under a blanket. Eva is disturbed at the trash that is everywhere along the road, particularly the plastic bottles. In the rush at the airport, Mike leaves his camera in the jeep. Thankfully, the people at Norman Carr and Wilderness Safaris get it to him in Livingstone.
Getting to Livingstone requires returning to Lusaka, and then a short flight to Livingstone. We are met at Livingstone by a driver who takes us to the Zambezi Sun. At first, we thought this was a reference to the dramatic sunrises and sunsets along the Zambezi, but we later learned that it is actually a multinational hotel chain headquartered in South Africa. Our driver is a very proud Zambian, who appreciates the fact that foreign money helps his nation’s economy. He is putting his wife through college and his children through private school (we came to appreciate this latter fact more later). He also proudly pointed out the “good part of town,” which he says is largely inhabited by Indian merchants (Indian in a Raj-era sense, they would probably now be Pakistanis, as they appear to be largely Muslim). The neighborhood is not objectively all that nice, at least by South African standards. The driver is proud that Zambians see themselves as Zambians first and feel lesser allegiance to their tribe, of which there are more than 70.
The Zambezi Sun is part of a complex shared by two hotels (the Royal Livingstone is the other) and multiple restaurants practically at the head of Victoria Falls. It is a somewhat Disneyfied African setting, which chanting African “warriors” at the entrance who come within inches of distasteful. What saves it is the wildlife that roams the grounds. We see a giraffe as we pull up and later have very close encounters with zebras and monkeys. On our way to our room, we see a large pool, so we venture in. It is cold. Mike walks across twice but gets out when he begins to lose feeling in his lower body. Eva manages to swim for 15 minutes or so. Mike thinks that the hotel does not heat the pool to discourage guests from using it.

We then join the Rockoffs for a walk to Victoria Falls. It is hard to do justice to the Falls. Imagine a dozen or so Niagara Falls strung together side by side. In the rainy season, when the many separate falls that we see join together to form one large curtain, the sight must be even more awesome. As it is, the mist is so thick –the original name of the Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders” – that we cannot see the end. (BTW, Mosi is also a popular, and rather good, Zambian beer.) We do see many rainbows.

In the rainy season, this is one continuous curtain

In the rainy season, this is one continuous curtain

At the falls

At the falls

We then walk to the Royal Livingstone, meeting up with zebras and a giraffe on the way, to have a drink at a bar overlooking the Zambezi just at the head of the Falls.

Outside the XX

Outside the Royal Livingstone

We are struck by the calmness of the water as it approaches the edge. We could sit here for a long time, watching the sun slowly set. It is a beguiling scene. To everyone’s amusement, some monkeys join the patrons, only to be (futilely) shooed away by the staff. We have dinner at a nice but very stuffy restaurant at the Royal Livingstone, which seems as staid as the Sun is Disneyesque. Hugh orders the crocodile, which – he says – tastes like chicken. Eva had a great oxtail stew—this seems to be an African dish.

Thursday, July 19
We start the day with a tour of the Falls. Our guide provides ponchos in case we get wet, which we do! He also is the first (but far from the last) to point out that the Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, after the Nile, the Congo, and the Niger. All readers of this blog will be tested on this information. He also points out the “double rainbow”. The mix of sun and mist creates a reflection of the original rainbow. One can tell because the colors (ROYGBIV) are inverted in the second rainbow. He leads us across the Knife-edge Bridge, which provides a stirring view of the Falls on one side and a view of the Victoria Falls Bridge on the other. The Victoria Falls Bridge was built by Cecil Rhodes as part of an effort to connect Cape Town with Cairo. Today, it connects Zambia with Zimbabwe.

The Zambezi Bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe

The Victoria Falls Bridge connects Zambia and Zimbabwe

Apparently, Zimbabwe provides a better view of the falls and for many years was the preferred tourist destination, but Mugabe has managed to destroy that, along with much else in Zimbabwe. Our guide expresses gratitude to Mugabe, saying that the Zambian tourist industry attributes much of its business to his policies.
We then caught a cab to the Livingstone Museum, Zambia’s “oldest and largest” museum. Our motivation was to find a bust of Emil Holub, a Czech explorer from the 19th century (see the link!), which wound up being in front of the museum.

Eva admiring Holub

Eva admiring Holub

The museum was surprisingly good and (sometimes unintentionally) interesting. The natural history part showed the same scene of leopard with a antelope in the tree that we had seen on our way to the airport. The exhibits often showed a political stance, such as an exhibit that extolled traditional village life and decried modernity. More recent historical exhibits showed that Zambia was originally called “The People’s Republic of Zambia” (always a red flag – pardon the pun) and was declared a one-party state by Kenneth Kaunda after independence. Its leaders seemed to want to regard their hold on power as the highest priority and blamed their failures on outside destabilizers.
We had a fish lunch at a local restaurant, had another look at the falls, and went for a sunset cruise down the Zambezi on (we kid you not) The African Queen.

Mosi is actually pretty good beer

Mosi is actually pretty good beer

We did not hold out much hope for this cruise, but we were pleasantly surprised. We saw numerous hippos, an elephant, and lot of lovely scenery.

Aboard the Africa Queen

Aboard the African Queen

The service was very polite and professional (Eva got two G&Ts, no questions asked), and we sat next to some very interesting Australian travel agents, who were investigating Livingstone. One of them went on a long, sad rant against Mugabe and the mess he has made of Zimbabwe. The boat crossed briefly into Zimbabwe, though we all decided that did not count in our list of nations we have visited. The boat also followed the path of the “Royal Mile” – which was followed by Princess Elizabeth on her visit in 1949.

Into – And Out of – Africa Part 3: Botswana

December 24, 2012

Friday, July 20

We got up early for one last look at the Falls.  We got there in time to see the sun rise over them.  It was very dramatic.  The early morning light also provided a great view of the Zambezi Bridge.   As we were crossing a small bridge, all the mist created an almost circular rainbow around it.

An almost circular double rainbow

An almost circular double rainbow

We then began an interesting trip to our next destination.

Our driver, Stephen, picked us up (and delivered my camera).  While we were on our way to pick up other passengers, Eva asked an innocent question about the display at the Livingstone Museum, which ended around 2000.   The guide responded with a long, heartfelt account of recent Zambian history, starting with independence, after which much of the infrastructure crumbled, including schools, which were viewed with suspicion since they directed girls from their traditional tribal roles.  The guide was highly critical of its leadership, including the lionized Kenneth Kaunda (anti-democratic and probably a murderer).  His successor, Frederick Chiluba, was no more a democrat than Kaunda (though he pushed for multi-party rule as a way of running for office), and he was corrupt to boot.  Only Levy Mwanawasa, the third president, seemed to grasp the importance of political pluralism and honesty.  Sadly, he died in office in 2008.  Stephen was very concerned about Michael Sata, the current president, who had been a crony of Chiluba’s.

Stephen took us to the point on the Zambezi River where four countries (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia) all meet (Kazungula point).  It was a madhouse.  Trucks were scattered along the riverside, and people trying to leave, enter, or sell something to those in transit were all milling about.  Stephen asked for one person from each party to collect passports and follow him to a small hut.  Apparently, our exit visas were stamped because he then took us and our luggage to a small boat, where someone else conducted us across the Zambezi to Botswana, where the atmosphere changed completely.  Trucks were neatly parked in a paved parking lot, people politely queued up at the passport control office, and everything happened in a quiet, orderly fashion.  One remarkable thing we had to do was to rub the bottom of our shoes on a damp mat to wipe out any hoof-and-mouth viruses we might have brought over.  It was sort of like, “Wipe your feet before entering our country!”

Our new driver took us to Kasane Airport, where we caught a 13-seat Cessna Grand Caravan to Kwara Airport, where we dropped off three passengers, and then to Kwara, which is a landing strip, rather than an airport. We were met at what we laughingly called the “arrivals gate” (a table for luggage under a tree by the airstrip) by Bate and Baruchi, our new guides, and taken to the camp for tea (and quiche and brownies – the food routine was pleasantly familiar).

Looking across the airstrip toward the "arrival gate"

Looking across the airstrip toward the “arrival gate”

Kwara Camp (run by Kwando Safaris)  is a bit more rustic than the Zambian camps, with the cabins all on stilts.  This is because the government has leased Kwando the land for 15 years rather than sold it, and the lease agreement prohibits Kwando from building permanent structures.  Still, our accommodations had all the amenities.

Our "tent" at Kwando

Our “tent” at Kwando

What is most notable about Kwando is the fact that it is run by black Africans.  Given our experiences at the border, we take this as a metaphor for the state of the two countries.  For all its proclamations of independence and people’s this or that, Zambia has so far been less able to manage its own affairs than Botswana. (More on Botswana’s history later.)

The Kwara Camp is located in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.  The Okavango is the world’s largest inland delta.  We had always thought deltas formed where rivers flowed into the sea.  Apparently that used to be the case here, but ancient tectonic shifts caused the Okavango River, which flows down from Angola into Botswana, to become a river to nowhere.  The mistiming between the glacial melting in Angola and the rains in November and December has caused a disparity between the “rainy” and “wet” seasons in the Okavango.  We arrived during the “wet” – but not “rainy” – season, a fact that caused us no small amount of confusion but made for good animal viewing.

An aerial view of the delta

An aerial view of the delta

On our night drive with Bachuri (who, except when he anticipated dangerous animals, sat perched on exposed seat, rather than beside the driver) and Bate, we saw some resting lions, a pair of cheetahs unsuccessfully stalking an impala, and a Giant Eagle Owl.

A cheetah unsuccessfully stalks impala

A cheetah unsuccessfully stalks impala

We think this is the eagle owl

We think this is the eagle owl

After yet another gourmet dinner (these places should really publish cookbooks!), we were escorted to bed with the same warning not to stir until we were summoned for breakfast.  We were also warned to “lock” our doors by pushing down a clasp whenever we left to keep out the baboons.  It is even colder here than in Zambia, probably because we are farther south.  That is probably why there is no longer any mosquito netting.  We had been told that the Okavango was no longer in the malarial zone.  We were also each given a hot water bottle before bed and before every morning and evening drive.   We were in multiple layers (including sweatshirts and jackets) until at least 10 am each morning and quickly after sundown each night.  That helps explain why animals can survive at the Philadelphia Zoo!

With Bachuri and Bate on a  civilized safari

Having elevenses with Bachuri and Bate

A note on lists:

“Big-game” hunters often wanted to keep score with one another.  One important element was to count how many supposedly dangerous animals one had killed.  This gave rise to the “Big Five” – the five supposedly most dangerous African animals to hunt

–          Elephant

–          Lion

–          Cape Water Buffalo

–          Leopard

–          (Black) Rhinoceros

Elephant!

Elephant!

Of these, we saw all but the Rhinoceros.   For reasons of nomenclature, the Big Five gave rise to the Little Five, which consist of the elephant shrew, ant lion, buffalo weaver (a type of bird), leopard  tortoise, and rhinoceros beetle.  Apparently, there is also an Ugly Five, which consists of the hyena, marabou stork, vulture, warthog, and wildebeest.  Hugh Rockoff is trying to amass a “silly five” and welcomes suggestions.

A Marabou Stork - one of the "ugly five"

A Marabou Stork – one of the “ugly five”

Saturday, July 21:

It was up at 6 in 5o (41oF) weather for breakfast and a glimpse of Venus and Jupiter in the sky.  If anything, the night (and early morning) sky is even more impressive here, perhaps because it is less heavily forested.  We don’t know the southern constellations, but Mike can make out Scorpius.

Our morning ride is a delight.  In addition to kudu and parrots, we encounter wild dogs feeding their pups.  Apparently, the adults vomit up undigested pieces of meat for them upon returning from a hunt.  Wild dogs are an endangered species, and seeing the young feed is a real treat.  A Dutch couple has come to Kwara specifically to see the dogs.  The husband has started a foundation dedicated to their preservation.

Wild dogs and pups

Wild dogs and pups

At lunch, Sean, a visitor from Australia, makes an awkward remark about South African blacks, saying that the black employees at the hospital where he had been working as part of a med school course were lazy and could not be fired.  The (hard-working, black) staff went silent at his remarks.  Mike also heard him bragging about evading Australian taxes on such purchases as his wedding band, so we kept our distance.

Instead of an evening drive, we had an evening boat ride on which all the guests (now us, the Australian couple, a pleasant German, and a very nice British mathematician – Kwara seems to attract a more eclectic group) went.  We saw a number of animals and birds, as well as another beautiful sunset.

One of the most beautiful birds - a lavender breasted roller

One of the most beautiful birds – a lavender breasted roller

Papyrus on our boat ride

Papyrus on our boat ride

Enjoying Sundowners on the boat ride

Enjoying Sundowners on the boat ride

Sunset on the delta

Sunset on the delta

Sunday, July 22:

We got up a bit later today, at 6:30 (bliss!) and went on a ride in a mokoro, sort of an African canoe.  Hope and Eva went with Bachuri in one, and Mike was with Bate in the other.  They told us how they learned to pole the boat from their grandfathers.   They are both from the area and are not Tswana but Yey.  Hugh’s hips would not allow him to sit in the canoe for long, so he did not go.  Our ride to a nearby island was the highlight, as we encountered a group of hippos that would not let us past.  As a result, we had to sneak by them through some rushes.   We walked around the island and saw some antelope and several birds.

Hippos don't like to be disturbed

Hippos don’t like to be disturbed

Animals and cars follow the same path

Animals and cars follow the same path

We returned to a still more eclectic group, as the camp now consisted of 2 (French-speaking) Swiss, 2 (French-speaking) Belgians, 2 actual French, 2 Japanese, and the 4 of us.

The evening drive started off with a bang.  We found a lioness eating a wildebeest she had just killed in a small pool.  As she was eating, her cub slowly made its way to the kill, while a jackal (unsuccessfully) stalked the cub.  The cub then tried to decide which she disliked more:  being hungry or getting wet in order to eat.  She had yet to decide when we left.

Nature isn't always pretty

Nature isn’t always pretty

Even killers can be maternal

Even killers can be maternal

We came to a grassy plain in which there were all sorts of antelopes.  This gave rise to an amusing incident.  A group of impala startled a well-hidden reedbuck, who ran off.  This, in turn, spooked the impala, who took off in another direction.  A bit after sundown, we encountered two male lions who were just waking up.  The proceeded to mark their area (i.e., pee prodigiously) and roar.  They are a part of a loose group of 8 lions who are brothers.

Male lions are more roar than bite

Male lions are more roar than bite

Wildebeest in a non-skittish moment

Wildebeest in a non-skittish moment

At dinner, we met two new guests, a grandfather and grandson from Tennessee.  The grandfather was an odd duck.  He spoke of meeting his “white friends,” who happen to be former officers in the old Rhodesian Army.  We were relieved when they were placed at the opposite end of the table.  We preferred practicing our French with the Swiss couple.  Before dinner, we heard a thunderous crack and crash.  Apparently, a dead branch broke and fell We could not see anything –recall it is pitch dark at dinner, but the next day revealed that almost half the tree had collapsed.  We were very lucky no one was killed.  The branch completely blocked the way to the Rockoffs’ tent, so they had to take the scenic route back after dinner.

Monday, July 23:

A day of swings, it starts out with a huge array of animals.   We see an otter at play and hyenas at work.  The hyenas are finishing off what is left of the wildebeest.  Only a skull remains after we see one of them make off with what look like vertebrae.  We also see a procession of water buffalo and a herd of skittish wildebeests.  (We now know why they’re so skittish!)  We get one last look at a saddle-billed crane – one of the more beautiful birds we have seen – and a pride of four lionesses.

A saddle-billed crane

A saddle-billed crane

After the morning ride and lunch, we pack and return for the “departures terminal” and a 7-seat plane.

Lunch at Kwando

Lunch at Kwando

The departures gate

The departures gate

There was only one passenger besides us.  The plane was so small, the pilot pulled it by hand to its final stop after we landed to Maun Airport – the jumping off point to and from the Delta – and a 5:00 pm flight to Gabarone, our last stop.  The only problem is that there is no 5:00 flight.  We actually saw our flight take off when we landed at 3:00, and it was the day’s last flight to Gabarone.  What to do?  Our experience is a lesson in the rewards of staying calm.  Hope calls Mango tours, while Eva speaks to a representative of Mack Air – the company that flew us to Maun, who leads her to a person from Botswana Airways.  Both emphasize that we are neither threatening nor whining.  We only want to know, “What happened, and what now?”  It turns out that Botswana Airways changed the flight time.  A BA representative tried to reach Mack Air, but the usual contact was away, and BA made no follow-up.  They acknowledged full responsibility and put us up for the evening in “one of Maun’s best hotels,” while Mango Tours called everyone in Gabarone and rearranged our plans.

We got to see one more city, not that there is much to see or do in Maun.  It is very much a jumping off point – not a stick-around-and-enjoy point.  Maun has only 17,000 people spread over a very wide area.  It is thus no surprise to see cattle crossing at a major intersection – with no one attending them.  Our driver assured us that, “they know where they are going.”  Still, the hotel grounds are lovely, and we have a nice dinner (paid for by Botswana Air).

Tuesday, July 24

We catch the next morning’s 9:30 am flight to Gabarone, a 30-seat propeller craft that is aloft less than an hour (full beverage service and snack, of course).  Two vans are there to meet us (everyone was worried about us).  The hotel van takes our bags, while Tendai, who is from (and, we later learn, who is) Maroon Tours takes us.  Our stop in Gabarone was inspired by our affection for Alexander McCall Smith’s books about the “Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” (#1LDA) and the HBO series of that name.  They are a very gentle series of mysteries that display a very affectionate – if, it turns out, completely fictional – view of Botswana.  As we learn from Tendai, McCall Smith was born and raised in Zimbabwe (just like Tendai), and it was his memories of small-town life in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia at that time) that serve as the basis of his books, not contemporary Gabarone.  In fact, contemporary Gabarone is a redundancy.  Now Botswana’s capital and largest city, Gabarone was nothing more than a settlement as recently as the early 1960s and is now, for the most part, a modern city.  Neither fits the setting of the books.

Our first stop showed us how far the reality was from the books and how our stay in Gabarone was not going to be what we expected.  We went directly to the #1LDA main set, which is at the very edge of town and in complete disrepair.  The guide attributed much of the damage to animals (and we did see some cattle and baboons in the background), but they did not write the graffiti on the interior walls.  According to Tendai, the Botswana government has not seen fit to maintain the set – or to do much to promote tourism in Gabarone, preferring to pour resources into the Delta area.  We can see the wisdom of promoting high-end and eco-tourism, but we think this was a real missed opportunity.  Tendai says that the follow-up series (there will be a follow-up!) will be filmed in South Africa.

On the set

On the set

The reliance on government is the one flaw facing Botswana, which – otherwise – has escaped many of the traps that have ensnared most of its neighbors.  In fact, according the Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion (a depressing, if insightful, look at economic development), Botswana has three strikes against it:  it is landlocked; it has largely been in a “bad neighborhood” (bordering on South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zambia), and it relies strongly on a single, natural resource (diamonds).  Fortunately, it has good institutions and a history of good leadership.

Back to #1LDA, we drive past Princess Marina Hospital and the University of Botswana, where parts of several episodes were filmed.  We stop briefly at the functioning auto repair shop that served as Speedy Motors in the show.  It is actually a small part of a much larger operation that specializes in BMWs.  We made a longer stop at what had once been the “Go Go Handsome Man’s Bar.”   It is now a jazz bar named “Eros”.  It was still untidy from the previous evening, but the proprietor was gracious, and the setting was clearly recognizable.

The #1LDA highlight was seeing #5 Zebra Way.  That is its actual address.  Unlike the house depicted in the book, however, this house is in a very swanky neighborhood.  It is actually close to many embassies and ambassadorial residences.

We stopped for lunch at a local eatery and had a genuine African (as opposed to African-style) lunch.  Much of it was not particularly appetizing.  None of us could choke down the meat dish that was available, a mix of beef and tripe.  We contented ourselves with some green leafy vegetable, samp and beans and two sorghum dishes that were close to Wheatena.

A Botswana food court

A Botswana food court

The top non-#1LDA sight was a plaza that features statues of the three chiefs.  These chiefs, leaders of three of the largest tribes in the region, visited England in hopes of convincing Queen Victoria to order Cecil Rhodes, Governor of the Cape Colony, to stay away.    At first, they failed, as Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, turned them down flat and then went on vacation.  The chiefs did not accept this answer and went on a speaking tour of Great Britain, accompanied  by missionary Willowghby who acted as their translator  (the missionaries – including David Livingstone – were apparently a more decent group than we had imagined) to seek support of their cause.  Chamberlain returned from vacation to find a groundswell of support for the chiefs and – to his credit – reversed his ruling.  Botswana became a protectorate rather than a colony, which helped spare it the fates and sad legacies of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.  It helps that Botswana had nothing worth seizing.  Aside from the delta, the country is essentially a desert.  There was so little of interest to the British that they set up the administrative center – essentially Botswana’s capital – in Mafeking, South Africa (hence the need to create a capital city after independence).

Sadly, the tribute to the three chiefs is slightly bizarre.  It consists of six markers with inspirational messages flanking a huge statue of the chiefs looking off into the distance.  This is all in an open plaza with no shade.   It was enough to make Eva think of Stalin, a feeling that only intensified when we learned that the memorial was produced in North Korea!

Entry to the Three Dikgosi Monument

Entry to the Three Dikgosi Monument

Three of the history markers

Three of the history markers

With Tendai at the statues of the three chiefs

With Tendai at the statues of the three chiefs

The remaining historic markers

The remaining historic markers

Our hotel, the Peermont Mondior Botswana, was outstanding, but off the beaten track.  Thus, we had dinner at the nearby restaurant, the News Café, which was actually quite good.   To the server’s amusement, we split a milkshake four ways for dessert.

Wednesday, July 25

Our last full day in Africa.  We started by walking to the University of Botswana – only about 5-10 minutes from the hotel.  Naturally, we looked for the Economics Department, and – finding it – dropped in on Professor Nettem Narayana, who happened to be in.  He was very gracious to four strangers who barged in on him, and he painted a very favorable picture of the university and its students.  From there, we looked for the bookstore and found a “souvenir shop” instead.  Afterwards, it was back to our hotel to meet Tendai and begin the day.

The quad at the University of Botswana

The quad at the University of Botswana

Our first stop was the Botswana National Museum and Art Gallery.  Sadly, it is small and in some disrepair.   Apparently, this, too, reflects the government’s focus on the Delta.  It also reflects the lack of private sponsorship and entrepreneurism.

A reconstructed kgotla, a tribal meeting place, inside the plaza of the museum

A reconstructed kgotla, a tribal meeting place, inside the plaza of the museum

Our last stop at the museum was a sales exhibit of beautifully woven baskets.  Eva and Hope expressed a desire to buy some and thereby hangs a tale.  The person who could accept money was not on the premises, but in a ministry organizing an exhibit for London, so the museum put Hope and Eva us a car, along with the person who was watching the baskets, to take them to the ministry to make the payment.  They had to pass security and it took several tries for the lady accompanying them to find the right place to pay.  They paid and signed a document to take back to the museum to receive the baskets. Eva got not only a basket, but an officially stamped government document allowing her to buy the basket.

Eva shows off our "official" basket at our hotel room.

Eva shows off our “official” basket at our hotel room.

Tendai then dropped us off at a local mall.  Our first order of business was lunch, which took forever.  After that, we made our way to Parliament, which we had seen briefly the day before.

Sir Seretse Khame, the first president of Botswana

Sir Seretse Khame, the first president of Botswana

Parliament consists of an elected assembly and a Council of Chiefs, which functions like Britain’s House of Lords.  We were just wandering around, when someone waved us into the Parliament Building, where we got to watch a debate (surprisingly intelligently argued) on a communications bill.  It was interesting to see that the hall was set up like Parliament, with two sets of desks facing each other in rows.  The Speaker of the House (a woman!) sat at the front of the room, wearing robes and a white wig.  Whenever anyone left by the door, which was opposite the speaker, s/he had to turn to face the Speaker and bow.

Botswana's Parliament building

Botswana’s Parliament building

A Botswanan view of the world

A Botswanan view of the world

We decided to have dinner at the newest mall in town (one that was the first thing a local tourist information center advised us to see), the Riverside Mall. It was very much like US malls, with restaurants at one end and a large supermarket at the other.  Eva and Hope greatly enjoyed the supermarket.  We wound up having Italian food (African-style) as our last dinner in Africa.

Thursday, July 26

Mike’s hat made an acquaintance at the airport.  He wore a Hamilton College baseball cap (courtesy of Melanie), which prompted a greeting from two Penn medical students who were recent Hamilton graduates.  It turns out that one of them vaguely knew Melanie, though they were a few years apart and pre-meds did not generally know Theater majors.  The trip home was even longer than it should have been because we had an all-day layover in Johannesburg and arrived in Kennedy on Friday morning.  It was a memorable trip, combining wine and wildlife, history and politics.…

La Belle France – 1

December 24, 2011

June 9-Thursday
Caesar divided Gaul into three parts, and who are we to contradict him?  We will divide the report on our trip to France in three parts as well.  (“Omnia bloggia in tres partes divisia est.”) The first part began when our cousin Dany picked us up at Charles de Gaulle airport on June 9.  He looked at our luggage and was thrilled to see that it would fit in the trunk of his car. Then he stopped at a coffee stand and offered us coffee–and Melanie took him up on it.  The trip to Paris was very long as there was one long traffic jam on the freeway—bouchon or embouteillage.

Our first activity was visiting with Rene and Raymonde. They are now quite old (over 90), and Raymonde is dealing with the aftereffects of a stroke. She has trouble walking because her sense of balance was affected. Rene looks very much the same as he did when we saw him 12 years ago and is as feisty as ever. At Rene’s insistence we went to the same Moroccan restaurant as on our last visit (“Le Tenere”). Rene recalled that Daniel had called it “the most beautiful restaurant in the world.” The meat was hallal and plentiful, so we all ate too much.

At Le Tenere Restaurant

Rene and Melanie converse en francais

After visiting with Rene and Raymonde in their apartment, we went to Caen, stopping to pick up Dany’s wife, Martine, who was at their business. They are both extremely entrepreneurial and hard-working. They now run a party-supply business, in which they provide the infrastructure (table settings, tents, etc.) to caterers. They had their own storage space built for it outside of Caen.

Picture Melanie

June 10 Friday
Having spent the night at their apartment, we set off early the next morning to go east. Our first stop was Dormans, a memorial to soldiers killed in the first and second battles of the Marne. It is located in the middle of the Champagne region.  Such a bloody war in such a beautiful setting! Here we first saw the words that we would see frequently throughout our trip: mort pour France.

The Memorial at Dormans

On the steps to the memorial

The Champagne countryside viewed from Dormans

Eva at Dormans

On the way to Reims, we had lunch at Ikea

Eva amidst the grapes

We continued through the Champagne region to Reims (pronounced “Rance,” as in “dance”).  It is the site of a magnificent cathedral, where French kings had been crowned. It was an early Gothic building—the Gothic style changed the thick stone walls into thin glass windows. One of the highlights was a set of stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.

Martine, Eva, and Melanie at Reims

The nave at Reims

Gothic windows

Finally Verdun! I had looked forward to this for decades, as it had always been a wish of mine to visit the battlefields of World War I, particularly Verdun and the Somme. Our first stop was a fortification from the 1880s that had been turned into a museum of sorts. We rode in a car on tracks and saw displays and reenactments of the fighting and its aftermath. It could have been very touristy, but it was very well done. I was particularly affected by a display that showed how France’s “unknown soldier” had been selected.

Picture melanie

A Memorial to Andre Maginot, creator of the "Maginot Line"

It was late in the day, and we drove to the closest cemetery and then to the village that was completely destroyed.  Fort Douaumont, one of the focal points of the worst fighting (in part because it was the highest point in the local region), was closed so we walked around outside it.  There, as elsewhere, the ground was still pitted from the intense shelling that had taken place.

Melanie in front of Fort Douaumont

Melanie and Eva by a gun turret on top of Fort Douaumont

Melanie by Fort Douaumont - note the pitted terrain

We also visited the tranche des bayonettes – where a squad of French soldiers had been buried alive with only the tips of their bayonets visible – and again the cemetery.

Melanie at the "tranche des bayonettes"

Grave markers at the tranche des bayonettes

The number and the precise arrangement of the graves were chilling. There were separate graves for Christian and Muslim soldiers. While we saw a memorial to Jewish soldiers, we did not see separate graves, which left us puzzled.

The cemetery at Verdun

One soldier’s grave

Muslim soldier's grave

Memorial to Jewish soldiers

June 11 Saturday
We stayed overnight in Metz, in the heart of Lorraine.

Martine and Eva at an Italian restaurant in Metz

We started out the next morning in Metz with croissants in the town square.

Breakfast in Metz - the carousel in the background is a common feature of town squares

"Paul" was one of our favorite patisseries in Tokyo!

Another view of the square

We then visited another lovely cathedral (St. Etienne), also with Marc Chagall windows, and a visit to “the other” Pompidou Center.

The interior of St. Etienne Cathedral

A Chagall window

Even the gargoyles were impressive

Like the main center in Paris, the building is as interesting as the art it contains. Designed in part by a Japanese architect, it reminded us of the train station in Kanazawa, though that was designed by a different Japanese architect. The wooden posts supporting the structure looked like tori gates to Shinto shrines.

Eva at the Centre Pompidou - Metz

A broader view of the Centre Pompidou-Metz

On our way to Bonn, to visit Dany and Martine’s son Noam, who lives and works there with his girlfriend, Annalena, we first stopped for lunch in Luxembourg, a lovely postage-stamp sized country.

Melanie and Eva in front of Luxembourg Castle

Eating leftover pizza in the rain - tres sophistique

Then – at Eva’s insistence – we went to Trier, the birthplace of Karl Marx. It turns out that Trier has much more to recommend it than Marx’s birthplace, which we wound up not visiting, though the gift shop says it all about Marx today – it was full of knickknacks, such as “Karl Marx” baseball caps and wine (red, of course).

Eva visits Marx's birthplace

Trier has Roman ruins (because it was an imperial residence under Constantine in the fourth century).

The "Porta Nigra" was the entry to the Roman city

The basilica held the throne room for the emperors who lived in Trier

It also has other interesting buildings and a delightful, festive atmosphere without stepping over the line into kitsch.

Outside the Trier Cathedral

One of several town squares

On Martine's suggestion, we got some brezeln

Melanie liked hers!

June 12 Sunday
We stayed in Bonn for two nights. Annalena and Noam were extremely hospitable.

Dinner with Noam and Annalena our first night in Bonn

The first morning, they took us for a long walk in what has become a quiet university town. It is hard to believe that it was once the capital of Germany. Looking across the Rhine, Annalena pointed out seven hills in the distance that inspired the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The only Roman ruins in Bonn

University students playing soccer

The Rhine with the seven hills in the background

Outside Annalena and Noam's apartment

Another highlight was Beethoven’s birthplace.

In front of Beethoven's birthplace

We then drove to Cologne and had lunch a Nordsee, a fast food seafood restaurant.

Before lunch, we found a fountain with Heinzel mannchen, elves who did work for people.

The elves inspired these cookies.

The tartar sauce at Nordsee was in a wafer cone. How sustainable!

After lunch, we went to the Cologne Cathedral. It is the largest cathedral and the most visited place in Germany. Eva, Melanie, and I climbed over 500 steps to the top – or at least as far as one could go (it was almost 100 meters above ground)– which gave an impressive view of the town, including the seven hills in the distance.

This is the largest free-swinging bell in the world - it might also be the loudest!

Looking up into the spire from the top of the stairs

We can't show the whole cathedral, so here's a small bit of it

Cologne along the bank of the Rhine

June 13 Monday
On our way back to Paris, we stopped in Aachen (also known as Aix-la-Chapelle), where Charlemagne was crowned. The building is an amazing mix of styles, having been built over several centuries. Unfortunately, we could not go inside because it was Pentecost and the church was being used for religious services. So we did the next best thing—we entered a nearby coffee shop and drank coffee while overlooking the cathedral. Then we walked around the deserted town.

The Cathedral is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles

This shows how big the Gothic section is.

It may have a cathedral, but Aachen is also a fun town

Dany and Martine dropped us off in Paris, where we visited Rene and Raymonde one last time. Raymonde had fallen the previous day and was still shaken up over it.

Looking at old photos with Rene

Rene and Raymonde's apartment block

The exterior of the Moroccan restaurant

We stayed overnight in a hotel near them. It was on Rue Jean Jaures, who seemed to be an unknown to all people in our party but me. He was a French Socialist leader prior to WWI. Little did we know that he would follow us throughout the rest of the trip because there is a street or square named for him in every town we visited.  The next morning, we headed for the Gare de Lyons and a train to Avignon.

At the Gare de Lyons, a magazine ad promises that Chirac, a disgraced former President, will "tell all"

La Belle France – 2

December 24, 2011

June 14 Tuesday
Our second part of Gaul began when we caught the TGV (Train de Grand Vitesse) to Avignon. The TGV lived up to its name and deposited us in Avignon in under three hours, having taken us through green fields of France and not much else. (But the bus from the train station to the city dropped us off at Jacque Jaures Street—the main street running through Avignon.) Thus began the second part of our trip, which was something of a reunion of the group that had toured China two years earlier. We met Hope Corman and Hugh Rockoff and their children, Stephen, and Jessica, as well as Anne Mandel at the Hotel Le Colbert, a small, unpretentious hotel in which each room is uniquely shaped and decorated.

The view from our hotel room in Avignon

Looking down the hotel staircase at Eva

The room had a unique feel to it.

As did the artwork

Eva had had read in the Lonely Planet about Ginette et Marcel, a restaurant that serves tartines, a sort of open-faced sandwich. It was in a square just around the corner from our hotel, and it quickly became our favorite place to eat. Who ever thought that lightly toasted bread, goat cheese, and honey could be so exquisite?

At the cafe Ginette et Marcel with a church in the background

Anne tucks into a tartine

Sandy Decker and Sheila Franco, the remaining members of our China group, were also in Avignon, along with Laura XX, a friend of Sheila’s.

June 15 Wednesday
It was a market day in St. Remy. Three of the ladies went and said how beautiful the town was. The Rockoffs and we devoted the first day in Avignon to the city itself. We saw the Palace of the Popes, where the Popes lived for much of the fourteenth century, having left Rome on account of the civil war. It was not what I expected, not having much in the way of furnishings, but it was extremely impressive.

The Palace of the Popes

Jessie, Hope, Melanie, and Eva in the Palace courtyard

Eva listens to the - very informative - audioguide

On the ramparts

Eva was eager to see the Palace, as it was greatly expanded by Pope Clement VI, the patron of Charles the IV, the Roman Emperor and Bohemian King. A large hall of the palace was used for feasts and the Pope was seated above everyone else. When Charles visited from Prague, the protocol was changed to enable him to sit next to the pope. The Czech government after WWI commissioned a statue of Charles IV and places it in this palace.

Eva and Melanie with Charles IV

Matthieu d'Arras was the architect who designed St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague

This was in a room full of sayings: "The best professors are those who know to transform themselves into bridges, and who invite their students to cross them."

We had lunch at a small café that was located in a tower of the palace, providing truly impressive views of the city along with surprisingly tasty food. It reminded Eva of The Tower of St Angeles in Rome. From there, we went to the Pont d’Avignon, which – to my surprise – ends half-way across the Rhone. When the stone bridge was built, it was definitely not fit for dancing, as people slid off the muddy surf ace.

Looking back at the Palace of the Popes from the Pont d'Avignon with Hugh and Stephen Rockoff

Our last stop for the day was Villeneuve, the ”new” part of the city (built at the same time as Avignon for popes to escape the stench), which lies on the other side of the Rhone. We wandered through Chartreuse, a large, elaborate monastery that was built for nine monks,

Hope and me in the courtyard of Chartreuse

The tomb of Pope Innocent VI, who founded Chartreuse

We left in the direction of Fort St. Andre (of which we saw only the outside), which was built, in part, to protect those monks. The views from there were again wonderful.

Fort St. Andre

June 16 Thursday
The next day was one of the highlights of our stay in Avignon. We took a bus to the Pont du Gard, which is less a bridge than an aqueduct that the Romans built to supply Nimes with water. Actually, Nimes had its own water supply, but this provided extra water for fountains, baths, and other luxuries. The scale of this ancient engineering project was mindboggling.

On the way to the bus - the gate to Avignon

The Pont du Gard

"I'm ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille"

Looking down on the pont

This picture of Hope gives a sense of the size of the pont

Sheila, Anne, Hope, Laura, Melanie,Stephen, and Eva

The bridge also provided a great prologue for the arena at Nimes, which is the best-preserved Roman arena in the world and is still used as such.

Eva, Melanie, and Stephen at a fountain on the way to the arena in Nimes

You could really imagine gladiatorial contests taking place here

Eva in the cheap seats

The audioguide provided a good explanation of the history of the arena and its events, especially the gladiator fights. (The gladiators were professionals who were killed in only about 10% of the time when they made egregious mistakes.)

There were also informative posters.

The owners (stable masters) had to be compensated. Thus, even more than in Rome’s Colosseum, we were able to envision events that had taken place there.

The exterior of the arena

The top of the arena was almost the highest place in the city.

Looking out from the top of the arena

Nimes is not known only for its ruins. The material used to make jeans comes originally from here. (denim = de Nimes)

On the way to the train - a tacky play on Baudelaire's poetry

June 17 Friday
Having our fill of the ancient world, we then turned to nineteenth century impressionism, spending the next day in Aix-en-Provence.

Hope, Jessie, me, Stephen, and Melanie with Aix's favorite son

Most of the group spent only a morning in Aix, going on the Marseilles for bouillabaisse, but Eva, Melanie, and I were so taken with Aix that we stayed the whole day. We followed a “Cezanne Walk” that took us to a series of important locations in his life, such as the school he attended with Emil Zola. Cezanne spent most of his life in Aix. When he was away (e.g. Paris), he was drawn back to its beauty and location. “Nothing satisfies like Aix.” The highlight of the walk was the Musee Granet, which had been an art school that Cezanne attended but now houses some very impressive paintings and sculptures. After completing the walk, we went in search of the hillside home studio, where Cezanne painted for the last nine years of his life. It far exceeded our expectations. Cezanne designed the studio (on the second floor) himself, so it has several unique features: The room is almost a square, and most of its northern wall is one large window, providing a source of consistent light. The southern wall also has three large windows. The most interesting feature is a slit cut in the corner of the northern wall. The slit is just large enough for a person to slip through sideways. The reason for this was that Cezanne was working on his large painting The Bathers and wanted to work outside on the background. The slit enabled him to slide the canvas out to assistants who were able to take the painting because of the slope of the land.

Outside Cezanne's studio

The studio's north wall - note the huge window and the slit in the wall

From the studio, we continued up the hill to an observation point that allowed us unobstructed views of Mt Sainte Victoire, which Cezanne painted so often. It was very exciting to imagine that we were seeing what had so fascinated and inspired him.

Melanie and Eva with Mont St. Victoire in the background

Cezanne's inspiration

Our last stop in Aix was Jas de Bouffan, Cezanne’s family home. We could not go inside, but the setting was beautiful.

On the grounds of Jas de Bouffan

June 18 Saturday
We progressed from Cezanne to van Gogh and visited Arles. Arles also has some good Roman ruins, which played a surprisingly large role (to me) in some of van Gogh’s paintings. One nice feature of the city is a series of displays that show the painting that van Gogh made of a particular scene in Arles, right next to the actual scene!

In front of the Cafe de Nuit - on the Place du Forum

The juxtaposition of the picture and the modern reality was fascinating.

The grounds of a hospital where van Gogh stayed - and painted

Lunch with the Rockoffs on the grounds of the old hospital

And what a lunch it was!

With the Rockoffs at another scene from van Gogh

Unfortunately, the sites were not always well marked on the map. Eva, Melanie, and I took one long walk in an unsuccessful attempt to find one such painting (“The Old Mill“), but it took us to one of the most interesting parts of the city, Les Alyscamps, an ancient necropolis that figured prominently in several of his paintings. What I had always thought were park benches were really Roman tombs!

Eva and Melanie next to one of van Gogh's depictions of Les Alyscamps

Ruins at the necropolis

At the site of "Starry Night Over the Rhone" - heading to the train station

June 19 Sunday
We celebrated our 28th Anniversary (which we had forgotten) by having a very lovely breakfast in the hotel. The owner used this opportunity to give each room a bottle of wine as a farewell gift.

Breakfast at Le Colbert

We had no fixed plans for our last full day in Provence, so based on the enthusiastic review of Anne, Sheila and Sandy, we took the bus to St. Remy, where van Gogh was an inmate in a cloister asylum and painted intensely. Here, too, there were many signs showing van Gogh paintings in places that he painted them. One caption said that the sisters in the cloister were very progressive as they allowed van Gogh to wander around and paint in a time when most mental patients were restrained. We then visited the asylum in which he lived and saw his room.

A lavender field behind the asylum

Melanie with lavender and the asylum in the background

Finally, we visited the remains of the Roman city of Glanum on the outskirts of town.

At Glanum

We returned to Avignon in the early afternoon and took one last tour of the city. The highlight was the garden surrounding the Avignon Cathedral (Notre Dame des Doms). It was on a hill that had beautiful views of the city, the Rhone, and, of course, the Pont d’Avignon.

A view of Fort St. Andre from the garden

Looking down on the Pont d'Avignon

We went for one last meal at Ginette et Marcel, but there were not enough seats in the square. Pas de probleme – they seated us inside.

Inside Ginette et Marcel

The next morning, we had time for one last trip to the local patisserie and the garden across from our hotel, and it was off to the third portion of our trip.

Enjoying a croissant

Eva in the Jardin St. Agricole

June 20 Monday
After six days, we finally decamped for Nice and the Riviera. As in Avignon, the hotel in Nice had unique rooms. Ours was dedicated to the artist/boxer Philippe Perrin.

We've never had anything like this in a hotel room before.

Philippe Perin oversees a snack

A group of us spent the first afternoon at the Matisse Museum. Some (including Melanie) then went to the nearby Chagall Museum, while Eva, Laura, and I strolled around the grounds, full of flower beds with vegetables, which provided a beautiful view of the city, and around a nearby cemetery, which had the graves of Raoul Dufy and of Matisse. For some reason, Matisse’s grave was next to the main cemetery. In addition, people had put stones on his grave. That led Eva to speculate that Matisse might have been Jewish, but some research confirmed that he was Catholic (?? maybe he was protestant?).
Pictures?

June 21 Tuesday
The day brought one of the nicest surprises of the trip (because we did not do out homework and skipped reading the guide books). We intended to go to Juan les Pins, a town near Antibes that is supposed to have a nice sand beach. Unfortunately, the train went only about 100 meters before stopping. Apparently, someone had jumped in front of a train farther up the track. After 45 minutes, we were told that the train had been cancelled and that the railroad would not refund our tickets because “it was not our fault.” By luck, that train then headed in the opposite direction to a town that had a nice sand beach (as Hope had learned from the conductor): Villefranche sur Mer. The beach surpassed all expectations, and not just because many of the women were topless. The setting was gorgeous, with a lovely old town off to one side, yachts in the distance and a hill with cliffs in the background. We swam in the Mediterranean, twice going out to the boats, about a half kilometer away.

Villefranche sur mer

We bumped into an Irish couple, who told us more about Villefranche sur Mer and about a Rothschild estate in St. Jean Cap, a mile or so away in the other direction. Eva, Melanie, Stephen, Hope, Hugh, and I all walked out to see it. That, too, surpassed any expectations. The rooms, furnishings, and grounds were so over-the-top that they made the estates in Newport seem simple by comparison. The estate was built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in the early 1900s. Apparently, she had a very sad life and – to some of us – seemed more than a bit cuckoo.

June 22 Wednesday
We again split up on our final day on the Riviera. Most of us went to Eze, a hill town on the “Middle Corniche.” The three corniches run roughly parallel to one another, with each one higher up in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean. They were the roads traveled by Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Ironically, Grace Kelly was killed in a traffic accident on a road connecting the Grand Corniche (the highest) with the Middle Corniche.

Eze itself was too touristy for our tastes – an impression not helped by the fact that a boatload of tourists (literally, from a cruise ship anchored offshore) was roaming its streets.

Eze turned out to be very photogenic

It did have a lovely cactus “jardin exotique” that overlooked the sea. The captions in the lookout place explained the views. They indicated that Villefranche was a natural port used by the Russians and Austrians before WWI. This also explained the presence of many cruise ships. It also said that the road bridge to Eze, which completed the middle corniche, figured in To Catch a Thief.

Steve Rockoff in the Jardin Exotique

Eva and a slightly different view

The Jardin Exotique

Looking down at Eze

There was not much else to do in Eze and the bus to Monaco, our destination, was not for another two hours, so we had a lovely lunch.

A lovely lunch in Eze

Eva recalled after finally cracking the guidebooks that there was a path to the lower corniche and a train. It wall called Nietsche’s path because he walked it when composing Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Steve, Melanie, and Eva on the Nietzsche Path

Eva pauses partway down with the "Bas Corniche" in the background

It was steep, stony, and hot, and we were all (Eva, Melanie, Steve and I) relieved when we caught the train to Monaco, the second smallest independent state in the world (Vatican City is the smallest), at 2 km2. It seems larger than it is because most of one sees rising up from the see to the tall mountains in the background is in fact France and not Monaco, which is a thin sliver of land along the sea.

Flags celebrating the impending marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene

The official marriage flag

Time did not permit us to visit the casino at Monte Carlo, and preparations for Albert’s wedding (to take place about a week later), closed the palace to visitors, but we visited the Cathedral where Grace Kelly (because of the Philadelphia and rowing connection, Eva and Melanie feel a link to her) and Prince Ranier were married and, later, buried. We also visited another exotic garden. This one was built by Ranier’s grandfather on top of and along the side of a cliff overlooking the rest of Monaco and the sea. The setting and the layout of the garden were truly spectacular.

At Monaco's exotic garden

Looking down at the palace from the exotic garden

La Belle France – 3

December 24, 2011

June 23 Thursday
The third part of Gaul began in Annecy, in the foothills of the French Alps. Our party now was “only” 10, as Laura had gone on to Paris and, eventually, home. TGV failed us this time and was about half an hour late so we missed our connection to Annecy. The railroad put us on a bus. Annecy is a beautiful town, surrounded by mountains and bordered by a huge lake. It was a candidate city for the 2018 Winter Olympics, though soon after we returned, the Games were awarded to Pyeongchang, Korea.

Steven and Melanie are inspired by a sign touting the Olympics

We strolled around the lake before a dinner of fried mini-sardines. The headline in the paper was that one of van Gogh’s self-portraits – the one in the painter’s hat – was actually a painting of his brother Theo.

Annecy is beautiful - though summer is its "off" season

A lovely canal runs through the town

June 24 Friday
We spent much of our one full day in Annecy bicycling along the lake mostly along an old traintrack that has been seamlessly transformed into a bicycle trail. One of the sights as we cycled was a large group of paragliders, taking off from a mountainside across the lake. They slowly made their way across the lake and landed in a field next to us. It was lovely to look at but something that I’d never want to do.

Eva on her bicycle

We had a late picnic lunch. It was memorable as Hope and Melanie and Anne went to the morning market and picked up bread and tomatoes and cheese and olives and a tomato tapenade and it was all truly delicious. They made for a wonderful picnic.

Picnicking a la francaise

Notre grand repas

We were so full and ate so late Eva and Melanie had beer for dinner.

Steve Rockoff and Melanie in Annecy

Our last dinner in Annecy

June 25 Saturday
We spent the morning walking up to the castle and the cathedral to get good views of the city and to take it easy.

Hope and Eva at the Annecy Castle

A view of Annecy from the castle grounds

In the park, Eva had a second experience with stainless steel self-cleaning toilets. It looks like a steel cell that locks automatically after you enter. You must push a button and the door to be released.

Then we headed for Paris – our fifth division of Gaul – where we watched the sunset from the roof of our hotel, the Holiday Inn Notre Dame. The rooms were unspectacular, but the hotel had the huge advantage of location. As the name suggests, we were within easy walking distance of Ile de France and Notre Dame and hence many of the other sights in Paris. The location also gave us breathtaking views of the city from the hotel’s rooftop bar. The view was so beautiful that one morning we saw a photoshoot with two models pretending to have breakfast on the roof.

Notre Dame from our hotel rooftop

From our rooftop just before sunset

And just after sunset

Upon Hugh’s suggestion, Eva had a passion fruit martini and is still thinking about it. Steve’s girl friend, who happened to be in Paris with her parents, came to the hotel roof. She is a classics graduate student at Ohio State and seems quite sweet.

June 26 Sunday
Paris was now about 25 degrees warmer than it was when we first arrived in France. Our band was now down to eight, as Sandy and Sheila had gone to Switzerland from Annecy.

Eva, Melanie, and I got up early so we could get to the Musee d’Orsay before the crowds hit.

On the way to the Musee d'Orsay

As it was, we had a half-hour wait, though people who arrived soon after us probably had to wait twice as long. Eva and I bought a combination ticket that also gave us admission to a temporary exhibit on Manet and the Rodin Museum. Melanie joined Steve and his girlfriend for a self-guided tour of Hemingway’s haunts in Paris rather than go on to Rodin.

The temporary exhibit alone was worth the price of the ticket. It gave a comprehensive look at Manet’s work, which was far broader in style and far more political than I had realized. It paced his works in the context of others. It opened with a picture of about ten men next to Delacroix—Sargent was on one side and Manet on the other. One of his teachers had a wonderful torso painting, for example. The woman (Berta Morisson? Also had some beautiful pictures as well as Mary Cassat.) We also reveled in the museum’s impressionist collection.

Eva notes: The most interesting section was a part I did not even know was there! The large realistic paintings from after 1848, especially “The Dream.” In the large, stunning art nouveau furniture section was a Czech picture of Libuse. And we ended up with the model of the Paris Opera! Melanie used it to explain to us what she does in the theater.

The Rodin Museum had an interesting layout. It was part sculpture garden and part residence-turned-museum.

The grounds of the Rodin Museum

The sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum

The indoor portion provided interesting insights into how Rodin created some of his pieces. It highlighted how he created his first sculpture that made his famous—the man of bronze?? It also contained a roomful of pieces by Camille Claudel.

A small statue by Claudel that recalls Hasegawa's block print

It was hot and we were tired, but we walked back to the hotel via the Grand and Petit Palais, the Champs Elysee, through the Place de la Concorde,

The Grand Palais and the Pont Alexandre III

where Louis XVI and almost 1400 others were beheaded. It now features an impressive (and surprisingly well-preserved) Egyptian obelisk that was a gift from the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt to King Louis Philippe in 1833.

Looking towad Ile de France and Notre Dame

Closer to Ile de France

Around the corner from our hotel

June 27 Monday
Our last full day in Paris was a combination of things. On our way to pick up some breakfast, we saw the street cleaners washing down the street.

Every morning they wash down the streets

We ate our breakfast on Ile de France and wandered around Notre Dame.

You can find some interesting images at Notre Dame

First, using the Lonely Planet, Melanie led us on a walk through Montmartre. It was interesting to see the Moulin Rouge, which I remembered from earliest childhood. (It was on the wallpaper in our bathroom.)

Melanie at the Moulin Rouge

The place was full of mills because this hill supplied Paris with flour.

The Moulin de la Galette

While walking, we bumped into a dignified old French woman, who told us about the neighborhood and pointed out that a house identified with the painter Auguste Renoir was also the birthplace of his son, the famed director Jean Renoir. (I never knew they were related.)

With Melanie in front of the Utrillo House

The walk ended at Sacre Coeur, which was smaller than I expected it to be.

Sacre Coeur

We then hurried back to the hotel to have lunch with Claire Jacqmin, our former colleague at Temple University Japan. Claire is now finishing her dissertation at the University of Caen but living in Paris. She was not able to get around very well, as she had just had arthroscopic knee surgery. It was wonderful to see Claire again and to catch up with her.

Enjoying a cafe with Claire

We then went to the Pompidou Center, though – largely due to lack of time – we did not see the exhibits, contenting ourselves with admiring the outside and the ground floor. Melanie then went back to the hotel, as the near-100-degree heat was getting to her, but saw the Eiffel Tower in the process while Eva and I pushed on to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. It is a complete mess, with graves crowded together, many of them poorly tended. By sheer luck (largely by finding groups of people or tours), we located the graves of Frederic Chopin, Amadeo Modigliani, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde.

Modigliani's grave

Modigliani is one of Eva's favorite painters

Piaf's grave

A memorial the the French killed in the Algerian civil war

There really was a Pere Lachaise

Wilde’s grave was bizarre looking, with a weird statue and all sorts of messages and hearts all written in red (including many impressions of lipstick).

June 28 Tuesday
Eva and Melanie left for Prague, a trip she will detail in a later blog entry, while I left two hours later for Philadelphia. Oddly enough, I bumped into Lynne Andersson – a colleague from Temple – at Charles de Gaulle Airport. She was heading home from a conference in Bath, England. It’s a small world.

March Break in Prague

July 21, 2011

Saturday (March 5)

This spring, Eva taught a half course at Moravian on the history and culture of the Czech Republic (All About Prague). The class met for an hour and a half each week for a total of seven weeks. The high point of the course was spending March break in Prague, so on March 5 Eva and I drove to Moravian to catch a limo to JFK Airport. We were a very diverse group: nine undergraduates, an emeritus professor and his wife, the secretary to the Director of International Programs (and an evening student) and her husband, Moravian’s Director of Housing, Eva and me.  We all met at JFK (a few did not take the limo) and set off!  There were two good movies on the flight: The King’s Speech and Inside Job, an account of the financial meltdown that, unfortunately, did not present economists in a very good light.
Sunday
We landed in Prague ahead of schedule and did not waste any time.  We went straight to our hotel, an interesting mix of old and new, not far from Old Town Square, and dropped off our bags. We headed straight for the Bethlehem Chapel nearby, surely an appropriate venue for a group from Bethlehem. Most of the students were quite taken with the history and the impressive space of the chapel that reform-minded clerics used to preach to thousands.  Eva was excited when she noticed a small painting of Jan Hus (who preached there), answering charges of heresy in Constance, where he was later burnt at the stake.  (Hus was an early Protestant, a full 100 years before Luther.)  This is a famous Czech painting by Vaclav Brozik, and this was the smallest version that he painted.  At Moravian, as one enters the Admissions Building, there is a copy of his painting of Comenius, a follower of Hus and spiritual founder of Moravian.

After a lunch at a very Czech cafeteria, we went to the Obecni dum (Municipal House).  When we visited in 1991, the meeting rooms were not open to the public.  Today, after an extensive renovation, it is a beautiful structure that houses a variety of concerts and public events and several restaurants.  We took a tour of the building, which showed the main halls and several side salons. It is gorgeous art nouveau, with many patriotic paintings by Alphonse Mucha.  We learned on the tour that the house was built as a Czech cultural center in response to a nearby German cultural house.

The only negatives were that he jet lag hit most of the students very hard and that we lost two of our party on the way to Obecni dum. Fortunately, we found them back at the hotel, and we all took the metro to Vysehrad.  Vysehrad is the ruins of an old castle that overlooked the Vltava (Moldau) river.  It has a neogothic church and provides some beautiful views of Prague.

The group at Vysehrad

It also has a cemetery containing the ashes of some of the most famous Czech artists, athletes, composers, and writers, including Karel Capek, Bedrich Smetana, and Antonin Dvorak.

Tim Smetana at Smetana's Grave

On the way back, Eva pointed out one of several “cubist” houses that exist in Prague.  There are more cubist houses farther out, but we were cold, hungry, and jet lagged, so we went to dinner.

A Cubist House below Vysehrad

The hotel made reservation for us for dinner at U Medvidku (At the Bear), a very nice, traditional Czech restaurant, where everyone got their second taste of Czech cuisine. We met Jiri Hudec there who was one of the Olomouc students the previous year.
Monday

Eva had an accident that could have derailed the whole week.  She slipped and fell while getting out of the shower and twisted her knee. It did not require medical attention, but it clearly bothered her and caused her to limp for most of the rest of our stay.  To her credit, she fought through it and remained a remarkable combination of tour guide, instructor, and sheepdog.

Despite the mishap, we set out early for a trip to the Prague Castle, stopping briefly at a monument to Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, two famous astronomers who lived in Prague.

With Kepler and Brahe on the Way to the Castle

We enjoyed a stunning view of Prague and took the back streets to the castle, enjoying a sunny view of the Martinic Palace.  We came just in time to see the changing of the guard, the first such view for many of the students.  As always, the castle was magnificent and the tour of the castle included different sites.  The students chose the shorter version and then paid extra to climb the tower.  The adults chose the longer tour.  (Charles IV, the founder of St Vitus cathedral, chose to rebury many of his predecessors in there.)

The Nave of St. Vitus Cathedral

After lunch at Vikarka, a restaurant at the castle, we saw two small museums, which were unexpected pleasures. The Rozmberg Palace had at one time served as a school for the daughters of impoverished nobles.  Another museum gave an overview of the history of the castle in the Royal Palace. It included the books detailing the daily payments of workers constructing St. Vitus Cathedral and a copy of the Sicilian Bull that conferred the title of King on the ruler of the Czech lands.

Chris Hunt outside the Royal Palace

Looking up at the Cathedral

After visiting the museum, we continued to Old Town Square (taking the tram for one stop across the river), where we saw the ringing of the astronomical clock and climbed the tower of the Old Town Hall. It gave as a magnificent, iconic view of the Old Town Square.

The Tyn Cathedral from Old Town Hall Tower

We purchased tickets to the ballet for Thursday.  Then it was dinner at leisure, so Eva and I went to visit Eva’s old school friend – also named Eva – and her husband, Petr. Unbeknownst to us, their lives had recently gone through two upheavals.  First, Petr’s mother had just died, which was the reason why Petr’s brother was there when we arrived. They were discussing funeral arrangements. Second, they had become grandparents. Their son, his fiancé, and their granddaughter, Zofie, all lived in an upstairs apartment in their home. Very cozy.

Eva and Zofie

Tuesday
We caught the train to Karlstejn. I hadn’t been there since 1991, and it was as impressive as I remembered it to be.

Karlstejn

The First Courtyard at Karlstejn

We purchased tickets for the next tour, which was a Czech-language tour, but, because the only people on the tour were our group and smaller group of Poles, the guide kindly gave the tour in English. He spoke clearly and enthusiastically.  When he showed a picture of Cech (pronounced “Czech”), the legendary founder of the Czech nation, he remarked that of course Lech is the legendary founder for the Poles.

One pleasant surprise was the existence of a very nice restaurant partway down the hill from Karlstejn (one of many), where we had a tasty lunch and learned that “waffle” in Czech (the dessert that came with the meal) is “waffle”. Nineteen years earlier, the pickings had been decidedly slimmer.

That evening, we had an optional trip to the Prague State Opera House, the site of one of two major opera companies in Prague.

The Prague State Opera House

The government wants to merge the two, which was the subject of an impassioned speech by a member of the company prior to the performance. To our delight, almost all of the students came with us to see a lovely production of Madama Butterfly. It was more traditionally staged than the production we had seen in Philadelphia the previous year, which I appreciated.
Wednesday

We walked to the Jewish ghetto and started at Klaus synagogue, which explains all major customs and holidays.  Eva was most taken with the display of a shoe that was the symbol of divorce.

The magnificently renovated Spanish synagogue displays a lot of Jewish culture in the context of Czech culture.  It displayed a calendar of daily activities that took place at Terezin during the war, including a daily concert.  It also has the menora that the Obamas used in the White House.

After lunch at Staromestska restaurace, Eva’s favorite, we took a short walk in the neighborhood of Old Town Square.

The Intricately Designed Rott House - with an unusual downstairs tennant

In the afternoon, Jan Vesely, a former student and colleague of Eva’s father, gave us a tour of Carolinum, the oldest building of Charles University.

The Aula (Main Hall) at Charles University

He managed to be both informative and entertaining. It was very nice to see him again. He showed us around along with a group of students from Luxembourg—they also consider it their university, as Charles was a Luxembourg.  Then Jiri took only us into the basement of the building, whose Romanesque vaults contains many historical documents of the university.

Jiri Vesely

We then took the funicular up Petrin Hill, which affords beautiful views of the city and the castle.

The Castle from Petrin Hill

Some of our party stayed on Petrin, while others went back to prepare for a trip to the National Theater (Narodni divadlo). Before the performance, Eva gave a brief tour of the building, showing us foundation stones that had been contributed by cities throughout the Czech lands.

Eva Points Out Foundation Stones

We saw a new balletic version of Othello. Ballet is not normally my cup of tea, but this was very dynamically staged and was set to symphonic pieces of Leos Janacek, a famous Moravian composer.  It was interesting to hear familiar melodies floating in and out of the score. It all worked very well. Eva and I were in a private box, while Chris Hunt (Moravian’s Housing Director) was in a box next to us.

Eva Visits Chris in His Box

The Interior of the National Theater

During the intermission and after the performance, Eva, Chris, and I explored the theater a bit more and found a bust of Leos Janacek.

Chris, Leos, and Eva

Thursday
We all went off in several directions. Some went on a daytrip to Terezin (aka Theresienstadt), the “model ghetto” that the Nazis constructed and flaunted to the outside world. It functioned as a concentration camp and stopping point for people on their way to the death camps. Others of us (I had been to Terezin years earlier with my mother and brother) spent the morning at the Prague Museum of Modern Art. The museum is very large, and we did not see all of it by noon. The art was surprisingly accessible and very well displayed. There were different kinds of displays, and Eva particularly enjoyed the model stage sets from the 1930s.  She was shocked to discover a painting of Adamites, extreme Husites who believed in going naked and were killed by the more “moderate” sects.

Eva with stained glass windows by Alphonse Mucha

Eva with the marionettes Spejbl and Hurvinek

After seeing the museum, Eva left for lunch with her cousin Milada and beer with Jiri Vesely, while I went to CERGE-EI. “CERGE-EI” stands for “Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education-Economics Institute.”  It is the creation of Jan Svejnar, who was a few years ahead of us in graduate school, is now a Professor at the University of Michigan, and is quite a remarkable figure. He saw that the traditional educational establishment in the Czech Republic and other countries making the transition from communism were incapable of producing economists with the skills needed to run a modern, market-oriented economy, so he essentially created a new institution that could create them. Svejnar was also instrumental in the privatization of the Czech economy and recently came very close to being elected President of the Czech Republic.

Thanks to the efforts of Jan Kmenta, Professor Emeritus of Economics, a renowned econometrician who teaches regularly at CERGE, and a long-time friend of Eva’s family, I was invited to give a talk at CERGE. My talk was not particularly spectacular, but I didn’t embarrass myself and got some good comments. Two of the Moravian students actually came to hear it. After the talk, Eva came by with her cousin Helena.

"My" office

Eva and Helena

We chatted briefly before Eva went to dinner with Helena, and I went off with some of my hosts at CERGE.  Eva said that it was still a bit light after dinner, so she and Helena could see Petrin and the castle.  After all these years they both still find Prague enchanting.
Friday
Our final full day in the Czech Republic consisted of a trip to Olomouc, a city in Moravia, which is the home of Palacky University. This university sends two students to Moravian each year; Charles Merrill, the son of the founder of Merrill Lynch, pays for their housing, and Moravian offers free tuition. The University was very welcoming, giving us a talk on the history of the university, providing us all with lunch, and giving us a tour of the university and of Olomouc. While all this was going on, Eva was speaking with officials from the university about establishing a true exchange program by bringing Moravian students to Olomouc.

Sundial on Palacky Campus

Eva then joined us for a tour of Olomouc, led by a retired English Professor. Olomouc is a small  but charming city that was once the capital of Moravia.

Geometry in a street scene

The group at a fountain next to City Hall

Olomouc City Hall

Our guide with a 3-D map (model) of Olomouc

Olomouc's Astronomical Clock as re-designed along Socialist Realist lines

The whole group with 3 Palacky University students in front of the astronomical clock

At the end of the tour, we met up with Eva’s cousin Vilos and his wife Alena. They were good company despite my horrible Czech and their limited English. We went to dinner at – of all places – an Italian restaurant.  Alena described their latest experience—they had just returned from a cruise to Southern France and Italy.  It was a very luxurious experience.

With Vilos and Alena in front of the Holy Trinity Column

Dinner at an Italian restaurant

The only blot on the day was the news from Japan about the earthquake and tsunami. Word was slow to reach us, so at first we thought there had only been a moderate-to-severe earthquake. We learned about the tsunami upon returning to our hotel in the evening. That touched off numerous messages to our friends in Japan, all of whom, thankfully, were safe.
Sunday
We got up at a normal time and headed for the metro. We saw the cubist lamp on the way.  We then continued to the airport and a plane back to the US.


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