Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Sunday Five: Leaving our mark on the world

 1: This Roman Aqueduct has stood for over 2,000 years, should the "I was here" from 1818 be removed? 

2: Have you ever carved your name or initials into the bark of a tree? 

3: There is a trend of covering the back of street signs with stickers or decals, have you ever done this? 

4: The hotel in Dublin had a sticker wall in the lobby, would you have something in your pocket or bag to add the wall? 

5: Banksy, art or vandalism? 

My Answers? 

1: This Roman Aqueduct has stood for over 2,000 years, should the "I was here" from 1818 be removed? I would cover it with glass, and post signs asking people to not deface the stone work. 

2: Have you ever carved your name or initials into the bark of a tree? No. 

3: There is a trend of covering the back of street signs with stickers or decals, have you ever done this? I have not, but I have thought about it. 

4: The hotel in Dublin had a sticker wall in the lobby, would you have something in your pocket or bag to add the wall? I didn't, I had cleaned out the small case I carry before we left home, and left at home and American "I Voted" Sticker.  

5: Banksy, art or vandalism?  If it is done without permission, it is vandalism, it may be artistic, but it may be unwelcome.  

Please share your answers in the comments. 

Saturday, June 29, 2024

The Saturday Morning Post: You Can't Fool Mother Nature

Iceland is trying to save the Blue Lagoon, I think the bigger concern is the geothermal power plant next to it, that feeds the mineral rich hot water to the Blue Lagoon, and supplies a significant portion of the island's electricity and hot water for heating to thousands of homes.  They have built a berm, a pile of rocks and dirt to try to divert the lava from the ongoing volcanic eruption away from the area. As that has failed they are spraying water on the advancing lava (I am writing this a week before this posts, this may have changed or failed by the time this posts.) Ultimately there are limits on what we can do to control mother nature.  The forces at work in a volcano are stronger than man. 

What is Iceland's back up plan? They are drilling new geothermal wells 20 miles away, with plans for a new power plant moving forward at record speed.  The Lagoon will be harder to replace.  I am glad we took a soak there when we did.  

I was talking with a National Park Ranger who was repairing a boardwalk along the Potomac River the other day.  He said a replacement is planned in two years, and it will be taller and longer to accommodate rising water levels in the River.  He said, in the last 12 months, the average water level in the River has risen by 5 inches.  At that rate it will rise over 4 feet in the next 10 years, most of the Dyke Marsh trail is less than 4 feet above the water level. Massive reconstruction projects are underway to rebuild the marsh, but there is only so much you can do to push back against nature.  The dykes that have been built to rebuild the marsh, will be underwater in five or six years.  

We live on top of the ridge, about half a mile from the River and about 100 feet higher than the river.  The hill is a pain when you are walking up it, but as sea levels rise, we will end up with water view property in a 100 years or less.  

Friday, June 28, 2024

100 Ways to Slightly Improve Your Travel Experience # 12 If you can't tote it, don't pack it


My father had a simple philosophy on packing for travel, take half as much stuff, and twice as much money as you think you need.  I am not a backpack or carry on only traveler, at least not yet.  But I am finding that I pack less and less. Pack simple things that are mixable and layerable.  Who cares if you wear the same thing more than once.  Reduce the friferie.  

But what do you  do when the adventure is a long one, like the nearly five week trip we took this spring?  You do laundry along the way.  We had a bag of laundry done on the ship, a simple wash and fold service was $35 for about a weeks worth of fresh clothes.  Was it perfect, no, but it was fine.  The Gite we rented had a washing machine and dryer (a rare find in Europe.) We did a couple of weeks worth of laundry, enough to more than get us home.  In the USA, many hotels have self service laundry facilities (look at Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn.)  One of the fun experiences on our adventure in Germany back in 2015 was finding a self serve laundromat in Frederikshavn Germany, and doing a couple of large loads of laundry (Sweetie Bear was in the road three weeks on that trip.) 

The next time you return from a trip, look at what comes out of the bags that has not been worn, and remember to pack less the next time.  

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Thursday Ramble: SNCF French Trains

SNCF operates the trains in France, correction: at one time SNCF thought a subsidiary operated the Virginia Railway Express - the commuter trains here in northern Virginia.  On the recent trip, I booked six trains, we rode five of them.  

SNCF has an easy to use website that has an excellent English version.  You can search for trains, book and pay online, download the boarding passes as a pdf - and either fight with them on your phone or print them at home.  It is the easiest to use train website I have used.  I have given up on a couple of them, and booked the wrong date on one of them and had to deal with customer non-service to rebook.  The German system was good back in 2015, I think this was even more user friendly. Booking trains in trains Britain has gotten harder and more confusing over the past 20 years.  

All of the trains were on time and comfortable.  As an American I am always surprised by the speed and smoothness of passenger trains in Europe.  100 miles an hour is not unusual for a normal train in Europe, rare here in the USA. 

I booked a French train from Barcelona in Spain, to Narbonne in France.  I was pleased to book this on SNCF. The train stopped near the border and the police came through checking passports (surprising as both countries are in the EU.) 

We then took a local train to Carcassonne. Then a local from Carcassonne to Nimes.  Then at the end of the trip a TGV, the original French high speed train from Nimes to the airport in Paris. 

Now I booked six trains, and we rode five?  I had booked local from Nimes to the TGV station that is about 15 miles away in the countryside (an 8 minute train ride.) We had a taxi take us to the train station in Nimes, and he took us directly to the TGV station.  I realized when he went left instead of right, what he was doing, and thought this is a comfortable ride and one less train to lug bags on and off of.  It was an extra $25, remember you can't take it with you. 

There were two challenges. We were on the road for five weeks and had large heavy bags, several of the older stations didn't have elevators (lifts) to the platforms, and carrying the bags up and down stairs was a bit of a job.  In one station a very kind young lady carried one of the big bags up for us.  The second issue was seat numbering, SNCF uses electronic seat numbers on digital displays.  The seat numbers change as one passenger exits and the next one booked in the same reserved seat boards.  As a result the seat numbers are not in order. One one train we were in seats 11 and 12, and the next row in front of us was 36 and 37. This caused confusion for those not accustomed to the system.  

From Nimes to Paris is about 350 miles, and took about three and half hours on the train. Flying it would take about an hour, and by the time you get to the airport 2 hours before flight time, it is about a wash on time.  And the train ride is so comfortable (and I had booked first class.) 

It is a nice way to travel.   

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

My World of Wonders aka The Wednesday Ws June 26 2024


Where have I been this week? Close to home, a walk in the swamp, to the gym, to the pool, Trader Joes, and IKEA, 

What has the weather been like? Hot, near 100 f, and humid.  A float in the pool is about as much as you want to do outside.  

Who have a talked to?  Dear neighbors, my sweet bear, my sister, J's oldest brother, and collaborators on a consulting project.  

Why my sister?  She has been unwell.  

When is the next adventure? We might go to Cleveland in a couple of weeks, the oldest brother is having surgery.  

What have I heard this week?  I was walking along the Potomac River down at the swamp, and could hear the lapping of the water and the chatter of the birds. 

What have I smelled this week?  I had a couple of things bubbled over and burned in the oven, time to run the self clean cycle. 

What have I tasted this week? A cranberry martini. I made a fresh cranberry liqueur last fall, a little of that, a splash of vodka, shaken not stirred.  It has an amazing color. 

What have I seen this week? Lots of small birds - woodpeckers, warblers, cardinals, and swallows. 

What have a felt this week? I spent a few minutes too long in the sun at the pool, so a little tightness in my skin. 

What is the bad joke of the week? I am very glad it is not snowing,  it would be hard shoveling snow in this heat and humidity. 

What about the photos above?  A ballet shop, with shoes and a bar, and reflection in the window of two sweet old men. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Travel Tuesday: Nimes, France

Nimes is a gem in the region of Provence in France.  It appeared on our agenda because there is a Roman Arena and Roman Temple there and because the TGV - high speed train, runs from there to the airport in Paris.  It was where we picked up and returned the rental car. Originally we were only going to spend one night there.  I had booked a hotel in Aix en Provence for a couple of nights, then one night in Nimes. A couple of days before we drove into the traffic jam of car dealerships and shopping that is Aix, and I hated it.  I asked Jay if it was okay if I booked a couple of extra night in Nimes, he said, what ever you want dear.  The hotel in Aix was cancelable, and I found a nice Novotel in Nimes, on the edge of the historic center, and booked three nights.  It was very nice and very comfortable. 

There is a fantastic pedestrian zone, filled with narrow streets like this.

The best preserved Roman Temple in the region is in Nimes. 

There is an incredible market in Nimes. 

The Roman Arena was being set up for a summer concert series. 

Monday, June 24, 2024

Moody Monday: Not Snapping

The first of summer, and the inconsiderates seemed to be out in force.  

A truck making a left turn, with pedestrians walking very-very slowly - this turtle would move faster, and the light turns red. I have to remind myself that I am not in a hurry. I have all day, the top is down on the car on a bright sunny morning. 

A family of five walking side by side through the narrow walkways at the farmers market, blocking everyone trying to go in either direction, and they are clueless that there are others trying to move through the market.  I have to remind myself, that maybe this is the first time they have visited and don't realize what a pain in the behind they are being to everyone else.  

A throuple at the pastry boy's stand, spending what seemed like five minutes trying to decide on an order of two pastries.  Pastry boy was nice enough to look up at me and say, "two cherry?" Yes, thank you. I am reminded that thoughtful people outnumber the inconsiderate. 

The third elevator in the building has been out of service for a month, waiting for repair parts.  Ten years ago we spend several million dollars on new elevators, part of the rationale for selecting this supplier is the hardware is made in the United States and parts would be readily available.  I remind myself, that it is not my problem, that is what we have professional managers and a board for. 

At times, I have to remind myself to not snap, not lash out.  When I am driving the little car with the top down, I have to be careful what I am thinking, often you can hear my thoughts from 50 feet away.  

The turtle above, is a snapping turtle, get in his way and he can snap a finger off.  


Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Sunday Five: Pier Runners

 One of the entertainments on a cruise, is watching for the pier runners when the ship is getting ready to depart.  There is a final boarding time, and the general rule, is if you are late and it is not the cruise line or one of their contractors fault, you are left behind.  The ship does not wait. The couple getting out of the police car above, were about 20 minutes late and the ship sent the police to drive them the last half mile down the pier. 

1: Would you cheer for the pier runner or laugh at them? 

2: Have you ever missed a flight because you were late? 

3: Have you ever missed the boat? 

4: What is your idea of "on time?" 

5: What is your best "they were late" story? 

My answers: 

1: Would you cheer for the pier runner or laugh at them? Sending the police for them, I found funny, this happened in two ports.  

2: Have you ever missed a flight because you were late? I have missed a connection because my incoming flight was late, but I have never been late to the airport for the first flight. 

3: Have you ever missed the boat? Only on good looks. 

4: What is your idea of "on time?" I was raised that is you were not 15 minutes early, you were late, I have narrowed that down to 5 minutes or so. 

5: What is your best "they were late" story? My dear Aunt was always late, she was 20 minutes late to her own funeral.  There had been a storm the night before and a bridge was washed out forcing everyone to find an alternate route.  

Please share your answers in the comments.  Have fun and be creative. 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Saturday Morning Post: City Markets Barcelona Edition

I remember the wonders of the first European city market I visited. It was the Central Market in Florence Italy. I fell in love with the variety and quality; and that each vendor specialized in one product type.  Some of the vendors are producers, most are not, but they know the farms and suppliers intimately.  There are a few of these left in the United States, the Reading Terminal Market in Philly, the West Side Market in Cleveland, the Eastern Market in Detroit to name a few.  When you have a chance explore them.  

We visited three major city markets on the recent trip, Tenerife, Barcelona, and Nimes, and a couple of smaller neighborhood markets.  I also like visiting local grocery stores, with the Gite rental we became regulars at Super U and Aldi.  

The market in Barcelona was heavy on seafood and meats.  I could live across the street and cook out of here until my dying day. 

The hands of a master, trimming to perfection. 


Thursday, June 20, 2024

100 Ways to Slightly Improve Your Travel Experience #11 - Take A Day Off From Your Vacation


Sometimes we need a day off from our travel adventures.  This can be a low impact day, like taking the open top bus tour mentioned last week, or a day when you hardly leave the hotel room. Our vacations and travel tend to become perpetual motion exercises.  There is so much to see and do, and sometimes what we most need to do, is less. 

Taking a day off is more important for some than others.  Some people retreat from activity every few days in a routine life.  This may be the weekend day when they don't leave the house and take a break from their daily routine. Or it can be the rare day when the person just does nothing.  I can remember in my hard driving 30's setting a goal one year to spend one day a month when I didn't leave the house each month (I succeeded about four times that year.)  

It is helpful to have a low-impact day from time to time.  A day when you drive slowly, and see the sights through the windshield, only getting out and walking when you truly feel like it, and not at all if you don't feel like it.  

Thursday Ramble: Closing a Tax Loophole

One man's important provision in the tax regulations, is another man's tax loophole. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the United States national income tax agency, has announced intention to change a provision in the tax regulations.  An important distinction, Congress writes the tax code or law, it authorizes the agency (IRS) to promulgate regulations.  As long as the regulations are not contrary to the law, the agency has fairly wide discretion in how they implement the law by writing regulations. Simply put, the IRS created the rule they are changing, and they most likely can change the regulation.  

If you are still awake, and still with me, let me explain what they are going to change. 

Currently the value of assets contributed to a partnership (this includes LLCs, PLCs, general and limited partnerships) is whatever value the partners agree on.   The change would require there to be a reasonable or rational basis on the value of the assets contributed.  Currently only agreement on the value by the partners is required. This change is estimated to increase tax revenues by $50,000,000,000 in the first ten years ($50-billion dollars.) 

Let me offer an example.  You have a blog and I have a blog, we agree to go into a partnership to create a blogging partnership to increase readership and advertising revenue on our new super blogs.  We agree between the two of us to contribute our blogs, all of the intellectual property, good will, and established business from our blogs. And we agree that each blog is worth $1,000,000 ($1-million dollars.) This is an in kind, contribution of capital under the current IRS accounting regulations.  The regulations will allow us to write this off as a business expense over a number of years, say ten years.  This means that each of us will be entitled to $100,000 a year expense against income, income from TravelPenguin is currently about $120 a year.  I can write the rest of the expense off against other income.  That would reduce my tax liability to zero. 

This is how rich people pay less in taxes, than you and I do. 

With a rational basis rule, even if we value travel penguin at 50 times earnings, my write off would only be $6,000, spread over ten years.  Twenty Five years ago, when I first read this rule,  I thought, this is ridiculous and needs to be changed. It is about time. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

My World of Wonders, aka the Wednesday Ws June 19, 2024

What have I been thinking? What a great life we have lived, reasonably good health, love, comfort, adventures and exploration.  And we should have a few good years left. 

Who have I seen?  I had lunch with the person who replaced me as director the other day, we had dinner last week with the friend whose wedding we are going to on the September road trip. 

Who have I heard from?  I trade daily morning texts with a couple of people, I had a couple of emails from Doc Spo. I traded emails with an old friend in Kentucky, he keeps saying he is going to cash out and retire someday. I hope he does while he can still enjoy life.  I traded emails with my sister-in-law and spoke briefly with Ed. 

What have I read? I finished the book on visiting Islands, and the Wisdom of Sheep.  I am reading a book on closing the generation gap written by a management think tank.  

What did I hear this week? The rattle of the subway trains, trains are seldom quiet, but the DC system seems to have more clunks and rattles than others around the world.  

What have I overheard? Waiting to meet a friend for lunch, the man sitting next to me, talking a younger family member about being in town for the funeral of a family member, uncomfortable questions about if there will be an inheritance.  Two ladies in the pool floating near me, one of them talking about this wonderful weight loss program, the other one asked what happened when she stopped the program, the answer was gained it all back plus 10 pounds. 

What have I smelled this week? Can you smell the green of summer?  It is intense right now, with blooming trees adding sweetness to the sidewalk experience.  

What have a felt this week? The comfort of floating in the pool in dappled sunlight.

What did I taste this week? I am using zucchini (courgettes) as an added ingredient in cooking, and a great cantaloupe melon.    

Who deserves a slap this week? Amazon delivery for showing something as delivered, 24 hours before it was delivered.  3 out of 5 slaps.   

What did I want to say this week (and didn't)?  I was riding up in the elevator, someone asked the young woman next to me how she was doing and she replied, really kind of terrible.  Her husband had moved out and told her he wants a divorce.  I wanted to say, "he wants you to be happy, everyone deserves happiness, and he didn't think he could provide the happiness you deserve, or find happiness for himself."  Unhappy people fear making those they love, unhappy.  


Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Travel Tuesday: The Ship

Explorer of the Seas is about 1,000 feet long, a floating resort hotel. It is an older ship, about 25 years old.  When she was launched she was the largest in the world. One of the first to have a large indoor central atrium. 

People ask if we were bored, there were 8 days at sea.  We enjoyed every one of those days. There are hundreds of things to do. Time to relax and watch the sea roll by seemed to fly by.  My advice, don't fear the ship or time at sea, savor being away from the world. There were a couple of thousand passengers onboard, and there were always places to find quiet and solitude. 

I realize I didn't take photos of the cabin, there are lot of photos online.  We really enjoyed the balcony, having a private outdoor space. On our previous cruise we  had an inside or "ocean view" cabins, the balcony costs quite a bit more, but we really enjoyed it.    

The view up and back from our balcony at night. No we didn't ride the slide. 

In port in Tenerife. The small ship in front of us is Ritz Carlton at sea, it is doing a transAtlantic crossing next spring, $7,500 per person with everything included.  I know it looks tiny, it is 590 feet long. 

The view down from our balcony. 

He had a colorful collection of swimwear. 

The flowrider looked fun, but the cautions crossed the line into Dr. W's advice to not do anything stupid. 

Nap time. 

Miami fading into the distance. 

'Take Her to Sea Mr. Murdoch" my favorite line from the movie "Titanic."