New York State of Mind

New York City has been on my mind this week. Two reasons. Riley and I just spent the weekend there, and another terrorist attack happened in downtown Manhattan. With these recent events in mind, I am going to share two blog posts this weekend related to New York City. Today’s will focus on my most recent visits to NYC with Gavin in June, and Riley last month. In a previous blog, I described why I enjoy New York City. In this blog post, I will share three more compelling reasons to visit. Given the recent terrorist attack, I think it is more important than ever that we show support for this great American city. #IloveNYC.

Amazing architecture of NYC

The Manhattan skyline is stunning, especially at night. NYC is full of beautiful buildings. It seems like around every corner is another architectural gem. There are too many examples for me to list here. I have visited many European cities that are known for their architecture. London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Brussels, and Berlin to name a few. Nothing compares to NYC. The city offers many places to view the city landscape. During our visit in June Gavin and I went to three well-known vantage points (Empire State building, One World Trade Center, and Top of the Rock) for viewing Manhattan. I have seen it many times but always enjoy seeing it again.

Gavin on Top of the Rock in NYC taking in Manhattan skyline
Gavin on Top of the Rock in NYC taking in Manhattan skyline

During my last visit, Riley and I stayed in Brooklyn. We were able to walk across both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges into the city. The views from these bridges are wonderful. We had sunny weather and snapped some great photos. I am really glad we were able to see the city from this perspective. It gave me a greater appreciation for NYC architecture. It is world class.

Riley on the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan in the background
Riley on the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan in the background

One of the great music cities

NYC is well known for music. It is home to Broadway which offers tourists many options. If you visit Times Square you will see available shows and plenty of vendors selling tickets. But, we do not visit NYC for that kind of music. We are more interested in the rock-n-roll history of NYC. Many great bands and artists come from NYC. The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Kiss, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and Billy Joel to name a few. The city offers many music stores and venues. Some are famous. For example, Gavin and I visited Rudy’s Guitar Shop in Soho. The walls are covered with posters of famous musicians who have visited there. The store does a great job letting customers look around and try out various guitars. Gavin was able to play several high priced guitars and amps (well beyond what I could afford) while we were there. It was a great experience for a young musician in the big city.

Gavin playing guitar at Rudy's Guitar Store in Soho
Gavin playing guitar at Rudy’s Guitar Store in Soho

More recently vinyl records have become popular again. The sound from an LP is different than from a CD or streaming. I have a decent record collection. I stored my records from high school and college at my parents’ house. True to form they did not get rid of it. The past few years I bought both Gavin and Riley record players so that they can enjoy listening to records. The last time in NYC Riley, Geoff (one of my good friends who lives in NYC) and I went record shopping. It was a great experience. The city has many record stores. We found several albums we were looking for and came home with a treasure trove of vinyl.

Riley and Geoff in front of NYC Record Store
Riley and Geoff in front of NYC Record Store

A city of distinct neighborhoods

NYC is comprised of five boroughs and many neighborhoods. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Dumbo, Soho, Financial District, Little Italy, Chelsea, Midtown, and East Village to name a few. There are way too many to list, and I have only been to a handful. Each one is different to me. Talk about diversity – Brooklyn has a much different feel than Manhattan. Better yet, walk from Soho to East Village and you feel like you are on a different planet. Soho is a ritzy shopping district full of high-end shops. East Village is a funky place – the birthplace of punk rock. I truly enjoy this diversity. It exposes me to new experiences and stretches my mind. I like hanging out in an area to try and get a feel for the place. I am also a big fan of walking around NYC. The subway system is great, and Uber works well, but at times it is better to stroll through an NYC neighborhood to see what it is like. As mentioned, I have traveled a fair bit. I have never been to another city as diverse as NYC. It is one of the elements that make it unique.

Gavin in Soho
Gavin in Soho
Riley in East Village in front of Punk Rock mural
Riley in East Village in front of Punk Rock mural

It comes down to reality, and it’s fine with me cause I’ve let it slide
I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside
I don’t have any reasons
I left them all behind
I’m in a New York state of mind
– New York State of Mind by Billy Joel

Travel Journal – Lessons from French Culture

This summer we visited France, spending numerous days in Paris, Normandy, Brittany, and a few other locations. We saw a lot of great sites, and were able to experience numerous dimensions of French culture. Like almost every country in Europe, France has a unique culture. Well, it is just very French. I will not pretend to be an expert on French culture (I don’t even speak the language), but I have visited this beautiful country numerous times and have taken note of a few things I really like about French culture…and a few things that I would not emulate. Please note that I am not trying to stereotype an entire country’s culture based on my limited exposure. Rather I just want to note some things that you will remember from our recent journeys that I think can inform how we live our own lives. First, three things that I enjoy about French culture.

They enjoy a good meal

Let’s face it, the French know how to cook tasty food. As you can tell from my size, I do not have the most sophisticated palate, but I do eat like a King when I am in France. The list of French foods I enjoy is long, but not endless. I really enjoy croissants, croque monsieur, escargot (yes – the snails are delicious), baguettes with cheese (not the really stinky blue cheeses), onion soup, steak and mussels with fries, beef burgundy, andouillette, and crepes to name a few. Just typing that list makes me hungry. To be fair there are several dishes I don’t like such as liver pate, tartare dishes, or creme brulee. French food enjoys a good reputation worldwide, and it is well deserved.

Cafes are a great place to get French food at a reasonable price, especially in Paris.
Cafes are a great place to get French food at a reasonable price, especially in Paris.

They look good walking around

France, particularly Paris, is known for its fashion. You notice this walking around Paris and other cities. Simply put, I have seen few French dressed like slobs. You can tell that most people spent some time thinking about what they are going to wear before going out the door. We here in America tend to be much more casual than many countries. I am not saying that is a bad thing. Rather I am saying that it is probably worth investing some time and money into looking nice. I used to dress really casual all the time, but try to dress more appropriately these days. I don’t think you would ever witness a French person walking around in their pajamas, and I have seen more than one person in Reston Town Center who looked like they just rolled out of bed.

They appreciate art

We saw so much great art in France. Their museums are full of masterpieces. In fact, the Louvre has so much art that I would never attempt to see all of it during one visit. The Orsay has a wonderful collection of impressionist art. We visited Monet’s house in Giverny. The garden there was as beautiful as you would imagine. I see their appreciation for art spilling into the colors and designs they use in everyday life. I am not an artist (no talent at all), but I do notice how prevalent art is throughout French culture.

This video includes more lessons learned from our trip.

French faux pas

France is a great country, but not all is sunshine. There are a few things I will note that could use improvement in France. Some of these are obvious, so I will not elaborate in detail.

1. Many people still smoke. The negative effects of smoking cigarettes are well known, but I guess the French don’t care. I was surprised by how many people still light up cigarettes on a regular basis…to include with coffee over breakfast.

2. Many people are working less. The short work week is a reality, and many stores are closed during lunch hours. Trying not to judge, but it just seems like the French work ethic is much different than ours. Granted, Americans probably work too hard, but it is noticeable.

3. The dog poop. I know it sounds crazy, but there is dog poop all over the place in many cities. For those who have been to France, you know this is true. For others, it is probably shocking. It seems like no one invented the plastic bag to pick up dog poop in France. Pay attention when you are walking around, or else you may get an unpleasant surprise.

As always, I enjoy traveling and learning from other cultures. In case you are looking for a humorous perspective on French culture, check out the video below from a YouTube travel channel that I watch on occasion. Yes – he talks about the dog poop too.

Tips for Traveling – France

As you know one of my goals is to visit Europe on a regular basis. In fact, we have taken a vacation there the past three summers. This year we went to France. I thought it was a great trip. We saw a lot of great art, walked through awesome cathedrals, strolled through half-timbered houses, visited historic sites like the D-Day beaches, ate wonderful food, met new people, created memories, and learned a little about what it is like to be French. There are a few specific reasons I like to travel and enjoy showing you different parts of Europe. I think it is important to see other parts of the world. More importantly, you learn a lot while you travel. You learn things about yourself, about others, and how the world works. Below are three travel tips from our most recent trip to France. They are focused on the trip itself, not what we learned from the French while there…that will be in the next blog post.

We started our France adventure in Paris. A truly unique city.
We started our France adventure in Paris. A truly unique city.

Have a plan

Detailed planning helps make the trip go smoothly and creates lasting memories. Traveling is not easy. Things will go wrong. In order to avoid our vacations becoming a chaotic mess, I spend a lot of time planning the trip before we board the plane. You know this – you have seen the slides I create that describe the trip in detail. I know my approach is kind of geeky, but it seems to work really well for us. Some would argue that it is better to just “wing it” when it comes to travel. The idea is to show up without a plan, and just “make it up as you go along”. I am not a big fan of this approach, especially when you are traveling as a group like we were this year. I would rather invest the time researching and planning so that we make the most of the trip. The last thing I want to happen is for us to spend a few weeks in a country, shell out a lot of money, and not really enjoy it. To avoid this scenario I will map out the route, design an overall schedule, and a basic agenda for each day.

Don’t plan every minute

That does not mean that every minute of every day is planned in advance. Rather, I like having a basic structure so that we get to see what we want to see and get the most from each day at a pace that is comfortable. We always leave time on the schedule for unplanned excursions that arise during the trip. For example, this year we decided to drive down the Normandy coast rather than take the main highway. It was a beautiful drive full of amazing sites that we would have missed.

Do some research

Use the resources that are available to stay organized and avoid mishaps. There are a lot of great tools available nowadays to help you plan for travel – books, websites, blogs, videos, etc. For example, I use booking.com for our hotel reservations. This website allows me to search for hotel rooms at all the cities we will visit. It includes reader reviews, photos, and detailed descriptions. The site allows me to track all of our reservations in one location. I almost always book rooms with a free cancellation policy, because you never know when you plan will change and you need to cancel a room. I also use trip advisor for researching but rarely will book rooms through their site. There are several great websites like kayak and google flights to use when buying plane tickets. Let these sites do the searching and tracking of prices for you. It is amazing the price difference you may see in flight prices.

Staying longer to save money?

For example, this year we stayed an extra day because it was cheaper to pay another day for the hotel room than to fly on a Sunday back to the states. YouTube has a ton of travel-related content that is useful. I will watch numerous videos to extract tidbits of information about where we are going, what to see, and what to expect. Lastly, investing in a travel book is worth it. The reality is that a trip to Europe costs thousands of dollars, so it makes sense to spend the $30 on a good travel book about the area that we are visiting. As you know, I am a huge Rick Steves fan. His books, TV show, website, and videos have taught me a lot about travel and saved me a lot of grief while wandering around Europe. This year, we spent a lot less time waiting in long lines for tickets based insights gained from his France guidebook.

Jake, Jordan, and Riley in the Versailles Garden. It is huge and full of fountains.
Jake, Jordan, and Riley in the Versailles Garden. It is huge and full of fountains.

Don’t be an ugly American

Live like a local when you can. One of Rick Steve’s mantras is to try to live like a local while you travel so that you actually experience the culture. It is easy to stay in comfortable hotels away from the action. Many enjoy this type of travel. I prefer to see what life is like for the locals. It is much more interesting than being holed up in a fancy hotel built for foreign travelers. For example, based on Rick’s recommendation, we actually stayed at Mont St. Michel for one night. Sure – it was expensive, but it was worth it. I knew that we should arrive late in the day as the day trippers were leaving so that we could experience this unique site without hoards of tourists around us. We did, and have many awesome pictures to prove it.

Live in a neighborhood

Another good decision we made was to spend multiple days in the Rue Cler neighborhood in Paris. We stayed in a funky modern hotel and were able to see how the locals live in this pedestrian zone part of the city. Each day we ate breakfast at the local bakery where locals sip their coffee while eating a croissant, chatting with their neighbors about current events, and smoking cigarettes. As you learned the French still smoke a lot. At night we ate and drink in one of the local cafes watching Parisian life pass right in front of our eyes. I felt like we learned a little about what it is like to actually live in Paris – one of the greatest cities in the world. For anyone considering visiting Paris, this video gives more insights about staying near Rue Cler. BTW – the best croissant I have ever eaten came from the bakery on this street. It was dripping with butter and goodness.

Hit the reset button – New York blunder

As you know, this past weekend Gavin and I visited New York City. It was a great trip, and everything was going really well until we arrived at the airport for our trip back home. Once at the airport I noticed that our flight was not listed on the arrival board which seemed strange. I should have stopped there, but we went through security and on to the departure gate. At this point, I could tell something was wrong. Our flight was not listed at the gate, so I checked my ticket. Crap – our flight did not depart at 9 AM…but 9 PM. I made a huge blunder, a really big error. We were at the airport twelve hours early with nothing to do, and no other flights available.

We went to the Top of the Rock. It actually has the best views of Manhattan.
We went to the Top of the Rock. It actually has the best views of Manhattan.

Recovering from a big mistake

What to do next? Gavin and I pondered the situation and we decided to hit the reset button on the day. We trekked back to NYC, found a place to store our luggage, and spent another day exploring NYC. The weather was not great, but we had a good time being tourists. We went to the top of the rock, hung out in Times Square, visited the wax museum, explored Ripley’s, and an array of other attractions. The day was topped off with New York cheesecake at a diner. Not a bad day considering we had not planned any of it beforehand.

Found a great diner which is known for its cheesecake. Delicious.
Found a great diner which is known for its cheesecake. Delicious.

We all need a redo sometimes

As this experience shows – sometimes you have to hit the reset button on a day. The bottom line is that I messed up big time. But, we could recover from it. Rather than spending the day beating myself up over my mistake (Gavin did a nice job reminding me about it), I decided to get on with it and make the most of what was left of the day. The ability to “hit the reset button” is an important skill in life. Many times, you will make stupid mistakes, or have things not go your way. It is easy to get really upset about the situation, and even pout about it. But, a more mature response, is to get over it, and then get on with it. You will be amazed at what will happen when you hit the reset button – you will meet new people, see new places, and gain new experiences.

Gavin in Washington Square Park with the Empire State Building in the background.
Gavin in Washington Square Park with the Empire State Building in the background.

Keep this lesson in mind the next time you travel, and things take a turn for the worse. I have traveled a fair bit, and trust me, these kind of things happen. Flights are delayed, and your plans will need to change. Hopefully, I will avoid making this kind of big blunder again. But, if it does, I know what I will do. Hit the reset button, and start all over again.

Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again
– Do It Again by the Kinks

Lessons learned while traveling – Cancun Mexico

As you know, I really enjoy traveling. Seeing other parts of the world is fun. Experiencing other cultures is eye-opening. Many of life’s greatest lessons I have learned while traveling. Spring Break is next week, so I was thinking about our trip last year to a luxury resort in Cancun Mexico. My parents were nice enough to let us borrow their timeshare points to enjoy a week off in paradise.

We can learn a lot from Mexicans

I bet that you noticed a few things during the trip. First – it is rewarding to take a week off and relax. The place we stayed was awesome. We had great weather, and a chance to truly relax. It is important to take time off and enjoy life. Second – you saw first hand another culture that is much different than ours. Mexicans speak a different language, eat different foods, and take a different approach to work. I was impressed with how hard everyone at the resort worked, and how diligent they were in making sure that we had what we needed during our stay. Lastly, you witnessed first hand the art of haggling. Some items you buy do not really have a set price. Instead, you will have to negotiate the cost with the seller – it is expected. I do not pretend to be an expert in haggling, but understand that I will not pay more for something than what I think it is worth.

The resort we stayed in was great. Right on the beach.
The resort we stayed in was great. Right on the beach.

We will continue traveling

I hope you learned these lessons and more during our trip. We have several trips coming up soon. Riley – we are going away again this year for Spring Break. I am looking forward to relaxing in the sun, especially with our recent crazy weather. Gavin – I am taking you to New York City for the first time. You will get a chance to see one of the greatest cities in the world. Of course, we have exciting summer vacation trip plans as we visit a new part of Europe. We will see and learn a lot. A great adventure is ahead for us.

So I just sit right here and have another beer in Mexico. Do my best to waste another day
– Beer in Mexico, Kenny Chesney

Some planning will move you towards success

I have noticed that many people do not spend much time planning for the future. It seems like they are waiting for success to happen, for life to get better, for things to change. I believe that a little planning will take you far down the path of success. I am not saying that you need to plan every step of your life – that will drive you, and everyone around you crazy. Rather, it is worth investing some time in planning when it comes to fulfilling your dreams and succeeding in this world. The bigger your dreams the more planning it takes.

Making a dream reality

For example, many people dream of taking a European vacation, but few actually go. In fact, most Americans do not even have a current passport. I lived in Europe years ago and love traveling, so I set a personal goal of visiting there on a regular basis. You will remember that we spent some time brainstorming, discussing, and planning our trip to Germany and Austria two years ago, and last year’s adventure to Germany and France. We identified the places we wanted to see, the resources to pay for it, and made our reservations in advance. Every minute was not set in stone, but we had a general agenda for every day. All that planning paid off – we had two great trips. The pictures prove it. The video below is about the plan we used for our Germany Summer vacation in 2015.

Now we are figuring out the details of this summer vacation. I challenge you to do some planning for your future. It will be worth it.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Why I enjoy New York City

I never visited New York City until the past few years. No particular reason, just never went there when I was young. More recently, I have visited New York several times. Each trip was different. My first time there, I went by myself and ran the NYC half-marathon. It was exciting to run through Central Park, around the wide city streets, and finish in downtown Manhattan. One time, Jill and I went there to see one of my favorite bands, U2, perform at Madison Square Garden. The last two times, Riley and I visited to see the sites and learn more about the city. After these trips, I have come to the conclusion that I really enjoy visiting NYC – one of America’s great cities.

Riley in New York City with the Flatiron Building in the background.
Riley in New York City with the Flatiron Building in the background.

I think one can go there, and not have a good time. NYC is loud (all the honking car horns), dirty (like all major cities), and can be dangerous if you are not careful. Riding in a NYC city taxi can be a religious experience, and the subway seems like a magnet for strange people. But, it is easy to see the dark side of NYC more than what it has to offer visitors. Three compelling reasons why I enjoy NYC:

The sites are great

Each time I am there I see something new. This past weekend, we had great weather, so we visited Central Park at sunset, went to the top of the Empire State building, and hung out in Washington Square near NYU. The views from One World observatory are incredible, the 9/11 memorials are very well done, and there are too many great museums to list here.

Riley and I in Central Park. We had great weather for the entire trip.
Riley and I in Central Park. We had great weather for the entire trip.

The food is excellent

I always eat well when visiting NYC. The city is full of choices. Just walk around and you can find a great place to eat without spending too much money. Many say that the pizza in NYC is the best anywhere – I think they are right. We went to Prince Street pizza and it was excellent. Tiny place with a line out the door for good reason.

We always stop by Prince Street Pizza for lunch. It is tiny, but awesome food.
We always stop by Prince Street Pizza for lunch. It is tiny, but awesome food.

It is a huge melting pot

You will hear many languages, experience different cultures, and see things in NYC that you will not see in other parts of the US. The pace of life there seems intense, and I am convinced that the city never really sleeps (similar to New Orleans). At times, it can be challenging, but I feel like it forces me to get out of my comfort zone and learn new things.

Riley and I visited the Met in NYC - one of the largest art museums in the world.
Riley and I visited the Met in NYC – one of the largest art museums in the world.

I plan to keep visiting NYC in the future to see more of it. It is worth the effort. I will take you boys with me whenever you want to go, and we can experience the big apple together.

These little town blues, are melting away
I’m gonna make a brand new start of it, in old New York
If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York
– Frank Sinatra

Learn from other cultures

Two years ago we visited Germany. You were afforded the opportunity to experience a lot of different things from German culture. You saw new places, you ate new foods, you learned about German history, and you saw German culture first-hand. It is important to leave the US and see the world. Many Americans stay within our borders and do not even have a passport. Don’t make this mistake. Be a world traveler.

Gavin and Riley on the plane bound for Germany and Austria.
Gavin and Riley on the plane bound for Germany and Austria.

No other country is like America

Make the most of these trips. Learn from other cultures – both the good and the bad. The Germans do some things better than we do in America, and they also have their challenges. For example, Germans are much better at relaxing and enjoying their time off than we are. The American pace of life is intense and fast-paced. German people do not seem to be in such a rush (except when driving on the Autobahn). The video below includes the highlights of our trip.

We will take more trips

I am glad you were able to see a different part of the world. I hope to take you on more trips like this one in the future so that you can see, and more importantly, experience other cultures besides your own. It will give you new perspectives on life. This year I am planning some exciting trips for us. Gavin – we will see Belgium. Riley – we will visit a Caribbean island. We will also experience a different part of Europe this summer during our family vacation to France. I am looking forward to these trips. They are going to be awesome.

“Travel is rich with learning opportunities, and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective.” Rick Steves

Explore your surroundings – we live near Washington DC

Every time I go to Washington DC I have a good time and learn something new. It is important to experience your surroundings, which for us includes the nation’s capital since it is less than an hour from my house. This year I have already been to DC multiple times. I tried out several places to eat during restaurant week, watched a play at the Folger Shakespeare Theater, and walked around the US Capitol area. DC is not a big city, but it does have world-class sites and plenty of really good places to eat.

Jordan, Jill, Riley, Gavin and I during our White House tour.
Jordan, Jill, Riley, Gavin and I during our White House tour.

Get out there

When I lived in Europe I made it a point to get out and about as much as possible on a regular basis. I saw a lot, and have the pictures to prove it. It is too easy to get lazy and lull yourself into boredom these days. Between television and the Internet, we now have the ability to entertain ourselves at the touch a button, a few clicks of the mouse, or the flick of a switch. But, it is far more fulfilling to get out there and see the world, especially the one in your own backyard. We will start to get more proactive and hit the road for an adventure on a more regular basis to include trips into the city. Who knows what great adventures lie in wait for us this year.

Jordan, Gavin, and Riley in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Jordan, Gavin, and Riley in the State Dining Room of the White House.

“I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all who shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” John Adams quote in the White House State Dining Room.

Take Advantage of the New Year

Another year has come and gone. The older you get the faster it seems like time flies. It is hard to believe that 2016 is already over. If there is one thing I relearn every single year it is that times keeps marching on. We cannot stop it, but we can plan for what comes next. With that thought in mind, take some time this month to ponder what you want to accomplish in 2017. It is a new year so think about what does a good year look like for you. What does a great year look like for you? What changes are coming up? What do you want to do?

Back to college

For Gavin – you will go back to college and finish your freshman year. This summer you will need to get a job and earn money for next semester. You will start thinking about what you want to major in and then return to Richmond for your sophomore year. Filling in the rest of the story is up to you. For Riley, it is time for high school soccer, and you will start thinking about what college you want to attend. Grades matter, so do your best. You will also get your license and have a vehicle to drive. Probably time for a summer job.

Back to Europe

I am planning some fun stuff for 2017 – we will return to Europe this summer to visit France (video below describes the potential options). We will likely return to NYC and perhaps visit the West Coast. I want you to think about your plans for 2017. Are there things you want to start doing or do more of, or do less of, or stop doing? Make the time to think about 2017. It will be summer before you know it. Personally, I have set many goals and made plans that I will share over the course of our time together. Happy New Year – hope it is a great one.

In the days of my youth
I was told what it was to be a man
Now I’ve reached the age
I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can
No matter how I try
I find my way to do the same old jam

– Good Times, Bad Times by Led Zeppelin