My big fat Greek hospital adventure

A Greek hospital adventure was not on my original agenda

I am writing this on a flight back from Athens and a visit where I saw the roof of the interiour of a Greek ambulance. This is something that most people never see. And, other things being equal, it is probably not a priority sight that most folks would want to see or should see.

As I lay in the ambulance looking up, I noticed that two of the four a/c vents on the ceiling were taped shut with bandages. I considered my situation. How did I come to be strapped on a stretcher, stuck in Athens traffic on a beautiful spring day, headed to the hospital?

The bloody incident

I had stepped out of the shower that morning looking forward to a new day of work on international trade. Getting dressed, I pondered my remarks for a conference to be held that afternoon. And then I discovered that a varicose vein in my ankle had ruptured. I noticed it because the Hawaiian flip flop upon which I was standing had filled with a pool of blood. Since the blood was about the same temperature as the water from the shower, I did not notice it pooling until quite a volume had accumulated. This is not a problem that I am accustomed to dealing with.

It reminded me vaguely of an adventure from my time in Burkina Faso. On a visit to the capital, Ouagadougou, I once got caught in a coup d’etat. Troops were firing machine guns below my window. My morning in Athens felt similar in that I was in an unfamiliar setting facing an action-forcing event and poorly defined options.

Next steps? (literally)

Standing there in my Greek hotel room, I thought that I had better take stock of my situation. As a social scientist, I tried to work empirically and stopped to review the key elements of my situation. I thought:

  • I am in a hotel south of Athens
  • I don’t speak the language
  • I am bleeding out and must maintain compression on the wound
  • I cannot solve this without professional medical help
  • There is not really time for a Google search and research on options
  • And, this is the important, essential bit: don’t pass out until you “solve for x”, whereby x = survival strategy.
  • Conclusion: Get an ambulance via the front desk, and do it quickly

Although compression of the wound was helping, I found that it was not easily accomplished. It required maintaining a position somewhat akin to a pretzel. There was no way to fashion a tourniquet with one hand occupied. And, even then, how to get to the phone to call for help? I eased the pressure enough to hobble to the phone, but this led to Vesuvius-type action. The floor looked like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino film.

And so I called and asked the front desk to kindly order an ambulance for me. “Are you sure you can’t just take a taxi?” “No, I think it is pretty serious and urgent.” It was then that I decided to open my hotel room door, in case I passed out. I don’t do well with the sight of blood. And, I wanted the staff to have easy access to the room so they could save me. That accomplished, I headed for the bathroom, all the while trying to walk and hold my ankle simultaneously.

When the fellow from the front desk arrived, the room was looking like Pulp Fiction. He only stayed a moment, turned and fled saying to maintain pressure and he would pursue the ambulance with a follow up call. Later, I learned that he had gone back to the desk and nearly passed out. His colleagues raised his legs and gave him orange juice to revive him.

Seconds later a bellhop arrived in my room. I am pretty sure this was not in his job description, but he tried various proposals to improve the situation. “Lay down. Raise your leg. Maybe get up on the bed? Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter about the sheets.” But, I opted for the floor, as I felt I was doing enough damage already to the room. The floor was waterproof parquet and, fortunately, not carpet. The bellhop got me water. I needed to rehydrate.

He had a million questions. Eventually, he admitted that he was striving to keep me conscious. Bless him! As for me, I felt embarrassed to be caught at the centre of this fiasco. I know I looked sheepish when the first fellow had arrived and saw the mess.

Perhaps half an hour later, the ambulance crew arrived. And here is what they did. They pulled my hand away from the wound, looked briefly at it and took a thick pile of dense gauze and applied it on the wound. They then grabbed a long elastic bandage strip and wrapped it tightly around the ankle. This would surely keep me from leaking for the moment.

Trans-Athens express

I could hobble! And so we headed out to the other side of the city. As we rolled across town, I realised that this would be a long trip. Athens traffic is intense. I was parched and there was no water.

After reflecting on my plight, I opted to phone to cancel my noon meeting, notify my employer, inform the insurance, and call my wife. It took quite a while. I was reporting lots of information outbound, but not getting much information inbound. When I reported the name of the hospital to where I was headed, my insurer’s emergency service could not find it. The emergency service advised, “You are doing the right steps health-wise. But, you may need to pay with your credit card and then file a claim.” Fortunately, I had my situation under control. What would have happened if I passed out and had not made all of these calls?

Traffic was terrible. We made a stop unrelated to my case in order to pick up some medical materials for the hospital. With Athens traffic, I suppose you need to make use of each outing to optimise your accomplishments and minimise the number of trips.

My big Greek hospital visit

Finally, we arrived at the hospital. Located in a leafy suburb, it was a public facility, a complex with multiple buildings apparently including an orthodox chapel. I considered a stop in the chapel as I hobbled to the ER with the help of the ambulance crew. They got me a wheelchair. The halls were lined with dozens and dozens of waiting patients. Occasionally a door would open, but not much visible action in the line. The crew notified the doctors and wished me well, and fled. There was no reception, no one spoke English, and the system was not obvious to me. Uh oh.

I was discouraged. The facility looked terrible, outdated. I was in gym shorts and a bloody t-shirt. And, I was feeling faint. I went to use the rest room: a single room, with no paper, no lock, no seat. I washed off some of the blood in the sink. Then I went and found a drink stand to get an ice coffee with sugar and milk to help rebuild my blood stock. By the time I hobbled back, the doctors were waiting for me, less than 30 minutes after my arrival. This was a good sign.

Uncertain activity

The ER office had two small rooms and perhaps 8 staff. Some were drinking coffee and some hanging out with cellphones. People were nice to me. “What is this? You are using coffee to rehydrate?” said a doctor. He seemed bemused.

The staff were all young, or maybe I was just feeling old. Two spoke English. They chatted amongst themselves as I lay down on the table. They confirmed my name and town of residence. London = good. It is (for the moment) still in the European network.

Nothing happened for a while and I got comfortable. The folks sitting around seemed engaged in chit chat. Nothing much seemed to be happening.

Then, I noticed a doctor opening a sealed pack of sterile instruments. He and a male nurse unwrapped my ankle, washed it with a sterile solution, and announced I would “feel a pinch”. It was a sudden and surprising wave of activity. I decided to relax and let them do their work, rather than challenging them with questions across the language barrier.

Their actions felt like a slice or two, then stitching in big, bold strokes. I couldn’t see much, but closed my eyes anyway. Blood flowed, then stopped. Now, it was my turn to try not to faint. This was intense, much more than “a pinch”. I felt dizzy. After a few moments, they told me they had stitched it up. Then they saw my pale face and said not to move until I felt confident I could make it out to a taxi.

Amazingly, as I am a resident of London, they took everything in charge. Having taken my name, they made a record of the visit. But, there was no paperwork for me to fill in. This was a public hospital. And apparently, as I am European resident, they provided all their service to me on a gratis basis.

As requested by my insurer, the doctors even gave me a “fit-to-fly” certificate. It was conditional on wearing pressure socks. And, they said to have the stitches removed in five days. Then they sent me on my way to the taxi stand outside.

Mad Doug, a Londoner, in the noonday sun

I wandered out into the mid-day sun feeling well patched up, but also a bit dazed. What just happened and how did I get in this situation? I found a taxi. As we cruised past the Parthenon, I tried to take stock.

Absolutely everyone throughout the morning was kind and empathetic. From the hotel to the hospital and back. I am indeed very grateful for their service and kindness, especially at the hospital facility which appeared under-resourced and overtaxed by patient demands.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the staff appeared visibly relieved to see me back from the dead. They noticed that I was still a bit disoriented as I headed off into the wrong room. But, they made sure I was looked after and sent me off in the right direction. A bar man brought me an extra-large orange juice, which he commended for its properties in compensating for blood loss. It worked.

Over a nice bottle of Assyrtiko wine and dinner that night on the Aegean Sea with a friend, I pondered my fate. Feeling gratitude to my host country, I raised a glass and thanked them for the successful outcome of my big fat Greek hospital adventure.

Sunset in Vouliagmeni, Greece

Sunset in Vouliagmeni, Greece

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A gorgeous day for a flight from Tel Aviv to London

Flight from Tel Aviv to London

Last Friday proved to be a gorgeous day for a flight from Tel Aviv to London. Blue skies and sunshine blanketed the route for much of the way.

The gallery below presents a few pictures looking down from on high. So much to see, including some wonderful wine country and wilderness and history.

The Alps were in their full glory, with abundant snow and ice. From above, the challenges posed by the landscape become evident. Transit from one valley to the next is not a straightforward matter.

Looking out to Switzerland from Stelvio Park, Italy

Flight from Tel Aviv to London: Looking out to Switzerland from Stelvio Park, Italy

Nonetheless, the flight left me hankering for a free season to head out with my backpack and an open agenda. Back in my university days, I enjoyed a couple of seasons of such travel in Europe. And, I am thinking that the need for such a trip and time of renewal is approaching once again.

Gallery

To view the gallery, click on the up or down arrows under it to scroll through the thumbnails and picture titles. Or, click on a thumbnail to open a picture and then scroll through the pictures individually without the titles.

Flying from Tel Aviv to London - May 2017

Leaving Israel
Leaving Israel
Citrus groves outside of Tel Aviv
Citrus groves outside of Tel Aviv
Looking south to Ashdod
Looking south to Ashdod
Venice from the air
Venice from the air
Sudtirol, Neumarkt, Italy
Sudtirol, Neumarkt, Italy
Weinstrasse, Sudtirol, Italy
Weinstrasse, Sudtirol, Italy
Graubünden, Switzerland
Graubünden, Switzerland
St. Gallen, Switzerland
St. Gallen, Switzerland
Glarus, Switzerland & a corner of Leichtenstein
Glarus, Switzerland & a corner of Leichtenstein
Zürich, Switzerland
Zürich, Switzerland
Montange de Reims, Champagne, France
Montange de Reims, Champagne, France
Baie de la Somme, France
Baie de la Somme, France
English coast by Eastbourne
English coast by Eastbourne
Crazyquilt of the Sussex countryside
Crazyquilt of the Sussex countryside
Dorney Lake Rowing Club
Dorney Lake Rowing Club
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

Map of the flight plan

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Wanderings around London from Embankment to Trafalgar Square

Facing political & economic turbulence, it can be useful to stop and smell the tulips

Fuelled by various political developments, the past few months have been a turbulent time in the global economy. Q4TK suffered a bit of neglect and indeed a bit of uncertainty as your correspondent sought to make sense of the situation. Reason, facts, and the normal analytical tools employed by the economics profession are being challenged. We economists are struggling to face up to the new populism evident in various parts of the globe. At the same time, most of us do recognise that some folks have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed.

Wanderings around London

And, so, today, I’m bringing you a few photos from my Wanderings around London from Embankment to Trafalgar Square. On Saturday, I decided to set aside my charts and tables. I simply walked out into the unfamiliar London spring warmth and sunshine. London was radiant as my spouse and I headed into the great metropolis. The parks and gardens bloomed in full glory. The area around Embankment was filled with folks spilling out to take a look around and soak it all in.

There were drum circles protesting tow path closures. Folks from a brewery gave out free beer samples. Small clumps of people sat on blankets enjoying picnics and glasses of wine. Tourists visited the key sights. Locals stopped to admire the flowers. Your correspondent used the occasion to stop and ponder whatever caught his fancy, except work. The tulips were in full bloom. But, I resisted the impulse to ponder the Dutch tulip mania, a time of price inflation and collapse in the 1600s. Rather, I stopped and enjoyed their fragrance.

A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens

A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens, seen on our wanderings around London

Still, economics can be hard to escape. For example, in the gardens at Embankment there is a fountain dedicated to Henry Fawcett. Henry was a blind economist who campaigned in the mid-19th century on behalf of women’s right to vote. The fountain says it was erected by his fellow countrywomen in his memory. During the struggle, he was moved to propose to a woman who he had met in the campaigns. But, after her polite negative response (she was pursuing her medical studies), he eventually married her sister.

Renewal accomplished

After a great lunch at Barrafina in Adelaide Street (very much a place in pursuit of no-frills excellence and highly recommended), the wandering led us to the National Gallery. This museum is architecturally gorgeous and the collection is world class.

As the day drifted into evening, it was time to head home. Every once in a while, a day like this is required. It has a spiritual value, refreshes the mind, and helps to restore the inner strength needed in the quest for truth and knowledge.

Note: The gallery below is annotated. Click on the up or down arrows under the thumbnail display in order to see the notes and see additional pictures.

London 8 April 2017 - from National Gallery to Embankment

A few photos from our Saturday wanderings around central London from Embankment to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery and back

National Gallery, Peekachu people and a pigeon
National Gallery, Peekachu people and a pigeon
National Gallery entrance
National Gallery entrance
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, 1762
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, 1762
National Gallery marble floor
National Gallery marble floor
National Gallery - Wonderful floor grates
National Gallery - Wonderful floor grates
Cellphone art?
Cellphone art?
Trafalgar Square looking towards Westminster
Trafalgar Square looking towards Westminster
A crowd of buses heads down Whitehall to Big Ben
A crowd of buses heads down Whitehall to Big Ben
Cleary Gardens London - Loire Valley Grape Vines
Cleary Gardens London - Loire Valley Grape Vines
A half pint of Badger Bitter at the Ship and Shovell
A half pint of Badger Bitter at the Ship and Shovell
A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens
A river of tulips in Embankment Gardens
Embankment gardens wildlife?
Embankment gardens wildlife?
Robert Raikes - Founder of Sunday Schools
Robert Raikes - Founder of Sunday Schools
Henry Fawcett - A blind economist campaigned for women's suffrage in 1800s
Henry Fawcett - A blind economist campaigned for women's suffrage in 1800s
A cow in the garden of Two Temple Place
A cow in the garden of Two Temple Place
Amb Benjamin Franklin lived here
Amb Benjamin Franklin lived here
A really big crane
A really big crane
Looking out from the roof of my bathroom - Greenwich
Looking out from the roof of my bathroom - Greenwich

 

Restoring the soul with a wander up to Severndroog Castle

On a beautiful summer day, we headed out on a 12K urban hike across southern London from Greenwich to Severndroog Castle and back through Blackheath. Part of the route followed busy and ugly roadways, but a few long stretches followed the Green Chain trail through some of London’s parkland. The Green Chain provides urban hikers with some welcome shelter from the traffic and noise. While hiking it is not as much fun as a true wilderness wandering, it is nonetheless a great resource that helps urban denizens to restore their souls and hook up with some fine destinations!

Shooters Hill

View from Severndroog Castle

View from Severndroog Castle

Our destination was Shooters Hill, a rise of about 175 meters (500ft) that is south-east of London’s centre. It is covered with an old woodland that is dark and dense in some areas, but opens to afford great views of the surrounding countryside. The woods are filled with birds including some interesting warblers, woodpeckers and a few birds of prey.

Severndroog Castle

On top of Shooters Hill is a tower called Severndroog Castle (not really a castle), which was built in 1784 to honour an old sea captain, William James. He rose to be a director of the East India company and his wife built the tower as a memorial when he passed away. Good that she did, because the tower served as an early warning system manned by lookouts in WWI (watching for incoming German Zeppelins) and WWII (watching for incoming German planes and cruise missiles). It’s 85 steps up to the top of the tower and another dozen or so to get to the observation platform.

The old tower and ancient woodlands were saved by local community fund-raising efforts and reopened two years ago. Well done, folks! http://www.severndroogcastle.org.uk/

PS, the little cafe in the tower makes a great frosted Guinness cake and a nice cup of coffee.

Severndroog Castle

Severndroog Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rediscovering the vine in Kent – English wine

London is far north, north of Calgary or Quebec City, north of Seattle, north of Bismark, North Dakota. And, being so far north, one might not expect to find viable vineyards within an hour’s drive. But, they are here, and they are producing some interesting English wine.

In search of the vine

Ortega grape vine and a trellis support

Ortega grape vine and a trellis support

Since moving to London from Paris, I’ve felt a sense of loss about my foregone Saturday jaunts down to the Loire River wineries and dairies. And, today, I decided to correct this gap in my current lifestyle. So, off I went to Kent County, which lies south-east of London.

The countryside of Kent is quite lush and the agricultural history is long. The climate is relatively mild and with global warming is expected to heat up, especially in summer (a matter the Kent Council has reported on).

Biddenden Vineyards

A number of wineries have sprung up and among the first was Biddenden Vineyards. Established in 1969, Biddenden has grown to cover 23 acres (9 hectares). Most of the varieties – well adapted to the northern clime – were new to me, including Bacchus, Ortega, Dornfelder, Huxelrebe, Scheurebe and Reichensteiner. Though, there were also some more familiar plantings of Pinot noir, Gewuertztraminer and Gamay to be seen.

Newly leafed out vinesThis far north, the wines are relatively low in alcohol (most were 10% to 12%) and deliver a refreshing taste of fruit.  My favourites included the Gribble Bridge Sparkling White, which has fresh fruit and a bit of complexity, and the Gribble Bridge Dornfelder, which is a light red and well-suited to a summer evening out on a patio. Without oak, the flavour of the grape really seems to come through clearly in the tasting.

The vineyard shop also has a selection of local cheeses, including goat, cow, and sheep. I loaded up on several nice organic cheeses, including a couple that are unpasteurised.

Reconnecting to the vine

Meadow on Gribble Bridge LaneBiddenden has a nice trail through the vineyards and along the Gribble Bridge Lane. Walking along on this mid-spring day, I could feel radiant heat from the sun. The new vine leaves were soaking it in. Birds were singing in the hedgerows and meadows. Wildflowers were blooming along the lane. I could hear a local donkey braying, but no traffic. The lovely, green, rolling Kent countryside extended out as far as I could see. It was glorious. I felt as if I had rediscovered something that I had lost, a connection to the vine.

 

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Hiking Along The Loire at Muides

Gallery

This gallery contains 17 photos.

Southbound to the Loire River I awoke to the prospect of a gorgeous day this morning and resolved to get out into nature. It is harvest season and a great time to head off on a day trip to the … Continue reading

Silver Spring, Wine and Peace

A stroll around Silver Spring

In 1984, we moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, settling into an apartment right up against the boundary line with Washington, DC. Recently, I had an occasion to visit again and took the opportunity to set out on a walking tour around our old haunts in the downtown.

Silly springs?

Our home was right around the corner from the site for which the town was named: the Silver Spring. Although the town is often called Silver Springs (and, on rare occasions, even “Silly Springs”), its actual name refers to a singular spring. The spring still exists on the edge of town in a small patch of green called Acorn Park. The poor spring struggles on, forlorn and neglected, producing just a tiny bit of humidity. In the decades since we moved away, developments and paving all around have cut off the replenishment of its aquifer and nowadays the Silver Spring is nearly dry.

The Silver Spring

The Silver Spring

According to the historical marker on the site, the spring was discovered in 1840 by Francis Preston Blair and daughter Elizabeth while touring the woods on horseback. They saw sunlight reflecting on mica sand in what turned out to be the spring and named it accordingly.

Wine and peace?

Silver Spring has been transformed in the years since we lived there. Downtown has been rebuilt with new housing, shops and commercial activity all around. On a recent Sunday part of the downtown was blocked off, vendors were selling food and kids were running around in a fountain that sprays water up from holes in the plaza pavement. Funky music played via a PA system and the atmosphere was festive.

Further on I came to an area where there has been an influx of Ethiopians. Although it is near downtown, parts of it have some resemblance to Addis Ababa with signs in Amharic and passersby conversing fluently in the language. Ethiopian flags, coffee and food are all around. The Addis Ababa Restaurant on Fenton Street has a good reputation. However, on my visit this weekend, I had another destination in mind.

I continued my walking tour of our old neighborhood and, based on a recommendation from local friends, wound up in the Adega Wine Cellar and Cafe. The cafe serves up some interesting sandwiches and I had quite a decent crabcake. As it was a hot and humid day, I parked myself at a table in the air conditioning to sketch and enjoy a glass of Koina Riesling. I received a generous pour and savored the cool, refreshing wine, which had a nice acidity, with a hint of citrus and sweetness on my palate.

The Velvet Devil and a few other selections at the wine shop

The Velvet Devil and a few other selections at the wine shop

While sketching, I was intrigued by the wine selection on the shelves around me, including a bottle labelled The Velvet Devil (which I placed on my agenda to try on a future visit). Although the shop is not particularly large, Adega’s has an interesting range of wines with selections that appear to offer good values from key wine regions around the world.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Adega’s turns into a kind of wine bar as folks come in for a glass and conversation. Next to me sat a few young Frenchmen quaffing a bottle of a big red. I enjoyed hearing their banter blend with the Spanish, English and Chinese being spoken by some others around. It seemed that although these folks were quite diverse, they would all agree on at least thing: a cool glass of wine on a hot day was a splendid idea.

Stop Sign - Takoma Park, MD
Stop Sign – Takoma Park, MD

Setting out to continue my walk, I had a feeling that perhaps there was some hope after all for most folks around this world to get along, at least as long as the supply of Koina Riesling and big red wines holds out. As I headed back to my friends’ home in Takoma Park, a stop sign gave me some further advice for helping along the cause of peace: STOP EVIL. Makes sense to me!

 Map of Silver Spring

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Disruption in Paris; Smooth Sailing in Berlin, Geneva and Lausanne

Traveling through a slice of Central Europe

Despite a French transportation strike, I managed to fly out of Paris this week for meetings in Berlin and Geneva, with a side trip to Lausanne. While some transport workers proclaimed opposition to further European integration, it felt to me as if they were actually promoting European dis-integration. All of my original flights were cancelled, but Lufthansa staff kindly worked with me to find alternatives that got me where I needed to go. In the end, I came away feeling pretty good about the world. I’m pretty sure that the arrival of warm and sunny weather also contributed to my positive disposition.

A dash through Berlin

I get to Berlin every couple of years and with each visit I feel a little more attached to the city. This sentiment is actually helped along by a personal connection. In the 1880s, my great grandfather emigrated to the US from Berlin. He had been an organist in a large church there. So, the city figures somewhere in my family lore.

Berlin is a city with bountiful green space, lakes and flowing water, cultural opportunities (reasonably-priced opera tickets!), history and world class museums, plus quality food and drink. Not to mention shopping for those so inclined. It maintains an excellent public transportation system.

Whenever I visit I am struck by the dynamism of the place. Following reunification of East and West Berlin in 1989, the city set to work transforming and integrating itself. Two decades later much has been accomplished and renewed. Areas that were formerly cut off or disrupted in the communist past have revived as cultural centers (e.g., around Potsdamer Platz), pedestrian zones (e.g., around Nikolai church), or tourist zones (e.g., around Brandenburger gate).

But, parts of the city remain large construction sites as the renewal continues. Cranes dot the skyline. A controversial project to rebuild the Berliner Schloss — a former royal palace in the city center (ruined in WWII) — has just gotten underway after several  years of debate. The metro system is expanding. New commercial construction continues apace. So much to explore, but it was already time for me to move on to Geneva and Lausanne.

  • Recommendation: We had a nice meal outdoors at the Julchen Hoppe restaurant on the edge of the Nikolai Quarter of the city. Our meal included traditional foods and decent wine at a reasonable price. Very nice wild mushroom soup and fresh asparagus, fish and fowl main courses.

Swiss quality in Geneva and Lausanne

I have written about Geneva in an earlier post, but there is more. This time I had business at several international organizations including the World Trade Organization (WTO).

I am always amazed at the wonderful headquarters of the WTO, the William Rappard Center, which was built in the 1920s to house the International Labour Organization (ILO). At a time when communist revolution was in the air, the ILO was developed to address labor concerns and demonstrate that market economies could deliver better quality of life for workers. The original building has some palatial features, without being too extravagant. Nonetheless, the fountains, sculpture and murals reflect a blend of expressionist and classical art that honors the value of labor in fueling economic growth and well-being. During this visit, construction had blocked the main entrance and I wound up being channeled through the Chinese garden that is on the grounds. This was my first visit to the garden and it provided a pleasant and unexpected entry to the facility. That evening Geneva was radiant in the late-day sun and early summer weather. I took advantage of the fine evening to stroll along the Rhone and Lake Leman, before deciding to eat outdoors at a local Chinese restaurant in honor of the WTO garden.

During my stay, I made an afternoon visit for a meeting at IMD, a prestigious business school in the city of Lausanne. After all of the transportation disruption in France, the train ride over to Lausanne on the Swiss rail system provided a welcome contrast. The trains over and back departed in a timely fashion, traveling quickly and sailing along the rails with remarkably smooth suspension and quiet interiors. So nice!

Lausanne is a small city set in gorgeous countryside on Lake Leman. The Alps rise from the water on the opposite shore. Between Geneva and Lausanne, vineyards and farms dot the lake shore amidst various small towns. I took the metro from the Lausanne train station down to the lake. Due to the slope of the hill the metro is built on quite an angle, which was rather surprising to a flat-lander like me. I stopped for a soft drink at a local cafe on Lausanne harbor. Inertia nearly got the better of me and I had to strain against the warm, sunny, lazy afternoon feeling in order to get to my meeting on time.

Paris – Using Charm to Put Things Right

My return to Paris proved mercifully uneventful. The transport strikes had passed and the grey, cool dampness had moved on in favor of sunny weather. It was time to pull out the grill for a BBQ with friends and to take a fresh look at Paris. As usual, after disrupting my life and travel once again, Paris turned on its charm and won back my affection.

Photos from Berlin

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Berlin

Photo tour from a recent visit to Berlin (06-2013)

Berlin - Alexanderplatz from the Air
Berlin - Alexanderplatz from the Air
Berlin - A Great Green City
Berlin - A Great Green City
Berlin Cathedral and Construction of Former Palace
Berlin Cathedral and Construction of Former Palace
Berlin - Along the Spree River
Berlin - Along the Spree River
Berlin - Spree River Locks
Berlin - Spree River Locks
Berlin - A Giant Construction Site
Berlin - A Giant Construction Site
An Old Bridge
An Old Bridge
Berlin - St George Slays the Dragon
Berlin - St George Slays the Dragon
Berlin City Hall Tower and the TV Tower
Berlin City Hall Tower and the TV Tower
Alexanderplatz - A Construction Site
Alexanderplatz - A Construction Site
Old and New - Competing Towers
Old and New - Competing Towers
Amazing Detail in the Art of City Hall
Amazing Detail in the Art of City Hall
Berln - Nikolai Church Square
Berln - Nikolai Church Square
Nikolai Church
Nikolai Church
Ephriam Palace - Museum
Ephriam Palace - Museum
Black Sabbath is Back!
Black Sabbath is Back!
Marx: Long Live the Social Revolution and Peoples' Peace
Marx: Long Live the Social Revolution and Peoples' Peace
New Metro Line - The Huge Tunnelling Machine
New Metro Line - The Huge Tunnelling Machine
Spree River Locks
Spree River Locks
Wonderful Old Doorway
Wonderful Old Doorway

Photos from Geneva and Lausanne

Geneva - Lausanne

Photo tour from a recent visit to Geneva – Lausanne (06-2013)

The Alps - Flying into Geneva
The Alps - Flying into Geneva
Sunset along the Rhone River
Sunset along the Rhone River
In Front of the United Nations
In Front of the United Nations
The World Intellectual Property Organisation
The World Intellectual Property Organisation
Main Entrance to the World Trade Organisation
Main Entrance to the World Trade Organisation
WTO - Chinese Garden
WTO - Chinese Garden
WTO - More of the Chinese Garden
WTO - More of the Chinese Garden
A Fountain at WTO
A Fountain at WTO
WTO: Tile Mosaic Honoring Agricultural Labor
WTO: Tile Mosaic Honoring Agricultural Labor
Newly Uncovered Mural at WTO (dates from 1940)
Newly Uncovered Mural at WTO (dates from 1940)
WTO Mural - Work Yielding Abundance (1940)
WTO Mural - Work Yielding Abundance (1940)
Mural - Leisure Yields Benefits (Amen says Doug!)
Mural - Leisure Yields Benefits (Amen says Doug!)
Worker Rights in the Former ILO Building (Now WTO Building)
Worker Rights in the Former ILO Building (Now WTO Building)
WTO Mural: Honoring Labor
WTO Mural: Honoring Labor
Another WTO Mural: Honoring Labor
Another WTO Mural: Honoring Labor
Amartya Sen (A Nobel Prize winner) - Wrote on the WTO Wall
Amartya Sen (A Nobel Prize winner) - Wrote on the WTO Wall
A Park in Geneva
A Park in Geneva
A Monument to a Pacifist - Elie Ducommun - Geneva
A Monument to a Pacifist - Elie Ducommun - Geneva
Downtown Geneva
Downtown Geneva
An Old Tower in Downtown Geneva
An Old Tower in Downtown Geneva
In Honor of Woodrow Wilsom - Founder of the League of Nations
In Honor of Woodrow Wilsom - Founder of the League of Nations
On the Train to Lausanne - An Old Farm
On the Train to Lausanne - An Old Farm
Vineyards Near Lausanne
Vineyards Near Lausanne
A Field of Crows
A Field of Crows
Swiss Countryside from the Train
Swiss Countryside from the Train
Ouchy Metro Station in Lausanne
Ouchy Metro Station in Lausanne
Lausanne Harbor - We Counted 52 Swanns
Lausanne Harbor - We Counted 52 Swanns
Lausanne Harbor
Lausanne Harbor
A Storm Blowing Into Lausanne
A Storm Blowing Into Lausanne

 

(Copyright, Doug, 2013)

Champagne – From Troyes to the Marne

Champagne tour

Champagne is a glorious place, even in lousy weather. It has class. Not the pretentious kind, but rather a classiness that comes from attainment of quality and competence in wine-making and cuisine. The region can take on rustic and down-to-earth airs. But, it can also manifest excellence in presentation, for example in serving a fine meal based largely on local supplies. There is a sense of history and tradition, though this contrasts sometimes with the innovation and technological progress that are also in evidence (where appropriate). The scenery is bucolic and lush. And, of course, there is champagne!

The Aube and Points North

When folks think of Champagne they tend to think first of Reims and Epernay, with the splendid mountain between them surrounded by vineyards, with a branch stretching south to Vertus. But, there is another stretch of authentic Champagne vineyards further south, in the Aube region around Troyes. Long producing champagne-style wines and supplying grapes to the big name houses in Reims and Epernay, the Aube region was officially recognized as being part of the Champagne district in the early 1900s (after a series of revolts known as the Champagne Riots).

Troyes is the main town in the Aube region, as well as the historical capital of Champagne. Already settled in Roman times, Troyes has long been surrounded by wine production. While much of the city was destroyed by various fires in the Middle Ages, there are quite a few half-timbered houses and churches remaining from the 1500s. Looking at a map of the old town, one may notice that it is appropriately shaped like a cork.

The town has had a difficult history with various wars and social upheavals leading to troubles. Attila the Hun was stopped outside of town by a combination of force and compensation. The Jewish population, once thriving (e.g., the famous scholar Rashi established a center there for Talmudic studies in 1070AD), was abused and expelled in Medieval times. In later centuries, a Jewish population was reestablished but then fell victim to terrible oppression during WWII (see photo of the memorial below). After WWII a new synagogue was established in some Medieval buildings in the old town.

The vineyards of Montgueux spread across a small enclave to the west of Troyes, producing chardonnay grapes. The area is recognized on official maps showing designated zones for Champagne  production. Montgueux is a small island of production at some distance from the next officially recognized zones.

Heading north from Troyes one comes to the southern area of the Reims-Epernay champagne district. There is a wonderful chateau in the village of Etoges. It is now a bed and breakfast. A fine dinner can be had at the chateau, served with style in the former orangerie.

From Etoges, the Champagne route can be followed through the hills and vineyards to the town of Vertus, which is home to a number of champagne houses. Heavily damaged over the centuries, Vertus still has a number of remarkable old buildings and some nice parks well-suited for picnics, all set in the ambiance of a successful champagne-producing town. Heading north toward Epernay, the road hugs the cote des blancs district with famous wine towns such as Oger, Avize and Cramant.

Onward to Epernay and the Marne

Epernay is a wonderful town, home to some of the finest champagne houses, many of which are located along Champagne Avenue. Smaller and calmer than Reims, Epernay still radiates class. Many of the producers offer tours of their cellars and tastings, which can make for a very pleasant morning or afternoon, especially when paired with a fine meal at a local establishment.

The Marne River flows along the northern reaches of Epernay and its valley is home to some spectacular vineyards including a number of grand cru and premier cru areas (i.e., top-notch). The abbey in Hautvillers was home to the famous cleric Dom Perignon, who is sometimes considered the legendary father of champagne wines. While that has been challenged, he did in reality develop improved techniques for wine production, making a contribution that is still worthy of praise. We paid hommage to him at the former abbey church.

The vineyards skirting the hillsides to the north of the Marne are some of the best. From Cumieres to Ay to Mutigny one sees famous vintner names inscribed on low stone markers on the edges of their acreage along the roadside. In springtime, the countryside is verdant with forest land and crop fields bordering the vineyards. This week the vines were beginning to bud, a bit later than usual.

Really? Heading back to Paris so soon?

Heading west from Mutigny, we drove along the Marne through beautiful countryside. Flowering trees added splashes of color in the forests, as did the various orchard trees in farms and gardens along the river. The various species of early-leafing trees and plants displayed many contrasting shades of green, making the scenery look like an expressionist painting.

Finally, as we passed through Chatillon-sur-Marne, we knew our Champagne meandering time was coming to the end. As we headed toward the highway home, a statue of Pope Urbain II loomed above us pointing the way and perhaps raising the question as to why anyone would be heading back to the metropolis after such a short visit.

Photo Galleries

Use the arrows at the bottom of each gallery to scroll up or down. Double click to expand a picture. If the galleries do not display, then click on this link: http://wp.me/p2sfPf-mO .

1) From Troyes to Etoges

Champagne - From Troyes to Etoges

Photos from a weekend visit to Champagne

Medieval Homes Slightly Tilting in Troyes
Medieval Homes Slightly Tilting in Troyes
Medieval Alley in Troyes
Medieval Alley in Troyes
Cleaning of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Troyes - Before and After
Cleaning of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Troyes - Before and After
Entrance to the Bishop's Home in Troyes - 1500s AD
Entrance to the Bishop's Home in Troyes - 1500s AD
Synagogue in Troyes - Post WWII, but in a Medieval Building
Synagogue in Troyes - Post WWII, but in a Medieval Building
Synagogue Inscription:
Synagogue Inscription:
In the Synagogue - Troyes
In the Synagogue - Troyes
Synagogue window
Synagogue window
Memorial to the Jewish Population of Troyes
Memorial to the Jewish Population of Troyes
Sculpture at St Urbain Church in Troyes
Sculpture at St Urbain Church in Troyes
St Odilon de Cluny in the flames at St Urbain Church - Troyes
St Odilon de Cluny in the flames at St Urbain Church - Troyes
The Blessed Virgin of the Vine at St Urbain Church - Troyes
The Blessed Virgin of the Vine at St Urbain Church - Troyes
Restored Interior at St Jean au Marche Troyes
Restored Interior at St Jean au Marche Troyes
Stained glass at St Jean au Marche Church - Troyes - ca 1500AD
Stained glass at St Jean au Marche Church - Troyes - ca 1500AD
Medieval windows reassembled after WWII from broken glass - St Jean's
Medieval windows reassembled after WWII from broken glass - St Jean's
Troyes daffodils
Troyes daffodils
Montgueux - A small enclave producing chardonnay near Troyes
Montgueux - A small enclave producing chardonnay near Troyes
Montgueux Vineyards in Champagne
Montgueux Vineyards in Champagne
Colza Fields Forever - Outside of Montgueux
Colza Fields Forever - Outside of Montgueux
Cote des Blancs outside of Vertus (named for the white wines)
Cote des Blancs outside of Vertus (named for the white wines)
Vertus Church was built on top of an active spring
Vertus Church was built on top of an active spring
An old vineyard tractor in Vertus
An old vineyard tractor in Vertus
House in Vertus has been repurposed a few times it seems
House in Vertus has been repurposed a few times it seems
Chateau Etoges
Chateau Etoges
The Orangerie - bed and breakfast at Chateau Etoges
The Orangerie - bed and breakfast at Chateau Etoges
Dining under the stag at Chateau Etoges
Dining under the stag at Chateau Etoges
Gosset Grand Rose Champagne at Chateau Etoges
Gosset Grand Rose Champagne at Chateau Etoges
Start of dinner at Chateau Etoges
Start of dinner at Chateau Etoges
Dessert at Chateau Etoges - Choclate, Ice Cream and a Pastry
Dessert at Chateau Etoges - Choclate, Ice Cream and a Pastry

..

2) From Epernay along the Marne

Champagne - From Epernay to Mutigny to Chatillon-sur-Marne

Phase II of our Champagne tour… Epernay to Cumieres to Hautvillers to Ay to Mutigny to Chatillon-sur-Marne, with Pope Urbain II sending us on our way back to Paris.

The Mighty Castelline Winery in Epernay
The Mighty Castelline Winery in Epernay
Notre Dame at Epernay (ca. 1895 AD)
Notre Dame at Epernay (ca. 1895 AD)
Stained Glass at Notre Dame Church in Epernay
Stained Glass at Notre Dame Church in Epernay
Interior of Notre Dame in Epernay
Interior of Notre Dame in Epernay
An excellent Pol Roger Champagne (millisime 2002)
An excellent Pol Roger Champagne (millisime 2002)
A synagogue at Epernay
A synagogue at Epernay
A scene from a tasting at the fine Collard-Picard champagne house
A scene from a tasting at the fine Collard-Picard champagne house
A pinot noir-grafted vine on a bug resistant American grape root
A pinot noir-grafted vine on a bug resistant American grape root
Looking out from the Etienne winery across the Marne in Cumieres
Looking out from the Etienne winery across the Marne in Cumieres
Looking down the Marne in Cumieres
Looking down the Marne in Cumieres
World class grand cru champagne at Ay
World class grand cru champagne at Ay
St Martin's Church in Mutigny, blessing the vineyards since 1500 AD
St Martin's Church in Mutigny, blessing the vineyards since 1500 AD
Endless vineyards at Mutigny
Endless vineyards at Mutigny
More vineyards at Mutigny
More vineyards at Mutigny
Verdant countryside along the Marne, West of Epernay
Verdant countryside along the Marne, West of Epernay
Moet et Chandon Vineyards near Hautvillers
Moet et Chandon Vineyards near Hautvillers
City Hall at Hautvillers
City Hall at Hautvillers
Hautvillers with Dom Perignon's Church in background
Hautvillers with Dom Perignon's Church in background
Church in Chatillon-sur-Marne
Church in Chatillon-sur-Marne
Please don't ring the bell, we are counting on your understanding
Please don't ring the bell, we are counting on your understanding
Pope Urbain II (a local) watches over Chatillon-sur-Marne
Pope Urbain II (a local) watches over Chatillon-sur-Marne
Pope Urbain II wishes us Godspeed outside of Chatillon-sur-Marne
Pope Urbain II wishes us Godspeed outside of Chatillon-sur-Marne

 

(Copyright: Doug, 2013)

Aachen – A Medieval Gem

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Aachen, Germany, is a wonderful small city near the border with Belgium and Netherlands. Charlemagne, king of the Franks made Aachen his capital in the 790s, in part because of the warm springs that are to be found there. His empire united the two halves of the Frankish people, both the Latin and Germanic oriented populations. Even today, the French and German peoples count Aachen as part of their heritage (though the French call it Aix-la-Chapelle).

However, even though Aachen is just a few hours drive from Paris, it has much different feel. Coming from Paris, the signs along the highway already shift from French to German a few kilometers before reaching the Belgian-German border. (There are a few German-speaking towns in Belgium.)

Once in Aachen, we are always struck by the restaurants, cafes, pubs and bakeries and the obvious gastronomic contrasts with those in our hometown in France. In Aachen, the food and drink are tuned to central European preferences and sensibilities. The beer offering shifts away from the sour and strong brews of Belgium (or sometimes watery beers of France) and towards the lighter but flavorful Pilsners and Koelsches. Goose and schnitzel turn up on the menus. Savory rolls of rye or whole wheat are to be had, along with kaiser rolls decked out with lox, onions and lettuce.

Aachen’s center has a comfortable feel with an extensive pedestrian zone that meanders among the old stones of the medieval city. It offers a balanced mix of museums and sites of historical interest, eating and drinking establishments, shops and parks.

The chapel from Charlemagne’s palace survives and forms the center of the current cathedral. It may be that one of the towers of city hall incorporates another part of the palace, but in any event the city hall is a splendid old structure in its own right. There are several of the original city gates still standing, as well as other interesting architectural features in some of the houses and shops. Together, these structures give Aachen an old and dark, but warm atmosphere.

Aachen has become a traditional destination for my family just prior to Christmas. Each December (through 23 Dec), there is a sprawling Christmas market along the pedestrian zones. The city is decorated with holiday lights and greenery. There is a festive atmosphere with convivial crowds of happy people patronizing stands selling hot mulled wine, stollen, cookies, bratwurst and potato pancakes, as well as all sorts of holiday gifts. Many stands offer handmade and artisanal products. There are brass bands and piped in Christmas music in the city squares, as well as choral presentations at the cathedral and other churches. The weather is often lousy, but the Christmas decorations brighten everything, regardless. It is wunderbar!

Recommendations:

Nobis: fine bakery; eat in (self-serve) or carry out; great for lunch (nice sandwiches), or coffee & cakes, special cookies, gingerbread, and other baked treats.

Rose am Dom: nice restaurant in an old inn (14th century) serving hearty, quality meals. In season, they serve game such as duck, goose, wild boar and venison as well as wild mushroom soup.

Aachener Dom (cathedral): a wonderful architectural gem built to house relics of the Virgin Mary. The heart of the structure is Charlemagne’s octagonal palace chapel, with an amazing, newly restored interior with elements from various periods. Take the docent tour, which offers interesting history and explanations, as well as a chance to see the throne of the Frankish kings possibly dating back to Charlemagne’s time.

Cathedral treasury museum: this is also worth a visit! It contains many interesting artifacts and relics including a marvelous reliquary with part of Charlemagne’s arm (bones).

City hall: Tourists can visit this medieval structure and see the great hall and several other fine rooms. Be sure to check out the city council chamber, which includes portraits of Napoleon and Josephine (gifts from the Napoleon to the city).

Aquis Grana Hotel This hotel is very centrally located, near the cathedral and Nobis, and offers a fine breakfast. Park your car in the city garage across the street and leave it there during your stay. Aachen is a city to explore on foot.