Monday, September 22, 2014


It seems like quite some time since we've done a bit of exploring new places around the world.   After the extended sabbatical in America last year and the less-than-stellar launch of the new business, we've been focused on other areas.   But that all changed with this fall's trip to Greece.   Still an "easy" destination, it was a great way to ease back into a bit of adventure travel.   Once away from the coastal resorts, it was a raw and authentic travel experience.   Now I can truly say with authority that "It's Greek to me!" when I don't understand something.  :-)   Here are some pictures from the adventure.

First stop was this mountaintop wine dispensary.  Even though the sign was in Greek and English, I'm guessing this place is frequented much more by the local population.

 It was a "bring your own plastic bottle" kind of place, where you refilled from the local wines.  At 2 Euro/liter, we thought we'd give it a try.   I wish I could say that the wine was fantastic...but it wasn't.   The dry white was drinkable...the red was ended up watering some local flowers.   But the experience is one I won't ever forget.

Of course Greece is known for it's beaches and crystal clear water, and we certainly spent plenty of time in that water.  The snorkeling was awesome!  It wasn't loaded with life like Belize or Hawaii (there were still plenty of fish), but the clarity of the water and the geology you could explore made it my favorite snorkeling so far.  It was incredible to see the underwater cliffs and caves...this one was my favorite.   We also saw some ancient pillars of a long crumbled Roman villa.  Just amazing.

We did tend to stay away from the resorts and sandy beaches.   This little harbor town was reached via a narrow, winding gravel road.  It was 4 miles of "nothing" before pulling into the town where there were two little competing fish restaurants.   After having a swim, we saddled up to a waterfront table and had the best squid and fried eggplant ever served! 

But for us, the mountains are always a draw (why are we living in Holland!?!?) and we spent just as much time "running the ridges" of the interior.

The little rented Fiat Panda got us everywhere we needed to go...and some places we definitely should not have been.  Not sure that road service would have helped us out had we gotten into trouble on this track.

The villages quickly got "real" up in the hills, away from the tourist spotlight.  You could see the effects of the crash, and also the resilience of the people. 

And of course there were also the ancient sites.   A history geek like me can't turn down an opportunity to go for a hike and see some old stacked rocks...and I certainly wasn't disappointed.  You couldn't swing a cat by it's tail without hitting something ancient.   Here, a 14th century BC gate from Mycenaean times...that's over 3300 years old!

 A massive Greek amphitheater.  

And Ancient Olympia....

...where the games began.

 There were also more recent historical sites, like these "tower villages" in Inner Mani (15th century).  These towns were run by individual clans and they would frequently start blood feuds where they would catapult rocks at each other's villages from these towers until one village was "pulverized into submission" (direct quote from the guidebook).   Great stuff!

We stayed at some pretty remote and unique places, like this yurt.  It was 100% off grid and owned by a British woman of 68 years old.  Her husband died 4 years ago and she is holding on as best she can.   She shared some great stories sitting around at night...they got better as the wine flowed.

Then there was this treehouse in the far western Peloponnese.  The region is known as the Philosopher hills and is certainly off the beaten tourist track.  The hosts, a woman from New Zealand and her Greek husband are going to build 4 more of these on their property.   This is where we really got to understand that it's all about "who you know" to get things done in Greece.  The property has been in his family since the Ottoman empire fell.  His cousin is mayor of the town.  His brother is the building inspector. His uncle runs the sanitation department.  You get the idea.   And I thought small town America was nepotistic!

 Inside the treehouse.

But there was also plenty of luxury to be this boutique hotel outside Nafplio.  Stunning!

 As far as posh, tourist ports go, Nafplio wasn't bad.  The food was outstanding and the shopping was unique. 

My only complaint is that they wouldn't let me ride these electric motor carts through the square.

Why do kids get to have all the fun?

 Of course any of these southern cultures have their dark side, which is the way that animals are viewed and treated.  I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised - it wasn't nearly as bad as we've seen in some other cultures, but there were still a fair share of stray dogs and cats.   The cats seemed to do pretty well and none of the dogs were starving...could be an bonus of so many tourists....we saw many others feeding them.    The Greeks themselves seemed to also take somewhat decent care of the strays.    But, we still had to load up on food....

 ...and make lots of new friends.   The real skinny one is the mother and she was still nursing her much bigger puppies.

 This little stray girl was actually cared for by the hotel, but she wasn't allowed in.   We did many walks with her through the olive groves.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Creepy Kabouter

Found this creepy little leprechaun in the garbage near the house here – you’ve gotta love his deformed hand and funky eyes.  I am thinking of taking him back to America and putting him out in the woods near the glamping site.   Everyone enjoys a good ghost story around the campfire, right?   I was going to write up a short story about him.  Nothing too gruesome, but definitely ending it by saying that “he can still sometimes be seen in these very woods.”   I’ll give the glampers a few clues at the end of the story on how to find him and set him out as a sort of geocache.  I’ll name him “Chucky”.   What do you think, too much?

Sunday, December 22, 2013


It's great to be back in Europe for the holiday season, especially with German Christmas markets such a short drive away.  After last year in Prague, we thought that we'd return to the German roots.  All of our Dutch friends have always talked about how nice Dusseldorf is.   Honestly, I was very skeptical.   I've driven through the Ruhr many times on the way south and from the highway it always feels like a scarred, industrial landscape.  It is the heart of German manufacturing and from all of the factories and smoke stacks, it always felt more like an area to avoid rather than seek out for Christmas markets.  But, I also needed to meet with a new colleague of mine from Frankfurt and he suggested that we go to the office in Dusseldorf as a 1/2 way point.  Expecting 1970's decaying Pittsburgh, I reluctantly agreed and booked a hotel for the weekend.   Driving through the rats-nest of autobahns, chemical factories, and smokestacks, I really thought I had made a mistake.  But as we got deeper and deeper into the city, it quickly became clear how wrong I was about Dusseldorf!  This is a rich, progressive, modern, and extremely healthy, vibrant city.  And the Christmas markets were unparallelled....even with Prague.  Fantastic!

View from the 17th floor of our office building on the banks of the Rhine.

It's not London, but the wheel dominates the old city skyline.  It sure looked permanent to me.

The old city center was rebuilt after the war in it's original fashion.  I've never seen so much shopping in my life!  It went on and on and on and on.   And the markets were fantastic!   This year's street food was Wild Boar stew, sauteed mushrooms, and of course bratworst.

We put on 23 kilometers walking the city and markets.   I'm glad we have an office here....I'll definitely be back.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The final countdown

It's amazing to me how quickly the time has gone.  When the sabbatical started, there was still snow on the ground here in Mountaintop Maryland.  Now, after a cool spring and wet summer, the air is starting to carry the crispness of fall and the return date to Holland is quickly approaching.

It's been an interesting adventure.  There is still much to do on the Glamping business, but the time with family and long unseen friends has been priceless.  Below is a photo update of the construction project and a few, much needed vacations.

There was a fantastic weekend with some of the old crew up at IUP.  We stayed at the Niederitter "huntin' camp", ate loads of great BBQ, drank buckets of great beer, and spent most of our time acting like irresponsible college kids again.  Gezellig!

Of course we hit the campus and several of the mainstay bars up on Philadelphia Street, but the best times were had out at the camp, playing cornhole and laughing late into the evening.   I didn't get a picture, but we drove past the old house on Water Street that we all shared senior year.  Man, that place needs condemned!  I still remember my mom coming up and ripping the landlord a new one when he put up siding and boarded up most of the windows in the process...aren't mom's great?  There were 12 kids sitting on the rickety old front porch, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes...some things never change.

 Speaking of campus, so many of the old buildings have been torn down...even the Quad is gone!!!!  But this old Econ building is still standing.  The 5th window down is the famous one.  Jim and I had a three hour class together and on the last week, we killed a bottle of gin in the back of class and climbed out the window.  The professor never said a word.  I got a B in the class.

I also promised Grace that I'd post a picture from the demolition derby at the county fair.  Small town America weekend fun doesn't get much better than this!  I'll never look at firemen the same way. :-)

Then there was a wedding in Toronto.  I hate weddings.   But this one was actually really great!  Well done Heather and Dan!  You somehow managed to impressed this cynical old fart.  Your vows were really awesome.  I love laughing like that at a wedding.  Here we are with the "Ya-Ya" club, waiting for a school bus to the ceremony.  Guess who was the only guy on the bus not wearing a tie?

And then there was Idaho.  Ahhhh...Idaho.  A place very special to my heart.  It was wonderful seeing old friends, making new friends, and visiting some of the wild country again.  Howling wolves, bugling elk, and soaring eagles.

The Sawtooth Range from the Salmon River Valley
Saddleback Lake, high in the Sawtooths after a 3 hour hike.

I also hit my goal of climbing Bogus Basin on a road bike.  This was an important, personal milestone for me.  I have been training all summer and it paid off with a relatively easy climb, 15 years after the first leg-burning time. 

I ran into an old friend up in the mountains.  I haven't seen him in more than 10 years.   It was a Thursday morning and I was signing us up for the Redfish lake shuttle boat over to the Sawtooth Wilderness area.  This is as remote as you can get in the lower 48.   I walked up to the dock and there was a guy in front of me, decked out with a full-on backpack.  I recognized his voice immediately.  Dave Baldiga.  He hired me into my first job in Idaho and got me into mountain biking.  The odds of seeing someone I knew in this spot, at this time were miniscule.  So, as we are catching up on the short boat ride across the lake and I was telling him about my climb up Bogus, what does Dave say?  ....  "Did you break an hour?"   Are you freaking kidding me?!?!?  Although I bet Dave could probably do it.  Great seeing him.

Business?  Oh yea, that's right.  There has been some progress on the business.  The bath house is up!    There is even some electrical work completed.

The fire rings were also delivered, so I distributed them around to each site.  I still have to dig them in and set them in concrete, but I'm pleased with the choice.

As seems typical with this project, there have also been some setbacks.  Today was particularly rough.  The well is finally being drilled and I have received two calls that they are running into clay and shale much deeper than they anticipated.  They needed me to approve additional liner...cha-ching!  But what can you do?  It's like hiring an SAP consultant.  They are the keepers of the keys.  If they tell you that you need 30 hours of programming to get a customer number from the system, how can you question it?  It's the same thing with well drillers.  It's not like a carpenter's work that I can look at and say, "Damn! You pound a mighty fine nail!"  How do I know what shale and clay tailings look like?  I need water at the glamping site and I am compelled to believe what these guys tell me and pay what they say I need to pay....Shit.

Also had the beds delivered for the glamping huts.  It took a lot of maneuvering for the truck to get around the well drilling truck, but he finally made it.  When he opened the door to unload the first bed, it was painfully obvious that the order was wrong.  I need double beds...he had singles.  Shit.  That's going to cost my schedule.  These were special order hospital-grade beds.  It'll take another 3 weeks for correcting.

But, ce la vie.  Take a deep breath and remember the smell of those Idaho'll all work out.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Who would have thought that the fate of this little construction project would hinge on three truck loads of concrete?  Well, maybe an experienced person in the building trade would have had a clue, but this IT hack kind of missed the key indicators.  A single decision more than a month ago concerning said concrete has cost us the prize of opening on time.   Rain, more rain, and a fishing trip to Lake Erie where 8 guys got sicker than dogs on a small skiff completely unsuited for the rough water also contributed to the delays (don't ask about the fishing's complicated).

Anyhow, the concrete trucks finally arrived and building has resumed.  Where has this summer gone?

Truck # 1 on a misty morning
The bath house and pavilion taking shape

View from the field.  This was an old farm dump at one time.  I can't find the pictures of the dump, but the transformation has been astounding.

In the meantime, We've been busy with all the little details of setting up the site.

Remember the picture of this being hauled out of the woods with the tractor?  It's going to make a great sign post.
Now that the "tree" is set, it's time to start working on the sign.
I've also been working with a friend in the cabinet business to collect some sinks for the bath house.  These will serve as the dishwashing sinks.  He's sending me down to Moorefield, WV to pick up some marble inset sinks and counter tops.   "Turn right just past the chicken processing plant."  Great!   But at only $80 for 2 six foot countertops, I'll do the drive and smell the chickens.

A new sign in box for the trail head.  It's always nice to see where guests are from.

The information board turned out really well.

This massive mud hole has been the bane of my existence for the past two weeks.  It started out as a small, clear water little puddle on the main trail from the glamping site.  I had the bright idea to get my tractor in there and "clean it up".  Boys with's pretty much a total mess now.  I think I'll have to put planks across it.

Sage has been having fun.  Here at Schoolhouse Earth's petting zoo, staring off with a very ornery goat.

But she is completely fed-up with the "job site" and frequently just climbs into the truck while I'm working.  Some nights, I really feel like joining her.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Good wine, eh?

The construction project was at a point where there really wasn't anything that I could do last weekend, so we decided to hop in the car and get away for a much needed break.   We were looking for a good blend of relaxation, wine, sight seeing, wine, and city, so we built the itinerary around a friend's cabin up in Western Ontario.  Here are some pics from this short summer break. 

Niagara Falls, from the American side.  I'm a sucker for waterfalls.

Niagara Falls, from Canada.  That's a lot of water!

Niagara on the Lake.   A bit too cutesy for me, but still a great home base for exploring wine country.

Tres Chique!  Shopping in Niagara on the Lake.

But the real draw was the wine.  We took a bike tour of some wineries.  There are hundreds in the region and the wine was fantastic!  A great reason for a return trip.
Then it was "into the wild" of Western Ontario.  Beautiful countryside.

Heather and Dan's "cabin" in the woods.

On the return trip, we stopped in Toronto.  I was very impressed with this city!  It was incredibly vibrant with loads of downtown living and community.  One evening wasn't nearly enough. 

 Now, back to work!