Getting Ready for Summer 1969

My Mom's Travel Bible

My Mom’s Travel Bible


Hard copy travel information is still very important to me.  I print out all my reservations and tickets, not trusting my phone to deliver on demand.  I read and mark up several travel guides before every vacation and tote them along on my trips.  I will not head anywhere without a printed map, because you never know when your GPS is going to get confused.  However, I do most of my actual research online.  My mom didn’t have that luxury.

The Mobil Guide

The hardest thing for me to throw away when I cleaned out my parents’ house was my mom’s collection of old Mobil Guides.  Though the information in them was totally outdated, the memories of our travels with them are ever fresh.  I was trying to be practical, because I knew I couldn’t save everything.  Now I wish I would have kept at least one.

These guides were her Bible for travel.  She discovered them while we were still making those wild dashes between Georgia and Texas.  My dad had a penchant for getting hungry or sleepy at places that scared my mom and her Mobil Guides were her defense against his whims.

Dad would say, “I’m taking the next exit to find a motel/restaurant/service station.”  She’d say, “No you’re not.  It’s not even listed in the guide.  We’re about X miles from ______.  You can exit there.”  Then she would go on extol the virtues of the town she deemed appropriate.  Occasionally she’d even beat him to the punch.  “George, I think you should stop in _______ for lunch.  After that we hit a stretch of road where there won’t be anything for at least  a hundred miles.  You can fill up the tank there, too.”

When we moved to Texas and didn’t need the Southeastern States edition anymore, Mom started her collection of other editions.  Though I don’t specifically remember her using it on the way to Carlsbad NM or Houston TX, I am quite sure she did.  Our next summer vacation was to Washington D.C. and I do remember her poring through the appropriate Mobil guides for months in preparation for the trip.  Her elegant handwriting filled the margins and listings in the guide had circles, underlining, check marks, question marks and stars.

To Begin at the Beginning

By the time Mom purchased a Mobil Guide, she’d already decided where she was headed.  When it came to choosing a travel destination Mom and I were a little bit alike.  She wanted to go everywhere, so the only real problem was choosing where to go next.  I’m fully convinced that, like me, Mom had 10-12 potential itineraries floating around in her head at any given time.

As to her sources of inspiration, forget the Travel Channel.  All we had were ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and in Dallas, one local independent channel.  None of those channels had travel shows such as we think of them.  There was Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which sometimes featured a possible destination, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which might mention a National Park, but that was pretty much it.

Print media was her travel source.  The Dallas Morning News arrived daily on our front lawn and on Sundays it included a Travel Section.  Whenever Mom saw something that interested her, she’d cut it out of the newspaper and file it away.  By the time I was an adult, that collection of articles took up a four drawer file cabinet.  The articles from the Dallas Morning News weren’t the only thing in there, because Mom and her scissors found a lot to snip.

For years the only magazine my mom took was Better Homes & Gardens, but once we moved back to Texas and she went to work, our selection of magazines grew.  The first addition to the list was National Geographic, so Susan and I could “use the magazines for school reports.” (Uh huh, sure!)  Then there was Texas Highways and eventually Southern Living.  They rounded out their magazine collection with The Smithsonian Magazine.

I’ll tell you more about Mom and her travel plans for our trip to Washington D.C. in the coming weeks.  Grab your Mobil Guides and join me!


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Shore Excursion to Bratislava, Slovakia


Bratislava is a lovely little town with the oldest surviving town gate in Continental Europe.  However, I ran into several complications in my efforts to enjoy this stop on our cruise.  The video includes the highlights of the shore excursion and I’ll tell you about my difficulties behind the scenes. 

The Walking Tour That Wasn’t the Walking Tour

I had carefully studied the available shore excursions back in Dallas and after a careful examination, decided the Bratislava Walking Tour was superior to the Bratislava City Tour.  Both involved walking around the Old City, but one included a bus trip to what I call Faux Castle.

See there once was a real castle up on Castle Hill.  However, it was nothing but a ruin when the Communists showed up.  They decided they needed to replace the castle, but all they did was build a modern building and call it a castle.  I had no desire to see their modern day monstrosity.

However, when I showed up on the dock, we were ushered to a bus and I got the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to be happy about it.  In Viking’s defense, I didn’t say anything to anybody once I feared I was on the wrong tour.  I guess the jet lag or something had finally hit me, because I wasn’t feeling completely up to par and I just didn’t have the desire to rock the boat – or the bus.  My bad.

I have no idea who this guy was, but he has pride of place on Castle Hill.

I have no idea who this guy was, but he has pride of place on Castle Hill.

The bus took us up Castle Hill and dumped us out at the Faux Castle for an orgy of picture taking.  The scenery was great, but there’s nothing that makes you feel more like a tourist than being dumped off for a photo opportunity when you don’t really understand why you are there in the first place.  The guide never even pretended the castle had any historical or architectural significance.  She just said we had ten minutes to take pictures and abandoned us.

On cue, we filed back on the bus after taking our photos and rode down the hill.  Then we went on a walking tour which was somewhat interesting, but not compelling.  That might have been because the grumblings in my stomach were getting most of my attention, but I was also wondering how the tour sans the Faux Castle would have differed.  My new friends assured me they had a great time on the real walking tour, but since Deb was the sort to have fun whatever she was doing, I don’t know if she can be trusted.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Andrew Petcher (a fellow travel blogger I highly recommend), suggested free-style wandering was the best way to see the town, but with Mr. Bill in tow, free-style can be problematic.  I think Andrew was probably right.  With my Rick Steves’ tour book in hand and no tour guide to keep up with, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed the capital of Slovakia.  The architecture was charming and the quirky sculpture sprinkled throughout the town made for some great snickering.

The UFO Restaurant

The UFO Restaurant

I think it would be a great place to spend a quiet weekend, but it’s a little far from Dallas for me to check out that theory.  My greatest regret was not getting to the UFO Restaurant atop a bridge, another gift of the Communists.  After the walking tour we were given some free time, but by then I desperately needed a little private time in my cabin.

A Slovakian Evening

By 6:45 I had gotten myself back into cruise mode and was front and center for the Daily Briefing.  We had dinner with our cruise buddies and then made our way back to Lounge for “A Slovakian Evening.”

The entertainment was delightful.  Those great big ocean liners can provide productions to rival Broadway and Hollywood, but you have to share them with your 3000 new friends.  I’m sort of over that.  I much preferred the intimate setting of the Lounge, where we gathered comfortably with 178 (give or take a few) other passengers.  The show was marvelous.  In fact, after some expensive entertainment in Vienna, our friends told us the onboard entertainment had much better performers than the Viennese show.  We thoroughly enjoyed the Slovakian Evening, because the songs were familiar, the costumes were beautiful and performers were gifted.

Below I have included some photos of the entertainment.  I hope you’ll come back next week for Vienna – the highlight of the cruise.





Filed under Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Music, Performing Arts, TRAVEL

A Visit to the Museum of Biblical Arts


So last week I suggested you visit the Via Dolorosa Sculpture Garden at Dallas’ Museum of Biblical Arts.  It’s free and right across the street from NorthPark.  I also think you should go inside the museum.  Let me tell you about my recent visit.

An Outing with the Buffalo Gals

I live in a subdivision called Buffalo Creek and facilitate a Bible study for women in and around the neighborhood.  Mind you, I’m just the facilitator.  The irrepressible Beth Moore is the teacher, through her marvelous collection of video series.  We’re on our third and have plenty more to keep us busy.  We call ourselves the Buffalo Gals.

The group is small and while we’re officially a Bible Study, we’re also a group of friends.  We’ve developed the tradition of having some fun along the way.  We have lunch together on Bible Study day, find reasons to celebrate occasions together and each of Beth’s series is interrupted by what we call a field trip or play date.

Right now we’re doing a series on David and we decided to visit the Museum of Biblical Arts (MBA).  For good measure we planned for lunch to be across the street at Neiman Marcus’ NM Cafe.  So, the day definitely started out with the right vibes.

Where Do You Go In?

On a recent Wednesday morning the Buffalo Gals pulled up to the MBA a few moments after it opened and the parking lot was virtually empty.  Piling out of the car we stumbled into the Sculpture Garden and began orientating ourselves to the art.  Some of our members weren’t familiar with the Stations of the Cross, so we shared our experiences.

I was particularly fond of the MBA’s Via Dolorosa, because they didn’t leave Jesus in the Tomb the way the traditional Stations of the Cross do.  The garden includes a sculpture of the Risen Christ.  Hallelujah!  There were a few other pieces of sculpture by the same artist in the garden which were unrelated to the Via Dolorosa.  Most of them I liked, but his Rachel by the Well looked like an old woman, not the fresh-faced girl that inspired a man to labor fourteen years for the privilege of marrying her.

Then we had to decide how to enter the building.  It seemed logical to enter via the Damascus Gate replica next to the Sculpture Garden, but that was locked.  So we went to the double doors next to a porte-cochère on the front of the building.  I’m no architect, but the entrance seemed a little abrupt.  There is virtually no gathering space under the porte-cochère.  Nor is there much in the way of a vestibule inside the front of the building.  You open the door and are standing at the ticket counter.  If these guys ever booked a blockbuster exhibition they’d need to re-think the entry, but I digress.

The entry fee is $12, less for children, seniors, students and such.  Included with your entry ticket is an audio guide.  This makes the price very reasonable.  I have to admit I didn’t use my audio guide as much as I usually would, because I was trying not to slow down my friends.  The few bits I did listen to were very interesting, but it would take hours to listen to all the recordings as you wandered around.  I just promised myself I would hear them next time.

Well, look at this, I’ve used up all my words for today and I haven’t even gotten past the ticket counter.  Well, come back next week.  There’s a lot to see.



Filed under Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Gardens, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Susan and Her Bug Bite

1967 - A Very Awkward Time

1967 – A Very Awkward Time for the Girl with Glasses


In 1967 my sister and I are in Houston visiting family.  For a few stolen hours I quit being a sensitive twerp and felt like a valuable, validated person.  Then Susan trumps my musical enlightenment with a medical emergency.

My Leg Itches

The day before we headed home, Susan complained of  her leg. I figured it was a chigger or mosquito bite, but when she showed it to me, I knew it was something else. I got the adults involved and my music lessons were over.

By the time my parents arrived to take us home, things had worsened. Susan had a huge swollen mass behind her knee and a fever to match. I think my parents arrived on a Saturday night and drove us home the next day. We were in the doctor’s office shortly after that and Susan was sent to a surgeon for an emergency procedure.

We never knew what bit Susan, but they assumed it was a spider. The fact that it was not treated until several days after it manifested itself made things worse. I know Aunt Sis was devastated by the situation, but somehow I felt like it was more my fault than hers. Mother had made it clear that I was in charge and I had failed to keep Susan safe.

The procedure to lance Susan’s wound was just the first step on her journey to recovery. There was a regimen of dressing changes, hot packs, medication and doctor visits that went on for a long time. The stuff coming out of Susan’s leg was the most sickening thing Mom had ever seen and over the years she saw some pretty yucky stuff. Susan has a scar from it until today.

The mystery bite was just another chapter in my history of being overshadowed by my younger sibling. Shortly after we arrived home, Uncle Ralph sent Susan a “medical kit.” It was a similar to a wooden tool box he made for my dad, but Susan’s kit was Susan-sized.  The accompanying note didn’t even mention me.

1970 - I'm the one in the red shirt with a completely different attitude.

1970 – I’m the one in the red shirt with a completely different attitude.

What Followed for Me

I was used to getting upstaged by my little red-headed sister, but a change was coming. I began to be less worried about comparing myself to Susan and started sorting out who I was on my own.

I began to let my hair grow out of the short bobs my mother preferred. I’ll admit that it looked awful a few years later when I insisted on parting it down the middle, but it was my hair and I wore it the way I wanted to, just like my Cousin Gene Alton.  (Hair was a big issue in the Sixties and Seventies.)

When my taste in clothes differed from my mother’s, I began to make her aware of it. Mother had great taste and always looked like a million dollars, but I had my own style.  I liked fussier clothing than my mom.  I adored ruffles, frills, embroidery, prints and stripes, while mom preferred clean lines.  I liked bright colors, while Mom advised the practicality of solids in neutral colors.  I eventually convinced her to allow me my differences.

I am product of my upbringing, but I am also very different from my parents. I’m more adventurous and creative. I’m more tolerant of people who are different from me. I’m more spontaneous. Not all the differences are so noble. I’m also noisier and more likely to waste money on something frivolous.

Did I become who I am because Gene Alton actually saw me and talked to me about Grace Slick? I can’t say for sure. He wasn’t a constant influence on me, because he was way down there in Houston and he would soon be wrapped up in his own life. However, I can say that he made a difference. Thanks cuz!


Filed under DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

A Quiet Morning on the Danube


The third day of our trip began on the river.  We cruised an area known as the Danube Bend and while it is a pleasant stretch, it’s not exactly postcard worthy.  Bratislava, Slovakia waited around then Bend and a lovely evening of entertainment was in store, but our morning was quiet.

A Slow Start

This was the only day we didn’t have to be up and about for a morning shore excursion, so we took it a little slow.  I was up before Bill and when I looked out the window I saw piles of dirt along the riverbank which were similar to the piles of sand American road crews keep for icy weather.  I have no idea what the sand was for, but that’s what the piles looked like.  As I said, not exactly postcard perfect.

While we took our time, it’s not like we were lag-a-beds.  Breakfast was only served until 9:30 in the restaurant and we got there in plenty of time for Bill to order from the menu.  I stuck to nibbling goodies from the buffet.

All manner of entertainments were available on board after breakfast.  The “Safety Instructions” were mandatory, a sort of lifeboat drill for river cruisers, but the Nautical Talk, Wheelhouse Tour, Apple Strudel Demonstration and  Vienna Coffeehouse Talk were all a matter of choice.  We listened to some of the nautical information, but skipped the Wheelhouse Tour, because the wheelhouse was enclosed in glass and we could peek in whenever our hearts desired.

A Morning in the Locks

A Morning in the Locks

Our favorite entertainment of the morning was the locks.  When we were in Oregon we watched a riverboat go through the Bonneville Locks, but I assure you it was much more exciting to be on a riverboat in the locks – not to mention that we were on the Danube, not the Columbia.  It is amazing how quickly the water fills the lock once the gates are closed behind you.  Then you sail away on a part of the river that is much higher than you were just minutes ago.

We skipped the Apple Strudel Demonstration.  I’m not all that fond of fresh apples and I don’t like baked apples at all.  I knew I wasn’t going to try to duplicate their recipe and I didn’t want the promised samples.  I attended the Coffeehouse Talk, but it wasn’t as informative as I had hoped.  I would have been interested in more information about the history of the coffeehouses and I depend on Rick Steves for my tipping advice, so perhaps I should have just stayed up on deck enjoying the locks.  The bottom line of the cruise director’s chat was that Americans over-tip.  So what?  I bet the cruise director didn’t complain about overtipping when he counted his take.

In hindsight, I think I would have been better off spending more time up on deck or perhaps enjoying my balcony.  We pulled into Bratislava early and had lunch, eagerly anticipating the afternoon’s activities.  Come back next week for the shore excursion.




Filed under Architecture, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Museum of Biblical Arts, Dallas TX


Brochure for Museum of Biblical Art Sculpture Garden


When you think about attractions in Dallas you’ve got a lot to choose from.  Theme parks, museums, shopping – you name it, but you may not have even heard of the Museum of Biblical Arts (MBA).  Many locals haven’t and even among those who have, there’s a good chance they haven’t visited.  Let me encourage you to change that.

Oh, Has That Place Re-opened?

The Museum of Biblical Arts used to be a little better well known.  When I moved to Dallas in the late sixties, it was all the rage.  NorthPark, which is right across the street, was still brand spanking new and the only other museums in town were out at Fair Park.  The Dallas Arts District might have been in someone’s dreams, but there was no hint of it on our horizon.  The Biblical Arts museum featured a large mural of the Miracle of Pentecost.  You went into a gallery, the room went dark and a sort of light show picked out parts of the painting as the story of Pentecost was narrated.

I remember hearing all kinds of rumors about the painting.  I heard the building it was painted in used to be part of the cemetery next door, which I believe is actually true, but I also heard rumors of wild parties, addiction, affairs and extortion which I doubt had any basis in fact.  Whatever the reality, the experience of seeing the painting was exciting and over the years the museum surrounding the painting grew into a lovely building featuring a replica of Christ’s tomb.

Then in 2005 there was a fire.  I was out in California at the time, so I don’t know much about it first-hand.  I know it burned up the Pentecost painting.  It seems the rest of the museum was open for a while after that, but I could be wrong.  Then they announced the museum would be upgraded.  I do know the museum was closed for renovation for a long time.  More rumors abounded.  The fire had been a case of arson to force a remodel.  Somebody had embezzled everything.  Fighting among the board.  Probably none of that actually happened, but the construction of the new building seemed to take forever and the longer it took, the more the dis-information grew.

The museum re-opened in 2010, but while it was closed it disappeared from Dallas’ consciousness.  Occasionally, I’d hear someone ask about that building across from NorthPark, but over time the answers deteriorated from remarks about the old museum, to guesses that it might have been some kind of church.  In case you were wondering, the museum is back and it’s pretty darned good!


Free Sculpture Garden is Tip of the Iceberg

Your first trip to the MBA could be short and free!  On the north side of the museum (which is on the west side of NorthPark) is a beautiful sculpture garden called the Via Dolorosa, featuring the compelling sculptures of Gib Singleton.  According to your religious affiliation or lack thereof, you might be more familiar with terms like “The Way of the Cross” or “Stations of the Cross” than you are Via Dolorosa.  The literal translation from the Latin is “Way of Sorrows” and it memorializes the events of the Crucifixion.

I knew the Stations of the Cross were a liturgical tradition memorialized in churches across the world.  I’ve seen evidence of it in everything from elaborate murals to stained glass windows to wooden plaques painted with Roman numerals.  An MBA brochure informed me St. Francis of Assisi began the tradition in the 13th century.

Gib Singleton’s style for the sculpture is called  Emotional Realism, which the Oxford Dictionary tells me is “a representational quality in a narrative that is felt to be ‘true-to-life’.  I’d say it was more like sculptural impressionism.  The sculptures are obviously representational, but they aren’t smooth marble and gleaming metal.  They are bronze, but ruggedly cast.

The north side of the museum building is a replica of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, so the sculpture garden stands in a dramatic setting.  The Texas heat is doing a number on the gardening efforts, but it is a beautiful space and it’s surprising to find it across the street from one of the nation’s premiere shopping.  The garden and it’s sculptures are open to the public for free.

On you next trip to NorthPark, you could drop by for a few moments for meditation or art appreciation, but be warned, you might be inspired to visit the museum, so perhaps you should allow more time.  come back next week and I’ll tell you what you’ll see inside.

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Maybe I Was Cool After All


In the beginning, my stay at Aunt Sis’ was just as awful as I expected it to be.  Susan and Uncle Ralph were joyous to be reunited in their mutual appreciation.  Aunt Sis was busy running her home.  I faded into the upholstery.

Then Gene Alton Had to Run an Errand

I don’t know whether Gene Alton took an interest in me on his own or whether Aunt Sis made him.  I do remember that he asked to borrow the car and his mother said, “Why don’t you take Jane Ann with you?”  Now I can imagine that the last thing most teen-aged guys want to do is be seen with their gawky younger cousin, but if that was the case with Gene Alton, he certainly didn’t act that way.

I forget the errand.  We met a few guys.  We gave at least one of them a ride somewhere.  Then we went back to Gene Alton’s house.  What we did was unremarkable.  How Gene Alton treated me during the ride was very remarkable.

The Ride of a Lifetime

For one thing, I rode in the front seat.  I didn’t usually get that position.  We rode along with the windows down.  I remember the wind in my hair and my elbow propped up on the door.  I also remember the music on the radio.

Like everyone else in the world, I’d watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964.  I was aware of a phenomena called rock and roll, but Gene Alton was listening to something that was a little different and I liked it.  Up until then, I thought rock and roll was the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers.  There’s every chance in the world that I heard The Doors for the first time riding along with Gene Alton.  My ears would never be the same.

Even if Gene Alton had been reluctant to allow his awkward teenybopper cousin to ride along on his errand when we left the house, something I said about his music turned us into friends.  By the time we met his pals, I was cool.  When they got in the car, I got to stay in the front seat.  They talked to me just like I was a real person.  They liked me better than I liked myself.

Musical Ties

The other memorable moment of this trip was a visit to Gene Alton’s room to listen to some music.  He was all about the Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick.  He played me songs from several albums, but it was the vocals of Grace Slick and what they brought to the Airplane that excited him most.

I remember being almost giddy to be getting this much attention from my very cool cousin, but I also remember really being interested in what he had to say.  I loved the music he played for me.  He helped me to listen to it and hear different things than I’d listened to before.

I’m an omnivore when it comes to music.  I will truly listen to almost anything and find something to like about it, but I think the seed for that ability was planted by my Cousin Gene Alton.  That my list of favorites has names on it as various as Leon Russell, Steppenwolf and Chuck Berry, can be attributed to his influence.  Not that he likes the same things, but that he taught me to listen.

Meanwhile, Susan was about to eclipse me again.  Come back next week and see what happened.

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Filed under ART, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States