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Archive for the ‘Self-Help Study Guide’ Category

These are some cork oaks that have had the bark harvested. They remove all the bark from a little above the ground up about 5 feet. They are able to re-harvest about every 9 years, according to our leader Alejo. We rode through this forest.
This is our leader David with some bike safety tips before we set out in the am. The objects on the ground show the various elevations to be encountered that day. They do NOT represent how steep, long, or difficult the climbs are. That was probably best.
Kate did not have an electric assist on her bike but her husband had a hand on her back pushing her up all the most difficult hills. Leader David is capturing the image.

I have to say that watching this husband and wife team interact with each other and with the other people in the group, especially me, made my eyes flow with tears thinking about Rosalie, my wife of almost 53 years. I don’t think she would have done the biking but she would have loved the people. This adventure, and it was that, ranks among the best so far.

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I just completed a most interesting, challenging, and fun bike tour from Seville to Granada through the countryside of Southern Spain known as Andalusia. The trip was organized by the company Backroads.com and I can highly recommend their service. They supplied our group of four couples and myself with bikes (I wisely choose one with an electric assist motor to give me a boost up the many hills), helmets, and a GPS device that was loaded with our route each day.  To usher us through the experience we had two group leaders and a support person who managed the logistics for the trip. The group leaders made certain any need we had was taken care of. They also took turns riding with us each day making certain we were doing OK and helping with any mechanical problems. The leader not riding with us drove a van and the support person another. They took turns leapfrogging ahead to setup our rest stop or staying behind us with repair parts, spare wheels, etc. At each stop for the night we arrived pre-registered with our luggage waiting in our rooms. When we checked out the luggage was collected and taken to the next stop.

During each day’s rides, morning and afternoon, one of the vans was waiting every 10 km, or so, with ice water, soft drinks, electrolyte replacers, juice and a huge assortment of snacks including fresh fruit. When we arrived at the carefully chosen reserved spot for lunch the leaders knew everything about the owners of the place and were obviously welcomed guests. The same reception awaited us at each hotel we were booked into by the company, all first- class establishments. The lunches were uniformly spectacular, in spectacular locations, and with panoramic views of the country we had just traversed. It was impossible for me to eat even a taste of everything that was prepared for us even though it was uniformly delicious. Then we were off again for our afternoon ride, again with rest stops. 

Each day there were several choices that one could make about how far and how much elevation gain you felt you wanted to ride. I think the longest day I had was about 80 km, but with a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain. We usually finished the day of riding about 4 or 5 pm. Those of us who opted for a shorter day were given a ride in one of the vans to that night’s hotel. Others could extend their day with an extra loop and/or ride all the way to the hotel. After a nice hot shower and, for me, a generous slathering with topical analgesic pain relief cream, we had the choice of a dip in the swimming pool or a (paid separately) massage. We would gather again about 6:30 pm for drinks and then some sort of cultural/educational event. We had tours of an olive oil plant, another most interesting lecture with sampling of wines and highest quality extra virgin olive oils from the region we were in, and a walking tour of Rhonda with lots of history. There was also a nature walk through a national park on top of a mountain where we started our day of riding with a long descent. One of the choices for the more experienced (gung-ho) riders was to ride up that mountain in an attempt to break the existing speed record for participants in these tours. I did NOT participate but one of our two experts managed it in just a little over an hour. The record is 55 + minutes. On our last night we were treated to a rousing performance by an accomplished guitarist, two flamenco singers and an elegant and beautiful flamenco dancer. The performance was interrupted by two standing ovations from the 12 of us. 

Our dinners were, as well, uniformly well planned and of outstanding quality. Nobody could go hungry on one of these trips or complain about the chow. 

The routes we took were almost all on low traffic back roads, carefully managed to keep us off major roads except for short stretches needed to get us to another back road. My concerns about having to ride on narrow roads with heavy car, bus and truck traffic were unwarranted. Perhaps surprisingly my 83-year-old knees handled the bike riding just fine. The same cannot be said for managing up and down stairs particularly ones of flagstone with no handrails. There seem to be a lot of those in this part of the world.

A close up of a hillside

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On day 2 I was the first in to the rest stop at the top of this long hill, thanks to my electric assist motor. No way was that going to happen without that motor. That’s Rhonda in the distance, where we started. If you zoom in on that last curve you will see two of our group rounding the curve and heading up to us.

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Two days ago, I was sitting on a slatted wood bench in the Santa Polomia train station in Lisbon waiting for the night train to Madrid. The well-worn often varnished oak slats were bolted on either end to two identical molded cast iron supports incorporating two feet and a back. It is a familiar design of unknown origin and age but found almost any place in the world.

I am convinced train passengers, at least here in Portugal and Spain, are less stressed and more acceptable to their situation than passengers in airports anywhere I have been. Airport passengers seem to wear worried frowns and obvious apprehension about the status of their fight, weather conditions, and a multitude of other potential problems that could have an effect on their flight being on time. Trains here seem to leave on time with little mystery or uncertainty for the passengers, who even running to catch their train before it pulls out are smiling, save those few dragging children.

While I sat people watching, one of my favorite pastimes as an octogenarian, at least 85% of those passing by had smiles. I can’t recall seeing that in any airport in recent years. Santa Polonia was a great place for people watching. I arrived about 6 hours early, tired of walking the neighborhood of my hotel. The building and facilities of the station are as worn as the bench I was on but there were several people cleaning so, although not spotless, the place was as clean as any of the airports I have been stuck in lately.

Another advantage is no standing in a long line to be X-rayed, or scanned, or groped. At the largest train station in Madrid, Atochoa, where I had to transfer on my way to Seville, my luggage did have to go through a machine, but I didn’t have to take my computer out of my backpack, or empty my pockets, or take off my belt. As an old guy I haven’t had to take off my shoes for the past 8 years. Eventually I tired of people watching in Lisbon, put my luggage in a locker, cost 6 Euros, left the station, wandered the neighborhood, found a nice little restaurant and had a nice meal and a couple of glasses of a very nice red wine. Then wandered back into the station to gather my luggage and board my train about 15 minutes before it left.

I word of caution. A first-class Euro rail ticket doesn’t provide a 1stclass seat or berth on any train. You have to make a reservation ahead of time. Something I tried to do from the states but was unable to navigate their computer system to get it done. There were no 1st class berths available for the night train and I still had to pay 29 euros for the required reservation in tourist class. Almost 12 hours in a lurching, often stopping, 6 X 5 cell with two bunks and 3 strangers. I was not able to stretch out in the bunk, my feet and head were jammed into the walls. I should have opted for a seat in tourist class since I didn’t get any sleep in the birth. I was assigned a top bunk, impossible for me, but the guy assigned the bottom bunk was a graduate student from Mozambique. He switched with me and I took him to the bar car for some beers. A very affable young man. The first class accommodations appeared significantly better, but the bunks were about the same size. In Madrid I paid another 29 euros for a 1st class seat. 

Tomorrow I embark on the bike tour I booked for 6 days and 5 nights riding from Seville to Granada. Should be a blast.

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Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

Defender of the Texas Frontier is a work of historical fiction set in nineteenth-century America, which was penned by author David R. Gross. As the title suggests, this Texas-based novel focuses on the exploits of the Texas Rangers, who defended the ordinary people from raids by Comanches and bandits from the Mexican badlands. At the center of this group is real-life soldier John Coffey Hays, known as Jack, who joined the Rangers at a very young age and rose amongst the ranks until he became a fearless and admired captain. The novel follows Jack Hays’s exploits and supposes his psychological journey, and why he became such a pivotal figure in Texas history.

Mixing fact with fiction is done in such a skillful way by author David R. Gross that non-fiction fans are still sure to enjoy this retelling of Captain Hays and his rise to fame and reputation. I enjoyed the peppering of the text with authentic and well-researched history, but there are also moments when the author allows himself to play, especially with the younger Jack in his formative days amongst the Rangers. Military buffs are sure to enjoy the many defensive exploits which are recounted, and the camaraderie amongst Hays’s men, who would later go on to be reputable heroes and leaders in their own right. Overall, Gross has produced an immersive and interactive history novel which stays true to life but also heightens the action. Defender of the Texas Frontier is a recommended read for all history and western novel fans.

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David R. Gross

Defender of the Texas Frontier: A Historical Novel

iUniverse, 242 pages, (paperback) $13.99, 9781532071560(Reviewed: August, 2019)

Review by Blueink reviews:

John Coffey (“Jack”) Hays was the most famous and charismatic of the Texas Rangersduring his tenure in the mid-1800s. In this meticulously researched novel, David R.Gross brings Hays’s story to life as narrated by his best friend, John Caperton andvarious other friends and enemies of the heroic lawman.

At 19 years old, Jack and John leave their homes in Tennessee and arrive in Nacogdoches, where Jack begins to establish his reputation by killing the town bully in self-defense at the local saloon. The bully is the first of many to meet their maker shortlyafter making Jack’s acquaintance.

This is a violent time in Texas, as settlers advance on lands previously held by the Comanche and/or the Mexican government. After joining a group under the command of respected leader “Deaf” Smith, Jack quickly rises through the ranks to captain, thencolonel, of what became known as the Texas Rangers.

By copying the tactics and violent cruelty of the Indians and Mexican military, Jack and his men are successful in wiping out many threats to the encroaching settlers. One ofthe amazing facts the author discloses is how Jack’s troop kept being disbanded because of insufficient funding; yet, when they were needed, the same men who hadn’tbeen paid before came back repeatedly, just to serve with Hays.

Some of Hays’s and his Texas Rangers’ exploits in this episodic novel are so similar that they border on repetitious. However, such similarities merely emphasize Hays’s remarkable career and make one wonder how he possibly survived. Gross doesn’tmince words when describing the atrocities Jack and his men visited on their enemies,and some will be shocked that the “good guys” were every bit as sadistic and vicious asthe Comanche warriors and Mexican army.

In all, Defender of the Texas Frontier is a fascinating window into a little-understoodperiod in America’s past, as well as an absorbing story about one hero’s westward expansion.

Also available as an ebook.

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Fifty years ago, this was our favorite restaurant in all of Mexico. It’s located in Cuernavaca. So, we took another bus trip, a little over two hours from our apartment, by Uber, to the bus terminal in the south of Mexico City, then by another very comfortable bus about an hour and a half, to Cuernavaca. There was a different movie shown on the bus going and returning. Here is the exterior of the inn as it looks today:

My sons loved the place because they could get close to all the tame birds wandering free in the garden. That hasn’t changed. Here is a view of the outside patio seating for the restaurant, under the green umbrellas, as seen from the garden. That’s a white peacock in the grass.

Then there are the birds:

 

 

 

 

 

The meal was as good as I remember it, and the service first rate. I told the head waiter, who couldn’t have been more than forty years old, that we had eaten there fifty years ago. His response was; “Don’t wait another fifty years.” This sign is a new addition since our last visit. If you click on it you should be able to read the English translation:

 

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It’s been a long time between visits. It was 1967 when I came with my wife and two sons, ages four and six, to work for one year for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. They had a project at the veterinary school of the University National Autonomous of Mexico (UNAM) and my job was to organize an ambulatory clinic service for them. My family spent a wonderful year here learning about Mexico, the language and the people, especially the people. The experience was transformational for me and, I believe, for my family. Since that time, I have not returned and the city is different, very different.

When we were here previously there were about eight million people living in Mexico City, estimates now are roughly thirty million. Much has changed, but after two full days here I believe the people are still the same. They are patient, and seem pleased that I’m trying while they struggle to understand my fracturing of their language, I don’t have the opportunity to practice much. It’s not just the servers in the restaurants, it includes people on the street. When Alexis or I have a question about a building, or something that arouses her ever curious mind they take the time to respond, in detail. I do my best to translate. They love music and have a great sense of humor, laughing at any remark I make that they perceive is a jest. Even if my Spanish is all wrong they don’t correct me, I guess that would be rude.

Yesterday we walked the short distance from our Airbnb apartment to Parque Mexico, a beautiful oasis in the Colonia Roma Norte neighborhood. Here’s a photo of the park.

In the middle of the park was an unexpected find, a well-maintained dog park of considerable size.

On the east side of the dog park a least eight or ten different pet adoption organizations had set up with displays of dogs and cats available for adoption. Puppies and kittens are hard to ignore and a considerable crowd gathered. All were seeking donations as well as trying to find homes for the animals. We emptied the coin purse that Alexis keeps for the coins, ranging from ten pesos down, that we receive in change from our cash purchases, almost always food. Each morning I go to the bakery/restaurant around the corner from our apartment where I get our breakfast para ir (to go), two cafe’con leche (coffee with milk) and two freshly baked sweet rolls. Total cost 95 pesos (less than five bucks). Take that Starbucks!

Some dogs waiting for homes.

I did notice that many of the dogs running joyfully untethered in the dog park were intact males. We saw at least one female dog in heat, her owner doing everything he could to keep all the interested males at bay.

We stopped for a glass of wine and an appetizer about five in the afternoon. Outside the extremely popular Trattoria across the street from the park, a young woman and a young man were singing opera arias, acapella, solo and duets, for tips. The woman went up onto her toes for the high notes. We gave them 50 pesos, about $2.50 for their remarkable performance. Most of the audience were passing over 20 peso notes, but one guy gave them a hundred. The currency is all different colors and easy to spot.

Each day we leave the apartment walking in a different direction, exploring the neighborhood. We have seen only one homeless person, so far. I expect they are to be found in the poorer sections of town, but maybe not. Perhaps they are taken care of, somehow. That will be my question for today’s walkabout.

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