Sunday, April 3, 2016

Parisian Perfection

In light of the last few months, I have been thinking about the “City of Lights,” Paris. The terrible past actions of a few have made a reflection on one of the truly great and wonderful cities of the world. I am going to talk about some of my favorite places and some of my daily habits during my 8 months in the French capital. This is for the people of this city amongst cities, this “City of Lights.”

I lived in the “Concorde Hotel,” 40 Rue du Commandant Mouchette. It was a business hotel with all the usual amenities. Nothing special. It was however on the street which if you followed turned into the major path through central Paris, the Champs Elysees.  The street, as you walked down, was full of wonders. World famous shops and restaurants filled either side and wandered to its most popular tourist points, the Arc de Triomphe and further up the street, the Louvre. It seems I had lucked out again!
One of the many street cafes in Paris. My dog Paeffgen and
I would spend many hours engaging in the Parisian's favorite
pastime, "People Watching."
The hotel was a perfect launching point as it had not only location, but a Metro station in its lower level. I could travel anywhere in the city or even the country from this place of embarquement. My days usually began with a breakfast walk with my little dog Paeffgen. If you couldn’t tell by his name, Paeffgen was a little Dachshund (German) and not the most popular breed in the city or country. Paeffgen peed in all the finest places and establishments in the world. But I digress. We would leave the hotel head for our favorite coffee shop a couple of hundred meters down the street. We would sit at an outdoor table on the street and be greeted with the usual indifference. After 10 or so minutes I would receive my coffee (the best cup $5 could buy) and a fresh croissant which I would share with my greedy little sidekick. I would read the paper and people watch (the favorite sport in Paris) and Paeffgen would nap in the sun occasionally pausing to bark at the passersby. After a couple of hours, we would return to the hotel and I would begin my exploration of the city.

This was my bridge, "The Love Bridge." You and your love would
bring a lock and attach it to the bridge and throw the key into the
river to ensure your undying love and commitment. Ah, Paris!!
As I wandered through the city, street by street, I could see the allure that drew so many travelers and the love the citizens had for their home. The quaint buildings, the bustling avenues, and the charming cafes all set the stage for a relaxing adventure. I finally get to the Seine and see the fabulous bridges that I have heard about. I walk for hours trying to find the one I can call mine. Passing by the antique book sellers and the bric-a-brac stand stands adds to the charisma of the setting. Finally, I see it, the bridge that I have been searching for. I stand in the middle and take in the view. I wonder how many people have preceded me and how many others have called this their bridge?

The beauty of Paris comes to light at night. The Eiffel Tower draws you
closer with every glance. I love this "City of Lights!!"
As I continue along the river, I finally see the sight that has drawn millions of travelers to the city of lights, the Eiffel Tower. It stands in its magnificence in the heart of the city beckoning and welcoming the world. I arrive at its base and slowly absorb its grandeur. It almost feels like home as the I become totally engulfed in the moment.

Paris is a city that encompasses the feeling of unity and friendship. The people have a simple, but fervent, love of their city and country that lures you into wanting to stay forever. For the 8 months I spent in the city, there were always adventures to be found and experiences of a life time to be had on a daily basis. The food was superb and the people delightful and charming. I never grew tired of seeing the Eiffel Tower or visiting the Musee d’Orsay and its wonderful works of art. Paris is a place to feel alive!

Paris is a place of wonder and hope. It beckons to all that have seen her to return. The people are friendly and will help a traveler in need share the splendors of their home. They have a spark in their eyes and pride in their hearts. It is a city that must be seen and explored on foot to be able to see all of its culture and nuances. It cannot be seen in a day, a week, a month or a lifetime. The city is a lifestyle unto itself and calls me back to this day.
As with every country, it is only proper to try and understand the people and the language they speak. Go to and check out the blog section for stories from the people who live and work in the region. Seek out the services of good language school such as Berlitz before you leave on your adventures. It will open doors to the world seldom seen by tourists and endear you to the locals. Safe travels!!!



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Party in Pamplona: San Fermin

Bulls as big as Volkswagen Beetles running wildly through the street through throngs of drunk revelers trying to tap their rears with rolled up newspapers, what a week. What a day!!! If you couldn't tell, this blog tells a tail of 7 Americans and their first experience with one of the great parties in the world, San Fermin or as it is lovingly called throughout the world as "The Running of the Bulls."
A practice run for San Fermin.
I can't figure out what this bull is chasing!!!

My homestead in Ciriza, Spain.
It all began one day as I sitting in home in a small town outside of Pamplona, Spain called Ciriza, The town was so small that you could see the entering Ciriza and the leaving Ciriza signs at the same time. The only things there were a few vacation homes and a small bar (naturally). My house was the largest being completely walled in with an in-ground pool, tennis court, 3 fountains, a garden, large paved patio and serenity garden with a comforting statue of a naked Venus. There were beautiful cherry trees and the home overlooked a valley filled with vineyards which rainbows traversed on a weekly basis. It was heaven. I received a phone call from a friend that heard I was living in Pamplona. He asked if he could visit with a couple of our other friends from the United States and enjoy the thrills of San Fermin. I loved the idea and eagerly began preparations and plans.

In Ciriza rainbows appeared almost daily
 in the valley. My favorite home in my
world travels.
After the uneventful arrival of my guests, I was informed that their exciting plans included getting drunk in Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar and of course, running with the bulls. I was amused and incredulous. After all, running in front an animal the size of a small car with a bad attitude was not only dangerous but people have died from this endeavor.

One of the greatest parties in the world,
San Fermin, "The Running of the Bulls."
The night before the first running there was trepidation and of course excitement on the part of my guests. I personally had purchased tickets to sit in one of the balconies overlooking the run route (smart). The course goes winding through the middle of the city with 8 foot high walls and the buildings to direct the bulls from the start, almost 1 km, to the finish in the world famous Pamplona bull ring. Once you are in you can't get out. You will have close interaction with some of the most dangerous animals in the world. I was going to have a great view of the proceedings.

Naturally, we stayed out drinking and eating till all hours of the night and got back home around 3 AM, the run started at 8 AM. We awoke around 6:30 still extremely hung over and my guests were still feeling the power of some of the local liquors (the Spanish prefer liquor and local wines to beer for the most part). We got to the city around 7 AM and my wife and I left to get to our seats while my 7 undeterred guests entered the beginning of the course.

Large animals running the streets during the festival.
Danger Will Robison!!!!
I heard the start rocket explode and I knew that my poor hungover friends were trapped and possibly in danger. Since 1910, 15 people have been killed and every year between 50 and 100 people are injured during the run. I watched with hope and anxious expectation for a glimpse of my friends as they dodged the hundreds of people (actually the most dangerous of the animals to be running as they trip and fall over one another) and evade the angry beasts quickly closing ground behind them. Of course I had my camera to document their incredible journey or possible demise.

The streets are narrow and the bulls are miffed. A formula for
disaster. 15 people have been killed during the running
 since 1910. 
By the time I caught a glimpse of them, they were being closely followed by small herd of death that was quickly closing from 15 yards. I missed my chance with my camera as I watched with dark curiosity. As the bulls past them they dove into the wooden walls of the fence narrowly avoiding the 10,000 lb. black mass of horns that have caused much pain and death in preceding years. With a burst of adrenalin they pried themselves off the fence and followed the bulls into the entrance of the bull ring. They were gone!?!?!

About an hour later, we meet up with them at our prearranged rendezvous. They were dirty, still hung over, and in shock by what they had accomplished. It was 10 Am and we headed for our favorite haunt for a celebratory drink and story time!!!!

One of my favorite pubs during my stay in Pamplona.
Like Paris and its bridges, you must find your own.

I personally never ran with bull during my 3 years of the festival, but memories of my friends confronting their possible death will always be ingrained in my blissful memories of Pamplona and San Fermin.

On a lighter note, the bulls end up on dinner plates in the best restaurants around the city. I always ordered Rabo, braised bulls tail, my favorite dish that I make to this day during the festival. The picture that I thought I had missed during my friends' running was on the front page of the Pamplona newspaper along with the list of injuries that occurred during the days run.

Rabo, braised bulls tail, was my favorite dish during the festival.
They were fighting during the day and dinner at night.
Try it!!! RECIPE LINK!!!

For more information regarding Pamplona and San Fermin click on the following hyperlink to the Pamplona Tourist Board.  
Watch a great video of the complete experience of San Fermin by follow the hyperlink to You Tube.


Friday, October 30, 2015

The Business of Culture and a Box of Chocolates

For the last couple of blogs I have dealt with the idiosyncrasies of how I was engaged and slightly overwhelmed by my arrival in Europe and my return home (?). There is another part of this whole ordeal that I need to attend to with a couple of observations. First, dealing in the business world is totally different and second, there are multiple cultures just as if you were entering a new country.

A real cowboy John Wayne as
Rooster Coburn coming to
save the day from the
movie-True Grit.
Let me start off by saying that everyone sees any U.S. salesman as a cowboy!!!! I have been called this on many occasions throughout the years. We are primarily known for saying yes before we have heard the question and being completely overconfident when we have no plan. This is not always the case but this how many perceive our presence. Americans are never expected to speak any other language except English and we aren’t in some cases prepared to do business in terms of the country and culture we are invading.

The first time I tried to get an appointment with a person from Ford Motor Company in Koeln, I was truly taken aback. I had known this person from dealings in the U.S. for many years and had a contact number plus he was expecting me to call. I called the number and got his secretary (the gatekeeper). She spoke pleasantly and dutifully in German. My German at this point was almost nonexistent and I was really expecting her to speak to me in English (cowboy). I said politely in English that I would like to speak to Mr. Peck. She curtly answered in English you mean “HERR PECK.” I got the message that I had made a mistake. I inquired if “Herr Peck” had time to see me that day and what company I was from in that order. She replied that she had never heard of my company and that I needed to make appointments 2 weeks in advance, “Punkt aus” (period). I made a tentative meeting time for that period and was told to call back in a week to confirm. WOW!!! Culture shock!!!! Not only had I taken things that seem simple for granted but I thought that I had truly insulted the secretary. I did get in 2 weeks later and by then had discovered my errors in judgement.

"That Guy," the Ugly American Tourist.
Was I truly “that guy”, the ugly American. I did some homework and discovered my potentially damaging mistakes. In the first place, I truly was a cowboy expecting the secretary to speak to me in English. The solution was that I could have taken the time to learn a few German phrases (my wife does speak the language fluently) before making the call to convey “Hello”, my name, “My German is poor”, and “Can you speak English?”. At least it would have shown that I was trying and maybe made her laugh (after meeting her, I doubt it). Second, in the U.S., we are not overtly formal, however in German society as well as in business, formality is a given especially to strangers. I had to prepare and adapt apparently to all situations as Dorthy said, “…we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Berlitz can be a life changer for anyone
traveling and especially living in a
 foreign country.
Over time this is what happened. I took a Berlitz total immersion German course for 8 weeks. This entailed going to class for 4 hours a day for 5 days a week for 8 weeks speaking nothing but German from the first day that I stared the class. It was hard but it turned out to be fun and of course later on profitable. By the 8th week I was nowhere close to fluent but I could hold my own in most social situations without embarrassing myself or most importantly feeling left out and dependent. The course taught me the language but also the culture and protocols of the country. This gave me a true advantage over other American companies trying to do business as I could later on fit in as one of the guys (Herren; formal).

I learned the hard way to be better prepared. Always Speak in the language of the country if possible but at least try to learn a few phrases to be polite. Understand the correct way to address a person because not everyone wants to be called buddy the first or even second time you meet them. Understanding how things are done there (not in your country) is the almost the most important thing you can do.

The most important thing you can do is to remember to bring the secretary a small gift every time you meet her. Frau Kopf (Herr Peck’s secretary) preferred Chocolates (the key to the gatekeeper)!!!

You can find Berlitz courses in every major city in the world. It makes your life easier and helps you to feel like you belong and a part of your new world. Don't forget to check Expat Focus for other great information about travel and the expat lifestyle.