A Travellerspoint blog

July 2019

Paris 2000 - First impressions of a novice tourist

Learning to travel at the age of 48

View First trip to Europe - France 2000 on littlesam1's travel map.

Bel Kaufman in her novel Up The Down Staircase tells the story of a young teacher's first year at an inner city school. The novel opens with the teacher in her first day with her home room class. She has planned to read them a brief essay she prepared on first impressions. In the hectic and chaotic first hour of teaching with a room full of unruly students doing their best to distract the new teacher she never gets the opportunity to share with them her thoughts on first impressions. Much like Sylvia Barrett in the novel I have unsuccessfully wanted to share a series of travel blogs on my first impressions of places I have visited. And much like Sylvia Barrett I have found myself distracted and never had the time to finish my thoughts on first impressions. I thought I would start out with my first travel experience in Europe, a trip to Paris. However my introduction here of the novel and memories of reading the adventures of Sylvia Barrett have already distracted me and unless I use some discipline I will never start this series on first impressions. I will just have to put Bel Kaufman, her creation Sylvia Barrett, the novel and the movie starring Sandy Dennis on the back burner and return to them some time in the future for another blog. So let me get focused and start this blog on first impressions with the words of the character Sylvia Barrett from the novel. "First impressions are very important"


This photo is the best representation of my first impression of Paris. It was chilly, damp and rainy. The skies were overcast for three days. I took this photo from the top of the Arc De Triomphe. I did not have a digital camera so the photo was taken with film. After having the photos developed I had them also digitized on a disc. So they look faded and are of poor quality but they held all my memories of that visit. When I returned home and back to work this photo became my background on my home and work computer. I looked at it over and over and could never get over the thrill of seeing Paris for the first time. On bad days at work I looked at the photo and had an escape. After a long day I could return home and once again there was the photo. I joined a web site called Virtual Tourist not long after the trip. I had been bitten by the travel bug and was planning a second trip to Europe, this time to Italy. In my research photos from Virtual Tourist popped up so I decided to take a look at the site. . There was no Facebook at this time. Virtual Tourist became my very first social media web experience. This photo was my introductory photo on Virtual Tourist. And Paris was my first place I wrote about as a new Virtual Tourist member. Although Virtual Tourist has long since disappeared this photo remained on my page until the last day of that site. A chilly,damp, rainy day in the city of Lights.


We booked a hotel on the internet which was a first for us. We basically went into Yahoo and searched on hotels in Paris. We found one that was affordable near Pere Lachaise Cemetery. It was named "Hotel Modern". I learned my first travel lesson with this hotel. Don't believe the name or what they say on their web page. If it's inexpensive there is a reason it's inexpensive.


The room was not great. It was not even just OK. It was pretty nasty. But look at my face in the photo. I was so thrilled to be in Paris. The room did not ruin the experience. I learned my second travel lesson also from this hotel. You don't spend a lot of time in the room. So don't over pay and don't fret if it's not beautiful. The city awaits you. Get out and experience it.

I will never forget my first impression of Paris. It was magical and beautiful even on a rainy day. I had my first taste of true French Vanilla Ice Cream. It was the best ice cream I had ever tasted. I had a scoop every day. I had my first rump steak in peppercorn sauce, a taste I will never forget. I knew very little about wine before going to Paris. I drank very little wine and when I did drink wine it was usually White Zinfandel. So you can imagine my shock and delight when I had my first true French wines. I was surrounded with people speaking a foreign language. I remembered from high school how to say hello, good bye, thank you and Where is the library. I could also say I fell down in the street. So basically I spent four days saying hello, goodbye, or thank you as often as possible so I could feel like I was speaking the language I got to use my last phrase, I fell down in the street, on my second to visit to Paris in 2008. But that is another story for another blog.

Since that time I have traveled a lot. I have learned a lot. I now consider myself a seasoned traveler. I have been to many of the worlds great cities. But nothing compares to that first moment in Paris. I thought the magic might have been because it was my first trip overseas. I returned eight years later and was a bit concerned. I was afraid I would be let down this time. I thought it might be different the second time around. It might not as wonderful as my memory had made it. But I had nothing to worry about it. It wasn't me. It wasn't because it was my first time to be in Europe. It was magical because it was Paris. I took the photo below when I returned in 2008. It's the Eiffel Tower once again and taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe once more. And it was still a chilly, gray, rainy day. And it's still Paris. And it's still my favorite city of all.


My first visit was in 2000. I returned in 2008. It will soon be 2020 and the beginning of a new decade. I think it's time for another visit.


Posted by littlesam1 06:55 Archived in France Tagged paris france eiffel_tower first_impressions 2000 virtual_tourist modern_hotel Comments (6)

Switzerland - Déjà vu

Looking back on the inpact of my first visit to Switzerland

View Switzerland - August 2003 on littlesam1's travel map.


Larry 10,000 feet in the Alps on top of Schilthorn

When I to took my first trip to Europe I was with my ex partner. He and I had not done a lot of traveling in the past other than family vacations with our individual families. He was scheduled to attend a conference for his job in France in the city of Marseilles and he asked if I wanted to join him on the trip. All I needed was my airfare and money to spend. The hotels would all be taken care of with his expense account for the trip. He said it was a three day conference and we could plan a weeks vacation around the convention. I was so excited. I wanted to see Paris. But the conference is in Marseilles he replied to me. Yes, I was aware that it was in Marseilles but Marseilles is in France and Paris is in France. It did not matter to me that they were at different ends of the country. They were in the same country. And I was not going to France or even to Europe and not see Paris. So we went to Paris and then on to Marseilles. For the next seven years we traveled to Europe each spring to attend this big medical conference in different cities and countries each year. These were my first traveling experiences outside of the United States. With each trip I was fascinated with the cities we visited. I learned a lot about the culture and the history of each country we visited. And with each experience I came home with a feeling of having discovered something new and wonderful. Nothing seemed familiar to me. I was a stranger in a strange land drinking up the knowledge and the beauty all around me. I never felt at home. It always felt foreign and fascinating to me. Then I went to Switzerland.

Switzerland was never on my dream list of places I wanted to visit. I never really thought much about Switzerland at all. It was just Switzerland somewhere in the middle of Europe. I was thrilled when his conference sent us to Italy. It was a real fantasy to finally get to see ancient Italy. Likewise with the Netherlands and Amsterdam, Cologne, and Copenhagen. But when he told me the conference was to be in Switzerland I was a bit let down. I was glad to be able to continue to take the annual trip to Europe. But I was not thrilled about visiting Switzerland. The only thing I really wanted to see in Switzerland was Piz Gloria the location where the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed.


Piz Gloria above the village of Murren

We planned the trip with little excitement. Neither of us were especially thrilled about Switzerland. We made arrangements to stay in Bern the first few days. We planned day trips , Basel, Zurich, and of course Piz Gloria. The conference was in the remote village of Les Diablerets high in the Alps in the western French speaking part of Switzerland. So we knew we would be spending four days there. Then finally we would travel to Geneva for two last days and fly home from there.


Les Diablerets

The strangest thing happened. The moment we departed our plane in Geneva I was spellbound. Something felt very comforting and very familiar. I could not quite figure out what it was or why I was feeling this way. We boarded the train in Geneva and headed to Bern. I could not stop staring out of the windows watching the villages and mountains go by. Switzerland just captured my spirit and I felt completely at home.



The ten days passed way to fast. I wanted more time. I did not want to leave. To this day over ten years later I can still just close my eyes and be instantly transported back to Switzerland. I find it strange. I don't necessarily believe in reincarnation. And I have no ancestors who came from Switzerland. So there is no reason I should have felt so at home there. But who knows. Maybe I did live there in past life. Or perhaps my mother's German ancestors originated in the Swiss area and migrated up to Germany and I felt some connection through them


Littlesam AKA Larry Sampson standing in front of the Samson fountain in Bern

Perhaps it's because there is a Samson fountain in Bern.


The beautiful village of Murren

Or maybe I just fell in love with the beauty of the small villages.

I still feel like there is a piece of me left behind in Switzerland. I came home promising myself to return one day soon and spend some more time there. Maybe I will figure out the connection. Or maybe I will be more confused. But I do know there will be a certain satisfaction to be able to return and continue the journey.


Chateau Aigle

And I know that a glass of wine from the vineyards at Chateau Aigle is waiting for me on my return. And perhaps there, all will be revealed to me. Switzerland deja vu.

(The original trip to Switzerland was in August 2003. I wrote this blog in 2015. Since then I have returned to Switzerland two more times.)

Posted by littlesam1 10:45 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains switzerland geneva alps bern basel aigle chateau_aigle piz_gloria les_diablerets Comments (0)

Wine bars and Embassies - 2001 through 2015

View Christmas in Eastern Europe 2015 on littlesam1's travel map.

I have had several experiences with embassies while traveling. I try not to involve myself with embassies and to try to stay clear of the proximity if at all possible. My first experience with an embassy occured in 2001 in Amsterdam, While not an actual embassy my story involved the American Consulates Office in Amsterdam which is almost an embassy in my thoughts. I was robbed on the train from Schiphol Airport traveling into the city of Amsterdam. A group of you gypsy boys ran into the train, grabbed my travel bag and ran out of the door of the train before I was able to catch them. It all happened very fast and was very scary for me on only my second trip out of the United States. I was still a novice traveler and still had a lot to learn about dangers while traveling. The thieves did not get any of value of to them although the items in the bag were of great value to me. They got my passport and my return plane ticket. I was able to get a replacement plane ticket, at a cost of course. But I was in a foreign country with no passport which worried me more than the plane ticket. I had to go to the American Consulates Office to report the loss of my passport and to place application for a replacement. I had photos made at an office across the street from the consulates office and three days later I had a new passport presented to me. Again this was at my expense so the theft was costly to me even without them getting any money or credit cards.


New passports outside the gate of the American Consulates Office in Amsterdam

It was an adventure. After returning home the inconvenience and the initial fear were forgotten and I now had an interesting travel story to share. My second experience with an embassy was a lot more scarier than losing my passport.

Mark and I traveled to Ireland in 2009. We have a good friend named Holger Haase who lives in Ireland and used to work for a hotel chain there. He helped us book our hotel with a significant discount in Dublin, which we appreciated very much. We landed in Dublin and took a taxi to our hotel. We wanted to immediately get out and start exploring the area around the hotel. We left the hotel and started to walk towards St. Stephen's Green. I had just retired in January 2008. Mark bought me a wonderful digital movie camera for my retirement gift that we could use on our travels. I was excited about using it for the the first time. So as we walked from our hotel I took the movie camera and decided to document out first moments in Dublin. I did not realize our hotel was in the Embassy district. I had just arrived in the city. As we crossed the street from our hotel and as I recorded our walk I was stopped abruptly by a uniformed security guard. He demanded my camera and wanted to know why I was making a movie. I nervously explained I had just arrived and was making a movie of our first walk in Dublin thinking everything would be alright with my explanation. However the guard became less friendly and demanded my identification. It seems I had been making a video of the Israeli Embassy. After a lot of explanations, and providing not only my passport but my drivers license and home address was I released and allowed to continue my journey. I put the camera away and walked quickly out of the Embassy district before taking out the camera again.

Mark and I spent Christmas vacation in Prague and Budapest in 2015. We really enjoyed exploring the Christmas markets, seeing all of the churches and other sights. Prague and Budapest are two of the more beautiful cities we have visited. Our first day in Prague we once more became aware of an Embassy in our presence. We walked from Old Town Square across the Charles Bridge to the Lesser Town area. Mark wanted to see the Church of Our Lady Victorious where the famous Infant Jesus of Prague is located. We found the church easily and were able to explore the church and take some photos of the Infant Jesus of Prague Statue.


The Infant Jesus of Prague inside the Church of Our Lady Victorious

We left the church and decided to walk back to the Church of St. Nichols in Lesser Town Square. On our way we say a small side street that looked interesting. We decided to walk up the side street and then on to Lesser Town Square. As we entered the street we saw a sign for small wine bar at the top of the hill. This caught our attention and became our main focus. It was cold and we were ready to take a break, have some warm mulled wine and a snack before continuing our walk. As we walked up the hill a car turned on to the street and proceeded to drive behind us. Suddenly four uniformed men appeared and stopped the car. We stepped back on the side walk, as we were not sure what was happening but being nosey we wanted to see what was going on. The guards looked in the trunk of the car, searched through the car, and then checked under with car with mirrors. We knew something strange was happening but we were not sure what it was. Another car turned onto the street behind the car being inspected. Once again the guards stopped the car and inspected it also. Then I noticed a large American flag flying over out heads. With our sights on the wine bar we did not notice we were walking past the American Embassy. Travel today is a lot different that it was in 2001 when I was in Amsterdam. Times have changed. The Isis attacks in Paris had occurred just a few weeks before out trip to Prague and safety was on our mind. And being near the American Embassy is probably not the safest place to be walking in a foreign country today. We talked about maybe turning around and avoiding the Embassy area. And then we looked at the very appealing wine bar just ahead of us at the top of the hill. We have traveled to dangerous places before. We have learned to be cautious and be aware of our surroundings. And we have learned that sometimes taking risks creates the best memories. So the wine bar won! It was directly next to the Embassy. We sat in the very pleasant bar and had some warm mulled wine and a delicious Czech Christmas Cake for a treat while at the same time watching every car turning on the street being examined for bombs. All in all it was a good choice and the right decision. The lady serving us was very pleasant and we enjoyed talking with her. We never mentioned the Embassy or the bomb squad searches and neither did she. That is life in 2015.


Larry and Mark at Vineoteka Wine Bar in Prague


Vinoteka Wine Bar in Prague

Posted by littlesam1 05:11 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

Bad Ass Beer at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge

Exploring the historic Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville with my daugher

View The Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes Tour - Nashville on littlesam1's travel map.


My daughter Katie had to travel to Nashville in October 2017 for a work conference. As part of my 65th birthday celebration year she invited me to travel with her to Nashville for the week. I had never been to Nashville before so I was glad to be invited. She would be busy all day at her conference which allowed me lots of time to explore the Music City and see what kind of trouble I could get into.


Most of what I knew about Nashville I learned watching Ralph Emery on Nashville Now which was on the CMT channel in the 1980's. I worked night work back in those days. When I would get home at midnight I would turn on Nashville Now and my daughters Katie and Danielle would crawl out of their beds and come out to join me watching the show. So it was very appropriate that Katie and I got to share this trip now that she is an adult. When we arrived I knew I wanted to go find Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway in Nashville. All of the stars on Nashville Now used to talk to Ralph Emery about sneaking out of the back door of The Ryman Auditorium and go into the back door of Tootsie's for a quick drink between shows of The Grand Ole Opry. So after my tour of The Ryman Auditorium I knew I would want to go out that back door and head over to the back door of Tootsie's. You can see the brick wall of the back of the Ryman on the left in the photo and the back door of Tootsie's on the left.


Tootsie's is a tourist trap. No question about that. It opens at 10:00 in the morning and the crowds are waiting for the doors to open. There are bars with music on all three levels of the building including a roof top deck with music also. I arrived at 10:30 that morning. The bar was already crowded. When I went in the back door I followed the sound of the music and found the front bar on the first floor. There was a band playing and everyone in the bar was singing along with the band. The woman who was lead singer of the band was standing on top of the bar singing Patsy Cline songs. She was singing Walking After Midnight at 10:30 in the morning. It was all that I could have hoped for.


It was early morning but after all I was in Nashville so I had to have a beer. I stood at the end of the bar and asked for a beer menu. It did not take me long to decide. I saw the name Badass Beer. What could be more perfect than to have a Badass Beer at Tootsie's my first day in Nashville. And it gives a good travel story to share. I can tell everyone I had a Badass beer in Nashville.


I finished my beer, walked to the front door, left a tip in the bucket for the band, and then found my way back out to Broadway. As I left there was still a small line of people waiting to get inside Tootsie's. They should have watched Ralph Emery in the 1980's or at least read a guide book. Use the back door folks. There is no line!

Katie's conference ended two days later. I took her into downtown Nashville to show her all that I had discovered while she was working. So I course I had to show her Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. We walked down Broadway and when we arrived the lines were twice as long at Tootsie's as they were in the morning of my visit. She looked at the line and said "Dad we will never get in there tonight but it looks like a fun place." I told her follow me. I know a secret. I took her to the alley behind the Ryman Auditorium and showed her the back entrance to Tootsie's. There was no line. We were able to get inside, fight the crowds and get up to the rooftop deck. It was too crowded to bother trying to get a beer at the bar. But she was able to experience Tootsie's the way the stars did back in the day. Through the back door in the alley.


Posted by littlesam1 22:05 Archived in USA Tagged beer tennessee bars nashville tootsie's_orchid_lounge tourist_traps bad_ass_beer nashville_now ralph_emery Comments (3)

Oslo - Lasting Impressions of an Odd City

Visiting Oslo I learned that first impressions are not always the best impressions.

View Scandinavia trip April 2005 on littlesam1's travel map.


I did not have the best first impression of Oslo. I was not sure what to expect. Outside of elementary school Social Studies class and ninth grade Geography class Norway was not a place that I had thought about very often. It certainly was not a travel destination that I had dreamed about visiting. My traveling partner at the time had a business meeting in Copenhagen he had to attend. We were looking at the map to see what other places were near by that we had not seen before. So I found myself in Oslo. We boarded the train from Gardermoen Airport to the city of Oslo. We were soon put off the train in a little town called Lillestrom. We had boarded the express train by mistake and they would not accept our non express train ticket. Stupid tourists.



After our little mishap on the train we finally arrived to the train station in Oslo. We walked out of the station to the little square in the photo on the left of the page. I was not impressed. The square was not very large. There was a small unattractive tower in the corner. And there was a man with a Middle Eastern musical instrument sitting in the square playing some very strange sounding music. Nothing about this reminded me of anything I knew about Norway.

In spite of our little delay in Lillestrom we were still too early to go to the Bed and Breakfast we had booked. So we took some time to explore the square before looking for a taxi. The first thing we found was a large statue of a large anatomically correct tiger.



This was not the first thing I expected to see in Oslo. So why was there a tiger in front of Central Station in Oslo? There is a reason for it being there. For the 1000th anniversary celebration in 2000 for the city of Oslo the city requested a bronze statue be placed in the square, Oslo's nickname is Tigerstaden or the City of the Tiger. The name most likely came from a poem by the Norwegian poet Bjornstjerne Bjornson. His poem "Sidste Sanq" was written in 1870 and describes a fight between a horse and a tiger. The tiger represents the dangerous city and the horse the safe countryside. My first impression though was not a dangerous city. It was just a small odd city and I was not sure what I really thought of it yet. There were a few other odd statues in the square that I was finding interesting also but odd.



We finally found a taxi and gave the driver the address of the Bed and Breakfast we had booked. Like everything in Oslo, the Bed and Breakfast was not quite what I had expected. It was an old white clapboard house across the street from Frogner Park. More about Froger Park a little later. But needless to say I found it somewhat odd also. We were a good ways out from the center of town, but fortunately there was a tram stop right in front of the house which we could use to go back into the city. The house was clean and the owners were friendly. But once more there was a lot of oddness around us. We were in an upstairs bedroom without a lot of heat, Our bathroom had a toilet and a bidet. And oddly for some reason the owners used the bidet for a magazine rack. It was filled with unusual Norwegian comic books.

<<<<<Sitting on the steps by the door to our room.


Statues at Frogner Park

Directly across the street from the Bed and Breakfast we wound Frogner Park. Frogner Park is home to the world famous Vigeland Installation. Although many times referred to as Vigeland Park, it is actually just the name of the sculptures in the park. They were created by Gustav Vigeland between 1920 and 1943. So what was odd about the park? Every statue was a nude statue telling the life cycle of man.

I have been using the term odd a lot. I don't mean it in a bad or derogatory way. I found Oslo any thing but unpleasant. It's not the most beautiful European capitol I have visited. But it's also not the least interesting. The people of Oslo could not have been friendlier. The owners of the Bed and Breakfast were very pleasant and made us feel very welcome. I was growing to like Oslo more each day and finding it somewhat unusual made it all the more interesting.


So what odd things did we find in Oslo? We found a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. This honestly was the last thing I had expected to find in Oslo. The memorial is located in Frogner Park. The monument was created by Paul Fjelde from Valley City, North Dakota and was donated to the people of Oslo by North Dakota Governor Louis Hanna.

We took a brief train ride out of the city of Oslo up into the mountains to do some hiking and also to see the historic Holmenkollen Ski jump from the 1952 Olympics. There was nothing odd about this. This was something I had expected to see in Norway. The train runs from Central Station in Oslo to the top of the mountain in Frognersteren. There is a wonderful restaurant located near the Frognersteren station when I did get to sample reindeer which was something else I had expected to do in Oslo.


Larry on the ski trail at Frognersteren


We left Frognersteren and hiked to the Olympic ski jump. I had seen ski jumps on television watching the Olympic many times. But that did not prepare me for what I saw. The jump is much higher than it appears on television. It's very overwhelming just to see the size of it. And it wasn't just some cold looking structure. It actually had a beauty to it's design. I understand the original jump that I saw in 2005 no longer exists. It was replaced in 2010 with a new and more modern jump that is considered to be one of the best in world today. I am glad I got to see the original though. There is something special about the history of it and also for me it was special because it dated back to the year I was born.

I left Oslo with a deep appreciation of the city and the Norwegian culture. I had the opportunity to visit the Edvard Munch museum and to see his famous painting The Scream. I spent time walking through the Akershus Fortress. I meet some wonderful and kind people. I learned to appreciate that finding something odd is a good thing. First impressions are not always the best impressions. It's the lasting impressions that really count.


Last impression of Oslo. The beautiful Akershus Fortress

Posted by littlesam1 19:43 Archived in Norway Tagged oslo holmenkollen park travel jump tiger norway lillestrom frogner_ ski_ akershus_fortres oddness Comments (2)

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