A Travellerspoint blog

The Great Smoky Mountains and the Three Amigo's

Traveling with our sister Gillian in the Great Smokey Mountains

View The Music Legends Tour - April 2018 on littlesam1's travel map.

Mark, Gillian, and Larry - Newfoundland Gap Overlook - Great Smoky Mountains

Families of choice and extended families are wonderful. Our friend Gillian calls Mark and I her Bmore Bros. We think of her as part of our family also. We first met in person while on our honeymoon in Greece 11 years ago. Since that time we have had many adventures together. She visits us in Baltimore frequently. We have shared family events together. And we travel together frequently. She has met many of our local friends. My daughter in Atlanta calls Gillian her Manchester cousin. This past April Gillian flew across the pond from England to Baltimore once more and we took a road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.


I love the Great Smoky Mountains. I have traveled there many times. My family spent several vacations in the Great Smoky's when I was growing up. I took my children there when they were young. Mark also loves the Great Smoky Mountains, particularly the Gatlinburg area. So we were very excited when Gillian told us she would like to do a southern road trip through the Smoky Mountains. Although we are very good friends and have spent a lot of time traveling together we had never really done a road trip together. And I was a bit concerned how we all would survive ten days in a car together without driving each other crazy. On an extended road trip there is always one person who tends to drive the others a little crazy before the trip is over. I just never realized that person would be me.

I drove the first day. Everything went well. Mark sat next to me in the front of the car. Gillian sat behind us in the back seat. I was focused on the road so my attention was occupied with road signs and highways. Mark and Gillian chatted and looked at landscapes. The day was pleasant. The second day Mark drove the car. I sat in the front seat and once again Gillian rode in the back behind us. The dynamics were a little different. I was not as occupied with the road and ended up playing with the radio and changing channels and music frequently. I think I even sang along a good bit with the music. Mark and Gillian for the most part overlooked all of this. We stopped at an Arby's for a quick lunch and I bought the greasiest sandwich on the menu. Gillian questioned my choice. And Mark said I would probably not travel well after eating it. Of course I paid no attention and then complained the rest of the day about an upset stomach and indigestion while still playing with radio most of the rest of the day.

Day three was a big game changer. Mark drove once more. But today Gillian and I switched seats so she could ride in the front and see more of the scenery. For sixty five years it never dawned on me that I might have a touch of A.D.D. I was never restless in school. My teachers never complained about me being hyper or anything. I sat in the back seat of the car and grew more fidgety by the hour. I laughed too much. I told too many jokes. I complained too much. And then I realized that I was the pain in the ass of the trip. The bad part is that after realizing this the more I tried to control it the worse it. When we finally arrived in Gatlinburg Mark and Gillian could not wait to escape the car. I won't go into details about the evening activities in Gatlinburg. I will say I tried to make amends for being so antsy in the car during the day. I was well aware that I had been a little bit hyper and tried my best to behave better that evening in Gatlinburg. Returning to our hotel after our first evening meal in Gatlinburg we passed several moonshine tasting establishments. I pointed out the first one but Mark and Gillian did not think it was the best idea. We were all a little tired and it had been a long day so they were ready to head back to the room for the evening. When we passed the third moonshine tasting location I decided to go inside with or without them. They patiently waited for me to complete the tasting. The samples were only in small thimble like cups. But after fifteen samples even cups that small tended to take an effect. Let's just say my hyperactivity in the car was nothing compared to my actions on the walk back to the hotel after the tasting.

The observation tower on the peak of Clingman's Dome

The next day all was forgiven. We had a fresh start. We did a wonderful drive and hike through a an area with restored mountain cabins. Then we decided to go to Clingman's Dome. Mark and I had both been to Clingman's Dome in the past and both really enjoyed it very much. At 6,643 feet, Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. The trail is only half a mile. But there are warning signs that the trail is very steep. I first climbed the trail at Clingman's Dome fifty years ago when I was fifteen. Of course there is a big difference between being fifteen and being sixty five. And I felt everyone of the fifty years difference climbing the trail. Mark trudged onward up the steep trail while Gillian and I took a moment to rest and catch our breath. We were sitting on a bench in a rest area talking. A man walked over to us and said "Do you mind if I ask a question." We both said of course not. So he said to us "Can I ask where your accent is from?" Before Gillian even had a chance to answer Mr. Hyper Active Larry blurted out with a laugh "Oh I have a Baltimore accent." The man and Gillian both looked at me like I was crazy. Gillian said "Larry I think he is asking about my accent. I am from Manchester England." Well of course he was talking about Gillian. . Later we saw the same man on top of the tower and he once again made a joke about my saying I had a Baltimore accent. In my defense I have spent so much time with Gillian over the years that I don't really notice any accent. So of course I thought he meant me!

Larry on the observation tower at Clingman's Dome

Mark and Gillian on the Clingman's Dome trail back to the parking lot

We still had six more days left to our car trip. We had three days planned in Nashville and three more in the Memphis, Tennessee/Tunica, Mississippi area. For the most part I behaved myself. Gillian and Mark did not disown me. We returned home still good friends and have more travel adventures planned together this year. Please don't judge me. After all we all know who the real trouble maker is and I will use this photo below in my defense.

Gillian waking Mark up on a train in Germany

The Three Amigos

Posted by littlesam1 07:24 Archived in USA Tagged friends tennessee united_states road_trips great_smokey_mountains car_trips Comments (0)

People Watching In Sintra, Portugal

Learning a lesson from an older couple

View Larry and Mark return to Portugal on littlesam1's travel map.

People watching from a small cafe in Sintra

I love to sit back and watch people when I travel. I know some where some place there is some one sitting back watching me also. But it's all part of being a traveler. So I am sure there is a photo of me doing something that someone else found amusing or unusual. I was in Sintra, Portugal in June 2015. It was very hot and Mark and I had done a lot of walking. It was time to sit down for a while, have a cool glass of Vino Verde and maybe a chilled can of Pepsi on the side. We found a little cafe just out side of the tourist center of the city. We took some time to talk about some of the things we had seen in Sintra. We looked at some of the photos each of us had taken. Then we ordered some lunch. While waiting for lunch to be served it was time for me to do some people watching.

I saw a older gentleman walk toward a table near ours and take a seat. He had two braces attached to his arms that he was leaning on for balance as he walked. He took his seat and removed the braces and placed them against the side of his table. He appeared to be alone. A few moment later an older lady came to the table. She had very large swollen ankles as a lot of senior citizens develop at her age. I am getting close to that age myself. They placed an order with the waiter. A few moments later they were served to cold beers. They smiled and raised the glasses to toast each other silently. It made me smile. I thought it was very sweet.


A little later our lunch was served. It was a delicious lunch. I ordered a meal a little heavy for a hot afternoon but it was so good I did not mind.

I was drawn back to the older couple. I glanced over to see what they were doing. I noticed that the lady had taken off one of her shoes. I thought poor thing. Her ankles must really be bothering her from all of the heat and the walking in Sintra. She casually took her foot and tapped the gentleman's foot under their table. He smiled. Then she slowly ran her foot up his leg and massaged his leg with her bare foot. He smiled even more and reached across the table and held her hand. This went on until their food was served. It was something totally unexpected and I could not stop watching. There was something so sweet and so loving about that moment. They were oblivious to every one around them and they were having a very intimate moment.

I enjoyed my glass of wine. Lunch was excellent. But I do think this couple had a much better lunch experience than I did. God bless them. An elderly couple still in love and not afraid to show their affection for each other. I thought about them for a while and thought how
sweet it must be to still be romantic with each other after all of their years together. But then I thought perhaps I was wrong. Maybe they were new lovers who had both lost their previous spouses. Whatever their story is does not matter. They left me with thoughts of getting older and still enjoying all that life has to offer. And perhaps I should put down the camera more often, stop editing photos over lunch, and just reach over and touch my spouses hand. Maybe some one younger will see it, sneak a photo and write a blog about it later.


Posted by littlesam1 06:47 Archived in Portugal Tagged portugal sintra people_watching aging_and_romance Comments (2)

Castle in a Vineyard

Chateau d'Aigle in Switzerland


I have been reminiscing about the many castles I have had the opportunity to visit in my travels. I have seen large castles on hillsides, historic castles with fabled pasts, and some small insignificant ones. But Chateau d'Aigle in Switzerland is one that stands out in my memory as one of my favorites.

Aigle is a very small Swiss village in the French speaking area of Switzerland. When my ex partner and I were together most of our traveling was related to his professional meetings. He had one each year in Europe and two each year in the United States. For some reason that neither of us understood there was a meeting he needed to attend scheduled in a remote ski resort in Switzerland in the month of July 2003. The ski resort was Les Diablerets. The small village was empty in July except for people attending the conference. We took a train from Bern to the village a Aigle. Aigle is located at the bottom of a mountain below Les Diablerets. Other than this business meeting there is no way I would have ever ended up in Aigle so I am very grateful to whoever set up the meeting. There were not a lot of travel web sites available yet so our research was somewhat limited for the trip. We did buy a couple of travel guides but none of them had any information on Aigle or Les Diablerets. So everything we saw or encountered was a surprise to us. And I did not yet have a digital camera so all of these surprises were recorded on film. I did not have the option to take multiple photos of things I saw. I had a chance for a photo, and then hoping it would turn out, before taking a photo of the next location. Luckily most of my photos did turn out alright and I have since digitized and edited them to make them look their best.

The train station in Aigle

We changed trains at the tiny station in Aigle and took a very small mountain train up to Les Diablerets. On our journey, just outside of Aigle, we passed a small but beautiful castle. The castle sat in the middle of vineyard on the lower slopes of the mountain. It was breath taking. I knew the moment I saw it that I would be taking that train back down the mountain from Les Diablerets the first chance I had to visit the castle. So as soon as my ex's meeting commenced I took the first train the next day back down the mountain to Aigle.

The green building contains a small bakery

I arrived in Aigle in time for lunch and I was quite hungry. I found a bakery located in the building in the photo above here. I met a very nice young woman who was working there. I wanted a ham sandwich, the kind they make in France with ham , cheese and a gherkin on a crunchy baguette. I walked into the bakery and could smell the bread. It was wonderful. I also wanted a chance to try out my limited French. I thought I was pretty good with few phrases. I tried to ask for ham sandwich and it must have come out all wrong because the young woman had no idea what I was trying to ask for and there was no English spoken in this village. So I tried to say it again and she still looked very puzzled. She tried to talk to me. I tried to talk to her. And neither of us were able to communicate with the other. We both laughed at ourselves. She finally let me come behind the counter and point to the items I wanted. When I started to point to the ham, then the cheese, she knew exactly what I wanted and made me the perfect sandwich. I left the bakery and walked over to bench in front of a church and ate my sandwich. I was surrounded by the mountains in a village where no one spoke English and I was having what I thought was the best sandwich ever. Then I just let myself get lost in the moment.

The small road from Aigle to the Chateau

After finishing my lunch I found the road out of the village that followed the railroad tracks in the direction of the castle I had seen the previous day. Once again I let my mind wander and I was in my own little world again walking down small streets in a remote area of Switzerland.

In the distance you can see the castle in the vineyard

I got to the vineyards and there in the distance was the castle. I had no information on it. I did not know if it was open to the public or not. I just knew I wanted to see it and take some photos. When I arrived I found out it was open to the public. And also I found out there was a restaurant inside and a small bar serving wine from the vineyard. And there I was. Sitting in an old castle drinking wine made on the premises, surrounded by the beautiful Swiss alps. And once again I was in my own little fantasy world. Suddenly some people walked in all dressed in medieval costumes. It was almost like I was dreaming. Apparently they were filming a movie or commercial inside the castle that day. It could not have been more perfect.

The castle dates back to the 14th century. Although it seemed romantic and ideal to me the day I visited it has not always been the most desirable place to visit. In 1804, the castle was acquired by the community of Aigle and until 1976 it was used as a cantonal jail. So it just goes to show one man's romance is another man's prison.

Posted by littlesam1 22:46 Archived in Switzerland Tagged trains castles switzerland vineyards aigle bakeries chateau_aigle Comments (0)

Traveling with the perfect cocktail

Drinking Around The World


I love a Manhattan. To me it's the perfect cocktail. It has three ingredients. It's has a history. And it tastes delicious. If I am out for a special evening a Manhattan is the perfect way to compliment my night. It's not for the light weight drinker. It's boozy. But if you sip it slowly it will not harm you so don't be afraid of it.

Basically I would describe it as a whiskey martini. But that is not giving it justice. It is made with three ingredients. Whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. It is garnished with a Maraschino cheery at most bars. If you are at a higher class bar you will get a brandied cherry instead of the waxy chemically colored Maraschino. Some bartenders use a lemon peel for the garnish but I honestly think the classic brandied cherry is the best. However I will not turn up my nose or judge the bartender for the lemon peel. And I usually have to accept the Maraschino cherry from most bars and I don't complain.

Now the question is what kind of whiskey. Most recipes call for a Kentucky bourbon or Canadian Whiskey. And these days Rye whiskey is making a big come back in Manhattans. This is the classic choice and the one I prefer. Please don't offer me Crown Royale in my Manhattan. I am a bit of snob that way.

When I travel I like to sample a Manhattan in the area I am visiting. And it's fun to see how the different bartenders treat the three simple ingredients. One of my favorite Manhattans came from a bar in Charleston, South Carolina named High Cotton. If you have a Manhattan at High Cotton you will be transported back to the 1920's and think you are in a speakeasy. Their recipe is simple and classic. They don't experiment or try to wow you with new age additions. The High Cotton Manhattan is made with bourbon , Carpano Antica vermouth, a splash of bitters and brandy soaked cherries. I would travel back to Charleston tomorrow just to have one of their Manhattans. We frequently travel with out friend Gillian Hobson from Manchester, England. We took her to Charleston four years ago and one of our first stops was to introduce her to the High Cotton Manhattan. She left High Cotton with a very big smile on her face and a bounce to her step.


Mark and I love New York. And I love cocktails in New York. Years ago when Sex and the City was popular I wanted to go to New York for a Cosmo just like Carrie Bradshaw. It was fun. But a few years later in New York I wanted the classic experience. I wanted a Manhattan in Manhattan. And I have to admit there is no comparison. If your in New York you really owe yourself a Manhattan in Manhattan. Historically it is suggested that the Manhattan originated at the Manhattan Club in New York. The story goes it was invented by Dr. Iain Marshall in the early 1870's for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome. She is better known as Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Wintson Churchill. The event was in honor of the Presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The event was such a success the drink became highly fashionable. But don't let anyone fool you with this story. Lady Randolph Churchill was in France during this time and was very pregnant. So the story is likely false. Another story tell us it was invented in the 1860's at a bar on Broadway near Houston Street by a bartender named Black. So no one really knows the origin of the cocktail but it does have a long history.

Mark and I were once again in New York City with our friend Gillian. She does tend to end up in our travel stories frequently. We spent the day sight seeing. This was Gillian's first trip to New York so we wanted to show her all of the sights. At the end of a busy day we ended up in a bar not far from Wall Street where once again I had a Manhattan in Manhattan. I must have had a couple of drinks because here I am afterwords grabbing the Wall Street bull by the balls. No explanations no apologies. Go to New York. Have a Manhattan in Manhattan and then share your story with me.


My next rule for Manhattans. Watch your bartender. A Manhattan is a simple drink. Any good bartender can make one. But if you have doubts about your bartender I suggest skipping the Manhattan and just order a glass of wine. Why waste the experience on a bad drink. My daughter Katie and I were in Nashville earlier this year. We had spent the day walking and exploring the city. At the end of our evening we wanted to relax and have a cocktail before returning to our hotel. We found a beautiful cocktail bar called The Henley at the Aertson Hotel in Nashville. The bar was decorated with photos of Bette Davis's eyes. So this made me happy. I noticed the bartender was young. She was probably in her early 20's. So I asked her politely if she knew how to make a Manhattan. She looked at me and smiled and said "Oh, of course." So I ordered a Manhattan. Then I watched her closely. She did not go to pick up the bourbon, or the vermouth or the bitters. She went to pick up her cocktail bible. She had no idea how to make a Manhattan. I knew then it was not going to be a good experience. And she did make it wrong. And she did forget the cherry until I reminded her.


My main rule about Manhattans is to not mess with it. Don't experiment with it. Don't try to update the recipe or put your own personal touch on it. It's a classic. It does not need embellishments. However for every rule there is an exception. And if some one offers to make you a Smoked Manhattan go for it. Placing your cocktail glass over some smoked hickory chips before filling it with the Manhattan is a surprising delight.


I was in Waikiki November 2017. Once again I had been walking all day and ready for a relaxing evening with a cocktail. I had many Maitai's in Waikiki during my stay. But this day I was ready to just relax and enjoy a Manhattan. And what do I see on the menu but a smoked Manhattan. I was ready to break my rule and try this new idea. Something about the smoke and the rye whiskey just sounded perfect to me. I was in the bar at the Outrigger Hotel. I could see Diamond Head in the distance from the beach hotel's windows. It was the perfect location for this perfect drink. Now much like Charleston, South Carolina, I would return here to Waikiki tomorrow just to have another one of these drinks.

One of my favorite movies is Honky Tonk Freeway. You've probably never heard of it. It is considered one of the biggest box office flops of all time. But I saw it and loved it. In the movie Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy play a senior couple who are traveling to Florida. Hume thinks his wife has a drinking problem. She tends to order five old fashions with her lunch each day. Finally he tells her that he thinks she has a drinking problem.


Jessica responds that she is not an alcoholic. She says your sister always sucks her fruit when she is finished with her drinks. Now she is an alcoholic. I never suck my fruit.

Here I am after a very good Manhattan. I was not traveling, but here at home in Baltimore at Jerry D's, one of my local favorite restaurants.


Yes Jessica Tandy. I sucked the fruit. And it was good!

Posted by littlesam1 21:48 Tagged new york bars hawaii drinks honolulu waikiki baltimore nashville manhattans bette_davis _eyes Comments (0)

Two Crazy Guys In Milan - Due pazzi ragazzi a Milano

Finding the soul of Milan

View Due pazzi ragazzi a Milano - March 4 - March 13, 2019 on littlesam1's travel map.

Mark and I made a last minute decision to travel to Milan in March 2019. This was truly a last minute decision. We had been planning for a year to travel to Bulgaria to meet with our Virtual Tourist friends for their annual Euromeet in June. Then suddenly Mark had a drastic change in employment The bank where he works was sold and we had no idea what he employment situation would be for the rest of the year so we put all travel plans on the back burner. Fortunately Mark found a new job before his current job ended. He was to start his new job the end of March. So there was no way we could still plan the trip to Bulgaria in June. He would have no time accumulated for a vacation and let's face it, it's not good practice to start a new job asking for vacation two months later. So we decided to take take a brief vacation between the ending of one job and the starting of the other. But we only had two weeks to make the plans and leave for the trip to make this work. And how do you plan, research,and book a trip in that short of a time span? The easiest thing would be to plan a car trip locally. Maybe the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe North Carolina's Outer Banks. Even a flight to the the western US using airline mileage and a rental car would not be too difficult to pull off. So what did we end up doing? We went to Milan, Italy.

I always like to name my vacations. It makes it easy to label the file folders for my photos in my computer. It gives me an instant reference when thinking about the trip and reflecting on it months later. Since this was such a crazy last minute idea I named this vacation Due Paazi Ragazzi a Milano which is Italian for Two crazy guys in Milan.

When we plan vacations we brainstorm ideas of places we might both want to see, especially places neither of us have visited before. Many times we mention places to visit and then realize one or the other of us have already been there and we always say "But you have already been there. Let's find someplace we both have not seen." So I was hesitant to mention Milan at first as I had been there in 2002 long before I knew Mark. And also Milan is not always the most popular choice of cities to visit in Italy. I fell in love with Milan on my first visit although most of the guide books warned me there were more exciting cities to visit. Even at the airport when I was checking in for my flight the woman at the Alitalia ticket counter questioned my choice of visiting Milan. So it may have been that I was not expecting a lot when I arrived which caused me to be pleasantly surprised. But I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and have always said I wanted to return one day. However I was concerned when Mark agreed on Milan. I knew it would be his only major vacation this year and I did not want him to be disappointed. I warned him Milan was not Rome or Venice or even Florence. It was unique to itself and its treasures were not obvious. You had to walk the street, keep your eyes open and explore the back streets to find the hidden treasures of Milan. Other than the beautiful Duomo not a lot screams at you Stop Now in Milan. You have to go find it. I think this is what sold Mark on Milan. He loves to walk and explore. Give him a map and he is thrilled to see what he can discover.


We found many churches to visit of course. However we did not get to see DaVinci's The Last Supper. You have to make reservations way in advance. So after two trip to Milan I still have not seen the masterpiece. Maybe I will get back one day to to eventually see it. Instead I saw lots of interesting people like this romantic couple in the photo below. The girl is obviously in a romantic mode in this beautiful city and the guy is obviously more interested in his cell phone. She has no idea.



I also discovered a new beer which became a favorite. I have not seen it here at home so I made sure to have plenty while in Milan.

We stayed at a kooky hotel named Allegroitalia Espresso Hotel. It had a strange subway map motif in the hallway.



Our hotel room had a wine cork screw design on the door.


And the hotel had no morning breakfast which is common is so many European hotel. But we were not disappointed because they had a free dinner buffet in the evening instead. This hotel did everything out of the ordinary. They had a huge lounge area with the food and also a bar. There were huge flat screen TV's where we got to watch soccer live. The employees were encouraged to interact with the guests. So they watched the games with us. Ate at the dinner buffet and also played table top and video games with everyone.


Next subject. Food. We love Italian food. It is my favorite type of food And Mark is Italian so he knows good Italian food. We loved Rome two years ago. We had great meals in Rome. But we both agreed we were more impressed with the food in Milan. We ate most of our meals in our little neighborhood where the kooky hotel was located. And we found a favorite bar and restaurant which was on the unusual side also. It was named Le Biciclette. Small, ecelectic, and very much a small neighborhood favorite. We had great food, interesting drinks and laughs with the bartenders. I love a good Aperol Spritz when in Italy. But I have never seen one made with an olive and a cherry. Always just a cherry. But the bartender added an olive each time and it elevated the drink to a very different and interesting level.


We sat in a rooftop bar near the Duomo on another day for another Aperol Spritz, this time without the olive. But look at my view in the photo. Could there be a more picturesque location for a mid afternoon cocktail?caa527a0-a316-11e9-99ff-313902cae6f6.JPG

Other than Aperol Spritz's and Ichnusa beer we also found time for some of our favorite foods in all of Italy.




We could have planned for months in advance. We could have booked reservations for The Last Supper. We could have taken hours visiting churches and monuments we found on internet searches instead of just finding them by surprise on our daily walks. But we would have missed the soul of Milan. I think this is why so many people do not find Milan to be a favorite. It's a city with a hidden soul. It's a city that is waiting for you to take the time to discover it's secrets. And it was so worth the effort. So if you are planning a last minute trip and only have two weeks to book the trip do something different. Discover the back neighborhoods and side streets of Milan.



Be like the Due pazzi regazzi a Milano, the two crazy guys in Milan


Posted by littlesam1 06:43 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy duomo milan Comments (3)

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