Showing posts with label Bob. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bob. Show all posts

Algarve Portugal - Prince Henry Disappoints Me

There are some very attractive destinations to visit in Portugal, so let us begin by naming four of them. There is Estoril, a coastal resort near Lisbon. Estoril was a popular destination for royalty who had been forcibly retired by their subjects. If former kings and queens decided to spend their exile in Estoril, it must have had something going for it.

Then there is Oporto in the north of Portugal, the city that port wine comes from. There are dozens of different companies in Oporto producing port wine, and even more opportunities to taste and compare their various blends.

Then there is the university city of Coimbra, midway between Lisbon and Oporto. Founded in 1290, at about the same time as Oxford and Cambridge, the university dominates the area. It has filled the city with medieval monuments and writers and artists, not to mention tens of thousands of students.

Finally, there is Lisbon itself, the capital of Portugal, sitting on the banks of the Tagus just where that river flows into the Atlantic. One of the largest cities in Europe at the time, it was almost entirely destroyed by earthquake in 1755 and 35,000 people were killed.  Although there was a record of prior earthquakes in the area, what seems to have hit Lisbon then was a tsunami.  At the time of this destruction, huge waves were hitting the coast as far south as Morocco and as far north as England and Ireland. Yet, Lisbon was the center of the devastation. It has since been beautifully rebuilt.

Christo-Rei in Lisbon
What catches the eye on visiting Lisbon is the Christo-Rei  statue, facing Lisbon on the opposite bank of the river. It was built to thank God for the neutrality of Portugal during the Second World War and is based on a similar statue, which overlooks Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The statue is a figure of Christ, with outstretched arms, rising to a height of several hundred feet and appearing to embrace Lisbon.

With such glorious sights to see in Portugal, I hesitate to tell you where I always finished up.  Certainly I did visit all the fine cities mentioned above but, on my trips to Portugal every August in the late 1960s, I would always head for the Algarve.

Click on video below for more information on the Algarve.

The Algarve is the southern region of Portugal, the coast of which faces across to Morocco.  The name derives from the Arabic words, Al Gharb, which means “the west”.  The area was conquered by the Moors in 711 AD and remained under their occupation for the next 500 years.

Cape St. Vincent

The coast of the Algarve runs for about 100 miles in an east-west direction.  Then it makes a right angled turn at Cape St Vincent and continues for 35 miles to the north.  Cape St Vincent is famous for many reasons.  It is the extreme south west tip of Europe.  It was the burial place for many centuries of the Christian martyr, St Vincent.  It has a tall lighthouse visible for many miles.  It was the scene of two major naval victories by the British over the Spanish in 1780 and in 1797.  In the first battle, the British fleet was on its way to end a siege of Gibraltar by the Spanish.  In the second battle, Nelson participated.

Prince Henry the Navigator

Long before those battles however, Prince Henry the Navigator was based at Cape St Vincent.  In 1419, he built himself a fine villa there and had Daddy (King John I of Portugal) appoint him Governor of the Algarve.  Now I have always admired how explorers of that time, based in Portugal, undertook risky voyages to open up the sea routes of the world.  There were Magellan and Columbus and Vasco da Gama and many others.  I always believed that Prince Henry the Navigator was part of that brave tradition.  In fact, he never went to sea.  He never even left Portugal.  He arranged for others to take the risks and the hardships, while he kept the comfort and the glory.  Even though, he was a good man who led a long and happy life, am I alone in feeling a little disappointed by Henry?

Click on video below for more information on Prince Henry and his accomplishments.

Fishing boats in Monte Gordo
The south facing coast of the Algarve begins in the east at the Spanish border which is marked by the River Guadiana.  The Portuguese border town on the banks of that river is Vila Real de Santo Antonio, next to which was a little fishing village called Monte Gordo.  I say “was”, because in forty years it has much changed.  It is now a bustling resort, but it was Monte Gordo that I would visit every August.  In that area, the land is flat and the beaches are wide and sandy.  Thanks to the waters of the nearby River Guadiana, the sea is warm and it’s the sunniest place in Europe.  Moving along the coast to the west, the beaches become far rockier and much more fashionable.  One passes Olhao, Faro (with its international airport), Albufeira, Portimao, Lagos, Sagres and finally Cape St Vincent.  Compared with these resorts, nobody knew Monte Gordo.  Yet, all those years ago, it was bliss to sit on the beach there at twilight and watch the lantern-lit fishing boats bobbing their way home. It was bliss to be working one’s way through a plate of grilled sardines, washed down by the local vinho verde or by a Sagres beer. It is no surprise to me that this little fishing village has now become so popular.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on April 21, 2009.

Long Beach California - RMS Queen Mary

RMS Queen Mary docked in Long Beach

As time passes and as new birthdays arrive for me, it is becoming harder than ever to improve on previous birthday celebrations. For example, on this website, I am to be seen in a video celebrating my 73rd birthday by drinking burgundy wine in Burgundy, France. What can beat that?

Last week Pat and I undertook the task of celebrating my 75th birthday. We chose to do so with a lady, whom I first met many years ago and who is my age. She is world famous under the name of the RMS Queen Mary and it was the Cunard Line that built this magnificent ocean liner. The initials ‘RMS’ are short for Royal Mail Ship and have been much prized in the shipping industry since 1840, when the postage stamp was invented. They signify that the ship is one that has been commissioned by the Crown to carry the Royal Mail. The liner made her maiden voyage in 1936, just as I was preparing to make my own entry onto the world stage.

Cunard had planned to call her The Queen Victoria and told the King of their intention to name the vessel after “Britain’s greatest Queen”. King George V, grandfather of Britain’s present Queen, had married Mary of Teck who was a minor German princess. He told Cunard that his wife was delighted with their suggestion to use her name and had given her permission. Thus Cunard was rather stuck with the RMS Queen Mary.

RMS Queen Mary was a troopship in WWII

The RMS Queen Mary broke many records in achieving fastest transatlantic crossings, but it is her record breaking during World War Two that is particularly impressive. She was taken over by government for use as a troopship and moved many US soldiers from stateside to the European front. On occasions, she carried as many as 16,000 soldiers. There were so many people on board that they had to sleep in shifts. Never before or since has any ship carried so many passengers.

It was during the war that she was involved in a tragedy that killed hundreds of sailors. Escort ships naturally protected The Queen Mary against Nazi submarine attacks during her transatlantic troop carrying activities. In October 1942, an escort ship named HMS Curacoa was literally “run over” and sunk by The Queen Mary, which could not stop to pick up survivors. Her orders, with U-boats in the vicinity, were to stop for nothing. Most of the 339 man crew of the HMS Curacao was lost at sea. Winston Churchill sometimes used The Queen Mary to visit the United States during the war. He insisted that the lifeboat assigned to him be equipped with its own machine gun so that, if the ship was sunk, he could fight on and avoid being taken alive.

After the war, the Queen Mary regained its position as the greatest passenger liner for transatlantic crossings and it was in that capacity that I had the privilege of sailing on her from New York City to Southampton in December 1963. Weather was bad and, for that reason, the voyage was not a comfortable one. By that time however, the jet age had arrived and there now were faster and cheaper ways of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. This circumstance turned the Queen Mary into a major financial loss maker for Cunard and, for that reason, she had to stop work in 1967. I am pleased to say that I was able to continue working for more than forty years after my contemporary, the Queen Mary, had to retire.

The Queen Mary has spent her retirement moored in the harbor at Long Beach, California. It was here that, together with our daughter Tara, Pat and I visited her last week to celebrate my 75th birthday. The Queen Mary is now used as a tourist attraction, museum, hotel and restaurant and it was the first time that I had seen her since my 1963 voyage. The big staircases, with their brass rails in the art deco style, were just as I remembered them. We joined a shipboard tour called Ghosts and Legends, which involved walking down those staircases into the very bowels of the ship. The staff on the ship seemed to enjoy meeting someone, who had actually sailed across the Atlantic on her. Such visitors are apparently rarities. Fortunately, at the end of the tour, there was an elevator to take us back to the top. I could not have climbed back up.

Art Deco bar on the Queen Mary

At the lowest point in our tour, we were 36 feet below the waterline, and it was good that the elderly vessel was not leaking. The basis for the Ghosts and Legends tour is the great deal of paranormal activity going on in the bowels of the ship. While at sea, the occasional passenger has died or perhaps been murdered, but a more fertile source of ghosts is provided by the crew of the HMS Curacao. When the Queen Mary sliced through their ship in 1942, many crew members must have gone to their deaths without the slightest idea of what was happening. That their spirits should still be haunting the bowels of the Queen Mary seems entirely logical.

Daughter Tara Patten posing as "Queen of the World"

Before we left the Queen Mary, Tara went to the very front of the ship to be photographed (see picture) in a style reminiscent of the pictures of Kate Winslet in the film, Titanic. If only that ship could also have enjoyed a comfortable retirement in the sunshine of Southern California. Our birthday visit to the Queen Mary was delightfully nostalgic. Yet where can we go on future birthday celebrations that won’t be anti-climactic?

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on September 13, 2012.

Oxford England - The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet who was a Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, had a friend who met an untimely death. Arnold therefore wrote in his memory in 1865 a poem entitled Thyrsis, which referred to Oxford as “that sweet city with her dreaming spires”. These words have attached themselves to Oxford ever since and so they should. It is indeed a city pleasantly free of high rise buildings and the spires of ancient colleges and churches predominate.

Pat and I visited Oxford, home of the oldest university in the English speaking world, in August 2012. We inspected it from the upper deck of a bus, and what we saw was no surprise to us. For many years in America, public television has shown a popular detective series set in Oxford. Therefore much of the architecture of the city was familiar to us.

John Thaw as Morse

The TV series centered on a fictional cop called Detective Chief Inspector Morse, superbly played by actor John Thaw who died. An episode was written where Morse also died, but the series has continued. The scriptwriters simply promoted Lewis, Morse’s sergeant, to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector and we continue to watch the series to this day.

Inspector Lewis was a spinoff from Morse

Randolph Hotel
Morse bar in Randolph Hotel

Oxford’s top hotel is The Randolph, which now has an Inspector Morse bar. Even though Winston’s father and son were both named Randolph, the hotel is unconnected with the Churchill family who live just outside Oxford at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough. Instead, the hotel is named in honor of Dr Francis Randolph who, upon his death in 1796, left the money to build the Randolph Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum which stands opposite the hotel.

Most universities consist of buildings grouped around an open campus. Oxford University is not at all like that. It is made up of dozens of colleges and halls, scattered on sites in narrow streets throughout the city. The University foundation date is uncertain. There was teaching in Oxford as long ago as 1096 and it was much increased by 1167. The Pope granted Oxford its charter in 1254. University College (where President Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar), Balliol College and Merton College were all founded in the mid 1200s. Some of the college buildings were therefore built at that time.

Oxford University

On the other hand, some colleges were founded in the 20th century and exist in modern buildings. The different ages of these buildings has led to stunning architectural contrasts. We saw many of the older colleges from the top deck of our bus.

Oxford Quadrangle
Martyrs Memorial
Execution of Thomas Cranmer

We were able to look through arched entrance-ways and see inner quadrangles or courtyards, which had perfect lawns. "How do they grow such green and beautiful grass?” asked one tourist. “They cut it, they roll it and they water it,” was the reply. “Then they do that for six hundred years.”

In 1209, some Oxford students became upset because two of their number were executed over some minor infringement, so they went off and founded Cambridge University.

We stopped at The Martyrs’ Memorial near the center of the city. It commemorates the burning at the stake in 1556 of three leaders of the Church of England, which had renounced Roman Catholicism. They were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, together with Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. During her short reign (1553 to 1558), Henry VIII’s daughter Mary was attempting to reverse her father’s establishment of the protestant Church of England. At one stage, Cranmer was led to believe that he could escape death by embracing Catholicism and he signed a document doing exactly that. When he realized that they intended to burn him anyway, he made a final speech attacking the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. He then placed into the flames the hand with which he had signed that document, so that it would burn first.

Magdalen Tower and bridge
Students jumping from bridge
We crossed the River Cherwell at Magdalen Bridge, at the end of which stands Magdalen Tower. Built in 1509, the tower adjoins Magdalen College. Large numbers of undergraduates celebrate May Day here. Some do so by jumping off the bridge into the river. In recent years, the depth of the water in the river has become much reduced and this has led some jumpers to hit the riverbed much sooner than they expected. Police have now banned jumping from the bridge on May Day.

Dragon punting cartoon

To travel on the river, one can hire a flat bottomed boat called a punt, which is propelled by using a long pole. Problems arise however, when the pole becomes stuck in the muddy riverbed but when the punt keeps moving. One then has to decide whether to let go of the pole and have no way of propelling the punt or to leave the punt while clinging to the pole and finishing up in the water. This is a hard decision, but less dangerous than jumping from a high bridge into shallow water.

Sir Roger Bannister 1954
Sir Roger Bannister 2012
Iffley is a village on the outskirts of Oxford and our bus took us along the Iffley Road, where history was made at the Iffley Road running track. It was there, in 1954, that a medical student called Bannister became the first man in the world to run a mile in under four minutes. Some commentators had regarded this feat as impossible and his great achievement was all the more astonishing because Bannister was not a professional athlete. Instead, he trained only when his time-consuming medical studies permitted. At the same time, full time athletes from all over the world were attempting and failing to be the first man to break the four minute barrier. The story gets even better. At age 83, Doctor Sir Roger Bannister carried the Olympic torch a short distance at the start of the 2012 Games in London. He eventually became Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, but it is a measure of the man that he today regards his forty years of work as a leading neurologist to be of far more consequence than any mere race.

Update - This story originally appeared on Sept 15, 2012 but is being updated to honor Sir Roger Bannister who died on March 4, 2018 at age 88.

Nashville Tennessee - Music City USA

Grand Ole Opry 89th birthday celebration

In October 2014, Pat and I made our first visit to Music City, USA, and attended an 89th birthday party.  It was not my birthday. Instead it was a birthday celebration by The Grand Ole Opry, the iconic 4000 seat auditorium that is the center of the country music world in America.

Music City, USA, is of course Nashville, a city of 1.6 million residents.  It’s the capital of the great state of Tennessee.  It’s also where The Grand Ole Opry opened its doors 89 years ago this month, although it has only occupied its present site since 1974. The auditorium was packed, but we had great seats from which to enjoy the concert being held to mark the birthday.  Only four years ago, the place was under water.  I do not mean financially, because I have rarely seen an operation in the entertainment industry making so much money.  It was under water, because the nearby Cumberland River had burst its banks and left The Grand Ole Opry under four feet of water.  It’s made a great recovery from that disaster.  In other words, it has dried out, which is something that many a country music star has needed to do from time to time.

Jimmy Dickens

Keb Mo

J T Hodges

Australian Brother and Sister act

Trace Adkins

The entertainers performing for us included 93 year old Little Jimmy Dickens, all 59 inches of him, Keb Mo, a talented entertainer who reminded me of Nat King Cole, and JT Hodges, a handsome young Texan who looks something like Elvis.  Then there were a cute brother and sister from Australia, whose names I forget. The longest and final act was by the country music star, Trace Adkins, whose face was almost completely obscured by the brim of his cowboy hat.  His ex-wife shot him in 1994.  The bullet passed through his heart and lungs without killing him.  I wonder how he arranged that.  He did not press charges against his former beloved and, when we watched him, seemed none the worse for his experience.

Broadway Street in Nashville

People in Nashville live for country music and performers travel from all over the country just to be there and to have a slim chance of breaking into the big time.  The main drag in Nashville is called Broadway and it’s full of bars, in all of which live country music is sung around the clock, from 11am until 3am the following morning.  The singers in the bars earn little for their efforts, but are simply happy to be performing in Nashville.

Hotel Preston

Angela Oliver and Mike Rogers

When we returned to the Hotel Preston after our visit to The Grand Ole Opry, we stopped downstairs in the hotel’s Pink Slip Bar for a late night drink. The live music in that bar was superb, good enough to be performed on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry itself.  There was a beautiful young singer from Houston, Texas, called Angela Oliver, supported by a talented guitarist called Mike Rogers.  They really deserve a break and, if any country music producers are reading this, try looking at her webpage at

Listening Room Cafe

On the following morning, we visited The Listening Room Café for a Sunday brunch.  The café lies near Nashville’s football stadium, where the Tennessee Titans were doing battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Nashville and Titan stadium - photo Bill Cobb

Live music in the café was provided by members of the same family, aged from the mid twenties down to four or five.  A little kid on the trumpet was fantastic. In Nashville, music is everywhere.

Click on the video below to see a video of the family playing.

Mention of Jacksonville turned our thoughts to Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, after whom Florida’s largest city is named. I usually carry several pictures of him in my wallet, since his stern visage appears on every US twenty dollar bill.

The Hermitage

Hand-painted wallpaper



Slave cabin

Jackson’s home for most of his life was The Hermitage, which is an early 19th century mansion, sitting on 1120 acres of land and located just ten miles to the east of downtown Nashville.  Jackson and his wife are buried there.

We toured the grounds of The Hermitage in a wagon slowly pulled by two huge and soporific old horses.  We saw where Jackson made a fortune growing cotton and we viewed the slave quarters.  Jackson owned hundreds of slaves, which was fortunate for him – if not for them – because Jackson’s busy life left him little time for growing the cotton himself.

But what a life Jackson led!  Born in 1767 to Irish immigrant parents, his poor childhood included his teenage participation as a courier in the Revolutionary War.  In his early twenties he became a lawyer, who helped to found the State of Tennessee and who fought and killed a man in a duel. Then he became a soldier and was the general who convincingly beat a larger British force in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans.

Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans
Jackson next turned his attention to the Spanish, took Florida away from them without specific orders so to do and later served as military governor of the newly acquired territory.  He became the US senator for Tennessee, narrowly lost the 1824 presidential election and finally captured the White House in 1828. He served as President for eight years and died in 1845 at the age of 78.  No wonder he needed so much help to grow his own cotton!

Country Music Hall of Fame

Johnny Cash Museum

Willie Nelson Museum and General Store

Just as there is so much in Jackson’s life that I have no room to mention, so it is with Nashville.  There are wonderful places in that city about which I have said nothing.   On my next visit, I intend to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Johnny Cash museum and Willie Nelson Museum and General Store and much else.

Gerst Haus restaurant

Bob at Gerst Haus restaurant
We did however manage to lunch at Nashville’s oldest restaurant, established by Germans in 1890. It’s called the Gerst Haus.  It brews its own beer, under the name Gerst Amber Ale, which is much needed in order to wash down the huge portions of German fare that the restaurant serves. Danke schon!

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on November 15, 2014.

Berlin Germany - A Small Island With A Difference

I have sometimes written on this website about small islands.  For example, I have written about my visits to Madeira, Malta, Cyprus and Middle Caicos. Let me now write about a small island with a difference.

This small island was not surrounded by oceans like those other small islands.  Instead, from 1945 until 1989, it was surrounded by land under the control of communists and was therefore cut off from the western world. During those years, it was a tiny island of freedom inside the vast red expanse of the Soviet empire. This small island was of course West Berlin which, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been reunited with East Berlin and has resumed its position as Germany’s capital.

Pat and I passed through the reunified city for the first time in July 2010. We were only there for seven hours, which is no basis for writing anything at all about such a large and historic city as Berlin. At least Pat has had the wisdom not to pontificate on the subject of Japan, simply because she was once a transit passenger through Tokyo airport!  Nevertheless, I must mention some of the places in Berlin, which saw the making of history and of which I was fortunate enough to catch a fleeting glimpse during our visit.

Firstly, there was the Berlin Wall itself, separating East Berlin from West Berlin.  A very short stretch of the wall still stands and I filmed Pat touching it.  We resisted the temptation to take home a little piece of the wall as a souvenir.  We can always buy a piece on E-bay, if need be.  Indeed, so many pieces of the wall have been offered for sale on E-bay that one could build many walls with them.  Before the wall was built by the communists in 1961, millions were using Berlin as an escape route from East Germany. After the wall was built, thousands still managed to escape to West Berlin though hundreds perished in the attempt.

Checkpoint Charlie - Then and Now
A guard house now stands at the intersection of Zimmerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse to mark the location of Checkpoint Charlie, the best known of all the crossing points across the Berlin Wall. This was of particular interest to Pat, whose late brother served with US military intelligence in Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Much of his time then was spent in the vicinity of Checkpoint Charlie, where his fluent German – free of any foreign accent – allowed him to gather useful information. Today, the guard house is staffed by actors dressed as allied military police with whom tourists can have their pictures taken.  Nearby is the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, in which we inspected a number of motor vehicles with hidden compartments, used to smuggle refugees across the Wall.

1936 Olympic Stadium Berlin
We also visited the stadium built for the 1936 Olympic Games. There we visited the Bell Tower, which is several hundred feet high and from the top of which we were able to enjoy, not only the stadium itself, but also spectacular views across Berlin. Fortunately the tower contained an elevator, otherwise I would never have made it to the top! When one compares the present view with 1945 photographs showing the total devastation of Berlin, one can only marvel at the recovery.

Reichstag - Home of German Parliament
There are also fine views across Berlin in every direction to be seen from the platforms underneath the glass dome which has recently been built on top of Germany’s parliament building, the Reichstag. It was thrilling to see the Reichstag and to recall its place in history since its construction in 1894.  In February 1933, just four weeks after Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag fire started mysteriously and thereby prevented parliament from subsequently using the building.  This conveniently enabled Hitler to circumvent parliament and to suspend civil liberties. The Reichstag was badly damaged then and also by allied air raids during World War Two. That war was prolonged by two days in 1945 when 1500 Nazis made their final stand in the Reichstag. The building was later beautifully restored and, since 1990, has been the meeting place for the parliament of reunified Germany.

Brandenberg Gate and Berlin wall

Finally, we came to the Brandenburg Gate. Built in 1791, it lies to the west of the center of old Berlin. This Gate is the monumental entry to the Unter den Linden, which is the well-known boulevard of linden trees that once led to the palace of the Prussian emperors.

This Gate was the site of the famous speech by President Reagan in 1987, when he challenged the Soviets.  “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” cried the President.

The Brandenburg Gate was not the site of an earlier speech by a US President in 1963, when President John F Kennedy proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner – the literal translation of which is “I am a jelly donut”.  That speech was made in front of City Hall, when his huge audience perfectly well understood what JFK meant and appreciated the support that he was promising to the beleaguered people of West Berlin.

The story of the Brandenburg Gate recently had a happy ending in November 2009 when the present German Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with Mr. Gorbachev himself and former Polish president Lech Waleska, walked through the Gate to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Political leaders walk through Brandenberg gate 11/9/2009

So we accomplished much in those seven hours, despite having to cope with a humid temperature of a 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it is sad not to have been able to take more time to enjoy these famous places, together with many others that are to be found in Berlin, it is far better to have had a fleeting glimpse of them than never to have seen them at all.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on February 11, 2013.

Jekyll Island Georgia - Birthplace of a Conspiracy

In 1886, the great Victorian author Robert Louis Stevenson published his famous novel entitled The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the same year, the wealthiest families in America founded The Jekyll Island Club and built its magnificent clubhouse on Jekyll Island, Georgia. These two events were utterly unrelated to each other.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Jekyll Island was so named long before Stevenson’s birth by General James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia, in honor of an associate of his who was a judge in 18th century London.

General James Oglethorpe
To learn more about General Oglethorpe, please see my article on Savannah elsewhere on this website. The club ended its existence as such during World War Two, although the clubhouse survives and is now a hotel. However, in its early years, the club membership included Joseph Pulitzer, J P Morgan, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts and many of the other prestigious families of America’s gilded age, who built vacation cottages nearby.

Pat and I visited Jekyll Island in August 2013, the centennial of a conspiracy for which the American people are about to pay a terrible price. I refer to the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913 and the imminent destruction of the US dollar consequent upon a century of “money printing”. The concept of creating a privately owned central bank, with unlimited power to increase the supply of dollars as it saw fit, would have attracted opposition nationwide. Indeed, it was something that the Founding Fathers had warned against over a century earlier. Therefore it was necessary for the conspirators to proceed with the utmost secrecy. A few leading financiers and Treasury Department officials gathered in New York City, unobserved by the press. They left New York in a private railroad car, departing from a distant platform, after which the sealed train traveled nearly a thousand miles south to a point on the Atlantic coast opposite Jekyll Island. Under cover of darkness, the conspirators completed their journey to The Jekyll Island Club by boat. Secrecy was such that mention of the last names of the visitors was forbidden, so that the club servants did not know enough to disclose their identities.

Woodrow Wilson signs Federal Reserve Act
In attendance at the meeting were Senator Nelson Aldrich; Paul Warburg, a German financier; Frank Vanderlip, president of National City Bank; Henry P. Davison, a J.P. Morgan partner; Benjamin Strong, vice president of Banker's Trust Co.; and A. Piatt Andrew, former secretary of the National Monetary Commission and then assistant secretary of the Treasury. The party set to work and, within a week or two, had devised the system of Federal Reserve banking which is presently destroying the nation.

The Federal Reserve was created on December 23, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law. The purchasing power of a 1913 dollar differed very little from the purchasing power of a dollar created in the late 18th century when the United States was founded. Yet a 2013 dollar has the purchasing power of a 1913 nickel. Such are the joys of “quantitative easing”! It cost $1 to enter Jekyll Island in 1985. Today it cost us $6. Such is the pace of an inflation, which even constant manipulation of US government statistics is failing to conceal. As the old Chinese proverb goes “May you live in interesting times”.

Its role as the birthplace of the coming financial holocaust cannot detract from the natural beauty of the island and the skill with which the historic district has been restored. There are untouched beaches, salt marshes, oak tree canopies, and protected sea turtles, whose nesting season is from May to October. Visitors are asked not to disturb these majestic creatures during that time, when only red “turtle-friendly” lights should be used on the beach at night.

In addition to diverse wild life, Jekyll Island is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. Birds commonly found here include American Oystercatchers, Starlings, Herons, Snowy Egrets, Western Sandpipers, Wilsons Plovers and White Ibis, not to mention seagulls and bald eagles. The island is host to a tennis center, a soccer complex, a beach music festival and fine golf courses.

Princess Kate, Prince William, and Prince George
As we passed the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, I was impressed by its immaculate croquet lawn. The city closest to the island is Brunswick, which claims to be the shrimp capital of the world and which was named after the city in that part of Germany once home to the Georges who sat on the British throne. Coincidentally another George, heir to that throne, was born last month (July 23, 2013).

Fort Frederica, St. Simons Island
St Simon’s Island is the next island to Jekyll and it contains Fort Frederica, built by Oglethorpe in 1736 to help protect his new colony of Georgia from the Spanish. One usually thinks of America’s frontiers as being “out west”, but these islands once sat on the frontier between British Georgia and Spanish Florida, which was the scene of many skirmishes between these two European powers. The fort was named in honor of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, who died before he was able to inherit the throne from his father, King George II. He did however manage to father the child who eventually reigned as George III and who managed to lose his American colonies.

How sad it is therefore that, with so much history to enjoy and with all the pleasures available on this beautiful island, rich financiers should instead have used their time here in 1913 to destroy the US dollar. Did they take comfort from the fact that this currency collapse was unlikely to occur while they were alive?

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on August 10, 2013.

Chamonix and Annecy France - Winter Olympics Past and Future

Chamonix and Annecy, both of which we visited in November 2010, are located in south eastern France in the department of Haute-Savoie.  The first ever Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix in 1924, while Annecy is now in competition with Munich and South Korea to be the venue for the Winter Olympics of 2018. However these two communities are very different.  Annecy is a city with a population of 50,000 and is the departmental capital of Haute-Savoie. It sits on the northern end of Lake Annecy, which is an extraordinarily clean and beautiful lake.  Last year, cyclists in the Tour de France made a circuit of Lake Annecy as Stage 18 in that competition. Annecy does not close down at any time of the year.  It is at all times a thriving and bustling community. It lies only 30 miles to the south of one of Switzerland’s largest cities, Geneva, where a serious housing shortage has resulted in many people living in Annecy and commuting across the border to work in Geneva.  On the other hand, Chamonix is not a city and it certainly does close down out of season.  Chamonix is simply a picturesque Alpine ski resort where, out of season, one has difficulty even in finding a restaurant serving dinner.

Mt. Blanc, Chamonix, France

We visited Chamonix nevertheless because, having travelled so widely in Europe, we wanted to see its highest point. Mont Blanc, rising to a height of 15,780 feet, is that highest point and Chamonix nestles in a valley immediately below it.  On the floor of that valley flows the River Arve. The river flows through Chamonix and it also flows through a village named Les Houches, 4 miles to the west.

Town of Les Houches viewed from our hotel

Les Campanules Hotel in Les Houches
Statue of Jesus
We stayed in Les Houches at a hotel called Les Campanules, named after a certain type of mountain flower. Campanules can withstand the cold, but also likes the sun.  This hotel is on the northern side of the valley, facing south to give us from our hotel room a magnificent mountain panorama.  However, the village of Les Houches itself lies in the shade of the Mont Blanc Massif to the south, but a road winds from the village up to Les Campanules so that its eponymous flowers do manage to receive enough sun.

That road continues past the hotel in its upward journey and finally arrives at a statue of Jesus Christ, several dozen feet high, overlooking the valley with arms outraised.

Massif of Mont Blanc
The Mont Blanc Massif is basically a string of big mountains of which Mont Blanc is the tallest.  The entire Massif is about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. Ownership of its slopes is divided between three countries (France, Switzerland and Italy), the borders of which meet at the top of Mont Dolent. There are obviously plenty of mountains near Annecy, otherwise Annecy would not be a contender for a future Winter Olympics, but one does not get a sense there of being “in the mountains”.

Montenvers Train
Mer du Glace Sea of Ice glacier
Yet one does get that sense in Chamonix and that sense was greatly increased by a journey that we took on the Montenvers Railway.  This train took us from a station in the center of Chamonix up the slopes of the Mont Blanc Massif to Montenvers at a height of over 6,000 feet.  At the top of the railway, is a platform in an imposing position overlooking the Mer du Glace (Sea of Ice) glacier.  This is the largest glacier in France, being over 7 miles long. We also inspected a rock crystal museum there, although the ice cave underneath the glacier was closed at the time of our visit.

Montenvers Train accident Aug. 25, 1927
The little railway was built in 1909. Before that visitors like us, unable or unwilling to climb on foot, had to rely on little carts pulled by mules.  Until 1953, this was a steam railway but it is now electric.  As the train moved steadily up the mountain, I hoped that it would stay on its track, because it ran alongside sheer drops of many hundred feet and more.  There appeared to be no protective barriers to prevent the train falling off the rails and tumbling down the mountainside. The buildings of Chamonix in the valley below became smaller and smaller.  We rose higher and higher. The steep gradient varied between 11% and 22%.  This was a rack railway containing special teeth, with which the cog wheels of the train meshed.  Nevertheless, it all made me very nervous. Yet I would have been a good deal more nervous had I known at the time that, on August 25th 1927, the train did tumble off the rails and fall down the mountainside. 15 passengers were killed and 40 others were injured.

This piece, written by Bob, originally appeared on our website on January 23, 2011.