Viva Las Vegas?

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One of the seven pools of Venetian resort 

During our long walks through the corridors, casinos, shopping areas of the Venetian Resort  we noticed a curious maneuver which we dubbed, the “Venetian Turn-around”. This was the 180 degree turn guests made while lost in the vast, 7000-room resort. It is second-largest hotel in the world. For example, to get from our room to the nearest casino floor, we took 2 elevators and probably walked 500 meters. We had a brief stay so we never did thoroughly understand the layout of the resort.

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It was so hot, Nadia easily entered the pool! 

This was the second Venetian I visited, the other in Macau, and I came to the conclusion that they are on too large of a scale to make a stay enjoyable. Going from your room to the pool, restaurant, shopping, etc. is a hassle and the whole experience impersonal. The pools were nice but a bit crowded. I wanted to show the children the profligate nature of a city in the desert, but I would not come back for another visit. It had been 24 years since I was last in the city and it has grown tremendously in that time. I don’t know how so much people and stuff can be supported by the desert environment. It brought back memories of our time in the Arabian Gulf .  I could see the whole thing being a ghost town in a couple hundred of years.

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A selfie in front of another Trump property…

We ate extremely well! I had one of the best breakfasts in my life at the Peppermill Restaurant, a Vegas institution.  The two restaurants we ate at in the fake St. Mark’s Square and fake Venice were of gourmet quality.

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I don’t understand the appeal of a Las Vegas vacation. Gambling, sitting by the pool, shopping and watching tacky night shows are not my idea of relaxation and enjoyment. I am very happy to be in our condo in the small town of St. George, Utah this week for some R&R. Getting out to nature always refreshes my soul…

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Philadelphia

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Ocean as “Rocky” overlooking the Benjamin Franklin parkway. 

We could certainly feel the excitement in the city caused by Democratic National Convention. The ubiquitous police, Bernie Sanders protesters, delegates dressed in red, white and blue and extremely hot temperatures created a frenzied atmosphere. We spent the morning in our hotel near the airport because the kids wanted to swim in the pool. With my Bernie Sanders t-shirt, I was mistaken for a Connecticut delegate by the Georgia delegates, both delegations were staying in the hotel. An odd pairing with Georgia being heavily Clinton and African-American and Connecticut being a majority Sanders and white. I entered many conversations with delegates and others because of my shirt. Everyone we met in the hotel and city were super friendly, reminding me how nice Americans are and how nice it is to speak the language fluently. In Japan I am handicapped with my limited Japanese. We didn’t see the reputation of the Philly sports fans as being rude. Most locals took pride in the city and enjoyed living there.

I loved Sanders’s convention speech last night. He rose above the egos and name calling of the campaign to bring out the important issues of rising poverty, income inequality and the plight of the middle class. I hate to see good, hard-working people struggle in our society. Sanders is the only candidate that is not a multi-millionaire/billionaire who I believe really cares about people like me. After seeing the stark contrast between rich and poor in the Lehigh Valley, New York City and Philadelphia this month, I feel the government needs to get them closer to the well-off for a healthy America for everyone. We saw the rich/poor divide manifest itself in the city yesterday. The only people out in the intense afternoon heat yesterday were European tourists, the homeless and us!

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Feelin’ the heat with City Hall in the background

“Philadelphia is a nicer New York City” was a quote by Owen as we explored more parts of the city in the afternoon. Flanked by the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, the spacious Benjamin Franklin Parkway green area, combined with the classic architecture of the museums and colonial buildings, makes for an impressive and relaxing big city. We managed to complete the “Rocky” training run up the steps of the art museum. The heat limited more exploring. To and from the central business district, we took the train, which was in sharp contrast to Japan. Many trains were late, tickets were sold by hand and it was generally disorganized. They have a long way to go to make public transport a viable alternative to private transport in the USA in my opinion. I was also disappointed in my morning run around the hotel. Despite the presence of a bike lane on the four-lane road outside the hotel, the intersections are not designed for pedestrians or bikers for that matter. With all of the space in America, it would be so easy to make the city walker/biker- friendly.

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Home of the DNC-2016 – view from the freeway

A summer thunderstorm delayed our flights to Las Vegas, but we made it out safe and sound. It was a strange morning drive on the strip this morning in the rising light of the desert. More posts to come on Nevada/Utah.

ColdPlay Live!

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Nadia keeping cool before the concert starts

I took Nadia to the ColdPlay concert last week at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It was the band’s first stop on their North American leg of their summer world tour. We both danced the night away and were thrilled with seeing the band, the pyrotechnic show and the excellent musicianship live and in person. Even me, approaching 50 years old, was highly entertained! ColdPlay is one of the few bands that appeals to a wide range of ages and it was reflected in the crowd. The weather was perfect, with a breeze coming in to cool a warm summer evening.

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Great seats on the field!

It is refreshing that lead singer Chris Martin and the band are such good guys. Many big stars are weird or arrogant. They were gentlemen throughout the concert and thanked the crowd for putting up with the hassle of parking, getting to and from the stadium and all the rest that comes with attending a live concert in a huge stadium. He was also grateful to have so many followers. It must be so exhilarating to perform like that in front of 50,000+ screaming fans. They played all of the hits and much from their latest album. If they continue producing great music, they will be ranked with some of the best pop musicians of all time. They already have been churning out hits since the start of the decade and they don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

Everyone received a lighted wristband that lit up in different colors throughout the concert. The set was amazing and the rainbow colors theme was in full force with lighting, fireworks and the wrist bands. We smelled marijuana several times during the concert and I imagine that would have enhanced the lights and musics.

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The positive vibes and feeling of a global community could definitely be felt at the concert. The band was introduced via video screen by concert goers from all over the world, speaking in their native languages. It reminded me that most people in the world are good and 99.9999% of gatherings of large people do not end up in terrorist attack. It gave me renewed hope that the internet and increased contact among citizens of earth will continue to bring everyone together instead of driving us apart.

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Getting ready to enter the stadium

I am looking forward to hear their next release. I hope they continue with the dance groove.

Philadelphia & the Democratic National Convention

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Posing by the Rocky statue on the museum grounds

I finished my second class this summer in Lehigh yesterday and we are off to take a family holiday in the great American west. We are leaving from Philadelphia so decided to spend a two days here to experience the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Although we are not delegates and cannot get into the convention center itself, there are lots of events around the city celebrating democracy and the convention.

The delegations from Georgia and Connecticut are staying in our hotel near the airport. We were talking yesterday with several of them, as well as delegates from Texas, and it is fascinating to hear their views and see the convention in progress. The delegations of Connecticut and Georgia are very different. Hillary Clinton  won Georgia 73-29 and there are lots of African American delegates (Georgia is 60% white). Clinton edged out Sanders 28-27 in Connecticut in a state that is 98.7% white. I wonder how the delegations will get along. They are generally political nerds from what I see and I am surprised that many of them are younger than I thought they would be. I have lots of questions and will try to talk to more of them today. The extra security is definitely noticeable, there is a policeman stationed in the lobby of the hotel. There are also walking and car patrols all over the city center.

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Delegate registration at the Doubletree hotel in Philadelphia

We asked two of the delegates from Connecticut what they thought of the email leak. Being Clinton delegates, they downplayed it, saying that Deborah Wasserman, the current party and convention chair was planning to step down after this election cycle anyway and they felt the change was good. We’ll see how this plays out in the upcoming days.

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Lots of extra security in the city this week

Many more Bernie Sanders t-shirts and pins can be seen than Clinton advertising, by a factor of 10 to 1. I wore my Sanders t-shirt for a bit yesterday afternoon and many people verbalized their support. This is the same reaction I received in the Lehigh Valley. Has there ever been a candidate so popular that has not won the nomination?

We got in yesterday afternoon and went to see the Philadelphia Museum of Art downtown. I tried to reenact the famous running scene in the first Rocky movie, where Sylvester Stallone is running through the streets of Philadelphia and ends on the museum steps. Unfortunately the convention rented the museum last night and the steps were closed to the public. I did manage to do the run up to the steps and we took our picture at the Rocky statue near the museum. With the release of Creed this past year, we introduced the kids to the Rocky series and they loved them, so everyone was excited to see where the film took place.

Rocky Denied

It is so nice to be able to give the kids and Nadia, who is a US political junkie, the opportunity to see the convention up close and experience the excitement of process of electing the president.

Riding Through Lehigh Gorge

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My description of a perfect day would be an early morning spent reading/writing/thinking, being active (bicycle riding) in wilderness for most of the day, and finishing with a good meal with family and friends. This would cover my intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical needs. Yesterday I had one of those days when we took advantage of a free day from classes at Lehigh University and rode the 25 mile-trail through the Lehigh gorge state park.

State officials have done a remarkable job of turning a disused and abused area into one that is thriving and still benefits many people. It is a classic gorge of steep rocky cliffs, much of it covered by tree, carved out by the flowing water of the Lehigh river. The gorge was used to transport coal and later harvested for timber as well as transporting logs, and after a couple of large fires, it was abandoned. The state obtained it in the 1970s and 40 years later, it is used by thousands of hikers, bikers and rafters yearly.

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We rented bikes in White Haven and rode the 25 miles south to the scenic town of Jim Thorpe (formerly Mauch Chunk), Pennsylvania. We rode the same trail two years ago and we remember it as a struggle, but with the children two years older and our family riding more the past two years in Japan, the ride was easy. We could have ridden the 25 miles back, but instead took the shuttle back north to White Haven.

We had a few stops for swimming and throwing rocks in the river. The sound of a flowing river is so soothing and with the steep green walls and blue skies, the whole day was one of beauty. It is nice that the kids are getting older and we can do stuff like this with them. It also gives us a chance for conversations while we are putting in the long kilometers. To kill time waiting for the shuttle, we went back and found four geocaches along the trail that reignited the kids’ enthusiasm for geocaching. It is such an engaging activity for kids and it gives people the opportunity to see things they normally would pass by.

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The view from the bike trail of the Lehigh river

I was nostalgic for my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The remnants of the mining industry, the numerous trees and rock outcroppings, brought back memories of my beloved homeland. The Appalachians are so beautiful!

For dinner, Nadia prepared grilled salmon covered with an avocado paste that was gourmet quality. The heat of the day turned into a cool breeze in the evening. A perfect summer day!

 

 

Summer Nights

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My favorite season is summer and I am loving the hot humid days and nights of July. The other night we went over to a local elementary school and played whiffle ball and in the school playground. After living 13 years in the tropics, I was done with hot weather, but now after 8 years in temperate climates, I once again appreciate summer. It is my preferred weather and so just trying to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

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The other night the weather was absolutely perfect and the setting sun and fresh green leaves and grass provided for a relaxing evening of fun with my family. It was just one of those times that you wish could last forever.

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The Moravians of Bethlehem

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The old chapel from 1751

Bethlehem Pennsylvania is most famous for the Bethlehem Steel Company, which was at its peak, the second largest steel company in America. But before big company put its imprint on the city, the origins of the settlement go back to an obscure group called the Moravians. The name Moravian comes from Moravia, which was one of three (Bohemia, Silesia) historic regions that today make up modern Czech Republic. I take special interest in the region because my name Kralovec, is Bohemian, and my ancestor Andreas Kralovec, came to Wisconsin in the late 1800s from what was then Bohemia.

Bethlehem was exclusively Moravian for the first 100 years of its founding on 500 acres  of fertile farm land near the intersection of Monocacy creek and the Lehigh River in 1741. The Moravians were a bit cultish, living in communal groups by age, marital status and gender. They also had a communal socialist economic system which served them well in the early days. It must have been so difficult to clear land and produce food, avoid disease and native American attacks and thrive in the new world. The colony was opened up to others in 1844 and the communal, socialist system was also abandoned.

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My children are fascinated by my historical tour of the communal buildings of the Moravians

The Moravians go back to a Bohemian man named Jan Hus. He is considered the first Protestant reformer, predating the more famous Martin Luther by 60 years. In reading Hus’s complaints against the Catholic church at the time, I pretty much agree with him wanting priests to marry, stop the selling of indulgences (basically bribes to get into heaven), eliminating the idea of purgatory, the mass to be said in Czech instead of Latin and laypersons to receive both bread and wine at communion. He was burned at the stake as a heretic 600 years ago this month (July 6, 1415). John Paul II, the Polish Pope, expressed “deep regret” for the act in 1999.

The Moravians, or United Brethren formed much after the death of Hus in Bohemia. They were persecuted in Catholic Hapsburg Europe but found refuge on the German estates of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in 1722. He greatly influenced the group, setting up a 100-years continuous prayer relay, starting the tradition of the daily watchword Bible study and most importantly for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sending out groups of missionaries around the world to start colonies. He visited Bethlehem and after a prayer service along the river, the citizens named the colony after the famous Biblical star.

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Today one can visit the preserved early buildings of the Moravians, including the old cemetery.  There is a Moravian College and a Moravian Academy still in Bethlehem today and the Moravian church in America has about 750,000 members. The Moravians are also known for the Moravian star, the multi-pointed lighted star that adorns all Moravian homes. The city of Bethlehem in the 1930s as marketing campaign for tourists, created the lighted Christmas star on the hill of south mountain overlooking the city and named Bethlehem the “Christmas City”. 

I will be learning more about Moravians during my stay here in Bethlehem this summer.

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The illuminated Moravian Star on South mountain overlooking Bethlehem.