Quiz Question

One of a continuing series


I’ve been doing some traveling recently, and I feel a geography question coming on. Here it is.

Without resorting to references, list as many state capital cities in the United States as you can. Name the state and name the city. You get one point for every correct entry. You lose two points for every one you get wrong.

Post your answer in the comments section below. I will embargo the answers until Saturday, so nobody will see your answer until then.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series


Today I’m wrapping up 24 days visiting Spain. That’s where this Quiz Question comes in. What two letters familiar to all English-speaking countries are mostly missing in Spain?

You should only take 5 seconds to respond. If it takes you longer than 30 seconds, go ahead and post your answer, but indicate how long it took you to figure this out. Post your answer as a comment.


And Helen, who was raised on the street now known as Cesar Chavez in Austin has provided the correct answer. Although Spanish does incorporate the letters K and W, the instances involve adopted words, such as “kilo.”

Product Review: Eurail Trip Planner

First of all I need to mention this tablet I bought. It’s a Samsung Tab 2, and I got it initially to use as an ebook reader. No phone, just an Internet device plus other capabilities, but it really came in handy on my last trip. I will do a review of the tablet in a future post.

Before heading off to Italy for a few weeks we bought a Eurail train pass, since we intended to get around the country using their very efficient rail system. The rail pass came in the mail, but also with the advice to pick up the train planner app. It’s free, and getting it turned out to be one of my better decisions of the past few months. Here’s what it does.

First you load the entire Eurail train schedule onto the device. That way you don’t need to be connected to get train schedules. As you can imagine, the schedule takes up some storage, so I shifted all the storage over to the 80G card I installed two years ago.

You have the app installed, and you want to plan a train trip. First you fire up the app and select the planner. This image shows the planner with a trip already displayed, because I most recently used the app to get the schedule from Roma Termini train station to the Fiumicino Airport.


The next thing you need to do is to select the date of your trip. This is because train schedules vary, especially for different days of the week. Take note here. Nothing is permanent. Eurail schedules will change. You will need to reload the app to obtain any changes in train schedules.

Using the touch screen you select the date and bring up the scroll window to select the date of your trip and also the approximate time of day. Days, hours and minutes will scroll separately.


In the next image I’ve already selected a new date and time, and I need to select the start and end points of my trip. If you don’t see suitable schedule after you have picked a start time, you can always punch the Earlier or Later buttons to expand the list of schedules.

It’s best to select train stations rather than cities. If you select a city, then the planner may include additional bus links into the center of the city.

Start to type a starting or end point, and the planner will attempt to auto-complete your entry. If you type in English the planner may substitute, in this case, the Italian name.





The next image shows choices from Florence Santa Maria Novella station to Naples Central station.

This selection only shows trains requiring reservations, designated by R. These are the high-speed express trains.



Notice this schedule shows amenities available on the train.


Once you have selected a schedule you can expand it by selecting the arrow symbol. The following image shows that, and it also shows the stations the train passes through. If a time is not associated with a station, then the train does not stop at that station. Note the schedule shows when the train stops at the station and when it leaves.

If you plan future use of this schedule, then select the star symbol to add it to your list of favorites. Later you only need to activate the star button at the bottom of the screen to bring up your list of saved schedules.


Now suppose you want to make a trip that involves train changes. The train planner will handle that, as well. Here’s a trip we took while staying a few days in Cortona. We wanted to take a day trip to Assisi, and the planner gave us a number of alternative schedules.


After picking the date and start time, we were given options. Some options involved train changes, but there was one with a train direct from the Camuccia-Cortona station directly to Assisi. These are local trains, and no reservation was required.


Suppose we needed to take a schedule that involved train changes. How would this be handled? The next image shows this. Take train 2307 from Camuccia-Cortona and get off at Terontola-Cortona. You get there at 10:37 and wait around until 11:39 for train 22813.


In the next image I have expanded the two schedules to show all the stations involved. This is helpful, because you can watch for the successive stations and obtain a nervous traveler’s reassurance you are on the correct train.



The train planner doesn’t give you train fares. The local and low speed trains are cheaper than the high speed trains, and they stop at more stations. It takes longer to get where you are going, but you also get a chance to view the countryside.

You don’t need the train pass to use the planner. If you are going to Europe and plan to use the trains, then pick up the free app. It also covers buses and ferries that operate under the same system.

Remember, this is a Eurail train planner. There are lots of private rail lines in Europe that are not part of Eurail, and they are not in the planner. For example, when going from Venice to Sorrento, we had to schedule (and reserve) a trip from Venice to the Naples Central station. We got off at Naples and went downstairs to the station for the Circumvesuviana line, where we purchased separate tickets and looked up the schedule posted on the wall near the ticket window.

Review: Hotel San Michele

Barbara Jean booked this reservation for us. She told me it was about the best we could do, given our budget and schedule constraints. It turned out to be an ideal choice.

Barbara booked on-line and paid in advance for four nights at the Hotel San Michele in Cortona. Then at the train station in Rome we phoned ahead to advise the hotel we would be arriving late. The receptionist was most helpful and told us not to worry. They would be available to greet us when we arrived.

Arrival was painless. The taxi driver at the Camucia train station knew the hotel very well, as it turned out to be one of the tops in Cortona.

Considering the building to supposedly be the oldest in Cortona, Cortona supposedly being one of the oldest cities in Italy, we found the essentials to be comfortably modern. The non-essentials were more fitting with the town’s historic past. An armoire and a dresser appeared to be true antiques, though in top condition. Additionally there was a work desk of similar antiquity. We brought along several devices requiring electrical power and immediately noticed all outlets in our room require the fat-prong European style plugs, for which we had adapters. Unfortunately the only outlet in our room not working was the one at the computer desk, meaning we could charge the computer battery, or we could work on the computer at the desk, but not at the same time.

I should not complain about the bed. I am accustomed to a firm mattress, for long periods having slept with nothing but a short-pile carpet on the floor beneath me. Barbara found the mattress too firm, enough to be disagreeable. It definitely did not sag.

My only complaint about the hotel would be the Internet service. It’s free at the hotel, but the signal in our room was practically non-existent. To get decent reception it was necessary to retire to the ground floor lounge area, and even this was out for a time, as the manager seemed to be having trouble with the network equipment.

Breakfast is included in a stay at Hotel San Michele, and it is first rate. Better still, it’s on the first floor (one floor above street level) and in our case was right around the corner from our room.

What’s outstanding? The location of this place and the most friendly and helpful staff. The address at 15 Via Guelfa is just a block from the town center, albeit a very steep block.


The night receptionist at the front desk scheduled a cab for our Sunday morning ride to the train station. Additionally the receptionist operating the morning shift on Sunday had the sad task of informing us the trains were not running that day due to a temporary workers strike. All turned out for the best, given the situation. The same cab that was scheduled to take us to the train station was agreeable, for a nice fare, to taking us to our next destination in Siena.

Final analysis: Yes, we would stay at the Hotel San Michele again if we ever get back to Cortona. Give it a thumbs up.

Creation Evidence Museum


First I need to tell you what everybody already knows. What everybody already knows is that the Earth and everything on it were created about 6000 years ago. People, too. And there was also a world-wide flood that killed everything on Earth except for a Bronze Age family and selected species of animals. But everybody already knows that. So what is this about? It’s about the evidence for these facts.

The evidence can be found at an advanced museum of creation knowledge located on Texas Farm Road 205 outside Glen Rose, Texas. You go across the bridge and it’s there on the right, just before you get to Dinosaur Valley State Park. You will know you are there when you see the sign that says “Evidence Here.”

So, what’s there? Why, the evidence, of course. The evidence for the creation and the great flood just described. And you could not ask for more. Actually, it would be hard to ask for less. Let’s go inside.


At the door you will be warned you are entering an area worthy of great caution. No smoking. Oxygen is in use. The hyperbaric chamber is operating. There is a possibility its power will affect your pacemaker. Family and group rates are available.

Inside you will see all the evidence. I will repost here part of what I wrote 18 years ago:

The interior of the museum has been thoroughly remodeled with new and expanded exhibits, and Baugh speaks to visitors as a recorded voice, and the recording operates spotlights in the room, highlighting in turn the particular features being discussed. What a story he has to tell. Here is a synopsis created from my notes, with some of my interpretations within brackets. My apologies to Mr. Baugh if I have missed some of his finer points:

Day 1: Electrolysis by the spirit of God moving on the waters separates water into its components, oxygen and hydrogen.Day 2: Oxygen and hydrogen crystallize into a spherical “canopy” around the Earth. The canopy glows a magenta color under sunlight [producing a light that is very beneficial to things living on the planet].

Day 3: Robert Gentry has previously demonstrated that granite was created in about 0.164 second. The evidence for this is the presence of pleochroic halos [which indicate the prior existence of short-lived radioactive isotopes in the stone at the time it was formed]. [Arthur Strahler discusses this subject in his excellent book Science and Earth History.[3]]

Day 4: God stretched out the heavens. The fabric of the universe was stretched out in a manner which, according to Einstein’s equations and the equations of quantum mechanics, caused a few hours time to give the appearance of millions of years. Russell Humphreys, a Ph.D. physicist working at Sandia National Laboratory has published equations that demonstrate that if the dimensions of the universe were stretched in this manner, then millions of years in outer space would be equivalent to only thousands of years on Earth.

Day 5: There is still a pinkish glow on the Earth. The canopy 10 miles above the Earth’s surface has compressed the air to produce this effect. Also, the Earth’s electromagnetic energy is stronger and there is no UV radiation [because of the canopy] to cause free radical damage, allowing living organisms to express their optimal genetic information.

Day 6: The fabric of the universe continued to stretch out.

Hundreds of years later: From science we know that the thought processes of man in discord can affect nuclear decay. The discord and violence in man during this time would disrupt the nuclear reactions within the Earth, causing enormous heating and causing 70-mile-high fountains of water to burst through the granite crust and to penetrate and disrupt the canopy above the Earth. This would result in the rain that drowned all but Noah’s family and the animals on his ark. Also during this time the creator bowed the heavens, further stretching the fabric of the universe. [There is some mention of the Moon bringing the waters into resonance, but I could not follow the explanation.] Baugh also reminds the audience of the quantum interconnection between all parts of the universe. [See Roger Penrose for more on this.]

About 200 years after the flood was the Peleg episode[4] during which the Earth expanded and divided. There was a 10% expansion in the Earth’s radius due to internal thermonuclear reactions. During the original creation and during the Peleg episode the continental land masses were thrust upon each other producing the ice ages, which lasted 100s of years instead of 1000s of years. This and the previous episode of thermonuclear expansion are confirmed by geophysics. Since the canopy was gone, the Earth’s electromagnetic field could not be contained, and it dissipated into space. Likewise a portion of the Earth’s gravitational attraction was lost, and there was [and has been since] a smaller oxygen ratio resulting in compromised and shorter-lived life forms. Also, the spring 1995 issue of Scientific American contains a report that in 1500 years all of the Earth’s electromagnetic field will be lost unless there is a return of the creator. [Since Scientific American did not publish a spring 1995 issue, I have had a hard time tracking down this reference.]

Finally, there will be in the future a millennial sphere in which people will live in utopia. Music will play in the heads of the inhabitants.

This is all great stuff, but the hyperbaric chamber is the star of the exhibit. Let me explain.

You see, 6000 years ago, right after God created Earth and everything on it, including people, things were pretty peachy. Life was good. People went around naked, of course there were only two of them. Tigers didn’t eat little bunny rabbits. There was never any bad weather, and nobody needed under arm deodorant.

And the reason everything was so peachy was the atmospheric pressure. It was twice what we have today, and that increased the oxygen partial pressure, so living things got plenty of oxygen and lived longer lives, and people lived for hundreds of years.

Then things started to go south.

One of the people, a woman, was having a conversation with snake (who was really a demon in disguise), and the snake would walk and talk, because back then I guess snakes had legs. But anyhow the snake persuaded the woman to eat some fruit that was forbidden by God, and then she shared it with the man, who was the other person on Earth. Of course, they figured that God, who created everything in just six days, and was omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, would never ever find out. But he did in his tender, loving way, and he cast the people out of their Paradise on Earth, and they thereafter had to clothe themselves and to grub for their existence and also screw to make babies.

Then things got worse. God decided the entire science project had gone haywire, and the people were behaving badly, so he decided to reset the system and start over. He figured he needed to save some seed stock, so he picked a hapless individual to save selected animals and his own family, and then God flooded the whole place and drowned everything else.

Of course atheist scientists these days would tell you that kind of thing is impossible. First of all, there’s not enough water on this planet to cover the tallest mountains, which even now reach nearly six miles above sea level. But creation scientists properly tell us that was no problem, since there were no high mountains then, and it didn’t take all that much water to cover the Earth and drown everything out. They tell us the double pressure in those days was due to the water in the atmosphere, which a quick calculation indicates would have to be about 34 feet worth of liquid.

Anyhow, all that liquid came down in about 40 days (and nights), and about the same time great upheavals vastly changed the face of the earth, and the water ran into the oceans and into cracks that opened up in the ground. And gone was the double oxygen partial pressure, and gone was the prospect of living hundreds of years. Bummer!

Anyhow, that’s what the hyperbaric chamber is to demonstrate. You grow stuff at double pressure, and you will see the miracle that existed prior to The Flood. I previously dipped a bit into the story behind the hyperbaric chamber.

Carl Baugh’s fascination with hyperbaric chambers has previously been mentioned. Located at the rear of the exhibition area is a working chamber, which museum operator Doyle Roberts says is kept at 13 psi above atmospheric pressure. It’s about 30 inches in diameter and 7 feet long with numerous viewing windows, and Baugh’s presentation states it is the world’s first hyperbaric biosphere. We are told that the lives of fruit flies have been extended, and the molecular structure of snakes has been altered; simply by placing them in the chamber. Additionally, near the chamber there is a large aquarium containing two full-grown piranhas, which are affected by the electromagnetic energy of the chamber. This chamber has gained the attention of scientists at NASA.

Of course, that is all great news, but there is more to Carl Baugh than you would get from these goings on. Over 14 years ago I obtained a tape of a radio show from the producer. The program featured Baugh expounding on a view of science you will not even get from the Bible. I wrote an item for the newsletter of The North Texas Skeptics, and I’ve reposted it for your reading pleasure.

Take a walk on the museum grounds, and you will be treated to an industrial strength version of the hyperbaric chamber.




Take a look at this mother. Apparently an all-weather enclosure was in the works at the time I took this photo, but, as I mentioned before, there are issues with putting this contraption into service:

No mention is made about the future of the existing hyperbaric chamber shell still resting on the grounds of the museum. When I first visited the site and toured the inside of the tank, I noted that it was far from being a hyperbaric chamber in its then current state. A number of circular openings had been sawed or flame-cut in the shell to let in light. Screw holes had been drilled adjacent to the openings to facilitate the installation of protective coverings, but at time only clear plastic sheeting was in place. The plastic sheeting is now gone. In order for this structure to become a hyperbaric chamber, it will have to be modified to become pressure tight, which means at the least that pressure flanges will have to be welded to these new openings, and appropriate view ports will have to be installed. Additionally, the State of Texas will have to inspect the finished product and issue a pressure vessel certificate before the operators will be allowed to increase inside pressure more than about a few pounds per square inch. This is not likely to happen, considering the deteriorated state of the tank. The only improvement I note since my first visit four years ago is that the tank now rests on a concrete slab instead of lying on the ground.

The remaining oddities of the museum are worth the price of admission. That is if you have a yearning to have your intelligence insulted:

The museum’s other major attractions include artifacts that have become hallmarks of the Carl Baugh phenomenon:

  • The hammer in the stone, the original of which is kept in a bank vault and which is exhibited here only as a replica. In fact, hammer in stone replicas are for sale to the public, and the ones I have seen would be hard to tell from the original. The idea behind the hammer in the stone is that it was found in what Baugh claims was native rock, demonstrating that people (who must have made the hammer) lived at the time the rock was created. Baugh further asserts that analysis of the hammer head reveals it to be remarkably pure iron with 2.6% chlorine bonded to the iron.
  • Likewise the famous Burdick Track is exhibited in replica. It is about 14 inches long in a piece of flat stone and, though it looks like no human print I have ever seen, it is neither ape nor reptilian. The print has been sectioned by means of thin saw cuts across the middle of the foot and across the toes in four places all-together. A selected cross-section through the toes is being exhibited by Baugh and others to demonstrate that the print was made by an impression in soft soil and not by carving.
  • The finger is another of Baugh’s prime exhibits. Although some scientists assert it looks for all the world like a fossilized worm hole, Baugh has had this item examined by 20 medical experts and has had it x-rayed and CAT-scanned. The result, he says, is that it exhibits the internal structure of an actual human finger. This curious fossil, with its remarkable fingernail-like feature, shows no evidence of any finger joints where there should be at least one and perhaps two. Visitors at the museum can purchase postcards picturing the finger.


Trust me, a postcard featuring the finger is worth the trip.

This Stuff Was Crazy

We used to do a bunch of crazy stuff, so I’m starting a series with the title. Here’s the first one.

This was in 1968, and the year before we had participated in a motorcycle race in Torreon in the state of Coahuila in Mexico. It’s not really close to the border, but it’s driving range from Austin, and we took a bike down for the six-hour endurance. I will post something about the 1967 race another day when I can get the graphics together. Today I have the map for the course starting in 1968.

The race course in Gomez Palacio

This region is locally call Laguna, supposedly because of some lakes in the area, and the endurance race was “Las Seis Horas de La Laguna.” the six hours of the lake. The first year they held the races in the streets of Torreon, but after that they moved them to Gomez Palacio, which is just a cross a small river and in another state, Durango.

There was a woman who worked at the Astronomy Department at the University of Texas in Austin, and she was kind enough to draw up excellent maps of both courses, and I used these maps in some articles I wrote about the races.

Going to the races was actually one of the fun parts. Here’s the standard windshield photo on the way to Torreon. David Carpenter was driving. It was his truck. It was his motorcycle. He was going to get to keep the trophy.

Anyhow, this was crazy. The races were run on a Sunday, sometimes in May, sometimes in April, and there was never any bad weather. There was no special track, the city just blocked off some streets, and we raced for six hours starting shortly after lunch.

Take a look at the map. “Meta” is the start-finish line, and approximately 70 motorcycles started at the same time, in the direction indicated by the arrows. The deal was that at the time Mexico did not produce any motorcycles larger than 175cc displacement, and that was the limitation for the six-hour race.

What was especially fun about these races in Mexico was there was absolutely no crowd control. My impression from what I have read is that back then there was almost no concept of tort law south of the Rio Grande. Somebody gets hurt, it’s their problem. The race organizers did have the benefit of Mexican soldiers to keep order. I am now wondering whether these rifles were actually loaded.

Especially maddening was that straight section along Avenida Valle del Quadiana that you see at the top of the map. These were not big bikes, but we could top out at over 100 along this section. Then at the end it was necessary to get hard on the brakes and cross over to the east-bound lane before making the turn to the south. Something that really tightened my sphincter muscle was approaching the cross-over and seeing a woman with two little children waddle across the track in front of me.

Along del Quadiana I could get enough speed that drafting a faster bike made a difference. I could get behind one of the local team’s Bultacos and keep up with him all down the straight. When the driver got onto what I was doing he calmly let his bike drift over into the pea gravel near the curb, so I had to contend with a spray of stones if I wanted to stay in his stream. I got back later in the race.

Here are some shots to show you what the traffic was like.  Many riders started, but very quickly they got sorted out, and there was lots of room to race. Even so, spectators liked to stand right at the curb, but I eventually found something that made them back off.

Here’s what it looked like making the cross-over before the turn back south.

That sharp, pointy turn labeled 2 in the map is where I got the spectators’ attention. After a few laps I got this one figured out, and I was able to start my turn along the curb on my right and keep the pressure on all the way through. I exited the turn right up to the curb on the south side of the street, and I could see people backing away when they saw me coming.

This is also where I got it back on one of the Bultacos. The Mexicans had some fast Bultacos, and I could not pull them down the straight. But I was following one of them, I think he was the president of the local Moto Club Laguna, as we headed toward turn 2. I was right in his slipstream and keeping up with him. Muscles acted before the brain did. I swerved to the left and went right by him before I realized something had happened. His two-stroke engine had seized, and I looked back over my shoulder to watch him park at the curb.

Here’s a photo of Dave on his bike in the race.

There is one part of the course I never figured out, and I was back here twice more. That was the section involving turns 4, 5 and 6. You had to make a sharp left, then round a slight bend (turn 5), then a hard right. I could never do much more than just walk the bike through this section. There just didn’t seem to be any way to straighten it out.

I have often said there a lot of things I love to do, and there are things I love to do a lot, but there is not much I like to do for six hours. I did three of these down in Mexico, and each one nearly killed me. The fun part always came after the race.

Sunday evening was the awards banquet. The most memorable of these was the one in 1967, and I will get into that in another post. This one was especially sweet, because Dave and I won a trophy for tenth place. The winners got a new motorcycle.

I considered that tenth was not all that bad. Many started, we outlasted some, but we out raced the rest, all but nine. On the way back to Austin we stopped alongside the road and took photos of the trophy.

Like I said, this was crazy stuff, and we used to do a bunch of that when we were young. A person needs to do some of this. There won’t be another chance.

Gypsy Girl

This story popped up on the TV news.

Greek authorities are asking for help in identifying a young girl found in a raid on a Roma camp last week.

ATHENS — An unknown little blond girl found living in a Roma camp with a couple who are not her parents has opened an international hunt for her real mother and father and sparked age-old anger against the Roma who are among the poorest people in Europe.

Police in Greece have released photographs of a couple charged with abducting a girl known “Maria” and taken them into pre-trial custody.

An international search for the young girl’s parents has intensified.

A 39-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman, identified as Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, were detained Monday on charges of abduction and document fraud following their arrest last week. Police raided a Roma encampment near the central Greek town of Farsala and found the girl, who a DNA test has shown is not the couple’s child.

I knew what I was looking at. I had seen it before.

It was years back. Barbara Jean and I were on vacation. We were in Athens, sitting in a McDonalds. Three small children came in. They went around to tables begging for money. The manager chased them out of the store. I was angry.

I wasn’t angry at the manager. He knew as well as I did what we were seeing, and it’s an old story. These children were pawns, managed by adults. The adults were not the parents of these children. These adults were exploiting the children for profit. They most likely kept the children in near poverty conditions and daily put them out on the street with instructions to bring back money. The adults did not live in poverty.

I was angry because I understood more deeply what was happening. These children were being robbed of their childhood. They were not going to school. They were being used by adults who would ultimately dump them when they were no longer young and pitiful looking. Or else they would continue to exploit the children, especially the girls, after they grew older and became interesting to older men. And nobody was putting a stop to it.

I did not arrive at my conclusions entirely on my own. I had been pre-warned.

Previously I worked for a boss who had a Ph.D. in mathematics, and when he was in Warsaw for a conference he encountered a similar situation. He was at the railway station, and he saw a family, a man and a woman with some small children. The family was moving off, leaving a small child behind. When the child tried to follow the adults motioned the child away.

When my boss tried to intervene a policeman nearby dissuaded him. The cop explained these were Gypsies, and they were abandoning the child, who was no longer of any use to them. The Polish authorities would now take charge of the abandoned child.

The Roma, Gypsies, are thought to have originated from the Khyber Pass region of what is now Pakistan, but they do not keep written records, so their true origins are hard to know. They are ethnically very recluse, not mixing or intermarrying with indigenous populations. Gypsies are known to consider other ethnic groups inferior to themselves and to disdain participation in normal society, except when business matters make interaction necessary or convenient. This aloofness has earned the Gypsies a bad reputation, causing them to be, in turn, spurned by normal society. In Nazi Germany Gypsies were one of the groups sent to the gas chambers.

Police allege the woman said she gave birth to six children in less than 10 months, while 10 of the 14 children the couple had registered as their own were not found. Investigators said it is unclear whether all the children exist or were falsified to qualify for child care payments from the Greek welfare system.

Police say the two suspects received about $3,420 a month in subsidies from three different cities where they had registered the children.

The couple has been charged with illegally obtaining official documents such as birth records. The man also faces separate charges, together with other people from the settlement, for allegedly possessing an illegal firearm and drug-related offenses.

The local Roma community is attempting to distance itself from incidents such as this one and the one we witnessed that day in the restaurant.

“After what transpired with the kidnapping of Maria if you are not a racist sometimes you want to be a racist,” said Chara Kokkinopoulou, 21, a university student in Athens. “These people do not have feelings and they do anything for money.”

But some of the Roma in Greece are worried that they will be blamed for allegations they say they knew nothing about.

The case “doesn’t reflect on all of us,” said Babis Dimitriou, president of the local Roma community.

This is something that people like Dimitriou and other leaders of the community need to address. If the Roma society will not fix the problem the pressure will be on for government authorities to fix it for them.

Last Day of Summer

Comfort, Texas. It’s only a few miles up the interstate from our house, so this seemed an appropriate place to say goodbye to summer.

Comfort was established in 1854 by German immigrants, who were Freethinkers and abolitionists. Ernst Hermann Altgelt, at the age of 22, is credited with surveying and measuring the lots that would later be sold to the incoming German immigrants. He stayed and married Emma (Murck) Altgelt, and they raised their nine children in the township of Comfort. Fritz and Betty Holekamp built the first house in Comfort having started construction before Comfort’s official founding on September 3, 1854. The first churches were not established in Comfort until 1900. After some controversy, a cenotaph honoring “the Founding Freethinkers” was dedicated on November 2, 2002.

The downtown area is possibly one of the most well-preserved historic business districts in Texas. There are well over 100 structures in the area dating back to the 1800s, and seven of them were designed by the noted architect Alfred Giles. Mr. Giles lived in San Antonio, and he would ride horses, the stagecoach, and later the train to check his building sites in Comfort. Most of the population today is composed of descendants of those original pioneer families of the 1850s and the 1860s.

Comfort is also known for a tragic event that took place during the Civil War. The Treue der Union Monument (“Loyalty to the Union”) was dedicated in honor of 35 men who died at the Battle of the Nueces, which took place because they opposed the state’s secession from the Union. The German settlers were killed on their way to Mexico during the Civil War. They were attacked by Confederate forces near Brackettville on August 10, 1862. The bodies were not buried and the bones were retrieved and placed here in 1865. The monument was erected in 1866.

A bit of Texas history

Comfort is a lot like my home town, but more so.

And it’s a place to buy one more skien of yarn for a winter project.

Lunch in Comfort with friends

All of this on the last day of summer

Outside Comfort, a visit to the winery. They make wine with their own grapes. We chose a bottle of their merlot, aged a year in oak.

This is how we unloaded the summer of 2013 at the Singing Springs Winery.

The Race That Never Was

This was a fun time a few years back. My brother and I went to Monaco on the French coast, and I got a chance to relive one of my favorite movies. Originally Go World Travel published the story along with a few photos. Then I posted it on the IgoUgo site. Here is a rehash:

The Principality of Monaco is the size of a large tomato patch, but it has the good fortune of being located on the stunning south coast of France. A robust tourism industry and one of the grandest and most famous gambling casinos in the world keeps Monaco solvent. Also, over a hundred years ago Monaco abolished all taxation, making it a tax haven for people who have amassed considerable wealth and intend to hold onto it.

Once a year Monaco also hosts the world’s most spectacular automobile race. Since 1929 Monaco has hosted the Monaco Grand Prix and its predecessors on a course that snakes through this tiny country’s winding streets. To emphasize just how winding, you may note that cars capable of topping 200 miles per hour are only able to average 88 miles per hour around the two-mile circuit. The race puts a premium on driving skill. Not only do drivers have to deal with a high-speed bend through a sea-side tunnel, but they also have to negotiate a grueling series of switchback turns down a winding street that keeps them busy working the controls full time. Buildings, stone retaining walls, and other accoutrements of civilization line the full length of the course. A minor mechanical malfunction or a momentary lapse of concentration anywhere, and a driver will find himself parked up against something solid. If ever there is a driver’s course in the world, this is it.

Famous as it is, however, the best known Monaco Grand Prix was a race that never happened.

In 1966 director John Frankenheimer followed the Formula I world championship racing season to film the movie Grand Prix. That year he brought his production crew to the races and filmed the action at some of the world’s top courses.

The movie cranks up with the starting of engines for the Monaco Grand Prix, and the first scenes follow the cars in a breath-taking chase through the streets of Monaco. The aerial shots, background set pieces, and views from on-car cameras in the first few minutes of the film give the viewer a virtual tour of this tiny country. Although time has not stood still in the 39 years since the movie was filmed here, today’s visitor will have no problem spotting Monaco’s principal attractions using scenes from the movie as a guide.

The race starts on Boulevard Albert 1st, where trees still line the right hand side, overlooking the harbor. Drivers gun their engines up the hill, quickly leaving the shade of the trees as they come onto Avenue d’Ostende and eventually turn left around the lavish Hotel de Paris and into the square in front of the casino.

In Casino Square, the course turns right, around the traffic circle, but you won’t be able to drive this exact route because it runs counter to normal traffic circulation. Also, they like to block off this section so wealthy patrons can park some of the most expensive cars in the world here in front of the hotel.

Leaving the square, the cars plunge headlong down the tree-shaded Avenue des Spélugues, with its famous gooseneck turns. In the distance of a few city blocks this quirky street takes the drivers from the highest point on the course almost down to sea level. On any other day a casual stroller can stop to examine the menus of restaurants and clubs that line the left side of the street. On race days steel barricades block the sidewalk, and these inviting places flash by too quickly to be noticed by the drivers.

Frankenheimer’s car-mounted cameras take the movie audience on a white-knuckles ride through here as the cars charge straight into a dead end at the bottom of the hill. At the last moment the course turns abruptly to the right, completely reversing direction before encountering another hairpin turn in front of the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel. Scenes from the movie show grim-faced drivers slaving over the controls as they continually shift gears and crank their steering wheels from lock to lock. Finally, the cars emerge from this maze and head toward the waterfront. Here the racers encounter what may be the most famous feature of this course.

Following Boulevard Louis II as it hugs the shoreline, the cars enter the notorious tunnel section. Monaco has a number of real tunnels that everywhere pierce its granite underpinnings, but this one is an artifact resulting from construction of the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel on the cliff side above.

These days, as in 1966, drivers emerge from the tunnel and streak along the water’s edge, running almost parallel to the uphill portion of the course. It’s here, along this sunlit roadway, that Frankenheimer’s fictional race has its dramatic conclusion.

Grand Prix stars American actor James Garner as one of the drivers, and the story line has Garner cast as a second fiddle member of the BRM racing team. His career is in decline, and he desperately needs a win. However, the other team driver, played by British actor Brian Bedford, is obviously favored by the team manager. Bedford gets the better car, while Garner’s character is plagued by gearbox problems in the race. As a result the two BRM cars mix it up along the waterfront, with disastrous results.

Garner’s BRM goes into the harbor while Bedford’s car crashes through a barricade and tries to climb the cliff face before falling back onto the street. As fans would know it, Garner is quickly rescued from the water, but his teammate is badly injured and misses the next two races.

And that’s about all viewers get to see of Monaco for the remainder of the movie, unless you count the scene where the BRM team owner angrily confronts a soaked Garner at the waterfront, cursing him out and firing him on the spot, thereby completing his disgrace and setting up the remainder of the story’s plot.

Observant visitors to Monaco will notice a number of changes since 1966. In the movie the cars pass through a picturesque stone arch as the Avenue des Spélugues heads toward the waterfront. This sentimental fixture has since been replaced by a modern concrete pier and beam span that opens up a view of the harbor.

Also, shots from the movie show cars entering the tunnel through a stone arch set in a cliff face, but today there is no doubt the road is simply darting beneath the hotel.

What looked like a tunnel in 1966 now takes on the appearance of a parking garage, which isn’t far from true. The tunnel has been considerably lengthened by the construction of the hotel, and a stroll along this stretch confirms the parking garage image.

In addition, they have built a large swimming pool complex in the middle of the waterfront section. The pool facility extends into the harbor, and cars now detour around it. The famous hairpin turn at the end of the course is gone, as well. Scenes from the film show the cars doubling completely back to the right around a traffic barricade as they exit the waterfront section and start the climb toward Casino Square. These days cars leaving the waterfront proceed almost to the row of government buildings along Quai Antoine 1st and hook to the right around the Café Grand Prix.

Here, today’s drivers also pass close by a life-size bronze of the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio and his Mercedes Benz racing car. A sunny afternoon will find tourists posing for photographs alongside this racing icon and affectionately touching it, despite a posted sign that cautions against doing so.

Grand Prix was an immediate hit with racing fans when it came out, despite its somewhat syrupy story line. Not only does it feature dramatic racing footage shot at five famous race courses, but recognizable faces appear, playing the parts of other drivers.

All the actors, except Bedford, did their own driving for the movie, and a number of well-known drivers played either themselves or fictional characters. American drivers Richie Ginther, Dan Gurney, and Phil Hill appear. British racing star Jim Clark played himself, and the fictional character of Bob Turner was played by Graham Hill. A slew of other famous drivers participated, uncredited, in the filming. Even Fangio, retired by then, worked as a driver.

The story of “the race that wasn’t” would not be complete without mentioning the terrible irony that transpired the following year. In 1967, while the film was playing in theaters, many of the same participants were back competing in Monaco. Up and coming Italian driver Lorenzo Bandini was one of Frankenheimer’s uncredited drivers in 1966, and in 1967 he was leading the Monaco Grand Prix in a team Ferrari when disaster struck. To complete the irony, Bandini crashed at the same spot as James Garner’s fictional crash of the year before.

From Avenue d’Ostende above there is a street that branches off and drops down to the waterfront. This street flows directly into the waterfront portion of the course, but in the opposite direction to the race traffic. Race cars have to jog to the left to avoid this street entrance, and this creates the course’s famous chicane. It’s a real test of drivers’ attention to detail as they brake from their highest speed of the day and strive to weave through the gap created by the offset.

Bandini’s Ferrari failed to straighten out when exiting the chicane, and it plowed into the hay bales that lined the dock side. In the movie, James Garner’s crashed through the hay bales and sailed off into the water. Bandini, however, met reality in the form of a solid obstruction. The car flipped and burned for an intolerable period of time before rescuers could arrive to extinguish the fire and right the car. By then the driver had been horribly burned, and he died a few days later, so far the only fatality in the history of the Monaco Grand Prix.

As a great fan of the movie, I long dreamed of visiting Monaco and retracing the famous scenes. Besides that, having been born in the small town of Tolar, Texas, I had endured my share of small-town jokes. Now, much later in life, I had a hankering to see a country that was smaller even than Tolar.

And so it is. A quick geographical fact check shows that all of Monaco covers just 0.76 square miles while Tolar covers 0.90 square miles out on the Texas prairie. Of course, Monaco is built on a steep slope, so most likely if you laid it all out flat like Tolar, Monaco would be just as large.

Monaco is also a bigger tourist draw than Tolar. So it was that my brother and I, two boys from Tolar, dropped by with our wives to check it out. No contest. Monaco beats Tolar hands down.

To the new visitor it becomes immediately apparent why its Stone Age inhabitants, and subsequently the Grimaldi family, chose this site as their base. In those days it was so difficult to get here that the first line of defense probably consisted of hiding the road signs. Even after the casino was built in 1863 patrons had to be transported in along a mule trail.

What really opened Monaco up to visitors was the completion of a rail connection to nearby Nice, and these days there are also a number of ways to get there by road. You can take the A8 toll highway in France and get off at the Monaco exit, or you can take the scenic route. Driving out through the suburbs of Nice on N7 or N98 you will find helpful signs to keep you on the correct route. Once out of Nice the choice of routes dwindles precipitously, and there’s no question of getting lost. It’s either go to Monaco or else look for some place to turn the car around.

In Nice the N98 coast road is “La Promenade,” where it serves all the beachfront properties. It’s also the first street you encounter when leaving the Nice airport, and you can follow it directly to Monaco, about 11 miles (17-18 km) outside the city. On the way to Monaco N98 twists along the cliffs and through the picturesque towns of Villefranche sur Mer and Bealieu sur Mer. This route is particularly painless and offers some of the most spectacular scenery on the French Riviera. We observed that Tolar has nothing to compare.

If you are not up to driving you can catch the SNCF rail line from Nice. The line follows close by N98, passing through Villefranche and Bealieu. In Monaco the train drops you off only a few blocks from the casino. Beyond Monaco the rail line connects to nearby Menton in France, and Ventimiglia and San Remo in Italy.

If you are a couple of guys from Tolar, Texas, Monaco is a real hoot to visit. Actually, it’s a real hoot no matter where you’re from, but I don’t necessarily recommend staying there. As expected, hotel rates in Monaco are kind of steep, much like the countryside, and you can find cheaper accommodations a short drive away. Save the difference and drop some cash at the Casino.

A one-way SNCF train ticket from Nice costs 3.10 Euros and up per person with trains about every half hour. If you drive you can also stop along the way and take photos. Both N7 and N98 have a number of scenic places to pull off. Once in Monaco we were able to park our rent car in the pier garage at the cost of eight Euros for the better part of a day.

If you choose, eating in Monaco can also be quite painless. Being plain folk from Tolar, we were especially partial to an establishment called Shangri.la, along Boulevard Albert 1st. Here we spent a few Euros each for sandwiches and sodas while sitting around an outdoor table and enjoying one of the most expensive views in the world. Don’t expect to eat here during race week, however. Shangri.la is a temporary wooden establishment that probably gets carted away once a year to make room for some high-price grandstand seating.

You can come and see all the racing action for yourself, but you need to plan ahead. On the Internet a number of concerns hawk race packets for the coming season. I recommend the official site at http://www.monaco.mc/monaco/gprix/ as a place to start your search.

I also recommend the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Web site at http://www.imdb.com/ as a good source for additional information about the movie. A Blu-ray disk is available on Amazon. See the link above. Here are some photos:

The Monaco Grand Prix, and the movie, start here on Boulevard Albert 1st. The cars charge up this tree-lined street and begin a two-mile-long chase through one of the most challenging courses in road racing.

At the top of their climb, the racers pass in front of the fabulous Monte Carlo Casino. On quieter days tourists pose beside some of the most expensive cars in the world parked in front of the Hotel de Paris.

Leaving the Casino Square, the cars plunge downhill along Avenue des Spélugues. A quiet park and a row of restaurants and clubs line the first two blocks, but then the street turns quirky, with some of the tightest turns on any championship course.

Avenue des Spélugues changes direction again as it continues its plunge to the waterfront. Imagine taking a 900-hp car through here just as fast as you would care to go.

In front of the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel, Avenue des Spélugues does a complete 180 and continues on downward.

Exiting the hairpin turn by the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel, the drivers face yet another blind turn as they head straight for a retaining wall.

Twisting and turning, it’s down, down, down toward the waterfront in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Unfortunately, the medieval-style stone arch is now gone, replaced by a modern concrete truss that carries street traffic across the Avenue des Spélugues.

Also gone is the stone arch entrance to the tunnel. The “tunnel” is now revealed to be a modern building complex built out from the cliff above and covering the lower section of the race course.

The “tunnel” is longer now than it was in 1966, and it is mostly open on the left to reveal the harbor beyond.


What Bandini saw. By the waterfront the street must jog to the left to go around this entrance from another street. On race day the drivers brake hard just after reaching their top speed on the course. With amazing concentration, they thread through this narrow gap in a blur of wheels and flashing color.

Almost home, the cars now round the Grand Prix Café and head back up Boulevard Albert 1st toward the finish line.

Across from the Grand Prix Café, legendary driver Juan Manuel Fangio stands frozen forever in bronze, next to his Mercedes Benz race car. He won the race here in 1950 and again in 1957. In 1966 he drove one of the race cars for John Frankenheimer in making the movie Grand Prix. He retired from racing in 1958 and died at the age of 84 in 1995.

You don’t have to spend well to eat well in Monaco. Two boys from Tolar, Texas, enjoyed one of the most expensive views in the world for the price of sandwiches and sodas here at Shangri.la, a knockdown eatery alongside the Boulevard Albert 1st.

Monaco positively drips money. Only 16% of the population is native Monégasque. The rest are French, Italians, and others who come here to escape taxation. Photos of Monaco make the principality appear to be larger than it is. That’s because a lot of what is built up around its two harbors really belongs to adjacent French towns.

Tolar, Texas, on the other hand, doesn’t drip much of anything, except when it rains, and that’s not often. You sort of feel Clint Eastwood should be in this picture somewhere.