Trading in the rocky shoreline of Maine for the granite faces of New Hampshire; Live Free or Die!: My adventure to the White Mountains and Lakes Region.

As it was appearing my stay in Maine would be extended into autumn, due to the ever-continued international Covid-19 health and economic crisis, remaining here for yet another season, and possibly winter too, it was time to venture out-and-about further into the region to see what New England had to offer. Fall in New England, as the expression goes, is spectacular – an explosive vivid symphony of lucid supernatural wonder and beauty on display, nature’s finest fireworks.

A few months prior, while on the patio at my hotel, I met a nice Polish lady from upstate New York, Zuza. She is an interior designer for Hilton corporate brand. She also is an artist who creates the most stunning mosaics. At first, she thought I was a bit strange; not uncommon for people to think such at first. But after some time she and I became able friends. A few weeks later she rang me on my mobile to ask me if I would join her on a trip to New Hampshire.

It only took but a few seconds to figure a decision. “A trip to the Live Free or Die state, I am an emphatic yes,” I told her, as a massive smile grew on my face – my eyes swiftly welling with excitement. The time to get out of dodge had arrived, and with my new friend from New York, we were planning our White Mountains adventure.  She told me, “Steven, it will be a fun quest. We are both in need of some stress relief.” “Oh,” she said, as she was hanging up the call, “I hope you don’t mind my pup joining us.” “No, I love dogs – the more the merrier,” I stated.

Perhaps I should have taken some pause before responding in agreement. As it turns out, her “pup” is more like a small Siberian bear than a dog. Rowan is his name – a 140lb Leonberger show dog, a one-year-old puppy. She tells me, “He is well behaved and loves road trips. He is a rock-star everywhere I take him. You will see.” “Sure Zuza, it sounds as if soon Rowan and I will become good friends.” It was with frightful anticipation I expected meeting the “pup.”

As a few weeks remained before our trip, it was time to plan our mountain exploration. We planned to visit two regions of New Hampshire: Lakes Region in central and White Mountains in the north. As we would also be visiting an old classmate from my school days at BGU in Israel, Matthew, presently the owner of an outdoor style clothing company founded in NH, Lake Life Brand, for a photo shoot in the Lakes Region, our time and schedule were quickly filling up. As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind: Life is meant to be lived, so go live it – Teeth to the wind!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

— Mark Twain

Itinerary set, Zuza was to arrive on the following Wednesday, at my hotel in Portland, Maine, to commence our trip with Rowan. About noon, with clear blue azure skies, wispy clouds abound, a black extended Jeep wrangler pulled up in front of the hotel. Hanging out of the window was this over-sized hirsute ball of irascible beauty and beastly allure. He might be the size of a small bear but he has the heart of one too – it was obvious, “Ro” is a big love-bug-bear. Kisses all-round.

In a matter of minutes, bags packed into the back of the Jeep, wheelchair neatly stored away, and Rowan’s spot (substantial, I might add) clearly demarcated – we were finally off on our road trip. “Where shall we go, Steven?” Zuza, like me, loves getting into the car and just driving, driving with no destination in mind. “Ok, sounds fine to me. But please first tell me where we are sleeping tonight so I can plan our day.” Zuza reserved the same Hilton hotel Vernon, my hotel manager, recommended we stay, a sister Giri property where we would be well taken care of.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” 

— J.R.R. Tolkien

It was a bit out of the way but we decided to cross over into New Hampshire from Maine further north and immediately drive the famous Kancamagus Scenic Byway. But first we decided to stop off for lunch at the 302 West Smokehouse & Tavern in Fryeburg, with wondrous scenic views of nearby rolling farm pastures and vistas of the White Mountains far off in the background. After two hours in the sun, a few local delish IPAs consumed, it was time to venture to the mountains.

Once we passed over the line into the state of NH, it was only a short fifteen minute drive to the entrance of “The Kanc” – a 55 km scenic drive, climbing almost 1000 meters in elevation, along New Hampshire’s Rout 112, a carved path that winds itself through the White Mountain National Forest, with endless hairpin turns alongside the Swift River, with breathtaking views of the Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge. NH fall foliage was absolutely brilliant.

At one point on the drive we could see that the top twenty percent of Mount Washington was snow-covered. The cold arctic winds that blow in from Canada were already making their presence felt, if only atop high peaks. But it was still fall, with all its innocent aesthetic beauty at play in God’s cathedral. At the end of the drive we came into a small town with only two choices to eat. We chose to eat Mexican. Afterward, we both agreed to never again eat tacos in NH.

Late into the evening we had a long cold drive to our hotel in the Lakes Region of NH, two hours further south than us. With fall foliage in New England in full bloom, and Covid-19 travel and social distancing measures in place, there were more than the usual amounts of day or weekend trippers in that area. The next morning we were going to meet Matthew and Stacy for a photo shoot for his clothing company at a few local lakes: Silver, Winnisquam and Winnipesaukee.

The morning of my debut as a sexy wheelchair model was one of overcast skies with rain in the forecast – great muted colors for a successful photo shoot, and start to my GQ career. Stacy was a consummate professional; Matt a consummate goofball. It was splendid fun for all involved. Zuza and Rowan even got swept up into the fall photography shoot extravaganza, posing by the lake. Photos of NH and other travels can be seen on my website, Doing The Dirty Dishes.

With the photo shoot behind us, my fifteen minutes of fame fading fast, no longer puparazzi in tow, it was time to explore the Lakes Region. For the next three hours we drove aimlessly and endlessly down any roadway, paved or dirt, that we could enter with a 4×4 Jeep. We ended up in a small, quaint charming town, Meredith. We decided to stop for lunch at Twin Barns Brewing Company. There we would meet three retired professionals from Baston, MA. Never was more fun and laughter had on a brisk Saturday evening in fall than with Sheehan, McGuirk and GG. 

Craig AKA GG is a retired dentist with a penchant for being a considerate guy. He and his close friends all bought mountain homes in nearby Meredith – which has more of a village ambiance than small city. It is the entrance town for tourists wishing to enter the Lakes Region of NH. The town has an intimate and restful feel to it, the perfect place some R&R, especially during a pandemic. On our way of town we stopped at Kellerhaus for some German chocolate decadence.  

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. “

— Gustave Flaubert

After three days of epic excitement in the lakes and mountains regions it was time to migrate more toward the ocean, where New Hampshire owns an immense sliver of beachfront real estate. The Atlantic Ocean coastline of NH is a whopping 28.9 km, the shortest of any state. We were not so interested in the over-stimulating rocky seacoast beaches as much as the port city on the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth. It is a historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination.

Portsmouth, with it noted 17th and 18th–century colorfully painted homes, delicious local seafood restaurants, astounding art and architecture, winding town roads and ways replete with a plethora of parks and outdoor recreation areas, is a romantic town surely worthy of a weekend trip. Since “Chowda” is a staple of New England, each state having their own version (clam, seafood or fish), it was time to sample some local fare. Sanders Fish Market has the best chowder soup and lobster roll in NH. Though the lobster roll was incredibly delicious, Maine still wins the award.    

When Zuza said that Rowan was a rock-star, she was not kidding. Literally everywhere we went with him people stopped to ask about, pet and photograph him. If we were in the car, even at a red light, it made no difference – the “Ro-Bear” was a dog in high demand –people everywhere flocked to him like a reincarnated neon Elvis in Memphis. After my first and only model photo shoot and ethereal fifteen minutes of fame, I was more than willing to give up my throne to my new Ursidae Canis lupis familiaris friend. Thank you Zuza and Rowan for a memorable trip! 

Photo credit: Stacy Cusack Photography

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

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Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

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Thank you for your love and support.

Bruges, Belgium: Your velvety waffles, twice-cooked fries, succulent mussels, tasty beers and rich buttery chocolate are pure decadence.

Belgium was never a country that stood out to me and screamed “come visit” all I have to offer. Truth be told, I did not know what she had to offer other than gastronomic delight.  I first encountered this quietly hidden mischievous country while in community college in the early 1990s. While visiting England, as part of a cultural foreign exchange program, a few of us decided to wonder astray to further explore mainland Europe. Oddly enough, Belgium was only chosen as one in our group was a chef from a big casino in Atlantic City, whose employer was picking up the tab on all food and drink bills as part of a foreign taste discovery tour. Dave was a wild cat who liked to party; lockstep, we all followed his lead.

We had not arrived in Brussels ten minutes before Dave began watering at the mouth over the thought of all the beers and foods he was about to try, and others he had yet to discover. As large casinos are always on the hunt to increase the food variety they offer at their restaurants, twice a year, all expenses paid, they fly selected chefs anywhere in the world to eat and drink, on their dime.  As Dave was already there because of a program the casinos increased his expense account. That is where we came in; the casino was only meant to pay “his” dining costs. Well, I can assure you, it was not eleven minutes before Dave was buying the first round of Trappist beers. It was my first taste of Belgium beer – unforgettable.

For the next three days our motley crew of misfits wreaked havoc on Brussels and our stomachs. I was introduced to a whole new world of food that, until that time, I did not know even existed. A few years earlier my eyes were opened up to the world through international travel, writing one’s own page of history, and now my horizons were being spread even further in a new direction: the refined world of a culinary and oenophile palate. Dave was a true connoisseur, especially all things French. He introduced us to a whole new world – and took us along for the ride, first class. Though we may have been unsure some items he ordered, we tried them all. Not one complaint registered, but plenty of memories did.

My first trip to Belgium was memorable but did not leave me with the immediate desire to return soon without reservation. Fast forward twenty-seven years and I am now spending my summers living in Amsterdam, Holland. A close friend from Philadelphia, Joe, decided to visit me in Europe. What started out as a one week trip turned into two, then into five, before finally settling on an auspicious seven.  We decided we would take a few local side trips within Western Europe to visit some fun places. Spain was a bit too long in an auto for my injury so we flew there, deciding driving to Cologne, Germany and Bruges, Belgium. First stop on our adventure was Bruges – a city visited long before with some fellow comrades.

With all activity of prior nights’ raucous debauchery, those of young ‘innocent’ teens running amok in Europe, long forgotten, it was time for diverging roads and new indelible memories – Bruges awaited. Joe had never been to Europe – it was his first time. As almost always is the case I travel the world solo, so it was super helpful having someone along for the ride. And also someone to relieve me of driving responsibility, which can be quite taxing on my body as it continues to heal and progress further toward walking again. In life, it is only through Doing the Dirty Dishes that one can hope to change or grow as a person. One must get their hands dirty in life, becoming bold, vulnerable, choosing the path less chosen.

Long ago on my first visit to Belgium, a side-trip while on a cultural exchange program in England, we only swiftly visited Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. We were students on the hunt for anything non-academic and everything fun. My trip this time is a bit different as now I travel in a wheelchair. In my recent book: Unbreakable Mind – written for those facing an insurmountable obstacle or struggle in life, or those looking for a great story of motivation and inspiration – I speak on the need of continually broadening and expanding the horizons in your life; when the story ends life begins, and to travel the world is to remove prejudice through cultural understanding. Plan a trip in 2020 ~ hence this blog!

Since we only had a few days to visit we decided to pick one town, reserve a hotel and explore all the popular local sites. We chose Bruges. It is my favorite city in Belgium to visit. Located in the northwest, the capital of West Flanders, it is most well known for its picturesque canals, cobblestone streets and remarkable buildings from the medieval time period.  In previous years, with its huge canal network and access to international seas, the city was known for fishing and extensive European trade. The most distinguished part of town is city center, home to fine Burg Square, where the 14th-century City Hall (Stadhuis) is located, and nearby Markt Square, with its 13th-century Belfry and 83m tower with a view.

We chose to stay in the most central location, a hotel only fifty meters from Markt Square. Knowing the streets would not be forgiving on a manual wheelchair, it was important to be closer to the action. To claim access to the hotel in a wheelchair was difficult would be the understatement of the year; making the hotel clerk’s message to me a few months earlier on the ease of access the overstatement of 2019. Without Joe’s help I would have had a very hard time even getting in the front entrance. There were two hard doors to navigate before entering a one-man elevator with only a hair to spare for the wheelchair. The halls were carpeted, curvy and hilly – all nightmares for a wheelchair. Joe was an angel with wings.

As we had arrived mid-evening, there was no time to waste – local treats awaited arrival to our bellies. What would we try first? Joe was seduced by my description of the best waffles in the world. Well, there was no shops close-by who sold such warm goodness. Joe spotted a fry stand. After polishing off two orders of twice-cooked fries (Dutch are cooked once only) with obligatory mayonnaise (Andalouse), we decided on a drink. As we were already on Markt Square, there was no lack of outside restaurants to sit and enjoy the local delectable eats while enjoying the sun, conversation and amazing people watching. Six hours and three outdoor cafes later, while chatting with Nepalese staff, we closed down the plaza.

In Holland, their neighbor to the north, they prefer to call them Flemish fries (Vlaamse frites). They take their fries seriously in this part of the world, and so that ‘label’ ensures them a guarantee of the highest quality. Belgian fries are best known for being freshly cut, irregularly shaped, thick, distinct potato taste – and, twice-fried, served in a paper cone, they are crispy on the outside and super light on the inside. Flemish refers to Vlaanderen, which is the northern section of Belgium that is Dutch speaking. The Dutch relate well to this part of the country because they share the same language and history. Once upon a time they were the same country. The southern part of Belgium speaks French and is closer to France.

Over the next few days we would explore the city residents simply consider a village. A cosmopolitan yet nostalgic town at heart, with roots in medieval Europe, home to the regions’ most talented artists, an assortment of fine dining, it is an international city of tourists that maintains a small-town heartbeat.  The realm of eats spans from inexpensive street foods to expensive Michelin-star dining establishments. My five all-time delicious items to consume when in Belgium: Trappist monk beers, mussels, waffles, fries and chocolate. There are fourteen Trappist monasteries, six of which are located in Belgium. The city offers all types settings, from street to casual to modern. There is something for everyone to relish.

As you walk through the narrow cobbled streets, past astonishing medieval architecture and buildings such as the Belfry and Rose Hat Quay, exploring the quaint canals – possessing their own special energy, finding hidden off-the-beaten-path gems, feeling the song of this seductive mistress being sung unto your soul.  The easiest way to see the city’s extensive network of canals is by boat tour. The city’s past is affluent and influential, once home to the Hof Bladelin, a part of the Medici banking system. Float by the Jan Van Eyckplein and Burgher’s Lodge, at one time where you could find the city’s famous and elite. The Groeningemuseum displays art of the ‘Flemish Primitives,’ such as Hans Memling and Jan Van Eyck.

The city is best explored on foot – getting out into the streets and seeing what aesthetic pleasures await your discovery. The historic core of Bruges is an UNESCO world heritage protected site. Once you get beyond city limits there is an extensive network of abbeys and castles, known as Brugse Ommeland. Visit the squares, climb the tower and see the cityscape views, eat some of the endless street foods, go to a fancy restaurant, take a bike ride through Loppem Castle – a garden labyrinth built for noble offspring dated to the 19th-century, take a canal boat tour, go to a museum or enjoy the summer sun with friends – savor life. Americans do not pale in comparison – Europeans focus more on enjoying life to its fullest.

Most cities in Europe I visit require navigating public transportation systems, whereas Bruges, village-like and historic, with only tapered canals and cobbled roads to navigate, nonetheless still a daunting task in a wheelchair, is manageable. Regardless, the number of worries never changes. Bruges, with its small doorways and untold stairs, is not for the novice injured traveler. With a bit of meticulous planning, you could have a spectacular trip. And when things do not go as planned, which is often in my case, trust that the universe will see you through it. Otherwise, start with fries and mussels (Moules frites), with a Westmalle Dubbel on tap, followed by a warm waffle with chocolate, strawberries and cream as dessert.

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Barcelona: Though your beaches are overflowing with caca, your history, architecture, food and culture are spectacular.

Barcelona, Barna to locals, or Barthelona as spoken in Catalonian variety of Spanish, is my favorite city in Spain. This beautiful charming seaside town, the Catalonian capital, second biggest city in Spain, filled with astounding architecture, rich history, vibrant parks, beautiful beaches, world-class museums and art, amazing food and night-life, a great Futbol Club, and world-class culture is sure to bedazzle you.  With buildings abound from Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner, its ever-present art and stunning architecture will delight even the toughest critic. There is something for everyone in Barcelona. You are sure to be enchanted by her relaxed charm, impish modesty and unassuming sophistication.

Since I live in Amsterdam in summer, it was my first time experiencing intra-European Union (EU) travel. How nice to only have to fly a few hours to be in beautiful and sunny Espana. KLM, always the local airline of choice, especially since the only other choice is a regional discount airline that frequently is late or worse yet cancels. Checking in and entering security at Schiphol is fast and convenient. Like most airports, they have special lanes and people to tend to injured travelers. As far as world airports go, Schiphol is top for injured travelers. They have an Assisted Services Department and website with all relevant information. It was a short midday flight with wine, cheese and crackers. Bring on the sangria.

Upon arrival in Spain, after being escorted off the plane in an aisle-chair, also with adequate services at the ready to assist travelers in need, we quickly headed for the exit. Unless I just had a long trans-Ocean flight and am totally knackered, I choose to go the airport alone, denying all attempts at assistance once off the plane and in my own wheelchair. Solo travel has always been my M.O., teaching me to be a one-man travel show. I place my carry-on on my lap, leather bag on top of carry-on (when both packed, up to my chin) and wheel through the airport. Independence in life is refreshing, no matter if injured or not. Though this trip I was traveling with a friend, Joe from Philadelphia – who was visiting me in Amsterdam.

Within fifteen minutes of landing we were through immigration and straight on our way to fun in the sun. The airport is very clean, with accessible toilets. There is no immigration if arriving from another EU member country. When you exit, passport control imprints your passport with an exit-stamp.  When I was a younger world traveler trying to fill as many passports as possible, it mattered. Now, it doesn’t.  As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life begins when the story ends. The taxi queue is just outside the exit. As there is no Uber in Barcelona you have no choice but to use local taxis. They really are not fans of ride-share services – just ask one. Thirty Euros later, we arrived at our hostel – let the fiesta begin.

For the record, the RENFE train system runs from the airport to city center. Trains run every thirty minutes – station located at Terminal 2. Metro line L9 Sud, Aerobus express service, as well as TMB Airport Bus (#46) and Airport Night Bus (N17) all take you to city center (info). FTC, Tram and buses are all accessible; Metro stations with “Y” have lift access (check map). Some beaches have accessible pathways. We decided on staying at the Generator Hostel. The hostel, with locations throughout Europe, is centrally located in the city, not a far stroll to the old city and beach. It has an elevator and accessible rooms – two bars and a restaurant. All safe, we reserved an accessible room beforehand.

As is the case with almost all injured travel, upon attempting check-in at the hostel, our room was taken. Hence what makes injured travel such an even bigger challenge than bipedal adventures. We had intentionally reserved an upgraded room with balcony and view of the sea. In the end, they gave us two choices: 1. a larger accessible room with no balcony or 2. smaller non-accessible room with a balcony and beautiful views of the city, La Sagrada and ocean. Easy choice – we opted for the vista. By this point of the summer Joe was used to carrying me places. On the way he had to carry me to the last row of the plane. The crew said they never had a wheelchair passenger – he saved them a lot of time and hassle.

Well, the room certainly had a beautiful balcony with a stunning panorama of the ocean but I could not access it. Nor could I access the bathroom in our upgraded ‘room with a view.’ I had to ask them to place an extra chair in the bathroom so I could transfer from the wheelchair to the chair to the toilet. A triple play! It is not fun, especially when tired or in a rush to get to the toilet, itself already a strenuous task. It would have to do. In life, it is always best when given lemons to buck-up and make lemonade. The exit to the balcony had a large lip which impeded the wheelchair. Joe had to lift me from my wheelchair to a balcony chair outside. Once there, I was in heaven. With the view, I could stay for hours. And I did.

The hostel, located in the electrifying section of Gracia, a bohemian refuge with old-city ambiance, close to tourist attractions, thrilling eclectic districts with muy delicioso tapas, cava, sangria and dance, and the beach, is the best deal for the money.  It is situated on a main thoroughfare, allowing easy access to taxis or public transport.  Even though most of the city is accessible, with Spain generally cheaper than most other big cities in Europe, I always opt for taxi transportation when practical. Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo apartments are a close walk. Mouthwatering artisan cafes and urban street food are located in the neighborhood. It is close to Las Ramblas, a great central location from which to explore the city.

There is a restaurant on the base level of the hostel; buffet breakfast and a la-carte lunch and dinner available from 07:00 to 22:00.  Multiple other fine cuisine options exist within walking distance.  The Fiesta Gracia Bar, also located on the base floor, has diverse craft beers and small bar bites and snacks. I recommend the bombas. As well, located atop the hostel, there is a bar. As there are stairs leading to the roof-top bar, it was not easily accessible to me.  Joe could have carried me but we never needed a drink bad enough to venture there. Travel in Spain definitely is a clear example of Doing The Dirty Dishes in life. The food at the hostel, and across the street at Pikio Takio, is convenient, cheap and delectable.

We spent much time relaxing on the patio of our hostel room – with beautiful panoramic views of the ocean, Gothic quarter (known locally as El Barri) – part of the old town (Ciutat Vella), Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and neighboring districts – quickly becoming our refuge. There is a certain peace that overcomes a person when able to sit in beauty and calm whilst the chaos of the outside world continues on. There are many clubs and Catalan restaurants close-by. If you wish to partake in actividades verde in Barna, than you need to patronize a different type club. Membership is required (tourists can join one year), limits on amounts purchased and must spend fifteen minutes there first before leaving the club.

One day we decided to venture out into the city. Western Europe was in the middle of a bad heat wave, but thankfully the sea breeze and geographic location of Barthelona provided a respite from the extreme oppressive warmth.  La Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gaudi’s unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica masterpiece, was our first stop. Who let the tourists out?! It did not take long before this site was overrun by photo snapping sightseers, many almost getting seriously injured by passing cars while jockeying in the road for the perfect selfie. Obligatory basilica photograph out of the way, it was time to escape the insanity.  The thought of some local Catalan sangria could not be ignored.

But that would have to wait. Just as we escaped the madness at the basilica we decided to take a quick city tour on a hop-on hop-off bus. The ticket was surprisingly more expensive in Barcelona than other cities in Europe but it is an easy and convenient way to see numerous sites of many cities. Our trip was short and so did not allow enough time to venture out on foot to every desired spot. And the bus is also convenient for the wheelchair. Plus it saves wear and tear on my shoulders and body – energy better left for the evening, when the city comes alive and it is most needed. They cover all the must-sees, with 31 stops – choice is yours. There are two interchangeable routes, East and West; passes are also available.

Later that day, unsure what to do as the afternoon sun shined bright, we decided to take a journey to the beach to see what it entailed. Other than ocean water filled with feces from the Barcelona city sewer system. Yes, you read that correctly: All the poop and pee from the residents of Barna dump right into the ocean, the same one you experience when swimming on Platja de La Barceloneta to Platja de la Mar Bella. There is a long cement strand along the beach where you can easily walk with astonishing views of the beach and ocean. There are beach clubs – entering at street level, descending one floor via elevator to beach level – where beautiful women serve you traditional style sangria. Five pitchers later….

Our last day was spent roaming the narrow medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). During the day craftspeople pedal their wares, mostly hand-made, by the Cathedral of Barcelona (Catedral de Barcelona). The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (its official name) is a Gothic cathedral, constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. At night the district’s trendy bars and Catalan restaurants come alive. No one ever accused the Spanish of bad food or an inability to have fun. If you are looking for a great time, night-life like no other, tapas that will leave indelible marks on your world ’best-of’ menu, an experience forever ingrained on your soul, save the poop, than Barthelona is for you.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

SEC Football Stadium Accessibility – Volunteers at University of Tennessee, Knoxville Do it Right!

It was a long weekend at the mining site, resulting in departing home on an early Saturday morning instead of Friday afternoon as we were accustomed. We were tired but after our third flight the beers were flowing, as were our spirits. Single at the time, I did not mind being stuck in any city on any given weekend. Big Sexy AKA Alex and I were sitting at a Toronto, Canada airport terminal sports bar enjoying great conversation and some college football whilst awaiting boarding flights to our home bases. Mine was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Big Sexy’s in Nashville, Tennessee.  All the sudden, out of left field, an invite came from Alex: “Come to Tennessee for a game?” Wait! What?!

Immediately rebuffing Alex’s attempt at being a polite Southern gentleman, inviting me down to his neck of the woods, the South, for a SEC college football game, I smiled. And I am a Vols fan too. Hmmm, could it be true? Alex stated: “I assure you in Tennessee we are sincere, if we make an invite it is authentic, it is real. None of that sugar-and-spice, all things nice you find in some other Southern States.” I told Big Sexy that his reply sounded more like sugar-and-spice than ever before. He laughed as he said “Come on down and see for yourself.” At the time Alex made the invite we were working for DeBeers diamond mines in the far north of Canada as management consultants.  Much had changed.

Seven years later, a book about meeting an express train rendering me a quadriplegic published, Alex once again brought up the idea of going to a Vols game.  By this time in my recovery I was comfortable attempting attending a college football game, and all it involved. But the dates just could not work. One year later, a new friend, also in a wheelchair, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in conversation made an invite to attend a LSU Tigers game. After quickly figuring out her invite was traditional ‘Southern spice’ – also known as BS – it was back to square one. Then a text arrived from Alex. He found a game date, and would it work for me? I replied I was in Europe for summer, would check schedule and advise.

Two weeks later, my summer and fall starting taking shape, and it appeared the weekend Alex wanted to finally see a Volunteers game together, I was free. But I would have a friend joining me. Alex did not mind as he had three tickets and was happy to break another SEC fan’s cherry by attending not only his first SEC college football game, but also his first Volunteers game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville – home to the 4th largest college stadium in the US, seating capacity 102,455. The finer details still needed to be worked out. For now it was on – me and a friend would be venturing down south to Tennessee to see our first SEC game at Neyland Stadium. We were thrilled to the brim at the idea of the trip.

A few weeks before the game I inquired with Alex to see if our seats were handicap accessible or not. I was aware that Neyland, a very old stadium, has some parts dating from early 1900s, thus making accessibility a potential issue.  Our seats were not accessible, in fact. An idea came to mind. Alex, don’t worry about seating, I will call the Athletic office to see if they can find us some nice accessible seats. I will do a story on the stadium and my experience Doing The Dirty Dishes of life, attending a game there in a wheelchair.  He loved the idea. Well, it turned out, UT-Knoxville did as well. Now, instead of sitting in the nose-bleeds, we were front-and-center, end zone, first row, pro-gratis.

Originally I wrote a letter to the Assoc. Dir. of Athletics for Communication, Tom Satkowiak. He put me in contact with a Manager in event coordination, Angie Doyle. She put me in contact with someone at the ticket office – “Will the ticket man,” self-described, and super helpful. Tickets sorted, not a minute passed, and Angie fired off an email with all the information specifically needed for handicap parking, and direction to special handicap accessible buses that would shuttle us to the stadium.  It was quickly becoming clear I was dealing with a momentous event of serious proportions that would take proper planning and execution. It was also clear the level of professionalism of all UT-K staff was a step ahead.

Angie momentarily sent an email with descriptions of many types events, activities and other pertinent information leading up the game. We would have to arrive early. Early as in 8am or so! I had heard SEC fans liked to party early before noon games but did not think they were serious. Oh yes they were. We arrived at the stadium early that morning, the streets already buzzing with activity. It was fixing to be a hot day too, according to the forecast. We followed Angie’s directions, parking at the Agriculture Campus, where they had a special lot reserved with over 120 parking spots. And it was free, too. Bonus at a time when parking can exceed forty dollars, beers fourteen dollars, etc. at events.

The school’s athletic department has a ‘Game Day’ page where fans can find out upcoming game time, critical updates of any kind, along with stadium rules and regulations. There is an information tab clearly marked for accessible/ADA seating. There you can find information on parking, entry and seating. For those sitting in the upper levels, please check with the ticket office as you may need access to an elevator, which requires a pass. The website also describes the various game day festivities offered – there are many:  The Vol Walk, Band March, Volunteer Village, Tennessee Park, Kickoff Call-In Show and Tailgate Tennessee are a few of the endless activities offered prior to every home game.

The morning of the game we arrived bright and early, securely parking at the Agriculture Campus. The campus was very easy to find; police and event staff could be found every fifteen feet. Within minutes of parking we were in line for special accessible buses that would take us to the stadium. Only ten minutes passed before we were approached, given wristbands to enter and exit transport buses, and readied to board. Since I was traveling with a friend from home, Joe, and a friend from Nashville, Alex, we would need room for three. There was never an issue, at any point – the staff was always more than accommodating. Within thirty minutes of parking our car, we were off to see our first SEC game.

As we embarked on the short drive from our parking lot to Neyland Stadium, excitement was in the air, palpable on the bus and extending well beyond to the endless throngs of people outside, all slowly making their way to the stadium. There was no lack of tailgating everywhere, food and drink abound. They were not joking – it is serious business in Tennessee.  As long as you were wearing orange you were welcome to eat and drink as much as you liked, you were treated like family. Every direction you turned someone in orange was ready to offer a smile, beer, burger or laugh. The hospitality of the people of Tennessee is real – it can be felt.  Finally, fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the stadium.

Luckily we were dropped off close to the ticket office and also gate we needed to enter stadium. As there were large crowds of people gathering near the entrance I asked Alex to please sort out the tickets. Five minutes later Big Sexy appeared with three seats in Section Y9, Seats 4,5,6.  Ready to go, a polite event supervisor approached to inform us of a special medical entrance that would allow for a more convenient way into stadium. Everywhere we turned there was a fan or staff ready to help, incessantly offering any assistance they were able, always with a big Tennessee smile. We followed his directions and minutes later entered the stadium. The excitement in the air could be cut with a knife.

Game time close, Alex, the polite TN host he is, offered up first round of drinks.  At the same time, a gentleman from the main gate following us, two chairs in tow, lead us to our seats. As we entered a blinding sea of orange came upon us. They sat us in the best seats in the house, with amazing views of football play and fan shenanigans, on all sides. John, the host of our section, a Yankee originally from Michigan, had his house in order. The whole game he made sure we had a clear view of the field, as did fellow fans. It was as if we were being treated as VIPs, though we were in all orange and bought a seat like everyone else. Tennessee really knows how to make a couple first-timers feel incredibly welcome.

As could be expected, as with pre-game activities, there were a number of other great Volunteer traditions in order as time to kickoff approached  closer. Only recently had they started selling alcohol at the stadium, resulting simply in higher levels of fanaticism.  Though I am not too sure the fans needed much help. Somehow I couldn’t imagine counting the number of eggs and beers breakfasts served. Oh, with sausage biscuits and gravy, of course. The band began playing on the field – the anticipation of kickoff looming larger. Soon the Field Commander entered – closing out his five-star performance as the band split into a “T” – allowing team to enter field through “T.” All the while, Rocky Top played aloud.

There was no lack of delicious food or drink on the first floor main concourse for purchase. Bathrooms were plentiful; one never a far distance.  Within thirty feet walk of our seats there were two bathrooms, both with handicap accessible stalls.  Thankfully I was spared testing the facilities, though they looked amazingly clean for a stadium that sits over 100K fans. John was the consummate host, always checking in to see how we were doing, seeing if there was anything we needed.  He served as a great photographer as well. A magnificent time was had by all. The game was spectacular; the seats even more so. The fans were the nicest I have ever encountered at a stadium. And we won, double bonus!

Leaving the stadium was just as easy as entering – right in front. We exited the same gate as we entered and within minutes were in line for accessible shuttle buses returning back to the Agriculture Campus.  Fans were orderly and polite, lending a smile or joke whenever possible. The Vols had just won a game after the worst start to a football year since 1988. Fifteen minutes or so and we were being loaded onto a bus to take us back to our car. The bus driver tied me in, asked me if I needed anything, and we were on our way. It took no time at all to make it back to our parking lot. A few minutes later we were exiting the campus, entering highway on our way back to Nashville for two more exciting days.

The system they have in place in Knoxville for football games is meticulously well thought out. Bus lanes and pedestrian walkways ensure one quick access throughout stadium grounds. Event staff can be found as easily as a Southern Baptist Church on Sunday. There are no lack of signage or clear directions on flow of pedestrians and traffic. The stadium was entirely accessible, a totally stress-free experience. The food and drink offered were more than adequate. The staff working inside the game was more than helpful, always willing to lend a hand. Our greatest thanks and gratitude goes out to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville – all their staff, players and fans. We had an unforgettable experience. Thank you. Go Vols!

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