Nov 202015

Caroline and John Wise departing for vacation on 11 November 2015

Per my wife Caroline Wise’s request, besides taking her on vacation, she has asked me to blog. So here I am fulfilling that special wish of hers. During the previous 20 years we often went on road trips between a minimum of 5 times up to 24 times a year (that was back in 2004 – our record year!). In the dark ages before that we were novices and only took road trips between 1 and 5 times per year, though that included journeys around Germany, Holland, France, Belgium and places like that; remember that we lived in Frankfurt.

This afternoon we left Phoenix for Kanab, Utah where we won’t be going to Moqui Cave, 1. it won’t be open when we get there or leave, 2. we’ve been there and highly recommend you go too.

Not much preparation was done for this excursion until the last minute as we weren’t certain I’d find the time, but obviously I did make the time. Originally we were going to head to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho but the weather looked foreboding. Instead we will turn left in Crane, Oregon and head out to the coast. We tried to avoid the Oregon coast, seriously we did because we know we’ve been there way too many times, but we love it and so that’s that.


Apr 282013

Ausfahrt Frei Halten! Do Not Block The Driveway - Frankfurt, Germany

This is how I feel today, Ausfahrt frie halten! Do not block the driveway! We are about to pull out of having parked ourselves in Frankfurt and don’t need to have anyone blocking our way, yes we do.

A sign pointing out a few details regarding the old city wall in Frankfurt, Germany

This small sign is attached to a large wall, actually a small segment of what remains of the Staufermauer – old city wall. Built around 1180, the sign notes that this section was rebuilt in 1711 after the adjoining Jewish ghetto burned down.

Sketch of the old Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt, Germany

We were on our way to the former location of the Jewish ghetto and a museum that has been dedicated to this part of Frankfurt’s history. This sketch by Peter Becker from 1872 titled “Hinterhäuser in der Judengasse” is part of the depiction and uncovered ruins that had been the small corner of Frankfurt where Jews were segregated over the centuries.

Basement and foundation walls uncovered in the old Jewish quarter in Frankfurt, Germany

During excavation for a new building the foundation walls and basements of the old Jewish ghetto were uncovered. It was originally the plan to simply build over them, but protests helped create the situation that the city and builder agreed to build a museum as a memorial to the dark history of Jewish isolationism that occurred not only in this city, but cities across Germany. Many of those people who walked the narrow streets and alleys in this compact unsanitary ghetto were murdered during World War II.

Model showing the relative compactness the Jewish ghetto was forced to occupy in Frankfurt, Germany

This model in the Judengasse Museum depicts the cramped quarters Jews were forced to live in. Not only were they living with overcrowding due to the tiny area, they had little access to clean water and were often victims of crime and exploitation. In the 1860’s there was a lifting of the ban that prohibited their travel, many Jews tried leaving to what was thought were better lives in other cities, but that would all be crushed 70 years later with the onset of war.

Artifacts from the old Jewish ghetto on display at the Judengasse Museum in Frankfurt, Germany

There are a number of artifacts on display that were excavated during the archeological dig that ensued following the decision to protect the ruins of Judengasse. Another display features a few remaining parts of the old synagogue that was destroyed. It starts to become depressing here seeing items that had been handled by people who may have been marched out of their homes and deported only to be murdered at the hands of people filled with rage and politically motivated hatred.

A Mikwe (ritual bath) among the ruins of Judengasse in Frankfurt, Germany

There a couple of Mikwe (ritual baths) that were uncovered and are now viewable as part of the museum. Sadness accumulates while looking in and walking upon the stone passages that had once been used by people who unceremoniously were taken away and their memories buried along with their tortured souls. I need to get out of here.

Marker showing one of the people who had been buried in the Jewish cemetery prior to its destruction during World War II

Next to Judengasse is what remains of the Jewish Cemetery. During World War II it was destroyed but following the war it was partially restored and set as a memorial to honor those who died here. While walking along the wall I came upon this marker noting that Dora Kirchhoff once a resident of Judengasse died during the war. Kirchhoff is a variation of the spelling of my maternal family name. One other interesting factoid I learned while here, the houses in which Jews lived had symbols on the outside of their homes, this often led to what they would take as their last names. The house with a red shield on it (Rote Schild) became Rothschild – yes that Rothschild.

Caroline Wise at McDonalds at an automated ordering station in Frankfurt, Germany

The good old Hamburger Royal with Käse – quarter pounder with cheese can be ordered in Frankfurt on these automated kiosks to save you time of standing in line. Of course we ate at McDonald’s in Germany, it’s the Hamburger Royal after-all.

Katharina Engelhardt, Caroline Wise, Jutta Engelhardt, Stephanie and Klaus Engelhardt, and John Wise in Frankfurt, Germany

With less than 24 hours to go we finally get a group picture, even if it’s a little cramped. From left to right; Katharina Engelhardt, Caroline Wise, Jutta Engelhardt, Stephanie and Klaus Engelhardt, and John Wise. Had we had another set of hands in the garden that could have snapped our photo I would hopefully not loom so large over on the right side, but these self/group photos are a difficult task.

Schwanheim train station just outside of Frankfurt in Germany

From visiting Jutta we continued on the 12 train line out to Schwanheim for a visit to one of Christian Engelhardt’s favorite restaurants. He was Caroline’s paternal grandfather and I needed to know what an old German guy thought was great food, as I have come to know that this man loved food, something he and I have in common.

Grüne Sosse from Frankfurter Hod Seppche in Schwanheim, Germany

The place of our pilgrimage is called Frankfurter Hof Seppche. Staying with the theme of trying Frankfurt specialties, we start the meal with händkase and Caroline opts for another apple wine. I ordered the giant plate of meat with roasted potatoes and mushrooms; and loved it. The grüne sosse just seems like the perfect meal for Caroline and she orders a last time during this visit to her home country.

The sign outside of Frankfurter Hof Seppche with a Bembel as part of it. In Schwanheim, Germany

Leaving Seppche we take notice of their great sign, a Bembel surrounded by a wreath. Back when I lived in Germany I thought Germany food was boring. Nothing but boiled flavorless foods, oh how I was wrong. I suppose I should reevaluate a lot of my perceptions and prejudices I entertained back in my 20’s and early 30’s, but today right here right now is not the time as I race the clock to finish yet one more blog entry.

On streetcar number 12 back to Frankfurt

Back on streetcar number 12 for our return to Frankfurt. How long before our next visit? I hope it’s not another 18 years.

Mar 252013

John Wise as seen by the Microsoft Kinect

How large can the resolution of a persons mind grow before reaching the limits of what the hardware can sustain? Fractally broken to its essential bits, the composite of the whole endures so long as the pulse of electrons flow through the object that has contained them. Sitting here pixelating back to the form from which I came, watching the electrons escape, age does not spare me flights of idealism, nor should it contain it. An image is about to fade, but only from the perspective of the individual viewing it.

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Sep 192012

After two years of soul searching hard work, I am happy to announce the availability of my first book: Stay In The Magic – A Voyage Into The Beauty Of The Grand Canyon. Starting in October 2010, Caroline and I embarked on an 18-day rafting trip down the Colorado River, following that journey into the amazing, I started to write a blog entry. Well, that blog entry never came about, it was getting far too long to post here. Instead, it became this book.

Stay In The Magic is printed in full color with over 300 photos I shot during those 18 days on the river, it is 8.5″x11″ in size and 306 pages long.

The book is available at Amazon by clicking this link:

You may also order it directly from me for $29.95 plus shipping – a 25% savings!

Oct 202011

Caroline Wise, Gayle Combe-Gordon, Ian Gordon, and John Wise in Grimsby, Ontario, Canada

Others might not call this vacation. Four hours of sleep is hardly restful and relaxing, but we’re committed and know that we’ll have plenty of time to sleep in when we are home next week. Anyway, we made a date to meet Ian and Gayle Gordon this early a.m. Thankfully, Ian dragged his wife Gayle, who we’ve not met yet, out of bed hours before we woke, so they could make the long-haul from the London, Ontario area to the roadside truck stop restaurant where we’re meeting. The Fifth Wheel is not much more than a couple of miles from our motel – lucky us. Across the dining room, I spot Ian. Fifteen years between seeing him and the only real difference I can easily find: he’s got a lot of gray hair, don’t most of us by this time. We are introduced to Gayle who is all smiles and seems as comfortable with us as if we had been life long friends. It’s hard to compress what could be spoken of into 2 brief hours, but with a long drive ahead of us today that’s all we’ll get here at the Fifth Wheel.

We learned of how these two met, young girl digs hot bike messenger, but upon bike guy returning from Germany the long curly hair had been shorn slightly, diminishing his ravaging beauty. Gayle takes him anyway. Since his return to Canada, Ian has written a first draft of, “The Secrets of Being an International Bike Messenger God.” He threatens to tap me for publishing help; I press him to drag the dusty manuscript out of storage and let me have it for a once over so he can start moving forward on becoming a published writer. I’m left with the impression the art of welding and an obsession with cars stand between him and his inner-nerd. Before we know it, the time has flown by, we couldn’t really fall into just hanging out. Nothing like a couple thousand miles between people to stop old friends from dropping in and keeping the relationship alive. Our driving away was bittersweet. We followed them up the highway for some miles, truly sad that the morning sped by in a flash. I wondered if they too were wishing we could just turn west and follow them to London instead of the right turn we were about to take that would bring us to Montreal.

Caroline Wise in front of highway sign number 7 - the Trans Canada Highway

With Ian and Gayle out of site, we are now heading northeast of Toronto to connect with road number 7, the Trans Canada Highway. Fingers are crossed that the weather report was as wrong as it is in the desert. Back home, 40% chance of rain means no chance of rain. Like all big cities, the traffic is heading into the downtown area in the morning, not out of, we miss out on the parking lot on the other side of the road. It seems to have taken a long time to finally get fully around Toronto and finding our way to the 7, but we are now away from the congestion and in the countryside.

Caroline Wise digging a rainbow in Canada

The colors of all are fading, we are late in the season. Patches of autumn pop up here and there, but large stands of trees have given up their leaves as branches ready themselves for the first snow. Much of the drive is under gray sky with the rain keeping to itself high overhead. Around mid-day, hunger pangs remind us that we have a bag full of delights from Cathy. Time to to christen the cutting board, break bread, carve the cheese, pour the mustard, and start to enjoy our in-car catered feast. Our gratitude produces this rainbow – we are happy.

A break in the clouds off the Trans Cananda Highway

We continue our drive eastward. For moments here and there, the sky finds a way around the clouds to tease us with hints of its beauty. We don’t much mind the overcast, it’s a nice reminder that seasons change. Back home in the desert, we left temperatures that were still in the 90’s – the transition from summer to not-summer was in full swing. Our drive is a long one and we’ve been up and traveling quite some time by now.

Entering Montreal in Canada

Finally, Montreal. This is the first of two of our major stops on this vacation. Traffic is heavier than I might have thought, after all, we are entering the city when everyone else should be getting off work and leaving town. The signs are now all in French, bilingual traffic info is well behind us. Sitting in a stop-and-go parking lot called a freeway, as opposed to a fluidly moving highway, something that should not be seen, can be seen far too clearly. Montreal’s roads are falling apart. No little cracks or rust, we’re seeing chunks of girders and support columns have fallen off. Rebar is exposed and one is left wondering, how often do slabs of highway overpasses fall off into traffic below? We escape the potential death trap of the road leading into Montreal and are soon trying to negotiate one-way streets to our hotel.

A shop front in Montreal, Canada

Tonight we’ll sleep at Hotel Quartier Latin, you guessed it, in the Latin Quarter. It’s the cheapest place in downtown Montreal, we only paid $67 for the night, and the room was great. Almost more important than the room was the question, where do we park in this congested area? The answer; at the public library underground garage – great. Back around some one-way streets and soon we are trying to read French to the best of our ability in order to be certain we are parking in the right area of the garage. The street we are staying on, Rue Saint Denis, pronounced Saun Dannee, is alive with throngs of people. Shops are open, the smell of inebriants waft through the air, it feels like we are in Amsterdam.

Caroline Wise at La Banquise enjoying a Mystique hard cider before digging into poutine. Montreal, Canada

The trilingual Indian desk attendant at the hotel pointed out on the map where we would find Rue Rachel, about 2.5km from the hotel. I had it in mind prior to leaving for Canada, that we were going to try poutine, the fast food staple originating from Quebec, but now nearly a national dish. With our umbrella, we got underway for the 1.5 mile walk up St. Denis. Our destination is a small place called La Banquise. After arriving, Caroline orders a Mystique, a hard cider, and I opt for city water.

Poutine from La Banquise in Montreal, Canada

What is poutine? It is a dish that sounds extraordinarily simple, bland even. French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. But it is far from bland, it is the composite whole that works together to make a great dish. We will share two small orders, the first is regular poutine, we need to know the baseline. The second order has bacon, onions, and Merquez sausage – the grilled onions make a poutine perfect. La Banquise is full, every table is occupied, the place is open 24 hours a day and poutine is the main dish. Caroline and I are in agreement, this is one of the perfect comfort foods – of course this could never work back home, we would ruin it with nacho cheese sauce.

Walking back to Hotel Quartier Latin on Rue Saint Denis in Montreal, Canada

Walking to Rue Rachel was a race, we didn’t know what time La Banquise closed. Walking back down the street, we took our time and investigated many a shop window, by now the shops were mostly closed. The streets were still wet from the occasional light rain that drifts over the city. Montreal is beautiful, or so it looks at night. The glistening streets reflecting neon, headlights, and the various signs with short 3 story apartment homes above shops, lend a cozy intimacy to the feeling of the neighborhood. Brisk walks to grab a coffee on a chilly evening or a jaunt to a small theater for a movie, create dreams of living here, Montreal is growing on us fast.

Bikes for rent on the streets of Montreal from Bixi - available 24 hours a day.

Bikes are everywhere. There are bike parking meters, yes, in some places one has to pay for locking up a bike. On some corners, bike lockup facilities take up a couple of car parking spots, giving preference to bikers. And then there is this: Bixi. The bikes above are available all over the city, they are for rent. With a credit card, anyone can take a Bixi out on the town for only $5 for 1 day of use. A 1 month subscription costs $28, while a 1 year contract is only $78. With more than 100 Bixi docks around the city, you can pick up a bike in one location, drop it at another, jump on the subway and nab another bike as you enter another corner of Montreal. I wonder how this could work in America where bikes are so frequently stolen, or vandalized?

A quiet park on Rue de Square Saint Louis in Montreal, Canada

We are falling in love with Montreal. Parks and green spaces are everywhere. This quiet well-lit park is off Rue du Square Saint Louis and offers a perfect picture of fall. Along the main street, there are no boarded up spaces, what there is, are tons of small independent proprietors offering unique shops, not a dollar store to be found. We pass more than one Couche-Tard shop and for the remainder of the trip, we’ll be wondering what a Couche-Tard is. At home we found out it is French for Night Owl. We could happily be night owls in this great city.