Paris Prattle

Paris Panorama
Paris Panorama

And now, the last stop on our trip…

March 9, 2012
Midnight Paris Time

Final thoughts, final words on a trip that has been amazing, marvelous, spectacular and a host of other things. Arriving in Paris last night proved even more of a language barrier than Rome. I had a tough time trying to figure out where to go. Of course, part of that is my fault for not getting the Paris travel guide. The series served me well in Barcelona and Rome. But I knew Ali would be here and she would serve as my guide. Assuming I ever found her hotel. Which I finally did.
Once we got ready, we had a spectacular night on the town. We had crepes, saw the Eiffel Tower light up, saw L’Arc de Triomphe, then went to the Crazy Horse to watch a burlesque show, as well as a magic show by Rocco. Champagne flowed freely and the night was perfect.

L'Arc de Triomphe
L’Arc de Triomphe

I decided to pay more than I had for my last two hotels in order to stay another night at the Novotel Montparnasse. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it.
Then today, the touring started. The Eiffel Tower. The Seine on a boat cruise. The fountain at St. Michel. The Church of Notre Dame. The Louvre. L’Arc de Triomphe. Then back to the creperie I ate at last night. This time I shared a booth with four women. They were very friendly. One is from Connecticut, in Paris on business. I gave her my name. She said she’d look me up when she went to Boynton Beach.
As long as the subject of women is up, I had a great conversation on the boat cruise with the guide. She’s Italian and her name is Guiseppina, Italian for Josephine. And she was very beautiful. I do feel that, between getting fitter – I climbed 670 steps to the second story of the Eiffel Tower! – and feeling more confident about the things I can accomplish, I feel more self-confident and more self-assured. No more believing I deserve second-class anything. I will not settle.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

I am a little sad that this incredible journey is reaching its conclusion, but I am also happy to be going home, close to those I love and who love me. It will be strange coming back to reality, because this entire week has not felt at all real. I will always treasure this opportunity I was given and the perfect weather and timing and everything. I am grateful I got to experience this. I guess this may be my last European journal entry. If so, then adios, arrividerci and au revoir!

March 10, 2012
1:05PM Paris Time

So, it turns out there will be one more European entry into the journal. Today has been the first real nerve-wracking day of my entire vacation. I went out early to get souvenirs, little realizing how long it would take. I didn’t get back to the hotel until after 10AM, later than I’d hoped. Then I faced a looooong train ride to the airport, arriving around 11:30. The the next speed bump. It seemed like I needed another ticket to get OUT of the subway. Fortunately, I found an exit that was open and I walked out, figuring if someone said something I’d be able to explain. Then the next speed bump – the check-in. I started at Area 3, and the lady there told me I needed Area 7. I get to Area 7 and the lady there says I need to go to Area 2, which was right next to Area 3. I get in line and then the agent sends me to the Delta desk to get my buddy pass information. Then it’s back in line. The lady talking to the agent I need to see again is talking…and talking…and talking. I start getting a little frustrated, but I still manage to smile when I get to the desk. I finally get my boarding pass, but I’m still standby, so I’m not out of the woods yet.
I go to Gate 37 for my 1:40 flight. A couple of minutes after I sit, ready to enjoy my coffee and raspberry croissant, they announce the flight has been changed to Gate 41 and 2PM. Finally, after a few more minutes of waiting, a seat assignment – 1C! That’s right, I’m in the front row, first class, baby! See you in Atlanta. Or Orlando. Au revoir!

Up next – Final Thoughts on the European Adventure

Barcelona Babble

It’s been a while since I posted, and I am going to try to make the hiatuses (hiaiti?) less frequent. I promised I would blog about my European trip, so, without further ado, here are the journal entries I wrote during my trip. First stop – Barcelona!

March 2, 2012
12:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

I’m sitting on the plane just minutes from takeoff on the first leg of my international trip. Who could have imagined that an impulsive decision to try out for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” seven months ago would have resulted in my traveling to Europe today? Not me, that’s for sure. I find it humorous and appropriate that my first leg, to JFK, is almost an echo of the trip that got me to the show, although that one was to LaGuardia and not JFK. I am nervous, thrilled, and scared all at the same time. I love to travel. It’s something I got from my dad, probably both genetically and through example. My father was a tour guide when I was growing up, so I got to see a lot of places. Virginia, Washington, D. C., Canada, Dominican Republic. Once I was old enough to travel on my own, I did. I’ve lived in Arizona, Texas, and Florida, and I’ve traveled almost every state on the Eastern coast, and all the states on the Southern border. I also have been to Illinois, South Dakota, and Minnesota. In other words, I’ve traveled a LOT. But this is a completely different experience. This is a whole new country. A whole new continent! Talk about loving outside the box. I can’t wait to see what this adventure holds for me.

March 3, 2012
7:00AM Eastern Standard Time – 1:00PM Barcelona Time

Here I am, in a completely different continent. I am still in amazement that I’m actually here.
The flight from Orlando to JFK was uneventful, but the flight from JFK was a different matter. I knew it was going to be a good flight when I got a first class seat. Then when a beautiful woman took the seat next to me, I really knew this would be a good flight. We had a great time talking throughout the flight. The dinner was okay, but nothing spectacular. The seat was comfortable, and I did get some rest on the way here. But there’s one moment that is quite vivid and will probably not be forgotten for a long time. At one point during the night, I looked out the window, and the sky was full of stars. It felt like we were in space. The beauty of that moment is indescribable.
After landing, I grabbed a bus to Barcelona, and then I wandered around while I waited for my room to be ready. Then I checked in, showered, and am now ready to head back out there!

March 4, 2012
12:10PM Barcelona Time

My first full day in Barcelona was one of mixed emotions. It was, and is, amazing being in another country, heck, another continent, and the sights are fantastic. On the flip side of the coin, though, is a deep, overwhelming sense of loneliness. I am thousands of miles away from everyone I care about, and if something were to happen to me here, I would have no one to turn to. I used to consider myself a lone wolf, a wanderer with no ties to anything. After all, in 2003, I took off for Texas without knowing anyone. And that wasn’t for a visit, but to live there. This is for a week, but I guess it’s different because it feels so foreign.
I did have fun, though. I got to see the Picasso Museum. I strolled through the Parc de la Ciutadella. I got to see the Arc de Triomphe, which is funny because, in a few days, I’ll be seeing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Another interesting tidbit is that Picasso also went to Paris after Barcelona. I wandered La Rambla last night and it reminded me of Times Square, if the buildings were older and everyone spoke Catalan. There was an energy to this city that was probably what brought NYC to mind. Performers are everywhere, street vendors hawking their wares on every corner. Like I said, this trip is one filling me with mixed emotions. I love it, but I wish I were sharing it with someone.

The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe

March 5, 2012
11:40PM Barcelona Time

It has been a jam-packed couple of days. Yesterday, I took the bus tour which took me just about everywhere. Halfway through, I stopped at Mount Tibidabo. After a tram and a funicular ride, I reached the top. Tibidabo is like Barcelona’s answer to Disney. Rides, food, even a roller coaster. The atmosphere is pure fun and the vista is breathtaking. When I left there, it started to rain, and it rained for at least a half hour, if not longer. I toughed it out on the bus and, eventually, the sun came out. After another hour or so, I got off the bus and headed back to the hotel.
After a couple of hours I headed out again, this time to see about the karaoke bar I’d seen advertised. It prove to be just as much fun as I expected. After wandering around Port Olimpic some more, I called it a day.
Today was another full day. I rode the Metro to La Sagrada Familia and all I can say is…wow. That is the place the biblical term awesome was made for. That is a beautiful, amazing piece of architecture. From there I rode the Metro again and headed for the beach. I got to touch the Mediterranean Sea, and it was cold! From there I headed back to the hotel.
I next spent an hour at a Laundromat. How utterly normal and unremarkable, doing laundry, you would think. But even that proved unique. Two girls were in there doing laundry as well, and one had a guitar. She just started playing right there. This place is so beautiful and amazing. I will miss it.
Tomorrow, I check out and fly to Rome. I will only have one full day, so I will need to make the most of it!

La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia

March 6, 2012
10:00PM Barcelona Time

I am just a few hours away from flying to Rome. It’s funny how I never would have imagined being able to say that. And yet, here I am, about to hit the second of three European countries on my whirlwind tour.
Barcelona has been strange and familiar all at the same time. The architecture and the language have been the strange part, while the flow of life here reminds me so much of New York. It’s almost like my whole life had prepared me for international travel. I manage to get a pretty good sense of the area within a day or so, to the point where I went from constantly consulting the map to only having to check it occasionally. I’m sure if I had more time than one day in Rome, I’d be able to do the same. Although, that may not be so.
One advantage I have here is knowing Spanish and a smattering of French. Some signs take me a moment to decipher, because Catalan is a mixture of both languages, but more often than not, I can figure them out. I may not fare as well in Rome. While Italian and Spanish are similar, they have a lot of differences as well. We shall see shortly how I do. See you in Rome!

To be continued…

Jax Unplugged

As I had mentioned possibly doing in a previous post, I did indeed take the plunge and spent 24 hours without my cell phone, internet, Facebook, e-reader, TV, or any other of my usual electronic distractions. At midnight Friday night/Saturday morning, I went dark. I shut down my computers, my iPad, and my cellphone. Right away, I noticed the silence more than anything else. I always have some kind of noise in the background, either music or a television show. Instead, I was surrounded by the quiet. The next thing I noticed was that I could not recall the date and I didn’t have a calendar anywhere in the house. I finally was able to remember, and I had to get a piece of paper to work the rest of the month backwards. Instead of my usual bedtime routine, which consists of putting in a DVD and falling asleep to the tv, or playing some music on my iPad and falling asleep to that, I grabbed my Bible and did some reading, something I don’t do as often as I should. It helped me relax and sleep quite well. Then came the easiest six hours of the day – I fell asleep. I woke up and realized I wasn’t sure what time it was. I use my iPad as an alarm clock, and my cellphone has been my watch. I had to grab my wristwatch, which I haven’t worn for months, yet was still accurate, in order to keep track of the time. And when I was ready to head out, I had to physically look through my CDs in order to find music for the car. I had come to depend on my e-toys for everything and just taken for granted I had everything I needed or wanted right at my fingertips.

I drove out to Orlando, met up with a friend, and headed out to Disney with him. We got to enjoy the park for about an hour before the rain began. We headed out and spent several hours at a Chick-fil-a, just talking, although we were interrupted a LOT by his cell phone. Normally, I wouldn’t have even noticed it, because I would be just as busy with my phone. But, not having mine made me more aware of his. And not only his, but also those of other people around us.

Afterwards, we headed to his house. I hung out a little longer, and then I headed back to Lakeland. On a whim, I decided to drive out to Lake Hollingsworth. I parked my car and walked around the lake, which took almost an hour. It was a very nice, quiet walk, and very exhausting as well. Then I headed home.

By the time I got home, it was a bit after eight. I stretched out on my couch with the book I’d started re-reading that morning, “The Colorado Kid”, by Stephen King. Not too long after, I started feeling tired. (Ten PM! On a Saturday night!) I took my book and lay down on my bed, waiting patiently for midnight. Next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and it was 2:13 am! Twenty-six hours after I had shut them down, I turned on my computers and rejoined the world of the connected.

Some people have asked me what the whole point of this experiment was. Was it a life-altering experience? Sadly, no. I am online and attached to my electronic gadgets just as much as before. But, the point of it was to get me out of the box, which I accomplished. I have been very comfortable in my distractions and have come to look at my phone almost like a security blanket, and walking around without that blanket was very uncomfortable. It made me aware of the dependence I have on these things, and the lack of dependence I have on the important things in life – friends, family, God. And acknowledging the issue is the first step to doing something about it.

Will I do this again? Maybe. While I’m attending online classes, it’s not possible, but maybe during my Christmas break, and maybe more often once I’m done with school at the end of January. In the meantime, I will be doing the blackouts on a smaller scale, such as the last hour of the night, where I can spend the time with God without interruption. All in all, as difficult and uncomfortable as this was, I’m glad I did it.

I Am…Not The Biggest Loser

By midweek I was wondering if an opportunity for out of the box living would present itself. I’ve already gotten an idea of what I want to do for next week. I will have the week off from classes, so I figured next Saturday I will try to spend 24 hours away from my technological distractions – my phone, my computers, my iPad, even my nook. I don’t know yet if I’ll go through with it, but that’s my tentative plan.

Thursday, my opportunity for this week presented itself. Auditions were being held for the Biggest Loser on Saturday. Although most people don’t believe it, I weigh over 300 pounds and could use the help. Although this is the third audition in a month, I don’t intend out-the-box living to be only about auditions. I think it’s just these auditions helped me solidify the idea of out-of-the-box living.

So, I got up early this morning, ready for my shot. The casting call started at 10, so I figured if I got there by 8 or 8:30, I should be in good shape, line-wise. This was taking place at the Groove at Citiwalk, which meant I would be parking at Universal again.

I got to Universal by 8:30 and the first major difference between this audition and the Voice presented itself – I had to pay for parking. I got to the casting line and was number 161. “Excellent,” I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t take that long at all.” Famous last words.

Although casting was supposed to start at ten, the doors didn’t open till 10:30. Then it seemed the line moved like molasses, which surprised me. There were more than 160 people just waiting outside when I went to the Voice and we were inside sitting within the hour. Not so here.

I found out later that there was a VIP line on the side, so number 161 was probably closer to 322. At around 4, my group was finally able to go in.

Similar to the Voice, the ten of us auditioned simultaneously. We had a about a minute each to tell why we thought we should be on the show. After we were done, we were told that callbacks would be done by eight. I didn’t get a callback. But, again, the experience was worthwhile.

Biggest Loser casting line in front of Fat Tuesday? Really?

Let There be Light!

Today I got to go to a Photoshop training seminar called Light It Shoot It Retouch It Live! At the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. It was a full day’s experience – very helpful and well worth the time and money.

The seminar focused on the steps a photographer could take from beginning to end in his photo shoot. Scott Kelby, who was the one teaching, would light the set, take the pictures and retouch them, all live. What I really enjoyed about it was that there was a companion workbook we were given that contained all that Scott was teaching, making sure that, if we forgot anything, we could look it up. Best part of the day was actually being able to talk to Scott Kelby and ask him a question.

Worst part of the day was lunch. I stood in line for a half hour in order to pay ten dollars for a hot dog and drink. And it wasn’t even a very good hot dog.

All in all, though, it was a good experience and I’ve already been able to put some of what I’ve learned into practice.