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London


Just a quick trip for meetings, but I managed to snag a few hours to play tourist in what might be the most culturally vast (for many Americans) city in the world. There’s a trove packed into a relatively small geographic space.

I’m not writing a guidebook but simply providing a glimpse of a some interesting attractions.

I started with dinner with a friend at Fuller’s Red Lion Pub, where we enjoyed the house pie (cubes of steak in a rich sauce cooked in a dough container with a dough lid on top – it looks a bit like a round African thatched hut) and a beer (Oliver’s Island ale – it tasted flat, even though we could see the bubbles). The pub is just a stone’s throw from Parliament, off the Westminster Bridge on the north side of the Thames.

Very close by, between Parliament and 10 Downing Street, are the Churchill War Rooms, part of the Imperial War Museum. This warren of underground rooms served as the headquarters for the British government’s conduct of World War II. People lived and worked in a sunless environment that apparently did not feature the best air quality (the ventilation wasn’t great, so naturally fetid underground air coupled with tobacco smoke made things interesting). Map rooms, communications systems, bedrooms, dining areas – it’s all there and genuinely fascinating.

On the art front, the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House is a gem. It isn’t large, but it has a splendid collection of impressionist and other paintings by many of the masters. It will only take you a couple of hours to see everything but it offers rich rewards.

I also made a very quick visit to the British Museum. It doesn’t do much for me because it is mostly what I no doubt wrongly think of as archeological. Yes, there’s art, but a lot is ancient and not paintings, and thus isn’t my favorite. That said, in the print room, I found this brochure left lying on a counter by a previous visitor, which somehow struck me as the right comment for an artistic setting.

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Scotland

I recently had meetings to attend in Edinburgh, so my lovely wife and I decided to take a few extra days and enjoy some of the sights in a[n] (almost) country that we’re quite fond of.  This trip only enhanced that sentiment.

We went to both Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle (you can buy a pass that gets you into both – and into many other attractions – for less money than buying tickets to each separately) and Stirling is far more interesting.  There are free guided tours at each, but Stirling was the central point for control of Scotland and it changed hands between the English and the Scots several times, thus making it central to Scottish history. 

We also enjoyed the inscriptions on some of the buildings leading up to Stirling Castle!


My wife “discovered” a Scots artist who is little known outside Scotland but clearly should be.  Phoebe Anna Traquair was remarkably talented – a painter, sculptor, muralist and tapestry artist who was very prolific.  Her work can be seen at the Scottish National Museum (admission free), the former Catholic Apostolic Church – now the Mansfield Traquair Centre – and the Song School, next to St. Mary’s Cathedral.  Actually, that latter one is a bit tricky because the space is used for other purposes and can be seen only by appointment (unless you get lucky, as we did).  When we went to the Song School, there was no one around and it was locked.  We asked someone next door, who, very helpfully, said there might be a man who had a key, and, sure enough, there was and he let us in.  Here’s just a sample of what we saw.


If you visit Edinburgh, be sure to allow time to take in the spectacular Royal Botanic Garden.

We also enjoyed a lovely drive out of Stirling into the Highlands and all along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.  When we got to the end of the road (but not the end of the loch), we asked a man there how to go further.  He was a local, on an outing with his dog Stella, and seemed happy enough to tell all.  Only problem was that we could only understand about one word in ten (the Scottish “brogue” is real!).  We heard “ferry,” “Christmas,” “party,” “family,” and a few other words and gathered that we were indeed at the end of the road, but could take a ferry from the other side to a building we could see further up the shore where we might attend a party at Christmas time.  In any event, we didn’t find any more road.


Loch Lomond

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Tanzania, Zambia (and Zanzibar)

OK, I know most of you thought this blog was about baseball – and it is.  But if you look at the “masthead” you’ll see that it also mentions travel.  Yes, but that was just about the oddities that occasionally pop up along the way between games, right?  Well, yes, that’s what it has been to this point, but now it is time to get serious about the travel part.

So I recently went to Tanzania and Zambia to look at an innovative new program that Mercy Corps is implementing there (as well as in Kenya) with a $25 million grant from MasterCard Foundation.  It is based on the simple observation that between 65 and 70% of rural farmers in most parts of Africa have cell phones.  So what, you ask.  Well, as MPesa has demonstrated in Kenya, money can be made by turning cell phones into checkbooks and ATM’s so that folks can pay bills, deposit money in a mobile or savings account or do many other things that you’d normally have to go to a bank to accomplish.

So Mercy Corps’ task is to convince bankers, who are interested in making money but are also congenitally conservative, that there is a huge number of rural folks in Africa who could be customers at very low cost.  They wouldn’t have to build lots of new branches or hire lots of staff.  All they have to do is make use of the cell phones the farmers already have in order to bring them into the fold.  That’s where the phone companies come in – they also want to increase their revenue, and the more traffic that flows over their lines the more money they make.

So MC’s work is filling the gaps – persuading the banks they can make money off the deal, the telcos they can add to their services and make a profit, the farmers that they can increase their productivity (and thus their profit) by adopting the new technology.  The program has already begun in Kenya and is rolling out in Tanzania and will soon begin in Zambia.  There have already been measurable results in Kenya showing significant income improvement for farmers, so this could have a wide-reaching impact on the reduction of poverty in an area where agriculture is the backbone of the economy.

Farmers will be able to order seed on line (instead of having to settle for the often low quality seed the local merchant stocks – usually at a high price) and get it within 24 hours (kind of an Amazon for rural farmers) and perhaps most importantly, will get information like a county extension agent might provide – when to plant, which crop might do best in a particular area, what fertilizer or pesticide to use and so forth.

This is one of the most innovative and impactful programs I’ve seen in my many travels through the Mercy Corps world and it holds great promise for other parts of the world as well.

So I don’t have any pictures of Tanzania (what other country can boast of a main city with as cool a name as Dar es Salaam – place of peace?) or Zambia because I spent all my time (most of it anyway) in meetings with banks and telcos.  I did get out to the countryside briefly in Zambia and met some interesting farmers and aggregators (kinda like our feedstores).  Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, is a lovely city made more so by all the flowering (lavender) jacaranda trees, and Dar es Salaam is quite prosperous looking as African cities go (though the majority of the population lives in the country in poverty.

My last day there (a Saturday) I didn’t have any meetings and was able to take a day trip by ferry to Zanzibar.  It used to be a separate country and was a famed slave trading center for east Africa up into the Middle East and over to India.  It is an island off what used to be called Tanganyika and the two merged in the 1960’s to become Tanzania.  It is now called “semi-autonomous,” which seems to be an understatement.  I had to present my passport to be stamped both going and coming as well as going through customs inspection that is far more rigorous than you see at most international airports.  Also, Zanzibar is heavily Muslim while the mainland is primarily Christian, so all in all, it is a strange fit.  But the main town, Zanzibar City, and its ancient center, Stone Town, is an interesting contrast to the more conventional mainland.


A traditional dhow in the bay at Stone Town.

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Home

So it ends as it began, with a picture of beautiful Mt. Hood.  There are differences, though.  This one, as you can tell, was taken on the move (no doubt a dangerous driving maneuver) because I was anxiously approaching home.  It was taken headed west, whereas the beginning one was taken going the opposite direction.

It was quite simply a great trip.  I covered a total of 7,683 miles through 16 states (including, unexpectedly, Texas and Oklahoma) in 23 days.  Given how far south I went (Albuqurque) on the way to Cooperstown, it is surprising that the eastbound half was 3,855 miles and the return was 3,828.  I saw 14 games and went to 15 stadiums (I’m still bitter that the Cards game was rained out at Busch!), including minor league venues.

A big part of the fun was meeting lots of wonderful folks.  Everyone to whom I described the trip seemed genuinely pleased to hear about it.  Some expressed envy, and all seemed to think it was “cool.”  As I’ve tried to convey in these posts, there were interesting, quirky and entertaining aspects to the players, games, parks, food, ads and other sights and sounds along the way.

My planning was not great.  I did not calibrate carefully enough the distance between games (for a couple I simply forgot to look at it).  I didn’t leave time for non-baseball travel attractions.  So I’m certain there are many things I missed, such as the world’s largest ball of twine or the deepest hand-dug well, and so on.  I also suffer from the “just want to get there” syndrome – once I started driving, I’d spend way too much time calculating how many miles or hours remained until I got to the next park.  But if I’d done the trip taking all that into account, I’d still be traveling, so maybe it’s just as well that I have these flaws.

Thanks to all who suggested a blog.  Sometimes I felt pressed to write a post, but knowing that you were following along forced me to pay closer attention and, as a consequence, I got a lot more out of the trip than I otherwise would have.  Thanks also to all who posted comments or sent me emails of encouragement or correction.  It was nice to know I wasn’t really alone.  And speaking of that, thanks as well to friends and family who joined me along the way.  That enhanced the experience tremendously.

If you want to discuss the trip or any aspect of it personally, call me.  If you entertain thoughts of a similar trip, just do it.

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Schedule

Okay, folks, here is the schedule of my trip.  The first listed team is home and I’ll be in their stadium (duh!).  The keystone for the schedule is the Hall of Fame induction of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza on July 24 and the games are slotted around that with the three criteria of 1) have I been to that stadium; 2) how far is it from the last stop; and  3) does the date (and game time) work.

           July 18 – Royals vs. Indians

           July 19 – Cards vs. Padres

           July 21 – White Sox vs. Tigers

           July 22 – Reds vs. D’ Backs

           July 24 – Cooperstown

           July 26 – Pirates vs. Mariners

           July 27 – Indians vs. Nationals

           July 29 – Tigers vs. Astros

           July 30 – Brewers vs. Pirates

           August 2 – Rockies vs. Dodgers 

All are night games (7 p.m.) except the Indians which is at noon.

If you want to join me at any point along the line, send me an email (bobnewell@dwt.com) and we’ll make the arrangements.

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Opening Week

After going to Nick’s Coney Island for hot dogs on opening day with some of my colleagues, I got on a plane to Phoenix where I joined my son, Eli, for a D’Backs vs. Rockies game at Chase Field.  It was about 95 degrees in Phoenix that day, but they opened the roof just before gametime, so we enjoyed a desert evening and a good game, with Trevor Story showing off his home run skills and the D’Backs winning 11-6.

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Next day, we drove through the desert and over the mountains to the coastal air of San Diego and took in the Padres game against the Dodgers at Petco Park (shouldn’t the dirt there be made of Kibble?).  Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda made an impressive major league debut by shutting out the Padres (as the Dodgers did for the whole series) but also by hitting his first big league home run.

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Next night, we saw a terrific game at the Big A in Anaheim with the Angels beating the Rangers when Albert Pujols hit a walk-off single to win it with two out in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded.

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Hard to imagine a better start to the 2016 season!

 

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