Category Archives: Travel

Whirlwind Trips

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m back from my whirlwind trip to Houston and my denominational chaplain training symposium. It was good to see my bishop and colleagues but the trip was exhausting and my time there too short because of how the trip coincided with my transfer just eight days before my departure and the scheduled Gettysburg Staff Ride this week. Thankfully I only had to deal with one time zone and I had no flight delays or glitches with anything along the way. Even so the schedule of the trip meant that I missed the first day and a half and the last day, in all I was in Houston for forty hours before I came home.

Over the past few days I have had little sleep and some really crazy dreams and nightmares, including one at about 1:30 in the morning on Saturday in which I thought that it was 5:15 Sunday morning and that I was going to miss my flight home. I ran to get packed then realized something was wrong. Looking at the hotel room clock I noticed the time and realized that it was not Sunday but Saturday. The adrenaline was pumping so hard that it took forever to get back to sleep, but I digress.

We discussed issues related to ethics, priestly vocation, grief and loss, as well as issues that we face in our various types of chaplaincy. It was definitely worth going but hopefully knowing the dates of next year’s conference and assuming that I am still in my current job I will be able to succeed in making this a less hectic trip.

Anyway, it has been a whirlwind weekend and the new week has begun.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fly the Friendly Skies

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m traveling to Houston today by air. Truthfully I have never been much a fan of flying. When I was younger I actually had a big fear of crashing, but after flying all around Iraq in all sorts of military aircraft, and occasionally getting shot at, the issue of crashing is the least of my concerns, notwithstanding the fact that two years after Judy and I had flown back from our tour in Germany on December 28th 1986 on it that the Pan Am 747 Maid of the Seas was blown up over Lockerbie Scotland.

When I was a kid flying was an adventure, it was something special, and the airlines were doing their best to give good customer service, even in coach, because they wanted to eliminate their competition, which was then America’s vast passenger rail system. Truthfully, I loved going across country by train. Yes, it took more time, but it was relaxing and you could see so much of this beautiful country.

But today, air travel for the most part is not to be enjoyed, and much of that is due to the way the airlines, the airports, and airport security treat you. The recent public relations fiascos involving U.S. flagged air carriers which included the outright abuse of customers showed this in all its ugliness. As far as airport security, I cannot tell you how many bad experiences I have had even in uniform. Honestly I don’t mind flying, once I get aboard airlines like Lufthansa, British Air, KLM, or Air France. I dread flying on United, pretty much abhor American, and approach Delta with trepidation.

As far as travel in the continental United States I prefer Southwest Airlines. First, since I have been in the military for almost 36 years I am used to the cattle car experience. I don’t mind not having assigned seating. Likewise, I have never had a bad experience on that airline, the customer service I have had has always been awesome. Two years ago I was flying to Houston for the same purpose that I am today. I was booked on Southwest and flew the first leg from Norfolk to Baltimore. I arrived at Baltimore and went to grab a beer while waiting for my flight to Houston when I discovered that I didn’t have my wallet. Some gentleman bought my beer as I dashed back to the gate. The gate agent sent people back into the aircraft to find my wallet and it wasn’t aboard. They contacted Norfolk as I made my way to the gate when my next flight was to depart. I told the gate agent there what was happening and he already had the answer. My wallet had been found by the Norfolk gate agents and they had already made arrangements to get me back to Norfolk, pick up my wallet and fly to Houston through Orlando, all at no extra cost. That is customer service. They went the extra mile to make things right even though they had done nothing wrong. I will never forget that.

So anyway, until tomorrow, please, if you fly… fly the friendly skies.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Living an Adventure: The Importance of Travel


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Mark Twain noted: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I’ll be traveling this weekend, nothing really to write home about, just a quick trip to Houston for my denominational Chaplain training symposium. But that being said it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of thoughts about the importance of travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone. The fact is that two-thirds of Americans do not have a passport, and most have never ventured out of the country, many having seldom left the state or region that they are from.

I’m not one of them. I have visited much of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and lived as a child in the Philippines and as an adult in Europe. At an early age I was blessed to be a Navy brat and to live in a number of places and truthfully when my dad retired from the Navy I was upset because that adventure of moving and traveling was ending. Of course as an adult I have been in the military for nearly 36 years, and continued live that adventure and to satisfy my wanderlust. I really cannot imagine what it would be like not to travel and not to experience the world in its fullness.

Likewise, I can fully agree with Twain’s words, for as one travels, as one meets other people, and experiences different cultures it expands the mind and I think the heart as well. Like Hannah Arendt I find that living abroad is joyful and easy, she wrote: “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Holiday Road: Reflections on a Great Vacation 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We returned from a week in Munich with a side trip to Nuremberg last night. The week was the best real vacation we have had in our lives to date. We finally took seriously the idea that a vacation should not be about wearing ourselves out. I remembered a quote from a book I read in seminary by Leland Ryken who noted “worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship,” and I decided to pay attention to our own misadventures in vacationing as well as a bit of humor.

Just before we got married we saw a screening at the Warner Brothers studio of the original National Lampoon’s Vacation movie. As the movie worked to its climax Chevy Chase who played the well intentioned yet inept father who after one disaster after another on the way to Wally World blew up at his family screaming “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. A quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles!… I must be crazy. I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!” 

Unfortunately that is often how I approached vacation and for that matter rest and relaxation period. The last three years we have gone to Munich for the Oktoberfest and to see other things. The first year we were with a group of friends but the schedule was intense, and while we had fun we were exhausted within a few days. Last year we planned for two trips outside of Munich but while we were there we realized that we needed to take some time off and rest, so while we took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, we eliminated a planned trip to Nuremberg. While I was disappointed it made the trip a lot less stressful.



This year we determined that we would pace ourselves. Knowing that we could not check in to our hotel until the afternoon of our arrival in Munich we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp which is not far from the Munich Airport. We made our trip to Nuremberg on Monday to see the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, War Crimes Trial Museum and courtroom. We got up at a normal hour, had breakfast and drove the two hours to Nuremberg. We had a good visit to the museum and courtroom and the walked around part of the old city, did a bit of shopping and lunch. Then we drove back to Munich, stopped at a clothing store that we used to frequent when we lived in Germany and made a trip to the Oktoberfest. 


The rest of the week we took our time. We visited museums like the Deutsches Museum, a science and technology museum, and the Bavarian State Museum, and then we would walk around town, spend time at sidewalk cafes just to talk and take in the surroundings, do some shopping and the go back to the hotel to rest before going to dinner at a local restaurant and then go back to the fest. On Thursday we met a German friend at her house just outside of Munich, taking a S-Bahn train to get there before we went back to the hotel, had dinner at a local restaurant before taking the subway back to the fest for a short visit. On Friday we rested and packed before we walked around the local area and spent some time at the sidewalk patio of the restaurant we had been eating at while waiting for our friends to get back from their expedition to a brewery on the outskirts of Munich to celebrate Judy’s birthday. 


Yesterday we came home, stayed up until about 11:00 PM and then slept late in order snap back into the time zone. Of course yesterday was a long day, getting up about 7:00 AM, having breakfast, checking out of the hotel, returning our rental car, getting to our flight and making the trip. Since we arrived at our house about 8:00 PM our time the travel process which included two flights took about nineteen hours and by the time we went to bed we had been up close to twenty-two hours. But when you make a transcontinental trip that is part of the deal. 


During the week we were on four flights lasting about 18 hours, not including layovers and checking in or getting through passport control and customs. We drove about 300 miles in Germany and used a lot of the public transportation, U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains to get around Munich proper. I walked about 50 miles during the trip, Judy a bit less. We ate as healthy as we could, took smaller meals, didn’t do a lot of snacking or junk food, and of course since it was Oktoberfest we had a lot of beer. 

The trip was amazing and as I said up front it was the best, most relaxing, stress-free, and refreshing vacation we have had up to this point of our lives. 

So until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Traveling Amid Terror Threats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another one of my pre-posted articles for our Munich trip and I am offering a few thoughts on terrorism. With all of the recent attacks in Europe the authorities in Munich are taking the threat of terrorism very seriously and that is a good thing. There are a lot of extra police and security officers out and about and a fence has been placed around the fest grounds in order to keep people from sneaking in. I was asked before we left if I was thinking about terrorism or afraid. I answered that I think of it but I am not afraid I just stay alert and pay attention to my surroundings like I do anywhere. But as far as terrorism in Europe, it’s real, and there are dangerous elements who I am sure would love to create havoc at the Oktoberfest, but I am not afraid.

This is because Judy and I our old hands when it comes to living with terrorism. When we were stationed in Germany in the 1980s it was at the height of the second generation of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang/ Red Army Faction reign of terror. There were frequent bombings and murders committed by these East German supported terrorists throughout Germany, and we narrowly avoided being victims of two of them; one at the Frankfurt Airport, and one at the Frankfurt Military Exchange. Every day we had to look under our car for car bombs as that was a favorite method of killing. Likewise when we drove onto base, not only did we have multiple forms of identification verified, but our vehicles were checked for bombs underneath, as well as in the trunks and engine compartments, which had to be opened and inspected. Despite that on one occasion a bomb was found in the Mess Hall and defused, across town at another base a young enlisted man was kidnapped and murdered by a female terrorist posing as a date. When we were shopping one day at a German retail store we saw, and reported to the Polizei a group of people that we recognized too late from the wanted posters. We made our report and were interrogated for over two hours. I was actually glad for that, because what we said was taken seriously.

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Baader-Meinhoff/ Red Brigade Bombing in Germany

But sadly that was just the beginning of my experience with terrorism, both international and domestic. Terrorists may have different causes and motivations, but the one thing they desire to do is to is to terrorize and kill, that their victims often have nothing to do with their grievances, real or imagined, and are innocent of any crime against them does not matter; nor does it seem to matter to their western apologists who excuse the terrorists by blaming the societies and governments of the victims instead of placing the blame on the hate filled ideology of the terrorist.

The sad thing is the ideology of DAESH has been around for a long time, but that it would not made much progress had not President Bush destroyed Iraq and given them a place to flourish. Fareed Zakaria hit the nail on the head when he noted: “I should have paid greater attention to my mentor in graduate school, Samuel Huntington, who once explained that Americans never recognize that, in the developing world, the key is not the kind of government — communist, capitalist, democratic, dictatorial — but the degree of government. That absence of government is what we are watching these days, from Libya to Iraq to Syria.” It is the absence of the restraining force of government that has allowed DAESH to thrive, and which will allow it to continue.

But that being said I am not going to let those sonsofbitches or any other terrorist sonsofbitches frighten me from living life or keeping me from traveling.

I have traveled all over the world and I have been to war. I have seen horrible things and even when I admit the many things that this country has done that are wrong, and even criminal, I cannot allow that to color my view that the terrorists; be they the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the Red Brigades, or today the hate filled religious terrorists of DAESH deserve the slightest bit of sympathy, and just because our government and other governments, as well as the media sometimes label people as terrorists who are not, does not mean that the actual terrorists, like the ones who attacked Brussels yesterday are not terrorists. They are terrorist and that word has a definitive meaning for them, there is no moral equivalence of sleight of hand here. They terrorize and kill innocents in the lands that they occupy, and are taking their fight all over the world.

So do I live with it? I decide to live in the  moment regardless of the threat. I refuse to be terrorized and I will speak out, even if I offend people. I think that Salman Rushdie, a man who has known the price of having a bounty on his head by religious fanatics for decades, said it right: “How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”

We are going through the airports and traveling on the subways, and going through train stations; and I will not be afraid.

Now if by some chance something does occur while we are over here I will let you know first hand, but even if terrorists strike I will refuse to be afraid.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, terrorism, Travel

Oktoberfest, Community & Gemütlichkeit

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the first of a series of short posts reflecting about our trip to Munich, Salzburg and the Oktoberfest.

We are back from Oktoberfest and starting to catch up on life back at home. The trip was wonderful Judy and I had a great visiting meeting and talking with a wide variety of people, from Munich locals, to Swiss, French, English, and other visitors to the Oktoberfest including American expats, and many others.

What we liked was that it was hard not to get a chance to talk and spend time with people, sitting in one of the Bier Gardens of the Hofbrauhaus tent at the Theriesienwiese grounds, the Hofbrauhaus itself, other restaurants, sidewalk cafes or the hotel bar. I have to say that the ease with which you can mix with and get to know people; the ability to talk about life, culture, and even current events without someone looking for an angle to exploit is in start contrast to so much of what we see in the States.

One of the interesting things is how the Germans, even those who live in big cities understand the concept of community. The Germans take life and work seriously, but unlike many, if not most of us, they know when business stops and fun, family and community begin. When people leave work they leave work, and even the business culture, in which stores are not open 24 hours or on Sundays provide Germans the opportunity to spend good amounts of time with family, their neighbors and friends as they meet for dinner or drinks at the local Gasthaus or inn on a regular basis. Likewise communities sponsor sports teams, and a wide array of other clubs that draw them together, everything from Rotary, to veterans associations, bands and choirs, hunting and shooting clubs and many more. Many of these groups sponsor events in which the entire community can partake.

The concept in all of this is that of Gemütlichkeit, a German word that basically describes a situation of where a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance are joined with the connotation of being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. It also is understood in relationship to holidays where public festivities in the form of music, food, and drink help promote a sense of community. In this there is a sense that someone is part of something bigger than himself or herself where they are connected with being accepted by others while enriching the community.

Unfortunately for many Americans this is not the case. Unless one belongs to an organization such a various types of lodges, local sports fan clubs, or a local pub or bar where “everyone knows you name” there are precious few places one can experience this type of community. Churches like to claim that they are places of fellowship, but in my adult experience I have to say that most churches neither foster community nor are they places where one can go to be accepted. They are often the most cliquish, unfriendly, uninviting, and judgmental places around, and this is across the board. This cliquish and uninviting spirit covered in a veneer of spirituality and forced friendliness knows no denominational or theological boundaries, but I digress….

Judy and are lucky, we have a sense of community with friends who span the breadth of society; most of those who we know from the place where everyone knows our name, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant bar in Virginia Beach.

The Germans for all of their serious nature and sometimes-brusque manner of getting around do know how to draw the line between work, and play and in the process build community. Their cities and towns are designed to keep a community connection, including many parks; excellent public transportation systems, sidewalk cafes, local corner grocery stores and bakeries, as well as family run businesses that have not been destroyed by the huge box-stores like Wal-Mart. They are places that you get to know people, where life is lived, and community experienced.

Part of this is the difference in culture and how over the years our American culture has become detached from this sort of community. In many ways we have become increasing individualistic through the proliferation of suburbia, massive box-stores, and all that goes with it, including the abandonment of cities, and small poor rural communities. Even our churches, across the denominational spectrum have embraced the community destroying box-store religion of the mega-churches. The fact is we don’t know our neighbors and that leads to a culture that devalues people, destroys community and actually being on more social problems including crime.

Without community we fall back into our basest survival instincts; we see people in regard to what they can do for us. People simply become nothing more than commodities that we discard when they are no longer useful. We adopt the modern American business model as our model for relationships; and when we do this, we devalue friendship; we become paranoid, distrustful, isolated and ultimately come to despise our neighbors.

Anyway, speaking of this Judy and I will need to see some of our friends this afternoon and just enjoy that gift of friendship.

Wishing you all today that sense of Gemütlichkeit,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Anxiety: The Plane Flight to Oktoberfest

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today Judy and I are leaving for a trip to the Oktoberfest. I love Europe, we have lived in German and travelled in much of Europe and I do look forward to the trip with Judy. In addition to our time in Munich at the Oktoberfest we plan on making side trips to Salzburg and Nuremberg.

Of course we are flying which frankly is neither of our big thrill. I have never been much about flying, though I readily admit that this is a control thing, I would rather be in the cockpit flying the aircraft than sitting back in steerage. To tell the truth I would love to learn to fly and fly classic World War II war birds like the P-51 Mustang or the Messerschmitt Me-109, or maybe the Focke-Wulf FW-190. But then, I do get to drive Judy’s 2013 Mustang a lot, and I will be driving the Autobahnen in Germany when we get there, but I digress….

The fact is that I have always a distinct fear of flying, or rather crashing. Professor Liloman calls the condition High Anxiety, a condition that he treated the world famous psychiatrist Richard H. Thorndyke for at the renowned Institute for the Very Very Nervous. (Note the gratuitous Mel Brooks film reference) This only has gotten worse with age. Not that I don’t know how to keep myself calm, beer at every stop from beginning to end of the flight with a good number of Hail Mary’s thrown in; in German of course because that is where I first learned the prayer.

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There is a song about the condition too, appropriately named High Anxiety.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHrQC67aPBU

High anxiety whenever you’re near – High anxiety – it’s you that I fear.

My heart’s afraid to fly – it’s crashed before …

But then you take my hand;  My heart starts to soar once more.

 High anxiety … it’s always the same; High anxiety … it’s you that I blame.

It’s very clear to me I’ve got to give in. High anxiety: you win.

High Anxiety 1977, Words by Mel Brooks, arranged by John Morris

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When we returned from our first tour in Germany after Christmas in December 1986 we flew on a Pan Am Boeing 747. It had a beautiful name, I can never forget reading it before we boarded it at Frankfurt, the Maid of the Seas. I mentioned it to Judy before we boarded, and talked about how I wish all airlines named their aircraft. If the name of the airplane rings a bell, just think a bit. In 1988 Libyan terrorists blew up a Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie Scotland. When I saw the wreckage I was stunned to see the name Maid of the Seas on the crumpled wreckage. I have a hard time getting that picture out of my mind. So there is a reason for my gallows humor, I need to take the edge off.

I did make my peace with flying and have done so too many times to count, to far too much of the world, many times on long distance overseas flights to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I have gotten used to the hassles of flying, especially security, check in lines and lost or damaged luggage. I even managed to get through flying in Iraq, although getting shot at flying out of Ramadi one night in 2007 was quite unnerving.

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Ever since coming home from Iraq flying has taken on a new old sense of terror. I don’t like it. It is a necessary evil to go places. Personally I would rather take trains or ships if I had the option, but I don’t live in Europe.

Anyway, unless I get a chance to write a short article while in Germany everything that will be posted will have be scheduled before I left home.

Peace, love and beer,

Padre Steve+

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