Monday, August 26, 2019

The song remains the same …

I was reminded of this title when I came across a Led Zeppelin DVD – it’s the name of the video of a live concert by that group filmed back in 1973. A soundtrack album of the same name was released a little later, in 1976 – and it wasn’t long after that I returned to Australia and with each Christmas, I found a new Led Zeppelin album under the tree.

“I had a dream
Oh, yeah
Crazy dream, uh-huh
Anything I wanted to know
Any place I needed to go
Hear my song”

Even now, there are radio stations in some cities that do little else but playing tracks from these albums for commuters who are leaving their offices and drive home. Perhaps it is a little melodramatic to kick off a post with these words but the more things change, the more they stay the same or, to be more precise, plus ça change, plus c’est la même.

Before you move on to another post maybe it is a bit extreme to combine songs by Led Zeppelin with expressions by the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. On the other hand, this month has been rather traumatic if not indeed eventful as it most certainly was, life changing. Margo and I are on our second leg of downsizing and for us, downsizing takes many forms. On this occasion, it’s all about modes of transportation and from a high point where we had three motorcycles, an RV and an SUV, a car-hauler trailer, a sedan / limo, three sports cars and a track car, there are decidedly very large holes in our non-collection.

It all started with the return from lease of the big BMW 750Li (not sure why we ever leased that vehicle), then the sale of our motorcycles in the months leading up to our departure from our former, rather oversized, Niwot home. This past week however, saw a lot of movement. Yes, we sold the RV, the car-hauler and our track Corvette Z06. We now have an SUV, a roadster, a sports car and a GT. 

In the world of RVs there is a saying that you should buy your last RV, first. In other words, don’t work up to the RV you really want as buying intermediate models will see you burning through a whole lot of cash. On the other hand these same people say that there’s really only two events involving any RV that should excite you – the day you buy your RV and the day you sell it. Our motive for buying the company command center was twofold. We wanted a little more comfort trackside when we attended track day events and we wanted a vehicle we could take to major industry events, including regional HPE user group meetings. But suffice to say, I am neither handy with tools nor am I really competent to oversee a combination of vehicle and house that befuddles the daylights out of both Margo and me.

You want a hot shower while you have both A/Cs running? You want to make coffee while you have all the lights on and are working with your PC / Laptop? Power management becomes as much an art form as it is a science and guesswork dominates nearly all discussions followed by, “Well this should fix it!” Even so, Margo has enjoyed more cold showers through the years in the RV than during the early days camping by lakes or the mountains in southern Poland.

The main contributing factor to our misunderstanding of how things worked was also attributable to the fact that at any one point in time, three maybe four items we depended on were simply broken. We didn’t take our RV off the show room floor, drive it to a picturesque lake, and then sit there for endless days. No, we drove America’s interstates crisscrossing the country on a regular basis. In so doing, we shook to pieces nearly everything bolted to the chassis. 

Our good friends whom we met as a result of our track weekend jaunts are still very much our friends and more often than not these days, our travelling companions even if the things we do are not NASA events anymore. Following our return from Las Vegas and the big-tent marketing shindig that HPE throws each year for its customers and partners, we took stock of our situation and weighed the prospect very seriously, mind you, of simply planting the RV in Las Vegas and treating it like a second home. We sure do like the restaurants and every now and then, there is entertainment we like. It would also make it a short drive to the tracks where together with our friends we would enjoy the excitement of driving fast, safely.

However, last year our good friends sold their Corvette leaving us with the option of soldiering on by ourselves, but after doing so for just one more time well, it was simply no fun at all. Shaking martinis with no one to share stories with didn’t seem ideal. With this in mind, the decision took shape – should we sell our track car and if so, do we then sell the trailer and oh, by the way, could we find a market for our lovely company command center? There is an absolute truth that is acknowledged by all RVers and one that is likely the third important saying – when you buy your RV, it better be with cash you can afford to throw away. No magic here, RVs are a rapidly dwindling unrecoverable expense and should never be considered as an asset.

There is one upside from our friends exiting track events. Yes, these friends of ours are Brian and Jan Kenny whom we have referenced with regularity, bought an airplane and now fly here for visits. The good news too is that we welcome them with open arms with no intention whatsoever of following them into plane ownership. And yet, watching them take off led to us wistfully watching their plane disappear into the horizon wondering whether we too should take up flying. But saner heads prevailed and so, the RV has gone and the big rig is no more. 

“Any place I needed to go; hear my song!” Looking back at posts written this year I can recall the time in Sydney, Munich, Edinburgh and more recently, Amsterdam, Vienna and Budapest. Throw into this mix the trips to Las Vegas and to Dallas, Texas, and you see the predicament. For Margo and me, avowed non-flyers and avid drivers, well the options were pretty thin this year and planes returned to being our most frequently selected modes of transportation. 

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the time with friends and colleagues, on the contrary, we really liked the ease with which we slipped back into this constant travelling mode. We even came to realize that we don’t need as many bags as we had at first thought. And yes, always buy the cabin “adult beverages” option when travelling on Viking River Cruises! And as for my song, it’s neither a quiet lament nor a bold and rousing anthem. 

In some ways, it’s a whimper – we should have gone down this path a long time ago but like all RVers we know; stick with it, as yes, it gets better! Not! For a family whose first action whenever emergencies arise is to grab the phone, we became a family whose only path to freedom of the open road was paved with checkbook entries. Talk about the proverbial disappearance of cash these days well, we know exactly where it all went!

Ahhh – but did I also mention just how good it was to be able to roll into a campsite, press the button to automatically level the RV before dropping the support legs and then extending as if by pure magic, all four slideouts? After long hours behind the wheel focused on little more than what is ahead of us on the road, do nothing other than setting up for the night is true relaxation.

Hooking into 50 amp “shore power” and connecting to the water and sewerage services and then pulling out some chairs to watch the sunset – it was highly pleasurable, indeed. We saw the outer banks off North Carolina and we stayed in Zions National Bank where our RV was truly just 36 feet long. And a couple of inches! We saw the magical early morning lift-off by hundreds of hot air balloons in Albuquerque and we listened to the rains in West Virginia. It was a charmed life, sampling so many different worlds and yet, never leaving North America.

“Having recently given up boating, Toad's current craze
is his horse-drawn caravan. He persuades the reluctant
Rat and willing Mole to join him on a trip.
Toad soon tires of the realities of camp life,
and sleeps in the following day to avoid chores.”

From “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, perhaps one of the best insights into the delights of camping whether it’s under canvas or a 400+ square feet RV. At all costs, avoid chores even as it really does seem to be a craze among retirees to head for the open road at the wheel of an RV or caravan.

Perhaps you can put it down to the influence of both sets of parents as on Margo’s side, her Mom and Dad simply loved to go camping in the woods. As for my own parents, they bought a caravan, borrowed my car and drove it to a beachside town where they parked it, permanently. Visiting it each summer and then on weekends as time permitted, I think the thought of having a caravan as a second home influenced some of my early thinking. Eventually, my parents sold the caravan and I can distinctly recall how happy they were to no longer be in possession of a summer home by the seashore.

Our home here in Windsor Colorado seems devoid of panic of late – there is no surprise calls for immediate remedial actions to be taken with the RV. No new tires for the trailer and no damage needing to be repaired on the Corvette. All rather simple, by comparison! Then again, have we really given up track day outings? Have we decided rashly to offload a perfectly good track-day toy? We definitely have cars that can do double duty on track days but I am not all that sure Margo would be thrilled to hear me raise the matter. For now, it’s all a done deal – and by this I mean that yes, we are done!

We still have a large storage facility that we will be releasing shortly. We have cleaned it all out and together with all the items we found in the garages underneath our RV are very thankful that we have a lot of storage off of our basement. It will take a few weeks to scrutinize it thoroughly enough to determine everything that can be donated to charity – and there will be a lot no doubt – and there is still the small matter of the vendor taking away our RV as it sits awaiting pick-up. But it will happen very soon as we can’t imagine any agency buying it just leaving it with us …

One final thought. Summer is almost over and we are beginning to see the first signs of fall. Leaves on the trees nearby are already turning yellow and morning walks are being done wearing hoodies. Seasons come and go and change continues to happen with regularity. Perhaps it was time for a change and yes, perhaps simplification is as good as it’s cracked up to be. For Margo and me it really is the end of a chapter but even so, as for storylines, with the passing of chapters there is a similarity between them. As for the constant, well, its travel so now you will find us planning our next moved - figuratively as well as literally. Yes, definitely, when it comes to the two of us, the song remains the same!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Europe and yet another “Grand Tour;” traversing Europe’s heartland!

Over the years, Margo and I have ventured overseas on one kind of trip or another and looking back through the posts to this blog, there has been more than one occasion where we have declared the adventure to be a Grand Tour! This time around, that’s exactly what the tour company called it and whereas in the past we have written about our journeys in Europe as involving cars and trains, well, this time it was all about boats. River Cruise vessels of the Viking line were our primary mode of transportation and the timing was such that we were able to catch up with friends, colleagues and business acquaintances at both ends of the trip.

We are always talking about the need to live adventurous lives and this theme has surfaced in a number of posts of late. Truth of the matter is that the need to add a little adventure into our daily routines is very important as our lives these days are driven by the need to come up with fresh content. Our list of clients has grown and unfortunately, each of them needs unique story lines from us. Fancy that; you think the one story a month would suffice. Apparently, not – but not to take anything away from the challenge of supporting clients, it’s also provides us with a lot of fun and we are frequently rewarded with a kind word here and there. But adventurous lives call for adventures and 2019 has proved to be the year of adventures for Margo and me and no, we haven’t been enjoying a year of living dangerously and we are far from pursuing risky business, but the miles have begun to take a toll on us both. We are now officially dieting!

Our grand tour started in Amsterdam and just a canal or two’s distance from the Rhine River. One of the most noticeable benefits from being in Europe is that you can step out of your hotel room late at night and still find good restaurants serving dinner. On arrival we had had to rush as we were catching up with friends of friends who did a great job entertaining us and showing us a side of Amsterdam that was new for us and no, there we no lights involved. Just small lots, by the river, where Amsterdam’s apartment dwellers could retire to on a weekend and tend to their gardens! The simple dwellings erected on these lots were very basic and, in some ways, completely off the grid. And yet, they represented a true escape from city living and as such, in their own way, were a source of relaxation for those lucky enough to have scored a plot. 

We had made the decision to arrive in Amsterdam a full two days before our Viking River Cruise vessel was scheduled to pull onto the Rhine River. As seasoned travelers, we always consider it prudent to arrive a little ahead of schedule in case there were difficulties arising “en-route!” Turned out, it all went smoothly but only up to a point. On arrival in Amsterdam, passage through immigration was a nightmare and for whatever reason, it took us more than an hour to pass through the gates, but the relief was only temporary as Amsterdam baggage handling was experiencing difficulties such that it took almost another hour before our bags arrived. To think, we had been travelling for less than twenty four hours and already, we were exhausted. Then again, we were in Europe and we could eat at pretty much any time of night so it wasn’t all bad.

In the lead up to this trip, we had spent time driving around the western states of the U.S. as we had made commitments to participate in a number of IT industry events. We had elected to take advantage of our company command center, as this particular RV when all the slideouts were extended, provided us with 400+ square feet. Luxury, indeed! Now, fast forward to our lovely Viking River Cruise vessel – the good ship Gefjon, named after the Norse Goddess of the Plow, which Viking continues to refer to as a Longship - gave us all of 135 square feet. And this was an upgraded room with a French Balcony. Fortunately the layout was such that I could continue to work and each afternoon, hunched over the keyboard of my laptop I continued to provide unique story lines to my clients.

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Our departure from Amsterdam was just a few minutes shy of midnight and with everyone having retired for the night, I pretty much had the upper decks of the Gefjon to myself. Sailing out into the Rhine Canal on our way to join the Rhine River and standing, as I was, on the unlit sun deck taking in the sights as we slowly pushed our way upstream, proved to be challenging. It was cold with a light rain that gave the shadows an ominous feel about them – as if at any moment our longship was about to hit an unsighted obstruction. Amsterdam is rather rigid after a fashion, with plenty of rules that need to be obeyed, but standing on the sun deck at night on an inky waterway there was no escaping the somberness of the occasion. Being of sound mind and having seen enough, I retired for the night!

This was the third time that we had travelled to Europe in 2019. Only a short time ago we were in Scotland and a matter of just a few weeks before that, in Munich. For a family firmly committed to avoid overseas trips at all costs, we were faring pretty poorly this year. On the other hand? Adventures we have had, without a doubt, and at this point it is worth pointing out that with the business model we have developed, we have to pass on our thanks to all those at HPE that we work with as well as to our clients. Without these vendors, none of this would be possible! Now, having thanked my sponsors the reality is that even as these trips to Europe have had their upsides, it is never far from our minds that with each morning, there is work to be done. As we moved slowly out of Amsterdam, we were still able to publish our July issue of the digital publication, NonStop Insider where Margo continues as the Managing Editor.

We like to call these excursions abroad BizCations, and the phrase isn’t without merit. According to recent business travel publications, you may already be familiar with the StayCations and DayCations and BizCations simply represent an opportunity to explore new places even as business pursuits continue. They represent a welcome brake to the normal nine-to-five, working week routines (does anyone still do that in these days of the “gig society”?) and Margo and I have readily adapted to this new travel trend. We passed through a lot of locks  particularly as we made our way between the Main River and the Danube – a couple of which towered 80+ feet above us – and it reminded me that oftentimes, to get to where we next want to be, we need a bit of a boost to make sure it happens. We work, we play, we travel and on occasion, we simply just sit still. And on this adventure we did it all!

Having left the locks on the Main- Danube canal, it was the cities on the Danube we were most looking forward to as our previous attempt to sail down the Danube left us tied to the dock in Vienna, neither able to go forward or backwards with the Spring runoff rising all boats. However, before leaving the canal, we just had to visit the township of Nuremberg as it has historical significance. I had eaten Nuremberg sausages many times so it was a good opportunity not only to hear more about the town but to try Nuremberg’s favorite meal – sausage and sauerkraut, with a beer. With the old town of Nuremberg dating back to the Middle Ages and with clever fortification (it was never conquered), a lot of post war effort went into returning the city to its former glory and today, it is a must-visit place. And for the history buffs, yes this was where the post-war trials were held and where the former leadership was held accountable for the atrocities they instigated and oversaw. 

However, it was the opportunity to enjoy a side trip to Salzburg that really sealed the deal for us when it came to sailing with Viking River Cruises. Even as it required a two hour bus trip, who would want to miss out on visiting the city that provided the backdrop to the musical, Sound of Music. Our walking tour took us to many of the places, fountains and gardens featured in the musical even as we were able to walk by several hotels that could be good places to stay if the opportunity ever presented itself for us to enjoy an extended stopover in Salzburg. I know that there are family members who would have liked to have joined us for lunch as we dined in the world’s oldest restaurant dating all the way back to the ninth century but more impressive still? We were entertained by Salzburg soloists performing live all the songs from the Sound of Music.

One disappointment, perhaps? There wasn’t enough time to climb up to the fortress and walk its battlements. This was something I did back in 1983 and the views were spectacular. Oh well, next time. On the other hand this trip was planned in order for us to take a look at a small portion of Germany’s famous Romantic Road that starts in Füssen and ends in Würzburg – not a long drive by any stretch of the imagination for us living in the western states of the U.S., but one that takes you on a trip through history and for us, the road to Salzburg included many miles of this most famous road. What do you reckon? When it comes to choice of vehicle it will either be a new BMW i8 Roadster delivered in Munich (of course) or a wonderful white 1971 Mercedes Benz 450SL with burgundy interior. It will be a hard decision to make so stay tuned! Whatever path we go down, the Romantic Road is one bucket list item we would like to check off at some point before they take our drivers licenses from us.

Viking River Cruises gave us two full days to enjoy the sights of Vienna and we took full advantage of this opportunity. There is a back story here as the first river cruise we ever did was with Peter Deilmann Cruises on their sole river cruiser, the MV Mozart. Unfortunately, our booking was early April and that year, the snow continued to fall even as we set sail from Passau. We managed to get to Vienna whereupon we were advised that the river had risen to heights that prevented the MV Mozart from going forwards or backwards so, would we mind spending a week in Vienna? And oh yes, we will bring the music to you each night! Hard to resist, I know, but we had been looking to travel the full length of the Danube all the way to the Black Sea, but not to be.

Imagine then our surprise to read only a short time ago the Crystal River Cruises launched their river itineraries featuring a completely revitalized MV Mozart having acquired it from a now defunct Peter Deilmann Cruises. What was unique about this vessel is that it was built as a double wide river cruiser and that is why it could only sail on the Danube which features doublewide locks. However, don’t plan on booking any river cruises on the MV Mozart in 2020 as it is being rotated out of the fleer as Crystal add four new singlewide river cruisers to replace it. This is why we just have to tip our hats to the AMA river cruise line having just introduced their own doublewide river cruiser – the AMAMagna. We tied up alongside it and made our way through it to the dock and Viking shouldn’t have done that; in RV-parlance it was like walking from a modest Tiffin RV to a luxury Prevost RV!   

Vienna and then Budapest that followed were once again, absolutely wonderful places to visit. As the centers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire they had much in common at some point, a competitive thread emerging in the process. You build a palace and yes we will build one too! But for us, it was the Demel coffee house in Vienna that remains the highlight even as in Budapest, it was the citadel atop Buda. When it comes to Demel, don’t sit outside on the sidewalk (a recent addition), but rather enter the shop and find the passageway that leads back to a handful of tables all fronting the kitchen where chocolate delights are being created and yes, strudel, too, naturally enough. You may have to wait for the table but watching the craftsmen work their magic over rich cups of Vienna coffee (with whipped cream) and a Vanilla slice is heavenly. Not to mention, a great substitute for lunch!

We last visited Budapest in April, 2003, and a lot has changed and yet, looking up at Buda from the Danube, you could easily imagine it as it was in the nineteenth century. The skyline remains mostly unchanged with a new hotel springing up here and there. While not in the photo, the Four Seasons is the place to stay and if you have as yet not made plans to visit Budapest it would be our recommendation. It is situated across the river in Pest and remains one of the grand hotels of the region. In Budapest, the BizCation kicked in once again and yes, there is nothing better to do when stepping off a boat than to spend time with the locals and business acquaintances of ours just happened to have time available to show us around. The view from the citadel was magnificent! There is much more we could talk about but in reality, I will leave further coverage to other posts. Suffice to say, in closing, at this time of the year emulating our cruise is problematic. 

Leaving Vienna for Budapest we were advised that we were the last vessel to pass through the shallows of the upper Danube – requiring at least 290 cm of water under the vessel, we made it through with just 292 cm and yes, authorities closed the river to all vessels no sooner than we had made it through. It was a sad sight indeed to see vessel after vessel at rest in Vienna for the remainder of the season. Bus fares, anyone? Overall, this grand tour was one of the most exciting ones. Most of the time we had great weather, sunny skies, and balmy temperatures where service from Viking River Cruises was exceptional. When it rained one day the ship provided umbrellas, allowing us to take a colorful picture of the folks returning from the tour.

So, yes, our adventurous life definitely continues with further chapters yet to be written!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Did someone say “Road Trip?”

After a very peaceful time at home in Windsor, Colorado, it was time to pack the company command center and hit the road to our first business event of the year utilizing the RV. As much as we do not like it we have flown to previous events as they were held in Europe … it was just too far to drive! This roadtrip would begin with a stop in Las Vegas for HPE’s big tent marketing event - HPE Discover 2019. Once again, I had been invited to be a guest of HPE and to be a part of the HPE Influencer program which, thankfully, means Margo and I will have a nice hotel room so there will be no overnight stays in the RV during these sunny Las Vegas days. If you have been following this blog through the years you will understand that while we really enjoy taking the RV on business trips, Las Vegas isn’t a place where we like to camp-out as temperatures are well and truly always in the very hot range, with rarely a day under 100F.

On the other hand, this would be a prelude to a long weekend spent in southern California before a client meeting the following week. Then we would hop a plane for Dallas, Texas, where we will be part of the HPE NonStop vendor community and I will be providing updates on a client’s products and services. Obviously, it will also be a time to recap the high points of the Las Vegas meeting, but fortunately, it will be balanced with networking opportunities and we have a lot of friends in the area we hope to see. That very peaceful time spent in Windsor will seem such a long time ago before we begin our return trip home.

On the other hand, there really isn’t any substitute to living adventurous lives – did you read my post to our business blog, Real Time View? It was the five hundredth post and I wrote even more about living an adventurous life! Take a look when you have a chance – again, it’s And before I forget – while perhaps not as impressive as writing my five hundredth post to my business blog this happens to be my one hundred and fiftieth post to this blog! What do you reckon?

One of the more pleasant aspects of road trips is that in taking our home with us, when it comes time to entertaining clients and associates, we carry with us anything that we like and you will always find at least one bottle of vodka in the freezer with plenty of glasses on hand, chilling, as well. While it is not quite like home as a substitute, it gets a pass! On the other hand, Margo is always looking forward to opportunities to simply pull off the road, enjoy a quiet nightcap followed by a good night’s sleep in a bedroom almost as nice as the one we have in Windsor. For many, the long hours driving America’s highways are a pastime to be avoided at all costs, but for Margo and me, it plays a big part in our adventurous life. Did someone say roadtrip? Then count us in!

It isn’t just about the quiet nightcaps we so often enjoy once out of town, but the opportunity to grill. Outside the company command center, watching as a marinated tri-tip steak sizzles on the grill, it’s almost as enjoyable as that chilled vodka martini. Before starting out on this journey and having just picked up the RV following major, but routine, servicing we elected to overnight at a camp site 50 miles up the road and it was a good thing we chose to do so. Many of the tasks we always need to do when first arriving at a campsite had us scratching our heads before we managed to complete all that we needed to do before we could cook the steak (or shake the martini). Fortunately, when it came to the RV itself, everything worked so we were truly pleased! We now store our RV in a temperature controlled storage facility and we both believe that not having to winterize and then summerize the RV has lessened the potential for major damage to the chassis, let alone the house.

Winter has passed … and what a winter it had been! With snow falling into the last week of May, our plans of spending November through January in Australia and skipping the worst of winter, pretty much came to nothing as we found no 
respite from the cold and snow Coloradans know all too well. As the reports began coming into the television news desks, the weather forecasters began producing some very interesting charts – graphs that showed ridiculous levels of snow and water accumulations that had us all taking a second look.

As impressive as figures like 260 percent or even 370 percent of the median for this time of year – late May – it was charts depicting the “snow water equivalent
as percent of median” that had us all wondering what that really meant. Try 966 or 1,491 percent of median but then again, look too at Gunnison with 52,350 percent of median? Watch out below – and yes, the Arkansas River basin is already wreaking havoc across states to the east of Colorado.

Statewide, we are 735 percent of median so there is no water restrictions planned for the summer across any part of Colorado this year. Winter may have passed but the rivers are proving treacherous with many whitewater rafting comings letting discretion rule the day as they keep their boats on dry land for now.  

One tangible sign that the state is well-watered for now is that the popular watering holes in Boulder continue to pull a crowd even as every tree in sight is covered in foliage to where it’s kind of hard to see the popular features out-of-towners come to see. Even Boulder’s famous “flatirons” are barely visible through the trees and when Margo and I visited a popular Italian restaurant we often stop by for lunch, all those darn leafy trees keep blocking out the view! On the other hand it gave us a reminder that winter had indeed passed even as spring has been very short and now, the balmy warm days of summer were finally appearing. Ahhhh – what a relief; sunshine!

Leaving Windsor and heading for Las Vegas meant crossing the great divide and this is always a big test of the health of our company command center. Taking the RV out on the road for business, where firm dates had been set, always carries with it an element of risk. Will the RV chassis and drivetrain make the trip safely and without mechanical glitches? Will the RV home work as required – will we have hot and cold running water and will the refrigerator keep our food and drink chilled. Even with the overnight camping we did before setting out on this trip where we checked out all the systems there is still that lingering doubt about it all running smoothly, but to date, it has all gone to plan.

We did have a small issue with a water filter that temporarily impeded the flow of water as we arrived in Las Vegas but that was easily fixed after we called in the mobile RV repairman. On the other hand, pulling into truck parking elevated slightly above Lake Dillon with views to the south past Breckenridge gave us an opportunity to see spring rain descending on the upper peaks of the continental divide. It was a scene that was simply tailor-made to be photographed and so we naturally, obliged! However, that would be the last we would see of clouds and rain squalls as it wasn’t too long before we crossed into Utah for the run across the high desserts and into Vegas. What the absence of rain squalls gave us unfortunately was taken back by the strong headwinds we ran into once we turned down Interstate 15. Very trying driving conditions with as big a profile as we provide! 

But we made Vegas eventually where we parked the RV and headed for the hotel. I am not completely sure as to why so many cars are featured at HPE events of late, but once again, as you entered the main exhibition area, there was another Formula E Racing car front and center of the exhibition. It wasn’t too long ago when attending a similar HPE event in Madrid, Spain, that I wrote of whether or not HPE was in the car business as there were so many cars on display, but I guess with autonomous cars and the need for AI and superfast networks there shouldn’t be any surprise to see cars making a splash at technology events like HPE Discover.

For this year’s event, HPE had brought onto the floor the
Venturi Formula E Racing car where Susie Wolff just happens to be team principal. She was a guest of HPE CEO Antonio Neri and together they shared the center stage during a keynote presentation where Wolff shared “how AI and Machine Learning help their Formula E Team.” Quite the coup for Neri as Wolff’s time is at a premium at this stage in the racing year, but at the same time, with HPE a sponsor of the team, it was further evidence of HPE’s support for technologies that will likely have, in time, much wider appeal. An interesting aside is that HPE is involved in sponsoring not just Susie Wolff but is involve too with her husband, Toto Wolff, who is Mercedes AMG F1 Racing team principal and with his eyes set on entering Formula E next year HPE's role in supporting both husband and wife should become very interesting indeed.   

Roadtrips wouldn’t be worth doing if there wasn’t a little downtime along the way and in between Las Vegas and Dallas, Texas, we spent a long weekend by Lake Cachuma, just outside Santa Barbara. We were joined by out good friends Brian and Jan Kenny and as our next business meeting was to be the Tuesday, we enjoyed having some time to simply do nothing more than absorb the scenery. When we lived in Simi Valley we drove past this lake many times as the nearby highway takes you to the wineries of Santa Ynez. However, it isn’t clear to us how we missed taking advantage of the campsites available, but we sure worked hard at making up for lost time. And did I forget to mention there was another marinated tri-tip steak that found its way onto our grill?

It has been a while since we wrote about the Kenny’s grandson Colton Herta and while he is their grandson and it was an Indy race weekend, we had little option other than to gather inside the Kenny’s RV to watch the race. It was held at Road America, Wisconsin, and is perhaps the longest road course the Indy cars tackle each year and yes, it proved to be an exciting race to watch all the way to the end. Already in 2019 Colton has won the GTLM class in the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona driving a BMW M8 GTE as well as his first Indy win at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) driving his Honda-powered Indy car. In winning at COTA at the tender age of 18, he set the record as the youngest winner in Indy history. This weekend, he qualified on the pole to become the youngest P1 winner at just 19 in Indy history. Again!

Expectations were high that he would do well in the race. Perhaps the strategy he followed at COTA helped hand him the win but no one ever hands you the pole position as you are the fastest Indy driver of the weekend – around the four plus miles of the road course, he averaged just a tad over 140 mph. Yes, as an average! Sadly, fortune didn’t shine too kindly on Colton in this latest Indy car race and he finished in eighth place having failed to fend off three or four fellow racers in just the last two laps when a podium finish had been in his sights. After a string of DNF (Did Not Finish) following his spectacular start to the season, it was good to get back into the points and Colton assured everyone that we was just fine leaving Wisconsin with as many championship points as he did.

There is still Dallas to visit and that unfortunately will necessitate a flight there and back with just the day to take care of business. The networking opportunities continue to make it time well spent and Dallas has become almost a second home for us given the number of times we have driven to Texas of late. And yet, it is at times like this that we miss the days we used to spend in southern California only a short time ago and, with good friends and great places to see, perhaps there will come another opportunity to pass the time under the California sun – who knows? But for now, it’s the roadtrip that matters and there is still the return trip to Windsor to come, but for now, it’s another balmy afternoon taking in the beauty of Lake Cachuma.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Time in Edinburgh and time on planes, trains and pretty much everything else!

This time last year we spent a wonderful week in the Gothic capital of Leipzig, Germany. The occasion was the pan-European HPE user group meeting for everyone in the HPE NonStop community and the support it had received from Germany and beyond was good to see. It was also a chance for us to explore the city of Goethe (where he studied law at the local university), visit Porsche factory (Panamera and Macan) and yes, tour a railway station that had been turned into a mall! However, this year our experience with the annual pan-European event for HPE NonStop users took us to the city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

We spent a week in the U.K. at a time when every conversation seemed to center not on the NonStop computer but rather, BREXIT. Safe to say, the conversations that took place were energetic, with passionate advocates on both sides of the exit argument. Not sure how accurate our sample was, but Margo and I left Edinburgh with the distinct impression that Scotland, as a country, was against the exit. Fortunately, there was time enough left over to explore the local breweries, sample a whiskey or two and take in the views from the top of Edinburgh’s famous castle. On the way home to Colorado, our schedule gave us a couple of days in London and when considered as a whole, our week in the U.K. could best be summed up as a hot time in the old country – Edinburgh was warmer than Spain or even Los Angeles on the Tuesday of last week.

For a family that rarely elects to fly anywhere it’s been a tough start to the year, with planes dominating the transportation options. Having flown back from Australia in January, heading to Munich for a little BizCation in March, and now to Edinburgh it was as if the airlines were getting back at as for ignoring them for as long as we have done of late. On the other hand, having rarely flown in almost a decade, the experience was unsettling as so much has changed – since when do we really have to bring our own headphones to listen to movies (sure you can take those on offer, but really?) and yes, what’s with the need to down load an app prior to boarding?

I guess the good news here is that we are opting to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of schedule so we can breeze through the lines and enjoy a meal at a restaurant. Elway’s steakhouse on concourse B at Denver International is one place you need to find time to sit back, relax and have dinner as there will be nothing like it on the plane. Even in first class! There was a good steakhouse on one of the concourses at Newark we liked and of course I am sure we will be reminded of others as well, but in today’s world it’s good to get to the airport really early and take advantage of the slower pace afforded by the luxury of having extra time and simply, relax!

For the trip from London to Edinburgh we elected to sample train travel in the U.K. For whatever reason we also elected to try Virgin trains, choosing the option to travel in first class. It was only a matter of weeks earlier that we had elected to travel from Frankfurt to Munich on Germany’s ICE trains, but somehow my choice of stations and lines wasn’t the best of options for a restful trip to Edinburgh. Leaving from London’s Euston Station, we traveled a westerly route that took us through Coventry, the Lakes district and then across the Scottish Lowlands into Edinburgh. Smarter travelers would have chosen to leave London from Kings Cross station where the route traveled was more to the east of the country and took almost two hours less to cover the distance – pretty much the same route as Scotland’s famous train, the Flying Scotsman.

Travelling through very green countryside covered in sheep – yes, it was lambing season – it was a matter of one hill followed by another. For a first time experience of the western flanks of England, it had a certain appeal but after interruptions from some fifteen (or was it more?) stops, it got a tad tedious. Well, at least there were drinks and meal services, but unlike Germany’s ICE train at no point did the Virgin staff offer us any adult beverages. On the other hand, we were going between two famous cities where adult beverages could be found in abundance so perhaps it wasn’t all that bad. And did we hear later that there was a separate club car attached solely for the purpose of offering refreshments? I will have to look into that in more detail should we plan on further train travel in the old country!

The city skyline of Edinburgh is dominated by its castle. It is a long hike up to this prominent citadel, but once there the views are impressive. Look, over there – you can see the North Sea! Who would have guessed staying on the streets surrounding our hotel? Once again, this being spring time, the greenery was something altogether special as Margo and I cannot recall ever seeing the country looking as fresh and bright as it did at this time of year. In past years – and yes, we first went to Edinburgh in 1999, shortly after we were married – all we can remember seeing is the fine wet drizzle that seemed to have embraced us each time we walked out of the hotel lobby. 

This U.K. event for the HPE NonStop community included a number of festive interludes with perhaps the best attended being a traditional Scottish feast (with dancing and piping) at the castle’s Hub. This church-like structure turned out to be a public hall and as we drank the sparkling wine on offer, tried a local beer and mingled with all the guests it soon became apparent that the acoustics of the hall had a lot to answer for – put it down to age too, but it was too noisy for us so we wound our way through the assembled throng and headed to the door. Ultimately, we wound up at a French restaurant located right next to the castle where we caught up with good friends, Tim and JK, who likewise had opted for an early exit. But what can you say, when it’s sunny in Scotland, everything looks completely different and there is no question whatsoever about whether or not we liked the place as yes, we most definitely did. 

When it came to the return trip we were able to spend yet a couple more sunny days in London even if it was a little on the cooler side. Fortunately all those heavier clothes we had hauled up and down train station stairs were able to be put to good use. But again, it was much warmer than we had expected based on advance weather forecasts we had been following. London always brings back so many memories. I happened to have lived and worked in London back in the early 1970s and when I first arrived as a young Australian lad, my first hotel was in Earl’s Court – surprised to read? Put it down to Aussie tradition so it was not all that unsurprising that one of the best hotel deals we were able to get from our hotel partner, Hilton, was the Olympia Hilton. Just outside of Earl’s Court and almost right next door to the Olympia exhibition halls where I first took in London’s Auto Show all those years ago.

Unfortunately and very much like we saw when in Sydney earlier in the year, the city is in the middle of yet another building boom with chaos on streets and footpaths (alright, sidewalks), as construction equipment competed for the little space there was afforded them in London’s tight thoroughfares. Forget Harrods for a while – the food hall moved (when did that happen?) and is only a shadow of its former glory and the walk from Harrods to Park Lane is an abysmal exercise in keeping dust out of your eyes. Ouch!  But yet again, when did the car showrooms along Park Lane become one continuous like of BMW displays? With the exception of a small Brabus showroom and just a slightly bigger showroom devoted to Aston Martins the rest of Park Lane were all BMWs, including motorcycles, hybrid and electric cars and yes, many variations of the Mini as well. 

There is no escaping history in London just as today there is no escaping traffic. Wherever you turn these days there are lines of cars waiting to turn, pull into a parking space or simply just to cross a bridge. Of course there is London’s most famous bridge and we aren’t talking about London Bridge but that other bridge; Tower Bridge. We took the opportunity to cross it on our way to the waterfront restaurants lining the south bank of the Thames. As we walked across I just had to sneak a peek at HMS Belfast, that ageless reminder of a time when indeed England ruled the waves. Returning to those times when I lived in London I would walk past the Tower every day on my way to work and naturally enough, I would always caste a quick glance at Tower Bridge and wondered how long it would continue to support vehicular traffic. Oh well!

It was on the southern side of this bridge that back in 2016 and at the time when there was another HPE event under way, our good friends Jim and Dale impressed me with just how at ease they were hailing an Uber ride. To be more precise, how handy Jim was with the Uber app. It was based on his experiences that when we returned to Sydney, Australia, for our lengthy stay, we didn’t rent a car (a first for us I suspect) but relied upon Uber the whole time and we were very pleased with the results. Fast forward to this trip and we elected to rely on Uber once again both in Edinburgh and London and we were never disappointed either with the timeliness of arrival or the cleanliness of the vehicle. 

We have a tradition that whenever in London, we would find the time to have lunch at Rules restaurant. If you aren’t familiar with this restaurant it was opened in 1798 by Thomas Rule and it is reputed to be London’s oldest restaurant. It is famous too for serving wild game which comes from its own estate in the high Pennines – “England’s last wilderness.” We first came across Rules while honeymooning in London in 1999, just a couple of months before that first trip to Edinburgh took place. At the time, it was a popular luncheon destination for Prince Charles, but in all our times at the restaurant it has been mostly populated by bankers. After enjoying ourselves immensely last time, we were favored by one of these bankers, dressed absolutely perfectly and apparently a leader too of the Bank of England (he didn’t give us his name but he looked a lot like Richard, a character from the old BBC show, To the Manor Born), who expressed his pleasure at seeing us having such a fine time and mused to us that he would have much preferred to have dined with us.

Perhaps it was the wheel of Stilton cheese or the cut-glass carafe of Port. Again, a tradition dating back generations but unfortunately, no longer pursued. Indeed, the wheel of Stilton comes to you not on a plate but in a pot from which cheese is spooned onto you plate and as for the Port, it’s served by the glass. So much for the honor system of former times – in many ways those days are sorely missed! Needless to say, following a lengthy time at the restaurant including a time to enjoy pre-dinner aperitifs in their previously un-visited garden bar, there was little enthusiasm to face dinner any time soon so it was a slow, later afternoon drive across London in yet another Uber “hybrid.” Seemed like the Uber cars were all hybrids – Toyota Prius for the most part – and each time we crossed London they found new and very interesting routes to follow that even someone familiar with the city didn’t quite follow!

The previous references to planes and trains leads into the next update; our cars! Perhaps the reference to Uber just wasn’t enough to satisfy your appetites for something a little better than a Prius. Alright, so it was a sad time in the Holen Buckle family as we bid farewell to our lovely BMW i8. Talking of hybrids, this car was a superb example in every way of what can be wrapped around hybrid drive-trains and if you ever have an opportunity to drive one, you can only leave impressed with all that BMW accomplished in this car.

With multiple engines to deal with, traditional combustion as well as modern electric (and yes, it comes with a generator that can be tapped for extra power when needed) engines and with two gearboxes coordinated in some magical fashion, the mere fact that it all works is an engineering marvel. We clocked some 22,000 plus miles in the i8 driving it as far east as Toronto, Canada as well as Dallas, Texas and a couple of times to the west coast, it became our go to car whenever we needed to travel on business.

It was all part of the plan, naturally enough, and the topic of previous posts to this blog. With the i8 gone, our new sports car is the F Type Jag and with the Jeep being replaced with a Range Rover Evoque (Convertible), we still have all seasons covered no matter what the weather might throw our way. We still have the BMW M4 competition naturally enough and the Corvette Z06 is still with us but no, there are no plans to add a Prius or even a Tesla for that matter. But that is a whole different topic best left for another post! 

Walking back through the garage a short time ago and seeing that there was no i8 parked inside created more than just a tinge of sadness.  While Margo was pictured above after retrieving a couple of items before handing over the cars, it was somewhat coincidental that we sat down, waiting for the final paperwork returning the i8 coupe, alongside an i8 Roadster … so, who knows what the future may hold for us, but should an opportunity present itself, I can’t see either one of us resisting such a temptation! With one eye on the i8 Roadster, was that Margo checking her stock portfolio, perhaps? Or, was it the itinerary for our upcoming trip in June?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Families come in all shapes and sizes – but they are still families!

At this time of year the weather is highly unpredictable. However, of late there have been some amazing sunsets that I was able to capture on film as I was standing on our main floor deck having fired up the grill for the first time. April is Colorado’s second snowiest month of the year – March is the snowiest – and we have been watching the thermometer climb and fall on a regular basis. It may very well be spring, but there are times where we just aren’t quite sure what to make of it. On the other hand, there is a growing sense that summer isn’t too far away. Around these parts there are a lot of farmers heading for the fields and there are tractors rumbling down lanes everywhere you turn. 

Grilling time is always a fun time and we have been entertaining a number of guests these past couple of weeks. Neighbors who spent the winter in Ohio have returned to Colorado while others who wintered in Arizona and Southern California are just now heading back – should see them shortly. Other friends elected to fly in from our old stomping ground, Simi Valley, and it was good to catch up with them – and share a steak or two. It looks likely that we will be welcoming even more neighbors by the look of it as no sooner than the home built to the immediate east of us has been completed the work commenced on a home to the immediate west of us. 

With the coming of spring, there is always a thought or two about rationalizing what occupies parking slots in out garage. And in case you may have missed it, in our fevered endeavor to downsize from five cars to four, we actually grew to six. We have had six cars once before, but we were scattered across three locations including Omaha, Nebraska, as well as Boulder, Colorado, and Simi Valley, California. What triggered the dramatic changes was our decision to return our beloved BMW i8, as its lease will come to an end in May. While out driving one day near Boulder, Margo caught a glimpse of an F Type Jaguar and after the appropriate ooohs and aaahs were expressed, we stopped by the local dealer. In a very short time we left with the gray F Type in the picture above and this was the subject of a previous post. 

On the other hand, while buying F Type Jag, we spotted and were intrigued by the Range Rover Evoque convertible taking center stage on the dealership floor. At the time, as much as we began to like the car, we did nothing. The F Type was taken to service over a weekend for a very minor item – syncing Margo’s iPhone to the Jaguar needed a software upgrade – and while it was being worked on Brian, our Jaguar salesman gave us another, not convertible, Evoque as a loaner that we proceeded to drive everywhere that weekend.

On returning to the dealership to pick up our new F Type, to our dismay the Evoque convertible was missing from the showroom floor. Totally disappointed to the point of being distraught, we walked to the coffee machine only for me to catch a glimpse of the Evoque returning from a test drive. Needless to say, we leapt into action and a matter of a couple of hours later we drove away in both the Jaguar and the Range Rover. These Evoque convertibles are being discontinued in 2020 and this bright orange example was one of the very last Evoques for sale.  Cool – so there you have it; we now have a two seat sports car with a roof and a four-seat SUV with a ragtop!

In many respects, Margo never quite got over the sale of her beloved Mini Cooper S Roadster ragtop. It remained a car she very much loved, I suspect. It was only a year ago that we traded the Mini for the BMW M4, but in time, Margo drew away from the M4 believing it was a little too big and worse, lacked the charm of her Mini. Welcome to the Evoque convertible – a ragtop Mini on steroids! And Margo just loves the darn car. It has a minimalistic power train based on a turbo inline four displacing just two liters but with the nine-speed auto, it seems to pull onto the freeways just fine! For us, the purchase of any vehicle is always an emotionally driven transaction and this time, it was more a Goldilocks situation where the vehicle was just right. And did I mention its bright orange?

It was only a matter of hours after returning from Germany and a couple of days after the really big winter storm hit Colorado that our good friends, Jan and Brian Kenny, arrived from Simi Valley to spend a long weekend with us in Windsor. We picked them up at the airport, still driving the Jeep SRT, brought them home and then celebrated with martinis and fine wine. With the arrival of Saturday, we made plans to drive up to Estes Park for breakfast and the cars of choice were the BMW i8 and the F-Type Jaguar. Mind you, this was just three days after that first “bomb cyclone” descended on northern Colorado so we were anticipating poor driving conditions.

Fortunately, with the lack of humidity and plenty of UV, the snow had melted and the roads were clear. The talk never moved too far from cars and Jan and Brian gave us a gentle poke as they reminded us that, with each trip to Colorado, they had had the opportunity to drive a different car. The Kenny’s are family to us indeed, whenever we receive a test message, the initial response is always, “was that from the family?” We have known the Kennys now for more than a decade and have traveled with them to Australia and Europe and I have covered the adventures that we had in previous posts to this blog. However, it remains one of those gifts of life that an accidental meeting on a Starbucks driveway could lead to such a lasting friendship. We are now looking forward to catching up with them again this summer and yes, RVs will be involved as will time spent alongside the Pacific Ocean.

One major fallout following our latest attempt with the rationalization of our cars is that we no longer have any vehicles with four doors and worse; only the RV can pull our trailer as the Evoque convertible isn’t capable of towing the trailer with a car on board. Particularly when it is our beloved Corvette! We will just have to see how that all pans out and, rubbing more salt into the wound, we cannot even flat tow the Evoque as it isn’t equipped with a transfer case where we can select neutral. Oh well …

Family: It isn’t fair to the rest of our families to suggest that we consider our cars as though they were our offspring. We each have a daughter that we truly love, but it’s true, cars are very much our family too. We are often found opening the door to the garage just to check that the cars are all right! Our kids, OK? The rock group The Who would be so proud of us – yes, the kids are alright, Pete Townsend! And yet, it’s a rationalization that is pretty shallow when you think about it and we have been seeing more of our human kids this month as our American daughter and grandchildren are celebrating their birthdays in April. Having spent three months in Australia we had the opportunity to spend some time with our Aussie daughter, Lisa, even as we welcomed to Sydney yet again, our American daughter Anna and her husband Erich. 

Cars are like family…  On the other hand, and perhaps not too unexpectedly, as soon as a vehicle becomes high maintenance then it is out of here, know what I mean?  So, not only will the i8 come off lease in May but just this past week, we sold the Jeep SRT seeing as it had recorded 125,000 trouble free miles over the course of five plus years. And the Evoque has taken up residence where once the Jeep had stood – and it’s so much smaller! Did I mention that, too?

It is also a sign of the times as the vehicle characteristics have changed too. When we had V10s and V8s all with manual transmissions parked in the garage, today it’s a mix of inline Four, an inline Six and a V6. No longer will you find 500 and 600 hp cars just wanting to be unleashed but rather, 300 and 400 hp cars. Gone too are the naturally aspirated vehicles losing out to a mixture of turbocharged and supercharged engines. Ignoring the soon to be departed i8 with it’s true hybrid powertrain, we now have AWD across half of the cars parked in the garage and ignoring too our track-focused Corvette Z06 parked offsite, it’s also a sign of the times that fuel tanks have become so much smaller even as the range has increased. We haven’t given up on performance mind you as all the cars go really well. It’s just that the garage now better reflects the changing times for choices in vehicles.  

Talk of families brings us back to the Kenny’s, whose grandson, Colton, set the record as the youngest ever Indy driver to win an Indy race – the Indycar Classic held at the Circuit of the Americas. As a rookie in only his third outing in an Indy car and on a circuit where he tested just a few weeks earlier (with much success), he took out his first win before he turned 19. Watching it all unfold on television was hard to do but as he crossed the finish line, there was much jumping up and down in the Holen-Buckle living room. The kid is alright, for sure. We have been following his career since we first saw him driving carts on the parking lot of the Rio hotel in Las Vegas and for the longest time, Colton’s only ambition was to become a professional Indy car driver. Having now watched him a couple of times, he is the real deal driving with a more mature attitude than you would normally expect from a teenager. 

Unfortunately, having worked his way up to second place in the championship just a short time ago, engine and fuel line trouble at Barber, Mississippi and then hitting the wall at Long Beach, California has seen him add little by way of padding to his points and he has dropped to tenth place overall with only a slim margin between him and second place in the Rookie Championship. But there’s a long way to go and next month it will be all about Indianapolis where he won all three events last year driving in the Indy Lights series. All we can do is wish him the very best, but all the same, who could have predicted him enjoying success this early in his career.

The Kenny family was in attendance for the event and kept us posted with updates all weekend. While we saw Colton go on track with the Indy cars for the first time when we visited Sonoma late last year, it’s clear that the union between the Herta family and that of George Steinbrenner IV and the subsequent creation of the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team has created a stable platform from which Colton will learn a lot and already, the relationship between driver and mechanics is already the talk of the paddock. There certainly was a lot of upside from Colton spending two years during his early teens racing in Europe. As a footnote, the Herta family’s tradition of heading for tacos whenever Colton had a win has led to a local taco vendor sponsoring his race this weekend – King Taco! 

The highlight of practice at Long Beach, in the lead up to the latest Indy race, however had to be a tweet from his dad! When Colton topped the practice charts Sunday morning he did so at the expense of his father’s, Bryan Herta’s, driver Marco Andretti. It is hard to imagine what the senior Herta is going through as he focuses on his own team and driver even as he faces real competition from his son racing for another team. Family dynamics are something the Holen-Buckle family is only all too familiar with, but the ups and downs we experience on a regular basis pale into insignificance when it’s all business. I am not sure whether we could handle that development all too well, but fortunately, with our daughters at this stage in their lives, it’s not a topic we need dwell on for too long.

Spring isn’t too far away and that will bring with it more road trips. We are already scheduling an RV outing that will take us to a major industry event in Las Vegas before we head further west to California. We are also anxious for a trip of exploration back up into Canada that will include spending time back in Banff and Lake Louise – the last time we took that trip, we drove the then-new 2004 Corvette convertible. So long ago, but if we were to ever point to an occasion where we first began to think about having multiple cars in the garage, it was standing at a payphone outside Banff where it all began. A chance call from our architect asking whether we would like to buy his Porsche 911 before he turned it back in to the dealer as the lease expired.

We didn’t proceed with the purchase, but what happened next is now history. All those years ago we had the red Corvette we still own to this day as well as a BMW 740 and a Yukon Denali SUV. It was the fall of 2003 and now, fifteen plus years later, we own no more sedans just sports cars and grand tourers (and track cars) together with a sort of SUV. No matter the style or the engine size, these vehicles are still very much appreciated as if they were our children and while we aren’t accumulating trophies or enjoying the accolades of cheering crowds, the opportunity to simply jump in a car and drive remains our primary form of entertainment. And with our grownup kids all doing fine, I guess it’s safe to say that it’s not just what trip we will do next, but what will be the next addition to our family … and with that, one last look at what's inside the garage today!