México 2022

Escape from COVID

Assuming you’ve listened or read any news in the last three years, you know that we have been dealing with a worldwide pandemic since early 2020. The idea of escaping from COVID is obviously a fantasy since this virus will be with us for a long time, if not permanently. But we seem to have resigned ourselves to learning to live with it. The purpose of this trip is not, however, to spend much time thinking or talking about COVID- we’re all ready to travel again, even if traveling is forever changed.

Travel preparations certainly feel different. We’re leaving tomorrow and already discussing how many rapid tests we need to take, what masking is like, if we need to take our actual vaccine cards (“no”), and the fact we should take a rapid test this morning. We will not need a PCR test to get into Mexico, but will need one to get back into the U.S. In the height of irony, the COVID community spread in Puerto Vallarta is lower than here but of course we need to be tested so we don’t bring COVID back into the U.S. We’ve had a number of federal agencies disappoint us during this pandemic, and the CDC has unfortunately done a great job of leading from the rear.

Puerto Vallarta

Pre-pandemic we were talking about traveling to Spain and perhaps Italy, but things all changed. Since most travel restrictions have been lifted, we could still technically travel to Europe, but we thought that Mexico was a simpler first place to go. After some research, we decided to try Puerto Vallarta. There are a number of famous resort areas in Mexico, including Cancun, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and each has their own vibe. Acapulco is the closest to Mexico City and welcomes a lot of local traffic for that reason. Cancun is one of the largest on the Caribbean side of Mexico and draws crowds from Mexico and the East and Southeast of the U.S. Cabo San Lucas has been more recently developed and tends to be more expensive. Tripadvisor described Cabo as drawing “raucous spring breakers and A-list celebrities,” while Puerto Vallarta is famous for “strolling, shopping and sipping tequila.” Well, we’re certainly above the legal age to be spring breakers, and I haven’t yet qualified for A-list status. So, Puerto Vallarta it is.

There’s nothing quite like getting up at three in the morning for a flight, but unfortunately that comes as part of the package. It was interesting to note that fewer and fewer people were masking in the airport and on the plane, although no one seemed stressed about those who made different mask choices than you might have made. Oddly the seeming end of mask wars did not yet result in people going back to complaining about carry-on luggage, leg space, and snacks, but don’t assume those complaints won’t be back. The actual flight to Puerto Vallarta from the U.S. is not long, but getting connections to the right departure airport takes longer than you think it should.

Mexican immigration and customs are easier than the U.S., but no one raves about U.S. customs so we’re talking about a low bar. Getting transportation to the hotel requires some planning since there are any number of willing drivers who are ready to take you for whatever price. However when you compare the reception here to the mob that rushes you at many other airports, it isn’t bad.

Puerto Vallarta is located in Jalisco, one of Mexico’s 32 states, and please don’t ask me to name all of them or their state capitals. Mexico’s country name in Spanish is actually the United States of Mexico (“Los Estados Unidos de México”), but the locals don’t seem to be too bothered that we say that we are from The United States, assuming there is only one. A bigger and justifiable criticism is that we call ourselves “American,” when both South and North Americans can rightfully claim themselves to be American too. To be fair, we don’t have a term such as “United Staters,” which they do in Spanish, so most of the world is OK with simply calling us “Americans.” From having watched a number of Mexican Telenovelas, I can also share that there are a number of nicknames for Americans in Mexican Spanish, some of which you know, such as gringo, and others which you probably don’t want to.

Puerto Vallarta has a population of around 400,000 in the greater metropolitan area and around 200,000 in the city. It was named for Ignacio Vallarta (I had to look that one up). Ignacio was a lawyer, served with Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz, two of the who’s who of Mexican history, and then ended his governmental service as Chief Justice of the Mexican Supreme Court. Not bad.

Back to Jalisco: Jalisco is famous for tequila. Let me start by clearing up an often debated issue, usually after a number of shots: are mezcal and tequila the same thing? Tequila is a liquor made from the agave plant and which is mainly produced in Jalisco and four other Mexican states. There is actually a city named Tequila which you can go visit for tastings, but that does involve a day’s trip and you don’t need to travel there to sample the product of course! Mezcal is also made from agave, but the production method is different than tequila and it’s made in different states. The cocktail party fact you want to have about all of this is that tequila is a type of mezcal but mezcal is not necessarily a tequila. You’ll see lots of tequila in bars and stores here but it’s more of a Jalisco state product than anything to do with Puerto Vallarta directly. Nonetheless, it’s the drink of the city.

There are two main areas in Puerto Vallarta. The older area is actually Puerto Vallarta and contains the old city center, the artisanal markets, the boardwalk, which is actually made of stone, as well as a number of hotels and condominiums. The area to the north is Nuevo Vallarta, which is filled with high end all-inclusive hotels, fancy restaurants and ritzy shopping. It’s where the other half lives. Other guests we met loved their accommodations, so where to stay depends on what type of experience you want. We preferred to not be so insulated and pampered and chose to stay in the older area of Puerto Vallarta. The price for this is of course some quirky hotel experiences, such as not having an elevator and five flights of stairs to climb, but that’s what makes for an adventure.

City Visit

Puerto Vallarta’s signature attraction is their boardwalk, the “Malecón,” which displays an amazing number of sculptures. All of these are true museum pieces and it’s a nice change from cities who honor politicians and other historical figures, many of whom have controversial histories with today’s lenses. Whether during the day or at night, it felt pretty safe, with small and non-frenetic crowds and visible police patrols.

Puerto Vallarta gives a justifiable impression of appreciating artistry and handcrafts. Although there are tons of souvenirs in shops made mainly in China, there are numerous shops which display and sell crafts made by local artisans.

Like many other resort areas, the boardwalk also hosts street performers of all kinds, including figures made to look like statues, fire dancers, musicians and indigenous dancers. If you have long hair, expect half-a-dozen requests to braid it. You’ll also be lured into restaurants with offers of 2 for 1 drinks, catchy phrases and promises of the best food. It’s what they do. Notable for us was that the tourists here seemed mainly Mexican, so it was nice to blend in vs. feeling like you’re part of a large tour group. Puerto Vallarta has different tourist seasons, with November through February being filled with mainly Canadians and Americans and the summer with Mexicans during school holidays.

The boardwalk is also steps away from Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is the city cathedral. It’s a beautiful old church, slightly older than a century, although you’d think it’s older. If you’ve been to older cathedrals in other cities, this one is nice and worth a visit, but may not be as distinctive as others. One of the special treats we witnessed during our visit was to see a robed priest come out and open the hood of a woman’s car. While we thought he was going to deal with an overheated radiator, he proceeded to actually bless the car with holy water. I wonder if he could do something about gas prices as well.

Danza de los Voladores

One of the neat things to watch is something that you may have seen on some Mexican travel programs. It consists of men being hung by their feet and dropping in a circular motion from a high pole. This is from an ancient Nahua, Huastec and Otomi ritual which is believed to have been developed to appease the gods and end a drought. I know that we have a drought in the West right now, but I have my limits.

Mirador de la cruz

Another neat thing to consider doing is climbing to the top of the hills above Puerto Vallarta to the look out over the city. It’s somewhat of an ambitious climb and hard but not impossible to find the way through the city. It is used by many for cardio exercise, so if that’s your thing, go for it.

Eating and Drinking

This is a city that offers a lot in terms of great restaurants. There are fewer really fancy restaurants, but there are plenty that offer very nice meals at very affordable prices. For those that care to know, the drinking age is 18 and people know how to celebrate. Fish is something that seems to be on every menu, as well it should be. Menus have a lot of local dishes and often will have burritos, which are not Mexican in origin, but I suppose so many tourists have asked for them they have given up and just added them to the menus. In addition to a lot of tequila based drinks, there is a wide selection of Mexican beers and even Mexican wines, which I found quite good. The service is really excellent, and you will have the chance to appreciate the wonderful sense of humor that people have here. At least in Puerto Vallarta, the servers will introduce themselves by name as is common in the U.S., but often joke extensively with you. It really makes an evening fun. Tipping in restaurants is around 10-20%, with 15% customary for good service. If you’ve been to Mexico before you will already know that much of what is called Mexican food in the U.S. is more Tex-Mex (think: I add cheese and refried beans to everything) than traditional Mexican. As a result, dropping or reducing the cheese and beans can make the food a little bit healthier, and even adding things such as cactus even more so.

We didn’t go to any bars per se but I did ask our cab drivers. As with any city, you have some bars you’d want to go to and others to avoid. Bars stay open until 3:00 am (no, that’s not a typo) and at least one stays open until 6:00 am. I found about the 6:00 am one since one of the taco restaurants we visited also stayed open until 6:00 am. Guess you can just finish up before you go to work in the morning, quite convenient.


Puerto Vallarta is apparently one, if not the most, gay friendly resorts in Mexico, with a gay beach, Los Muertos, numerous gay-friendly hotels and nightlife. While none in our group are members of this community, the welcome reception to LGBTQ visitors is clearly visible by the large number of gay pride flags on restaurants, shops and hotels, as well as the large number of LGBTQ groups we saw.

Romantic Zone

The Romantic Zone or Zona Romantica is one of the must see areas of the city. It is the old downtown, with a wide variety of restaurants, stores as well as ubiquitous vendor stalls selling souvenirs, clothing and most anything else you’d like. You’ll also notice the famous cobblestone streets, which look romantic, but will send your shocks to an early grave.

Getting Around

Short piece of advice: Don’t rent a car. Taxis are all over the place and inexpensive. Buses are available too, but the incremental cost of a taxi is worth it. I would also add that driving in Mexico is not for the faint of heart. There is a rhythm and a logic to when people cut in and when you let someone cut in, but it will not be intuitive to any American driver.

There are no meters in the cabs and they work on a zone system. To be honest, I never quite mastered the rates and they seemed to vary for reasons not understandable to most, such as picking up a taxi next to the port was more expensive than one on the street next to it. That said, nothing was too expensive. Most if not all drivers speak some level of English, with some being perfectly fluent. Most Mexicans don’t tip taxis unless luggage is involved. In Puerto Vallarta, I had the impression that most expect a tip from Americans since we manage to create expectations for tips and ruin it for every other tourist group, and we went along and ruined it for others by tipping. Even if you do not speak Spanish, you will be able to get by in almost every shop and restaurant, and hotels are a given. You will also run into a lot of people who have lived in the U.S. at one point or another. I can’t tell you how many people we met who lived in the Bay Area at some point.

You can also Uber if that is more comfortable to you. I would not always expect a fluent English driver, but then you don’t really need that in an Uber since they know where you need to go. But it will help in those places where getting a taxi is not always easy (which are very few).

Recreational Activities

If you check the internet, there are a ton of recreational activities you can do while here. To list a sample of them: snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, jet-skiing, horseback riding, boat rides, zip-lining and ATVs. The water and the beaches are wonderful, and many of these activities will be spectacular. We didn’t do a lot of these since we have done many of these during other trips, but I did want to highlight a couple of them that are unique to Puerto Vallarta.

The first is what is called Hidden Beach on the Marietas Islands. This involves a long boat ride on a fast boat to a protected island which requires you to swim 75 meters to shore while wearing a life preserver and a protective helmet. And did I mention this may be against the tide? Hidden Beach is in the middle of an island after swimming through a cave. If you’re up for it, it is surely worth the investment. This is an iconic landmark of Puerto Vallarta, thankfully saved from destruction since it had previously been used as target practice for the military.

The second activity to mention is the Rhythms of the Night Show. This is the Mexican equivalent of Cirque de Soleil, with plenty of acrobatics and neat music. It’s all performed on an island which is an about 25 minute boat ride from Nuevo Vallarta. The tickets are an incredible bargain considering you get dinner, unlimited drinks, and transportation. For us, seeing the people on the boat ride out and back alone, including the salsa dancing, loud reggaeton music and incredible party vibe was worth the price of admission alone.

Botanical Garden

One of the hidden gems we lucked into visiting was the Botanical Garden. It is a rather long cab ride south of the city and was on our list to do, time permitting. We were glad we did. This garden has apparently not been around that long and was developed by a transplanted (best term considering we are talking about plants) Californian and his mother some dozen years ago. It has a wide collection of native plants and trees, walking paths and a large gourmet restaurant with live music. It was honestly the best dining experience our group had during the trip. The entrance price is really low, and I speculate this was done to make it affordable for the locals to enjoy. It’s peaceful, there is no effort made to upsell anything and you’ll enjoy it. And you’ll learn some things: for example, I will confess that I never knew that vanilla comes from an orchid plant.

Night of the Iguana

Having saved the best for last, one really interesting fact about Puerto Vallarta is how it become famous. In 1964, there was a black and white movie released named Night of the Iguana, which sounds like a cheap horror film, but is actually a drama about the trials and tribulations of a defrocked priest played by Richard Burton. Based upon a play by Tennessee Williams, it also stars Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner. More than one person will tell you that this movie made Puerto Vallarta famous, and you can even see the remnants of the movie set on your way to the Botanical Garden. In fact, there is a statue of John Huston, who directed the film, in the town square. We watched it before going, hoping to see wonderful views of the city and country, but the black and white film and limited locations didn’t provide any of that. It is well acted though, even if a bit dated.

The other part of this story is that Richard Burton, a famously functioning alcoholic, was having an affair the time with (wait for it): Elizabeth Taylor. She came to Puerto Vallarta during the filming, kept coming to the set and was probably “not helpful.” According to Wikipedia, at the award dinner for John Huston, who won an award for his directing, “Allan Sherman performed a song to the tune of “Streets of Laredo” with lyrics that included, “They were down there to film The Night of the Iguana / With a star-studded cast and a technical crew. / They did things at night midst the flora and fauna / That no self-respecting iguana would do.” Their house is today a restaurant and hotel and has been wonderfully modernized. The restaurant is fantastic, a true high-end experience.

Return Home

So I started this narrative out talking about COVID tests. We all scheduled our COVID tests the day before our return at the hotel. They were administered by a doctor (would not happen in the U.S.) and cost $50. They were also rapid tests, which was a surprise. We were delighted to have them in hand when we arrived at the airport and happily pulled them out only to be told: “We don’t need those anymore.” Although we knew the rules were changing that evening at 12:00 am, the airport seems to have decided on early implementation. So, we were the last group to have had these. We hope this isn’t something we’ll have to repeat.

More Pictures

Enjoy some more pictures from the trip below!

Days of Wine and Transportation


I do like wine and am somewhat picky about what I’ll have. I will not spend a lot for any particular wine and delight in finding a great wine at a good price. Although I know my way around most American and South American wines, I have not spent a lot of time learning French wines as of yet. One of the principal differences between the U.S. and French wines is that the French tend to blend wines a lot more and that the wines are known by their region, e.g., Bordeaux. Even within a region there are different blends, so you unfortunately need to be pretty knowledgeable about the particular producer to know what it is. It’s hard to fake it. There is a famous line in Sideways about the lead character not wanting any more “f@#$king merlot” and then having a particular French wine that is largely made of merlot grapes. This was the classic inside joke that most everyone missed, including me. Given the challenge of knowing what to order, we mostly went with house wines, and I can say they were all really good. There was only one white that was not great, but to be fair the waiter warned us that we had just ordered “liquid sugar.” We all loved the Côte de Rhône best of all, and we’re bringing some back. Wine knowledge is pretty good here; it’s more of any “everyman” thing since wine is a standard part of many meals. It’s not perfect though, since some restaurants served us red wine that was almost hot in temperature. Beer tends to be Heineken, Leffe or another Belgium brand. Kronenbourg, which we think of as a marquee French beer, is considered like Bud Light. There is also a beer/tequila mixture called Desperados, which no one wanted to try since we thought that basically nothing good could come of that.


As I mentioned earlier, Uber is a great choice for getting around, as well as taxis. We made good use of the Metro, which is incredibly cheap and easy to use. It’s set up like the system in Montreal, with rubber tires on the cars that removes that perhaps romantic but more likely annoying clack-clack of the train cars. If you come to Lyon, learn to use the Metro- it’s the best way to go.

For intercity, there’s been a huge issue over the past couple of months due to strikes. Labor issues are very common here, where labor rights are prized more than profitability in more cases than not. There have even been cases of CEOs taken hostage by the workers in a sort of French Revolution fashion. As I’m writing this, our flight home has been canceled and we are re-routing through Los Angeles due to the strike. We are sitting in the Air France lounge but to be clear are not being held hostage.

What seems unaffected by strikes is the use of intercity buses. New, private companies such as Flix and Oui have started jazzed-up bus service at incredible prices. Riding the bus is cool again. Well, maybe it was never cool, but at least it’s an alternative. Adam’s friend from college came to visit using the Oui bus, and it was a good deal with on-time arrival. You can see them below holding the UVM banner.

Visit to Salon and French


We had the chance to meet with our son Adam’s godparents in Salon, which is about two and one-half hours south of Lyon. One thing we realized coming here is that Lyon is not really convenient to a lot of other places. My cousin Ken lives in Germany and suggested meeting, but the closest meeting point for that would have involved a high-speed train to Paris which would have been difficult to manage and also expensive. We had a similar issue with our former exchange student Vera who lives in Germany. Every train connection was long and expensive. The only connection that was manageable was a college friend of Adam’s who was in Geneva and who came by bus to Lyon.

In any event, our meeting in Salon also worked, although it was a bit of a drive for one day. Salon is a picturesque little village that has wonderful, well-preserved buildings and quaint restaurants. Consistent with every place else, parking is at a premium. If you come France, it’s really worth the time to visit villages such as this, since it will provide a much broader view of the country. Just as visiting New York is by itself not all of the U.S., so is a visit to Paris alone not all of France. Paris has a population of around 11 million, out of a total of about 65 million in France. Lyon is the next largest city, with slightly over 2 million. The point of those statistics is to understand how Paris really is so different than the rest of the country, and the importance of visiting things beyond the usual tourist spots if you can. Salon was a pleasure to visit and well worth the journey.


Coming to France has always been a bit intimidating for an anglophone since we have heard numerous stories of rude treatment when you don’t speak French and the dearth of anyone locally who can speak at least some English. Having come here over the years, my unscientific conclusion is that English knowledge has gotten much better, especially among the young and in touristy areas. And at least in Lyon, we were never treated rudely. In contrast to, say, Germany and The Netherlands, you will be able to find more people in France who don’t speak some English, but it’s easy enough to find someone who does. It however always helps to try to speak some French, even if very limited. It is appreciated and what I find really polite is the fact that native speakers who also speak English well do not automatically switch to English- they will allow you to practice, make mistakes and be nice about it. In Germany and The Netherlands, people will very often switch once they hear the slightest accent, which does not help you learn and also can be taken as a bit insulting even if not so intended.

I spent a fair amount of time preparing for this trip by listening to podcasts and using some of the most common language apps, including Duolingo and Babbel. It’s so much easier to learn these days. I am just a beginner, but was able to survive in restaurants, returning the car and other basic activities. The more complicated items, such as renting the car and complex hotel issues, such as the maid left the door open for the second consecutive day, were done in English since none of us is that fluent.

French is an interesting language for English speakers to learn since roughly 30% of our words have French origins. That’s what happens when a bunch of French Normans decide to sail north and invade England in 1066 and stay for about 400 years. It’s notable that some people will say that the two languages have so much in common since they are both based in Latin, but English is not Latin-based, but rather a German-based language. Anyway, since we have so much common vocabulary, it tends to be easy for English speakers to read French, but that’s where the easy part ends. Pronunciation is very difficult to learn, although there are conventions, and spelling is too. The grammar is complex, although logical. Somehow the way words are spelled and pronounced changed over a long period of time, although it’s hard to understand exactly why. One theory in the internet is that it was a natural evolution of the language and every language has this. The problem with this is that, for example, German and Spanish have been around just as long and don’t have these issues at all; there are not spelling bees in either country. English has spelling bees I am convinced because English has taken on so many foreign words due to, principally, invasions such as the Normans. Thank you, Normans for making our grade school experience simply awful.

One thing that most everyone agrees is that French is a beautiful language to listen to in song and poetry. That will never change.

Soccer and Driving


Our trip coincided with the U.S. National Men’s Team playing a “friendly,” or a non-competitive soccer match against the French national team. The friendlies are often not really as amicable events as the name might imply, although in this case the match was intended to mainly help both teams in different ways: to help the French team prepare for the World Cup and to help the U.S. team start its painful process of rebuilding after not qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1994. Since we were here anyway, we decided to attend and luckily were able to buy on-line tickets the day before. The prices were comparable to the U.S., but I have to say I was delighted to not have to pay any convenience, delivery, service or other made-up costs that you do when you buy a ticket for any event in the U.S.

The event was well organized, with special trains set up for easing transportation. Our train included about 200 French fans and four of us. We listened to loud and off-key renditions of The Marseillaise and it was clear the fans were really ready to support their team.

The stadium was essentially sold-out with approximately 56,000 in attendance of which I would guess there were maybe 200 U.S. supporters. The French fans were enthusiastic, but incredibly respectful. We did not feel unsafe as we might have in some U.S. stadiums if we were sitting in the opposing team section. The fans brought tons of French flags and sang songs in support of their team loudly. For a game that did not count, they made it seem that it did.

France clearly outplayed the U.S. team, which was composed of largely European-based young talent. The U.S. coach is a temporary, and this was to be used to experiment a bit. France dominated play on the first half, possessing the ball about two-thirds of the time, and having numerous great opportunities. However, for those that know soccer, it is the cruelest of sports for rewarding good play since, despite a solid French performance, the U.S. had a great breakaway at the end of the first half and scored to lead the match 1:0.

After another half of solid pressure, the U.S. conceded a goal, well earned by the French. There was a lot of tension and good opportunities for the French until the end, but it ended in a tie at 1:1. The U.S. had to have been happy with that result and they held firm under pressure. We left the stadium and joined a huge group and got back on the train. There was no drunkenness, no trash and only one vendor selling scarves; a much different vibe than a post NFL game.


When I think about driving in France, I inevitably think about mob-like meetings of cars rushing around the traffic circles in Paris or driving through the French countryside in a beat-up car in a black and white and impossible to understand French film. It’s obviously a bit different than that, but still has some great surprises. To start with, the cars are small and need to be so. Parking spaces are at a premium and the roads are narrow, even in large cities. It’s a challenge at times to understand if you’re driving into a road or an alleyway.

If you plan to rent a car in France, it’s good to know that the majority of rentals are manual transmissions. One website recommended making reservations well in advance and even suggested bringing proof you can use a manual transmission (what would that proof look like, by the way?). I made the mistake of not doing full research on driving rules before booking and would recommend you either do so well before your trip or not at all, the latter approach following the “ignorance is bliss” standard which I unwittingly went with. Some of the things that I did not know, and wish I had: a) your license needs to run a year beyond the rental date (seriously, for a two day rental?), b) you need a compete safety kit in the car, including a breathalyzer and safety vest, which was of course not in our rental, c) there is a presumption in France that the driver coming from the right always has the right of way, even if he’s coming from a side road and you’re headed straight. On the last point, France has gone to considerable measures to work around this really unique rule and installed signs at intersections indicating if you do have the right of way or not. Most U.S. drivers would not know what these look like, so spend some time on the internet before you think about driving. Note too there is no such thing as “cushion” for speeding, having known someone who got a ticket for driving 93 in a 90 zone.

Oh, and by the way, French police can stop you for any reason. You’ll of course need a notarized translation of your U.S. license or an international license according to the French government website; I had neither.

On driving, despite the fact the city streets were designed by LEGO engineers, the pay highways are spectacular. They are very well maintained and clearly marked. There is a “but” of course which is that they are incredibly expensive. We paid around $28 to drive two hours. That’s even more than the famous California “Lexus lanes.” I think we would not mind paying higher amounts in the U.S. if we got better roads in exchange.

Getting around with a nav system is really a great experience compared to the impossible-to-fold maps that used to be the standard. I would recommend using the car nav system to avoid heavy data roaming costs with an app such as Waze. Our nav was in French, which was fine for us except that it hit me that French does not have a separate word for “bear” versus “turn.” This became really annoying since every slight bend in the road was instructed as “turn.” It was like a bad game of hokey-pokey.

My last story is about gas, which is predictably expensive here. The last time I rented a car here in had to stop for gas and was confronted with either choosing “sans plomb”or some odd number on the gas pumps and I had no idea what to do. This time I confidently knew that “sans plomb” meant “unleaded” and was ready to go. However, things have changed mightily over the years and I discovered that both the unleaded and the mysterious numbered gasoline were gone and replaced by an unlabeled green nozzle and a yellow nozzle labeled “gazeol.” When I opened the gas cap, it was labeled “diesel,” which made it abundantly clear to me that I should use the green nozzle since diesel nozzles in the U.S. are always green. In addition, the yellow nozzle was not labeled diesel, and there is no way they would try so hard to confuse us. Yet they did. It turns out gazeol is the French word for diesel and that was the correct move. Thankfully they made the nozzles idiot-proof and only the right one would fit. But I had to rely on the idiot-proof mechanism to not completely ruin the engine with the wrong fuel- I suspect I am not the first who’s been confused on this and not the first idiot to visit.

Eating, Museums and More

Paul Bocuse

Paul Bocuse is a local hero here and it’s all due to food.   He is the man that started the nouvelle cuisine movement which incorporated fresher ingredients in traditional French cooking.  He is famous for having achieved record 3 star Michelin ratings for his restaurants.  For those not familiar with Michelin ratings, they are issued to restaurants based upon the quality of offerings, and range from no star to three stars.  And yes, it was started by the two French brothers who owned the tire company.  The Michelin Guide began in 1900 and was developed to help motorists find good places to eat and good mechanics.  Mechanics are however no longer rated, which is a darn shame since it would make car service appointments so much more interesting.  Although it’s been around for a long time, the U.S. only began to receive ratings in 2005.  The top-rated restaurants are described as being “worth a special journey,” which sounds pretty understated considering that there are, for example, only a dozen or so of these in the U.S.  Of note is the fact that service quality does not affect the star earned; that part is separately rated along with the ambience by the amount of forks and spoons assigned. To most of us simple folk, having good service is a huge part of our liking of a restaurant or not, so  you can imagine, the stars alone are not the full story.

Michelin stars are nonetheless a big deal, and Bocuse was one of the top collectors of three star ratings until his retirement.  Bocuse passed away in early 2018  but his legacy lives on and it’s something Lyon continues to be proud of. As I finished this article, we were all saddened to hear about the passing of another famous chef, Anthony Bourdain, coincidentally in France for shooting his television series. I had first seen Bocuse in an interview conducted by Bourdain a number of years ago. Both of them contributed mightily to our food culture in different ways and will be missed.


We were able to visit two museums in Lyon and both were interesting and ones I would recommend.  The first museum we visited was The Museum of Confluences located at the meeting or confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers.   It’s hard to get a really clear description of what the museum is supposed to cover, but the best way I could describe it is as anthropology meeting science.  The museum had a permanent collection covering the origins of the universe, the age of dinosaurs, the evolution of man’s inventions, burial customs and how these developments intersect, playing off the confluence theme. As you can imagine, it’s a bit confusing but seems to work.  Above all, the museum is a spectacular building and well worth a visit.

Exterior of the Museum of Confluences

The second museum was the Musée Miniature et Cinéma. This museum includes a large display of miniature rooms that are spectacular. Although they look like they would be used in filming movies, they are in fact simply works of art. This museum is located in a a restored Maison des Advocats, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Miniature restaurant and apartment

The miniatures are generally 1/12 scale, but honestly seem smaller than that. In addition, the first few floors of the building include famous movie props such as the Back to the Future Hoverboard and the prop used to show the ill triceratops in Jurassic Park. We spent a long time in this museum, much more than we would initially expected. This museum is truly something that you’ll see not see elsewhere.

Movie props


Tourism 101

Over the years we’ve developed the habit of including one of those hop-on, hop-off buses in our plans for any city that we visit. Yes, they are very touristy, but you can really get a sense of what you do want to explore. It’s much better than leafing through a guidebook that is filled with useless coupons and which details the places every tourist should go, but you may not want to because every one else has the same book.

We took the Lyon bus tour yesterday and it was actually pretty good. Lyon does not have the number of attractions that Paris does, but there are certainly things to see. Above all, it is just a very pretty city. There were of course some technical problems and we had to change buses since the audio did not work. It was interesting to get a sense of the rivalry between Lyon and Paris since there were some comments made on the tour and by locals to us about how much better Lyon is than Paris. There’s likely a story behind that I am sure.

Another fascinating point in Lyon is the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers. Most of us knew the Rhône but being able to remember the Saône was like trying to conjure up the name of that fourth member of The Three Stooges. There’s a museum at the confluence of the two rivers named, not surprisingly, The Confluence Museum. We’re planning on visiting it today and I’ll let you know what’s there– even the guidebook was a bit vague about what’s on display so we’ll see.

Eating out

We’ve been pretty spoiled here by the wealth of good eating. There are so many choices, with a mix of local venues and also the standard Italian, Thai and Middle Eastern haunts. It’s refreshing that restaurants here provide portions that you can really eat versus the massive sizes that we see in the U.S. In spite of this France recently passed a law that requires restaurants to provide a doggie bag container if requested by the customer. Such a container is called “Le Doggie Bag” in French representing one of the new English expressions brought into French. Given the less than sterling reputation that American food has here, choosing to use our word will not help assist in changing that. As you can imagine, of course we wanted to try out this new thing and asked for, and received, a box for our leftover pizza in an Italian restaurant.

“Menus,” which include pre-selected courses, are popular here and found in most every restaurant. Wine and beer are common to see at both lunch and dinner. The wine choices are excellent and varied, but basically varied only to the extent of which French region. Speaking of wine, one of the interesting facts we heard on our tour is that Beaujolais is not as popular here as it seems to be outside of France, making me wonder if we have once again fallen for a massive marketing gimmick such as the ones that brought us fondue, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Beer choices seem to be Belgium based, with Heineken appearing on some menus as well. Extreme caution should be taken with some of the Belgian beers since they include some essentially weird choices such as blueberry- ugh!

The sharing economy

One of the more visible ways this country has embraced change is through the sharing economy. My son Wes landed here for law school last week. He’s rented part of an apartment through Air B&B, takes Uber to go from place to place and has made good use of Uber Eats. We’ve seen Uber Eats bicyclists throughout the city and also around through Uber. None of this would have been possible five years ago. In addition, Lyon introduced the first major city bike sharing program and we’ve seen their iconic red bikes all over. I should mention that of course the city made a point of noting that their program was in place before the program in Paris. All of these changes make doing things so much easier for everyone, despite the disruption they’ve caused for many existing businesses. And they especially make it easier to visit- for example, when we take Uber, there are no communication difficulties about where we’re going!

Trip to France

Travel nowadays is relatively easy and cheap, yet we love to complain about it as much as we do talking about the weather. I do find it’s best to set low expectations as a good way to ensure that we’re not basket cases after a single day in an airplane.

Our flight is from San Francisco to Lyon and the connections should not be hard. We booked the flight with a travel agent (remember those?) who finds inexpensive business class tickets. The neat thing about this travel agent is that it is a person, not a website, and thus someone we can call with our problems, abundant as they may be.

We were, for our standards, surprisingly ready on time for the limo to the airport, and started our trip off with a schedule mix-up since they thought we were going to San Jose. After straightening that out, we were off to San Francisco. If you’ve flown from San Francisco recently, you’ll know they do a terrific job of ensuring scheduling delays, late luggage arrivals and providing an airport ambiance that is about 15 years behind the times. They did not disappoint since the security line was similar to a depression-era bread line- and it’s not as if they didn’t know the planes would be taking off.

We boarded the plane on time, in this case an Airbus 380. This Airbus is massive— you have the joy of flying with over 500 of your best friends. We were on the top floor, which felt like an entire plane itself. Of course we were delayed by 90 minutes before departure, which was attributed to having a passenger in a wheelchair. I wonder how he felt being rolled aboard when it was just announced that this delay was due entirely to him! It was an interesting yet uneventful flight to Paris to make our connection to Lyon. I was able to watch a couple of French movies, subtitled, which somehow all seem to have two required scenes– an argument in a smoke-filled bar and also a journey through the French countryside in a beat-up Peugeot.



We had a reasonably scheduled connection in Paris to Lyon which of course was a flop since we left so late. We arrived at the gate exactly two minutes too late and missed our connection. In contrast to flying domestically, we were then scheduled for the next flight that same day and each given a food voucher for 26 Euro for our trouble. Hard to imagine any of that happening in the U.S.

France- some first thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve been to France and it was interesting to see what’s changed. Driving seems no different, with an apparent national pact known only to the French that cars have to be really small and driven with high velocity. Smoking has, on the other hand, visibly decreased, with national bans in bars and restaurants. That said, it’s still at a higher rate than in the U.S.

France has had a great ability to be part of Europe and still remain distinct. There has always been an effort to protect the French language from foreign invaders (that’s us, anglophones) and it is the only country that I can think of that has three domestic automobile makers, i.e., Renault, Peugeot and Citroen, which principally serve their own domestic market. The British tried to defend their auto industry as well, but we know how that ended with any remnants of British auto manufacturing now being foreign owned. Under De Gaulle, keeping France separate but part of Europe reached its apex with France’s withdrawal from NATO, closure of all U.S. bases and then his push to not allow the U.K. to join the Common Market— maybe he was ahead of his time on the last point.

Any discussion of France needs to lead with food. It’s excellent, abundant and highly regarded. Even the local discount supermarket has a large cheese and wine selection. Eating is something that is to be enjoyed and not rushed through. We gladly adapted to that. Art, architecture and style are also highly appreciated.

Relative to the language issue, which has always been a challenge for the visitor, there are now a lot of English speakers here, although it’s really helpful and polite to start with some French if you can. So far, we’ve been very well treated, and people are polite to the visitor. Patience is not in abundance for drivers, though, so be prepared for some tense moments in traffic.

This remains a great country to visit and well worth the trip!

The Graduation— UVM

College graduations are always special events— finally having that Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and finally not having that tuition bill is really something to celebrate.  In our case, our son Adam finished at the University of Vermont in May 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and we were all really happy to have been there to witness the event.

The UVM graduation is done in two stages, with a general ceremony in the morning and then a school specific event in the afternoon.  It’s a great and convenient excuse for parents and relatives not to have to attend the main ceremony which involves no individual awarding of degrees but includes many speeches, some of them good.   This year’s general event included a heavy downpour which provided a great excuse for non-attendance.  Adam and his friends made it through some of it until the rain became too intense.  The main commencement speaker was the governor of Vermont, Phil Scott.  My small world story on that is that Phil was in my high school class, as well as my UVM class.  I obviously did not go the governorship route for my career.

The main ceremony was in the Flynn Theatre, which also brought back memories for me since I had last been in there in 1978 for a Woodie Guthrie concert.   That concert was superb, and included some of his greatest hits, with the notable absence of “Alice’s Restaurant” to the chagrin of the entire crowd.   Note these concerts were pre concert T-shirt days, so I unfortunately did not “get the T-shirt”  to prove I went.

College graduations have not changed much, but since J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, we all secretly think that the graduates look  like they are from the various houses of  Hogwart’s when they march in.   This ceremony started with a processional of bagpipers playing “Scotland the Brave,”  making it even harder to remove Potter-like thoughts from our minds.  It was a bit of strange mash-up, but we were all glad to have to not to listen to “Pomp and Circumstance” piped in over a less than state-of-the-art public address system.

The ceremony went well, with the commencement speaker was also from my 1980 UVM class.  The Dean of the School did a great job and it went smoothly.  We went to a UVM reception at the Hilton right after the ceremony, which was attended by about 100 and had food for about 20.  All in all, a great day for Adam and we were pleased to be part of it.   Adam joins, me, my sister Dorothy, my nephew Charles, my brother-in-law Mark as UVM graduates.  Go Cats!