Come on, NY State. Parks should be free.

In June, as I was heading back to New York for the summer, I was excited about the great outdoors, so I bought myself an Empire Pass, which allows you to access every New York State park as many times as you like for the entire year. It seemed like a good idea. It was $81. All right, let’s go. I bought a new bike, bought a bike rack for my car, and was ready to take off.

I got busy, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to get out into the wild, and it started to bother me that I had spent so much money on something I hadn’t benefited from yet. But the day finally arrived. We were going to Long Point State Park on beautiful Lake Chautauqua. I would flash my card at the check point and roll in happy to know that it was worth it. Irony would exist that day, for as we pulled up to the place where you had to daily pay $8 to drive into the park, the station was empty. Anyone could drive in. For free. Fine. Okay. Let’s move on to the next part of the summer: Pennsylvania.

There had been a few state parks in PA which I wanted to check out. The first being Kinzua Bridge State Park where the highest railroad bridge in the world became a mangled ball of metal on a summer night almost twenty years ago when a massive tornado ran through it.

The PA Parks Dept have done a wonderful job with this park. It’s beautiful, interesting, and, to my shock, completely FREE! Wait, what?

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And it had a great bike trail!

A little later in the summer, we wanted to bike Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA, so we hitched up the bikes and pulled into the park to find it to be completely FREE! At the height of the summer.

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This is a beautiful park. Wonderful beaches. Great for biking. Lots of people fishing. Boating. And free.

It wasn’t until I pulled into Rockland Lake State Park in Rockland County, NY that I got to flash my Empire Pass and use it. Yeah, it was great, but I had already become a little jaded by PA’s great free parks. And don’t get me wrong, NY has many incredible state parks. But the problem I now have with them is this: they should be FREE! For everyone. At all times.

Government has its purposes, and whenever a government can provide something for a comparatively minimal cost at a maximum benefit for all its citizens, it should be a no-brainer. The parks belong to everyone. Every New York State citizen who pays taxes already support the parks system, so they should not be making anyone pay to use our own beautiful spots!

Drop the Empire Pass. Drop the $8 entrance fee. Encourage everyone to get into the wild and enjoy the beauty for free. This is one thing I always appreciated about Washington D.C. They keep the country’s treasures open for everyone at the Smithsonian without charging for it. It’s the way it should be.

Good for you, PA. Come on, NY. Step it up. Make all state parks free. Make it a budge priority.

First Jaunt to Egypt

First Jaunt to Egypt

I had a great time taking a few days to explore Cairo. I wasn’t sure what to expect except spectacular pyramids. They did not disappoint. The Giza pyramids sitting on the edge of the desert were indeed awe-inspiring trying to figure out and imagine what it looked like when they were being built.  The desert was beautiful and the requisite camel ride was thrilling if not a little nerve-wracking.  Those are tall animals. I felt small.

Cairo itself is a chaotic mish-mash of traffic, sounds, sites, smells, and endless people angling for a dollar or two. It’s understandable. They’ve been through a lot and ever one of the twenty-two million citizens of Cairo are competing for a limited economic pie.

Security remains tight and there was no place tighter than in Coptic Cairo – the old section with a myriad of beautiful Coptic churches.

We pre-booked our itinerary through WEKNOWEGYPT.com which I highly recommend if you are ever going. No haggle, fair prices. Dependable drivers and a terrific guide to the Egypt Antiquities Museum. We learned a lot without be overwhelmed and man-handled by an over-zealous guide.  Here are a few of my favorite shots from my trip.

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Night View from Our Balcony
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Coptic Cairo
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Approaching on foot
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The Desert

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The Cologne Cathedral & My Latest Novel: An Excerpt

The Cologne Cathedral & My Latest Novel: An Excerpt

Part 3 of the Forgotten Child Trilogy, releasing March 20th, begins like this:

***

She cowered in the shadows of the ambulatory, tucked behind the ribbed lines of a granite pillar. Her boy lay limp in her arms, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow and punctuated by an occasional whimper as her soft pats and solemn tones tried to revive the spark within him. Patches of black skin blotted his face, hidden under a blanket wound around him. Voices echoed from the aisle and, with haste, she picked up a bronze basin filled with black ash.
“Lord, I repent. We repent,” she repeated in her native German tongue.
She lifted the edge of the blanket from the boy’s face, exposing him to the chill of the cathedral.

***

The cathedral referred to in the opening scene is the Cologne Cathedral, on the Rhine River in northwestern Germany. I visited it with my family back in 2014, and it made such an impression that it ended up being a location in my newest novel. Here’s a few photos I took of my visit:

It’s spectacular and awe-inspiring. The cathedral even made it onto the cover of the A PARTING IN THE SKY:

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Yep, there it is with Francis Frick standing off to the left staring into the sea. The cathedral becomes the backdrop to the backstory of the trilogy. It exposes the origins of the warrior Ash and his relationship with Zette.  Here’s another excerpt from chapter 1.

***

“Ambros, I love you.” She kissed him, blackness and all, disease and all. She kissed him and placed the child in swaddling clothes on the edge of the ornate shrine of the relics of the Magi—the remains of the wise men who had once traveled to Bethlehem to visit a different child, but which now resided in the cloistered sanctum of the Cologne cathedral.
“Please. Take my Ambros.” She lifted her face towards the priests. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
She turned and ran the opposite direction under the arched vault, past the chapel, and down the side aisle.
“Black death!” the priests repeated as they pointed at the child. “Black death! The plague is in the cathedral.”
The child breathed his last. He had no more whimpers—no more carnal cries for help. His body had fought all it could.
The gifts of the Magi were different for this child. No one bestowed him with gold, frankincense, or myrrh—only cursed looks from the contingent of priests who bemoaned the black death defiling the sacred house of God. They scurried out of the ambulatory and called for the bishop to expel the disease from their presence. A lone child lay in the company of the remains of the Magi. There was, however, one more in the child’s presence.

***

Christian tradition holds that the remains – relics as they call them – of the Magi, the travelers from the east who visited the young baby Jesus, were brought to the Cologne Cathedral where they remain to this day. It was an interesting and unexpected twist which I enjoyed weaving into the novel.  This scene takes place in A.D. 1347 as the black plague grips Europe.

I really enjoy using my experiences around the world in my writing, and it’s my wish that the reader will enjoy them too.

A PARTING IN THE SKY – Part Three of the Forgotten Child Trilogy releases on Kindle & Paperback on March 20, 2019.

PRE-ORDER a parting in the sky HERE

One final Excerpt:

***

Death has a way of bolstering doubt and diminishing purpose. The bustling town of Cologne, on the mighty Rhine River, had closed its inner soul to the stench of the plague. The people toiled as a hopeless lot against the unstoppable power of the grave. That may have played a part in why she felt an unmistakable stirring within her. That, and the absurdity of the scene in the cathedral. Ashes poured over a child’s head. The high-brow barking of the priests. The presence of the bones of the long-dead Magi. But in the end, it was the lone child, unable to muster a sound, falling out of life with each breath as his mother ran in anguish the other way that made the watcher see the uselessness of it all.

***

Thanks for all of your support!

The Library of Siena Cathedral

The Library of Siena Cathedral

This summer I had my first ever trip to Italy – 14 incredible days of culture, history, and food. I thought I’d share a few highlights from time to time on the old blog.

On our tour of ancient capital of Siena, the magnificent cathedral impressed for architecture and art. What else is new? It’s Italy, after all. Here’s a few shots of what we experienced at the cathedral.

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The Cathedral – opened in early 13th century
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The unique striped design inside the main hall of the cathedral.
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Floor design in main cathedral
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Yes, a famous sculpture.
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Choir book. So cool!
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The vibrant ceiling of the library.
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These library frescoes are original. Never restored. The vibrant colors over seven hundred years old were amazing.

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The library! These ancient choir books were too amazing to pass up. Anyone up for singing?

PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA – From the top of the Rotunda

PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA – From the top of the Rotunda

Here’s one of my favorite not Italian spots in the world – PNC Park. It has, of course, been lauded over and over as a modern baseball marvel. One of the truly outstanding features of this stadium is the navy steel rotunda which forms a spiral walkway to the very top  of the ballpark. I’ve been meaning to post these since June, so now as the baseball season begins to wane, and I go into mourning, I thought I’d show you what Pittsburgh looks like from the top of the rotunda of the greatest baseball stadium in the world. Here goes:

 

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Legacy Square commemorating the great Negro League teams from Pittsburgh. There used to be bronze statues here. Where did they go?
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Looking straight down on the enormous statue of the great Hall of Famer Willie Stargell – one of my childhood heroes. He died the night before PNC opened its doors in 2001.
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Here’s the top of the rotunda itself. The original designs had a roof over the steel structure, but I’m so glad that didn’t happen.

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Standing at the top of the left field foul pole – fans filing in.
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Looking eastward over the Allegheny River. The tallest building in Pittsburgh – the former US Steel building takes center stage. 
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Looking Southeast over the Allegheny. PPG Paints building second from the left. In the distance Point State Park and Mount Washington.
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A beautiful view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge heading downtown.
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In my happy place.  See you next summer PNC Park.

I’ve Been Hiding in Italy on Vacation

My poor blog. It has lost the fight against ancient relics and priceless cuisine. I’ve been on the most amazing tour of Italy the last week plus that I forgot there was a world out there I used to know. Way to much to show and tell on this one little post, but I thought I’d drop a few photos to show what I did just yesterday. Lots more to come. Consider this the primo.

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Magic Square in Pisa. Okay. Too many people diss Pisa. I’ve heard them say there are so many other places to go. Skip Pisa. Well, no. Magic Square as they call it is rather magical. Of course the leaning tower gets all the glory, but the cathedral and baptistry (foreground) are stunning. Absolutely gorgeous. Well worth a trip from Florence.

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Look at this. Stunning, isn’t it? This is the library ceiling from the Siena Cathedral. This is just the ceiling. Original fresco never restored. You are looking at the colors as they were applied back in the 13th century. Stunning. My old church had a library, but I think it had a matte-white Sherwin-Williams finish. Not quite the same thing.

2018-08-02 12.35.06Tuscan country side. So beautiful. This is actually a view from a restaurant where we had lunch. If you look way in the distance, you can see San Gimignano – the so-called “Manhattan of the Middle Ages.” See below.

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Here’s the square in San Gimignano. There are many of these towers which are visible from far off – making a stunning medieval city on a hill. This town was one of my absolute favorites. A must see surrounded by the incredible Tuscan countryside – grapes, olive trees, lavender, etc…

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That’s what I’ve been up to. Oh, and tomorrow I go to Venice. Last week I was in Rome. Yes, I am spoiled beyond belief. I’ll get back to writing one of these days.  I hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I’m enjoying mine.