All posts by JasonMichaels

Chicago

Recommended Things To Do – The Imperial Suite at the Chicago Hilton, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Shedd Aquarium. All three of these places are in the middle of downtown Chicago, right off of Lake Michigan. They are walk-able from each other, but you might want to grab a cab for convenience.

My Adventures – I’ve spent many days in Chicago. It has been a great city for my business, and it’s also been a ton of fun to visit for concerts and recreation. Here are some of my favorite Chicago destinations.

Chicago Hilton – The Chicago Hilton is by far my favorite hotel to stay in. On my last stay I found myself living in one of the two Imperial Suites for several days.

The Imperial Suite that I stayed in was about 2,000 square feet and had two bedrooms – each with a private bathroom, a living room, kitchen, and dining area. This spacious suite made a stressful business trip much less stressful. It’s big enough and comfortable enough that you feel like you are staying in your home away from home. And the view of Lake Michigan from the living room area is AMAZING! I recommend the Chicago Hilton and I highly recommend the Imperial Suite, if you can swing it.

The Magic Cabaret – On one of my trips I decided to stay an extra day to enjoy the local Chicago magic scene. For those of you that don’t know much about magic history, Chicago has a wonderful history that is full of magic shops, magic shows, magic bars, and more.

I bought tickets to see the Magic Cabaret which stars Joe Diamond and David Parr. What a fun show! Joe and David treat magic with great respect and their show was full of theatrical flair and mind-bending  illusions. If you enjoy experiencing great magic, you owe it to yourself to drop in and see their show.

Magic Inc. – Magic Inc is the oldest continuously run magic shop in North America. Being a magician, I just had to drop in earlier in the day, before I went to see the Magic Cabaret, and see the place. It’s really a very nice magic shop with tons of tricks, books, videos, and other magic accessories.

If you are a magician, you owe it to yourself to stop in and buy a few things that are on your wish list. If you are not a magician, but you love watching great magic, you should also stop in and ask the demonstrators to show you something cool – you can thank me later.

The Bean – Well, what is there to say about the Bean? Honestly, I can’t think of much. I had heard that you  had to go down to Millennium Park and check out the Bean, so I did. And that picture is proof.

The Bean’s real name is “Cloud Gate” and it’s actually hollow inside. I stopped by Millennium Park to check it out and I was there long enough to snap a few photos and take a look around the Park before I headed over to…

Art Institute of Chicago – In a word…Wow! You could easily spend an entire day walking around the Art Institute and seeing all the masterpieces. I found myself both awed and inspired as I viewed beautiful paintings, drawings, sculptures and more by incredible artists. Spending the day there made me think about my own creative endeavors and how I can create better and more artistic experiences for my audiences.

Hot Doug’s Sausage Superstore – One day a couple of years ago I had just left the airport in my rental car and I tuned into local sports radio. The hosts of the show were going absolutely ballistic that chef Doug Sohn had just announced that he was going to close his much-loved Hot Doug’s Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.

These guys on the radio were losing their minds that “Hot Doug” had decided not to sell his extremely popular store, just to close it up after years of business. I guess people have a hard time understanding that creators don’t always want to see their “babies” get changed by someone else down the line.

Anyway, I decided that I had to stop in this Chicago staple and enjoy some gourmet sausages. Holy smokes, those dogs were good. I wish I could tell you to drop in and grab a couple on your next trip, but Doug was true to his word and closed up shop at the end of the year.

The Field Museum & Shedd Aquarium – The Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium are right next to each other on the banks of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago. Each of these are world-class. I spent half a day wandering around each place and thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you enjoy museums and aquariums, you will love visiting one or both of these.

United Center (U2 Innocence + Experience Tour) – During the Chicago Bull’s heyday I so badly wanted to go to Chicago and go to the United Center to see Michael Jordan (and team) play.

Years later, I finally made it to the United Center. I didn’t see the Bulls play, but I did get to see my favorite band – U2 on their Innocence + Experience Tour.  The venue was great, as was the concert. Now I just need to make it back to see a basketball game sometime!

Soldier Field (U2 360° Tour) – So it appears that either A) I don’t go to Chicago to go to sporting events, or B) I go to way too many U2 concerts!

My first time at Soldier Field wasn’t to see the Chicago Bears play, it was to see U2 for the very first time on their 360° tour. Walking up to Soldier Field is awe-inspiring. The architecture is really impressive and knowing that you are walking into the home of the Bears is really, really cool.

I am happy to report that seeing U2 for the first time here was amazing. I’ve since seen them quite a few more times.

Chicago is always a wonderful city to explore with something for everyone. I hope you find it as much fun as I have.

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Magicians of the Caribbean, Final Days

Original article published January 2011

Day 7 – We spent the day in FL today.  Most of my days spent in FL are used to catch up on email, phone calls, etc.  Today was no different.  We found a cool little Starbucks and I took care of some emails and made a few business calls.  Afterwards, we had lunch at a fun Mexican restaurant and headed back to the ship early to prepare for that night’s show.

One of the fun parts of working on a ship is getting to know the crew/staff.  Kristin and I found ourselves hanging out at the Pub 437 several nights after the shows and we befriended the bartender Dedi.  Dedi is a huge fan of magic and we enjoyed hanging out with him.

Day 8 – Today we were back in Freeport for our final day in the Bahamas.  Kristin and I decided to head into town and do a little souvenir/Christmas (remember this was back in December) shopping.  I met a cool lady in the straw market who wove a bag that I bought for my sister.  We finished our time off at the Our Lucaya Resort beach working on our tans.

We had a great final show tonight and got everything packed up and ready for an early disembarkation.

Day 9 – So we got off the ship nice and early, made it through customs and waited for our show props to arrive.  We waited, we waited some more, and then we waited awhile longer.  After waiting for an hour and a half, I finally discovered that our props had been delivered about an hour and a half earlier but were just sitting in the customs area waiting to be claimed.  I must give a really nice lady customs officer some serious thanks for locating my equipment and then helping me get everything through the system so I could pack it up in the cargo van.  After Kristin and I finally got everything loaded, it was pretty uneventful.  We drove fourteen and a half hours back home to Nashville from FL.  The next day I returned the cargo van to the rental company.

That pretty much wraps up my very first cruising adventure.  I’ve found that every time I perform in a new setting there is a new set of challenges to overcome.  That’s one of the major challenges of being an entertainer.  At first, it was totally stressful and overwhelming, but I’ve come to enjoy it.  In fact, I would say that I’ve learned quite a bit about dealing with the challenges of life from the challenges that I face as an entertainer.  I hope that you too are able to embrace all the challenges that life throws at you and that you come out as a conqueror, or, at least with some fantastic adventure to share.

If you just joined this little adventure, click here and start the journey at the beginning.

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Magicians of the Caribbean, Days Five & Six

Original article published January 2011

DAY FIVE – Today Kristin and I found a Panera Bread in a shopping area of West Palm Beach called CityPlace.  CityPlace is a really nice outdoor area that has restaurants, boutiques, department stores, movie theatres, comedy clubs, bookstores, etc.  It’s a perfect place to go to hang out and grab a good cup of coffee and check email.  It was an added bonus that when we sat down at Panera with our breakfast and coffee, I found out that their internet connection is free.  Sweet!

I think that tonight’s show was definitely the strongest one yet.  It became rather obvious to me that I had found my comfort zone.  You know, sometimes it takes me a little bit of time to get comfortable in a new performing space.  After performing for the audiences that are on the ship for the last few days, I had a good feel for how they would respond to the different jokes, etc.  It also took me a little bit of time to get totally comfortable doing magic on a stage that was surrounded three hundred and sixty degrees by an audience.

So, at this point in the ballgame I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.  Shows are going great and I’m stress free.  I haven’t yet made it off the ship and into Freeport, but that is my plan for tomorrow.

Kristin with Comedian Wes Epai

DAY SIX – Kristin and I finally made it into Freeport!  The first time we were here, not only was the weather totally sucky, but I also had the show on my mind and just didn’t feel like being distracted.  The second time we were supposed to be here, the ship got stuck out at sea!  I guess the third time really is a charm!

So, Kristin and I got off the ship today and took a bus into Freeport.  The bus driver was quite the showman.  He told us stories, history of the area, and plenty of jokes.  I think he figured out that providing entertainment on a twenty-five minute bus ride will get you a lot more tips than doing nothing at all.  No doubt!

The resort we went to was called Our Lucaya.  It was stunning.  The water was blue, the sand was white, and as I looked around I felt like I was looking at images from postcards.  Boy, let me tell you, the sun down there is intense.  The actual day spent at the resort was sort of cool, but that sun is no joke.  Spend more than a couple of hours out there when you aren’t used to it and you will get baked!  Luckily for us, we didn’t get baked.  We had a great time at the beach.

Tonight’s show went fantastically.  You know, I am totally fascinated by how audiences react to certain magic pieces better than others.  One of my strengths, by far (in my opinion), is performing slightly dramatic, usually a little artistic, type of material.  I have a routine with a rope that is about five solid minutes of magic that has been choreographed to a piece of music.

Photo taken by Rick Malkin

When I first started performing it, I was freaked out because I wasn’t sure that audiences would be able to follow it for five minutes if I didn’t speak at all.  I have found though, and my experiences on the ship back this up, that the rope routine is one of the stand-out favorites.  I guess audiences really do like the slightly artistic type of magic that I personally love.  That makes me very happy to know that my gut instinct is right!

Check out the photo below.  It is a photo of a ghost ship that is docked at the Our Lucaya resort.  Very cool!

Click here to enjoy the final part of this adventure.

If you just joined this little adventure, click here and start the journey at the beginning.

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Magicians of the Caribbean, Days Three & Four

Original article published January 2011

Day #3 started off with us getting off the ship and going through the disembarking process. Basically you just have to make it through customs. No big deal there.

Today my goal was to find a place where I could get on my laptop and try to reach out to a few business contacts and make a couple of personal phone calls. (You know, I didn’t realize how much I used the internet, or how much I enjoyed talking to my friends, until I got on a ship and didn’t have access to either phone or internet except when we were in port in the US!)

We found a great little Starbucks and hung out there for awhile so I could take care of my emails. Kristin was still cracking up over her David Sedaris book the entire time I sent emails and made phone calls. She’s quite a little bookworm! After Starbucks, we found a great little Mexican restaurant and enjoyed tacos for lunch.

Day #3 is the day that I was going to meet the cruise director and he was going to see our show for the first time, so there were a few loose ends I still wanted to tie up. We went searching for some fabric and had to go to a Michael’s and a Wal-Mart before we finally found a Joann Fabric store and picked something out.

I think the best part of today was that I had finally found my comfort zone with the show. My stress level was non-existent. The past two days I had been totally stressed out which completely exhausted me. To have the experience of the two shows under my belt helped relax me and made the rest of the week a lot of fun.

The show that night was super fun and easy. I knew what to expect, Kristin and I did our thing, and the audience responded very well.

At this point what I realized was that we had gone through the cruising cycle once and we just had to go through it several more times. Since it was only a two day cruise, we now knew exactly what to expect for the remainder of the week.

Well, that’s what I thought…

The fourth day of our adventure on the high seas was an interesting one. Today the ship was supposed to port at Freeport early in the morning. When I woke up and got going, I realized that we were still moving. That seemed a bit strange.

I quickly found out that there were numerous storms in the area and the seas were just way too choppy. Apparently the port authority wasn’t allowing ships to come in to port.

As the day continued, the ship stayed out to sea. It became increasingly obvious as the day slipped away that there wouldn’t be a day in the Bahamas.  That’s not good!

Kristin and I were playing cards with our new friend Karina, an amazing singer that was on the show with us, when I heard my name being paged over the ship’s speakers.

I met the assistant cruise director and was asked if it were possible for me to do a show of close-up, sleight of hand magic. What a great idea! It sounded like an absolute blast and I agreed quickly. We set a time for the show to begin and then the asst. cruise director was off to publicize the show.

Showtime rolled around about an hour and a half later and the ship’s lounge was very crowded. Apparently people were looking for things to do.  For the next forty-five minutes, I had a great time! I was able to share some of my favorite close-up magic with everyone. The show was a huge hit!

Afterwards, I was speaking with the cruise director and he mentioned how much he enjoyed it as well. SCORE! That is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I pride myself on being able to come through in a pinch for my clients and I know that by doing that close-up magic show in the lounge it really helped relieve some of the strain off the cruise staff and put some smiles on some frustrated passenger’s faces.

Because there was a new act on board, I was given the night off from doing the show. That was nice. It was really cool to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the evening’s dinner and entertainment.

I received many nice compliments from all the folks on board that they really enjoyed my close-up magic. In fact, here is a clip of me performing one of the close-up mysteries that I performed on that day’s close-up show.

This specific clip is from an appearance on a news channel in Nashville. Watch close, you don’t want to miss a thing.

If you just joined this little adventure, click here and start at the beginning.

Stay tuned for days five and six, when we finally make it to the Freeport, Bahamas resort!

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Magicians of the Caribbean, Day Two

magicians-of-the-caribbean-day-two

Originally published January 2011

Well, I slept like a rock after the stress of the first day on board.  Day #2 was relatively calm in comparison.  We got the day going and grabbed some breakfast.  Because Day #2’s show was a completely different show than Day #1’s show was and I still was feeling a bit apprehensive.  Day #2’s show was a bit more artistic and not quite as much what I would call “commercial” magic.  And we still had to go through a quick tech rehearsal and sound check.  Luckily, we had planned that for late morning, so all my stressing would be over once I knew we were good from the technical side.  We took care of the sound check without any issues later that morning and were free for the rest of the day.

You know, I just realized that I didn’t explain the most challenging part of this gig in my Day One post.  Part of the reason for my stress level being high was because I was performing on a stage that was completely surrounded by seating.  Yes, the stage was surrounded 360 degrees by people.

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The stage was completely surrounded 360 degrees by the audience. Yikes!

Now I knew this coming in, so I was mentally prepared.  It’s just that magic can sometimes have angle issues or lighting issues and performing with people completely surrounding you adds to the difficulty level.  Not only did I want to amaze everyone, I also had to make sure that I performed in a manner so that everyone would be able to see what I was doing.  It is a little disconcerting to know that no matter how well the show is going, when the audience is surrounding you, someone is always looking at your back.  That’s not good for making a connection with everyone!

I think it  was natural to be a little stressed until I performed each of my shows at least once in front of the ship’s audience.  Day #2’s show would be yet another test of both my planning skills and my performing skills.

This day was spent in Freeport, Bahamas.  It was actually quite cool and a little bit rainy, so Kristin and I decided to spend the day exploring the port area and not go into the city itself.

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Unfortunately that was a short lived plan.  Because the weather was so sucky there really wasn’t much happening in the port of call.  We explored several local arts and crafts and souvenir vendors and ended up stumbling into a local bar that had a really good wi-fi connection.  We made the decision to just hang out there for much of the afternoon and I fetched my computer from the ship so I could get caught up on some emails.

I took care of a little business on the computer and Kristin read a book by David Sedaris that kept cracking her up.  It was a pretty tame day in the Bahamas.  In fact, if we hadn’t known that we would be back several times later in the week we would’ve definitely made more of an effort to see some things.  As it was, we knew we would have time to explore later.

Before we left port and headed back to Florida Kristin and I both made the decision to take motion sickness pills.  I think that may have been the smartest thing we did all day!  That night both shows went dscf2224very well.  The audiences responded to everything and I was quite pleased with the show.

After each show, we hung out and enjoyed meeting audience members.  Then we just took it easy before calling it a night and getting ready to do it all over again.  Click here to read the unexpected adventures of Days Three & Four.

To read the beginning of this little adventure, Magicians of the Caribbean, Day One, click here.

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Magicians of the Caribbean, Day One

magicians-of-the-caribbean

Originally published January 2011

I recently had the opportunity to work on a cruise ship for a week.  The opportunity landed in my lap at the very last minute and was kind of a lucky fluke.  It’s the type of booking that entertainers love to get, but certainly don’t ever expect to have happen.  I had worked all of my holiday bookings in the month of December and ended up getting a phone call to take the place of a magician who had canceled at the last minute for this cruise line.  I had a blast on the ship and thought I would share some of my adventure.

dscf2152Because it was such a last minute gig, I ended up not being able to take my normal assistant Jamie.  Fortunately, Jamie’s roommate and close friend Kristin was available and was excited about the opportunity.  We rehearsed for a few days and then we took off from Nashville and headed to West Palm Beach.

We took the drive in two days.  When we arrived at the port it was time to get down to business.  We touched base with the cruise director and got all checked in for the cruise.  Kristin and I, along with several crew members, loaded our equipment on to the ship and into the showroom.  Once that was accomplished, we had most of the afternoon to get comfortable on the ship and get ready for the show.

Now, I’ve worked on cruise ships before, but I had forgotten just how tight it can be in the cabins.  Initially, it was a little bit of a shock when I opened the door to my cabin and realized that I was going to be living in this small room for the next week.

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So, we ate lunch, explored the ship and I set everything up for the show that afternoon.  Somehow I was under the initial impression that we only had one show a night.  Imagine my surprise when I was told that it was two shows an evening!  It’s a good thing that I’m super paranoid about being prepared.  I had actually brought twice as many show supplies as I thought I would need.  That ended up giving me just enough to do two shows a night!  We had sound check at 6 pm and went through everything with the sound guy.

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The stage also doubled as a dance floor, or maybe it was the other way around. Disco, baby!

Our next adventure was dinner.  Normally dinner wouldn’t be an adventure.  It would be awesome food in beautiful surroundings.  However, we had left the port of West Palm Beach and were in some of the choppiest waters I’ve ever experienced.  To say I wasn’t feeling well was an understatement.  Kristin didn’t look too great either.  I ate very little the first night because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get totally sick during my act.

So, Kristin and I go back to our cabins and get ready for show time.  When 8:30 rolls around neither of us feel any better and it’s time to take the stage.  I didn’t feel great, but when I took the stage I totally focused on what I was doing and made through the show with no problems (other than sweating profusely).

Kristin had the bright idea of taking some motion sickness medication between the two shows and I followed suit.  By show #2, I was feeling much better.  Show #2 also went off great.  The only thing I was really worried about was during the Metamorphosis illusion.  Both Kristin and I have to stand on top of the trunk at different points in the routine and I was a little worried that with the ship rocking back and forth that one of us might lose our balance and fall off the thing!  Luckily, that never happened.

After the show, we got a small snack since neither of us had really eaten any dinner and called it a night.  The first day on board was quite an adventure all by itself and we had just started our week long run.  Click here to read Day #2.

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Kuwait City, Kuwait

kuwait-city

Recommended Things to Do:

Kuwait Towers – The Kuwait Towers have a magnificent observation deck where you will have an incredible view of the city.

Al Marsa Restaurant – Al Marsa is an Arabic restaurant with very good food.  Expect the full service – from dates at the beginning of the meal to hot tea and coffee at the end, you will enjoy the experience of having a traditional Arabic meal.

Souk  Al-Mubarakiya – You could spend a day at this local market soaking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of “the good old days” of Kuwait.  Inexpensive shopping and huge variety of things to explore and find.

My Adventure – My team and I arrived in Kuwait on a hot summer night.  The locals told us that it had cooled down recently and that 95-100 degrees in the middle of the night felt pleasant.  (That gave me mixed feelings about the 122 degrees that I felt the following afternoon!)

We were assigned a group of guys to make sure that we made it to each of our performances over the next few days.  I’m told that Kuwait is a very safe country, but after looking at the size of these guys it felt a great deal like we had been assigned a private security detail.

Famous highway sign in Kuwait.
Famous highway sign in Kuwait.

Over the next five days my team of entertainers and I performed several private shows at different locations in the country.  Our days were filled with meetings VIPs and entertaining them with sleight of hand and mind reading, and our evenings consisted of staging a 90-minute show of comedy magic, incredible mind reading, and interactive sleight-of-hand.  I’m happy to report that all of our shows were massive successes.

When you get a group of professional entertainers together, there is no doubt that we absolutely love entertaining audiences.  The sounds of laughter, ‘oohhs and aahhs’, and loud applause fuel our engines, so I would definitely say that the shows were the highlights for us.  However, we did have a day set aside for sightseeing, and we had a blast!

We started the day by visiting the Kuwaiti Towers, which gave us incredible views of the city.

We then made our way to the local mall.  This place was huge…absolutely huge.  We spent a couple of hours looking around and somehow I ended up inside every single watch store that I passed.  I decided it would be a great story if I bought a watch in Kuwait.  After marveling at Tags and Rolexes, I settled on a Fossil with a special travel kit.

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Each member of our team had one or two things in mind that they wanted to do or purchase while we were in Kuwait.  That meant that our next stop was at a local market.  We were specifically looking for a new travel bag for Michael and some local coffee for Katalina.  We found plenty of both!

We finished our day off with an incredible meal at a restaurant called Al Marsa.  Part of the fun of travelling to different parts of the world is experiencing the local culture.  Al Marsa served us a vary tasty Arab meal with far more than we could ever eat in one sitting.  And somehow, I ended up at a table of locals performing a few of my favorite sleight of hand pieces!

Our trip to Kuwait was a blast.  Every time I leave the States and visit another country two things happen: my mind is opened up to experience other cultures and appreciate them, and I am reminded just how fortunate I am to call the United States of America my home.

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Munich, Germany

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Recommended Things to Do:

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site – While this isn’t a fun place to visit, it should be a required place to visit in order to learn how the Nazi party came to power, how they silenced, tortured, and killed their critics, and to understand why they had to be wiped off the face of the earth.

Architectural Sight Seeing – Munich is full of amazing architecture and you can easily spend a day marveling at the beautiful buildings.

Hofbrauhaus – As much travelling as I do, I had never experienced a restaurant/bar/brewery quite like the Hofbrauhaus.  You’ll get a authentic taste of Bavaria in the food, the beer, (the servers) and the general attitude.  Don’t hesitate to cut loose a little bit, everyone else is!

My Adventure – We left Ramstein AFB early in the morning and arrived at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany later that day.  Garmisch is a beautiful little German village with breathtaking views of the Alps.

After Kevin and I checked in to our rooms we walked to the hotel ballroom where we would be performing our show later that evening for a conference that was occurring at the resort and for all of the local townspeople.

IMG_3233That night Kevin and I enjoyed entertaining a fun group of all ages.  We had both kids and adults, and everyone had a blast.  And while every show is a genuine pleasure for me to perform, my favorite part of that show was the time after the show that my entire team (performers and production team) spent sitting next to the bus IMG_3243staring into the night sky as we partook in cigars, libations, and laughter.

We had several options for what we should do the next day, a day that we had off.  Quite a few folks had told us we should go to the nearby mountain and enjoy the view from the top.  But since we were only about an hour and a half from Munich by train we opted for the big city.

As we were discussing what we should do in Munich, Bart and Kevin were in agreement that we should visit the Dachau Concentration Camp.  And being a student of history, I concurred.

Once we decided where we were going we had a bit of an adventure getting there.  We took a train to Munich, the we took a subway to a specific  part of Munich, then we took a city bus to the concentration camp.

As we arrived at the camp and started to begin our tour, the rain did, in fact, arrive.  The three of us stood under a shelter which, basically, was the front gate.  After coming all that way, we weren’t about to let a downpour stop us.  So, we hustled to the inside area where the exhibits were and spent about two hours reading about the history of Germany pre-World War II, how Hitler came to power, and all about Dachau – which was the concentration camp that all the other concentration camps were modeled after.

It was absolutely fascinating learning the history of this place and of Germany.  The three of us, on more than one occasion, looked at each other and wondered aloud how such a thing was possible.  The facts are mind-numbing and the simple fact that such horrible things happened less than 80 years is hard to stomach.  Even though I knew that my grandfather fought in World War II, it is hard to wrap my head around such a thing.  The atrocities that occurred there must never be allowed to occur again.  (Unfortunately such atrocities happen all over the world all the time, even today.)

 

After about three hours at Dachau, we found our way back to Munich and had ourselves a good look around.  Much like London, a personal highlight for me was seeing all of the incredible architecture.  I’ve never been a student of architecture, but this trip really opened my eyes to its beauty.

After a very full day it was time to find the Hofbrauhaus.  This was the place where everyone told us to find to eat and have a German beer.  And Bart explained to me that one of the things he enjoys most when travelling to different parts of the world is to sample the food and drink.  Since I’m a bit of a foodie, and certainly the adventurous type,  I was more than happy to search until we found it.

The Hofbrauhaus is absolutely huge.  Cavernous would be a good way to describe it.  And the place was packed.  When we finally found a table in the very back area we were greeted by a waitress dressed in a traditional German dress who took very good care of us.

I opted for the “Roast Pork with Crackling” with gravy and potato dumpling, and a German beer.   The meal and the atmosphere was outstanding.  The Hofbrauhaus definitely lived up to all the hype.

After a full day of touring the camp and walking around Munich, the dinner and brew did me in.  Bart wanted to keep exploring, but I was toast so Kevin, Bart and I headed back to the Resort and back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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London, England

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We touched down at Heathrow Airport and proceeded to grab our luggage and meet our tour bus.  This was my first experience having my very own tour bus.  Since we had to drive anywhere from 2 to 8 hours between shows it was far easier to do a European tour on a tour bus than any other way.  Unfortunately the only time we spent in London that day was our bus driving us out of it to the first English city on our trip.

I was a little worried that our very busy schedule was going to keep us traveling every day with no time to visit London before we left Great Britain.  As we spoke to our production team and reviewed our tour schedule we realized that we were, in fact, going to have a full day to visit London and do some sightseeing.

The boys took the train to London-town.
The boys took the train to London-town.

Several days later we left Alconbury on our day off and took the train to London.  Woohoo!

Fellow traveler and video production guy Bart had contacted his cousin who lives in England and he found out that she was going to be in London the same day that we were.  So, our first stop was to meet Bart’s cousin at the Prince Albert Memorial and Park.

After the initial pleasantries and some time for them to visit, Bart’s cousin and her family had an appointment to keep at a nearby museum, and we were on our way.

When we were planning what we should do while in London all the locals we spoke to had plenty of opinions on what would be fun.  We finally decided on a “hop-on/hop-off” tour on the many buses that travel all over the metropolis of London.  And while I don’t have any idea of what we may have missed, the hop-on/hop-off tour was brilliant! (as they would say in England)

Keeping in mind that we did get on and off the tour buses several times at different parts of the city to see things that interested us, it took us all day on those buses to see the entire city.  Because we were there in April, the later it got in the day the colder we got.  As the sun started to set, we started to freeze our tails off.

Since we spent the day as tourists we really just did touristy things.  Personally, I love history and learning about all of the things that happened in the different parts of London was a blast.  I mentioned to Kevin and Bart that I would love to spend about a month in London just being a tourist and taking it all in.

Since the United States is such a young country we just don’t have the history that a place like Great Britain does.  I constantly found my mouth hanging open as I looked at the incredible architecture.  Personal highlights included the Tower Palace, the Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace.

I think I’ll let that pictures tell the rest of the story…

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
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Shanghai, China – Gambei, Sushi, and Smoking a Fish

Shanghai is an awesome city.  It’s huge.  It has a great subway system which makes it easy to get everywhere.  It’s extremely cosmopolitan.  There are tons of food options.  If you are a shopper, you will love the shopping.  A lot of the folks speak, or at least, sort of understand English.  There is all sorts of cool things to do.  I highly recommend spending some time enjoying Shanghai.

After we got our show open and running (see Part One) we had a lot of time to explore all the things to do.  Some of my favorites things included the hidden NY-style pizza joint we found on the second floor of a building in the huge shopping district. (it was a nice taste of home) The tea ceremony that was recommended by several students. (cultural and fun) Our entire group visiting a huge massage parlor and bath which definitely gave us some stories to tell afterwards. (completely innocent, and good massages!)

But on every trip there are always a few highlights that stand out.  One of the most memorable experiences is when our show promoters decided to take all of us out to celebrate Brett’s (the star of our show) birthday.  After our show that day we all got ready for the evening and went to a very nice Japanese restaurant for sushi.

Have you ever heard the word “gambei”?  Well, let me offer you a tip.  If you go out with a group of Chinese people who are hosting a party in your (or someone in your groups) honor, you are going to hear the word “gambei” a lot.  Basically it means “bottoms up”.  In other words, everyone drink your entire glass (of alcohol) now.

It’s really an interesting cultural thing.  And everyone in the party is expected to participate unless you want to offend your hosts.  Now, if you’ve just worked a full day, sweated a lot, and don’t have any food on your stomach, too many “gambeis” before the food arrives can be trouble.  That is what happened to me.

We had a large group of us all gathered around the table.  We were joking around, having fun, drinking, some were smoking, and basically having a blast.  And for a guy who doesn’t drink a whole lot, there were far too many toasts before the food arrived.  I was thrilled to see the food show up, unfortunately it was too little, too late.

Here is what I remember.  I remember picking up a small (whole) fish that was on the table and starting to mimic my friends who were smoking cigarettes.  That’s right, I was smoking a fish.  I had it between my first and second fingers just like a cigarette and even took a few “puffs” of it.  Then I decided to smoke a cigarette with all my friends.  (And I don’t smoke!)

I also remember when the sushi showed up.  It was absolutely outstanding!  It was, by far, some of the best sushi I had ever had.  Then they delivered another whole fish that had been filleted.  We were supposed to reach over with our chopsticks and take little slices right off of the fish.  So we all started to do so.

I was sort of in a daze at this point from the gambeis.  I just started staring at the fish as if I were staring off into space.  Then I saw it!  The fish moved a little.  It wasn’t a lot of movement, but it was definitely movement.  I looked at my friends across the table and said, “that fish just moved”!  Everyone started to watch the fish.  It moved again!  That freaked everyone out who had just eaten a piece of it.  And that was enough sushi for me that day!

Not long after that all the alcohol, sushi, and smoking took it’s toll.  I’d never felt like that before.  I believe it was a combination of alcohol poisoning and tobacco poisoning combined with raw fish.  So…I stumbled my way into the men’s room, locked myself in a stall, knelt down on the nasty tile floor, and prayed to the porcelain gods.

Apparently I was in there for awhile, because at some point while I was laying on the floor of a busy men’s bathroom, one of my best (girl) friends came into the bathroom to check on me.  I remember all sorts of little Chinese guys making a big ruckus and lots of noise as my friend Jen came into the men’s bathroom and told them all to chill out (which I’m sure they didn’t understand at all) because she had to check on me and make sure I was alright.

Fortunately I was alright.  And I re-joined the party.  But not for long.  My other very close (girl) friend Jamie was also looking pretty rough from a little too much partying.  So, we decided that we were done.  Jen, Jamie, and I bid everyone “goodnight” and hailed a cab to take us back to the hotel.

That cab ride was absolutely brutal.  I was sitting in the back suffering, trying not to get sick again.  (And I get motion sickness when I’m in the back of vehicles anyway.)  Jamie was hurting too.

The moment that we arrived, I hopped out of the cab and went straight for the bathroom in the lobby of the hotel and proceeded to have another hurling session with the toilet.  So did Jamie.  Like I said…brutal!

Fortunately after all of that fun, I started to feel better.  I had just expelled everything that I had consumed over the last few hours and didn’t feel like I was about to die any longer.  So we all went to our rooms and tried to get enough sleep to recover.

Here’s another tip for you.  If you happen to find yourself in a cab in a foreign country and the cab driver doesn’t have a clue what you are saying because he speaks a different language, use your hotel key card to get back to your hotel.  Just point to the key card, then point to yourself, and finally point out the front windshield, and he should be able to figure out where to take you.  (This method has worked for me every time I’ve used it!)

 

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