Five Nights in Paradise
Our Wonderful Vacation to Mauritius

Every year, Angela and I try to take at least one vacation where I don’t work at all; a true break from the craziness of day-to-day life and the stress that comes with it. This year, we were lucky enough to go, literally, halfway around the world for the most amazing tropical getaway I can imagine.

Why Mauritius?

This trip was the result of an opportunity. Last year, I found the FlyerTalk Premium Fare Deals forum and started checking it every morning for a couple of minutes to see if anything really great had popped up. One day, I saw a deal appear that seemed almost too good to be true. The gist of it was round trip business class tickets from Chicago to Mauritius via Europe for less than $2,500 per person. The catch was that booking had to be done through an OTA, like Expedia, and a hotel night had to be bundled with your airfare.

I thought about it for a day and then decided to check if the deal was still active for dates that worked for us. It was, with one-stop in either Amsterdam or Paris in either direction. I ended up finding itineraries that priced out at approximately $2,400 per person with a bundled night at some tiny little hostel that cost $49. I priced out the itinerary separate from the deal and it would have cost $8,600 per person. Given the opportunity, and the fact that I didn’t think I’d ever see anything like this again, I jumped in with both feet and didn’t look back.

Getting to Mauritius

Like most good flight deals, this one departed from a specific set of points. In this case, you could leave from either Chicago or Washington, DC. We’re more familiar with Chicago so we decided to depart from O’Hare airport.

Given that we live in Las Vegas, that meant we had to position to Chicago in order to leave on the flight we actually wanted to be on. We had done this a few times previously, positioning to Chicago for our trip to Egypt and positioning to Seattle for our last trip to Paris. For this particular itinerary, I decided to book us overnights in Chicago on either end to account for any weather delays (or other unfortunate circumstances). I didn’t want us to lose the deal of a lifetime because our positioning flight was delayed.

For our positioning flights, we chose to fly Southwest because I have the companion pass (which means I only pay $11.20 roundtrip for Angela to fly anywhere in the United States with me) and all flights include two checked bags. Southwest only flies to Midway in Chicago so we have to change airports when we arrive. It’s fairly easy to do via the orange and blue lines and only takes about 90 minutes to go from one airport to the other. As I said previously, though, we decided to overnight in Chicago on this trip to take the edge off.

A few nights at The Gwen

For our overnights, I decided to use two free night certificates that I had earned from SPG due to a promotion they targeted me for earlier this year. The certificates were valid at any Category 5 or below hotel and, given that all SPG hotels in and around Chicago are Category 5 or below, I had the pick of any of them!

I had heard really great things about The Gwen so I decided to use one certificate on either end of the trip.

To be honest, the property was a bit of a disappointment. My status with SPG was not mentioned at check-in, we were upgraded to a room with a view of Grand Avenue rather than Michigan Avenue (which I’d say is probably a downgrade, honestly), and the breakfast, which I picked as my SPG Platinum perk, was a pastry and juice or $10 credit towards another item (per person).

It wasn’t all bad, though. The rooms were nicely decorated and the bedding was clean and comfortable. For overnights on either end of a trip, it was fine. I’m extremely happy I didn’t have to pay room rates, though, and would have been upset with my experience if I had. And, of course, we got to spend time in a city that we both love and that means a lot to us.

Chicago to Amsterdam

Our first flight was on a KLM 747-400 from ORD to AMS. I was particularly excited for this flight because I had chosen us the seats all the way in the nose of the plane. In addition, I’ve come to love flying in and out of O’Hare – it is simple to navigate and has some decent lounge options and art installations.

Our experience on this flight was quite good. The service was polite, but not overly attentive. After the initial meal service, I hardly saw our flight attendant. Angela enjoyed KLM’s signature cocktail, the Flying Dutchman, and I got to experience the flight attendant laughing when I ordered a virgin Cosmo.

I liked flying in the nose as it felt even more private than other business class flights we’ve taken. When you can’t see any other passengers in front of you, it almost feels like you’re flying by yourself. Be warned, if you fly in the nose of the 747, it sounds like the world is ending when the nose gear retracts – I was glad that I was aware of this and had warned Angela as well.

Our long layover in Amsterdam

We arrived in Amsterdam early in the morning and were off the plane with our carry-on luggage in a few minutes. We cleared immigration and customs quickly and were out in the greater airport shortly thereafter. There is a train that runs direct from the airport to the city center, so we purchased tickets from an automated kiosk and headed towards the platform. We only realized that we were supposed to scan our tickets at an entry pole once we took the escalator down to the train. We went back up the escalator, scanned our tickets, and headed back down.

Our train departed almost immediately and twenty minutes later we were stepping off at Amsterdam’s city center station. I had specifically not planned to do anything other than stretch our legs over the course of our 11 hour layover, so we started walking around the city pretty much immediately.

We visited the central plaza, Dam, and snapped a few pictures of the Royal Palace before heading off to walk down the famous canals. We stopped and enjoyed the early morning peace on a small bench looking over one of the canals and witnessed an impromptu duck fight club.

After relaxing for a while, we headed off to an extremely large park in the city named Vondelpark. The enormity of the green space became apparent as we walked through it for quite some time without ever reaching the end. In fact, we spent much of the rest of the day lounging on benches, people and dog watching, and just enjoying the peace that comes with knowing you don’t have anything you have to do.

After exiting the park, we went to a local burger restaurant recommended by a Dutch friend of a friend, Lombardo’s, to grab a quick bite. After polishing off a couple of delicious burgers, we found a few coffee shops (serving coffee and baked goods, not drugs) to relax at before heading back to the airport.

Before we knew it, we were back on the train to AMS and ready to continue on our way to Mauritius. We relaxed in the KLM lounge for a while before our flight and were struck by two things. First, there was an issue with getting us into the lounge because our Air Mauritius boarding passes were not validating in their system. Second, the food was extremely limited in scope (although there was quite a bit of alcohol if you’re a drinker).

Amsterdam to Mauritius

From AMS to MRU we flew on Air Mauritius’s A340. If I could plan this trip again, I would have paid the extra $100 per person for a short connection in Paris to avoid this plane. It was definitely the least comfortable business class seat I’ve ever sat in and I really struggled to get any rest on the 12 hour flight to the southeast coast of Africa.

While the seat was subpar, the service was prompt, attentive, and friendly. The food was good, except for a beetroot mousse that was one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten. The only complaint I really have about the soft product on this flight is that they served instant coffee rather than brewed. I love my coffee and instant coffee is such a drag – even on a plane. Angela fell in love with Mauritius vanilla tea on this flight, though.

The flight was fairly smooth and I nodded off a few times, even with the uncomfortable seat. Before I knew it, we were making our descent into Mauritius and admiring the beautiful greenery of the island. The immigration and customs process in Mauritius was straightforward, although we did have to provide proof of an exit ticket and submit a health questionnaire and answer questions about our previous travels.

We were quickly greeted by the car company that our hotel had arranged to take us to our resort for the next five nights. The drive was a winding one, taking us through acres of sugarcane fields, past the small towns that dot the landscape, and fishing villages along the coast. The Indian Ocean was a vibrant blue as we rounded a corner to drive past Le Morne Brabant mountain and journey the final few miles to the St. Regis.

St. Regis Mauritius – an exceptional resort in every way

For this trip, we stayed at the St. Regis Mauritius. Our experience was amazing. I don’t have as much experience with the top-tier of luxury as some people do (and definitely not as much as the travel bloggers we all read), but I can’t imagine how I could have been any happier with the stay. I am SPG Platinum because of a Marriott status challenge earlier this year, and I think that helped make our stay great.

I booked a Bed & Breakfast cash rate in a Beachfront Junior Suite for this stay. Surprisingly, the room rate was less than we’ve paid for a mid-tier hotel room in San Francisco during some of my business travel.

We had great service before our stay – I reached out the to the concierge to book transport to and from the resort to the airport on either end of our trip and to and from the helipad for our helicopter tour. I had the worst time getting the helicopter tour company to actually respond to me – I emailed them five times, reached out via Twitter, and called every one of the offices three times each and never got a hold of someone. Eventually, in desperation a few days before our trip, I asked the concierge to try to get someone to respond to me and they did.

On check-in we were upgraded to a Beachfront St. Regis Grand Suite, most likely because it is currently low season. The bed was extremely comfortable, but the best part about it was that we were fifteen steps away from lounge chairs on the beautiful beach. We, admittedly, didn’t spend a ton of time in the room but loved having a large terrace to take our coffee on in the morning. The bathtub in the room was enormous, easily fitting two people.

We availed ourselves of the fitness room twice and, surprisingly, it was pretty well equipped. There were adequate free weights for a meaningful weight lifting workout as well as a solid selection of machines. Olympic barbells are always a pleasant surprise at a hotel.

The property also had quite a few common spaces that were quite nice, although we admittedly didn’t spend any appreciable time in them.

All the food I ever wanted

The first morning at the resort we ate buffet breakfast at Le Manoir and it was delicious. There was an egg station along with a wide variety of foods on the buffet. We received a note in our room later that day that we were entitled to enjoy a la carte breakfast at The Boathouse Restaurant on the beach because of my status. Breakfast at The Boathouse was absolutely amazing so if you are planning to visit here, I’d recommend trying to reach Marriott Platinum status before arriving. Every morning we’d sit about one hundred feet from the ocean and enjoy delicious steak and eggs, crepes, French toast, and espresso drinks. We definitely got our fill and didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

Speaking of dinner, we ate at four of the five restaurants on property: Le Manoir, Simply India, Floating Market, and The Boathouse. All were delicious in their own way, and I really enjoyed the “fish market” grill at The Boathouse. By far, the single best restaurant is definitely the pan-Asian Floating Market. I ate garlic-ginger steak there and it was prepared perfectly. Service was exceptional regardless of where we ate and we received a few comped desserts from the staff for no reason. Dinner was reasonably priced for a resort and definitely not lacking in taste like it has been at some locked-in places I’ve been, like Hawaii.

Butler service was great throughout, promptly delivering pressed clothing, bringing our wake-up hot beverage service within minutes of us calling, and even providing a few extras like a fresh fruit plate delivered to us on the beach and a romantic floral petal arrangement on our bed one day.

An experience we’ll never forget – Air Mauritius Helicopter

The bottom line is this; the helicopter ride over Mauritius was something that we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives. It was also surprisingly cheap given the quality of the experience, costing just $480 for the two of us for a 1/2 hour flight that covered half of the island. I’m glad I availed ourselves of the opportunity.

It is difficult to describe how amazing the sights were from the air. We took so many pictures that it is hard to pick the best ones. The highlight of the journey was certainly the view of the “underwater waterfall” illusion off the coast of Le Morne Brabant.

Beach, beach, and more beach

The overwhelming amount of our time was spent lounging on the beach reading and listening to the waves break on the reef. We took a bunch of selfies with the Indian Ocean in the background and each read several books. It was exactly what I needed after half a year of expanding my business.

The long journey home

We had an extremely late departure on the way back to the United States, and the St. Regis was nice enough to grant us a courtesy room to use late into the afternoon when our driver met us to take us to the airport. Our car ride from the St. Regis to the airport was probably the least pleasant part of our entire trip. The driver was a madman, whipping around corners on single lane roads and passing slower moving vehicles with abandon, even in the presence of blind spots. When we reached the airport, we were earlier and had to wait thirty minutes to check in.

Once we were able to check in, though, the process was smooth and uneventful. We proceeded through security and headed to the Air Mauritius lounge, which was packed to the gills. Eventually they started to clear out and we were granted a reprieve from the wails of screaming children.

We flew from MRU to CDG on one of Air Mauritius’s brand new A350. The flight was amazing, particular in light of our previous experience on the A340. The seats were so comfortable and I slept like a baby even through heavy turbulence. The A350 has Nespresso machines on board but, depressingly, they still served instant coffee.

When we arrived in Paris we connected international-to-international, which was fairly straightforward, but our flight was delayed so we had to move pretty quickly from our arrival to departure gates. Unfortunately, our Air Mauritius flight was delayed about half an hour, so our bags ended up missing the connection and did not arrive in Chicago.

Our flight from CDG to ORD was uneventful aboard an Air France A330. The service was stellar and the food was delicious – I got a huge kick out of the fact that the crew could not believe that I did not want to have any wine. I gladly took my sparkling water with lemon, though! Once in Chicago, we overnighted at The Gwen before heading to Midway for our final flight home.

I’m glad that we grabbed this opportunity when we could and I still can’t believe the deal we were able to secure. I couldn’t be happier with the service at the St. Regis Mauritius and, while I’m not sure we’ll return because there are so many more places to see in the world, I would never hesitate to recommend it to others because of our exceptional experience.

Our First Transoceanic Trip
Two Weeks in London & Paris

Angela and I recently returned from our first international transoceanic trip together. While we’ve previously traveled internationally, it has always been within the Americas, with trips to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama. We’ve previously flown across the ocean (to Hawaii twice), but that’s a domestic trip, so this one was something entirely different.

This was also the single longest vacation we’ve ever gone on and capped off the most travel-filled year we’ve ever had. For us, this was a huge new experience that we were excited to tackle.

The Prelude

We were leaving in the afternoon on a Sunday and, naturally, I expected to play flag football in the morning if possible. My games were scheduled at 9AM and 10AM so I geared up to play just like I do every week. Angela and I were excitedly talking about our trip on the way to the game and we were so happy before I started playing. I mean, look at these faces:

At the end of the first game, the opposing quarterback brought his hand down hard into my forehead, splitting my eyebrow open and causing me to bleed spectacularly. I thought we had won the game (as we forced a failed conversion in overtime), but while I dealt with my bleeding head they threw a penalty flag on me – I’m still a little upset.

Anyways, I tidied myself up and ended up needing five stitches:

We eventually made it home with just enough time to shower, dress, and get picked up by our delightfully helpful friends, Melody and Justin. They took us to the airport and we checked in before heading to the Centurion lounge. We grabbed some dinner in the lounge (delicious, to be sure) before heading to our gate.

We arrived just as priority boarding finished and, because we were flying Premium Economy, we walked right up to the gate and on to the plane.

The Flight – Las Vegas to London Gatwick

We booked our flight using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles transferred over from Chase. Because we weren’t too much cash out of pocket, we decided to book in the aforementioned Premium Economy. It was an interesting experience. Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic is definitely not business or first class, but it is the most comfortable I’ve ever been while flying. My seat was wide enough that I never got bumped by someone in the aisle (a chronic problem on planes because of my wide shoulders). The leg room was more than adequate and I was comfortable throughout.

Meal service was excellent and Angela enjoyed two mini-bottles of wine on the trip out:

The total flight time was a tad under ten hours. From a combination of excitement and a pathological inability to sleep on an airplane, neither Angela nor I got any meaningful amount of rest even though I saw many others within the Premium Economy cabin snoozing.

Even with the lack of sleep we definitely enjoyed our flight and arrived in London ready to get into the city and to our hotel:

Transit to London and the First Night

After clearing customs at London-Gatwick, we headed to the train station located near the South Terminal and boarded the Gatwick Express. We hoisted our baggage aboard and prepared for the trip to Victoria Station. It was, quite thankfully, very straightforward and we arrived at the train station after about 40 minutes.

From the station we took a taxi to our hotel. This taxi ride was the moment I realized that the street markings in London mostly seemed to be guidelines rather than rules. The transit through the city via car was absolutely nuts to the point that I had no desire to look out the window.

We arrived at the DoubleTree Hotel London Westminster, our home for the week, and discussed what we were going to do now that we were finally in the city.

As an aside, the aforementioned hotel was very nice for us. It was definitely a business hotel, but it had room for us to store all our clothes, a comfortable bed, and decent room service. The location was close to many transit options and we never felt trapped by where we were staying. The included breakfast buffet was quite good if the weird scrambled eggs are avoided.

We both sat down for a moment to rest and immediately fell into a nap that lasted a few hours. That put a bit of a damper on what we felt we could experience the first night, so we decided to just take a walk around the nearby area and head to Hyde Park, where a winter celebration was going on.

The Hyde Park Winter Wonderland was pleasant but kitschy. It wasn’t anything different than what you’d experience in the United States with a local city fair. However, we did manage to capture a cute winter selfie:

After walking back from Hyde Park, we decided to grab dinner at the hotel restaurant. Angela had fish and chips, which she said were delicious. I ordered a steak and it was here I realized that the British apparently don’t believe in seasoning. I do not think there was anything on my steak – not even salt and pepper. It was cooked well enough, though, and I was happy to finish the day with a nice piece of meat.

Tower of London, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, and The Globe

Our first full day in London was an extremely busy one. Of course, it started with a selfie of us wearing sweaters (something we don’t often do in Las Vegas):

Our first destination was the Tower of London. We enjoyed a tour led by a Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) and then were able to wander around and explore the exhibits at the location by ourselves.

Personally, I found the history of the tower to be extremely fascinating. The evolution from stronghold to residence to prison to museum was amazing to hear. To be within the walls of a place with so much history was a little surreal.

Also, the crown jewels were extremely beautiful.

Next up on the list was a short walk to Tower Bridge for the Tower Bridge Exhibition. I love beautiful architecture and, to me, Tower Bridge is one of the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen. I loved it:

We took a journey to the walkway above the main Tower Bridge roadway and enjoyed the views of the city from there. My favorite part was the transparent parts of the walkway with ceiling mounted mirrors as we were able to capture a pretty great picture:

Because I loved it so much, here’s another picture showing off a true beauty (and the bridge, too):

We strolled through a quaint Christmas market on the way to the HMS Belfast, a retired light cruiser that acts as a floating museum. Visiting the HMS Belfast was reminiscent of many other ship tours that we’ve done, including the USS Midway. Angela really took charge on the ship:

We walked to London Bridge next and enjoyed the London Bridge Experience, a haunted house type activity that plays into the history of London and London Bridge, in particular. I led the way through the haunted house and was extremely entertained as everyone behind me was startled out of their skin every 45 seconds. Unfortunately, I have no pictures or video of this.

The last stop on our first full day was the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. We enjoyed the museum exhibition attached to the reconstruction and the tour given by our guide. I particularly enjoyed the description of the reconstruction techniques used – including the rebuilding of the thatch roof.

 

After our tour of the theatre, we decided to try the the Swan, the resaurant attached to the Globe. Angela and I both ate a savory pie and they were absolutely delicious:

Daytripping – Leeds Castle, Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral, and a Ferry Ride

Our second full day took us out of London on a tour that we booked through Golden Tours. While we were happy with the destinations on the trip, the guide left a lot to be desired in terms of helpfulness and organization. First up on the itinerary was Leeds Castle, but not until after we took our morning selfie:

Leeds Castle was interesting. Originally built as a stronghold in the medieval period, it turned into a preferred royal residence, passed through the hands of various nobility, and then was purchased by a rich socialite in the 1900s. It is kept in the state it was last used in, that of a private residence for someone who hosted a lot of parties.

The exterior shows quite clearly that this is not just another home:

The interior was almost overwhelming in its opulence. For example, the last owner’s bathroom was completely covered in marble from floor to ceiling:

The main library had thousands of books – a literary man’s dream:

It was certainly impressive but it really just felt like a rich old person’s house on the inside. It reminded us a lot of the Anderson House from Washington DC which is similarly maintained in the style of the last person to live there. I did get one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip at Leeds Castle – check out this stunner (and don’t mind the duck)!

After the castle, we headed to the cliffs of Dover for a quick photo opportunity. The bus was parked, we were given enough time to walk to take a picture, and then we took off again. Even with the small amount of time allowed, Angela was able to grab a few great pictures of the cliffs, including several of an extremely old Roman lighthouse and old church on top of the cliffs.

We next headed to Canterbury to visit the cathedral made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer. While there was major restoration work being done on the exterior, the Gothic architecture could still be plainly seen:

The interior was equally stunning, with the trademark Gothic style really coming through in the vaulted ceiling:

If you’ve ever heard the question “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” then you’re surely familiar with Canterbury Cathedral as it was the scene of Thomas Becket’s murder. Fun fact, that phrase reentered societal consciousness just this year as it was quoted by James Comey during congressional testimony.

The cathedral featured some stunning works in stained glass:

Finally, Angela captured me doing my best Secrets of the Dead impression:

The day ended with a trip to Greenwich where we walked past the Naval Observatory and boarded a transit ferry down the Thames. There wasn’t a ton of excitement around this last part, but we did grab a photo of the Palace of Westminster’s Christmas regalia:

All of the Walking and Climbing

Our third day in London was full of lots and lots and lots of walking – the perfect way to explore any new city! We started off the day with a selfie, as usual:

Our first stop was St. Paul’s with the intent of exploring the church. Unfortunately there was a memorial service happening and we were unable to enter, but we did manage to admire the architecture from the exterior:

After getting over some mild disappointment, we headed to the Monument to the Great Fire of London, which rewarded us with amazing views of the city after a dizzying climb up a seemingly endless spiral staircase.

After taking in the beautiful sites, we headed a few blocks away to the London Mithraeum, a restored Roman temple underneath the Bloomberg Europe headquarters. This was something that I just happened to stumble upon a reference to somewhere so we put it on our list of sights to see. I’m extremely glad we did as it was extremely interesting.

The temple is restored underground close to where it was 2,000 years ago so you have to head downstairs to enter:

The restoration includes light, fog, and sound effects to try to mimic the ceremonies that would have taken place there:

Next up on our walking tour of London was Trafalgar Square and the Nelson column. There wasn’t much to do here but snap some pictures and soak up the sight of so many monuments in one place, so that’s exactly what we did:

After 20 minutes with the camera up, we headed to the only remaining house in the world where Benjamin Franklin lived. As a huge Franklin fan, I was extremely excited that Angela was able to find this for us.

After a historical reenactment tour at the former home of The First American, we headed off to Westminster Abbey. It was beautiful inside and out, but unfortunately pictures are not allowed inside so you’ll have to make do with the exterior:

We rounded out our day with a stop by Buckingham Palace because it was on the way back to the hotel and we wanted to grab some pictures:

Plundered (or Preserved Treasures) and Afternoon Tea

We reserved a whole day for The British Museum and I’m extremely glad that we did because there was so much to see. We were both extremely excited to see the treasures preserved (some would say plundered) from ancient civilizations. Of course, we had to start the day off with a selfie – I saved my special UK sweater for our day at the museum.

The exterior of the museum reminds me a lot of the Field Museum in Chicago with the columns and classical facade:

There were so many treasures in the British Museum (and you can see most of them online with pictures much better staged than ours) but I want to share some of my favorites. I found this commemorative carving of female gladiators who earned their freedom through their performance to be extremely interesting. I did not realize that women were allowed to fight in the arena and this piece of art disabused me of that perspective:

I took entirely too many pictures of busts of Roman emperors, but I found this paired set of the Emperor Hadrian and his lover Antinous to be extremely interesting. Last year I read a biography of Hadrian that talked extensively about the relationship between these two and it was illuminating to see the manner in which they were portrayed:

I did not realize that Cleopatra’s mummy was actually at this museum, so that was a somewhat exciting surprise as Cleopatra is such an interesting historical figure:

Angela was particularly partial to the large mosaics (from various cultures and eras) that were reassembled throughout the institution. Here were two of our favorite:

One of the most important pieces of archaeology in history is located at the entrance to the Egyptian wing. I’m talking, of course, about the Rosetta Stone. To see such an important piece of human knowledge in person made me quite emotional:

Of all the Egyptian statues, I particularly enjoyed this set of Sekhmet statues that Angela was kind enough to pose in front of:

The British Museum has a gigantic collection of items from The Parthenon in Greece. The story of how those items got into the collection is somewhat controversial, in my opinion – they were technically taken from their original location with a permit, but the permit was granted by administrators from the Ottoman Empire (given that the Parthenon was located within it) and not ethnic Greeks. Like a lot of the museum’s collection, the items are amazing pieces of history, but I felt a certain unease about their presence so far away from their original location and the circumstances under which they were acquired.

All that being said, the statuary was amazing:

One of my last favorite highlights from the museum’s collection was a Maori from Easter Island. We watched a documentary about these last year so it was great to see one in person and really be able to appreciate the artistry and scale:

We also enjoyed our first afternoon tea experience at the British Museum’s restaurant. The food was great, but the service was absolutely awful. I gestured to our waitress repeatedly for over an hour and she refused to come give us our bill. It was so frustrating.

The Shard and some Beautiful Views

Our final full day in London was relaxing compared to all the previous ones. Of course, we started with our daily selfie:

After that we visited a main shopping center in London, Covent Garden Market. It was very commercial, obviously, but because of Christmas there were plenty of delightful holiday decorations that we both really enjoyed.

After purchasing the special London scent at Diptyque (highly recommended), we were off to the Shard to get some great views of the city. I was quite enamored by the vista even if it was a little overcast and rainy:

After the soaring heights, we were back to Earth and back to our hotel for a delightful afternoon tea experience. One thing I wish I knew before we went is just how much I would enjoy these sittings in the middle of the afternoon:

The Train to Paris and a Beautiful First Night

We took the Eurostar direct from London to Paris city center and it was extremely easy. We taxied from our hotel in London direct to the terminal, checked in, and then patiently waited to board our coach. With assigned seats and large luggage racks there was nothing to worry about. I had booked us a hotel transfer direct from Paris Gare du Nord to our hotel – he was late but exceedingly nice when he eventually showed up.

Sidenote: I think in the future I’ll just eschew booking private car transfers because we have had exceptionally bad luck (including our last day when we headed back to London). My thinking has always been that the extra expense is worth it if there is a little less hassle, but everytime it ends up being more hassle than I find value in what I paid.

We grabbed a quick shot of both of us at the train station (showcasing my mildly stressed out, in the middle of travel face):

Then another one as soon as we got to our hotel in Paris, Hotel Le Cinq Codet. It was a beautiful hotel in a great location and I highly recommend it to anyone considering a trip to Paris. Look how happy we were at arrival:

After getting our bearings, we headed out into the cold Paris night and saw some amazing sights. On the way to the Arc de Triomphe we found ourselves standing by a bridge with a beautiful shot of the Eiffel Tower in the background. We couldn’t resist grabbing some pictures:

Eventually we made it to the Arc de Triomphe and it was even grander than I had imagined it would be. At the end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, it was quite the sight. After a few shots of the exterior we headed in and up:

The views from the top were amazing:

After that, it was back to our hotel, but not before crossing over the Pont Alexandre III bridge, famously featured in the animated movie Anastasia, an Angela favorite:

Our 7th Anniversary – The Louvre and Eiffel Tower

Our first full day in Paris started with the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had at Angelina Paris. I am not exaggerating when I say that if you like chocolate, you must stop here and indulge in the creamy deliciousness that they serve. It is rich and thick without being overly sweet and I will make it a priority to go back the next time we are in Paris.

Of course, we had to take our first Paris morning selfie while we waited:

As we strolled up to the Louvre, we were greeted with a fantastic view of the famous glass pyramid over the heads of the (not-too-large) crowd:

After passing into the museum proper, we started our lengthy tour of all the art contained therein. There’s so much to see, so I’m only going to mention some of our favorite highlights. First, the Code of Hammurabi, as much a piece of history as it is of art:

Next, we walked through restored / preserved state apartments of Napoleon III to get a feel for exactly how royalty lived. Some of the finishes contained within were simply amazing:

Angela posed, quite successfully, with a very nice statue:

We saw a complete and well-preserved sphinx:

I loved this cool eagle relief that were a common theme of the architecture:

Angela captured this amazing shot of the Venus de Milo after pushing through the throng:

Several statues by Michaelangelo were next on our list:

Again, Angela fought the raucous crowd to get a great shot of The Winged Victory of Samothrace, located in a busy stairwell:

We saw several Leonardo da Vinci paintings which, even to my untrained eyes, were self-evident masterpieces. Unfortunately, there was no way to get good pictures due to reflections on the glass covering the canvas. We, of course, also saw the Mona Lisa but did not wait in the packed line to get close to it.

My personal favorite artwork from our visit is what we saw next – the mammoth scale and detail in Liberty Leading the People and Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804 brought my heart joy and took my breath away momentarily. The artists’ work on these two pieces in particular was stunning and really something to behold. It is hard to imagine the scale until you’re looking at them in person:

We finished up our visit with a look at the French Crown Jewels, located in the Galerie d’Apollon, an absolutely stunning space:

After a somewhat early dinner at a local cafe, we headed to the Eiffel Tower to go up to the top. Here’s a view from our walk up to it through a small park:

The whole structure was amazing. Here’s a look at the bottom from directly underneath it:

We waited in line for close to 45 minutes before we got to head to the top, but it was worth every minute of waiting and every euro we spent. The views were incredible:

It was absolutely freezing at the top, but we stuck it out to get some special pictures for our anniversary – I couldn’t imagine a different way I would have wanted to spend the night:

 

Versailles

We booked a Versailles tour through Viator that we were very pleased with. We were picked up at our hotel by an extremely friendly driver and escorted around Versailles by a knowledgeable and fun guide.

Unfortunately, the day we visited Versailles it was like there was a cloud hanging three feet off the ground, so we didn’t get a grand view from the palace’s courtyard or experience the gardens in any meaningful way. That being said, we did enjoy the royal surroundings.

As with every other day, we started this one with a quick selfie:

And then another one in the courtyard that shows just how foggy it was:

The estate was visually overwhelming in many ways, so I think the best way to describe it is through pictures of some of our favorite parts:

The following nondescript desk is important because it is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of the World War I – some would say the document signed here led to World War II, although I’m currently reading a book that disputes this commonly held opinion in some ways.

This painting depicts the Battle of Yorktown, which led fairly directly to an American victory in the Revolutionary War – nice to see the American-French relationship depicted in such an important place:

I also captured a picture of this super cutie I found by the gates:

We arrived back at our hotel in the middle of the afternoon and decided to rest most of the evening after enjoying a delicious dinner.

Musée de l’Armée

We spent almost an entire day in the French military museum located at Les Invalides and it was well worth. After grabbing some breakfast and our obligatory selfie, we decided to head out. The building is stunning to walk up to:

Interestingly, the location houses the largest single collection of artillery pieces (at least that is the claim) so there are cannons and bombards everywhere. I snapped a few inside the courtyard as we walked into it:

The museum is enormous and plays host to a veritable treasure trove of medieval, renaissance, and later arms and armor. Here are a few of my favorite pieces from the collection (that weren’t ruined by the glare from display cases):

The location also plays host to a set of tombs, including Emperor Napoleon I’s:

If you’re going to visit, I highly recommend the audio tour as it makes the experience much more informative. Again, after a full day of walking and reading we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

Art, Art, and More Art

After gorging on militarism the previous day, we decided to return to a purer subject – art. We visited the Musee Rodin and the Musee d’Orsay and both were wonderful! Rodin is one of Angela’s favorite artists, so it was a real treat to see so much of his amazing work. Again, we took so many pictures but I’ll try to pick out some memorable / notable ones:

After admiring Rodin’s amazing sculptures, it was off to a less specialized, but no less amazing, art museum. On the way there we got to walk down through this quaint Parisian neighborhood, which I quite enjoyed:

Again, here are some of our favorite works (and I think you’ll recognize quite a few):

 

A Day of Bread and Cheese and Back to London

Our last full day in Paris we decided to relax and unwind given that we’d been on our feet touring two different international cities almost non-stop for multiple weeks. We woke up and headed to the local fromagerie (cheese shop) and boulangerie (bakery) to pick up some essentials for the day and hung out in our hotel room reading, talking, and recapping our trip. It was a great way to finish up our stay in Paris (and it helped that our hotel room was extremely conducive to relaxing like this).

Our last morning in Paris was beautiful and we decided to take full advantage of our final few hours by taking a brisk walk to the Champ de Mars where we snapped quite a few shots of us in front of the Eiffel Tower:

After taking those shots, it was back to London for our direct flight home to Las Vegas the next day. In retrospect, I wouldn’t do this again. I’d rather position myself in the US to a major city on the west coast then worry about flying from a specific place in Europe. We took a taxi to the train station in Paris, took the Eurostar to London, had to find our driver (who was late and kind of a dick), drive to Gatwick and get dropped off at the Courtyard Marriott at Gatwick, and then wake up early the next day to catch a (paid) shuttle to our terminal. I would not do that again, period.

Our trip was wonderful and we can’t wait to go back to Paris, hopefully during the spring when the gardens are blooming and it is a tad bit warmer. If you’ve never been, there is so much to do!

Thirty

I figure turning 30 is momentous enough that I should blog about it. I’ve learned so much about life, myself, and others over the past decade that I wanted to take a few minutes to look back and reflect on those things. I’m going to concentrate on the things I’ve experienced over the last decade, as going back any further than that doesn’t seem very meaningful any more. If you decide to continue reading, I promise to try not to ramble so much.

Let’s start with something that I think about every single day of my life.

I am a very, very lucky man

A lot of what happens in life is entirely out of our control. I’m convinced at this point that the best we can do as individuals is put ourselves in the position to maximize the good things that happen to us, minimize the bad things, and take advantage of events or circumstances that can benefit us.

Please don’t misunderstand – I am a huge believer in hard work and planning (if you know me, you’ll know how much personal goals play a part in my life) – those are the things that put you in position to benefit from luck when it comes your way.

Just looking at my business, it is incredibly easy to see the role that luck has played. Consider the following:

  • I just happened to specialize in a very particular CMS / platform that now powers a full 25% of publicly accessible websites on the internet
  • I somehow managed to be one of the first development contractors for an amazing agency / group of people that provided me an astounding amount of meaningful benefits (honestly, it is hard for me to even list the number of ways that Modern Tribe nee Shane & Peter helped me as I was starting my freelance career – if you’re reading this, thank you so much)
  • I was approached to write a book (and did so!) at 23, less than a year into my career, and was mentioned in a “For Dummies” book by an important industry figure – bucket list item complete!

What part did I play in any of these things? The only one I really took action to make happen is the second one, and even that one is kind of up in the air. The studio job ad on FreelanceSwitch (now defunct) was one of many I responded to and I’m sure that I was one of many freelancers they interviewed. That it worked out and we made such a connection was mostly luck (and I’m so happy it did).

Very bad things happen in life and they are not fair

My sister died 4 years ago. It was completely unexpected. One night I was texting her and the next morning my mom called me to tell me Renee was dead.

It took me a while to come to terms with the situation. I’m sure the same is true for anyone who loses a close friend or family member suddenly. I kept thinking “this isn’t fair” and I certainly don’t think I was wrong.

The simple truth of the matter is that life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. Just like the good luck I mentioned above, these are often things we can’t control at all. We, collectively, have to deal with the situations the best we can and move on from there.

My wife is amazing

I was tempted to make this a general point about stable relationships being important, but I don’t feel qualified to speak in general about the way other people’s relationships work. Instead, I’ll just talk about the one I’m a part of.

Not to belabor the point or anything, but Angela, my wife, is amazing.

On December 18th, we’ll celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. That day will also mark the 11th anniversary of the start of our relationship (when we visited the Museum of Science & Industry and looked at the Christmas trees). This may sound cliche, but I truly love Angela more than the day we got married and my affection for her continues to grow with each passing day.

I think about our relationship and am so happy that I have found a true partner in life. We complement each other in our strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, we are individuals with our own opinions – no person is subservient to the other. I feel like I’m not explaining it adequately, but this is the best I can do.

I look at what we have together and I hope that other couples we know have the same connection because it is truly amazing.

Needing help is not a sign of weakness

I mentioned above how hard it was dealing with my sister dying. After years of battling depression and hiding in my work, I finally went and got help in dealing with it. I didn’t believe I was ever going to be able to be happy again and now I’m happier than I’ve ever been before.

I was afraid of getting help because I thought it made me less of a man. I thought it meant I was broken – damaged goods in need of repair. I wish I had been less stubborn and spent less of my life in the state I was in.

If you need help for whatever reason, asking for it or seeking it out is not a sign of weakness. Please do not be scared like I was – you can most likely get the help you need and there are probably people around you who love you and care about you enough to help you get it if you need it.

Having friends is important

This may seem obvious to some of you, but I was oblivious to this fact until the last few years. I’ve always been an introvert and thought that I didn’t really need anybody else in my life other than my wife to be happy.

For me, this proved to be untrue. I needed people in my life who I can hang out with. People who shared a common interest. I found that through flag football and I’m so happy I did.

The one thing that is most important here is to find people who are truly your friend. We all have Twitter and Facebook friends / acquaintances these days, and that’s awesome. However, make sure that you are loyal to the people in your life and that you involve people in your life that will be loyal to you. People who will be there to help you out when you need it.

For me, I strive to be a true friend to the people I care about. So, if you ever need anything, please let me know!

Getting older doesn’t necessarily make you a bad athlete

This will be the last point because its a fun one. As I approached 30 I was a little worried that my skills as an athlete were going to diminish rapidly. I’d be just another workout warrior pumping iron and building my show muscles. Luckily for me, that’s not the case!

I’m so glad I found flag football here in Las Vegas a few years ago and have gotten the chance to compete the last few seasons. It has been unbelievably rewarding to test myself against other men (and a couple women) of varying skill levels as the years have gone by. I believe I have mostly succeeded in acquitting myself well.

Someday I expect my athleticism to fade, but I’m going to fight that battle as long as I can!

On to 40!

I’m excited to begin the next decade of my life and I can only hope it will be as fun and rewarding as the previous one has been. Thank you, sincerely, to all the people who have helped to shape the last 10 years of my life. It wouldn’t have been the same without you :-)

101 in 1001 Wrap Up

**Update: I think we did a pretty decent amount of things on our list and I’m proud of us. It was a great way to plan ahead and also to see how our plans changed/evolved over 1001 days. I hope our next 1001 days are just as exciting!

I got inspired by a post my friend Kate made about making a list of 101 tasks to complete in 1001 days. I thought it was interesting to make a goal list with a time frame other than just a year. So Nick and I sat down and made a list of some things we wanted to accomplish in the next 2 3/4 years. Our list ended up being more than 101 items, but then again, we did break down our travel plans to all of the specific places we wanted to visit – vacation planning: complete :) End Date: May 3, 2015

Updates

The List

  1. Go to a MNF Bears game
  2. Go to a BCS Bowl game
  3. Mob Museum
  4. Springs Preserve
  5. Natural History Museum
  6. Neon Museum
  7. Mystere
  8. Absinthe
  9. Jubilee!
  10. Jabbawockeez
  11. See Book of Mormon
  12. Shark Reef Aquarium
  13. Bodies Exhibit
  14. See Wicked @ Smith Center (Aug 29-Oct 2012)
  15. Zarkana
  16. Hike @ Mt Charleston
  17. Do all Red Rock Canyon hikes
  18. Go to the shooting range
  19. Zombie Store
  20. Grand Canyon
  21. Build Warthog airplane model
  22. Build and launch a large scale model rocket with E engine
  23. Go to a Renaissance Faire
  24. Buy Nick a bike
  25. Go bowling
  26. Go to the Polish Deli off of Charleston
  27. Knit a blanket
  28. Buy a house
  29. Build a home gym
  30. New bedding
  31. Print and frame wedding pictures
  32. New dinnerware
  33. New flatware set
  34. Get knives sharpened
  35. Get a stand mixer
  36. Get a grill
  37. Ship Nick’s workshop to new house
  38. Go to a professional conference
  39. Eat at Gordon Ramsay Steak
  40. Eat at 12 restaurants on the Strip/Downtown (12/12)
    1. StripSteak
    2. Mon Ami Gabi
    3. Javier’s
    4. Gordon Ramsay Steak
    5. Lombardi’s Romagna Mia
    6. Olives
    7. Cabo Wabo Cantina
    8. Serendipity
    9. CraftSteak
    10. Mesa Grill
    11. El Segundo Sol (a solid whatevs – check out Javier’s at Aria instead!)
    12. Andre’s
  41. Try sushi
  42. Make pasta from scratch
  43. Try deer or elk
  44. Go to Farmer’s Market
  45. Make a monthly budget
  46. visit Dad in Alabama
  47. Visit Chicago
  48. Visit Mom & Grams
  49. Visit Dad in Indy
  50. Visit James in Washington
  51. Go on a bro-cation
  52. Go to Hawaii
  53. Volcanoes National Park
  54. Coffee plantation and roast our own coffee
  55. Punaluu Black Sand Beach
  56. Akaka Falls State Park
  57. Go to San Diego
  58. USS Midway Museum
  59. Balboa Park
  60. SD Model Railroad Museum
  61. San Diego Zoo
  62. Botanical Building and Lily Pond
  63. SD Bay Walk
  64. Sea World SD
  65. Go to Boston
  66. USS Constitution Museum
  67. Boston Public Garden
  68. Go to New York City in the Fall
  69. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
  70. WTC memorial
  71. Times Square
  72. Little Cupcake Bake Shop
  73. Central Park
  74. Lombardi’s Pizza
  75. Empire State Building
  76. Grand Central Terminal
  77. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  78. Metropoitan Opera House
  79. NY Public Library
  80. Rockefeller Center
  81. Radio City Music Hall
  82. Go to Washington, D.C.
  83. All museums of the Smithsonian
  84. Korean War Veterans’ Memorial
  85. Vietnam War Veterans’ Memorial
  86. FDR Memorial
  87. Library of Congress
  88. Jefferson Memorial
  89. Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial
  90. National Portrait Gallery
  91. National Air and Space Museum
  92. National WWII Memorial
  93. Capitol
  94. Lincoln Memorial
  95. Dr. MLK Jr. National Memorial
  96. Ford’s Theater
  97. US Botanic Garden
  98. US National Arboretum
  99. US National Archives
  100. Supreme Court
  101. Washington Monument
  102. Georgetown University
  103. National Zoological Park
  104. National Museum of Crime and Punishment
  105. White House
  106. Albert Einstein Memorial
  107. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  108. International Spy Museum
  109. Embassy Row
  110. Navy Museum
  111. Theodore Roosevelt Island Park
  112. Get a puppy

Springs Preserve

Nick and I finally made it to the Springs Preserve. I am so glad we had a voucher for two free admissions because if we had to spend money on it, I would have been even more disappointed. This place was just pretty lame overall. The only neat parts were a couple desert animal exhibits and the Nevada State Museum. We still had a good time cuz we’re awesome like that.

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Nick modeling under a palm tree
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It’s like a little bonsai cactus!
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One of the few things we don’t get to see too often is this type of cactus
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Coolest thing at the Springs Preserve was this tortoise because tortoises ROCK! Side note – this enclosure was pretty small and it was actually kind of sad. Wish he had more room to roam around.
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Channeling my inner mountain lion
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ROSES!
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Ostriches, including scrap metal sculptures, are pretty creepy.
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Whatever this was…

 

Hiking at Mount Charleston

After a great win yesterday at flag football, Angela suggested we head up to Mount Charleston to do some hiking and see what Fitz would do in the snow. After some initial hesitation on my part, due to both tiredness and laziness, I agreed it would be a good idea.

We both knew the hiking trails were close, but we had no idea it would take less than an hour to get to the trailhead we wanted. After lacing up our hiking boots, we headed out.

To our surprise, Fitz was not surprised by the snow at all. I expected a little more caution, but our dog is apparently an all-terrain model:

After seeing that he was comfortable with the compressed snow, we decided to take it up a notch and delve into some deeper drifts:

Finally, we thought we’d try to get Fitz to do some adventure wiener shots – that didn’t work out so well:

He did eventually strike a pose that I reasonably believe you could call majestic:

Our dog likes to flex as much as Nick does
Our dog likes to flex as much as Nick does

I tried to get Fitz to pose with me, but that didn’t work as well:

"C'mon Fitz, just look at the camera"
“C’mon Fitz, just look at the camera”
"Fine, don't look at the camera, I guess"
“Fine, don’t look at the camera, I guess”

We had better luck when decided to take our family picture:

Family hiking picture
Family hiking picture

We had a really great time. We spent about an hour and a half in the hiking area before heading home. It was a little muddy and I was tired so we didn’t hike the entirety of the Mary Jane Falls trails that we stopped at. We’ll definitely be going back, though, especially during the summer months!

Model Rocketry as a Family

One of the things that has been on our to do list for a while is to build and launch a large model rocket. We finally assembled a kit towards the end of last year, but it languished unlaunched in my office for the past few months as we prepared for our big move.

I used to launch model rockets as a kid, but the biggest engines I ever sent into the sky were C level engines from Estes. I wanted to do something bigger now that I’m an adult, so Angela and I built a bigger rocket that holds an E engine.

Today, the wind was finally right for a launch and we headed out to a nearby empty area to blast it off. Here’s our bright blue rocket (in retrospect, not a great color for tracking, but whatever):

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After checking the launch controller a final time and hooking up the ignition wires, Angela and Fitz were ready to launch:

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The rocket went really, really high. It got to the point where we couldn’t really track it anymore, although I did see it turn over at the apex.

Unfortunately, there was a malfunction and the nose cone didn’t pop so the rocket dived nose first straight into the ground about 200 yards from where it was launched.

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A cursory investigation revealed that the engine tube decoupled from its attachment points and allowed the engine to push itself up into the rocket. This caused the second “pop” to not fire on the engine, so the wadding and parachute were not ejected. Oh well – we know what to do better next time!

East Coast Trip 2014

In late September, Angela and I journeyed to the east coast of the United States, visiting Boston, Rhode Island (Newport and Narraganset), and New York City. We had a ton of fun and did a lot of cool stuff. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, however, I’ll just let them tell the story:

Boston

Rhode Island

Also, a wedding happened here, but I’m not about to steal someone else’s thunder by posting wedding pictures.

New York City

Had a blast in NYC. Loved everything.

Journey to the Top of Lone Mountain

Fitz looks over the Las Vegas vallery

A few days ago, Fitz and I were at the local dog park. Fitz is finally starting to get used to the other dogs and was being, somewhat surprisingly, polite to the yorkie and terrier mix that were in the pen with us.

I was talking to the other owners and one mentioned that he likes to take his dog hiking and he had recently taken her to the top of Lone Mountain. I asked if she needed any help along the way and he confirmed that, due to the amount of rock scrambling, he needed to lift her up at times on the way to the top.

In my mind a challenge was born. I decided Fitz was getting to the top of the mountain without any help.

Yesterday, Fitz and I headed out as soon as we woke up. The sun was still low as we arrived at the trail head. I could tell Fitz was excited about the journey ahead. I decided I’d be happy if he made it halfway before getting tired. I knew this was something unusual for our little dachshund.

You can imagine my surprise as we reached the halfway point and Fitz showed no signs of slowing. He was ready to head for the peak. He let me know by continually bursting onwards and upwards.

In what seemed like no time at all we reached the summit. I’m proud to say that Fitz received no help as we headed to the top. He used his powerful little legs to hop on rocks and leap over crevices.

Fitz gazes upon his domain with pleasure

The way down was only slightly more eventful because we encountered another owner and dog. Fitz got into a barking match with the other canine, presumably discussing ownership of the turf.

Alas, Fitz’s energy ran low as we reached the car. After drinking almost a full liter of water, he fell soundly asleep on the passenger seat and stayed asleep almost the entirety of the day.

What Football Means to Me

Recently, my Aunt Susan linked to a documentary regarding the NFL’s denial of a link between football and head trauma and the ongoing scandal that has resulted from the actions (and inaction) of the league. She asked what my brother and I thought about it which led me to think about what football has meant to me in general.

Let me lead by saying that I think it is unfortunate that the NFL has gone to the lengths it has to deny that football can have a negative impact on the brain health of players. Anyone with a lick of common sense can look at the recent research and see that repeated concussions are bad and that small head traumas add up over time. I think the NFL could act as a leader in more meaningful ways than they currently are:

  • Mandate safer helmets which have been determined to provide better protection against head trauma
  • Suspend players for violent hits rather than just fining them (unlike college, I believe these suspensions should be issued post-game rather than in-game)
  • Require that player helmets fit appropriately – a helmet coming off should cause a player to miss the remainder of the half
  • Reduce the number of total games played over a season (or increase the active roster size substantially)

I think this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could be done. Major changes like revisions to the nature of helmet construction (padded foam rubber instead of hard plastic shells) and removing kickoffs from the game could be viable options down the line. Of course, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the things that the league is doing already to protect players:

  • Hits to the head are punished (although it seems to be somewhat inconsistent)
  • Concussion testing is now mandatory for players showing symptoms
  • The NFL is promoting the Heads Up Football program in a big way (which is a huge deal, in all honesty)

All this being said, none of the recent research affects the way I feel about football, either as a player or a spectator. Here’s what I said on Facebook:

I know I’ve had concussions while playing and it may have affected me for the rest of my life. Also, the position I played is particularly susceptible to repeated small impacts, which some research has shown is actually worse than single big hits.

All that being said, I wouldn’t trade my playing experience for anything. I learned the value of camaraderie and being part of a team. I had experiences that I’ll remember the rest of my life and a lot of my physical fitness can be attributed directly to football. I think there are ways to make the game safer and I’m hoping they’re implemented, but I’ll never feel bad about enjoying the sport.

I love football. I loved playing and I love watching it. It is a chess game played by large, athletic men (and some women) who need to work together in a very precise way to achieve a shared outcome.

As a player, I experienced the whole gamut of human emotions almost every time I stepped on the field. From pure elation to the deepest despair. Sadness, joy, loneliness, and togetherness – all of these could be felt in a single game. I learned about myself as a man and as a leader. I pushed myself to the limits and the only thing I regret is not playing longer than I did.

As a spectator, I enjoy the technical aspect of the game. While most people who watch football follow the ball and watch the skill position players, I more often than not am watching the intricate stunts and blitz pickups by the defensive and offensive lines. I’m watching the techniques of the linebackers as they read their keys and either drop into coverage or attack. I yell at the TV and boo the refs like everyone else (if not, what’s the point of being a fan) but my enjoyment goes to a deeper level than the play on the screen.

If Angela and I are blessed with a male child in the coming years, I’ll probably encourage him to give football a try when he reaches adolescence and I think Angela will, too. I believe strongly that the benefits of a structured football program outweigh the risks.