Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Belgium, Pt 2 of 4: Bring out the Ghent

...Continued from

Belgium, Pt. 1: Australian Surfboard Upset (link)

Not to belabor an already archaic 90's reference with a GIF, but...

21 month old Levi pilots his very first Boeing 767 to Europe!  More adorable cockpit photos are below.

Previously, on Pt. 1:  Last month’s Australian surfing weekend was a bust for me, though my parents (and Mike and Summer, this month) enjoyed their visits Down Under.  After hanging out with my good buddy Joseph in Hollywood, I flew home to gather my family for another overseas trip.  Sadly, caring for our sick four-year-old daughter delayed that trip an additional week.

Once Lena’s fever broke, the Hamiltons flew standby from Portland to Atlanta to shop for some open international flights.

En route to Atlanta: “Hey Mommy, let’s watch ‘Frozen’ for the third time this week!”

Our late evening touchdown at the Atlanta airport dashed any hope of same-day overseas connections.

We checked into the Atlanta Sleep Inn, which conveniently had a Ruby Tuesday restaurant 75 feet away from the hotel lobby.  Weirdly, that Tuesday’s location was somehow out of every single menu item that poor lil’ Lena ordered.  After several unsuccessful return trips to the kitchen, the friendly waitress predicted that the manager would comp us a Tuesday's appetizer or drink for Lena's disappointment.

Nada.  Thanks, Ruby Tuesday.

This Ruby Tuesday location has a skimpier kid’s meal selection than a small town diner's during the zombie apocalypse.

Lena and Levi tag team Daddy in the Sleep Inn lobby

The next morning, Kathy and I debated the merits of various international destinations.  We finally settled on Belize for its exotic outdoor adventure potential:  hiking, volcano climbing, surfing, cave diving… But then I discovered the return flights to the States looked too full.

The Wi-Fi network crashed at the Sleep Inn, so we shuttled back to the Atlanta airport to continue the trip planning on our phones’ internet browsers.

ATL curbside check-in

Overseas flights from Atlanta with open seats were limited that day.  I boiled it down to two final choices:  Germany’s Cannstatter Volksfest (the world-famous family fair near Stuttgart) versus western Belgium.  After estimating a whopping savings of 250 Euros for passing on the Volksfest, the inexpensive hostels in Belgium won out.

I’d already visited Brussels a few times and was obviously looking to branch out (check out this link to my previous father-son Belgiumtravelogue).  I tweeted my Twitter friend Sofie from the Belgian-based Wonderful Wanderings travel blog, asking her #1 pick for Belgium.  We didn’t expect Sofie to have a chance to reply before our departure, so we checked in and hustled to the gate.

Levi and Lena requested multiple do-overs on the ATL people mover

Levi boards his first international flight, with veteran traveler Lena

Learning that this would be Levi’s first overseas trip, the Delta flight crew lets both L’s in on the cockpit action before takeoff.

A pilot group stole..., er, "regrammed," my Instagram photo below, and Levi's adorable photo got 4,700+ likes!!

A photo posted by Garth Hamilton (@garth_hamilton) on

15 hours later...

Though we got split up between Business Elite and Coach Cabin seats during our flight overseas, all of us landed safely together in Brussels.

A tweet from Sofie came through as we cleared Belgian Customs., She had a few ideas and an enthusiastic recommendation for our next stop.

Ghent it would be!

Coming up on Garth’s Blog…

Belgium, Pt. 3 of 4:  Going Medieval on Ghent

Monday, November 16, 2015

Just Read: Sons of Thunder

Part 2 of 4 from last month's Belgium travelogue (link) is coming next week!

Disclosure:  The novel reviewed below was a free selection from Amazon Kindle for Samsung’s monthly book deals.  That’s why I read it.  And this review will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

Cotton Smith’s 1865 post-Civil War western novel, Sons of Thunder, juggles themes of faith, racial reform, redemption, self-sacrifice, racial bigotry, greed, child abuse, domestic abuse, and religious hypocrisy.  The plot involves Rule Cordell, a former Confederate soldier/outlaw (with a revisionist sense of racial tolerance, of course) who takes on a new identity as the peaceful Reverend James Rule Langford, a part-time, small town preacher.  An unscrupulous mayor, the captain of the Texas police force, and a large gang of baddies set out to intimidate and defraud the town members/churchgoers, and, you guessed it… Cordell steps up to put an end to their reign of violence and terror.

Besides being a free book, I was mainly drawn to this story by the internal religious conflicts of the protagonist.  There is a tension between Cordell’s call to be a peaceful Christ follower/preacher and his firebrand wife’s conviction that “turning the other cheek [isn’t] very effective in these turbulent times.”  His abusive father, a hypocritical former reverend himself, provides another contrast to Cordell’s struggles with faith.  And a wise, influential Comanche shaman named Moon of the self-named Noomah people adds yet ANOTHER layer to Cordell’s spiritual journey, although in a more vaguely religious sense.

“Sons of Thunder” is front loaded with both characterization and religious pondering, which are both later dispensed with as Cordell rounds up his old gang and goes after the bad guys.  The action is exciting, racism as personified by the KKK antagonists is adequately vilified, and there are a couple of surprising twists as the conclusion approaches.  With the exception of some annoyingly exaggerated Tex-Mex dialect and a hilariously ludicrous 11th hour cameo during the climax, the story is engaging and seems to historically credible.  Overall, it’s a quick, fun read.

My rating:  3 ½ out 5 stars.