Posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Since this ship didn't go all the way through the Panama Canal, I took an excursion that would continue onward to the Pacific. Kind of boring, but I didn't come all this way to only go through half the canal.
It was pleasant enough, I guess, except I ended up burned again... even though I piled on the sunscreen...
30 DAYS DRAWING CHALLENGE: Draw a Comic...
And by "comic" I'm assuming a comic book hero will work?
Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Since I have never even attended a "zine show" I'm a little nervous about exhibiting at the Portland Zine Symposium this weekend. Part of the problem has to do with a sentence out of the tabling guidelines...
"In order keep the Portland Zine Symposium focused on zines and to maintain the DIY spirit of the Portland Zine Symposium, at least 51% of merchandise at any table must be handmade zines and/or independently published materials."
Sure, THRICE Fiction is independently published... it's just Bob and myself... but we're hardly "Do It Yourself" when it comes to the actual production of the magazine. Digital copies are given away for free, but anything people want to physically purchase is professionally printed. So... the question becomes "Will we be welcomed with our slick printed magazines and books?" or "Will people stop by just to slap me in the face and set our table on fire?"
I honestly don't know.
So last Wednesday I went to Flickr and did a search for Portland Zine Symposium photos.
It's just table after table of handmade books that looks like they were copied at Kinkos and stapled together in somebody's living room.
So now I've gone from being "a little worried" to being "a lot worried." I considered canceling, but I had already bought a non-refundable airline ticket and spent a lot of money printing a book to sell. "Oh well," I thought. "Guess I'll just show up and hope we're 'indy' enough that I don't get slapped and set on fire."
And then realized I don't want to risk getting slapped, so I decided to hand-make a zine instead (which is something Bob had suggested years ago... go figure).
This was easier said than done, as there wasn't time to hand-draw a new zine from scratch. Not knowing what else to do, I figured I'd just assemble some stuff from my blog and see how that went (which is something else Bob had suggested years ago... go figure). Ultimately I decided to make a zine filled with Bad Monkey cartoons. I figured since everybody loves monkeys, this was my best chance of not getting our table set on fire.
Then I spent the next couple nights cobbling together a zine. Then I ordered a booklet stapler and a stack-cutter. Then I printed copies (in color, because I'm That Guy). Then I spent the next couple nights saddle-stitch stapling everything together. My stack-cutter never showed up, so today I had to go bother a print shop to trim my books for me.
And so now I have a hand-made zine for our table...
To make them seem more "hand-made," I worked hard to get them looking beat up and aged. All the interior pages are yellowed and textured. The cover has wear and tear marks printed on it. Then I took each copy and rubbed it on a gem cutter's cloth to add a little bit of scuff. They're as hand-made as I can get, given the time constraints I'm under...
Overall, the experience of making this zine sucked. And I'm still not 100% convinced that the DaveToons will even make sense out of the context of my blog. Oh well (again).
But... it definitely has me anxious to try making more zines in the future. With more time and less anxiety, it seems like this kind of thing would actually be something fun to do!
In the meanwhile, everybody cross their fingers that my first zine show doesn't end up with my getting slapped and a visit from the fire department...
Posted on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Way back in the early days of this blog (as in, eighteen months into this blog) I did one of those "Fifty Things To Do Before You Die" that was published by the BBC. This morning I got an email from a friend who stumbled across it and wrote to tell me that a couple things on that list that I wanted to do I actually did.
I thought that was pretty cool, so I went back and pulled those items where the status had changed to see how many I had left that I wanted to do (here's a link to the rest of the original list, if you're interested)...
THINGS I DONE DID...
• Scuba dive on Great Barrier Reef, Australia (Wanna do it! Done it!)... I would want to re-up my certification first (it's been a while), but I would absolutely do this. Finally made it to Australia in September 2011, and diving the Great Barrier Reef was on my must-do list. Unfortunately, thanks to massive Cyclone Yasi that struck in February 2011, much of the beautiful corals were wiped out, and environmental factors mean they probably ain't coming back. Such a shame. But it was still a terrific experience.
• Walk the Great Wall of China (Wanna do it! Done it!)... Absolutely want to do this one. And I absolutely did do this one when I went to China the year after I completed this list!
• Catch sunset over Uluru (Ayers Rock) , Northern Territories, Australia (Wanna do it! Done it!)... And, again, when I finally get to Australia I probably will. Went to Australia, and absolutely fulfilled a promise to myself to do this. Truly an amazing experience.
• Hike up a glacier (Done it! Really done it!)... My home state of Washington has glaciers as well. Nothing like Glacier Bay in Alaska, but still. When I said "nothing like Alaska," I didn't realize how true that was until I actually went there, then took a helicopter to the top of a glacier and hiked around. Epic!
CHANGED MY MIND...
• Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia (Wanna do it! Probably not!)... And when I finally end up making it to Australia, I probably will (despite my fear of heights!). Ummm... yeah... after seeing the climbers actually climbing the thing as I was walking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I don't think there's any way I would want to do this.
• Explore Antarctica (Probably not! Wanna do it!)... Uh, why? I might consider it if they built an authentic Hard Rock Cafe but otherwise no. I have no idea what I was thinking. This somehow went from something I didn't want to do... to something I obsess about. I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out how to make this happen.
• Explore the Galapagos Islands (Probably not! Wanna do it!)... This is a preserved area, and only scientists, researchers and such are given permission to visit. Boy do I feel stupid. It's absolutely possible for ordinary citizens to visit the Galapagos Islands, it's just really expensive. Of course I want to go there.
• Ride a camel to the Pyramids, Egypt (Wanna do it! Probably not!)... Absolutely something on my list to do. Uhhh... yeah... went to see the pyramids in 2007 and felt absolutely no need to ride a camel there (I've ridden one before). Instead went inside The Great Pyramid of Giza, which was awesome.
STILL WANT TO DO...
• Walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, Peru, South America (Wanna do it!)... My brother and I were going to do this, but he decided to get in an accident and nearly blow his face off instead. Oh well, maybe one day.
• See elephants in the wild (Wanna do it!)... Since I'm sure the elephants at Disney's Animal Kingdom don't count, I do think it would be cool to go to Africa or India and do this one.
• Fly over a volcano (Wanna do it!)... While on the Big Island of Hawaii, I walked over a volcano, which seems much more impressive, doesn't it?
• Gallop a horse along a beach (Wanna do it!)... My riding skills are crap though.
• Watch mountain gorillas (Wanna do it!)... Who wouldn't?
• See tigers in the wild (Wanna do it!)... But don't tigers EAT you in the wild?
• Do the Cresta Run, Switzerland (Wanna do it!)... Heck yeah I would do this! Probably die while trying, but what a way to go!
• See orang-utans in Borneo (Wanna do it!)... Why not? Boy, sure a lot of wild animal watching on this list!
• Go polar bear watching (Wanna do it!)... Why not? Boy, sure a lot of wild animal watching on this list!
So that's like... eleven things from the list I still want to do. Half of them, I probably have a shot at. That's not so bad.
If only I have the time and money to get started...
Posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
And... something unexpected just came up.
Instead of blogging, I have to hop in my car and drive a lot.
Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Picking up from yesterday's unexpected journey...
The 3-1/2 hour drive to Spokane is not one of those awe-filled journeys that you look forward to. It's pretty much 30 minutes of civilized nothing followed by three more hours of nothing nothing. The Columbia Basin is vast, flat, and uneventful, with only a few farms and a lot of road to distract you from the tedium. Not to say that there can't be some pretty moments in the summer when the crops are out... I've seen some amazing sunsets, for example... but mostly? Not a lot to look at.
And now it's the middle of winter, which means there's even less to look at than usual...
The truth is that I never minded the drive that much, because there was always the best pizza on earth waiting for me when I arrived in Spokane at David's Pizza. But then this happened...
Needless to say, my trips to Spokane are not quite what they used to be. The owner of what was once David's Pizza is co-owner of a bar/restaurant called Famous Ed's where they claim to serve the same pizza... but not so much. The crust at David's was crispy with a nice snap to it when you took a bite. The Famous Ed's crust is tough like shoe leather and has to be torn off the slice. There's also something different about the sauce, but I can't put my finger on it. David's just had a better flavor profile somehow (though I'm sure it's the same recipe). The biggest problem is that Famous Ed's is always changing the toppings for "The Da Vinci"... last time they added clove garlic and salt... this time they added green peppers (which totally overpowered the feta and pesto notes that make this pizza so amazing). Oh well. They were running a special where you could get a large for the price of a small, so at least I'll have something for breakfast tomorrow...
For those who have never been here, Spokane is an interesting place. It's more like a humongous town than a big city. It stretches for absolute miles, but it never seems densely populated because it's so spread out. Even the downtown area, which is fairly cosmopolitan, never really seems like you're in a modern metropolis. The end result is actually kinda nice... you have most of the stores and services of a big city, but without the massive crowds and craziness.
Meaning "Children of the Sun" in the Native American Salishan language, Spokane (the second-largest city in Washington State), has a few claims to fame that I know of. It was the site of the 1974 World's Fair Expo. It was the setting for the Johnny Depp movie Benny & Joon and the Madonna-soundtrack-fueled film Vision Quest. It's the city where future Ted Mosby (from How I Met Your Mother) designs his first skyscraper (though, honestly, the idea of a skyscraper in Spokane is ludicrous, as I had previously talked about). Spokane is also home to the Lilac Festival in mid-May, which is kind of a notable event. At least it is here in the Pacific Northwest. And then there's the Bloomsday Run, which claims to be the largest timed race in the USA. And, of course, Bing Crosby grew up here and this is the city where Father's Day was invented.
Most important of all, Spokane is home of Gonzaga University Basketball, which is all kinds of famous. Oddly enough, some out-of-staters have asked me where the "City of Gonzaga" is, not realizing that the college is named for a Jesuit saint and not a city (the university itself having been founded by the Roman Catholic "Society of Jesus").
The geography of Spokane is also worth mentioning, because that massive blob on a map of Eastern Washington is not really all Spokane. It's divided into two parts... Spokane and Spokane Valley...
The city of Spokane Valley picks up at the eastern edge of Spokane proper and extends almost to Idaho. If you ever question which city you're in, all you have to do is look at north-south streets. In Spokane, they're labeled as "streets" but in Spokane Valley they're labeled as "roads." The distinction between the two cities is kind of important, and some Spokane Valley locals will be offended if you say they're from "Spokane" (just as a Spokane resident might be offended if you were to say they live in the "Spokane Valley," which has a specific meaning in this part of the state). It's not quite so contentious now, but decades ago it was kind of a "West Side Story Jets and Sharks" situation where Spokane kids and Valley kids did not mix. Even today, both cities have separate ecosystems for living, shopping, and eating... they're just not so isolated as they once were.
And that, as they say, is that.
Probably more about Spokane than you wanted to know, but that's what you're paying me for.
Posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2013
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BETTY WHITE!
And so I didn't get to leave Spokane yesterday as planned.
In an attempt to make the best out of the situation, I decided to go to Pita Pit for a falafel sandwich last night. It was delicious. Back home, most people don't even know what the heck "falafel" is, so I don't pass up opportunities like this.
On the way back to my hotel, I passed two guys fighting over change on the sidewalk. One of them screams "MY DARK SIDE IS COMIN' OUT AND YOU DON'T WANNA FUCK WITH MY DARK SIDE!" The other guy pushes him away, grabs the quarter off the sidewalk, then runs off screaming "I'M THE JEDI MASTER, BITCH!!"
How cool was that? Witnessing this exchange made me feel better about not being able to go home.
Sadly, this moment of happiness was fleeting. Lately I've been having an even worse time sleeping than usual, and last night I got no sleep at all. Methinks it may be time to revisit my insomnia with a new doctor. Not that doctors have been much help in the past, but I suppose I owe it to myself to keep trying.
Breakfast this morning was the same as yesterday morning... leftover pizza from my dinner two nights ago. Since I don't have any plates, I had to get a little creative in finding something for my pizza slices to sit on while heating...
The drive home was pretty uneventful.
Normally, that's a good thing when traveling... but on such a long, boring drive, a little bit of "eventful" would have been nice. Especially since I was working on no sleep.
Oh well. I survived it. I'm home. Anything on top of that is gravy.
Posted on Friday, January 18th, 2013
I fly a lot.
And flying a lot means that I get benefits and privileges which help to make my constant flying suck less. I've laid it all out here before but, in summary, it involves things like First Class upgrades, early boarding, free luggage allowances, etc. etc.
For as long as I've been flying, these perks have been earned by flying a certain number of miles within a airline partner program. For example, to earn "Platinum" status with the Delta SkyMiles program, I have to fly 75,000 miles. That's pretty easy for me to do, because I can add up the miles from Delta, Alaska Air, Korean Air, Air France, or any other SkyMiles partner airline.
But all this changes in 2014.
In order to qualify for Platinum status with Delta I not only have to fly 7,500 miles, but I ALSO have to spend $7,500 on Delta flights that are in my name as shown on the following chart...
Which means none of the money spent on Alaska Air, Korean Air, Air France, or other partner airlines means shit (well, unless they are Delta-coded flights, and most of the ones I fly are not).
The upshot of all this is that I'm fucked.
I don't spend $7,500 on Delta flights because Seattle isn't a very big Delta direct-flight hub, which means I will be lucky to make Gold status in 2014.
UPDATE: After complaining about the "Million Miler" changes (which I talk about below) to a Delta rep, I was told that the $2,500 does not apply to Million Miler Silver status, and I would enjoy Silver benefits no matter how much (how little?) I would spend. I sincerely hope this is true, as it really is the right thing to do... but the below information was posted to a frequent flier forum after another SkyMiles flier had asked a Delta rep, so I dunno which is true. I guess we find out in 2014.
But the bigger problem for me is when I reach Million Miler status... probably in 2015. Once I fly a million SkyMiles, I get permanent Silver status, which I was looking forward to using in my later years when I'm not flying as much. But now that permanent Silver status ain't worth shit unless I spend $2,500 each year. And that probably won't be happening when I've retired and am living on a fixed income.
Which means the goal I've been working towards for decades is now practically useless.
Over the years I've flown with Delta even when other airlines were cheaper because I thought I would be rewarded for my loyalty down the line. My million mile payday. But companies just don't give a fuck about their customers any more. The only thing they give a shit about is how much money they can squeeze out of you right now. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Delta screwed me... that's all companies do any more.
Now we get to sit back and wait for all the other airlines to follow suit.
They are, after all, companies too.
Posted on Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
So now what?
Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
Back in June when I got my first tattoo, it was the culmination of 26 years of planning. I kept delaying, thinking that maybe I'd change my mind... or decide I want something different... or otherwise regret my decision. But the ink I wanted never changed, so I finally found the perfect tattoo artist and decided to just go for it.
Turns out my only regret was that I didn't do it sooner.
I loved my new ink, and was content that I'd finally gotten the tattoo bug out of my system.
I was wrong, of course, and knew almost immediately there was no way I was going to wait another 26 years to get another. I did decide I'd wait at least a year so I could come to fully appreciate my first tattoo though. It seemed only fair.
I managed to make it eight months...
My original plan was to do something fairly elaborate and interesting on my opposite upper-arm. But five months of working on ideas didn't produce anything that grabbed me.
So instead I decided to go with a tattoo band around my forearm that I could complete in stages.
A lot of ideas went through my head for the first piece, but ultimately I decided on my birthday. In Buddhism, your birth is a highly important day for a number of reasons. Mostly because it's a celebration of the day that you were given the ultimate gift... the gift of life... but it also symbolizes other high concepts like suffering (by your mother during your birth) and sacrifice (by your parents to care for you)... along with love, light, hope, and dozens of other aspects of the human condition. And since my birth-year looks very cool in Roman numerals, that was what I decided on.
And now every time I see my new tattoo, I'll be reminded of everything my birthday represents, and that the best way to honor all that is to live my life to its fullest.
I love it, of course.
One piece down, five more to go...
UPDATE AUGUST, 2013: Part two has been added.
Posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2013
I had a free couple of hours to head into San Francisco for cookies.
It was incredible out. Beautiful blue skies and sun. And I saw sea lions. And made a trip to the Museum of Modern Art. And ate at Johnny Rockets for lunch. And I got cookies.
Now it's back across the bay for me.
Oh... And Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!
Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2013
Just a typical day, really.
Went to the Jelly Belly factory.
Partied with rockstars until 2:00am.
Posted on Saturday, February 16th, 2013
Sat around with Kitty One.
Went to see West Grand Boulevard in concert.
Ate Cambodian food.
The secret to Aaron's sexy-smooth vocal stylings? Cherry Coke Slurpee!
Posted on Sunday, February 17th, 2013
Don't worry about five awesome days of crazy keeping me down... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Grohl! After seeing former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter front-man Dave Grohl interviewed on The Colbert Report, I was compelled to check out his new documentary film, Sound City...
It's brilliant. A total love letter to old-school music production by some big names in the business... including Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Lars Ulrich, and more. If you love music, this is a documentary that's well worth checking out.
• Cruise! The media has been in a frenzy over the horrors that plagued Carnival's cruise ship Triumph. And the stories were pretty nasty. I mean, once you're pooping in a bag and standing in line for four hours to get a ketchup sandwich, you're pretty much having the worst vacation ever...
Photo by Scott L./Wikimedia
Now, I've never been on a cruise where I had to poop in a plastic bag and eat ketchup sandwiches... the cruises I've been on have been perfectly lovely. So when I hear the public outcry from people vowing to NEVER EVER GO ON A CRUISE because of this misfortunate incident... well, it sounds like a pretty big overreaction. For every cruise disaster blown up by the media, there are thousands upon thousands of cruises that go off without a hitch. Including all six I've been on. And while it's not my most favorite way to vacation, I will absolutely go on more cruises in the future. The advantages of travel via cruising are just too numerous to ignore. But, of course, the media won't be covering that.
• Jelly! I'd much rather post my own stuff than repost things from others, but I just can't help myself this time around. This cartoon from Cyanide and Happiness is one of the funniest things I've ever seen...
Seriously. I can't look at this without busting up.
• The Bay! I have no idea how many times I've been to San Francisco, but it's a lot. I love the city. But more than that, I love the fact that I've been to the city so many times that I don't have to play tourist. I can actually spend my time enjoying it without having to rush from attraction to attraction... I've pretty much done them all.
About the only thing I have to do is buy fortune cookies from The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. Five bags of those will keep me happy for a month or so.
• Water! As I had mentioned last Bullet Sunday, I have a real worry about the lack of snow this year bringing drought come Summer. After flying over the mountains the other day, I think my fears are justified...
It's the middle of February. Now take a look at a photo I took of the same area back in APRIL of 2011...
By April of this year, I fear we'll have nothing left in the mountains. Hope we get plenty of rain.
And, on that somber note, I guess it's time to catch up on some sleep.
Posted on Monday, February 18th, 2013
I've been back from Oakland for one day.
And while I already miss my friends (and civilization), what I am missing right now... and quite badly... is food. Here in my little corner of Redneckistan, my culinary options are severely limited.
Just days ago I was eating an amazing falafel wrap...
As for today? It's a box of shitty dehydrated julienne potatoes in "cheese" sauce...
So gross. And exactly the kind of thing that makes you lose your will to live.
Reeeeeaaaly looking forward to me next trip.
Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013
And so it begins again.
For the past three months I've stuck pretty close to home. Sure, I flew to my sister's house for the holidays in December, made a quick trip to Spokane for work in January, and took a wonderful trip to Oakland to visit friends and get a tattoo in February... but the bulk of my Winter was spent taking a vacation from travel.
Now the vacation is over, and the next nine months are back to travel as usual.
A part of me is sad about that. It's just so nice to stay in one place for a while... but, on the other hand, holy crap am I happy to get back to big city living. I've only been in Chicago for three hours now, and I already feel a change coming over me. This is normal. This is the way life is supposed to be. This is where I belong. At least until I've been on the road for nine months, at which time I'm sure that I'll feel the same way about being home in Redneckistan. But until then, I'm quite happy to be metropolis-hopping.
One of the things I love about being in cities like Chicago is the food. But perhaps not in the way you think.
It's not because the city is filled with five-star fine-dining options... though I do enjoy treating myself to five-star cuisine from time to time... no, it's the variety of things I can get here that I can't get back home.
Case in point... can you guess where I was dying to eat in Chicago the minute I landed?
Not a five-star restaurant, but instead a local fast food chain of Mexican grill restaurants in the Chicago area. Heaven only knows I can get pretty good Mexican food back home... but I can't get Burrito Beach. And I love Burrito Beach. Their grilled rice & bean burrito tastes amazing, and I'm a huge fan. It costs under $5. And it was delicious.
Another thing I'm craving? A Chicago-style vegetarian hot dog. Can't get a veggie dog back home... and certainly not Chicago style for $4.18... or any price. Tomorrow is the day, and this is what I'll be dreaming of tonight...
Yet another food I'm dying for? A falafel sandwich. Just a simple, $4.99 falafel pita sandwich. Back home, most people don't even know what the fuck falafel is. It's one of my favorite foods on earth, and yet there's no place that serves it in all of Redneckistan.
I could go on and on (don't get me started about the amazing pizza here).
People make fun of me because I travel all the way to big cities and, for the most part, don't take advantage of the haute cuisine that's available. But it's not because I'm cheap... or can't appreciate it... or am opposed to it... it's because I'm too busy stuffing myself with all the simple foods I just can't get when I'm at home.
Hell, it used to be that my favorite restaurant in all of New York City was McDonalds Times Square because they had a McVeggie Burger.
When it comes to the food you love, the price doesn't really matter.
Even when it means the price is five dollars.
Posted on Friday, March 8th, 2013
Just one day in Chicago.
A really pretty day in Chicago.
Posted on Saturday, March 9th, 2013
I don't like theater.
I hate musicals.
I have a general distaste for ridiculing somebody's faith.
Which makes the idea of seeing the smash musical The Book of Mormon a strange prospect...
I enjoyed it.
Not really my thing, but South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone kept it funny enough that I didn't mind all the singing and dancing that usually causes my eyes to roll back into my head. The icing on the cake was the set design, which was really well done.
As for ridiculing the Mormons...
This was a tough one for me. I have Mormon friends who are some of the nicest, most generous people I've ever met. And even though I disagree strongly with the church's monetary political maneuverings against things like marriage equality (which should result in them losing their tax-exempt status)... I don't find their religion to be any more strange or as unusual as any other religion.
And that's where I had a problem.
I'm sure the Christians in the audience were laughing their heads off at some of the more outlandish things that come from The Book of Mormon. "Ha ha ha ha! Those Mormons believe some crazy shit... that's so funny!" Which only leads me to believe that they've never actually read their Bible, because it's filled with all kinds of stuff that's equally hard to believe. Unless you have faith in it. Like the Mormons do in their sacred texts.
Whenever a satire like this is made spoofing Christianity or Islam or Judaism or whatever... people go ape-shit. But the Mormons? They have a sense of humor about it all. They take out ads in the Playbill...
This made me feel a little less guilty for laughing along with the crowd, but I couldn't get it out of my head how a chunk of the audience would have a very different reaction if it was their faith that was being poked fun of.
Anyway, back to the show...
The Book of Mormon is a play in two acts. It tells the story of two young Mormons who get sent on a mission to a poor and war-torn area of Uganda. One of them is Elder Price, who is the perfect example of the Mormon faithful, and confident he will succeed in his task to convert Africans to Mormonism. The other is Elder Cunningham, who is basically playing Jonah Hill acting more annoying and stupid than usual, and is the polar opposite of Elder Price.
As the story proceeds, Price starts losing his faith as the task at hand ends up being much more difficult than he ever imagined... and Cunningham becomes an accidental hero thanks to his talent for telling lies. Hilarity (and I mean genuinely funny hilarity) ensues.
Overall, the play is as good as everybody you've ever known who has seen it has said it is. I think it gets a bit sloppy and disjointed in the second act, but it's not a deal-breaker. Parker and Stone (along with Robert Lopez) reveal true genius here, and there's some unexpected sweetness woven into the story that makes it pretty irresistible.
But not for everyone.
The two people sitting next to me arrived very late, taking their seats just as the Hasa Diga Eebowai number was in full swing. It's basically a song where the natives are saying "fuck you, God" as a way of dealing with the abject misery that fills their every waking hour.
They left at intermission and never came back. They let their displeasure be known, however... their Playbills were ripped to pieces and laying on the floor.
I guess everybody is entitled to their opinion, but how in the fuck can you show up to The Book of Mormon at this stage of the game and not know what you're in for? I guess they are just really uninformed. Or totally stupid. Or both.
Oh well. It certainly made me more comfortable to have the extra room.
So... for anybody in Chicago who has a tolerance for naughty words and a bit of blasphemy... I recommend seeing The Book of Mormon if you get a chance. The cast was incredibly talented, the story inspired and, even if you hate musical theater like me, there's enough to make it worth your time and hard-earned money.
Posted on Sunday, March 10th, 2013
Extended winter weather got you down? Well don't despair because a toasty warm flurry of bullets is headed your way! An all-new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Neighbors! I got back from seeing The Book of Mormon around 10:45pm. Taking account that stupid-ass Daylight Saving Time was going to be screwing with the clocks again, it's actually more like 11:45pm, since I'd be losing an hour's sleep. But a mere 15 minutes after my head hit the pillow, some kind of impromptu midnight party started up in the hallway. Unable to get any sleep with all the racket, I wrote my blog entry in the hopes things would settle down after I was done. No such luck. The noise went on until 3:30am, despite signs like this being posted...
Not even a kind reminder does any good, because these assholes don't give a shit if there are people trying to sleep. They only care about themselves. It bugs the crap out of me but, unfortunately, there's no ramifications for for their behavior so nothing is likely to change. A call to the front desk quieted them down for about 15-20 minutes, but then it started right back up again.
Well, things need to change. There needs to be ramifications for this kind of behavior. I don't know if it's a punch to the face or somebody getting their dick kicked in, but I am sick and tired of paying big money to get a good night's rest when I travel only to have to put up with this bullshit.
• Sanity! And speaking of stupid fucking Daylight Saving Time... there's an official petition being presented to The White House that needs your signature. As a reminder of just how utterly stupid DST has become, I once again present the genius of CGP Grey...
• Cake! When I landed at Chicago O'Hare International Airport last Thursday, I bemoaned the fact that nobody was waiting to greet me with cake and balloons...
But then today when I went to RW's house to discuss the upcoming issue of THRICE Fiction and other related business, not only did I get a delicious plate of cacio e pepe for lunch... but also, at long last, my cake!
Bob's wife, Lynne, didn't stop there... oh no. Inside? CHOCOLATE PUDDING!
AND WHAT DID YOU HAVE FOR LUNCH THAT WAS SO GREAT?
• DOL! What's one of the things I hate most in life? Renewing my driver's license at the dreaded Department of Licensing. I fucking loathe that time-sucking vortex of joyless horror. Which is why I was happy... positively thrilled, actually... to find out I could renew my license online this year. Seriously one of the best days of 2013 so far... if not one of the best days of my entire life.
• No Go! The official airport shuttle for Chicago O'Hare is called "Go Express." For a fairly reasonable rate, they offer door-to-door service to and from the airport. But there's a problem. Here's what they tell you the van will look like on their website...
But here is what it really looks like...
The only place it says "Go Express" is on a tiny panel on the very front of the sign-board that's on top, everything else is advertising. So if you don't see them as they pull into your hotel, and all you have to look for is the side of the van... how in the fuck are you supposed to know that this van is from Go Express? Well, you don't. Which causes all kinds of unnecessary confusion for people who just want to go to the airport. Apparently a few advertising dollars is more important to this company than consideration for their customers. I mean, seriously, can't they even slap a "Go Express" magnetic sign on the door or something? Does anybody care about their customers any more?
• Paint! I've fallen in love with encaustic painting, which is a technique where pigment-infused wax is melted and painted onto a surface, then fused in place. It's very beautiful, and receptive to all kinds of interesting artistic manipulations. Unfortunately, the tools and supplies to create encaustic works are really expensive. Too expensive to be buying a bunch of stuff just so I could goof around and try it out.
Well imagine my surprise this morning when I found out that there is an encaustic studio in Seattle which offers classes! Unfortunately, the 2-Day course I would want to take is THIS WEEKEND, but I am definitely going to sign up for a future introductory class when I get a chance. If anybody is interested in signing up with me, please let me know, and I'll email you when I get the dates!
• w00t! And, lastly, now is the time on Blogography where we dance!
Wow. Looks like we had a seven-shooter this Bullet Sunday. Time to pack up my suitcase for a return home in the morning.
Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013
The swelling on my poor stabbed finger had mostly gone away by the time I woke up this morning. It still hurts like hell, but that's what happens when you poke yourself with a scalpel. I probably bruised the bone, so it's going to be tender for a while. Darnit. Oh well, I suppose it's a nice match for my knee injury... which is still scabby after sixteen days.
Starting tomorrow I'm on vacation for a week and three days. Well, kind of a vacation. I'll still end up working a bit... I just won't be working here. Instead I'll be working (and getting drunk) in multiple vacation-like locations. Including a place I love but haven't seen in nearly a decade. It's long overdue.
Which brings me to a realization I've been working through lately.
More and more when I visit a place... especially a place I've been to several times... I find myself thinking "Is this it? Will I ever come here again?" I believe it all started when I was on my last trip to Cologne wondering if it would be my last trip to Cologne. I used to go every year. Then every other year. And now? Every three years? Five years? Never again? It messes with your head.
Which is fine, because it takes my mind of my aching finger.
Posted on Sunday, March 17th, 2013
Put down that St. Patrick's Day bottle of Guinness... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Metroland! One of my all-time favorite bands, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), will be releasing yet another glorious album come APRIL 9th! Titled English Electric, they just released a video for the first single, Metroland...
Beautiful, as I knew it would be. I cannot wait to see them in concert come April. The last time I saw them live was fantastic, so it's sure to be a good show.
• Kicked! Earlier in the week I mentioned the Veronica Mars movie project over at Kickstarter. I had pledged a chunk of money which came with a reward to attend the Los Angeles premiere. I received a "congratulations" notice from the Kickstarter website. Then I received a receipt from Amazon Payments confirming my donation. But a couple days later when I went to view my account, I saw that my pledge was missing. So I contacted Customer Service to ask why... only to learn that it was rejected because that reward level had "sold out." This is a load of crap. Apparently I was just supposed to ignore the two confirmations I got, since I received NOTHING telling me there was a problem. And, obviously, I had no idea there WAS a problem. Otherwise I would have pledged to attend one of the other premieres. Which, of course, have sold out. So now I am left with nothing because Kickstarter has a stupid-ass website that is incapable of reserving a reward properly. Oh well, guess this is the universe telling me I couldn't afford it anyway. Stupid universe.
• Enraged! I saw a video from an airport in China a while back which showed a man going apeshit because he wandered off for breakfast and missed his boarding time. Apparently he wanted them to call back the plane or something and, when they wouldn't, he started tearing the place apart...
As somebody who has spent their share of time in airports, I can say that I've never seen it get this bad in person... but I have seen travelers rip into airline employees for something that was actually their fault. My favorite being a girl who was late for her flight to Hawaii because she was sick, and was somehow convinced that this was not her fault. This resulted in a phone call to daddy telling him to make this mean person let her on the plane. Never mind that it had left 20 minutes ago... logic need not apply. Just like when a person arrives at the airport 10 minutes before a flight and gets pissed off because the security line is moving so slow. THEN they expect you to let them cut ahead in line so they don't miss their flight. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for hours. I wonder what it is about going to airports which makes people leave their brains (and courtesy) at home? This has me really excited to be flying out tomorrow.
• This is CNN? Two students RAPE a girl, and what does CNN do? Heap pity on THE RAPISTS for the difficult life ahead of THEM?!? Oh how terrible that THEIR "promising future" has been destroyed just because they RAPED somebody...
Are you fucking kidding me? But of course FOX "News" has to prove that nobody is a bigger piece of shit than them when it comes to ruining people's lives... they decided that the 16-YEAR-OLD RAPE VICTIM isn't deserving of any kind of privacy, AND AIRED HER FULL NAME. Fuck integrity! We just want to make the news exciting for our viewers so we can keep that advertising money coming in! This is such a sick, fucked-up, sad society we live in. I don't even know what to say any more.
I really don't.
Posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013
Left for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on-time for once.
Finally had my first problem with Apple Maps giving me crap directions.*
Discovered that the WiFi didn't work on my flight to Atlanta.
Grabbed my phone after landing to get the gate for my connecting flight, only to find out that my connecting flight had been canceled. Apparently there was a hail-storm in Atlanta, which caused cancelations and delays across the board.
Delta re-booked me on a new connecting flight... which just happened to be on the exact same plane with broken WiFi that I just climbed out of.
Finally made it to my destination.
Now trying to write a blog entry at my airport hotel with a melted brain.
It's been one of those days.
*I've been using Apple Maps exclusively since the last iOS update. I have had -zero- problems, and vastly prefer the Apple Maps over Google Maps for a half-dozen reasons I won't bore you with here. And every time I read a story about errors with Apple Maps, I ignore it because it's never happened to me no matter where I've traveled.
Here is where Apple Maps thinks my off-site Airport Parking is located...
I didn't even look at where the pin dropped, because I assumed it would be correct. I just started up turn-by-turn directions and was on my way. But, as I got closer, I started to feel that something was wrong. I had never been through this area any of the dozens of other times I've used the off-site parking. That's because the location is actually here...
Yes... all the way across a river and the highway. Which is not a simple course correction. It is, in fact, 15-20 minutes away (depending on traffic)...
Lucky for me, I had plenty of time to get to the airport. But had I been running late? I would have been totally screwed by Apple Maps because the data they're using in this case is completely wrong.
Apple makes it easy to report an error, and asked me to drag the pin to the correct location, which I did...
Apparently Apple purchased their map data from TomTom. This was probably a mistake, because an error like this is pretty obvious.
Oh well. I guess they had to start somewhere. Given time, I'm sure Apple will get it all sorted out. But, in the meanwhile, I guess I'm going to have to double-check the routes I am given every damn time I use the product.
Otherwise there's no telling where I might end up.
Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
One of these days I am going to visit New Orleans and never leave.
It was here in The Crescent City that my life of travel began. Back in 1983 at 17 years old I took my first "real" trip on my own with no parents and no rules. Many important things were found... and lost... in New Orleans 30 years ago, and the city has had a hold on me ever since.
This is my first visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in 2005. My previous trip coincided with the 200th anniversary of The Louisiana Purchase in 2003, and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it has been an entire decade since I was here last. It doesn't feel like it's been that long.
But a visit to the National World War II Museum makes me feel the time passing. When I last visited there in 2000 after it opened, it was called "The D-Day Museum" and half the size it is now...
The new "Victory Theater" expansion houses a special "4-D" movie titled Beyond All Boundaries which features narration by Tom Hanks and other stars. It was pretty good. What was not good was the boring-as-hell Final Mission submarine "simulation" which felt pointless and stupid. Not at all worth the extra money to see. But even if you skip Final Mission, walking to the massive Freedom Pavilion is still worthwhile because of the planes they've got on display...
There are walkways which literally allow you to walk around the full-size aircraft suspended there...
NOT for the faint of heart, however. Those upper walkways really took a toll on my sanity given my crippling fear of heights. Not that they don't warn you...
The exhibits in the main museum are still nice, and has some terrific artifacts to look at...
After an early dinner, it was time for a trip to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, which always looks so tame during daylight hours...
Dessert was (obviously) freshly-cooked beignets at Cafe Du Monde...
Dusk falls over Jackson Square as I walk the riverfront...
Apparently Bad Monkey now has his own Mardi Gras beads...
Things start to heat up on Bourbon Street as the sun goes down. Never mind that it's a TUESDAY, it's time to get your party on...
And, lest I forget the reason I came here... Hard Rock visit No. 150!
It's a nice enough cafe... but it's decorated in the shitty "new-style" hipster lounge motif that I hate. The original New Orleans Hard Rock may have had a less-desirable location on Jackson Square, but at least it had a beautiful selection of memorabilia and the classic Hard Rock stylings that define the chain.
And so ends my first packed day in The Big Easy.
Posted on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
I awoke to rain and overcast skies on a cold New Orleans morning.
My motivation to get out of bed and wander out into that dreary morning was effectively zero. But to waste a day in one of my favorite cities on earth would be a terrible sin, so I sucked it up and decided to visit some places I hadn't been before.
I started out with The Pharmacy Museum, which is a little place on Chartres Street I had never even heard of. As far as museums go, it's pretty tame... but it only costs $5 and there's loads of beautiful old bottle labels to explore...
They also have a collection of very old eyeglasses and other cool stuff, but a French tour group had their shit spread out all over the cases and would not fucking leave the exhibit, even though there were people trying to take a look. The worst part? THEY WEREN'T EVEN DISCUSSING THE STUFF IN THE ROOM! They were talking about historical figures or something (I'm guessing they didn't want to take it outside because it was raining). What a bunch of rude assholes thinking only of themselves and ruining the experience for everybody else.
Tired of walking in the cold, I decided to take in a couple of book shops, then grab lunch before heading back to my hotel room. But I kept seeing advertisements for Mardi Gras World that looked interesting. I had never visited there before because it used to be across the river. But now it's moved down by the convention center, so I decided to take the piece of shit Riverfront Streetcar* and take a look.
Mardi Gras World is a working facility where they build most of the floats for the 12 days of Mardi Gras parades that happen here every year. They're rather ornate affairs, and the work that goes into building them is pretty intense. So intense that as soon as one Mardi Gras ends (as 2013's just did in February) they immediately start work on next year's 500 floats...
There are dozens of huge warehouses packed with floats and the equipment needed to pull them through the streets of New Orleans. The factory tour only runs through half of one warehouse, but it's still a lot to see...
Every year, each of the "krewes" responsible for the various parades come up with a new theme. Since the theme is always changing, they have to start from scratch every year. This means building or remodeling all the various big props that are stuck on the floats...
The tour lasts about an hour and, much to my surprise, the clouds and rain had completely disappeared by the time I was finished, and it was all sunshine and blue skies...
Now that I wouldn't be slogging around in the cold and rain, I decided to use the free ticket I got from my hotel to visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art...
From their roof terrace, you get a great view of the massive expansion efforts going on at the World War II Museum I visited yesterday...
On the top floor of the museum there's an exhibit dedicated to the elaborate Indian costumes used during Mardi Gras...
And, of course, paintings and photos and sculpture featuring Southern life... including this painting of the levies...
Next door to the Ogden Museum is the Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall. It's a very nice place, and has quite a few very old artifacts from the war...
Unfortunately, there's no photography allowed... but the guy manning the ticket desk said it was okay if I took a long shot of the beautiful building interior...
After going back to the hotel and working for a few hours, I decided to go hunt down a falafel wrap for dinner...
Dessert was at Cafe Du Monde again, of course...
And thus ends my second (and last) day in The Crescent City. Hopefully it won't be another ten long years before I can visit again... and hopefully that visit will be longer than two days!
*Streetcars in New Orleans are always late, never seem to run on schedule, and will skip a stop at random with absolutely no warning. I started at the Ursulines Street stop where the streetcar was 12 minutes late. The stop for Mardi Gras World was the end of the line (John Churchill Chase stop), but the operator decided that he'd randomly eliminate it, forcing me to get off at the Julia Street stop. No warning. No Explanation. No notice of any kind at any station or on the website. Nothing. Just get the fuck out and walk 20 minutes around the convention center because he felt like it, I guess. So, yeah, the streetcars may be a charming New Orleans throwback, but they are complete bullshit for actual transportation needs
Posted on Thursday, March 21st, 2013
If I had any sense in my head, I would have stayed in New Orleans. Instead I took a couple of flights across the US to come back to Seattle. Where it's raining and cold. As if that weren't bad enough, the forecast is for snow. Which is not such a bad thing, because we really need some more snow in the mountains to avoid a drought come summer.
I miss beignets at Cafe Du Monde already.
Remember the good ol' days when killing a taxi driver was only a misdemeanor offense?
Posted on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
When I was looking for geese to use on the cover for THRICE Fiction No. 7, there was one goose that wasn't going to work... but I liked the way he looked, so I shoved him aside. Today as I was working on another project, he popped up...
This is one of the geese that hang around the courtyard at Barcelona Cathedral (also known as "La Seu"). As I started snapping photos, he became curious about the noise from my camera, and just kind of stared at me until I stopped.
Posted on Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Sleeping is not something I'm good at. At least not any more. I think I used to be, but that was a long time ago and I just don't remember. Last night was worse than usual because I had a lot of stuff to get done before catching my flight this morning. I also had a lot of stuff on my mind, which is always a sleepy-time deal breaker for me.
Arriving in Salt Lake City International Airport was made interesting because a couple Mormon missionaries were onboard. After having been away for two years with precious little communication with friends and family, there was quite a crowd waiting for them (as you might imagine). Posters and banners were on display, and a wave of cheers erupted as the missionaries descended on the escalator into the airport lobby.
It was a beautiful sight.
For the life of me I can't wrap my head around the commitment it takes for these kids... as young as 18... to give up everything and everybody they know so they can be sent to God-knows-where for two years of their lives. It's a leap of faith that boggles the mind. Many times, they're being sent to a foreign country where they won't even know the language. They're partnered up with somebody they barely know. They're given a near impossible task of converting the natives to a new religion. To this day I honestly can't decide if it's an adventure of a lifetime... or the height of insanity.
Luckily, I never had to find out personally.
But I have talked to Mormon friends and acquaintances who went on missions, and they all say it was the best time of their lives. A part of me is skeptical but, I'm here to tell you, the stories they have to tell are about as fascinating as you'll ever hear. The trials and tribulations of being a missionary for the Latter Day Saints may be rewarding, but it's also no picnic.
Which is why I'm always as nice as I can be when I encounter them in the wild (especially in foreign countries) or when they show up at my door. They've got it tough enough, and giving them a break is the least I can do.
I didn't hang around the airport and party with the missionaries since Marty was nice enough to pick me up so I could have dinner with him and his family. No offense to the Mormons, but Marty makes sure there's beer available when we party.
Posted on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
Today was kinda a play day where I had no real agenda. That's the good news.
Today was filled with disappointments. That's the bad news.
But, all in all... any day away from the office is a good one, am I right? I mean, sure, I worked a bit... but most of my time was spent looking for things to do in Salt Lake City that I haven't done before. I've been here many, many times, so that is a bit of a challenge.
My first stop was decided last night when I saw "BRUGES WAFFLES" flash across my hotel television's concierge screen. "Wow. I could go for some authentic Belgian waffles!" I said to myself. And so I got up and walked the three lonnnnnng blocks to the waffle shop in time for...
DISAPPOINTMENT NO. 1
On their website, Bruges Waffles says that they have "authentic caramelized waffles," which is exactly what I wanted. The reality? Not so much...
Don't get me wrong... it was a delicious waffle, and the cream was out of this world. Overall, a wonderful breakfast. But where is the pearl sugar that makes that delightful speckle of caramelized bits that I love? I sure couldn't find them. If they were there, my waffle would have looked like this...
Photo from A Feast for the Eyes... which has a recipe for the waffles you're looking for!
And let me tell you... those pearls of caramelized sugar are what makes a Belgian waffle go from "good" to "FOOD OF THE GODS!"
Next up? I wanted to visit the Natural History Museum of Utah. I had been there before years ago, but they relocated to a new building in 2011, and it's supposed to be pretty spectacular. The problem is that there's no real "elegant" way of getting there via public transportation. By car, it's a 16 minute drive from downtown to their location on edge of the University of Utah campus. But I had to spend an hour and fifteen minutes taking the Blue Trax Line to the Red Trax Line all the way out to the University Medical Center... then catch a campus shuttle over some gawdaful roads to get to the museum where I was faced with...
DISAPPOINTMENT NO. 2
The Natural History Museum of Utah is, indeed, in a spectacular new location and has some exhibits that are incredibly well done. The dinosaur exhibits alone are worth the price of admission. Honestly, if you're in Salt Lake City, you owe it to yourself to check it out... it's totally worth it, even if you have to go through public transportation hell to get there.
HOWEVER... when I was there it was absolute bedlam because (I'm guessing) there was a school field trip going on. This wouldn't have been a big deal, except the kids were running around going ape-shit insane. Museum staff didn't even attempt to reign them in, which was just senseless. And the "chaperone adults" that were accompanying the kids didn't bother to "chaperone" at all. They just lounged around while kids were yelling, screaming, running, kicking, and beating on the displays. It was beyond crazy. Even if they didn't make the kids behave, you'd think they would AT LEAST attempt to keep walkways clear so people could get around the museum... but... no. After 45 minutes, I couldn't take it any more and left. But I still got to see some cool stuff...
The dinosaur exhibits are truly first class.
RAWRRRRR! Says the ancient giant crocodile!
The dioramas were nicely done too... if you like looking at dead stuffed animals.
The "Sky Deck" offers amazing views of downtown Salt Lake City and beyond.
There was a really nice weaving exhibit that was much more interesting than I would have thought.
I complained about the ordeal of using public transportation to get to the museum, but there's one cool bit I should mention. When I was ready to leave, I checked my phone to see how often the campus shuttles ran. Much to my shock and delight, they have a web app that shows you where the shuttles are AND you can tap on a station to get an estimate as to when the next shuttle will arrive there...
Now THAT'S cool... and so useful! I wish the TRAX light rail system here had the same feature.
The one thing I wanted to do above anything else while I am here is to visit The Leonardo so I could see the awesome-sounding MUMMIES OF THE WORLD exhibit. Unfortunately, that brings us to...
DISAPPOINTMENT NO. 3
The show was sold out for the day. And the next day. And the next day. Talk about a soul-crushing sense of defeat... I missed getting to see mummies, dammit!
Last night Marty had mentioned that The Apple Store had relocated from The Gateway to a new shopping mall built by the Mormon church called "City Creek Center," so I decided to stop because I really want a different case for my iPhone 5. When I first got it, there were like -zero- cases available, so I thought I would have a better selection now that seven months have passed. You can probably imagine that this brings us to...
DISAPPOINTMENT NO. 4
The iPhone 5 case selection at the Apple Store is only barely better than it was back in September. They don't even have a simple bumper I can buy... they come attached to a hunk of ugly plastic. And the rest of the cases they have are pretty lame. WAH! Oh well... City Creek Center is really a beautiful mall (if you're into that kind of thing) so I was happy I got to see it...
After bumming around beautiful Temple Square for a while (which is never a disappointment), my waffle started wearing off so I decided to head back to the Bruges Waffles shop again for a late lunch. They advertise having "wonderfully crispy 'frites' or fries, with 10 delicious homemade mayos." Now, as anybody who has read this blog for even a little while knows, I am absolutely crave "patatjes met" (Dutch Fries with Dutch Mayo) and also love "frites avec mayo" (Belgian Fries with European Mayo). So this was kinda a no-brainer idea, right? Not really...
DISAPPOINTMENT NO. 5
Patatjes Met? More like Patatjes Meh. First of all, the mayo is NOT creamy, delicious, Dutch/European-style mayonnaise with that delicious taste I love. Nope... it's no different than the clumpy, egg-flavored American mayo you get out of a jar. In fact, I would't be surprised if that's exactly what it is. The "homemade" stuff they're talking about must be American jar mayo mixed with spices or whatever. "Disappointed" doesn't even begin to cover it. But that's just the beginning, because then I got the "frites"...
They weren't "bad"... but they also weren't the big, crispy, golden frites you get in Belgium. Not by a long shot. Too many of the fries were limp, waggy, and overly-greasy. But making matters worse was that a full half of my frites were crusty little nubs that aren't fit for dipping... they're barely fit for eating...
BULLSHIT! Even the worst frites shop in Belgium would never serve this. I make better fries at home. Hell, McDONALDS makes better fries than this. The entire time I was eating this mess, all I kept thinking about was flying to Belgium and getting me some real frites. Or, better still, flying to the Netherlands and getting me some delicious patatjes met...
Oh damn. Just look at those beautiful fried potatoes! AND LOOK AT THAT LUSH, CREAMY, FLAVORFUL MAYO FOR GOD'S SAKE!!! This is the stuff you want!
Not wanting to risk any further disappointment, I headed back to my hotel so I could rest up and get some work done.
And now it's time to leave all my disappointment behind me so I can put some pants on and head out for an evening that promises to be anything but disappointing...
Posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2013
As expected, it was mind-blowing amazing show. They played a nice mix of both new material and beloved classics. And, just like the four previous times I've seen them live, played them extremely well. Along with Depeche Mode and Matt & Kim, OMD is easily one of my favorite live bands, and any opportunity to see them in concert is a no-brainer...
The tour is in support of their new album (released just two days ago here in the US!) called English Electric. Overall, I like the album very much, and there's some pop music treasures on there that I'll be listening to for a very long time. However... OMD being OMD, they decided to add a bunch of "experimental" stuff that I didn't care for at all. Luckily, it wasn't enough to torpedo the whole album (see: Dazzle Ships), but oh how I wish the band would stick to cranking out the beautiful pop music that I love them for and just stop with the self-indulgent artsy crap (or whatever)...
Still, well-worth a listen if you've liked their stuff in the past.
I've put a setlist review in an extended entry, if you're so inclined...→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
The nice thing about working in Anaheim? DISNEYLAND!
It's the perfect place to take extended lunch hours for a ride and a meal. And, for this week at least, visiting an exhibit on Iron Man Armor to promote Iron Man 3... arriving in a theater near you on May 3rd!
They relocated Tony Stark's "Hall of Armor" to the Innoventions pavilion in Tomorrowland...
But the best part? You can SUIT UP to BE Virtual Iron Man!
It kind of works like an Xbox Kinnect game, where you stand in front of a screen with a camera to control the action...
When you start up, the armor comes flying onto you so you can dance, shoot stuff with your repulsors, and fly around...
Really, really cool.
I opted for a pricey (but delicious!) lunch at Wine Country Trattoria, because you can get a dining package which inclides priority viewing for Disney California Adventure's "World of Color" show. The dessert plate was awesome...
Off to Paradise Pier for the show...
I didn't want to get soaked, so I decided to watch from the second level reserved area, which was perfect. It reminds me of a show I saw as a kid called "Dancing Waters" which was at Sea World in San Diego...
It's all water, colored lights, lasers, and projected animation.
Pretty cool. And totally worth buying that expensive lunch pacakge to get such great "seats!"
The drive over the mountain passes was pretty harsh. It was snowing like gangbusters, and there was water a half-inch thick on the roadway...
But, when I got to Seattle, the sky was on fire, so it all turned out okay in the end...
Annnnd... I'm spent.
Posted on Thursday, April 18th, 2013
No work today and a late flight home.
It was a golden opportunity to goof around Disneyland and California Adventure so I could do all the little things I never got around to for the past two days. Which, given the massive number of attraction closures, wasn't a lot. California Screamin'? CLOSED. Soarin' Over California? CLOSED. Radiator Springs Racers? CLOSED. Space Mountain? CLOSED. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? CLOSED. I mean, come on... even the frickin' "Golden Zephyr" was CLOSED...
And The Jungle Cruise is scheduled to close for refurbishment next week too.
Though it's not like Disney has to give a fuck. People don't pay to ride the rides... they pay to enter the park. So long as they open their doors, they're making money, regardless of how many attractions they're actually bothering to open. The problem is that with so many of the most popular rides being closed on a busy day like today, all the rides that are open are overwhelmed with massively long line. It makes for a pretty shitty day at Disneyland.
Well, not so much for me. I've ridden all the rides here dozens of times. But can you imagine the family who saved for three years to take that magical trip to Disneyland only to arrive and find tons of shit closed? Pretty harsh.
Oh well. Even with half the good shit not being open, Disneyland is still a fun place to be, I suppose. And I did get to ride Mickey's Fun Wheel, which I've never done before...
There's quite a view from the top...
I also stood in line for an hour-and-a-half to ride "Toy Story Midway Mania" because it's Just. That. Fun.
Time to fly...
Posted on Friday, April 19th, 2013
The best piece of advice I give when people ask about visiting Disney World in Orlando is to stay on-site in a Disney hotel. It's part of the experience, it has all kinds of benefits, and even the cheapest Disney property assures you of a clean, comfortable, convenient place to stay. If I had the option of going to Disney World today and staying off-site... or saving my money for an additional six months so I could stay on-site... I'd wait the six months.
Disneyland is a little different, because the off-site hotels are often just as close and convenient as The Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel... even though you don't get the "Magic Mornings" early-entry and other benefits. The exception would be Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, which sits inside California Adventure...
The hotel has its own private entrance to both California Adventure and Downtown Disney, which is pretty special.
But the biggest draw for me is that it's yet another architectural triumph from Peter Dominick, who designed Disney World's awesome Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge. Sadly, he died back in 2009, so I guess this is the last Disney hotel we'll be seeing from him. Staying at his hotels is an experience every bit as awesome as visiting Disney World or Disneyland...
The "Downtown Disney" private entrance to The Grand Californian.
Even the frickin' front doors are magnificent...
No joke... just walking up to those big main doors with the sun shining through is an amazing experience.
The rooms are quite nice, and everything reminds me very much of staying at Disney's Wilderness Lodge...
And now... a word about the view.
Since I was already paying the huge expense of staying at The Grand Californian, I felt I might as well go all the way and get a "Premium View" room... which either faces Downtown Disney, the parks, or the pool courtyard. Downtown Disney is noisy, and I've seen many noisy pools, so I picked the "Premium Parks View."
Only to find that my third floor room had no view of the parks. All I could see was trees. And the snout of Grizzly Mountain... if I went to the extreme edge of my balcony and leaned out.
So I went back down to the lobby and complained. There it was explained to me that the trees have grown over the 13 years the hotel has been open, so the lower floors don't have the view they used to. This was kind of upsetting, because they still sell them as Premium Park View Rooms! If they KNOW that there's no view, why do they still sell them as such? Well, money. And "technically" it still is a "parks view" since the parks are in that direction... you just can't see them.
In any event, I got moved up to the fifth floor, which was better... but still not the sweeping view of the parks I had imagined. Mostly just trees...
You can see a little Space Mountain and Soarin' Over California easy enough to the left. And if you squint you can see Tower of Terror and Cars Land. And there's Grizzly Peak hiding behind a tree there. So, yeah... it's a parks view. Just not much of one.
So, if you stay at The Grand Californian, skip paying extra for a "Premium View" that's not very premium. If you must have a "Premium View" room, I'd probably go with the "pool courtyard" view. Sure you've got kids screaming at the pool all day long... but at least there's something interesting to look at.
I didn't have any camera except the one in my iPhone, so I don't have any photos of this amazing hotel.
Well, okay, I have two I took one night...
Overall, I give Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa my highest recommendation if you're visiting Disneyland. Yes, it's expensive. Very expensive. But it will enhance your Disney experience, and is likely worth the money (though I'd probably skip the "premium view" expense). I had a terrific stay, and would absolutely stay here again.
Posted on Sunday, April 21st, 2013
Trying not to let a truly crappy week of bad news keep me down... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Czech! I know I shouldn't have been shocked when Twitter exploded with morons wanting to bomb "Czechoslovakia" as retaliation for the Boston bombings... but I admit that I honestly was. Partly because "Czechoslovakia" ceased to exist in 1992 after splitting into two countries (Czech Republic and Slovakia). But mostly because the Czech ambassador had to make a public statement explaining that the Czech Republic and Chechnya (where the bombers originated) ARE TWO SEPARATE COUNTRIES. The level of idiocy at work here just boggles my mind. I mean, if you're going to stupidly advocate bombing an entire country, shouldn't you at least make sure you have the right one? I'd hate to lose Prague, one of my favorite cities on earth, because "Czech" sounds suspiciously like "Chechnya" (as if blaming all Chechens for the act of two men with only remote ties to the country wasn't idiotic enough to begin with). If only ignorance was fatal, this country might actually stand a chance.
• OMNI! In what I can only describe as "wonderful," The Internet Archive has now put every episode of OMNI Magazine online, and they're free to access for everyone!
This groundbreaking magazine was something I treasured, and the copious number of talented writers who contributed to it are like a laundry list of genius. Absolutely worth your time to check out.
• CISPA! Why politicians keep dragging the CISPA "cyber security bill" back from the dead is a complete mystery to me. No American citizen in their right mind would want corporations and the government to have this kind of invasive power over their privacy, and yet here we go again. And what's even more horrific than the bill itself, is how many dumbfuck politicians voted for it to pass The House. TWO HUNDRED EIGHTY-EIGHT to ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-SEVEN? SERIOUSLY?!? President Obama has promised to veto this shit if it somehow passes The Senate, but I'm disgusted beyond reason that it's gotten this far. How. Much. Longer? How much longer are American citizens going to put up with this?
• Sequestration! And so it begins. I would once again like to take this opportunity to offer a big FUCK YOU to our government for being so astoundingly incompetent. Again. I'm sure that crippling the airline industry will get our economy right back on track. Seriously, how much longer are American citizens going to put up with this?
• Gaudi! Having been to Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece, The Sagrada Familia Basílica three times now, I can say without hesitation that it is one of the most remarkable architectural achievements I have ever seen. Even if it still isn't completed. I could wander around for hours and never get bored just looking at it...
An absolutely magnificent photo of the ceiling taken by SBA73
Which is why I was happy to see an article at The Verge concerning completion of the structure pop up in my feed reader. Apparently 2026 is the date... I hope I'm around to visit one last time so I can see it completed.
Annnnnd... midnight is approaching. I suppose I should at least pretend to get some sleep.
Posted on Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Tomorrow I'm heading to the East Coast for one day.
Well, technically, it's three days... one to get there... one to work... then one to get back.
Or I suppose I am actually flying to the East Coast for two hours, which is about how long my work will take me. After that, I'm just goofing off to kill time.
In any event, there are some things that emails, video chats, and overnight delivery can't fix, so off I go...
And there goes my weekend.
Posted on Friday, May 10th, 2013
I always love watching lightning crash outside an airplane window.
But not as much as I love thunderstorms causing a landing delay.
Okay... I'm totally lying. I don't love either of those things. But that's just part of the travel game, and it does happen from time to time. All you can do is hope that you've drank enough alcohol that you don't mind so much. Otherwise? Not fun. Well, it is fun to track your flight path after you've landed and see what crazy loop-de-do holding pattern your flight took...
Flight tracking map courtesy of FlightAware!
And so now it's 12:40am after one long-ass day of travel and all I want to do is go to bed.
But my internal clock is still on West Coast time and there are people screaming outside my hotel room, so I guess you really don't always get what you want.
And speaking of that...
Guess it's a good thing I brought a raincoat.
Posted on Saturday, May 11th, 2013
And so tragedy strikes... my MagSafe ver. 1 to MagSafe ver. 2 adapter has gone missing somewhere between Seattle and here.
Which means I don't have a way of charging my Mac Book.
Which means a recap of my way-too-short adventures in Washington, D.C. will have to wait until tomorrow given that my battery is at 4% and falling.
Not to mention that I have to get up in five hours so I can fly back home.
Assuming the assholes making noise outside my hotel room shut the hell up real soon now, I may actually get a couple hours sleep.
Posted on Sunday, May 12th, 2013
Pledge allegiance to the flag of The United States of America... because a Very Special Washington, D.C. Edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Pret! I headed into the city early for work because I knew that Union Station DC had a Pret shop inside. As I have said many times, my all-time favorite breakfast is a Pret Egg and Fire-Roasted Tomato Sandwich, so missing out was not an option...
As expected, it was frickin' amazing... and a fantastic start to my day.
• United States Holocaust Memorial Museum! One of the best museums I've ever had the pleasure of visiting is the World War I Museum in Kansas City. The design of the exhibit space is just exceptional, and a commenter told me the same guy (Ralph Applebaum) also designed The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. So, naturally I was curious. Add to that the fact that my very good blog friend, Mr. Shiny, is married to one of the curators, and I was compelled to pay a visit...
Not surprisingly, the museum is stunning. As expected, the exhibit spaces are wonderfully orchestrated to tell the story of one of this planets' greatest atrocities... and it's done so well that you feel it. I had planned on spending a half-hour wandering around, but was here nearly two hours. Deeply moving and extremely popular (get there early!), the museum gets my highest possible recommendation.
• National Air and Space Museum! This trip to DC, I decided to put aside my usual stops and visit some of the places I haven't been to in a while. Like the Smithsonian's Air and Spaaaaaaace Museum...
I swear... everything looks the exact same as when I was first there in 1996! They aren't too big on updating the main exhibits, I guess... which is a shame. But, still, some cool stuff...
And I could never get tired of looking at the original USS Enterprise model...
• Crapital! Why oh why do they have to put up garbage in front of beautiful buildings like the US Capital? There's a tent, some kind of screens, and other crap junking up the place, which is just wrong. When visitors walk by, they shouldn't have all the obstructions and distractions...
Because, seriously, if you came all the way to the US Capital, would you want THIS to be the photo you show all your friends when you get back?
• National Gallery of Art! I've been here most every single time I've come to DC... which is why I was going to avoid it this time. But I just couldn't do it. The place is packed with treasures and FREE! So I took a half-hour to wander a bit, which is when I found this beautiful table that I don't remember seeing before...
It's just like the chess table on the Millenium Falcon!
• National Archives The line was really short as I walked by, so I decided to drop in to the National Archives and see if we still had a Constitution. Between the Tea Party Right wanting to strip everybody of all individual rights except guns... and the Extreme Left wanting to eliminate individuality entirely, sometimes I have a hard time remembering. Turns out we DO! Though it's badly faded and hard to see. Just like real life... and just like this scan of the Declaration of Independence...
• Vietnam Memorial! By the time I got to The Wall, it was pouring down rain. This made the sculptures for the Vietnam Soldier's Memorial and the Vietnam Women's Memorial look even more beautiful than they usually do...
Ever since my first visit to The Wall, I've returned every time I'm in Washington, D.C. to pay my respects to Roderick L. Mayer, a MIA/POW whose memorial bracelet I've been wearing for the past 17 years...
And since every time I post about my dedication to MIA/POW issues I get hate-comments from people telling me that this is all a big myth, I'm just going to post a clickable copy of a letter to Roderick Mayer's parents, then tell any detractors they can go fuck themselves (John McCain and John Kerry included)...
• Korean War Memorial! A hauntingly beautiful memorial, and one of my world favorites. I found this documentary video which explains the thought that went into it...
It really has to be seen in person to get the full experience... and, if you're ever in DC, I highly recommend it.
• Lincoln! Another memorial monument that I absolutely love is Abraham Lincoln's. Visiting is akin to a spiritual experience...
And, of course, the view from the top of the steps is pretty special...
Even if the 2011 earthquake has busted the Washington Monument to shit and it's all covered in scaffolding now...
At some point, you have to ask yourself if it isn't worth knocking the thing down and building a new one from scratch. Yeah... yeah... yell at me all you want, but I'm sick of having busted shit in my photos. Historical conservation aside, it's kind of bullshit to visit a place and have nothing but photos of scaffolding or construction crews (like last time) to show for it. Apparently they're going to finish with the restoration sometime next year. Hopefully the wait will be worth it, and the monument won't fall to pieces again two years later.
• National World War II Memorial! I'm just going to come right out and say it... I have never liked this installation, and wish that they had come up with something more meaningful and thoughtful than this lame excuse for a memorial...
It's just so boring, repetitive and tacky. And I don't "get" how it honors World War II vets... if anything, it looks more like it's some kind of monument to US states and territories...
Compare it to the Korean and Vietnam memorials, and it's just so forgettable and unimpressive... even though it's so big. Probably because it's so big? I dunno. All I do know is that those who fought and died in World War II deserve something better than this.
• Shiny! Tired and soaking wet, I was pretty much done with Washington, D.C. when 5:00 rolled around. Fortunately, Mr. Shiny (who you should know from his most excellent co-hosting duties on the Hey! That's My Hummus! podcast) rescued me from my day and whisked me off to dinner with his family. But before we got there, he took me to see the Peeps & Co. Store in National Harbor and a really cool statue called "The Awakening" that's across the street...
Poor guy looks to me like he's drowning in sand.
Dinner with the Shinies was a lot of fun... until they brought the hummus...
Just because he has a podcast called "Hey! That's My Hummus!" doesn't mean he gets to eat it all. I love hummus! I guess I should be thankful that Faiqa wasn't there, or else I would have had to fight off two people! Fortunately, my delicious black bean burger had hummus on it, so I was totally taken care of in the chickpea department.
And, just like that, my one funtabulous day in Washington, D.C. was over. Hopefully next time I'll get to stay a while.
• WTF?! And jut because I can't end Bullet Sunday on such a happy note... Holy. Fucking. Shit. Not only is Newt Gingrich confounded as to what to call a "smartphone"... he seems genuinely perplexed by multi-functional modern technology. And this is a guy who could have been elected President of the United States of America!
"This pencil also erases. It has an eraser right on the top of it. So it's not a pencil. It's not an eraser. It's something new. A new technology that's only beginning. And we here at Gingrich Productions have spent weeks trying to figure out what to call it..."
I'm horrified that this kind of absurd cluelessness completely defines our country's government. Legislators are making laws about things they don't understand and are too lazy to actually take the time to educate themselves about. This is exactly how idiotic shit like ACTA happens, and we all pay the price for our political leaders being intentionally uninformed morons.
And... it's late. Happy Mother's Day, everybody!
Posted on Monday, May 13th, 2013
My 6:00am flight out of Baltimore meant that I had to get up at 3:45am. This gave me 30 minutes to pack, shower, put on pants, brush my teeth, check out of my hotel, and catch the shuttle to arrive at BWI at 4:30am. Getting up at 3:45am is no fun at all. Especially when your internal clock is three hours earlier than that.
What was fun was using iPhone's Passbook...
This very cool bit of tech puts stuff like tickets, boarding passes, loyalty cards, membership accounts, and other things all at one place. Buy an Amtrak ticket? It goes to Passbook. Check in for your flight? Your boarding pass goes to Passbook. Check in at your hotel? Open up Passbook for your loyalty card.
And it's always handy.
When I arrived at the train station, my ticket was on my lock screen.
When I got to the airport, my boarding pass was on my lock screen too. One swipe, and it magically appears...
So cool. As somebody who travels a lot, this is exactly the kind of thing that makes my life easier.
The problem is that not enough companies are using it. Many airlines I fly, like Alaska Air, aren't using it. Most of the hotels I stay at, like Hilton, aren't using it. And it would be nice one day if credit cards could be added, because that would lighten my wallet considerably.
I think that Apple made the right move with Passbook because it doesn't require companies to install new equipment for NFC (or whatever)... everybody can use the scanners they already have.
It's just a question as to when (if?) these companies will return the favor and give their customers the convenience of implementing it.
Posted on Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Today I had to run some errands to the "Barbarian Village" of Leavenworth, Washington.
Well, actually it's billed as the "Bavarian Village" because it's a themed town meant to look like something out of the German Alps, but when the crowds of tourists arrive, it rapidly degenerates into something much more savage.
Anyway, I couldn't very well leave without some German food, so off I went for a bratwurst. Well, a veggie brat, but still... the best part is figuring out which mustard you want, because there's always at least a dozen on-hand...
I went with a more traditional "sweet & sour" because half the stuff is difficult to decipher (what the hell is "Backyard Brat" about?)...
Of course no faux-German sausage garden would be complete without freaky murals to keep you company while you eat...
And since one good thing leads to another, I could not resist stopping by the Danish Bakery for one of their glorious almond custard pastries...
After than I stopped at a chocolate shop because, ya know, it was there. Then I decided to head home while I still had insulin levels that were somewhat respectable.
All I'm missing now to make my day complete is some lederhosen.
Posted on Friday, May 31st, 2013
And so here I sit at SeaTac International Airport waiting for my redeye flight eastward.
Half the people here are coughing their heads off... and many of those are kids who, not surprisingly, don't cover their mouths when they cough because parents don't seem to teach them to. Apparently they don't give a flying fuck if their kids infect the world because that's somebody else's problem. Typical.
The half that's not hacking away is either loudly slurping on coffee cups and looking like idiots... or falling asleep. Or dead to the world and snoring.
On the plus side, I spotted a lonely hat in one of SeaTac's privacy-free bathrooms...
And away I go...
Posted on Friday, May 31st, 2013
Thanks to some personal turmoil that keeps dropping on me like a ton of bricks lately, I came very close to canceling my trip to Pittsburgh. I have fond memories of the city, and it just didn't seem right to return with a shit-ton of baggage weighing on my brain.
But within five minutes of Becky picking me up at the airport, all my troubles melted away and I was glad I was here. By the end of the day I was ecstatic that I was here.
She kinda has that effect on people.
As witnessed by this photograph of the last time I saw Becky live and in-person four years ago at ConFab...
Photo by Ginger and, yes, I'm dressed as a pirate. Because I just can't help myself.
First stop was lunch at Nicky's Thai Kitchen, and it was glorious. Especially the Crispy Egg Rolls...
Don't you just love some good food porn on a Friday afternoon?
From there we wasted no time in tracking down delicious beer... at a brewery transplant from Munich called Hofbräuhaus. Becky asked for a beer the size of her head and got this...
THE HUMAN HEAD WEIGHS 8 POUNDS! Becky' beer weighs ten pounds.
Not wanting to be left out, I asked for a beer the size of MY head and got this...
HEY! THAT'S THE WRONG HEAD!!
Whoops... that's better...
Here's to good times. Tonight is kind of special...
Eventually we realized we needed Jägermeister backs for our beers...
Delicious! Is there no problem Jägermeister cannot solve?!?
Eventually Jared showed up to be our designated biker...
Switching to baby beers so as not to drop into beer comas.
After that, I was given a tour of areas of Pittsburgh I didn't even know existed, which is always fun. There's just no substitute for seeing a city through the eyes of locals.
By this time, beer and not sleeping for two days was finally taking its toll, so I reluctantly headed back to my hotel for some much-needed rest.
Though it's gonna be tough to sleep when I'm anticipating the awesomeness which awaits tomorrow.
Posted on Saturday, June 1st, 2013
Annnnnd... I've just returned from a Pittsburgh Pirates game with Becky. It was a fantastic night out, even though the Pirates lost.
Fortunately, they weren't playing my beloved Boston Red Sox (who slaughtered the Yankees 11-1), so I was able to put on a Pirates jersey and cheer on the team against the dreaded Cincinnati Reds...
Say "Grilled Stickies!"
But I'm getting ahead of myself, because there was tailgating in the parking lot before the game...
Becky's friend hand-made veggie burgers (that were some of the best I've ever tasted) for us civilized folk... but there was mmmmmeeeeeat for the savages too...
Fortunately, I was just sober enough to keep myself from licking the grill.
A good time was had by all...
When I've been drinking, I look the exact same in every photo... like I'm happily pooping my pants.
Then it was off to PNC Park...
Take me out to the ballgame... where no crackerjack was to be found.
Becky met up with her pimp along the way...
Pimpin' ain't easy... but with Becky as your ho it is!
My iPhone has said that Pittsburgh's weather was going to be thunderstorms since the minute I arrived. I'm not exaggerating when I say that every single time I look, we're supposed to be in the middle of a raging storm...
And yet... it's been nothing but sun and blue skies. Which is nice, because PNC Park has to be one of the most beautiful ballparks ever...
Between innings you can watch the boats go by, which is pretty sweet...
Can't believe how nice the kit lens is for my new Sony NEX-6 camera.
After the game, they wheeled a stage and some giant speakers onto the field for a concert by =gasp!= Kool & The Gang! This helped make the Pirates' loss a little easier to take...
Celebrate good times! The sound system was surprisingly good for a ballpark!
And... the end. After waiting 35 minutes for my 20 minute train, I was back at the South End and ready for bed.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, because there was a Hard Rock Cafe pin-trading event before the tailgating and the game...
I've been collecting Hard Rock Cafe pins since I visited my first property 23 years ago. And even though I've amassed thousands of pins over those years, I've never once gone to a pin-trading event. Mostly because Seattle didn't have a cafe for most of those years and I could never manage to fit a pine event road trip into my schedule.
I was also a bit intimidated, because I'm more of a "casual collector" who just buys stuff I like and doesn't really know anything about the hobby. As I've found out from comic book collecting, most of the "pros" simply don't want to waste time with newbies, and past attempts to fit into that crowd were met with failure.
Enter the "Northeast Region Art of Rock Event 2013" which was being attended by seven Hard Rock cities (Baltimore, Boston, Foxwoods, Niagara Falls NY, Toronto, Washington D.C., and the host... Pittsburgh), so I put it on my calendar and was determined to attend.
And today was the day...
The event was well-attended... this was only a part of it.
I ended up having a great time!
The vast majority of the collectors who attended were kindhearted, encouraging, helpful people. I was shocked... shocked... to find that most all of them would trade for something you really wanted, even if they didn't find anything they were looking for in your pin bags. They seemed perfectly happy to just add a trade back into their trading pile if it meant helping you fill a hole in your collection.
That was wonderful and entirely unexpected. I picked up dozens of pins I needed to fill in my glassware collection of hurricanes, martinis, and shooters.
Needless to say, I'd very much like to get my pin collection better organized and attend more events.
So thank you to the terrific staff at Hard Rock Pittsburgh for inviting everybody to your cafe for a great meet-up!
Five minutes before they let the animals lined up outside come in for lunch.
It's now 2:00am. I have to be up in five hours. I should probably at least attempt to get some sleep.
Posted on Sunday, June 2nd, 2013
Another morning where thunderstorms were forecast for the entire day.
Which, of course, never came to pass. I swear, whomever is in charge of predicting the weather in Pittsburgh needs to be smacked around a little bit, because this is getting ridiculous.
But the weather miscast was definitely something to be grateful for, because Becky managed to score tickets to today's Pirates game...
They close down the Roberto Clemente Bridge when there's a game, which makes for a nice walk.
This time our seats were on the "Club Level" which has restaurants, billiards, lounges, and ice cream!
But, most important of all, I found Cracker Jack this time!
The game was off to a very bad start, as the Reds scored four runs in the first inning. But the Pirates managed to battle their way back into the game... including a monster home-run hit by Garrett Jones in the bottom of the 8th that cleared the park and ended up in the Allegheny River!
The above video is worth checking out... it's a pretty impressive hit!
Mr. Jones! The little kit lens on my NEX-6 continues to blow my mind. This is from the 200 level... WITH A KIT LENS!
The Pirates eventually won, 4-5 after extra innings...
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the win... we had to leave early so we could make a concert...
Hold on to your crotch... it's
Now, I should preface this with two pieces of information...
This meant that I really didn't know what to expect. My plan was just to hang out with Becky and drink beer, which would have been a great time even if there wasn't a concert.
But there was a concert, and I totally admit that it ended up being ten times more than awesome.
As her set went on, things got a little weird...
Which was taken to an entirely new level when
Sparks went flying out of her vagina, which was apparently impossible to capture on iPhone. Sorry.
Then it was time to bring on the simulated inter-species beastiality where sports mascots started bumping, grinding, and swapping heads...
After all this freaky shit went down, even
Eventually we got a tiny car, blow-up legs, and a blow-up hippo as
During her set, Ke$ha was all about dishing out life advice ("Be Yourself! Always! Unapologetically!"), sharing her private thoughts and feelings ("I don't want a guy to talk to me, I want a guy to fuck me!"), and giving her fans ideas for after the show ("I want everybody to go home and fuck tonight!")... which just made her even more special to me. I was sad to see her go.
But the party didn't stop there... after a half-hour of DJ music by somebody called "Ump Smoker" it was time for Pitbull. I had no idea who he was, but once the music started I did realize that I knew of his music. Who knew? In any event, his show was pretty impressive.
Apparently, Pitbull was responsible for the Men in Black 3 theme song.
Even if you hated his music (which I didn't), the stage show is still entertaining.
Looks like Ke$ha isn't the only one who can unleash a glitter bomb.
All-in-all? A very good concert, and I had a great time. If you have the opportunity to see the tour, I highly recommend checking it out. Just be prepared to walk through a shit-ton of glitter in the parking lot after it's over...
And that was a wrap.
After an action-packed day of excitement like this, my "real life" is going to seem really, really boring.
Thanks a lot, Becky!!!
Posted on Monday, June 3rd, 2013
I didn't know what could possibly top the Ke$ha concert last night, but darn if we didn't try!
After packing up all my crap and stowing my luggage, Becky picked me up for a day of fun and excitement that only Pittsburgh can offer.
Breakfast was at a cool, old-fashioned diner and consisted of crepe-pancakes, scrambled eggs, and Lyonnaise potatoes. If you're hungry in the morning, then Pamela's Diner is the place to go...
You just know that if there's a pink door it's gotta be good, right?
I could have spent an hour wandering around looking at all the knick-knacks and photos that cover the walls...
There may be two packs of smokes on the counter, but you still can't smoke in the restaurant!
After stuffing our faces, we wandered around the corner to The Strip District, which is an eclectic neighborhood packed with lots of cool shops, restaurants, and other wonders...
Who can resist taking a photo of a building with a giant chicken on it? Not me!
Just about everything in The Strip is interesting in one way or another.
A remnant of a time when helping the poor was considered a good thing.
At Wholey's Market, which is much like Disneyland with it's animatronic cows and pigs and such.
Becky takes her life in her hands when she gets friendly with the ferocious Wholey's Market Bear!
Happy piñatas at the Mexican market want you to beat them with a stick until their guts fall out. Sick!
Becky searches for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Hat at the Mexican market.
As we were walking back to Becky's car, I was compelled to stop at a mini-donut shop. Like most people, I don't possess the will-power to resist a freshly-made, warm, mini-donut that's straight from the hot oil...
If forced to choose between peace, love, or mini-donuts, I'd take the fucking donut.
If I had this job, I would weigh 700 pounds and have oil for blood.
As punishment for giving in to mini-donut temptation, Becky thought I needed to go to Church...
Surprise! It's The Church Brew Works, built in an actual old church building!
Yes, they are totally brewing beer where the church's altar once stood.
Mmmmm... beer! Becky came up with this great shot idea, I just copied her.
Becky spotted this sleepy moth hanging on for dear life in a flower bed outside The Church. He's scary-cute.
From there Becky decided to run out to Randyland, which is so interesting on its own that I'm saving the details from THAT visit for tomorrow's entry...
It's pretty remarkable in a photo, but really needs to be seen in person to be truly appreciated.
From here it was off to see Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX OMNIMAX at the Carnegie Science Center.
Then it was time to get me out to the airport. But we simply couldn't say goodbye until we had one last beer. This time at Sharp Edge Creekhouse...
Yeah, that goose tap handle is pretty much the ultimate tap handle.
Earlier it was pointed out to me that I was hanging out with Princess Merida (from the Pixar movie Brave) all weekend. I had always thought of Becky as a QUEEN, but darn if it wasn't true...
And thus ends my perfect four days in Pittsburgh with the coolest of Disney's princesses.
Going back to Real Life ain't gonna be easy after this.
Posted on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013
Back home, safe and sound.
Yesterday Becky took me to Randyland, which is a photographer's dream come true in Pittsburgh. From the minute I saw all the bright colors and craziness that is so beautifully splashed across everything, I knew I wanted to play around with some HDR photos to see what I could capture.
Welcome to Randy's head...
If you're ever in the Pittsburgh area, Randyland is well worth checking out!
Posted on Saturday, June 8th, 2013
The nice thing about blowing all your hard-earned money on world travel is that you know places.
This can come in handy. Like when you're clicking through news stories and some random headline pops up about the Ajaccio Football Club getting a new coach. "I've been to Ajaccio!" you say to yourself. And then memories of your trip to Corsica come rushing back to you. So you search your blog to find out when that was, only to discover that it was just two-and-a-half years ago. Then you wonder why a photo of your strongest memory... pulling into port at sunrise under pink skies... isn't on your blog entry. "Oh crap, didn't I get a photo of that?!?" you wonder as you frantically double-click on your digital photo album. And... yes. Yes you did get a photo of that beautiful morning, so why didn't you post it?
According to Lighthouse Explorer, that would be "Ajaccio Citadelle Light."
"Oh well!" you say to yourself as you sigh in relief that you found something to blog about after a boring Saturday of nothing but work...
Posted on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
Seattle could certainly have a worse symbol representing the city.
Even though it was built in 1962, the Space Needle has aged very well. Still looks contemporary and modern, really.
Here's the monkey I promised.
The view from my hotel room, in glorious HDR...
The Pacific Science Center to the left and Experience Music Project on the right.
And... I'm here to work, not blog, so off I go...
Posted on Friday, June 14th, 2013
When it comes to our inevitable arrival at a paperless, all-digital world, I'm a big supporter. I really hate having to cart around a stack of cards and bits of paper when traveling, because it's entirely too easy to forget something or, even worse, lose something important.
The problem is that I'm constantly being met with failure in my attempts to "go digital."
Like today, for instance, as I attempt to fly to Boston.
First I go to reserve parking. The place I like best, SeaTac Park, has long had online reservations that can be verified with your email address instead of having to print out a confirmation. It's a great system. When it works...
This really sucks, because you can't get the best rate unless you pre-book online. I've brought it up the last three times I've parked there, but it never gets fixed. I always have to remind them again when I leave so I can get the discount and, if I forget, then I'm shit-out-of-luck.
But the problems don't stop there.
When I go to use Alaska Airlines' new "Passbook" feature on their iPhone app because Passbook is a really great iPhone feature, it won't let me...
This pisses me off because not only do I already have a Mileage Plan number on my account... but I also think it's fucking stupid that you're required to have one in the first place. What the hell does a mileage plan have to do with checking in for a flight? People fly without mileage plans every damn day.
So off I go to Alaska Airlines' website so I can add my mileage number back on my account. Except, when I get there, it won't let me. Apparently my account is invalid...
And so I'm forced to call customer service.
Only to find out that my mileage plan expired due to inactivity. "Well, can you reactivate it? I ask. "Only if you want to pay $75!" the customer service agent replies. "My miles are on Delta... why in the heck would I want to pay $75 to reactivate an account I don't use?" I ask, ready to explode. "If you don't, then you'll have to sign up for a new account." she says. Apparently miles don't expire... only the account which holds them, which makes perfect fucking sense!
So much for convenience in this wonderful digital age.
Because more often than not, the shit doesn't work. And the steps towards making it work are more complicated and time consuming than carrying cards and bits of paper.
I thought it would be easier than this.
Posted on Saturday, June 15th, 2013
And I'm in Boston for one day so I could attend a party for a very good friend who had some extraordinary news that was worth celebrating. Yes, a day trip across the country probably seems odd to most people, but I make trips like this all the time for work, so it's old hat to me.
But before the party tonight, I had an entire day to goof off in Boston.
I started out in Boston Common because there's an Earl of Sandwich shop there. They discontinued The Greatest Sandwich on Earth... The Earl Veggie... but I was hoping to add/subtract ingredients on a boring Caprese sandwich to recreate it. Unfortunately, they didn't have half the stuff to do it, so my day began in failure. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day to walk around and see the monuments...
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
Memorial for the Boston Massacre.
Then it was off to the Granary Burying Ground, which is my favorite of Boston's beautiful old cemeteries that's filled with beautiful tombstones (and home to many famous dead people like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere)...
Death being more common back then, some of the tombstones are kinda comical.
A lot of tattoo ideas to be found here!
I've been to Boston several times, so I wanted to find a museum I'd never been to before. That ended up being the Boston Athenæum, which is a beautiful private library that allows the public to look around. They also have a small exhibit of wonderful works that explain their part in the creation of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Pictures weren't allowed on the inside, but I did snap a photo of the entrance, which is equally cool...
From there I was off to a wonderful little shop called The Printing Office of Edes & Gill. They've got a terrific old letterpress that's still in operation. Every time I visit I buy a new souvenir piece, because there's nothing quite so beautiful as a letterpress print...
Seriously worth a stop if you're ever walking The Freedom Trail in Boston.
The print shop is located on the Paul Revere Mall, where his statue has been defaced with a dreaded Bruins jersey...
Rebel that he was, I like to think he would be a Blackhawks fan!
Since I didn't get my Earl of Sandwich, I headed to Mike's Famous Pastries for the next best thing... cannoli! Not only does it taste amazing, but I love the way they box it up with hand-tied string. You see a lot of these boxes carried by tourists as you wander around the city. Fortunately, the line was only out the door instead of down the block, so it was only a 20 minute wait...
That's a Crushed Caramel Pecan on the left and an Oreo Cookie on the right.
A lot of jealous looks from people when they see the box you'll be carrying!
And then it was time to head out to Somerville so I could meet up with Justin, an online buddy I was very glad to finally meet in person. He suggested an ice cream at J.P. Licks, which didn't take much convincing...
Pretty frickin' amazing ice cream, if we're being honest here.
Since my ride to the party missed their flight into Boston and was going to be late, I was left with a couple of hours to kill. Lucky me, my friend Dave just happened to be in from London! I haven't seen him since Davedon in 2009, so this was a happy (if not totally bizarre) coincidence. We decided to eat at Boston's premiere brick oven pizzeria since 1926, Regina's...
There was a line to get in, of course. But totally worth the wait.
Dave had The Giambotta, which has everything but the kitchen sink. I had mozzarella and feta cheese.
Still needing to kill some time, Dave and I decided to take a walk through the Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall. I love the place not only for the sheer variety of food, but for the decor. Each stall has it's own signage, and most of it is very well done...
So much nicer than the boring signs you usually see now-a-days.
Outside there was a juggler risking his life with some kind of show. He was capable (and funny!) if this is your thing, but I was hoping for chainsaws...
Probably not sharp knives, but you could still poke an eye out.
My friends finally landed, so it was time to say goodbye to Dave and head back to my hotel so I could get cleaned up. Along the way, I saw Boston's beautiful old State House building with a spot of sunset light on it...
Now that's a beautiful building! Though I've never been inside.
Boston is a city that's kinda a strange place for me to be right now. Yes, it's home to my beloved Red Sox baseball... but it's also home to Bruins hockey, which is currently battling it out with my beloved Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup (wearing my Blackhawks jersey is probably out of the question). The good news is that I managed to find a Jarod Saltalamacchia T-Shirt and a not-LEGO Lil' Salty action figure this trip...
Other than that, it was all good. The party was fantastic, I loved running into my friends, and my trip was a total success.
Until I realize that it's now close to midnight and I have a flight at 7:00am tomorrow morning. Blargh.
Good bye Boston.
Posted on Monday, July 1st, 2013
Ooh! Today was Canada Day!
Apparently "Canada Day" is declared as such because July 1st is the anniversary date of the day when three North American colonies were super-glued together to form "Canada" in 1867. It seems a little unfair that there's no USA Day today. Instead we get Independence Day in three days and a newspaper called USA Today. I guess that's a fair trade.
In honor of The Great White North's special day, I've decided to re-print my "Canada Travel Journal" from 2009. Which, in turn, is a re-print of a guest-post I made for my Canadian compadre, LeSombre (whose blog is apparently down right now?).
And so, without further ado, here's my trips to Canada...
So congrats to our neighbor to the north, and here's to many happy Canada Days to come.
Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
The problem is that it's SO expensive to do it right.
Even if I start saving immediately after I get back from this year's vacation in October, I still won't have enough money to afford the trip by the time Winter 2014 rolls around. Which means I'll have to go into credit card debt. Unless I wait until winter 2015, which I'd really rather not do.
And, yes... I know exactly what this sounds like.
"Oh boo hoo! People in Africa are starving and you can't afford to vacation in Antarctica! Poor little you!"
And I totally agree. This is the cream of First World Problems right here.
And so I've got to buckle down and get serious over the next couple months so I can make this happen.
Why can't I have millions of dollars so stuff like "budgeting for a vacation" doesn't have to occupy my time?
Okay, okay... that's the cream of First World Problems.
Posted on Friday, July 12th, 2013
The drive over the mountains to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is just 2-1/2 hours. Which is just about as long as it takes to fly over when you add together the driving, waiting, and flight time. Money-wise, it's a wash too, as gas and parking come very close to the cost of airfare.
All things considered, I prefer to fly. But, more often than not, I end up driving because my tiny local airport keeps reducing the number of flights into Seatac and has shitty connections to other flights. And by "shitty" I actually mean "horrendously shitty" because the layovers can be 4 or 5 hours long. Which is entirely too much time to be spending at an airport.
It's getting to the point where the 2-1/2 hour drive is getting to be far, far worse than a long layover. Case in point, what I went through to get here today...
And that's only the stuff that made me so angry I remembered it.
So... adding an extra 4 or 5 hours to my trip? Not quite the horrendously shitty endeavor it used to be.
At least not when compared to the horrendously shitty driving alternative.
Posted on Saturday, July 13th, 2013
In order to save money on airfare, I flew into Atlanta a day early. Sure it meant getting up at 4:00am this morning, but the cost of flying is getting to be so outrageous that you do what you gotta do. The up-side was that I ended up getting into town at 2:00, which left me time to meet up with some Atlanta peeps for dinner.
And what a dinner it was...
Dante's Down the Hatch "Jazz and Fondue Restaurant and Club" has been an Atlanta institution for 43 years that I've never heard of. Which is odd, because it's fairly famous. It's a themed restaurant built around a "sailing ship" that's surrounded by live crocodiles. Kind of like dining in the middle of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, but without the animatronic pirates and stuff...
All this plus CHEESES OF THE WORLD!!!
The menu is a bit confusing. I thought I was ordering vegetable fondue, but it ended up being vegetables and a pot of boiling oil. But that didn't stop me from unintentionally stealing some of somebody else's cheese, which was delicious (Houston, I owe you dinner next time I'm in town!)...
The jazz was good. Really good. And since our table was inside the ship, we had a front-row seat!
All in all an awesome way to spend an evening. I'm sad that the place is closing at the end of the month, as I would have absolutely come here again.
Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2013
"GET BACK HERE, TACO BOY!"
I'm pretty sure I was already kinda awake, but it was those words reverberating through the hallway of my hotel after hearing a door slam that finally managed to really wake me up.
Or, in this case, more like parents not minding their kids at 5:30am.
Not the best way to start my day, but it did start my imagination running as to how some kid would end up with "Taco Boy" as a nickname. At least I hope it's a nickname.
After that minor incident, I really have no complaints about my day. None. Checkout at the hotel was painless. The shuttle to the airport was on time. The people at the Sixt desk were awesome. My rental car ended up being a Prius that I really enjoy driving. The trip down to my job site was completely uneventful. The day's work started early and went well. I had Dr. Pepper, Pretzels, and GIANT Kit-Kat for lunch. A nice breeze took the edge off the afternoon heat. I caught up on my emails. I had a terrific dinner with a friend from work. Now I'm laying in bed listening to cicadas (or some other noisy bugs) screech into the night.
Well, okay, I really could do without the screeching bugs, but it sure beats screeching kids at 5:30 in the morning, so there's that.
And now I just don't know what to do with myself since I have nothing to complain about.
A few more days like this and I may have to give up blogging.
Oh... speaking of kids... this video was shared on Facebook by Certifiable Princess and is must-watch material...
Just one more good thing to come out of my day.
Dayamn! These videos are like popcorn. You just can't stop reaching for another handful.
Except I have an early call to work, so no more for me.
Posted on Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
Apparently my punishment for having a day with no complaints is to have everything go wrong for two days. I just can't seem to catch a break.
So... lesson learned: Find something to complain about, even when you have nothing to complain about, or get something to complain about. I guess that's just the way the universe works. From now on when I ask somebody how it's going... and they answer "I have no complaints!"... I'm going to respond with "THEN YOU ARE A FOOL!!!"
Because I'm all about constructive feedback.
Work has been an all-consuming day-and-night affair. I'm not just burning the candle at both ends, but instead taking a flamethrower to the candle then falling asleep on it. Except I don't have time to sleep, so I pop back up with melted candle on my face and go back to work.
Fortunately, I'm working in Zombie Country again, so I fit right in...
And now for the complaints...
THERE! Hopefully all that complaining will put me back on track for mildly crappy days instead of horrendously shitty days.
Thanks a lot, Universe.
Posted on Thursday, July 18th, 2013
The plan was to wake up early, have a quick breakfast, get my work done, go shoe-shopping, have a nice leisurely lunch, then head to the airport a full two hours early.
The reality was that I woke up early, had a quick breakfast, started in on work... WHEN ALL OF A SUDDEN EVERYTHING WENT TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY WRONG! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!
And so I managed to get to the aiport just 45 minutes before my international flight, boarding the plane just 30 minutes before take-off (thank you TSA Pre-Check!).
Without new shoes. Without lunch. Without my santiy.
The flight to the Netherlands itself wasn't too bad. I just watched movies to pass the time.
Add in some episodes of The Newsroom and the 10-hour flight was over just like that.
Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2013
Pretty much the only thing on the agenda today...
I swear, if I lived here in DutchyLand, I'd undoubtedly weigh 600 pounds.
Posted on Saturday, July 20th, 2013
I pretty much have one day in the Netherlands before heading out again.
The DutchBitch decided that this would be best spent visiting "Maastrecht." I thought this might be the name of a windmill... or perhaps a cheese farm... but she tells me that it is a city. "Wow! There are other cities in the Netherlands than Amsterdam?!? I asked before getting slapped in the face.
And so there are. Maastricht is about as far as you can get from Amsterdam whilst still being inside the Netherlands...
It's a very pretty city. The first photo I took was this statue of St. Hubertus reading a book to his deer skull hat...
One of the more famous landmarks of Maastricht is the red tower of St. Jan's. Which looks fantastic when photographed in HDR...
Sadly, there was bad news to be found in the shadow of the Red Tower... somebody lost their Miffy doll and binky. She now waits patiently for her owner to come back and get her...
Walking through the city I found this really cool "Bidweg" monument... "Bidweg" meaning "Way of Prayer"...
The waterway nearby is filled with brilliant green plants which I thought looked like something out of a Van Gogh painting...
There's a wall surrounding old Maastricht that you can walk on top of. It's quite pretty and looks more like a garden than a wall...
The wall itself is home to a lot of flowers and plants that have managed to grow between the cracks...
I got excited when I saw a Free Ladies party... until I saw it was a month ago...
A sign asking people to be quiet so the neighbors can live in peace was interesting. I wonder if it works. I sincerely doubt it would any effect in the USA...
Awesome kid drawings at a Maastricht school...
The DutchBitch then took us to hell...
Helpoort... or "Hell Gate"... is the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands (from the year 1229!). It's in amazingly good shape for being so old, and well worth a visit.
After wandering around for a few hours, it was time to head back to Casa de DutchBitch. But not before... WAFFLES!!!
The perfect end to a perfect afternoon.
Posted on Sunday, July 21st, 2013
Take off your wooden shoes and relax... because a special DUTCHYLAND TRAVEL edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Schiphol! Amsterdam's International Airport is named Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and it's easily one of my favorite airports in the world. It's incredibly well organized, navigation signs are everywhere, and I've never seen extremely long lines for anything. Today I was flying Business Class, and it was literally ten minutes between when the DutchBitch dropped me off and I had gone through bag drop-off and security to be sitting in the KLM Lounge drinking a Coke and one of Dutchy's delicious cheese sandwiches. As if that weren't enough, every employee I have ever encountered at Schiphol has been exceedingly friendly and helpful. One of the cool things they do that seems to be increasingly common outside the USA is to have a monitor to tell you when luggage from your flight has hit the baggage carousel. Schiphol goes one step further and provides an estimate as to when the bag will be unloaded...
Never mind that it's almost always wrong (my suitcase was "expected" at 8:48, but it's 8:54 in this photo and it still hasn't shown up), at least they're trying to keep passengers informed!
• KLM! The major airline for the Netherlands is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. When flying KLM, Business Class travelers are treated exceptionally well. But it's my memories of flying the airline when I was a coach passenger with little travel status that makes me love the company. As an example, way back in 2002 my Northwest Airlines flight arrived late at Schiphol and I missed my connecting KLM flight to London. When I explained that I was now going to miss my train to Edinburgh, the transfer agent asked if they could change my ticket from London to Edinburgh at no charge so I wouldn't delay my vacation. I very nearly went into shock. This just isn't done in the airline industry... especially when something is another airline's fault. But Northwest was a partner company and there was room on the next flight to Edinburgh, so KLM didn't give it a second thought. I probably had "Silver" status back then, but I don't think they even bothered to check before they made the offer. This not only saved me the cost of a train ticket, but actually ended up putting me ahead of schedule for my trip. And that's just one example. KLM has bent over backwards to help me out like that more than once, and is one of the few airlines I honestly have -zero- complaints about.
• Food! Another perk of flying KLM? The food. Yes. The food... on an airline! First of all, I can't recall a time that there wasn't a vegetarian option. Whether it be a simple sandwich or full meal service, they always seem to have a meat-free selection. Second of all, I can't recall ever having a bad meal. Tonight I wasn't hungry, but I couldn't say no when they offered dinner service... on my two-hour flight to Helsinki. Now-a-days, you'd be lucky to get a free snack on a flight that short, but here's KLM's idea of service...
That's cheese gnocchi pasta pillows over spinach, a mozzarella and tomato salad with lemon olive oil dressing, a dinner roll with butter, and a chocolate-praline mousse pudding with cookie topping for dessert. ON A TWO-HOUR FLIGHT! Even on an hour hop, I've been served everything from delicious cheese sandwiches to pizza. It's unreal. I don't just like flying KLM, I thrill to flying KLM, and the wonderful food is a big part of that.
• Trains! In the Western USA, we don't have a very good train network at all. As an example... if I want to take the train to Seattle, I first have to drive 20 minutes to Wenatchee, then catch the one train that goes to Seattle every day... at 5:35am. This is pretty much useless, so I never take the train. Contrast that with the train network in the Netherlands...
Image grabbed from the internet... source unknown.
For a rather small country, the rail coverage is astounding. You can go just about anywhere on clean, comfortable, fast trains with schedules that are actually useful. I long for this kind of service where I live.
• S.T.E.P. The US Department of State has a program called "STEP" which is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. US citizens traveling or living abroad can register their trip so that if they run into a problem it's easier for them to get help from local embassies since they'll already have your information. It also lets the embassy know that you are in the area in case something seriously bad happens... like a violent uprising, government takeover, invasion, or Justin Bieber concert. I'm guessing if something like that were to happen, they could track down everybody registered in STEP and make sure they're safe. Or, I suppose they could also be hacked by terrorists so that it's easier to find potential hostages and/or victims. Regardless, given the world we now live in, I've decided to risk it and have gotten in the habit of entering my trips abroad into STEP. Whether you decide to do that or not, it's still worth your time to see what the program offers, so here's a link to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and STEP.
And on that note, I must say... Tot ziens! Vaarwel! Dag!
Posted on Monday, July 22nd, 2013
"Why in the hell are you going to Helsinki?"
I must have heard that (or a variation of that) at least a dozen times. Which is fine, I suppose, because it doesn't seem to be a big travel destination for Americans.
The honest answer is "Because I haven't been there before."
Or, more accurately, "Because I haven't been there before and they have a Hard Rock Cafe."
The interesting thing about my day was how shocking the weather was. In no way could it have been identified as "summer"... or even in the same ballpark as "summer." It was cold, windy, rainy, overcast, dark, and very much "Fall-like." Some people would find this horrible. I look at the weather back home where it's 100°F and I am totally loving it.
Since it was raining, I decided to wander around the more non-touristy areas and save the "big attractions" for tomorrow when the weather is supposed to improve. This allowed me to soak in the Finnish architecture, which is mind-bogglingly great. Especially the human column support designs, which are awesome...
Trying to stay dry in the rain, I suppose...
Then it was off to St. Johns, which is a very nice church with an especially nice painting above the altar...
From there I headed down to the southern waterfront and then up to Observatory Hill, where there's a really cool statue called "Haaksirikkoiset" (Shipwrecked) by Robert Stigell...
I CAN SEE RUSSIA FROM MY BOAT! (St. Petersburg is 185 miles away)
Restaurants are insanely expensive here. To save money, I decided to pick up a few groceries to make my own meals a few times. As I headed out, I noticed some cool old buildings across the street...
And, of course, there's the Hard Rock Cafe. It's in a mall of some kind, and is small but nice. Since it's a newer cafe, they've used the shitty "Hipster Lounge" design aesthetic, but they (wisely) took a step back and made sure to include a good selection of memorabilia, which is great.
One of those pieces of memorabilia is some hand-penned lyrics to an unfinished (and unused) Nirvana song. Much to my dismay, Kurt Cobain doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're" which made me want to grab a red pen and scrawl a correction on it...
I ended up having a "Caribbean Black Bean Burger" because the Helsinki Hard Rock didn't have the usual "Veggie-Leggie" burger. The flavor was pretty good. The problem was that it had a marinated black bean patty and some kind of sauce on top, which made the burger a wet-hot mess. It was so slippery that it was impossible to keep in the bun. Which was a soggy bun, because the marinade had soaked into it. Making this the singular most stupid fucking "burger" I've ever attempted to eat. Which begs the question... when this was dreamed up, did they ever bother to fucking try one before putting it on the menu? Because there is no way this should be sold like this. The thing costs $23 (with fries!) and I was only to eat half of it because even attempting to eat it with a knife and fork proved futile. I don't expect amazing food at a Hard Rock, but I at least expect it to be edible. The "Caribbean Black Bean Burger" was a disgusting inedible mess.
Sometimes when traveling to foreign lands, people will ask me "Is it weird over there?" To which I always have the same response... "Not weird, just different. The USA is by far the weirdest place I've ever been. And I'm being completely honest. When it comes to seeing absolutely bizarre shit, nobody tops America (WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE NUMBER ONE!).
Which is not to say there aren't weird moments. But most of those come from finding American crap in the country you're visiting. And Helsinki has a lot of that. A prime example is some pillows advertising Lexington, Kentucky that I saw in a shop window. Which is not too weird until you see that they're advertising Lexington seafood at a restaurant that I don't think even exists. In particular, they're advertising Lexington crab... when Lexington isn't anywhere near the ocean... or any crabs. So, yeah... kinda weird...
But the weirdest thing in Helsinki so far? Tex-Mex restaurants. I've seen quite a few, so I'm guessing that it must be a popular cuisine here...
Well that's not too weird, I suppose.
Until you look at a menu and see that they have a kind of "Tex-Mex Cajun Barbecue" fusion thing going on...
It's like somebody wanted to serve American cuisine at their restaurant and just said "Fuck it! I'm putting all their regional shit in there!" Which has me totally inspired to create a "Spanish Italian Greek" restaurant when I get back home.
And take a gander at the menu prices there... Cheese Fajitas are 18,90€ which comes out to $25 USD... FOR FRICKIN' CHEESE FAJITAS!! Salsa and Chips? That'll run you $7.70... which is made even more horrible when you consider that most US restaurants serve them to you for free so you have something to snack on while you wait for your food.
I'm almost afraid to try the salsa here. Odds are it's made with herring.
Anyway, it's just turned 2:00am, so I suppose I should try and get some sleep. Sightseeing is so much more interesting when you're eyes are actually open.
Posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
When I looked out my window this morning I was excited to see that it was still overcast, yet not raining. Perfect weather for exploring!
One of the many nice things about the city is that Helsinki has an excellent tram system for getting around. Even so, I usually like to walk so I don't miss anything between stops. Having cooler weather makes the walking so much nicer.
Hammers aren't the only thing swinging here... LOOK OUT!
My first stop was someplace I wasn't interested in going. But I went anyway because I really didn't want people screaming "ZOMG! I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU WENT ALL THE WAY TO HELSINKI AND DIDN'T VISIT THE ROCK CHURCH!" at me. And so I give you... Temppeliaukion Church...
Thrilling, I know. But it does get more interesting on the inside...
It's nice enough, I guess, but I like churches for their artwork, so this one really doesn't do it for me. I did like the way that accents, like this prayer candle rack, are bolted onto the rock though...
As I was walking to Senate Square, I saw a statue of a little girl riding a tiny dinosaur. You're welcome...
The top of Senate Square features The Cathedral of Helsinki. It's absolutely beautiful on the outside... but kind of boring on the inside...
Below Senate Square is Market Square, where vendors are selling all kinds of delicious goods. Including berries, which are incredibly popular here...
From there it's a short walk to beautiful Uspenski Cathedral...
As you can tell from my later photos, the overcast skies did not last long. By 2:00 it was so hot that I had to retreat to my hotel room for a couple hours until I could brave the heat again. This time so I could travel to the very awesome Jean Sibelius Monument north of the city center. The guy was a famous composer, and this work is supposed to symbolize his music...
And then it was time for the Museum of Finland, which is an amazing, amazing insight into the history and culture of the country...
They had a map room, which was heaven for a map fan like me...
The exhibits are really well done, but some of them were kind of creepy...
The last stop on my itinerary today was Kamppi Chapel of Silence. It's a stunning architectural achievement that's incredibly beautiful inside and out...
The interior is indeed a pleasant retreat from the noises of the city, and really is silent if all the people inside are quiet.
And that's a wrap. Tomorrow is an early start for me, so it's off to bed I go...
Posted on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013
Estonia is a country I've wanted to visit for about a decade now. The reason is a rather odd one, so I'll leave that until a bit later in the entry.
If I was going to ever visit Estonia, now would be the time to do it considering that Tallinn is just a 2-hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland. Of course, St. Petersburg, one of my bucket-list dream destinations is just 4-1/2 hours away by train, but the visa requirements are a bit crazy on that one...
Map taken from Google Maps!
There are a few options for the crossing, but I went with Tallink Silja Line because it seemed to be the most reliable. It also looked to be the most comfortable, being more like a cruise ship than any ferry I've ever been on (seriously, there's a supermarket on board!).
The weather in Tallinn, which I checked multiple times, was forecast to be 78° so I didn't bother taking a jacket. I just jumped on an early tram (which was driven by somebody looking suspiciously like Thor, God of Thunder!), jumped off at the West Terminal stop, and away we go...
Tallinn's Old Town was a quick (though somewhat confusing) 15-minute walk from the harbor. After walking up a cobblestone path you reach the city gates, which are right out of medieval times...
As far as medieval cities go, the illusion here is shattered almost instantly because this is what you see the minute you enter...
Oh well. It's not like you're getting an authentic experience anyway. McDonald's aside, Old Town Tallinn is very much like Disneyland. It's mostly crowds, restaurants, and souvenir shops... with a few attractions sprinkled in. Mostly churches. Some museums.
Now, as you can see, the weather was hardly the warm paradise I was told. I kept thinking that it would warm up as the day went on, but it never did. Apparently weather forecasts are just as useless here as they are back home. I was fairly comfortable as it wasn't freezing or anything... but I sure wish I would have brought a jacket. Lesson learned.
My first stop was Holy Spirit Church so I could see their beautiful clock...
It is indeed beautiful, but... crooked. As is just about everything in Tallinn. Nothing is quite straight here, which is enough to drive a photographer crazy. Add that to the very narrow streets which necessitates using a wide-angle lens that just exaggerated how crooked everything is, and I was pretty much a basket case by the time I left. Still, it's a pretty kind of crooked, and I love the stone streets that run through it all...
My second stop was the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Since I wasn't going to make it to St. Petersburg, this was about as close as I was going to get to seeing a Russian Orthodox church this trip. Unfortunately, the cathedral is undergoing restoration so it has green webbing all over it, but it's still quite beautiful...
Not really knowing what else to do after seeing the clock and St. Nevsky, I ended up just wandering around for the five hours I had left. Tallinn has a lot of randomly cool things to see, so it was easy to kill the time.
The defensive wall that surrounds the city has numerous towers, but I only saw one which looked like the castle towers I expected (you know, the kind that look like rooks in a chess set)...
There's a trio of old houses called "The Three Sisters" that I passed as I walked to the Maritime Museum. I'm not quite sure what makes them any more special than the hundred other houses in the city, but tourist groups were going nuts over them, so here you go...
The Maritime Museum is housed within the city's biggest tower, called "Fat Margaret." The building itself is kind of boring, though the museum inside is very nice. But the biggest attraction for me was the terrace at the top. From here you can look out on the entire city, and the view is pretty cool...
Of the half-dozen churches I visited, my favorite was a tiny little hole-in-the-wall place called "Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church of the Mother of God with Three Hands." It's very... shall we say... rustic in appearance, but a lot of fun to visit...
As I was walking along the walls of the city, I saw a sign for the Tallinn Flower Festival. Thinking this might be a cool thing to see, I stepped outside the gate and saw... this...
I'm guessing it must continue on somewhere else? Back inside the wall, I started photographing a bunch of crumbling buildings because the textures were just so amazing. Who knows when I might be able to use such beautiful decay as reference material for a project?
Not everything beautiful is falling apart though. Tallinn is filled with little secret alleys and courtyards that are fun to wander around...
Street art break!
And a couple of nifty signs I added to my photo collection...
There were quite a few "American-style" restaurants in the city, but the Texas Honky Tonk Cantina was my favorite concept of them all...
And now, at long last, is the reason I wanted to visit Estonia's capital for all these years. Tallinn is home to the Depeche Mode Bar! That's right, it's a bar devoted to my favorite band! The decor and music is all Depeche Mode all the time...
I don't think that this is the original location, because the photos I saw years ago looked different, but it's still pretty cool (they have a Pin-Bot pinball machine!). If you're a DM fan, then it's a must-visit place.
And, just like that, my seven hours in Estonia were over. Time to head back to Helsinki...
All in all, a great way to spend the day. If you're in Helsinki for a while, it's a day-trip worth doing.
Posted on Thursday, July 25th, 2013
I didn't think that Helsinki was that much closer to the North Pole than home, but I was wrong. Sunset here is around 10:30pm, which means it's light out until 11:00pm. Usually I like the idea of wandering around a city at dusk because the light is so fantastic for photos, but can't seem to get motivated to go for a walk an hour before midnight.
Yesterday I made such grandiose plans for today.
Finland has hundreds of islands floating off its coast, so I was keen to take some kind of cruise that would let me see some of them. The cruise I found is a three-hour excursion up the coast to the town of Porvoo, and seemed to be exactly what I was wanting. Just look at all the cool islands and stuff along the way...
Map taken from Google Maps!
But then I woke up this morning and the last thing I wanted to do was climb on a boat for three hours, then slog around a tourist-trap city for two hours, then spend another three hours on a boat back to Helsinki. There just isn't enough islands in all of Finland to make that sound appealing. Especially after the trip to Estonia yesterday.
So I down-sized my plans and thought that a 90-minute harbor cruise would be a better option for me.
But as I was getting ready to walk to the South Harbor, I admitted to myself that even 90 minutes on a boat crawling with tourists was too much.
So I down-sized my plans once again and decided to eat lots of Finnish pastries today.
The pastries here are pretty amazing. I especially like the Karelian pies, which have a thin crust filled with some kind of sticky rice and an egg glaze on top... not overly sweet, but tasty. Today I went for something different, and ended up with the Finnish version of a cinnamon roll, and some kind of twisty sparkly donut that had anise (licorice) flavoring...
After wandering around the neighborhood shops for a while, I decided to go back to the hotel for a nap before lunch. Since I'll be headed home this weekend, I might as well start prepping myself for the time change.
But mostly I just felt like being lazy for once.
Lunch was pizza at a really good Italian joint just down the street from my hotel. As I was waiting for my order to cook, I looked up and saw the Chick-Fil-A cows drawn on a chalkboard next to a sketch of Sophia Loren for no reason at all...
Random stuff like this really makes my day.
But not quite as much as stopping in the corner market for a Coke and some chips only to find Cheese Balls with a penis-shaped mascot and MINIPUSSI...
Delicious! And just right. I'm so glad I didn't splurge and get the MAXIPUSSI.
After my late lunch, I wandered around the city some more, snapping a few pictures for duck soup. It was all good until I got back to my hotel and found out that my camera somehow got set to 32-BAZILLION ISO, so everything was all grainy...
Lesson learned. Check your ISO every time you take out your camera. I'm just thankful that this happened on shots that I already had... if it had happened for my entire Estonia trip I would be freaking out.
When it came time for dinner, I just wasn't hungry enough to justify paying $40 for something to eat. Instead I decided that I wanted an OREO McFlurry for dinner. Unfortunately, the local McDonalds didn't have OREO. I was given choices of "licorice" or "powder" or "Smarties candies." Licorice didn't sound appetizing as a McFlurry flavor. Powder had me concerned that it was a cocaine-based flavor, and I needed to get my sleep tonight. So I went with Smarties, which are kinda like M&M's back home... but not really, as the flavor is different (and the chocolate firmer, but smoother and less sugary). It was totally delicious, and my day had been made.
Until I was walking back to my hotel and got attacked by this thing...
As I was making my way past it, the tube deflated and smacked me on the head. I took a step back and was getting ready to beat the crap out of it, but decided I didn't want to spend my last night in Helsinki in jail.
Turns out advertising here is just as annoying as it is back home.
Except when it isn't, because most times I find Finnish and Estonian ads to be oddly subdued. They definitely want to keep your expectations in check...
American Ad: WE'VE GOT THE BEST FUCKING FOOD IN TOWN!
Finnish Ad: Probably best in town.
American Ad: THE BEST FUCKING ELK SOUP YOU'LL EVER EAT!
Estonian Ad: Decent bowl of elk soup.
I'll bet the ads for escort services here are a real hoot.
And now I suppose I should start packing my suitcase and getting ready for my flight back to DutchyLand tomorrow. Given how utterly lazy I've been all day today, that's going to take a major effort.
Maybe I should just do that in the morning?
Yeah. This can totally wait until morning.
The morning where I'll be all "ZOMG! WHY DIDN'T I PACK THIS SHIT UP LAST NIGHT? NOW I'M GOING TO MISS MY BUS TO THE AIRPORT! AAAAAAHHH!
I never learn.
Posted on Friday, July 26th, 2013
I woke up early and felt like I should be running around buying last-minute souvenirs on my last day, but then remembered that I stopped collecting souvenirs years ago. I don't have room for that crap, so photographs have become my souvenirs. Thanks to the digital age, they don't take up much room at all.
And so now I've visited Helsinki (and Tallinn, at last), which is nice... but, just like when I visited Oslo and Stockholm, I'm disappointed that I didn't have time to head north into the wilds of Fennoscandia, or spend any time exploring the coastline. This is a fascinating geological part of the world, and visiting a few cities is not like I've really seen any of it.
More to add to my bucket list, I suppose.
One thing I did do was head back to the Hard Rock Cafe Helsinki so I could take some pictures. When I was there for lunch a few days ago it was crowded and crazy, so this time I went just before they opened. As I had mentioned before, the cafe is a bit on the small side, so it only took two shots to capture the entire dining floor...
After the Hard Rock, it was time to check out of my hotel so I could catch the FinAir bus to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Which, oddly enough, had NO line at security despite being fairly busy. Security itself is kind of spacey and futuristic with glass gates that light up so you know when to enter... then hold you there until you've been cleared.
Other than some noisy assholes in the business lounge and some rode assholes crowding in line at the gate, my trip back to DutchyLand was uneventful.
Time for PATATJES MET with DutchBitch. Again...
I'm so going to miss this...
Posted on Saturday, July 27th, 2013
Back in the Netherlands for one last day of vacation time.
The "Pixar 25 Years of Animation Expo" has been traveling around the world since it first began in New York back in 2005. With each new stop, it gets updated with material from their latest works, so now it's actually more like the "Pixar 34 Years of Animation Expo." And it's currently showing in Amsterdam, so off we went...
The expo is pretty great, mostly focusing on the artwork that goes into a Pixar production before it ever gets to a computer... but they've got a few exhibits dedicated to showing how the computer art is created as well. But the highlight of the show has to be a giant beautifully crafted zoetrope featuring the Toy Story characters. It's Pixar animation of an entirely different kind, and well worth checking out.
From there it was time to cash in some of my Reward Certificates at the Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam. I had been dying for a Coke to wake me up all day, but the Coke machine was broken, so I started going into withdrawals right there in the restaurant while waiting for my lunch.
After a Coke-free meal we stopped at Ben & Jerry's for ice cream, which is always a treat because they've got an awesome mural painted on the walls...
We were going to see the Greatest Illusion Show on Earth because, honestly, how could you not... but being lazy at Casa de DutchBitch sounded more appealing, so Hans Klok will have to wait for another time...
And there it is... the end of my week's vacation. Tomorrow it's back to Schiphol Airport and my flight home.
Posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Yesterday was not a great day.
Today wasn't much better.
Partly because once things start to go wrong, they always seem to continue to go wrong... but mostly because I had an exhausting 3-1/2 hour drive awaiting me at the end of my work day. As I have written many times before, the journey to Spokane is long, boring, and filled with mostly nothing. Which is not to say that I have anything against Spokane itself... it's actually a pleasant and interesting city... it's just not so frickin' mind-blowing that I want to spend 3-1/2 hours driving here.
But... work... and all that.
About 2/3 of the way to Spokane is an exit for the city of Washtucna, Washington. I have never been there. But every time I drive by the exit sign, I find myself saying "Washtucna" out loud over and over again in an attempt to find the proper pronunciation, all the while wondering what the city might be like. Today was no different...
When all of a sudden...
RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE!
Apparently my muffler and/or exhaust pipe has now come loose from the frame of my car.
As I said, once things start to go wrong, they always seem to continue to go wrong, because I had already been having problems with my piece-of-shit automobile. And now I have new ones.
So... as you can see by this map, I was not exaggerating about the vast expanse of nothing going on in the Central Washington Columbia Basin...
There was nowhere I could pull off I-90 and travel to where I could be assured of there being an auto repair shop... certainly not one that would be open at 6:00pm. All I could really do was keep going and hope my car didn't fall apart before I got to Spokane. And all the while I was having to listen to...
RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE!
Luckily for me, my car held together.
Like the Millenium Falcon, but not really.
And so I did what any normal person would do after driving 3-1/2 hours with a car that's falling apart. PIZZA!!!
Car repairs can wait until tomorrow.
Posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
When last we left our intrepid hero, his car was making heinous rattling noises.
The only mechanic shop I know in Spokane is Dee's Auto. So in-between work and checking out of my hotel, I gave them a call. They said that muffler & exhaust were out of their expertise, and I should give Muffler Mart a try.
How refreshing to have a mechanic send business away rather than charge you to take a look at something they know they can't fix, then make you pay for a referral.
Muffler Mart ("Three Old Guys and One Kid Work Here!") very kindly squeezed my piece-of-crap car in for a look after only a short wait. They found that my exhaust system was in great shape, and the racket was just a screw that had gone missing (I can so relate to that). They replaced the screw and refused to let me pay them for their time.
How refreshing to have a mechanic not try and sell you something you don't need, but instead apply a band-aid to your car's ouchie at no charge.
Am I in the Twilight Zone? Not one, but two honest mechanics?
So... when my muffler actually does need to be replaced, I guess I'm driving 3-1/2 to Spokane. Muffler Mart is exactly the kind of business I want to support with my hard-earned dollars.
In other news, this happened...
Yes. iPhone will not work because it is too hot to use.
UNLESS YOU NEED TO MAKE AN EMERGENCY CALL! THEN IT WILL WORK PERFECTLY FINE!
I guess 9-1-1 calls have magical heat-defying properties.
Lesson learned. Don't leave your iPhone in a hot car even for just a little while.
Posted on Thursday, August 1st, 2013
Instead of returning across the Columbia Basin yesterday afternoon as planned, I checked back into my hotel for another day (and night) of work in Spokane.
Not a big deal... I packed extra clothes just in case... but I really, really need to get home. The amount of crap piling up that has to get done is reaching epic proportions, and I only have until next Thursday to get it all done. With every minute I stay in the Lilac City, it feels like I'm drowning in a lake that's 180 miles away from me.
My old room was occupied, so they gave me the room next door... where this was waiting for me...
I'm assuming it's for the United States of America... not the United States of Indonesia or something.
And that's lodging in Redneckistan for you! A Bible in every nightstand, The Constitution on every desk! All that was missing was an application form to join the Tea Party and a complimentary IMPEACH OBAMA! bumper sticker. I dunno... maybe they give you those at the front desk check-out. I went with Express Check-Out so I guess I missed it.
After a long, long night followed by an even longer day at work, I finally got to head home at 6:00pm this evening.
Do not have dinner. Do not collect $200. Go directly to home.
Other than an asshole in a gasoline truck pulling in front of me so I had to slam on the brakes and run off the road, it was an uneventful trip.
But oh so tiring.
I can't feel my brain.
So I'm going to stop blogging and start trying to get some sleep.
Assuming I can stop thinking about all the stuff piled on my desk at the office.
= sigh =
Posted on Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Today I got sidetracked by somebody asking me a travel question. I didn't know the answer off the top of my head, and ended up having to look through old photos to find the answer. This was a serious mistake, because you can't ever just look at one photo... so I ended up wasting an hour of precious time going back through my dozens of travel albums.
It then occurred to me that if you were to erase all the travel I've done from my life, I would be one of the most boring people on earth.
Because, let's face it, outside of travel I don't really do much of anything. Except work.
I don't have any hobbies. I'm not involved in any sports. I don't belong to any clubs or groups. I don't get involved in community activities. I don't have kids.
I can't Limbo.
Hell, even this blog would have never happened if it weren't for my travels. Blogography was started solely as a way to keep my friends and family informed as to where I was traveling!
Oddly enough, I'm perfectly okay with this.
Because there's nothing I'd rather do with my life than fill in as many holes on my travel map as I can before I die...
Map courtesy of TripAdvisor and Bing
As you can see, I've got a lot of living yet to do.
Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
What could be better than a wedding in Vegas?
I'm not the one getting married!
Posted on Friday, August 9th, 2013
I am not much of a gambler.
Not because I am particularly unlucky, because I'm not (even though I don't much believe in luck)... but because the paranoia of losing my hard-earned money just kind of sucks all the fun out of it.
But it wouldn't be a trip to Vegas without a little gambling, so I slid $20 in a slot machine... lost everything but $4, then somehow ended up $136.43 ahead...
And there's my gambling money for the trip.
Yes, I'm a total player that way.
But at least I won't be whoring myself on The Strip to earn cash because I lost all my money playing roulette.
No... if I'm going to whore myself on The Strip, it's going to be because I enjoy it, dammit!
Posted on Saturday, August 10th, 2013
I've finally attended a Vegas wedding officiated by Elvis.
I have to admit, I was really surprised at how well done it was. Just the right amounts of tacky and sweet... and about as memorable of a wedding as you could hope for. It didn't hurt that there was a very memorable couple getting hitched...
Congratulations Cher & Nis... thanks so much for letting me be a part of your special day!
Posted on Friday, August 23rd, 2013
And so the wildfire-fueled smoke continues.
My throat is raw from coughing and my eyes are in a perpetual state of being glazed over. People probably think I've been taking advantage of Washington State's legalization of marijuana when they see me, but it's nothing nearly as fun as that.
Oh well. One of the perils of living in the tinderbox known as Central Washington.
And, speaking of where I live, Kapgar posted these questions...
And now, back to my regularly-scheduled work-night.
Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
On a trip to New York years ago, I decided to to buy a gift for some people back home as a "thank you" for giving me some hotel discount coupons. Back then I had no money for travel, and their generosity was the difference between staying in a nice hotel... or sleeping in a bus station or some grubby hostel.
Finding the perfect gift was difficult because I didn't know them very well. About all I knew was that they hosted fancy dinner parties, liked great wine, and took pity on their daughter's friend who was foolishly flying to New York with little planning and even less budget.
After a couple days of wandering through souvenir shops in-between visits to the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, The World Trade Center, and all the other obvious tourist spots, I was ready to give up. Showing up at their door with an "I ♥ NY" T-shirt or a crappy picture frame would have been worse than showing up with nothing. I figured I would just buy a nice Hallmark thank-you card and that would be the end of it.
My fancy hotel had a concierge. I had never used one before... but of course I knew what they were for. I watch movies and stuff.
So I sauntered up to the concierge desk and said something like "Hello! I need to buy a hostess gift for a friend. Do you know where I might find something appropriate for a couple who enjoy dinner parties and wine?" The concierge looked at me like I was a grade-A moron and said "Do you have something in mind... like... oh, I don't know... a nice bottle of wine? Turns out that I actually was a grade-A moron, because getting them a bottle of wine had never occurred to me. "Well of course, wine!" I snapped, "I am asking you where I can get it!" Hey, I can be an asshole too, asshole.
And so I was directed to some ridiculously pretentious wine shop.
Where I was told that a cheese and crackers gift basket would be the better gift to travel home with. Which was a nice way of saying "yeah, you can't afford a 'great' bottle of wine in this joint, fella." They had a basket that had been opened because they took something out of it, and the nice lady assisting me offered to re-work it at a discount so nobody would ever know a part was missing. Fifty precious dollars later, I had a nice-looking gift of very expensive cheese with a box of watercress crackers. In a basket. With straw. I took care to keep it cool, and it survived my trip home the following day. I ran it to my friend's parents the next morning. Her mother was thrilled and thanked me profusely for the unexpected cheese windfall. Mission accomplished.
The following week I asked my friend if her parents had a chance to eat the cheese basket I gave them. Turns out they had. I sat waiting for her to beguile me with a magical tale of how the cheese was served with a $500 bottle of wine at an exclusive party attended by movie stars and dignitaries. Instead she told me that they had shredded the stuff and sprinkled it on a casserole or nachos or something.
I must say, I managed to keep my composure quite well.
But how ungrateful! That precious gift of $50 cheese was WASTED! I might as well have given them a box of Ritz crackers and a brick of cheddar! Didn't they know that it was a special cheese that was meant to be savored with a fine wine? I might as well have take a $50 bill and burned it! Of all the nerve!
The Buddhist philosophies I had been studying started to surface.
I gave them the gift freely. They accepted it with gratitude after doing me a favor. They liked it. They were happy I had been so thoughtful. Who am I to tell them how to enjoy their cheese? So they shredded it on a casserole... good for them! I'll bet it was the best damn casserole they had ever eaten! How nice that I got to be a part of such an amazing dining experience!
Discovering that you don't have to be angry all the time... and realizing that what other people choose to do with their cheese is their business... it's a liberating thing.
Which brings me to yesterday when I was told that "tattoos are disrespectful to the bodies that God has given us" and I was so close to saying "Then don't get a fucking tattoo, bitch!" but actually ended up saying "Why do you care what I do with my cheese?" which was confusing to everybody involved, so I shrugged my shoulders and walked away.
But not before I noticed she had pierced ears and color highlights in her hair.
Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
I left home at 3:30am. Flew out of my local airport at 6:00am. Was scheduled to fly out of Seattle at 9:55am, but ended up delayed, so I arrived into San Francisco three hours late. This blew both a meeting and an important errand I had lined up, so my day was not off to a great start.
But after meeting up with Jester & friends for drinks and a fantastic falafel dinner, things started looking up.
It was tattoo time!
I promised myself that with each new trip to the Bay Area, I'd visit my tattoo artist, the ridiculously talented Michael DeMatty of Black & Blue Tattoo, to add a piece to the forearm band that I started back in February.
Part Two (of Six) completed!
This is the all-important centerpiece that all the other pieces will revolve around...
The circle-design is my personal interpretation of the Buddhist symbol known as the "Dharmacakra."
Or "Dharma Wheel."
There's a great deal of meaning behind it, but the most relevant part to me is the eight spokes of the wheel that represent the "Noble Eightfold Path"... one of the primary concepts from the teachings of the Buddha. They are eight ideals that Buddhists follow so as to eliminate suffering. I don't consider myself to be an actual Buddhist, but applying the Noble Eightfold Path to my life where I can has led me to becoming a much happier, healthy person. If you're interested in finding out what the Noble Eightfold Path is all about, Wikipedia has a decent introduction.
And so now I have a constant reminder of the road I strive to walk in life.
And it's cool because it kinda looks like the cockpit window of a TIE Fighter from Star Wars...
Beautiful TIE Fighter model by JR Bassett!
Different schools of Buddhism have different thoughts on tattoos. Some Buddhists believe that tattoos are a form of attachment that should be avoided. I personally feel that the impermanence of our bodies makes tattoos no more an attachment than fingernails, eyeballs, or the arm my tattoo has been written upon. It's entirely possible that my arm could be lost in a tragic boating accident tomorrow, which means it's kind of silly to think that having a tattoo on it will somehow make it impervious to change or detatchment. But to each their own, I suppose.
I'm just thrilled to have yet another bit of ink on me.
Now I just need to figure out when I can squeeze another trip to San Francisco into my travel schedule.
Posted on Saturday, August 31st, 2013
Since the electrical outlet on my hotel desk doesn't work, I used the outlet on the far side of my bed. So of course I forgot my phone hanging there this morning again. Again.
Which was especially unfortunate considering I loaded in a Japanese dictionary last night for my 7:00am Saturday breakfast meeting. It's been nearly 20 years since I've spoken the language, so I really needed all the help I could get. But, lucky for me, one of the people I was meeting with spoke excellent English until our translator showed up.
After a much-deserved nap, I had four hours until I had to check in at work again.
A part of me just wanted to hang out in my hotel room since I have been to San Francisco many, many times. But I love me a veggie burger at Johnny Rockets and love me some donuts from Trish's Mini Donuts, so off I went to Fisherman's Wharf, where the sea lions were out making a racket as usual...
Turns out that Fisherman's Wharf on a Labor Day holiday weekend was not the smartest of ideas because the crowds everywhere were massive.
After lunch I was just going to go back to the hotel. But then I thought of Lombard Street for some reason. When I was a kid, I remember our family driving down it once. But everything after that is a blur. I have a photo scanned of it shot on Advantix film, which means I must have been there in the late 90's, but I remember none of it.
And so off I went to Russian Hill to see "The Crookedest Street in the World"...
To my knowledge, I've never actually walked up the hill, so I decided to give it a try. I was glad I did, because the view from the top is pretty great...
And that was that.
Drinks for work followed by a nap followed by dinner followed by blogging.
Next up... sweet surrender to sleep.
Posted on Thursday, September 12th, 2013
Now that our local airport has only three flights per day, the odds of connecting with flights out of Seattle are pitifully small. The first flight at 6am is my best shot, but it arrives too early to connect with West Coast flights... and too late to connect with East Coast flights. Either way, it means anywhere from 3 to 5 hours of waiting, which is longer than it takes to drive to Seattle.
Even worse is the return trip. There's a 4:25pm, which is too too late for West Coast returns, and too early for East Coast returns (and since the next/last flight isn't until 11:10pm, there you are with 3 to 5 hours of waiting... again). Since the absolute last thing I want to do when I'm trying to get home is spend hours and hours waiting for my connection at SeaTac, this is not really an option (though I did just that on my recent return from San Francisco).
And so I've been driving over the mountains instead of flying. When there's no snow on the ground, it's just so much easier.
Except when there's rock blasting.
Which was happening today at 6:30pm.
Which meant leaving after work at 5:00pm would have meant sitting on Snoqualmie Pass for two hours while construction crews chip away at a mountain. And so I left work early.
The plan was to use this extra time to catch up on some sleep, because heaven only knows I need some of that.
Except the hotel room above me was blasting the television at full volume and stomping around so hard that the ceiling was shaking... and the hotel room next to mine was having some kind of noisy party until 1:00am.
Which is perfect, considering it's now 1:30am and I'm wide awake... with an alarm set for 3:30am.
If I'm lucky, this means I'll get two hours of sleep.
But I think we all know I'm never that lucky.
Posted on Friday, September 13th, 2013
20min shuttle ride + 2hr waiting + 4hr 15min flight + 1hr 25min layover + 2hr 15min flight + 3hr time change = 13hr 15min of travel on no sleep.
I can't quite remember where, but somewhere along the way I lost my sanity. I'd be upset about that, but I'm just too tired to care anymore.
Remember when I used to love Earl of Sandwich?
When I would travel hundreds of miles out of my way to eat there?
When I would wax poetic over every sandwich consumed in my blog?
When I would visit the same Earl restaurant and get the same sandwich every day I was even remotely near one of their locations? Sometimes twice a day?
I used to describe their food as "orgasmic" and "my favorite sandwich on earth" and "so good it's worth risking your life to have one." Their "Earl Veggie" was a dream come true... packed with lettuce, tomato, onion, olives, feta cheese, and their amazing Mediterranean dressing (I skipped the roasted red peppers and cucumbers)... all served on bread so delicious that you couldn't help but make yummy noises while you ate it.
But then, for reasons I can't even guess, they discontinued the "Earl Veggie" and replaced it with a boring-ass Caprese sandwich.
For a while there, I was able to get back the "Earl Veggie" I loved by paying extra money to get an alteration with added ingredients... "I'll take a Caprese Sandwich. No mozzarella. No basil. No Vinaigrette. Add Feta Cheese, Lettuce, Red Onion, Kalamata Olives, & Mediterranean Dressing." — Sure it sucked that I was paying more for the same sandwich, but it was so delicious I didn't care... no harm, no foul.
But then they stopped making the Mediterranean Dressing.
And now they don't even have onions any more (unless they're grilled). Yes, you read that right, a sandwich shop with no onions.
So tonight when I went over the International Plaza's Bay Street, I made a pitiful attempt to get my sandwich back by ordering a Caprese with NOTHING on it... add lettuce, tomato, olives, feta cheese, and Italian Dressing. This grotesque mockery of a sandwich is what I ended up with...
Despite the staff being eager to please, it was pretty disgusting and barely edible. They forgot the feta, which is the entire point of the sandwich. And instead of a drizzle of Italian Dressing for flavor, they literally flooded my sandwich with the stuff. It soaked into the bread and was dripping out every time I tried to take a bite. There was barely any veggies inside either, with one pathetic leaf of lettuce, a few scattered olives, and three tomato slices.
How the fuck do you go from having the greatest sandwich I've ever tasted in my life to having a barely edible monstrosity that I have to force myself to choke down? The best thing about my meal was the baked potato that came with my sandwich, and it wasn't even hot.
And it's not just the discontinuation of the greatest sandwich I had ever eaten that's the problem, just look how Earl of Sandwich sandwiches have degraded over time...
The bread, once buttery and wonderfully flaky, has become more like a typical crusty sandwich roll. It still tastes great, but it's not the magical experience it once was. And just look at the size! I was more than a little shocked when I opened my sandwich to see how much it has shrunk. I know the photos are all different scales... but compare the logo dots on the wrapper. I'm betting the current sandwich is a good inch shorter and half-inch slimmer than it used to be. Which makes it all the more disappointing that the amount of sandwich toppings has been so grossly reduced. The veggies used to be piled high. Now? There's barely anything to be found on the sandwich I got.
All I can say is that I hope the meat sandwiches are faring much better for the carnivores out there, because the vegetarian options fucking suck. And if you had told me two years ago that I would ever be saying something like that about Earl of Sandwich, I would have slapped you across the face and screamed "LIAR!!!"
I just don't get it. Really I don't.
But oh well. One less thing I have to worry about when I travel.
Posted on Friday, September 20th, 2013
Well, my trip over the mountains was brutal.
It all started when I was leaving town and had to drive across some broken glass to get out of an alley. Not knowing whether or not any of my tires would develop a leak, I made a mental note to visit the AutoZone that's ten minutes from my hotel. That way I could pick up a couple cans of Fix-A-Flat just in case my morning dash to the airport starts with a flat.
But those plans went right out the window when I ran into the never-ending-road construction on I-90, and traffic ground to a halt. Why in the hell the idiots in charge are closing down lanes of a major highway on a Friday night as people are trying to get to the coast for their weekend is beyond me. It must be beyond them too, because I never saw any work crews. Apparently they choked down traffic to a crawl for nothing? Whatever the case, it took me an hour to drive 8 miles, which pretty much screwed any chance of getting to AutoZone before 9:00pm.
And then flood began.
The top of Snoqualmie Pass was pouring rain, slowing the traffic that had just gotten going again.
Eventually I decided to just bail off the highway in Issaquah to see if Target had any Fix-A-Flat (they did) and wait out the rain (it never stopped). I finally pulled into my hotel around 10:00pm in the pouring rain after five hours on the road, which is twice as long as it usually takes.
Now I have a headache and am beyond exhausted.
This concert I'm going to had better be amazing.
Posted on Saturday, September 21st, 2013
Got up really early.
Drove to airpot parking.
Took a shuttle to the airport.
Breezed through security.
Had a Qdoba vegetarian burrito.
Flew to Atlanta.
Flew to Philadelphia.
Caught a shuttle to my hotel.
And that was pretty much my entire day.
Posted on Monday, September 23rd, 2013
Maybe if I had billions of dollars I would feel differently about things, but right now I am having an even harder time than usual trying to comprehend the astounding level of assholery it takes to be able to say the words "You may serve me now."
But if you find that you've slept through meal service... and you really want something to eat... and you're a total asshole... then dinging your call-button and telling the flight attendant "You may serve me now" is apparently a perfectly acceptable thing to do when seated in the First Class cabin of a plane.
Had I been the flight attendant in question, there is no telling how I would have responded to something like that. My guess is that I would have gone the sarcastic route and said something like "And what a thrill that is for me! You have no idea!" But, much to the credit of our flight attendant, she just said "Did you want the chicken pasta or the chicken sandwich?" and then went about her business.
Whether or not she wiped her ass with the bun from that chicken sandwich before serving it I'll never know.
Posted on Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Am I excited for vacation? Oh yes.
Am I even remotely ready for vacation? Not even.
There is no possible way that I'm going to be able to get all my work done before I leave. Which means that, once again, I'll be on a working vacation. Typical.
Sure it sucks but, hey, it's still a vacation.
And now I should probably be thinking about what I'm going to be doing for vacation...
Posted on Saturday, October 5th, 2013
Seattle to Seoul... 11 hours.
Seoul to Saigon... 5.5 hours (including delay).
Add two hours waiting for my flight in Seattle, an hour layover in Seoul, and an hour-and-a-half waiting for the rest of our group to arrive for transportation to the hotel... that's a 20 hour day of travel right there.
Needless to say, I'm pretty beat.
Posted on Monday, October 7th, 2013
Not wanting to arrive the minute my tour was starting, I decided to book an extra day in advance so I could rest up before my vacation begins. Which, of course, proved impossible. Lounging around a hotel when I'm in a city I've never been to before is crazy talk. And so I set out into Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Sài Gòn (or "Saigon" as Westerners know it).
The only "must see" item on my wish-list of things to visit was the monument to Thích Quảng Đức, the monk who protested the persecution of Buddhists by first South Vietnamese President Diem by burning himself to death in 1963...
You probably know of him even though you may not recognize his name. The horrific event that took place almost exactly 50 years ago was immortalized in a famous photo that's known around the world...
Photo by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Malcolm Browne for Associated Press, colorized by MyGrapefruit
His final words...
"Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism."
Throughout the entire ordeal, Thích Quảng Đức did not move or cry out. His remains were cremated, but his heart survived as his body turned to ask and is now a holy relic.
The monument itself is spectacular... easily one of the best I have ever seen. Behind the statue of Thích Quảng Đức is a relief carving of his final moments, and it's beautifully rendered...
Across from the park is a memorial pagoda in his honor...
Mission accomplished. Anything else I did today would be gravy.
And so I decided to visit Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất), the former offices of the president of South Vietnam. The taking of this "palace" signified the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon...
It's pretty much just a big building filled with dozens of beautifully-appointed rooms, all just a little different from one another, but basically the same...
Then I was off to take a look at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, a basilica established by the French after they conquered the region and wanted a place of worship for their colonists. Remarkably, all the building materials used in construction were imported from France...
And... that was about as much sightseeing as I could endure today.
The thing about Vietnam is that it's hot here. When I left my hotel at 10:00am, it was a breezy 82 degrees with overcast skies. Then, as you can see, the sun came out. At which time the temperature soared to roughly 270 degrees. Eventually I had to cut short my wanderings and head back to the hotel at 2:00pm because I was melting and close to death.
The other thing about Vietnam is that it's not the least bit friendly for walking in the big cities. This is much like my trip to China where everybody is driving, and walkers just have to get out of their way. But at least Vietnam drivers slow down a little bit when people are in the crosswalks... unlike in China where all drivers are actively trying to kill pedestrians for sport, and will speed up if they see you crossing the road. Being in a country where pedestrians DON'T have the right of way is always a challenge, and going out for a pizza can get you run down in the street. Give me the good ol' USA where all I have to worry about is getting shot when I go out for pizza. USA! USA! USA!
But the cars and billions of motorcycles is only part of the problem. The bigger issue for pedestrians is that the sidewalks are almost always obstructed. People are selling, buying, cooking, eating, sleeping, and parking on them, and getting through can be tricky...
Sleeping kitty looks like Spanky the Cat...
Half the time, there's not even a path for you to get through it all, meaning you often have to venture out on the street to get anywhere, which is about as dangerous as it gets...
Oh? You want to get through? Well, fuck you! Fuck you, stupid pedestrian!
And these photos are relatively mild examples. I've tried to navigate through seas of scooters and motorcycles that seem to park wherever the hell they want. Oh... and when you do happen to find a sidewalk that's not obstructed? That's when you REALLY have to be careful, because that just means motorcycles will come driving down the sidewalk any minute now... guaranteed.
After wishing I had more dong yesterday, I stopped by an ATM on my way back to the hotel so I could pick some up. Don't look now, but I'm a millionaire, bitches! I've got more dong than you can handle...
Um, yeah... one million dong is about $45 in US dollars...
The last thing I saw before escaping the afternoon heat was a little girl walking down the sidewalk with a box on her head. Probably just playing around, but she could have been trying to escape the unrelenting sun. In any event, it's the cutest thing you'll see all day...
After taking my second shower of the day, I hung out in my hotel room until the sun went down and things cooled down enough that I could venture out without melting. In other words, I hid indoors until dinner-time. At which point I came back and took my third shower of the day, because it was still hot out.
And there you have it, my first full day in Vietnam.
Oh... and did I mention that I visited my 152nd Hard Rock for lunch today? Because I did...
There's a newer section upstairs that's decorated in the awful "hipster lounge" aesthetic of the modern properties, but the beautiful original section downstairs is a bit more traditional...
The bar is one of the best I've seen yet...
Absolutely worth a visit... even though they didn't have a veggie burger on the menu. Instead I had a pesto pasta, which was fantastic. Better than I've had in some fine Italian restaurants, believe it or not.
Xin chào! Mai mốt gặp lại! Good bye until tomorrow!
Posted on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
And so today my Adventure by Disney officially begins (yesterday was just an add-on that I booked so I'd have a little time to recoup from the flight).
The name of this tour is apparently "Jewels of Southeast Asia," though the official website page doesn't show a name at all. Unlike most of the "Adventures by Disney" which are designed as "family vacations" which include activities for kids, this is an "adults only" tour.
Usually, I'm not big on organized tours, but when you don't have time to plan things out, it's just easier all the way around. Disney is more expensive than other companies I found, but I decided to just bite the bullet and go for it because Disney is a name I trust to do things right.
The day started when everybody boarded a bus for the Mekong River Delta. The interior was a bit unexpected, with decorations plastered everywhere...
There were symbols of good luck lining the dashboard, which makes sense given the insane traffic you have to navigate through here in Saigon...
Half-way through the drive, we stopped at a rest area, which is unlike any rest area I've seen before...
It was a long drive, but you're never bored because entertainment is always just outside your window. A guy riding a motorcycle with a washing machine while texting? Got it. Entire families of five people on a motorcycle? Yep. Babies on motorcycles? Of course! Saigon has it all...
Eventually we made it to a small fishing village on the Mekong River where we boarded boats to explore life on the river...
After wandering around a while, we stopped off at a family-run candy factory. One of the candies they make is from popped rice. The popping itself is accomplished with large woks filled with hot sand. The sand and rice is mixed together and, almost instantly, the popping starts. The sand is then filtered away in a sieve and, violà, rice has been popped. It's then mixed with sugars and flavorings, pressed onto a cutting table, then sliced into bite-sized pieces and wrapped for selling...
The company also hand-makes rice paper for spring rolls and such. It's a hot, tiring, difficult job, but the woman working there made it look easy...
Another item on the menu... SNAKE WINE! Wine that it cured with dead snakes in it for some reason...
All throughout the factory there were dogs laying around. We were warned that dogs here are not petted and cuddled, so trying to make friends is a bad idea. The dog may think that you reaching out to pet him is an attack, so you'll get bit...
And speaking of dogs... prosperous homes sometimes have dog statues standing guard in front. I've seen it more often than you'd think, and most times it's these exact same statues over and over again...
After an incredible lunch of fresh local foods, we zoomed back along the river so we could drive back to Saigon. Dinner tonight was on the 51st floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, which is an easy building to spot because it has a helicopter pad sticking out the side of it! The view of the city was quite nice and the food pretty darn tasty...
Since this is a Disney tour, they hand out pins for you to collect. On the first day I got a welcome pin with Pluto...
Then today I got a Donald and Daisy Duck Mekong pin...
And tomorrow starts early, so off I go...
Posted on Friday, October 11th, 2013
And here we are for "Part Two" of my second day in Hội An.
As this was a "Day on Your Own" for our group, I had booked a morning photo tour months ago. Then yesterday our Disney guides tell everybody that they have organized a trip to the "Marble Mountains" and I was like "Oh crap! I'd like to see that!" and I was bummed that I would miss it.
But no worries... this is Disney after all... and so the guides arranged to have the hotel take four of us to Marble Mountains when we got back. Turns out they're a cluster of hills which are filled with caves and tunnels, and became a Buddhist retreat where many pagodas and grottoes can be found.
The main "mountain" has a path you can climb but, since we were short on time, we took a newly-installed elevator part-way up. From there you can see other "mountains" in the chain...
I probably only ended up seeing a small part of the stuff that seems to be packed into every nook and cranny, but what I did see was pretty spectacular...
My favorite part was this massive cave with sunlight streaming in. Just past the light there's a small Buddha statue waiting...
Everywhere you look, you see something that pretty much looks like I dropped out of an Indiana Jones film...
I only had an hour-and-a-half to walk around and, before I knew it, I was having to head back down the mountain. But not before searching for a bathroom and running across yet another Buddha, temple, and cave...
So... pretty much a must-see destination if there ever was one.
And when we got back to the resort? It was time for a barbecue and... the DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!
Hmmm... well, the only beach I saw today was littered with fish guts and garbage, but I finally have a pin with Mickey Mouse on it, so I'll take it!
Posted on Saturday, October 19th, 2013
After two weeks of jam-packed Disney magic in Southeast Asia, I knew that I would need a day to recover from it all. And so I booked an extra day at the end of my vacation, just so I could lie around the resort and relax for 24-hours before making the long trip back home.
At least that was the plan.
Turns out it is impossible to hang around Cambodia's Angkor Wat region and do nothing. So out I went in the crushing heat so I could see a few things that I had missed yesterday. Starting with an hour tuk-tuk ride out to Banteay Srei. It'a a temple famous for the "pinker" stone used to building it, along with lots of nifty wood-carvings...
Then a ride back South to the island temple of Neak Pean...
Followed by a stop at Preah Khan...
It was here I ran into something very cool... a Cambodian boy painting pictures to sell...
This was such a refreshing change from the throngs of kids selling cheap souvenir crap from China that nobody wants (JUST ONE DOLLAR!!!) that I couldn't pass it up. He was asking $15... I could have bargained down to $10 (or less)... so I paid him $20...
Then into the town of Siem Reap proper for a look at where the new Hard Rock Cafe will be when it opens next year...
Yeah. Won't be sad about having to come back here in a year or two to see it... that's for sure!
And, lastly, a stop at Peace Cafe so I could eat some amazing (and cheap!) vegetarian food...
And play with their cat, who was crawling all over me the minute I walked up to take his photo...
And that would be the end of my adventures through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I'd do a wrap-up of my vacation, but I have to head to the airport here in a few minutes to begin the long trip home.
Posted on Sunday, October 20th, 2013
Prepare yourself for the Truth About Love... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Homeward! My journey home began with a five-hour flight from Siem Reap to Incheon/Seoul at 11:30pm last night. After arriving in Seoul at 6:00am this morning, I was going to spend my TWELVE HOUR LAYOVER wandering around some of my favorite parts of the city. Instead I took my aching head and exhausted body to Incheon's handy Transit Hotel for some sleeping pills and a ten-hour nap. Then it was time for my nine-and-a-half-hour flight home on Korean Air's "SkyTeam" livery plane...
That's one long-ass day of travel. But it wasn't really horrible... lucky for me.
• P!NK! After getting to Seattle, then waiting a half-hour for a ride to my car, then driving a half-hour up into the city, then waiting two hours for a room, then taking a two-hour nap... it was time for P!nk at Seattle's Key Arena...
As you can see, her fans were ready!
• P!NK! As expected, P!nk's jaw-dropping show was a beautiful spectacle from the minute the curtain went up...
• P!NK! The truth about the Truth About Love is that P!nk is so mind-bogglingly talented that she doesn't really need a crazy stage show... it's just the icing on the cake...
Doesn't hurt that she's beautiful to look at as well.
• P!NK! What I don't get is how P!nk isn't dead yet from the insane circus-style tricks she packs into her concerts. Here she is, flying high above Key Arena WHILE SINGING...
If I were to speed around at such dizzying heights, I would be puking all over the audience.
• P!NK! And, all too soon, one of the best stage shows I've ever seen was over. But not before P!nk was wrapped in fabric, drenched in water, and sent spinning above the stage...
Yeah... not a show you want to pass up if P!nk heads to your neck of the woods.
Annnnnd... scene. Tomorrow I drive home and back to Real Life.
Posted on Monday, October 21st, 2013
When driving from Seattle back to the wilds of Redneckistan, I have two realistic options.
But when I checked the Washington State Department of Transportation app (which I'm guessing polls the WSDOT website), it said that Snoqualmie/Blewett was experience rolling slow-downs. Stevens had no problems listed, so I decided to go out of my way by 20 miles and head over Stevens so I wouldn't have to stop.
Of course I ended up having to be stopped by WSDOT THREE FUCKING TIMES, which means that the information provided by WSDOT is inaccurate and useless as usual. And the stupid thing was that I couldn't even tell why we were stopped, because no construction was going on. They just restricted traffic down to one lane for fun, I guess.
I simply do not understand the thinking that goes into WSDOT decision-making... if any. You would think that their priorities would be MAXIMIZING safety while MINIMIZING inconvenience. But it always seems as though they go out of their way to inconvenience drivers as much as possible. And it sucks.
Why do they bust up their resources and manpower into dozens of projects that never seem to be completed instead of focusing on a limited number of projects so that they have enough people and can actually finish in a reasonable amount of time? Why run three projects one right after another on the same damn mountain pass so drivers have to keep interrupting their travel? And why not focus on ONE FUCKING MOUNTAIN PASS AT A TIME so that there is always one pass open and clear of construction at any given moment? Emergency repairs I understand... but clearly there was no emergency today. Just more never-ending projects which cause more problems during their construction than they seem to solve when finished.
Look, I freely admit that I have no clue what's going on with all this crap. It could be that all this FUCKING BULLSHIT is necessary for some stupid reason. BUT EVEN IF THAT'S THE CASE... THEN AT LEAST KEEP YOUR DAMN WEBSITE UPDATED SO PEOPLE CAN MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS WHEN THEY TRAVEL! Anything less is just stupid, because bad information is worse than no information at all.
Posted on Thursday, October 24th, 2013
After three days of unsuccessfully trying to adjust back to "real life," I finally managed to get there today... thanks to a trip to the dentist's office. When it comes to snapping you back from those heady vacation days, I guess having metal tools shoved in your mouth is just the thing.
Ah well. It was good why it lasted.
And now my mind can focus on what's truly important... where am I going for my next vacation? This will largely depend on whether or not my car can hold on for another year. Right now, that doesn't seem likely, in which case my vacation savings will have to be reallocated to buying a new one. Which is the last thing I want to spend money on, but you do what you gotta do.
But thinking positively here, where would I want to go? The list is pretty huge, but I can narrow it down to a top-ten pretty easily...
Holy crap that's a huge-looking list... and it only includes places I've never been before! There are dozens of places I've been already that I would love to revisit and see more of (Thailand, China, and Iceland come immediately to mind).
If anybody has a million dollars they want to get rid of so I can start checking things off my list, just let me know how I can take that off your hands for you.
Posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013
While I was in Vietnam, my credit card went missing. I hesitate to say it was "stolen," because I just don't know, but I generally keep pretty close track of where my cards and wallet are... especially when traveling... and it seems strange to think that I would have just left it somewhere.
Nothing was charged to it before I realized it was gone, so no harm no foul, I guess. The only bummer is that I didn't earn any airline miles on my purchases but, since the entire trip was pre-paid back in April, I only ended up spending about $70 on a couple meals I ate outside the tour and what few souvenirs I bought, so I guess it's no big loss.
What's been surprising is the number of automated charges that have been set up on my credit card over the years.
Almost immediately after reporting the card missing and having the number canceled, the emails and calls started pouring in. My cable TV. My phone. My online backup. My Adobe Creative Suite subscription. My web hosting. My automated charity donations. My weekly Graze snack box. The list goes on and on and on. I must have at least twenty automated payments coming out of my card. If you had asked me how many I thought I had, I would have said "five or six" so this is kind of embarrassing.
What's worse is thinking that I really need to cut out a lot of these expenses, but then not finding any that I would be willing to give up.
I suppose that's exactly the kind of danger signal I need to illustrate why I should be cutting my expenses in the first place. My attachment to all this crap can't be healthy for body, soul, mind, or spirit.
It's convincing myself that I'd be better off that's the trick.
Posted on Saturday, October 26th, 2013
One week ago I was leaving Cambodia to return home.
It seems as though it was so much longer ago than that.
And yet today as I head back over to Seattle today for a weekend of fun followed by a week of work, it occurs to me how little time I've been spending at home... only a third of my time for the past three months. And next month isn't looking much better. This would be considered "normal" ten years ago. But I've made such huge strides in cutting down on my travel that it feels strange and oddly unsettling now.
Or maybe I'm just depressed because the weather... which started out so beautiful as I left town... became such a dreary bastion of depressing grey skies after I crossed the mountains...
Fortunately, the foliage looky-loos were at a minimum today. There's nothing worse than being trapped behind some asshole going twenty miles under the speed-limit because watching the leaves change is more important than paying attention to the road and going the speed limit. FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE... IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AT LEAVES, PULL THE HELL OVER! You're going to get somebody killed if you don't.
Not that this is anything new. Just one week ago somebody died trying to pass in a no-passing zone (and injuring three others in the process, including somebody I know).
Not that the guy should have been so reckless as to pass on a curve in a no-passing area... that's just stupid-insane, and needlessly endangering lives... but I understand the frustration of being forced to drive 40 MPH in a 60 MPH zone because somebody ahead of you doesn't give a shit if their selfishness is holding up the fifty cars behind them. That's no less reckless, and I wish more drivers would be ticketed and fined for going so dangerously under the posted limits. If you or your vehicle is incapable of going at least close to the speed limit, you have no business being on the road.
Alas, "going too slow" isn't taken seriously as a problem. It really should be.
Posted on Thursday, October 31st, 2013
I was too tired to drive home in the dark last night, so I decided to save myself the agony and head back home this morning. As an added bonus, I decided to wait until 8:45 so I would miss rush-hour traffic. It was a solid plan. Doomed to fail, of course... but it did look good on paper.
Within 10 minutes of hitting the road, I realized that my pricey windshield wipers were useless. Never mind that I bought them just last year... they're already incapable of cleaning off my windshield. And for the life of me, I just can't figure it out. I remember when a pair of crappy wipers would last forever. Now, with all our modern technology, a pair of ridiculously expensive blades can't even last a year? That's progress for you.
Siri located an AutoZone just ten minutes away, so I mentally prepared myself to drop $30 on new wiper blades while speeding through the driving rain.
And that's when the oil light came on.
I've suspected my car has been burning oil for a while now, as Jiffy Lube always tells me that my levels were way down whenever I drop by for service. Now it would seem that I'm not even able to make it between oil changes.
Guess AutoZone is getting another $8 of my hard-earned money for a quart of synthetic.
At some point, car ownership becomes akin to pushing your money into a big pile and lighting it on fire, doesn't it?
And because my morning has already gone to hell, it seemed appropriate to stop at McDonalds so I could get an Egg & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich. Well, technically, I pay for a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich, then have them hold the bacon... because McDonalds is nothing if not efficient about getting you to pay for something you won't eat... but, hey, at least they're willing to make it the way I want. That' ain't nuthin.
As if punishing myself with unnecessary auto costs and an unhealthy breakfast wasn't enough torture... I had to stop three times for road construction and follow assholes who felt going the speed limit and paying attention to the road are optional if the leaves are changing color. This resulted in my screaming "PULL OVER IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AT THE PRETTY LEAVES, DICKWAD!!!" many, many times.
But there was good news to be found today.
I had no trick-or-treaters. Zero.
So that huge bag of candy I bought last week? Mine. All mine!
Posted on Monday, November 11th, 2013
Happy Veterans' Day, everybody! And thanks to all who have served (or continue to serve).
For as long as I can remember, I've loved maps. And every once in a while I get a reminder of why that is.
This past weekend I had somebody write to me with a Hard Rock Cafe question that led me to the property that used to exist in Queenstown, New Zealand (which, sadly, closed before I could visit). Since the city was unfamiliar to me, I consulted the internet to find out where it was located in relation to the cities I did know. While rummaging around, I saw this...
Map taken from (where else) Google Maps.
Beautiful, isn't it?
But here's the strange thing... this is not some wacky geographic phenomena that's out in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away from civilization. This incredible formation is just minutes outside of Christchurch, the biggest city on New Zealand's South Island...
Map once again taken from Google Maps.
That's pretty nifty.
But not uncommon, really. There's beauty in geography everywhere you look.
Just 300 miles from where I live is this marvelous spectacle across the border in British Columbia...
Fractally goodness courtesy of, you guessed it, Google Maps.
But I don't even have to go that far. Directly to the West of my home you can find some pretty amazing stuff...
This was taken from... well, you know...
This is a small part of the vast Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area including the Western half of The Enchantments trail region (named after a group of lakes by the same name). In this photo you can spot...
I'm not much of an outdoorsman, so I've explored very little of it. What I have seen is pretty spectacular though. I wish I was as into photography then as I am now... I'd probably have some incredible shots of the region. Like this guy...
©2011 by Ethan Welty... check out his awesome Flickr feed!
But I guess that's what the internet is for.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to explore this lovely planet a while longer...
Posted on Saturday, November 16th, 2013
I fully admit that I'm a total hoarder when it comes to my travel. I save pretty much everything... receipts... ticket stubs... boarding passes... maps... brochures... everything. My thinking has always been that saving all this crap would make it easier to reconstruct my travels so I can remember where I was and what I did while I was there.
Then Blogography came along and all my travels were suddenly being documented.
At least for the past ten years that I've been blogging.
Yet I've still be saving everything out of habit. The problem is that all this stuff has been taking up space and I'm running out of room. And so I've been going through all my boxes of travel crap and throwing out most of it. There's no need to keep a receipt so I can remember the name of that pizza restaurant I like in Cologne, Germany... I just have to Google my blog, and there it is. I don't have to save the ticket stub from the Pet Shop Boys' first concert in Seattle to remember when that was... I just have to Google my blog, and there it is. Having your travels indexed on the internet is just so handy.
But what about my travels before I started blogging? I can't Google a box of crap, so what to do?
One of the ideas I'm toying with is creating blog entries for my earlier travels, then back-dating them. I'm not sure how I feel about the idea though. Is it cheating to have a blog with entries that pre-date blogging? Do I really care? I suppose I could start a second blog for my early travels, but I can't help but think that having everything in one place would be a better way to go.
I just don't know. Guess I'll think about it for a while and see where I land.
All I do know is that I'd love to throw out all this crap I have piled up which covers my travels from 1983 to 2002.
Posted on Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Every time another giant piece of ice breaks off Antarctica, I feel a pang of regret that I haven't yet visited the continent. This time the piece was "only" 252 square miles... which is slightly smaller than the massive 278 square mile chunk that calved off the last time I blogged about it back in July. That's over 500 square miles within a four-month period, which is pretty scary when you consider this is only going to accelerate from here on out.
As will my regret, I'm sure.
Which is a difficult concept for somebody who tries to live without regrets.
In other news...
Congratulations to Illinois!
You've joined my home state of Washington and just became the 16th State to legalize marriage equality!
Hmmm... didn't I just do this a few days ago? Why, yes. Yes I did!
34 to go.
Posted on Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Oh hell no!
As if having to deal with annoying assholes on planes wasn't already a big enough problem... the FCC is proposing that mobile phone calls be allowed in flight.
Needless to say, I think that this is a terrible fucking idea. If people need to be in contact with people on the ground, let them send an email or use an internet messaging service. Don't make me listen to somebody's stupid shit for hours on end every time I fly...
Apparently, airlines would have to install equipment to make this all possible.
Here's hoping they don't.
Otherwise I'm guessing the homicide rate on airline flights will get to be a real problem.
Posted on Friday, November 29th, 2013
My original plan yesterday was to drive over to Seattle for my flight to Atlanta today.
But crazy weather patterns across the country convinced me fly to Seattle instead. If a freak storm were to hit in The Cascades, I'd be screwed. By law, you have to carry chains for your car here in the winter... but my piece-of-shit Saturn can't actually wear the chains I carry in my trunk (something I didn't find out until after I bought it). And so I avoid mountain travel if I can.
Also... it was nice not to have to drive the 2-1/2 hours.
Alas, my plan seemed doom to failure. Because while it was blue skies and sun in Wenatchee...
Across the mountains it was a different story entirely. Low-laying fog had flooded everything...
The pilot warned us that we may face delays or possible cancellation, which is nothing new. From November through February, a lot of flights get cancelled around here.
But, luckily, not today. Even though it was like soup at SeaTac...
And speaking of reasons to celebrate... I was shocked to find that, back in Wenatchee, the Fancher Heights Bypass project had finally opened!
But let's back up a minute...
The Wenatchee Airport at Pangborn Field is not actually in Wenatchee. It's in the city of East Wenatchee, which is a different place altogether (it's even in a different county). Natives like to remind people of this by referring to their city as "Eastmont" instead of "East Wenatchee." All the schools are named with "Eastmont"... a lot of businesses are named with "Eastmont"... it's all Eastmont all the time. Even though the official name of the city is still, in fact, "East Wenatchee."
The problem with East Wenatchee is that the main thoroughfare (which is apparently called "Sunset Highway") that connects Highway 2 to the airport is heavily residential and has lots of side-streets. With all the traffic and stop-lights that run its length, getting through it can be quite a chore. Which is why they decided to build a bypass running just below the pricey Fancher Heights neighborhood like so...
Today I got to drive it for the first time.
Since the new route connects with Eastmont Avenue... they named the entire thing "Eastmont Avenue" which is not the least bit surprising because, well, you know... it's Eastmont, and all.
The road is great. Traffic was fairly quiet on Thanksgiving, so I only saved about 5-7 minutes getting to the airport, but I can see where you could easily pick up 10-20 minutes during peak traffic hours.
And when was the last time you heard good news concerning traffic? Probably never.
Posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2013
When planning my travel for this trip, I found that I had a nice gap of time between work in Atlanta and a wedding party in Portland. It was perfectly-sized for a quick trip to someplace new, and I was excited at the world of possibilities before me. But where to go? Usually, I just take a look at my Hard Rock Cafe map and see where there's a cafe I haven't visited...
Florence. I've already seen the major sights, so I thought that Florence was the perfect candidate. Just fly in for two days to see the Hard Rock and maybe visit the Accademia Gallery, then zip back to the USA. The problem being that all the tickets available for purchase with airline miles had horrible schedules that made a trip unrealistic. I could have gone with Ibiza, Nice, Budapest, Krakow, or Glasgow, but these are cities I want to explore for much longer than two days.
St. Maarten. Another place I've already been, so two days would be plenty. Except the mileage required to get a free ticket was insane for some reason.
Buenos Aires. Did you know that the visa entry fee to Argentina is ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? I ain't spending that kind of money for just two-days!
Punta Cana & Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic seemed ideal... a short flight and only a $10 fee to enter the country. Not only that, but they have two Hard Rocks on the island (three if you count the hotel in Punta Cana!). But, ultimately, the logistics of the trip were too time-consuming to work out, so I took a pass.
At this point, I was going to look into Costa Rica... or perhaps Brazil... or even Guatamala City... but these are all places I'd want to visit for more time than I had available. So what to do? A part of me just wanted to hang around Atlanta until my flight on Saturday. It's a great city and I've plenty of friends in town, so why not kick back and relax?
For some reason I glanced up and saw the souvenir street sign I had bought for Bourbon Street that was pinned to my wall.
A moment of clarity ensued.
Yes, I've been to New Orleans a dozen times. Yes, I was just there earlier this year in March. Yes, I've already seen the Hard Rock Cafe New Orleans (both of them). Yes, there are plenty of new and exciting places I could go.
But holy crap do I love The Big Easy.
It's a city I know well. It's a city I love to visit. It's a city where I can just relax for three days and do as much or as little as I want. It's the ultimate no-pressure mini-getaway for me and, at that moment, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. So I cashed in some airline miles, used a hotel voucher I had saved up, and that was that.
So away I go.
Posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Yesterday's flight was completely uneventful, which wasn't surprising given that it's only an hour long (which is a lot nicer than driving 6-1/2 hours, which I've done before).
At first I had thought that I would just stay in the hotel for dinner since I was exhausted from work and the drive back to Atlanta, but it's pretty tough to be in New Orleans and not want to spend time in the city. And so I hopped on a cable car to Attiki Bar & Grill, which makes a mean falafel wrap and has great hummus (with cajun spice!). It's also a nice place to sit and watch the French Quarter light up as the sun goes down...
This morning I decided to sleep in. One of the great things about being in New Orleans is that I've been here a dozen times before, so there's not compulsion to wake up at the crack of dawn and play tourist. The only compulsion I had was to make it to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Cafe Carmo. They have really good sandwiches (I get the Veggie King)... but the reason I love the place so much is for their Banquette Breads. It's a type of flatbread that's been smothered with Havarti cheese and scallions and it is absolutely amazing...
Then it was time to do one of my most favorite things in New Orleans... wander aimlessly through the French Quarter. There is always so much to see, and it's changing constantly, so it's an activity I never tire of. Along the way I saw an awesome ShopCat in the window of one of the Royal Street galleries...
After I walked past, I had to take out my camera because the painting behind the cat was pretty funny...
Then, of course, it was time for Cafe Du Monde. Absolutely no trip to Ner Orleans is complete unless you visit here at least once...
One of the things I keep meaning to do, but always forget to do... is visit the courtyard of the Napoleon House Bar & Cafe. This is one of the locations used in one of my all-time favorite movies, Undercover Blues, starring Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, and Stanley Tucci. I've been to most of the other filming locations on previous trips, but this one has eluded me for far too long...
This is where Jeff and Jane Blue went for oysters, only to have both Muerte and Novacek's men show up to spoil lunch. One of the funniest scenes in the movie... which is saying a lot, because there are a lot of funny scenes in the film. If you haven't seen it yet, I give Undercover Blues my highest recommendation...
Dinner was at a new pizza place called Dolce Vita that I was told was good. And indeed it was. The decor is very plain... almost depressing... but they make up for it with the food. Their pizza crust was wood-fired and perfect. I don't know that it will replace Slice as my favorite pizza in New Orleans, but it's nice to have options.
And there it goes... my first night in New Orleans.
Time. She flies too fast.
Posted on Thursday, December 5th, 2013
Them: "It's too bad you're not there on a weekend when there's stuff going on."
Me: "BWAH HA HA HA HAAAA!"
Yes, things are busier on the weekend... but New Orleans doesn't shut down during the week. Bourbon Street, in particular, is up and running and open for business...
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Since this is my last day in The Big Easy, I wanted to be sure I hit Surrey's Cafe & Juice Bar for my favorite breakfast in the city, Bananas Foster French Toast...
From their menu... "New Orleans-style French toast stuff ed with banana-cream cheese. Topped with a classic Bananas Foster sauce of rum, brown sugar and butter, dusted with powdered sugar." And, yes, it's just as delicious as it sounds.
My main goal today was to hunt down stuff for my Holiday Gift Exchange present. It's kind of tough to do given the $20 spending limit but, luckily, I known where to get cheap crap for cheap in New Orleans, so I managed just fine. All that was left to do was dance, but One-Eyed Jacks wasn't open yet...
After an afternoon spent working, my Bananas Foster French Toast was wearing off, so I made plans for dinner back at Carmo. The food is just too good there to be denied. I had the amazing Vegetarian Rico and an order of Banquette Bread...
From their menu... "A breadless fork sandwich made of a grilled plantain patty topped with melted cheese, spicy smoked 'n' pulled pork, avocado, salsa fresca and our tangy sweet spicy "Rico" sauce. Served with organic greens drizzled with mango vinaigrette. Or have it Veggie: dairy cheese & vegan meat; or Vegan: vegan cheese & vegan meat." And, yes, it's just as delicious as it sounds. More delicious, even.
I head to the airport at 9:30 tomorrow, and was worried that I wouldn't wake up early enough to have one last plate of beignets at Cafe Du Monde... so that was my next stop for some dessert...
Yeah, they never get old.
I don't know that I've noticed this painting hanging in the cafe before, but it's pretty awesome...
"It seemed like an ordinary day until... I had coffee with Jesus at the Cafe Du Monde."
After dessert, I wandered through the French Quarter for a couple hours... had a couple Hurricanes... managed to stay out of trouble... and remembered all over again just why I love this city so much.
I haven't left yet, but I already want to come back.
Posted on Friday, December 6th, 2013
If only I could have stayed a few more days...
Alas, I could not, and so I had to bid farewell to The Big Easy this morning. Which ended up being a piece of cake, despite a lot of fog that crept into New Orleans overnight. Fortunately (unfortunately?) for me the airport was clear, and so the only thing troubling was watching the airport shuttle driver fume because a family of five with tons of luggage stiffed him with no tip.
The flight was a non-event.
Which seems an odd thing to say when you're talking about flying... up in the air... in a metal tube... but it was. I watched half of Despicable Me 2 and didn't even notice the time go by.
I was landing in Atlanta before I knew it.
Taking a MARTA train into town for dinner with some bloggy friends was pretty much my day.
Well... and this...
Now I want hot chocolate, because a torrential flood of rain soaked me while I was waiting for the hotel shuttle and nothing makes you feel better when you're cold and wet than hot chocolate. But I don't think hot chocolate is on the room service menu, so I guess this is goodnight.
Posted on Saturday, December 7th, 2013
The crap part of travel is the waiting.
Not that there aren't other crap parts as well, but it's the waiting that wears you down and makes you go crazy. Every moment spent waiting is time wasted because you're not going anywhere. And, odds are, you're doing your waiting in a place you really don't want to be with a bunch of people you'd just as soon not have to be with.
For me, today was mostly spent waiting.
Though I did manage to get a chunk of work done while I was waiting, so there's that.
And when my flight finally took off out of Atlanta, I was upgraded to First Class, so there's that.
And my plane didn't crash to the earth in a ball of flames, so there's that.
And I landed earlier than scheduled despite leaving the gate late, so there's that.
And my luggage wasn't lost... in fact, it was the third bag on the carrousel, so there's that.
And Portland's light rail from the airport has a stop just four blocks from my hotel, so there's that.
And I didn't get mugged or stabbed walking to my hotel in the dark, so there's that.
And my room is a nice corner spot that's very quiet, so there's that.
And the hotel has free internet, so there's that.
And... wait a second... what in the hell was I complaining about again?
Posted on Sunday, December 8th, 2013
Don't be alarmed by what transpires below... because a Very Special PORTLANDIA edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Outage. I awoke at 4:30am to get some work done, only to have the power go out a half-hour later. Turns out that twenty square blocks lost power in Downtown Portland, and though they said they would have it on at 10:30am, it never happened. Sure it made taking a shower and using the toilet a challenge because there was no light... but I made it out alive, so I guess it's all good.
• Brunch. I am amazed at how many tiny restaurants there are in this city... and they all seem incapable of serving bad food. Vahid and Sarah took me to a frickin' TEA HOUSE where I had some of the best falafel ever... perfectly seasoned and flawlessly cooked. Kudos to Tea Zone for a quality that many much bigger restaurants can't touch. I also had Black Monkey Tea, which is pretty darn fine tea, despite not tasting anything like a monkey. Thanks to Vahid and Sarah for taking time out of your busy Sunday to hang out... and buy me donuts!
• Outage. Back to the hotel and still no power. Luckily, they got the back-up generator running so there are hall-lights and elevators and hot water... but still no light in the rooms, which makes peeing in darkness a bit hazardous. So, turning to The Fifth Element as inspiration, I used a clever arrangement of mirrors to reflect light from the window into the bathroom so that I no longer have to pee in complete darkness. "AZIZ, LIGHT!"*
• Engage! The main reason I detoured through Portland on the way home was so I could stop in at the wedding celebration for The Spirit of Saint Lewis and Blair's Corner... two long-time friends from my earliest days of blogging. They've been together for sixteen years and, thanks to Washington's surprisingly progressive views on marriage equality, can now... at long last... make honest men out of each other!
Seriously two of my favorite people! Thanks so much for letting me share in your celebration!
• Tri-Met. For the first time in my life, I wrote a letter (via email) to a public transportation company. Portland's Tri-Met has long been one of my favorites but, on my bus-ride back downtown, the driver we had went above and beyond when he assisted a woman in a wheelchair who had some difficulties communicating. He was exceedingly patient, kind, and respectful while assisting her, and it's rare to see this kind of caring now-a-days. I thought Tri-Met should know how much it's appreciated. Not only by the people their employees help out... but the people they inspire to do likewise.
• Powell's. I went to the amazing Powell's City of Books so I could buy the latest Jasper Fforde novel... only to find out he didn't release a new novel in 2013! What cheek! So I ended up buying Leviathan Wakes, which is the first book in a sci-fi space opera known as "The Expanse" novels. This was originally meant to be a trilogy, but now I've learned that not only are Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (a.k.a. "James S. A. Corey") writing new "Expanse" books... they have also agreed to have it brought to television! I've heard good things about the series, so I want to get in on it before everything explodes...
So far, I'm kinda digging it. I just wish I had more time to read.
• Houses. Vahid mentioned that The Benson hotel puts out a gingerbread house display every year, so I stopped by to see it on my way back from Powell's...
Pretty impressive! They say that it took 500 hours of work to create.
• Restored. Power finally came back on while I was goofing around at Powell's. My room was toasty warm when I returned, and I was able to get all my various electronic devices fully charged for my trip home tomorrow. Thanks, PGE!
• Flaming. Years ago I got a little lost heading back to my hotel from Powell's, and ended up running across a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant called "Santeria." The music was thrashin' punk rock played at high volume, and I was served up a massively delicious, very spicy vegetarian burrito the size of your head. As if that weren't enough, their restroom is shared with the strip club next door, so going to the toilet comes with a side-order of naked ladies. Add it all up and, needless to say, I immediately fell in love with the place. After screaming with my server for a bit, I found out that the restaurant had been open less than a year. Which led me to think that a place this "unique" probably wouldn't last another six months. That was back in 2010. This being Portland where "unique" little places like this tend to thrive, it turns out I was (happily) dead-wrong, and Santeria is still around today. And since it is just a couple blocks from my hotel, I decided to pay a visit for dinner. This time I had the enchiladas, which were (as expected) very spicy-hot and delicious...
Just for fun, I tried a little bit of their "hot hot" sauce, which had delicious flavor... but makes you feel like your face is melting off. It also makes you worry that if you fart, the seat of your jeans is going to catch fire and blow out. But in a good way. So... if you're looking for excellent Mexican food with a little heat and a lot of noise while visiting Portland, this is the place.
And now, time for a long winter's nap in my warm hotel bed on a cold Portland night.
*Just to be clear, there is no young Egyptian boy named Aziz here watching me pee... I was just quoting a relevant passage from the film.**
**LEELOO DALLAS MULTI-PASS!
Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013
The journey home pretty much sucked.
But I made it back alive, so I suppose that's what I should be focusing on.
And then there was this...
Makes you feel good to be alive, doesn't it?
Posted on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
And so I had to drive the three-and-a-half hours to Spokane today.
In the summer when the days are long, I prefer to leave around 3:00pm so I can miss the worst of the rush-hour traffic and arrive in the "Lilac City" around dinner-time. In the winter, leaving at 3:00 would guarantee that you spend most of your trip driving in the dark, since the sun sets so early.
Which is why I started out at 1:30pm, so I'd have at least three hours of sunset lighting before... PIZZA TIME!
And, since my brutal insomnia streak is still holding... I'm posting this at 1:00am while being both totally exhausted and wide-awake.
Maybe if I had eaten six slices of pizza instead of only five slices, I'd be in a food coma by now?
I'd give it a shot, but I think running out to my car in the 22° cold would just wake me up even more.
Posted on Thursday, December 12th, 2013
And lo, my work had been completed and it was time to drive across the Columbia Basin to return home.
I had thought that I would blog my way along Highway 2, but those plans were destroyed when I found myself leaving Spokane after 3:30. This gave me an hour of light, at most, which meant I got as far as the city of Reardan before the sun started plummeting towards the horizon...
About the only thing I know about the city of Reardan is that it is a huge speed-trap, and their police force is giddy about handing out speeding tickets in copious quantities (seriously... there's even a check-in for it on FourSquare!).
The first thing I saw as I was entering town? FIST-A-CUP COFFEE, where a cup of joe is just 50 cents!
After that I passed Dean's Drive-In. Where apparently somebody told Dean "Dude, your roof is leaking... you need to put on a new roof!" and Dean replied "Fuck that! I don't need no stinking roof! I have a better idea!
I'm trying to figure out how constructing a massive shelter over a building is cheaper than just fixing the building... but I'm coming up empty.
Then I saw a rather... interesting(?)... double-billboard display...
I mean, yes, I know what the display is trying to say... but this is kind of a weird approach.
I think I saw a bar and an abandoned restaurant of some kind as I was leaving town, but that's pretty much it.
Then I was off towards Davenport, across the Basin, into darkness, and homeward-bound.
Which is tough when you're exhausted. I really should have grabbed a 50¢ cup of joe from FIST-A-CUP when I had the chance.
Posted on Monday, December 16th, 2013
As somebody who travels quite a bit... and encourages others to travel too... I'm always happy to help out when people want tips or information on visiting the places I've been. Generally, this involves pointing them to an entry here on Blogography but, since this isn't a travel blog and I tend to write about places in broad strokes, I'm happy to pass along more details if I have them.
Usually, people who contact me are very nice and grateful for the information.
But not always.
Sometimes there are problems because people don't understand the kind of traveler I am. I try not to waste a lot of money on lodging and dining, so luxury travelers get upset when I liked a hotel or restaurant that wasn't up to their lofty standards. On the other hand, I am not a budget traveler either, so cost-conscious travelers get upset when I liked a hotel or restaurant that is more expensive than they wanted to pay. And the list goes on and on. I'm a vegetarian, so I've gotten complaints that the menu wasn't to their liking. I usually travel solo, so I've gotten complaints that a place wasn't romantic enough for couples. I don't give a crap about coffee, so I've even gotten complaints that a location I recommended didn't have a Starbucks. You name it, I've had people take my experiences and complain that I suck.
So even though I am just trying to be helpful by relating my experience based on my interests, there's always going to be those who get pissed-off because it didn't relate to their interests. And that's fine. It happens.
But today's comment just has me baffled.
Somebody visiting Helsinki read about my little day-trip adventure to Tallinn, Estonia and decided to do it as well.
Then proceeded to inform me that I made Tallinn "sound far more exciting than it actually is" and that "the weather is horrible and we froze to death the entire time since you said we wouldn't need a jacket."
First of all, I just wrote about what I did and posted photos of what I saw. I did NOT say "my every waking moment in Tallinn was like having a continuous orgasm while free-falling out of a plane"... so I'm not quite getting how I made the place "sound far more exciting than it actually is." My total assessment of the city was this: "All in all, a great way to spend the day. If you're in Helsinki for a while, it's a day-trip worth doing." And I totally stand by that statement. Especially since I had just posted words and photos explaining why I thought it was worth doing. If you don't feel that what I posted is "exciting" enough for you, why in the hell did you go in the first place?
Second of all, I visited Estonia in JUNE. You visited in DECEMBER... that's like the difference between summer and winter. In fact, that's exactly the difference between summer and winter. As if that wasn't enough, I didn't recommend that people "not take a jacket." On the contrary, I specifically said "I sure wish I would have brought a jacket," because the weather ended up being much colder than forecast. IN JUNE!!!
YOU VISITED IN DECEMBER!!!
It's enough to make me want to write back and say "Look, at some point, you kind of have to start thinking for yourselves, people."
But, I try to be a nicer guy than that, and merely said "Sorry you didn't enjoy Tallinn as much as I did. Perhaps if the weather in winter was as nice as when I visited in summer you might have had a better time of it."
And yet... yeah... if you're reading this Person-Who-Thought-Tallinn-Was-Boring... at some point, you really do need to start thinking for yourself.
You can't please all of the people all of the time.
Or, more likely...
You can't please
all of the people at all of the time now-a-days.