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Yes!

Posted on Friday, October 4th, 2013

Dave!It seems like only yesterday I was complaining about how my vacation felt like it was going to take forever to get here.

Then, in no time at all, here we are...

Vacation Countdown ONE DAY LEFT!

I am so not ready to leave.

But I am oh so ready to go.

Tonight I drove over to Seattle... tomorrow I'm flying off to someplace new.

That it will take me seventeen hours to get there should fill me with dread. But I kind of like the idea of being seventeen hours away from Real Life.

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Stuck

Posted on Monday, January 6th, 2014

Dave!As somebody who has been stuck because of weather many times, this so-called "Polar Vortex" that has descended on North America has me incredibly grateful that I'm not traveling right now.

And yet... when I try to recall horrible experiences I've had while being stuck traveling, it's not as easy as I thought it would be. Yeah, spending hours on end at an airport waiting for weather to clear is awful, but when it comes to serious travel delays... e.g. days... it's not so bad. I don't know if that's because I tend to make the best out of a bad situation or what, but I have only good memories of the times I've been stranded for extended periods.

I was once stuck in Germany for three days. It was a very expensive problem to have because hotels were pricy and difficult to come by... but I drank a lot of beer and spent time goofing around the local Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Outdoor Market) so I didn't mind at all.

I've also been stuck in Japan for three days because my work ran late and I couldn't find a flight home... but that was almost like a mini-vacation, because it was over a weekend and I had friends in the city to keep me occupied.

Domestically, I've been stuck overnight many, many times, and that's not so great. But the time I was stuck in New York for four days? Glorious! Two unplanned days in Orlando? Great! A half-week stuck in Chicago? So awesome.

Even my worst delay ever of nine days ended up being a lot of fun...

      First I was stuck in Arkansas.

      Then I was stuck in Minneapolis (fun times at Mall of America!).

      Then I was stuck in Seattle (funner times spending an unplanned five-day Christmas vacation with my sister!).

By the time I finally got "un-stuck" I was a little depressed at the idea of having to go back home.

So maybe I shouldn't be quite so grateful that I'm not traveling after all. Maybe I'm missing out on an awesome adventure by being stuck at home instead of being stuck someplace interesting. Maybe serious weather delays are the best excuse ever for skipping out on life for just a little while.

Maybe.

Darn it.

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Toilet

Posted on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Dave!After a series of nonsensical delays, I landed in Seattle with less than ten minutes to make my connecting flight. Luckily I arrived at the same terminal as I was departing, and I made it on the plane just as they were closing the door. Looks like I would be getting to San Francisco on time after all... even if my bag wouldn't.

Except... my bag did make it to San Francisco, so many thanks to the Seattle Alaska Airlines ground crew for pulling that off. I wasn't particularly looking forward to having to wash my underwear and socks in the sink at my hotel.

Which is another story entirely.

The hotel I usually stay at in San Francisco didn't have availability for all three nights, so I told the person making the arrangements to please find me a decent hotel nearby, as I was familiar with the neighborhood. And so she did. It's an older hotel, but perfectly fine... clean, comfortable, and safe... which is all I care about.

As I was making my way through the lobby to the check-in desk, a woman barged through and screeched "I'VE GOTTA POOP! DO YOU HAVE A PUBLIC TOILET??!" So now that's my first impression of this hotel, and about the only thing I'll remember if anybody asks me about my stay here.

My day wasn't all horrible flight connections and poop though.

I managed to get the paperwork for my meetings tomorrow, which means I won't be desperately reviewing the material 10 minutes before I walk in the door like I usually do. Hopefully the fact that I'm actually prepared this time won't put me off my game.

When I got back to Poop Toilet Hotel, I got an email telling me that I'd be receiving a royalties check for $17.28 — which is not a lot of money, I know, but it's nice to see a small project I worked on in 1994 is still bringing in the cash!

I also got a notice informing me that I was over-billed by my email service for all of 2013, so I'll be getting 6 months free service posted to my account.

As if that wasn't enough, I also got invited to have Indian cuisine with a friend in town.

And now it's time to catch up on the latest episode of The Blacklist here in my ol' Poop Toilet Hotel room. What more could I ask for?

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Sanfrisco

Posted on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Dave!"I DON"T LIKE SANFRISCO ANY MORE!"
        —Kid waiting in line for a cable-car ride this morning.

Much like the side dish made famous as a "San Francisco Treat," I find Sanfrisco delightful. I fall in love with the city all over again every time I'm lucky enough to come here and never pass up on an opportunity to visit... even if it's just for a job.

After breezing though mountains of paperwork and a presentation, I was able to escape for an afternoon of bigtime fun with long-time blogging friend, Jester (right after randomly running into another bloggity friend, Dickie Maxx!).

First it was lunch at Boudin Sourdough (where we both got a slight case of food poisoning?). Then, after neither one of us could think of anything to do, I remembered an ad for "The Walt Disney Family Museum" I had seen yesterday, and away we went.

The museum is a pretty big deal, encompassing three buildings in The Presidio. I never quite figured out what a museum dedicated to the life of Walt Disney is doing in San Francisco, but they couldn't ask for a more beautiful location. The view from the back of the museum's glass panorama wall is great...

Walt Disney Family MuseumView

Having nothing to do with the mega-corporation that is The Walt Disney Company, the museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to Disney's life, and was founded by his eldest daughter, Diane (who sadly died last November).

Everything about the museum screams "quality," and the numerous displays all look as thought they could have been designed by Disney Imagineers (and who knows, maybe they were!). The lobby features some of the many awards won by Disney, including his Emmy and numerous Oscars...

Walt Disney Family Museum Lobby

Walt's early days are explored via audio recordings of Disney himself, which are accompanied by fantastic Monty Python-esque animation screens. Throughout the displays are many photos, letters, and other personal effects which are (as with everything in the museum) beautifully exhibited...

Walt Disney Family Museum Early Days

Walt Disney Family Museum Animator

Eventually... inevitably... you get to Mickey Mouse, whose creation is given an entire room. Here begins Disney's many, many innovations when it came to animation, including the way audio was recorded via visual cues. There were no multi-track recorders during those early days, so coming up with the sound for a cartoon was an elaborate affair involving several people working together at the same time. An interactive display shows how it was done...

Walt Disney Family Museum Sound Station

And, of course there is a nice chunk of Mickey memorabilia...

Walt Disney Family Museum Mickey Poster

Walt Disney Family Museum Mickey Clocks

The animation process is explored thoroughly, and displays include many props... including an original Disney animator's desk and the revolutionary multi-plane camera, which added depth and realistic camera panning...

Walt Disney Family Museum Desk

Walt Disney Family Museum Multi-Plane Camera

Animation cels, color tests, production drawings... it's all here...

Walt Disney Family Museum Drawing

The section on Disney's war-time contributions is interesting. In addition to anti-Nazi propaganda, Disney artists did all kinds of things to support Allied war efforts... including illustrating pin-ups for the troops, which I did not know. Why children were included in the drawings I can't fathom, but there you have it...

Walt Disney Family Museum Hitler

Walt Disney Family Museum Pin-Ups

It's not all fun, games, and gratuitous cartoon nudity though... the museum also takes a look at the not-so-nice stuff that Walt went through. Including a cartoonist strike (which Disney attributed to a Communist plot... but wasn't everything back then?)...

Walt Disney Family Museum Strike

And then things get really interesting because... DISNEYLAND!!! Here the museum pulls out all the stops, and leads you through all the planning that went into making the park...

Walt Disney Family Museum DISNEYLAND!
Click photo to embiggen in a new window.

Walt Disney Family Museum Disneyland Map Plan

My favorite part of the museum is a relief map of Disneyland... not as it exists, but as Walt Disney had dreamed it would one day be. So much of it is the same as what we ended up with, but very different at the same time. Space Mountain, for example, had the roller coaster on the outside of the structure instead of being a dark ride inside of it. Thunder Mountain Railroad was not the high-speed thrill-ride it turned out to be, but a scenic ride through the American Southwest (and included a ride under a waterfall). It's all just so fascinating. If you're a Disney parks whore like me, you could stare at it for hours...

Walt Disney Family Museum Disneyland

Walt Disney Family Museum Disneyland Space Mountain

The museum is a cradle-to-grave experience, and includes a nice video montage retrospective of his life as you exit...

Walt Disney Family Museum Death

Walt Disney Family Museum Legacy

And, no, you don't get to see Walt Disney's cryogenically-preserved body at the end. You do get to see a very nice tribute to one of Walt Disney's favorite artists, the incomparable Mary Blair, if you go down to the restroom level though...

Walt Disney Family Museum Mary Blair Tribute

Walt Disney Family Museum Mary Blair It's A Small World Artwork

   
All in all... the museum is worth your valuable time to visit. I had a great time, could have spent the entire day here, and thought it was worth the $20 price of admission because there's just so much... stuff... to see.

Since taxis didn't seem to exist in The Presidio, we decided to try an Uber driver. For those not in the know, "Uber" is an iPhone app that allows you to call a car to your location and have them drive you to your destination. It's pretty cool, because you are given a map with a real-time GPS location of your driver, the driver's name, a car model, license plate number, and an estimated time of arrival. For the budget-conscious, there's an Uber-X service, where you can hire regular people driving their own vehicles to give you a ride. In San Francisco, the price is up to 35% cheaper than hiring a taxi. Needless to say, this is not without controversy. Taxis are regulated... have experienced, knowledgeable drivers... and operate under safety standards dictated by the city. With Uber, you're just getting some dude and their car.

The first diver I tapped was nearby and had an estimated arrival time of four minutes. But, even after calling me, he couldn't figure out how to enter The Presidio and ended up driving all around it trying to find a way to get to us. It was pretty comical watching his GPS location on the map, because he'd drive one way... get frustrated... turn around... drive the other way... get frustrated... turn around... AND EVENTUALLY CANCEL OUR PICK-UP BECAUSE HE COULDN'T FIGURE OUT HOW TO FIND AN ENTRANCE! I was relieved to get the cancelation, because the ETA went from 4 minutes... to 8 minutes... to 12 minutes... and I was going nuts (on the bright side, we got to watch the worst 20-minute parallel parking job EVER).

When I tapped a new driver, he was much more knowledgable on how to get to THIS MAJOR CITY LANDMARK, and picked us up in just five minutes. Nice guy too.

If you want to try Uber for yourself (and live in a city it services) you can get $20 applied to your first ride by using the promo code ba9az (just tap the little "person" icon in the upper-left corner of the FREE Uber App and go to the PROMOTIONS link).

   
Anyway... Jester and I goofed around the Mission District for a while, and eventually decided to find a tapas bar for dinner. Yelp suggested a tiny little place called Lolo, and off we went...

...to a fantastic meal. Seriously delicious food. The guacamole was flavorful and amazing... the chips super-crispy... the corn with crema was so tasty and sweet it was like candy... the quesadillas unique and mouthwatering... the flaming cauldron of melted cheese was creamy and dangerous*... the berries and mascarpone with honey crumbles was mind-blowing... everything was great, and the service excellent as well. Highest recommendation for Lolo!

Lolo Flaming Cheese Cauldron

*Dangerous because the cheese is kept melted under an open flame and, if you're not careful (like me), you can set your chips on fire!

   
Thus ends my first day of adventure in Sanfrisco, and how great was that? The kid complaining about the city this morning obviously didn't spend time with Jester, Mickey Mouse, and a flaming cauldron of cheese.

   

Who!

Posted on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Dave!Who?

BETTY WHO! And tonight Jester and I got to see her perform LIVE!

Which was the perfect end to my day, even though it's now 1:00am and I'm ready to slip into a coma. Maybe it's because I'm old, but I thought 9:30 was a really late start-time on a work-night to be holding a concert. It was made all the worse when you consider Betty Who didn't even take the stage until 11:45...

  • 9:30-10:00 • Great dance remixes that set the tone for Betty Who perfectly, culminating with a great Blondie Heart of Glass remix. I had Shazam running the entire time so I could track down what was being played.
  • 10:00-10:45 • Some of the shittiest, most mind-numbingly boring, repetitive, redundant club music I've ever had to listen to. Absolute torture. I was THIS CLOSE to walking out.
  • 10:45-11:20 Music by Holy Child. Didn't hate it. If not for the terrible sound system at the Rickshaw Stop, I might have actually enjoyed their set.
  • 11:20-11:45 A better selection of club music.
  • 11:45-12:40 Betty Who...

She totally lives up to the hype. Her music translates beautifully to a live set. Her performance was energetic, infectious fun and Betty gives 200% to her audience. She has a commitment on stage that equals any "big-name" act I've ever seen...

Betty Who in San Francisco!

And that's what made this show so fascinating for me.

I was in Seattle as the grunge scene started to ignite. I saw small bands before they were huge bands. It was a genuine thrill to see these musicians in their early days, watching them work through the kinks, find their footing, and then go on to become these massive success stories.

Betty Who has the same feeling about her.

The sound system at the venue was awful. Weird things were happening with the mix. Betty's earpiece looked to be malfunctioning. The lighting was off. Her backing tape was miscued half the time. But it just didn't matter. Betty Who has the talent and star power to rise above it all. And the audience loved her.

I am genuinely thrilled, again, to see an artist at the beginning of their career. This was the last date on Betty's first tour and her first show ever in San Francisco. You can't help but wonder where she'll be a year from now... five years from now. Opening for P!nk on an arena tour, I'd imagine. She's that good...

Betty Who in San Francisco!

Betty Who in San Francisco!

   
Anyway... I had a great time. Though I did have to climb up on a table when I thought I might inadvertently be having sex with the two guys grinding away in front of me. They apparently liked Betty Who's show even more than I did.

Betty promised another EP with new songs will drop this Spring.

Then she stepped into the TARDIS and faded off stage, becoming one with time and space.

   
If you haven't bought her EP yet, you're missing out. CLICK HERE TO BUY IT! BUY IT NOW!

   

Ink

Posted on Friday, January 24th, 2014

Dave!IT'S TATTOO DAY!

Originally I planned to fly back home today. But the layover for the connecting flight was awful, so I decided to leave tomorrow instead. This meant having to add an extra day to my hotel stay at "The Handlery Hotel" (instead of the Parc 55 Wyndham where I usually stay). When I called, they wanted $160 which was surprisingly high for a Friday night... especially for a 3-star property. Usually downtown San Francisco hotel rates plummet over the weekend when there are no business travelers to gouge on pricing.

A quick check at the 4-star Wyndham (which had availability this time), and I could get a much nicer room for $120.

Which meant The Handlery was basically saying "WE WILL PAY YOU $40 TO WALK TWO BLOCKS!"

And so I took them up on that generous (but very stupid) offer.

Anyway...

Time to get more ink work on my forearm band...

Four Noble Truths Tattoo

Beautiful line-work courtesy of Michael DeMatty at Black & Blue Tattoo...

For Noble Truths Tattoo

I started with the Roman numerals.

Then added a Dharmachakra, the spokes of which represent The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

Now I've surrounded the Dharmachakra with symbology representing The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. You start in the upper-right where there's the acknowledgement that suffering exists, move to the bottom-right which ties our suffering to our desires and craving, move to the bottom-left which is the need for cessation of suffering causation, then move to the upper-left which leads us back to The Noble Eightfold Path and a quest for enlightenment and freedom from suffering.

Which is just a long-winded way of saying that the tattoo is a reminder for me to stay on The Right Path.

And so... three parts down, three to go...

Forearm Band Tattoo Map

And now I suppose I should pack my suitcase so I don't have to do it at 4:00am tomorrow. Blargh.

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Leaving

Posted on Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Dave!I woke up at 3:30am this morning with a feeling of dread over having to leave San Francisco.

Last night Jester invited me to join him and a friend for dinner, and we ended up at a fantastic Turkish restaurant called Troya where I ate entirely too much hummus and falafel. An experience I can't even dream about having back home.

Good times. Hence my reluctance to leave.

About the only thing that kept me going was unwrapping my new tattoo, which turned out even better than I thought it would. I never realized how incomplete it looked before. Which only makes me want to run right back and have more added to it. Or start someplace new. I dunno. I've decided I want something inside my left upper-arm, so maybe that will be my next piece. And even though I wanted some asymmetry going on, now I'm thinking I might like something on my other inside forearm too. Still don't feel like I want to go past my arms... but who knows?

Meanwhile, back at 4:00am...

I don't remember the ride to the airport.

The only thing I recall about my flights was the yogurt parfait they served out of SFO.

I can't even remember how I got home.

I suppose the fact that the entire day's travel is one huge blur is a good thing? Funny it doesn't feel that way. Or maybe I'm just imagining it. Because all I'm feeling now is tired.

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Bugged

Posted on Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Dave!"I'm never leaving my house again."
          —Everybody who has ever seen a bed bug in their hotel ever.

Back when I was traveling poor and sleeping in hostels (on good days) or train stations (on not-so-good days), I fully expected that I'd eventually wake up to find a spider on my face... or cockroaches in my shoes... or rats in my luggage... or some other infestation nightmare. I took every precaution I could but, when you're lodging on the cheap, there are inevitabilities that you learn to accept.

But I was ridiculously lucky.

With the exception of a minor ant problem once, I don't have any such horror stories to tell.

And once I was making a bit more money and started staying in nice hotels, I never thought I would. Even once a resurgence of bed bugs was being reported. "Surely that won't apply to me and my four-star hotel!" I'd say to myself.

Except I was living in a dream world and it was only a matter of time before everything came crashing down.

So when, at long last, I finally awoke to find two bed bugs crawling on my comforter, I was anything but shocked. My astounding run of luck had come to an end and nothing more. It was a horrifying wake-up call, and I tried to be grateful I wasn't bitten, but it's not like freaking out about it will do any good.

And that's when you start combing the internet to find out what to do.

Only to find out that any hotel can get infested with bed bugs regardless of how much money you pay. Even worse, no hotel is really immune from being infested because there's simply no way to avoid the problem when you've got a steady stream of people passing through your doors... any one of which could be bringing unwanted guests with them.

So this is my new reality...

  • Packing everything in plastic zipper bags within my suitcase.
  • Bagging my electronics before putting them in my backpack.
  • Immediately inspecting my room, tearing apart the bed looking for signs of bed bugs.
  • Spraying a human-safe death potion around the mattress.
  • Never setting my suitcase (or anything else) on a bed... instead using a table or luggage stand (which has been carefully inspected).
  • Putting all dirty clothes into a sealable bag.
  • When arriving home, pulling out my toiletries in their sealed bags... then double-bagging my entire suitcase before putting it in my trunk. Ditto for my backpack, once my gear has been removed.
  • When getting back to my house, immediately hopping in the shower, bagging all my dirty clothes, and taking a hot shower.
  • Putting my bagged dirty clothes and double-bagged suitcase into a thermal oven overnight.
  • Removing all my clothes, washing them in hot water, then drying them until thuroughly dried.
  • Re-bagging my suitcase, backpack, and toiletries pack, then putting them back in the thermal oven for another round.
  • Filling all cracks and crevices in my entire home with diatomaceous earth.
  • Wrapping my mattress, box spring, and pillows in encasements.
  • Making sure everything I store away is in air-tight containers or bags.
  • Regularly inspecting/cleaning everything I own.
  • Assuming my stuff is infested every time I return from a trip.

The good news is that I found no evidence of bedbugs after baking all my stuff. But I regret nothing. Not the $350 I spent in bed bug defense. Not the extra time and effort it took to be cautious. Not the paranoia in going above and beyond in making sure I'm not unleashing an infestation in my home.

Because the alternative... having to get rid of bed bugs when they're so notoriously difficult to get rid of... is so much worse.

Better safe than sorry and all that.

And if you do any traveling? Better protect yourself. It's only a matter of time.

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Bare & Wet

Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2014

Dave!After getting slammed with snow for the past couple days, Stevens Pass was "chains required" this morning, which meant I had to go Blewett-Snoqualmie since it was merely "bare & wet." Unbeknownst to myself at the time of purchase, my piece-of-shit car is not able to wear chains, which means the fucker should have never been sold in the Pacific Northwest to begin with. Oh well. It's an additional 20 minutes to my travel time, but them's the breaks...

Snow Day Drive!

Snow Day Drive!

Snow Day Drive!

Snow Day Jägermeister!

Snow Day Wii Bowling!

Great way to spend a snow day!

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Stevens

Posted on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Dave!Home again.

I strapped my iPhone to my sun visor for the drive over Stevens Pass in Washington State (through the Cascade Mountain Range on US Route 2). The rough road and weight of the iPhone moving the visor made for a messy (but pretty!) video... but everybody who keeps asking me to post a movie of the trip finally get's their wish! Music is Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme) by OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) off their amazing album Liberator (and you can buy it here).

Pretty drive, is it not? I don't mind it so much when the roads are bare and the weather is nice, like today.

Highway 2 Drive

And... back to Real Life for a while.

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King

Posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Dave!IT'S FAT TUESDAY, PEOPLE!!!

I know I've posted this DaveToon before, but it's one of my all-time favorites. Just like New Orleans. Happy Mardi Gras, everybody...

DAVETOON: Baby Dave on a King Cake!

   

And now I want a piece of King Cake.

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Weeks

Posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Dave!Two weeks.

Two weeks until I blow this popsicle stand for twelve whole days...

Vacation Countdown: 14 Days!

   
Guess I should really start making plans and stuff.

   

MH370

Posted on Friday, March 7th, 2014

Dave!Every time there's a mishap, problem, disaster, or close-call with a flight, I'm inevitably asked something along the lines of "You fly a lot... don't you worry about this happening to you?"

To which I always answer "No. Not even a little bit."

And every time I say it, I realize that people must think I'm lying... or dismissing them... or saying whatever I have to say to convince myself that I'm invincible. But I'm really not. And this is why...

Flight Radar World Map

That's a FlightRadar24 map of all the commercial planes in the air right now. Thousands of them. And here's a close-up look at what's flying over the mainland US alone...

Flight Radar World Map

That's pretty much going on all day long, though things shift a bit as some parts of the world go to sleep and other parts wake up. With this kind of traffic in the air 24/7, it's easy to see how flying truly IS one of the safest activities you can do. My drive to the airport is a far, far more dangerous journey than my upcoming flight to Europe.

And so no, I don't worry about flying.

Not even a little bit.

If it happens, it happens. But the odds are so mind-bogglingly low that it's just not worth fretting over.

Getting trapped in a middle-seat between a smelly person and a crying baby however?

   
My deepest sympathies to everyone affected by the disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370.

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Bullet Sunday 372

Posted on Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Dave!Stop digging out that old bomb shelter... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Cold? "Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash." — Kremlin-backed television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov, host of a weekly current affairs show in Russia. Behind him was a backdrop of a mushroom cloud following a nuclear blast. (from Reuters)

You wanna know what bothers me more than the thought of being turned into radioactive ash? I really, really, want to visit Russia. I always have. Ever since I first saw a photo of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square. For most of my life, the idea of it has been an impossibility. But then the Soviet Union collapses, the cold war thaws, relations normalize, tourism becomes more and more common, and suddenly... but not really suddenly... the impossible becomes possible...

Saint Basil's Cathedral

And now I'm asking myself... Are current tensions going to blow over? Are current tensions going to escalate? What happens if they do escalate? Have I waited too long? Am I too late?

Last year I ultimately decided to visit Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. But also in the running? A river cruise through the Ukraine, including a couple stops in Crimea...

Ukraine Cruise

I guess that ship has sailed... for a while. Or forever. You just never know. How shitty is it that we can't all just get along?

   
• Flash! The first two comic books I ever bought were Green Lantern/Green Arrow #121 and The Flash #277. Not coincidentally, they became my favorite super-heroes for quite a while...

Flash and Green Lantern

At least until I discovered The Legion of Super-Heroes. And Batman, of course. But even so, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for those first heroes. Green Lantern finally made it to the big screen with a fucking horrendously shitty movie that I hated. Then Green Arrow got a very good television show I'm currently enjoying called Arrow. Next up? The Flash!

The Flash

It's a spin-off from Arrow, so my hopes are high. The costume is certainly a step in the right direction.

This isn't the first iteration of The Flash on TV. The first was a show starring John Wesley Shipp back in 1990. It was surprisingly good, but limited by the technology of the day. To say I'm anxious to see what we'll be getting in the year 2014 is an understatement. The pilot is filming now. I'm assuming we'll be seeing it this Fall. Assuming the show is picked up. That's a lot of assuming.

   
• Drop. Apple has a terrific bit of tech called "AirDrop" that allows you to share iPhone/iPad photos, contacts, files, and whatnot pretty much effortlessly. Open what you want to share, activate AirDrop, and you can beam stuff to other AirDrop users...

Air Dropi OS

Cool!

Apple has a terrific bit of tech called "AirDrop" that allows you to share Macintosh photos, contacts, files, and whatnot pretty much effortlessly. Locate the file you want to share in the Finder, activate AirDrop, and you can beam stuff to other AirDrop users...

AirDrop Mac

Cool!

BUT YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S NOT COOL?!? EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE BOTH CALLED "AIRDROP," THE iPHONE AND MAC TECHNOLOGIES ARE NOT FUCKING COMPATIBLE! This is outrageously stupid and, for the life of me, I just don't get it. I keep thinking "It's coming any day now, I'm sure!" But then it doesn't, and I get pissed off all over again. Why bother naming them both "AirDrop" if they are so different that they can't even talk to each other? How is it that Apple can be so smart in so many ways but so stupid in others?

   
• Stick! I promised myself that I wouldn't start in on the new video game, SOUTH PARK: THE STICK OF TRUTH, until I finished LEGO MARVEL SUPER-HEROES, but I just couldn't resist any longer. I'm a massively huge South Park fan, and the trailer looked amazing (warning, NOT safe for work)...

And you know what? It IS amazing! It looks exactly like you're "playing" an episode of the TV series. As if that weren't enough, it is frickin' hilarious. As in laugh-out-loud-funny. Not only because it's South Park, but because they've managed to create a fully-realized RPG game that's actually a parody of RPG games... with humor built into practically everything you see and do. I'll want to play it a bit more when I get back from vacation before I write a review... but, if you're a South Park and video game fan, it's pretty much a no-brainer. You simply must own this.

   
• Mars 2. The Veronica Mars movie (which I reviewed here) has only been out for three days, and already the sequel talk has started. Here's creator Rob Thomas Himself..

“With the first movie, because it was crowd-funded, it was a love letter to the fans,” he explains. “I put every character they loved back into the movie. There are a lot of inside jokes. With a second movie, I would build it from the case out. In the first movie, I feel like I did just the opposite. I put all the dessert, all the frosting on there, and then put a detective case in the middle. On the next one, I would want the detective case to be the driving force of the movie.”

It's as if he read my blog post and is answering my prayers!

Needless to say, I would be positively thrilled to get a sequel. Especially if we get a fantastic Veronica-Mars-style mystery on-par with what we saw in the first and second seasons of the show. NOW SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

   
Annnnnd... the end.

   

Penultimate

Posted on Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Dave!I had planned to catch up on work over the weekend so I'd have an easy three days leading up to vacation. Instead I worked 16 hours every day and will be up working until at least midnight tonight.

I had planned on having my suitcase packed and everything ready to go yesterday so that I could spend a night relaxing before driving over to Seattle to catch my flight. I think we all know that didn't happen. I'll be lucky if I manage to grab a handful of clean underwear as I'm running out the door tomorrow morning.

I honestly don't know who I manage to get myself into this same situation every single time I go on vacation...

Vacation Countdown ONE DAY LEFT!

Oh well. After tomorrow I suppose it won't matter.

Until I end up in Europe with no pants.

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Tripper

Posted on Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Dave!I woke up.

I finished packing.

I drove over to Seattle.

Pass Drive Glory Mountain

I made my way through SeaTac Airport (barely, as it was torn to shit as usual).

Busted SeaTac Shit!

Then I caught a flight to the Netherlands.

The end.

Or... the beginning?

   

DAY ONE: Leiden

Posted on Friday, March 21st, 2014

Dave!The flight over The Atlantic was a non-event. Which is the best kind of flight to have, really.

The plane was one of Delta's latest Airbus A330-300's which feels like the seats are even narrower than usual. It was uncomfortable for me... so I'm only guessing it must be downright miserable for at least half the passengers on the plane. I suppose it's only a matter of time before airlines do away with seats altogether. They'll just stack everybody in the plane like firewood.

On the bright side, the new entertainment system features Picture-In-Picture...

Plane PIP

After landing, I took the train to Leiden so I could kill some time until The Dutch Bitch got off work. Back in 2012 I walked around the city to see the sights, but this time it was pouring rain...

Leiden

To escape the weather, I went to Leiden's National Ethnology Museum, (Museum Volkenkunde)...

Volkenkunde Leiden Ethnology Museum

It features artifacts from peoples around the world (outside of Europe), with sections devoted to North America, South & Central America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania...

Volkenkunde Buddha Room

Volkenkunde Museum Leiden

Volkenkunde Day of the Dead

Volkenkunde Clay Figure

Volkenkunde China

The museum is incredibly well-done and has a surprisingly deep collection. The only problem is that everything is suspended in glass cases with no background, so it can be tough to focus on the artifacts. A few times I experimented with angle-shifting to see if I could add some separation, but it wasn't terribly effective...

Volkenkunde Artificat Angle-Shifting

The display spaces are pretty amazing, and full-wall projections are used to put you into the place where the artifacts are from...

Volkenkunde Oceania

Volkenkunde Oceania

And then? It was time for PATATJES MET!!!

Patatjes Met!

And now I could really use a nap...

   

DAY TWO: Rotterdam

Posted on Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Dave!I've been meaning to get to Rotterdam for years now, and today it finally happened.

The reason I most wanted to visit was so I could see the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. It's one of those places that comes up in conversation from time to time when discussing art. It totally lives up to the hype...

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

From the minute you enter and see how the coat-check room is a series of cages for your belongings and a rope-and-pulley system for your coat, you know you're in for something good...

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

The collection is varied and excellent...

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

After I managed to pul myself away from the exhibits, I saw that I had plenty of time to walk to the waterfront and see Erasmusbrug (the Erasmus Bridge... also known as the "Swan Bridge" or the "Harp Bridge), then take the metro back to the train station...

Erasmus Bridge

As most of Rotterdam was destroyed in World War II, the city has a modern aesthetic, with a lot of new architectural and artistic structures...

Rotterdam

Rotterdam

Rotterdam

ANYWAY...

I had about 25 minutes to get back to Rotterdam Centraal, which was no problem since the metro only takes 10 minutes.

EXCEPT...

When I went to purchase a ticket, I found out I couldn't buy one. The machine only refilled chip-cards. No problem, I'll just buy a chip-card. Except they don't fucking sell chip-cards. No ticket window. No attendant. No Assistance. Nothing.

So I had to run as fast as I could to get back to the train station.

I hauled ass.

Which was not easy because I don't run very often. At least once along the way I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

But I made it to the station with two minutes to spare, so it's all good, right?

No. My train was running 14 minutes late and so I ran all that way for nothing...

Rotterdam Schedule

Note how my transfer time is 0 minutes. But not really... if you do the math, it's actually -7 minutes. Yay.

After all that bullshit, I decided I deserved PATATJES MET...

Patatjes Met

Well, I always feel that way, but still...

   

DAY THREE: Glasgow – Bullet Sunday 373

Posted on Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Dave!Unleash the haggis... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Prayers. Truly horrible news from back home... a massive mudslide has devastated a residential area east of Arlington in my home state of Washington. All my hopes go out to friends who have family amongst the 18 people still missing... along with everybody else affected by this tragic event.

   
• Air Yet another excellent flight on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines... this time from Amsterdam to Glasgow. My only disappointment was that they didn't hand out landing cards for non-EU citizens during the quick 1-1/2 hour trip, which meant I had to fill one out at the airport. But that's hardly worth complaining about. Oh, a bit of advice... when offered a choice between "sweet snack and savory snack," go for the savory snack, it's a packet of incredible Gouda cheese biscuits.

   
• Immigration. When you arrive at passport control there's a big sign telling you that tougher border control laws in the UK will cause a longer wait. Since I was at the front of the plane I didn't have many people ahead of me... but the sign wasn't lying. I've been to the UK many times, but on this trip I really got the third degree. They wanted to know absolutely everything about me, my job, my past travels, and the purpose of my visit. Usually I just say "tourist" but, given the level of detail they were drilling for, I literally said "I am a Hard Rock Cafe collector and I am here to visit the new Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow." Then I had to explain what I collected and what else I would be doing while in the UK. And then... then... because I am such a shifty-looking character, I had to go through it all over again with a police inspector. Despite the hassle, everybody was friendly and welcoming, so I guess there's that.

   
• Cash. I never bother getting local currency for my destination ahead of time, because I usually get a better exchange rate by using a cash machine when I land. The only problem being that Glasgow's airport only has a pitiful four ATMs, all of which have insanely long lines. Since I had to have cash for bus fare into town, I was forced to wait. So lesson learned. I'll be going home with a few quid in my pocket for my next trip to the UK, as it would seem cash machines are a rare and elusive creature in these lands.

   
• No. 153. And, now, the reason for my visit... The Hard Rock Glasgow. Like many of the UK properties (both current and past), the cafe is located in a beautiful old building. This particular cafe is in a great location, directly across from the Queen's Street train station on Buchanan Street, a popular shopping district in the city. It's not at all flashy, and would be easy to miss if you weren't looking for it...

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow on Buchanan Street

The interior is truly bizarre... in the best possible way. It's equal parts classical architecture and starship Enterprise...

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow Interior

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow Interior

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow Interior

The bathrooms are located off a spiral staircase that's filled with silver guitar sculptures...

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow Interior

The surprisingly-spacious Rock Shop is at the front of the building, and you pass right by it coming and going...

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow Interior

All in all, a terrific property. Alas, sadly, the rock memorabilia adheres to the new "hipster lounge" aesthetic so it's badly displayed and there's not much of it, but at least the building is interesting. Oh... and if you're not a vegetarian like myself, you'll be happy to know that the specialty burger for this Hard Rock is a hamburger smothered in haggis with cheese on top!

   
• In A World... I was saddened to learn that one of the most famous voices on the planet, Hal Douglas, passed away. If you've ever seen a US movie trailer, odds are you know who he is... even if you didn't know his name...

One of kind. You will be missed, sir.

   
And now I must say cheerio, as I am falling asleep as I type this.

   

DAY FOUR: Edinburgh

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2014

Dave!When I learned that there was a new Hard Rock in Glasgow, my idea was to fly into Edinburgh (my favorite city on earth) and hop over and back for a quick visit. But when it came time to book my tickets, I realized that this was a risky prospect. Odds are I'd arrive in Edinburgh and never leave. So I decided to fly into Glasgow after all.

But there was no way I was going to pass on the opportunity to spend my birthday in the one place I love more than any other. No way at all. And so I took a 50-minute train ride across Scotland just because I can. But, before I go... an egg and fire-roasted tomato sandwich from Pret-A-Manger (my favorite breakfast on earth)...

Breakfast at Pret

Because the weather was so amazing,* I decided to do something I've always wanted to do when visiting Edinburgh: climb the extinct volcano there (named "Arthur's Seat") so I could look out over the city...

The Climb Up Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

The panorama view is pretty incredible (click to embiggen)...

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

I had photographed the city to death on my last trip here back in 2009, but I just can't help myself when it comes to the majestic old buildings, so I ended up taking a boat-load of new photos...

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Since I've been to Edinburgh many times, I'm always looking for something new to see and do. This trip, that ended up being a visit to Camera Obscura. It's a kind of museum filled with optical oddities and illusions...

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Which is all well and good, but the main attraction for me was the rooftop view...

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

And, yes, as the name implies, there is indeed a camera obscura at Camera Obscura. It's an old-school attraction that was probably a lot more impressive back in the day... but it was still interesting since I had never seen one before (you can read all about the device at Wikipedia). Basically, a lens on the roof of the building captures light and beams it down onto a big white table in a darkened room. Everybody stands around this circular "screen" as the operator pans around the city while pointing out things of interest.

Not wanting to ride the train back to Glasgow during rush hour, I said goodbye to my beloved Edinburgh after all too short a visit...

Edinburgh Castle from the Train

Once back in Glasgow, I rushed out to the famous Kelvingrove Museum so I could take a look before it closed. Part art gallery and part natural history exhibit, it was well worth the effort...

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Across the parking lot (and a creek) is the University of Glasgow. I wandered up to take a look before heading back downtown for dinner...

University of Glasgow, Scotland

University of Glasgow, Scotland

After a quick dinner (and a nap) I headed to George Square to try and get some photos without tons of people around. The beautiful Apple Store was on the way...

George Square in Glasgow, Scotland

Apple Store in Glasgow, Scotland

And that was that for my short visit to Scotland. I leave tomorrow morning on a very early flight, so off to bed I go.

   

*Dear Apple... while I love Siri, and use this miraculous feature often on my iPhone, there are times I have to wonder just how idiotic technology can be. I am in SCOTLAND. My iPhone is LOCATION AWARE. I am asking what the weather is like IN EDINBURGH. But I am given locations in the USA? Oh well... I'll just clarify that I mean the Edinburgh IN SCOTLAND then...

Stupid Siri

Nope. No matter how I pronounce it, Edinburgh is not in Scotland. Holy crap does this make Siri look like a fucking moron.

   

DAY FIVE: Rome

Posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Dave!I've already been to the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome several times. The only Italian property I haven't been to is the new cafe in Florence. But if I flew directly to Florence, I wouldn't have the opportunity to eat at my favorite restaurant on earth.

So I got up at 3:30am. So I could get to Glasgow Airport by 4:30am. So I could fly to Rome at 6:40am.

This meant skipping breakfast, but that's okay. By the time I got to The Eternal City I was starving, which meant I had room for the city's signature dish for lunch: Cacio e Pepe ("Cheese and Pepper" on spaghetti pasta)...

Cacio e Pepe in Rome

It's a classic dish that's deceptively simple. The trick is getting the pasta cooked to a perfect al dente texture, which is tough in the USA because everybody overcooks their noodles. So you either have to go to RW's house or fly to Italy to get it done right.

Now, the prudent thing to do when you are in Rome is to run around and see all the sights. But I've already done that. And I've been up since 3:30am, so I took a nap instead.

But no worries, I was sure to wake up in time for a late dinner at my most favorite restaurant in all the world: Alfredo alla Scrofa, where Le Fettuccine Alfredo was invented...

Alfredo Alla Scrofa Fettuccine Alfredo

Alfredo Alla Scrofa Fettuccine Alfredo

A heart attack on a plate, gloriously mixed to order right at your table...

Alfredo Alla Scrofa Fettuccine Alfredo

Alfredo Alla Scrofa Fettuccine Alfredo

After dinner I decided to wander over to the Spanish Steps so I could climb to the top and visit the cafe where I first tasted Stracciatella Gelato, my all-time favorite...

Spanish Steps Rome

Gelato in Rome

Gelato in Rome

And, because this is Rome, the walk back to your hotel is filled with incredible sights...

Barberini Fountain

Roman Building

Buona Notte!

   

DAY SIX: Milan and Florence

Posted on Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Dave!With the exception of one horrendous problem, today was a pretty great day.

My plan was to head up to Florence to see the new Hard Rock Cafe there, but I had a long-time friend (and fellow Hard Rock fan) who had wanted to trade a few pins, so I decided to visit him in Milan, a city I have never been. For some reason I had thought the city was quite close to Florence, but it's actually two hours by train farther... which meant I started my day with a three-hour train ride out of Rome.

It was all worth the trip though, as Milan is a beautiful city. I started with a visit to Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)...

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

After the cathedral, I was going to visit a small church called Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro, but I walked right past it and ended up finding Tempio civico di San Sebastiano (The Temple of San Sebastiano), which is a rather unique and beautiful round church...

Tempio civico di San Sebastiano

Tempio civico di San Sebastiano

I did a quick back-track to Chiesa di Santa Maria presso San Satiro (no photos allowed) but couldn't spend a lot of time because I would be late for visiting Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Library of Ambrose), which is home to Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus, a massive set of books containing anything and everything from the mind of one of my all-time inspirational heroes, Leonardo da Vinci. You enter through an art gallery that's connected to the library. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to browse the collection of art here, but it's a very nice collection...

Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus

The Codex itself consists of over 1,100 pages, but only a fraction of those are viewable at any one time. Usually the rotating collection on display centers around a theme which, in my case, ended up being music. Included in the display I saw were pages with Leonardo's sketches for an automated drum machine, various instrument ideas, acoustic architecture studies, and much, much more. It was absolutely fascinating, and I could have spent hours pouring over those few pages available. No photos were allowed (of course) but I found a sample page on the internet to give an idea of what they look like...

Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus

Fantastic stuff.

After a visit with my friend to exchange some pins, it was time to head to the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, for what is arguably Milan's most famous attraction.

But first... a cookie break while I waited for my ticket reservation time...

Milan Cookie

The Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a rather unassuming building that's almost boring, when compared to the many other religious buildings in the city...

Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie

It's what's inside of it that makes it worth the effort of visiting, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper...

Last Supper of Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie
One of you bitches is going to betray me!

No photos were allowed, of course, this is just an image of an image I found on the internet. But it's not like any photo could do the work justice anyway. I had always thought that it was an interesting, but not terribly inspiring work, and didn't have much of a desire to see it. But that opinion was formed by looking at photos of it in a book.

And then I got to visit the painting in person, and now I know what all the fuss is about.

It is an awe-inspiring work of art. Both artistically and technically, it's mind-bogglingly beautiful. Definitely worth a visit. But, as with most exhibits of this importance in Italy (or most any other country), MAKE TICKET RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE! Tickets are guaranteed to sell out, and if you just wander in hoping to see it, you're going to leave disappointed.

And here is where disaster occurred. I left myself one hour to get back to the train station to catch my ride to Florence. As always, I consulted Google Maps to get me there. The instructions were quite simple... take the Malpensa Airport Express Train two stops to Bovisa, then take the S2 train to Milano Porta Garibaldi railway station.

Easy, right?

So I ran to the train and hopped on just before the doors closed. I grab a seat just as the train leaves. And then I notice that the train didn't stop at its first stop. Much to my horror, the train didn't stop at the Bovisa stop either. We just kept on going...

Google Maps FAIL Milan

Turns out Google has the train information wrong. This particular run of the Malpensa Airport Express IS FUCKING NON-STOP! And so I ended up having to ride all the way out to the airport (35 minutes), wait for the next train back to Milan (15 minutes), then ride all the way back (35 minutes). Needless to say, I missed my train. Which means I would also miss my train to Rome. Which meant I had just wasted one hour and 25 minutes plus $120 in non-refundable train fare.

THANKS, GOOGLE!

Oh well, I made it to the Hard Rock a bit late, but I did make it. And Florence has a great property that was made from an old movie theater building...

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

On my way back to the train station, I passed The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) or, as it is better known... Il Duomo di Firenze (Cathedral of Florence)...

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

Even more beautiful at night, I think.

Back in Rome, I went for a late dinner at Alfredo's, of course, because I just couldn't help myself. And... my short visit to Italy is done.

   

DAY SEVEN: Nice

Posted on Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Dave!I've been around Nice when visiting Monaco and Eze, but have never actually been to Nice proper. Now that there's a Hard Rock in town, that had to change.

Well, that and the movies shot in the city always make it look so amazing. Like that car chase in Ronin... or that car chase in The Transporter... or the car chase in Never Say Never Again (well, not a car chase per se, but that would have been an excellent addition to the film, wouldn't it?).

And so... on to Hard Rock No. 155...

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

Beautiful views. Lovely restaurant. Kind of boring for a Hard Rock.

After lunch I headed to the beach. The weather was not great beach weather, but it was still a beautiful day on the Côte d'Azur...

The Beach at Nice

Lovely turquoise water, but something seems... off...

The Beach at Nice

Wait... that's not sand... it's... ROCKS?!?

The Beach at Nice

Yes. The famous beach at Nice is covered not with sand, but with rocks? All this time I had no idea. And yet there were people laying around with beach towels and the whole bit. Which can't be comfortable, can it? As I stumbled across the "beach," attempting to keep my footing while walking on cascading stones, I admit to being a bit disappointed.

Until I stopped for a second and listened to the rocks rolling in the surf. It was totally hypnotic...

Nice itself is quite a lovely city. Especially back at their main square, Place Masséna, which features the "Fontaine du Soleil" (Fountain of the Sun) in the southern half. From a distance, it looks quite impressive with a giant statue of Apollo standing in the middle...

Fontaine du Soleil

It's when you get closer to the fountain that things start to get disturbing. Apollo has freaky bulging eyes staring at you. And the crown of horses on his head look more like those baby chest-bursters in Alien. Not to mention his dick... swinging...

Fontaine du Soleil

And the statues in the fountain basin? Utterly bizarre...

Fontaine du Soleil

Clockwise from the upper-left...

  1. Nude Woman Flying with Buffalo While Holding a Baby?
  2. Nude Pipi Longstocking Riding a Giant Ugly Carp?
  3. Nude Man Shielding His Eyes from the Sun While Walking a Bull?
  4. Nude Man Directing Traffic with a Horse?

The northern half of Place Masséna is wide open... except for these poles that have nude men (covered in bird shit) kneeling on top of them...

Place Masséna

Place Masséna

No idea what that's all about.

Walking back to the train station, I passed Nice's version of the Notre Dame Cathedral...

Notre Dame Cathedral Nice

Which looks better with a little HDR magic...

Notre Dame Cathedral Nice

My original plan was to take a train to Cannes or Monaco for dinner, but I was just done traveling for the day. I was actually done with traveling for the week. Tomorrow's flight back to Amsterdam at 6:30am will be hard enough.

So an early night to bed it is.

   

DAY EIGHT: Lisse and Amsterdam

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014

Dave!"We have arrived!" announced the hotel shuttle driver to myself and another passenger as we pulled into the Nice Airport around 4:30am. And so I climb out and ask the driver to open the back of the van so I can get my bag. He says "This stop is not for you," and so I start to climb back on the van... only to have the driver slam the gas pedal to the floor as I am half-way in. The van lurches forward, causing the sliding door to smash into my side and send me flying 20 feet. My head crashes into the pavement and, as I lay there bleeding and trying to breathe, the driver stands over me and says "I said this stop was not for you!" — which is why I was climbing back on the van, of course, but let's not apply logic to the situation. You would think that A) The driver would make sure everybody is actually ON the van before hitting the gas, and B) He would start out slowly just in case the first passenger was still standing near... or the second passenger was in the process of boarding... or a pedestrian is crossing the street... or whatever. But, alas, no.

Blood pouring down my face and hunched over in pain, I somehow make my way inside the airport (at the next stop, natch) so I can try to clean myself up in a bathroom. Much to my horror, my glasses are destroyed, so I have to fish for contact lenses in my suitcase. But I can only put a lens in one eye because blood is pouring over the other one. A package of antibiotic wipes and 20 minutes of direct pressure later, my second lens is in and it's time to head to the gate for my flight.

The wonderful KLM cabin crew gave me ice for my head on the flight back to Amsterdam. This made the swelling die down a bit, and also caused the pain to subside. As for my chest where I was hit? The pain became searing, so when I got off the plane I started pressing around and... SNAP... I think I had a fractured rib, because now that it's been set back in place I feel totally fine... just a little sore now.

In other news... I have never felt so fucking macho in all my life as to snap my own fractured rib back in place! I'd go to the doctor, but all they would do is wrap me up and give me pain meds, so I'm just going to put on a tight T-shirt and self-medicate. Same difference! A-fucking-right... this is one macho bitch right up in here.*

Anyway...

My plans to visit some work colleagues in Amsterdam had to be abandoned so I could recuperate back at Casa de DutchBitch for five hours until she got off work. At which time we decided to visit "Europe's Garden"... the Keukenhof. I was there back in 2012 and loved it, so I was looking forward to another visit on this beautiful day, even if I was loaded with pain-killers...

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

After a wonderful afternoon looking at flowers, it was time for dinner at one of my favorite places on earth, Restaurant De Kas. It's a beautiful eatery outside of Amsterdam that resides in a greenhouse where they grow their own food. It's pretty special.

Restaurant De Kas

But it's at night that this place becomes really special...

Restaurant De Kas

The menu is a surprise, built around what came from the garden that day, and they accommodated my vegetarian diet beautifully...

Restaurant De Kas

Restaurant De Kas

Restaurant De Kas

An absolutely wonderful evening. After an absolutely wonderful day. After a terrible morning.

And now? Having experienced first hand what it's like to get run into by a car, I'm going to take some heavy drugs and go to bed. So good night to you! And (hopefully) a good night to myself.

   

*Unless, of course, it wasn't a fractured rib at all... in which case I have no idea what snapped inside there. Maybe I'm the moron who just cracked his own rib? I dunno. Playing doctor is a lot harder than it looks on television. Still, I'm feeling 1000% better than I was, so you can't argue with the results.

   

DAY NINE: Harlingen and Leeuwarden

Posted on Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Dave! Fryslân (Friesland) is a region in the Northern Netherlands I have long wanted to visit. Partly because I want to visit all regions of the country... but mostly because it was home to some of my ancestors. My family name of "Simmer" is from the word "Summer" in the Fresian language, and my father has traced our genealogy back several generations to the area.

There are a number of routes you can use to get to Fryslân from South Holland, but The DutchBitch decided to take us the most direct (and interesting!) route... across The Afsluitdijk, a massive dike constructed from 1927 to 1933 which has a roadway over it. The dike completely enclosed a saltwater bay (known as Zuiderzee) which eventually became a giant freshwater lake called IJsselmeer. The 20-mile long dike also allowed for the reclamation of the land masses Wieringermeer, Noordoostpolder, and Flevoland, which added considerable area to the country. On a map, The Afsluitdijk (marked with a red arrow) looks like this...

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

Amsterdam is in the lower-left there. The areas I've shaded green are lands reclaimed from the sea.

When looking at a map, any time i saw The Afsluitdijk, I thought of it looking like the Øresund Bridge or something...

Oresund Bridge

Which is absurd, of course, because a dike is nothing like a bridge. I guess in my mind it would just look cooler if it was. The reality isn't quite so glamorous, but still interesting...

The Afsluitdijk

Obligatory iPhone panorama shot (click to embiggen)...

The Afsluitdijk
Stopping at the half-way point.

After an hour-and-a-half drive, we arrived at our first stop... the city of Harlingen. It's a beautiful old fishing town that's the birthplace of my great-great-grandparents...

Harlingen

Harlingen

Harlingen

Stopping at the tourist office, we learned that the area where my great-great-grandparents were born was the poor part of town and a real shit-hole, which is why it was eventually torn down. Which is to say that it was undoubtedly a beautiful and incredibly desirable area of the city to live until my family left, at which time it became a detestable shit-hole, I'm sure. Today, it has once again become a premium, expensive neighborhood to live, so I guess things have come full circle.

Because this area had been completely torn down, the street where my great-great-grandfather was born no longer exists. It has become a private dead-end alley to the right of this cool little house here...

Harlingen

The place where my great-great-grandmother was born has been torn down and divided up into different lots, so I just walked around the block to see the area where she had lived...

Harlingen

After a nice lunch downtown, The DutchBitch and I walked back through the city where she spotted this...

Pirate Virginia Cigarettes

PIRATE brand Virginia Cigarettes... made in the Netherlands?

From Harlingen, we headed to Leeuwarden for more family history. Our first stop was just a block up from our hotel, which is the former location of the Galileërkerk, a church where my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Johannes was interred. The original building was demolished in 1940, but it's location was just north of the former post office, which would be in the vicinity of the building to the left there...

Leeuwarden

The weather was incredible, and we weren't the only ones taking advantage of it...

Leeuwarden

Our next stop was the church where both my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Johannes and his son, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Frederik were married. It's now some kind of local performing arts center, but it still looks vaguely church-like. And it has some kick-ass door decorations...

Leeuwarden

Leeuwarden

From there it was onward to Oldehoofsterkerkhof, the church where my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Frederik was interred. In what I can only describe as a "Leaning Tower of Pisa Moment," I finally realized that the reason the tower looks so strange is because it's falling over...

Oldehoofsterkerkhof

And the closer you get, the more fucked-up things become. There doesn't seem to be a single perpendicular line on this entire building except the windows and doors. I was getting a headache trying to photograph it because my brain kept trying to straighten things out and line stuff up...

Oldehoofsterkerkhof

Oldehoofsterkerkhof

Like Harlingen, Leeuwarden is a rather nice city with a pretty downtown area...

Leeuwarden

Which you walk through in order to get to the part of town where my great-great-great-great-grandparents Hendrik and Catharina lived... and where my great-great-great-grandfather Willem Frederik was born in 1817 (he moved to Harlingen with his wife Geertje in 1845). Though, I'm sure back then it wasn't quite the boarded-up, graffiti-strewn mess it is now...

Leeuwarden

Our last stop was Blokhuispoort, a former prison where The DutchBitch thought I would feel right at home because my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Johannes was convicted of being drunk and insulting a widow named Dieuke Berents. Wrongly convicted, obviously, since the woman must have totally deserved it. I can only hope that grandpa Johannes gave her a nice bitch-slap for having the nerve to piss him off...

Leeuwarden

And thus ended my tour of the lands of my ancestors. Now it's time to dope up on pain-killers and see if I can get some sleep before tomorrow's adventure.

Boy, getting hit by a car is not all it's cracked up to be.

   

DAY TEN: Schiermonnikoog

Posted on Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Dave!Our final day in Fryslân was spent taking the ferry over to Schiermonnikoog, a kinda resort island that's home to a massively huge beach.

Cars are only allowed for registered residents, which means that visitors have to either ride the bus, arrange for a resident taxi driver, or rent a bicycle. The DutchBitch opted for the bicycles, which was an interesting prospect considering I haven't ridden one in over 30 years. With this in mind, she rented bicycles which feature "Electric Assist"... a small motor that helps you along as you peddle. Turns out that this was a very good move, because my crushed ribcage left me needing all the help I can get...

Schiermonnikoog

Turns out that riding a bike is... errr... just like riding a bike, and I managed just fine. The only problem I had was getting off and on it, but that was thanks to getting run into by a car more than anything else.

Our first stop was a World War II bunker that oversees much of the island...

Schiermonnikoog

Schiermonnikoog

Schiermonnikoog

In the same area is Vredenhof Cemetery, which is a peaceful little place where we spotted soldiers buried from France, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Germany...

Schiermonnikoog

Schiermonnikoog

Then it was time to cycle to the massive beach that covers the north-side of the island...

Schiermonnikoog

Schiermonnikoog

It's an impossibly huge beach, as this pano shows (click to embiggen). This is but a small section of the waterfront, and those dots in the distance are people...

Schiermonnikoog

From there we rode around town a bit, then went to a cafe for drinks while we waited for the ferry back to the mainland...

Schiermonnikoog

Pretty much the perfect end to my brief adventure in Fryslân!

Now to spend some time resting up for my trip home. Which I am most certainly not looking forward to.

   

DAY ELEVEN: Bullet Sunday 374

Posted on Monday, March 31st, 2014

Dave!Don't go checking your calendar just yet... because Bullet Sunday on Monday starts... now...

   
• Skuttle. The plan was to head into Amsterdam today... the reality is that I'm laying around on a big red couch trying to rest up my aching rib cage for a ten-hour flight home tomorrow morning. I tried feeling sad about it, but this has been such a great vacation that I just can't muster the pity.

   
• Heart. Did you know that the seven red shapes on the flag of Fryslân are not hearts?

Frisian Flag

They're pompeblêden... the leaves of yellow water-lily! But in blood red for some reason. Probably because that's more scary to their enemies than if they were yellow-green...

Frisian Flag Wrong!

No. Yeah... red is definitely more bad-ass.

   
• Smurftastic. And so the Netherlands has Smurf-flavored gelato...

Smurf-Flavored Gelato

There was no ingredients statement, so I don't know if it's made with real Smurfs or not...

The Smurfs

In any event, I'm guessing Gargamel won.

   
• Tagged. While I don't necessarily condone defacing public or private property, I have to say the graffiti in Leeuwarden was some pretty impressive stuff...

Leeuwarden Graffiiti

Leeuwarden Graffiiti

But what would you expect from Wom the Hipster-Killing Zombie?

Leeuwarden Graffiiti

   
• Chickens. And, just when you think that beautiful hand-painted signage is a lost art, also in Leeuwarden...

Leeuwarden Graffiiti

You almost don't notice that the building is crooked and all the windows are jacked up. Perhaps Wom the Hipster-Killing Zombie has a day-job?

   
• Cheese. My biggest regret in leaving the Netherlands is that I can't bring a big wheel of cheese with me. They had it for sale at The Keukenhof, but it weighs 20-30 pounds and costs around $120-$200 (depending on how aged it is and how much your wheel weighs). You do get to buy it from a wooden cow, however...

Cheese Cow

I'm guessing 30 pounds of cheese would last me about a week.

   
No more bullets. No more vacation.

   

DAY TWELVE: Fools

Posted on Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Dave!I really hate having to leave the Netherlands.

Almost as much as I hate stupid "April Fools Day" pranks that get unleashed everywhere. And since there's always somebody who believes people's outrageous shit, the fools-pranking will never end.

At least Google puts some effort into their pranks each year...

The really cool thing about this year's gag is that this is something that will probably actually happen one day. It's only a matter of time before augmented reality games are this good.

The Virgin America & Nest prank was pretty funny too...

And since YouTube is where most of the pranks live, they decided to get in on the act themselves...

But my favorite? SelfieBot!

And now I guess it's time to climb in a metal tube for ten hours. Then drive in a car for two-and-a-half hours. Then go to the clinic for my smashed ribs for an hour.

Ha! April Fools! You can never get out of the walk-in clinic in under five hours!

See you across the pond.

   

Lockjaw

Posted on Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Dave!"Tetanus is not a fun way to die."

My smashed ribs were really tender when I boarded the plane yesterday, so I bit the bullet and popped the Oxycodone I keep on-hand in case I have a kidney stone attack. This kept me (relatively) comfortable throughout the flight, for which I was grateful. By the time we landed in Seattle I was considering not going to the doctor at all, as I was feeling considerably better than when I left DutchyLand.

Until I reached up into the overhead bin to grab my bag.

Searing pain shot through my entire side, and I suddenly couldn't breathe. I'm guessing the drugs must have worn off after my ten hour adventure in the sky.

Not wanting to drive under the influence of Oxycodone, I retrieved my car for the (painful) two-and-a-half hour drive home. Where I did not pass Go. Did not collect $200. Did not even drop off my suitcase. Instead I drove directly to the walk-in clinic to see a doctor.

An hour-and-a-half plus three X-rays plus many hundreds of dollars in deductable later, I found out that nothing is broken. It would seem I merely have a hairline fracture in one of my ribs or something. It hurts like hell, but my lungs aren't punctured and I'm going to live.

At which point the doctor looks at the scrape on my head and asks when was the last time I had a tetanus shot. From what I could recall, it was in 1998 when my brother and I went to Bangkok. This caused the doctor to suck wind through his teeth and inform me that somebody who travels as much as I do should really stay current with my tetanus shots, which expire after ten years. Oops.

I was going to pass because I don't like injecting crap in my body that's not the sweet, sweet release of freshly-cooked black tar heroin, but then the doctor tells me that "tetanus is not a fun way to die." He looks really serious about it, so I get the damn shot.

Turns out the doctor is right. Wikipedia explains it thusly...

Tetanus often begins with mild spasms in the jaw muscles—also known as lockjaw or trismus (aka "lockjaw"). The spasms can also affect the chest, neck, back, abdominal muscles, and buttocks. Back muscle spasms often cause arching, called opisthotonos. Sometimes the spasms affect muscles that help with breathing, which can lead to breathing problems.
   
Prolonged muscular action causes sudden, powerful, and painful contractions of muscle groups, which is called "tetany." These episodes can cause fractures and muscle tears. Other symptoms include drooling, excessive sweating, fever, hand or foot spasms, irritability, swallowing difficulty, and uncontrolled urination or defecation. The episodes can also cause destruction of elements of the nervous system through viral cell exchange.
   
Mortality rates reported vary from 48% to 73%. In recent years, and approximately 11% of reported tetanus cases have been fatal. The highest mortality rates are in unvaccinated people, people over 60 years of age or newborns.

They even provide a nice painting of tetanus in action...

Frisian Flag

Doesn't that look like buckets of fun?

So... if you want to die a drooling, urinating, defecating, mess... as your muscles rip apart and cause bone fractures (i.e. in excruciating pain), by all means skip out on getting a Tdap shot.

As for myself? I'm hoping to keep the drooling and defecation to a minimum when I die.

Though I think we all know the odds of that are slim.

   

Euro

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014

Dave!Well...

It's hard to come up with something to blog about when the only thing going on in your life is excruciating pain.

And I have at least another week to go... probably two.

The bigger problem is that I am getting incredibly behind despite the fact that I am working all the time. I attribute this to not being able to multi-task. Usually I am working on a couple projects in my head while I'm physically working on a couple others. But now? If I try to focus on more than one thing at a time, the pain proves to be such a big distraction that I get nothing done at all. And so I put all my concentration into the task at hand so I can make some progress. No matter how small.

Still haven't heard back from the hotel whose airport shuttle nailed me. I filled out a survey they sent explaining everything, but apparently they don't bother to read the surveys. Typical. It's all "We value your opinion!" — Until you actually give it to them.

And speaking of pain... today I found out that the US Dollar was far weaker against the Euro than I had previously thought, meaning I blew right past my vacation budget. Badly. 20 Euros does not equate to $22 US dollars, it's $27.50 US dollars. Which means every time I was spending 20 Euros I was bleeding $5 more than I thought I was. That adds ups really quickly when everything in Europe is expensive to begin with.

Oh well. Credit card debt won't kill you... it just feels that way.

Much like a fractured rib.

   

Twist

Posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Dave!I had been doing so well.

Then today I twisted wrong, and searing pain ripped through my ribcage so intensely that I thought I was going to pass out. It died out after a couple hours, but now I'm more than a little worried that I've done something to set back the healing process.

Guess there's just no easy recovery from getting hit by a car.

And on that note...

Ever since getting a tetanus shot, I've been a little on edge.

Sometimes when I'm chewing it will feel like my jaw is tightening up, and I start to wonder if the vaccine didn't work and I've contracted lockjaw. Then that's about all I can think about for hours.

But the bigger issue is the vaccine itself. From Wikipedia...

Tetanus vaccine is a vaccine composed of deactivated tetanus toxins. This vaccine is immunogenic but not pathogenic and is used to prevent an individual from contracting tetanus.

And that's not all...

The type of vaccination for this disease is called artificial active immunity. This type of immunity is generated when a dead or weakened version of the disease enters the body causing an immune response which includes the production of antibodies. This is beneficial to the body because this means that if the disease is ever introduced into the body, the immune system will recognize the antigen and produce antibodies more rapidly.

What if they accidentally shot me up with LIVE tetanus toxins instead of deactivated ones? That wouldn't be a good thing, now would it? This would certainly explain why my jaw keeps feeling like it's tightening up!

If you don't hear from me again, I'm probably dead.

After writhing in agony for hours.

   

Early

Posted on Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Dave!San Francisco is one of the easiest gigs I have because it's only a two-hour flight out of Seattle. Adding in a drive to the airport, wait time, flight time to Seattle, and layover time... and I can get to The City by The Bay in under 6 hours. This is nice, because if I have an afternoon meeting I can fly down that morning instead of the day before. Heck, I could even fly back same-day if I wanted to!

In theory, it all sounds great when I'm booking my flights, as I'd really rather spend a night in my own bed than a hotel room.

Until the alarm goes off at 3:30am and I am forced to climb out of my own bed so I can get ready for my drive to the airport.

At which point it completely sucks, and I curse myself for being so stupid as to schedule such an early flight.

Which is why I just spent the last hour and a chunk of change-fee money to reschedule my next four flights. But it's all worth it, because I am definitely getting too old for this shit. 3:30am wake-ups are a game for the young, dammit.

So if science wants to go ahead and figure out the whole Star Trek teleportation thing, I'd really appreciate it.

In the meanwhile, here I am in San Francisco again. Guess I'd better get to work.

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Routine

Posted on Friday, April 18th, 2014

Dave!My lunch routine on a full work-day in San Francisco has been the same for years...

• Taxi to the Fisherman's Wharf.

Johnny Rockets (Streamliner Burger, no grilled onions, no mustard, add ketchup and mayo).

Crazy Shirts (T-shirt shop).

• The Pier 39 Sea Lions.

Sea Lions!

• Trish's Mini Donuts.

BAG-O-DONUTS!

• Hard Rock Cafe (to check out any new pins).

• Street Car back to work downtown.

   
It's always the exact same thing.

Which is why I appreciate it when something happens to break up the routine. This time it was when I was walking past a guy buying a hotdog at a small food shack called the Doggie Diner...

Doggie Diner

After he picked up his food, he asked where their bathroom was.

I'm sure the order-taker told him there were public restrooms at Pier 39. I would have told him to use the garbage can out front.

And that's a wrap on my lunch hour.

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Packed

Posted on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Dave!Wake.

Work.

Presentation.

Fortune Cookies.

Lunch.

Tattoo...

Om Mani Padme Hum

Drinks.

Airport.

Good Bye.

Boarding.

Flight.

Warm Cookies...

Om Mani Padme Hum

Land.

Layover.

Flight.

Lawn Sprinklers.

Drive.

Home...

Om Mani Padme Hum

End.

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Viddy-O’s

Posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Dave!Time for a YouTube time-suck!

Good luck getting out alive.

   
I. Am. So. Old...

"I feel bad for people in the 90's, I really do."

   
Reason No. 765,236 why I love Betty White...

Nice to know that Larry King is still alive... and as creepy as ever.

   
And now for something completely different...

You're welcome!

   
Lastly, one of many lists telling you what to see before you die (even if they put Santorini in Italy and don't know how to pronounce "buttes"...

I've barely been to a third of them...

  1. Tianzi Mountains, China
  2. ✓ Santorini, Greece
  3. Machu Pichu, Peru
  4. The Azores
  5. ✓ The Great Wall, China
  6. Petra, Jordan
  7. Bagan, Burma
  8. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
  9. ✓ Ayers Rock, Australia
  10. Tanah Lot, Indonesia
  11. Meteora, Greece
  12. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
  13. Preikestolen, Norway
  14. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
  15. The Twelve Apostles, Australia
  16. Angel Falls, Venezuela
  17. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
  18. ✓ Positano, Italy
  19. ✓ Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  20. The Wave, Arizona
  21. ✓ The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
  22. The Maldives
  23. Socotra, Yemen
  24. ✓ Monument Valley, Utah
  25. ✓ Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Guess I'd better pack a suitcase...

   

Vacay

Posted on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Dave!When it comes to cashing in airline miles and hotel points for vacation, I've gotten pretty good at figuring out how to get the best value for my... err... dollar? Or whatever.

My routine consists of going down a list of destinations I'd like to visit, seeing how many miles it takes to get me there... how many points it takes to stay there... followed by crying because it's more than I can afford. Then down to the next location on the list. Eventually I work my way down to something I can afford and, voilà!, vacation is served.

But what do you do when you've already scratched off all the affordable destinations?

Turns out points and miles ain't what they used to be.

And so... money.

It doesn't matter how much you have banked, it takes money now.

Which kind of defeats the purpose of accumulating all those miles and points over the years, but nothing good seems to last forever. In this case it didn't even last a decade. The upshot being that I'll be burning my miles and points as fast as I can before their value drops even further. Because if things keep going like they are now, they'll be worthless within five years.

So much for my planned retirement travel.

Oh well. The world could blow up before I make it to retirement anyway.

YOLO!

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Overpass

Posted on Friday, April 25th, 2014

Dave!Another trip over the mountains.

A really pretty trip this time.

Mountain Roads

I dare say Summer might very well be on the way...

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Tues

Posted on Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Dave!Tuesday is the toughest day of the week for me. If anything is going to go wrong, today is the day.

In this case, it was having a pile of work left over from Monday while I'm having to reschedule three flights. Which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the heinous change-fees that airlines like to charge now. I had to pay anywhere from $125 to $200... plus the change in airfare. Which always seems to increase, by the way. Kind of crazy how having your plans change can be so absurdly costly.

Just one more reason I frickin' loathe to fly any more. Even if you manage to get a decent fare, you still end up screwed if something comes up. And when you fly dozens of times a year, stuff is gonna come up.

Oh well.

It's not like I need to pay rent. Or eat. Or buy toilet paper.

Good thing I gave up taking a shit for Lent.

   

Palm Springs

Posted on Monday, May 5th, 2014

Dave!The work assignment was not very glamorous, but it did include an opportunity to visit a new Hard Rock property, so I jumped at the chance to travel to Palm Springs.

I haven't been to the so-called "Golf Capital of the World" in years, but it's all seems pretty much the same. The only things to do here are eat, shop, golf, and hang out by the pool. Which would bore the crap out of me if I didn't have work going on... and explains why I get here so rarely. One day I need to come here with a group of friends, because something tells me that is the best way to experience the city.

Anyway...

Yesterday I flew into PSP on a quick 2-hour hop from Seattle. The airport here is one of my favorites because it features a terrific open courtyard in the middle...

Google Maps View
PSP Map Courtesy of... GOOGLE MAPS!

It's also small, which makes it easy to get in and out of. Always a plus.

Yesterday I didn't have any work, so I spent my afternoon eating. I started at Hamburger Mary's which has a decent Veggie Burger. And Godzilla vs. Mothra playing on the television...

It's Hamburger Mary!

The restaurant is billed as "gay-themed and LGBT-friendly"... but, to me, it's just a funky place to eat with good food...

It's a Mary Burger!

For dessert? GREAT SHAKES! The only milkshake joint I know that hangs a mini-cupcake on the super-straw...

Great Shake!

I turned in around 8:00 last night because I had a very early wake-up this morning. And I wanted to catch up on television.

Which brings us to today...

Because of work, I ended up having a very late lunch. So when it came time for dinner, I wasn't very hungry. The plan was to go out and have a margarita and chips to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, then turn in early.

I ended up having four.

Then five...

Cinco de Mayo Margarita!

Then a burrito...

Cinco de Mayo Burrito!

Then fried ice cream...

Cinco de Mayo Fried Ice Cream!

Cinco margaritas on Cinco de Mayo plus Way Too Much Food. What could possibly go wrong?

My hotel uses touch-cards for room entry. Since I my key was in my back pocket, I had the brilliant idea of touching my butt to the door to unlock. Since the lock-pad is higher up than my ass I had to jump up into it. Couldn't get it to work after three tries, so I decided to give up. Only to realize my room key was in my FRONT pocket all along. I seriously debated whether or not I should try grinding into the door to try to open it. Ultimately I figured that the people monitoring the security cameras already had enough fun for the night and decided against it.

Who says that alcohol dulls your thinking! Not me!

   

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Posted on Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Dave!I did not set my expectations very high for The Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs. Even though it was a HR Corporate project, the website gave it the feel of a crappy quick-and-dirty "conversion property" like Tulsa and Albuquerque. Those lazy hotels where they just slap a few pieces of rock memorabilia on the walls, change a few door-handles to be guitar-shaped, hang a logo above the door, and call it a Hard Rock...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Nope, despite outside appearances, the Palm Springs hotel was actually really well done. Much more than just a coat of paint and some superficial decorations. The lobby was beautifully themed with rock instrument sculptures, a lot of music-themed details, and a surprising amount of memorabilia. The design is beautifully eclectic and authentic Hard Rock, featuring a full lobby bar, a restaurant, and a merch shop... all really well done.

The reception desk...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

The very nice bar in the lobby area...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Lobby staircase and FUN...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Speaker sculpture...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Sessions restaurant...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Memorabilia case at the entrance...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

But the biggest surprise? They actually put some effort into theming the rooms! Many times they don't even bother with a hotel conversion, but it looks as thought they gutted everything and made it be Hard Rock style...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

The only disappointment in the conversion was the pool area. Not only is the pool tiny, there was no effort to make it look very Hard Rock. They half-heartedly spray-painted a few Banksy-inspired murals on a couple walls and that's about it...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

   
Overall a pleasant surprise. This is a great hotel... and a great addition to the Hard Rock family. The staff was terrific. Everything is clean and impeccably-maintained. The location is fantastic, just one block off Palm Canyon Drive downtown. Even the pricing seems comparable with similarly-equipped hotels in the area (i.e. a bit expensive). I enjoyed my stay very much.

Except...

In keeping with the growing trend of screwing your guests, of course there's a fucking "resort fee" you have to pay at checkout. The Hard Rock Palm Springs charges $30 per day, which is definitely on the high-side. It includes the usual... local calls nobody will ever make because they have fucking mobile phones and don't know anybody local... access to the gym which nobody will bother with because they're on vacation... access to the pool, which you've been getting free at every hotel since the dawn of time... internet access, which should be included in the room cost anyway... basically, bullshit amenities that are valued a hell of a lot less the $30 a day. I'd give you a complete breakdown of what it includes but, of course, a complete breakdown cannot be found on the hotel website because they want to camouflage this fucking bullshit charge as much as possible. I dunno. Maybe it also includes parking, which helps justify the cost IF you have a car... but $30 a day still seems fucking insane.

I only stayed for one day and didn't have a car, but I did get a ride to the airport and use the internet, so I'm trying not to be sore about paying $30 for nothing (seriously, if you still charge for internet, you're a fucking nickel-and-diming douchebag of a hotel). I could not stay here longer than two days without feeling as though I were being seriously ripped off. I would not.

But this is how it works now. Hotels want to grab people with cheap-ass room rates on the discount sites, but don't actually want to give their customers a discount. Hence the "resort fee" bullshit.

Oh well.

If you're looking for a nice place to stay and don't mind being violated with a mandatory fee for shit you won't use, by all means give the Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs a look.

   

Toys!

Posted on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Dave!And I've always liked flying through SFO before. It's great... until you have to change terminals.

Thanks to flights being late, my connection was NOT two doors down... but instead across the entire airport at the International Terminal. Which is fine. I've got the time. Kinda. EXCEPT YOU HAVE TO EXIT FRACKIN' TERMINAL SECURITY TO GET TO ANY OTHER TERMINAL! LIKE THIS IS THE FRACKIN' 1950's WHEN YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO GO THROUGH AN INQUISITION TO GET THROUGH SECURITY.

But that's not all. There's a Japanese toy exhibit in Terminal 3 that ends TODAY! (Thanks to James for the heads-up). So now, because we're late AND I HAVE TO GO THROUGH SECURITY TWICE... I may very well miss my flight. But I just don't care.

So I rush through the toys, run my ass off to get to the International A Terminal Security, then get to the gate as they're boarding.

This would have been so easy in most other airports where exiting Security is not required to change terminals. But not here. YOU SUCK ASS, SFO!!!

Except... Toys! How cool is that?

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Japanese Toys at SFO!

Very cool indeed. Good Bye, Kitty.

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Antarctic

Posted on Monday, May 12th, 2014

Dave!As I've repeated many, many times... visiting Antarctica has been a dream trip of mine for decades.

So I'd really like to know why it is that any news that comes from there is bad news? And today it was the worst news of all.

Yeah, NASA is saying that it could be centuries before massive chunks start breaking off fast enough to cause sea level to rise significantly, but massive chunks always seem to be breaking off the seventh continent. And who knows... the news coming from Antarctica could be even worse tomorrow.

So I guess it really is time to shit or get off the pot.

Either I make it to Antarctica in the next year or two, or I risk having to remove it from my list completely.

Guess I'll be robbing a bank or selling a kidney one day soon.

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Munneh

Posted on Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Dave!Travel costs, which have always been kinda expensive... but not prohibitively so... have been skyrocketing at a steady clip. Every time I turn around, the price for a trip goes up. Airfare keeps rising. Meals keep rising. Local transportation keeps rising. And hotels? Hotels are absolutely nuts. Even if you use Priceline and Hotwire to save money, lodging in most major cities is insanely pricey if you want to stay at a nice property in a decent location.

For my trip to Chicago today, I started adding things up and nearly passed out. Compared to six years ago, this trip will be almost double the cost. You read that right, double. Even the little things... like a bottle of Coke at the 7-11 (99¢ to $1.79) have gotten out of hand, and it all adds up...

$37 Dollar Coffee? AWESOME!

I'm seriously starting to wonder if traveling for work is even worth it any more. If a huge chunk of the money you earn is pissed away on flights, hotels, and food... it seems a lot of effort for very little return.

And so I consider settling down and traveling less.

But then I happen upon the best fucking veggie burger I have ever had tonight, and begin to think that maybe it's worth it after all. I'd never be able to get something like this back home.

Or maybe I just need to move to Chicago.

Inflation, it's a bitch, yo.

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Burger

Posted on Friday, May 16th, 2014

Dave!My entire day was a build-up to returning to the restaurant I had eaten at last night to see if the veggie burger I had eaten was as good as I thought it had been.

Because when you've eaten the best burger you've ever had, you want to be sure, right?

Especially when you look back through your Facebook feed and see this...

Facebook Burger Me

And so, I went back for another late-supper veggie burger...

25 Degrees Burger

And it was indeed the best damn veggie burger I had ever eaten. Again.

I'm told that it's soy-based, but they add in roasted sweet red peppers, a bit of jalapeño peppers, and shredded beets (which makes the patty look blood-red when you bite into it). I still have no idea where the bun comes from... but it's got a texture that's amazing and a bit of sweetness to it.

Anyway... if you're ever in Chicago and have a hankering for a really good burger, 25 Degrees looks like it's the place! Though, fair warning, it gets really loud, as there's a bar in the middle of the room.

They also have locations in Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, and Bangkok.

25 Degrees Chicago

But I have a feeling Chicago will always be my favorite.

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Chemistry

Posted on Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Dave!What was supposed to be a "free day" ended up being a full-on work day from start to finish.

Which wasn't a terrible thing, because my seasonal allergies are back. The transition from Winter to Spring and Spring to Summer are always a miserable few weeks while my body adjusts to the changes. And I always seem to get nailed when I travel... I swear I could feel the assault on my eyes and sinuses the minute I stepped off the plane.

Thank heavens for Fluticasone, which at least makes it so that I can breathe.

And now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know how it's synthesized...

Synthesizing Chemicals for Fun and Profit

Or not.

But still, better living through chemistry, I always say.

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Bullet Sunday 381

Posted on Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Dave!No more waiting for your ship to come in... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Blinded. This is a great story... it's short and awesome and worth your time and it has nice photos and you should read it. Sometimes things that seem irreparably broken just need a little TLC to make it through. That probably goes for people too...

Bored Panda Bird Waits by a Window

   
• Blinded Deux. And I can't post that wonderful story without being reminded of this wonderful story...

Remarkable how animals can fall between the cracks like this. That probably goes for people too. Again.

   
• Movie! Just a happy reminder... The LEGO Movie will be available at the iTunes Store tomorrow...

Emmet Says 'YEAH!'

Though I was not happy with the way they wrapped it up at the end, The LEGO Movie has still been one of the best movies this year so far.

   
• Thrice. Today was the annual board meeting for THRICE Fiction Magazine, so I packed up and headed west to the wilds of ChicagoLand Suburbia to meet with our intrepid Editor at Large, RW and his lovely wife. After much exciting talk about future plans for everybody's favorite literature magazine, we were off to Lynfred Winery for some remarkable Sangria Blanc. Which was followed by delicious possibilities for food porn at Restaurant 1913 in Roselle...

Restaurant 1913 Roselle

Insider Tip: The "Pizzettes" are to die for. I had the Spinach + Artichoke with Herbed Ricotta... heaven on a wooden serving board...

Pizzette at Restaurant 1913 Roselle

I dare say it's a dining experience worth the 45 minute train ride out of Chicago proper.

   
• Selfie! Alex Chacon has been living my dream... traveling the world on a motorcycle... for three years now. The video highlights he's released from his journey is the most epic selfie ever created...

You can find out a lot more about Alex's travels at his The Modern Motorcycle Diaries site.

   
And that's a wrap from beautiful Chicago!

   

Vomit

Posted on Monday, May 19th, 2014

Dave!Well today was pretty much a crap day.

In that it was a gorgeous day out and I had to stay inside working.

The only time I could escape was for a quick lunch downtown after making a trip to Dick Blick. Much to my surprise and delight, Chicago has been flooded by Pret A Manger, so I indulged in one of their Mediterranean Salad Wraps. Oh how I love Pret's fresh approach to fast food. They've only just arrived on the East Coast... but their move on Chicago has me hopeful that they'll reach Seattle eventually.

In other news that's unrelated entirely...

Taxi Vomit Fee = $50

   
Is it just me... or is $50 a shockingly inadequate amount of money to pay for puking in somebody's taxi? It costs at least that much to take a taxi from O'Hare to the city once you add a tip! I mean, come on, if somebody puked in MY taxi? Ain't no way $50 is going to cover it. The smell alone would make me puke all over my own cab... so there's at least $100 in charges right there.

Vomiting in a Chicago taxi is such an incredible bargain so far as entertainment is concerned, that I'm almost tempted to try it. Here's hoping that if I'm drunk enough to puke in a taxi that I'm drunk enough not to feel any shame afterwards.

Because isn't that the real price you pay?

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CANDY!!!

Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Dave!Today started out so badly, but ultimately ended up being a really good day.

Mostly because I got to go to a huge candy show with Jenny (of RunJenRun fame) and then drop into a sugar coma.

And because I got to make my own custom box of Tic Tacs...

Tic Tac Making

I called mine GREEN PASSION... and it's a mix of Green Apple and Passion Fruit...

GREEN PASSION Tic Tacs

After work I went out for dinner and saw that Disney is pulling out all the stops to promote Angelie Jolie's Maleficent...

Angelina Jolie Maleficent

Trump Tower Chicago is such a pretty building. But I guess The Donald must have run out of money because only the "T" and the "R" are up on the building... and only the "R" has the lights on...

Trump Tower Chicago

On the way back to my hotel, I spotted these two lonely Safety Men... guarding nothing...

Safety Men

But at least they have each other.

Which is nice, because then it started to rain.

And thunder.

And lightning.

Which made sleeping a bit of a challenge.

As if insomniacs didn't already have it bad enough.

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Tilt

Posted on Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Dave!My last day in Chicago.

A pity I had to spend my entire morning working.

Well, not my entire morning. I was able to take a minute to meet with the Hot Coffee Girl herself for a meet-up at Hancock Tower. They have a new attraction called TILT! where you get to stand against a window, then be tilted at a 45° angled off the side of the building...

TILT! at Hancock Center

Not so scary as if they laid you out at a 90° angle, but still very cool.

They don't let you use a camera or a phone to take pictures... apparently they are worried about the safety of the glass (WTF?!?), but this is kinda what you see if you look straight down...

Looking Down Hancock Tower

A little heart-stopping but, again, still very cool.

After checking out of my hotel and returning to work for a while, it was time to head home (with The Spirit of St. Lewis working my flight!) on a new Alaska Airlines livery for me... the Portland Timbers plane!

The Portland Timbers Plane

Layover in Portland. Layover in Seattle. A quick flight to my local airport. Then a half-hour drive home. Well, it would have been a half-hour... if not for having to wait for a stupid train.

I hate trains.

HATE them.

They always end up blocking my route no matter what time I'm trying to get somewhere... even past midnight, like tonight...

TSTUPID FUCKING TRAIN!

And as if that wasn't bad enough, you have to listen to their stupid-ass train whistles at all hours of the day and night.

Oh well. At least I'm home in my own bed at last.

Wish I was tired enough to fall asleep.

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Thor’s-Day

Posted on Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Dave!All things considered, I'd rather be back in Chicago.

Even with all their thunder and lightning...


DAVETOON: Lil' Dave Thor

   

At least there I could get a decent veggie dog.

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Tampa

Posted on Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Dave!And so I flew to Tampa today.

Mostly.

But before I could catch my flights, I had to drive over the mountains, which was surprisingly un-cheery for this time of year...

Pass Drive

Good news everyone... SeaTac International Airport has a Metsker Maps outlet! Cool!

Metsker Maps SeaTac

I don't recall much about the flight to Cincinnati or my connecting flight to Tampa. I choose to believe this is a good thing. About all I remember was that it was a close connection. I landed (late) but my second flight was across the aisle, so I walked off one plane and directly on to the next.

I also remember arriving at Tampa to find a couple fighting about whether they were going to take a taxi or an airport shuttle. The wife didn't want to spend the money for a taxi. The husband didn't want to wait for the shuttle to show up. The wife announced that she doesn't like how he throws money away. The husband said that throwing money away on a trip to Florida was her idea, and he didn't complain about that.

The wife told her husband he was free to get back on the plane and go home.

Instead he made a growling noise, then hailed a taxi.

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Morrissey

Posted on Friday, May 30th, 2014

Dave!One of the few remaining bands on my 80's Must-See-List is The Smiths... but since that reunion probably isn't happening any time soon, getting to see Morrissey (whose early solo stuff I love) is the next best thing.

And since he wasn't coming anywhere near The Pacific Northwest and Seattle on the tour for his upcoming album World Peace Is None of Your Business, it meant I had to travel to see him. Off to Tampa I go.

I didn't eat much at all yesterday, so I woke up hungry this morning. I really wanted a falafel for lunch, but found out the mall across the street had a Grimaldi's, so my lunch plans were set.

But first... X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST!

It's no secret that I think Bryan Singer's original two X-Men films were crappy and boring... and that Brett Ratner's third film, the horrendously shitty X-Men: Last Stand, is one of the worst comic movies of all time. Nor is it a secret that I loved the Matthew Vaughn prequel film X-Men: First Class, and was thrilled that the X-Men franchise was finally getting a decent movie.

Which is why I was mortified when Matthew Vaughn dropped out and Bryan Singer returned to direct the First Class sequel... X-Men: Days of Future Past. And the fact that Singer was not only dragging his original X-Men back into the franchise... but he was also going to take a dump on a classic and beloved story from the comics... well, the movie had "disaster" written all over it. And that's pretty much what we got. In typical Singer fashion, inexplicable shit happens that has no regard for the characters, the source material, nor movie continuity. But back to the film...

In the future, mutants are almost extinct thanks to giant robots called "Sentinels" which hunt them down. In a last-ditch effort to save both mutants and humans, Wolverine's mind is sent back in time to his younger self so he can change history and save the world. The way he does this is to have Singer pull a new super-power out of his ass for Kitty Pryde, which makes no fucking sense, but oh well. What follows is kinda boring in stretches, but has some really good action sequences, so all is not lost, I guess. The best thing about the film is amazing performances by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy... plus a killer sequence featuring the mutant Quicksilver (who looks fucking stupid, but is performed wonderfully). Overall, it's a decent flick that (wisely) abandons past continuity in an attempt to tell an entertaining story. I wish it was a better, tighter story which respected the source material more, but you can't have everything when it comes to an X-Men film, apparently. I give it a B-.

THEN it was time for pizza. I had them make a Da Vinci pie ala David's of Spokane... in a New York pizzeria... in Tampa... which was kind of strange. But it tasted great...

Grimaldo's Tampa

THEN, after working for the afternoon, it was time to make my way down to St. Petersburg for the show. Where I ran across this guy as I headed into town for a quick dinner...

St. Pete Bird

The Morrissey concert, which was playing at the Mahaffey Theater, was worth the trip. Mostly. The opening act was Kristeen Young, who had moments of brilliance interrupted by ungodly screeching and instrument abuse. I can kinda describe her music thusly: Part Tori Amos. Part Pat Benetar. Part hog slaughterhouse. Part car wreck. Part piano being shot out of a cannon. All accompanied by drum and guitar pounding. I don't know what to make of it, actually. Not my thing I guess. She was followed by an interlude filled with all kinds of bizarre crap before Morrissey took the stage...

Morrissey Concert Interlude

As for the main event? Moz sounded amazing, his band was very good, and he played a nice selection of songs. Sure, I wish he had done a lot more tracks from The Smiths and his earlier solo works, but even his later stuff sounds like classic Morrissey, so I enjoyed every minute...

  1. Hand in Glove
  2. Speedway
  3. Ganglord
  4. Certain People I Know
  5. I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
  6. The Bullfighter Dies
  7. World Peace Is None of Your Business
  8. Yes, I Am Blind
  9. Trouble Loves Me
  10. One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
  11. Life Is a Pigsty
  12. Istanbul
  13. To Give (The Reason I Live)
  14. I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday
  15. Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
  16. Meat Is Murder
  17. First of the Gang to Die (encore)

Morrissey Concert Interlude

All the way, Morrissey was Morrissey. He told us of his disgust that a sinkhole at LEGOland was more newsworthy than Syria or the death of Maya Angelou. Had a discussion with some people from the audience what they thought about it. And he accompanied Meat is Murder with a horrific, graphic, bloody video showing the atrocities that happen to poor animals in the meat and dairy industry. He also took time to give a thbpt/raspberry to the people in the audience who "weren't listening" after thanking those who did.

The crowd was a little dead, which explains why he played just 17 songs with a single encore compared to the 19-20 he's done in other cities. No matter... the show was well worth the trip and price of admission.

Now if only I can manage to see New Order in concert...

   

Ybor

Posted on Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Dave!Today was a free day to hang out with The Certifiable Princess and her husband, which is the absolute best reason to visit Tampa.

They were nice enough to take me to lunch in Tarpon Springs at Rusty Bellies, home to my favorite potato salad on earth. And what's better than a bowl of the World's Best Potato Salad?

How about TWO bowls of the World's Best Potato Salad!

Rusty Bellies Potato Salad

It's Mr. Rusty! Who is apparently into canibalism...

Mr. Rusty

Who's got crabs?

We've Got Crabs!

Decided to try BIRTHDAY CAKE M&M's when we stopped at a drug store. They don't have cake in them or anything, it's more like cake flavoring added to regular ol' chocolate M&M's. Not horrible, but not very exciting either...

Birthday Cake M&M's

After an afternoon of big fun at CP's granddaughter's dance recital, it was off to Ybor City for dinner and good times...

Ybor City

Dinner was at a terrific restaurant called "Bernini's," which featured a beautiful pizza oven...

Bernini's Sign

Bernini's Doors

Bernini's Oven

Across the street was a bar called... wait for it... BAD MONKEY!...

Bad Monkey Bar

Bad Monkey Bar

They even had giant Bad Monkey Jenga...

Bad Monkey Bar Jenga

The Red Sox were trouncing Tampa Bay, which was nice...

Bad Monkey Bar Boston Tampa Game

Then it was time to wander down 7th Avenue to see what's happening on a Saturday night. Turns out it's quite a lot.

Mr. Empanada was hoppin'...

Mr. Empanada Mexican Restaurant

The Columbia Restaurant with its beautiful tiles was glowing...

The Columbia

The Columbia

The rest of the evening was spent walking around and doing some window shopping...

Ybor City Street Walking

Ybor City Window Shopping

Sex Shop Shopping

Ybor City Pizza Window

Ybor City Fire Truck

Ybor City Jagermeister

US AmeriBank Ybor City

Ybor City Coyote Ugly Bar

Ybor City Coyote K9

And... that's a wrap!

Now I should probably attempt to get some sleep, seeing as how I have to get up at 4:30am o I can get to the airport for my flight home.

Blargh.

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Bullet Sunday 383

Posted on Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Dave!Don't press that back button... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Leaving. And so my quick trip to Tampa has ended and I'm flying home today. Early. Way too early. Because I'm just not smart enough to stop booking early flights. But at least it's ultimately my choice. I feel sorry for these puppies who didn't have a choice but to fly...

Puppy as Luggage

Poor pup. At least he has decent legroom.

   
• Movies. While looking for something to watch on Delta's entertainment system, I ran across THIS hot mess...

ADORE: Two mothers living in a sleepy seaside town find their lifelong friendship put to the test when the community learns that they have fallen in love with each others sons.

Holy shit! How messed up is that?!?

I settled for watching Veronica Mars for the fourth time...

Veronica Mars

Or I would have if I could have found the movie playing. Delta is just a big ol' tease.

   
• I'M BATMAN! Already clearing a space on my Fall schedule...

US AmeriBank Ybor City

Two of my favorite things on earth are LEGO and Batman. To have them combined in something so awesome gives my life meaning.

   
• Man-ual. If you're a fan of the Iron Man movies, you NEED to get The Iron Man Manual. It's a book... but not really a book. It's meant to be a dossier prepared by Tony Stark's computerized butler, Jarvis. The result is more "scrap book" than anything else, and it's really well done. Pages have tickets, post-it notes, schematics, drawings, and other movie prop goodies pasted to them. As if that weren't enough, the book is jam-packed with info from the films, including a complete look at all the various armors...

Surprisingly good book and a must for Iron Man fans. You can get a copy here.

   
• ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL! Watch the video to continue... but the video cannot be loaded... but you have to load the video to continue but...

WATCH THE VIDEO TO CONTINUE! - THE VIDEO COULD NOT BE LOADED!

Thanks a heap, SeaTac Free WiFi!

   
And... my plane is going to be landing in a few minutes, so I'll be shutting down now.

   

Traffic

Posted on Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Dave!I have been a lot of places and seen a lot of horrible traffic. Every major US city has some traffic problems due to the sheer volume of cars and trucks and things that go on the roads. But there are definitely cities worse off than others. Los Angeles is pretty much the gold standard for horrible traffic. San Francisco isn't much better. Boston has ensnared me more times than I can count. Some of the worst traffic I've ever seen was spotted as I was trying to drive into Atlanta one day. New York is an obvious target but, to me, never seems to be as bad as people think.

But, in my humble opinion, none of these cities compare to Seattle.

Seattle traffic is hellaciously bad and in a league of its own.

Most of the reason is simple geography. The bulk of Seattle is surrounded on three sides by water... Lake Washington to the East, Lake Union to the North, and Puget Sound on the West. You can't add "ring roads" around Seattle to alleviate congestion because there's no place to put them. The rest of the problem is just the sheer volume of vehicles on the road. Auto density in Seattle is absurdly high, and no matter how the city tries fix the problem, people love their cars too much to give them up.

And the problem isn't limited to Seattle, as the traffic there bleeds out into surrounding areas as people do whatever they can to avoid driving in the city.

Which makes driving to SeaTac airport a real crapshoot.

Technically, the drive takes 2-1/2 hours for me if the traffic isn't horrible. But since the traffic almost always is horrible and you never know how many times you'll have to stop for road construction, I leave anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes early. Most of the time I'm glad I did. But today the traffic was merely "bad" and not horrible at all...

SeaTac Traffic

18 minutes to drive 12 miles is practically lightspeed so far as Seattle traffic is concerned.

And so here I am, sitting at the airport with two hours and 45 minutes to kill before my flight. If only I had known, I would have stayed in bed an extra hour.

But you just know the day I sleep in is the day that a truckload of fish overturns on the 405 and backs up traffic for an hour.

Stupid fish.

The good news is that I have plenty of time to eat at Qdoba for breakfast. Sure the line is always long but, unlike Seattle traffic, it moves fairly quickly.

   

Pittsburgh, Part One

Posted on Friday, June 6th, 2014

Dave!A short trip to Pittsburgh and one of my favorite people on earth!

Usually I stay at the Sheraton, which is across the river to the South side of the city. It's next door to the Hard Rock Cafe, which is usually the reason I'm here (like the pin event I attended last year). But this time I stayed at the Westin downtown, which is an older hotel... but still a nice one. And my favorite part of the hotel is the lobby where they have a mosaic of Pittsburgh in the floor that's just fantastic...

Westin Pittsburgh Mosaic
Despite the low resolution, it's surprisingly recognizable.

Westin Pittsburgh Mosaic
It's PNC Baseball Park! LET'S GO BUCS!

But anyway...

Becky and my first stop was for lunch at Market Square... and margaritas...

Top Shelf Margaritas
That'll be $46 please!

One time I got incredibly sick off of tequila and had to stop drinking it. Ever since then, I've hated even the smell of it. Recently I discovered it's not tequila I hate... it's cheap tequila I can't stand. Spend $10 a shot on the good stuff, and a margarita is about one of the most refreshing and delicious drinks on earth. The bad news is that a tall margarita with two shots costs $23 each. But it's money well-spent, because it tastes amazing. So now I'm going through kind of a tequila renaissance.

The weather was so beautiful that we walked down to the Three Rivers Arts Festival to see what was going on...

Moon Through the Trees
Smack dab in the middle there... it's THE MOON! Don't believe me?

Moon Through the Trees
HOW ABOUT NOW?!?

Market Square is directly across from PPG Place, "The Crown Jewel of the Pittsburgh skyline"...

PPG Place Pittsburgh Building
It's like a castle or Camelot or something... if it were made of glass.

There's a LOT of glass around. Nearly 1 million square feet, in fact...

PPG Place Plaza
Click the photo to embiggen the image...

It's very shiny...

Dave2 and Becky Reflected
The glass is so shiny you can see yourself in it.

PPG Place also has Ketchup Dinosaur...

Ketchup Dino

And a Disco Dinosaur...

Disco Dino

Eventually we met up with The Verdant Dude himself, B.E. Earl, for a crawl down Carson Street in the South Side. Starting with Jack's...

Jack's Bar
So many signs... I don't know where to look!

Have you had a Dude in your mouth?
Ah, there you go then.

Then we stopped at the Rowdy Buck, where I was tempted by a Pickleback, but the combination of whiskey and pickle juice sounds like it could be toxic...

Pickleback Rider
Ride 'em Cowgirl.

After dinner at Piper's Pub, Becky took us up Mt. Washington for a view of the city...

Pittsburgh at Night
Shiny!

Annnd... I'm going to drop into a beer-induced coma now.

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Pittsburgh, Part Two

Posted on Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Dave!Today was all about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But first it was all about tailgating in the parking lot, which seemed to be a great excuse for people to eat a lot of cheese...

A Pittsburgh Cheeseburger
I promise there's a burger under there somewhere.

If nothing else, it turned out to be a beautiful day to stand in line for the toilet...

Porta Potty Line
It's only a matter of time before tailgaters start bringing their own toilets.

And then? LET'S GO BUCS!

Raise the Jolly Roger!
Today I am tattoo appropriate!

The game was against the #goddamnbrewers. Last night the Pirates slaughtered Milwaukee 15 to 5, so everybody knew that the Brewers would be out for blood. And though my heart will forever belong to the Boston Red Sox, there's nothing quite watching a home-game and rooting for the Bucs, because PNC Park is easily one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country with some of the most devoted fans in baseball. I love it here...

Beautiful PNC Park
Lovely weather for a bloodbath, I think.

Oh... and if you look up, the moon was out again...

Beautiful PNC Park
Why is it that the moon always photographs smaller than it looks in Real Life?

And here's the obligatory panorama shot...

Beautiful PNC Park
Yes, you can totally click on the photo to embiggen the image.

Seats directly behind home plate? Yes please...

Beautiful PNC Park
Hoping for another run from Neil Walker.

The game may have been a bust for the Bucs since they lost 3 to 9 (I overheard the term "shit the bed" more times in the last hour of the game than I've heard in the past year), but I got to spend time with one of my favorite people on earth, so it was all good...

Becky and Dave2
That's right... bask in our adorableness!

After the game was a concert by the Goo Goo Dolls. I pretty much lost track of them after Dizzy Up The Girl, but they played a lot of their older (i.e. more popular) stuff, so it ended up being a pretty great set...

The Goo Goo Dolls at PNC Park
"PLAY IRIS! PLAY IRIS!"

The Goo Goo Dolls at PNC Park
"SERIOUSLY, DUDE, PLAY IRIS! PLAY IRIS! PLAY IRIS! PLAY IRIS!"

After a terrific day at the ballpark, Becky took us to the original Primanti Brothers, which is a Pittsburgh dining institution...

Primanti Bros. Diner
How about a sandwich at Primanti Bros.?

Primanti Bros. Diner
Now THAT'S what a greasy spoon diner looks like!

The eatery has been featured on television several times, mostly due to their unique sandwiches. They use this amazing thick-cut French bread, pile it high with a number of different meat choices, and always top everything with a scoop of coleslaw, French fries, and tomatoes. I had a Double-Egg & Cheese, skip the coleslaw, which was delicious. But it looked a little boring compared to everybody else's sandwiches... like Becky's, which is the kind of thing you're supposed to order here...

Primanti Bros. Sandwiches!
Mine Egg & Cheese Sammy on top. Becky's Monster Sammy on the bottom.

And... that's the end to one fantastic Saturday in Pittsburgh.

   

Bullet Sunday 384

Posted on Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Dave!Take time to be kind... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Window. My first time visiting Pittsburgh... back in 2002... I flew into the airport, rented a car, then headed into the city. Unlike most cities where you can see the buildings in the distance and know what you're getting into, Pittsburgh is hidden. Mt. Washington obscures the skyline so you have no idea what to expect until you drive through a tunnel that leads to the city. And for somebody like me who was expecting a run-down, dirty, old steel town, it's a spectacular surprise. Which I've finally managed to film on my fourth try...

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city filled with terrific architecture and lots of green spaces. That it has one of the most amazing reveals of any city on earth is just the icing on the cake.

   
• Hard Rock. The bulk of my Sunday was spent kidnapping Becky and driving to Ohio so we could visit the new Hard Rock Casino and Hard Rock Cafe in Northfield Park, Ohio. Sadly, it's a franchise property, so it's not in the same league as other Hard Rock properties, but they still did a very nice job...

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

Hard Rock Northfield Park

I ended up winning $40 on my first pull in a slot machine, so that pretty much paid for the cost of getting here... how cool is that?

   
• Bridge. On the way back to Pittsburgh, Becky navigated us to Banks Covered Bridge, which is near Wilmington Township, Western Pennsylvania...

Banks Covered Bridge

Banks Covered Bridge

It's a nice old bridge that's in really good shape... having been "rehabilitated in 1999, 110 years after it was built in 1889.

   
• Bridge Deux. Not far from Banks Covered Bridge is McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge, which has a state park built around it...

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

McConnell's Mill Covered Bridge

The bridge is unique in that it uses something called a "Howe's Truss" in its construction... something that's apparently rare for Pennsylvania bridges.

   
• Meal. After an afternoon of excitement, it was back to Pittsburgh for dinner. This time to the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where even the hipster mannequins are battling receding hairlines...

HIPSTER MANNEQUIN!!!

Killer goatee though. Apparently that's the default facial hair configuration in the greater Pittsburgh arean.

   
And now? Time to lapse into a coma of relaxation...

   

Pittsburgh, Part Three

Posted on Monday, June 9th, 2014

Dave!Today was a Pirates night game, so I decided to work in the morning.

Well, that's a lie... I decided I had to work in the morning.

But I did escape into the city early enough that I could finally... finally... visit Point State Park. Something I've been meaning to do for years, but never seem to get around to. It's called "Point State Park" because this is the point at which the Ohio River, the Allegheny River, and the Monongahela River converge...

Point State Park Medallion

Apparently the area has quite a history, because the comemmorative medallion for the park says "Point of Conflict... Point of Renewal... Point of Confluence."

At the very tip of the park is a giant fountain...

Point State Park

Point State Park

Prior to being a State Park, the French had built a fort here called Fort Duquesne...

Fort Duquesne Marker

The French ended up destroying their own fort rather than let the English Army take it back in 1758.

After visiting the park, I wandered around the city a bit because art is everywhere...

Pittsburgh Mural

This "future city" is one of my favorites because it's as if Mary Blair were channeling The Jetsons!

Even trash is an art opportunity for Pittsburgh... like with this awesome RecycleBot...

Pittsburgh RecycleBot

One of the best pieces of art I saw all day was on a construction screen for a new taco restaurant that's going in downtown. Absolutely beautiful...

Tacos!

Tacos!

Tacos!

Oooh... Chaka Khan is in town next week for Pride!

Chaka!

And now? Time to get excited for the Bucs!

Beat 'em Bucs!

As usual, Pittsburgh closes down the Roberto Clemente Bridge so people can park downtown and walk across to PNC Park for the game...

Clemente Bridge Walk

There are statues of famous Pirates from days past scattered around the ballpark. Here's Becky posing with Willie Stargell's...

Clemente Bridge Walk

Willie Stargell Statue

The weather wasn't as glorious as it was for Saturday's game, but it's a night game and it didn't rain, so we couldn't complain...

PNC Park Pittsburgh

I, of course, had to have my $5 Cracker Jack. Which somehow tastes better than it does when you buy them for 99¢ at the supermarket...

PNC Park Pittsburgh

The Pirates have a lot of activities scattered between innings. The first major non-baseball event is a giant bird shooting hot dogs out of a gun into the crowd...

PNC Park Pittsburgh

Which is almost as entertaining as Andrew McCutchen hitting a home run. Which happened just seconds after this photo was taken...

McCutchen at Bat

The next non-baseball event of note is the Pierogi Race... where people run around the outfield dressed as giant pierogis...

Pierogi Race Bucs

While nothing compares to how beautiful PNC Park is in daylight hours... I have to admit it's a great-looking ballpark at night too...

Pierogi Race Bucs

After the Pirates beat the Cubs 6-2, we headed back over the Roberto Clemente Bridge and downtown... where I saw that I missed a piece of the fantastic taco shop construction stand. Around the corner is Holy Mary, Mother of Taco!

Holy Mary Mother of Taco

Genius.

And that was that. So sad to be leaving Pittsburgh so soon... but oh so happy that I had such a fantastic visit!

   

Mirror

Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Dave!As usual, my flight home from Pittsburgh was insanely early. The up-side being that between my ass-crack-of-dawn flight and the time change from Eastern to Pacific, I arrived back in Seattle at noon. The plan was to see a movie... maybe have dinner with a friend... possibly exchange the power adapter for my laptop... all the little things I never seem to have time for anymore.

But nooooooo... I grabbed a quick lunch, checked into my hotel, then called it a day.

Or so I thought.

Since every hotel in Seattle I could afford was full-up, I had to stay far south of the city in a remote hotel that's not very accommodating to the business traveler. Or any traveler, really. My room smelled like a combination of vomit, mold, and burning hair. I thought that was about as bad as it could get... until I found out there was no WiFi. All internet access is via ethernet cable.

Except modern computers, like my MacBook Pro, don't have an ethernet port.

Which meant I had to drive to the Apple Store so I could purchase a $30 ethernet-to-thunderbolt adapter... AND some ethernet cable with an RJ45 coupler so I could extend the cable to the bed so I could at least work comfortably.

Dinner was at Subway, because apparently I hate myself.

But don't go being finished feeling sorry for me yet...

When you exit the bathroom in my hotel room, you turn right to head back to your bed. If you walk straight ahead, you end up in the closet. Which happens to be behind by a giant door that's entirely covered by a mirror. In the daylight, this is not a big deal. But in the middle night when the room is dark and you're half asleep... some kind of optical illusion happens where you can't tell it's a mirror. Which meant I ended up walking into the thing not once... but twice! The first time I hit with the side of my face. Lesson not learned, the second time my nose smashed flat into it. I hit so hard that I thought for sure I broke it, but apparently my nose will live to smell another day.

Which is in two hours.

What are the odds I can get a little sleep before my alarm goes off?

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Mariners

Posted on Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Dave!I haven't been to a Mariners game in six years.

w00t!


Mariners at Safeco Field

Mariners at Safeco Field

Mariners at Safeco Field

Dave!

Mariners at Safeco Field

Mariners at Safeco Field

Mariners at Safeco Field

Mariners at Safeco Field

   

Would have been great if the Mariners had won. :-(

   

Bullet Sunday 387

Posted on Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Dave!Put on your Sunday's finest... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Home. I am fascinated by the trend of "micro-living"... otherwise known as really, really small houses. Over the past couple years I keep seeing more and more stories of people giving up on larger homes, simplifying their lives, and moving into tiny places that are perfectly livable thanks to amazing design choices. It's all very zen, and appeals to my desire for living a less complicated life. Now it looks like apartment living has gone micro too, and an article on "The Karl" shows that micro-apartment complexes have some terrific advantages over micro-houses... like communal rooms on the top floor with space that can be used for socializing... something that's tough to do in a micro-home. I have to say, I sure like the floor plan...

The Karl Design

Small. Yes. But it's got everything you need, really. I mean, you're not going to raise a family in there, but for a single individual or a couple just starting out, it's perfectly livable. If you're in the city, most of your time will be spent at work and out with friends... all you really need is a place to sleep, poop, change clothes, and eat a meal every once in a while. I don't know that I would want to go quite this small... but the idea of it all intrigues me.

   
• Onziem. John Oliver has very quickly become an essential voice on world affairs, and it's shocking to see just how easily he is able to take a serious look at complicated issues while adding a comedic slant that in no way diminishes the gravity of the issue. Tonight Oliver had a fascinating take on the horrific level of hate that has been exported to Uganda by US assholes (USholes?)... PLUS an interview with the amazing Pepe Julian Onziema.

This is essential viewing material...

Be sure you watch Part 2 of the interview.

   
• Fraud. And speaking of John Oliver...

Turns out that "Dr. Oz" actually is the fraudulent piece of shit everybody thought he was all along...

Shocker. I still don't understand why people listen to raging douchebags like this asshole in the first place. Wasn't his motivation for crap like this totally obvious from the start?

   
• Amy. As if I didn't already have enough reasons to love Amy Adams... here's another one. I've been able to swap my seat a couple times when I've spotted a soldier flying alone, and it's about the best feeling you can have. The first time I gave up my seat it was to a young kid flying back for deployment after a visiting his wife and young daughter (which I leaned from overhearing a conversation he was having with a man next to him). After getting his name off his uniform, I went to the ticket desk and had the gate agent make the swap. I thought it was an anonymous deal, but he wanted to thank me so he waited in First Class after we landed where a flight attendant pointed me out. It was such a little thing for me... but it meant the world to a soldier who was headed back to a job nobody wants to do but, for whatever reason, risks his life to accomplish.

   
• Falafel. The grocery store here in my little corner of Redneckistan is now selling falafel mix... something I've attempted to purchase locally for years...

Falafel Mix!

Given its Middle East origins, I am sure this will be taken as a sign that sharia law will be enacted any minute now. Oh well... I no longer have to buy falafel via mail order or when I'm in Seattle, so I'll take it.

   
• LEELOO DALLAS MULTIPASS! I love The Fifth Element. Seriously one of my favorite films of all time. And I loved Gary Oldman in the film, where he played the villainous Zorg brilliantly for all his oddities...

Gary Oldman as Zorg

Which is why I was truly hurt when Gary Oldman decided to trash the film in a controversial interview he had in Playboy. Fuck you, Gary Oldman... The Fifth Element was one of the most interesting roles you've ever played!

   
Enjoy what's left of your weekend, everybody.

   

Lifetime

Posted on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Dave!I've been fortunate to have seen a big chunk of the world in my life of travels... but it seems there's always somewhere else to go.

HuffPo Travel has assembled The Top 50 Cities to See in Your Lifetime, which is the kind of list I live for... even though these things are usually geographically biased or don't reflect my travel interests. That being said, this one is actually pretty good. I would put Edinburgh, Scotland over a lot of the cities on it, but still... pretty good.

Mostly because I've only been to half of them...

  1. Venice, Italy
  2. Seville, Spain
  3. New York City, USA
  4. Lhasa, China
  5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  6. London, England
  7. Marrakech, Morocco
  8. Petra, Jordan
  9. Rome, Italy
  10. Varanasi, India
  11. Florence, Italy
  12. Havana, Cuba
  13. Kyoto, Japan
  14. Jerusalem, Israel
  15. Paris, France
  16. Beijing, China
  17. Lalibela, Ethiopia
  18. Granada, Spain
  19. Athens, Greece
  20. Bagan, Myanmar
  21. Kathmandu, Nepal
  22. Vatican City
  23. Lisbon, Portugal
  24. Tokyo, Japan
  25. Istanbul, Turkey
  26. Hội An, Vietnam
  27. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  28. Luxor, Egypt
  29. Berlin, Germany
  30. Jaipur, India
  31. Lyon, France
  32. Oia, Greece
  33. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  34. Vienna, Austria
  35. Cusco, Peru
  36. Cartagena, Colombia
  37. Zanzibar, Tanzania
  38. Mexico City, Mexico
  39. Singapore
  40. Las Vegas, USA
  41. Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  42. Sydney, Australia
  43. San Francisco, California, USA
  44. Mont Saint Michel, France
  45. Dubrovnik, Croatia
  46. Bangkok, Thailand
  47. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  48. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
  49. Prague, Czech Republic
  50. Budapest, Hungary

Given that Spain is one of my favorite places to vacation, I'm hoping I get to Seville and Granada eventually. India and Nepal have long been dream destinations, so Kathmandu, Varanasi, and Jaipur would be next on my list.

But Budapest and Vienna have Hard Rock Cafes, so...

I'm nothing if not predictable.

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Bullet Sunday 389

Posted on Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Dave!Smoke is in the air and so are bullets... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Spoilers! Since I have no desire to see yet another flaming pile of shit Transformers movie that's not about Transformers, I jumped right on io9's "Spoiler FAQ" for Transformers 4. Sounds just as heinous as I knew it would be. Even if you have no interest in this turd of a film franchise, Rob Bricken's comments are pretty epic. If you want an entertaining read that encapsulates everything that's wrong with modern movies, it's an article absolutely work reading.

   
• Don't Come! But... but... I've already been to Belgium!

Antarctica has been at the top of my travel destination list for years. Now I just don't know. Tourist crowds? In freakin' Antarctica? Blargh.

   
• Murder! I would like to add my outrage to all those people condemning dinosaur hunters for murdering these magnificent creatures...

Steven Spielberg, Dinosaur Hunter
Photo © Universal Pictures

What a bastard! NOT COOL, STEVEN SPIELBERG!

   
• Shawn! Started out my day listening to Jay-Z and found myself Googling him to see what he's up to (besides Beyonce). Ended up watching about 20 Jay-Z interviews on YouTube. He is awesome in all of them. This is probably my favorite. Not many people can out-Letterman Dave Letterman...

It's nice how Jay-Z feels the need to keep reminding us that he's cooler than 99% of the people on earth.

   
• Pepe! Click here for some wisdom from a true leader... President José "Pepe" Mujica....

President José
Photo © The Associated Press

They saved the most telling quote for last on the secret to happiness...
"To live in accordance with how one thinks. Be yourself and don't try to impose your criteria on the rest. I don't expect others to live like me. I want to respect people's freedom, but I defend my freedom. And that comes with the courage to say what you think, even if sometimes others don't share those views."

Sounds oddly familiar... a pity politicians in this country aren't so forward (er, backwards?) thinking when it comes to imposing their criteria (or, more likely, the criteria of the lobbyists who have bought them off) on the people they claim to represent.

   
• Thanks! Have you thanked your parents today?

And, to the woman hosting this video... marry me?

   
Now I suppose I should try to get some rest before The Week From Hell rears its ugly head. Blargh.

   

Detective

Posted on Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Dave!Because travel is so heinously expensive now-a-days, I am costing out every single job to make sure that I don't end up losing money. So, for example, if an offer comes up in Tokyo that I can squeeze into my schedule, I don't immediately say "yes" as I used to. I say "maybe" then start researching expenses. Especially with a city like Tokyo which tends to be massively pricey anyway.

First stop is my email confirmations from past trips for hotels, transportation, and such to get a general idea of what I've paid before. Which, in this case, ended up being a waste of time. Turns out the last time I was in Tokyo was in 2003, and I didn't start archiving confirmation emails until 2004. This was more than a little shocking, because I could have sworn I was in Tokyo sooner than that... five years, tops.

Naturally, I can barely remember details from a trip that happened over a decade ago, so questions begin to pop up. "What was the name of that hotel I always stay at?" Hell if I know. I think my co-workers called it "Pajama Hotel" because it had pink and white stripes like pajamas. But Googling that doesn't seem to produce a name.

But it does get me a photo from Flickr...

Pajama Hotel Tomyo
Photo © Jean-Michel Volat, from his Flickr stream.

Yep. That's the place. Time to play detective.

The photo is tagged with a location of Kojimachi 1 Chome. But the minute I call up that neighborhood in Google Maps, I know it's wrong...

Wildfire Smoke

The hotel was nowhere near the Tokyo Inner Loop, and I know the train stop wasn't Hanzomon. On top of that, I knew there were a pair of small streets across from the hotel where I'd go to eat, and they weren't there.

Thinking the GPS was off, I zoom out a bit and... BINGO! The name "Akasaka Hotel Tokyu" sounds really familiar...

Wildfire Smoke

Jumping to Google Street View so I can wander around and... there it is...

Pajama Hotel Akasaka Tokyu Hotel

Pajama Hotel Akasaka Tokyu Hotel

Five minutes to find the answer to a rather strange question. Thank you, internet.

Much to my surprise, the hotel I like is reasonably priced. Unfortunately, the airfare is absurd. Crazy absurd. So I have no idea if I'll be going to Tokyo or not.

Oh well. I've got a pile of clothes I should probably wash instad of jetting across the Pacific Ocean anyway.

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Age

Posted on Friday, July 25th, 2014

Dave!After what I can only describe as "The Week I Wish Never Happened," I was more than a little thrilled to be getting the heck out of Dodge.

So this morning I packed up my crap for a drive over the mountins to catch a flight out of Seattle for Knoxville, Tennessee. This is a city I have driven by four or five times, but have never actually spent any time in. Hopefully there will be a little time for that tomorrow, but right now I am so tired I can barely even think about it.

The trip wasn't bad at all. Even my layover in Detroit was fairly painless. Mostly because I had loads of news coming out of ComicCon in San Diego all day long to distract me. Now-a-days it's more about comic book movies than actual comic books, which is fine by me. Especially all the amazing stuff coming out of The House of Marvel, which has been one amazing cinematic feat after another since the first Iron Man movie.

And they're really upping the game with the next Avengers movie... Age of Ultron... which looks epic...

Avengers: Age of Ultron Poster

If I die before this film is released in May of next year, I will be very disappointed.

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Pigeon Forge

Posted on Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Dave! And so here I am in Knoxville, which is pretty much just a landing point for my real destination: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The city is kind of a resort area that built up around Dolly Parton's theme park, Dollywood, and there's all kinds of interesting things to see and do.

But I'm not here for the attractions. The Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg (one of my favorites) closed up shop and moved up the road to Pigeon Forge, so I decided to check it out with some friends who came from Chattanooga. From the outside, it's nothing special. They painted it purple, but it's still incredibly boring. No giant guitar. No unique Tennessee-inspired architecture. Nothing very special at all...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

As expected, the interior is inspired by the newer-style Hard Rock "hipster lounge" design aesthetic I loathe. The good news is that they toned it down a bit so it's not quite so douchey. No giant flowing curtains and other crap obscuring the joint. Inexplicably, there's a lot of ropes hanging above the bar. If this were a port city, that might make sense... but Pigeon Forge is about as land-locked as you can get, so I guess it's some kind of S&M-inspired tribute to Fifty Shades of Grey or something...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

Holy crap do I miss the "old-style" cafes that were packed to the rafters with rock memorabilia! These newer cafes are style over substance, and all you get are a few scattered pieces of clothing... a few guitars... maybe some hand-penned lyrics or something. It's as if the people designing for the chain now have no fucking clue what the Hard Rock is supposed to be about...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

Case in point... they had one of Dolly Parton's dresses hanging on the wall. And while they do have a plaque below the piece explaining its history, there's no photo of Dolly wearing it... or note from Dolly about it... which is what you'd likely find in an old-style cafe where they were more interested in the memorabilia telling a story instead of a merely using it as a design accessory...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

Sad, really.

But anyway...

After parting ways with my friends, I decided to wander down the street to The Titanic Museum. I was curious to see how it stacked up to the "Titanic Experience" I visited in Orlando.

It certainly looks really impressive...

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

But then, tragedy struck.

I noticed a sign saying "no photos or video"...

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

Disappointing, but not a deal-breaker. Yet. Before buying a ticket, I head to the gift shop to see if they have a souvenir guide to the museum. If I can't take pictures, a book will have to do.

Except they don't have a guide book.

Fuck. That. There's the deal-breaker.

I am sick and tired of museums who don't allow you any way to re-visit your visit. Don't want me taking photos? Fine. But sell a fucking guide book so fifteen years from now when I want to remember my visit I have something to actually remind me. I visit a ton of museums, and it's not like I can remember every damn thing I've ever seen in them.

So screw the Titanic Museum. I am done supporting this kind of crap.

My friends recommended that I visit the Pigeon Forge Gem Mine before I left, which sounded interesting...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

What you do is buy a bucket of dirt that has a random assortment of gemstones and other goodies hidden in it. There are al kins of choices, depending on what you're interested in, and the prices range from $15 to $200...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

I bought a more modest bucket that was like $20 or something...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Once you've paid for your dirt, you take a seat at a water trough where you can start mining for your treasure...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

After dumping a couple scoopfuls into your screen box, you shift it in the trough so that the dirt washes away...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

That leaves you with gemstones, agates, fossils, and other interesting stuff...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Once you've finished your bucket, you can go inside to have them evaluate your haul. This can take a while. There was only one "assayer" on duty, and she spent twenty minutes with one person who must have been mining for days because she had bags and bags of rocks...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Luckily, I was in no hurry, so I visited the... uhhh... "Gem Museum" they had...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

Eventually my name was called and I got to learn what all I had. Which was nothing too spectacular, really. I rather like the nice piece of amethyst I found though (the purple-ish thing at the top)...

Mine Your Own Gemstones

I also got some nifty minerals, a couple fossils, and a really cool agate (on the far left).

Mine Your Own Gemstones

If you want, the shop will clean up your pieces, polish them into something pretty, and make it into some jewelry for you in 24 hours. I wasn't interested in spending any more money, so I took my bag of rocks and left.

Overall, the Pigeon Forge Gem Mine was a pretty cool experience, and a good waste of time (I was there for just over an hour). Some people were spending hundreds of dollars on bucket after bucket, so you could probably make a day out of it if you wanted to.

But don't be there too long, or you'll miss out on the many dinner theaters going on. There's musical theater. There's church theater. There's Hatfields vs. McCoys theater. There's all kinds of dinner theaters. There's even Lumberjack Feud theater, which looks like it would be a total bloodbath...

ZOMFG! LUMBERJACK FEUD!!!

I wasn't sticking around for dinner theater, but I did want to stop at the souvenir shop where Jesus saves...

Jesus Saves Incredible Bargains!

It's a junk-lovers dream come true, as they've got every kind of crap you can think of...

Jesus Saves Incredible Bargains!

But I didn't have time for shopping (or paying $3.50 to see the live bears they keep out back), so I headed back to Knoxville... where I finally decided to venture into the city, which is quite nice...

It's Knoxville!

The highlight of my visit was the Mast General Store, which was a lot of fun...

It's Knoxville!

It's Knoxville!

I ended up finding some really nice shirts on sale, so I bought a bunch to take home...

It's Knoxville!

I could have bought a lot of things, but I only have one small suitcase, so I had to pass. I did grab a bag of bulk candies, however...

It's Knoxville!

And there you have it. My one day in Tennessee. In a few minutes I'll be off to the movies and then calling it a night so I can pack up for my flight out tomorrow.

After I've eaten all my candy, obviously.

   

Bullet Sunday 391

Posted on Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Dave!It's lobstah time... because a Very Special Bullet Sunday from Maine starts... now...

   
• Jet. You might find it interesting to know that Portland, Maine doesn't have an airport... they have a jetport! So I guess if you have an old-style prop plane, you're just going to have to land somewhere else. Only jets get the privilege of landing in Portland!

   
• Waterfront. Unlike so many fishing waterfronts that have been reimagined as tourist attractions or shopping destinations... Portland's waterfront is still in use by the fishing industry. This affords some excellent photographic opportunities which, alas, were lost on my because I didn't pack my camera. iPhone to the rescue!

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

It's a cool place to explore... assuming the smell of rotting fish doesn't offend you.

   
• Flatbread. For dinner I decided to stop at Flatbread Company, which was recommended by my hotel. This ended up being a fantastic choice, as I loved absolutely everything about the place. Exceptional service. Amazing food featuring local organic ingredients. And a very good beer selection...

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

I had a flatbread with zucchini, summer squash, maple glaze, and a bunch of other stuff I don't remember. Dessert was a Maine blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream and maple-sweetened cream.

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

If you're ever in Portland, Flatbread Company gets my highest recommendation.

   
• Cobble. Old Downtown Portland is a really nice place. Some of the streets are still in cobblestones, and there's a wide variety of shops and eateries to visit...

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

If you're an ice cream lover, Portland has you covered. There are a lot of shops here selling it (I only ate at two of them, swear)....

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Turns out "The Other Portland" (if you're a west-coaster) is worth a trip. Can't believe I haven't been here sooner.

   
• BatMaine? Gotta love any city that's selling a decal like this one...

Batman Symbol with MAINE inside!

   
• Lucy. I am a huge fan of filmmaker Luc Besson. I am a huge fan of Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. So a movie combining all three of those things should be amazing, right? Enter Lucy...

After some ridiculous circumstances involving a new synthetic drug end up giving Scarlett super-human abilities, she decides to make the best of the situation by passing her massive knowledge about life, the universe, and everything on to all mankind. An evil drug lord is having none of it, however, and decides to pursue her so he can have the drug for himself. Along the way there are some terrific action sequences... mostly involving Scarlett being awesome with her newfound abilities. It's all a bit cheesy, sure, but it's fun. And then things start to fall apart in the third act. Badly. Instead of escalating the cool super-human action to a grand finale, the film takes a massive detour into some kind of metaphysical artistic statement that is really unsatisfying and senseless. Lucy was ultimately disappointed to me because the ending sabotaged the whole movie.

So... it turns out that all the best stuff from Lucy is in the trailer. The movie might still be worth a rental, but I don't know I'd recommending paying the money to see it in a theater.

   
And... bullets begone! Seeyou next Sunday.

   

Maine

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014

Dave!I've been to Maine before. But not really. I crossed the border back in 2005 just so I could say that I've been here, but a quick hop to Kittery doesn't really qualify me to say that "I've seen Maine." So when my travel plans went as scheduled and I ended up with a free day, I figured I might as well jot out to the coast to see a few lighthouses and stuff.

Except I awoke to find that all of Maine was pouring rain and fog. I scoured the internet for lighthouse webcams, but all of them pretty much looked like this...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

The radar weather map looked a bit cleaner up north, so I started combing every webcam I could find up the Maine coast to see if there was anywhere with decent weather. After a long time of having no luck, I happened across a camera for "Pemaquid Point Light" (they don't call them "lighthouses" here). It was rainy, but not overly foggy. It was an hour-and-a-half drive through a torrential downpour, but oh well. Off I went.

The entire trip was pouring rain... right up until I got to the road that led down to the lighthouse...

But then... a miracle. As I was turning into the park, the rain just stopped. Still a bit overcast, but kinda clear. No need to wear a garbage bag after all!

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Behind the lighthouse is a cool rock formation that funnels out to the ocean...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

What's cool about this particular lighthouse is that you can climb up in it...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Inside the lightkeeper's house is a small museum...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

By the time I was ready to leave, blue skies were starting to appear...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

After asking for some advice as to another lighthouse I might try, I was told that a lot of people seem to head off to Marshall Point Light from here, so off I went. Surprise surprise, it started to rain again...

Rainy Maine Road Drive

It took a lot longer than I thought (Pemaquid Point and Marshall Point look so close on the map!), but it was a nice drive. Lucky me... the rain started to let up just as I pulled into the parking lot. Again...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Wanting to buy a post card, I stepped into the gift shop for a minute. When I went back outside, the blue skies had followed me!

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

The rocks here are really cool to look at...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Overall, a very nice lighthouse with some beautiful scenery surrounding...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine
Click the panorama to enbiggen.

While in the gift shop, I saw a map that showed another lighthouse that's publicly accessible not too far away. So off I went to Owl's Head Lighthouse... this drive in much nicer weather...

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Poor Spot!

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

And thus ended my exploration of Maine's coastal roads and lighthouses.

Interesting to note that the geography here makes everything much farther away than you'd think. Pemaquid Point and Marshall Point are not very far away from each other as the crow flies (about 13 miles). But to navigate there in a car is just over 50 miles and a 1 hour, 15 minute drive...

Google Map
Map courtesy of... who else... Google Maps!

Dinner was back in Portland at Flatbread Company, because I just couldn't help myself. The blueberry desserts are just too incredible. This time? Blueberry-Topped Poundcake...

Blueberry Poundcake

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get the chance to explore a bit more... but it's a work day, so fingers crossed.

   

Popham

Posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Dave!I had a scary amount of work piled up today, so exploring Maine wasn't really in the cards.

I did take a quick run out to Popham Beach State Park after lunch to clear my head, however. I had wanted to visit yesterday, but the unrelenting rain made that a dreary proposition.

Luckily today was a different story...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

The southern section of the beach is a beachcomber's delight...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine
Click image to embiggen.

One of the cool things about Popham Beach is that there are islands off the coast which you can walk to during low tide...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine

And now it's time to gear up for a 30-hour work day.

   

Light

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Dave!And... time to head home.

But not before I see one last lighthouse... and perhaps the most famous in Maine due to its proximity to Portland... Portland Head Light State Park.

All things considered, it's a nice lighthouse. Albeit a little more crowded than the others I visited this trip...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

I was once again astounded at the photo quality I was getting from my iPhone... and it's a 5, not even the 5S. The detail it manages to pull out of a scene is nothing short of amazing considering it's coming out of a frickin' phone...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Inside there's a small museum ($2 entry) that has an interesting look at the history of the lighthouse. And how it works...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Time for a mad dash to the airport jetport so I can make my flight. While waiting for my plane to board, I noticed there were displays of Maine's famous products on display... some of which I never associated with the state. Well, except "Tom's of Maine" which I kinda had figured out...

Tom's of Maine Product Display

And away I go...

   

Unaffordable

Posted on Friday, August 1st, 2014

Dave!Originally, I was going to stay in Maine over the weekend so I could bum around the coast and see cool stuff. But then I consulted my calendar only to be reminded that my 30th High School Class Reunion was happening, so I flew back last night. I had thought that I'd just drive the 2-1/2 hours back home when I landed at midnight, but that would have been impossible after 26 hours of work.

So the solution was easy, right? Grab a hotel at SeaTac International Airport and head home this morning.

Except hotels in Seattle have been escalating in price at a jaw-dropping rate. Every time I try to get a decent room at a decent price, I fail miserably. Just two years ago I was able to Priceline an airport hotel for $89. Last year it was tough, but hotels could be found for $119. This year?

Portland Head Light State Park

Yes. You are seeing that right... $533 (AT DISCOUNT!) for a 1-1/2 star property.

Going with my AAA discount, my best bet for a 3-Diamond property was the Crowne Plaza for $309...

Portland Head Light State Park

Horrified at the thought of paying $309 for a three-star property, I decided to wait until the last minute in the hopes that something would open up on Hotwire or Priceline.

When I landed for my layover in Atlanta, I lucked out... The Courtyard Marriott dropped their AAA rate to $218. Yes, it was $100 more than I was paying for a superior three-star hotel last year, but it's the best I could do.

I know I've written about this before, but the cost of traveling is quickly becoming unaffordable for the average traveler. Sure, special events in Seattle (like Seafair) are going to drive up prices... but there seem to be "special events" going on all the time. Or it's cruise ship season. Or there's show opening. Or there's a conference in town. Unless you're incredibly flexible on timing and able to spend a huge amount of time searching for calendar pricing, it's a game you can't win.

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Bullet Sunday 392

Posted on Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Dave!Don't worry about the temperature... because it's a dry heat and Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Ghibli. From the "News So Horrible You Want to Scream" department... Studio Ghibli announced that they will be closing down their animation studio. Later this was changed to "evaluating closing down their animation studio." Either way, the production company responsible for some of my favorite films of all time is not going to be making another animated feature any time soon...

My Neighbor Totoro, copyright Studio Ghibli

To say I am absolutely gutted is an understatement. Mainly an outlet for animation god Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the most stunning animated works of all time. Even with the retirement of Miyazaki-san, I was still looking forward to new movies by the team responsible for such cinematic genius as My Neighbor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Kiki's Delivery Service.

Kiki's Delivery Service

I'm very sad for a world where Studio Ghibli isn't in the animation business.

   
• Black. And speaking of black cats (like Jiji, the cat from Kiki's Delivery Service), I was shocked to read an article about how black cats are being rejected at animal shelters because they don't take good selfie photos. This is a horrifying prospect given that black fur is really common on a cat, and there's always going to be plenty to go around.

   
• School. We support religious freedom! You are free to be any flavor of Christian you want to be! Holy crap what a repugnant dumbass.

   
• Bouncy. Hey, kids! Jump on my crotch!

Tiger Bouncy House

   
• Berlin. When I was in Maine, I saw that they had yet another piece of the Berlin Wall on display in Portland. I remember thinking at the time that every major city in the world must have a piece, because I see them quite a lot when I travel...

Berlin Wall in Portland, Maine

And now I'm really regretting that I didn't make a point of photographing all the pieces I've seen. So many of them offer a fascinating insight into those Cold War days.

   
• Chocolate. This video of cocoa farmers getting to taste chocolate for the first time is one of the best things I've seen all week!

I find it fascinating how the farmers had no clue as to why foreigners wanted to buy cocoa beans... and had never been given the opportunity to share in the fruits of their labor. Just the way the world works, I guess.

   
• Whoopie. And speaking of chocolate... while visiting Maine I had my first "Whoopie Pie" which is nothing like the "Moon Pies" I'm used to. They're massively huge and very, very sweet...

Eating a Whoopie Pie in Maine

I wasn't able to eat but half of it over the course of a day. My teeth were shaking with each bite. The gift shop at Portland Light Head had a Whoopie Pie book...

Whoopie Pie Book in Maine

   
And... I'm out of bullets. Guess I'll have to shoot ya next week.

   

THE Davenport

Posted on Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Dave!Cannot. Seem. To. Catch. Up. On. Sleep.

No matter how tired I am, I lay down to try and get some rest only to have my brain explode all over the place with every thought imaginable racing through my head. You'd think at some point my mind would give up and pass out but, alas, no.

And so I drove across the state for work... three hours of pretty much this...

Columbia Basin Drive

All while fighting nausea and exhaustion. Thank heavens for Coke and Slayer.

After arriving in Spokane, I dropped by Pita Pit to get my falafel on...

It's Pita Pete!

I love you, Pita Pete!

Well, that's kind of a lie... I actually checked into my hotel before heading to The Pit. Which was not exactly the experience I had hoped for.

As always, I Pricelined hotels when looking for a place to stay. After searching "Express Deals" for a property downtown, there was a 3-star for $105 and, much to my delight, a 4-star available for $120. Normally I'd just take the 3-star, which would have been perfectly fine... but there's only one 4-star hotel in all of Spokane, and it's well worth the $15 extra per night... The Davenport.

The Davenport Hotel Spokane

It's a hotel with a history. And it's absolutely beautiful. Truly a grand dame of an old hotel that was pretty much condemned back in 1985... but eventually sold, rennovated, and re-opened in 2000.

So I accepted the $120 price, got my reservation at The Davenport, and drove to Spokane happy.

Three hours later, there I was waltzing up to the receiption desk when I am told that my room is not in The Davenport... but instead in The Davenport Tower, which is an entirely different building across the street. Apparently riffraff who arrive via Priceline are not allowed in the "real" hotel, but are instead shunted off-property. This pissed me off more than a little bit, because it's akin to a bait-and-switch operation. They lump two different hotels together, trade off the 4-star reputation of the original, then send you to a different hotel when you get there. Don't get me wrong... the Davenport Tower is a very nice hotel and well-worth the $120 price I paid... it's just not THE Davenport. Had I known this would happen, I would have taken the 3-star option and saved the $30 (total).

I really don't understand how travel sites allow this. These are TWO SEPARATE HOTELS, and should be treated that way.

Anyway, I loaded my luggage back into my car, drove around four blocks of one-way confusion, then checked into Davenport Tower... which has a bizarre kind of "safari" theme throughout.

I guess this shows that anytime something is "too good to be true," it probably is.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to attempt to fall asleep while paintings of zebras and leopards stare down at me.

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Homeagain

Posted on Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Dave!Last night was not a good night.

I decided to "play it safe" and have a veggie burger for dinner at Robin Robin instead of eating someplace more exotic. This resulted in four hours of food poisoning so bad that it had me wondering if I had contracted the ebola virus. I think my spleen liquified and blew out my butt at hour three. Not surprisingly, sleep was very tough to come by, and having to go to work in a zombie-like state was no fun at all.

Driving the three hours home in a zombie-like state was even worse.

But the trip was worth it for two reasons.

1) Yokes Grocery carries Yoo-Hoo...

Yoo-Hoo at Yokes
Nectar of the gods!

   
2) You can still get David's DaVinci Pizza at Famous Ed's...

Road Pizza from Famous Ed's Spokane... David's DaVinci Pizza
Best road pizza ever!

   
And then it was time to head home, though the urge to go car shopping was strong...

Spokane Auto Sales
Hey dawg, WE FINANCE!!! Thanks, Poochie!

   
The drive home was agonizing, because I was never able to go the speed limit. There was always somebody driving slow in the passing lane who wasn't passing anybody...

Car Window Sticker: This is My Final Answer: JESUS!
I'm glad that you've found your "final answer" in Jesus... really I am... maybe if you pray hard enough,
JESUS WILL ANSWER AND TELL YOU TO STAY OUT OF THE PASSING LANE IF YOU'RE NOT PASSING SOMEBODY!

   
Then you've got trucks passing somebody, but not fast enough to keep the cars from piling up...

Car Window Sticker: This is My Final Answer: JESUS!
Can't say I blame him... the motorhome WAS GOING 52 IN A 70MPH ZONE!!!

   
Driving frustrations and ebola aside, I made it home in one piece, so I guess that's all that really matters. And now I've got leftover pizza for breakfast. Life is good.

   

Baggage

Posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Dave!I loathe shopping.

I've never enjoyed it. If given the choice between going to the mall or getting water-boarded, I'd probably take the water-boarding. Especially during the holidays (at least the first time... as I've read that being water-boarded is seriously no fun at all). Now-a-days I rarely go to a mall or physical store to shop, I buy everything on the internet. And while I still loathe shopping, at least with online shopping I don't have to put pants on.

But that's not the only difference.

The biggest difference to me is that online shopping comes with customer reviews. When shopping at Amazon (my online store of choice) I have immediate access to the opinions of other people who have purchased the item I'm looking at. This can be a big plus. Except sometimes the reviews are paid or planted to make a product sound better than it is, in which case it's a huge detriment. They can also be sabotaged by people with nothing better to do than trash perfectly good products for petty reasons. But, overall, I trust reviews to even out and paint an accurate picture of what you'll be getting.

And, for the most part, this trust is not misplaced.

But what happens when it does?

I really like my current camera bag, a Tamrac Velocity 7x, but it's now too small to hold all my equipment and it screams "I'M A CAMERA BAG!!!" which probably acts like a beacon to thieves looking for an easy score. So I decided to buy something new. Which isn't an easy feat because no photographer I know has found the perfect bag. But this doesn't stop them from battling to the death in promoting the bag they prefer while brutally cutting up bags they don't. As you can imagine, this makes researching which bag to buy incredibly difficult. But I put in the time anyway and eventually landed on one which looked perfect for me.

Enter "The Brixton" by Ona Bags...

The Brixton Camera Bag by Ona
Photo from Ona Bags featuring photographer Colin Hughes

First of all, it's one of the best-looking camera bags I've ever seen. It looks like a high-end messenger bag and doesn't say "I'm a camera bag" at all. Sure, for the sake of the cows that died to make it, I wish it didn't have leather accents, but at least those poor animals can rest in peace knowing that their hide was used to make something so beautiful.

But, when it comes to baggage, I'll take functionality over beauty any day, so how well does it work as a camera bag?

Well, according to all the reviews I read, it was the most amazing thing since sliced bread. Honestly, I had a hard time finding anything bad that was said about it. Photographers loved the thing. So I did my best to ignore the TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLAR PRICE TAG, and placed my order with B&H Photo.

I was so thrilled to have finally found the most perfect camera bag ever made that I was walking on air for days.

And then it arrived.

Yes, it is indeed beautiful... but holy shit is it a cluster-fuck of disasters...

  • The wax coating on the canvas scratches very easily. Just removing my bag from the box resulted in some hefty crease marks on every surface. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me... I'm sure eventually it will have an old weathered look I'll like... but, seriously, why couldn't they just use a standard spray coating? The thing looks beat to shit and I've had it for two days. Two days of doing practically nothing! Heaven only know what it will look like after two weeks of travel!
  • The Brixton has an unremovable strap(!) with very little padding on a shoulder piece that slides all over. It doesn't even have a rubberized coating to keep it from sliding on YOU. This is pathetic and unforgivable for a bag that costs TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS!
  • The handle on top is off-center and off-balance, making it uncomfortable and pretty useless. Why they couldn't have gone dual-handle to make it carry well is a mystery.
  • There is a pocket in the back that's kept closed by magnets, which is nifty. What's not so nifty is that it has no cover-flap and doesn't seal tight, which means water and dust are just going to pour into the thing when you're trekking into nature's wild abandon. The smart thing to do would be to seal it shut with silicone... but... well, it's a pocket. I do love my pockets. There are also two wide-open, unprotected pockets on each side. =sigh=
  • There are two pockets in the front right under the bag's cover flap. They are roomy and deep, which is great... BUT THAT'S ALL THE INTERNAL POCKETS YOU GET?!? Absolutely no provision whatsoever for organizing all the tiny crap that photographers seem to accumulate. This is a horrible problem. My Tamrac spoiled the crap out of me with all the useful little places to organize things. This is awful. I mean, holy crap... NOT EVEN A PENCIL POCKET?!?
  • There is a divider inside so that you can slide in a small (13-inch or less) laptop. This is a welcome addition, but it's attached FLAT with velcro so it's more of a slot than a pocket. That's great for a very thin computer (like the MacBook Air) but just plain wacky for anything else because it distorts the back wall of the main compartment. Why not at least attempt to add some depth there... especially if the whole thing is removable if the customer doesn't want it taking up space! And would it kill Ona to put a piece of rigid plastic at the back of the bag to keep your computer from bending in half as it bends around your body?
  • The internal dividers are way too short. Sure you can stick them higher in the bag, but then small lenses and other items aren't contained as they should be.
  • The brass latches Ona uses to keep the bag closed are kind of a hassle. They slide latched so easily sometimes, but require multiple tries to latch other times. I don't know why... maybe it's because you have to have them lined up perfectly straight? Regardless, anything this finicky has NO place on a camera bag, and they really should have used an alternative.
  • The adjustable buckles on the closure straps are UP-SIDE DOWN and probably the stupidest fucking design flaw I've seen on any piece of luggage. Ever.

That last bullet requires some explanation...

The Brixton Camera Bag Buckle FAIL!!!

As you can see, instead of pointing down, the buckle prong faces upwards. This means the damn thing is pointing out ALL THE TIME! The first time I noticed this, it was because I squeezed by a $1000 wood filing cabinet only to see that The Brixton left an ugly gash in the finish. The next time I noticed it, I dropped my arm to my side where the bag was resting and got punctured (no blood, but it left a mark and hurt like a m#th@f#c%er).

This is a huge, major, massive design flaw.

BUT IT WAS NOT MENTIONED ONCE IN ANY REVIEW I READ! NOT ONCE! What the fuck?!?

Did I perhaps get a defective product or something? I jumped to Ona's own website to see if I could find out. Sure enough, right there in their own marketing photos, the little buckle prong is sticking out all over the place!

The Brixton Camera Bag Buckle FAIL!!!
Photo from Ona Bags

Did nobody at any point during product testing notice this problem? Nobody?! I'm the only one who has been poked and left gashes in furniture? Seriously?!

I just don't get it.

There's a lot of things to like about this bag, but it's so deeply flawed that I just can't comprehend the universal praise it's getting. In order to make it work for me, I'm going to have to...

  • Use some shrink-tubing over the buckles so they're not poking people and fucking up the furniture. This will also (hopefully) dampen the "CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!" you hear when you're walking along with the bag unlatched.
  • Use some kind of small plastic box with dividers for all the small stuff so there's a way to keep it organized and not just sitting in the bottom of a deep pocket in a lump.
  • Pull the velcro dividers out of my other camera bags so I have useable-height dividers in the Ona bag.
  • Wrap anything kept in exterior pockets in plastic bags to keep them clean and dry.
  • Cut off the shoulder strap and replace it with something that's worth a shit.
  • Consider adding a rigid piece of plastic with a felt cover to the back of the bag to better protect my MacBook Air from bending.

My regret is not that I have to modify this bag so that I can use it effectively. That's bound to happen with something as varied and subjective as photography gear. It's that I paid TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS for something that didn't have a lot of thought put into it. Or maybe it did, and the designers made bad choices. I dunno. It's just maddening that no reviewer mentioned any of the shortcomings that come with owning Ona's "The Brixton."

Oh well. Eventually, with modification, it should be a good bag for me. I sure like the way it looks. And it could have been worse.

I could have paid $430 for the all-leather version.

I hate shopping.

   

Akihabara

Posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Dave!To mourn the passage of Apple's Aperture photography cataloging and editing software, there was a discussion thread where people are posting the first photo they ever imported into the program.

Aperture was released in 2005, but the first photos I imported were those I took after having gone 100% digital in 2000. Up until that point, I always took a film camera with me on my travels because I wanted to make sure I had a reliable fallback in case the digital photos turned out horrible (which they often did back then).

But then the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-D700 camera was released. Suddenly I had an unbelievable 2.8 megapixel sensor that could produce dazzling 2048 × 1360 pixel images. Sure that's less than half of what you can get out of a good DSLR today and the quality wasn't that great... but, for the time, it was pretty remarkable. Suddenly I didn't feel the need to drag my film camera around with me. On a trip to Asia I took in October 2000, I was digital only.

And here's the first photo from that batch to be imported into Aperture...

Tom Bailey on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show

That's a picture of Akihabara Denki Gai ("Akihabara Electric Town") in Tokyo, Japan.

Today I shoot in RAW format and take three bracketed exposures for every image. That eats up a hefty chunk of memory but, with 32GB and 64GB SD cards so common (and getting cheaper every day), it's not a big deal. Back in 2000, however, I was constantly switching between Medium Quality (1600 × 1200 or 1.9 MP) and High Quality (2048 × 1360 or 2.8 MP) to save precious space on my 8MB Sony Memory Stick. The above image was shot as 1600 × 1200. Looking back, that was a bad choice because all the straight lines in the image are pixelating quite badly at such low resolution. I should have taken a second to analyze the scene and then selected High Quality mode. But, who knows what I was thinking when I shot it? Maybe I thought that a random street scene wasn't important enough to merit the extra space.

As for Aperture?

Now that it's been discontinued, I've resigned myself to the fact that my last import into the program will be my upcoming trip to Salt Lake City. After that I'll be switching to Adobe Lightroom.

If I'm feeling nostalgic, maybe I'll be sure that the first image I import into Lightroom will be the same first image I imported into Aperture.

   

SEA->SLC

Posted on Friday, September 5th, 2014

Dave!And I'm off to Salt Lake City.

A short flight that can have some interesting scenery, if you care to look out the window...


Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

While I like Salt Lake City quite a lot, transportation to and from the airport has always sucked because it's so expensive. Despite being just six miles away, a metered taxi to the airport is minimum $20... usually more like $25... not including tip. One time I ended up being booked in a car service I didn't ask for and had to pay $40. YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT... FORTY DOLLARS FOR A TEN MINUTE RIDE!

Fortunately, Salt Lake City's public transportation has extended the TRAX light rail service out to the airport now... so no more absurdly expensive rides...

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Price? $5... round trip.

After checking in at my hotel... which was going to be the Hilton until I found out they're still charging for internet like it's 1994... I was off to the beautiful City Creek Shopping Center for dinner with Marty (of Banal Leakage fame) and his wife at Johnny Rockets.

And now...?

Sleep.

Assuming my next door neighbors stop screaming at each other.

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Erin Gray

Posted on Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Dave!Last night while I was at dinner with Marty and his wife (of Banal Leakage fame), their friends had an extra ticket to the comic convention that's in town. I gratefully accepted it for one reason and one reason only... Erin Gray.

Most people will remember her as Colonel Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a 1979-1981 sci-fi television series which featured Erin Gray in clothing so tight that she had to be sewn into them...

Me and Erin Gray

I was a mega-huge fan of the show... and Erin Gray was 98% of the reason for that. To have an opportunity to meet her in person? Not something I'm going to pass up!

Me and Erin Gray

Erin Gray Autograph

She was incredibly nice... taking time to talk with fans a bit as they got their autographs and photos... and as beautiful as ever!

I'm still reeling that I got to have my picture taken with Colonel Wilma Deering!

The convention is much larger than I thought... but just as overly-crowded as San Diego's famous Comic-Con. It's insane how many people were trudging through the dealer's floor. And there were hundreds more people standing in line outside waiting to get in...

Erin Gray Autograph

I didn't have any money to spend, so I was in-and-out for my Erin Gray meet-n-greet in under 30 minutes.

If I did have the money, it would have been cool to meet Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie. along with Erin Gray and Lynda Carter, she completes the holy trifecta of my boyhood television crushes.

Not a bad way to spend a morning in Salt Lake City.

But the night is yet to come...

   

Bullet Sunday 397: Retro Futura Tour 2014

Posted on Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Dave!Put on that skinny tie and flip up that collar... because a Very Special Retro Futura Tour 2014 Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Tom Bailey! I'm just going to cut to the chase here... as a diehard Thompson Twins fan, Tom Bailey's run through some of the band's greatest hits surpassed my every expectation. After 27 years you'd naturally assume that something would be lost. But it wasn't. Everything he sang was note-perfect and the arrangement of the songs, while freshened up a bit, was still respectful to the originals that everybody came to hear. I loved every minute that Tom was on stage, and nearly three decades of begging for a Thompson Twins tour was rewarded in every way I could have dreamed of (short of having Alannah and Joe show up, of course)...

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

The set-list was pretty much what you expect...

  • We Are Detective (instrumental). A short, playful, nickelodeon-style version of this classic song played while waiting for Tom and his Sisters of Mercy band to arrive. The crowd was already going a little nuts.
  • In The Name of Love. Tom takes the stage with a spotlight shining on the crowd while singing "Hey you! I've seen your face before!" and, just like that, an abbreviated version of the Thompson Twins were back as if they had never left. This was the song that broke the band wide open, was the first song of their's I had ever heard, and remains a favorite to this day. It's just as infectious now as it's always been.
  • Lies. Another early hit that was on MTV every ten minutes during those early days. If you had asked me before Retro Futura if it's held up over the years, I'd probably have said no, despite still loving the song. After seeing Tom breathe new life into it last night, I'm inclined to feel differently.
  • Sister of Mercy. Kind of the odd-man out in tonight's show, as I don't believe it charted here in the US and was only a minor hit in the UK. Still, it's a decidedly darker and more serious tone for the band, and I'm sure it was selected primarily to mix things up a bit. In that case, it succeeded. And it's a great song to boot.
  • You Take Me Up. I don't know that this is my favorite Thompson Twins song, but it's up there. It's subtle, but Tom's delivery of the title line in the song was quite different than in the original recording, making the song feel even more upbeat and uplifting than usual. In interviews, Tom has said that he re-recorded all the songs before heading out on tour... hearing this makes me really, really hopeful we get to hear those recordings one day. The lyrics-tracking video in the background during You Take Me Up was my favorite visual of the night
  • If You Were Here. This song wasn't a single or even a hit... until it appeared at the end of the classic John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Haunting in a way that most songs can only aspire to, Tom's original breathless arrangement had to be beefed up vocally to translate to a live performance, but it's no less beautiful and timeless. In an interesting twist, a new verse was added to the song... but felt as if it should have been there all along.
  • Love on Your Side. This is one of those songs that translates perfectly to a live show because it feels as if it were designed as a performance piece from the get-go. And while Tom took as best advantage of this as he could by his lonesome (GIANT BLUE BALLOON TIME!), Joe and Alannah's on-stage theatrics were missed here more than anywhere else in the set.
  • Doctor! Doctor! An obvious pop-hit grab if there ever was one, this song more than made up for the cheesy lyrics with a beautiful musical arrangement. And that's exactly what we got... along with a surprising amount of audience participation.
  • King for a Day (Encore). I like this song quite a lot, but it's repetitive refrain wears thin after a while ("Love is all... Love is all... Love is all you need. Love is all you need! Love is all... Love is all... Love is all you need. Love is all you need! Love is all... Love is all... Love is all you need. I say love is all you need!). Of course, this opinion was formed before Howard Jones took the stage, but we'll get there soon enough.
  • Hold Me Now (Encore). The Thompson Twin's greatest and most memorable hit plays very well live, and this evening's performance was everything you could hope for. Letting the audience sing out the ending was a brilliant way of making people feel they were a part of the show, and there's no question everybody was left wanting more... much more... as Tom's set came to an end.

If time were permitting, I would have really liked to have seen Lay Your Hands on Me and Get That Love included. Maybe one day. And please. Please. Please one day let Tom Bailey take the trip back to Brit-Pop Land and give us a new album of Twins material. Please. If there's one thing his participation in Retro Futura has shown us, people are ready.

   
• Howard Jones! I'm a big HoJo fan. I love his incredible synth play and feel-good lyrics. His music is on regular rotation on my iTunes playlists. I've seen him perform live twice. Seeing him in concert should be one of life's highlights for me and, for the most part, it is. But good lord, man... does every tune you play in concert have to be the super-extended-disco-remix version of the song? Yes... I love it when a live performance brings a little something to the table that you can't get from the album... but you did that with the heavier pumping synth intros. There's no need to give us fifty refrains of WHAT IS LOOOOOOOOOVE, ANYWAY? DOES ANYBODY LOVE ANYBODY ANYWAY? All it does is serve to drive your beautiful song into the ground and make it run way, way too long.

Still... it was Howard Jones. And though the senseless, endless repetition was annoying, I still loved his performance...

Howard Jones Retro Futura Tour 2014

Howard Jones Retro Futura Tour 2014

And so did the rest of the crowd...

Howard Jones Retro Futura Tour 2014

By the way... Howard Jones has continued to release albums well after the 80's were dead and gone. His last release was in 2009. If you're a fan, it's well-worth checking out. Even so, for the sake of Retro Futura, Howard didn't stray from those early hits that made him famous... The Human Touch, Like to Get to Know You Well, Everlasting Love, No One Is to Blame, The Prisoner, What Is Love?, Things Can Only Get Better, and New Song.

   
• Katrina... sans The Waves! I should come clean here... I am most definitely not a fan of Walking on Sunshine, which is Katrina and The Waves' greatest hit (here in the US, anyway). I am, however, absolutely a fan of Katrina Leskanich's performance at Retro Futura last night. She worked her guts out to put on a good show and succeeded completely. And not just from her music, which was terrific, but from her conversations between songs... telling the story of how they came to be and how they impacted her career...

Katrina Retro Futura Tour 2014

My favorite track she performed was Going Down to Liverpool, a Katrina and the Waves track made famous by a cover by The Bangles. As Katrina explains it, the success of that song by another group led to her band getting signed. The rest is history.

It's worth noting that by opening the show, Katrina had to perform in full-on sun... which was blisteringly hot and relentless throughout her entire set. That she managed to get through her song list without fainting is pretty impressive. Even more impressive? The album she wrote and recorded in just five weeks before joining the tour. Take a listen here.

   
• China Crisis! This is a band that pretty much flew under my radar back in the day. The only song I remember latching onto was the beautiful Wishful Thinking which, thankfully, was performed in their set...

China Crisis Retro Futura Tour 2014

I don't know that Retro Futura turned me into a diehard fan of the group, but it did make me much more interested in taking a listen to their stuff.

   
• Midge Ure sans Ultravox! And here's where we get to the biggest surprise of the evening. I've played his album If I Was - The Very Best of Midge Ure and Ultravox so many times that the lyrics are burned into my memory. Every song on that album is absolute magic, and I was pretty excited to see Midge perform live, as I'd never had the opportunity before. Little did I know that he would blow the doors off the joint with a voice so powerful and pure that you could feel it to your very soul...

China Crisis Retro Futura Tour 2014

Absolutely amazing show. I think he took the breath away from every person in attendance.

When it comes to his track selection, any fan of Ultravox was bound to be disappointed because he only had time to perform five songs...

  • Hymn. A pretty track off of Quartet that played really well live. It was the perfect introduction to his set.
  • Fade to Grey. And speaking of surprises. Turns out Fade to Grey was not a song by Ultravox or Midge Ure's solo career... it's a song Midge wrote and produced for another band, Visage. A band I never knew existed, as I've always heard the song off of The Very Best Of... by Midge.
  • Vienna. To say that Midge did an amazing job on this song is under-selling it by a wide margin. He redefined the phrase "killing it" by blasting through the track with a vocal fury that exceeded even the astounding range he showed on the original recording... THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO! If there was anybody in the audience who wasn't already a fan when the show began... they are now.
  • If I Was. I love this song, obviously, but oh lord how I wish it could have been Reap The Wild Wind or Dear God or even Call of the Wild... all songs I love even more. What I wouldn't give to here those live (though, admittedly, Reap the Wild Wind would not be the easiest song to perform without a full band and backup).
  • Dancing With Tears in My Eyes. A great song I really like but, again, where was Dear God? After hearing how Ure belted out Vienna I was left dying to hear him tackle it. Still... this was a great track to close out his performance, and I'm happy I got to hear it live. I really shouldn't complain.

All in all... wow. Just wow. I would watch another show in a heartbeat.

   
• SHARK BITE EXTREME! Before heading to the Sandy Amphitheater, Marty (of Banal Leakage fame) and I headed to Joe's Crab Shack. They have a beverage called a "Shark Bite" that I really wanted to try (because it looks so cool), and the restaurant was fairly close to the venue. When the drink arrives, it's all vodka, rum, sweet and sour, plus Blue Curaçao... with a shark full of grenadine hanging off the side...

Joe's Crab Shack Shark Bite Drink

The idea is that you dump the grenadine into the blue "water" to make a bloody mess...

Joe's Crab Shack Shark Bite Drink

And it is cool... for a minute.

But what you ultimately end up with is a disgusting glass of purple stuff that's so sweet your teeth will ache afterwards.

You do get to keep your plastic shark though... and that's all I really cared about.

   

And there you have it. This afternoon I flew home from Salt Lake City without incident... walking on sunshine the entire way because I got to meet Erin Gray, hang out with one of my long-time blog friends, get a plastic shark... oh... and see one of my favorite bands of all time perform live after 27 years of waiting. A pretty great way to spend a weekend, I think.

   

Packed

Posted on Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Dave!Look at me! I'm packing for vacation three whole days before I'm set to leave!

That almost never happens!

While there's no way I'm going to get everything done tonight, I will make serious headway so I can (hopefully) finish up tomorrow. And while it feels strange to be so far ahead of the game, it sure beats trying to pack everything the night before my flight like I usually do...

New iPhone 6

Here's hoping I know when to stop...

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Day One: SEA->AMS

Posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Dave!Of course my internet went down last night.

Of course a last-minute work project dropped on my head like a pile of bricks last night.

Of course I got no sleep whatsoever last night.

Of course. Of course. Of course.

The good news is that the drive to Seattle this morning was without incident. And my flight to Amsterdam was equally drama-free.

Small victories in the grand scheme of things. But I'll take what I can get, I suppose.

Here's hoping my luck holds out.

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Day Two: AMS->JNB

Posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Dave!A three-hour drive to Seattle.

A three-hour wait for my flight.

A nine-and-one-half hour flight to Amsterdam.

A two-hour layover at Schiphol.

A ten-and-one-half hour flight to Johannesburg (on which KLM had internet! Unbelievable!).

A half-hour wait to collect my suitcase and get through Passport Control.

A two-hour wait to catch the hotel shuttle, stand in line at reception, get checked-in, find out I have the wrong room, stand in line at reception again, get sent back to the room, wait for housekeeping, and a thirty-minute wait for them to make-up my room.

That's a thirty-and-one-half-hour day in two days.

I'm beat.

But I'm in South Africa.

At long last.

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Day Three: Johannesburg

Posted on Friday, September 19th, 2014

Dave!And so here I am in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I added a full day layover in the city to recover from the long-ass 30-1/2 hours of travel I put in yesterday. Originally I was going to fly into Cape Town, but they don't have a Hard Rock Cafe there anymore, so Johannesburg it was.

The property is of the new-style "hipster cafe" variety. Usually I hate the cold and impersonal approach of these Hard Rocks, but this one is not so bad. It has a nice assortment of memorabilia, at least (even if it's not as big as it could be)...

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

The Hard Rock is located in the district of Sandton on Nelson Mandella Square, where they have a very nice statue of him...

Nelson Mandella Square in Johannesburg

And so... after posting this I'm off to bed with hopes of getting some sleep before a rather busy day tomorrow. Though I doubt I'll get to update my blog because the hotel internet is utter shit...

Crappy internet connection error

Good preparation for when I have no internet at all real soon now.

That'll be interesting.

   

Day Four: JNB->HRE

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Dave!And... away we go...

BRB.


DaveToon: Lil' Dave and Bad Monkey going on a safari.

   

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Day Four: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Dave!My vacation was booked through a wonderful company called Ultimate Africa Safaris, an agency specializing in Africa travel. After examining a bunch of different options they came up with that fit my budget, I ended up booking with Wilderness Safaris. They operate a number of camps in Africa, and can provide door-to-door service via Wilderness Air, their internal airline.

After landing at Harare, I was met by the pilot and transferred to a 4-seater Cessna for the flight to Ruckomechi, my first camp stop at Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

There's not a lot to look at after you pass the outskirts of the city...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

After a noisy 1-hour 40-minute flight, we landed near Mana Pools for the drive to Ruckomechi Camp...

Drive to Mana Pools and Ruckomechi Camp

My adventure began before I even got to camp, as I saw impala, warthogs, and zebra along the way...

Mana Pools Zebra

Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi is considered a "Classic Camp," which is surprisingly luxurious for not being one of the top-shelf properties. My tent was more like a nice hotel room than any tent I've ever stayed in...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ooh! A visitor wanders by...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

If you're traveling with somebody, prepare to get to know them a lot better. The shower and toilet are wide open into the main room with not so much as a curtain to separate them...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

The staff wastes no time in getting you started on your safari adventure. After a welcome drink and a run-through of the camp features and rules, A guide whisked me out to the grasslands to look for game as the sun started to set...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Minutes later I saw my first lion...

Mana Pools Game Drive

And then another...

Mana Pools Game Drive

The animals are fairly close to your jeep, but it helps to have a long lens so you can zoom in on the action. This young male is just starting to have his mane grow in...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Across the Zambezi River is Zambia, which apparently sets half the country on fire every year before the wet season to clear out dead brush. This really sucks ass, because all that smoke drifts into Zimbabwe and fills the sky with smoke. On the up-side, this makes for beautiful sunsets...

Zimbabwe Sunset

On evening game drives, your guide will set up a "sundowner" where you get assorted drinks and snacks. Tonight was home-made potato chips with honey-pepper dip (amazing) and cheese & olive spears...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Ruckomechi is known as "the elephants' favourite camp" because they hang around the place all the time. A big reason for that is the albida trees that drop tasty seed pods that elephants just love...

Zimbabwe Sunset

After the sun went down, it was time to return to camp for dinner...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Which is an impressive affair. Dinner tonight was served buffet-style with fantastic vegetarian options since there were a couple of us staying at Ruckomechi...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Shortly after dinner was concluding, word came that the lions had made a kill just minutes away. Everybody poured into jeeps to go take a look. At night the guides use red spotlights to find animals because it doesn't hurt their eyes...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Sure enough, the lions had gotten a zebra. Unfortunately I only had my pocket camera with me, so I didn't get very good shots of the carnage that ensued...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Delicious zebra rump roast!

And, just like that, my first day of safari was over.

   

Day Five: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Dave!Attempting to sleep while baboons, hippos, and all manner of other creatures are screeching, howling, grunting, chirping, and making a racket is no easy trick. I certainly hope I get used to it over the next week, because this is going to be a really interesting vacation if I'm sleep-impaired the whole time. I'd use earplugs, but I'm worried about missing the 5:30am wake-up for breakfast and our morning game drive.

One thing adding to the pain of my inability to sleep is having to get up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. For reasons completely unknown, the tents at Ruckomechi have stone imbedded in the floor and, while they look pretty, they hurt like hell to walk on with bare feet. I stubbed my toe on one last night and it is still throbbing...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

WTF?!?

Ruckomechi has a nice bar area where you can help yourself to drinks or sit and relax any time you want to escape from your room for a bit...

Ruckomechi Lounge

The tents don't have electricity outlets, but there's a power generator you can tap into in the dining room if you need to charge camera batteries and such...

Ruckomechi Recharging

After a nice continental breakfast, it was time to hit the grasslands for a game drive.

I considered myself lucky to have seen two lions on my first day, as there were people ahead of me that stayed for four nights and never saw one. Today I was even luckier, getting to see a lioness and her three young ones enjoying the sunrise right off the bat...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

After watching the lions wander around a bit, we came across a flock of helmeted guineafowl, well-known in Zimbabwe for their spotted bodies and bright blue heads...

Helmeted Guineafowl

Followed by a baboon on a termite mound...

Baboon in Zimbabwe

And... inexplicably... yet another lion sighting. This time a beautiful young male with his mane growing in pretty good...

Lion in Zimbabwe

It's rare to see hippos out of the water during daylight hours, but we managed to catch one as it made its way from a marshy refuge to the Zambezi River...

Hippo in Zimbabwe

A member of the antelope family, impalas have a rigid social structure where all the boys of the heard battle it out to determine who gets to be the dominate male each season. The winner gets to breed with the females and has the important job of managing the herd. The male is the one with horns...

Impala in Zimbabwe

Impala in Zimbabwe

The losing males form their own herd where they will practice fighting and growing stronger so they can (hopefully) be victorious the next season.

CRAAAAAANE!!!

Spooky Crane

As if I wasn't already lucky enough, we happened across a pack of wild dogs. Our guide said a group of people were in a while ago specifically to see them, but never did after a week of searching. They had just made a kill, so all thirty-two of them were sleeping in a big pile...

Wild Dogs!

Every once in a while a pup would stand up and look around, so we sat around waiting. All of them have interesting calico-type coats that must do a good job of camouflaging them in the bush...

Wild Dogs!

Wild Dogs!

The Mana Pools are home to all kinds of wildlife, and it's all fairly close to camp...

Antelope!

After four hours of wandering around the concession, it was time to head back to camp. When we got there, I was ready to go back to my tent and take a nap, but an elephant was on the path...

Elephant of Ruckomechi

I tried to go around, but another elephant was lounging by my tent...

After five minutes or so, he moved on... but not before staring me down first.

Elephant of Ruckomechi

One of the features of Ruckomechi is an outdoor bath. I haven't taken a bath in over ten years, but it was an opportunity too good to pass up...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Our evening game drive began where the lions made their kill last night. They left a heck of a mess...

Zebra Kill

A few of the lions were still in the neighborhood, which meant the vultures and hyenas were kept away...

Lions

As we drove around looking for a place to have our sundown snack, we saw some really cool birds goofing around. So many of the birds here are colorful, but these were on another level...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Eventually we found a spot next to a troop of baboons...

Baboons

Africa Sunset

Africa Sundowner Snack

The drive back to camp was fairly uneventful, but it was hard to complain given all the cool stuff I got to see today.

One more day left in Ruckomechi...

   

Day Six: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Dave!Last night was much quieter so I actually managed to get some sleep, which was nice.

On this morning's game drive, our guide decided to head out to a giant tree that has a massive hole in it. I fully admit that this didn't seem like much of a destination-worthy sight, but if there's one thing I've been learning over the years, it's to trust the local guides.

And so off we went to see a hole.

But before we could get there...

We spotted some elephants destroying a tree. Usually, for a tree this size, they'll just strip the bark off the thing... but this time they decided to knock it over for some reason. Our guide said that this is unusual but, now that it's down, the elephants will keep eating it until there is nothing left...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

And I believed it. The elephants just kept ripping off these huge strips of tree with their trunks and chowing down...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

Maybe they knocked it down so the baby in their group could have some. He was munching away just like the adults...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

After watching the tree carnage for a while, we headed to the tree with the hole in it... but ended up driving right on by because our guide got a call that three male lions were in the area! A quick five minutes later and one of the others in the jeep spotted them trying to escape from the sun under a bush...

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Even doing nothing, these are beautiful, beautiful animals. And how insane is it that I've been lucky enough to see them three days in a row when there are people who come and see none at all?

After staring at lions for a while, our guide decided to head back to the tree with the hole in it.

Until one of the other jeeps that showed up just as we were leaving reported that an elephant had showed up and was CHASING THE LIONS OUT OF THEIR BUSH! Insane! We pull up just in time to see the last lion get chased off...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Then the elephant was all like "Yeah, I just made three lions my bitch! as he turned towards the jeep and gave us a sideways glance before trumpeting and wandering off... assumably to take on a heard of rhinos or something...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Anyway... we finally made it to that tree with the hole in it...

Lions in the Shade

Kind of anti-climactic after the stuff we had just witnessed, but okay.

Then we drove around a corner and saw... CROCODILES!

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

This guy decided to be all fancy and make himself a jacket with water hyacinths...

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

He seems happy about it too!

With all the cool animals around, it's easy to overlook the amazing birds hanging around Mana Pools but, luckily, we have a great guide to point them out...

Bird in Zimbabwe

Warthogs are everywhere, though they tend to be a bit shy so I haven't gotten many photos. This guy decided to strike a pose for me before running off, which was nice...

Bird in Zimbabwe

When they run, warthogs stick their tails straight up in the air. It looks pretty funny, so I'm definitely going to try and get a picture of that.

Today I learned that the beautiful red and blue birds we keep seeing are called "Carmine Bee-Eaters." Apparently they only show up in this area once a year to mate, so I consider myself lucky to have seen so many of them...

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

And now, for no reason at all, a baboon running with impalas while eating leaves...

A Baboon Running with Impalas While Eating Leaves

And here's the male of the group, who decided to stop and stare us down as we drove by. Isn't he beautiful?

Impala Alpha Male

AFRICAN WATER BUCK!

Impala Alpha Male

Not cool that they've evolved to have a target painted on their butt. Not cool at all.

And... we're done.

Since it's too early to take a shower when I get up at 5:00am, I've gotten in the habit of taking one when I get back to camp after the morning game drive. Today I decided to try my outdoor shower, which is attached to each tent in the camp. Not that I'm any kind of exhibitionist, but it seemed like it might be a unique experience.

So there I was, towel and shampoo in-hand, walking around the corner of my tent when... BLAM! There's an elephant in my shower.

After nearly dropping a load in my pants, I backed away slowly so I could get my camera. Who would believe it otherwise?

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he cleared out, I was able to take a shower. If you ever have a chance to experience an outdoor shower, I highly recommend it. Not just because your dick gets to air-dry in the wind, but because of the feeling you get of becoming one with nature. Or something like that.

After a nice nap, I headed back to the dining room for lunch and the evening game drive.

You would think that the constant presence of elephants in the camp would be something you get used to... but I assure you that you do not. Especially when the babies are around, as they are one of the most adorable things you'll ever see. This little guy was walking on the path back to camp, so I patiently waited for him to wander off...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he left, I came across another baby almost immediately. And even though I kept my distance, momma showed up to let me know that her baby was hands-off. They are very protective that way...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

Tonight I decided to take my game drive via boat, which is a nice option to shake things up a bit.

My adventure started before I even climbed onboard, because there were some zebra, warthogs, and baboons hanging around the dock...

River Cruise Wildlife

As we headed out onto the Zambezi River, we noticed crimson bee-eaters everywhere...

Carmine Bee-Eaters

Turns out that they nest in tiny caves they carve out of the river banks...

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

HIPPO ENCOUNTER!

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

The river cruise was nice, as it allowed you to see animals in a different context. Elephants, for example, aren't scrubbing around the ground looking for seed pods... they're ripping up grass in big clumps to eat. What's fascinating about this is that they wash the dirt off the grass before eating it by dunking it in the water several times before slapping it on the ground to dry it off...

Elephants in the Zambezi

There were two elephants teaching a baby how to wash grass. The poor little guy was having a tough time of it, as most of the grass got washed away because he wasn't that skilled at gripping stuff yet. Still adorable...

Elephants in the Zambezi

The sunset was, as expected, glorious...

Zambezi Sunset

Not a bad way to spend my last night in Ruckomechi!

   

Day Seven: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Dave!And so the time I had been dreading since the minute I stepped foot in Ruckomechi has come... it's time to leave. All morning I've been fretting over needing just one more day here to make sure I've gotten the most from my visit to Mana Pools National Park.

Just one. More. Day... that's all I need.

Which is pure fantasy, of course. If I had stayed four nights I would have wanted a fifth. If I had stayed five nights I would have wanted a sixth. The truth is that my visit would always be too short, because the magic here is something you just can't get enough of.

I debated over going on a morning game drive, but ultimately decided against it. Being able to sleep for another hour... being able to pack without being in a rush... and having time to look around the campsite a bit... it was all too compelling.

Besides, I could have a game drive without leaving my tent because I had an elephant out my front window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my back window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my side window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And even more elephants on the path to the dining room for breakfast...

Elephants at my Tent!

I had already tried the "Bath with a View" yesterday... Ruckomechi also has a "Loo with a View"...

Loo with a View!

When I went back to my tent to pack, a troop of baboons were wandering around my porch... including a mother and baby, which is always an entertaining sight...

Baboons!

How the babies have the strength to hold on like that all day long I don't know. But they somehow manage, even with their mother is in a full run.

After saying goodbye to the amazing Ruckomechi staff, I was off to the airstrip for a flight to the next camp. This time I got to be the co-pilot, which was pretty awesome...

Flight Cockpit

We didn't have enough fuel for the entire flight, so we ended up stopping in Kariba. I always try to take photos of airports I visit, but the pilot warned me not to take a picture of the control tower, as they get pretty upset when people do that. So I zoomed in on the passenger terminal sign in the hopes I wouldn't get shot or or have my camera confiscated or whatever. Kariba's airport, while small, is actually kind of nice. They planted a flower garden out front to look at and the staff was friendly, so I had no complaints...

Kariba Airport

The city of Kariba sits on the shore of beautiful Lake Kariba and is very near Kariba Dam, which is said to be in danger of collapsing...

Kariba

I noticed that some of the small islands in the lake were inhabited, which makes me wonder what would happen to them if the dam breaks and the lake drains...

Spurwing Island

I'm guessing this really cool splotchy island would no longer be an island. At the very least, the size of their beach would increase dramatically.

UPDATE: Now that I'm back, I used Google Maps to find out this is called "Spurwing Island," and looks to be home to a very nice resort property.

The final hop of my flight wasn't very exciting... but there was an occasional watering hole to break the monotony. Like this one, where a heard of elephants was just leaving. You can spot a jeep on the opposite side of the hole, so there must be civilization around here somewhere...

Zimbabwe Watering Hole

After landing at the Linkwasha airstrip in Hwange National Park, it was time to take the hour drive to Davison's Camp (named for the first park warden at Hwange, Ted Davison). At first the drive looked like it was going to be pretty boring...

Hwange Grasslands

But looks can be deceiving. Within five minutes, our guide spotter some really pretty antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Then zebra just minutes after that...

Hwange Zebra

Turns out there were all kinds of animals to look at on the drive, and it ended up being anything but boring.

One of the species we spotted was lions, which means I have been lucky enough to see them every day I've been in Zimbabwe. That's pretty amazing...

Hwange Lion

And then there was this guy, who was rolling around in the grass like a kitten...

Hwange Lion

As I mentioned when arriving at Ruckomechi, Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi was a "Classic" property... whereas Davison's Camp is a notch lower, and considered to be an "Adventure" property. I had prepared myself for a drastic step down in quality, so you can imagine my surprise when I was shown to my "tent"...

Hwange Lion

Hwange Lion

Absolutely amazing.

What's nice is that the toilet/shower area offers a bit more privacy than the wide-open spaces in the tent I had at Ruckomechi...

Hwange Lion

As if that weren't enough... NO PAINFUL ROCKS IMBEDDED ON THE FLOOR! and... ZOMG... ELECTRICAL OUTLETS IN THE ROOMS! No more running to the dining room to charge my camera batteries!

It took me all of ten seconds to fall in love with my new home.

Since I arrived late in the day, everybody else at the camp was out on a safari game drive. This meant I got to explore the site a bit and visit with the wonderful staff at the camp. As dinner time approached, we could see the jeeps returning to Davison's, their night-red spotlights ablaze in the distance. But they all stopped short of arriving back at camp because a pride of lions showed up just a short distance away. You could kinda see the animals with your naked eye from where I was standing, but my zoom lens wasn't bright enough to photograph them...

Hwange Lion

The lion-sighting pushed dinner way, way back and I was exhausted, so I grabbed a snack and returned to my tent.

My 5:30am game-drive wake-up will be here all too soon.

   

Day Eight: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Dave!The biggest difference between the Ruckomechi camp I was at previously and the Davison's camp I'm at now is the size. The concession granted by Hwange National Park here is massive. And it kind of has to be, because the animals are much more spread out. At Ruckomechi, you were just five minutes away from all kinds of animals, and would routinely see bunches of animals quite near to each other. At Davison's, you can dive for 30 minutes or more and not see a thing.

But when you do...

Ooh. I'm getting ahead of myself here.

After breakfast a group of us headed out into the grasslands to see what we could see. At the far end of the concession, there's a grassy plain where herds of animals are usually hanging out, so off we went.

Along the way I saw my first jackal, which is an animal I love...

Hwange Black-Backed Jackal

This black-backed jackal, which, according to Wikipedia is "the most lightly built jackal and is considered to be the oldest living member of the genus Canis. It is the most aggressive of the jackals, being known to attack animal prey many times its own weight, and it has more quarrelsome intrapack relationships." Jackals are fascinating creatures in that they form monogamous pairs. The male and female will mark out a territory where they'll live, hunt, and raise pups together. Once the pups are old enough, they'll head out to find their mates and establish their own territory.

Thirty minutes after our jackal sighting, we arrived at the plains... which were pretty much empty. There were small herds of animals way, way off in the distance that I could kinda spot at maximum zoom, but that was it...

Hwange Plains

A bit disappointing, so we turned into the forrest where we had a little better luck...

Hwange Animals

Hwange Animals

And then... just as I was accepting that we wouldn't be seeing any lions today, vultures were spotted circling low nearby. As we headed in their direction, we started noticing that all the trees were filled with vultures. Dozens and dozens of them...

Hwange Vultures

Hwange Vultures

And then, sure enough, a downed water buffalo was spotted. The vultures were already there in full force, which meant the predator(s) which killed it were long gone...

Hwange Vultures on a Water Buffalo

After a bit of searching, bingo, three lions were found nearby, chillin in the shade after their lunch...

Hwange Lions

When I zoomed in, I noticed their faces were stained pink and flies were piled on... apparently attracted to the blood...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

After that bit of excitement, it was time to head back to camp for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Not far from the lions was a lone buffalo, probably looking for his missing friend...

Hwange Giraffe

I also got to see my first giraffes since arriving in Africa...

Hwange Giraffe

Hwange Giraffe

As they age, giraffes lose their color. Our guide mentioned that this giraffe must be getting quite old because its sides are nearly white...

Hwange Giraffe

And then it was time for my favorite shot I got of the day...

Hwange Giraffe

Isn't she amazing?

Back through the plains...

Hwange Plains

Testing the limits of my telephoto lens with this beautiful green bird here. I was running out of space on my memory card, and ended up shooting the last twenty shots of the drive in JPEG. This would have been a much cleaner image when cropped at 100% if I had gone RAW, but oh well...

Hwange Bird

After a nice long shower followed by a restless nap amidst the screeching baboons outside my door, it was time for the evening game drive...

Room with a View

Like Ruckomechi, Davison's also features a "Loo with a View" that I had to check out...

Loo with a View

Loo with a View

There were some guests that didn't get to see the lions, so I was asked if I minded heading back to the spot we found them this morning. Naturally, I didn't mind at all, so off we went.

The lions had moved, but were still in the vicinity of their kill...

Hwange Lions

Game was a lot more scarce this time around, but we did get to see more jackals, zebras, giraffes, and some warthogs.

Our sundowner snack was at a watering hole our guide liked, providing one of the most amazing sunsets I've seen yet...

Hwange Sunset

That's right out of my Sony A7s when set to "sunset" scene mode! Beautiful, isn't it?

Once the sun had disappeared, it was time to head back to camp. just like the previous night's drive, we ran across some lions... this time with cubs!

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Not a bad way to end the day.

Not bad at all.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part One)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Last night's happy encounter with lion cubs had me really, really, wanting to see them in daylight. I was prepared to do some heavy begging for our guide to track them down, but it wasn't necessary. He was on the case, heading out towards their last known location. Which happened to be the railroad tracks.

This being my last day of safari, I was hoping that my record of seeing lions every day would not be broken. Yes, I know that some people make it to Africa and see no lions in the wild at all... so this sounds a bit greedy... but I just don't care. Getting to see lion cubs in the wild is something worth being greedy for.

So there we were, bombing along a road so bumpy that I thought my teeth would fall out... when our guide slams on the brakes, skidding to a stop. Everybody in the jeep was trying to figure out if there was a warthog in the road or something, but that wasn't it at all...

Hwange Lion Tracks

Lion tracks!

And we were off.

It didn't take long.

The lions like high ground so they can better spot their prey. Since the railroad tracks are built up above the grasslands, they like to hang out there a lot...

Hwange Lioness

The lioness was very clever, walking from railroad tie to railroad tie (or railroad sleeper to railroad sleeper, for those of you outside the US) so she wasn't having to walk on crushed rocks...

Hwange Lioness

Once this lion had wandered off the tracks to investigate a tiny antelope (morning snack?), another lioness took her place. This one with a notched ear... and a drooling problem...

Hwange Lioness

She kept looking behind her, which was curious. But then a third lioness joined them and decided to lay down on the tracks to rest...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Our guide explained that the lioness with a notch in her ear must have eaten something the disagreed with her, because she climbed down off the tracks and started eating grass...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Three lions first thing in the morning? Pretty sweet!

But no cubs.

Until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Four. Four cubs!

It was a good time for everyone laying on those warm metal tracks until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

TRAAAAIIIINNNNN!

Must be time for a bath from mom...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Once the train rumbled onto the scene, everybody headed out into the grasslands, disappearing like baseball players into the cornfield in Field of Dreams...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Yeah. I could pretty much go home now. This was everything I was here to see.

When the most amazing thing you've seen in Africa just happened, it's kind of hard to get your mind out of it. I hate to admit it, but all I was hearing was blah blah blah... monkey in a tree...

Hwange Monkey

Blah blah blah... kori bustard, Zimbabwe's largest flying bird...

Hwange Kori Bustard

Blah blah blah... zebras with little birds on them...

Hwange Zebras

Hwange Zebras

Blah blah blah... antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Blah blah blah... weird birds...

Hwange Birds

Blah blah blah... cute baby elephant playing in the mud...

Hwange Baby Elephant

Blah blah blah... pregnant elephant leaving a watering hole...

Hwange Pregnant Elephant

Blah blah blah... sleepy owl in a tree...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

Blah blah... blah blah... blah blah.

And I really feel terrible about being so blasé about these wonderful things... but lions with cubs were still stuck in my head...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

As I sit here pouring over all my photos, I can't imagine a better morning in Africa.

Well, it would have been nice to see a cheetah attacking a rhino or something... but this was pretty amazing.

I'll be back tonight with Part 2.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part Two)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Short of an alien invasion, it would have been tough to top this morning's game drive.

So our guide didn't even try.

Instead he decided some rest and relaxation was in order, so he drove us out to a viewing platform where we could watch elephants come down to a watering hole for an evening drink...

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

After that we drove to a nice spot for our sundowner snack to watch yet another glorious Africa sunset...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

Once it got dark, the moon appeared. It looks kinda like an alien planet hanging overhead...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

A leisurely drive back to camp for dinner, and it would seem my day was over.

But not quite.

If you've been keeping up with my trip, a couple nights ago I posted a crappy, blurry photo of some guests out on a night safari looking at lions...

Hwange Lion

It was remarkably unremarkable... except for one thing.

Do you see the stars in the sky?

My new Sony A7s full-frame, high-ISO sensor camera did a really good job of picking them up... even in a blur. I chalked it up to the lack of light pollution out in the grasslands of Zimbabwe.

So... I wonder what would happen if I pointed my camera upwards?

A little experimentation and... holy crap...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

That's really encouraging. I wonder what happens if I tweak the settings on my camera to try and get a better read of the Milky Way?

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Well, damn. Guess I'm interested in astral photography now! That is some seriously cool stuff right there!

It was tough to tear myself away from my camera long enough for dinner but, as usual, the camp chef made it all worthwhile. I am really, really going to miss this place...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Good night from my last night on safari.

   

Day Ten: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014

Dave!My flight out of Hwange didn't leave a lot of safari time this morning, so last night I asked our guide if I could skip it and just take "the long way" to the airport in the morning. He was fine with that... probably because it meant he got to sleep in a bit late as well... so my day was set.

When it was time to leave, the entire staff was there to see me off. Just like Ruckomechi before them, everybody at Davison's was amazing throughout my entire stay. I can't possibly say enough great things about the people at Wilderness Safaris, and give them my highest possible recommendation.

Anyway...

when driving "the long way" to the airport for my flight, we happened upon something I hadn't seen yet in Africa... ostriches!

Hwange Ostriches

Just as the pair went tearing off into the grasslands, the radio came to life. I couldn't understand a word because the person was speaking Shona or some other language I couldn't recognize, but it was clear that something important was happening.

Turns out it was lions. They were at the camp watering hole.

Knowing how much I love these animals, the guide floored it back to camp. I was more than a little excited at seeing lions again, as that would mean I had lucked out in seeing them every day I was on safari. Alas, they were no longer at the watering hole, so off we went to track them down.

Fifteen minutes later and... heeeeeere's Simba! Apparently looking for his mom...

Hwange Lion Cub

Hwange Lion Cub

And here she comes...

Hwange Lionness

The cub was nice enough to look back one last time as we drove off to the airport. Goodbye there, little fella...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

And I finally got that running warthog photo I've been trying for...

Hwange Warthog

And a last look at a jackal...

Hwange Warthog

Then the time had finally come... we arrived at Linkwasha Airstrip and it was time to go...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I got to play co-pilot again, which is fun... despite all the bodily injury or death...

Hwange Warthog

Next stop? Victoria Falls. And their nice, big landing strip...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I ended up staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel, which is the hotel to stay at in the area. It has a long, illustrious history and has been host to a slew of famous people... from kings and queens to movie stars and socialites. As you would expect, it's quite the nice place to stay...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Though I usually loathe to eat at hotel properties... the price is always high and the quality mostly sucks... I was too hungry to venture out into town. So I ate at the Victoria Falls Hotel "Stanley's Terrace" restaurant, which ended up being very, very nice. The tomato gnocchi with asparagus and parmesan shavings I had was delicious...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The grounds are meticulously cared for. And not only does the hotel have an exclusive path to Victoria Falls, it also has a view of the canyon bridge at the end of the falls...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The only fault I have with the hotel so far is that some of the decor is a bit gruesome. I know game hunting is a part of the history here, but it's still sad to see these beautiful animals slaughtered for the sake of wall ornaments...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The rest of the decor, however, is amazing. There are old posters, photos, and memorabilia from throughout the hotel's history... all of it fascinating...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The evening was capped by a Zambezi River cocktail cruise.

Anybody who knows me knows that this is definitely not my thing. But it was something to do, so sign me up.

I have to admit, it was actually quite nice. It also topped-out at two hours, so it was just the right length of time...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

As you pull into dock, the entire crew comes out and sings to you. It's pretty wonderful...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Not a bad way to end the evening, really. If you ever find yourself in Victoria Falls and want to take a river cruise, I'm happy to recommend Nash and his crew of the Zambezi Explorer Cruise Company...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

And that was that. Back to the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Where I noticed a wonderful mural in the lobby entrance...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

It commemorates the old BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) route that flew from Southampton, UK to Johannesburg, South Africa via Augusta, Sicily; Alexandria, Egypt; Khartoum, Sudan; Port Bell, Uganda; and (of course) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was a mail/passenger route that began in 1948. The plaque below the mural says the flight was serviced nearby, permitting an overnight stay at this hotel for passengers. The stop was affectionately known as "Jungle Junction" (which now happens to be the name of one of the restaurants at the hotel).

And... that's a wrap. For tonight anyways.

All that's left for me here is a visit to the actual Victoria Falls...

   

Day Eleven: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Dave!I woke up confused this morning because everything was silent... no hippos grunting or baboons screeching. That should have made me happy, but I felt quite sad about it. My vacation is pretty much over now, and this is my last day. Guess I should probably try to make the most of it.

I was not going to go all the way to Zimbabwe without visiting Mosi-oa-Tunya, better known as "Victoria Falls." As the largest waterfall in the world, you pretty much have to, right?

From Wikipedia...

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivaled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls.

Of course, all those facts and figures only apply to Victoria Falls in the wet season when the falls are at their peak volume, whereas I'm visiting during the dry season when the falls are at their weakest. At first I was worried that it wouldn't be worth the trip because the water would be dried up to a trickle, but I was assured this is actually the best time to see the falls... if you're here in the wet season, you can barely see them because everything is shrouded in mist.

So off I went on my guided tour.

Which starts off with a statue of David Livingstone (I presume!)... who discovered the falls. And by "discovered" I mean "was the first European to see them"...

Victoria Falls Livingstone Statue

Just like America being "discovered" by Columbus and Angkor being "discovered" by Mouhot, it doesn't count as a discovery unless you're the one writing the history books, I suppose.

Turns out the falls are so huge that you can't actually see the whole thing on the ground. Instead you have to view it in sections.

First up... the Devil's Cataract...

Victoria Falls

This section of the falls is active all year and is the most impressive spot during the dry season. If you walk around the end of the chasm, there's a lookout where you can see the Main Falls starting off in the distance...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Looking back at the Devil's Cataract, I spotted my first rainbow of the day...

Victoria Falls

Next up... the Main Falls, which are also active all year. If it were the wet season, you wouldn't be able to see any rock at all, just gushing water and mist...

Victoria Falls

Continuing on along Main Falls...

Victoria Falls

And here's where things get interesting. If you look at the top of the falls in the middle of the photo above, you'll see people standing on a rock outlook. They are there to take a dip in The Devil's Pool, which is a spot at the top of the falls where the rock formation creates a naturally-occurring dead spot in the current. When I tried to photograph these insane people, all I could see was mist... but after a few minutes in Photoshop...

Victoria Falls

Though it's actually more impressive if you pull back a bit...

Victoria Falls

WTF?!? There have been people who have gone over the falls and died attempting this, so... yikes.

Anyway...

Here is my attempt to capture as big a chunk of the Main Falls as possible...

Victoria Falls

And that's about it for the falls, as everything else is pretty much dried up this time of year. Here's Horseshoe Falls...

Victoria Falls

Just a "trickle" (comparatively speaking) at the end...

Victoria Falls

Rainbow Falls is also mostly dried up, but still pretty...

Victoria Falls

Once you get to the end of the falls, you can walk around a corner and get a terrific view of the Victoria Falls Bridge which links Zimbabwe and Zambia. It looks like it's in the middle of being painted just now...

Victoria Falls

Despite my best efforts, I wasn't very happy with my photos of the falls. Even with Photoshop magic, the mist was always messing with the images by making them look faded and blurry. And this is the dry season! I can only guess how impossible they must be to photograph in the wet season!

That's when my guide said that the only way to truly photograph the falls was from the air. And, lucky me, she just happened to know where I could book a helicopter ride and reservations were made.

While I waited for my arial view of the falls, I walked downtown and had some lunch...

Pizza Inn at Victoria Falls

After that? Helicopter time!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

SHOTGUN!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

At $140 it was definitely more than I wanted to pay, but I have to say it was totally worth it...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

So... bucket list item accomplished? Not quite.

After visiting the falls, you have to go for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

The price is $30 for up to four people, and the scones are among the best I have ever had... subtlely sweet and with just the right amount of crumble...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Except... ultimately I was disappointed with my experience. The service, which was so amazing yesterday at lunch, was severely lacking. The tea was dumped off at the table with absolutely no explanation or even so much as a hint as to what you're being served. At most places I've gone for high tea, they will happily tell you what you're drinking (usually it's a custom, exclusive tea blend from some exotic location or something).. and they'll also let you know how much longer you should wait for the tea to steep so you can enjoy it at its best. Today? Nothing. And then I had to wait for my sandwiches and sweets, which took FOREVER to arrive (maybe they bake them to order?) and my table was never checked on even once while I waited for my waiter to bring them. This was inexplicable because there were maybe four other tables occupied in the entire restaurant, and I think my waiter was only responsible for two of them. And speaking of my waiter, after he dumped off the food service, that's the last I ever saw of him... at least voluntarily. After waiting way, way too long for somebody to refill my water glass, I finally got up and went to the bar to see if they could help me. The hostess chased me down to find out why I was at the bar and, once I told her, asked me to please take a seat and she would have my waiter bring me more water. Which he did... five minutes later. Same thing for trying to pay the check. I finally begged the hostess to chase down my waiter again so I could pay and leave. I swear... no exaggeration... it took yet another ten minutes for him to show up. I have no frickin' clue what in the hell my waiter was doing today, but it sure wasn't waiting on my table. Sorry... but for THIRTY FRICKIN' DOLLARS FOR TEA at a FIVE STAR PROPERTY with the reputation of the VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL I expected better.

If the service was worth a shit, I'd say high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel is a must-experience event when you're in town. As it is? Well, despite the terrific tea and a delicious snack tray I liked very much... you've been warned. Bring your patience.

After tea I was considering heading back to the falls for a dusk viewing. But the entrance fee I paid this morning is one-time only, and going back would mean another $30 admission fee so I skipped it. Instead I wandered through the hotel looking at the vast amount of history displayed on the walls, then went back to my room to pack.

And now I'm trying to deal with the trauma in knowing that my vacation is over...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

So far as vacations go, however, this was a great one.

   

Day Twelve: VFA->JNB->AMS

Posted on Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Dave!And so begins my long, long journey home. Starting with my flight from Victoria Falls back to Johannesburg, then continuing on to Amsterdam later this evening.

But for now? A eight-hour layover in Johannesburg. Which, I must say, has to be one of the nicest airports I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. It's well-organized, clean, and has one of the best airport shopping arcades I've seen yet. But, most importantly, they have an international transit hotel on-site... the Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo Airport.

Six hours for a room costs about $130. Pricey, yes, but it's a lot better option than sitting at the gate for eight hours. Besides, it's a pretty nice hotel (all things considered) and they have complimentary internet!

Which helps me take my mind off the 11-hour flight ahead of me.

=shudder=

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Day Thirteen: AMS->SEA

Posted on Monday, September 29th, 2014

Dave!The KLM flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg had internet onboard. The flight back? Not so much. And I have no idea why. Different plane, I suppose. Since the flight left at 11:15pm, I should have just used this as an opportunity to sleep, but that's an impossibility for me. So I watched a bunch of movies I've already seen as the time dragged on. For eleven frickin' hours.

And now here I am at Schiphol, awaiting my flight back to Seattle.

Unfortunately for me, major sections of the airport are undergoing remodeling... including the upper food court and many of the gift shops... but that didn't stop me from tracking down my favorite food on earth, PATATJES MET!!!

PATATJES MET!!!

Not the best I've ever had... but, hey, when in the Netherlands...

And now please excuse me while I mentally prepare for another TEN AND A HALF HOURS trapped in a metal tube without internet... followed by a long drive back over the mountains to home once I arrive.

Next time I'm vacationing in Spokane.

   

Bullet Sunday 399

Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Dave!Don't let post-vacation blues get you down... because a very special Bullet Sunday on Tuesday starts... now...

I have two... two... Bullet Sundays to make up for this week, so let's get this party started with THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT A SAFARI VACATION IN AFRICA!

   
• Find a Travel Specialist! Going on safari is unlike most trips you've ever taken, and having an expert in your corner is critical. I have been planning a safari trip to Africa for years. But every time I'd sit down to start planning one, I'd get bogged down by the complications and end up vacationing somewhere else. This year a friend recommended a travel agency that specializes in doing all the planning for you. So I half-heartedly called up Ultimate Africa Safaris to hear their ideas, never really thinking it would amount to anything...

Ultimate Africa Safaris Logo

I could not have been more wrong. It couldn't have possibly been easier. Lorna at Ultimate Africa (who has lived on the continent and traveled there many, many times) asked me questions about what I was looking to see and do... what experiences were critical, negotiable, or skippable... and how much I was looking to spend. The next day I had two detailed itineraries to choose from with options to customize either one to suit my tastes. And that was it. Ultimate Africa took care of booking all the lodging, all the flights, all the insurance... everything. No headache. No surprises. And, once I had booked and dropped my down-payment, I got detailed information on everything from visa requirements and a suggested packing list to local customs and money matters for everything on my itinerary. Anything not in the information packet was quickly answered via phone or email, and always in a friendly and professional manner. They even provided me with approved luggage for the trip so I didn't have to hunt for it! There is simply no substitute for this kind of expert advice and exemplary service when trying to plan for a safari vacation in Africa. None.

   
• Don't Penny-Pinch! There's no escaping it... my trip to Zimbabwe is one of the most expensive vacations I've ever had. Sure I could have done it for less by booking inexpensive lodging, locations, and transportation... but Africa is one of those places where you really don't want to go on the cheap. To do a safari right, you're going to be hundreds of miles from civilization in an unforgiving environment where your safety and security are of prime importance. Even putting that aside, do you really want to spend the time and money flying half-way around the world to have a cheap, crappy experience that doesn't live up to your expectations? Ultimate Africa bills themselves as "high-end" safari planners, but they can work with a budget as little as $5000 per person (double occupancy) + International Airfare. Yeah, I know, that's a lot of money... my vacations are usually a fraction of that price (and Zimbabwe was even higher than $5000!)... but you get what you pay for. I look back through my photos and blog entries and know that the years I spent saving for my African safari were worth the wait because my every expectation was exceeded.

Still want an African safari but can't swing a "high-end" price? I'd suggest skipping the more exotic locations (Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, etc.) and focusing on South Africa only. The amazing Kruger National Park can offer much of what people want in a safari at a greatly reduced cost because it's not as remote as other regions. They have plenty of options for lodging... from basic tent camps to luxury lodges... so you're more likely to find something that fits your budget and travel style as well. Some research at Trip Advisor will probably point you in the right direction.

Still want an African safari, but even South Africa is out of reach? Bear with me here, because this is probably a controversial notion... but book a trip to Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. They offer a "behind the scenes" safari tour called Wild Africa Trek that's about as close as you can get without stepping foot in Africa. And, yes, I'm being serious here. And I didn't know how serious I was until I went to Zimbabwe and experienced for myself just how amazing a job Disney did of capturing what it's like to be on an African safari. The sights... the smells... the bumpy roads... the wildlife... it's all there. It's been "Disneyfied" but it's there. I've written about my Wild Africa Trek previously on Blogography. And if you want to complete the experience, stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which I've also written about. No, it's most definitely not Africa... but it's a taste of Africa that's considerably more affordable than actually going... and probably a better, safer experience than trying to do a "real" safari on the cheap.

   
• Make Time! If I were forced to name a single regret about my trip, it would be that it was over with too quickly. Of my thirteen days vacationing in Africa, four of them were spent just getting there and back. So, not counting time on airplanes, my trip was just nine days long. Yes, I packed a heck of a lot into those nine days and made the most of the time I had... but I really needed more. I should have stayed four nights at each camp instead of three. Sure, that would add another thousand dollars or so to the price tag, but the added value would have been priceless. That being said, I fully realize that some people may not be cut out for that much safari. You're basically doing the same thing day after day and hoping for different results. And yet... there were people who visited Ruckomechi Camp before me that didn't see a single lion. The longer you stay, the better your chances of having that special experience that will make your vacation. At both camps I visited, the guides tried to make each game drive unique... luckily both Ruckomechi and Davison's sit on huge properties to make that possible, and it's all the more reason to spend the money to have the best experience possible.

   
• Schedule a Travel Break! One of the things I did right was give myself two nights in Johannesburg to recover from the absurd amount of travel it takes to get to Southern Africa. Nights in Johannesburg are comparatively super-cheap compared to nights at a high-end safari camp. Going directly from 20+ hours of flying to your safari is pretty much guaranteeing that your jet-lagged ass is not going to be able to appreciate the wonders you're there to experience. So don't do it. Take a day or two to get your strength back and then head out into the bush. Likewise, adding a post-safari stop to decompress is also a great idea (Victoria Falls was an easy add-on for my trip) and will give you time to recover before the long journey home.

   
• Don't Over-Pack! After years of constant travel, I've become a light packer. At least I thought I was. The small aircraft you'll be using to get to the camps out in the bush are really, really small. Because of that, your luggage also has to be kept small. For my trip, there was a limit of 44 pounds in two bags that are no bigger than 10"x12"x24" long. Since my camera bag counted as one piece, that left me with the lone duffle that Ultimate Africa gave me for booking through them...

Ultimate Africa Safaris Duffle Bag

Now, at first, it seemed an impossible challenge. 13 days of clothing in such a small bag? But the camps I stayed at provide complimentary washing service every day (and give you washing powder so you can wash your own underwear), so it's not a big deal. Three pairs of safari pants that can convert to shorts and three safari shirts that can roll up to be short-sleeve shirts is (believe it or not) more than enough. I could have easily gotten away with only two of each. So heed your information packet and leave your wardrobe at home. You just won't need it. As for everything else? I went a little overboard...

  • Camera Monopod. Since a tripod would take up too much space, the camera forum I frequented said to bring a monopod. I tried to use it the first day I went out on a game drive. It proved to be so unwieldily and impractical that it was never opened again. Even with the rather large aperture on my long lens, the bright skies of Africa during the dry season made hand-held shooting a piece of cake. Unless you've got a lens too heavy to be hand-held, just skip it.
  • Excessive Medical Kit. I took my own medical kit and packed it with double-everything and even bought a syringe and suture kit in case I needed them for serious care. Well, one of the benefits of staying in a "high-end" camp is that they already have that stuff... both in-camp and on every vehicle.
  • Pharmaceutical Bag. I always travel with an assortment of over-the-counter medications, which is a smart idea because you just never know. For going to Africa, I went above and beyond, brining a huge bag of medications that were completely unnecessary (I never opened mine even once). Stick to a small assortment of necessities you'd use for domestic travel (aspirin, Imodium, antibiotic cream, etc.) and trust that spending the money for a "high-end" camp will provide you with the safe environment for food and activities.
  • Jeans. I brought them because I didn't want to wear kahkis on the plane. This was really stupid, because you'll never use them while on safari... they're way too heavy and take too long to dry.
  • Water Bottle. A big waste of time and space considering that my camp provided bottles and each jeep had plenty of beverages onboard for a snack stop.
  • GameBoy. Never opened it once. The planes have movies and Mario can't compete with what you'll see on safari.

   
• What to Take? Okay, what about the stuff you should take? Here were my most important take-alongs...

  • Permethrin Clothing. I never saw a single mosquito or tick. I never got a single bite. Apparently they are not a major concern in the dry season. Even so, getting malaria is seriously no fun, and you should do absolutely everything you can to avoid getting it (above taking an anti-malaria drug, see below). You can buy Permethrin at many sporting good stores (or order it from Amazon) to treat your own clothing... or purchase pre-treated garments (I got mine from ExOfficio's BugsAway Collection). Can be expensive, but your health and safety is worth it, and this stuff really works).
  • Insect Repellant. The permethrin will only go so far, so making sure you have bug juice on exposed skin is a must. Yes, most camps will provide you with some, but it's smart to take stuff you know you can use, as repellants can have a strong allergic reaction in some people. DEET is considered to be the most effective, but it's also toxic as hell. I've had great luck with Skeeter Beater, and have read in travel forums that it works well on African insects. Take the time to research which solutions work best for where you'll be, as the internet has plenty of information floating out there. Again, malaria is not something you want to get.
  • Battery Pack (WITH light). Many camps aren't going to have an electrical outlet in your tent... so if you want to charge your iPad, camera, or whatever, taking along a battery pack is a must. I never travel without them anymore, because you just never know when you'll need a charge. That being said... most camps aren't going to have nightlights or flashlights provided either! So getting a battery pack that has a light built-in is just a smart move. There are tons of options out there, but the best I've ever found is the Intocircuit Power Castle. It has two USB ports and a bright light that's incredibly power-efficient (I left it on all night as a nightlight and it drained just 1% of the battery!). I'm not going to lie... it's a bit bulky and heavy compared to weaker options... but it packs a lot of power and is well-worth tucking in your pack or camera bag. The Power Castle is just $29.99 at Amazon (as of this writing).
  • A Decent Camera with a Quality Lens + Accessories. On a safari you're going to see some amazing stuff that you're going to want to remember, so you're going to want a good camera... I don't care who you are. Even if it's just a quality point-and-shoot pocket camera, you're going to use it. I'm not going to go into recommendations here (let's save that for another entry) but I will say a few things... A) Make sure your camera has an eyepiece viewfinder, as the bright African sun will obliterate the screen display and leave you guessing if that's all your camera has. B) Make sure your lens is of good quality and goes out to at least 300mm (or zoom equivalent). Longer is nice, but holding a camera steady enough to make use of longer reach can be tough (even if it has stabilization). C) Practice shooting with your camera so you know how to take photos of animals, scenery, sunsets, or whatever... before you go. D) Shoot RAW or at the highest quality JPEG setting your camera will allow so you have enough pixels to crop into later, if needed. E) Take double the amount of memory cards you think you'll need... you'll rarely have time to offload your photos and re-use your cards. F) Take at least one extra battery... preferably two... and make sure they're at 100% before you leave. G) Don't leave home without lens cleaning cloths, a lens pen, or some way of getting dust off your optics... it's EVERYWHERE. H) If your lens can accept filters, make sure you have a haze filter attached to protect it. A circular polarizer is also nice for getting good color in many situations. I) As I said above, a full-size tripod or monopod probably isn't worth it for most people, but a compact small tripod can be useful... especially if you're taking astral photography shots.
  • Backup Camera. Yeah... if your primary camera dies, you'll want to be sure you have a spare. Even something cheap is preferable to having nothing at all.
  • Decent Quality Binoculars. Most of the cool stuff you'll see is going to be at a distance. Making sure you have quality binos with you is essential. I've owned many pair over the years, but the ones I'm most happy with are (don't laugh) the Bear Grylls Edition 10x42 by Bushnell. They're $80, but perform as well as binos I've bought costing hundreds... very clear, fog-free, and bright! They're also built tough and have held up very well for me. Here they are at Amazon.
  • Power Strip and Converter Plug. If your camp is lucky enough to have power outlets in your tent, there aren't going to be very many of them. If your camp has communal power outlets, they're going to be filled most of the time. The best assurance you have of making sure your camera batteries and other electricals stay topped off is to take a power strip. My favorite one... by far... is the BESTEK I found at Amazon for $25. Yes, it's big and bulky... but it will pass through higher international currents with no problem and has USB charging ports built-in! Best of all, the outlets are space far enough apart that I can plug in my Sony camera battery chargers side-by-side with no problem! (I posted a photo of that on this entry, third-photo down). IMPORTANT! This unit is NOT a power converter! Be sure to check your equipment to be sure it can handle the current/voltage of the countries you'll be visiting (all my Apple chargers worked fine). Don't forget power plug adapters, and African countries vary on style from place to place, so be sure to research what you'll need.
  • Good Flashlight and Headlight. I am in love with the Nitecore MH2C flashlight because it can be recharged via my USB battery pack. It's a spendy $70, but worth every penny when you need a light you can count on. If you find yourself needing to go hands-free, a relatively inexpensive headlight option is the Petzl Tikka at $45. Small, tough, reliable, and essential when you're trying to futz with your camera setting in the dark and need both hands.
  • Decent Polarized Sunglasses + Backup. Don't skimp. Get a good pair that wraps around your head so light isn't leaking in while you're trying to spot game under an unrelenting sun. Bring a backup pair as well, because you just can't be without eye protection if your first pair breaks.
  • Medications. There ain't going to be a pharmacy out in the bush, so be sure to take enough prescription drugs and basic over-the-counter needs with you.
  • Warm Fleece Jacket and Gloves. At Ruckomechi, I was warm all the time and had a fan blowing on my all night. At Davison's the mornings and nights were freezing cold and I was very, very glad to have a fleece jacket to keep me warm. I wish I had brought a pair of light gloves.
  • Suntan Lotion. Pretty obvious, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

   
• Do Some Good! I filled my excess luggage space with school supplies because my camp is attached to a "Pack With a Purpose" program that will pass them along to local schools that can really use them. Had I been a smarter packer and left all the crap I didn't end up using, I could have taken more. If you're going on safari, learn more about this awesome program at the Pack for a Purpose website!

   
• Hedge Your Bets! I stayed at two separate camps at two very different parts of Zimbabwe and was really, really glad I did. It's just a way to make sure you're seeing the most variety of animals and environments on your trip, as nature can be unpredictable and game can be uncooperative.

   
• Leave the Attitude and Expectations! If you want guaranteed animal sightings, go to a zoo. Safaris aren't the place for guarantees, and the reason to go on safari is to experience a safari. There is -zero- sense getting upset because you didn't see lions or the place you visited didn't have rhino or whatever. If you're going to a good-quality camp with a decent-sized piece of land, you're going to see some amazing stuff. Whether it's what you wanted to see is anybody's guess, and not your guide's fault if things don't go your way.

   
• Don't Be a Douche! My last night at Davison's was amazing except for one thing... I had to listen to some d-bag screeching into a satellite phone, which is EXACTLY THE KIND OF THING I WENT TO AFRICA TO AVOID! He made a point of telling the guy on the other end of the line that he'd be checking in every day, which is fine... that's his choice. But do it in the privacy of your own tent... don't force everybody else to have to endure your douchebaggery. For the sake of those on game drives with him, I hope he didn't take the sat-phone with him on safari. Something tells me that he did.

   
• Research Appropriate Clothing! I touched on this above, but it's so important I am giving it a bullet of its own. Because if I hadn't packed a fleece, as recommended, I'd have spent half my time in Africa freezing. If you're traveling in the wet season, waterproof gear is essential. If you're going to an area with the satan-spawned tsetse fly, you'll want to avoid wearing the dark colors they are attracted to. Bright colors and white clothing can cause problems in some areas too. Everything I packed was in khaki and neutral colors because it was suggested that it was the best thing to be wearing. Few people bothered to be as khaki-obsessed as I was, and were wearing anything and everything. I went overboard, but would rather be safe than sorry. If you've got a decent travel specialist, they'll provide recommendations... best to follow them.

   
• Vaccinate Early! I made the huge mistake of waiting until the last minute. Not only did this mean that my typhoid pills were not fully effective before I left... it also meant that the Malarone I took to prevent malaria killed off the effectiveness of the typhoid treatment because I started too soon after! Meet with your doctor or health department months before you're due to leave and make sure you have a plan in place... and the time to follow it through.

   
• Check Entry Requirements! I was lucky in that South Africa didn't require a tourist visa for American citizens... and Zimbabwe allowed me to purchase a visa for entry at the airport. But not all African countries are going to be this easy. Some are going to require a visa that has to be purchased in advance, so make sure you check into it. If you plan to purchase at the airport (for those countries offering it) be sure to have the appropriate cash in the appropriate currency before you arrive. Zimbabwe's currency is the US dollar, so I didn't have to worry about stopping at a currency exchange or finding a cash machine.

   
• Factor in Tip Money! There are no ATMs out in the bush. If you're going to tip your camp staff and guides, you'll have to bring the cash with you... and it goes a lot faster than you'd think. I blew through $300 in no time, and wish I had brought more because the people working at the camps totally deserved it. It's suggested that you tip $10 (or equivalent) per day per person for the camp tip-box and another $10 (or equivalent) per day per person for your guide. I doubled it, and it still felt inadequate considering how well I was taken care of. I also ended up tipping porters, drivers, and other staff as appropriate... and it was always appropriate. Truly amazing service everywhere I went, and that should be rewarded.

   
• Don't Give In to Fear! When I got back to "civilization," the number one comment I got... whether seriously or as a joke... was "I hope you didn't get ebola!" I heard it before I left as well. And I think that's because people don't have an idea of just how huge a continent that Africa is. It's massively huge. It's so huge that people in London, England were closer to the ebola outbreak in West Africa than I was in Zimbabwe...

The True Size of Africa

Yes, the disease is a serious concern (even here at home!), but educating yourself about what ebola is, how it is contracted, who is at risk, and why the areas being hit are being hit as hard as they are... it goes a long way towards easing your mind. The simple truth is that there are going to be dangers when you leave your home no matter where you travel. If you're going to allow fear to keep you from your Southern Africa dream vacation... or any vacation... rather than relying on common sense, then staying home is probably best for everybody.

   
• The Sooner the Better! When I was in the earliest planning stages with Ultimate Africa, I mentioned that it might be better to wait and do my safari next year. I had the money saved, but everything seemed to be happening too fast and the choices were too overwhelming. That was when I got the best piece of advice possible... As economies recover, and safaris get more popular, and supply struggles to keep up with demand, Africa is getting more and more expensive year-after-year. Many of the prime locations are now so far out of reach that most people can't afford them. Soon even the more reasonably-priced locations like Zimbabwe and Botswana will follow suit. If you have any desire to visit Africa, now is the time. Wait too long and your options will continue to diminish until all the best options are out of reach. And it's true. When you look at the pricing calendars for some of the lodges, 2015 dates are showing a hefty price increase over their 2014 counterparts. As if that weren't bad enough, availability is already getting scarce. It's a problem that's only going to escalate the longer you wait.

   

And... that's a wrap.

Though I've probably forgotten a dozen things, so I suppose I'll update the list as needed.

   

Vacay

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Dave!I have post-vacation depression.

Fortunately I go on another vacation in one week.

Happy Friday!

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Souvenir

Posted on Saturday, October 4th, 2014

Dave!I ran out of room for souvenirs of my travels years ago.

So when people ask "What did you bring back from Africa?" I'm not sure what to say, because the only thing I could fit in my bag was a small purple hippo carving (I liked his smile). There's also an elephant placemat, but I only bought it to wrap around the purple hippo to protect him on the way home...

Purple Hippo

Other than that? A T-shirt and a few pins from the Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg.

Boring, I know.

But I did take a couple thousand photos. Those are the best souvenirs of all, right?

Oh... I almost forgot about that elephant head that I got to hang above my television. I've named him Fluffy.

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NOLA 1

Posted on Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Dave!Time to decompress in one of my favorite places on earth.

Which is not hard to do... they don't call it "The Big Easy" for nothing.


Coops Place New Orleans

Coops Place New Orleans

Coops Place New Orleans

Coops Place New Orleans

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

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NOLA 2

Posted on Friday, October 10th, 2014

Dave!A typical day in New Orleans.

If there is such a thing here.

Starting the day out right with beignets at Cafe Du Monde...

Cafe Du Monde

A walk through the French Market... Halloween-style...

The French Market New Orleans

The French Market New Orleans

The power of voodoo! Who do? You do!

Madame Laveau's Voodoo Shop

Paying respect to the local Saints...

Light a Candle for St. Brees!

One of the many cats of New Orlean's many shops...

Shopcat!

It's the new drink here!

Ginger Mint: The NEW Drink of New Orleans!

Incredible Mac & Cheese at St. Lawrence... home of divine food!

Mac & Cheese New Orleans!

Tattoo No. Six. It's been my motto for decades. Of all the quotes I've ever heard, who knew it would be a line from Buckaroo Banzai that would end up defining my life? Thanks to Electric Ladyland Tattoo for the ultimate New Orleans souvenir.

Electric Ladyland Tattoo.

Tattooing No matter where you go... there you are.

No matter where you go... there you are.

I love it. But still wonder if I should have gone with my second choice...

Pirate Love

After another dinner at Coop's, it was time to wander Bourbon Street for an evening of debauchery, drunkenness, fist-fights, and famous acts of love (not by any of us, of course... so far as you know)...

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

And... it's 1:45am. Since the bars close in 15 minutes, I guess I'll just call it a night.

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NOLA 3

Posted on Saturday, October 11th, 2014

Dave!S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y- NIGHT!

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y- NIGHT!

But let's start off with my morning, shall we? Because that was spent at Cafe Du Monde, and it doesn't get much better than that...

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

But the morning actually began at my hotel, where I am residing in Room No. 1...

My Hotel Room Door.

And this is the courtyard where the housekeeping staff yells their head off each morning while you're trying to sleep...

My Hotel Room Door.

Lunch was at my favorite place for falafel in New Orleans... Attiki (which I've written about here)...

Attiki for Halloween.

Mail call...

Cast Iron Mail Box.

Shopping in the French Quarter, when... CREEPY BABY!!!

CREEPY BABY!

A walk through Jackson Square...

Jackson Square

Dinner at my favorite restaurant in the city, Carmo...

Carmo Banquette

Carmo Rico Sandwich

As a vegetarian, eating at Deanie's Seafood wasn't in the cards for me. But the huge portions were entirely too alluring for the meat-eaters...

Deanie's Dinner New Orleans

And then? Bourbon Street madness!

Bourbon Street!

I was quite proud of myself for getting to bed before 1:00am... but was dragged back to Alcohol Central by a friend who was in town at 1:30am. A couple of Hand Grenades and two-and-a-half hours later, my Saturday night was over.

As was my liver.

   

NOLA 4

Posted on Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Dave!A Sunday in New Orleans.

=sigh=

I knew I probably wouldn't make it out to Surrey's this trip... home of my favorite Bananas Foster French Toast in New Orleans... so I went to my second favorite version at Stanley. No banana cream cheese filling, but you do get toasted walnuts and a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Bananas Foster French Toast.

After a delicious breakfast, I happened upon the best pair of tennis shoes ever...

Shiny Teddy Bear Shoes.

Yes. Yes that really is a shiny silver Teddy Bear head sewn on the tongue of a shiny silver pair of shoes. Awesome.

Then it was time to head to The Garden District with Certifiable Princess and her husband. I'm pleased to report that Anne Rice's old house is still standing... as is that gnarly set of old trees out front...

Anne Rice House.

Accidentally ran into a street parade...

Street Parade New Orleans.

Saw a new angel decoration I hadn't seen before...

Garden District Angel.

And... LUNCH!!! I seem to be experiencing a Mac & Cheese renaissance this visit, so there you have it...

Garden District Angel.

Across the street from lunch at The Rum House are some nifty shops...

Shopping at Funky Monkey.

Shopping at Funky Monkey.

Then it was time for a classic St. Charles streetcar ride...

St. Charles St. Streetcar.

After resting up for a bit, we headed back to Bourbon Street for fun times... AND PIZZA...

Bourbon Street Pizza.

... AND SHADOW PUPPET JESUS...

Church Jesus Shadow.

...AND BEIGNETS... from Cafe Du Monde, of course...

St. Charles St. Streetcar.

Delicious.

And tomorrow's my last day...

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NOLA 5

Posted on Monday, October 13th, 2014

Dave!It doesn't matter how long I spend in New Orleans, it's never enough. Five days or fifteen, I'm always left wanting more.

Which is a good thing, I suppose, as it keeps me coming back.

I didn't have much time to goof around in the city, but I made time for my last plate of beignets and hot chocolate...

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde AGAIN

When I was ready to go to the airport, New Orleans was under a tornado warning. By the time I arrived and had boarded the aircraft, the skies were turning black and it looked increasingly unlikely that I would be going home... or anywhere else...

MSY Storm

But then something weird happened. The first storm-front passed over the airport and there was a break forming before the second storm-front arrived. We managed to get cleared for takeoff during that tiny window of opportunity...

MSY Storm

Once we got above it all, it wasn't too bad in the clouds...

Clouds

Clouds

Clouds

Seattle was just as big a mess as New Orleans.

Roads were awful. Heavy rains with poor visibility. Yet there are still people who want to run in the middle of a busy street with dark clothes on (nearly hit somebody trying to cross International Blvd. NOT in a crosswalk)... and people who want to merge into your lane without signaling or waiting for an opening (yet they honked and were pissed at me?)... and people passing you doing 80 in a 60 zone with horrible visibility, then suddenly swerving into your lane so they don't run into a car they didn't notice (nearly ran right into them). Thank heavens I am not driving home tonight... I've had enough near-death experiences for one evening, thanks.

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Torn

Posted on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Dave!The drive home from Seattle-side was uneventful. Mostly.

There was that time the car ahead of me ran off the road while texting or eating or whatever the hell it is that people do while they're supposed to be paying attention to the road. At first I thought maybe they had a heart attack or something, so I pulled over and started getting out of my car to help... but by the time I got one foot on the ground, they had already recovered and blown past me.

You're welcome!

When I got home, I was positively unshocked to find out that I had no internet. If I had a nickel for all the times it goes down, I'd probably have enough to pay my internet bill.

After work I was entirely too tired to troubleshoot my internet, so I decided to go through all the photos I took on my trip and delete all the crap I don't need. As I was culling photos to keep, I ran across this one...

iPhone Error!

That's the back of my car on the left... I have no idea what's going on there on the right. I don't recall taking this photo, nor do I know if it's a combination of two images... or (more likely) something that got shot while rapid movement was going on.

Regardless, it's actually pretty cool. Add some filters and you've got instant art!

iPhone Error!

Guess I need to experiment with my iPhone and try and create something like this on purpose.

Maybe I could do it while driving. Apparently that's all the rage now.

   

Bullet Sunday 402

Posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Dave!Travel has made me seemingly incapable of releasing Bullet Sundays on Sunday, so hold onto you calendars... because a Very Special ALL NEW ORLEANS EDITION of Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Why? New Orleans is one of my favorite cities on earth and tied with Chicago for my favorite American city. And the reason for that has nothing to do with the debauchery that everybody seems to equate with the place. Yes, New Orleans is a city built for fun, but there's so much more to it than a drunken romp down Bourbon Street. There's the amazing architecture... the mind-boggling array of incredible restaurants... the friendly and welcoming locals... and a list of activities and attractions that makes it a vacation-worthy destination unlike any other. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

   
• When? Heat and humidity make summers a tough sell for visiting and, to be honest, September and October are more of the same (on my trip last week, afternoons were pretty miserable). Oh yeah... as if that weren't enough, this is also the hurricane season! However... for obvious reasons, this is when prices are at their lowest... so you can stay in the French Quarter for a reasonable price. If you'd like to be more comfortable without breaking the bank, your best bet is late November through January when temperatures drop 20 degrees and the humidity isn't so stifling. Prices skyrocket from Mardi Gras (usually in February) through Spring, and for good reason... it's the absolute best time of year to visit. My favorite visits to New Orleans have been late March through mid-April.

   
• Where? When people think of New Orleans, they're probably thinking of "The French Quarter" with all the French-style buildings overlooking famous places like Bourbon Street or restaurants like Pat O'Briens. But there's also The beautiful Garden District, colorful Faubourg Marigny, or even the Warehouse District and downtown area to consider when picking a hotel. How to choose? Most of your decision will come down to cost. My favorite place to stay in the city is the French Quarter, led by Soniat House (made famous by one of my favorite movies, Undercover Blues) which is a beautiful and unique property in a quieter area of the Quarter. It's pricey (bordering stratospheric in the Mardi Gras/Spring season), but is a New Orleans experience unlike any other. If you must have that prime Bourbon Street location, check out The Royal Sonesta Hotel or Bon Maison Guest House, both of which I enjoyed. If you want hotel points, I've also had great stays at The Four Points by Sheraton on Bourbon. A more fantastic chain hotel choice is the wonderful W French Quarter on Chartres Street. My recent trip I stayed at the inexpensive Inn on St. Peter, which is actually a fairly nice property at a decent price (despite the shitty internet and noisy staff). My final French Quarter pick is Hotel Mazarin, which was wonderful in every way. Outside of the French Quarter is where you'll find good hotels at a bit nicer price. I'm a big fan of Hotel Modern, which is half-way between the French Quarter and the Garden District, and just a quick streetcar ride away from either! Speaking of the Garden District, two of my picks from staying there are Hotel Indigo and (believe it or not) The Hampton Inn, both a great experience... and right on the St. Charles streetcar line! An overlooked neighborhood of the city is Faubourg Marigny, which is a shame. This colorful and funky neighborhood is outside the craziness of the Quarter and has a unique charm all its own. If you are into B&B's, this is the place to go... starting with the amazing Auld Sweet Olive B&B. This is not a "hotel" by any stretch of the imagination... it's like staying a a friend's home where their only mission is to make you feel at home. Probably one of the best lodging stays of my entire life.

   
• What? When it comes to what to do in The Big Easy, there's dozens of options no matter where your interest lays. Obviously, it's an architecture fan's dream come true, with amazing French and Creole architecture lining the city streets from one corner of town to another. In fact, my favorite activity in New Orleans costs absolutely nothing... wandering. I could roam the streets of this city for days and never be bored. If you're into museums, you simply cannot top the World War II Museum, which seems to get bigger and better every time I visit, and a must-see if there ever was one. Nearby is the very nice Louisiana's Civil War Museum. Other great historical/educational selections include The Cabildo, The Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans, The Amistad Research Center (at Tulane), The Pharmacy Museum, and even The Southern Food Museum! If you're into art, NOLA has a small but fantastic smattering of museums for you, including The New Orleans Museum of Art, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and The Contemporary Arts Center. Interested in all things Mardi Gras and want to see how they build all those amazing floats? Then Mardi Gras World is for you! And that's just scratching the surface... Streetcar and Riverboat rides will let you see the city from a new perspective. New Orleans cemeteries are world-famous, and taking a cemetery tour is a must. Like a good zoo? New Orleans is home to the terrific Audubon Zoo plus the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, plus The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Want to get a feel for the "Old South?" Beautiful restored plantations mask the horrors of slavery just outside the city... including the famous Oak Alley Plantation (made famous for appearances in Interview with a Vampire and Primary Colors). It goes without saying that if you appreciate live Jazz music, New Orleans is your city... there's loads of venues where you can catch the best Jazz acts going (including Preservation Hall). And that's just for starters! Churches, theaters, and parks are plentiful and worth a visit. If you're looking to buy some art, the galleries on Royal Street is where to go. Want to learn how to cook Southern-style? There's a school for that. The choices just go on and on and on. There's something (and everything!) in New Orleans for everyone.

   
• Who Dat? When it comes to food, New Orleans has so many amazing options that you could build an entire vacation around nothing but eating. Especially if you are into seafood and cajun cooking. Vegetarians have it a little rougher, but all is not lost! One of my favorite restaurants on earth, Carmo, has excellent vegetarian options. Attiki has some decent falafel and Mediterranean selections for the non-meat-eater. And, of course, there's Cafe Du Monde for beignets and hot chocolate (or chickory coffee, if that's your jam). This recent trip I had the chance to eat at Coop's Place, which has some amazing food (along with a great veggie burger)... all served with a snarky attitude that will make you appreciate new levels of sarcasm and abuse! I also ate at St. Lawrence (home of divine food!) which was a bit pricey, but the food and service were fantastic. If you're into famous chefs, Emeril Lagasse has a place here... as does Paul Prudhomme. The most famous restaurant in the city (and home to Bananas Foster) is Commander's Palace... which is all kinds of amazing, if you can afford the price tag. My previous trip to New Orleans included a visit to St. James Cheese Company (thank you TripAdvisor!) which was an amazing Garden District surprise that blew me away (the Gruyere Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions is heaven on a plate). Boucherie doesn't have a very vegetarian-friendly menu, but the chef invented a very nice meal when I inquired. The desserts are to die for. And, lastly, no visit to NOLA is complete without Bananas Foster French Toast. My favorite is at Surrey's... which has banana cream cheese stuffed inside the toast... but a close second is Restaurant Stanley, which ups the game by adding toasted walnuts and a scoop of ice cream in lieu of a cream cheese filling. My suggestion? Try both places and find your own favorite! And if all these vegetarian options are this amazing... can you imagine what's in store for meat-eaters? Seriously one of the best places on earth to dine.

   
And that's a wrap.

And only the tip of the iceberg.

My passion for New Orleans really knows no bounds. I've been to the city a dozen times. I hope to visit dozens more. It's that one place I feel completely at home whenever I go, and wandering her streets is one of my most favorite travel experiences of all time. If you haven't been, then you owe it to yourself to find out what all the fuss is about. If you've been before, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, and should be planning a trip back!

Laissez le Bon Temps Roleur! And be sure to watch Undercover Blues, if you haven't already...

   
Click here for Previous New Orleans talk on Blogography.

   

Drenched

Posted on Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Dave!Not the best of drives over the mountains, but it could be worse. Could be snowing.

Which is probably waiting for me when I have to go home.


Seattle Pass Drive

   

Such is the month of October in the Pacific Northwest.

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Y U NO?

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Dave!It never ceases to amaze me how a city known for its rain consists of a population who has no idea how to drive in the stuff.

Today my commute to work which is usually 30-40 minutes took a mind-boggling 1-hour 45-minutes... assumably because motorists lose their damn minds any time it rains more than a sprinkle.

SEATTLE! Y U NO CAN DRIVE IN RAIN?

Google's traffic map was lit up like a Christmas tree with accident reports this morning, leaving me no clear route to take. So I bit the bullet, headed to the heinous mess that is the 405, and sat in traffic for over an hour. Absurd.

Though I did get free entertainment when somebody drove clean off the road for no reason other than they were probably texting or brushing their teeth or slicing strawberries for their oatmeal, or whatever the fuck it is people do that causes them to drive off the road.

Hey! Here's an idea... maybe if people would pay attention to the damn road when weather conditions are less than optimal and allowed a little more room between cars and slowed down a bit and sliced their strawberry garnish at home... everybody could get to work only ten minutes later than usual instead of an hour plus.

Just a thought.

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Sedaris

Posted on Monday, November 17th, 2014

Dave!David Sedaris is my favorite living author.

Not just because his wry humor, observational wit, and charming self-deprecation is about the funniest stuff I've ever read... it's because David Sedaris is an exceptional writer. His prose is so flawlessly constructed... so beautifully realized... so wonderfully clever... you don't just read it, you let it wash over your senses like a warm bath from which you never want to leave.

And, as good as an adventure as reading his work may be... it's not even the best way to experience it. Having David Sedaris read his writings to you adds an entirely new load of genius to an already brilliant work. Which is why I always buy the book and the audiobook of everything he releases...

I also try to attend his readings, so I can listen to him live and in person, which is about the best entertainment ever. Sadly, it's never easy with my crazy schedule, and I've only heard him speak once before. But there was no way I was going to miss this event given that it was a mere two-hour drive away.

Especially since I finally got to meet him up-close-and-personal to get his autograph... complete with a bloody tomahawk...

Sedaris Autograph

Benaroya Hall, which is truly a lovely space with fantastic acoustics, was completely sold out for the event...

Benaroya Hall

I couldn't have had a better seat. Right on the first level in the second balcony...

Benaroya Hall

Mr. Sedaris was, as expected, completely worth the trip.

Smart, witty, charming... and utterly brilliant in every way... it was an evening I'll not soon forget.

Oh yeah... earlier in the day I also went to go see Big Hero 6 again. Such a great film. And this time I saw it in a pretty great theater. Not for screen size or anything... but for comfort...

iPic Redmond

The iPic Theater in Redmond is more comfortable than my bed. It doesn't help that people are waiting on you hand and foot. Want a beer and some Junior Mints? Your wish is their command...

iPic Redmond

Sure it's expensive... but "expensive" means that people won't waste the money to bring their bratty kids along so you won't have to listen to their bullshit. My first time seeing Big Hero 6 was pretty much ruined by kids who would rather be playing video games than stuck in a theater for 105 minutes being quiet. Not this time, baby.

Oh... and I stuck around for the post-credit sequence of the film, which was kinda nice.

Almost as nice as my Big Hero 6 Funko POP! Baymax figure that finally arrived...

iPic Redmond

I got the "Amazon Exclusive" so he glows in the dark.

Just like a playtime pal should.

   

Rage

Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Dave!The drive home from the coast was surprisingly sedate.

Meaning nobody did anything to piss me off so badly that my road rage escalated to the point where I was wanting to kill people.

Always a plus for somebody trying to stay out of prison.

DAVETOON: Lil' Dave Drives Angry

Which is everybody, I guess.

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Delta

Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Dave!Sixteen years or so ago, when I really started traveling lots for work, I actually kind of enjoyed it. I was seeing new places... meeting new people... experiencing cool stuff... it was a whirlwind of wonderment that made life fresh and exciting.

After a few years the excitement wore off (as it was bound to do) and I had gone from "Yay! I get to go to Milwaukee!" to "Argh. Milwaukee AGAIN?" But I still enjoyed it. The more miles I traveled, the more perks I got as a frequent flier. Travel had become a chore, yes, but not a terrible one. I got bumped to first class most of the time. I had access to private airline lounges. I had premium support problems popped up. Free handjobs in the first class lavatory.* The list goes on and on. Unlike the horror story most people experience when traveling, mine was a fairytale.

For the most part.

I mean, yes, there were delays, lost luggage, missed connections, and spending hideous amounts of time away from family and friends, but it was mostly better than a poke in the eye.**

But then the perks started to fade away.

I can't pinpoint the exact time they began vanishing... I want to say five years ago... but I honestly don't know because it seems like forever.*** I can, however, tell you when they died out completely.

That would be today.*****

For me at least.

After Delta Airlines decided that the amount of time you spend in the air with them didn't mean shit compared to how much money you spend... my days were numbered. I always fly the cheapest fares I can find out of obligation (to my day job) or necessity (for my charity work) so my importance to Delta went from being huge to practically zero. It didn't help that Delta started screwing over their partner airlines by making it so that you earn way less miles (or nothing at all) for non-Delta flights.******

Some partner.

And that was just the beginning. It seemed like Delta was devaluing their frequent flier program more and more with each passing week. So I switched my mileage plan from Delta to Alaska Air at the beginning of the year. Meaning this is my final year as a Delta Platinum (and former Diamond) flyer. And given how expensive it is to fly Delta now... and how little I get in return... this will be my final trip with them as a willing participant. From now on I fly Delta only when it's my only option left.

Which means next time I need to go to Portland, Maine like today (a city that Alaska Airlines does not serve) I'll instead be flying to Boston, Massachusetts (a city they do serve) and taking a two hour drive up the coast. I may not have huge status with Alaska Air, but they seem to value the time I spend with them a bit more.

And so on.

Which will be fine... until Delta buys out their SkyTeam partner Alaska, which is obviously their goal. Delta is adding so many flights out of Seattle that pretty soon you'll be able to fly direct from Seattle to Peoria. It's their way of squeezing Alaska out of their very own hub city, and Delta is getting pretty ruthless about it.

Some partner.

Oh well. It will be good while it lasted.

Delta must think so too, because this was my upgrade status flying out of Seattle this morning...

ZERO seats available in first class. First class upgrade list? David Simmer, #1

Missed it by this much.

My thanks to the many, many, many Delta employees who took such excellent care of me all these years. You will be missed. Though I'll still see you from time to time. Alaska Airlines doesn't service Amsterdam, for example, so I'll probably see you again in the Spring.

When I'll be earning a pathetic 50% of miles flown now.

Damn. Shouldn't we have Star Trek transporters by now?

   

* I may be exaggerating about the free handjobs. But I did get warmed nuts and free alcohol, which is almost the same thing.

** Unless you're a person that likes getting poked in the eye, then it's better than a Justin Bieber CD.

*** Not literally forever. I'm trying to be illustrative here. More like the time it takes to get through the line at the DMV.****

**** Also forever.

***** Actually, it's probably more like next Thursday... I'm getting ahead of myself here.

****** Even when purchased through Delta! For my trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos last year, I flew Delta "SkyTeam" carrier Korean Air. At the time of my reservation, I was told I had to pay a higher fare in order to get any miles credited to my account. So I did. Then they changed their mind and said I'd be getting no miles at all. It took a month of arguing before they gave in, and even then they shamed me for making them do it... even though they made me pay extra for exactly this purpose.

   

Buffer

Posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Dave!During the winter months I always try to arrive at a job site a day early because you just never know. This week the New England weather is supposed to be okay, but last week Maine had a winter storm attack that left a lot of people without electricity. So... just in case weather delays or power outages happen to me, I plan a buffer day so I have time to get everything straightened out.

Today was that day. Except it turns out I didn't need it.

And so I worked in my hotel room until they kicked me out at noon then went to the Maine Mall so I could have lunch at Johnny Rockets. While eating my Streamliner Veggie Burger (no mustard, no grilled onions), I saw this...

Breast Feeding Welcome! Family Friendly Business

That's pretty awesome. Babies need to eat too, yo.

After a drive up to the fine city of Auburn and an uneventful afternoon working I was going to go explore the area for a while... but decided I'd be better off seeing if I could find out where I could get some falafel. Turns out it could be found just down the street from my hotel. That almost never happens! Dinner was served...

FALAFEL WRAP!!!

Dessert from from the hotel gift shop and looked something like this...

Bugles Chips, Dibd Ice Cream, Orange Vitamin Water

Party in my room!

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Portlander

Posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Dave!I left Auburn at noon and was back in Portland by 1:00... just in time for lunch.

But first I had to spend a half hour scraping snow and ice off my rental car. This included the tires, which had frozen to the ground...

Tires frozen in the snow.

The Ford Focus I rented is a pile of crap for many reasons. Primary of which is the horrendous gas mileage. Driving the 80 miles to Auburn and back killed... I shit you not... A HALF-TANK OF GAS! As if this wasn't bad enough, the car is just awful design-wise. Massive, glaring blind spots. A driver console that has no place to put your mobile phone. Uncomfortable seats. Utterly shitty "Sync by Microsoft" computer system that's as intuitive as a nuclear reactor to control. And then you get to the outside where you have this fucking huge gap between the hood and the windshield that is so cavernous and deep that it's extremely difficult to dig all the snow out of it. Even if you have a brush, there are ridges in there that makes it much more trouble than it's worth...

Shitty fucking Ford design.

No wonder everybody wants a foreign car... their designers actually think about shit like this.

But anyway...

For reasons completely unknown, Portland, Maine has some really excellent pizza restaurants. This is nice because it takes the edge off the misery you experience when visiting in the cold, snowy, wet, days of Winter. A place I had wanted to visit but never got around to last time I was here was OTTO Pizza...

OTTO Pizza Building.

OTTO Pizza Door.

They are kinda famous for their Butternut Squash, Ricotta & Cranberry pie...

OTTO Pizza Pizza.

Sounds weird, I know. But it is pretty wonderful. Creamy with subtle flavors that taste amazing together...

OTTO Pizza Slice.

It's important to eat it while it's hot though. As soon as it gets cold the texture gets kind of rubbery and weird.

OTTO's itself is a nice enough place. Kind of eclectic in a rustic way. Service is pretty good too. The only thing I hated is that somewhere in the restaurant there's a piano that kids are, apparently, welcome to bang all over. This makes an ungodly racket that completely ruins the experience of eating here. And I cannot fathom why in the hell they allow it. They must know that it's irritating as fuck to listen to that shit... so why put your customers through the agony? Stupid.

After some various errands, it was my plan to get some sleep.

Or not.

I made the foolish mistake of checking my email only to find a problem that required me to head back out into the cold, snowy, raining, wet misery I had just escaped from. At least I was smart enough to bring my camera along with me. I didn't have it on my previous trip, and really wanted to take a shot of the Harbor Fish Market (which proved impossible with my iPhone). It's a beautiful building with amazing lighting that has a steady flow of customers pulling up all day...

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

From there I wandered around for a while to see if I could find anything else interesting to shoot...

Portland Lobster Co.

Portland Lock Fence

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

I finished up my evening at my favorite restaurant in the city... Flatbread Company. I was still stuffed with OTTO pizza, so dinner was out of the question. But Flatbread Company makes some of the best desserts I've ever had, so I decided to try their Apple Crisp...

Portland Flatbread Company Apple Crisp

Not as jaw-dropping amazing as their wild blueberry desserts (which are out of season, darnit!), but still fantastic. Fortunately their chef is smart enough to know that RAISINS HAVE NO PLACE IN APPLE CRISP EVER!!! I frickin' hate it when somebody ruins a good apple crisp by dumping raisins in it. BLECH!

And now, at long last, that sleep I've been trying to chase down all day...

   

Cold

Posted on Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Dave!The Plan was to fly out today since my work ended yesterday so I could have more time on my upcoming Hard Rock adventure. But to follow The Plan would cost four times the money than a hotel stay, so I'm instead flying out tomorrow morning. Early.

The rest of this entry should be prefaced with the understanding that cold Maine is cold. Very cold. Biting cold. Cold with a side of cold and a scoop of cold on top.

It's really f'in cold.

And it's Sunday in the off-season, so there's not much to do in Portland, Maine. Thus my incentive to go outside is not very high. So I didn't until the hotel kicked me out at noon. At which time I checked into my airport hotel, returned my rental car, then took a taxi back into the city because pizza and apple crumble was calling at Flatbread Company...

Apple Crumble at Flatbread Co. Portland, Maine

To say I love this restaurant is a gross understatement. The location is great. The atmosphere is great. The service is great. The beer selection is great. The food? Beyond great. Especially the desserts, which are worth a trip to Portland all by themselves.

Did I mention it's cold?

Yet I went wandering downtown anyway like the fool I am. Despite wearing a T-shirt, thermal henley, hoodie sweatshirt, and a coat, I was still freezing. But I wanted to get a shot of the fence with locks on it in daylight, so off I went...

Love Locks Project

Love Locks Project

To profess their undying, never-ending love, a couple will write their names on a lock, attach it to the fence, then throw away the key. I have no idea if you come back with a bolt-cutter if things don't work out, but it's a nice idea.

I decided to explore somewhere new this time around, and left the Old Port area for downtown. That's when I saw... MAINE LOBSTERMAN!

Love Locks Project

Sculpted for the New York 1939 World's Fair, this piece has an interesting history (which you can read about here). At first I thought that the guy was giving first aid to a lobster with a hurt claw, but that's apparently not the case at all...

Love Locks Project

He's actually "pegging" the poor thing... which is to say he's shoving a wooden peg in the claw joint so it can't be opened (so he can't pinch anybody). This practice has mostly been abandoned, and now they just wrap a plastic band around the claw. Still a bit cruel, but I'm guessing it's not as painful to the lobster. At least until he gets boiled alive.

As I was walking, I saw a really cool painting on the side of a building that was meant to mimic a giant blueprint being laid over the structure...

Blueprint Building

Blueprint Building

Just across the street is a giant postcard painting that's also pretty cool...

Greetings from Portland!

Greetings from Portland!
Click the above photo to embiggen it...

If you look closely, the "lighthouse" is actually a spray-can...

Greetings from Portland!

At this point I was so cold that I could barely move, so I called a taxi while taking a few last photos as the sun set...

Love Locks Project

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

And that was that.

Back to my airport hotel room where I can (hopefully) get a few hours sleep before my early morning flight.

   

Bullet Sunday 410

Posted on Monday, December 8th, 2014

Dave!Don't say it's over... because Bullet Sunday on Monday starts... now...

   
• 161! This evening I net up with two local bloggity internet friends, Chris & Kyle, for a visit to the Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America... which has been built into the middle of the USA's largest shopping complex. For a "new school" property, it's not bad. Certainly not as great as the former Minneapolis Hard Rock since it's a douchey hipster-lounge "new school" property... but at least there's some decent memorabilia to be found...

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

Oh... and the location is pretty good. Right next to the LEGO Store...

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

And that's Hard Rock property no. 161.

   
• SPACESHIP!

SPACESHIP!!!

Thanks, Benny!

   
• Pub Night! After drinks at the Hard Rock, we headed to Ward 6 in St. Paul for dinner. I had the fried egg sammy (sans the bacon) and loved it. They actually put TWO fried eggs on there, which makes for an especially gooey delicious mess. Fantastic fries to boot. As if that wasn't enough, it was PUB QUIZ NIGHT! Our table was #1 for three of the four rounds, so we probably would have devastated the rest of the players... but we left before round 4 because it was taking really long to get through the questions. Still, great place for food if you're in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

   
• Thomas! This guy is genius...

While funny, am I the only one who thinks that this will one day lead to his death?

   
• UPS! This is too adorable...

Now I can't help but wonder if this kid will grow up to become an actual UPS driver.

   
• THANKS, OBAMA! Love him or hate him, this was pretty dang funny...

Cue the asshole brigade with cries of "Shouldn't he be running the country? And by 'running' I mean 'ruining"?!?"

   
And... tomorrow I'm in the air yet again, so I bid you goodnight!

   

Siouxland

Posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Dave!And so today I flew into Sioux Falls so I could rent a car and drive down to Sioux City... home to the latest US Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. It's nothing overly-fancy, but it does have some nice pieces of memorabilia and pretty good theming throughout.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

As you can tell in that last photo, the hotel part and the casino part are two separate buildings. The hotel was the former Simmons Hardware Company Warehouse (which you can read about here)... then they plastered the casino building right up next to it. You can see that they used the original exterior wall as the new interior dividing wall when you use the rear entrance...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

The lobby is beautiful and decorated nicely for the holidays...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Lobby

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Lobby

Interestingly enough, the reception desk has a full bar behind it. I don't know that I've ever seen that before!

The rooms are great, but not terribly "Hard Rock." With the exception of a guitar painting and a strip of photos next to the toilet, there's just not much to distinguish this from a "regular" hotel room... albeit a very nice one...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rooms

Hallways are pretty mundane and memorabilia-free, except for the carpet and door art...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Hallway

Memorabilia is fairly good once you get to the casino portion. Not so much on the casino floor, but all the way around it...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia
A shirt worn by Elvis Presley!

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Memorabilia

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City Rock Shop

Not wanting to spend all my time in a casino (I'm not much of a gambler), I decided to head out into the city and see what museums could be found in walking distance from the Hard Rock. The first I ran across was the Sioux City Art Center... which is not an actual museum, but they do have a small collection. The building itself is one of their best works of art, however...

Sioux City Art Center

Much to their credit, they had a beautiful Dale Chihuly seaform vase in their collection...

Sioux City Art Center Chihuly

And a series of paintings focusing on cornfields. I couldn't really tell if they were painted to be faded and tough to make out... or if they were badly faded from sun damage or something. Still interesting. Though I found it impossible to photograph them well...

Sioux City Art Center

Much to my surprise, they also have a Jackson Pollock on loan...

Sioux City Art Center Jackson Pollock

Not one of my favorites by him, but Polock's works are alway great to see in person... the way the paint layers up is an interesting effect that gets lost in photos.

From there I walked to the Sioux City Museum, which focuses on the history of (you guessed it) Sioux City...

Sioux City Museum

There's a lot of history in a relatively small space... almost too much at times, because it gets so cluttered you don't know where to look...

Sioux City Museum

Sioux City Museum

Sioux City Museum

A nice museum, really... and totally free (though you can make a donation).

After a while I decided to head back to the hotel... disappointed that both cities I visited bearing the name of the Great Sioux Nation didn't actually have a museum dedicated to the Native Americans which inhabited (and continue to inhabit) the region. A teepee and a few crafts in the City Museum were about it. Perhaps one of the Indian reservations would have a museum, but they're so scattered I wouldn't know where to begin looking. I've done some cursory Google searches and came up empty. Guess I need to find a book.

Oh... and I found this cool shot along the way...

Sioux City Alley

Dinner was an interesting side journey.

Three days ago, Blogography reader "Omaha Carl" left this comment...

As always, just LOVE it when you share your travels.
If you ever get to fly-over country. i.e. the Omaha region, consider me for a guide, or at least for suggestions.
Carl Mann
(NOT the country singer from the 50s and 60s)

Smartass that I am, I replied with this...

I’ll be in flyover country day after tomorrow… see you then! :-)

It was a joke... but then I got to thinking about how Omaha couldn't be more than an hour-and-a-half south of Sioux City. So I Googled it and, sure enough, an hour and thirty-four minutes...

Google Maps

So... a couple emails later and I was off to Omaha for a terrific dinner with Carl...

Anthony's in Omaha Nebraska

If you're ever in Omaha, Anthony's makes a mean bowl of pasta (and it's way more than I could eat!). I'm just sad that I didn't have room to eat a salad with some Dorothy Lynch dressing (which is apparently a very Omaha thing to do given that it was invented in the city of St. Paul, due East of the city).

Thanks so much to Omaha Carl for the great evening!

   

Corn

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Dave!This morning I woke up early because I had stuff to accomplish.

I wasn't going to visit Eastern South Dakota without seeing The Corn Palace... and I wasn't going to visit Sioux Falls without seeing the replica of Michelangelo's David.

But first? Breakfast. Which was going to be the TWIN BING candy bar that I bought at the Sioux City Museum yesterday!

Double Bing Bar

I say "was" because it turns out the "BING" in a TWIN BING bar is for BING CHERRY! Cherry being a flavor that I loathe. So... no breakfast for me!

The hour drive back to Sioux Falls was uneventful... except for the roadside billboards that keep popping up. Unlike Washington State which has banned billboards, in South Dakota they are very much alive. Half of them are telling people to visit the famous Wall Drug Store, which is odd because it's located five hours away. The other half? Well... anything you can think of, really.

One of the best billboards I saw was the one that said "EAT BEEF!" and had a photo of a steak on it with nothing more. Direct and to the point.

But my favorite billboard? The one that said "Eat Steak. Wear Furs. Keep Your Guns. The American Way." My biggest regret this trip is that I didn't pull over and take a photo of it. Lucky for me, a YouTuber caught it...

Double Bing Bar
Still from a video by Dumbface Tour... you can watch their video here.

Stuff like this is hysterical in its idiocy. For me, the "American Way" is having the freedom to NOT eat steak... to NOT wear furs... to NOT have a gun. The American Way is not having to conform to some redneck's moronic ideal of what it means to be an "American." But whatever. Expression of stupid shit is also The American Way.

After blowing past Sioux Falls, I headed west on I-90 towards Mitchell, South Dakota... home of THE CORN PALACE!! I've wanted to visit this place after I first learned about it years ago. I mean, come on, it's a sports venue COVERED IN CORN! Every year the corn murals are different, but they all kind of look like this...

The Corn Palace Photo by Parkerdr
Photo from WikiMedia Commons by User Parkerdr

Unfortunately...

The Corn Palace is undergoing rennovations just now, so what I saw was this...

The Corn Palace

The building may be a mess, but the murals are still intact...

The Corn Palace

The inside is just as good...

The Corn Palace

The Corn Palace

And of course I crossed the street to visit the gift shop and meet Cornelius, the Corn Palace mascot...

The Corn Palace

Hopefully I'll get back one day when everything is put back together.

There was just enough time to head back to Sioux Falls and hunt down David before I had to be to the airport, so off I went.

Fortunately, he was pretty easy to find...

Sioux Falls David Replica

Sioux Falls David Replica

And off I go...

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49

Posted on Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Dave!An early morning flight from Minneapolis back to Seattle.

Where Delta was kind enough to upgrade me to first class... so I guess today is the day the perks die, not last Wednesday after all. Still... again... it was good while it lasted.

After several delays out of Seattle, my flight finally boarded... but on a Weather Advisory... which means there's a chance we won't get to land, but will instead have to turn around and head back to Seattle if the weather is too bad.

Fortunately that never happened and I made it home just fine.

I guess that means the last trip of 2014 was a success. Plus I get to update my "States Visited Map"...

Double Bing Bar

South Dakota and Nebraska make 49.

North Dakota is the only state I haven't visited yet.

I'll try to get that taken care of next year.

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Home

Posted on Friday, December 12th, 2014

Dave!Home for a month.

Hopefully two.

I've started taking a couple months off during the winter because I really hate travel this time of year. I've spent the past two decades being trapped in airports because of snow and ice, and I'm just done with it. At least that's the plan.

Which is subject to change at any moment.

Unfortunately.

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Bullet Sunday 413

Posted on Friday, December 26th, 2014

Dave!Yeah, yeah, it's Friday and I'm two days early... but I can't mess up my end-of-year lists, so... Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Box! Ooh... look... it's the day after Christmas!

DAVETOON: Bad Monkey with boxing gloves saying Happy Boxing Day

Assuming you celebrate that kind of thing.

   
• Monkeymedic! When a monkey was badly shocked by an electrical line, a monkey friend did their best to revive him...

Monkey buddies for life!

   
• Land! One of the gifts from Cards Against Humanity's Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa ended up being one square foot of an island in Maine that they renamed Hawaii 2. My piece is here...

Looks like I'm going to have to see if there's a way to get there for my next trip to Maine!

   
• Cute! There's an article titled 25 of The Cutest Parenting Moments In The Animal Kingdom that's totally worth a look. Though I'd say a photo I took when I was at Mana Pools in Africa of two elephants teaching a baby elephant how to wash grass is just as cute as any of them...

Elephants in the Zambezi

And a photo I took of a mother lion giving her reluctant cub a bath when I was at Hwange National Park is equally sweet...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Doesn't get much more adorable than nature.

   
• Horrifying! And now for something that's the exact opposite of cute. I was playing Godus (quite a trick when the pile of crap crashes all the time) when a rival tribe, the Astari, started having a celebration. If the celebration makes their people happier than my people, some of my people will defect. I didn't want this to happen, so I used my god powers to call down a meteor strike. I was hoping if I busted some of their buildings they wouldn't be quite so happy. Unexpectedly, all hell broke loose. Before I knew it, all the buildings... and all the little people... were on fire...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

The whole scene was just awful, and I felt terrible all day for the horrific destruction I unleashed. I was going to call down some rain to extinguish everything, but the population plummeted to zero and the entire tribe was gone. Guess this is what happens when people try to play god.

   
• Quest! I'm a bit obsessed with Questlove, best known as co-founder and lead drummer for The Roots (the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon). He absolutely mesmerizes me with his musical talent... especially when he sits in on drums with a guest band at the last minute (always flawlessly). He can play drums on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Despite being a fan, I never knew he had a memoir out until last week when I discovered... quite by accident... the book "Mo' Meta Blues." It is fantastic. The guy is even more brilliant than I imagined. Highly recommend checking it out...

The World According to Questlove

If you need convincing, here's a terrific excerpt over at Salon.

   
• ASSHOLERY! One of my favorite internet services is DropBox. It's a storage space in the cloud that allows me to share files and keep my work handy no matter where I am or which computer I'm using. I've been paying for DropBox space for years, and have come to rely on its ease and convenience. At least I did until the last update when the fucking assholes moved the buttons to open the DropBox folder and open the DropBox website... replacing them with a "Pro" button...

DropBox Assholery

And since I am so accustomed to where the buttons used to be, I'm forever accidentally clicking on that stupid-ass "Pro" button, opening up their idiotic "PAY US MORE FUCKING MONEY" website which I DON'T WANT. And I am absolutely livid. First DropBox trains everybody where to click to get what they need... then they trick you into clicking on an ad? terrific way to treat your customers.

UPDATE: I do have a "Pro" account that doesn't expire until April 2015 and has PLENTY of space available. So I have no idea why I am being told I have to go Pro Pro?

   
And... that's the last Bullet Sunday of 2014!

   

Dave14

Posted on Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Dave!For those who only read one of my posts each year... or anybody wanting a recap of the past year here at Blogography... this post is for you! As usual, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.

This year presented me with some harsh struggles, unwelcome challenges, and a lot of bad news. But there were some good moments in there that kept 2014 from being a complete disappointment, so here we go...

   


JANUARY

• Explained why I'm in favor of legalizing marijuana even though I don't use marijuana...

Yes on Washington 502

   

• Jester and I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum at long last, then saw the amazing Betty Who in concert...

Betty Who in San Francisco!

   

• Made time to add another section to my forearm tattoo.

   


FEBRUARY

Got angry.

   

Everything is awesome.

The LEGO Movie Poster

   

• With much sadness, I had to say goodbye to a friend.

   

Penis! Vegina!

   


MARCH

How I read.

   

• Flew to the Netherlands for PATATJES MET!

Patatjes Met!

   

Visited Glasgow, Scotland for Hard Rock No. 153...

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow

   

• Revisited Florence, Italy for Hard Rock visit No. 154...

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

   

• Then went onward to Nice, France for Hard Rock visit No. 155 and nearly got killed in the process...

Hard Rock Cafe Nice

   

Visited Friesland, the land of my forefathers, with The Dutch Bitch... then continued to the resort island of Schiermonnikoog.

   


APRIL

• Back to San Francisco for work and the same old routine, which means... MINI DONUTS!

BAG-O-DONUTS!

   

• Can't go to San Francisco without another tattoo...

Om Mani Padme Hum

   


MAY

• Visited the new Palm Springs Hard Rock Hotel, which is No. 156 for me...

Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs

   

• Discovered the best damn veggie burger ever while in Chicago...

GAH! IT'S SO DELICIOUS!!!

   

• And so... Apple is definitely broken.

   

TILTED WITH HOT COFFEE GIRL... ZOMG!

TILT! at Hancock Center

   

Finally saw Morrissey in concert on a trip to Tampa... AND HE DIDN'T CANCEL! WOO-HOO!

Morrissey Concert Interlude

   

• Ate the world's best potato salad with Certifiable Princess then explored Ybor City where we found... THE BAD MONKEY BAR!!!

Bad Monkey Bar

   


JUNE

• Once again flew to the amazing city of Pittsburgh and got to spend time with HelloHaHaNarf Becky, one of my most favorite people on earth... LET'S GO BUCS!

Becky and Dave2
That's right... bask in our adorableness!

   

Becky and I drove to Ohio so I could visit the Northfield Park Hard Rock Casino (No. 157) and Hard Rock Cafe (No. 158)...

Hard Rock Northfield Park

   

• Thanks to my sister, I got to watch a Mariners game with field-level seats!

Dave!

   

It's over.

   


JULY

Fuck you, you fucking fucks.

   

• Managed to live through another fire seasons in Central Washington...

Wildfires

   

• Visited Pigeon Forge, Tennessee so I could check off Hard Rock No. 159...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

   

Visited some lighthouses in Maine and ate the best blueberry crumble I have ever had in my life...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

   


AUGUST

• Saw my favorite movie of 2014... Guardians of the Galaxy.

   

If you've never suffered from severe depression... if you've never stood by helplessly as somebody you care about battles depression... if you've never made an effort to understand what depression is or what it does to you... then please, for the love of God, shut the fuck up about it.

   

• Bought a new camera lens... my first telephoto glass in many years.

   


SEPTEMBER

• Flew to Salt Lake City and got to meet one of my childhood fantasies... ERIN GRAY!

Me and Erin Gray

   

• Went to the Retro Futura Tour with Marty from Banal Leakage to see TOM BAILEY OF THE THOMPSON TWINS LIVE IN CONCERT!

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

   

• Added Hard Rock visit No. 160 to my list in Johannesburg, South Africa...

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

   

• Fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Africa and go on safari with a trip to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe...

Lions in the Shade

Elephants in the Zambezi

   

• Photographed lions while visiting Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lion Cubs

   

• Accidentally discovered a love for astral photography...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

   

• Flew to Victoria Falls to see the largest falls by volume on the face of the earth...

Victoria Falls

   

THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT A SAFARI VACATION IN AFRICA!

   


OCTOBER

What's in my camera bag?

   

• Took a short vacation from my vacation with a trip to New Orleans... and tattoo No. 6...

No matter where you go... there you are.

   


NOVEMBER

   

• Had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by my favorite living author, David Sedaris...

Sedaris Autograph

   

A look at blog stats.

   

God bless America? If this is what we've come to, I sincerely doubt it.

   


DECEMBER

Try showing a little class...

   

• Took some time to do some night photography while I was in Portland, Maine...

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

   

• Stopped by Minneapolis to meet up with some blogger friends and visit the Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America, which would be No. 161 for me...

Hard Rock Cafe Mall of America at Minneapolis.

   

• Flew to Sioux Falls so I could drive down to Sioux City and see my last Hard Rock of the year... a hotel and casino No. 162...

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

   

• Closed out my travel year with a stop at the World Famous Corn Palace.

   


And that was my adventures in 2014.

Here's wishing everybody a terrific 2015!

   

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