This year the studio was joined by two four-legged team members: Ramoosh the camel purchased from the livestock market in Hargeysa; and Neyy a goat bought on the road between Harare and Bindura. As is the local norm in a country with limited electricity and even less refrigeration, Neyy was gifted to an interviewee as a small thank-you -- anything larger wouldn't be possible to eat in one sitting and would spoil after slaughter. Both were expensed.
The company also debuted the 1M Hauly Heist, which is a ultra-durable and discreet travel pack that will carry $1 million in US $100 bills and shield electronics from RF tracking. The 1M Hauly Heist made it onto my 2015 holiday gift list.
Our tour group visited a local high school in a city north of Pyongyang. The students were disappointed when none of us could name three female North Korean heroes from their revolutionary history.
I didn't mind their patriotism, and their curiosity was refreshing. But when asked how I liked Pyongyang, what could I say? Usually I just said polite things and was rewarded with beaming faces. But was I being fair to these young adults? Doesn't intercultural exchange require some basic honesty? I told Jong Ho that I liked Korean people and appreciated how clean and grand their capital was.
"However," I went on gingerly, "I have to admit that Pyongyang is a poor city and out of touch with the modern age. Even a poor provincial capital in China wouldn't be envious."
He took this in for a minute and looked thoughtful.
"It's okay," he said with a smile, "I'm very glad to meet you."
Carothers chatted with his tour guide about politics:
"Who will be the next leader of America?" she asked. I explained about our two parties and gave her my best guess.
"But even if the party switches from Democratic to what are they called, Republicans, relations with Korea are always so tense. Why? Why does a big country like America continue to provoke a small country like Korea? No one wants war. We always say we are ready for war, but no one wants war. I don't understand politics."
"What American provocations do you mean?" I asked, curious. "Didn't the Great Marshal Kim Jong Un threaten to turn Seoul into a sea of flames?"
"Well, he's responding to American military exercises. Always with the military exercises with the South."
"I think, uh, many countries do military exercises," I tried to explain. "Some are defensive. Honestly, many Asian countries including South Korea are concerned about China's growth and the North getting nuclear weapons and so have asked to work with the U.S."
"The U.S. has many nuclear weapons. Isn't it ... hypocritical?"
"Maybe. But should a country that can't provide electricity properly in its capital really have nuclear weapons?"
"I see," she said quietly.
The whole thing is well worth a read. Some of the photos accompanying the article were taken by Christian Petersen-Clausen, who also recently visited North Korea as a tourist. (The photos at the top of this post were taken by Petersen-Clausen as well.) Keegan Hamilton interviewed him about his photos at Vice.
He said one surprise from the trip was that many North Koreans seemed "pretty damn aware" of life in the outside world. He saw people in Pyongyang using smartphones, which are connected to the country's propaganda-filled "intranet" and blocked from calling foreign countries, but says he was told it was relatively easy for people to procure Chinese or South Korean SIM cards. Foreign media, smuggled into the country on USB sticks, was also reportedly common.
"They watch Chinese and South Korean soap operas, they see the cars, the fashion, everything," he said. "It's basically rubbed in their faces how poor they are, while at the same time they can't talk about that."
A site called SDR Traveller sells ultralight, strong, and discreet bags for traveling to places where such things are necessary. Their most eye-catching item is the 1M Hauly Heist, a bag designed to carry US$1 million in cash that also doubles as a Faraday cage for shielding your electronics from radio frequency tracking.
From the description on the page for the 1M Hauly (which holds the million bucks without the RF shielding):
In many countries project expenses and payroll for the local crew need to be carried in cash. Whether you're managing a team of thirty working for months at the edge of the grid, or on a solo trip to negotiate a significant cash transaction, the 1M Hauly is designed for discreet, safe carry of up to $1 Million USD in strapped, new or used $100 USD banknotes.
Designed to address the six main issues with carrying significant volume banknotes in field: risk of discovery; risk of damage (especially in high-humidity, monsoon environments); container robustness; carryability; glide; and in-field accounting.
Who would have guessed 15 years ago that this self-styled rebel, who wrote about waitress blow jobs and shooting heroin in his best-selling 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, would become America's contemporary answer to, say, Mark Twain -- our most enthusiastic chronicler of life outside our borders?
When you have abundant time you can get closer to core of a place. You can hang around and see what really happens. You can meet a wider variety of people. You can slow down until the hour that the secret vault is opened. You have enough time to learn some new words, to understand what the real prices are, to wait out the weather, to get to that place that takes a week in a jeep.
Money is an attempt to buy time, but it rarely is able to buy any of the above. When we don't have time we use money to try to get us to the secret door on time, or we use it avoid needing to know the real prices, or we use money to have someone explain to us what is really going on. Money can get us close, but not all the way.
I went to South America and trekked through Patagonia. In Zimbabwe, hippos, lions, and elephants roamed through our camping ground. When I got to South Korea, my relatives treated me as one of their own, despite having last seen them 18 years prior.
It was in China, the third country of my trip, when I realized that what I was doing wasn't totally crazy. I had already met a multitude of other backpackers taking extended trips ranging from several months to four years. Young people from abroad were prioritizing travel over hurrying into careers.
This video makes me happy. And sad...I am clearly not grabbing enough tiger by the tail in life currently. Chang is doing a Kickstarter campaign for a book of photos from the trip.
I've caught a couple of episodes of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I've been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it's not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than differences. I'd never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it...what a great people.
Season four recently wrapped up and they're shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: "Unknown" is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)
For the past year, Joanna Goddard has been running a series on her blog called Motherhood Around the World. The goal of the series was to tease out how parenting in other countries is different than parenting in the US. From the introduction to the series:
We spoke to American mothers abroad -- versus mothers who were born and bred in those countries -- because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what's unique about your own country ("don't all kids eat snails?"), and it's much easier to identify differences as an outsider.
The results, as Goddard states upfront, are not broadly representative of parenting in the different countries but they are fascinating nonetheless. I've picked out a few representative bits below. On parenting in Norway:
Both my kids attended Barnehage (Norwegian for "children's garden"), which is basically Norwegian pre-school and daycare. Most kids here start Barnehage when they're one year old -- it's subsidized by the government to encourage people to go back to work. You pay $300 a month and your kids can stay from 8am to 5pm. They spend a ton of time outside, mostly playing and exploring nature. At some Barnehage, they only go inside if it's colder than 14 degrees. They even eat outdoors-with their gloves on! When I was worried about my son being cold, my father-in-law said, "It's good for him to freeze a little bit on his fingers." That's very Norwegian -- hard things are good for you.
No one thinks twice here about sharing breastmilk. Why let something so valuable go to waste? Not long after my second daughter was born, I went on a work trip to Kenya. I pumped the whole time I was there and couldn't bear to throw away my breast milk, nor imagine the nightmare scenario of leakage in my luggage. So I saved it all up in the hotel fridge in Ziploc bags. On the day I left, I took all the little bags to the local market and said, "All right, ladies. Who's got babies and wants breast milk?!" Not a single Kenyan woman at the market thought twice about taking a random white woman's breast milk. My driver even heard I was handing out milk and asked if I could pump some extra to take home to his new baby.
There are no car seat or seatbelt laws here. You will regularly see toddlers with their heads peeking out of sunroofs or moms holding their infants in the front seat. The government and the car companies are trying to educate people about the dangers, but the most locals (Emiratis as well as people from countries like India and Egypt) believe that a mother's arms are the safest place for her child.
In a country in which space comes at such a premium, few parents would dream of allocating a separate room for each child. Co-sleeping is the norm here, regardless of class. Children will usually sleep with their parents or their ayah until they are at least six or seven. An American friend of mine put her son in his own room, and her Indian babysitter was aghast. The young children from middle class Indian families I know also go to sleep whenever their parents do -- often as late as 11pm. Our son sleeps in our bed, as well. He has a shoebox of a room in our house where we keep his clothes and crib, and he always starts the night in there, falling asleep around 8pm. That way Chris and I get a few hours to ourselves. Then, around 11pm, Will somehow senses that we are about to fall asleep and calls out to come to our bed. It's like clockwork, and he falls right back into a deep sleep the second his head hits the pillow.
On sleep camps: Government-subsidized programs help parents teach their babies to sleep. I haven't been to one (though I did consider it when we were in the middle of sleep hell with our daughter) but many of my friends have. The sleep camps are centers, usually attached to a hospital, that are run by nurses. Most mums I know went when their babies were around six or seven months old. You go for five days and four nights, and they put you and your baby on a strict schedule of feeding, napping and sleeping. If you're really desperate for sleep, you also have the option of having a nurse handle your baby for the whole first night so you can sleep, but after that you spend the next few nights with your baby overnight while the nurses show you what to do. They use controlled crying and other techniques. I have friends who say it saved their lives, friends who left feeling "meh" about the whole thing, and a friend who left after a day because, in her words, "they left my baby in a cupboard to cry."
Giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will offer candy to kids on the street. I'll sometimes turn around and a stranger will be handing my daughter a chocolate bar! Several months ago, we were on a bus, and a woman near us was eating cookies. She saw my daughter Mia and said "Oh, let me give you some cookies." I said, "No, thank you." But she kept on insisting. Then, a random stranger, who was not even connected to the first woman, chimed in, "You should give your daughter the cookies!" They were very serious about it! I was frustrated at the time, but after the fact I found it funny.
Here in the U.S., there is a huge "baby industry," which does not exist in Romania. There's special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for "brain development from months 3-6." Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I'm constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.
And the more permissive and involved parenting:
I was surprised that American children as young as one year old learn to say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Those things are not actively taught in India. Another difference is how parents here tend to stay away from "because I said so" and actually explain things to their children. It's admirable the way parents will go into basic reasoning to let the child know why some things are the way they are. When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn't buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn't just stop at "no."
Like I said, the whole series is fascinating...I could easily see this being a book or documentary (along the lines of Babies).
On improvising in the kitchen: We often have to be resourceful and adjust our cooking plans around what we can get. At the moment, it's been a few months since I've seen chicken breasts available at the market, for example. Last year on Thanksgiving, my father-in-law and I spent hours driving around trying to find potatoes, which are a black market item. People will normally walk up to you at the vegetable market and whisper, "I have potatoes." But, that day there were none. We were like potato junkies trying to get our fix of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving!
When Anthony Bourdain's hour-long food and travel show first launched on CNN, it marked the network's step away from 24 hours news and towards more entertainment programming. But maybe Bourdain is just the reporter we need these days when most of what we see of other cultures is satellite images or shots of rubble. "I'm not a foreign policy wonk, but I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don't." From FastCo: Anthony Bourdain has become the future of cable news, and he couldn't care less.
The other great way to figure out where to eat in a new city is to provoke nerd fury online. Go to a number of foodie websites with discussion boards. Let's say you're going to Kuala Lumpur -- just post on the Malaysia board that you recently returned and had the best rendang in the universe, and give the name of a place, and all these annoying foodies will bombard you with angry replies about how the place is bullshit, and give you a better place to go.
Great piece from Craig Mod about how to survive air travel.
Authorities recommend arriving two hours before international flights. I say four. Get there four hours before your flight. You are a hundred and fifty years old. Your friends laugh at you. Have patience.
Arrive early and move through the airport like the Dalai Lama. You are in no rush. All obstacles are taken in stride, patiently, with a smile. Approach the nearly empty check-in counter. Walk up and say, I'm a bit early but I'm here to check in to ... Marvel at their surprise and then their generosity. Suddenly you are always able to get an exit row or bulkhead seat. Suddenly, sure, they can slip you into Business. Suddenly tickets that are supposedly unchangeable, cannot be modified, are, after a few calls, some frowns, upbeat goodbyes, specially modifiable for you. This is what happens when there is no one behind you in line to check in.
What Mod fails to mention here in regard to supposedly unchangeable tickets and the like is that he's one of the most disarmingly charming motherfuckers in the entire world. And here is the crux of the whole piece:
You are hacking the airport by arriving early, knowing that all the work you could have done at home -- the emails or writing or photo editing -- can be done at the airport.
I don't travel much anymore, but I've begun to arrive at the airport earlier than I need to because I got tired of rushing and I can work from pretty much anywhere with wifi. That mask shit though? That's too much.
In his new video, Casey Neistat and his son visit a German waterpark housed in a giant former airship hangar.
Some information on the structure from the waterpark's web site:
The Tropical Islands Dome is gigantic. In fact, it is the largest free-standing hall in the world: 360 metres long, 210 metres wide and an incredible 107 metres high.
That is big enough to fit the Statue of Liberty in standing up and the Eiffel Tower lying on its side. The Tropical Islands Dome covers an area of 66,000 m², the size of eight football fields. And it is high enough to fit in the whole of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, with all its skyscrapers.
There are 46 reviews (and counting) of The Grand Budapest Hotel on TripAdvisor, which is ranked "#1 of 1 hotels in The Republic of Zubrowka".
As an elderly women I was thoroughly delighted by the attention of the staff! Particularly the concierge, what a thoughtful generous man! Wish I could take him home to service me there! I also loved the food and the chocolate treats from mendls. Tip top!
Airports have some of the glossiest surfaces in modern culture, but the fear underneath remains. Hence this record is not a utilitarian accompaniment to airports, in the sense of reinforcing the false utopia and fake idealism of air travel. Unlike Eno's Music for Airports, this is not a record to be used by airport authorities to lull their customers. The album is a bittersweet, enveloping and enormously engaging listen. It is ambient, but focused. This is not sonic mush, nor adolescent noise. Nor is it a dance album. Much of the raw material of the album was made in airports over the last three years. While on tour, the Black Dog made 200 hours of field recordings, much of which was processed and combined with new music in the airport itself, waiting for the next flight. This vast amount of content has been slowly distilled into a set of particularly evocative pieces of music.
Technically, the storm is a nor'easter but is looking more like a tropical storm in the computer models:
At this point, the most likely scenario would be cold, wind-driven rain in the big coastal US cities, with up to a foot of snow stretching from inland New England as far south as the Carolinas. The cold would stick around after the storm exits, with high temperatures in the 20s and wind chills possibly in the single digits as far south as New Jersey on Black Friday.
According to this afternoon's iteration of the Euro model (a meteorological model that famously predicted superstorm Sandy's rare left hook into New Jersey six days out), at the storm's peak, wind gusts on Cape Cod could approach hurricane force.
We're still a ways out, so things might change, but travel safely next week, folks. (via @marcprecipice)
Gordon Bowman is doing a Kickstarter to fund the publication of a book chronicling a journey his parents took shortly after meeting.
When my Dad was a boy growing up in the 1930's, he heard stories of the "Lost City of the Incas" that had been discovered deep in the Peruvian jungle. It must have made a lasting impression on him because in November 1959, he quit his job as a newspaper reporter, sold his car and bought a 150cc Lambretta scooter. He intended to ride it from his hometown of Thorold, in Ontario Canada, all the way down to Peru. As far as he knew, he would be the first person to ever attempt such a journey.
After experimenting on protozoa, rats, and his eight children, Ehret recommended that the international traveler, in the several days before his flight, alternate days of feasting with days of very light eating. Come the flight, the traveler would nibble sparsely until eating a big breakfast at about 7:30 a.m. in his new time zone -- no matter that it was still 1:30 a.m. in the old time zone or that the airline wasn't serving breakfast until 10:00 a.m. His reward would be little or no jet lag.
The diet was adopted by US government agencies and other groups as well as Ronald Reagan, but it difficult to stick to. Recently, researchers in Boston have devised a simpler anti-jet lag remedy:
The international traveler, they counsel, can avoid jet lag by simply not eating for twelve to sixteen hours before breakfast time in the new time zone-at which point, as in Ehret's diet, he should break his fast. Since most of us go twelve to sixteen hours between dinner and breakfast anyway, the abstention is a small hardship.
According to the Harvard team, the fast works because our bodies have, in addition to our circadian clock, a second clock that might be thought of as a food clock or, perhaps better, a master clock. When food is scarce, this master clock suspends the circadian clock and commands the body to sleep much less than normally. Only after the body starts eating again does the master clock switch the circadian clock back on.
Totally trying this the next time I have to travel, although the Advil PM/melatonin combination my doctor suggested worked really well for me on my trip to New Zealand. (via @genmon)
After an exhaustive search, I have decided this photo most exemplifies life in these United States during the 1980s:
And if not that one, then one of several other possible candidates from Roger Minick's Sightseer project, for which he took photos of tourists at popular US tourist destinations during the early 1980s and into the 2000s.
When I approached people for a portrait, I tried to make my request clear and to the point, making it clear that I was not trying to sell them anything. I explained that my wife and I were traveling around the country visiting most of the major tourist destinations so that I could photograph the activity of sightseeing. I would quickly add that I hoped the project would have cultural value and might be seen in years to come as a kind of time capsule of what Americans looked like at the end of the Twentieth Century; at which, to my surprise, I would see people often begin to nod their heads as if they knew what I was talking about.
War, lack of a government for many years, violent muslim extremists, sharia law. The reputation of Somalia is extremelly close to rock bottom.
Why you may still want to visit
The government has started to function again. Mogadishu is now relatively safe and businesses are thriving. Turkish Airlines has even opened a direct twice weekly route from Istanbul.
Go to the beach just outside Mogadishu or visit the Bakaara market where you can even buy your own semi-genuine Somalian passport. You may not want to use it anywhere, though. Your travel experience doesn't extend beyond the Bahamas, Paris or Gran Canaria, you say? First of all; Why are you reading this blog post? Secondly, do not go to Somalia!
The author of the list, Gunnar Garfors, has visited 196 of the 198 countries in the world; he's hitting the last two in the next few months: Kiribati and Cape Verde. (via @DavidGrann)
Paul Frampton is a 69-year-old theoretical particle physicist who has co-authored papers with Nobel laureates. In late 2011, the absentminded professor met a Czech bikini model online. Over email and Yahoo chat, they became romantically involved and she sent him a plane ticket to come meet her at a photo shoot in Bolivia. Then she asked him to bring a bag of hers with him on his flight.
While in Bolivia, Frampton corresponded with an old friend, John Dixon, a physicist and lawyer who lives in Ontario. When Frampton explained what he was up to, Dixon became alarmed. His warnings to Frampton were unequivocal, Dixon told me not long ago, still clearly upset: "I said: 'Well, inside that suitcase sewn into the lining will be cocaine. You're in big trouble.' Paul said, 'I'll be careful, I'll make sure there isn't cocaine in there and if there is, I'll ask them to remove it.' I thought they were probably going to kidnap him and torture him to get his money. I didn't know he didn't have money. I said, 'Well, you're going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?' And he said, 'You can contact my brother and my former wife.' " Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon's warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.
On the evening of Jan. 20, nine days after he arrived in Bolivia, a man Frampton describes as Hispanic but whom he didn't get a good look at handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. Frampton was expecting to be given an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton, but the bag was an utterly commonplace black cloth suitcase with wheels. Once he was back in his room, he opened it. It was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why this particular suitcase was so important. She told him it had "sentimental value." The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.
In case you missed it a few months ago on PBS, the excellent The Mind of a Chef is out in downloadable form on iTunes and at Amazon. The first episode is available for free on the PBS site for try-before-you-buy purposes.
Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and current Executive Chairman of Google, recently visited North Korea and took his daughter Sophie along. Upon her return, she wrote up a very interesting account of her trip. Her report contained a surprising number of Twitter-length nuggets of goodness1; here are some of them:
Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.
The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.
Nothing I'd read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.
Most of the buildings they visited -- offices, libraries, etc. -- were not heated:
They're proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath
They weren't allowed to have mobile phones, there were no alarm clocks, and they were told their rooms were probably bugged:
One person suggested announcing "I'm awake" to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.
It's like The Truman Show, at country scale.
Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting.
You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts.
There is only revolutionary art. There is only revolutionary music.
I was delighted to learn that [Kim Jong Il] and I shared a taste in laptops: 15" Macbook Pro.
No one was actually doing anything.
They're building products for a market that doesn't exist.
It's a fascinating piece and worth putting up with the weird 2-column layout to read the whole thing.
 In fact, almost every sentence is tweet-length. Do young people naturally write in SMS/tweet-length sentences these days? ↩
How had I not heard about this before now? The Mind of a Chef is a PBS consisting of sixteen half-hour shows that follows David Chang through his world of food. As far as I can tell, this series is basically the TV version of Lucky Peach. Episode one is about ramen:
In the series premiere, David dissects the roots of his passion for ramen dishes and tsukemen on a trip to Japan. Learn the history of this famous noodle as David visits a ramen factory, has a bowl of the original tsukemen, and examines how alkalinity makes noodles chewier and less prone to dissolving in broth.
Check out an excerpt here, in which Chang reveals how he used to eat instant ramen noodles right out of the bag with the pork flavor powder sprinkled on top. The series starts this weekend...check your local listings, as they say. (via ny times)
According to the Wall Street Journal, Orbitz has determined that Mac users spend 30% more per night on lodging. Obviously, this is an opportunity for Orbitz to display more expensive hotel options to Mac users.
The Orbitz effort, which is in its early stages, demonstrates how tracking people's online activities can use even seemingly innocuous information--in this case, the fact that customers are visiting Orbitz.com from a Mac--to start predicting their tastes and spending habits.
Politics get heavy treatment in the books, as do the subtleties of discussing them, maybe more so than in any other guidebook I've read (what can I say, it's an addiction). Lonely Planet urges caution when discussing immigration. "This is the issue that makes Americans edgy, especially when it gets politicized," they write, subtly suggesting that some Americans might approach the issue differently than others. "Age has a lot to do with Americans' multicultural tolerance."
Rough Guide doesn't shy away from the fact that many non-Americans are less-than-crazy about U.S. politics and foreign policy, and encouragingly notes that many Americans are just as "infuriated" about it as visitors might be. Still, it warns that the political culture saturates everything, and that "The combination of shoot-from-the-hip mentality with laissez-faire capitalism and religious fervor can make the U.S. maddening at times, even to its own residents."
Walking around Pinecraft is like entering an idyllic time warp. White bungalows and honeybell orange trees line streets named after Amish families: Kaufman, Schrock, Yoder. The local Laundromat keeps lines outside to hang clothes to dry. (You have to bring your own pins.) And the techiest piece of equipment at the post office is a calculator. The Sarasota county government plans to designate the village, which spreads out over 178 acres, as a cultural heritage district.
Many travelers I spoke to jokingly call it the "Amish Las Vegas," riffing off the clich'e that what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Cellphone and cameras, normally off-limits to Amish, occasionally make appearances, and almost everyone uses electricity in their rental homes. Three-wheeled bicycles, instead of horses and buggies, are ubiquitous.
"When you come down here, you can pitch religion a little bit and let loose," said Amanda Yoder, 19, from Missouri. "What I'm wearing right now, I wouldn't at home," she said, gesturing at sunglasses with sparkly rhinestones and bikini strings peeking out of a tight black tank top. On the outskirts of the village, she boarded public bus No. 11 with six other sunburned teenagers. They were bound for Siesta Key, a quartz-sand beach about eight miles away.
I started bringing a bag of oranges with me for long bus rides, primarily because they quench thirst and smell delicious. I quickly learned that many Thai and Burmese busgoers sniff the peels to stave off nausea, and that kids love oranges. Really: kids LOVE oranges. So for those who want to bring something for the bus ride but rightfully worry about giving sweets to kids, oranges are your friend. You will win over the parents, make the kids happy, occupy your hours and eventually get fed by everyone on the bus. Trust me. You should always have a bag of oranges on hand, the smaller the orange the better.
She also lists the five things she always carries with her while traveling...one of which, unusually, is a doorstop. I'm guessing that's for keeping people out of rooms without door locks?
"The only useful airport security measures since 9/11," he says, "were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can't break in, positive baggage matching" -- ensuring that people can't put luggage on planes, and then not board them -- "and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater."
13. Buy your own fruit. It sounds simple. It is simple. Just do it. You'll love it. And I don't mean, if there happens to be a fruit stand outside your hotel door you should buy some, because you need to have 9 servings a day. What I mean is, find fruit and buy it. Make it a daily task that you're going to track down a fruit stand, a farmers' market (they're not just in San Francisco) and get some good fresh fruit. The entire process will expose you to elements of daily life you would have otherwise ignored. Trust me: You'll have memories from your trips to buy fresh fruit.
The fastest method is one of Steffen's own design: boarding alternating rows at the same time, starting with the window seats. The secret, he says, is that it leaves passengers elbow room to stow their luggage at the same time.
Even random boarding is faster than the back-to-front boarding the airlines currently use. (via jcn)
A deep depression hit me about an hour into my visit to Nepal and lasted for the first two weeks. Nepal, as a travel destination, is nothing short of raved about. "The Himalayan Mountains are majestic and the people are the nicest in the world!" was a common travel tidbit I heard. What I found was a developing nation with deep problems becoming worse by the month with tourism hastening the poisoning of the well. The pollution is the worst I have ever seen. Air, land, sound and water, nothing is spared the careless trash. The people are wonderful and also skillful about exploiting the tourist scene. Everyone you meet has a friend that is in the business of what you want to do, and they have a vested commission in getting you to open up.
A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends -- ever more people, more cars and more driving -- came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices.
I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. "Nobody's going to do it," he said, "once they find out that we're going to do."
In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? "That's what we're hoping for. We're trying to get everyone into the machine." He called over a colleague. "Tell him what you call the back-scatter," he said. "The Dick-Measuring Device," I said. "That's the truth," the other officer responded.
The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, "Get new gloves, man, you're going to need them where you're going."
The agent snapped on his blue gloves, and patiently explained exactly where he was going to touch me. I felt like a sophomore at Oberlin.
Boring operations in the east tunnel were completed on 15 October 2010 in a cut-through ceremony broadcast live on Swiss TV. When it opens for traffic in late 2017, the tunnel will cut the 3.5-hour travel time from Zurich to Milan by an hour and from Zurich to Lugano to 1 hour 40 minutes.
18. Don't do too much BUT don't do too little either. I think the biggest mistake parents traveling with kids make is doing too little not too much. Get out there. Enjoy. Experience. Wear the kids out and get them tired.
This is footage from a camera on board a cruise ship from when some rough weather hit.
On August 1, the Pacific Sun ran into a heavy storm 400 miles north of New Zealand, hitting 25-foot-tall waves and 50-knot winds. Its 1732 passengers weren't prepared to endure the madness that ensued. Absolutely crazy.
These images are from a set of 1,075 photographs -- shot over five days last year for the book and exhibition, "Contraband" -- of items detained or seized from passengers or express mail entering the United States from abroad at the New York airport. The miscellany of prohibited objects -- from the everyday to the illegal to the just plain odd -- attests to a growing worldwide traffic in counterfeit goods and natural exotica and offers a snapshot of the United States as seen through its illicit material needs and desires.
If you're going on an overseas trip and want to use your phone (with data) while you're there, check out this new wiki on what plans are available in several countries. I hope this develops into a solid resource...I never know where to look for this stuff before I go. (via dj)
Kayak's Explore feature is a fantastic tool for flexible vacationers on a budget. You enter your home airport, ticket price range, roughly when you want to travel, and it shows you a map of where you can fly for that much money. You can optionally specific your destination's average temperature, spoken languages, available activities, and flight time.
If you're travelling abroad with the iPhone and understandably wish to avoid AT&T's ridiculously high data roaming charges when trying to find the train station in a new city, I would highly recommend OffMaps.
OffMaps lets you take your maps offline. It is the ideal companion for any iPhone and iPod Touch user, who wants to access maps when travelling abroad (and avoid data roaming charges) and who wants to have fast access to maps at all times. This app (and the icon) just has to be on the right hand side of Apple's built-in maps app.
OffMaps uses OpenStreetMap that include a lot more information than simple road maps: from ATMs and train stations to restaurants and pubs! You choose which areas to download instead of buying a new app for every city you want to visit.
I used it for a week in Paris and it worked great; the GPS and compass both still work when data is off so locating yourself isn't a problem. Just download the proper maps before you leave for your trip and you're good to go.
The problem went beyond some of the local artists' anger about not making it into the article. Some were angry that I included their arch-enemies. Others were angry that they were in it but not quoted. I had once loved living in Calcata, a fortress town where dinner parties on the square would often erupt in singing and joint smoking; where you could walk 50 feet and eat at an amazing restaurant; where you could make the intimate square your living room. But now, after the article came out, I felt like a persona non grata for at least half of the place. I hated that I was hated.
Oyster is a hotel review site. By far the best feature is that they take their own photos of the hotel rooms and facilities; the photos taken by the hotels make everything look bigger (wide-angle lenses) and brighter (professional lighting) than they usually are. (via svn)
Carla Harrington of Fredricksburg, Va., was surprised to find 82 percent of reviews recommended Schrute Farms. "I thought about what it would feel like not to know them as TV characters but to really go to this B & B," she said in an interview. Her one-star slam called Dwight "an overbearing survivalist who appears to have escaped from the local mental asylum."
One FlyerTalker, identified by his online moniker, Mr. Pickles, claims to have bought $800,000 in coins. [...] He earned enough miles to put him over two million total at AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, giving him lifetime platinum-elite status -- early availability of upgrades for life and other perks on American and its partners around the world. He also pumped miles into his account at UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and points into his Starwood Preferred Guest program account.
In 2000, Nick Tosches went in search of something that he was told didn't exist anymore: the opium den.
In the early decades of the 20th century, as the drug trade was taken over by the Judeo-Christian coalition that came to control crime, Jewish and Italian names became almost as common as Chinese names in the reports of those arrested for smuggling, selling, and den-running. While the old Chinese opium smokers died off, the new drug lords actively cultivated a market for the opium derivatives, first morphine and then heroin, two 19th-century inventions that offered far greater profit margins than opium itself.
The last known opium den in New York was a second-floor tenement apartment at 295 Broome Street, between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets, at the northeastern edge of Chinatown. It was run by the apartment's tenant, a Chinese immigrant named Lau, who was 57 when the joint got raided and his ass got hauled away. There were a few old pipes and lamps, 10 ounces of opium. And 40 ounces of heroin. The date was June 28, 1957. That was it. The end of the final relic of a bygone day.
The medina in Fez may well be the largest urbanized area in the world impassable to cars and trucks, where anything that a human being can't carry or push in a handcart is conveyed by a donkey, a horse or a mule. If you need lumber and rebar to add a new room to your house in the medina, a donkey will carry it in for you. If you have a heart attack while building the new room on your house, a donkey might well serve as your ambulance and carry you out. If you realize your new room didn't solve the overcrowding in your house and you decide to move to a bigger house, donkeys will carry your belongings and furniture from your old house to your new one. Your garbage is picked up by donkeys; your food supplies are delivered to the medina's stores and restaurants by mule; when you decide to decamp from the tangle of the medina, donkeys might carry your luggage out or carry it back in when you decide to return. In Fez, it has always been thus, and so it will always be. No car is small enough or nimble enough to squeeze through the medina's byways; most motorbikes cannot make it up the steep, slippery alleys. The medina is now a World Heritage site. Its roads can never be widened, and they will never be changed; the donkeys might carry in computers and flat-screen televisions and satellite dishes and video equipment, but they will never be replaced.
This is probably the most interesting thing you'll ever read about donkeys.
The Geek Atlas is a travel guide for those interested in science, math, and technology.
The history of science is all around us, if you know where to look. With this unique traveler's guide, you'll learn about 128 destinations around the world where discoveries in science, mathematics, or technology occurred or is happening now. Travel to Munich to see the world's largest science museum, watch Foucault's pendulum swinging in Paris, ponder a descendant of Newton's apple tree at Trinity College, Cambridge, and more.
I don't seek people out, I am terrible at striking up conversations with strangers and I am happy exploring a strange city alone. I don't seek out political discourse with opinionated cab drivers or boozy bonding with locals over beers into the wee hours. By the time the hours get wee, I'm usually in bed in my hotel room, appreciating local color TV. (So sue me, but I contend that television is a valid reflection of a society.)
Amalfitano had some rather idiosyncratic ideas about jet lag. They weren't consistent, so it might be an exaggeration to call them ideas. They were feelings. Make-believe ideas. As if he were looking out the window and forcing himself to see an extraterrestrial landscape He believed (or rather like to think he believed) that when a person was in Barcelona, the people living and present in Buenos Aires and Mexico City didn't exist. The time difference only masked their nonexistence. And so if you suddenly traveled to cities that, according to this theory, didn't exist or hadn't yet had time to put themselves together, the result was the phenomenon known as jet lag, which arose not from your exhaustion but from the exhaustion of the people who would still have been asleep if you hadn't traveled. This was something he'd probably read in some science fiction novel or story and that he'd forgotten having read.
Update:From this post and its comments, it seems likely that the "science fiction novel or story and that he'd forgotten having read" was William Gibson's Pattern Recognition or Brian Fawcett's Soul Walker. From Pattern Recognition:
She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien's theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.
Yfke Sturm - It must have been hard for Yfke growing up. With a name that sounds like it came from Return of the Jedi, she was probably the subject of ridicule and name-calling. I too had those evils done to me, and I'd be happy to console her.
The life raft attached to the plane was upside down in the river, just out of reach. Mr. Wentzell turned and found another passenger, Carl Bazarian, an investment banker from Florida who, at 62, was twice his age. Mr. Wentzell grabbed the wrist of Mr. Bazarian, who grabbed a third man who held onto the plane. Mr. Wentzell then leaned out to flip the raft. "Carl was Iron Man that day," Mr. Wentzell said. "We got the raft stabilized and we got on." A man went into the water, and the door salesman and the banker hauled him aboard. He curled in a fetal position, freezing.
The Times also comes through with the 3-D flight graphic I asked for the other day but they upped the ante with a seating chart of the plane where you can click on certain passengers' seats to read their thoughts. Mark Hood in seat 2A described the landing:
When we touched down, it was like a log ride at Six Flags. It was that smooth.
Dopplr is doing 2008 personal annual reports for all their users that shows "data, visualisations and factoids" about their 2008 travel. They've also done one for Barack Obama on his behalf that you can download for free. Obama took a whopping 234 trips in 2008 and traveled 92% of the distance to the moon!
For the fourth year in a row, a list of all the places I visited in 2008.
New York City, NY*
Cedar Rapids, IA
Las Vegas, NV
One or more nights were spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Note: We didn't actually spend the night in Paris, but we were there all day so I threw it in there. Here are the lists for 2005, 2006, and 2007.
I've been reading this site called I Keep a Diary for I don't know how long, six years at least. The site is a hand-crafted throwback to an earlier web era, a series of annotated photo galleries that document the life, times, adventures, and friends of Brian Battjer Jr. Like its proprietor, the site is funny, enthusiastic, and good-natured, and that's what keeps me coming back for more. I even visit the splash page each time I go because I like the quote that appears on it so much:
i feel nostalgia for things i've never known
IKAD is one of my favorite things on the web and the most recent entry is so truly magical that I had to share. Brian is more than a year behind in documenting his adventures so he's just now getting around to telling the story of his July 2007 trip to Thailand and the United Arab Emirates with his girlfriend, Meredith. After telling his boss that he's taking a month off of work, subletting his apartment, and arranging to stay with a friend in Dubai, he and Meredith speed off to the airport.
At this point, I urge you to just go read the story -- it's great and Brian tells it *way* better than I could -- because I'm going to ruin a lot of it. If you need more convincing of this story's wonderfulness, read on.
Anyway, off they go to JFK for their flight to Dubai. The woman at the Emirates check-in desk has no record of their tickets...becaue they got to the airport a whole day late. After some nervous moments, the woman finds them some seats on the plane.
Fast forward 12 hours or so: they land and deplane. Meredith discovers that she lost her passport and she swears that the thing is still on the plane. Emirates won't let her get back on the plane to look for it but they send an employee to look for it. No dice. They then spent several hours trying to find somone to let them on the plane to search. No luck. Intense panic sets in; the plane is scheduled to leave for NYC in an hour or two.
At this point, Brian phones his friend in Dubai, Bernadette, whom he has never met in person, and explains to her the situation. She says, "I'm on the way to the airport now...I'll see what I can do." It turns out that Bernadette's boss is a sheikh, one of the richest men in the world, and one of the most powerful men in Dubai. Bernadette arrives and tells them that her boss has dispatched his "fixer", his Mr. Wolf. "You ain't got no problems, Brian. I'm on the motherfucker. Chill out and wait for Mahmoun, who should be comin' directly."
"Shit Negro, that's all you had to say."
Sure enough, about ten minutes later a very large, serious-looking Emirati man walked up to the armed guards at immigration and with a nod, they let the dude through! We were like "Whoa." Mahmoun came over to us, and asked us to tell him the problem (and he even whipped out a little pad to take notes just like Mr. Wolf!). After we'd finished explaining to him that we were almost 100% sure that the passport was still on the plane, he was like "Meredith you come with me. Bernadette and Brian, you wait here."
He came back like two minutes later with ten airline employees in tow and said something like "This airplane is supposed to fly back to New York in forty-five minutes, but it's not going anywhere until the passport that's on there is found. So let's go find it."
I don't know if this is sadly hilarious or hilariously sad. Jeffrey Goldberg took all sorts of crazy stuff through airport security -- "al-Qaeda T-shirts, Islamic Jihad flags, Hezbollah videotapes, inflatable Yasir Arafat dolls (really), pocketknives, matches from hotels in Beirut and Peshawar, dust masks, lengths of rope, cigarette lighters, nail clippers, eight-ounce tubes of toothpaste (in my front pocket), bottles of Fiji Water (which is foreign), and, of course, box cutters" -- and almost nothing was ever taken away from him or was a source of concern for airport security personnel.
We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled "saline solution."
"It's allowed," he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don't fall under the TSA's three-ounce rule.
"What's allowed?" I asked. "Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?"
"Bottles labeled saline solution. They won't check what's in it, trust me."
They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schneier held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, "This is okay, right?" "Yep," the officer said. "Just have to put it in the tray."
"Maybe if you lit it on fire, he'd pay attention," I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schneier would carry two bottles labeled saline solution-24 ounces in total-through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. "Two eyes," he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)
So hard to pick just one excerpt from this one...it's full of ridiculousness. I don't care how many blogs the TSA launches, this is a farce. (thx, anthony)
The stevedores, or as we call them in the states, longshoremen, are becoming the latest group of tradespeople to be put out of their jobs by robots. The ships already practically steer themselves, that's why I'm staying in the pilot's cabin, "there is no pilot". The course of the ship is plotted in advance as a series of vectors with turns at key points. The ship's computer lets the officer on duty know when it's time to make a turn, and corrects itself with GPS as a reference during the straight runs. The origin of word "cybernetic" is "kybernetes" -- 'steersman' in Greek. So the arrangement of cargo and the logistics of operations are already optimized by software, the next step will be to link that software directly to the hardware of cranes and harvesters and turn them into robots. They will have a set of broad goals and priorities (the strategy), and the kind of basic decision making processes (the tactics) that the ship uses to stay on course autonomously: avoidance and correction.
I'd like to say that global warming was evident during my visit, but that is not really the case. Indeed, [my guide] Salik tells me that he and most Greenlanders are pretty skeptical about it. The local fishing industry used to be based on arctic prawns, but the sea temperature has changed just enough that the prawns are much further north, so now they fish for cod.
But, as Salik points out, this cycle has happened several times in living memory. The same with the glaciers: yes they are retreating, but at least in his area, they have yet to reach the limits that the locals remember them. Objective measurements do show that climate change is happening. Nevertheless I was amused that the locals don't seem to think it is such a big deal.
I mentioned passenger travel on cargo ships the other day. Dorothy Gambrell and her companion went on an around-the-world trip a couple of years ago, traveling mostly by boat and train. To get from North America to Asia, they booked passage on a cargo ship leaving from Oakland and bound for Taiwan. You can read about their adventures online...start here and use the "next entries" link at the bottom of the page to keep reading.
They warned us. They warned us about the food. The freighter agency literature mentions several times that the food may not be what Americans are accustomed to -- for example, it says, "there may not be dessert." The first morning's breakfast is called "Hunter's Toast," which turns out to be toast smothered in something like liverwurst and topped by a fried egg. Breakfast is usually one part egg, one part meat, and one part toast except when it is sausage and a puddle of tomato sauce. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 8:00am, which means arrive at 7:30 and leave at eight. One pot of coffee and one pot of hot water sit on the table next to the basket of tea bags and peanut gallery of condiments.
What a great adventure wonderfully told. (thx, matt)
Most of the major global shipping lines CMA-CGM, Canada Maritime, and Bank Line offer paying passengers to hop on one of their lines. As a paying passenger you are accommodated in guest cabins and have access to most areas of the ship.
Captains and crew spend a lot of time on the water, and they are usually happy to have a fresh face walking around their workplace, meaning that they may even invite you to eat with them, give you tours of the ship and maybe even have you over for an Officer's happy hour.
You'd think it would be cheap but tickets can run you more than airfare...$80-140 per day, meals & lodging included.
The hay is from the second harvest rather than the first -- it's softer -- and it gets changed once or twice a year. Meanwhile there's strictly no smoking and there isn't a hospital corner in sight: making the bed means fluffing up the hay with a pitchfork.
A raspy-voiced woman in her 40s, one of the engineers, calls down from the cab and invites a few of us to come take a look. Without hesitation we clamber up. She tells us that they're off duty, as her partner, a mustachioed, red-faced man with faded tattoos, nods. When engineers hit their driving quota, apparently, they're done. It's an unbendable rule. "They knew, though," the woman says, speaking of Amtrak. "They should have had someone here." So this could've been prevented? "Oh yeah," the man says, "but leave it to them and they'll fuck it up." And so we wait, in the middle of nowhere, for new engineers. After a couple of hours a truck pulls up with the new drivers.
Laughing out loud at anything in any movie, whether it is playing on the cabin system or on your own DVD player, is fifty dollars per incident. Asking me to turn off my reading light so that you can see the screen better: also fifty dollars.
If you and your spouse are dressed almost identically, or if you are carrying your passport in a thing around your neck, or if you are wearing any form of footwear or pants that you clearly purchased specifically to wear on airplanes, or if you make it obvious (by repeatedly turning around and talking to passengers in seats not adjacent to yours) that you are travelling with a group, the charge is fifty dollars.
One day in 1971, a woman called Sarah Krasnoff made off with her 14-year-old grandson, who was caught up in an unseemly custody dispute, and took him into the sky. In a plane, she knew, they were subject to no laws, and if they never stopped moving, the law could never catch up with them. They flew from New York to Amsterdam. When they arrived, they turned around and flew from Amsterdam to New York. Then they flew from New York to Amsterdam again, and from Amsterdam to New York, again and again and again, month after month.
They took about 160 flights in all, one after the other, according to the stage piece "Jet Lag." They saw 22 movies an average of seven times each. They ate lunch again and again and turned their watches six hours forward, then six hours back. The whole fugitive enterprise ended when Krasnoff, 74, finally collapsed and died, the victim, doctors could only suppose, of terminal jet lag.
Do a bunch of local New York things: Hang out in Central Park, Explore Brooklyn, wear black, enjoy the free WiFi in Bryant Park (use the bathroom there -- nice). Attend a lecture at the 92nd ST Y, go to Chinatown in Queens. Buy junk at a street fair, and eat street meat (don't ask). Have a cigar at the Grand Havana Room (members only). Catch an author speak at a Barnes & Noble (use the bathroom while you are there).
Eventually I hope to write up my How To Be A Pedestrian In NYC guide, a companion to my rules for the NYC subway, only a bit more helpful and less ranty.
[I'm sure this is nothing new and has been amply documented elsewhere but I'm in rant mode, not research mode, so here we go.] We're going to London soon so my wife calls up AT&T to make sure our iPhones will work in the UK. We already knew all about the ridiculous prices they charge for international data roaming (viewing a 3-minute video on YouTube would cost about $40!), so turning that feature off for the duration is not going to be a problem. After unlocking the phones for international access, the woman informed Meg of two other tidbits of mobile phone company idiocy:
1. If my iPhone is on in the UK and the phone rings but I don't answer, the call goes to voicemail. As it should. But somehow, I get charged for that call at $1.29/minute *and* perhaps an additional call from my phone to the US, also billed at $1.29/minute. Individual voicemails are limited to 2 minutes, but if I get 10 2-minute voicemails over the course of a couple days, I'm charged $25 for not answering my phone. And then I have to listen to all the voicemails...that's another $25. Insane and inane.
2. But it gets even more unbelievable! Then the woman tells Meg that when the iPhone is hooked up to a computer via USB, you shouldn't download the photos from the phone to the computer because you'll incur international data roaming charges and further that the only way to deal with this is to wait to sync your photos when you get back to the US. W! T! F! How is that even possible? This sounds like complete bullshit to me. The iPhone somehow calls AT&T to ask permission to d/l photos? Verifies the EXIF data? Informs the US government what you've been taking pictures of...some kind of distributed self-surveillance system? Is this really the case or was this woman just really confused about what she was reading off of her script?
The new pact is expected to be game-changing for Europe-bound travel. More routes are expected to open, and prices could fall thanks to the new competition. The agreement is also likely to encourage European carriers to compete more aggressively with one another across the Continent. Lufthansa, the German airline, for example, could set up a hub in Paris; or Air France could set up a hub in Frankfurt.
The article also states that Ireland-based Ryanair wants to offer fares to/from secondary markets in the US and Europe as low as $16. !!!
Here are all the places I visited last year...much less travel than in previous years. Having a baby will do that to your schedule. For a few months there, I don't think I left a 20-block radius of Manhattan.
New York City, NY*
San Francisco, CA
One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Here are my lists from 2005 and 2006.
I was intrigued as the next guy by the list of 53 Places we're supposed to go in 2008, then I realized that almost without exception, the "reason" to go is the opening at long last of that destination's first "luxury" accommodations. Which seems about the dumbest reason I can think of for choosing where to travel.
Posting will be pretty light (or nonexistent) today. We had a grueling day of travel yesterday that's not over just yet (I'm going back out to JFK this morning to retrieve some tardy baggage). A quick thanks to Joel for minding the site while I was gone.
This article on commuting is from last week's New Yorker, but I read it while commuting -- my commute is a relatively short 15 minutes door-to-door -- so it took until today to finish it. Anyway, well worth the read...in some ways, the long commute is one of the USA's defining characteristics. People like Judy Rossi, who commutes 6.5 hours a day, are increasing in number. "[Rossi's] alarm goes off at 4:30 A.M. She's out of the house by six-fifteen and at her desk at nine-thirty. She gets home each evening at around eight-forty-five. The first thing Rossi said to me, when we met during her lunch break one day, was 'I am not insane.'"
In 1998, Barry Stiefel took off from work on Friday at 5pm and was back at his desk a little more than a week later on Monday at 8am, having visited every US state in the interim (48 by car, Hawaii and Alaska by air). I love the map...except for the jog to San Francisco, it looks pretty optimized.
We're leaving tomorrow for a trip of the relaxing sort, so I went to the bookstore this morning to collect some reading material. I had decided not to read anything that felt too much like work or that I had to think about. What I needed was fiction like television: passive but engaging. Having procured a paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code in the B section, I wandered over to the Rs. Robbins. Roth. Rowlandson. Salinger. Hmm. No luck in the Teen section either. Finally I hit paydirt in the Kids section: the 1085 pages of the first three years of Harry Potter's adventures at Hogwarts.
America the Overfull, Paul Theroux's New Year's musing on an America with twice as many people as when he grew up. "We are passing through a confused period of aggression and fear, characterized by our confrontational government, the decline of diplomacy, a pugnacious foreign policy and a settled belief that the surest way to get people to tell the truth is to torture them. It is no wonder we have begun to squint at strangers. This is a corrosive situation in a country where more and more people, most of them strangers, are a feature of daily life. Americans as a people I believe to be easygoing, compassionate, not looking for a fight. But surely I am not the only one who has noticed that we are ruder, more offhand, readier to take offense, a nation of shouters and blamers." (thx, youngna)
New York City, NY*
One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Less travel than last year, thank goodness. Where's your list?
TSA travel tip: cheesecake is not a gel. "So, as you're traveling for the holidays, if you should feel the urge to surprise a loved one with a piece of cheesecake or some other gelatinous food product and are questioned by the TSA, make sure you remind them about the 'LaGuardia Cheesecake Precedent of October 2006' and claim your right to bring that cheesecake on the plane with you." Consider this a companion piece to the security theater article from earlier in the week.
The inept security theater at the airport. "For theater on a grand scale, you can't do better than the audience-participation dramas performed at airports, under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration."
In P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler's character takes advantage of a Healthy Choice promotion for frequent flier miles, buying 1000s of miles and lots of pudding for just a few dollars. This aspect of Sandler's character was based on a caper well-known within the frequent flier community when David Phillips purchased over 1.2 million frequent flyer miles for just under $2400, which has allowed him and his family to fly to over 20 countries for free.
Now the big thing is cheese. This weekend I was handed an opened wheel of processed cheeses by a friend. He said that his brother-in-law had caught wind of a frequent flyer promotion whereby you get 500 miles for each purchase of this cheese wheel and had purchased 75,000 miles for ~$300, which also means he's got more opened cheese wheels than he knows what to do with. The frequent flyer forums and blogs are already on the case. These forums are actually pretty fascinating...there's a lot of free/cheap travel to be had for those with a little time on their hands. This fellow claims to have taken advantage of airline pricing errors to fly 16 flights this year for a total cost of $77.57.
Driving on the Interstate through the metropolitan tri-state area during a 1.5 hour downpour is like playing 700 continuous laps of Baby Park against 7 other players. I'm beat. (ps. It's a simile anyway.)
Some photos from a recent trip to Austria, featuring shots from near Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. I went so crazy with the photos in Austria that I didn't take a single picture once we got to Zurich...I was all photographed out.
For some, a trip to Austria steers their gastronomic attention to wiener schnitzel, but for me, it's all about the wurst.1 Following the good advice of a reader to ignore the sausages on offer in cafes and restaurants, we hit up every lunchtime sausage stand we could find during our visit for the real deal.
In Salzburg, the typical stand offers 8-10 different kinds of wurst, from the familiar frankfurter to the spicy pusztakrainer. You can get your wurst on a plate with mustard and a piece of bread or as a "hot dog" (in a bun with mustard and ketchup). For my first wurst, I had a kasekrainer, hot dog-style with ketchup, and it turned out to be my favorite of the trip. Melted cheese (kase) filled the sausage and the bun was perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Meg sampled a burenwurst. The next day, we hit up another stand; I tried the frankfurter while Meg had a delicately flavored weisswurst (her favorite of the trip). She speculated they didn't grill the weisswurst because it would interfere with mild flavor; the spicer wursts seemed to be grilled.
From thence to Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps. At 10,000 feet above sea level, we had an unspecifed wurst (the restaurant called it, basically, "the sausage of the day") that ranks among the best food I've ever tasted, but that assessment may have been colored by the fact that we'd hiked up a glacier to get it. On our last day in Innsbruck, we surrendered to the comfort of cafe chairs and had bratwurst (mit sauerkraut und mustard) at a small place in the old town. After a hard day of walking, it beats eating standing up, which is how it works at the wurst stand.
Our final link in the sausage trail was Zurich, which is not in Austria but in the section of Switzerland near Austria and Germany. From a stand by the lake, we shared a pork-based sausage I forget the name of and another beloved weisswurst. Based on the relative unavailability of the wurst there, I get the feeling that the Swiss don't take their sausages as seriously as the Austrians, at least in cosmopolitan Zurich. Not that the Swiss wurst wasn't good; they just have other things to worry about...like fondue.2
But to focus entirely on the wurst is to ignore the equally fantastic brot (bread) that accompanies it and many other Austrian dishes. My favorite bread growing up in Wisconsin was called "Vienna bread" and I had always assumed that the cheap loaves we got at the local chain supermarket approximated something found in the Austrian capital. We didn't get to Vienna, but the Austrian bread we had was indeed like the bread of my childhood...except about 1000 times better. The small, crisp roll we got with our wurst, called a semmel, was not unlike what's called a roll or kaiser roll at an NYC deli. These rolls, accompanied by some richly flavorful butter, were also available at the complementary breakfast served at our hotel and I was tempted to violate the no-taking-food-from-the-breakfast-area rule and cram my bag full of them. If the bread at our hotel was that good, I can't imagine what the best bakeries of the region have to offer. The French, whom I've always considered the champions of all things bread, might have something to worry about from Austria. Clearly, more delicious research is called for.
 Not that the rest of Austrian cuisine wasn't uniformly excellent. I had a pork dish with spatzle in a creamy mushroom sauce at a Salzburg restaurant that I will crave for months to come. And that garlic soup at Ottoburg in Innsbruck! ↩
 I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for the title of this post (the other option was "It was the wurst of times"). But count your blessings that you're not reading an article on the yummy fondue we had in Zurich entitled "You're damned if you fondue, and you're damned if you fondon't". (I know what you're thinking: "oh no, he fondidn't...") ↩
On Friday, September 1, I'll be speaking at the 2006 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria. I'll be taking part in a symposium on simplicity organized by John Maeda (schedules: part 1, part 2). I've been furiously preparing my slides in Keynote for the past week or so. It's my first talk using either Keynote or Powerpoint and I'm having fun messing around in Keynote. It's a great little program. Thanks to John and the folks at Ars for including me...it's a real honor.
Updates for the next few days will be spotty at best; the internet connection situation at both the conference and our hotel is unknown and I'll likely be busy preparing for my talk1. And after the conference, we're heading into the Alpine wilderness for a few days (maybe Salzburg, Munich, or Zurich as well) during which my internet status will likely be "offline" and my sausage intake status will be "every 6 hours". See you when I get back.
So, now's your chance to catch up on some recent doings around the site. Here are some of my favorites from the past few weeks/months:
Manhattan Elsewhere - Maps and landscapes imagining the island of Manhattan placed near Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and other locales.
 "Preparing for my talk" may or may not be a euphemism for "throwing up repeatedly in worry about my talk". (Actually, practice is a wonderful thing. It makes perfect, builds confidence, and reduces abdominal discomfort.) ↩