homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about travel

Some Reflections from My Short Trip to Istanbul

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

Istanbul 2018

At the end of October, I spent barely 48 hours in Istanbul — too quick, but I saw a lot of stuff in a short time. When planning this trip, I had a lot of different thoughts about places I could go — the American Southwest, Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, Seattle/Portland, Miami — but the thing that really sold me was a relatively cheap plane ticket that would take me to both Berlin and Istanbul. A two-fer? Sign me up. I’d been to Berlin before, but I was a bit nervous about Istanbul because it seemed so culturally different than other places I’d been. I needn’t have worried.

Just after I had checked into my hotel room, I heard a chanting voice over a loudspeaker coming from outside. I opened my window for a better listen — it was the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) for the sunset prayer (probably from the Hagia Sophia, which was quite close). As I walked around the city for the next day and a half, I heard the adhan several more times. Watching the sunset in Kadikoy, you could hear the call ringing out from several mosques across the city, nearly in unison. I’m not Muslim or even remotely religious, so I was surprised at how much I liked hearing it. As with tolling European church bells, the calls to prayer knits cities together in an auditory way that secularism has yet to manage.

The nightstand in my hotel room had a sticker on it pointing the direction to Mecca. (There are apps to help with this as well.)

There are cats all over the place in Istanbul — I must have seen a dozen inside Hagia Sophia alone. My friend Jodi investigated why there are so many cats in the city.

Istanbul 2018

My first morning in Istanbul, I headed to Van Kahvalti Evi for breakfast on the strong recommendation of a reader. What greeted me was an amazing breakfast, the best I have had in quite some time (annotated above). As I was dining solo, I wasn’t able to get full breakfast (it was for 2+ people only), but I did pretty well. My favorites were the braided cheese, kaymak & honey, and the saltiest fresh cheese. The couple sitting next to me ordered the full breakfast and the waiter’s tray was like a magical clown car…he just kept putting little plates of delicious cheeses and pastes and fruits onto the table until it was completely covered. The freshness of everything was underscored by that morning’s food delivery coming in through the front door and streaming past me, a seemingly endless procession of fresh fruit, vegetables, and such. Highly recommended.

Everything I read about Istanbul taxis basically said to avoid them at all costs because they try to rip you off (and I’m not a huge fan of taxis on a good day), so that’s what I did. Upon landing, I bought an Istanbulkart to use the metro & ferries the whole time I was there. Getting from the airport to my hotel was pretty easy on the metro (thanks Citymapper), didn’t take too much longer than a taxi would have, and cost a lot less. Tip: machines are cash only, so you’d better have some Turkish lira on hand before exiting the airport.

Istanbul is not a bicycle city, at least not in the areas I visited. I saw maybe three people on bikes the entire time I was there? For starters, the city streets in the oldest parts of town are so small there’s nowhere to even put bike lanes. And then there are the hills, which made walking challenging at times, never mind biking. Even where there are dedicated lanes, they can be overwhelmed by pedestrians. In a park in Kadikoy, the balık ekmek (fish sandwich) vendors set up their carts right in the bike lane.

Although the interior was being renovated when I visited, Hagia Sophia was staggeringly impressive. Originally built in just under six years by Emperor Justinian, ruler of the Byzantine Empire (aka what was left of the Holy Roman Empire after the fall of Rome in the 5th century), it was completed in 537 as the world’s largest building and largest cathedral, retaining the latter title for almost 1000 years. Justinian wanted Hagia Sophia to be the biggest church in the world, partially for the glory of God and partially to best his peers. At the building’s dedication, he was recorded as saying, “My Lord, thank you for giving me chance to create such a worshipping place” followed by “Solomon, I have outdone you.” in reference to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. IN YOUR FACE SOLOMON!

Hagia Sophia was Byzantine until 1204, Roman Catholic for more than 50 years, and Greek Orthodox for about 200 years after that. In 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire — wait for it… — conquered Constantinople and turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. It became a museum in 1935. Walking around inside it, you can see and feel all of this history, layered all around you. The marble floors are worn down from centuries of devoted foot traffic. The wear pattern is uneven due to differing hardnesses of the rocks in the marble, giving the floor a marvelous wavy quality. The Christian aspects of the church were covered or destroyed when the church was converted to a mosque, but now they peek through here and there again. A remarkable experience of time travel through cultures, mirroring Istanbul’s own long and varied history as a crossroads between East and West.

I pretty much had the They Might Be Giants cover of Istanbul (Not Constantinople) on repeat in my head the entire time I was in town.

Istanbul 2018

Along with many of its tourists, the overwhelming majority of Turkey’s population is Muslim, so it wasn’t surprising to see women with headwear like hijabs and niqabs all over in Istanbul. I have lots of thoughts about this religious and cultural practice, but mostly it made me think about how the dress of women in the US and other western countries is also restricted by our culture in many ways.

As I had less than 48 hours to spend in Istanbul, I mainly stayed in the central part of the city where most of the tourists were. Walking around was unpleasant at times because it seems like almost everyone is trying to sell you something. In the busiest areas near the top attractions and restaurants, someone tried to sell me a tour, a rug, a meal, or some sweets about every 30 seconds. It was oppressive. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and she said, “Now you know how women feel all the time walking around pretty much everywhere.”

The constant selling also put my guard up far more than it normally is (which is admittedly pretty high). In Taksim Square, a guy asked me for a light and we struck up a conversation. Super friendly guy, said his name was Ahmed, hailed from Qatar, in town for the day on his way to London, was a computer programmer, wasn’t particularly religious, liked travlling alone because his girlfriend (a lawyer) worked and talked too much. He was pleased to find me because this meant us two solo travellers could hang out for the evening. He’d asked at his hotel where to go and was heading towards this place with whiskey and belly dancing. Now, this is the point in the story where I’m supposed to head off into the evening with Ahmed and have an adventure. But because of the constant barrage of selling (plus I was sick and tired and wasn’t drinking), I mostly felt like I was being scammed and that “Ahmed” was actually pals with the guy who owned this belly dancing establishment and was tasked with suckering tourists like me into the place to spend money. Was he just a friendly guy or just another salesman? I still don’t really know, but I bid Ahmed a firm goodbye and still have not crossed “see belly dancing in Istanbul with a stranger” off of my bucket list.

But the next day, I finally succumbed to the relentless pressure. As I was contemplating joining the longish line at the Basilica Cistern, I made the mistake of looking contemplative, as if I were perhaps confused. A man came up to me, asked me if I spoke English, and then said I should come back later when the line is shorter. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not trying to sell you a tour. I’m just on my way back to work from lunch.” Thus disarmed, we started chatting. His name was Musa and he had a business just up the street…perhaps he could give me his card and I could come for a visit tomorrow? Maybe, I said, wanting to be polite. We chatted some more, about other things. I agreed to go with him to get his business card; he still had not mentioned what business he was in…something to do with art, he said.

When we got to his place, it was a rug store. Musa’s friendly onboarding process had worked to get me into the store, penetrating my defenses by using my midwestern politeness against me. We sat down on a nice sofa and Musa served me apple tea; it materialized seemingly out of nowhere, part of a practiced routine. We chatted for about 5 or 10 minutes, sometimes about rugs and sometimes about other things. He told me about watching a TV program that featured this strange street food from NYC: hot dogs. At this point, I was feeling totally suckered, helpless under the thrall of this master salesman. But then I had another thought: this guy is not actually in control of this situation because I’m never in a million years buying a rug from him. Emboldened by my newfound power in our relationship, I thanked Musa politely for the tea, accepted his card, and left to join the line at the cistern.

Istanbul 2018

For dinner on my last night, I sat down at an outdoor table at Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi, figuring that one of the few restaurants where no one was trying to get me to look at a menu was actually a good place to find delicious food. It’s a tiny place on a small street with several other restaurants filled with what looked like locals, another good sign. I asked for a menu but the owner shrugged me off with a friendly gruffness. “We have köfte,” he told me. “Meatballs. Someone like you orders nine. Nine meatballs. Salad to begin. What’s not to like?” I gave him a thumbs up and he yelled something to the chef, an older man who I never saw without a cigarette and had probably made about 10 million köfte over the course of his life.

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff. Just then, a server from the place across the street came over to break a 100 lira bill. Me being a big nerd, this all reminds me of Unix and the internet, all of these small pieces loosely joined together to create a well-functioning and joyous experience. There’s only one thing on the menu at Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi, but you can get anything else within yelling distance. I declined dessert…who knows where that would have come from.

I also visited the Basilica Cistern (impressive ancient infrastructure), The Blue Mosque (under construction and so underwhelming), Topkapi Palace (underwhelming, but I was pretty museumed out by this point so perhaps an unfair assessment), Taksim Square (very crowded on a Friday night), and walked the length of Istiklal Avenue (very commercial in a Western sort of way).

Getting to my departure flight from Ataturk Airport was the tightest security I have ever gone through. To even enter the airport, you go through a metal detector. Then in the line to check into the flight, my passport was checked by three different people before my boarding pass was issued. Passport & boarding pass were checked again to get into the security line and then went through security, where most people’s bags got searched (but not mine). At the gate, my boarding pass was checked by at least six different people, who each put a different mark or stamp or signature on it, and then my carry-on luggage was searched (mandatory search…everyone got this treatment). Only then were we allowed on the plane. (Upon arrival in Boston, after waiting in a massive line, the border control officer barely glanced at my passport before waving me through.)

Istanbul 2018

I only posted a couple of Istanbul photos on Instagram but posted a bunch of Instagram Stories (collected here). And big thanks to everyone who offered advice on where to go and what to eat. I really enjoyed Istanbul and hope to make it back someday.

Some Reflections from My Trip to Berlin

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2018

Berlin Trip 2018

Even for a city almost 800 years old, Berlin has seen more than its fair share of history, especially in the 20th century. Watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television 29 years ago this month was one of my most memorable experiences as a teen. In 2001, my girlfriend and I visited Berlin, loved it, and wanted to return soon. But you know how that goes sometimes, and I didn’t make it back there for a visit until mid last month, when I spent the better part of a week exploring Germany’s largest city. Here are of my impressions from the trip.

Museum-going is one of my favorite things to do when travelling and Berlin has a bunch of great ones. And they’re not generally these behemoths like the Met or Louvre…they’re reasonably sized places you can knock out in a couple of hours. The recreation of the Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon is one of my favorite things at any museum I’ve been to.

The public transportation in Berlin is great. One ticketing scheme covers buses, trams (in the old East Berlin), surface trains (S-Bahn), and subways (U-Bahn). I bought a weekly pass and used it to travel all over the city. One afternoon with no fixed agenda, I explored by randomly hopping on trams and trains and getting off when things started looking interesting…navigation by an arbitrary stupid goal.

Berlin Trip 2018

Yes, I had the currywurst. And a kartoffelpuffer (served with a massive dollop of delicious sour cream w/ herbs in it). I preferred the knackwurst I got from Konnopke’s Imbiß and the schnitzel from Scheers, which reminded me a bit of Crif Dogs (but for schnitzel). The guy at Konnopke’s made an “ick” face when I asked for ketchup with my knackwurst instead of mustard. *shrug*

According to Pedometer++, I walked 65 miles over a 7 day period in Berlin.

At the Neues Museum, I read a bit of Homer’s Iliad on a papyrus scroll from more than 2000 years ago. The kids and I have been reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey so that was a nice moment of connection across the centuries. (I also saw the bust of Nefertiti there.)

Berlin Trip 2018

My favorite thing about public transport in Berlin is that instead of having entry turnstiles and swiping your ticket when you get on the bus, you simply buy a ticket and get it stamped on the platform to validate it. That’s it. With my weekly pass, I had to stamp it once to “activate” it, but after that, I could just get on the tram or subway without worrying about it. I love this system…it eliminates so much infrastructure, makes it easier to use public transport, and doesn’t track you around the system like smartcards do. It also makes it easier to ride for free, although there are teams of ticket inspectors moving throughout the system checking for valid tickets. Fines of €60 on up are assessed & paid on the spot.

A team of three undercover ticket inspectors got onto a tram I was riding…they were young, dressed a bit like hooligans, and looked way more like they were gonna steal wallets than officially check tickets. After nonchalantly boarding, they announced themselves to the passengers, pulled out their badges, and worked very quickly, impatiently looking at tickets before the tram pulled into the next stop and scofflaws could escape.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an open-air memorial of more than 2700 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. While I was there, I saw it being used as a bench, a picnic area, a playground, a hide-n-go-seek maze, a selfie background, a parkour apparatus, and as the backdrop for Instagram influencers…pretty much everything but thoughtful reflection about the murder of 6 million people. See also Yolocaust.

Everyone kept telling me that the city had changed so much since I’d been there, but one of the only differences I could detect was that in 2001, it was pretty easy to tell which parts of the city had been in East Berlin and which had been in West Berlin, just by looking at the buildings and streets. Now, aside from the presence of random Soviet monuments and the tram in the former East Berlin, I couldn’t really tell. After almost 30 years, Berlin finally seems like a single city again (at least to this outsider).

The Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology) is actually huge and completely amazing, especially the collection of trains and train cars housed in the massive buildings of a former railway company. The smell of grease and oil that hit me walking into the exhibition took me right back to when I was a kid, helping my dad fix cars in the garage. As I mentioned in this post, the exhibition included a freight car that was used for transporting Jews to concentration camps that you could walk inside of “and try to imagine, in some small way, you and your children cheek to jowl with 80 other people, on the way to be murdered”. An intense experience.

Berlin Trip 2018

The massive seven-story KaDeWe department store has an entire floor dedicated to food (in addition to the eatery on the top floor) and the butcher cases must have featured over 120 different kinds of sausage & wurst…it was unbelievable. I spent more than an hour wandering through and ended up having dinner, some scrambled eggs with a side of potatoes and onions — the menu had a disclaimer on the bottom of each page: “Of course our potatoes and onions are made with bacon!” Duh, this is Germany.

The permanent exhibition at the Topographie Des Terrors is a must-see presentation of how the Nazis persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered millions in the 30s and 40s. While sobering and completely gutting in parts, this was one of my favorite things I did in Berlin.

While not quite public transport, Berlin has a thriving bike share scene. I signed up for Mobike because they seemed to have the most inventory. As a bike-friendly city to begin with, there are lots of places on the streets to park these dockless bikes, although locals have complained about bike littering. This was my first time using a dockless bike, and like with WiFi on a laptop or pairing a Bluetooth speaker, the first time feels a little magical.

My favorite meal was at the restaurant in my hotel. That’s a bit of an odd thing to hear because we’re used to hotel restaurants being kind of a default mediocre. But the food at the Michelberger’s restaurant was delicious, surprising, and inventive. I had the burrata w/ pear & dukkah and the arctic char w/ smoked mashed potatoes & buttermilk. Just thinking about that meal is making me hungry!

Berlin Trip 2018

Berlin reclaimed Tempelhofer Field as a public park after the Tempelhof airport closed in 2008. I’d never walked on a large runway like that before…they’re huge! I was supposed to meet up with Felipe of Fotostrasse to take a more extensive tour of the area, but it was rainy and I was sick, so I only managed a quick solo visit. Next time!

I only posted a couple of pics from Berlin on Instagram, but I did post a bunch of Instagram Stories (collected here). And thanks to everyone on Twitter and Instagram who offered suggestions for my trip! I had a great time and I will definitely be back, hopefully before 17 more years have passed.

When traveling, avoid The Algorithmic Trap

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

2018 Roadtrip

In a piece called The Algorithmic Trap, David Perell writes about the difficulty of finding serendipity, diversity, and “real” experiences while traveling. In short, Google, Yelp, Instagram, and the like have made travel destinations and experiences increasingly predictable and homogeneous.

Call me old-fashioned, but the more I travel, the less I depend on algorithms. In a world obsessed with efficiency, I find myself adding friction to my travel experience. I’ve shifted away from digital recommendations, and towards human ones.

For all the buzz about landmarks and sightseeing, I find that immersive, local experiences reveal the surprising, culturally-specific ways of living and thinking that make travel educational. We over-rate the importance of visiting the best-places and under-rate the importance of connecting with the best people. If you want to learn about a culture, nothing beats personalized time with a passionate local who can share the magic of their culture with you.

There’s one problem with this strategy: this kind of travel doesn’t scale. It’s in efficiency and doesn’t conform to the 80/20 rule. It’s unpredictable and things could go wrong.

Travel — when done right — is challenging. Like all face-to-face interaction, it’s inefficient. The fact that an experience can’t be found in a guidebook is precisely what makes it so special. Sure, a little tip helps — go here, go there; eat here, eat there; stay here, stay there — but at the end of the day, the great pleasures of travel are precisely what you can’t find on Yelp.

Algorithms are great at giving you something you like, but terrible at giving you something you love. Worse, by promoting familiarity, algorithms punish culture.

While reading parts of this, I was reminded of both premium mediocre and the randomness of this approach to travel.

I took the photo above in the Beartooth Mountains on my recent roadtrip. This was one of the surprise highlights of my trip…I wouldn’t have known to take the road through those mountains had it not been recommended to me by some enthusiastic locals.

10 wonder-filled years of Legal Nomads

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

In 2008, corporate lawyer & city slicker Jodi Ettenberg quit her job to travel the world for a year…and then just never went back to her old job (or self). For 10 years, she traveled and ate her way through the world, documenting her adventures at Legal Nomads. For the 10-year anniversary of the site, Ettenberg has posted a retrospective highlighting some of her most memorable times.1

Writing in a true voice was important. Presenting a glimmering version of yourself that doesn’t feel real is an easy path to discontent. You can follow your passion all you want, but if you’re not expressing it authentically, in a way that is indisputably you, the gap will catch up with you. The space between who you are and who you express yourself to be exists in varying degrees. But if it’s too large, especially if your work involves sharing your thoughts creatively, the disparity can easily engulf you.

As I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit over the last couple of years, this post about The Overview Effect, Mindfulness, and Travel particularly caught my eye.

You cannot ignore the happenings in other places, or stick your head in the sand, because it’s too late — you’ve stepped away and looked at the planet in a different light. (Or, as I said to someone recently “once you’re a pickle you can’t go back to being a cucumber.”) While far less vivid or spectacular than a space trip, travel does tend to push people to think about the forest through the trees and to constantly pin current observations against past experiences. We all do this, naturally. But I think that the more you see, the more you have to compare ‘against’, which then permanently alters your views of the planet and of its people. The ultimate example of this, of course, is seeing it all from above, an orb glowing in the darkness of space.

This reflection on her travels in Mongolia also had my head nodding.

I included this post because nothing since has compared to the magic of simply watching the identity I had dissolve, replaced by pure wonder. Who I was shortly prior didn’t matter, because everything in front of me felt so intensely new that it blotted out anything familiar.

These wonder-filled moments, large and small, have happened to me while traveling, looking at art, lost in the company of others, watching heavenly bodies eclipse each other and even while working on this here website…and that’s a perfect succinct description of how it feels when it happens.

  1. Even though writing is a difficult task for her these days. Nevertheless, she persisted indeed.

The weird and wonderful American roadtrip with John Margolies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2018

John Margolies

John Margolies

John Margolies

John Margolies

For more than 30 years beginning in the 1960s, photographer John Margolies criss-crossed the USA documenting the roadside architecture of a pre-corporate America, taking photos of diners, weird sculptures, mini golf courses, and signs that don’t exist anymore in great numbers.

Before the advent of corporate communications and architectural uniformity, America’s built environment was a free-form landscape of individual expression. Signs, artifacts, and even buildings ranged from playful to eccentric, from deliciously cartoonish to quasipsychedelic. Photographer John Margolies spent over three decades and drove more than 100,000 miles documenting these fascinating and endearingly artisanal examples of roadside advertising and fantasy structures, a fast-fading aspect of Americana.

In addition to publishing his work in a book, Margolies released his images into the public domain. The Library of Congress has posted over 11,000 of his photos online, a treasure trove of 60s & 70s Americana. Good luck spending less than 30 minutes poking around in there…

Anthony Bourdain on travel, luxury, the Despot’s Club, and more

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

Back in February, Maria Bustillos was set to interview Anthony Bourdain and she figured she’d get about 15 minutes of his highly scheduled time. Instead, the pair spent two-and-a-half hours chatting about anything and everything and the result is this great dialogue, one of the last extensive interviews Bourdain gave before he died in early June.

I like the idea of inspiring or encouraging people to get a passport and go have their own adventures. I’m a little worried when I bump into people, and it happens a lot — “We went to Vietnam, and we went to all the places you went.” Okay that’s great, because I like those people and I like that noodle lady, and I’m glad they’re getting the business, and it pleases me to think that they’re getting all these American visitors now.

But on the other hand, you know, I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes. To mistakes, because that’s the most important part of travel. The shit you didn’t plan for, and being able to adapt and receive that information in a useful way instead of saying, like, “Oh, goddamnit, they ran out of tickets at the Vatican!” or whatever, “That line at the Eiffel Tower is you know, six hours!” and then sulk for the rest of the day.

On my recent trip, I had some things that I wanted to see but largely ended up playing it by ear. And that thing about the mistakes…that hits really really close to home. I also loved his recontextualization of luxury:

I do find that my happiest moments on the road are not standing on the balcony of a really nice hotel. That’s a sort of bittersweet — if not melancholy — alienating experience, at best. My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin’ across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on… this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment.

Luxury as freedom of time, place, and companions. Read the whole thing…lots of great stuff in there. Like: he gave away all the royalties to Kitchen Confidential to “various deserving people”.

Some reflections on my roadtrip across the western United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2018

Last week, I stood in the middle of the caldera of a supervolcano, walked on rocks billions of years old, and traveled back in time simply by driving down a mountain. I looked a bison in the eye at five yards. I witnessed the final resting place of a 12 million-year-old fossilized horse buried in volcanic ash. I saw a rainbow emerging from a mighty thundercloud — powerful with a little bit of tender. I talked civilly with red hatters in red states and found some common ground at least. I drove across the western United States, from Iowa to Oregon, over the course of 10 days. Here is some of what I saw and learned.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 1: The Bighorn Mountains and The Bighorn National Forest. I had planned to just drive though, up and over, on my way to Yellowstone, but I ended up stopping here for quite a while. The Bighorns aren’t as spectacular as Yellowstone or some of the other park, but it’s a hell of a lot less crowded. I’d go back and spend a few days here easy.

2018 Roadtrip 01

Surprisingly, despite spending 57 hours in the car, I was not bored a single minute of my trip. I marveled at the landscape, played music, and thought. I thought a lot. I expected to listen to a bunch of audiobooks but only managed to finish one I was most of the way through and the first third of another…the landscape was just too distracting most of the time. My experience leads me to believe I might be a good candidate for a solo Mars mission (aside from the one-way thing).

Animals seen on my trip, a partial list: rabbits, prairie dogs, antelope, ducks, geese, pelicans, pheasants, a moose, a wolf, elk, bison, deer, and a bunch of birds I couldn’t identify. The prairie dogs sat near their holes peeping at each other…it was really cute. The moose was a juvenile male in Yellowstone who looked lost & confused; he trotted alongside the road for a bit, then swam across the river and took off into the woods. I was apprehensive about not seeing a bison on my trip, but I shouldn’t have worried…Yellowstone was lousy with ‘em. Pro tip: bring a good pair of binoculars, possibly left over from eclipse-watching.

Yellowstone was one of the highlights (with a caveat that I’ll get to in a second). A single park containing all these different landscapes, from volcanic wastelands to mountain peaks to verdant river valleys to evergreen forests to grasslands…it’s a geographic marvel. But here’s the but: it’s also really crowded in the summer. At times, it felt like a nature mall, with herds of consumers moving from the bison shop to the geyser store. Reminded me a bit of my experience at the Louvre, itself a wonderful place too crowded to enjoy.

2018 Roadtrip

Final roadtrip stats: 2748 miles driven in 10 days and a total of 57 hours in the car. 718 photos and videos taken. I visited seven states — Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon — and spent at least one night in each save Idaho. Lowest point: 810’. Highest point: 11,070’.

Somewhere west of the Missouri River, which separates Iowa & Missouri from Nebraska & Kansas, the dominance in the eastern US of human activity & organization gives way to geology and geography. Even in the sparser areas of the Midwest, you look down from an airplane and see the Jefferson grid: square parcels of land, each with a group of buildings contained somewhere within it. Further west, hills and mountains and volcanoes and rivers and streams and forests and plains dominate the landscape and how people move within it. The West is not yet tamed, not by a long shot, and acknowledging this goes a long way toward understanding the people who live here.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 2: High altitude wildflower meadows. When I stopped my car at a scenic overlook at 9400’ in the Bighorn Mountains and saw a path down a gentle slope through a meadow of wildflowers growing very close to the ground, I didn’t think a whole lot about it. Pretty scene, right? I grabbed my daypack from the car and as soon as I stepped down onto the path and into the meadow, this amazing smell sent me reeling. For 20 minutes, I walked in an olfactory daze to the crest of the next hill and back. OMG, what an amazing sensation…a definite high-water mark.

2018 Roadtrip

The speed limit on the freeways in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho was 80 mph. On some rural undivided two-lane highways, the limit was still 70 mph, which I found astounding. But the lanes and the shoulders were way wider than in Vermont, the roads flatter and straighter, and traffic was few and far between most of the time. Still, even just that little extra speed really cuts down on drivers’ potential reaction times.

I had high hopes for the Badlands, and it lived up to the hype. Magnificent desolation, accessible, and not super crowded. I could (and probably should) have spent a couple of days there easy.

2018 Roadtrip

Food was not a highlight or a focus of this trip, mostly because I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time seeking out good places to eat. I had some Thai lettuce wraps w/ bison in SD that were pretty good, some just-fine sushi in Missoula, and a delicious tostada scramble in Rhododendron, OR. Maybe the best thing I ate was a homemade breakfast burrito I bought at a gas station in Red Lodge, Montana. It was a struggle to find non-meat things to eat — I’m not a vegetarian, but man cannot subsist on burgers & hot dogs & steaks & BBQ for a week and a half w/o GI discomfort. With some notable exceptions, food in the US is more homogenous than ever…you can get anything almost anywhere.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 3: The hosts at the B&B I stayed at in Wyoming advised me to enter Yellowstone via the Beartooth Highway and I am so glad I took their advice. The 68-mile drive was called “the most beautiful drive in America” by former CBS correspondant Charles Kuralt and he might be right. At the top of the pass, you drive just short of 11,000’ above sea level; I climbed above the 11K mark for a stunning 360° view of the entire area. Reader, I may have done the arms-wide-on-the-bow-of-the-Titanic gesture on top of a rock at the top of the world…no apologies.

2018 Roadtrip

About 5 minutes after I checked into my B&B near Cody, WY, I looked out my window to see a rain cloud off in the distance with a rainbow coming out of it. Chuckling, I asked my host if that was a common occurence around here. “Pretty much,” he replied, “especially with climate change.” A life-long resident of the area, he went on to explain that it rains a lot more there now than “20-30 years ago”. “See all that grass out there? It’s supposed to be brown this time of year.”

Several people told me before my trip that Devils Tower was worth the effort, but as I spotted it off in the distance on my approach, I had my doubts. But as it got closer, I realized they’d all been right. Totally crazy geological thing worth seeing in the flesh.

2018 Roadtrip

At a gas station in southern South Dakota, a man noticed the Texas plates on my rental car and asked, “What’s the price of gas in Texas these days?” I explained my situation, and he said, “I’m from Texas originally and I can tell by your accent that you ain’t. What’re ya doing in this godforsaken country?”

In Wyoming, I stayed less than a mile from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a WWII Japanese American confinement site. From 1942 to 1945, this concentration camp held almost 14,000 people, making it the third-largest town in Wyoming at the time. The majority were American citizens and had done nothing wrong and committed no crimes…they were put there for being of Japanese heritage. I regret that my plans didn’t allow for a visit; if I’d had known beforehand that it was going to be so close, I would have made the time, given our present administration’s treatment of its Muslim citizens and asylum seekers from Central and South America. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I saw some cool thunderstorms:

2018 Roadtrip

2018 Roadtrip

If I had a time machine, I would tell myself from two weeks ago to skip Mt Rushmore, Wind Cave, and the volcanic stuff in Yellowstone. And perhaps Wall Drug. I also would have opted to fly out of Salt Lake City instead of Portland, OR to give me more time to explore Montana and Wyoming…the trip ended up having too much driving and not enough being out in nature.

You can see more photos from my trip on Instagram and in this saved Instagram Story. I feel very lucky to have had the time and resources to take this trip. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone in both good ways and bad — the journey definitely wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, despite what my photos might indicate. To many of us, it seems like a perilous time in our nation’s history, with many debts, old and new, coming due in rapid-fire succession. Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Winners of National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year competition for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

National Geographic recently announced the winners of the Travel Photographer of the Year contest for 2018. You can look at the winners here and the people’s choice awards here.

You can also download the winning images as wallpaper for your computer, phone, or tablet.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2018

After the success of their book about the world’s most unusual places, Atlas Obscura is following up with an illustrated book aimed at kids showcasing “150 of the world’s most mesmerizing and mysterious wonders”: The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid.

Atlas Obscura Kids

Travel the world through common points of interest, from strange skeletons (Trunyan Tree cemetery in Indonesia leads you to India’s Skeleton Lake, for example) to wild waterfalls (while in Peru visit the Gocta Waterfall — and then move on to Antarctica’s Blood Falls) to ice caves to bioluminescence.

The book comes out in September but you can preorder it here. The first Atlas Obscura book was my son’s favorite for several months…he must have read it 8 times cover-to-cover. (via @kathrynyu)

The Happiest Guy in the World?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2018

Meet Mario Salcedo, who has spent the last 20 years as a full-time resident of Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

For nearly two decades, Mario had been living out of his suitcase, traveling extensively for his corporate job as the director of international finance at a multinational corporation. He spent more time in and out of hotel rooms scattered across Latin America than he did at his home in Miami. After working nonstop for nearly 21 years, Mario — burned out — decided it was time to pursue a lifelong goal: to travel around the world, without leaving home. In 1997, he quit his job, packed an even bigger suitcase and quietly disappeared from the lives of his friends and family to pursue a new life on the open water.

You wouldn’t think that watching a video about “The Happiest Guy in the World” would be so depressing. Maybe he’s happy but observing him through filmmaker Lance Oppenheim’s lens sure didn’t make me happy. I don’t know quite why, but this reminded me of the writing room for The Onion, where none of the writers laugh at any of the jokes that make it into the paper or onto the website.

Ten years of travel & the gift of surrender

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2018

Ten years ago this month, Jodi Ettenberg left her cushy lawyer job in NYC to embark on some traveling she wanted to do. But just for a year. Well, one thing led to another, and she never went back to her old life. She wrote about her travels on Legal Nomads and eventually turned the site into her full-time profession. Jodi recently marked this anniversary with a post about the nearly unbelievable parade of challenges she’s been dealing with over the past several months: The Spinal Tap That Changed My Life.

Enduring a potentially terrifying home invasion, a botched spinal tap, a debilitating condition that only allowed her to sit or stand for minutes at a time without excruciating pain, unsuccessful operations, almost dying in the operating room, and countless other setbacks in the space of a few months, Jodi has plumbed the depths of her soul in an attempt to ready herself for a future that looks very different than the one she’d envisioned.

I reread Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning during these difficult months. Frankl’s time in Auschwitz led to his development of logotherapy in his psychiatry practice, but the book delves into his theories of why certain people managed to survive the Nazi camps. Frankl saw life as a quest for meaning, found in work, in love, and in courage during difficult times. Among his beliefs was that suffering itself is meaningless, but we give suffering meaning by the way we respond to it. Or, as Harold S. Kushner writes in the introduction to the latest version, that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you respond to the situation.”

Instead of thrashing around in grief, I’ve chosen to focus on the gifts that have come out of this very complicated year. With these facts, things could have been a lot worse. Instead of being confined to isolation, I have you to walk this path with me. My community around the world raised their voices and opened their pocketbooks to keep me afloat when I couldn’t manage it. You respond to my progress walks on Instagram, you cheerlead every update, and your birding skills helped me identify the beloved marsh hens that I fell for during this recovery.

I don’t really know how to finish this post. Jodi is a friend…we met in person for the first time last summer, just a few weeks before the spinal tap and I visited her in Montreal briefly during her darkest days. Maybe I’ll just leave it at this: Jodi, I’m really proud of you and am looking forward to ten more years of Legal Nomads!

Advice for visiting Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2018

Tyler Cowen has some advice for those looking to visit Paris.

My overall take is this: Paris today is fairly sterile in terms of overall creativity, or for that matter business dynamism. But Parisians have perfected the art of taste along a number of notable dimensions, like nowhere else in the world. If your trip allows you to free ride upon those efforts in a meaningful way, it will go very well.

I am not with him about skipping the Jardin du Luxembourg (it’s one of my favorite places in Paris) and I would urge you to skip not only the Mona Lisa but the entire Louvre (go to d’Orsay instead). But eating cheese (and bread!), developing a “mini-Paris residential life”, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, seeing the cathedrals, walking everywhere,1 and skipping the expensive restaurants is all solid advice. Further Paris notes from my trip last October here.

  1. I just looked at my Pedometer++ data from my October trip to Paris and during a 7-day period, I averaged 8.5 miles of walking per day.

Supercut of cliched Instagram travel photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2018

Now that leisure travel is widely accesible, the internet connects everyone, and most people have connected cameras on them 24/7, one of the side effects is that everyone’s vacation snaps look pretty much the same. Oliver KMIA collected hundreds of travel photos from Instagram, grouped them together by subject — passport shot, Mona Lisa, side mirror selfie, Leaning Tower, ramen bowl — and assembled them into this two-minute video of our collective homogenized travel experience. And it’s not just travel…vast swaths of Instagram are just variations on a theme:

Of course, my Instagram feed has no such cliches*ahem*. (via @choitotheworld)

Update: In his book How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain De Botton talks about the difficulty with cliches.

We may ask why Proust objected to phrases that had been used too often. After all, doesn’t the moon shine discreetly? Don’t sunsets look as if they were on fire? Aren’t clichés just good ideas that have been proved rightly popular?

The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones. The sun is often on fire at sunset and the moon discreet, but if we keep saying this every time we encounter a sun or moon, we will end up believing that this is the last rather than the first word to be said on the subject. Clichés are detrimental insofar as they inspire us to believe that they adequately describe a situation while merely grazing its surface. And if this matters, it is because the way we speak is ultimately linked to the way we feel, because how we describe the world must at some level reflect how we first experience it.

In other words, taking a photo of a friend holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or jumping in the middle of the road in Utah are really good ideas — that’s why lots of people do it — but each successive photo of the same thing doesn’t tell us anything new about those places, experiences, or people. (via mark larson)

The telescoping effect

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

This morning on Twitter, I wrote out a list of places my brain thinks I have been to “recently”:

Berlin (17 years ago)
Thailand & Vietnam (13 years ago)
Austria (12 years ago)
Ireland (13 years ago)
London (10 years ago)
Hawaii (18 years ago)
Alaska (16 years ago)

And it’s true. I remember being in Austria not so very long ago, maybe five or seven years tops. Berlin is particularly vivid in my memory as a recent destination, perhaps because I loved being there so much.

So what’s going on here? Why don’t I have a proper sense of how much time has really passed between now and these trips? Cognitive psychologists have a name for this: the telescoping effect.

The telescoping effect (or telescoping bias) refers to the temporal displacement of an event whereby people perceive recent events as being more remote than they are and distant events as being more recent than they are. The former is known as backward telescoping or time expansion, and the latter as is known as forward telescoping. Three years is approximately the time frame in which events switch from being displaced backward in time to forward in time, with events occurring three years in the past being equally likely to be reported with forward telescoping bias as with backward telescoping bias. Although telescoping occurs in both the forward and backward directions, in general the effect is to increase the number of events reported too recently.

My faulty travel memories are a trivial example, but the telescoping effect becomes more important when people’s political actions are tied to their memories of, say, the weather, acts of terrorism, or financial events. (via @pjdoland)

The best of my media diet for 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2018

EOY Media 2017

In 2017, I kept track of almost everything I read, listened to, watched, and experienced. I don’t know about “the best”, but as the year draws to a close, these are the things that I thought about the most, that made me see things in a slightly different way, or taught me a little something about myself. I marked my very favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine images of 2017 from Instagram.)

Books. I don’t know how many books I read this year, but it was fewer than I wanted. My work demands a lot of reading online, so when I’ve finished with that most days, reading for leisure or enrichment is often not enticing.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann were perhaps the best books I read…you’ll hardly find anyone who speaks ill of either one.

Wonderland by Steven Johnson pulls together technology, culture, and science in a way that I aspire to.

I enjoyed Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem when I read it early on in 2017 but it grew in my esteem as the year went on. Crazy, but I might reread soon?

The Devil in the White City. A masterful dual tale of two men who seized the opportunity due to cultural and technological changes in late 1800s America, told through the events of the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.

I reread Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote…no recent book has helped me more in figuring out a path forward in life.

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 2 blew my doors off. I have never felt so uncannily like a writer has been rummaging around in my brain. *

Television. What even is television anymore? To paraphrase US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it. And I saw a lot of it this year. And much of it was excellent.

The Crown (season two). I kept expecting this to falter as it went on, but it never did. A keen portrait of changing times and a dying empire.

Mad Men. Rewatched it all the way through for the first time since it aired. One of the all-time great TV shows.

Halt and Catch Fire (season four). Very strong finish to a great series. I kind of want a season five in about 5 or 6 years that’s set in 2002. Still can’t believe I got to be on the show for like 2 seconds.

The Vietnam War. I feel like this didn’t get the attention it deserved. Along with OJ: Made in America, one of the best documentaries of recent years in terms of understanding the United States culturally and politically.

Wormwood. What the hell is even a documentary anyway? Errol Morris is at the top of his game with this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale. My favorite drama series of the year. So hard to watch but also essential and so well done. *

Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II. Incredible. Aside from the eclipse, these are the best things on this list. *

Honorable mentions: I anticipated Game of Thrones more than anything each week, but I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. There were dragons? Big Little Lies was very solid and enjoyable, but the last episode was some of the best television I’ve ever seen. Zoom out a little, and The Defiant Ones was actually about creativity, collaboration, and management.

Movies: Though I haven’t seen many of the end-of-the-year movies yet, I felt like this was a strong-ish movie year. But only four films stuck with me.

The Handmaiden. I don’t even know how to classify this film, but I wish they’d make more like it.

Maybe Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t great, but I saw it twice and have thought about it often since. Amazing visual experience.

Paths of the Soul. A window into the lives of people very unlike mine. Underscores how much living “the simple life” in wealthy countries is made possible by good infrastructure, social safety nets, and privilege. The simple life in most of the world is neither a choice nor easy.

Dunkirk. Absolutely thrilling. My favorite movie of the year. *

Music. Let’s be honest, Lemonade was probably the album of the year. But I guess some good music came out in 2017 as well. Oh, and I’m old so I still listen to albums.

Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples got the most airplay in my car this summer and fall. Early fave track was Crabs in a Bucket but BagBak came on strong later in the year.

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. Probably my favorite album of the year…every track hits the mark. *

4:44 by Jay-Z. The contrast between his last album (lazy, full of swagger) and this one (introspective, urgent) could not be more stark. This wasn’t the best or even my favorite album of the year, but I thought about it more than any of the others I listened to this year. Worth noting this album was only possible because of Beyonce’s superior Lemonade…imagine the hypothetical Jay-Z album had she not slammed him to the wall with that.

Experiences, etc. As I said on Instagram, I prioritized experiences over things this year. But because things like books, movies, and TV shows are easier to summarize and review, I kept most of the experiences for myself. You have to hold some things back or you lose your edges.

Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists and I’m grateful I got to spend a few hours witnessing how his career came together and his life fell apart. One of the best museums I’ve ever been to.

D3 Traveller. I travelled quite a bit this year, and it would have been more difficult without this bag. Worth the huge splurge.

Sainte-Chapelle. I am not religious at all, but you can’t help but feel something in this wonderful building.

iPhone X. A remarkable machine.

Rijksmuseum. I keep going back to two works I saw here: Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (I spent a good 15 minutes with this one) and this early self-portrait by Rembrandt (the lighting! the curls!).

The total solar eclipse. By far the best thing that I witnessed this year…or maybe in my life. It still gives me chills just thinking about it. *

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2017

True Stories Beaches Hodgman

John Hodgman, formerly of The Daily Show and those Apple commercials, is out with a memoir of his middle-aged wanderings through New England called Vacationland.

Disarmed of falsehood, he was left only with the awful truth: John Hodgman is an older white male monster with bad facial hair, wandering like a privileged Sasquatch through three wildernesses: the hills of Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; the painful beaches of Maine that want to kill him (and some day will); and the metaphoric haunted forest of middle age that connects them.

Vacationland collects these real life wanderings, and through them you learn of the horror of freshwater clams, the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, and which animals to keep as pets and which to kill with traps and poison. There is also some advice on how to react when the people of coastal Maine try to sacrifice you to their strange god.

Some of this hits remarkably close to the bone:

Though wildly, Hodgmaniacally funny as usual, it is also a poignant and sincere account of one human facing his forties, those years when men in particular must stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weird dads that they are.

I don’t know about wiser, but weird dad with a failing body is pretty much right on the money. And I love that cover by Aaron James Draplin. *kisses fingers*

SpaceX wants to send people to Mars by 2024

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Spacex BFR

Elon Musk says SpaceX is on target to send cargo to Mars in 2022 and people in 2024. The way the company will do it is by focusing its resources on a new vehicle, the Interplanetary Transport System (codename: the BFR). That vehicle will be able to travel to Mars, but can also be used to generate revenue for the company through launching satellites, resupplying the ISS, and going to the Moon.

Musk also proposed a variety of new uses for the scaled-down rocket beyond just going to Mars. Supposedly, the ITS can be used to launch satellites, take cargo to the International Space Station, and even do lunar missions to set up a Moon base. SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 fleet is used to do a few of those things already, but Musk says eventually the company will turn to the ITS to do all of its space missions.

“We can build a system that cannibalizes our own products, makes our own products redundant, then all the resources we use for Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to one system,” he said at the conference. Musk says the cost of launching cargo on the ITS will be fairly cheap, too, since the rocket and spaceship will be a fully reusable system — unlike the Falcon 9, which is only 70 to 80 percent reusable.

Musk also astoundingly asserted that the same rocket system could be used for long-distance travel on Earth.

He ended his talk with a pretty incredible promise: using that same interplanetary rocket system for long distance travel on Earth. Musk showed a demonstration of the idea on stage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes, and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour” for around the same price of an economy airline ticket.

As they say, “huge if true”. Musk is like the sci-fi Oprah here: You get a electric car! And you get a trip to Mars! And you get a self-driving car! And you get a 30-minute Hyperloop trip from SF to LA! And you get a rocket shuttle from NYC to Mumbai in 43 minutes for $1200! Beeeeeeeeees!!!!

My 2017 total solar eclipse trip

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2017

Eclipse 2017 Mouser

I was not prepared for how incredible the total eclipse was. It was, literally, awesome. Almost a spiritual experience. I also did not anticipate the crazy-ass, reverse storm-chasing car ride we’d need to undertake in order to see it.

I’m not a bucket list sort of person, but ever since seeing a partial eclipse back in college in the 90s (probably this one), I have wanted to witness a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. I started planning for the 2017 event three years ago…the original idea was to go to Oregon, but then some college friends suggested meeting up in Nebraska, which seemed ideal: perhaps less traffic than Oregon, better weather, and more ways to drive in case of poor weather.

Well, two of those things were true. Waking up on Monday, the cloud cover report for Lincoln didn’t look so promising. Rejecting the promise of slightly better skies to the west along I-80, we opted instead to head southeast towards St. Joseph, Missouri where the cloud cover report looked much better. Along the way, thunderstorms started popping up right where we were headed. Committed to our route and trusting this rando internet weather report with religious conviction, we pressed on. We drove through three rainstorms, our car hydroplaning because it was raining so hard, flood warnings popping up on our phones for tiny towns we were about to drive through. Morale was low and the car was pretty quiet for awhile; I Stoically resigned myself to missing the eclipse.

But on the radar, hope. The storms were headed off to the northeast and it appeared as though we might make it past them in time. The Sun appeared briefly through the clouds and from the passenger seat, I stabbed at it shining through the windshield, “There it is! There’s the Sun!” We angled back to the west slightly and, after 3.5 hours in the car, we pulled off the road near the aptly named town of Rayville with 40 minutes until totality, mostly clear skies above us. After our effort, all that was missing was a majestic choral “ahhhhhh” sound as the storm clouds parted to reveal the Sun.

My friend Mouser got his camera set up — he’d brought along the 500mm telephoto lens he uses for birding — and we spent some time looking at the partial eclipse through our glasses, binoculars (outfitted with my homemade solar filter), and phone cameras. I hadn’t seen a partial eclipse since that one back in the 90s, and it was cool seeing the Sun appear as a crescent in the sky. I took this photo through the clouds:

Eclipse 2017 Clouds

Some more substantial clouds were approaching but not quickly enough to ruin the eclipse. I pumped my fist, incredulous and thrilled that our effort was going to pay off. As totality approached, the sky got darker, our shadows sharpened, insects started making noise, and disoriented birds quieted. The air cooled and it even started to get a little foggy because of the rapid temperature change.

We saw the Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect. And then…sorry, words are insufficient here. When the Moon finally slipped completely in front of the Sun and the sky went dark, I don’t even know how to describe it. The world stopped and time with it. During totality, Mouser took the photo at the top of the page. I’d seen photos like that before but had assumed that the beautifully wispy corona had been enhanced with filters in Photoshop. But no…that is actually what it looks like in the sky when viewing it with the naked eye (albeit smaller). Hands down, it was the most incredible natural event I’ve ever seen.

After two minutes — or was it several hours? — it was over and we struggled to talk to each other about what we had just seen. We stumbled around, dazed. I felt high, euphoric. Raza Syed put it perfectly:

It was beautiful and dramatic and overwhelming — the most thrillingly disorienting passage of time I’ve experienced since that one time I skydived. It was a complete circadian mindfuck.

After waiting for more than 20 years, I’m so glad I finally got to witness a total solar eclipse in person. What a thing. What a wondrous thing.

Update: Here are some reports from my eclipse-chasing buddies: a photo of Mouser setting up his camera rig, Nina’s sharp shadow at 99% totality, and Mouser’s slightly out-of-focus shot of the Sun at totality (with an account of our travels that day).

Foursquare: US tourism is down sharply in the age of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Over the past couple of years, Foursquare has used their location data to accurately predict iPhone sales and Chipotle’s sales figures following an E. coli outbreak. Their latest report suggests that leisure tourism to the United States was way down year-over-year over the past 6 months (relative to tourism to other countries).

Foursquare Tourism

Our findings reveal that America’s ‘market share’ in international tourism started to decline in October 2016, when the U.S. tourism share fell by 6% year-over-year, and continued to decrease through March 2017, when it dropped all the way to -16%. Currently, there is no sign of recovery in the data.

And business travel to the US is suffering as well, relative to other countries:

Business trip activity is up in the U.S. by about 3% (as a share of international traveler global activity), but that trend line is not as high as elsewhere in the world, where YoY trends are closer to 10%. Relative to business travel gains globally, business travel to the U.S. is suffering.

As Foursquare notes, correlation is not causation and there are other factors at play (e.g. a stronger US dollar), but it’s not difficult to imagine that our xenophobic white nationalist administration and its travel & immigration policies have something to do with this decline.

On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens

37 years ago today, on May 18, 1980, Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted in a blast that killed 57 people and covered a huge swath of the western US with ash and destruction. Alan Taylor, who grew up nearby and vividly remembers the eruption, shared some photos of the eruption and its aftermath at In Focus.

I was 6 when Mount St. Helens erupted and it was probably my first concrete memory of the wider world from childhood. For days and days, it was all anyone talked about at school. The next summer (or it may have been 1982), my parents, my little sister, and I embarked on a car trip west towards the Pacific from Wisconsin, which I later learned was a last hurrah family vacation before my parents divorced. We motored in a beast of a station wagon resembling The Griswold Family Truckster, and stopped at the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Rapid City, Yellowstone, and finally Seattle, where the only memory I have is of seeing the Space Needle briefly.

But the highlight of the trip was going to see Mount St. Helens. The landscape looked very much like in the second photo above, trees flattened over an ashy lunar landscape. It’s still one of the weirdest, most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We collected a couple of jars of ash to take home, along with some pumice stone.

Back at school in the fall, I managed a brief respite from my crippling unpopularity by showing off the ash jars and demonstrating how the pumice floated in water. A rock floating in water! But then the holes in the pumice filled with water, it slowly sank, and with it my new-found popularity. I imagine that pumice and those jars are still somewhere at my dad’s house, in a pile of something somewhere…it would be great to see them again.

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

This Is How We Do It

This Is How We Do It is a children’s book by Matt Lamothe that follows the daily lives of seven real kids from different countries around the world (Japan, Peru, Iran, Russia, India, Italy, and Uganda).

In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days — and this one world we all share — unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences.

Watch the trailer. This is exactly the sort of book I love getting for my kids: it’s What Do People Do All Day plus What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

A world map of every country’s tourism slogan

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2016

World Map Tourism

A site called FamilyBreakFinder produced a world map with every country’s tourism slogan on it. A few of my favorite slogans:

Netherlands: The original cool
Colombia: Colombia is magical realism
El Salvador: The 45 minute country
Slovenia: I feel sLOVEnia
Cape Verde: No stress
Spain: #spainindetail
Morocco: Much mor
Bhutan: Happiness is a place
India: Incredible !ndia

Some of these countries should ask their ad agencies for their money back. (via @ftrain)

Introverts can get “hangovers” from too much socialization

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2016

Introverts have limited reserves of energy and attention stored up for socializing with others and when they’re used up, the aftermath can feel very much like a hangover from too much drinking.

After a few hours, I couldn’t take it any more. I slipped away like a thief, skulking about the house, searching for a place where it was quiet. I came across a half-lit room and saw my future brother-in-law sitting in there, staring out the window. Knowing him to be an introvert himself, I decided this was my best option for escape and sat down across the room, wrapping my arms around my knees. I remember hoping he wouldn’t think I was intruding upon his own solitude before I allowed myself to zone out, letting my thoughts drown out the raucous laughter from downstairs, breathing deeply and feeling the tension drain away. I don’t know how long it was before my now-husband came looking for me, but I remember him laughing at finding the two introverts seeking refuge together.

This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I travelled to a friend’s wedding but got to town a few days early to go see a show and meet up with some other friends. By the time the wedding rolled around, I had spent time with so many people in different social groups that I left after the ceremony and didn’t stay for dancing and karaoke or anything (sorry!). I didn’t even get to congratulate the bride (so so sorry!!)…I was just done. After that, I mostly just holed up in my hotel room, reading, and walked around by myself, even though there were so many other things I could have been doing with so many other people. Several years ago, I would have felt weird and horrible about this, but I know myself well enough now that I just roll with it…I read so much of a book I was enjoying that the time spent can hardly be considered a loss.

61 Glimpses of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2016

Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for “Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s GBAO region and China’s western provinces”. At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:

7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.

24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It’s common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.

33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.

34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It’s worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.

38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.

53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don’t need their services. It helps to look like you’re going to behave.

This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)

Exploring flyover country on your phone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2016

Grand Canyon Plane

The app Flyover Country, built by a team at the University of Minnesota, uses GPS to tell you what interesting features you’re currently flying over.

Learn about the world along the path of your flight, hike, or road trip with GPS tracking. Offline geologic maps and interactive points of interest reveal the locations of fossils, core samples, and georeferenced Wikipedia articles visible from your airplane window seat, road trip, or hiking trail vista.

More on the app from Fast Company. (via @feltron whose book came out the other day!)

Brief raptures in deserted places

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2016

On Ask MetaFilter, sleepy psychonaut declares their love for spending time in temporarily deserted places that are normally crowded.

Examples include San Francisco during Burning Man weekend, Penn Station at 2pm on Christmas day, almost everywhere in the US on Easter Sunday, the Financial District in Boston on Saturdays and Sundays, many major European cities during August.

Several people offered up suggestions; these were my favorites:

Any big amusement park on a day when it’s raining. The heavier the rain, the fewer people. (Cue family flashback to an idyllic day at Disneyland when there was hardly anyone there.)

Unless there’s a special event, people don’t go to museums in the evening. Here’s what the British museum looks like if you go on such an evening.

Any Colorado ski resort town during the summer when there’s not a festival going on. The ski paths are alpine meadows full of flowers you can hike on, and the streets are pretty much empty. Also renting condos there is super cheap off-season.

For an area that gets not quite as deserted but is much nicer to visit after the end of the usual season, you have to promise not to tell anyone (because this is a secret) but the beach towns along Lake Michigan are just about empty by a week after Labor Day but the beaches are actually at the nicest they will be all season because the lake has been warming all summer. Mid-September is a really nice time of year to visit the Great Lakes if you like clean, deserted beaches, farm markets full of fresh produce, restaurants with plenty of open tables, and relaxed hospitality staff who are happy to have survived the summer.

I went to the Muse D’orsay deep off season in the days before Christmas. Being alone in a room full of Van Goghs for at least 10 minutes (well but for a security guards & cameras) is still one of the highlights of my life.

(via @mathowie)

Immigrants share their biggest surprises about US culture

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2016

Serena Solomon grew up in Australia and when she moved to the US, she was shocked at the number of products sold at American grocery stores. Solomon recently asked other immigrants to share their biggest surprises about American culture. From a French welder:

It is so frustrating here. Nothing is easy. Nothing is efficient. To pay rent, you have to use a check? I have never written a check. The last time I got a check was maybe 20 years ago, from my granddad. Getting an apartment takes so long as opposed to other countries I have lived in where it’s just a handshake. That’s it. I went to the post office yesterday, and I was waiting in line for maybe an hour — and there were only five people in front of me. I felt like I went from a Western country to a third-world country. People here with money have access to things. The rest of the people are just trying to survive.

Food is a big difference for some:

Food-wise, I noticed us all getting these round faces from the bad food we ate. We did not realize it, because it was the standard and you think because it’s advertised and readily available it can’t be bad for you. We were so ignorant coming from South Africa, eating home cooked food every night over there. Then, once we got here, we ate those corn dogs almost every day for lunch, little pizzas for snacks, and sugary cereals for breakfast.

Reminds me of Cup of Jo’s excellent series about how parenthood differs around the world.

Wait for The Wolf, who should be coming directly…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2016

A company called Studio D recently published their corporate end-of-the-year report for 2015. It is unlike most other companies’ year-end reports. Studio D, which was founded by global citizen Jan Chipchase, “specialises in sensitive research topics requiring a very discreet presence; through to working in higher risk environments”.

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.

NY to SF in five minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2015

Tom Harman recently rode an Amtrak train from NYC to San Francisco, taking little videos of the scenery outside all the while. He edited that footage into this 5-minute video.

Conversations with and photos of everyday North Koreans

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2015

North Korea

North Korea

Harvard graduate student Christopher Carothers recently travelled to North Korea and, because he was an American white man who spoke Korean, he was able to talk with some everyday North Koreans. The conversations he had make for fascinating reading.

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.”