Thank you snow gods. And sun gods too.
Archive for the Category Travel
One of the things I want to start doing in 2011 is travelling to more places that are off the beaten path and writing about them. The first stop on the tour was Northern Arizona, including a town called Jerome, and a follow up hike in Sedona’s Boynton Canyon.
Jerome is an old mining town built on a hill. It was a fairly populated place until the mine shut down, and then had as few as 50 residents in 1950. Since all the houses were still in good shape, just abandoned, a bunch of artists moved up and took them over. So now what you have is a kind of old ghost town with art galleries.
The notable feature of the town is that it’s built on a hill. A few streets run back and forth through the town at different elevations. So you don’t walk north, south, east, west as much as you walk up, down, left, right, navigating from street to street (which is actually the same street curving around) via a set of staircases. For example, here are the directions you get when asking how to get from our hotel to a place to eat. ”Go down the hill there. When you get to Haunted Hamburgers, walk down the staircase about 100 yards north. At the bottom of that staircase, turn left. There’s one place down on your left. If that doesn’t look good, walk down the stairs to the next street and you’ll see another place.” We spent a little time in one of the most bizarre and enjoyable watering holes I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit down in, “The Spirit Room.” There a bartender – who made her way to Jerome via Kansas City, LA and Lima, Peru – managed a single open room with a jukebox and a pool table. River guides, large flamboyant Native Americans, 75 year old locals, confused tourists and some funny but odd young locals all took turns telling stories, dancing, whooping it up, and asking questions. It was an odd crowd, but one you could appreciate.
We stayed in the biggest hotel in town, which turned out to be the old mining hospital. The hospital shut down with everything else in 1950, and it was another 25 years before someone bought it and turned it into a hotel. They say it’s haunted, and I believe it, because I had some pretty nutty dreams.
The next day we hit Boynton Canyon in Sedona. Now Sedona isn’t really off the beaten path for people who live in Arizona, but for us Seattlietes, I think it’s a fair to lump in there. Plus, we were on some different trails for 4 hours or so and only ran across about 20 people.
If you’ve not been to Sedona, it really is about the most beautiful place on earth to go for a hike, bring a philosophy book, clear your head and just marvel at everything around you. You just can’t get away from brilliant red rocks, stunning vistas, and changing scenery. One minute we’re walking nextto a canyon wall, the next we’re at a vista, and suddenly we’re in an ice trail and I have a mild concussion from slamming my head on the ground. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating the concussion part, but I spent some time on my keister in the depths of that canyon.
So overall: Jerome – an awesome place to get away from everything. Boynton Canyon – like all Sedona trails, just a marvelous spot for walking and reflecting. Get down if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
Ok, so I’m a bad travel blogger.
- I had no real mobile capabilities to upload blog posts from my phone. Sorry, my fear factor regarding AT&T dropping a $2,000 bill on me was just too high.
- We were either on our tour bus, getting shoo-ed onto our tour bus, or within sight of our tour bus from about 8am to 9pm every night. So when I was done with the tour, I could either sit in my hotel room and write about what I just saw, or I could hit the streets and spend 2-3 more hours seeing cool stuff on foot. Guess what I did.
- Now, I *could have* written stuff down on my iPad or iPhone notepad apps during the day while on the bus, then uploaded those docs at night, and then gone out to see the towns. Instead, I spent time conversing with my travel companions and taking pictures through the bus window. I think I chose wisely.
So, we’re here 10 days later, and I need a clever gimmick for spewing out some China related content. And since I can’t write this daily log style with any sense of authenticity, we’ll move to Plan B.
Let’s start with some overall transportation / travel impressions.
1) Jesus it’s big. I mean, sure, duh. But I mean, it’s really freaking big. You know when you are in Europe, and you look at a map and see where the subway stations are and pick the one closest to where you are going? And then you jump on the subway, get off, and walk 5-10 minutes to your spot? Well it doesn’t work like that in Beijing (or Shanghai actually). In Beijing, you get off at your spot and start walking. Then you kind of realize that all of the side streets you are walking past might not actually be on your map, and that your map would have to be the size of a tent to include them all. And now you’re 20-25 minutes into the walk and thinking, “Well hell I must have missed the street.” And even though you *know* you didn’t miss it, you turn back anyway, or wander down a side street because your brain just can’t comprehend that you’d be walking THAT FAR from the subway station and not reaching your destination yet. So you’re lost. Then everyone you are leading on the walk yells at you. Good times.
2) However, to solve that problem of it being way to big of a city to walk around in, they have made the cabs extraordinarily cheap. 40 minute cab ride, 15 bucks. Problem solved.
3) Unfortunately, the cab drivers don’t speak any English, nor can they read a map. And even if you can give them the name of the place in Chinese so they can read it, since everything is so new and the city is so big, it’s a shot in the dark that they’ve ever been there. New problem.
4) Now, should you actually get a cab pointed roughly in the direction you want to go, there’s almost a guaranteed chance that your cab will cease being a transportation mechanism, and become more of a comfortable but stationary shelter from the elements. You see, in Beijing they have a highway system that a city like Seattle would be envious of. However, given that Beijing has roughly 11x the amount of people as Seattle, that highway system becomes less of a model of progressive ingenuity, and more of a simple game of 4-wheeled musical chairs.
5) Now, should you find the proper time of day when cars are actually moving, you witness another phenomenon. Every intersection and road has 5 sets of travelers. You have the tour buses, the cars, the mopeds, the bikes and the pedestrians. I sat mesmerized watching how these groups interacted with each other, and here’s the agreed upon rules as far as I can figure them out.
- Pedestrians have the complete right of way everywhere, provided that you don’t get hit by any moving vehicle (including bikes, mopeds, cars or buses.) If you do get hit, it’s your fault. They confuse you at first by painting lines that one would think are crosswalks. But in reality, these are merely targets for the moped riders to use when looking for pedestrians to hit. However, if you make it across, you are both welcome and invited to continue your journey.
- Bikes seem to have similar rules. However, it appears that bikes have the added responsibility of keeping pedestrians alert and on their toes. Bikes will come flying out of alley ways and around the backs of buses just to keep pedestrians awake.
- Now the mopeds are an entirely different breed of animal. Mopeds don’t ever have to stop at stop lights, which makes stop lights more or less decorative than anything else for these folks. And if you are a pedestrian and not aware of this little rule, well you are likely to be sitting in someone’s front basket as a confused but unfazed Chinese person takes you for a little trip down the boulevard. So picture a 5 way stop, with some random selection of 2 of the lights green and 3 of them red. Now watch pedestrians walking in any direction, bikes slowly meandering across the middle, mopeds driving in a straight line without changing speed whatsoever, and the cars and buses obeying the lights.
- Overall, I think the cars get the short end of the stick. It’s not bad enough that they have these little two legged and two wheeled things buzzing around them, but they really have to watch out for the buses.
- Because the buses – oh the buses. The bus drivers could parallel park an aircraft carrier in a Hydro pit. These guys will take any little edge they can to sneak ahead a few cars at a time. You can just see the car drivers steaming. ”I’m not letting him in. I’m not letting him in…. Damnit! He got in!” A little shimmy here, a little shimmy there, and these guys get you to the next stop. I actually think the bus drivers are allowed the right to take out cars, mopeds and pedestrians, as part of a population control program. Because everyone fears the buses.
I think this is a good spot to leave off. It appears that this may turn into a general journal taking on several themes across different cities, transportation being the first one that pops to mind. I suppose we’ll make obligatory stops in the categories of food, shelter, battling with untrustworthy shop vendors, the crazy Chinese government controlled Tourist industry and a few random thoughts at the end.
Now, if I get my act together, I’ll upload a bunch of pics and make some slideshows. In the meantime, you’ll have to catch a few random ones on Facebook.
Check out these images from the Huffington Post. I have no idea if developing a bus to drive OVER cars is technologically possible, but it’s an interesting notion to think about.
Look how dusty this blog has gotten. I spent years getting my followers up to at least 5 a day, and now I’ll never get them all back….Next time I go on vacation, I promise to have interns write articles for me. Heck, I might start anyway.
Regardless – A quick thanks to everyone out in Iceland who made our trip such a blast. Anne-Marie from Copenhagen, Alex from Germany, Brian from Reykjavik via St. Louis, Sara from St. Louis, Tom the world traveller from Chicago, Andrew the Med student from Toronto, Sveinbjörna from the Reykjavik soccer team, and the Reykjavik crew of Gunnar, Jon and Svana, who coincidentally worked in Social Media and Small Business Incubation, respectively.
Also, thanks to the tourist information peeps in Akureyri, the bus depot folks in Reykjavik, all the hotel people who pointed us in the right direction, held our bags, and translated words with way too many J’s and K’s in them.
Stories to come, but the short version is that Iceland should get added to the top of your Vacation “To-Do” List if you enjoy stunning vistas, friendly people, incredible hiking, mind-numbing nature scenes, crazy food and a safe and clean environment. If that’s not your cup of tea, then I suggest Cleveland.
More to come.
Last week, you probably heard about the events in Mumbai, but glossed over them due to the hoilday weekend. On Saturday, I discovered a friend of mine from Manchester Business School is now living in Mumbai. I asked him to write a little about what happened out there. Here is his email, unedited:
well i am the worst when it comes to writing. i could relate some of the events to you to make up the script:
around 10.30pm we heard from the news that a place called Leobold cafe & bar had a gang war in which some people were shot. i actually had a friend just opposite that place curious about what had happened and could not figure out much. i heard stories of someone having their bachelor party there before the wedding.
it was only by 11pm or so that we started getting news about 3 places and then 5 places that were hit by terrorist attacks. these included this bar, followed by a busy train station, and then these three locations that were under cross fire for 3 days, i.e. Taj Mahal Hotel, Trident Oberoi (two of the most upmarket hotels in the city which is a who’s who regular) and a predominiatly Jewish occupied building.
In the these three locations, the terrorists entered shooting at random. this followed with taking american, british and irish passport holders as hostage. many visitors from these nations also died in the attack. all these three locations were random killing grounds and under fire.
A hotel like to Taj could easily accomodate over a 1000 people. We hear from those inside that there were scores of dead bodies left in the hotel and many of them having bombs below them as booby traps. So we really do not know the actual death count but believe it is far above what the media portrays.
The following day we were hit by some rumours of terrorists in other parts of the city. We do fear though that there may be some of these terrorists that managed to escape and are busy planning something or finding an escape route. It is hard to say what is safe anymore here.
The government was quite unprepared considering the news shows a lot of the intelligence being made available to the state. the army did play a great role in stopping the series of sad events. it was quite late though. three days of anxiety has for the first time killed the spirit of a city that is known for rebounding back the next day from calamities and terrorism in the past. there is a great sense of unrest in the people now seeking strong action against the culprits and demanding a fair and committed government that really is concerned about its people and not to unkept promises to win their vote banks. most politicians that have tried to politicise this event have been come down hard upon by the media and public alike.
I may be completely wrong in this, but I think Alaska Airlines is capitalizing on a way to get us stubborn Americans to travel more.
Last week you may have seen my 14 million word play-by-play on the Vineman Triathlon in Healdsburg, CA. Because of my pride in the fact that Rich had finished the race, I kept last week’s posts to a minimum so the story would stay on top.
But there was another personal story from that trip I wanted to write about. In order to get to California wine country, I did not have to go through megalopolis SFO, or the dingy Oakland Airport, or even the small and semi-charming Sacramento runways. I was able to fly from Seattle, directly into the little berg of Santa Rosa on a Horizon Airlines turbo prop.
Santa Rosa is a mere 15 minutes from Healdsburg and I went down Thursday on the extremely convenient 5:55pm flight. The airport has one “gate” if you can even call it that, so getting in and out was a breeze. To add to its charm, it’s named after Charles M Schulz and has famous Peanuts comics on the walls.
Returning home was even better. I headed home Sunday on the even more convenient 8:35pm flight. Since only one plane leaves every hour or two, and each plane is only a 70-80 seat turbo prop, you have no check-in or security pressure. You get to the airport about 30 minutes early, watch the plane arrive, wait for everyone else to go through security, then jump through yourself. This convenience allowed me to see another old friend of mine who lives in Healdsburg mine on Sunday afternoon, cruise to the airport about 8:00 for the 8:35 flight, hang out on the airport patio with my friend until it was time to leave and never feel an ounce of pressure.
This made me think about what I like and hate about air travel. Traveling from SeaTac or SFO is a jarring experience. It takes hours to check in. But I positively loved the freedom afforded me on this Santa Rosa flight. Why can’t we have more regional airports, say in Everett, North Bend, Olympia, etc..that only take me to other small tourist towns so I can have a long weekend without feeling like I’m crossing the Russian border? I don’t know the economics, but I hope it doesn’t cost that much to run a tiny one gate airport.
Ironically, I was sitting in the Santa Rosa airport thinking about all this, when I saw another old Seattle friend of mine, a former co-worker who had come down from Seattle on the same flight I was about to board to head back home. I couldn’t believe that the world was so small that in the Santa Rosa airport, I could see someone else from Seattle. But obviously I am not the only one to appreciate flying into a place like Santa Rosa.
Alaska/Horizon has the right idea – in a world of chaos, we want to travel places where it’s easy. I hope to see them pick more “single gate” airports leading to tourist cities I want to explore.
For no reason whatsoever, I decided to close out my trip to Taiwan with a long hike in the Tawianese forest. I guess I can’t say "no reason." Vittorio and I had taken a gondola up to the hills to see some pretty big temples, but he had to leave to catch his flight back to Europe. I still had another 5 hours to kill, so I thought 3 of them could be effectively used wandering around the woods.
Plus, my Lonely Planet guidebook, which hadn’t really been right or useful all week, said there was this crazy temple buried in a wall behind the waterfall. I had to see it. So off I went, up the rock stairs into the unknown forest.
I’m not sure why I expected it to be less humid in the middle of the forest. But it wasn’t. And I guess I forgot about the fact that there would be bugs, because there were. Otherwise, the hike started stupendously.
It didn’t take too long for me to start talking to myself, mainly cursing how this idea had enetered my head. Why couldn’t I have stumbled on the page in the guidebook that mentioned an air conditioned museum, or better, maybe a martini bar.
But I would carry on. After all, when is the next time I would be able to see a temple in a waterfall?
After a few km, I reached a key fork in the road. Unfortunately for me, the brilliantly marked signage did not mention which diretion my destination was. I would be forced to use the guidebook, which to this point had gotten me lost on well marked city streets in two different countries. Now I would use it for an unmarked forest trail. Yippee.
I slogged through the trail when a frightening thought hit me. Vittorio had left me in a totally different place than I was now. Literally no one in the world knew where I was. If I fell, I’d be one of those guys that just vanished off the planet. Hmmm….
The hike was beautiful, except for the fact that I had no confidence in where I was going, and not very much hope that I was headed toward my mysterious temple. The path kind of disappeared, but I finally found a creek, which seemed like a pretty good thing to follow if I was looking for a waterfall. The bridge I came across did not instill confidence, but luckily the water was shallow enough to cross.
Anyway, after a few hours, I actually found this temple, and it was pretty cool – especially for something built into the side of a waterfall. I walked through to take some pics from the other side, and there were actually some people inside there, which kind of freaked me out. And they offered me tea. Now, I thought it was a funny thing for people who don’t speak English to offer to sit down and pantomime with me. But I appreciated the gesture, despite the fact that drinking unfiltered Taiwanese forest water before getting on an 11 hour flight seemed like a poor idea. I passed on the tea, and headed back to the gondola, content with the way the trip was coming to an end.
You can say this for Taiwan – you certainly can’t get bored from a lack of experiences. Consider our range of activities in 72 hours in Taipei and the surrounding areas.
- Gorging on a variety of strange foods bought from street vendors for $.50, in nighttime street markets.
- Taking an elevator to the top of the world’s tallest building. A 600 meter per second journey that goes 89 floors in 47 seconds.
- Taking a subway out to the Beitou Hot Spring, and getting in natural cold, warm and hot pools with 50 people who didn’t speak a lick of English.
- Wandering through a giant temple in the middle of a downtown park.
- Bussing out to a natural park on the country’s north coast.
- Taking a gongola ride up 2,000 meters to reach some temples, then hiking a few hours to find a nother temple carved into the wall of a waterfall.
- Nearly getting run over by one of the 198 million scooters that dominate the roads.
- Shopping at computer markets getting incredible deals on memory cards, USB drives and other small accessories.
- And then, eating more food from more night markets.
I’ll slowly get the pictures up to illustrate some of these activities, but the basic story is one of Taiwan being one of the most diverse places I have visitied. After the fury and fervor of Hong Kong, Taiwan could easily be termed disappointing or unexciting. But when you look at the wide range of activities, it really is quite a fantastic place. 5 million residents is nothing compared to Hong Kong or Tokyo, but it’s still a major city with more to offer than you can do in 3 days. Plus, Taipei represents the very top of a long island. There are another 18 million people in the rest of the country, in areas we didn’t even contemplate visiting.
When you consider how close it is to all the major Asian hubs, like Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc… it really becomes a place that could easily be the start and end points for my next Asia vacation.
With Hong Kong as the only Asian country I had visited, I expected Taipei to share the same frenetic energy. Perhaps it was because we arrived at out hotel after midnight, or because of the rain, but we walked around downtown Taipei trying to get our brain adjusted to the more reasonable pace.
It became obvious quickly that while Hong Kong was very westernized and street hawkers wanted to sell us watches, suits and cameras, Taipei markets were mainly about food. great great food at every little booth, all for $.50 to $1.00. Barely any English was being spoken, even in the most popular markets, so ordering or asking questions is more a game of charades than actual speaking.
if Hong Kong is New York on steroids, I don’t know what Taipei is. It’s certainly big (5 million people) and spreadout, but it’s buildings are generally 10 stories, not 80. (Except of course for the tallest building in the world, Tower 101, which is essentially Taiwan’s shout of, "Hey, we can build tall stuff if we want to. See?")
Temples, gardens, parks, and hot springs abound, so the city feels like someplace someone can actually live. we are doing the area at breakneck speed, including tour buses (something we would never ordinarily do) so we can cover more ground. We’ll get some pics up soon.