Too Much Travel

I love to travel. I own guide books to places I’ll probably never go; I love reading travel diaries. My biggest complaint with my job is that I don’t get a crazy amount of vacation time with which to travel all over the world. So it’s with that in mind that I must admit that over the past three weeks, I’ve had too much travel.

In Flight

I ended up with three trips; one for work, two for pleasure. And let me quickly state that the two for pleasure were both great. I had a fantastic time on both of them and I’m so glad I did them. But I am run ragged, now. I miss my routines, even if it’s just sleeping in my own bed and sitting down at my own desk.

It probably doesn’t help that in between trips #2 and 3, I also had a three-day work meeting which had me slightly wiped out by the end. Or that this semester of graduate school is proving to be the most difficult/intense one to date. (Fortunately the classes are also interesting.) Or that right before leaving for the third trip, I came down with a cold that I’m still trying to shake. None the less… it’s nice to be home. Very, very nice to be home. Fortunately that should last for the rest of the month and then some.

No doubt, by this time next month, I’ll be dreaming of travelling once more.

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 17)

Back from Bogota
As hinted a few months ago, I went on a work trip to another country… namely, Colombia (in the city of Bogota). Because it was a work trip the majority of it involved watching training at a government-run facility and being driven between the facility and the hotel in an armored van. But! I did get some sight-seeing in on the weekend, including a trip to botanical gardens, a huge park, a hop up to the peak of Monserrate in a cable car to see the sun set over the city, and (best of all) a bicycle trip around the city for three hours. All in all, a lot of fun and a place I’d have almost certainly never gone to otherwise.

Bruuuuuuuuuce!
I’ve heard for years and years (you probably have too) that Bruce Springsteen puts on some of the best concerts out there. My friend John A. back in his heyday used to hit multiple stops of a Springsteen tour as it went up and down the East Coast. And now, having seen him perform on the Wrecking Ball Tour at Nationals Park in Washington DC? I get it. I totally get it. It’s funny because while I like Springsteen I am by no means an uber-fan. I don’t have half of his albums. I don’t know the words to a lot of the songs. Heck, I didn’t know half of the songs he played. But it didn’t matter. He performs every song from start to finish like it’s the last song of the night and therefore has to put all his energy into it. Just an amazing performance, and when your concert runs over three hours (who needs an opening act when you’re on stage that long?) you need to be at the top of your game. Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite Tour might still be my all-time favorite concert, but I think this will be a close second.

Aimee Mann’s Charmer
If I remember the chronology correctly, it was right after hearing Aimee Mann’s solo music courtesy the Magnolia soundtrack (and then ordering a copy of Bachelor No. 2 online) that my friend Felicity helpfully pointed me to her earlier two solo albums. By that point I’ve been hooked. But with her last album being a little disappointing, I found myself a tiny bit wary about her new album Charmer. Then I heard the title track courtesy a hysterical video co-starring Laura Linney (seriously, I just about lost it I was laughing so hard), and NPR streamed the album leading up to the release, and all was forgiven. Sure, the second half of the album isn’t as great as the first half, but the 1-2-3-4-5 punch of Charmer, Disappeared, Labrador, Crazy Town, and Soon Enough is strong enough that the second half could have been static and I’d still be happy. (In a rarity, the bonus track I got from buying via Amazon—Brother’s Keeper—is a real bonus and just as good as the first half of the album.) In a year with a lot of disappointing albums from returning artists, this one did just what it needed to.

Adele’s Skyfall
Not to be a cliche, but I’m an Adele fan. I also like big brassy James Bond theme songs (and not just those by Shirley Bassey, but those are at the top of the list). So when I heard that Adele was performing the theme for Skyfall, I was tentatively hopeful. Could this be it? The heir to Bassey’s Goldfinger theme? As it turns out… yes. Thanks, Adele. This is just what I needed.

Double-Digit Milegage
After far too many months off due to injuries, I returned to running recently. And last weekend, I got back up into the double-digit distances again with a 12-miler. I got to run it with most of my running buddies (Ben, John, Stephanie, Steve) and not only was the company great, but I felt fantastic afterwards. No marathons on the horizon (I’m playing it safe, probably won’t go higher than 14mi for a while) but it’s nice to know that this amount is once more available.

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 15)

I tried a little experiment where for each week of the month I added an item to the list, with the fifth slot reserved for any particularly fantastic week. Bizarrely, several of entries for this month ended up involving travel in some way, but it’s strictly coincidence. Anyway, with that in mind…

Moonrise Kingdom
I enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies (which reminds me that I still need to finally see Bottlerocket and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou one of these days), so seeing Moonrise Kingdom was a given. Bill Murray’s and Jason Schwartzman’s presences were almost a given, but it was nice to see him working with a lot of new-to-Anderson actors; Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton were all great, but the kid actors stole the film over and over again. Just a charming film from start to finish, with an ever-increasing level of insanity as it progresses. By far my favorite film of 2012 to date. Also, for about two days I wanted to live on an island off the coast of Rhode Island. (Fortunately sanity reasserted itself quickly.)

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle
Guy Delisle’s travel graphic novels are fantastic; he’s a cartoonist who’s in the past written about taking trips for work to China (Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China) and North Korea (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), as well as—thanks to his wife’s job at Doctors Without Borders—living for a year in Burma (Burma Chronicles). Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City places Delisle and his family in East Jerusalem as his wife works in Gaza and Palestine. I love Delisle’s comedic tone mixed with moments of serious reflection, and Delisle does a nice job of making you feel you are there with him thanks to little details like trying to find playgrounds for the children, or going through security whenever he returns to the country after a business trip. There are a few moments that are head-scratchers (how did he not know what Yom Kippur was before moving to Jerusalem?) but on the whole I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’m reading just small chunks at a time to make it last longer; it’s been four years since Burma Chronicles so I want this experience to stretch out as much as possible.

Silverdocs 2012
It’s taken me 10 years, but this time I finally made it—briefly—to Silverdocs. Silverdocs is the AFI’s documentary film festival, held at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. Every time I’ve heard about it, I’ve wanted to go, and every time it comes and goes without my presence. This year with Silver Spring just around the corner, Charlie and I finally made it up to the festival at the end to catch a showing of Beauty is Embarrassing, which is about artist Wayne White. (You’re probably most familiar with him via his design on a lot of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; in fact he even voiced several of the puppets, like Randy and Dirty Dog.) The documentary was fun (and I hadn’t made connections until seeing the film to some of the other people and projects he’d worked on, like the Smashing Pumpkins video Tonight, Tonight, or his collaborations with people like Gary Panter and Mimi Pond), although the Q&A afterwards was dreadful and we should have left as soon as it ended. But still, it was a blast to finally make a showing, and I am now determined next year to see a lot more. (I might even take a day or two off from work and go whole-hog and spend a day or two seeing the documentaries, workload willing.) It was a good time.

This American Life #467: Americans in China
Oh look! Another travel story. (Well, sort of.) This episode of This American Life (one of my favorite radio programs, although I primarily listen to it via the podcast) spotlights Americans living in China, with two main stories. The first story about a Chinese-American man who grew up in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents, then moved as an adult to China, was good… but it was the second story that really grabbed me. It was about Michael Meyer (no, not that one), a writer who lives in Manchuria in a tiny town called Wasteland. It was a fascinating story about living in a remote, rural community as an American, and I was entranced for its entire 17 minute portion. Meyer does a great job of dipping you into that culture and making you feel like you’re there, which is exactly what I want from my travel writing. It turns out it’s part of a book that will be published later this year titled In Manchuria: Life on a Rice Farm in China’s Northeast. I will absolutely be buying this book.

Potential Work Trip To Somewhere I’ve Never Been
No details yet, because I don’t want to jinx it (and because it could easily not happen in the blink of an eye) but if everything lines up just right, I get to go on a work trip at the end of August to a country and continent I’ve never visited before. Fingers crossed!

Eat, Learn, Move

Every now and then, videos on the internet go viral and suddenly everyone’s posting them. I usually try not to do so, not because I don’t like the video or because I think I’m too cool, but usually because I’m too late on the bandwagon and because it’s a matter of simply liking rather than loving.

Well, I don’t like these three (one minute) videos, I love them. Maybe it’s because I like to read travel books and guides, to see different parts of the world I might never see, to get to explore different locations. Even if, so often, it’s just through the eyes of someone else.

Now, to be fair, the ideas behind these three videos are ones that we’ve seen before. But there’s a combination of the joy and the technical excellence on display here that makes these stand out. (Especially “MOVE,” my favorite of the three.) Definitely check these out; Rick Mereki did a great job with them.


EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.


LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.


MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Airline Safety

Let’s face it, no one (including myself) watches airline safety videos any more. They’re all the same old thing, right? Well, Air New Zealand is determined to make people pay attention, and credit where it’s due: I watched this, wide-eyed, from start to finish. Willingly.

Home Again

Last weekend, Charlie and I took a couple of days off and headed up to see some friends and go out to their family home in Sag Harbor. It was a great trip; nice food, good friends, a whole lot of doing nothing. Aside from running a 12-miler on Saturday morning, there really wasn’t lot of effort pushed into anything, which is exactly what I had hoped for. It’s weekends like that where I dream about being fabulously wealthy and living a life of luxury. I suppose it wouldn’t be quite as exciting if I got it all the time. But you never know. I’m willing to take that chance.

Only real disappointment was that I forgot to ever take my camera into town, which is a shame because there were several great photo opportunities along the way. *sigh* So I have almost nothing to share but a few pictures from around the house.

But it was a lovely trip. I kind of wish I was still sitting by the pool and reading a book, or browsing through crazy litle stores. Until next time, certainly.

Sag Harbor Cove

Pumpkin

Descent

Final Night's Champagne

Frozen Florida

*blows dust off of the website*

Er, yeah. It’s been a busy month. But I suppose I should at least briefly mention my trip to Florida two weeks ago, to run the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge at Walt Disney World. It probably would have been an unremarkable trip (aside from running 39.3 miles over the course of a weekend), except for one little problem… that horrible cold front that ripped through a lot of the country, including Florida.

When we signed up for these races a year ago, I honestly didn’t imagine us bundled up with three layers of clothing, winter hats, gloves, and still being cold. Which is, of course, exactly how we felt.

Brrrrrr (pt 2)

Yeah. Cold. Very cold. So cold that on Sunday we bought additional pairs of gloves, rain parkas, and towels for additional insulation for before the race started. (Once you’re running, it doesn’t so matter that it’s 25 degrees out. And sleeting. No really, it sleeted on us on Saturday for the half marathon.)

On the bright side, we did get to pose for all sorts of silly photographs with various Disney characters; for the full marathon we stopped at literally every single one we saw. We figured it would be a good way to combat having run the half marathon the morning before.

Stitch!

I mean, hello, it’s Stitch! Only from my favorite (non-Pixar) Disney animated movie Lilo and Stitch, after all. As the race went on, we got a little sillier and punchier, too. So we ended up with photos like this:

Launchpad McQuack

So yeah, we froze during the races. But it was a ton of fun. And the other days were nice, too. We went to all four parks over the course of three days, which was a blast. We ate at two of the nice restaurants in Epcot (Le Cellier and Teppan Edo), something I’d never done before and quite enjoyed. And thanks to an iPhone app that tells you wait times for rides, we went on a lot of rides.

Oh yeah, even when it wasn’t 6am, we still froze. Oh well. It would have been nice to wear t-shirts instead of coats, but it was none the less a great trip. But now I need to go back sometime when the weather is a little more cooperative, right?

The Gang

How to Travel Ten Hours and Go Absolutely Nowhere

So! Thanksgiving. The plan was pretty simple: get up early Thursday morning, fly from National Airport to Charlotte, then from Charlotte to Birmingham. Then, late on Saturday, we’d fly back home. Of course, since I said, “the plan was pretty simple” you know that means that the end result was anything but.

It started out on target; got up at 4:15am, Charlie picked me up at 5:30am, and by 5:50am we’d parked the car, checked in, and checked our luggage. (There were plans to go running several days, plus nice clothes and casual clothes packed, so the bag was otherwise bigger than I’d have planned. It could have still fit in the overhead compartments, but since it was a full flight I figured I would just find it easier to not have to struggle.) At 7am, our flight was completely boarded and we soon took off for Charlotte, despite heavy fog in DC.

It was around 8am that the pilot came on the intercom. I thought he was going to say we were descending to Charlotte, but instead he started explaining that they had mechanical difficulties and the flaps on the wings wouldn’t come back up after take-off, which would make landing tricky. And, because of heavy fog in both Charlotte and DC, they couldn’t land safely at either airport. So as a result, we were being diverted to Pittsburgh. Yes, instead of going 330 miles southwest, we were going 191 miles northwest.

After we landed, they started working on the plane. And working. And working. And working. After an hour or two, we realized that we were in trouble, because there was no way that we would make our flight to Birmingham. Worse, the only other flight from Charlotte to Birmingham was already overbooked. So that wasn’t an option either. Charlie got on the phone with USAirways, and after a lot of talking they booked us on a Delta flight from Charlotte to Atlanta. It’s only two hours from Birmingham so it wasn’t impossible, right?

Except the airplane still wasn’t ready. After several hours they finally let us off the plane to stretch our legs (and get food if necessary), then they moved us onto a new plane. Finally we took off, back to Charlotte. We landed there at 1:30pm, a mere five hours and fifteen minutes late. And too late for the Delta flight to Atlanta.

At this point, we wanted to just go home. Getting to Birmingham for Thanksgiving was impossible, and staying in Charlotte was not our idea of a good time. That’s when we discovered a new snag. The woman at the ticket counter wouldn’t change our flight because we were only flying one way on USAirways (the way back was via Delta), so she said we’d have to buy another ticket. Aaarrrgghhhh.

I stood in line for the assistance counter, with about 25 people in front of me, while Charlie got on the phone again with USAirways. After an hour, I still wasn’t at the front of the line, but Charlie had someone on the phone that said yes, they’d fly us back and no, we did not have to buy new tickets. Charlie went to a new ticket counter where the woman proceeded to say that we’d have to buy new ones. Fortunately, Charlie had kept the guy on the line and handed her the phone. (Also, around the same time, another passenger from our flight who had also given up on getting to his intended destination told her to stop giving Charlie a hard time because we were from the same mechanical error disaster.) Finally we got our boarding passes, got on a new flight now seating back to DC, and at 4pm were back where we started.

Well, except for our bags, which we didn’t get until the next evening. But I rather expected that.

Exhausted (we’d been awake for 12 hours and in airports/airplanes for 10 of them), we drove up to Rosslyn, had pizza at Piola, and then went home and crashed. For better or for worse, the most memorable Thanksgiving I suspect I will ever have. Hopefully next year things will be a bit calmer. (And hopefully next year I will get to do what I’ve wanted to try: brining a turkey.)

Wishing I Was There

My friend Graeme introduced me to the phrase of Jungian Radio, where for a lack of a better description, is when you have that song that is forever attached to some sort of moment or memory in your life. While trying to find YouTube videos to drive Charlie insane (it’s my job), I saw a link for a Natalie Imbruglia video, and suddenly I was back in Rome at the end of 2006.

I wish I could remember the name of the club/bar, but it’s lost to me now. I do remember that Tod, Doug, and I went there on a whim; we wanted something simple and easy, and it looked good. The place was going to turn into a dance club in an hour or so, but until then they were still serving food. While we were sitting down and waiting for our food, the music playing sounded awfully familiar. It wasn’t until I’d mouthed half of the words to “Wishing I Was There” and “Don’t You Think?” that I finally figured out it Natalie Imbruglia’s Left of the Middle CD playing on random.  I don’t think I’d listened to any of that CD in about six years or so by that point, and all of the sudden it made me desperately want to hear it again.

Sunset on Rome

All of this, more than anything else, makes me want to go back to Italy. Or really, somewhere new in Europe, there are so many other countries waiting to be explored. When I’m on holiday, you’re given the excuse to walk around in a city or town for hours and just stop at a random cafe and eat something. When I’m home, there’s always something else that needs to be done, or a favorite place that I end up eating at instead of just taking a random stab and seeing what I end up with. (Or most likely, not eating out and just making lunch or dinner.)

Charlie and I spent part of Saturday looking at some different neighborhoods, ones to just try and get a better grasp of what’s out there and what our future options are. One of the most exciting things about doing that? The idea of having the slate cleared on all of those patterns and habits that we fall into. Start over, reset and reboot, ctrl-alt-del. Get forced to find something new. I like that.

Funny what a single YouTube link will dredge up.