Archive for category Travel and Places

Hvar, Croatia: Fast Ferries, Fast Times

Hvar Ferry“I don’t know why everyone is panicking,” is not what you want to hear from a ferry boat steward when you’re bobbing around in the Adriatic Sea.

We had arrived at the harbor in Split at 3pm after a long day of driving from Dubrovnik to Mostar (Bosnia) and then to Split. Our driver had a quick chat with a man on the ferry dock and assured us the next ferry to Hvar (pronounced Huar) was at 4pm. Fantastic. Only an hour to kill before heading to our island paradise.

We walked up to the ticket window to buy tickets and were informed that the next ferry was leaving at 6pm not 4pm. We paid the extra Kuna (Croatian currency) for the “fast” boat, which would get us to Hvar in one hour instead of two, and then tried to decide what to do for the next three hours.

The walkway along the harbor was dotted with cafes, touristy trinket kiosks, a bus station, and a lot of students sporting backpacks. It was 96 degrees and smelled like a combination of cigarettes and hippies. We settled on a cafe that had shade and the fewest people smoking.

The only food options were sandwiches and savory pastries that looked like they had been sitting in the full sun all day, but what are you gonna do. We killed the next three hours eating lukewarm pigs in a blanket type pastries, drinking Coke Zero and coffee and trying to forget how hot it was.

We randomly met a Scottish guy named Stevie based on the fact that we needed each other to watch our bags while we took turns going to the pay toilet. Note to self: always carry 5 Kuna in coins, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free pee in Croatia.

At 5:30pm we started noticing that people were starting to line up for the ferries, so we happily jumped up and walked over to the pier with Scottish Stevie. We got in line for the first boat we came to and got halfway through the line before someone told us the boat was going to Vis not Hvar.

We finally found the right line for the right boat and joined the queue. It was not one of the big lumbering ferries that you can drive cars onto, but a sleek catamaran that looked like an Airbus inside. And the A/C was on! Oh happy day. We each grabbed an aisle seat so as not to get trapped between anyone who hadn’t showered in a week, or anyone who looked like they might be the seasick type.

As soon as the boat got underway Stevie offered to buy a round of drinks. “What do you want? Gin and tonic? Vodka? Wine?” he said. “I don’t know,” I said. “Surprise me.”

When Stevie finally returned he had a bottle of water, a Coke Zero, a beer and a glass of white wine. “What happened to the gin and the vodka option?” I asked. He explained, “I asked for a gin and tonic. They were out of gin. They told me they had vodka, so I asked for a vodka tonic. No tonic. I asked what mixers they had, and they said Orangina. So I got you a glass of white wine.” You can always trust a Scottish guy when it comes to booze.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy my glass of wine we started to hit some chop. The further we got from Split the worse it got. The guy next to me was fanning his girlfriend who looked like she was going to blow at any minute. It was 6:50pm, and we were supposed to arrive at 7pm, so we all figured we could keep our lunch down for 10 more minutes. Then the boat started to slow down.

When a ferry starts to slow down it usually means one of two things: you’re close to port, or you’ve lost power and the captain is about to hand out oars. I decided to survey the situation, and when I stood up to look out the window over the bow I could see we were still miles away from Hvar.

We were all speculating as to why we were cruising at less than warp speed when one of the uniformed stewards came by and said, “I don’t know why everyone is panicking. One of the engines sucked in a piece of wood and had to be shut down, so we are only using one engine right now.” Well thank goodness we didn’t hit a body. It was just a piece of wood. We were limping along on one engine, and our “fast” boat was now a slow boat that turned the 1-hour cruising time into almost two.

We did finally make it to the port of Hvar under our own power, disembarked with a throng of 20-somethings on holiday, and realized we had just landed ourselves in the middle of Croatia’s version of Cabo during Spring Break. My girlfriend and I silently wondered if we had made the right decision, booking five days on Hvar. On the other hand, young Scottish Stevie announced (with a huge smile on his face) that he was going to call his boss and ask for an extra week off.

, , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

Riding the Flume Trail in Tahoe is Insane

My sisters and I meet up at our family cabin in Incline Village (Tahoe) every summer for a week, and we’re continually looking for new and exciting adventures to keep our kids occupied. I am not one to sit on a beach and do nothing all day, so when a friend suggested taking the kids on a mountain biking adventure I decided to check it out.

My friend Greg recommended the Flume Trail in Tahoe, saying it would be a great ride for the kids and everyone would enjoy it. Now let me just point out that Greg rides his mountain bike five days a week, and he considers a 5-mile ascent at a 45-degree angle a fun ride, so I should have taken this fact into consideration before dragging my family into this adventure, but I didn’t.

We honestly didn’t know much about the Flume Trail ride so we called the Flume Trail Bike Shop the night before we planned to ride and asked a few questions, like how hard is this ride really. The answer was a bit vague being, “Oh there’s a bit of a hill at the beginning, then a few miles of flat terrain, and then a few miles of downhill.” We would soon find out that this was the understatement of the year.

The ride begins at Spooner Lake at 7000 feet and climbs to 8157 feet at the summit. If the hills don’t get you the altitude will.

FACT: The first FIVE miles of the adventure to get to the head of the Flume Trail is uphill.

This is no joke.  I spent the first five miles of the “ride” walking with my 14-year old daughter who was so frustrated with the climb that she literally gave up and sat down on the dirt trail. It took me about two hours to talk her out of turning around and get her up to the summit. My 21-year old son and 12-year old son were able to ride up most of the five miles with a few exceptions, but they had to wait 90 minutes for us at the summit.

FACT: If you have to stop for any reason you will be eaten alive by mosquitoes.

My daughter spent the first five miles swatting at flies and mosquitoes and shouting, “I am not an outdoors person!”

The next couple of miles past the summit were a walk in the park compared to that first five miles of hills. We really enjoyed the easy miles of trail that winded along the edge of Marlette Lake. However, the cakewalk was short lived, because you see the actual Flume Trail is 4.5 miles of single track trail hugging the side of a mountain with a 1600-ft drop off.

FACT: People with a fear of heights should NOT ride the Flume Trail.

This part of the ride is not family friendly. There is one place on the trail where you actually have to pick your bike up and carry it over a pile of large boulders.

The last few miles of the adventure are all downhill on loose sand and gravel, which is a challenge. But when you’ve been riding the last 4.5 miles on the edge of a cliff it’s a welcome change of pace even if it is harder to keep your bike upright.

All seven of us arrived at the end of the trail (at the Ponderosa Ranch) relatively unscathed, but incredibly thirsty, because you see we all ran out of water after that first 5-mile climb and had to ride the last 10 miles with no water.

FACT: You will need three bottles of water per person if you want to stay hydrated on this ride.

Four of the seven of us said we would do the ride again if we were more prepared. I would have absolutely loved this challenging ride had I not spent the entire time trying to talk my kids through it. So if you want to do this ride take my advice:

  • Park at the Ponderosa Ranch parking lot and take the shuttle to the Flume Trail Bike Shop where you can rent a well-equipped mountain bike.
  • Bring your own riding gloves, because they run out of loaners early in the day.
  • Pack three bottles of water per person.
  • Bring ample snacks, as you will be burning in excess of 1500 calories on this ride.
  • Pack a small first aid kit, because the only way you can get help if you’re injured is to have someone ride back to the bike shop, which could take hours.
  • An experienced rider may be able to finish the ride in under two hours, but it took us five hours, so keep that in mind.
  • Wear lots of sport sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses to keep the dirt, dust and sun out of your eyes.
  • Apply mosquito repellent liberally.
  • Do not bring children or inexperienced riders. This is a moderately difficult ride.
  • Rent a place with a hot tub because you’ll want a long soak afterwards.

Happy trails!

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

A Few Things that Surprised Me about Paris

ParisI had no preconceived notions or expectations when I landed in Paris on January 7th. Sure I had seen some movies that had romanticized the city and the culture, but I really had no idea what the reality would be, so I came with an open mind.

The first thing that surprised me was the rather soiled sidewalks. We hadn’t been off the plane for more than an hour when my friend Cathy slid her pristine, beige swede Prada boot through a pile of Parisian dog poo. We of course had been looking at the sights not the sidewalk and had completely missed the fact that it seemed that a fair number of Parisians had never heard of a pooper scooper.

Now I know that Parisians are supposed to be known for being stylish and fashion forward, but there was one shocking fashion trend in Paris that I have to question. Puffy coats. Really? There is nothing chic about a puffy jacket. I don’t care if you’re Carla Bruni. Puffy coats are fugly and should only be worn in Portland where they are more of a uniform than a fashion statement.

I can understand quite a bit of French, seeing that I tortured my first born by sending him to the French American School for five years, and I took a year of French in high school. Never mind the fact that I was living in Finland at the time, still trying to learn Finnish, and learning French from a teacher who only spoke Finnish. When I speak French I probably sound like a Cajun trying to speak German. But come on Parisians, throw me a bone. You know what I’m trying to say. Stop looking at me like I’m standing there naked and speaking Greek.

The biggest surprise to me regarding Paris was how beautifully walkable it is. My girlfriend and I would just choose a different arrondissments every day and explore it on foot all day long. The only time we ever took a cab was to and from the airport.

Paris is a wonderful city to get lost in. My advice to you: go without a plan, wear comfortable shoes, and allow yourself to dream. And make sure you watch where you’re walking!

, , ,

Leave a Comment

Paris is the Antidote to Stress

Eiffel_TowerIt is more apparent to me than ever that I lead an unbelievably stressful life at home. Since arriving in Paris I have been getting a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night. The last time I got this much sleep at home was when I had the flu five years ago.

I am ensconced in a small charming apartment in Canal St.-Martin, the 10th arrondissement northeast of Paris. This trip wouldn’t have been possible without my generous friend giving me the keys to her home for a week. Thank you.

Although I’m terrified to speak French, because it’s been so long, I can read a lot of it and understand some, and not embarrass myself when ordering lunch. Everyone here has been more than understanding when I pop out with a Spanish word when I can’t think of the word in French or English!

It is difficult to totally disconnect from my life back in Portland for a week when I have so many responsibilities there, but I’m sure trying.

, , , , , ,

1 Comment

Fighting the Jet Lag in Paris with Espresso and Pastries

My goal on my first day in Paris: stay awake until 8pm.

The only possible way to achieve this goal when arriving in a new time zone is to throw your luggage down, head outside and start walking immediately until you find the nearest espresso vendor. But we didn’t get very far, because the best baker in Paris has a bakery across the street from the apartment where we are staying, and the scent of freshly-baked pastries was just too enticing to pass up. The bakery is called Du Pain et des Idées, and there is a line out the front door all day every day. We waited in line and it was worth it.

Mouthwatering galletes and croissants that are nothing like you ever get back home.

We also found a Monop on our street, which is like an upscale quick mart that sells everything from champagne and chocolate to eggs and milk. We bought some groceries, and dropped them back at the apartment.

We spent the next few hours exploring the neighborhood, drinking espressos and cappuccinos  until we couldn’t stand it anymore. We headed back to the apartment at about 5pm, snacked on some Brie and bread, and somehow managed to stay awake until 8pm.

When I woke up the next morning, 11 hours later, I was ready to take on Paris for my first full day of sightseeing. But first some espresso…

 

 

 

 

 

, , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

Every Trip to Paris Starts with Twitter

I am sitting here in a charming apartment in Paris, drinking espresso and enjoying the peace and quiet, which has absolutely nothing to do with Twitter. However, my journey to Paris began yesterday with the following tweet to @Delta:

 

 

 

To which Delta replied:

I was already settled into my seat on my flight from Portland to Salt Lake City when I received this tweet from @DeltaAssist and had just enough time to send a message with my confirmation number before the crew told us to turn off our phones.

I settled into a fascinating conversation with my seatmate, who was headed to Athens via the same Paris connection I was worried about missing. We were two cocktails in and deep into a political conversation when a flight attendant came up to me with a little sheet of paper and said, “You will make your connection. You’ll have plenty of time.”

And this is the power of Twitter.

I tweeted an issue when I was sitting at the gate in Portland. Delta customer service answered me as I boarded the plane. I sent them my confirmation number so they knew exactly who I was and what flight I was on. They sent a message to the flight attendant on my flight, who then relayed the message to me.

That my friends is brilliant customer service.

, , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

The 10 Commandments of Travel

SuitcaseI have traveled quite a bit in the past few months, and every time I get on a plane I am reminded that the world of travelers needs a list of 10 commandments.

The 10 Commandments of Travel

1. Thou shalt not walk through security with a fifth of Tanquerey.

I recently flew from L.A. to Portland and had to go through a security line that was a mix of passengers leaving on domestic flights and international flights. I saw a guy walk right by the bin where you pour out the liquids and get busted for having a fifth of Tanquerey in his backpack. He said he thought the ban was on water only.

2. Thou shalt not call your spouse on a cell phone as soon as the plane hits the tarmac.

It never fails The plane touches down, everyone reaches for their phones, and one idiot calls someone and loudly announces, “We just landed.” Have you heard of text messaging? Why do we all have to hear your entire conversation with your spouse about the lack of tasty snacks on the plane? The plane will be at the gate in five minutes. Please don’t torture the rest of us while we are all trapped in the fuselage with you.

3. Thou shalt not stand in line to board the plane if your group or row number has not been called.

Hey you with the roller bag and the boarding pass that says Group 5, go sit down! The flight attendant said First Class, MVP, and Group 1. Trying to get on board before your group is called will not win you a prize, get you more peanuts, or even get you space in the overhead bin, because the gate agent is going to call you out when you get to the podium. The gate agent comes on the PA and says, “We have a gate crasher at Gate 87. Someone isn’t listening. I’m sorry sir, but you will now go to the end of the line and board last,” as she takes out a ruler and slaps the back of your hand.

4. Thou shalt not bring stinky food on the plane.

Smart travelers know to bring their own food on the plane unless they want to be stuck with a “picnic pack” for dinner. Smart travelers also realize the air in the plane is circulated around and around, and if you bring a stinky curry on the plane you aren’t the only one who has to smell it for the remainder of the flight. Sandwich good. Curry not good.

5. Thou shalt not walk through the metal detector with metal.

It’s called a metal detector for a reason! Why do you have five dollars in change in your pocket? A smart traveler will keep her eyes and ears open for people wearing belts, jingling change in their pockets, and carrying a raft of TSA infractions, and will avoid going through the same scan line.

6. Thou shalt not block the jetway with three children and a stroller.

You managed to get your kids on the plane and check the stroller at the jetway. Why must you block the jetway for everyone while you try to organize your stroller, your diaper bag and three cranky kids? The courteous thing to do is to allow everyone else to exit the plane first so you can take your time with your kids.

7. Thou shalt be prepared if you are traveling with children.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen parents get on a plane with their kids and have nothing for them to eat, and nothing for them to do. The key is distraction people. No kid wants to sit in a seat with a seatbelt on for hours on end with nothing to do. If you don’t entertain them they will entertain themselves, which usually involves flipping the tray up and down and kicking the seat in front of them.

8. Though shalt not stand sideways in the aisle.

Remember that blog I wrote a long time ago called “Crotches and Asses?” The next time you’re standing sideways in the aisle of a plane, take a look at the view you’re giving the passengers on either side of you. Yep. Everything below the belt is right at eye level with that poor sap who chose the aisle seat.

9. Thou shalt not bring reading material into the lavatory.

I was recently on a flight where a passenger picked up a book off the flight attendant’s jump seat and brought it into the lavatory. That is disturbing on two levels. First off, that book belonged to a flight attendant, and I’m sure she was really grossed out with the fact that a passenger brought it into the lavatory in the first place. And second, the flight was less than two hours. Why does anyone need to spend time in “the library” on a short flight? Do your business before you board. Note: passengers on flights coming back from Mexico are exempt from this rule.

10. Thou shalt not hog armrest real estate.

What is it with people, especially businessmen, who sit down and spread out like they’re in an easy chair in their living room. Don’t give me the flight elbow! That armrest is a mere two inches wide, and one inch of that is mine!

Common Sense

Most of the commandments are just common sense. If you’re going to fly I suggest you do the following:

  • Review the rules of your chosen airline on their website. Check to see what the cut off is for baggage check-in, fees for checked bags, and whether or not there will be food for purchase on the flight.
  • Review the TSA website, because you never know what they will ban next. Their website even has tips for how to gett hrough the line faster. http://www.tsa.gov/
  • Review the 10 Commandments of Travel, because you never know when you might run into me on a flight!

Enjoy your trip!

, , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Not Just Another 9/11 Blog

Originally published on MySpace on September 11, 2009

I was running along the waterfront late yesterday afternoon, when I spied the KOIN 6 Local news van. My friend, and former news anchor, Anne Jaeger just started working for KOIN again, so I figured she just might be in the van. So, I made a detour over to see if I could find her.

She was indeed working yesterday afternoon, and she immediately asked me if I would go on camera and answer a couple of questions she was asking people on the street. I declined, only because I had been running for an hour in the 80+ degree heat, and I looked like it.

However, I did ask her what questions she was asking people. One of the questions was, how did the events of September 11th, 2001, change the way you view life and live your life?

I looked at Anne and said, “Anne, my answer to that question is so boring. It didn’t change my views at all.” And it’s true.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have always lived my life like I’m on borrowed time. We all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and the truth is that none of us knows exactly how long we have. So you can put everything off until “things get better,” or you can put nothing off and live life like this minute is your last.

The events of September 11, 2001, were tragic, and my heart goes out to the people who lost their lives and lost loved ones. I was lucky enough to visit Ground Zero last November. This is my 2-minute video.

[youtube][youtube]

, , , , ,

Leave a Comment

Into the Fire

Originally posted on MySpace on August 6, 2009

I thought I posted this blog yesterday, but I think my Internet connection dropped before it actually posted.

Anyway, I spent 12 hours in the car with my three kids and Lili the Wonder Pug driving to our family cabin in Tahoe. We were coming across the Mt. Lassen Highway (44) from Redding (California) to Susanville when I saw something that looked like a large thunderhead.

Photobucket

Then we got closer and realized it was a wildfire.

Photobucket

We kept driving, wondering if we were going to have to turn around.

We got to the intersection of Highway 89 and 44, and 89 was closed.

Photobucket

Photobucket

We were one of the last cars to get through on Highway 44 before they closed that too.

Driving out of the fire.

Photobucket

The view from a few miles away.

Photobucket

Photobucket

According to the news this was dubbed the Sugarloaf fire, and was started by a lightening strike.

, , , ,

Leave a Comment

Eight Flights, Eight Seatmates. Adventures in the Air

Originally published on MySpace on June 24, 2009

As most of you know I went to Finland a few weeks back, and then I went to the Bay Area for a week of SQL Server bootcamp. In those two and a half weeks I flew eight flights and had eight seatmates. Some were interesting, some just slept. Here’s the rundown…

Portland to Washington DC

I usually use the first leg of any long trip to catch up on the sleep I haven’t been getting for the past five years. My seatmate had the same plan. I can’t tell you his name, because he slept the whole time. Me? I slept a bit and then watched “He’s Just Not That Into You” in Spanish, because I wanted to bone up on my Spanish since I was on my way to Finland. Oh wait, wrong country. I was bored okay!?

Washington DC to Copenhagen (that’s in Denmark people)
This was an SAS flight, and it was going to be awesome. Yeah, that’s what he said. I had an aisle seat in the middle of the plane, which is a strategic place for food and beverage consumption. We left the gate on time, got in line for takeoff, and then the dreaded announcement over the PA.

“We’re going to be on the tarmac for a while here. There’s weather over the Northeast portion of the United States and Canada, and all flights heading North have been grounded. We’ll be shutting the engines down for a while.”

This stuff always happens right after a big air diaster, and the Air France flight that broke apart in rough weather was most certainly the reason for this extreme caution. Because you know most airlines will fly you through a snowstorm with thumder and golfball size hail.

So we sat, and sat, and sat. An hour into it they finally rolled out the drink cart and the chocolate! And we started having happy hour in my area of the plane.

Next to me, Stuart, a cardiologist from Virginia, on his way to Stockholm. He went to med school in Belgium and had lots of stories.

Across the aisle from me, Hanna, from Finland, who was flying to the same little city (Turku) in Finland that I was. She was drinking whiskey because she had a sore throat. And when she found out I was on my way to Laitila she told me about a famous Laitila dialect poet named Heli Laaksonen.

In the row in front of me, Carrie Ann, the head chef of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. She was on her way to Turku as well, which happens to be a huge cruise ship building city, to check out the kitchens on the newest (world’s largest) cruise ship. She was going for ONE day! She also used to be the chef at one of my favorite restaurants in Saratoga, CA, called the Plumed Horse.

Next to Carrie Ann was Eduardo, who looked like a rock and roll guy, and was in fact traveling with his band to tour in Sweden. He taught us all how to swear in Portuguese.

We sat on the tarmac for three hours, and had multiple drinks in our makeshift happy hour in the aisle of that Airbus. The three of us who were going to Turku discussed how we would get there from Copenhagen if we missed our connection (we did miss our connection).

Copenhagen to Stockholm
SAS’s solution to our missed connection from Copenhagen to Turku was to fly us to Stokholm. An extra leg, and extra five hours. Bonus! My seatmate on that flight slept, so I can’t tell you who he was.

We arrived in Stockholm and had some time to kill so Hanna and I had a snack and did some duty free shopping. She was bringing home a bottle of whiskey for her husband.

Stockholm to Turku (Finland)

It was one of those puddle jumper prop jobs where you wonder if they’re powered by a hamster wheel.

I arrived in Turku, and my bag went to Barcelona. Lucky bag!

Turku to Copenhagen
Boring. No fancy seatmate.

Copenhagen to Chicago

My seatmate, Adam, was an unemployed 25-year old marriage and family counselor in L.A. who had been in Copenhagen visiting his brother who decided to live abroad for a year. My first question to Adam was, “So Adam, why do people get divorced?” This 25-year old with little life experience gave me a surprising answer, “Because everyone wants instant gratification. No one has the patience for marriage anymore.”

We spent the first hour debating marriage and relationships, and then we both slept the rest of the way.

Chicago to Portland
I honestly don’t remember this flight. I do believe I passed out with my mouth open, and a bit of drool hanging on. I was tired.

Portland to San Jose (CA)
My seatmate was a healer who lived and worked in Monterey and Santa Cruz, two very healer-friendly cities. He was on his way back from a healing conference in Vancouver, BC. He told me my frozen shoulder was caused by emotional trauma, which is probably true considering what I went through in the past year.

San Jose to Portland
My seatmate asked one question, “What kind of dog is in there?” and that was it. I had Lili the Wonder Pug stuffed into a carrier under the seat.

Sometimes you hit the jackpot, and sometimes you get stuck. Ever had an interesting seatmate? A really smelly one? One who wouldn’t shut up for the 32-hour trip to Hyderabad? do tell!

, ,

Leave a Comment