Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Archive of posts with tag 'travel'

: Kilauea Lower East Rift Zone Fissure 8

I know a lot of you know I love my volcanoes, though I don’t love the human trauma they cause. Lately, I’ve been watching the developments in Fissure 8, which first took over half of Leilani Estates and then pressed onward to the sea, taking out several hundred more homes in the process.

: Dubrovnik's Old City

Dubrovnik, Old City, photo by Rick Moen
You can usually tell the difference between Rick photos and Deirdre photos: mine only rarely have people in them. In fact, it’s hard for me to remember to actually take photos of Rick or myself. Or anyone.
I’m just so conditioned to waiting for that people-free shot, which means I usually don’t have photos of the whole of a tourist monument; my shots typically start above peoples’ heads.
Why? Partly for the reason in this photo: a lot of the photos of people in touristy locations wind up being very meta. I’m quite charmed with the meta nature of this one, though.
Despite the fact that it was a brutally hot day, magnified by the stones soaking up the hot sun, it was super-great to finally have the chance to walk around Dubrovnik. In the early 80s, I had a French teacher from Yugoslavia who waxed poetic about the place (she herself was from Belgrade, which is now in Serbia). I’ve wanted to go ever since, so more than thirty years.
At the time Rick took this photo, I was sitting in a shady spot behind on the right. It was still a billion degrees out.

: Cruise Ships: Size Trends

[![Off the coast of Alghero, Sardinia](/images/2015/06/L1210942-700x466.jpg)](/images/2015/06/L1210942.jpg)Off the coast of Alghero, Sardinia

When I first sailed on a cruise ship in the late 80s, a 39,000 ton ship was rather large. The first ship I sailed on, the Starship Oceanic was originally designed in 1965 as a transatlantic ship and was short by modern standards: 782 feet long. The contemporary, and much larger, transatlantic ship, Cunard’s QE2 was 70,000 tons and 963 feet long: small enough to fit in the locks at the Panama Canal, long a shipbuilding constraint.
These days, no one bothers to build ships as small as the Oceanic.
In fact, if you look at the history of cruise ships from the 1960s until now, you’ll see pretty much the same theme in every mid-size or large line: older ships were smaller; newer ships are not.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s first ship was under 9,000 tons. Currently, their smallest ship is 75,000 tons, and the largest is 155,000 tons. When we saw the trend on NCL, we basically vowed not to sail them again (except for things we’d pre-booked), and to pick smaller ships that went more interesting places.
Saba, for example. It’s a small island surrounded by a coral reef with a narrow opening that sometimes even small ferries can’t get through. It has the world’s shortest (and one of the hairiest) commercial runway. Let’s face it: you have to work to get to Saba. Once you manage that, there are six taxicabs on the entire island, so there’s a real practical limitation on how many people can visit at once.
It’s a beautiful island, and I’m glad I visited, but you’re never going to get there on the megaships. Similarly, you’re not going to go some of the other places I’ve found so endearing, either.
Last night, we anchored in Montenegro, and the ship that pulled up alongside us (Star Pride) looked to be about twice as large. It had a W, stylized in the way I thought Windstar cruises used, except that it wasn’t a sailing vessel. It turns out that Windstar, having been bought by Holland America Lines, has also joined the trend of getting larger vessels.
Interestingly, the Star Pride happens to have been an old Seabourne vessel. Seabourne’s a luxury line that was bought by Carnival and has been building larger and larger ships. You can’t get the kind of quality on the larger ships it’s been building. You don’t build the relationships over time that you do on the much smaller ships.
We happen to be sailing on one of the two original Seabourne ships, after all. At a modest 4,253 tons, it doesn’t have a ton of features like some of the larger ships. Hilariously, it has one blackjack table.
Last night, though, we realized the real advantage. We had our dinner out on deck, where we could all sit comfortably and eat excellent food. Next door, they had a typical cruise ship rah rah party outdoors with tunes designed to appeal to the 40-something audience they were clearly intending to attract. There was no escaping it if you wanted to eat, and I’d rather have conversation (or reading) with my food.
Pity. Star Pride’s a nice ship size for a bigger ship, and they clearly do some interesting itineraries given that they also wound up in Montenegro. But I’d rather my dinner be Macarena-free, thanks.

[![Yesterday in Montenegro](/images/2015/06/L1211490-Edit-700x466.jpg)](/images/2015/06/L1211490-Edit.jpg)Yesterday in Montenegro

: Creative Market Raising Money for Nepal Earthquake Relief

nepal earthquake relief
I’m one of 474 Creative Market shops donating some or all of their shop proceeds for the Month of May to Nepal earthquake relief efforts. Creative Market will match shopowners up to $20,000. I’m donating 50%.
Here is the announcement and a list of participating shops:

Throughout the month of May, participating Creative Market shops will donate up to 100% of their earnings to Nepal disaster relief. And in partnership with the Autodesk Foundation, we’ll also match the first $20,000! These funds will be sent to All Hands, a non-profit organization that addresses the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters. So purchase great design assets, and join us in our efforts to help Nepal.
Together, we can make a difference.

At this point, I only have one product in my shop grunge textures photographed off the front of an M60 Sherman tank. It sells for $7, my usual royalty is 70% ($4.90), so half of that ($2.45) will be going to All Hands for each sale.
If that’s not your thing, and you buy some other participating store’s products by starting at this link, you’ll help both Nepal relief and me.
Thank you!
(Note: I did previously post this on my blog, but the way the two blogs propagate to third parties is different.)

: This Blog Gets Around

Some time in the past, I was sad that no one from Greenland had ever visited my blog. I am no longer sad.
Here’s how much of the world visited so far in 2014 (very light grey means no visits):
Not only did I get a single visit from Greenland, I got two from Cuba. Here are some others at the end of the long tail:
North America: everyone visited!
Central America: everyone visited!
South America: everyone but French Guiana.
Europe: missing a few Balkan states.
Middle East: Most countries, though I’m kind of disappointed about missing Yemen. I have Yemeni coffee every morning.
Africa: I count 24 countries (on the map, which means I may have missed smaller countries). Far from all of them, but that’s far more than I expected. Helloooooo, Africa!
Asia: Missing Iran, Turkmenistan, and North Korea. Two of those were a given.
Here’s the full list of the 178 (by ISO country code count) visiting countries and territories. Italics means I haven’t been there yet.
Afghanistan, Åland Islands, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Guam, Guatemala, Guernsey, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyszstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Réunion, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Virgin Islands, British, Virgin Islands, US, Zimbabwe
Folks: I’m floored. Gobsmacked.
Thank you so much for visiting. I’ve been to 101 countries and territories by the Travelers Century Club list, which translates to 85 ISO countries/territories and 66 UN member nations (plus the Vatican).
I never dreamed that so many more countries than that would visit my humble little corner of the internet.
Thank you. Every one of you.

: A Clean Desktop

Strawberry Field

Desktop Zero. (Have to show off that fabulous Christmas wallpaper!) #GTD #InboxZero

— Colter Reed (@ColterReed) December 22, 2014

So Colter Reed shamed me into cleaning up my own desktop, which had 252 items on it, mostly dragged items or stuff I wanted to upload to my blog (and have done so).
Deirdre's Desktop
My desktop background is an Olivier Grunewald photo of the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which I originally saw on this BigPicture feature from I’m just in awe of these scientists.
The picture up top was one I took of Strawberry Field (yes, of the song fame) in Liverpool in 2011 and altered the color. It was sitting on the desktop, but is no longer.
Also, while I’m giving a shout-out to Colter Reed, his blog has a lot of great articles about productivity and motivation.

: 100 Countries (and Territories)!

As of today, I’ve completed one of my travel life goals: to visit 100 countries and territories from the Traveler’s Century Club list. In short, you can’t join the club as a full member until you’ve been to 100.
Sure, they are liberal in what they count (their list totals 324 countries and territories, where the UN list is 193), but they encourage people to see far-flung places that are very different from the ruling government far away.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been to 65 UN member countries (plus the Vatican). Eventually, I’d like to get to 100 there, too, but that interests me less.
Here’s my list in alphabetical order:
Alaska * Aruba * Australia * Austria * Bahamas * Balearic Islands * Barbados * Belgium * Belize * Bermuda * Bulgaria * Canada * Canary Islands * Cayman Islands * Chile * Colombia * Corsica * Costa Rica * Crete * Denmark * Dubai * Easter Island * Egypt * El Salvador * England * Estonia * Faroe Islands * Finland * France * Germany * Gibraltar * Greece * Guam * Guatemala * Haiti * Hawaiian Islands * Honduras * Hong Kong * Iceland * India * Indonesia * Ionian Isles * Ireland * Isle of Man * Italy * Jamaica * Japan * Leeward Islands, French * Leeward Islands, Netherlands * Liechtenstein * Luxembourg * Macau * Madeira * Malaysia * Maldives * Marshall Islands * Martinique * Mexico * Micronesia * Montserrat * Morocco * Myanmar * Netherlands * New Zealand * Nicaragua * Northern Ireland * Norway * Panama * Pitcairn * Portugal * Puerto Rico * Romania * Russia * Sardinia * Scotland * Singapore * South Africa * South Korea * Spain * Sri Lanka * St. Barthélmy * St. Lucia * St. Maarten * St. Vincent & Dependencies * Sumatra, Indonesia * Sweden * Switzerland * Tahiti * Thailand * Trinidad & Tobago * Turkey in Asia * Turkey in Europe * Ukraine * United States * Vatican * Venezuela * Vietnam * Virgin Islands, British * Virgin Islands, US * Wales
On the TCC list, I have at least one visit in each region except Antarctica.
My 100th was Trinidad and Tobago. Here’s a picture from Charlotteville, Tobago, announcing a cricket match (click for full size):
2014-11-10 15.30.08_Snapseed

: Upcoming Travel, Hotel Envy Edition

Ladera Resort
So, remember last month when I said I was at 97 countries after an ill-advised tromping through the Vatican museums?
We’re heading to the Caribbean on Friday, and I’ll cross the 100-country mark.
A few years ago, I listed nine hotels from my “hotel envy” list. I used to work in the luxury hotel industry, so I’ve seen and heard about a ton of beautiful hotels, but these were particular standouts for me.
This will be my third visit from that list of nine. (One, Kona Village, has since closed for good. Palazzo Sasso is now called Palazzo Avino.)

Conrad Maldives

I was extremely lucky to be able to book a three-night stay on Hilton points before the devaluation. There’s no question that this is the nicest place I’ve ever stayed.
The Maldives consist of many thousands of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean. Because of that, and the fragility of the atoll reefs, much of the inter-country travel is via seaplane.

Maldivian Air Taxi Air Safety Card:
Maldivian Air Taxi Safety Card
Ithaa Restaurant. You can dine underwater! Yeah, I took food photos too (and dinner was fabulous), but that’s not why you go.
Some other photos:

Hilton Bora Bora

Bora Bora is far more mountainous, a large atoll surrounding an island with a central volcanic plug.
Within the atoll, quite a few resorts have overwater bungalows, including the Hilton. Here’s a view from ours:
And one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken of all time. It’s also available as a print and on other products like t-shirts, coffee mugs, shower curtains and stuff.
Bora Bora 1200

: Had an Injury, Going to the Doc

[![Backing into Bonifacio, Corsica](/images/2014/09/backing-into-bonifacio-700x467.jpg)](/images/2014/09/backing-into-bonifacio.jpg)Backing into Bonifacio, Corsica

I’ve been in excruciating pain for the last couple of weeks.
It started innocently enough: I got an awesome Thai massage, which loosened everything up.
Loosened everything up enough that I managed to later torque some muscle in my hip, a rather critical muscle/muscles for balance. This was bad the day we were in Sardinia, meaning I wasn’t able to see the rather awesome caves there.
Walking was excruciating. Climbing up and down stairs was excruciating. Rolling over in bed was excruciating.
The last meant I wasn’t sleeping, so I had a persistent fibromyalgia flare on top of everything.
We’d picked this cruise because I’ve always wanted to see Corsica, and one of the places I wanted to see was Bonifacio. The photo above is one of the last pics I managed to take. We were up early that morning (and I’d climbed the stairs to the Top of the Yacht bar) to see the sailing into port. Bonifacio’s kind of weird: all the ships have to back in, hence we went in flag first. (The odd flag is actually two flags: Bahamas, for the ship’s registry, and Norway, for the Captain’s nationality.)
I got off the ship, only to discover that I really couldn’t walk more than 100 feet without breaking into tears from the pain. Given that, I declined to go on the day tour I’d hoped to see. Instead, I hobbled down to see the shops, literally going from bench to bench. I spent the rest of day in bed.
The next day, we were using tenders, so I never got off the ship. Rick says I didn’t miss much, but it looked to me rather like an awesome place we went in Costa Rica—kind of a small beachy place with a small town, but not too much. I love those places.
I don’t need to say how much of an idiot I was for trying to go through all the Vatican museums, but I lasted through two hours of that idiocy. We had a nice hotel in Rome near the Vatican. Except for the slow waitstaff and the three steps up and down to get from one side of the building to the other, I really liked the place.
Had enough emergency meds to last through today, but I’m not better enough to function without more than my usual, so I’m going to the doctor.
I’m still really bummed about missing what I wanted to see in Corsica, and about not being able to see St. Peter’s Basilica.

: Vatican Flag on the Moon

As we were wandering through the Vatican museums the other day, Rick saw this small display. It has the Vatican flag, a small sphere with a few specks of rock, and the following inscription:

Presented to the people of the Vatican City by Richard Nixon President of the United States of America This flag of your state was carried to the Moon and back by Apollo 11, and this fragment of the Moon’s surface was brought to the Earth by the crew of that first manned lunar landing.

I think that’s the first time I’ve seen anything Moon-mission-related outside a science museum.

: Luggage, Again

So, you’ll never guess what we saw in Civitavecchia yesterday.

[![Reunited with Lost Luggage](/images/2014/09/2014-09-20-09.22.59-2-sm-700x700.jpg)](/images/2014/09/2014-09-20-09.22.59-2-sm.jpg)Reunited with Lost Luggage

Yep, the long-lost bag was found!
Sadly, this threw off the bag count, and another bag was left behind. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a trend….

: The Continuing Luggage Saga….

In the last installment of the lost luggage saga, mom’s suitcase was pouting in Köln, Germany, despite there being no visits to Germany on her itinerary.

On Monday, we visited Ibiza, one of the Balaeric Islands. That was the day the luggage was due to try a re-delivery attempt in Málaga, despite our having left there on Saturday.

Yesterday, we were in Menorca, and we heard the luggage was in Mallorca. There are fast ferries between the two every hour, and the ferry that arrived in our port was berthed within easy walking distance.

After our private estate tour in the morning, we were hoping that the luggage would get delivered.

Alas, it was not to be. We sailed away.

So near and yet so far.

: Travel Mishaps: Lost Luggage

[![The Amazing Disco Elevator with strobing lights. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 2012.](/images/2014/09/disco-elevator-700x470.jpg)](/images/2014/09/disco-elevator.jpg)The Amazing Disco Elevator with strobing lights. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 2012.

Eventually, if you travel long enough, you’ll lose a piece of luggage. Sometimes this results in the somewhat related travel phenomenon, the travel meltdown.
Rick’s take on these kinds of things is that it usually happens when you’re tired and it’s what he calls a stepwise disaster. No single step is bad, but at some point, something gets missed. Despite everyone’s best intentions, a disaster occurs.
In this particular case, Rick helped my mom bring her luggage down to the lobby, while I sat and watched Rick’s and my luggage. We travel together a lot, so we’re used to what each other carries. My mom, however, was carrying an additional piece in the form of a new bag.
The person who called the taxi asked for her to wait by the door to see if the taxi came. Then we all went to the taxi, inadvertently leaving her large bag behind. Sadly, we didn’t figure out what happened exactly until just after the ship pulled away from Lisbon. Since we weren’t returning to Lisbon, this left us with a problem. ## Ways to Ensure You Have All Your Things

I’m a numbers person, so I favor the numbers method: I’m making sure I have my three (or whatever number) items at any point. I ensure that I don’t take out or put away any items, so that the count remains constant through one segment of my trip (e.g., transferring items from one’s hotel room to a cruise ship stateroom).
Your method doesn’t have to be numbers. It could be colors of things: blue, purple, red, black. So long as you have a specific method that works for you.
Furthermore, check the count (or whatever your method) at every single point: leaving the hotel, what gets put into the taxi, leaving the taxi, boarding the ship, etc. Obviously, in cases where porters will take your luggage, your system needs to account for those pieces at that time.

Two Strategies

I’ve sometimes said that packing extra underwear in my carryon is a talisman against losing my luggage, but I say that jokingly. You’re far more used to having a carryon with you, and thus you’re both more likely (more opportunity) and less likely (because you’re using to having it with you) to lose it.
This leads to a more general solution to the problem: cross-packing. Take a packing cube and put one change of clothes in it with one or two changes of underwear. If everyone traveling (well, up to about four people) does this and one piece of luggage is lost, then you’ve got a suitcase with items from four people that’s lost, but everyone has at least three changes of clothes. This works best if each person’s packing cubes are color coded.

So What Happens When You Lose Your Luggage?

People on a round-trip usually pick up their lost luggage on their return through the same place. If you’re not going back there, generally it’s sent via some package service like FedEx, UPS, or DHL. On a ship, you can have it sent to the ship’s agent in a future port.
Except in my mom’s case, it was sent to the ship’s agent in Málaga, Spain, arriving the day before the ship did. Then the agent, whose business it is to receive things for the ship (and occasionally handle passengers and crew who miss the ship, as well as other duties like dealing with port charges, etc.) decided to refuse the package. So, despite having been sent from Lisbon, Portugal to Málaga, Spain, her suitcase is currently in Köln, Germany.

: Travel Misadventures

Well, not all travel is fun or good.
I’ve been exhausted for five freakin’ days, and I’m hoping to finally get some good restorative sleep tonight.
You see, my CPAP, which I need to get good sleep, blew up not long after arriving in Frankfurt.
I managed to get one good nap out of it, then it blew up in a shower of sparks, then nothing since then. I’ve had a persistent headache and been draggy. As a consequence, I bailed on visiting both Bratislava and Salzburg. Boo.
The good news is that I had a backup plan, and Rick brought that with him. The one time we arrive separately turns out to have been a great thing.
My carryon’s telescoping handle also broke (why does it always happen at the beginning of a trip)? I did something I’ve never ever done at a hotel before: borrowed duct tape from the front desk. So I’ll be taking that in for repair when I return. Meanwhile, I’m hoping I get it in the overhead bin on my flight in, oh, an hour and a half. ::crosses fingers::
My trip, revised and scaled down:

  1. Train to Vienna.
  2. Fly to Lisbon via Zurich. (New country! #92) At this point, I join Rick and my mom as we explore Portugal.
  3. Sail to Gibraltar. (New country/territory! #93)
  4. Sail to Puerto Banus, Spain.
  5. Sail to Malaga, Spain. Alhambra!
  6. Sail to Cartagena, Spain.
  7. Sail to Ibiza, Balearic Islands. (New country/territory! #94)
  8. Sail to Mahón, Menorca.
  9. Sail to Alghero, Sardinia. (New country/territory! #95)
  10. Sail to Bonifacio, Corsica. (New country/territory! #96)
  11. Sail to Porto Vecchio, Corsica.
  12. Sail to Civitavecchia, Italy, aka the cruise port closest to Rome.
  13. Visit the Vatican! (New country! #97)

We fly home from Rome a couple of days later.
[gcmap path=’fra-vie-zrh-lis-gib-agp-mjv-ibz-mah-aho-fsc-fco’ bgcolor=bluemarble pathcolor=blue dottag=city]
As always, I’m using the Travelers Century Club list of countries and territories.

: A Time Zone Experiment

Rick and I returned from Ireland on Tuesday, and my flight to Frankfurt is on Monday.
Given that one of the hardest parts of jet lag is adjusting to the time zone, I thought I should try to stay on Europe time. Normally, it takes a day to adjust per hour of time difference, and it just seemed fundamentally worse to try to do that in this particular circumstance.
Last night, I went to bed at 5 in the afternoon (1 am, Irish time) and woke up at 3:30 in the morning (11:30 am, Irish time). It was so strange. When I see it’s 7 and it’s light out, I’m not sure if it’s 7 pm or 7 am.
I’ve tried adjusting to time zones before trips before, with limited success (insofar as I always have difficulty changing time). We’ll see how this one holds up.
I usually have a sense of what time it is within fifteen minutes. Right now, that’s not true.
Last year, when I flew this route, starting in San Francisco and heading west:
[gcmap path=’sfo-akl-wlg-mel-bkk-jnb-cpt-jnb-lhr-sfo’ bgcolor=bluemarble pathcolor=blue dottag=city]
…I was fine until I reached South Africa. At that point, my sense of what time it was just broke. I didn’t regain it until after I got home.
So, even though I’m all confused about time right now, I’m hoping this experiment is a good one for me.
My little trip, once I wind up in Frankfurt:

  1. Train to Vienna.
  2. Day trip to Bratislava. (New country! #92)
  3. Day trip to Salzburg. Apart from Salzburg itself, the train is supposed to be some of the most beautiful scenery in Austria.
  4. Fly to Lisbon via Zurich. (New country! #93) At this point, I join Rick and my mom as we explore Portugal.
  5. Sail to Gibraltar. (New country/territory! #94)
  6. Sail to Puerto Banus, Spain.
  7. Sail to Malaga, Spain. Alhambra!
  8. Sail to Cartagena, Spain.
  9. Sail to Ibiza, Balearic Islands. (New country/territory! #95)
  10. Sail to Mahón, Menorca.
  11. Sail to Alghero, Sardinia. (New country/territory! #96)
  12. Sail to Bonifacio, Corsica. (New country/territory! #97)
  13. Sail to Porto Vecchio, Corsica.
  14. Sail to Civitavecchia, Italy, aka the cruise port closest to Rome.
  15. Visit the Vatican! (New country! #98)

We fly home from Rome a couple of days later.
[gcmap path=’fra-vie-bts-vie-szg-vie-zrh-lis-gib-agp-mjv-ibz-mah-aho-fsc-fco’ bgcolor=bluemarble pathcolor=blue dottag=city]
As always, I’m using the Travelers Century Club list of countries and territories.
What I like most: my revised itinerary is that I’ll again get to see some of the territory I found so beautiful in 1992 when we drove south from Munich to Venice via Innsbruck.

Ganz Wien

I can’t think about this trip without hearing the Falco song.

: Irish Literature

I was having coffee with a friend in Ireland the other day, and he talked about someone he knew.

He makes a living, well, for being Irish.

At one point, I considered emigrating to Ireland. I had all the paperwork, but I didn’t go through with it because other things came through that would require me to remain in the states.
Like many, I had a dream of making a living as a writer there.
However, it turns out that the arts council only funds literature, and they don’t respect genre work at all (and I’ve basically always been a genre writer). The panel at Shamrokon about where the Irish SF was(n’t) was truly depressing for me.
In fact, the only Irish-themed SF novel I can think of that I’ve ever read is Flynn Connolly’s _The Rising of the Moon, published by Del Rey in 1993. And Flynn’s from the US.
Fantasy is more respected in Ireland, but only because it’s very tied up with being Irish. So things like not sleeping in fairy forts aren’t perceived as fantasy—rather they’re seen as common sense.
In essence, the funding, like MFA programs, is about the homogenization of taste. You can make a living, but only within a narrow spectrum. Nothing else is worthy, and the market’s not big enough to support writers (or Irish publishers) who don’t get arts council money. As one small press pointed out, if you ever take their money, you’re doomed to follow their dictates.
For the first time, I’m not wistful about not having taken that path all those years ago.

: How to Get to Helsinki from Pitcairn

I was talking with Crystal Huff about getting to Helsinki, and I volunteered to put together a list of how to get to Finland for the Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid.
After I sat down and got started, I thought it would be interesting to put the list together in a non-US-centric way, so I started on the Wikipedia List of Countries by Population. And, as I scrolled down the list, I realized that, without specifically planning going to Finland, I already knew most of the answers about how to get there from wherever.
I scrolled to the bottom of the list, and laughed.

242. Pitcairn

As it happens, I’ve been there, so I’ve studied up on how to get there. Pitcairn, which consists of four islands—only one of which is inhabited—is one of the remotest and most difficult places to get to on the planet. It’s the last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific.
So here’s my draft of that answer. Note: it’s this difficult to get from Pitcairn to anywhere, which is one reason that residents often spend several months away at a time.
Pitcairn: If you’re one of the few dozen people from Pitcairn, it will take you longer to get to Helsinki than for the average person, but you already know that. You know all about the cruise ship schedule, and you’re no doubt hoping that something comes later than the Costa Luminosa so you’ll be able to stay on Pitcairn past February 23rd, way too early to leave for Worldcon. Eventually, the Claymore II supply ship schedule for 2017 will be posted, and you’ll probably sail for Mangareva around June. From there, you’ll fly Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui) to Papeete. From there, you’ve got one of three possible routes: Air France/Finnair via Los Angeles and Paris (17,615 km), LAN/KLM via Easter Island, Santiago Chile, and Amsterdam (21,521 km), or Air New Zealand via some route like Auckland, Tokyo, Helsinki on Air New Zealand and Finnair, which is shorter (20750 km) than the same route through Hong Kong (21070 km). So, sure, you’d have to leave in June and you might be able to make the September supply ship back, but think of the interesting places you could stop over along the way.

A Funny Aside

When I was entering the UK, the immigration officer looked at my passport. As often happens, initially a bored immigration agent is looking for a place to stamp, then they become interested in the unusual places I have in my passport.
“Where’s Pitcairn?” he asked.
I boggled. After all, it is a British Overseas Territory, but I was actually having to resist answering, “the ass end of nowhere.” I stumbled over the explanation, then Rick piped up to explain.
“Where the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘ happened” is generally the simplest explanation, though not quite correct as that’s where the mutineers wound up, not where the mutiny occurred.
You can get to Helsinki even from Pitcairn. It’ll just take a while.
Pitcairn Island

: Hotel Convention Bookings: A Cautionary Tale

tl;dr: Inadvertent double booking due to intermediaries (and missing that there were two bookings) resulted in attempts to overcharge us by £1350 (~$2250) for a five-night stay.

  1. On August 30, 2013, I booked a room for Loncon3 through Starwood’s reservation system for the Aloft London Excel (a Starwood hotel) at £279/night (not at the much lower convention rate). I book through Starwood so seldom that I’ve never bothered with the paperwork to change my surname with them; it’s still my pre-married name of Saoirse. I didn’t add a second guest name to this booking.
  2. On January 2, 2014, because my Aloft room wasn’t at the £120 convention rate, I booked one at the Premier Inn to hold something at the convention rate.
  3. On January 2, 2014, I contacted Loncon3 staff to see about moving my Aloft reservation into the convention’s Aloft block so I could be at the hotel directly attached to the convention center (less walking).

    I don’t need an accessible room. I just need less total walking during the day and the ability to easily duck out for a nap during the con to recharge. Staying at the Aloft would be of significant benefit to me.
    Rick Moen and I will share, so we’d prefer a queen or (haha) a king if available.
    Membership number: 172
    Existing booking # 2…7 (Premier Inn London Docklands Excel)
    This will free up a disabled room.


    FYI, I already have an existing Aloft reservation, 7…0, which could just be moved into block if that’s easier.

  4. Loncon3 staff respond:

    Thanks. We’ve received your lottery request and will send an update once we have more info.

  5. I respond back:

    Well, either way I have an Aloft reservation, since I made one before the contract was finalised.
    Ideally, I’d like it moved into block without having to go through the lottery.

  6. They respond:

    The room blocks have no financial impact on the convention, unlike in the U.S. Since you already have a reservation in the Aloft, I suggest you just keep that one and cancel the Premier.

  7. I respond:

    I was hoping for the con room rate though. £279 a night is the rate I’m holding.
    So it may not have a financial impact for you, but it does for me (and thus my holding two reservations at present).

  8. On January 3, I cancel the reservation at the Premier Inn.
  9. On January 4, Rick and I depart for Chile; we didn’t return to the US for 22 days. For most of that time, we’re in some of the remotest places on earth with zero Internet.
  10. On January 17, an email is sent reminding of the lottery closing, but I have no ability to receive or respond to that email.
  11. On January 24, with no further input from me except for what happened above, I receive a confirmation from Infotel, the booking service used by Loncon3 for convention-rate hotel bookings, for the dates of my existing Aloft booking, guaranteed to the same credit card, with a room rate of £120 per night. The second guest in the room is listed as “Rick Moen.” This is how you can tell I didn’t make the booking. No cover note or anything, so all the information I have is in that email. Because we’re still traveling, I only give the email a cursory glance.
    Note: at this point, I’d assumed Infotel had taken over my existing Aloft booking. Also important: I was never, not once, given a cancellation or no-show penalty for this reservation. For my prior Infotel booking, the no-show or late cancellation penalty was a one-night stay. Except for ultra luxury or boutique hotels, this is pretty standard.
    Also: the URL given to manage my booking began: http://localhost:50861/ —invalid for anyone except Infotel.
  12. Whenever I logged into either Infotel or Starwood Preferred Guest, I saw a single booking. For that reason, I believed there was a single reservation. Oops. There’s a reason for this: my Starwood number wasn’t added to the Infotel booking because my surname on that booking (Saoirse Moen) is different from the surname (Saoirse) attached to my Starwood account.
  13. After Rick and I sort out our plans (a couple of weeks before the convention), I make a ToDo list. One of those items was to shorten our hotel stay by one night. I fail to get this done.
  14. We check in on August 13th, remembering to shorten our stay to the 18th. I add Rick’s name to the booking sheet using his legal name. We use Rick’s credit card to check in.
  15. On August 14th, at 3:37 am local time, I get an email that says the Aloft tried to charge £600 to the card I used to hold the booking. I found this curious given that we’d just checked in. Stupidly, I assumed they tried to authorize to my card rather than the one they’d swiped when we checked in. (This has happened before on other occasions when there wasn’t any problem, so I didn’t think anything of it except that it was odd.)
    Despite having two bookings with the same starting part of the surname, we were not advised of that. Naturally, they check us into the booking that’s £279 per night with no included breakfast rather than the booking that’s £120 per night with included breakfast for two.
    The other odd thing: Why £600? Why not £720, which was the full six nights of the booking? Why not £120 for the cancellation fee?
  16. On August 14th in the afternoon, Rick gets a voice mail in the room to “Rick Moen”—asking him if he was also intending to shorten his stay to the 18th. We’re both puzzled by the use of his nickname.
  17. I had breakfast with Peggy Rae and John Sapienza one morning, and they said their hotel room came with breakfast. Ours hadn’t, I said, but I didn’t think to check and see if something was wrong.
  18. We start the checkout process on the 18th, then discover the £279 rate, then I pull up the email reservation. It’s only at this point that I realize there must have been two reservations all along, and we checked into the wrong one. When we get to the third or fourth person who finally cares to try to do something about the issue (srsly), it takes them the better part of an hour to fix the reservation. Basically, they deleted the breakfast line items and credited us with £750, which isn’t exactly the right solution (and made both of us nitpicky types unhappy with the solution), but it’s functional.
    They also tell us that they can’t change the number of days on the £120/night stay, so we’ve essentially got the room through to the 19th—except that we’re leaving for Cardiff. We get hotel keys for our room and put our luggage back there, then head off to the convention.


First, no one at the hotel really seemed to care about the business of running the hotel. They all seemed like they were phoning it in. There were things like: being open until 11pm for dinner, but telling people they couldn’t take any more diners at 9:30 pm. Having to wait 20 minutes, on average, for gluten-free bread every morning because it took that long to find some waitstaff to get it for me.
Additionally, despite asking for a hamburger with no bun and sautéed potatoes instead of chips, I was brought out a hamburger on a regular bun with chips. I didn’t explicitly say “gluten free,” but that shouldn’t matter.
After going several rounds with the night manager, who made it sound like he was doing me a big fucking favor, he confirmed that chips aren’t gluten free (fried in the same fryer with gluten-coated items). On a different occasion, when I specified I needed gluten free more clearly, I was still brought black pudding (not gluten free, generally) and another non-gluten free item.
I loved the look of the hotel, but the entire experience left a bad taste. I was really glad to move on to Cardiff—and to a different hotel.

The Hotel’s Honesty

The woman checking us in wasn’t particularly experienced, so I don’t think it was dishonesty on her part that checked us into the wrong reservation.
However, the hotel knew all along that there were two reservations. Remember that message for Rick Moen? If we were checked into the reservation with no second party, where I’d handwritten in Rick’s legal name, then why call and ask for him in the name of “Rick Moen” if they didn’t have the other reservation right in front of them?
So—they knew, they knew to our detriment, and they did nothing about it. For that reason, I consider the hotel essentially dishonest, especially after attempting to charge so much for the “no show” penalty.

Lessons for Convention Runners

  1. There really should be a way for the mobility impaired to get hotel rooms close to the convention facilities at convention rates without having to compete with the able-bodied, especially when rooms sell out very quickly for things like Worldcon.
  2. There needs to be a way for that to happen without using up a lot of people points.
  3. Clearer communication about what was done (i.e.., was an existing reservation modified, or was a new reservation created) would be stellar.
  4. Very few things use up people points like attempts to overcharge by £1350.

: Greenland, I Love You, Let's Talk

In viewing my map statistics for who’s visited my site, the single largest block of land on the planet from which I’ve had no visitors is Greenland.
Sure, it’s sparsely populated. I don’t think that’s a good reason.
I’ve pondered the flight schedules of Air Greenland, wondering if there were any way to make a trip work for me. So far, not yet. Alas.
Also, no joy with the various cruise companies that come during summer. Much as I’d love to, they just haven’t been in the budget.
Anyhow, if you visit my website from Greenland, and it shows up in my web logs that you have, AND you drop me an email (I’ve placed a handy contact form below), I’ll send you a signed copy of an anthology I was in to your mailing address in Greenland. I’ll also give you electronic copies of my two current releases (one of which is in the book I’ll mail).
It’s not the same as me visiting Greenland, but a girl can hope.
[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

: The Great Namaste

Friday morning was The Great Namaste, an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the number of people simultaneously doing yoga.
Can you spot me in the pic? (I can, but I know where I was sitting. Hint: I’m on a green mat.)
Early results say that we broke the record by more than 100 people. Woohoo! I’d like to thank everyone who helped.
One of the volunteers came up to me later saying she was really happy to see me there and, “you go, girl.” Let’s just say that I’m not typical in anything I do, yoga included. It was very difficult for me, and I had to manage my energy and pain levels very carefully so I didn’t flare.
Sadly, SPF 70 was not enough. Oh well, I got my Vitamin D quota. 🙂

Other News

In other news, I keep being reminded of Kij Johnson’s “Ponies.” I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite story, exactly, but uncomfortably true in its own way.

: This Map Is Humbling

Where people have read my blog from in the last 30 days.
…better known as: “more places in the world than I’ve been.” Humbling.
Every country in the Americas except Suriname. Ten more than I’ve visited.
Twenty-two countries in Africa (assuming I counted correctly), which would be nineteen more than I’ve visited (Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa).
Greenland, we’ve gotta talk.
Full list of countries and territories who stopped by in the last 30 days, with ones I’ve been to in italics:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Brunei Darussalam
Cape Verde
Cayman Islands
Costa Rica
Czech Republic
Côte d’Ivoire
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Falkland Islands (Malvinas)
Faroe Islands
Hong Kong
Isle of Man
Korea, Republic of
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of
Marshall Islands
Moldova, Republic of
New Zealand
Palestinian Territory, Occupied
Puerto Rico
Russian Federation
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States
Viet Nam
Virgin Islands, U.S.

: [Society6] Bora Bora Overwater Bungalow

Bora Bora 1200
Now on Society6, products including:

  • Prints
  • T-shirts (including v-neck), Tank Tops (including biker tanks), and Hoodies
  • Clocks
  • Rugs
  • Shower Curtains
  • Stationery Cards
  • Phone, Tablet, and Laptop Covers and Skins
  • Tote Bags
  • Throw Pillows

: Because Kitten

Rabat, Morocco, 2011.

: Welsh Countryside

Taken on our day outing after Milford.

: Vacation vs. Real Experience and Answers vs. Questions

“I’m an expert on Africa because I took a vacation.” @cynthia_ward’s shorter Bryan Thomas Schmidt on Resnick.

— Nisi Shawl (@NisiShawl) May 28, 2014

(My recollection is that Resnick has been to Africa quite a few times and for fairly long stays for a vacation, but the sentiment is still a valid point.)
I travel all over the place.
I do not confuse that with knowing what it’s actually like to be from those places or being of those peoples.
I don’t travel to feel like I know “all about” something. Yet, I can encapsulate the gist of my experience, while recognizing that experience is from a place of (mostly) privilege.
I travel because it makes me question my assumptions in ways that reading does not. I travel because it makes me think. I travel because going around the world has given me a feel for its size and heft that not traveling did not. It’s about as long a flight from Johannesburg to London as it is from London to San Francisco or Bangkok to Johannesburg. And, for the record, I do not recommend doing them as close together as I did last year on my two-week “Jet Lag World Tour.” (San Francisco – Wellington, NZ – Melbourne, AU – Bangkok, TH – Cape Town, ZA – London – home)
I travel because it raises more questions than it answers.
For me, the single biggest boon to writing is having more questions.
Charles A. Tan wrote about the recent submissions call for stories about Africa.
Would I have felt comfortable submitting to any of the anthologies Tan links to? No. However, I have a feeling I’d have been welcome to submit to the problematic one. Save for, you know, being a feminist and all.
I’ve been to three countries in Africa: Egypt (in 2007), Morocco (in 2011), and South Africa (in 2013). This means that, among white Americans, and especially white American women, I’m probably in the top 1/2 of 1% as far as direct experience with Africa. Maybe even higher up than that.
The problem is that between those three trips, I have a grand total of a week spent on the ground. The first two were two-day cruise stops (with one day spent in one city and one day in another), and the third was part of a 14-day around-the-world trip.
I also haven’t mentioned the cruise stop details before. We were shepherded onto buses, and each bus had an armed guard. The buses traveled together with a police escort. Think about how deep an experience you can have in that context. Even so, the cruise line (NCL) stopped going to Morocco after that because of the complaints about it. I thought it was a fantastic experience and would love to go back. No, it is not Geneva, but I went because it wasn’t Geneva.
For a moment that struck me with wonder: we visited the king’s palace in Rabat, Morocco. As we’re getting off the bus, the call to prayer starts. For smaller mosques, the call to prayer is often a recording. As this particular adhan started, the muezzin’s voice cracked. I don’t know why that moment of realizing it was actually live (not Memorex) sent chills down my spine, but it did.
I also don’t want to give the impression that I’m merely a tourist. I studied Middle Egyptian at Stanford Continuing Studies before I went. I actually wanted to arrive in Egypt understanding something more than what a tour guide would tell me. Unfortunately, arguing with an obnoxious vendor at Giza, I ran out of spoons for visiting the solar barque. Sigh.
In South Africa (Cape Town), I went to visit a friend, one I helped get out of Scientology back in the day. But still I was staying at a hotel. Cape Town has some of the highest disparity between income levels of any place in the world. So, when my iPhone was stolen, I was annoyed, but I couldn’t really feel angry about it.
Maybe it’s my time in Scientology, but I’ve come to mistrust people who seem to have answers, especially if they’re overly comfortable with those answers. And it feels like that call is looking for people with answers.
It bothers me that I’ve probably “interacted with” three cultures enough for that particular submissions call.
Know what I mean?

: Ten-Year Time Lapse of Building the 9/11 Memorial

: Why I Love Frequent Flyer Miles

In one simple pic. This is a business-class ticket. Granted, it’s a one-way business-class ticket for a single person, but still…try getting that kind of value in a US domestic coach ticket redemption.

: I'm a Rebel (and What That Means)

Some time ago, I realized I’d missed the two opening rounds of tickets for this year’s World Domination Summit and added myself to the notification list for the third round. And promptly forgot about it.
Over the weekend, I’d gotten an email reminding me that more tickets would be available soon, so I went over to the website and read up on the speakers.
I watched this completely amazing (to me) talk by Gretchen Rubin from last year’s conference.

Gretchen Rubin from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.
The segment about the Rubin Tendencies (begins around 19 minutes in), four different ways of approaching internal and external motivation was revelatory for me.
If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s a link to descriptions, from which I’ve excerpted the following short quote:

Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

(I also think there’s an inverse to the Obliger, which I’ve labeled Self-Obliger for the moment.)
It’s like someone explained my life to me in a way I suddenly understand.
Now, some of us pretend to be one of those that we’re not. And we can have tendencies in other directions. I’m a Rebel with Questioner tendencies, and I’ve gotten through life by masquerading a Questioner.
But I’m not, and the façade is exhausting.
It leads to long stretches of anxious busy instead of katamari busy.

So How Do You Motivate Yourself?

I’m a very in-the-moment person, and I suspect many Rebels are. We make choices without necessarily considering long-term implications. Yet, many Rebels wind up in either the clergy or military/police, which are very structured.
My preference is for well-defined loose structure: several large constraints but without a lot of rules, but where the structure is consistent. I prefer large swaths of nothing on my calendar. A day feels “busy” if it has one timed item on it, no matter how short that time slot is. This week, I have timed items on my calendar three days in a row, and that feels impossible.
Thus, I’ve tended to work best on long projects where I don’t have a lot of daily (or weekly) milestones that are externally imposed, but can proceed making progress at my own pace.
The catch is what motivates me: whatever it is I’m doing has to be the most interesting thing to do in the world at that moment.
And I’m a person who’s fascinated by a lot of things.
You see the inherent problem here.
There are a couple of other things that motivate me.
The thing I want to do can be the thing I most want to do in that moment. I can work on talking my way into that being something I really want to do. “Wouldn’t you enjoy eating something better for you than this bad thing? If you cooked it, you could have that.”
Like most rebels, I’m motivated by a realistic challenge.
A funny story of my teen rebel years. I wanted to take college classes while I was in high school, but the high school counselor said I couldn’t because it was against the law. Went to the library, photocopied the law (which, btw, said the exact opposite), came back and pointed out it said nothing of the kind. He still wouldn’t let me go to college, so I actually switched schools to the alternative school. My senior high school year, I had English, Physics, Horticulture, and (I can’t make this one up) Independent Study Table Tennis. In college, I took French, Calculus, and some other stuff.
Not many people would have done that at age 16.
On the flip side, I genuinely have never given a fuck about my GPA except where it has mattered for some goal I was trying to achieve. Instead, I’m that asshole who took notes during class, dutifully copying down all the professor’s jokes, never looked at my notes, never studied, often never bought the textbook—and aced the test. Obviously, I hated project classes unless the project was The Best Thing Ever.
Yet I wound up not only with a BA but also an MS (Computer Science) and an MA (Writing Popular Fiction). However, when I went back for the “F” (my MA program turned into an MFA program), my brain balked. I wound up dropping out because I realized that, for me, the money/energy/time was better spent on world travel.
That short stint in the MFA program led directly to the book I’m now working on, though, so it wasn’t a waste of time.

How This Affects My Writing Process

Given what I’ve told you already, do you think I’m a planner or a pantser? (Pantser refers to someone who writes “by the seat of their pants,” meaning without an outline or plan.)
Yep, pantser.
My attempts to outline ahead of time essentially wind up like this:

Outline says: “Jake wants rents a boat and discovers a long-rumored sea monster.”
What I actually write: Jake gets mugged while hiking in the mountains.
Me, arguing with mss/outline, “But…!”
Brain: Denied.

At the point where they diverge, I can’t even think.
Or, if I’m trying to interview characters ahead of time:

Me: “So what do you really want out of life?”
Character: “If you followed me around, you’d know this shit.”
Me: “…?”
Character: Turns back to me, and, like a cat, thumps her tail loudly on the wooden floor.

Fuck that shit.
I just can’t do an outline before I do the work. If it doesn’t lead to an outright block, what it does is drain the “new” energy out of the piece. That “new” energy is exactly why I like writing. I feed on it.
Some day, when I dig through this pile of stuff, I’ll upload the “outline” I did for grad school when I had to turn one in. Basically, I reasoned that I had X deadlines throughout the program, and each of those deadlines would be a chapter, and therefore I had X chapters to write. I was in a restaurant that had paper placemats, so I moved my plate aside and wrote down a short phrase (2-5 words) for each chapter.
That got me through the first draft, and it stuck.
I can only do that once I’m to a certain point in writing a piece, though. I generally have to start blind, write down a few ideas, and then Just Start Writing. I usually start at the beginning. In a short piece, I usually need to write the ending (so I know where I’m going) before I write the middle, but even that’s not consistent.
I often write longer books out of order, which I’m doing with the current book.
I keep a list of things I want to accomplish in the piece at the top of my document, and I’ll just delete those items as I use them. It’s not an outline, it includes all kinds of things like places, characters to introduce, a scene I want to write but don’t know where it goes, etc. Most of the items are plot pieces, though. (This was easy when I was writing in Byword, but not so easy in Scrivener, and I need to figure out a way that works for me in Scrivener. In Byword, I just peeled off a chapter as I finished it and kept writing in the same working document.)
When I know the order of those items, I’ll move them into order at the top before any of the unordered items.
At some point, usually 1/4 to 1/3 of the way in, I hit a wall. I know I’ve hit the wall when my productivity slumps and every time I write I feel like I have more questions than answers. Often those questions include, “Does this really go here?”
That’s when I need to start organizing a loose outline. It’s not what I’m keeping at the top of the document, but something more like a short synopsis.
The important thing here, though, is that it’s when the number of raised questions exceeds my comfort level. That’s something that happens organically during writing.

I’m Not Uncomfortable with Open Questions

I’ve discovered that I’m happier with more open questions than the average person.
As a real example of that, last year my boss told me a week before I was headed out on a long trip that I needed to cut it in half. I made a bunch of changes to my itinerary, but one of the questions that was left open was how I was going to get home from South Africa. I had a tentative plan in place, but it didn’t meet the constraint he’d set. Close, though.
I don’t know how many people would set off on a trip with such an important detail hanging. But I did.
Did it bother me? Only insofar as I wanted to meet my boss’s constraints.
I trusted that I had the ability to return from South Africa. After all, as an experienced traveler, I know how to work the system, and I know that there is a system. Plus, there’s always the “pay more cash for what you really want” option, even though that’s not the way I preferred to do it. So I waited for something to open up, and returned via London, catching a show I’d wanted to see.

Part of My Process is Trust

Trust that I can make it work, trust that I will make it work. When it’s something I haven’t done before, I worry, but then I remind myself that I’ve done similarly complex things before.
I trust in my ability to be resourceful and adapt to new information.
One of the things I know I’ll need to do for an upcoming project is to make a small font. I have no fucking clue how to make a font. Worse, I’m going to have to learn Illustrator for some of the mockups I’m working on, and I’ve been resisting learning that for about 25 years.
I know I can do it, though. I just haven’t had a real need to before now. I’m excited about it because I know it’ll be interesting and different. Yay.
That’s the single hardest piece of the stuff I’m doing. I am working on other things (to go with the font), and it’s all new and fun.

World Domination Summit

Getting back to the start of this post, why yes, I am going to the World Domination Summit. July in Portland, Oregon. Fun times.
I’ve also updated my events page with other places I’m going to be this year.

: Music that Captures Travel Moments

Last year, Rick and I took the non-stop to Frankfurt, where it took literally 1-1/2 hours to get from the gate we arrived at to the Lufthansa club nearest the gate we’d be departing from. Then we lazed about in amazing chairs for a while before catching our flight to Istanbul.
Our flight lands in Istanbul at 1:30 in the morning, though it was closer to 2 before we managed to pay our visa fees at the airport, get our passports stickered, and wander over to the immigration queue.
We took a cab to our hotel. The cab driver liked a genre I’m not generally into: light jazz.
Until the next song started. I remember driving along parallel to the Bosphorus, the famous bridge in the distance, mere days before the protests started up.
The song changed, and suddenly, I forgot where I was, completely involved in the music. I pull out my phone, launch SoundHound and ask it to figure out what song it is.
Yachts (a man called Adam mix) by Coco Steel & Lovebomb.

It had been used in the opening scene of Fairly Legal Season 2 and somehow I’d assumed it was incidental music written for the show. When we got to the hotel, I bought the song off iTunes.
Here’s part of that scene:

I started using SoundHound in 2011, and it’s really been great for finding songs that remind me of places and times. First song I bought after finding the tune with SoundHound? I was in New Orleans over the holidays.
Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing by Tom Waits and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

When Rick and I were in Puerto Rico having a great dinner, SoundHound found a song playing in the restaurant, Gilberto Santa Rosa’s Amor Mio No Te Vayas.

So. Check it out. I especially like the fact that you can have it listen for a clip, then save that for later so you can search when you have bandwidth. Perfect for international travel on sippy cup (or nonexistent) data plans.

: Trip: Coda, Good News

Mom’s accepted an offer (over asking price) on her place. It was on the market for less than a week.

: Trip, Day 9: Snow, Torrential Rain, Hail, and a Wild Turkey

I hadn’t had coffee this morning when I looked out the window in Medford, Oregon and saw snow high on the mountains.
I thought, “Wow, it’s April and there’s still snow?”
When I lived in Vermont, the more obvious answer would have occurred to me: I didn’t notice it last night because the snow fell overnight.
As we began driving south, ascending toward Ashland pass, I was surprised to see snow hitting the windshield. By that time, I’d had two cups of coffee. The snow stuck on the trees, which was really pretty, so I’m glad I got to see it.
After we reached the summit, no snow. 🙁
We drove south to Yreka, where I found a pretty good drive-through coffee joint. However, not knowing if their coffee was any good, I decided to order a cinnamon latte.
South of Redding, storm clouds loomed. In colder times, they’d be snow clouds. These, however, were the “buckets of water” kind of clouds. It can’t snow in that kind of volume, actually. I have only seen this kind of rain in the tropics before.
We got all the way through the first storm front and most of the way through the second before the hail started.
Then, as we were approaching Vacaville on 505, not only did the rain stop, but we saw our first patch of blue sky all day.
Something was in the road. Something largeish. I slowed down.
I kid you not, a wild turkey crossed the road.
Since the only time I’ve previously encountered wild turkeys on the road, I was coming around a bend and hit them, I’m glad to say that today’s survived quite nicely.
Our next stop was in Vacaville, where we had uninspiring Mexican food.
From there, we proceeded south, then headed west before reaching Vallejo to cross around the top of the bay and go south in Marin. To me, the drive across 37 at the top of the bay is one of the prettiest parts. If you need to get to/from San Francisco to Sacramento on a nice day and you haven’t been that route, try it sometime.
I also love crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, though I don’t do it often. Such an awesome piece of engineering.
Then, around 6 pm, we finally arrived home. Sooooo glad to be home!
During my absence, the wrought iron guys finally brought the stair railing for the back. It looks great.
Oh, and it sounds like my mom may have an offer for her house already.

: Trip, Day 8: A Pretty Nice Day

Got to say, though I’m normally not a Hampton Inn lover (because Hilton Garden Inn has better breakfast), the Hampton Inn in Dupont, Washington is awesome and very modern and trendy.
Had a beautiful day driving from there to Medford, Oregon, where we stayed at a more typical Hampton Inn.

: Trip, Day 7: A Thousand Gnats

We’ve left. We’ve left without the single thing I cared about, possession-wise. We left with almost all the things my mom cared most about.
After that, it was a thousand gnats, each of them annoying.
I got some writing done on the ferry. I also wrote some code on the ferry, which means I broke some code on the ferry. I didn’t have time to finish fixing it (as I was re-factoring something), so I was annoyed about that.
Why is it that when you’re land crossing the border between US and Canada returning to the US, and you have a Global Entry card, the people with Canada’s NEXUS cards get priority going through and you don’t? This has annoyed me more than once. Sure, I could get NEXUS, but I started with Global Entry.
Not that that would have affected us today, as it would have been bad form to not have that conversation given the carload of stuff we were bringing back. When we started listing what we had, the guy just wanted to know if we had any food. “A couple of unopened bottles of alcohol, but that’s it.”
“No food?”
He waved us through. Thank you Mr. Border Guy.
This time, we managed to get to Renton, home of Smoking Monkey Pizza for dinner at same. I love this place. While there, I checked my email. Note from my doctor’s office, probably about the refills I requested at the end of day yesterday.
Yeah, so apparently my new doc completely forgot that conversation we had about why this was working the way it was and what the plan was. And said no to the refill.
This…is going to require an ER visit if it doesn’t get sorted. The symptoms can be life threatening. I’m hoping he remembers the conversation because I may just go to the ER before I run out. Because reasons.
I am just hellaciously pissed off about the whole thing. Yes, I feel the new doc actually does correctly understand the source of the pain, but that doesn’t mean that the other shit that got messed up doesn’t need to be fixed. Nor does it mean that my body magically adopts biochemistry compatible with new doc’s treatment plan. Don’t we wish.

A Couple of Good Things

I fixed the code. It required another 3 minutes. So near to sanity, and yet so far.
We did miss this 6.7 earthquake by leaving Vancouver Island earlier in the day, so there’s that.
Also, my wordcount for the last 7 days is higher than the 7 previous days (I keep daily and running-7-day counts), so that’s good too.

: Recent Word Counts

My usual daily quota right now is around 2,000 words. I budgeted zero words on the two driving days up and near-zero words on the three driving days back on this trip. Nor did I expect normal word counts while I’m up here.
Here’s how many words I wrote on each day of the trip, by day:

  1. 0 (as budgeted)
  2. 0 (as budgeted)
  3. 185 (disappointing)
  4. 298 (disappointing)
  5. 1,160 (a fucking miracle, given we found out the house was a writeoff this day)
  6. 343 (a fucking miracle, having gotten access to the house this day)

Overall, still less than I hoped for, but I’m glad I didn’t let life completely kick me in the ass.
Tomorrow is our first day driving back.
I’m really hoping that one of the childhood heirlooms of mine that still hasn’t been produced can be found and obtained before we leave. It’s an absolutely stupid thing of no commercial value, but it’s such a unique memorabilia piece from my life and so appropriate to this trip, I can’t imagine not having it.
It’s from the trip we took to San Clemente Island one year, when the military mixed up the schedule and accidentally authorized us anchorage at Pyramid Cove at the same time they were shelling the island from a destroyer five miles out. They weren’t missing by much, not even when they went ten or fifteen miles out, so we felt pretty safe exploring the island well away from the target range. So we did. I also remember snorkeling through the kelp beds to get bait for fishing.

: Trip, Days 3-6: Heartbreak, RCMP, and Hazmat

In the mid-80s, my mom and my late stepfather moved up to Vancouver Island. They lived in Port Alberni for a time, then built a house on almost 13 acres of land in Courtenay.
Her former partner’s been living in it as the caretaker. He hasn’t mentioned any maintenance issues. He hasn’t mentioned no running water in the kitchen.
That may be, in part, because this is the kitchen….

I’m going to call him jerkwad because that’s as polite as I can be.
Our last few days went something like this:
Saturday: met with listing agent, met briefly with jerkwad when he brought stuff from the house to our hotel.
Sunday: visited the outside of the house, where we got a sense of maintenance issues. Roof looked dodgy to me. Jerkwad would not let my mother in the house. I was shocked at how poorly cared for it was on the outside. Then again, I do remember the place when it was almost new.
Monday: went with listing agent to the house. Jerkwad let her in, but not my mom. Listing agent was trying to talk to me while jerkwad was talking to mom. I wrote on agent’s pad that mom feared the house would be a total writeoff. Agent said she thought I was right, just based on what little she’d seen. We regroup with agent later on in the day and mom lists the property as is for a lot less than she’d been intending to.
Tuesday: Mom calls jerkwad, tells him she’s coming over.
He leaves a note in a box that basically reads as he’s not giving her permission to enter. Mom starts to call the RCMP, but I point out that it’s safer for us to visit their office rather than wait on property. So we go.
RCMP points out (I already knew this) that it may be complicated as to whether he’s even considered a tenant since he was supposed to be a caretaker. The constable calls jerkwad, who suddenly says of course we can enter the property.
It’s a total hazmat zone. There are rat/mice droppings. The kitchen is, well, you saw it above.
The place isn’t even up to being a teardown. It’s vile and disgusting.
This used to be the beautiful custom home my parents designed and hoped to live in the rest of their lives.

: Trip, Day 2: Eugene to Courtenay, BC

I woke up early. Neither of us slept well, in fact. Why is it always like that?
I love Hilton Garden Inn breakfasts. This one was particularly nice, for the record. Also: if you have your choice of Hilton Garden Inn or a Hampton Inn, the Hilton Garden Inn has the significantly superior breakfasts. I kept wondering why my breakfast experience at the lower-tier Hiltons was random, but it was simply because I kept alternating property types. These days, I won’t go for a Hampton Inn unless there’s no other good alternative. In short: Hilton Garden Inns have the ability to cook their food, where Hampton Inns just heat what’s brought in. Hilton Garden Inns have a bigger variety for breakfast. Go for the actual cooked food. If, you know, you get free breakfast, aren’t sticking around, aren’t in the mood for hunting, etc.
I took the first stretch of the wheel because it was raining (and we were driving my car, thus my increased familiarity with it was a good thing). We switched off in Vancouver, Washington, where my mom called one of her friends (local to there), but we wanted to press on.
I’d forgotten the exact way to get to Renton, where I’d had excellent gluten-free pizza at Smoking Monkey Pizza in the past. So we missed that. Oops. Found another place with Yelp, Amante Pizza & Pasta. The pizza was good save for being overcooked. (This can be a problem with GF pizza because cook times are different.)
We hit some bad traffic in and north of Seattle, but it pretty much cleared up well before the border. It took about ten minutes to cross. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that many questions crossing a border, not even when I went to Vancouver for dinner last year. Not even in Bermuda or Liverpool. Kind of annoying, but okay.
Finally let us in, then we found the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. Checked in on 4sq and got a funny response from BC Ferries. Our ferry to Nanaimo (home of the famous Nanaimo bar) took two hours.
From there, it’s about 100km (60 miles) north to Courtenay. We arrived there just before midnight.
I’d done some internet surfing and found the Holiday Inn Express in Courtenay, which is a pretty sweet place with decent breakfast, though of the Hampton Inn style. It also has free wifi, which is even more awesome.

: Trip, Day 1: To Eugene

We’re going to be going over mountains, so I take the special meds. I hate it with a burning passion, and you’ll understand why in a bit.
I take it because it increases oxygen concentration in the blood, which means less altitude sick. I get altitude sick in a ten story building. Only a slight exaggeration.
Four thousand feet is where I really start to feel it, though. Since I’m doing a lot of the driving, I take the damn meds.
I am not a morning person. I have not truly ever been a morning person (I quite literally lack the gene), but the last few years in particular I have especially not been a morning person. I was saying that to a friend who got run over by a car last year, and she said, “Because the pain meds have worn off!”
Exactly. That is why.

Every single day, it’s a challenge. Can I get part of my pain meds down before I make breakfast? Will I throw up my coffee? (Thankfully, that has not actually happened in a long time, but most mornings I’m nauseated from pain.)
I’d set the alarm for 10, wanted to leave by 11. Woke up at a quarter after 9 and packed. We pulled away at 11:11, which I consider close enough for government work.
Let me back up for a minute. When I was coming down the steps on our front porch—typically, doing this in the morning is my biggest physical challenge—in a race with a sloth, the sloth would have won. Honestly.

Fairfield: The Jelly Belly Factory

My mother, long a lover of jelly beans, has never been to the Jelly Belly factory. I’m not sure how that happened, but we decided that we had three places we could stop, and this was one we picked.
Why the able-bodied need to put photo op things and places where people should stand to take photos crossing the line from the handicap parking to the door, I’ll never know. I hear an irritated cluck. Look, it’s not my fucking fault that the big jelly bean is put in the wrong place, but I’m visibly having difficulty walking today. You think you could be more human and hold on a couple seconds without being irritated at something I have no control over?
Well, okay then. Well, not okay, but whatever. It’s on you.
We wander through the jelly beans. I think a grand total of two or three minutes has passed since I shambled (no exaggeration) through the front door and evaded the large group of people standing in line for the tour. Which, frankly, sounds like pure hell to me on a day like today.
My feet are on fire they say. I look down. There is no visible evidence of same.
I feel the weird electrical current that runs along my upper back. Left to right, then right to left.
It’s the altitude sickness meds. Diamox. Acetazolamide. There’s no good way to put this other than: it cockblocks pain meds. All pain meds, apparently. From personal experience, it blocks 75-100% of the effectiveness of everything I’ve tried.
Currently, with the myofasical pain, my leg muscles are so incredibly tight, I can barely walk, especially in the morning. Later in the day, I’m almost human, and sometimes my walk can pass for normal. Today is not one of those days.
I move as quickly as I can to the register (about 15 feet), plead with the lady there. Either I need to check out, or I’m dumping my item on the register counter and leaving. I’m not being mean; I desperately need to sit down. By this time, I’m white as a ghost and visibly shaking.
I’m paid up. Trying to leave. A kid darts in front of me. I’m like Gigantor with a bad hip algorithm, shambling with an odd gait I have no control over. When I’m like this, kids terrify me. I have nightmares that I trip over one and crush us both. I can’t stop or turn easily, nor can I stand easily. A slow walk is the only thing that keeps me from falling over. Kid’s mom pulls the kid back, and I sigh relief. He stares at me with huge brown eyes. I’m just as afraid of him as he is of me.
And—people do not understand. Sites aren’t laid out for people who are simply mobility impaired, especially where walking farther is a challenge. As an example, if there’s a good railing and four steps or fewer, I’ll usually take the steps rather than a handicap ramp simply because it’s shorter.
When I open the car door and plop in, I can’t do anything for about a minute. Finally, I start the car up.
We skip the second possible stop.

Corning: Olive Pit

Neither of us could remember exactly where the Olive Pit was. Collectively, we got the details right, though I did have a few mixed in from Granzella’s, where I’d never been.
I’d been there before, but I also remembered that the last time I’d bounced right back out. Given my experience earlier in the day, I wasn’t feeling very confident about it.
Still, it’s later in the day, my pain levels are a bit better, so I walk in. I manage to taste a couple of things, but I can’t even get to consider what I might want to buy before my feet are on fire again. Mom takes more time picking out her selections, but I head out to the car, once again white as a ghost and shaking. The store clerk brings out her jars of olives. Very nice of them.
By the time she’s back, I’ve recovered.

Dinner in Medford

We couldn’t find the place we’d eaten before, so we ate at a Shari’s just past most of Medford. I ordered a no-bun burger with their amazing stuffed hash browns, which are gooey and evil and you should only eat them if you like awesome things.
It was only a few more hours (argh) to Eugene, but that’s where we’re spending the night.
Tomorrow night, we’ll be on Vancouver Island.
Thankfully, I don’t have to take the evil altitude meds tomorrow, and their effects will have mostly worn off by morning.
Can’t. Wait.

: O, Canada

Mom and I are going to drive up to Canada.
I’ve driven to Seattle before, and I’ve driven from Seattle to Vancouver before. However, the next stage is the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, which I’ve never taken (I’ve always flown).
I’ve also never been to Victoria before, so I’m excited that we’re going there, too, probably on the return. We may have some time for a quick visit on the way up or back, but I’m guessing that our timing is going to pretty much miss anything of interest in Portland. Seattle’s more possible.

: Not Losing Planes: Lessons From MH370

In listening to a lot of people talk about the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370, I sometimes wonder if some of them truly have a sense of how remote some places in the world are, or how much it’d cost to monitor all that.
This article featuring a video with Mary Kirby talks about connectivity being the key. I don’t disagree.
However, a little over two months ago, I was on a ship sailing about 2,500 miles (4,000 km) almost due west from Valparaiso Chile to Easter Island. While it’s a remote place, it does have an international airport, cell service, most of that modern stuff.
What it doesn’t have? Satellite coverage in many bands for three of those five days of travel.
There’s something amazingly humbling (and somewhat terrifying) about being out of satellite range on what’s surely a cargo shipping route, especially when you’re sailing over water that is 13,000 feet (4,000 m) deep.
There are very few flights in the southern quarter of the world (by which I mean at least latitude 45° south). Here’s the entire list of settlements (where there’s at least 1000 people) south of 45°. That’s incredibly sparsely populated. Compare the latitudes with the northernmost settlements here.
So far as I know, there aren’t any southern polar air traffic routes the way there are so many northern polar routes. So probably the very last part of the earth that would get coverage is the kind of place where MH370 is believed to have been lost. I still think it’s too early to know that that’s the wreckage for certain, and I really feel for the people out there in the bad weather and rough seas doing that duty. Thank you.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do something more in the future to make these search and rescue (where “rescue” is more about confirmation of what happened and the opportunity to not do it again) efforts less costly. For me, the turned-off transponder is the single weirdest thing: that, combined with the believed wreckage position, doesn’t make sense absent the information we now lack.

: NTSB Fatality Family + MH370 = Stress

On the ring finger of my left hand, I wear the wedding ring that once belonged to Pan Am Captain Arthur Moen. My late father-in-law, whom I never met.
Anyone who flies a lot fears the worst. Truly, on average, the risks in commercial aviation are low. Not zero, but low. Those of us who flew, say, 160,000 miles last year, some of that over the Indian Ocean, might be a wee bit more stressed about MH 370 than average folks.
This household, though, is a dual-NTSB-report family. A dual-NTSB-fatality-report family.
Rick and I were the same age when tragedy struck our families’ lives in very different ways.

My Side O’ The Family

My stepfather had a Cessna 182, and it was on a leaseback, meaning other people could pay to fly it when we weren’t. One pilot with 1500 hours (quite a lot for a private pilot) decided to fly himself and three passengers to the Reno air show that year.
The pilot blew off the weather briefing that morning and, despite not being instrument rated (and the plane didn’t have the right gear for IFR), he took off in weather that required instruments. The fog was all the way to the ground at the place of impact.
The pilot mis-estimated where he was and, well, “struck obscured mntn side” says it all, doesn’t it?
Four people died. NTSB report.
Crash victim family members threatened to sue my family. There was an NTSB investigation, but our hands were clean. Still, when you’re a kid (or even an adult), it’s rather horrifying to think that the plane you flew in not so long ago flew full-speed into a mountain and caught fire.

Rick’s Side O’ The Family

Rick’s father’s case is the more famous one, a Pan Am cargo flight to Viet Nam.

The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was an attempted takeoff with the flaps in a retracted position. This resulted from a combination of factors; (a) inadequate cockpit checklist and procedures; (b) a warning system inadequacy associated with cold weather operations; (c) ineffective control practices regarding manufacturer’s Service Bulletins; and (d) stresses imposed upon the crew by their attempts to meet an air traffic control deadline.

On Christmas Day, the flight left San Francisco, bound for Anchorage for refueling. The weather at the commercial airport was unsafe, so they landed at Elmendorf Air Force Base instead. The following morning (which, being Alaska in December, was completely dark), there were a number of irregularities in procedure during takeoff, and the time pressure wasn’t helping.
None of the three people survived the resulting crash.
The NTSB report resulted in a number of psychological studies on the relative effectiveness of checklists, though. Overall, checklist procedures at all airlines changed, albeit slowly.
The findings and related research were incorporated into other works. An example would be this dissertation. Or, perhaps strangely, the NTSB’s conclusions reached software development books like Model-Driven Development of Advanced User Interfaces.
Perhaps the most relevant book would be The Multitasking Myth (Ashgate Studies in Human Factors for Flight Operations):

However, accumulating scientific evidence now reveals that multitasking increases the probability of human error. This book presents a set of NASA studies that characterize concurrent demands in one work domain, routine airline cockpit operations, in order to illustrate that attempting to manage multiple operational task demands concurrently makes human performance in this, and in any domain, vulnerable to potentially serious errors and to accidents.

These were things that were largely unknown at the time. Pity we found some of them out the hard way.
If a job asks you to multitask? Better hope what you’re doing isn’t critical.

The Waiting

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder if the Asiana 214 report will be ready soon. I double-check to see I haven’t missed it.
Three weeks before the Asiana crash at my home airport, SFO, I was returning home from Alaska—my first trip there, and a place Rick understandably doesn’t wish to return to—when my United flight missed their approach and did a go-around. It was very strange looking out the window down at the airport from an angle you’re not supposed to see it.
While I hadn’t had a near miss, let’s just say that it rattled me. I didn’t tell Rick about the missed approach until the Asiana crash because it involved Alaska.
The only reason my wedding ring exists? Art had left it home to see if it could be adjusted by the local jeweler as it wasn’t fitting him right any more. Therefore it wasn’t in Alaska when the crash occurred.
So MH 370 —especially as someone who flew the airline last year (Maldives-Malaysia-Myanmar)—has me on tenterhooks.
We want to know what happened. We’re realists; we expect that there are no survivors. But we want to understand what happened. To feel reassured that’s not going to happen to us. We feel it more deeply than many other people because we’ve pored over other NTSB reports, become fascinated with tragic failures.
Family history has become part of our culture in gruesome ways. Rick keeps a photo of that particular Pan Am plane (the featured image for this post) at his desk at work. In my office at Apple, I kept a vintage ad for electronics marketing from Pan Am, also featuring that exact plane. Sadly, I don’t have the ad showing the tail number, but I have seen a copy. I just saw it minutes after it was sold. The ad I do have, though, was clearly taken in the same photo session.
Rick says that his real nightmare, thanks to SwissAir 111 (and the amazing writing in this Esquire piece), is this scenario. Warning: this is extremely difficult reading and will likely become a nightmare for you, too.

Then he told his wife, and she said, Until they phone us with the news, we have to believe. And the man said, But darling, they’re not going to phone with news like that. They’d come to the door —
And before he’d finished his sentence, the doorbell rang.

Two hundred thirty-nine people’s families are waiting for their doorbells to ring.

: More Thoughts on Malaysian MH 370

Previously: my crackpot theory.
When I said, “it’s sunk,” my intuition was based on the fact that military sites had detected it, then recanted their statement. That said to me that it could have been a friendly fire episode where people hadn’t gotten their stories straight. Except, we’d have detected pieces by now, I’m pretty sure.
My second thought was hijacking, assuming the military disbelieved their own systems because they weren’t detecting quite what they expected.
So here are some more relevant details that are apparently ahead of the news cycle.
This is one of those times where I wish I’d actually traveled more of the Indian Ocean. I was supposed to go to the Seychelles last year—had it booked, in fact—but my stand-up boss nixed it, though it had been booked for almost 11 months.
Several people have asked if the pilot’s home simulator was common. I knew (until his death) a former commercial pilot, and he’d told me they were common. The photos I’ve seen in the news very much like my late friend’s setup.
Here are a few tweets from a fairly well-informed person, @flyingwithfish:
I think the US Gov’t has an idea of where #MH370 is given that DHS told it flew about 3,675 miles on Thursday.
The 3,675 miles flown DHS gave me in Thurs lines up with Malaysia’s PM saying it flew 7.5hrs on Friday.
So here’s that map with that range marked out (so you’re looking toward the bounding border of the circle):
Let’s assume the little islands of the Indian Ocean aren’t of interest. So no Diego Garcia, Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Lakshadweep, Christmas Island, Cocos/Keeling, Maldives, Mayotte, Rodriguez, or Zil Elwannyen Sesel. Or Socotra or Madagascar or Andaman/Nicobar islands, which are bigger.
Let’s also assume that the flight path would not have to overfly anyone else’s airspace and that, based on the latest information would mean west of Kuala Lumpur.
So that leaves:
Africa: Somalia
Arabian peninsula: Yemen, Oman
Asia: Pakistan and Iran. Technically also India, but I find that highly unlikely.
If the plane had turned north from the Andamans, add Myanmar and Thailand.
But I don’t think so.
Some of what flyingwithfish has tweeted:
DHS source says “It is unlikely #MH370 headed south and its exact direction of travel remains unknown to the RMAF. We’re looking elsewhere.”
Based on what sources have told me, I have been saying state backed actions for a week in regard to #MH370
Remember that value is in the eye of the beholder, we may not be looking for something with a lot of hard currency as a motive
Why steal #MH370? My theory, which could be wrong, is grab who is on board or evade customs & other issues of what’s in the belly
There is proof 20 managing engineers involved with building US Defense Application semiconductors were on #MH370
Question asked: Is it possible for the aircraft to piggyback in another aircrafts shadow to avoid radar? Answer: El Al did it with Entebbe
We even know #MH370 had 1000lbs of lithium batteries above the maximum allowed limit.
On the cargo (ULD = unit load device):
We don’t know what is on an unaccounted for ULD cargo position. It is unaccounted for. That is unheard of. #MH370
Another angle of cargo ULDs being loaded onto a 777-200/ER, like #MH370, you can’t dump the cargo easily.
You cannot open a cargo door on a commercial airliner in flight. It opens from the outside
Here is my issue with the radar arc image for #MH370, given an estimated fly time & distance flown, why does it avoid a likely location?
There are a number of possible locations, based on the info I have & talking to experts yesterday I gusstimate IFN IFN is Isfahan.
Bloomberg piece about Iran, Malaysia, US:

Iran increasingly is obtaining U.S. military equipment and technology through shipments to Malaysian middlemen that illegally circumvent trade restrictions, according to American officials and analysts.

What they wanted? Engineers and managers who knew US defense plans:
Why? They know how to build US Defense Application technology and there were 20 on one plane, which is stupid
I’ve missed a lot of his tweets, but let’s summarize the above (and a couple of other things):

  1. The pilot was involved. It’s not known whether it was the older, more experienced one or the younger one, but the younger one was engaged with a wedding coming up.
  2. Cargo doors can’t be opened from inside the plane.
  3. There was a cargo container with unknown goods inside. This is unheard of.
  4. Isfahan airport is the Fish’s guess of location they’re going. If so, there’s state involvement from Iran.
  5. The signature of the plane could be covered by shadowing another plane, which would require state involvement also.
  6. There were 20 defense engineers who knew significant details of recent/future US military defense technologies on board.
  7. I believe the aircraft was flown, landed, off loaded of what they wanted, plane & collateral liabilities are eliminated. Gulp.

Well @ToTheWinslow, since you ask. On a scale of 1-to-This-Is-Totally-Bat$#!+-Crazy, I would score the #MH370 story at 997.
I dunno, I have at least enough plots for half a dozen spy thrillers now….
Edited to add the next three paragraphs…
Jim Wright has some really great commentary over on FB

Because the ocean is a damned big place, vaster than you can imagine unless you’ve sailed across it (and, because I know you people, yes, I HAVE indeed sailed this part of the world, it’s vast, and complicated and dangerous). And even when you know exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, where to look, it’s still extremely difficult to find scattered bits of airplane or, to be blunt, scattered bits of people in the water. As a navy sailor, I’ve spent days searching for lost aircraft and airmen, and even if you think you know where the bird went down, the winds and the currents can spread the debris across hundreds or even thousands of miles of ocean in fairly short order. No machine, no computer, can search this volume, you have to put human eyeballs on every inch of the search area.

Having recently spent a couple of weeks in some of the remoter ocean parts of the world, this. Three days of no satellite, something I never expected, with the realization that we were really on a very tiny ship (about 800′, which isn’t actually that small) in a very, very large place.
And now for something that made me laugh so we end on a lighter note. Senior Afghan official on whether #MH370 flew over Afghanistan: “We do not have a radar. Go and ask the Americans.”

: Two Volcano Pics

Kilauea, of course.
Except for being resized, these are straight out of camera. Taken in 2010. These were taken with a wide-angle (28mm) lens half a minute apart.
close volcano
water over volcano

: Two Alhambra Photos

Alhambra Detail
Alhambra Detail 2
From our trip in 2011.

: That Odd Moment

…when you realize that places erupting into problem areas on the news are now more likely to be places you’ve been than places you’ve not.

The first three? We were there last year.
We went to three Ukranian cities last year: Odessa, Yalta, and Sevastopol/Balaklava. Loved them.
I’m going to do three separate posts for the Ukraine, partly for @bobtiki.


First, the Primorsky Stairs, better known as the Potemkin Stairs because of the film Battleship Potemkin, give the optical illusion of being longer than they are. The bottom of these steps is the port where our ship called. There were quite a few people with birds there, and they’d let you hold (and be photographed) with the bird for a few Hryvna (though they’d also accept Euros and Dollars).
Bird Lady on Potemkin Steps
The city coat of arms is everywhere.

There are lots of lovely neoclassical buildings, some with great chandeliers.

: Here, Have Some Lava

Taken Nov 22, 2011. I drove as far south as one could go south from Pahoa, which is south of Hilo on the big island of Hawai’i. The road ends near Kalapana, then there’s a dirt road that other cars were going on, so I went too. (Never a great idea.)
The “dirt” road turns out to have been a paved road that lava flowed over. A few hundred feet back, there’s a bit of road again, leading out to a parking lot ending in a guard shack with a bunch of scary signs. I parked there and got out, went to the guard shack. He made sure I knew where the safe boundaries were and that I had water, sunscreen, and a hat.
Walking in the sun on a Hawai’ian day is brutal enough, but the black lava just soaks up heat. As if that weren’t enough, you’re not actually that far above the actual real hot lava flows that are probably radiating even more heat.
Despite my SPF 85 haole basting sauce, I managed to get a sunburn.
Oh, and I’d been very close, only a few hundred feet away, the year before. Here’s what the view looked like from offshore back on Nov 23, 2010:

: Seth's Great Circle Mapper WP Plugin

Seth Miller (also known as Wandering Aramean) has released a WordPress plugin for Great Circle Mapper.
[gcmap path=’SJC-LAX-PTY-SCL-IPC-MOZ-PPT-BOB-PPT-HNL-SFO’ dottag=’city’ width=’566′ pathcolor=’yellow’]Deep Pacific map![/gcmap]

: Sochi: A Visit

Last June, before I was really aware of Russia’s stance on LGBT issues (or how screwed up all kinds of things were), we visited Sochi. I was excited about it; in most cities, we visit stuff that’s long past, and this was the chance to see a city’s immediate future.
I think we all know what kind of a clusterfuck that is now, so I’ll show you what it was like eight months and a few days ago.
First, we came into port.

We drove around the Olympic village to be. Not very encouraging looking, is it?
Neither are the stadia anywhere near ready.
The international broadcast center. Note the ironic rainbow motif.
Then we drove two-ish hours into the mountains to visit the area where the ski events would be held. The climate up here was completely different; down in Sochi proper, it was miserably hot. As you see, the mountains still had some snow. The sides of the mountains also had, I kid you not, gigantic rhododendrons and enormous ferns. Not where the ski lifts would be, thankfully.
We rode up several gondolas to the tippy top, where we had hot chocolate. Sadly, I didn’t manage to capture a good photo of that.
Lots of buildings up in the mountains were unfinished, too, though most of what we saw would be for spectators rather than athletes.
But there were also some buildings that appeared to be complete, including the hotel where we had lunch.
Of the Russian cities I’ve visited (St. Petersburg, Sochi, and Novorossiysk), the one I’d find most interesting to return to would be Sochi (assuming Russia gets its head out of its ass on LGBT issues). It’s a very long city, with a region that stretches almost 100km along the Black Sea. As the southernmost part of Russia, and one of the warmest, it was where a lot of sanitoriums (read: spas) were built. Practically every industry had one, and these large, old sprawling manors and grounds were still kept up for the most part.
In particular, the Red Army (Voroshilov) sanitorium, designed by Stalin’s favored architect Meran Merzhanyantz, was on a steep (and long) enough hill to have its own funicular. (More pictures here.)
Historic photo:

Even before we returned home, our visit to Russia soured a bit with the next port, Novorossiysk. Turns out someone had gently chided them about taking so long to clear the ship in the morning. That led to an hour and a half delay re-checking everyone’s paperwork. Our two days in Russia required an impressive amount of bribes from the ship. The list of items was read off, but I only remember two:

  • 18 trays of sandwiches
  • a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black

Note: if you’d like to use my images for editorial purposes, contact me below and I’ll send you original sized images in exchange for photo credit. Thanks.
[contact-form subject=’Sochi Editorial’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

: A Few Book Covers

Things coming out Real Soon Now, in probable release order.

Coffee & Canopy

Coffee & Canopy is a forthcoming book about our experiences in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Monkeys! Crocodiles! Bats! Venomous sea snakes! Volcanoes! Cover photo is one I took of Nicaragua’s Masaya volcano.

The “travel diary” series will be novella length, have selected color photos (as well as the occasional black and white), and will be digital only. I’ll also have PDF as a format option for this series. Price will be $2.99.

So You Want to Travel the World

Would you like to travel more? See the world? Get discouraged by how many things there are to do and see? So You Want to Travel the World will help you divide and conquer the problems so you can get more of your travel goals accomplished. The cover photo was one I took in Venice, Italy in December, 2011.

This book will be in both digital and print. Pricing will depend upon final size, so I’m waiting to announce that.

Deep Pacific

Deep Pacific will chronicle our journey from San Francisco to Valparaiso, Chile to Easter Island, Pitcairn, Moorea, Tahiti, Bora Bora, and finally back to San Francisco. The cover photo is one I took on Easter Island.

This is also a digital-only member of the “travel diary” series. Price will be $2.99.

For more titles coming out later in the year, see my home page.

: Travel Annoyances

  1. Losing your favorite t-shirt
  2. Trying to sleep in coach on a redeye
  3. Periods of no internet
  4. Realizing you forgot the cortisone cream (because you got bitten by a mosquito)
  5. Time zone lag—trying to change 7 time zones in 12 days confuses bodies (I don’t normally wake up at 4:30 or 6:30 in the morning)
  6. The eternal conversations about gluten-free
  7. Trying to find gluten-free, coconut-free food—in Polynesia
  8. Missing the kitty (but occasionally finding volunteer kitties)
  9. Water water everywhere (but not a drop to drink)
  10. Jet. Lag.

: Bora Bora: One Last Look


: Deep Pacific: Easter Island Trailer

Because I was worried about being bored, I took an iMovie class recently and made a trailer from pics and videos on Easter Island. Fun!

Easter Island from Deirdre Saoirse Moen on Vimeo.

(Depending on the Content-Security-Policy headings at sites I’ve crossposted this to, video may not display there.)

: Bora Bora

Bora Bora

: Mou'a Roa (aka Bali Hai), Mo'orea


Not quite the same one in the song from South Pacific, and definitely not the same one in the movie.

: Pitcairn Island

Technically the occupied island out of the four-island group, a British Overseas Territory.

Home to 49 people. Though I’m not sure if that number is before or after the Pitcairn native we dropped off today.

Pitcairn Island


: Rapa Nui at Dawn

Approaching Hanga Roa.


: Easter Island Pic

Moai. Anakena.

2014-01-13 21.12.52 copy copy

: My Problematic Relationship with Spanish

I’ve long had a problematic relationship with Spanish and the countries that speak it as a native language.

I’m working on it.

My parents both spoke French. My dad also studied German for his Ph.D., as well as Latin through college. My mother also studied Russian and Chinese.

Knowing more than one language was always expected of me. My parents put me in Spanish classes when I was little. And my friends’ parents put them in French, which sounded way cooler. Plus, the French teacher would give out goodies, including candy, but the Spanish teacher did not.

Meanwhile, I’d go to the library and try to learn Russian out of a book designed for kids. Out of all of that study, I remember one word: молоко (milk).

I wound up resenting having to take Spanish. The first time I got a choice, when I was in 10th grade, I enrolled in German. German because the French classes were full, and thus began another round of linguistic resentment. Though, I tried to console myself, if I went for a Ph.D. (which seemed a given at the time), German would be an acceptable language, so it was all for my long-term good. Right?

I didn’t actually take French until I went to college.

When my parents went (separately, as they were divorced) to Costa Rica and Nicaragua — I didn’t understand why anyone would want to go.

Over time, I’ve studied smatterings of a bunch of different languages: Hawai’ian, Middle Egyptian, Italian, and Yoruba among them. Just not the language next door.

I never again attempted to study Spanish, but I did finally take a course in Spanish literature and cultural history (of Spain, not of other Spanish-speaking countries), and it was a really great class.

That’s kind of when my transition started — from thinking Spanish was largely irrelevant to my life to becoming interested in the history and culture of Spanish-speaking countries.

Rick and I went on a cruise from Barcelona to southern Spain to Morocco (and the Canary Islands and Madeira) in 2011.

Then, in 2012, there was a glitch that allowed certain short-haul one-way award tickets to be booked for 10,000 miles — and the routing was extremely lenient due to a bug. The usual rules allow for 4 hours between flights without counting as a domestic stopover, but it’s 24 hours for international.

Thus, you could fly, say: San Francisco-Los Angeles-Houston-Guatemala City, stay less than 24 hours, and fly Guatemala City-Houston-San Jose (California). That would be 10,000 miles instead of 35,000. So, for a grand total of $27.60 and 10,000 miles each (plus a hotel room we paid for), Rick and I went to Guatemala. I also visited El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica that year.

And I loved each and every one, though I liked Costa Rica the most. Of the four, Nicaragua’s the place I’d most love to go back and spend more time in, partly because of Ometepe.

So we went back to Costa Rica, spending a day in Nicaragua, too. I found that I understood the Costa Rican Spanish pretty well, and I started wondering why I’d ever felt it was intimidating.

Panamanian Spanish and Chilean Spanish are another thing entirely, and it reminded me of my big problem with Spanish: it’s generally spoken intimidatingly quickly for me.

There we were, driving around, wondering what the number twelve was in Spanish when we were trying to speak to our cab driver (who spoke very little English). I come up with French (douze), Middle Egyptian (mḏw sn.wy for masculine form iirc), Yoruba (èjìlá) — the only language I know of that uses subtraction for expressing numbers, and Hawai’ian (`umikūmālua).

But Spanish? I got nothing.

Our cab driver says doce and both Rick and I looked at each other with that look where we clearly had both been searching our brains searching for the word — and failing to find it.

And, thanks to The Offspring, I will always have Spanish numbers go through my head this way: “uno dos tres cuatro cinco cinco seis.” So not helping.

Mount Arenal, Costa Rica

Mount Arenal, Costa Rica.

: Cue Globetrekker Theme Song

  1. Valparaiso, Chile to Papeete, Tahiti with Easter Island, Pitcairn, and Moorea as intermediate stops.
  2. Worldcon in London and Eurocon in Dublin with Wales in the middle.
  3. Lisbon to Rome via Gibraltar, southern Spain, the Balaeric islands, Sardinia, and Corsica.
  4. Barbados to Barbados via Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenadines, and Tobago. I still dream about this hotel in St. Lucia.
  5. Hawaii. Four islands. One ship.
  6. Rome to Venice with intermediate stops in Sicily, Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia.

Globetrekker clip:

: 2013: Year in Review



I mostly consider myself an alternative listener, but when I’m writing, I prefer electronica.
The most surreal music moment for me was being driven around in a taxi in Istanbul and hearing the background music for the opening scene for Fairly Legal, Season 2 (Episode 1, Satisfaction). I used SoundHound to find out what tune it was: Yachts (A Man Called Adam Mix) – Hôtel Costes – Etage 3 (Mixed By Stéphane Pompougnac). Tasty bossa nova. You can hear it in the background in this Fairly Legal clip.
Favorite album is sort of related in its own weird way. Ryan Johnson, actor in the above clip, shouted out an album he liked: …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age. Loved it. I generally listen to people’s music recommendations, and his taste and mine have a fair amount of overlap. I’ve liked Queens of the Stone Age for a long time, they’d just fallen off my radar.
Favorite new song is from the Air Tahiti Nui video below: Daybreak by Overwerk.
“Let me tell you ’bout the funky dolphins.” I was listening to Overwerk’s new album clips on Beatport when I started clicking into random other songs and discovered Pyramyth’s Dolphin Talk. I don’t normally like glitch hop, but this is fun and catchy and actually sounds like it’s using dolphin sounds in there.
For something more typical of my tastes (as I really like trip hop), picked up some back catalog Zero 7 and am really fond of the song In the Waiting Line. This particular song’s slower than I generally prefer and not suited for writing (too much vocal emphasis), but I like it a lot.
One of the songs of the year, for reasons that will become more obvious below, is Moscow Nights by The Red Army Choir, genuine Cold War era classic.

Movies & TV

I haven’t watched either as many movies or as much TV as in prior years. I do have five favorites, though:
Gravity – Amazing performance by Sandra Bullock, who remains one of my favorite actors.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – Yes I know you were told it’s a terrible movie. It’s not a great movie, but it is great fun. I enjoyed the hell out of it. More than once.
Sharknado – This movie was way smarter than it had to be.
In the short film category, there are two contenders for me this year.
The University of Bath produced this film about the Leidenfrost effect called The Leidenfrost Maze.
Air Tahiti Nui’s video made by Matthieu Courtois and Ludovic Allain has enough of a narrative structure to it that I’d argue it’s Hugo BDP worthy. Inside the turbines with them running? Hardcore.


I read — a fuck of a lot of books. I don’t want to know how many, but it was hundreds. Four in particular stand out.
Lauren Gallagher’s The Princess and the Porn Star is about a rock star trying to hang on to her career with a record label that’s sending mixed messages. One of the reasons I love it so much is that it’s the most “me” book I’ve read this year. I relate to every single one of her fears, which is part of the reason I didn’t pursue rock as my career. (I will actually write that story this coming year.)
Vivi Andrews’s Naughty Karma is one of those hate-to-love books that are hard to pull off, but this one works for me. It’s the capstone book in the series, though. Rarely do I like the final book in the series as much.
Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren is an incredible book, but I was less enamored with the sequels to it. Each was really different from the others, which is fine. The problem for me is that I felt that the subplots in The Mistress (aka book 4) were not really adequately set up in books 1 through 3, so it felt kind of last minute, and one of them was frankly unbelievable. Additionally, the book 4 antagonist is nowhere near as nuanced as the other characters. But: book 1 is extremely well written. What’s really interesting about it is that the out-there sex scenes? Aren’t in the narrative present of the book.
Jay Crownover’s Rule is the book that made me finally get what the New Adult category is about. The titular character isn’t very sympathetic at the opening, but in understandable ways.
Also see my Some Self-Published Love post for more recs.

Short Stories

I didn’t read a lot of short stories this year (apart from ones I read as an editor). ::hangs head in shame:: I either seem to read a lot of shorts or a lot of novels in a given year. I never seem to manage a good balance.
One recommendation: “The Slow Winter” by James Mickens. Link is to my blog post about it from earlier this year.


I want to express my undying love for Jenny Trout’s 50 Shades Recap, which, at points, had me laughing so hard I hurt myself. She calls it a “sporknalysis.” Also, her books, indie published under the pseudonym Abigail Barnette, are really good if they’re your cuppa.
Made a fan site for my favorite actor, Ryan Johnson. Who was flattered. And then, adorkably, bought an iPad. (He knew I was an Apple engineer.)

Personal Embarrassment

Tale of a pitch session at a writer’s conference. It turned out well, at least.


You’ve been waiting for this one, I can tell.
In order:

  • Visited Japan for the first time. Didn’t manage to leave the airport before I had my first culture shock meltdown.
  • In related news, had my first meltdown in Tokyo station. Repeat N times.
  • Almost missed my flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.
  • Visited Vietnam, where my uncle served in the military only to come home broken. Surreal, but a great place. They have immense pride in their produce regions. And they should.
  • Visited Federated States of Micronesia and stayed in a thatched hut in Pohnpei.
  • On Pohnpei, visited Nan Madol, which is a super impressive pre-historic city.
  • Had green tangerines in Kosrae. Apparently, oranges and tangerines never develop their eponymous colors in that part of the world.
  • Landed on Kwajalein.
  • Visited Canada to buy banned substances. Quizzed at land crossing border by Canadian immigration who (possibly justifiably) felt my visit was suspicious. My contraband? The best sugar substitute there is, banned in the US since 1969. It’s the one sugar substitute I can use.
  • Visited Sri Lanka, and loved it.
  • Visited the Maldives and was just amazed by them. I love small island countries, but this is a diverse country of many islands.
  • Saw an octopus while snorkeling in the Maldives.
  • Visited Myanmar on what could be the mistake fare of the century. Flight home, business class, from Myanmar to Seattle was €65.02.
  • I will always now associate the song Gangsta’s Paradise with Yangon, Myanmar. Thank you, night club across the street from my hotel. You broke my brain.
  • Had a rather awful trip to Puerto Rico. Nothing went right. Flights were awful. Car rental company accidentally charged me for someone else’s three-week rental, and my hotel stay was bad enough that my rant to Conrad got the hotel deflagged down to a Hilton.
  • Rather horrified about the rioting in Istanbul, especially since it started not far from where our hotel was and a couple of days after we set sail from there.
  • Charmed by Bulgaria.
  • Romania was oddly depressing, but I loved seeing the Roma houses, and I loved seeing the Danube river delta.
  • Didn’t expect to like the Ukraine so much. Probably liked Yalta the best.
  • Except for that one tour guide that was so horrible we actually bailed mid-tour. Never done that before.
  • I know you don’t want to hear it, but I’m going to say it as it was my reaction at the time: I loved seeing Sochi. It’s one of the few times where I felt like I was seeing more of the future of a city than the past. It’s also a really great spot on the map and I’d love to go back. Pity about Russia’s attitude towards QUILTBAG, so I guess it may be a while before I’d feel okay about going back.
  • Visited Novorossiysk, where there was just overwhelming loss of life, and you could still feel it all around despite the beautiful day.
  • Saw the Crimean war locations around Balaclava, then saw the ex-Soviet secret submarine base. Awesome and chilling.
  • Visited Alaska and got taken around Anchorage by my friend Bri. Had a great time.
  • On our way back, we missed the approach and flew around, eerily about three weeks before the Asiana crash, and I believe on the same runway. Surreal.
  • Rick and I went to Portland, Oregon for JayCon and JayWake.
  • Flew to New Zealand on my birthday. We hung out with friends and went to a con (Au Contraire).
  • Then flew to Melbourne to visit another friend from the fountain pen community: Nicholas.
  • Then flew to Cape Town, South Africa (via Bangkok and Johannesburg) to see one of my oldest Internet friends, and someone I helped get out of Scientology.
  • Flew to London (from South Africa) solely because I wanted to see Lloyd Owen (also a Fairly Legal actor) perform in The Bodyguard. Granted, I had to get home somehow, and this was as good a route as any.
  • In related news, bailed on two trips to South America this year, which meant I visited five continents instead of six. Before I switched to London, I’d planned to leave South Africa via Buenos Aires.
  • I also had a paid ticket to Rio de Janeiro, a deep discount fare that had an incredibly stupid amount of flying involved: Los Angeles to Orlando to Houston to Rio to Houston to Orlando to Houston to Los Angeles. When I was accepted into Milford, I switched that ticket to get me to Milford.
  • Was invited to go to, and went to, the annual SP (suppressive person) party of ex-Scientologists and critics. Got to meet Tony Ortega and Steve Hassan, among others.
  • Visited Las Vegas for a friend’s party. What a house! Master bath backdrop.
  • Finally got to go through the Nuclear Testing Museum in Vegas with more time than the last time we visited. (That’s where the Ground Zero Theatre image comes from.)
  • Visited San Antonio finally, a city I’d been wanting to visit since I was a kid. Yes, because of the song.
  • Went to Milford! It was amazing.
  • Visited the Isle of Man, which was a lot different than I was expecting, somehow. Loved it, especially the broad promenade in Douglas.
  • Our trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua was amazing.
  • Still not king: haven’t flown on a Boeing B787 yet. Sniff.


I’ll probably be ready to release something to GitHub in early Feb. It’s something I work on in between other things.
Mostly, I’ve been spending time filling in gaps in what I know.


Last, but by no means least.

  1. Wrote a good chunk of four books.
  2. Have more ideas for new books than I’ve ever had.
  3. Milford! Awesome!

The most useful critique is one where the person didn’t like my story, but was articulate enough about why to make me realize it was simply a manifestation of something I’d never realized about my writing. It’s really been making me re-think a lot of my stuck-in-the-drawer work. In several cases, those pieces are easily reworkable. Most will need deeper re-thinking.
Even more interesting, it’s something no one has ever mentioned before.
Fascinating, huh?

: T-Mobile International Data Roaming: Didn't (and Apparently Can't)

Exercise for the reader

  1. Buy an iPad (or pretend to have) for T-Mobile’s network.
  2. Try to sign up for a plan on T-Mobile’s site that is a Simple Choice plan without buying another device. Hint: start here.
  3. With this non-existent opportunity, you will get free international global data roaming. Isn’t that special?

Exercise 2 for the reader

  1. Buy an iPad configured for T-Mobile from Apple.
  2. Wait extra fucking weeks to get the damn thing because T-Mobile.
  3. Activate your 200MB free data. Woohoo!
  4. Oh. You want to travel. Add a paid plan.

Guess what? Your international plan, even though it costs the same amount of money, will not get you international data, and that is not disclosed.

Leave the country. Visit a capital city of another country. Note that you do not have data roaming. Contact T-Mobile support.

Hello Deirdre, I reviewed your account and I do see it set up correctly with no restrictions. Unfortunately we are not always able to guarantee full functionality while overseas.

Even. Though. The. People. With. T-Mobile. Voice. Plans. Are. Having. No. Issues.

Come home. Contact T-Mobile support before your new trip.

Get the following e-mail.

Our apologies but for Pay in Advance accounts (including your prepaid data plan), international data roaming is not available at this time. We do hope to see this change in the future, but for now, you would be unable to use your iPad internationally on a Pay in Advance plan.

Even. Though. It. Costs. The Same. Amount. Of. Money. As. The. Other. Plan.

This from a company that doesn’t even believe in plans.

And, from another e-mail.

In order to use the tablet while internationally roaming, we would need to have this attached to a postpaid voice line […].

Which — it does not say on the page I linked to, does it. Maybe that’s the way to “patch” the current non-functional plan I have, but, if I bought my device directly from T-Mobile, I’d be able to have, for the same amount of money as the plan I did purchase, a plan that covered international data.

Because the thing I really want to do when I’ve been jerked around by a company is give them more of my business, right?

There’s nothing polite I can possibly say here.

: Coming Soon: Coffee & Canopy

I’ve been busy as a bee, and hope to have an outline posted for So You Want to Travel the World before we leave for Really Remote Places. But, there’s another free perk for everyone who’s contributed $10 or more: an ebook I’m writing about our recent trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It’s called Coffee & Canopy.

Wanna see the cover? Of course you do.


The book will be free for everyone who contributes (or who already has contributed) $10 or more to the Indiegogo campaign for So You Want to Travel the World. Otherwise, it’ll be $2.99 all by its lonesome through the usual outlets. I’m almost done. Can’t wait.

Every book should feature unexpected venomous sea snakes, right?

The cover photo is one I took in Nicaragua at the Masaya volcano crater rim. The stairs leading up to the cross in the upper right have dissolved enough through years of corrosive volcanic emissions that they are now off-limits due to structural damage.

I’ll let everyone know when it’s available through the usual venues.

: One Year Ago Today: Into the Exclusion Zone

Montserrat’s a beautiful place. As you sail in, it looks like many other islands in the Caribbean with some nice mountains with clouds surrounding them (as is so often the case with islands). We landed at Little Bay, which is at the north of the island.

We tour the local sights, including the proposed location of the new capital, and hear about how so many thousands of people on this tiny island have had to flee; over half of it is still in an exclusion zone, though there are (apparently) multiple, nested, exclusion zones.


The island has some lovely flora.


And, as we drive to the south, lovely mountain views to the north.


It was once a huge tourist destination where the rich and famous vacationed. Where a number of famous albums were recorded, including Jimmy Buffet’s song Volcano. Before that, it was one of the locations of many Irish slaves and indentured servants. In 1768, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish slaves revolted, but slavery was not officially abolished until much later.

At present, it’s known for how greeen it is.


Our buses trundle along, and our driver says she doesn’t think we’ll get into the exclusion zone. It’s Christmas Day, after all, and the police have to open it up, and they’re home with their families. We pull to the side of the road right before the first locked gate, aka the first level of the exclusion zone. Cruise staff go to a building near the gate with a couple of locals, and voila, we have a key.

Clearly, something was arranged in advance.

So we head up into the exclusion zone, but most of the homes look, well, normal. Like places that had been abandoned, but not in bad shape.

When we drive over a ridge and finally see the first real effects of the volcano at Belham Valley. It doesn’t look so bad. A small river of dirt, right?


On our way down to Belham Valley, we see an abandoned house. The driver pauses for a moment to point out that the volcanic gases have dissolved the steel roof over the last 18 years, and that every single building we’ll see has similar structural damage that may not be as visible.


We take the road in through the second exclusion zone gate and pull up to a well-traveled spot. We’re warned not to walk off the path where people have driven because the ground isn’t as settled as we think it is. The volcanic ash is much, much deeper than we think.

This house?


Was three stories tall. B.V. Before volcano.

You can walk up to and (if you’re brave and/or stupid) stand on the second story roof.


It’s not hard to see the volcano damage to the details of the structure.

House in the Plymouth exclusion zone, Montserrat

We drive further into the exclusion zone, through a third gate. Some houses are really obviously damaged for good.


While others don’t look so bad unless you look more closely.


We climb through what used to be a hillside hotel, but is now a lookout point. Some of the houses look almost normal if it weren’t for the river of ash in the background.


Then, turning to the left, you see just how much ash there is, burying everything at least 2-3 stories for miles.


The lower half of the island is just a plain of desolation that used to be a capital city. The ash is not particularly compact, so in some cases it’s not even a little bit traversible.

Plymouth, Montserrat

It’s the weirdest thing. It doesn’t feel safe, yet it doesn’t feel as unsafe as it actually is. I had that experience in Hawaii, too.

For more pictures of the volcano and region, please see the Monserrat Volcano Observatory’s flickr page.

: Best Airline Video Ever?

Interior turbine photos. Dude.

Air Tahiti Nui released the jawdropping behind-the-scenes footage of its operations to celebrate its 15th anniversary. It was created by Matthieu Courtois, a 32-year-old technical engineer from Tahiti who has been working for the airline since 2007, with the help of pilot Ludovic Allain.

More in this story from Kate Schneider — including the awesome video. (Sorry, Ooyala video is annoying to embed….)

Isn’t the ending of that video amazing?

Soundtrack tune is Daybreak by Overwerk. Which I bought immediately.

Guess where we’re going next month?

: 2013 in Travel: 148,350 miles flown

First four maps are from Aperture.





This one’s from gcmap. Here’s the gcmap version with all airport and distance information.


New Countries and Territories

I started the year at 70 Countries/Territories on the TCC list. Ended at 88. I will make 100 with already-booked travel in 2014. Woohoo!

  1. Japan (UN 48, ISO 62: JP) (2013)
  2. Thailand (UN 49, ISO 63: TH)
  3. Sumatra, Indonesia (UN 6, ISO 7)
  4. Vietnam (UN 50, ISO 64: VN)
  5. Guam (UN 1, ISO 65: GU)
  6. Micronesia, Federated States of (UN 51, ISO 66: FM)
  7. Marshall Islands, Republic of (UN 52, ISO 67: MH)
  8. South Korea (UN 53, ISO 68: KR)
  9. Sri Lanka (UN 54, ISO 69: LK)
  10. Maldives (UN 55, ISO 70: MV)
  11. Malaysia (UN 56, ISO 71: MY)
  12. Myanmar (UN 57, ISO 72: MM)
  13. Bulgaria (UN 58, ISO 73: BG)
  14. Romania (UN 59, ISO 74: RO)
  15. Ukraine (UN 60, ISO 75: UA)
  16. Alaska (UN 1, ISO 1: US)
  17. South Africa (UN 61, ISO 76: ZA)
  18. Isle of Man (UN 4, ISO 77: IM)

: World's Lowest Countries

I’ve been to four on this list (1, 4, 5, and 8).

  1. Maldives, 2.4 meters, Indian Ocean
  2. Tuvalu, 5 meters, South Pacific Ocean
  3. Cocos Islands, 5 meters, Indian Ocean
  4. Marshall Islands, 10 meters, North Pacific Ocean
  5. Cayman Islands, 46 meters, Caribbean Sea
  6. Turks & Caicos, 49 meters, North Atlantic/Caribbean Sea
  7. Gambia, 53 meters, Africa
  8. Bahamas, 63 meters, North Atlantic/Caribbean Sea
  9. Anguilla, 65 meters, Caribbean Sea
  10. Niue, 68 meters, South Pacific
  11. Nauru, 71 meters, South Pacific
  12. Vatican, 75 meters, Europe
  13. Kiribati, 83 meters, South Pacific

: Why We Don't Sail Carnival

It’s not because of the poop cruise.

It’s not because of the Concordia.

Yet it’s indirectly related to both those things.

Here’s an example. Seabourn had two small ships, carrying 112 passengers. Seabourn was sold to Carnival, and those small ships were replaced with three larger ships with more than double the tonnage carrying 208 passengers. That’s not a bad size.

Except those three ships are now being replaced with 32,000 ton ships that carry 450 passengers. So, a periodic doubling of passenger capacity and a concomitant loss of intimacy.

Seabourn’s original two ships are now owned and operated by SeaDream. We love them. Sure, it’d be nice to have something a bit bigger, but their ships are really great, though designed before good wheelchair-friendly designs came out. (As a mobility-impaired person, it’s a bit challenging at times, but I manage just fine.)

When we first arrived on SeaDream, they knew our names, knew I needed gluten-free food, and so on. On our second cruise, most of the crew was the same, and they all remembered us. You can’t get that kind of intimacy on a large ship, and every time Carnival goes through another iteration, it’s to make things bigger.

Another point about gluten-free food and SeaDream: they mark every menu with what is gluten-free and what is not. They are very careful with it; I’ve never gotten sick from food aboard. Their food is truly world class.

: Oh, Pitcairn

Sometime when I wasn’t looking, Crystal updated our itinerary for Pitcairn with the following: “No organized shore excursions are planned on Pitcairn Island, as guests will not proceed ashore.”

Well, that sucks.

It’s one of the remotest settlements on earth, remnants of the Mutiny on the Bounty crew. I was wondering how 900+ guests (plus all the crew) would manage to go ashore on an island that has no harbour (or airport or, for that matter, cars) and only 50 inhabitants.

On the other hand, they will bring their longboats out and do some trade, so it’s still possible that something cool will come of it all.

However, as this affects one of the perks of my So You Want to Travel the World Indiegogo campaign, I’ve unfortunately had to remove the Virtual Pitcairn offering. It’s possible I’ll be able to add some modified version of the offering given that we will be there.

: Pacific Ocean Country/Territory Visit Difficulty, Easiest to Hardest (from San Francisco)

Note: difficulty is partly ranked by which can easily be reached via Star Alliance carriers vs. not as I’m a Star Alliance flyer and this is a list for my own purposes. Country & Territory list is taken from here.

Easy (non-stops)

  • Hawaiians Islands (nonstop from SFO)


  • New Zealand (AKL nonstop from SFO)


  • Australia (SYD nonstop from SFO)


Next easiest (1-stops)

A Simple Matter of Flights (2+ stops)

Other Logistics Entirely

: Basilisk and Bats

We went to the Palo Verde National Park yesterday and saw a lot of wildlife.

The basilisk, aka the Jesus Christ lizard, runs quickly enough that it can run on the surface of water.


Long-nosed brown bats nesting on a tree trunk. It’s a slight overhang, which isn’t obvious in the photo.

Bats on Tree]

: Corobici River Wildlife Day

Today we went rafting down part of the river here in Costa Rica (part of it was the Corobici river, and part was a feeder river, both in the Guanacaste region). We saw monkeys–and even monkey families–in quite a few trees.

We saw three crocodiles. The first two were close up and about the length of my forearm, but the third was much larger. We only saw his nose, though, so difficult for me to estimate size.

We saw two emerald basilisks, one of which we scared off into the bushes.

Also spotted: Four male green iguanas, complete with orange spikes (one of which we scared off by accident), and one female, as well as one black iguana.

In the bird department, we saw: a magnificent frigatebird (where magnificent is part of the name, not my adjective), several boat-billed herons, a squirrel cuckoo in flight, several osprey, a beautiful green kingfisher, and a grey hawk nest (complete with birds).

The best find was a small long-nosed bat colony consisting of about twenty bats hanging (and asleep) on an angled ledge. One of the mothers had a little baby bat with her.

Sadly, no camera with me today as there were dire warnings of wetness. Turns out it would have been okay, but better not to risk expensive equipment.

Aside from that, my Keens are soaking wet and still have rocks in them. Just so you know.

: Costa Rica Vacations: Visiting Mount Arenal

Mount Arenal, a common destination for Costa Rica Vacations] We were very lucky to visit Mount Arenal on our recent Costa Rica vacations. I didn’t get to see Mount Arenal on my first trip in 2012. On that trip, I only visited the Papagayo region in the northwestern Guanacaste Province.
Mount Arenal isn’t the most active of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes, but it is one of the most accessible from Costa Rica’s capital of San José. For that reason, almost 70% of Costa Rica’s tourists visit here.
Our vantage point where I took this photo came after a drive through the Arenal Volcano National Park, where we saw white-faced capuchin monkeys and quite a few birds. We didn’t see coati in the park, but we did see some outside.
After our trip to see the volcano, we relaxed in the hot springs nearby, fed by the heat from Mount Arenal. There are many, many hot springs in Costa Rica. We happened to visit the Tabacón hot springs, which was an amazing experience with so many high-quality pools to visit!
We booked our Arenal Volcano day trip through Swiss Travel, Costa Rica’s oldest and most respected tour agency. (Currently, they’re updating their website, so I can’t link to a specific tour.)

My Forthcoming Book: Coffee & Canopy

I’m writing a book about our Costa Rica and Nicaragua vacations. My new book should be out in late spring 2015.

Want Some Ideas for Your Costa Rica Vacations?

I have blogged about some trip ideas for Costa Rica Vacations.

: How Airline Status Protects You

We’re on a trip. Well, we should be. Aren’t yet. Last night, due to hard frost and no de-icing equipment in San Francisco, our flight was canceled.

When we first booked, I held the reservation for Rick and myself. Later, my mother decided to go on the trip, too, so we booked her a separate airline ticket.

Because we were paid first-class customers, we were re-booked in status order.

  1. I’m a Premier Platinum, the third of United’s status tiers. (Earnable tiers, lowest-to-highest: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, and then there’s Global Services, which is an entirely different category.)
  2. Rick’s a Premier Silver.
  3. My mother, however, has no status.

Thus, when there were no more seats, guess who got rebooked into economy?

Yeah, so that happened.

: Geographical Trivia

  1. All of Asia, except for Indonesia, is above the equator. (Some perspectives don’t count Indonesia as a part of Asia, though.)
  2. Wellington, New Zealand (41° 17′ 20″ S) is the world’s southernmost capital city. It’s at about the same latitude (different hemisphere, obviously) as Rome, Italy (41° 54′ 0″ N).
  3. The equator passes through the land or territorial waters of 14 countries. I have been to two of them: Colombia and Maldives.
  4. Venice, Italy, (45° 26′ 15″ N) is approximately as far north as the Vermont/New Hampshire border with Canada (45° N). Obviously, the vast majority of Europe is farther north than that.
  5. Melbourne, Australia (37° 48′ 49″ S) is about as far south as San Francisco (37° 47′ 0″ N) is north.
  6. Tokyo (35° 41′ 22.22″ N) is about halfway between, latitude-wise, as San Francisco and Los Angeles (34° 3′ 0″ N). This one invariably breaks my brain.
  7. Cape Town, South Africa (33° 55′ 31″ S) is approximately the same latitude as Los Angeles, albeit in the opposite hemisphere.
  8. Ushuaia, Argentina (54° 48′ 0″ S) is generally considered to be the southernmost city in the world. It’s closer to the equator than Copenhagen, Denmark (55° 40′ 34″ N) is.

: So You Want to Travel the World

Indiegogo campaign page.

Hi, I’m Deirdre.

As a kid, I was given a globe, and I was fascinated by it. I kept imagining that I would go to all these wonderful places, especially the islands where all the lettering squished together on the globe. Or weird places like Ifni, which was on my globe and existed for only 11 years as a separate province.

For years, I traveled for business only, and I was able to travel to several continents. I wanted to travel for pleasure and had a long list of places I wanted to visit, but no real idea of how to make things happen. So many places to go. So many things to see. Learn how to reduce the possibilities to a manageable list, then how to plan your trips.

Then, earlier this year, I had a once-in-a-lifetime trip planned. Eight days before I was due to leave, I had a wrench thrown in my plans and had to either a) scrap the trip entirely, b) have it suddenly cost thousands of unplanned dollars more; or c) change my trip so fundamentally that it no longer resembled what I originally planned. Learn coping strategies for adversity.

It’s a big world. Let me help you get out there.

My Background

While I’ve primarily been a software engineer most of my life, most recently at Apple, I’ve also worked in the travel industry.

For (now defunct, but not my fault) Eastern Airlines, I was a reservationist with the group booking desk, planning trips for the Caribbean and northern South America. You can see an old Eastern Airlines route map here.

I’ve also worked in several capacities on several cruise lines, mostly Premier Cruise Lines (also now defunct, but also not my fault), from purser to medical records consultant to computer consultant–also mostly in the Caribbean.

More recently, I worked in reservations at (the still existing, yay) Classic Vacations, the luxury division of Expedia. Like everyone, I started on the Hawaii desk, booking custom air-and-hotel packages for travel agents’ clients. Then I expanded to the other locations they had at the time: Mexico, Canada, Caribbean, and Europe. Eventually, I worked in product development as a product administrator, specializing in Turkey and Western Canada.

Here’s a map of my travels in 2013. (233,863 km or 145,316 miles)

As a traveler, I’ve been to 61 countries as recognized by the United Nations, or 88 countries and territories as recognized by the rather-more-liberal Traveler’s Century Club. I’ve been around the world twice. After I failed to go around the world twice. I’ve visited six of the seven continents, five of them more than once.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: I get this. This isn’t yet another Indiegogo campaign about someone wanting to fund their first trip to Europe.

I’ve delivered sixteen published books on time. In my past, I wrote twelve short adult western novels under pseudonyms. I have published four technical books through Que and Sams, and had a daily column of Linux tips for Earth Web in 1999.

The Calendar (and its pictures)

I also occasionally take decent photos, as you can see from the calendar here.

Note About Postcard Perks

Physical postcards can, unfortunately, take a long time to deliver. I always send myself a postcard at the same time as I mail them to others. When I sent postcards in early April from the Maldives, I received them in July. That’s unusual, but three to four weeks is not unusual.

There’s also a special case for Pitcairn: a) it’s one of the most remote islands in the world with very limited shipping to and from the island; b) there’s always the possibility we won’t be able to go ashore at all. Pitcairn has no airport and no harbor and is one of the most isolated places people live on Earth.

Because of delays in delivery, I’m also offering a virtual postcard, by which I mean a pretty photo I took at the location in question, e-mailed either from the location (available bandwidth permitting) or shortly thereafter, using a postcard application on my iPhone.

I’ll also take photos of the fronts and backs of postcards I send.

Why I Need Your Help

There are a bunch of other software engineers in the world, but there aren’t that many people who could–or would–write this book.

Historically, I can’t do significant amounts of writing at the same time as I’m doing software development. It uses too much of the same mental processes, unfortunately. In order to get this book written, I need to spend my time writing the book, not doing other things like looking for software engineering contracts or learning or refreshing existing skills. I need to turn down or delay other work in order for this book to happen.

Additionally, I’ve recently written part of a novel draft. The idea, synopsis, and opening was strong enough that I won $150 (2nd place) at a writer’s conference and was asked for a full manuscript (rare) by an agent at that conference. Story here. So I’d be putting this project on hold, too. The reality of traditional publishing timelines is such that it’s not particularly likely this book would provide income in 2014.

I’ll have expenses for software (updating InDesign) to produce the physical books, as well as expenses related to cover design and editing services. Ideally, I’d like to get my camera repaired.

I have two (already paid for) trips coming up where I’ll be able to talk to people who are even better traveled than I am. We’ll be on a segment (partial) world cruise. I’ve been trying to get on one of these my whole life, and this is an opportunity to write about it.

After It’s Over

Once my hand recovers from all the typing and signing….

My plan is to continue to self-publish So You Want to Travel the World in both electronic and paper form, then go on to publish the occasional travel journey as a separate short book.

: 2014 Calendar: My Travel Photography

I started making calendars in iPhoto in 2007, using travel photos for the year.

I didn’t make one the last two years, which is really a shame, so this year I relaxed my rules a bit. Normally, I want photos from December of the year before to November of the current year for next year’s calendar, and I try to show the diversity of places we’ve visited.

This year, the goal is to show as many of the Travelers Century Club regions as I’ve been to in the last couple of years. Most of these are iPhone photos, by the way.

Cover photo: Hong Kong (June, 2012), Asia

This photo was taken from the Macau ferry on what was obviously a very wet day. The focus on the window was accidental, but it was a happy accident.


January: Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia (January, 2013), Pacific Ocean

This photo was taken out of the window of a United flight as we were landing in Chuuk. In my case, I continued on to the next stop, Pohnpei, which became one of my favorite places in the world.


February: Narita Hilton Wedding Chapel, Japan (January, 2013), Asia

Finally a use for the oil paint filter in Photoshop!



March: Wales (September, 2013), Europe

After Milford, we did a field trip around Northern Wales. I need to figure out where this was on the map. What’s not obvious from the big shot, but is in the detail below, is the dog chasing the vehicle.



April: View down from the Burj Khalifa, Dubai (June, 2012), Middle East

In my only visit to the middle east (yet), the group tour to the Burj Khalifa was definitely one of the highlights. The wind was pretty fierce, and I was afraid I was going to drop my iPhone from the tallest building in the world.


May: Rick Swimming with the Dolphins, Tortola, British Virgin Islands (December, 2012), Caribbean

Professional photo, and the best of the lot of them. They have other locations (and there are other providers), but this was a lot of fun. Our first SeaDream cruise, and we loved them so much we ripped up our other cruise plans and rebooked.


June: Sunset, Guanacaste Region, Costa Rica (August, 2012), Central America

Picture was taken on one of my several crazy miles-using trips last year. Out on a Friday night red-eye, arrive in Central America around noon, take the noon-ish flight home the following day, arrive home Sunday night. Total trip time: around 48 hours, of which half was spent on a plane. Crazy. This trip cost me about $150 (plus miles and points), and most of that was the shuttle to/from the airport.

After one of these weekends, one of my coworkers looked at me Monday morning and said, “Oh, look what United dragged in.” That’s about how I looked, too.


July: Waterfall, Faroe Islands (September, 2012), Atlantic Ocean

I like weird cruise itineraries, so we went on one from Denmark to Norway to Faroes to Iceland to Scotland to Ireland and back to Denmark. Some of the seas were super-rough (even I got seasick and I’m not prone to it) and it was bitterly cold at times, but we got to go to some awesome places and have some awesome pictures to show for it. The Faroes were amazing.


August: Ex-Soviet Submarine Base, Balaklava, Ukraine (June, 2013), Europe

We missed BayCon this year because we took a Black Sea cruise on Seadream. It was a very similar itinerary to a cruise Rick had taken before the collapse of the Soviet Union–just a very different cruise for him. For me, it was all new. This place haunts me. It was very strange to be walking through a place that was built to withstand such high megatonnage blasts and staffed by 1000 people. Because they were afraid of us.

Here’s a link that gives more context to the submarine base.

Another SeaDream cruise.


September: Island in the Lagoon, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (January, 2013), Pacific Ocean

This is about the entire size of the island: a small house, a thatched-roof outdoor picnic table (with a dog underneath), a fishing net to catch dinner, a handful of trees for shade, and a ledge to make getting on and off a boat easier. Someone really lives there.


October: Sunbeams on Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa (July, 2013), Africa

My third trip to Africa, but the first time I got to see any impressive mountains there.


November: Sunset, Maldives (April, 2013), Indian Ocean

Taken from my own over-water bungalow at the Conrad Maldives.


December: Gustavia, St. Bart’s, French West Indies (December, 2012), Caribbean

I thought it would be kind of cool to have the calendar end with Rick walking away, sort of a metaphorical end of the year. The ship in the harbor is SeaDream II, and we’re on the sister ship, SeaDream I.

I learned that one of the yachts we saw had anti-paparazzi lasers. Way.


Back Cover: First Man, Street art, Brisbane, CA (July, 2011), North America

Taken in an old burned out building in Brisbane, this remains one of my favorite photos. Here’s the original version of the photo, though I prefer the highly-processed version.


: Counting Countries, Another Look

Geography freak (and someone who loves edge cases as much as I do) CGP Grey tackles the issue.

: Counting Countries

Once you get to more than a handful of countries, they start becoming difficult to count.
Consider the problem I had recently: I was at Manchester airport, about to board a flight to the Isle of Man, and domestic departures are one way and international departures are the other.
Which way should I go?
I stood there, stuck, not sure what the right answer was.
Isle of Man’s a little island between Wales, England, and Scotland on one side and Northern Ireland on the other. It’s got the oldest continuously-running parliament in the world. It has its own currency. It has its own official languages. It has its own passports. Unlike the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), the Isle of Man is not a part of the European Union.
For more about their relationship (and the whole mess generally), here’s CGP Grey’s wonderful video:

So, from a customs and immigrations standpoint, it occurred to me that maybe it was treated as an international flight. Instinct, however, told me that it was probably treated as a domestic one because most of the people coming/going would be arriving via the UK and it would be treated in the simplest possible manner.
Which, it turns out, happened to be the case.
Nevertheless, I counted Isle of Man as the 88th country I’ve visited.
I bring this up because there’s a new map showing where “all” the (196) countries are and I asked the question in the comments: “Why is 196 the right answer?”
As I also say, I use three different lists to keep track of country counts. The most restrictive (UN) lists 193 countries. The next most restrictive is the ISO Country Code (ISO 3166) list, which has 247 entries. The least restrictive is the Travelers Century Club list, which has 321.
Examples of some differences in my own visited countries:
UN and ISO counts England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as the UK, but TCC separates them because they follow their guidelines of “geographically, politically, or ethnologically distinct.”
UN counts Hong Kong and Macau as a part of China. ISO and TCC separate them. They have separate currencies, immigration policies, passports, visas, and official languages. As a practical matter, they are distinct.
TCC counts Hawaii and Alaska separately because of how far they are from the Continental US. TCC and ISO also both count Guam, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, etc. separate from the US. That’s partly because the TCC list is really aimed at travelers who are looking to broaden their horizons and because Guam is a very different experience than St. Croix or Hilo or Omaha.
Anyhow, it’s a complicated question. You might think it’s easy to determine what’s a country vs. what’s not, but it all depends on the definition, doesn’t it? 33 countries in the UN don’t recognize Israel as a state, and you can’t have a country without some recognition by other countries. So when is enough? When do the Cook Islands get their due?
When is enough for it to become a distinct blob on a map? When I was a kid, I had a globe with Ifni separately marked on it. I remember because it was one of the smallest places marked on the globe. Like now, I was fascinated by enclaves and exclaves (and enclaves within exclaves, like Nahwa).
World Map © alextrim and used under license.

: United Family Day

One of the things the travel community has are mini-conventions called DOs, and one of the cool things they do are station tours of various airport operations.
Smaller events (in time and scope) are called mini-DOs.
Thus, the household went to the SFO Mini Do, which consisted of the following:

  1. Charity lunch at The Slanted Door, where we raised money for FF Giving which is a pass-through charity primarily for the United We Care Employee Relief Fund, which helps United Airlines employees and retirees in crisis. I’ve got to say, The Slanted Door was among the best Vietnamese food I’ve had outside Viet Nam. (It’s really really hard to beat Cục Gạch Quán in Ho Chi Minh City.)
  2. Learning about United’s wifi and in-flight entertainment strategy, which had some interesting info about the problems of wifi bandwidth in the air.
  3. Sitting in operations listening into flight operations as we sat with one of the people handling flights and gates.
  4. A visit to the still-under-construction part of Terminal 3 (boarding area E, consisting of gates 60-68), complete with hard hats and safety vests. I declined to go up on the roof, but Rick did.

Then we trundled over to the 8th annual United Family Day, which had a bunch of things to do: vendors to visit (Rick got a picture taken as a Captain of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner), United planes to trundle onto and off of (we went on the 747), classic car displays (Rick liked the Morgan), new car displays (I had some quality Tesla time), food vendors (mmmm, pulled pork), and classic airplanes of various sorts.
Oh, and they ejected one of the airplane slides while we were watching. Quite loud!
There was also a plane pull. You could sign up on a team that pulled a United Airbus 320. We didn’t, but I’m sure there will be photos of other people from the Do who did.
One of the neat things about the planes on display is that each of them had something highlighted that you don’t normally get to see, like the innards of a 747 engine.

: Outside the Comfort Zone

I’ve been asked a number of times why I travel the way I do, and why I make a point of going to so many different places.
Do I have favorite places to go back to? Of course. Hawaii, Ireland, London (and the UK generally), Venice, Istanbul — those are among my favorite places.
In general, though, I’d rather go somewhere new. By new, I mean a country I haven’t been to. I have a list of countries sorted by minimum time it’d take to get there.
Because I discovered that I was sticking to countries that felt too safe, too secure.
At some point, I found out about the Traveler’s Century Club: to join, you have to visit 100, but their list is quite liberal. For the last 10 years, I’ve kept track of my progress, and I discovered that I really needed to get outside of my comfort zone if I wanted to visit 100 countries.
What I’ve discovered is that the world is not as intimidating a place as I’d thought. Somewhere between 50 and 75 countries (I’m now at 88), I lost a lot of fear about travel. I’m no longer quite as uncomfortable walking around in a country where I can’t read the script system and I only know a few phrases in the local language.
Some countries I’ve visited completely cold: I didn’t research El Salvador before visiting, except for the obligatory bits (checking to see what the safe kinds of local foods are and booking a place to stay). Imagine my surprise when I realized that the country’s currency was the US Dollar.
Some I’ve overprepared for: I actually planned a trip to Australia over a period of months. When it fell through, it took me years to actually want to go to Australia again because I felt like I’d already been there.
Every new place brings its challenges, but what I really love are the unexpected moments that challenge your assumptions about the world: making the faux-pas in another English-speaking country because the language usage is different; having a broken conversation because neither of you understand each other very well, leading to some great comedy; seeing some amazing treasures of art and architecture that you can’t see where you’re from; seeing how other people’s cultures differ.
Everyone has their own way of getting outside their comfort zone. Some people like it, some don’t. I think it’s an essential practice. Otherwise, over time, your comfort zone tends to get smaller and smaller.
Outside my comfort zone is dining underwater. I love the ocean, but there’s always a fear because large bodies of water can also be lethal. The photo above was taken at Ithaa restaurant (the world’s first underwater restaurant) in the Maldives.
A few of the things I’ve done in the last two years:

  • Visited Þingvellir and seen the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates
  • Walked some of the broad promenade in Douglas, Isle of Man
  • Visited the ruins of Nan Madol, one of the more fascinating prehistoric sites
  • Landed on Kwajalein, where tourism is pretty tightly controlled because of the US military
  • Been quizzed by a suspicious Bermudian immigration officer about the purpose of my short trip. He let me in when I showed him my Steve Jobs autographed iPad
  • Suspicious Canadian immigration officer wondered why I was having dinner in Vancouver and not staying longer. I pointed out that I’d had lunch in Indonesia the month before (it’s a ferry ride from Singapore), and showed him my passport entry. He rolled his eyes and let me in
  • Ski Dubai!
  • Trip with friends up the tallest building in the world
  • Weekend trips to four Central American countries, so I’ve now had at least a cursory visit to all seven
  • Spent Christmas Day in the exclusion zone of an active volcano
  • Flew on the last departure ever for Continental Airlines with friends
  • Nearly missed a flight out of Tokyo’s Narita airport
  • Had green tangerines in Kosrae. Apparently, oranges and tangerines never develop their eponymous colors in that part of the world
  • Got the deal of a lifetime on a ticket home from Myanmar (fka Burma). Side effect: took trip to Myanmar.
  • Visited a friend I hadn’t seen in far too long in her home town of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Being delayed getting out of Russia because the bureaucrats wanted more bribes from the cruise line (and they’d already had quite enough…)
  • Saw an octopus while I was snorkeling
  • Fell for Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, South African Airways (and, to a lesser extent, Cape Town), Micronesia, and New Zealand (again)
  • Flew around the world. Twice

: Country List: 88

Main count from Traveler’s Century Club

UN list from here.

  1. United States (UN 1, ISO 1: US) 1959
  2. Canada (UN 2, ISO 2: CA) 1962
  3. Mexico (UN 3, ISO 3: MX) 1968?
  4. England (UN 4, UK, ISO 4: UK) 1986
  5. India (airport overnight only, ISO 5: IN)
  6. Singapore (UN 5, ISO 6: SG)
  7. Hawaiian Islands (not UN, not ISO) 1987
  8. Indonesia (Java) (UN 6, ISO 7: ID)
  9. Chile (UN 7, ISO 8: CL)
  10. Bahamas (UN 8, ISO 9: BS) 1989
  11. Ireland (Eire) (UN 9, ISO 10: IE) 1990
  12. Northern Ireland (Ulster) (part of UK #4)
  13. Virgin Islands, US (part of US #1, ISO 11: VI)
  14. Jamaica (UN 10, ISO 12: JM)
  15. Puerto Rico (part of US #1, ISO 13: PR)
  16. Haiti (UN 11, ISO 14: HT)
  17. St. Maarten (part of NL #30, ISO 15: SX)
  18. Leeward Islands, French (part of FR #36, ISO 16: MF)
  19. Martinique (part of FR #36, ISO 17: MQ)
  20. Barbados (UN 12, ISO 18: BB) 1991
  21. Aruba (part of NL #30, ISO 19: AW)
  22. Venezuela (UN 13, ISO 20: VE)
  23. Colombia (UN 14, ISO 21: CO)
  24. Panama (UN 15, ISO 22: PA)
  25. Honduras (UN 16, ISO 23: HN)
  26. Belize (UN 17, ISO 24: BZ)
  27. Cayman Islands (British overseas territory, ISO 25: KY)
  28. Wales (part of UK) 1992
  29. Scotland (part of UK)
  30. Netherlands (UN 18, ISO 26: NL)
  31. Germany (UN 19, ISO 27: DE)
  32. Austria (UN 20, ISO 28: AT)
  33. Italy (UN 21, ISO 29: IT)
  34. Liechtenstein (UN 22, ISO 30: LI)
  35. Switzerland (UN 23, ISO 31: CH)
  36. France (UN 24, ISO 32: FR)
  37. Greece (UN 25, ISO 33: GR) 2007
  38. Ionian Isles (Corfu) (part of GR #37)
  39. Egypt (UN 26, ISO 34: EG)
  40. Crete (part of GR #37)
  41. Turkey in Asia (UN 27, ISO 35: TR)
  42. Turkey in Europe (part of TR #41)
  43. Denmark (UN 28, ISO 36: DE) 2008
  44. Estonia (UN 29, ISO 37: EE)
  45. Russia (UN 30, ISO 38: RU)
  46. Finland (UN 31, ISO 39: FI)
  47. Sweden (UN 32, ISO 40: SE)
  48. Norway (UN 33, ISO 41: NO)
  49. New Zealand (UN 34, ISO 42: NZ) 2010
  50. Australia (UN 35, ISO 43: AU)
  51. Spain (UN 36, ISO 44: ES) 2011
  52. Morocco (UN 37, ISO 45: MA)
  53. Canary Islands (part of ES #51)
  54. Madeira (part of Portugal, so UN 38)
  55. Bermuda (British overseas territory, ISO 46: BM) 2012
  56. Hong Kong (UN 39, China, ISO 47: HK)
  57. Macau (UN 39, China, ISO 48: MO)
  58. Dubai (UN 40, United Arab Emirates, ISO 49: AE)
  59. Luxembourg (UN 41, ISO 50: LU)
  60. Costa Rica (UN 42, ISO 51: CR)
  61. El Salvador (UN 43, ISO 52: SV)
  62. Faroe Islands (part of Denmark, so UN 28, ISO 53: FO)
  63. Iceland (UN 44, ISO 54: IS)
  64. Belgium (UN 45, ISO 55: BE)
  65. Guatemala (UN 46, ISO 56: GT)
  66. Nicaragua (UN 47, ISO 57: NI)
  67. Virgin Islands, British (UN 4, ISO 58: VG)
  68. Montserrat (UN 4, ISO 59: MS)
  69. Leeward Islands, Netherlands (UN 30, ISO 60: BQ)
  70. St. Barthélmy (UN 24, ISO 61: BL)
  71. Japan (UN 48, ISO 62: JP) (2013)
  72. Thailand (UN 49, ISO 63: TH)
  73. Sumatra, Indonesia (UN 6, ISO 7)
  74. Vietnam (UN 50, ISO 64: VN)
  75. Guam (UN 1, ISO 65: GU)
  76. Micronesia, Federated States of (UN 51, ISO 66: FM)
  77. Marshall Islands, Republic of (UN 52, ISO 67: MH)
  78. South Korea (UN 53, ISO 68: KR)
  79. Sri Lanka (UN 54, ISO 69: LK)
  80. Maldives (UN 55, ISO 70: MV)
  81. Malaysia (UN 56, ISO 71: MY)
  82. Myanmar (UN 57, ISO 72: MM)
  83. Bulgaria (UN 58, ISO 73: BG)
  84. Romania (UN 59, ISO 74: RO)
  85. Ukraine (UN 60, ISO 75: UA)
  86. Alaska (UN 1, ISO 1: US)
  87. South Africa (UN 61, ISO 76: ZA)
  88. Isle of Man (UN 4, ISO 77: IM)

: Words of Wisdom from Mackieman

For a friend of mine who is having, shall we say, brick issues:

Being die-hard loyal to a company is like being in an intimate relationship with a brick. The brick cares nothing for you. Do not love the brick; the brick will only cause you pain when it forgets about you. The brick serves only its interests and nothing else is of consequence.
The brick does not love you.


: Finland and Spokane: More Commentary

First, Lisa Hertel corrected me on my previous calculations: Finland’s hotel price was €80 ($106), not $80, but it also included breakfast and taxes. Thanks for the catch.
Rick Kovalcik additionally pointed out that Finland’s hotel rate also included wifi and taxes. Thanks!
I’m not going to do the re-calculations, but you get the point: it tips things more in Finland’s favor despite my gaffe.
Then, the other night, a friend of mine and I were doing travel window shopping on Facebook chat, and he booked a one-way ticket from Oakland to Oslo for under $300 on Norwegian Air Shuttle.
I’d missed the news, later posted to my blog entry, but Tommi added a comment to my post: Norwegian Air Shuttle (a low-cost carrier) has just announced US routes. Their five US cities are: Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York City (JFK), Oakland, and Orlando.
More on that in a minute.
Next year’s Finncon, the Finnish national convention, is going to be in Jyväskylä, the 7th largest city in Finland. It only has air service from Helsinki on Flybe, but people generally get there by train or road.
Airfare from Oakland to Helsinki one-way is $576.40, but that includes (remember, low cost carrier) no bag, no meal, and no assigned seat. That’s $94 extra.
One plus was that there’s zero penalty for flying only one way (verified by checking other cities).
I don’t know why it wouldn’t show return flights (suspect their site can’t handle long connects), but I didn’t dig too deeply into it. Flying to/from Sweden (ARN) was $1265 on Norwegian with basic extras. Flying to/from Helsinki same dates (July 8-18) on SAS and partners was a hair under $1500. It was $1510 looking on United, but all segments were actually on Lufthansa. I don’t generally book LH for long haul as I like my economy plus thank you very much. For long haul, it may literally be a lifesaver.
Also, I’ll note that there’s a lesson in this: when searching for the least expensive of non-specific dates, as I was in my last post, is a very different problem space than searching for specific dates. If you don’t need to be anywhere at any time in particular, you can always pick the best fares.

About Those East Coast Fares

For JFK-GEG (Spokane), the lowest fares next July-Aug are $590 rt on Alaskan, basically 10% more than the fares I found out of SFO. 10-20% higher than that was not unusual, though. In general, Spokane’s numbers vary a lot, which indicates that they are frequently hitting capacity even this far out.
Cheapest flights to HELsinki are $914 on Turkish, meaning a change of planes in Istanbul, or about 15% less than the fares I found from San Francisco.

: How The Fuck Are We Supposed To Live in Space When You Lot Won't Even Fly to Finland?

Okay, I’m being obnoxious with the post title. Granted. And I will concede that there are many good reasons to vote for a particular site over another, one of which is that you think that a given committee will deliver a better convention.
I’m not talking about those reasons.
I know I’m an experienced traveler (and known for same), so I tended to hear people’s travel-related objections to the various proposed Worldcon sites more than other people did.
Here are some of the actual objections I heard about the Finland 2015 Worldcon bid:

I don’t like the TSA

Well, then you should actually only vote for Worldcons outside the US because when you travel there, you’ll only have to deal with the TSA half as much, assuming that your last flight is an international flight. (Example: Helsinki-Frankfurt-San Francisco rather than Helsinki-NYC-San Francisco)
If you don’t have to connect to a domestic flight in the US, then you only have to deal with the TSA on your outbound flight.
Or you could move to San Francisco; we don’t have the TSA there (we have CAS).

I hate the hassles of airport security

So apply for TSA Pre-√. (This assumes Southwest is not your carrier of choice.) For US Citizens and permanent residents, I recommend applying through Global Entry, which also gets you quick immigration. Other programs like NEXUS (Canada) and SENTRI (Mexico) can participate.
And, bonus, Global Entry also means you get the fast immigration line into New Zealand, so you’ll be all set for 2020.
What does Pre-√ get you? The front of the line, even at airports with no Pre-√. The short line (I’ve never seen it more than 4 people long) at airports that do. No taking shoes off. No porno scanner. No unpacking into six bins (I seriously am not exaggerating here, I’ve actually needed six bins more than once). Most people will not need to unpack anything.
On the way back, you can skip the long immigration and customs lines. Stand at the kiosk, answer the questions, look at camera, fingerprint scan, take the receipt, you’re done. It has saved me over 20 minutes at times, though the minimum it’s saved is about a minute and a half.
Recent report from a travel friend, arriving back in the US from Rio:

At IAH (Houston). Sprinted to USCIS (US Customs and Immigration Service) because I’m a noncitizen and I had to beat the São Paulo flight that arrived at the same time as us. Managed to be first in line at immigration, and jetsetr still beat me through using Global Entry after sauntering down from the aircraft.

English isn’t Finland’s first language

English isn’t the first language of aliens, either, but we supposedly love them and crave first contact.
There have been four Worldcons in countries/regions where English was not the first language: Heidelberg (1970), The Hague (1990), Yokohama (2007), and Montreal (2009).
I’d argue that average Finnish command of English easily exceeds that of the average in Montreal. Like the Netherlands, English is very commonly spoken. In fact, I’d argue that the average Finn speaks English at least as well as the average American.

But transit … in a foreign country

Look. I’ve been to a lot of airports in a lot of countries. I think I can safely say that if I can find my way around airports in countries where the non-Roman alphabet makes no sense to me, so can you.
Much as English is the international language of aircraft controllers, almost every sign in almost every airport in the world is in whatever the country’s native language is — and also in English.
Every flight readerboard I’ve ever seen is also in English. Every ATM I’ve seen has English as an option, even in countries that don’t get a lot of American tourists (e.g., Myanmar).

But I’d rather drive/train/bicycle

Fuck Isaac Asimov.
You can have your NASFiC wherever. Let the Worldcon location be freer.
Even Asimov knew how to take a ship. (Hint: Cunard still offers the same transatlantic service it did in Asimov’s days, just less frequent. If you want to go to Europe and don’t want to fly from North America, that (or another line) should be part of your plans.
(For those who don’t know, Asimov never drove or flew. Ever.)

But I need a CPAP on my flight

Get a travel battery. Call the airline, tell them your CPAP’s model number. They will have their medical department clear you. Call to re-confirm 72 hours prior to flight.
It’s not rocket science.
I will admit to having screwed this up once. I’d had a ticket glitch on a United award ticket (during the merger last year) and my clearance got disconnected from the reservation when my ticket blipped out of existence. I’d called to reconfirm one ticket but forgot to check the second. The Swiss airline captain had to call to ground to get clearance. Fortunately, there was documentation on my other non-glitchy reservation. It is possible to get it cleared in flight like that, but I wouldn’t recommend it — it’s awfully embarrassing.
From a perspective of someone who flies a lot — a 10-11 hour flight, like one to Europe, really is the best length. Shorter flights break up sleep habits too much.

I have another medical condition that makes travel difficult

You know what? It happens. Maybe this particular Worldcon isn’t meant to be for you. None of us know for sure we’ll be able to do anything two years hence, so why hold up other people’s fun? Vote “No Preference.”
I know of people who’ve been to Worldcon under some pretty gruesome medical situations — mid-radiation, mid-chemo, and, in the case of a friend, post-terminal diagnosis.
Some conditions are showstoppers for travel, some aren’t. You’d be surprised at what people can travel with, though. I’ve heard stories about extreme medical tourism to Thailand in particular (and if you’ve been to Suvarnabhumi airport and seen the ads, you’ll understand).

Finland’s too expensive

I once heard the Hugos disparagingly described as an award ceremony held by “people who can afford a thousand dollar weekend.” He wasn’t wrong.
San Francisco to Spokane is $546 for next summer. San Francisco to Helsinki’s $1079. Spokane’s room night rate was $139. Helsinki was $80.
For one person, a flight and five nights would therefore wind up being $1251 for Spokane and $1479 for Helsinki. True, Helsinki’s higher, but it’s not as much higher as you might think.
Yeah, but I’m not traveling alone, you say. Fine, for two people sharing a room, Spokane would be $1787 ($894 pp) and Helsinki $2558 ($1279 pp), or $385 more per person.
Or, put another way, from San Francisco, one person going alone to Spokane is pretty much a wash, cost-per-person-wise, with shared accommodation in Helsinki.
Now, I’m not saying the costs aren’t real, or that they’re insignificant. I’m just saying that people were probably not looking at the whole picture or considering that they have two years between now and then.
I’m also going to say: consider the inverse case. Consider how many foreigners would come if it weren’t for the TSA, if costs weren’t so daunting, and if there weren’t language barriers.
I, for one, would like to hear more from the rest of the world, and that means holding Worldcons there.

: How You Know You're a Natural Novelist

You and your spouse have been discussing going to Worldcon and Eurocon next year (London and Dublin), possibly with side trips to Jersey, Guernsey, and Isle of Man.
In the simple form:
And then you talk about a place you two would like to go, and you think, well, it reopens right during Worldcon, so that would be convenient (as if anything like this ever would be) and so we could go on the way home.
Like so.
And that’s kind of what it’s like being a novelist: never seeing the simple arc when there’s a more interesting and involved complicated route to find.

: Using Your Powers for Good

Look, I’m an imperfect person. I also am not a huge complainer, even when there are plenty of things to complain about.

It took a lot of anger and disappointment to write this complaint about my stay in Puerto Rico and send it off to the CEO.

What did I hear?


So I called a few weeks later and was offered a “Be My Guest” coupon for a one night stay. Fair enough.

However, what actually finally made me really happy?

This notice from Hilton that the Conrad Condado Plaza was being rebranded as a Hilton. Sure, they didn’t announce it as a demotion. My letter may have had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome.

However, it seems that Hilton does, in essence, agree with me: a Conrad it wasn’t.

Kendra, I hope you’re doing well and they realize how awesome you are.

: Mistakes Were Made: Losing an iPhone

How My iPhone Was Stolen: A Risk Analysis

The afternoon I left Cape Town, South Africa, my iPhone was stolen by my cab driver. I made a bunch of mistakes that put me at risk. This is an analysis of the ones that have occurred to me.

  1. If you have a personal relationship, cultivate it. I do have a friend in Cape Town. It’s possible I could have asked her for a referral. I did not, so the days that I was in town and she wasn’t able to see me, I went with whatever cab driver I could find. I could also have asked for a referral from a friend of a friend.
  2. If you create a personal relationship, stick with it unless you have a compelling reason not to. A bad feeling is a compelling reason. My cab driver on Saturday was Sharon, who was kind of one of those bossy mom-like cab drivers. I really liked her, but when it came to exchanging phone numbers, I chickened out. I’m sorry, Sharon. It’s not that I didn’t trust you, it’s that I just get weirdly shy sometimes, and that was one of those times.
  3. When you have an item you carry with you at all times, guard against overstuffing it. My purse had too much paper in it. Therefore, it was too full. Therefore, when I needed to stuff my phone somewhere at a moment’s notice, there wasn’t room for it. Therefore, I covered it with my palm and put it in a thin nylon bag that the taxi driver stuck in the trunk. See where this opened me to risk? He may not have even seen my gesture, but the fact that it was there, out of my direct control, made it risky.
  4. When you have an appointment (e.g., for a taxi pick-up), be ready far in advance. My taxi driver arrived 12 minutes early. My bar tab wasn’t paid. I had to dig through the overstuffed purse for my neck wallet with my remaining South African currency. This created unnecessary stress and distraction.
  5. When your possessions are in the hands of other people, always watch the full transaction end-to-end. Now, as a matter of habit, I do watch taxi drivers load and unload my stuff, but I never really thought about why I did it. And so, my purse being overstuffed, I was stressed about something falling out into the taxi and my losing control of it, and that included things far more important than a phone (like my passport). So I paused by the rear door of the cab to finish stuffing the paperwork inside and zipping it closed. It took me no more than a few seconds, but I was fully engaged in what I was doing, you know?
  6. Weirdly, I didn’t trust the taxi driver, but I didn’t double-check the contents of that carryon, either. I did have an instinct that I should have. I don’t know that that would have actually accomplished anything, though. What would have happened if I’d discovered it then? Would the police have sided with me? Or would it simply have gotten worse? I don’t know.

So, an iPhone 4S with scratches all over its face from sliding across the floor of the Conrad Puerto Rico, a constant memory of my ill-fated stay there, was stolen by someone who was far happier to have it than I was to be reminded of it every time I looked at my phone.

Street value used for it was $50, so I’m more annoyed than hurt.

One other tip I’ll impart: if you are in a situation where you’re traveling remotely like that, make sure that your international data is enabled when you have the phone out of your possession. That way, you have a chance to remote wipe it when you deem it a total loss (assuming they don’t just power the device off immediately). Instead, I spent a lot of happy fun time changing my email passwords (first, because that’s what you get password resets sent to, right?), bank site passwords, my DropBox password, my iCloud passwords, and, most importantly, my 1Password passphrase and PIN. I have since changed all my other passwords — they were overdue — but that was a lot of tedium I shouldn’t have had to bother with.

Apart from that, the most practical immediate loss (since I had a cellular iPad with me as well as a wifi iPad Mini) was that all my tunes were on my phone. I have my devices somewhat segregated, and my iPads are more for video where my iPhone was used for music. So that part sucked, especially since I didn’t have time to download very much to listen to before my 11 hour flight to London.

Still, that’s a pretty small complaint, all things considered.

: SFO's Adventures Saturday and Travel Tips

I don’t have anything to add to the Asiana flight 214 crash, but I’m incredibly thankful that there was so little loss of life, especially given that it was at my home airport.
My friend Rob said the following:

I cannot quote this enough. Shoes on until the double chimes, and shoes back on after the double chimes. Not something you want to be fumbling around with if you need to exit in a hurry.

With that in mind, may I make a suggestion: have everything absolutely essential with you on your person before the last few minutes of the flight: passport, credit cards, currency, driver’s license, list of prescriptions, a day’s worth of pills if you have meds you need, and your cell phone.
If you ever need to exit a plane quickly, make sure you have what’s most essential, because you won’t have the time in the chaos to get anything else.
I use a neck wallet from Eagle Creek. I prefer the silk ones because they breathe better. Some people prefer belt wallets; some prefer travel vests. Whatever works for you.
You are almost certain to never need your items in such a circumstance, but if you do, it’s nice to have good habits in place.

: Hotel Program Points Expiration

I logged into Award Wallet the other day and noticed my Hyatt points were about to expire. Because I’ve been pushing to re-qualify for Hilton Diamond, my hotel stays have lacked diversity.

This post from Million Mile Secrets has links to a bunch of hotel affinity program expiration policies and how to keep your hard-earned points from expiring.

: The Outrage Machine Is on Vacation

I was hoping to make some salient points on the whole SFWA matter, especially given that (as with many of us) Resnick’s been one of my editors.
However, I’ve spent the last few days in the Second World, and I’m rather overwhelmed by some of the following:
1. Crossing the battlefields of Balaclava, Ukraine (of The Thin Red Line and Charge of the Light Brigade fame).
2. Visiting Novorossiysk, a city with a population of 24,000, bombed so severely that the only surviving residents were a mother, her two children, and their grandmother.
3. Seeing the famed Potemkin steps in Odessa.
4. Spending time in Romania, where Rick last was during the time of Ceausescu (he visited many of the same sites in 1978), and hearing about then vs. now.
5. What may have hit me the hardest: going to a long-secret Soviet submarine base in Balaclava and walking behind several layers of super-thick blast doors where 1000 people regularly lived — all developed because they were afraid of us. (The USA)
Additionally, we just landed in Istanbul (where there’s been a lot of rioting), a person I know has been raped and another person I respect has died, and I just can’t work up the energy on an issue that doesn’t involve issues as severe as any of the above.
However, I can insert my generic short form internet blow-up thoughts here:
1. There’s a reason my license plate is XKCD 386.
2. People are complex, and too often on this issue, I see parties from both/several sides reducing the other to one dimension that is unjust. This doesn’t mean there aren’t real issues, mind, just that I’m tired of rhetorical bullshit.
3. People feel obligated to be on the “right” side when the cards land, sometimes pressuring other people to shun someone. This is evil. I’ve been in a cult with shunning and I don’t do that. Sure, I may choose not to speak to someone, but it may just be I’m tired of completely different shit. Maybe they talk too much about Ohio. Or Cancun.
4. I’m not the kind of person who holds a grudge. I do think people need to be called on their bullshit, and if you call me on mine respectfully, I will appreciate you more for doing so. Some people will refuse to learn, and some will try to learn but fail. What matters more to me than one blow-up is how people deal with issues in the longer term.
5. I love the Internet and all the weird places it has, even the ones that make me shudder. Maybe even especially those. See #1.

: Pounding Abalone

When I was in college, I took a memoir writing class, and one of the in-class writing exercises we were to do was to write about “our mother’s cooking.” Or, if not our mother, who did the substantive cooking (which turned out to be a non-mother for a couple of people in the class).
There was a sameness to the stories: long, white kitchens, large meals of poultry, rather a blandness of cuisine that my family never shared.
Me? I wrote about the trimaran we built when I was a kid and the smell of the butane stove, the fun when people would go diving and bring back abalone. Then I got into an extended description of cutting abalone into pieces and having it still crawl across the cutting board, even while I was whaling on it with a meat tenderizer.
Abalone’s tough, you know. Really have to pound the everloving crap out of it for it to be tender enough.
Oh, and the island we were at (San Clemente) was being shelled by the military in training exercises at the time. From five miles out. Whoosh, boom!
Naturally, we had to read our little pieces aloud. As I read mine, I pounded the conference room table at the appropriate points.
At the end, everyone was a bit stunned, and the teacher said, “Okay then.”
It was not until that moment that I realized there was anything the least bit unusual about my upbringing. Truly.

: Conrad Puerto Rico: WTF?

Dear Mr. Nassetta,

This email’s mostly about my recent stay at the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza, but also somewhat about my Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar stay last December.

First, I want to say that, as a result of my stay at the Conrad Hong Kong last June, the Conrad Brussels last fall, and the subsequent stays I’ve had in 2013 at the Conrad hotels in Bangkok, Singapore (twice), Tokyo, and Maldives Rangali Island, I’d decided that Conrads were “my” hotel, by which I mean that, for me, they were the sweet spot of value and luxury. (Well, okay, maybe not value in the case of the last, but it was worth it.)

Until this stay.

So there I was, at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday, April 28th, arriving at the Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza.

I got out of my car, and a porter opened the door. By the time I opened the trunk of my car, the porter was nowhere to be seen, so I brought my bags in with me.

And then I was told by the front desk staffer that my room wasn’t ready, and that check-in time was 4 p.m. And, at that point, basically written off by the lady in question until that time.

Look. I get that arriving at 6:30 in the morning one is not always able to get a room. It has happened, but I don’t expect it. What I do expect is to be treated well in the interim.

At 6:42 am, I posted that to Twitter because I was so gobsmacked.

Then I was told I could take my bags over to the other counter to leave them until my room was ready.

A few minutes later, I realized I was hungry, and I asked a different front desk staffer if I could have breakfasts for today and tomorrow (Sunday & Monday) rather than the usual Monday and Tuesday. She asked if I meant I wanted breakfast now, and I said, “I’m a hungry Diamond, so yes.”

It’s funny how one word, Diamond, can make someone’s perspective change.

From that point, Kendra tried to take care of me. She tried as a trainee with a full hotel and people checking out late. But she at least tried to keep me updated even though the lobby was becoming crazy busy.

And, more importantly, no one but Kendra tried.

So I was given breakfast coupons ($7 voucher for breakfast for Golds and Diamonds? Seriously?) and water vouchers (that could only be redeemed from 12-5 at one particular place in the hotel) and a $15 credit for food in the hotel, and I thought — I got better service than this in the Best Western in St. Thomas. Except there was a bad word in between Best and Western.

When I looked at the vouchers for water (see attached photo), the censored version of my thoughts:

Whiskey? Tango? Foxtrot?

So check-in time’s at 4, and I’d been originally abandoned until that time. And the vouchers are good from noon to 5 p.m., and Hilton Golds and Diamonds can check in from 4 (as the first woman told me) and then have an hour to get their water because, you know, they have absolutely nothing else to do in Puerto Rico but that. Everyone else can suck it and buy the $7 waters from their hotel mini bar — that is, if they have a room and actually have a hotel mini bar. The rest of us are simply screwed.

I don’t know what problem the vouchers, which I’d previously encountered at the Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar last December, were trying to solve, but I can tell you one problem they do not solve:

Treating a luxury guest who is also a Hilton Gold or Diamond member as a valued guest. One whose time might actually be important. One who might be checking in after 5 pm and out before noon the next day, for example.

A friend says that he’s stayed at the Caribe, the Conrad, both Embassy Suites, the Hampton Inn and the Caribe. Per his recollection, all but the Hampton Inn used the certificate for water. How odd that I’d have felt better treated had I stayed there.

When I worked for Classic Vacations, one of your wholesalers, one of the things I learned was that luxury customers consider their vacation begins when they’re checked into their room. And, even though it’s been about ten years since I last worked there, I have to admit that I never truly understood this sentiment.

Until this stay.

You see, I couldn’t get out my computer and work comfortably because the business center required a hotel key. Pretty much anything I wanted to do really required some relaxing and a nap first, and I didn’t really have a place for it.

But now, now I get it. Your time really isn’t your own until you’re checked in, have your stuff, and can get on with what you want to do.

This time, though, I felt like I was just treated awfully and it seriously made me question why this hotel was a Conrad when I’ve had better treatment at the lowest tier of Hilton brands. And that’s not even getting into the fact that one of the restaurants you could sign your room charges to is a Denny’s. While that offends my sensibilities, they were 24/7 and the service was better than what I got in the lobby from anyone but Kendra.

: Four Sunday Travel Moments

Confession: back in the day when I had custom-made suits, I wore men’s ties because they had better range and materials than the women’s offerings, plus they didn’t make one looked gift wrapped. I also, to this day, still covet one particular Italian silk man’s tie that a colleague used to wear.


As I’m getting up from the United club Sunday morning, a guy passes me and heads for the info desk, asking where his gate is. He’s dressed in a black wool newsboy cap, neatly trimmed brown hair, a grey seed stitch sweater that appears to be merino wool, nice jeans that are just a little too loose, and black short boots. He looks like he should be English, so I’m surprised by the American accent.


I’ve left the club (he was still talking) and he breezes by me on the way to my gate, parting the crowd of no-status passengers to veer through to the elite line. As I’m also qualified to use that line, I follow him. He scans his boarding pass, and I see his first name’s Matthew. He’s also carrying a navy pea coat under his left arm, and in the right, he’s got a black Tumi bag with a copy of Esquire hanging out. As we walk to the plane, I have time to study his shoulders, which are awesome and broad. He probably wears an XL in shirts, but he has more of the build of a swimmer than a bicyclist. When we get to the plane, he turns left into first class, and I turn right into coach. (No upgrade for me.)

I wonder where he’s been traveling from that he needed both the sweater and the coat, because LA was cold, but not that cold. That a traveler like him had a paper ticket printed by a gate agent suggests that he’s been rerouted today.


As I’m standing in the third row of coach to get out, I see him leaving the plane. Really nice tone-on-tone white jacquard shirt.

But that tie! Matthew, dear, you can do far far better than that tie. I don’t know what prompted you to wear a tie on a Sunday morning. You don’t strike me as a regular wearer of ties, which may be the problem. This one has the look of the “best a poor boy could afford for the high school prom” kind of tie, except that it at least looked like it was silk, not polyester. So it wasn’t a grade 1 fashion emergency, but it was a solid 2.

Dude, you read Esquire, how could you possibly wear a red-and-grey striped awful tie like that? C’mon.

Look, this tie is like carrying around that picture of the girl who dumped you after three dates in high school. At some point, you just need to move on. This is one of those times.

(There are nice red-and-grey striped ties, but this didn’t happen to be one of them.)


Even though he got off the plane before me, I’m standing on the slidewalk on my way out of the airport. He breezes past me, brushing my hand with his as he passes. Definitely a merino sweater.

: The Vacation Interview Question

My former boss^3, Don, posted this article referencing this BusinessWeek article, which has some stellarly bad interview questions.
Like: what are the top five cities you want to go to, and why? And: where do you vacation in the summer?
The latter is worse than the former because it gets into illegal question area pretty quickly, like the prospective parent who wants to use the time as a part of parental leave.
But even the former is tricky, because there are people who do religious tourism, and there are people who, like me, love to visit religious places where people might overinterpret our interest.
For example, I absolutely love Islamic art because I love anything complicated and geometric. Likewise, I like Celtic art, there’s just so much less of it in the world on big structures. But people can and will misinterpret my desire to visit Istanbul, you know? Or my visit to Morocco’s Hassan II Mosque in 2011.
That’s not even getting into issues about going around the world last year, specifically my trip to Dubai. I’d been wanting to go for years, I had gobs of frequent flyer miles, and I went because the trip organizer, eightblack, sounded funny when he wrote up a trip report. Specifically, it was this post about a visit to the Ferrari factory in Maranello.
So yeah, because Rick didn’t want to go (and we didn’t have enough miles for both of us to go anyway), and because I wanted to do it and Rick didn’t, I went. So here I am trying to imagine how people in a job interview might interpret the fact that there I was, sitting in a restaurant the last night in Dubai, talking with lovely people (almost all men) I’d never met bet before halfway around the world from home, and wondering WTF anyone would think about cultural fit from that.
Especially if it involved the conversation with Khalid where he said, “You could drive the gulf states in 19 or 20 hours,” and I pointed out, “Well, you could. I could not.” (Saudi Arabia and women driving, y’know.)
Also, as a point, I generally don’t vacation in summer because it’s high season and I’m a shoulder- or low-season tourist by preference. The assumption that one is vacationing in summer implies kids and school schedules, which also implies an illegal interview question.
Someone who knew I visited Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico in 2012 might think I actually spoke Spanish rather than made half-hearted attempts at it.
Funny story time. A couple of years ago, I friended an ex of mine on Facebook. We’d dated on and off for 11 years — really, when we weren’t involved with other people. So, somewhere between “friends with benefits” and a real relationship. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a few years.
So he proposes to take me to Cancun (as an affair), rapidly succeeded by my blocking him on Facebook.
My first reaction was, “Wow, that’s the best you’ve got? No wonder I didn’t marry you.”
This is not to diss Cancun. Okay, well, maybe it is. But Cancun is really not a Deirdre kind of place. Not at all. It’s not that I couldn’t have fun there, I could. It’s just that it ranks so low on my list of places I’d like to go, it doesn’t even make the top 250.
I’d far rather stay married to the guy who took me into the exclusion zone on Montserrat for Christmas, you know?

: In Bruges

When we were in Bruges, I heard what I thought was a pipe organ and headed for the campanile.
No pipe organ, just some awesome buskers. Enjoy. Sorry about the length of the clip — it had already started before I got there, and I was running out of space on my phone.
I think my single biggest regret of the entire trip is not picking up one of their albums.

Toccata & Fugue, Bruges from Deirdre Saoirse Moen on Vimeo.

: Nan Madol

One of the great prehistoric sites of Micronesia, largest that I know of. Granted, I’m not an expert on Micronesia.
Nan Madol

: Island Hopping

Doesn’t this look like an awesome trip idea?

: When Airships Tweet

I love some of the rhetorical perspectives on Twitter, especially parody people and pets, but I’m kind of new to forces of nature and inanimate objects tweeting.
So imagine my joy the other day when I saw our very own @AirshipEureka blipping about the neighborhood. She’s sporting a new side (to me) with a twitter hashtag: #ZeppMe.
Being the person I am, I leaned out of the car, snapped a photo with my iPhone, edited it in Snapseed, uploaded it with the right hashtag and got a reply. From an airship. I mean, how cool is that?

: How Much Did it Cost to Go Around the World?

A lot of people who write about aspirational travel talk about getting big sign-up bonuses for credit cards — okay if you’re that kind of person, but I have a mix of cards I like. I also don’t necessarily like to be beholden to any given chain. In the last year, I made two changes: I changed my Hilton American Express card to the Surpass version, which has an annual fee and offers me Gold status for one year. Additionally, I upgraded my American Express Green card to a Gold Rewards card before going to Bermuda. Those were the only two rewards cards I used on this trip.

Thus, I felt I had the flexibility to stay where I wanted to: Conrad Hong Kong for the best Hilton value, then I booked the Park Hyatt Dubai through American Express, giving me double Membership Rewards points, and I’d booked the Eden Au Lac in Zurich directly as American Express didn’t have availability for my dates.


San Francisco to Hong Kong Cathay Pacific: 35,000 British Airways Avios + $150.40 in taxes and fees. Coach. Approximate cash cost of this ticket: $772
Hong Kong to Dubai Cathay Pacific: 40,000 British Airways Avios + $142.17. Business class. Typical flight cost: $3388.
Dubai to Zurich Swiss: 27,500 United miles + $21.80. Business class. Typical flight cost: $3340.
Zurich to Luxembourg (and back) Swiss: 32,500 United miles + $47.95. Business class one way (all I could get), economy the other. Typical flight cost: $888.
Zurich to San Francisco via New York Swiss and United: 50,000 United Miles plus $65.10. Business class on Swiss, First on United. Typical flight costs: $5863 for the Swiss flight, $1722 for the United flight.

All told, $15,973 of flights for $427.42 + 185,000 frequent flyer miles. Good deal. Because I used two programs, I booked them segment-by-segment due to stopover rules.

I left San Francisco on June 10, my first day of travel.

Hong Kong (June 11- very early on the 14)

  1. Cash taken with and converted: $100, which was partly used for airport express train, taxis, and one lunch at the Macau ferry terminal
  2. Conrad Hong Kong (3 nights at Points + cash rate of $85 a night + 25,000 points, plus one dinner): $347.32
  3. Spaghetti 360: lunch on Victoria Peak: $17.92
  4. Macau ferry: $37.51 round trip

Since there’s only one Hilton property in Hong Kong and I had lots of Hilton points, the choice of place to stay was super-easy. Due to my Hilton status, I was upgraded to an Executive Peak View room, which was amazing. Also, the exec room offered free breakfast and light snacks later in the day, so this helped save on my budget.

Dubai (June 14-18)

  1. Cash withdrawn from ATM: $136.13 (500 dirham)
  2. Brunch: $72.74 Park Hyatt Dubai: $816.88 (three nights, one half night for coming in very early, breakfast daily and one dinner) — this was booked as a regular summer special; the base hotel rate was ~170/night.
  3. Ski Dubai: $59.90 At the Top (Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building): 28.73

Initially, I’d booked at the Hilton Dubai Creek, but most everyone was staying at the Park Hyatt, so I went with the flow even though the room was more expensive. In the long run, not having to take my own taxis saved some money.

Zurich and Luxembourg (June 18-20)

Note: I changed my remaining currency from Hong Kong and Dubai into Euros

  1. Hotel Eden au Lac: 863.48 (two nights, two breakfasts, one dinner, base hotel rate ~355/night)
  2. Zurich Transit and museum pass: $41.94
  3. Luxembourg airport lunch: $18.03
  4. Hot chocolate at Sprungli: $8.44
  5. Gogo wifi for flight home on United p.s.: $12.70

Zurich hotels, especially in summer, are extremely expensive, and I picked a boutique hotel that I knew was good with a great location. It was less than all the major chains, but not incredibly outrageous. The view was phenomenal, though the view from my room was what we’d call “adjacent office building view.”

Total for everything — 11 (well, really, 11-1/2) days of travel — $2989.14.

I had a working budget of $2300 during my trip; I had prepaid several items (including flights), so I actually came out almost $200 under budget. All told, my expenses ran $271.74 a day — not bad for business class (save for one leg in economy and one in first) and staying at some of the nicest places in the world for a week and a half. Part of this is the long flights, though: I traveled for 11-1/2 days, but paid for 8-1/2 days of hotels.

: My Westercon Schedule

This weekend, I’ll be speaking at Westercon 65 at the Doubletree Seatac in Seattle.
Here’s my schedule:
Thu Jul 5 3:00:pm – 4:00:pm Humor in Speculative Fiction
Cascade 2 Blowing up a spaceship is easy; making it funny is hard. Writers talk about hilarity for fun and profit.
Deirdre Saoirse Moen Frances Pauli Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Ted Butler
Fri Jul 6 9:00:am – 10:00:am Research for Fantasy Writers
Cascade 13 Readers don’t want to run into glaring inaccuracies in a story. How does a fantasy writer avoid this? Where can a writer find good research sources easily? What has to be “real” in a fantasy world, and what can the writer get away with?
Anna Sheehan Deirdre Saoirse Moen Michael Ehart Renee Stern Robin Hobb
Fri Jul 6 1:00:pm – 2:00:pm Lessons From The Slush Pile
Cascade 7-8 Slush piles can be terrifying. They can also be an author’s best friend. Why you should volunteer your time as a slush pile reader.
Deirdre Saoirse Moen Janna Silverstein Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Patrick Swenson
Sat Jul 7 4:00:pm – 5:00:pm My Town
Cascade 2 Westercon is a regional convention. Part of the beauty is getting to see how it’s done in your town. What towns would you like to see host Westercon?
Deirdre Saoirse Moen Gibbitt Rhys-Jones Suzanne Tompkins
Sun Jul 8 11:00:am – 12:00:pm Ebook Conversion 101
Cascade 3-4 Want to take your manuscript and convert it to an ebook so you can post it on Amazon and make more money than the Queen? Great! Where do you begin? What tools do you need? How do you get from A to B to C and the rest of the alphabet before you’re ready to upload it? Let’s discuss.
Deirdre Saoirse Moen G.Robin Gibbitt Rhys-Jones M Todd Gallowglas Tod McCoy

: To Answer a Question

Several people have asked why I’m not at Wiscon. Short answer: I have better things to do with my vacation time.
With a thriving local con, I’d rather go there. Also: this year, my travel costs to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador cost less in aggregate than Wiscon would, and I think it’s a better use of travel budget than a non-local con.
Also, I simply cannot see giving Wisconsin any of my tourism dollars while that state continues to have people like Scott Walker in power. Sure, I’ve spent tourism dollars foreign countries that were more oppressive, but not ones contributing to the problems here at home. Part of the reason I do that is to understand the problems women face worldwide, and I think I understand the domestic problem set fairly well.
Frankly, I’d rather do direct feminism rather than going to a con to talk about feminism.
The moment I’ve had held in my mind half this political season also came from Taroudant: when I saw a line of mostly women in front of a storefront, then saw the sign that said “Écrivain Publique.” They were waiting for a scribe. (While I took a lot of photos in Morocco, I didn’t take this one because it felt disrespectful to do so.) When I hear about proposed education cuts, or hear about how people think education’s not important, that’s the image I have in my mind, and if I’d gone to Wiscon last year instead of Morocco, I wouldn’t have that moment.
For a photo Rick took: goats love argan, and love to climb the trees. Who knew?

[![](/images/2012/05/P1090983.jpg "Goats in Argan Tree")]( in Argan Tree

: Trip Report: San Francisco to Mammoth

Mammoth Trip Report
My dad recently turned 80, so his friends wanted to throw him a party. Due to a history of altitude sickness and a dislike of mountain driving, I really don’t visit Mammoth frequently, but I was particularly motivated for this trip.
Dad recently mentioned that United had seasonal flights from San Francisco to Mammoth (airport code: MMH). Back in the day, there were only flights from the commuter terminal at LAX, and for quite a few years, there weren’t any commercial flights at all. So the revelation was a surprise to me.
So Rick and I booked a trip to visit my dad, flying out Saturday morning and flying back Monday morning so we’d get some good time with him.
My usual allegiance is with Hilton, but there are no Hilton properties in Mammoth, and the only Starwood property is a Westin at rates higher than I’m willing to pay.
Normally, I use TripIt to track flights and hotel reservations.. This has been a real boon in many cases, especially with schedule changes. This trip is the first time it’s ever led me astray: TripIt said the flight was leaving out of Terminal 1, but it turns out the flight operates out of Terminal 3. Neither United’s iPhone application nor the web site had info, nor did the departures board, so, after Rick picked up coffee for us, I actually called United on the house phone to get the information.
Later, people on FlyerTalk explained it for me: it’s a frankenflight. It’s caught in something of a contract issue between United Express, United, and Continental where the flight was operated by Continental but had to be sold as United, and that kind of pain has made its way all the way through the system.
You may recall from prior adventures that I’d flown a lot last year, though a good chunk of it wasn’t on United or its partners, and I flew enough to earn what used to be called 2P status, but, in the post-merger world is called Premier Silver, United’s lowest status tier. Technically, that would waitlist me for Economy Plus, but it wasn’t offered to me on this particular flight even though there was not only Economy Plus, but also First class on the small jet. Oh well, it was a 37-minute flight, no big loss.
The plane was a Canadair regional jet, and it was nicely quiet, surprisingly so. Flying over the Sierras, we saw just how bad some of the snow fall had been this year, sadly.
Our flight was on time into Mammoth, which is a super-small airport with one gate and one waiting area (so they can only have people waiting for one flight at a time). We picked up our rental from Hertz, then went up to my dad’s place past the village near what used to be called Warming Hut 2 but now has a much more high-falutin’ name. It was really great to see dad again!
Dad’s favorite place for breakfast and lunch in town is Good Life Cafe, which had a dauntingly large menu. After determining that my first two choices could be made gluten-free, I had an Eye Opener with mahi mahi. Rick had the Chile Verde. I can’t recall what my father had. The food was good, and we were stuffed through to the dinner party dad’s friends had set up for him. One of his friends got him an awesome 80th birthday cake with ginormous strawberries. On the way there, the weather changed a bit and we had a light dusting of snow, which was welcome by my dad and all his skier friends.
We finally checked into the Shiloh Inn, which was decent enough but a bit drab. We didn’t use the pool, though I regret that choice now. After years of being a pool fiend, I haven’t been using them nearly enough, and this pool was open 24 hours. However, the side effects of the altitude medication meant I was in significant pain.
The following morning, we again headed to get my dad and again went out for brunch at Good Life Cafe, and several of dad’s friends joined us. It was great really getting to spend some time with people he’s known for years and talked about a lot, but whom I’ve barely met before. This time, my dad tried the Chile Verde. I had the same Eye Opener, just because it was that good. My dad was recovering from some illness, so he bowed out for the rest of the day.
Rick and I were feeling up for some extra altitude, so we took the gondola to the top of Mammoth and walked around the top of the gondola. We’d gone up pretty late in the day, so we had about half an hour up there, then went to the bar at the midpoint. Previously, I’d always had a hot chocolate, but none was available, so I had an Irish coffee instead.
We tried to find one place that seemed promising on Yelp, but couldn’t find what we were looking for, so we went to Red Lantern, where they were able to come up with some really tasty gluten-free food.
The following morning, Monday, was our flight out. Catch was, we woke up and it was completely clouded over and snowing. Now, there are quite a few microclimates there, and where my dad lives is a different microclimate from the center of town (where we were staying), which is a different microclimate from the airport. I checked my messages and the flight status and it looked like our flight was still on, so we ate our free breakfast downstairs (which basically only a piece of fruit for me as nothing else was edible) and drove to the airport.
After we arrived, I got an email from my mother and a phone call from United that our flight was canceled — after we’d returned the car. Several people were having meltdowns about that. Skiers who were happy about it were thrilled to change their flights. We were there early enough that we got rebooked for a later flight. By the time all that was done and we re-fetched the car keys from Hertz (who said we couldn’t drive the cars to San Francisco, not that I wanted to), the weather was starting to clear. Of course it was.
We got cocoa in the little refreshment hut, and then headed back to town, where we once again picked up my dad and went out to you-know-where. After that, we finally had enough time at our leisure to check out a place a couple doors down that Jaym Gates told me about: Looney Bean, one of those most beloved kinds of places where you can get good coffee and great atmosphere. Rick and I sat transfixed in front of the fire, mugs in hand.
Now, one of the challenges of Mammoth is altitude. It’s at 7,000 feet, is a difficult takeoff, and skiers are not known for being light packers. Weight and balance are always issues on regional jets, and this one actually has a first class and economy plus to make the load lighter (fewer seats and all that). But sometimes, that’s not enough. Due to the canceled flights earlier, the flight was oversold, so they’d had to involuntarily deny boarding to some people. They’d asked for four volunteers before boarding. After that was done, they began boarding us.
Due to my status, I was upgraded to first, and they accidentally gave Rick’s seat away (he wasn’t upgraded as he doesn’t have status), so they put him in first too. Because they couldn’t move anyone else forward, but because they needed more weight forward, they moved some of the luggage into the other four seats in first class; luggage weighs less than people do. Still, three more people volunteered to be bumped, and, after all that changing people around, we were finally under the projected weight by two pounds.
We had a beautiful and uneventful flight back, and I was happy to see more snow on the mountains on the way back. My full photo set is available on flickr.

: A Spork and a Water Bottle (or two)

This post on Boarding Area about travel tips reminded me that there’s two travel essentials I see too little of on the road.
Last year, for my birthday, I was given a modest Amazon gift certificate, so I pored over the site for some things I really wouldn’t have thought to buy otherwise.
One of the things I bought was a purple titanium spork, made by Snowpeak. Mine’s the purple one. The lovely thing about it is that it can be used for all kinds of things (even pasta), though hot cereal with milk (or anything soupy, really) is something of a challenge if you’re not careful. Unlike stainless steel, titanium doesn’t have a metallic tang affecting all flavors; titanium’s as neutral flavor-wise as sterling silver.
Being somewhat eco-minded, I prefer using my spork to disposable plastic cutlery, even the taterware that’s designed to be recycled.
SnowPeak colored titanium sporks

The other thing I always carry with me: a water bottle I bought at REI that fits in the outer bottle pocket of my purse, and a flat Vapur water bottle in case I need more. Note: I lost my first Vapur cap when I was traveling over Christmas, so I’d suggest buying an extra cap if you’re prone to losing things like I am. For shorter trips or where I want to travel lighter, I’ll just take the Vapur. If I want both coffee and water (or soup and water, or some combination of non-water and water), I have the capacity to carry both.

Now, of course there are places I buy bottled water. I’ve made the mistake of drinking local water when I shouldn’t, it’s no fun. I’ve also had thin-walled water bottles explode; pouring the water into an sturdier bottle (either my hard-sided bottle or my Vapur) helps prevent catastrophe.
I also love the whimsy of my Vapur; I have the “Bottle Dwellers” artist’s edition from David Herbst:
Shop Vapur water bottles on Amazon

: Altitude Sickness Prevention

I’m someone who’s really sensitive to altitude. I start getting sick at around 4,000 feet.

My dad recently had his 80th birthday party (I’ll blog about that trip soon), and I was panicking because he lives at around 8,000 feet.

What to do?

Research, along with some checking around, showed there was something better than symptom relief available. There is at least one drug that goes to the next level: symptom prevention. I talked to my doctor, who prescribed the drug acetazolamide, sold under the trade name Diamox for altitude sickness.

Good news first: it worked really well. I had better oxygen capacity and fewer altitude symptoms at 8,000 feet than I’d had at 4,000 the year before. Even better, Rick and I went up to the top of the mountain, 11,000 feet, and I was only about as bad off as I’d been at 4,000 the year before, with an even milder headache.

Acetazolamide works by changing the blood’s acidity, which changes the way it stores oxygen. More available oxygen means that you’ll suffer less from the oxygen deprivation at altitude.

I mentioned the good. Now the bad.

The wikipedia page mentions that there are taste alterations, “especially for carbonated drinks.” Did I have to try this out? Of course I did. I took my first pill with a can of Pepsi. By the third sip (having taken the pill with the first), it tasted vile. You know that foul-smelling stuff used to clear out earwax? Kind of like that. Except, of course, carbonated.

I didn’t have blurred vision, I didn’t have other serious taste shifts (though I did notice some), but I did experience not only significant tingling in fingers and toes, but it was like all my pain medications suddenly stopped working. So, while I could walk around at altitude, I also couldn’t. Paradox that way, but breathing was worth it.

Anyhow, if you’re planning a trip to significant elevation — or have ruled such a trip out for fear of side effects — maybe this is something to think about.

: A Moment of Luggage Comedy

The day I went to Cleveland, I decided to take public transit to the airport. I got on Caltrain and sat at the back of a car, which has a ramp leading up a few inches between cars.

I fumbled as I got up at the Millbrae stop after I set down my luggage (which had been on my lap), giving my Tumi Vapor a nice ramp to ride on. It got some nice momentum and whooshed down the aisle, perfectly centered.

Worse, it was aimed directly at a woman waiting to get off the train. Oh no!

I was mortified. I was also laughing.

Fortunately, it came to a stop right as it got to the woman, and she was very graceful about my abject and embarrassed apologies.

Pretty much everyone on the train had a good chuckle over it.

Unintentional luggage acceleration is one of the potential downsides of four-wheel luggage, but in this case, it all turned out all right.

: Stairway to Cleveland

I’m writing this from the United Club at Cleveland Airport.
Those of you who know me might ask, “Cleveland? You? Srsly?”
Well, gentle readers, here is my tale.
Over on Flyertalk, Shannon Kelly (aka UAInsider) announced that the last Continental flight ever would be Friday night, March 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm, flight CO 1267 from Phoenix to Cleveland. I’m one of those good sports who says things like, “I’ve never been there,” so I thought, why not.
Himself was less amused by the prospect. I said I thought I’d go to the rock-and-roll museum, and he said, “that’s two strikes.”
My loyalty to CO goes back quite a few years; I flew them a lot in the 80s when they had routes between Orange County and San Jose. Then, suddenly, they changed so the only route out of SNA was to Denver, and I stopped flying them for a while.
Before that happened, though, I booked an award trip to Honolulu, my first trip to Hawaii, for a long weekend. The South Pacific region (which included Hawaii) Continental flight attendants went on strike while I was there, and I “had” to spend another day in Hawaii. Back then, if you had a paid ticket on an ARC-based carrier, your carrier would schedule you on the next flight out from any carrier — except, of course, for award flights. So I was stuck. Darn!
Over time, I moved and Continental didn’t really fit my itineraries again, so I stopped flying them in the early 90s in favor of US Airways. Then I moved to the bay area and flipped between US Airways (for my flights to Pittsburgh) and American. When I went to work for Classic Vacations, we sold a ton of United airfare due to great contract rates. That’s what slowly migrated me over to the United side of the force. When AA started flying less interesting itineraries from San Francisco, I found myself flying more United, even during the Ted years. (Ted, btw, was an incredibly cute name. I miss it for short haul.)
At the end of last year, I decided that United really, truly was my preferred carrier and wound up with 2P (now Premier Silver) status. Half of that was flying to Barcelona on US Airways earlier in the year.
So when I heard about this flight, I felt sad for the Continental I’d loved all those years ago, and thought it would be nice to go on the final flight. So I did.
My flight out of San Francisco departed from the International terminal. Rick and I are the same this way: we love seeing all the foreign-flagged carriers going to places I’ve not yet been. My first plane sighting was the Air New Zealand flight leaving out of Gate 93 to Auckland (where I have been), the 747 so huge that it had its nose almost pressed to the glass (so it could fit in the allotted parking space), looking like an over-eager child.
Gate 91, which shares the same seating area, was where my rather smaller Airbus was waiting patiently. The flight was uneventful, except that my seatmate was apparently upgraded when his wife was not, so she snuck forward to have part of his drink.
When I arrived in Phoenix, I didn’t see the rest of the Flyertalkers/Milepointers right away. There were four of us traveling: Steve64, a local; Seth aka sbm12 aka Wandering Aramean; violist, and myself; plus a non-traveling local, fenx. WA had chocolate bags to hand out, and I handed some out as well (without the cool labels), and WA got one of the Continental signs they took down. He also got his picture taken with the captain, and was the last person to board a Continental flight.
I had planned to sleep during the flight, but they had free DirecTV (for everyone, not just first class) and I watched Contagion instead. The cold chicken plate had pasta on the side, so I ate the chicken only. I really wish they still had special meals in domestic first class. Sigh.
We arrived at around 5:15 in the morning. Despite this being the last Continental flight to depart, it was not the last to land; that would be a flight from Narita (Tokyo) to Houston, which got a water cannon salute upon arrival. As we arrived while it was still dark (not to mention threatening to snow), a water cannon salute would have been less pragmatic. Still, there were photos to be had, announcements made, and much sadness over the final days of a legacy airline dating back to 1934.
The four of us shuffled off to the United Club for drinks and a light breakfast, then the other three people departed for their flights out of Cleveland. Me, I’d decided to spend a day here.
The Hilton Garden Inn breakfast was about what one would expect. I had planned to go to the rock-and-roll museum, but my legs were cramping (sometime medication side effect) and I was tired, so I just took long baths and slept until the legs felt better.
When I’d been researching how to spend a day, I watched Bourdain’s No Reservations episode about Cleveland, and discovered Lola Bistro. I don’t follow celebrity chefs much, so I didn’t know how famous he was, but I managed to snag a reservation and go. I had the Chilled Lobster Salad, the Scallops in Bacon Broth, and blueberry-lemon sorbet. It was an astonishingly good meal, and I’d be happy to spend a week in Cleveland if I could eat there every night.
I’m off for my return flight!


: PSA: Continental and United Airlines Reservation Merger

United and Continental’s passenger systems merge on March 3.
If you aren’t traveling Continental or United (or have travel booked on them through another carrier or on another carrier booked through them, e.g., award travel or multi-carrier itineraries [1]) in the next month, you can probably skip the rest of this post.
As you’ve no doubt heard, the two airlines are in the process of merging. Technically, they are flying as one airline, but the passenger support systems have yet to merge.
Frequent fliers who’ve been through other mergers (e.g., Delta and Northwest or US Airways and America West) have the following recommendations:
1) Make sure you print any itineraries and receipts in full. You might want to do this for all travel you’ve got upcoming, not just travel in the next month.
2) Print paper boarding passes when you check in rather than relying on mobile check-in.
3) Do not check bags if you can possibly avoid it.
4) Print out your frequent flier details, including redeemable miles (the ones usable for awards) and status miles and segments.
5) Here are some other tips from UAInsider. Specifically, note that mileage credits will pause for a few days during integration.
If you have accounts on both United and Continental (and, until now, Continental miles never expired, so they’d still be sitting there), do this for both accounts. If you haven’t yet linked them yet, wait until after the res(ervation) system changeover (and possibly another week or two) to do so.
Here’s a good article from on the res system merger.
[1] Including any Star Alliance carriers or other partners.

: Kathryn Daugherty, RIP

I heard earlier this afternoon that science fiction fan and convention runner, Kathryn Daugherty, passed away. She’d had a reoccurrence of colorectal cancer and had recently had surgery and started a second round of chemo. She’s been married to James Stanley Daugherty for almost 40 years.
She was a friend and a mentor, and I’ll really miss her presence.
She had been the programming head for ConJosé, the World Science Fiction convention in 2002, and I worked for her as her staff, then as her second for BayCon the following year. I also worked as her autographing staff at a later Worldcon.
She loved to read, and kept her Goodreads list up to date, though some of the side effects of cancer had slowed her reading down at times. She loved to collect autographs and literally had a room full of autographed hardbacks. I think she kept afloat in the early years with her love of British SF imports.
Like Rick and me, she had a great love of travel, having lived in several places around the world, including New Zealand and St. Croix. I’d turned her on to the Traveler’s Century Club and she and her husband James had planned their trips around attaining membership on the list. I know she passed Rick and I in country count some years ago, but I’m not sure if she ever got to 100. She did get to Million Mile status on United, which is a bit easier when you have multiple houses near United hubs.
Her hobby of love, apart from building or renovating houses, was needlework, and she had a needlework blog.
I’ll miss her, and I know others will as well. I know she was also a mentor to Seanan McGuire, who wrote one of Kathryn’s favorite books of recent years.

: Blowing Out the Airline Miles

I cleared the pipes on my airline miles accounts Thursday and Friday, booking an around-the-world ticket mostly in business class. Except, you know, the single longest flight, which happens to be fourteen hours. Ugh.
Normal coach airfares for round-the-world trips are pretty hideous, far more so than doing the same mileage as a round-trip. They typically cost somewhere between $4200 and $4700 for the lower-end fares. Business class is another matter entirely; on OneWorld, it’s around $11,400 (which is actually less than I expected). I am too cheap for either kind of fare.
I don’t fly often enough (or on high enough fares or with enough status or spend enough on credit cards) to really gather lots of points, nor have I really tried to game the system. So I’ve carefully spent several months pooling my miles into two large heaps: British Airways and United (well, okay, most of the pooling was done on Continental, some via trades, but there’s currently no fee to transfer between Continental and United). Some of the latter were Continental (and Eastern Airlines) miles I earned in the 80s.
I told a friend what I’d done and how many miles it had cost me (about 200,000 miles and about $400 in taxes) and she just was gobsmacked at the amount of miles. Upon reflection, she realized that she’d been using 50,000 a year for a trip to the midwest and had 80,000 in her account, so we just used our points differently over the last few years.
That’s fine, of course, but if you do fly frequently, ask yourself the question: is this the trip I want to spend all these on? If not, save them until it is, and read blogs like The Points Guy to improve your strategy in getting what you really want. Of course, coach domestic redemptions are fine if that’s what floats your boat, but they aren’t the best bang for the buck one can make.
Many coach redemptions are on the order of 1 cent/mile. Experienced travelers look for redemptions that are up to 10 cents/mile. Mine worked out to 6 cents/mile, so I feel I got a really good value out of my points.
After five years of benign neglect (and a British Airways credit card), I was pretty convinced I had a useless amount of points, but TPG gave me some ideas. Weirdly, it was looking up award travel to Dubai [1] that put the thought in my head, as BA suggested themselves inbound and Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong) on the return. I didn’t like going eastbound, but it did put the round-the-world idea in my head. Unfortunately, the itinerary I was looking at ran something like 280,000 miles, which wasn’t going to happen.
I started looking at alternatives while my miles were still coalescing, and once they hit 100,000 on United, I knew I had enough to make the trip work. British Airways is part of One World, and United’s part of Star Alliance, but there are no Star Alliance flights from Southeast Asia to Dubai on Star Alliance. Thus, for my plan to work, I had to go westbound on OneWorld.
Beyond that, since the dates I wanted to be in Dubai were set in wet cement, that meant that I had to work around award availability. Since BA’s Avios pricing is segment-based, I booked each segment separately. Then I waited a day to figure out the return. My return was far more open: there were lots of Star Alliance carriers who could take me from Dubai westward (and I could still wrangle something else if that didn’t work out), but the bigger problem was winding up in a city where it was useful to fly back home from, so I thought I should sleep on it.
TPG posted the next morning about Swiss opening up award availability. Sure enough, I was able to book a saver business award back home and a business award from Dubai, and I still had over 20k United miles left over when all was said and done.
So I’m taking a ten-day trip to Hong Kong, Dubai, and Zurich.

: Some Thoughts on Cruising

I’m incredibly saddened by what’s been happening with the Costa Concordia, and, as a former cruise ship crew member, I thought I’d write some points from that perspective.
First, I’m shocked that the captain left the ship. I’m more shocked that the staff captain did also; the staff captain is responsible for crew discipline and should have been assisting with rescue efforts. Eight people waiting near muster stations didn’t need to die.
I want to give a personal shout-out of appreciation to Manrico Giampedroni, the ship’s purser, who did what the bosses should have done and tried to, you know, rescue people. He nearly lost his life doing so, and he broke a leg and spent 36 hours waiting for rescue.
I’m also horrified for the South Korean couple on their honeymoon who were stuck inside their cabin for 24 hours. Can you imagine starting off your married life that way?
Here’s a survivor account on cruisecritic, about copies and swimming (and how horribly the US Embassy treated stranded American passengers), no lifeboat drop signal given to crew, and summation of their trip prior to the crash.
When the family returned home, they did an interview with Australian news here.
What to consider for future cruises:
1) I’d strongly suggest you only go on cruises where the safety drills are done first thing (they are required to do them within 24 hours, but in this case, the crash was only a few hours into the cruise). If they’re not and there’s some reason you want to be on that cruise, then I suggest that you not only go to look where your muster station is, you get to know 2-3 routes to it before sailing in case you need to know them. You look at the safety card in airline pockets and look where your nearest exit is, right? Same thing.
2) Whenever practical, carry at least copies of documentation with you. Obviously, having these in a water-tight pouch is ideal. Come to think of it, a flash drive wouldn’t hurt, either. A survivor points out that copies may not help if you have to swim. Point, but if you’re in the habit of a security wallet on your person, they might if they’re in a water-tight pouch. Worst case, upload them to some trusted site (iCloud, Dropbox) so you can print them later.
3) If you sense that anything has happened, as many of the people onboard did, make sure you have your passport, cash, and so forth on you in case you need to bail. Sure, you may not get time to get these things, but it’s never a bad idea to have them ready in case you have the opportunity to grab them. Also, when it’s cold, like it was, change into warmer clothes, even if it’s just adding a couple of extra layers. Make sure you don’t wear anything that would interfere unduly with swimming, though.
4) If you’re in a position to bail, don’t jump into the ocean without a) a floatation device, b) warm water, and c) a clear and safe route down. Hypothermia is no joke and you can die in minutes. The water in this particular case was cold enough to be lethal. Learn the 50-50 rule.
Also, most cruise ships are really, really tall. Most jumps would be 6-10 stories; unless you’re an experienced high diver, it’s really not safe (even then, it’s still not safe). I have climbed those ladders from the water line to the lifeboat deck on multiple ships. You don’t want to do it the other way; it’s a good way to drown. It’s also fairly well known that sharks follow cruise ships for castoff food, though probably this is less true now that cruise lines have more modern policies about waste management. As if that weren’t enough, the suction created by a ship that’s sinking is enough to pull you down with it.
5) Jim Keller has some good points about ship registry. I’d add that ships of Caribbean registry that regularly sail to US ports are subject to US Coast Guard regulations and are generally safer than those Caribbean ships that do not. In particular, ships that sail out of south Florida are well-trained.

: 12/25 Quiet Christmas, With Bells

Bridges crossed: 0.
Maybe because I heard it a lot in Liverpool, I can only think of the John Lennon song: “So this is Christmas.”
(I also heard more than one’s fair share of “Wonderful Christmastime,” but as Scalzi points out, at least it doesn’t have Yoko on it.)
Truth is, I’m kind of wrung out from yesterday’s adventures. I take non-stop flights when I can for a simple reason: the stress of pressurization and depressurization is wearing on the bod, not to mention the stress of rushing through airports.
Worse, I didn’t just take one connecting flight yesterday, I took two, and, of the four airports I visited in four different countries, the two in the middle were two of the five largest in Europe. Worse, they felt like it.
So, rubber legs that I had, I decided on a different strategy: I was going to walk around and not cross any bridges unless I felt like it. Given that my legs were sore and tired, I didn’t feel like it, so I simply stayed in my little part of Cannaregio for the evening.
Most restaurants here charge a cover charge for bread service, and many of them add gratuities, etc. The night before, I went to a self-serve place that avoided all that, plus I got to see the food before I ordered and felt better informed that I’d make a good choice for a celiac. Dining here isn’t as difficult as I feared; there is high celiac awareness in Italy generally, far more so than in the US. Unlike the UK, most of the breakfast cereals in my hotel turned out to be gluten free, and there were rice cakes available for those of us who can’t have regular bread. I’m going to have to hunt down the cornetti senza glutine that supposedly exist. I haven’t seen them in windows; everything looks pretty bog standard wheat-enabled, but I’ll try to find some before I go.
It’s nice to have a magic phrase: sono celiaco.
Tonight, I just didn’t see any place open that looked like it’d be good for celiacs, so I opted for dining from my stash brought from the UK and US. It wasn’t the healthiest of dinners, but if you can’t have jam-filled gluten-free cookies for most of your holiday meal on Christmas, when can you have it?
Because I was so tired, I slept most of the evening, woke up and stayed up part of the night, then got more sleep before breakfast. All told, I probably had about 14 hours of sleep. Not the most exciting Christmas, but I really needed the rest.

: 12/24 Paris by Accident, Venice by Intent

Bridges crossed: 1 (Guglie across the Cannaegio canal)
Travel-wise (and obviously excluding the death of my mother-in-law), everything was going entirely too well, right? Well, all that was about to change. Today, I’d wind up in France by accident.
I woke up at 3:30 to finish packing my luggage, am downstairs a hair after 4, and check out of my room (which seems to take an eternity, but they were training someone new). They called a cab who didn’t show up, so they had to call again.
I’m supposed to check my bags in 150 minutes early, but the counter opens at 5am and my flight’s at 6:10am, so I am relieved to get there at 5:02. They reprint my boarding passes as their computer for reading the online-printed ones is down.
We’re all waiting at the gate (which is pretty shabby, fwiw), but at 5:30, no crew’s at the gate. There’s an announcement: the flight’s delayed; the inbound crew were delayed and there are strict rest requirements. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with missing an hour’s sleep that the airline knew about the night before. I also have a problem with them not having known to re-book me at the desk when I arrived, but kicking the rebooking over to Amsterdam’s transit desks (which was probably the better plan, though). I had 90 minutes of stopover in Amsterdam, and I have to transit from a non-Schengen area (silly UK) to the Schengen one, which means security. That means I’m almost certain to miss my flight.
For those of you who don’t travel enough to know: essentially, the Schengen area is a border agreement. For practical purposes, it’s like crossing a state line in the US to go from one Schengen country to another. No passport control, no customs control, and no passport stamps.
We land on the ground at 9:22 Amsterdam time, and my flight’s at 9:50. I’m in tears just from the stress of the whole thing: cumulative lack of sleep catching up with me. I ask the first transfer desk, they say to talk to the Schengen transfer desk, which requires going through the Schengen security checkpoint first.
At the security checkpoint, they want everything out. I had six bins with the entrails of my carry-on on the conveyor belt, but that wasn’t out enough. I asked if they wanted cameras out too, they said no. They lied. They looked inside every lens. My non-underwire bra made the metal detector beep, so I got checked thoroughly by a security agent who smelled slightly of pot (this is how you know you’re in a different country; pot is legal in Amsterdam).
Naturally, after that, there was zero chance I’d make my flight. I was trying for it, but I knew it was hopeless. On the bright side, I really had wanted to spend more time in Schiphol, and I wouldn’t be too put out about it.
But: stress. I was crying because of the failure and my frustration with my even much-improved mobility.
I go to the transfer desk, and they were very nice and efficient. The lady listens to my issue with mobility (which is why I missed my flight, really), and looks at several re-routings, including one through Geneva. I’d asked about Schengen area, but I’d forgotten (probably because it wasn’t implemented last time I was in Switzerland) that Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, but it is a Schengen country.
Anyhow, a better routing that got me there earlier was through Paris, which turns out to be on strike. This worked somewhat in my favor, actually.
Additionally, they gave me a €10 voucher for food, a €50 voucher for a future trip, and a phone card voucher that I didn’t use.
I did use the food voucher. The nearest place to eat, Bubbles, was a seafood bar. I was so exhausted (and hungry, since I’d only had a banana, some water, and some orange juice) that I really needed to eat. I was too tired to parse the descriptions, so I pointed at a fish plate that was €15.95 and gave them my voucher. I paid the difference and got some water as well, and make it to the gate 20 minutes before boarding time. Win!
So I hop on my flight to Paris.
When we arrived, there was a woman helping people who gave me directions to my gate, but I forgot to ask if my luggage was checked through. In case someone screwed up, I waited at baggage claim just in case, but that proved unnecessary. Still, better to be prepared, right?
The sign on the baggage claim said that the security agents were on strike, and they apologized. I had to laugh at that, though later I saw military walking through the airport with rifles and it didn’t seem so funny then.
I then hurried to the gate, which turned out to be a long hike from 2F to 2D. The closer entrance to the D gates was closed, so it was exhausting for me, especially since this was my third airport trek today. Enroute, I bought a Pepsi, and was asked, “Pepsi normal?” Which I said “oui,” and now I had something to take with my meds. Despite all the walking, I make it to the gate 30 minutes before boarding. I’m eternally thankful to the nice transfer desk woman in Amsterdam.
Nothing edible for me on this flight, either, so I just had some water and slept as much as possible. I woke up over the Alps, snapped a couple of pictures, then fell back asleep. Thankfully, I had the entire row to myself, so I was able to move my purse to underneath the next seat and put the armrest up so I could be more comfortable.
I’m not the fastest person off the plane, so I follow everyone to the baggage carousel and wait for my bag.
No bag. I break out into tears again. Great, just great. Am I turning into Mary Robinette Kowal? Did I miss seeing my bag in Paris? Did it even get to Paris? This is how baggage gets lost. While I’ve packed my typical extra underwear in my bag, I forgot to re-pack a change of top. I’ve always considered this secret duo my talisman against luggage mishaps.
Another family’s bags are lost too, so we head over to the helpful desk. Their bag seems to have genuinely disappeared. My issue turns out to be funnier.
It turns out there were two flights from Paris coming in at the same time, and I was looking at the EasyJet baggage carousel. I flew in on Air France, though. Lady suggests I look on the other baggage carousel and, miracle of miracles, there is my lovely Tumi bag all ready.
“Mille grazie!” I say to the nice helpful lady who had told me that it had scanned as being on the flight. Good to know these things.
Now onto differently-complicated things. For example, getting to Venice (the islands) from Marco Polo airport. There are three ways: train, bus, or water taxi. For the last, there are private transfers (current advertised price was €110), shared transfers, or the (semi-?)public water bus, Allilaguna (€15). Getting to any of the above is a bit tricky, but I’d read the detailed instructions (with pictures) on Venice for Visitors. The water bus can be really crowded, but I happened to be the only person on my boat, at least until I got off at the Guglie station. There’s a large bridge between me and my hotel, but it has mini-steps on one side for the disabled and isn’t as high as the Scalzi bridge (one of four that crosses the grand canal) that would take me to the bus station. Therefore, I’m able to wrestle my luggage with me without much difficulty other than the occasional balking as the wheels hit some surface irregularity.
Sure, the train would have been the most practical, but I have a travel rule: if you’re going to a place that’s got something particularly unique or interesting about it, it’s always a good idea to travel there by the most traditional means possible. For Venice, that means travel by water.
As I have an early morning departure, I’m staying on the mainland for my final night, so I will probably take the train on my way out as it is the most direct and practical route.
One thing I noticed while walking to my hotel: there are a lot more places open than I’d expected. Not just places to eat, but also shops. I note a few where it looks like there’s something I can eat. The Guglie stop is (think about the word for a minute) in the Ghetto. By “ghetto,” I don’t mean the American word for slum, but in fact the original Venetian word for the Jewish quarter. As I’m passing the various shops and restaurants, one of them is a Hasidic place, the only Kosher restaurant in Venice. I will likely be eating there (the name of the place is Gam Gam) just because it’s such a part of the history that’s Venice.
I have stayed in my hotel before when I was on a Globus tour in 1992. It’s near the train station, and I remember it as being right in a place where the street opens up before the Scalzi bridge.
In general, it’s a good idea to stay fairly close to a vaporetto stop or a major bridge (the latter assuming you can navigate the larger bridges, which can be problematic for the mobility impaired). The closer you stay to St. Mark’s square, the more expensive it is. Fortunately, there are vaporettos, and two of the lines are fully accessible for those who need that (though one of those lines is seasonal).
I check into my hotel, and they upgrade me to a nicer room. I don’t particularly care about the nicer part, but there is a hidden benefit. Venice has for-fee wifi along the grand canal, and that generally doesn’t extend to the hotels. However, because my hotel is facing the canal and I’m in the front of the hotel (in a side room, though, no canal view), my hotel room has wifi. This is a good thing because I really don’t like having to have all my computer doo-dads out in public view unless I’m sitting inside a café. Catch is, I’ve forgotten that the site is having problems processing payments via Visa, so it takes me until morning to figure out that I need to pay with Mastercard. Voila, problem solved.
I peer out the small window of my room and see that there’s a shorter building next door, and I can see into one room at an angle. The family has a Christmas tree with only blue lights and a white couch.
It’s time to forage for dinner, and I have at least half a dozen serious possibilities. I opt for the first place, a café with a self-serve restaurant in the back that advertises no cover charge, so I can explore what they have and leave without guilt if I’m not comfortable with my options. They have paella though, which is an easy choice for me. It’s got clams, mussels, and small bits of salami, which seems like a truly weird addition to me, but hey, life’s an adventure. Too many green peppers (I’m sensitive to them) to be great Deirdre food, but it’s at least something I can eat without having to think about it too much. I’m still on wifi withdrawal, and, even though I’ve emailed some details to Rick, they are links and not full page text, so I can’t retrieve the magic phrases I was looking for.
I get the first full night’s sleep of my entire trip, which is extremely welcome.

: 12/23 Two Errands

Friday is my last real day in Liverpool, and I decided to go back to explore the pedestrian area. I have two goals in mind: I want to hit a local health food store and lay in some supplies of gluten-free items in case I need them for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Venice — when my dining options will be limited. I don’t want to starve, after all.
I find the health food store first, and they do not disappoint. I note Linda McCartney’s veg dinners in a freezer case. They also have some more familiar brands, including Ann’s, but all are vegetarian, which isn’t what I want for dinner — the more walking I do, the more the body craves red meat.
I ask for directions to Boots, which turns out to be around the corner. Both places are within a half a block of where I felt so lost the day before. Naturally.
Boots is a drug store, much like the US concept, but there’s a quirk of UK law: codeine is sold over the counter in drug stores that have a chemist (not all do, but most of the larger ones do). Frankly, this is one of the reasons I tend to route to Europe through the UK: even Heathrow has Boots with chemists, as do many tube stops. While I took codeine for years, I’ve been off it for a while, but all the walking is beginning to wear me down, and I need some help for bridges in Venice.
UK Codeine comes in two formulations: with acetominophen (paracetamol) or with ibuprofen. The latter is far more useful to me. I might as well wave a chicken feather for all tylenol helps me, and the ibuprofen formula causes less gastrointestinal irritation than the aspirin formulations available over the counter in Canada and Australia or by prescription in the US.
The process is less painful than buying pseudoephedrine back in the US: no ID is required. The assistant asks me if I want the small box or the large one. I pick the large one, of course. £7, such a deal.
I should also add that the pills are not as strong as what’s typically prescribed in the US. A Tylenol 3, typical prescription strength, will have 30mg of codeine. OTC doses in Australia and Canada are Tylenol 1 strength, 8mg. In the UK, it’s 12mg, so 50% more kick. It’s a nice dose, one where even half a pill can be enough.
I almost walk all the way back to my hotel before I consider the issue of dinner. Out of sheer laziness, I go back to the Pumphouse and sit at my same table, #13. One of the servers jokes that they’re going to have to put my name on a plaque on that table.

: 12/22 Magical Mystery Tour

For Thursday, I’d booked a tour: the Magical Mystery Tour. I walked over early enough that I could do something else: I decided to take a ride on the ferris wheel. It’s 60 meters high, and I do believe I could actually see to Wales.
Unlike the last few days, the sky is only mostly cloudy, and it gets clearer (and warmer) as the day progresses.
There’s something weird about me and industrial cities like Liverpool and Glasgow (and Pittsburgh): I love them. I can’t explain it. They just seem more real than some of the more glitzy places I’ve been.
The Magical Mystery Tour picked us up at the Albert Dock and took us around the various Beatles sites, including Strawberry Field and Penny Lane and all the various places where The Beatles grew up.
Sadly, the house where Ringo was born is scheduled, along with the other council houses for several blocks, to be demolished.
I should step back for a moment: three of the four Beatles grew up in public housing. Mendips, the house where John lived with his Aunt Mimi, was the exception; it’s not a huge house, but it’s 2-3 times larger than any of the others and has a significant side yard. Instead of a row house, it’s part of a duplex.
Because Mimi forbade John from playing in the house, John went over to Paul’s to write music. Thus, in 1965, the National Trust bought the McCartney home, the first 20th century building to be added, because of the history where the songs were written. When Mendips came up for sale in the 60s, the National Trust wasn’t interested because it wasn’t historic enough. Within the last decade, Yoko bought Mendips when it came on the market and donated it to the National Trust. I suppose that’s one way to accomplish it.
The other two Beatles, though, their homes were not deemed historically significant enough for the National Trust, either, so there’s no effort to preserve them even though Ringo and George were both actually born in those buildings. So Ringo’s childhood home is slated for demolition, and many fans have scrawled Ringo-love phrases all over the façade.
The house where George grew up, his family moved out when he could afford to help them do so. For the last 40 years, the same woman’s lived there, and our tour guide called her “the most patient woman in all of England.” It’s probably true.
Driving around Liverpool gave me a real sense of the place, and I loved the competing Anglican and Catholic cathedrals at either end of the appropriately-named Hope Street.
The bus tour ends near the Cavern Club somewhere, but that area’s now a part of a pedestrian center of Liverpool, so they can’t actually take us right to it. So we’re off.
Catch is, I actually have no idea where I am. I have the souvenir map from the tour. I’ve forgotten about the map in my pocket. I wander aimlessly down the streets full of people. There are wonderful-smelling food stalls with lots on offer, but the ones that seem are gluten-free aren’t quite ready yet.
For the first time, I duck into McD’s. I need a place to sit, it’s cheap, and I can use Amex. Mostly, I need something to take with my pills, so I get a coke, which makes the ibuprofen go faster.
I walk back to the house and sleep fitfully. At 5:30, I happen to wake up and look at my phone, and you know the rest: my mother-in-law passed away. I talk to Rick on the phone for a while, and don’t sleep well at all, understandably.

: 12/21 Downtime

The weather today was utterly miserable, and that did not encourage me to go out.
I was tired from the day before, still jet lagged, and I just wasn’t feeling all that great, so I spent a lot of the day resting up. I did finally get out, but it turned out to be too late to get to the Maritime Museum or the International Slavery museum, so I just went to the Pumphouse and had dinner.
Everyone needs a down day, this one was mine.

: On the Run: The Tour

Tuesday’s the big day. I tuck my concert ticket into my passport in my neck travel wallet and head down to breakfast.
I’m starving, and I woke up at 4 a.m., which my iPad insisted (it still thinking it was on continental Europe time) was 5 a.m. I waited until 6:30, headed downstairs, then went for my free Hampton Inn breakfast: sausages (probably not gluten free, so alas I skipped them), cereal (not a single gluten-free one), ham (yay), eggs (never my favorite dish), orange juice, coffee (I pressed “cappuccino” on the dial that morning), and a gluten-free English muffin I brought with me from the US.
That’s right, I brought — frozen — a half-dozen English muffins. I rolled the container up in my clothing to help keep them frozen. Customs didn’t seem concerned about them, and I apologized for carrying gluten-free coals to Newcastle, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t starve, yada yada.
Sadly, my hotel room doesn’t have a refrigerator, so it looks like they will spoil before I run out.
They have jam and Nutella packets at breakfast, so I grab an extra one of each in case I need it later that night (for stomachs that aren’t exactly with the program timezone-wise).
I mentioned that I’m not that wild about eggs. For a number of years, I wasn’t able to eat them at all, and it’s been difficult over the last few years because I tend to be nauseated (from pain) in the morning and sulfur smells do not help. However, now that I’ve been feeling better and seeing a nutritionist, I’m trying to work more eggs into my schedule.
I still don’t like them, though, and that means that I eat them with jam, because jam makes everything better. This morning, I idly wonder what eggs taste like with both Nutella and jam. You know, it’s an interesting experiment, but I’m not going to waste any more Nutella on it. Instead, I put more Nutella on my English muffin after warming it up in the microwave and cutting it apart. It was still partly frozen.
Now, I did travel with something to put on my English muffins: specifically, I traveled with packets of Justin’s nut butters in the following flavors: maple almond butter, honey almond butter, and chocolate hazelnut butter. I like them because they have less sugar than Nutella and there are different varieties. I also have one packet of Artisina Raw Macadamia butter, but I have a feeling I’ll vastly prefer the roasted kind I got in Hilo. These went into my checked luggage, but I only had a half dozen nut butter packets. Because of that, I’m conserving some and using the hotel’s Nutella instead.
Before I leave the UK, I’m going to head to a local health-food store and see what they’ve got that might help me in Venice, where I expect I’ll have fewer options that are complicated by holiday schedules and vaporettos, not to mention the sheer joy of finding random things in Venice. Suffice to say that I’ve no intention of starving, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up some Gouda or Edam when I pass back through Schiphol on Saturday. I should be able to find some rice cakes or crackers or something. I see there are two places within walkable distance I can go. But that’s for later, let’s get back to Tuesday.
It is very cold and very windy, but part of that is lack of acclimation and part of it is the hotel being kept too warm. I walk to the Albert Dock, which seems to be the
Because Paul’s concert’s tonight, I head to The Beatles Story, which is at the south end of the Albert Dock area facing the Echo Arena where the concert will be later. I had pre-booked the museum for £15.95, and the clerk was new, so someone had to show him how to handle an online transaction.
In the front, even before you get to the register, there are photos of Liverpool from World War II. We hear about London’s bombings, but because of Liverpool’s strategic importance as a port, it was extremely heavily bombed, second only to London. The Beatles, all born between 1940 and 1943, had this (not to mention the post-war rationing) as their early life.
I’ve recently read Cynthia Lennon’s book, John, and she gave some context to who John was (as well as others), but a better book for context (despite typos) is Tony Bramwell’s Magical Mystery Tours. So I go through the Beatles Story museum, and it’s got lots of great stuff: John’s first guitar, Paul’s contract for “Live and Let Die” (four pages, typed), and lots of details about The Beatles organized chronologically. I was unaware that “My Sweet Lord” remains the best-selling post-Beatles song.
Each of the four Beatles has a little seating area with film clips of that Beatle and key moments in their lives. Paul’s included clips of the “Live and Let Die” music video they did with OMG-those-are-70s pants.
One of the John clips is an interview with him where he says that he didn’t want to still be singing “Please Please Me” when he was thirty. And there he was, thirty, and he pointed out that he wasn’t singing the song any more.
That bothered me deeply on so many levels — and yet, I understood it perfectly. That’s probably what bothered me so much about it.
You see, I wanted to be a musician, but I was always afraid I’d have to do the same stuff over and over and over, and that seemed really truly dreary to me. It felt like it would be a chore, and I’m pretty sure John saw it somewhat similarly — that, and he’d moved on.
And yet, if you’re not willing to do that kind of work, doesn’t it seem like it’s maybe not the right career? That was my ultimate decision about being a musician and why it wasn’t right for me: because the essential aspects of the work didn’t seem fun to me. Yet, it was his best option, and yet he was still able to give it up for years at a time (1975 – 1980, for example).
I came out of the museum with all these kinds of things fluttering through my mind. It was 4:30 and I was hungry, so I set off to see who might take American Express nearby. The first place I came across that advertised such was Spice Lounge, an Indian restaurant.
I have had the greatest difficulty finding Indian food that works for my body. I’m celiac, I had a long-undiagnosed coconut sensitivity, and I’m likely sensitive to other spices. Of course, soy is also out, as are a whole bunch of other vegetables, so that limits my options too. Without exception, dining in Indian, Thai, and Korean restaurants has ended in days of gastrointestinal unhappiness.
I looked at their menu and found a chicken dish that was mild in flavor, dairy-based, and sounded like I could tolerate it well. I started to ask about ingredients and the waiter said it was gluten-free before I got very far into the process. Win! It was really yummy, but a bit sweet, so it’s not something I’d order regularly, but ghee, cream, spices, and chicken are generally okay for me now and again. Sadly, I can’t look up the name of the dish at the moment (stupid flash web site they have).
After dinner, I begin to head over to the arena, then realize I’d forgotten my lens adapter for my longer lens. Waffling for a few minutes, I bite the bullet then decide to walk the three blocks back, get the adapter, then come back to the Arena. In doing so, I ditch my purse, which turns out to be a wise move as they are doing a purse check and my camera is out of spec (they don’t permit cameras over 5 megapixels, but even my iPhone has more than that). I’ve got one lens stuffed in my left pocket and my camera awkwardly stuffed into my right. But, because I don’t have a purse, I’m waved through. There’s so many people on the concourse, they don’t let us in, so we’re standing in a light, very cold rain waiting. Waiting. More waiting. Finally, we get in and I get settled into my seat. Frankly, it’s further back than I’d hoped, but it’s okay.
What can I say about Paul McCartney? He’s got decades of skill of working an audience, he clearly loves performing, and if you can see him, by all means do so. He doesn’t do that many tours (and who would at age 69, really?). Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of most of his solo work, though there are pieces I love. I didn’t much care for the Wings era at all. There’s still enough in there for me to have had a great time.
Some great moments: there were songs he’d never performed before in Liverpool, including Mull of Kintyre (with a local drum and pipe corps), Wonderful Christmastime (with a local women’s choir from the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts that Paul helped found), and “The Night Before” from Help (one of my all-time favorites) and “The Word” from Rubber Soul (which was mostly written by John) in a medley with “All You Need Is Love.”
I’d never realized that “Live and Let Die” would be the big set piece. I’ve always really liked the song, even more so with pyrotechnics. It was awesome, and I hope to find a good video clip of it when I get home. (I did take video of part of the song, but camera operator error prevented me getting more of it).
Also, still thinking about Lennon’s comment, I realized that I don’t mind writing for loops after all these years, even though they’re a scale of some sort. I simply don’t do them as practice per se. It made me think differently about the music thing.
Finally, during the second encore, Paul told the audience “No” (we couldn’t stay and listen to him all night), and he ended the concert.
Unlike a lot of other concerts where there’s an extended drum solo so everyone else gets break time during the concert, Paul was on stage very nearly every moment. He gave the band a break during one song, but that was it. The concert lasted about 2:40, which is a long time to perform after a concert the night before and with no warm-up band.
I walked home and I was totally wired from all the energy. Great show, totally worth having gone all that way.

: Greetings from Paris

No, I wasn’t supposed to visit France this trip, but sometimes one winds up in the wrong country by chance. Long story, which I shall tell later. I have done the CDG airport death march, and this is my third airport today. One left (one hopes).
I consider this my little Joyeux Nöel present from KLM/Air France. Well that, my fish lunch, and a voucher for a small amount off a future trip.
On the bright side, I now have chocolate as I had time to acquire some.
P.S.: Hello, Aliette! ::waves::

: Above Us Only Sky

Liverpool’s airport is John Lennon International, and it has a cool motto: “Above us only sky.” It’s not a huge airport, and KLM’s withdrawal will probably hurt a lot (though obviously if KLM were making money on the routes, they’d continue going there, so I now feel sad for my half-full plane).
Funny bit at immigration. The guy wanted to know if I was visiting friends or family or had been to Liverpool before. I answered no to each, and I could tell that this was beginning to set off alarms. Improvising, I said, “Paul McCartney’s in town.” He asks if he’s giving a concert, and I said that he was, at Echo Arena, and that’s why I was in Liverpool. At that point, he got visibly calmer.
“Well, you’ve got lots of friends here, then, you just haven’t met them yet. At the end of the day, you’ll all be singing the same songs.”
That’s the spirit!
Because I’d been more worried about other logistics and knew that the UK had working transit systems, I hadn’t even bothered to arrange transport: I was arriving around 5 pm on a weekday and trusted to the system. Worst case, I had cash for a cab.
The airport is south of the main part of Liverpool in a district called Speke, where George Harrison and Paul McCartney grew up. In fact, they often rode the # 81 bus together. George’s father was a bus driver on that line. Guess what the first bus I saw at the airport was? Yep, good old # 81. I’m not much of a trivia nut about these things, but I’d been reading up about the early Beatles history in Liverpool in preparation, so it just felt like that extra bit of welcoming context.
The right bus for me was # 500. While I was waiting for the bus, one of the staff asked where I was going, and I told him where. He gave me a tourist map, told me it was close to the Baltic Fleet pub (which it is), and that it’s the Campanile exit.
For £2.80, the bus took me and my luggage to that stop. I’m staying at the Hampton Inn, which is a couple of blocks south from the Albert Dock than the Hilton, but it’s half the money and includes free breakfast and free internet (and the Hilton does not). In fact, given the prices for breakfast and internet at UK hotels, it’s practically like getting the room for free.
The Campanile stop was a couple of blocks further south than the Hampton, so it looked like it wasn’t anywhere near the tourist sites like I was hoping, but it became obvious, once I walked toward the hotel, that I was closer than I’d thought.
Because I’m a Hilton Gold member, everything was ready when I got there, and my concert ticket had arrived and were in the hotel safe. After a moment of confusion when the clerk couldn’t find the envelope, he did and all was well. I was off to my room in no time, this time with a much more local map and a few restaurant suggestions. Sadly, the prime suggestion was Italian; a) I’m celiac so Italian’s rarely a good choice; b) I’m heading to Italy soon, so I’ll save my Italian dining for that part of the trip.
Hampton Inns tend to be fairly minimalist, but this one may be more minimalist than others. The room’s small, but not uncomfortably so, but there’s a complete dearth of drawers here. Still, there’s enough room for me, my luggage, and it has working internet. My only real complaint is that there’s very sheer sheers and venetian blinds, so there’s no way of getting a mix of privacy and the ability to see out. I like to be able to wake up to natural light and it’s just not possible in this room.
With the blinds open, my room has a view of Albert dock and the Echo Arena Big Wheel, a 60-meter Ferris wheel that can, on clear days, see to Wales. Thus far, there have been no clear days, but I’m hopeful that one of my remaining days turns out to be a good one for visibility. If so, I’ll go up on it during daylight hours.
First, though, it was time to forage for food. In this Merseyside area, there’s two main areas for dinner: the Albert Dock, which tends to have the trendier restaurants, and Liverpool One, which is a bus depot and shopping area. The first place I found where it looked like there was something reasonably affordable (given UK food prices) that I could eat was the Pump House Pub, which had the following advantages: 1) it’s a real pub! In England! 2) in a historic building; 3) food/price.
I put on my vest, coat, hat, gloves, jacket, and shawl and headed forth, and was miserable by the time I got there. It’s almost a kilometer of walking and, once you get to Albert Dock, it’s really rough stone road that’s just unlevel enough to be unkind to knees like mine. Plus, I was tired and sore from travel and wanted to go to bed, but I knew I’d be hungry at some impossible hour when I couldn’t get decent food at a price I’d be willing to pay. Besides, there’s no better way to train your body to a time zone than to feed it when it’s supposed to want to eat.
I had a burger, which was tasty but dry, and they had a gluten-free lemon flourless cake with a lemon and raspberry sauce. Topping the whole thing off was a gravy boat of double creme. Zomg, so good.
After that, I was pretty much done for that evening, so I went to bed. Sadly, I kept waking up every hour or two, my body completely confused by the time.
Coming up next: Tuesday, aka Concert Day

: A Brief Visit to Amsterdam

I’ve been to Amsterdam before, but never to its airport, Schiphol, which is pronounced “skipple” (by the Dutch, anyway, and they’re the ones who matter in this context. Silly British pronunciations need not apply).
I’ve been through numerous airports on four continents, but this one’s a bit surreal.
I haven’t transited from country A to country B through country C frequently in my life, but I have done so in London (both Gatwick and Heathrow), Mumbai, and Toronto.
Just like for arrivals into a country, every other airport I know of has you land into a secure area, do a long march where you get your luggage, go through customs and possibly immigration, then drop your bags off again and go into the secure part of the airport along with everyone else waiting for connecting flights.
Not so with Amsterdam. I started following people exiting my flight only to realize they were dispersing into the airport — we might as well have stepped off a domestic flight. I had that momentary panic wondering if there was something I was missing, but then I realized we weren’t given landing cards. Not being an idiot, I did double-check with the info desk to make sure; an apparent lack of protocol isn’t an excuse for messing it up.
Once I cleared that up and asked where my hotel was located, I was able to enjoy the airport shopping experience. In addition to the usual international brands, there was a Rijksmuseum gift shop. There were also places to buy Delft wares, cheese, and tulips, as well as a cool cafe where the chairs were Delft-like teacups. In short, there was a lot of pride in what made them unique, something I see too little of in US airports. Hint: sports teams ain’t it.
I used the free airport wifi until it was time to check into my room. There are two “airside” hotels in Schiphol: the Mercure is very small, more expensive, and frequently sold out, while the Yotel is more budget, a bit larger in terms of number of rooms, but the rooms are quite small. They are rented as a minimum four-hour block, but you can book them for overnight if you like.
Airside, in this case, means on the secure side of the airport. In the US, that’d be after you go through the TSA checkpoint. So you can go to a hotel without having to schlep anything. Since my luggage was checked through to its final destination (yay, efficiency), that means that I had made sure that what I needed, including a change of underthings, was available in my carry-on.
Schiphol also has, I found out, public showers, but you need to bring your own towel and soap, so if you’re a hoopy frood, you’re in luck. I suddenly understand the large market in travel towels.
Speaking of, and completely off-topic otherwise, I also newly understand the market in another travel accessory: the travel vest with many pockets. It seems that many air carriers limit weight on carry on baggage, but not travel jackets and vests, so people put their heavier items in the vest/jacket. Lufthansa limits carry-on to 7kg. Air Tahiti (not Air Tahiti Nui, which is a different carrier) limits carry-on to 3kg.
Back to Yotel. There’s two kiosks to check in, but I don’t have my reservation number out. I’m fumbling for it, and the gentleman there says it’s faster to tell the lady at the desk, which I do. I’m given my room key and my access code.
Now, I knew these rooms are small. Twin bed, tiny corridor the length of the bed, and a combined very narrow toilet/sink/shower. They’re about 75 square feet. I worried it might feel a bit claustrophobic, but it didn’t. The bed was wider than I feared. It was firm but not uncomfortably so, and the comforter was cozy. Opposite the door was a mirror and a hangar (hanging my coat obstructed the mirror). Below that was a small ledge wide enough for iPhones and similar stuff, and there were plugs in a variety of configurations, including US. I plugged my power strip into it, then the CPAP, iPad, and iPhone into it.
The door had a window onto the corridor and a blind, which I let down.
There was no apparent light other than the weird ambient purplish light, which is pretty dim, but bright enough for what I needed.
The shower was the rainforest style, which meant that getting one’s head wet was pretty much a mandatory feature. I don’t always wash my hair in a shower, but this time I gave it a rinse as I was feeling sticky all over from the flight.
I have to say: the idea of showers at airports is an immensely civilized undertaking. Until I started reading trip reports and comments by long-haul travelers, I didn’t realize that these things existed. I should have known better; long-haul travel is a way of life for more people than you might think. Generally, showers are reserved for business class and up, which makes sense, really. They’re typically a function of an airline’s lounge, and many such lounges require a ticket in business or first class. (Or, if you’re flying on Emirates air in first class on an Airbus 380, you can have a shower on the plane itself, but that’s another story…and would not be me.)
I climbed into bed and noticed that there’s a TV at my feet, but I don’t switch it on. I set my alarm, and sleep until my appointed time (20 minutes before check-out), getting more sleep in the airport than I got on the plane. Better, because I’m behind a locked door, I don’t have to have that subconscious always watching my stuff. I actually get real sleep instead.
It’s time to shuffle off to Liverpool, so I head down to the gate, go through security screening, and sit in the appointed boarding area. A bus pulls up, and the gate agent scans all our documents, then we board the bus and get driven to a rather large field of KLM planes. This one’s a Fokker 70, which is a fairly small plane, but still large enough.
I’ll end this segment by saying: I booked this trip this way because KLM was the only airline that flew from the US to both Liverpool and Venice. Sadly, they’ve just announced that, as of March, they will no longer fly into Liverpool. I suspect a lot of people fly or take the train into Manchester instead, where there’s a two-hour express train from London. Pity the Eurostar doesn’t go to Amsterdam, but I’m sure there’s some way to get to either Paris or Brussels by train from Amsterdam that’s reasonably efficient.
Up next: Liverpool.

: Departing for Amsterdam

For me, a trip always begins with the packing. I had a list, but I was still stressed I’d forget things. The list kept morphing. As I write this on the 20th, I don’t think I forgot anything critically important, but there certainly are some things that might have made the trip a bit nicer had I remembered them.
For example, I’d ordered some cashmere gloves from Gilt, but they sent the wrong gloves, so I had to send them back. I’d ordered a cashmere hat from Macy’s that matched some existing leather gloves I had, but then I couldn’t find those. Naturally, after I’d gone to Macy’s and bought the matching cashmere gloves (the last ones in that color in the store, matter of fact), I found them in the pockets of my down vest.
Liverpool’s known for being cold and rainy, so I packed (well, carried) my down vest and trench coat along with two cashmere shawls and the aforementioned gloves (both pairs) and hat. That way, I could cover a variety of warmth and wind requirements.
Beyond that, I opted for only silk shirts (because of the layering capabilities and warmth were better than cotton) and made sure I had sufficient socks and undies. For a long trip, I generally pack half as many pairs as days in the trip with a maximum of 7 and a minimum of 3.
I was completely wired all day Friday and Saturday, couldn’t sleep well at all. You know, if it weren’t for the fact that I typically start a trip sleep-deprived,I might actually enjoy the process more, but that angst never seems to fade, alas.
I was so wire I made breakfast (Brazilian cheese balls, mostly), but forgot to eat most of it.
It’s also heightened by international travel, which, even at the best of times, seems more complicated. In practical terms, more complicated mostly means packing your passport and ensuring your prescriptions are in their pharmacy-labeled bottles.
Oh, and then there’s the issue of power adapters. I knew I had at least two UK ones (which I never found), but forgot I had some for continental Europe (which I did find). I also have a universal adapter that turns out not to work in my hotel. Fortunately, I had bought another UK adapter. Combined with my dual-voltage electric power strip, I was all set.
Because I’m flying the much-loathed regional jets between European cities, I used my smaller new carry-on, hoping it would be small enough. It was just large enough for camera gear, CPAP, and vital necessities, though my 3-1-1 bag needed to go in my purse.
The CPAP always means I can’t fully pack the night before, so I set my alarm at 8-something so I can do all the stuff I need to before we leave around 11-ish for my 2:35 flight on KLM.
When I got there, the gate said that the flight time was 3:10, but I had checked and not gotten a schedule change notification. Unlike British Airways, which has split Rick and I up on long flights more than once, I got the seat I actually selected. Win!
However, I was stressed because I was getting hungry, and I knew I needed to make sure I was covered in case catering screwed things up, so I ran into one of the stores, grabbed a fistful of comestibles and some spare batteries for my headphones. When I put the batteries away, I finally found the ones I thought I’d forgotten because I hadn’t been able to find them. And yet, there they were in exactly the first place I intended to store them. Funny how brains work, isn’t it?
Shortly after take-off everyone was offered hot towel service, even those of us in E- (as regular economy is sometimes called in this day of Economy Plus seats for more money). Unlike some other carriers I’ve been on, the person ahead of me reclining didn’t jam the seat painfully into my knee, and I could still put the tray down properly.
My gluten-free dinner meal was correctly ordered, so that was great news. The fish was excellent.
Meanwhile, I still had a tangerine in my 3-1-1 bag from the other day, so I ate it early in the flight so I wouldn’t forget about it.
There were a number of movie choices, all of them subtitled in other languages, so I watched Water for Elephants. After that, I tried to sleep, maybe got 1-2 hours’ worth. I don’t normally have trouble sleeping on planes, but I have trouble getting enough sleep. Face it, coach seats aren’t designed for comfort.
After a surprising second hot towel service, breakfast arrives. More fish! This time, it’s rice cakes with salmon plus a hot tray with eggs and stuff. Yum.
Coming into Amsterdam is wonderful: there’s lots of modern windmills, some impossibly large three-bladed contraptions. Sometimes a farm will have just one, which probably supplies much of their power. Of course, the land is notably flat, but everything is neat and surprisingly green for this late in the year.

: Small Hawaii Businesses

I thought I’d bring up some small Hawaii businesses I’ve run across on my two trips to the big island. The first two you can only enjoy from the island, but the rest you can enjoy almost anywhere.
First, two tour companies.

  1. Lava Ocean Adventures does ocean tours to the volcano (and other points out of Hilo). It was an awesome experience last year. (This year, lava wasn’t flowing when I was there, so I skipped it.)
  2. Vavoom Volcano Tours does the obvious volcano tours, but also can customize day tours. Lori’s great.

Food companies.

  1. Volcano Winery is Hawaii’s only full-grape wine producer. There are a couple of other companies on Maui that make pineapple wine, etc., but this company grows grapes. They do offer two blended wines, though. They are less than a mile from the entrance to Volcanoes National park, so the name is no exaggeration. I tried four of their wines, including two that aren’t on their site. I’m not a wine person, but they seemed decent. The Mac Nut Honey wine (which has a champagne yeast, iirc) is very light and delicate.
  2. Hilo Coffee Mill is one of the non-Kona coffee growing regions of Hawaii, and one of three on the big island (the other being Kona, which includes both North Kona and South Kona, and then there’s Ka’u, which is east of Kona and west of Kilauea). Because of the rainfall, it’s the mildest coffee, but it’s also significantly less expensive than the premium Kona coffees. (Example: Kona coffee at Peet’s, which is a very nice select grade, runs $50 per pound. Hilo Coffee Mills’s coffee runs $29.) I have had some truly awful roadside Kona coffee (that I needed to cut with TJ’s coffee to improve it), so I can say for sure that not all Kona coffee is created equal. In essence, Hilo coffee is shade-grown simply because of the frequent cloud cover. Because of the difficulty transporting and logistics surrounding manure and compost from other farms in a high-rainfall area, this is not an organically-grown coffee if that’s important to you, but they do not use pesticides in growing, just non-organic fertilizers. I am incredibly impressed with their pineapple coffee. Usually, flavored coffees are an excuse to use up the worst beans, but that’s not true in this case. It’s a subtler flavor than you’d expect, and a nice addition to the coffee. Really. None of their coffees are bitter, so if you like coffee but not bitter, you might give it a try. Our pound of the pineapple coffee is almost gone. Sniff.
  3. Aunt Phyllis’s Macadamia Nut Butter with Macadamia Nut Honey. Three ingredients: mac nuts, mac nut honey, and sea salt. This stuff is incredibly addictive and I am now out. I will be getting more in a few weeks. They do mail order (it’s $10 a jar plus shipping), but don’t have a web site set up. If you want contact info, let me know.
  4. Wao Kele honey (link is to a story and video about them, but they don’t have a web site) makes great honey. I do have a PO Box for them off their labels if anyone’s interested. The lehua honey is particularly nice.

My favorite discovery by far is the funny and gregarious guy who runs Filthy Farmgirl Soap at the Hilo farmer’s market. He definitely has great marketing and labels. Product names range from the extremely tacky to the merely quirky, each with its own unique label and ingredients. He advertises “no yucky stuff” and means it. Most of the soaps are vegan; a few are not (e.g., the Goat’s Milk Chai soap we picked up for my mother-in-law). I picked up some of the Filthy Geek (aka Hyper Mocha Minx) soap (chocolate and fair trade coffee) for ourselves. Unlike most of the other small businesses listed in this post, he’s got a shopping cart and takes PayPal.

: Nine Hotels

I’ve previously expressed my love for Ladera, set among the incredible beauty of St. Lucia’s pitons.
Eight other hotels around the world I’d love to stay at.
Kona Village, on Hawaii’s big island, is temporarily closed due to tsunami damage, but I’m hopeful it’ll return. It consists of little bungalows. If you don’t want to be disturbed, you put a coconut out on your lanai.
Almost any of the over-water beach bungalows in Bora Bora at the nicer hotels, e.g., the Hilton. I love the idea of swimming out from my room.
Continuing the water theme, there’s the Conrad Maldives Resort, which not only has over-water bungalows, it also has an underwater restaurant, the only restaurant actually in the ocean. Given that the high point on the Maldives is under three meters, it’s probably just as well they built down.
Palazzo Sasso, a 12th-century palazzo hotel on the Italian coast.
The Grand Continental Hotel in Siena.
Probably the least frou-frou of the hotels on my list, the Hotel du Louvre in Paris has location going for it. It’s not that it’s not luxurious, it’s just not so obviously so compared to some of the places on this list.
Since I’ve neglected most of Asia, the Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort looks like an awesome place to stay once you get past the logistics of getting there.
I’m going to end with the most out there of the hotels, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Sure, it’s over the top. It’s a feature, not a bug. Check out the gallery.

: Signs You Travel Too Much

Funny items from this long thread on flyertalk:
When you are brought in by immigration because you have more entries and exits into that country than anyone else, native or foreigner, for seven of the last 8 years and you are not from that country.
You schedule an extra 2 hour layover to sign and have your final divorce and QDRO (qualified domestic relations order, relating to a divorce) notarized at the airport.
I had a (hopeful) FA once ask me if I was stalking him since I’d been on every single flight he’d been working for 2 weeks. But that’s a while ago now.
When you write your FF number on your bank deposit instead of your account number.
I was in Kyrgyzstan last week and called a colleague in the states for an upcoming trip. His wife says he is not at home. I walk into a cafe, and the person I called is having breakfast in the cafe.
When you run out of room on the arrival form for countries visited in the past month.
When you go to the wrong airport and the airline seems unconcerned and puts you on a flight home anyway.
When you have tickets for future travel on 183 flights for 276,000 flown miles.
“We don’t see ladies with the fat passport often.”
your wallet includes public transport tickets from cities on three different continents which get used up before they expire.
you stop changing foreign currencies back because you’ll need that money in two weeks anyway.
When you return to your office after a bathroom break and the first thing you do when you sit in your chair is reach for the seatbelt.
Your dog still barks at you when you come home. (we’ve had him for 3 months)
When you have to call home to find out what city you’re in, and what hotel you’re staying at (happened to my cousin on a 5-country trip to Europe – he went out to buy aspirin, and didn’t remember what hotel he was staying at. His daughter the other side of the world had his itinerary!)
When the crew on the flight home from Hong Kong recognize you from last week’s flight home from India (happened to me a couple of years ago …)
when the check in agent is surprised you only have 4 boarding passes this time
When you go to your closet looking for your blue blazer only to realize “Oh yeah, I left that in Germany with a colleague for next time”.
No biggie, you reach for your OTHER blue blazer only to find that it’s in Japan on a similar mission.
My daughter keeps a homeless shelter well-stocked with shampoo and soap and other stuff by donating the toiletries courtesy of my hotel stays/overnight flights.
I went 15 months from September 2006 to November 2007 where the longest consecutive period I spent in any single country was 6 days. I’ve sworn never to do that ever again – it truly wears you down in both body and spirit.
when the immigration clerk asks you where you were last week because you were on vacation and didn’t fly your regular route
when the pilot calls you to tell you that your plane will be delayed
My husband travels so much that our 4 year old son thinks that daddy actually lives somewhere else, and just comes to visit at random.
Talking to loved ones while on a layover and not able to answer the question, so where are you?
Two minutes later you pass by the Elvis store, and can finally answer, MEM.
1) Your wallet contains more foreign currency than domestic.
2) Your FF cards (mile collecting credit cards, status cards) outnumber every other type of card you carry.
3) You have various different sized suitcases in your living room, all half packed.
4) Your fridge contents consist of condiments and expired milk.
5) Your liquor cabinet is fully stocked with duty free liquor.
6) You have two complete sets of toiletries, one of which is all under 100ml and already packed into a kippie bag.
7) You have to ask the flight attendant where you are when you land.
8) You plan your vacations based around which countries you haven’t been to yet.
9) The first one to notice your new haircut is the security agent at your home airport.
I’ve gone to Caracas for lunch because I hadn’t flown Aeropostal before.
you answer the home phone in another language
I was asked the other day by a lounge agent how my recent overseas trip went. Me – “Which one, you’ll need to be more specific.” Agent – “it was last week”. Me – “Again, you’ll need to be more specific.” I’d had 4 overseas round trips the week in question.
When immigration staff at several airports say “Oh it’s you – I heard about you”
When you have a home in one country, an apartment in another, a suitcase left with a hotel in a third, staying in a fourth, and visiting a fifth for the day.
When you are going through immigration in a country that you passed through on the same day one year before, and the immigration officer asks you why you are here as you have already been through immigration… then notices the year on your old stamp.
When you have (just checked) prepaid SIM cards for 8 countries, currencies for 11, driver’s licenses for 2 and a number of prepaid phone cards and transport passes.
Actually happened tonight:
Partner: How ’bout a drink before turning in?
Voop (distracted by some nagging email): Uhmm, the mini-bar is overpriced, I think I have a bottle of something I picked up from duty-free….
Partner: “Mini-bar”? Honey, you’re at home, and I don’t charge….not for the mini-bar either….
In my defense, I wasn’t all wrong, the home-bar is stocked exclusively with duty-free…..
I was running on a treadmill with a built-in TV this morning, and briefly wondered how to get the AirMap to show.
You get an email survey from your airline asking questions about your recent flight from XXX to XXX. You think which week?
When the pilots called to ask if I wanted to join them for dinner on a layover but I had another trip lined up….
On a recent trip, at an airport that doesn’t support transits, transit passengers are supposed to be met by an airline agent at the gate. The agent for my airline didn’t turn up and had to be called when I arrived at immigration. His reason? He thought there must have been an error in the passenger info sheet – no one could possibly be travelling Vienna to Zurich via Riyadh.
“You have to take a passport to give blood.”
It took me over an hour to do the screening part of giving blood last time I tried and they had to call their head office to see if the time I spent in the Middle East was a disqualifying event even though I had told them it wasn’t.
Over the past year I have spent so much time at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur that I have many of the hotel staff in my Facebook friends list….I guess that is a sign that you have stayed there too much 😉
My doctor is in Prague, my dentist in Dubai, my tax guy in Serbia.
the classic one that always gets me is waking up and not knowing the country, time zone, why I’m there, etc. And yes, it sometimes happens at home.
Worse still, when you can recite airline and airport announcements in a language you can’t even speak.
Attentie, alstublieft, voor een gatewijziging!
When you accidentally use the term “going home” to describe getting onto a British Airways aeroplane to go somewhere you’ve never been before.
I went through a phase a few years ago when I was on at least four, sometimes six BA flights a week. This went on for about six months, then it reduced to two or three flights a week. A began to recognise certain FAs and there were two or three captains who I always seemed to end up with. At some point I took three weeks off to spend time with the family. When I got back home there was a nice letter from BA asking if I was alright and hoping that I remained happy with their service. The letter said that they had hoped I would be travelling again soon and gave me 50,000 BA miles for the hell of it.
You ask your children via Skype what they want to do this weekend while your home. They respond with a mileage run. You cry on the inside because you have taught them well.
When not traveling, riding with the wife, she drove me the airport before realizing she’s supposed to drop me office at the office, more than once.
You actually have a frequent stay card at the Ice Hotel in Reykjavik

: New Luggage Report

In the last week-ish, I’ve done both a flight vacation and a car trip with my new Tumi Vapor luggage.
The first piece I got, as you may have seen, is the International Carry-On in pink multi with the breast cancer awareness luggage tag. Very nice.
The second piece I got is the Medium Trip Packing Case in “black,” which is really a nice striated charcoal grey. I did worry how common the color would be, but didn’t see anyone else traveling with this particular bag on my flights, so it turned out not to be an issue of everyone diving for the same piece of luggage.
First of all, it’s really light, and I like the corner reinforcement.
My first trip, as you know, was to Hawaii.
In my carry-on, I carried:
1) CPAP and paraphernalia associated with. This took up 1/2 of one side of the carry on.
2) Liner from my Artisan and Artist camera bag containing two camera bodies and two lenses. That took up the other half.
3) My bag containing: tank top, spare socks and underwear, and bathing suit. (Always in carry-on in case of luggage snafus). Also my sink stopper and clothing hangar.
4) My 3-1-1 liquids bag.
5) My pills.
6) A pair of leggings (wrapped around the CPAP).
7) Banana chips and nuts, aka food for the trip. I always carry food I can eat in case of flight delays; sometimes there’s nothing I literally can eat.
The checked bag seemed overwhelmingly large for one tourist on a four-day trip to Hawaii. I packed two pairs of leggings, four shirts, and other things I needed like socks.
The other half of the bag would have been empty, so I just stuffed a tripod in one half and a super-thick yoga mat in the other. I’d heard that polycarbonate bags are safer when they’re fully packed, and, hey, yoga. Photography. It seemed natural.
On the way back, though, I’d bought so much stuff that my trusty bag was brimming full. I discovered that a bottle of wine (Volcano winery) and a large jar of lehua honey fit nicely inside the yoga mat with three pairs of underwear as a buffer (one at either end, one between the two glass containers). Between the coffee, the macadamia nuts, the honey, the macadamia nut butter, the soaps, the jam, the wine, etc., my bags were packed to the gills. They did smell super-nice, though!
I got to the airport. My luggage weighed 51.5 pounds. Oops! They were nice and didn’t charge me, though I could have moved 1-1/2 pounds to my carry-on if I’d picked carefully. I’m sure that if I had been using my older, heavier, Travelpro bag, I would have been charged, though.
Even at 51.5 pounds, my new bag moved super-smoothly, and I’m really really glad I upgraded.
After I got home and unpacked, I repacked for our three-night car trip to Los Angeles. I packed everything just in the medium trip bag (and overpacked because I was tired). It was a better size for my car than the arrangements I’d tried in the past, and three of us went down to LA and back with no issues.

: Hilo Wednesday (done)

Stuff to do and see:
1) Finish packing (ugh)
2) Farmer’s market (6 am – 4 pm), specifically for jam/honey guy and soap guy
6) Imiloa (9-5, $17.50, but this is the most interesting of the museums for me)
7) Place that sells unrefined Hawaiian salt near the farmer’s market
8) Mokupapapa Discovery Center (which is awesome and also free)
9) Hakalau bay (this actually is most relevant to my book, so it’s the most likely to get done)
After most everything closed, I still had hours to kill, so I saw Arthur Christmas. Not bad, not great, but enjoyable. I skipped dinner, likely a mistake, but I wasn’t hungry. I still have cashews. Everything else is checked. With the honey, jam, wine, coffee, etc., my new lighter bag came near 50#. I thought it was heavy.
Halakau bay was awesome in its way. I hope some of the pictures look good.

: Hilo Wednesday (To Do)

Stuff to do and see:
1) Finish packing (ugh)
2) Farmer’s market (6 am – 4 pm), specifically for jam/honey guy and soap guy
3) Zoo, specifically Namaste’s feeding at 3:30 (zoo’s open from 9-4, free)
4) Pacific Tsunami Museum (9-4:15, $8)
5) Lyman museum (10-4:30, $10)
6) Imiloa (9-5, $17.50, but this is the most interesting of the museums for me)
7) Place that sells unrefined Hawaiian salt near the farmer’s market
8) Mokupapapa Discovery Center (which is awesome and also free)
9) Hakalau bay (this actually is most relevant to my book, so it’s the most likely to get done)
10) World Botanical Gardens (near Hakalau, $13)
Except for the zoo and the beach, all are within a few blocks of each other. Since my plane doesn’t leave until late, I could, in theory, manage several of these.
I’m guessing I’ll get the following done: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9; some of them are only a few minutes and are clumped together.

: Hilo Tuesday

First, a bit left over from Monday: I went out to Hilo Bay Cafe, which is a more high-falutin’ place than the name suggests, and had an awesome beef short rib dinner. Now, I’m not normally a beef person (except for hamburgers) and I generally don’t like short ribs at all because they are too tough. This was grass-fed beef and super-tender. I’d been there on my previous trip and they were really great to work with to find food I could eat, plus they specialize in local and organic. Considering that (and the price of food generally on the island), it was quite reasonable.
This morning, I went first to Volcano winery. As the name indicates, it’s up by the entrance to Volcanoes National Park, and it’s literally at the end of the road past the golf course. I tasted several of their wines, but I’m not a wine drinker. I’d heard their wines were sweet, but they didn’t seem particularly sweet compared to other wines I’ve tried. So I picked one for Thanksgiving. They do have a macadamia nut honey wine that is very delicate — it reminds me a lot of an elderflower cordial that I’ve tried in the past.
After that, I went to Hilo Coffee Mill, which has coffee from several regions around the big island, and even coffee from other Hawaiian islands. They do roasting for a number of growers, and they gave me a little tour. I had to dodge a few chickens (they’ve got about 200, so if you’re ever in Hilo looking for super-fresh eggs, you might want to try there first).
I tried several of their coffees. As they put it, they get so much rainfall that their coffee is milder than on the Kona side, which is far drier — for the simple reason that soil chemicals tend to get washed away. They do supplement the soil, and they’re not an organic farm as a result, but that’s the nature of working with what you’ve got sometimes.
There are coffee plants on the east side of the island that are 100 to 150 years old; it’s a longer-established coffee-growing region than Kona.
What surprised me most, though, was their pineapple coffee. It doesn’t scream “bad coffee hidden by horrific fruit flavoring” — no, it’s good coffee with a delicate lilt of pineapple, and it seemed to me to work very well. So I got some.
At that point it was around noon. I decided to head south past Pahoa (a town I keep going through) and see how far south one could actually drive. About a mile out of Kalapana, the road forks, and I kept going on highway 130, which ended abruptly. There’d been signs earlier that visiting hours for the lava flow were 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Now that I knew where the entrance was, I had about an hour to kill, so I went and got lunch, then headed back.
At the end of the road, there were scary signs that said, “Restricted Access – Authorized Personnel Only.” So I parked just before that and started walking, but a woman pulled over in a car and said I could drive in anyway. So I did, wondering if I were negating my rental agreement in doing so. I drove about a mile in (over two sections of relatively recent lava flows and regular old road between them) and parked where the security people told me to. The woman said, “Oh, because it’s between 2 and 10, you’re authorized.” Nice to know.
Then I set out to walk to the end of where they let you walk, which is about 4/10 of a mile down the road, crossing several flows that seem at most a few years old, houses (still inhabited) dotting either side of the road. Of course, yards are problematic.
It was brutally hot. The wind was behind me, so I didn’t feel it on my face, and it was full sun, I had SPF 85 on, and a liter of water, my camera bag, and my purse. I felt like a camel. I managed to get up onto the end of the road where the lava flow was and look out; I didn’t see any actual lava activity, but they said it was about six miles from where I stood. Then one of the women who worked there said the flow I was standing on dated from January.
I was thinking as I walked it that it seemed that this spot of land was in fact the very land I was photographing last year from the water’s edge. Some of the details seemed familiar, though of course the perspective was radically different. Another staffer said they’d lost a mile and a half of road in the last year — just eaten up by lava.
So, yes, I was basically standing near the hot melty stuff I photographed last year.
New lava flows are shiny and glassy. I tried to capture that in photos, but didn’t capture it last year and not sure I did this year, either. It turns out that silicon is part of the flow, and it rises to the surface as the lava is cooling (being less dense than some of the other minerals), so it gives the freshest lava a very cool sheen. I’d seen that on the black sand beach last year but hadn’t known the reason. I took some photos; we’ll see how they turn out.
Because silicon isn’t super-hard, though, that layer wears off fairly quickly (over 2-5 years), and then lava takes on the more familiar matte appearance.
On the walk back, I had the breeze in my face, but it was still pretty brutal. At the end, I was hot, I was tired, and I kind of collapsed into the car, turned on the air conditioning, and drank some extra water until I felt unshaky enough to drive.
After that, not much. I missed Namaste’s feeding again, darn it, so I’ll just have to go tomorrow. I’m reserving tomorrow for Hilo town stuff: the zoo, the planetarium, the farmer’s market, and a store I wanted to visit.

: Hilo Monday

I slept in late (really, I slept 8 hours, I just got to sleep late) and got up and had the same old thing at Ken’s Pancakes. For breakfast, I’m a creature of habit.
I’d planned to go to Akaka falls and the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden on Tuesday, but the high bright overcast this morning meant rain wasn’t likely. After the last couple of days, that made for welcome weather prospects, so I headed north to the HTBG, went in and bought my admission and water (knowing there weren’t such facilities at Akaka), then headed to Akaka first.
Last year, I simply couldn’t manage the pathway. It’s 56 steps down, some nasty paths (which are paved at least), and about 2/10 of a mile to the falls proper via the shorter route. The longer route also visits another, smaller fall, but it seemed to have more stairs, so I chickened out on that one.
I managed it without difficulty. Further, last year, if I had done it, I couldn’t have done any other major walking immediately afterward like I did this year, when I walked all two miles of the paths (save for about 100′ where the handrailing for the stairs was underneath significant amounts of overgrown plants). Last year, I walked about 2/3 of the paths and it took me five hours because I was so tired and in so much pain. I wasn’t striving for time (since the point of going was enjoying the scenery, sitting in front of the falls, taking photos of cool plants, etc.), but it took me just under 2-1/2 hours this time. HTBG’s literature says that an average complete visit is around two hours. So I’m not exceptionally slow any more, which is great.
As a photographer, one of the problems of my lack of stamina has caused is that my hands shake when I’m that exhausted, and obviously that means I blow more photos. Much less of that this year.
However, the real point of going to HTBG is the same as last year: Isle of Pearls is set in an alternate Polynesia, and this is the closest thing I have to walking through some real rain forest. It’s not all native plants, granted, but the variety (not to mention size) is stunning. I noticed details that I hadn’t noticed before: how the cliffs are pummeled away at the water line, the difference between the water sounds and the wind sounds, etc.
From last year’s trip, I used a lot of details in other work I’ve done since, but IoP still needs a full re-write and I now feel ready to tackle it.
Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of my day; it’s only six in the evening. Hilo being Hilo, that basically means the tourist stuff is over for the day, but there’s still other kinds of adventures like dinner.

: Hilo Sunday

Woke up fairly early and decided to venture forth for breakfast. Last time, I found a cheap place to eat, but their food quality wasn’t so hot, so I decided to try some place different this time.
When I asked about the farmer’s market at the airport, the guy said to turn left at Ken’s Pancakes. Now, as a celiac, I notice pancake houses like never, but this place is an institution, it’s open 24 hours a day (except a few days a year), and it’s close to where I’m staying. Fine.
They had things I could eat, so I had a nice breakfast of corned beef hash, eggs, hash browns (I know, seems redundant, right?), pineapple and coffee. Not bad.
On my flight over, I’d struck up a conversation with a woman who works at Starbucks, and she told me about some of the non-Kona growing regions of coffee on the big island, so I decided to check them out. Essentially, I’d made a pact that I wasn’t going to the west side of the island. Not not not. All the tourist stuff is there, but there’s so much to see on the east side, I’d spend all my time driving around again like last year. Boo.
So one of them was in Hilo, so they were on the way to the volcano. I accidentally passed the place, so I kept going to Volcanos National Park, paid the $10 to get in, and then drove to the steam vent lookout. The area between the parking and the rim is covered with molasses grass, and last year it smelled strongly of sulfur and molasses together (yes, that is weird). This year, though, the molasses grass was mid-thigh height, and the rain minimized the sulfur smell where the dampness made the molasses super-strong. Very neat. I got a half-decent picture of a lehua blossom on an ohi’a tree, so I’ll post that when I get a chance.
It was too wet for me to feel safe going to the Thurston lava tube again, plus I went last year. Just as I was pulling into the Kilauea Iki lookout, the sky opened up, so I continued south along chain of craters road.
You don’t realize how big even a relatively short shield volcano like Kilauea is until you drive the whole thing: it’s about 20 miles from the summit to the shore. Shield volcanoes are deceptively large, like super-big cow pies that make up a big chunk of a large island.
I pulled out several places to take pictures of the destruction one lava flow or another caused, but the sheer vastness of the place was overwhelming, and I was actually volcanoed out (which happens like never) before I was done for the day.
On my way back, I stopped at the coffee place, but it turns out they were closed on Sunday all along. I licked my wounds and went to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm, which I hadn’t visited on my last trip. There’s 2500 acres of mac nuts, and they are separated by very tall and very narrow Norfolk Island pines. The 2500 acres contain about 250,000 mac nut trees, apparently.
I don’t know what I was expecting — more, maybe? They had a little Maui Divers jewelry store in the shop, and the woman recognized the gold coral necklace I was wearing as one of theirs (since they’re the only purveyors of gold coral). Also, they told me that the pink coral they have, they will not be getting more of it, so if you like it, go pick some up. I’m not that into the pink, personally, so I just filed it away. I will say they take their ecology very seriously, and if they aren’t harvesting pink any more, that’s because there’s either an issue of ecology or economy.
Anyhow, I walked out with the requested macadamia nuts, as well as a small can of the kona coffee-covered ones Just For Me ™, which I have half enjoyed.
For dinner, I went downtown to another place, Café Pesto, which is mostly a pizza and pasta joint, but they do serve local fish and stuff. The waiter knew exactly what I needed when I asked about flour content, got me my ahi just right and all gluten-free. Yay.
I wasn’t tired, but it was wet and dark, so I decided to go to the movies. I really wanted to see the new Clooney flick that takes place on Hawaii, but it’s not showing here. Instead, I went to see Twilight 4 of 5, which was better than I’d feared (given the general bad ratings it’s gotten) and reminded me how much there was in that last volume of the series. They got Carter Burwell back for composer, and this time, they nailed the ending — which is pretty hard to do in the middle of a book.
I’m down to 5% battery on my iPad, so I’m going to call it a night and post this.

: Photo Friday: Hawai'i

Taken at the Hawai’ian Tropical Botanical Garden, just north of Hilo, on my trip last year.

: Joining the Tumi Luggage "Cult"

You know, I never should say anything like I don’t want to join a cult in jest like I did here, because the universe is a perverse place.
I’d narrowed down my luggage choices to four, and I’d have been happy with at least three of them.
I went and looked at spinners and fell for Tumi’s smaller international-sized carryon. Yes, it’s larger than I wanted. Yes, it’s hard-sided, but it’ll be useful for larger planes and stuff. But, more importantly, there were two other factors: I thought it had better corner crush support than its competitors, and I found it on sale.
I wasn’t super-crazy about any of the colors, but, hey, at least they have colors. So I picked the “breast cancer awareness” pink multi.

: A Cranky Request for Luggage Recommendations

I know some of you travel a lot, and I’m looking for a new piece of big luggage to replace my falling-apart one. Plus, hey, bad shoulder and I really felt that 46.6 lb bag I pushed around the airport (it was full of books from World Fantasy)
I’m looking for:

  1. A spinner (meaning 4 wheels, though I do prefer double wheels and not the itty ones either)
  2. Not part of a set
  3. Not from the lesser lines from a given company (e.g., not American Tourister, which is a less expensive Samsonite line)
  4. That’s available in a color other than black
  5. Is hard sided
  6. Is available in a size somewhere between 24″ and 26″

Anyone have specific recommendations?
I’m also looking for a rolling carry-on, and I’m even more specific there. I currently have a Travelpro Crew 6 rolling tote that’s 16 x 13 x 7. It began falling apart almost immediately, but I have been stoically carrying it for four years, even though the handle screws are falling out. Frankly, I love the form factor, but not the product. Unfortunately, it’s an odd and great size: it exactly fits in the overhead of smaller commuter planes. I like not being the bin hog, y’know?
When Travelpro went to their newer lines, they screwed up what little I did like about the bag.
So, I’m looking for:

  1. A spinner (meaning 4 wheels, but this one can have smaller wheels)
  2. Not part of a set
  3. Not from the lesser lines from a given company (e.g., not American Tourister, which is a less expensive Samsonite line)
  4. That’s available in a color other than black
  5. Is not hard sided
  6. Is available in a size somewhere close to what I already have

I’ve normally been a Travelpro person or a Ricardo of Beverly Hills person, but I’m not really someone who has strong brand preferences here. I don’t really want to join the Tumi cult.

: Photo Friday: Pug Dog In Chair

Pug Dog in Chair

Photo taken by me at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, 2008.

: Photo Friday: Sagrada Familia

I have been meaning to post some photos. Sadly, I relied on my camera’s 40-year-old light meter and, well, it works fine in daylight, but not so much indoors.
With that disclaimer, I still think this photo of the windows is pretty even though it’s not what I hoped for photo-wise.
Sagrada Familia’s construction has been going on for almost 130 years, and it is Barcelona’s most ambitious monument.

: Human! Learn to Use the Device!

Rick and I just had one of those, “Human! Learn to use the device!” moments.
But maybe I should step back and say where that comes from.
In 2008, when we were going to see the last gasp (at the time, it’s since been revived) of the Star Trek Experience in Vegas, I was sitting down and two women wanted to get their photo taken with one of the Klingon women. The one woman wasn’t familiar with the other woman’s camera, and so the Klingon says “Human! Learn to use the device!”
I chuckled for days, and it still comes up from time to time.
I love fandom.

: Friday Photo: Morocco Street

I do a lot of photography but haven’t been posting a lot lately, so I thought I’d post a photo every Friday.
Today’s photo was taken on the road between Rabat and Casablanca. It was taken with my Panasonic GF-1 (micro-4/3) camera and converted to black and white with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

: My Most Popular Post

…from the last year is this one, a photo of an Apollo capsule.

: Morocco

We weren’t there long enough, but what we saw was incredible. This is the royal palace. I wasn’t using a zoom lens — I was using a wide angle. I can’t recall ever having been so close to a head of state’s residence before. Fascinating country; I’d love to go back.

: Bellingrath Gardens: Two

So I turned a corner and saw this. Makes my sealife-loving self happy.

: Bellingrath Gardens: One

Beautiful annual light display. I walked for hours.

: NASA's SpaceCamp

Drove to Huntsville, Alabama (from Biloxi, Mississippi) to visit NASA’s facility where the Saturn 5 rockets were all made. Some lovely bits, including this Apollo capsule behind glass. The exhibit was overwhelming and literally brought me to tears.

: Kilauea Up Close and Personal

Kilauea at Dawn Up Close and Personal

There’s something oddly calming about a volcano like Kilauea. Sure, it smells hot and sulferous and you hear the lava creaking and flowing and drizzling into the sea. The constancy, though, that can lull one into a false sense of security.

: Venice Beach

One of the things I love most about Venice Beach is the skateboard park.

: Melbourne at Dawn

When we were in Melbourne, I woke up each and every day some time between 4:30 and 5:30. I’d go back to sleep, but it was odd that I woke up so consistently every morning at such an odd time. This is the view from our hotel room one of those mornings.

: Melbourne by Night

Melbourne, Australia has quite a few stunning features, one of which are these modern freeway overpasses lit inside in blue. I don’t know what to call them, exactly, so I’ve been calling them “hoops.” This was a rare break in the late winter cloud cover.

: Friday's Monterey Bay Aquarium Trip

Friday, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Had a great time, walked myself to exhaustion, and got a couple of cool pictures, including this one of a cuttlefish. Not bad for an iPhone photo!

: Our Baltic Cruise

[For those who want to read about our 2008 trip to Europe, posts can be found here]( [Photos are all uploaded to flickr and can be found here.](

: Our Trip to Greece, Egypt, and Turkey

For those who want to read about our 2007 trip to Europe (and Egypt and Asian Turkey), posts can be found here.

: Great Photos of Africa

Grant Kruger found some fabulous aerial photos of Africa.

You know you want to see them.

Go look.


: New Pictures from an Old Trip

In 1996, my first husband (Richard Savino) and I went to Newgrange with my father on our wedding trip.

Today, I got a CD with scans of the photos (some of which I’d taken), including some I’d never seen.

One of those photos was of Richard at Newgrange.

I’ve got to say, it’s incredibly weird to see new photos of someone who’s been dead ten years. It’s even weirder to tweak them in Photoshop.

Here’s the photos with Richard in them. And here’s all the Ireland photos. At the moment, the two sets are the same, but I have about 80 more pictures to put up.

: Deirdre Receives Followup Email

Dear Deirdre,
We hope you enjoyed your trip to Glasgow, and would love to hear your feedback


How about: gee, thanks for marking my ticket not only as non-refundable, but also as non-changeable even though that was not a requirement of that fare code? This created sufficient hassle that an Embassy official had to be on hold for 40 minutes to handle your screwup.

I’ll have to think of something pithy.

: Glasgow: Rick's Departure

As posted by Rick to the Irish Linux User’s Group social mailing list. Note for Americans: as of the time of this incident, 1 (UK) £ = $1.90.

I got a close look at yet another effect of the Bush Junta’s idiocy, this past few days over on that neighbouring island to your east.

My wife and I were visiting Glasgow for Interaction, the 63rd annual World Science Fiction Convention and 2005 Eurocon, and had an absolutely lovely time — as expected — right up to my ghastly realisation on Friday that my USA passport was suddenly missing.

I’ve been a frequent traveller for mumbledy-mumble decades since the age of 5, and have never lost a passport. I take the matter extremely seriously, expecially (but not solely) since stolen ones can be used to commit some rather horrific crimes. So, the very first thing I did was report the loss to the Strathclyde police, such that the passport would no longer be regarded as valid. For the same reason, I also attempted to telephone the closest USA consulate, in Edinburgh. Three times I called; three times I was dropped into voice-tree hell, and told “The operator is not available. Good bye.”

As the US Department of State Web site for that consulate (misleadingly) claims ( that the Edinburgh consulate can handle passport matters, my wife and I took the train to that town. I marched across town to a photographer who can meet the Department of State’s bizarre and exacting standards for passport photos, paid him ten quid for an instant set, marched back to rejoin my wife, and walked with her up to 3 Regent Terrace.

It was fortified like a bunker with concrete barriers closing off the (otherwise picturesque) street to vehicular traffic. Sufficient comment about Bush Junta policies, right there, I think.

We knocked on the door; Alan, a local employed at the consulate, answered, and said the consulate could not help us at all. We persisted, pointing out that the Web site claimed otherwise, that the office could not seem to bother answering its telephone, and that something needed to be done prior to our booked international travel home to near San Francisco, leaving 11:05 AM Monday from Glasgow International Airport. Alan left us for a moment, and checked with a consular official within. Time at this point was about 2 PM.

Soon, Alan beckoned us inside, had us run our bags through an X-ray machine, and then showed us to a waiting room fronting onto a bulletproof-glass wall separating us from the consular official, who in due course showed up there to talk with us. (I didn’t catch her name, but she was a young Yank, possibly in her 30s, with not a lot of international experience.)

The official apologised for the telephone troubles, which she said had been reported locally to the telephone utility but not yet fixed. She provided paperwork forms for passport replacement, but disclosed that the new passport could be issued only by the offices in Belfast or London, which alone have the required machinery. I pointed out that she could issue a letter of transit, permitting me to get home. She said that consulates were no longer permitted to issue those, and that airlines would no longer permit anyone on a US-bound flight without a passport. (The latter was obviously disingenuous: It’s very obvious that the airlines have implemented that requirement at USA insistence only, so attempting to pass the buck to them was somewhat dishonest.)

I pointed out that it was not possible to reach either the Belfast or London offices before their Friday closings. Passport service was not available on weekends, so the next opportunity would be Monday, 8:30 AM. And it would be wildly unlikely for me to complete that errand and then return to Glasgow in time for an 11:05 AM departure.

She said that I’d simply have to reschedule my flight. I pointed out that the booking was non-changeable, by its contract terms — but that airlines will generally waive that restriction if telephoned by a consular official and informed that the passenger needs to reschedule because of a passport replacement. She said she would immediately telephone the airlines and also e-mail the London embassy to tell them to expect my visit.

On Sunday, we telephoned British Airways to reschedule my flight, only to be told that they had _no_ record of any call from the consulate, and could help me only upon my paying an additional £900 or so for a new, one-way ticket: The consular official had evidently not bothered to call as promised. In some shock but no huge surprise, we declined the new-sale offer. Attempts to call Edinburgh again achieved no more success than before.

At 3 AM Monday morning, my wife and I rose and went to Glasgow International, so that I could get the very first flight (cost: £187) to Heathrow. I landed at 7:15, then ran for the Piccadilly Line Underground station, took that to Hyde Park Corner station (much unplanned delays), then ran for the embassy at Grosvenor Square, arriving around 8:45.

The London embassy was even more of a concrete-barracaded fortress than the Edinburgh one: They have a constant police patrol in addition to street closures, metal fencing, and the security checkpoint for visitors is out at the sidewalk, away from the building in a small trailer. After the security check, I walked in and faced a larger version of Edinburgh’s bulletproof-glass waiting room. I presented my paperwork and photos, paid US $97 for the application fees, and stressed to the (British-national) clerk that I still needed to have a consular official telephone British Airways.

He asserted that the embassy could not perform that service, which I knew to be untrue. I persisted; he admitted that he spoke only for what the passport-replacement staff could do, and said he’d ring someone up from Consular Services to talk to me. They had no record of any e-mail from Edinburgh.

Around 9:30 AM, a young woman arrived to talk with me through a different bulletproof glass window, and I explained that the call would be vital to not only my travel but also my wife Deirdre’s, as she was attempting to follow our original travel plans while I attempted to split mine off on a separate Passenger Number Record (PNR): If the matter were not handled correctly, Deirdre might find her connecting flight reservation cancelled because I (but not she) had failed to show up for the first leg.

The official was willing to call BA, and did so… only to be put into a voice waiting queue without any indication of projected wait time. Fully 40 minutes later — well past 10 AM — a British Airways reservations clerk finally came on. The official made the plea, which BA accepted, and passed the telephone over to me to arrange details.

BA were unwilling to change my routing, so I would have to return to Glasgow. Moreover, I would be unable to travel until the next 11:05 AM daily flight, Tuesday. However, BA waived all change fees, for which I was quite grateful. They were unable to reserve a seat for the second leg of my travel (Chicago to San Francisco) on American Airways, as it was booked full, but told me I could attempt a standby reservation upon arrival in Chicago, and meanwhile booked me on an available, similar flight four hours later.

The BA clerk admitted that she had inadvertantly deleted my wife’s reservations information despite my plea that she carefully avoid doing that and please, please split the PNR. However, she claimed that she’d fixed this problem by the time our call was done at around 10:40. (This turned out to be incorrect: Deirdre found out in Chicago that they’d cancelled her reservation and claimed they couldn’t fix their problem: She insisted, and they eventually did.)

I thanked the BA clerk and Consular Services official, walked up to Marble Arch, and hiked about 8km along Oxford Street, Holborn, Holborn Viaduct, etc. out to Liverpool Street Station, where I took the Stansted Express train to Stansted Airport, then took EasyJet (cost: £ 90) back to Glasgow International, took the bus back into town, helped Interaction pack out everything and then helped finish those troublesome supplies of Real Ale at the closing parties, then took the airport bus back at nearly midnight, slept (fitfully) on the chairs, and read Iain [M.] Banks novels and tourist brochures until 11:05. Chicago O’Hare airport lived up to my low expectations: Amercian Airlines could not fit me on any planes in the first few hours because they had oversold all their flights (as usual). At around 20:10 Tuesday, I was finally allowed to board the delayed 19:20 flight I was booked on, and (finally) fell asleep in my seat.

Some minutes later, the pilot announced that the plane seemed to have hydraulics problems, and that everyone would need to debark and march to the other end of O’Hare’s domestic-flights terminal, to await a replacement plane. Half an hour later, the pilot announced that that plane had a suspicious smell of burnt electrical components in the back, and we’d have to wait some more. Another 30 minutes, and he said they’d given up on fixing that plane, and we’d have to walk to a third gate. An hour later, we were finally able to board. Further delays followed, and I reached San Francisco International around 1:30 AM Wednesday — having been up almost all of two days straight.

Despite all this brouhaha, we had on balance a wonderful time in Glasgow, and look forward to returning — perhaps for the 2006 Eastercon in April (the 57th British National Science Fiction Convention). ILUGgers might consider doing likewise, for a change of pace.

: Glasgow, the Departure

We arrived at the airport at 4 a.m., in part because Rick’s flight to London (to go to the Embassy to get a replacement passport) left at 6 a.m. Just before 8 a.m., the queue opened for my American (codeshare with BA) flight home.

And then the problems began. In order to check my luggage, they had to split Rick off the PNR. Catch is, the lady at the terminal wasn’t a SABRE expert and didn’t know how to do it. I was too rusty to remember the commands off the top of my head, unfortunately. She flipped through her pages of notes, but finally called for help.

She managed to get both segments split off, my baggage checked through and my boarding passes printed. I happen to know that couldn’t be done without properly splitting the PNR, so I wasn’t worried.

I arrived in Chicago without incident, went through immigration, picked up my bag, went through customs, gave my bag back to security, got on the train, and schlepped from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3.

When I arrived at Terminal 3, the lady was busy telling everyone that if they had a seat assignment NOT to check at the desk. So I sat down and waited for boarding. Thankfully, I asked for pre-boarding as I was so stiff I could barely walk (my first flight having been 7-1/2 hours). The ticket beeped. I had to go see the pissy woman at the counter anyway.

Oh joy.

She said the flight was oversold by 10 people and that I’d have to take the next flight.

I asked her, “and your inventory management issues are my problem because?”

She said that I had an invalid connection, therefore they moved me to a later flight. I pointed out that SABRE wouldn’t let one book an invalid connection as a pair of segments; I happened to know from my earlier conversation that it was booked as a segment pair. The minimum connection time in ORD is only 1:15 from International to Domestic; the connection was longer than that. She seemed floored that I knew that.

Then she said that the issue stemmed from the fact that the PNR was improperly divided. I pointed out that if it hadn’t been properly divided, my boarding passes and baggage claim wouldn’t have printed. As a result, I knew she was lying. [Given later information from Rick, she may have been correct, but that would have occurred after it was correctly divided. In any case, when an airline screws up, it’s supposed to make good, so it doesn’t matter that BA may have mucked up the res.]

She started to feed me another fib, and I said, “Save it. I used to be a res agent for Expedia.” She shut her mouth. Dang, I’ll have to remember that. 🙂 (Yes, I really was a res agent for a division of Expedia, but that’s another story)

I said, “look, I’ve been traveling for 17-1/2 hours and I had a valid ticket on this flight and a window seat. I have your name and, because you’ve been in my booking, Management will know exactly whose head to chop. You can get me a first class seat on the next flight and two round-trip tickets to Hawaii, or you can get me a window seat on this flight.” She furrowed her brow, looked into it, and voila! An aisle seat magically appeared.

“I’ll take it.” I was feeling cranky, but not so cranky that I wanted to deal with her later.

I hate aisle seats because I’m prone to bruising. My right leg now looks like a poster child for domestic violence — but it’s American Airlines’s fault, not Rick’s.

: Glasgow, Sunday

Sunday was my last day in Glasgow. We did some errands related to following up on Rick’s missing passport in the morning, then headed off in time for me to see a noon panel. I got into a conversation, so I didn’t actually get to a panel until the 1 p.m. Peter Weston presentation on Making the Hugos. Somehow, even though I’d read about the process before, I hadn’t realized it was Peter Weston who was responsible.

Anyhow, he was great fun. I stayed and gabbed in the fanzine lounge and fan area for a while, then went off to see another couple of panels.

Then, finally, the Hugo awards. Not being on the ballot (but finally having been eligible to be on the ballot), I wasn’t too stressed about who won, though some of my favorites did. I’m pretty sure we didn’t vote Battlestar Galactica first (I think we saved that honor for Lost), but it was a good choice. The people who won for the dramatic presentation categories sounded like genuine SF fans who were genuinely thrilled to receive the awards.

Susanna Clarke won for best novel. I know that her novel was selling quite well (it was on the register steps at Kepler’s, always a good sign about sales), but I hadn’t read it yet.

After the Hugo awards, the nominations list was promptly published, which is what I was actually waiting for. Out of 113 people nominated for the Campbell Award, I placed 13th (tied with two other people). I’m thrilled. To paraphrase Sue Mason, it’s an honor.

We managed to get four hours of sleep before having to get up for the airport.

: Glasgow, Saturday

First, a spot of catching up. I’d mentioned earlier that I was very amused by the HSBC ads, and that something had added to that. Specifically, Rick had gone to the opening ceremonies, which he liked a lot, and brought back the WSFS Armadillo souvenir book, which had several parody ads. They looked just enough like my memory of the the HSBC ad that I actually stared at it a moment before realizing it was in jest.


Saturday morning, I looked at the sky and realized the picture I wanted to take wasn’t going to happen with that day’s weather. Specifically, I wanted to take a picture of the peace globe in Bellahouston park.

Giving that up as a morning activity, I set off for the convention centre, where I saw a few panels. In the middle of an afternoon panel, I became so groggy that, despite my interest in the subject at hand, I could no longer keep awake. The room was cold enough that usually I’d have been fully awake, but not this time. I elected to go back to the hotel and get some work done; Rick stayed and went to the masquerade.

Later, we ventured out for some of the post-masquerade parties, which were quite a lot of fun.

: Glasgow: Friday, An Unintended Trip to Edinburgh

Friday, after I finished my exam, we had an unintended civics lesson in Edinburgh.

About the time I was hunkering down on the last of my Photoshop exam, Rick came to realize that his passport was missing. I knew something was going on by the mad rummaging through drawers, but a) I know better than to ask Rick questions at such a point; b) I was trying very hard not to be distracted from what I was trying to finish.

I looked online to find out what our consulate and embassy choices were. From the web site, it appeared that the consulate in Edinburgh handled passport issues. From looking at the train schedules, a train left every fifteen minutes to half an hour; the train took about an hour (depending on which stops it made). A round-trip ticket was quite reasonable at £8.20 for each of Rick and myself.

We called the consulate, but kept getting hung up on by their phone system. “No operator is available. Exiting the system. Goodbye!” I wish it hadn’t sounded so bloody cheery about the whole thing.

Shortly after noon, we arrived at Glasgow’s Queen Street station for our train. The trip was short but scenic, featuring many low-rolling hills, and lots of long sprays of small purple flowers.

I sat at the train station while Rick got his passport photos taken. When he returned, we set off for the consulate. Alas, it turned out to be up a rather steep hill; we’d set off in a downward direction in error. While the climb was brutal on my legs, we discovered a lovely shady patch that was easily twenty degrees cooler than the hot sun we’d just come out of. We emerged onto Regent street, crossing it onto a small side street that was marked “Road Closed.”

When I saw why it was closed, I felt sick: the American Consulate had put up concrete and gated barriers across the street in front of it, closing off the street for everyone else. If we hadn’t made ourselves so unpopular in the world, we wouldn’t need to inconvenience everyone else, would we?

We rang the bell for the consulate; the guard informed us that passport appointments were on Tuesday afternoons. We pointed out that we had a lost passport issue and that we were leaving on Monday.

The guard let us in, x-rayed our bags, then led us into a small reception area, where we talked with a lady who said that they didn’t issue passports there; we’d have to head to London or Belfast (later, I discovered that the latter may not be accurate; Belfast is also a consulate, so why would one issue passports and the other not?). She said that she’d call the airlines and let the London office know, but that nothing could be done until Monday.

When I pointed out that we were flying Monday, she said, simply, “Well, you’ll just have to change your flight,” as if such things were simple during the height of tourist season.

On Sunday, when we finally had exhausted further options on locating thee missing passport, we called British Airways — only to be told that no one from the Consulate office had called them. And, unless someone did so, there was nothing BA could do to help me. We had a non-modifiable ticket and Rick would simply have to purchase another.


One of my fears in all this would be that I’d be on the original itinerary home, arrive in the states for my change of flights, then discover that the modification to the reservation had been done incorrectly and managed to cancel my reservation for my own two flight segments. As a former reservationist, I can speak “split PNR” to people, but I won’t have that opportunity as I’ll be “in transit.”

But I digress.

We took the next train back to Glasgow, then walked Buchanan Street. By the time we’d barely gotten off Buchanan, I hurt enough that we took a break in the first restaurant we saw, which happened to be American 50’s themed. It was ort of disconcerting, really, but the food was fine.

Tired and discouraged, we slept for a bit before heading downstairs to the party floor. We’d arrived back in Glasgow just in time to see the “Lucas Back in Anger” production, but were just too demoralized to take a cab to the Armadillo.

Nevertheless, we did enjoy the Norwegians throwing a party for all, and we did make a token appearance at the League of Evil Geniuses party, though most of the parties were winding down by the time that we finally arrived.

: Glasgow, Thursday

I finished my Javascript exam in the morning, then headed off to the SECC to get all the registration sorted out and see the convention. Enroute, I ran into Liz Mortensen and Ed Green, then James Stanley Daugherty. Eventually, I did manage to get to registration, where they managed to get my name correct on the second try (a lot of people seem to think Saoirse is just syntactic sugar rather than the first half of my last name).

First, though, I need to digress into an impression from Wednesday. When people found out that we were visiting Glasgow on holiday, they seemed rather stunned. “There’s nothing to see here, really,” one public servant said. And Glasgow is definitely lacking something on the city pride level. None of the “I (heart) NY” crap, at least, but it’d be nice if they respected their city a tidge more.

While in the convention center, I ordered a hot dog without a bun. “Just the sausage then?” the lady asked incredulously. I said I was allergic to wheat. “You’re really in the wrong place, then. We even batter fry pizza.” I wasn’t sure she was being serious.

Later, I was sitting at a table with James Stanley, with a UK fan, Martin, sitting at the table reading his own stuff. I was telling JSD about the comment from the lady at the hot dog vendor, wondering if they really did fry their pizza here or if she was just joking.

Martin interrupted, “When it comes to fried food in Scotland, they’re dead serious.”

“They fry their pizza? Really?”

He assured me that they did.

I’m not sure I fully believe it yet, but I’m not going to order it just to see.

I didn’t actually get to any panels on Thursday, in part because I still had a brutal amount of homework and exams to finish and turn in. As a result, I spent much of the day in the concourse borrowing power from the Internet Lounge while working on my homework.

Rick and I returned to our hotel for a nap, then went back to eat dinner at the same place as the night before. This time, I asked them not to batter the sausages before frying. The food was wonderful.

When we came back to our hotel, we tried to find the ceilidh, which was well underway. A woman in the lift was attempting to lure the unsuspecting into the ceilidh. She turned out to be quite a good dancer.

“Have you ever been to a ceilidh?” one of the gents in the elevator asked.

“Yes, but only to ones spelled with fewer letters.”

He caught on quickly. “How do the Irish spell it?”

“Without the dh at the end.”

“That dh is always a pain in the arse,” he opined. I’m not sure about Scots Gallic orthography, but in Irish, dh usually comes out sounding like a j.

After a small quantity of partying, I returned to my room, finished up yet more homework, getting to bed around 4 in the morning. Despite my best intentions of sleeping longer, I woke up when Rick got up at 7:30. By the time my alarm went off, I was already as awake as I was going to get (not very). I finished up my Photoshop exam, leaving only one thing left to do.

: Glasgow, the Arrival

When I thought about having to take a ten-hour flight (one of two legs), I very nearly thought about not going to Glasgow at all. I don’t travel well, though I love the experience of travel.

I would have been an idiot not to go, of course.

The ten-hour flight, except for the length, really didn’t seem any worse for my travel weariness than a five-hour flight. British Airways has individual screens for each seat; I had my choice of 18 video channels plus 18 audio channels, not to mention what I’d loaded onto my iPod Shuffle.

When we flew over Greenland, I stood up, went over to the rear window (where one could lean on a ledge and look out) and stared out over the snowfields and frozen lakes.

We arrived at Heathrow without an event more disastrous than my seatmate (since BA had decided to rearrange our seats, Rick and I were not able to sit together) having to use her airsickness bag as we approached Heathrow.

When we arrived, cleared immigration and customs (with our single checked bag checked through to Glasgow, yay), Rick had the brilliant idea to visit Terminal 3 in order to visit the AmEx exchange office. So we schlepped. I whined, but managed to get there without more than feeling overly hot and sweating. I drank a half-litre of water, but couldn’t find a faucet for a refill. And, since we hadn’t changed currency, I couldn’t get more from a shop without putting it on a credit card, which seemed absurd. The water in the bathroom was horrific. Ugh.

Enroute, I admired some of the HSBC local knowledge ads. For those of you in the US, HSBC recently purchased Household Bank. One of my favorites of said ads was the Grasshopper ad:


In the US, grashoppers are considered a pest. In China, a pet. In Northern Thailand, an appetizer. Little did I know that my enjoyment of these ads was to be, umm, enhanced during the convention….

We managed to get back from Terminal 3 just as our flight was boarding. By that time, I was hot and thirsty enough (and dripping wet) that I was suffering from heat exhaustion. I berated myself for not packing potassium tablets in my carryon (though I did bring them with me), as that’s one of the things I typically need when overheated.

Again, Rick and I were seated in different rows, though we both got window seats, so it’s all good. The only problem was that the plane needed to wait for a truck to give it a boost to get the engine started (standard procedure, nothing unusual), so the air conditioning wasn’t running. I started to wonder if I should ask for something, but just as I was about to page a flight attendant, the engines started and cooler air started circulating.

Somewhere during that flight, I realized that I was going to be in a place where I might be able to get bangers and mash. I love bangers and mash.

The trip to Glasgow was uneventful, though I was still feeling a bit thirsty even after having water on the plane. I saw a water fountain, but there was a red stripe in front of it that said Do Not Enter — it was in the security clearance area.

I laughed, because it seemed so stereotypically Scottish: put the free water in a place where someone likely to need it can’t get to it. After tasting the water and verifying that it was significantly better than Heathrow’s, I filled Rick’s water bottle.

Oh… even after the trek to and from Terminal 3, we didn’t get our money changed in Heathrow. Seems the airport charges more if you don’t have a pre-order for your money. So, instead, we went and paid for a T-mobile hotspot session, made a reservation over the web, then picked the £ up in the AmEx office in Glasgow. Had we had any UK change, we could have called a number — or even had our T-mobile phones had any signal (we’d set them up for usage in the UK, but they had zero bars of signal).

We got tickets for the airport to city bus (£10 for two people round-trip, which is an extremely good deal), then walked to the hotel. Did I mention that I was tired?

The doorman, David, was extremely friendly and, once we told him that we didn’t just like Star Trek, but also liked J.K. Rowling and Iain Banks, he began to understand that maybe he liked science fiction too.

By that time, I needed a bath and a nap. Rick relaxed for a bit, then did a couple of hours of recon, during which he walked to the convention centre, picked up his badge, then walked back via a route he felt would provide interesting places to eat. He was successful, so we went off to, King’s Cafe, a small place he found. While it was mostly take-away, it had some diner-like booths. For £13, we had dinner for two. I got my bangers, but alas they’d battered and fried them (!). The potato I’d ordered in addition to the bangers was more than I could eat, alas, though it was good.

Guilt crept up on me: I had a java class final to turn in and I couldn’t even start on it until about 11 p.m. local time. When we returned to our room, I worked on some other stuff for a bit, then got the final started. I finished at 4:51 local time (it took me almost two hours; I just didn’t start right away). Because of this, I slept in until about 10:30, especially since the convention didn’t start until noon.

: Visited States and European Countries

I saw the link for this, so here’s the view of states I’ve visited. Interesting how I have an “island” where I’ve been to every surrounding state:

pic of states visited

To make your own state map, click here.

Here’s my map of European countries visited:

pic of european countries visited

To make your own European country map, click here.

: Instavase for Travel

I think that this is just the coolest idea: folding-flat vases. My dad’s one of those peculiar people who like to bring plants when he goes snow camping (then hangs them from the tent until they freeze solid).

This kind of thing is just made for peculiar people like him.

![pic of vases](

: Mileposts Home

My last postcard, sent from Kansas, arrived today, a week after it was sent. The post card for Missouri, sent from the same box, arrived two days earlier. I’d meant to post mileage markers, because I thought that was interesting. I didn’t start keeping them, but every 100 miles along the way, I’d note what town I was in. So, here’s the list: 22 July, leave East Lansing, dinner in Bloomington, drive to east of St. Louis, MO. 23 July, start east of St. Louis, MO 1000 Topeka, KS 1100 Selina, KS 1200 Hays, KS 1300 Mingo, KS 1400 Stratton, CO 1500 Strasburg, CO 24 July 1600 Georgetown, CO 1700 Glenwood Springs, CO 1800 Grand Junction, CO 1900 Green River UT (excellent little restaurant there) 2000 Salina, UT 2100 Provo, UT 2200 West end of Salt Lake 25 July 2300 Halfway between Wendover, UT and Wells, NV 2400 East Carlin, NV 2500 Winnemucca, NV 2600 US 95 Junction, NV 2700 Truckee, CA 2800 Sacramento, CA 2900 San Mateo, CA Total miles: 2920 from East Lansing.