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Postcard from New York City

27 Oct

Look up! It's the World Trade Center!

The Boy and I were in New York a few weeks ago for a long weekend. We had a lovely time–saw some lectures, ate some great food, stumbled onto a Korean parade….but there was one thing I noticed: People walk more slowly.

I first spent considerable time in New York in 2003, and even though I lived in Chicago, where people can move pretty fast, New York took that to another level. I had to step up my game, so to speak, just to get down the sidewalk without getting bounced around like I was in a pinball machine.

This year, even though I live in a suburb, I was the one trying to juke around other walkers in order to get where I was going in a reasonable amount of time. These people weren’t all tourists either–there were definitely a lot of native New Yorkers in the bunch.

I blame cell phones. A lot of people were sucked into their phones, trying to read or text or chat or do anything but walk at a reasonable pace. It made walking more than a block in a single stoplight cycle almost impossible.

But then when we did have to stop at a corner, they’d all do that typical New Yorker thing: If you weren’t right at the edge of the curb, they’d cut around you in order to take up that space and get ahead. I had to admire that tactic (and copy it).

Oh, New York, get back on your game–phones are making you lose that bustling vibrancy that makes you feel like such an otherworldly place. Normally, I’d applaud the slowing-down-and-enjoying-life pace, but having your nose stuck in a cell phone isn’t a great way to enjoy life either.

Postcard from New York City

13 Oct

MoMath exhibit on Moebius strips.

Have you ever been really disappointed in a museum? Not a, Man, the Louvre is a crowded place at the height of tourism, disappointed, but a, Oh, there’s a museum about X? That might be cool! Let’s go in!…..30 minutes later….Well, that was a waste of $20.

The Boy and I felt that way after a quick visit to the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. Taking a cue from the Modern Museum of Art, it’s nicknamed itself MoMath, and I think our MoMath, MoProblems joke was just about the best thing we got out of the place.

We went because we happened to be walking by and thought that a museum about math had a lot of potential to be cool–and the Boy likes math. We had an hour to kill–why not?

When we walked in, we found out that it was just two small floors, which turned out to fit in nicely with the specs of my ideal museum (smallish, and just when you’re about to get museum fatigue, you’ve reached the exit/gift store). Every exhibit was interactive, so there were some kids running around playing with everything. That also was cool and gave the place a lot of energy.

The problem came in with the “so what?” factor. We’d go to an exhibit and try to figure out what we needed to do. Turned out you needed to go to a monitor to pull up information about it. I personally don’t do that well with screens in museums — I get bored with them really easily, and while just playing with the exhibit was fun, I got nothing out of them. The worst was when I rode the bike with square wheels and asked the exhibit minder what the point of it was. She said something about the fact that you can use square wheels if you have the right bumped surface, but there was nothing really mathy in her explanation. I definitely know that there’s math involved with that, but it can’t be math magic or the math fairy waving a wand around. What’s the principle? What’s important about it? What else does it apply to? How do I do that math?

OK, maybe that last one is a little too complicated to show in a museum, but still. Giving me different patterned disks and telling me to cover parts of them to get a pattern mesh just shows me that that can be done. There’s math behind that phenomenon too? Really?

The Boy was also pretty disappointed, so I was comforted in the fact that I wasn’t alone. But maybe the museum ultimately really wasn’t for us. Maybe it’s designed for kids to play around, and for their adults to watch and remember to look up the principles later, if they want to know more about the math involved. Or maybe it’s just really hard to communicate math principles while you’re engaging with them.

Sadly, our experience here also made us leery about going to the Museum of Sex, so we skipped it and just hung out instead. Good choice?

 

FONT, not FOMO

18 Aug

Today marks the beginning of the 2017 WFTDA tournament cycle — D2 Playoffs in Pittsburgh this weekend, then a week off before D1 Playoffs in Seattle, Malmö and Dallas, and ending with Champs in Philadelphia at the beginning of November. For the first time in my nine-season officiating career, I’m sitting them out.

For the last several years I’ve been trying to balance my non-skating officiating (NSO) with my skating officiating, and on-skates took a back seat to NSO placement. But as I’ve gotten more comfortable on skates, I’m really growing to like the challenges of those positions. Meanwhile, I’ve done pretty much everything I want to do as an NSO–sure, not every box is getting checked, but enough of them are that I’m satisfied, and it can now take the back seat.

This, of course, means that I don’t feel that my NSO skills are as good as I’d want them to be for the highest level of play, so I didn’t think it’d be appropriate to apply to Playoffs just because that was a thing I had to do every year. There are plenty of qualified NSOs waiting in the wings for their chance to work at the big show, and it’s time for me to step aside and let them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my reffing skills and experience are quite up to being where they need to be in order to be a Playoffs-level ref, so I decided not to apply for those roles either. Not a big deal–I know what it takes to get there, and I just have to buckle down and work hard to improve.

Surprisingly, the idea of missing Playoffs hasn’t bothered me at all this year. I’d wondered how I would feel when I talked to fellow officials who were going, if I’d feel regret when I saw the list of crews without my name on it. And I haven’t (and least as of now–I haven’t started watching them yet). Wow! Who knew that an eight-year habit could be broken with no regrets!

What did hit me a couple of weeks ago was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be traveling this fall. If it’s August, I’m supposed to be preparing to go somewhere, right? In previous years, I’ve traveled every weekend in September. It’s the time of year where the airlines toss around my suitcase so much that it breaks and they have to get me a new one (not a joke — I think I’m on my 3rd replacement suitcase). It’s the time of year where I learn new airports and airplane seating configurations. See new skylines, find gems of restaurants and stock up on hotel shampoo/conditioner.

But not this year–and when I think about it, I get kind of panicky. It’s as if I have Fear of Not Traveling. Rationally, I don’t think there’s any reason to fear that I’ll never travel again if I miss this Playoff cycle, but man, the possibility really, really freaks me out. Might be time to plan a non-derby getaway. Got any ideas where to go?

Postcard from Vermont

21 Jul

Green Mountain Adventure Challenge #vermonttime

Can you uncover a hidden treasure in the woods of Vermont? The Boy and I thought we could, so a couple of weekends ago we hightailed it up to Dover to participate in the Green Mountain Adventure Challenge.

The challenge runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and is meant to be something you and another person (or group of people) do in a weekend, but if you don’t get it done in the weekend, you can keep coming back until you finish (or just simply quit).

We got one of the challenge’s travel packages, which included a couple of nights at a local inn–we highly recommend the Cooper Hill Inn–lovely proprietors, comfortable rooms, stunning view, and we were off. Checked in on Friday afternoon and then started the hunt.

The challenge is tough–let’s just get that out there. It’s mentally challenging (I might still be working on it today if it wasn’t for the Boy, since my brain didn’t really think a certain way for the last part of the puzzle). It’s physically challenging.

But it’s worth it.

Friday was a scramble in trying to figure out what we were looking for. We figured out the clue that would set us on the right path, but then we were stumped. Wandered around a field and found nothing. Made a short hike much longer. Went back to the field and paired up with a group that helped us realize just what we were supposed to find, which meant we had to redo that short hike–and the sun was going down.

We drove like crazy and ran through the woods. The Boy lost his glasses at one point, and luckily I found them before it got any darker–or he stepped on them. Found our clue, hightailed out of there. Drove to another part of the area and found some more in-town clues until we realized we’d better stop for dinner before all the restaurants closed.

Saturday was hiking day–we knew we’d have at least one “moderate” hike. Hiking levels always make me laugh–this was hilly, so it wasn’t moderate to me. It was also rainy, so all of the roots and rocks covering the path were pretty slippery. Still, the walk was fun, and the view at the top was foggy, but beautiful of what we could see.

Coming down, we were walking through clouds, which was cool until they opened up, and it started pouring. Tree cover kept us from being completely soaked, but we were definitely pretty wet.

We got to dry off when the weather moved out and we discovered that we had to do another, much steeper hike to reach another clue. Tough, but rewarding, both in the view (this post’s cover photo) and in the physical accomplishment.

Still, by the end of Saturday, we didn’t really know where we stood on actually completing the challenge, and it felt like we weren’t going to finish before we had to leave. Then we saw this on the way to dinner:

Double Rainbow during #vermontime

And knew that we would.

It took a couple more hours on Sunday–and we ended up collaborating with others who were in our same boat–but we finished. We solved it!

I believe that means we get a share in the final jackpot, but honestly, getting through it was reward enough. Plus, we got the reward of a weekend in a beautiful part of the country.

You should try it.

 

 

This Kitchen Accessory Tugs on Your Heartstrings

14 Jul

Last weekend, the Boy and I went up to Vermont (report to come), and on the way we stopped at Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro–well, more like, we read about it at the Vermont Welcome Center on I-91, and when we happened to be driving past, we took a hard right into the parking lot.

While the Boy was talking with the owner, I wandered around the shop and saw these cutting boards on a little display with a series of notes telling the story of why a distillery was selling unbranded cutting boards.

The boards happen to the be the work of the owner’s kids, who started selling them because they wanted to get a beta fish and a hamster. “Also save some to pay for our colleges.”

In the first update, they’d ended up buying gerbils (and thank you for the help, customers); however, gerbils need ongoing care, so they’re still selling the boards to pay for their upkeep. Then in the second update, disaster! While they’re still trying to earn money for college, they need to replace one of their gerbils because their cat killed it. “So we need to buy a new one. Also buy a new lid for the cage.”

How can you not want to help?

The owner told us the backstory–The kids want extra pets, but the household rule is that they’re going to have to pay for them. He actually cuts the boards because the kids are too young to work the saw, but they attach feet and put on the finish. The gerbils are fun, but they like to chew on things and are masters of getting out of their cages, so that’s how one of them met an unfortunate end with the cat.

The cutting board itself is quite nice (cherry wood) and is a decent size–and when I use it, I think of these kids and their quest for pets (and college). Makes me smile thinking that I’ve helped a little bit–and I’ve helped a parent teach his children a good lesson about work and money, which will definitely help them in the future.

 

Postcard from Niagara Falls

12 May

If you find yourself traveling in the Buffalo area, you might think, Hey, maybe I should duck over and see Niagara Falls while they’re so close. And that’s a good thought to have — they’re pretty spectacular. But if you’re not from around the area and trying to find parking, you’ll probably end up in the official State Park parking lot, which costs $10.

Seems like a decent chunk of change to go glance at some water, right?

Not to worry! The State Park parking lot gives you 20 minutes of free parking, which is plenty of time to get a Niagara Falls experience.

Take a parking ticket, and park in a spot that gives you easy exit access. This is important because if you’re running short on time, the last thing you want to do is coast through the parking lot and get stopped by tons of cars pulling in and out of parking spaces.

Now, you book it.

The main access to the Falls is through the visitor’s center. Walk in and go down the stairs that are either on your right or left. Avoid the store at the bottom and walk to the back and out the door. Viola! The falls are right there!

Head over to the railing and look to the left. There’s the falls! Marvel at them, wonder what they look like from the Canadian side (sorry, but they’re better), take some pictures and selfies. Head back quickly–your 20 minutes are almost up and you want to be able to walk like you’re a normal person and not on some non-existent Amazing Race.

That’s it. Head back in, avoid the crowds, head back up the stairs and out of the visitor’s center. What? You wanted a souvenir? Pull four quarters and a penny out of your pocket and make yourself a pressed penny (I know, pressed penny aficionados. Four quarters). The machine is downstairs, next to the door that goes out to the falls. You’ll have time for that.

Once you’re out of the visitor’s center, start walking quickly back to your car. Check your parking ticket–are you still in your 20 minute window? Good! Don’t even bother trying to pay for parking. Even if you’re under 20 minutes, the machine will try to tell you that you owe money. Don’t let it confuse you.

Get back to your car–even if you have to run at this point–and hightail it to the gate. Stick your ticket in the card reader, and congratulations, you’ve just gotten a free quick side trip to Niagara Falls.

 

Getting Culture Where You Can

5 May

When you travel a lot, it sounds impressive. But ask anyone who does some heavy-duty travel, and they’ll tell you it’s not vacation. For whatever trip you’re on, you’re in _______ most of the time–and “_____” is not the pool, or a theme park, or a museum, or the beach. It’s usually an office or a conference room–or in my case, some sort of sporting venue.

I’m fortunate enough to have gone to Argentina, but the majority of my time there was spent here:

In terms of roller derby venues, this one was cool. This room was the handball/futsal part, which connected to a cafeteria and a weight room, other class- and exercise rooms. In the courtyard, girls took roller skating lessons. There was a restaurant and an outdoor seating area that abutted a tennis court. But back to my room for the weekend. For watching derby, it was great because you were above the action.

Still, 75-80% of my week in Argentina was spent here, which means that my exposure to “what is Argentinian” is mostly limited to my hotel room, my walk to and from the venue, and the venue itself–and don’t get me wrong, the venue gave me an interesting insight into some aspect of Latin American culture, as I had a heavy duty conversation about bidets while I was there and that’s something I really don’t think about in America. My narrow window notwithstanding, if I’m to get a feel for the area, it’s likely going to be through food.  Food’s a lifeline to understanding culture, and as I love understanding how other people live (and if they do life better than I), I needed to eat like they did.

Now, Argentina is known for its delicious empanadas. I myself happen to make a decent empanada. I have my own recipe–it’s really the only one I’ve developed so far–and the Boy loves it. It’s not a traditional Argentinian recipe, but I have to say, it’s pretty darned good. Problem is, I like them with cheese, and the Boy doesn’t do dairy, which means there’s a lot of separating going on in our kitchen.

Enter my Argentinian empanada take out experience. On the last night of the tournament, several of us got an empanada delivery of a mix of varieties. With it came the above cheat sheet to tell you which one was which, and then a light bulb went off in my head. Why not fold my cheesy empanadas differently?

This past weekend, I made a big batch–some to share with friends, and some to eat at home. Some with cheese, some without. Since I’d been exposed to different folding techniques, I knew that I could develop my own folding code for home use, and man, did it ever make a difference in calming down some allergy nerves.

All I can say is, thank you, Argentina.

Postcard from Argentina

28 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, I got to go to Argentina to teach an officiating clinic and officiate at a tournament. Argentina hadn’t been high on my list of places to visit, though the Boy and I often joke that we are Argentinian because we tend to eat dinner around 9 or 10PM. But I didn’t really know why else one should go to Argentina–and from what I read, there’s not much touristy about Buenos Aires. You really go there to live it.

This is also fine with me, as when I travel, the ratio of museum visits to everyday activities skews heavily toward the latter (if you pit a high quality museum against a trip to Carrefour, 9 times out of 10, I will pick Carrefour. That 10th time I’ll visit the museum out of guilt). But it did very much make for a lot of pre-trip confusion and concern about what it is that I’ll actually do with the couple of days I had off–and because my Duolingo lessons had focused heavily on horses and military titles, I wasn’t quite convinced that I’d be able to figure out much.

Needless, to say, I had a lovely time, although I just barely scratched the surface of a complicated part of the world. I stayed in Vicente Lopez, a nice suburb of Buenos Aires, but did spend a bit of time in the city too. But “nice” is relative, and Vicente Lopez–to me, at least–was a good example of the juxtaposition I felt was likely a characteristic of this area. Nice houses and apartment buildings lined dirty streets with randomly patterned cracked sidewalks. A fantastically huge park with a great walking/biking path and playgrounds and fitness stations and more butted up against a river full of trash.

But for all the layers of pollution and graffiti, there was also inventive, colorful art and architecture that I’d randomly come across, when I was not looking down trying to avoid the piles of dog crap dotting the sidewalks. This element of surprise and discovery (along with a late dinner hour) really made this place captivating–and one I’d like to revisit.

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The Travel Advice Service Tailored for You

14 Apr

I’m getting ready to go to Argentina, and part of my mandatory travel routine is to call Ma Jaracz and let her know I’m heading away from home for a little while. As with most trips, she has some advice for me:

Don’t eat the meat!

Wait, what? One of the things I’m most excited about doing in Argentina is eating beef. Chorizo, bife de chorizo, vacio, entraña, bring it. Even better, bring it at 9:00 or 10:00 pm, because that’s when I normally eat! I’m going to be with my people–how can I not eat like them?

Turns out that when I was in Australia, the meat industry in Brazil had some upheaval, with a major scandal exposed where meat processors used chemicals to cover expired meat smells and they filled out sausages with flour and cardboard.

OK, I’m going to Argentina. While it does have a shared border with Brazil, it’s not that long. And Argentina produces its own beef, so why would they import it?

Tell that to Ma J, and she concedes, but still. I need to be careful.

This got me thinking that my mother could probably make some extra money giving her patented travel advice. Remember, this is the woman who told me last year before I went to Alaska:

Just be careful up there. They don’t solve their murders.

And before the Boy and I went to Japan, she told us:

You remember Pearl Harbor! You remember Pearl Harbor!

While Ma Jaracz’ advice might sound a little absurd, I think it serves a good purpose: It makes me forget the stressful and scary parts of traveling, namely getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing a different culture. In this case, it’s going to be my first time in South America, and I’m a little nervous. The second-world country factor is one–though cities in the US have parts that likely aren’t much different–so I’m a little concerned about wandering into the wrong place or getting taken for a ride. I’m also worried about the language barrier. I realize I just went to Dubai, where I was worried about that too, but once I got off the plane and saw that English was everywhere, that fear faded away. I’m not so sure I’ll have exactly the same experience here.

I have been preparing though. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been cramming in lessons on Duolino. According to it, I’m 17% fluent, which is a slight comfort because it’s better than the 0% fluent that I was before I started to learn, but then, I’m learning what they teach me, which tends to be a fair amount about owning a horse or cooking onions. Now that I think about it, I don’t think Duolingo has taught me anything about steak, but maybe Argentina’s a fair ways down on their cultural list when it comes to language learning.

Still, I’m nervous, and because I also have some pre-roller-derby-tournament anxiety, that’s really made me a mess this week. That’s when I think Ma Jaracz’ Travel Advice Hotline would come in handy. Give her a call before your trip. She’ll tell you something nonsensical that takes away your focus on whatever it is that’s worrying you.

Thanks to her advice, while I’m packing, I’m wondering if anybody noticed the cardboard taste in the Brazilian sausage, or if the original just tasted that bland. When I’m on the plane, I’m likely going to remember Pearl Harbor or wonder how the cold cases are going in Alaska. Her advice will get me through some take-offs, some turbulence and perhaps even over the nervousness until I get to a place that I’m actually really excited to experience. And perhaps she can do that for you too–care to find out her rates?

 

 

Postcard from Fremantle

31 Mar

Two words of advice: Always volunteer.

OK, maybe not in every situation–really, now that I think about it, there are plenty of times you wouldn’t want to volunteer, so let me qualify that: If you’re a tourist on a guided tour, and the tour guide asks for volunteers, do it.

That’s how I happened to get flogged while visiting Fremantle Prison.

My friend Connie took me to Freo on one of my off-days before the WFTDA Perth Officiating Clinic so we could go on a couple of the prison tours–the general Doing Time tour and Great Escapes, which focuses on the clever folks who tried their best to get out.

Fremantle Prison, when you really get to thinking about it, is a mind-blowing place. Unlike other Australian settlements, Fremantle itself wasn’t a convict town, but eventually the British started sending prisoners there. The prisoners even had to build their own prison, which they did in the 1850s. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991. During its existence, the original cell plan never got upgraded–i.e.–cells never had toilets. In the 1990s. Wrap your head around that one. Prisoners got two buckets: one with drinking water and one for personal waste. Heaven forbid you mix them up.

Anyway, during our tour, we stopped at the flogging station (or whatever the technical term for this was). Our enthusiastic tour guide (quick aside, but both of the tour guides we had were really informative and entertaining. If you like doing tours, go for the talent alone) asked for volunteers, and of course, I said yes. The last time I volunteered on a tour, I was at the Jameson Distillery and volunteering meant I got to taste a bunch of extra whisky.

Not so at Fremantle (had they had samples of some of the prisoner-made booze, I probably would’ve thought twice about my always-volunteer philosophy). Volunteers on this tour got to demonstrate prisoner punishment. So I was the brave prisoner who stepped up to endure the punishment, which was a set number of lashings, which my friend lightly “administered” (i.e.–barely touched me with the flogging whip).

The best part about being a volunteer is that you’re the unknown element for the tour guide. They’re in control of the tour–but not of what the volunteer does in the volunteer moment. As a volunteer, I know my job is to keep the show going in as entertaining a way as possible, so I committed to my role of punished prisoner and dutifully screamed with every tap of the whip and hung limply off the rack, to the delight of our tour guide.

But the flogging was only the first part. Prisoners have to come down off of the rack at some point, so I channeled what that would be like, which to me was basically collapsing down onto the ground like this:

To which, the tour guide responded (and these are the words you always want to hear), “No one’s ever done that on the tour before.”

I’ll admit I didn’t give a perfect performance. Our guide went on to explain the details of punishment by flogging. While a prisoner was getting the lashes, someone from the prison would monitor their condition and stop the process if it was getting too out of hand. So if you were sentenced to 97 lashes and you were nearing unconsciousness after 17, they’d take you down, clean you up and send you to the hospital part of the prison to heal.

Sounds OK in the grand scheme of things, right? Well, no. You still have 80 lashes left on your sentence, so when you’ve healed enough, they haul you back to the rig for more flogging. And the process repeats for as long as it takes to get through your sentence.

At that, I popped up and said, “You’re kidding me, right?!” (hopefully without swearing). Sure, it broke character, but I was truly dumbfounded–both at prison punishment and the notion of why anyone would commit a crime that would involve a prison sentence when this punishment–along with other horrible everyday occurrences–was a distinct possibility.

After that moment, my job was pretty much over. I hope my efforts were useful for the others on the tour. It was nice to know I raised the bar for other tour groups (our guide said the afternoon group was really going to have to step it up), but ultimately doing this also helped me remember the tour a bit better, and this was definitely an experience I want to remember.

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