Tag Archives: tourism

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?

 

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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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.

Postcard from Dubai

24 Mar

Meet the abra. Riding one of these boats just might be the most fun thing you can do in Dubai–but take that with a grain of salt, as I haven’t spent more than 20 hours in a stretch in the city and am the farthest thing from an expert on the place. Still, for the short time I was there, this topped my list of things I did.

To be honest, Dubai wasn’t on my list of places to visit in 2017–or ever. I’d never really considered going to the Middle East, but when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t resist.

I was fortunate enough to be selected to teach at the WFTDA Officiating Clinics in Australia this year. With a non-profit, we need to be pretty conscious of the money we spend on travel. Usually, I’d be flying some form of American/Qantas, which is generally pretty reasonable, but then I saw what Emirates had to offer: A much cheaper flight with long layovers in Dubai on each end of the trip. How much cheaper? A good $500, and that’s with adding a one-way ticket for intra-Australia travel. And I had one fewer flight on each end. And I didn’t have to travel through LAX, one of my least favorite airports spawning one of my least favorite flight paths, the coast-to-coast trip.

On top of that, getting to and from Australia took only two legs each way–two very long legs, but if you’re traveling six hours, you might as well be traveling 12. Both are long, but at least with a 12-hour flight, you’re in a huge plane, you definitely get fed, and you have a really good entertainment system.

While I did have 12+ hour flights, they were broken up by getting a day on either end to explore Dubai. Win-win!

Granted, I just scratched the surface of what Dubai has to offer, but I was seriously enchanted with the place. It’s like a conservative Las Vegas–massive architecture, some of which is gaudy;  obviously a lot of money in some places, but the old section of the city was less-than-opulent; and conservative attire, but everyone thought to follow those guidelines (guidebooks advised women to cover their shoulders and knees. I saw one woman wearing a top with cut-out shoulders. Really?).

Anyway, one of the things I did do–and could’ve done for hours–was to take an abra across the creek. The creeks separates Deira and Bur Dubai, both of which are old parts of the city, with tiny roads and souks. The easiest way to get across the creek is to hop on an abra, a small boat that holds maybe 15-20 people. There’s no set schedule for when they go–once one is full (which generally takes a few minutes), the driver collects everyone’s 1 dirham (about US 30 cents) and hops into a small pit in the middle of the boat and takes off.

Chugging down the creek in a tiny boat that’s spewing diesel fumes and pretty much has no safety measures might not sound relaxing, but I loved it. I liked casually hopping on board, sliding down the bench to make room for as many people as possible, and then taking off randomly. No fixed boat schedule? No worries! You’ll get there! Need to feel free? We don’t need rails on this boat!

For a city that offers a lot of manufactured swank, riding an abra felt really authentic. What a way to connect with a culture I hadn’t really experienced before. It’s interesting how a short boat ride really gave Dubai a heart that I hope to continue to explore some day.

 

 

Postcard from Winnipeg

21 Oct

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You know those cities that just make you feel happy and delighted whenever you think about them? Winnipeg filled one of those slots in my heart this year.

I was in the unofficial Gateway to Churchill this August to teach at a WFTDA Officiating Clinic (more on officiating in a future Friday diversion). Churchill’s the Polar Bear Capital of Canada, and to get there (from the US at least), you’re likely flying through Winnipeg. But Winnipeg isn’t just a fly-through or flyover city, even though that’s the mantle it seems to wear.

I learned this from the minute I walked over the Hug Rug at the airport and met the clinic hosts, who took me on a driving tour of the city. Along the way, they apologized for the state it was in. “The city doesn’t spend much money,” said one. “Our roads are just horrible.”

I peered out the window. “You’ve never been to Boston, have you?” I said, noting the pretty dreamy condition of the roads we were currently driving on. I honestly never really saw what they were talking about the entire weekend. Sure, the roads weren’t brand-spanking-new, but they weren’t chock full of potholes either.

Perhaps it was their modesty–and it turned out to be the modesty of the city–that I found so charming, but after exploring for a little while, I wanted to scream, “Listen to that message on the garbage cans, Winnipeg! This place is great!”

Why? Perhaps it’s the idea that it’s this sizeable city smack dab in the middle of of the prairie, rising up out of the flat earth. Perhaps it’s the bustling Forks area by the rivers–and the really nice riverfront path. Maybe it’s the beautiful Legislative Building. Or the French Quarter with that chocolate shop that sells delicious Manitobars. Or the amazing collection of native statuary at the WAG. Or the delicious meal at Peasant Cookery that put the cap on a lovely weekend.

I had a day of exploration before the clinic, and during it I made the mistake of going to the tourist office and getting some brochures. This made me a little depressed about all of the places I couldn’t fit in on this trip (new polar bear exhibit at the zoo! The Exchange District! Baseball game!), but the bright side is that Winnipeg will just go higher up on my list of places to revisit.

Postcard from Toronto

24 Mar

I’m kind of at a loss as to how to explain the roller derby tournament experience and how much fun it is–especially since I have a writing assignment due today–because I didn’t really see much of Toronto. That’s often the case when you travel somewhere for a purpose other than tourism. You spend a weekend hanging around in a warehouse/convention center/arena/former airplane hangar and do your thing. In this case we officiate games, we watch games. Sometimes we step outside for a few minutes and are reminded that there’s fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine. But mostly we’re consuming a lot of roller derby in one way or another, spending time with our old officiating friends and making new ones. We get the opportunity to officiate quite a bit in one weekend, which can really up our game and hopefully help improve the sport as a whole.

Someday I’ll go into what it’s like to be on an officiating crew, but for today I wanted to drop you a line about the tiny bit of Toronto I saw, which pretty much was:

  • hotel room
  • hotel breakfast room
  • random Middle Eastern restaurant (open late, serves a decent falafel)
  • Shopper’s Drug
  • Tim Horton’s
  • FreshCo
  • Downsview Park (Toronto Roller Derby’s little portion of it is know as The Hangar)
  • Fox & Fiddle (for two dinners–this can be standard procedure. They’re open and serve food late? They have vegetarian options? They were decent the first time? Let’s go back!)

My hotel was in the Jane and Finch/Black Creek neighborhood of North York, and as we pulled in, everything looked vaguely familiar, as I’d spent a weekend in the same hotel in 2012. And as is par for the course on a derby weekend, you need to find a grocery store, a drug store, and a decent place where you can get a late night meal. Someone in the car also needs to get coffee). The Jane Finch Mall at the intersection of Jane and Finch delivered. Groceries? New FreshCo! Drugstore? Shopper’s Drug! Coffee? Tim Horton’s (motto: Spit, and you should hit a Tim Horton’s. Come in for some coffee, eh?)! Late night food? Middle Eastern falafel takeout? OK!

That’s really all I wanted to see of the area though, as Jane and Finch is a really rough section of the city. Just beyond the Jane Finch mall, the area pretty much says, “Don’t come here!” But our hotel was next to a cop shop, the mall was OK for the in-and-out stops we made, and the busy roads got us to The Hangar just fine. As a tourist destination though, I wouldn’t really recommend it.

However, maybe change is finally coming to Jane and Finch. FreshCo opened just last month, and I’m sure it’s a much-needed and welcome addition to the neighborhood. It’s shiny and new and clean, and hopefully that will translate further. Change was also coming to the hotel, as a lot of it was in the process of being remodeled. You saw it right away as you entered the temporary entrance and were immediately greeted by a wall displaying all the new fabrics and finishes that are in the works. What I loved though was the project’s motto, and I think it’s one that I’ll claim for myself for this year:

stayimpressed

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