Facing the impossible

cars parked too close in Catania, Italy

It was our last night visiting our son, Ben. He lives in a crowded, noisy, hot city in Sicily, Catania.

We decided to stay in an Airbnb together in the heart of downtown, to give him a break from his normal life.

Problem: there’s literally nowhere to park.

The main parking garage is blocked in by the outdoor market. You can only park there if you arrive before the market stalls are set up or after they are taken down – and the stalls are up for most waking hours.

We finally found a spot, after looking for 20 minutes. Ben stood in the opening so I could drive around the block to access the spot. But then my lack of directional sense meant I could not get back. (A maze of one-way streets conspired against me.)

Ben, who is totally used to living there, was almost as frustrated by the situation as I was.


The moral of the story is, how do I deal with frustration and disappointment?

In this case, things worked out, and afterward, our frustration eventually died down.

(Ben met me in a place I shared via a maps app and then navigated me back to the aforementioned slot, which quite miraculously was still open. )

But a better reaction would have been to just relax and not worry about how long it all was taking. After all, we were on vacation together!

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The Concorde – and Regrets

the Concorde jet

“Ninety minutes from New York to Paris.”

Donald Fagen sang that in his retro-futuristic album, The Nightfly.*

A transatlantic flight in the Concorde jet actually took 173 minutes. But that was still pretty darn fast. It was faster than any commercial jet that is currently flying.

When we lived in England, 21 years ago, it was the twilight of the Concorde era. Those amazing jets were being phased out because they made a lot of noise (breaking the sound barrier) and were very expensive to fly.

But British Airways had a special around Christmas time – you could fly the Concorde to Iceland for something like $150 round-trip. But that was more than we could afford at the time.

Sigh.

I will always regret not taking that flight.


Photo courtesy of Eduard Marmet and used via the Wikimedia Commons license.

* Great album, by the way – if you’re into jazz-pop of that era.

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You have to get it there

Krest Bitter Lemon bottle

Krest Bitter Lemon is a drink that’s widely available in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

While living in Kenya for five years, I developed a taste for the drink. It’s bright, refreshing and not too sweet.

But you can’t buy it in my town in Colorado, no matter how hard you try.


You need to travel. You’ll see, feel and taste things that you won’t experience in your hometown. Guaranteed, you will encounter life in ways you can’t where you live.

Travel can be expensive, but it’s a better way to hit the reset button than almost anything else I know.


Footnotes:

  1. My son Benjamin brought this plastic Krest bottle back after his time in Uganda during the summer of 2015. When he brought it, there was liquid inside. That wasn’t for long.
  2. Krest (and Schweppes) Bitter Lemon originally contained quinine, a malaria preventative substance.
  3. My post at My Part of Nairobi about Krest Bitter Lemon received more visits than any other post in history. Here’s why.
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Portland

Portland is a crazy place.

(We just returned from a family vacation that included a few days in Portland.)

I knew that I wanted to get to know the city ever since seeing Portlandia.

I was not disappointed.


Plus:
  • Powell’s is perhaps the finest bookstore on the planet. Besides stocking an amazing range of books (both new and used), they have the most incredible array of stuff from interesting water bottles to funky backpacks to weird socks.
  • Food trucks (often food trailers): a huge collection of semi-fast food outlets are all over the Portland, often in collections filling whole city blocks. Wide offerings of ethnic cuisine are available.
  • hipster lampShops: If I were rich, I would have gorged on the incredible variety of clothing, trinkets, hand-made art in many useful forms such as furniture and all manner of hipster-oriented stuff. One of my favorite shops was Boys Fort.
  • Bicycling: In spite of the generally dreary weather, bicycling is a huge part of life in Portland. Bike paths are prevalent across the city, and as our Airbnb hostess explained, bicyclists there often feel like they rule the world, whether or not that is the case.
  • The river: Bike paths go along the Willamette River, allowing you to explore the waterway without getting wet (unless it’s raining).
Minus:
  • Trash: There are very few trash cans around the city. Thus, trash accumulates in all the nooks and crannies. Seattle, in comparison, seems to have a normal amount of places to dispose of your waste.
  • Homelessness: I’m not sure what attracts so many homeless people to Portland. Denver, the city near my suburban home, seems to have a smaller homeless population. I have nothing against homeless people – drug addiction and mental illness are crippling – but perhaps Denver provides more places for the homeless to find a home. Or possibly Colorado has more restrictive laws governing homeless activities (like no sleeping on sidewalks).
  • Maybe a little too much indie-hipster-ness: Though I love supporting small businesses and appreciate creativity, I was almost overwhelmed at the extreme hipster-ness of Portland. One morning, I even wanted to visit Starbucks, believe it or not.

If you can, you simply must visit greater Portland.

Footnote: I only spent a few days there, so these are just a few surface observations.

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How to ride a bicycle

Three simple things can make your bike riding much safer and easier:

  1. bike-tip-1Take the palm of your hand and hit the front of your bicycle helmet. If it goes up more than one inch, you need to tighten the strap. Otherwise, if you wreck and land on the front of your helmet, you won’t land on the front of your hemet – you’ll land on the front of your head.
  2. bike-tip-2Spin your pedals between 60-90 revolutions per minute. If you are not pedaling that fast, you are hurting your knees and reducing your efficiency. All you need to do is select a lower gear. If you don’t want to time yourself, here’s a 5-second video that shows about how fast that is. No need to be too strict about this. – it’s fine to pedal slower part of the time.
  3. bike-tip-3Listen to your chain. If it’s squealing, it’s not happy. You need to give it some lubrication. The best kinds I’ve found are teflon-based lubes, such as this one. They last fairly long and do not attract too much dirt.
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Off the beaten path

off-the-beaten-pathThis summer seems like a long time ago. The leaves have already left most trees, we must sleep under a thick comforter at night, and nights are much longer. So I dug into the summer photos and came across this one.

We were at Yellowstone National Park. We stopped along one of the main roads at a hot spring. Walkways with guardrails surround that geothermal feature to keep the average person safe from harm. We decided to walk down the river about half a mile and follow the river bank to a place where we could safely wade around in the hot spring-fed river without getting burned.

The vast majority of the visitors to the park never experience anything like that.

Step away from the main road. Enjoy the view from a different perspective.

(I took that photo from under one of the boardwalks.)

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We love confined spaces

Christmas bulb Christmas treeWhy is it that we enjoy visiting nice hotels? They offer these wonderful things:

– Less room than our homes
– Fewer snack options
– The privacy of sharing a room with your kids (if you have kids)
– Possibly a noisy heating/cooling system

And yet we love the change. It’s a different environment than that of our normal life. Those little soaps and shampoos are amazing. And staying in a hotel means travel, if you like travel.

Disclaimer: This post does not apply to business travelers who are totally burned-out on staying in hotels.

Image info: I took this photo in the Gaylord Texan, a resort hotel very close to where my sister used to live. It’s an experience.

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Travel to get perspective

London in the summer of 2011It has been a while since we left the state. We need to get away. It’s so important to remove ourselves from our normal lives to regain perspective. If we’re always down in the tunnel of work and daily routines, we forget what is really important.

If you can’t afford to travel away, just go to your next town. Take a day off and hang out at a restaurant or coffee shop you’ve never been to before. Try a new type of food. Visit a different aisle in the supermarket. Leave your computer at home. Don’t take your work with you. Turn off your mobile phone.

Aaaah.

(The photo is courtesy of my daughter Rachel.)

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We are so small

We are so smallIt’s always good to get perspective.

Last week, we went to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s a dramatic place – huge sand dunes are spread at the base of a larger chain of mountain peaks.

Thankfully, the weather was perfect. The wind was not blowing very much. The temperature was cool – our bare feet did not burn.

It’s always good to remember just how small we are in the scope of things.

(That’s Heather in the middle. Jay, Ben and Rachel are in the distance.)

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Seasons

ForsythiaNairobi, Kenya, is not far from the equator. We lived there for five years. Since the elevation is close to a mile high, the climate is ideal – about 70 degrees (21c) year-around. But since the climate allows for many people to live in very easily-built and relatively inexpensive homes (mud walls and a tin roof), lots of people live there. Too many, in my humble opinion. The city’s infrastructure was built for about 300,000 – and roughly 4 million live there now.

Living further north or south necessitates having solid insulated homes.

Back to seasons – I love four seasons. Spring is now fully here. The warm weather is such a relief after a long cold winter.

Change is a good thing.

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