Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Back in New York City.

Here is the view looking south out of my 22nd floor room at the DoubleTree in Chelsea, across from the Madison Square Garden. The World Trade Center 1 tower, the highest building in the Western Hemisphere, in the background. The antenna on top is about as tall as the Cologne Cathedral spires.

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Hilton Honors Lifetime Diamond

For 17 years I have participated in the Hilton Honors rewards program. Their top tier is Diamond. To qualify, you have to spend either 60 nights a year or 30 stays a year at a Hilton property. Every year you have to re-qualify. There are a lot of travel perks that come with the Diamond status, like extra bonus points for every stay. That’s the most valuable part, since the points get me free stays when I want them. But I get room upgrades all the time, free breakfasts, water, WiFi and any other amenities. I can get rooms in hotels that are completely booked (you figure how they do that…) and when I have a complaint, like I don’t like my room, they listen and work hard to accommodate any wishes. Needless to say, the Diamond status has paid off over the years. Since I started, I have qualified every year. Now you know how much I travel. And that does not include any Best Western, Hyatt, Marriott, Holiday Inn and boutique hotels overseas that I might have stayed in.

Now Hilton sent me a big box with presents, including a set of Bose earphones and other swag. They awarded me the Lifetime Diamond status. Now I don’t need to qualify anymore. I am not sure what you have to do to get this, but as you see above, in 17 years I have spent 1016 nights at 283 Hilton hotels.

That’s three YEARS!

Road warrior anyone?

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The Original Starbucks

Yesterday I was at a conference in downtown Seattle. In the afternoon I had some free time so I walked down to the pier to the famous Pike Place Market. Seattle has more Starbucks stores than any other city. You can literally step out of any building and look around in all direction and you will likely see a Starbucks. Here is a fun little article that illustrates my point. 

When I got down to Pike Place Market, I was in for a treat. Because that’s where the original Starbucks store is.

The first Starbucks store was established in 1971 at 2000 Western Avenue where it operated until 1976, when it moved to 1912 Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. So this address, while still hosting the original Starbucks, is actually the second location for the chain.

There are now 27,339 Starbucks stores worldwide.

As you can see in the picture above, there is a line going into the store. While it is not visible in the image, the line continues along the sidewalk to the left and goes all the way down the block.  There were probably a hundred or more people lined up – to get a cup of Starbucks in this store. I was not in the mood.

But I enjoyed a bit of coffee history and took this photograph.

My plan was to visit the Seattle Art Museum, just a few blocks down the road, but unfortunately, it was closed Monday as Tuesday, as museums are wont to be. Perhaps another time, after a good cup of coffee.

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Visiting Dana Point

Yesterday we visited Dana Point, a little city on the shores of the Pacific not an hour’s drive away from my home. In my more than thirty years of living in Southern California I have never been to Dana Point before.

After reading Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana recently, I have had plans to go and see the location. Richard Henry Dana, with this book, gave Dana Point its name, basically on the grounds of the following passage from the book which I read out loud on the beach to celebrate the occasion:

Coasting along on the quiet shore of the Pacific, we came to anchor in twenty fathoms’ water, almost out at sea, as it were, and directly abreast of a steep hill which overhung the water, and was twice as high as our royal-mast-head. We had heard much of this place from the Lagoda’s crew, who said it was the worst place in California. The shore is rocky, and directly exposed to the southeast, so that vessels are obliged to slip and run for their lives on the first sign of a gale; and late as it was in the season, we got up our slip-rope and gear, though we meant to stay only twenty-four hours.

We pulled the agent ashore, and were ordered to wait for him, while he took a circuitous way round the hill to the Mission, which was hidden behind it. We were glad of the opportunity to examine this singular place, and hauling the boat up, and making her well fast, took different directions up and down the beach, to explore it.

San Juan is the only romantic spot on the coast. The country here for several miles is high table-land, running boldly to the shore, and breaking off in a steep cliff, at the foot of which the waters of the Pacific are constantly dashing. For several miles the water washes the very base of the hill, or breaks upon ledges and fragments of rocks which run out into the sea. Just where we landed was a small cove, or bight, which gave us, at high tide, a few square feet of sand-beach between the sea and the bottom of the hill. This was the only landing-place.

Directly before us rose the perpendicular height of four or five hundred feet. How we were to get hides down, or goods up, upon the table-land on which the Mission was situated, was more than we could tell. The agent had taken a long circuit, and yet had frequently to jump over breaks, and climb steep places, in the ascent. No animal but a man or a monkey could get up it. However, that was not our lookout; and, knowing that the agent would be gone an hour or more, we strolled about, picking up shells, and following the sea where it tumbled in, roaring and spouting, among the crevices of the great rocks. What a sight, thought I, must this be in a southeaster! The rocks were as large as those of Nahant or Newport, but, to my eye, more grand and broken.

Beside, there was a grandeur in everything around, which gave a solemnity to the scene, a silence and solitariness which affected every part! Not a human being but ourselves for miles, and no sound heard but the pulsations of the great Pacific! and the great steep hill rising like a wall, and cutting us off from all the world, but the “world of waters”! I separated myself from the rest, and sat down on a rock, just where the sea ran in and formed a fine spouting horn. Compared with the plain, dull sand-beach of the rest of the coast, this grandeur was as refreshing as a great rock in a weary land. It was almost the first time that I had been positively alone — free from the sense that human beings were at my elbow, if not talking with me — since I had left home. My better nature returned strong upon me. Everything was in accordance with my state of feeling, and I experienced a glow of pleasure at finding that what of poetry and romance I ever had in me had not been entirely deadened by the laborious life, with its paltry, vulgar associations, which I had been leading. Nearly an hour did I sit, almost lost in the luxury of this entire new scene of the play in which I had been so long acting, when I was aroused by the distant shouts of my companions, and saw that they were collecting together, as the agent had made his appearance, on his way back to our boat.

We pulled aboard, and found the long-boat hoisted out, and nearly laden with goods; and, after dinner, we all went on shore in the quarter-boat, with the long-boat in tow. As we drew in, we descried an ox-cart and a couple of men standing directly on the brow of the hill; and having landed, the captain took his way round the hill, ordering me and one other to follow him. We followed, picking our way out, and jumping and scrambling up, walking over briers and prickly pears, until we came to the top.

Here the country stretched out for miles, as far as the eye could reach, on a level, table surface, and the only habitation in sight was the small white mission of San Juan Capistrano, with a few Indian huts about it, standing in a small hollow, about a mile from where we were. Reaching the brow of the hill, where the cart stood, we found several piles of hides, and Indians sitting round them. One or two other carts were coming slowly on from the Mission, and the captain told us to begin and throw the hides down. This, then, was the way they were to be got down — thrown down, one at a time, a distance of four hundred feet! This was doing the business on a great scale.

Standing on the edge of the hill, and looking down the perpendicular height, the sailors “That walked upon the beach appeared like mice; and our tall anchoring bark diminished to her cock; her cock a buoy almost too small for sight.” Down this height we pitched the hides, throwing them as far out into the air as we could; and as they were all large, stiff, and doubled, like the cover of a book, the wind took them, and they swayed and eddied about, plunging and rising in the air, like a kite when it has broken its string. As it was now low tide, there was no danger of their falling into the water; and, as fast as they came to ground, the men below picked them up, and, taking them on their heads, walked off with them to the boat. It was really a picturesque sight: the great height, the scaling of the hides, and the continual walking to and fro of the men, who looked like mites, on the beach. This was the romance of hide dropping! Some of the hides lodged in cavities under the bank and out of our sight, being directly under us; but by pitching other hides in the same direction, we succeeded in dislodging them. Had they remained there, the captain said he should have sent on board for a couple of pairs of long halyards, and got some one to go down for them. It was said that one of the crew of an English brig went down in the same way, a few years before. We looked over, and thought it would not be a welcome task, especially for a few paltry hides; but no one knows what he will do until he is called upon; for, six months afterwards, I descended the same place by a pair of top-gallant studding-sail halyards, to save half a dozen hides which had lodged there. Having thrown them all over, we took our way back again, and found the boat loaded and ready to start. We pulled off, took the hides all aboard, hoisted in the boats, hove up our anchor, made sail, and before sundown were on our way to San Diego.

— Dana, Richard Henry. Two Years Before the Mast; A Personal Narrative (1911): WITH A SUPPLEMENT BY THE AUTHOR AND INTRODUCTION AND ADDITIONAL CHAPTER BY HIS SON (Kindle Locations 2302-2351). Houghton Mifflin. Kindle Edition.

I took a picture of the cliffs Dana is describing. It was still morning, and the marine layer over the coast had not yet cleared, hence the grey sky.

Later, after spending some time walking along the board walk and getting some lunch in one of the seafood places, we drove up the hill, where there are now housing developments with ocean view as far as the eye can see. However, we found the spot where Dana was likely standing when he took the hides off the ox cart and threw them down the cliff like huge Frisbees.

Here is the view from the top:

Moored down in the harbor is the Pilgrim, a full-sized replica of the ship Dana sailed on from Boston in 1835 on the trip he described in Two Years Before the Mast.

This is that the Pilgrim looks like under full sail, which I found on the Ocean Institute’s website. Click on the image to jump to that site for more information.

[picture credit: Ocean Institute]

The Pilgrim moored at Dana Point is a replica of the original ship that was built in 1825 in Boston for $50,000 and designed for shipping back and forth between the American East Coast and California. To do this, they had to sail all the way around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. This replica was built in Denmark in 1945. 

I truly enjoyed our visit to Dana Point, tracing some California history, and I strongly recommend reading Two Years Before the Mast, a book for which I gave a four-star review.

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Click to enlarge to see the White House and the Capitol all in one photograph.

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I was working today at the offices of the State of Ohio on the south side of the Columbus airport. One of the state workers asked me at 2:00pm when my plane was leaving. Around 5:30, I said. The office is literally about a 7-minute drive from the terminal, so I usually leave around 4:30 with plenty of time to make it through security before boarding.

She said I’d better leave quickly, since they’d close the roads out front. Trump was due to arrive at the airport at 3:30 for a fundraiser and dinner at 5:00 downtown Columbus.

One I arrived at the terminal, I got my first ever live view of Air Force One on the tarmac of the Columbus airport.

Off to the side was this other huge Air Force transport.

Sorry about the plane in the foreground. I could not get a better vantage point. When the president travels, an advance plane – sometimes two of them – brings his limousine or an entire motorcade. He has to have his own car.

We have the money to fly Trump from Washington to Columbus for dinner on Friday night for a few hours with two giant 4-engine planes.

But we don’t have the money to take care of homeless veterans.

When Bush and Obama were traveling, I didn’t mind so much. They too traveled with two or three planes everywhere they went. That’s nothing new.

But with Trump, I mind a lot.

A lot!

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[click to enlarge] Photo Credit: Credit James Cruz (jamesjcruz on Instagram)

I have never been to Egypt and have not seen this view with my own eyes. But it must be one of the most spectacular views in the world, truly awe-inspiring.

What gets me is what I see in the lower left corner of the picture. It looks like a shed, or a chicken coop in a slummy back yard. If I owned a property in that spot I’d have a palatial veranda overlooking the most awesome view in the world. I would not put a shed in that corner.

But then again, this pyramid was completed more than 4,500 years ago. When Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C., those pyramids were already 2,500 years old. In other words, Cleopatra is closer to us in the time line than she is to the time the pyramids were built.

The chicken coop will long be gone, and Cairo will likely be dust 2,000 years hence, and the pyramid will still be there, and the sun will still set behind it.

That thought gives me comfort.

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Black and White in Germany

This is the view out of my parents’ living room on March 18, 2018. It’s been icy-cold and snowy. This is not a black and white photograph. It’s in full color. Go figure.

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Room with a View


[click to enlarge]

San Francisco Hilton – Financial District – 27th Floor with Balcony

Alcatraz  in the background left, a docked cruise ship on the right and the Coit Tower in the middle.

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I never pay for first class tickets on airlines, but due to my elite status with the airline I am often upgraded. I am one of those people you see sitting in first class as you board the plane for coach and you wonder how I am willing to pay those prices. Well, I don’t. Usually I pay less than you do, but I get better service. This is one of the benefits of the huge amount of travel I do.

In first class, you get a drink as soon as you board. Usually I don’t bother, but sometimes I will take a cup of coffee. The other day, around eight in the morning, a passenger behind me asked the flight attendant: Is champagne on the menu? Sure, he said, and a minute later the passenger was sipping champagne while the poor folks in coach were still boarding – at 8 o’clock in  the morning.

I don’t think of champagne as something I would ever want to drink on an airplane. It belongs to a toast on New Year’s Eve, or maybe in honor of the bride and groom at a wedding. But on an airplane? While boarding?

Who are these people?

Then again, I am sitting in seat 4A on a flight that left at 7 o’clock in the morning from Boston, and the man next to me is already done with his second Bloody Mary.

I am taking another sip from my coffee.

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It was on January 24, 1776:

In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as hard as iron, made the going hazardous, and the riders, mindful of the horses, kept at a walk.

— John Adams, by David McCullough – opening paragraph of the book. See my review here.

When John Adams embarked on a journey from Boston to Philadelphia in the winter of 1776, he faced over two months of travel on horseback. He had to leave in the bitter winter to be there in the spring for the session of the Continental Congress that year. He could make such a journey only once a year at best, and while he was gone, his wife and children at home had to fend for themselves.

Along the journey he had to find shelter every night in an inn or private home. Not only did he need to find room and board every night for himself, but he also needed to take care of stabling for his horse. The expenses for such a trip were enormous, and the physical hardship of being on horseback outside, in the winter, in all weather, on terrible “roads” must have been crushing. But John Adams did it, and certainly thousands of other travelers along the route did too.

This morning at about 6:30am I boarded a flight from Boston to Philadelphia. Once airborne, the flight took one hour and four minutes.

If I could have told John Adams that I would, some 240 years hence, enter an aluminum tube with about a hundred other passengers, which would travel at close to the speed of sound at 30,000 feet of elevation, high above the clouds, he would not have been able to believe me. Yet, here I am, writing this blog post, with a hot cup of coffee next to me. I am warm, comfortable, and even a little sleepy.

To John Adams, this would have been indistinguishable from magic.

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Trisha and I went on a Jeep ride today with Chris (of Piper and Heath) and Roy (a wildlife photographer) in the backcountry of San Diego County. We went out in two Jeeps (for redundancy) and spent the day cruising places otherwise completely inaccessible.

Here is Chris driving down a steep section of rocky trail while Roy spots him. Trisha is the passenger.

Later in the day, Chris, the wilderness guide per excellence, served up a perfect picnic complete with wine and gourmet salads:

If you are ever looking to travel to Africa with expert guides, call Piper and Heath, and I promise, they will take care of you with first class service.

Thanks to Chris and Roy for great outdoors adventure today.

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A Walk without Exercise

From Left to Right: Linda, Dick, Trisha and Norbert

We just got home from a 3-hour, 13-mile “walk” all over Balboa Park, Little Italy, the San Diego Harbor, Seaport Village and the Gas Lamp Quarter, without getting any exercise at all.

When I got home and walked to the mailbox it felt odd that I couldn’t just lean forward and accelerate to 12 miles per hour.

Now I want a Segway!

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Today I traveled back from Columbus, Ohio to San Diego, California. In Columbus, the weather turned from rain to snow throughout the afternoon, and I was truly worried about making it out of there. My first leg was to Phoenix, Arizona, with 72 degree weather and clear skies. After wheels up in Columbus, I thought I’d be home safely. The connection flight from Phoenix to San Diego was where the problem kicked in. There was fog in San Diego, and first we started circling over the desert in a “holding pattern” as the pilot called it. Then we were diverted to Ontario, California. San Diego was hopelessly fogged in.

When we landed in Ontario just after 10:00pm, unfortunately, we were not the only plane. There were at least another five or six planes, all destined for San Diego, sitting on the tarmac in Ontario. The airport was already closed, and there was not enough staff there to guide all these planes into gates. There was no staff to operate the jet bridges. Since the terminal was closed, they had to call the police to open the doors. That took some time.

So, after landing, everyone got to sit on the planes for another half an hour. Of course, there was nobody to timely unload the luggage, and the poor airline agent couldn’t get any buses on short notice.

Imagine hundreds of people milling around the airport baggage claim area with no services and no place to go, and the hour was going on midnight.

Fortunately, I live “only” about 90 minutes from the Ontario airport. While I was still on the plane, to save time, I had called The Woman, who fortunately had just texted me that she missed me an hour before, to come and pick me up.

Oh, what a lucky man, I was!



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Great Things about America

I write so many critical posts about our country and government that it could seem that I don’t like the place. The contrary is true. This is my adoptive country, and I love it, and I love living here. I am often reminded about this, but it’s not as newsworthy as a corrupt administration or an inept government. Here is something I love about this country:

Its great size and climatic diversity.

Last week, on December 29, I was at the Seattle airport waiting for my flight home to San Diego, via Los Angeles. I had just spent two days in the Seattle area, and it had been raining solid. Not just a drizzle, real, steady, cold, wet rain in temperatures in the 35° F / 2° C range. The airline gate representative was managing two flights, mine to Los Angeles at gate 10, and another to Chicago at gate 11. He made the announcement that the two flights would be boarding at about the same time, and it was important that we passengers would get on the right plane. “One is going to a warm and sunny place, and the other is going to a very, very cold place.” At the time, the temperature in Los Angeles was 82° F / 28° C, and Chicago was around 10° F / -12° C. I was glad I was going to Los Angeles.

Tomorrow I was supposed to travel to Boston. But they are expecting a blizzard on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s 17° F there right now. It was over 80° F here in San Diego today and sunny. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to be in that cold right now, yet, I am only about five flight hours away. Needless to say, I canceled my trip, and I am staying in town. I’d rather be home and warm, than stranded in some forlorn airport in a snowed-in city with no way out.

What I love about this country: That you can go to any type of weather, from bitter winter, to balmy sunshine in just a few hours and never have to leave the country. There are very few places in the world where that is possible.

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