Worth a thousand words?

As my cousin and I walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern on Saturday afternoon we frequently found ourselves dodging tourists taking photos—and it lead us to discuss the entire idea of vacation photos. The picture below is from my first trip to London ten years ago. And it’s one of the few, of the hundreds I took, that I still regularly share with people when recalling that trip. I took other pictures then—the journey took me from London to Ipswich to Aberdeen to Paris and back again. I have a lot of fond memories—but I don’t often look at the pictures.

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I especially don’t find a place in my vacationing life for the pictures that everyone takes. Perhaps because I have access, as a design professional, to all the high quality images of world landmarks I could ever want… but also, at what point are we capturing our experiences versus living them? I’m happier with my collection of Parisian doorknobs from 2009 than I am with the series of terrible photos I took from the London Eye six years previous.

I will likely end this trip with no more than a few dozen phones, and half of them food. Is this the next stage in the evolution from film to digital? First we took pictures of everything because we COULD, and now we take less because we really don’t need to?

Pack early, pack often.

I’ve had a number of people say, “Oh, that’s a good idea!” when I describe my process for long trips (especially internationally)—so perhaps it’s time to document it. Over the years I’ve watched all those videos on YouTube that promise you’ll be able to pack your entire closet into a carry-on—if only you use their origami folding system. I’ve consulting the Rick Steves packing list—and wondered who wanted to carry all that?

In the end the system that works for me is to simply start packing a month early—it’s not a terribly active process. When I’m doing laundry and come across a piece of clothing that would be ideal for my upcoming trip—I set it aside. When I think of some piece of electronics, book or travel accessory that I might need—I set it aside. After a few weeks I have a pile of things that is definitely more than any sensible person would actually take on a two week vacation ANYWHERE.

Then it’s time for luggage Hunger Games.

Can you wear all of the (skirts/shirts/cardigans/trousers/etc.) with everything other piece of clothing? I solve coordination issues here the same way I do in the rest of my life—lots of neutrals with a single accent (usually blue or green for me). Do I have enough pieces of clothing that I can easily dress up and still wear daily? The details change a bit depending on destination and season—the particulars of my packing list aren’t important.

What all of this really does is help me avoid that last minute panic that might result in stress and running about the day before you leave. I don’t open my suitcase at my destination and wonder why I thought I’d need various random items. And I rarely spend time hunting down a missing toiletry item in a country where I don’t speak the language—the exception to that being when a nasty head cold left me attempting to pantomime decongestant to a Dutch pharmacist.

For me, travel planning isn’t about scheduling every leisure moment—but planning and researching to avoid stressing over things that you can absolutely control. Even down to packing enough socks.

Whatever happened to blogging your travel?

6099_california zephyr by graphxgrrl
6099_california zephyr, a photo by graphxgrrl on Flickr.

Sadly, it was a victim of technology and relaxation. As the first large trip I tried without my laptop for blogging and photo editing—it was an exercise in frustration. Writing more than a few sentences on a iPad keyboard and trying to batch process a few hundred photos on a touch screen isn’t all its cracked up to be.

The future isn’t here yet.

That said, it was a lovely trip and I’d encourage you to go take a look at my Flickr archive for images.

My next trip is coming up in less than two weeks, and I’m armed with a bluetooth keyboard, a new iPhone and a plan that is not overly ambitious. So you should see the expected number of food, random doors and signage photos coming your way shortly.

More in the next week on the content of this blog and future travel.

Inbetwixt and half asleep

There’s definitely something magical about laying in the dark as the train gently rocks side to side. The far craggy hills are only visible due to the faint glow of civilization that lie beyond. The stars have no competition but a tiny sliver of moon. Then the sound of a whistle marks the passing of another train that blocks the night from view.

How do you define success when the goal is fun?

I struggle with the fact that this now has to be the first post of this trip.

There were all the makings of a perfect day: roller coasters and other rides, terrible fair food, good friends I don’t see often enough, and weather that was lovely but not too warm. And it was a great day.

But it wasn’t a perfect day. Certainly I made myself slightly ill (in the best possible way) by eating food that will never be good for me (there may have been a chili cheese dog and a churro in there somewhere) and I did spend time upside down on a roller coaster. But sadly, the key part there is “a roller coaster”. California’s Great America has four. Admittedly, this is down from the last time I was there in 2003 when they had six—one of which was my favorite Vekoma Invertigo (now living a new life in Pennsylvania under the name Stinger). Why only one coaster? Why my least favorite of their metal coaster, Demon?

Well, it’s no secret to anyone whose seen me in recent years that I’m not as svelte as I once was, and since I’m relatively healthy and reasonably active I’ve never put a lot of effort into reversing the trend. Always in the back of my mind it came down to, “I’ll worry about that when it interferes with something I want to do.”

We’ve apparently reached that point.

Frankly, most roller coaster restraints aren’t designed for women in the first place (am I right ladies?)—there were men of a similar weight to me who didn’t have the problems with the restraints on Flight Deck (once Top Gun when Paramount still owned the park) and Vortex that I did. That said, this will mean spending time between now and Chicago doing some research on which rides they’ve adjusted for their heftier patrons at Six Flags parks and Cedar Point.

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I feel remarkably un-angsty about the entire thing. The rides weren’t designed for me in mind and unlike a lot of other larger people out there, because I spent a huge portion of my life painfully thin—my problems with body dysmorphia all come down to the fact that I struggle with the reality that I’m not actually normal. At larger parks there are rides that have been adjusted to accommodate a range of body shapes and sizes—so don’t waste any time worrying that this whole trip has… Come off the rails, as it were.

Soon, as I work out the quirks of posting via the WordPress app on my iPad and fussing with pictures in Snapseed, I promise better formatted and more interesting posts—or at least more pictures of my time en route—as I’m now on a train headed east cross-country.

All aboard.

More than any other vacation I’ve ever taken, this trip has prompted people to ask, “Are you going to be blogging?” It’s the question that comes directly after, “Why?” So this seemed inevitable. Why am I taking the train cross country and stopping along the way to be flung around at high speeds? It’s the same reason I take most of my vacations: because it’s a trip I haven’t taken before.

Expect mostly pictures while I’m on the road, and as the weeks go on I’m going to try and backfill content from other trips I’ve taken over the years.

Welcome to my life, uʍop ǝpısdn.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

My current distraction is planning for this year’s big trip. Originally it was going to be Peru with Suezie but due to things out of our control, it was not to be. So Peru is on the back burner until life stops getting in the way of plans.

Having loved last year’s trip on the Empire Builder train, this year I’m going to go cross country. To add more excitement, along the way I’m going to try and ride as many roller coasters as I can justify. Currently the plan is:

1. Fly down to San Francisco mid-August and make a jaunt to Great America (my favorite Vekoma Intvertigo is no longer there, but I’ll survive)

2. Grab the California Zephyr train from Richmond and head to Salt Lake City, stop for a day to ride the hell out of everything at Lagoon Park (and possible dinner or similar with my art director).

3. Take the CZ train to Chicago (originally there was going to be a stop in Denver, but their park is closed during the week starting in mid-August) and ride the hell out of everything at Six Flags Great America.

4. A short ride on the Capitol Limited train to Sandusky, Ohio: home of Cedar Point. For the roller coaster enthusiasts, need I say more?

5. After a full day of zooming around there, take the Lake Shore Limited train to New York, where I’ll likely hit up Luna Park and Six Flags Great Adventure.

6. Fly home.

All of that will take a little over two weeks, as I’m building in time in both SF and NYC to do/see other things… and of course eat delicious food. The amusing thing with all of this planning is that more than any other trip I actually have to figure out a lot of fussy logistics for when I’m getting on and off the train, lodging for when I’m not sleeping overnight on the train journeys, and how to get to/from the various theme parks without renting a car. But if you know me, you know that I’m finding that to be far more fun than a normal sane person would.

Don’t taunt the vacation planner!

So I’m kind of going nuts.

My trip to Chicago is in less than two months, and due to the flooding in North Dakota a portion of track (that goes out every time there are issues with the Missouri River in that area) has been flooded and in need of repair. Trains are theoretically running again later this week, but it seems like there’s a reasonable chance of the track washing out again in the next month.

As someone who finds half the fun of my vacation in the up-front planning, this means it’s time for trying to find Plan B. I’d really been looking forward to seeing that part of the country, so we may end up with some kind of hybrid flying/driving option. I’m kind of not interested in a Greyhound bus across the back of beyond Montana.

What isn’t in New York?

“What isn’t in New York?” was my flip response to a friend asking why I was taking my vacation there. And you know, I was always rather disdainful towards the people from New York who commented that they never left. But frankly, I suspect you could easily never leave New York and experience nearly everything this world has to offer. An observation that is not new or novel.

That said, while I suspect I could happily live in this city for a few years if I needed to for career reasons. I’m a west coast girl—and I’m still figuring out the rhythm of crossing the street against the light so I appear to fit in. But speaking of fitting in, we’re now at six people having asked me for directions in three days. I’ve been as helpful as I can be as a tourist myself—but I still puzzle over what combination of “mostly harmless” and “knowledgeable” I must be projecting over here.

Thus far, as usual, my trip has been filled with random neighborhood wanderings—Brooklyn on Sunday, Greenwich Village to Soho to the Lower Eastside on Sunday and Midtown and the East Village today. It’ll be Central Park and the Upper Eastside tomorrow. And those wanderings always lead to lovely unexpected things. Yesterday, I’d planned to wander through the Hester Street fair, and was happy to discover someone there making taiyaki—who I was first introduced to by Masumi many many years ago. Love me some feesh waffles.

Taiyaki maker from Nijiya Market

I must say though, the most disappointing thing this trip has been the transit. For a system of a similar age to London and Paris, both those systems are far better in terms of system user communication. From next train information, to maps and way-finding. It’s remarkable how terrible the MTA is at all of it. That said, you can see that they know and are working to improve. The newer trains on the L and F lines have digital in-train route context displays, and I assume that other lines are getting the same upgrades over time as budgets allow. Station upgrades are clearly happening, as I noticed construction issues all along the lines I’ve ridden the most (mainly the A train). But for all the people in Seattle complaining about the issues we have with Link—frankly, systems much older than ours are struggling with the same things. No one gets a perfect transit system overnight, or even over 100 years.

Anyhow, I’m a bit rambly since it’s late. Checking out my pictures is probably the best way to get a feeling for what I’ve been up to.

I left my cable, in Seattle…

The train ride down was uneventful, though a clear example of why it’s problematic that BNSF gets priority for freight on the rail lines—we were stopped about three times and were close to 45 minutes behind schedule. Amtrak can’t “sell” reliable passenger rail when they have those obstacles. It didn’t help too, that the train was full from Vancouver BC (it was one of the trains that were added during the Olympic period).

Tonight I went to dinner at Beast. Originally this was going to be a post with pictures about how awesome the food was (which it so very much was). But that will have to wait until I get home, because I cleverly left my camera cable at home.

I will say though, that I will be having dreams tonight about their foie gras bon bons with sauternes gelée.

Tomorrow will involve shopping, more food, this exhibit at the Portland Art Museum and potentially meeting up with a childhood friend* for drinks or similar before seeing Jonathan Coulton.


*This is an exercise in “How small is the internet, really?” Michael and I lived on the same street as children, I have memories of playing with GI Joe action figures together. My parents have a nickname for him that I will not repeat that my father used when I mentioned to them a few years ago that I’d run into Michael online.

Anyhow, I reconnected with Michael online, because he had become acquainted with Alison, whom I had met through Max (who lives in Canada incidentally), who I had known online because he was friends online with Rachel (my friend and former roommate) who I had met through Sierra, because when I first moved to Sacramento I met online and briefly dated an ex of hers.

This led me to firmly believe that somehow, everyone on the internet really does know everyone else, they just don’t realize it yet.