Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

244 Days to go: the Road to Paris

August 10, 2014

I don’t think.  I mean I REALLY don’t think at times.  Win a bib, enter a marathon, plan the trip around Europe AFTER the marathon.  I forgot something in all this.  As in oh, damn.  I have to TRAIN for said marathon.  It will be an adventure.

Right now? Uh.  Turns out a screwed up my back during the Hyannis Half in February: I’m just now recovered to  the point where I can’t cause any further damage (comforting words).  My shoulder is stuck with the reality of the cortisone shot not working, the damage of arthritis means I can kick, swim breast stroke or walk.  I’m at the point of being frustrated with life time of orthopedic issues (as in SERIOUSLY OVER IT) combined with normal sprained ankles.

I told somebody a few weeks ago: I am going to Paris.  I may not walk the marathon.  But this is about me being selfish and setting a goal.  I have the Columbus, Philadelphia and (get this) Surf City half marathons on the calendar.  I am going to work on being ready.  I’m just at the point for the first time that I’m not sure if my body has enough duct tape, bolts, pins, wires and artificial parts to hold myself together.

Yes, I know this is a first world problem.  Yes, I know people who are facing far more daunting issues than joints that like to destroy themselves.  I know that I’ve lived with this far, far longer than I’ve not lived with it.  Here is the deal: it doesn’t get easier.  I just get less frustrated.  Except for today.

Today was a day of frustration.  I tried to do some yoga to stretch out my lousy hip flexors.  Sort of worked (disclaimer: cats and yoga).  Spent 45 minutes on specific shoulder exercises.  Grateful for ice.

I know that marathons are mind games.  I know that I can rise to the challenge.  Right now, I’m frustrated.  Tomorrow, I’ll re-lace my shoes and go for a few mile walk.  I’ll remind myself that the human body is an amazing creation: and that duct tape works well.  And I’ll try to remember what my niece told me after I had to bail on a 5K in July: at least you tried. 

At least I survived the eating of kale.

Iceland, Poland or Vietnam: Seeking an Escape in 2014

January 4, 2014

So, I know I’ll need an escape mid-fall (read, after Labor Day when the airfares return to mere highway robbery pricing). I prefer to travel off season: I’m not that wild about packs of tourists (blame that on living in 3 (count them 3) tourist towns) stampeding and acting like idiots.

I posted the query to my Facebook page and Iceland seemed to be the runaway winner (also the closest given my New England location). I know I couldn’t pick three more different locations. Each one holds a certain allure for different reasons.

Iceland is more remote, rugged and geared to the outside (which might make it a better early May destination in ’15). I also might starve to death in Iceland given the 2 most popular sources of food being fish/shellfish and lamb (Kidding. Almonds travel well). The thought of being almost completely unplugged for a week is refreshing. Looking at volcanos, an iceberg and even an approved side trip to Greenland? Tempting.

Poland. Seriously the history of Poland is amazing. Growing up in the Chicago area (when Chicago had the second largest city of native Poles? In the world?), I can’t remember how old I was when I figured out Gdansk wasn’t on Lake Michigan. So much history, so much fascinating architecture.

Vietnam. I seriously haven’t explored Asia enough. I’ve always been fascinated by Vietnam. Part of me wants to go see the places I’ve studied. The country my dad where my father was deployed. I’ve wanted to wander the streets in part to see what we fought about (ok, don’t tell me it was that creeping communism idea). Again, I run into the deathly-allergic-to-sea-creatures aspect (again, almonds travel well). While I wouldn’t be unplugged in Vietnam, the time change will make it hard to find me! Of course, the oppressive humidity might leave me beat red without of control curly hair in under 20 seconds (but can it be worse than Hong Kong in May?).

I haven’t been out of the country in five years. I need to go somewhere new. Somewhere where I can just wander without anybody knowing me. Where I can explore a quirky side street or sit and watch people. Where there isn’t pressure to see something (aka, if you go to Paris you MUST go to the Eiffel Tower!).

So many choices. . . so many blank passport pages.

Ringing in 2014 with a Different Philosophy

January 1, 2014

From the onset 2014 looks to be shaping up as a challenging year.  Some is personal, some is professional some is just the fact that adulthood has more valleys than childhood (hey, let’s face it, even playing with Soviet Russian sharp edged cubes beats trying remember you are allowed to take 10 minutes for yourself).  A college friend of mine over at Mockingbird’s Nest did something in December that I thought was slightly insane: something new each day (including  the couch to 5K plan).  While I think the idea is GREAT, doing it in December is slightly insane.  But she is slightly insane plus her kids are 4-legged so she didn’t have to worry about the damn elf on the shelf drama but had the normal host of holiday insanity.

I’m not throwing down the gauntlet of insane challenges for 2014 (plus after the 5K turned into a half-marathon issue of 2013, I distinctly lack common sense).  My plans for 2014: work less, experiment more from the kitchen to pampering activities, write more, read more, pay down some of the damn student loan debt and walk a few road ‘races’, and figure out what is important and let everything else just go.  But the number one goal? Working less.  I’d be happy with a 45 hours week!  Oh, and Iceland.  I want to go to Iceland this year.

My take away from AWP and a mini-Hollins reunion? Travel as a Need.

March 10, 2013

Yesterday, I listened to writers discuss their craft at the AWP convention. I jotted down snippets on a legal pad out of habit and in the middle of listening to a panel discussion on writing in translation (for a very cool and free literary journal check out wordswithoutborders.org). It really wasn’t about writing in translation but about bringing the writing to translation. I think. It’s not the fault of the presenters; they were muses at that point. I realized there was passion. Artists, in general, receive the stereotype of passionate. As some point, and with great apologies, I lost track of the discussion and realized what I was hearing was passion OF career, something that is and has been lacking in my world.

I’m done. Not in a suicidal rage done, merely done. At the point of exhaustion, I see what the causation. Living without passion is not living. It’s survivalism. I have a few things I have to get done (notably that pesky shoulder surgery in exactly 37 days not that I’m joyously counting down). And then I’m leaving. On a jet plane. Ok, there are some very real steps in between: sorting through a few decades worth of junk to what will fit into a small storage unit in the town my parents reside, figuring out the where I want to go, where I need to go and uh, how to translate “I’m deathly allergic to shellfish” in every language known on the planet. I plan on leaving in roughly a year after I’m done with my shoulder rehab.

I am a huge proponent of knowing needs versus wants. I need to travel. I don’t need Disney; I don’t need turn down service. I need my backpack, my passport and well, the aforementioned card that says please don’t serve me anything with shellfish. Travel, of me, is activism. It’s the part that allows me to say to the world “no, not all Americans are like that” and to hear “No, xxx really isn’t like that.” I need to see the world, to take in the sights, the smells and show, if even to myself, that the world is much better and far less hateful than media outlets make it out to be. Travel is my idealism. Travel is hard; there is nothing worse than being curled up in a hotel room, in a foreign country 14 time zones from home where you don’t know the language or anybody and are miserably sick (ok, there are a LOT of things that are worse) without a common alphabet in common to figure out what medicine you might be taking (Ah, Tokyo. I really want to visit you again!). There is nothing more wonderful than being surrounded by a gaggle for elementary school students in Hiroshima practicing their English in the shadow of the destruction your country created peppering you with questions because they’ve found a ‘real’ American from Boston (where apparently a Japanese player was playing for the Red Sox) to pepper with questions about baseball, Boston and lots of questions that were not on the list.

I know when I plan to leave. I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I know, for probably the first time, I will be following my passion. And (almost) everything else is irrelevant. Of course, all of this is completely dependent on my mother agreeing to cat sit world’s dumbest animal. Completely open to ideas on where to visit anywhere on the planet outside of Western Europe, good travel blogs and volunteer stops along the way.

Father’s Day, the 2011 version

June 19, 2011

So, in my now twice in my life Happy Father’s Day blog, I’m going to skip my normal disdain for the day (well, more specifically all Hallmark holiday’s – and I just learned this one was created by NIXON!) and smile.

My dad (and mom) are in a mini-van (ring of hell #1) with 3 tweeners (ring of hell #2) going to the CWS (return to ring #1) after going to Carhenge and other “tourist sites in Nebraska” (enter rings #2, #3 and #4).  For fun.  The kids are good kids, I don’t understand my father’s love of long distance driving (30 minutes, I’m done) and who buys a mini-van by CHOICE?  But they are having fun being with the 3 oldest grandkids, the grandkids appear unharmed from the pictures and are being tortured at Denny’s (yes, I went there)-as-a-resturant that must come with the grandparent license and I can’t wait to hear all versions.

The past year has been hard – from all angles.  Unemployment, illnesses, strange weather and a list of things have taxed and pushed.  At one point last summer, my dad swore to me I’d look back on 2010 and laugh (I’m not sure I ever will but I see his point).  A college friend posted this article from The Atlantic MonthlyI thought about it and realized the greatest lesson my parents taught my siblings and me is that we will fail.

How did we learn this lesson? My dad is 6 5.  When we were little (read 4 and 5), we’d engage in a 2-1 basketball game against our dad.  He’d block our shots (ok, we were midgets, block is a loose term, all he had to do was put a hand over our heads, I maintain he was trying to pad his statistics).  He’d shoot HOOK SHOTS (we stood no chance).  We’d play until we made a basket purely by luck.  We thought we “won” (we scored on dad) but we really learned.  We learned that sometimes you have to try a lot before you make a basket, we learned that sometimes a game ended before we could score, we learned (in retrospect) that sometimes failing is the best thing.  Painful life lesson best learned on the backyard basketball court.

I’m a t-ball purist.  I’m not sure letting all kid receive an award is the best idea: I was the worst player on my team until my sister joined.  She picked flowers in the field.  We were bad, we had fun and the other kids had to put up with us (I’m sure it was painful for the 2nd graders. . . ).  I do know that learning how to fail and failure being ok if the effort was there is a valuable skill (and probably is somehow related to continued creativity and imagination).

Happy Father’s Day Dad.  You taught us it’s ok to love to do something we are bad at for fun, that sometimes you loose and you were always up for coloring our food.  Now, if we could do something about your Phanatical Jayhawk addition, all would be right with the world.

Reflections on Japan

March 11, 2011

Like many Americans, I awoke to the news of the 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan at 1:00 am EST today.  I was stunned.  I had spent 3 weeks backpacking/training through Japan.  I know maybe 5 words in Japanese am deathly allergic to shellfish and spent the last 5 days curled up in a Tokyo hotel room with the swine flu.  Still, I’d go back in a second.

There is a tranquil chaos of Japan that amazes me: across the street from the Louis Vinton store is a 13th century temple.  Neither seem out-of-place; neither seem in place. It just is.  As I travelled up and down the island on my JR pass (and oh, my motion sickness didn’t like the trains), I noticed I was somewhat of a curiosity. My hunch is that there are not many Americans roaming around Japan.  When I wound up on an express train in the Tokyo subway system, an elderly Japanese woman helped me figure out where to get off and led me to my exit before turning around into a packed rush hour station presumably to continue her destination. What is uncommon about this is that it was so common.  I’d be walking through a park, or reading in a tea shop and people would come up to me and try to make sure I wasn’t lost, lead me to hidden treasures. 

My introduction to Japan started off as a disaster: a typhoon in Tokyo, tornadoes in Atlanta, flight crew being over time alloted all led to arriving 10 hours late: after all transportation ended. There I was stuck in the Tokyo Airport dreading sleeping there after a trans-Pacific flight: and yes, even the taxi stands had shut down!  The police came through and my instant thought was great, I’m going to sleep outside.  Instead, they distributed sleeping bags, pillows, 2L of water and a roll of ritz-like crackers: for free.  Then the police stood guard over us so we could sleep.  My instant thought was “somebody needs to pass this idea on. . . . “.

I wandered to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I felt drawn to see those cities as, well, my country blew those towns up.  There is an egocentric idea of here to save the world that is easy to undertake as an American. For good or bad, right or wrong, we skip over some of our more painful actions.  Yes Japan had vowed to fight to the death, and yes we caused mass destruction.  Here I was a 30 something American walking through Hiroshima’s memorial park.  The main peace monument is oddly in the shape of a covered wagon.  The symbolism from a western perspective wasn’t lost on me: forward, onward, keep exploring.  As I wandered through the park and the memorials while working up the courage to enter the museum, I was surrounded by a gaggle of 5th graders on an English class assignment.  Word quickly spread that I was an American (well that and my Red Sox hat) and I soon found myself answering questions to about 30 10 year olds on my favorite color, did I like Japan.  There teacher was profoundly apologetic: I smiled and said my sister was a teacher.

After touring the museum (somewhat balanced), I met up again with the students as we both picked the same spot for lunch. They giggled at my un-artistic lunch of carrots, yoghurt, water and ginger ale.  Compared to their stunning presentation of food, I could see the point.

Every place I went, I was warmly received. It wasn’t for my stunning ability to speak Japanese but my mangled attempts to communicate, to explore, to take risk.  Japan has a reputation of being a closed society.  I found it to be one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been.  I spent a day in the town where the tsunami took aim: blue waters, friendly people and suggestions on other towns to see in the area.

Dumpling lessonWandering

Today, when I heard the news, my thoughts went back 2 years.  It was a trip on a whim based on the fact it was cheaper to fly to Tokyo than to Oklahoma.  I discovered a nation that even in the heavily tourist spots of Kyoto and Tokyo found the time to help a lost American.

Today and for the coming days, my thoughts are with the people of Japan. I can’t comprehend the physical destruction, let alone the emotional one facing Japan today.  I learned so much from my 3.5 weeks there some historical, some personal.  And I would do anything to return, if only to payback the people of Japan for their enduring kindness.

Peace ParkA favorite treat: lemon slushies

An Open Letter to the CEO of Delta Airlines

December 27, 2010

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I’m quite certain you don’t need/want/desire another letter on a blog about how to run Delta. Well, quite frankly, you wouldn’t have ever gotten one from me until today. I’ve been a loyal Delta customer for 15 years, I put up with the inability of people to understand 2 items, the insane baggage charges and having to beg for water. I’ve bounced between Silver and Gold Medallion for much of the past decade.  Today, six people made me question my loyalty: it’s obvious Delta doesn’t care about the consumer, why should we demonstrate loyalty to your organization?

As you know, New York/New England is in the midst of a post-Christmas blizzard.  Because if the industry standard hub system, and mergers, your airlines 4 of it’s 7 US hubs in winter locations. Logically, this seems disproportionate to an industry which relies on an uncontrollable force to ensure safe travels.  I can live with it: it’s my decision to fly Delta, and fighting through either Detroit, Minneapolis, JFK, or Salt Lake coupled with living in New England can be problematic.  What I cannot stand, and find intolerable is the attitude of your employees in dealing with weather related issues.

Today, I flew from Oklahoma City to Boston (the *only* flight to fly from ATL-BOS on 12/26 operated by Delta).  Having had previously acceptable service when dealing with delays on Delta (including receiving texts while waiting for a part to be fixed on an ATL-Tokyo flight), I felt somewhat assured that my flight to Boston was running on-time to possibly late because of weather.  I hadn’t received a voice mail or text. Fortunately, I tapped into my 3G network and noted an email from Delta at 4:10 am saying my flight had been cancelled and I was to be re-routed to SLC the next day (12/27) and then to Logan on 12/30.

As I was en-route to do some early post-holiday shopping with my sister, she dropped me off at the Will Rogers Airport. I knew there was a 6:52 departure to ATL and a 7:00 am departure to the Twin Cities and hoped to catch an earlier flight to make it home before the blizzard.  I arrived at 6:31 and was told by the counter agent she could not do anything for me since it was after 6:30 am. I realize this maybe your standard but I should have been told, let me ticket you on the 11:42 to the Twin Cities and go back to the gates and see if you can get on the plane. I had to beg for that flight and NOT to fly out to SLC on 12/27 (which, let’s face it, to fly from Oklahoma to get stuck in Utah makes as much sense as flying to Tokyo to connect to Phoenix from Oklahoma).  As the ticket agent was relatively new, her supervisor used this as a “training exercise”. I realize that experiential learning is a key component. I do not understand why a Medallion member, who is trying to beat a blizzard needed to be the object of such an undertaking. By the time I received my boarding passes, I was told both flights had boarded and were ‘closed’.

After clearing TSA, I realized NEITHER flight had boarded and both had seats. Fortunately, the customer service manager had more common sense than anybody else today and was able to get me on the flight to Atlanta with a seat assignment on the 1:oo pm flight to Boston.

At this point, I encountered two of the rudest flight attendants I have ever had to deal with in over 500,000 air miles on commercial flights. I won’t fly Southwest. I don’t like their “cute” flight attendants. Having a no smoking pantomime isn’t funny, isn’t cute: it’s unprofessional. Being told on five (5) different occasions that “these were not Delta’s rules and if we had a problem to contact the FAA” was churlish. My final straw was when the second flight attendant took my pillow OUT of my lap and said “you cannot have this in an exit row.” (Now, I don’t know if it is Delta or the FAA that doesn’t allow this: but I do know that I fly with my pillow, sit in exit rows and this has NEVER happened before.)

Once I arrived at Hartsfield, I discovered all flights to Boston had been cancelled, save the 12:35 departure. I noticed this immediately and was placed on the stand-by list in Terminal E. My name was not pro-actively placed on the list: had I not checked the screen before grabbing coffee, I would not have been on the stand-by list.  Noting there were over 40 names and zero unclaimed seats, I asked to fly into DCA, JFK of LGA as from there, I can take Amtrak to Boston (which terminated service on 12/26 at 5:15pm). I was refused this request because “your ticket says Boston: that is where you have to fly to.” At this point, I realized that the Hartsfield operation of Delta Airlines is in serious need of common sense:

1) If I wanted to fly into an alternate city where there were open seats to then (at my own expense) secure transportation to my end destination, it frees Delta Airlines from having to secure a seat for me on either one of your aircraft or a competitors.

2) Being told “next time fly Air Tran” by your gate agent at A-03 is beyond appalling. Had I known Delta was both unwilling (and possibly incapable) of working with customers, if I ever have to fly to Atlanta, I might fly Air Tran, United, or any of your competitors: they certainly cannot be worse.

3) Yes, there is a massive blizzard pounding New England at the moment: however, Logan was open until 5 pm: meaning all flights from Atlanta could have left until 2pm.  The Atlanta staff saying there was “3 feet of snow on the ground in Boston” in an era of instant communication was memorable. It became more entertaining when the pilot of the flight indicated this was a turnaround and that it had yet to start snowing in Boston when they left.  As we landed on runway 4 in Boston which is an ocean-ocean landing, Logan ground conditions were not near blizzard like.

5) I realize the airline industry has faced many challenges. However, Delta is looking at possibly 3 days of no service between Boston-Atlanta. Passengers were told this was “an act of God” and Delta was not responsible for meal vouchers, hotels or other accommodations. There is a difference between “responsible” and “customer service”.  Individuals remember good service: many people make choices on where not to spend their money based on bad service. Is Delta required by the FAA to provide travellers with meal vouchers? No. Would it set Delta apart? Yes. 

Your flight crews used to say “you have a choice when flying, thank-you for flying Delta and our Sky Team partners.”  Perhaps it’s time to put some meanings behind the words.  Delta has lost my loyalty. I had to act like a hostile customer to get home because “please”, “thank-you” and reasonable requests got me nowhere.  Publically saying that the ineptitude of the airlines towards Medallion customers got me a seat home.  It really is too bad that it has come to that with your airlines. I’d much rather do business with an organzation where I can make a reasonable request that is mutually beneficial than act like an immature adult. 

There is a television show called Undercover Boss.  I’d suggest spending sometime working the front lines and listening to your passengers.  Alternate airports may work and when a passengers asks for that accommodation why not honor it when you are faced with weather or mechanical delays? You free up a seat and create a happy customer.  Unless, of course, the goal of Delta is to be acquired by AirTran. If so, you are well on your way.

Maybe the next time I fly, it will be on Delta. Maybe it won’t. Quite frankly, your organization has earned business for your competitors. I’m happily enjoying the blizzard: only because I didn’t mind throwing a temper tantrum that would have landed my nieces and nephews in time out for life so I could get home. I feel sorry for those travellers who have yet to learn, that is how you have to play the game.