Monday, December 18, 2017

Boots over New Zealand

Next week we'll be hiking the Queen Charlotte Track a glorious ridge trail above sea-drowned valleys at the top of New Zealand's South Island. It's a comfortable tramp, just 43 miles over four days.

Maybe that explains why Rudyard Kipling's "Boots" was my earworm the other day:
We’re foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa!
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa—
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)         
There’s no discharge in the war!
Kipling took the viewpoint of a British Tommy soldier in southern Africa in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). His racism is relatively subdued in this poem, but he does what he does best, depicting the "white man's burden."

That got me wondering if New Zealand played any part in the conflict. I learned that New Zealand sent troops to support the British Empire. Some Māori men (the first New Zealanders) wanted to enlist, but were turned down because this was a "white man's war."

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Very Japanese Christmas

Christmas was coming to life when I visited Japan in early November. Colonel Sanders, an integral part of Japan's Christmas traditions, was in his Santa garb. Ticket counters in some train stations were decorated with tinsel and little ornaments. Christmas trees were starting to sprout.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday Morning Coffees

From under the duvet, I hear the daily grind. Dwight is edging towards his workday.

It's time for my daily incantation:
"OK Google, what time is it?"
"OK Google, turn on National Public Radio"
"OK Google, turn on bedroom lights"
"OK Google, bring coffee"
OK, I don't ask Google to bring coffee. I stick my head out the door and make my wakeful state known. I make a mental note to program Google to flash a light in the kitchen when I'm ready for my first coffee of the day

A few minutes later, the coffee arrives.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Sporting House

November 2017. I look out from our Minneapolis Mill District apartment.

Ahead, I see St. Anthony Falls, the only significant waterfall on the Mississippi. A hydroelectric plant, established in 1882, still generates enough power for thousands of homes.

Minneapolis grew up around these falls.

Across the river I pick out the Pillsbury "A" Mill. Completed in 1881, it was the most productive flour mill in the world for 40 years.

My eyes follow the gorgeous curved lines of the 1883 Stone Arch Bridge back to my side of the river to the Washburn "A" Mill, part of a complex dating back to the 1870's.

I look down to 11th Avenue South which runs in front of our home. It draws my eyes away from the Mississippi and up the road to a Romanesque brick building (pictured at the top of this post) at 212 11th Avenue South. It seems strangely out of place.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Four Kyushu Olle Hikes

It can be a challenge getting to a hiking trailhead. Public transport may be spotty or non-existent, and once you're in the locale, trailheads have a bad habit of hiding in plain sight.

Once I've found the trailhead, I can usually muddle my way along the trail with the assistance of GPS, map, signage, and dumb luck. The odd involuntary reroute, in airline parlance, is all part of the experience. Travel without wabi-sabi is bland.

Sometimes, though, I just want to get to a trailhead then walk with my mind relieved of the logistics of the walk. Originally developed in South Korea, Olle hikes meet this challenge in Kyushu, Japan's southernmost main island. An Olle hike might include villages, farms, mountainous countryside, and the seaside. The trail may be arduous, or relaxed, depending on the classification.

I don't have to overthink: an Olle hike is a nice day out; I just have to follow the symbols shown at the top of this post.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Snapshots: A Night in a Bicycle Hotel

This week I spent a night in Hotel Cycle, in a converted warehouse in the port city of Onomichi, Japan. I used it as a base to cycle part of the Shimanami Kaido trail across the Seto Inland Sea.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Walking in Silence

Today I walked through a solemn space filled with sounds of flowing water, wishing for an alternate history that does not lead to this place.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Snapshots: Circling and Framing a Volcano

Sakurajima dominates the view across the bay from Kagoshima, southern Japan. It's one of the world's most active volcanoes, regularly raining ash on the city. Surfaces can feel gritty, accumulations of dust are a hazard to cyclists.

Hotel rooms with a view of Sakurajima fetch a premium. Directions are expressed relative to the volcano; e.g., "walk towards Sakurajima." It's a common element in public art.

Yesterday, I cycled around the volcano.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Using Social Media to Resolve an Issue with United Airlines

We're off to New Zealand in December. There are no nonstop flights from hometown Minneapolis (MSP) to New Zealand, but I found one-stop itineraries through Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco, and Houston. These are good cities to connect through in the winter: they don't get shut down by snow.

Everything was fine until United changed our optimal one-stop itinerary to two stops. This added several hours to the journey, and introduced opportunities for misconnects.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Snapshots: Superior Hiking Trail 2017

Each October we drive up to the North Shore of Lake Superior to hike sections of the Superior Hiking Trail.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Travel Gear: Packing Hiking Boots

The first frost of the season nipped Minneapolis this week, signaling less cycling and more hiking. My boots are squeaky clean and ready.

Boots are bulky, which is an issue when flying with a small carry-on backpack. It's amazing how much you can stuff into boots, then further reduce the bulk by tying the laces tightly.

I took the pictures at the top of this post a few years ago to show the contents of my boots. I no longer stuff anything metal or electrical into them since my collision with London Heathrow Security. I was grateful when the kind official put my suspicious-looking boots back through the X-ray scanner, rather than have me empty them.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Manual for New Homeowners

This week we hand off our house to new owners. In recent days I have been putting together an online manual for the buyers to make it easier for them to settle in.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Poms Don't Tub

Cab service improved in Minneapolis in the 1990's. Cabs started to be well-maintained, drivers were clean and respectful, Minnesota Public Radio, rather than loud rock, was playing quietly. The driver may have worked as a physician or a teacher or an engineer in Somalia, but now he was working his way back up.

In the past year I've spent many days pacing the corridors of Methodist Hospital in a Minneapolis suburb. As with any well-run medical facility, surfaces were being cleaned non-stop. I was cheerfully acknowledged by housekeeping staff from far-away places like Somalia, Myanmar, Tibet, and the former Soviet Union.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Minneapolis Bronze Statues

Yesterday, I went cycling with my friend, Dave, as we do every week in the warmer months. Sometimes we cycle a loop, sometimes we pick a theme, sometimes we meander. On Dave's suggestion we went in search of Minneapolis bronze statues.

We met next to the baseball park at Target Field light rail station. Dave loves baseball, so our first task was to search among the statues surrounding the stadium for local hero, Harmon Killebrew. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Consequences of Being Too Paperless

A few years ago we decided we would eliminate as much paper as possible.

Eliminating paper has been a satisfying but imperfect journey.

Our records are available to us when we travel, we no longer have a filing cabinet. 100% of our tax records, including receipts, are electronic and meet Internal Revenue Service standards.

However, along the way, we inadvertently tossed out the titles to our cars. We have scans, but a scan is not sufficient to complete a transfer of ownership.

In 2003 we purchased a BMW 3 Series car. It's the most (so-called) "refined" car we've ever owned, but ownership has been absurdly expensive.

Now, the engine won't turn over: it's time to donate it to Newgate School, a nonprofit that trains auto mechanics. If our experience is typical, the trainees, will make a good living repairing BMW cars.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Looking Forward to Winter

It's State Fair time in Minnesota, which means winter is just around the corner.

Winters in Minnesota can be lovely, with blue skies and bright sun reflecting off fresh snow. But there's so much winter: it appears in November, and lingers through April. Some days can be brutally cold.

It's time to nail down winter travel plans. I've planned three international trips lasting a total of 3 months: southern Japan, New Zealand, and (mainly) southern Europe.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Letting Go of the Big Stuff

We're not getting any younger. It's time to move from our home of 25 years to a condo where stairs are optional, and maintenance is someone else's responsibility.

Initially, we are leasing a place with less than half the floor area of our house while our condo is being built. We've been getting rid of much of our "big stuff."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Defending Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 17, 2017. I knew I was in trouble.

The silence was broken by a whirring sound close behind me. A military security camera was locking onto me. I quickly put my camera away, but it was too late: an armed soldier was walking down an embankment towards me.

Friday, August 4, 2017

9 Things I did around San Diego

USS Midway.
I'm just back from a few days in San Diego. My partner was attending a conference, so I took advantage of a Delta Airlines two-for-one coupon, and a "free" hotel room.

I explored parts of San Diego, and also went down the coast to the Mexican border and up the coast towards Los Angeles as far as San Clemente.

I like to wander freely, enjoying the journey, but here's nine specific things I enjoyed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Scenes from a Bridge

I love this bridge.

Built for rail in 1883, Stone Arch Bridge crosses the Mississippi then curves through the Mill District into downtown Minneapolis. When I traverse it on bike or foot, I think of immigrants arriving from the East being welcomed by this scene before starting a new life in Minneapolis or points beyond.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Journey to the House of Balls

White paint traced the black lines of the graffiti letters on the concrete of a freeway overpass spanning the Cedar Lake Trail: a failed cover-up. I imagined a subversive city worker performing the cleanup: "F*** you Mitch McConnell" was still visible, white on gray.

"Images hiding in plain sight" was my theme for the day. I was on my way to three places I had often passed, but never noticed.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

On Monday morning I cycled with my partner, Dwight, on his commute to work. He took the turnoff for work, I continued on to the town of Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka, 18 miles west of our home

On Excelsior's main drag, I noticed the yellow tile shown in the photograph at the top of this post. This tile connects the present-day restaurant to Bacon Drug that occupied this building from 1955 to 1993. Here, in 1964, there was a fateful encounter between Mick Jagger, who had performed at a local amusement park the previous evening, and local savant, "Mr. Jimmy."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Framing the Future

Today I came across some of my deceased aunt's papers: degree certificates and an insurance policy.

The policy covered two fur coats and a mink stole, total declared value UK£270 in 1965, circa UK£4,700 (US$6,000) in 2017.

She saved the papers for my safekeeping, presumably in perpetuity. I'll scan, catalog, then shred them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Hike Close to North Korea

April 2017: I set myself the goal to hike on my own as close as possible to North Korea without breaking any laws.

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas was certainly out of bounds. As was the area immediately to the south of the DMZ where civilian access is strictly controlled. The southern boundary of this area is called the Civilian Control Line, marked by military checkpoints and fences with signs warning of landmines.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Destination Medicine

The Plummer Library at the Mayo Clinic. This is not a museum: staff and students study here.
A couple days ago I took the light rail to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. I walked past destination boards, trying to avert my eyes from the Tokyo/Haneda departure.

My destination, Rochester Minnesota, was not on those airport boards. No Bloody Mary in the lounge, no splendid isolation on a 12-hour flight, no stepping off a plane in a foreign land.

I boarded an airport shuttle to take me to Rochester, 80 miles to the south.

The sprawling IBM facility alerted me we had reached the outskirts of Rochester. Years earlier I had visited that site to meet with two of their scientists and some engineers from the Mayo Clinic. Much of the wealth of Rochester can be attributed to the Mayo and IBM.

Private jumbo jets fly directly to Rochester's airport from around the world carrying the ultra-wealthy to confront their mortality at the Mayo Clinic. People like me take public transport or drive themselves. This is called Destination Medicine.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Finding Traces of Henry David Thoreau's 1861 Visit to Minneapolis

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, built 1854-1857, with later additions.
In May 1861, Henry David Thoreau visited Minneapolis. He was terminally ill, and would die within a year.

I found myself wondering if there are any traces of places or institutions Thoreau would have seen or visited.

There is very little contemporaneous documentation about his visit to Minneapolis: no newspaper articles, no subsequent book. We do have Thoreau's handwritten field notes, and letters written by his 17-year-old companion Horace Mann, Jr.

Friday, June 2, 2017

How I Tunneled through the Great Firewall of China

For political and commercial reasons, China blocks Internet sites. Services I use daily, like Google, Blogger, Twitter, and the New York Times, simply do not exist on China's Internet, thanks to the Great Firewall of China.

Before my trip to Shanghai in April 2017 I made sure I would have access to all the Internet services I use at home. I took the following steps:
  1. Took inventory of blocked sites I would want to access. The logic used by the Chinese authorities to decide which sites to block is not always intuitive. Google's Gmail is blocked, but the Microsoft Outlook email service is freely available.
  2. Researched VPN (Virtual Private Network) solutions which would provide encrypted tunnels through the Firewall to the outside world. I learned not all VPN services work in China.
  3. Developed workarounds if the Chinese authorities decided to defeat the VPN services I chose.
I succeeded in defeating the Firewall at no cost. I got to use the Internet while I was in China as though I was in the outside world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

An Empty Chair

She sits beside an empty chair outside the Japanese consulate in Busan, South Korea.  A sad, lonely figure.

Until the statue was installed last year, Korean women took turns to sit on a chair for a day beside an empty chair.

It's a dignified scene. There's fresh flowers, and three engraved panels. One panel lists thousands of the women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese before and during World War II as so-called comfort women. There's a mail box where people can leave messages.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

70 Hours on Airline Seats

Aviation Safety Lounge, Seoul ICN.
A thirty-something neighbor once announced he would love to visit Europe, but he would have to wait until he could afford to travel that distance in Business. He appeared to be in good health, so I can only assume he wasn't particularly interested in the wider world.

I would willingly travel that distance holding on to a subway-style strap if that was the only option.

But it's not the only option. When I knew my bum would be on airline seats for about 70 hours during my recent trip around the Northern Hemisphere, I made plans to maximize my comfort for the minimum price.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How I Got to Five Korean National Parks by Mass Transit

In April 2017 I visited five of South Korea's twenty-two national parks. In this post I document how I got to each park by rail and bus.

I had not planned to spend much time in South Korea, but thanks to the authorities in Shanghai, China, I found myself with an extra week in South Korea. This was an opportunity to explore some national parks.

I spent a good part of some evenings figuring out how to navigate the next day. Some people like crossword puzzles or sudoko, I like figuring out how to get around like a local who does not own a car. On all my solo visits to Asia I have relied 100% on public transport, my feet, and the occasional unsolicited car ride; I have never taken a cab.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Walking the Dales Way

Last week, two friends and I explored parts of the Dales Way over three days. The long distance footpath starts in Ilkley, Yorkshire, progresses through the Yorkshire Dales National Park, then finishes in Bowness-on-Windermere in England's Lake District.

We chose start and end points served by rail: Ilkley at the start and Ribblehead at the finish. We stayed in inns and a bed and breakfast (a private home). What we had was on our backs.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Fully Baked Truth

Today, in Montmartre, Paris, I stared at the Moulin Rouge, explored the elaborate cemetery, and walked past a boulangerie (bake shop) where a sign quoted a simple truth from Benjamin Franklin.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dubai by Rail and Foot

I checked in to my Dubai hotel at 2:00 a.m. this morning, fresh off an eight-hour flight from Guangzhou.

In the lobby, people were still enjoying the night. Two thirtysomething expatriate women emerged from the pub in summer frocks, looking like they were on their way to an English garden party.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Five South Korean National Parks

Wolchulsan National Park
South Korea is a nation of hikers. On the trails old, young, hip, dowdy, they love to hike. It's no wonder: Korea is mountainous, but the population is concentrated on relatively small plains. The mountains beckon.

During my current stay in South Korea I've hiked in five of South Korea's twenty-two national parks. I guess I fit into the category old and dowdy, so I'm right at home.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Descending Lifelines and Other Korean Oddities

I'm still trying to figure out why I needed two stylists to blow-dry my hair with their duelling dryers in a Seoul salon.

That's the joy of travel. Even everyday situations can surprise. When something is "not like back home" that is to be welcomed.

Anyway, here's my list of some Korean oddities I've encountered this past week.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Time I Was Denied Entry to China and How I Got In

I'm in Shanghai's Pudong Airport about to board a Korean Airlines flight to Seoul.

It's not my choice to go to South Korea today. I would rather go to Japan.

I actually have a ticket to Japan (Fukuoka), leaving at about the same time as my Seoul flight. But if I try to board the Fukuoka flight, I will run afoul of the Chinese authorities. I have been warned not to even think of doing that.

Besides, my boarding pass was stamped by an immigration official after she looked me up in the records. I didn't think she would stamp two boarding passes.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Shanghai Urban Hike

I deliberately chose a creaky 1920's era hotel for my base in Shanghai, which made it all the more shocking to emerge into 21st century Shanghai.

"Do you need the company of a woman?" asked a conservative-looking thirty-something woman, pacing the street outside.

Today, I walked a twelve mile, somewhat random loop from my hotel. The billboard at the top of this post confronted me early in the walk. It would have brought death to the perpetrators in the Mao era. 

Today, old Shanghai, the Shanghai where families had one room apiece, is quickly fading under the wreckers' ball. My first priority was to catch that world.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Eight More Maui Hikes

Last week I posted our first six Maui hikes. Since then, we've hiked eight more trails, ranging from gentle strolls to energetic scrambles.

The photo at the top of this post shows me on a ridge section of the Halemau'u Trail, Haleakala National Park. Dwight is manning both the camera and backpack.

The hike started above the clouds at 8,000 feet, then we zigged and zagged to the bottom of a crater.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Hawaiian Junk Drawer

Hawaii has a lot going for it. Billboards are illegal, healthcare is almost universal, and the British Union Jack on the Hawaiian flag harks back to a time when these were the Sandwich Islands.

Hawaiians consume more Spam than any other population in the world. You find it on "mixed plates" throughout the state, accompanied by chicken or pork or fish, and scoops of rice and macaroni salad.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Six Maui Hikes

In the past week we've stayed in three different parts of Maui and sampled a variety of hikes.

The most dramatic hike so far on this trip has to be Keonehe'ehe'e (Sliding Sands) Trail. It starts above the clouds, about 10,000 feet up Haleakala. The photo at the top of this post shows the view near the start of the hike.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Around the World in 53 Days

I started my journey around the Northern Hemisphere this morning: I walked to a number 2 bus which took me to a light rail station where I caught a train to the airport.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood: Architectural Sculptures and Actual Buildings

Each week, I enjoy a walk or a cycle ride with a friend.

This week we started at a street lined with twenty-four architectural sculptures on plinths. We had passed the end of this street many times, but had no idea these sculptures existed.

Then we went on a hunt for some of the buildings depicted by the bronze sculptures. My friend's blog post nicely describes our walk this week.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Zen of Empty Shelves

My material needs for a month or two fit into a small backpack, end-on in an aircraft's overhead bin.

I find it satisfying to carefully select what I'm going to pack in my 35-liter backpack before heading out of town for a few weeks. I now want that same compact, lightweight, self-sufficient feeling with our stuff in our home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An Indoor 9-Mile Urban Hike

A fierce rainstorm had hit California. People had died, a reservoir was bursting at the seams, evacuations had been ordered in several counties.

The storm weakened as it crossed the Rockies on its way to Minneapolis and points east. On Monday, Presidents' Day, the storm finally hit Minneapolis, dropping 0.6 inches of rain. This may sound wimpy, but the average precipitation for Minneapolis for the whole of February is just shy of 0.9 inches.

I decided this was a good day to walk nine miles of the Minneapolis skyway system.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Constant Supply of Fresh Spices

Time, light, oxygen, and heat are enemies of spices.

The Problem
I suspect the typical spice rack harbors spices from the last millennium.
  • Buy tiny quantities, use within one year.
  • For spices you use rarely, buy enough for one meal.
Spice jars are usually transparent and sit on a rack on the counter or wall.
  • Store in a dark place.
Eventually a spice jar contains more oxygen than spice.
  • Store in small plastic bags, squeeze out any air.
  • Buy whole rather than ground spices. This greatly reduces the exposed surface area.
A warm place (e.g., next to an oven or above a range) might be seen as a convenient spot for storing spices.
  • Store spices away from heat sources.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When Fear Rules

January 1990: I flew back home to Minneapolis after attending my father's funeral in England. As the plane descended over Minneapolis my anxiety level rose, as it always did at this point in my journey back to the USA.

Flying doesn't bother me in the least. It was the thought of being questioned by an immigration official and being denied entry to the USA. I'd be forced onto the next flight back to the UK, separated from my partner, my home, my job, my life.

As I walked towards Immigration Control, my pulse would race, I would try not to shake. I rehearsed the upcoming encounter in my head:
Immigration Official: Are you a homosexual?
Me: I have nothing to say.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day 2017

Today, Inauguration Day 2017, I did my bit to support artistic expression and local beer.

Artistic expression is constitutionally protected speech. Art can express compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, but it can be annoying, uncomfortable, nihilistic. A crucifix immersed in the artist's urine is not my go-to artistic experience, but neither is mind-numbing kitsch.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to Dispose of Unwanted Money

Tomorrow I'll be stopping at the post office to drop off a box filled with foreign coins and banknotes.

Last year, at Newcastle International Airport, I showed my nephews an easier way to dispose of foreign currency. I led them to a big, bubble-shaped currency donation bin, then handed them some UK coins. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, they were happy to perform The Disposal. 

They didn't think to rush over to a concession to buy candy with their new-found wealth. I'm grateful they want to help others.

I was thinking about this coin-drop the other day as I was sorting through my collection of leftover foreign currency. I always tell myself the money will be useful "the next time I go."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Freakin' Cheap: Almost-Free Flights

How about an almost-free flight to Tokyo?

How about applying for a credit card with a 70,000 airline frequent flyer (FF) mile signup bonus, using the card for three months, then cutting up the card? 70,000 miles can buy a round-trip ticket from Minneapolis to Tokyo.

Flying is not always the best way to accumulate FF miles. Airlines are moving to price-based loyalty schemes. Instead of awarding one or more FF miles per mile traveled, Delta Airlines awards between 5 and 11 FF miles for each dollar spent on the ticket. If I'm lucky enough to find a really cheap fare, I'm not going to get so many FF miles.

These days, credit cards are a lucrative source of miles. It's not too hard to find signup bonuses ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 FF miles. Sign up for an airline-affiliated credit card, spend a minimum amount in the first two or three months, then get tens of thousands of miles credited to your airline FF account.

The key to collecting miles is to churn credit cards: apply for an airline-affiliated card, use the card for the required time period, get the bonus miles, then cancel the card. We've found that credit card issuers won't accept another application for about two years. So, two years later, reapply for the card and repeat the process.

70,000 miles is nothing to sneeze at. United Airlines has excellent availability in Economy between Minneapolis and Tokyo round-trip in the next few months for 70,000 FF miles.