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Main section of the blog, general posts about travel and life.

Brief getaway to Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona

Brief getaway to Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona

— After spending several months hanging around the Valley waiting for things to return to normal during the global pandemic, Kathryn and I finally decided to get away for a couple days to a higher elevation and cooler weather. With two other couples from our church, we rented a vacation cabin for two nights in the Oak Creek Canyon area. Although the mailing address of the cabin was Sedona, the reality is we were almost a half-hour north of town.
In the nick of time

In the nick of time

— Three months ago, when Kathryn and I traveled to Massachusetts after the death of her father, I couldn’t post to the blog while I was traveling. I was at a point in the migration project where I had no way of updating the blog except from my desktop computer, which I certainly wasn’t going to drag with me. As of late last night, that was still true. I spent almost the entire day yesterday developing a rudimentary admin website that, I hope, will allow me to create blog posts from any computer, including my phone.
Facebook persona non grata pivots toward the Fediverse

Facebook persona non grata pivots toward the Fediverse

— Thirty days ago, Facebook and Instagram blocked this blog, citing an unspecified violation of community standards. I lost my ability to interact with other users on Instagram until I removed the link to the blog. On Facebook, any content mentioning the blog was deleted. My hunch is that it wasn’t any single post, but rather an algorithmic scoring system that added up every individual bit of wrongthink until it dropped the ban-hammer.
Heartfelt welcome back to tooth number 14

Heartfelt welcome back to tooth number 14

— For roughly thirteen months, there’s been a hole in my mouth where tooth number 14 was supposed to be. Earlier this week, I received the crown for my implant, finally finishing the job of refilling the hole. An implant isn’t necessarily supposed to take over a year. Based on what I understand, though, it also shouldn’t be rushed. Spending a little extra time after the extraction to wait for the bone in the jaw to set is a good thing.
Milestone in ongoing blog migration

Milestone in ongoing blog migration

— After months of working on-and-off on the transition to a new blog framework, I’ve finally hit an important milestone. Starting this morning, every post on Gone Away is being generated statically by Hugo — or at least it should be. The only page that should still be generated by WordPress is the home page. When I’ve finished figuring out exactly how it’ll look, I’ll migrate it too. For me, the most fun and interesting new feature since my last update is the introduction of the journeys taxonomy.
Hunger games in the COVID-19 kitchen

Hunger games in the COVID-19 kitchen

— Thanks be to God, we here in Arizona are not yet subject to any mandatory orders to shelter-in-place or remain confined in our homes during the current coronavirus pandemic. However, many of us — if not most of us — are voluntarily limiting our contact with others. In particular, I’ve been avoiding the most chaotic place in town, which is every supermarket. My last trip to the supermarket was Friday last week, at which time I made sure to buy enough beer to last me two weeks.
Ramping up the Camino prep

Ramping up the Camino prep

— Now that I’ve been home from Mexico City for almost a week, I’ve begun ramping up my preparations for the Camino de Santiago, which I anticipate starting just after Easter. Specifically, I’ve been hiking more. Although I want to work out my walking muscles and increase my stamina, I’m not trying to create a typical week of hiking — partly because I have other things to do while I’m home, and partly because I don’t want to leave everything on the hills near Phoenix and not have anything left for the Camino.
Another hour to kill at the airport in Mexico City

Another hour to kill at the airport in Mexico City

— After nearly four weeks in Mexico City, I checked out of my room at 3 am in anticipation of my 6 am flight. I figured I’d need about 15 minutes to wait for an Uber, a half-hour for the ride to the airport, and another half-hour for check-in and security, putting me at the gate an hour before the 5:15 am boarding time — a comfortable cushion. Instead, it took two minutes for the Uber, 20 minutes for the ride, and less than ten minutes for check-in and security, putting me at the gate about 45 minutes earlier than planned.
Counting down the hours in Mexico City

Counting down the hours in Mexico City

— It’s hard to believe, but by the time I publish this post, I’ll have about 72 hours remaining in Mexico City. The time really flew by. I feel as though I’ve learned a lot of Spanish here, but that I have so much more left to learn. In this age of instant gratification and unlimited information, I have to remind myself I didn’t learn English in four weeks, nor French, nor German, and frankly, at this point, I probably already speak Spanish better than German.
Two weeks of Spanish classes down, two weeks left in Mexico City

Two weeks of Spanish classes down, two weeks left in Mexico City

— I’m halfway through my four-week Spanish course in Mexico City, so I feel I’m in a position to review the first two weeks somewhat objectively. Honestly, I didn’t have a whole lot of information about the school before I signed up to come here. I’d seen the school’s website — which I wouldn’t expect to be entirely objective — and had seen a few positive reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook — neither of which I trust much.
Cheap beer in Roma, Mexico City

Cheap beer in Roma, Mexico City

— Yesterday I decided to go out around 4 pm for my daily beer time. I walked down a nearby street and noticed a number of places had happy hour beer specials on Tuesdays and Wednesday, and some of them were dirt cheap. In particular, I ended up in a supposedly “Irish” pub where they were offering one-liter drafts of Dos Equis for 49 pesos. How can one go wrong? The thing about a ridiculously cheap beer is that it lowers the barrier to ordering another one.
First day of Spanish classes in Mexico City

First day of Spanish classes in Mexico City

— I looked at the exam questions with a blank stare for several minutes before realizing I was never going to write down anything if I kept trying to think of answers in English and then write them down in Spanish. Instead, I thought of anything I could in Spanish, and if it vaguely answered the question, I wrote it down. The director asked me a few questions in Spanish and then decided to place me in a beginner class that started last week.
Blog changes coming, but not yet

Blog changes coming, but not yet

— For the past couple months, I’ve been looking into moving my blog entirely off the WordPress platform. I’ve had an enjoyable run with WordPress over the past fourteen years — notwithstanding the issues I had with its managed hosting — but I want to go in a direction that would be challenging to implement with WordPress plugins and themes. Furthermore, the technologies underlying the WordPress platform are firmly rooted in the year 2005.
Sunrise selfie

Sunrise selfie

— Notwithstanding the nasty weather in Phoenix earlier this week, it’s hiking season here again, at least for me. I like to start my hikes really early in the morning. I don’t wait for dawn. I prefer to get underway at the beginning of civil twilight. Sometimes I start even before that. One of the great things about getting an early start is seeing a sunrise along the way. On a recent hike at Shaw Butte a couple weekends ago, the sun was just coming over the horizon at the same time I was reaching the high point of my trail.
I just posted a new YouTube video about making breakfast

I just posted a new YouTube video about making breakfast

— Earlier this morning, I posted a new video on my YouTube channel. Since this is my first time creating an edited video, I chose a rather mundane topic: making breakfast. Since a lot of folks have asked me about dietary changes I’ve made over the past eighteen months, showing off my typical breakfast may provide at least a partial answer.I started with about 20 minutes of footage that I recorded on my phone last week, and last night I edited it down to about six minutes.
Car is in the shop today, so I’m using public transit

Car is in the shop today, so I’m using public transit

— Most days I drive myself to work in my own vehicle. As much as I’d like to take public transit and let someone else do the driving, it’s not practical in my situation. As much as I complain about my commute, it’s only about an hour and 20 minutes round trip. If I were to take public transit, it would be an hour and 45 minutes each way. That’d be two hours and 10 minutes more time spent commuting every single day.
Follow-up on the Fediverse … and a travel experiment

Follow-up on the Fediverse … and a travel experiment

— Since my post last week about federated social networking, I’m aware of only one reader who was inspired to create an account in the Fediverse: my mom 😀. For those of you who are close family or in-real-life friends of mine, my offer to hook you up on my own Mastodon server still stands. Just let me know. I’m heading out of town next Friday — a week from today — for a short, three-day trip to South Dakota and Wyoming.
Getting started with federated social networking

Getting started with federated social networking

— Over the last month or so, I’ve been diving into the world of federated social networking. It occurred to me, maybe a few readers here would be curious what federated social networking is, how it differs from centralized social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and how to get started using it. The inspiration for this post is, as it often is, my beautiful wife Kathryn. She already has an account on a federated social networking server, but she has complained several times that she doesn’t know what to do with it.
3:10 to Yuma: Does someone at American Airlines have a sense of humor?

3:10 to Yuma: Does someone at American Airlines have a sense of humor?

— I just got a text from a friend who’s waiting for a connecting flight at Sky Harbor Airport here in Phoenix. The flight he’s waiting for is — I’m not kidding — the 3:10 to Yuma. Even though I’ve never read the short story nor seen either of the film adaptions, the reference wasn’t lost on me. It seems someone at American Airlines might have a sense of humor. Furthermore, in case you’re tempted to think the 3:10 departure time to Yuma is merely a coincidence, they went ahead and numbered the flight 3100 too.
Subtle but shameless promotion finally pays off

Subtle but shameless promotion finally pays off

— Most of my traveling bags are of the type with loop-and-hook fasteners for patches. Most people who own bags like these, if they don’t put a “morale” patch of some sort, put a tape with their last names. For several years, I’ve been taking a different approach. I display a patch with the domain name of my blog. Earlier this morning, I began my trip back to Phoenix. While I was waiting for my Chick-fil-A order at the airport in Pittsburgh, a guy introduced himself to me and showed me what was on his phone.
My customary airport rant has been canceled for lack of outrage

My customary airport rant has been canceled for lack of outrage

— This is the point in my travels where I usually go on a rant about the TSA. Today, I can’t. Every TSA agent I interacted with today was pleasant, courteous, and professional. I’ve heard and read a number of horror stories about checking in firearms at the airport, concerning both the airlines and TSA. This was my first time, so I prepared myself for the worst. I didn’t have a problem from either American Airlines or TSA.
The long journey home from Montpellier is underway

The long journey home from Montpellier is underway

— After fifteen days in Montpellier, France, our long journey home to Phoenix is underway. The upside of getting an early start is not having to rush. The downside is a lot of time spent waiting. We unwittingly arrived at the airport an hour before check-in was scheduled to begin for our flight to Paris. We used the time to enjoy a coffee and the sandwiches Kathryn made us last night from food we otherwise would have had to throw out.
If you’ve ever struggled with the gender of French nouns, take heart!

If you’ve ever struggled with the gender of French nouns, take heart!

— Last Saturday around midday, Kathryn and I were at the zoo here in Montpellier, and we found ourselves looking at the giraffes next to a French couple and their young children. I overheard the father saying to his children, “Les girafes sont beaux!” As soon as the words finished leaving his mouth, the mother corrected him, “Belles.” “Hein?” he grunted. “C’est une girafe,” she insisted. “Eh, ouais,” he said, now recognizing his grammatical error.
I’m way behind on my posts, so here’s a brief status update from Montpellier

I’m way behind on my posts, so here’s a brief status update from Montpellier

— I was doing so well at publishing a blog post at least once a day, and then when we got back from Lourdes it kind of fizzled out. Well, have no fear, we’re doing well here in Montpellier. Yesterday I finally posted about our road trip to Sommières, which happened last Thursday. Last Friday we went on our highly anticipated hike up Pic St. Loup, along with a little bit of beach time before returning the rental car.
Another road trip from Montpellier, this one to Sommières

Another road trip from Montpellier, this one to Sommières

— Since we’d reserved a rental car for four days, I felt a certain obligation to make the most use of it. Thursday morning, after lingering a little too long over breakfast, we got in the car to visit Uzès, an ancient walled village that dates back to pre-medieval times, about a 90-minute drive from Montpellier. However, after all the driving I’d done Tuesday and Wednesday, I wasn’t on the autoroute for more than a few minutes when I started formulating for an escape plan.
Last-minute road trip to Lourdes for Mass with Cardinal Burke

Last-minute road trip to Lourdes for Mass with Cardinal Burke

— One advantage of not over-planning a vacation is that you leave yourself open to opportunities that arise. This week, we changed our planned daytrip to Lourdes on Saturday to an overnight trip on Tuesday and Wednesday. At Sunday Mass here in Montpellier, we learned that an American cardinal, His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke, would be celebrating a Pontifical High Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes on Wednesday morning at 10 am.
We’re back in Montpellier after a whirlwind side trip to Lourdes

We’re back in Montpellier after a whirlwind side trip to Lourdes

— Kathryn and I just got back to Montpellier after a whirlwind 30-hour side trip to Lourdes. This is just a quick update because the last two days have been somewhat exhausting. I’m really happy we didn’t do this as a day trip as we’d originally planned. Four hours driving a rental car I’m not familiar with, on roads I’m not familiar with, took more out of me than I expected. Now I can’t imagine doing eight hours without getting some sleep in between.
We eventually made it to Lourdes

We eventually made it to Lourdes

— It took us a longer than planned to get our rental car in Montpellier, and then the drive took longer than planned, but eventually we arrived in Lourdes well before sunset. The hotel is not bad, and the manager was amenable to letting us leave two hours late tomorrow. We arrived in Lourdes quite hungry because of all our delays, but as we headed out to dinner, we realized we were about to miss the best light of the day, so we turned around and headed to the shrine.
In Paris, waiting for our flight to Montpellier

In Paris, waiting for our flight to Montpellier

— I planned to write a brief status update as we took our seats on the flight from Detroit to Paris, but somehow we ended up in an AT&T dead zone, so I had no access to the internet. The flight was uneventful, other than a bit of turbulence leaving Detroit. Kathryn and I both got a reasonable amount of sleep. The food was edible, a feature of flying Air France. Dinner was chicken with a cream sauce served with polenta something or other.
Cookies and our breaking points

Cookies and our breaking points

— If you’re reading this, we’ve safely landed in Detroit. I’ve never been to this airport before, but I hear it’s nice. I’ll report back when I’ve had a chance to look around. In the past, I’ve had a difficult time sleeping on airplanes. However, on the flight from Phoenix, I was asleep before we pushed back from the gate. I slept for well over an hour. I woke up feeling great, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the two tall beers I had at the airport.
Bags packed, ready to go

Bags packed, ready to go

— Kathryn and I were up and at ’em early this morning to start our long trip from Phoenix to Montpellier, although compared to our normal weekday schedules, it was like we slept in. Even after a couple leisurely cups of coffee, we finished our last minute chores way ahead of schedule. We’ll leave for the airport in about two hours, giving Kathryn extra time to say goodbye to the cat. We’ve arranged a petsitter who will be here the entire time we’re gone, so the cat will be well cared for.
Follow-up on my car

Follow-up on my car

— Less than ten minutes after hitting the publish button on my earlier post this morning, I got a Signal message from a friend asking about the car. In my effort to be a smart-ass, it didn’t occur to me my blog post might cause concern. So here’s the rest of the story: Friday afternoon, less than a mile from home after attending the Good Friday liturgy, as I rounded a corner at a major intersection, every indicator on my dashboard lit at once and the electrical system became unusable.
Our next trip to Montpellier, France, starts next week

Our next trip to Montpellier, France, starts next week

— Kathryn and I are getting ready to take off late next week for a couple weeks in the south of France. Once again, we’re renting a small, furnished apartment in Montpellier. In fact, it’s the same apartment we’ve rented twice before, just a few steps from Place Jean-Jaurès in the heart of the historic center, so we have a good idea of what to expect. What we’re unable to predict at this point is how our arrival will be affected by the ongoing Gilets Jaunes protests.
The old and new basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

The old and new basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

— While looking through my photos from last year, I noticed one from our Mexico City pilgrimage that never ended up on the blog. There are two basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe shown here. The old basilica, on the left with the golden dome, while still beautiful outside and inside, has suffered such extensive damage from earthquakes and an unstable foundation that it can no longer handle the throngs of pilgrims who visit this important holy site.
Saying goodbye and good riddance to tooth number 14

Saying goodbye and good riddance to tooth number 14

— Two weeks ago, I arrived bright and early at my dentist’s office for what was supposed to be a routine crown replacement on tooth number 14. It didn’t go quite as planned. In a mouth full of otherwise relatively healthy teeth, tooth number 14, a molar on the upper left side, has been nothing but trouble ever since it first poked through my gum line. When I was a teenager, it was always one of the teeth most prone to cavities.
Earlier this week, I became a 47-year-old altar boy

Earlier this week, I became a 47-year-old altar boy

— Back around Christmastime, the priests at our parish started running announcements in the weekly bulletin, asking all males of any age to prayerfully consider becoming altar servers. Altar servers were in short supply, particularly for the weekday Masses. From time to time, I attend the 6:30 am Mass before heading to work, and I’d witnessed the altar server shortage on a number of occasions. In fact, not too long ago, there was no altar server available twice in the same week.
Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris

— Today is Ash Wednesday. It falls relatively late this year, March 6, as Easter will not arrive until April 21 for those of us in the Western churches. For me, Ash Wednesday also means it’s time for a rare selfie. This one is quite a disappointment compared to last year’s. Even after a lot of tinkering with the contrast and exposure, the ashes disappeared into my hairline. I knew I should have gotten a haircut yesterday.
The maiden voyage of my parents’ new motor home, Eloy, Arizona

The maiden voyage of my parents’ new motor home, Eloy, Arizona

— The maiden voyage of my parents’ new motor home last weekend was a smashing success, even though everything seemed to be working against us, at least at first. Friday was a miserable day weather-wise, at least by Arizona standards. Cold and wet are not two words one often uses to describe the weather in this state, but last week was both. The drive to the campsite involved several downpours. Luckily we weren’t heading north, as there was snow falling at the higher elevations.
Holiday lights, fountain in the historic center of Montpellier, France

Holiday lights, fountain in the historic center of Montpellier, France

— I took this photo of the fountain near the entrance of Esplanade Charles de Gaulle in Montpellier, France, on December 17, 2002. It has the distinction of being the oldest photo in my Google Photos collection — for now, at least. The camera I used back then, a Minolta point-and-shoot, had low resolution by today’s standards — about 3 megapixels, I think. However, I’m pleasantly surprised when I look back at some of these old photos and see how much nicer they look than those taken with my phone.
Trying something new, Mexican coffee at Tres Leches Café in Phoenix

Trying something new, Mexican coffee at Tres Leches Café in Phoenix

— Every once in a while, I find myself trying something at a place that’s been right under my nose for years. Earlier this week, I had a meeting at my church to go over some volunteer paperwork. The time between leaving work and my appointment was about an hour, which is about 40 minutes longer than the drive. I got on Google Maps and searched for coffee shops near the church, and one of the most highly rated was about two blocks from the church.
A tasty first order with GrubHub at Caveman Burgers in Phoenix

A tasty first order with GrubHub at Caveman Burgers in Phoenix

— Last weekend I tried GrubHub for the first time. I thought I’d share some initial impressions. You may wonder why a guy like me who literally never has food delivered to his home would go through the trouble of installing the GrubHub app on his phone, creating an account, and so on. Well, during a review of my American Express account last week, I was reminded that one of my card benefits is a $10 monthly dining credit.
Flight delayed out of Louisville, prompting a dubious American Airlines “upgrade”

Flight delayed out of Louisville, prompting a dubious American Airlines “upgrade”

— We’re still in Louisville. Our American Airlines flight to Chicago has been delayed, guaranteeing we’ll miss our connection to Phoenix. There is a later flight to Phoenix, and we were able to get seats on it, so I guess that’s a good thing. However, American Airlines is playing a game they already played with us once on this trip, which is to separate our assigned seats in such a way that one of us has to pay a seat upgrade fee if we want to sit together.
I don’t always drink Starbucks. But when I do, I prefer beer.

I don’t always drink Starbucks. But when I do, I prefer beer.

— I’m not a big fan of Starbucks. However, that was not always the case. About eight years ago, I walked into the Starbucks near my office for the umpteenth time that week and handed over almost $2 for yet another “tall” brewed coffee. I sat in the shop for a little while, trying to be excited about my purchase. As I sipped my plastic-covered paper cup of lukewarm sludge with a quarter-inch of dregs circling the bottom because the barista was too lazy to brew a fresh pot, I asked myself, probably for the first time, “What the hell am I doing here?
Starting the trip off right, sort of, with donuts and coffee

Starting the trip off right, sort of, with donuts and coffee

— In some sense, our four-day weekend to Kentucky has already begun. We’ve left the house, but we both still have to put in a half-day at work. Since I can literally see Sky Harbor Airport from my cubicle — if I’m standing up, that is — it doesn’t make much sense to return home before our flight. To avoid using both cars when we’re traveling to the same destination, Kathryn dropped me off at a donut shop near a light rail station near her place of work.
Think you’ve imagined the perfect New Year’s Eve?

Think you’ve imagined the perfect New Year’s Eve?

— If you could spend New Year’s Eve anywhere in the world, where would it be? Until yesterday, the plan for Kathryn and me was to ring in the new year around a propane fire at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, Arizona, enjoying a quiet evening to ourselves, drinking some beers with starlit skies above us. However, as the date drew nearer, we saw the temperatures were forecast to be unseasonably cold, with snow also a distinct possibility.
This morning I installed a major upgrade of WordPress

This morning I installed a major upgrade of WordPress

— This morning, instead of going to the gym — which probably would have been much healthier for me — I decided to install a major upgrade of WordPress, the open-source software that makes this blog run. So far, the upgrade itself appears to have gone off without a hitch. I made backups just in case, of course. From the reader’s perspective, there shouldn’t appear to be any significant changes. I’m continuing to use the same parent theme, although it did receive a minor upgrade.
The voyage back to Phoenix is underway

The voyage back to Phoenix is underway

— Kathryn and I are sitting at the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire. With the winter weather yesterday, I thought it would be a good idea to arrive extra early today. As a result, everything has gone super smoothly. The rental car drop-off took less than a minute, the airline check-in took less than three minutes, and the security checkpoint took less than five minutes. Since we didn’t have much in the way of breakfast before we left Ipswich, we just fired down some fast food.
The last bit of fall foliage colors in Ipswich, Massachusetts

The last bit of fall foliage colors in Ipswich, Massachusetts

— Before leaving for this trip to New England, some of my coworkers asked if I expected to see any fall foliage colors. I told them I thought I’d be too late in the season to see any of the colors. As luck would have it, I was wrong by just a few days. A week ago, on an overcast Monday morning, Kathryn and I stopped our car just up the street from where we’re staying with family and snapped a few photos of the trees lining the way.
Sunday brunch at Peddler’s Daughter in Nashua, New Hampshire

Sunday brunch at Peddler’s Daughter in Nashua, New Hampshire

— For the second Sunday in a row, we traveled to Nashua, New Hampshire, for Mass at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. By the time Mass was over, we were quite hungry, so we decided to find someplace to eat near the church. There was an Irish pub a couple minutes away called Peddler’s Daughter, and we found some decent reviews online. Since there’s only so many clam plates and roast beef sandwiches one can eat in a week, we decided an Irish pub was a good way to break up the monotony.
A lobster roll with fries at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine

A lobster roll with fries at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine

— After a few days of rather dreary weather here in New England, yesterday was delightfully sunny with a light breeze and a high around 60 degrees. Kathryn and I used this as an excuse to take a drive up the seacoast. We started in Salisbury, Massachusetts, and made stops in Hampton, North Hampton, and Rye, New Hampshire. By the time we got as far north as Rye, we realized we weren’t far away from Kittery, Maine, where Bob’s Clam Hut is famous for its lobster rolls.
Remembering the hot chicken cutlet sub at Salisbury House of Pizza

Remembering the hot chicken cutlet sub at Salisbury House of Pizza

— Kathryn’s sister traveled with us for the first few days of our trip to the East Coast, and this morning we brought her to the airport in Manchester so she could fly back to Phoenix. After the drop-off, Kathryn and I thought it would be fun to visit Salisbury Beach for a walk on the boardwalk in the light drizzle followed by a slice of beach pizza. However, by the time we got to the beach, the drizzle had turned into a downpour, so we had to come up with another plan.
Seeing a Brioche Dorée in Charlotte while awaiting flight to Manchester

Seeing a Brioche Dorée in Charlotte while awaiting flight to Manchester

— Our flight to Charlotte arrived early, meaning we didn’t have to rush between gates on different concourses. We also had some time to check out the dining options, and for the first time in the United States, I saw a Brioche Dorée. The Brioche Dorée in Montpellier used to be my go-to for breakfast on Sundays when all the decent boulangeries were closed. In the Charlotte store, Kathryn had a blueberry cheese danish that she enjoyed thoroughly.
Getting ready to leave paradise for two weeks

Getting ready to leave paradise for two weeks

— Listening to the radio on my way to work this morning, I heard the weather forecast for the coming weekend in Phoenix: sunny with highs around 80 degrees. Turns out that’s more or less the forecast for the following seven days too. Sounds like paradise. Too bad Kathryn and I won’t be around to enjoy it. Instead, we’ll be in northeastern Massachusetts for the next two weeks, where the highs will be closer to 50 degrees, with rain in the forecast for three of the next five days.
It pays to have a backup plan or three when travel plans fall through

It pays to have a backup plan or three when travel plans fall through

— Kathryn and I have two weeks of vacation coming up next month. How we’re planning to spend those two weeks has changed three times in the past two months. Plan A: Learning Spanish in Mexico City Our original plan was to return to Mexico City for two weeks of Spanish classes. We had picked out a school and had reserved fifteen nights in a two-bedroom Airbnb with a rooftop patio in the hip Roma Norte neighborhood.
Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

— After my last post from about 24 hours ago, it may come as some surprise that this post is being written from the couch in our living room in Phoenix while rain is pouring outside the open front door. Plans escalated quickly throughout the day yesterday. First, our planned trip to Prescott — the city Kathryn and I had never visited together — was called off after realizing just how long the drive would take from Cottonwood.
Safe arrival, nice dinner, and an early morning hike in Cottonwood

Safe arrival, nice dinner, and an early morning hike in Cottonwood

— We arrived at the campground yesterday early enough that the ranger station was still open. That’s quite unusual when we arrive on a workday. Kathryn and I have a rhythm of who does what we we set up our campsite, so we had everything as we wanted it within the hour, well before sunset. Our campsite at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, Arizona. After setting up the campsite, we took a break for a few minutes and then, since both of us had eaten early lunches, decided we were ready to head over to Pizzeria Bocce for dinner.
A very special Cottonwood camping trip starts this afternoon

A very special Cottonwood camping trip starts this afternoon

— To celebrate an important milestone in our marriage, Kathryn and I are spending three nights in Cottonwood this weekend, camping at one of our favorite Arizona state parks, Dead Horse Ranch. We’ll leave after work this afternoon. The car is already mostly packed. Only a few last minute items remain. Scene from a previous camping trip at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, Arizona. There’s a slight amount of rain in the forecast, but not enough that it should get in the way of setting up our campsite.
Foreign sources, redux

Foreign sources, redux

— A couple years ago, I wrote a lengthy blog post challenging my family, friends, and followers to seek out reputable foreign news sources in languages other than English. After yesterday’s circus in Washington, I think it’s more important than ever to repeat my challenge, especially since I haven’t seen any English-language coverage of the spectacle that’s even close to impartial. If you’d like a starting point, try this article in French from Le Figaro, a Parisian daily: <http: 01003-20180927artfig00325-le-juge-kavanaugh-confronte-a-son-accusatrice.
Blog comments weren’t working correctly because I misconfigured Jetpack

Blog comments weren’t working correctly because I misconfigured Jetpack

— A couple months ago, I added Jetpack to my self-hosted WordPress site. Installing Jetpack took what had previously been a standalone blog and tied it into the greater WordPress community. I’m pleased with how it turned out. This blog has gained some new followers, and at the same time I’ve discovered new blogs as well. Win-win! The first sign of any issues with the integration came yesterday, when a fellow blogger replied to a comment I’d left on his blog, letting me know my blog wasn’t accepting his comments.
Today I learned the word tempura is not Japanese

Today I learned the word tempura is not Japanese

— Today I learned the word tempura is not of Japanese origin. It turns out it’s a loan word from Latin, and it’s connected to a centuries-old Catholic tradition called Ember Days. This morning, I was up and out of the house early enough to get to Mass before work. I went to the traditionalist Catholic church Kathryn and I have been attending for the past couple months. At first I was a bit surprised to see the priest approach the altar in violet vestments.
Sunday morning sunrise hike at Pima Canyon in Phoenix

Sunday morning sunrise hike at Pima Canyon in Phoenix

— Kathryn has been petsitting for the past ten days or so at a home in another part of Phoenix, about a thirty-mile drive south from our own home in Phoenix. Last night we spent the night there together and woke up in time for a sunrise hike at nearby Pima Canyon, an area in the South Mountain Preserve. It was a relatively easy yet enjoyable hike. We started at first twilight at the Pima Canyon Trailhead and walked up the Dirt Road Trail until it ended.
A chill evening at Banger Brewing on Fremont Street in Las Vegas

A chill evening at Banger Brewing on Fremont Street in Las Vegas

— Most of our weekend road trips to Las Vegas end with us heading back to Phoenix after lunch on Sunday. On our last trip, however, we had some business we needed to attend to Monday morning. After our huge lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen early Sunday afternoon, we weren’t in any mood for a big dinner. We decided instead to take a Lyft from our hotel to Fremont Street and try Banger Brewing, a brewpub that had gotten some decent reviews online.
Teotihuacan, our day trip from Mexico City in photos

Teotihuacan, our day trip from Mexico City in photos

— Although many of our fellow Mexico City pilgrims had started trickling into town Monday afternoon, Wednesday was officially the first day of our itinerary. The first and only destination for the day was the pyramids at Teotihuacan, but this was a pilgrimage group, so of course we prayed first. And ate. Because we now had a priest with us, Wednesday started out with Holy Mass. The fraternity to which the priest belongs has a chapel in Mexico City, Inmaculada Concepción.
A beer keg urinal in the men’s room of Virgil’s Real BBQ, Las Vegas

A beer keg urinal in the men’s room of Virgil’s Real BBQ, Las Vegas

— It doesn’t happen often, but on rare occasions beer can open up opportunities that may have otherwise passed us by. For example, if I hadn’t had a second pint of beer at Virgil’s Real BBQ on the Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, I wouldn’t have had to make a visit to the men’s room, and I would’ve missed one of the most interesting urinals I’ve seen anywhere. Kudos to whoever thought up a urinal designed to resemble a beer keg!
Today is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron saint of ham radio

Today is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron saint of ham radio

— I don’t often blatantly repost old blog material. However, last week I had a conversation with some colleagues about my visit to Auschwitz in 2006, and it made me think about the following post I published three years ago today: I’ve been reminded that today, August 14, is the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe. St. Maximilian Kolbe is probably best known for having given up his life to take the place of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, where he was martyred on this day in 1941.
Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas

— Our Monday morning bureaucratic adventure in Las Vegas is complete. It took just over an hour, which wasn’t too bad. We’re mostly packed and ready to check out of the hotel and begin the drive back to Phoenix. If we’re lucky, we’ll get home before rush hour starts. In an earlier post, I mentioned having been on the new I-11 on the way to Vegas Friday afternoon. After scanning some local news this weekend, I discovered the stretch of freeway had just opened Thursday.
Statue of Abraham Lincoln in namesake park, Polanco, Mexico City

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in namesake park, Polanco, Mexico City

— I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised us to find a statue of Abraham Lincoln in a park called Parque Lincoln. Kathryn and I enjoyed a twilight stroll through this calm, tree-lined park in the upscale Mexico City neighborhood of Polanco after having a lovely dinner at a pizza restaurant nearby. After that, we took a half-hour Uber ride back to the not-so-upscale Mexico City neighborhood where our hotel was located.
More photos from another full day exploring Mexico City

More photos from another full day exploring Mexico City

— Kathryn’s proposal to create a WhatsApp pilgrimage group turned out to be a rather good thing. She had mentioned wanting to see the Frida Kahlo Museum when we first started planning this trip, so when someone else in the group suggested going Tuesday morning, it made sense to share a ride. We left the hotel around 9 am. There ended up being five of us — Kathryn and me, another couple, and their daughter — in an Uber XL from the hotel to the museum.
Hua-what? Spotting a Huawei boutique in a posh area of Mexico City

Hua-what? Spotting a Huawei boutique in a posh area of Mexico City

— About a year ago, I bought a rather low-end Huawei Honor 6X smartphone to replace my ageing and quickly dying LG Google Nexus 5. Common reactions to my purchase were “what?” or “Hua-what?” A few months later, I traveled to Latin America with my new phone and discovered Huawei is actually rather popular outside the United States. Apparently, it’s the third most common make of smartphones in the world, behind Apple and Samsung.
Some photographs from our first full day exploring Mexico City

Some photographs from our first full day exploring Mexico City

— After deftly navigating the light rail and two Metro lines through throngs of soccer fans Saturday evening, we woke up ready to tackle Mexico City by public transit Sunday morning. With it being Sunday, our first move was to find a place for Mass. Our first instinct had been to go to the church staffed by the same fraternity as the priest traveling with us, but since the itinerary has us there for Mass later in the week, we decided to go to the Metropolitan Cathedral instead.
Cheering for Cruz Azul at the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City

Cheering for Cruz Azul at the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City

— After we discovered our arrival date in Mexico City happened to fall on the opening weekend of the 2018-2019 season of Liga MX, the premier professional soccer league in Mexico, we got it into our heads that we’d see a soccer match while we’re there. After reviewing the schedules, we determined the only Mexico City team playing a home game while we’d be in town was Cruz Azul, who’d play its home opener at Estadio Azteca yesterday afternoon, not long after we’d arrived.
Creating a WordPress.com account without creating a new blog

Creating a WordPress.com account without creating a new blog

— Some of you have noticed the Like button that now appears beneath all my blog posts. It’s the result of an integration with WordPress.com that I installed and configured on AF7KQ last week. If you click on the Like button and your browser is not already signed into WordPress.com, you’ll see a pop-up Log in window. If you don’t have an account and you click the Sign Up link, the page you see makes you think you have to start a new blog.
Immaculate Conception, Newburyport

Immaculate Conception, Newburyport

— In the past twelve months, I’ve posted photos of two churches where Kathryn and I were called to be godparents to newborns. However, just this past Easter, we visited Immaculate Conception in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where I was baptized as a newborn, approximately a thousand years ago. Instead of a photo of the altar, this time I got a photo of the choir loft. One of Kathryn’s aunts was able to join us for Mass, which was especially nice.
Some thoughts about spending money while traveling abroad

Some thoughts about spending money while traveling abroad

— Two weeks ago, while getting to know our fellow Mexico City pilgrims, the topic of how to deal with spending money came up. This is a topic where it seems everyone has his own unique set of opinions based on his own unique set of experiences. I didn’t share all my thoughts with the group, but I’ll share some of them here. Traveler’s checks One of the guys in the group asked if it would be a good idea to bring traveler’s checks.
Time flies

Time flies

— This morning I did a web search to try to find the word for “at sign” in Spanish. For what it’s worth, the answer appears to be arroba, which seems fairly close to the word arobase used in French. It’s a quiet Friday at the office, so after quickly getting the answer to my question, I started clicking around on links that led me to tangents upon other tangents. First I learned the at sign is sometimes used as a substitute for the circle-A symbol used by some anarchist groups.
Blessed to be called as godparents for another baptism

Blessed to be called as godparents for another baptism

— Kathryn and I were called to be godparents once again, this time for the baptism of a seven-week-old son of friends who live about ten miles north of Tucson. Kathryn is already godmother to the newly baptized’s older brother. Being called to godparenthood has been a great blessing for both of us. We don’t have any children of our own, and so it has given us the opportunity to share the joy of our Catholic faith with a new generation in a meaningful way.
Surprisingly, a sunrise hike in Phoenix never gets old for me

Surprisingly, a sunrise hike in Phoenix never gets old for me

— It’s getting to be about that time of year again, where every weekend hike in Phoenix could be my last before October. On those hot Phoenix summer weekend mornings where the outside temperature is 90 degrees before I’ve finished brewing my coffee, I don’t hike. I either go to the gym or, more often, stay home and get fatter. This morning, however, was a May blessing. It was about 70 degrees when I woke up, falling to about 68 degrees before I left the house.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is real and undeniable

Trump Derangement Syndrome is real and undeniable

— Earlier this morning, a friend sent me a link to an article that’s simultaneously the funniest, dumbest, and most thought-provoking thing I’ve read this week. Then again, it’s only Wednesday. Apparently, a Finnish group called Melting Ice is trying to raise money for Project Trumpmore, which would “prove” — their word, not mine — the existence of “climate change.” The project would accomplish its goal by carving a Mount Rushmore-sized sculpture of President Trump’s bust into an iceberg, and then watching it melt.
WordPress migration to Amazon EC2 complete

WordPress migration to Amazon EC2 complete

— During the day Saturday, I spent a few more hours off-and-on continuing the migration of this self-hosted WordPress blog to Amazon EC2. By dinner time, I was able to throw the switch, so to speak, reassociating the af7kq.com domain name with its new name servers. Because of the way name servers cache lookups, it would be several more hours before the change propagated across the internet, but by Sunday morning the new host appeared to be picking up all requests.
Having another look at the Salisbury Beach boardwalk

Having another look at the Salisbury Beach boardwalk

— Before heading back to Boston yesterday, we decided to take one last walk at Salisbury Beach. In particular, we hadn’t taken a good look at the boardwalk, a curiosity for me since it didn’t exist when I was a kid growing up in Salisbury. It’s hard to imagine if you look at it now, but the Salisbury Beach boardwalk was previously the site of some badly run-down buildings. I spoke to people over the weekend about what they remembered to have been in those buildings.
Eating our way through a busy first day in New England

Eating our way through a busy first day in New England

— Considering the only real sleep we got Friday night was on the flight from Phoenix to Boston, we stayed quite busy yesterday. After waiting what seemed like forever for our checked bags, we took the airport shuttle bus to the rental car center, which didn’t exist last time I rented a car at Boston Logan. Getting our rental car from Avis, a Subaru Forester, was no trouble at all. However, shortly after leaving the airport, a sensor indicated we were low on windshield washer fluid.
Heading back east for a last-minute visit over Easter weekend

Heading back east for a last-minute visit over Easter weekend

— Kathryn and I will be traveling to New England this weekend to attend a memorial service for a loved one who recently passed away. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll arrive in Boston early Saturday morning on a red-eye from Phoenix, stay three nights at a hotel in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and depart on the last flight home on Tuesday. For now, we’re setting aside Monday for the memorial service in Maine, and of course Sunday is Easter.
Last photos of the border wall at Calexico near Gran Plaza Outlets

Last photos of the border wall at Calexico near Gran Plaza Outlets

— During last month’s aborted trip to Mexicali for Chinese food, Kathryn, Dan, and I made a stop at the Gran Plaza Outlets in Calexico, California, for a bathroom break and, for Kathryn, a quick, successful bit of shopping. While we were there, we also took a number of photographs of the nearby border wall between the United States and Mexico. Today, while scanning headlines from the past several days, I learned that this very same stretch of border wall behind the outlet mall will be the first to be replaced during the Trump administration.
Taking a break for Café Bustelo at Gila Blend inside a casino

Taking a break for Café Bustelo at Gila Blend inside a casino

— The play on words on this Café Bustelo sign — assuming it was intentional — might not be so obvious if you haven’t spent much time in Arizona. Gila Bend is a small town in Maricopa County, located near a bend in the Gila River, about an hour’s drive from Phoenix. However, it wasn’t the playful name that lured us into this snack bar at the Quechan Casino, a few miles from Yuma, across the state line in California.
Camping with a fake but pretty propane fireplace

Camping with a fake but pretty propane fireplace

— Before our last camping trip, Kathryn got on the interwebs and found us a nice, portable propane fireplace. We had looked into this idea before, but most of the fireplaces we found in the past would have taken up half the trunk. This one was a bit pricey, but it’s smaller than our cooler. Since we camp with a small, one-gallon propane tank that we use mainly for cooking, I was worried the fuel might not last an entire evening.
Hockey and Popeyes, recent news items out of Montpellier

Hockey and Popeyes, recent news items out of Montpellier

— Montpellier, France, is still one of my favorite places in the world, so I try to keep up with the local media there. I thought I’d share a couple recent news items that caught my attention today. First, our second favorite hockey team, the Montpellier Vipers, finished the regular season with an 8-0 home win against Chambéry. They are seeded third in their pool and will face Rouen in a best-of-three Division 2 eighth-finals series beginning this coming Saturday.
Sunrise over Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Sunrise over Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

— The downside of crystal-clear blue skies is they produce some rather unspectacular sunrises and sunsets, mostly involving changing shades of blue. However, when we woke up on our last day of camping in Cottonwood, there were just enough clouds on the horizon to give the sunrise a little bit of color. The car in the photo is not ours. Just before sunset the previous evening, a camper arrived to take the neighboring site in a campground loop that had been otherwise nearly empty since noon.
A perfect weekend with no television, camping in Cottonwood

A perfect weekend with no television, camping in Cottonwood

— Kathryn and I have been in Cottonwood, Arizona, since Friday afternoon, enjoying a rare three-day weekend of camping at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It has been gorgeous weather for tent camping, with crystal-clear blue skies, an occasional light breeze, and high temperatures in the 70s. Yesterday morning we did a five-mile hike in the adjacent Coconino National Forest, heading in the direction of Sedona. We then maintained our tradition of enjoying a meal at Pizzeria Bocce, although this time it was a three-course lunch rather than a dinner.
More Chinese food in Mexicali at Restaurante Dragon

More Chinese food in Mexicali at Restaurante Dragon

— We couldn’t miss a chance for more Chinese food during our trip to Mexicali over Thanksgiving weekend. Our baseball game Saturday night and our early departure Sunday morning left us only one chance, at lunchtime Saturday. We were staying at Hotel Araiza on Boulevard Bénito Juárez, so we chose Restaurante Dragon, which was just a few minutes up the street on foot. Compared to the two other Chinese restaurants we’ve visited in Mexicali, Dragon is huge even before you get in the place.
Making a run for it, back in the United States

Making a run for it, back in the United States

— Kathryn and I just finished a late lunch on the northern side of the border, in Yuma. I looked at the CBP website around 10 am to get an idea of border crossing times, and I was a little shocked to see two-hour wait times so early in the day. Thinking it would only get worse, we decided to skip lunch in Mexicali and make a run for the border. Either we caught a lull or used the “wrong” lane on the Mexican side, but we got across in about 40 minutes.
Baseball in Mexicali, a lively evening of winter league action

Baseball in Mexicali, a lively evening of winter league action

— Last night we saw our first ever Mexican Pacific League baseball game, a matchup between the Obregon Yaquis and the Mexicali Águilas, at Estadio B-Air in Mexicali. The Mexican Pacific League is a “winter” league. The season starts in mid-October and runs through the end of December, making for rather pleasant baseball-watching weather in Mexico. The Mexican Pacific League is an independent league, unaffiliated with Major League Baseball, so the ranking system of Triple-A, Double-A, and so on doesn’t apply.
Patiently mingling with the unwashed masses in Miami

Patiently mingling with the unwashed masses in Miami

— We’re at Miami International Airport, waiting for our flight back to Phoenix. What a shithole. For once, TSA wasn’t the problem at the security checkpoint; it was totally clueless passengers. I mean, signs were posted in nine languages, and it seems like half of traveling public here can’t read any of them. Ugh. On the plus side, we just finished an Asian fast-food dinner that made Panda Express seem upscale, and I’m looking forward to a Cuban coffee.
Reaching Key West through the aftermath of a hurricane

Reaching Key West through the aftermath of a hurricane

— We’ve reached Key West. I wasn’t sure what to expect about the drive through the Keys so soon after the hurricane. Some of what we saw literally made me gasp. Route 1 had mountains of debris on both sides, some so high the backhoes had to drive up them to remove them. And people were still bringing more out to the road. Our hotel apparently had its sign blown away — a temporary one was in place — but otherwise appears in good shape.
Waiting in Montevideo for a flight to Miami

Waiting in Montevideo for a flight to Miami

— We’re in the departure area of the airport in Montevideo, Uruguay, waiting for our flight to Miami, which should board within the hour. The security checkpoint seems to have been handled by the Air Force. It was mostly young men who appeared to have a sense of humor. The woman at the immigration desk gave my passport its sixth barely legible stamp in two weeks. I asked about a business class upgrade on this flight, but the cabin is full.
Value-added tax refund scheme for foreigners in Uruguay

Value-added tax refund scheme for foreigners in Uruguay

— Now that we’re back in Uruguay for the last few days of our South America trip, I thought I’d share an interesting value-added tax scheme being used to promote tourism in Uruguay. Apparently, if you dine at a restaurant in Uruguay and pay with a non-Uruguayan credit or debit card, the value-added tax or VAT— which is rather substantial at 22% — is automatically refunded to your card. Generally, I prefer to pay in cash at restaurants, since servers can’t always be trusted not to mishandle a card.
A few photographs from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

A few photographs from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

— Our stay in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, was rather short, less than twenty-four hours. However, the charming old barrio is compact, so tourists can take in the highlights in a few hours. Some even visit as a day trip from Montevideo by bus or from Buenos Aires by ferry. The weather during our brief visit was almost entirely overcast, as the photographs show. In the main square of Colonia del Sacramento, we found the Basilica of the Most Holy Sacrament, not to be confused with the church we visited in Buenos Aires with the same name.
Southernmost point in our journeys, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Southernmost point in our journeys, Punta del Este, Uruguay

— Today we walked down the street from our apartment in Punta del Este to a small park at the mouth of the Plata River, where a Uruguayan flag more or less marks the southernmost point in Uruguay. Unfortunately the wind wasn’t cooperating with my photography. Although I recognized this right away as being the southernmost steps we’ve taken on this trip to South America, after a quick bit of internet sleuthing, I discovered it’s also the southernmost steps we’ve taken ever.
Waiting for a bus, onward to Punta del Este

Waiting for a bus, onward to Punta del Este

— Our short stay in Colonia del Sacramento is coming to an end. We’ve checked out of the hotel here and are waiting at the bus terminal for a ride to Montevideo. We won’t be there long; we have onward tickets to Punta del Este and a small apartment reserved there for the next several nights. We had thought about renting a car and driving ourselves, but bus tickets are quite inexpensive in Uruguay, and frankly I didn’t relish six or seven hours of driving.
Last meal in Argentina

Last meal in Argentina

— After the all-afternoon struggle to buy ferry tickets in Uruguay a few days ago, we decided to show up at the terminal in Buenos Aires two hours before the 12:30 pm sailing, without a reservation, and hope for the best. Good call on our part. Fifteen minutes later we had our boarding passes and had already passed through the immigration checkpoint. While we’re waiting to board, we’re enjoying our last meal in Argentina — a stale croissant and a café con leche.
After the ferry from Uruguay, first morning in Buenos Aires

After the ferry from Uruguay, first morning in Buenos Aires

— We’ve just finished a long breakfast at our hotel in Buenos Aires. The ferry from Colonia del Sacramento was a much smaller vessel than I expected. Luckily I didn’t get seasick; I’ve had issues in the past, though usually on slower moving boats. The arrival at the port yesterday afternoon was a bit aggravating. Buenos Aires is a metropolis, and I expected to arrive in a facility with ATMs, exchange desks, and so on.
Montevideo, our first day of sightseeing in photographs

Montevideo, our first day of sightseeing in photographs

— After about twenty hours of traveling, including an overnight flight, our first day in Montevideo should have been a throwaway. We did have a short power nap when we arrived, but shortly after that we began a walking tour of our neighborhood and the surrounding areas. Two blocks from the guest house we found Teatro Solis, one of the most noted theaters in Uruguay. The reason so many people are milling around the theater is because, as luck would have it, this weekend is a celebration of national patrimony, so there was a lot of free cultural programming going on.
Lunchtime protein orgy at the Montevideo Port Market

Lunchtime protein orgy at the Montevideo Port Market

— Earlier today we ventured a short walk from the guest house to the Montevideo Port Market, which has been referred to as “Disneyland for carnivores.” Once inside, we spent perhaps a half-hour walking from stall to stall, watching the masters work their grills and attempting to gauge how happy their customers appeared. The wood smoke filled the air all the way up to the rafters, so much so that several hours later we can still smell the smoke in our clothes.
A demanding Labor Day weekend in Ahwatukee

A demanding Labor Day weekend in Ahwatukee

— Kathryn and I tend to be somewhat contrarian in our getaway planning. We’re often home when everyone else is away and away when everyone else is home. This Labor Day weekend is no exception. While millions of families have taken to the road to enjoy the last long weekend of summer, Kathryn has a petsitting gig in Ahwatukee, a village at the southern end of Phoenix. Although we haven’t technically left Phoenix, we’re a thirty-mile drive from home.
Old City Hall, an architectural landmark in Richmond, Virginia

Old City Hall, an architectural landmark in Richmond, Virginia

— I’ve reduced my social media footprint considerably over the past several years, but I do occasionally post photos on Instagram. It makes my wife happy, for some reason. Most photos I post on Instagram have already been published here on this blog, but once in a while I find an exception. For example, this morning I posted this photo of Old City Hall in Richmond, Virginia. Old City Hall, built in postbellum Richmond in a Gothic Revival style, is a historic landmark on several important lists, like National Historic Landmarks.
Thirteen relatively short years for me in Arizona

Thirteen relatively short years for me in Arizona

— The date most commonly associated with Arizona is February 14, when Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. For me, though, August 3 is Arizona Day. It’s the date when, in 2004, I first arrived in Arizona for what was supposed to be a relatively short stay while I figured out what to do with the rest of my life. Thirteen years later, I’m still here, much happier, maybe a little wiser, and I’ve figured out that not all things in life need to be figured out.
Hertz, fool me four times, I won’t get fooled again

Hertz, fool me four times, I won’t get fooled again

— To paraphrase the great philosopher-president George W. Bush: fool me once, shame on you; fool me four times, I won’t get fooled again. Take note, Hertz. January 2016: Hertz charged us an administrative fee for a supposed moving violation in South Africa. To this day we haven’t seen a citation from the local authorities. I guess the police had enough time to nag Hertz for our name and address but then couldn’t be bothered to mail us a ticket.
Make your own bed at Crowne Plaza St. Louis Airport

Make your own bed at Crowne Plaza St. Louis Airport

— I’ve traveled quite a bit. I’ve spent months at a time backpacking through Europe on a tight budget, and I’ve stayed in some real dumps along the way. But I’ve never had to make my own bed in a hotel … until last night. Thanks, Crowne Plaza St. Louis Airport. You didn’t just lower the bar; you dropped it on the floor. Shortly after checking in last night at about 1:15 am, I remembered I’d paid for breakfast when I booked the room but had no idea how to claim it.
Purchasing a first-class upgrade comes with a catch

Purchasing a first-class upgrade comes with a catch

— For the first time in six-and-a-half years, we were offered a reasonably priced upgrade at check-in today. However, unbeknownst to me, what used to be known as a first-class lounge is now a private club. Apparently they would have let us in if we’d had an international first-class ticket, which had been the case with our upgrades in the past. The clerk at the front desk was somewhat polite as she sent us back to integrate with the riff-raff, but if we want drinks before takeoff, we’re going to have to pay for them.
Bronze matador statue in front of the arena in Nîmes

Bronze matador statue in front of the arena in Nîmes

— I don’t generally follow the news over the weekend. When I scanned the headlines this morning, I discovered that Pamela Anderson had stirred up a bit of controversy late last week in France, at least enough to merit an article in a regional newspaper. She had posted a photo of herself on social media, posing under the bronze statue of a matador in front of the Arènes in Nîmes, France. Apparently it was part of an anti-corrida campaign that ties in with her long-running animal activism.
Prada Marfa is not a Prada and not in Marfa

Prada Marfa is not a Prada and not in Marfa

— One of the objects most photographed by visitors to Marfa, Texas, is Prada Marfa. Intriguingly, Prada Marfa is not a Prada store, nor is it anywhere near Marfa. Erected in 2005, Prada Marfa is a modern art installation along U.S. Route 90 a few miles northwest of Valentine, Texas, making it about 40 miles away from Marfa. It was apparently built of some biodegradable adobe-like substance that would slowly return to the earth, thus providing a critique on the nature of contemporary materialism.
Yes, I was at the ZeroHedge symposium in Marfa, Texas

Yes, I was at the ZeroHedge symposium in Marfa, Texas

— I figure it’s about time to admit where I was three weekends ago. Long story short, I drove to Marfa, Texas for a gathering of ZeroHedge readers. I’ve been reading ZeroHedge regularly for over five years. Honestly, I still have trouble describing the site, but maybe the following example will help: Every month, when new employment numbers come out, I can turn on almost any television news network or read almost any financial website and have sunshine blown up my ass about how the unemployment rate has fallen for the umpteenth month in a row.
Alone in a strange place, wondering if I’m crazy

Alone in a strange place, wondering if I’m crazy

— Thursday morning last week, I woke up alone in a two-star hotel by the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. The hotel was at least superficially aspiring to a third star, but a fresh carpet, a thin coat of paint, and a waffle iron can only hide so much. Its two-star standing was further betrayed by the fact that the previous night’s manager couldn’t tell me the closest cold beer was in a lounge a few hundred yards away.
Brief update from wherever I am

Brief update from wherever I am

— As a brief update to my friends and family, so far this undisclosed event I’m attending has exceeded my expectations. I’ve heard from four speakers today who expressed some rather non-conventional ideas, and I’ve learned a ton. Then, by chance, I ended up sharing drinks with two of the speakers and their spouses at a local watering hole, and even got some pertinent business advice. It was a great first day here, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
Rise and shine, a gorgeous Friday morning

Rise and shine, a gorgeous Friday morning

— It’s a gorgeous Friday morning where I am. I slept rather well. It’s at least 30 degrees cooler — by the way, that’s degrees Fahrenheit for those of you who aren’t ‘Murican — than when I set up camp yesterday afternoon. Much like Tom Brady’s balls, scientific laws explain why my air mattress felt somewhat deflated when I woke up today. Out of courtesy to nearby sleeping campers, I’m going to wait a while before breaking out the air pump, which is quite loud.
Leaving the comfort zone for a mystery road trip

Leaving the comfort zone for a mystery road trip

— For the next several days, I’m stepping way, way out of my comfort zone. I’ve left on a solo road trip that I’m being deliberately vague about. Back in January, a frequent commenter on a blog I’ve been reading for over five years suggested a get-together for the community. I’ve seen such suggestions before, but they usually involve finding an out-of-the-way bar an having a few drinks. It may sound great, but I’m not going to Delaware or wherever just for an evening.
Follow-up on my REI rant from last week

Follow-up on my REI rant from last week

— To follow-up on my rant from last Friday about REI … First, I requested a check for my REI dividend shortly after I published the post. It turns out I could do that online, and the check should be mailed out in about four weeks. Then, on Saturday, Kathryn and I drove to Cabela’s in Glendale and bought everything that was on my REI list. In addition, Kathryn bought a lovely outdoor dress that was on clearance, so REI gave Cabela’s even more of our money.
Suggestions for naming Signal groups

Suggestions for naming Signal groups

— For roughly two years, I’ve been using Signal Private Messenger to exchange encrypted text messages with my family and some of my close friends. Earlier this week, my dad got a new phone and, at the same time, a new phone number. Adding his new number into several Signal groups revealed some shortcomings in the arbitrary names of the groups to which he belonged. Group names are shared When you create or change the name of a Signal group, remember, it doesn’t just apply on your device; it applies on every member device in the group.
Lazy afternoon by the pool at The Orleans in Las Vegas

Lazy afternoon by the pool at The Orleans in Las Vegas

— One of the reasons we chose The Orleans over Gold Coast last weekend was for a somewhat nicer pool area. In spite of cooler-than-expected temperatures, we spent a lazy Saturday afternoon relaxing in the shade by the pool, sipping cocktails that received quite generous pours from the bartender. We didn’t actually go in the pool, as neither of us was dressed for swimming. However, with some careful rearrangement of deck furniture, we did manage to find a decent spot for people-watching and drink-sipping.
Sunday morning in sunny Las Vegas

Sunday morning in sunny Las Vegas

— It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Las Vegas, and we’re showered, dressed, and ready to begin the drive back to Phoenix. First, though, we’re heading to Sunday Mass at St. Bridget, about a fifteen-minute drive from The Orleans and about a mile from Downtown. Last time we were there, the priest overslept and was about a half-hour late. To make up some of the time, he shortened the sermon to, “Don’t take Benadryl before bed if you have somewhere to be in the morning.
Yet another weekend road trip to Las Vegas

Yet another weekend road trip to Las Vegas

— We’re about to set out on yet another weekend road trip to Las Vegas. This time we’ve booked The Orleans, a sister property of Gold Coast, which is where we stayed last time. The rates for this weekend were about the same at each place. However, The Orleans has a nicer pool area, which starts to matter as the temperatures climb this time of year. Also, it’s been quite some time since we last stayed at The Orleans, and they’ve reportedly updated their dining options since our last visit.
Virginia State Capitol

Virginia State Capitol

— Our recent trip to Richmond wasn’t just about French films. We also spent some time sightseeing and making an additional French connection. Here we’re on the lawn of the Virginia State Capitol, which was a short walk from our hotel. The seat of Virginia’s legislature, the building was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who modeled it after the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, France. The wings on the left and right were added later and now house the Senate and House of Delegates chambers.
Platform of the train station, Sète, France, on a hazy afternoon

Platform of the train station, Sète, France, on a hazy afternoon

— I snapped this photo from the platform of the train station in Sète last fall, as Kathryn and I waited for our ride back to Montpellier. It was a sunny and somewhat hazy afternoon; converting the photo to black-and-white made it look a bit less washed out. There’s nothing particularly distinctive about this platform or this train station. In fact, what I like about this photo is that it could be almost any station in almost any medium-sized French city.
Smith System driving course: Is it worth your time? Trust me, it is.

Smith System driving course: Is it worth your time? Trust me, it is.

— If you ever get an opportunity to take a Smith System driving course, take it. When I started my current job almost four years ago, my employer required me to take a full-day Smith System driving class, even though my job seldom sees me more than a few feet from the computer, much less behind the wheel of a car. My vocal skepticism regarding the value of the course was noted by my supervisor, but he convinced me to keep an open mind.
Brief encounter with Marianne Denicourt at the French Film Festival reception

Brief encounter with Marianne Denicourt at the French Film Festival reception

— We attended the reception for the French Film Festival this evening, which afforded us an opportunity, if we so chose, to rub elbows not only with other attendees but also with the delegation of French filmmakers, actors, and technicians who participated here in Richmond. Out of the blue, of all the people present, a notable French actress walked up to Kathryn and asked her to watch her bag. In French. At which point, Kathryn froze like a deer caught in the headlights.
The end of a great first full day in Richmond

The end of a great first full day in Richmond

— We’re ​just finishing up a great first full day in Richmond. We slept in this morning and had a late breakfast at the hotel. Kathryn went for a more traditional breakfast of pancakes and eggs, while I switched things up and had sauteed shrimp and grits. Lunch was at a restaurant that our Uber driver called the “Korean Chipotle,” which was a rather fitting description of the place. We then saw three very different films at the French Film Festival; I’ll try to describe them briefly in posts later.
Au nom de ma fille

Au nom de ma fille

— Although it didn’t start until after 10 pm, we made it through our first film at the French Film Festival yesterday, Au nom de ma fille. Since film titles are not always translated literally, this film has been called either In Her Name or Kalinka in English, the latter being the victim’s first name. It was a good film for our start to the festival. The film is based on the true story of a Frenchman trying to seek justice for the rape and murder of his daughter.
Sunday morning hike at Shaw Butte, Phoenix

Sunday morning hike at Shaw Butte, Phoenix

— We’ve had a relatively wet winter this year in Phoenix, and the desert vegetation is greener than I’ve seen it in a long time. Kathryn and I went out yesterday morning for a routine exercise hike at Shaw Butte, and she couldn’t help but grab some photos on the hike back down. (Photo: KG7NRB) The camera is facing roughly north-east, as the 7 am shadows attest. Our home is somewhere among the suburbia in the top-left quadrant of the photo.
Pizzeria Bocce, our Saturday dinner ritual in Cottonwood

Pizzeria Bocce, our Saturday dinner ritual in Cottonwood

— Saturday dinner at Pizzeria Bocce has become something of a ritual for Kathryn and me when we camp in Cottonwood. It started as an accident. On one camping trip, we mishandled some of the food we brought along and decided to toss it and go out to eat. We ended up at Pizzeria Bocce, and we’ve been going there ever since. Dining at a slightly pretentious pizzeria with a wine bar may not seem much like camping, but we’ve had an enjoyable meal every time we’ve eaten here.
TSA allows passengers through checkpoint without screening

TSA allows passengers through checkpoint without screening

— https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/tsa-jfk-passengers-bypass-security-checkpoint-article-1.2977418 I couldn’t resist sharing a link to this recent news about my favorite three-letter agency. I’m not sure which troubles me more, that the TSA couldn’t be bothered to perform its most basic function, or that such a large part of the traveling public doesn’t recognize the screening is little more than security theater.
Mexican border formalities, San Luis and Los Algodones

Mexican border formalities, San Luis and Los Algodones

— If you search the internet for the immigration procedures a U.S. citizen needs to follow when driving to Mexico, you’ll find many different answers. Most of them are outdated. Some of them apply in certain cases and not in others. Few of them are authoritative. One common answer is that you don’t need a so-called “tourist card” if you’re traveling less than 25 kilometers from the border and staying less than 72 hours in Mexico.
And so it begins

And so it begins

— Almost every Friday I have two donuts for breakfast. It’s not a particularly healthy way to start the day, and that’s why I limit myself to once a week. Usually. Last week, at my favorite donut shop, my usual no. 1 — two donuts and a medium coffee — was $2.69 plus tax, which leaves me a bit of change from three dollars. This morning, I ordered the usual, had my three one-dollar bills ready when I got to the register, and was a bit shocked when the woman who’s been ringing up my orders for years said, “$3.
What do they drink for beer in Mexicali?

What do they drink for beer in Mexicali?

— When I got back to work Monday morning after the weekend road trip to Mexicali, one of my colleagues almost immediately asked, what do they drink for beer down there? What an excellent question! The short answer is not a surprising one: Tecate. Mexicali is one of the most populous cities in the Mexican state of Baja California, and Tecate is one of the biggest brewers in that state. While the restaurants and bars we visited also had Bud Light available, I suspect it was only there for the occasional Anglo guests like us.
Why Mexicali?

Why Mexicali?

— While we were eating lunch last Sunday, Kathryn caught me off guard by asking how I learned about the Cantonese restaurants in Mexicali. She had been looking at her Instagram account and was prompted by a comment she received on a photo of the previous day’s lunch. The commenter apparently felt eating Chinese food in Mexico was a sketchy undertaking. To be honest, after more than a year of talking about it, at that moment I’d forgotten exactly why I started looking into Mexicali.
El Rincón de Panchito, Mexicali

El Rincón de Panchito, Mexicali

— Earlier today we enjoyed our first ever Mexican Cantonese meal. We had pollo mongol — a chicken dish with peppers and peanuts — and pork chow mein. No complaints about the food, except that we could have ordered half as much food and still have stuffed ourselves. The service was friendly. Between the server’s broken English and my dozen or so words in Spanish, the only real miscommunication was Kathryn got a regular Coke instead of Diet Coke.
Eye in the sky on the street

Eye in the sky on the street

— Between the overhead cameras and the ever-present security personnel, you expect to be under constant surveillance when you’re in a Las Vegas casino. Recently I’ve noticed the surveillance extending to the street as well. This mobile surveillance station, courtesy of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, was seen on the northeast corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo, in front of The Cromwell, which used to be Bill’s Gambling Hall, which used to be Barbary Coast, which probably used to be something else prior to that.
Weekend before Christmas tradition

Weekend before Christmas tradition

— After changing our minds twice in the last ten weeks, Kathryn and I made a last-minute decision to resume our traditional weekend-before-Christmas getaway to Las Vegas. We expect to leave in a few hours. I’ll post updates from the road as usual. We’re booked at Gold Coast, one of our long-time haunts. If you’re familiar with Las Vegas, it’s about a mile west of the Strip on Flamingo Road, across the street from Palms and next door to Rio.
Would encryption have changed the election?

Would encryption have changed the election?

— The 2016 U.S. Presidential election is over and settled, so the question I’m posing is basically a thought experiment at this point, but it’s worth pondering: Would the judicious use of modern encryption have changed the outcome of last month’s U.S. Presidential election? To be clear, I’m not talking about the e-mail server scandal that involved Hillary Clinton at the State Department. To borrow the language of the infamous Wells Report, it’s “more probable than not” that the former secretary of state violated the law — and she certainly violated any reasonable judgment — by using a private e-mail server located in her home to pass classified information.
Enjoying sushi in Las Vegas, at Takashi in Chinatown

Enjoying sushi in Las Vegas, at Takashi in Chinatown

— Here in Las Vegas, Kathryn and I are staying with a grad-school buddy of mine who’s in town for an academic conference. The three of us went out for sushi last night at a Japanese restaurant called Sushi Takashi, located in Chinatown. Some people are surprised to learn Las Vegas has a Chinatown. It does, and it’s not insignificant. I’m not a big fan of raw fish, but my wife is, and you can only say no to your spouse so many times before, in the interest of marital harmony, you relent and say yes.
Don Camillo, my new favorite pizzeria in Montpellier

Don Camillo, my new favorite pizzeria in Montpellier

— I once had a favorite pizza place in Montpellier, but it closed years ago. I also had a second favorite pizzeria, but it closed too. I didn’t have a third favorite, so I had to start all over again. Now, Kathryn and I have been to Don Camillo three times in the last two years, which means by default it’s my new favorite pizzeria in Montpellier. In fact, it was where we had the first dinner and, roughly two weeks later, the last dinner of our recent stay in Montpellier.
Friday in the City of Lights

Friday in the City of Lights

— We arrived safely in Paris yesterday in the early afternoon. We found the Gare de l’Est train station with no problem, but there were multiple parking garages at the station and it wasn’t obvious which one was for returning rental cars. After about fifteen minutes in the wrong garage we found the right one, completed the paperwork, and were in a taxi to our hotel. Since our anniversary is right around the corner, we decided to book the Hotel Regina.
Last morning in Reims

Last morning in Reims

— It’s an overcast morning in Reims. We’ve had a lot of great weather this trip, so I can hardly complain. We’re all packed for the last leg of our car trip, a relatively short drive to Paris. Check-in time at our next hotel is 2 pm, so we’re not quite ready to leave our current one yet. There’s little to report from yesterday. We spent a bit of time in the city center, had a kebab sandwich for lunch, which was the best of the three we’ve had on this trip, and saw a beautiful medieval parish church.
France’s most courteous McDonald’s order-taker

France’s most courteous McDonald’s order-taker

— Kathryn and I visited a McDonald’s today for the first time this trip. The store was near an autoroute just outside of Reims, France. Our order-taker was willing to pose for a photo. She spoke nine languages, repeated our order correctly the first time, charged us the right amount, and gave us a receipt without being asked. I don’t know this for a fact, but I assume she’s willing to work more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay and has never demanded a “living” wage.
Clean laundry and an Asian buffet with frog’s legs in Reims

Clean laundry and an Asian buffet with frog’s legs in Reims

— We’re spending a second night in Reims, and we decided to have a bit of a day off from sightseeing. We’re getting some laundry done right now; we only have three nights left in Europe, so we should have no shortage of clean laundry for the rest of the trip. We plan to visit the city center again today, but at a more relaxed pace than recent days. Last night we decided we didn’t want to stray far from for the hotel for dinner, so we ended up at an Asian buffet which was a short walk away.
Vespers and Mass at the grand and imposing Cathedral in Reims

Vespers and Mass at the grand and imposing Cathedral in Reims

— We came to Reims for one reason: to see the cathedral. It’s difficult to overstate how impressive it is. As we approached the city on the autoroute, we could see the spires from miles away. On foot in the city center, it’s even more imposing. A glance at the cathedral parish website showed Wednesday is the only day of the week the cathedral chapter prays Vespers. Since we arrived on a Wednesday, we decided to time our visit accordingly, arriving about a half-hour early to get pictures of the outside and walk around the inside for a while.
St. Joan of Arc, Domrémy-la-Pucelle

St. Joan of Arc, Domrémy-la-Pucelle

— On the way to Luxembourg yesterday, we got off the autoroute for a while, enjoyed a spirited drive through bucolic French countryside, and visited the birthplace of St. Joan of Arc in Domrémy-la-Pucelle. Owing in part to the inclement weather and bad traffic we encountered earlier along the route, we arrived fifteen minutes too late to visit her childhood home. However, we could walk up to the gate and take pictures, and the church next door — Église St.
Cassoulet languedocien, enjoying a hearty lunch in Carcassonne

Cassoulet languedocien, enjoying a hearty lunch in Carcassonne

— One of the things you’re supposed to do when you visit Carcassonne is to try the cassoulet, a dish made with meat and white beans, served like a stew. Kathryn got a photo of hers before she dug in. (Photo by KG7NRB) Our cassoulet was made with a pork sausage and had a roasted duck thigh too. The menu called it cassoulet languedocien, the latter word referring to the Languedoc region where both Carcassonne and Montpellier are located.
Hockey in Montpellier, the first French match I’ve attended

Hockey in Montpellier, the first French match I’ve attended

— It’s the second intermission of the first French hockey match I’ve ever attended. The Montpellier Vipers are hosting the Avignon Something-or-Others. Here are some of my impressions: It’s not much of a crowd. I’d measure the turnout in hundreds, not thousands. Then again, this is a Division 2 match, and since the premier French hockey league doesn’t use a number, Division 2 is really the third division. So think ECHL, not NHL.
Happy hour drinks at Le Tire Bouchon, Montpellier

Happy hour drinks at Le Tire Bouchon, Montpellier

— Yesterday we decided to enjoy a happy-hour round of drinks in one of the several cafes in the busy plaza beneath our apartment in Montpellier. It’s tough to make out the bronze statue in the center of the plaza, partly obscured by the umbrella stand, but it’s of Jean Jaurès, after whom the plaza is named. I’ll let the reader determine whether there’s a hint of irony in a plaza named after the father of French socialism having almost every square inch of its surface covered with commercial enterprises.
Visiting the Musée Fabre in Montpellier for free

Visiting the Musée Fabre in Montpellier for free

— There was a special Europe-wide event going on this past weekend, the upshot of which was most of the museums in Montpellier were free. We had made other plans for Sunday afternoon, but we abandoned them in favor of visiting the Musée Fabre instead. I don’t know how to describe the permanent collection other than to say general art. It was almost entirely European painting, sixteenth century and later, with a bit of sculpture thrown in for good measure.
Sunday Mass at Cathedrale St. Pierre in Montpellier

Sunday Mass at Cathedrale St. Pierre in Montpellier

— One of the great things about visiting France is being able to attend Sunday Mass in an impressive, medieval stone cathedral like this one in Montpellier: As luck would have it, this cathedral even had a bishop in it this morning. The retired bishop was present to celebrate an event for the young children of the parish, who processed to the altar holding little blue tea candles. Cuteness factor: higher than a basket of kittens.
Credit where due at Sky Harbor, particularly to TSA

Credit where due at Sky Harbor, particularly to TSA

— We’re at the airport in Phoenix, and it’s time to give some credit where it’s due. First, when we arrived at the self check-in kiosk, we got a message telling us we were misconnected at Salt Lake City. The Delta personnel who resolved the situation were patient and friendly. After having the agent check several alternate routes, we’re back on the same route with a shorter-than-normal layover. Apparently the minimum is supposed to be 30 minutes; we’ll have 27.
Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

— On our last trip to Las Vegas, we decided to stay on Fremont Street for the first time. After exploring our options, we chose Golden Nugget, which is sometimes described as the most Strip-like hotel in the Downtown area. Whether you’d agree depends, I suppose, on what you like or don’t like about the Strip. The good My first impression of Golden Nugget was positive when we set our bags down in what was certainly the nicest room I’ve had in all my trips to Vegas, including rooms that cost twice as much.
Interrupting over four months of blog silence

Interrupting over four months of blog silence

— I’m interrupting over four months of blog silence to announce two things: First, I had to transition to a backup phone this morning, meaning my Signal database has a new set of keys. I posted a page with an image of my Signal public key if you’d like to use it for verification. Second, Kathryn and I are heading out on a road trip this afternoon. I’ll post status updates for those among you who want to know we survived the long drive through the desert.
Passing through Atlanta Hartsfield en route home

Passing through Atlanta Hartsfield en route home

— I’m at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport in the boarding area for the flight back to Phoenix. After an exhausting flight from Johannesburg, at this point we’re roughly three-quarters of the way home. The formalities in Atlanta were tolerable. The low point, as usual, was the TSA checkpoint. For the second time this trip, it was Kathryn, not I, who lashed out verbally at a TSA “officer”. The CBP folks, on the other hand, were both professional and personable.
Maropeng Visitor Center, the Cradle of Humankind

Maropeng Visitor Center, the Cradle of Humankind

— Yesterday we ventured about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg to visit the Maropeng Visitor Center, part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site where some of the earliest human remains have been discovered. The visitor center tells the story of the evolution of human beings through interpretive and interactive displays, a short indoor boat ride, and a small museum of fossilized remains. I was fascinated by the natural history.
A trip to the barber shop in Johannesburg

A trip to the barber shop in Johannesburg

— Yesterday was a relatively relaxing day here in Johannesburg. Around mid-morning Kathryn and I ventured out to get me a haircut and shave. I had gotten a haircut shortly before leaving for South Africa, but three weeks of normal hair growth, combined with a bit too much hair left in front, had left me unhappy with my appearance. On top of that, I had decided not to shave while at the Kruger, so I had a scruffy six-day beard that was going to be a challenge to shave myself.
The drive back to Johannesburg from Kruger National Park

The drive back to Johannesburg from Kruger National Park

— Yesterday we made the drive back to Johannesburg from the Lower Sabie camp in Kruger National Park. We had entered the park at Orpen Gate but left via Crocodile Gate, near the southern end of the park, not far from the border of Mozambique. It took us nearly an hour to get out of the camp in steady rain, during which we sighted several lions and hyenas, among the many creatures that had come to drink from the puddles formed in the pavement.
Avoiding a baboon in Kruger National Park

Avoiding a baboon in Kruger National Park

— It’s Monday morning in Kruger National Park, our last morning here. In a couple hours we’ll be on the road back to Johannesburg, although we’ll be going by a different route. I’m drinking my morning coffee with my back to the wall because I’ve already seen a baboon roaming around. There are workers whose job is to control aggressive monkeys and baboons with slingshots — I’m not joking — but their shift may not have started yet.
Light rain and morning coffee in Kruger National Park

Light rain and morning coffee in Kruger National Park

— It’s Sunday morning here in Kruger National Park, and I’m enjoying my coffee to the sound and smell of a light rain. Bats seem to like the thatch roofs of our current chalettes, so the other smell is bat excrement. I’m slowly getting used to it. We knew it was going to be hard to top the previous three days when we set out on our drive yesterday, but not ten minutes from the camp we spotted two hyenas feasting on a fresh zebra while a flock of vultures impatiently waited their turn.
Each new day surpasses the last in Kruger National Park

Each new day surpasses the last in Kruger National Park

— This is our third day in Kruger National Park, and somehow each new day surpasses the last. Today we traveled from Satara to a camp further south, about a seven-hour drive including breaks and wildlife stops. The weather was considerably cooler than the last three days, and with overcast skies we could mostly forego the air conditioning in favor of open windows. This allowed us to enjoy not only the sights but also the sounds and smells of the Kruger.
Arrived at our camp in Kruger National Park

Arrived at our camp in Kruger National Park

— After about nine hours of driving, we’ve arrived at our camp in Kruger National Park. Since entering the park, we’ve already sighted impalas, zebras, kudu, wildebeests, baboons, giraffes, and elephants, among others. However, the most exciting sighting was a lone male leopard, which we spotted only ten minutes after entering the park, resting in the shade of a large tree. Apparently it’s somewhat rare to see them. It’s hot here, about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but not as humid as I expected.
Arrived in Johannesburg

Arrived in Johannesburg

— We’re safely on the ground in Johannesburg, in the departure area for our onward flight to Cape Town. The flight was long. We left Atlanta an hour late, and I’m convinced three-quarters of our fellow passengers had never been on an airplane before. The “fasten seat belt” sign was on for nearly half the fifteen-hour flight, and I had a middle seat. The formalities were straightforward. Passport control, baggage claim, and inspection, just like pretty much everywhere we’ve traveled.
Answers to two questions

Answers to two questions

— Several weeks before any upcoming trip abroad, I tend to get certain questions from my family, friends, and colleagues. I’ll take a moment to answer the two most common ones. Are you excited about your trip? Short answer: No. When I hear this question weeks before my flight leaves, the answer is almost always no. For better or worse, my life doesn’t stop for months because of a three-week trip. I still have to put in forty hours at the office each week, I still have chores to do around the house, and so on.
Recent backfill projects

Recent backfill projects

— I recently completed several backfill projects, moving over 200 posts from my old travel blog and other sources into this blog. The Pilgrimito posts The biggest project was migrating over 180 of my old Pilgrimito posts. Moving the posts from one WordPress blog to another wasn’t particularly difficult, but redirecting the old links to the new ones required me to write a short program. I used the project as an opportunity to learn some programming tools that were new to me — specifically, using the Xamarin platform to write a C# console application on my Mac — so that was a bonus.
Install Signal on your smartphone now!

Install Signal on your smartphone now!

— Are you using an iPhone or an Android-based smartphone? Have you installed Signal yet? If not, please stop what you’re doing and install it now! iPhone Android Why Signal? I owe a debt of gratitude to my good friend Dan for bringing Signal to my attention last year. Actually, he told me about its predecessors TextSecure and RedPhone for Android, which were just recently combined into a single product. Unfortunately, I initially confused the two with similar products with slightly different names and took no action.
Yet another beautiful morning in Cottonwood

Yet another beautiful morning in Cottonwood

— We’re enjoying yet another beautiful morning camping in Cottonwood. We’re halfway through our first cups of coffee as the rising sun fills the valley with daylight. Our new tarp The gazebo we had earlier this year failed on our last camping trip and found its way into a local dumpster. Over the summer we replaced it with the tarp and poles you see above. It was a whole lot easier to set up, is much lighter, provides about forty percent more shade, and looks cooler.
Made in the USA

Made in the USA

— Several months ago, while traveling through the south of France, I wrote a brief post expressing my pleasant surprise — indeed, my patriotic pride — at seeing something — anything — made in the USA. A few weeks ago, I was surprised again to see another item made in the USA when I least expected it. This time it was a protective case for my mobile phone. Sure, I’d rather have a $6 made-in-China case wrapped around a $200 made-in-the-USA smartphone, but given the state of manufacturing in my motherland, I’ll settle for having it the other way around.
Sauce Samouraï: “Why have you hidden this from me?”

Sauce Samouraï: “Why have you hidden this from me?”

— When Kathryn and I were in Paris in 2013, we ate in several kebab shops. Although I had eaten in French kebab shops when I was younger, usually after or during long nights of drinking, Kathryn, for her part, was totally sober and immediately hooked nonetheless. Meat, potatoes, bread, salt, grease, and just enough lettuce, tomato, and onion — that’s called a complet, by the way — to allow you to convince yourself it’s semi-healthy.
Tyranny’s Steadfast Ally

Tyranny’s Steadfast Ally

— Those of you who read my blog know I have little respect for the TSA. Those of you who’ve known me longest may remember that one of the few times I’ve bothered to write to an elected official was to oppose the nationalization of airport security, way back in 2001 when it was being debated in the wake of the September 11 attacks. So last week, when Reason.com offered its readers a contest to decide what the letters TSA really stand for, I couldn’t resist offering a suggestion.
Waiting on an arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Terminal 4

Waiting on an arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Terminal 4

— I’m at Sky Harbor for a little while this afternoon, waiting to pick up my aunt arriving from New England. Terminal 4 has seen some vast improvements in its food selection over the past several years, but I’m seldom here long enough to enjoy them. Many of the national chains have been replaced by local vendors, and the overall quality of the offerings has increased as a result. However, a number of the new restaurants seem to be fighting for the pretentious armchair foodie demographic, and that’s disappointing for a guy who just wants a coffee and a muffin after eight hours in the salt mines.
Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

— Kathryn and I are getting ready to check out of the iconic Super 8 in Williams, Arizona, where we spent last night. We’re riding the Grand Canyon Railway this morning, and we didn’t want to have to leave Phoenix at 5:00 this morning. Until we got to breakfast this morning, I didn’t realize how international the clientele was. We heard several languages during the half-hour we spent in the lobby. I’m assuming it’s the Grand Canyon that’s bringing in the foreign guests and not the globally esteemed Super 8 brand.
Another beautiful morning

Another beautiful morning

— It’s another beautiful morning in Cottonwood. Kathryn and I have had our first cups of coffee, and Kathryn is busy taking photos of the crescent moon. The first signs of twilight are appearing on the horizon, with sunrise expected in about 45 minutes. It’s cold enough for sweatshirts and jackets, but not cold enough for hats. From our campsite we can see the lights from the town of Jerome and the cement plant near Clarkdale, with the town of Cottonwood spread out below us.
On our way home

On our way home

— After eight memorable days in Montpellier, we’re on our way home. The airport here is small, reminding me somewhat of Charlottesville, although it’s probably closer to the size of the airport in Richmond. Check-in only took a couple minutes, after which we had enough time to have coffee and pain au chocolat before passing through the security checkpoint, which also was no more than a couple minutes. Now we’re serenely waiting at the gate, watching the arriving passengers pass by.
Driving around the south of France

Driving around the south of France

— I haven’t written much over the past three days because they’ve been something of a whirlwind. We rented a car for two days earlier this week, and we packed a lot of sights into a short rental period. The first day we drove to St. Guilhem le Desert to visit the medieval abbey and pilgrimage waypoint there, stopping for photos of Pont du Diable along the way. Then we doubled back in the direction of Montpellier, veering south to see the old cathedral at Maguelone, followed by stops at several beaches in the area.
Made in the USA

Made in the USA

— Kathryn has been having a lot of trouble finding clothes made in France. Most tags show China or India as the country of origin, with Spain and Italy occasionally representing Europe. Of course, we’ve had the same problem finding clothing made in the USA for decades now, so it’s perhaps not surprising that France has gone the same way. Yesterday we visited Pont du Gard, and while using the men’s room in the visitor center, I had a moment of patriotic pride.
Super Bowl alternative

Super Bowl alternative

— Due to my upcoming travels plans, I most likely won’t see this year’s Super Bowl. If my flights are on time, I’ll spend most of the game inside an airplane, with my seatbelt securely fastened. Although the timing was accidental, I’m not considering it much of a loss. After last year’s boring blowout, I vowed I wouldn’t waste four hours on a Super Bowl again this year. I was only about three-quarters serious when I said it, but it looks like I’ll be honoring my vow after all.
Hiking along Horton Creek Trail

Hiking along Horton Creek Trail

— Last weekend, Kathryn and I decided to take a break from our usual summer routine of doing absolutely nothing in the sweltering Phoenix heat. Instead, we made a day trip to the slightly cooler Payson area to do some hiking along Horton Creek, just under the Mogollon Rim in Tonto National Forest. We got an early start Saturday morning, leaving around 6:30 to make the roughly 90-minute drive to Payson. We had a hearty breakfast at Crosswinds Restaurant, a diner at the airport, before continuing the last half-hour or so to the trail, arriving around 9:30.
Weird dinner experience at Gordon Ramsay Steak, Las Vegas

Weird dinner experience at Gordon Ramsay Steak, Las Vegas

— Our beef Wellington, now completely cooked but neither carved nor garnished, was brought out to us in a frying pan lined with what appeared to be coarse salt and a handful of peppercorns. Basically we were teased with our dinner, only to have it taken away again. I’ve decided to call this the proof-of-life phase of our meal. They showed us our dinner just long enough to let us know it existed, and then quickly returned it to hiding for another eight to ten minutes.
Travel bloggers and freebies

Travel bloggers and freebies

— I read a lot of travel blogs. There are roughly 60 in my blog reader right now, and I visit others via links from various social networks. However, I myself am not a professional travel blogger. My wife and I travel for our own enjoyment, at our own expense, and sometimes I write about it. I tried allowing advertisements on this blog for a while earlier this year. After seeing a number of less-than-desirable advertisements show up next to my words, I decided it wasn’t worth it to me.
How to order coffee at McDonald’s in Phoenix

How to order coffee at McDonald’s in Phoenix

— I like drinking coffee. I enjoy eating fast food. I live in Phoenix. You might be inclined to think I’d be a master at ordering a cup of coffee in a local McDonald’s. You’d be mistaken. Years ago, it wasn’t such a challenge. I’d visit a McDonald’s and ask for a small coffee. I’d get a Styrofoam cup with brewed coffee. I’d then turn around and find the condiment station, which would have the creamers and sweeteners and those cool plastic stirrers with the arches on the handles.
Maison Carrée in Nîmes on a beautiful, clear day

Maison Carrée in Nîmes on a beautiful, clear day

— I took this picture of the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, France, in 2004, during my late-summer European tour. As you can see, it was a beautiful, clear day when I visited Nîmes. Maison Carrée, Nîmes, France I lived in Richmond, Virginia, for many years. One of my favorite evening walks in the city included a stroll by the Virginia State Capitol building, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson and modeled after the Maison Carrée in Nîmes.
Rental car nightmare

Rental car nightmare

— Yesterday may have been my worst day of travel ever, at least in terms of what went wrong. Still, it wasn’t all that bad. I wrote yesterday about our flight delay in Phoenix. This dark cloud turned out to have a silver lining, as we were rerouted on a nonstop flight to Orlando — the flight we originally wanted — rather than a connecting flight through Charlotte. The new flight arrived in Orlando on time, putting us only about 90 minutes behind our original schedule.
Florida bound later this week

Florida bound later this week

— Kathryn and I are bound for Florida later this week. We’ll be spending four nights with Kathryn’s aunt in a beachside condo about halfway between Vero Beach and Fort Pierce. I’m hoping to spend the time relaxing, although it remains to be seen whether that will happen. We’ll be arriving and departing in Orlando and renting a car for the duration of our stay. Kathryn’s elite status on US Airways was apparently of no use to us for an upgrade on the eastbound flight.
Hacker-Pschorr tent at Oktoberfest in Munich

Hacker-Pschorr tent at Oktoberfest in Munich

— Kathryn and I were able to spend part of a day at Oktoberfest in Munich in 2007. It seems everyone who has been to Oktoberfest has a favorite from among the major beer tents. My favorite is the Hacker-Pschorr tent. The theme is charming and simple: Bavarian heaven. To call this structure a “tent” is fairly misleading. It’s a permanent building. The only part that appears to be made of canvas is the section of the roof over the seating area.
A one-day road trip to the Cannes Film Festival

A one-day road trip to the Cannes Film Festival

— Back in the spring of 2003, I took a day trip to Cannes during its famous annual film festival. It was the last day of the festival, and most of the Hollywood celebrities had already come and gone. However, watching the European celebrities arrive for the final screening was no less glamorous. Pay close attention to the security detail. They were actually officers of the elite CRS, a special unit of the French national police, in formal uniforms.
Two easy ways to see the Pope in Rome

Two easy ways to see the Pope in Rome

— There are two easy ways to see the Pope when you’re in Rome. Kathryn and I were able to see him both ways during our visit to Rome earlier this year. As long as the Pope isn’t away from the city for his vacation or for an apostolic visit, you should be able to see him too. The Pope offers his blessing to all those who come to see him — believers and non-believers alike — and the blessing applies to any sacred objects present, too.
Dazzo’s in Wikieup, Chicago hot dogs halfway from Phoenix to Las Vegas

Dazzo’s in Wikieup, Chicago hot dogs halfway from Phoenix to Las Vegas

— Roughly halfway between Phoenix and Las Vegas is a place — I hesitate to call it a town — called Wikieup. It’s a perfect spot to stop for a bathroom break and a bite to eat. On previous trips, we’ve often stopped at the Wikieup Trading Post. They make a pretty mean patty melt. The problem is that it became played out for us, stopping the same place every time. That, and the fact their bathrooms are beyond disgusting.
Las Vegas road trip status update

Las Vegas road trip status update

— The status of this weekend’s road trip to Las Vegas is now unambiguous. Kathryn’s doctor this morning ordered her to spend the weekend in Las Vegas. Sweet! I’ll submit a health insurance claim when we get home. In the meantime, a rumor has begun swirling that Britney Spears is celebrating her recent engagement with a party tonight at Chateau, a nightclub in the Paris Las Vegas resort. You may not know this, but Kathryn is a huge Britney Spears fan.
Richmond, Virginia: Splurge at the Jefferson Hotel

Richmond, Virginia: Splurge at the Jefferson Hotel

— I don’t often splurge on hotels. It just seems like a poor use of my travel budget. As long as a room is reasonably clean, reasonably located, and reasonably priced, I’m happy. It’s rare that I spend more than $100 a night for a room in all but the world’s most expensive cities. In the United States, the major three-star chains are more than adequate. My plan for our recent trip to Virginia was to spend three nights at a Doubletree near the airport in Richmond.
Puerto Vallarta: Running the gauntlet at the airport

Puerto Vallarta: Running the gauntlet at the airport

— Prior to our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, I hadn’t arrived in Mexico by air since a 1989 vacation to Ixtapa with my parents. So, in stark contrast to my previous experience, I was pleasantly surprised to see Puerto Vallarta has a clean, modern international airport terminal. Complete with air-conditioned jetways, no less. Although the walk from the plane to the immigration hall was a bit long, the checkpoint was efficient, with passport scanners and barcode readers for the tourist cards.
Puerto Vallarta: Day trip to Sayulita

Puerto Vallarta: Day trip to Sayulita

— An update from Puerto Vallarta on Friday, morning in Mexico. Kathryn and I decided to take a day trip yesterday to Sayulita, a village on a small bay some distance north of Puerto Vallarta. We traveled there by bus, one of the ones the locals use. I’m not sure how long the ride was, maybe a bit over an hour. The trip there and back only set us back 100 pesos for the two of us, so it was a cheap excursion, at least for the transportation.
Puerto Vallarta: Much ado about nothing

Puerto Vallarta: Much ado about nothing

— An update from Puerto Vallarta on Wednesday, dinner time in Mexico. Well, after all the preparations, Hurricane Juvo was a bust. Kathryn got some internet time today to track the storm. It has already passed us and has been downgraded to a tropical depression. The employees of the resort, who just this morning were bracing for the worst, have already brought back the chairs and umbrellas around the pool area, and it looks like dinner service will take place by the ocean as normal.
Puerto Vallarta: Still awaiting Juvo

Puerto Vallarta: Still awaiting Juvo

— An update from Puerto Vallarta, Wednesday morning in Mexico. We’ve been gearing up for Hurricane Juvo since Monday, but it’s taking its sweet time getting here. When we left the U.S. on Saturday, it was forecast to hit Puerto Vallarta directly Monday evening. Hurricanes are unpredictable though. The latest report is it’ll come ashore as a category-three hurricane much further south in the state of Jalisco, then follow the coast north toward us, probably having weakened to a tropical storm by then.
Making a long overdue confession at St. Peter’s Basilica

Making a long overdue confession at St. Peter’s Basilica

— During our trip to Rome earlier this year, Kathryn and I recognized how long it had been since we’d last received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, or Penance, or whatever the Church is calling it this year. Far too long. The gift of the Holy Father’s blessing at the General Audience earlier in the week, and the possibility we would receive it again after praying the Angelus on Sunday, increased our desire to receive the sacrament as soon as possible.
Germany: Any reason to celebrate in Monheim am Rhein, Cologne, and Düsseldorf

Germany: Any reason to celebrate in Monheim am Rhein, Cologne, and Düsseldorf

— I arrived in Paris six days ago and spent a couple nights there. I didn’t do much in Paris that I haven’t done before. Mostly, I just enjoyed being there, sitting in cafes, walking through parks, and so forth. The only new thing I really saw was the museum of the police prefecture, which actually I didn’t find very interesting, aside from an exhibit of some of the firearms used during the Liberation.
Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert near Tucson

Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert near Tucson

— During our recent weekend trip to Tucson, Kathryn and I took an opportunity to visit Mission San Xavier del Bac, just outside the city. As luck would have it, there was a Mass scheduled there Saturday morning. It was to celebrate the 366th birthday of Fr. Eusebio Kino, the Jesuit priest who founded the mission way back in 1692. So we made sure to schedule our visit to coincide. Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert, exterior view
The English woman on the train from Ljubljana to Salzburg

The English woman on the train from Ljubljana to Salzburg

— I’ve been reviewing a lot of my old travel blog posts recently and sharing the more interesting ones on Facebook and Twitter. While doing this, I noticed a glaring omission on my part. There was a story I never told because, at the time, I was so embarrassed by my naiveté with respect to the opposite sex. It happened five years ago this week, in August 2006. In some ways, my naivete should have come as no surprise to me or anyone else.
You are Peter, and upon this rock I build my church: St. Peter’s

You are Peter, and upon this rock I build my church: St. Peter’s

— Kathryn and I visited St. Peter’s Basilica several times during our trip to Rome. On Wednesday, we decided to climb to the cupola of the basilica. We were in need of a good workout, so we passed up the elevator and took the stairs. Kathryn and “Petrus et”, inside the cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican I really wanted to get a series of photos of the verses inscribed around the interior of the cupola, but you’ll see in this photo that a pretty thick fence blocks the view.
Dealing with airfare for a multi-city itinerary

Dealing with airfare for a multi-city itinerary

— When we first started planning a trip to Pennsylvania that would continue on to Europe, I wasn’t really sure how to go about booking the airfare. Normally when I travel to Europe, I buy a round-trip ticket, and that’s the end of the story. Since I live in Phoenix, I usually have to connect somewhere, often Philadelphia, and it’s not a problem. One time several years ago, I flew to London on Icelandair and decided to stay in Reykjavik for several days.
Frequently asked questions about our road trip in Europe

Frequently asked questions about our road trip in Europe

— We’ve only been home a few days, but Kathryn and I have already heard a lot of questions about our trip. For the benefit of everyone else, I’ve decided to repeat some of them here, along with their answers. What was the highlight of the trip? It’s been really tough to single out a highlight, since we had such a great time the whole trip. For me, picking up the new car in Germany was a moment I won’t soon forget, and flying a glider in Austria was a truly unexpected surprise, but the trip was really a series of highlights punctuated by sleep.
Oktoberfest, BMW, Rothenburg, Baden-Baden, Eiffel Tower

Oktoberfest, BMW, Rothenburg, Baden-Baden, Eiffel Tower

— Phew! It’s been about 72 hours since the last update, but we’ve managed to pack an awful lot in. We arrived safely in Munich on Saturday, about six hours later than anticipated, so the thought of doing Oktoberfest that evening was quickly dismissed. My friend in Munich met us at the airport and showed us the way back to her place. After we washed 30 hours of traveling filth off our bodies, we went out for a serene evening at a nearby beer garden, where Kathryn had her first ever German meal.
Long overdue post

Long overdue post

— There’s a certain irony to writing a blog. During those times when you have the most to write about, you have the least time to write it. The year 2007 has been, and continues to be, almost unbelievably good to me, and for several months I’ve been maintaining a hand-written list of all the things I want to write about. However, the blog format lends itself to telling stories in a chronological fashion, so as my list grows longer, I feel a certain pressure to write everything or nothing.
Arizona road trip: Tonto Natural Bridge, Strawberry, Jerome

Arizona road trip: Tonto Natural Bridge, Strawberry, Jerome

— I had a chance Sunday to get out of town for several hours and enjoy some parts of Arizona I hadn’t ever seen before. The weather was warm and the sky was clear. It was a perfect day for an Arizona road trip. The morning started out great. My travel companion arrived at my place around 9 am with breakfast burritos from Filiberto’s, which I’d never had before. They are basically scrambled eggs, breakfast meat, potatoes and cheese, wrapped in flour tortillas.
Flight canceled

Flight canceled

— I told a number of you I would be flying to Southern California this weekend to visit a friend of mine. I’ve been following the weather reports for several days, and every time I see a forecast, it gets worse. After some deliberation, I’ve decided to cancel the flight preemptively and make plans to drive there instead. I’ll have plenty of chances to fly there when the weather is conducive. I’ll choose to stay on the ground this weekend and live to fly another day.
Vegas revue: Bally’s, Fremont Street, and Les Folies Bergeres

Vegas revue: Bally’s, Fremont Street, and Les Folies Bergeres

— My trip to Vegas was short, but sweet. Upon arriving, eating lunch, and drinking a couple beers, I started to give some thought to what I was going to do that evening. I decided that since I was there by myself, I would see Celine Dion, since I can’t imagine anyone I know would ever come with me. I was staying at Bally’s, so I walked across the street to the Caesar’s Palace box office to see if they had any single tickets left.
Feeling pretty stupid about my camera

Feeling pretty stupid about my camera

— Back in July, I wrote about how my camera stopped working while I was traveling. Today, I went through my closet and dug out the documentation that came with the camera, in order to figure out how and where I could get it repaired. On the very first page of the owner’s manual, I found the following notice, in big, bold type: > Because the performance of alkaline batteries with digital cameras is low, the use of Ni-MH batteries is recommended.
All journeys end

All journeys end

— I’ve just boarded the bus to Heathrow from Oxford, where I’ve spent the past two days with a buddy from college. It’s here that I begin what will probably not be a pleasant journey home. The security situation at the airport is very fluid, and I’ll find out when I get there just what I’ll be allowed to travel with. As a precaution, I’ve packed as much as I possibly could in my checked baggage, leaving only a handful of essential items in my small backpack.
The prettiest pint of Guinness ever at the Guinness Storehouse

The prettiest pint of Guinness ever at the Guinness Storehouse

— So, in what I imagine will be the last of my alcohol-related blog entries, at least for this trip, I toured the Guinness Storehouse here in Dublin today. I won’t elaborate much about this tour. Much like the Heineken tour in Amsterdam, it was disappointing that we were in a visitor center, not in a real, working brewery. Their attempt at social responsibility, an exhibit dedicated to alcohol-related social and health issues, seemed entirely out of place.
Another quick update from Ireland

Another quick update from Ireland

— I’m sure someone I know is waking up this morning, turning on CNN, and hearing about violence in Northern Ireland. I didn’t hear about it until an hour or so ago myself, so it hasn’t affected me, other than increased traffic. Police with machine guns were checking cars on the bridge in Derry, and I didn’t know why until later. In any event, I’m now back in the Republic of Ireland, where I had already planned to spend my time before heading back to the chaos in London.
Weight

Weight

— I had a discussion with a cousin of mine a few days before I started this voyage. He was joking that I might gain 20 pounds during this trip because of all the beer I’d be drinking, which is perfectly reasonable. However, I responded that I might lose 10 pounds because of all the walking I’d be doing, which is also perfectly reasonable. Well, I weighed myself this morning on my friend’s bathroom scale, and if it is to be trusted, and if I did my metric conversion correctly, I’m down 11 pounds as of today.
One night in Munich: Posh restaurants and English Gardens

One night in Munich: Posh restaurants and English Gardens

— I had a very pleasant evening in Munich last night. My friend found me shortly after I wrote my last post, and fortunately she was willing to sit with me while I finished my beer. Despite being a two-minute walk from her apartment, she had never been in that particular bar. It was kind of an after-work place where guys watched sports, so I guess it wasn’t her scene. The gods have recently forgiven me, and we had some really pleasant weather for walking around the city.
Spoke too soon

Spoke too soon

— After starting the day with broiling hot weather, a cloud cover came through, along with an ever-so-slight breeze, so the evening is off to a pleasant start. I’m suddenly optimistic about sleeping tonight. I’ve booked a room for tomorrow night, after I leave Split, and it’s air conditioned. I’m totally ready for that. Still, I’m not sure what happened to all the tourists here. It’s Saturday night, and although it’s still early here, it’s really dead.
Arriving and finding accommodation in Split, Croatia

Arriving and finding accommodation in Split, Croatia

— I arrived in Split, Croatia, this afternoon. Finding accommodation was not a huge problem, but I did have to turn a room down. A little old lady met passengers coming off the train and offered a room. I’ve had good luck getting rooms this way, so I decided to try again. It was painful to follow the woman back to her place. She had recently had some sort of operation, so the three-minute walk from the train station took about 15.
Budapest

Budapest

— After getting about 20 hours of sleep yesterday and last night, I finally did some sightseeing here in Budapest today. I took a bus tour with a guide, seeing the St. Stephens Basilica and the Parliament building, among other things. There’s a lot of symbolism expressed with the architecture, so you hear the same numbers over and over again. For example, the domes of both St. Stephens and Parliament are 96 meters high, reflecting the year Hungary was said to be founded, in 896.
Improvising to deal with language issues in Poland

Improvising to deal with language issues in Poland

— Until I arrived in Poland, I didn’t really have any language issues. In England, of course, they speak English. In Iceland, the Netherlands, and Denmark, nearly everyone speaks English in addition to his mother tongue, and most signs are also in English. In Germany, this is less the case, but I speak German well enough to get by. However, here in Poland, very few people, except young people, speak English well, and there are very few signs in English.
Berlin, Germany: Keeping properly hydrated

Berlin, Germany: Keeping properly hydrated

— Having lived in Arizona for almost two years, I should be keenly aware of how important proper hydration is. However, it’s easy to forget here in Europe where the climate is so much milder. Earlier this morning, I bought a 1.5-liter bottle of mineral water while waiting for a train. I was a little surprised that I was able to drink it in about ten minutes. Mostly I’ve been drinking coffee and beer the past couple weeks, and I’ve been sweating a lot as I walk around cities or haul my pack around train stations, so I was probably poorly hydrated.
Clean laundry at last

Clean laundry at last

— I arrived in Copenhagen this morning, and after an overnight train, I took a shower and crashed for a couple hours. Then, while wearing the last of my clean clothes and a bathing suit as underwear, I found a laundry near my hotel, which took some doing, because the front desk clerk’s directions were somewhat vague. However, when I found the laundromat, the woman who worked there pointed out that she offered full-service laundry, so for the equivalent of about $11, I let her do my laundry while I got a couple more hours sleep back at the hotel.
Taking the Stena HSS Discovery from Harwich, England, to Hoek von Holland

Taking the Stena HSS Discovery from Harwich, England, to Hoek von Holland

— I’m now aboard the Stena HSS Discovery. This is weird. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it’s like a floating Las Vegas casino. Okay, maybe an off-Strip one, but you get the idea. There are movie theaters showing first-run movies, bars, restaurants, cafes, and casino games. The Stena HSS Discovery, sailing from Harwich in England to Hoek von Holland. This vessel carries vehicles, too, and truckers even have their own lounge.
London, part one

London, part one

— After about a 44-hour whirlwind through London, I’m on a train to Harwich, on the coast of England, where I hope to catch a ferry to the Netherlands either tonight or tomorrow morning. When I arrived at Heathrow Thursday evening, I had been thinking I would head for one of the campgrounds on the outskirts of the city, since I had a tent already. However, I arrived about an hour later than scheduled, and I was exhausted from five days with little more than one- and two-hour naps, so I wasn’t relishing the idea of spending another hour or more on a train to pitch a tent in the dark.
Preparing for my summer fun in Europe

Preparing for my summer fun in Europe

— In my recent posts, I’ve hinted I’m doing some traveling this summer. I won’t leave you in the dark any longer. In the next couple weeks, I’m leaving for a month-and-a-half-long backpacking trip through Europe. Yes, Europe again. Yes, I have the bug, and I have it bad. On my way to Europe, I’m spending a few nights in Iceland, which I’ve been wanting to see for years. There’s 24-hour daylight there this time of year, and I’m very curious to experience it, as well as taking part in Reykjavik’s infamous nightlife.
Letter from Montpellier

Letter from Montpellier

— When last I left off, I was getting myself ready to have dinner with Marlene in Madrid on Wednesday night last week. We met near my hotel, and despite her joking about Spaniards being late and how I should wait a few extra minutes for her, she was right on time. I’m not particularly fond of Spanish cuisine in general, and most of the items on the menus there are not words I remember from the vocabulary lessons in my high school Spanish class, so eating well there can be a bit of a challenge.
En route to Annecy, France

En route to Annecy, France

— We caught the first southbound train in the morning after breakfast. Getting to Annecy from Geneva still involved two connections: one in Chambéry, the other in Aix-les-Bains. When we finally got to Annecy in the mid-afternoon, Kirsten and I were both ready to find a place where we could just crash for several days and relax. Annecy seemed like the place. It had a lake with public beaches and warm water, and the tourist office pointed us to a nice, centrally-located hotel called Hôtel du Nord, that included a shower and private W.
En route to Annecy, France

En route to Annecy, France

— We took a train to Karlsruhe in the mid-afternoon and caught another ICE train to Basel, Switzerland. On board we met an older couple, the husband of which was a model railroad enthusiast who just loved the on-board information screens on the ICE. He told us some stories about the train we were on, including one about a train wreck which is the reason the train goes particularly slowly around a certain curve, and the reason there are two Basel train stations (one belongs to the German railroad).
Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

— I can’t say I slept well that night. The clean, inexpensive room in Heidelberg lacked a window and it was very stuffy. Breakfast was the worst so far. Kirsten hated her hot chocolate, and the cream for the coffee was spoiled and made disgusting lumps in my cup. We checked out around 11:00 a.m. and brought our stuff to the train station and stuffed it in a locker (1,0 DM). We still had plenty of time left on our twenty-four-hour pass, so we went to see Heidelberg’s primary attraction, the castle.
Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

— It was still as hot as hell in Europe (well over 30º C) everyday without a pause. It was Monday, and Kirsten and I decided to go to Heidelberg, Germany. We boarded an ICE (Inter-City-Express) train to get us as far as Karlsruhe, and it was wonderful. According to the literature, it travels twice as fast as an automobile and half as fast as an airplane. It was nicely air-conditioned and had jacks to plug in headphones for eight-channel music listening, which we actually used, and had adjustable pillows on the reclining seats.
Zürich and Lugano, Switzerland

Zürich and Lugano, Switzerland

— I arrived Zürich at about noon. Zürich was very expensive, and I had little idea what I wanted to see, if anything. I had earlier thought that I may spend the time doing a little bit of gift shopping for some of Switzerland’s fine merchandise, but I forgot I’d be arriving on a Sunday, so everything was closed. I bought a newspaper (0,8 SF) and a soda (3,5 SF) and stashed all my stuff in a locker (3,0 SF) after getting 100 SF from a cash machine.
En route to Bregenz

En route to Bregenz

— Three Mormon girls (they volunteered the information) boarded the train at Munich and sat in the same little seat section with me. They are students at Brigham & Young University in Utah, with names of Lisa, Julie, and Camille. They were planning night trains for the rest of their trip because both of Lisa’s credit cards were no longer valid; one because she entered the wrong PIN at the ATM, the other because she used her mother’s card, which is a big no-no in most places (although I’ve personally yet to have anyone check).
Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany

— I’m laid over here in Munich and I’ve been taking an impromptu walking tour of the city, which is compact and quite seeable in an afternoon without going too in-depth. I found a lively beer-garden near the town marketplace. The beer is “Münchner Hell”. A half-liter cost me 4,20 DM and it is delicious. The Bavarians know how to make beer: this really hits the spot. I was a little intimidated by the full-liter beers; they are exactly twice the price of the halfs, so I figured I could go back.
Mutters, Tyrolia, Austria

Mutters, Tyrolia, Austria

— I’m sitting here on the balcony from our room at Haus Wolf at Dorfstrasse 48 in the beautiful village of Mutters in the outskirts of and hills surrounding Innsbruck, Austria. This place is so wonderful that we haven’t even bothered to go into the city of Innsbruck since we arrived on the train a little after one o’clock yesterday afternoon. We found out too late yesterday that our day pass for Innsbruck’s transportation wouldn’t get us to Mutters; we had to take a tram up into the hills from a private tram company (52 ATS round trip).
Mutters, Tyrolia, Austria

Mutters, Tyrolia, Austria

— Haus Wolf is listed as a best bargain both by Let’s Go and Frommer’s, and that’s about all the advertising she needs. The Stubaitalbahn (STB), the train into the hills from the city of Innsbruck, seems like extortion at almost 5 US$ for an 18-km round trip. But one can really appreciate the breath-taking views that are included in the fare. In any event, Mutters was so nice that we didn’t need to use the STB again except to return to the train station.
Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

— A nice breakfast was served at Tauernhof, but there was no meat. The first stop on our day tour of Salzburg was the post office, where Kirsten mailed about a half-million postcards by airmail at about 80 cents (8,5 ATS) a whack. At that point I decided that only immediate family would receive postcards by Flugpost, everyone else would wait for surface mail (7 ATS each). The first real stop was Mirabell gradens, a beautiful place with all the beauty of Versailles or Herrenhaüser but without the grandiosity.
Arriving in Vienna with neither hotel reservation nor money

Arriving in Vienna with neither hotel reservation nor money

— When we arrived in Vienna we made a bee-line for the hotel reservation desk, only to have it occur to us that we had zero schillings. So Kirsten held a place in line and watched our bags while I ran upstairs to an ATM. I came back to find Kirsten had not moved at all in line. Reservations put us at the Pension Bosche (13, Keilgasse) for 335 ATS per person per night, plus 35 ATS fee (Kirsten and I split the fee, so 17,50 ATS) where we stayed for two nights.
First use of our Eurail passes, Paris to Vienna in one day

First use of our Eurail passes, Paris to Vienna in one day

— Friday morning we actually, really, truly, honestly got up at 6 a.m. We checked out of the hotel and took the RER and Metro to Gare de l’Est. We had our Eurail passes validated and found out we were too late to make reservations, which we tried to do on Thursday, but when we went to the station, Kirsten did not bring her ticket. In any event, we found seats in a six-person cabin in the smoking section, yet somehow we made the 13.
Paris, visiting the sewer museum instead of the Eiffel Tower

Paris, visiting the sewer museum instead of the Eiffel Tower

— Kirsten actually did meet me on time at the Eiffel Tower. We’d both been up on it, and we had done Sacré-Coeur on Monday which was actually a better view; the line was enormous and we decided our money would be better spent elsewhere. We walked down the street to start a sewer tour (20 FRF). (Our student ID cards had already paid for themselves at this point.) The tour was very interesting and educational but, of course, smelly.
Sitting on park bench near the Eiffel Tower, waiting for my fiancée

Sitting on park bench near the Eiffel Tower, waiting for my fiancée

— I’m sitting on park bench near Eiffel Tower. I got sick of waiting for Kirsten all morning after getting up at 8 a.m. and enjoying the relatively cool morning air, which she squandered away debating over next week’s accommodations. I bought us some croissants for breakfast and a coffee (4 FRF) at McDonald’s for myself. After sitting around the room for hours with Kirsten, I left for place St. Michel and got myself a hot gyro from one of the ubiquitous Greek restaurants.
Purchasing the Carte Orange week-long Metro pass, Paris

Purchasing the Carte Orange week-long Metro pass, Paris

— After a couple days of getting familiar with Paris and getting some relaxing quiet time together, Monday was the day Kirsten and I really began the hard-core sight-seeing in earnest, despite the fact that we slept in pretty late, lingered through breakfast, and left the room after noon. Our first order of business was to purchase the Carte Orange week-long Metro pass. This little-known offer essentially separates tourists from residents because the it is available only for Monday through Sunday usage and is almost never advertised in any language other than French.
Balmy afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Balmy afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

— We woke up around 10:00 a.m., refreshed and entirely hungry. After showering and dressing, we walked down the avenue MacMahon, looking for breakfast. We came across a pleasant open air market and seized the opportunity for a picnic. A bakery supplied the croissants, a small grocery supplied the fruit juice and water, some pushcart vendors supplied the fresh fruit, and an apartment building supplied the steps to sit on, making our perfect picnic in a busy Parisian neighborhood.
An afternoon of anticipation walking around Paris

An afternoon of anticipation walking around Paris

— Anticipation was the key word of the afternoon. After waiting for over an hour at Angelina’s, I realized that I either had the wrong place or Kirsten was not coming. I decided therefore to find her hotel, Hôtel MacMahon, suspecting that she might eventually end up there. To find the hotel I bought a good map of Paris and left the rest up to my feet. I was disappointed when I got there to find out that Kirsten had not even checked in yet.
Re-familiarizing myself with the Right Bank of Paris

Re-familiarizing myself with the Right Bank of Paris

— After resting my jet-lagged body for a few hours, I went out to a local store and stocked up on spring water. Then I did a little exploring. I took the Metro to the Hôtel de Ville stop on rue de Rivoli and walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. It was an excellent opportunity to re-familiarize myself with the right bank of Paris. I rediscovered sights like Musée du Louvre, Jardins des Tuileries, Avenue Champs-Elysées, and the Arc de Triomphe.
Early morning arrival at Charles de Gaulle, Paris

Early morning arrival at Charles de Gaulle, Paris

— I arrived in Paris early this morning at Charles de Gaulle airport to find a temperature in the low 70’s, drizzling rain, and overcast skies. Passport control would have been a snap, but I filled out my tourist card with the point of disembarkation rather than the point of embarkation. Two of my biggest fears were squelched upon arrival: getting transportation from the airport to the city, and finding a cheap place to spend the night.