Tag Archives: Travel

Flyover country again…

I just returned from a week in Lincoln, Nebraska.  For the second time this year I’ve had my preconvienced notions of ‘flyover country’ shattered (well, not all of them, it’s pretty flat out there).  Still, my smug East Coast attitude is beginning to crack around the edges.

If you happen to find yourself in merry ol’ Lincoln may I recommend Brewski’s which (on Thursdays at least) had a great set of ‘dueling pianos’.  I was sold with their rendition of Snoop Dogg‘s ‘Gin and Juice‘  and it only got better from there.

Nebraska boasts a decent selection of local beers which I highly recommend.  I tried many types ranging from pale ales to porters and don’t recall getting a bad one.

Another bar worthy of checking out is the ‘Starlight Lounge‘ which is (I think) a satellite operation (and attached to) a restaurant called ‘Buzzard Billy’s‘ (also worth checking out.  The lounge is decorated in late 60’s/early 70’s blue vinyl and was fantastic.  Even if it wasn’t, however, the evening would have been worth it based on the following snippit of conversation I heard while entering the restroom (two guys were talking to each other):

“…so I went home and googled it and found out there’s this whole fetish around women wearing casts.  It’s like regular porn except the woman has a cast on her arm or leg.  Yeah…cast porn.”  (Hey, do me a favor and finish reading this before you jump to google and search it, okay?  And don’t pretend you aren’t gonna do it…we both know you are.)

I don’t really know anything about sports but Lincolners (Lincolnites?  Lincolnese?) seem to be unusually enthusiastic attachment to their local college football team (the Cornhuskers).  I don’t really get the name.  I mean, don’t teams pick mascots that indicate the level of fieceness or determination to win?  Are people who husk corn particularly driven to that sort of thing?  I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explaination for this but I feared my question might enrage the residents so I thought the best course of action was to keep my mouth shut.

Nebraskans are yet another group of people who are generally nicer than my Northeastern brethern.  I’m confident, however, that we’re MUCH better prepared for the zombie apocalypse (really, who doesn’t know that you have to destroy the brain to keep a zombie down?).

The airport in Lincoln has one of those full body scanners but, yet again, I was thwarted from making a scene and demanding a pat down when I was directed through a regular metal detector.  Damn you TSA!!!  I had three hours to kill!

On the other hand it didn’t look that they were directing many people through the scanner.  In fact, I’d almost say it was there for show but they finally sent one poor sap through it.

Oh…I wrote this in Chicago Midway airport on Friday night.  My only story to tell from here:  I see a young couple across from me talking, flirting, etc. (I can’t hear what as I’ve got my headphones on) but I just saw the woman pick the man’s nose and seconds later kiss him.  I have no idea what the hell kind of mating ritual that is but it kind of freaked me out.

Update:  Oh! And I forgot the weirdest thing of all.  Apparently, Lincolners (or maybe Nebraskans in general) have a favorite local dish which is comprised of a bowl of chili and a cinnamon bun which they use for dipping.  I have to admit the thought of that makes me throw up a bit in my mouth.  Still, they swear by it (it was on at least one menu I saw) and claim that it’s in regular rotation in the school lunch program along with carrot sticks.  What the hell, I guess if you’re already going to commit culinary homicide by mashing up a cinnamon bun and chili it’s probably too much to expect sense to be made with the sides.

Hey, where’s my tax funded grope?

I had occasion to go through the security line at Philadelphia International Airport today and I have to say that this may have been the fastest I ever zipped through security.

I didn’t even see one of the full body scanners although I’ve read that they’re installed here (perhaps for international flights?).  The screeners did, however, do some sort of a half-assed pat down in conjunction with the metal detector.

So, I wasn’t able to strike a blow for freedom (and downright contrariness) but I’m not beat yet!  Stay tuned for the return trip…

One other observation for the general public:  People, please.  Pajamas are NOT suitable for wandering around in public areas.  Consider this your (final) warning.  Violate this rule again and you risk me unleashing my robot army…

Given that I can get free internet access just about anywhere else, what’s the deal with restricting access in airports?

Back to the future

As you might have guessed if you checked out my flickr site, the TwShiloh team traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia to take in a little local history.  My findings:

  1. While I’m a true blue yankee, my mother is a daughter of the South and has bequeathed two articles of her heritage to me:  the inexplicable habit of peppering my speech with ‘y’all’ and the ability to make the best cheese grits…ever.  Now that I’ve gone south of the Mason-Dixon line and tried what they’ve got I feel pretty confident in making that claim.
  2. Late September is the time to go for a visit.  The weather is nice (a bit hot, actually, this year), the schools have just started back so you aren’t bombarded with vacationers or student groups.
  3. There’s a very interesting dynamic going on in the Williamsburg area.  There, in what they term the ‘Historic Triangle‘ is a fascinating mix of federal sites (Jamestown and Yorktown), state facilities (Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center)  and a privately owned location (Colonial Williamsburg) that cover almost two centuries of history in a very small area. Given the potential for collaboration and these tough financial times you’d think these groups would welcome the opportunity to coordinate their efforts.  It doesn’t seem to work out that way…

The National Park Service seems to regard the state facilities with a bit of contempt.  As one ranger told me, ‘Oh, they’re fine if you like that sort of thing.  It’s an interpretation of history.’  And, to be fair, it’s clear the state wasn’t being totally historically accurate (I detected plastic sheeting under the reed mats that made up the huts in the Powatan village).  And while the National Park Rangers gave amazing tours (especially a Ranger ‘Linda’ at Yorktown who gave a most excellent account of the battle) the state employed historical ‘interpreters’ were quite knowledgeable and very approachable.

Colonial Williamsburg seemed to suffer from the lack of fulfilled potential the most.  It’s still very beautiful but I seemed to detect a slow decent into theme park-ism which, in all fairness, might just be a bit of  curmudgeon coming out of me.  I did, however, speak with a couple of the locals who indicated that the site has begun hiring actors in place of expert craftspersons.  I suspect there’s a natural tension  between a profit making enterprise and doing history.

That being said, we went to an evening performance titled ‘Cry Witch’ that was very good.  It was a trial, based on an actual witch trial (with some liberties taken in regards to its conclusion) and it had the most interesting aspect where some of the audience played the role of counselors and could question the witnesses while the ‘governor’ used the examinations to provide instruction on the legal system of 17th century Virginia.  It was quite fun and, dear reader, you would have been quite proud of my performance.

And overall, I was reminded with disappointment that there’s a similar nexus of American history that has gone essentially overlooked.  I’m speaking of Washington Crossing, the battlefields of Princeton and Trenton, and Valley Forge (not to mention Philadelphia).  Virginia has been able to leverage their historic sites to complement each other (even if they don’t actively cooperate).  Here, the sites are left on their own, particularly in the case of Washington Crossing, to wither and fade into obscurity.

I’ll never call it ‘flyover country’ again…

I’m back from the COIN symposium and I will discuss that at length in upcoming posts but before I get into that let me wrap up with my impressions of my time outside of the lecture hall and in the greater Ft. Leavenworth area.

I’ll admit I had a lot of preconceived notions of what to expect from a few days in KansasDry, flat, brown and boring was what I was expecting.  So, I was totally blown away.  It was green!  It was hilly (well, sort of).  And, it was a lot of fun.  So, allow me to recommend some places I went to while in the area:

St. George Hotel.  Weston, Mo. (pop. 1650) is a great little town that’s a popular destination for weekenders and the St. George is the town’s hotel is a great place to stay (I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the knucklehead who recommended I stay at places like the Super 8 or other chain hotels that were both more expensive AND had reviews which included reports on the insect life guests found while there and lackluster service.  For an extra five or so minutes commute time I got a suite in a mid-19th century hotel with great atmosphere, a super friendly staff and the place had a really nice bar that I, unfortunately, didn’t get to experience since I wasn’t there over the weekend.

Weston Brewing Co.  They’ve been brewing their own selection of beer for about 5 years now and they’ve got some good product.  They’ve got the usual selection of ales and such as well as a jalapeno pepper beer which they make work (somehow) and would be really brilliant with Mexican food.  The building is six stories of which five are underground in the form of two former stoarge cellars which have been converted to pubs.  Food is Irish themed and the Fish and Chips were quite good.

Pirtle Winery.  Wine in Missouri?  What are you kidding me?  Who knew the area had a ‘wine country’?  Their stuff isn’t going to knock France or California off the charts but their stuff is pretty good for a fledgling winery.  They don’t focus on sweet wines which I’m under the impression newer wineries tend to produce becuase it’s easier and so you can drink their stuff without thinking you’re sipping spiked grape juice.  It also means that their fruit wines (cherry, blueberry, etc.) are among the best I’ve had and are actually drinkable.  I picked up a bottle of their chocolate infused cherry wine and a bottle of blackberry mead which were worth the trouble of packing into my bag and the risk of broken bottles.

The Vinyards Restaurant.  Right across the street from Pirle Winery.  The Mayer sisters put together a great menu of fresh, local ingredients.  Products they can’t get locally (like seafood) they get from fresh from responsible producers.  They can tell you where everything on your dish came from and offer to make meals which are vegitarian, vegan and gluten free upon request.

Avalon Cafe.  Another great restaurant with very good food.

Oh…and all this stuff is within walking distance of each other.

JW Crancer’s.  (530 Delaware St, Leavenworth, KS).  Kansas (or maybe just Leavenworth) apparenlty has some funky laws about drinking.  You can’t have a bar but you can have a private drinking club.  I don’t get it but this place is amazingly, freaking cool.  Dark wood, big open spaces, couches and nice chairs, live jazz.

Finally, I don’t know what they put in the water there but everyone we met was seriously nice.  Like creepy nice.  Like we expected them to turn into bloodthirsty crazies at midnight or find out they were all secretly part of some satanic cult who sacrificed visitors if they let their guard down.  We’d stop and ask somebody for directions or information and on several occasions they’d later hunt us down expand upon what they said or give us information they thought we could also use.  Who does that?  I think I’d move there if I didn’t think my East Coast customs would infect the whole area like some sort of crop blight.

Now I need to find an excuse to get back to the area…

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore…

Weston, MO – Greeting Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea.  I’ve arrived at the breadbasket of America for the COIN symposium.  Travel was a bit dicey as the flight from Washington D.C. experienced a mechanical failure with one of the flaps (best line from the pilot:  “We hope you all aren’t panicking back there because we sure aren’t up here.” The ‘Yet’ was left unsaid.) forcing us to reroute to Philadelphia (the nearest airport with the requisite runway length to handle the fast landing we had to make).  While the fire department escort was nice the whole episode meant that six hours after I began my journey I found myself exactly where I started.  While this was less harrowing that my last emergency landing I’d like to note that I’ve now seen quite enough of this sort of thing and would like to lodge a complaint with the powers that be that everyone should have a chance at aircraft emergencies before they start doubling up experiences on people.

From there, however, things went decidedly uphill.  More later when I can do everything justice but let me just say that I want to humbly apologize for any stereotypes I may have had about the area.  This place is freakin’ great.

Posting this week may be spotty to non-existent.  I was hoping to catch up in the evenings but the presence of a nearby brew pub may interfere with that plan.  Notes from the conference, therefore, may have to wait until the weekend or early next week.

Frozen Hell

Think this winter was tough on you?  This week a number of ships were stuck in the Baltic Sea as unusual amounts of ice froze them in place.

Several vessels, including a Viking Line passenger ferry carrying around 1,000 people, had collided with each other as they drifted amid huge blocks of
moving ice.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ferry system that crosses the Baltic it consists of a number of cruise lines that carry people and goods between the various nations that adjoin the Baltic.  Most trips take from a few hours to an overnight and their big attraction is that passage on these ships entitles you to shop at the duty-free store on board.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to take a short trip (they’re pretty cheap) solely for the opportunity to stock up on booze and smokes.

And for short journeys, the ferries are pretty sweet.  They’ve got a few restaurants, a (really, really) small area for limited gambling and entertainment.

Well, I use the word ‘entertainment’ in its broadest and most general sense.  There’s usually some sort of floor show which is usually just terrible.  Imagine a Vegas show (and since I’ve never been to Vegas perhaps I should say ‘Imagine what you imagine I imagine a Vegas show would be like’) on a stage too small by half, choreographed by someone who’s an undergrad hoping to one day get a degree in dance (or whatever it is choreographers get their degrees in) and thinks he/she is the next -insert famous choreographer here since I don’t really know any- staffed by twice as many people as can comfortably fit on the stage and who are all mildly uncoordinated.  Mix in costumes and generic music left over from the 70s disco era and viola!  You’ve got a ferry line show.

So imagine the horror of being stuck in the middle of the Baltic with nothing to keep madness at bay except endless showing of the ‘Buena Vista Social Show’.  I few years ago we saw the show ‘Fire and Ice’ on the ship’s CCTV and we still cringe at the thought of it…

So take a moment, won’t you, to say a prayer for the poor unfortunates who’ve been stranded in the middle of the Baltic listening to countless hours of disco schlock.

Hopefully the bars were well stocked…


aland panorama9

On my recent trip to Sweden I took a side trip to the Åland Islands.  It’s really a fascinating place.  While technically part of Finland, the islands are:

…politically neutral and entirely demilitarised, and residents are exempt from conscription to the Finnish Defense Forces.

The place is frequently overlooked and known primarily as a stopping point for ferrys transiting the Baltic Sea.  As I understand it, a brief stop at one of the islands two main ports allows the ships to sell items duty free and have gambling.

That’s a shame because the islands actually have some interesting history.  For example, Russia took the islands from Sweden in 1809 and began construction of a huge fortress complex called Bomarsund.  Unfortunately for the Russians, the 19th century was a time of rapid technological change and the a joint force of British and French forces destroyed the incomplete complex as part of the Crimean War.  You can see pics of the ruins here.

Here‘s an account of the battle from the U.K. embassy in Finland.  My favorite part is the description of how two Brits were awarded the Victoria Cross during the battle:

…Lieutenant John Bythesea and William Johnstone, Stoker. Both went ashore from the Arrogant with the intent of stopping the mail flow from Bomarsund across Wärdö to the mainland. They lay in wait for three days until five Russians arrived on 12 August with the postbags. Johnstone ambushed the men, at Bythesea’s signal, attempting to throw a rope around the group whilst Bythesea provided cover with just one pistol. Two of the men dropped their bags and fled while the remaining three finally surrendered. Bythesea ordered the men back to their own boat and then forced them to row it back to Arrogant, with the mailbags.

Trying to throw a rope around the group?  Did this guy read too many stories about cowboys lassoing cattle in the Wild West?  How great is that?

If you like castles, Åland’s got one of those as well.  The very nicely restored Kastelholm.  (pics here).

While Bormarsund is just a ruins, both sites are great for exploring and there’s good background information about each.

I was only there for a bit more than 24 hours but the place looks fantastic for biking.  Really well maintained bike trails are everywhere, there are a plethora of beautiful views and there are a variety of camping options (from B&Bs to tent sites to small cabins).

So, if you happen to be near the top of the world go check it out.  But only during the summer months…

Ok, this ain’t the Philippines…

and I’m not MacArthur but I have returned nonetheless.  The good news is that my brief vacation to the nation which brought us such examples of Western civilization as the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, fermented herring in a can, and three of the five members of the infamous bikini team has given me a great deal to write about.

So much, in fact, that I’m in a bit of a quandry as to where to start (that’s the bad news).  But, somehow I’ll muddle through.

I’ll begin with a few observations:

I don’t believe in Hell but if it does exist I’m sure a part of it resembles Newark International Airport.  From its overpriced…everything to its completely useless security precautions this airport has little going for it except the fact that you can get just about anywhere from there.  I used to enjoy going to the airport and flying.  Now I loathe it.  Having to wind my way through cattle chutes while attempting to juggle my carry on, boarding pass, shoes and all mattalic objects that could possibly set off the alarm is about as dehumanizing as you could get for $600.  Then you realize that the cattle chute would be a great way to funnel the blast of an explosion but take some comfort in knowing that at least no one will get on board the plane with more than 3 oz. of toothpaste.

Oh, and if you want to know why people try to sneak into the country illegally, just come through Newark customs.  Heck, I’d prefer wading across the Rio Grande rather than have to put up with those surly immigration people.  Welcome to America, you jerk!

I packed a lot of reading material with me on this trip, some of which I’ll write about in future posts but while waiting for my plane to start boarding I read “WHEN ZOMBIES ATTACK!: MATHEMATICAL MODELLING OF AN OUTBREAK OF ZOMBIE INFECTION” a academic paper by some Canadians who are (ostensibly) trying to show the value of mathematical modelling but (really) are trying to warn humanity about the upcoming zombie invasion.  Money quote:

An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. While aggressive quarantine may eradicate the infection, this is unlikely to happen in practice. A cure would only result in some humans surviving the outbreak, although they will still coexist with zombies. Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time.

…an outbreak of zombies will result in the collapse of civilisation, with every human infected, or dead. This is because human births and deaths will provide the undead with a limitless supply of new bodies to infect, resurrect and convert. Thus, if zombies arrive, we must act quickly and decisively to eradicate them before they eradicate us.

In short…zombies=bad

Note to self:  Reconsider work on my zombie worker program.  Might be unforseen consequnces.

On brighter news, I think I can now safely say that Stockholm is my favorite large city.  At least in the summer months.  I haven’t yet experienced the city when it’s 30 degrees and has 6 hours of daylight but I’m guessing that might tarnish the luster a bit.  But in the nice months (June through August at least) it’s fantastic.

Swedish Vacation Update Part 4

Whoa…It’s now been almost three months since my trip to Sweden and I’m still not done with my trip report.

I got to spend a couple of days in Öland, which has a lengthy history and fantastic views.  The whole place has a rural feel, with the large towns having less than 5,000 people in them.  The island is a popular tourist destination for Swedes but it was pretty empty when we got there.  That happened to be a fairly lucky coincidence since the island was about to be packed with celebrations of the Crown Princesses’ birthday.

Two brilliant places to check out are the castles of Ektorp and Burgholm.   One of the great things about museums and exhibits in Sweden is that most of them aren’t walled off and sterilized leaving you to view them behind a wall of plexiglass and crowd control barriers.  You can actually touch the stuff which, to me, makes the experience much more interesting and informative.

Eketorp is an excavated iron age fort and the reenactors have done quite a good job of setting the scene.  It’s a bit off the beaten track (you don’t have a car it’ll be a headache to get there and back) A number of homes (hovels?) have been constructed as well as working areas and the reenactors go about their daily business.  They try to be interactive, allowing you to do a bit of archery, cooking bread, etc but probably the thing that was the most authentic about the place were the goats and pigs they had wandering around loose on the grounds.  The sounds (and smells) of the animals helped to make it more of a historical and less of a theme park experience.  It was also interesting to see how small these forts were.  They guess that there were approximately 150 people living in the fort (including women and children) meaning you didn’t have tons of men-at-arms just hanging about doing nothing.

Eketorpians hard at work

Borgholm castle is a a beautiful ruined castle that was used from the 12th to the 19th centuries before it was destroyed in a fire.  Yet again, there is virtually no part of this castle off limits to those who want to explore every nook and cranny of the place.  It’s got tons of atmosphere and you can even go check it out after the place closes down (I don’t know if you’re suppossed to or not but I’m one of those ‘If it isn’t strictly forbidden, it’s permitted’ type of guys).

These two alone make Öland worth the trip, even if you have to go a bit out of your way.  But there’s plenty more to see, especially if you dig windmills.  My favorite…the blue cow.

Sweden vacation update – part 3

OK…I’ve been back about three weeks and I forgot to mention a couple of things about my recent trip.

#1:  Airport security remains a joke. I’m starting to get annoyed at the charade known as airport security.  Taking off my shoes isn’t a big deal but the fact that it’s a total crock of shit makes the whole process annoying.  How do I know it’s no good?  Well, for one thing, it’s not universally required.  I’ve now flown out of Arlanda airport three times since 2005 (once on a U.S. carrier, once on SAS and once on Malaysia Air) and I’ve never had to take my shoes off.  Every one of the flights was a non-stop to the U.S. and had tons of Americans on board.  Do we assume that terrorists are only going to fly out of the U.S.?  Besides, the last (and only) attempt to blow up a plane with a shoe didn’t end well for the terrorist (and even if it did go boom, I don’t know if it’s clear that the plane would have come down) and I’m not sure the best plan is to try to recreate a failed one.

Also, they now hand out these pieces of paper that all U.S. citizens are supposed to fill out giving information about where you’re going, your address and other information.  I don’t know why they need it so didn’t fill it out  on the way over and wasn’t going to fill it out on the way back but they required it to get through customs.  It, apparently, is nothing but crap as well because the flunky in charge of checking my paperwork was upset that I filled it out in pencil (if you want me to fill out a form in pen, you better give me a pen) and then promptly threw it away.  Brilliant.

Remember:  Airport ‘security’ has little to do with security and a whole lot to do with control.

#2:  While on the ferry to Estonia, one of the musical acts was Chalan Williamson, an American currently living in Finland (if I remember right) and working around Europe as a travelling troubadour.  He was really good and generated some good energy in the crowd.  In fact, the only negative thing I could say is that we all thought his set should have been longer.  In all fairness it was a couple of hours long but the good vibe he generated collapsed under the weight of the karaoke which followed his act.  You can check out some of his videos here.

#3:  I went to see the movie, Mamma Mia while I was in Sweden.  I figured it would be wrong not to see an ABBA themed movie in Sweden. I’m not sure what I expected but I guess I saw this as my best chance to see the normally reserved Swedes letting their hair down.  The whole thing was much more sedate than that and while I did detect some head bobbing and toe tapping to the music I didn’t get to see Swedes breaking out in song en mass.

In any case, the movie theater was in a mall which was similar to any mall you might see in the U.S. except this one food concession.

No, your eyes don’t deceive you.  They were selling ‘Corn in a cup’.

Two things occur to me as I saw this advertisement:

  1. They either took fresh corn on the cob and stripped the kernals off, thereby taking away most of the joy of eating fresh corn or…
  2. They just opened up a can of corn, dumped it into the Styrofoam cup, put it in the microwave and served it which takes away not only the fun of eating fresh corn but most of the taste as well.

And what’s with slice of lemon?  Who eats lemon with corn?

Crazy Swedes…