Category Archives: Travel


City in the Clouds

As part of yesterday’s discussion of one’s most favored habitat, I neglected to mention this enchanting idea – colonizing the planet Venus.

The surface of Venus is too hot for comfort (or even existence), but apparently at an upper level of the atmosphere it’s cool enough to be habitable as long as we solve these thorny problems:

  • Nothing solid to stand on.
  • No lakes or beaches.
  • Certain death in a planetary blast furnace if you fall off the edge.

But on the plus side, you’re considerably closer to the Sun, and even if you can’t surf you can tell the suckers back on Earth that you’re having a fine time in Cloud City.

This would not be a friendly environment for those among us who are worst-case scenarists. All you’d have to do is look up to see the giant kevlar balloon keeping cloud city afloat to start imagining myriad ways in which things could go catastrophically wrong.

And then of course there’s island fever – a popular name for the syndrome where one feels hemmed in and limited even though one’s prison is Maui. Being such a townie, I don’t doubt a completely artificial floating city could be constructed that meets all of my work and entertainment needs – a desktop, some nice restaurants and a few stages and cinemas – but after I’ve boasted to my friends that I live in Cloud City, what would I do with the stark realization that I’m stuck forever in Cloud City?

I suspect the final design will have to include a safety net that hangs below, just like the Golden Gate Bridge.

You’re going away for good. Name your preferred prison.

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Extraterrestrial Extrovert Exclusion Expected

I’m not against extroverts – quite the contrary.

Yes, of course I’m an introvert and naturally I’m prone to long stretches of uncomfortable silence. That’s why I rely on the extroverts of the world – they keep the conversation going.

It’s the extroverts out of this world that may become the real problem. It seems the ebulliently sociable are on the verge of being excluded from any mission to Mars.

The tiresome effect of introverts and extroverts being in close confines for an extended period of time is a topic we have already explored here. And all indicators suggest the charm of upbeat, chatty people will wear thin during more than a half-year with nothing to comment on but the same black-and-star-speckled scenery.

When desperate to end a conversation, my fall-back is the generic “Well, I gotta go now.” But locked inside a Mars-bound capsule, there’s really nowhere else to “gotta go” to.

Even short trips can seem endless if there’s someone in the car who needs to manufacture conversation. And anyone who has tried to make small talk can recognize the peril here – in the vacuum of space there’s not much to say about the weather after you agree that you shouldn’t open a window because it sucks outside.

Rather than immediately rule out the extroverted for a Mars launch, I wonder if NASA will consider forming an all-extrovert crew. Yes it would be a talkative seven month journey, but perhaps a TV channel could arrange to broadcast the whole thing live. Some outlets don’t have exceptionally high standards – a group of people saying anything energetically is good enough for basic cable.

But here’s the other problem – what happens after arriving on Mars? Introverts will gain back their strength while quietly pondering the alien landscape, but the likelihood is high that extroverts will feel absolutely lost because there’s no one new to meet.

I’m not one to make iron-clad rules and I certainly don’t want to rob people of opportunity based on personal characteristics over which they have no control, but I wonder if space exploration will ever be a good place for extroverts. Yes, they have many positive and endearing qualities and no one can deny that extroverts are wonderful for loosening things up at a party, but as we’ve seen in countless Hollywood movies, aliens may not be open to the kind of congenial welcome we seek.

So dispatching a landing party that’s skilled in glad-handing and back-slapping could backfire in a cataclysmic way. And after all, there’s no guarantee the extraterrestrials will have backs to slap or hands to receive the gladness.

But even if alien forms of life do have these things, why would they accept our overtures? If they are extroverts they would have already come here and introduced themselves.

And if they are introverts, beware! Nothing is more unpredictable than a moody alien, and everybody knows we can come on a little strong.

What sort of road trip companion are you?


Something New Under The Sun

We have had an impressive run of discoveries in recent weeks.

From the soon-to-be simple parlor trick of making matter out of light, to the location of a prehistoric underwater volcano that helped form the island of Oahu, scientists have been uncovering all sorts of wonders.

And even as far too many of Earth’s creatures disappear forever, we are finding new ones to hound into oblivion. A distinctive sea anemone was just identified, and you’ll be delighted to know there is a vicious mantis in Rwanda that’s as scary as anything from Jurassic Park.

Not to be outdone by such a pipsqueak, the already-extinct dinosaurs have just wowed us again by producing a creature that was probably as large as a seven story building!

But my favorite discovery story of the week is this study in persistence:

In 1936 a scientific researcher discovered a particular kind of snake on a remote Mexican island and cataloged it for the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

You’ve gotta love the pluck of these old explorers. Here’s what William Beebe wrote about that initial moment of contact:

“We walked on, flashing the light all around. Not far from the water on the black lava I saw a small dark brown snake. It seemed to be unlike the one I had found in daylight, having lines of black spots on the body, so I picked it up and cached it in my shirt.”

Naturally. Who wouldn’t do it just like that?

Tromping around an exotic place in the dark and stuffing strange snakes into my shirt is definitely on my bucket list, though I’m saving it for the very last thing. And clearly I’m not the only one who feels this way! Almost 20 years after Beebe felt a wriggle in his blouse, a return expedition tried and failed to find the aforementioned snake and wrote off the original discovery as a mistake. Maybe they didn’t turn over enough rocks, or perhaps their pockets were already full.

Fast forward to 2013 and another effort has validated the first discovery. Overcoming obstacles like limited access (you can only get to the island under military escort) and visibility (the creature is nocturnal and lives on an island almost 700 miles from shore), National Museum of Natural History researcher Daniel Mulcahy has learned that the elusive Clarion Nightsnake really exists!

Of course we love our new creatures to be exciting and dangerous, but based on the latest descriptions (brown, with some black spots) and historically nonthreatening demeanor (excessive shirt-friendliness), it’s on-again, off-again status may be the most interesting thing about the Clarion Nightsnake.

What’s your greatest discovery?

Oslo Opera House

A Slow Slog In Oslo

Today’s guest post comes from Jacque.

​Hallo Baboons, from Norway.

This  blog comes to you from our apartment in Oslo after a somewhat miserable stay in this city.  

We have experienced an Oslo tour of various kinds of construction:  buildings from the ground up;  road construction and reconstruction, and some big mess of construction near the beautiful Oslo Opera House.  This construction tour in combination with the Norwegian Easter Holiday (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and the following Monday) disrupted our time here–Museums are closed for re-modeling, transportation lines in vital areas are closed and sidewalks are gone which is rendering our beloved Rick Steve’s books useless.  
​We arrived Monday on a bumpy flight from Amsterdam which left me dizzy and nauseous.  Then we found a broken elevator in the building in which we rented a fifth floor apartment.  Climbing the five flights of stairs with luggage also left us dizzy and nauseous.  This will result in my request for a partial refund from the apartment owner.  Lou contracted a cold on Tuesday.  By Thursday, I had it as well.  

We had a somewhat frightening encounter with a mentally ill man on a tram.  He chose to rant in clear, understandable English about the Norwegian government, about refugees, about his music which he was blasting on a small, entirely too portable speaker system capable of maximum volume!  This Tram Driver stopped to reason with the guy, prompting most of the passengers to flee.  I swear the passenger was channelling the Norse Rush Limbaugh.

This experience was the ugly underbelly of travel!
​We did, however, have several wonderful days sightseeing: On Friday we took the train over the “top of Norway” from Oslo to Bergen.  This 300 mile trip was scenic and thrilling.  We travelled above the tree line through a glacier into ski-resort country. The Norwegian Folk Museum was interesting and detailed about the regions of Norway.  They also had a beautiful display of Norwegian Folk Art that seemed so….familiar.  And we met a Tram Driver who really should have been a tour guide somewhere.  He gave us an informative and knowledgable recap of Oslo on his break, which he chose to spend talking with us.    
​How would you create a great tourist experience for visitors to your town?

photo 1

Holland Days

Today’s guest post comes from Jacque.

Hallo, from Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Holland, you see, is only a folk term because such a nation does not exist. But we had a wonderful time in a legendary, but folklore-only place.

Bicycles reign supreme in Amsterdam and rural Holland, having become a more reliable and nimble form of transportation than the automobile. The cyclists themselves ride like the wind. You watch for them or risk injury if you walk in the bike lane. Public transportation was top-notch.

People park ANYWHERE in Amsterdam, whether they are traveling via bike or car. The city itself is densely populated, housing people in townhouses and apartments. Public parks are available every few blocks, much like Minneapolis, for use by everyone. We found a delightful selection of beers, Dutch bakeries, restaurants, and Optical lens providers–one on every street corner. Do the Dutch have weak eyes?

We bought the supersaver bus tour which took us to the Windmills in Zaanse Schans by the North Sea and the Tulip Garden in Keukenhof in one tiring, yet thrifty day–ka-ching. The next day we were footsore and happy.

Informative museums featuring history (i.e. WWII, royalty, maritime) and art, were easy to access. But they were crowded with Dutch people and tourists alike. At the Vermeer and Rembrandt exhibits in the Rijksmusuem, we had to be both patient and aggressive (elbows) to get a look at the art. The Van Gogh Museum we saw on a weekday, which allowed us a more leisurely tour.

We were informed in perfect English by our Airbnb host, Otto, that no one speaks Dutch anymore–they speak English. And indeed they do. However, we were stopped repeatedly and asked for directions by other tourists who thought we were Dutch.

As to why people thought we were locals, we never did figure that out. Our host just shrugged his shoulders when we asked his opinion. Our only hypothesis is that it has to do with height. The Dutch people in general are tall (average man is 6’1″, average woman 5’6″). Lou and I are also tall – both taller than the average Dutch so maybe we look like we belong.

What helps you fit in?


Roll The Credits!

Prepare yourselves for a string of new news-based celebrities, led by stowaway teen, the 16 year old who climbed into the wheel well of a passenger jet and hitchhiked through extremely low temperatures and dangerously thin air to the island of Maui, where he dropped on to the tarmac remarkably, and thankfully, alive.

Once he is identified, ST will face justice.

But he will also have an opportunity to appear on as many TV shows as he pleases. He can become extraordinarily famous and maybe a little bit wealthy if he decides to sell exclusive rights to his story to one deep pocketed outlet, even if that kind of arrangement and that level of exposure is not in his best interests right now.

Will he take the bait?

It would be a remarkable act of mature reasoning for anyone at any age to pass up offers of stardom and the pleas of network and cable producers.  And remember, he had not-quite-enough impulse control to resist climbing over a security fence and into the wheel well of an airplane headed to he Knew Not Where.

I’m betting we’ll see a lot of him.

Other personalities slated to appear:

  • (Former) Airport Security Employee (FASE) who was supposed to be monitoring the monitors, but clearly wasn’t.
  • Friend of Stowaway Teen (FOST) who knew he was going to do “something crazy” but never expected this.
  • Parents of Stowaway Teen (POST). Brave and Unappreciated, or Horrible and Clueless? Watch the story line develop.
  • Crusading Representatives and Senatorial Scolders (CRASS). Members of Congress will vow to Get To The Bottom of This.

I’m sure there will be many other characters to emerge before this whole thing is done.

If I was going to play one of them, I think I’d like to be Teacher Of Aforementioned Stowaway Teen (TOAST), who will marvel at the turn of events with a comment like: “I don’t know how he found the energy to climb into the wheel well of a jet. I couldn’t get him to lift his head off the desk.”

Help populate this story with a character we haven’t met yet, but will.  


Ask Dr. Babooner

We are ALL Dr. Babooner.

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Taking a cue from the government-funded activities of NASA, several years ago I purchased a powerful telescope and began looking around my immediate neighborhood for other homes that showed signs they could support life as comfortably as the home I live in now.

I’ve been studying the area very carefully and for the most part the places I see all have something terribly wrong – they’re way too big or far too small, they’re too close to a busy street or too far from the local park, they have aluminum or vinyl siding (which I hate), or smokers live there and the air inside the home is simply not breathable.

That last bit is something it took quite a while to learn, but now that I’ve had time to practice with the telescope I’ve become quite good at training it on windows and getting a clear sense of what goes on inside by measuring shadows as they pass in front of the interior lights.

Just the other day I found a house that is quite far from my own but it seems to have all the
elements I love about the place where I already live. The size and temperature are nearly perfect and I think there’s even liquid water inside. I’m pretty sure on that count because I saw someone taking a bath!

You can imagine how excited I was!

But just this afternoon the police came to my door and told me if I don’t start pointing my telescope at the sky rather than the other houses up and down the street, they will try to move me to a new home that is cold and desolate most of the time and has food water only at certain times which are not under my control.

Dr. Babooner, I thought scientific exploration was a pathway to a better life, but in this case it feels like all my work is taking me in the wrong direction. Should I stop, or keep pressing onward, hoping for a breakthrough?

Curious K

I told “Curious K” that he (she?) should definitely stop peeping into other people’s homes and calling it research. The sad truth is that even if you found a place that could support your life as nicely as the place where you already live, the chances are slim that you could get there and even slimmer that you would be welcomed by the current inhabitants. It would be much better to take care of and learn to cherish the place you call home.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?


Return of the Winter Getaway

Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

Several weeks ago Husband and I had an afternoon appointment in Stillwater, about an hour from home, and he delighted me by saying we should make it a winter getaway and stay overnight there. I was elated – the winter has been long and grueling, and we had not yet been able to “get out of Dodge”.

But where to stay in this river town overflowing with Bed and Breakfast places? I’d stayed at one of them decades ago, was charmed by the antique oak furniture, lace, and florals. Still, I wanted to try something new. We searched online and eventually came up with The Elephant Walk Bed and Breakfast, whose byline is Tour the World One Room at a Time.

They are not kidding. Although the house is an 1883 “stick style” Victorian, walking in is like taking a trip to the Far East, where owners Rita and Jon Graybill spent twenty some years, he in military and diplomatic service in Bangkok, Thailand. Downstairs parlors are a veritable bazaar of large and small antiques from Thailand, Bali, Spain and Italy, and the Americas – many of the items for sale. Elephants abound.

They’ve given the upstairs guest rooms names like Rangoon, or Raffles (for the British Colonial Hotel in Singapore), and filled them with exotic and colorful furnishings. Bedrooms are also equipped with a whirlpool in a private bath, a gas fireplace, small fridge with soft drinks, and a sound system. Ours was the Chaing Mai, named for the mountainous region of north Thailand.

We found the place so enchanting we didn’t even leave for dinner… we’d eaten a late lunch in historic downtown Stillwater, and we were provided with complimentary wine, cheese, fruit and nuts, and homemade crackers! The bay window in our room faced west, and we could see The Sunset. Breakfast the next morning was outstanding.

It was so refreshing to have entered this exotic world. I used to think I’d like to run a Bed and Breakfast, and though I probably won’t at this late date, The Elephant Walk has had me thinking of what unique theme I could use for an inn that was something out of the ordinary.

What would be the theme for your B & B?


A Few Limericks in the Mars Light

Who can blame impatient fans of extraterrestrial life for so closely watching the photos sent back by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover? There’s got to be some kind of critter up there! It’s simply a matter of time before it wanders in front of our camera.

It’s this sort of anticipation that gave us the momentarily famous Mars-rat-(shaped rock).

And it’s the very same level of breathlessness that brings us the latest frenzy over a mysterious light in the distance on one of the Rover’s photographs.

NASA was quick to debunk the alluring spark as a momentary effect that can be easily explained by anyone who understands the physics of sunlight. But for the rest of us who know nothing about the physics of sunlight, the flash is most easily explained as a desperate attempt by alien life forms to get our attention by sending up a flare!

Just as puzzling is why this disagreement over supposed evidence of Martian light technology made me want to write limericks.

On a planet that’s barren and flinty
Shone a light inexplicably glinty
But the experts said “Pooh!”
To the rumors – “Untrue!”
“It’s the lens of our camera that’s linty.”

Martian motion detectors don’t glow,
unless triggered. This much we all know.
Out on Jupiter’s moons,
they’re set off by raccoons
But the wildlife on Mars is too slow.

A mysterious Red Planet beacon
has the UFO translators freakin’.
It means “We’re over here.”
Or else, “Don’t come too near.”
Based on which dialect they are speakin’.

We will creep like a moth to the light
towards an alien campfire at night.
If we see them, in mobs,
roasting Earthling kabobs
we’ll retreat at a minimal height.

What kind of signal would draw you in?

San Juan Islands 15p

Three Cheers for Admiral Sir Robert Lambert Baynes

On our recent trip to Seattle on a delightful rainy, foggy day we took the ferry out to an island called San Juan Island, stopping along the way at three other islands in the group called the San Juan Islands.

San Juan Islands 15p

The San Juan Islands mark one of the places on the map I have looked at with longing. I was so enthralled by the two-hour ride I did not even bother with the couple dozen jigsaw puzzles constantly under progress on the ferry.

Ferry 01p

San Juan Island was delightful, better than I had hoped. Perhaps best of all was discovering a little know moment of history. On both ends of the island are a National Historic Park. The north end is called the British Camp; the south end the American Camp. The park remembers what is called either The Pig War or The Pig and Potato War. (I prefer the lilt of the second name myself.) For a full explanation you can consult Wikipedia.

The essence is that after the 49th parallel was made the border between Canada and the United States, with the exception of Vancouver Island, the exact boundary through the San Juan Islands could not be determined for lack of a clear map. Great Britain and the United States agreed on what the boundary should be like but had to wait to see what line through the San Juan Islands would best meet those conditions. San Juan Island was left in limbo and had settlers on it from both countries, peacefully until the day of the pig.

A British settler had a pig which kept getting into the potato garden of an American settler. One day the American had enough and shot the pig. The American then offered the Brit $10 for the pig; the Brit demanded $100. Both sides bristled. Sabers were rattled. American troops landed. Their leader declared he would make it another Bunker Hill, seeming to forget that the U.S. lost that battle. The leader of the British forces, then titled Rear Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes, who later went on to great prominence and a knighthood, was ordered to attack. He refused, explaining that two great nations do not go to war over a pig. For a few days the two sides tried to goad each other into starting a fight, but soon became friends. For a dozen more years, waiting for a peaceful decision, settlers and pigs from both nations lived together in peace, and the two nations had token forces, more comrades than enemies, on both ends of the islands, the sites of the two parts of the National Park.

Vancouver 05p

Eventually, by international arbitration the U.S. was awarded the island. The island is worth a visit today for several reasons. One, for a beautiful view of Vancouver Island.

And a very picturesque lighthouse, The Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse.

Lighthouse 01p

But one thing is missing from the island, a statue of the noble Admiral Sir Robert Lambert Baynes. We put up statues for great fighters. Why not for a great non-fighter? There is a code about statues of military leaders on horses, the number of feet the horse has off the ground telling us if the man was wounded or died in battle. I think Sir Baynes should be shown sitting on a camp stool drinking a cup of coffee.

How should you be posed for your statue?