What’s Brazil Like?

What's Brazil like?
World Cup crazy in Brazil – just as you’d expect.

If you’re wondering "What’s Brazil like?", I have a small part of your answer. It’s a big country, and I was only in one city – Curitiba – for seven days. But I’ll give you some ideas for at least a segment of any future trip to Brazil.

Brazil in a Word: Stylish

From the way people dress to the architecture to the dining, Brazil – if it matches Curitiba – is stylish. There’s a European flair to the architecture and streets with the occasional outburst of wild modern architecture and abundance of cool cobblestones.

What's Brazil like?
Nighttime in Curitiba, Brazil, overlooking a tony mall (right, lit up in red) and one of the fancier urban areas.

You’ve probably heard horror stories about slums in other cities. Well, I don’t know what is going on in Curitiba, but it also has a prosperous flair and a very safe vibe. I roamed the streets all hours of the day. People aren’t as quick to make eye contact or say hello as in, say, Australia. But they don’t bother each other, either.

You can get some detailed notes about Curitiba in my earlier post about the city. It’ll tell you all about some great highlights like the craft beer scene (I’d go as far as to call it the Portland of Brazil just based on the regional craft beer).

What's Brazil like?
I wish I’d gotten more into the wild areas. But this reclaimed quarry was all I had time to find.

Things to Remember

Just one city in seven days makes me even less-than-qualified to answer "What’s Brazil Like?". But I can say with authority that Curitiba has a lot going for it. It makes me think Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are getting too high a billing as Brazil’s highlights.

Before traveling to Brazil, you might want to think about hepatitis B and typhoid vaccines, but I skipped the yellow fever vaccines since it wasn’t recommended for travel to Curitiba at the time.


 

What Makes Phoenix Better Than Tucson?

tucson
A fun bit of Tucson funk.

People from Phoenix love to shit all over Tucson by saying things like "It’s dirty" and "the roads are terrible."

(Disclaimer: I am an Arizona State University graduate. But I also have little regard for silly-ass tribalism. I also like Tucson more and more with every visit.)

While those who bash Tucson run their mouths, downtown Tucson gets steadily more interesting. I’m not ready to proclaim it "Portland in the Desert."

But that day could come.

During my most-recent visit to Tucson (May 2014, as of this blog post), here’s what I did:

  • I visited a museum that is literally a one-of-a-kind in the entire world. I didn’t visit the Pima Air Museum this time, but that’s also a better museum than anything in Phoenix. And yes, that includes the Musical Instrument Museum. That gives Tucson two museums that are better than anything the Phoenix area can offer.
  • I walked -- and saw interesting things. Yeah, Tucson is a sprawling desert city kind of like Phoenix. But it has more pockets of densely packed interesting stuff like art studios and  independent restaurants than you’ll see in Phoenix. Scottsdale is by far the worst offender of useless space – you can walk for miles in that city without seeing anything interesting. And no, "Old Town" Scottsdale and its rubber tomahawk shops don’t count. Sadly, downtown Mesa currently out-cools downtown Scottsdale, and would comprehensively throttle its snooty neighbor to the north if it could convince businesses to stay open later.
tucson
A look at the tidy-but-cool downtown Tucson area.

My perception of Phoenix is that it erroneously believes everything has to be fancy and "high end" to be interesting and viable. It only embraces the funky and weird – like the 5th Street and Roosevelt area – under duress and as a last resort. Tucson mixes it up nicely, especially downtown and near the university.

It’s kind of funny to me, also, that Phoenix and its stepchildren position themselves as great places to shop. I scratch my head over this. I see the same old stuff here, with few alternatives. Let’s put it this way: A few years ago, I was in a band and looking for a new amp. I couldn’t find the one I wanted in Phoenix. I drove to Tucson and found it at one of the several independent music stores down there.Tucson also has Miller’s Surplus, which appeals to my love for surplus stores. Right now, it’s hard to find a decent surplus store in Phoenix.

Tucson
Inside a cool Tucson coffeehouse.

And let’s talk food. Phoenix gets overlooked nationwide, and I absolutely hate listening to people from Chicago overrate its greasy, cheesy artery-clogging fare. And Tucson is no slouch, either. For the past few years, I haven’t considered a visit to Tucson complete without a visit to the Time Market. And during my last visit, my friend and former co-worker Will introduced me to 47 Scott and its accompanying speakeasy Scott & Co. We started out at the speakeasy, where I had a cocktail made with a whole egg and hoisin sauce -- it came off a bit like an aggressive White Russian, which means "completely delicious." I don’t always drink cocktails – but when I do, I prefer for them to be like that!

As for 47 Scott, we slid in just about 15 minutes before it closed and had a stuffed bell pepper, a burger of ridiculously high quality and a crusty bread & olive oil appetizer with some fresh mozzarella. And yeah, I made my ritual visit to the Time Market. I started off with a slice of pizza made with locally sourced lamb sausage, and took a few chocolate bars to go. Yeah, Tucson sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Look, I can understand giving Tucson a hard time. It’s our neighbor to the south, and smaller, to boot. And I laugh every time someone calls the University of Arizona "Nogales Tech." But I can’t honestly say much bad about Tucson. Phoenix is losing its edge over Tucson.

Here’s how I see it: Tucson has awesome mountain bike trails. It has caving. It has shopping, a viable art/music scene. Personality through independent businesses. Great scenery. It’s even a few degrees cooler. Phoenix offers a few more culinary options, sure. Employment might even be a wash. And the airports? Hell, every international trip I take requires a stop at LAX before I can get anywhere cool – so Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has little more than Tucson International Airport to offer.

So, can someone remind me why Phoenix is that much better than Tucson?

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Do You “Explore”? Not Likely.

explore
The guy in the white suit definitely earned the right to call himself an explorer. What about you?

I have this little eccentricity about travel writing: I gag whenever someone casually uses "explore" in any form. For example, "I explored Sweden this summer." Or Twitter bios that say stuff like "I’m an explorer who is determined to visit every country in the world."

OK, I’ll admit that these are legitimate uses of the word, according to the dictionary. But to my ear, casual use of "explore" is self-aggrandizing travel writing ego inflation. I reserve "explore" for those who are the for-real first-timers, those who assume big risks and go places where no signs point the way. Neil Armstrong stepping off the LEM – that’s an explorer. Not a kid backpacking in France after graduating high school. The badasses who made it to the North and South Poles first? Explorers. Some dude eating "street food" in Chiang Mai? Not.

explore
This is what real explorers look like, (Roald Amundsen og Helmer Hanssen gjør observasjoner pÃ¥ Sydpolen, 1911 – Photo credit: National Library of Norway)

It’s like being a professional musician. People have paid me to haul my gear to venues, set it up and play. But I never tell anyone that I’m a professional musician. I don’t make my living that way, and just about every studio musician on the planet could hand me my ass on a platter, musically. I’m a decent local musician. I can do stuff on a guitar that most people on the planet will never be able to master – I know this from the small number of people I’ve tried to instruct, and the mind-boggling frustration of watching them flail at riffs I can nail at will. For all that, I’m a hack compared to working pro musicians. I know it, and I respect their abilities and knowledge too much to equate my meager abilities to theirs.

explore
Someone died at the marker to the left during a freak summer snowstorm. But that doesn’t make us explorers.

For the exact same reasons, I never call myself an explorer. I go to remote places, sure. I’ve been to many places where other people died through bad decisions or rotten luck. But signs generally point the way. Someone got there first and did the heavy lifting for us all.

Likewise, I never say that I "discovered" anything during my travels.

Feel free to explore possibilities in your travels. Write all you want about what you discover about yourself. But think twice before calling yourself an explorer, or saying you are discovering Southeast Asia or wherever your next trip takes you. Challenge yourself to find a better word, to accurately represent what you do.

You’ll be a better writer for it.

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A Look at the Outdoor Products Tech Backpack

Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech packpack
The Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech backpack, ready for some action.

I have a new piece of travel gear I’m pretty excited about: the Outdoor Products Power Pack Glide 2.0. It’s a technology-oriented backpack designed to get your portable electronics – and possibly liquids and gels – through a TSA checkpoint without a fuss. It seems the "tech backpack" has become a new category of its own.

I ran across the Power Pack Glide 2.0 after a buckle on my old Patagonia backpack broke. There was no fixing this problem. And I never loved the Patagonia pack (which was not really a tech backpack). I headed to REI, where the Power Pack Glide 2.0 sells for $64.50; apparently, this is the only place you can get one of these cool tech backpacks. I’d never heard of the Outdoor Products brand -- and holy cow, is that name generic! I was mistrustful and suspicious, scrutinizing it in the same way a housecat examines just about anything new that appears in its house.

  • After all the sniffing, here are some of the interesting features I found in the Power Pack Glide 2.0 (check the video for a demonstration):
  • A cool retractable panel that secures your boarding pass – it’s far better than stashing it in a pocket.
  • A semi-hidden zippered pocket that perfect for stashing a passport or checkbook (remember those?).
  • Small internal pockets for USB drives and memory card.
  • A fleece-lined pocket for my Switch Vision sunglasses (yes, I’m very protective of them).
  • A laptop sleeve that slides out and clips to the backpack for TSA inspection; this seems like a nice concept, but it also strikes me as a feature that will confound TSA personnel. I have yet to test it. But I can see it causing consternation and confusion among the blue shirts.
  • Mesh water bottle sleeves on both sides. They could stand to be deeper. I like big bottles, and these can’t quite accommodate them.
  • A special pocket for tablet-sized items.


It has the usual inner pockets and places to stow pens and whatnot, too. Outdoor Products put more creativity into making a modern technology backpack than they did in choosing a company name. This is some good thinking.

I’ve only had the Power Pack Glide 2.0 a few weeks, and I haven’t boarded a plane with it yet. The build quality seems better than my less-versatile Patagonia pack -- which admittedly wasn’t a full on tech backpack.

The Power Pack Glide 2.0 tech backpack will be an automatic choice for my domestic flights; it probably won’t get much work on my international flights since I don’t take much technology with me. The computer stays home, and I usually just roll with a Kindle. That, and I have my big Kelty backpack with me, and just have a small daypack for short jaunts around cities or quick hikes.

If you need a tech backpack, give the Power Pack Glide 2.0 a look at an REI near you. Its features and price will be enough to make it a good choice for many travelers.

UPDATE APRIL 12, 2014

Since my first blog post, I traveled with the Power Pack Glide 2.0. It caused no fuss with TSA, even with a tablet computer, MP3 player, Kindle PaperWhite and a wealth of chargers and cables.

Also, my wife picked up a Power Pack Glide 2.0 a few weeks ago. She told me three times this morning how awesome it is. So … there you have it.

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So You’re Traveling to Vietnam? Some Straight Truth

going to Vietnam
Motorbikes, carcasses, pollution – they might give you second thoughts about traveling to Vietnam.

So you’re traveling to Vietnam. You have your guidebooks. You’ve read the posts on the big travel blogs. Let me give you a reality check about Vietnam before you drown in travel brochure superlatives.

Here are a few things you really need to know about traveling to Vietnam. I’m basing this on my own experience – just more than two weeks in late 2013.

I spent the first few days wondering if traveling to Vietnam was a mistake.

The Ho Chi Minh City traffic gobsmacked me. When I blew my nose, the snot would be sooty, like when I worked at my dad’s machine shop (yay, particulates!). Walking around on the sidewalks required navigating through a warren of parked motor scooters, sidewalk cafes and people trying to rent or sell you just about everything.

going to Vietnam
Vietnam’s scenery might not pop … but it’s people do – Red Dzao (left) and Black Hmong (right) alike!

Here’s the good news: If you are at all adaptable, Vietnam will start to grow on you. The constant human contact will become more appealing, even as the pollution grows more appalling. Even months after I returned home, my home city still feels empty and distant to me. I still miss eating in places that have four-item menus and serve their meals on tiny tables.

Vietnam has some pretty parts, but --

You’ve seen the photos of Halong Bay Vietnam, and probably some from the enormous limestone caves. All nice. But -- for the most part, there’s a washed-out grayness to Vietnam. It might’ve been the time of year and the humidity and the pollution. It all combined to take the sheen off the colors. Yeah, you can recover some of it in a photo-editing program.

Bottom line: If you’re traveling to Vietnam, don’t expect it to dazzle your eyeballs like Norway or New Zealand. There, the colors explode. In Vietnam, they make a mute little pop.

Traveling to Vietnam is, so far, my most interesting cultural experience.

From Dia de los Muertos to the Haka, different cultures beat me over the head with a cacophony of "I’m important, and you need to learn about meeeee!" It makes me tune so much of it out. If you’re traveling to Vietnam, you’ll find a more subtle enticement to hooking your interest.

traveling to Vietnam
Vietnam at its absolute prettiest.

I found locals and guides less likely to hose me down with facts, and more likely to offer choice tidbits. Those tidbits were enough to get me to ask questions. Whether I was at the Cu Chi Tunnels wriggling through tunnels or poking my nose into a Red Dzao wedding, I heard and saw things to spur my curiosity.

I heard you can be drunk and lazy if you want.

Okay, so you want a typical beach vacation. But you want it someplace exotic that will make you sound more adventurous than someone going to Puerto Rico. Gotcha. I hear that Nha Trang is the place for that. Russians love it, and they flock there for alcohol and sun; there’s even a direct flight from Moscow.

traveling to Vietnam
Nha Trang (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You probably underrate traveling to Vietnam.

I was talking with a couple of co-workers; one of them mentioned how he knew a couple that was trying to decide between going to Vietnam or France for their honeymoon.

"That’s a no-brainer," piped the second co-worker.

That pearl of wisdom came from someone who’s never so much as cracked open a travel guide about traveling to Vietnam -- and probably buys into the inflated romanticized notions of western Europe. Vietnam would be a fine place to spend a honeymoon, especially if you get away from the big cities. Your money will go far and let you level up on luxury. It can be very quiet and tranquil. And yes, the beaches can be spectacular. So don’t speak from a place of ignorance – learn about going to Vietnam before you rush to ill-informed judgments.

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Sound Tourism: The Coolest Sounds to Hear While Traveling

sound travel
Looking out from a high point on Franz Josef Glacier.

I’d never encountered the phrase "sound tourism" (aka audio tourism) until today; I read them in the March 2014 issue of Discover: Science for the Curious. The phrase appears in an all-too-brief interview with author/acoustic engineer Trevor Cox. It’s so new that, as of right now, not even Wikipedia mentions it.

A Discover magazine writer does a Q & A session with Trevor Cox, and includes a link to some of his favorite sounds. He mentions "booming sand dunes" in the Mojave Desert, the call of a male bearded seal and the Australian whipbird.

Trevor Cox also mentions that many subtle sounds get buried in the din of modern life. He makes a good point. I can’t say I’ve ever traveled anywhere to hear something. But there’s something in travel for everyone – so why not sound tourism?

sound tourism
Volcanic fumaroles make cool noises … and some nasty odors.

If you were to make a sound tourism travel list, what would be on it?

I have a few -- mostly just some of the coolest things I’ve heard while traveling:

  • The sounds of glaciers would be a must for sound tourism. I’ve heard cracking and shifting on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland. And you won’t believe how loud it is when a piece of glacier calves and falls into a lagoon. It’s spectacular, and makes the glacier feel like a living organism. I promise that even the most nature-disinterested person would have a change of heart after a day on a glacier.
  • Also on my sound tourism list would be a visit to Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica. Even if clouds obscure the summit, you’ll love the sound of Volkswagen-sized cinders rumbling down the slopes. If you can see their red-hot glow at night, even better.
  • Last item on my short sound tourism list (which I might add to later) would be coyotes. Many people I meet inaccurately think they howl like wolves. But no -- they’re yips and barks are much more eerie, especially since they often travel in packs. Listen to a bunch of coyotes cavort outside your tent while camping, and you’ll understand. Perfect sound tourism!
  • The sound of volcanic fumaroles hissing as they spew gas into the air. They can roar like a jet engine, and be heard for miles. Or they can whisper. It’s the sound of the living earth, and not something I’ll ever forget.
sound tourism
Volcan Arenal spews volcanic bombs that make awesome sounds. (Matthew.landry at English Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

These are not exactly the most subtle sounds. So if you have some sound tourism tips that cover the less obvious sounds, the ones you have to struggle to hear -- fill me in.

As for Trevor Cox, I’ll have to check out the sound tourism map on his website. I’ll look forward to what cool ideas I might encounter for future travel that can include some sound tourism. You can also read the Discover magazine story and hear some of Trevor’s favorite sounds.

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What NOT to Do With an Expired Passport

expired passport Boeing 787 Dreamliner
My flight was waiting for me … all I had to do was bring the right passport.

 

Shortly before the government shutdown in October, I realized my passport would expire just days before we left for Vietnam. I filled out the paperwork and sent the money for an expedited renewed passport. Two weeks later, I had a shiny-but-blank passport. A few days after that, I got my old expired passport with a hole punched through it. I tossed them into my top drawer.

The morning we left (the day before Sarah’s birthday), I stuck a paw in my top drawer and grabbed my passport. Of course, it’s only after a cab dropped us off at the airport -- and after we’re nearly to the check-in agent -- that I realized something.

I grabbed the old expired passport!

I told Sarah what’s up andsaid to get on the plane, and that I’ll go home and get my passport. Naturally, the first cab up was a hoopty minivan ill-suited to high-speed hijinks. Still, it got me back home. I stormed into my room, grabbed the new passport, tossed the expired passport somewhere safe, petted the cat good-bye again, and bolted back into the cab.

Everything turned out alright. I got back to the airport in time. We got to the gate … where we had some delay because the gate crew didn’t want to let me board. For some reason, they thought I needed a Vietnamese visa to even board the flight (which was to San Jose, never mind that travelers get visas when they arrive in Vietnam).

But I caused more stress than I really needed to. So here’s your simple piece of knowledge to take from this: Store your old and much-stamped expired passport somewhere far away from your current passport.

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Remember Peru – A Hint for the Adventure Traveler


A llama (Lama Glama) in front of the Machu Pic...
A llama (Lama Glama) in front of the Machu Picchu archeological site, Peru. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does travel feel like?

Alright, it varies for most people. For some, it’s hot sand and being lazy on a beach. For others, it’s a round-the-clock buffet aboard a cruise ship.

And then there’s the active outdoor traveler: A video starring Peru captures the essence of travel for those who prefer adventure. The Remember Peru video taps into the mindset of a traveler who isn’t about luxury pampering – but it presents the message with a novel twist that I won’t spoil for you.

With Machu Picchu, high altitudes, epic volcanic landforms and wildlife (one word: monkeys!), Peru earns a place on my "must visit" list. As I write this, I have a friend trying her hand at mountain biking during a trip to Peru. Between her and two other friends who lived in Peru, I have enough information to plan a trip that fulfills everything I look for in a vacation. They can all expect some questions from me in the near future. Guidebooks are great, but there’s nothing like first-hand opinions from those who have been there -- especially when we share interests and preferences.

With the Remember Peru video, the country plays to strengths familiar to many outdoor travelers: It says yes, this is a destination for those who always travel with a pair of well-worn hiking boots, who take their cameras off the “Auto” setting and who think a few nights sleeping under the stars make a trip perfect.

And there’s another kind of adventure I could find in Peru: a chance to eat cuy and alpaca. The first one? That’s guinea pig. According to National Geographic, alpaca has a taste in the gamey family of buffalo – not as exotic as guinea pig, but still good for a few tales for the squeamish eaters back home.

What do you think of the video? How does it affect your opinion about a visit to Peru?

This post is sponsored by Marca Peru.

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Hostels – Four Reasons They’re Awesome

hostels

Anything can happen in hostels – from just a good night of sleep to waking up to a naked Dutch dude parading around.

If you’re not used to that sort of mayhem, the latter can be a bit off-putting. You might even conclude "Well, I’m never staying in a hostel, then." And your travel experience will be poorer for it.

I’m not literally talking about The Flapping Dutchman here – but the overall vibe of a hostel. Here’s what I like about hostels, and why you should make it a point to stay at one.

They’re cheap – You dropped serious scrilla on airfare. Staying in hostels is a good way to take your budget back. You’ll pay less than a hotel. And yeah, in many cases, you’ll give up some amenities and privacy. But let’s remember: You’re traveling to get out and do things, not faff about in your room.

 

hostels
Me enjoying a relaxing moment at the Skotel in New Zealand.

You’ll meet people – Hostel crowds are more gregarious than typical hotel folk. They’re often younger, too. So if you’re just venturing into travel, you’ll find people who have something in common with you. It starts to get fun when you move from town to town and start bumping into the same people. Next thing you know, you’ll be hiking together or hitting a nightspot for a drink.

They’re not as Spartan as you’d think – Some hostels are far from the glorified barracks you’ll expect. Sure, in some places, you’ll bunk 20 to a room. But there are some way sweet hostels out there – like the three-person rooms at the Skotel ski lodge in Whakapapa, New Zealand: The cozy wood rooms and sparkly bathrooms make it one of my favorite hostels ever. You’ll be surprised at the quality of other hostels like it.

They’re great for planning travel – Hostels seem very plugged into the cool places to go. Often, the staff members are extra-helpful for planning excursions, getting boarding passes and finding local places to eat and drink. I’ve always felt the service is a little less polished, yet more personal. And I’ll take genuine friendly over corporate-mandated courteous any time.

So, what are your thoughts on staying at hostels?

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Tourism Versus Travel – And My Struggle to Not be a Jerk

Your backpack can be your best friend - or your worst enemy.
I like beautiful destinations – but I work for them.

One of my ongoing travel problems is getting off my high horse – especially about types of travel. This writer seems to go through the same struggle:

When choosing your destination, you need to decide: are you traveling for leisure or culture? I define leisure travel as relaxed and quite a bit like home, but with either service or beauty influencing the destination (ex. beach, cruise, resort, etc). Cultural travel (my kind of travel) is where you set off in hopes to learn, truly experience and open yourself up to a whole new culture and way of life. If you’ve chosen leisure, unfortunately I will have to stop you here, because I don’t think I’ll have much to offer you as far as travel tips that you can’t easily find on some corporate-owned, high-dollar, travel website. While leisure travel is fine and there’s nothing wrong with it, I don’t have much experience sitting on my ass while locals wait on me, so I can’t really pretend to be an authority on the subject. (Emphasis mine)

"Beauty of the destination" is a huge influence on my travel destinations. You could say that Brandon argues that traveling for a destination’s beauty is inherently less valid than traveling to visit a bunch of historic museums. Or that a beach always has more intrinsic eye-candy value than a lava field. But I don’t think that’s what he means. I think he’s traveled enough that he realizes reaching beautiful destinations can involve serious work.

flam norway
Cruises are not really my bag. But … I could be kinder to those who like them.

I think he just didn’t thrust the point home all the way. What I read is that he grapples with the same thoughts about "travelers" versus "tourists" that make me act like a jerk sometimes. I’ve lost count of how many cruise ship passengers and "guided-from-arrival gate-to-wheels up" tour groups I’ve snickered at when I travel.

And I have to stop that. The travel industry is symbiotic: Every traveler of every type is part of a network that creates opportunities for us all to find the experience we seek. I’m glad not everyone wants to eat boiled silkworm larvae; watch a soccer game in a driving Icelandic rain; camp north of the Arctic Circle; or swim into a cave filled with human sacrificial remains. It would get awfully crowded, wouldn’t it?

There are people who just want to escape, clear their mind, recharge their batteries. A beach isn’t a travel destination that will make me happy. But others find solace and renewal in the sand. I get it. The way I travel can be arduous, and I understand why a glacier, a volcano or a cave isn’t a destination for everyone. And I grok why some might want a different dose.

I have no lofty goal when I travel. I just want to do something cool, something different from my everyday life. Call it whatever you choose. No matter what label you tag on me, I’ll enjoy myself doing what I like. You do the same, OK?

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Stand Up Paddle Board Trip – New On My “To Do” List

Stand up paddle board

When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for something new to try. An excursion on a stand up paddle board is now a new item on my to-do list.

So, first off … what is a stand up paddleboard? I think of it as a surfboard that’s so stable you can stand on it – and paddle wherever you feel like going. Here’s the wikipedia definition. It’s an emerging sport that has much of what I look for: a chance to build fitness, some cool equipment and the chance to spot cool wildlife.

Let’s start with the fitness part of it. You’re standing up. You’re using your arms. And here’s a big one – water is an unstable surface. So you have to use just about every muscle in your body to stay balanced on a stand up paddle board. Remember, you can catch a wave, too – so you’ll need stability even when the water works in your favor.

Stand up paddle board, SUP

Add the paddling motion into it, and the intensity ramps right up. When you really bear down with the power, you’ll have to work your core muscles even harder to stay upright. All that adds up to nice fitness benefits – and I’ll try just about anything that promises a fun way to work off all the tasty local foods I like to sample when I travel.

Now, let’s talk about equipment. For some people, gear is a huge chunk of the stand up paddle board fun – I can say this with all the authority of 20+ years on the mountain bike. The crew at Legends SUP in Southern California knows the gear and its impact on the fun; the Legends SUP staff outfits all sorts of paddleboarders from the beginner level all the way up.

You’ll need a board and a paddle. But what else? Possibly a wetsuit, a personal flotation device and some sunscreen. I was surprised by the array of gear for different usage – you’ll see a stand-up paddle board for every application from river use to women-specific designs.

Paddleboarding at Sunset
Paddleboarding at sunset looks alright to me. (Photo credit: Rosa Say)

That leaves us with some opportunities to spot wildlife. If your travel takes you to the Monterrey, Calif., area, you’ll find places to spot a sea otter from a stand up paddle board. And sea turtles and sea lions sighting ares common in the Galapagos Islands.

I’m an Australia-phile, so I’d try a stand up paddle board next time I travel to Australia. The only thing better than spotting wildlife in Australia is managing to not get eaten by them. But just mind the advice from any locals, and you should be good to go.

This is a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts on the sport of stand up paddleboarding are my own. 

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Transportation Gone Bad: What’s Your Worst Story?

 photo DSCF3485.jpg
This crew of Belizean boys is a bit more competent than the guys in charge of my boat from Caye Ambergris to Belize City.

My transportation karma finally ran out. And that’s why I’m adrift a few miles east of Belize City.

We got to Caye Ambergris in a Cessna – probably a 170. Three passengers and a pilot. Just to mix it up, we decided to return via boat.

It turns out the boat’s crew isn’t so clear on that whole "refueling" thing. The engine sputtered out a few moments ago. Cue much confusion in the crew, and a smattering of worry in the passengers.

The delay only costs us an hour or so. We wait for another boat to come get us; we hop into the new boat, and off we go.

Ambergris Caye - Near Basil Jones Cut
Ambergris Caye – Near Basil Jones Cut (Photo credit: cloud2013)

And that’s honestly my worst transportation story. Pretty harmless stuff. It definitely beats other situations I’ve been in for weirdness and novelty: my two-hour delay aboard an Asiana flight to change a pair of flat tires; a five-hour Amtrak journey that stretched into eight; even watching an Icelandic bus driver fix a muddy road with his trusty shovel.

I’m lucky.

I want you to one-up me: Tell me your funniest or worst "getting from Point A to Point B" story. Sorry, I have no prize to offer. But I will give my favorite story all the props it deserves!

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Craft Beer Around the World – My Favorites

Aegir IPA craft beer
Travel the world and get your craft beer on!

Drinking a locally brewed beer is high on my list of things to do when I travel. It’s right up there with an epic hike, eating a (sometimes revolting) regional delicacy and running a 10K. I’ve had beers all across the United States, and from 44 degrees latitude south to near the Arctic Circle.

So, where are my favorite spots? Here they are. And be assured, I tried to get away from the same ol’ same ol’ and show you at least a few places that aren’t on your map yet. Let’s go!

Australia
Let’s get this out of the way: Foster’s is not Australian for beer. During my 2009 visit, the Aussie craft beer movement was still in its infant stages. We found succor in Sydney at the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe. I learned about Redoak from the lone grumpy Australian I met in Katoomba. Sourpuss that he was, Redoak is proof that he knew his beer. I still remember its oatmeal stout with its hint of butterscotch. I wasn’t yet a huge India Pale Ale fan yet, but I’d bet Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe has a good one. And it’s slick, elegant hangout. It would be my first destination next time I arrive in Sydney.

craft beer
Beer lovers bond at the Ant ‘n’ Bee in Tokyo.

Japan
There’s more to Japanese beer than Kirin and Saporro. Head to the Ropongi District. Evade the barkers trying to lure you into their loud, expensive nightclubs. Go down a staircase, and bask in the Ant ‘n’ Bee. During our visit, one of the waitresses radiated ecstasy from her recent visit to the American Craft Beer Festival. But she proved that Japan has its own craft beer pride. She hooked us up with a selection of regional brews, including a cask-conditioned stout, a strong ale and a harvest beer. The selection rotates – but chances are, you’ll still be able to get an order of incredible アントンビー六本木 Ant ‘n’ Bee fries to go with your brew.

New Zealand
The climate in New Zealand can grow anything edible. Including hops. Since my visit, craft beer has boiled over down there. I found Dux de Lux to be the top choice. You can find a Dux De Lux in Queenstown or Christchurch. It’s hard not to love a beer called the Black Shag Stout. But surprise! It was the Ginger Tom that stayed in my memory banks. The ginger-infused ale inspired me to put a ginger twist on my homebrewed India Pale Ale … which is currently the favorite among those I’ve forced to drink my homebrew. How’s that for a lasting impression?

Aegir Bryggeri craft beer
Just add Vikings!

Norway
In Flam, Norway, you’ll find Ægir Bryggeri. It couldn’t possibly be cooler if Vikings had chiseled it by hand from a solid block of kryptonite. There’s the architecture – based on a centuries-old stave church. There’s the dessert,  a gooey brownie with ice cream and fruit compote. But none of this means anything without great beer. The India Pale Ale will please any hop lover. The Sumbel porter is also terrific, and then you can be ready to try the seasonals. How does a Cardinal Double Chocolate Chili Stout sound? Well, it’ll be even better when you get to swill it at the Ægir microbrewery.

South Korea
Craftworks Tap House in Seoul is the total package – top-flight craft beer and awesome food. It’s a respite for those who long for a touch of Anglo-influenced cuisine. Myself? I can’t get enough bi bim bap, banchan and bulgogi. If you’re up for quesadillas and bangers ‘n’ mash, this is your place. I had the Geumgang dark ale and the Moon Bear India Pale Ale. Despite the craft beer status, they don’t have quite the alcohol percentage of North American brews. Still flavorful, still well executed, and still far better than anything else you’re likely to find in Seoul.

craft beer
Page 1 of the beer list at The Happy Gnome.

United States
I live in a big country. And its pint glass overflows with killer craft beer. Since it’s my home country and it covers so much space, I’m going to give you TWO recommendations.

Alright, let’s start with the west. North of the hurlyburly that is San Diego, you’ll find Carlsbad. It’s no sleepy little town, but it’s far more relaxed than its neighbor to the south. It’s also the home of Pizza Port (there are other locations, too). I found this by accident – a nearby seafood restaurant had a long wait for a table, and I wandered in. And discovered a wonderland of craft beer, all from Port Brewing. Port has the distinction of being the only brewery that’s whipped up a pilsener that could get me excited. And it’s SoCal, so expect hard-hitting India Pale Ales, some Belgian fun and some stouts in the cooler months. The pizza ain’t bad, either. The place is also chaotic, fun, unpretentious and friendly.

Let’s go further north. In St. Paul, Minn., look for The Happy Gnome. It doesn’t brew its own. But it has assembled a collection of regional brews that will astound. The northern Midwest makes a good show, with stuff like Dragon’s Mill from New Holland Brewing; Pahoehoe blonde ale made with coconut water; and the hefty Scotty Karate from Dark Horse Brewing. The food is also excellent (game hen, coconut-beet risotto!), with dessert being a particular standout. The Happy Gnome creme brulee was worth every calorie.

Oh, hell – I changed my mind. I’m adding a third location. If you ever visit the Phoenix area, send an email my way. I’ll arrange to meet you at Papago Brewing. If you don’t like something in one of its 20-some rotating taps or in its huge refrigerated case, go drink some Budweiser or equally swilly Stella Artois. This week, I had an oak-aged Belgian quad from Sierra Nevada that blew me away. It’s in no way unusual to have something so awesome at Papago Brewing.

More on My List
There are places I didn’t visit, for one reason or another. But I will next time I’m in the area!

Boris Brewery (Jeju, South Korea)
I somehow missed Boris Brewery during my stay in the Hawaii of South Korea. Don’t make the same mistake. Word is, Brewmaster Boris knows how to make an India Pale Ale. This is a local favorite near Jeju City Hall. I like that the menu has Korean bar food. Do NOT make the mistake of going to Modern Time. That used to be Boris’ place, but it has taken a nosedive since his departure as brewmaster.

Monkey Wizard (Riwaka, NZ – near Nelson)
I must’ve looked so forlorn; both times my bus passed the Monkey Wizard (know known as Hop Federation), it was closed. How could I not want to drink craft beer at a place a called Monkey Wizard? Barley wines, Belgians, stouts … and a picturesque setting equal a great place to drink a pint. Oh, and there are magnificent hop field nearby. I can imagine that Monkey Wizard Brewery is tapped into the local hop sources. I can only guess how that impact the taste of its craft beer creations.

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Best Sporting Events – My Top Four

Arsenal F.C. and FC Barcelona line up before the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final. Photo taken from en.wikipedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a little different about what I consider the best sporting events. Baseball? Blah. Basketball? Meh. Football, the American kind? Doesn’t do much for me. Hockey? I still love it, but the recent constipation in getting the NHL season started tarnishes the world’s most-prestigious league.

But so what? There are plenty of other leagues and sports in the world. A combination of travel and straight-up curiosity led me to ask: What makes my list of best sporting events? Well, here they are. Get ready for some surprises.

UEFA Champions League Knockout Stage
You’ve heard of the FIFA World Cup. It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of soccer (sorry, my UK friends – I feel like a poseur being an American who says football unless I’m in your country). I argue that the UEFA Champions League is a higher standard of play. Think about it – national teams get together every now and then, and meaningful matches are rare.

The UEFA Champions League, though, pits the top teams from member leagues against each other. These guys play together week in, week out – they mesh like no national team can. The quality of play puts it on my list of best sporting events. By the time you reach the knockout stages, there’s all to play for. The teams in best form eliminated the rest in the group stage. And now, you’re left with a few rounds where teams play a home-and-away series. The team with the most goals in each advances to the next round, with away goals being a tiebreaker.

A curling rock waits for a throw. (Photo credit: markjdos)

A Big Ol’ Curling Bonspiel
Curling is cool, and I don’t care what anyone says about it. I can say this with the authority of not only someone who’s seen the movie Men With Brooms, but someone who has actually tried curling.

That last bit is important. Curling taught me that it’s difficult, both in strategy and execution. And I have yet to meet a curling person who isn’t friendly and eager to welcome interested people to the sport. That makes me want to see a bonspiel, or curling tournament. The biggest is the Manitoba Curling Association Bonspiel, which is the sport’s biggest and oldest – more than 1,000 teams, and the inaugural happened in 1888. But biggest isn’t always best -- I hope a curling cognescenti weighs in with a suggestion of the best bonspiel for spectators.

Hurling (Photo credit: Steve Burt)

An Irish Hurling Experience
I know, I know -- Irish + hurling = jokes about having too many pints. But no: Hurling is a cool game of Gaelic origin. Played outdoors. With a ball and wooden sticks. And lots of lacrosse-like action -- but the only protective gear players wear is a helmet with a faceguard (a requirement since just 2010).

Here’s the really good stuff: The game has a low-key vibe where player egos take a back seat. The jerseys feature no numbers or player names. Players are unpaid, throwing themselves out there for love of the game. I’ll make the same appeal to hurling fans that I did to the curlers: Feel free to educate me on the best competitions!

Believe it or not, rugby can get physical. (Photo credit: paddynapper)

For the Good of the State
I’d never heard of the State of Origins rugby series. That changed when I went to an Australian’s birthday party in Brisbane. He educated me on the appeal of this best-of-three series of matches; they pit players from Queensland and New South Wales. He told me there are also political overtones, with the teams representing the more conservative versus the liberal (respectively). That added fire makes it one of my best sporting events … even if it’s far too overlooked.

Aside from being arguably the highest standard of rugby, I love the idea of players representing their home state/province. More accurately, they play for the state where they first registered for senior rugby. So there’s occasional controversy, as you might guess. But the central idea remains intact, and makes this a must-see on my next visit to Australia.

 

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Plan a Better Vacation – 4 Easy Tips

This hike was one of the high points of my Nordic adventure.
This hike was one of the high points of my Nordic adventure.

An awesome trip is rarely an accident. It’s a combination of preparation, planning and flexibility. You start with a game plan and leave holes for spontaneity. Let me show you how it’s done, using my recent trip to the Nordic countries as an example.

Pick Your Destination(s)
I’ve wanted to visit the Nordic countries for quite awhile. The music (the heavier side of it), the food, the culture and the scenery all appealed to me. I also haven’t been to any part of Europe since I was a wee tyke. But I wanted to avoid the well-trod destinations most American travelers choose. Based on our activities (see below), we decided to arrive and leave via Stockholm, Sweden.

Another country, another 10k finishers medal.
Another country, another 10k finishers medal.

Read Up
You probably have reasons for your choice of destination. Fair enough – but pick up guide books and read some quality travel blogs to get a handle on other activities and ideas you haven’t considered. I like a guidebook for multiple ideas on accommodations and food.

Recently, though, I’ve downgraded the credence I previously placed in guidebooks for activities. Especially with hiking. I question whether guidebook writers do even a quarter of what they write about. Hit the blogs for the first-hand perspectives and photographic evidence of any activities you find in the blog. You’ll be far better prepared.

Figure out 2-3 Key Activities
I’d always wanted to go to a European music festival. I figured out what was scheduled around Finland and Sweden since they’re the bases of some of my favorite bands. Another part of the mix: Sarah and I have a fairly new tradition of running a race (10K or half marathon) when we travel. We scoured the Web for dates of running races and music festivals.

Getting there is your biggest expense - shop well!
Getting there is your biggest expense – shop well!

We scored huge by finding the Midnight Sun Run in Tromso, Norway. And I came up with the Ruisrock festival in Turku, Finland, and the Bessegen hike at Jotunheimen National Park, Norway. Everything else on the trip revolved around those three high points. We had several days between each to go for side trips.

Watch for Airfare Deals
Chances are, airfare will be your biggest single expense. So do everything that’s reasonable to shrink it. One of my favorite techniques is to sign up for the newsletters of airlines that serve the region you want to visit. For instance, if you want to hit Finland, sign up for any newsletters from Finnair, SAS or Norwegian Air Shuttle. That’s how you’ll get tipped off first to fare sales.

And give a thorough check of the websites. That’s how you’ll find out about great packages that let you assemble a package deal of flights. The Qantas Aussie Pass is a perfect example – it lets you arrange several flights around the continent for a far better price than booking individually.

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Turku, Finland – Scenes from a Summer Day

During my trip to Finland, I gave Turku too little time. I even stowed my big SLR camera, relying instead on a little point-and-shoot to give some impressions. If I go again, Turku gets more time … even at Helsinki’s expense. It’s a compact, walkable city – and warmer than anywhere else I’ve been in the Nordic countries.

The Aura River makes it scenic … you’ll find paths on both sides of the river (in many places). It’s an easy way to find restaurants, museums and parks.

A cool bit of public art in the Aura River.
A cool bit of public art in the Aura River.
A power plant in Turku, Finland ... a high point in the city skyline.
A power plant in Turku, Finland … a high point in the city skyline.

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PressReader by NewspaperDirect: A Quick Overview

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Can a smartphone and the right app keep you connected to your favorite news sources – all in one place? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m still burned out on newspapers – even though it’s been about 10 years since I last worked full-time at a daily. My time working for a public relations firm didn’t help.

This is why I viewed PressReader by NewspaperDirect with a certain “here we go again.” I love the notion of newspapers – but online curating and aggregation has left print sprawled and unconscious in the ring. Newspapers have nobody to blame but themselves … or more accurately, gray-haired, jowled shareholders/publishers/executive editors who harrumphed about the passing fad of the Internet (much as people like them did about rock ‘n’ roll, electric lights, the telephone and so on ad nauseum).

PressReader contacted me to offer a few thoughts on its app. I admit my use has been a bit limited, but I can still offer you my impressions.

The Process
I started by entering my credentials via laptop on the Newsreader site. Then I downloaded the app on my Samsung Galaxy S Blaze S. From there, I could select my newspapers. You can search by country, language, favorite status or recently viewed. Scroll through the list, click a paper, select your date, wait and – BOOM! – there’s the edition you wanted.

The Wall Street Journal – a paper I’d like to see in PressReader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading
Not bad at all. No, make that “pretty darned good”. Scroll through using your touch screen. It’s all the same pinch-and-swipe action touch-screen users have come to know. Click a headline, and it opens to just that story. It’s intuitive, even for a reluctant smart phone guy like me. One of these days I’ll be an early adopter for some bit of technology. But this wasn’t one of them!

The Clunky Bits
There are quirks, of course. After I select a source and try returning to the full list, I seem to get a truncated list. I have to hit the “Sources” tab. And be careful about using your phone’s “back” function from any menu: Odds are good that you’ll kick yourself right out of the app.

And the by-country selection needs a better organization system than just alphabetical, which is just too long. I’d suggest a “by circulation” sub-menu before the alphabetical list (Sorry, Boyerton Area Times, but I don’t want to sift through the lightweights to find the The Denver Post.)

There are some notable absences from the list, too. Among the most prominent are The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. I hope they hop aboard.

Keeping Informed Abroad?
I didn’t get to test PressReader while traveling. The PressReader team positioned it to me as a benefit to travelers.

But here’s the thing: No app can really help travelers stay informed abroad. It’s not their fault – it’s just that there is so much rigamarole that comes with staying connected when you travel. You need to unlock your phone, get a code from your service provider and get a new SIM card that serves the region you’ll visit. And yes, this applies to so-called “World Phones.” Until the service providers get their act together, an app – no matter how high performing – will never keep travelers connected through a smart phone. If I’m wrong about this and there’s a cost-effective solution, please-oh-please clue me in!

What PressReader does well is collect a bunch of newspapers that you can read on the go via smartphone or tablet. You’ll get a solid sense of the design asthetic, layout and other X factors that are part of the hard-copy newspaper-reading experience.

Prices range from a per-download price to a monthly subscription of $29.95. I think PressReader should look beyond news junkies and travelers – I predict a very receptive audience in media professionals … people who make a living knowing about newspapers, how they cover the news and what they’re printing.

And I hope the decision makers at print newspapers take a look at how PressReader melds technology with the old-school reading experience. They’ll kick themselves and wish they’d come up with the idea first.

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24 Hours in Turku – A Visit to Ruisrock

Nightwish concert
Nightwish performs at Ruisrock (Photo credit: tiendan)

It’s a warm summer weekend in Turku, Finland. I just stepped off the VR train from Helsinki to check out Ruisrock. This is a swift, convenient, punctual train trip that I’ve never seen equaled in the U.S. – for some reason, we’re a nation that hasn’t grasped the benefits of high-speed rail travel.

Now, it’s time to wander Turku. We have a good eight hours to kill before we head to Ruis Salo, the island that hosts Ruisrock. Today’s lineup ranges from Nightwish – the day’s headlining band and Finland’s best-known musical export – to Children of Bodom, Apocalyptica and The Cardigans.

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Dead Malls – How to Revive Them

dead malls
Sky Song at sunset looks awfully cool on the former Los Arcos Mall property. Until you see the buildings behind it. (Photo by mike3.14159)

I got wrapped up in a story about dead malls via LinkedIn.com. Why are Malls Getting Mauled? says  mega-shopping centers are endangered.

My city of Scottsdale, Ariz., is a shopping destination for travelers, especially for snowbirds. Within its borders are the remains of dead shopping malls like the Scottsdale Galleria  (which is now full of tech businesses). There was also a years-long tussle about how to deal with the Los Arcos Mall; investors bought it in hopes of bulldozing it and building a hockey arena for the Phoenix Coyotes. And now, it’s Sky Song, a mix of cool and stodgy owned by Arizona State University.

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Cool Content – Great Finds from Other Blogs

see http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Suba...
You probably won’t see canons in Thunder Bay … but who knows? http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Subacquea.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the first time I’ve published a post that’s just about other content. I plan to do it more -- maybe once every two weeks. There’s a chance I could wind up doing it more as I find more content.

Alright, I’ve done "innerduced" it enough. Onto my first-ever Cool Content Crypt!

First up is Diving for Shipwrecks at the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary. Rutger, one of the people at BookYourDive.com, introduced himself to me a few months ago and wrote a terrific post about his introduction to SCUBA diving. These days, Rutger is a PADI-certified dive instructor who loves getting newcomers into SCUBA diving. This post about checking out shipwrecks in the Great Lakes is a great motivation. This adventure is an awesome answer to "so, what did you do on your vacation (or make that "holiday" for my friends in other countries --)?"

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