Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Year in Travel

The end of the year approaches, and the time for reflection of the events past is once again upon us. It's been a busy year and I'd like to take this time to review it and to start preparing for the new year at Graham's Travel blog.

As far as my travel adventures are concerned, 2009 was a busy year. I visited two new countries this year: Sweden and Italy. They were both a pleasure to experience, and I wrote about my visit to Sweden in Sweden: Food in Tubes, Fika and Assault. The other big trip I took was with my wife and our cat when we moved from Oregon to Massachusetts in late April of this year (see: Flying With a Cat).

Just prior to that move we went to the Treehouse Hotel in Southern Oregon which turned out to be just as much a misadventure as an actual adventure. You don't have to read the telling of the Treehouse Hotel ordeal linked above, but if you are considering a visit, you'd really should read it before you book your stay.

2009 had me Trapped in a Revolving Door, and I even defended TSA agents. Reviewing the events of they year has gotten me thinking about what's to happen in the year to come.

In 2010 I've got some interesting product reviews lined up which are always fun to write (and hopefully are fun to read as well), and I'll be taking a crack at video blogging as I recently received a Flip video camera as a gift. The videos should be an interesting train wreck to watch as I always get flustered in front of a camera. I'll try to have fun with it, but let me know if the videos are painful to watch.

To all of those that have become regular followers of this blog, I thank you and wish you a safe and productive new year.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Holiday Travel Fatigue Story

Christmas is almost here, I've just been through my first big New England winter storm and it has got me thinking about Christmas travel and snow. This reminded me of a time a few years ago just after Christmas that illustrates the dangers of traveler's fatigue and the importance of keeping a logical mind in crisis. Below is that story...

My line of work often necessitates short notice travel in mid to late December. Invariably, someone somewhere in the world forgets some sort of deadline and it's up to me and my team to save the day. After one such trip to Europe I had less than a day at home before I got on another plane to visit my family in Southern California.

About 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles, I was in a car headed to Los Vegas. I don't remember much about the trip to Vegas or the rest of that trip for that matter, but I do know that I slept a lot as my body was adjusting to California time.

What I do remember is what happened once I returned home to Oregon. My grad student housemate, Ed, picked me up at the airport and I all I wanted to to was to get to sleep. We got home and he dropped me off with my bags outside our house. He left promptly, presumably to go back to the lab. I waved goodbye and headed into the house. I dropped off my backpack and just inside the door and headed out the door to get one more bag and I reflexively locked the door.

As the door closed, I instantly realized that I had locked myself out of the house since I have a habit of keeping my keys in my backpack while traveling. I tried all of the doors, but due to good habits, they were all securely locked. I went to my neighbors house to call my housemate and let him know what I had done...he didn't answer his cell phone.

Instead of staying put and waiting for him to return like a normal person would have done, I decided to walk 3 miles in threatening weather without a hat, umbrella or gloves, to reach my Ed's lab.

The journey started well enough, but when I was a little over halfway to the lab, it started raining. I quickened my pace and the cold started to creep in through my increasingly wet wool coat. Stopping by a news stand yielded a few newspapers that I used to protect my head from the rain. I kept one hand deeply in my pocket while the other was holding a newspaper. Switching off hands occasionally kept my hands from going completely numb, but they soon became wrinkled in the rain.

When I arrived at the building which I was heading toward, I found that all of the doors were locked. I did notice that there was a girl sitting at a table reading a book, but none of my pounding on the door got her attention. I would later discover that this girl was a cutout which was part of an art installation that, at the distance between us that night she looked quite real.

Disappointed, but not yet defeated, I headed over to the campus security office and had them ring Ed's lab- no answer. We tried his cell phone with the same results. It turns out that he had gone to the movies which explains why he didn't answer.

I decided that the best thing to do was to head home and wait by the house until Ed returned. I was quite cold at the time and I figured that if I found more dry newspapers I could use them to dry my hair and bunch them up within my clothes for warmth. I found some free papers, took off my coat, rolled them up around my arm and put my coat back on. This worked for a while, but I could no longer bend my arm which made holding a newspaper over my head quite difficult.

This is when I got another great idea. If I stuffed the newspapers down the front of my pants then I could bend my arm again. In order to get the newspapers down my pants I unbuttoned my jeans. Unfortunately, due to my cold and wet hands, I wasn't able to button my jeans again.

I trudged forth three more long miles back home, in the rain, with my jeans partially opened, a newspaper on my head and more papers stuffed in my jeans.

Less than a quarter mile away from home, Ed slowly puddle up in his car next to me and gave me a ride home. I was wiped out anew upon getting home and decided to sleep in 15 extra minutes in the morning because being 15 minutes late wouldn't be the worst thing in the world and an extra 15 minutes of sleep would mean that I'd be that much more productive.

I awoke the next morning to discover that 15 minutes before I had awoken it started to snow. The trip to work the next morning was quite interesting as the town was ill-prepared for the snow, but that's a story for another day.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Invasion of the B&B People

When I travel, I like to stay away from chains as much as possible. This isn't alway possible, but I find that staying away from Starbucks and TGIFridays usually allows me to find places that have much more character and charm than mass produced chain restaurants. Frequenting local businesses lets you feel a little bit of the local flavor of a new town much better than the cookie cutter establishments that are the same, or at least very similar, regardless of location.

When possible, I like to extend this philosophy to where I spend the night. Most of the time I do end up staying in chain hotels, but I find that staying in the occasional B&B to be most rewarding. I make more of an effort to do this when I travel for pleasure, but it has worked out well the few times that I stayed at a B&B while on business trips.

More and more, B&B owners are catering to business travelers by offering thing like earlier breakfasts, competitive weekday rates and free wireless internet access. In addition to these amenities, the people that run B&Bs are generally quite personable and eager to advise you on all of the best local non-chain restaurants.

The only problem with B&Bs can be your fellow guests. For one reason or another, my wife and I keep running into the strangest people at B&Bs. Uncomfortable interactions can usually be avoided by taking your breakfast early and eating at a table that is away from the others, but sometimes this just doesn't work. Some B&Bs offer fixed breakfast times and communal dining tables; this is where some of the B&B charm starts to wane.

Forced social interaction before the effects of coffee have been fully actualized is not something that I actively seek out, so my views on the topic may be slightly biased. I think that my tolerance for eccentric people must be at a minimum in the morning because I often come out of a social B&B breakfast with quite a cynical attitude. For your amusement, I will outline two actual couples that I have run into while traveling.

The Lacrosse Couple
My wife and I were staying at a B&B in Providence, Rhode Island for a Brown University reunion and most people at breakfast that morning were in town for their reunions- except for one couple. This couple were in town for a Johns Hopkins lacrosse game . This couple appeared perfectly pleasant when we met them, but the singular focus off their life quickly became apparent.

These people lived, breathed and slept lacrosse. They couldn't let the conversation go for more than three minutes without bringing up their beloved college sport. They told the table about their devotion to their team and even informed us that they took out a second mortgage on their house in order fund a trip to Australia in order to follow their lacrosse team.

I'm all for having a hobby, I have several, but I also understand when my conversation companions don't get excited about a vintage razor or a new fountain pen ink. The lacrosse couple had very little understanding or tolerance for anyone or anything that was not lacrosse. This sort of behavior is simply unacceptable so early in the morning.

The Rental Property Couple
While spending the weekend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, my wife and I met a couple that was taking a break from managing their lakeside rental property. They had a lot to say about rental properties in general and their recent experiences of renting to a cut rate movie company that used their rental as the location for a movie.

This wasn't a big budget movie, of course, but it featured the actor that was in a movie called You Have the Right to Remain Violent which according to is still in production. According to the rental property couple, this movie is like fight club, only with a moral.

From what I can gather, the movie that was filmed at their property is Ironsides, which is scheduled to be released in late December- I will not be watching this movie. Like the lacrosse couple, this pair couldn't stand the conversation being steered away from them and their interests, it was quite annoying.

I think that many people go to a B&B to get away from everyday life, but there are some people that just can't let things go and appreciate what is in front of them. More importantly, these are the people that just can't seem to shut up an enjoy their coffee.

Is it just me that keeps running into these obnoxious people or have you run into them as well. I'd love to hear about your run-ins with B&B people in the comments section below.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Road Trips: Great, if You Have What it Takes

Loyal readers of Graham's Travel Blog may have noticed that much of what I've written about when it comes to getting from point A to point B focuses on air travel. This stems from the fact that the majority of my recent travel has been done by plane.

While it is true that I have written about trains and public transportation, I haven't really touched upon one of the great travel experiences that is available. I am of course referring to the road trip.

Those that have been following my travel adventures for a while may remember The Time Denver Got Snowed In, a really long story which had a road trip component and Oregon Road Trip: Trail to the Treehouse Hotel, but I've yet to discuss road trips in a more general way. I'd like to rectify this shortcoming now.

Travel by car can be one of the most rewarding ways to travel as it can be as flexible as you need to be- you control the schedule. If you see an interesting site along the way then you can just stop and investigate it. Try doing that on a plane!

Of course, the correct attitude, along with copious snacks, is essential for a successful road trip as you give yourself up to the mercy of the road. Anything can happen when you abandon schedules and embrace serendipity.

These are often wonderful things such as stumbling upon a great little diner to eat lunch, finding a waterfall on an impromptu walk through the woods or discovering some wonderful garlic at a roadside farmer's market.

While there are plenty of great things to be seen on a road trip, it is also important to keep in mind that not everything will go as planned. I've been lost, had cars break down and gone for far too long before finding a restroom. These are all things that I've experienced first hand and I've made it though alright.

The flexibility and attitude required for a proper road trip wax and wane with me, but when I'm in the mood, there's nothing quite like loading up the car and hitting the road. The classic road trip is not something that I've done all that often recently, but moving to New England, with plenty to see in the area, has renewed my desire to drive for long stretches and see what's out there.

My wife and I have been making regular trips South to visit family, but we've also made it as far North as Portsmouth, NH and hope to explore further soon; I'm sure you'll hear about it.

So, where did this deep love or road trips come from? I guess that my parents can take credit for that. Growing up, we would take regular trips to Laughlin, Nevada, which was a 5 hour trip by car. On these trips, I would always look forward to stopping at Barstow, CA where we would use load up on all kinds of junk food from the gas station.

It's funny how normal eating rules tend to go out of the window on road trips. What was once a forbidden food item becomes easily accessible. I'm not sure why, but I embrace this universal truth to this day when I travel by car. Amongst my more treasured road trip snacks are Hostess Cupcakes and the sometimes hard to find Beer Nuts.

If you haven't gone on a road trip lately, and you can muster the correct attitude to support one, I highly recommend getting your car checked out and consider hitting the open road and embrace all of the possibilities that it can bring.

To my faithful readers: please tell me about your all time favorite road trip in the comments section below.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Travel with a Side of Tiki

Photographs by Nicole Holt

Early in my traveling career, I began to develop an interest in mid-century Polonesian pop culture. This isn't actual Polynesian culture, but the form that it took in the 50's and 60's in much of the continental United States. I'm talking about backyard luaus, tikified Chinese restaurants and of course tiki bars.

In the past 10 years or so, interest in tiki culture has been rekindled and the appreciation for it has come back in fashion. A few years ago I started to keep an eye out for the few classic tiki establishments that remained from the original tiki fever that swept the nation along with a few of their contemporary brethren.

Since my travels have taken me far and wide, it wasn't long before the list of tiki establishments that I visited became quite impressive including the following:
Tiki-Ti- Los Angeles, CA
Bahooka- Rosemead, CA
Bali Hai- San Diego, CA
The Tonga Room, CA
Mai Kai- Fort Lauderdale, FL
Kawloon- Saugus, MA
The Alibi- Portland, OR
Thatch- Portland, OR
The Jasmine Tree- Portland, OR (Sadly no longer with us)
Trader Vic's- Bellvue, WA

VIsiting a great tiki bar (Mai Kai, Tiki-Ti, Bahooka, The Tonga Room) is like stepping back in time to an era when Chinese food was a novelty and cars had style. In one of these establishments, you can lose track of where you are for a few hours and forget about the daily stresses of work and life. The escape is temporary, but time spent in a tiki bar can be quite refreshing.
The Mai Kai seems as if it has remained locked in time with a regular floor show, extensive drink menu and its original decor; it is truly a destination worth visiting and revisiting. While in Florida for business, I had an evening free so I spent it at the Mai Kai. Their bar has an impressive happy hour which includes 2 for 1 drinks and half priced appetizers. The people watching here is fairly decent, and I found that some of the regular patrons were quite friendly.

The Tiki-Ti is a treasure and I was fortunate enough to meet my brother and his girlfriend here for drinks while I was in Los Angeles a while back. This establishment has a very clubhouse feel to it, people are friendly and the drinks are strong (not to mention amongst the best you will ever have). You'll find more than just standard tiki cocktails here, but an array of drinks that can only be had at the Tiki-Ti. Thanks to a loophole in the anti smoking rules of California, this family run business allows smoking since it doesn't bother the family at all. When I think tiki bar, I think Tiki-Ti.

The Bahooka is the first tiki establishment that I ever visited as my mother had dinner here while she was pregnant with me. Gritty and often crowded, the ribs are legendary but they don't do a thing for me. The drinks, on the other hand, are well priced and available in large portions for sharing. Aside from the great, dark booths with a nautical theme and copious number of fish tanks, everything on the menu can be ordered flaming. Drinks are easy, but have you ever had a flaming side salad? I have.
I visited the Tonga Room while I was at a business conference in San Francisco. Fortunately, it didn't take much arm twisting to talk people into going with me and I soon found myself in the Tonga Room with a group of coworkers. We had a great time, and I enjoyed scoping out the excellent decor which includes part of an old ship and a bandstand that floats in the "lagoon".

Not all classic tiki establishments have stood the test of time as well as those mentioned above. Many tiki bars didn't survive the 70's and some of the establishments that did survive have taken drastic measures in order stay afloat. This often includes removing much of their tiki decor and making changes such as putting in lottery machines (The Alibi, Kowloon). Kowloon even has a comedy club and has only one tiki of note which adorns it's facade. It is sad that some things have to change so much in order to stay around. This fact makes it all the more important to visit the remaining classic tiki establishments that remain.

I'll continue to stop by tiki bars that I come across in my travels as the next time I come through town, they might be closed. I encourage you to do likewise as this is a part of America's culture that could very well disappear if we don't support it. If you have a favorite tiki bar that I should keep on my radar, please let me know in the comments section below.

You can learn more about Polynesian pop culture by reading The Book of Tiki by Sven A. Kirsten. If you'd like to check out tiki bars on your travels, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Tiki Road Trip by James Teitelbaum and spending some time searching the online community of Tiki Central where you'll find more information about tiki bars than you'll know what to do with.
If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.