Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Hot hot hot

There's a heat wave that covers half of the US right now. I arrived in New England just in time to catch this nice weather. Let's see if I'm still saying that tomorrow after it hits 100deg here, with high humidity. OK, enough about the weather. I think I just broke one of my unwritten rules about not talking about the weather on Its Trouble.... :)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 6

Day 6 of my cross-country trip was marked by yet another viciously beautiful day as I drove into Massachusetts. Eastern New York is beautiful, save for a few cities here and there (which have their own charm). There are more rustic farms that might as well be from the late 19th Century, and more lush forested hills. This day was the first time on my trip where I had to pay two separate road tolls in the same day. I guess $5 (total) isn't bad for travelling a couple of hundred miles. It's certainly a better price than paying $5 to cross a 1 mile bridge over the Delta in Northern California.

I made it to my appointment in Massachusetts with 10 minutes to spare. My time estimate for the overall trip was nearly perfect. I didn't get to enjoy some of the cities as much as I had wished. Besides that, this 5 1/2 day road trip turned out to be a good experience that I'll remember very well.

Would I do a similar trip across the USA again? If I had to, yes. Next time, I may take more time to enjoy many more stops along the way.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 5 (part 2)

Western New York state is beautiful, gorgeous and simply stunning. The forests are lush and rich in color. The lakes are serene. The farms are stereotypically and wonderfully idyllic. This was entirely unexpected by me.

The drive to Binghamton, NY was long. Getting across New York state takes as much time as any other larger state, such as Kansas (though is much more interesting than Kansas). There happened to be a festival in Binghamton on the day of my arrival, called First Friday Art Walk. The event was fairly lively with a lot of friendly people. I got a hotel (that I picked myself without the help of Expedia or that Hotwire unpublished rate thing) that was right in the middle of the downtown area action, so I was able to walk around freely without having to drive anywhere. There are a few attractions that are prolly better seen during the day, but here's a couple of late evening photos anyway (to the right).

I was at one bar where there were a bunch of locals rooting for the Braves to beat the Mets. Everyone was happy when the Braves won. Huh? Even if you are a Yankees fan, I would consider it disgraceful to pull for an Atlanta team over a local team! Oh well, I wasn't going to argue the point with anyone, especially after the Bruins lost to Vancouver a few minutes later in the Hockey finals; too even greater celebration by the locals.

The next day, as I was leaving the hotel, the bellhop thought he recognized me from a late party from the last night. Of course, I was at no such party. Though I was aware of it, I didn't crash the party. ...might've been nice to be invited to the party! Where are all these dopplegangers having my fun instead of me?!

On my way out of town, I ran across this interesting place of business (photo below). I was immediately thinking that such a place would be useful to Napoleon Dynamite.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 5 (part 1)

I learned along time ago that good planning for a trip is critical. That includes planning for flexibility. On this road trip, I learned that it is very easy to forget the day of the week or even what city I was in on the previous day. There is a new understanding as to why rock stars often gaffe by shouting out the wrong city when they are on long tours.

Due to poor success with picking a hotel using Hotwire's unpublished rates via Expedia (yet again), I ended up with nice hotel that was not close enough to the area I wanted. I was stuck at the hotel (since I didn't want to drive anywhere). However, complimentary services weren't denied to me at this place. Though hotel rates can be as much as 50% less, I would still think twice before using Hotwire's unpublished rates again.

The drive from Indianapolis, IN to Binghamton, NY was the second longest of this road trip. Ohio wins the award for the most welcoming entry sign! Most states just put up a road sign that says something like, "Hey, you are entering our state". Ohio has a welcoming arch that extends over the freeway and declares "Welcome to Ohio" using three different fonts! I felt very welcomed, indeed. There's a lot of blue and white paint on bridges and other freeway structures in Ohio. When you are here, there's not doubt about the fact that you are in Ohio!

The weather turned from gray to very sunny somewhere in Ohio. I decided to stop off in Erie, PA for a very early dinner. The weather was gorgeous! The lake was beautiful. I had a great swordfish sandwich at Rumrunner's Cove. It's nearly impossible to find swordfish on the West Coast these days due to mercury contamination. Even though I had my swordfish steak in a sandwich, it was cooked a 100 times better than what I got at The Chart House in Boston the month before. My early dinner was very relaxing, though very short, since I needed to get back on the road. I'll have to come back to Erie, PA again.

OK, I was stunned by what I found in western New York state. More on this later.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 4

My drive out of Kansas City was uneventful, with a brief lament about the fact that I didn't get to spend more quality time there. On the way to St. Louis, I stopped off at this one Mayberry type town (which shall remain nameless here). There were several official brown highway signs pointing out the existence of this quaint town. Even that modest highway advertising was a bit overstated. The photo to the right shows the full extent of the "historic old town". To me, it seemed like a glorified yard sale, with its four or five antique shops. The windmill was interesting.

Crossing the middle of America went well. I was able to hit St. Louis about mid-day to see the Gateway Arch. It's big and very stainless (as in stainless steel). If you don't intend on staying at the monument for longer than 30 minutes, parking is fairly easy to find (in the 30-minute park zones). However, spending more time there will likely cost a few bucks on garage parking.

There was no time to go on a tour inside the monument, but there was enough time to have lunch at Pappy's Smokehouse (of Man V Food fame). The food was great and the service was quick, polite and friendly. When I got back on my way, I crossed over the mighty Mississippi without giving it much more than a passing glance. The only reason for such disregard was that I forget to look at it as I drove over the bridge.

View Larger Map

The drive into Indiana consisted of an abrupt speed change down to 65MPH. As far as I could tell, there was no reason for this. Even worse, within Indianapolis, the speed limit was 55MPH on the freeways. These freeways are very wide and very modern. In my opinion, one would be safer driving at 85MPH on the Indianapolis freeways than they would be driving 75 on a rural freeway in Wyoming. The 55MPH speed limit just doesn't seem logical. It almost seems like people from Indiana let their grandma's pick the speed limit.

Oh, did I mention I drove through Illinois (and avoided Chicago)? Yeah, I did that too. I was on a mission to break my old, personal record for the most miles on one tank of gas. In my old 2003 Acura TL-S, I was once able to go 360 miles without refueling. With my 2009 Pontiac G8 GT (with its 6.0L 8 cylinder engine), I easily passed 400 miles, with about 24MPG. (I love the engine technology that shuts down 4 of the cylinders when they aren't needed). City driving is much worse, with about 15MPG. So, I either get really good mileage (for a V8) or really bad mileage, depending on the type of driving.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 3

Wow, what a boring day. Kansas is flat, flat and more flat. I drove clear through the state without stopping for more than a few minutes. That's Denver, CO to Kansas City, MO. I might've stopped for more time, but there was just nothing to stop for. I'm not in Kansas any more. It's prolly a great place, but there's just not much to entice a traveller, at least along I70. It is a stark contrast to the changing landscapes of the previous days. The more I drove, the more flatness presented itself. To make matters worst, their was tons of construction work being done to the freeway.

I made it to my hotel in Kansas City, MO a bit later than I hoped. The hotel was nice, but not quite what I expected. See my previous article for the reason. As such, I didn't get to enjoy Kansas City as I had originally planned. Oh well. At least I slept very well for the first time on my journey.

Cross-country trip - day 2

Day two of my journey across America was met with viciously perfect weather in Salt Lake City, UT. I didn't have time to do any real sightseeing, so I did Japanese tourist-style sightseeing (I drove by a couple of important sites, and took a picture). I did go to a little hole-in-the-wall place called Bruges Waffles & Frites (of Man V Food fame). They serve waffles Belgian-style, and have double-fried fries called frites. My waffle was good, though for the price, it didn't seem like enough food.

The drive eastward from Salt Lake City into the mountains is beautiful. The mountains are as green as I can imagine. They are offset with gorgeous white caps of remaining snow. The drive was windy and fun. There was barely any traffic.

Wyoming was a pleasant drive as well, for awhile. The mountains gave way to rocky hills. One hill looks as though it's a bunch of mountain trolls mooning the freeway (see the picture). Eventually, the Great Planes appeared. Let me tell you, the Great Planes are boring! This fact becomes even more important on the next day of my trip.

I stopped briefly in Cheyenne, WY before continuing on to Denver. Driving in the rural states is different from the urban states. The left lane on the freeway is really only for passing in the rural states. Don't hang out there. I travelled fairly close to speed limit for most of my drive through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and even Colorado. I almost never got passed by anyone.

I didn't have enough time to do any sightseeing in Denver. That will have to wait for another time.

Be wary of the Hotwire unpublished rates service

You get what you pay for. This is a poorly grammarred sentence that gets to the point. It is true with Hotwire's unpublished hotel rates service. I recently used this service (via Expedia) for a trip to Kansas City, MO. I thought I was getting a 3 or 4 star hotel that was centrally located near a popular area of town. The hotel offered a good rate through Hotwire's unpublished rates service. I didn't get to pick the hotel using this service, but was able to select the general area in town.

The hotel is very nice, and is likely 3 stars, but not for me. Here's the drawbacks. Though the hotel was in the general area I picked, it was not nearly as close as it should've been. I wanted a hotel within walking distance of the central area. I got a hotel that was within a 5 minute drive. Annoying. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, but not for me. The hotel offers free wi-fi, again not for me. The hotel did offer me an upgrade to receive those normally complimentary services ($15). Wanna guess on their published rate for the room? I'm guessing it's very close to the Hotwire's unpublished rate plus the $15 upgrade fee. Funny how that works.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 1

Given the fact that I'm still in my thirties (very late thirties), my bucket list is still fairly long and under developed. One item on the list is to drive across the USA. It seems this item would only be fulfilled if I ever had a reason to do this, otherwise I'd just fly and get to where I want to be much faster. Well, I now have a reason. That reason will not be discussed right now; maybe it will be at a later date. Bottom line, I'm driving across the great country of America!

My first day started off right on schedule at 7:00AM from Silicon Valley in the South San Francisco Bay Area. The time was important because the destination was Salt Lake City before sundown. The drive took me through Reno, NV. I've been there before, so I decided to just eat an early lunch (or Second Breakfast, as the Hobbits might call it) and refuel my car. No stopping for sightseeing.

The landscape drastically changed as I drove. As I travelled through California, the landscape slowly morphed from the tan colored hills and flat agricultural land to the forested mountains of the Tahoe area. In Nevada, that all gave way to the bush covered desert. The color of the earth changed from brown to an ever changing mix of red and light tan. The vegetation changed from greenish to mauvish and a mix of many other colors. I briefly stopped in Elko, NV for another fast-food meal and refueling.

I didn't really stop for sightseeing until I crossed the Utah border. There was a rest area in the middle of nowhere (where most rest areas can be found). By this time, the land was very flat and bare. The rest stop had an observation deck. The ramp up to the deck appeared to be handicap accessible, but any person in a wheelchair would be hard pressed to make it up the ramp. Anyway, I took a picture of myself in front on the vast empty landscape. The mountains in the distance offered an interesting contrast to the flat land of the desert. Later on, the land next to the freeway was under water, in what appears to be semi-permenant shallow lakes. Some of the lakes appeared on my TomTom map, and some did not. One funny item was that many of the lakes had miles of fence posts embedded within the water of the lake. Seriouly, what's the point of that?

Wow, I travelled across three Western states in one day! I arrived in Salt Lake City in time to relax in the hotel. I saved the sightseeing for the next day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Airlines are a mess

I'm now flying a few times each year for various reasons. Though I don't fly all that often, I've noticed a decline the airlines. When I came home from San Antonio, TX in January, my flight was delayed several times before we finally boarded. Then the plane broke down and everyone had to wait for a new plane to come in even later. Today I'm on my way to Kansas City. I'm stuck in the Phoenix airport because the second leg of my flight was cancelled due to the plane breaking down in Sacramento. I'm spending enough time at the airports between flights to qualify as actually visiting these intermediate locations! Crazy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Senseless Sunday: the long and short word

  • The word hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia means fear of long words.

  • Flint, Michigan is the largest city in the U.S.A. to have just one syllable in its name.

  • An urban legend defines a twit as a pregnant gold fish. Gold fish do not get pregant. They lay eggs that get fertilized afterwards. A twit is also not a comment on Twitter. That is a tweet.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

San Antonio, TX recent visit

I recently visited San Antonio, TX for a world conference that I attended. Though I didn't get to explore anywhere outside of the downtown area, I did visit The Alamo , River Walk, and the Tower of the Americas (known to the locals as "Space Needle" in apparent recognition that it was built to compete with Seattle's Space Needle).

San Antonio appears to have a lot to offer both visitors and residents. The downtown area is large, with a lot of restaurants and places of interest.

There's a saying that everything is bigger in Texas. However, The Alamo seems a bit smaller than expected. The history around this monument is told throughout the associated park. It's worth a visit, but don't expect to be wowwed.

The Tower of the Americas is beefy and tall. The problem with it is that there's just not much to see from the top. In every direction is the city of San Antonio, the good and the ugly. The Seattle Space Needle has a much better view since Seattle has a more interesting skyline, greener city, and beautiful coastline.

The River Walk is a glorified shopping mall. It is a good place to visit, but perhaps too touristy for the locals to hang out. I enjoyed the water tour and walking around.

The week I spent in San Antonio had similar weather to Silicon Valley over the same period. However, a week before there was a terrible storm, and a couple weeks after there was a snow storm. We barely get rain in Silicon Valley, and it never snows.

I guess my trip to San Antonio, TX taught me that there isn't nothing terribly bad about it, nor is there anything very compelling. It's a good place to live and visit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Silicon Valley International Auto Show and Traffic school

Allie went to traffic school this past Saturday for a ticket she earned during the Thanksgiving holiday. In the past, the real life edition of traffic school was a preferable over the online edition. However, she reported to me this time was no picnic. The class of more strict that before. She then told me several tales about her 1 day adventure in dealing with many different kinds of strange people. How do people fit that much annoying interaction into a lousy 8 hours?

So, on Sunday, I planned an in-town day trip to downtown Campbell for lunch, and also the 2011 Silicon Valley International Auto Show in downtown San Jose. This trip is notable for one very strange fact. We were actually able to take local light-rail public transit to each of our destinations. Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area are notorious for poor public transportation options. The fact that we were able to go to two enjoyable locations using light-rail is amazing.

Anyway, there were some cool vehicles this year. Here's some pictures from the show.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The bear at the Bellagio

Here's the bear in the Bellagio (Vegas) xmas display.  Its adorable, but if it was real, I'd never be this close.