Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
That's what's going through my head right now.
My main computer - the computer I use every day to make notes for this blog, to work on upcoming entries, store travel photographs and raw video footage, write my daily journal, store passwords to a multitude of third party websites, and so much more, has decided to 'spit the dummy' and not boot up.
Unfortunately, I have to wait until Tuesday before a technician can come to the house to look at it. Tuesday just happens to be my birthday, so I am hoping it will turn out to be a very happy birthday for me. Until then, I am using someone else's computer to write this, so my usual Saturday column, The Week That Was will not appear, since the completed entry - and the original notes - are trapped in limbo on my own system.
Of course (I hear you say), you did make regular backups of your files, didn't you, Jim?
Umm, yes, but not regularly enough, so I am going to be very unhappy if the technician is unable to breathe life back into my computer. Which is why I am keeping my fingers, toes, arms and legs crossed for some good news early next week.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, enjoy your weekend.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Bathed in golden light, the upper levels of New York’s Bulgari Building, at 730, Fifth Avenue, takes an a whole new aspect as the day ends and evening falls over the city. This was from a series of images I took, and filed under the category Shadows and Light. Essentially, there are three main colours in this image: the golden yellow light, the blue of the evening sky, and the dark, almost black shadowed areas.
Apart from sharpening the image up in Photoshop, the colours are exactly as the came out of my camera. They have not been enhanced in any way.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I wasn’t. Just the same, I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm for exploring the city – I simply adjusted to the conditions and made the most of it.
On one of my explorations of the neighbourhood around Greenpoint, I had noticed a charity shop, and I headed back to it during my first week in the city to see if I could find a warm jacket. For around $20, not only did I find a good jacket, but I also bought a couple of t-shirts, and a polo shirt. I figured I could either take them with me when I left
I might add that I am one of those people who generally don’t mind the cold – but the wind howling across
My third day in
That’s the great thing about staying in one place for an extended period of time. If the weather, or something else conspires to stop you from doing something, you can always leave it for another day. Therefore, my decision to spend at least four weeks in
For example, it was five weeks into my
Some Initial Observations:
Internet Café’s are as rare as hen’s teeth. Not only that, but the one or two that I saw were very expensive compared to
Public toilets seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth in
Image: Rockefeller Centre, March, 2008
Photographer: Jim Lesses
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
But no, Stephanie Chen, a writer for CNN reported recently (From carry-on to eBay: The journey of airport security booty) that air travellers continue packing a vast array of prohibited goods that defy belief. Items ranging from a 20-inch machete and a set of kitchen knives to electric saws, baseball bats and two gallons of gasoline. One passenger even had a kitchen sink stowed in his carry-on bag!
Everything from knives, corkscrews, meat cleavers, wrenches and shampoo are among common items surrendered by travellers. Then there was that kitchen sink, machetes and chain saws, brass knuckles and nunchuks; baseball bats, golf clubs, a samurai sword, and a set of 10-pound exercise weights. Seriously!
Between 2005 and 2006, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) confiscated 13 million prohibited items, which shouldn’t be surprising given that more than 2 million passengers are screened by TSA on any given day.
Needless to say, children’s toys are just as likely to end up in the rubbish bins if parents are not careful about what their kids are planning to pack for the flight from, for example, Disneyland. Fake pirate swords, and replica guns or other plastic toys that look like weapons are confiscated before flights, so parents should ensure that these are placed in luggage that is destined for the cargo hold – and not placed in carry-on bags – to avoid having to deal with upset children on the long flight home.
Transport Security Administration
Since we are talking about security, why not pay a visit to the Transport Security Administration website. Yes, I know it is US-centric, but America has some of the toughest laws governing what can and can't pass through customs, so it is a good place to start your research about this topic. Of course, you should also find out what your own national government's regulations are in relation to airport and border security.
Thanks to Rick Seaney for the heads-up on this story
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
One of those great innovations is Google Maps.
Like thousands (millions?) of users around the world, I often use Google Maps to plot imaginary journeys, search for exact locations in far flung cities, and print maps of unfamiliar neighbourhoods.
I was thinking about this today, and remembering my first visit to
The flight from London was uneventful, long (but nowhere near as long as the 24 hours it took me to reach London from Adelaide), and bearable thanks to some classic movies (All The Presidents Men) on the in-flight movie channel.
Getting through US Customs and Border Protection was no problem, except that it took so long – close to an hour. This was due to the new heightened security measures then – and still – in place for foreigners like myself, where each index finger was scanned and a photograph of my face taken and added to what is no doubt a huge Customs and Border Patrol database.
By the time I got through Customs and to the baggage carousel to pick my luggage up, it was sitting on the floor with a bunch of others that had simply been off-loaded by (presumably) baggage handlers, and left there for anyone to pick up and walk away with. At least it hadn’t been destroyed in a controlled explosion by paranoid, over zealous security staff!
If getting through Customs seemed like a big pain, it was just a taster for the waiting that had to be endured as I lined up for a taxi outside in the late afternoon cold. That took another half hour before I could finally get a cab to the Greenpoint YMCA. I had to wait, not because there were no taxis, but because the queue was so long. As I patiently waited in line, I couldn’t help wondering if long queues where going to be a defining factor of my
Having scored myself a Yellow Cab, I told the driver where I wanted to go, and he seemed to be making good progress getting there by the quickest, most direct route – until he got lost in a warren of narrow, traffic laden streets close to my destination.
The driver knew the general location of Greenpoint, the
However, all was not lost. Thanks to Google, I had printed out a map of the area surrounding the YMCA. This map had just enough information on it for me to help the driver find the building. Once we were on
I thought it quite ironic that having just arrived in
The lesson here is to make use of these simple, cheap and incredibly useful online resources, whether provided by Google or other online mapping sites, and there are other mapping sites. They can save you a lot of time, stress, and money, and that can’t be a bad thing now, can it?
Sunday, September 20, 2009
The signs in turn have given rise to websites dedicated to the funny and sometimes surprising translations.
Photo courtesy of Karuna Murdaya.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The Odd: Complete Swiss Army Knife: If you’re in the market for a multifunction tool that just can’t be beat, have a look at this Guinness World Record holding collection of tools.
Called the Only Complete Swiss Army Knife, it features 87 precision-engineered tools which span 112 different functions - including (takes a deep breath) seven blades, three types of pliers, three golf tools, 25 Phillips and Flat headed screwdrivers, plus saws, wrenches, a signal whistle, combination fish scaler, hook disgorger, line gauge tool, chain rivet setter, shotgun choke tube tool, cigar-cutting scissors, tire-tread gauge, tweezers, toothpick and for a modern twist, a laser pointer.
This Swiss Army Knife to beat all knives is available now from Hammacher Schlemmer for just $1,400. Did I say, Odd? It could just be the most Useful gadget you’ve ever owned – if you can get your fingers around it!
The Useful: Cheap International Calls. Matt Gross, who writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times, recently wrote about various ways to stay in touch with family and friends via cheap international phone carriers such as Skype. It turns out however, there are many other players on the market providing similar services to Skype, and he examines some of these in his article Calling Home for Even Less, which was a follow-up to a previous article, Staying in Touch Internationally on The Cheap. Both articles are worth reading (which is why I mention them here). Make sure you read through the many comments added to Matt’s articles, since these are a good source of additional information about other companies providing cheap international phone services.
The Bizarre: Wi-Fi Detector T-Shirt. This is another one of those items that could be deemed useful or bizarre, depending on your current state of mind. Seriously, those weird and wacky folks over at ThinkGeek are selling a T-Shirt with an attachment which lights up as you walk past wireless hotspots. Now you don’t have to open your laptop just to see if there is any Wi-Fi internet access about – since the glowing bars on the front of the shirt dynamically change as the surrounding Wi-Fi signal strength fluctuates.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Click image to view full size
One of my favourite images from my stay on the Greek
I have uploaded several videos of performances from this festival to YouTube, including the one embedded below in which you catch glimpses of these same girls performing during the evening.
The film is a compilation of many of the dances performed that night. The festival took place on the village basketball court, under lights that attracted hundreds of moths and other airborne insects which fell constantly onto the heads of the audience below. This probably explains why only half the lights were turned on during the performances. Unfortunately, this also made it extremely difficult to get good, well lit footage of the dances.
The music you hear throughout the film is the traditional Ikarian dance known as the Ikariotiko. The music is performed here on a Tsampouna, an instrument made out of goat skin, which has obvious links to the Scottish bagpipe and the gaida. The player is probably Eva Kratsa from the Aegean Island of Mikonos. That’s her in the last frame of the video just before the final credits.
A full, unedited film of the Ikariotiko dance that ended the festival can also be found on YouTube under the name, This Island Life: Rahes Festival Ikariotiko.
Photograph: The Longing, by Jim Lesses
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The deadline for this year's Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the Year is just a few days away (September 21, 2009). To enter this year's competition, go to BestTravelWriting.com and follow the instructions.
As of today, competition is light in the following categories: Animal Encounter, Cruise Story, Doing Good or the Kindness of Strangers, Elder Travel, Love Story, Men's Travel, Travel and Healing, Travel and Shopping, Travel and Sports, and Young Traveler. All entries submitted before , September 21 will be eligible. Entries submitted after that will be entered in next year's competition.
The Solas Awards are an annual competition to find the best writing being done about the world today. The Travelers' Tales editors will choose winners in 21 categories ranging from adventure to humour, from destination to memoir, and everything in between. The grand prize category has cash awards of $1,000, $750, and $500; all other category winners receive a certificate and a copy of the most recent edition of The Best Travel Writing or The Best Women's Travel Writing. Plus, winners may be published in Travelers' Tales books.
I have a number of these collections on my bookshelf that I’m hoping to review for upcoming blog posts, so the thought that someone reading this might end up in a future collection of published tales is very exciting.
Check out BestTravelWriting.com for details of the awards and more.
Travelers’ Tales. Award-winning publisher Travelers’ Tales is the sponsor of The Solas Awards.
Extraordinary stories about travel and the human spirit have been the cornerstones of their books since 1993. With the Solas Awards they say they want to honour writers whose work inspires others to explore. To that end, they are looking for the best stories about travel and the world—funny, illuminating, adventurous, uplifting, scary, inspiring, poignant—stories that reflect the unique alchemy that occurs when you enter unfamiliar territory and begin to see the world differently as a result. Their ultimate hope is that these awards will be a catalyst for those who love to leave home and tell others about it.
Third Annual Solas Awards Winners
Winners of the Third Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the Year were announced
So get to it. If you think you have a compelling story to tell, read through the submission guidelines on the Best Travel Writing website and submit your best travel story.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The resulting film: Route 66: An American (Bad) Dream, is a salutary lesson on what not to do on your American road trip – or any road trip for that matter. Clearly, these travellers where under prepared for their journey, since it would appear they had no insurance, no AAA cover, and no idea that the car they had paid $2,500 for was barely roadworthy.
The Caddie either breaks down constantly, runs out of fuel, or suffers a litany of other mechanical problems throughout the journey (broken gear box, flat battery, worn brakes, oil leaks, blown tyre and an exhaust pipe that needs to be replaced en route). In fact, the car breaks down before the journey even begins, which surely must have been a portent of the problems to come.
However, the three travellers are saved by their naivety; the assistance offered to them by complete strangers; the friendliness of the people they meet along the way; and the little mechanical knowledge they do share between them.
As you would expect, they meet an assortment of characters, and offer wry observations, such as this gem: “Americans live in their cars, and they eat there. For that, you need cup holders. Nowadays, new cars will be judged by the number of cup holders they have. If you watch advertisements, you will find that the number of cup holders seems to be as important as the number of cylinders or the vehicle load capacity. Modern minivans like the Chevy Venture have up to 17 cup holders. Above all, that could be the reason why our car [is] no longer been seen on the American highways. A missing cup holder! In 1974, even Cadillac wasn’t thinking about cup holders.”
Intriguingly, the credits note that the film is “Based on the book, Route 66 in einem 74er Cadillac”, (Route 66 in a ’74 Cadillac), written by Stefan Kluge and co-authored by Mathias Eimann. Stefan Kluge has also added the following brief plot summary to the film’s entry on the Internet Movie Database, where the film is given the title: Route 66: An American (Bad) Dream.
“Route 66: Ein amerikanischer Albtraum (2004) Three German provincials are searching for
As for the film itself, as already noted, is provides a good lesson in how not to organise and conduct a long road trip. Preparation is the key to a safe, successful journey, and while it is impossible to guard against every eventuality or potential problem, a little planning – as the saying goes – goes a long way.
Along the way we get to see vast stretches of open highway, interspersed with our intrepid travellers eating fast food (McDonald’s seems to be their main diet); repairing the vehicles brakes; visiting the famous Cadillac Ranch with its series of Caddie’s buried ‘nose first’ in the open prairie near Amarillo, Texas; doing the laundry; replacing a flat tyre; get brief glimpses of Washington, DC., New York City, and Las Vegas; more breakdowns; etc, etc.
As the three travellers cross the country, we learn almost nothing about the towns, cities, and country they pass through. If it wasn’t for their encounters with helpful strangers along the way – strangers who essentially save the travellers from themselves; from their own disorganisation and incompetence – we might not have even got to ‘meet’ some of the 300 million people who inhabit the
At 103 minutes the film is over long, and could easily be edited down to a workable 90 minute version without losing any flow or drama. In fact, apart from a brief encounter with a police patrol car, and watching them deal with constant mechanical problems, nothing particularly dramatic happens. The first 20 minutes of the film is spent waiting for the Cadillac to be fixed, and when the journey proper finally begins they head for
Because the three travellers presumably talked to each other in their native German, we learn about the details of the trip via a voiceover which, despite the strong German accent is quiet and unobtrusive, and never gets in the way of the unfolding journey. The commentary is filled with wry observations and explanations such as the one already quoted above, as well as others in which we learn about the ‘joys’ of cheap motel accommodations. Where “…every motel has its own individual characteristic, and while you are driving in the dusk, you are already wondering…if the indoor aerial will fall off during the NBA playoffs”; or this, “…the distance between your bed and your car won’t be more than three metres...”
Where the three are filmed talking to each other, subtitles allow us to listen in on their conversations as we ride with them inside the Cadillac.
Finally, excellent atmospheric music is provided throughout by the German electronic group, Valley Forge (note: the website is entirely in German). The group consists of Thomas Bechholds (synths, organ, piano, vocoder), with Michael Seitz (drums, percussion, synths) and Jürgen Winter (guitars).
To sum up, if you are planning your own road trip across
By the way, the ‘bad’ dream alluded to in the title, is entirely the result of the film makers own lack of care and forethought. As I’ve said throughout this review, and repeat once again, the film is a great lesson in what not to do when embarking on a long road trip, and if viewing Route 66 encourages you to put more thought and care into planning your own travels, it will have been worth the 103 minutes you invest in it.
View the Route 66 trailer…
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
And nine times out of ten, you can never find one when you need it most!
Well, rest easy dear reader, relief is at hand. In my relentless quest to help you answer the call of nature, I have tracked down a couple of online resources that can help relieve the pressure when the need is most pressing.
If you are travelling anywhere in Australia, give thanks to the very helpful people at the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, who have produced the National Public Toilet Map, which, believe it or not, is a “Project of the National Continence Management Strategy”.
I feel better already.
The home page for the National Public Toilet Map indicates the site provides locations for over 15,300 public toilets right around Australia, which you can search by post code, suburb, or by entering the name of the town or city you happen to be in.
On a much grander scale is the Sit or Squat website. Yes, that really is its name. Still in development, this site eventually aims to list every public toilet in the world. In the world, people. You need never be caught short again, now that those friendly folks over at Charmin Toilet Paper have teamed up with Sit or Squat to guide you to the nearest relief station.
In fact, as of this writing, the site lists 64,959 public toilets around the world. That represents an awful lot of relief for a lot of potentially desperate travellers, but I’m sure there are tens of thousands more public conveniences that are waiting to be added to the site – so get cracking. Visit the site and see if the public loos in your neighbourhood are listed, and if they are not, add them today.
However, given that technology is involved here, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work as intended.
On a whim, I decided to look at the Sit or Squat toilet suggestions for
If you walk down
Not to worry, the website allows visitors to sign up and add public toilets to the database. So being the good citizen that I am, I signed in and completed the online form with details about the missing loo. To my chagrin, Sit or Squat rejected my entry with a message stating that “the address you entered belongs to an existing toilet.”
“Oh, really?” said I, shouting at the computer, “Then why isn’t pinpointed on your map?”
According to Sit or Squat, the nearest toilets are at the New York Ferry Terminal at 39th Street - four blocks away! A man could get into a whole lot of trouble trying to run four New York City blocks with a full bladder, let me tell you!
Well, at least I tried. To update the information, that is - not run four NYC blocks with a... Oh, never mind!
Undeterred, I entered details for missing toilets on the Esplanade at Semaphore, a short 10 minute walk from home. This time I was successful. So the next time you are in desperate need of a public toilet while relaxing on Semaphore beach, and consult SoS for the nearest WC, you will have me to thank for showing you where it is.
And isn’t that a great relief?
Image: Toilet block at
Monday, September 14, 2009
One of the many decisions a traveller must make when they are preparing their packing list, is what items to include for those unexpected “what if” moments.
What if the car breaks down? What if you are stuck or stranded in an inaccessible part of the wilderness? What if you twist an ankle or worse? What if…? You get the idea.
So the next question then is, What emergency items can you carry with you, that will not be too bulky, heavy, and impractical?
Thankfully, Doug Ritter has put together an emergency kit that is light, compact, and very practical, and based on years of experience. Doug is the Executive Director of the non profit Equipped to Survive Foundation, and an internationally acknowledged authority on survival equipment and practical survival techniques.
His innovative product reviews, evaluations and articles have helped to revolutionize some aspects of survival equipment design and production and allow consumers to make fully informed decisions about their own investment in survival – decisions with potentially life and death importance.
After researching numerous emergency survival kits, I have decided to offer Doug Ritter's Pocket Survival Kit through my Compleat Traveller Store. As you will see by the brief review excerpts reproduced below (and the many other on the Amazon site), Doug Ritter’s Kit comes highly recommended by many purchasers of this incredible, pocket sized survival pack. Let’s take a look at the Kits features and contents.
The Pocket Survival Pak contains a collection of survival tools for when you find yourself abandoned, stranded, or lost in the outdoors. Features include gear repair supplies; fishing supplies; sewing supplies; mini-duct tape; 20mm, liquid filled compass; and waterproof survival instructions. The Kit’s compact size and weight (just 3.9 oz., and 4" x 5" x 0.652") make it perfect for backpackers, hunters, pilots, snow-mobilers, hikers, or anyone who enjoys the great outdoors.
The Kit contains the following items: Signal Mirror, Rescue Flash; Spark-Lite Fire Starter; Tinder Quick Fire starters; Whistle, Rescue Howler; Waterproof Survival Instructions; Duct Tape, 2" x 26"; Scalpel with Handle, Sterile, Disposable, #22 Blade; Compass, Button, Liquid Filled; Aluminum Foil, Heavy Duty, 3 Sq. Ft.; Waterproof Paper; Fresnel Magnifier; Safety Wire, Stainless Steel, (6 ft of 0.020"); Sewing Thread, Bobbin #69, Nylon; Nylon Cord, #18, Braided, (10 ft. 100lb test); Sewing Needle, #18, Chenille; Fish Hooks, #10; Split Shot, Lead B; Snap Swivel, Size 12; Pencil; Pocket Survival Pak Contents List; and Safety Pins
Warning: Due to the inclusion of numerous proscribed travel items in this emergency kit, do not attempt to transport the kit in your ‘carry on’ luggage if you are planning to fly to your destination. It will almost certainly be removed and disposed of by security personnel.
Clearly, the above kit can’t hold everything you might possibly want or need in every emergency, but based on numerous reviews on Amazon, this handy emergency kit is highly regarded, and very popular. I would recommend you add a small torch, a waterproof poncho, and a Leatherman multi-tool to your luggage, but beyond that, you should not need much more for general outdoor travel.
Amazon Customer Reviews
I've been buying and building and updating emergency preparedness kits for over fifteen years now and this is a great package. Doug Ritter's put together a real wealth of stuff in a small package and it's all top notch materials. ~ By K. Miller (
This kit is perfect. Small enough to fit in your pocket, yet everything you need if your outdoor trip takes a turn for the worse. Would highly recommend, and I will buy more. Everything is very high quality, nothing looks or feels cheap. ~ By Ghostrider (
I found the Adventure Medical Kit to be one of the lightest, most compact kits on the market. ~ By J. Bowe (
Doug Ritter and his foundation, Equipped to Survive, has come up with a very economic method to equip yourself and your family with an emergency kit. It is small enough to carry unnoticed in a pocket, yet fully functional. ~ By T. Hassler
Sunday, September 13, 2009
A Canadian traveller insisting on courtesy from a member of the Customs and Border Protection guards was pepper sprayed and held in custody for three hours.
His only sin — asking the border guard to say “please” when he was asked to turn his car off during a search.
“I refused to turn off the car until he said please. He didn’t. And he has the gun, I guess, so he sprayed me,” said Desiderio Fortunato, who frequently crosses the border to visit his second home in the state of
Mr. Fortunato said after he was sprayed he was forcefully taken into custody by several officers. He was held for three hours before he was released without being allowed entry into the
I would have also liked a few titles so viewers could get some idea of where exactly we are on the route, but it makes interesting viewing just the same. The video has been edited down from the original nine minutes running time to .
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The Odd: ‘Yorkshire Airlines’. What with all the fuss about the way airlines are treating their passengers lately, it is good to see ‘Yorkshire Airlines’ doing the right thing by their clients, and working hard to keep them happy.
The Useful: Museum Day, Sept. 26, 2009. Did you know that in
You can go to its website to download a museum card, and search through a database of museums organised on a state by state basis. These include many well-known institutions like New York’s excellent Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and the New York Transit Museum, in Brooklyn, both of which I visited during my stay in 2008.
Buy the way, if the museum you wish to visit is normally closed on a Saturday, check with them to see if there will be free entry on Sunday 27th, instead. Again, you can use the Smithsonian site to find out if your local museum is thus affected. Thanks to Rick Seaney for this one.
The Bizarre: Passenger fixes faulty airliner. Holidaymakers avoided a long delay to their flight home from the tiny Spanish
But would you want to stay on a plane, knowing that one of the passengers had fixed a mechanical problem? We’ll leave the last word to fellow passenger Keith Lomax, who said, “It was reassuring to know the person who had fixed it was still on the aeroplane.” Fair enough then. Read more here…
Friday, September 11, 2009
Click image to view full size
St Pauls Church,
Late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the gravestones of St. Paul’s Chapel, New York, while in the background, dust rises from the site of the former twin towers of the World Trade Center.
The Chapel survived the Great New York City Fire of 1776 when a quarter of
The Chapel was turned into a makeshift memorial shrine following the September 11 attacks, and served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers at the WTC site. For eight months, hundreds of volunteers worked 12 hour shifts around the clock, serving meals, making beds, counselling and praying with fire fighters, construction workers, police and others. Massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists and musicians also tended to their needs.
I spent a several hours at the Chapel over the course of two or three visits, and was intensely moved by the many artefacts, exhibits and audio-video displays that are permanently located inside the building.
The first one when entering is "Healing Hearts and Minds", which consists of a policeman's uniform covered with police and fire fighter patches sent from all over the country, and from around the world. The most visible is the "Thread Project", which consists of several banners, each of a different colour, and woven from different locations from around the globe, hung from the upper level over the pews. There is much to see and reflect on at
As you might imagine there are many online resources and sites memorialising the attacks of
Thanks to Wikipedia for the background information…