Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jim’s Guide to Packing Light

~ In a couple of days I head off to Melbourne to house sit for four weeks, and I am as ready as I will ever be.

The image illustrating this post shows the entire contents of my small suitcase. On top of what I am packing I will of course be wearing a full set of clothing (I dare you to visualise me driving 500 miles naked. Go on – I double-dare you!).

The amazing thing is – there is still space in my bag for more items of clothing. However, I am resisting the urge to fill it with things that are not essential to my Melbourne stay. Besides, if I want to do a spot of shopping in Melbourne, a little bit of extra space will come in handy.

I will also take a separate bag with essential technological aids (iPhone, laptop computer, camera’s and associated battery chargers and cables, etc). I should point out that a small toiletries pack will also go in the suitcase, but in terms of clothing, what you see is what I will be restricting myself to. As the four weeks progress, I hope to get back to making regular updates to this blog, and I will report back on how easy or hard it is to travel with this minimum set of clothing.

The whole point of this being, that when I head off on my major travels in May, I will have a better understanding of my real packing needs. Hopefully, I will never feel the need to travel with an over-packed and overweight suitcase again.

So, that’s it then.

Another year done and dusted.

I hope the past year has been all you wished it to be, and that 2010 will be even more interesting, exciting, and adventurous.

"Our destination is never a place, but rather, a new way of looking at things." Henry Miller

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Art of Subways

~ For most commuters, subways are often a ‘necessary evil’ that simply help them get from one part of a city to another in (hopefully) the safest, quickest and most comfortable way possible. Generally, people don’t travel around the world just to see subway stations, but some subway systems are well worth the visit.

As someone who rarely uses public transport at home, I was more than happy to re-acquaint myself with that means of travel as I explored London, New York City, and Athens in 2008. Of the three cities mentioned, I personally found London’s subway system (the ‘underground’) to be the least interesting visually. It began operating in 1863, and as the first underground transport system in the world, its designers and architects didn’t waste time or money trying to turn it into a work of art.

Thanks to the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens has a stunning new subway. While the underground component is not particularly extensive, it is clean and efficient. It also incorporates many fascinating archaeological discoveries unearthed during the construction of the network that are worth seeking out and examining closely in their own right.

The first underground line in New York’s subway system opened in October 1904. While many of the old lines and stations are showing signs of wear and tear, the inclusion of works of art or station designs that were aesthetically pleasing to commuters, was part of the brief city engineers and architects had to take into consideration when planning the subway.

Many stations are decorated with intricate ceramic tile work, some of it dating back to 1904 when the subway first opened for business. The "Arts for Transit" program oversees art in the subway system. Permanent installations, such as sculpture, mosaics, and murals; photographs displayed in lightboxes, and musicians performing in stations encourage people to use mass transit. Some of the art is by internationally-known artists such as Elizabeth Murray's Blooming, [see image] displayed at Lexington Avenue/59th Street station.
[Source: Wikipedia…]

The New York subway system was a revelation as I constantly discovered massive murals, quirky sculptures, colourful mosaics and many other types of art scattered through the subterranean depths beneath that great metropolis.

Which brings me to the Design Boom website.

They have posted a feature on some of the world’s most visually stunning subways systems and their stations, and it is well worth taking a look at. Of course, most of the stations illustrated in the article are far newer than either the New York City or London subway systems. Never the less, all are a feast for the eye and would surely make even the most jaded and jet-lagged traveller, reach for their cameras to capture the underground wonders they are passing through.

Artwork: Blooming, Elizabeth Murray (1996).
Photo by: Wayne Whitehorne

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The iPhone Revolution

~ I’ve finally joined the iPhone revolution. Yes, I know I’m a bit late, but then again, considering that 99.99% of the world’s population doesn’t have an iPhone, you might also say I’m an early adopter of this amazing device.

I’ve been researching the pros and cons of mobile devices for some time, and was trying to decide between an iPod Touch or the iPhone. Another device I was considering purchasing was one of those lovely lightweight, compact Netbook computers that have been appearing in stores over the past year or two. In the end, I opted for the iPhone because the opportunity presented itself to acquire one at a very good price.

In anticipation of my eventual purchase I’ve even been downloading lots of apps from the iTunes store. These are mostly travel-related applications that I intend to put to good use on my forthcoming extended travels during 2010. This will see me housesitting in Melbourne for 4-6 weeks before returning to Greece and other parts of Europe, and my eventual return to America for another extended stay.

iPhone Apps by The Bucketful: Apple claims to offer around 100,000 applications for the iPod and the iPhone, and I’ve been doing my best to try out as many as I can before I take off next year. To that end, I have been downloading a mix of free and paid applications that cover language assistance, mapping and travel guides, and other general travel information.

Among the language guides, I have selected some of the free World Nomads apps for Spanish, German, French and Italian. Each download contains hundreds of common words and phrases to help you communicate with the locals, and if these are not enough – and they almost certainly won’t be – you can pay for the full version of each application and get hundreds of additional words and phrases.

I’ve also downloaded several city guides, which for just $1.19 each per download, are packed with information, maps and images to guide me through New York City, Rome, London and Paris. These apps use information sourced from Wikipedia, and best of all, all the content is saved to your mobile device, meaning you don’t have to log on to any website to access the information.

All work and no play, makes Jim a dull boy – or words to that effect, so I have also downloaded a selection of favourite games to keep me amused while standing around in airport boarding queues! I’ve selected backgammon, draughts/checkers, Reversi, solitaire, and one of my all time favourite computer games – Myst.

By the way, many of these above applications are available for both the iPod Touch and the iPhone, so don’t feel you have to ditch your iPod and buy an iPhone to take advantage of all this amazing technology. I will be road-testing many of these apps while I’m in Melbourne, so it will be interesting to see which ones become permanent additions to my iPhone, and which fall by the wayside.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stargazing in Manhattan

~ So there I was, walking through Manhattan when I noticed flashing lights down a side street. I soon realized they weren’t so much flashing lights as they were the flash from lots of cameras going off simultaneously.

Of course, I had to investigate.

The cameras were being wielded by 15-20 photographers at the entrance of MoMA - the Museum of Modern Art, where a special screening of George Clooney's film, Leatherheads was about to take place. There was no red carpet, but I joined a group of locals, tourists, and autograph hunters, and waited to see who was going to turn up.

I didn’t have long to wait. Through the crowd walked Bruce Willis and his latest flame. Unfortunately, by the time I had my video camera ready to film he had disappeared into the building. Damn. I decided to keep my camera on in readiness for the next star. A succession of guests entered the building, most of whom I didn’t know – until Jonathan Pryce walked out of the building.

Now Jonathan Pryce may not be an actor whose name is on everyone’s lips, but he just happens to have been the lead actor in one of my all time favourite films, Brazil, directed by one of my favourite directors, Terry Gilliam. Maybe Jonathan knew something about Leatherheads the rest of the guests didn’t, because he never did return to MoMA for the screening.

A long, black, stretch limo pulled up in the street. Out stepped Howard Stern and his partner. I have heard of Howard Stern, but I wouldn’t have known it was him if someone hadn’t told me.

A couple of very tall, thin anorexic looking women arrived over the next ten minutes or so. At one point, I had the nerve to shout out to one of them, "When was the last time you ate?" But if she heard me, she didn’t let on. My poor attempt at humor did get a laugh from some of the locals however.

Suddenly a tall familiar looking African-American stepped through the crowd. It was Danny Glover (of Lethal Weapon fame), who apologized for not posing for photographs, because he was running late. As it turns out, Danny need not have worried. Renee Zelwegger, who also stars in the film, and who was due to appear at the screening was apparently unwell, and decided to give it a miss. When George Clooney was informed of this, he also decided not to turn up – to his own film screening – and that was that.

As soon as the photographers heard that Renee and George were not going to show, they packed up and left. It didn’t matter who else might turn up. As the saying goes, ‘There’s no show without Punch’, and since Punch wasn’t turning up, the photographers disappeared into the night.

And with that dear friends, my night of stargazing came to an end.

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