Big Bend is the least visited of our national parks. In 2016, it saw just 388,290 visitors, compared to the 11,312,786 who went to the most visited, Great Smoky Mountains. This is not a surprise, given its location in an almost-forgotten corner of Texas, an 8.5 hour drive from Dallas, if you speed and don’t stop to eat or gas up. The drive down is a wasteland of oil fields and abandoned towns. But don’t be deterred; the park is worth the effort it takes to get there.
What to do when you get there? You can stay in the lodge and hope to see a javelina. You can cross to Mexico, legally via the Boquillas entrance or illegally by wading across the Rio Grande. But mostly, you go to Big Bend to hike. My first day, I did a four-mile hike in the morning up the Lost Mine trail and a five-mile hike in the afternoon to the Window. The second day I did a 15 mile hike up to Emory Peak, down around the South Rim, and back to the Chisos Basin via the Laguna Meadows trail. The last morning was only a quick two-mile (if that) walk to the end of Santa Elena Canyon and back. I would have loved to spend more time lying on the banks of the Rio Grande, soaking up the sunshine before heading back to the 20-degree Boulder weather, but that 8.5 hour drive lie ahead. Continue reading →
Or at least my brother may have a better memory for the geographical history of our family vacations than I do. When I went to Idaho over the July 4th holiday, I believed that I had stepped foot into the one state I had never been to. But that might not have been true. While I was in Kansas last week for Thanksgiving, my brother and I were discussing the places we had been to in the Kansas City area as children…which according to him, were none. I distinctly remember being in Missouri and visiting the Jesse James house, but my brother says that never happened. According to him, we visited a bank in Minnesota that James had robbed.
Then I thought about it some more and realized yes, it’s quite possible that I never did make it to the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas quartet. Well, shoot. But if that’s true, at least Kansas and Missouri are now knocked off the list for real.
And I mean, I’ve really done Kansas. All the way from the border with Colorado 424 miles across I-70 to Kansas City and back. I left the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and took two days for the eastbound trip. My plan was to stop and see all the kitsch sites along the way, because there are many: a giant Van Gogh painting, truckhenge, world’s largest collection of the smallest versions of the largest things…need I go on? A collection of Americana perfect for the ultimate Heartland road trip. Continue reading →
I grew up on the east coast where people are aggressive, angry, and closed off. Then I lived in Russia for several years, where people are closed off, angry, and aggressive. And then I moved to Boulder. Boulder is a magic land. Boulderites sincerely welcome newbies into their friend group. They mean what they say and do what they promise. They are genuinely happy for the success of those around them and the fact that others are out enjoying nature and leisure time as much as possible. I’ve never been in another place where people always smile at each other as they pass by on the street or a trail and where strangers so frequently strike up conversations beyond small talk with one another. When I exit our magical borders, I kind of expect the whole rest of the world to be in a Mad Max state of affairs.
OK, that’s all a bit of an exaggeration, but my point is, I believe Boulder is an anomaly, so when I travel somewhere else and find people every bit as lovely as they are at home, I’m surprised…and thrilled! And this was my experience in Dallas. I recently spent 11 days in the city where big things happen and had a wonderful time. Everywhere I went people were friendly and open and pleasant, and I don’t only mean the people I was with. Shopkeepers, servers, bartenders, gas station attendants, and so many people I encountered seemed to be in a great mood, and that made my trip even better. Continue reading →
Last week, I posted about the best experiences I’ve had so far with AirBnB. This post was prompted by dad calling me to discuss an article in the Buffalo News about the home sharing service. One of the points the article made that my dad was curious about was how guest and host expectations sometimes differ, leading to dissatisfaction. For example, the article mentioned a woman who was annoyed when her guests didn’t want to spend time socializing with her.
With the exception of when I am overseas, I always request an entire home/apartment to myself, rather than a room in someone’s house, because I don’t want to socialize. I’m on my own vacation and want to do my own thing, especially if I am travelling with a romantic partner. And even when booking separate accommodation, I read the description carefully to make sure that my expectations align with those of the host. Most descriptions state clearly how much interaction the host is willing to have with the guests. This is important. I believe that many problems in this world, not just on AirBnB, can be cleared up with better communication. Of course, it’s just as much the guest’s responsibility to understand and accept those terms as it is the host’s to express them. A breakdown can be the fault of either party. Continue reading →
My dad gets really excited when when modern, gig/sharing-economy type organizations come to Buffalo, which is my hometown and where he still lives. Years ago, when Buffalo got food trucks, he called right away to let me know. Around the same time, the city was redoing the harbor to make it a place for festivals and a place people want to spend time in general. He thought a combination of those two amenities would make me consider moving back there. Then Buffalo got bicycle sharing and then Uber, and he called me each of those times to let me know how cool Buffalo was becoming. I’m happy for Buffalo. I love that city. But the taxes and lack of good jobs and the snow…oh my god the snow. The gray, miserable, long, icy, humid winters. No. I just can’t.
But I digress.
My dad’s latest report was about AirBnB. It’s been active in Buffalo awhile, but the Buffalo News ran a story over the summer about locals’ good and bad experiences with it. He was certain I had used it before, which I have, and wanted to compare my experiences with what the paper was reporting. And so I thought, why stop with the conversation with my dad? Why not share some of my good and bad experiences here? Continue reading →
I am not a fan of the “they do it in Europe” argument. I frequently hear people say this regarding free higher education and universal healthcare, among other issues. When pressed for implementation details, these people tend to be clueless about the bureaucratic, and, just as importantly, the cultural factors at play. I could go into detail, but my aim here is not write a political post. Instead I’m going to contradict myself briefly and become one of those people I generally scoff at by describing some charming, impressive, and useful customs that I noticed in Italy that I think we should adopt in the United States.
I’ll start with the simple. Many shops place umbrella stands outside their doors when it rains. This is nice from the perspective of both the store and the consumer. The shop doesn’t have to worry about goods getting wet and ruined. Consumers don’t have to carry around a dripping umbrella. And it seems that no one is worried about their umbrella getting swiped by a passerby who has been caught in the storm empty handed. I’m sure it happens sometimes, but if it were really a problem, I don’t think those bins would be out everywhere. Continue reading →
A collection of random linguistically-related thoughts that popped into my head while in Italy four weeks ago.
Language can provide anonymity in a crowd. One of my biggest linguistic pleasures when in Europe is hearing half a dozen languages spoken around me at any one time. I enjoy it partly because you feel a buzz, an energy around you, without having comprehension interfere with your own thoughts. But also, there’s a certain anonymity in being in a multilingual place. I could be anyone. Of any nationality. In any life situation. No one knows a thing about me until I speak. This makes me feel exciting and mysterious. Continue reading →
A collection of random, linguistically-related thoughts that popped into my head while in Switzerland five weeks ago.
Going abroad makes you realize that your language skills aren’t nearly as good as they should be. How did I used to be fluent in German but a few weeks ago I couldn’t even understand what the Swiss shopkeepers said when I walked in the door? Swiss German is quite distinct from Hochdeutsch, but still, I feel I should have been a little more competent. Continue reading →
When I was growing up, I lived on a small street in a rural area where having friends over to sit in the garage and drink was the main Saturday attraction. In all houses, that is, except mine. My parents didn’t drink and they weren’t particularly social, at least not in the kind of way where friends drop in and hang out without any specific invitation or plan. I’d listen on summer nights, through my open bedroom window, to the laughter and chatter going on across the street and wonder why our house wasn’t filled with people too. I swore that when I had my own place, my door would always be open and friends would come and go constantly.
That’s not remotely the kind of person I turned out to be. I’m every bit as inflexible with my time and protective of my personal space as my parents were. It drives me crazy when people stop by unannounced. Even the UPS man. I ignore invitations to go out if they come less than eight hours before the start time because that’s not enough time for me to prepare and accomplish everything I planned to that day. I don’t send read receipts on my iPhone because I don’t want people knowing whether I’m looking at my phone and therefore, presumably, available to talk or text. I always opt for “Entire home/apt” when using AirBnB because I certainly don’t want to be in the house with the owner, having to make chit chat. And communal tables at a restaurant? Whoever came up with this terrible idea should be hanged. Continue reading →
I have so many thoughts to share stemming from my two and a half weeks in Europe. My route was
Flight to Zurich→
Train to Innsbruck→
Car share to Bressanone→
On foot across the Dolomites to Cortina d’Ampezzo→
Bus to Venice→
Rental car to Padua→Verona→Bergamo→Milan→
Train and kayak to Bellagio→
Car share to Zurich
with a lot of little stops in between. Everything I saw was stimulating and new, and I took dozens and dozens of pages of notes. Since most of that time was spent in northern Italy, let’s kick off the onslaught of upcoming blog posts with a lighthearted comparison of Italy and Boulder. Continue reading →