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Cruise the San Diego Harbor with a Boat Tour

San Diego Harbor

The weather in San Diego is great all year round and I’d say that it has one of the prettiest harbors in all of America so while you’re visiting and, especially if it’s for the first time, you may like a harbor boat tour.

What is a Harbor Boat Tour like in San Diego?

Manchester Grand Hyatt seen from the boat tour
The Manchester Grand Hyatt sits on the San Diego Bay

Hornblower Cruises offers six daily cruises that are one hour in length and occur every hour and fifteen minutes between 10:00am-5:15pm. Each cruise is narrated by a crew member as you tour the harbor. The boat is two stories and has both indoor and outdoor seating and has a small snack bar serving cold and hot items and beverages including beer & wine.

Before you board, you’ll have a souvenir picture taken with your party that will be available for purchase after the tour. The boat itself is kind of like a ferry so while you tour the harbor you don’t feel an exorbitant amount of motion if you are prone to seasickness.

There are two boat tours you can choose from—North or South. I’ve done both of these and they are relatively different. The southern route takes a course that focuses on Mission Bay, Point Loma, Cabrillo National Monument and Coronado island before swinging back around to see the ships of the Maritime Museum and the USS Midway. The northern route is much more military/Navy focused in my experience as you swing past a handful of Navy ships in the harbor and receive information about each of those in addition to the USS Midway, Coronado island and general San Diego history (SD history is given on the southern route as well). A main draw to either of these is the opportunity to spot sea lions. Hornblower touts the northern tour as the most popular for sea lion sightings but I’ve seen them plenty of times on the southern tour as well (though note that it’s never a guarantee you’ll see them at all).

A boat tour is a lovely way to introduce yourself to San Diego and learn a lot about the city’s history while catching some sunshine and hopefully spotting a smelly, barking sea lion in the water.

What others are saying about Hornblower Cruises:

Trip Advisor

Other San Diego harbor cruises:

Flagship Cruises

 

Questions? Comment below or email us at scuttabout@gmail.com

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How to be a Tour Guide: Pros and Cons of a Dream Job

Group at Grand Canyon

When you live in DC (I lived there for over five years), anyone can tell you that the first “getting to know you” question is “What do you do?” This is code for a) do I make more money that you? b) do I work for a more recognized company than you? c) Do I live in a better apartment than yours? Usually, when I tell people what I do for a living, the honest response I get is a tad bit of confusion followed by a pinch of snark and then a lightbulb realization: “Oh wow. Your job is awesome.” This prompts me to take a little smug moment to myself. Once that’s over, I kindly agree and move on.

The thing is, being a tour guide–or as I much prefer, local expert–kind of is the best job in the world. I get to travel! I get to meet people from all over the world! I get to geek out in front of historically and culturally significant places all over the United States and share my knowledge with thousands of travelers! I get to eat! A lot! And I make money while doing all of it! Then, I get to take my “off season” and head overseas!

BUT.

Please don’t be fooled. It’s not all sunshines and rainbows.

I would, however, like to highlight the pros first. Because I am a positive person. And I don’t want to scare anyone.

What are the pros of being a tour guide?

Running at Monument Valley
A typical photo opp after visiting Monument Valley on tour

Its hard to put a finger on what exactly the best part of being a tour guide is (and to clarify, when I say tour guide here, I am also including tour manger/director/leader/etc into that phrase and though some would argue that each of those titles is a different position–they’re not). So, here’s what I think:

  • You are an independent contractor: This means that you aren’t really an employee of any one company. There are a small number of tour operators in the industry that hire their guides as full time employees with benefits/401k but even these companies usually only require 100 days of work out of the year. With most others, you are on a contract-by-contract basis. This could mean that you’ve said yes (read: contracted) to lead a two hour city tour one time, or that you’ve actually signed a hard copy sheet of paper stating that you will take on a 30 day cross-country itinerary five times a year. The beauty here is that you can create your own schedule without worrying about a dwindling number of vacation days that some corporation allots you annually. If you want to take the entire month of January off to go explore Fiji, go for it because no one will be stopping you. Most guides typically work their tails off anywhere between mid February through Thanksgiving, but a lot work continuously throughout the entire year. Others work a lot less. As an independent contractor you truly are in charge of your own schedule.
  • You get to travel. A lot: I had barely been west of the Mississippi River when I got my first gig in the industry with Contiki Holidays. After I finally led my last (maybe) tour for them in 2015 I had been to 45 US states, nearly 30 other countries and had lived in Australia for a short time. Not all of this travel was on the job. Most of the state visits were thanks to the job. But, most of the international travel came during long breaks I scheduled to travel abroad. I was able to do this because I was an independent contractor (see above).
  • You meet people from all over the globe: Over the years, I have guided thousands of people around the United States. My clients have come from every inhabited continent. I’ve met people from all sorts of places–Iran, Namibia, Finland, Ukraine and India. The job is a two-way street. As I was showing off my country to paying travelers, I was also learning about dozens of other cultures.
  • You are very rarely in an office: I learned from the ripe age of 21 that cubicle life was not for me. Being a tour guide means you are constantly out and about, talking to large groups and mingling with guests all while leaving behind a very small paper trail. Tour operators always have some sort of admin paperwork for you to finish that goes along with the tour but it is very minimal compared to what you would face in an office.

What are the cons of being a tour guide?

Tour Guide in San Francisco
A candid shot by one of my guests. I was gathering maps and headed to UPS as the group enjoyed lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf

Like most things in life, traveling all of the time has its pitfalls:

  • You are an independent contractor: Wait a minute…wasn’t this a pro of being a tour guide? Yes. And no. Being an independent contractor means that if you are not working, you are not being paid. So the hustle is real. For most of us, that’s ok, it’s the right fit for our personality. But, for many, not having a salaried income is too much of a risk.
  • You provide your own health insurance and 401k: Most (there are a few exceptions) tour operators in America do not provide their independent contractors with health benefits or a 401k. The bright side to funding your own is that there are some tax benefits that will come back to you.
  • You are “on” all the time: Even during your downtime–whether that be tucked away in a cafe for lunch or in your hotel room for a few hours before a group dinner–you are kind of working. For example, let’s say you have to go to the hotel’s front desk for something and you see one of your guests in the lobby who has a problem or question. You’re on! Or how about if you see one of your guests at the airport after you’ve just spent a 20 day tour with them? You certainly can’t ignore them. As the face of a company, you just always have to be on your “A” game.
  • It gets lonely: Sure, you’re surrounded by interesting people all the time. But they’re not your people. Even for the biggest extroverts, I would say that there are bouts of loneliness living on the road away from your family and friends. Being a tour guide sure *can* be a glamorous life but you will eventually miss out on a lot of life events. I’ve personally missed weddings, funerals, showers, graduations and other events that I’ve wanted to attend. When you are on a tour, you don’t have the options to just leave and come back in a few days. You either lead the whole tour or you don’t. You have to ask yourself if attending a wedding is worth giving up what could be a large chunk of income. After a while, that and not having your own shower/coffee maker/bed can take its toll.

 

On the next “How to be a Tour Guide,” I’ll talk about what it takes to actually get there. It’s not just a job application.

Did I miss some pros/cons? Comment here or email us at scuttabout@gmail.com

 

 

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Tour the Grand Canyon in a Helicopter

The Grand Canyon

Taking a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon is nothing short of a dream for most people, but that dream can easily become a reality when visiting the south rim of the canyon. Just outside of the National Park, the small gateway town of Tusayan houses a heliport for the adventurous.

What helicopter companies can I tour the Grand Canyon with?

Papillon Helicopters offers multiple flights from the south rim of the canyon with a variety of lengths and prices. Getting to the heliport takes roughly 15 minutes in a car from the Grand Canyon Village or can be accessed by a short walk from stop number 2 from the purple route NPS shuttle bus that operates during peak travel season from March-September.

Grand Canyon
A view of the south rim of the Grand Canyon

It is highly encouraged to make online reservations ahead of time, as flights book out very quickly during peak months. Once you arrive at the heliport you’ll enter the small building and walk up to the registration desk where they will take your name and ask you to stand on a small piece of what I call “magic carpet.” Here, they will record your weight (don’t worry, it’s not advertised to others) and direct you into the small theater to watch the safety video. Do not try to skip this video, as you’ll receive a small sticker upon exiting the theater that confirms you’ve seen the film. Outside the theater, there is a small waiting room, restrooms, a very small coffee bar (if Dan is there say hello!) and a gift shop. Wait until after your flight to purchase from the gift shop, as you cannot have additional items on the helicopter. In fact, upon entering the building, the only thing you should have with you is a camera—no backpacks, large purses, etc—leave all of the in the car (it just adds weight on the helicopter and is not permitted).

When they call your name from the waiting room, you’ll be given a piece of paper with a number on it. This is where you’ll sit on the helicopter. If you were given the number 1, consider yourself lucky, as this is the seat up front next to the pilot that has floor to ceiling views of the canyon. Unfortunately, you do not get to dictate or even request where you sit on the helicopter as it is all determined on how they balanced out the weight. Each helicopter fits six people and its also not a guarantee that you will be facing forward, as some seats face backward. But it’s all worth it once you get over the canyon! Before you get into the helicopter they will take a souvenir photo available for purchase of you standing in front of it—if they take a photo of the whole group your with and you’d rather just have a photo of you and your partner/friend/mom/etc don’t hesitate to ask them to take another; they want you to buy this photo so they won’t mind doing it.

What is it like to fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter?

Helicopter over Grand Canyon
The pilot actually took this photo of me mid flight, 2008

Once you take off you’ve got about 10-12 minutes flying time over the South Kaibab National Forest. You’ll be listening to theme music in from the headphones they give you (think Frank Sinatra “Come Fly with Me” etc) and things start to intensify once you get closer to the rim (maybe you’ll hear the theme song from the movie Rocky). One of the coolest sensations I’ve ever had is the feeling you get once you hit the rim of the canyon. I won’t go into much detail here so you can experience it organically but it’s just incredible. As you fly along the canyon, your pilot will provide you with information about what you’re seeing and famous rock formations if they appear.

When determining how long you want to fly for take into account that 10-12 minutes to and from the canyon is spent over the forest. I always used to tell clients that if their budget allowed they should go for the longer flight—if you’re going to spend the money on something you’ll most likely do only once you might want to maximize your time over the actual canyon. But that’s just my two cents.

Helicopters can be a rocky. They are much smaller than planes and fly completely differently. But if heights and movements don’t scare you, it’s totally worth it. They are so fun. If you have no interest in trying out a helicopter but still want to fly over the canyon, Papillon also offers an airplane tour.

Please note that flights can cancel at anytime due to inclement weather and/or too much wind.

 

We’ve been to the Grand Canyon collectively nearly 100 times. If you have any questions, email us at scuttabout@gmail.com.

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Cross-Country Hyper Lapse

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This is a cross-country hyper lapse from DC to LA. Unfortunately, I screwed up and didn’t start the sequence until we got to Hagerstown…I had bigger things on my mind, like how to drive a 26′ truck while towing a SUV through the congested streets of DC and then onto the Beltway.
Sorry about the dirty windshield in the beginning…it does get cleaned. Promise.

Some of the cross-country highlights:

0:47 Truck breakdown #1- We got off the highway just past Wheeling, West Virginia in Ohio. When I pressed the gas the truck moved only inches as the engine revved and revved. I was able to pull into a closed gas station lot just in time for smoke to start billowing from the hood. Imagining that all of my earthly possessions were about to go up in flame Ben and I tore the vehicle apart looking for a fire extinguisher. There was no fire extinguisher. Of course. But, by the time we figured it out the smoke had subsided.
Still, we were broken down in the middle of nowhere. Yet a vehicle pulled up behind us. Would they help? No, they just honked and shouted because we were “in the way.”  After letting the engine cool I decided to try and make it to a hotel a little down the road. Blowing the engine was a better prospect than being cannibalized by Appalachian Buckeye meth zombies.
0:48 Raccoon!!- I left the camera running through the night (only time on the trip) and spied a raccoon have the best night of his life in a dumpster.
1:18 Wright Patterson Air Base- What’s a road trip without the random stops, especially when you need to periodically cool the engine. I had been talking with someone about the air and space collection at the base just a few weeks prior, so it was basically divine intervention that led us to stop here. Having spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on the National Mall and the Udvar-Hazy center at Dulles I can say this definitively: this is the greatest air and space museum in America. If only we had more time.
1:30 Indy 500- We stopped at the Brickyard and all you get to see is a sign that says “SPEEDWAY MONOGRAMMING”. Sorry, I’ll give more thought to my framing the next time I’m driving a 26′ truck while towing an SUV. Also, as Ben and I ran back out of the track a lady stopped her car on a very busy road to ask if we were playing Pokemon Go! That’s when I knew we were all doomed.
1:37 White Castle- What better place to have a long strategic phone call about the place where you want to live…yes, that’s right, up to this point in the trip our destination was unknown. We had packed everything up hoping that we would have an address before getting to California. More on that in another blog post!
1:39 Finally!~ Someone has the sense to clean the windshield.
1:50 The Arch- If you hit pause at exactly the right moment you can almost make out an object on the left side of the frame that has the basic proportions of the Arch in St. Louis.
2:14 Kansas is flat- That’s why I blog, to answer the tough questions.
2:44 Sunset over the Rockies- This is my favorite part of the video and my favorite part of the trip. We weren’t planning on hitting the front range of the Rockies at sunset. In fact, we were a bit behind schedule on the day. But, what a beautiful stretch of driving right there.
2:53 Truck breakdown #2- Have you ever driven up a steep mountain pass at 12 mph in a 26′ truck while towing a SUV??
L-I-V-I-N.
While driving 12 mph you have plenty of time to think about things, and do math. So I worked out the formula (after taking an online college course in calculus) and estimated that at the speed we were traveling we would arrive in California just before the end of Emperor Trump XVI’s reign. Wanting to at least catch a minute of my unborn daughter’s childhood I opted to call U-Haul’s roadside assistance. Ben and I waited for about an hour for the mechanic to show up. He was like, “I don’t have the part you need so we’ll get you guys set up in a hotel until tomorrow.” And I was like, “Um…I ain’t got time for that.” And he was like, “Let me check one more thing.” And then we were fixed. Magically. It was a sensor.
3:05 Crossing Loveland Pass- Yeah, so the drama on the side of the highway meant that we missed the deadline on a planned closure of the Eisenhower Tunnel. And that meant no interstate highway access across the continental divide. So drive up and over Loveland Pass it was, in the middle of the night…while driving a 26′ truck and towing a SUV. I stopped to pee on the continental divide, so as you read this some of my pee is making its way to the Pacific Ocean and some is trickling on down to the Atlantic. Science. And Reaganomics.
3:17 Rockies in daytime- A bonus of all the truck drama is that we were set far enough back in time that we could drive down the western slope of the Rockies in daylight. It’s a fantastic stretch.
3:25 New soundsystem- The A/C in the truck didn’t really work so we had to drive with the windows down. The radio in the truck didn’t work, unless you’re a humpback whale…then you’d probably enjoy whatever was coming out of the speakers. So we had to rely on the Jambox, which tried its hardest to pump out some sound. But by this point in the trip we needed an upgrade…enter the Sony. (It’s OK Jambox, we still love you!) Also notice this is when the bass drops. Synergy.
3:35 Utah desert- I love this little bit of the hyper lapse because you can see the distant mountain ranges grow as we driving along a road that’s straight as an arrow. Also every time we stop there seems to be some brilliant rock feature just hanging out in the background.
3:56 Arizona/Virgin River Canyon- If you blink you’ll miss it. Along the entire route we spend less time in Arizona than any other state, even West Virginia. But, mile for mile it’s among the most gorgeous ribbons of road as I-15 passes through the Virgin River Canyon. And then we emerge into the Nevada desert at dusk.
4:03 Vegas Strip- You can’t not drive down the Strip near the end of a cross-country road trip…ESPECIALLY if you’re making a movie out of it. Nothing like crawling through the neon jungle in a 26′ truck while towing a SUV. Las Vegas is spanish for “good decisions.”
4:11 Moonlight over the Mojave- A jarring juxtaposition at the end of this whole thing from the lights of Vegas to the emptiness of the desert. The nearly full moon dances around as we head south on the 15 toward the final destination (no, not death!).
Other random observations: My brother Ben likes to pace in front of the truck every time it’s stopped. Bugs really love windshields. Who needs Google Maps when you have an atlas?

And the video:

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Fall Into the Gap(year)

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Editor’s Note: Malia Obama announced that she’ll be attending Harvard, but before that she’ll be taking a gap year…so we wrote her a letter telling her why that decision is awesome!
Hey Malia,
Hope all is well at the White House, I can’t believe you only have a few more months living there. I mean it seems like just yesterday that you guys moved in, amirite! Anyways, congrats on this incredibly important decision. You’ve decided to take a gap year. (I mean good job on the Harvard thing too…but the gap year thing is a bigger deal, IMHO). You’re opening a door that America desperately needs opened. For whatever reason, we lag behind the rest of the developed world in the gap year department. Elsewhere it’s a right of passage, an opportunity to learn more about the world, and yourself, than any college degree can teach you.
But here…well, in America it’s often seen as a scarlet letter. In the background, a chorus of whispers wonder what must be wrong with the kid that doesn’t go straight to college from high school. I find it hilarious, the parents who pressure their kids out of a gap year for fear that they’ll lose focus. The gap year IS ABOUT FOCUS (Sorry for yelling.) Sure, that focus may tell a kid that college isn’t their path. Guess what? That’s OK. Typically though, the gap year encourages a commitment to education. A study from the American Gap Year Association (yes, it’s real and I’ve hyperlinked to prove it!) shows 90 percent of students who take a gap year end up in college once that year is finished. That same data show that 60 percent come to realize career ambitions and college majors during the gap year. But hey, if those parents want their kids to get immediately locked into a rat race that will only end with their death 60 years later while still under the specter of student loans…to each their own!
The way we treat 18-year-olds in this country is kinda sad. If you can’t answer the question: “where are you going to college?” as a senior with, at least, a short list of options you’ll be greeted with the raised eyebrow and pursed-lipped nod of judgment. We’re programmed to believe that taking time off is tantamount to failure. And this is part of why have a malformed perception of the world. If there’s ever a time for Americans to debark from our safe shores to experience the adventure and discovery abroad…now is that time. Although getting back in may be tough after President Trump builds a huge wall all the way around America.
I took a gap year. And while I didn’t travel abroad, I used the time to refocus my energies without the pressure of grades and due dates. It’s the one time that you can completely focus on yourself. It’s a great time to find something you want to do better and then strive for progress with laser focus. It’s a perfect time to find a new passion. For me, I built a passion for reading (lame, I know). Freed from the constraints of a syllabus, reading became enjoyable again and in the process of rebuilding that love I also discovered a love for politics and history, two interests that blossomed into a career.
Screw your social life. Seriously. Friends are important, but you’ll only hang on to one or two from your first 18 years of life. It’s the next five years that you’ll really build the friendships that last a lifetime. College and travel tend to be the crucible under which lasting friendship is forged. And the better you know yourself, the better quality friendships you’ll form. So, who cares if your best friend Sally is going on and on about her new roommate and what sorority she’ll rush. Don’t worry, all of that will be there for you after the gap year. And Sally will be there too, but you won’t ever see her because she’ll be totally in love with Bobby (who is definitely not that into her…)
Volunteer. You’re going to discover you have more time than you know what to do with…use it. Only when dedicating your life to someone else’s cause can you really start to focus on your purpose. Volunteer at home, and volunteer abroad. Find ways to come into contact with people well beyond your natural circles. Listen. Everyone has a story, and as you volunteer you’re putting yourself into someone else’s story. The gap year is about perspective, and this is a critical element to gaining that perspective.
If I could come up with a gap year formula it would look something like this: 40% work. 20% Volunteer. 10% Nothing. 40% travel. I know that doesn’t add up. The nice thing is the volunteering can fit into both the work and travel.
Let’s start with the work part of your gap year. Work like you’ve never worked before. Work more than one job and try to occupy every waking hour. Work until your back is sore and your feet are blistered. Work until you curse waking up…because then you’ll learn the most valuable lesson of all. A strong work ethic is priceless, but if you don’t want to get locked into this pointless grind then you’ll be pushed that much harder to succeed in college. Also you’re not in high school anymore, which means you stand a decent chance of gaining added responsibility at work. In at least one of those jobs try to find something that fits into your long-term career ambition, just to get a taste of what it is you think you want to do. After four or five months of working your face off you should have a nice pile of cash to travel the world with.
Now comes the real test. Travel. It’s an opportunity to test your mettle. You’ll be put in uncomfortable situations in unique environments. You’ll learn that improvisation is an invaluable skill. And if you’re not the improvisational type, you will be by the end of your adventure. You’ll discover the power of self-reliance. Balance your travel. Start easy, especially if you’ve never traveled alone before (yes, you should do this on your own). Western Europe is ideal. But, build in more progressively challenging travel to countries that span the spectrum of industrialization. And then spend your last week somewhere easy and tropical. You’ll be desperately homesick by that point, but you’ll need a little vacation from your travels before you come home to decompress and relax.
Somewhere in the middle of your travels plan a few weeks for volunteering. It’ll be somewhere difficult, and you’ll confront some harsh realities…and that’s the point. Don’t kid yourself, the volunteering is as much for you as it is for the group you’re working with. Do your research before you leave, but also be flexible. You may find something that really sings to you while you’re on the ground in some far away place.
Finally, save that last ten percent for “nothing.” You’ll need the decompression. Be lazy. Sleep until noon. Play video games until your eyes bleed. Work it all out of your system and process the 12 amazing months of your gap year before launching into your college career.
Take stock of the lessons that will inevitably be taught to you along the journey. You’ll learn that America is not the center of the universe (well, at least not until President Trump becomes Galactic Emperor Trump). You’ll see that people live under a thousand different forms of governance…and most of them are happy. All of them will find cause for complaint, but they’ll also have cause to celebrate. You’ll discover how lucky you are to have the choice of a gap year. You’ll learn about failure and stress and anxiety. You’ll learn about overcoming obstacles and fears and your own stupidity. You’ll learn your limits, and then you’ll expand those boundaries.
Again, this is about perspective. The gap year, if used properly is a window into what America does right and what it can do better…and you will be armed with the perspective to make your country and the world just a slightly better place. If you want to talk about this more, feel free to call! We live just a few blocks away, we can grab coffee. You can bring your dad, or your mom. Or both. And the dogs, bring the dogs.
Sincerely,
Kris and Lauren
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Desert Survival: Simple Tips That Could Save Your Life

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Desmond: Through Hell and High Water

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**reading this post may cause anxiety and pangs of panic. It is not recommended for people with heart problems or those who enjoy meticulous planning. Also this post is long, so it’s also not recommended for people who don’t read good.**
I’m going to fess up to something here: typically while traveling I spend a lot of time watching the local news. I enjoy to compare and contrast how coverage is different, while maybe picking up a few tricks along the way. It’s also a good way to be in tune with the local culture.
I’ve consumed zero news since landing in the U.K. and that is about to be a tragic mistake that will lead to one of the most epic travel days in the history of me.
ACT I: TILL THE LANDSLIDE BROUGHT ME DOWN.
As the sun paints the low morning clouds pink we rumble along the street with our suitcases towards the London Bridge tube stop. We have an early train to catch to Edinburgh. This is the part of the trip I’m most excited for. I’ve been to the U.K. a couple times, but I’ve never been able to make it up to Scotland.
This is that chance.
And to make for an even better trip Jon and Em are joining us for the weekend. Quickly and easily enough we’re at Kings Cross. It’s a Saturday, mind you, so I’m in a bit of shock at the ease of the trip. If this were Metro in D.C., on an early Saturday morning, it’d be an epic journey in its own right. But here we catch our transfers without waiting more than four minutes. Basically, it’s like rush hour service back home.
IMG_2102This is my first time back through Kings Cross since the renovation, and I gotta say it looks terrific. In fact, much of the tube system has been significantly updated since my last time here.
The main waiting area is spacious and modern with mammoth information boards. It even comes complete with the new platform 9 1/2 for the Harry Potter fans. Our train isn’t leaving from here, we just have to pick up the tickets before walking a few blocks to London Euston. Kings Cross it is not.
We’re taking the Virgin Trains West Coast line, which makes this our point of departure. With just a few minutes to spare we hit up the grocery store for some snacks and sandwiches. This is when I remember that these people put mayonnaise on ever-y-thing. Mayonnaise is my kryptonite. And it is their country. But still, surely there exists a sandwich on the other side of the Atlantic sans mayo. Today is not my day to find said mythical sandwich.
On the train, and off we go to Edinburgh.
We have crisps, we have candy, we have cookies, we have sandwiches thoroughly lathered in mayo, we have positive attitudes and we have two bottles of prosecco to pop once we cross the frontier into Scotland.
Taking the train in Great Britain is a different beast from the U.S. They cover more of the country, they’re more often on time…and they tend to be more pleasant. The total trip is about four hours and some change. With that mindset we all were lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the train. Probably about an hour and a half into the train ride and we’re all back awake and excited.
And the train stops. No big deal.
Train operator:
“I’m afraid we have some heavy winds and rain up ahead, so it looks as though we will be delayed our apologies.”
Delay…no big deal.
The train moves.
About 30 minutes later we stop again.
Train conductor:
“I’m afraid to report that there has been a landslide north of Preston and all trains have been told to stop. I don’t know how long this will take to clear, I will update.”
Landslide…kinda big deal. But, it’s 2015 surely you can just fix everything in a jif…right….right?!?
Train conductor:
“Due to the landslide north of Preston….I’m terribly sorry but we have to cancel this train after the next stop.”
Cancelled?!? WTF does that even mean? Based on the looks around the train car, no one knows.
15 more minutes pass. Now we’re in logistical recovery mode. Between the four of us we have a very special skill set for moments like this. So yeah, we have no idea what to do.
Train conductor:
“This train is cancelled at Preston. There will be coaches organized to Carlisle, and from there connections on up to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Look for our agents in red coats on the platforms.”
Okay, it seems like they have a plan. We gather our stuff and deboard the train onto the platform. Everyone else is looking around at everyone else. It’s like a herd of deer collectively standing in the middle of a 20-lane superhighway as an armada of tractor trailer trucks bear down.
And there are no red coats to shepard us away. Eventually the herd starts to gravitate towards the top of the platform where one guy in a red coat is shouting instructions. He’s surrounded by the herd and these deer seem to have developed a taste for human flesh.
Emily sneaks right into the middle of the gaggle. She seems to be nodding affirmatively, we can’t hear what’s being said. A few more nods and she snakes back through the herd.
“They have no idea what they’re doing.”
Enter random exciteable English lady from platform left.
“So, I just talked to my sister’s boyfriend’s aunt [she didn’t really say that part] and she said that this is a monster of a storm. She says they are closing the motorways because the winds are too high. And that roads and rail a flooded out. And she says that the news is telling everyone to stay home…it’s just that bad!”
Exit random excitable English lady.
We all just stare at each other hopelessly befuddled. Jon breaks the silence.
“So, we could just continue on with this travel day from hell, or we can turn around and go back to London. But, it’s your decision. You guys came all the way over here and we don’t want to stop you from making it up to Edinburgh.”
“Well, why don’t we figure out all of our options first, there’s gotta be a workaround.”
Lauren sneaks into another gaggle of people listening to one of the reps in a red jacket. She listens for a bit and comes back.
“Okay. That guy says they are putting everyone on buses and then sending them past the landslide to get on a train.”
We stand around and debate for a minute.
Enter random excitable English lady.
“I just got off the phone with my uncles best friend’s dog walker [she didn’t really say that part] and he says that everything is shut down. I don’t think I’m even going to make it up there. I know it’s not what you want to do, but I don’t see you making anywhere to the north. I think I’m just going to stay with a friend in Blackpool. This is just dreadful…they are calling this Storm Desmond. It’s so silly, this is the fourth storm of the winter and they said all of them would be the end of the world and they ended up being nothing and nobody took this one seriously. Everything’s flooded, the motorways are at a stop and the trains don’t work anywhere…Welcome to Great Britain!”
Exit random excitable English lady.
Lauren and Emily go in search for updated information from one of the red coats. I see a guy who looks like he’s in charge. Jon watches the luggage as we all go in search of information.
A train pulls up with a destination listing as Newcastle.
“If I get on that train, is there are way from me to get from Newcastle to Edinburgh by rail?”
“Not by rail. All trains are shut down for the rest of the day. You may be able to make it by bus. But the rail service probably won’t resume until Monday (it’s Saturday).”
“Thanks.”
That’s some new information.
Lauren and Emily come back after talking with different red coats. We all have different information, which is pretty much how this afternoon is going. Conflicting information in a situation like this is as good as no information. But, I talked to the big boss. And he seemed pretty certain that this was the end of the road.
With BoyzIIMen stuck in my head, the unthinkable spills from my lips.
“I think we should turn around and go back to London.”
Sadness.
Silence.
Emily and Jon break the silence.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, this is your vacation. Don’t make a decision because you think it’ll be easy on us.”
Enter random excitable English lady.
“I just got off the phone with my gardener’s stock-broker’s husband’s college roommate [she didn’t really say that part] and I’m getting on that train to Newcastle and he’ll pick me up from there. I’m giving up. But, I did hear that the trains are running from Carlisle to Scotland. Good luck!”
Exit random excitable English lady.
Hope.
Silence.
“Let’s try. I mean at the very least let’s get to Carlisle and see what our options are there. And if it’s impossible we can turn back then. We have to try.”
Having talked myself in a full circle the type-A’s take over.
“If that’s what we’re doing, we have to go now because another train is pulling up and all of those people are going to be lining up for the same buses we are,” Lauren says.
Jon leads the way as we rush across the platform, through a tunnel and back onto another platform with a line about 300-yards long. And that’s only the interior portion of the line. Outside it wraps back up the building. Oh, and it’s raining. It’s not a sprinkle. It’s a steady, cold rain. And it’s windy. It’s not a breeze. It’s an umbrella-destroying hurricane-force wind.
IMG_2120The line is so long that we actually start outside at the very end of the platform…in the elements. There are hundreds of people in line in front of us. Lauren starts counting, and doing the math.
“I’m pretty good at gauging group sizes…it’s what I do. They’ll need at least seven coaches, and that’s just for the people on the platform.”
This is the logistical equivalent of the 2015 version of the Philadelphia Phillies (for my non-American friends…that’s bad, really bad). Still though, people are in line and, for the most part, keeping an even-keeled, if not positive, attitude.
The English…amirite?!
The attitude is rubbing off a bit. We’re on a mission, and the only thing we can do is have fun with the mission.
90-minutes later and we’re outside. This is no longer fun. We still have no idea what’s happening. News filters down the line.
“There’s a bus going directly to Edinburgh.”
“There’s a bus going to Glasgow and a rail connection from there.”
“The rail is fixed at Carlisle.”
“Everyone’s getting a magic Harry Potter broom to fly to Edinburgh.”
The rain is coming from all directions. The wind almost carries me away under my umbrella.
IMG_2124This was a poor choice…
90-minutes later, five empty coaches queue up and a red coat comes walking down the line.
“All of these coaches are going to Carlisle. And from there we will have coaches to take you to your destination.”
“What about Edinburgh?”
“Yes, from Carlisle we may have rail service back up to Edinburgh.”
This is a great choice!
It’s a bit of chaos as the herd pushes toward the coaches. Throughout our time in line Jon and I were drawing every possible comparison to The Day After Tomorrow. Was it possible that we were just living the movie? Is Desmond one of the three massive storms churning in the northern hemisphere? Was the ocean conveyor belt broken? Were we about to instantly freeze to death?!
At the moment though, it’s feeling a bit more World War Z-ish. I suppose you can pick your disaster movie poison.
As we board load our luggage on the coach the driver tells Jon and I that we also have to load our backpacks underneath.
“That’s not happening. All my money is in this bag.”
I’m not sure if Jon was lying, but I went with it.
“Yeah, this is where I keep my important stuff.”
“Well take your valuables with you, but the bags go underneath or you don’t get a seat on this coach.”
We acquiesce and get on the coach. Everybody else has their backpacks. Every. Single. Person. I sit down, trying to balance my camera and iPad and iPhone. Jon looks across the aisle, juggling with the same problem.
“I guess we just caught him at the wrong time.”
But at least we’re on the coach. It’s dry and relatively warm. But, in this state of relative comfort I realize something. I really have to pee. I mean for real.
“I wonder if I have enough time to run into the station to pee?”
Lauren looks at me like I’m a madman.
“You are NOT getting off this bus! We just spent three hours waiting in line, why didn’t you go then?”
“I don’t know…”
I feel like a five-year-old.
“There’s a bathroom on the bus, just go once we start on the road.”
With everyone and everything loaded we start driving. Fifty people exhale in relief as we turn out of the rail station. The driver gets on the PA system, speaking with a thick Scottish accent.
“My name is Grant. And I’ll be your driver today. First, make sure you wear your seatbelt. We have reports of high winds and vehicles being blown over.”
Seatbelt, click.
“It should take us about three hours to get to Carlisle. Please stay in your seat. Also, because of the weather the toilet is not to be used.”
WHAT?!?
There is no way I can make it three hours. This is going to be the end of me. I can already see the epitaph on my tombstone, “Here lies Kris, died for need of a piss!” I spend all my time focusing on an iPad game to distract myself from the intense personal discomfort. And I manage to do a good job of finding some peace, until about 45-minutes into the trip.
Have you ever fish-tailed in a motor coach at 55 mph? No? Well, you really should NEVER give it a try.
A gust of wind blowing across the motorway pushes the bus off to the side. Grant wrestles with the wheel like he’s trying to take down a rabid dog. He oversteers. The coach veers against the wind. I brace for impact. The coach swings back into the adjacent lane. A little bit of pee leaks out. The wind stops, and Grant retakes control. Everyone is awake.
Grant slows down for about five minutes before speeding up again and weaving through the traffic on the road. Another gust of wind. Another momentary brush with death. Another little bit of pee.
Grant slows down for about five minutes. He speeds up again. Changes lanes. Another gust of wind. Jon looks at me.
“This guy’s a dick.”
Nodding in agreement I contemplate a walk down the aisle, just peeing everywhere. I’m on edge for the next hour. Every gust conjures disastrous visions of the bus tipping over. But, we make it to Carlisle. Pulling into the station everyone is geared up to grab their luggage and rush to the next line. Before anyone can get off the bus a red coat hops on.
“Everyone please sit back down.”
A guy comes running up from the back of the bus.
“I need to use the toilet”
“Please, sit down!”
“I’m going to pee myself right here.”
“Please, sit! It will only be a moment.”
The guy sulks into his seat. He may, or may not, have been peeing. At least I’m not alone in this struggle.
“There is no rail service to Edinburgh, all rail service has been officially discontinued due to the weather. We will have coaches to take you onward. Once in the station you will be directed to the line for your destination.”
Everyone looks thoroughly confused. Enter the type-A’s.
“We need to get our bags ASAP and get in line. Kris, you go pee. We’ll get everything.”
I run to the bathroom. Full-on Carl Lewis 100-meter dash sprint to the bathroom. It’s the fastest I’ve ever run. And peeing is the greatest feeling in the world.
Relief.
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ACT II: IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.
“Desmond is the worst name ever,” Jon says to me.
We’re near the front of a line that’s just as long as the one we waited in at Preston. This feels like the apocalypse. There’s an edge, as if everyone’s about to crack. Loosely strung caution tape flitters in the wind, herding us into lines with no real idea of destination.
The aging structure of steel and glass and iron and stone croaks and groans with each gust. The lighting gives the sense of a refugee camp. And we’re all, everyone in this front section of the line, staring through an open door at the end of a short tunnel IMG_2137waiting for a coach to pull up.
And coaches do pull up. But, they offload…and then disappear.
After watching this happen a few times Lauren and Jon make moves to take control of the situation. I, happily, go to buy treats at the only little travel kiosk in the station. As I walk back to the line with a bag of candy and chips/crisps I see Lauren at the front of another line at the customer service window sternly talking with a customer service agent in a voice I’m all too familiar with. It’s her “you will do exactly what I tell you to do, and you’ll do it right now” voice.
Suddenly…chaos.
I’m about ten feet from our spot in the line when a Virgin red coat starts shouting for everyone’s attention.
“We are canceling all service for the rest of the evening. There will be no trains. There will be no coaches. It’s too dangerous right now, we just had a report of a coach being blown over with injuries. Unfortunately, there are not enough hotel rooms available in Carlisle to house everyone. We are working on a plan to transport you to a place where there will be shelter…”
Everyone is standing, frozen. I pick up my pace, basically jogging to Emily.
“We have to go now, this is going to get ugly.”
There is screaming…bona fide shrieks. There are curse words and shouting. The line is dissolving into an angry mob. But no one is walking anywhere, yet. Emily and I walk briskly out of the front entrance to the station where Jon and Lauren are already shouting down the half-dozen parked cabs.
People start streaming out of the entrance with a new sense of purpose, the same purpose as us: find a ride by any means necessary. Lauren starts yelling for us to run to a cab.
“Load everything in, hurry. He’s going to take us to Edinburgh.”
Jon materializes out of thin air and starts negotiating with the cabbie as we load our suitcases.
“250 pounds…that’s our offer.”
The cabbie nods as we all hop in. Now a flood of people are streaming through the ranks of the cab queue. Our driver starts the engine and starts pulling away as someone knocks on the window. He says something that I can’t hear. The cabbie turns to Jon.
“I want 300.”
“No, we agreed to 250 that was the deal. You agreed to that.”
From the back seat Emily shuts the negotiation down.
“We have the cash right here, right now!”
Another cabbie walks up to the window, they have a conversation in another language. But, from what we work out he gets the nod that 250 is actually a good price for a ride to Edinburgh.
We pull out of the parking lot to the soundtrack of screaming and yelling. People are sobbing as they walk out of the station. It’s a complete collapse…and we’re escaping.
ACT III: PUDDLE HOPPING
As we hit the motorway Lauren shows us what she was so busy working on at the customer service window. It’s a signed document from the agent promising reimbursement for our means of travel to Edinburgh. It’s a receipt for an expensive cab ride, and reimbursement for the original train ticket.
Jon starts talking to the cab driver. We find out his name is Amman, he’s from Preston. His intent was to simply ferry people back and forth between Carlisle and Preston, which explains his initial reluctance to take us. Jon gives him 100 quid and promises the rest once we get to Edinburgh.
Even this four-door sedan is buffeted by the wind, although it’s nowhere as frightening as the motorcoach. My eyes start to get heavy and I pass into something I call “secret sleep”. I’ll write another post about secret sleep, it’d be too much of an aside at this point. Just know, I’m sleeping but I’m also awake.
I hear Jon and Amman discussing routing. The cabbie Amman had talked to back at the train station recommended a route through Glasgow, but there was a more direct route that Jon saw on his map. We weren’t really sure whether to trust this guy, and we thought the route through Glasgow was a runaround. But, here’s the thing: The route through Glasgow was all motorway, but the direct route was a windy two lane road…in the dark…in the middle of a massive, deluge of a storm.
So, yeah. We went our way…the wrong way.
I came back to full alert awake status thanks to a question about why it was raining instead of snowing. Only darkness appears outside the window. Amman is gripping the steering wheel with enough pressure to create diamonds. Water claims big portions of the road about every half mile. Each time Amman slows to a crawl, steers into the middle of the road and passes the puddle.
But, for every puddle that Amman sees in advance, there is one that surprises him. And his reaction is consistently wrong: slam on the brakes and turn the wheel toward the middle of the road. Each time we hydroplane just a little. And every once in a while there’s another car coming in the opposite direction, just to make things interesting.
We’re all on edge. And we’re in the middle of nowhere with a cab driver who knows we have money and we’re vulnerable. This is the second time on the day that I’m questioning the string of decisions that led to this moment. As we drive up and down the Scottish hills I’m counting down the miles to Edinburgh, looking for any lights in the distance to prove we’re almost there.
Driving up a steep hill I can barely make the outline of a taller mountain, the road is stringing along it’s side offering a reveal of a new horizon below. The lights of Edinburgh come into focus and, for the first time since being on that first train, I feel relieved.
Minutes later we’re unloading everything from the cab. We ended up paying Amman more than agreed, we kind of felt bad about what we had gotten him into…especially since we convinced him to take the back roads instead of the motorway thanks to our irrational fear of being taken advantage of.
Walking up to our Air BnB everything looks perfect. After about ten minutes of freshening up we hit the streets with empty bellies and a huge sense of accomplishment for having made it to Edinburgh, literally through hell and high water. The rain finally stopped, but the wind was still howling as we searched for a restaurant that was still open.
The Mussel and Steak Bar fit the bill. Stuffing our face with mussels and, er, steak while downing red wine by the bottle we all look across the table with same sense of exhausted amazement. Recounting the events of the day we all knew this trip had morphed from “fun” to “remarkable” to “mythical.” And this is what travel is all about…you know the whole cliche “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” thing. But, really it’s not the journey. It’s the determination behind that journey, knowing that there’s an experience you want to achieve, and then doing everything to see that come true. Moments like this aren’t about leisure, they’re about a real sense of growth and development…lessons that apply to life. And that is, after all, why we travel: exploration, discovery, growth and enlightenment.
And whisky.
Like the Scottish whiskies that the bartender at the Bow Bar is showcasing for Jon as he tries to make a perfect selection.
Here we sit, swigging whiskey and beer at a pub in Edinburgh that looks exactly as I’ve pictured a Scottish pub to look.
Just this is worth it.
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Late to Dulles 

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It’s 3:18. I’ve just finished shaving. Lauren is looking at me the same way the Eagles faithful stare at Chip Kelly. I can feel her gaze evaporating my insides.

Our flight leaves at 7:45 from Dulles.

“We said we’d be leaving at 3:30.”

“No, we said between 3 and 3:30!”

“It’s 3:18!”

“And you’re not even ready!” Stare intensifies, my appendix just dissolved.

We walked out the door at 3:30. This is standard operating procedure whenever we go anywhere. I’m always late. Lauren’s always early. But together…we’re on time (actually we’re still early, which Lauren defines as on-time).

Some of the anxiety here is because we’re flying out of Dulles, which is five or six time-zones away. The only time we fly out of there is when we’re flying international, and Lauren is a steadfast believer in the get-there-three-hours-early policy.

 

This IS NOT faster than the 5A!

Oh, I failed to mention we’re flying to London by way of Iceland.

We’re staying with friends, and then heading up to Edinburgh for a couple days before coming home.

This means 90 percent of the trip planning has gone into just getting to Dulles. Seriously. We debated longer than Republicans on immigration whether to take the 5A from Rosslyn or the Silver Line to Weihle-Reston East. Silver line won, and at every hangup Lauren said, “the 5A is quicker!”

It may be…but without empirical evidence I will say that we made it from our door to the ticket check-in counter by 5:00 on the nose. So walking, to Red Line to Silver Line to Dulles Express to airport in 90 minutes during rush hour. Total price tag about $10.

 

The future!

I have a secret love affair with Dulles. Maybe it’s because it’s exotic, all tucked away in the countryside a few states away. Or, more likely, because it’s the one piece of brutalist architecture that’s ever worked in the history of mankind. Eero Saarinen’s design still feels futuristic five decades later. It’s like walking around the set of a 1970’s sci-fi space drama. The font is the type you’d find at Kennedy Space Center, it says “Welcome to Battlestar Galactica!” The main terminal feels like a massive concrete wing that could take flight at any moment.

 

Look at that font!

Even passing through the security checkpoints has a certain sci-fi feel, albeit in a more dystopian sense. The light stands with four fluorescent lamps combine with the staggered gates and the actual act of passing through security always make me feel like I’m in some sort of alien prison camp. I know…that’s pretty weird.

During the holidays though, something really magical happens. The sci-fi feel of Dulles is thematically hijacked by the action genre. With every Christmas tree I pass, I expect John McClaine to come jumping out, guns blazing as a rogue team of ex-military terrorists zoom across the airport grounds on snowmobiles while taking control of the entire airport. All the meanwhile, all the planes circle endlessly because the next closest airport is 15 hours away. If I look closely, I can still see the burn mark on the tarmac where a line of spilled fuel saved the day.

(By the way…the most unrealistic part of that entire movie is the snow-mobiling. It never snows that much here!)

Oh the things you imagine while waiting for the flight you’re on-time (obscenely early) for.

Yippee-ky-yay motherf%#@er.

 

She’s never even seen Die Hard!?!?

 

Even this train looks like the future (empty b/c we’ll all have Google driverless cars)

 

John McClaine is hiding behind this tree…

 

Or is he hiding behind this tree???

 

More fonts from the future.

 

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The Getaway 

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I’m sitting on the stainless steel railing underneath one of the escalators that carry thousands of people every day from curbside drop off at DCA to terminals B and C. My phone is tethered to the wall, suckling electricity so I can write this post.

According to my Fitbit I’ve taken 9,478 steps since getting here this morning. And I’m not flying anywhere. I’m reporting on the holiday rush (except there is no rush). It’s the getaway.

Confirmation:

 

Seven hours and a dozen live hits in and I’m really beginning to appreciate how Tom Hanks felt in The Terminal.

I’m well-versed in the best sellers list, or at least which publishers are willing to pay to give their books prime placement at Hudson News. I don’t know if I’m more excited to read Sarah Palin’s latest tome Sweet Freedom (which I can only imagine has something to do with patriotic diabetes) or Jenny McCarthy’s Bad Hair (which is presumably about hair that’s been vaccinated.) My…what a time to read books on aeroplanes!

I have all of the “Special Security Announcements” memorized. All bags are securely strapped to my back.

I’ve talked to scores of people about their travel plans…and almost all of them look at me like I’m asking the question in Latin. Most responses: it’s been a pretty effortless journey. There’s some news.

I’ve moved on, the phone is adequately charged. Now I’m sitting in a massage chair, tiny little pulses are shaking my ass into oblivion. I feel like super-speed Shakira. I’m not entirely certain that this is enjoyable or advisable.

But. I. Can’t. Move.

I ate Qdoba earlier…like tons of it. I think this chair just dislodged a fist-sized glob of queso from my upper GI tract. I’m out of this chair before there’s a mess.

Time to do another live hit anyway. The news watch never stops, even when the news is that everything’s OK.

There’s a natural ebb and flow to the day. The security line stacks up, and then within a few minutes it’s back to normal. Although for the fliers in those lines I’m sure like it always seems like forever. It’s like that planet on Interstellar where every minute is like ten years.

I just took my picture high fiving a cartoon turkey, and the moon is rising over the hills of Anacostia. It started as a red bulge, and minute by minute the familiar landscape of the moon presses past the horizon distorted and contorted by the refraction of photons in the last femtosecond of their journey to my iris. Like a droplet of water falling in reverse the moon finally breaks from the horizon restored to its spherical state, its soft light reflecting off the Potomac.

I have one more hit. I just passed 11,000 steps. I’m also qualified to work at the information desk.

Restlessness aside, there’s something about watching this great migration of humanity as we jet to far-flung destinations to return to our familial roots. Even being hurtled through the air at hundreds of miles an hour, there’s something primal to this. An innate urge to reconstitute the whole. And thousands of us connected through time and space as we pass along this singular place.

Some of us taking pictures with cartoon turkeys, like me…and this woman Christina who was among the scores I interviewed today while staring at a flat-screen display of everyone else who took a picture with a cartoon turkey.

“I think it’s humbling to be on this page with all these other people, this is our touch point for the day. It makes us all part of the same thread that’s weaving us all together.”

Travel safely.

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Back in time…lapse: Copacabana

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Just about this time last year Lauren and I were in South America for our honeymoon. Trust me, there will be much more about that later…so consider this a teaser.

I shot this time-lapse on Copacabana Beach with my GoPro on the day we flew into Rio. It was an overnight flight and I slept for, maybe, 15 minutes.

So for the majority of this shoot I was fast asleep. This is also, by the way, the last time we’d see the sun for another three days. All of that is another story for another time.

A few things about this shoot. I love the cross currents of the clouds. It’s also fun to watch as the guys walk up and down the beach hawking their wares. Towards the end you’ll see as the beach starts to clear out a bit, and the attendant runs back and forth taking down umbrellas.

And if you really want to be freaked out…watch my toes twitch away as go full jet-lag comatose.

 

 

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