Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Record-setting snow

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Snow sets record I have no idea why I’m smiling in that photo. There was not much fun about the scene. The Chicago area saw record-setting weather yesterday. Apparently this is the earliest measurable snow since snow has been measured in the city. Yikes. Thursday’s snow beat the record by six days! It’s not as though I wasn’t already very happy in California, but I guess the weather thought I needed more reminding of why I should just stay put and enjoy the sunny and warm days.

Road trip highlights

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

Now that I’ve posted all of the photos from my drive West, I thought I’d point out some of the trip highlights. (Unfortunately, the photos are not in order and it would be too much work to get them rearranged. Oh well. UPDATE: I just realized it’s not necessarily that much work thanks to Flickr’s Organize feature. I’ve rearranged some of them, but with others, I just don’t quite remember anymore and the photo time stamps seem to be off.:()

For the geographically challenged (or those simply not familiar with this part of the United States), driving from Evanston, Illinois to Palo Alto, California requires crossing the following states: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. Most of these states are incredibly long (that is, they have a wide east-west stretch), especially for someone who’s more used to the eastern part of the United States. Of course, you could also cross all sorts of other states while heading west (say, go north through Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc.), but I needed the quickest route, which is supplied by Interstate 80.

Hail storm in Iowa I’ve tried to pick a highlight for each state, but it’s not always obvious given that I didn’t have time to make detours with sightseeing purposes. In Iowa, the hail storm was the big event and I managed to capture a few photos, although they really don’t do it justice. It was much scarier and harder to navigate than it seems. I also neglected to take photos of the line of cars standing out on the shoulder of the highway waiting for the storm to pass. Of course, the twist in such a situation is that you likely get out of the storm quicker if you keep on driving, unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to drive when you’re in the middle of it. So that took a bit of time.

Free wifi at all Iowa I-80 rest stops An unrelated interesting aspect of Iowa was the free wifi that was advertised at every rest stop. I’m surprised that I’ve never heard Jeremy talk about this, it seems like the kind of thing he’d be proud of about his home state. I didn’t have time to try out the free wifi, but it sounded like a very nice feature to offer travellers. This nice service didn’t show up anywhere else on the trip.

The next notable experience occured in Nebraska where a crazy pilot nearly landed a plane in the middle of the highway. I wouldn’t call the pilot crazy if it had been a true emergency situation, which it seemed at first. But having seen the plane nearly land I followed its path to note that it got right back up in the air, made a loop, and then came right back to the highway. What a nutcase! I wish I had photos, but it was all too sudden to grab the camera. Sudden and scary.

Population: 2; Elevation: 8,000 The highlight in Wyoming was Buford, population: 2, elevation: 8,000 feet, as I described earlier. I honestly had absolutely no idea how high up we were until I saw the sign. As a commenter over on Crooked Timber noted, eastern Wyoming is part of a very large plateau and that’s why one doesn’t feel the ascent so much. This map helps with visualization.

The last town in Wyoming on I-80 before reaching Utah is a town called Evanston. That was funny. After having been on the road for so long, it was a little confusing to think I hadn’t left at all.

Cross in the salt fieldThe notable aspect of Utah was all the salt. Let’s just say I don’t think we’ll be facing a salt shortage any time soon. It was just unbelievable amounts of salt mile after mile after mile. Here’s some that seems to be in production already, and here (link to large version) you can even see the Morton Salt girl from the company’s logo.

I noticed that there were stones in the salt fields making up signs, symbols and words. These went on for many many miles. Here’s a cross in the salt. I didn’t manage to capture any of the writing, but it was usually names of people, “Mary”, “Jim”, etc. with the occasional heart. I wonder who put these there. There is an Air Force base or two in the area, perhaps they’re from military folks. There are no towns around so it’s really hard to tell, and it’s a bit hard to imagine people driving cross country stopping their cars to make one of these, but I guess that’s possible as well.

Way long road ahead... An additional memorable aspect of the trip here was the incredibly straight line of driving. Check out the map. It is not an exaggeration. There was barely a curve in the road. The only thing that breaks up this photo is the train above the highway.

Crossing from Utah into Nevada was very interesting. There is a town right on the border (which I guess then makes it two towns: Wendover and West Wendover) and there’s a mark on the pavement (not the highway, just in the town) signaling the border. I didn’t manage to capture that. Nor did I take photos of the two towns despite the very interesting difference between the two. Clearly you’d crossed into casinoland by taking that step, it was impossible to miss.

Rest stop In addition to the Casinos, the only other memorable part of Nevada was the change in scenery, finally. It took a while, but eventually there was some elevation and some trees again, which was refreshing.

The road from Nevada crosses into California right around Lake Tahoe so immediately the traffic picked up. There was also much more vegetation, and very pretty at that. The descent was unbelievably steep at times, somewhat stressful, in fact.

As proof of how much the pressure changed from the Western border of California in the Lake Tahoe region to the Eastern part of the state in the Bay area, check out the difference betwen these two pictures of the same bottle, before and after opening it at the end of the trip:

Water bottle after descent     Water bottle now opened

Not long after came the many-lane highways and bridges, welcoming me to my home for the next nine months.

Long trainOther random observations throughout: I got a kick out of following the railroad at various points in the trip. There were unbelievably long stretches of trains. It’s good to see this resource still in use. There were some monuments and sculptures scattered on the highway, which were also interesting enough.

And while there wasn’t always much on the ground to entertain the traveller, the sky was really beautiful at times.

Sun rays

What makes a town a town?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Buford, WyomingI’m now on on the West coast after spending a chunk of last week driving to Palo Alto from Chicagoland.* I didn’t have much time so I just got on I-80 and drove with few interruptions. I made a stop in one of the more populated parts of Wyoming: Buford. As you can see from the sign, the town has a population of two. It’s also noteworthy due to its high elevation, apparently the highest on I-80. I had no idea I was that high up had it not been pointed out on this sign as the roads on the way weren’t particular steep. In any case, I am curious, what makes a town a town? The Eisenhower Expressway (I-80) goes by plenty (more than plenty, in fact) unpopulated areas with just a house here or there. So what makes Buford a town of two vs just a house attached to another town?

[*] For those not familiar with distances in the US, this is similar – in terms of distance, pretty much nothing else – to something like driving from Moscow to Madrid.

Orange-alert air travel

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

Airport security Perfect day to travel internationally.. not. It was interesting to watch the myriad of items accumulating in the bins scattered alongside the security line. There seemed to be some interesting perfumes in there (well, at least the containers looked interesting), otherwise, just a bunch of half-empty water bottles, toothpaste, shaving cream and lotion. I wondered whether they would let you take an empty water bottle in, but I decided not to test the system. The wait was longer than usual, but still not impossible (this in the Premier check-in area though). I was also curious to see whether the hotel would be ready for the numerous people showing up without toothpaste. Having forgotten French for toothpaste, I mumbled something about brushing teeth, but before I could finish the sentence, the concierge handed me a small tube. Good for them. (Yes, of course I could’ve asked in English, but what’s the fun in that?)

Montreal welcomes the ASA As for getting through passport control, I continue to be unimpressed by Canadian immigration officials. After greeting the guy with a friendly Bonsoir I was asked why I was visiting. I mentioned the sociology meetings, which was only so obvious given that even the official greeting signs at the airport had the ASA written on them and at least half my flight was sociologists. (When I assumed about the couple standing next to me a minute earlier that they were here for the ASA they asked if it was that obvious. Isn’t it?) Anyway, the passport control guy got on the offensive to push me on “what about the sociology meetings”? What about them? I’m giving some talks. I wonder if he was that combative with the Americans. (Don’t bother getting on my case about how this doesn’t sound combative. It was, perhaps you had to be there.)

In any case, the city looks neat from my 23rd floor room. I look forward to exploring it this weekend.

Without pain on a plane

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

I am back from my trip to Argentina mentioned earlier and am happy to say that the long flight didn’t mess things up too much. I suspect the lack of time-zone change from Chicago to Buenos Aires helped quite a bit, but I would like to think my master preparedness was useful, too.

I did end up taking an hour-long nap after I got to Buenos Aires, but then was well-equipped to spend a good chunk of Saturday exploring the city. And what a fabulous city it is! It was my first time in Argentina, but after this visit I am convinced it was not the last. (The first batch of photos is available on Flickr now. More coming soon.)

As a side note on how some people try to make a long-distance relationship work, consider the story of the person sitting next to me on the flight there. He works in DC, but has a wife and young child in Argentina. Twice a month he gets on a plane Friday evening for the ten-hour flight to Buenos Aires to spend less than 48 hours with his family returning Sunday night so he can be back at work on Monday morning. Ouch.

Here is a list of ways to minimize fatigue generated by long flights, many drawn from responses to this post. I ran out to buy noise-canceling headphones after so many people recommended them. Great idea, I am convinced they made a huge difference!

  • noise canceling headphones (and/or earplugs)
  • water
  • eye mask
  • nasal spray (to counter dry air)
  • a bit of reading/game
  • easily accessible pen (so you can fill out immigration/customs paperwork whenever you want)
  • some type of sleeping pill (either over-the-counter or prescription)
  • at most a small item underneath the seat in front of you
  • an extra sweater/coat and the blanket they give you
  • resisting the need to eat everything you are served
  • small snacks (both sweet and not) so you can eat when you want
  • occasional stretching
  • in case of annoyances, a bit of meditation to block out the environment
  • resisting to watch several movies
  • aisle seat if you want freedom to move (but only if you don’t mind the chance of being bumped by the flight attendants and passersby), window seat if you want to use the side of the plane as a headrest (but only if you don’t mind the cold and having less access to movement)
  • adjusting headrest to avoid leaning/falling on neighbor
  • getting legs up (perhaps on small piece of luggage) for improved circulation
  • a good night’s sleep the night before

On the way back I got upgraded to business class so other than a bit of fatigue, the adjustment took even less out of me.

Long flight, little time-zone change

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

I’m preparing for a short trip to Buenos Aires and am seeking advice on how to approach the trip for least amount of fatigue. CT folks seem to have a wealth of experience in the travel domain so I thought I’d ask if anyone had ideas for me. I am only going for a few days so when I get there at 9am I want to be ready to start exploring town instead of spending hours in bed. But is that realistic after a ten hour flight? I have a three hour layover in DC, which may add to my fatigue. I’m usually not so good at sleeping on planes (except in business class) so I don’t know if I can count on that much.

I have lots of experience with cross-continental travel and long flights so that’s not the issue. (The longest trip was probably when we moved to Honolulu from Budapest for a few months.) I have been taking such flights ever since I was nine, but it has always involved significant time-zone changes. Is it the long trip, the time-zone change or a combination of the two that causes one to be completely useless after a trip from the U.S. to Europe? I’m hoping most of it has to do with the time change so I can avoid it this time around.

For entertainment, I am bringing the manual of my new digital camera and a small English-Spanish dictionary and phrasebook, both of which I was happy to find in my favorite dictionary brand today at the local store. (I wouldn’t bother with a dictionary for a few days, but I figured it was worth getting one given my move to California in a month. I hadn’t planned to get a phrasebook, but I am a sucker for those little Langenscheidt books.)

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Friday, July 21st, 2006

…, …, …!

I’m going to Australia in about two months. I’ve been interested in visiting ever since I read Jill Ker Conway‘s Road from Coorain, which was almost 15 years ago.

The reason I’m particularly excited about all this today is because I just received my tourist visa. Via email. Cool. Yes, talk about a good use of IT by government services. I had submitted my application just four days ago. (Anyone want to tear into this regarding security concerns?)

I got very anxious earlier this week when I realized I needed a visa to go to Australia. I feel like I’ve done my fair share of standing in lines for visas at 5am. Luckily, after a bit of browsing I realized that citizens of certain countries could apply for visitor visas online.

I HATE getting tourist visas. I don’t like the process involved in getting student/work visas either, but tourist visas bother me more. I don’t see why Australia needs to know so much about my various medical conditions just to allow me to visit for a week. In any case, being able to fill out the form in my living room without having to run around for x copies of y dimension passport photos made a big difference.

My most frustrating visa experience to date was at the Canadian embassy in NYC a few years ago. It was unbelievable how they treated people. They also sent people home, one after another – after the requisite five hours of standing in the freezing cold, of course – for paperwork that they never stated was required. I decided not to return to Canada until I could go without having to obtain a visa.

Miles and more

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

The newest photo set in my Flickr stream is called “In Flight“. I have flown 32,773 miles since January 1st this year. I boarded a plane 25 times so far in 2006. (It is not even because I started the year with a flight back to Chicagoland from NYC.) Since you can fly direct almost anywhere I go from Chicago, there has only been one trip that required a layover, when I was going from NYC to Santa Barbara via San Francisco (there) and Los Angeles (back). So I’ve been on 11.5 trips that required flying in less than half a year. Yikes.


Conveniently, I already had Premier status in United’s frequent flyer program even before the year began so I get even more miles in my account than I actually fly. There are additional perks. For example, I just found out on Sunday right before boarding the plane from San Francisco to Chicago, that I now have several e-upgrades, which entitle me to upgrades for no cost. So I conveniently got to spend the redeye in business class. It was great.

I’ve always wanted to fly on the upper deck of a big plane and I got to do it this time. It’s not that special, but it was still fun looking down at everything from even higher up (I don’t mean in flight, but while on the ground).

It’s good to know that San Francisco is another United hub. This means that they have a separate Premier check-in and security area that always cuts down on the wait so this next academic year when that becomes my home base airport, I can still get through check-in quickly.

Princeton Reunions

Monday, June 5th, 2006

I’ve posted lots of photos and a few videos from this past weekend.

The Princeton orchestra gave a nice performance, here is a snippet from what sounds like a waltz. They ended with Star Wars:

Here are some videos from the fireworks with music, including the singing of Old Nassau.

Museum hotel

Monday, May 29th, 2006

Recently I stayed at an intriguing hotel that is worth a mention: the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. (I was unimpressed by the reservation part of the experience, but the stay made up for the annoyances incurred at that stage.)

Upon entrance, you almost have to step on the projection of two people sleeping in bed to get to the receptionists and/or the elevators to access your room. I wonder how many people who notice this just walk right across the image versus how many decide to walk around the picture. Big plastic red penguins are scattered across the building, not just in the designated museum section, but also in the hallways. I didn’t care for some of the installations (like the film about a woman and a man having a seemingly pleasant dinner judging from their facial expressions despite the fact that mice are walking all over their food), but some of it was neat (like the falling letters on a screen where the viewer becomes part of the image).

The hotel just opened this Spring. It’s a museum-hotel mix with various contemporary art pieces all over. The visit was much more fun than your usual hotel stay and it made me wish more hotels would put some interesting twist on the experience.

Beyond Broadcast

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Berkman in Second Life
Today (Friday), the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard Law School is hosting a conference on Reinventing Public Media in a Participatory Culture. In addition to the face-to-face discussions, the conference is also integrating digital media in neat ways for participation by those who can’t be at the meeting physically. For example, there is a Berkman Island (including a 3D replica of the Ames Courtroom at the Harvard Law School) in Second Life. If you get a chance, come join us, it looks like there will be some very interesting presentations and discussions.

Recent travel

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

If you’re even just a semi-regular visitor to this blog, you will have likely noticed the lack of action around here. Here is a bit of update about what’s been going on and some pictures in case you’re curious for a visual recap.

I have been on the road a LOT in the past few weeks and will continue to travel quite a bit in the coming weeks. And as if things weren’t busy enough, my laptop’s hard drive decided to give up service a couple of weeks ago so that’s made things even more insane than usual. More on that later.

For now, a rundown of recent events with links to related photos.

Three weeks ago I was in New York for an NSF-sponsored meeting at NYU about creating a research network for people doing work in Social Informatics. It was a small group made up of really neat folks whose work I admire so it was a Saturday well spent. More on that as things progress.

I stayed at the Washington Square Hotel (it’s rare that I stay at a hotel when visiting NYC) and got to take part in an unrelated event, my friend Marcy’s birthday celebrations. Pictures from this trip are here.

Next, I boarded a plane on early Sunday morning (Apr 9th) to participate in the Santa Barbara Forum on Digital Transitions. Luckily, I got upgraded to business class, which was very helpful given that I was in the midst of a 6-day 4-stop trip.

The meeting turned out well and I plan to be writing about it in more detail as soon as things calm down. Santa Barbara is beautiful so it was nice to have the opportunity to visit. Pictures from this trip are here.

Next came a talk in the Information Science speaker series at Cornell. My last trip to Ithaca was 15 years ago when I participated in the Cornell Summer College Program. It was great to be back. There are numerous folks on campus who do work related to my interests so it was a really fun and engaging visit. See photos here.

In the meantime, I’ve also been to Princeton twice and will be returning again as I’m reinterviewing my dissertation respondents. But I’ll post about that some other time.

Visiting Cornell

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

I’m on my way to Cornell to give a talk in the Information Science Colloquium tomorrow. There are several great people at Cornell across numerous departments studying IT-related topics so this should be a fun trip.

It’s been almost 15 years since I’ve been to Ithaca. That first visit was for the Cornell Summer College Program for high school students. I still have very fond memories of it and one of my closest friends to this day is someone I met that summer in 1991. Unfortunately, the program no longer offers full scholarships for international students. Bummer.

As a side note, I would like to recommend the Cornell campus-to-campus shuttle from NYC. It’s not only comfortable, it has wifi. I’ve never blogged from a bus before, it’s a nice option to have.

Travel logistics

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

As you could probably tell from my last non-links post – or from viewing my photos – I have been on the road recently.

I used two helpful Web sites in planning the second part of the trip, the part that required that I make hotel reservations. I browsed and reserved hotels through Hotel Club (I get referral credit if you use this link so it would be great if you did.:) The site has listings for numerous countries and supplies quite a bit of helpful information about the options (e.g. ranking by price, photos, ratings by users) . It also has what seem like very competitive rates. Moreover, every time you use them, you accrue credit toward future reservations, which seems like a nice plus. I recommend it.

To get an idea of where the various hotels are, I recommend the Mappy site. It has the drag option that is so helpful in Google Maps, but it has maps for many many more locations (over two dozen countries to be precise) than GMaps.

With these two sites, I was able to get rooms – with immediate confirmation – very quickly. You do need to have a printed voucher so it’s best to do it when near a printer.

If you haven’t seen my trip photos yet, I have a set for Germany and for Switzerland (I’m still adding to the latter).

Ebay exchange point

Friday, February 17th, 2006
Ebay exchange point

Ebay exchange point,
originally uploaded by eszter.

Train stations often (or sometimes?) have meeting points where people can arrange – surprise-surprise – to meet up with others. This can be helpful if you don’t know the train station at all since you can just decide to meet at the point and then look for it once there. It’s also helpful if you do know the train station since you can avoid having to address the question of specific meeting location every time you’re meeting up with friends.

I was at the Zürich train station last week and noticed an interesting twist on all this: the ebay Xchange point. I had never seen one before. It looks like a really clever way to advertise the service. Not only is it an ad for the auction site, it is also a very helpful place for people to meet up to exchange items bought and sold on ebay. While people could just say “see you at the meeting point” it’s less helpful when you have never met the person before.

Anyone know of other such points elsewhere?

The year in cities, 2005

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

I’m a bit late to this meme, but it’s still January so perhaps it’s not too late to offer a summary account of 2005. Here are the cities and towns I visited in 2005, in order of the travel throughout the year:

I wasn’t sure if I should include Evanston, IL and Chicago, IL since those count as my base cities. I’m just mentioning them here, but not adding them to the list.

Washington, DC
Budapest *
Ann Arbor, MI
Cleveland, OH
East Lansing, MI
Nashville, TN
Hanover, NH
New York, NY *
Princeton, NJ *
Columbus, OH
Swanton, OH
Tyrone, PA
Philadelphia, PA
Northampton, MA
Arlington, VA
Urbana, IL
Boston, MA

One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * I visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

If all goes according to plan, one exciting travel component of 2006 will be that I will get to add not just one, but possibly two additional continents to the list of regions of the world to which I have travelled. We will see.

Flying on New Year’s Day

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

When I booked my flight for the morning of January 1st (on my way back to Chicagoland from NYC) I realized it wasn’t going to be easy. After all, I knew that I would be out and about until at least midnight. Nonetheless, it was the cheapest ticket (not surprisingly) so I went for it.

I did not realize that I was going to be out in the Village (NYC) sampling great (albeit really expensive) food until 4am. That part was fine. It was more than fine, it was fun and appropriate for New Year’s Eve.

More importantly, however, I did not realize the potential state of my fellow passengers on the flight. There was a woman in the row in front of mine who nearly got sick. Her partner held the plastic bag next to her during the entire flight. There was also a woman sitting right behind me who did get sick. It’s not as though the whole flight was full of such passengers. I just happened to be sitting in the row in between two who were.

It was a busy trip for the flight attendants. To their credit, they handled it very well. Next time I plan my New Year’s trip, I may decide to leave a bit more time for people’s recovery and get on a later flight though.

At least I had plenty of room for my legs.:)

Plenty of legroom

Festive New York

Monday, December 26th, 2005

This is one of those times when pictures tell the story much better than words. Not that there is that much of a story to tell. I am enjoying a few days in New York. The city is looking very festive and it’s fun to explore the various decorations all over town. I have started a photoset on Flickr to gather up the related pictures. Today, I went on a window-display tour with a friend. We were originally going to do it yesterday, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. Instead, I ended up watching a special presentation on HGTV on holiday window displays. It prepared me well for today’s tour of Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and who knows which other store we passed.

Video with tags and comments

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Reading the comments to this post on the Social Software Weblog I got inspired to try vSocial, a service that lets you embed videos easily into blogs posts, including social features attached to the video such as tags and comments others may have made on it elsewhere.

This video is more like an audio file with a nice image attached to it. I recorded it at a piano concert I attended during the World Science Forum in Budapest last month. The pianist is Gergely Bogányi, an extremely talented young artist. His concert in the main hall of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences kicked off the World Science Forum on November 9th.

Just in case the video above is not working, I have also put up a copy of it on Google Video.

Budapest trip

Monday, October 10th, 2005
Castle in Budapest

Castle in Budapest,
originally uploaded by eszter.

I just booked tickets to Budapest this morning for a trip coming up in a few weeks. I hope to take lots of pictures although I will be busy attending meetings. In the meantime, check out this photostream by a Flickrite. This set of pictures captures Budapest extremely well.