USA Roadtrip (Part 2)

June 27, 2008 § 1 Comment

So we left Yellowstone and headed to Salt Lake City en route to Las Vegas. These were good times as the journey was terrific. As we dropped altitude we re-entered lands of green fields and patchy dry lands – this was the view from the back of the car:

behind

Glorious isn’t it? Worth the shot even though I had to hang out of the side of Cadilliac in order to take it. Here’s the intrepid team:

intrepid team

We had the more than serious mission to attend to of getting to Salt Lake City. Kath and I had established the system of me driving in the morning and Kath driving in the afternoon. This not only panders to the genetically proven fact that men are better with maps (in return women are better with landmarks), but it also enabled me to kick back and soak up the sun, and to have a cheeky beer whilst enjoying the ever changing landscape. I also listened to some Pink Floyd on my new funky red ipod which I’m loving.

Soon we entered the area of Salt Lake City. From my experience of Portland and Seattle I’ve become accustomed to the general beauty of a city with snowy mountains in the backdrop. SLC though has the mountains much closer and starker up against it – it’s a wonderful looking place. On the approach there we were flanked on both sides by mountain ranges and SLC sits comfortably in between them. It was a wonderful drive, and I’ve come to have a sense of regret that I did not pay much attention in Geography class at school; I found myself curious as to how these ranges were formed – there were markings and features in abundance that I didn’t quite have the smarts to make sense of.

ranges

Salt Lake City is an intriguing place. It’s very clean and spacious, and in being similar to Portland in some respects it seems very well organised and cared for. It’s also the epicentre for Mormonism – the church of the latter day saints. When walking around Kath and I popped into the Mormon complex for a look. I have concerns with religion, but with a completely open mind I found the people there thoroughly and refreshingly friendly exuding positive warmth. It was fascinating to experience a sort of microcosm of a completely different culture set in the heart of a big western city. That evening we went back there, and sat in on the Mormon choir rehearsal for their Sunday morning worldwide broadcast:

mormons

(image nicked from someone else’s blog)

saltlake

The next day we set off for Sin City – Las Vegas. On the first part of the journey we flung the car via an attractive looking lake and took a snap:

lake

I had a little bit of unfortunate luck with the drive to Las Vegas as the camera ran out of power. The drive was unbelievable. Entering the lands that the Grand Canyon occupies was breathtaking. Essentially the drive was a reduction in altitude. As we got lower the landscape around us got hotter; there was no more snow to be seen and our thermometer cranked up to 100 or so. But the scenery got more and more dramatic. Red coloured earth, eroded into canyons as far as the eye can see in staggering scale. As we drove down we twisted and turned through various rocky ranges – a drive I would recommend whole heartedly to those willing.

rocks

My last shot, doing absolutely no justice to the ride.

We arrived in Las Vegas. I can honestly say I was looking forward to Vegas. I’d won a game of poker during my time in Portland and so thought I had some smarts to handle myself at a table. When I saw however you had to spend 300 bucks or so just to get on a decent table and that they didn’t seem to play the same game that I understood, we decided we give the gambling a miss. To be honest I didn’t like Vegas and that’s an understatement. I at least thought that there would decent sidewalks to walk on and it would a pleasant experience to walk up and down the strip. But there are all kinds of people there explicitly selling girls and drugs and the place is a construction site full of pollution anyway. I feel the city represents humanity at it’s casual worst. There seem to be a lot of people that go there who don’t know what else to do other than drink and gamble. Vanity also rules here, especially poolside at the Bellagio where we were staying. Anyway enough ranting. I am grateful for the experience of going there – it added colour and variety to our already wonderful vacation.

the strip

It looks quite nice from the above shot…

atnight

Our hotel.

After a couple of nights (in which we returned the car) we got to the local airport and flew out to San Francisco. I had high expectations of this city after listening to colleagues rave about it over and over, and I can happily say it did not disapoint. Firstly the geography of it is crazy – a very much hilly place. I liked it though, it’s a city with loads of character. We ate out in the North Beach area in a smooth little Italian and then the next day I temporarily stepped out of vacation mode and visited a colleague on a project there. After a brief catch up he took me to the local ThoughtWorks office which happens to have an amazing view of the city and bay (TW actually has two offices in the same building, and I met a long lost Swedish friend there who had the unfortunate circumstance of working all day in a room with no windows – tough break…).

After that, we hit Alcatraz:

alcatraz

And I got put behind bars – dark times:

behindbars

Then we walked round the city

kathsfc

And then cycled the bridge:

bridge

And that was it. I really thought SF was a cool place. We flew from SF to Portland where we did some more shopping (we bought a load of suits at a billionth the price of what they’d be in the UK), then we went out for a meal with my old colleagues who were still there, and the next day we caught our flight back to blightly (after a quick hop to Seattle). We landed at 12.30 the day after that and by 1.30 I was in a five hour cricket match. I thought I did OK given the circumstances – a few good runs and a good laugh.

It was a terrific vacation.

ranier

This is Mnt Ranier as visible from the flight to Seattle from PDX.

USA Roadtrip (Part 1)

June 22, 2008 § Leave a Comment

My time on a work project had come to an end. Now it was time for a vacation. We’d originally planned to drive from Portland (after a few days doing some shopping and checking out its fine gastro scene etc) to the Yellowstone national park, then on to Las Vegas via Salt Lake City, then to San Francisco via Yosemite, and then back up to Portland via a couple of places on the coast. Soon we realised this would add up to too much driving, and we refactored our plans somewhat making using of air travel to bridge some of the distances.

So the first thing vacation related we did was hand back my trusted funky red car. It’s been a pleasure; I was its first driver. After handing back the keys we promptly picked up a new one:

cadillac

Originally we’d wanted a covertable, but due to lack of planning we ended up only being able to pick up a standard premium car from the rental. When we first got to the rental and saw the car they were going to give us we were a little disapointed. We complained (non-violently) that the car on offer was dirty and old, and the friendly folks gave us a ‘luxury’ Cadillac instead. I was pleased; I picked up another funky car with all the gadgets. So once we had the car we made our way in the direction of Yellowstone, with a night’s stop at a place called Boise.

The scenery to Boise was wonderful. I’d seen a bit of it before driving out to Hood River just passed Multonmah Falls, but as we entered into previously unseen territory the surroundings just got better. Portland is amongst forestry – a very much ‘green’ environment. As you ride alongside the Columbia River out eastwards the landscape begins to change: the temperature begins to rise, the trees become sparser and everywhere starts to appear a lot drier. If there was one photograph I could turn back time for and take on the whole trip, it would have been as we were entering this drier land but Mount Hood was still visible in the background covered in snow, utterly dominating the landscape. We were driving away from Mount Hood at the time, and saw it for the last time as we twisted and turned round a canyon. Goodbye old fella.

kath at view point

Kath at a view point. We were up a hill and land was flat for miles around.

Anyhow after a while we arrived at Boise in the state of Idaho, and we were pleasantly surprised at our accommodation Kath had picked out of the lonely planet guide book:

boise1

A very nice place. They had a chilled bottle of wine and cookies available to all.

boise2

We had a nice meal in Boise. It’s another liberal feeling place. The teenage population were not out getting wasted on alcohol as they would normally be back in my home town in the UK, but they were hanging around funky little coffee houses talking about politics, whilst some others where checking things out on their macs. Good times. Unfortunately though, we couldn’t hang around Boise for long as we had around 7-8 drive ahead of us. The next day we got moving, and we soon found ourselves travelling up into the mountains through breathtaking scenery into the heart of Yellowstone:

yellowstone

Some Bison. Here are some more with their calves:

bison

The Bison seem pretty chilled out. I suspect it’s because of a lack of natural predators. For example 30 years ago or so the grizzly bear population of Yellowstone had learnt to beg off tourists for food. A large amount of them had to be killed in order to change their ways and are now recovering. Also similarly to most of the US the native wild wolf population was wiped out through a government funded extermination program, and having since been reintroduced to the area their numbers are steadily rising.

Yellowstone itself is an area of volcanic activity. One of the reasons I wanted to go there is that it’s one of the few ‘supervolcanoes’ in the world. If it were to erupt to it’s true potential it would put the world into a nuclear winter, trigger a mini ice age and wipe out a billion people or so. These are precarious times, and so I hope you can understand my reasoning for wanting to check it out:

professor jon

Yep, it’s still active folks. In fairness it hasn’t gone off for 70 thousand years, and the last ‘biggie’ eruption that could do us some damage was over 2 million years ago. But still… it’s heaving like a sleeping giant…

geyers

There are geysers everywhere. In fact Yellowstone struck as me some sort of prehistoric land. It’s a beautiful self sustaining ecosystem, high up in the mountains. There’s loads to see, from mud volcanoes to spectacular canyons.

kath and jon

Kath and I at Yellowstone lake. We’re wearing the same clothes because it didn’t occur to us that Yellowstone would be a cold place. We had to buy a load of stuff from the gift shop. In fact, we had an altogether much worse surprise. About to go to dinner we locked the car (as you do), and we tested the car handle… it opened. What? I got Kath to walk a hundred metres away with the car keys, and although we’d locked it, the damn thing opened again. I could even start it – it’s a push button start, so as long as the key is near (which is wasn’t) the car it starts up. Anyway to cut a long story short after two hours of performing various tests on the car with an operator giving us instructions the rental company finally agreed to dispatch a tow-truck and a new car to us. They were especially unhappy because their nearest depo was 300 miles away. Later that evening though, thinking that perhaps we’d not been given the best instructions I managed to hack the intelligent driving system and turn-off the automatic unlock feature. Nightmare. Still, that was on the first night and it didn’t stop us having an amazing time.

underwater geyser

An underwater geyser

chipmunk

We made some friends with the locals

jon hills

A bit of hiking

amazing

You have to be there to appreciate this

yellowstones canyoun

These shots are of Yellowstones grand canyon. I have loads more photos than I could upload here. Yellowstone is well worth going to if you’re thinking about it. Just be sure it doesn’t go off when you’re standing on it.

mud

Couldn’t resist one of the mud volcano.

An unexpected guest

June 20, 2008 § Leave a Comment

I’m staying in a hotel in Leeds. I’m walking around the hotel room (it’s quite big) talking to my Nan on the phone, pacing back and forth, and the door bell goes. I immediately wonder: what kind of caller could this be at the hour of 9pm in the evening? Not wanting to terminate the phone call unnecessarily, I opened the door with the phone still against my ear.

A lady – probably early thirties – wearing a fair bit of makeup and a large black leather coat was now standing right in front of me. She was smiling, and murmured some sort of hello. I replied back a mixture of “Hello”, and “Can I help you?”, and then as the realisation began to dawn on me of what was actually going on I more urgently uttered “No!, Er, No thankyou” all at the same time. Given my surprise, I’d essentially lost the ability to converse in rudimentary English. She continued to look at me, though her face was now starting to mirror my own which was portraying a look of profound confusion. She then sort of grunted in a polite way (I don’t think English was her first language), and intimated that she should come in. I continued my slur of words ‘Err, I don’t think… I’m sorry?’, and then I realized my Nan was still talking to me on the phone. Tersely, I said goodbye to her in order to deal with the situation at hand, and then I gave myself a mental slap in order to focus. I then began to wonder of whom in their right mind would have possibly paid for what was presumably a professional to come visit me this evening…

Fortunately though, a door opened behind her and a chap’s head appeared. He said in well spoken and perfectly respectable English: “Err… hi! I think you’re at the wrong door, please come on in’, followed by a quieter: ‘don’t knock next time’.

I shut my door.

Pithering in Portland (Part 9)

June 20, 2008 § Leave a Comment

After a three month stint in Portland, Oregon, I’m back now in the UK. In fact I’m working on a project in Leeds; currently I’m on the train heading back to London with the green English countryside whizzing on by in the background.

Portland’s been a great experience. I’ve made new friends, met new colleagues, learnt a lot about what it takes how to transform a large IT department to become more agile, explored various areas of ruggedly impressive countryside, and found out a fair bit about myself too. I’ve also picked up a lingering addiction to fine coffee which I’m wondering if I should try and shake or just stick with.

In terms of self development, I’ve learnt about better ways of communicating to others (techniques such as “non-violent communication” which I’d like to develop), and I’m pleased that I’ve gained some self understanding through learning about emotional intelligence. I hope to write about these bits of learning in the not too near future, perhaps when I’m back on a train next week.

Portland itself is a clean, lovely city. It’s my observation that it’s the friendliest place I’ve been. People want to chat all the time and it’s been a pleasure making so many new friends. I also love the kind of new-age, liberal, hippy vibe that Portland has going on. It’s a smart city, where people are digesting books at places like Powells books, playing music at open-mic nights, exploring the countryside around them, basically enriching their lives. I’m a proud Londoner, frequently extolling its values of dynamism and acceptance, but in my opinion we still get dragged down by issues of class and stereotype (i.e. what it means to be a ‘city’ person, English people keeping a stiff upper lip etc). It doesn’t feel as liberal or as open-minded as Portland, where a good many more issues can be explicitly laid out on the table. But hey, that’s my subjective viewpoint – I’ve hardly lived it up in London to the extent of a good many of those around me.

So, I’ve come here to talk around a few more pictures and experiences of my closing weeks in Portland.

leadbetter1

This is Leadbetter point state park. I read about this place in a magazine. Apparently after a good 3-4 mile hike you can arrive at a zen like place where the pacific sea meets the Columbia river. There’s supposed to be a sense of nothingness there amongst undisturbed wildlife (some birds doing some rituals in the sand). After a good 3 hr drive I arrived at the park and I found… fear. It’s kind of strange to explain. I rocked up to the car park (in my funky red car), and immediately ploughed into dense forestry in order to get to the beach. After a small while it occurred to me that I was all by myself here. There were no other cars in the carpark and I be could miles away from anyone. Then my ignorance of Oregon’s wildlife began to kick in. What about snakes? Spiders? All that kind of weird stuff… I was on a trail and it never seemed to end. Then I found fallen trees in the middle of the trail – clearly it hadn’t been subjected to much use in the months prior.

I admit, I turned around after a couple of miles. Screw it – I reasoned I didn’t want to get bit by some strange spider with no one around to help and no mobile reception.

But then, after I’d returned back to the carpark and did a re-assessment of the situation I got frustrated with myself. The risks of getting bit by a spider didn’t seem strong enough to make me miss out on seeing this zen like place I’d travelled all this way out to see. So I pulled myself together, accepted the fear, and went storming on back into the forest. Belong long I’d gotten further than before. I kept looking out for the sea amongst the trees but it just wasn’t there. Then I had to jump across puddles… then find a way around a swamp… After a while I’d picked up a large stick and started ‘pole-vaulting’ large areas of water. Then I came across a part of the trail where it was completely underwater. Already committed, I went for it, soaking my trainers and jeans in the process. After this and back on to dry land I turned a corner… and everything was flooded; all the bottoms of the trees were submerged and the trail was no longer visible. I once again considered the unknown possibility of underwater snakes and suchlike, and then admitted to myself I’d given this endeavour my best shot and I turned back.

But the scenary I did see (the other-side of the peninsula was easier to reach), was beautiful:

leadbetter2

A couple of weeks after my wife arrived into PDX. I’d been ticking down the hours until she arrived – happy times! Soon she wanted to see the sights Portland and the surrounding area had to offer, and so we wasted little time in checking out Multnomah falls:

kath multnomah

Lo and behold though! Kath had arrived during the city’s Rose Festival! We took station at my now trusted wine-bar, met a couple of new friends, and sat back and watched as a parade went through downtown:

parade1

It went on to become a very pleasurable evening:

parade2

Thanks Portland!

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