Archive for Travel

Toronto’s Population

Today, just before going to bed, I happened across an article describing why London would be a good setting for the new GTA4 (Grand Theft Auto 4), which is a game I have “some interest in” and that is due out later this year. At first glance the article has the intense stench of immaturity and longwindedness; it uses phrases such as “it is purest logic”.  Don’t bother reading it.  Better info about the game is at  Anyway, my point is not about GTA4, it is about Toronto and it’s population. The article lists some city populations to make a comparison between previous cities used as inspiration for GTA games (NYC, Miami, LA-SF-LV) and London (which may inspire GTA4). I took note that they listed Toronto’s population as 2.4M, fourth largest in the US and Canada behind New York, Los Angles, and Chicago. Of course, as the dicussion for the “List of Cities by Population” article on Wikipedia indicates, determing what should be included in a city and what even counts as a city can be tricky issues. In fact, the list of cities with highest population includes Toronto, but Chicago doesn’t make the cut (though rightfully even Toronto shouldn’t have made the cut because Hong Kong was excluded because it isn’t technically a “city”, a pointless issue to quible over to my mind.  Nevertheless, it seems clear that Toronto is similar in population, possibly slightly smaller, than Chicago. It is an interesting issue because I was discussion it recently with someone. I knew Toronto was the largest city in Canada (the metropolitan area contains about 1/6 of all the people in Canada), but it wasn’t clear to me that it was above 2 million or as close in population to Chicago, somehow it seems a little smaller than that to me.


“Spring” Break Toronto

I just got back from a short trip to Toronto with Monica. The pictures are in my gallery. The drive up was a little slow, a stretch of the highway between London and Toronto was not fully plowed and traffic sometimes was at a standstill. We stayed two nights and almost exactly 48 hours in the city. The hotel, Bond Place, which we found on Quikbook, was nice enough, very centrally located, and cheap. The first night we just did a little walking and had dinner at a pub, where I had a nice rendition of French dip, something I’ve been craving for the last week. The second day we visited Chinatown, The Art Gallery of Ontario, and Kensington Market as well as poking our heads into a few stores along Queen Street. Both lunch and dinner were extremely good: lunch at a Chinese dumpling place and dinner at a Peruvian place, Boulevard Cafe. At Boulevard Cafe I had what probably was the best prepared tuna steak I have ever had, of course you have to consider that we spent around $120CAD for the meal, including a good wine. On the third day we walked to the Distillery District, stopping in a few of the nice furniture stores along the way. After that we walked toward the water, enjoyed a bench for a short while, and then walked back up through downtown to Eaton Centre and then our car. Our final dinner, out of practicality (we were tired and it was right near our car), was at the Hard Rock Cafe; it was the first time I have been in one. Try as they might, we escaped without buying the Hard Rock Cafe Monopoly game. The drive back was very straightforward, it took 5h10 including a quick gas stop and at one point a slight course correction (somehow navigating is in Canada is not quit as easy as it is in the States, I don’t think the signage is quite as informative).

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Bike Tree

bike tree
A few years ago hi-tech bicycle stands sprouted up Geneva like fungi. While I was there I kept meaning to swing by one of the bike trees and check it out, but I nevered seemed to cross my mind when I was actually in town. This week Gizmodo reminded me of my negligence. I promise I won’t let it happen again. Also, even if you are a bicycle hater who lives and dies on a minimum of four wheels you still should visit the bike tree website if only for the nostalgic early-90s web design complete with prominent use of the blink tag.


A Seattle Welcome

Rain, rain rain. This is the weather report I was greeted with when I returned home to Washington State. I cropped off a couple days worth from the image below, but you get the idea. Source: National Weather Service

forecast for rain all week in Tacoma


Back in the States

After spending 20 of the last 21 months at CERN near Geneva I am now finally back on my native soil. Of course that’s just phrased for dramatic effect. The soil in Switzerland/France is plenty comfy to tred on, probably nicer even when you account for the southing jangle of bells and the fertilizing effect of those Swiss Browns. And, in fact, I feel little or no allegance to this particular brand of soil, the mostly uninteresting Mid-Western type. It would take a 2000 mile, 5 hour flight west before I’d feel truely settled.

So, am I happy to be back? You guessed it: not entirely. But let’s not mope. There are a few items I will appreciate about my new surroundings, such as the grotesque quantity of coffee shops with free wireless, my cool new band of housemates, and my cool old band of From-Ann-Arbor-to-CERN-and-back-again ‘Rockers.

It numbs the mind how true the gas guzzling American stereotype holds up as you step out of the Detroit airport. Check out the picture of what I was confronted with at the international arrivals loading area. It was huge SUVs and vans, idling two-deep, as far as the eye could see in both directions. Every single vehicle was larger than any that I would see at the Geneva airport. In the past I might equivocate, but this scene in the context my life leaves not a sliver of room for such doubt: this is excessive.

Of course I must admit that this selection of cars is far from a fair representation. So, let’s be kind to the poor disadvantaged SUV owners. People arriving on international flights with heaps of luggage are more likely to be picked up by the family member with the Lincoln Navigator rather than a Honda Insight. Also, those idling in the loading area are in clear violation of the rules (you may stop only for active loading and unloading) thus my observation represents the inconsiderate and socially unconcious disproportionately. Dare I suggest that big cars correlate with these personality types? I dare.

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Le Reculet

purple crocus
John and I squeezed in a short hike up toward Le Reculet Sunday morning before driving to the airport to pick up Shawn. The time was short and John wanted to take lots of breaks (which I didn’t mind at all), so we never made it all the way to the peak, but it was a wonderful day and I’m thrilled to have gotten out and done some walking. For those who know the route, we took the usual trail from Tiocan above Thoiry, branched left, climbed out of the large bowl, but came a little shy of reaching the base of the cavey-crumbly cliff that runs from just below the peak to a head overlooking Thoiry. It looked like many people were doing as we did and not making a serious push for the top; the snow that remains is navigable but still a bit of an impediment.

The crocuses are popping up everywhere and a few have bloomed, but another month is probably needed for things to really get rolling. We saw a chamois from closer range than I have ever before, but it blended well into the thick of bare brown trees along the trail so I didn’t bother with a picture. We also saw a couple paragliders in the air, and one guy hiked past with a massive puffy pack, suggesting that he was on his way to join them. If it weren’t for my tendency toward motion sickness I would seriously consider taking up the sport.

At the peak is a large iron cross (good for climbing on if you are the type that can never get high enough). Check out this incredible picture of the cross completely frozen over. One day I need to get some snowshoes and see this for myself.

I’ll put a few pictures up in my gallery in a day or two.


Crazy Races

Cooper's Hill cheese race
On this lazy Sunday thanks to Reid we got on the topic of crazy races. One plummets down a hill for cheese, and another hauls a woman cross-country for beer:

  • In Gloucestershire, England people chase a seven pound wheel of cheese down a 50 degree slope for fame and dairy. As you might expect from such a steep hill, at times it has taken a dangerous turn (includes intense video of people literally bouncing head over heals down the hill) and was soon fouled by
    EU safety rules. But, as of last year the event continues and has been reported on by,
    the BBC, and the public radio program
    Living on Earth.
  • In Sonkajärvi, Finland’s Wife Carrying World Championships the winner goes home with his “wife’s” weight in beer (the marriage requirement is quite liberal and even that is losely enforced, in one video an American man is interviewed who met his “wife” just an hour before). Last year’s champion was an Estonian with an insanely tiny, 17 year old wife, just barely within minimum specs. Be sure to check out the
    videos. You can even bet on the competition.


Everyone but Pascale

This post is not about Pascale in any way.

My friends Will and Pierre are so hardcore, I’d like to think it makes be just the slightest bit hardercore by association. In Pamplona last year Will was trod on by a bull in the famous running of the bulls. Until now he had only a welt on his side, a twitch in his stride, and some good stories to tell. But, it turns out he is featured on the San Fermin website! You can find him in the July 9th gallery, caught in a strangly clinical and yet awkward “turn your head and caugh” moment with the bull. Photo at right.

In other crazy person news, across the border in Italy they have been holding a carnival in Ivrea, which is notable for it’s orange battle. I wanted to go, but I was late in responding to Giulia’s email, so I missed out. She got to see it in person, and she reports that it is as crazy at it seems in pictures. She said over 100 people visited the hospital for minor injuries, up to and including broken noses. Oh, and people pay to receive this orange abuse! Giulia reports that she tried one of the oranges and they seem to be perfectly edible. What a waste! Somehow I’ve been craving oranges all week long. Roderik, a companion on Guilia’s trip, aquired photos; one is shown at right and more after a click.

And in totally other news, Wednesday was Reid’s birthday. A few people came over and brought cake. Someone provided a store-bought Panettone, or “big muffin”, which comes in a nice little truncated pyramid (what’s the mathematical name for one of these?) box. Giulia, in contrast, slaved in the kitchen for a precious portion of her life to produce a lovely cake. It would have been more lovely, but it collapsed. It’s all my fault, though, I actually showed up at her place on time to pick her up! So, she didn’t have any time to refrigerate it, and the creamy goodness on the top was able to squeeze the life out of the cakey goodness inside. Ah… c’est la vie.

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The end of a year in Geneva

My year at CERN is over, and on Tuesday I made the long flight back to The States (to the farthest end in fact, way over to Seattle). That’s 15 hours of flight time, covering a 9 hour time difference, with only a squeaker of a layover in Newark. I got very lucky on the transatlantic leg when the window seat in my two-seat group was left empty. Except for the flakey A/V equipment on both of my seats, I’d say it was my most pleasant flying experience yet. The view of Mont Blanc and it’s minions layered ridge after ridge as we tore through the egg carton cloud layer was incredible. Those clouds have refused to leave Geneva for weeks. These are the things that make every airplane ticket worth while, I don’t care where I’m going.

Given the hoops I had to jump through, or queues to shuffle through to be more accurate, it is surprising that Continental gave me such a short layover. There was immigration, baggage claim, customs, a side trip to a plant and animal products inspection, rechecking my baggage, and finding my gate, all somehow squeezed into an hour and a half. I was the last person to board the flight to Seattle and they were waiting for me, but somehow we lifted off early.

I arrived in Seattle a little before 5 pm, and by holding out until 10 pm (7 am Geneva time) I was able to make a full 24 hour day of it. There was some sleep on the plane, but it hardly deserves counting.


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