Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Wed 26 Aug 2009 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Music, No right to be good, Travel

How I learned to stop worrying and love Jason Mraz

August 12, Rio de Janeiro, on a vacation I felt I had earned.

A banged-up Volkswagen sedan picked me up at the hostel. As I climbed in the back, the driver apologized in part-English, part-Portuguese for the busted rear window, which was stuck open. We turned onto the road that parallels the beach. The air that blew through the car was warm and smelled like the sea.


We followed the coast and passed through tunnels cut into seaside cliffs. I was on my way to go hang gliding for the first time. This is a touristy thing to do, but the gliding conditions were good, and I felt excited.


Sat 22 Aug 2009 9:58 am   //   Posted in: Travel, Videos

Airport time

Recently I had two three-hour layovers in the Miami International Airport. Here’s the entire experience summed up in 18 seconds:

Thu 20 Aug 2009 10:00 am   //   Posted in: Travel

Can’t stay long – I’m an American

I love visiting other countries, learning about new places, and meeting fellow travelers. Last week in Rio, I stayed in a hostel, a place that draws together a lot of budget-minded, English-speaking wanderers. We usually have some predictable things in common (a go-with-the-flow sense of adventure, an interest in people different from ourselves, big backpacks). We also have some predictable differences (professions, faith beliefs, sports allegiances).

Wherever I go, including Brazil, new friends inevitably ask where I’ve been, where I’m going, and how long I’ve been traveling. And I say, “I’m only here for a week, then I’m heading back home.” People then give me a look of pity. If you’re an American and you’ve ever been abroad, you know what I’m talking about.


Tue 18 Aug 2009 12:27 am   //   Posted in: Photos, Travel

Photos from my vacation in Brazil

Just posted: A photo gallery from my trip to Rio de Janeiro. I’ll be writing more about this later this week, but pictures first. Enjoy!

Tue 7 Jul 2009 10:27 pm   //   Posted in: Transit, Travel

Life lessons on the Megabus


There are at least two constants when you take a long-distance bus. You always arrive at your destination late. And you always have to witness people yelling at one another. The way to cope is to sit down, shut down, go limp, be invisible, and let the bus beat up on your spirit for however many hours it takes.

My latest transportation adventure was a round-trip ride on Coach USA’s Megabus from New York to Washington, D.C. Along with Greyhound’s BoltBus, Megabus is one of a several ultra-cheap scheduled buses that recently started plying I-95. The first few tickets on each bus are $1 or $3. My tickets were $18 each way. (more…)

Mon 15 Jun 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: New York is different, Travel

Times Square Without Cars


Times Square is like a whole other place now that they’ve shut down Broadway to vehicles. Not sure yet if it’s better. Here’s hoping the city has bigger landscaping ambitions than scraped asphalt and traffic cones.

Fri 7 Nov 2008 9:00 pm   //   Posted in: Photos, Travel

Photos from France

I finally got around to posting a page of photos from my September visit to France. Click here.

Sun 14 Sep 2008 10:01 am   //   Posted in: Travel, TV, Videos

Space Disk: Totally cancelled

Proof that we still haven’t exhausted the humor potential of the Unisphere:

(More from SNL… Of course you’ve already seen Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, right?)

Wed 10 Sep 2008 8:35 am   //   Posted in: Bicycles, Transit, Travel

Viva Velib!

Last year when I went to Paris, the city had just installed the Velib bicycle sharing program. I was so amazed by this idea I couldn’t stop telling people about it. When I visited France last week, it was clear the system is still humming along, but some cracks in the infrastructure have started to appear. More about that in a minute. First, here’s the rundown on how it works.

In short: You walk up to a kiosk, tap a few buttons, and the computer unlocks a bike from an electronic rack. You can ride the bike as much as you want and return it to any one of hundreds of other racks just like it scattered around the city. The computer charges you a Euro or two (or nothing) depending on how long you use the bike, and charges you 150 Euro if you fail to return the bike at all. (The bikes are heavy, fat-tire cruisers with ugly fenders. You can buy a better bike for 150 Euro.)

Who pays for this? No, not taxes. Somebody had a great idea when the contract to manage Paris’s outdoor advertising came up for bid. To win this lucrative contract, companies were required to submit a proposal to create and operate a public bicycle program. Done!

In Paris I had a great time riding around on the Velib bikes. I also saw similar systems in action in Lyon (their Velo’v system was the model for the one in Paris) and Perpignan. These local bike-share programs have been so successful that they are rapidly spreading across Europe. Some U.S. cities have expressed interest. But before we deploy the bikes here, we need to avoid the pitfalls starting to crop up in Paris.

  • First, the system needs way more racks that bikes. Why? Because people tend to ride in the same direction at the same time of day. When I was zipping around Paris last Monday, I found that all of the bike stations near the center of the city were full. I spent about half an hour looking for a station that had an open hitch. The kiosks can display a map showing you where the nearest open bike rack is, but it’s confusing. This problem really gums up the works.
  • Second, the payment system in Paris and Lyon seems needlessly complicated. Most riders buy a special card online, which is mailed to them. Visitors can buy a temporary card right at the kiosk using a credit card. (But only the European kind with a built-in chip. Curiously, the only card in my wallet that worked was my American Express card, and it only worked in Paris.) Perpignan has a much more elegant system. You go online and use your credit card to register for an ID number, which you punch into the kiosk to unlock a bike. (Mine was a four-digit number less than 2,000.) Use it once or use it forever; there’s no card to carry. So simple. I also found the BIP bikes in Perpignan to be better to ride – smaller and lighter, but still sturdy.
  • Third, the system should let the users choose the bikes they want. That was my one gripe with the Perpignan bikes. Sometimes people return damaged bikes to the racks, or bikes with flat tires. The Paris and Lyon systems let you choose the best bike yourself, but the Perpignan system assigns a bike to you.
  • And finally, these bike systems just wouldn’t work in some American cities. Snow and ice – and road salt – would destroy these bikes. That rules out most of the East Coast and Midwest. It has to be a compact city, so forget places like Los Angeles and Miami. What’s left? I’m thinking Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and mid-size southern cities like Austin and Savannah. Let’s make it happen!

(Photo shows a guy waiting for a space to open up at a Velib rack outside the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris.)

Mon 8 Sep 2008 9:41 pm   //   Posted in: Planet earth, Transit, Travel

Back from the future

Tram in Lyon, France

I have just returned from…


The future is powered by nuclear and wind. Public transportation is robust. Trains run everywhere, and glide at 200 miles per hour. Every city has a computerized bike-sharing system. Cars are small, lights go out automatically, and you can give a toilet half a flush if you want to. People savor fresh, locally grown foods.

Wait, did I say the future? I meant France.

More thoughts about my trip over the next few days.