Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Whiteface Mountain

New York is more than just a city. I got this lucky snap of a raven taking flight a couple hundred feet below the rocky peak of Whiteface Mountain, near Lake Placid, New York (site of the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics).

Adirondack Park is the largest protected area in the lower 48 United States at the state level and the largest park in the contiguous United States, comprising over six million acres, more than a third of which is constitutionally-protected forest preserve. The tallest peaks are just over 5,000 feet (1615 meters) above sea level, but the relatively low elevation of the Adirondack dome means the topography is locally rugged.

For those less inclined to climb, there is a five mile toll road that terminates short of the 4867-foot summit of Whiteface Mountain, with an elevator to the observation center at the peak. Summer rates in 2014 are $10 for car and driver, $7 for each additional passenger and $6 for hardy bicyclists

And in winter, there is always skiing the biggest vertical drop in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, over 3000 feet (about 1000 meters).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Adventures at the Airline Ticketing Counter

The experience and attitude of an airport ticketing agent makes all the difference if you need to be rerouted. 

It was hot and humid as I surveyed the late morning build-up of cumulonimbus clouds from my front porch one Sunday in June. I immediately thought of our scheduled 7:25 pm flight to Chicago, then on to Duluth, Minnesota via United Airlines. We'd only have an hour connection in the Windy City because of limited flight options when we booked. There are often weather delays in the Midwest with summer thunderstorms, I thought. But our home finally sold in the Toronto area and, with a request for a quick closing from the buyer, my wife Stacey and I needed to arrange a last-minute trip to Minnesota for house hunting. We'll only have two days to set up accounts and insurance and look at houses, so every moment counts.


Just before leaving for the airport we get the dreaded text. Our first flight is delayed until 8:38 pm departure by "air traffic control," almost an hour-and-a-half late. That means weather. We won't make the Chicago to Duluth leg if it stays on schedule. But instructions recommend we still arrive at least an hour before the regularly-scheduled departure. Maybe the Chicago-Duluth flight will be delayed as well, but Stacey calls our hotel in Duluth and cancels for tonight before the charges are applied to our credit card. Figuring United will give us our options at the ticket counter, we head for the airport as originally scheduled and are dropped off by Stacey's father at Pearson International Terminal 1 about 5 o'clock pm.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Sistine Chapel

You're not supposed to take photographs in the Sistine Chapel, a highlight of our travels through the Mediterranean. But I felt compelled to snap one surreptitious picture that included a family member (no flash of course), hopefully while maintaining respect for the place and its ultimate purpose. I saw a lot of impressive ceilings in Europe, many painted, but the Sistine Chapel does stand far above the rest.

I can still hear the ushers almost chanting "Shhhhh, silencio. Shhhhh, silence."

While the angle is skewed, I quite like this picture. It conveys the sense of scale and awe, too big to take in on my 18-mm lens setting. The angle does convey a sense of dynamism--it's how I was looking at the ceiling in the moment. My father's upturned head reflects what all visitors do, crane their necks and slowly turn to take it all in.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Going Hungary in America

One of the benefits of living in a nation of immigrants is the rest of the world is at your doorstep if you can't travel there directly. And there is no better way to experience this smorgasbord of cultures than through your stomach. Each of the two styles of societal integration has its gastronomic merits. The melting pot gives us culinary fusion, while ethnic enclaves bring distinctive regional favors in geographic proximity.

My heritage is largely Hungarian, a small, fiercely independent nationality with an enigmatic language, whose people outlasted a millennium of attempted assimilation. Hungary nonetheless exported its national condiment throughout the world, and today paprika is found in virtually every North American home. Hungarian salami (szalámi) is also popular, most people have at least heard of goulash (gulyás) or chicken paprikás, and the Magyar claim no small portion of the credit for sausage (kolbász). But there is one meal reserved for celebratory family gatherings that makes me forget I have any other ancestry, and for a few hours I am purely Hungarian. It is the "dirty bread" of the Hungarian barbecue.

Süt szalonna (pronounced shoot SUH-luh-nuh), is literally "fry bacon." And bacon is the key ingredient, but it is a relative term. My grandfather used to negotiate for a chunk of nearly pure pork fat, held together with a few streaky wisps of meat and scored in a cross-hatch pattern on either side. Likely he got it for free after wearing down the butcher. My cousin is now the grill master, and he prefers blocks of sliced bacon skewered on a two-tined barbecue fork, much like you'd roast a hot dog on. I'm personally drawn to the fattier option only for its novelty. How satisfying is it to base a dish on melted animal fat in this antiseptic age of body consciousness? Which is the best approach is a topic for spirited debate around the fire pit, but there is no doubt, süt szalonna waits in Hades for the vegan sinner.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Picture of the Moment: GPS in Cottage Country

These days there is technology available that keeps you from getting lost in the woods.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Picture of the Moment: Santorini Dragonfly

I wish I knew the species. This poser hung around long enough to let me snap a few pictures. Zooming in dulled the harsh backdrop of nondescript weeds.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


This is, after all, a creative writing space masquerading as a travel blog, so occasionally I need to give into temptation.

Besides, life is the greatest journey.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Sunset at Gantheaume Point, Broome, Western Australia

Everyone stops to look. June, 2010