Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Second Anniversary!

The image above was taken by my son on our recent visit to Rome. The scene captures some of my favorite aspects of travel -- relaxing summer heat, gelato, and surprises to be discovered just around the corner. I'm thankful that a whim decision two years ago to write about my favorite memories was more than just a passing fancy.

I'd like to think this site is enjoyed around the world, by a few special people. I'd love to share your memories. If you've found the content useful, or it's provided a few laughs (usually my main objective), please drop a note to let me know what you think, or share the address with your friends. Or, let me know where I can do better.

Thanks for sharing the memory,


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Narnia Magic and Volcanic Rocks at Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve is on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. It may be familiar to an armchair traveler as the setting for opening scenes of the Narnia movie Prince Caspian, itself based loosely on C.S. Lewis' famous novel. It was one of the several stunning New Zealand locations for that film series.

Cathedral Cove. It's yet another one of my many favorite beaches. The surrounding, glaringly-white cliffs and sea stacks are composed of massive ignimbrite, composed of angular fragments of pumice in a fine matrix of rhyolitic ash, a type of silica-rich volcanic rock that is formed during explosive, violent eruptions. The immensity of these formations is evidence the landscape has changed many times, and it will change again, however timeless every moment in the cove might feel. There would be no tranquil, wide strand of fine, white sand without the violence of storms and volcano.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tuscany in a Day, the Divine Comedy

The highlight of the port of Livorno may be one of Moby Lines' ferries, garishly adorned with Looney Toons characters amidst the uniform grey of heavy industry. The ship's livery is evidence that not all European ferry disasters involve loss of life. Otherwise, I have almost no recollection of Livorno. It is the seaside gateway to the treasures of Tuscany, and most cruise tourists don't stop to look on their way to Pisa or Florence. I didn't. The Livornese may be the old-world equivalents of the overshadowed residents of New Jersey. 

Upon disembarking the Emerald Princess, we boarded a motorcoach promptly at 7 a.m. to beat the summer crowds to Pisa.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

I took this picture at the Pont du Gard world heritage site's visitor center this past summer (2015), and in the light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, I'm reminded that these principles are what France is all about.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

First World Problems on the Italian Riviera

Excursion queues on cruise ships are proof that, but for a scattering of genius individuals through history, the human species should not have progressed beyond the cave. Even management befitting of livestock is not enough to guarantee all of of the herd egresses from the staging area in an orderly manner. The Emerald Princess was berthed in Genoa, and we were booked for a day's tour of the Italian Riviera. Prosperity seems only by random chance when you watch so many well-to-do people struggle to navigate their way to the gangway on command. I could only think of the wreck of the Costa Concordia, rusting away within a stone's throw of our mooring like the rotting carcass of a beached whale, a tangible symbol of human absurdity.

Costa Concordia is in the process of being scrapped in the background (left). May the schooner in the foreground have a happier fate.
But the army of shepherds gets everyone to their designated bus in the end. As I waited to board the motorcoach I overheard our day's tour guide tell tell one young man, " need to have a ticket to get on the bus."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Laupāhoehoe Point Beach Park, Hawai'i

I have an uncle who lives in Hawai'i, and he told me that the best way to experience the Big Island is, "if you see a road, take it." We followed this good advice and learned a couple of things. First, you can't get lost; it's an island after all, no matter how big. And, some of Hawaii's hidden treasures are at the end of these roads-less-travelled detours, just off the main highways.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - Autumn Brilliance in the Upper Peninsula

The splendor of peak color in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is on par with anywhere. For a few days during the leaf-peeping season, every curve opens to yet another roadside stand of maple, oak and aspen wearing a grandeur as majestic as any natural wonder. Even the yellowing tamarack, a deciduous conifer, joins the show.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Burning to the Foundations of Provence

The Alpilles hills of the Bouches-du-Rhône region, where Marseille is located, are covered in pines, or at least some of them are. Scorching summer Heat and high winds attract arsonists like candles do moths. Arson is derived from the Anglo-French word arsoun, itself from the Old French arsion. Marseilles may be the birthplace of the world-wide scourge of vandalism by fire--France's contribution to the origins of crime. Though it's a wonder that the pines overlooking the sweltering Riviera don't just spontaneously combust in August. 

We were on a motorcoach outbound from Emerald Princess and Marseilles' grimy port, headed for historic treasures of southern France. We first met these piney limestone hills surrounding the city, occasionally catching brief glimpses of steep-walled calanques plunging into the sea as the bus rushed along the coastline. Later, the countryside of Provence opened up to fallow, pebbly fields giving way to distant rippling mirages in the heat, then fields laden with seed-burdened sunflowers just past their peak. There was no sign of Van Gogh's ear.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Yanchep's Blue Lagoon, Western Australia

The world has its share of beaches where the point is to be seen. Waikiki, Bondi, Ipanema  nature doesn't always provide the main scenery. But if you want to see some of the world's best beaches in solitude, there may be no better place than Western Australia, where your own private sandy paradise is only a short drive away from the capitol city of Perth. A family-friendly favorite of ours is the Yanchep Beach lagoon, just 56 kilometers (35 miles) north of the central business district.

Protected by a finger reef of gritty Tamala limestone that formed during the most recent ice age, water in the lagoon is no deeper than waist-high for the the average adult. The calm, turquoise waters are a perfect natural swimming pool for families with young children who are just learning to swim, particularly at the sheltered southern end of the main pool. There can be a strong current near the mouth of the inlet. Occasional schools of small fish will entertain young snorkellers. And, the clean white sand is an ideal playground for future architects armed with only a bucket, a plastic shovel and dreams. On a crowded summer day there will be no more than a handful of beach-goers.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Montjuïc to Montserrat -- Exploring Outwards and Upwards in Barcelona

On the morning of our second day in Barcelona we decided to explore outwards and upwards. 

Stretching between the port and city center, La Rambla is a broad, tree-lined avenue with a central walking arcade. La Rambla takes you into the heart of the city, but its southern terminus also spills you out to the port. La Rambla was easily accessed from our accommodation in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), and we strolled past many flower shops, cafes and souvenir vendors that were just opening around 8am on a Friday. We had several hours ahead of us before an afternoon excursion to Montserrat.

La Rambla

First stop was the statue of Columbus, on a pedestal towering above a roundabout at the southern terminus of La Rambla. True to form for a man who thought he'd found a shorter route to Asia, Cristoforo is pointing in the wrong direction, south. Perhaps he's showing all the new immigrants to Spain the way back? There are sculptures on the base, with historical scenes depicting newly reverent indigenous Americans gratefully welcoming their benevolent colonizers.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Picture is Worth 1000...

You can't win if you don't play. That's the standard Lottery slogan. 

But for some sweepstakes, the only cost to play is the time it takes to enter and maybe of accepting a few extra promotional e-mails, usually for a product or service you enjoy anyway.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gargoyles to Gaudi – Walking in Barcelona

Eight or more sleepless hours in a cramped plane and jet lag looming, my proven solution to getting "on time" while on holiday is to get out and walk, letting sunshine fool my constitution into believing I haven't travelled. If you have more than a day to explore, a city orientation walk is also a good chance to get the lay of the land before deciding what you really want to see, and pay for, when you're better acclimated. When we escaped confinement on Air Canada Rouge and shambolic customs queues at Barcelona's El Prat airport at 11:30am on a Thursday morning, my body screamed that it was only half past 4. After checking into our hotel, we hit the pavement immediately lest we be lured by the ever deadly post-flight nap.

From our base at the Hotel Catedral de Barcelona, the obvious choice for a day 1 walking tour was to roam the central Gothic quarter of the old city and explore outwards in search for classic works of the famous Catalan Modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, trusty Tom's Port Guide in hand.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

PortLand Malt Shoppe, Duluth, Minnesota

Malted milkshakes invoke images of 50s drug stores, Norman Rockwell and long summer days in small-town America. Today, nowhere brings back those memories any better than the PortLand Malt Shoppe in Duluth, Minnesota. There are other ice cream desserts offered as well, but a chocolate malt topped with whip cream, a vanilla wafer and a maraschino cherry makes for a little bit of heaven in your hand for $6.95, and it's worth the price. That's why there are often very long lines. The secret ingredient is malted milk powder, a once popular staple of frozen treats that gives a satisfying crunchy texture to the shake while coming up easy through the straw.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What Remains: Life and Death in Palermo

By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
                                                                                                                                                                                Genesis 3:19

We had only a morning to spend in Palermo, capital of Sicily. Most of what I know about this place relates to the Mafia or the last world war, and I was eager to look beyond that. We chose a short tour of the city's catacombs and two 18th-century oratories, book-ended by motor-coach rides past the main monuments of the old city.

From the late 16th century through the early 1920s, Capuchin monks and the richest families of Palermo had their dead embalmed, then displayed in lifelike poses in the city's catacombs, which were perhaps intended as a place of solace for bereaved relatives. Friends confer, families pose together, stern friars clasp ropes of penance and stare down through darkened eye sockets--these are the nearly-walking dead. The macabre display of 8,000 corpses is a lesson in anatomy--before the last century few people topped more than 5 feet tall, and oral hygiene has come a long way since.

Warning, there are photos of mouldering corpses beyond this point that readers may find disturbing.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

On the Road Again

Well, maybe not the road.

Other than that I'm naturally lazy, when I'm not writing it's because in my spare time I'm having too much of a good time. I'm headed for a big boat with my second son on a father-son adventure to the western Mediterranean. I won't have much in this space for a couple of weeks while I build more source material. A week on a cruise bookended by a couple days each in Barcelona and Rome should keep me going for a while. My last such trip, myself and two other men sweated on a Princess; I'm much less avant-garde these days, there are two of us this time, though my wife planned it all.

As with any vacation, I had to get myself in a relaxed mood on the first night. What could be better than Mexican food? But "best Mexican food in Duluth, Minnesota" is apparently on par with "best accomodation in a cemetery."

Will two men sweating through Southern Europe overcome an inauspicious start?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Harborside at Grand Marais on Lake Superior - Photo Essay

Good things come in small packages. With a population of only 1,340 that’s nestled between the rugged Sawtooth Range and massive Lake Superior, Grand Marais was dubbed “America’s Coolest Small Town” by Budget Travel Magazine for 2015 and was named a Top 100 Adventure Town by National Geographic Adventure Magazine. The city has a fishing heritage that’s reminiscent of New England and the Canadian Maritimes, and local whitefish is a staple on most menus. Today, Grand Marais is a mainstay of summer tourism on Lake Superior's north shore, and one of the region's vibrant artist's colonies.

The deep, open waters of the greatest lake always stay cold, and their interaction with warm, humid summer air commonly makes for dramatic shoreline fogs in the area of the harbor. If that doesn’t cool you down, there is the excellent frozen custard at Sydney’s, popular with families on summer holiday.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hawai'i's Akaka Falls - Beautiful and Accessible

The 422-foot (129 meter) tall Akaka Falls on Hawaii's Big Island may be the State's most iconic, a single spectacular drop into a steep, bowl-shaped gorge, in steaming jungle that lushly evokes primeval paradise.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Potato Hedonism in Central New York

A delicious dish is a sensory experience that always takes you back to its place of origin.

Nineteenth century Irish salt workers in Syracuse, New York lunched on young potatoes boiled in the brine of natural salt springs "mined" for production of consumable salt. They inadvertently invented a regional summertime classic that is unique to the area and proof that the simplest recipes sometimes deliver the most sublime flavor.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Picture of the Moment - Minnesota Misty Summer Morning

An iPhone 6 isn't the best camera, but you use what you have when the moment is magic.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Northern Minnesota Wildflowers - Colorful Summer Invaders

It's late spring or early summer in northern Minnesota, wildflower season. Roadside and forest meadows burst forth in early June, heralding the short growing season. It's a vibrant explosion of color, where some of the most prominent blooms are expatriates. We humans are not the only world travellers. Duluth, on Lake Superior, is the natural base from which to set out and appreciate the display. The great port on the greatest of lakes was also the entry point for these beautiful invaders.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Support Your Local Red Cross Heroes

Oklahoma tornado relief from
Hello friends around the world. As you may have recently seen, I am now a "Social Advocate" for the American Red Cross in Minnesota. As a frequent traveller, I am aware that any any moment I may need to rely on the emergency services provided by the Red Cross at home or abroad.

I'll be attending the 2015 Minnesota Red Cross Heroes Breakfast to be held at the Radisson Blu Mall of America in Minneapolis (Bloomington) this Thursday, June 18 from 7-10 am CST. This inspiring event will honor everyday people who helped others during a time of great need. See their stories here. If you're in Minnesota, you can register for the event here.

If you have a Twitter account, please consider retweeting messages I post (from @MichaelOrobona ) or those from others on the team during that time (Thursday, June 18th from 7-10 am CST), so we can keep the hashtags for the breakfast -- #RedCrossHeroes and #MNRedCross -- trending! Or, please share my related Facebook posts between now and the event (and after).

Be a hero. Consider supporting your own local Red Cross chapter, whether by giving blood, time or treasure. You may need it someday.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Day in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes. For a geologist they are the driving reason to visit Hawai'i. Along with dinosaurs (paleontology), volcanoes are one of the specialized fields of study where my profession intersects with coolness. My 8-year-old son prepared for our visit by watching an episode of the Magic School Bus, which raised me in his professional esteem. While my wife did most of the planning for our Hawai'i vacation, for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park I possessively set the itinerary. 

Our first stop was logically at the Kīlauea Visitor Center, about an hour's climbing drive (45 km) from Hilo. It's an important first stop where rangers convey current park conditions. It is also a good place to purchase a jacket or hooded sweatshirt. Cold-weather apparel isn't on the priority packing list for most vacationers in tropical paradise, but moist air rising from the sea can make even the moderate elevations around Kīlauea (4000 ft or 1220 m) bone-chillingly damp. The visitor center gift shop does brisk business in rain gear and warm clothes, at prices that would make an exclusive vendor of water in the desert blush.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Antheraea Polyphemus Moth - Minnesota

Antheraea polyphemus can have the wingspan of a small bird, ranging from 10-15 cm (4-6 inches). This specimen is only about 12 cm wide, still significantly wider than my palm. A common large moth of North America, this one was observed resting adjacent to the door of my office complex in Forbes, Minnesota.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Picture of the Moment: Split Rock Lighthouse, Silver Bay, Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse, located in a state park of the same name near Silver Bay, is one of the most photographed spots in the State of Minnesota and a National Historic Landmark. Beyond is the massive Lake Superior, which contains approximately 10% of the liquid fresh water on Earth. Situated on a dramatic vertical cliff of diabase (shallowly emplaced intrusive igneous rock) about 130 feet (40 m) above the north shore of the lake, the lighthouse was built in response to the great Mataafa storm of November, 1905 that claimed 29 ships on Superior. Split Rock is widely considered one of the most beautiful lights in the United States, and the park is very popular with tourists during the summer months.

Framed prints of the light are a staple amongst local professional photographers. This unprofessional photo was taken just southwest of the lighthouse from a scenic viewpoint turn-off.

The lighthouse was retired in 1969, but still puts out a light annually in commemoration of the famous 1975 wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Split Rock Lighthouse is an easy hour's drive northeast from Duluth, Minnesota on the scenic State Highway 61.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Mỹ Hương Kitchen - A Slice of Vietnam in Minnesota

I've eaten at hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants all over North America and the Asia-Pacific regions, ranging from holes-in-the wall to high-end, and hands down I've had no better Vietnamese food or dining experience than at Mỹ Hương Kitchen in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pardon My Dust



Dust balls.

It's been a little quiet in this space, but I can't always be busy on "social" media. It's been five rooms, two hallways, a stair, four colors, and walls for +1600 sq. feet of floor space painted since Tuesday night. And that's on top of a full-time job. Thank God the spring weather has been miserable in NE Minnesota.

But trade-offs are real life, and so is work. This is a travel blog that's never pretended that life is an endless adventure, where toil is for misguided souls stuck in the rat race. Even when I'm on holiday, I'm reminded that people need to work--to make things and provide services--for the benefit of others. There are no airplanes, cruise ships, mountain bikes or iPads without miners, engineers and labor. And, the work itself can be as emotionally satisfying as a sail in the tropics or camping under desert stars. 

So I'm tired but satisfied with the results. Now, more than 600 feet of pine trim await shellac. Then three boys want Dad back.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

For Frequent Fliers, is Paradise a Parking Lot?

"Getting away from it all" is one of the main reasons for travel, and "it all" normally includes work, urban sprawl and the weather. Human Canadians who annually escape the harsh northern winter for sunnier climes are known as "snowbirds," and just like these natives, they always come home to roost. Canadian geese are found all over North America, but their adaptability makes them one of the most recognizable urban birds. Migrating flocks are a common sight in spring and fall, noisy v-shaped formations reflective of the order and free discourse of the Canadian people, and its willingness to stay in queue.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary -Two Millennia of Tradition in Minnesota

Magnificent cathedrals are not only confined to Europe or the great cities of Latin America. North Americans can find similar architectural treasures just around the corner, possibly places of worship they attend weekly or pass by without a deeper appreciation of the landmark's beauty. Lovingly crafted, places of peace and contemplation open to all comers, they share 2000 years of tradition with the more venerable churches of the old world. Such a place is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth, Minnesota.

From its magnificent seat atop the hills overlooking western Lake Superior, the gleaming Italianate-style Roman Catholic cathedral was completed in 1957, and its ministers shepherd the Diocese of Duluth. 

Here is a brief photographic tour; my images can't do the church interior justice.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park - still a place of refuge

We were in Hawai'i for volcanoes, sun and sand. An historic site we'd never heard of was a bit of an afterthought. Wasn't the indigenous stone-age culture, after all, largely pre-historic, even if recent by global standards? What records of the old ways could be left but for a few petroglyphs and the oral tradition? Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park wiped away my preconceptions and was one of the most educational and enjoyable excursions of our Hawai'i vacation.

Located on the southern shore of Honaunau Bay and sprawled over 420 acres, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau is a journey back into Hawaiian antiquity. The site was at once a royal grounds and a place of refuge for losers in war, civilians during wartime and breakers of kapu, or sacred laws (think "taboo"). Breaking kapu was an almost certain death sentence. The perpetrator's only chance was to evade pursuers hot on his heels and make it to the safety of a pu'uhonua (sacred place of refuge) by sea or land. Once there the penitent law-breaker was free to rejoin civil society after a ceremony of absolution performed by the kahuna pule (priest). The visiting Catholic will have a good appreciation of the place.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Picture of the Moment - The Temple of Castor and Pollux, Rome

Built to commemorate victory of the fledgling Roman Republic at the Battle of Lake Regillus (490s BC), the Temple of Castor and Pollux (It. Tempio dei Dioscuri) is located in the Forum of Rome and is one of its prominent landmarks.

The temple was a meeting place for the Roman Senate during the Republican period, and it was rebuilt several times after natural disasters, the last refitting completed in 6 AD by (eventual Emperor) Tiberius. Most of what is visible today is from that last reconstruction. The temple was a treasury building during the imperial period and the office housing the standards of weights and measures, and it had a high podium fronted by a tribunal suitable for public speaking.

Known as the Dioscuri, the gods Castor and Pollux were twin sons of Leda and Jupiter who allegedly appeared to the victors after the legendary battle. I visited here in August, 2013.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I'll Have Some of Umekes' Poke, Mon

Fancy a sashimi salad?

Poke (pronounced POH-kay) is an Hawaiian word simply meaning cut, cubed or sliced, but it's come to refer to bite-size pieces of seasoned raw fish, the Hawaiian take on ceviche. Traditional poke contains reef fish seasoned with anything the native fisherman had handy. Sea salt, limu (seaweed), roasted ground candlenut (kukui), sesame oil, chopped chili peppers, and a dash of soy sauce came to be considered the classic components.

Today, the main ingredient is likely to be meltingly-tender, cubed raw ahi tuna (yellowfin), and contemporary seasonings include avocado aioli, seeds, Maui onions, and just about anything else, reflecting the marriage of many cultures in Hawai'i. The Japanese influence is particularly strong. Poke is often served with a scoop of rice. Now, it's just as often the main dish as it is a pupu (appetizer). As for other other "peasant fare" or street food, poke is a local staple that's entered the pantheon of gourmet cuisine.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Travel Where I Will; the Red Cross Goes Where It's Needed

Hi friends. I am a new Red Cross Social Advocate.

In the Minnesota Red Cross region (where I live), and throughout the American Red Cross in the United States, local social media power supports Red Cross and celebrates the winners of its Heroes Awards. Using our social media networks, we Social Advocates share how the Northern Minnesota Region’s Heroes help others in great times of need. This work promotes the Red Cross' mission to alleviate human suffering in times of crisis, wherever it occurs.

In this travel blog space or on my Facebook page I'll occasionally share this different journey I'm on with the Red Cross. On a global level, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement leads and organizes, in close cooperation with its federated National Societies, relief assistance missions responding to large-scale disasters and everyday humanitarian need. So many parts of the world I've lived or travelled in--or wish to see someday--have benefited from its services, and therefore I have too.

Learn about the ongoing mission of the Red Cross to protect and human life and health at and find your local chapter. I travel where I will for fun and relaxation; the Red Cross goes where it's needed. Take a moment to share the stories of its heroes.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Iron Man of Minnesota

The truth is... I am Iron Man.

And so are several thousand others today, and many more men in the past who worked the iron mines of northern Minnesota. And now there are also many iron women. We've moved from pick and shovel to a high-technology industry of 3D models, high-precision GPS and immense earth-movers, but the spirit is the same. Descendants of the 19th century-immigrant Finns, Italians, and eastern Europeans who fed the forges of American industry still wrest iron from the massive orebodies of the Mesabi Range. And, like the distant blast furnaces that blend the best parts of a combination of raw materials into steel, this unlikely mix of immigrants comprises the distinct culture of the "Rangers."

In the very small town of Chisholm, there is a very large tribute to this bedrock foundation of American steel.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A First Day on O'ahu

Renting a car and exploring at your own pace is the best way to see any of the main islands in Hawai'i. The aloha spirit isn't the polished clockwork of a German village. Behind the tourist facade, many countryside residences are rustic and a little bit weatherbeaten, much like the islands' ancient volcanoes themselves. This is a place where people actually live and pay taxes, not just play in a Disneyfied paradise. And, scheduled excursions are the antithesis of island life. Still, a little planning can maximize your adventure and comfort. 

Honolulu on O'ahu is sprawling, and traffic can be congested. There are a lot of one-way streets, so a GPS or your mobile phone map app will be invaluable. I'll swear the freeway lanes are narrower than I'm used to on the mainland. I was constantly running over the lane-side (warning) rumble strips, which at least kept my wife alert. One good thing, when you leave the city to explore in the morning and return in the afternoon, you will be going against the flow of rush hour traffic.

Maybe this is your first full day in Hawai'i, and you find yourself bright-eyed and ready to go in the darkness of 5:00 am? This was our condition on our first morning. An early morning climb in the crater of Diamond Head was the perfect way to offset the effects of jet lag.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - North Country Lottery

It's cold for much of the year in northern Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest. Even the 4th of July can be sweater weather any given year. If you're going to live here you have to embrace the climate and have a little fun with it.

An annual tradition all over the Northland is to bet on when some oversize hardware will break through the ice of a local lake with the onset of spring, an event that may seem overly optimistic in January. The proceeds usually benefit a local charity. Springtime visitors to the region should keep a look-out for large objects randomly sitting atop open ice just off the shoreline of lakeside civic parks. And in the land of 10,000 lakes, just about every town has a lakeside civic park.

In Minnesota, May showers bring June flowers. Did the lake ever actually thaw after the 2014 polar vortex? I half-wondered as I photographed this sign in March, 2015. But soon small towns and large all across lake country will raffle a full slot of guesses on the day, hour and minute of breakthrough. Prizes may be modest, but there is such a thing as "bragging rights."There are no statistics on the prevalence of sabotage, but a grenade and "tomorrow at 3:30 am" crossed my mind..

As an aside, Valentini's Supper Club in Chisholm is the place for a good, family Italian meal in northern Minnesota.

This isn't an ice fisherman parked on a small lake (by Eveleth), and the ice isn't thin in March. Someday soon though, this pickup itself will need to be fished out. The time-honored approach is a rusty old junker that's been stripped of its engine. Even minus the oil and transmission fluid, such recycled entertainment isn't likely to be sanctioned by the Sierra Club. Most hand-wringers don't have much sense of fun anyway.

A giant bobber may be creative, but the sudden sinking of a truck is dramatic. How many tourists have happened across such scenes while it's being dragged out and stuck around in hopes to see a body? So I'll see the same truck in the same place next year, maybe a little rustier. But first comes fishing season.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sculpture by the Sea - Photo Essay

Some beach-side castles aren't made of sand.

Sculpture by the Sea is an annual arts exhibition on Cottesloe Beach, perhaps the most popular beach near Perth, Western Australia. It is a companion event to an annual exhibition that began on the other side of Australia in 1996, on Bondi Beach near Sydney. 

Every year, more than 70 local and international artists transform Perth's most popular beach into a world-class sculpture park. The displays--the world's largest free-to-the-public sculpture exhibition--are a March tradition for residents of Perth since 2005, attracting nearly 100,000 visitors in 2014. There are even more avian tourists, as thousands--perhaps tens of thousands--of raucous rainbow lorikeets flock to the stately norfolk pines overlooking the beach each evening to watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean.

My kids enjoyed visits to the beachside sculpture park between 2008 and 2010. It was their first introduction to the arts, as it is for many families. Many of the pieces are tactile and interactive, and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Aloha in a Cup

Can a frozen treat thaw out a cold heart? At Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha, you'll learn that it can and that the Hawaiian "aloha" means so much more than just hello or goodbye.

Shaved--not crushed--for a snow-like consistency, so it can absorb flavored syrups, shave ice originated in Japan but is now the iconic Hawaiian confection. Stands or shops can be found on nearly every corner,  Traditional Hawaiian shave ice is served in a cup with one or more flavors (three is a popular number) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or azuki bean paste beneath the ice, possibly topped with sweetened condensed milk. But you can have it served any way you want it. Kids will want to stop at every venue.

I tried the shave ice at several places that locals said were the best for that part of Hawai'i--the Low Store in Pepeekeo near Hilo, Scandinavian Shave Ice in Kailua-Kona (Scandi's), and the Magoo's truck in Diamondhead Crater. All of them were very good, but one place stands far above the rest, Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (HOPA). I can say unequivocally Uncle Clay's makes the best shave ice in Hawai'i, and since Hawai'i is the global ground zero for this treat...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - Sunsets at Kailua-Kona and Waikiki.

Twilight is my favorite time of day, and the sun setting in the islands is a sublime pleasure. At times like this, you don't need to own a yacht--or even be on one--to enjoy it. Where were favorite sunsets from your own travels?

Kailua Kona. Sunset is even better than the famous coffee here.
Twilight on Waikiki, and adventure continues unabated in Hawaii.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Going Nuts for Macadamias on Hawaii

Macadamia Nuts are native to Australia, but the first large-scale commercial plantations were Hawaiian. Now the nut is nearly synonymous with The Aloha State. Sure, other search engines may have started up before Google, but no-one ever says they need to "yahoo" something. Such is the cultural association of the macadamia nut with Hawaii. Australia was left kind of like that guy who gives away an old painting from his attic that later turns out to be the lost work of a master. 

And if the nut is now identified with Hawaii, so too Hawaiian macadamias are identified with Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation. There are other plantations to be sure; actress Roseanne Barr owns one near Kona, and I had very good samples from Hamakua, but I wasn't in Hawaii to experience Rosie's nuts. I wanted to see where that product came from when I first discovered macadamia nuts as a kid.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pictures of the Moment - Missouri Mantis

A praying mantis in the footsteps of Douglas MacArthur has no appreciation for history. Does that make him much different than most other tourists?

We saw this Carolina mantis (Stagomantis carolina) sunning on the teak deck of the Battleship U.S.S. Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Whereas, below-decks he'd be in Missouri, at Hawaii. Like much of the wildlife in Hawaii today, this accidental tourist is most likely the descendant of a stowaway. He won't get far on the Missouri.

It is curious so many people are attracted to mantids, even to the point of holding them gently. Shorten that thorax (the connection between the legs and the abdomen) and forelegs and you have his cousin the cockroach, maybe a scream, and an uncontrollable desire to squash. Our response is much like a lover of lobster turning up his nose at fried grasshoppers.

But voracious mantids eat a lot of insect pests. We can forgive them for not being discriminating and eating their beneficial cousins too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Travelon Waterproof Phone Pouch - a review

How many times in the not-too-distant past have I bought those disposable underwater cameras, only to be disappointed after snapping a roll of film at some tropical dive paradise? It used to be my annual donation to Kodak. All 24 exposures would be a uniform shade of watered-down teal, with some shadowy objects that might have been fish. I had better results photographing the radar-like display of my father's fish finder. 

Now that I have a smartphone and there are commercially-reasonable protective accessories for under water, technology caught up enough for me to try simple point-and-shoot underwater photography again. Prior to our recent trip to Hawaii, Santa gave me the Travelon waterproof phone pouch, which conveniently retails for USD$10 at Eddie Bauer for those on the naughty list. I'll qualify the review below by stating I have no relationship with the manufacturer, and I expect they'd only reach out to a blog that garners 30 views per day (on average) in an act of desperation.