First Flight

26 07 2015

In the event of am earthquake, the safest place to be is… in the air. (Right?)

So, it’s about time I went flying again.

A first flight in a new place is always really special. The anticipation of going somewhere you have never been, figuring out airspace particulars (for one’s own safety and to keep the authorities at bay) and to experience what aviators native to this corner of the world also experience. Every place is a little different. The procedures are basically the same wherever you go, but the details are what make flying in a new location a challenging, learning and thrilling experience.

The pledge I made to myself when I earned my pilot’s license 14 years ago was this:

  • I will always fly for fun, and fun only.
  • I will not fly if it is work, or requires more risk-assessment, concentration and thought than chopping an onion.
  • I will only fly for pleasure, and in good weather.
  • I will only fly when the conditions promise something so spectacular that I forget how to describe it in words.

Since then, I have operated small aircraft as pilot-in-command in seven countries. Within the United States I have flown in the Northeast and in Florida. This week I played in the sky on the west coast for the first time.

And whenever I get back into the cockpit after a few weeks away, the tower clears me for takeoff and I line up on the runway, the great big numbers and a clear blue sky in front of me… I always wonder… “What took me so long?”

Bay Bridge.

Bay Bridge.

xxxxx

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.

The Golden Gate Bridge in the afternoon.

Golden Gate Bridge with a view to the City.

Financial District up close.

Financial District.

The City between spinning propeller blades.

Mission accomplished, pledge fulfilled, again.

Advertisements




Reason #6 for moving to the Bay Area

10 06 2015

Moving to the Bay Area took a big leap of faith on my part. I left the Northeast, the part of the country I was most familiar with before this. Even though I was born in South Florida and technically I have only spent less than one third of my life actually physically in the United States, it was the Northeast with which I most closely identified. My family held season tickets for the Philadelphia Flyers (1985-87), I grew up saying “wooder” (water) and anything west of Pittsburgh and south of Washington DC was a great big black hole for me.

But my husband, a citizen of a country that is not the United States, who fell in love with the West during a previous life as an adventure guide for European tourists, opened my eyes to the wonder, beauty and possibility of this part of the country almost exactly eight years ago this week. It was our first big trip as a couple, a little more than a year after we had met…. a road-trip through the southwest, starting in Los Angeles, snaking through all of the highlights like Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Las Vegas, Death Valley, and ending in the Bay Area. That’s when we started preliminary discussions on the possibility of moving here for good, at some undetermined moment in the future.

So now we are here, in our house and getting to know our new community. To help assimilate and acclimatize, I am compiling a list of reasons it’s nice to live here. I’m only up to about 6 so far (we have only been here 2 weeks), but yesterday added a pretty significant one: Day-trip to Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome.

Half Dome.

Okay, so it is kind of far for a day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area (about 170 miles / 270 kilometers each way), but it’s possible and that’s the main thing. R. and I packed some sandwiches, fruit and water and headed into the hills. It was the hottest day of the year so far (103 degrees F / 39 degrees C) but we still managed two hikes that included some significant elevation changes.

Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite remains in my “Top five places to see in the United States” and I continue to be stunned by its breathtaking beauty, even after visiting it several times in the past couple of years. The views just never get old.

IMG_4377_1

From the bridge below Vernal Falls.

Vernal Falls.

So yes, I think I’m acclimatizing well to my new surroundings out here on the left coast. It’s not a black hole after all.





From sea to shining sea

1 06 2015

We made it.

Our coast-to-coast road trip, planned by master travel planner R. (his website will be ready soon and please do think about using his expert services the next time you are planning a US road-trip…), took us through 18 states and one Canadian province, on a not-so-direct route from the Fort Point Channel in Boston to the San Francisco Bay, from lobster-crazed New England to drought-parched California, from the worst winter in recorded history to a climate that we think we just might enjoy more.

It was an epic journey, and not only because we ran out of gas on the New York Thruway in the middle of the night. We saw so much. And we saw so much beauty, and so many contrasts and contradictions. We experienced kindness and shared meals with great old friends. We drove 90 miles per hour on the Interstate in some places, and stopped for something unique and singular, not found anywhere else, in others. We learned about this country in a way that is only possible when you travel across it on the ground rather than 33,000 feet up in the air.

Where we started: Downtown Boston.

Where we started: Downtown Boston.

Where we finish: San Francisco.

Where we finish: San Francisco.

Now it’s time to get our act together to make ourselves comfortable in our new home (photos to come of course). But before we move on to the mundane details of setting up house in the suburbs (and looking for a job… that’s kind of not mundane…) here is our road-trip by the numbers:

Miles/kilometers driven: 5,435/8,750

Gallons/liters of gas used: 211/836

National Parks visited: 6

Speeding tickets received: 0

Times we got stuck and had to call AAA: 1

Days it rained at least once: 16

Days we drove into severe thunderstorms/hail/snow: 4/2/2

Breakfast bagels: 8

Beef dinners (burgers, steaks, sandwiches): 8

Meals at Denny’s: 3

Hotel hot tubs used: 4

OK, we are off to buy a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, and a grill for our back terrace. I can smell the barbecue already!





Ramping up for NaNoWriMo 2011

30 10 2011

Astute readers of my last post will have read, close to the bottom, a word that they probably have never seen or heard before: NaNoWriMo.

Don’t worry about it, 10 days ago I had never heard of this word either. But that was before I went to a writers’ conference, where each of the 800 participants was talking about it like it was some kind of holy grail.

Nano what? Nanotechnology? No, that’s something different. Nanoseconds? Uh-uh.

NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month,” also known as “November”. The movement was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area (where most of the world’s great, innovative and ground-breaking things tend to be founded) 12 years ago as a challenge to get people to sit down and write. Just write. Not edit, or research, or read, or rewrite, but WRITE.

Yup, I'm in!

The goal is to put 50,000 words down on paper (or a computer screen) during the 30 days of the month. For those who are wondering, that is a tall order, even for folks who do this kind of thing all the time. Sure I can bang out a blog post of 400-600 words in maybe an hour or so.  But NaNoWriMo will demand a much higher level of proliferation (folks also sometimes call this “verbal diarrhea” or “literary vomit”) and most of all, discipline.

50,000 words means a daily tally of 1,667 words, for 30 days straight. That is more than three blog posts. Every day.

That is like running a marathon each day for a month. I would be pretty sick and tired of running after that, I think. Of course, my hips and knees will have called a strike halfway through.

I’m sure by the end of November, I will be sick and tired of words, and my computer screen, and my keyboard, and that damn voice in my head, and that devil sitting on my shoulder. Am hoping my fingers, wrists and nerves survive to see the end of it too.

But the good thing about NaNoWriMo is exactly that – the deadlines, the pressure, and not wanting to give up because nobody wants to be a quitter.

The organizers have a great website with motivational strategies to fight the beast that will beset each and every one of us sooner or later…. the beast called: “There-Are-A-Million-Other-Things-I-Must-Do-Right-This-Very-Second-That-Just-Can’t-Wait”. Organized write-ins will up the peer pressure and make sure participants are not just staring at a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen for three hours a day.

The Zurich write-ins are at a local Starbucks. I see my caffeine intake peaking.

By virtue of the fact that I am telling you about this means I am making a silent and solemn pledge that I will finish the project to the best of my ability. And I’m basically unemployed now, so hey, I have the time. Maybe I could cheat and include blog posts in the 50,000 word total. In the end, I think any sort of writing is accepted by the kind folks in Berkeley. They are a tolerant people.

So for the next 48 hours I will go away and mentally prepare myself for my month of marathons. I have no idea yet what I will write, or about whom. In any case, at the end of it, I will be 50,000 words and one fascinating life experience richer. What I do with all that remains to be seen.





Whale-watching – sans whales.

20 10 2011

After suffering a professional assault too complicated and sordid to describe here (I will, one day, when I have fully digested it, and spent all the money they threw at me to keep quiet), R. and I decided to get outta Dodge.

Actually our trip to the Left Coast had been planned for a while (like, a week). We felt like we needed some California fresh air before the next dark Swiss winter puts us in a deep-freeze. The fact that my unexpected and untimely departure from my high-power, high-paying, high-profile and high-risk-of-falling-into-disfavor job just happened be on the day before our flight was to depart from ZRH to SFO was, well, a coincidence.

A hint of San Francisco is enough to make anyone positively sick with longing. A few days of wandering the streets and tasting the freedom and you have to pry me from the Golden Gate Bridge, finger by finger.

Paradise, no? Close?

But the highlight of this trip was to be whale-watching in Monterey Bay, about 2 hours south of the City. Monterey is on many peoples’ bucket lists, and migrating whales seem to like the place too. It’s apparently one of just a few locations along the coast where some species of the sea mammal can be seen any time of the year. So we booked ourselves into a 120-year-old bed-and-breakfast and decided to go whale watching.

The day we arrived in town, a brilliant blue sky greeted us. Hundreds of sea lions, comfortably lounging on buoys, breakwaters and the shoreline, barked their welcome. Seagulls the size of turkeys populated the piers and coveted our dinner. Towards the southeast, a wall of fog seemed far too far away to do any damage.

The next morning, we could barely see 50 feet (30 meters) and the temperature had dropped a good 30 degrees F (16 degrees C).

But the intrepid will not be hindered by a little fog and a lot of cold, especially not here in California. (Right?)

40 bucks a head and we boarded the Princess Monterey, headed for the open sea. The outing started promising enough, with dolphins emerging from the grey-in-grey ocean just barely after we left the harbor… The pre-game show had begun. More dolphins, with a couple of sea lions in the mix for good measure. Awww… look at them play… aren’t they cute?

A dolphin, not a shark. (Or a whale.)

Okay, great. ‘Nuf dolphins. Where are the stars? The reason we all came out here in the first place! The giants of the ocean! The magical creatures of the deep! The largest mammals on earth!

Nowhere to be seen. It was like they all got together and decided Tuesday was their day off.

They are unionized, after all.

Three hours later, 40 tourists aboard the Princess Monterey chugged back into harbor – disappointed, freezing and seasick. R. resented having been captive aboard a vessel with a bunch of strangers whose behavior and noise level he could not control. Including the woman whose slobbering, sniffing and severely shedding hound the size of a pony pulled her around the boat. Repeatedly.

(Why would you take a dog whale-watching?)

So much for connecting with nature and learning about sea-life. Sayonara 80 dollars.

When we got back to our car, an acutely observant meter maid provided the perfect end to a miserable day. 35 more dollars for an expired parking meter (by 16 minutes).

Okay, I’ve had enough. Time to go back to San Francisco.





Keys to a great Roadtrip

14 05 2011

As R. and I prepare for our next legendary roadtrip through the western USA, I have been thinking about the couple of things that turn a good roadtrip into a great roadtrip.

Last time we were underway, in September 2010, we covered more than 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers). We did a loop in the northwest, starting in San Francisco and going all the way out to Yellowstone National Park and back, with a bunch of stops in between. If we would have driven straight, we would have covered the ground between San Francisco and Boston. A cross-country trip in a circle, so to speak.

This time we are keeping south, with visits to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park and much, much more. Thanks to R.’s meticulous organziation skills, we have hotel reservations in every scheduled overnight stop, and our route has been planned down to the timing of our pit stops.

A favorite place of mine: Bryce Canyon.

So here are my personal top five ingredients for a great roadtrip:

1) A decent car, preferably something large like a van or an SUV – It is a gas-guzzler (20 mpg on a good day) but the driving comfort and sitting high up above the street is really priceless. And I can handle the bad conscience of driving one of these behemoths of the road when I’m on vacation because at home I am very conscious of my carbon footprint and I drive a smart.

2) The Rand McNally Road Atlas – SO much to see and learn on every page. Just following one’s progress on the map reveals so much about the country, its treasures and of course its size. There is a lot of beautiful ground to cover out there.

3) Satellite Radio – This is the absolute truth: Nowhere in the world are the radio stations as good as they are in the United States. In every city and every region you will find radio for every taste, political persuasion and mood. But the absolute key to great entertainment underway is satellite radio. Top three Sirius XM stations in my book: “70’s on 7”, “80’s on 8”, “The Bridge” on channel 32 and “Margaritaville” on channel 24.

4) Spectacular scenery – Of course, no roadtrip is worth going on if there is nothing to see. And, like the radio stations, no country offers more geographical and scenic variety (and beauty) than this great land of ours. Trust me on this one. (And then take another look at that photo above.)

5) Compatible roadtrip partner(s) – So that the quibbles about the temperature inside the car, the music and whether or not you are on the correct road or making a seven-hour detour won’t turn into World War 3. The last thing you want is for a roadtrip to turn into mutual road rage, especially when you have a whole bunch of miles to go together.





Surprises on the road

17 09 2010

We just got back from another epic journey in the American west. Jetlag has attacked with a vengeance (I am having more and more trouble with him as I get older, it seems), and I am up at all sorts of ungodly hours, writing. But I have to say that we had a grand time – as expected. It was also a learning experience, my second such educational tour in the western part of my own country. There is so much to discover out there and I am sure I haven’t learned nearly all I want to know.

So I decided to compile a list of things I didn’t know before I went, as well as vignettes and facts that surprised me during the 12 days we traveled through northern California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada. Maybe you were ignorant of these as well (but probably not).

If only I could put all my cool experiences in a box and take them with me everywhere, to open and enjoy whenever I want to.

Here is my list of interesting & fun stuff (in no particular order):

  • There is a lot of desert in Oregon.
  • There is a sign at the side of the road whenever you cross into a new time zone.
  • Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park blows every 93 minutes, like clockwork. Almost.
  • San Franciscans have thoroughly embraced the Smart car.
  • Bison can swim?

"Yes we can!"

  • Buffalo wings have nothing to do with these buffalo because they come from Buffalo, New York.
  • The LDS-church temple in downtown Salt Lake City (from which non-LDS-believers are banned) is pretty small. And downright insignificant when you compare it to many European cathedrals built 600 (or more) years ago.
  • A Jeep Grand Cherokee is also called a “Laredo.”
  • New quarters will be minted with motifs of the national parks, in the order in which they were established. Yellowstone (founded in 1872) is the first to be commemorated on the back of a quarter – and I have one.
  • Coast Redwoods can get to be 2,400 years old.
  • While looking for change in my wallet at a Starbucks in Bend, Oregon, the Barista told me, “Sorry, we don’t take Euros.”
  • There is actually a place called “Jackpot” in Nevada.
  • There are many onions in Idaho.
  • Sarah Palin was born in Idaho.
  • West Yellowstone, Montana is the self-declared “Snowmobile Capital of the World.”
  • It takes eight hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Reno, Nevada (520 miles / 800 km), across a whole lot of nothing.
  • If you come to live in San Francisco, you will never leave. As a friend put it so aptly: “How can you be miserable in such a beautiful place?”

She's right, you know.