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!

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Hey Dorothy! We’re in Kansas!

11 05 2015

It’s Monday in the mid-west and today we are another almost 1,100 miles older and wiser. We are in Dorothy’s Kansas, and look, there’s even a rest stop along the side of the Interstate reserved for Toto to go do his business!

"Hydrant non-functional"??? But... what if there's a fire?

“Hydrant non-functional”??? But… what if there’s a fire?

So we arrived safe in Topeka after braving weather phenomena rarely seen in parts east. Indiana, Illinois and Missouri (and probably Kansas and Nebraska and Oklahoma) are weather central for powerful forces of nature that – when experienced – make you actually believe a little girl’s weirdo story about a tornado and a place called Oz.

In fact, driving along US36 westbound yesterday into a wall of black, an automated weather report broke into regular radio programming. It warned of tornadoes in Counties X, Y and Z, and that a “severe and damaging thunderstorm” had just passed the town of A, heading northwestward on a direct path to the town of B. Clueless as I was and having never actually set foot in Missouri before, I picked up our Rand Mcnally 2015 Road Atlas (a.k.a. the bible of all road-trips) and attempted to locate the affected areas.

To my shock I realized that we were headed straight through them.

Wow.

I suppose this should have been a dead giveaway….

What happened next (with the wipers on high speed) looked like this.

Whoa.

Whoa.

So that’s what it feels like when a storm passes through around here. OK, I get it now.

(You know, you sit on your sofa in Boston or Philadelphia or someplace and watch this stuff on the evening TV news and wonder what all the fuss is about. Actually traveling through something like that can be rather unsettling if not downright terrifying.)

But this story has a happy ending. Waiting for us on the other side were….

xxxx

… a chilled drink…

xxxxx

… and a hot grill.

Nothing like a well-earned pit-stop with great old friends, fantastic local grass-fed beef and some strong liquor to take the edge off.

After all she went through, Dorothy probably also could have used a shot or two.





The THINGS take Switzerland

1 03 2012

A couple of weeks ago, some visitors decided to stop by. The timing wasn’t great because I had just started my new job and am also attending university courses for the first time in 20 years. That double whammy had me going to bed at 9pm every night for the first two weeks because I was simply exhausted.

The THINGS, as they are known, belong to my only good Canadian friend, the lovely and hilarious Ironic Mom. She is sending them around the world in place of her 7-year-old twins. (Though I’m sure that on some days she would have been quite happy to send the twins.) On their Excellent Adventure, which started last summer, they have already criss-crossed the United States and Zurich was the first stop on the European leg of their tour.

In addition to my new job, we were in the middle of an incredible cold snap, with daytime high temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius (3 degrees F for you Fahrenheit types). So flying and rollerblading – my staple activities when the weather cooperates – were simply out of the question. Actually, anything that required leaving a heated building was rather painful and not recommended.

(Maybe they can stop back here in the summer?)

Other hosts have been very creative with their blog entries about the THINGS’ visit – writing in rhymes and singing in harmonies – I’m afraid all I can offer is a few photos of nothing special in the land of cows and chocolate.

"We’re here!"

"Geez. Looks cold out there."

"SH*T. It IS cold out here."

"Want to go for a hike?" "No thanks, not today."

So to escape Switzerland’s harshest winter in three decades (and as a warmer alternative to any outdoor sports activity), we went to the gym. The THINGS hid in my locker until they realized that it was ME that would be working out… that they were just along for the ride.

"Get out of there, you two."

On the rowing machine…

…the bouncy gym ball…

…and the crosstrainer.

We did venture out into the city one day, and made some more friends (animal and human) in the department store’s extensive Switzerland souvenir department.

"Moo."

… as the salespeople wondered what the hell they were doing climbing into the souvenir kiddie mugs.

To end their visit we made one last stop, at the world-famous Spruengli chocolate store. After all, what do Swiss people need all those cows for, anyway? Because they are the world’s largest per capita consumers of chocolate!

The THINGS knew this, but had to wait till their final day here to partake in the experience.

"Yum, look at all those chocolate cakes..."

"...and the pyramids of macaroons."

The THINGS got enough of the “food of the Gods” to last them till they arrive at the next stop on their world tour. (Trust me.) They are off to the UK next, where I’m hoping Spring has sprung and they get to spend more time outdoors. Watch for further installments of their Excellent Adventure on www.ironicmom.com.

Meantime… I have to get back to my new job.

Shoes definitely NOT made for walking.





Autumn in August

7 08 2011

First came the rain.

For what seems like weeks, the heavens have opened up and drenched us here in central Europe. It seems 2011 went straight from Spring to Autumn, skipping what we usually call “Summer.” We have had the choice of either temperatures far below normal, or torrential downpours, or both. Last night another thunderstorm passed overhead.

The view from here.

The weather had put a severe cramp in my flying schedule, making me wonder when (or even ..if?) I would be able to start in on those hours that I need as pilot-in-command to keep current. The fun flying window in these latitudes lasts about four months in total, unless you are lucky and get a oh-so-rare clear, crisp day sometime in January.

So I planned a weekend flight. An early Saturday morning check of the aviation weather forecast had me in a good mood for the first time in days. Blue sky and sunshine as far as the eye could see. Summer! And I’m going flying! Yay! The webcam at my home airfield, located atop a high plateau in north-central Switzerland, showed it bathed in warm morning light – it would be a beautiful day for my checkride. And maybe I’d even have some time to play.

On the 45-minute drive to the airfield across the rolling hills of the Swiss midlands, I passed through fog banks, thick and juicy as the pea soup we usually deal with from October to March. At times I could barely see a few hundred feet ahead of me.

But there was none of that at the field, the rolling clouds below seemed to be on their way to other climes, or dissipating, just like the forecast said.

Paperwork, briefings, a last look at the METARs and TAFs before heading out for the pre-flight check. The fickle weather had forced me to minimally re-think our route, but it looked like we were all set for a glorious morning airborne. Just a quick fuel top-up and we’d be off.

We pulled up to the gas station, the first customers of the day. And a glance around to our six-o’clock told the story.

The light easterly breeze pulled in – you guessed it – the fog that had followed me all the way from Zurich. Within minutes the field was shrouded in a milky grey mist, the grass strip completely invisible from my vantage point atop a stepladder near the right wing, stinky fuel pump in hand.

So I filled ‘er up and waited.

And then I waited some more.

After about an hour of waiting, the sun pushed through a hole in the misty veil for a brief moment – too little time to get sorted and get out. And there was a second question that would remain unanswered this morning – even if we did get out… how would we get back in? It’s tough looking for a grass strip hiding beneath a thick, tenacious layer of fog. Not to mention more or less illegal with my rating.

And then… it started raining again.