Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Wheel of Misfortune (or, why I regret staying at the Hilton Waikoloa Village)

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

It’s 11:45 pm, and this is the scene outside my hotel room right now:

The Hilton is hosting a Wheel of Fortune taping, and my room is unfortunately right near the set. The crowd is cheering, shrieking, and generally whooping it up. I am a lowly guest in the hotel, so the taping will go on until “sometime soon, but they should be wrapped up by midnight.”

Why, oh why, Hilton, couldn’t you give my room to a cast or crew member, and give me a quiet room near the business meeting I was attending?

Tête au Carré (the “blockhead building”) in Nice

Friday, September 12th, 2008

I’ve saved the best photos of Nice for last. Next to the conference center stands Sacha Sosno’s Tête au Carré, though most of the English-speaking engineers at the TCG meeting referred to it as the “blockhead building.” It’s apparently the administration building for the public library system in Nice, but it has to be the oddest-looking library administration building ever. Really, where else have you seen an 80-foot-tall square head?

In black and white, at sunset. The face looks across the street towards the convention center:

In color, to capture the flower beds in the nearby park:

Capoeira on Cours Saleya (and other street performances in Nice)

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

One of the joys of eating at restaurants on Cours Saleya in Nice is that it was a focal point for much of the open-air street theater and entertainment. A Brazilian capoeira troupe performed one evening, holding athletic poses I can only dream of, like this one:

After one set, a performer gave a short lesson to a visiting child:

One of the performers flipped down a long stretch of Cours Saleya, head over heels:

With a long distance to build up speed on the return, he vaulted over a line held about six feet in the air. (As an interesting aside, I think Henri Matisse lived in the tan building in the right background of this photo.)

After dinner, I wandered around Vieux Nice, and found an informal concert near Glacier Fenocchio at 2 Place Rossetti. Place Rossetti was the site of my favorite moment in Nice. I was visiting during the Euro 2008 Cup tournament, and Spain and Russia were battling in a scoreless game as I approached Place Rossetti. Suddenly, a roar went up and the ground shook from cheering. The shock was enough to set off car alarms. Spain had scored to take the lead against Russia, and the people in Nice were cheering on Spain almost unanimously.

In the background of the photo is the lit bell tower Cathédrale Sainte Réparate, which makes a stunning background for an open-air concert.

Just as with street performances the world over, the concert ended with a hat being passed around to collect donations.

The port of Nice

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Colline du Château is between Vieux Nice to the west and the port of Nice to the east. One night, I ate dinner near the port, and couldn’t resist taking a photo of the scrambled departure board:

The port is sheltered from the sea by a long jetty that juts out into the harbor. Protecting the ships is necessary, and I couldn’t help but notice that the ships moored came from all across the world and flew many different flags. This photo was taken from the jetty facing Colline du Château. The massive monument in the background is a memorial to the war dead of Nice.

Eglise Notre Dame du Port is located at the edge of the harbor. It’s one of the smaller churches in Nice, and was unfortunately closed by dinner time.

Colline du Château, Nice

Monday, September 8th, 2008

The early settlement of Nice occurred on a rocky outcrop next to what is now the old town. Colline du Château (“Castle Hill” in English) offers sweeping panoramic views of the city, its shoreline, and the deep blue sea. Steps away from the beach lies Cours Saleya, a traditional square lined with cafes and shops, and a daily flower market. In this photo, Cours Saleya is the diagonal area with colored awnings sheltering the flower shops.

From Colline du Château, Vieux Nice stands out from the rest of the city because of its orange roof tiles, which are a visually striking contrast to the nearby sea.

There are many places to look out over the city from the hill. This shot shows a view over the Promenade des Anglais.

Vieux Nice

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

In June, after being in England and visiting Stonehenge on the summer solstice, I went to Nice, France for a Trusted Computing Group meeting.

After arriving, one of the first things I did was head for View Nice, the old part of town. Old city districts are easy to explore on foot. As one book I read several years ago put it, cities reflect the dominant form of transportation used at their construction. Walking means you get crowded districts with small paths, like Jerusalem. Horse riding leads to wider streets but often in a jumble, like Boston. Finally, by the time the car comes along, you get wide streets all intersecting at right angles with excellent visibility for drivers. In other words, you get Los Angeles.

Old city districts are built around foot transportation, and they have a small scale that really helps me as a photographer. It’s easier to fit a lot of action into a frame without using a super-wide angle lens, and it’s easy to move around. Vieux Nice is no exception. Here’s the bustle on one of the main roads leading in:

One of the challenges walking around Vieux Nice was the lack of street signs. There were, however, several plaques commemorating French citizens who fought in previous wars. I was particularly struck by this plaque, which recognizes a young man executed by the Nazis at the age of seventeen:

Streets in Vieux Nice are narrow, even for pedestrians. Here’s a typical street size, and the width on offer shrinks even farther when cafe tables or shop displays are put out in the street.

In spite of the narrow streets, there were a few cars that wandered the cramped streets of Vieux Nice. Here’s a tiny car trying to make its way by a pedestrian who seemed perfectly content to walk in the middle of the street.

However, the prize for showing how difficult driving in the old city came one night as I was dining at Nissa Socca. It’s a bit off the beaten path, on Rue Ste.-Réparate. As I was sitting outside, a Smart car crawled by and made a turn off the “big” street of Rue Ste.-Réparate on to a much smaller side street. At the right edge of this picture, you can see the small street, barely bigger than an alley. In fact, to make the turn, the Smart had to attempt it a couple of times and back up to get a better angle.

Just for fun, I grabbed a picture of the Smart after it made it into the alley. Smarts are tiny cars, and yet the small size of the streets in Vieux Nice required it to make multi-point turns.

The 2008 Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Nearly two months ago, I happened to be in the UK for the summer solstice. English Heritage allows access into the inner stone circle four times a year. (Most of the rest of the time, including my visit in April, visitors must stay behind a rope.)

The first hint that it’s a huge event comes when you get near Stonehenge and notice all the signs for the solstice car park. I was one of the first cars into the car park, as you can see from the long line of cars extending into the distance here.

At 8 pm, access to the stone circle itself opened. There were several people in various costumes and garb. One of my favorites was this wizard hat.

Unlike my previous visit, the crowd was able to get up close to the stones, which is an electric feeling. The audio tour describes all the mysteries of the site, but you don’t really appreciate how massive the stones are until you start walking among them.

There is a small gateway composed of a pair of small pillars sticking up. Many people walked through the gateway.

Even though the terms of access to the site asked visitors not to touch the stones, it was an irresistable temptation for many people.

As many of the earlier visitors were walking in, a group called the Stonehenge Druids formed a procession and was playing bagpipes. Although I entered the site about the same time as the Druids, the physical exertion of producing music from the bagpipes meant they were walking much slower. The bagpipe players had some of the best cloaks at the celebration.

Around sunset, the Stonehenge Druids ran a short ritual, drawing a huge crowd into the center circle. A drum circle formed in the center afterwards, and the crowd settled in for the night. The weather was cold and rainy, and the ground was quite wet. At one point, I retreated to the car in the car park to take a nap. (As an aside, the absolute worst way ever to deal with jet lag is to stay up all night a few days after you arrive in the country.)

About 3 am, a few torches appeared in the distance near the Heel Stone. I didn’t expect much to come of it, since fire had also been forbidden. I wish I had headed towards the torches a bit faster, since the early-morning ritual was a well-done high-energy performance. It started with a group of dancers around a huge skull object.

Many of the participants in this late-night/early-morning ritual had fantastic costumes. My favorite was a torch-holder who had a moon-shaped mask. From the back, the moon face grinned. From the front, his face was painted to look like a skull. (In this picture, you can clearly see that the rain has picked up.)

As the crowd got into the ritual, somebody fired a green laser into the night sky.

The final act of the 3 am ritual was a belly dancer, who unfortunately concentrated on the other side of the cordoned-off area. (For a laugh, note that the man in the high-visibility vest is holding the crowd back. Follow his eyes towards the dancer.)

As the sun rose, the sky was still cloudy. Sunrise was indistinct, and hardly noticeable through the thick clouds. The crowd once again gathered in the center circle. At the small scale of this photo, it’s hard to see just how tightly packed the crowd is.

After the light had risen higher up in the sky, the 20,000 attendees filed back out to the car park. I went back to my hotel and slept for a few hours before moving on to my next airport. For the next week of the trip, my sleep pattern was disrupted. If I were to attend a Stonehenge open site again, I would try and arrive in the country a bit earlier.

Airport security, done right

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I often travel with a tripod because it is absolutely necessary to capture stunning night images, like the night shot from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, tripods usually feel like they’re in a gray area as far as airport security goes. Most countries have a catch-all category where “anything that’s not on the list that the screener says is a threat to security can be stopped.”

I recently attended a Trusted Computing Group meeting in Nice, France. When I wasn’t working, the food was astounding and the photography was simply amazing. Provence is blessed with some of the best light I’ve ever seen, and colors pop like nowhere else I have visited.

Unfortunately, when it came time to leave Nice, the airport security screener decided that my tripod represented a threat to French aviation security and required that I check my bag of photographic equipment. I was surprised by this because I have visited a dozen airports in Europe in the past year, all of which have allowed my tripod in cabin luggage. I had a bit of heartburn checking my camera equipment just before the bag cut-off, knowing that I would have to fetch it at baggage claim at Heathrow (if it even arrived).

When I returned home, I wrote a letter to the Nice airport requesting clarification on whether my photographic equipment was allowed. I mailed my letter just after the July 4 holiday. For good measure, I sent a similar letter to the Nice convention and visitor’s group. One of the main draws to Provence is the scenery, and clamping down on serious photography could potentially affect tourism.

Much to my amazement, I received a letter back from the airport today:

The key paragraph of the letter is the second to last one, which reads (in the original French):

Suite à votre lettre, nous avons réuni les services compétents de l’Etat, et il a été décidé d’assouplir ces mesures. Nous allons donc demander aux agents de Sûreté de ne plus retire les trépieds d’appareil photos. Vous pourrez donc emporter votre trépied en cabine lors de votre prochain voyage à partir de l’aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur.

My rough translation of this is:

After your letter, we have met with the relevant government officials, and have decided to change our security measures. We will ask that security agents no longer stop tripods and photographic equipment. On your next trip from the Nice Côte d’Azur airport, you may take your tripod in your cabin luggage.

A few thoughts on the letter I received:

  • My response appears to be personal and is in no way a form letter. It directly addresses my comments on the security experience and the questions I asked.
  • I received a response in less than three weeks, which included the French national holiday and two trans-Atlantic mail deliveries. I don’t think I’ve ever received a response to a complaint from a government body in the U.S. in just three weeks.
  • French airport officials have changed their policies based on traveler feedback! (And a foreign traveler, no less.) I can think of at least one airport security agency that doesn’t care what travelers think.
  • I once wrote to the Transportation Security Administration because I had a question on whether my rugged internal-frame backpack would be allowed on airplanes. I began my letter with a statement to the effect of “I have a question about whether an item that is not mentioned on the TSA’s lists…” The response was to send me the same list that I had written about, and indeed, the list about which I was seeking clarification.
  • When can I go back to Nice?

The Wi-Fi Summer 2008 meeting social

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Sven Mesecke arranged for his employer, Buffalo, to sponsor the social event. Sven showed up with his daughter Abby, proving that we start working on developing wireless engineers young!

Our even was held at Stubbs’s Bar-B-Q, and featured some of the live music that Austin is famous for. I haven’t gone to that many concerts, so it was a bit of an eye-opening experience to be in the room with the enthusiasm and energy of the bands. Young Abby introduced the first band of the night, The Ginn Sisters:

Following a break, Guy Forsyth took the stage. Due to the heat, I had to flee the crowded area downstairs for the relative cool of the less crowded upper floor:

Throughout the evening, people were playing pool. I’m sure that the pool table was attractive in part because it was located inside the air-conditioned area. Here’s Dave Stephenson preparing to break:

It was an awesome event. My only problem was that a meeting the next morning was of interest, and 8:30 am in Austin is 6:30 am for an out-of-state Californian. I had to leave before the second set was done just to get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Stonehenge

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I have not sat down to formally add up how long I have spent in various countries, but I know that if I did so, the United Kingdom would come out on top. My first visit to the UK was over fifteen years ago, and in 1999 I spent three separate months on assignment on the outskirts of London near Heathrow. In spite of all of the time I have spent in the UK, though, I have never been to Stonehenge. On my recent trip, I decided to take advantage of my rental car and see the place.

On reflection, I think I was lucky and slipped between two waves of tour buses. As I arrived, a great number of people were leaving the site, and it stayed relatively uncrowded for the duration of my visit. Many of my photos show the crowds; the one below of the main circle is an exception.

English Heritage, the government body that manages Stonehenge, provides free audio guide instead of erecting interpretive signs that clutter the landscape. While generally well done, the audio guide has one particular difficulty versus signs, which is that the ravens that gather at Stonehenge make a great deal of noise. (At the reduced resolution of the photo below, the ravens are not visible as much more than specks, though.)

My departure was hurried by the arrival of dark clouds blotting out the blue sky. By the time I made it to the car, the rain had picked up and was quite heavy. Even though the rain had held off during my visit, the whole experience was still a fairly cold one. Stonehenge is set slightly above the surrounding terrain, and there is a great deal of wind whipping through the monument.