Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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First Day In Rome – The Pantheon & Trevi Fountian

On our first day in Rome, we walked around and got our bearings. We checked out The Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. Rome at a population of 2.8 million is quite a bit bigger than Florence, a mere 300K. It felt it.

We learned that the Pantheon was originally a pagan temple that had been turned into a memorial for Christian martyrs. This became a theme in Rome. Pagan temples seemed to be frequently re-purposed churches. Which doesn’t feel weird to me until I think about what would happen if the Church of Satan bought up St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and flipped all the crosses around.

One thing that might not be apparent in all our pictures was that most of the places we visited in both Florence and Rome were jam-packed with people. And The Trevi Fountain was no exception. But I just adored it. It’s oddly tucked away, and it feels like you emerge from a unremarkable alley right into it. I liked it so well that we circled back to it later, so we could get some pictures of it at night. I think it’s partially that its placement in the city feels like so much of a surprise, and partially that some of the marble is unfinished and provides such a dramatic contrast to the sculpted stone.

Forgive me because, I just wanted to share all the pictures we took of it. I just loved it.

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Stupid Cuba

I booked a photography workshop in Cuba nearly a year ago. I was fresh off my break-up and was in the process of dissolving what had been our home for five of the seven years we had been together. On a whim, I booked this trip, because once the house has burnt down the risk of drinking red wine on the white sofa takes on a new perspective. On a different whim, I moved to Seattle, so contextually speaking committing to this trip to Cuba wasn’t the worst display of my impulsiveness.

In the wake of the trip, I am at once annoyed and thankful for my impulse. It’s easy to focus on the negatives at the moment because I am right in the middle of a double ear infection and a sinus infection that’s been brewing for more than a week. I am on antibiotic number two, hoping this one will do the trick. I no sooner recovered from the intestinal distress that often results from an American gut abroad, when my slight cough and congestion morphed into the current three headed hydra of cranial discomfort.

I blame Cuba. That’s not entirely fair. I flew into Cuba after twelve months of very stressful things taking place in very quick succession. The break-up smacked into a personal melt down, smacked into moving to Seattle, smacked into discovering dislike for Seattle, smacked into my Dad having open heart surgery, smacked into a new role at work, smacked into moving back from Seattle. It’s a double-decker sandwich of stress. And to my body’s credit, it took it down like a champ. In spite of all the exhaustion and flights, I remained well through all of it. After my body did me a solid like that, I rewarded it with a trip to Cuba, a place where raw sewage runs through the streets and hand soap and toilet seats are only for the rich and famous. Ok, I still kind of blame Cuba.

If I had expectations they were that Cuba wouldn’t be that much different from Costa Rica. For both Spanish is the national language, and their standard of living is a bit lower than ours in terms of material goods. I am careful to stipulate that, because both countries have good healthcare for all, something we lack here. I expected that the embargo would leave Cuba at a slight disadvantage to the other Latin American countries I have visited.

This was not terribly far from reality. Buddhist thought suggests that the root of suffering is the difference between reality and expectations. This proverb adequately describes my trip. There were some unanticipated language issues, which really shouldn’t have been a problem, a point I will explore later. The lack of municipal water services was a surprise. But I was anticipating the need for bottled water, so that in itself wasn’t an issue. So far so good.

Our guide seemed competent enough in the emails. His fifteen years of experience instilled confidence. The trip was just under $4000. And for that amount of money, I had certain unexplored expectations about the quality of our accommodations.

Suffering enters stage right.The first thing that should have put me on notice was the hotel we all stayed at the night before the flight to Cuba. This was the place selected by our guide, and while he negotiated a reduced rate it was no better than the rate I booked on Kayak only a week later, the rooms weren’t included in our trip fee. It was a Ramada Inn. It was strategically right next door to a place called the Doll House, a neon pink bedazzled gentlemen’s club. It was clean and adequate, but I think its featured neighbor says it all.

Clean and adequate are excellent words to describe our accommodations for the rest of the trip. We all had roofs over our heads and bathrooms. Yes. All things beyond that were questionable.

In Havana some of our fellow travelers didn’t have running water for some time.  We were staying in historic Havana, which was revealed on a unsupervised bus tour to also be the slums of Havana. Our travel mate had paid extra for a room to herself, only to find as many as four strangers in her apartment at any given time. I got a warm shower there … on the last day. At first, I was put off by the dribble of water coming out of the shower head. But after a couple cold showers, I started to appreciate that I had nearly the whole tub to lather up in, away from the dilapidated spigot shooting icicles in my direction. Since our fellow travelers were without a toilet seat I counted us lucky. I have long since cast off the burden of hovering and find it uncomfortable in my 40 year-old body. I haven’t the slightest idea how the retired folks managed it.

In fact in all of Cuba, finding a toilet anywhere that had the holy trinity of toilet paper, a toilet seat, and soap felt like hitting the lottery. Aside from the bathrooms in our rooms, we got shaken down for every bathroom use by wizened old women in front of bathrooms, and once their change bowl was satisfied they would respond by giving us three tiny rough sheets of toilet paper. This led to all of us squirreling away extra napkins and tissues in pockets and backpacks like refugees. After taking one look at the open sewers, and each of us getting doused with some unknown liquid coming from upper floors of the buildings lining the street (does no one look before dumping, *shudder* lets not consider what, off their balconies??!!), it became clear that we would all sorely need functioning bathrooms sooner rather than later.

Things improved when we left Havana. To be fair to our guide, he had booked hotels for us there but had them commandeered by the government for Obama’s crew. His visit also left us to plead our case to the Cuban police, when we were caught in a restricted area due to The President’s walkabout. After some very stressful moments trying to communicate we were escorted to our building.

In Trinidad, Kathleen and I shared a room that reeked of sewage, the only ventilation required that we open our door and the large window that lacked bars or a screen. It was the Sophie’s Choice of smelling all of Cuba’s shit or risk our camera gear stolen. We also traipsed through someone’s living room to get into the building behind that housed our room. But it was scenic and had hot water!

In Santa Clara, we had to traipse through someone else’s living room and kitchen. I enjoyed walking to the bathroom in my night clothes with just some bat wing doors standing between me and the whole family. But our room had a balcony overlooking the city square!

And then there was our feckless leader. When I asked him the evening before departure what type of dialect the Cubans speak, he said nothing while one of my fellow travelers answered. He commanded the floor for almost all of dinner. And he seemed to be wandering around topics in no particular order. Red flags, those things.

Turned out he spoke not a word of Spanish. His ability to communicate important information in a succinct fashion was non-existent. This would lead to us thinking him through talking and engaging in side conversations only to be reprimanded to pay attention. He proved to be incompetent at managing logistics. In each city, he told us our places would be right next door to each other. The closest we were the whole trip was a block and a half, leaving me to think Google Translate has a problem with “next door” in English to Spanish and vice versa. This was my private joke, until one morning at breakfast he talked about the ways in which Google Translate has failed him in his bookings. Finally, while he was a knowledgeable photographer, I think he excelled more at telling stories about Ansel Adams than actual instruction.

Because he spoke not a word of Spanish, I was left as the most proficient Spanish speaker. I can understand quite a bit of what’s said if the speakers are not particularly fast. This gives me troubles with Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. They speak faster than what I can keep up with. Cubans are fast talkers. This is problematic in and of itself, but the Cubans also drop out whole sounds in words in addition to cramming them all together like one endless parade of characters. I understood almost nothing of what they said. When I spoke to them, they understood me perfectly, which is a mystery considering my meager skills as a speaker. I haven’t learned my verb tenses. This makes everything happen for me in Spanish now. There isn’t any future or past, just now. I was deeply amused at my quest for mindfulness over the past year. There was nothing metaphorical about my now in Spanish, it was literally all that was for me. The universe, ever the prankster. Congratulations! I gained a new unpaid position of translator!

I think his lack of competence was more galling when we did a calculation of what he must be pocketing off of each of us. This was only exacerbated when he suggested that we tip our driver and our Cuban tour guides what would be the equivalent of one month’s salary, making our tips collectively add up to six months pay. We quickly surmised that those “tips” were the only way those folks were getting paid.

Even with all these problems, I am glad that I went. I got some amazing shots of Cuba just before it changes, rapidly. The Cuba that exists now will soon be bulldozed over to put up a Hooter’s and a Holiday Inn. The gorgeous crumbling architecture will give way to shiny new things that will become new symbols of excess. Shiny new things that will look just as tired and dated as the hotels there that were once shiny and new in the 50’s. I can only hope that in this time the Cuban people see some benefits from the money that will start pouring into their country, rather than watch, alienated, as wealthy people use their country for their play ground. We all know how that story will end.

It’s taken a year to forge a shiny new me, trifecta of snotty ailments and all. I hope I age better than those casinos. Enjoy the pictures. **I came back with hundreds and skipped entire cities in this collection. That will need to be for another day.

Street scene in Havana

Irony?

The Neptune, which now seems to be an elaborate flag pole for the revolution.

The Neptune, which now seems to be an elaborate flag pole for the revolution.

Che was everywhere. Oddly, Fidel not so much. This was actually one of the few likenesses I saw of him.

Che was everywhere. Oddly, Fidel not so much. This was actually one of the few likenesses I saw of him.

The famed Riviera. Not looking so snazzy these days.

The famed Riviera. Not looking so snazzy these days.

Brooklyn. It's everywhere.

Brooklyn. It’s everywhere.

Pineapple anyone?

Pineapple anyone?

Havana

Havana

This was an ally that was commandeered by artists. The government fought them for a time, painting over and removing their art. The artists eventually prevailed.

This was an ally that was commandeered by artists. The government fought them for a time, painting over and removing their art. The artists eventually prevailed.

This art ally also happened to be where all the kids that were professional panhandlers hung out. They had all the English lines that tug on the heart strings. It's only that they parroted them off in a way that let me know their words have had long practice.

This art ally also happened to be where all the kids that were professional panhandlers hung out. They had all the English lines that tug on the heart strings. It’s only that they parroted them off in a way that let me know their words have had long practice.

Art ally.

Art ally.

This is what happens when you travel with photographers.

This is what happens when you travel with photographers.

The buildings in Havana where just crushing in their beauty and their state of neglect.

The buildings in Havana where just crushing in their beauty and their state of neglect.

So, my sleeve was admired by many Cubans. They were thrilled that I had the correct arm sleeved. They want their tattoo to be visible while they are driving making them opt for their left arm for most of their work.

So, my sleeve was admired by many Cubans. They were thrilled that I had the correct arm sleeved. They want their tattoo to be visible while they are driving making them opt for their left arm for most of their work.

So we saw The Rolling Stones. This was the sunset before a half a million people gathered to see the show.

So we saw The Rolling Stones. This was the sunset before a half a million people gathered to see the show.

Somewhere in the distance is Mick Jagger. Points to you if you make him out. He's probably the size of a pixel.

Somewhere in the distance is Mick Jagger. Points to you if you make him out. He’s probably the size of a pixel.

Canada - not having an embargo

Canada – not having an embargo

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Street scene in Havana

Street scene in Havana

DSC_6112 DSC_6109 DSC_6106 DSC_6088

Havana at sunrise. To the left is what I took to be police headquarters. There was something that looked like a shower curtain in one of the windows. This provoked much speculation on our part.

Havana at sunrise. To the left is what I took to be police headquarters. There was something that looked like a shower curtain in one of the windows. This provoked much speculation on our part.

Everyone talked about the cars. I was more impressed with them than I anticipated.

Everyone talked about the cars. I was more impressed with them than I anticipated.

Everyone needs a black saint.

Everyone needs a black saint.

Cuba sanitation department

That’s torn up street that you see there. And there’s sewage running through the ditch. It smelled lovely.

Boys hiding out sharing a video

Boys hiding out sharing a video

San Francisco Plaza - Havana

San Francisco Plaza – Havana

The condition of the animals there broke my heart. There were so many of them wandering the streets injured and suffering. I know the country has limited means, but this upset me more than I can say.

The condition of the animals there broke my heart. There were so many of them wandering the streets injured and suffering. I know the country has limited means, but this upset me more than I can say.

 


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On the Road – Day Three

I woke on Sunday morning to discover that I was not kidnapped and forced into sex slavery regardless of my oh so creepy motel experience. As stated in yesterday’s blog, I declared success without seeing the status of my vehicle. I also noticed that Henry had eaten all of the ample amounts of food and water that I left out for him. I was pleased to know my little guy, while displeased with his current station in life, was eating and drinking even if in secret.

While I was suffering through the trauma that was wrought on my sinuses, the clerk gave me a voucher for a free breakfast at the diner across the street the night before. I dressed and headed in that direction. On my walk I was relieved to see that my car was unmolested in the night. And to my pleasant surprise, the diner made all of their baked goods in house. So after wolfing down excellent greasy spoon eggs and bacon, I took a slab of sour cherry strudel with me for the road.

I was feeling relieved to get away from my Twin Peaks experience. I was even more relieved to know that if all went as planned I would be sleeping in my destination city that evening. With that I started my day seeing Montana in the daylight, which looked like this.

Montana was lovely.

Montana was lovely.

Something seeped into my awareness as I was driving the long hours across Montana. South Dakota and Montana have some of the most naturally beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. With such a glut of natural beauty, I was dismayed to notice how little care seemed to be given to keeping it that way. Abandoned industrial and farm equipment littered the fields in view of the highway. Dilapidated structures were left to rust in place. Industrial garbage was allowed to sit where ever it was last left.

Before I continue with my observations, a word about something nerdy. Cities often have areas that are dedicated to a particular use. Industrial parks are allocated for warehouses and factories. Residential areas are allocated to private homes. Business areas house store-fronts that provide services and goods to those that walk in off the street. That’s what zoning is for. It’s to set up parameters on what land is to be used for.

As I was wondering about the lack of stewardship in keeping the land beautiful, I considered one of the unappealing aspects of Billings. While I intellectually understand the purpose of zoning laws, I didn’t truly appreciate their application until I witnessed a complete lack there of. Billings was configured in this way; take all of the structures in a city, shake them up together and scatter them haphazardly in no particular order. Residences were sprinkled among, warehouses, and bars. The local hardware store was flanked by a defunct printing facility, rail road tracks, and a four lane highway.

This looked awkward, but there are other negative effects aside from ugliness. Because walk-up businesses were separated from each other by long stretches of highway and industrial buildings, running errands could only be done easily by car. Based on the socioeconomic details I noticed, there are a lot of people living in Billings that don’t need to spend a whopping 30% of their minimum wage income on a car and all its trappings.

The libertarian in me was pleased by this freedom from regulation; the progressive in me was dismayed (that I have views in both camps makes all people hate me equally when talking politics). And that’s where I think both of these things are rooted. A lack of regulation due to valuing freedom over social responsibility. And this is what you get. Confused, illogically laid out cities, and industrial equipment left to rot, marring beautiful landscapes. And this brings me to the problem that libertarians often dismiss, and it’s that all of us, operating according to our own self-interests, can be unholy dicks. *steps off soapbox*

I drove though a hot minute of Idaho, and it was gorgeous. I wound through mountains covered with ancient conifers. I regret that I failed to get a picture. But I was only in the state for less than an hour, and at this point I was anxious to end my three days of driving.

I don’t know what I expected Washington to look like, probably Idaho, all mountains and pine trees. What eastern Washington state actually looks like is some alien land. The desolation there breathes and has teeth. And it gave me the most magnificent sunset I have ever seen as a welcome.

Eastern Washington state was just amazing.

Eastern Washington state was just amazing.

The sun was so crisp and the sky so blue.

The sun was so crisp and the sky so blue.

Driving into this sunset was just spectacular.

Driving into this sunset was just spectacular.

Henry and I powered through the last couple hours of driving with a little help from George in the form of pleasant conversation. When I finally rolled into Seattle Stef and David were ready to catch me with air mattress made up, pizza, and beer. It never felt so good to be in someone’s home.

I have thoughts about the journey, but I think I’ve done enough writing for one day. So those will wait for another blog entry. And just a note about the pictures, or lack there of – I decided not to get my DSLR out on this trip. Thinking with my photographer brain takes me out of the moment, and I wanted to be fully present for this journey. So all the pictures were quickly taken with my cell phone. However, I did take my DSLR up the mountain this past weekend, and have stellar shots to share in the coming days of the lush forests of the Cascade Mountains.


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On the Road – Day Two

I left Mason City, Iowa with a full belly, gas tank, and twelve hours of driving ahead of me. I made a reservation at a pet-friendly Best Western in Billings, Montana, so I had no choice but to clock the hours across South Dakota. I gave little consideration to the location of my hotel aside from the time calculations that indicated that Billings was in the general vicinity of my driving goal for the day. This turned out to be unwise.

After wrestling Henry back in the crate, he settled into peering at me warily from his crate in the passenger’s seat. We roared through what remained of Iowa and the southern section of Minnesota. Most of our time was spent slogging across South Dakota, a state that is a little less than 400 miles across. Luckily, the state is also beautiful.

This is a tourist trap. But they make their own ice cream, and it's pretty good. The trip was not wasted.

This is a tourist trap. But they make their own ice cream, and it’s pretty good. The trip was not wasted.

That is the Missouri River. It seems a miss to me to not have a place to pull off the highway and take a picture, but it seems South Dakota isn't so great at recognizing its natural resources.

That is the Missouri River. It seems a miss to not provide a place to pull off the highway and take a picture, but it seems South Dakota isn’t so great at recognizing its natural resources.

Tail end of South Dakota before heading into Wyoming.

Tail end of South Dakota before heading into Wyoming.

This panorama shot in South Dakota was intended to show how big the sky is. But I'm not convinced it achieves the goal.

This panorama shot in South Dakota was intended to show how big the sky is. But I’m not convinced it achieves the goal.

We roared into Wyoming. I regret hitting that state at sunset, because what I did see of it looked gorgeous.

And Wyoming was stunning.

And Wyoming was stunning.

I had to snap this picture shortly after crossing the state line. There was precious little day light left.

I had to snap this picture shortly after crossing the state line. There was precious little day light left.

By the time I hit Montana, like the couple hours before close in a crappy bar, it was too dark for me to assess it’s attractive attributes. The dark drive to Billings was accompanied by Henry’s complaints. It only dawned on me then that he only got upset in the car after dark. I don’t know what offends the persnickety little man about night driving, but he is decidedly not a fan.

As I navigated to the hotel I learned that Billings is a larger city than the little town I had imagined. I also learned that Billings has a downtown that is less than appealing, and that my motel was located there. And this is when I was plunged into an immersive Agent Dale Cooper experience.

The odor that greeted me upon entering the motel office made me wince. It was though all the intensity of a Yankee Candle warehouse focused itself on this very small room. The receptionist was irrationally excited to see me at any time of day, but especially so at midnight. The check-in process seemed to take an eternity, but I am sure that is just my perception due to the sinus raping that was happening to my face. I fled the office with my key card feeling unsettled.

I pulled my car close to my room to unpack. While doing so a middle-aged man leisurely rode his BMX bike past me as though he had no particular place to be. At midnight. With his knees up in his armpits while pedaling because the frame was so small. He gave me a neighborly enough greeting, but this did nothing to remedy my unsettled feeling. It was at this moment that I noticed what seemed to be another motel guest lounging in a lawn chair intently watching me unload. I made eye contract several times thinking he would recover himself and attend to something else. Not so. The unsettling continued as I hurried to finish unloading.

The parking lot of the hotel was full. I had to park my car, loaded to the gills with stuff across the street in the less than desirable downtown of Billings. In and of itself this would be ok, but while walking away from my PLEASE-BURGLE-ME vehicle I noticed a couple screaming at each other at the end of the ally. Upon closer inspection the couple looked like crack heads (thanks OTR circa 2004 for helping me spot that) having a throw down, with a person … spectating? I don’t know what other word to use for this third, as he contributed in no way but his body language suggested he was in rapt attention.

At this point, my attention is drawn to the other end of the ally to see a trio of men. Two men are carrying a man between them. It seemed the man in the center had consumed a too much booze. The peculiar thing about them was that the incapacitated man was in a tux while his assistants were in shorts and T’s. They also waved at me as though I knew them. At this point the unsettled feeling is developing into alarm.

On the way back to my room, I run into another crack head couple arguing. They had the decency to pause their fight to greet me, a nicety that didn’t make me feel any better. At midnight. Once safely in my room, I felt compelled to search for a? What? A camera? A dead body? I don’t know. I didn’t find any of those things, but I did find what appeared to be blood stains on the carpet. My thought while falling asleep?  If I don’t get kidnapped into a sex slave ring or worse tonight, I will call it success including if my car has been looted.


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On the Road – Day One

I packed as many of my belongings in my Mazda 2 as possible. I drove from Cincinnati to Seattle. There’s a whole other blog that will happen one day explaining how I came to be shoving all my belongings in my subcompact car with a cat named Henry and driving 2000 miles. Until that happens this will have to do.

I got a late start on Friday morning. Partially, because I had a late night on Thursday. Starting the trip with a sleep deficit seemed less appealing than making the time that I wanted to. I rolled out of Cincinnati at 11 AM. With this poor little guy.

Henry was not impressed with this adventure. To him this was much like his

Henry was not impressed with this adventure. To him this was much like his “adventures” to the vet, but of a significantly longer duration.

Henry didn’t start out as my cat but became mine. I can’t help but think that at this moment, he was really regretting where he ended up. I had a small litter box in the car for him. I let him out of the crate to use it when I would stop for gas. Turns out he can’t even with the bodily functions while in the car. He didn’t eat/drink/pee/poo in the car. I was at once worried and relieved when I noticed this pattern.

Henry was a surprisingly good travel companion, except that he would cry when the sun went down. I am afraid that I only noticed this pattern at the end of day two. I was hoping to get through Minnesota on my first day, but at 9 pm Henry had been serenading me for some time. I was done.

I found a Quality Inn in Mason City Iowa. I was perfectly happy to pay the ridiculous $120 dollars to stay there. Henry was beyond pleased to get out of the crate in the hotel room. Everything was uneventful except for one thing.

What is the purpose of that?

What is the purpose of that?

Seriously? What is the purpose of that?

Seriously? What is the purpose of that?

Who needs a window in their shower? How did this happen? Is this a really poor attempt at a sexy clouded glass shower? But honestly, at this point I was so tired that I give this no thought whatsoever and fell into bed.


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Seattle was my Magic and Faraway Tree

Through a complicated turn of events, I found myself flying into San Francisco and flying out of Seattle. Seattle was my desired destination. I managed to Planes, Trains and Automobiles on this trip and threw a boat in there for laughs.

After evaluating my options, I decided to take The Starlight Express Amtrak train from San Francisco to Seattle. Given that the trip spanned twenty-two hours, it’s obvious the trip was neither solely by starlight nor express, at least by any definition that I know. I was curious about train travel, and it was half as expensive as a flight. Choo Choo!

When I landed in San Francisco, I took the BART into the city. I was thinking I would grab brunch at Mamma’s. I was thinking that because it was Thursday, Mamma’s wouldn’t be extremely busy. Perhaps by San Franciscans’ standards a line of fifty people out the door isn’t busy. To this Cincinnatian, that was some bullshit.

Breakfast plans thwarted, I settled for a slice of pizza and people watching in Washington Square. There’s a gorgeous church there, and by a freak accident I noticed that I could walk up to Coit Tower. I am fit. But before I whine about climbing up to Coit Tower, let me point out that all personal items that I would need for the next week was strapped to my back, including my delightful but extremely heavy DSLR camera. After some cursing and sweating, I climbed all those steps for some gorgeous WPA sponsored murals and a marvelous view of San Francisco. Winging aside, it was worth the effort.

I stopped in at City Lights Book Store and Vesuvio’s because I love them, and I was close. I enjoy both of those locations mostly because I love Beat Literature. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a co-founder and was put on trial for obscenity for publishing “Howl”, Alan Ginsburg’s arguably most famous poem. I could blabber for days about how I like inhabiting the spaces that those authors did, but my passion on this topic is obscure to ninety-nine percent of the population. So, reader, I will shut myself up.

Afterward, I settled down to an afternoon coffee. There I learned that San Francisco establishments like to play the greatest hits of the 80’s and 90’s. I had heard this music emanating from nearly every establishment I entered, but I didn’t take full notice of it until I was fueling up with a latte in the afternoon. Turns out, 80’s and 90’s hits could be called the musical theme of my vacation.

I had dinner at Rogue’s Tasting room. In keeping with the reviews, the atmosphere and beer was excellent; the food was mediocre at best. I tried a marionberry brew, that I’ve not seen in bottles. It was nice but only in tasting-sized quantities, as it was very sweet. I found that my bar stool neighbors were also cyclists, and we talked quite a bit about cycling, beer, and the qualitative differences between our cities. They pointed out the very thing that turns me away from San Francisco; the cost of living means that an enormous percentage of one’s income is eaten by housing costs. They were annoyed to find that Ohio gets a great selection of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington beers, topping their own. They were equally jealous of our easy access to some of the Midwest’s best brewers like Founders, Bell’s, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland, Great Lakes, etc.

After a pleasant couple hours of chatting, I headed to the Amtrak station. The station was just off Jack London Square in Oakland. It was not terribly convenient to get to via public transit. Luckily, I packed light. The station was clean and well equipped with bathrooms and vending machines. The poorly crafted PSA looping on the big screens must have been made to terrify any potential passengers. The highlights include the dubious suggestion that throwing my personal belongings at terrorists is a path to success. If the choice was between bodily harm and throwing my DSLR, I would pick bodily harm. I wondered at the suggestion of throwing things at terrorists as though they were failing comedians, especially when the PSA was showing all train security personnel in riot gear. If the choice is between bodily harm, throwing my DSLR, and letting riot gear dude handle it, I would pick riot gear dude.

The terrifying PSA made more sense when I boarded the train. The security precautions were limited to the attendant validating my ticket. It took three minutes for me to board. There were no riot gear dudes to be seen… for the entire duration of the trip. There was a very nice woman who vacuumed our car.

I really liked the train. I liked that I had more space, freedom to walk around at will, unrestricted use of the bathroom and lounge car. Aside from the fact that traveling by train takes significantly more time than flying, I loved it. I had several nice conversations with my fellow passengers. Talking to your neighbors when flying is fraught with danger. Unlike air travel, if you need to escape your neighbors, you just head to the lounge car. It’s a considerably lower risk that you will get cornered by someone obnoxious, given that you have freedom of movement. Twenty-two hours is a long time to be travelling, but the train was fun.

Upon arrival in Seattle, I was most grateful for a familiar face, a home-cooked meal, and a shower. It was great to catch-up with Stef and David, and I haven’t seen much of them in the last few years. I was also happy for a quiet night in after my sleep deficient train experience.

In the span of four days I (and sometimes we) saw Bainbridge Island, Pike Place Market, a burlesque show, Pioneer Square, Gas Works Park, a short glimpse of Mt Rainier, Ballard Locks, the Fremont Troll, Fremont Brewery, Fran’s, Seattle’s underground, The Mystery Book Store, Cherry Street Coffee, and Goose Ridge winery (and actually at least two other wineries, names escape me and not due to drunkeness). Holy Washington state wines batman. They are in general excellent. Stay away from the pinots though.  We went on a hike, and I made excellent use of Seattle’s public transportation.

The most unexpected part of my trip was my impression of the city vs my impression ten years ago. I still love Seattle. But Cincinnati has changed immensely in the last decade. I found that on this trip weather, public transit, and nature aside Cincinnati is approaching Seattle in terms of amenities. In fact, during all my travels of the past year, I find Cincinnati food and beer culture to be on par or better than other major cities’ offerings. Cincinnati’s music scene, although missed in favor of Columbus by many major acts, has a vibrant indie rock scene.

So Seattle, you’re pretty great. And if I get a good career opportunity that requires me to live in you, I wouldn’t say no. But Cincinnati you are changing so fast. I’m content to see and participate in what you will be when you grow up.

I don't understand who is supposed to be quiet. The cars?

I don’t understand who is supposed to be quiet. The cars?

Jesus and stuff.

Jesus and stuff.

They have all their trash cans fitted up with space for recyclables and trash. One day will happen to the Midwest. One day.

They have all their trash cans fitted up with space for recyclables and trash. One day will happen to the Midwest. One day.

View from Coit tower, The Golden Gate Bridge is over there shrouded in clouds.

View from Coit tower, The Golden Gate Bridge is over there shrouded in clouds.

View from Coit Tower

View from Coit Tower

View from Coit Tower

View from Coit Tower

Leaving a trail.

Leaving a trail.

One of the many beautiful scenes out the train window.

One of the many beautiful scenes out the train window.

Flip-top bridge.

Flip-top bridge.

There were tons of crows.

There were tons of crows.

So you say...

So you say…

I don't know if I would equate that to a million bucks, but it is very pretty.

I don’t know if I would equate that to a million bucks, but it is very pretty.

Moss and nature and stuff

Moss and nature and stuff

Friends!

Friends!

What do they eat? There was little to no insect noise in the woods.

What do they eat? There was little to no insect noise in the woods.

This slug was about 3 inches long *SHUDDER*

This slug was about 3 inches long *SHUDDER*

This slug was about 2 inches long. *shudder*

This slug was about 2 inches long. *shudder*

Frog!

Frog!

Historic crapper.

Historic crapper.

Those windows were once at street level. Not so much now.

Those windows were once at street level. Not so much now.

There chiropractors in the early 1900's?! This might not be authentic historic trash.

There chiropractors in the early 1900’s?! This might not be authentic historic trash.

More historic trash. Interesting that they've named a mission after a city in The Bible that Joshua annihilated.

More historic trash. Interesting that they’ve named a mission after a city in The Bible that Joshua annihilated.

Historic trash.

Historic trash.

When they closed off the underground they built in natural "lights" in the over-head sidewalk. Hooray for thinking ahead.

When they closed off the underground they built in natural “lights” in the over-head sidewalk. Hooray for thinking ahead.

Most haunted location of Seattle's underground. Also most tilted. This was the original teller's cage of a bank.

Most haunted location of Seattle’s underground. Also most tilted. This was the original teller’s cage of a bank.

Most of Seattle burned in fire in 1907. Here's some structures that were spared. It's not obvious from the picture, but the building on the far left dates back to the 1860's.

Most of Seattle burned in fire in 1889. Here’s some structures that were spared. It’s not obvious from the picture, but the building on the far left dates back to the 1860’s.

The Fremont troll. I guess this was Seattle's answer to people using this secluded spot to shoot up and buy drugs. I like this answer.

The Fremont troll. I guess this was Seattle’s answer to people using this secluded spot to shoot up and buy drugs. I like this answer.

Gas works park. Without using the internet we deduced that the only way a prime piece of real estate like this wasn't sold to contractors was that it's a brown site. I'm still refusing to use the internet to look that up.

Gas works park. Without using the internet we deduced that the only way a prime piece of real estate like this wasn’t sold to contractors was that it’s a brown site. I’m still refusing to use the internet to look that up.

The market had a nice selection of goods. It's considerably more touristy than just a space to buy food, but it's nice.

The market had a nice selection of goods. It’s considerably more touristy than just a space to buy food, but it’s nice.

There's something satisfying about this sign, given that print media is dying. My appreciation for tangible things is growing.

There’s something satisfying about this sign, given that print media is dying. My appreciation for tangible things is growing.

Fruits and such at Pike Place Market

Fruits and such at Pike Place Market

I don't know why it's a thing to put gum in this alley at Pike Place Market. Apparently, they cleaned it off a couple of times before giving in to the masses.

I don’t know why it’s a thing to put gum in this alley at Pike Place Market. Apparently, they cleaned it off a couple of times before giving in to the masses.

Yeah. That's massive amounts of chewed gum.

Yeah. That’s massive amounts of chewed gum.