Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Days 2 and 3: Tallinn, Estonia

Form our itinerary: "We catch a ferry across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia's charming capital. There's time to see the impressive Kadriorg Palace, designed for Peter the Great, and to explore the quaint Old Town and stately Toompea Castle."

Estonia is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire together (17,413 m2) and has the population of just New Hampshire (1.3 million). Its capital, Tallinn, is home to about 1/3 of the population.
Here's a lovely two-minute stroll through Tallinn from 'TheExpeditioner.com':

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Headed For The Baltics

I'm off again!  As you read this my overnight flight is arriving in Helsinki...

It's the second of my triptych of 'transition vacations,' off on my 119th foreign trip (but the first this year), with Gap/Intrepid, who have prevoiusly taken me to Peru, Thailand, Central Europe and Central America. 

On the agenda are Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany....

Christi's coming along for most of the trip - she's half-Estonian, on her mother's side... I, in contrast,  am descended from Jews of the former Russian empire, who on my mother's side lived in Latvia and Lithuania..

I get in to Helsinki at noon, probably to my hotel by 2, and I have orientation at 6.. I hope to see some of the city in the afternoon... Here's a lovely video of what I might see...

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Song of the Week below - I'm off to Northeastern Europe tonight for two weeks, as tomorrow's post will explain, and you can follow my wanderings here... I've set up posts in advance for the whole thing, just like I did two weeks back for the Alaska trip...

They Toil For Thee

Do not ask for whom Irish rock quartet BellX1 toils... with apologies to E. Hemingway...  BellX1 play tight, catchy melodic rock with smart lyrics... Picture a less anguished Coldplay or a perkier Radiohead... I know, that's a stretch..  Just listen to the single, 'The Great Defector,' today's Song of the Week.

Four albums into a career beloved by Irish critics and fans, and are working the US by playing late night talk shows and leasing their tunes to TV series such as O.C. and Grey's Anatomy...

Here's they are in Dublin, shakin' it live with 'The Great Defector'

BellX1 have played Letterman many times - here they are in March 2008 playing 'Rocky Took A Lover '...

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Saturday, June 27, 2009


We LOVE iPhone applications - Christi finally awoke my interest a few weeks back...

'Around Me' plots your location and tells you where to find the nearest bank, restaurant, Starbucks®, hospital, movie theater etc etc.

'Read2Me' reads to you : - )

'Lose It!' keeps your calories on count!   It provides a running log of your food intake and its caloric and nutritional content..

'UrbanSpoon' helps you pick a restaurant, also plotting your location, and sometimes has you shake your iPhone and turn it into a slot machine of food!

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Friday, June 26, 2009

See Some Seaside Signage

'Downtown' Wiscasset, Maine... Sarah's, like many local establishments, specializes in fried seafood and pizza.... It's friendly and homey, we met JP's grade school teacher on the street, and also a high school acquaintance who seems the worse for the wear...

At Sarah's I subsisted on salads and soups... And I learned not to 'mound' but instead to 'mash' my soups and eat them with a fork...

For clothes, not people.... Gay marriage was legalized in Maine, yaaaay! (pending a possible petition to repeal it... grrrrrr)

Set sail on the SS Ice Cream... I just love this kind of signage....

Scenic Bath, Maine, where we lingered at the local coffee shop and I was introduced to the Whoppie and Snicker Doodle cookies..

Waste not, want not...
Oh the lobster you'll see....

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dogsled Ride!

It was an unexpected highlight of the trip. Not cheesy or for small children, were we dragged 2 miles by 16 highly-trained race dogs from a farm that raises dogs for Alaska's annual 900-mile Iditarod Dog Sled Race.

Before the ride, we had a tour of the training facility - very cacophonous, with 90 barking dogs wildly yanking at their leashes... Come see and hear what it was like:

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Getting Acquainted

Our introduction to Alaska was Anchorage,
spacious, surrounded by mountains, chilly but green.. Greater Anchorage is home to 60% of the state's 686,293 residents...

On our first morning, our borrowed bicycle built for two led us to the weekly Anchorage fair/flea market, where we fought the twin temptations of native handicrafts and street food.....

Who could resist
deep-fried halibut and corn fritters with honey butter? It's only half a day's caloric intake...

Alaska is NRA country..
You can win a gun at a street fair, right next to the cosmetics vendors...

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

High Up Mt. Alyeska

We're back from Alaska, where we enjoyed 19-21 hour days, subdued temperatures, spectacular views, and mercurial but
ultimately beneficent weather.... Life at 60N and above....

Our first weekend there we rode up Mount Alyeska (elevation 3,939 feet) in a cable car for impressive 360 degree views... 'Alyeska' is Aleut for 'great land,' also spelled 'Alaska,' as you may be aware..

Me & my baby,
boldly facing the future up on top of Mount Alyeska, in Girdwood, south of Anchorage....

Also facing boldly was this underdressed wedding party...
I love walking into a photo op... Girdwood, by the way, is the home of Ted Stevens..

Riding up Mount Alyeska together in a cable car, they
could not escape my camera's gaze...

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Delightful Drones...

Back in December, I saw Vivian Girls, the all-female lo-fi shoegazing trio from Brooklyn whose very tuneful 'Where Do You Run To?' is today's Song of the Week.. It was at Bowery Ballroom with my friend Jason, the first concert in months since I'd been sick a lot that autumn... Shoegazing, for those not familiar, is an alternative rock subgenre from the early 1990s that uses lovely and harmonic vocal melodies that are buried/blended into - rather than framed by - extensive guitar effects and creative noise. Critics embraced the style, calling it 'shoegazing' because these musicians often stood motionless in concert staring at their effects pedals on the floor... as if they were staring at their own shoes...

Well, let's start with the surreal melting colors on video that accompany 'Where Do You Run To?'...

The group's name comes from the very long name of a piece by Henry Darger entitled '
The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.' In case you were curious... Trivia item.. their four 'singles'... none of which is 'Where Do You Run To' were printed in vinyl in runs of only 2,000 copies...

This video is more typical of Vivian Girls' stage work - the trio's lovely harmonies are really buried in guitar grunge..

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

We Arrive Back Today!

Most of Alaska is unreachable by road! to Barrow and Prudhoe Bay, there IS a road north, but it's mostly used by oil trucks and military vehicles.. You have to carry spare gas in the trunk because you can go 400 miles without a gas station!

Here's Barrow, Alaska, at 71 degrees north, the northernmost city in the US...

There's no place like Nome, on Alaska's west coast...

Wagging Alaska's tail... The Aleutian Islands..

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Roads/Boat Trips Not Taken

The OTHER Alaska vacation, the one we didn't take, is the cruise up Alaska's fjords and glaciers, typically leaving from Vancouver and traveling the 'Inside Passage' past Juneau and Sitka.. The highlight of THAT trip is Glacier Bay National Park, accessible only by sea...

Juneau - the only state capital not accessible by land! It's in Alaska's panhandle, a thousand miles southeast of most of the state!

The other Denali experience - the Denali Highway leads hundreds of miles east of the park on a gravel road.. An absolute no-no for rental cars...

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Floundering in Nature

A real Denali National Park experience....

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Denali Finale

Denali is the native name for Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in the USA and North America. It means 'The Great One.' It is found in Denali National Park, about 2/3 up the 400 mile road from Anchorage north to Fairbanks. Here's a great orientation video that puts one right in the experience...

And here's your 'official' Alaska tourism video of the park... all pictures & music...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

See Life

Seward's Sea Life Center... part one...

Fish haven and marine mammal central. Are you a mammal?

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kenai Fjords National Park!

It's accessible mostly by boat... Here's some home-made footage..

The 'official' video...

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Monday, June 15, 2009

More Alaska below...

Ready, My Brothers?

Today's song is 'Two Weeks' by Grizzly Bear, a critically adored four-man combo that more than justifies all that love shining down on them... 

With four vocalists and an array of traditional and electronic instruments, their strongest suit is intricate vocal harmonies, gorgeous hooks, acoustic guitar, and inventiveness. 

Their new album, Veckatimest, is their strongest and most accessible yet, but was leaked months in advance of its May 26 release date, much to the band's chagrin.  I did have and advance, but I waited until kick-off before tossing "Two Weeks" out to my legions.  I'm also buying this flawless and breathtaking album, named for a small island in Massachussetts. 

Bold and avant-garde like Animal Collective but more focused on songcraft. Ethereal and folky like Fleet Foxes with with less predictable melodies that veer far from the back porch....

And did I mention the lead singer is gay?  It's largely a non-issue for the band, the gay press gives it more attention that the music press.  I'm kinda proud of him!  Here's 'Two Weeks' on Letterman

Here's a fan video for the lovely 'Cheerleader,' one of my favorites from the new CD...

Some earlier work, 'On A Neck On A Spit,' captured live at the Picador in Kansas CIty two years back..

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The Road to Seward

Headed south to Seward, gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, a great spot to see glaciers, sea mammals, huge salmon, mountains, and Big Nature...

Seward, Alaska welcome video....

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Anchorage Experience

A day at the Alaska Zoo...

Bike riding on the city's Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.... with an electronic soundtrack..

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Our Starting Point...

is Anchorage, after a 10 hour journey with one layover... Anchorage is near Alaska's south coast, and its metro area is home to 350,000 people, over half of the state's population, but less people than Staten Island. You're never far from nature in Anchorage... Here's the official Anchorage overview video, all music, no words..

And here are some Anchorage views set to 'Waiting On The World To Change' by John Mayer...

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Friday, June 12, 2009

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North To Alaska!

Our adventure begins...
I've pre-posted some footage of where we're headed so you can 'follow' us in our absence. Perhaps some live posts here and there, too.. Here's the trailer from the 1962 John Wayne film 'North to Alaska,' most famous for its Johnny Horton theme song...

here's the song, with historic footage!

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Meet The High Line!

It was love at first sight. The Highline, the elevated-railway-turned-park a decade in the making, debuted yesterday, as the 'first stage,' from Gansevoort to West 20th St, opened. I am blown away...

Incredibly, the High Line smells of wildflowers, like an upstate roadised - 'manicured wildflowers,' over 140 species, border the waving concrete path, like a glorious abstract of abandoned rail tracks.

It takes you off the grid... To meander on the highline is to escape New York's unrelenting grid, with its taxi racing and scurrying pedestrians... You forget the streets, and swim instead in the architecture of the Westside skyline...

JP was equally impressed....What a glorious jewel this park is, how transformational for my neighborhood... finally, a place to walk and relax with an audiobook, some music, or just one's own thoughts...
DSC02649 DSC02632

Like a dream sequence, like a blurry 60s Star Trek painted backdrop, the High Line beckons you to relax and stay a while, but not to fall asleep, wooden and stone 'benches' and 'lawn chairs' abound throughout....

It's a park for all seasons, and its look will change depending on the time of day, weather, and season... Expect it to be a frequent motif of this blog. A famous hotel bestrides it and opens up on it; the Whitney's new southern branch is expected to do likewise in a year or two...Down below the adjoining streets are hotbeds of galleries, eateries, and boutique-eries... Still coming: West 20th to West 30th (late 2010) and West 30th to West 34th (to be determined)...

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Decor and More

What a comfortable bed I slept in at JP's parents' up in Maine, and in such a beautiful room!

I heart the Forrests' upstairs bathroom wallpaper! The living room is cozy with a lit fireplace...

On his parents' walls I saw the work of my talented sweetheart, caught through my blurry lens..  This is a self-portrait...

The family jewels:  JP with his Mom 20 years back, JP with his Dad 40 years back

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Maine Event

The rain in Maine is nothing to disdain... My first foggy evening in
Wiscasset, down by the tidal Sheepscot River... That bridge in the background is Route 1....

Snapping my baby and his family's cottage by the river...
He cleans so fast the broom is but a blur... You can see my adoring reflection in the windowpane...

We're fond of
sand dunes and salty air....

Fifteen dollars buys you
all the mayonnaise you can blend into a lobster...

Aaron at the LL Bean Mothership in Freeport, Maine, where JP's parents picked us up....
Here's their 90th anniversary Bean Boot. They actually turned 98 this year...

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Funky Norway, By Way Of Arizona

A big, big thank you hug for my nephew Dan, an early US admirer of pop/hip-hop duo Madcon, Norwegian musicians of African descent.   Today's song of the week is Madcon's first huge European hit, 'Beggin,' a remix of a 60s Frankie Valli hit..

Their modus operandi is to seize memorable 60s/Motown riffs and build solid songs therefrom using more contemporary beats... 'Beggin' could have been sung by the Four Tops, who are now 3/4 gone to their reward...

Here's 'Beggin'... live on Norwegian television..

Madcon's follow-up single is the even more Motown-y 'Back On The Road...'

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

It was the loveliest weekend of the year in New York - cloudless skies, temperature 75F-80F, Central Park an ocean of relaxation and smiles... Saturday I was in deepest New Jersey meeting friends of JP's, which included a trip to the pool and a couscous and tajine dinner (click this!).. Sunday (today) Christi and I meandered through the park...

View From The Top

From the roof of the New Museum, March 2008...

A long way down from the executive floor of Sao Paulo's Renaissance Hotel...

Downtown, everything's waiting for you....

from the Latin America's tallest building, the Torre Mayor in Mexico City, 2007

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