Vacation mode
If I could define vacation mode for myself, it would be this:
Instead of going to a specific place at a specific time for a specific activity, I like to go in a general direction at an approximate time to maybe do something or maybe do nothing.
As a couple with kids once said to a childless me while laughing nostalgically, "We'll decide between now and then."  That's my goal when I'm on vacation. #travel

Driving distance vs. time
A recent AskReddit post asked something like, "Non-Americans, what's a weird things Americans do?"  And one of the answers was, "Describing driving distance in units of time." 

Normally I agree that Americans are weird.  But the answer to the question "How far is that drive?" is more practical to measure in time.  Actually, "How far is that drive?" is asking the wrong question.  No one cares how far apart two points are.  The right question is, "How long is that drive?"  People want to know how much of their lives will be spent traveling that distance, and that depends on distance as well as speed.  If two points are 50 miles apart, that doesn't really tell you much.  That distance would take an hour if driven at 50 mph, or two hours if driven at 25 mph, or like 3 days by foot.  And if you live in a populated area, it depends what time of day you drive it.  And there might be more than one route to take.  And one route might have construction delays.  There might be traffic lights, or a school zone, or a quarry with big trucks, or a tricky left turn. 

The point is, I would much rather know how long it will take me to get somewhere than how far away that thing is. #travel

Tourist attractions
Locals love to advise tourists to avoid certain areas and sights, like "Stay away from Times Square; it's overrun with tourists."  But if I'm not from there, I'm a tourist, so that's where I belong.  It's a tourist attraction for a reason:  It's attractive to tourists. #travel

Non-local drivers
I find myself getting irrationally angry at people driving in or around my area when said people are not from my area.  Part of it stems from how different cultures drive.  My home state of New Jersey tends to breed aggressive drivers, while neighboring states tend to breed the exact opposite.  Similarly, state laws sometimes differ in whether the left lane of a two- or three-lane highway is strictly for passing or not.  My opinion is that if you're in the left lane and someone is behind you, move. 

Related to this is the fact that I mostly use local roads to commute to and from work, which I do every day of my life.  It's a routine.  I know the speed limits.  I know the stop signs and traffic lights.  I know when I need to turn and when someone in front of me is going to turn.  A non-local driver typically doesn't know where they're going or what they're looking for.  This used to happen to me all the time when my road was the seventh left in my neighborhood.  I'd get stuck behind someone who clearly wasn't local, and I'd see them pump their brakes at every single intersection.  In that sense, a non-local driver is just an obstacle between me and my home. 

Another thing, especially across state lines and near tourist attractions, is the matter of money.  I live here.  I pay high taxes, and part of what helps me maintain my sanity is the thought that my taxes go towards paying for the roads I use.  I don't really like the idea of some freeloader using something I paid for, especially when that freeloader is a bad driver.  I realize that many non-local drivers work where they're driving, and so their employer likely pays local taxes.  Regardless, my feelings are the same. 

But I think the main thing that gets to me is the idea of any one road being a through-street from one location to another.  I grew up on a through-street, and my entire goal in life has been to live on a non-through-street (mission accomplished, by the way).  But for whatever reason, it just really bothered me that someone would drive their vehicle, with their loud engines and creaky suspensions, blasting their music and throwing their trash out the window, in the location where I lived and ate and slept.  It didn't help that our house was really close to the road.  It sort of felt like the street was part of our property, and it sort of was since we shared a fairly long border.  Having unwanted people invading my borders was a real source of anguish. #travel

Paris trip
The wife and I just spent 6 days in Paris.  First time in France.  We did a bunch of sightseeing and touristy things.  It was largely good. 
Day 1 - Arrived in the early morning after an overnight flight where we didn't really sleep.  Walked around in a mild sleep-deprived daze.  Checked out the Eiffel Tower, which has the names of famous French mathematicians and scientists inscribed near the top, several of which I recognized.  Got acquainted with the subway system, which is actually quite good once you understand how it works (there's a very simple map of the line you're on, both in the station and inside the train). 

Day 2 - Walked around the Orsay Museum, which has a bunch of impressionist stuff.  Headed to Montmartre, the hilly section of town where the "adult" stores are located for some reason.  Climbed to the top of the Sacred Heart Church, which in French has a bunch of accents and weird symbols so I'm English-izing it. 

Day 3 - Checked out the Louvre, which had some famous art and a bunch of pushy tourists.  Toured Les Caves du Louvre, a local wine cellar/seller.  Headed to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed to the top for excellent views of the Champs-Élysées.  Throughout the day we did one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours and saw a whole bunch of sights.  Finished the day with a boat ride down the Seine River, which really wasn't that great, or it was too much to fit into one day. 

Day 4 - Took a train to Normandy and went on a guided tour of several D-Day beaches.  Stopped at the Normandy Cemetery

Day 5 - Casually strolled around Paris and stopped at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sorbonne, and the Pantheon.  Looked for a wine store near our hotel and accidentally found the Porte Saint-Denis, an arc similar to the Arc de Triomphe. 

Day 6 - Flew home. 
The Eiffel Tower was big and cool, but I couldn't help but think that it's simply a big metal structure built for the sole purpose of proving that humans can build stuff like that.  And that's literally what it is.  It doesn't serve a purpose, like housing or office space.  It doesn't store anything.  It's a skeleton structure.  That's a little weird. 

I'm really not into art, but there were a few paintings in the Orsay Museum that I literally couldn't tell weren't photographs.  And the Louvre's art was cool and all, but honestly I was way more impressed by the opulence of the building itself.  It was a former palace, and it shows. 

Normandy gave me an intense feeling of American pride, even more so than living in America does.  The ideas of "the greatest generation" and "their finest hour" were very prevalent everywhere we looked and went.  The cemetery was full of intense symbolism and memorials, and it was interesting to learn that the American government pays for its continued upkeep. 

I found the language barrier to be pretty difficult.  I don't know French, and I found it to be pretty difficult to learn.  Italian, on the other hand, seemed to follow a pretty straightforward pronunciation system, with the addition of rolled R's.  French has a lot of symbols and accents and silent letters, plus nasally sounds that just don't exist in English.  It was interesting to be in a place where you didn't know the language being spoken around you, and you couldn't read the signs or menus or anything.  It was very alienating, and it was still a Romantic language so it shouldn't have been that difficult for me. 

That said, French people were very accommodating.  I didn't interact with a single French person that didn't also speak fluent English.  But I like to at least make an attempt at speaking the language of the country I'm in.  Also on the topic of French people, they were awesome.  Literally every single French person I spoke to was kind, friendly, and helpful.  I can't even fathom how they got a bad reputation. 

Tipping is complicated.  Or it's not.  It depends who you ask.  I really don't care what the policy is, I just wish it was more uniform.  And let me put it on the check at a restaurant.  Why is that not a thing? 

The food was so-so.  I'm admittedly not a foodie, but honestly I've had better croissants in America, and French bread was bland and hard and flaky.  The wine was good, and we found a few varieties that will be added to our rotation. 

The streets were very narrow and circuitous, and the sidewalks more so.  That meant we had a lot of "interactions" with fellow pedestrians.  This might be where French people get a reputation, because I can't even count the number of people who literally tried to walk right through me.  I found it best not to make eye contact, so then other people got out of my way.  Side note:  Most of the people walking around Paris are probably tourists.  So tourists are the real assholes people encounter in Paris. 

All in all a good trip.  "Six days in Paris" was actually more like "four days in Paris, a day in Normandy, and travel days".  Trying to fit all that touristy stuff in that amount of time was pretty exhausting, but I can't imagine doing it a different way.  There's just too much to see and experience, and not enough time.  Easily the highlight of the trip was sitting leisurely at a streetside cafe, sipping coffee and eating a croissant, watching the people walk by, with the Notre Dame Cathedral in the backdrop.  Magnifique! #travel

Slower routes
There's a direct route from my house to my job, on a four-lane highway with a fairly fast speed limit and a dependable yet not ridiculous amount of traffic.  There's also an indirect route on slower roads and back roads through woods and neighborhoods, which takes about 50% more time to travel. 

I've been taking the indirect route a lot lately, and I couldn't figure out what was drawing me to it until recently.  I really enjoy saving time, especially while driving, so it would make more sense for me to take the faster route.  But I kept noticing that I'd arrive at work or at home after the commute and just be stressed and angry.  Nothing particularly negative was happening on my commute, but it seemed to just be the commute itself. 

I finally came to the conclusion that I get stressed out by driving on highways, and it's largely my own fault.  I predetermine the speed I intend to drive based on the speed limit and the probability of police encounter.  So I usually drive in the left lane as I'm passing people.  But I'm not an asshole, so I move over to the right lane if someone is behind me.  But I really dislike getting stuck behind someone in the right lane whose preferred speed limit is lower than mine, so I'll often speed up or slow down and look for opportunities to pass any way I can.  And in the meantime, I'll get angry at people for being in my way or for riding my ass. 

In essence, driving is a video game to me.  I'm hyper-alert and I get angry when I don't win.  It's not fun or enjoyable, but I haven't yet found a way to not think of it that way.  Hence, I take the slow road. #travel

Gulf coast trip
Last week, the wife and I went on a little fly-then-drive trip from Austin, TX to Pensacola, FL.  I'd never been to a bunch of the areas along the way, plus I was able to check two states off the list:  Louisiana and Mississippi.  This was the second trip we've done that was relatively unplanned.  We had plane tickets, a rental car, and a general plan, but we decided on the specifics as we went. 
Day 1:  Flew to Austin and stayed in a somewhat crappy hotel.  I figured it wouldn't be too bad since it was close to the Omni, which is a fancy chain.  I was wrong. 

Day 2:  Walked around Austin including the University of Texas and South Congress Street.  I thought I would enjoy this city more.  It's not that I didn't enjoy it, and it could be largely dependent on the spots we visited, but it just wasn't all that great.  I didn't feel bad about leaving mid-afternoon and driving to Galveston.  On the way, we drove through Smithville, which I'm told is featured in the movie Hope Floats, and also La Grange, which is the subject of an excellent ZZ Top song. 

Day 3:  We stayed in Galveston near the beach, which had its ups and downs.  It was sort of a cool little beach town, minus the fact that the main road that runs through town is loud with trucks and motorcycles.  The town seems to have a history of getting destroyed by hurricanes, but it had some cool old buildings.  After lunch, we headed to Jennings, LA, but not before taking two ferries and stopping at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a ridiculous number of alligators and some weird birds

Day 4:  From Jennings, we headed to Lafayette, LA for some awesome local food at Johnson's Boucaniere and a brief tour of the Acadian Cultural Center, which played a really whiny video about how the French settlers in the area were forcibly displaced from Nova Scotia.  Then we drove to New Orleans and tore up the town a bit on Bourbon Street.  My favorite t-shirt said, "I got bourbon faced on shit street." 

Day 5:  We stayed in a bed and breakfast that was an old mansion, so it had a 22-step staircase and 15-foot ceilings.  And it was cheap.  We walked around some big houses and a graveyard in the Garden District, then spent the day walking around the French Quarter, before getting dinner at a jazz club. 

Day 6:  Headed in the direction of Mississippi, and happened to stop at NASA's Stennis Space Center for an impromptu museum visit and rocket test facility tour.  Drove along the coast and took a ferry before finally ending up in Gulf Shores, AL. 

Day 7:  Drove to Seaside, FL, which was nice but disappointing, before finally heading to our hotel in Pensacola to relax. 
Austin was nice and clean and new.  Southeast Texas and Louisiana had a lot of oil industry infrastructure.  The beaches in the area were mostly ugly and looked dirty.  I'm not sure if that's related. 

New Orleans was old and dirty.  I liked the live music and bar scene of the French Quarter, but I could easily imagine that getting old.  Pretty much the entire city smelled like urine, the streets were dirty, and the sidewalks were all torn up and crappy, even in front of the rich houses.  I'm sure it's related to their history with hurricanes, but the sidewalks were crumbling because of tree roots, not flooding.  Not a huge issue, but still.  I was disappointed by the number of scammers walking around the touristy areas, offering to guess where you bought your shoes or whatever.  Despite all this, I would go back. 

The beach areas in Alabama and Florida were a lot nicer, but a lot more built-up.  I've already spent a bunch of time in Florida, so I wasn't too pumped about the endless strip malls and beach towns.  After seven days on the road, we were pretty exhausted. 

All in all this was a cool trip.  It was fairly cheap, helped by some credit card points.  It was good to see some faraway parts of the country, and to experience some authentic southern things.  Driving was easy, and we tried to keep it under four hours per day.  The constant unpacking and repacking at a new hotel every night got a little old.  It might've been better to rent an RV. #travel

Peru trip
The wife and I traveled to the nation of Peru recently.  I didn't really want to go, but she gave me the option of Africa, Antarctica, or Peru, and Peru sounded like the least worst option.  We
  1. flew into Lima and toured around the Miraflores district
  2. flew to Cusco and acclimated to the 11,000-foot elevation
  3. toured around Sacsayhauman, Pisac, the Sacred Valley, and Ollantaytambo, visiting various Incan ruins and archeological sites
  4. took a train to Aguas Calientes and hiked around Machu Picchu (8000 feet)
  5. took a train back to Cusco, then a flight to Puerto Maldonado, then a boat on the Tambopata River to stay in an eco lodge
  6. toured around the Amazon rainforest, admiring colorful wildlife and terrible bugs
  7. flew back to Lima, toured around the historic center, then flew home.
It was a good trip.  We booked it through a travel agency that organized most of the accommodations and provided tour guides.  We had to book some of the in-country flights, but it wasn't too bad.  The in-country flights were short and cheap, and the airports didn't make me feel like a criminal (looking at you, Newark). 

The people were nice and were eager to show us their country and tell us about their ancestors.  The language barrier was there a little bit, but most people spoke English way better than our attempts at broken Spanish. 

The history and architecture were pretty amazing.  Most of what remains are rock walls and structures made of carved granite, worked by hand, and hauled into place by simple manpower 500-1000 years ago.  It's mind-boggling to think about, and it's awesome that so much is still there, but it's a shame the lousy Spanish conquistadors hauled a bunch away to built their stupid gaudy churches. 

The elevation was a bit challenging at times, but we took it slow and acclimated fairly quickly.  We knew to keep hydrated, not drink a lot of alcohol, and generally not overexert ourselves the minute we got to high altitude.  By the time we got to Machu Picchu, we felt fine walking all around the mountaintop fortress. 

The jungle was our least favorite part for a variety of reasons, the least of which was the size and quantity of spiders.  It was the dry season, so at least the mosquitos weren't too bad.  We did get to see several species of monkeys as well as a giant gathering of colorful macaws at a clay lick, so that was cool.  But living in constant fear of finding a spider in your shoe, or stepping on a spider on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or rolling onto a spider in your bed ... those parts weren't cool.  Maybe I was overreacting; maybe I barely made it out alive. 

Another thing that diminished our jungle experience was the food poisoning (or related illness) we contracted almost exactly the moment we reached our bungalow in the jungalow.  There was limited electricity, and limited plumbing, and that made things less than ideal as we nearly shat ourselves to death.  It's ok though, we're better now. 

In positive news, the exchange rate was good, so it was fairly cheap to eat, stay, and fly within the country.  The food was good, though fairly simple and/or similar to American faire.  I did manage to eat alpaca, which tasted like beef, and cow heart, which wasn't great. 

Wildlife encounters:  At the peak of Machu Picchu, a lizard was on the ground by my feet, looked up at me, jumped on my leg, crawled up by back and down my arm onto the rock wall behind me.  Later in the jungle, our tour guided caught a baby caiman (freshwater crocodile) and handed it to me as he explained all about its anatomy and lifestyle. 

All in all, this was a good trip.  There were some ups and downs, but it was positive overall.  That said, we probably won't be going back. #travel

Automobile usage
Sometimes I like to remind myself that the vast majority of automobiles are only used for about 10% of the day and are only filled to about 25% capacity.  Put another way, cars and trucks sit unused in driveways and parking lots for 90% of their life, and waste about 75% of their passenger space.  That's a dumb system. #travel

Colorado trip
Recently the wife and I took a nice long trip to Colorado.  We
  1. flew into Denver and stopped in Boulder
  2. stayed in Estes Park before touring around Rocky Mountain National Park, where we camped
  3. drove through Grand Lake before heading to Steamboat Springs, where we swam in Strawberry Park Hot Springs
  4. stayed in Craig before heading to Dinosaur National Monument
  5. crossed over into Utah, stayed in Moab, and visited Canyonlands National Park
  6. headed south and camped at Goosenecks State Park
  7. crossed over into Arizona to see Monument Valley
  8. drove back to Colorado to tour around Mesa Verde National Park, where we camped
  9. stayed in Alamosa before heading to Manitou Springs
  10. walked around Garden of the Gods and drove to the top of Pike's Peak before heading back to Denver and flying home.
Overall we drove something like 1300 miles in 10 days.  We only camped 3 nights, but the night in Goosenecks State Park overlooking the winding San Juan River was completely worth the trouble of bringing camping supplies (plus Southwest Airlines allows two free checked bags per person!).  The drive up Pike's Peak was literally breathtaking, i.e. I could barely breath at the top because of the altitude.  Colorado has legal weed, so it was interesting smelling pot smoke at various locations throughout the state.  Unlike previous trips, we didn't have any hotel reservations or real solid plans, so we kind of flew by the seats of our pants, and it worked.  All in all, this was a cool trip, and it was easy to do at the end of summer before a bunch of roads are closed because of snow. #travel

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