Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


He wrapped himself in quotations - as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.
In New Delhi, I finally found enough 'time of useful consciousness' to get out of the hotel and go and a walk-about. I am in debt to my FO for his knowledge of the city.

The Hotel Mauriya is a den of luxury and sybaritic pleasure. I shudder to think of what it costs the company to put us up there - it is easily and hands down the nicest place that FedEx puts its' pilots in - this makes the juxtaposition with the poverty in the rest of India so shocking. It is one of the few hotels I've been to that has a front gate with gate guards. To get a taxi, you have walk out through the gate and hail one from the street. We got in this one:

I found myself humming foolishly: "I don't care if it rains or freezes, long's I got my plastic ....buddha... sitting on the dashboard of my car." (Plastic Jezuz)

On closer inspection, that may not be a Buddha but some other Hindi god or goddess....

In any case, the cabbie took us to a very tasty Indian restaurant - Moti Mahal - somewhere near all the diplomatic section of town.

I was well tucked into the meal before I realized I should have taken a good shot of the presentation before I started eating. So you get this image:

and this one of the excellent Indian brew:

After eating, we found a Tuk Tuk and rode over to Humayun's Tomb. Gentle readers, I have flown supersonic, navigated at high speeds at low altitudes with a student pilot at the controls and sat through many a new student pilot landing but the Tuk Tuk ride paled those experiences. Please play this video.

Keep in mind that my little camera has a wide angle lens and things in the wide angle lens appear much farther away than they really are......

We arrived at the tomb and exited the Tuk Tuk...

and contracted with the Tuk Tuk driver to wait for us while we walked around the grounds of the tomb. Off we went.

Humayan's Tomb was evidently the precursor to the Taj Mahal. It is a very beautiful edifice and the grounds around the tomb are spread out over many acres. Further, they are subdivided into many walled subsections. This is the gate into the inner section.

There were many dogs trotting about. Just to the right of the above picture was this scene:

Through the gate, we got the first view of Humayun's Tomb.

We walked through the dark door at the center of the tomb and up some very steep stairs and into the upper level of the artifice. The upper level is where all the stars of this episode reside. At the very center of the upper level tomb is the ol' boy his ownself.

Having gotten just about as much out of this cultural trip as we could, we retraced our steps out of the grounds and back towards the waiting Tuk Tuk. But before we left we investigated this lesser temple on one of the subgrounds.

On the trip back to the hotel, I wish I had been more ready. I could have shown you the monkeys and cows that occasionally hove into view on the streets on the way back.

The next day we operate off to Shanghai, China. More on that later,

Dad / Geoff

Mainz and Paris

"Great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of anything else great." Henry IV Of France

Esteemed Readers,

I had great plans of taking my long pleasant walk along the Rhine River that I always take when we layover in Mainz, Germany. I had, in fact, promised my FO that I would show him the route as he is a great walker too.

This did not happen.

After we left Rosi's Schinderhannes, we went back to the hotel to sleep. At this point, we had been awake and doing 'stuff' for over 24 hours, had just had a nice but heavy meal and several Bitburger, Pilz. While we agreed that we would get up around noon and go for a walk - the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

I remember waking up around 10 am, seeing the time and rolling over. I also vaguely remember seeing the clock read 1 pm and 3 pm and repeated the rollover manuever. I finally became conscious of the world around 4 pm. We were going to be alerted to fly down to Paris around 6 pm. Normally, guys are taking an afternoon nap before flying, so while I thought about calling my FO I decided he had probably gotten disgusted with me not calling and was probably napping and I didn't want to wake him.

So, instead of my long 3 mile hike, I just walked the short distance over to the Rhine and back to the hotel. I got back just in time to pack and get alerted.

When we met in the lobby, the first thing the FO said was: "Hey, sorry, I didn't get up until a couple of hours ago and I didn't want to call that late." So I laughed and told him the same and we both agreed that we aren't as young as we used to be.

I did get these nice pictures on my short walk.

The first is of the Gutenberg Museum and the blossoming trees that are planted outside. One of these days, I really need to go into the museum, but it didn't happen this time. I would tell you what kind of tree this is, but my well known agronomy challenge prevents me from doing that. Maybe one of you esteemed readers can fill this void?

There was a nice, little carnival setup right on the banks of the Rhine. I tried to get a picture of it but the geometry of the thing couple with its placement on the bank prevented me from capturing the scene. The only picture that came close was this one taken up through the same blossoming trees at the Ferris Wheel.

That night we flew the short leg down to Paris and got into the hotel around 1 am. We found a nice little cafe and had a pleasant meal. Then we repeated the previous day's sleep patterns and didn't get up until late afternoon. So, my intentions to walk along the Champs Elysees and the Seine were for naught.

We flew and 'out and back' to Frankfurt and back to Paris that night. Got into the hotel in the early am and repeated the sleep cycle. Boring is as boring does.

The lobby of the hotel had one of those cute egg shaped chairs and I had to get a picture.

With that scene of pathos searing your retina, I bid you 'avoir'.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An International Observation

"A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than
anything else in the World."
Edmun & Jules Concourt

Esteemed Readers,

I fear I am about to add to the cacophony of fools.

Graffiti, it seems, knows no international boundary. You find it all over the world. Recently, it dawned on me that there exists an eerie similarity to all graffiti. Graffiti artists seem to find themselves limited to use of the same ‘font'. The vast preponderance all tend to use big, puffy white letters outlined in black; although, often the letters themselves come from no established language’s alphabet.

As you might surmise, I noted this observation on one of my many and varied cab rides from hotels to airports and back. Rather than collapsing into the flat-lined alpha wave state I normally adopt during transport to and from work, I spent some time wondering why graffiti would show such a homogeneous structure throughout the world.

Because my default state is as a mean-spirited, bigoted, xenophobic American, my first explanation for this sameness was ‘Amerocentric’. I surmised that – like other pop culture art forms – American graffiti artists have forced their influence on the rest of the world. I apologize for any discomfiture this has place on any of my international esteemed readers. Idly, I wondered why our President missed his chance to apologize for this coercion during his recent World Apology Tour.

This thought process naturally led to a desire to improve my mental discipline and become more cosmopolitan and I realized that I might have this explanation exactly backwards. There very well could be a continental European influence on American graffiti.

This morning, however, as I was shaving and performing other preflight ablutions, I realized there is a much more likely technical explanation for this sameness.

As all artists have known since time immemorial, the results of your art are constrained by your materials and environment. The cave drawings in Lascaux look the way they do because of the ‘canvas’ and pigments available to those artists. Davinci’s sculptures are formed by the choice of marble available. The Renaissance Artists results are framed by the canvas, brush and paint options available, and so on.

Consider a generic graffiti artist. He* finds some fairly significant constraints upon his art form. Working hastily in the dead of night to avoid political and legal oppression, standing on some sort of hastily erected ladder or scaffolding next to some boxcar, bridge abutment or other wall, under poor lighting conditions, limited in palette and brush stroke by the selection of spray cans available, it is no wonder that our artist’s final results look related worldwide. It seems obvious that big puffy white letters outlined in black would naturally result from such environmental and material constraints.

Just now, esteemed readers, I realized that a google search might shed light upon this inquisition. Frankly, the consequence to my already established geekish reputation were I to make such an inquiry frightens me . If you wish, I leave the googling to you. Feel free to liberally comment below.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

* Please allow me the use of ‘he’ to mean a generic human being of non-specific gender; I detest the horrid ‘he/she’ formulation.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Resaurants - Memphis and Frankfurt

“We never repent of having eaten too little.” Thomas Jefferson

How true TJ’s words are!

I try not to whine often about my eternal battle with jet lag, but this once I have to use it as an excuse to explain why it has been a week since I last posted - even though I’ve been on a trip where some fairly interesting things have happened. It has been more important to use the time I’ve had in the nice hotels FedEx puts us up in to show up to fly well-rested than it has been to write.

In any case, the layover in Memphis was fairly short and there was only time to go to lunch, watch the final day of the Masters and then nap before the midnight alert call.

Just about every state in the union has a Barbecue that they are proud of. (No … BBQ in Minnesota is not called ‘Lutefisk’) Memphis rightfully holds claim to some of the best BBQ restaurants to be found. You can get a nice plate of BBQ anywhere along Beale Street but Corky’s is right around the corner from where we stay in Memphis and we went there. An old friend who hired on at the company when I did and was in my ‘New Hire Class’ was staying at the hotel too and we joined up and walked over.

You can experience Corky’s ribs yourself! Just click this link and you can order a mess of them and Corky’s will FedEx them to you tomorrow. You get a great meal and we get business….can’t recommend this highly enough. Drop everything you are doing and go order now.

That night we took off from Memphis and crossed over the Great Lakes, Newfoundland, the Big Pond, Ireland, England and landed at Frankfurt, Germany. The trip was boredom at its best - my favorite kind of flight. It was cloudy most of the eight hour flight, but I did get this one picture over England out east of London.

And this one flying down the Rhine as we approached Frankfurt from the east:

Manfred, the guy who owns the transportation service for us at Mainz, picked us up and took us to the Mainz Hilton. Enroute to the hotel, He told us about the Mainz Spargel Festival. I’d never heard of spargel before, but it is a specially grown white asparagus.

We turn now to the second restaurant in the tale of two restaurants. Here is the reference from the internet:

Rosi`s Schinderhannes
open daily from 17:00 – 22:30 (opens longer only for Fedex Crews)
traditional german food, special Schweinshaxe “Big Ed” (knuckle of pork)

Schinderhannes was a famous local Robin Hoodish character and Rosi’s Schinderhannes is named for him. There are old pictures painted on the walls of his execution that are turning brown from age.

We sat down outside on the sidewalk tables and had a nice dinner of schnitzel – I had chicken and the other two guys had veal. Of course we ordered a big platter of spargel just afloat in butter and other spargel enhancing spice that was just wonderful. Bitburger, Pils too.

One of those interesting coincidences happened as we ate. There were two other FedEx guys sitting at table next to us and we struck up a conversation.

First some background. When this travelog was just an email I sent around to family and friends, I would name names and give histories of folks I flew with. I am hesitant to do that now as once I post this I now longer have control over who sees it.

My FO on this trip - who will remain nameless - is an interesting guy. He was a student pilot at Laughlin AFB when I was an instructor there. He has some time as a bush pilot in Alaska and is presently still with the AF Reserve unit there at Anchorage’s Ted Steven’s International Airport as a Blackhawk Helicopter pilot. He has rescued folks from the sides of Mt Kinley and done other things that I am in awe of. More on that in a later post.

The most famous bush pilot in Alaska’s history is Don Sheldon. He has a biography called “Wager with the Wind.” When Alaska pilots get together there is always at least one mention of him. He landed airplanes on glaciers high up the side of Denali and rescued trapped skiers. He landed airplanes on raging river canyons and rescued capsized fishermen. He is immortal.

As we sat and munched our spargel and schnitzel, my FO says to one of the guys next to us:

“Did I meet you on the airplane in Bagram?” (Afghanistan)

“I thought that was you!

This started one of those “Hail Fellow, Well Met!” episodes that I will always remember.

My FO was activated to go with his Blackhawk unit to Bagram some time back and got ‘military leave’ from FedEx to go do his duty and defend his country. FedEx started doing military charters into Afghanistan about the same time. He made it a policy to go out and greet the FedEx crews on the ramp after they landed if he could.

Conversations ensued and bush pilot stories began to fly. That’s when we discovered that the new fellow sitting next to us was married to Don Sheldon’s daughter and he knew a lot of lesser known Don Sheldon stories.

So, I got to sip my Bitburger Pilz, and listen to good stories as I watched the setting sun light up the watch towers that define the confines of the Old Mainz City in a golden light. Like an idiot, I forgot my camera so I don’t have an image to share with you.

On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, April 11, 2009

More Tales from Ilona's

Esteemed Readers,

I am sitting at the kitchen table in Ilona's Bed and Breakfast's 'New House' as I prepare for what may or may not be an interesting trip. The First Officer and I will circumnavigate the globe in the next week and a half and I hope to capture some interesting stories to relate to you.

The Redoubt Volcano, eruption which I discussed here and here has had local effects on Anchorage. When I rode the MD-11 jumpseat up here to Anchorage yesterday morning I had hopes of capturing pictures of the eruption but clouds were covering that side of the Cook Inlet.

I did get these two interesting pictures to share with you. The first is of the Cook Inlet itself, the ice floes that still exist on the inlet, a cargo ship leaving the inlet and the 'Sleeping Lady Mountain' / Mt Susitina in the background. The sun is just rising so that my little camera was challenged to have enough light to get a clear picture, but I think the colors were very nice.

Just after that scene, we lined up to land on Ted Steven International Airport's Runway 07R. I was sitting in the center flight deck jumpseat and got this striking picture. You can see the Chugach Mountain Range, downtown Anchorage, the runway and the airport control tower. (Ignore the bug spots on the windscreen please.)

Several of the other pilots staying here at Ilona's were here when the big Redoubt eruption covered the city with ash. They say it looked a rainstorm approaching, except it was a brownish gray. The ash is very fine and gets into everything. After washing their cars several times the ash is still in the fine cracks and crevices.

These pictures are of Ilona's backyard. The black dots are clumps of ash. The ash is everywhere now and gives a sort of dreary gray overcoat to the countryside.

This has been kind of a boring post but as I was showering this morning, I remembered the saga I'm about to relate to you. This was part of an email I sent home on May 11, 2007. I hope it will liven things up a little.

Before I begin, please examine this picture.

Take note of the protuberance at the
bottom and the sticker which clearly states "Automatic Shower Cleaner". I'll wait while you do this. Ready?

I awoke this morning and went to the bathroom to begin my morning
preparations and ablutions. I'll spare you the details. An important point to note was that it was nearing the time that the ANC Ramp Agent calls my cell phone to 'alert' me for my trip. Knowing this, I'd still left my phone back in my room.

I had just doffed my pjs and pulled back the shower curtain to get into the shower when I heard this muffled beeping coming from somewhere. I also note that there is a strange looking device hanging from the shower head that wasn't there last I stayed here. You, gentle reader, must understand that decades of flying noisy jets has left my hearing in the audible range of 'beep' less than satisfactory. Beeps befuddle me and I no longer possess the ability to eco-locate their origins. Ignoring the obvious, I figure the beeps are my cell phone and the ramp is calling me so I turn back to where my pjs are hanging to get dressed and go back to the room.

precise moment is when I'm struck in the face and eyes by a noxious stream of shower cleanser as the rotating head from hell on the bottom of the shower device comes alive with a loud whirring sound. Whirling and squirting, it is going about its designed and assigned task of liberally coating the shower and shower curtain once a day automatically. The beeping was obviously its polite and generous way of warning me that it was about to open the gates of hell.

With all this in the back of my mind, my body reacts to the emergency and I
find myself standing there, naked, hands ineffectively cupped around the whirling head, as soap squirts everywhere through my fingers, continuing to drench the shower and yours truly. My eyes smart mightily and I'm more than moderately concerned about them. I'm here to tell you that it is possible to feel the emotions of panic and foolishness simultaneously.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only
seconds, some rationality returned and it occurred to me that I could solve my dilemma by stepping back, closing the shower curtain, and letting gorgon finish its task, leaving me free to grope for a towel.

So I did.

As many have noted before, there is always some knucklehead who doesn't get
the word. Today it was me. Finished laughing yet? Good.

Until my next saga, I remain,

Dad / Geoff