Thanksgiving in Bali

It's a long story but our family decided that the only way to celebrate the week of Thanksgiving in 2014 was to do so in Bali.

We spent a wonderful time there. Not quite an authentic Bali vacation because we stayed at Club Med but oh so nice, because we stayed at Club Med. It was our first experience at one of these resorts and it didn't disappoint. Tons of activities (with trapeze being our favorite), great location, and the food... We still speak about it over 6 months later.

We alternated days at the resort with excursions. The snorkeling wasn't anything to write home about, nor was the scuba diving, though I enjoyed diving with my youngest son. It was amusing to see how my two days worth of classes & training dives in the US were summarized in Bali for Daniel as "keep breathing all the time" and "this is how you equalize your ears" :-)

Other excursions were more fun: An elephant ride, visit to a chocolate factory, a pet market, the Monkey forest... Indonesians were very friendly and a lot fun. We also loved how rich the currency made us feel: $8 buys you 100,000 Rupiah!

Katrine and I left the boys on their own one day and flew to the neighboring island of Java. We saw many sights but the highlights were the Hindu temple of Prambaran and especially the Buddhist temple of Borobudur.

All in all a great visit. I think we'd all be happy to return to Bali, or anywhere else with a Club Med :-)

A Summer Week in Iceland

We spent a wonderful week in Iceland. The country is beautiful in a desolate way. Its volcanic origins and geothermal energy makes for spectacular scenery, delicious crystal blue baths, and hot water that often smells of sulphur :-)


The Icelanders we met were friendly and spoke English well. The weather was never warm and often cold & drizzly though we were surprised to learn that the temperatures in winter (esp. in the Southern part of the island) rarely drop below minus five celcius.


Below you'll find pictures of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle (a must-do day trip in the outskirts of the capital), and further afield in the south of the island (admiring many waterfalls, mountains, as well as a fun speed boat trip around the icebergs of Jökulsárlón).


Quick travel tips:

  • In Reykjavik, we stayed in the second floor flat of this apartment building. It was tight for five people but comfortable and very well situated. We rented its car as well. Worked out great.
  • During our "South of Iceland" expedition we stayed at one of the cottages of the Vellir farm. Amenities were good though dinner was pricey.
  • If you want a great meal in Reykjavik I highly recommend the Around the World menu at the Fish Company.
  • We didn't end up doing it but I heard that the boat tour of Vestmannaeyar is really great.
  • Roads are good, internet is fast, people are nice, weather is... variable. Can't have everything! :-)

Four Parks in Five Days

After a great time in Vegas attending Minecon, our family took a road trip to some of the most beautiful and fascinating national parks in the Western US: Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and Death Valley.

By far the most spectacular of the parks is the Grand Canyon. Its sheer size defeats any attempt to capture its magnificence in a picture. You just have to see it. We spent our day first at the National Geographic visitors center (the IMAX movie is worth it), then visiting many vista points along the south rim. Everywhere you stop a new view of the canyon takes your breath away.

Hotel-wise we were very happy with the rooms & amenities at the Best Western Grand Canyon: conveniently close to the park, plus not every hotel has pool tables and its own bowling alley. Great fun with kids!

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are close together but worlds apart. Bryce's myriad stone spires make the park the more visually appealing of the two but our boys enjoyed climbing and exploring Zion more. Both are well worth a visit, you can stay at either park. Not knowing that up front, we chose Zion. The town is pretty and larger than I'd expected. We stayed at the Quality Inn. It was a little spartan but the price was great, breakfast good, wifi free, and the people very friendly. Dinner at the Spotted Dog Cafe was delicious and surprisingly affordable with kids.

Death Valley's strange landscapes and salt flats made us feel that we'd gone back in time a few billions years. Visiting in late November, the temperatures were very comfortable.

Lodging was a disappointment though. With no competition, Furnace Creek Ranch charges double what rooms are worth. If you make a long day of it, you can see most of Death Valley's attractions so you may want to stay off park. While we're at it, fill up your gas tank before entering Death Valley, or do so at Stovepipe Wells. The prices we saw at Furnace Creek hovered at a sweltering $5.50/gallon!

If you're driving from Las Vegas, set aside a day to get to each park (except Bryce & Zion which are two hours apart). Don't worry, you won't spend the whole day in the car: at some point the scenery along the way will be just too tempting...


A final tip: Buy a National Parks Annual Pass. At $80 this quickly pays for itself as the cost of a park entry is $25/day and, in some parks, card holders can take advantage of faster entry lane.

A Fortnight in Belgium

Being in Belgium reminded me that it was high time I blogged some summer pictures. We spent two lovely weeks in the small Belgian seaside town of Wenduine.

We swam in the North Sea (chilly but nowhere near as cold as Northern California's Pacific Ocean), played on the big sandy beaches, pedaled our go-carts madly around town, visited Bruges and Brussels, spent time with friends & family, and of course… Ate waffles!

The painting is Pieter Bruegel's "The Fight between Carnival and Lent", created in 1559. This is just a small part of the wonderfully detailed canvases Bruegel produced. As you can see, even back then waffles were a big deal here! :-)

A Weekend in Quebec

I recently traveled to Montreal on business and, having never experienced Quebec before, I stayed over the weekend. Like most of North America, a heatwave was gripping the area and sunshine abounded.

When I asked my Montreal friends for recommendations of things to do, their suggestions almost invariably involved eating. "You have to try poutine!", "Montreal has *real* bagels," and "You should definitely stop at Schwartz's, it's an institution." (Sadly Schwartz's wasn't yet open for business when I visited. Tip: don't get there before 10:30 in the morning)

Friday evening I spent visiting the Vieux Montreal, the oldest, most touristy section of Montreal. Quaint cobblestone streets and old buildings. The Notre Dame basilica is worth visiting. I had my first poutine at a restaurant called, you'll never guess, Montreal Poutine. So what it this famous delicacy? A culinary masterpiece of fries smothered in gravy and cottage cheese (i.e. cheese curds). It wasn't that bad, but not really that enjoyable either. I expect this may well be my last poutine. The bagels were good.

On Saturday I walked over 15 miles, most of them in the company of a German tourist, Frederik, who I ran into in the morning. Having someone to enjoy the sights with made it all the more fun. We first explored the Mont Royal, a large hill just north west of the Vieux Montreal with great views of the city. On the other side of the hill is the biggest cemetery I've ever visited. It's well maintained and I took pleasure in wandering through it on our way to Saint Joseph's Oratory, one of the most famous churches in Montreal. A walk down Sherbrooke Street rounded out the afternoon with visits to McGill University and the Museum of Fine Arts (which is free BTW, I love it when a government sponsors learning!). In the evening I thoroughly enjoyed a hilarious rendition of Moliere's play Les Fouberies de Scapin.

Sunday was time for a change. I wanted to get out of Montreal and experience some of Quebec's beautiful countryside. So I set out for Mont Tremblant, one of the highest peaks in the area at 900m (3000ft) and about 2 hours' drive north. The area is very pretty and resembles a cross between Switzerland and Norway. After visiting the summit by gondola, I headed over to the national park (which is over half the size of Luxemburg!) for five hours of climbing a via ferrata. Our group of eight had great fun.

All in all I had a wonderful time, not least of which because Montreal is the first place I've been in North America where I can speak French to almost everyone. I just wish the rest of my family had been with me!

Flying over the Bay Area

This May my friend and fellow pilot Serge and I flew from Oakland airport to Half Moon Bay to visit the Pacific Coast Dream Machines faire. While the faire itself was nothing special, flying in the Bay Area is always a treat. We flew in Serge's Piper Cherokee, which Serge has flown all over the world (well, nearly :-) including crossing the Atlantic twice. I'd never piloted a Cherokee and enjoyed the experience, esp. since it's more powerful than the Cessna 172 I'm used to. 

Pictures below: Downtown San Francisco & Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach, New (expensive!) Bay Bridge, and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Spectacular Panoramic Google Earth

A few weeks ago my eldest son Thomas and I visited one of our friends at Google. Andy was a very gracious host and gave us a great tour. We were both very impressed, esp. Thomas as this was his first visit to the Googleplex.

Probably the coolest part of our visit was playing with a six screen, 180 degree, panoramic version of Google Earth. It was amazing. Extremely fluid and fast, very easy to control, and the 3D buildings made it a truly awesome experience.

Here's ace pilot Thomas as he travels the world. Many thanks to my wife Katrine who did a great job creating a movie out of my poor footage.

Essential Long Term Travel Equipment

Our family traveled extensively over the last eight months or so, spending two months in Europe (FranceItalySwitzerlandNorway) and another two in Australia. Check out the links if you want to see what a wonderful time we had :-)

Here's what ended up being essential equipment for us. I'll skip all the "you really don't need as many clothes as you'd think" advice. You can read that countless other places. (Though it's true, you really don't!).

External Wifi Card

This one's easy. I've already blogged about it. At $40 this gear helped us get online all over the place and was worth every penny.

12VDC Power Inverter

If you're planning to spend a lot of time driving during your vacation, one of these converters comes in really handy. You can charge laptops, iPads, iPods, camera batteries, DVD players, etc. They cost around $30.

Plug Converters and Power Strips

Traveling all over the place, you'll obviously need some converters. Can't say we've found any that we're crazy about but we took three of these with us and they held up pretty well. Bulky though. Bring a couple power strips with you too, you'll need them if you have anywhere near the level of gadgets we have. Why a couple? We've had at least one strip that couldn't take the 220VAC in Europe and consistently blew a fuse.

About Credit Cards
Call your credit card company before you leave and tell them
  • When you're leaving
  • When you're returning
  • What countries you'll be visiting
  • And that they better NOT decline your card when they see transactions from those countries 
If you keep your credit card receipts (you should!), bring a few envelopes with you. Put each country's or each location's receipts in a separate envelope. It'll make confirming that mystery purchase so much easier.

Teva Dozer Sandals

Love these sandals. Took them on a 7 week trip to Australia and wore them almost exclusively: beach, rain forest, desert, rocks, driving, and city. They performed admirably: lightweight, good grip, easy to slip on/off, stayed cool, and were still comfortable at the end of the day. FYI it took about a day for my feet to get used to them.

Toshiba Canvio 1TB Drives

These made great lightweight drives, run off USB, and aren't much larger than a pack of cards. My wife and I each had one to backup our Macbook Pros and provide additional storage. They're about $100 each.

A tip for safe data travel: swap drives while on the move. My wife and I backup regularly during our trips and when we travel she carries my drive, I carry hers. A loss of either of our backpacks doesn't lose all our data. Yes, I care about my laptop, but I care a lot more about the information that's on it.

GoPro HD Camera

Yes, that geek is me, diving off the Great Barrier Reef, with a GoPro on my head. If you're in to adventure sports, or just want a handy high quality wide angle HD camera, you'll be happy with the GoPro. For underwater use, get this housing.

iPad Apps
I love my iPad and it proved itself a great travel companion. Here are a few apps we liked:
  • GPS MotionX HD: A great GPS program, we used it a ton. Make sure you download maps well ahead of time because that external wifi card won't help your iPad get online :-)
  • AllSubway HD: If you're visiting a number of large cities, it's useful having these maps in one place
  • Wi-fi Finder: Can't say I've really used this yet, but it's on my iPad just the same. Internet connectivity is right up there with air, food, and water :-) Download the offline database before your trip starts
  • Living Earth: Wish I'd had this with me. It's a beautiful world map and weather app
  • Star Walk: Not a travel app but a wonderful way to admire new stars and make new friends (seeing the app in action attracts people like moths to a flame)
  • If multiple people will be using the iPad, install a few browsers and assign one to each person. That way your facebook, twitter, gmail cookies won't get mixed up

San Francisco and Bay Bridge from Treasure Island

After many years of thinking about it, I finally got round to visiting Treasure Island. Lying between San Francisco and Oakland it was originally created from fill in the 1930s. The island was mainly occupied by the Navy and has only recently been donated to San Francisco. Nowadays it's a mix of residential housing, hangars, fields, and derelict places. My favorite landmark was a "Genetic Reclamation Area" sign.

Why go there? For spectacular views of the Bay and, if you're willing to explore, you can drive down to the base of the Bay Bridge and see some of the impressive construction work going on.