In fair Verona

It seems like July is vacation month based on the photos spanning Martha’s Vineyard to the Black Hills popping up on social media. Lots of quips about time with the family, delivered with various innuendos. Aspirations of time alone to read proffered as acceptable time off activity.

Personally, I’m dreaming of Northern Italy. Fly into Milan. Check out the fashion culture with my daughter. Find Da Vinci’s Last Supper mural painting at the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Relocate to Verona. Bike around Lake Garda. It looks feasible to plan a day hike in the mountains just to the north.

Cap the trip off with a tour of Venice. Check out Piazzo Saint Marco, the bridges, the canals. The art. And reflect in the gold mosaics’ on the Basilica that it was the free flow of people and their goods which are responsible for the still lingering wealth.

Mysteries around Google Maps

I started posting my photos to google maps about four years ago, undoubtedly because some AI trick prompted a friendly message onto my screen encouraging me to do so. As I became more familiar with maps, and the cooperative efforts of people around the world to share what they were seeing on the ground, I began to value the service. Which led to more postings.

For instance, I was going through childhood travel pictures and family members could not recall the location of this fortification.

Google Lens was helpful, but it suggested more than one fortified option. The choices spanned destinations from the Punjab to Egypt and in between. Fort Attock Khurd looked the most promising so I went to Google Maps and found it sitting beautifully overlooking the River Indus.

Then I paged through the photos posted by recent visitors to the area. With a little adjustment for perspective, the ramparts, curved walls, the river all came into focus. It’s truly (I’m going to show my age!) spectacular that I can access vacation photos from someone on the other side of the earth. It allows for such ease in piecing together a road trip taken half a century ago.

So now I am asking my AI friend, if he/she is listening: Explain the mystery of why some of my photos get so many views and some not. For example, this park is located in a sleepy little suburb and the park itself is nice but not as heavily used as others. The numbers under the playground equipment are particularly strong– it doesn’t seem like the best photo to me out of the group. Why so many views?

I wrote about this DQ about three weeks ago and the views on it have taken off. I guess it is ice cream season. And people often search for food and restaurants. Still it seems like a lot in comparison to other photos of equal quality.

I liked the shot of the Minneapolis skyline from under the I94 Bridge. Maybe I’m biased because we had such a nice bike ride along the river. The river flats area is famous for being the low income housing area of a century ago.

My all time high views is of a beautiful beach at Fish Lake Regional Park in Maple Grove. I do love that park. In addition to the beach, there are walking trails, you can rent a variety of water craft and there is a dog park. We have an extensive regional park system in Hennepin County, and maybe the numbers reflect the number of patrons planning visits.

Still– if AI big sister is listening: Please explain the variance in views!

Union Market

Even back twenty years a go when the death kneel sounded for the end of paper books, I was skeptical. I never tried the Nook or downloaded books from the library. The feel of the printed page in my hands is part of the reading experience.

In those in between years, when national bookstore chains were shutting down, I made a point to visit Birchbark Books which is one of a handful of independent bookstores to weathered the competition from technological alternatives. It’s a sweet brick storefront with a large glass paned window, owned and run by writer Louise Erdrich.

Her shop, which is in an old money neighborhood of Minneapolis, has an eclectic inventory on its shelves with brief commentary on handwritten cards taped up so as to give you a preview of what is to be found between the pages. Quite a few shelves are devoted to her books as well as the work of other Native American writers, as this is a venue for their display.

Last week while out in DC we visited Union Market, an old grocery marketplace now being rehabilitated after a long period of decline. Politics and Prose has a cozy presence in a slim shop settled in a long row of what appears to have been food distributers. The area has that cool vibe of a place artists would like.

The redevelopment, however, is coming fast and furious. The contrast is visible as the four to seven story apartment or building space surround the street level shops.

Politics and Prose is the pale green store front center left.

Vintage Stonehenge and the passing of time

Stonehenge summer of 1976

In honor of the alignment of the rising sun on the spring solstice between the ancient stones of Stonehenge, here is picture from my visit in the mid 1970’s. I do remember the now UNESCO World Heritage site as being well attended. And from the lack of grass around the ancient stones, it seems that everyone was allowed full access to the area.

A hike, a lake, a monastery.

A hike up to the crater lake at Mount Zuqualla is a day trip from Addis Ababa. The drive out of the capital city and off the Ethiopian high plateau, down through the valley to the base of the extinct volcano can be done in less than a couple of hours. It is a bit of a climb up to the lake, and the road is rough. The verdure is thick right after the rainy season, and yellow flowers, similar to our tickseed, bloom throughout the countryside. Silhouetted on the ridge of the hill are oversized eucalyptus trees. They grow everywhere in the highlands and their fragrance is unmistakable.

The crater lake is not much to look at but the views back over the valley are spectacular. A 14th century monastery is visible off to the west, but we did not venture in its direction. I came across this post on twitter telling the story about how it was settled.

Taken from the Asian African studies blog at the British Museum

The British Museum has an extensive collection of Ethiopian manuscripts which are beautifully inscribed and illustrated. If you ever hear people complain that Christian art does not depict the stories of the bible in their image, send them to this resource. Ethiopians trace their Christian heritage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Lessons from airports

To say I grew up in airports is a bit of an exaggeration, but only slightly. International travel in the 60’s was still rather new and exotic and susceptible to schedule changes. Long layovers to coordinate connections were common, and delays due to weather or mechanical issues were even more common. My parents were adventuresome and thought nothing of towing three young children around with them. In the photo, my brothers and I are cooperating dutifully on the luggage cart at the Colombo airport having arrived from Dhaka for a little R&R.

The vintage “where in the world” posts are from trips we took while stationed overseas with the US Diplomatic Corps. Even by foreign service standards we moved a lot, fulfilling only one DC assignment which lasted less than three years. The school years spent on Chesapeake Street between Reno Road and Connecticut were idyllic, only blocks from Murch Elementary.

On the weekends we would go for hikes off the scenic Skyline Drive or ride our Shetland ponies on an acreage in West Virginia. But this tame American experience couldn’t match hiking the terraced tea gardens of Malaysia or climbing up to the crater lake at Mount Zuqualla or even the rather urban stroll up to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. The whole family was eager to take back to the skies. I didn’t return to live in the US until college.

With so much time on our hands at Heathrow or Narita or Charles de Gaulle my brothers and I would play games eavesdropping and then betting on the nationalities of our chosen observation subjects. Of course there was language to give us some guidance, but also mannerisms and apparel. If we were lucky they would pull out their passports to allow us to settle our bets.

Fifty years ago, as pre-covid, airports were busy places with passengers rushing anxiously to catch flights. Perhaps forgotten now, is that by 1972 a total of 150 US planes had been hijacked. Commandeering aircraft was in a golden age. Airport security was considerable. I remember the Rome airport in particular crawling with camo clad soldiers, each carrying an assault rifle. The true power, however, was held by the typically slender uniform behind the passport control counter. He (usually, but sometimes she) could question or detain you. Have your luggage searched.

The approach was straightforward. Only answer the questions when asked. Don’t offer additional information. Do nothing that could antagonize the one person who could delay your travel. I still think of these very prompts when I travel abroad.

Ski Trip-Park City-Review

The overall rating for our Christmas trip to Park City was five out of five stars.

Travel and logistics: There are multiple daily flights from MSP to SLC, accommodating early risers or those who want to tick out the very last minutes of the day. The front desk at the Marriot recommended Four Seasons Concierge Service (approx $75/person round trip including stop time at Wal-Mart) to haul the four of us, and all the equipment, the 40 min drive up to Park City. We no longer have any desire to drive on icy, unfamiliar roads and use whatever bus or car service is available. This one was excellent.

Lodging and Food: Marriott Mountainside offers villas which are two bedroom suites with a kitchen and living area. So we cooked-in most all meals. Our driver pulled into Walmart parking (conveniently right on the way), where an employee loaded a week’s worth of groceries into the back of the suburban. By ordering on-line the day before departure, our groceries were ready to be picked up, all confirmed by text message. Definitely a Covid lesson I will repeat. There was only one additional stop for groceries the whole week.

Marriott Mountainside is right on the hill. You walk past the pool and hot tub with your gear, pop into your skis and slide down into the lift line. This frees up the time normally spent stomping out to an early morning bus ride up to the ski area. Park City Mountain is the largest resort in the US, but more importantly for us were the number and quality of blue runs. Skiing on a 4-out-of-5-day pass ($415/adult) we had plenty of terrain to keep us busy. Lift lines were a little long, but thanks to Covid, a reservation system kept the numbers in check.

Since we had such easy access to the room, we took a break for lunch every day. We did go into town for a nice steak dinner one evening. Prime Steak and Piano Bar lived up to its on-line accolades both for food and ambiance. You wouldn’t be able to get out of there without spending $300 (us more) for four. We felt it was well worth the money. The live vocals and piano music were particularly welcome this year.

The Town: Silver mines brought people and wealth to the area starting as early as 1868. So there are a fair number of preserved historic buildings. Main street is filled with what you would expect in a resort town: restaurants (said to have over 200), galleries, merch shops, snow wear and gear.


Weather: Average temps in December and January are between 13-32 degrees. This year the snow cover was sparse–for guaranteed depth it is best to arrive mid-January. The climate is dry which allows the snow to remain powdery despite the warmer temps. It was sunny four out of the six days.