Archives for October 2011

Photo of the Week – The Grandiose Andes

The Himalayas sound remote and far away?  Well, the Andes are ALMOST as tall and with spectacular views too.

The Andes viewed from the plane on a trip from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile

I dream of the Andes

You can take a VERY short flight from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina (for peanuts if you buy the ticket in Chile) and you get this impressive view.  I fell in love with the view in 1991 and it took 19 yrs to see it again.  But I did.  God’s wonderful work on display!

Steve Jobs, Technology and Travel

Steve Jobs’ passing should come as no surprise.  We are all going to die someday.  What seems is so different about his is that it is about someone who in the span of sort of 30-35 years brought about a revolution in how technology fits into our lives.  Or better said, of how our lives are enabled by the technology around us.

Let’s not overstate it (e.g., he didn’t invent microwaves, cable TV, remote controls, cell phone technology).  Yet, nothing in technology has become so ubiquitous and so TRANSFORMATIVE as the personal computer and the derivative devices that made him so iconic (iPad, iPod, iPhone).  Yes, the microwave transformed a potential kitchen slave into a cooking-slacker.  No small contribution there and this writer is especially thankful.

Yet, the technology that we now live with and cannot live without – and which a generation ALREADY ALIVE will not understand how the world operated without it – was brought forth by innovation and a wave of creativity that Steve Jobs helped unleash.

The power of technology to transform our lives is evident to all of us and we can all think about how it has made our lives easier.   I think about how travel has been made so much easier because of how technology has revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives…

Back in 1991 I was sent to Chile to work for a few months.  Some of the ways I had to operate and live were so much harder due to being abroad.

  • Back then ATMs existed but the international network either did not exist or did not exist in Chile.  I could not withdraw money for my daily life as I would use in the U.S.  Now security and communications technology make this a no-brainer.  In fact, sometimes I may not need cash or a credit card but could use my device!
  • To call the U.S. and speak with family was prohibitively expensive, at the tune of $2/min.  Forget about calling friends.  I remember one of the most expensive calls was calling my grandmother in Miami.  We talked for about an hour.  Looking back it was money very well spent as it would be one of the last times I ever talked to her.  Now?  Goodness, first, international LD is not that expensive; callback schemes make it even cheaper.  Skype has made it even free if you have the right connection!  And, let’s not forget – I can be walking around town and talk to someone.  Back then maybe a cordless phone in the apartment was the extent of the freedom (we forget even these small details!).
  • Expensive phone calls took care of staying in touch via live voice but surely a quick mass email, no?  No.  It was snail mail or nothing.  I did write a few letters – I had to keep in touch with my Mom, sister, grandmother, Father, relatives, etc.  But who wants to sit down and write a letter on paper?  Back then I was used to it as I wrote to my grandmother usually once or twice a month but when I was in another country, making new friends, exploring in my early 20s, who wanted to sit down and write a letter by hand??  Use MS Word you say?  It did not exist in our work PCs (in Chile OR in the US).  Now we can SMS from our phones, email from any Internet kiosk or handheld, tweet every thought anywhere as we move about, etc.
  • I explored a bit of Chile and loved Santiago.  Sharing that with friends?  Mailing post cards to my closest friends was the extent of it and some did not arrive.  No posting tweets about the sight I am currently looking at, nor blogging about the discoveries I was making.  Much less anyone clicking Like or leaving a comment to let me know they got it, they liked it, and that I was not forgotten!
  • As I explored, I loved taking pictures of everything and anything that struck my fancy.  That meant buying film, developing it, throwing away many pix, realizing some pix did not turn out how I wanted & regretting the lost chance, and then I had to carry TONS of pix back to the States when I returned.  My family and friends, if they ever saw them, had to wait until I saw them in person to see my pix.  And how many sessions of show-and-tell did I really want to do anyway?  My friends in Chile (which included other expats from the U.S. and Argentina) also took a lot of pix and we all wanted copies of each others’ pix.  I remember a session we had one night at my apt where everyone brought their pix and negatives and every marked which pix they wanted a copy of so then they could be made.  And everyone paid for their copies.  Think of the logistics!  Today?  God, so simple:  the moment you take the pic you know if you have what you want; load them in Flickr, Facebook, whatever, and your family and friends can see what you are exploring; having them uploaded, other friends who traveled with you can get their own copies made and no work for you.  SO SIMPLE!
  • Even how we research, book, and manage our travel is so much easier and user-friendly.  First, we have the Internet to do research with whether it’d be travel sites, Twitter, etc.  Before it was just books.  Second, we can price shop from the comfort of our couch and do it at our pace, etc without being forced to go to a travel agency.  Third, we can book/modify/cancel at the click of a mouse.  Fourth, we can use tools like TripIt and Kayak’s MyTrips to keep track of it all!  Before, it was once you get the paper ticket, hold on to it carefully, put it all in one place, and maybe write down by hand the specifics of your itinerary.
  • In a new town and all of a sudden out of ideas of where to eat or what are good places?  Before, you were limited to the local info or the travel book which could be dated.  Today?  Jump on TripAdvisor and check out the latest reviews and contribute your own.  Not sure where the restaurant is?  Click on the address and find it on a map that is telling you exactly where you are as well.

I am glad I have been alive to see these improvements which have greatly enabled me to enjoy my travels even more!

So Steve Jobs (or his company) may not have invented all these things but he was a catalyst for bringing computing power and technology into the consumer’s hands – literally.  His influence has shaped our world and helped improved how we live.  He and other innovators and creators have transformed the world during my lifetime through technology.  He was the most visible of these and, as the icon of this technology revolution, he will be missed.  RIP.


A Quick Visit to Ancient Athens

Who has not learned about Athens and ancient Greece in school?  Who has not wanted to see the famous Parthenon in person?  I have left writing about Athens for last, no particular reason.  I guess if it has been there a couple of millenia without me writing about it, what’s a couple more weeks, right?  But I absolutely would write about this most ancient of modern cities, a open textbook waiting to be explored so the lessons of yore come to life!

My Travels into and within Greece

Landing in Athens, I was immediately thrown back to landing in Santiago, Chile from the vantage point of my airplane seat.  Seemingly, the same semi-arid look to the hills around the airport and the fact that there were hills in the landing path of the plane…

Upon landing, I was not leaving the airport since I had a flight to Mykonos in 3 hrs.  I had carried all my luggage on board as I didn’t want to risk lost luggage in the 3 flights I had to take to get to Mykonos.  A small roller bag and a backpack were all I had so that was good.  I went through immigration and then went to check in for the flight to Mykonos since I would have to check the roller bag as it was too big for the smaller plane’s cabin compartments.  Once that was done, my step was just a bit faster as I was freed from the bag.  I went to a café at the airport, ate something and promptly discovered that it offers free wi fi for 60 minutes. I had not brought my laptop but had by nice Android with me so I was able to leave some messages about having gotten there safely, etc.  The Athens airport was clean, well organized, with signage in English for everything – much better than some airports in the States, as a matter of fact.

I returned to Athens 4 days later after my visit to Mykonos and headed to the suburb of Athens named Kifissia.  I already wrote about the wedding events that led me to stay there, how I and later moved to downtown Athens proper after the wedding events were over.

Downtown Athens, I found, was again well signed for tourists, and there was plenty of info (for example, at the airport or kiosks) about the city.  As most cities, it has the Hop On/Hop Off type of buses which is a great way to get your bearings.  I used them to go take a peek at the port town of Piraeus and generally move about town as the buses stopped at my hotel.  I don’t mind walking, which I did, but it was sometimes more about getting to and from faster than walking.

Downtown Athens has a LOT to see and experience.  Experience being a key thing since I imagine most of us visitors jam pack seeing every possible sight (I don’t blame us!) and forget to just feel Athens.  I tried to do both and I am pleased with what I got to do on both counts though I certainly did not have enough time to do both well.

The Acropolis

Of course, first stop was the Acropolis.  If nothing else, that stop has to be made.  I had read that it was better to go early to avoid the afternoon sun but I also discovered that the volume of tour buses is greater later in the day.  Pictures I took when I arrived and when I left of the entrance to the Acropolis show a marked increase in the number of people coming in.  Though there were a lot of people when I got there, it wasn’t too bad.  One could manage.  The ticket to get into the Acropolis serves to enter other historic sites in that neighborhood so the 12euros was well worth it.

Athens, Greece from the Acropolis

A bit of Athens from the Acropolis

Unfortunately, the scaffolding in parts of the Parthenon detract from it but it still is an impressive structure considering its size, age, and location.  I was even more impressed with the great walls around the hill of the Acropolis.  The walls on the side of the hill were very high at some points – how did they manage to build those back when?!  The views from the Acropolis were very nice.  As one walks around, one gets a view of all of Athens.  The Temple of Zeus this way, Piraeus that way, etc.  The Acropolis has more than the Parthenon, of course.  I especially like the Erechtheion and the Porch of the Caryatids – the latter being the object of MANY pictures I took.  At the foot of the Acropolis are a couple of ampitheater-like sites that you can view from above and, one of which, you can actually visit when you get back down to street level.  It is amazing to think of the key historical figures and events that took place around these sites.  A good guide or good reference material will cite examples for these places.  Incredible to see firsthand that which we learned in high school (much as I had forgotten a good bit of whatever it was I learned!).

Porch of Caryatids in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Porch of Caryatids

One key place to see at the feet of the Acropolis is the NEW Acropolis Museum  Unfortunately, poor planning left it on my to do list as the day I thought of going, my last day in Athens, was the day the museum was closed… It was very highly recommended so I regret my mistake.


Also at the feet of the Acropolis are the areas of Plaka and Monestariki.  The former seemed to be more about cafés, local and tourist shopping, and real life.  The latter seemed more a nexus of transportation (train station is there), eateries and the flea market.  However, I do them a disfavor as there are beautiful and old churches as well as very old sites like the Ancient Agora.  So these areas are both for tsightseeing and experiencing Athens.  I greatly enjoyed sitting at a side street café on a wide pedestrian street (off Ermou St.) and drinking a Greek frappé (a must have!).  I did this in the same café two days in a row – that’s how much I liked observing life and sipping my frappé.  These areas also made for great photo opps with all the people walking by.

Street scenes – 1.  Friendly table game on a sidewalk.  2.  Tourist movement through Plaka – lots and fast

Other Places in Athens

I cannot do Athens justice, nor will I try.  Of the many other places in Athens, some of the ones that may be worth seeing are:

  • Lycabettus Hill:  the tallest hill in Athens (abt 900 ft) best reached by funicular though you can walk it up or taxi part of the way.  The best view of all of Athens especially as you get to look DOWN on the Acropolis!  I highly recommend seeing it.  The neighborhood around it is nice to walk in as well so an enjoyable little trip.  It is not far from Parliament so walking to the funicular is easy.
  • Parliament and Syntagma Square:  typically something tourists go see in any capital but with all the recent economic woes and protests in Athens, more of us know the name of this square than before.  It is not that it is an impressive square (like Krakow’s) or Parliament (like England’s) but it is the center of political activity these days.
  • Olympic Stadium:  where the first Games of the Modern Olympics took place in 1886.
  • Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch:  almost side by side and just about across from Melina Mercouri Square, these are also visible from the Acropolis (I guess everything is…).  The former is about 2500 yrs old give or take and the latter a youthful 1900 yrs old…,_Athens
The Acropolis from Lycabettus Hill in Athens, Greece

The Acropolis from Lycabettus Hill

Athens impressed me as did the overall visit to this ancient land.  I am eager to go back and keep exploring all that was left to be seen AND experienced by me in Athens, the Isles and the rest of the country!

%d bloggers like this: