Category Archives: Travel

TSA and communications

As you strip down to pass through a security gate at an airport, keep in mind that the Transportation Security Administration has spared no expense to bring the highest level of technology to securing your journey. This technology is rigorously tested,

TSA test of an electronic sign

TSA test test test of a TSA sign sign sign.

to make sure that you, the flying public, can travel securely, if not necessarily while wearing a belt, shoes, jewelry, or anything except possibly underwear.

Oops. Maybe not everything has been tested:

TSA communications error

TSA communications error in the real time security screening system.

Apparently there will be some delays with the TSA’s real time security screening system.

Columbia Gorge, 1999

If you live in the urban portions of the United States, it is often almost inconceivable to realize how much of the country is empty. Not just lightly populated, but empty.

Information booth in the middle of nowhere, Umatilla, Oregon

Information booth near Umatilla, Oregon. It isn’t at all clear what information is being offered, as there is nothing beyond the gate except miles and miles of miles and miles.

While it seems somewhat contradictory, one of the most accessible ways to see this emptiness is to drive down Interstate 84, which borders the southern (Oregon) side of the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon to Umatilla, Oregon. It is a spectacularly beautiful drive, from the lush evergreen forests of eastern Washington and Oregon to the deserts of the interior. And for most of the drive, the only people you will see are travelers on the Interstate; there are few towns, and no urban sprawl. More photos from along the Columbia Gorge.

Stockholm and the Vasa

You know, intellectually, that the United States is a relatively young country, but you don’t realize quite how young until you visit one of the newer countries of Europe — Sweden — and realize the vast difference in age. The famously peace-loving modern Sweden is a sharp contrast to the land that produced Vikings a thousand years ago. Even more recently, Gustavus Adolphus, the “Lion of the North,” almost single-handedly preserved Protestantism with his brilliant generalship during the Thirty Years War.

Photo of narrow street in Gamla Stan (Old Town) Stockholm, Sweden.

One of the narrow streets of Gamla Stan (Old Town) in Stockholm, within walking distance of the Royal Palace.

By accident, we visited just a couple years after a new museum opened in Stockholm, the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum). This massive museum was purpose built to house just one object, the royal ship Vasa.  Launched in 1628, it capsized and sank the same day. Over three centuries later, it was found by an amateur marine archeologist and, after an effort spanning thirty years, the wreck was raised, prepared, and placed on display in the Vasamuseet.

West of Stockholm and away from the Baltic is Gripsholm, another reminder of Sweden’s more militant past. Built around 1380, the castle sits on a small peninsula in Lake Mälaren, and today houses the National Portrait Gallery. But during its long history it has served as a fortification, a refuge, a prison and a palace.

Photo of Gripsholm Castle, a brick medieval fortress on the shores of Lake Mälaren.

Gripsholm Castle, a medieval fortress roughly 60 kilometers west of Stockholm, Sweden.

Sweden is both young and old, and also big and small. While Americans tend to think of Europe as very crowded, if you placed Sweden in the United States, it would stretch from North Dakota to mid Texas, yet in all that vast space, only nine million people call Sweden home. More photos from Sweden and even more photos from Gripsholm, Sweden.

A brief visit to the Netherlands

The Netherlands are, famously, a small country, which can come in handy if you have a long layover. On a trip to Sweden, a couple spare hours, plus a train station right at the airport, practically invited a side trip to Amsterdam.

Photo of Dutch change of address poster on a mailbox in downtown Amsterdam.

“New address?” this sign asks in Dutch. Possibly the best change of address poster I’ve ever seen.

Amsterdam Airport Schipol (Luchthaven Schipol) is interesting for more than quick trips to Amsterdam. Most of the airport is roughly ten feet below sea level. The site of the airport was once called Haarlemmermeer polder (Haarlemmer Lake), a shallow lake made infamous for the number of ships that ran aground in the area. The closest English translation of “Schiphol,” is, in fact, “Ship Grave.”

Land is so precious in the Netherlands that the area between the runways is actively farmed, and farm equipment is equipped with lights (so the equipment can be seen) and radios (so the operators can get clearance from the tower before crossing runways). More photos from the Netherlands.