Ever wondered what it’s like to fly in a propeller plane over the Nevada and Arizona deserts and over the mountains in Grand Canyon National Park? This is what it’s like.

And here are a few photos as well. Enjoy!


Plane ride from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon National Park

A Guide To A Good Life

Smelly passengers booted off planes, finally

I’m relieved to see that airlines are finally taking action against smelly passengers — by deplaning them. Jazz Air, a Canada Air subsidiary, did just that on 2/6, after wasting 15-20 minutes searching for the source of a sorely offending odor, then finding it to be a filthy man. I applaud them for having the courage to throw the bum off the plane, and suggest all airlines adopt similar policies.

I wrote about this very thing on 2/15, just over a week ago, after returning from a trip where we had to put up with an explosive trifecta of body odor, gas, and lack of manners. Enough is enough.

I don’t think I need to explain why smells such as body odor or gas shouldn’t be tolerated on airplanes — anyone who’s flown knows how cramped and stuffy things can get without any “additional input” from rude people.

A Guide To A Good Life

Perhaps some PSAs on manners are in order?

I’m starting to think one of the things that’s missing in the US these days is an emphasis on manners — particularly things to do or not to do in public. In the past, books on manners were widely read, but these days, I think I’m pretty safe in assuming manners are not on people’s radars. That’s a shame.

We’ve got a huge influx of immigrants and visitors from all sorts of countries. We, as a country, should do what we can to let them know what’s expected of them while they stay here. If we don’t, we run the risk of lowering public standards for everyone, and I don’t think that’s what we want.

There are two urgent issues that ought to be addressed right away:

  • Personal hygiene: in this day and age, with such easy access to water and soap, there is NO excuse for not staying clean. A shower every day ought to be the recommended standard for everyone.
  • Passing gas in public: this should be a big NO-NO. You’d assume people would know not to do this in public, especially in tight spaces, like on airplanes, but they either don’t know or they don’t care.

I’ve written about personal hygiene in the past, and also about passing gas on airplanes, but these things obviously bear repeating…

On two recent flights, we had the misfortune of being seated next to people who smelled horribly — they had this acrid stench of stale sweat that filled your lungs and made you want to cough and run away. On both occasions, they were from under-developed countries.

I’m not saying all folks from those countries have hygiene problems. We’ve known and befriended quite a few good, decent, clean and well-mannered people from third-world countries, people who are living and working in the US and have integrated themselves nicely in US society.

Still, it seems quite a few people from under-developed countries have a hygiene problem. For whatever reason — customs, habits, etc. — they either aren’t aware that they smell, or aren’t taking steps to remedy the situation. They should be educated, because they need to know what our standards for hygiene are. Don’t think we’re offending them — we’re doing them a favor by being honest with them. Or would you rather prefer we laughed at them behind their backs and ostracized them?

Passing gas in public is a nasty habit that isn’t restricted to recent immigrants. I’ve seen this across all segments of US society, and it’s disgusting every time. Doing it in closed spaces, like on airplanes or buses or trains, makes matters worse, because the rude and filthy people who do it turn the unwitting passengers next to them into helpless victims. What can you do when there’s no place to go and the air around you is filled with the putrid stench of someone else’s bowels? You hold your breath, your eyes bulge, you hide your nose and you curse under your breath, but still, you say nothing, because you don’t want to offend, right? You’re wrong. You ought to speak up and ask whoever’s doing it to stop, because it’s offensive. Shame the shameless creep, speak up! You’re doing yourself and everyone else a favor.

Tonight, while on a flight, I did just that with a woman whose children kept passing gas behind us. They were even bragging to each other, saying “I farted!” and “I farted again!” I asked her as nicely as I could,to tell her children to stop doing it. Her reply was, “Do you have a control button?” To which I wanted to reply, “You’re the control button, lady. You’re the moral compass of your children. The education and manners you instill in them now will guide throughout their lives, so if you can’t even teach them when to fart and when not to fart, you’re not a good parent.” But she was clearly argumentative, so I simply told her that it smelled very bad, and she had no manners if she didn’t do something, then turned around and ignored her.

In spite of the unsuccessful exchange, her children stopped passing gas for the remainder of the trip, so I got the result I wanted. That’s why I want to encourage you to speak up the next time someone does that to you. Stay calm, but shame them, publicly, because public shame has always been a good reason for people to change their behavior.

Of course, the better, more mannered course of action would be for the government or for a NGO to put together a few PSAs about things one is expected to do and not to do while in public spaces in the United States. It’s high time that happened.


American airport hysteria

I love this article from Patrick Smith at Salon.com. It’s on the subject of American hysteria when it comes to airport security, and it references all of the overblown and recent responses of the TSA and other individuals charged with security at American airports. Since when have we become such a nation of frightened ninnies?

“This country needs to get a grip. We need a slap in the face, a splash of cold water.”

“What caused the delays and what hassled so many travelers was not the defendant’s actions, but our mindless and hysterical response to them.”

“Here in this proclaimed new “age of terrorism,” we act as if the clock began ticking on Sept. 11, 2001. In truth we’ve been dealing with this stuff for decades. Not only in the 1980s, but throughout the ’60s and ’70s as well. Acts of piracy and sabotage are far fewer today.”

“Imagine the Karachi attack happening tomorrow. Imagine TWA 847 happening tomorrow. Imagine six successful terror attacks against commercial aviation in a five-year span. The airline industry would be paralyzed, the populace frozen in abject fear. It would be a catastrophe of epic proportion — of wall-to-wall coverage and, dare I suggest, the summary surrender of important civil liberties.”

“What is it about us, as a nation, that has made us so unable to remember, and unable to cope?”

Patrick isn’t the only one upset about this. I wrote about our overblown airport security rules in the past — see this article, and this one, and this as well.

All I can say is that hope can be glimpsed across the pond, in Europe. Having flown through multiple European airports this past year, I can tell you things appear more rational there. Even when there are extra security checks, the tone is calm, the demeanor is calm, and you’re not eyed with suspicious eyes, like you are here in the US, where everything is seen as a threat.


New Year's Day at Amsterdam Airport

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

We flew with KLM from IAD (Washington-Dulles airport in the US) to OTP (Otopeni-Bucharest airport in Romania) during this past New Year’s Eve and Day. I highly recommend KLM, we’ve had the best flying experience with them of all the airlines we’ve used so far.

Foggy day at Amsterdam Airport

I should warn you that Delta handles the ticketing and check-in for KLM at American airports — this means rude and borderline-incompetent service. At least that was our experience at Dulles Airport in DC. KLM can’t help it I suppose. At least once you step onto their planes, it’s a different world altogether. It’s clean, well-lit, well-ventilated, they’re friendly, accommodating, their in-flight video service is amazing, and their food is great.

How is KLM different from other airlines? Well, they’re not evil, like United Airlines, and they’re not clueless, like Alitalia, and they’re not mean, like Spirit.

We picked New Year’s for our flight out of Washington because we thought most people would stay at home. We were wrong. The flight to Amsterdam was fully booked. Who flies on New Years Eve anyway?! Apparently, young people, Muslims and Indians. I understand the latter two groups, because they don’t celebrate New Year’s on the same day as the Western world, but since when have young folks decided to give up partying on New Year’s Eve?

It was a foggy, somewhat snowy New Year’s morning when we arrived in Amsterdam. You couldn’t see a thing on the runway as the plane landed. Thank goodness the pilots knew what they were doing. By the time we cleared through customs and security, the fog cleared a bit as well, or at least as much as the photos show.

Our plane getting loaded for departure

The flight from Amsterdam to Bucharest was empty, which figures. Most Romanians stay home on New Year’s. They prefer to have their traditional parties, then start the new year with some time off. I think there were at most 12 people on the entire plane. I felt bad for KLM, having to fly that big jet with so few people on board, but I suppose things average out in the long run.

Oh, and yes, KLM did wish us a Happy New Year while we were over the Atlantic Ocean, and gave us a choice of champagne or orange juice to toast in the new year. Quite nice of them!

Why don’t I have any photos from the Bucharest airport? Because photography still isn’t allowed there, which is dumb, but then that’s par for the course in Romania.


Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-16


Reagan National Airport

As you read this, Ligia and I are supposed to be in Florida. Instead, I’m back at work. We were supposed to fly out yesterday. Everything was set. We were really looking forward to it.

We got to the airport, checked in, went to the gate, and noticed that our flight was listed as leaving at 6 PM instead of 4:50 PM. A few minutes later, an elderly lady came by and asked if we’d heard that the flight was canceled. No, we hadn’t. Five minutes later, the notice was posted — the flight was canceled indeed, because of bad weather in FL.

To make matters worse, there were no other outgoing flights. All were full. The earliest available flight was on Saturday. No thanks. We went around to all the other airlines and checked. They had nothing, unless we were willing to pay Monopoly prices and fly tonight or on Friday. That would have been okay if only we could have paid with Monopoly money…

What were we to do? We could have gotten angry, but that would have been pointless. So I took out my 5D and started taking photos of the airport. I’d always wanted to do it and never got around to it. Isn’t DCA beautiful?


The main floor is shown above. I love the pillars and arches supporting the roof.




The ceiling is made up of repeating cupolas, as you can see above, and each cupola has a skylight in its center. It’s such great design!


I think I could spend a few days walking around the airport and taking photos. There are so many possibilities with the light, as it comes through the wall of glass or the skylights and reflects off the floor… It’s just beautiful, and if you get the right mix of people walking through (not too many, not too few), it really makes the place look great!




I leave you with an outside shot of the control tower, taken from the Reagan National metro station. It felt pretty painful to get right back to it a few hours after we’d just left it, on our way to FL…

White tower


Dawn over the Atlantic Ocean

This will be my 1,000th post, so perhaps it’s fitting that it be this: photos of the dawn, breaking high above the clouds, somewhere near the coast of France. It symbolizes a new beginning, a milestone — although I have to confess it came by surprise. I hadn’t monitored the number of posts for a while. By chance, I glanced at it yesterday and saw the fateful sum: 999. That’s when I knew I had to make this 1,000th post a little more special than the rest.

We were on our way to Paris from Washington, DC, on board an overnight Air France flight. We were going to have a short layover at Charles de Gaulle airport, then fly to Bucharest, where a rental car awaited our arrival. From there, we’d drive north, crossing the Carpathian Mountains to reach my grandfather’s house in Transylvania.

I liked Air France. The chairs were fairly comfortable, there was more space between the rows than on Austrian Airlines, and all of the seat gadgets worked, which was very unlike Alitalia (see paragraph 7 of that post for the details). The food was great, they got our menu selections right, the stewards and stewardesses were friendly and polite, and we had a good experience overall. I would fly with them again.

I hadn’t slept much all night. I can’t sleep very well on airplanes — I should probably say I can’t sleep much at all on airplanes. There’s the noise, then, of course, the “wonderful” seats and the lack of humidity, etc. I usually watch movies to pass the time while I gasp for air and pour water down my parched throat.

Outside, pitch black darkness stared back at me, and the faint reflection of a bleary-eyed traveler bearing my resemblance was visible in the window. Had there been no one around, it would have been eerie. But Ligia was next to me. She was sleeping somewhat peacefully, and that comforted me.

As morning approached and the first rays of light began to break through the darkness, Ligia woke up. I took out my 5D, and stood ready for that fleeting moment when color and light would combine to produce something worth capturing. Here it is.

Dawn breaking

At 33,000 feet, the cloud clover stayed below, and only its remembrance remained, in the shape of wispy lines that traced alongside us.

I kept my camera ready in case other opportunities presented themselves, and I wasn’t disappointed. A supersonic jet passed by us, leaving orange-yellow contrails in its wake.

Jet set

No matter how commoditized flight gets, there are still a great number of people that can never afford to experience it. I suppose that has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, enough pollution is generated by existing airplanes, so perhaps it’s better that their number is kept somewhat limited. On the other hand, many opportunities open up to you when you can travel so fast. Trips that take days suddenly take only hours. Life, for better or worse, gets faster, and you can do more. I suppose that can be both good and bad, depending on your point of view. I’m on the fence about it myself.

The rarefied life

We found ourselves in our rental car, driving toward Transylvania, that afternoon. We drove through the evening and part of the night. Road repairs made our trip unnecessarily long, but that’s a story for another day. As we were driving through the Carpathian Mountains, night set in, and I stopped to take this photo.

A closing account

As we paused to rest, we thought about the last 24 hours. In that relatively short span of time, we’d traveled over 4,000 miles and still had a few more to go.

Life moves fast these days. If we’re not careful, we can end up old and tired, having spent a lifetime running around from place to place. Sometimes it’s worth more than we know it to STOP, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and look around us. That’s when we realize that those few moments of pause are more precious than whole days of nonstop action.


Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 4

This post is part of a series on Walt Disney World. Click on each link to access Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Disney MGM Studios

There’s a ride called the Backlot Tour at Disney MGM Studios. At first sight, it seems like nothing fancy: just a tour bus that takes you around various places. But if you assume that and never go on it, you miss out on a whole lot of fun.

The Backlot Tour is actually made up of three segments: a pre-ride special effects show (with audience participation), the actual tour in the buses, and a very nice post-tour walk through the on-site AFI (American Film Institute) Museum, which is packed full of actual movie props and costumes.

The special effects show involves mock action sequences from Pearl Harbor, and the audience is shown how stunts like the ones in the movie were created. You also get a sense of the scale of those special effects, and of the incredible effort and planning that went into creating each action scene, even if it lasted only a few seconds.

The backlot tour gives the visitors behind-the-scenes glimpses at the work that goes on at the studio, which is supposedly in use for various movies from time to time. As the tour guide speaks, the bus snakes its way among various cars and objects used in past and recent movies.

Recognize these?


Give it a whirl

Half off Herbie

Flight of the Navigator

Shoot ‘em up

Jacqueline Deep Search


There are rare gems, like Walt Disney’s personal plane. He used it to fly over the Florida Everglades when he surveyed the land he would later purchase for Disney World. Toward the end of the tour, you’ll be taken through the costume department. There’s a tunnel built right through the building where the staff works on costumes, and large windows line it. You’ll be able to look right in and see them at work on the various costumes worn by WDW cast members.

Walt Disney’s personal plane

You’ll get an unexpected shock as you experience a fire and water stunt at a specially-designed canyon. Tens of thousands of gallons of water will rush past you. It’s quite a sight to see!

Better run

Showers expected

But what I thought was really interesting was the AFI Museum, available at the end of the tour. There was no time limit, and we could look at the various movie props and costumes as long as we wanted. It was a treat!

White Witch’s battle gear

Captain Barbossa’s costume

That pointed hat from the Wizard of Oz

White Witch’s battle chariot

Darth Vader’s costume

Cruela DeVil’s costume

Douglas Light Company slide projector

Pathescope 28mm projector

Wittnauer Cine-Twin camera/projector with case

Sir Sean Connery


Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 3

This post is a continuation of my series on Walt Disney World.

Lights, Motors, Action! is one of the shows at Disney MGM Studios. It runs only a few times a day, and it involves tightly coreographed action and stunt sequences with cars and motorcycles. The setup is that they’re filming scenes for an upcoming action movie. The truth is, they’re just trying to involve the audience a little more. I have mixed feelings about making everything seem like the movies, but I can certainly agree with this: the show and the stunts are great!

The set is built to resemble a small, Southern French town.


There’s an introduction, where the audience is told what to expect, then the stunts begin, with little breaks to allow the crew to set up the various scenes.

Hero and villain

Divide and conquer



Catch my drift


On fire


I understand the stunt drivers go through a set of tires in three days, and since the show began, they’ve worn down the pavement on the set by several inches, and it will need to be repaved. There’s also a surprise: you’ll get to see Herbie during the show!