Category Archives: City

Las Vegas / San Diego 2024

I would not have believed it could rain in Las Vegas for five days straight but that’s what happened this trip.

Grand plans to visit Vegas for three days, Palm Springs for three days, and, San Diego were disrupted by an atmospheric river. Palm Springs ended up getting crossed off the list entirely because we were stuck indoors due to the rain and Palm Springs doesn’t have much for indoor activities so we stayed in Las Vegas because there is so much to do.

I have to say, the nine days of rain were a blessing more than a curse. We found all sorts of indoor activities to do we wouldn’t have otherwise done. The pinball museum, all the Chinese new year decorations, night photography ij Vegas, restaurants, Hoover Dam tour, indoor swimming in San Diego, were an absolute blast.

We had the favorites too – Bronx Pizza, Valley of Fire, hiking (on the one nice day), the strip, and, of course, the wonderful 24hr restaurant, Blueberry Hill.

Enjoy the photos!

China 2023 – Shanghai, Suzhou, Beijing

Vast changes in Chinese society occurred between December 2014 and December 2023. So much so I felt I was visiting an entirely different country because nearly none of my memories or recollections from 2014 matched my experiences in 2023. I had a very positive experience in China and would love to go back; this is basically the opposite of my feelings in 2014.

I spent time in Shanghai, Suzhou, and, Beijing for work, about a week total across all three. What I found was remarkable: what was once a very dirty, gross, crowded, loud, rude, and, overly difficult place to travel in 2014 became a clean, polite, appropriately-loud, and, mostly easy place to travel. Of all the big changes it was good to know KFC was just as delicious as before and I cherished the opportunity to eat KFC three times – which is about three more times than what I’ve had KFC in the USA for the last nine years.

The most remarkable differences between 2014 and 2023:

  • I didn’t see physical currency the entire time I was in China. Alipay and WeChat was used to pay for everything.
  • I saw blue sky in Shanghai for the first time! It was beautiful! The pollution smell was mostly the same but the amount of air pollution was profoundly less.
  • On-the-fly translation devices like Google and whatever is used in China makes communication a breeze.
  • There are fewer young people and ever fewer kids.
  • I saw more “American / white people-esque” activities like lot’s of Chinese people running for exercise outdoors.
  • China was just a gross place in 2014. Lots of bodily sounds like coughing, spitting, and, throat clearing and lots of very loud voices. That all seems to have gone away, at least in the urban areas.
  • Far fewer taxis, way more electric vehicles, zero honking. It looks like ride hailing like Uber is now the defacto way of getting around instead of taxis and there are a massive amount of electric vehicles on the road.
  • I did not encounter any other foreigner engineers the entire trip, and, there were few foreigners in general.
  • My cellphone worked the same in China as the USA, except Apple News, but facebook, snapchat, and, all the other sites worked just fine.

So I don’t know what happened in China to make China what it is in 2023. The shear scale of change is absolutely staggering to a point where it was a bit discombobulating. It greatly enjoyed my experiences this visit, certainly compared to the prior visits.

The entire journey actually started in November when I needed to get a passport and a Chinese visa. I didn’t have either and needed to expedite both – what an incredible learning experience. All I know is I am lucky to have a passport office in Minneapolis and that was the lynch pin of getting everything sorted so quickly.

The trip over went well. My plane left Minnesota at sunrise and I landed in Shanghai right around sunset. Overall, I had about 22hrs of sunlight since I was flying the same direction as the rotation of the earth. Pretty neat for winter in the northern hemisphere!

Traveling around China for work the first couple of days was shocking. No honking. None. Plus, everyone was going exactly the speed limit, no one too slow and no one too fast. I asked about this and I learned honking was banned and there are so many cameras around that speeders get caught immediately. What a huge difference from Minnesota where speed cameras are constitutionally banned!

At some point China stopped using physical currency – like no bills and no coins, everything through Alipay. I read as much before I left so I didn’t exchange any dollars into RMB. This is the very first time I’ve traveled to a country and NEVER used local currency. It was WILD! Using Alipay was surprisingly easy and easier than Applepay. Scanning QR codes to buy things turned out to be absolutely fabulous and is now my preferred way to spend money!

The air pollution was wayyyyy better in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing. I actually saw blue sky multiple times in Shanghai! It was surprisingly beautiful and only added to Shanghai’s stunning urban scenery. The air still had a pollution smell but the air taste was gone entirely. I can distinctly remember tasting the air on the 200+ AQI days but I never experienced anything like that this time!

It was super easy to communicate in China – I could use google translate and they used whatever program they used. It was amazing to speak to my phone and it translated on the fly. Last time, it was a bit tougher to communicate which made traveling harder. No so much this time!

I saw more Chinese doing activities common in the USA – like going for a run to exercise. I also encountered a person who gets gout – a diet related aliment typically relegated to the western world. Last time in China I definitely felt “othered” but there were far more similarities than differences this time.

Another of the biggest shocks was the fact I didn’t encounter many foreigners and encountered zero foreign engineers. Even Nanjing Street and the Bund were overwhelmingly locals / Chinese. Even the stores in Nanjing Street turned over to appeal to the change in demographic – what once was a shopping district littered with shops selling memorabilia like chopsticks, tea sets, scarves, and, other wares have been replaced by high end clothing shops, jewelry shops, and, such. Afterall, what Chinese person needs chopsticks, tea sets, scarves, and other memorabilia since all that stuff is made in China and available across the country anyway?

Overall, 10/10. Great trip.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Oregon 2023

Our summer vacation was in Oregon and it was super fun to visit Bend, Cannon City, and, Portland again. We last visited the areas like a decade ago and it was neat to re-visit some of our favorites and explore new areas.

Bend was neat. This time we didn’t hike South Sister, thank goodness, but we did visit Sparks Lake and see a stellar sunrise. Hiking around the area and visiting Newberry Volcanic National Monument was super fun too.

Catching Cannon City a bit after sunrise was pretty special. Seeing the early morning clouds burn off and hanging out on the beach while the tourist world wakes up was fun. Since Oregon is two hours different than Minnesota we found ourselves waking up crazy early to go do things. We aren’t really ocean people so we didn’t really go into the water but playing AROUND the ocean, hiking around the ocean, and visiting the little tourist shops in the quaint tourist town turned out to be quite a bit of fun.

We had a blast in Portland. The food trucks were fabulous, the nearby hikes were accessible and easy for us to do as a family, the weather was great, Tilamook / Umpqua ice cream was STELLAR, and, I learned the incredible joy of shopping at Winco where everything is so cheap even Arizona Iced Tea is only $0.78. Eating the fresh fruit from the Hood River Fruit Loop tour and engorging ourselves on fresh Rainier Cherries, a cherry which is really difficult to get in Minnesota, was wonderful.

Honestly, what I was expecting in Portland was far different than what we experienced. It feels silly to write now but I had expected the city of Portland to be a lot more lawless and filled with homeless than what it actually was. It turned out to be exactly as I had remembered my prior visits to Portland. The issues plaguing many large cities due to COVID / COVID lockdowns, policing / policing response, and proliferation of drugs. News, “news”, and social media have been filled with content about how dangerous cities are and Portland was commonly referenced as one of the lawless places just like Minneapolis. It turns out it was all bullshit. Downtown Portland was fine for us. Sure, we weren’t out at night and we weren’t trying to involve ourselves in drug deals so maybe we just weren’t part of the lawlessness scene during this visit.

The weather was perfect for us. So perfect we were thinking about moving to the area. Then it rained for like three days straight so we looked up how much sunshine the area gets. Amazingly, it’s cloudier in Portland than it is in Minneapolis, and, I think it’s really cloudy in Minneapolis. Yikes.

That’s about it. Lots of photos of hiking. We had a wonderful time and look forward to going back! Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Summer 2023

Such an odd summer for Minnesota. First we had rain. A lot of rain. Then flooding. Then it stopped raining entirely, drought set in, and smoke from Canada moved in. It’s been brutally hot. Summer has been… crap. Rapid City, where I grew up, was neon green over the 4th of July. I even saw a bunch of wild roses growing in the hills while hiking – something I’ve never seen.

Despite the crap and strange weather, we still have had a great bounty from our fruit trees and garden. It’s been fun to hike in the area, and, it’s been fun to visit new state parks in the area.

We’ve gone hiking in Wisconsin a bit more because we can go to Interstate Park so many times before it gets boring. We’re lucky the Driftless area extends as far north as it does because it makes for some neat hiking.

I guess we make do 🙂

Chris W.

Summer around the USA 2023

Quite the traipsing around the USA this summer – in a handful of weeks I visited rural Alabama, New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, and, Houston.

I was shocked with how absolutely beautiful north east Alabama was – the waterfalls, hiking, and, other geographical features were so much fun to enjoy. I was in Alabama for work but there was some down time so we went hiking, I feel so fortunate because I don’t think I’ve ever heard ANYONE say “Alabama is mountainous and beautiful.” Once again, I enjoyed being the rural parts of the USA where things are made. It was fun to chit-chat with the locals, learn about the area, and enjoy their hometowns. I had no idea the Talladega Forest was so beautiful and mountainous. It was very special to have the chance to go through. The food was great, the hospitality was great, and, the scenery was great too! I actually want to go through north east Alabama again some day.

New York City, Dallas / Fort Worth, and Houston all happened in a whirlwind and was all work related. I’ve been to all these places in the past but this time was a bit different. The forest fire smoke plaguing the twin cities was in New York City too. It made for some rather beautiful sunsets and was a neat juxtaposition for the skyline. I spent quite a bit of time walking in NYC – I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, walked around Chinatown, and, even managed to walk into LaGuardia international airport. I think LaGuardia might be the only international airport I’ve ever visited where a person can walk into the airport. I thought my google maps directions were wrong but then I saw others walking into the airport and figured, “why not?”.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge was a surreal experience. Last time I walked the bridge it was 2013 or so, and, my trip to NYC wasn’t work related so I had more time to goof around. Individuals taking selfies and generating other social media content on the bridge is extremely common now; so common it’s impossible to NOT be in someone’s photo / video / post. It was surprisingly difficult to walk across the bridge and get around everyone taking pictures and videos of themselves. Oh well. Chinatown was neat. I really wanted to get some real Chinese food and thought I picked an a good restaurant. Whatever I ordered ended up being unpalatable. Kind of surprising considering the ratings. Eating the delicious NYC pizza multiple times was absolutely fabulous – it was sooooo wonderful to eat actual, delicious, yummy, NYC pizza.

Texas was Texas and boy was Texas hot. Every time I walked outside it felt like I was getting hit in the face with hot oven air when checking cookies. It was uncomfortable. The BBQ was so fabulous and I finally visited a Bucee’s. I had no idea Bucee’s was more than a gas station, it’s like a destination. It’s possible to get just about anything in a Bucee’s, and, I found the holy grail in Bucee’s – they make their own banana pudding. HOLY SHITBALLS it was wonderful.

I ended up making a spontaneous trip to Houston because Delta Airlines is a terrible airline and cancelled my flight. It turns out the only real way for me to get back around the time I was supposed to get back to Minnesota from my work trip was by driving five hours from DFW to Houston. It sucks being locked in a Delta hub because this is about the 1,000th issue I’ve had with Delta, and, while I fly a lot with Delta, I don’t fly enough with Delta for Delta to care about me.

So that’s about it. The work trips were pretty great! It’s wonderful to shoehorn in some sightseeing when traveling for work, it makes it all worth it.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

All four lower 48 time zones in a week / early Spring 2023

Quite a bit of travel lately. Ended up visiting all four of the lower 48 time zones within a week. Certainly didn’t plan it that way but it’s how it worked out. 

In the last month or so I’ve been back to where I grew up, back home, southern Indiana, and lastly Las Vegas to visit friends and hike. 

All the trips were great for very different reasons: 

– It was great to see family where I grew up, it was far too long since I last visited. 

– I visited southern Indiana for work. The furniture industry used to be huge and now it’s moderately big. The area used to be something. I feel fortunate my last jobs send / sent me to areas that used to be important for America. More on that later.

– It was wonderful to be home in Minnesota for a little bit. 

– Lastly, it was super cathartic visiting Vegas to hike, see friends, and, get out of the F$&&?! winter. 

The weeks / month-ish flew by. It seems we just arrived back home from Arizona and then I was traipsing and gallivanting around the country. 

I had a chance to visit Mount Rushmore. I was surprised to learn the monument was open so late. It was fun to see the lighting start, catch the end of the day, and, be one of the very very very few people at the monument. Despite growing up there, I never really spent time visiting the major attractions. It’s fun now that I’m a “visitor”. 

Visiting formerly great places in the US is a surreal experience. I’ve had a chance to visit quite a few formerly-great / formerly-important places for work and even lived in some. It’s amazing because the locals know their peak has passed and all that’s left is grinding through. The folks who live in the area never move in from the outside, they are people who grew up in the areas. The older folks can / will talk at length about the “before times” prior to outsourcing, prior to automation, and back when there was a lot more mastercraftmanship since everything was laborious and mechanical / electrical systems sucked and were unreliable. It’s a treat. Oddly, now these areas a past peak my work product is helping the places stay since the knowledge dump will never reverse.

Visiting Vegas is always fun. I don’t drink, gamble, do drugs, see shows, or really anything typically relegated to Vegas travelers. Hiking in Vegas is freaking awesome. Many stunning trails are nearby and few go to Vegas to hike so it’s easy to have the trail to oneself. Having friends who live in Vegas is a phenomenal bonus because of the great company and “locals secrets” I get to learn – like getting 100% authentic Szechuan Chinese food. Vegas is two hours behind and I’m a morning person so I woke up really really really early local time. Turns out, it’s a great time to walk the strip. It was fun to see the bellagio fountains being tested and seeing to bellagio botanical gardens being built. Stuff not seen in normal daytime.

All of this travel was not flawless. In fact, it was kind of a nightmare. I have flown a lot all over the place over the years and I have had brand new experiences – getting trapped in the airport unable to fly out for 24hrs, delta losing where I was going, and, having a flight attendant get accused of being intoxicated. Each one totally sucked for different reasons:

– Getting delayed due to weather has occurred numerous times but I’ve never been trappped. I ended up getting one of the last nearby hotels in Louisville once I figured out I wasn’t leaving. All around total shitshow. 

– At some point during the shitshow delta totally misplaced me and decided I was going to Atlanta. I don’t live in Atlanta. I didn’t want to go to Atlanta. I had to revert to using paper tickets and talking to delta people in person because all the other electronic systems failed me.

– Lastly, flying out of Vegas on delta a passenger accused a flight attendant of being intoxicated or something so the attendant had to get tested. This is apparently a really big deal – the FAA doesn’t take too kindly to intoxicated attendants and even accusations can cause employment issues for the accused. The attendant was not intoxicated so all we were was delayed while this was all sorted. The flight attendants / captain mentioned how big of a deal it was and “individuals should be careful before making accusations” over the PA. What a mess. 

All in all. I’m ready to be home for awhile and I’m certainly ready to be done with Delta.

Boston 2022

We went to Boston, again! We had such a fabulous time in 2021 we decided to repeat the journey in 2022.

Things were different. To say the least.

When we visited in 2021 Boston was still coming out of it’s COVID slumber. There were people out and about but it wasn’t too busy, lodging was inexpensive, restaurants weren’t all that busy, and airfare was cheap. Totally not the case in 2022 – seas of people, lines for everything, and fortunes needed to stay close to anything neat in Boston, and extremely expensive airfare. Boston woke up from it’s slumber and we were able to experience a vibrancy missing in 2021. It felt like we visited an entirely different city. It was wonderful!

I am an early riser. Despite all the changes from last year Boston is still a sleepy town starting it’s day a bit later in the morning. I had a great time walking around the North End, Chinatown and everywhere in between while Boston woke up.

During the day we managed to visit places that weren’t open last year, see some festivals, like Saint Aggrippina’s festival in the North End, and even hiked to the tri-state point for Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The hike was a wonderful reminder how terrible the trails are on the East Coast compared to literally anywhere else in the world.

The weather was hot. Singapore hot. Super humid, super sunny, and super warm. A lot of the time during the day was figuring out how to stay cool – spending time indoors, playing in the fountains, or hanging out in the shade. We went last year over July 4th and it wasn’t as hot, nowhere near as hot. I think this is the only part of the trip we’d change – move the date so we’d visit during a non-Singapore hot period!

Otherwise, I took a few photos – enjoy!

Chris W.

Boston 2021

It felt great to travel again, even if it’s just in the US.

We chose to go to Boston because we wanted to go somewhere we didn’t need a car and had a lot to see. Turns out, Boston was perfect. The food was amazing – our place was right next to the North End so walking into the North End for amazing food and desserts was no hassle. We walked about 50 miles in our six days in Boston and more than offset that calorie burn with huge meals like pizza at Ernesto’s and fantastic desserts at places like Bova’s.

We had a great time in Boston. There was plenty to do and it was super neat to be in Boston on July 4th – the town came alive with all sorts of independence day celebrations. We had a wonderful Chinatown tour and stopped at quite a few of the major sites in town. We walked the entire greenway and stopped at many of the installations along the way.

There were some surprises. On the positive: pretty much everything we ate was incredible, playing on the beach during sunset on Cape Cod is something I’ll never forget, Boston seems to be filled with late risers so walking around in the early morning was super quiet and fun, and there were so many family activities we could do that were free or super cheap – like walking tours and playing in all the fountains along the greenway, and the history / architecture was wonderful; our central location made everything accessible within a 15 min walk. On the negative: Provincetown in Cape Cod was a let down and the weather went from cold to blistering hot to tropical storm. In the interest of making lemonade, we ran around to a couple museums like the old south meeting house and the old state house during the tropical storm and we were the only people there!

The biggest surprise was Tropical Storm Elsa. Elsa hit right as we were about to fly out and we actually flew out of the storm – one of the photos is the edge of the storm as we flew out.

All in all, Boston was 100% awesome. 5/5 would do again. It was cathartic to get out and resume normal activities after being locked in for the last year.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Vegas 2021

We went to Vegas in March but I forgot to write about it. It was great but there were still a lot of pandemic restrictions so it sorta felt normal.

The hiking was phenomenal. We had a fabulous time hiking in quiet solitude since no one goes to Vegas for hiking. There was just us and Search and Rescue at one trailhead in the Valley of Fire State Park; they were busy doing search and rescue stuff so we didn’t see them. The weather wasn’t great, it snowed a bit, but it did create beauty – we drove back from the Valley of Fire State Park by Lake Mead and watched the sun break through the clouds / snow and create a spectacular scene. 

The food was great too – Vegas is two hours behind us so getting breakfast or donuts at 5AM in Vegas is no big deal. We did something new, we went on a self directed food tour, and it was a lot of fun. It was in old Vegas and it was super neat to go to three different restaurants with wildly different food.

About a month after we visited Vegas it became crazy – everyone is done with COVID. We heard the mayor say, “for all intents and purposes, Vegas is sold out of hotel room and rental cars for the indefinite future”. That’s wild!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

The Rona Life

It’s been an interesting four months since COVID-19 ended the daily routine for most of America. We’ve been fine; we’ve had nothing but good luck, and we’re fortunate our time has gone so well.

Normally, we sneak in another trip or two during the spring and summer but this year has been spent at home for extremely obvious reasons. That said, it’s been pretty great for us because we’re still employed and we’re healthy. Given the situation of tens of millions of Americans, I’d say we have nothing to complain about.

The lockdowns started when the weather was still a bit shit and now we have our plants bearing fruit. I remember the governor mentioning how great Minnesotans were at social distancing when the shelter in place order started. I laughed because the weather was still crap and of course people weren’t going to be out and about. Once weather improved it shouldn’t have been the surprise it was that people got together and were a lot closer. Maybe it takes a non-Minnesota native like me to see the situation for what it is!

We’ve had quite a bit of time to take stock of what we have and make the most of our surroundings. We’ve done our best to enjoy everything to the max.

But life has been strange; it was super strange to see: 

  • almost no one on the road for rush hour,
  • stores out of diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and medicine,
  • stores running out of food,
  • lots of people going for walks in the neighborhood,
  • lines to get into stores and shops,
  • our jobs transition to work-from-home.

Traffic is picking up, stores are getting the shelves full, and life is sort of returning to normal for us. Restaurants and bars are open and even the Mall of America and the skyways downtown are open. It’s sad to walk around the Mall of America and the skyways simply because no one is around, many stores have closed permanently, and even more haven’t yet opened. I’m hoping life continues to become normal and the mask wearing by most becomes the mask wearing by all.

I decided to add some photos of the last five months. All the photos pretty much come from a three mile radius from our home. Make sense, the world just became a lot smaller with the pandemic.

Enjoy the photos!