Monthly Archives: September 2010

Spotted from an Airplane

I have never understood people who tell me they hate to fly.  Seriously people, we fly through the air! Do you realize that for a million years your ancestors have longed to do it and you are among the first lucky generations where you can?  I don’t know what is more incredible, the fact that I get to do it or the fact that it’s so routine everyone around me seems completely nonplussed about the situation.

My favorite thing about flying after the takeoff and landing excitement is spotting things though is the window of an airplane- I am firmly in the “window” category in the aisle-vs-window debate, because how can you possibly want to fly above all these mysterious places and not even look down at them?!  Like these glaciers in Greenland I spotted once flying from Doha, Qatar to Washington DC-

Beyond sightseeing there’s a lot of astronomy stuff to be spotted from an airplane as well- for starters I’ve never been to the Arctic or Antarctic Circles to see the summertime “white nights” when the sun doesn’t go down, but did fly from America-Europe once around the summer solstice and was infinitely entertained with how the sun never set that night (well except a few minutes during which you could see the glow of the sun moving backwards to the sunrise position).  The mapmakers weren’t lying to us in elementary school!

If you’re not going trans-Atlantic though here’s my favorite airplane astronomy phenomenon, spotted last week while flying back from Atlanta to Cleveland-

Another picture- alas this time I wasn’t in the window seat so I needed to coordinate snaps carefully so the lady sitting next to me didn’t start to wonder too much-

This, ladies and gentlemen, is an optical phenomenon known as the glory because it looks suspiciously like a saint’s halo.  They happen exactly opposite the sun when backscattered light from a cloud of water droplets returns to an observer in between the glory and the sun.  And because there aren’t many opportunities to find yourself between the sun and a bunch of water vapor unless you’re up in the sky, airplanes are a pretty good place to spot one of these!

What you do is grab a seat on the plane opposite of where the sun will be (for example, you should sit on the right on a NYC- Los Angeles flight) then keep an eye out during takeoff and landing, especially just above the clouds!  If you’re lucky you’ll see a ghostly halo with perhaps even the shadow of the airplane in the middle of it, though it gets harder and harder to spot the further up you climb. (I took the pictures above in part because it was perhaps the biggest, brightest glory I’d ever seen thanks to a rapidly setting sun- you could tell my half of the plane was very confused by what they were seeing.) However cool it looks though, I urge you to not turn to the person sitting next to you with a smile and exclaim “I see the glory!”

As a final little window seat tidbit before you begin wondering whether your airline is too cheap to give out complimentary beverages or not, here’s another little trick: how can you tell how far away the horizon is?  Well it turns out the answer is as easy as one two three!  Seriously, you take the cruising altitude the pilot announces, say 36,000 feet, take its square root and multiply it by 1.23 for your answer, which here would be 230 miles.  Pretty simple math these days when I guarantee you have a gadget on you at all times that has a calculator included, such as your iPod or cell phone. (Though before anyone asks it’s a different formula for kilometers of course, but even international airlines will fly at an altitude measured in feet because the standard never updated.)

So hey perhaps I’m a bit of a romantic, but what I think I love most about airline travel is realizing how just a little over a hundred years if I told someone I could, say, fly across the country in a few hours while watching a movie, using a palm-sized device that plays my music and can do calculations for me, and eating something claiming to be food they would laugh and tell me it’s magic.  But it isn’t!  It makes me wonder what sort of “magic” my descendants will enjoy in another hundred years form now.

Photo: Pécs, Hungary

It’s not hard to see why Pécs (pronounced “paey-ch”) is a 2010 European City of Culture- the main square is dominated by an old Turkish mosque that now functions as a Catholic Church, and you can explore treasures like the earliest Christian cemetery dating from the 4th century and the Vasareley museum.  I don’t know anyone who’s visited and didn’t love this gem of a city!

Exploring Atlanta

The amazing thing about the United States that I don’t think many of my friends abroad fully realize is just how different things are region by region.  This shouldn’t be terribly surprising- Cleveland to Atlanta is roughly the distance between London and Berlin, and we all know how much things change in that stretch- but the long and short of it is I can step off the plane in the Deep South and suddenly the Civil War is the War of Northern Aggression and people talk a version of English I can’t say I’m truly familiar with, and it is wonderful.  The fact that Atlanta actually has amazing places to eat and drink and I was lucky enough to do it with awesome people certainly never hurt either. Continue reading

Visiting The Georgia Aquarium

Before anything, thanks very much to the Georgia Aquarium and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for giving me and two friends free tickets!  We had an absolute blast and spent a full afternoon exploring the wonders of the deep…

Like many travelers, I am struck with this odd malaise that when faced with something majestic and awe-inspiring I take out my camera and start taking a million pictures of whatever it is I’m seeing.  I’m not sure why this is exactly, but the best explanation I can come up with is having a misguided delusion that my brain will be better capable of processing what I’m seeing on a two-inch screen instead of when it’s overwhelming all my senses in front of me.  You can usually distinguish these places by the number of photographs I may or may not recall taking after the fact, like Angkor Wat or safari in Africa, but I was lucky enough to visit another such place this past weekend: the Georgia Aquarium, which is the biggest aquarium in the world.

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The Portsmouth, NH Country Kickin’ Booze Cruise

About a month ago while in New Hampshire my brother Patrick, who lives in the South, got super-excited to hear that there was going to be a “Country-Kickin’ Booze Cruise” down in Portsmouth (an 1.5 hour drive away from our usual lake haunt) and we should all clearly go (“we” being me, bro, sis, and our cousin Judit- remember her?).  I had a bit of trepidation- country?– but it turned out there was less of an emphasis on the country part and more one on “booze cruise” so it all worked out.  It didn’t stop us from dressing up though-

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Chicago, Chicago…

For such a big city so nearby I’ve hardly ever been to Chicago- hadn’t been until I was 22 actually, which is about the age where I realized you can actually go randomly to visit places that are interesting, even if you live in Cleveland.  Since I’ve been in the area a few more times and I’m always looking for an excuse for another exodus, and hanging out with friends on a weekend in August is as good an excuse as any so we went!

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