In Flight

Feb 12, 2011 in Photography

wpid-inflight2-2011-02-12-14-131.jpgThis week I continued my hobby of taking pictures during airplane travel.

This requires a bit of luck:
– a window seat
– but not above the wing
– window glass that is not scratched
– no cloud cover or nice storm clouds

And of course a continental flight is a little more entertaining than flying over an ocean.

Wander over to the gallery.

How to travel internationally without a passport

Jul 06, 2010 in Life

Over the coming weeks I’ll be re-posting my favorite entries from an old blog. This is the first one, first published on March 14, 2007.

The weekend of Feb 24-25 was the FOSDEM conference in Brussels. Just a train ride away from Amsterdam, so I flew over a day earlier to first swing by the family and then continue on to the conference.

I flew into Zaveltem and took the train to Amsterdam. When the train approached the Schiphol station it was announced that it wasn’t going any further, so we had to get off and switch to a train that was continuing on to the Centraal station. When back on train, I settled in my seat and nodded off. About 15-20 minutes later the train arrived at the Centraal station. I reached over to the seat next to me, picked up my coat and …. and …, no backpack..!? When I got on the train I put my suitcase on the floor before the seat, my backpack on the seat next to me and my coat over it. Coat’s there, suitcase’s there, no backpack. In the fifteen minutes between the two stations that I nodded off someone managed to run off with the backpack. With in it my laptop, my cell phone, my Sun badge, and my passport.

Walked over to the police station at the train station. When the desk officer heard that my passport was stolen, he sent me back to the Schiphol airport to report the theft to the Marchaussee (Dutch military/border police). Kindly he phoned ahead. So back to the airport. Filed the police report and then to the so-called “Afdeling Nooddokumenten” (Department for Emergency Documentation). When the lady there heard me say that I was Dutch but lived in the US and that I needed an emergency passport before Monday (this is Thursday) when I would be flying back to the US, she got a little difficult look on her face. “What documents do you have?” she asked. Well, I still had my wallet and in there were my green card and my NY state driver’s license. “Maybe you’re able to travel with those,” she said. She phoned an Homeland Security official and the person confirmed that with those two pieces I should be able to get back in the country. I thought “worth a try, we’ll see what happens.”

Now back on the train on to Amersfoort, about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Sun’s Dutch office is there. There is a so-called drop-in office in Amsterdam, but that is unmanned (ie, no receptionist) and so unlikely to get into without the badge. Have to report the laptop’s absence to Sun security, order a new badge, change passwords, and then re-create as much as possible the material for the JCP EC meeting on Feb 27-28 and other meetings later in the week. All of a sudden I find myself warped back to the 80-ies: need to be in a real office in order to do any work. That’s where the computer is, where the telephone is. And it needs to happen during normal business hours: without the badge I can’t go in or out outside those hours.

On Monday morning after the FOSDEM conference to the airport. I’m flying United. Before you get to the check-in desk there is the security check. The guy asks for my passport. I say I don’t have one and hand him the police report. Luckily they can read Dutch in Belgium. I give him my green card and driver’s license. He reads through the police report and then asks me all the usual questions: where did you stay, is this your luggage, who packed it, where, etc etc. He then shows the paperwork to his supervisor, the supervisor nods and we’re done. On to the desk to check in. From there to passport control and to the gate. The guy at passport control asks: “You don’t have a passport? They’re letting you on the plane?” “Yeah,” I say showing him the boarding card, and I am through. At the gate for the flight they again check IDs. When it is my turn, I give the United lady my boarding card, tell her about the passport. She looks a bit puzzled, looks over her shoulder for her supervisor. He’s standing about 15 feet away with his back to us. I can almost hear her think: “Oh what the heck.” She shrugs, gives me back my boarding card and I am on the plane. Across the ocean we land at Washington Dulles. On to the next hurdle. I have my customs form filled out and with the green card, driver’s license in hand I approach the immigration officer. “Passport?” he asks. “Don’t have one, stolen” I respond. He seems largely uninterested, stamps the customs form and when he hands it all back remarks: “Hope nobody makes fraudulent use of your passport.” Me too. I walk on and I am back in the US. First order of business: find a pay phone to tell Rachel that the husband made it back.

This Monday I went to the Dutch Consulate in New York City to file for a new passport. When asked for my current passport I replied that I don’t have one, explained what happened and handed over the police report. The guy looks at me quite stunned: “But how did you get back in without a passport!?” “Well, it was quite easy, actually.” He calls over his manager. She declares: “Nobody travels to the US without a passport these days.” But I am here, am I not? She makes me tell the story again. They are still confused. The application is filed. The new passport should be ready in three weeks or so. I brought a copy of my birth certificate with me. I still had that from the green card application. I offered it to the Consulate guy: “Not necessary,” he says, “I believe you’re Dutch.”

Turns out that it was easy traveling without the passport. It was amazingly easy. I had prepared myself for all kinds of arguments with officials, extra security checks and so on. I arrived at the Brussels airport three hours ahead of the flight to allow for all that. But none of it, it went almost quicker than normal.

Carlsbad and Santa Clara

May 10, 2009 in Life

carlsbad.jpgThis past week I spent one half in Carlsbad and the other in Santa Clara. Carlsbad, to meet in person with the company I have been interviewing with, to catch up with Janet and Tom (and Bill as it worked out) and to do a bit of cycling. Santa Clara, to see ex-colleagues and friends and do some cycling.

Of course one doesn’t know for sure until the paperwork is signed but I believe the Monday and Tuesday talks went quite well. Can’t exactly say where we are in the effort as this company has an approach to hiring that is a bit like extended courtship. At the end of the conversation Tuesday morning the electricity failed suddenly (there is probably no other way) in that part of town. I took this as a good omen.

Monday evening had dinner with Janet and Tom. Bill turned out to be available on very short notice and joined us too from his busy new job. We went to Janet’s favorite restaurant, Jake’s in Del Mar, right on the coast. This was, according to Janet, to make every effort to convince me to come and live here. With the wonderful weather and the drive along the coastal road from Carlsbad to Del Mar I was already convinced. Being a little early for the appointment I used the extra time to stroll a bit on the beach and take pictures of the sun just setting.

Having done with the interviews I took Charles for a ride, first along the coast and then a bit landinward looping back via Vista. It was a nice ride with great views along the coast, many beautiful things to look at, a few steepish climbs – the traffic light halfway up one of them was a pity – and the river bike path back to the coast. Now, when I got to the hotel from the meetings I was flowing with adrenaline anxious to get cycling. I changed into the cycling uniform, filled the drinking bottle, put the route description in the rear pocket, found the sunglasses. One more thing to do: put on sun block. While I always have a bottle in my toilet bag, now there isn’t. All ready to go but no protection… hmmm… well… it’s only a two hour ride, I’m going, it’ll be fine. And yes, as I really knew our star doesn’t need two hours to do its work. For the next two days I’m looking like a bright pink lobster, oh well, still enjoyed the ride, but on Wednesday I did go out first thing in the morning to obtain factor 50.

That evening after the ride I went to a local bar/grill just up the street from the hotel. I quite like these local joints, a little rundown, somewhat fierce looking from the outside but inside they’re all teddy bears. A cheerful bartender, Dewie, kept me supplied with beer and gave advice on the menu (chicken tacos first and later a mexican soup). Got talking to an elderly couple Red and Charlie. Red had been married 5 times, she twice. They have been together for a year now, have decided not to marry because that would just jinx things. Red served during WWII and Korea, Charlie in Vietnam. We exchanged addresses, Charlie promised to throw a party when I move here. On tv Boston was playing the Yankees. Seeing that there were a few Red Sox fans around me at the bar, I cheered them too.

Thursday morning I got up early: drive to LAX for the flight to San Jose. At LAX there was a long slow moving line for check-in followed by a very slow moving line for security with only one person checking boarding passes and IDs – this did not move things along. Luckily the flight was delayed by 20 minutes otherwise I may not have made it. This did use up the slack in my morning program so from SJC it was straight to Starbucks on California Ave in Palo Alto to meet up with Graham. I made it there just before The Good Doctor. In the afternoon I put Charles back together and go for a shortish ride to Milpitas and back via Alviso basically to make sure everything on the BikeFriday is working well before it is beer time with Dalibor and Ray.

mthamilton.jpgFor Saturday I planned to ride up Mount Hamilton. I was much looking forward to it, perhaps the only thing missing in the Rochester area from a cycling perspective are good long climbs. I did the ride last year in May, the weekend before JavaOne. It went well then really, except that the last three miles were a struggle because the rear derailleur didn’t stay in the lower two gears. The derailleur seems most affected by the packing, unpacking and the handling by the airlines. Now everything was working properly.

I took off a bit before ten in the morning maintaining an easy pace along Trimble, Montague and Capitol to warm up towards the turn onto McKee and then the climb starts. It’s 19 miles to the top but the climb consists of two parts: first out the valley then downhill for a mile and then the remaining 8 miles uphill to the Observatory. It’s consistently between 5-7%. The road was built like this 120 years ago so the horses could make it up with the building material for the Observatory.It went very well so that this time I didn’t need those two lowest gears. Four miles before the summit a white Honda Prelude trailed behind me. Seeing a clear road after the turn I waived them past but the car stayed behind me. Then it drove up next to me with the passenger opening her window to ask me something. Not convinced that the driver’s skills were on par with Johan Bruyneel’s I answered with a brief: “No.” The car slipped back behind me. This started to interfere with my reaching zen-like state while climbing and reminded me of my friend Wouter a 20 years ago on a climb in the French Alps: “Go away. I can’t hear my sprockets.” So, looking over my shoulder with an energetic wave of my left arm accompanied by an appropriate Dutch “Hup!” I waived the car past. And it did. A mile further it had turned and came back down.

While I have done this route many times I went inside the Observatory for the first time. The timing was great – there was another group of cyclists and one of the astronomers did an ad hoc tour of the old 36 inch telescope.

theclimb2.jpgTime to go down.

The first part of the decent, till you get to Grant national park, is very twisty and bumpy. The second part, descending back down into Silicon Valley has been resurfaced and one can go very fast here. About half way down a squirrel jumps from the side shoulder right in front of my front wheel, he’s within inches of the tire, I am so close to him that I can hear his nails scratching the tarmac while he’s sprinting like mad to get from under my wheel. He succeeds. Which is probably good for both of us: he would not survive a collision and I would be scraping the road in quite a generous way.

In the evening Ray and I had dinner at Marie Elena’s in Alviso. A wonderful family owned Mexican restaurant. Highly recommended.

Sunday it was time to fly home. From San Jose I was connecting via LAX and IAD to Rochester. INstead of the usual 6 or 7 am flight, the flight to LAX didn’t depart until 9:45am. This threw me off in such a way that even while having much more morning time, I managed to miss the flight. The United desk attendant was very helpful though and got me instead on a route via Denver to IAD and then on the planned hop to Rochester. Somehow there was enough time to check in the bicycle Samsonite but not the bag with my clothes. That, she advised, I must take as hand luggage. Okay, no problem, on to security. There they pick that bag for an extra check, take out my toilet bag and explain to me that the factor 50 sun block bottle is too big and must stay behind. Oh well, have plenty of sun block at home.

Pictures in the gallery.

Charles is safely home!

Feb 04, 2009 in Life

charles2.jpgSeveral people enquired after Charles’s well being so I owe y’all an update.

Let me delve in right away with the good news: Charles is safe and sound at home and in good spirits!

It was a little odd though. On Sunday last week there was no word from United; no email, no sms, no phone call. MOnday morning I get up, get my cup of coffee in the kitchen, walk through the hallway to the living room while glancing out our glass front door. And there stands Charles in his Samsonite case! Between 11pm Sunday when I went to bed and now the next morning United dropped the bike off on the front porch without any message. Still, very glad to have the bike back in one piece.

Charles is missing

Jan 25, 2009 in Life

charles.jpgUnited Airlines lost the suitcase with Charles (my BikeFriday folding bicycle). My roller bag with clothing etc did make it all the way to Rochester which is odd. In most cases airlines will loose all your luggage instead of just one piece.

It was all together an odd day for United. Two hours before the flight from San Francisco to Chicago I get an sms saying the flight is on-time, then one that it is delayed by 40 minutes, then one with a 5 minute delay and in the end the flight leaves on time. I arrive on schedule at 4:30pm in Chicago with a 7pm connection to Rochester. At 6pm United sends me an sms informing me of the cancellation of the flight. I go to the service desk and United has booked me on the 9pm flight; they even perserved my upgrade.

At Rochester airport just before midnight me and the other passengers wait for our luggage to appear. After a long wait the carrousel finally starts moving, many bags appear including my roller bag but not the Samsonite with the bicycle. Many other passengers, a quick count says about 20 of us, are also all still waiting. A United rep opens the bagage claim office and we all hike over there. He hands everybody the claim forms and is himself surprised by the number of people without their luggage. At first I thought that maybe United screwed up on everybody who was on the cancelled 7pm flight but then my one bag arrived but not the other so that theory didn’t work. So instead, because of the number of us, I think they left a baggage cart behind in Chicago.

For Charles, it is the second time within 9 months to be lost.

Ride across America

Dec 12, 2008 in Cycling

dussel.jpgThis used to be a longtime dream: cycling from coast to coast. A discussion on BikeJournal.com brought it back to mind where “CyclingRev” posted that he was about to complete his 2nd crossing of the year and his 16th in total. This crossing he rode from Seattle, WA to Washington DC or 4023 miles in 62 days. A local newspaper along the way gave this report: http://www.times-news.com/archivesearch/local_story_231095336.html.

For years I dreamt of doing this once and here is this person posting he’s about done with his second this year and the 16th since 1993 and so I posted in the discussion thread that “I am completely impressed.” And I am. I can imagine one year doing this but as “sbrstlouis” posted: “Crossing the US is a great feat, but once you’ve done it, move on.”

Anyways, this all did drag me into some wonderful daydreaming. I first heard about, read about cycling across the US in 1983 when at the Technical University Twente in Enschede, The Netherlands. On campus was a tea-cafe with a small library where I spent many evenings reading through their cartoon collection. One evening I stumbled upon a book by Wim Dussel, “Wat heb ik nou aan m’n fiets hangen?”, an account of his participation in the Bikecentennial in 1976 celebrating the USA’s 200th anniversary: “The adventure of six Dutch, five American and three Australian cyclists from a group of 2000 who trekked by bicycle nearly 7000 kilometers through ten of the united states of America.”

Years later I re-found this book in a secondhand store. It has been one of my favorite ones since having read it about 5 or 6 times. I just brought it down from a box in the attic and am happily leaving through it while writing this entry. While it may be hard now to find a print of the book, the web functions very well as historical archive and this site has many great photos from the 1976 ride: http://www.pbase.com/digitales/bikecentennial.

The 1776 event spawned some businesses. American Cycling Association now yearly organizes this ride and one of the Dutch participants, Gijsbert Valstar, founded the Fietsvakantiewinkel through which Joan, Eric, Wouter and I arranged some of our cycling vacations in the 80-ies.

In 1993 I came close to venturing on the trip. I was mentally tired from the engineering projects at KPMG Peat Marwick, my employer at the time. I negotiated a four month summer leave with plans to ride coast to coast. That year the chance to fulfil another dream offered itself at the same time; actually it combined two: to work abroad and to work for Apple Computer. March 1993 became a head scratching month: do the trip or go to London to join Apple? It became Apple – the computer harder to resist than the bicycle.

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