Vele discusses investing in Macedonia, technology, digital photography, business and international affairs

Category: Travel

On my way to Macedonia…

I hate moving! I have moved every year since 2003. First it was Jersey City to Philadelphia in 2003. This was a smooth move. First long distance family move, but smooth! Then, we changed buildings in Center City in 2004. Savings on rent, energy costs, conveniences, bugs, long story. Then we moved to and from Seattle during the summer. Then last year we made the biggest move yet, Philadelphia to Seattle, courtesy of Microsoft. Very smooth move, despite over $6500 in losses and damage, all because of enormouse help provided by Microsoft. And now, we’re moving to Macedonia. It’s the longest distance move ever, but with the smallest of things. Mostly packing clothes, immediate necessities and some books, and not to forget our snowboards and skiing equipment.

I’m physched about snowboarding in Macedonia this winter! That and the new job are keeping me sane. My family on the other hand…they are bearing the brunt of the sacrifice, but we’re all optimistic. We’re just anxious to get there and resume our lives.

Did I mention I hate moving? What do you do to keep you sane during such moves?

Seattle it is…

After 13 hours of driving, we busted into Seattle at exactly 10pm last night after leaving Redwood City at 9am. That’s precision you can count on, I even beat the clock by the car’s navigation system which projected 10:50pm arrival time.

The results: 86 hours of driving and 18.3 mpg for the entire trip according to the ML’s trip computer. That’s both pretty good and sad. It’s pretty good because we beat the EPA’s highway estimate of 15-17mpg for ML 500. It’s sad because it’s an awful fuel economy especially at $60/barrel gas price.

Interesting info: Northern CA has large olive, orchard and especially rice production. The rice production uses laser-guided, computer assisted irrigation system that floods the fields. The fields are then seeded by airplane. That is incredible productivity and a big news to me. The temperatures — 99F — were easily the highest we have seen anywhere except for the 100F in Vegas. Mount Shasta is Northern CA’s Mount Rainier, similarly striking beauty of a snow-covered mountain top towering high over nearby ranges. Lake Shasta is very captivating with its deep green water and orange-brown beaches creating inviting contrast to partake in the activity of the usually white boats that break its stillness.

The town of Weed, CA remains a popular destination of many half-baked jokes.

Oregon is beautiful. That doesn’t need much explanation, it just is, and the further north we went the scenery around the I-5 reminded me of Macedonia especially in the Prilep – Bitola region — Pelagonija valley — the largest valley in Macedonia surrounded by a few hills and big mountains on all ends.

Today’s plan: brunch at the Hi Spot Cafe in Madrona…yes!

Fairfield Inn vs. Hampton Inn

Of these two mid-priced hotel chains targeting families and business travelers, I’m beginning to prefer Hampton Inn. It’s been visibly cleaner and quieter, offers both wired and wireless free Internet, has american breakfast (that’s sausage and eggs for you) from 6am to 10am for the early and late birds, has guest laundry facilities and all rooms have microwave and fridge. They may be a bit more expensive than Fairfield Inn but they are just as common and offer nice large showers and bath tubs.

The worst Fairfield Inn, relatively speaking, for us was in San Diego. It had direct entry rooms — like a lodge, something both of us don’t like — its elevators smelled of bleach, chemicals and body odor for 2 days in a row, and its gym had only 2 machines and no scale. Ok, this last Hampton Inn has a scale but it likes to add a few pounds with each step, on 3 successive tries I moved from 170 to 180lbs — Woa!

Welcome to Redwood City, CA

We knocked out another 560mi to reach the Bay Area. This was actually quite a pleasant drive, except for the usual disturbances on the 405 just south of the LAX. I haven’t lived in LA since 1994 and I have forgotten how freakin’ busy and congested the 405 gets. We also drove on the toll route 74 that bypasses Laguna Niguel on the 405. As a proud owner of EZPASS from the east coast I was jealous of the FastTrak system employed on this highway: you speed at 45 to 55mph and automatically pay $0.75 less in toll. If you don’t have a FastTrak, you get off to the side, stop completely and pay to a very friendly attendant: also a pleasant respite from the NJ Turnpike. On the east coast, you have to pretty much slow down to 15mph with an EZPASS to pay the tolls.

Our halfway stopover was in Los Olivos at the Sideways-famed Los Olivos Cafe. Our attempts to arrive for the lunch menu before 3pm were destroyed by LA traffic on the 405 and around Santa Barbara which cost us 90 minutes in delays. Nontheless, we sampled the afternoon menu of appetizers, salads and pizzas with a glass of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir, a 2002 Laetitia brand made just 20-40mi north on 101 around Arroyo Grande, was excellent. The Italian Grigio was good as well. The appetizers that we had were delicious, one was pastry with almonds on top and sweet sauce filled with brie cheese, and mine was a shredded phylo pasta filled with goat cheese in tomato sauce. Time Out.

The latter was basically a Macedonian burek with cheese, except its phylo dough was shreaded in little strings and baked. Tossed in a tomato sauce with a hint of feta shreds on top — Macedonian-Italian appetizer: delicious Cafe Crostada. I recommend it!

Here’s the bad about the place. While it’s a nice, friendly town, it’s being overrun by over-eager tourists who want to recreate the Sideways allure. In fact, my wife observed the funniest thing: 2 out of town women were visibly upset with the owner of the cafe because he didn’t have a particular white wine for tasting and the women wouldn’t be able to tell their friends that they tasted this particular wine at Los Olivos Cafe. Funny and sad at the same time. We prefer to visit new places and find ways to make the enjoyments more personal and specific to our tastes, without an overwhelming desire to recreate every tourist cliche.

The Cafe in particular had premium prices on every wine on its famed wall. I took a quick glance at a few known local and foreign brands and their prices were all above $20 a bottle, even for foreign wines that I was able to get in Philly for well under $15. The ridiculousness of the prices was visible on a few framed photographs of the wine making experience. The 5×7 framed photos were listed at $95, while a completely unspectacular large photo of grapes was listed at $450. I have seen many beautiful photographs at galleries in NYC and Philadelphia with prices well above $100. The distinction of beautiful photographs is key because Los Olivos Cafe had the most boring photographs one could imagine of grapes and wine pickers. Why even bother to list prices for such dull photographs except for the hope that a poor out of town sucker would pay the price? Completely dishonest.

Outside of that, I recommend a visit to the region. The best and most scenic drive is the triangle on 101, 154 and 264 to see the towns of Solvang, Buellton and Los Olivos and then continuing on 101 north to Arroyo Grande to see the vinyards. The 101 North all the way to Monterrey is perhaps one of the most scenic routes in the US that I have seen so far and ranks there with PCH 1 on the California Coast, I-70 across the Rocky Mountains and Utah, Routes 191, 24, 12 and 9 in Utah across all its National Parks.

Hello San Diego!

New York City to San Diego,
3100 miles,
500+ photographs,
13+ Red Bulls (diet too),
12 states,
11 suitcases,
5 days,
4 National Parks,
3 Fairfield Inns,
2 people,
1 Mercedes ML 500 == We Made It Coast to Coast, yippy

While we wish we could stay here, we have about 1200mi left to go to Seattle.
The best part: Visiting the remarkable beauty of Utah’s National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Zion), winning about $100 on blackjack in Vegas, and having amazing fun.

I have many observations to discuss, from road etiquette and highways to the beauties of Utah. More will follow shortly.

Hello Indiana!

11:30 hours at 770mi to Hammond, Indiana…flat and interesting country-side through Ohio and Indiana, mountain ranges in Pennsylvania, and painful right buttocks…

Should we do 1030mi to Denver tomorrow in 15 hours? Could we?

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