March 24, 2017

Humanity Was Here

Under ceaseless skies…

Photo by author.

Astronomy forces us to think big. And not just big in terms of gazillions of miles of distance, but also in terms of time. The stars in the Milky Way galaxy, for example, are swirling around the galactic core to the tune of one orbit every quarter of a billion years – but the constellations you see from you backyard tonight looked pretty much the same on the day you were born, and won’t have changed much come the day that you die. [Read more...]

Re-entry: Coming Home

Catching the first sunrise of 2017.

We’re back!

The last week of 2016 saw us successfully make the jump back across the big pond that is the Atlantic Ocean back to the United States. It also saw us contract a flu that was sweeping the Spanish expat community of Jimena de la Frontera just days before departure, a flu which, despite our best efforts, progressed to mild pneumonia upon arrival back. Hey, we fully planned to get our yearly flu shot on return, honest. Anyways, we’re now (finally!) regaining strength, and thought we’d reflect on the trip last year and our return while impressions are still fresh in our mind’s eye.

It’s always a bit surreal, coming back to the U.S. Here, gas is cheap, and goods are plentiful. It’s hard not to grab random people and try to explain to them just how good they have it, and just what real poverty looks like. I know that it’s all relative to what people have experienced in their own lives, but travel opens you up to just how huge the disparity exists between the haves and have-nots is worldwide. And yet, we experienced such generosity from those who had the least to give us. Back in the States, it seems like we’re once again stuck in our own little bubble, with an indifference to others.

But its not all bad. Here, the WiFi screams along as fast as my fingers and brain can move, and I’m not clinching my teeth with every mouse click. In the States, we can really get business done. Whereas abroad, finding batteries or a place to get a haircut feels like a daily victory, here everything is a Walmart stop or an Amazon click away.

We also realize what a precious and expensive commodity personal space is on return to the U.S. Here, secondary roads are wider than main highways abroad, and garages are bigger than many European apartments.

Still, we miss the quiet solitude of writing amid the Andalusian foothills with the goats and cows, and the pleasant winding drive through the mountains home vs the endless redlight stop-start traffic of Florida’s US 19.

We did prove to ourselves that we can travel and work online indefinitely from the road in 2016, and keep the cash outflow equal to the very modest inflow our current lifestyle affords.

Of course, the return to the new ‘Occupied America‘ was a bitter sweet one, though the current political polarization isn’t as oblivious in day to day life even here in purple state Florida as our online life would suggest. We just do our best to break that bubble, and reach out to friends of all stripes. And speaking of which, PBS Newshour has an excellent quiz (and we almost NEVER take online quizzes) to help you see if you’re doing the same.

Well, that’s it for now. Time to rest up get healthy, and be ready to outrun the government’s fleet of flying killer robots if needed. Hey there’s and eclipse in 2017, so its already a good year.

Oh, and speaking of the eclipse, I wrote a book whilst traveling as well. be sure to check out our 101 Astronomical events to watch out for in 2017. Here’s to another exciting year!

The End of the Nation State?

A thing of the past?

What does the near future of human civilization have in store? If there’s one thing we’re terrible at as a species, it’s predicting change. Looking at predictions of the past is an instructive exercise in the folly of attempting to prognosticate. The biggest hazard appears to be the mere projection of current culture, and imagining that such a linear progression will go on forever. While everyone imagined we’d have flying cars and robotic servants by now, everybody completely missed the rise of Twitter, Ebay and Paypal. [Read more...]

12 Surprising Things I Learned in the United Kingdom

Charming lane, or major thoroughfare?

And here, we thought we knew all there was of US vs UK culture. Sure, we knew a truck is a lorry, a boot was a trunk, and the whole fries-are-chips, chips-are-crisps thing. We’d accidentally avoided long stays in the UK in our 20+ plus years in the U.S. Air Force, as the Britain was usually a 24 hour stop off en route to Africa or the Middle East. Anyhow, as we near our final 72 hours in the United Kingdom, here are 12 differences large and small that we noticed in our two months in the British Isles: [Read more...]

Planes, Trains and Chicken Trucks

Waiting on the train…

How do you get from point A to B? This past weekend, we turned in our rental car and made the transition from dangerous foreign driver in a strange land, to being a wandering, car-dodging tourist on foot in urban London. [Read more...]

Out of Africa

Standing amid stones…

Well, we took the leap late last week, and jumped north into the (currently) United Kingdom. The post-Brexit jump for the U.S. dollar, and the accompanying fall of the price of rental cars and airline tickets fueled this decision, along with a desire to escape the August summer heat in Morocco. [Read more...]

Traveling Sick – Barfing Up Abroad

What’s in your travelling medical kit?

It’s a reality we plan for, nearly every excursion.

Sickness, injuries, and health issues are a fact of life, and an extra stress while traveling. It can also be extra stressful when you’re traveling solo, and there’s no one to run out to the local pharmacy and pantomime for you. We once spent the day sick in a tiny, barren hotel room in Darwin, Australia, with only our guide book for entertainment. We were barely able to make it around the corner for bottled water. [Read more...]

Travel and Skepticism: On a Ride Not Taken

Timeless wisdom…

Do you park your brain in neutral when you travel?

Indie travel really pulls you out of your element and plops you down wide-eyed in a new and strange place. More than ever, this is the time when you need to be alert to your new surroundings, not buried face-first in your smartphone… well, OK, in just about every country you visit these days, you’ll just look like about a 100 other people walking down the street starring at their phones. [Read more...]

Wandering Through the Medina

The alleyways of Assilah, Morocco.

This week, we’d like to talk about the importance of not having a plan.

Sure, we’ve talked about the virtues of careful planning during any impeding trek in the past, and how it can make or break a trip. What we want to address this week might be better termed as built in flexibility. [Read more...]

Crossing the Pillars of Hercules

Follow the arrow…

We’ve arrived.

As we mentioned in last week’s dispatch, our mission this past weekend was to exit Spain into Morocco, for a brand new 90 day reset on our visa… and of course, to explore brave new lands.

First off, everything went off with ‘nary a hitch. We ditched the rental in Gibraltar, pre-positioned ourselves in Algeciras, and caught the ferry across the straights of Gibraltar from Tarife to Tangier. Where invasion fleets and cannon balls used to fly, lies a now placid straight mainly plied by sun-seeking tourists. [Read more...]

Keeping a Running Regimen on the Road

How many pairs of footwear do YOU travel with?

How do you maintain an exercise regimen whilst traveling? And no, we’re not talking about skipping down to the hotel gym before buffet breakfast, although we’ve done that as well. We’re talking about staying true to a regimen while independently traveling. [Read more...]

Waiting for Mercury: Tales of Transits

Our humble station.

There’s another insidious danger that awaits unwary solar astronomers.

This coming Monday on May 9th, the planet Mercury transits the fair face of our host star as seen from our Earthly vantage point. Unlike, Venus, Mercury is tiny, meaning amateurs everywhere will be scrambling to make solar filters for their telescopes this weekend. [Read more...]

Where We’re At: Updates From the Road

We can now see Gibraltar from our workspace…

Well, our time in Jimena de la Frontera is just about at an end. It has been a great stay in a tiny Andalusian white pueblo town, a foothill village topped with a stunning 9th century Moorish castle. We suspect you’ll be hearing more about Jimena soon, as recent archaeological finds date the roots of the town back even further, to Roman times. Stone Age art found along the river suggest that humans were here even earlier, plying the region for thousands of years. [Read more...]

Astro-Image Processing: How Far is Too Far?

NOT a fake…

Image credit: Dave Dickinson

Alright. We’re going to touch on a hot button issue in astrophotography on this week’s soapbox rant. After years of watching the discussion come ’round, we’re going to add our two cents. When it comes to post-processing, how far is too far? When is an image no longer an accurate rendition of reality? [Read more...]

Road Rules: Driving Internationally

Driving abroad… it’s not all ‘clouds and castles.’

(photo by the author)

Well, we finally picked up our rental steed at Seville airport in Spain this week. Driving and renting while traveling internationally has its pluses and minuses; it can give you the flexibility to really get out into the countryside on your own schedule… [Read more...]

Travel Old and New

A confirmed vertical sundial sighting in Seville, Spain…

(photo by the author)

The more things change, the more they stay the same… or do they?

This past week saw us change basecamp from Cadiz, Spain to Seville. No huge move, just a few train rides and a short hike with the luggage. We always love it when a moving day is shorter than six hours duration from door to door. [Read more...]

Tramping Around Old Cadiz

Not a bad way to spend winter…

All photos by the author.

Well, one week into country, and we’re settling in to our very first international Air BnB in Cadiz Spain. The oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, the old walled city of Cadiz is very walk-able. In fact, we’ve taken to jogging the perimeter around the old seawall nearly every morning, a route that covers a good five kilometer route.

A run in the morning, then write ’til noon, then off for lunch and adventure around the city seems to be the daily rhythm we’ve struck, not bad. We’re slowing down a bit, though we fully expect to be on the move again shortly.

Among the markets, museums and alleyways, we made a remarkable find yesterday: the oldest camera obscura in Spain, and a still functioning one at that. It resides atop the Torre Tavira along one of the longest streets in the old city, Calle Sacramento. Our Air BnB is just a few blocks away, and we’d walked right by the tower about a dozen times in the past week before deciding to go in yesterday afternoon.

And we’re glad we did. A camera obscura is a pinhole projection camera. Early man probably stumbled upon the idea way back when; you can imagine his amazement, as scenes from the outside world were projected onto the cave walls via pin hole cracks. These early types of projectors became quite advanced in medieval times, and the camera obscura atop the Torre Tavira is a remarkable device.

In fact, we’d recommend this as a first stop, to get your bearings and orientation around the city. The camera is a sort of periscope device, and has a rotate-able 360 degree view of the city. The projection is done on to a large parabolic dish about two meters across in the darkened room below. It’s magical to watch and a bit eerie, looking on as the ant-like citizens of Cadiz go on about their daily lives. You can see along the rooftops, alleyways, markets and far out to sea. Go on a clear day, as you can see all the way out to Morocco and the coast of northern Africa.

It’s definitely worth the six euros for the 30 minute demonstration of the camera, followed by the view from the top of the tower along the rooftops. Cadiz is a city of watchtowers with over a hundred, essential for merchants whose livelihood depended on knowing just who was coming in to harbor. Cadiz was a thriving port in the 19th century, as its position near the Straits of Gibraltar made it an enviable location for commerce.

And as mentioned, the old city is very runner-friendly as well. We’re a morning runner, and we like to get up early and knock out a good run before we immerse ourselves in the obligations of the day. The time zone challenge, however, serves to offset us a bit: though Spain is the same longitude as the United Kingdom and sits along the Greenwich Meridian, it seems to have opted for some reason to stay on Central European Time at UT+1… it would be interesting to know the exact history of why this is, while Portugal and Morocco opted for UT+0 time. This means that, in the winter months, sunrise doesn’t occur until past 8 AM local, and the offset back to summer time in late March only serves to nudge this back a bit farther.

But, as with our times living in Italy, all woes can be solved with good food and good wine.

What’s next? Well, we’ve got two major itineraries brewing in our brain: one is to head to Seville, rent a car and see Andalusia; the other is to bus it to Algeciras near Gibraltar, check off those sights, and take the ferry over to Morocco and the coast of North Africa…

More to come!

Getting There: Adventures in Space-A Travel, Part 2

Our ride to Spain!

Photo by Author.

We caught the flight! Last week, we discussed our adventures with Space Available military travel, and how we were stranded in a holding pattern at Norfolk, Naval Air Station awaiting a flight to Rota, Spain. Well, turns out the fifth time is the charm, and we now find ourselves in sunny southern Spain. We actually got to ride on a C-17, a first for us. [Read more...]