North America

H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 46: a space shuttle in Los Angeles

As I write this, I’m on a plane from Cancun to Chicago, on my way back to New York. I just spent the weekend at TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange), an amazing conference where travel bloggers connect with the travel industry and with each other. But that long weekend in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was only one of several fun journeys I’ve been on in recent months. For example, a couple of weekends earlier, I made my seventh visit to Los Angeles.

A highlight of this particular trip to Southern California was seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavour. One of three surviving space shuttles that have flown into space, it is now on display at the California Science Center:

endeavour

The other space shuttles (Discovery and Atlantis) are on display in Chantilly, Virginia and Cape Canaveral, Florida, respectively. In addition, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a prototype that did not actually slip the surly bonds of Earth’s atmosphere, can be visited in New York City. I previously checked out the Enterprise in August 2012.

Would you like to go into outer space?

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Touring the Panama Canal

This year marks the centennial of the Panama Canal. With its opening in 1914, seagoing transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was radically transformed. Before “the trench” was dug, ships seeking to cross the Americas needed to circumnavigate South America — a time-consuming journey of 8,000 or so miles that included the rounding of that continent at the treacherous Cape Horn. The canal, however, is just 48.2 miles long and can be traversed in complete safety in 10 hours or less. It was a stupendous achievement, and in 1994 the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized it as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. (The other works named to that list include the Channel Tunnel; the CN Tower; the Empire State Building; the Golden Gate Bridge; the Itaipu Dam; and the Netherlands North Sea Protection Work.) In November 2013, I experienced this modern wonder firsthand. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 41: a Mediterranean villa in Miami

Happy Friday! This week I obtained my Electronic Travel Authorization for Sri Lanka, which will officially permit me to enter that country during my planned visit to India and Sri Lanka this spring. I’m still working on obtaining my entry visa for India; the application process for that document is much more complicated.

Our featured image this week comes from a city much closer to home for me: Miami, Florida. In Miami you can find a remarkable Mediterranean Revival villa that was built in the early 20th century. It’s called Vizcaya Villa.

The villa at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

The house was built for James Deering, a wealthy industrialist. It was actually used as his winter residence; he already had homes in New York, Chicago, and Paris. Inside are numerous furnishings imported from Europe, some of which were centuries old when acquired. Today the villa is part of a complex called Vizcaya Museum & Gardens that offers public tours. In addition to the house itself, the estate includes some elaborate formal gardens that are also well worth checking out.

This photo was taken during my visit to Miami and Miami Beach last weekend.

Would you like to have a winter home like this?

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Country no. 32: a man, a plan, a karaoke bar in Panama

My singing appearance on a Friday night in Panama City was probably my most enjoyable evening in the history of my World Karaoke Tour. Yes, it may even have surpassed the amazing times I’ve had behind the microphone in such cities as Paris and Frankfurt. 🙂 Here’s how it went down:

I’d flown from New York to Peru on Copa Airlines, the flag carrier of Panama, and in fact had a layover in Panama City’s airport when I initially flew to Lima. For the return leg of my trip, I’d decided that rather than just change planes in Panama again, I would take advantage of the opportunity to spend a weekend in Panama City. Among other things, I was eager to take a boat ride on the Panama Canal, one of the engineering marvels of modern times.

Another consideration, of course, was that a multi-day stay would make make it possible for me to do some singing while on Panamanian soil. 🙂 Peru had just become the 31st country in which I’ve sung, and now it was time to increase the total to 32! I didn’t waste any time taking care of business; on my very first night in Panama, I went to a karaoke bar called The Green Room in Panama City. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 40: a llama at Machu Picchu

Happy Black Friday! I just checked in to my hotel in Panama City. Tonight I aim to find a place to sing karaoke in this town, and tomorrow I will tour the Panama Canal. But before I get to those things, I would like to share with you an image from earlier in this trip, when I was in Peru. One of the highlights of my Peruvian journey was my visit to Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Incan city that was carved into hilly terrain in the jungle. After the Spaniards conquered the Incas, the city was abandoned, and became lost to the world until it was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.

When you go to Machu Picchu, it’s common to see llamas; along with their close relative the alpaca, llamas are iconic animals in Peru. Here’s a llama that definitely wanted me to document her while I was photographing the ruins below her:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This photo was taken just a few days ago. Have a great weekend everyone!

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Singing in Seattle: the sounds of H-Bomb on the Puget Sound

H-Bomb at the Space NeedleI gallivant all over the world, but some of my favourite karaoke adventures have come in my home country, the United States.  For example, this past summer, I had an incredible time visiting, and singing in, Seattle.  Although I was in town for less than 24 hours, I made every second count.

It came about as follows: in July I spent several days in Alaska. My return itinerary from Anchorage to Newark included a connecting flight in Seattle; and never having been to that city, when I was booking the trip I’d made my layover there into an overnight stay. This would enable me to add a new city to my World Karaoke Tour. 🙂 My arrival in Seattle was planned for a Saturday night, and I knew that would be a prime night for singing opportunities. Also on my agenda were seeing some of the distinctive architecture for which the Emerald City is famous; and feeling the vibe of a town that’s often regarded as one of the most livable cities in the world.

Seattle joins the World Karaoke Tour

Naturally, karaoke was my very first activity after I rolled into town on Saturday evening, July 6. After landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I rushed to my downtown hotel to check in and change into a fresh set of clothes for my karaoke appearance. Then I headed to the Hula Hula Lounge, a tiki-themed bar in Seattle’s Queene Anne neighbourhood that I’d pre-selected for the occasion based on its very promising Yelp reviews. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 31: a house on a 29-foot pole in Los Angeles

Happy Friday the 13th! As an explorer, I draw inspiration from the achievements of Voyager 1 — which, scientists announced this week, became the first man-made object to enter interstellar space. Launched in 1977, that space probe has now traveled roughly 11.7 billion miles from Earth. Kind of makes my own wanderings seem pathetic in comparison. 🙂 But I do what I can. (Note: many news articles have stated that Voyager 1 has left the solar system. But technically that’s not quite true; the probe still needs to pass through the Oort cloud, a region of comets that orbit the sun. Voyager 1 won’t even reach the Oort cloud for another 300 years or so, and it won’t transcend the outer edge of that region — thereby officially bidding adieu to the solar system –until about 30,000 years down the road.)

Speaking of my own, Earth-based travels, it’s time for another photo drawn from one of my previous trips. This week’s image comes from Los Angeles. It’s a very unusual house. Called the Chemosphere, this residence is octagonal-shaped, which would be distinctive enough; but what truly makes it unique is that it stands atop a 29-foot concrete pole.

The Chemosphere, a distinctive octagonal house that stands on a 30-foot pole, peeks above the treetops.  This abode was designed by the architect John Lautner in 1960.

Here, the Chemosphere — which was designed in 1960 by the architect John Lautner, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright — can be seen peeking above the treetops. (This is as close as I was able to get to the Chemosphere; it’s privately owned and its driveway is gated.)

Although as you may recall I was just in Los Angeles a couple of weekends ago, this photo was taken during one of my earlier visits to that city, in September 2012.

Would you like to live in a house like this?

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H-Bomb’s Friday photo, week 29: a gigantic glacier in Alaska

Hello again and happy Friday! Later today I’m flying to Los Angeles, where I’ll be spending the long weekend (Monday is Labor Day in the United States.) But before I head out to JFK International Airport to catch that transcontinental flight, it’s time to share with you a new photo of the week. Today’s featured image comes from the beautiful state of Alaska. While there, I went for a walk on the Matanuska glacier, which is approximately 100 miles northeast of Anchorage. Here’s an example of the type of views that I enjoyed during that three-hour trek:

Matanuska glacier

The largest glacier in the United States that can be reached by automobile, the Matanuska is roughly 27 miles long, and about 4 miles wide.

This photo was taken during my visit to Alaska in July 2013.

Would you like to go hiking on a glacier?

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 26: Nashville after dark

Happy Friday, people. This evening, here in New York, I’ll be participating in one of my favourite activities anywhere in the world: walking across the Brooklyn Bridge!

But now it’s time for me to share a photo from another city that my travels have taken me to. This week’s featured image comes from Nashville, Tennessee in the southern United States. It shows Broadway, Nashville’s main downtown street for nightlife, all lit up in neon.

Nashville neon: looking down Broadway at night.

This photo was taken during my visit to Nashville in February 2013.

Of course, I don’t only travel in the United States; my World Karaoke Tour brings me all over the globe. But one place where I haven’t yet sung is the sky. I’ve long wished to have the experience of singing karaoke on an airplane, but that opportunity hasn’t yet arisen. Today, however, I learned that earlier this week, on a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Tokyo (two cities that I’ve been to), the cabin crew offered passengers the chance to sing karaoke in-flight!


Naturally, I’m disappointed that I’m only now hearing about this. 🙂 I really hope that Finnair will repeat this inspired entertainment offering, or that some other airline will see fit to do the same thing. It’s about time that I got the chance to sing in the friendly skies!

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 23: the Roman Pool at Hearst Castle

I hope you are well as another weekend gets underway. I’m pretty excited; I just received word today that the Russian entry visa that I applied for has been approved! So now I can really start looking forward to my epic adventure in Russia, the Ukraine, and Moldova, for which I depart five weeks from tomorrow!

No doubt, some future candidates for the H-Bomb’s Friday Photo series will come from that trip. This week’s featured image, however, was captured in the American state of California. Specifically, it’s a scene from Hearst Castle, the magnificent mansion that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) built in the town of San Simeon. (San Simeon lies roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the central California coast; it’s about 230 miles from each of those cities.) Mr. Hearst was a larger-than-life figure who was the inspiration for the title character in the classic Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane. The house that was made to order for him reflected his megalomania; and the tiled indoor swimming pool known as the Roman Pool was no exception.

hearst castle pool 1

The Roman Pool is believed to be modeled after an ancient Roman bath. Adorning it are eight statues depicting Roman gods, goddesses, and heroes. One of those statues is visible in the photo above. The mosaic patterns on the walls are taken from a 5th-century mausoleum in Ravenna, Italy. Forming the mosaics are over one million glass tiles called smalti, some of which are infused with actual gold.

This pool is located inside Casa Grande, the main building on the grounds of Mr. Hearst’s estate. And here’s a bonus photo! This is what Casa Grande looks like on the outside:

Casa Grande

The photos above were taken during a visit I made to California in June 2003. By the way, in case you were wondering, Hearst Castle is now a museum operated by the State of California. It’s a United States National Historic Landmark, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Would you like to visit Hearst Castle?

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A long weekend in Nashville, the cradle of country music

Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, is nicknamed “Music City,” and it’s particularly identified with the uniquely American form of entertainment that is country music. In February 2013, I spent a long weekend in Nashville, sandwiched around an overnight journey to the nearby city of Murfreesboro. During my all-too-brief stay in Nashville, I delved into the history and heritage of country music by exploring some of the places that honour and preserve that past. As well, I checked out out some of the other institutions that make Nashville special.

The Parthenon: a taste of Greece in the American South

Upon arriving at my Nashville hotel on a Friday night, my first order of business, naturally, was to sing karaoke in the hotel bar. But immediately afterward, I jumped into a cab and headed to a unique attraction: a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, complete with meticulous re-creations of the friezes on the pediment and entablature.

Nashville's full-scale duplicate of the Parthenon.

Nashville’s full-scale duplicate of the Parthenon, in Centennial Park.

Conceived as a temporary installation for the Tennessee Centennial exhibition in 1897, Nasvhille’s Parthenon was completely rebuilt with more permanent materials by 1931. Its floor plan duplicates that of its Greek doppelganger, and filling that floor is an art museum. The collection focuses on 19th and 20th century American landscape paintings, but its signature piece is a gilded, 42-foot-tall statue of the Greek goddess Athena, a reconstruction of an identical sculpture (known as “Athena Parthenos”) that once stood in the original Parthenon in Athens (but was removed by the Romans in the 5th century A.D.). Continue reading

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It happened. I met another H-Bomb.

Actually, it’s happened twice now.

I’ve been singing under the sobriquet “H-Bomb” since 1992; the story of how I acquired that nickname can be found here. It’s rare to find another karaoke singer who uses any stage name, let alone mine. But occasionally I’m alerted to the presence of another H-Bomb in the karaoke world. When that occurs, I feel compelled to meet my namesake.

This is the story of how a world traveler like me ended up in the unlikely locations of Poughkeepsie, New York and Murfreesboro, Tennessee — and how establishments in those places, as well as in the larger Tennessee city of Nashville, became some of the most rewarding additions to my World Karaoke Tour.

April 2009: Poughkeepsie, New York

The town of Poughkeepsie in upstate New York is best known as the home of Vassar College, an elite liberal arts institution that was once known as one of the “Seven Sisters.” In 2009, that town landed on my radar screen for a reason that had nothing to do with higher education. A friend who lives nearby had driven by a local establishment called Planet Wings, and she reported that its marquee sign was advertising a “KARAOKE . . . BY H BOMB” show on Thursday nights.

Planet Wings sign

The marquee sign outside Planet Wings in Poughkeepsie, in April 2009.

So, on Thursday night, April 2, 2009, after work, I took a commuter train from Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 19: Nashville’s Union Station

To my fellow Americans: Happy National Margarita Day! And to everyone worldwide: I hope you’ve had a very happy Friday. I missed a week in this Friday photo series because I was on the road, visiting Nashville, Tennessee. But I’m back and better than ever! And this week’s featured image comes from Nashville. It’s a photo of that city’s Union Station:

Nashville Union Station

Opened in 1900, this Romanesque revival edifice originally served as a railroad terminal. Today it’s a luxury hotel (it calls itself the Union Station Hotel). The interior is reportedly quite ornate, featuring a lobby with a 65-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. (Regrettably, I didn’t have a chance to step inside; during my taxi ride to the airport at the conclusion of my visit to Nashville, I made a quick stop that only allowed me time to photograph the exterior.) The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

This photo was taken last weekend. 🙂 I’ll have much more to say in the near future about my visit to the great state of Tennessee.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 18: Montreal’s Notre-Dame

As I write this, a blizzard is pounding the northeastern United States, including my home city of New York. Perfect weather to sit indoors at my computer to bring you my latest Friday photo! Today’s image comes from the cosmopolitan city of Montreal in the Canadian province of Quebec. It’s a view of that city’s Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal).

notre

This church has nothing to do with its namesake cathedral in Paris, to which it bears a slight resemblance. It is, however, a beautiful and historically significant building in its own right. Dedicated in 1829, it’s an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture.

This photo was taken during my visit to Montreal in August 2010. During that thoroughly enjoyable weekend jaunt, Canada became the 18th country on my World Karaoke Tour. But that’s ancient history, because I’m now up to 27 countries in which I’ve sung karaoke! Incidentally, my second Canadian singing appearance will come this June in Toronto; I’ll be in town for this year’s North American conference of the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX). If you’ll be at TBEX Toronto, I hope you’ll join me for a night of H-Bomb karaoke!

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 15: a creepy abandoned house in Maryland

Another happy Friday to you! Later this weekend I’ll be headed to the great state of Maryland, to visit friends in the Baltimore area. I’ll be taking advantage of a promotion from Megabus that’s enabling me to get from New York City to White Marsh, Maryland for zero dollars round-trip (plus a fifty-cent service charge). In honour of that trip, this week’s featured photo comes from one of my many previous visits to Maryland (I did my undergraduate university studies at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time in that state). The image is of an abandoned house in the town of Sudlersville, on Maryland’s Eastern shore:

Chia house

As you can see, this erstwhile residence is heavily overgrown with ivy, and generally has that “life after people” look about it.

This photo was taken in September 2005. So the house is probably even more decrepit now!

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