Photo Follies

I travel a lot for work. I have a smartphone. It has a camera. I’m often pretty bored.

The end result of all that is that I take and upload a lot of photos from my travels to the Google Maps photo repository. Google then uses them in location listings.

No one has to upload their vacation snaps and other photos to Google Maps. But once you choose to, Google tends to assume you want to keep on doing so and will send your phone suggestions to upload your most recent shots. As I said, I’m often pretty bored, so I’ve uploaded a lot of photos. I’m a Google Maps “Local Guide” Level 10 user, as a result.

And because I’ve uploaded so many photos and because I’m a Level 10 user, my photos often wind up being the cover photo of many locations on Google Maps (if the business or location owner hasn’t uploaded their own, that is). And that means that occasionally a shot I took in a moment of frivolity winds up being the public face of a theoretically reputable business or tourist attraction or whatever.

The most egregious example of this is the entry for the Friendly’s restaurant in Williston, VT.  Take a look. That photo at the top of some ranch dressing with rainbow sprinkles on top? That’s one of mine. I don’t know why, out of the dozens of photos I’ve taken at that Friendly’s that one wound up being the profile photo. But it did. And it’s been viewed (as of just now) 210,434 times.

And that’s not even my most popular photo. My top two are:

  • My all-time champion, with 508,723 views: A photo of a half pepperoni-and-black-olive/half sauerkraut-and-ham pizza Carole and I shared one night at the Marion’s Piazza in Oakwood, Ohio. Zillions of pizza photos have been uploaded to their Google Maps entry… but which one wound up as the profile photo? Mine. (In my defense, the ham-and-sauerkraut pizza was amazingly tasty.)

It’s a strange world we live in, my friends.

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The Weinermobile

There are people in this country who do not own a large stuffed Weinermobile.

I am not one of those people.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve had this thing for years and years. Bought it off eBay. It came with strings attached to hang it from the ceiling of a store or business, but mostly I’ve just left it on the top bunk of the bunk bed we pointlessly use as a spare sofa down in the living room. I saw a post on today about the wonderful life Weinermobile drivers experience and decided to post a photo of my own little Weinermobile in the comments.)

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Thought For The Day: Cat Upchuck Edition

There are few experiences in life that provide the same je ne sais quoi as hearing one of your cats slowly and methodically working up to a full-bore upchuck on the carpet twenty feet behind you while you’re taking part in a work-related conference call.

You know how it goes. At first there’s a soft gulping sound or two, the sort of thing that you could easily attribute to any number of ordinary causes. But then the sounds get louder and more urgent… whulp whulp whulp whulp. And then the climax: a nice loud gagging noise followed by small wet lumps of something hitting the carpet from four to six inches above floor level.


And the whole time you’re sitting there on the conference call, cheerfully interacting with your co-workers and customers, thinking “oh, jeez, this sounds like it’s going to be a big one” and trying to remember where you left the roll of paper towels and the scrub brush and the spray bottle.

The denoument, of course, is the cat in question showing up a few minutes later, all perky and full of lively enthusiasm, wearing a look that says “Hi there! What’s for lunch?”

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, y’all.

Why the above picture?

When I was a kid, Mom was a dedicated subscriber to the New Yorker. As far as I know, she subscribed right up until the day she died, and for that matter, quite some time after. Dad never got around to cancelling subscriptions to Mom’s magazines; when I visited him over a year after her death, new issues were piled up in stacks in the living room. Probably hurt him too much to think of doing anything about it.

I don’t know when she started her subscription; when I was a little kid, the New Yorker was already there. I can’t visualize our house in Blacksburg without there being a few issues in the dining room, living room, den, bathrooms … awaiting the eventual cull when Mom decided she’d read everything worth reading.

As a kid, of course, I was primarily interested in the cartoons. I didn’t understand a lot of ’em at first, naturally. Richard Nixon and Watergate were a thing, and newspaper editorial cartoons were always going over my head with references to bugs and plumbers. The New Yorker cartoons, aimed as they were at the self-identified intellectuals among us, were even more cryptic to little me. (Except for the cartoons of the legendary George Booth. Man was a goddamned genius.)

And then came the December 30, 1974 issue. That’s its cover, above.

I would have been, oh, seven years and three months old when that issue showed up in our house, and for some reason, it really left a mark on me. I stared and stared at the cover, trying to decipher its meaning — other than the obvious, that is, that the ‘4’ in ‘1974’ had been replaced in the circus act by a shiny new star, a ‘5’. I guess I wasn’t very up to date on surrealism or whatever genre of art it would fall under.

(Coincidentally, it was just three weeks later that the greatest New Yorker cartoon of all time, “Ip Gissa Gul“, was published. And yes, that was a Booth effort.)

Even though that one issue was just one of hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers that passed through our house, that’s the one that stands out in my memory. And every year, when the old year dies and the new year takes the stage, it always comes unbidden to my mind’s eye.

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What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Day 14 (Homeward Bound)

The 14th and final day of our Baltic Sea vacation was Tuesday, August 28. We had breakfast at the Axel Guldsmeden hotel, packed up, and took a taxi back to the Copenhagen airport. I was still not feeling super-awesome, but better than I had the prior day… but even so, I didn’t want to have to drag all our stuff back to the train station and then take a train.

We were amused at the airport by the GIANT shopping-mall-sized duty-free store that you HAD to go through to get from security to one’s gate. We hung out at the very nice, and expansive, SAS lounge and had snacks and so on. Then we boarded our SAS to IAD flight around noon, flew across the Atlantic, and landed at IAD around 3 pm local time. Thanks to the Customs app I’d downloaded, we made it through US customs and transferred our bags back to United in two shakes of a lambs’ tail and caught our final flight, IAD to BTV without any issue. We were back on the ground in Vermont by 5:30 pm local time… all our bags made it there as well, and we Lyfted home.

Maggie was very pleased to see us. (We presume our other two cats were pleased as well, but they maintained a diplomatic reserve.)

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What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Day 13 (Back in Copenhagen)

Yeah, that’s the “Little Mermaid”. Pretty freaking exciting, isn’t it?

We returned to Copenhagen, Denmark at the end of our nine-day Baltic Sea cruise on Monday, August 26. Debarkation from the ship was quick and painless. We’d paid for transfer from the port back to the central rail station in downtown Copenhagen and that was painless as well.

The train station was two blocks from the Axel Guldsmeden Hotel, the place we’d stayed before the cruise and where we were going to stay one more night before heading home. We were even lucky enough upon arriving at the hotel around 10:30 that morning to find that they were willing to let us go ahead and check in — which was good, because I felt @#$%&! awful. We got the room and I crashed for a bit, but poor Carole got bored quickly watching me loll around. She announced that she wanted to go out for a Copenhagen harbor boat trip, and I didn’t want to be a spoilsport so I got up and dragged along behind her.

We were able to find a river/harbor cruise in an open-canopy boat that had transparent shutters that could be pulled down in case of rain, and guess what? It rained like crazy. We got crap-all photos as a result… but we did get to see the Little Mermaid, which was every bit as pointless and insignificant as we’d expected.

We stopped by the Lego store (which we’d expected to be much larger) and gawked at all the cool toys and made note to order some of them when we got back to the States. It might have been interesting to window-shop some more, but it continued to rain and I wasn’t feeling all that good. So we just headed back toward the hotel.

We had dinner at a Japanese restaurant (Wagamama, a multi-country chain we hadn’t come across or heard of before) that we randomly happened upon on our way, right next door to Tivoli, then went back to the hotel to crash some more. We ended the day with dessert at the little cafe (“Cafe du Nord“) on the first floor of the Axel Guldsmeden, and then went to bed for good.

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What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Day 12 (At Sea Again)

Sunday, August 26 — Day 12 of our Baltic vacation and Day 8 of our nine-day Baltic cruise — saw us back at sea, heading generally southwest toward Denmark and Copenhagen.

And I think by this point of the cruise, we were about worn out. I know I was. Toward the end of the day on Saturday I’d begun feeling really tuckered out, like I was coming down with something, and on Sunday it was obvious that I had. Somewhere along the way I’d caught someone’s cold and was, it appeared, in for a few days of feeling cruddy. I wasn’t hacking and coughing and sneezing, but I definitely had the whole weak-and-achy thing going on.

The ship spent the day passing south and west along the Swedish coastline and by the island of Gotland. Wind turbines were everywhere, sited out in the water by the hundreds.

I spent a decent chunk of the day napping, other than a trip out to a one-day special Indian Food buffet in one of the ship’s restaurants. There were lots of South Asians on board, so the buffet was thronged… and the food was pretty good.

In the evening, we went to a Cirque du Soleil-style show called “Cirque Dreams”. Dinner was included. Lots of fun, exotic costumes, amazing acrobats, etcetera. I’d have enjoyed it more if I weren’t feeling puny.

But then it was off to bed. In the morning we’d be docking in Copenhagen and our cruise would be over. We’d have one more day before flying home — I knew not to risk fate by trying to fly home the same day the cruise was scheduled to end — but already we were beginning to think in an “after the cruise, what’ve we got to get done” mindset.

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What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Day 11 (Stockholm)

Saturday, August 25 was our last port stop on our 9-day Baltic Sea cruise, not counting our final stop at the end back in Copenhagen. We docked in Nynäshamn, a port some 40 miles outside Stockholm, for the simple reason that Stockholm doesn’t have the capacity to dock every cruise ship that wants to pay a port call. There’s absolutely nothing in Nynäshamn other than trees and rocks, but we weren’t there to see the port, anyway. Our real destination, obviously, was Stockholm proper.

We took a bus from Nynäshamn to Stockholm and I must have been pretty tired, because I fell back asleep on the ride. All those days of running around crowded museums and cathedrals and such were catching up to me. When we got to the city, Stockholm turned out to be Paris, only set on a bunch of islands separated by stretches of water. Very cosmopolitan, modern city. Carole and I both thought it looked beautiful.

Only, there was a serpent in the garden. There was ongoing unrest from the extreme left. Or the extreme right. Or the extreme someone. And a big public protest/riot/assembly was planned for that Saturday… and the Swedes were taking no chances. Everywhere our bus tried to go, we ran into police barricades. Or police officers on foot. And at one point, police officers on horseback. Our poor tour guide was getting more and more apologetic with each attempt the driver made to get us to our first stop on the itinerary, the Stockholm city hall (where they give out the Nobel Prizes, among other things).

We finally got there after over an hour of backing up and trying side streets and going around and this and that and the other. And the Stadshuset, as it’s called locally, turned out to be worth the wait. The building was erected in the early 1900s but was constructed to look much, much older. The architect had something of a sense of whimsy and incorporated numerous off-the wall-design elements and art fixtures. Changes were made here and there along the way during the 12 years it took to build the place, resulting (for example) in a “Blue Hall” with nothing blue in it.

After that, we went to see the wreck of the Pride of the Swedish Navy, the Vasa — which had been so over-built and so over-weighted and so badly designed that it rolled a bit during its very first voyage, took on water through open gun-ports, and sank to the bottom of Stockholm harbor before it’d even traveled a mile. The ship sank in 1628 and was located again in the mid-1900s, when serious recovery efforts were begun.

They have the ship all pieced back together, with as many original fittings and materials as possible, in an enormous building. Various floors of the building give you vantage points to see the bottom of the ship, the deck of the ship, the rigging and superstructure of the ship, and so on. It’s a beautiful ship and an admirable restoration job, but still, one can’t entirely resist the urge to giggle at the whole sinking-on-its-first-voyage-before-even-leaving-the-harbor thing.

We had lunch on our own after seeing the Vasa. Our guide had the bus park in a busy downtown district right around the corner from a Swedish royal palace, and gave us what time he could to go find restaurants, forage, and come back. I’m sure we were originally allotted a lot more time, but the whole driving-around-Stockholm-running-into-police-barriers thing ate up a lot of the morning, and that left us in a hurry. We had to scoot by any number of nice little cafes with street-side tables and find a place we could get food to go. We wound up scarfing open-faced sandwiches and salad from Styrofoam containers while sitting on a curb around the corner from our bus.

We got to drive around a little bit more after that; we were taken to one harbor overlook where you could see just about the whole city, all the interconnected waterways, and an amusement park. Photos ensued. Then it was back to the highway and the drive back to the ship in Nynäshamn. I was groggy and tired and slept the whole way.

Once we got back to the ship, it was actually still early enough that we had time to visit the ship’s coffee shop/patisserie and then relax on the deck for a while before dinner, which was kind of nice. Dinner was a repeat at the “Le Bistro” restaurant. Carole likes that place, but for some reason I didn’t find anything appealing and ordered a cheeseburger and fries off the kids’ menu. Then it was the usual — wandering around the ship, doing not much of anything. The following day would be a day at sea as we headed back to Copenhagen, and then our cruise would be over the day after that.

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What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Day 10 (Helsinki, Finland)

Friday, August 24 brought us to Helsinki, Finland.

We had no issues whatsoever getting off the ship, unlike the Grand Guignol folly back in St Petersburg. Our Finland “exclusive tour” was another bus tour to see the sights… both in Helsinki, proper, and in the quaint little town of Porvoo a half hour away to the east. Oh, and, we bought anti-perspirant in a Finnish supermarket.

Helsinki is a medium-sized city (600,000 or so people)… or at least, it felt that way. We didn’t get the sense of being in a big urban megalopolis. That might be because for the first time in a few days we didn’t have to fight enormous crowds. There weren’t any Must See stops that every cruise ship would ferry its passengers to, and consequently, we had a much more relaxed day where we didn’t feel like we were going to get trampled.

Our tour guide took us to the Helsinki Cathedral, where we parked and walked around the Kruununhaka neighborhood and harbor. There were all manner of street vendors next to the harbor and we bought some really nice sweaters from a local weaver… two for Carole, one for me. Then we got back on the bus and continued on to the Sibelius Monument, a funky modernist sculpture of metal pipes commemorating Finland’s greatest composer.

Then we were off to Porvoo, a small arty city known for its medieval architecture and chocolate shop. We parked the bus and walked around, bought chocolate, visited the old Porvoo Cathedral, paid money to use the facilities at a local for-profit bathroom, and finished our stop by dropping in to the local supermarket to buy antiperspirant.

Funny thing about taking a cruise to Europe and being bused all over various cities… it doesn’t really afford you an opportunity to replace essential toiletries you may have run out of. One would think that there’d be a little shop on board the ship where you could buy toothpaste, antiperspirant, aspirin, and so on, right? Nope. There were shops where you could buy absurdly overpriced watches and jewelry and “art” and so on, but no “convenience store” equivalent. And none of our stops in other cities had taken us within shouting distance of a convenience store or pharmacy either.

I’d run out of antiperspirant on the second day of the cruise and had been using Carole’s, but hers was kinda low also. We were gratified to be given some “walking around” time in Porvoo and even moreso when we stumbled upon the K-Citymarket. They had everything an American market would have — and amusingly, all the antiperspirants were labeled entirely in English. It appears that rather than relabel health and beauty products for each country, manufacturers just have done with it and label everything in English and call it a day.

We headed back toward Helsinki from Porvoo and had lunch at an estate hotel called Haikko Manor, right by the water and surrounded by trees and huge grassy lawns. We had the usual: meat, potatoes, bread, salad, vodka… and reindeer salami. Which turned out to be pretty much like any other salami.

Then we headed on back into Helsinki where the main thing left on our itinerary was visiting Temppeliaukio Church, a church carved out of the rock of a hill in the middle of the city. Lest the idea of a “church carved out of the rock’ imply a little chapel or something — think again. It was huge inside. Enormous organ, natural light coming in from high windows, row after row of seats… you had to have a ticket to get in and there was no shortage of people, both tourists and locals, coming in to admire the place.

And then it was back to the ship to decompress, have dinner at the “La Cucina” Italianesque specialty restaurant, and then the usual routine — wandering around, having a drink, and so to bed.

Our overall conclusion: Finland is a very polite, clean, quiet little country, one that we wouldn’t mind visiting again sometime. That said, we can’t really claim to have a thorough understanding of the place from one day’s (or parts thereof) wandering around.

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What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Day 9 (St Petersburg)

Thursday, August 23 saw us still in St Petersburg — Day 9 of our vacation and day 5 of our cruise. We spent the day back onshore, dragging around St Petersburg and environs looking at gilt. The Russians of the Russian Empire period never saw anything they didn’t want to cover in gold leaf.

We spent the morning at a Peter the Great palace, Peterhof, west of the city along the Gulf of Finland shore, took a hydrofoil trip back into the city (really!), had lunch — and vodka — at another sit-down restaurant, and then got dragged around the rest of the afternoon to Cathedral X and Palace Y and so forth. There definitely came a point in the afternoon where if the tour guide had asked “Who’s absolutely sick of seeing one church after another and wants to just go back to the ship” there’d have been a stampede for the bus.

Peterhof is known for its fountains. The palace itself is really nice, a lot like the Catherine Palace that we’d seen the previous day… only with even larger crowds. When we got there, the line to go in was around the block, with one tour group after another slowly shuffling through metal detectors and stuff. We wound up at the end of the line and our tour guide looked very disheartened until she found the right person from her company to call and they got us moved up front (we’d paid for the “exclusive” tour and part of that, apparently, had been paying to bypass lines). But even so, holy cow, there wasn’t room to sling a hamster, let alone a cat, anywhere in the entire place. We were actually kind of grateful when we’d seen the key stuff inside and could go out to the palace grounds to see the fountains.

The fountains at Peterhof are really something. There’s the Grand Cascade, which is enormous — it’s basically the whole front approach to a very large palace. There’s the Chess Mountain fountain. There’s the “trick” fountain that sprays people when they sit down on the benches nearby. And then there’s fountain X, fountain Y, fountain Z — we found out that it is indeed possible to have “fountain fatigue”.

The hydrofoil trip back across the Gulf of Finland was fast and efficient — it’s a good way to commute between St Petersburg proper and the areas along the south shore of the gulf. We were back in the city in no time, had lunch (chicken, potatoes, salad, vodka, and sparkling wine which may or may not have been champagne), and then were off to see (ticking ’em off on my fingers, one by one) St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Cathedral (we met a very nice cat there), the Church On Spilled Blood… heck, there were probably a few more in there but we’d gotten cathedral fatigue too.

We got taken to a shop that had very expensive versions of the same cheap-ass souvenirs the sold back at the port (we didn’t buy any) and then went back to the ship. Dinner that night was at the on-board speciality steakhouse restaurant, “Cagney’s”, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t overwhelming either. Then we wandered around the ship, had a drink here and a drink there, and crashed.

Only, that wasn’t the end of it. After a nap we looked out the window and saw that the ship was passing a Russian Navy base on the isle of Kronstadt — the name deriving from the period when it had been a possession of the Swedish Empire. It was a little startling to see what looked like about half the Russian navy parked a stone’s throw off the port side of the ship. We took a photo or two (they didn’t come out well, as it was getting pretty dark) and then went back to bed for the night. We sailed overnight to our next port call, Helsinki, in Finland.

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