A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008

Blue Water, Red Dust and Planet Orange

Lake Pleasant, Camelback Mountain, downtown Phoenix and the NBA action in US Airways Centre.

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View Phoenix Rising From The Flame on GregW's travel map.

As I stated in my last entry, Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA, and Friday is a kind of defacto holiday as well, so I had a four day break.

On Thursday not much was open, and the skies were grey and threatening. It was not exactly a great day to do much, but I did manage to get out to see Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Lake Pleasant was created by the Waddell Dam, and as the closest major body of water to Phoenix, it is a very popular recreation area.

On Thursday, with the rain and the fact that it is winter, there weren't too many people on the water, but the RV Park was pretty crowded. Lots of folks were out grilling their Thanksgiving dinner. I've never really thought about doing an RV trip, but I must admit that the folks who had their BBQs out and had set up their picnic tables, it looked like it might be fun.

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Waddell Dam, which creates the lake

I did a small hike, but the rain started moving in from the west, and so I turned back after only half a mile.

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Cactuses are very big.

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Here comes the rain...

On the way out of the park, some donkeys were hanging out at the side of the road. I assume they must be wild donkeys, as this is a park and as such a farmers grazing animals wouldn't be allowed in the park.

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Friday is known as Black Friday here in the USA, and is one of the most important shopping days of the year. It is considered the start of the Christmas shopping season, and is called Black Friday because it is often the day of the year when retail stores become profitable for the year - moving from red to black.

It is a crazy day for shopping, and I avoid the malls at all cost. The crowds can be intimidating, and sadly, this year a Walmart worker was trampled to death when opening the doors of a store in Long Island, New York.

I avoided the crowds at the mall and decided to hike up Camelback Mountain. Camelback Mountain is in Phoenix, and is called such because it has two peaks.

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Unfortunately, the hike is very popular, and it was pretty crowded climbing up.

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It is an incredibly tough hike. The trail from Echo Canyon to the summit is only one and a quarter miles long, but rises 1,200 feet in that time. The trail starts with stairs, but quickly becomes a rough and rocky climb, including some areas where scrambling is required.

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I wasn't sure I was going to make it. About a quarter of a mile in, I suddenly found myself very faint and felt dizzy. I had to sit down on a boulder to rest, drink a lot of water and eat a granola bar. I would have turned around right then, but until the dizziness past I didn't want to head in either direction.

After resting for a few minutes and gaining some energy from the food, I was ready to continue the hike up. It was very slow going though. It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to cover the 1.2 miles, a distance that I could walk in about 30 minutes on flat ground. I took a lot of rest breaks, and a few times I thought about turning back round, but continued on until I did reach the top.

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The view from the top of Camelback is pretty impressive, as most of the rest of the Phoenix area is flat.

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Despite the tough going, lots of people were out hiking the trail and made it to the top, so it was pretty crowded up there.

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Despite the crowds, it is worth doing. The views are amazing, and there is a few bits of wildlife to see.

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After the hike I decided to do something a little less strenuous and decided to walk around downtown Phoenix. Given what I have written about in the blog so far, you might think that Phoenix is all red-rock canyons and hiking, but it is also a modern city, with big tall buildings and major corporations in downtown.

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Chase Bank Building

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Downtown Phoenix reflected in the glass towers

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Bank of America Building

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Arizona Republic, the local paper

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Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Court Building

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Statues outside Hergerger Theatre Centre, Downtown Phoenix

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St Mary's Basilica, Downtown Phoenix

While downtown, I wandered by the US Airways Centre, an arena in downtown.

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Turns out there was a NBA Basketball game on, with the local team - the Phoenix Suns playing the visiting Miami Heat. I went to a nearby ticket broker, bought myself a single ticket and went to the game.

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...what was I talking about? Oh, right, the NBA game. Sorry, I got distracted there for a minute.

After snapping the above photo with the Suns' Dancer, I grabbed myself some good food and headed into the arena.

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The Phoenix Suns has a few famous faces, including thespian, lyricist and sportsman Shaquille O'Neal.

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The team also includes players from Brazil, France, Solvenia, the Virgin Islands and Canada. Steve Nash is a Canadian who was born in South Africa and now plays in Phoenix. Man, he gets around. Unfortunately, he wasn't playing on Friday due to a thigh injury, so the best I could get is this photo from a nearby poster.

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I am not a huge basketball fan, and generally don't watch it at all. The games in person, though, are something else. More than any other sport I have seen, the NBA has a lot going on at all times. It is the only sport where they play music during the course of play, and there is amazing amounts of fan participation and entertainment during the breaks in the game action.

In Phoenix, they call their "universe" Planet Orange, which includes the players, coaches and all the fans. Entering the arena is coming to Planet Orange, and you, as a member of the audience, have a job to do. You are the sixth man, and you need to cheer on your team. It is not a game you are watching, but a mission - a mission for the Phoenix Suns and their fans to beat the Miami Heat.

The program, called "Free Throw," defines Planet Orange as "a world where the atmosphere is electric and the laws of gravity do not apply. It is a world where all the inhabitants share a common trait. They are all fiery, fervent and forever Suns fans, and every one of their attitudes is colored exactly the same. Welcome to Planet Orange. Are you a citizen?"

Photos don't really capture it, so here is some video clips of stuff that was going on during and between the action of the game, so you can get a feel for the level of excitement and entertainment during the game.

If you can't see the video embedded (mostly for Facebook folks), you can go to Youtube to see it now by following this link.

Unfortunately for the citizens of Planet Orange, Phoenix lost the game. That's okay, it is a long season.

Posted by GregW 13:17 Archived in USA Tagged sports tourist_sites Comments (1)

My home... or at least one of them.

No, I am not super rich with multiple homes, just flexible on the term

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Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. For most Americans, after a strenuous and aggravating day(s) of travel on the jam-packed roads, crowded airports and stuffy trains, they are now sitting down getting ready to stuff themselves with turkey and fall asleep watching football on the TV.

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Football float from 2006 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

For me, I am having a bit of a lazy day lounging around my hotel room. After a breakfast of McDonald's Egg McMuffins, I am been watching TV, alternating between CNN with the India terror coverage, the Travel Channel with Andrew Zimmer eating weird stuff and surfing the internet.

One of the many blogs that I try and keep up with is On Our Own Path, written by a couple (Bessie and Kyle) who are travelling through Latin America. They've just passed their 300th day travelling, and Bessie wrote in a post on the occasion:

Settling into our Next "Home". Out of habit, I still call the places we stay "home", it's sort of like a blind person saying "See you later", but you know, it works.

That got me thinking of a conversation I had the other day with a coworker here in Phoenix when they asked what, if any, plans I had for the Christmas holidays.

"I am going home to Toronto for a few days to see the family, then I will be heading home to London. Well, it's five o'clock, I think I am going to head home to my hotel."

Like Bessie, I call my hotel crash-pad for the evening my "home," but I also call two other places home as well. Three homes, are you super-rich, Greg? No, I am not super rich with multiple homes. I am just flexible with the term.

At the end of the day of work, I go "home" to my hotel, the TownePlace Suites Scottsdale. It's a comfortable extended stay place that includes a small sitting area and a full kitchen, so I can actually do something other than eat out every meal.

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I also find myself still calling Toronto home, even though I don't have a place there anymore. It was, of course, the place that I had "lived" for the past 35 years, even if for the past 9 years I spent more time travelling the USA and staying in hotels than back in Toronto.

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And finally, my flat in London is home as well. The place I actual live and get my mail delivered, and the place that I am hoping to build a more complete life as time goes on.

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So there you go. All within one sentence I can call three different places home.

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"Home" art from the Guinness brewery, Dublin, Ireland

Home. It is many places.

To expand on the classic definition, home is wherever you lay your hat, your might lay your hat, you laid your hat in the past or you will lay your hat in the future.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by GregW 10:01 Archived in USA Tagged armchair_travel living_abroad migration_philosophy Comments (0)

Hiking to the Vortex

Hiking in Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona, and trying to avoid the crystal-using, sandal-wearing hippies searching for mystic enlightenment at the many earth-energy vortices.

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For my first weekend in Arizona, I decided to leave the hot, dry warmth of the desert around Phoenix and head north to the cool, thin air of Flagstaff and Sedona. As one heads north from Phoenix, you rise up, gaining significant altitude as you climb up to the Colorado Plateau. The area has drastic rises and dips in altitude, and driving through the area you can easily find yourself climbing from 4,000 feet to 8,000 feet above sea level. Just outside Flagstaff are the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountain range in Arizona, including Humphreys Peak, at 12,637 feet above sea level the highest point in Arizona.

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I made the weekend trip up to Flagstaff with a coworker of mine. Sedona is the more scenic of the two towns, but also the more popular, so to save money I found myself staying in Flagstaff at a Radisson Hotel on Route 66.

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Route 66, also known as the Mother Road is a highway that runs from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Or, more correctly, Route 66 is the highway that USED to run along that route. The highway was slowly decommissioned over the years, until the last portion was official decertified in 1985. Despite not really existing, the highway still lives on in the imagination of the American public, in many ways thanks to the famous "Get your Kicks on Route 66" song composed by Bobby Troup and recorded by many artists. Many states have jumped upon this nostalgia to declare old portions of the highway "Historic Route 66" and try and draw in tourists. Obviously it works, as I took the above picture in a somewhat giddy state, despite knowing that the modern 4-lane road that I was taking a picture of probably was never Route 66 at all.

Flagstaff is a university town, home to Northern Arizona University, and on Friday night we went out to a Thai restaurant that was teeming with NAU students, attracted by the cheap but good Thai food.

Saturday was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures in the low teens Celsius, good weather for hiking.

We started the day heading to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Sunset Crater is a volcano that first erupted in 1064 and last erupted in 1100. Nothing since, but I kept my car keys handy in case we needed to make a quick escape.

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The landscape around the crater is black, volcanic rock, porous but hard.

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While many of the roads are paved, to get to some of the many national and state parks around Flagstaff and Sedona, one has to take some of the Forest Roads, which are pretty rough. By the end of weekend, my car was covered with a thick layer of red dust.

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The next place to visit was Walnut Canyon. Walnut Canyon National Monument is a 350 foot deep canyon (dropping from 6,690 ft to 6,340 ft) that used to be home to the Sinagua people. The Sinagua built they homes in along the cliff faces, in small caves that were bricked up to provide shelter from the wind and snow of winter.

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Next up, we drove South to Sedona. The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona goes through the Oak Creek Canyon. The canyon is a 12 mile long river gorge which is impressively deep, especially when you consider that it was carved by something labelled a creek.

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Highway 89A runs through the canyon, and there is a very cool and fun to drive portion that switchbacks back and forth down the canyon wall before curving and snaking through the tree lined canyon floor.

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Sedona itself is beautiful, voted by USA Today as the most scenic place in the entire USA. Even the view from the mini-mall parking lot is stunning.

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The Sedona airport stands atop a cliff, and from a viewpoint just outside the airport, you get a good idea of what the town looks like, and why it is home to some of the most expensive real estate in Arizona.

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About 3 miles from the centre of Sedona is the iconic Chapel of Holy Cross, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright student Brunswig Staude and built in 1956, is a Catholic chapel built into the surrounding mesas. It is especially awe-inspiring in the sunset, when the entire building is lit by the beautiful dusk light.

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West of the town centre, down the Upper Red Rock road is Crescent Moon ranch. It isn't a ranch any more, but now a picnic area which offers some of the best photo ops of the nearby Cathedral Rock, especially when you can catch it reflected in Oak Creek.

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The above is the picture everyone tries to get, but there are so many amazing views of the Cathedral Rock, it's hard not to walk away from Crescent Moon with 100 pictures of the same mountain off in the distance.

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Everyone once in a while, if you can tear yourself away from staring at Cathedral Rock, there is also some pretty bits in the picnic area as well.

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There are lots of hippies in Sedona. This is apparently because there are "energy vortexes" in Sedona.

Aside: Some of you may be asking "Hey Greg, shouldn't that be vortices?" No, apparently in Sedona the plural of vortex is vortexes. Don't ask me why, I'm no granola-eating, sandal-wearing, crystal-worshipping hippie.

If you google "Sedona Vortex" you will find a near endless supply of information on the vortexes, and the Sedona tourist board even gets in on the trip, printing up maps of where the most powerful vortexes are.

These "spiraling spiritual energy" sights are, apparently, places where the "energy is right to facilitate prayer, mediation and healing," so tells me about.com. The site goes on to say that "Vortex sites are believed to be locations having energy flow that exists on multiple dimensions. The energy of the vortexes interacts with a person’s inner self."

Right.

Anyway, you can tell that I am not one who really buys into this, but lots of people do, and at least I should try and be accepting of their beliefs, so I will try and not be too dismissive throughout this entry.

Though the Crescent Moon Ranch is not a sight of a vortex, it, like all of Sedona, is a place where spiritual energy is high, and people often find themselves sitting, soaking up the energy and contemplating existence and meta-existence.

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Stacking rocks, like the Inuit who stack rocks into Inuksuk, is very popular among the vortex visiting set, and there was one place in particular in Crescent Moon where folks seemed inspired to stack.

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I figured I would try and get into the spirit of things, and created my own stack.

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I dunno what that did. Perhaps my Chi energy is now more balanced or something. I'll let you know if I feel more centred or something this week, but that evening, I had dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, drinking beer and watching college football, which would suggest that I haven't progressed much on a spiritual level from any other weekend.

Sunday, after a decent sleep and a big breakfast, we headed out for two big hikes.

First up was a hike up to the Devil's Bridge. Devil's Bridge is a natural sandstone rock arch just north of Sedona. The hike up to the sight is 1.8 miles, classified as an "easy" hike, but there is a 400 foot climb in altitude from 4,600 up to 5,000 feet, so it can be a little tasking on the lungs.

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Arriving at the arch, though, is worth any breathlessness from the climb.

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The view of the Devil's Bridge is pretty spectacular as well, looking across a large, flat valley to cliffs rising in the distance. It is worth taking a moment to sit and enjoy the view.

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From Devil's Bridge, we did the Boynton Canyon trail.

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The trail starts off in what many would consider typical, south-western geography - with desert sands, low brush, giant red-rocks and hot sun.

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As the canyon walls start to get higher above you, and closer together, the environment changes. It is colder, darker and wetter, with tall trees and a lot more vegetation.

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The trail is 2.5 miles long, and again classified as easy. I found myself struggling up the rise, as most of it seems to come at the very end of the trail as it climbs from the floor of the box canyon up to the side of the canyon.

The end of the path is one of the many vortexes in the Sedona area. I sat quietly and tried to feel the energy, but didn't quite manage it. After hiking for more than 2 hours (including a detour to climb up the Vista Trail to see the Boynton pillar), I was really just hungry, thirsty and out of breath. Instead of finding spiritual or emotional enlightenment, I just found a granola bar and a bottle of water to refresh myself and sat quietly trying to catch my breath and enjoy the view.

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On the way back, the sun is setting and the canyon floor is in darkness. The sun lights up the cliff faces above us creating some amazing views, making it hard to keep your focus on the path.

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So I have now returned from Sedona, a place of apparent cosmic energy that gives many guidance on their path in life. I never found any lasting peace, just the temporary peace from the beautiful views, a good days exercise and the fresh (if somewhat thin) air.

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Posted by GregW 19:57 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (2)

Uncertainty Can Be a Guiding Light

Or How I Learned to Love the Future Unknown. An inside look at the goings on at a Neophiliacs Anonymous meeting.

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Hello, my name is Greg and I am a neophiliac.

Chorus: Hello Greg.

Ummm, sorry. This is my first meeting. I guess I am not sure what to say next.

Group leader: why don’t you tell us what being a neophiliac means to you.

Neophilia, from the Greek “neo” meaning new and “philie” meaning loving is a term coined by counterculture cult writer Robert Anton Wilson to describe a personality type characterized by a strong affinity for novelty. A neophile is someone who has an ability and desire for rapid and constant change and a distaste of repetition and routine.

Group leader: Sure, Greg, that’s the standard definition of a neophile. But how has being a neophiliac impacted your life? What does it mean to you PERSONALLY to be a neophile?

I love beginnings and endings. I love that feeling of being undefined, that period of uncertainty. I love the rush of knowing that anything can happen. Sure, it is often a scary period, but it is also quite enthralling.

See, I’ve just started this new position in Phoenix, Arizona. I’d never been to Phoenix before. I’ve never worked at this company, or worked with anyone at the company before. I don’t know anyone in Phoenix. Despite all that, I arrived and by the end of the first day felt completely and totally at ease with the situation. Despite having to jump right in to a completely unfamiliar situation in an unfamiliar place with a bunch of people I’ve never met, it felt completely and totally right.

Part of me thinks that perhaps it is just practice, years of travelling and consulting, meeting new people in unfamiliar situations has made me an expert at it, but then another part of me… Well, I guess that’s why I searched out this Neophiliacs Anonymous meeting. I think perhaps I am addicted to change.

Applause from the group.
Group Leader: Good for you Greg. That’s a tough admission to make.

See, I recently moved abroad without really much of a plan other than to live in the United Kingdom. Some people might call that crazy, but it all seemed perfectly sane to me. Throughout this period, I have kept having a line from one of my favourite songs repeating in my head. It’s from the 1993 song by U2 called “Zooropra,” the title track from the album of the same name.

Don’t worry, baby. It’s gonna be alright. Uncertainty can be a guiding light.

Despite the fact I am in a period when everything has changed and the future is unknowable, it’s all fine. I feel that not having a plan for the future can be a plan for the future. Just sitting back and letting the currents of life take you where they may is the only path you need to determine.

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You know, in the same song, there are some more lines that really speak to this affliction. The singer Bono seems to be trying to reassure a scared listener, anxious about a world of constant change.

And I have no compass, and I have no map
And I have no reasons, no reasons to get back
And I have no religion, and I don’t know what’s what
And I don’t know the limit, the limit of what we’ve got

We may not know what the future holds and we have no guides to direct us through the future, but at the same time that means that the future could hold anything. There are no limits to our future.

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I think that’s what I like so much about those periods of beginning and ending – the sense that there are an infinite number of possibilities. Once you are settled in to a situation, whether it be a job, a relationship of a place to live, the potential outcomes narrow to a more definable collection. Having a clearer vision of the future can be reassuring, but it also can feel limiting.

Life is a constant struggle between searching for the new and seeking out the known, the struggle between neophilia (desire for the new) and neophobia (fear of the new). For me, I find that I skew more towards the desire for the new.

I am sure it is one of the things that attracted me to consulting; the constant churn of starting a new project in a new city with a new group of people every 6 to 9 months feeds the desire for the new pretty impressively.

I realized last week that this neophilia is probably one of the reasons that I like to travel so much, both for business and for pleasure. I mean, I have travelled a lot over the past 8 years, and I have actual written 200 blog entries about places I have been and the things I have seen. Wow, that’s a lot of travel, eh?

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Why do I love travel? Travel is all about going to new places, meeting new people and seeing new things. And, if there is one thing that you can be sure of when planning a trip, it is that something along the way will not go right. They only certainty in travel plans are that they are uncertain.

Yeah, I’m sure of it now. The only guides I need in my life are uncertainty, and maybe the Lonely Planet.

Group leader: Well, Greg, that’s a great start. As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Ummm, problem? What do you mean? I don’t have a problem.

Wait, you all think neophilia is a problem? I thought this was a group to meet like minded people and make travel plans!

Ah well, my mistake. Sorry about that.

So, I have to get going. I am planning a trip this weekend to do some hiking in the canyons in Arizona . Anybody wanna come?

No, okay. Your loss.

Listen, I gotta run. There is still a lot of world out there to see and a lot of new things to experience. Have to get at it now, time is ticking away.

As Bono sings in Dirty Day, another track from the 1993 U2 release Zooropa…

The days, days, days run away like horses over the hills.

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Posted by GregW 19:01 Archived in USA Tagged living_abroad travel_philosophy migration_philosophy Comments (1)

The End of the Recession (at least for me personally)

Phoenix, Arizona presents a new opportunity

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A recession is defined as a contraction in the business cycle or a period of reduced economic activity. Generally, to make it practical to measure, a timeframe is applied - that being two quarters, or six months. Six months of "negative growth" and an economy is stated to be in recession. The Eurozone (those countries that use the Euro as their currency) recently announced they are in a recession, and it is widely expected that the USA and Britain will soon follow suit with negative growth in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2008.

I was ahead of the curve.

See, I stopped working in April of 2008, and thus have been experiencing a period of reduced economic activity, at least on the revenue side of the revenue and expenses equation. Along with that, my retirement savings have suffered a mighty hit with the slide in stock prices over the last few months.

So, as of end of October, I had 6 months of no income. Two quarters of negative growth of my savings account. I was in a recession.

No more, for I have found a job. Which is excellent news for both my bank account and my self-worth. There's only one bad thing. The job is a little outside London.

8494 miles outside of London, to be precise. The job is in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Now, some of you may be asking yourself what this means to my plans for living in London. "What about all those musing on the nature of Europe and your part in it, Greg?" you may be asking. "Is this the end of your experiment in living abroad?"

The answer is no. I plan on returning to London, hopefully shortly.

The Phoenix job (wow, now it sounds like a bank robbery or something) is a two month contract, working as a consultant to a company in Phoenix. So only 7 months after declaring myself done with consulting, looks like I am back at it, at least temporarily.

As it is a two month contract, come the end of December I will be back on the street, unemployed. At that point, I hope to return to London, and hopefully the London economy will be in a little bit better shape for me to return to.

For the next two months, however, be prepared to hear about Arizona, because that's where I will be.

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- - -

In other news, my next entry will be my 200th. I know if you look at the address bar you might think that the number of this blog entry would suggest otherwise, but some numbers have been skipped for technical reasons, so the next one is really number 200.

I will try and make it something special and exciting. Big round numbers deserve nothing less.

Posted by GregW 16:56 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (3)

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