Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Operation: Expand Operations

Taking the lead from other bloggers far more successful than I, I've decided to begin posting in a second venue. Given my recent work for the Matador network, their "Community" site was a natural choice. You can find it here. Just click on "New Blogs" in the "Travel Writing" menu, or you can search for my name (halamen) on the "People" page.

I have no plans as of yet to give a different focus to the posts in each location, but hopefully this will develop over time. See you there!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dream Trips, Vol. 1: Cycling the Middle East

Ever since my recent Summer Preview post, I've been feeling the urge to focus more on the future. In that spirit, I'm starting a little series entitled "Dream Trips," which will describe some ideas I've had for epic journeys that may or may not come to pass. Here goes...

Vol. 1: Middle East Bike Tour
As time goes by, I become more and more fascinated by the Middle East. So much of human history unfolded there. I charted the following cycling route to take in as much as possible: Istanbul to Cairo.

What better place to start than Istanbul, a bridge of sorts between familiar Europe and the world beyond? And as the old seat of the Byzantine Empire, it has a lot of history to impart as well.

Turkey's size means that a full half of the trip would be spent there, curving around its robust Mediterranean coastline that's supposed to be quite lovely. I can't remember the distance as I estimated it originally, but it's something like 2000 km (1.5 - 2 months) from Istanbul to Antioch, near the Syrian border.

So, Syria...it gets a pretty bad rap, if you haven't noticed. But this is one of the birthplaces of civilization. We're talking Fertile Crescent here. And everything I read stresses how friendly, generous, and hospitable the Syrian people are, regardless of their government's relationship with America's.

Damascus is on my short list of destinations. It's the oldest continuously inhabited city on Earth, and according to NPR it's become something of a mecca (no pun intended) for Westerners studying Arabic abroad. Gotta go!

I'd be tempted to take a side trip to Beirut just to check it out, but that would require some careful consideration. Moving on.

I estimate 700km and three weeks for Syria, and then on to Jordan. I don't know much about this country except that the ruins at Petra are a must-see. (It's where they filmed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you know.) If possible, I'd try to get in a couple days in Jerusalem as well. All in all, Jordan would hopefully take up less time than Syria.

And here's where it gets sketchy--Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. It doesn't seem to be very inhabited, and since I don't fancy dying of thirst or heatstroke on a lonely dirt road, alternate transport may be in order. This could mean a ferry across the Red Sea, which sounds pretty sweet.

However it happens, Cairo will be not too far after that, marking the end of the tour! After some quality time exploring the city and pyramids of this most ancient of ancient civilizations, it'll be time to head home.

There you have it--Dream Trip #1. Who knows, maybe someday I'll be blogging it from the road. Until then, I'll keep dreaming.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Three Lights Bike Tour

What a gorgeous week it's been in the north country. Yesterday, I finally made it out for my first bike ride of the season. At 15 miles, it was by no means an endurance test, but that's not what I was shooting for. Instead, I made use of my handy Portland Trails map to piece together a sightseeing ride--specifically, a three-lighthouse tour.

My apartment lies just north of Casco Bay Bridge, so before I knew it I had crossed over into South Portland (and inhaled my fair share of exhaust fumes). From there, I hooked up with the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, a nicely paved path running through a residential neighborhood. Such trails always provide a refreshingly different vantage point from which to see a place, and I enjoyed the views back across the water to Portland.

According to a sign along the way, the South Portland Greenbelt is the northernmost section of a proposed Eastern Trail that would stretch south to the Maine border. Another sign, even more ambitious, labeled it as part of a grand East Coast Greenway, connecting Calais, ME, with Key West, FL. Wow!

The Greenbelt dropped me at the adorably named Bug Light, also called the Portland Breakwater Light, and its adjacent park. Unbeknown to me, this was the site of a massive shipyard during WWII. Several informative displays filled me in on the history.

Though sad to leave the traffic-free trail behind, I followed my map and quickly found the campus of Southern Maine Community College. Down the hill, at the water's edge, stood the remains of Fort Preble and, at the end of a long breakwater, the Spring Point Light. Having already seen Bug Light, I was more interested in exploring the old fort, whose embankments afford nice views of the bay.

The third and final stop on the tour required a couple-miles' journey through some shady, quiet residential roads, as South Portland gave way to the seemingly more affluent Cape Elizabeth. Soon I was wheeling into Fort Williams Park and within sight of a proper lighthouse, the Portland Head Light.

As I had forgotten my bike lock, I didn't venture inside the lighthouse museum, but I took a nice stroll around the grounds and admired Maine's famous rocky coastline. There was a lot of the park I didn't see, but I plan to make it back there at some point.

So, the first ride of the season went off without a hitch. My bike rides as smoothly as the day I bought it, and I can tell it's raring to go up into the Maritimes later this summer. So am I.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Summer Preview

Spring seems to have finally arrived here in Portland, and I couldn't be more excited. After 5 months of feeling rather cooped up, it's time to get back out into the wide world. In fact, there's so much I want to do that it's a little overwhelming.

To keep myself on track, I've decided to list all the trips and excursions I have planned for this summer.

1. Portland Area Jaunts
I just received my Portland Trails map in the mail, quite the bargain at only $4.95. It charts a variety of cycling and walking paths in the area and will not doubt see a lot of use as I transition from gym workouts to outdoor jogging and biking.

2. Bike Tour to Sebago Lake
This state park lies to the northwest of Portland, on the northern shore of the sizable lake. I plan on cycling up there (route TBD), camping one night, and cycling back the next day. The park opens May 1--right around the corner!

3. Champlain Islands Bike Tour
In the northern section of Lake Champlain, just below the Canadian border, there's a string of islands that's calling my name. Starting in Burlington, I'll cycle up the Vermont shore using primarily back roads and cross over onto the peninsula that juts down into the lake from Canada. Route 2 connects it and the islands, on which there are several state parks where I can pitch my tent. This will also be a 2-day excursion.

4. MDI Exploration
Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, is one of the most scenic locales I've visited in Maine. I hope to return this summer and partake of all it has to offer: carriage-trail cycling, challenging hikes, a rock climbing course, and much more. In addition, I'm looking forward to exploring the less-touristy corners of MDI, including Bass Harbor and Southwest Harbor.

5. Quebec City or Puerto Rico?
I'm trying to pencil in a trip a bit farther afield for the beginning of June. This is still in the early planning stages, however, and may not come to pass.

6. Touring the Maritimes
My summer will culminate with a month-long bicycle tour through Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick. I have a good idea of my route but will save the details for future posts. Needless to say, I'm quite thrilled about this journey, which will most likely take place from mid-August to mid-September. Hopefully I'll have moved out of my apartment prior this, and afterwards will be ready to take on a new adventure!

All this and more this summer here on WayWorded. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

So Close, Yet So Far

It's amazing how two locales, so close in the geographic sense, can occasion such divergent interactions. One recent weekend, I made the trip down-coast from my home in Portland to Boston, the historical and financial center of New England, and found that there's more separating the two than a mere 100 miles.

My visits to big cities since leaving Seoul in 2006 have been few. But whenever they occur, whichever metropolis I find myself in inevitably brings forth some pretty potent fondness for my two years in Korea. Saigon, Bangkok, KL, Singapore, more recently D.C.--each worked the same spell on me.

It was particularly powerful in Boston, as, due to a series of unlikely coincidences, I was able to meet up with my former boss from Korea for an Easter Sunday brunch. She was in the middle of an impressive metropolis-hop of her own, attending TEFL conferences and searching for adventure in San Francisco, New York, and London (Boston being just a side trip). Already missing Seoul as I strolled the narrow streets of downtown, her cheerful, halting voice on my phone took me all the way back.

But what is it about the big city that's able to transport me so fully? I mean, it can't be size or population, because Boston only has half a million people. It's rather tiny on the world scale. It does have a subway, though, and that's a good place to start. In my mind, this gives Boston membership in a somewhat exclusive club. I had to laugh at Ms. Koh's surprise when I told her that Portland, the largest city in all of the great state of Maine, is subway-less.

Subway stations the world over share a similar atmosphere. Sure, some are decadently decorated while others are strewn with litter. But there's a universal quality to standing underground, peering down a long, dark tube as you wait for a train. Very modern, very metropolitan. Sitting in a Boston green-line car, rickety and small though it was, I couldn't escape the feeling that I was back on Seoul's green line, beginning my hour-long morning commute.

But it was more than the subway. Boston has the busy sidewalks, the wide public parks, the fleets of taxis blowing horns and running red lights, even some neck-craning skyscrapers. Instead of driving into the city and paying $40 a day for parking, I left the car at the commuter rail station in Woburn and came in by train. How novel, how sophisticated.

And once I got back to Woburn on Sunday and steered my car onto I-95, once I paid the tolls and crossed the bridges that brought me back to Portland, its red-brick buildings, old cobblestone poking out from beneath damaged streets, a faint tinge of fish guts and foghorns, I felt again as I did after leaving Seoul. Strange. So close, yet so far.