Trip to Chicago

Last weekend, my wife and I went on a weekend getaway to Chicago and had a fantastic time. I think it was the first time we went on a flight somewhere without the kids since our trip to Iceland back in 2014. We flew Southwest out of Manchester, NH on Friday night and landed at Chicago Midway around 8:30. On the ride to the hotel, I ordered my first pizza of the weekend from Giordano’s. It took about an hour for it to get delivered to the hotel, but it was really good. a slice of chicago deep dish pizza

In the morning we woke up and went out for breakfast at Goddess and the baker. I had a cinnamon roll cruffin and had a hard time figuring out whether to use a fork and knife or just use my hands.

We checked out Cloud Gate sculpture, aka the Bean exterior picture of the cloud gate bean in chicago reflective picture from underneath the cloud gate bean in chicago

I had another slice of pizza from the The Art of Pizza Slice of deep dish pizza

Next we went to the Field Museum

SUE t-rex from Chicago field museum

Wandered by the waterfront before dinner. couple along he waterfront with the Chicago skyline in the background

Had an amazing tapas dinner at Mercat

woman sipping a cocktail in a restaurant booth

The capstone of the visit was checking out the famous Pizza Pot Pie from Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company chicago pizza and oven grinder’s famous pizza pot pie

Another highlight was seeing riding bikes along the lakefront using Divvy rental bikes. woman laughing while holding a bicycleselfie of a man riding a bike with a woman riding closely behind him

White Mountains Trip Tips

Here are a few points of interest I love to visit in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

There are a few general areas to visit.

The Mount Washington area

There are a few different attractions right around Mount Washington. There are also a few spots to eat in Gorham, just north of the area.

Growing up my dad would ensure that we took at least one trip up the Mount Washington Auto Road.

The Glen Ellis Falls are amazing and only a short walk from the main road.

Storyland is an amusement park in the area.

North Conway

The hub of the White Mountains always has tons of activities and food opportunities.

Take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railway

I love driving the Kancamagus highway and always make a point of stopping at Rocky Gorge to wander along the river.

Check out the rock climbers as they ascend Cathedral Ledge

Interstate 93 Corridor

You can make a whole day of activities on the Interstate 93 corridor. There are several activities and some great spots to eat in the Lincoln/Woodstock area.

Explore the caves at the Lost River Gorge

Loon Mountain has lots of activities at the top and bottom of the mountain.

Take a leisurely walk through the woods and visit the Flume Gorge

Check out the Lonesome Lake Hike if you are looking for a good introduction to hiking in the White Mountains.

Pirates Cove Mini Golf Lincoln NH

Franklin Pierce University Disc Golf

We recently rented a house on Pearly Pond in Rindge, NH and I walked around the nearby Franklin Pierce University campus. They recently set up a disc golf course and after two trips to the campus I was able to put together this map of the course showing all nine tees and holes. I couldn’t find any information about it online so I thought I would share it here.

Vacation is over and now I have 691 photos and over 11GB of video to sift through. I think I need a vacation just to take care of it.

Drove over 12 hours only to find out that the beach in North Carolina is virtually the same as the one 15 minutes from home. Maybe it is a little warmer. #vacationmode

Another family vacation in the books. Who would have thought vacation would be so exhausting? #contradictingtween #drivedrivedrive #siblingrivalry #waspstings #letsjustgohome #meandad #wearenotperfecteither #familytime

Iceland in a Couple Days

If you find yourself in Iceland for a couple of days here are my recommendations based on my trip there in 2014.

Blue Lagoon

If your time is very limited the closest attraction to Keflavik airport is Blue Lagoon It is a little pricey, but is an amazing and unqiue experience.

Downtown Reykjavik

The next closest attraction is downtown Reykjavik main shopping area, Laugavegur street. It is about a 40 minute drive from the airport and has lots of shops and a few different attractions. I highly recommend a little bakery called Sandholt. The food was great and it ended up being our go to place for starting our day.

The other stop we made each day was for coffee, of course, and the best place we found was Reykjavik Roasters. The espresso was fantastic and their croissants were very tasty.

While wandering downtown you should walk out to the harbor and check out the modern looking Harpa Concert Hall

Up the hill from the harbor is a statue of Leif Eriksson next to the Church of Hallgrímur

Finally, if you happen to be downtown in the evening or late night you should check out the amazing hot dogs at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.

Golden Circle

Besides the Blue Lagoon the second thing you are most likely to hear about Iceland is the Golden Circle. It is a tourist loop that starts near Reykjavik and takes people to several different geologically significant features.

One of the attractions on the northern end of the loop is Gullfoss. It is a huge waterfall with a great visitor center and a nice lunch spot.

Heading back towards Reykjavik on the loop you will come to Geysir. It is a pretty small area with several different hot spring related features include a couple different geysers and multiple boiling mud pits. Here is an image of one of the larger geysers.

One of my favorite stops on the Golden Circle was Althing in Thingvellir National Park. It is the boundary of the North American and European tectonic plates and makes for some dramatic terrain.

Southern Iceland

If you choose to skip the Golden Circle, but want to check out something slightly less touristy head a couple hours east of Reykjavik towards Skogar. The road there will let you experience many different types of terrain you will find in Iceland. After driving across a long flat plain you will see your first big waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. It is a great place to stop and take some photos before continuing along the shore in front of one of the large glaciers on the island.

A little further east of there is the waterfall you have probably seen in every video about Iceland, Skogafoss It is huge and has a long staircase you can climb to get to the top of it. However, if you have some extra time once you are at the top of the big waterfall you can climb over a little barrier and follow a hiking trail that follows the river uphill with some amazing views of some smaller waterfalls.
Finally you will arrive at the Skogar Museum, where you can learn about Iceland and explore some classic Icelandic structures.

Assorted travel tips:
  • The exchange rate at the time of this post is about 108 Krona to 1 dollar, so just drop the last two numbers of the krona price to get a comparable dollar value. 500 krona pastry would be 5 dollars.
  • We rented a car so we could “choose our own adventure”, but there are many tour groups that can take you to all of the above attractions.
  • Most people speak English, but as always it helps to learn some words, Icelandic Phrasebook

A Computer-less Vacation

My wife and I recently decided to go on our first parents only vacation to Puerto Rico. Now like any true geek dad, near the top of the required list for any vacation is the camera and the laptop (anything else can easily be replaced). Over the years each of these items has improved to bring us to the killer pair of a Canon Rebel T1i and a late 2006 MacBook, today.  Since we were trying to pack extra light I thought it would be the perfect time to try to go laptop free for a vacation. Note I said laptop free, but not tablet or smartphone free.  The iPad 2 and iPhone 4 rarely leave my sight and this trip would be no exception.  The iPhone would help us navigate the island and also let me tweet all about our vacation.  The iPad 2 would be my all purpose media source (books, movies and games) and more importantly using FaceTime we could video chat with the boys back at home.

So the first problem of video chatting was solved, by the iPad 2.  However, I still had two other problems to overcome before I would truly be able to enjoy my vacation.

Problem 1: No WiFi
It may be hard to believe, but after calling the hotel we found out that each room had free wired internet access, but WiFi was only available in common areas.  As much as I would love to do all my video chatting from the lobby of the hotel and all my web browsing on my phone over 3G; I had to get WiFi in the room.  I quickly ruled out lugging my Airport Extreme on vacation, so I quickly searched for travel modems and found the Zoom 4506 3G Travel WiFi Router.
It is a small WiFi router with an internal battery and also relatively native support for 3G data modems.  Most of the reviews were good plus it was only like $75 so I took a chance.  Once I got it home I set it up and began testing.  It was pretty easy to set up and after all my testing I was ready to go.

Problem 2: Downloading Photos from the Camera
The one thing I like to do on vacation is to upload photos while we are on vacation, to show friends and family what we are up to and also to take care of the work of doing while I have spare time.  Again the iPad 2 doesn’t have native support for uploading photos from a camera.  Of course there is the Apple Photo Connector from Apple for $40, but I make it a point to avoid buying Apple brand adapters if possible (too expensive).  Lucky for me the Eye-Fi company had just announced a new version of their iOS application that would allow “Direct Mode” transfers from certain Eye-Fi cards.  Basically what this means is if you were out in the middle of the woods the Eye-Fi card can set itself up as a WiFi base station and the iOS device can connect to the network for transferring photos.  The previous version of the app supported transfer of photos, but it would only work if both devices were on the same wireless network. Since I also needed more storage space for my camera this seemed to be the best route.  For only a little more than a standard 8GB SD card I picked up the Eye-Fi Pro
Once the Eye-Fi card arrived I also did some dry runs with it at home.  The setup on this was a little more complex and took me quite a bit longer than the wireless router.  The one thing I found most frustrating was the apparent limitation of linking the card up to only one iOS device in direct mode at a time.  I was able to get both the iPhone and iPad configured to connect in Direct Mode with the card, but once I shut down the wireless network only one of the iOS devices would receive photos.  I don’t exactly know why it works this way, but I have to assume there was some good reason for it.  In the end I had it working as I wanted prior to leaving.

In The Field
I packed all my essentials, made it through the stressful process of security at the airport and made it to our hotel in Puerto Rico. In practice the Eye-Fi worked flawlessly, the iPad quickly found it and the photos whizzed over the 802.11n connection.  When we were in the airport I actually turned on the camera, fired up the app and let the iPad download the photos while it was in my bag.  I think it took about an hour and a half to download 300 photos in RAW format (~15-20MB each).  I was very impressed with it and found it to be a great investment.

I didn’t have the same luck with the Zoom modem. Initially when I plugged it into the ethernet port in our room it was connected, the iPad could get on the network, but couldn’t reach the network.  I played around with the IP settings and eventually got it to work.  However, the next morning it didn’t work again.  Let me disclaimer here that I think the problem was not with the router but instead with the network settings in the hotel.  In the end we were able to pick up WiFi in our room from the lobby so it worked out okay.

In the end I did drop the ball by not uploading any photos (sorry friends and family), but that was mostly because I was too busy relaxing.  I never really laid out a plan for how I would have done it, but I think Alex(@alexredsox) would say something about people having figured out how to do that and it would probably involve Picasa and email.

Oh yeah and we did have a great vacation, although sitting here two weeks later and it seems like we never went.