Category Archives: Travel

Flying Friday: This ain’t Delta

Every pilot has different reasons for flying. For me, a big part of my love of flying is the ability to travel, relatively quickly, where and when I want. The values of “quickly,” “where,” and “when” are all subject to a variety of constraints, though. Some are self-imposed and some are limitations imposed by the FAA, the laws of physics and aerodynamics, or my desire to live to be a grumpy old man.

Let’s take one simple example: time. It would certainly be possible for me to fly from Alabama to southern California for a business trip, but I wouldn’t do it for a short trip— in my particular airplane, that would take me about 11 hours of flight time, which translates into something like 14 hours of total time when you factor in fuel stops… and that really means it would take two days, since flying for that length of time in a single day would make it difficult for me to maintain the focus and energy required for a safe journey. Likewise, I could easily fly from here to Birmingham for dinner, but when you factor in the time required to preflight and prepare the plane, conduct the flight, get to and from the restaurant, and return home, it would be quicker to drive over the short distance. For me personally, with the airplane I have now, the sweet spot is trips of about 150 miles up to about 1000 miles. Shorter or longer trips are possible, but when time is important, taking another means of transport is usually more sensible.

We can lump all the other constraints together into the general heading of “dispatch reliability.” That is, for a planned trip, how often are you actually able to complete it without bumping up against those constraints? It’s critical to keep in mind the difference between a commercial airline (which flies under Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations) and my airplane, which flies under Part 91 of the FAR. There are 3 major factors that influence dispatch reliability in both of those worlds: weather, equipment, and regulation.

The ability to deal with weather, of course, is a huge part of dispatch reliability. I once was stuck away from home for 3 days because the weather was poor and I didn’t have an instrument rating, so I couldn’t leave when I wanted to. Sometimes the weather, or the forecast, is just too crummy to safely complete the planned flight. This happens more often in some places than others, of course; east of the Mississippi, we have lots more thunderstorms than in, say, California or Washington.

Equipment influences dispatch reliability in two different ways. First is redundancy. Unless it were truly urgent, I wouldn’t make an extended night flight in IFR over rough terrain in my airplane— not because it’s inherently unsafe but because, with only one engine and one vacuum system, there are several single points of failure that could make such a flight more exciting than I’d like. Waiting for daylight or better weather would be a smart play. On the other hand, commercial planes flying under Part 135 have doubly- or triply-redundant systems, ranging from engines to hydraulics to avionics. As you spend more money on an airplane, the number of redundant systems (and the reliability of the systems you have) tends to increase. The capability of your equipment also influences reliability. If you have onboard weather radar or in-cockpit radar data through XM Radio or ADS-B, for example, you may be able to complete flights that you wouldn’t without that data. More sophisticated aircraft that have jet engines and pressurized cabins can fly above many regions of bad weather; aircraft with icing protection can fly through moist clouds without picking up a killing load of ice. Most piston-engine singles (mine included) aren’t pressurized, don’t have anti-icing equipment, and don’t have onboard radar— meaning that there are conditions that are no problem for Delta or United but render general aviation flight impossible or unsafe. Both airliners and general aviation aircraft have lists of requirement equipment. Although the contents of the lists are very different, the concept is the same: if something on that list isn’t working, you can’t legally fly. (Keep that in mind the next time you’re on a commercial flight and the pilot tells you that some seemingly unimportant gadget isn’t working so they have to wait for a mechanic— if they’re waiting to fix it, it’s probably because it’s on that minimum list.)

Regulation is the third category. Without going into all the differences between different parts of the FARs, I can still say that there are some conditions that are legal for me but not an airline, or vice versa. For example, thanks to my instrument rating, it is literally legal for me to take off with such poor visibility that I can’t see the propeller while sitting in the pilot’s seat, while Part 135 flights have specific runway visual range (RVR) requirements that must be met before they can depart. On the other hand, a suitably equipped and crewed Part 135 flight can use Category III autoland to land in zero visibility, whereas I have to honor a higher minimum ceiling and visibility limits. There’s sometimes a huge difference between what’s legal and what’s safe, and the FARs that I fly under give a great deal of latitude to the pilot in command in most cases. That can be good or catastrophically bad, depending on your judgement.

In general, the rule I use is simple: if it is critical that I be somewhere, and I’m planning on flying, I’ll always have a backup. Last week, the boys and I were going down to the Voodoo Music Festival in New Orleans. We’d planned to fly, but when I preflighted the airplane, this is what I found: a broken alternator belt. 

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I didn’t have a spare, the shop didn’t have a spare, and even if we had, on my plane, you have to remove the propeller to replace the belt. We drove instead, but we still got to see the headline act because we’d built enough slack into the schedule. Likewise for weddings, funerals, or critical business meetings— if it’s really important, I’ll have a backup airline ticket in my pocket (or enough time to drive). If it’s not critical, I’ve learned to accept that sometimes the weather or the airplane may conspire against going. A couple of months ago, Dana and I had planned to fly down to Gulfport for the day to see Mom, Charlie, and Grandma. Here’s what the weather looked like:

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Score that one in the “nope!” column. It would have been perfectly legal to pick my way around those storms, since I didn’t have the equipment to fly over them, but it would have been uncomfortable at best and criminally dangerous at worst. Driving would have taken too long, so we reluctantly cancelled; it wasn’t a critical trip.

Having a backup plan or the willingness to say “we’ll do this another time” is critical because it eliminates the pressure to attempt a flight when weather, equipment, or regulation might dictate otherwise. The hoary old saying “it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than flying and wishing you were on the ground” applies in spades. Even when it’s difficult to tell your boss, your family, or your customer that you won’t be somewhere at the appointed time, it’s a hell of a lot easier than explaining yourself to the FAA, the NTSB, or St. Peter.

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Disney and Universal 2014 wrapup

A few more-or-less random thoughts about our recent trip to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida:

  • Universal is a see-it-once park, I think. We enjoyed it but there was nothing so compelling that I think we’d want to go back again in five years. On the other hand, all four of us had specific things at Disney that we looked forward to doing (among them: turkey legs, the Winnie the Pooh ride, Tower of Terror, and Space Mountain).
  • Having said that, the Harry Potter attractions are superbly done: decoration, character acting, costuming, and all the little touches come together to provide a very immersive experience. Just don’t expect to be able to drink a whole mug of butterbeer. (And don’t be surprised if the Forbidden Adventure ride leaves you nauseated for a couple of hours afterwards.) Getting early access by virtue of staying in a Universal property was well worth it.
  • We didn’t buy, nor did we miss, the front-of-the-line ride access benefit that Universal sells for $60+ per person, per day.
  • Disney’s MagicBands system works extremely well and made paying for things much easier– which, I suppose, is the point.
  • The FastPass+ system takes a little getting used to because you can get multiple passes at once, but there are limits on which rides you can stack passes for. Read up on it before you go.
  • We stayed at two “value” hotels: Universal’s Cabana Bay and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Both had nicely equipped, clean “family suite” rooms. Both claimed to sleep six: Universal provided two double beds and a twin pull-out sofa, while Disney provided a queen, a twin sofabed, and two single fold-out sleep chairs: not ideal for six-foot teenagers, but workable.
  • Disney’s on-property wifi was great at the parks, as was Universal’s. However, the Disney in-room wifi was unusuable– worse even than the worst of the Microsoft conference hotels I’ve had to use in the past.
  • EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival was going on, so we got some primo foods when we ate dinner there. I’d like to do the festival again, but with more time to savor the food.
  • Tom, Matt, and I all ran into friends at the parks. It’s a small world indeed.
  • We didn’t rent a car, so we used Uber for the move from the Kissimmee airport to Universal, then a cab from Universal to Disney, then Uber again. Orlando’s taxis are about a million percent cleaner than in most other cities, but Uber was cheaper and faster.

Overall, a successful trip (good flight, too!) but boy, am I glad to be home!


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Sunday surprise in Santiago

I purposefully didn’t plan much for this weekend; I had a quiet day yesterday, with a bit of shopping and a Spanish-subtitled horror movie, and I planned to spend part of the day working. My coworker was eager to get out and see a bit more of the city, so we ended up spending the day exploring– and it was quite a day!

Like many other cities, Santiago has a tourist bus service called Turistik that runs a circular route around the city. You get on the bus, get off wherever you want, and linger at each stop, or not, as you see fit. We decided to use the bus to get around, so we paid CLP$20.000 (see what I did there? about US$40) for an all-day pass, then caught the bus right in front of the hotel. It first stopped at Parque Arauco, a very large and verrrrry upscale outdoor mall where I had dinner and my movie last night. If you’ve been to Redmond Town Center, Levis Commons, or Fallen Timbers, you’ll get the idea (except that Parque Arauco has a car dealership too, so take that, yanquis!) We stayed on the bus and went to Cerro de San Cristobal, where we’d planned to hike the trail to the top. Unfortunately, as we found out after a long walk to the trailhead, the trail on the side of the hill where we were was closed, so we ended up taking the funicular to the top instead rather than hiking around the hill to the other trailhead. The weather was still fairly overcast, but there was a very refreshing breeze on the top of the hill, and the haze wasn’t as bad as it was last weekend when I was there.

After a short walk around Bellavista, we caught the bus again to Mercado Central(the Central Market), an indoor market that combines several large restaurants (we had lunch at Donde Augusto, which was excellent), a fish market, fruit and vegetable stands, etc. It’s completely touristy but was still pretty interesting.


From there we walked to Plaza de Armas, which contains the central cathedral of Santiago, the main post office, and several other major buildings. They were setting up for a concert of some kind, so the square was crowded and busy.


The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago


a Rapa Nui-inspired statue in Plaza de Armas

Most of the museums and other public facilities were closed, so we didn’t get to do much of the traditional tourist stuff. We walked back to the Mercado and caught the bus again; when it stopped opposite Cerro Santa Lucia, Dave said “hey, that place looks neat; let’s go check it out.”


the fountain in the courtyard

The whole hill is layered with stone staircases and various structures, including several small gardens, a church built in 1872 by Benjamin Vicuna McKenna, and two forts originally built for defense of the city. The views from the top of the hill are spectacular, too.


Pedro de Valdivia, first governor of Chile


city view from the top of Santa Lucia; you can actually see mountains in this one

As we were exploring, we could hear what sounded like a marching band off in the middle distance– a little unusual, given that they were playing an assortment of songs including movie themes. They didn’t seem to actually be marching, though. We made our way back down toward the street and I noticed something unusual: there was a medium-sized crowd of people thronging the street, and at a nearby underpass there were big arches of purple and white balloons. We watched for a few minutes and watched as a group of dancers in what I presume was traditional Incan dress (given that their jackets said “Atahualpas de Paramonga”, preceded by a group of drummers, danced their way up the street.


A dancer; not shown: non-traditional tennis shoes

As the dancers moved down the street a larger group came into view, carrying a large, flower-bedecked bier and preceded by a group of women in what looked like purple habits. The women were walking backwards and swinging censers, producing a cloud of smoke such as I haven’t seen since the last concert I went to at Shoreline.

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a mysterious object borne through the streets

As they passed, I was able to read the sign on the nearest corner of the bier and learned that the bier was carried by members of Hermandad del Señor de Los Milagros, or the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles. We had lucked into part of the annual procession honoring the Lord of Miracles, which takes place on the last Sunday in October. The tradition started in Peru but has spread worldwide. As the procession neared the underpass, the waiting spectators dumped glitter and balloons on the celebrants below, who gleefully stomped on the balloons to pop them.


fire in the hole


I was able to capture a balloon intact.. before stomping on it

After the procession left, we walked back to the bus stop, but the bus was long gone. We walked for about a mile and a half until we found a cab, then headed back to the hotel, where I passed a quiet night working on slides for the webcast I did yesterday.  All in all, it was a day very well spent, and it was fun for a change to go prowling around the city with someone instead of kicking it solo. Thanks, Dave!

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Santiago, day 2

It’s a measure of how much I’ve been working that I am just now getting around to posting a travelogue from last Sunday. This week has passed by in a blitz of activity, which is good. My team has gotten a lot accomplished, which, after all, is what we came here for. But before all the work started, I had the pleasure of having a day to explore.

I’d planned to meet my coworkers Todd and Dave at the hotel after their flight arrived, then drive to Valparaiso with fellow MVP and well-known Chilean Jorge Patricio Diaz Guzman. Unfortunately, Jorge had a work emergency to tend to, so I kept the rental car I’d gotten on Saturday. I rented through the hotel by asking the concierge to find me a rental car, because this seemed to be the fastest way to get a car. Sure enough, within 20 minutes or so Maxima had delivered a car to the hotel: a tiny Chevy Spark with a manual transmission and almost enough room for 3 adults. (It has 4 seats but it is wishful thinking to imagine that four normal-sized American men could fit into it; luckily we only had 3 people.)


they see me rollin’, they be laughin’

After Dave and Todd arrived and had a few minutes to unpack and freshen up, we set out for Valparaiso. The route to get there is very straightforward: get on highway 68 going west and keep going for 120 km or so until you hit the ocean. It’s a lovely drive, with two large tunnels and some long up- and downhill grades that our car could barely handle. The speed limit ranges from 70 km/h to 120 km/h, but no one except American tourists and people in underpowered cars like hours follow it, especially not big trucks. We made it to Valparaiso but decided, since none of us had any firm plans to do anything there, to go back to a restaurant Todd knew of in Concon, another 20 or so km down the coast. The weather was pleasant and there were great views along the coast, so off we went, braving significant traffic along the way. Both sides of the narrow coastal road are packed with restaurants, shops, and rental property but there is little parking, so we spent lots of time waiting while other drivers maneuvered in or out of parking spaces. We also made frequent stops for photos, both on the route out and back.


a view of the coast while standing on a rock in a tidal pool (Nokia 920)


ocean view (Nikon D5100)


action shot! rock climbing + sailboat

Eventually we made it to the restaurant Todd had recommended, Punta del Este. It was well worth the trip– think Dave’s Cajun Kitchen, or your favorite hometown restaurant for those of you who aren’t from Houma, and you’ll get the idea. We had an appetizer platter of razor clams, conger eel, and several kinds of fish. I had tilapia with shrimp sauce, which was also excellent. Then we drove back, stopping at a few different places to take pictures; there was one gorgeous house that Dave was particularly smitten with.


We haven’t picked out a name for this other than la casa de Dave

On the way back we needed gas, so we stopped at a highway rest stop that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever traveled the New York or Ohio Turnpikes. Fuel here is expensive, but at least you get full service at the station in exchange for your hard-earned CLP$. After returning the car (a simple matter of giving the keys back to the concierge), we walked over to Costanera Center, the nearby mall, to find dinner. We had an excellent meal at Le Due Torri, an Italian-and-seafood place that delivered very well on both fronts, then back to the hotel. e were all pretty worn out by that point but it was an interesting way to spend the day. I’d love to come back to the Vina del Mar/Concon area during the Chilean summer; the views are gorgeous.

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Santiago, day 1

Yesterday was my first day in Santiago, Chile, which means it was also my first day in South America. I’ve previously visited Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe, so now all I need to do is contrive some way to get to Antarctica and I’ll be all set.

To get here, I flew on Delta’s flight from Atlanta, about which I can say that only that it was adequate. My Economy Comfort seat was decent, and I slept for a good six hours or so, waking up just in time to watch the sun rise over the Pacific.


sunrise, before it got too bright to actually take pictures of

Upon arrival at Santiago’s airport, I found that Chile, like Brazil and Argentina, charge incoming visitors if those visitors are citizens of a country that charges Chileans an entry fee. For example, Chileans visiting the US must pay a $160 fee, so Americans visiting Chile have to pay the same fee. This is handled via separate set of stalls at customs: first you pay the fee and get your passport stamped, then you go through immigration, then you claim your luggage and go through a customs inspection. During this process, I learned that you are not permitted to import beef jerky (or other kinds of smoked meats) into Chile, which is too bad because I had packed a bunch of it for quick protein. Alas.

I’d already reserved a taxi through, as recommended by our travel department. After baggage claim, a quick stop by the payment desk netted me a receipt that I handed to the driver, who whisked me off to the Intercontinental in the business district. The hotel is well situated right near a major highway, a large mall, and, well, lots of businesses. I checked in, took a quick shower, unpacked, and set out to go exploring.

First, though, I rented a car. This was recommended by, a web site I found while at the hotel. (Oddly the hotel wifi seems to block Bing, but allows Google.) For about $60, I got a manual-transmission Chevy Spark, the smallest car I’ve ever driven. However, it proved to be adequate for my needs, since all I really needed was basic transportation. First I drove to the Bellavista area so I could go up Cerro de San Cristobal. (ed note: I’m typing this on a Windows machine that doesn’t make it easy to add accent marks, so I’m not adding them. Just pretend like they’re there.)  I parked in a public garage on Calle Pio Nono and walked about 8 blocks to the entrance of the park, from which you can take a funicular railway to the top, hike up a trail, or ride on a bike path. I elected for the funicular, which was a good call, as I got some excellent pictures on the way up. As you can see, it was a typically hazy/smoggy day, so the mountains were visible more as a suggestion of mountains than anything else.


looking down onto the city from the railway

The funicular, which cost CLP$2600 (or around US$7)  stops halfway up so you can go to the zoo; I declined and went all the way to the top, whereupon I was able to climb up to the top of San Cristobal. There’s a chapel there, along with a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which you’ll see often in images of Santiago. However, from one angle I spotted something unusual—a ladder running all the way up the statue. I was sorely tempted to climb the scaffolding next to the statue and ascend this ladder, but since I didn’t think going to jail in Chile would be much fun, I decided not to.

After taking the funicular back down, I walked through part of the Barrio Bellavista area, more or less following the walking street-art tour that SantiagoTourist recommended. This turned out to be time well spent; some of the art was amazing, while some was just good, but there’s a lot of it. A few samples:


A few of the many murals and street paintings in Bellavista

After Bellavista, I drove back to the hotel to plug in my gadgets for a few minutes and plan the rest of my day. (I made another stop en route, thanks to a suggestion from my friend Anne, but it’s classified until Christmas.) A quick glance at the map showed that I was close to Parque de las Esculturas, a large  open-air sculpture park and botanical garden, so I headed out to walk it and see what’s what. The park itself is right next to the Mapocho River, the level of which varies greatly according to how much snowmelt and/or rain is nearby. The park was full of people, mostly couples apparently looking for a place to smooch away from their parental units. Lots of stray dogs, too; that’s sort of a hallmark of Santiago (one night I saw three dogs in the middle of a six-lane road chasing each car as it passed; miraculously none of them got hit.) None of the sculptures especially resonated with me, but the park also has little islands of trees, most native to Chile and/or Argentina, and it was neat to see the differences in the native flora and the kinds of trees I’m used to. As an example, here’s a picture of an ombu treefrom the park.


I’d never heard of an ombu tree before

After the park, I walked back towards the hotel, stopping at the enormous Costanera Center mall. It’s basically just like an American mall: it has a Dunkin Donuts, an Applebee’s, and a ton of other US-centric shops. That made me want to leave, since ordinarily I avoid malls like the plague. It was moderately crowded, so I could people-watch, and I was hungry, so I decided to stay. Luckily there were some local restaurants; the top-floor food court has a very nice assortment of sitdown restaurants, American fast food, Chilean fast food, and snack shops. I decided to sit down and have a steak… but took the waiter’s advice and ordered without looking at the menu, a mistake that ended up costing me $87 for what was, admittedly, an excellent steak, a platter of jamon and mozzarella, and a pisco sour. Still, I was surprised; Santiago is pricier than I’d anticipated. Apart from that, there was nothing remarkable about the mall except for its size; it has five huge floors with several hundred stores; if I don’t go back that will be fine with me.

By that point I was pretty tired, so I headed back to the hotel, read a bit, and went to bed. What I should have been doing was planning my trip to Valparaiso for the next day, but hey.

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Off to Exchange Connections 2013!

Off to Las Vegas I go! I am en route to Exchange Connections 2013, where I’ll be presenting 3 sessions: one on Exchange ActiveSync with the folks from BoxTone, one on Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013 integration, and one on Exchange 2013 unified messaging. I also plan to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, beer, snacks, or cuddles (well, OK, probably not cuddles) with as many members of the Exchange product group, MVP community, and world at large as possible. If you’re there, by all means please come by and say hello! (and if you want to go lift weights together, even better!)

Sadly, my book won’t be on sale there because it is still being printed. However, I’ll be giving away a copy or two in each of my sessions, so if you’re feeling lucky, come on by.

In related news, registration opened for the 2014 edition of the Microsoft Exchange Conference, or MEC. I am ridiculously excited about the return of the return of MEC, and not just because it’s in Austin and I might finally get to meet some of my Dell coworkers. The product group has been sharing a bit of what they’ve got planned with the MVPs and I can say, with conviction, that it will be just as good, if not better than, MEC 2012.

But back to now. Somewhat unusually, I am flying United, connecting through Houston both ways. Normally I wouldn’t, but scheduling dictated it and with luck I’ll be in Houston long enough to have some of my favorites (plus: Channel 9!)  Then it’s a ridiculously short return to Huntsville– basically, long enough to change suitcases and grab my running shoes– before I head to Vermont to run the Leaf Peepers 5K with my lovely sister (note: subscribe to her blog; you’ll be glad you did), thence to Hoboken to meet with customers.

See you at the show!

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TechEd Europe day 2, or, “A side trip to Segovia”

I woke up on time, showered and dressed, and took the shuttle bus to the convention center so that I could give my presentation on developing Exchange Web Services applications on iOS. While the talk itself went well, my demos failed, and I don’t know why– it didn’t seem to be the proxy issue I mentioned yesterday. I learned a valuable lesson, though; from now on I will always have a pre-recorded backup demo. In fairness, Navin Chand suggested that all speakers have backup demos, but I foolishly assumed that my demo would work (and, in fairness, in the nearly 15 years since my first presentation at a Microsoft event, they always have). Lesson learned.

Afterwards, I had another “ask the experts” session, along with Tom Kaupe from the Exchange Online Protection team at Microsoft. We got a few more good questions for the list of things I need to write about, but overall the session was fairly quiet– the attendees were obviously busy attending the day’s breakout sessions. When my shift was over, I took off for the metro station because I’d decided to make an afternoon trip to Segovia. Why? It’s full of good stuff, that’s why, including a Roman aqueduct, a huge cathedral, and the Alcazár de Segovia, a historic castle.

Getting there turned out to be fairly simple; RENFE, the Spanish national train service, has a high-speed express train that goes directly from Madrid’s Chamartín station to the Segovia station. The trip only takes about half an hour, so I jumped on the subway from the Campo de Las Naciones station adjacent to IFEMA, took it to Chamartín, and found that I had no idea how to buy a ticket for the commuter train. There is a ticket machine adjacent to the exit for the metro, but the trick turns out to be to exit the metro station and go aboveground to the actual train station. At that point I was easily able to buy a ticket for about 30€. With a bit of time to kill before the scheduled departure, I was able to find a shop selling sandwiches, where I had an excellent jamón serrano poboy– jamón on a baguette. It was delicious. Too bad it’s so difficult to import Serrano ham back into the United States.

To board the train, I scanned my boarding pass and sent my laptop bag through a metal detector. That done, I took my seat on the train, waited about 10 minutes for our delayed departure, and then watched the countryside (and two very long tunnels) pass by. Sure enough, in about half an hour we arrived at the Segovia train station, which can charitably be described as “on the outskirts of Segovia.” The #11 bus runs directly to plaza de Artilleria, which is on the southeastern edge of the actual town of Segovia. For 1€, it was money well spent. There isn’t much to see along the bus route, but as soon as the bus gets within a few blocks of its terminal stop, you can see the aqueduct, which looks much like this:

DSC 1309

In the central plaza there are numerous shops and restaurants, including a Burger King. Many of them were closed for summer vacation, though– it looks like much of the town shuts down from mid-June until early July.

As far as I could tell, there’s no way to (legally) climb on top of or walk along the top of the aqueduct; it’s possible that I just missed the directions on how to do so, but I don’t think so. Adjacent to plaza de Artilleria, there’s a tourist information office where for 0.20€ I was able to use the bathroom, after which they gave me a handy free map. The clerk outlined a walking route down XXX street to the cathedral, then along YYY street to the Alcázar. I set out with her estimate of a 30-minute walk fresh on my mind and a 25-pound laptop bag on my shoulder. I may have neglected to mention that it was just under 90°F when I got there…

Despite the heat, though, the walk was quite pleasant. The Cathedral itself is stately on the outside but doesn’t have the overwhelming feeling that Notre Dame, for example, always imposes when I see it. It is still quite an impressive piece of work, as you can see here:

DSC 1327


However, the real magic comes on the inside, for which I had to pay another 3€. Oh, and I stopped along the way for a frozen yogurt; the clerk asked me for a choice between mango and “sandía,” which I chose because it looked tropical. Surprise! That word means “watermelon”, yuck, spit. Actually, because European frozen yogurt doesn’t have anywhere near as much sugar as the American equivalent, the combination of the yogurt flavor and the watermelon was actually quite good… but I’ll be more careful next time. But I digress. Whatever your opinion of the religious beliefs which motivated it, it is hard not to be impressed with the craftsmanship and effort that went into the interior of the cathedral. I am not sure, for example, what this display is all about but it is certainly fancy:

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I think my favorite part of the cathedral was the architecture itself. For example, this walkway had a very welcome breeze blowing through it; it was quiet and cool, with a glimpse of the inner courtyard’s garden. I enjoyed the interplay of the lines and shadows with the patterns of stone on the ground.

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After another 10 minutes or so of walking,  arrived at the Alcázar de Segovia itself. You can’t really see it from far away because it’s set adjacent to a ravine which serves as a dandy natural moat. There’s also a pleasant park with large trees screening it. Walking past the park quickly brings the castle itself into view.

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Stepping off to the side really makes clear how the original structure takes advantage of the terrain– you can see that the ravine descends well below surface level. (It goes deeper still but the lens I had wasn’t wide enough to get it all). 

DSC 1362


The castle itself is full of all sorts of nifty artifacts, including a museum dedicated to artillery– the castle used to be the site of the royal college of artillery. There are also several suits of armor, cannons, and so on. I finished my tour by climbing the Torre de Juan II, which requires navigating 157 very narrow, very steep steps up a spiral staircase. Along the way you can see the engineering features that helped provide defense in depth for the castle: downward-facing arrow slits, holes for pouring burning oil, and the like. It was well worth the climb, however, because the view was superb. My favorite picture from this part of the excursion was this shot of the cathedral and the city of Segovia. I also had a good time taking pictures of various tourist couples who wanted their photo taken with the city as a backdrop. One of them returned the favor (notice my spiffy Exchange shirt; its presence makes this post TechEd-related).

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After my tour of the Alcázar and tower, I went to the small café located on the grounds. It’s located in the building that used to be the royal chemistry lab, and I can believe it; I’m not sure what kind of crack they put into the hot chocolate but it was the best beverage I’ve ever had– like drinking liquid chocolate pudding. Sadly they were out of churros, but that’s probably just as well. So fortified, I walked back into town, caught the #11 bus again, took the train back to Madrid Chamartín, then took the metro back to the hotel. All in all, a day well spent!

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