A week ago I already felt like I had landed in the middle of paradise – and then the bell boy led me to my room where the balcony opened to an amazing view of the Atlantic, straight to East. Sunsets are beautiful, but sunrises are even more so, and what could be better than viewing them straight from your bed?
Colorado weather was good enough when it was time to head to Florida, but still the warm wet air of Southern Florida caught me off guard when I exited Miami airport in search of a taxi to my final destination, Fort Lauderdale. I spent nine days in South Florida, and this is what I loved:
Hollywood Beach Boardwalk. Bands playing almost every night at the band stand, and the feeling of warm sand between my toes right off the airplane.
Fort Lauderdale Beach and an ocean that was still warm in November. The lights around here are turned down in the night to not confuse sea turtles nesting on the beach.
John U Lloyd State Park with a beach completely untouched by development. If you think Florida’s beaches are too touristy, this is for you.
The 175 steps leading up to Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse. The museum is small and you won’t be able to get a close-up with the lense, but check out the views!
Those couple magic minutes, when I figured out how to flyboard. Totally worth the ten or so minutes spent splashing into the water at awkward angles.
Four alligators spotted while airboating around night-time Everglades. Wroooom!
One alligator that we spotted with Iiro while driving along an “alternative” toll-free route to Big Cypress Swamp. The route was a dirt road in bad shape, and our rental car was a Toyota Prius, but hey, we made it – with a wild alligator sighting to boot!
A mile of boardwalks around a swamp next to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum. Don’t step off the boardwalk, a sign told us, and looking at the impenetrable wetlands, this seemed like one of those “don’t microwave your cat”-signs of pure obviousness. Hard to believe people actually lived in these swamps!
One big bad swamp buggy, whose sole passengers Iiro and I were. The ride might be a little more bumpy than usual, the driver said and charged straight into the swamp. Fun!
150 miles to Key West, which we didn’t drive but FLEW! The small Piper airplane took us low enough for me to grasp the sheer size of the Everglades.
The 100,000 or so party people who had come to Key West’s Fantasy Fest with us. “Crazier than New Orleans on Mardi Gras” said one local and I don’t find it hard to believe…
Dozens of new tavel bloggers I met at TBEX travel blogger conference.
Two “old” travel blogging pals from Finland, who I finally got to know face-to-face. Moikka, Sanna and Ulla!
The top-rated award-winning queen size air mattress that our friend in Fort Lauderdale had gotten to host us for the last couple days of our stay. And this is completely without irony here.
This post is part of Instagram Travel Thursday, a celebration of travel photos on Instagram and the stories behind them. You can find me on Instagram as @globecalledhome. The rest of the participants are below.
Coming up next week is something I wasn’t really expecting much from in the beginning, but that I’m completely utterly head-over-heels excited about right now. I’m heading off to my first travel blogger conference ever, and on Sunday morning, I’ll jump on a plane towards South Florida and TBEX North America. It’s going to be two days worth of talks on blogging, content creation and traveling, and of course enjoying the beautiful South Florida. The latter is thanks to an invitation that I got for a hosted pre-conference trip with an adventure theme – and when someone says adventure, I’m always in!
During the trip I’ll enjoy life at the Margaritaville Resort at Hollywood Beach. Did you think the only Hollywood in the US was in California? Well think again, because Florida’s also got its own Hollywod, and unlike its Californian namesake, this one’s also got a beach! Hollywood Beach is situated midway between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and it’s one long beach boardwalk lined with restaurants, shops, and of course the beach. Next week it’s going to be around +30C, so I’ll make full use of the resort’s pool as well as the Atlantic’s waves. But this trip won’t be just beach life…
On Monday, I’ll get to try flyboarding at Pompano Beach, a bit north of Fort Lauderdale. According to the info I got, I’m supposed to “soar like a bird and swim like a dolphin”, but let’s see what kind of a flying fish my performance will resemble the most. If it turns out to be harder than you’d think, I’ll switch over to doing a little stand-up paddling in the lagoon. As a hard-core lighthouse fan, I’ll also get my dose with a tour of Hillsboro Lighthouse.
Everglades is a region of tropical wetlands that extends to a much wider area in South Florida than you’d think just looking at Everglades National Park. The plan is to spot some gators just a rock’s throw from Fort Lauderdale at Sawgrass Park. The best way to get around the marshes is by an air boat, which I’ve only seen before in movies. The next day, I’ll get to tour John U Lloyd Beach State Park‘s mangrove mazes and reefs with a kayak!
All this adventuring is going to make me hungry, and luckily the program’s got some great sounding restaurants on it. The part I’m mostly looking forward to is fresh seafood, as that’s kind of hard to come around to in my present land-locked home.
In the conference, I’ll meet up with a couple Finnish travel bloggers – Sanna from Siveltimellä and Ulla from 50 State Puzzle – and together with Iiro and a couple of other Finnish guys we’ll head off to the always-fabulous Key West. October 31st, also known as Halloween, is on Saturday, and Key West is going to have a parade with floats and everything that we just can’t miss. It would be a long drive to Key West by car, so we’re saving some time by hopping on a private airplane – which I’m looking forward to just as much as Key West!
We’re still planning on heading deep into the Everglades National Park before we head home. The park’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and it spans more than 6000 square kilometers – more than twice the size of the country of Luxembourg! We’d better not get lost there…
South Florida’s much more than just beaches – and I’m heading there in less than 48 hours!
Do you know what’s the difference between a gorge and a canyon? A canyon is wider than it’s deep, like the Grand Canyon, which is almost two kilometers deep but still at least six kilometers wide. Compare this to Royal Gorge in Colorado, which despite it’s nickname Grand Canyon of the Arkansas is actually a gorge: up to 400 meters deep and only 15 meters across! One thing’s sure, though. No matter the name, Royal Gorge is breathtaking.
What makes this gorge close to Cañon City really special are the railway tracks that run through it. Nowadays scenic passenger trains run through it, but more than a century ago when it was being built, it wasn’t tourists that the railroad companies were after but something more precious: silver. The Rocky Mountains were gripped by a silver rush, and Royal Gorge was one of the few viable routes for train tracks, which meant that not only were tracks built in the gorge, but two railroad companies were fighting over them – literally. In June 1879, the men from Denver & Rio Grande railroad company attacked the men of Santa Fe railroad company with rifles, and Santa Fe’s men responded with the help of a cannon “borrowed” from the army. It’s not sure whether anybody died, but this forced the federal courts to step in, and the tracks were finally completed the next year.
Besides silver, the trains also carried passengers of the past century through the gorge, but midway through the century, travel habits started changing thanks to air traffic. When finally in 1967 US Post Office withdrew its contract to transport mail via the Royal Gorge Route, passenger traffic finally came to an end. Not that this kept tourists out of the gorge, because 1929 had seen another wonder built in its vicinity…
Royal Gorge Bridge was not just any bridge but the highest bridge in the world! It kept its record from 1929 all the way to 2001, when it was surpassed by a Chinese bridge, but that didn’t diminish its grandeur – nor its pointlessness. The thing with this bridge is that it doesn’t lead anywhere, never has, and it was only built to lure in tourists, with which it was doing a very good job. Even now, it’s one of Colorado’s most popular attractions, and it’s surrounded by a theme park bearing its name.
Beginning of September was pleasantly warm, but we still kept mostly indoors through our train ride. That was because we’d gotten seats in the Vista Dome cars, which had fantastic views of the gorge thanks to its rounded windows – a big step up from how it was in 1999 when passenger service was first restarted.
First passengers on the newly opened Royal Gorge Route were transported with old vintage cars, just a couple of them per ride, and service was limited to what drinks were found in the conductor’s cooler. As the route got more popular, more cars were added (most of them still with a vintage vibe), and the owners focused their investment efforts on dining on the train.
We took the 3.30pm train – late lunch, early dinner – so Iiro ordered The Big Boy sandwich, and I got a bison burger. Besides a train enthusiast, the owner of the Route is also a big foodie, and the menu had a local emphasis. The bison in my burger had roamed the prairie near Henderson, Colorado – just a couple hours North, near Denver – and Iiro’s Black Angus had grown up in North-East Colorado’s Sterling. The vegetables, too, were mostly local, and overall the lunch was the best food I’ve ever had on a train!
Royal Gorge Route takes around two hours and it’s a there-and-back through the gorge. If you don’t want to spend the whole time inside, you certainly don’t have to. We got out in the beginning to breath some fresh air at the open air carriages. And here’s a sign of excellent service: when our lunch was ready, the waiter found us and informed about it.
We were told to keep our eyes peeled for wildlife during the trip: big horn sheep, black bears, even mountain lions… but this time, we didn’t see any. Instead, we spent the time following efforts of white water rafters coming down the river. All of them seemed to make it though the rapids alright, and we also saw a group that was camping for the night…
This was definitely the most relaxing part of our long weekend, and I can fully recommend it to just about anybody! Just book early, if you’re going between Memorial and Labor Day, because the trains can be sold out during high season.
If you’ve ever wanted to eat out in a Michelin star restaurant but have been kept back by the high prices, you should try New York. As Michelin stars are not as well known in the US as they are in Europe, prices for them in New York are not inflated, and especially Asian restaurants with the coveted stars provide affordable options for enjoying quality dining. Here’s three options I’ve tried:
Soto ** : unbelievable Japanese fair in Greenwich Village
So far the only two-star Michelin restaurant I’ve been to, the Japanese restaurant Soto lived up to the expectations. It’s located in Greenwich Village, and to find it, you need to know where it is, because there are no signs outside. The wait staff is quiet but keen-eyed to tend to you, and the food is of the “how on earth has this been done” type. Fish in Soto is guaranteed to be fresh, because the restaurant ships it in by air five times a week.
The concept in Soto is to first taste the small and large dishes and then fill your appetite with sushi. The omakase menu (chef’s recommendations) would have been $170 per person, but we ended up picking our own dishes and the bill ended up being considerably less, even though we ate to our heart’s content. We shared six dishes with the two of us – a starter soup, two small dishes and three large ones – and ended the dinner with three nigiri and two roll sets per person, and it was more than enough. We thought the best dish was Cyu Toro Tartare, but every single dish was a good one, and one of my personal favorites was Ika Konowata (squid, sea urchin, quail egg), because fermented sea urchin turned out to be one of the most delicious ingredients I’ve run into in a while.
Judging by reservations, Soto seems to be a pretty popular restaurant, so put yours in early. If you don’t, your other option is to just show up and try to get a seat at the bar, where they don’t take reservations. On a Saturday evening, it looked like locals were popping in for just a set or two of rolls, and even though seated diners were dressed in mostly business attire, diners at the bar were a lot more casual, and one of them seemed to come in straight from a run.
On a Sunday evening, we were looking for something inexpensive but high quality, so we headed to Pok Pok Ny. This Thai restaurant in Brooklyn doesn’t stand out with its prices – but it does stand out with tasty food that brought it a Michelin star.
For starters, we got deep-fried pork riblets (Naem Sii Khrong Muu Thawt), of which the only bad side was that they were only a starter. I wouldn’t have minded them as a main! We continued then with a shrimp mussel pork noodle salad (Sunny’s Yam Wun Sen Chao Wang), where the water had asked us if we liked spicy. We said yes, but it turned out to be actually too spicy for me, although Iiro loved it. We also had a noodle one-pot dish with king prawns and pork belly (Kung Op Wun Sen), and this for me crowned the evening, especially the green sauce that we only realized to mix in half-way through the dish.
We didn’t have a reservation, and on a Sunday evening around 8pm, we got seats at the bar with zero wait time. We were asked if we wanted to wait a bit for a table, but we were fine dining more casually this time. The restaurant had the ambiance of a local diner, everyone was dressed casually and service was heartwarming. This was nothing like the fine dining experience you could expect from a Michelin restaurant in Europe, and that’s alright. If casual tasty Thai is more your thing, I recommend making the trip to Brooklyn – and maybe checking out the other locations, as Pok Pok is a small chain with restaurants also in Los Angeles and Portland.
Pok Pok Ny, 117 Columbia St, Brooklyn. You can make a reservation online, but around half of the tables are left for walk-ins.
Torishin * : Japanese grill master’s chicken skewers at Hell’s Kitchen
Torishin was our first Michelin star experience in New York, an unforgettable evening in a dimly lit smokey yakitori restaurant where the chefs were cooking the skewers right in front of our eyes. Since then, the restaurant has relocated from Upper East Side to Hell’s Kitchen, a more central location from a tourist’s point of view. A reservation is a must, and one should be prepared to interpret the wait staff’s heavy Japanese accents. You’ll get by the easiset if you take the chef’s omakase menu ($99 per person) and nod yes to everything they propose to you – and you won’t go wrong with that, because it’s all terrific.
The menu at Torishin is mostly Japanese chicken skewers, from all possible parts of chicken, with all possible levels of cooking and spices. Giblets are visibly featured on the menu, and some of the skewers are left rare. If this bothers you, you can always say no, but half-done chicken is actually surprisingly good, and this is one of those places you can actually afford to try it without a salmonella scare. The menu also features vegetarian options, as does the omakase, so it’s not all chicken. The dinner is finished off with a donburi – rice with chicken, egg, or fish – which I could only taste as I was completely full at that point.
One of the best things about Rocky Mountains is its wildlife, and here’s my list of the cutest ones.
Big Horn Sheep
Big horn sheep move in small herds. They spend their summers high up in the Rocky Mountains, but when winter comes, they retreat to lower elevations with more vegetation. The ewes’ horns are straight and short, but rams can have large horns that round around their heads like Princess Leia’s hair. The horns also are the key to telling the age of a big horn sheep.
We’ve seen big horn sheep in Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone and Badlands national parks, as well as at Royal Gorge near Cañon City.
Rocky Mountain yellow-belly marmots are larger than their cousins, the European alpine marmots, and it sure isn’t because there’s more food in the Rocky Mountains – there isn’t. Our neighbor guessed it’s because tourists feed the marmots here with nuts, but here’s a newsflash for anybody doing that: if marmots eat food that isn’t a natural part of their diet (like nuts, potato chips, you name it), they gain the wrong type of fat in their bodies and might not be able to wake up from hibernation. Marmot hibernation is a kind of true hibernation, where their body temperature lowers down close to freezing point and their heart beats only a couple times a minute.
You’ll be bound to see marmots almost any time you hike above tree line during summer.
Mountain goats are easily recognizable thanks to their thick fur coats. In the photo, that’s a mountain goat with its summer fur on, so imagine what it’s going to be like in the winter! Mountain goats are larger than your average domestic goats, and they can even be a little scary when defending their young. They spend their days high above tree line but descend to valleys during dusk to eat. Mountain goats are just as good climbers as big horn sheep, and they compete over same territory.
We’ve only seen mountain goats once, while climbing to Quandary Peak.
Pikas are easier heard than seen: a high-pitched “eep eep” sound resonates around the tundra, but these small hamster-sized animals move lightning-fast among the rocks, so you need a real eagle eye to spot them. They’re actually not related to hamsters at all but are closer to rabbits, and a rumor tells they’ve been an inspiration to another lightning-fast animal – Pokémon character Pikachu!
Pikas are only seen on the highest mountain tops, far from tree line.
Rocky Mountain Elk
Another name for the elk is wapiti, which comes from Cree language and means “white rump”. This slightly-smaller-than-moose moose-like animal wanders around the Rocky Mountains in large gangs during summer and descend to the mountain villages during winters. September is the best time to go elk-spotting in Rocky Mountain National Park, because that’s the time of elk rut, when large bull elks clash their horns against each other and tourists block roads with their cars trying to take photos. Elk is the only animal on this list that is often hunted for food, and venison is served in many of the area’s restaurants.
You are almost bound to see an elk if you visit Rocky Mountains National Park and Estes Park, no matter the season.
I like to go to the sauna. I like the moment when water hisses off the stove, a soft heat spreads above the benches, and I hold my arms around my face to protect them from the steam. I like sweating it all out and then heading outside to cool off, take a plunge in the sea, or just sit on the porch with a cold beer in one hand. Afterwards, I like returning back to the dimly lit sauna to calm down, relax, and repeat it all again.
It’s been half a year since I was in a sauna, so it was about time to get to one – and what a great moment that was, right after a long hike, dragging my bag and me up a mountain to an altitude of 3,5 kilometers (11,600ft)!
In Colorado, 10th Mountain Division Hut Association runs a network of mountain huts, most of which are far from any roads. In the summer, you can hike or bike there, and in winters you use skis or snowshoes. Everything you need, you must bring along with you. The amenities in the huts vary, but generally they don’t amount to much: at Janet’s Cabin, we had a gas stove and lights powered by solar panels, but running water we needed to fetch ourselves and purify from the creek nearby.
We had picked Janet’s Cabin as our weekend stay for the sauna, of course. Not every cabin had such luxury, and we weren’t sure how much of a luxury this would be, because American saunas can be weird with carpets and “no throwing water on the stove”…. but luxury it was. A pot for warm water was missing, but otherwise as a Finn, I’d give it an A+ rating. We didn’t have a lake for swimming up near the tree line, so Iiro stepped around in the icy cold creek, I cooled down in the crisp mountain air with a beer that I’d dragged with me to the mountains just for this occasion.
10th Mountain Huts are shared so that they might have several different groups at the same time. For example Janet’s had 16 beds, spread around bunk beds in four bedrooms. On weekends, the huts are usually full, and I’d read beforehand that the guests can be a varied bunch of people, all ages and all group sizes. However this time with our Finno-German group of four, we had 12 retirees, who gathered in the evening by the fire to do puzzles and couldn’t care less for the sauna. That was fine for us, we were happy to spend the evening with just our group.
Huts are $40 per person per night, which might seem first a bit steep for a bed with little amenities. But when you think about the location of the huts, it makes sense: it’s over 10 kilometers to the nearest road from Janet’s Cabin along the Continental Divide Trail. Even if some of the hut’s maintenance is done with the help of pack animals, huge gas tanks and firewood for the winter must be transported through other means…
Waking up in the morning at the cabin, my head was aching in a way that couldn’t have been just because of the couple of beers. At over 11k feet (3,5km), the air is thin enough to cause mountain sickness even if we live at a fairly high elevation ourselves. If you’re from lower elevations, I recommend catching your breath for a couple days somewhere a bit lower.
Janet’s Cabin is one of those huts that are along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the same route that continues from New Mexico up 5000 kilometers (3000 miles) all the way to the border of Idaho and Canada. CDT is less known than Pacific Crest Trail (recently made mega-famous by Wild), and it’s also more demanding: less than 100 people have through-hiked it. We walked it for only 10 kilometers on a section where it overlaps with much shorter Colorado Trail (CT). CDT is one of the most bad-ass trail achievements out there, but CT is possible to hike through in just 4-6 weeks, and thanks to the Mountain Hut Association, you won’t have to sleep in a tent all the way.
The huts are popular around the year, but especially during winter weekends, when you should start planning your trip already previous spring. Besides Janet’s Cabin, you can find saunas at Francie’s and Shrine Mtn Inn. All come with terrific mountain views!
Good guys and bad guys chasing each other around on speed boats in Miami is such a classic scene in any movie set in Florida: if an action flick doesn’t have a scene like this, something’s missing! With this in mind, we headed on a speed boat tour of our own when visiting Miami last June.
The tour’s base was at Bayside Marketplace, where we grabbed a late breakfast before heading out to sea. It took a while to pass the port of Miami and to reach Miami Beach with the boat, but that was also part of the experience. Miami has such a fragmented seaside with dozens of artificial islands, thanks to building of the port, and we took a closer look at a couple of them before heading out to the sea…
Checking out celebrity mansions on Star and Hibiscus Islands is one of the reasons to come on this tour, because you can only admire them from sea; from land, they are blocked by gates and high walls. Our guide seemed to know everything that was going on in the lives of these celebrities and especially their real estate plans, and although I don’t follow celebrities at all, these were big enough household names that i knew exactly who we were talking about. After all, you need to be super famous to splurge $50 million on a villa…
After our little architecture and celebrity gossip tour, we headed out to the ocean for some high speed fun. I’d been a little afraid of this part beforehand, because riding a motor boat into big waves isn’t always a fun experience, but now it was – almost like a roller coaster! You can’t NOT get a little wet on this tour, but the closer you sit to the front, the less you’ll get splashed.
I can warmly recommend this tour for anybody who’s heading to Miami and interested in boats and celebrities, or just one of the two. If you want to get a grasp of the speeds on this tour as well as hear what Al Capone and Lenny Kravitz have i common, check out this video:
Dip, skip and a splash into the Caribbian sea. The water’s not cool at all but pleasantly warm, and high salt levels buoy me up in the turquoise calms. A peak under the surface reveals a school of fish swimming away just a couple meters from me, weaving their way through a coral reef. I could spend an eternity breathing through the tube and slowly floating on top of the reef. This is paradise.
Just an hour earlier we were seriously late. Searching for a parking spot in Downtown Key West is easier said than done, and it would have been best to arrive on foot, but we didn’t have a moment to lose. So we ditched the car into the ridiculously overprized parking hall at Hyatt and ran to check in at Fury Water Adventures office. Finally we were last ones boarding the catamaran, but at least we made it. Now it as time to relax!
It took around 45 minutes for the catamaran to reach the reefs, and we spent that time adding on sunblock and enjoying cold Coke on the deck of the catamaran. All drinks were included in the price of the trip, but alcoholic beverages were only available after snorkeling = a sane policy if any. The theme of the cruise was Rum & Reggae, and while the rum had to wait, reggae blasted away from the beginning.
At this point, I also finally had time to open my new SD card from its package. I’d bought it the same morning from a shopping center in Miami, and the salesperson had recommended a 64GB card, so I was sure to have enough space for videos. The price was right, so why not? Well, I got an answer to that as soon as I popped the card into my GoPro, which immediately told me it was too large to use. No underwater photos or videos from this trip… and the lesson learned is that always test these before you’re on a catamaran somewhere in the middle of the sea!
Below the surface, the sea was teeming with life. We saw all kinds of scurrying fish in all colors of the rainbow, which we later identified with a little help from Wikipedia as banded butterflyfish, grunts and porkfish, among others. The reef itself didn’t impress us, but the life that surrounded it did. Elina has also snorkeled in Thailand and Colombia, and she thought this was her best snorkeling experience as of yet. Here’s a taste of what it looked like underwater:
in the end, the most memorable lifeform I saw was a small round jellyfish – or what I thought was a jellyfish until I googled about it and found out about comb jellies. They look like jellyfish but aren’t really, and they don’t have a sting.
We wouldn’t be ourselves if everything had gone exactly as it should. When Iiro jumped into the water, the plunge made him drop his snorkel. I reacted quickly and dove to get it, but ended up kicking so hard that one of my fins came off. Luckily Fury had a couple of guys in the water with us, and one of them dove down to retrieve our missing equipment. I guess he was a pro when it came to diving for tourists’ dropped stuff, because I think he stayed down there for almost a minute. After this incident, I soon figured out that almost an hour in the water was enough for me and climbed back abroad the catamaran for that promised rum punch.
The return trip to Key West took a bit more than an hour, because we lingered long enough to marvel the amazing sunset – us and the whole Key West fleet, all with the same agenda. When finally the sun had set behind the horizon, the captain steered to shore and we got to continue our evening with a dinner in a nearby restaurant. Key West is known for its sunset carnivals, but I think this sunset cruise probably could top any carnival.
Overall the trip was a great experience I can warmly recommend to anyone who enjoys a bit of a swim. For a bit of live action from the deck, check out this video I shot:
Back in the 90s, I hopped on the plane with my parents and moved to the US, barely speaking a word of English. Clueless and weird, sticking out like a sore thumb in my elementary school class of Americans, the only silver lining for me was that at least numbers are the same all over the world. It was customary to end the school day with a little math quiz, where we’d solve math problems in small teams, and the first team to solve it would be the first one to go home. (…that is, walk out to the parking lot to the school buses that of course waited for everyone.) I was a popular team mate, because even if conversation with that weird Finnish girl was out of the question, at least she was quick at math.
Imagine my bewilderment when one day, the problem was: How many ounces are there in 2 gallons, 1 quart and 3 cups of water?
????? WTF???? Is this some kind of joke??
Yes it is, a big joke, and this joke just goes on and on. On 6th grade, I fought with my class mates about which system of units made more sense, and my mates wouldn’t admit defeat even when none of them were able to tell me how many yards are in a mile. Well can you tell us, how many centimeters is in a kilometer? Eh, of course I can…
On 7th grade, I finally ran into a math teacher who felt my pain. I made my case of how the local American units were incomprehensible and metric system the only real one for the academic world, and to my great surprise I got a permission to skip all math problems that involved calculating with US units. My teacher Mr. Lipsky told me back then that he was pretty sure US would switch over to the metric system within a couple of decades. Now, a couple decades later, Mr. Lipsky’s probably lost hope on that miracle, Americans continue running on gallons, and I’m still clueless when it comes to ounces.
I have learned something, though, so here are my little tips and tricks on how I’ve made this irritatingly irrational system work for me.
The Fahrenheit scale is actually pretty simple: 0F is “colder than it ever gets outside”, and 100C is “human with a mild fever”. For real, this is no joke. The Dutch Mr. Fahrenheit just happened to be making his measurements of “coldest it ever gets” in Iceland on a particularly mild winter, so “zero” is just -18C and negative F-digits aren’t rare in the North. 100F is 37.7C.
There’s of course a formula for transforming Fahrenheit to Celsius, but usually I just give up and go with my gut feeling, which is something like this:
Below 0: Actually cold.
0-32: Not-so-cold freezing. Water freezes at 32F.
40s and 50s: Take a coat when you go outside.
60s: You won’t need a coat.
Lower 70s: Room temperature.
80s: Nice and hot.
90s: Not-so-nice hot.
100s: Too hot, don’t go out. Unless you’re intent on touring Death Valley.
With oven temperatures, the figures are so large and tolerances so wide that a simplified formula of 2 x Celsius = Fahrenheit works just fine. At least with our snapping gas oven with a not-too-particular thermostat.
Weight: Pounds and Ounces
One pound is 453 grams, around the weight of a standard-sized package of minced meat. You can divide pounds by two, and when you round up a bit, you end up with kilos. Or you can multiply kilos by two, and when you round down a bit you get pounds.
I never use ounces, because things that weight less than a pound are super light anyway, and anything packaged in the stores also displays grams.
Volume: gallons, quarts, pints, cups and ounces
One gallon is 3.8 liters, which is easy to comprehend, because milk here is sold in containers of one gallon, and everybody knows milk containers. This big plastic jug weighing hellofalot, and mostly when you talk about gallons, it’s always one gallon, maybe two, max three. After that, it’s kind of hard to comprehend liters too, because how easy would it be for you to grasp how much water is actually in a swimming pool of 5000 liters? (Okay, pretty easy, because you can always convert them to cubic decimeters.)
This is a point where Brits and Americans have strayed apart: the names of their units are the same, but the gallon, basis for volume, is different. British gallon is 10 pounds worth of water, around 4.5 liters, a somewhat sane number in an insane system. Americans, though, use the old wine gallons, which as far as I’m concerned aren’t based on anything, but at least you can measure wine with them. For example, one wine barrel has 31.5 wine gallons of wine, which is about as even number as it gets with this system.
One quart is just what it sounds like: a quarter of a gallon. That makes it basically a liter, a little shy of one, but when a recipe asks for a liter of chicken broth, it’s alright to pour in a quart. Add some water if it doesn’t feel like enough.
One pint is half of a quart, a little less than half a liter. Unlike in Europe, beer seems to be rarely measured in pints here, but instead they talk about ounces: 16oz is a large beer, 12oz a small one. It took me ages to learn this, but at least when the bartender asks me Twelve or sixteen ounces? I’m able to pick the bigger number. Wine glasses sold in ounces are still a complete mystery to me, so it’s better to just order a bottle.
A cup is like a large coffee mug (unless you ask Starbucks, where it’s extra small), one fourth of a quart, a little less than 2,5dl. This is the easiest measurement of them all, because our plastic measurement cups also have deciliters marked on the other side.
Ounces… wait, what are ounces doing here, aren’t they a measurement of weight? Well yeah, that too, but they’re also a measurement of volume called a fluid ounce, fl.oz, and guess what: one ounce of water weighs a bit more than an ounce! That makes so much sense that I’ve given up learning ounces also when it comes to volume, and luckily recipes usually talk about fractions of cups.
Distance: miles, yards, feet, inches
When you multiple miles by 1.5 and round up a bit, you get kilometers. Kilometers turn into miles when you snip off around a third, and besides, it doesn’t really matter that much anyway: distances here are measured usually in minutes – like how many minutes it takes to get there with a car – and hiking trail lengths are anyway always a little off.
American speed limits are also in miles. Naturally, in cars made for the US market, the speedometer displays miles so no conversions are needed. The good thing with these cars is that they also have kilometers in small print, so it’s not a problem shipping your car to Europe. The other way around, though…
Yards are like meters for the vertically challenged. The 25 yard swimming pools here are a bit shorter than pools in the rest of the world, but surprise surprise, there are no 50 yard pools: the Olympic pools are measured in meters also here. Maybe the swimmers training in them want to get used to the same lap length they’ll have when they compete abroad. Yards don’t seem to be used very much outside of swimming and other sports, which is a pity, because for a metric person like me, they’re the easiest measurement of distance.
A foot is the foot of some really tall person, because my foot is only 23cm, whereas the foot is around 30cm. In the book Colorado’s Fourteeners, which I otherwise respect a lot for its climbing advice, the mountaineering guru has a chapter called “In Defense of Feet”, where the argument basically seems to be: I have a foot. I don’t have a meter. Now watch out, don’t loose your eyes while you’re rolling them around… In any case, three feet adds up to a yard, so when you multiply feet by three, you get that same vertically challenged meter.
Often with distances, miles are used with decimals, and altitude is measured in feet and feet only – like a Fourteener is a mountain over 14 000 feet, not 2 miles and 3440 feet – but ever so often someone mixes the whole thing up by mixing these two measurement together. I only learned last year how many feet there are in a mile when I subscribed to Denver’s local magazine 5280. Why the name? One mile is 5280 feet, and Denver is the Mile High City.
One inch is a little less than 2.5cm. Sound familiar? A cup is a little less than 2.5 dl! This means four inches is 10 cm, and you can go far with this level of accuracy, just not to Mars.
Feet are never used with decimals and instead, that less-than-a-feet-part is converted to inches. For example, my height is 5 feet 8 inches, in American shorthand 5′ 8″. Sometimes inches can be used with fractions, but I never do that, because then I’d have to admit I’m only 5′ 7½”.
Summer has advanced to August, but I feel like it has just started. Wasn’t it just a little more than a month ago when I trampled through snow in the mountains? And if last year is anything to judge by, the highest mountain tops are still open to climbers without winter equipment well into September.
So far, we’ve climbed two fourteeners in the Rocky Mountains: first Mount Bierstadt (14,065 ft / 4287m) in June, pushing through snow up to our thighs, and then a couple weeks ago to Mount Elbert (14,440 ft / 4401m) in beautiful sunshine and clear skies. We’ve also climbed our fair share of smaller mounts and trails and bushwhacked our way forward. I finally spotted some wild turkeys in Rocky Mountain National Park, and marmots whisking their tails away have cemented their place as our totem animals. I’ve sled down a mountain on my behind in a state of mild panic to escape a thunderstorm, and I might have developed a mild case of astraphobia, which is only a good thing, because I don’t want to end up a statistic. (On average, 11 Coloradans die each year of lightning strikes.) I’ve filled up my hard drive with photos several times over and munched on too many Clif Bars to count. Every couple of weeks, I’ve made the pilgrimage to REI to get some new topo maps, which should come to an end any moment now, because soon I have them all.
I’ve been meaning to write trips reports from several of the hikes and climbs, but meanwhile you may enjoy some Colorado mountain views that my Instagram followers have seen already throughout the summer. The advice is from a poem by Ilan Shamir.