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The Call of the Road

I love to travel. You know what they say; “travel broadens the mind and enriches the soul.” I do believe that. Even travel in your own backyard can yield surprising revelations.

For me, the best kind of travel is the road trip. Now, yes from time to time I have to get on an airplane – you can’t drive to China, after all. Once you get there however  a country is best discovered by driving its roads rather than flying from place to place.

There’s something soulless about air travel, especially these days. They pack you on planes like sardines and give you less space then they give those in solitary confinement in the penal colonies of French Guyana, throw you a pack of peanuts (if you’re lucky) and a dollop of soda and send you on your way. While generally the flight attendants remain friendly, they can’t really personalize your experience much, not the way they used to. There simply are fewer of them on each plane now as the airlines have economized to the point that a trip on an airplane isn’t much better than a trip on a cattle car.

Even driving the interstates (or their equivalent) can be antiseptic. You see the same fast food franchises, the same gas stations, the same hotels. There is usually little local flavor traveling on an interstate. They are a more efficient means of reaching a destination, I’ll grant you, and often more direct but to be honest, I much prefer going the way less traveled.

These kinds of road trips are much more difficult for me now. With my vertigo, I can no longer drive so on a trip of any length Doreen has to do all the driving, and it is certainly no fun for her and a great deal of wear and tear for her to spend days behind the wheel. These days, we have to press friends or family into service to come along and quite frankly that changes the dynamic.

Doreen and I make excellent travel companions because our philosophy about travel is the same. While the destination is important, it’s all about the journey. When driving, we like to pull off and stop at places that interest us. We have a general itinerary, yes and we rely on such programs as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” to help us find places to eat that aren’t called McDonald’s, Burger King or Taco Bell. We also research our route and find places to stop along the way that pique our interest, although sometimes we get spontaneous like the time we found the Salt and Pepper Shaker museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (look it up – it’s got a website) or Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina (also with its own website).

The point is these are the kinds of places that bring the human experience to life. From the quirky to the everyday, there are places that may educate you or may amaze you or may leave you asking “Really?” but all of them give you some sort of insight, whether to the human condition or merely to yourself.

Cuisine plays an important part of travel. Why drive thousands of miles to eat at the same Red Lobster you could eat in at home? We always try to go with local specialties whenever we can; Philly Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, Italian Beef and deep-dish pizza in Chicago, frozen custard and cheese curds in Wisconsin, Chili Five-Way in Cincinnati, Juicy Lucies in Minneapolis.

Of course that also applies to foreign countries as well. We tried to eat things that were less western whenever we could in China, which led us to try things like sea turtle and fish heads. Even in Canada when I get the chance I try to order poutine instead of French Fries. The flavors of a place help enrich your memories of that place. Sometimes being adventurous can bring unexpected benefits; we’ve had many memorable meals trying new things and local specialties that we might not have had if we had kept to the familiar.

Of course, extensive travel requires a certain amount of cash and not everybody has that kind of money, even these days. However, you can apply the mentality to your own home. Drive down a road you’ve never driven on. Eat at a local restaurant you’ve never eaten at. Go to your local museums or historical societies and learn something about your town, or drive to the next town over and do the same. In other words, be a tourist in your own home town.

Sometimes “tourist” is a nasty word, but to me it symbolizes someone who wants to see the world and broaden their horizons. A tourist is a seeker of knowledge and insight, not necessarily someone in a loud shirt with a loud mentality, camera dangling around their neck, judging everything unfamiliar to be inferior. That might be the modern image of a tourist, but that isn’t what the word originally meant to convey. To me, seeing the world is never a bad thing; seeing the world with an open mind is an incredible thing.

My mom once told me that when you stop wanting to learn you begin the process of dying. While in some ways that isn’t necessarily true – there are a whole lot of people on this earth who are never interested in learning anything – I understand the sentiment. Keeping the mind active is at least as important as keeping the body active. As long as we are exploring the world, our mind is active and seeking connection.

For someone like me, the open road beckons with the allure of a Greek siren. The opportunity to explore and see a part of the world I haven’t seen before is always irresistible. We haven’t done a real long road trip in a couple of years, with our China trip taking up most of our attention this year but even though I’ve done a lot of travelling this year, I still feel that pull, the need to see something new. I guess with Doreen out of town on a business trip I particularly feel it; although I am happy to be at home, I have gotten bit by the travel bug something fierce.

I think that’s part of why I get so involved with social networking online. That’s a form of travel too – the ability to chat and take up relationships with people in other places, with other points of view. Through these relationships, I feel a connection to these parts of the world I haven’t been to; friends in Abu Dhabi, London, Manchester, Strasbourg, Perth, Kuala Lampur, Tours, Grajewo (Poland) – even in places I have been to like Jacksonville, Denver, Phoenix, Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) and Los Angeles (where I grew up) give you a different sense than someone gets from just visiting.

Talking to people in different places can satisfy my urge to travel when I’m not able to indulge it. We don’t necessarily chat about life in wherever, but just about life. Every new insight contributes to my ongoing education on the human experience. I like to think of it as the grad school of life; hopefully, someday I’ll have learned enough to earn a post-graduate degree.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to learn and grow and expand my horizons. The world is a beautiful place, and people have built some amazing, wonderful – and quirky – places. Not to explore it would be a waste of opportunity, and we only get one. So why not use it as best we can?

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United Arab Emirates Pavilion

United Arab Emirates Pavilion

THEME: The Power of Dreams

PAVILION: The UAE Pavilion is a golden sand dune inspired by the country’s desert. The outer covering of the Pavilion is gold-colored stainless steel. It’s undulating roof, looking like it’s been shaped by the wind, makes the Pavilion shimmer and change colors, reminding visitors of the Middle Eastern country’s various natural environments. The shape of the Pavilion is in response to Shanghai’s weather. It protects against the direct glare of the city’s summer sun but allows indirect light to enter the Pavilion via louvers. Visitors approach the entrance of the Pavilion by a walkway that follows a stream of water towards the entrance.

EXHIBIT: Taking a virtual journey, visitors may begin to understand the people of the UAE who have created life in the desert and have learned from their forefathers how to create shade, to escape the heat and to survive in a harsh environment. Along the path, flower beds and trees are everywhere, creating a scene of fantasy alien to the dunes. In the first section, deserts comprised of sands in red, golden and white colors, the ups and downs of hills, a scattered oasis ringed with camel bells and boats with glimmering sails on the ocean are all staged in a video, which reminds us of what an important role the natural environment and wildlife play in the culture and lifestyle of the UAE. In the second section, Legendary Land, creative film producers will intoxicate visitors with a fantastic journey. In this legendary land, primeval tropical desert is next to modern skyscrapers. Visitors will be enthralled by the perfect combination of past and present seeing year-round sunlight, clean beaches, dunes, merchants on camel back, spice markets, oases, golf courses, sand skiing, diving, water skiing, parachute jumping and fishing all at the same time. In the third section, visitors will be treated to a preview of the world’s first Zero Carbon City, currently under construction near Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. Visitors can hop on a PRT to the office in the morning, turn on an air-conditioner powered by solar energy, taste a salad with vegetables irrigated by recycled water and take a shower with solar-powered desalinated seawater. All of these technologies are expected to be integrated into everyday use in ZCC. With sunlight so abundant in the desert, solar power will become ubiquitous and the UAE will lead the way in more efficient ways to harness it. In Zero Carbon City, citizens will receive door to door service from intelligent autonomous electric cars. Resources are precious and must be cherished, energy will be taken into full use, the environment will be protected and life efficiency will be largely enhanced. Finally, do not forget the interactive game zone after visiting the exhibit in which lucky winners will be offered a visit to the UAE to continue their own personal journey to see this wonderful land for themselves.

CUISINE: There is no dining area listed for the Pavilion.

SHOPPING: There is no specific shopping facility listed for the Pavilion.