Sunday, October 10, 2010

Right in Your Own Backyard

Sometimes the most beautiful places in the world are right in your own backyard. Here is the view from the Smith Avenue bridge in St. Paul, Minnesota - just a few steps from my most recent apartment. And I get to enjoy this view for free - every day! Amazing.

Get out and experience the world.

The Ambassador

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

"If there's mountains involved, I'm in." This is most likely the reason why my favorite destinations include Switzerland, Hawaii and Norway - they all have the beauty of the majestic mountains. Perhaps that's even why I have a photo card set by that name - the mountains keep drawing me to their mystery. 

So in July I had a great opportunity to return to the mountains a little closer to home - the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My first visit to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains was back in 1975 when our family went on a camping trip to attend my cousin's wedding. Since then I'd visited Colorado several other times including road tripping in college to ski the slopes of Breckenridge, Vail and Copper Mountain, and at other times for work clients or stopovers during flights to the West coast. But this time it was different. I came to Colorado to visit friends and just enjoy the mountain scenery. And this time I brought my camera :o)

The plan for the weekend was to visit some of the natural beauty and famous landmarks that the Denver area had to offer. The Rockies are spread out over 3,000 miles from Canada to New Mexico, so this trip would only include some of the highlights in this expansive mountainous area, but that was fine with me! Anytime I have the opportunity to experience something new I jump in with both feet.

Over the extended weekend my buddy Ric did most of the driving (thank you) and we hit several of the local landmarks in and out of the Rocky Mountains area. Some of the weekend highlights on the first day included Red Rocks (and the amazing outdoor amphitheater), Idaho Springs, Central City, Blackhawk, and the highlight of the day: Mount Evans in the Arapapho National Forest - over 14,000 feet above the Colorado plains. Stunning! We drove above the tree line, then the cloud line, and soon we joined the mountain goats on the top of the mountains. I truly felt like I was on top of the world.

The second day's adventures included more sites such as the Garden of the Gods - an incredible collection of rock formations amongst the trees and rolling hills; a drive down to Colorado Springs, through Pueblo, and into Canon City, home of the Royal Gorge - the world's highest suspended bridge - 1,053 feet high. Breathtaking! I rode on the world's longest single aerial tram over the gorge - 1,178 feet above the Arkansas River. Awesome! And after a day out in the summer heat I had the world's largest appetite. Excellent! A fun day all around.

Another one of my favorite sites the entire weekend was having Pike's Peak and the mountains as a continuous backdrop the whole time - just like having a constant companion. Mountains show you their different faces during the day with the angles of the sun, the beautiful sunsets, and the silhouettes at dusk. Truly a natural and beautiful wonder.

The mountains were powerful and so was the final stop on my way back to the airport - the Columbine Memorial, a place of peace, comfort and reflection remembering all who were affected by the events of the Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999. The memorial was a very moving and powerful experience. An introspective moment, indeed - and a wonderful way to bring a sense of appreciation to my trip.

Get out and experience the world

The Ambassador

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Road Trip! 14 States in 14 Days

"Road trip!" Those words shouted out always meant one thing - extended fun in the car. Growing up I have road tripped from Minnesota to Colorado, Florida, Washington D.C., Canada, and everywhere in between - always enjoying the adventure of being on the road and watching the world go by. I've road tripped with family, friends, roommates, and people I didn't even know. But the result was always the same - developing an appreciation for "going somewhere" and experiencing all of the excitement and surprise of getting there. Plus, unlike flying, a road trip allows you to explore new territory and wander off the beaten path... my favorite part, indeed.

This summer I decided to initiate the month of June with a road trip, but this one would be alone. Since I'd visited 45 of the 50 U.S. states throughout my travels, I considered a trip which would allow me to cross off 3 of the last 5 states I'd had yet to visit - Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The two others - Oregon and Alaska - would need to wait a little bit longer.

I decided to head directly East by slicing the (cheese) state of Wisconsin in half, driving directly to Sault Sainte Marie through the upper peninsula of Michigan and crossing directly into Canada. Then proceed via Canada to Montreal, on to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine; then descend down the East coast hitting Boston, Rhode Island, and Connecticut before heading back towards Minnesota via New York and the northeastern states. Somewhat of a "circle" around the Northeast.

My transportation would be via the Green Hornet (the name my Dad gave to my Ford Taurus, a reliable and trustworthy car), and for accommodations I looked at the friends with whom I could stop and see along the way. Then I did a preliminary search of some bed and breakfast options, some small motels and hotels, and also took my buddy and fellow world traveler Matt Gerber's advice and signed up at to stay with new friends along the way - it's based on trust and goodwill (like staying at a B&B but without the cost). A great way to meet people and share the gift of hospitality. I love it!

The trip was amazing. Over 4,300 miles; 14 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces; and all in 14 days. It was fun to hit the road and exciting to connect with friends old and new. By sheer happenstance I was able to see friends and visit places along this trip which represented every major phase of my life... an unexpected, yet welcomed, surprise. Allow me to elaborate:
  • Bemidji, Minnesota: Hometown, Mom, Dad, Lake Bemidji
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: College town (U of M); Lukas (post-Hawaii transition); Josh (Minneapolis, pre/post-India); Shawn (Target, post-India)
  • Sault St. Marie, Ontario: Bed & Breakfast (Mountain View, Jane)
  • Montreal, Quebec: Olympic Park, new friends Robert and Alan (, Yann and Andre (social networking)
  • Hartland, Vermont: Lorraine and Gary (Hawaiian ohana, Queen's Y2K Project)
  • Portland, Maine: Fresh Maine lobster (first time eating real lobster with my hands!)
  • Boston, Massachusetts: Mike and Mike (Hawaiian ohana)
  • Providence, Rhode Island: Tom (
  • Clifton Park, New York: Kirk (Target, eLearning conferences, pre-India)
  • Fairhaven, Michigan: Karen (Rotary Foreign Exchange - Finland, high school)
  • Chicago, Illinois: Rob (college - U of M, Hawaii, post-Hawaii)
  • Ringle, Wisconsin: Diane (grad school - BSU, Bemidji, post-Hawaii)
  • Rice Lake, Wisconsin: Birthplace (before moving to Bemidji at 3 weeks old)
  • Bemidji, Minnesota: Where it all starts and ends and begins again...
This trip felt like an episode of "This Is Your Life" - truly a time to reconnect, reflect, and review. And another opportunity to appreciate the country in which I live, the freedom I have to travel, and the friends and family in my life.
As a diehard educator, I took time to reflect upon "what I learned" during my two weeks on the road, so here are a few of my key takeaways:
  • Good brakes and tires are necessary (and new ones even better). Just like your body, keep your car in good shape.
  • Watch the signs... especially the "One Way" streets (grrrr.... lol)
  • Take time to listen, be open to others' ideas, and suspend judgment.
  • "Please" and "Thank you" go a long way in any language.
  • Extended time alone can be a great time to process thoughts and ideas; it can also be very quiet when you really want someone to talk to.
  • The state with the best roads: New York (tollways pay for roads on purpose!)
  • Never pass up an experience to try something new.
  • If something scares you, investigate why... you may be surprised at what it can teach you about yourself and others.
  • Slow traffic move right (please...)
  • Allow yourself to go "off the beaten path" once in a while and be flexible - it may take you to new destinations both physically and mentally.
  • Enjoy your world and the people in it. It's your choice!
For more pictures from my road trip, visit my Facebook page.

This summer, be sure to take the time and reconnect with the people and places in your life which keep you moving forward - we all need those "fuel stops" along our journey.

Get out and experience the world!  

The Ambassador

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Southern Hospitality

Last week I had the fortunate opportunity to visit my cousin Arlan in Atlanta, Georgia. I'd been through the Atlanta airport many times - usually en route to Honolulu, San Francisco, Austin, etc. - but I'd never had the chance to actually leave the airport and explore the city. Well, what better opportunity than to visit family!

My cousin Arlan and I didn't really know each other growing up, but that changed when he moved out to Honolulu back in the mid 90's to become the cathedral musician and choirmaster for St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral. Arlan is a brilliant musician, composer, and director - and St. Andrew's was so fortunate to have him. Since I had a background in music and voice, I sang in his cathedral choir for many years, and I felt so blessed to be a part of it. Arlan and I quickly became great friends. We learned to appreciate each others' gifts and talents, and since we were family there were so many things we had in common. It became a lasting friendship.

Eventually I left Hawaii, and several years later Arlan left as well. He took a position as the choirmaster and Director of Music at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Atlanta. We kept saying we should connect again, but it had been many years. Since one of my intentions this year is to travel "to" people, I decided it was time to see Arlan, booked the ticket, and went to pay a visit.

The trip was incredible. While I was there, Arlan showed me many of the gifts that Atlanta has to offer including seeing Mozart's The Magic Flute preformed by the Atlanta Opera in the new Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center (stunning in itself!), the Atlanta Symphony and Grammy-winning Chorus performance of Verdi's Requiem (a "hold onto your seat" performance!), and a full morning of music, song, and service at St. Luke's on Sunday - powerful, moving, and beautiful. We balanced our activities throughout the trip with walks through Piedmont Park (a mere two blocks away from Arlan's condominium in Midtown), drives down the winding parkways to view the beautiful Georgian homes around Buckhead, and stops for meals and snacks along the way. Another highlight was the Atlanta Botanical Garden and its amazing flowers, trees, and landscapes. A MUST see if you visit Atlanta! The gardens are expanding and adding new features all the time, and it's a great place to "stop and smell the roses" :o)

All in all, the weekend was a wonderful time in so many ways. Atlanta is a beautiful city, the people are so friendly, and I returned to Minnesota with a huge dose of southern hospitality filling me up. This trip reminded me, once again, the importance of family and friends and the roles they play in our lives. It's good to "check in" and maintain those important relationships, for those family and friends are truly what matters.

I wish to all a wonderful spring and remember to get out and experience the world!

Michael on the Move

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hawaiian Holiday

Over this past Easter holiday I spent the week working and resting in Honolulu, Hawaii – a city in which I lived for a combined total over 10 years beginning in 1992. As many of you probably know, Waikiki, (Hawaiian for  “spouting fresh water”), is located southeast of downtown Honolulu and is the central tourist hub for the island of Oahu – the most heavily populated island in the 7-island chain, and home to over 70% of Hawaii’s population. Waikiki was originally a deserted marsh and swampland, but began to build into a top tourist destination beginning in the early 20th century. Now Hawaii consistently ranks as one of the top vacation spots in the world.

The first hotel built in Waikiki, The Moana Surfrider, opened its doors in 1901 and is still one of the most beautiful hotels in Waikiki. Alongside the Moana is the Royal Hawaiian, another legendary hotel on the Waikiki strip. Other notable sites in Waikiki include Kapiolani Park, San Souci Beach, and Diamondhead Crater.  Each year, thousands of people from around the globe make Hawaii the land of their dream vacation. With so many things to offer – ocean, mountains, nature, sports of all kinds, and perfectly comfortable weather (it’s usually 85F [30C] and sunny year round!) – Hawaii has something for everyone.

During my downtime on this trip I decided to create a blog entry about Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach Park areas – the most popular beaches in on the Waikiki strip. Thanks to friend and fellow world traveler, Matt Gerber, I was inspired to make a video blog this time around, so here goes! I hope you enjoy my short tour of Waikiki.

Get out and experience the world!

Michael on the Move

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

California Dreamin'

This month I had the fantastic opportunity to take a trip with my family to San Diego, California, to connect with more of our family including a visit with Grandma Dorothy. As you can well imagine, Minnesota had gotten quite "wintery" by the end of February so the warm winds and blue skies of Southern California were a very welcomed break. We were all ready for some balmier weather!

The traveling team consisted of me and my sister's family - Becky, Jim, Nicki & Natalie. We flew out of the Fargo airport, which is only an hour from their house in Northeastern Minnesota, landed in Minneapolis, and then took a connecting flight directly to San Diego. The flights were excellent (thank you, Delta Airlines) and we were walking on California soil before we knew it. Our group was meeting up with Mom and Dad at the airport since they had already driven their motor home to San Diego a couple weeks prior. My parents, Tom and Yvonne, are "snowbirds", you know - they leave Minnesota and fly south for the winter. Smart birds :o)

Since Grandma lives in downtown La Mesa, my Uncle Daryl and his wife, Jana, usually host the family whenever we come to visit. They live up on Mount Helix (a beautiful mountain in the suburb of La Mesa), and I am always so impressed with their garden. They have a wide variety of flowers and fresh fruits including oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines. Mmmmm! We drank freshly-squeezed orange juice every morning. Their garden also has a beautiful view that overlooks San Diego and provides you with amazing view of the city and mountains.

You've probably heard of the San Diego Zoo - well, it's one of the largest zoos in the world and full of wonderful animals. Now I'm not much for caging animals, but many of these animals may have been rescued from dangerous environments and they are very well cared for at the zoo. We saw everything from bears, giraffes, rhinoceros, and gorillas to exotics birds, monkeys, and elephants. The zoo was very clean and the staff were friendly. A great day all around!

Another highlight of our vacation was a trip up to Long Beach to see the historic RMS Queen Mary ship and Hotel - the sister ship of the RMS Titanic. This deluxe cruise ship was the flagship of the Cunard Line from 1936 until 1945 where she was used to transport over 16,000 troops back from the war. To this day, she holds the record for most passengers on a maritime vessel! On the ship we got to walk around and explore the different decks, rooms, and parlors. If you take the tour be sure to visit the ghostly depths in the Ghosts and Legends show - quite a thrilling attraction! All a great time and fun experience. It felt almost like being on the decks of the Titanic.

Other areas we visited include the Hotel del Coronado and beach on Coronado Island, Carlsbad Beach, shopping in La Mesa, and Dad and Jim went to Navy harbor to visit the USS Enterprise (sorry, Trekkies out there - it's the aircraft carrier, not the star ship... but wouldn't that be totally fun?!) There was also plenty of downtime and everyone was able to catch up on their reading. I finished two more books on the trip!

In the end, we all had a great week enjoying the warm weather and enjoying each other. It was great seeing Grandma, Daryl and Jana, Mom and Dad, and spending time with Becky, Jim and the girls. Lots of rest and relaxation, and good food, of course. Another reminder about the importance of family - they matter!

I hope you're having a great spring and traveling somewhere in your near future. If you are, be sure to take the opportunity to explore - there's all sorts of things to do and learn out there, so take advantage it.

Get on the move and experience the world!

Mr. Michael

Monday, February 22, 2010

Michael's Travel Tips

Planning a trip in the near future? Ready for a break? Whether it's a two week vacation to Europe or a drive to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, sometimes ya just gotta get out of the house!

After numerous summer vacations with my family, living in Finland on foreign exchange, spending 10 years in Hawaii (after getting tired of scraping ice off my windshield), working in India for a year on expat assignment, and traveling to 16 countries in 12 months to take 14,000 pictures, I've picked up a few things about traveling. So today I thought I'd share a handful of my favorite travel tips with you. I hope these are helpful!

Michael's Travel Tips

  1. If flying or riding long distances alone, bring plenty of activities (read: distractions) to keep you busy during "down times". For instance, my iPod contains collections of my favorite music, e-books, movies and games. * Travel tip: it's also easier to optimize the benefits of travel if you bring some little pieces of home with you.
  2. Bring a digital camera. It's much easier to remember your trip later if you have pictures! Plus, if you have a blog, web site, Facebook account, etc., you can share your trip more easily with friends and family. * Travel tip: If traveling alone, don't be afraid to ask someone to take your picture - most people are happy to.
  3. Be aware. Traveling can be a fantastic experience; it can also be a bit unnerving at times (especially in a foreign country). Be sure to do your research about the destination before you travel and pay attention to which areas you may need to avoid. * Travel tip: Ask people for help or seek assistance of local law enforcement if you have questions or feel you're in danger.
  4. Reduce the amount of luggage you bring. You really don't need that much stuff! A few changes of clothes can be rearranged/layered/swapped easily, so make do with less. I've been guilty, myself, of over-packing so I finally broke down and bought a small carry-on roller suitcase. * Travel tip: If flying, carry-on luggage is free and lets you skip the check-in lines and the baggage claim: less $$ + less waiting time = less stress!
  5. If traveling by plane, find the best seats and planes by visiting for the latest information on every airline and every seat. More about SeatGuru here. * Travel tip: Leverage sites like Kayak and Orbitz to get the best deals on flights and hotels.
  6. During your trip take time to pick up a postcard or two and send them to friends and family. It's always nice to share your trip experience with others. * Travel tip: Buy postcards from shops who also sell postcard stamps so you actually send them.
  7. Ask local people where to find the best food and shopping. Some travel books are helpful, but I've found the best spots come by recommendation. * Travel tip: You can also get the lowdown on best places to eat and visit from friends who've been there before - plus they might have a travel book to loan you (thanks, Holly!)
  8. If staying at a hotel, remember:

    • Reuse towels and sheets. Do you change your sheets and towels every day at home? Then don't do it when you're on vacation, either. It's better for the environment and keeps hotels costs down. 
    • Always ask for (complimentary) room upgrade. You'd be surprised how many times it's not a problem... many hotel rooms go empty in the off-season.
    • Request early/late checkout (if no charge). This gives you more time to pack and unpack without feeling rushed.
    • Use stairs instead of escalators and elevators (if possible and feasible). Great exercise and keeps you moving.
    • Ask for a room with a refrigerator. You can buy your own food and save a big chunk of money. Stock your fridge with breakfast and lunch foods, beverages and snacks - keep your money for having a nice dinner at a local restaurant.
    • * Hotel travel tip: If you're prone to losing things when you travel, leave your room key at the front desk when you go out for the day or evening. 
Well, off to San Diego this week - gotta keep on moving! I will have more tips about international travel in a future post. But in the meantime, get on the move and experience the world.

Happy Trails,

Mr. Michael

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    My Kind of Town

    This past weekend I jumped on a short flight over to Chicago to visit my friends Rob and Aaron for the weekend. Rob and I have been friends for over 25 years (wow... I just thought about how long that is!), so we are an example of those friends who are always connected - you know the kind... we see each other a couple times a year and "pick up where we left off". It's great to have people in your life who really get you - those friends where no explanations are needed - you just meet each other where you're at in your life and compare notes. A great way to check-in an reconnect with someone who know you, especially those times when you really need it. A good friend is one who knows who you are and can remind you when you forget. * Travel tip: Try to combine visits with friends and family when you plan your trips!

    In addition to reconnecting with Rob I was glad to be back in Chicago. Between visits for concerts, sporting events, and former working trips (one of my former clients was CNA - the big red tower!), Chicago has always been one of my favorite Midwestern cities. Why? Because it's so very easy to navigate. Unlike some of the uber-windy, circular, twisty, curvy cities like Paris or London (which are fantastic cities, don't get me wrong...), Chicago is extremely easy to navigate - especially by foot. Between the easy to follow grids of streets and parks, and the efficient "L" (or elevated train) system, getting around town is a cinch. And with the wide variety of sports, entertainment, arts and cultural events, Chicago offers something for everyone.

    A highlight of my weekend was visiting The Art Institute of Chicago during their Free February campaign. Yes, that's right - admission to the AIC is free the entire month! A great opportunity to get people out of the house and in to the galleries. The Institute is famous for its classic architecture and central location, but what I like best about AIC is the eclectic mix of paintings, sculpture, furniture, and artifacts from a worldwide collection. For example, you walk into a gallery, see a painting from a collection of local Midwestern artists and then suddenly, voila! - an original Monet or Van Gough. How cool is that?! In addition, the AIC features specialty traveling shows and exhibits. My sister Becky and I visited the King Tut exhibit back in 2006 and really enjoyed it. * Travel tip: Before you travel somewhere take a moment to Google the city/region and find out "what's happening" while you're visiting.

    As February moves into full swing and "cabin fever" has the ability to hit those of us here in the cold snowy Northland, take the opportunity to get out and enjoy something new and different to keep you fresh. Visit a local art gallery, museum or exhibit (in Minneapolis, see what's happening at MIA or The Walker); so see a great show (visit the new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis or Park Square Theatre in St. Paul); or just go visit friends and family (insert friend or family member whom you haven't visited in a long time and keep meaning to, here). The important thing is to keep moving - it stimulates your creativity and keeps you active, interested and healthy. * Travel tip: Even traveling across town or going to stay friends or family for a night/weekend can provide enough refreshment and help you to "reboot".

    Get on the move and experience the world!

    Mr. Michael

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    28 Hours in Amsterdam

    This past weekend I decided to take advantage of the off-season low travel fares and take a quick hop over to Amsterdam for a visit. I took this trip for many reasons, but the main reasons were to:
    1. Force myself out of my comfort zone
    2. Rack up an additional 10,000+ frequent flyer miles
    3. Visit the Anne Frank House and Museum
    4. Have some good European food!
    So with those goals in mind I set out on my adventure. Since (the new) Delta airlines is consolidating the previous Northwest Airlines hubs around the nation, Bemidji Airport was selected to continue--and expand--operations, so I was able to book a flight from Bemidji to Amsterdam (connecting in Minneapolis, of course) in one ticket, and at a great price. I booked my flight, secured a small room in a cheap Amsterdam hotel online, and packed my backpack. BTW, traveling light is part of my new RRR strategy (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) - another goal of mine for 2010. * Travel Tip: Avoid checking luggage--stick with carry-on bags: you'll save money, learn to pack simply, and bypass the baggage claim!

    I flew to Minneapolis, had a short layover, boarded my overnight flight to Amsterdam on the A330 Airbus--one of my favorite jets--and since the flight was only 75% occupied I was able to re-seat myself as soon as the cabin door was closed. (*Hint: I will write another entry about "tips for flying happiness" in a future posting) Naturally, I chose a window seat with an unoccupied seat next to me so I had elbow room. Did you know you can do that? Just ask a flight attendant if you have questions. *Travel Tip: For more information about which seats rock and which do not, visit

    The flight to Amsterdam was excellent! Why? Because I chose my aircraft wisely - the A330 Airbus has a personal in-flight video system for every passenger (movies, music, and more!); you get two complimentary meals (dinner and a morning snack on all international overnight flights); and all sodas, wine and beer are free. It's like flying First Class on a Coach ticket. I arrived in Amsterdam the next morning, hopped on a train from the airport to the city center, and then walked to my hotel. * Travel Tip: When possible take trains and walk... much cheaper than driving, plus it's better exercise and more difficult to get lost when you're walking!

    When I arrived at my hotel, I checked in, grabbed my camera, and went for a walk. Today I was headed towards my "tourist destination of the day" - the Anne Frank House. Now the Anne Frank House has an amazing history and even though I'd been through Amsterdam 5 or 6 times throughout my travels, I'd never had a chance to visit the house and museum. So this was my day to do it. In addition, I'd promised my friend Shawn and my niece Natalie that I'd get them each a brochure from the tour. Incidentally, Shawn is playing the part of Anne's brother, Peter, in the production of Diary of Anne Frank at Park Square Theater in St. Paul this winter. Go check it out!

    The tour of the Anne Frank House was very powerful and moving. I wasn't allowed to take snapshots inside the house so they can preserve the integrity of the original wood, paint and wallpaper. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the self-guided tour, attention to detail in the museum, and all of the informational placards and videos installed throughout the building. It was a very touching experience and it reminding me how important our families and friends are to us... in Anne's case, how friends and family came together to love and support one another in a time of great panic and fear. I left the museum feeling grateful and thankful for my family and the fact that I don't have to live in fear as Anne and her family did during the war. * Travel Tip: Use contrast to instill an attitude of gratitude.

    That evening I had a light dinner, did a little more souvenir shopping, and got back to my hotel early to do some writing and listen to music. I'm always stimulated creatively when I travel - it's part of exploring the world! As a traveler, I've often think about the benefits of travel (at least for me), and I imagine that any change of environment is good for anyone - a change in perspective brings insight and introspection. This trip helped me to keep my wheels turning and the gears of my creative spirit from getting rusty. After all, I've gotta keep moving... I'm Michael on the Move :o)

    Get on the move and experience the world!

    Mr. Michael