About Me

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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


"As a child I found railroad stations exciting, mysterious, and even beautiful, as indeed they often were."
                                                                               - Paul Johnson

There is an allure to trains and train travel which is almost mystical. We've all been raised with the images and sounds of rail systems around the world, from the lonely high-pitched whistle of steam locomotives chugging through the European countryside to the deep-throated honk of Disney's monorails.

L.A.'s Union Station
New York's Grand Central
Yesterday's DAILY ESCAPE featured this photograph of the central train station in Rome, Stazione Termini. Subsequently that image got me to thinking about the variety of train stations around the world, particularly those I have visited and photographed over the years. Like many other of my Travel images, train stations weren't really a focus -- pun unavoidable -- they were interesting sidebars.

Being an American, I was raised with the romance of rail. It's an image highly ingrained into each of us, but one which is only dimly reflected in modern day reality. Unlike Europeans, Americans largely dispensed with rail service with the growth of the auto industry. We embraced our cars, and left the trains behind.

However with the 21st century came a tightening of resources, making a returned glance at rail a necessary part of regional and urban planning. Too many cars, not enough oil, overcrowded airports and the relative cost of railroad services have brought about a renaissance of sorts to the industry. Light rail is all the rage in American cities. And even inter-city service is showing renewed possibilities for the weary traveler.

California, usually at the forefront of trends in the States, is building the first true high speed rail service across the state. (It continues to be controversial, primarily to those people who see only outgoing dollars instead of an investment in the state's future.)

The author transiting The Chunnel
For myself, I am convinced in both the viability as well as the desirability of rail service as a major mode of transportation. And not without some experience in the area: as a small boy I (apparently) rode the Japanese bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. Later, in adulthood, were rides on Europe's premier high speed rail systems -- Eurostar, TGV, Thalys and Le Frecce -- as well as trips up  and down the Eastern seaboard aboard Amtrak.

None of this includes the uncounted trips on a variety of subways and light rail systems in cities around the world.

BART, San Francisco
Some day my plan is to take rail trips from Chicago to Portland, from Perth to Sydney, and something -- as yet unfound -- in South America. Each of these promise to be an adventure, and that's what traveling is all about. It's often not about racing to a destination, but the stages and viewscapes in-between.

It's often what you see on your way TO something else that makes an adventure worth having.

And that...is where rail excels.

Train station, Monaco grandeur

Tren Italia

Rain, in Genova

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Mid-morning, Stazione Termini -- Roma.

The hustle and bustle of an active train station, the ultimate melting pot of people from all walks of life. Spend enough time here and you'll see all of humanity walk these halls.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


I was adding a Stonehenge gallery to the THUMBNAIL TRAVELER Facebook page and ran across this shot. It won't mean much to anyone outside of fans of Doctor Who, but this appears to be the doorway to the Pandorica Chamber.

I asked the guide escorting us through the Henge about the doorway, and he laughed, pointing conspiratorially towards this area.

Naturally I had to take the picture. My theory is it's the panel on the left at the base of the stone.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Nothing here really screams Verona...or even Italy for that matter. Could be anywhere.

Regardless, these are Two Bikes from Verona.

(With all due apologies to The Bard.)


“In wisdom gathered over time 
I have found that every experience 
is a form of exploration.” 
                                                                                     ― Ansel Adams

As we grow older, presumably more wise -- though in my case not only is the jury still out, but they're at an extended cocktail hour -- our tastes and preferences change. In most cases, they reflect a desire to take it easier, to stop running quite so hard.

The Mojave Desert, between LA and Las Vegas
In my younger days I tended to "count coup" on a destination. Go there, do something, and head out for the next destination. It does give you the chance to see a lot, and do a lot. The diagrams of my trips would look something like a hopscotch micro-map for an Amazing Race season: six destinations in two weeks. Rarely did I stay in one place more than a few days -- there was simply too much else I wanted to see.

So, too, were many of those destinations cities. New York, London, Paris, DC, Vancouver, Miami, Rome, etc. Concentrated urban centers by definition offer the quickest bang for the buck when it came to things to do, or places to see. And, to be honest, I love those with character. Cities which offer an experience like nowhere else. Las Vegas, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Venice.

Boulder, CO, wedged up against the Rocky Mountains
But gradually things change. Part of this, of course, is that I've already been to many of the world's great cities, with only a handful left of "must-do" destinations of the urban variety: Shanghai, Rio, Hong Kong, Quebec, Capetown. 

In the United States Chicago remains the sole major urban center I have a burning desire to explore.

But as I grow older I find myself drawn to the more natural settings. The place sufficiently away from civilization that, in a few cases, might be inconvenient or even life-threatening if something were to go wrong.

In the Maritime Alps, north of Cannes
(An example of this occurred a few years ago when my wife became dangerously ill from stomach flu while we were in the Monument Valley. At 2AM. The nearest 24 hour clinic was 35 miles down a solitary highway in the deepest and most pitch-black of nights. She's fine now, by the way. Unfortunately it hit me a day later...)

Part of this, of course, is that I live in a huge metropolitan area. So naturally the tendency is to find somewhere as unlike Los Angeles as possible while traveling.

So what I try to do is combine a visit to a great urban center with drives and other trips out into the surrounding wilderness (if there is one). Finding those geological and natural settings give me a greater sense of a place, not just a city or town where the landscapes end at the edge of the street. 

To truly get a feel for a destination, any destination, takes getting out of the airport, out of the city, and exploring the countryside. Exploring the beauty and geology of a place. 

And in that way really get a little bit more understanding of it.

Down the coast from Perth, Western Australia

Sunday, March 27, 2016


...to those of you who celebrate it.

For those of you who do not, just have a wonderful day in general.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Nothing like a little alcove away from the world for your own college study hall. 

If these walls could talk, who else might have rested here and opened a book to read?

Oxford University, Oxfordshire, UK

Friday, March 25, 2016


Whoopee! Friday again!

This week's cocktail comes to us from the Garden Grille lounge, Hilton Garden Inn, Fargo, ND.

Smirnoff vodka.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


With all due respect to the snow-clogged Coloradoans out there, the rest of the country is headed for Spring and then Summer, when millions of people worldwide will descend on beaches for a cool and fun day in the surf.

Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


It's not the largest wine region in Western Australia, nor the most well-known.

But the vintners in the Swan Valley have been at this a long time, making some wonderful wines which they hope the world will discover.

 Certainly worth a stop if you're ever in Perth. The wine is tops, as are the food, the events, the people and the view.

(Pour courtesy Olive Farm Wines.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016


Why do they always schedule them at the beginning of the week?

The Calistoga Roastery, Calistoga, CA.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

THE DAILY ESCAPE: Neeed....coffeee.....

Slow to wake up this morning.

Neeeeeeed cooooffffeeeeeeee.......

(Picture taken in First Class on American Airlines. Sometime last April.)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Double Nickels - Part One: Getting Under Way

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” 
                                                         ― Anita Desai

(For reasons about to become very obvious, most of the photos in this column were not taken by me. Used with permission.)

I have to wonder how many people are going to recognize the meaning of the title of this column. Yeah, it means 55, of course -- the age I turned on my latest completed spin around the sun.

But it also harkens back to the days of CB radios (if you remember them, we are contemporaries). Double nickels referred to the speed limit on most American freeways and highways. The connection, of course, is to a life on the road.

Getting under way also refers to the process of a ship preparing to leave -- and leaving -- dock.

Early memories of Japan
I began traveling at the very earliest possible age. Though no one remembers precisely when it happened, within six months of my birth I was loaded onto a commercial airliner -- probably propeller driven -- to go from Norfolk, Virginia to our new home in Palo Alto, California, via a short stop for a family visit in Los Angeles.

My father was a Navy officer pursuing an advanced education, which at that point was taking him from the massive Naval Station in Norfolk to Stanford University to get his fourth degree/first Doctorate -- in International Relations. Dad is a bit of an overachiever, but more about that later.

The move was the first of many in my youth. By the time I was eighteen and looking at my college years, I had lived in ten different cities -- probably thirteen houses. Norfolk and Palo Alto were just the first.

Dad climbing Mt Fuji
From Palo Alto we moved across town to Mountain View, then a massive relocation to Yokosuka, Japan. Aboard a Lockheed Super Constellation. A brief stop in Alaska for refueling (remember when aircraft had to do that?) and down to Tokyo International Airport.

Back yard in Japan
I was far too young to truly appreciate the cultural opportunity, but I do have vague memories of the house and the surroundings. A few flashes of Japanese culture -- Tokyo and a visit to the Great Buddha in Kamakura, a few Japanese gardens here and there, and a view of Mount Fujiyama from our Naval Housing back yard. There are several specific recollections which tell me the images are more than just something I conjured after hearing a story -- the are a few things no one else would have known, or had cause to recall.

I wish I remembered more, but that's enough to have gotten me off to a good start.

From Yokosuka we traveled back across the Pacific aboard the troop (and family) transport ship U.S.S. Patrick, stopping for a few days in Honolulu -- where I discovered that Batman, much to my surprise, spoke English. After a couple of years of Japanese television and comic books, this was the biggest shock of my young life, and probably a pretty welcome one. From a cultural standpoint, however, it made the impression that cultures differ -- and that I could appreciate that fact.

Christmas, Hawaii style...
Long Beach - my current hometown -- was our next destination. After Japan we settled into a pretty normal American life. I started Kindergarten at a school only a couple of miles from my current home, and yes I've been back to see my old school. And our house. Both are notable for their humbleness and normality. But in my memory, they stand out as very important.

Long Beach led to a two year stint in Pearl City, Hawaii. Terrific memories and wonderful place for a kid to grow up. Across the street from our house -- a Naval Housing duplex -- was a thick tropical rainforest. And a short ways away was a rocklike outcropping, where on numerous occasions my father would be met by a boat -- a "gig" -- from his ship. By this time he had gained his first captaincy, commanding a crew of a couple of hundred men aboard the U.S.S. Hissem, DER 400. I would accompany him a few times on his commute, riding on the bow as the gig sped through the waters of Pearl Harbor. I learned a deep respect for the Navy and for that way of life. To this day I am wonderfully comfortable at sea, on a boat or otherwise riding with the wind in my face and the smell of the ocean in my nose.

Visiting Plymouth, MA
Keeping the maritime tradition, the Navy soon sent us to what at the time I thought of as the opposite end of the world: Newport, Rhode Island. Hawaiian warmth became New England cold. Snow and allergies and the introduction of our first dog: Pandora, the Dalmatian. (Again, are you seeing a pattern in my life? Those things that impressed me as a child are still favorites well into adulthood, and probably into senility if I get that far. My family has had something like nine Dals over the years. Very much a family tradition my wife and I continue to this day.)

After the deep freeze and smallish town of Newport we returned to Southern California -- to Seal Beach, a town directly adjacent to Long Beach. Again, patterns. It was here I completed out Elementary School. In six grades (plus Kindergarten) I had attended fully five different schools. It forced me, and my sisters, to be outgoing and open. Unlike my wife, my friends were pretty much two year engagements, not the lifelong commitments more stable lifestyles permit. But we didn't know any better and each new school was an adventure of some kind. Some good, some bad, but each a different and exciting change.

Sledding outside DC
After graduating from sixth grade the family was transferred to Washington, DC. The longest tour of duty we had ever spent -- four years. After a temporary home in Reston, Virginia we moved into a neighborhood called Cinnamon Creek, which was at once both wonderfully diverse and cosmopolitan -- people from all walks of life ranging from military families to employees at government think tanks, corporate relocations and -- in at least one case -- a well-known reporter, minister and government "gadfly".

And it was here I began to develop more permanent relationships. I attended Joyce Kilmer Middle (Junior High) School, and George C Marshal High School. I am in touch, and enjoy getting together with, several of my friends from those days. (There's an amusing story about how I regained touch with one of them. One of my best High School buddies, Wes. I was at a trade show in Los Angeles when a guy walked up to me after a presentation and asked if I went to Marshall. Wes. 2500 miles and years away, he still recognized me. Now, nearly fifteen years later, we still try to get together whenever possible, and it's still a comfortable and genuine friendship. Forty years after I moved away from Marshall.)

My final tour of duty before I moved away to college was in San Diego. Two years there and I was attracted by the bright lights of Los Angeles, where I have lived in or near ever since.

And while I can certainly be considered to have "settled down", as far as a life on the road, this was only the beginning.

Up next, Tentative Steps.

Hawaii, the year I met...and the year before I married...my wife and Traveling Companion


It is my ambition to one day drive the length or Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago.

As it stands I've already cruised down large chunks of the highway through the southwest...or at least as much as can be driven given the poor condition of several sections.

But someday, the whole thing.

These motels are remnants of a bygone era on the eastern side of Albuquerque. Their sign s a welcome relief for the weary traveler, and the families making their way across country.

Friday, March 18, 2016


It's that day again -- Friday!

End of the week for most of us.

Time to head home after work, relax, and open a...

(wait, that's not right)

...and shake up a cold one.

Much better.

This week's concoction comes to you from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


There are times when a Traveler has to race through destinations which warrant exploration of their very own. Even those places we cross which are full of astounding beauty.

It's a frustrating thing, but it does give us an addition to our NOW list.

A year ago I raced through GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, lamenting the fact I could not stop and explore the mountains and lush forests. And presumably, the Glaciers. 

But it's on the list for the future. 

Some day...I'll be back.