where i am

On the Kenyan border with Tanzania, at the confluence of the Sand and Kebololet Rivers, I’m in the Masai Mara; a large game reserve in Southwestern Kenya named after the Masai people who have traditionally inhabited the area. It’s almost 600 square miles of wildlife sanctuary, so the game viewing – and the Great Migration, in particular – should be spectacular.

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rick steves: virtual tour guide

For the past few years, Rick Steves’ Audio Walking Tours of Europe have been a big hit on iTunes, racking up more than 4 million downloads. And podcasts of his Travel with Rick Steves radio show have reached an even wider audience online than the one broadcast over the airwaves. Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, a smart new app designed for iPhone, iPad, or Android, organizes all of this free content so you can easily access information that relates to your individual travel plans. Unlike most travel apps on the market, it also works offline. So once you’ve downloaded a selection of files, they’re saved on the device and an internet connection is no longer needed – saving you the cost of pricey European data charges or the hassle of finding a good WiFi connection. Handy PDF maps that complement the app’s audio tours can be also viewed on the device or printed from a computer beforehand.

At the heart of the app is Steves’ series of 25 self-guided audio tours through some of Europe’s most important museums, sights and historic walks, plus 200 tracks of travel tips and cultural insights from his radio shows. The simple and intuitive interface is unique because you can download and play not only audio files but also guided audio tours segmented by chapters with photos. It all sinks in more deeply and fluidly with Rick’s voice keeping your eyes focused on the surrounding sights, too, instead of buried in the crook of a guidebook. Best of all, it comes in the trustworthy voice of everyone’s favorite public television travel geek.  And it’s free.

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live blog: on the grid

One of the problems of traveling internationally with the trusty iPhone is the curse of those nefarious data roaming charges.  Phone companies charge you through the nose for every byte you use, making many of the handy travel apps out there prohibitively expensive if you’re accessing them overseas.  As an experiment, I turned off data roaming and attempted to use Google Maps, which relies on GPS to triangulate position.  Here’s the result:  a blinking locus which showed my exact position and moved as I moved.  The absence of data, however, also meant the comical absence of a map.


The Paris2Go app makes a great alternative.  Only $.99, it includes a fully downloaded map of Paris – it’s large, so you need to connect your phone to the computer to synch it – so I don’t need to waste precious bytes pinpointing my location and I can still zoom in on every nook and cranny of the City of Light.

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new perspectives

I’d love to say I just discovered a new favorite website, but Science Images is in fact a loosey-goosey assemblage of around 29 photographic postings over the course of April 2009.  What’s really impressive however is the quality of the photography, captured by such curiosities as the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, the Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper, and the addictive hi-res mapping site GeoEye.

Talk about creating altered states of perspective! The flattening of 3-dimensional landscapes into 2-dimensional slides of line drawings, geometry and color fields is an art unto itself.  I’m surprised someone hasn’t already experimented with a kind of mash-up, eschewing traditional photo journalism in favor of artfully cropped and manipulated satellite pix. Plus, is it me or does photo #4 look like a Chuck Close up-close?  (For the record, it’s a square of Kansas crop circles)  Photo #2 isn’t Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty by the way – it’s the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai.

Double click on the images for larger hi-res versions.  They deserve to breathe.

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