10 Questions For (15): Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View

Happy to introduce Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View to you!

Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View at a Bloggers Meet up

1) Who Are you?

I’m a (currently) Seattle based freelance writer. I make 90% of my living as a technical writer. This means I explain complicated technical stuff (primarily software, but sometimes hardware) in terms that make sense to the people that need to use that complicated technical stuff. I do some consulting with websites that want to reach travelers – I was on the advisory board for a photo sharing site and I’ve just signed on to the advisory board for a travel related web service. Typically, this means a company asks for my opinion about their site, how it works, what would entice travelers (or photographers) to use it, that sort of thing – and I give it to them. It’s fun and I like to flatter myself that I’m something of a triple threat there -as a professional nerd I get technology, as a traveler who loves the web I have a lot to say about what appeals and as a writer, I can articulate what I think. Sometimes I feel a little sorry for the folks I advise, but hey, that’s what they hired me for!

I do a modest sideline in travel writing. I’ve worked on two guidebooks (Hawaii & Vancouver/British Columbia), sold a few stories to web and print publications, and recorded two broadcast stories for a National Public Radio station.

I live with my Austrian husband – who I met at the campground at Uluru in Australia – in a house with brightly colored rooms. We can walk to the beach from our door, it’s great fun to go down there at low tide. I play the ukulele with more enthusiasm than skill, am an enthusiastic home cook, take way too many photos, and love to write.

2) What do you like about what you do?

On the tech side, I enjoy getting to see new technology before it hits the market and being part of making new things. The people I work with are smart and creative and fun. I’m project based, so every time I start a new project, I learn something new. I really appreciate that the nature of my work dovetails perfectly with travel – I work on nice meaty tech projects, fill the bank account, then spend my money traveling! It’s a system that works.

On the travel side, I love to write travel stories and I love to take pictures, I just love it. I genuinely enjoy the people I meet through travel contacts, not just fellow travelers, but the industry people too. They’re good company and they seem to understand my crazy priorities.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?

Tech work can be all consuming and stressful, there’s no denying it. And as a travel writer, I’m frustrated by the low paid opportunities, the difficulty in getting work published, the extremely long lead times… I’m sure that’s nothing new.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.

I started blogging when I was an expat in Austria – it helped me tell stories to my friends and family back in the States and kept me from losing my mind – I was in a small town with no expat community. That was my initial goal – stay sane – but it turned out I couldn’t shut up. For a while I blogged about American politics – I spent a lot of time as a volunteer during the 2004 US presidential election – and then, I refocused on what I really like – stories about places.

My ignorance about the travel market meant that I was completely content self publishing my own stories at Nerd’s Eye View. But opportunities found me and my blog became, in addition to an outlet for my need to tell stories, a portfolio of what I could do with the written word or my camera. I recently added the Travelblogger’s Forum to my site to provide a community for people like me who want to grow their blogs into something more.

I have this fantasy that some day, I will live the luxurious life of a pro-travel-blogger, but I know it’s just a fantasy. I’m lucky to like the work that pays my bills, so it doesn’t kill me to accept that “making my living 100% from blogging” is unlikely.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

Oh, this is so hard. I love Hawaii – we were married there and I have a real affection for the islands. Hawaii is so friendly, the landscape so beautiful, the hodge podge of cultures makes for good food… I was in Cambodia earlier this year and it kind of cracked me open – I was so taken with the people, so heart broken by the history, and of course, Angkor Wat is amazing. I went to art school and I’ve wanted to go there since I sat through that slide show in my Asian art history class. Finally, and closer to home, I never get tired of the Olympic Peninsula – the giant trees, the rugged Pacific coastline, the unpredictable weather. I’ve been there dozens of times and every time I fall in love with it all over again.

Boy Selling Travel Guides at Angkor Wat

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

I did a story on luxury hotels in Vienna and we stayed at the Hotel Imperial. The bathroom floors were heated marble, the breakfast was spectacular, our view of the Ringstrasse was unbeatable and Vienna in winter is so romantic.

While working on the Hawaii guidebook our first stop was at Kona Village Resort, an all inclusive beach front development where you get your own, standalone “hale” – I almost burst in to tears when we left.

Flaming cocktails at Kona Village Resort

But that’s deluxe stuff. I’ve also slept out on a tarp under the stars in the Australian outback and woken up to a pale pink sky and a symphony of birdsong – I had never experienced anything like before and haven’t since. And in case your readers are winking and saying, “Oh, she was in love,” this was before arriving at Uluru, I hadn’t met my mate yet.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?

Memorable doesn’t necessarily mean good, right? We ate at a place in Saigon that served us some of the most mysterious food I’ve ever had the pleasure of being confronted with. Things were fishy or gummy or salty or just unrecognizable. This was a rather nice place, the open kitchen was immaculate, the staff in white shirts and bow ties, but I was way out of my element as far as food is concerned.

I’ve written extensively about the Fachertorte served at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. My mouth is watering just mentioning it. I am a fan of pastry, the Austrians do it so well. And this Fachertorte? It makes me lose my mind. I would like a piece right now. It’s poppy seeds, apples, almonds all wrapped in a flaky brioche like crust… oh. It’s to die for!

Desserts in the window of the Demel in Vienna:

In Honolulu, we ate at a place called Chef Mavro’s that serves Hawaii Regional Cuisine – let’s hope I get this concept right – the idea being to take local fresh ingredients and interpret them in the chef’s style. The chef was born in Greece, grew up in Marseilles and now lives in Hawaii. We had the tasting menu, paired with carefully selected wines and it was spectacular. My normally laconic husband called this meal “fireworks for the mouth.” I could taste the food – elegant but not fussy and served on small plates – in every part of my mouth. Stunning.

And yes, we’re back in Hawaii. It’s a theme, I guess.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?

While preparing to cross the Himalayas in India, I stayed in a hotel in Kargil and awoke covered, head to toe, in bright red welts from bed bugs. That’s pretty bad.

On arrival in Hanoi with a splitting headache of migraine like proportions, we checked to a room that was freezing cold, had a rock hard bed, and where a crew was performing sledge hammer demolition on the other side of the wall. That was unfortunate.

But by far the worst was a hotel/pension in the Westerwald in Germany where the place stunk to the high heavens of boiled meat. The place was spotless and it’s not like we were uncomfortable, at all, but the next day we fled, top speed, into the fresh air. The intense smell was making me horribly queasy. The dining room was full of taxidermied animals, the staff had a certain terrifying edginess, and it took very little imagination to transform the place from rustic hunter friendly lodge to slasher film set. “What happened to Herr Schmidt? He was so charming at dinner last night.” “Ah, he went for a walk. I mean, uh, he checked out. Yes. Checked out. Will you be having the homemade sausages?” Yikes. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?

Our neighborhood – West Seattle – is a great place to bring new visitors to town. It has a funky beach town feel, something you don’t expect from a city in the Pacific Northwest and as a former California girl, I love that about it. We have a truly spectacular French bakery, Bakery Nouveau, where we take our guests for treats, and then, we go walk on the beach. The views of downtown are gorgeous and it’s a great introduction to our city.

View from Alki Beach near our house at sunset:

If the time of year is right – and sometimes, even when it’s not, we take visitors to the Ballard Locks to see the salmon in the fish ladder. You can’t be in the Pacific Northwest for any period of time without learning about the salmon and the fish ladder is an entertaining place to learn about their life cycle. It’s really close to an excellent fish and chips joint, which I get is a little morbid, but it’s fun.

There’s one really touristy thing that I recommend – I’ve done it myself a few times and always enjoyed it – the Seattle Underground Tour. It’s a little weird to suggest that your out of town guests go touring the basements of a bunch of brick turn of the century buildings, but Seattle has a crazy colorful history and the guides that run the tour are terrific story tellers. It’s great fun.

But Seattle is a fantastic city, so limiting it to only three is nearly impossible. I don’t mind at all if you (or your readers!) look me up and ask me for advice, should you be traveling my way. I love showing visitors around.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

You didn’t ask me where I’d like to go next! If money were no object, I’d be off to Ethiopia like a shot. I saw an exhibit recently about Lucy, she’s the ancient human predecessor who was found in Ethiopia. I thought the show would be all geology and fossil science, but as we entered, there was a lot about the history and culture of Ethiopia. I was enchanted and now, I really want to go. Sadly, it’s VERY far away from where I sit, so airfare alone is quite prohibitive. Here’s hoping the fates send me there.

We’re hoping to spend some time in Hawaii this winter and there’s a long shot I’ll go to Panama in early December. But anything could happen, that’s the great and terrible thing about travel.

My Observations:
Pam, Thank you for being part of this series. Now you’ve made me even more curious. Where can I find your tech writing?

On the photo front: I have chosen a portrait that I believe although not technically correct features you the best from what I have seen. It’s curious how avid photographers usually don’t have a lot of portraits from themselves. Ha and I hope you won’t flame me about this choice:-)

You didn’t add me to your contacts on Flickr, and since your copyright protection is mostly “on”, but I got around that with a nifty gadget called WebKut that I recently found and that unlike earlier versions of Piclens still let you work around the Flickr copy right protection…

There must be a world, no two worlds of difference between Seattle on the one hand and Aigen against the Czech border. Must be a lot of German influence there as well.

Finally you inspired me to to make a note to self to upload some of my my own Demel photos to Flickr…

To all:
Don’t forget to visit Pam’s Travelblogger’s Forum

6 thoughts on “10 Questions For (15): Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View”

  1. Ethiopia appeals a lot to me as well. Ever since The Amazing Race stopped there and showed us the amazing Lalibela temples. I really want to visit those one day!

  2. Thanks SO much for this. I don’t mind that picture at all. And yeah, I guess if we’re always holding the camera, we’re rarely on the other side of it. My husband took that picture – he’s a really fine photographer, most of the photos that got selected for our Hawaii guidebook are his – and I rather like it.

    My tech stuff is typically for clients and doesn’t end up on the web, but I wrote the new reviewer’s guide for a bunch of hardware for a Large Northwest Software Company. If you REALLY want to see that, I’ll send you a link.

    Finally, there are several Aigens in Austria, ours was in the Ennstal, almost exactly in the middle of the country, halfway between Innsbruck and Vienna. And yes, two worlds of difference? Maybe even three. You’re not kidding.

    Thanks so much for your interest in my little blog!


  3. That was a fun interview. Just when you think you know someone, you learn something completely new about them. I guess that’s why I love reading interviews about travel writers.
    Thanks for sharing!

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