Monday, November 09, 2015

Travel is life distilled

Fountain in Paris
I began making arrangements for this trip almost exactly one year ago. The journey I ultimately realized was very different from the journey I first imagined. Circumstances shape our lives in ways we can't foresee.

These extended trips are milestone events. They're pilgrimages. They have for me as much significance as did marrying, or leaving my hometown for the city.

Travel is life distilled. Every day brings new discoveries, new and diverse challenges, human interactions by the score.

Thirty-nine days on the road. Seems like a year.

So, while the memory is fresh...

Lisbon and Brussells
Praça do Comércio, Lisboa
Lisbon and Brussels are cities where I could live and be happy. Lisbon is sunny and unpretentious. Brussels is understated, down-to-earth. Lisbon is inexpensive. Brussels is diverse. Both reminded me of Portland in certain aspects.

Most people in Brussels speak French in their day-to-day lives. But nearly everyone can converse in English and often German, Dutch or even Spanish as well. In Lisbon, people speak Portuguese which grants a level of comprehension of Spanish (and vice-versa). English-only speakers will have no trouble in Lisbon, though; there are many English-speakers --especially in service industries.

St. Gilles region of Brussels at dusk
How travel in Europe has changed

Near Flam, Norway, back in '99
In 1999, when last I did a Eurrail tour, traveling in Europe was different in many ways. Each nation had her own currency (francs, pesos, lira, et cetera). Now the Euro is here, there is no need to guess how much money to withdraw at each visit to the ATM! It's legal tender from Oslo to Naples.

Tour d'Eiffel
Note, however, that the Euro does not spend the same everywhere in the European Union! I found Iberia (Portugal and Spain) to be easy on the wallet. Paris and Luxembourg, on the other hand, took big bites out of my travel budget.

Another progression in modern-day travel is the smart phone. My iPhone served as camera, map, translator, reservation-maker, and communication device. Keep in mind, I accomplished all these things without telephone service. The ubiquity of wifi service (available at restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, convenience stores, Airbnb rentals, train stations, and on and on) makes telephone service all but unnecessary. (I wonder if that doesn't make phone company executives at all nervous...)

I never got lost on this trip. At times, I had trouble finding what I was looking for, but I never lost track of where I was. Thank you Google Maps! Maty and I kept in touch via video calls every day. Thank you IMO!

Gramercy to my hosts

Water trough in Nans sous Ste. Anne
I'm very grateful to Tim and Susan Hundsdorfer, who welcomed me into their home in the pastoral Franche Comté region of France. There I beheld a world I would never have otherwise seen.  They seem to have fit themselves into Nans sous Ste. Anne. It's a beautiful place and the life they are creating seems peaceful. A peaceful life in a beautiful place... Doesn't that sound like paradise? Tim is thoughtful and kind. Susan is a portrait of empathy. Tim and Susan, thanks for everything.

Utrecht at dusk
Brother Calee met me in Brussels where we spent the better part of two days before driving to his home in 's-Graveland (pronounced "SCRAW vuh land") in the Netherlands. My brother is generous, gracious, and accommodating. I only wish I could have seen Sister-in-law Sarah (who was away) before I came home. Thanks to you both! I wish I could tell you how proud you make me.

What was it like?

On the road in France
When I travel like this, the in-the-moment experience is one of constant low-level anxiety. There is stress, uncertainty, risk, minor disasters. There is very little "down" time. 

What day of the week is it? How many days should I reserve for Barcelona? How long will it take me to get from my room to the train station? How many days until I need to do laundry? Where are my Eurrail Pass and passport? Where is the key to my room? Questions like these plagued me throughout the journey. 

I saw many sights. The moments come frequently and fast. The onslaught can be overwhelming.

So why do it? Why go through it?

Obvious, of course. So obvious it's almost cliché. JRR Tolkien wrote a delightful allegory about it called The Hobbit or There and Back Again.

But here's my stab at it: Travel expands the horizon of one's mind. Travel adds texture to life. Travel makes you a better person. It teaches self-reliance. It strengthens skills: communication, organization, the ability to deal with stress.

Travel teaches things that can never be adequately expressed.

Travel is drinking deeply of the heady wine of being human. In this world. At this time.

Thirty-nine days later, October 1, the day Maty and I left Portland is a long time gone.

Close now, with some pics...


Breakfast with Maty at a Mexican place in Staten Island
Mastodon skeleton, American Museum of Natural History, Manhattan
Sunset on the Hudson River
Feeling gnarly in Lisbon
Neighborhood folks in Lisbon
Sikhs in Lisbon
Turret in Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal
Breakfast in Madrid
Catedrál Almudena in Madrid
Agujas de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Arco de Triunfo, Barcelona
Parque Güell, Barcelona
Korean sailors on Las Ramblas, Barcelona
Saints outside the Catedrál de Barcelona in the Gothic Quarter

Glass-eyed busker in Barcelona
Turkish restaurant on Las Ramblas
Tim demonstrates the function of a vomitorium at the Roman museum in Lyons
Roman mosaic in Lyons
Susan and Tim, at home in Nans sous Ste. Anne
Stopped for a time in Franche Comté
Memorial to the fallen from the two world wars, Nans sous Ste. Anne
Fountain in Besaçon
Bad guys over the entrance of Notre Dame, Paris
Good guys, same
David and Goliath in the Louvre, in Paris
Macabre artwork in the Paris Catacombs
Adam and Eve according to Dalí
Medieval stained glass at the Musée Cluny, Paris
Cold morning on the Rue de Picpus, Paris
Playful turtles at the Paris acquarium
Color, in Luxembourg...
...and graffiti, in Luxembourg
German anti-tank position, diorama from the National Museum of Military History, Diekirch, Luxembourg
St. Gilles region, Brussels
Goose above the guildhouse door, in La Grande Place, Brussels
Stained glass, Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Brussels
Calee in his kitchen
Street scene, Utrecht
O'Hare International, ready to be home

Friday, November 06, 2015

Utrecht and witch hunts

Canal in 's-Gravesland
Today, we took a tour of Utrecht, a medium-sized city (population 335K) in Holland about a 25 minute train ride from downtown Amsterdam.

Utrecht canal
If I were to try to characterize Utrecht, I'd say that it is Amsterdam-in-miniature. Like Amsterdam, Utrecht is interlaced with canals. Tall, narrow houses, set wall-to-wall, line the avenues. Fleets of bicycles zip along the narrow, stone streets and alleys.

Gothic arched passageway
But Utrecht lacks some of Amsterdam's less endearing qualities. The canals are not filthy. Furtive, strung-out junkies don't haunt the dark corners of the city. If Utrecht lacks some of Amsterdam's cosmopolitan diversity, it is also spared the Amsterdam sleaze.

Indonesian food
On Thursday night, Brother Calee drove us to an Indonesian restaurant in downtown Utrecht. I'd been hankering for Indonesian food since 1999, when I'd visited Amsterdam. The Dutch colonized portions of Indonesia during the colonial era, and as a result, of course, there is a significant Indonesian population in the Netherlands.

We enjoyed an excellent repast of Indonesian food that included chicken, cabbage, rice, fried bananas, beef, and other delectables. Some of it was very piquant. All of it was delicious. Probably the best meal I've had since I started this journey on the 1st of October.

Next day (today) we drove into town to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent that is currently showing an exhibit on witches.

The exhibit described how, during the Little Ice Age that occurred between 1300 and 1800 (more or less), when crops failed and famine loomed, society invented a scapegoat for its misfortunes in the form of witches.

Witches were believed to be people (mostly women, although men and children could be witches, too) who made pacts with the Devil in order to gain other-worldly powers which they used to torment godly people.

Those were cruel times. I don't like to think about the fate of the people who were accused of witchcraft. But the obsession with witches did produce some interesting art, which the museum displayed and which I enjoyed.

St. Martin's Cathedral
We also checked out St. Martin's Cathedral, which has endured a number of cataclysms over the years and is still standing. It was originally built around the year 640, but was destroyed by invading Normans in the 9th century. In the 10th century it was rebuilt, but its tales of woe continued. It's been partially destroyed by fires several times, and suffered damage from bombing during WWII. The biggest calamity occurred in 1674 when a tornado destroyed much of the church.

Organ in St. Martin's Cathedral
Today, the church is again being refurbished. They have plans for ornate stained glass windows, statues of saints, and elaborate stations of the Cross. The Gothic arches of the original church are still awesome and if they complete what they have planned, St. Martin's will rival any of the great cathedrals in Spain or France or Italy. But that day is still years away.

Memorial statue of Anne Frank
While we were wandering around Utrecht's streets, we came upon a statue of a little girl. Fresh flowers were strewn about the base. It was a statue of Anne Frank, the precocious Jewish girl, victim of Nazi cruelty.

That sad memorial reminds us all that witch hunts continue to this day. When things go bad, people start looking for someone to hold accountable for their misery. We're a cruel species. Frightening and sad.

Home tomorrow.