The disorienting speed of abandoning slow travel

We prefer to travel slowly. When we take a road trip, we try to stay awhile to enjoy interesting places along the way. We don’t drive every day, and, when we do drive, we restrict our driving time to just a few hours.

International travel is rarely “slow” travel. As soon as we buckle our seat belts and the plane picks up altitude and speed, we know slow travel has been temporarily abandoned. Disorientation sets in as multiple time zones are crossed. By the time we land, in a fog of exhaustion, we try to instantly adjust to changes in weather, language, surroundings, and food (just for starters).

We started the week with an end to our California visit. The family piled into our daughter’s car and headed up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains, and pulled into the last parking space at the beach in Aptos. This was not the sunny beach you envision when you think “California.”

Sunday: Cool, coastal California was foggy, even in mid-afternoon.   Our grandson raced to get into the cold Pacific Ocean.

Monday: A side trip to Shoreline Lake Park in Mountain View on our way to the airport hotel providing a calming diversion. It would be our last slow travel experience in the U.S. for the next half-year. We spotted surf scoters and a number of other birds we’d not seen for some time.

Tuesday: Liftoff on a foggy morning in San Francisco.   The flight was as comfortable as we could hope for, but the flight was 17+ hours long.

Dropping into Singapore the next day in the late afternoon was a glorious sight.

Thursday: Care for a warm dip in the airport hotel pool?

When we planned the trip we, knew it would be just too much for us to get on another plane after the long, long flight from San Francisco to Singapore, so we stayed overnight at a hotel in the Singapore airport. That was a first for us. After breakfast, we wheeled our bags into the terminal and boarded our next flight.

After landing in Laos, still in a haze of disorientation, we questioned why we put ourselves through this. Then the veil of exhaustion slowly lifted, and the wonders of our new place came into focus.

Saturday: A visit to one of temples in the Xieng Man Village near Luang Prabang.

It took a few days to adjust to the change from California to Laos and to slide back into a state of equilibrium.   We’re happily back to the joys and rewards of slow travel.

 

January 2018

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Trapped in an airport with a camera for distraction

We thought we were so smart getting to the airport early. No crowds at check-in or security. We like Portland’s airport – PDX – so we purposefully took a long walk through the terminal before our flight, browsing in shops, stopping for a coffee (him) and a hot choco (her).   We timed our arrival at the gate shortly before boarding, and that was when we first saw the notice: ”FLIGHT DELAY.”

Now we had an extra hour. What to do? We took off for another walk, and it occurred to us: why not turn our flight delay into a photography outing?

The long corridor linking terminals looked eerily empty, but to our surprise, had lots to see.

The long windows looked out onto planes lined up waiting for their passengers. The blue-grey sky and the deeper grey runway were the perfect backdrop for those strikingly painted Southwest planes. (By the way, this dreary day photo was taken just before noon.)

Who sees a great horned owl at PDX? There was a glass case with a display of stuffed birds common to the Portland area — a great blue heron, an American kestrel and a pintail duck. Love those feathers!

Another compelling display was the photographs of Corey Arnold, which lined the corridor. This image doesn’t do the original photo justice, but with lots of extra time we enjoyed taking time to look at every one of them.

PDX’s carpet seems to be famous all on its own – at least, we’ve seen it pop up on places like Instagram. It’s definitely a peppy design.

Back to looking out the windows and watching real birds.

PDX has its own little (free!) movie theatre with short films. Alas, it was time to board our plane, and so our photo outing and exploration of PDX came to an end.

The moral of the story: Try not to be defeated by delays. Turn the time into an enriching and creative experience.

(Of course, we are amazed at the many wonderful things we were able to see during that short time. Thanks, PDX!)

 

January 2018

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Photography: tidying up

We believe in tidying up – and that includes our photo library. But, oh, what a time-consuming task that is! We take a LOT of photos as we endlessly travel. If we don’t keep the photo library under at least some control, we know we’ll soon be overwhelmed.

Organizing is not all misery. It’s gratifying to revisit our old photos again and to remember those wonderful moments when we clicked the shutter. When we waded through hundreds (and thousands) of photos, we started to see “collections” we didn’t know we had – and that brings us to our newly found “wedding album”. Not our own wedding album but snapshots of brides and grooms we’ve seen on our travels. It was heartwarming to snap the moment and share in their happiness.

We took our first wedding album photo in Shanghai, China.

Our next photo may come as a surprise. This one was taken on an evening walk in Hanoi, Vietnam.

We knew it was time to organize our photos when we could no longer find a particular photo in the endless jumble. Beth started by creating albums in her Apple photo library based on our travel destinations. Every photo made it into an album. Her rookie mistake came in not labeling the albums so they would naturally stay in chronological order. So, all albums eventually had to be relabeled. Tedious, but effective in the end… Here is the system: the album name started with the date of arrival to our destination, such as “2017-12-08: Portland, OR.”

On a different continent, a very different scene was captured of a bride and the wedding car in Cusco, Peru.

The same day, another couple was spotted in Cusco, Peru’s historic square.

We created a few “interest” albums, too, for birds and wildflowers, in addition to our album for wedding photos.

As soon as we uploaded images to our computer, we tried to delete any photos from our library that we thought we’d never use or were “duplicates”. It became clear that one session of deletions was not enough. A few months later, Beth took a second look and was more critical. Delete, delete…. At the same time, she would do a little photo editing. If she really loved a photo, she’d give it a 3-star or 4-star rating. Someday when we have a cottage to live in, it will be handy to pull up our best photos and print some to display.

We spotted a bride and groom dashing by in front of the Cathedral in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.   We were happy with the image’s dreamy effect.

In a most unusual place, we saw a wedding couple crossing the street in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Tidying up our photos was (surprisingly) easier than we thought. Each layer of organization had a satisfying result. As we dove deeper into the task, the more satisfying was the result. Of course, it did take time, but we wonder: can this be a life lesson?

 

January 2018

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The (not so) deep sleep

We landed in Portland, Oregon, and it’s here that we’ll spend the first weeks of winter. Days of shortest daylight…Days of damp cold. We tried to stay cozy and warm in our little place, but every day we roused ourselves, bundled up, and took a long walk.

We climbed the hill to the park where we loved to walk on our summer visits. Our destination was always the rose garden. But, in winter, it hardly seemed like the right destination for a chilly day’s walk. A cold rain fell in the morning, and everything was still covered with drops of water. In winter, the garden would be dormant – in a deep sleep. We walked there anyway.

We heard birds in the bushes but didn’t recognize their calls. It was then that we saw the spotted towhee just a few feet away.

We were surprised to see the bushes still in their magical Fall colors.

As we entered the Rose Garden, we couldn’t believe that some of the roses were still in bloom. Don’t they know it’s winter?

Even the fuchsia had a number of flowers and bright green leaves.

We walked along the soggy pathways to photograph the roses in bloom. Shadow Dancer, Monkey Business, and Charisma. In the summer the garden is always filled with people admiring the blooms. We saw only a few other people out for a stroll. No one else seemed to be noticing the flowers.

One of the features of any landscape in Portland that we have come to love is the ever-present moss.

We realized that most of our attention, flower-wise, was focused on what was near our eyes. As we left the garden, an attractive plant at our feet grabbed our attention – a heather, filled with magnificent white flowers.

Leaves covered part of the plant, but those blooms were a pure white with red accents.

We expected the Rose Garden to be in a deep sleep and were delighted to discover all there was for us to see. Has it always been like this, and we just never bothered looking?

 

December 2017

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What we did while our flight took off without us

Would you be surprised to know one of our best travel days ever was in Madrid – and caused us to miss our flight back to the U.S.? We’ll take a break from more recent events to tell you what happened:

We knew Madrid was a great city from a previous visit. What would be better than spending a few days in Madrid at the end of our trip?

We splurged and booked a hotel room close to the sites we wanted to see. First up, we headed for the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.

Beth spent her time studying the great mosaic works.

She plans to attend a week-long workshop at the Ravenna Mosaic Art School (Italy) in 6 months and will make her very own mosaics. How inspiring to look at these wonderful works!

The next morning, our last day in Spain, was one of those magical travel days when everything goes perfectly. We started with a trip to the Prado Museum, one of the great art museums of Europe. No photos allowed, but we definitely took a lot in. The museum is so large that we knew we would only be able to see a small area. So, off we went with the agreement to enjoy walking through galleries and only stop at those works that we were most interested in. Still, we stopped often enough. Before we left the museum, we detoured to the gift shop, one of the best art museum gift shops in our opinions. To our surprise we found a few items that would have no problem fitting into our suitcases.

The Royal Botanic Garden is across the street from the Prado. What a treat in late Fall to see such an array of color.

A very late lunch followed at The Spanish Farm and, like everything else this day, it was the perfect meal for the perfect day.

As we walked back to the hotel, we realized we had not seen an email from the airline yet, reminding us of our next day’s flight. Beth logged on to her computer to check the status of the flight. The message popped up: the flight was today and the passengers missed their flight. WHAT! How can that be possible?

Yes, when the airline changed all the flights many months earlier, the return flight appeared to have a 10-minute change in the departure time. Actually it was not just a 10-minute change but also a day earlier. Who changes the day of the flight, and why hadn’t we heard from the airline like we usually do a day ahead of the flight?

Totally perturbed, we spoke to an airline representative who was a cool and soothing professional. Within 20 minutes she had achieved the impossible: booking us on a good flight the next day. No additional charge. Thank you, Air Canada!

The day was not yet finished. We took an evening stroll and weren’t the only ones to enjoy a performance on the busy sidewalk.

We peeked inside a dark restaurant to see an imagined whale skeleton floating above the diners.

We took a wrong turn, and it was fate that led us straight to a little espadrille shop. We’d wanted to buy espadrilles on each trip we have made to Spain, and now, on our 4th trip, we finally discovered the perfect shop. We found just what we were looking for. And isn’t that exactly how the entire day had unfolded?

We were sorry to miss our flight – but ever so happy that we’d had this one last glorious and memorable day in Madrid.

 

October 2017

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A family tradition passed on

We exchanged gifts every year with family, but there came a year when it was obvious to all – do we need all these gifts? And why are we still doing this? We were middle-aged, long past needing extra things for our homes and more sweaters to wear. Maybe it was time to think of others who truly were in need.

So, the adult members of the family agreed: what we had spent on larger family gifts would be contributed to a charity chosen by a different family member each year. We would still gift family members but would replace those larger gifts with smaller stocking gifts instead.

This year my sister-in-law, Barbara, sent us her choices:

1. I was so impressed with the work of chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico–and now in California—that I’d like to support them

2. World Central Kitchen specializes in quick response to emergencies, but for ongoing relief where famine seems to be a permanent threat, I nominate the International Rescue Committee.

3. Finally, if you’re just looking for something different, I suggest your local public library.”

Now, our children have children, and we wondered how to help them to start thinking of giving to others. We decided to start a new gift for our grandchildren by giving them each a modest sum of money:

“to send to the charity of your choice to spread the Christmas cheer.  If you don’t know which charity to send it to, your parents or Nona and Papa can help you.”

We’re looking forward to talking to them about their choices and what they feel would make a difference.

Giving is part of our extended family’s holiday tradition, and now we look forward to the next generation continuing on.

We’ll leave you with a few photos taken on a very green walk down a path in Portland, Oregon’s Forest Park. A long walk in a park would be another holiday tradition worth passing along.

A pileated woodpecker

A joyous end of year to you all.

 

December 2017

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Time for a relaxing walk through the park

Does anyone besides us sometimes feel that sightseeing can become overwhelming and what’s needed is to take a step back – a BIG step back? We had visited three great sites in three days, and it was time to take a relaxing stroll where we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. If we learned something new that would be great, but, mostly, we just needed to relax and enjoy what we had already learned.

We planned the day as an antidote to those big sightseeing days: to spend a quiet morning walking through the garden of the Alcázar in Córdoba and smell the flowers. (Would there be any?)

We couldn’t resist and detoured into the building itself, erected in 1328 as a military fortress.

When we stood on a rampart and looked down at the grounds, we noticed a woman who looked like she had stepped out of the Alcázar’s past. (Later we saw her speaking to an attentive group of schoolchildren – which explained a lot.)

High walkways in the Alcázar overlooked the entry and the gardens, lined with pools and lollipop-pruned orange trees.

What was the origin of the Alcázar? The original fortress, built by the Visigoths, was torn down and replaced by emirs after the Muslims conquered Hispania. It must have been a grand palace in the 12th century – with extensive baths, gardens, and the largest library in the West. Then the Christians regained control. By the time of the Inquisition, it was used as a tribunal and torture chamber.   It did put a taint on the Alcázar after learning its sad past. Time to exit the building and explore the garden.

A surprise awaited! We knew few historic figures in Spanish history, but we did know King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille. And there they were in this garden that once was theirs, and where they met with Christopher Columbus before his voyage.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops used the Alcázar in 1810. Soon after it became a prison. Today the Alcázar is part of the Historic Center of Córdoba – declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The garden flowers were past their prime so we could only imagine how glorious this garden must be at its peak. Still, every good garden has features of interest throughout the year. The color and little DOTS shooting off this flower qualified it as worthy of a photograph.

We stayed in the garden long enough to be on the lookout for a place to rest.

What exquisite care and design went into details like the garden steps!

We imagine that what we saw was the “formal” garden but that other gardens extended beyond the current walls many centuries ago. After we left the Alcázar, we walked along the river. Birds stayed at a distance, and the undergrowth was wild so we mostly stayed on the sidewalk and just observed.

History informs us that the Alcázar rose to its most glorious in the days when the Muslims took great care in developing the building and gardens. The lowest point must have been during the Christian-led Inquisition.   Something to ponder on our stroll through the gardens…

 

October 2017

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