How To Travel

Differently than the masses with their damn selfie sticks and incessant, narcissistic staged photographs in front of every god forsaken tourist landmark.

Call me hopelessly out of touch. A Luddite. A curmudgeon. A Luddite curmudgeon. Sticks and stones.

Dammit though, when exactly did everyone substitute smart phones for brains?! And my frame of reference was early April, I can’t imagine summer in European cities.

If you live in the US, what would you point a 21st century de Tocqueville to if he or she wanted to understand what life in the (dis)United States is really like? Disney World, the Las Vegas Strip, the National Mall in Washington, DC? If you live outside the US, what would you point someone to if they wanted to begin understanding life in your country in a short period of time?

The trap people fall into is being able to say they’ve seen the most popular places. Others travel in pursuit of good weather, or as a temporary respite from their hectic work lives, or to break out of the mundaneness of their lives.

I’m different, those things don’t motivate me. Not better, just different. I’m most interested in observing and reflecting on what ordinary day-to-day life is like in other places. And then thinking about similarities and differences with my life. I find ordinary aspects of daily life endlessly interesting.

How do parents interact with children? Gently, kindly, absent-mindedly? How much freedom are children and adolescents given? When alone, how do they play together?

Is there much community? How do people create it? In Spain, they go to Tapas bars and eat, drink Sangria, and talk late into the night. No introverts need apply, which probably explains why my application for dual citizenship was summarily denied.

I’d counsel a foreign visitor to the U.S. to skip the big city tourist magnets and instead live for a week or two in a few small to medium sized cities in different parts of the country. Like Marion, Ohio; Valparaiso, Indiana; Seal Beach, California, or Olympia, Washington for example. Attend a school play, get a day pass to the YMCA, attend Olympia’s Arts Walk and Procession of the Species. Go to Vic’s Pizzeria and while eating watch how families interact with one another. At Vic’s, almost always, I’m inspired by the care adults show one another and their children. So much so, I can’t help but think positively about the future. Our politics are hellish at present, but we’ll be okay.

Families—in all their myriad forms—are the building blocks of society, and therefore, a key to understanding any particular place. Whether home or abroad, I’m always eavesdropping on families, in restaurants, in church, in fitness centers, in parks.

How to travel? Go to the world famous museum, ancient city, or cathedral if you must, but resist a steady diet of tourist magnets, instead seek alternative, off-the-beaten-path places as windows into daily life. If my experience is any guide, your life will be enriched by taking the roads less traveled.

Like the Triana farmer’s market in Seville, Spain, where I sat for a long time watching a sixty something father and mother and their thirty something son, cut, wrap, and sell meat to a cross-section of Seville. It was artistry, the way they shared the small space, made eye contact with customers, talked them up, and effortlessly moved product. The son has to take over for the parents at some point, right? He’s a handsome dude with a winsome smile. Does he have a life/business partner to team with? Will he?

Or the small plaza in front of the Sophia Reina Museum in Madrid where school children played a spirited hybrid game of soccer and volleyball while dodging the occasional passerby. Dig that 11 year old girls vicious jump serve. How did she get so athletic so young? A natural. Will she become another great Spanish athlete on the world scene?

Then again, when it comes to alternative tourism, it may be dangerous following my lead. I have 9 pictures from our 11 days in Spain. If someone discovered that at Passport Control at JFK airport in New York, they probably would’ve shredded my passport.

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Another pro tip: always travel with smiley peeps

 

 

 

Why Travel?

Asking why travel is like asking why exercise. Just as it’s a lot easier to be sedentary, it’s a lot easier to stay home.

I have less travel energy than in decades past, but every time I do take off for distant lands, I’m better for it. Better because my understanding of differences expands, which pay dividends long after I return home. Most everyone makes different choices than me about not just where, but how to live. Traveling helps me understand that while I would not make some of the same choices, theirs work out well for them.

Early in our recent trip to Spain, I noticed one of my travel companions saying “That’s weird” on multiple occasions. “That’s different,” I suggested as an alternative.

I’ve been fortunate to see half the world and that one subtle difference may be the most fundamental travel insight of all.

Consider that the Spanish:

  • are more honest about their meat, openly displaying deer legs and dead rabbits in open air markets
  • close most things up from about 2-7p and begin thinking about dinner around 8p
  • pronounce words with an “s” sound—z, s, c for example—as “th”

Not weird, just different. Overtime, if you don’t travel, you run the risk of thinking other ways of life are odd, even inferior to your own. The social scientific term for that is ethnocentrism, but arrogance suffices.

The classic example is the American in London who can’t believe Brits “drive on the wrong side of the road” as if there’s one right side. Actually, that’s not the best example, because most of the time, our arrogance is more subtle and nuanced. When we travel very far at all, we regularly see or hear things that we’re unaccustomed to. We label them weird because we have a hard time assimilating them into what we’re most familiar with. But if we take any time to consider the unique positive aspects of the cultural context, the contrasts in daily life are not weird at all, just different.

Rick Steves Wants to Save the World

One vacation at a time. Lengthy profile of the travel guru, but really well written and well worth the time. In the spirt of Steves, I’m off on a two-week vacation, during which I’ll be pressing pause on Pressing Pause.

I’m agnostic on marijuana. Apart from that difference, I’m down with damn near every other aspect of Steves’s worldview. At the same time, I get tired just reading about his frenetic pace. I’m far too slothful to aspire to be Steves-like, but his non-materialism and associated generosity are definitely inspiring.

I’ll post pics to Twitter, @PressingPause, of my travels. First person to guess the correct country wins an all expense trip to North Korea.

Thursday Assorted Links

1. The New York Times Bombshell That Bombed.

“And what the NYT can still do to find an audience for its Trump tax story.”

This blows. I was hoping he’d have been fined $400-500m dollars and impeached by now. Maybe some jail time for good measure.

2. Can’t help but wonder if the bombshell bombed because people have been distracted by what Tay is up to. I got you. Taylor Swift Succumbs to Competitive Wokeness. Wokeness a future Olympic event? How might one begin training?

3. We Slow as We Age, but May Not Need to Slow Too Much. Finally, some good news. Footnote. Last Thanksgiving I ran my first marathon in a long time. My time was only 5 minutes slower than my personal record from a decade earlier. Probably my greatest athletic performance ever. A legend in my own mind.

4. Amsterdam’s Plea to Tourists: Visit, But Please Behave Yourself. The problem of “overtourism”. Based upon the pictures, I will pass.

“Sometime it is as simple as tourists not realizing that real people live here.”

Reminds me of signs I see in a nearby neighborhood I cycle through regularly. “Drive like your kids live here.”

Bonus.

Friday Assorted Links

1. Did you like The Brady Bunch? Do you have $1.885 million?

2. Attention drivers. Highway 1 is now open.

“After 17 months and more than $100 million replacing a damaged bridge and rebuilding the highway in two locations, drivers can once again skirt the western edge of the continent, forever burnished by wind, rain, waves and tide.”

Props to the much maligned public sector.

3. No PressingPauser would ever stereotype professional basketball players just because of their outward appearance, but just in case, there’s this.

4. If I ever suffer temporary insanity and pay $250 for a pair of running shoes, they damn well better make me (a lot) faster.

“Compared with typical training shoes, the Vaporflys are believed to wear out quickly: Some runners have said they lose their effectiveness after 100 miles or so.”

$2.50 per mile? As Millennials like to say, hahahahaha.

5. Forget a Fast Car, Creativity is the New Midlife Cure. Right on. I hope that means superficial, materialistic lowlifes like me can score a pre-owned Porsche for less.

6. Could not have happened to a nicer guy.

Saturday Assorted Links

1. Alison Byrnes’s dream vacation. Maybe yours too?

2. Kate Wynja, high school golfer of the year.

“. . . it broke my heart for the team.”

3. Restaurants of the future. Count me as pro simplification.

4A. Female members of congress by party affiliation.

4B. The future of the Democratic Party. Maybe.

5. Republicans’ latest tax con.

6. The future of cycling.

Twice The Fun, Half the Money

Two words. University housing. Few travelers know that most universities have housing options for any visitors looking to save serious money on nearby hotels. Many times the options range from inexpensive minimalist dorm rooms with shared bathrooms to modestly priced hotel-like rooms with private bathrooms.

The Good Wife and I just spent three days living in a small, but very clean and comfortable hotel-like room on the campus of The University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The centrally located hotel is normally filled with conference participants, job candidates, and visiting faculty. The first night we watched our President pal around with the world’s worst dictator on a 42″ plasma t.v. and throughout our stay we luxuriated in the large commercial kitchen that came complete with a giant fridge/freezer; precise tubs and instructions for labeling our food; free fruit, tea, and coffee; newspapers; and an expresso maker complete with two types of beans waiting to be grinded.

And don’t forget U.S. readers, everything north of the border is currently 24% off, so our three nights cost $302. See how far that will get you in downtown Vancouver.

It gets better. Large university campuses like UBC, go Thunderbirds, have tons to recommend them, especially in the summer, when there’s a tiny fraction of the normal number of people. On our first campus walk, we met a man who befriended us and told us we had to visit the Rose Garden because “the roses knew you were coming, so they’re blooming” and also the Museum of Anthropology which has the world’s largest collection of Pacific Northwest indigenous art.

We dug the roses and the MOA, but the cheap vegetarian restaurants on campus rocked too. And the running was great, the trail that looped the campus, the tartan track, the coastline trail. Next time we’ll take our bicycles because West Vancouver’s ubiquitous bike lanes we’re calling us.

Best of all though was the swimming. After arriving, we learned a new state of the art aquatic center had recently opened in the middle of campus. BEST pool ever. Tons of natural light, beautiful materials, white, clean, spacious—the hot tub is designed for 34. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Entrance to heaven, $5. Bring a quarter or a loonie for a small or large locker and your own towel, shampoo, and soap.

The pool was set up for long course. I could’ve swam, hot tubbed, and steam roomed all day. The only mistake I made was diving off the 3 meter board. Trying to impress the Gal Pal was not worth tweaking my shoulder.

Speaking of swimming, the nearby 137 meter long Kitsilano pool, or Kits pool if you’re cool, was what inspired our trip to West Vancouver. We were mesmerized by the pictures. Not sure it was real, we knew we had to experience it ourselves. It’s described as the third sexiest pool in the world, but that was before The Good Wife graced it with her presence. It was hard to get her out of the water. We had perfect timing too, decent weather, a week after $3.3m in improvements, but a week or two before the summer surge.

And if you’re fortunate enough to visit Vancouver, don’t miss the Granville Island Public Market for some nice art and excellent food. Speaking of food, the first night we ate at Lido, one of the Richmond restaurants featured in the previously highlighted NYT article. We we’re the only non-Asians for as far as the eye could see, super cool. The bok choy, green beans, chicken, and white super sticky rice were off the charts. Heads up—they only take cash and get Canadian money in advance because they don’t want to be bothered with silly currency adjustments.

The best part of this trip, besides reconnecting with my best friend, was mixing with locals the whole time. Downtown we would’ve been two of thousands of tourists. On campus, in coffee houses, at Kits Beach, everywhere we went, we were surrounded by ordinary Canadians, largely Chinese-Canadians, living their daily lives. As travelers, that’s how we’ve always rolled.

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UBC’s New Aquatic Center

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Kits Pool

 

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Now The Sexiest Pool En Todo El Mundo

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Post coastline to downtown run and leisurely swim with far fewer flip turns than normal.