Archive for Travel

Thinking About Travel…

I love this sign and the idea behind it. I love the design, the pop of the black and white letters, and the shape. It says a lot about the business and the people who run it. It’s attached to the wall outside a “simple” organic café next to our apartment in Mallorca. SIM–PLE. Yes, it’s a café sign, but I’ve taken it as an expression of my travel philosophy.

Simple, in this case, doesn’t exclude the complex; it merely strives to keep things uncomplicated. For example, we’re on the island of Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, and we’re here for a month. Basically, we’re hanging out, watching people, sampling foods, visiting markets, and reading about the island’s history. It’s “simple” travel. We have the luxury of time, something most tourists don’t have, so if we want to take a day off, we take a day off. Nothing is lost. We’re here to relax, enjoy, and learn, not maximize or quantify the experience.

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At Home in Palma…

I’m sorry Seattle… I’m really tired of long winters, gray skies, and the rain that’s coming soon. When we left Saigon four years ago I put together the Surviving Seattle blog in an effort to cope with it, but in my heart of hearts I’ve always been a blue sky, warm water, palm trees kind of guy and this month I’m falling in love with Palma de Mallorca.

I don’t want to oversell it. We just spent a month in Berlin, and I’m easily seduced. It’s not really apfels and oranges to compare Seattle and Berlin to Palma. They’re both northern temperate climates and though our Berlin weather was seasonably good outside dining wasn’t really in the cards. On the other hand, stepping off the airplane in Palma on Thursday – the day a storm nearly blew Berlin away – the early evening sky was dark blue, and it felt like Santa Monica. Indeed, parts of the taxi ride from the airport into Palma looked like Marina del Rey. I immediately thought of tapas and wine at an outside table. Sidewalk cafes were tugging at me. I’ll own it; Southern California has always felt like my natural habitat. Berlin was a treat, Seattle is exciting, but I could live in Palma.

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Other End of the Telescope…

I’m always astonished at how time and space collapse when viewed through the other end of the telescope—how, as our lifelines expand, we see changes that weren’t evident as they were happening, of cycles we thought were one-offs repeating themselves, and how overseas travel helps us see beyond the forest of our everyday surroundings. The riverside restaurants in the picture above have taken the place of The Berlin Wall that stood here in 1989.

Being in Germany today heightens these reflections. I had the incomparable experience of working and living in Berlin for almost 10 years when it was an island in the East German sea, when the only ways in and out were the three air corridors or the three restricted highways between West Berlin and the rest of West Germany. I was there and walked through the Brandenburg Gate on October 3, 1990 when the two Germanys were officially reunited. All of this in my lifetime. Astonishing.

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City of Spies

It might have been lifted out of a spy novel–the caller, without identifying himself, simply referred to “the interview you requested…” The instructions that followed asked me to have the front desk contact “Mr. Winter” and, when cleared, directed to his room.  So, on a hot summer day in 1962, I drove from the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to meet with a CIA recruiter.

I knew, even then, that “Mr. Winter” was not his real name, but it was kind of sexy going through the charade. “Mr. Winter” fit the profile of what, in those days, was the stereotypical CIA spook – tall, Waspish, Navy-blue suit, white shirt, rep silk Club tie and the bearing of a Yale graduate. I don’t remember a thing about the interview except that it was business-like. I never heard another word from “Mr. Winter” or The Company.

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Are We Comfortable Yet?

There is nothing quite so humbling as stepping on foreign soil and realizing that your self-assurance, built over decades, has dissolved—a reminder that when you leave the comfort of home, the security of family and friends, and cross into territory where language, culture, and daily activities are even slightly different, an element of insecurity rises to the surface. There’s no turning back; you’re on an adventure, so drink up. Prost!

M and I are here in Berlin for a month. It feels strange to be out of my comfort zone after living here for almost a decade—but that was 30 years ago. It’s odd that I didn’t feel the same on extended stays in Paris and Rome, but I guess I have higher expectations because of my history here. I should be at ease. I was never truly fluent but I had no trouble being understood or getting things done. I know the vocabulary’s in there and wants out, but for now it feels like a painful dental extraction when the clerk or cab driver stares at me and I can’t find the right word to complete the transaction. It reminds me of an experience in Spain with my son, Brent. He was 8, and I wanted him to be part of the adventure, so I gave him money to buy a Coke at a roadside cafe and told him how to ask for it in Spanish. He looked at me, paused for a minute and then said, “But what if they talk to me?” I know how he felt. Today, my German is so rusty I can’t quite get going, and while the rust is beginning to flake off it’s annoying, frustrating, and embarrassing that things don’t come more easily.

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