What is Authentic?

I went to Tim Horton’s in Madrid. Being from Buffalo, New York, and having spent a lot of time in Canada before this fast food chain opened in my home town, I have a soft spot for Tim Horton’s. So, seeing one right outside my hotel window a few weeks ago, I had breakfast there one morning. The horror.

Here’s something else you might find horrifying – wherever in the world I am, I like stepping into McDonald’s and 7-11 to see what they sell. I generally don’t buy anything, but I’m curious. Personal feelings about McDonald’s aside, it is undeniably successful and popular. And it has become so, in part, by conducting careful research and tailoring its menu to each country it operates in. Therefore, going into McDonald’s is part of experiencing the culture of another place.  Continue reading →

Return to Spain

Against my own personal rules for how best to take advantage of a life that is far too short to absorb everything the world has to offer, I have traveled to an international destination twice. Two weeks ago, I went to Spain. Fourteen years ago I lived there, working in a summer camp in Andalusia with kids who by now are somewhere around the age I was during those brief moments when we knew each other, young adults out in the real world.

I didn’t feel like much of an adult at that age, but I certainly do now, which is why I didn’t mind retracing my steps a bit. That summer camp job was a lifetime ago and I was another person. I have only a few handwritten notes and photos printed from film to remind me of my previous adventures in the land of valiant conquered and intrepid conquerors. This time, I’m transferring what I jotted down into this blog post, structured according to the chapters in Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. De Botton is a modern day philosopher whom I greatly admire. The Art of Travel was the first book I read with Ironman, who accompanied me on this trip, for our long-distance book club, one of the many ways we have of staying close while we are geographically distant.

Continue reading →

AirBnB: The First B is for Beautiful

My dad gets really excited when when modern, gig/sharing-economy type organizations come to Buffalo, which is my hometown and where he still lives. Years ago, when Buffalo got food trucks, he called right away to let me know. Around the same time, the city was redoing the harbor to make it a place for festivals and a place people want to spend time in general. He thought a combination of those two amenities would make me consider moving back there. Then Buffalo got bicycle sharing and then Uber, and he called me each of those times to let me know how cool Buffalo was becoming. I’m happy for Buffalo. I love that city. But the taxes and lack of good jobs and the snow…oh my god the snow. The gray, miserable, long, icy, humid winters. No. I just can’t.

But I digress.

My dad’s latest report was about AirBnB. It’s been active in Buffalo awhile, but the Buffalo News ran a story over the summer about locals’ good and bad experiences with it. He was certain I had used it before, which I have, and wanted to compare my experiences with what the paper was reporting. And so I thought, why stop with the conversation with my dad? Why not share some of my good and bad experiences here? Continue reading →

But They Do it in Europe!

I am not a fan of the “they do it in Europe” argument. I frequently hear people say this regarding free higher education and universal healthcare, among other issues. When pressed for implementation details, these people tend to be clueless about the bureaucratic, and, just as importantly, the cultural factors at play. I could go into detail, but my aim here is not write a political post. Instead I’m going to contradict myself briefly and become one of those people I generally scoff at by describing some charming, impressive, and useful customs that I noticed in Italy that I think we should adopt in the United States.

I’ll start with the simple. Many shops place umbrella stands outside their doors when it rains. This is nice from the perspective of both the store and the consumer. The shop doesn’t have to worry about goods getting wet and ruined. Consumers don’t have to carry around a dripping umbrella. And it seems that no one is worried about their umbrella getting swiped by a passerby who has been caught in the storm empty handed. I’m sure it happens sometimes, but if it were really a problem, I don’t think those bins would be out everywhere. Continue reading →

Say What? Edition 4: Thoughts From Italy

A collection of random linguistically-related thoughts that popped into my head while in Italy four weeks ago.

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Language can provide anonymity in a crowd. One of my biggest linguistic pleasures when in Europe is hearing half a dozen languages spoken around me at any one time. I enjoy it partly because you feel a buzz, an energy around you, without having comprehension interfere with your own thoughts. But also, there’s a certain anonymity in being in a multilingual place. I could be anyone. Of any nationality. In any life situation. No one knows a thing about me until I speak. This makes me feel exciting and mysterious. Continue reading →

Say What? Edition 3: Thoughts From Switzerland

A collection of random, linguistically-related thoughts that popped into my head while in Switzerland five weeks ago.

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Going abroad makes you realize that your language skills aren’t nearly as good as they should be. How did I used to be fluent in German but a few weeks ago I couldn’t even understand what the Swiss shopkeepers said when I walked in the door? Swiss German is quite distinct from Hochdeutsch, but still, I feel I should have been a little more competent. Continue reading →

Who Are You When You Travel?

When I was growing up, I lived on a small street in a rural area where having friends over to sit in the garage and drink was the main Saturday attraction. In all houses, that is, except mine. My parents didn’t drink and they weren’t particularly social, at least not in the kind of way where friends drop in and hang out without any specific invitation or plan. I’d listen on summer nights, through my open bedroom window, to the laughter and chatter going on across the street and wonder why our house wasn’t filled with people too. I swore that when I had my own place, my door would always be open and friends would come and go constantly.

That’s not remotely the kind of person I turned out to be. I’m every bit as inflexible with my time and protective of my personal space as my parents were. It drives me crazy when people stop by unannounced. Even the UPS man. I ignore invitations to go out if they come less than eight hours before the start time because that’s not enough time for me to prepare and accomplish everything I planned to that day. I don’t send read receipts on my iPhone because I don’t want people knowing whether I’m looking at my phone and therefore, presumably, available to talk or text. I always opt for “Entire home/apt” when using AirBnB because I certainly don’t want to be in the house with the owner, having to make chit chat. And communal tables at a restaurant? Whoever came up with this terrible idea should be hanged. Continue reading →

Italy by Number

I have so many thoughts to share stemming from my two and a half weeks in Europe. My route was
Flight to Zurich→
Train to Innsbruck→
Car share to Bressanone→
On foot across the Dolomites to Cortina d’Ampezzo→
Bus to Venice→
Rental car to Padua→Verona→Bergamo→Milan→
Train and kayak to Bellagio→
Car share to Zurich
with a lot of little stops in between. Everything I saw was stimulating and new, and I took dozens and dozens of pages of notes. Since most of that time was spent in northern Italy, let’s kick off the onslaught of upcoming blog posts with a lighthearted comparison of Italy and Boulder. Continue reading →

A to Z Blog Challenge Recap

For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I showcased 26 of my favorite places in the world. I didn’t do nearly as much writing for the challenge as I did in previous years, but I had a lot of fun going down memory lane, and I hope I’ve given some readers ideas about wonderful places to visit. I’ve been to 22 of the 196 countries but didn’t manage to feature them all in this year’s blog challenge because some countries have a lot of places that are special to me. And I was constrained by the alphabet!

Countries I’ve Been to that I Didn’t Mention At All

Spain – While there is no one standout in Spain that would make me go visit, if I had to choose a place I’ve visited to live permanently in, it would be Spain.

France – I’ve only been to Paris and hope to visit the countryside and coasts soon. Continue reading →

KiZhi, Russia (Spring 2005)

While You Are There: Imagine that you are a Russian peasant living in the 1700s. And then be glad that you aren’t and that we live in the 2000s and you can go admire places like this as a tourist. Just don’t pay for one of those absurdly overpriced cruises up the Volga to get here. There’s so much to see in Russia. Hop on a train from Moscow or St. Petersburg and see some other places along the way.

Why It’s On My List: Because I want to live there. The serenity, the architecture, the history. I want to raise sheep there and write books. That’s all. The whole thing about it being a UNESCO heritage site kind of puts a crimp in those plans, but I can dream, can’t I?

For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I’ve decided to showcase 26 of my favorite places in the world. I’ve only been to 22 of the 196 countries, so I’ve got some more travelling to do, but these places are well worth a visit.