On the Third Day of China: Backseat Observing

As mentioned in my last post, I chose to do a package tour for most of this trip, except the last three days that I added on at the end. I’m generally not a package tour person but as a solo traveler for this trip, I liked having some activities planned for me and the option to socialize when I wanted. The schedule was fairly open, so I had a fair amount of alone and free time as well. The other reason I chose a package tour for this specific trip was because I knew it would be freezing out and I didn’t want to be standing around waiting for public transportation. I also had absolutely no intention of trying to drive in China. The cities are massive and chaotic, and often times the signs are not translated into English and it’s not like you can sound out the words. I knew a car rental would have been a terrible idea. I just didn’t know how right I was.  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.

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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 →