This weekend I’ve journeyed back to the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, where I previously spent a memorable weekend just over 10 years ago in May of 2007. The unquestionable highlight then was a somewhat spontaneous decision to go skydiving, though one could also argue that the entire experience was a literal high point of a month long Eurotrip.
When the 10th anniversary of starting that Eurotrip occurred last month, I spent some time reflecting on that experience, and how it seems surprising in the present day that I managed to travel around a wide array of Europe (15 countries, I think) for a six week period and coordinate logistics as I went along, such as lodging, transport timing, places to eat, sleep, what to see and so forth. It seems retrospectively surprising especially as it took place just before our current mobile communication era began, when the iPhone was introduced at the end of June, 2007. It’s also retrospectively impressive in that it was mostly a solo trip, with the most interactions with friends happening at the start and towards the end of the experience while in Germany and Scandinavia, respectively.
At some point around that anniversary time, I also reflected on the process of remembering a place, specifically regarding spots that I’ve visited only once. The question mainly was around whether it’s worth updating a memory with a new one or the previous (only) visit was satisfying in a way that I don’t want or need to update it.
I find those ruminations coming back to mind while here in Switzerland and updating the memories of 10 years ago. It is nice to be less “on the move” than the previous visit, which found me staying in 3 different locations over 3 consecutive nights. It’s also of some amusement to update the memories, as I did not recall until arriving here that I actually stayed at this hostel on one of those three nights in 2007, and actually in the same room.
I’ll be thinking about that “updating” again in the morning with a trip back up to the Schilthorn, the iconic mountaintop restaurant prominently featured in my favorite James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and which itself has been updated since 2007.
Of course the main thing through it all is staying present.
Early in this past summer I was excited to be reminded (in person) of a healthy music store in West Chester, PA. Such stores are quickly (already?) becoming an endangered species, and so it was particularly satisfying to come back to this store and see it offering a wide range of music and other related selections. I thought that I was going to leave without purchasing anything, but lying near the cash register was a small boxed set of five compact discs highlighting “80’s Classics”. This seemed to be a perfect match for my upcoming long haul road trip, and so I purchased it. (Actually my mom bought it for me as a “getting on the road” present.)
As the driving spurts resumed, I continued to let my iPod shuffling set the mood for a little while after purchasing the set of discs, but that got old as I began to enter the long-haul westbound territory, and so I decided that the especially long haul across Nebraska (400 something miles) would be a great introduction to the set of music. I quickly appreciated that some care had been taken in selecting the choice and sequencing of music. The first song of each disc got things off with a bang of energy and the mood rolled along after that, mixing between slower tunes and higher energy pieces. I let the whole sequence of five discs play through on that first day and it was a GREAT way to enliven the scenery and pace of going through Nebraska, which eventually gave way to the arid plains and mild mountains of northeastern Colorado.
After the first listen, I expected that the music would time capsule itself to that stretch of driving through Nebraska, and it did, at first, as I tuned into other radio offerings and back to the iPod (along with bits of silence here and there) for a little while. But in an effort to continue the sonic variety, I ended up tuning back into the CD set sooner than I expected.
One song in particular (“Good Life” by a group called Inner City – never heard of them) took on the role of road trip theme song, as I began to listen to it at the start of each long-haul driving day and felt that it set the right upbeat mood. Now, a month and a half later, the song has settled into a role as emblematic of the whole summer, and while I’m not listening to it at the start of every day, it does bring a smile to my face, as many other songs do that quickly associate themselves with the time or circumstances that you first hear them in.
It’s a rare (for my current routine) day off from the road here in Boulder, Colorado, and so I’m celebrating by not using the car and embracing the pedestrian oriented culture of the city.
After going and going for two months on the road, with occasional but not consistent “pause” stops like this, it still feels a bit odd to slow down. There is a sense of getting a bit addicted to the art of going from one place to the next, and it feels strange when that routine comes to a stop.
However, the wider through line of the travel experiences involves making the most of each day as it comes (as in staying in the present moment) and letting it all unfold in an open-ended, though still very full way.
Wrote this last week without a direct internet connection back on Martha’s Vineyard.
Today brings the pleasure of being the second consecutive Memorial Day where I do NOT have to leave Martha’s Vineyard. This is significant as this holiday often serves as a “back to reality” type of day after the long summer teaser weekend, and that was particularly the case for me growing up, so much so that I continue to associate Memorial Day with “leaving the Vineyard” even on years when I have not been here on the island.
So, how has it been to be back at “The Family Homestead” as I fondly call Martha’s Vineyard on social media? Pretty smooth and pretty comfortable, like falling right back into the best type of routine. This was exemplified on my first day back when a short, spontaneous walk along Main Street in Vineyard Haven (one of the island’s main drags) led to random greetings with several familiar friendly faces, culminating in seeing my godmother from a distance and walking towards each other as if in the celebrated finale of a film.
Visits to the island’s other primary towns have also generated senses of comfort and familiarity, although they have also been mixed with thoughts like “I wish this was less of a rich playground” and “I can’t see myself relating to that particular activity.” I guess what those thoughts mean is that I’m increasingly (but not surprisingly) taking the local position on how various activities impact the Vineyard. That’s not a new perspective for me, but it is refreshing to know that it’s still present and active.
In my current travel mode I’ve decided to make an effort to blog more. So I wrote this a few days ago attempting to recap the initial driving on the road experience of this summer.
I spend a lot of time looking forward to traveling, but I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on traveling. But maybe that will change with this summer on the road. I’m writing this from almost as far south as one can go in the USA, just 100 miles or so from Miami and the end of the road.
It was a fun challenge to come down here from Michigan and do the trip almost entirely on the same road, Interstate 75, which extends up the middle-center of the country from just outside Miami to the Canadian border at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. I, of course, know the road particularly well in the Detroit area, and had encountered portions of its Florida path before.
This time, the decision to travel southbound included significant stretches of Kentucky and Tennessee, two states I’d never set foot in before, and (in going through them it is) now bringing my remaining states yet to visit to just four, with the lower 48 set to be clinched next month. I expected to see more pastoral farmland than I did in Kentucky, and I wished I’d had more time to explore the surroundings of the area. Nonetheless, both Kentucky and Tennessee offered a surprising (to the visitor) range of pastoral mountain scenery, similar to what I know from the northern reaches of back home in New England. (It also served as a reminder that my car is not the best one for mountain environments.)
This rugged environment continued farther south into Georgia than I expected before abruptly giving way to the Atlanta area sprawl. Well, maybe the gradual widening of the highway was a clue, but the sudden merging of two major highways brought traffic to a full stop. As the traffic inched forward again, the exits revealed a veritable golden highway of tourist attractions. Carter Center! Turner Center! MLK Jr National Historic Site! Downtown Atlanta itself! If I’d had more time, I would have arranged to explore a few of those places. But it will have to wait for some other opportunity.
As for Florida, the state is “open for business” as the sign at its welcome center proudly proclaims. In a cute touch, they even offered free orange juice at the center, with an attendant cheerfully handing the beverage out (in a small cup) to anyone who wanted it. I needed the fortification when, an hour or so later, the clear skies abruptly gave way to rain so heavy it was like a flash flood. The deluge continued for maybe 10-15 minutes and I turned off the stereo to concentrate solely on navigation. In this case I was grateful for my small car and easy maneuvering from the slower to middle lane. It was a relief to see the rain go away and I needed to pull off at the next big town, Gainesville, to recover from the excitement.
It was rush hour in Gainesville and the stop served as a quick redux of a city I wouldn’t have expected to get to know over the past few years; this brief stop was my third time there in the past three months. The main commercial area near the highway has undergone modest to sizable changes since the first time I was there in 2012, with increasing emphasis on sprawl and congestion, which looks unlikely to change anytime soon. Because of the heavy traffic I was unable to look for a “cheap” gas price and had to settle for the currently high $2.34 per gallon, which was clearly an overage from what other stations were offering.
The process of making a long trip quickly and succinctly reminded me of the value of Intentional Traveling, where there is value in taking a quick look at a map before you get underway and deciding on a tentative outline of where and how frequently to stop on the way to your destination. I will be following that mode as summer on the road continues.
It was such a “wow” moment when Peter Pan/Bonanza bus first introduced wifi service on their buses around 2010, and it was also quite glitchy. Now in 2015 I’m enjoying it without a second thought, and an expectation that it will be smooth!
The computer distracts me from the extremely familiar sights along this Boston —> Martha’s Vineyard bus ride. I was trying to determine in my head how many times I’ve taken this bus ride in my life, and would go for somewhere between 50 and 100, not as much as I might expect, but if you add in private car trips of that same route, the number might go into the thousands.
I remember feeling disappointed when the character of the final stretch of highway (I-495 and MA 25) changed around ten years ago with a switch from side of the road to overhead signs, making it seem to me less like a rural route and more like a standard American highway or freeway. There was also a time when I was a vocal pre-teen passenger and encouraged my parents to vary the route since this stretch of road seemed too boring and repetitive to me, so we’d go via Providence RI and then loop back to it, or join the road at a slightly northern point of the usual onramp in Raynham.
But in the present day, with my not based in Massachusetts life, traveling along the highway – along the whole Boston to Martha’s Vineyard route, really – is the equivalent of an eager mental checklist, and it continues to get me every time.
Exited Boston? Yep.
Turned onto Route 24? Yep.
Curved turn onto 495? Yep.
Transition to 25? Yep.
still to come: cross the Bourne Bridge, go through two rotaries, a few small towns, and one ferry ride…
I’m off on another adventure today, currently writing this from the spacious and comfortable Toronto Pearson Airport in Canada. Final destination is London, England, where I carved out many memories and theatrical adventures in my early 20’s, but haven’t been there in person for just over seven years. So it will be an exciting reunion with a vibrant city.
For this on the road adventure, I’m pledging to write more on the blog, maybe/hopefully once a day, since there are several sure to be memorable theatre performances on my itinerary, and it might be interesting to reflect publicly on similarities and differences in the city since my earlier time living and working there.
But for now, I just have the energetic purgatory of airport life to report on. I keep feeling like Canada offers a fresher, looser take on the airport routine than what those of us in the USA have come to dread in recent years. Instead of uber-serious gate agents, people actually smile at you. The food offerings are freshly made for a modest price and not sterile wrapped in zealous amounts of packaging. And even some of the planes, as I saw this morning in the photo above, are more colorful and intimate than their American cousins.
It was especially refreshing to depart from cozy and friendly Windsor airport, which stands in stark yet refreshing contrast to the mammoth DTW. In Windsor there are only three gates and one small check-in area, giving the impression that one has traveled back in time to the golden era of air travel or come into a vacation resort. Or chosen an efficient spot to depart on a new adventure.
It’s gratifying to sometimes get the sensation (purely psychological I am sure) that time is moving more slowly than usual. Just one month ago today, I felt that feeling while visiting Laguna Beach, California, for the first time in my life.
The sky opened up as my friends and I set a course down Highway 1, also known as the PCH. The traffic was modest and it seemed like most people in the area were still on their Christmas breaks. As we came over a hill, the expanse of Laguna stretched itself out in front of us, and it was exactly the layout that I had imagined and seen from film and photos. The native Southern Californian of our group decided that we’d take a look at the boardwalk, which was unsurprisingly packed with tourists and visitors. So we did, and we were lucky to find a spot… but the surroundings did not feel rushed or overcrowded. The Pacific extended out in front of us beginning with a beach several hundred feet below. It seemed to go on forever and there were many people on the beach just gently walking from point to point and enjoying the fresh air. I flashed on the contrast of the colder weather in Michigan, Massachusetts or some other location on that day and felt especially grateful to be there at Laguna.
We got back in the car and made our way through the crowded and surprisingly developed (to my first time eyes) downtown area. My friend wanted to take us to a particular favorite spot just south of town, and so we were able to make our way there, abutting a resort and what appeared to be a series of vacation condos. I didn’t have or want any particular sense of time and other commitments. In fact it seemed that time had deliberately slowed down for our outing, even though two people in the group had an evening commitment back closer to Los Angeles.
We gathered our picnic supplies and made our way down to the special spot. It did not disappoint. I felt so comfortable in the warm weather and casual setting that I decided to take a quick swim in the Pacific, admittedly partially to say that I had did it and done so at such a late point in the year. It was refreshing and had a strong tidal undercurrent, so I was careful to not get too far out. I suppose that time continued to pass as we sat there on the beach talking and spectating – the area became increasingly crowded after we arrived, with several memorable photo shoots seemingly lining up one by one to take advantage of the light and setting – but I stayed focused on the immediate moment.
At some point, as the sun began to go down, it became clear that it was time for us to pack up as well. I didn’t feel a sadness of leaving the moment, just a very strong appreciation to have been fully present in a way that seemed unique to that particular setting, taking in the majesty of the surroundings and the enjoyment of others’ company.