Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Book Review: Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta

AuthorAgnieszka Paletta
TitleDoing Germany
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
Summary/Review:

This is a book I idly picked up from a Kindle sale, because I enjoyed travelling to Germany.  What a surprise that the author declares early on that she never had any interest in visiting German.  As a Polish-Canadian, moving back and forth between the two nations, Paletta’s real love is Italy.  She only ends up in Germany after meeting the man she calls M in a Cracow nightclub, falling in love, and deciding to move into his Munich apartment for three months.  That three months turns to years as the couple are engaged, married, do a lot of house shopping, and have a child.  Along the way, Paletta records the cultural adjustments of living in Germany.  Her stories are episodic, a bit gossipy in tone, and she seems unusually wed to traditional gender stereotypes.  I could offer criticisms, but forget that.  Everyone thinks that they can write a book about their travels and life abroad, but few do, so good for her.  And Agnieszka seems like a fun person who’d I’d like to hang out with, perhaps to go dancing.  So it’s a breezy travel/memoir/life adventure story, and I’ll leave at that.

Favorite Passages:

“I can also relate to keeping one’s roots and traditions alive and not changing your culture just because you’ve changed borders. Canada is great that way – it promotes multiculturalism. Germany is more like the US: once you cross the border, you’re expected to drop everything and mould yourself into a citizen of your new homeland.”

“Unlike on that typical bike, you don’t sit leaning forward; you sit up like a lady, much like in a chair. Therefore, you don’t crane your neck to look up; your head is as God meant it to be – straight on. It makes cycling dignified and comfortable.”

“M tells me it’s impolite to stare and talk to strangers here. You don’t ask how their day is going, how they are feeling. Basically, you don’t intrude because it’s none of your business. So like, they’re not trying to be rude or cold, but polite. They say good morning or God bless you but not how are you – that’s a private matter and none of their business.” (Note from Liam: this is probably why I like Germany.  They follow the same rules as Bostonians).

Recommended books: My ‘Dam Life by Sean Condon
Rating: **1/2

Something Cool: Visited States Map Generator

The Visited States Maps Generator at the Defocus Blog allows you to create a map of US states (and Canadian provinces if you chose) that you’ve visited, color-coded by the amount of time and commitment you’ve given to each place.

Here’s the key:

Red means I’ve just passed through, maybe seen a thing or two.

Amber means I’ve at least slept there and seen a few things. I have a first-hand idea of what the state is like.

Blue means I’ve spent a good amount of time in that state.

Green means I’ve spent a lot of time in that state, weeks at a time on multiple visits – or lived there.

Here’s my map:

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I made the decision not to include states where I only changed planes at the airport (for me that would be Minnesota and Texas).  I also think that there should be a distinctive color for  states one has lived in compared to states that one has just visited a lot.  The states I’ve resided in are New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts.  I’ve also included New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire in the green category because I’ve traveled to those states frequently (the first two primarily due to family living there).

What does your map look like?  Go to http://www.defocus.net/visitedstates/ and find out.

Book Review: The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne

Author: Lawrence Osbourne
Title: The Wet and the Dry 
Publication Info:   New York : Crown, c2013.
ISBN: 9780770436889

Summary/Review: 

I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

I selected this book expecting whimsical travel adventures seen through a drinking glass.  I forgot that alcohol is a depressant.  The author Lawrence Osbourne comes from a family of alcoholics and has recently lost his mother.  He spends a lot of time in various parts of the world isolated in bars merely drinking.  A particular challenge for him his to find places to drink in the Islamic world, which seems to be as tedious for him to pursue as it for the reader to see described.  While he has some interesting observations on the drinking culture (or lack thereof) in the places he visits, much of this work is inward facing.  And to be frank, Osbourne seems like an unpleasant person so it is a difficult read.

Rating: **

Recommended BooksA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage and Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz

 

Photopost: New York City

Ch-ch-ch-ch-cheerio!

A tugboat chugs under Brooklyn Bridge

I spent the first week of September with my 5 y.o. son Peter and my mother (later joined by my wife and daughter for the last weekend). Three generations of family explored the City which has rich family history.  My mother grew up in the Bronx and I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs and now we got to share a lot of our favorite places with Peter.  But there were also new discoveries.  Through Airbnb, we stayed in an apartment in Inwood, the neighborhood at the very northern tip of Manhattan.  Inwood is vibrant and friendly with a great park and easy connections to the rest of the city on the 1 and A trains.

Sssssssssalute.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge

  • Day 1 – We visited the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, ate lunch at a deli in Brooklyn Heights, played on the spectacular playground on Brooklyn Bridge Parks’s Pier 6, and then sailed up the East River on a ferry to Midtown.
  • Day 2 – Went to the the Bronx Zoo.  We stayed all day.
  • Day 3 – Walked along the Hudson River to visit the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge.  Read the book and attracted a crowd of toddlers. Spent the rest of the day at Central Park where we: ate ice cream, ate hot dogs, played on the swings, took a nap, played catch, rode the carousel, and sailed a model boat on the Conservatory Water (Peter got very good at controlling the wind powered boat).
  • Day 4 – Visited the USS Intrepid Sea/Air/Space Museum, the highlight of which was getting up close and personal with the space shuttle Enterprise.
  • Day 5 – Ate brunch at Kitchenette Uptown in Morningside Heights, took Peter to Yankee Stadium to see the Red Sox play the Yankees (Red Sox won), and ate supper at the wonderful dog-themed pub Fred’s.
Ahoy, captain!

Sailing a model boat on the Conservatory Water.

I’ve made a web album of my favorite photos from the trip, in addition to the ones featured in this post.

Take the A Train!

The view out the back of the A train.

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Book Review: Cape Cod by Henry David Thoureau

Author: Henry David Thoureau
TitleCape Cod
Publication Info: New York, NY : Penguin Books, 1987 [originally published in 1865]
ISBN: 0140170022
Summary/Review:

This book collects essays Thoreau wrote on several trips to Cape Cod and was published after his death.  Thoreau’s great journeys were rarely far from his home in Concord, and yet the descriptions of every day detail are as if he’d traveled around the world.  No more so than his writing about Cape Cod which after a century and a half of time passed sounds like it could’ve been a journey to Mars.  The writing is beautiful whether he’s describing a shipwreck, beachcombing, or the people who populate the sand-covered villages.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Straphanger by Taras Grescoe

Author: Taras Grescoe
Title: Straphanger
Publication Info: New York : Times Books, 2012.
ISBN: 9780805091731

Previously Read By the Same Author: The End of Elsewhere

Summary/Review:  In the previous book I’ve read by Taras Grescoe, The End of Elsewhere (one of my all-time favorite books), the author travels the world deliberately visiting the most touristed sites.  In Straphanger, Grescoe travels the world again this time taking advantage of the rapid transit metro systems of the world’s great cities.  Grescoe visits New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogotá, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Montreal taking notes of what each city’s metro system can offer to North American cities (or in the case of Phoenix an example of how not to do it).  Grescoe takes not how each city’s public transportation network is a unique representation of that city’s culture, being both of the city and shaping the city.  While not everything would work in other cities, there’s a lot of food for thought for improving public transportation networks to serve dense urban environments, which Grescoe emphasizes is increasingly becoming necessary for our urban future.  Of course, me reading this book is another example of me being in the choir being preached too, but I find that it works well both as a travelogue and as a treatise on public transit’s future.  I highly recommend this book and expect it will be on my list of favorite books for 2012.

Favorite Passages:

Kenneth Jackson: “Look,” he said, “humans are social animals.  I think the biggest fake every perpetrated is that children like, and need, big yards.  What children like are other children.  If they can have space, well, that’s fine.  But most of all, they want to be around other kids.  I think we move children to the suburbs to control the children, not to respond to something the children want.  In the city, kids might see somebody urinating in public, but they’re much more at risk in the suburbs, where they tend to die in cars.” – p. 96

“Since the Second World War, in fact, transit in most of the world’s great cities has been run by publicly owned agencies.  The argument for public ownership of transit is two-pronged.  First, that transit systems and railroads are an example of a natural monopoly, like electric utilities or sewer systems, they can optimize expenditures and increase efficiency if they are under a single management.  Second, since a decent transport system has external benefits like increasing property values and reducing congestion and pollution, it is best managed not to maximize owners’ profits, but in the public interest.” – p. 125

Recommended books: Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden, Triumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser and Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Marco Polo didn’t go there by Rolf Potts

AuthorRolf Potts
TitleMarco Polo didn’t go there
Publication Info: Palo Alto, Calif. : Travelers’ Tales, c2008.
ISBN: 1932361618
Summary/Review: This collection of travel essays (post-modern travel writing according to the author) grapples with travel in the modern day with the competing forces of commercialism and authentic experience.  A lot of people try to make a distinction between the tourist and the traveler, but Potts contends that there really is no difference, and that’s okay.  Potts does a great job a bringing an interesting angle to his travel experience whether he’s hiking alone in the Egyptian desert or on a posh package tour sponsored by a glossy travel magazine.  Each essay ends with a series of footnotes which offer insights on the process of writing about travel with some tips for how to do it.  It all gets very meta but I think it’s well balanced enough to avoid being pretentious.  Potts is one of the more interesting, insightful, and refreshing travel writers I’ve read in some time and I look forward to reading more of his work.
Favorite Passages:

p. xv – I use the word “tourism” intentionally, since it defines how people travel in the twenty-first century.  Sure, we all try to convince ourselves that we we’re “travelers” instead of “tourists,” but this distinction is merely a self-conscious parlor game within the tourism milieu.  Regardless of how far we try to wander off the tourist trail (and no matter how long we try and stay off it) we are still outsiders and dilettantes, itinerant consumers in distant lands.  This is often judged to be a bad thing, but in truth that’s just the way things are.  Platonic ideals aside, the world remains a fascinating place for anyone with the awareness to appreciate the nuances.”

p. 173 – In truth, backpacker culture is far more dynamic than reporters assume when they visit Goa or Panajachel to shake down stoners for usable quotes.  Outside of predictable traveler ghettos (which themselves are not as insipid as  these articles let on), independent travelers distinguish themselves by their willingness to travel solo, to go slowly, to embrace the unexpected and break out from the comfort-economy that isolates more well-heeled vacationers and expats.  Sure, backpackers are themselves a manifestation of mass tourism – and they have their own self-satisfied cliches – but they are generally going through a more life-affecting process than one would  find on a standard travel holiday.

Recommended books:  A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration by Michael Shapiro and The End of Elsewhere: Travels Among the Tourists by Taras Grescoe.
Rating: ****

Photopost: Baseball Double Header

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I enjoyed a two-city, two-team, two-day baseball double header. On Sunday, I traveled down to New York to see R.A. Dickey and the Mets take on the San Diego Padres in the good company of some of my Mets fan friends. The next day, my son Peter & I went to Fenway Park for the Red Sox victory over the Detroit Tigers.

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Book Review: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway by Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll

Author: Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll
Title: Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip
Publication Info: Fulcrum Publishing (2007)
ISBN: 9781555914516
Summary/Review: I’ve long been a fan of the art of Ray Troll who specializes in drawing realistic but whimsical representations of fish and prehistoric creatures.  This book is written by Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science who teams up with Troll for a fossil-gathering road trip through the Rocky Mountain states.  Johnson does a good job of balancing the roles and importance of academic and museum work with commercial diggers and fossil collectors, showing respect and admiration of all.  The journey detailed by Johnson visits many beautiful and awe-inspiring locations that are richly illustrated with Troll’s art and photographs.  It’s a great book for anyone interested in paleontology, travelogue, and popular art.

Recommended books: Planet Ocean: A Story of Life, the Sea, and Dancing to the Fossil Record by Bradford Matsen and Ray Troll
Rating: ****

Salem

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Susan, Peter & I took a daytrip by commuter rail to Salem a week ago Sunday.  It was a fun adventure, especially for our three-year old train fanatic who looked out the window and narrated our journey all the from North Station to Salem.

Our first stop was lunch at Reds Sandwich Shop where the friendly waitresses (and customers) doted on Peter and the plates were full of tasty food.   Next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum.    After getting admonished by a guard for standing too close to the maritime art we went to the family-friendly, hands-on Art & Nature gallery.  Here there was the art of optical illusions, toys, puzzles, books, and a build your own bird station among other treats.  I was able to explore some of the other galleries and was impressed by the mix of American and Asian fine arts and decorative pieces, deliberately overlapping to show the cross-pollination of cultures in Salem’s history.  Particularly impressive was the FreePort [No. 001] exhibit in the East India Marine Hall where a staid gallery of ship’s models and figureheads is transformed by animations projected on all surfaces.  The video below should give the essence of the experience but one really needs to walk into the room for the full effect.

The PEM is an impressive museum and there was a lot more to see – including a special exhibit of Dutch art – but we were all pretty tired by then.  As a special treat for good behavior in the museum I took Peter to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company, reputedly America’s oldest candy story.  Peter picked out a package of gummy fish and we ate them on the wharf overlooking historic houses and ships.  Salem is a charming town and has a quite to bit to offer especially if you can avoid the cheezy witchcraft exploitation industry.

We had a light supper and then caught a double-decker commuter train back to Boston which made it double exciting.

Earlier journeys in-and-around Boston:

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