Category Archives: New Vigor

New Vigor, 31: Biking

“What were some of the highlights of the trip?” asked my friend and mentor Nancy McCullough-McCoy, publisher of Powder Mountain Press. Too many to explore in our short catch-up conversation (or just one post — that’s why I started last month’s series!) But knowing her love of all athletic things that one does outdoors, I did mention to her that we rented bikes in Berlin and Copenhagen and had a great time riding all over those cities.

She suggested I write about it for her husband, Michael McCoy (another  friend and mentor, editor-in-chief at Powder Mountain), who is also a media specialist for Adventure Cycling. Among his many duties for ACA, Mac writes a weekly blog, and sometimes they use “guest posts.”

Well, guess what! It’s circulating today!

Here are a couple of maps of our routes. The blog post has some info about the logistics, just right for Mac’s readership (I hope).

On a more personal note, I just loved that my dear husband had lots of confidence in me and that we saw areas of each place we wouldn’t have otherwise.

This shot of Peter is near the series of lakes that form a circle to the west of the downtown part of Copenhagen. They were originally part of the moat protecting the outside of the original (now gone) city walls; bordered by pedal and pedestrian paths, they were perfect for us! It was COLD but terrific!!!

I think Mac and his biking buddies are onto something……

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca


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New Vigor, 30: Day is done

We were staying just a couple days in Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay, across the Rio Plate from Buenos Aires. The sunset on the first night was spectacular, all clouds and brilliance from the well-hidden sun. We watched from a picturesque little bar with tables outside.

The next day, we decided to take an organized tour of Colonia. It incorporated walking around the most historic areas of this tiny town — where we learned the different ways Spanish and Portugese colonists built roads — as well as a bus drive out to what was once going to be a bull-ring but is now just a relic of someone’s dream. It reminded us, in some way, of the grayed-wood cabins that liberally dot the American West.

That night, we decided to head back to the riverside taverna for another cerveza and hopefully another beautiful sunset. We weren’t disappointed.

I liked the antique-style streetlights, and decided to take some shots with one of them.

Then I backed up and included some of the riverside rocks in the foreground instead.

At first it seemed like the sun was hanging on to every inch of the sky. But I must have turned away….

Then the sun’s descent seemed to speed up….

and it went faster and faster….

Until plop, all of a sudden, it was gone.

Fini. The End. Can’t bring it back, can’t snap the shutter another time, can’t make time stop, can’t refocus, can’t have a do-over on the sunset.

Just a little bit like this series; even though every morning I’ve thought of something (usually brilliant, of course) that I should have written or needed to include in a previous post — once up they stayed the way they were.

Writing every day this month has been a challenge.  Fun, but still a challenge. By last week, though, I realized I only had a few opportunities left within my self-defined deadline.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t write about the topics still banging around in my head.

We didn’t have a clear sunset the first night in Uruguay, but certainly did the next. As I remember it, those crystalline days were followed by heavy rain in Argentina. I’m an eternal optimist. Like Little Orphan Annie sings, “the sun’ll come up tomorrow, so you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow” — or realistically, maybe a few days after that, if there happens to be cloud cover.

I will likely be returning to subjects centered around trips here and there in blog posts to come, but for now, I will not be doing so every day. To you who have joined me on these adventures,  I say THANK YOU for reading the series.

See you on down the road.

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca

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New Vigor, 29: Baggage (redux)

We don’t travel with carry-ons just to be sensible about getting through customs.  The notion of packing lightly really is more about what you have in your head and in your heart about traveling.

We use that term, baggage, as a metaphor for what makes you labor, mentally.  If we can lighten up what we carry when we travel, we just might lighten up the load we bear in our heads. In other words, leaving behind (excess) baggage helps you lose “mental baggage,” too.

Being in new places gives you a fresh perspective, but you can’t start anew with a whole ton of baggage in your head; just maybe, neither can you start anew with a whole ton of baggage in your suitcase.

For me, it’s about realizing I don’t have to carry it all with me. I just don’t need as much as I think. I’m not dressing to impress anyone; no one knows me and no one cares that I’m wearing the same thing over and over.

That said, by popular demand, here’s my “essential list of clothes” to end up with a main bag that weighs about eight kilos (17.6 pounds) on the day we leave. Everything else I carry: guidebooks, journal, camera and camera-battery charger, small address book, first-aid kit of bandaids and aspirin, plus a TSA-approved-sized baggie of toiletries. I’ll have plenty of room for purchases and other stuff picked up along the way.

FYI: I’m wearing one outfit from this bunch at any given time (this is for cold-weather trips).

3 well-fitting bottoms (i.e., dark pants, a lined skirt, a pair of jeans)
5 lightweight, longsleeved shirts that can mix and match with each other and any of the bottom options (usually solid-colored)
3 tops that can be worn either alone or over any of the shirts (sweaters, zip-up turtlenecks, button-up fleece or jacket)
3 colorful scarves and several pairs of earrings (these brighten up your look and give you at least a little variety)
4-6 sets of underwear and pairs of socks (choose for comfort and ease of drying)
1 pair of “sensible shoes”
1 warm coat, gloves and hat

Regarding color, start with something neutral (I nearly always choose black) and pick a “palette” of accompanying items. Blue’s my personal favorite, because it’s versatile and flattering. Plus it’s cheerful. Who can be blue when wearing blue? But traveling wardrobes of autumn colors (rich reds and warm browns) and shades of green (think light lime to darkest forest) work well, too.

Peter also carries a lot of black. In fact, on a solo trip to Eastern Europe, he was mistaken for a monsignor….. not necessarily his choice of professional confusion, but it meant the hotel employees he met were certainly respectful!

For warmer-weather locales, match khaki pants and short-sleeve t-shirts under a button-down shirt, which, like the over-tops for colder weather, can be worn alone as well.

We find doing laundry on the road constitutes a memorable part of our off-the-beaten-path immersion into a place. On Christmas Day, 2009, we were merrily pumping euros into the DIY washers and dryers in Athens. I wrote postcards and Peter did a few calisthenics while our stuff got clean. Using a hotel’s “washing and drying” services is ALWAYS more expensive than finding a local laundramat. Figuring out how to use the machines, since instructions are nearly always written in the local language, is just another aspect of the adventure.  (And it’s easier than you think to wash undees and socks in a sink.)

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca


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New Vigor, 28: Fatigue

It’s late. I’m super-tired after a busy day.

The last time I was this pooped out was when we were, guess what, traveling.

Dealing with fatigue is a normal part of journeying. One can blame noisy airplane flights, jet lag, mixed-up meal schedules, sleeping in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place. Combine any or all of that with the drain of adrenaline jolting your system in excitement at where you’re going — a recipe for exhaustion.

When this happens, I think the best course is to roll with it. Rather than fighting the whole thing, I prefer to take a couple aspirin, turn out the light, and just say “OK” and like Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day….” Then I try and get some sleep!

So, even though tonight I am tucking myself into my very own comfy bed (and thus have no real excuse), I’m taking that route.

But how does one “show” fatigue?

This photo seems to say a lot about going with the flow on a trip no matter what comes up.  Plus I like the idea of being in a place, faceless…. you know, we came, we saw, we…. left our shadows, rather than conquering, as the Romans did. Good night!

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca

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New Vigor, 27: Durability

In Tallinn, Estonia, they built things to last.

Take for example, the horse mill, which served as one wall of the breakfast room of where we stayed for two nights, the Meriton Old Town Hotel.

The walls of the mill were at least four feet thick. The hotel rents it out for private parties; a couple times when we walked by, employees were preparing the space for some kind of fancy bash. Looked like quite a place to celebrate just about anything!

I often try to take a picture of a sign, but they rarely turn out as well as this. It was just one of dozens we saw marking historical buildings of all sizes, uses and ages. The placards were installed, in both Estonian and in English, for all those coming to visit Tallinn this year; this bustling port city is one of two cities serving as a European Cultural Capital for 2011.

We found its Old Town charming, a picture-postcard kind of place surrounded by cobblestone streets lined with Renaissance merchant houses, medieval city walls, and numerous towers with colorful names like “Fat Margaret” and “Tall Herman.”  (You can click here to see some of Tallinn’s vistas.)

While photogenic (to say the least), Tallinn also hummed with contemporary life and a well-established prosperity built on just two decades of capitalism. A brand-new shopping mall, right outside the Old Town’s entrance, attracted plenty of buyers. We enjoyed a terrific dinner in a hoppin’ music club. As elsewhere in Europe, women in stiletto heels navigated (easily) the stone walkways.

Estonia became a republic in 1918, but was invaded by the Nazis in 1941. Following World War II, it was part of the Soviet Union; during that time, television signals from Helsinki (only 50 miles away, across the Gulf of Finland) were jammed so that Estonians didn’t realize such things as bananas and pineapples were actually available in the West.

It was easy to forget that this country has only been independent for such a short time — but I felt the people I observed and met displayed a sophisticated sense of self-determination.  One of the most fascinating things to learn about Estonia was the part its citizens played in “The Singing Revolution.”   The country rightfully celebrates its long history and modern success.

Archaeological finds show that the first settlement in the Tallinn area dates to 3,000 BC. So says the first block on a timeline that runs through one alleyway in the Old Town. The last one says “2418: Estonia celebrates its 500th anniversary as a republic.”

It’s encouraging to know that this brave little country is so optimistic about its future — hopefully the horse mill will still be around then, too!

I’m breaking my one-photo model, again, because I just loved this angle from the corner of the mezzanine above the dining room. That’s Peter at the table, the art-bedecked stone circular curve of the horse mill to his left.

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca

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New Vigor, 26: Learning

I like to try to absorb the feel of a place before we get there, especially by reading a work of well-researched historical fiction.

Years ago, I read Death Comes for the Archbishop so I’d have an idea about Acoma and Santa Fe when we road-tripped there from Seattle while Peter was doing his master’s thesis work on Willa Cather.

Before we went to Paris in 2002, I plowed through a triliogy about Josephine Bonaparte .  To prep for another trip to the south of France, I read Everybody Was So Young,  about Gerald and Sara Murphy, the American ex-patriates whose home on the Cote d’Azur welcomed Picasso, Hemingway, Cole Porter, and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It doesn’t always work that way, though.  Last month I finished (and wrote about) A Mountain of Crumbs after we returned from our Baltic trip. The same is true for A Russian Winter.

Just last night, I finished reading Pride of Carthage: A Novel of Hannibal by David Anthony Durham. I had picked it up more than two years ago, before the trip where we hoped to go to Tunisia from Rome. Although this set records in my delayed-absorption timing, the way I look at it — better late than never.

I knew only the bare minimum about Hannibal: he crossed the Alps, right? And he used elephants (of all things) to help wage war against the Romans. Yep, that was the guy.

He’s still an iconic figure in Tunisia. This mosaic, a huge enlargement of a postage stamp, adorned the wall of an entry-way into a Carthage museum, not too far from the main archaeological area by the waterfront.

That day I learned that the ruins we saw did not date from Hannibal’s era, at the end of the Second Punic War.  Carthage had been wiped off the map (literally) by the Romans after their ultimate victory ending the Third Punic War (146 BC). What survives there now is from the rebuilding of the city by the Romans.

The Durham book was one of the most violent things I’ve ever read; human life didn’t count for much 23 centuries ago. Hannibal’s army spent almost 15 years in Italy; his forces wiped out something like one of every four Roman men of military age. His nemesis, Scipio Africanus (a name he earned after defeating Carthage), is widely credited with picking up some of Hannibal’s most vicious tactics — ambush, fire of innocents, destruction of countryside, rampant rape and enslavement. You get the idea.

I’m still glad I read it. When he describes the port at Carthage, I can recall the geography of the harbor. When he talks about the volcano above Naples, I recognize Vesuvius. When he talks about Hellenistic influences (of art and beauty and philsopohy), I remember those from Greece.

Reading and learning, even about death and destruction — all part of the journey.

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca

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New Vigor, 25: Packing lightly

We like to travel fairly lean and mean, without much to weigh us down. Neither Peter nor I can remember checking a bag on a “big trip” we’ve taken together since the time we carried full-frame backpacks in 1995.

The usual load for each of us since then — a soft-sided Patagonia bag (we bought them from Fred Mugler at Mountaineering Outfitters, way back when) and a smaller sling-type shoulder bag.

These Patagonia bags are awesome; they can be carried easily over one shoulder, or criss-cross across your back, like Peter has his green one here.

Gotta love his big smile in this photo: I think it’s a natural reaction for him whenever we’re by boats. This is in the Helsinki harbor, as we were walking across the harbor to the ferry stop. (More about that arrival in my first New Vigor post .)

My matching Patagonia bag is black. I nearly always carry it using the optional straps that turn it into a backpack. Either way, these bags are just about the perfect size for overhead bins and they have a little bit of give that goes a long way to making everything (inside) fit, too.

All told, by then, with tourist brochures from Berlin and St. Petersburg (and even some tiny souvenirs), our total luggage still weighed less than 20 pounds each. Even with all the stuff I picked up along the way, they weren’t that much heavier when we came home, two weeks later.

This is exactly opposite from how my mother traveled. My sisters and I like to joke that she suffered from the “carry-everything” gene. Maybe it went along with her “go-everywhere” attitude. (The good news is we inherited lots of the latter but not much of the former.)

Mom would gladly pay exorbitant fees for extra suitcases. She circumnavigated the globe at least half a dozen times during her latter years, and each of these cruises took at least three months. She loved dressing up, full-on and fancy, every night for dinner; that’s clear from the collection of photos she purchased on-board ship. But the random snapshots? It looked like she wore the same black pants and rotated her favorite sweatshirts from day to day.

I am my mother’s daughter.  I’d love having lots of changes of clothing, jewelry, my curling iron, extra shoes, several books to read, and other familiar stuff along when we travel.

But we’ve discovered that there’s nothing worse than being overtired from lugging excess stuff.  For us, carry-on is the only way to go. If you can discipline yourself to it, you might find the same thing.

“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca

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