Instagramable Selfies? Really?

Edinburgh Castle is the icon of the city. The thick walled fortress, perched high on a rocky hill, houses the history of a proud nation, the crown jewels of Scotland, and the blood of brave fighters that defended their country. Just outside the gate stood a solitary piper, proudly dressed in kilt. Surrounded by a crowd of tourists jostling to take a selfie with the piper, most ignoring the courtesy of dropping a coin or two into the bowl on the ground, few, most likely, even aware of the rich history of the Scots. The selfies taken that day, all along the crowded Royal Mile, will appear on Instagram, for it is truly an “Instagramable” place. 

The Independent, a British newspaper, found that 40.1% of millennials chose their travel destinations based on how well the photos would look on Instagram (Independent March 2017). A google search of “Instagramable” returns 3,630,000 links. 

These days any travel destination is overrun with folks taking selfies, selfie-sticks are standard travel gear for many, for posts that will end up on Instagram, feeding hopes of “likes” and “followers.”

I get it, for I too post on Instagram, and I too crave the likes and followers. (Feel free to take break from reading this and follow my feed.) So I am not anti-Instagram, and in the end not anti-selfie. Photos of travelers in foreign lands have been with us since the invention of the camera, they become treasured memories.

Travel should be more than selfies, likes, and followers. The joy of travel is to get away from the “must see” places crowded with groups on tours, rushed from site to site, with only time enough to snap an Instagramable Selfie. These folks may correctly claim to have “seen” a place, but they missed out on experiencing the people, the culture, the beauty of the place. 

The late Anthony Bourdain said that if your trip to Paris is filled only stops at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower  then you have not seen Paris – I totally agree. We were on our 5th trip to Paris before we ever went up the Eiffel Tower, thanks to the crowds it was a complete disappointment. When I think of Paris it is the quiet places and cafes, like La Table du Luxembourg in the Luxembourg  Gardens. I sat there one sunny day sketching the park, while sipping un verre de vin blanc.   Paris 2005 (20)

This is why I sketch, it takes longer than a selfie. To sketch you have to really see, study, think about where you are. In the process you take in the place, see the people, hear the sounds, smell the flowers. 

If you are not a sketcher, give it a try. If you are a photographer, please keep taking the kind of photos my wife takes and posts at Travels Through My Lens. But take more of the places and less selfies. And above all slow down, it is not a race. Sit in the cafe, have the glass of wine, then when you get a real feel for the place capture it with your camera. I guarantee the pictures will be far more Instagramable. Both photographers and sketchers are artists, our goal is to capture the moment, to be true to what we experience in a place. That genuineness will come through when you post it for us all to enjoy. I want to see the place, an occasional view of your charming person in the frame is fine, but show me the place, and what makes it special.

Keep travel sketching, and photographing travel, then share it for us all to see.

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Changes in the works

January 1994 at the Holiday Inn in Racine, Wisconsin to May 2, 2019 at this Best Western in Silverdale, Washington – 26 years, five continents and over 3,000 seminars. The seminars are over, they pretty much ended 6 months ago, only did 4 in all of 2019.

So far this year I have only flown three times, 5,912 miles. By June of most years I was already MVP with Alaska Airlines, on my way to Gold Status, with 30 to 40 flight segments already logged. What a change. I will hit my Million Mile status with a couple of flights planned for this year.

So, this is a year of change. Coffee shops, beaches, and arboretums have replaced the Alaska Boardroom Lounges. A shoulder bag and pochade boxes have replaced my roller-bag. Blue jeans, paintbrushes, and pens are the attire and tools of the day. And the closest thing to a seminar are the sketching workshops I lead. I love it and don’t miss the travel as I feared I would.

There are trips planned, but for pleasure. Off to Oregon for the 4th of July to visit friends and family. A day trip to Port Townsend in August for my birthday. September we head to San Diego for a wedding and time with friends. Then off to Tokyo for another wedding in November, with a side trip to Seoul.

When we get back from Japan it will be time to kick the France planning into a higher gear. If we are to move there in April/May there is a lot to do. The visa process takes about three months, lots of documents to secure, dossiers to create for us and for our cat, as well as a trip to San Francisco to appear at the French Consulate office.

Though, as many before me have observed, I am so busy now I don’t know when I ever found time to work, still there is more time to reflect on food we cook and eat, places we visit, and tips for both. So time to get this blog back into action.

Polenta Florentine

This is a quick, low calorie, delight that is also budget friendly – easy and quick enough for mid-week, good enough for company. Leave the Parmesan cheese off and it is even vegan. For those who just can’t imagine a meal without meat, this has enough substance and flavor to satisfy most.

Most mix the spinach and tomatoes into the polenta, I wanted it more attractive, it worked.

Crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, warmed (not fried) in olive oil to infuse the flavored into the oil.

Add diced tomatoes, salt and pepper, let them absorb the flavors in warm pan with heat off while you prep the spinach, a few minutes.

Turn heat back on low for 1 minute, then off. Add chopped spinach, stir a bit then leave to wilt while preparing the polenta, spoon off excess liquid.

Stir ½ cup polenta into 2 cups boiling water, whisk until the polenta does not sink back to bottom when you stop stirring. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, no less, stirring every 10. It will be creamy without adding cheese.

Heat the spinach tomato mix. Spread polenta on plate, using a slotted spoon cover polenta with tomato and spinach blend, top with Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

2 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 Roma tomatoes, 1 inch cubes

Full bunch of cleaned spinach

Pinch Red pepper flakes

Herbs – oregano, Tyme, etc.

½ cup polenta

2 cups water

Parmesan cheese

A day of Spanish missions, sketching and prayer 

A whole day and all I needed todo was drive 40 miles, so I opted to visit three old missions and spend the day sketching and praying.

First stop was the famous San Juan Capistrano, I would love to see the swallows return but I fear it would be crowded, today it was full of school children yet I found some solace nonetheless.


This is the tiny chapel for Saint Peragrinus. It was the perfect place to read the Morning Prayers.


Here are more from San Juan Capistrano, including the old chapel, and the living quarters for the priest.


Then I went to San Luis Rey, much smaller with  seminary and retreat center, nice place for Noontime prayers.


Last stop was in the foothills of Palomar Mountains, famous for the observatory. Mission San Antonio de Pala is much smaller but so enticing to set and do a mid day devotion.

Planning a trip: Part 1 – Where to go?

1799_cruttwell_map_of_the_world_in_hemispheres_-_geographicus_-_worldhemisphere-cruttwell-1799The vagabond, off to see the world with nothing more than a backpack and a dream, is a romantic image, in reality it is probably not the best way to approach your next travel adventure. The other extreme, a spread sheet with the entire trip laid out in 15 minute increments has a certain penal quality that stifles spontaneity and serendipity. I am a believer in planned spontaneity – just enough structure to give a bit of security.

So what should you plan at the minimum? There are three questions you should ask, they seem obvious but let’s explore them a bit more in this blog and some future blogs.

1 Where to go? – Itinerary

Unless you are blessed with unlimited time and money you need an itinerary of places to visit, your basic pathway.

2 Where to stay? – Accommodations 

Rick Steves has suggested finding your hotel or in when you arrive in the city, visiting the tourist information office, calling or visiting hostels and hotels until you find one that works. Yes that is easily doable, and may even save a few dollars, it certainly will connect you with the people and the place. Yet, for me, it takes up time better spent with a sketch pad in my lap, a meal to savor, or some place to explore. So I make accommodation part of the planning.

3 How to get there? – Transport

Basically your: air transport, trains, and rental cars, from major location to location, as well as getting around while in the area.

Planning a trip for me is not a linear process, it is pretty random  – looking at a BnB one moment, a train trip the next; plenty of ideas that need to be collected for future reference so they can easily be searched. And a way to get the basic structures in place that also prevents missing something important. After we look at some thoughts on the three questions above I will offer some suggestions on organization. But first…

Where to go?

I often ask people, “If we had tickets to go anywhere in the world, where would we go?” The top three answers are: Greece, Italy, Australia. Surprisingly, at least in my mind, is how frequently Greece is the number one. Since I have never been to Greece I wonder if I am missing something?

There are some considerations when deciding your destinations. Destinations and itinerary are not the same thing: Destinations are pins on a map, itinerary is the sequence you will travel. Itinerary takes into account time available, transportation logistics, and budgets. For me it works best to start by picking places unconstrained by time and money. Then, unfortunately for those of us with the realities of limited time and money, the list gets refined and usually reduced.

First identify your travel context. Why do you travel? I am sure there are many ways to approach this but here are three:

  1. Exploration – you travel to see and experience other countries and people, it is the destination that is important, someplace you have never been or returning to a place that you loved. When people ask me where I would go with those free tickets I quite often respond with Scotland or France, I love those countries, the people and the culture.
  2. Interests – some activity or topic motivates you to travel, you are looking for a place to do something specific or to experience. Skiers might be motivated to try the slopes on another continent, golfers to play in Scotland where it all started. History buffs would find a trip to learn more about some period in history attractive. Hikers, mountain climbers looking to add to the peaks that they have challenged.
  3. What makes it a good trip for you? Think of past trips, what were the best parts, the most memorable days, and why were they good? What were the times you found yourself restless, why? Do you prefer big cities or countryside? How important are museums and iconic sites? How important is nightlife or shopping? How important is good food, dining out? Lots of activity or plenty of relaxing time? Time and place for photography or art?

Personally, seeing new places and experience the culture is high on my list. I would rather spend a few days in one location and not visit as many places. What is perfect is when I can stay long enough to have morning tea at the same tea shop that they recognize me when I walk in. Painting and sketching are major interests, but so far they are what I do while in a place and not the motivation to pick a place. Good food is going to get me to San Sebastian in Spain one day, but I like Spain anyway. We tend to stay in big cities only briefly, anxious to rent a car or take a train to get out into the smaller towns and the countryside. Shopping is low on our list, and nightlife pretty much nonexistent.

As important as it is to consider these things about yourself, it is even more important when you are traveling with other people. Unless there is some harmony on these basics there will be conflict on the trip. Frank discussions are essential.

Start with broad geographical areas then work your way to specifics. What part of the world is attracting you right now? Europe? Asia? South America? Yes, I would start at the continent level.

Browse images, travel pages, maps, guidebooks, talk to people. Then start listing possible areas and cities. At this stage don’t worry about sequence or time spent in each. Once you have some key locations identified it helps to look at them on a map. Look for patterns, try to see how it would flow going from one to another. If there is one city that is quite distant from the others, think about how important it really is – the travel to reach it may be expensive or take time from more important places.

Now comes the sequencing, list the destinations out in a logical order, taking geography into account. Then begin to factor in time for the overall trip, and the time you would like to spend in each location. My personal preference is to spend more time in fewer places as opposed to racing from town to town, place to place just to say you have been there. It is rare that I would ever want to spend less than two nights in a place, because if you travel in the morning, you arrive at the new location in the afternoon, or late morning at best. Then you spend the night and get up and travel again, so you really do not get to experience much of the culture or get a sense of the place. With two nights you get an evening, a whole day, and maybe just a bit of the next morning. If a place is not worth staying two nights I would question how important it really is.

In the next blog we will discuss setting up a table to track all of this simply, and talk about transport.

Travel – tear down the walls

tower-of-londonYears ago we were staying at The Tower Hotel in London. As the name suggests it is next to The Tower of London, which is a Medieval Fortress that housed the Royal Armory and still houses  the Crown Jewels of England. It was built for protection, a place for the Monarch to retreat and defend themselves if they were attacked.

One morning, as usual, I was up early and went out for a walk. The Tower sits next to the River Thames, it is surrounded by a park – a perfect place for a walk. It was early enough that the London traffic was not yet awake, nor were there many other people out. As I walked around the walls, I considered what it must have been like to live inside the Tower. Though the Tower was used as a prison as late as 1952, its original purpose was a Royal residence, and a lavish one at that.

As I thought of what life would have been like in the parklike setting of moats and stone buildings, gardens and trees, as well as security from all dangers, eventually my mind began to focus more on the walls. Walls to protect you, walls that kept you safe from the enemies outside, walls that gave you security – walls that kept you in. Then it hit me, “the very walls that we build to protect us become the walls that in-prison us.” Fear builds walls, we find safety behind them, those on the other side of our walls become the adversary; outside the wall is a scary place, better to be incarcerated within our walls than to risk the perceived dangers beyond the wall. Walls may protect but they are a barrier to freedom.

This is one reason I like to travel, it breaks down walls. Prejudice is based on ignorance which leads to fear, and our fears build up walls for protection. When we travel and meet people that are different we discover that most folks in this world are pretty much the same. We all want to just do our jobs, have a place to live and food to eat, raise our kids, and have some fun along the way.

I remember that morning often, and am reminded that to really live life to the fullest you can’t hide from it. We live in a crazy world, with politics that frighten, yet I refuse to stop traveling, in fact I am motivated to travel all the more and I encourage others to travel as well. Relationships and understanding tear down walls, we need that these days.

2017, make it simple, make it good

img_2219Au revoir 2016, I welcome 2017. While it would be tempting to reiterate the plethora of challenges forever attached to 2016, from personal challenges to a tumultuous election, I will strive to recall the positive and pleasant.

The 3 best memories of 2016

1. Sold our house and moved into townhouse

We recovered from the December flood, repaired the house and put it on the market. Thanks to a great agent, Kim Tornow, the whole transaction was a smooth success. Five months later than originally planned, which actually was a blessing as the market went up.

2. Vacation in Japan

I was ambivalent about going to Japan, but it only took a day to make me fall in love with the country and the people. Rebecca, our niece, was going to school there, and we wanted to visit our exchange student, Saori. We were unable to connect with Minori, our other Japanese daughter. It was just as good as a trip could be, I am ready to return anytime.

3. Sonoma and Crater Lake

What is there to say, how can you beat wine, good food, and hiking in a National Park.

The keyword for 2017 – Simplify. With all of the challenges and craziness of 2016 simple is a good word, but never mundane. So here are some desires and objectives for 2017.

My 3 Goals for 2017

1. Find pleasure in simple things

Reading a good book, going for walks, taking time to slow down. In a world that wears “busy” as a badge of success I want to strive to make “simple and slow” my hallmark. More time spent in contemplation and reading, walking and sketching.

 

2. Simple food – great taste

Food is of course always a priority. This year I want to cook simple dishes with amazing flavors. Jacques Pépin says that the best meals  use the best quality ingredients, prepare them simply, and savor the flavors. We plan to do more with local and seasonal foods. We continue to reduce meat and poultry.

Drink more tea. We have even canceled some wine clubs and are following the “Cheap Wine Curious” blog – good wines under $10.

3. Travel, simple regardless the length of the trip

Short weekend trips within driving distance of home. Here are some destinations we hope for in 2017:

  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Whistler, BC for snowshoeing
  • Scotland, England, France, Italy (OK, not a simple trip, but we do travel simple when we go)
  • National Parks in Utah
  • Hiking and snowshoeing around Washington

I am sure that 2017 has some surprises and challenges up its sleeve, and I am ready. If life and 2016 have taught me anything it is that you have to roll with it, or as I wrote in my book “Let it be Hot.” Rod McKuen said it well, some good advice for this year,  let’s make it a good one.

I’ve been going a long time now

along the way I’ve learned some things.

You have to make the good times yourself

take the little times and make them into big times

and save the times that are all right

for the ones that aren’t so good

Sunriver, trying to remember how to ski

img_2634Day 3 in Sunriver, Oregon. Yesterday we went cross-country skiing at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park. When I was young (20’s) I gave up downhill skiing because the lines were too long, and I was either too hot or too cold: hot while skiing, cold on the lifts – not to mention that lift tickets were expensive. So I switched to cross-country: no lines, always warm, and less money.

My son’s family are here with us, they are snowboarders, so they went to Bachelor. Well I hear the lines are longer than ever, of course since it is  Christmas Break there were record numbers of people at Bachelor, so they spent a lot of time waiting in lines; I guess nothing has changed. And those lift tickets have just gone up in price.

My cross-country skills are pretty rusty, the last time we went skiing was a few years ago at Mt. Bachelor, and before that it was at least 30 years since I had been on skis. My mind remembers what to do, but my body and balance have forgotten how.

img_2637It was a beautiful day, we did the beginners loop; for once I overcame overconfidence with practicality. Yet it was still quite a challenge getting back into the flow. All went well until I jinxed the day by proclaiming, “Its been 30 minutes and no one has fallen.” Well shortly after that we both fell, and followed that up with a few more. Snow is cold, and the deep un-groomed snow offers little support, so getting back to standing proved a challenge. Yet we prevailed and finished the 2 ½ mile loop without much incident.

Today we are skiing the golf courses here at Sunriver, they are better groomed so most likely more conducive and forgiving as I attempt to reclaiming some long lost skills. My mantra today, “Bend your knees, keep your weight forward.”

A morning of skiing, then I am sure we will be on the hunt for a good lunch and some time to recoup.