Sunday 11 January 2009


I’ve lived in Bellingham since July 2007, after 20 years largely based in Seattle. It’s a nice-enough town—not quite too small, certainly not too large—but I’d like to relocate to Portland for the next phase of my life.


My interests in world affairs and in travel overlap substantially, so I’m producing a page of this site to be a combined base for relevant links, tales, and resources. At the moment, in the interests of providing more logical/convenient access to a couple of in-demand personal travel narratives, I’m launching the page prematurely; its intended scope is well beyond being a “vanity” project…rather I want it to focus on aspects of international history, current events, languages, cultures, and aspects of global connectivity which the Internet has made newly possible at the recent turn of the century.

But until I can get all that into place, for now it’s “me, me, me”…albeit with as much outward focus as I can provide in the two travel tales that are ready to read.

travel tales

Because He Can

Eastern France & Western Switzerland, with not even a smidgen of drama despite a daunting wordcount!
April–May 2006

EuroTrash Eats France!

A foraging of France, a side-dish of Switzerland (Valais), and just a bite of Benelux
February–March 2003

A Travel page has been long overdue on this website, so as I was starting to write out a narrative account of my most recent transatlantic jaunt I figured I’d slap out an introductory piece to put it in context and give it (and its siblings) a proper, if sparse, home here.

I do love to travel, specifically by air and rail, generally for the sole purpose of experiencing places I’ve never been. My first “real” trip, other than family car-trips into Alberta and British Columbia and a flight to Anchorage (and a drive back), was in 1989 at the age of 23: a week in London with a music/theatre friend, followed by what became two months in Paris without a plan or much of a grasp of French aside from the present tense. Because that trip completely exhausted my resources and was followed by years of clawing my way back to fiscal health, I was unable to travel outside the immediate Puget Sound region until my earning power (and a short-lived windfall) had improved by the late 1990s to allow for an occasional excursion.

Since then my challenge has been more one of finding the time to get away from my job; deciding where and when to go is usually a matter of circumstance or whimsy (or both). Winter travel suits me best, not for winter sport opportunities but because there are generally fewer other people about where I’m wandering, and I like solitude and space as well as winter weather and night. But that “undercrowding” is not guaranteed and has let me down quite rudely at least once, and what with “global warming” and such, I often find “unseasonably warm” weather plaguing my wandering-ground of choice.

Still, there’s always plenty to consider when travelling, and I do: just getting out of my tired old routines and into a new context is its own reward, but beyond that there’s sensory fascination everywhere I turn. I travel to hear and to listen, to see and to view, to taste, to stretch, to touch, to smell, to seek and to find (and sometimes to lose), to ask and to answer, and above all to discover the essences of the places I go. Travel, for me, is about impressions and immersion.

I visit cities for two reasons: to get a feel for them as potential residences, if they’re sufficiently large and cosmopolitan, and/or to “read” them as living places. I’ve found in recent years that I can get a pretty good “read” on a medium-sized city in about a day and a half, sometimes less, by walking around various parts of the town, dining, browsing market areas, climbing to geographical heights or strolling at water’s edge (depending on the topography of the region), pausing to reflect in churches, observing the range and location of businesses and goods for sale, and above all simply noticing the locals all around me as they go about their days and nights. To find that a city feels ancient, lively, exhausted, tense, trite, earthy, dangerous, blasé, cold, smug, forgotten, robust, devout, remote, central, powerful…and/or some combinations of those and other impressions…is what I spend my days and nights passively seeking. I’ve been to places that have been each of those things, and I never tire of either the exploring or the assessing.

Language is the biggest obstacle to my travels: I speak English and French and fragments of a handful of other languages, but I vehemently abhor being unable to communicate in the language of the place I’m visiting, even if the locals are eager to demonstrate their ability to accommodate guests and encourage tourism. It drives me absolutely batty to be reduced to the vocabulary of an infant or to know only what main ingredients are involved on a menu item, so I’ve been very reluctant to follow my longings to travel further east and north in Europe; I feel a strong attraction to the geography and climate of these places and a cultural hunger for Central Europe in particular, but when even German confounds me I know I’d be a basket case dealing with, say, Hungary and the Magyar language (also known as Martian). I have great linguistic curiosity and I love to explore that realm of knowledge, but the actual use of most languages eludes me (to my intense irritation).

Thankfully there’s plenty of places to travel where English or French are regularly spoken. The U.K., France, and Switzerland have been my main wandering zone so far, but I’ve also sniffed around eastern Canada in the last couple of years, checking out Montréal, Québec, and Halifax as potential new home cities. In the U.S. I’ve only visited nine of the fifty States (plus the District of Columbia), but frankly most of the U.S. and its culture hold very little appeal for me, especially as the television-driven homogenization of the country has continued to eradicate what makes cities and regions different. (Plus which the only regional climate up my alley is maybe that of New England, outside of parts of the Northwest.)

As far as practicalities and allegiances go, I usually fly United Airlines or Air Canada. I don’t drive, as the need for a car in Seattle or while travelling has been a matter of rare incidents at best; since my old Alaska driver’s license expired I’ve not felt especially pressed to replace it and take on the hassles and costs driving can incur. If the U.S. had a rail network anymore I’d probably travel domestically more, even if it were as patchily functional as the U.K.’s piss-poor-since-privatization one, but we don’t have even that; thus it’s always a nasty shock to return from Europe and the convenience of France’s SNCF network or the glorious combination of magnificent scenery and variety of options offered by the Swiss Railway (oh, I LOVE Swiss Rail!) only to find the dazzling range of two Amtrak routes available out here in the Apple Maggot Quarantine Zone.

I’m not a particularly widely-travelled person, nor probably what true “seasoned” travellers would consider more than an amiable amateur, but I do love even my little experiences enough to muse about them here; certainly most of my friends over the years have considered my travel tales interesting enough to ask for them repeatedly. Maybe it’s just in the telling. In any case, I find I like to read them myself now and then, and they certainly whet one’s appetite for travel, so here’s hoping we all get something out of these tales.

Thanks for reading!