Tag Archives: travel

Ain’t no spring in my step

One of my best traveling stories, one you’ve probably already heard, involved a 40-mile bike ride through southern England to watch a play. That wasn’t the good part, though. The good part was waiting until the police did their last patrol through the park across the street from the theater, then sneaking in, finding a quiet place under some trees and setting up tents. Except, we could only get one tent up, and it was designed for one person, and there were three of us. (Or was this the bad part?)

We didn’t sleep much, but nor did we get out of the tent and walk around. So it was a complete surprise when we got up in the morning and found inches—inches!—of snow on the ground. In southern England! In April! When we hadn’t seen a single snowflake all winter!

So what is it about mild climes and green grassy landscapes that get bad spring snowfalls? The Willamette Valley woke up to half a foot of snow yesterday, and let me tell you, no one here owns a shovel. By 9 it had turned to rain, and the tree branches started coming down. There lies in the collective memory of this town a mythical blizzard to which this storm cannot compare, but it’s still the worst snowfall in 75 years and it sure is messy out there.

Please, let no one in Michigan comment on this post to gloat about your 80-degrees days all this week. Speak not of your thunderstorms, your beach trips, or your patio grill-outs. I’m headed south for break next week, to San Francisco. It’s supposed to rain, and I think I’ll stay in a hostel.


What the distance means

What is distance? What is distance when you’re on the last leg of a weekend climb to the top of a mountain? What is distance when the weather is miserable where you live in Western Washington but you have only three days of vacation? What is distance when you’ve got as much vacation time as you want but only $500 to spend?

In the first scenario, I might say distance is the 200 meters I have to keep walking before I reach the top; in the second, it’s as far south as I can get in 1.5 days; in the third, it’s a function of money—how far can I get on $500? It’s space, sure, but it’s also time and money.

A person with a stricter understanding of language would insist that distance is only ever the space between one place and another, but it’s hard to deny that the meaning of distance—how we experience distance—is much more. It’s time, and it’s money, and it’s how we use technology to change the relationship between space, time, and money. You remember the lesson on the transcontinental railroad from eighth grade history class don’t you? The opening of the railroad didn’t shorten the physical distance from New York to Sacramento, but it did dramatically cut the amount of time it took to travel that physical distance. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the West.

Traditional maps have been very good at helping us find the physical distance from place to place, and more recently, network-analysis based mapping services like Google Maps have acknowledged with options for car-travel, foot-travel, public transport, and biking that the ways we understand and use knowledge about distance is highly contingent on how we move from place to place.

A couple of recent mash-ups have developed the idea that the meaning of distance is not always so much about space as it is about how we experience space. Probably my favorite mash-up of the season is Mapnificent, featured a while ago on Flowing Data and also shown to me by AKC. For certain cities, it shows you where you can get from a central location in whatever amount of time you specify when you’re traveling on public transportation. This map shows me where I should look for apartments if I want to be able to get to class in Condon Hall at UO in 15 minutes or less:

The shape of my 15-minute bubble is influenced by physical geography (the river is a definite barrier) as well as the built environment (where are the major roads) and things like public policy (who determines the bus routes or the speed limits?). Beautiful isn’t it! Mapnificent also releases its API, which is kickass if you’re a developer.

A second mash-up that’s a little less cool but still worth a look is a flight-finder from the Hungarian airline Malev.

Enter your starting location and the amount of money you’re willing to spend on a ticket, and the map returns every city you can fly to for less than that price.

God bless creative minds in possession of sweet web programming skills!

April 4 to 24

Since collecting personal data is soon to be totally sexy, I thought I’d try to explain in numbers why I didn’t post much last month. 

Bus tickets

I drove 2995 miles in 7 states (not including my daily 70-mile commute).
I flew 5624 miles on 3 airlines.
I rode on 8 different public transit systems.
I spent 8 nights in 4 hotels.
I slept in guest beds at 5 different relatives’ houses.

In months like these, I’m grateful for family. And public transportation. And I find myself wishing I had an iPhone with its creepy GPS tracker.

off the road, up in the air

This weekend was a blessing to me. After the week’s goodbyes, car troubles, and diminishing time for making a decision about grad school, I was able to attend an interview weekend for an interdisciplinary, interdenominational fellowship for humanities students from faith-based undergrad institutions. I was the only geographer there, so it required the usual explanations of my discipline and research interests as well as some refreshing and challenging conversations about being a Christian in the academy. I really hope to receive the fellowship, but regardless of whether I do or not, the weekend was a wonderful chance to meet students with similar commitments as me and to reflect on and articulate those commitments and on my general academic goals. It was also nice to see an old friend from Calvin who I hadn’t seen in some time.

While I’m writing this I’m sitting on a plane back to Minneapolis. It is so interesting to see the world from a plane, particularly in a season not always shown in the satellite images we’ve become so accustomed to looking at on Google Earth. Most of the snow has melted, but there are still long straight lines of snow piled along the sides of certain roads and curves of ice edging Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. The Mississippi still looks enormous, if not yet so muddy. Glowing clusters of orange streetlights make the cities stand out against the fields.

The Twins are playing at home tonight; my aunt and uncle are at the game, and judging by the lights and the look of the stands, the game is still going on. After I land, I’ll take the tram into the city and meet them near the stadium. I’m finding travel wearying this week, but it is so wonderful to be traveling towards people I know and not only away from them.

Desert sunshine

I’m back on the train for another long haul after my last visit to Washington relatives. The east side of the mountains is so much different from the west, but I love the desert. My lips chap and my skin cracks and the dry heat is hardly more comfortable than the humidity of Michigan, but it is awfully nice how quickly my hair dries. Plus the sunsets are gorgeous. Tonight the moon came up big and full, and while the sun set off a spectrum of colors in the western sky, the reflection off the moon in the east was a show of its own. With hay bales and tractors in the foreground, it was agrarian bliss.

It always amazes me how much farming happens in the desert. It is so different from the farming I know, and I know so little about it. It seems like a tenuous livelihood, to be so dependent on infrastructure and compliance with allocated rights. But it certainly seems to work: those hay bales and orchards, dry beans and—of course—the wines are a definite testament. And it’s beautiful, too, if I haven’t already made that clear.

Today my aunt and I stopped into town where my uncle was helping to get some old tractors running. They were starting up a 1939 Deere when we got there, and after a few turns of some part I didn’t recognize, the engine crawled to life. Over the cheerful thrum of the two cylinder machine was a syncopated sputtering that I could almost dance to. It’s be a great rhythm to mix into a jazz tune, that’s for sure.

It’s such a different experience, traveling alone to visit my relatives, than traveling with my family. My aunt observed as we were saying goodbye how much more of a chance we got to talk, and it’s true; she and my mom get along so well that I can hardly get a word in to their conversations when we all come out together. In some ways, I wish I weren’t alone. I love to listen in to the conversations my dad and uncle have about their work and worldviews, and my sister brings to life a side of my cousins that I don’t see when I’m alone, but traveling alone is a different blessing.

The sun rises in Montana. I can’t wait.

That ribbon of highway

Check this out: http://www.nprroadtrip.com/

I’m not sure if it’s relieving or disappointing to realize someone’s thought of and accomplished something I’d thought I dreamed up on my own, but at any rate, this interactive NPR station map is going to be a fantastic resource the next time I drive across this vast and wonderful continent (and hopefully it won’t be fundraising week next time).

More thoughts on my recent road trip eastward if this homework gets itself done. To all the friends new and old along the way: thanks, pals. Hope to see you soon.


nov. 2 (Warsaw) 168e

Of all the cities I’ve visited now in Central Europe Warsaw is my favorite—although Budapest holds a special place for obvious reasons. I think this may have a lot to do with the circumstances of my visit rather than something particular about the city, but I left Warsaw feeling far more hopeful about Central Europe than I’ve felt since I started studying the region’s history. I liked its Catholic spirit (we went over All Saints Day, which was a marvelous experience), I liked the open space, I liked the fall colors, I liked the vodka, but mostly, I liked the thoughtful optimism of the people we met.

I went with just one other student from the group who lived in Warsaw in the 90s, and we spent time with a few of her old friends who are now graduate students or young professionals. They certainly knew how to have a good time, but they were also thoughtful young Polish people with international experience and big ideas for Poland’s future. They were awfully proud of being Polish, and their enthusiasm for their country and for Warsaw was infectious.

One of her friends was particularly optimistic. He took us to restaurants where Slavic food was on the menu—and they were great restaurants, packed full of people and serving excellent food—and got totally geeked telling us how Poles are rediscovering their Slavic (i.e. not Western) identity. Every time he heard someone speaking Polish with an immigrant’s accent he’d point it out enthusiastically, taking immigration as a sign of improvement for the country. One of his plans for the future is to advertise in Israel to get Polish Jews who left after the Second World War to come back and reinvest in Poland (although if Antisemitism in Poland is anything like it is in Hungary, this might not be as feasible as he made it seem).

What he wants is economic development that contributes to a positive Polish identity. He doesn’t want development that’s simply been transplanted here from the West, and he doesn’t want Antisemitism or xenophobia or nationalism. I think it’s exactly what Central Europe needs, and it was so exciting to hear it coming from the mouth of someone who could really make it happen, a young Central European.