Boxed In, Boxes Out

Life lessons  from My Year of Living Travelly come from surprising places, including the cramped and stifling quarters of my storage unit.  All the personal effects I needed to get out of my condo in preparation for a renter were stored in boxes stacked six feet high, and I had to look through them to change out the clothing I needed the last few months in the Mediterranean for  more casual and outdoorsy clothes for Alaska, and, while I was at it, the warmer wardrobe I will need for my Montreal-based fall foliage cruises that start right on the heels of my return from Alaska at the end of August.

Pulling out box after box and seeing everything from tennis tops to winter socks, skimpy camisoles to wool sweaters, and shoes galore from dress sandals to boots, I had a realization of how much I truly have not missed these things, and how I don’t want to let my life feel overburdened by belongings when I finally move back in

I adopted a mantra in the last four months, that if something I was considering buying was just going to go straight into one of the storage boxes when I got home, I wasn’t going to buy it no matter how much it called to me.  Remembering those boxes will be an even more powerful deterrent, now that I have looked from the perspective of time at how dispensable it all is.  And this is after years of successive downsizings from a big house and a vacation home to a one-bedroom condo! I would have thought I’d gotten it pretty much down to what I truly wasn’t ready to relinquish (and maybe I wasn’t at the time), but I see now I am still nowhere close.

I have decided that when it comes time to live in my own place again, I am dumping most of what I stored. Except for jewelry.  It’s my scrapbook of my travels. The happiness I will feel in getting rid of those boxes will be matched only by the pleasure of having just the right earrings and necklace to go with whatever clothes I have remaining after the purge. Basic black?  Goes with every piece of jewelry I own!



Things I Like About Being Home

I don’t quite know what to call this short hiatus between my Mediterranean and Baltic adventures and my  Alaska gigs on Seabourn coming up in three weeks. To call it being “home” is a bit of a misnomer, because I am staying with my partner Dan, who has a condo in the same complex as I do, but I rented out mine and now walk by my door without being able to go inside, and I see a different car in my space.  But to title this post “What  I Like About Being Back  in San Diego” misses the nuances of how I feel in the place where I have lived more than half a century.

But whatever I call it, there are a few things worth commenting on that I have noticed with enhanced pleasure these last few days.

  1.  I really enjoy hearing Spanish spoken everywhere. Sorry to anyone who thinks that is a problem. I think it is a huge cultural plus.
  2. I am already very reattached to my blender.  I have really missed breakfast smoothies my way.  Recipe: frozen fruit ( or fresh with ice), almond milk and stevia.  Low calorie and fabulous!
  3. I love having my phone service back.  Much simpler.
  4. i am glad to be able to resume some favorite routines, like morning walks in Balboa Park with Dan.
  5.  It’s good to have a big gym to go to, not the  hotel-like ones on ships. Truth told, I haven’t been yet (too busy and too jet lagged) but today’s the day. (Or maybe tomorrow…) Got to shed the  five pounds I gained  before I leave for Alaska  and get my upper body strong again. I averaged 100 miles a month walking the last few months, but that doesn’t help the tennis  serve or golf swing. Plus, five pounds is pretty good fo four months on ships, but if I don’t lose as I go along, after a few more assignments I will be changing it to My Year of Living Blimpily.
  6. And  speaking of tennis, I am off this morning to play for the first time since March and have golf set up next week.
  7. I love having my friends nearby and already have a full dance card for next week with lunches, coffees, sports, minyan and other groups I am part of.
  8. I love spending time with Dan. It’s been less strange than I thought it might be living in his condo, since we usually spent our days independently when I lived around the corner and got together mostly in the evenings. He’s been so generous about sharing space and since I am still living out of a suitcase, I hope I am not moving in a bit too much.
  9. I am finding this experiment in living without a car intriguing, at least so far. It adds an element of interest, requiring me to consider options and solve problems I never gave much thought to.
  10. I love not having to think, “how much is this in dollars?”

Following David Letterman, I will stop with theTop Ten, but the bonus number eleven would have to be that life is good, wherever I am!


Departing Thoughts

Well, this part of My Year of Living Travelly is over. Four months ago,  I flew to Manaus, Brazil to begin the adventure. Four months, forty-three blog posts, sixteen countries,  five travel companions, and who knows how many ports later, the European chapter comes to a close.

As I sit in the Copenhagen airport waiting for my flight back to the US, it is time for a little reflection.  Here are some random thoughts.

1) I still break out in a broad grin on a bus going just about anywhere in any port, just because being there is such a privilege and blessing. I simply can’t believe Wanderlust Girl  of  six decades ago has become Wanderwoman!

2) I still look forward to every day, and today the theme is “Oh boy—something different!” Dry land and a seriously different destination, my home state, California.

3) I have come to appreciate more and more how diversity is reshaping our world. Everywhere I see people living in a place that is clearly not of their ethnic origin, and how successfully they seem to be fitting in.  I know as a tourist I don’t see the whole picture, but what I see is encouraging. People who think Denmark ( for example) should be just for the Danes are as out of touch with reality as people who expect the Dutch  to all still be wearing wooden shoes.

4)  Living Travelly has caused me to inhabit the present much more successfully than in the past, an observation I have made on all-day tours.  I used to watch the clock—how many more hours we had yet to go. Now I just sit back and enjoy.  Maybe thinking in terms of structured time was a small bit of leftover baggage I still had to shed from my working years. Now I just have to be careful I don’t get so relaxed I literally miss the boat!

5) This will be the first time that going home has felt like a continuation of travel more than an end ( however brief) to it. Today as I prepared to leave the ship, I scrounged around to have my keys handy before realizing I didn’t need them.  I have rented out my condo and given my car for the duration of my Year of Living Travelly to my son, so I don’t need any keys. Being in San Diego will feel a bit like another stop where I live out of suitcases, but with the wonderful addition of my friends and my very tolerant partner, Dan.  It’s going to feel pretty strange, I think, this combination of being in a place I have lived more than half a century, but without the ease of being fully home.

6) My Year of Living Travelly has had at its core not just the desire to see the world, but to provide the chance to reconnect with myself.  As I approach my seventieth birthday ( end of 2019), who is this person I have become and and am still continuously becoming?  In that respect, I may learn more about myself in the three weeks I am in San Diego, because I won’t have the ability to settle into the old me without a home or a car to do it with.

Just now I had the thought, “wow, that’s really going to be interesting!” and I felt a surge of desire to get on that plane and jet home.  Circle back to points one and two in this post. Yes, Wanderwoman is both home anywhere, and happy  to be going home.





Time Out in the Baltic

It’s been quite a while since I last posted, and there are a couple of reasons. First, I have been very busy—ports every day, and tours almost every port. Plus, the lectures required a lot of additional prep, since I just got this assignment after I left home in March. I had to develop talks on eight Baltic ports while on earlier cruises or the breaks in between, and they were not really as polished  as I was comfortable with sometimes until the day I gave them—one such talk pictured, rather blurry, here.

And then there’s the fun onboard stuff—I am on a great trivia team, have had excellent dinner company every night, and had fun the other day being one of the liars in Liar’s Club.  I had particular fun with the word “ prickmadam” ( look it up) , claiming it was an Elizabethan term for a transvestite, and making up a quotation saying that one character in Shakespeare was said to be “so void of common wit he would  chase a prickmadam to unskirt.”  Sounds pretty good, huh?  I told the truth with “gyrovagus,” making up a story about retarded medieval monks.  Great fun, and we liars were so good about half the audience got all of them wrong, and the best anyone did was 50 percent.

All of that to say I have been too busy to post, much less to think about anything but Baltic history, culture and the likes for talks, what to wear to dinner and whether to bring a raincoat on a sunny day ( answer: in the Baltic, yes—always!), and what lie to tell about the word ”spizzerrinctum.”

And too busy to observe much of any value to share.  I am flying home in a few days for a three-week hiatus in San Diego, and as I start thinking about going home,  with most of the work and play done, I will make some observations about how My Year of Living Travelly looks at the four-month mark, but for now, time for coffee and the NYT crossword.  Think later.



“Cep Diffnt”

No , that’s not a typo. I once saw a comedian do an impersonation of Elvis in which he said something “was just like that—except different,” which in Elvis-speak came out sounding like the title of my post.

That observation by The King makes comically little sense on one level, but on another, I know what he meant. There’s a mental model I overlay on every cruise and most times they play out pretty much the way I figure they will. And then sometimes they are, well,  “diffnt.”

The biggest question mark for me as a lecturer is always dinner, because it is important to be sociable in my role.  I meet a few people right away and little by little, through my lectures, the tours, the onboard games like Team Trivia and golf putting, I end up with a full dance card of dinner dates long before the end of the voyage.

This cruise  was so different from the get go. I was traveling alone, so I knew I had to put more effort into finding dinner companions than when I have one ready made every night.  I figured when I  had almost full houses at my first two lectures that I would find it easy to strike up conversations around the ship, but with this crowd it didn’t really work that way. It was a one-week cruise, which attracts a different clientele.  There were a number of family groups on board as well as several very large groups who were part of travel clubs. Often these passengers aren’t really looking to be sociable beyond themselves.

Most nights I honestly didn’t know at 6pm who I would be having dinner with, but somehow it always worked out over happy hour.  I had a wonderful time whether with one solo traveler or a family of five, with one couple or two, or whatever.

I hadn’t done as good a job reaching out  this time as I might have—haven’t played the games or gone on as many tours—but tonight, the last night of this cruise, I came home to notes and business cards on my door from people who want to stay in touch. More so than on cruises where I have tried harder, so go figure.

I haven’t changed my mind—this was a tough one, but as The King well knew, and put it so eloquently, it was the same as the others in some ways, except memorably different.



Of Corpse Planes, Porno Rings, and the Fourth of July


The last time I was in St. Petersburg was four years ago, shortly after Malaysian Airlines flight 17, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, killing all on board

Russian rebels in Ukraine were widely believed in the West to be responsible, but Russian media fed people the most bizarre conspiracy theories. First they said enemies of Putin mistook his plane flying nearby for this one and shot the wrong plane down. In this tale, the  hero narrowly escapes the claws of perfidy, but don’t worry—he’s fine.

But the story  that is crazy beyond crazy  is the claim that no one had died on the flight, because it had gone off full of dead bodies  and the whole thing was a plot to discredit Russia. Here is a link to a story in the Washington post about this. All day as I toured St. Petersburg in 2014, I wondered about every Russian I saw, “do they believe this horse manure?” Sadly, I suspect many did.

The events of the last two years in my own country make perfect sense in light of this corpse hoax.  1) Russian leadership has complete confidence in its ability to sell anything to the public.  2) The Russians found ways to infiltrate the media to influence the American presidential election. 3) Worked just as well in the US. How about Hillary’s child pornography ring being run out of an East Coast pizza parlor? Pretty much on a par with a plane full of corpses shot down over Ukraine.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine such nonsense gaining a toehold back in the states, but what a different four years makes. Now we have Fox News spinning misinformation and utter lies nonstop.  We have  White House spokespeople telling us up is down, day is night—at least today. Tomorrow it may be be something else altogether. They may smile and laugh more than Russian spokespeople, and wear nicer clothes,  but they are the same ilk.   Any lie will do, since apparently most people aren’t listening and even fewer are thinking.

it’s the Fourth of July back home, and little paper flags garnishing drinks are already appearing on the pool deck on the ship.  Luckily, what’s underneath them is alcoholic.  I need several of whatever the concoction is  today.

I still believe in my country, but it is much, much harder. I hope it can survive this spate of bad faith and benighted thinking. Here’s to life (not lies), liberty ( not lawlessness) , and the pursuit of not just happiness, but truthfulness, and to having the  courage and strength to save what is best about America.  Then I will wave the flag again, but this Fourth of July, sadly, there is  little to cheer.



The View From Here

Russia is complicated.  In so many ports, one can avoid asking hard questions.  In so many other ports, one can simply be charmed.  St. Petersburg  maybe be impressive, even beautiful in parts, but it is not charming, even when one looks out to a view like this through my window ( the white marks are from this morning’s rain shower). Russia hasn’t ever tried to charm. Everything about it, from the massive buildings to the ferocious, barely survivable winters, seems designed to intimidate.

I have read that the shape and the gilding on the domes is to make them resemble flames from lit candles, reaching to the heavens.  The St. Uspenia  monastery church in the photo seems to me to be staring straight ahead, stiff and formal, not built at all for the benefit of the souls of the Russian people, who, according to Tolstoy, have “an infinite capacity for suffering.”  The passersby don’t look at it either, so I guess the church and the people of St. Petersburg are even.

If I had a Russian visa I could be over there right now , but like so much about dealing with Russia, it’s just a whole lot of worry and trouble to get one.   Without a visa, I can only go on tours to places they want to take us, led by a guide the government has vetted. It a pleasant prison on  the the ship to be sure,  but we are, in a sense, incarcerated here in the middle of St. Petersburg, apparently too much of a threat to allow out for a walk.

What harm would a stroll on the Neva  River embankment do?   Pervert the minds of those people over there with my command of Russian scarcely going beyond “da” and “nyet”? What are they so afraid visitors will see? Who are they so afraid their own people will meet?

I could throw out some oversimplified pablum here, but I don’t trust my own thoughts all that much.  They are lied to. But haven’t I been? Their place in the world and relationship to it has been distorted. But hasn’t mine?

These people can walk on that embankment because they are  Russian.  They got by birth the whole package—the winters, the governmental cruelty, the infinite suffering, the constant reminders of how small they are, as measured against the towering churches and palaces.  They also got  the ability to exercise the small freedom to go for a walk on a beautiful afternoon. Be at peace, all of you out there. I wish you well.

I got something different in life, something incomparably better.  I can travel far beyond this embankment. I can see things for myself. Except for here.  But even here they can’t stop me from seeing  some things about Russia pretty clearly for myself, through my spotted window.