Category Archives: Travel

Ten Lessons for Round-the-World Travel. Arriving in Seoul, South Korea

Our plane arrived at Incheon Airport, Seoul, in June 2019 after a long and uneventful flight from Seattle. This was the first stop on the second round-the-world trip for my wife, son (age 19), daughter (age 14), and me. We learned many things the first time around, and we implemented our lessons during our second time around.

Here are ten lessons:

  1. Arrive during daylight hours, if possible. Check! We arrived at 4:30 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. It feels easier to find your way around an unfamiliar place with light in the sky. Daylight helps you get your bearings and visually scan a place. You can make it in the dark, of course, but arriving with daylight feels better to us.
  2. Have WiFi or mobile phone service so you can connect to maps and webpages. Check! I made sure my mobile phone was unlocked before leaving home.  At Incheon Airport, you can choose from multiple WiFi vendors. After talking with the sales staff, I decided on a unit that would last for the duration of our stay. Staff members helped me set up the mobile WiFi and check it before I left.
  3. Choose accommodations close to public transportation. Check! We rented an Airbnb apartment accessible by AREX Train from Incheon Airport. AREX is a commuter rail line connecting Incheon to Seoul, and it has two types of trains.The AREX Express Train runs from Incheon Station nonstop to Seoul Station in about forty-five minutes. The AREX All-Stop Train stops at eleven stations between Incheon and Seoul Station and takes about an hour. We took the All-Stop Train to Hongik University Station, and the trip was quiet and easy.
  4. Each person is responsible for carrying her or his own luggage. Check! We limit our luggage to one carry-on bag and one backpack. We have chosen the Rick Steves Rolling Backpack because it has wheels to pull behind and, if necessary, straps to carry it on one’s back. It’s lightweight and durable — both important qualities after flying for several hours and trying to find one’s accommodations in a new place!
  5. Find your accommodations as quickly as possible, get water and food, and begin to learn the area. Check! Our Airbnb host provided excellent directions, which we followed to find the apartment about a ten-minute walk from the station. Of course, we made the inevitable wrong turns along the way. But honestly, that’s part of the fun of travelling! After depositing our bags, we used mobile WiFi to find the nearest market.
  6. Drink as much water as possible. Check! We each carry a water bottle while travelling and intentionally drink water throughout the day. During a long flight or a day of exploring, it’s easy to get dehydrated. So, locate good drinking water, and drink up! Our apartment had filtered water, which is a big plus and money saver!
  7. Eat in as much as possible to save money. Check! In most places, you can purchase groceries in local markets or stores and eat at home with substantial savings. We found a small grocery store about a fifteen-minute walk away from our apartment. Going to a local store is part of the fun of travelling for us. Trying to figure out labels in different languages is a challenge. Looking for familiar items is nice (We’ve found taco mix and spaghetti sauce in nearly every place we’ve ever visited on six continents!), but trying something new and specific to the place you’re visiting is a great way to learn about life there.
  8. Add some comfort food or special treat. Check! I look for local desserts in stores. At relatively low cost, you can purchase cookies or snacks unavailable at home. Trying new foods is part of the adventure. Are they always winners? Of course not! But, usually they are very good. If the locals didn’t like them, vendors wouldn’t sell them, right?
  9. To help avoid jet lag, stay awake until bedtime in your new place — and get outside as much as possible. Check! After dinner, we went for a walk around the Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul. Hongdae is home to Honggik University, a leading fine arts college in South Korea. The neighborhood has many shops, street vendors, and young people. It was fun to look around, stroll amidst the vibrant people, and fight the urge to sleep.
  10. Wear ear plugs while sleeping in a new place. Check! Even though we are pretty tired on our first night in a new place, the new noises can keep us from sleeping or wake us earlier than we want the next morning. We take ear plugs to provide much-needed sleep on arrival.

After arriving, finding food and water, and getting a good night’s sleep, we were ready for our adventures in Seoul. More on that in the next blog post!

At Home Traveling — during Coronavirus

As I’m writing this blog post, we are in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, my family and I have been healthy. Friends have been affected, including a friend in another state whose family member died.  I know Coronavirus is fierce and frightening, but in many ways, Covid-19 seems far removed from my family and me.  I’m grateful.

There have been some changes, but nothing too major.
Routines have changed. Our son returned home to complete his first year of college remotely. Our daughter is completing her first year of high school via computer. My wife and I are teaching college courses online and via Zoom. I’m leading church services via Zoom, and although we are not together physically, church members still are connected to one another. 

In the midst of it all, we have been spared the harsh aspects of Coronavirus.  Again, I’m grateful.

Our travel plans have changed. We had planned to travel this summer, but our trip was cancelled. So, for the first time in a long time, we are home — with no plans to travel.  Sure, we expect to travel again, but we don’t know when or where that will be.

During this extended time at home, I’ve thought a lot about travel:  why I want to travel, why I miss it during staying at home.  Traveling, especially with my family, is one of the deepest joys of my life.  We encounter new things, learn new lessons, rise to new challenges. And, most important of all, we do it together.  Our shared experiences are powerful and transformative. 

During Summer 2019, our family took a second round-the-world trip.  For our first trek around the globe, we spent ten months visiting six continents. The second time around, we only had a summer break before our son left for college. We had six weeks, but we decided to give it another go.

After spending a week in Alaska to celebrate my in-laws’ 55th wedding anniversary, we traveled to Asia to visit friends in South Korea and Myanmar. We next went to Cambodia to experience Angkor Wat before traveling to India. On our return home to Florida, we added a stopover in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

One lesson I learned is this…go anyway.  Our second round-the-world trip wasn’t nearly as big as our first, but we went anyway.  We couldn’t linger in places like we did the first time (spending more than a month in some places), but we still had a great time.  We couldn’t choose low-season or shoulder-season, but we went anyway.  We had to travel during monsoon season in Myanmar and India, but we went anyway.  We couldn’t house-sit like we did the first time, but we went anyway.

Our second round-the-world trip was different, to be sure, but it also was wonderful.  We didn’t stop, fearing that our second trip would be less than our first one.  We went anyway!  I’m glad we did.

I look forward to sharing experiences we had and lessons we learned.

I hope you’ll enjoy!

Cuba

Cuba is so near and yet so far away.  Cuba and the United States are very close to one another, and yet, the two countries have been separated by mutual suspicion and animosity for so many years that Cuba almost seems like a different world.

Our family had the good fortune to travel to Cuba during June and July 2017.  Because we live in Florida, we were able to visit Cuba relatively inexpensively and very easily.  We drove to Tampa, boarded a ship, and the next day, found ourselves in Havana.  Between the time we booked our tickets and left Tampa, the United States President announced his intention to tighten travel restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba.  Thankfully, our trip happened before restrictions are implemented.

 

Ministry of the Interior Building with Che Guevara’s image and the words, “Ever onward to victory.”

We spent our time in Cuba learning about Cuban history, seeing architecture, and interacting with wonderful Cuban people.  Thanks to Amanda, our incredible guide from Havana Journeys, our trip followed the guidelines for a People-to-People exchange, which currently is a legal way for Americans to travel in Havana.

While, like many Americans, I tend to focus on recent events in Cuban history following the Communist revolution in the twentieth century, Cuba has a long and rich history.  Of course, Cuba was vibrant with indigenous peoples long before Columbus arrived.  Following the arrival of Europeans, Cuba remained an important part of the Caribbean because of its location, size, and natural and human resources.

Plaza de la Revolucion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many visitors, we saw the Plaza de la Revolucion, where Fidel Castro made speeches lasting many hours.  We saw Miramar, the area of Havana that wealthy people called home in the early part of the twentieth century.

 

 

We drove around Havana in classic American cars.  Yank Tanks, as they are sometimes called, have been meticulously maintained by Cubans.  We traveled with my parents, and our ride in these cars reminded them of their youth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When our family travels, we try to go beyond the comfort of the usual tourist spots.  While in Havana, we asked our guide to take us to a place where Cubans enjoy ice cream.  Amanda took us to Coppelia, a wonderful place in Havana, where Cubans line up at different signs advertising the flavors available.  Chocolate seems to be the most popular!  After waiting, they are seated in outdoor pavilions and then enjoy ice cream.  Each scoop costs about the same as ten cents in American currency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many highlights of our time in Havana.  One was following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway.  We visited Hemingway’s room and the roof-top bar of the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  We felt the humid air and could imagine Hemingway sitting over his typewriter.

Hemingway’s View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another highlight was seeing the world through the lens of Cubans.  While walking through the National Hotel, where Castro directed Cuba’s response to the Cuban Missile Crisis from underground caves, I saw pictures of famous visitors.  Yes, there were American film stars and political leaders such as Jimmy Carter.  But, there were other people Americans tend to view as villains.  There was a large portrait of Hugo Chavez and many pictures of current Russian leaders.  I was able to ask someone about John Kennedy, and not surprisingly, Kennedy is still viewed with suspicion given the Bay of Pigs invasion and missile crisis.

My experience in Cuba was similar to my experience in every other country I have visited.  The vast majority of people are kind, helpful, and open to relationship.  They want to live in a world where people can relate to one another with respect.  Despite differences of history and language, religion and culture, people are people, and we can find things in common to unite us.

Dear Friends

Just before leaving Cuba, we had the wonderful pleasure of visiting with Rev. Santiago Conrado Delgado Castillo and his family.  Santiago is Secretario Ejecutivo of the Fraternidad de Iglesia Bautista de Cuba (the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba).  We shared coffee and conversation, and we discussed our hopes for a world of freedom.

I am grateful we were able to see Cuba and interact with many wonderful people.  If you have an opportunity to visit Cuba, do it!

Joyeux Noël de Genève

Joyeux Noël de Genève– Merry Christmas from Geneva. 

Our family’s Christmas Eve in Geneva, Switzerland, began with a trip to the top of Europe where we visited Chamonix to see Mont Blanc. 

From the town of Chamonix, we rode the Aiguille du Midi cable car up the mountain for a view of Mont Blanc. The ride is pricey, but the views of the Alps are beautiful and worth the splurge.  The crowd on Christmas Eve was small and wait times short.  Our time at the top was breathtaking. In fact, there is an exhibit on the physiological effects of high altitude, which is worth exploring. 


Our next stop was La Calèche restaurant in Chamonix for fondue. The waitstaff was warm and helpful, and they graciously spoke to us in English even as we ordered in French. The cheese was fantastic, and dessert was a great surprise. We enjoyed profiteroles, which had delicious vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and hot chocolate sauce.  We will try to recreate them when we return home. 


We returned to Geneva as the sun set, just in time for an organ concert and Service of Lessons and Carols at St. Pierre Cathedral. 


The cathedral is the place where Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) preached during the sixteenth century. Worshippers filled the nave for the multilingual service. 


We returned home to share a Bûche de Nöel and wish one another Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas. 


It was a special day and a celebration of Christmas that we will cherish for years to come. 

Joyeux Noël de Genève — Merry Christmas from Geneva. 

On the Road Again – In the Alps

Eighteen months have passed since our family of four completed our round-the-world adventure.  Being home is wonderful, but our family also loves being on the road together.

One of the delights of traveling together is the sense that the four of us — my wife, son, daughter, and I — are on a special adventure.  We encounter new places and new people, we get lost and find our way, and most importantly, we do it together.

Our wonderful home in Geneva

Our wonderful home in Geneva

After a year-and-a-half at home, we are on the road again.  This time, we are in the Alps.  We are house-sitting for a wonderful family as they take a holiday to Lapland.  They live in Geneva, Switzerland, in a beautiful home with great views of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc.

 

 

 

 

And, we are about an hour from ski slopes in the Alps.

My wife and daughter at the ski lift

My wife and daughter at the ski lift

We hit the slopes on a beautiful day in Avoriaz, France.  The day started out with foggy weather, but by the time our skis touched the snow, the sky was clear and blue.  The snow has not been plentiful this season, and many locals have kindly expressed their concern that our experience may be less than optimal.  For us, though, it was a grand day.

 

 

 

 

Ah!  It is wonderful to be on the road again!

My son, daughter, and me in the Alps

My son, daughter, and me in the Alps

To Kill a Mockingbird

Outside Courthouse

Courthouse Museum, Monroeville, Alabama

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books.  I read it many years ago as a teenager, and growing up in a small Southern town, I could relate to many of the characters Harper Lee created.

After reading the book, I saw the movie, and my admiration for Atticus Finch, so ably portrayed by Gregory Peck, increased after seeing the screen adaptation.  As a young adult, I listened to the book on tape while commuting to my first job after graduate school.  Even though I knew the story well, still I cried when the jury found Tom Robinson guilty.  I remember blinking away tears as I drove the streets of Boston after hearing the verdict.  This school year, my son read the book during his English class, and I enjoyed talking with him as he discovered this treasure.

Act One

Act One

One of the highlights of moving to Northwest Florida’s Gulf coast is that I can drive to Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown, in about two and a half hours.  A few days ago, our family joined the small crowd making the pilgrimage to Monroeville.  We watched the Mockingbird Players perform the stage version at the Old Courthouse Museum, which this all-volunteer cast has done for twenty-seven years.

The first act took place outside the courthouse, and we were introduced to Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, Atticus, and their neighbors.  We saw racism grow among the residents.  I was startled to hear the N word used so freely by the characters, and looking around the audience, I wondered how others felt when hearing this offensive term.  We watched fear fester as neighbors talk about Boo Radley.  During the first act, Scout and Jem were amazed by their father’s skill when he shot a rabid dog, and as the act ended, Atticus calmly but courageously faced the lynch mob outside the jail where Tom Robinson was awaiting trial.

Inside Courtroom

Inside Courtroom, which was used from 1904-1962

The second act took place in the courtroom.  Twelve white men were selected to sit on the jury, and the remaining seats were open for the audience.  Our family sat in the grand jury box between the judge’s chair and the prosecutor’s table.  We were able to see the faces of Tom Robinson and his accuser, Mayella Ewell, as the proceedings developed.  We were so close to Atticus Finch as he defended Tom that we could have touched him.  And, of course, we were very close when the jury found Tom guilty.

Grand Jury Box

View from the Grand Jury Box

The second act included Boo Radley saving Scout and Jem, and it concluded with Scout’s growing understanding of life in her town and her father’s courage through it all.  Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  Thankfully, sitting in the grand jury box gave us a wonderful view to consider things from the perspectives of Atticus Finch, Mayella Ewell, her father Bob Ewell, and Tom Robinson.

The play runs during April and May of each year, and the quality of the acting is amazing considering that all of the actors volunteer their time and energy.  The cast begins rehearsing in February each year, and they give of themselves until the final performance in late May.

Outside NightWitnessing the play was a highlight of Spring for me, and I especially was delighted to share the experience with my wife and children.  Stuart Richeson played Judge Taylor the night we watched the play.  In the playbill, he said, “The message is timeless – one man determined to do what is right, even though society resists him.”  I agree, and I recommend the play to anyone.

Mary and Elizabeth

This Sunday in worship we will hear the familiar words of the Magnificat, the song of Mary found in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke.  “My soul magnifies the Lord,” the young and pregnant Mary sings after visiting with her older and also pregnant relative, Elizabeth.  Mary has traveled to Elizabeth’s home, and she hears God’s blessing from Elizabeth’s lips. In response, Mary sings. 

Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, suggests that the Magnificat was a song shared by many people.  When Mary experienced deep need and deeply needed blessing, she responded by singing a song she and her community had known for years.

I find this possibility especially meaningful because there have been times when I’ve faced challenges and found myself singing a hymn with sustaining words and tune.  During a particularly stressful episode, I heard the words of “It Is Well” crossing my lips, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll…”

  
This week, while thinking of Mary and Elizabeth, I looked out my office window and saw these two women.  I wondered where they came from and how long they had been there.  What were they talking about?  Were they happy or sad, grieving or celebrating?  Were they simply living through another day?

Almost as quickly as they came, they were gone.  Since I saw them, I have wondered:  if they sang a song, what might it be?  And, would I know any songs they might sing?