This summer I’ve enjoyed posting my submissions and then staying out of the conversation, letting all of you toss your ideas around. As a silent observer, I’ve learned lots and enjoyed the discussion. Here are a few questions asked via the blog that I think deserved a thoughtful response.
Question:You have talked about preparing for a trip, but how do you decompress from one? How do you make the adjustment back to your “other routine” in the States?
Answer:My big concern is not getting swept up in the home-front priorities before I can follow through on all my writing and get all my notes cleanly shuffled into the grey matter of Europe Through the Back Door. (With the glut of data plaguing our society lately, I am really into “design” of travel information these days.) My wife runs the show when I’m gone, and it’s an adjustment for her and me to be a partnership again, rather than two autocrats under one roof. I settle reluctantly from an active life to a more sedentary one — promising to keep in shape as I am in Europe…but never following through. My body agrees to stay healthy for the intense 60 consecutive days of work on the condition that I take it easy for awhile once home. If I cheat, I get sick.
Question:Regarding the girl in Bosnia who wanted you to pay her to take a photo: Did you give the scarved young lady the euro she requested? What is your policy on paying the locals for the privilege of taking their photos?
Answer:She was dressed up and positioned for the purpose of tourists taking her photo. I took her photo because she looked great — and happily paid her the euro. If I’m just grabbing a candid shot of a local, I never pay.
Question:Does it ever get old traveling?
Answer:For me, travel is accelerated living. I live and learn triple each day on the road what I’d experience at home. If I wasn’t assured of going home, I might think differently, but for me, travel is as fresh as ever. I still fly home pondering my next trip.
Question:You have wonderful descriptions of towns and cities in your books and blogs, with a mix of modern and historical significance, but I wondered if you could comment more on the area’s natural histories, its parks and preserves? Is there any wilderness left in Europe?
Answer:I report on what I am personally enthusiastic about: history, contemporary issues, efficient travel, art, culture, cities. For an enthusiastic rundown on flora, fauna, geology, folk tales and myths, adventure sports, and shopping — topics that, while perfectly legit, just aren’t that interesting to me — you’ll do better with another travel writer. I have a particularly bad attitude about geology. I know it’s silly to think this, but to me geology is “anti-history” or maybe “history without people.” As a tour guide, I recognized my shortcoming here and once offered a geologist on my bus the microphone for five minutes a day as we drove to discuss the geology of the regions we were traveling through. I tried to enjoy his rocks and ridges moments — but it was absolutely dreadful…one of the biggest mistakes of my tour guiding career.
Question:As a Swiss fan of yours, I struck by how negative your blog became while in Switzerland. I am not particularly patriotic, and I know that you are a very critical traveler, but I get the impression that (except for your favorite alpine village of Gimmelwald) you do not particularly like Switzerland. Why? Is it too sterile? Not friendly? Too expensive? Is it because of the banking industry? And please note that my family has been eating cheese fondue in summer for generations.
Answer:Sometimes I fear I’ll stutter with superlatives about the wonders of Europe. I try to hold back on the giddiness sometimes. Maybe for me, Switzerland is like the kid at high school who’s a great athlete, has perfect hair, the best girl friend and who all the teachers love. Sometimes you just want to see him trip or get a pimple. Switzerland’s cities are great — and the tourist board is expert at shaping their image. While I like the cities, I find that there are more real travel thrills per mile, minute and dollar up in the mountains. Perhaps my agenda for Switzerland was to find flaws. (It’s the opposite of humble Olomouc in Moravia, which has so little beyond its rough charm going for it.) About fondue: I’ll stand by my belief that it’s a winter meal. If it wasn’t for tourists, I think most fondue restaurants in Switzerland would shut down in the summer. Having said all this, we did bring home a show that I’m thrilled about, which makes the great Swiss cities look absolutely wonderful. Stay tuned.
[Drop by in a couple days…and we’ll sum things up.]