Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 wrapup

Les and Dick moving the couch
to the Pied-a-Mer
I feel like I should do an end-of-year wrapup here. We've been steadily following our plan. We now have two storage lockers in Seattle, because we were feeling like the one might not be sufficient once all the furniture gets moved. We've been filling and moving boxes to the storage units. We've sold several larger items on Craigslist. With help from our wonderful marina neighbors Dick and Susan, we moved our beloved daybed from the apartment to the boat, so in one sense the boat feels more like "home" now. Making it even more like home, our marina finally got reliable high-speed Internet.

We've got reservations for all the planes, hotels, and car rentals for the first month of our trip, along with some others in the middle. I've been in contact with my 25-year penpal in northern France (whom I've never met), and she's invited us to stay with them for a few days.

On the bad side, Les started to get panicky, a problem he often has with life changes. Not that he wants to back out, more that he wants to get the move over with and start the trip. With help from meditation, exercise, Zantac for stomach pain, and a talk with his doctor, he's doing much better now.

We're both really looking forward to 2015 and the adventures ahead.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pasporta Servo

When we're in Europe, in between organized Esperanto events and visiting friends, we're hoping to stay with local residents in Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Slovakia, and Italy. We intend to do that through Pasporta Servo, a kind of relative to Servas, with which some people are familiar. A booklet (and online file) lists people ready to host other Esperanto speakers for a night or two or three. Coincidentally, the Wall Street Journal had a front-page article about Pasporta Servo on November 12. The writer had a phone interview with me and Les a couple of months ago, to hear our experiences. (Les used it in Berlin and Moscow, and we hosted about ten visitors to Seattle.) But he chose (rightly) to focus on a friend of ours from California, who used it over a hundred times during a 16-month trip through Europe after college. That woman has been one of our inspirations in planning our trip to Esperantujo.

In other news, we rented a 10x19 storage locker in Seattle, near the boat, for putting all our belongings in. Even though we don't need the full space yet, we'll start using it next week when we rent a Zipcar cargo van and move everything from our current small storage locker in Bellevue. During the next few months we can gradually pack up things not used very often and bring them to the locker, instead of having our apartment filled with boxes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


It's six months now until we leave Seattle. We've been making a lot of progress on practical matters. We now have our plane tickets from Toronto to Glasgow, from Frankfurt to Seattle, and from Budapest to Brussels. Yes, even though we planned to use only trains in Europe, we decided to do one flight. The times of two Esperanto conferences we want to attend (one in Esztergom, Hungary, the other in Lille, France) overlap by a couple of days, so in order to not have to leave the first one any earlier than necessary, we decided to do a 2-hour flight instead of a 2-day train ride. We selected a Hungarian airline called Wizz Air. What a hoot it was booking the flight! The fare started out low ($43 each), but then each little thing added to the cost. Reserving a seat costs $6, bringing a smallish travel bag onboard costs $12, etc. We could have paid for "airport transfer", but we weren't sure what that meant; we joked that possibly the plane is parked a mile from the terminal, and you can either walk or you can pay for the ground transportation. Anyway, the price is still low, so that part is fine. But there's a strict limit of 22 pounds each, which is about what each of us had on our trip to Germany two years ago. We'll have to be very careful not to pick up souvenirs along the way, or—if we do—to mail them home before this Wizz Air flight. Oh, and you're not allowed to bring any food on board. And nothing else allowed other than the small carry-on bag—no purse or tiny backpack or whatever. This is a real education for us, and we're now more grateful for what you can do on the "real" airlines.

We've just given away a bunch of stuff, to friends and to Goodwill, as part of our downsizing. The boat now has a lot of empty drawers and cupboards, hopefully enough to handle our clothes, kitchen equipment, and all the other stuff we'll need when we're living there. Today we moved our huge double kayak and all its gear to a friend's house in Redmond. It will stay there until March, when we'll take it up north to Quadra Island, off Vancouver Island. We had thought of selling it before the trip, but found a much more satisfying solution. Some good friends just moved from Toronto to Quadra Island, and we're going to give them the boat and gear for their own use, with the idea that we can use it whenever we're up there (probably not very often, as it's a long day trip to get there, including the time-consuming border crossing and two ferries).

Les paddling our kayak from our houseboat to a park
where we could put it on top of our car

In searching for vegan places in London (supposedly the number 4 best vegetarian city in Europe, after Prague, Berlin, and Ghent), I discovered that there are five Whole Foods stores in London! Who'da thunk? Since I do all my shopping at Whole Foods normally, I'll feel right at home there. We're actually only planning to spend a couple of days in London. Right now the only definite plan is to spend one day in Greenwich, mostly to visit the Royal Observatory. I searched online for quirky attractions in London, but nothing so far has gotten us excited. I spent ten days in London 49 years ago, during which I saw the major attractions, and Les somehow isn't enthusiastic. That reminds me that this trip next year will occur exactly fifty years from my other major trip to Europe: ten weeks between my junior and senior year of college.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


We've been working on the actual itinerary lately. As we find out firm dates for each appealing Esperanto gathering next summer, we see whether it will fit in. We've had to eliminate some candidates because of timing conflicts, and sometimes we'll be able to do just a few days of an 8- or 10-day meeting, before rushing on to the next place.

The last three weeks of our trip, in September, are currently completely free. That will allow us to visit any friends we made along the way at the various gatherings, or to use Pasporta Servo (the booklet that lists Esperanto-speakers willing to host travelers) in any enticing cities that we missed.

Les learned how to use GIMP in order to create a map of our plans. As we make changes to it, you'll always be able to see the latest version by clicking on the itinerary link in the sidebar to the right. I know that it looks like a lot of criss-crossing, not very efficient, but that's how it has to be in order to join the groups we like.

I've been doing a lot of genealogical research on the Kerr family, from Denny, Scotland. We're going to spend a few days in Denny, near Glasgow, to perhaps dig up some more details. Les' great-great-great-grandfather was born there in 1762, and I'm sure that some far-removed cousins still live there, because Les' great-great-grandfather is the only one in those far-off generations who immigrated to Canada, leaving scads of other Kerrs behind.

We've handled one of the concrete chores: we started renting a post-office box in Belltown. We won't need it until the end of February, but Les was impatient on that point. He's already sent change-of-address notices to dozens of organizations and companies. Our son David, who works near there, has agreed to periodically clear out the box while we're gone, telling us if anything important comes in. (Not very likely, as we do almost everything through the Internet.)

I've started clearing out the Pied-a-Mer, our houseboat, in preparation for moving more important things there from the apartment in the next few months. So, if you live near us, get ready for yet another "give-away" session; foam sleeping pads, anyone?

Sunday, September 28, 2014


The news this week is that we've added a new country to our destinations: Italy! We had previously decided to skip all the southern European areas because Les abhors hot weather. But I read about a one-week Esperanto conference just held in Fai della Paganella, northern Italy, and it sounded great. There were 223 attendees, half from Italy and half from 25 other countries—but none from the US. They did fun excursions like mushroom hunting in the hills. They had a lot of music and dancing. A Japanese woman did a class all week in the use of the soroban (Japanese abacus). All this, of course, among the regular classes and talks.

"Sanbenedettodeltronto05" by pizzodisevo - Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
San Benedetto del Tronto
Next year's meeting will be in San Benedetto del Tronto on the Adriatic Sea. Les was not on-board with this when I first told him, because of the heat factor. But I've been looking up air-conditioned hotels in that town, in case the conference pensiones don't have it, and Les is recalling that we enjoyed the conference in Yokohama despite the humid heat there. So I have hope that he'll come around, and meantime I'll "pencil it in" (figuratively) on my itinerary spreadsheet for the end of August.

As always, I have no desire to see any other parts of Italy if we go. My focus continues to be "Esperantujo" rather than sightseeing. We would just bop down for the one week, then head back north to the coolth.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Helpful suggestions

I now realize an extra benefit of this blog: as people are reading it, they're sharing thoughts and information with me. For example, two friends have written to me about the Orkney Islands. One alerted me to its archaeological significance, of which I hadn't been aware (see Skara Brae). Another, who's been there, gushed about the lovely understated Orcadians. She also offered advice about walking trails in Scotland, which we hadn't considered before, but now might. What's wonderful about having lots of time and being flexible is that we can ponder all these possibilities, rather than thinking, "Oh, we only have so much time in that area, we won't be able to do such and such." Since it's possible that we'll continue our nomadiness (is that a new word?) into future years, we can also plan to do some things on a future long stay.

Meltham, England (c. 1900)
Les' cousin, who's an expert on Les' mother's side of the family, gave us a comprehensive list of places to look for in the Meltham area of England. So, instead of just spending an afternoon there, we might stay several days.

The new computer (an inexpensive lightweight Acer) seems fine for our future travels. We just did a 5-day trip to British Columbia, and it worked well for editing photos and reading and sending e-mail.  We also tried out our new wheeled suitcase, and that seems OK, even though small. (It's the largest size it can be in order to be legal for overhead storage.)

Monday, September 1, 2014


As people are learning about our plans, with the Esperanto flavor of the four months in Europe, I find that I'm often asked about Esperanto. Both basic questions about what it is, and also what happens at an Esperanto gathering. I'll try to respond to both questions here.

For a general introduction to Esperanto, I think I'll refer to something I wrote almost six years ago: my first and only "zine". Its title is "How Esperanto Changed My Life" (4 MB PDF file).

To answer what happens at Esperanto meetings, I have to ponder a bit, because there are several different types:

  1. The "granddaddy of them all" is the annual one-week Universala Kongreso (worldwide conference), held in a different city each year. This year's was in Buenos Aires. The two that we've attended were in Japan (2007) and last year's in Iceland. Next year's in France will be special, being the 100th one. (The first was in 1905, but they weren't held during the years of the two world wars.)
    Presentation about the Northern Lights
    During these events, there are usually four or five things happening simultaneously, making it sometimes difficult to choose. In Reykjavik we went on three bus excursions, watched plays, schmoozed with old and new friends, and attended presentations. Among the memorable ones were: three sessions on the Icelandic language; the vegetarian group (the topic was quinoa, in honor of the UN designating 2013 the "international year of quinoa"); the atheist group; a talk about the physics of the northern lights; the oratory contest for people under 25; a talk by an ex-Finn about what it was like to start living in Iceland; a talk by an Icelandic meteorologist about the weather in Iceland; authors presenting their recent books; information about an upcoming all-Celtic conference in Scotland (we're sorry we weren't able to go to that one); auction; language issues; sessions about the internet and; slide show on mountain climbing in Tibet and South America. Everything is conducted in Esperanto, which is necessary since the participants with their 40 or so native languages have no other common language. At this type of conference, the people stay at designated nearby hotels. Many regional conferences we've gone to, and even organized, are similar but shorter (2-3 days).
  2. A completely different type of gathering, held especially in Europe, is one meant for families who use Esperanto as one of their daily languages. Often the children in those families don't meet many other children who speak Esperanto, only other adults.
    Daughter "helps" her dad give
    a talk on graph theory
    So it's great fun for them to spend a week in each other's company. We've only attended one such gathering, last year in Xanten, Germany, and it was as much fun as I expected. As is common, it was held at a youth hostel. The participants came from about ten countries. The program was a full one, with always three or four options. There were Esperanto classes for beginners and intermediates, and one class for children. I liked the craft classes, the daily group singing canons, the classes in photography, graph theory (mathematics), and the science of dreaming. We went to a daily class on Buddhism and meditation, which started a practice that Les has continued ever since. We had excursions into the city of Xanten, known for its old Roman ruins. In the evening were concerts, a puppet show, a talent show, and bedtime stories for the younger kids. The delightful children, babbling away in Esperanto and doing silly things, gave a completely different feeling from other conferences.
  3. Yet another style of meeting is the type that the eastern Canadians do so well: a weekend of just being together and doing excursions.
    Walking tour in Ottawa
    We went to one last year in Ottawa, and next year, before heading to Europe, will join a similar one in Toronto. The 30 or 40 participants stay in a college dormitory. There are no talks, no famous singers...just going as a group to local attractions. In Ottawa it was several museums and famous locations, a boat tour, and an evening “haunted walk” tour of downtown. We all ate meals together at restaurants and—once—at the home of a local Esperantist. At all the eastern Canadian events, there's extra reason to use Esperanto because some of the participants are English, and some French; it would be rude to speak in either of those languages while with the group, because some people might not understand.
  4. Another kind of get-together is educational, to improve one's language skills. In July we were at that kind when we did the annual 8-day intensive Esperanto course, this year held at the University of Victoria.
    Younger members of the Esperanto
    course in Victoria
    At the top level that I was in, we studied literature, wrote an essay every evening for homework, and talked about the most tricky aspects of the language (it's easier to learn than any national language, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a few linguistic subtleties). When not in classes, all the groups mingled together for talks given by the participants, excursions, dancing, and other diversions. The 70 students and teachers mostly came from the US and Canada, but also from China, Japan, Hungary, Holland, Mexico, and other countries. In Europe next year we might go to a one-week gathering in Slovakia geared for people who have learned Esperanto through; for some of them it may be their first chance to speak face-to-face with someone else in Esperanto.

No matter the type of gathering, we always have fun being with other Esperantists. It just feels so good to be easily talking to people from all over the world, with nobody feeling inferior while trying to come up with the intended word or mangling the grammar. And that’s why we want to get in as many Esperanto events—and visit as many Esperanto friends—as possible, rather than see monuments and museums.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

End of August

This is an experiment, to see whether I can create a blog entry at the boat with the new computer, thereby simulating the conditions in Europe. Here's a picture of me at work. (How's that for self-referential?)

Arlyn editing her blog at the Pied-a-Mer

An article appeared in the New York Times about people doing what we're planning. But, while we're thinking of being "homeless" for about ten months and then reclaiming our furniture, the people cited in the article have decided to be homeless forever. One doesn't even have a storage unit, just travels with all his necessary belongings. I can't picture ever going that extreme.

Researching the Orkneys last week led us to expand our ideas in the British Isles. We're now thinking of spending a few days on genealogy-related tourism. Les' mother's family came from the Meltham area near Manchester. And that's fairly close to Leeds, where my grandmother was born and lived until she went to New York City at age 30. We have some addresses in those places, so it would be fun to see what's there now—probably not the houses that were there a hundred year ago. But we might be surprised, because a few years ago in Bathurst, New Brunswick, we found the house where Les' mom lived as a child, even though we didn't have an address.

Shaw family home (1916)

Same house (2010)

We'll probably have to rent a car for a day or two to do our searching, if Les gets over his fear of driving on the left side. And an Esperantist we're fond of lives in Edinburgh, so we'd like to spend a few days there. Considering the previously mentioned Schengen Agreement, all of our time in England and Scotland is "free"—that is, not counting toward the 90 days permitted for the rest of the countries we'll be in.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Progress report

We’re making good progress on our plans.  As you might expect if you know us, we have a list of 23 topics to research or take care of.  We’ve now got a handle on 8 of those.  For example, we bought a travel bag with wheels, the first one we’ve ever had.  For the past 20 years we’ve used two backpack-style bags for all our trips, always putting them in the overhead bins.  Now we’ll have to decide whether to still use those two and also check the new wheeled case, or just use one backpack and one wheeled one and put both in the overhead bins.

We’ve decided how to handle the mail.  There’s a mailbox service in the Belltown area of Seattle that seems suitable.  They’ll throw away any junk mail that gets forwarded from our old address, and will mail to us anything we want.

We’ve made a major decision about March and April.  Before, we’d thought that we might ask for an extension to the lease.  But now we realize that it will be best to take care of the disposal of some stuff and moving other stuff into storage well before May 1.  So we’ll handle those tasks in February, and by March 1 we’ll be moving to the boat.  We’ll take a 3-week car trip to Portland and other parts of Oregon in March and April, as a trial run of our nomadic lifestyle.  Does the mailbox get too full?  Are we able to do everything we want on the computer, such as making blog entries with photos?

Speaking of computers, just today we bought a very inexpensive Windows laptop.  It was tempting to make do with our Chromebook, which Les likes a lot although I have trouble typing on it.  But Les feels there are times when we'll need a little more capability than the Chromebook can offer.  For one thing, although Les has found someone to take over as administrator of the MorseKOB system, he may want to work on enhancements to the program.

Our boat, the Pied-a-Mer, is currently set up for spending one or two nights at a time.  In order to live there for weeks, with no other “home”, we’ll have to re-think what’s there.  I’d want a lot more cooking appliances there, and we’d need to store clothing, have another comfortable chair, things like that.  I’ve already made lists of “bring from apartment to boat”, “sell from boat”, “sell from apartment”, “give away”, etc.  Other questions: Would I want my sewing machine and all the fabrics and equipment?  How about the printer/copier?  And how to make the best use of what we call the “sunroom” on top, which is now virtually unused?

Les likes the idea of a base city in Europe, a place we go back to several times and think of as “home”.  A few weeks ago, we tentatively settled on Frankfurt, but today we’re thinking more of Ghent.  It seems to be a charming place, is the third-best vegan city in Europe (after Prague and Berlin), and is pretty good as a rail hub.  And we already found a B&B that we like there.  (We have the best luck by using TripAdvisor for finding lodging, and also ideas of what’s attractive in each city.)

Oh, and we’ve added a new destination on the North American part of the journey.  It’s Point Pelee in Ontario.  My New Jersey high school friend, who’s a big birder, has often gone there to enjoy the spring migration.  We should hit it at just the right time, about May 9.  Point Pelee is a peninsula on the north side of Lake Erie.  I’m really excited to think of seeing all the interesting birds there.

We’re also thinking about a new destination in Europe.  It’s really far-out (literally).  A friend of David has a relative with a cottage on  a small island in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland.  The population of that island is about 25.  The relative only uses the cottage in the winter, so we’d be able to spend a few days there in the summer.  It would be an adventure just to reach it from London, via trains, ferries, and buses.  We’ll have to mull that over in the coming months.

We’re both getting more excited with every week.  Sometimes it seems hard to wait until March to get going.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Second thoughts

(Often "second thoughts" conjure up a change of mind, but not in this case; I'm just adding to the first entry.)

We couldn't have pursued this idea until now.  When we owned a condo or house, neither of us liked to be away for more than two weeks or so.  We worried that something would happen: a water leak, grass getting too long (even with somebody else doing it), packages being left on the porch, etc.  I know, I know, everybody else has solutions for all these fears, but in our case nothing helped.  Then, when we rented at Ten20 for four years, we had no such worries, and we didn't mind traveling for three weeks or more.  But, on the other hand, it seems kind of wasteful to be paying rent for an unused space.  We never would have dreamt of waiting for the lease period to be up, storing the furniture, and going off for an extended time, because Les loved our particular apartment at Ten20 so much that he wouldn't take the risk of losing it.  Our new apartment at Palazzo is fine, but we're not in love with it, and don't mind at all leaving it after one year.  We're actually looking forward to some new options in January of 2016, after our first trips: perhaps rent a floating home for a year, or a studio apartment in Belltown in order to live partly there and partly on the Pied-a-Mer.

Universala Kongreso in Reykjavik
So far, we have three "musts" for our trip to Esperantujo, each one lasting about a week.  The Universala Kongreso next year will be held in Lille, France, at the end of July.  We've been to two of these international conferences so far: Yokohama in 2007 and Reykjavik in 2013.  We enjoyed both, so we're looking forward to Lille.

Then I've always wanted to spend a week at Château de Grésillon, which is an Esperanto castle in France, far from any city.  Every week of the summer they have a different theme: excursions, family week, a certain topic to explore, etc.  When we see the schedule for 2015, we'll pick the most suitable week for our visit.

Family gathering in Xanten
The third "must" is REF, a gathering for families that use Esperanto as their everyday language.  They often meet in Sweden, but next year their meeting will be in Hungary.  We have a pretty good idea of what this will be like, because we attended a similar gathering in Xanten, Germany, in late December 2012.  We hope to see some of the same people we met in Xanten, and also meet some new families.

If the timing works out, we'll go to the annual 5-day Summer Esperanto Festival in England.  And sometime we'll definitely spend a few days at La Chaux-de-Fonds, an Esperanto house near Neuchâtel in Switzerland.  And we have dear friends in Leipzig and other cities, whom we'll definitely visit.

We're looking forward to a new release of Pasporta Servo in January.  This is like Servas, in that people offer to put up guests for several days, at no cost.  We used to be in the book about 20 years ago, and enjoyed hosting Esperanto speakers from China, Germany, and other places.  Also, Les took advantage of it occasionally when he was in East Germany 25 years ago.  So, once we have an idea of what our travels look like, we'll contact people in the book to see whom we might visit during our European stay.  Even though they're only promising a bed, they often also give meals and sightseeing tours and other help, and it's nice to get a view of local life that you don't get from a hotel.

The two months in New Zealand will be a lot less researched, I think.  We'll wait until we return home next September, and start thinking about how we'd like to spend our time there.  It's too difficult to be thinking simultaneously about two completely different regions.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

First thoughts

A couple of months ago, Les and I were walking along the waterfront in West Seattle, when I noticed a PODS moving container across the street.  (It's a big steel box that the owner fills himself, then sends away for storage.)  This triggered an idea, and I mentioned that maybe when our lease was up in March, we could put our furniture into storage and go to Europe for six months.  To my great surprise, Les responded that he'd had that thought on his own.  From there we quickly devised a plan (or at least a concept).  Now, in mid-August, we've already researched many of the tricky topics: health insurance, how to handle mail, storing things long-term, countries we're interested in, etc.

From the start we both agreed that the focus of Europe would be "Esperantujo"; that is, the Esperanto people we already know or would like to know, and the many events held there.  We have the 2014 list of major Esperanto events, in which there are three or four week-long events every week in Europe, so the problem next year will be to choose places that are the most appealing, while minimizing train travel.  (We plan to do all in-Europe travel by rail.)

Along the way, we've learned that the Schengen Agreement limits us to three months out of any six in continental Europe.  So we'll spend two weeks in the middle of the stay in England, which doesn't count toward the 90-day limit.

The current plan is: leave the Seattle area about May 1 (either by extending our lease two months, or by living on the Pied-a-Mer for March and April); visit Minneapolis (cousin Madeleine), Toronto (3-day Esperanto event), Kingston (sister Mary and kayaking in the Thousand Islands) in May; head to Europe about June 7; return to Seattle in mid-September; go to New Zealand for November and December.

One of the items on our "to do" list is to start a blog.  We've never had one before, so we're experimenting here.  I'll see how difficult it is to keep this up-to-date and include photos.