Friday, September 18, 2015

Back home!

We're back home in Seattle, living on the houseboat again. The 11-hour non-stop flight on Condor was pretty good. To our surprise, they even served two meals to everybody; it's been ages since we've had free meals on a flight. The rigmarole surrounding the flight was as bad as ever: an hour to get through the various security and passport control lines at the beginning, and an hour to wait for our luggage (forced to check because of Condor's 6 kg limit for carry-on bags) and get through customs and immigration at SeaTac.

During the flight it was continually about noon as we chased the sun across nine time zones. Our entertainment was a cute two-year-old near us. I'm sure her parents expected her to sleep on the flight, since they probably woke up about 6 am, as we did, and it was 9:30 pm Frankfurt time when we landed. But this cute youngster kept going like the Energizer bunny, chattering happily the entire time. We were also treated to some great scenery over Greenland and northern Canada.

Glaciers producing icebergs on the east coast of Greenland

In Seattle, we took light rail and a bus to the boat, where we were glad to see that everything was in order, hardly even any spider webs. The following day we retrieved our car, happy that it started up as soon as Les reconnected the battery. We did several loads of wash at the laundromat: all the clothes we've been using for the trip, plus jackets and small backpacks. I started stocking up on kitchen essentials, since I'd completely emptied out the fridge and freezer before setting off. Les signed up again for Pandora, the thing he missed the most during the trip. Today we retrieved the 19 weeks of mail that our son had been collecting for us; it was pretty easy to sort through and save the few important items.

I feel I should add more about Angelika, our Frankfurt host. She often travels to China for her job, and we were grateful that she agreed to host us even though she knew she'd be returning the previous day from China. At age 31, she was the youngest person we stayed with. Being of the modern generation, she learned Esperanto through, rather than from a "teach yourself" book or class, as was the way 30 years ago. (And lernu must have good instructors, because Les thought that she had as pure an Esperanto accent as you could wish for.) She's been to the "youth" conferences (defined as being up to age 29), which have lots more rock music, dancing, sports, and outdoor activities. I'm glad that we got a taste of it at SES (Somera Esperanto-Studado) in Slovakia, where the very young and very old co-mingle, even if people my age aren't as likely to be at the 10 pm concerts, or the midnight gab sessions.

For those who like statistics, here's Nomada Vivo by the numbers:
  • Length of trip: 133 days (19 weeks)
  • Miles traveled: 18,333
  • Train rides: 55
  • Intercity buses: 13
  • Plane flights: 6
  • Ferry crossings: 1
  • Car rentals: 3 (Minneapolis, Windsor, Leeds)
  • Beds slept in: 51
  • Esperanto official events: 6
  • Esperanto speakers visited: 12
  • Hotels: 29 (plus some that were part of Esperanto events)
  • Countries: 12 (USA, Canada, UK, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark)
  • Currencies: 9 (US dollars, Canadian dollars, GB pounds sterling, euros, Czech koruny, Hungarian forints, Swiss francs, Danish kroner, plus Icelandic krónur during a layover)
  • Weight carried while traveling: 23 kg (50 lbs)
  • Photos taken: 1,754
  • Photos kept: 646 (all edited for composition and color correction)
  • Items lost: 1 (an umbrella cover during a sudden deluge in Switzerland)
  • Number of blog posts: 38 including this one (starting last August with the preparations)
  • Cost of trip: $17,124 (excluding food, which was about the same as when at home)—by comparison, my 10-week trip to Europe exactly 50 years ago cost $560!
  • Words learned for "hazelnut": 6 (Dutch, German, Esperanto, French, Italian, Danish—so Les could order his favorite flavor of gelato)

Les' choice for the most essential travel item: our Nexus 7 tablet. It was a huge help in navigating around strange cities (even without an internet connection, thanks to the wonderful CityMaps2Go app) and having complete train schedules at our fingertips in all European countries (the RailPlanner app). We used a laptop computer for all our "heavy duty" computing (email, spreadsheets, blogging, etc.), and we brought along two(!) Kindles to satisfy our reading needs for the long plane flights. In all, our electronic devices and associated chargers and adapters added up to 3 kg—taking up a significant chunk of our total weight budget.

My vote goes to the set of eating tools shown below. Because we had plastic dishes, bowls, sporks, cutting boards, knife and scissors, we could easily buy raw ingredients at the grocery store and prepare meals to eat in our hotel room or as a picnic. For example, in Frankfurt I bought bread, hummus, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and a bag of grated carrots. The total cost was $9, and from that I made eight sandwiches. We often had cereal and milk for breakfast. Our food costs were low, and we had nutritious meals.

My food preparation essentials

So this brings to a close our trip and this blog. It's been a fantastic adventure, exceeding even our high expectations. We're already thinking about what we might do next year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


After our 4-hour train trip to Denmark that turned into an 8-hour trip, we were happy to see our host Betty at the Copenhagen train station. We knew Betty through Esperanto, but in an unusual way. For the past few years we've been donating money to a microloan organization called Kiva. Within Kiva are special interest groups, and one of ours is the Esperanto group. When Les wrote a message to the group last spring asking if anyone was going to be at the Universala Kongreso in Lille, Betty responded that she'd be there, and also invited us to stay with her for a few days.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

We spent two days exploring downtown Copenhagen, by light rail, metro, foot, and kayak. Betty was another super host, and spoiled us with delicious vegan soups and stews. The day we left, Betty was to join a demonstration in support of migrant refugees. Betty has also been working hard to raise money for a water project in Africa. Feel free to contribute if you'd like to.

Les liked watching all the photographers at the Little Mermaid statue

We kayaked in the canals of Copenhagen

Donation center for refugees at the Copenhagen train station

Betty arranged for us to stay with another Esperanto speaker in Odense on our way back to Germany. We learned that it's pronounced Oo'enseh (no "d" at all). Lisa was another fine cook, plying us with food. By a happy coincidence, a young Esperanto speaker had recently arrived from Hungary to study at the university, and joined us for dinner.

New students at the university in Odense were roaming the streets doing spirit-building exercises; this is "The Simpsons" group

Odense is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, and we spent a few hours in the museum. We had not realized what a difficult life he led. Born into abject poverty, he had to struggle to get an education. Rejected in love several times, he longed for a wife, and was constantly plagued by bad dreams. His real efforts went into plays, which faced a lot of criticism, and it was only at the end of his life that he got some acclaim. He was a nomad like us most of his life, with no real home, traveling all over Europe and beyond in an age when traveling was quite difficult. He always carried a long thick rope in case he needed to escape a fire in a hotel from an upper floor.

Princess and the Pea setup in the museum

Lisa told us how she saved her father's life. He was in the Danish underground during World War II. One evening baby Lisa developed whooping cough, and her parents rushed with her to the hospital. Her father was supposed to meet with his group that evening, but didn't. The group was captured by the Nazis, tortured for information, and killed.

I learned that university education and health care is free not only for Danish citizens, but also for foreigners—seems incredible.

We took a train to Flensburg, just across the border in Germany. Again, there were swarms of refugees camping out in the station, and refugee help centers.

The next day we took a train to Frankfurt. I haven't mentioned here one of my favorite features of the first class passage we get with the railcard: we can choose to sit in the "quiet" car, where cell phones can't be used. I've found that Europeans can be just as inconsiderate as Americans, making one loud phone call after another during a tram or train ride. On the negative side of the railcard, the German stations don't allow railcard users to take advantage of the first-class lounge; so it's a first-class ticket, but without all the first-class perks.

A few weeks ago we were very worried about Frankfurt, because we couldn't find any hotel rooms at a reasonable price. We had thought mid-September would be easy, but it turned out that there's an autumn festival going on, and all the prices more than doubled. I even contemplated camping out at the airport. But then I thought of Pasporta Servo. We've used it 6 or 7 times, but those stays were planned months ahead. Would it work on such short notice? There were six listings in Frankfurt, and we contacted two of them. Angelika saved the day by saying that we could stay with her.

The phrase that comes to mind is "blessing in disguise". I shudder to think that we might have been in a sterile Ibis (the hotel we use most commonly) in downtown Frankfurt. Instead, we're at Angelika's cozy apartment in the wonderful Höchst section of the city. It's very historical, dating from 790, at a meeting of two rivers. There's a large Turkish population, which means lots of döner kebab restaurants, and Angelika took us to her favorite one. (We've come to love this type of restaurant in Europe; I hope we can find some in Seattle.)

Angelika took us on a walking tour of the castle (built in the 13th century) and environs last night, and today we went back to see it again. We had a scary experience, though. We went through an open gate next to a church, to see a garden Angelika had told us about. After wandering around for ten minutes, we went back, but...the gate was locked! The walls were high stone ones, the area kind of isolated, so all we could think of was that we'd have to climb the tall metal gate. (I had visions of bruises and sprains.) Fortunately a man came by, we explained our predicament, he knocked on the church door, and soon somebody came with a key to let us out. Whew!

Part of the castle in Höchst

Lovely houses in Höchst

It seems so fitting that we ended our trip, whose theme always was Esperanto, by finding yet another kind-hearted Esperanto speaker through Pasporta Servo.

Now we're packing for the trip home tomorrow. It's more difficult than usual. Until now we've managed to never check any luggage on a plane. But Condor Airlines, which flies non-stop from Frankfurt to Seattle, has a strict limit of one 6kg suitcase each in the cabin, so we have to check one bag. We're trying to decide what items we won't mind getting lost.

It will be 19 weeks, or 133 days, since we left in early May. To tell the truth, we're neither of us looking forward to getting home. It will be lovely to see family and friends, but we've gotten hooked on the nomadic lifestyle (kind of the epitome of "simplified living"), and the prospect of new adventures each day. Next week I'll write a final entry, which will include statistics for the mathematically-minded.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Even though we haven't paid much attention to U.S. or international news in the past four months, we've been aware of the refugee crisis in Europe. First we saw refugee camps near the entrance to the Eurostar tunnel, and heard the woes of Fabrice in Trélon that they might close the tunnel and he wouldn't be able to get home to Brighton. When we stayed with our Esperanto friend in Bern, his housemate was a refugee from Libya, and told us how difficult it had been for him to find asylum in Europe. Then, both times we've been in Leipzig, we've seen the protests against immigration (and the counterprotests). But Wednesday we got to see the situation close-up and personal.

We had reserved a train from Lübeck to Copenhagen, which was supposed to take four hours. The first hint that something was unusual was that train was 20 minutes late. Considering that it had originated in Hamburg, only 45 minutes away, and knowing how punctual German trains are, this seemed unusual. Les remarked that there were more police officers at the train platform than passengers.

When we got on the train, we were surprised that it was overloaded, with people in the aisles. Two people were in our assigned seats, but moved when we asked them. We noticed the car smelled of people who hadn't bathed in a while. As we looked around, it became apparent that most of the passengers were foreigners. The father of a family with several children looked exhausted. When Les asked, he said that they had come from Afghanistan, and were on their way to Sweden. In the seat across the aisle, three men were crammed into the two spaces. The one who spoke the best English said that he'd started in Syria a month ago, been through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, and Germany, and was on his way through Denmark and Sweden to Finland. The fellow next to him said that he had swum 13 kilometers to reach Turkey. They told us the police in Budapest demanded 1,000 euros or they'd be arrested.

Exhausted travelers

Only the children had energy

We had wondered ahead of time how the train would cross the long stretch of water from Germany to Denmark. Was there a tunnel under the sea? A bridge? Would the passengers switch to a boat, then onto another train? The answer turned out to be that the train drove right onto the boat! They told us that we had to leave the train during the 30-minute crossing. It was a very comfortable boat, with lots of shopping opportunities.

The train is parked on the boat

Seemed like all the men took a smoke on the deck

Upon nearing Denmark, we went back down to the train and got on. We sat there for about 15 minutes, before an announcement came that the train wasn't able to leave the ship. After another 15 minutes, they told us that again we should all get off the train and there would be an indefinite delay. As we sat upstairs on the boat, a ship official handed out bottles of cold water to everyone. Again, they said we could get on the train.

Free bottles of cold water

We sat for another hour, then noticed police surrounding the train. They boarded, and went down the aisles asking to see passports. Very few people could produce one. One man was hysterically shrieking, but we couldn't understand the words. The police told those of us with passports to take our luggage and leave the train and proceed by foot off the boat. We felt badly to leave all the refugees behind. Our group (only about a tenth of the total from the train) waited for half an hour, until a train came that was heading to Copenhagen. Our four-hour trip from Lübeck turned out to take eight hours.

The lucky few who got to leave the boat and wait for another train

We found out that our train was the last one to get through from Germany, before the Danish authorities suspended all rail service to and from Germany. We heard that the refugees were taken to a camp someplace. We don't fully understand the situation, but we think that the issue is that refugees have to register in the first country in the EU that they land in. Instead, they travel together in large groups and try to get to Sweden, where, if they register, they have a better chance of gaining asylum. The Danish government appears to be strict about enforcing immigration policies, but the police seem very humane. This was definitely the most memorable of our many train rides in Europe.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


We've just spent five days at our "home away from home": Leipzig. We had another fine visit with Anita and Samy, and Anita's parents Annelore and Werner. Annelore was Les' first Esperanto penpal 29 years ago, and the whole family are dear friends.

We walked a lot in downtown Leipzig, went to an organ concert, saw an exhibition where Samy's talented 16-year-old daughter had been invited to display several paintings, and went to Annelore's house in Wölkau to eat four(!) different cakes she'd just baked.

View from Anita's home

With Anita at an exhibit on the history of printing, at the German National Library

With Anita, Samy, Annelore, and Werner, we spent a day in lovely Halle and in Eisleben, where we listened to nuns chanting in a cloister and went to the birthplace and deathplace of Martin Luther, both turned into museums, plus the church where he was baptized.

As we were thinking that Eisleben was a pretty serious town, with all its Martin Luther locations, we spotted these whimsical knitted chickens on fenceposts.

Just like when we were in Leipzig in July, we happened to hit the monthly meeting of Annelore's local Esperanto group. And just like last time, because it was a Monday evening, the streets were teeming with police cars to prevent trouble during the weekly immigration protests. One group objects to Germany letting in so many refugees, while the counter group objects to the Nazi-type sentiments of the first group. Fortunately, the counter-demonstrators outnumbered the antiforeigners by a large margin (20:1). I'm glad that Anita's son and his friends sometimes join the counter group.

Today we took the train to Lübeck in the north. We chose it as a well-located overnight place on the way to Denmark, and hadn't realized that it's actually a charming town worth visiting in its own right.

The Holsten Gate in Lübeck

We heard that Lübeck is famous for its marzipan, so we picked up a few kinds to test out how good it is.

Lübeck's old town is an island

People have been asking us all summer what we plan to do about housing when we get back to Seattle. Will you get an apartment? Stay on the boat? Keep traveling? The answer has always been that we haven't really thought about it, are just enjoying each day as it comes without thinking of the future. But in the past few days we've come up with some ideas.

The first idea is to spend two or three months in Leipzig next fall. We would probably use Airbnb for housing. We didn't use it at all on this trip, but it seems reasonable to try, and that leads to a second idea; try out Airbnb in the U.S. and Canada this winter and spring. The plan I currently like is to alternate a month on the boat and a month in some other city, then back to Europe in the fall. We'll pursue these ideas after settling in at home. At the start of the year we had thought that we might spend this November and December in New Zealand, but Les feels he needs time to digest what we've already done, so probably that idea is out.

Tomorrow it's on to our last new country: Denmark.

Europe really is on the metric system—10 eggs instead of a dozen!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Switzerland - part 2

We had intentionally not made any plans for the last two and a half weeks of our trip. We wanted to stay flexible in case we heard about new opportunities. This plan worked out well, as we had a couple of invitations from people we didn't even know at the start of our trip. They helped determine our itinerary: Zurich, Leipzig (again) and Denmark.

After the Itala Kongreso we spent a night in Milan. There's currently an Expo there, but we don't like crowds, and it was quite hot, so we just spent our evening walking around town a bit.

The next day we went to Zurich, where we stayed two nights. We walked a lot, and we took advantage of an all-day transportation pass by going on a lot of trams and a boat and a funicular. Zurich is a nice, modern city, but we found it a bit sterile compared to Geneva and Bern.

Then we went a short distance to the village of Niederlenz, to stay with Udo, an Esperanto speaker we met at SES in Slovakia. This was out in the country, a different experience from the large cities and suburbs we'd visited so far in Switzerland. There were loads of trails through forests and rural areas. We got caught in a torrential downpour during one walk, as the hot weather pattern finally broke. The nearby town of Lenzburg was a tiny, perfect village, fitting well with Les' criteria for a good city: nice architecture, no graffiti, no honking, minimal smoking, people look happy.

Castle in Lenzburg

Udo teaches middle school (at least that would be the U.S. equivalent), and he gave me a tour of his school. When I expressed surprise at the school's bunker, Udo explained that every house and building must, by law, have a bunker where you can live for 24 hours. They're inspected periodically by the government. The idea is to protect from both enemy attack and accidents from the atomic energy plants. The bunker in Udo's basement looked very substantial. An alternative is to buy space in a nearby community bunker.

One feature of the school I liked was the hallway where each graduating student gets to paint a concrete block on the wall.

Bricks painted by graduating students

This reference to Esperanto was a surprise

The students get Wednesday afternoons off, which seems like a nice mid-week break for both students and teachers. And I love the annual school schedule in Switzerland. Instead of a long summer vacation, there are three-week vacations spread throughout the year. The kids have a total of 14 weeks off, but must choose one of those weeks to do a "project". The projects are offered by various instructors, and sound wonderful: photography, skiing, bicycling, etc. Udo has always taught amateur radio, but this year he's going to try a week of "Esperanto as a secret language".

When we mentioned how much outdoor smoking we found in Europe, Udo told us about a national contest that encourages students to abstain from smoking by offering monetary incentives to class units. Wow, what a great idea to use peer pressure to discourage smoking instead of the opposite.

As we left, Udo's wife Lena plied us with produce from her garden: apples, pears, tomatoes, grapes, tiny gherkins (so adorable, each one the size of a large blueberry). We greatly enjoyed our stay with Udo and Lena, and were glad to hear that Udo has added his name to Pasporta Servo so that other Esperanto speakers can enjoy a stay there.

The three trains to Leipzig took 12 hours, partly because we've changed our algorithm for choosing trains. For the first month or so of the trip, we chose routes where there might be seven minutes or so to make a connection. But I found it too nerve-wracking if the first train was running late, to think that we might miss the train on which we'd paid for a reserved seat, and perhaps not get any seat at all on a later train. So now we give ourselves at least 45 minutes between any trains, often longer. The extra wait can actually be quite pleasant when we're able to take advantage of the first class lounge.

Speaking of trains, I realize that even after taking so many trains, I'm still often baffled when I use the WC in them. It seems like every train, and every public bathroom, not to mention many private bathrooms, have various ways to flush, to get water, to get soap, to dry hands, etc. For example, the flushing mechanism might be on some part of the toilet, or some button on a wall, or a chain overhead to pull, or something even more mysterious. Even locking and unlocking the door is sometimes a puzzle; on two or three occasions I've wondered whether it might get down to shouting "Help!" in order to get out.

We're back in Leipzig now, our "second home" with Anita's family. Taking a breath before the final adventure in Denmark.