Tag Archives: travel

A couple of hours at NYC art galleries

I am just now getting around to processing all the photos I took on a trip to New York City last month. After riding a cruise around Manhattan, we walked over to the art district and were bowled over by the number of art galleries crammed into a block. It was late afternoon on Saturday so we did not see but a sampling of the exhibits available. Sorry, for the time being, I don’t have the names of the galleries or the artists. We barely had time to take a few pictures.

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Dock on the Bay

Photo: woman poses with San Francisco skyline behind
The skyline of San Francisco can’t compete with my wife’s smile.

Of course, Maria Teresa is not in California, but in Lima, Peru, dealing with her mother’s declining health. We won’t be together for St. Valentine’s Day, but she’ll be in my heart.  The photo is from our trip in November to visit our son, Matthew, at Berkeley.

Sunset on Half Moon Bay

Photo: sunset on the Pacific, near SF
The magical moment on the Pacific Ocean: surfers on the lazy waves, the sun kisses the sea and the light turns golden.

I’m just beginning to process my photos from my November trip to San Francisco to visit with my son, Matt. On Thanksgiving Day, after visiting the SF wharves and the Golden Gate Bridge, we headed down Interstate 280 and then cut over to Half Moon Bay, arriving just in time to catch the evening light show.  It was worth the trip.

Mindfulness in museums and sensuous overflow

The Phillips Collection is introducing a mindful approach to accessing the art work on display there:

Washington PostAt the Phillips Collection, viewing art through mindful meditation:
As with traditional yoga practice, the mindful viewing program focuses on breathing and its restorative power, says Kanter, who teaches at Yoga District in D.C. and Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park. “Even just slowing down the breath, noticing and deepening the breath,” she says, can trigger “your relax-and-renew response. When you can mindfully attune to your breath and start to influence it, you trigger deep changes in your body. So that immediately has an impact on how you feel.”

The new approach benefited from yoga therapist Elizabeth Lakshmi Kanter‘s insight. The Phillips will make the program available via a smart phone app. Many European museums already hand out headsets that provide information and commentary in the language of the visitor, but I did not notice any mindful tones in the narration of the headsets that I used.

Proponents of mindfulness have long emphasized the power of breath in managing stress. “It’s like we mimic the relaxed state by breathing more slowly,” says Klia Bassing, a mindfulness meditation instructor and founder of Visit Yourself at Work, a stress-reduction program based in the District. “It’s a state in which the body is more able to heal.” That shift, she says, can stay with you beyond the immediate experience, such as contemplating a work of art. “A body at rest will stay at rest,” says Bassing. “A body at nervousness will stay at nervousness.” (Does using a cellphone as a medium for mindfulness disrupt the mindful moment? Not necessarily, says Bassing: “It’s still effective in bringing the body and mind into a state of present awareness.”)

Photo: tourist crowd in from on Michelangelo's Pietà
The crush of tourists at major museums makes it hard to appreciate the art work.

I could have used more than a mindfulness app when Teresa and I were trotting through museums during our recent trip to Europe. We were there in September and early October when crowds had dropped off a bit. But it was hard to slow down when thousands of multinational tourists are being herded through the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You almost feel bad when lingering in front of a particular art piece because you’re holding up others.

Of course, you can develop plenty of mindfulness while waiting in long queues to buy tickets, get in the front door or get passed security.

You can only take in so much visual input and stimulus, especially at the major European museums that flaunt their riches with national pride. During our trip, there were several moments when we had to say “Stop, enough is enough.” At the Orsay Museum in Paris, after feasting on Impressionist artists all morning, we walked out and found the sun light a relief from the overpowering brilliance inside the museum. We sat by the Seine River, ate some fruit, and let the emotional overflow spill into the river.

Photo: vaulted, glass roof of Orsay Museum, Paris
The interior of Paris’s Orsay Museum

On cruise control in the Mediterranean

Photo: a couple stand on a bridge in Florence, Italy
Teresa and I pose on the iconic covered bridge over the Arno River. The shot does not do justice to the other-worldly beauty of Florence.

When the idea of taking a Mediterranean cruise came up, I thought it was a good, leisurely option for seeing as many European cities and countries without being shuttled between hotel and airport, with reliable living quarters and food, and a high degree of security. Twelve days, five countries, and two days at sea to relax and recover. And you do need to recoup because the one-day visits (really just six to ten hours) to each city means that you keep a frantic pace. It is not immediately evident that the places you want to see are not in the seaport, but inland. Florence, Rome, Naples and Athens all require a minimum of 40 minutes or more to get to the tourist sights.  We had great weather, sunny and barely a drop of rain, but that meant we were outdoors a lot, sweating and panting.

My days of backpacking through foreign lands are long ended. I dread the thought of being thrown into a setting in which I don’t know the language or the culture and stick out like a hapless gringo wandering through a street market. Because most of my past travels have been in Latin America or Spain, I’ve been used to speaking the native language and breaking the stereotype of the “ugly American.”

False expectations

Photo: man writing at table
One of the rare moments when I could sit down and write what we were experiencing.

I thought I would have lots of time to write in my travel journal, review my photos and read through the backlog of my Kindle books. After all, I was a writer headed for a Paris café. Instead, as the resident cultural scout, I found myself reading Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports to research and plan what we would be doing in our next stop. Because urgency compressed our exposure to a few hours, I felt as if we were being spoon-fed each city, each country, without having a chance to dig deeper, wider, more curiously. But I kept telling myself that just walking through Rome or Istanbul even the pre-packaged tourist circuits, was a privilege,  a banquet on its own, so open my senses.

Because of the “all-you-can-eat” buffets for breakfast and dinner on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s  Spirit, I soon noticed that I needed to fit in some cardio work at the fitness center to burn off all the carbohydrates. By the end of the trip, I lost about eight pounds, part from pounding the pavement and part from a couple of bouts of dysentery. I should note that in both Rome and Venice we were encouraged  (in Steves‘  book and by local residents) to drink the potable water from fountains and taps, a point of local pride.

Food was not the only thing that was filling me up: cultural saturation, at times, seemed overwhelming. Beauty-laden museums, Baroque churches, bustling marketplaces and throbbing public transport fill the senses with ancient vibes and contemporary thrills. There came a point when I could not absorb another Tintoretto painting of saints and angels shimmering under the arches of a cathedral. I just wanted to chill out. I had tapped into all my reserves of resilience and energy; all my spare memory cells were overflowing. I needed time, space and comfort to process all the experiences, and I was not going to find them while on the road.

I never got to write in my journal as much as I had hoped, and even then, I was playing catch-up, describing what had happened a couple of days before, never the gut reaction to turning a corner and being bowled over by the postcard setting of Venice canals and sunlight. But thanks to modern technology, we have plenty of memories, photos taken by Nikon, Samsung smart phones and Apple iPads. I can go back to those shots to pick up the internal narrative.

On our last days in Paris, I realized that I had not set aside adequate time for meditation or pranayama. No yoga classes; I did not pack a travel mat. I did do my restorative yoga in the evenings, but that was out of necessity because my muscles were quivering from the exertion of the day and I needed to soothe down to get to sleep.   For the most part, however, I was always leaning forward, senses on hyper-alert to all the signals of life, moving towards the final flight home.

Home again, after three weeks in Europe

Teresa and I enter the sacred space of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (tourists know it as the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey
Teresa and I enter the sacred space of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (tourists know it as the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey

Although I’ve been back from my extended vacation since October 4, it’s taken me a while to get my legs under me. My travels, spotty availability of Internet access and shortage of idle time determined that I could not post to my blog. I will giving an accounting of my awesome journey in installments because I am still processing all the events and experiences.

So what did my trip involve?

  • Four days in Barcelona, Spain because we never made it to Cataluña during our first trip to Spain in 2008
  • A 12-day Mediterranean cruise with port calls in Toulon, Livorno/Florence, Civitavecchia/Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice
  • Extra two days in Venice and an overnight sleeper train to France, an adventure in and of itself
  • Four days in Paris because my wife demanded that if we had we made it all the way to Europe, she could not leave without seeing Paris
  • A 28-hour return to the States on three separate flights (Paris, Barcelona, London, Washington), including a forced march through London Heathrow Airport security checkpoints, terminal trains, escalators, elevators and duty-free shopping malls

This itinerary is a really long time to be living out of a suitcase, no matter how tightly packed to meet airline baggage restrictions. And you still have to drag the luggage around when you’re not in a plane or cruise ship. But since my wife was in charge of planning the trip, she kept adding a day here, a weekend there, until it grew into 23 days. Continue reading Home again, after three weeks in Europe