I am slowly beginning to grasp the concept of “walkability.” It’s not about whether there are wide sidewalks (although there better be). Spending my second week in California I realize the absolute key part is whether you need to cross multi-lane streets/roads every 50 meters. Nothing kills the joy of walking around than having to stop all the time.
(hint: in Amsterdam you can usually just walk through the street without paying attention to lights, because there’s either no traffic, or the traffic will let you do that)
It also helps if I’m not the only pedestrian within a 5 mile radius. The other day a lady in a huge SUV pulled over to ask if everything’s ok because I’m walking down the street; she thought my car broke down and I needed help. 🤦🏻♂️
(I’m biased towards everything American, so despite a relatively US-critical tone, you may be offended by this post if you’re too European.)
I remember watching “The Cosby Show” with my parents in the nineties. It was a crazy time of massive political change in Poland, and my parents were always pointing at the fictional Huxtables as role models. Me and my father were even replicating Cliff Huxtable’s way of making chili, and we’d make tons of inside jokes that we’d always gladly explain to any guests we’d be having. We didn’t realize at that point how controversial The Cosby Show was in the 80s in the US. What was lost on Polish viewers was that the show’s depiction of black people was atypical to say the least. The Huxtable family wasn’t poor, hell, it wasn’t even middle class. A lawyer (a black woman!) and a senior obstetrician, raising a family of 5 in a fantastic brownstone in Brooklyn Heights—that’s how all well-educated Americans lived, right? We didn’t see the controversy, and missed out on some of the social commentary, but we still enjoyed Bill Cosby’s jokes, his colorful sweaters, his fictional family’s great parenting advice, etc. Of course not only the Huxtables were our role models, but the US was depicted as the promised land, which in the 90s it clearly was. They won the cold war, they became the sole superpower, Fukuyama announced “the end of history”—no one had any doubts.
Then at the break of the century, a new world begun. 9.11 happened, W. & co. took power,1 the 2008 banking crisis hit the world hard, the US middle class shrinked, Wall Street was occupied, and, as a proverbial nail to the coffin, they now tell me that Bill Cosby, my beloved Dr. Huxtable, is (allegedly) a sex offender. America of my childhood is gone for good, along with the post-cold-war Reagan-Thatcher world order formerly known as “new.”
Yet besides all that, there has never been a country I felt so emotionally strong about as the United States.
A couple of weeks ago my company sent me over to London for 6 weeks to do some project work for one of our clients. I’m back in Munich now, but everyone’s been asking me how it was and I have surprisingly many things to say about my stay in the UK. Thus, to ease my pain of having to tell everyone the same bunch of observations, I decided to group them all neatly into a blog post. Here goes.
London is big and crowded
Depending on the definition, the London metropolitan area has between 8,5 and 14 mln inhabitants. By European standards this makes it a huge city, and having never lived in a place that had more than 2,5 mln people, you can really feel the difference. The most visible effect of that enormous size is of course overcrowding.
I remember visiting London a couple of years back, admiring the architecture of old tube stations with the small, nomen omen, tubular size of the trains, and finding it all adorable. Well, tell you what, it loses all its charm when you try to get on a Jubilee line train at 8:30 AM.
Moving around the city during morning or evening rush hours means standing in some sort of a line most of the time. You queue for the trains (I never managed to get on the first or even the second Jubilee line train in the morning, not to mention the Central line), you queue to the stairs, and then in many other places you also queue even when you leave the station; for example at Faringdon station if you want to cross the street in the direction of Leather Lane the queue (~50m long) to the zebra crossing starts right at the station exit.
I traveled by train, and this post is an account of my experiences and a warning for others who might be attempting the same thing. It costed a lot of money, but most importantly, it was a very exhausting and stressful experience. So if you’re reading this and planning on doing the same thing – don’t.
First of all: why did I do it? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. First was curiosity – I like trains, and I really wanted to try that kind of long international train travel. Second was finance – plane tickets have a tendency of becoming ridiculously expensive before Christmas, and I had a hard time finding the sort of tickets I wanted (BGO–WAW, POZ–BGO), so I figured that trains can be cheaper. In the end they weren’t, but they weren’t significantly more expensive either, and given that I’ve had a lot of flying last month, I decided I’ll give the train a chance.
Last week I came to New Zealand for COIN@PRIMA workshop and PRIMA-13 conference. It’s the first time I’m on the southern hemisphere, and I have a couple of observations about New Zealand and the whole Oceania region I’d like to share.
First off, New Zealand is soooper far away from everything. It took me more than 45 hours to get here from Bergen,1 and I just talked to a Kiwi friend who told me Wellington is the most remote capital city in the world, being furthest away from any other capital city. The feeling one has here is that while the country seems rather Western (lots of post-British architecture, English as the official language, lots of familiar products in the shops), it’s very exotic. You see Fiji Airways planes at the airports, and there are weird looking trees, birds and plants everywhere. Also, New Zealanders seem to often (implicitly) refer to Australia as the “big world”. Australia’s where the big cities are, it’s where you go to do your post-doc or PhD, and it’s where many people transfer for intercontinental flights. Still, from a European point of view, Australia is the end of the world in many ways – it’s vast, sparsely populated,2 and very far away from the rest of the world.3Continue reading “New Zealand”
I had a very long layover at Narita airport and decided to go see the city, if only for a couple of hours. Turned out to be a great idea, and I’m definitely coming back for a longer stay. Tokyo is absolutely brilliant.
I travel a lot, and I mean a lot not only for a PhD student. Yes, I do travel to conferences, workshops, seminars and summer schools, but apart from that I visit family in Poland and friends in The Netherlands, which means I’m on an international flight at least once a month. It made me reflect on how I travel, how I feel about traveling and how many of my traveling habits changed.
First of all, I don’t like traveling by plane. As most people, I hate security checks, the hassle it takes to get to/from many airports (taking trains, buses, taxis…), baggage allowances that most people abuse (it’s been a while since I was able to actually put any of my stuff in the overhead compartment), crowded gate entries, etc. I take high-speed trains whenever possible, but I always have to take a plane in order to get out of Bergen, since taking a train through Oslo and Sweden is expensive and very inefficient.1
I travel a lot, be it for work or pleasure, and one of the things I particularly enjoy when I’m transferring at my favorite Schiphol airport is visiting bookstores. I browse magazines, bestsellers and non-fiction, and usually buy an issue of The Economist, The New Yorker or a book. Or actually, I used to buy.
Ever since I have the iPad1, I stopped visiting bookstores. I no longer buy The Economist or The New Yorker, because there’s an app for that. Well, not only there are apps, but magazines are usually much cheaper if bought in “the newsstand” rather than in printed form. I no longer buy books there either, because I prefer using the Kindle app for reading while traveling (cuts the weight of the bag significantly). You might then say that there are no cons to this situation, and it is indeed a typical first world problem, but there are two observations I made today that I’d like to share here. Continue reading “How the iPad ruins my travel experience”
So there I was having a lunch at ‘Shanghai Dumpling’ at Taipei 101, when suddenly one of the girls sitting at the table next to mine said: ‘Hey, you’re welcome to eat our dumplings if you want to, because they’re too sweet for us, and we’re quite full anyways’. ‘Thanks!’, I quickly replied, because no one needs to sell me on eating more dumplings, especially if they’re sweet. We started talking about what I’m doing in Taipei, and then it turned out they were Japanese. But there’s noting unusual in meeting two Japanese girls in Taiwan. What’s unusual is to discover one of them speaks a bit of Polish, because she used to study some bit of contemporary European literature, particularly Gombrowicz, and that made her sign up for a Polish language course (of course she didn’t last long, but still).