“The paseo was accepted as health-giving, rejuvenating exercise.  More importantly, for the traveller out of his depth in foreign surroundings and reduced to constant apology and confusion  imposed by the loss of language, it was a godsend.  Whether merchant, soldier or minister of religion, the paseo smoothed out all problems.  The mere act of walking in the company of beaming strangers provoked a change of mood.  Within minutes of joining a paseo’s ranks the beginner had shaken hands with everyone in sight — a cordial gripping of fists sometimes strong enough to produce a moistening of the eyes.  The leaflet [explaining paseo to foreigners] we collected as new members of the ‘friendly walk’ advised us that one should ‘always smile, but laugh with caution.’  A number of actions came under its ban: ‘At all times refrain from shouting or whistling.  Gestures with the fingers are to be avoided.  Do not wink, do not turn your back on a bore in an ostentatious manner, and, above all, never spit.'”
— Norman Lewis, The Tomb in Seville from his travels in Spain in 1934

Las Ramblas, the famous pedestrian street in Barcelona

Las Ramblas, the famous pedestrian street in Barcelona

“When darkness fell Madrid began to take seats as if for a nocturnal pageant or procession.  Every pavement chair was occupied.  Offices and shops had let down their shutters and the day’s work was over.  Then into the main avenues thousands of men and women came from a hundred tributaries, by underground, bus and on foot, to stroll about and walk up and down, and down and up.  This was the nightly paseo, that queer relic of the seventeenth century when the aristocracy took the air in the evening along the Paseo del Prado.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

Day time street scene in Madrid

Day time street scene in Madrid

People strolling and meeting along the Quadalquiver River in Seville

People strolling and meeting along the Guadalquivir River in Seville

Day time street scene in Seville

Day time street scene in Seville

If Amsterdam is a city for bicyclists, then Madrid is a city for walkers.  Carol and I arrived in Madrid in the morning, too early to check into our hotel on Gran Via.  So we ditched our bags and took a walk to begin to get our bearings.  I was immediately struck by how the city felt like Manhattan to me because so many people were walking.  But the crowds were nothing compared to the throngs that took to the streets in the evening.  When we finished our dinner on a Thursday night at 10:30 p.m., the streets behind our hotel were wall-to-wall thick with people.  I’d never seen anything like it.

Surprisingly, the sidewalks in Madrid were quite narrow.  You could not walk two abreast without forcing oncoming walkers to step into the street.  And yet the pedestrians were undaunted.

Later in our travels we strolled in the old sections of Seville and Barcelona, where the medieval streets were sometimes too narrow even for cars.  There, of course, you could do nothing but walk.

But you got the sense that the Spanish walk not just for transport from place to place, nor for exercise, but instead for social reasons.

“Spain is a country of small, tightly packed towns, cities and villages.  Spaniards like to live piled on top of one another.  Their natural meeting place is in the crowded street, the busy bar or the plaza.  It is a life of close physical contact, of loud, sociable bustle.”
— Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain:  Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

 

 

 

Don’t Ask, Walk!

October 19, 2015

“There is one path in the world that none can walk but you.  Where does it lead?  Don’t ask, walk!”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Path at Discovery Park

Path at Discovery Park

 

 

Walk for Joy

November 16, 2014

“Now shall I walk
Or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said.
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
—  W. H. Davies

Walker at Green Lake

Walker at Green Lake

Walking on a cold November morning

Walking on a cold November morning

“The sum of the whole is this:  walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.”  —  Charles Dickens

“I have never found a city without its walkers’ rewards.”
— John Finley, “Traveling Afoot,” from The Joys of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell

Library books about inspiring walks

Library books about inspiring walks

Last year at this time I had just returned from a week-long hike in France.  I am again feeling wanderlust and dream about someday taking a long pilgrimage or walking journey — the 88 temples of Shikoku, El Camino de Santiago, or perhaps the trails along the Cornwall Coast or Monterey Bay.  Any suggestions?

With no vacation plans in my immediate future, I will have to put some thought to a new walking venture at home, what John Finley in “Walking Afoot” calls “near journeys.”  He mentions the pleasures of walking the boundaries of one’s city.  Now that would be an adventure that would likely take me several days.

I’m considering it!

 

Llandover Woods, north Seattle

Llandover Woods, north Seattle

“You cannot find what the poets find in the woods until you take the poet’s heart to the woods.  He sees nature through a colored glass, sees it truthfully, but with an indescribable charm added, the aureole of the spirit.  A tree, a cloud, a bird, a sunset, have no hidden meaning that the art of the poet is to unlock for us.  Every poet shall interpret them differently, and interpret them rightly, because the soul is infinite.”
— John Burroughs, Pepacton

I just learned about this little forest, Llandover Woods,  in north Seattle, not too far from the Dunn Gardens, and I spent an hour walking its groomed trail.  Splotchy bark, hanging moss, ferns, bare trees.  A quiet spot in the city.  Great discovery.

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Car-less in Seattle

May 31, 2013

“Walking is a simple and useful thing, and such a pleasure, too.”
— Jeff Speck, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time

Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of walking because upon my return from vacation, my car was stolen from in front of my house.  Thankfully, it has been recovered, but during the two weeks it was missing, I was contemplating how to have an enjoyable summer if I were restricted to using my feet and public transportation to get around.  This would have been doable with rather minimal actual hardship because I live right in a city with a good bus system and relatively safe streets.  I have a bus pass, so I could get to work and a few grocery stores by bus.  I live three miles from my workplace and several grocery stores and coffee shops, so I could also get along by walking much of the time as well.  I could also dust off my bike.

The biggest sacrifice would be giving up out-of-town drives and hikes, which I like to do in the summer.  I resolved that, if my car was not found, I would hold off replacing it and explore using a car sharing program for my longer distance drives.  Seattle has Car2Go and ZipCar options.

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

During the days I was car-less, I happened to check out a library book called Walkable City:  How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck.  He looks at walkability from an urban planning perspective, and I found much of the book fascinating.  For example, I learned that my personal interest in walking is not unusual for my age group, baby boomer empty nesters.  But another age group, the millennials, who grew up watching Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City, also aspire to live in cities with a vibrant pedestrian culture.

Speck distinguishes between ‘useful’ walking and ‘recreational’ walking.  For a city to be seen as pedestrian friendly, one must be able to incorporate walking into one’s daily routines, such as picking up dry cleaning or groceries, stopping at the library, or visiting a coffee shop or bookstore.  Speck points out that when you choose to go car-less, you support local businesses more.  And because city-dwellers can drive less, their environmental imprint is usually much smaller than those who live in the suburbs or the country.

Speck speaks about safety for pedestrians and bikers, citing studies that show the safest sidewalks are protected from moving cars by a line of parked cars.  “Few sidewalks without parking entice walking . . .”  Paradoxically, “the safest roads are those that feel the least safe, demanding more attention from drivers.”

And not all green spaces are the most appealing landscapes for walkers, who want visual interest (such as shop fronts and street vendors) and spaces that give a sense of enclosure (such as porches, arcades, awnings and colonnades).

Now that I do have my car back, I still want to make a real effort to drive it less.  I like the idea of living in a ‘walkable’ city, one with a cool pedestrian and bike culture.  I look forward to the day when Seattle adopts a bike-share program, because that is something that I would likely use.  My nephew helped to implement such a program in NYC this past week.

I will be thinking more about car-free life because of another challenge that faces me right now.  My Israeli niece is visiting the U.S. for two months, and she wants to travel by public transportation to several of our national parks.  Is this even possible?  I look back on my travels in Europe and marvel at how easy it is to get around there.  How I wish the United States had a similar infrastructure for traveling conveniently by train or bus.  Will my niece be able to realize her dream vacation in the United States?  I guess we will be finding out.

Iceland Impressions 2

May 7, 2013

“We do not take a trip, a trip takes us.”
— John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charley

Paved path following the coastline near Keflavik

Paved path following the coastline near Keflavik

One of my favorite things to do on my travels is to simply walk or drive around, see what presents itself, and take photos.  So on my stopover in Iceland, I donned walking shoes and set out from my lodging at the Hotel Keflavik and followed the paved path along the coastline.  I walked for about four miles before I turned around to come back, and I did not even reach the end of the path.  I felt like a solitary walker, so few people did I meet en route.

I fell in love with the tidy, modest-sized houses, with their red and blue roofs.  One yellow house was particularly cheerful.  I felt that, in comparison, our huge sprawling houses in the U.S. are too often ostentatious and wasteful.

The red-roofed houses of Keflavik

The red-roofed houses of Keflavik

Blue roofs, Keflavik

Blue roofs, Keflavik

Cheerful yellow house along the Iceland coast

Cheerful yellow house along the Iceland coast

Two historic "summer houses" in Keflavik

Two historic “summer houses” in Keflavik

Downtown Keflavik, how tidy and clean

Downtown Keflavik, how tidy and clean

Along the path was a restored cottage called a “Stekkjarkot.”  This sod-covered dwelling was typical of those from the mid-1800s.  The family who lived here would have made its living from the sea.

Stekkjarkot near Keflavik

Stekkjarkot near Keflavik

Keflavik is a sea town, with fishing boats and working harbors.  Very picturesque.

Breakwater leading into a harbor

Breakwater leading into a harbor

One of Keflavik's harbors

One of Keflavik’s harbors

Weathered blue shed

Weathered blue shed

Fishing boat seen from a bluff

Fishing boat seen from a bluff

After walking four miles in one direction, I returned to the hotel and then walked in the other direction, through the town, and up a bluff where I followed a hard path of volcanic rock along the cliffs.

Hard path on the bluff over Keflavik

Hard path on the bluff over Keflavik

Coming back down, I passed this woman basking in the spring sunshine like a seal on a rock.  (Don’t we all celebrate the return on light and warmth in the Spring?)

Welcome back sun!

Welcome back sun!

I ended my day by swimming with the locals at Keflavik’s public swimming pool.  For one-twentieth the cost of the Blue Lagoon, I enjoyed four or five warm soaking pools/hot tubs, a lap pool, a big general swimming pool while around me families played in the kiddie pools and water park with giant slides into yet another pool.  And then I splurged on a dinner of Icelandic lamb.  A perfect day.

My dinner of Icelandic lamb at the restaurant in the Hotel Keflavik

My dinner of Icelandic lamb at the restaurant in the Hotel Keflavik

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In this book, I am looking for what I miss, every day, right in front of me, while walking around the block.”
— Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking:  Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

The book On Looking

The book On Looking

“What an epiphany to reconceive a city . . .”

I really like the idea of this book.  In it, Alexandra Horowitz takes short urban walks with eleven “experts” in various fields, and as they share what it is like to notice things through their eyes, Horowitz herself begins to see with new-found vision and understanding.  The eleven walking companions are:  a 19-month-old toddler, a geologist, a typographer, the illustrator and writer Maira Kalman, a field naturalist and insect expert, a wildlife biologist, an analyst of pedestrian movement, a medical doctor, a blind woman, a sound engineer, and a dog.

I was hoping one of her experts would have been a horticulturist or botanist, because it is most likely plants that I attend to on the walks in my neighborhood.  It would have been instructive to compare notes.

I know one thing.  This book will prompt you to go out for a walk around the block in your neighborhood.  Here are a few photos of a late winter walk through my eyes and camera lens:

Crocuses

Crocuses

Rhododendron bud

Rhododendron bud

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

Sunlight through kale leaf

Sunlight through kale leaf

New leaves

New leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“These vagabond shoes
are longing to stray
right through the very heart of it —
New York, New York!”
— Fred Ebb, lyricist

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

“New York City worked its way into my life at a walking pace.”
— Teju Cole, Open City

One of my favorite New York City experiences was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.  We took the subway and exited at the first stop in Brooklyn so that we would be looking at views of NYC’s skyline as we walked back toward Manhattan.  We could see the Freedom Tower, still under construction on the site of the former World Trade Center and the Empire State Building.  We also got our very first look at the Statue of Liberty!

Looking at the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn waterfront (Jane's Carousel under the bridge)

Looking at the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn waterfront (Jane’s Carousel under the bridge)

Flag atop Brooklyn Bridge

Flag atop Brooklyn Bridge

View of Empire State Building from the Brooklyn Bridge

View of Empire State Building from the Brooklyn Bridge

Looking back toward Brooklyn

Looking back toward Brooklyn

Looking back toward Brooklyn

Looking back toward Brooklyn

Lover's locks -- people throw the key into the river -- on the Brooklyn Bridge

Lover’s locks — people throw the key into the river — on the Brooklyn Bridge

We were puzzled by the locks, and read up about this phenomenon when we got home

We were puzzled by the locks, and read up about this phenomenon when we got home

Lamp post, Brooklyn Bridge

Lamp post, Brooklyn Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan

“The art of drifting was an antimapping experience and the idea was to wander, to meander around a city, at every moment being alive to whatever drew you.  You were in thrall to the spirit of place, rather than having place under your thumb, on a map, on a plan.”
— Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Planning vs. anti-mapping

Planning vs. anti-mapping

New York City is a walker’s paradise.  And although we did walk a lot, and sometimes even meander, I was glad that I had taken the time to do some trip planning before arrival.  My research resulted in a list of things I wanted to see and do during our short, first visit to this metropolis, and by plotting their locations on my AAA map of Manhattan, I was able to get a better sense for planning our days so as not to miss anything.  Perhaps if we had more time, we would have been able to practice the art of drifting.

New York is a city of skyscrapers, bridges, benches, garbage, eateries, distinct neighborhoods . . . Today’s post is about first impressions.

Looking up -- one way to appreciate NYC's skyscrapers

Looking up — one way to appreciate NYC’s skyscrapers

Street viewed from the Roosevelt Island tram

Street viewed from the Roosevelt Island tram

The skyscrapers formed deep canyons.  Depending on the light, they threw interesting reflections on neighboring buildings and traffic.

“It is by all odds the loftiest of cities . . . Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow.  This, more than any other thing, is responsible for its physical majesty.”
— E. B. White, Here is New York

The traffic was nonstop, but we quickly learned to jaywalk like native New Yorkers.  (In Seattle we are not used to jaywalking!)

Reflections on the windows of cars and taxis

Reflections on the windows of cars and taxis

Skyscraper reflections

Skyscraper reflections

The city’s inhabitants create a prodigious amount of garbage, as you can imagine.  There was quite a bit of litter, and every day piles of garbage bags and garbage containers lined the streets — in every neighborhood.

Garbage lining the street in the Upper East Side

Garbage lining the street in the Upper East Side

We expected to see fire escapes in the multi-story buildings — an iconic NY architectural feature.  But we were surprised to see wooden water tanks on the roof tops of tall buildings.  We could see a dozen or more water tanks just from the 17th story window of our Mid-town hotel.  New York is a mix of old and new — sometimes a shorter (older) building survived between tall high rises.

Fire escapes -- interesting patterns of dark and light

Fire escapes — interesting patterns of dark and light

Two round, wooden water tanks on the rooftops

Two round, wooden water tanks on the rooftops

Shoulder to shoulder with its taller neighbors, this "little" building survives!

Shoulder to shoulder with its taller neighbors, this “little” building survives!

Often, in the narrow spaces between tall buildings, we’d find gated community gardens and “pocket” parks.  They looked scraggly in winter, but I could imagine them as vibrant, green spaces in summer.

Folk-art sculpture in a tiny community space

Folk-art sculpture in a tiny community space

Another little fenced in park in a small space between buildings

Another little fenced in park in a small space between buildings

We loved seeing the old row houses on the side streets leading off West 4th between 7th Avenue and West 12th in Greenwich Village.  Frommer’s named this “the most beautiful street” in New York City.

Historic row houses

Historic row houses

Mason's Row

Mason’s Row

We tried (twice, on two different evenings) to win discount tickets to The Book of Mormon play, but alas, our names were not drawn.  The lottery awards about 20 deeply discounted tickets to each sold-out performance about 2 hours before showtime.  Despite the cold, there were about 200 – 300 intrepid souls vying for the few tickets.

Crowd awaiting lottery for Book of Mormon tickets

Crowd awaiting lottery for Book of Mormon tickets

“If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought.  And of the two thousand who do, about one thousand will be standing in line waiting to do it.”
— E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller, 1967

So, of all of the things on our list of things to experience in NYC, we did not make it to a Broadway or off-Broadway play on this trip.  I guess we will have to return someday.