Friday, September 30, 2011

Travel Soundtrack

I want to know: what music do people listen to when they travel?
Everybody is showing pictures and is narrating Odysseys, but what about your ears: what was on the radio, on the street or in your head?What were you singing, humming, whistling during your journeys?

For me, there are "standards" as well as songs connected solely to a special trip.
The year of the journey isn't necessarily the release year of a certain song.
So, let's start with:

France, Winter 1994: Mr.Jones,Counting Crows
I had gotten a tape with this song in the summer, I think, sent from a dear friend. In Paris it was playing very often on the radio. 

Naples, April 1995: Here I could lie, but I believe I used to listen to Jeff Buckley a LOT, so Last Goodbye

Japan, 2000: I Try, Macy Gray
In Japan you have speakers on the streets and there is noise and music everywhere.
I had just arrived in Miyazaki,in southern Japan, and was walking out of the station. This was a nice surprise.

USA, 2001:
because this was a two month road-trip, the soundtrack is pretty consistent.
I find that Red Hot Chili Peppers are perfect companions when traveling. They gave energy and they have that desert-like warmth, which perfectly captures the atmosphere of a long and hard journey.

So, a lot of RHCP
Soul To Squeeze
Scar Tissue
Around The World
(it might be that some of these songs were released and heard in a later US road-trip)
Of course Blues Travelers
Run Around

Washington D.C., 2002
No one Knows, The Queens of the Stone Age

I have one for a sailing trip on the Baltic (I believe 2004):
La Nonna di Frederick Lo Portava al Mare, Quintorigo (it makes sense because it is about the seaside).

In between I think I was in Korea and Japan, where the soundtrack were some popular songs (Korean bus drivers' choice) cicadas (as loud as road works!), traffic light tunes and an amazing number of other unknown noises.

Tennessee, 2007: Can't no Grave Hold This Body Down, Mike Farris
Mike Farris is a Nashville based singer I had the chance to hear live at the Blue Plate WDVX of Knoxville.

Montreal, 2010: on the road from Long Island, NY to Montreal there were the usual RHCP and Blues Travelers.
But on the way back (much enjoyed at the Montreal Jazz Festival) the fun and amazing

Lost Fingers with
Thunder/You shook me all night long (AC/DC cover), which by the way, my kids kept singing and requesting for the whole trip!
Tainted Love (Soft Cell cover)

Generally speaking I like energetic songs.

What about you?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Organizing Travels -2 And a Small Confession

The apartment is clean. I am ready to go.
No, wait...what does the apartment have to do with traveling?
Well, maybe cleaning is a sort of meditation to get the mind ready for new experiences. 
Maybe it's just a way to make the thought of flying as remote as possible (in fact, what does any house-chore have in common with flying???).

Jokes aside, I got a basic knowledge of the things I want to see in Grenoble.
I got myself a map and found very useful information on the web-page, which is very comprehensive (it covers information about the sights, the events, the transportation...).

For the Rhône-Alpes region I visited the web-site of the Rhône-Alpes (which covers the nearby cities of Lyon and Annecy).

As always, I'd be taking it easy: I am very confident that our stay will somehow follow its own path once we are at destination.

The next thing - probably the most important - is what to pack.

Traveling during the fall - and I could say the same for springtime - in central Europe. Mountains around.
My guess (with an eye on the weather forecast) is that we are not going to wear t-shirts. This means long sleeves. Maybe some turtle neck pullovers. Casual walking shoes.
I'm a spartan packer: I don't like having too much, but this depends a lot on how long we are away, on the presence of a laundromat and of course on the weather. 
I don't mind going around with spotted jeans (I have small kids, so I need to ignore some details), but if I have to be "social" (i.e. go to some restaurant with people other than family), then I will always have something elegant with me.
And something nice for the kids.
This adds weight, but makes me feel we are human again, at least at some point during the day.

Very important!Distractions: kids need paper, colors, stickers, little books (in Germany there's a huge collection that goes under the name of PIXI books), anything that can prevent a meltdown or plain boredom.

Time for a small confession: I have been to Grenoble some ten years ago. I have no memory whatsoever of that, apart from knowing I was there. 
If I had been on the téléphérique (the cable car that takes you from the city to the Bastille Fort) I am sure I would remember!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Organizing Travels - 1

So, here I am, organizing the next travel.
We'll be in Grenoble, France, and I'll have to explain my daughter that on the map the Mediterranean looks much closer than it actually is.
I hate that I didn't learn enough French to order more than a "baguette, not too dark" at the bakery or a "pain avec buerre et jambon", but I'll rely a lot on my communication skills (read: fantasy) and on maps to find my way around.

In fact, I have been to France before.
Part of my mother's family lives south of Paris , where I was three times, and I was touring France some ten years ago. Without kids.

I have been traveling with kids, too. Which, put together, should just work fine.

Still, I know, every travel brings some anxiety and stress. 
If organizing a travel means putting a lot of to-dos on a list, traveling with kids means transforming the heavy labor into a family fun.

I have been writing before about flying from Europe to the US  and from the US to Japan with the kids.
But I think I haven't talked much about organizing a whole travel.

This time, like back when we traveled to Japan in 2009, we are accompanying my husband to a conference.
In most cases, there is something called "social program" for families or spouses. I took part to this social program once in Korea and it was - except for the very tight schedule - very well organized and fun: I had a great times with interesting people, I got to know some of them well and was taken wherever without having to decide myself what to see in a Country I had never visited before.
The same kind of program is not an option with kids (because their times won't always fit the schedule) and in places I trust I can handle fine by myself.

But, because those who organize the social program have a better idea on what to see in their own city/Country, I take a few guidelines from the program and skip things like restaurants, after lunch activities or cooking classes.

This gives me and the kids longer times to enjoy places we might find interesting and a better chance to rest, if it is necessary.

Conference travels mean that - during the conference at least - we will be staying in a hotel.
I won't discuss about different kind of hotels now, but having a bed and a shower is luxury when you have kids. 
I remember arriving in Knoxville,TN  24 hours after departure (we were stuck in Washington D.C. for a short night interrupted by the fire alarm...) and we couldn't check in, because we were "too early" to have our room.

We will be using public transportation, but I am also considering renting a bike because - despite the mountainous surroundings - Grenoble is a flat city.
Prices are reasonable and Carlotta can ride a bike. If the weather is good, why not?

to be continued...

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Waves of Kanagawa

 Kanagawa Warning Wave 
(taken on a walk to Enoshima's rocks)


Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa - Hokusai

(courtesy of

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Manhole Covers in Japan - a Connection between East and West

Manhole Cover in Kobe KItano, photo taken by me in 2009

It has been a rainy summer. Lots of the outdoorsy activity weren't feasible and now that autumn is getting closer I feel even more comfortable with visiting exhibitions in Berlin instead of, say, collecting leaves and chestnuts...
For a Far East lover like I am, the Hukusai Retrospective at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum and the "Asian Pacific Weeks" are a sort of art feast.

Yesterday I was at the Rotes Rathaus to visit "Art Under Our Feet" a manhole covers photo collection by the Berlin based goldsmith and industrial designer Annette Stroetmann.

The history of manhole covers dates back to the late 19th Century, when a modern sewing system was built with the assistance of western engineers like the Berliner James Hobrecht, who was a canalization's expert.

[...]there is more to manhole-cover design than meets the eye. The most important function of the raised design on manhole covers is not to look good, but to provide traction for the traffic moving over it. This is particularly important in wet weather, when manhole covers can be treacherously slippery, especially for two-wheeled conveyances such as motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. A good design, in terms of preventing slippage, will have multidirectional lines for better grip. Designs should also be recognizable no matter which direction they are viewed from, and have lasting appeal, since manhole covers last for decades at least, and often much longer [...]

From "Manhole Covers" in The Japan Times 12/16/2008

It is important that the covers don't get blown off by pressure created inside the sewer when there are heavy rains, becoming a dangerous object but also leaving a hole on the pavement in which people might fall.

Of course the functional aspect didn't prevent Japanese and foreigners alike to become a bit obsessed with the manhole covers and create a "manhole mania", emphasizing their esthetic in the first place.

You can take a look at Annette Stroetmann's photos here
Or, for more photos, check the book "Drainspotting, Japanese Manhole Covers"
Blogger Muza-chan dedicated some posts to this topic in her blog Muzachan's Gate to Japan, too.
Painted Manhole Covers at