Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Europe (page 1 of 13)

Thought of the day

Not a bad sentiment (spotted on a bicycle in Copenhagen):

Scenes from Copenhagen.

I’m in the middle of processing the interviews from my trip, and more generally trying to organize all the stuff I gathered, and getting pictures (like this one) together is part of that.

Greetings from Óbidos, Portugal; and reflections on travel and rest

Courtyard of the Pousada da Vila, Óbidos.

I’m in the courtyard of the Pousada da Vila in Óbidos, Portugal.  I’ve been in here at the invitation of FOLIO, an annual literary festival, where I’ve been talking about REST. I also gave a talk at the local technology park, which was an interesting experience— very different kinds of audiences and locations.

Copies of REST sighted in Óbidos.

This is just the beginning of my travels, though. I’m visiting Portugal, Scotland, Denmark, and England (in that order), giving three big talks, doing interviews or field visits at fourteen different places, and staying in eight— count them EIGHT— different hotels. But if I can get as much material gathered as I think I will during this trip, it’ll be worth it, and it’ll mean I can write the next book— or more important, FINISH the next book.

The trip will end with me speaking at the SOMNEX sleep show at the Old Truman Brewery in London on Sep 12-14. If you’re in town and interested in sleep, register here and use the promo code SPK40 at check-out— you’ll get 40% off the regular price.

These kinds of long trips make me think about how to apply deliberate rest to travel, and curious to know what ways others have found to make travel less stressful and harried. I find I can do some of my best thinking on planes, in the evenings after a long day and a walk, and that travel can stir up both useful old memories and generate new ideas.

Scenes from Óbidos.

(This bookstore, for example, reminds me a lot of the open-air book stalls that my dad used to drag me to in Rio in the evenings.)

There are people who have creative breakthroughs while away from home— the English scientist James Lovelock developed his Gaia hypothesis while on a series of visits to Caltech— or who use travel to acquire experiences that they draw upon in their work for years to come— this is why artists still do versions of the Grand Tour of Europe, and why cooks and fashion designers work in other countries.

For me, I’ve found that just as in my daily life, good prep work is essential for having a less stressful, more restful, trip.

I’ve recently gotten into the habit of using Google Calendar to record all my logistical stuff— confirmation numbers, directions about how to get from the airport to the hotel, notes about which bus to take to get to the next appointment, etc. (When I’m traveling on my own, I’m a terrible skinflint. Partly because I hate spending money, but also because I concluded a few years ago that I was essentially spending money to maintain ignorance: a taxi fare is the price of not having to know anything about the bus or subway system. But with Google Maps and apps like Citymapper, I can get direction for public transport most places I go. Likewise, I don’t eat out at restaurants all the time: I take more satisfaction from finding and navigating the local supermarket.)

Having all these directions, numbers, etc. in one place that’s easily accessible reduces the stress of getting around, and makes it a lot easier to retrieve information when I’m on the go.

In sfo, ready to go

Likewise, I’m super-careful about what I pack (though somehow I still managed to forget a couple small iPad accessories on this trip!). I don’t exactly aim to pack really light— for a weeks-long trip where you’re doing serious work and giving talks, that’s just not possible— but I do try to think through just what I need.

That also includes thinking about the things that’ll make me comfortable in multiple different hotels, of uncertain quality and with unknown amenities. For example, I discovered a couple years ago that taking a pair of sweatpants or shorts and a sweatshirt that I would just wear in the hotel improved my quality of life on the road immeasurably: being able to change from my regular clothes into them, declare that I’m done for the day, and spend a comfortable evening, is well worth the extra weight and space in the bag.

On the other hand, I’ve figured out how to travel without a laptop, which makes my bag several pounds lighter. (Thank you, iPad!)

All of this creates more space for rest, by reducing stress and the need to improvise or manage stuff on the road. Once I’m traveling, the key things I’ve discovered are: walk a lot for yourself, and don’t try to do TOO much.

Scenes around Óbidos.

I love taking walks after work (and being an oversized male, I can do that pretty much with impunity in the places I go): they’re great opportunities for both seeing the sights, and for doing some mind-wandering after work. I generally don’t have detailed routes and things I try to see on these walks (though I dislike getting lost), and more generally I don’t pack too much into my days: even in a new place I try to resist the urge to See It All Now, and try to remember that just spending time in a place is often just as rewarding as seeing the three most renowned altarpieces (or whatever) in the city.

Scenes around Óbidos.

I also try to build in some time to stop and gather my impressions. Though since it’s never a burden to stop at a cafe and write, this really isn’t a problem for me to schedule!

This afternoon I leave Portugal and fly to Glasgow, Scotland, where it’s currently about 50 degrees and raining. Any thoughts of Europe being some monolithic cultural and geographical entity go out the window when you go from the edge of the Mediterranean to the border of the North Sea.

Dogs and cats in Europe

While I was in Copenhagen week before last, I came across a cat while heading to a friend’s house for lunch:

Cat

Then a couple days later, I ran into this cat at the book stalls in Amsterdam:

Open air book stalls

I also crossed paths with a couple dogs.

Open air book stalls

I always like seeing animals when I travel, if only because they remind me of my own pets back home.

Amsterdam city center

This is not bike parking this is art

Spotted at Papirøen:

This is not bike parking this is art

Art can be confusing, I suppose.

Back in Copenhagen

During my travels in Europe week before last, I spent a couple days in Copenhagen, which is one of my favorite cities.

Copenhagen

I’ve not been back there in a few years, so it was good it see it again. It’s a wonderfully civilized city, and I love its blend of history and modernity (Danish design being one of the high points of the 20th century in my opinion).

Copenhagen

And of course, as am American who likes to cycle, I find the bike culture wonderful and irresistible. This was rush hour on Wednesday afternoon:

Rush hour

Indeed, bikes are kind of a constant photographic subject when you’re there.

Copenhagen

This time I was staying at a hotel called Wakeup Copenhagen, on the Borgergarde, and just as important, across the street from the now world-famous burger joint, Gasoline Grill.

Gasoline Grill

They really are fabulous burgers.

Gasoline Grill

After giving a talk at a conference on the future of work, I had a free day, and spent it wandering around the city, and met up with a friend and went over to Papirøen (Paper Island).

Copenhagen

Papirøen is a former newsprint warehouse turned street food venue. It’s in the same general part of the city as Noma, and is a big part of the burgeoning Copenhagen gourmet food scene (a very odd sentence to write, but there it is.)

Paper Island street food

I went with the ostrich burger, not because I have any particular hostility towards ostriches or because eating ostrich was on my bucket list; but how many times does one have the opportunity?

The best ostrich burger in Copenhagen

It was a very cool scene, and very nice to get reacquainted with the city. I hope it’s not another ten years before I’m back there again!

Utrecht and Happinez festival

My second talk at the Happinez festival

I was in Europe for about ten days at the end of September. I used to blog about trips in near real-time, but what little real-time reportage I do from the road now tends to happen on Facebook; so this is a chance to catch up on the trip as a whole.

I spent three days at the Happinez Festival in Utrecht, then the following week was all over, giving talks in Geneva, Copenhagen, and Luxembourg; then it was back to Amsterdam, and home. If there’s a way to solve the traveling salesman problem to get the least optimal result, I think I found it.

The Happinez Festival is a biennial festival put on by Happinez magazine. It’s held in a nineteenth-century fort that’s been converted into a concert and event venue, which was fascinating. The walk to the venue is very pleasant, and takes you through some classic Dutch countryside.

IMG_2910

For three days, the place gets transformed.

Happinez Festival

The fact that it’s a fort made for some interesting moments.

Happinez Festival

The green room for speakers, for example, is located in what used to be a gunpowder magazine.

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I spoke on all three days, to crowds that were satisfyingly large, and more important, pretty engaged and interested.

Day 1 of the Happinez Festival

We also did book signings after each talk.

I’d love one day to understand the dynamics behind book signings– in particular how you can have large numbers of people one day, then nobody the next!

My third talk at the Happinez festival

I also got to see a bit of the city, as I wandered down to the cathedral and university.

IMG_2938

Utrecht is an amazingly pretty place, and while it doesn’t have the amazing concentration of cultural monuments that Amsterdam has, it’s still a great place to walk around. (Few cities are as dense with world-class museums and architecture as Amsterdam, anyway.)

IMG_2947

Maybe I’m just getting older, but I appreciate well-kept, prosperous, stable cultures more and more– which means I really enjoy my time in places like the Netherlands and Nordic countries.

However, some things continue to mystify me. The wide variety of things available at the hotel breakfast to put on food that turn out not to be butter but instead unknown varieties of spreadable cheese, for example:

Absolutely none of these is butter, it turns out

But other than that the hotel the speakers were staying in (the Hotel Mitland) was great.

Hotel Mitland

My room had a terrific view for working.

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It was an interesting experience to give the same talk three times, on three consecutive days. It did mean that I was able to refine my remarks to an unusual degree, and sharpen both the points I was making and the delivery. Usually, if you’re diligent you take notes on what you’ve said, how it went over, etc., but there’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll forget or lose those notes; this time, having 24 hours between talks meant I was able to incorporate the feedback a lot more quickly.

 

Packing this weekend

Among other things I’m doing this weekend (mainly related to my son’s rugby career, it seems) I’ve got pack and get ready for my Big European Tour: I’m off to London for several days to promote the Penguin Life edition of Rest, then will go to Amsterdam for the release of the Dutch edition of Rest and a talk sponsored by The School of Life.

It promises to be a fun time, particularly because after I take care of some business my wife will able to join me. (Next time, kids!) And because after years of writing about it, I finally plan to go to Downe and visit Charles Darwin’s house.

I’ve never been to Amsterdam, so I’m very much looking forward to spending several day there. I’m going to be speaking at the Westerkerk, which promises to be a pretty extraordinary venue.

I just hope the dogs don’t get too flipped out by seeing luggage. But they usually do.

Two years ago…

…my wife and I were in Stockholm. Just realized.

Downtown Stockholm
downtown Stockholm, via flickr

Funny how time flies.

Wacka wacka wacka
mosaic, Stockholm train station, via flickr

“Today Russia’s geeks hack into your bank account, while those of Finland develop Angry Birds.”

This is why I read John Kay:

In the 20th century political frontiers became a central influence on economic life. Old Kaspar’s work presumably consisted of providing food, fuel and shelter for his family. But with complex products, varied consumer tastes and low degrees of personal sufficiency, resource allocation became less of an individual enterprise, more one of the social and political environment.

That observation is evident on the Finnish-Russian border. The razor wire kept Russian citizens in when the living standards of planned societies and market economies diverged. But now the border is easy to cross and the gap in per capita income has narrowed, though not by much. The very different income distributions of egalitarian Finland and inegalitarian Russia can be seen in the car parks and designer shops of Lappeenranta.

In the Soviet era, Finland produced Marimekko; Russia made no clothes any fashion-conscious woman would want to buy. Post-Communist but still autocratic Russia made surveillance equipment; democratic Finland led the world in mobile phones. Today Russia’s geeks hack into your bank account, while those of Finland develop Angry Birds.” 

A little text about Paris

Having spent a day in Paris, it would be criminal blog negligence not to mention something about it, and put in a few pictures. I was there Saturday, and got to see a little of the Latin Quarter and the old Jewish quarter. Mainly, I took pictures. It goes without saying that a day is not nearly long enough to see the city, but it’s all I had. I’ll have to go back another time.

Paris
Gare du Lyon station, via flickr

Paris
Along the Seine, via flickr

Florence Kahn
Florence Kahn, the noted Kosher bakery/deli/etc., via flickr

Notre Dame
The obligatory picture of Notre Dame, via flickr

Paris
Small Fountain, via flickr

Shakespeare and Co.
Shakespeare and Company, via flickr

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