Retiring an old passport with a lot of fun travel memories

The pen ran out of ink as I was signing, but I never got a question about the signature in dozens of trips on this passport.

The pen ran out of ink as I was signing, but I never got a question about the signature in dozens of trips on this passport.

Cover 1I’m traveling on a new passport in this trip to Italy.

Getting a new passport is no big deal, as long as it arrives before you need to travel. But the return of the old passport, with a couple holes punched through the cover, brings back a decade of travel memories.

mugFor one thing, that old mug shot that looked so bad 10 years ago (does anyone ever like their passport photo?) at least looks 10 years younger now. The sideburns were all white then, but the goatee part of my beard was still more pepper than salt. Sometime in the past decade, that beard turned all white, then I shaved it for vanity.

But the real story of an old passport isn’t the photo, it’s the stamps inside.

Oddly, I can’t find a stamp for my first trip on the passport, a 2004 visit to Tofino, B.C., for our 30th wedding anniversary. I see two other 2004 trips to Canada stamped, but not that August trip. I don’t know whether they didn’t stamp the passport that trip, or had the wrong date on their stamp, or perhaps the stamp was covered by one of the two visas that were pasted down over a full page (I always presumed they picked a clean page for those).

Other than the anniversary trip, all travel on the passport was related to work. Of course, we piggybacked a lot of personal travel onto the trips for employers, clients and conferences.

This trip, for instance, is for the International Journalism Festival, where I am a speaker on four panels. But we came a few days early for a visit to Venice.

I have two visas in the 2004 passport, from Saudi Arabia for a 2008 trip and Russia for a 2009 visit to Siberia. They were two of the more memorable trips I’ve ever taken.

SaudiThe trip to Saudi Arabia was one of the few where Mimi did not accompany me. Carol Ann Riordan and I represented the American Press Institute at the inauguration of the Prince Ahmed Institute of Applied Media Studies in Riyadh. API was negotiating with the Saudi institute to provide some training for Saudi journalists.

The gender discrimination in Saudi was clear from our greeting at the airport, where our hosts provided Carol Ann an abaya to wear. In the media offices, women journalists worked on a different floor from the men, though I was able to visit them with Carol Ann. They were hungry for training and Carol Ann insisted that any contract for training would include programs for Saudi women journalists.

Though Carol Ann was a vice president of API and I was just a director, the Saudis asked me to sign an agreement with the prince to pursue the negotiations, because I was a man. The agreement was just an agreement to continue negotiating, though, and API never got a contract to do training in Saudi.

RussiaI chronicled the trip to Siberia in a series of posts in 2009, when I visited for a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the independent press in Siberia. I treasure the memories of friendly hosts and of journalists who were proud of their independent media. As I read of the growing power of the Putin regime, I hope my friends and colleagues there are able to maintain their independence.

The trip to Siberia included a wonderful walking tour in the December chill of Barnaul, the city where the conference was held. And after the conference, Mimi and I visited St. Petersburg and Moscow.

JapanFrankfurtI got a paper stamp in my passport from a 2007 visit to Japan to do some workshops for Stars and Stripes, the newspaper serving American military troops who live abroad. That trip also included a stop in Germany for some training for Stars and Stripes staff there. The 2007 Frankfurt stamp is the only one on its pair of pages, while other facing pages are crowded with up to nine stamps.

The Stars and Stripes visits were sandwiched between two stateside events, so we were limited to two days of sightseeing in Germany and one in Japan (though Mimi had more time both places while I was doing my workshops). Both visits were memorable, though. We caught Mt. Fuji on a rare clear day, and it was spectacular. In Germany, we visited Heidelberg one day and Mainz the other. Our visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz provided a closing for many Newspaper Next presentations and other speeches at journalism events.

Ecuador straightEcuador smushedI got two stamps for our 2008 visit to Ecuador (the month after the Saudi trip). Unlike most countries, they stamped it coming and going (I recall a fee to leave the country). One stamp was clean, but he other was kind of skewed and hard to read.

The Ecuador trip, for a Newspaper Next workshop for El Comercio, included a side trip to the equator, and walking tour of Quito in the rain and to the Otovalo market in the mountains outside Quito.

MexicoThe Mexico stamp from a 2006 trip to introduce Newspaper Next to Latin American publishers and editors barely made it onto the edge of Page 24 of the passport. That trip included a visit to ancient pyramids as well as the Guadalupe Shrine.

Pages 8 9You don’t get a stamp every time you enter a country. A stamp at the Frankfurt airport is the only evidence of our 2013 trip that included visits to France (a conference about Russian media partnerships with my friends from Siberia),  Switzerland and Italy (last year’s International Journalism Festival, plus visits to Rome, Florence and Siena).

My trips to Canada resulted in at least 14 stamps entering that country in various locations (some of the stamps mention the city; some don’t). And I don’t think I got stamped every time I entered Canada (unless some are under those visas). I can’t recall exactly which of my Canadian trips were before or after the June 2004 issue of the old passport, but I count at least two dozen trips to Canada since getting the passport.

Mimi and I enjoyed some wonderful visits to Tofino, Cape Breton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and other Canadian locations on the old passport.

Stops at airports in Amsterdam and Zurich didn’t even merit passport stamps. I had to wait for those at my destinations.

I’m breaking in a new passport on this trip to Italy, but it doesn’t have a stamp yet. Italian authorities waved us through the “passport control” station without a look at the new passport. But I’m expecting a lot of stamps before I have to replace this one in 2024.

Update: I did get an Italy stamp at the Rome airport today. I just rechecked the old passport and I don’t have one there. Not sure why I got one this year but not last year.

Italy stamp

European churches are glorious, but whom do they glorify?

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, known locally as the Duomo.

Something bothers me when viewing the magnificent churches of Europe.

I have great respect for the artistic and scientific talents of the architects and builders. I admire the painstaking work of the masters who created the paintings, statues, columns, sarcophaguses, murals, mosaics, cornices, tapestries and frescoes that seem to decorate every available space. The reverence of these ancient people is touching and I respect the expressions of faith that these churches and their art represent.

But it also feels at times too much.

As my companion and I walked away from the glorious Duomo in Siena, Italy, we passed a group of English-speaking teen-agers getting their first glimpse as they rounded the corner. “How many, like, insanely beautiful churches can there be in one country?” a youth asked rhetorically of his peers.

Indeed, beautiful and plentiful. But on some level insane.

As a visitor to Italy centuries after the Renaissance artists, I am thankful for their contribution to art and beauty. That they elevated humanity is, to me, beyond question.

My father enjoyed painting. While his favorite subjects were sunsets and other landscapes that celebrated the beauty of creation, a few had religious themes. Some of his works hang (or did at one time) in the churches where he served as pastor or perhaps in some he visited. I grew up appreciating the talent and inspiration of the artist.

I’m grateful for the Medicis and other wealthy people who fostered an appreciation of art here. While I’m proud of Dad’s artwork, I recognize the difference between a hobby artist and a master. To become a master, one must work full-time for years. That requires support of wealthy people or wealthy institutions such as churches, either to buy the work or to sponsor it.

As I noted in an earlier post from this trip, I was in awe of the vision and execution that created the David. Sunday we saw the Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and marveled again at the beauty and the talent that created it.

Michelangelo’s genius did not grow from nothing. He and Leonardo da Vinci were the greatest artists of a culture that also produced masters such as Botticelli and Donatello (both of whose works we’ve seen on this trip) and lesser masters whose names I’ve already forgotten but who produced magnificent works we viewed in the museums, cathedrals and basilicas we’ve toured. Their work grew from the generosity of the Medicis and other patrons of the arts and from a culture that honored and elevated art.

It’s the cavernous cathedrals that strike me as too much. While I know they were built as tributes to God, I wonder how much they really are statements about the money and might of man. Wouldn’t the savior so often depicted in these statues and paintings have preferred that the church spend more of its wealth following his commandments, such as feeding and clothing the poor, and less building such grand palaces of worship?

I don’t wonder that in a condemning way. I know I don’t contribute enough to helping those less fortunate. And I’m certain the inspiration provided by religious art and architecture helps change lives and drives – directly or not – many of the countless acts of generosity by the faithful.

But as I admire the artistic gifts of the masters, I wonder if the popes and bishops who built these grand cathedrals weren’t glorifying themselves at least as much as the master they served.

St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

I am most fluent in helplessness

Few experiences are as humbling for me as traveling in countries where English is not the native language.

Maybe that’s part of why I like travel. We all need to be humbled now and then.

I excelled in German when I was in ninth grade. But we moved to a different school district, where they dropped German from the curriculum during World War I “to be patriotic.” And a quarter century after World War II, they still weren’t teaching it. Continue reading

An ideal day in Lyon

Here’s an ideal travel day: Sleep in. Enjoy a pleasant breakfast in a French bistro. A friendly cabbie explains why Lyon has the world’s best cooking as he drives you to a silk shop. A charming clerk helps you make your silk purchases. Walk down the quaint narrow streets of the Presq’île district to catch the parade of a Renaissance festival. Ride a funicular up a hill. Enjoy spectacular views of the city and the snow-capped Alps beyond. Browse the historic Basilica de Fourvière. View ancient artifacts in the Gallo-Roman Museum. Wander through the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. Enjoy a glass of wine outdoors, with views of the Alps in the distance. Sniff your way through the food stalls of Les Halles and buy some macaroons for the relatives you’ll be visiting the next day. Get back to your hotel for a brief afternoon nap. Accompany some new friends to dinner for melt-in-your-mouth seafood with more fine wine. And write a blog post. That was the Saturday my traveling companion and I enjoyed.

My traveling companion and I enjoyed a fabulous day in Lyon, including a walk across the Rhòne.

The quaint streets of old Lyon are more fun to walk, I’m sure, than they are to drive.

Where people in Lyon go when they’re feeling les miserables?

We happened upon a parade that appeared to be part of a Renaissance festival, starting in Place Bellecour.

I was not quick enough to catch the flag twirlers when they tossed their flags in the air.

The most amazing part of the parade was these women on stilts.

A huge statue of Louis XIV dominates Place Bellecour.


My woeful ignorance of the French language kept me from reading what this garden honors, but I did appreciate les fleurs.

The basilica towers above Lyon.

Basilica de Fourvière

Inside the basilica

The basilica ceiling

Huge mosaics cover the basilica walls.

Views of Lyon and the distant Alps from the basilica are breathtaking. That round tower in the center is our hotel, the Radisson Blu.

My companion enjoys fish art. Apparently the Romans did, too. The Gallo-Roman Museum displayed antiquities more than two millennia old, from the Roman city of Lugdunum, on the site of present-day Lyon.

The Roman faces captivated me most in the museum. This was Emperor Caracalla.

Roman gods (and planets, for that matter) are well represented in the museum’s faces. Here’s Mercury.

And Neptune

And, of course, Jupiter

These were apparently a mother and daughter.

The Roman museum is built adjacent to the ruins of an amphitheatre. Some theatrical masks are among the artifacts that have been found.

Yeah, the masks are kinda creepy.

Even creepier were the funeral masks. This one’s a cyclops.

Another funeral mask

And another

I told you they were creepy.

This mask is sad, apparently from the funeral of a young girl.

This container is huge. With walls that thin, could it have held water. If not water, what would you use an urn that large for? It had no plaque to explain.

I wonder if Red Rocks will hold up as well in 2,000 years as the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls. With the view of the city and the mountains, it reminded me somewhat of Red Rocks, which we visited in October.

Friends, Romans, countrymen …


Flavorful Lyon

There is a feeling when you travel, that you must not waste time. Certainly, that can serve you well. There are sights in every city that shouldn’t be missed. But then again, sometimes we miss the flavor, the tenor, the actual heart of a city because all we see are the sights.

I’ve been lucky while in Lyon, France. We’ve put off most of our sight-seeing until my companion is finished with the three day conference he was invited to attend here. That has left me on my own to wander, not bothering with the main tourist attractions, knowing that we’ll get to them on the weekend. I’ve enjoyed just taking in the city.

My first morning here it took me nearly until noon to get myself together and shake off the jet lag. That’s much too late to watch the city’s top chefs making their purchases at Les Halles de Lyon, an indoor market of gourmet food shops. But Les Halles is easy walking distance from our hotel, so I strolled over anyway. I’m so glad I did.

Enticing offerings at the charcuterie

The place was bustling. Customers shopped with purpose, filling the large shopping bags on their arms with the best of the best. Unobtrusively as possible, I stalked one humpbacked dowager as she made her way from stall to stall, gathering ingredients. She picked new spring peas at green grocer and fresh tagliatelle from the homemade pasta booth. After a stern debate at the charcuterie, she added a lovely, thick slice of pancetta to her bag. I left her picking through bottles at the wine booth, jabbering at the seller, no doubt haggling for a good price.  Assuming she had eggs and lots of pepper at home already, my mouth watered at the thought of the carbonara she’d soon make.

Not surprisingly, I suddenly realized I was hungry. But ordering food in a country where you know nothing more than bonjour and merci can be tricky. Surrounded on every side by wonderful gourmet food, I had no idea how to ask for any of it. Grunting and pointing seemed so crass. A kiosk with posted pictures of sandwiches and salads was crowded with lunchtime business, and again I lurked off to the side, observing. The sandwiches looked marvelous, and every single diner had a small glass of wine by their plates.

My awesome croque madam

At last a barstool opened up, and I shyly snuck onto it, noticing as I did that the young man next to me had just been served what appeared to be a grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. When the very busy clerk stopped in front of me with a “Bonjour,” I pointed to the young man’s plate and said in English, “I’ll have that, please.” The clerk smiled with a, “Oui,” and bustled off. The young man turned to me and said in English, “It’s called “croque madam,” you know, because of the egg. It’s very good here.” We went on to have a pleasant conversation, him telling me the things I should be sure to see in Lyon, and asking if I’d seen the White House when I told him I was from the Washington, D.C. area.

When my food arrived it was even better than I anticipated. The wonderfully textured French bread was charred just enough along the grill marks to give a twinge of bitterness, pleasantly offsetting the rich egg and what could only be a Raclette cheese filling. Twice the waiter stopped, pointing to my plate and raising his shoulders in gallic question. I would nod, and say, “It’s very good.” He’d nod back. The third time he paused, I looked over at my dining companion, unsure how to reassure the waiter I really was pleased with my meal. They exchanged a few words, and then the young man leaned in to whisper, “He’s hoping you’ll say it’s awesome.” Turning to the waiter, I said in my best Midwestern twang, “This is just awesome.” The waiter grinned and pumped his fist in the air. We all had a good laugh and he brought me a small strawberry tart on the house.

Before I left on this trip, a young friend told me if all I did was sit in sidewalk cafes, sipping wine and watching people, it would be time well spent. He is wise beyond his years. Yesterday, I did just that, and found the people of Lyon friendly, happy, well-dressed and deliciously fed.