Showing posts with label vagabonding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vagabonding. Show all posts

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"The People Who Go"

A sample quote
from the public literature project
"Those Who Go"
My Danish friend Michael, who took me on my very first outing as an expat in the Czech Republic, introduced me to all of his fellow expat friends by saying "you know how there are people who stay and there are people who go? These are the people who go."

I was delighted to learn there is a wonderful contemplative public literature project with nearly the exact same name currently showing in the beautifully designed Denver International Airport. It is entitled simply "Those Who Go."

The artist honors "those who go" by assembling great quotes on travelers and traveling to inspire them as they move through the airport. Even better, an entire library of books devoted to traveling are available free through the project website and free airport wifi for downloading.

The creator of the exhibit says:

"As far as I know, there are four ways to travel:
  • in Space

  • in Time

  • in the Mind

  • and in one's own Self.
This small collection of books includes great travels and travelers from all four dimensions a human being can go. They are meant for you to share and explore. You can download them directly from the link at the airport or from this site, and may they inspire and delight you wherever you are."

What a creative way to share great books and to create a reading culture around and in celebration of one of humanity's greatest activities. What a wonderful reminder that being a 'person who stays' doesn't mean you can't be a person who in the mind...or in one's own self. Which free book will you download?

Special thanks to friend Suzanne LaRue who told me about the exhibit.

You might enjoy some of my other posts on travel books and media:

Hello, Great Big Beautiful World!
(the very first post I wrote - it shows the power of a book to make one travel!)


Armchair Traveling with Tony

Armchair Traveling with Rick

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hearing "Tales from a Female Nomad" in Person: Rita Golden Gelman

Rita Golden Gelman
Author, "Tales of a Female Nomad"
and over seventy children's books
It struck me today as I was sitting having lunch with author Rita Golden Gelman how ironic that was. If there is anything Rita Golden Gelman is not - it is a 'lady who lunches.' Pinch me! I was meeting one of the exciting role models of my last four years as an 'Empty Nest Expat'."

I got to meet Rita, and by arriving early, have lunch with her at the Professional American Women of Istanbul (PAWI) meeting in Istanbul which I attended for the first time. Rita was the guest speaker! The women in attendance were also captivating, happening ladies making their dreams happen here in Istanbul.
Rita Golden Gelman is the author of the acclaimed book "Tales of a Female Nomad." I read her book as part of my vagabonding journey these last four years and was absolutely riveted. The blogging universe exposes us to all kinds of people living lives different than our own these days, but Rita Golden Gelman was a true pioneer in choosing a different path than the American dream of a house with the picket fence.

Rita lived the American dream, actually. She was married - a dutiful wife of an interesting man and mother to accomplished children. She lived with them in Manhattan and Greenwich Village, New York as her children grew up. Eventually, her husband's work took the family out to the film industry in Los Angeles in California. Rita didn't identify with any of it. Her marriage eventually fell apart and she decided to put the anthropology she had been studying in a PhD program at UCLA into practice by seeing the world. By then her children were grown. She sold everything, stuck the house money into savings without spending a dime of it, and has spent the last 27 years living without a permanent home and traveling the world.
She told such incredibly inspiring stories from her book which I won't share here because they are hers to tell. "Tales of a Female Nomad" inspired a whole community of readers to email her with their travel adventures (including the sublime recipes they collected along the way). Rita organized some of their tales into an anthology called "Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World."

Random House paid her and her 41 contributors an initial payment of $55,000 for the book. All of the money goes to support children of the lowest castes in India with vocational training. Guess what's on your Christmas list, family! What a legacy. And what a gift to give to her community of readers - the chance to be part of that legacy.

Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.
~ Rita Golden Gelman's quote on Starbuck's tall cup #31
There are cultures where overseas travel is really celebrated. The Netherlands and Isreal come to mind, for me, as two countries where citizens have enough time off, a lack of fear, and the willingness to hit the open road. America is not one of those cultures. Rita is interested in changing that and has a plan to do so.

At age 75, Rita is starting to feel her age for the first time. She wants to go home to spend the next two years in America working on her legacy. She is frequently invited to speak at universities about her global travels. She always asks the university to set up a talk at the local high school as well. Gentle readers, do you know of students that would benefit from hearing Rita's inspiring tales? Why not suggest her as a speaker to your favorite lecture series committee?

Rita believes Americans would approach the world with more understanding if each high school senior took a gap year between high school and college to see the world. She said high school students have three choices: university, work, or military after high school. They are not ready to experience any of these yet with full maturity. She urges grandparents to begin a $500 a year gap year fund for their grandchildren so that kids have a year to mature before starting the bigger commitments of study, work, or job while using that time to understand the greater wider world better.

She has started an organization called Let's Get Global. Her plan is to partner with a young man who is creating an American Gap Year Association and beginning an accreditation process for American gap year programs. Rita would like two people in every high school to be able to win a "Gap Year Scholarship" just to demonstrate the power of the idea to young people everywhere. Two young people from each high school nationwide setting off for parts unknown could begin to change American culture of fear about the outside world.

Rita says that fear drives one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle. "How can someone overcome the fear of setting out on an adventure?" She is currently working on a book of 64 tips for developing a successful mindset for global discovery.

What an exciting moment to
meet one of my vagabonding
role models!

So Westerner, ask yourself, could you give up the control Rita has over her life? It seems like control is the #1 Western addiction, but Rita just strugged her shoulders and says "I see what opportunities come to me." She rarely knows where she'll be six months from now. She has four steadfast rules 1) smile at everyone, 2) talk to strangers, 3) accept all invitations and 4) eat everything that is offered. The ability to be adaptable to multiple peoples, cultures, situations and opportunities has resulted in an incredibly inspiring life well-lived.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

New York Times asks its readers "Why Do We Travel?"

 Village leader at his traditional house in Harran, Turkey.

 Recently the New York Times, inspired by travel writer Paul Theroux, asked its readers "Why Do We Travel?" Entries poured in and the finalists have been named. I don't envy the judges.  I can't decide which one I would choose for the winner: either the essay about Rome or about Turkey.  Do you have a clear favorite? Which essay would you choose as the best explanation of "Why We Travel." To read the final three entries, click on my title.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pray that the Road is Long

Recently a friend shared a poem with me that she said reminded her of me.

I had never heard of this poem, but upon reading it, I enjoyed the compliment.  It is a wonderful poem that I now share with you.  Do you have an ''Ithaca?''

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Are Guidebooks Facing Extinction?

 Travel writer Benji Lanyado in Vienna
Should he be looking at his phone instead?

My goodness, I never expected to be away from my blog for so long. This week I expect to begin blogging again, so I invite you back.  In the meantime, I was fascinated by this article and wondered if other people are using suggestions specific to the moment as you travel?  Is a newly-printed guidebook too out-of-date for you the minute it is printed? Are you turning to locals real-time via Twitter for suggestions? Click on my title to read how one traveler does it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thanks for caring!

One of my loyal readers contacted me and said, ''Are you alrıght? You haven't posted since the 14th of June.'' Thank you, Karin, for caring!

I just moved into a new place and don't have internet access yet.  New posts should start soon when I'm wıred.  I have so much to tell.

Bye for now!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sex and the City 2 in Sofia

Divas in the Desert

On a cold, rainy, and gray day in a cold and rainy capital city, I slipped into a glittering new shopping mall to taste a specific Bulgarian dish I had wanted to try before leaving Sofia.  The plan for the day had been to take a day trip to the Rila Monastery, a spot so mystical that many Bulgarians consider it the spiritual home of all Bulgarian people.  Too rainy, too wet.

As I walked by the movie theatre, I realized "Sex and the City 2" was out! A big girl's night out for Prague expats was planned by the Internations social media site and I was going to miss it.  My daughters and I had dressed up to the nines for the premiere of "The Devil Wears Prada."  It would have been fun to join "the ladies" and dress up for SATC2 premiere night in Prague.

I love being spontaneous and seeing a movie at the last minute.  Seriously, as a single parent, being spontaneous was so out-of-the question, I no longer thought of myself as spontaneous. If you're in the last years of raising children, comfort yourself with the thought that even if they leave, you will soon be free to do whatever the heck you want.  It feels great. 

I was never more proud to be an American woman than when I sat in that matinee with five other Bulgarian ladies waiting out the rain.  Besides being enormous fun, the film is so moving, I found myself tearing up at several spots during the movie.  It was all I could do to restrain myself from a raised fist of joy and solidarity!  That just wouldn't do though, would it? The SATC gals would be more likely to support each other with air-kisses.

"Sex and the City 2" is a love letter from American women to all of the females on the planet. I'm so proud of my culture for sending out this glorious message of empowerment and pleasure in being a woman. What's exciting is that someday the women of the world will all be writing us back!  What an exciting time to be alive and watch the changes that happen as half the people on the planet wake up and realize their possibilities.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Safely in Sofia

Good morning from Sofia, Bulgaria! What a fantastic, comfortable, and easy bus trip that was. There was so much to look at.  It was the first time I was in Moravia, Czech Republic. I loved seeing all of this beautiful wine country.  The bus drove through Brno, and I remarked to my bus companion "wow, so many panalaks (Communist working housing that looks like an American housing project). It's too bad."  "I don't see them that way," she said. "to me, it's normal."

I had always heard that Bratislava was a Communist architecture monstrosity, but it didn't look so bad as we drove through it.  My Slovakian companion showed me the historic castle up on the bluff overlooking the Danube.  The Danube River was large, filled to the brim, and it looked worth singing about. The bridges in Bratislava were beautifully designed and quite striking.

From Bratislava, we drove on toward Budapest. I loved seeing this crazy Hungarian language on all of the road signs.  In both Slovakia and Hungary, it looked like the topsoil had been eroded away (Iowans care deeply about such things - we're topsoil proud).  Hungary had beautiful wildflowers, especially fields of wild red poppies.  I wonder if Frank Baum, the man who wrote "The Wizard of Oz" had been to Hungary.  Remember when Dorothy falls asleep in the field of poppies? I don't think buses go through the pretty parts of a city because I didn't see any historical parts of Budapest, only globalized McDonald's drive-thrus and Aldis. Not so compelling.

A friend of a friend was on the bus and she prepared me that we would have to sit for a long time on the Serbian border because it wasn't a part of the EU. I'm glad she had told me this because it took a good hour.
Most of our journey through Serbia was in the dark.  My only real outside contact with anything Serbian was going into two globalized large convenience store/gas stations that could have been anywhere in the world. That hardly counts!

We arrived a half-hour early.  I chatted up three Bulgarians the whole way and they were so kind and helpful to me when we arrived in Sofia.  They helped me haul all of my luggage to the storage facility and translate with the staff there.  Truly, when I have an interaction like that, it makes me vow to look out for foreigners who need help when I'm also traveling.  These Bulgarian bus drivers were so nice and helpful too.  I was the only American on the bus. Now it's time to connect with my Sofia couchsurfing host.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I've Got a Ticket to Ride

I decided to take a bus to Istanbul because I knew it would be a volcano-proof plan, I wouldn't have to stay awake watching my luggage like on a train, and I simply wanted a sense of the geography and distance I'm traveling.

My daughter asked, "Does it get to count as a country you've visited, if you just ride through it?" I thought yes.  I told her, "well I count Poland and all I did was go through the Warsaw airport."

"That soooo does not count!" she insisted. What's your standard, gentle reader, for saying, "yes, I visited that country?"  I figure if you breathed their air, you visited it.

This morning, I"m boarding a bus at 9 a.m. for a 27-hour bus ride to Sofia, Bulgaria.  It's a little wierd to be looking forward to a 27-hour bus ride, but hey, that's me. The route covered is fascinating.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I'm moving to Istanbul!

Today is a blur.  A sunny, potentially relaxing day in Prague but still a blur. I'm packing up my things because today marks my last day in Prague.  I hope it's "just for now." I realized when I came here this time that my love of the Czech Republic wasn't going to be fulfilled by just coming for a couple months and doing my to-do list of sites. It's not a "if it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium kind of feeling." This is a life-long passion for a country that has only increased, not decreased with my three months here.

My 90 days in the Schengen zone is up, and I need to move somewhere out of the Czech Republic to apply for residency.  I looked at Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Burma, and Russia in addition to Istanbul. Everyone raves about Istanbul.  And I have a friend there.  It made me count up how many times I've moved to a new place without knowing a soul: eight.

I have been truly blessed with incredible friends here in Prague, especially in my church home of St. Clement's Church.  They sent me off with much love!  Well, here, my chaplain tells it well. I'll let him tell it, you can read my plan, and I'll keep packing.  And returning library books.  And dropping off thrift items.  You know what these kind of days are like!  Click on this link to read my plan. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Marvelousness of Madison

 Sun sets on a beautiful summer evening
at the UW Memorial Union Terrace
It's the perfect place to have a beer and a brat
and mix with all ages while listening to live music.

 I thought I would devote one post to describing what life in Madison, Wisconsin is like because I enjoyed myself so deeply there during my 10 months back in the States.  Madison, Wisconsin has everything I personally need to be happy. Sharing what I find valuable in the States shows what I also value when I travel. Here is some of what made my time there so fantastic.
 I lived on Lake Wingra
A quiet undeveloped lake
Adjacent to the Arboretum
 The Kayak & Boat Rental Dock
At Lake Wingra
 Soaking up sunshine on the dock
 The gorgeous Wisconsin
State Capitol
The Saturday Farmer's Market
is consistently chosen as the best in the nation.
  It's arrayed around the WI State Capitol building.
This is what the promenade of shoppers
looks like from the Capitol Rotunda balcony.
Lake Mendota is in the background.

Beautiful homegrown
flower bouquets for sale
 Morel mushrooms
at the height of the season.
Someone in America is out there in the forest
hunting these but it wouldn't occur
to most Americans to go out and look for these
themselves like it does to Czech people.
 Rhubarb for sale.
What are you thinking?
Pie, muffins, ice cream sauce?

It's impossible not to turn into a foodie in Madison.
Literally, Madison has access to the finest produce
and cheese I have ever seen in my entire life.
The Hmong immigrants from Laos sold the best produce
and the Amish had the best baked goods.
Here the Amish express their
freedom of religion by
serenading shoppers with hymns.
Some people resented this on their carefree Saturday morning.
I cherished the mixture of political and religious expression
at the Farmer's Market. It's what makes America great!
I never took so many pictures of food in my life
as I did in Madison.
Cooking is such an exciting creative endeavor there.
Here, my exotic spinach salad made with tropical fruits
like papaya, kiwi, mango, and strawberries.
My first ever homemade Caprese Salad
 My first-ever Zucchini-Basil Lasagna
Bubbling hot and scrumptious
My first-ever Moroccan Lamb Stew with Dried Apricots
Me and my gal pals out to hear
Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
chosen by Time Magazine as one of the
100 Most Influential People on the Planet

Residents of Madison are political animals.  All of the world's top intellectuals eventually come through the UW Campus. I went to hear and was exposed to many thoughtful and beautiful minds. I loved being able to hear Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, one of my feminist heroines and a woman of extraordinary ovaries (courage) for stating her personal truth. It was standing room only. I had read all of her books.

When Michael Pollan spoke, over 8,000 people showed up to hear him.  He's another one of my heros.  Michael Pollan advocates that all of America get to eat the way Madisonians get to eat: locally grown food, mostly plants in extraordinary variety, and hopefully, not too much.  I can not recommend his books highly enough. They will change forever how you think about the food you consume and food systems. Madison feeds both the stomach and the mind!

 Madison-area bumper stickers

Another way Madison political awareness shows up is in bumper stickers.  No where in the world have I seen the amount and variety of bumper stickers that exist in Madison, Wisconsin.  My personal favorite which I didn't capture on film because I was driving when I saw it was "How many Iraqi babies have to die so you can drive that SUV?" Kind of goes to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? The local newspaper publishes a different bumper sticker in the paper ever week.

I thought the bumper stickers on the car above
showed extraordinary political range.

The people of Madison are MASTERS at organizing themselves for anything they believe in whether it be a neighborhood association, a festival, or a cause. I remember the first neighborhood association newsletter I read when I moved into the Monroe-Dudgeon neighborhood in Madison.  First, I marveled that it was 12 pages.  Then I counted the number of names I could find of people who were involved in the creation of the newsletter or involved in some other association activity.  There were 48 different leaders! And those were just the people doing the work, it doesn't even count the people who came to the programs and participated.

 New Orleans showman
"Trombone Shorty"
created incredible excitement
at the Orton Park
Neighborhood Festival

Beyond their neighborhood association newsletters, there were different neighborhood association festivals that brought in national-class performing acts.  Not only was attendance at these neighborhood festivals free, the festivals raised thousands of dollars for neighborhood school activities. Imagine how well you know your neighbors when you all work on a big project like that and then enjoy presenting it to the community together.  What satisfaction!

I went to the Willy Street Neighborhood Festival and heard an amazing band from San Francisco called "Rupa and the April Fishes", I went to 'La Fete de Marquette' and heard a haunting woman from Milwaukee singing in French (I will forever carry her rendition of "Dance Me to the End of Love" in my mind), but best of all was hearing "Trombone Shorty" from the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans.  Trombone Shorty says he learned his showmanship playing for tourists outside the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.  He would work to make his act so compelling he could get tourists to stand there for 45 minutes without moving on down the street. What a showman! I went home with spirits higher than a kite from that evening.

Madison even had a bit of the Czech Republic.
When I saw this sign I knew it had to be a Czech-owned tea house.
It was! They also have a location on Wenceslas Square in Prague.

My very favorite thing in all of Madison
was this bus sign.
A great message in a college town.

Imagine ladies,
how our lives would be different
if this was a globally-held idea.
We could travel to any country on Earth.

The people of Madison
  pride themselves on promoting progress.

Here are some other posts about Madison you might enjoy:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yea! I'm Back in Prague

I'm glad to see this guy
is still going strong
in Prague's Old Town Square.
He produces endless smiles,
joy, and singing in those passing by.

I started this blog to move me forward to some very specific goals:

1) graduate youngest from high school.
2) sell my house.
3) move to Prague and take a TEFL class.
4) live in Prague teaching business English.

My youngest graduated from high school and is now in her junior year of college.  I moved to Prague, took my TEFL course and started to have the time of my life.  Six months into it, I had to go back to the States because my school waited 2.5 months before applying for my visa and it wasn't ever issued.  I tried to reapply for a visa from the States. I was told I was denied a second time (although I never actually received a letter saying so).

My daughters and I

I spent a very lovely 10 months in Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison is a city frequently chosen by magazines as the #1 most fabulous place to live in all of the United States.  I can heartily agree! Madison was a physically beautiful, intellectually-stimulating, healthy, wonderful place to live.  I may end up there some day, who knows. While I was back in the States, I finally got my house sold and watched my oldest daughter graduate from the University of Wisconsin (she did it in 3.5 years while working 20 hours a week and serving as president of one of her student organizations. Yea, Daughter #1! Somebody hire her please, she's amazing.).

But living in Madison was not what I wanted to do with this portion of my life here on Earth, so having accomplished all of the goals I set out to do, I'm ready to start Part II of Empty Nest Expat.  This part will be more spontaneous.  My goal is to write a very specific book about the Czech Republic.  I can visualize the entire thing in my mind.

I have come back to Prague to see if I can get a residence visa from the Czech Republic to live here while I write. I've applied for what is called the živnostenský list which is essentially a business trade license so that I can earn a living while I'm here writing. I am absolutely horrible at bureaucratic paperwork like visas and the like and am actually pretty proud just to have figured out (with the help of friends) how to do the živnostenský list without an agency's help. Having applied for this business trade license, and been approved, I will then have to move back out of the Czech Republic to apply for a residence visa (don't bother asking, I don't understand it either). Still with me, or have your eyes glazed over?  If they've glazed over, welcome to my world.

House of Týn Church

When I got back to Prague and first saw the spires of the House of Týn Church, I cried.  They were so damn beautiful!  And then I cried when I was on Revoluční, and realized I was going to have my first chlebičky in 10 months at my favorite kavárna (coffee shop). Oh, the joy of familiar Czech pleasures!

I hope I'm successful living here.  That's why I say Phase II of Empty Nest Expat may have to be more spontaneous.  I'm not yet ready to give up my Czech dream, but if I have to do so, I'll read up on how to develop Buddhist non-attachment to what I want and then find a country that welcomes me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How I Travel: A BootsnAll Resource

If you're interested in starting a life of vagabonding or setting out to see the world and do any kind of internet research, you quickly discover the internet resource "BootsnAll." The site bills itself as the ultimate resource for the independent traveler. BootsnAll offers all of the usual traveler money-making resources like tickets, tours, insurance, and lodging.  What really makes it interesting, however, is all of the travel writing content. I love to read about other people's travel experiences!  The forums, where independent travelers discuss their finds and look for tips from the person who was most recently there, are inspiring in their spontaneity!

Me hanging out in Berlin

 "How I Travel" is a new BootsnAll interview series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world's most well known and proficient road warriors. Here's the travel writer, Rolf Potts, who first empowered me to hit the road, plus a couple of other columns to enjoy. 

Rolf in Ethopia

How I Travel: Rolf Potts
author of the wonderful travel book "Vagabonding"

Don Wildman on the Road

How I Travel: Don Wildman
host of the History Channel show "Underground Cities"

Stephanie Izard making friends in Honduras

How I Travel: Stephanie Izard
Chicago chef and winner of the Top Chef competition

BootsnAll writer Steve Bramucci is interested in hearing from you.  Who would you like to see spotlighted in a future "How I Travel" interview? You can tell him here.  I'm nominating one of my favorite expat bloggers for a column: MaryAm from the gorgeous design blog My Marrakesh.  Her last business trip took her to Kabul.  Now don't you want to know how she travels?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Communist Art in the Prague Metro

Andel Metro Stop

When I first arrived in Prague, I would get off at the Andel Metro Stop every morning to go to class.  The Andel station is beautiful, firstly, because it's all done in different shades of pink and cream marble. The colors gave it warmth and femininity.

 Bronze reliefs
mounted in the walls

Nothing made me appreciate the leap I made more than seeing the Communist art embedded in walls of the Andel station in Smichov.  I liked being in a place where the ideology was different than mine, the history was different than mine, the aesthetics were different than mine.  That's the whole point of travel, isn't it? To challenge our thinking! And maybe, to be a little scared, to push ourselves into experiencing new things.

I hope Czechs never remove this art from the station. Originally, the whole station had been designed by Soviet architects.  Andel (Angel) used to be named in honor of Moskevska (Moscow). The Soviets built this station and one back home in Moscow they named in honor of Prague. The Czech couldn't change the name of the station fast enough after the Velvet Revolution.

Czechs don't appreciate these period pieces now.  Americans do.  It's Orwellian art. I felt the privilege it was to get to see it.  Czechs are just grateful not to be living it anymore.

 All of the art in the Andel Station
celebrates the "friendship" between
the Czech and Soviet peoples.

 Mir - the Russian word for Peace

 My name for this:
"The Happy Cosmonauts"

No Art Represented My Image of Communism
More Than This
-Everything For the Glory of the State!

There's a gorgeous city
out there waiting to be explored.

I'm glad I made the leap.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Czech Government Delighted Me As a Consumer

"Can you tell me," asked my native-Czech student shyly near the end of a lesson one day, "anything you see here that is better than in your country?"

"Can I? YES!" I answered enthusiastically. "Czech people haven't the faintest idea how FABULOUS their transportation networks are. They are simply amazing."

Hlavni Nadrazi
the Main Prague Train Station
 What I admire:

1) Czech transport makes Czechs more competitive. Here's why: In America, it is suggested that 15% of the average household budget be devoted to paying for transportation. That usually includes cars for both parents and possibly for any teenagers living at home, car insurance, gasoline, and licenses for the car and drivers. That's 15% of American salaries, which run higher than Czech salaries.

Czechs don't need to spend so much of their salaries on transportation because it's possible to survive, indeed thrive, without a car. Not only can companies locate in the Czech Republic and get high-quality, hard-working, highly educated, often multi-lingual employees, it's possible to pay them less because they don't have these household costs that exist in America.

How low are the transport costs in the Czech Republic? Envision living in a city of 1.3 million and paying a mere $300 a year to get around. And if you want to be able to travel through the entire country (similar in size to the U.S. state of South Carolina), an annual train pass is only $100 more! Can you imagine, my fellow Americans, being able to get around your entire state for only $400? As far as I can tell, Czechs spend around 8.8% of their salaries on transportation.  What a competitive advantage in the global fight for jobs!

On the Hlavni Nadrazi
train platform
where you can catch a train to Plzen
or another city or village 

The comfortable seats
on a City Elephant Train
What's missing: stress!

Czechs have the most extensive rail network density in the entire EU.  Railways were built to transport the military in the 19th century.  A CFO for a construction company pointed out to me Communist government also made it easy to create this incredible system of national and metro railways because the apparatchiks just 'appropriated' whatever property was needed from the citizenry. Property owners weren't compensated. If a government such as mine were to develop this today paying retail prices to property owners, the cost would be exorbitant.  Bummer.

Right up this Metro escalator
is one of Prague's newest malls.
Prague kids don't need their parents
to drive them there.

The kids can't get in too much trouble.
See those spiky things?
There will be no sliding down that shiny metal
all the way from the top!

2) Czech parents don't have to be chauffeurs! When children are between the ages of 10-16, American parents spend their "free" time chauffeuring them from one activity to another. Think about this, America.  Imagine your city safe enough that your 10-year-old and his friends could get on the metro and go to hockey practice without you driving them there! Yes, remarkably, Prague is that safe.  Tweens and teens travel on the metro and trams unchaperoned as they pursue their interests.  When Czech children are free to explore the city, Czech parents have a vested interest in making sure that all parts of the city are safe, not just their neighborhood. Surely, that lessens crime.

Czech students on a field trip
using the Prague metro
to get from Point A to Point B
3) Superb public transportation facilitates learning outside of a classroom. It's a giant hassle to take kids on a field trip in America.  The teacher has to coordinate a school bus, discuss it with all the other teachers, get liability release forms from each parent, etc., etc.  Plus securing that bus is all dependent on whether or not there is budget for it that year.  Is it any wonder field trips are dying out? In the Czech Republic, the teacher can just take her class on ever-present public transit that serves everyone! No need to call ahead and order a bus just for her and her kids.  Kids don't need school buses to take them to school either.  They ride the metro like everybody else.

Poetry in the Metro

4) Public transportation creates readers which is good for democracy and good for wealth creation.  One issue poor families face in America is 'a poverty of print.'  No books in the household and no billboards even in their neighborhoods (companies don't bother advertising to folks with no disposable income).  Low-income children don't start kindergarten with the pre-literacy skills developed by observing readers and reading materials on a daily basis.  A sight seen again and again on Czech transport is a variety of people greedily opening their book with such reverence it reinforces the message that reading is fun. At-risk kids in the Czech Republic have other role models beside their parents.  I've even see Czech parents use that transit time to read to their kids!

All those readers create a healthy market for print newspapers and weeklies which is great for democracy.

Good readers grow up to earn 20% more than average readers. Constant reading builds up a skill critical to wealth creation.

5) Public transportation is safer than driving. Americans curtail their activities because they fear driving when drinkers could be on the road.  I went out with full confidence on New Year' Eve in Prague because I knew I didn't have to worry about dangerous people on the road. It's a little crazy, isn't it, to deprive ourselves of activities because we fear driving?

A new, less predictable, driving danger is becoming known: texting while driving. It results in driving so distracted it is the equivalent of twice the impairment of driving while intoxicated.  Why not bring laptops and electronic devices on public transit to use that time to accomplish work undistracted rather than try to work and drive at the same time?

6) Public transportation creates a pedestrian culture that limits obesity.  I offer my own experience.  Twenty pounds lost in the Czech Republic in six months without trying! But think of the money slimmer people save the country's health care budgets with less chronic diseases caused by overeating and inactivity.

Life goes on!
Here a Czech takes home
a Christmas tree on the metro

 7) Public transportation limits human isolation. You know how people who have just broken up with someone have a grudge against the opposite gender?  It would be hard to keep that attitude alive using Czech public transit. You may not be in love, but everyone else is.  My goodness, I've never seen so much public smooching in my life! On the metro, you'll see couples in love, families moving their household furniture, students studying madly for a test, and people on their way to a potluck with a dish balanced on their lap.  I think it's healthy and gets people outside of their own head to see the wonderful parade of humanity that happens on the metro.  It's a conversational banquet too.  I can't count the number of interesting five-minute conversations I had with perfect strangers on the metro!

The futuristic feel
of the Prague Metro
is part of the fun

8) The Czech Republic is already armed with an infrastructure that limits global warming. Every family that uses public transit saves 20 lbs. of carbon emissions annually from entering the atmosphere. Czech people already have it built!

9) Public transit keeps the air cleaner. - the street my language school was on was like a valley of trapped car exhaust.  I'm sure vehicle traffic has made the air in Prague less healthy for the people who live there.

10)Public transit creates a very livable city. In a city of 1.3 million people, I could go home for lunch!  That's what delights me the most.  The incredible, extensive transport network allowed me to move into Prague without a car and get about the city without any anxiety.  An English teacher in Prague gets to know how to use the metro, trams, and buses in combination with each other so extensively it would be normal to get from one side of Prague to another in 20 minutes.  If I was going someplace new I just used a first-class website to help plan the trip.  All included in my $22 a month transit pass.

An elevated Metro tube
headed into Luziny Metro stop
in Prague
The Challenge for Czechs

Czech families with the funds available are purchasing cars.  Because that strata, articulate in their demands, tends to get listened to in a democracy, there's a danger that public transit budgets will begin to favor highways more than public transit.  In America, 80% of the money goes for highways and 20% for transit. Our transit looks like it too. It's not world-class.  How will the Czech Republic maintain it's fabulously competitive transit system if the loudest citizens value something else?  Are you rich enough as a country to afford both? We aren't - or at least haven't prioritized it that way. What would Prague and other cities be like to live in if the car became the dominant vehicle of choice? Would you have additional costs to your society if obesity was higher, carbon emissions, pollution, and foreign oil imports were higher, stress was higher, human isolation was higher, educational costs were higher, and household expenses were higher?

Czechs, do you understand what an infrastructure gem this is? Have you purchased a car? What do you think will be favored more in the next twenty years? Vehicle traffic or transit traffic?

Americans, does this appeal to you at all? Is there any American area that comes close to this level of transit service?  What kind of public transit do you wish you had where you live (I would love high-speed rail from Madison, WI to Milwaukee and Chicago, Illinois. Rockford, Illinois is a city the size of Plzen that would explode if it had any kind of rail service to Chicago, 90 miles away.

You can also read my previous post about what I valued about the United States Government:

The United States Government Saved My Life
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