Tag Archives: travel

About that Identity Crisis

I blogged yesterday about our unfortunate experiences entering Stratford Upon Avon. (My unstated conclusion was that the town is confident that William (Shakespeare) will continue to pull in the tourists, and additional efforts are unnecessary.)

That said, we did encounter a couple of wonderful, helpful people. When we got off the train in Stratford, we were on the opposite side of the tracks from the station, requiring us to negotiate one of those bridges that spans the tracks. Up a flight of stairs, across, and then down to the platform. I had the big suitcase, and a young man insisted on carrying it for me up, across and then down the steps, despite my protests that I could handle it. Bob’s experience was similar–a man traveling with his toddler daughter took both cases across the bridge for him.

In my case, the helpful young man was an Arab. Bob’s helper was black.

I don’t want to use this happenstance to draw any large social conclusions; I simply note it. But we have both remarked upon the changing composition of the English crowds we’ve encountered on this trip. Americans like to think our country is more diverse than other western industrialized nations, but if our observations are representative, multiculturalism is hardly confined to the U.S. As we looked out the windows at each of the 15 stops between London and Stratford, we were struck by the number of women wearing hijabs (even a few burkas), and others who clearly were not from stereotypical English backgrounds.

Those observations made me think about our dinner companions on the just-ended cruise. We ate with a couple from Switzerland whose son lives in Florida and whose daughter lives in Germany. The wife’s sister lives in Paris. The couple themselves have a flat in Nice, an apartment in Florida and their “ancestral” home in Switzerland. They are multi-lingual (I always feel like an ugly American around people who are fluent in three or four languages…). During our trip, we met a number of people with such multiple “homes” and what one might call “shared identities.”

Is there a point to these random observations? Probably not–unless we chalk up all these experiences to “the world is changing” and “you can’t tell a book by its cover.” Stereotypes–racial, national, religious, what-have-you–have never been particularly reliable, but in the world we inhabit, they have gone from being marginally useful to downright misleading.

Sometimes, travel outside one’s safe, familiar world is a forcible reminder that identity is a social construct.

Last Day in Lithuania

We woke to a really magnificent day–sunny, warm and breezy, and no humidity. We strolled though Uzupis and Old Town, stopping at
A couple of the ubiquitous cafes and doing lots of people watching. Lithuanians are a remarkably attractive people–many of them resemble Scandinavians ( since they are neighbors, my guess is they’ve intermarried).

Lithuanians also seem fairly prosperous. They dress well and I have been impresses by the tidiness and condition of their public spaces. I’ve seen very few abandoned properties and many, many buildings under renovation.

If there has been one disappointment, it has been the lack of evidence–historic or otherwise– of a Jewish presence in a city that was half Jewish before the second World War. I had hoped to learn more about the community from which my great-grandfather emigrated in the late 19th century, but at least in our brief time here, we’ve seen nothing reminiscent of the community once known as a center of Jewish life and scholarship.

We leave tonight for Dublin. (Our itinerary is an odd collection of places we’ve previously missed–after Dublin comes Berlin!)

Travel Notes

It has been a couple of days since my last post, because we’ve been traveling…I am writing this from the bar in our hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania–the Shakespeare, a hotel I enthusiastically recommend. Vilnius is a wonderful city, alive with cultural actvities, buzzing with commerce, and very walkable, at least in the old city. There is even an artists’ area they call the Montmarte of Vilnius.

We flew to Chicago, then Heathrow, then Copenhagen, where we discovered our direct flight to Vilnius had been cancelled and we had to fly through Riga. All in all a very long travel time–we calculate about 36 hours in all.

Some observations:

people are much thinner in Europe.

customer service has been uniformly excellent–everywhere we’ve been, airline personnel and waiters, etc., have been helpful and courteous and multi-lingual.

it is hard to miss the degree to which the world has truly globalized.
To the naked eye, everyone looks American–we dress alike, shop at the same stores, express common mannerisms….True, we’ve lost a great deal of the charm of indigenous cultures, but it is impossible not to recognize how rapidly globalization is homogenizing the world–at least, the western world.

blogging will be sporadic, as we will be traveling pretty consistently for the next month.

Personal Rant

Okay–I’m back from an academic conference in San Francisco. (Didn’t have my laptop, hence blogging suffered.) And if those of you who read this blog will indulge me, today’s post will be an exercise in pique as a result of my travel experiences. I know I’m old, but I remember when travel was an adventure–in a GOOD way.

The conference was at the lovely–albeit overpriced–St. Francis hotel on Union Square. I will never understand why pricey hotels nickle and dime guests. If Day’s Inn can offer free wi-fi with their cheapo rooms, why did I have to pay 44 dollars for three days of connectivity? I had taken my workout clothes, but decided not to pay 12/day for the privilege of using their facility. Food in the hotel was outrageously overpriced, and the constant drizzle, cold and wind made walking around to find something less expensive unappealing.

Those irritations, however, paled before the rotten flying experience.

I have very rarely flown United Airlines, and if I can manage it, I will avoid ever doing so in the future. Why?

  • when I checked in at 5:00 a.m.– an hour and a half before flight time– for my Continental flight (United recently purchased Continental, with which I had previously had no problems),¬† there was a huge line which was moving very slowly. Since I was not checking luggage, I wanted to use an automated check-in kiosk; however, those were placed at the counter, in a configuration that required that everyone stand in the same line–you couldn’t just go to the kiosk, get your boarding pass and proceed through security, as you can with most other carriers.
  • Once aboard, there were the usual indignities you experience flying on any carrier today–you have to buy your food (even “complimentary” beverages don’t come with those little bags of pretzels anymore) and as the stewardess told me when–freezing–I asked for a blanket, “We don’t provide those on domestic flights.”
  • On the return trip, the cabin was dirty, and the stewardesses obviously didn’t want to be there. In fact, for at least half the 4 and a half hour flight to Chicago, they were nowhere to be seen. When they were actually visible, they were also visibly uninterested in being helpful.
  • I had been worried about making my connection to Indianapolis from Chicago, since I only had 45 minutes. I shouldn’t have worried–the Indianapolis plane was scheduled to depart at 9:55, and was delayed until 12:30. Now, these things happen. But there was NO ONE there to respond to questions, offer information, or otherwise smooth over the delay. In fact, the entire¬† concourse was bare of United personnel–which made the electronic signs suggesting that passengers “ask your gate agent” pretty ironic, since there was no gate agent to be seen until five minutes before boarding. The gate area was filled with bewildered, tired people. When I turned to the woman sitting next to me and muttered that it would be nice if United provided some personnel to update us, she shrugged and said “They just don’t care, and they make that quite obvious.” She was right.

I finally crawled into my own bed at 3:00 a.m. this morning, angry and exhausted.

I’ve never been one of those people who looks back to “the old days” with nostalgia. Except when I travel.