Looking back on Europe – So here we are, at the end of another summer. I had intended to write before this, but I had the idea that I would be doing a write-up of our trip to Europe, complete with photos. However, I took a lot of photos, and I’ve been a bit lazy when it comes to going through them. All told, I took a total of 1,875 photos during our trip, although 223 of those were deleted on the spot (I would sometimes take a few photos of the same subject and then delete the ones I didn’t want). I then went through the remaining 1,652 photos upon our return and culled a further 309, bringing the number down to a slightly more manageable 1,343. This is still far too many to post here, of course—probably thirty to forty times too many. So I have been slowly going through these 1,343 and compiling a list of candidates, which I will then have to trim again to come up with the final set. Needless to say, while I do like looking through photos, this is not an easy task. It will happen eventually, but in the meantime I thought I should at least post something for anyone who might be wondering what I’ve been up to.
Europe, in a word, was great. As with all travel, not everything was awesome all the time, but on the whole we had a really good time and came away with a lot of good memories. We started off in Switzerland, where HJ’s aunt, uncle, and cousins, live, and spent a few days in Vouvry, near the east end of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva). There is some absolutely beautiful country there, and HJ’s relatives made sure we saw as much of it as possible, even driving us down to Chamonix and Mont Blanc for a day. We didn’t actually make it to the top of Mont Blanc that day, but we did get a lot of good sightseeing and hiking in. And even though HJ’s family here is only related to me through marriage, I have had the good fortune to spend time with them at on various occasions throughout the years and enjoy their company; I have always got on swimmingly with her uncle in particular, a Swiss native who spent time in Korea before absconding with HJ’s aunt.
When our all-too-short time in Switzerland was at an end, we took the train into the south of France and spent about a couple of days each in Lyon and Avignon; a decent chunk of our time in the latter was spent outside the city at the very impressive Pont du Gard, an old Roman aqueduct. While we enjoyed our time in both of these cities, I must admit that we were not super impressed with the food we had while we were there. Not that it was necessarily bad, mind you, but you have certain expectations for French cuisine, and I don’t think what we had lived up to ours, especially in retrospect, after our culinary experiences in Spain and Portugal. In particular, I had known that bouchon was a thing in Lyon, and that this was “traditional Lyonnaise cuisine,” but that was about it. Had I known that it is very heavy, working-class fare, I might have been better prepared for the experience, but as it was we were both left a little shell-shocked. It is definitely not the kind of food you want to eat in hot weather.
Oh, yes, I suppose I should mention the heat. Switzerland was relatively cool, but both Lyon and Avignon were hotter, with temperatures hitting highs of around 35 or 36. Relatively speaking, this was nothing compared to the temperatures France had seen a week or so before our arrival (if I remember correctly, Paris hit 45 degrees, which is insane, although I don’t know what it was like in the south), but it was still quite warm.
Barcelona, our next stop, was a little cooler, if I remember correctly—at least, I remember it getting warm during the day, but not oppressively so. At any rate, Barcelona was definitely one of our favorite stops on this trip. It is a tremendously beautiful city, even if you don’t count the Gaudi buildings scattered around the city like someone blasted the place with a shotgun full of breathtaking architecture. We saw as much Gaudi as we could, with the pinnacle being the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. I could write a thousand words or I could write ten, and I don’t think the former would get any closer to capturing the experience than the latter. I will eventually have photos, of course, but those, too, are a poor substitute for being there. I will only say this: I have seen more cathedrals in my life than I care to remember, and this was like nothing I have ever seen before. It was... well, I already used breathtaking above, but this literally was breathtaking. I will take a genuine crack at trying to describe the experience when I eventually post the photos, but for the time being I will say that it is bucket-list material.
There was a lot more to Barcelona than Gaudi, of course, including the delicious food and the culture, but we shall move on. Madrid was next, and it was the hottest stop on our trip. The mercury hit 39 degrees, and I remember standing at a tapas bar at nine o’clock at night, with a cold, sweating beer in hand, and the temperature was still hotter than anywhere else we had been at 37 degrees. The food was also great in Madrid (I had a steak that defied description, to give one example), and on the cultural side of things we enjoyed the beautiful Prado Museum (perhaps even more beautiful because it was air-conditioned) and the impressive architecture seen around the city. But I’ll be honest: Looking back on it now, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Madrid was how hot it was. As a sort of bonus to our Madrid leg, we went on a day trip to the old capital of Toledo as well. It was still quite hot there, but it was very much worth the trip, I think. It is a beautiful city and worth seeing if you can.
When we got to Portugal, we found it to be downright cool, and unseasonably so; I think high temperatures were in the high 20s, and it got down to the high teens at night. Lisbon was our first stop, and the site of the conference that was the reason for our whole trip in the first place. I won’t say too much about the conference, except to say that it went well, both of my sessions (one where I presented a paper, one that I chaired) went smoothly, and I met some very nice and interesting people, including a grad student who also studies the trickster (yes, we’ve been keeping in touch).
Lisbon is also a very beautiful city, although I have mixed feelings about the traditional Portuguese paving stones. On the one hand, they are quite lovely to look at and full of character, but on the other hand they are a pain in the neck to drag a rolling bag over, and they’re not always a treat to walk on, either. These pedestrian trials aside, we really enjoyed the time we spent in Lisbon. HJ obviously had more time than I did, not having to attend the conference, but I still tried to get out when I could. We made sure to see a fado performance one evening, and we did an impressive amount of walking around. Still, I feel like we only scratched the surface, and I look forward to the day we can get back there and explore the city at a more leisurely pace.
One reason that we didn’t have as much time in Lisbon as we could have was that we made a decision to spend two days up north in Porto. Although this did cut into our schedule, I do not regret the decision in the least. Porto is a lovely and charming city, and I think it was HJ’s favorite place that we visited. Even though we only had two days, we packed those two days with as much as we could, including a tour of a port wine warehouse (port wine gets its name from Porto). Oh, and the food was great as well—we enjoyed the food in both Lisbon and Porto. I think it was at this point that we realized, with some amusement, that the worst food we had had on our entire trip had been in France. That probably makes it sound worse than it was (as I mentioned above, with the exception of the bouchon, most of the food we had in France was fine), but we really did prefer the Spanish and Portuguese offerings.
And that, sadly, was the end of our trip. We returned to Korea, whereupon I fell victim to the worst case of jet lag I’ve had in years—I was pretty much useless for three or four days. Then, once I was in possession of all of my faculties again, I dove straight back into work in order to finish up a paper I need to revise for submission to a journal. The following week I somehow ended up with an evening get-together with various people almost every evening of the week. I think I ate something I shouldn’t have at the last of those meetings, because I was sick for about a week after that. I’ve only recently gotten back to my normal self, and now we are gearing up for the fall semester. Although I do have quite a bit on my plate in addition to my teaching duties, I am strangely looking forward to this. Maybe it is the recent cooling of the weather, but I feel like I have shaken off a long stupor and am ready to dive back into things.
Incidentally, in addition to being the last day of August, today marks a couple of other things as well. For one, it is the fiftieth birthday of my friend Kevin, who posted a reflection on hitting the half century mark earlier today. Happy birthday, dude. Also, as luck would have it, the final day of August also happens to be the day that I first arrived in Korea, exhausted and confused in a pouring rain; this 31st of August marks the 24th year since I first set foot on the peninsula. One more year and it will be my silver anniversary!