Reflecting in Bulgaria

Hello Bulgaria

Dobar den! A common greeting in Bulgarian and the sum of what I’ve picked up after a week here. Luckily, some French and Italian phrases are used regularly by Bulgarians so there is a smidge of familiarity. I had forgotten how disorienting it can be to enter a space where you literally can’t speak or read the language-not even one word of it!

Plovdiv has an excited, vibrant feel. We have been staying in the Old Town area and are surrounded by cute coffee shops, abundant street art, nice restaurants, art galleries, Roman ruins, museums, a large Mosque and the longest pedestrian mall in Europe!

Our cute neighborhood in Plovdiv

The city has been chosen as one of two ‘European Capitals of Culture’ for 2019, a European Union project meaning to, among other things, highlight the richness of the cultures of Europe, revitalize areas,  and boost tourism. It appears to be working! There is a lot of fresh energy and capital running through the city.

Today is our last day staying in the heart of Old Town.  We are spending a few days in a hotel to take advantage of some nice services and celebrate my birthday! Then we have one more week in an Airbnb apartment we found right outside of the city center.  There is supposedly a large market right in the neighborhood, so am hopeful for something interesting.

Feeling grateful and a little tired

I am so grateful for these past months of traveling.  Grateful for the support of my friends and family.  Grateful for a wonderful companion and boyfriend to travel with. Grateful to be able to fulfill this urge to wander and explore. This has been a great idea!

However, we are on our last month of traveling and feeling a bit travel-worn. Settling into Bulgaria has been more difficult than other places.  Even with all the vibrant energy, being a foreigner has started to take it’s toll. The weather is a little cloudier and rainier. Internet problems and dealing with little set backs are somewhat harder. It was difficult to become enamored of Plovdiv, our home for a few weeks, at first. We are a little grumpy and a little ready to come home to our friends and family!

We’ve since found the charm and are getting acquainted and getting some work done. But not before contemplating some changes in direction, including heading for warmer climes and coming home early!

After some serious prioritizing and reflecting on what are goals are at this point, we decided to stay our plotted course. Two more weeks in Bulgaria. A few days in Barcelona (would love more but we have stayed our welcome in the Schengen Zone!)  and a week in Morocco.

Have figured some things out along the way

I have decided I am not cut out to travel as a digital nomad indefinitely. Which is good to know! I like the contrast.  Leaving home and coming home.  Pulling up roots and putting them back down. Three to four months is a nice amount of time to travel. After that home starts to call.  Friends and family start to get missed a lot. I crave my own bed.  I want to plant a garden.

Home is Wisconsin. Home is also Hawaii. Hawaii hasn’t been home for as long as Wisconsin has, but it has those similar feelings and longings. Friends and family and familiar places which I miss dearly.

We have some things to celebrate! Pete and I have almost finished our book. Hooray! One of our goals was to write a book together while traveling. We are not quite, but almost done. Very soon you will be able to find our ebook, Moving to Hawaii to Teach-Your Study Guide online! Definitely before the start of next school year 😉

One of my personal goals was to explore and develop means of supporting myself while being location independent. I am happy to say I am currently working with my first client to help her develop her online presence to sell her books! It’s a trip and a learning experience.

A few favorites

  • Major City: Rome
  • Greek Island: Naxos
  • French Village: Eguilles
  • Italian Village: San Gimignano
  • Coffee: Cappuccino al banco anywhere in Italy
  • Sandwich: Croquette Monsieur in France
  • Salad: Naxian salad in Greece. Bulgarians, however, take salad making very seriously
  • Pubs: London-a great pub on every corner
  • Views: Santorini. Sigh. Although the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were also breathtaking
  • Overall aesthetic: Greek Islands.  Love the white and blue architecture

What now?

After a few months in the Midwest, Pete and I plan to return to Kauai and find a homey space to live. My goals are to write, tend a garden,  foster clients, sell my soap, explore options to keep teaching and of course, hang out at the beach.






being early

Map Room at the Vatican Museum – a long, long line.


We were in Santorini and needed to be up in Northern Italy in a week to meet our dear friend Kathy. While being truly stunning, Santorini is like an amazing desert and you can’t really eat dessert for very long so we had some time to make our way.

Doing all the usual research, we decided to take a ferry to Athens and from there fly to Rome. We’d stay in Rome for 5 days then continue our journey north to Stresa to meet Kathy. The first part of this trek was the ferry to Athens. It left Santorini at a shocking 3am. Ugh.

We arranged for a cab to take us down the mountainside to the port at about 2am, an hour early. Lots of people asked us why, or tried to talk us out of it. “Too early,” they’d say. “Why? You’ll just be sitting around?”

On this trip, something we’ve learned – it seems given very deeply into our culture that an “optimal” experience is to spend as little time as possible in line, as close to your desired time to do the thing you’re in line for. A distant second seems to be waiting line for a long period, but getting to choose the time of day you do your thing; it’s great if you can do the thing at 2pm,even if you have to stand in line for 4 hours before. It will suck, but you’ll get to do this thing at exactly the time you want to.

We’ve also learned something even better – if you’re willing to change your preconceptions about time and you’ve got a little leeway here, you can be much happier, get screwed by bad happenstance a lot less, and avoid a lot of crowding. Just be early.

For the Santorini ferry, nothing went wrong and we wound up chilling on the dock for an hour. A rough hour, 2-3am, but a lot could have gone wrong if we’d waited. The way to the dock is a crazy switchback road. We weren’t knowledgeable about taxis in Greece an had to rely on others for help. If we missed this connection, it would have been about an $800 mistake, as it would cascade into many other things that had to be timed right. So, we went early,and things were fine.

In Florence, the line for the amazingly popular and picturesque climb to the top of the Duomo is usually about 3-4 hours long. The Duomo opens at 8am, an as it turns out if you’re there at 7am ( early ) none of the tourists are there yet. You get in line, and wait no-time-at all. Time in line is 1 hour, not 4. In the cool morning, another serious bonus. Without all the hawkers in your business; another bonus.

At the Vatican, the line to see the museum is about a quarter mile long, hours in the hot sun. Unless you go early – there by 730, in by 915.

It doesn’t work all the time, but being early in the day or earlier than others for some connection has never, ever hurt us an has saved us a number of times. The hardest part ( after you reframe your timeline ) is keeping yourself occupied during the wait. Talking, reading, verbal games, Facebook, and a little patience seem to work just fine for this.

Local Products Galore


Almost a week on this island and I don’t know how I could be more in love with it. Naxos has beautiful beaches and great weather. Interesting stories and ruins which bring to life some of the Greek mythology we’ve grown up with. Great food and architectural aesthetic-the list goes on and on.

It’s hard to pick just one thing, but I think if I had to, the thing I love most about Naxos is that it is largely self sufficient, producing most of the food it consumes and then some. The largest of the Cycladic Islands, Naxos has large valleys and plains with fertile soil for many things.

Potatoes and Other Agricultural Products

The Naxos potato is celebrated throughout Greece. They produce so much here that they export them. I can attest to how delicious they are.  Golden colored with a mild, almost sweet flavor, we’ve been eating plenty of them in the form of french fries and have even been cooking them ourselves.  On our first trip to the market we bought a big bag of them.

Why are they so delicious? Well, the soil composition and semi-arid conditions are normally attributed to the good flavor.  I would add that the celebration of them as something special and desirable contributes to that sweet taste.

Pulses (beans and lentils), olives, figs, grapes and herbs are a few of the other major crops grown on the island. Olive oil, wines and other products are made from these.

Animal Products

Homemade ‘Naxian Salad’ with xinomizithra cheese

Cows, sheep, pigs and goats are all kept on Naxos. Fresh cows milk, yogurt, and cheeses are all produced on island.

The cheeses.  Oh my goodness the cheeses are so good.  There are about 4-5 varieties which are traditionally attributed to Naxos and are produced and celebrated here.  Although if you ask any Naxian cheese maker how many varieties there are the answer is ‘sooooooo many’!

Our first nibble was when we ordered a ‘Naxian salad’ from a restaurant.  It was a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and capers with xinomizithra (sour) cheese on top. It was delicious. We now make our own every day or so.

Wine and Kitro

How could a place call itself self-sustaining without producing it’s own booze?!

Naxos has been producing it’s own wine for a long time.  According to legend, Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, was born here.  He gifted Naxos with fertile land with which to grow grapes, make wine and be happy.

Wine making is a family tradition here where most families have their own vineyards. There are also plenty of bottled varieties. So far we’ve been sticking with the organic ouzo we came across but will certainly try a wine or two before we leave.

Kitro is something special. It’s a syrupy liqueur with a slight citrus flavor. It’s made from the leaves of the kitron or citron tree and has been produced here for over two centuries.


Beekeeping is alive and well on Naxos.  There are about 4,000 hives on the island and many different labels can be found in the markets. The bees mostly feed on thyme and heather and also on sage and oregano as these are the typical plants they will come across. Delicious in some creamy Naxos yogurt.

I want the place I live in to be more like this. To produce and celebrate it’s own sustenance. To share this harvest with the rest of the world, in an interdependent kind of way which does not diminish or exploit the hard work of the people here, but cherishes and protects it.

This kind of lifestyle does not appear to be creating lots of super rich people. But it is creating people who live a meaningful and fulfilling life. A healthy and happy life.

Perhaps that is just how Dionysus planned it 😉








standing in line – a nerd’s analysis and international relations


Paris, not The Happiest Place on Earth


A buddy of mine is visiting the Happiest Place on Earth at the moment. On FB, he mentioned that there at Disneyworld there were some parents pushing their way forward in line, and how it was mostly people from other countries. 

I don’t know about you, but I see this, and it makes me crazy.

Maybe it’s me getting older, but it feels like I am more aware of these little rules all around us that just make things “go better.” Minute assumptions or agreements we all kind of make so society doesn’t run off the rails.

Using turn signals, letting people off the elevator before you try to get on, and standing in an organized line. Putting your luggage inn the overhead so that others can fit theirs, too. Eating your meal and then leaving the restaurant, so they can fill the table after you. 

You know, “normal.” When we don’t just do these simple things, chaos ensues, and it bothers me at a level so deep it’s embarrassing, sometimes. 

But here’s the thing

These assumptions of normal are different all over the world. Of course I know this in an academic way, from my schooling. I know this in a rational way, like any educated person does – disparate cultures are different, and have “different ways.” All of this knowledge goes out the window, or really never entered my mind, when I see someone jumping line. 


Fuuuuuuuuuuckyyyouuuuuuuuuuuu, buddy. I don’t care where you grew up. Get back to the end of the line and wait your goddamn turn to buy the new Harry Potter and the Chamber of Gandalf book, before I make a Gladiator-level spectacle here. Or have an aneurysm while I quietly fume.  

It happens when I’m traveling, too. Where the hell is my waiter? All these people drive like madmen! Why can’t we even all just stand in a simple line?

This is of course, ridiculous of me. Let’s talk about standing in line, in America.

In America…

If you grew up there when I did, when you were in Kindergarten or 1st grade some teacher yelled at you or whooped your ass until you learned to stand in a straight line.

Standing in line was never fun; you had to keep quiet, not be disruptive or poke people. you were to not make fart noises, and just be patient until you got to the head of the line. Where you quietly did your business then GTFO thank you, so the next kid could pay for their Salisbury steak. Or check out their copy of Green Eggs and Ham. Or whatever. 

So – no fun, keep quiet, no pushing, be patient, it’ll be over sooner if we all just cooperate, don’t be an asshole; it’s more efficient this way. And again: no fun.

That sums up how we feel about lines in American, drummed into us from childhood. A few things we can extract from this: long lines immediately cause stress, even if there’s no other “bad” stimulus laying about. Also, standing in line is kind of a chore; you put in your time, you get your reward. No one would ever choose to stand in line or look forward to it, it’s kind of a necessary evil that will be over soon if we all just settle down. It’s an equalizer – we all stand in line. Mostly. If someone goes to the head of the line, there better be a -serious- fucking reason. Like, they happen to be Ryan Reynolds. Or they spent, like, 10x more on their ticket. 

In the US, this is pretty deeply driven into us. So much so that, at the airport, even if someone had a cowbell around their neck and a standard bearer next to them with a big flag that signified they paid more than 10x what I may have for my ticket, I’d still be pissed if they moved to the front of my line.

So the airport people just make special lines, to avoid this social angst. This goes down much easier, to an American. I may resent the guy in that line for a moment, as I look at my cattle-herd of a line with forlorn despair. But that’s momentary. And maybe this is also American, but a few seconds later I think about how to work the system. “How do I get into that line?” And I start scheming. Live a better life? See up my pennies? Beat up Ryan Reynolds and take his ticket?

All viable options. But that idea of social mobility ( through smarts, money, or violence. #whatever ) is there – a very American thing. 

Lines in other parts of the world – a quick survey

Russia – standing in line is an art form, honed by great experience. The Russians have forgotten more about line-standing than the americans will ever know. They also make serious use of the Different Lines for Different people idea.

Great Britain – same as the US, except maybe a little more accepting of the social strata. “Ho hum, this is my lot in life. I’ll piss down my leg and smile, rather than complain about this line and how I need to use the loo.”

US Hawaiian islands – the “Quantum Line,” where there is a cloud of potential, people in quantum super-position around the area of the register. When you observe the line by asking “who’s in line?” All the people collapse into a recognizable line. If only for a moment. 

Italy – no recognizable queuing up, but maybe there’s one of those little number thingys. But the use of space is a free for all. Nudging up to the front or glass is perfectly fine, because they like to rub bodies here. Buonasera!

India – there are male lines and female lines. This is important because you slink up and spoon the guy immediately ahead of you, and the guy behind you does the same thing to you from behind. There is apparently a perfectly sane reason for this intimacy – to deter line-cutters, who have a refined art to edging in near the front of a line, and pretending they never saw the line to begin with, shocked they’re being called out on it. Hmmmm.

Kenya – a no-line free-for-all, from an American point of view. Let’s talk about this, as a counter to American Line Philosophy. 

Meanwhile, in Kenya

In Kenya, standing in line is at least as much about chatting with your neighbor as it is about getting a particular thing done. No one sweats waiting, because it’s like social time. And at the end there’s this bonus, and you get to order poultry. Or a train ticket, or whatever. If someone is in a hurry, they just move up to the front. This may involve body contact, but eh. We’re all friends here, right? If someone needs to go ahead, they need to go ahead. No problem for me. Why are they so busy? It must suck to be them. 

So what does it all mean?

How we feel about standing in lines is a great insight into our own culture, but also the idea of what you think is normal and rude might be different in other places. 

Do you think they have it “wrong?” That your culture is “right?” I’ll tell you this – regardless of how you feel about wrong and right, you can save yourself a ton of stress if you read up about a culture before you visit a place. “place cultural norms” and “place driving norms” and “place social norms” and “place gestures” are all great google searches. Be prepared for what everyone around you feels is right and wrong, regardless of what you might think. In your back yard, do things your way. In someone else’s garden… when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Beyond lines or traffic or hand gestures… what else is culturally relative? Guns? Social mobility? Freedom of the press? Organized crime?

Big questions to ponder, while standing in line. 

Italy in a snapshot: a neighborhood market in Florence

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A street market in Florence – dog friendly, chair friendly.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. We drove everywhere, especially to the store. When we shopped for food we bought in bulk. We also ate out quite a bit, even if it was just McDonalds, and I never really picked up the cooking thing. Later, even when I lived in the heart of Chicago on my own, I mostly ate out. I very rarely made anything at home, or shopped for anything other than what I thought friends might want if they stopped by.

I’m now living in Florence for a month, and my time in Italy so far is wonderful for lots of reasons. One of those reasons is trying a different lifestyle when it comes to food.

I’ve done some out-there things before when it comes to my meals: I’ve lived for long stretches almost entirely by eating out. I’ve also done the “Master Cleanse,” where the only thing you take in for close to 12 days is lemon-flavored water with a little maple syrup and cayenne pepper. I’ve spent half a year eating Vegan. What I haven’t done is lead that neighborhood lifestyle, where you go to the market every day or so, buy fresh food, and prep it for all your meals.

That is, until Italy.

Italy in a nutshell, and How to Live the market lifestyle

This will not seem strange to a few of you perhaps, but for me it’s hands-down the best part of this experience so far. Basically the pattern of the market lifestyle is this:

  • wake up early before it gets mind-bogglingly hot
  • stroll to the local market a block or so away
  • buy a few fresh things you need for meals today, and maybe part of tomorrow
  • tomorrow, repeat

Maybe all the people of Italy aren’t doing this, but from what I can see, many of them are. And I have to tell you, it’s every bit as cool as it sounds, or people say it is.

I eat much better, hands down. I have a bit of exercise built into the day, and I feel like I’m getting things done. The quality of food I’m taking into my body every day is hugely improved. I feel more self-sufficient, and also there’s built-in quality time  as you’re going about hunting-gathering-preparing. Also, it’s so much cheaper to live this way than the way I’ve been doing things for pretty much…  ever.

I’m talking about markets here, the kind that set  up in a lot or along a street somewhere, not individual street vendors.There are slightly different rules and expectations when dealing with a lone street vendor, as opposed to people in the neighborhood market.

I’ll focus on the market in this post. Here are some pointers and observations about shopping in the neighborhood markets here in Florence, that seem to inform well on the good people of Italy and life here in general.

The markets are daily events, walkable from where most people live. This isn’t a special “last Friday of the month” kind of thing; it’s every day. And though I’m not sure if markets are this prevalent everywhere, but it certainly seems and sounds that way. Within walking distance of where we’re staying there are 2 markets, every day, and this is nowhere near the city center. Traveling to the city center, you can see and read about other markets.

You can buy food, but also more. A wide variety of food including meats, cheeses, breads, fruits and veggies can be had at the markets. It’d be very hard to find something processed; it’s all fresh. Milk, wine, and other drinks are a little less common. In addition, you can also buy housewares and clothing at these markets, many of the little items that would be handy to have during the day like a spatula, a new shirt, or a wallet, things you might not need to replace often but wouldn’t want to drive to a big box store for can be found here.

You greet the proprietor, or wait for them to greet you, before you start shopping. This is traditional, and while they might in fact take your money if you don’t do things this way, you’ll be treated very coldly if you skip this step and just start shopping. In general, everyone from proprietors to customers are very friendly.

Prego, almost no one will speak English. You’ll learn very quickly to get by with pointing, sign language, speaking slowly ( as if this helps someone who doesn’t speak your language understand you ), and learning a small bit of Italian.

You don’t grab something, you point to it. It’s considered very poor form to just grab some fruit, or some item you’re looking to buy from the market. Much better is to catch the attention of the proprietor and point, smiling. They will pick it up and hand it to you. The American way of squeezing all the veggies until you find the right one is not acceptable at the Italian market. The idea is that all the veggies and fruit is fresh, and that no one wants stuff that’s been handled by every potential customer. Also,when they ask you how much you want of something, they are expecting you to tell them how many people what you’re buying is supposed to feed… not an amount like “a dozen” or “half a kilo.” Learning the phrases for “just one person” or “a few people” is very helpful. And yes, this is a little arbitrary, but it’s how things are done.

There are no lines. Maybe you take a number. Queuing in Italy is much different than it is in Britain or France, for example. And by “different,” I mean “no one ever stands in a line.” People either gather towards the front in a mass so they can point, or they take a number ( many stands/businesses have that little number dispenser thingy ) and wait to be called. There is very little conception ( or love for ) standing in line.

There’s really no concept of personal space. People will step right in front of you, or butt up right against you. In the US this is seen as the height of rudeness but in Italy there’s just no sphere of “your space” around you. If people get close to you, they are being friendly, accepting you. Also, another consequence of the no-space/no-line thing is that people will just move to stand right in front of you. If there was space there, clearly you didn’t want to stand in that space. Knowing this ahead of time will save you some stress,and maybe some arguments. This was is tough for me to get along with, but it’s much easier learning to accept it and be cool than to fight against.

Samples, yes please. if you’re shopping for food, most proprietors will offer you a sample, and will provide one if you ask. This is considered normal, if you’re making a decision.

Haggling – maybe. Haggling for price is usually perfectly acceptable if there aren’t others waiting, but if you attempt to haggle and gain no ground at all, like your attempt isn’t even entertained or considered, best not to push. At the markets, there is no expectation of haggling; you’re perfectly fine paying the listed price. This is different between the markets and buying from street vendors.

No-one is in a hurry. And you shouldn’t be, either. There is little or no sense of urgency anywhere to be found in the Italian street market, or as far as I’ve seen in Italy in general. And you should not expect any or bring any sense of urgency with you. The pace is slow and enjoyable, and deliberating about buying this thing or that thing is never rushed. If you’re in a hurry, maybe best not to go to a proprietor or stand with others who will be served ahead of you.

Coins are always better than notes, for payment. Things will be much cheaper than you ( as an American who grew up in the US, I’m supposing ) might think. Also, oddly, there is a shortage of Euro coins in Italy and great preference is shown at the street market for people who spend in coins. If you attempt to buy anything with a note more valuable than 10 Euros ( provided your thingy costs less than that ) you could very well be refused. Additionally, there is no sales tax in Italy; if something is listed at 1.20 Euros, that’s what you’ll pay. No little add-on.

They’ll chase you down to give you 10 cents in change. It’s pretty important to people, apparently. I’m not sure if this is the appearance of honesty, the appearance of not needing the extra 10 cents, or what. But someone will come running after you with your change.

You say goodbye on the way out, like your mom taught you. This goes along with greeting the proprietor, a common ritual and part of the expected courtesy. When you’re done, say thank you and good bye… don’t just walk away. This would be classless, and reflect poorly on your mother. Bless her.

The neighborhood market is open early, done by hot. Especially in the summer, the heat is intense in much of Italy. The neighborhood market is open early to serve people before they go to work, and usually shuts down before noon, to avoid the intense heat. And by “shuts down” I mean they’re done taking everything down by noon, so the proprietors don’t need to be out in the heat; not just so that the customer doesn’t have to be out there.

All in all this conveys a sense of casual, friendly, community-mindedness that seems much more common in Europe, and especially pronounced here in Italy. I’ve bene to several small towns in the US of course, and while I thought people were “friendly,” this is definitely saying something very different than describing them as “open” and “warm” to me as a clear stranger, passing through. Italy goes in for the embrace, and isn’t afraid of a little body contact.

a note on taking time off in the UK vs the USA



I grew up in the US, and until fairly recently in my work life, if I wanted a day off to head out to play, I had to ask.

And I also had to hope that it was cool with my supervisor that I’d take time off, and that my request got approved. I always felt a little guilty about even asking.

This is my own hang up, but my guess is this came from early childhood, where you needed some serious reason ( in my house ) to call off from school and there was ( Catholic? ) guilt involved whenever it happened.

And lastly, if you wanted to take a day or a week and there was something serious going on – a deadline, some big project, forget it. Your time off was not happening.

This is not how it happens, by and large, in the UK.



Over here, your time off is seen as part of your compensation, something you’re entitled to without reservation. You might say this about your US by-law-mandated time off, but let’s look at that.

In the UK there’s no “asking” for time off; you inform your supervisor, and that’s that.

No reason necessary, no justification. No silly “Doctor’s Note.” Is it smack in the middle of a serious thing? No problem. Your benefit of a paid day off isn’t just for easy days, it’s for any time you’re supposed to work. So it’s cool. Whenever.

That’s the thing. Your time off is considered part of your compensation in a very real way, and just like ( almost ) no one would think to mess with your pay for hours worked or your health benefits as prescribed by the employer, no one thinks of interfering with this other benefit of taking time off, either.

As I’ve said, I’ve been very fortunate on this point since I moved over to the tech field. I’ve had more freedom to do what and when I want, but even with my seniority, luck, great managers, and comparatively laid back field, the difference overall is still pretty striking. It is definitely truth that for a long time I’ve always been able to ( mostly ) inform about days off, instead of request. But either because of my background, my previous experience, or whatnot…  even when I knew this was cool, part of me tried to argue that it wasn’t cool.

Before I switched to tech, I worked for a long time for the casinos in the Midwest. And believe me, getting time off was true to every US stereotype there is. Even as adults, you were mostly you were treated like school children, and I think it was this kind of attitude that eventually led me to do an serious career reset in the late 90s.

Seeing this difference here in the UK makes me smile, like the kid who sees how other kids are allowed to misbehave.  (^_^


Savon de Marseille

Pete and I just left France.  Even as we sit at Starbucks in London, enjoying the familiarity of a large, 12 ounce cup of coffee, I already feel a bit nostalgic. We are here, waiting to connect with a good friend of mine who is graciously hosting us for the next couple of weeks.

But… for a few more moments, before I begin to embrace a new city, I’d like to take a few moments to remember France.  The south of France and Provence.  Specifically, ‘Savon de Marseille’ or ‘Marseille soap’.


I love how the soap is displayed-no packaging, stacked together by color and scent

Don’t get me wrong. There are so many things I love about France.  The beautiful country side, la patisseries, the wine, the people we met and certainly gaining an ear for and practicing my French.  These are just a few of the many wonderful things.

I do love soap, however, and Savon de Marseille is an excellent soap with a long history and beautiful presentation. As soon as I walked into Maison du Savon de Marseille in Aix en Provence, I was smitten.  It took all of my will power not to pack a second backpack full of soap. A few fun facts:

  • The recipe for Savon de Marseille is 600 years old
  • The original recipe is water from the Mediterranean, olive oil, soda ash and lye
  • Traditionally about 8 tons made at a time, mixed together in a cauldron
  • In 1924 there were 132 soap making companies in the Marseille area
  • As of 2000 only 5 remain
  • I love this soap

Also, I think it very possible that in a past life, I was a soapmaker in Marseille. Check out these facts. First, I make my own soap. Also, I used to sell my soap to people and made a living for a while doing this. And the biggest suggestion that makes it possible I did this in a former life-check out how I used to display my soap:

Marseille soap pic
This was on display at a farmers market circa 2012. All I’m missing is the stamp!


Whenever we travel, we look for little bits of ourselves in the unfamiliar. It’s comforting and encouraging to know for a fact from our own experience, that humans living far from us, are not really so different. The French love soap and have a 600 year old recipe which is still being used today! That is soooooooooooooo like me!

So the next time you find yourself in France, or any shop selling Savon de Marseille, please buy a bar or two.  You will be treating yourself and participating in a tradition spanning many generations.


a note on French service, cultural expectations, and jumping to conclusions

3730858892_407da1c1ec_zA great lesson here about the difference in cultures, as well as painting your own life around you.

The first few cafes Kim and I sat at here, the service was awful. Really crappy.

It took forever for someone to come around, they were gone for long stretches at a time, and when we were done, it took an age for them to come. Both times, we gave up waiting for them to come with the bill; we finally got up and asked for it. Frustrating.

And, of course, we were being silly.

We weren’t wrong to be frustrated maybe, but the source of our frustration was the two of us carrying our expectations of how service should go, learned in the US, with us into France. Not shitty service.

This is such a subtle thing, you don’t even notice it. What’s normal for you seems normal everywhere, right?

Here’s what I learned somewhere when I was young: when I sit down, I want prompt service. Someone attentive. I want them watching me eat; when my drink is low I want them to magically appear to fill it. When I’m done, I want them to magically re-appear with the check, so I can leave and get on with living my life.

Everyone would want this, yes?


My own description of what “good service” is ( above ) might resonate with you, but it’s rooted in my American upbringing, to be sure.

I have serious expertise in cultural anthropology, and yet it didn’t occur to me that maybe what I was experiencing in France was not shitty service. When all this was going on, I didn’t throw a stink like some people might; I just sat and stewed a bit. Ugh, what lousy service.

I brought with me an underlying assumption we’re taught pretty early in America. At least in the Midwest: be economical with your time in a restaurant or cafe. Take as long as you need, but don’t loiter. Loitering is bad manners; it keeps the table occupied while the server could be earning tips from someone else, the place could be charging someone else for food and service.

This isn’t your mom’s place – eat and GTFO.


Meanwhile, in the French cafe-goer’s mind…

Of course, in France, the whole idea here is different. There’s a entirely different fundamental assumption, and there are different norms in play.

Knowing this makes life clearer, and better.

The French don’t want to be hurried. That feeling I loved at my favorite coffee shop back home in Lihue? The French want that -everywhere- in France. They demand it.

They want to sit, relax, loiter, veg, meet with friends, take three hours if they have three hours to spend. And they want this at all cafes, not just the “home” cafes where everybody knows their name.

This is normal, and expected here.

French service is based around these norms and expectations. The waiter/waitress will give you serious leeway by default. They won’t be on your every few minutes. There is zero expectations of rushing, or moving through so more people can sit in your current seat. Take your time.

Don’t rush. Enjoy life.


A French server wouldn’t dream of hassling you with the bill, or breaking your rest with constant visits. It would not be respectful.

And if you’re on a schedule… just mention this.

“Excusez-moi monsieur,” you say. “I am a rushed American and I have tickets to this one French Thingy. Can I get my bill when I’m served my meal?”

“But of course.”

That’s it. If you want to not wait, to not loiter, just ask. Of course they’re cool with that.


The lesson

The thing is, it was really easy to not even ask. It was very easy to instead just feel like the service sucked.

And from there it was easy to jump to all sorts of dumb, in-retrospect-embarrassing conclusions. “It’s probably because they know we’re Americans,” and so on.

This was wrong. And BS. And childish.

One thing I really, really want to work on this trip is being in tune with my assumptions and expectations, and how much these and my own frame of mind contribute to my stress. And the fundamental understanding that this point of view is a choice.

I choose to be affronted, offended. Just because I don’t know what’s going on is not an excuse or an explanation or rationale. If I begin and end at feeling stressed, insulted, and affronted…  this is because I have made a choice to be.

This starts and ends with me.

Here in France, all most people really want to do is smoke, and treat you well.




a note on driving in the South of France

Have you ever been chased by Bond villain henchmen?

The ones on motorcycles I mean, that come out of nowhere? Have you driven on roads like that? Very thin with seemingly ambiguous signs and symbols, roads that tighten up to barely as wide as your tiny Renault where suddenly you’re face to face with Michael Buble’s touring bus?

This is driving, as it happens in the South of France.

Seriously, the roads are something interesting. Roundabouts everywhere, all sort of offshoots and directions, loops and meanderings. A high speed limit that most people don’t pay any attention to. Everyone tailgates, like, all the time. Was that your turn? A free parking space? A place that probably has really good bread?

Gone. Désolé.

Too bad. And good luck getting back to it, because the road follows some old horse track around the hill and through the wheat field, and doesn’t come back this way.

Motorcycles Everywhere. At least down here near Marseilles. The kind that are exempt from traffic laws, swarm like bees, and leave you standing still when you’re going 90kph.

My rearview mirror, driving outside Aix-en-Provence


I am not complaining. I am mostly amazed. Tho I am also a bit stressed out.

It seems like every time I drive, every place we go, it’s a test of nerves, a feat. It’s like being amped up on RedBull from the moment you turn the car on, til you turn it off. At least this has been my short experience, so far.

Kim teases me, says I need to be a little more aggressive, give it right back to the local drivers.

There’s something to be said for the overlay of stress that comes from being in a foreign country, the kind that soaks into the basic stuff you do and adds to the cognitive load. I’m not sure slipping into Angry Driver mode will help that. I’m usually the calm guy behind the wheel.

When we were renting at the Marseilles airport, the nice lady asked if we would like GPS for some fee-per-day. We thought about it for half a second, and politely declined. As if we hadn’t said a word, the lady continued “Okay, I’ll just put that on free of charge then.”

I thought she was being nice. Friendly to the visiting Americans. This might in fact be true, but she was also saving her countrymen a serious amount of headaches. Kim and I don’t have roaming data on this trip ( not yet, anyway ) and without GPS with my driving, we would have been in a ditch, or out in some scenic rolling wheat field within 10 minutes.

Oh well. Soon we’ll turn in the rental and give back the GPS. We’ll take the TGV up north to Paris, then Eurostar to London. We’ll be up there for a while…  maybe the driving there is different?




random notes from the road

Thoughts at this moment:


I walk more. This is a “no duh” thing, as we don’t usually have a car/truck now. But I can already feel the difference in my waistline, and this is a good thing.

Along with this, water is my main drink during the day now. It used to be iced tea, with a bit of pop, but now it’s just water. Most of my friends in Hawaii were already doing this, and I’m just catching up.

We eat way more food from the store, and much more simple stuff than we did back home. Ploughman’s Lunch style; pretty simple fare like in this pic. And it’s awesome.

Even though I could sleep as late as I want, I still wake up crazy-early, about 5am local. This is ridiculous, as I get pretty tired at about 3pm  (^_^

The clothing this is fine; I get by with just a couple shirts and a couple options for pants. But a weird thing – fresh laundry ( like, when I do my own ) makes me almost giddy. Weird. Like my entire wardrobe has been renewed.

I feel like I’m still in Vacation Mode – let’s go see this place! And I really want to work to get out of this kind of thinking.

I’m reluctant to store high value items like the laptop, iPad, or passoport in the safe at the front desk, when we’re in a place that has that option. Not because I think things aren’t secure there, but because I don’t want to acknowledge they could get taken from the place where I sleep. Again, weird.

Sleeping in bunk beds takes a little getting used to. I like not being crowded  :  )   but I miss the contact.


The weather is consistently beautiful, but I guess this is crazy timing on our part, and definitely not how it normally is. I guess it’s way more like Seattle here, and way less like Montreal in June. Heh.

Seems like more people smoke, here. But that probably just means “more people smoke than in Hawaii,” which is saying something very different than, say, more people do it here than in Chicago.

People are very friendly, here. I am wondering if this is true in most places, part of that “we craft our own reality around us” kind of thing. I’ll keep you in the loop, here.

Anywhere there’s music in public spaces and it’s not cultural ( like Irish pipes or whatnot ) It is a strange mix of new and vintage stuff; Metallica and

I think about this, and it mostly seems to be about simplicity. This is a good thing, as a big part of what I’d like to do during this year is see if I can turn the “noise” down as much as I can. It might not seem like much, but imagine the total of things you think about in life during your day – big stuff and little stuff. I guess I’m actively working to tune out as much of the little stuff as possible. Decisions about clothes and food, schedule stuff, obligations to others. Maybe by pushing as much of the minutiae away as I can, I’ll see some effect overall on the quality of life.

I’ll let you know how this goes. Really, it’s just been about a week so far  (^_^