I received word from the Society of American Travel Writers that I’ve won a silver Lowell Thomas Award for my audio commentaries from Spain and Portugal that ran on KUOW’s Weekday. My bicycle commentaries and interviews have been aired on Steve Scher’s show since 1994. Without a strong and vibrant public radio station in Seattle, my travel musings would never have reached an audience.
The gold award went to Rick Steves for his radio broadcasts. I’m in good company in more ways than one, since Rick has begun to use some of my audio pieces in his show Travel with Rick Steves which is heard on radio stations across the country.
Links to the commentaries that were submitted for the award are below.
You may notice that the sound is not always “studio” quality. The commentaries were written, recorded and edited on the road. It is a challenge to find places to record when you are on a bike trip. Wind, rain and noises. Lot’s of noises. When you are trying to record a piece about an experience in downtown Salamanca, Spain, the sounds of sheep and cowbells don’t cut it. And, of course, when you are trying to voice a commentary about an experience in the country, that’s when the traffic sounds are always the loudest.
My thanks to the Society of American Travel Writers for the award, to KUOW for the opportunity, and one more thank you. The most important one. To my life and travel partner, Kat — a yellow tent and an adventure are always better shared.
They are gifts of the road. Nature’s snacks ripened just for you. Their aromas fill the hot summer’s breezes and the late fall’s chill. Roadside trees, far from any home or farm, display these treats more beautifully than any row of sweets in a candy shop. They must have been planted for the benefit of touring cyclists. Why else would their heavily laden branches lean over the road?
Apples in eastern Washington. Tree tomatoes (tomate de arbol) in Colombia. Mangoes in Thailand. Figs. We love figs! You can smell them a half mile away when the wind is just right and they are oozing with flavor.
The fruit that won our hearts in Portugal was the persimmon. Eat it too early and your mouth will pucker up in disgust. But catch this fruit at its peak and the jelly-like interior is a decadent dessert.
So enamored were we with the persimmon, that we planted one in our yard in Seattle. It will be years before it bears fruit; and, due to our cool summers, the taste will probably never match those we slurped in southern Portugal.
But ten years from now, I’ll pick a persimmon and bite into the gooey flesh … and my mind will fly across the ocean and remember a bicycle journey.
Last week I confessed my obsession of photographing house numbers during our bike journey in Portugal.
I realize the short “video” might have had a certain entertainment value, but probably fell far short of convincing the viewer that they should hop on a bike and tour there.
I now present “Countdown Redux”. Twenty-one images that should whet your traveler’s appetite and have you dreaming of your own bike trip through Portugal or somewhere, anywhere on this incredible planet.
When traveling through a country there is so much to take in — sights, sounds, culture, language. It can be overwhelming.
Sometimes I choose certain specific things to focus on as I’m pedaling. Trees or birds, or the hats people are wearing. The signs on the side of the road. Or I’ll pick a color. It is amazing how your perspective changes if you focus on the color red, and later on the color blue. What your eye takes in doesn’t change, but how your brain processes it does.
While we were pedaling in Portugal, I started noticing house numbers. In the small villages, most weren’t generic, but often obviously fashioned by the home owner. I began taking photos of them. Then I got obsessed. I started collecting house numbers like you would try to fill out a bingo card. Could I find and photograph all the numbers from 1 to 100?
This was rather entertaining for me, and rather annoying for my partner, Kat, who constantly had to stop and wait as I dismounted my bike to search for the perfect angle to photograph a house number I hadn’t captured yet.
I didn’t make it to my goal of 100. Somewhere along the way my obsession began to annoy even me. My vision was so zeroed in on house numbers that I was literally missing the big picture.
The video is a shortened version of my countdown to Portugal … as entertaining or annoying as it may be.
A policeman stopped our progress through the small town of Manteigas, Portugal. There was no traffic — no apparent accident or emergency. We parked our bikes and waited.
We heard the music of a marching band long before the processional turned a corner and came into view. It appeared as if the entire town was decked out in ceremonial garb — women with bright green shoulder capes — young boys and girls in white and cream robes. Old men with bright red vestments, marched with tall narrow banners attached polls.
Then came the band. Young and old with their shiny instruments and coats with brass buttons and gold rimmed caps. They played somber tunes. No smiles or waves. This processional was in honor of the martyr Saint Sebastian.
I was wishing this crowd would get a move on. We needed to find a place to stay and it was quickly getting late.
But then I began looking closely at the faces that passed by and my anxiety melted away. How long has that man played the tuba in this band? I wonder what the flute player does for a living? Does the band practice weeknights? To they enjoy it? Whose cap is that little kid wearing?
What’s it like to grow up in a little village in the mountains in Portugal? How many feet have walked these cobblestones? Is someone actually pulling the rope on the church bell, or is it automated?
My mind pleasantly wandered as the music played on. And by the time the band had disappeared up the hill, I found that I liked this town. I had a connection to it, however small.
When we say we cycled Portugal, we mean it! Portugal is about the size of Indiana and friends joked we could see it in a week. Instead of hitting just the highlights, we took our time wandering the back roads as much as possible and exploring the major cities too. It was luxurious to focus on such a small region getting to know it intimately. The landscape changed daily and the culture and cuisine is distinctively different north to south. Wine is delicious everywhere! In three months, we pedaled 2,934.7 kilometers (1,823.5 miles) by crossing the country SIX times. Still, there are places we didn’t see…
Holiday shoppers pop out the umbrellas in Sevilla, Spain
Our latest bike journey ended in the beautiful city of Sevilla (Seville), Spain.
I’m a sucker for Christmas/holiday music and also a huge fan of street performers. These musicians add life to any city. And I love being in the crush of holiday crowds … especially when I’m observing, rather than shopping.
As we wandered through the streets of Sevilla, I recorded the street performers we encountered. Quite an eclectic bunch. In the United States, once Thanksgiving has rolled by, the songs you will hear performed on the streets is pretty much limited to the canon of 20-30 holiday tunes. I still love them. But some variety would be welcome.
Well. That’s what we got. Sure, we heard some traditional tunes. But street musicians in Sevilla do not all march to the holiday tune drum … unless you consider “Knights in White Satin” a holiday classic.
Happy Holidays from Spain.
May your days be merry and bright. And may all your bicycle gear be light.
We only planned to bicycle to Seville to catch the train to Madrid after our 2 1/2 month pedal around Portugal. Little did we know that we were headed into one of the fastest growing “bicycle cities” on the planet.
In just a matter of a few years, Seville has gone from almost no one using a bike for transportation, to over 60,000 people biking per day.
It wasn’t accomplished simply by an ad campaign. The city built and/or marked a network of 120 kms worth of traffic-separated bike paths around the city. These are not your average recreational paths that end abruptly, leaving the cyclist confused and lost. These paths are meant as a transportation system — all connected, and, as we found, all easy to follow.
In addition, the city has provided a bicycle sharing system with 300 stations and over 3000 bikes (Their bike program is called Sevici).
Kat and I were blown away with how efficient and easy the whole system operates. We barely had to refer to our bike map.
Thirty years ago, cities were best avoided on a bike tour. Now, thanks to bicycle advocates and campaigns around the world, more and more cities are becoming bicycle destinations themselves.
This coming year’s Velocity Conference will be hosted in Seville, where advocates will gather to learn and share how to make the world a better place to pedal.