I mean… it’s fine, I guess.

Today’s featured image: heatwave in Oostende. The water is pretty cold (about 65F/19C), but when it’s 95F/34C outside, that feels pretty good. This part of the world isn’t built for those temperatures though. As these extremes become more common, places like Belgium will need to start converting their buildings to be more like those once fit for Spain.

It has only been in the last few weeks that I’ve actually made the effort to clean the grimy surface of the small marble-topped table before I sit down. The rough layer of spilled sugar and cake crumbs can be distracting, but it’s the only cafe in town that serves a half-decent espresso. From the outside, the cafe looks like a sleek yet retro boutique. Large LED bulbs fashioned to look like antiques hang exposed from the ceiling, giving the off-white walls a warm glow. Classic photos of famous musicians and a healthy population of green plants give the space a bit of life, but the life from outside intrudes. Spiders hand in their webs in all of the corners. A small cloud of flies hangs about the brightest lights, occasionally pestering coffee-drinkers and taking tastes of the sugary residue on the marble-topped tables.

The owner is a friendly young man named Johan. He’s also the only employee, sitting at the counter six days a week. On Tuesdays, I occasionally run into him at the gym, working on his body-builder physique. We speak very little, but he’s happy to open up. Ashley’s natural inquisitiveness has cost her hours of lost studying when she doesn’t have the heart to interrupt one of Johan’s soliloquies on current affairs, local politics or his favorite roasteries. I’ve been more reserved, popping in my headphones and allowing him to return to his almost perpetual position, seated behind the counter, head lowered to his smartphone. He breaks that position only to make a coffee, hold vigorous debates with his two regulars, or light up a cigarette outside but not far enough from the door to prevent the smoke from wafting in.

He’s not the only one to make the oversight that is only perceived by us non-smokers. He seems to be a pretty typical Fleming. (I’ll speak here of Flemings instead of Belgians more generally because I’ve only had any experience with the Belgians living in the northern region called Flanders, who speak a dialect of Dutch called Flemish.) There is often a customer contributing to the never-empty ash tray on the table in the make-shift patio that takes up half the sidewalk in front of the cafe.

The floor-to-ceiling cafe window makes my seat just inside a perfect viewing location to observe the locals and tourists traversing the grey-brick street leading to the beach just a couple blocks away. Most are overweight but not in the way Americans are. Life in a city first laid out in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 19th century requires a good deal of walking. Despite the fact that most Flemish cities are like this, Flemings love their cars. Even with the daily ubiquitous traffic jams on the highways, it’s still often faster to drive than to take a train. It’s unpredictable though. Being an hour late to a meeting because of traffic is not uncommon, and being a few minutes late to everything is normal.

Oostende is a tourist city. In winter, it’s quiet. Only the geriatric locals remain. When I arrived in December, I was quickly convinced that my 28 years was at least a decade below the median age. It was far from exciting, but the sea kept the weather mild, the stone and cement buildings stayed warm, the limited traffic was reminiscent of a small town, and the handful of medieval buildings, grey under the winter clouds, gave the place an enchanted feel. As spring arrived, the weather warmed enough to sit on the jetty and listen to the waves. The walking path drew a few locals but not yet the tourists. The days grew refreshingly longer, and the anxiety of freezing my fingers to my handlebars subsided. But the joy of change was short-lived.

Where I grew up, spring meant budding trees on the sidewalks and the return of the songbirds. In Oostende, there is very little vegetation. The coast is an endless wall of vacation condominiums that slowly fill as the temperatures go from warm to hot. As the weeks pass, the beaches fill with tourists in the day. After they leave the waves, choking the paths I use on my evening commute, the seagulls have their turn at the ice cream, waffles, baguettes, prepackaged meats and cheeses, and bags of junk food strewn across the manufactured beach. The daily meals are supplemented by the weekly feast as the locals put their bags of waste on the sidewalks on Sunday night to be picked up Monday morning. The gulls take what the humans wouldn’t, tearing open the plastic bags, eating what they can, casting the rest across the sidewalks and streets, and fighting viciously over the tastiest prizes. With the mating season in the spring and the pressure to bring back food for the chicks throughout the summer, the birds grow more and more aggressive. More than once have I seen a gull with a three-foot wingspan collide with a tourist as it tries to swoop in to knock a wax-paper boat of french fries from their hand. Day and night, the birds shriek their calls of intimidation, screaming for attention for what purpose I have no idea. From my apartment, they are always audible, often loud enough that I need to shut my balcony door to hear the person on the other end of the phone conversation.

Most people in Oostende don’t seem to mind the avian pests. They drown out the noise with their own. In the shopping streets, 80’s American pop blasts from speakers, and pop up bars on the beaches compete with their own retro mix if they haven’t been outblasted by a weekend music festival, thumping until midnight or later. The wealthy (or heavily indebted) middle-aged tourists from France, Luxembourg or the Netherlands rumble along the narrow streets in their classic sports cars, the nouveau riche rev the engines of their brand new sports cars, thrashing them for the two seconds it takes to catch the ambling line of cars, held up by a horse-drawn carriage carrying tourists pretending not to mind the smell of horse piss. Packs of twenty-somethings from North Africa or the Middle East shout over each other in the Arabic dialects that to me always sound like they’re angry. Throngs of people, speaking a dozen tongues (and on their own behaving perfectly reasonably) coalesce into a mass of half-naked bodies, some with personal boomboxes, raising their voices just to be heard over the rumbling human mass.

The supermarket nearest the beach can’t handle the volume; lines at the registers back up through the aisles of packaged sweets and cheap alcoholic beverages. I never seem to learn when to go to the store, hitting the flood every evening as tourists recede from the beach and other locals return from their day jobs.

I’ve welcomed the recent drop in temperatures and return of the grey drizzle that feels much more characteristic for the North Sea coast. The streets are noticeably quieter, and the flood of drivers seems just a touch thinner and more patient. I like to think that the summer is actually coming to an end. The tourist season was made enjoyable only by the fact that I had imported a friend. Had Ashley been unable to spend nine weeks in Europe this summer, I may have tried to flee even earlier than I did. I commented to a colleague one particularly muggy afternoon that I may have survived another winter in Belgium, but I would not have lasted another summer.

Being in Europe used to help me keep sight of the reasons I’ve embarked on this career in renewable energy. Especially in Scandinavia, it’s easy to see people trying to contribute to the cause of sustainability. Stockholm hosts dozens of Tesla taxis, many Scandinavian universities have degrees in sustainable energy or development, government officials clamor over each other to be the most “green”, it can be cheaper to own an electric car than one with an internal combustion engine, and we buy all of our wind turbines from Denmark. Most importantly, though, being in Scandinavia allows one to forget that the greatest challenge to sustainability is population.

The low countries are a stark reminder of what happens when you have fertile agricultural land. Most of the people here are, on balance, good people, just trying to live their lives free from suffering and if they’re lucky, to find a bit of meaning in the endeavor. But they crowd together, piled high in apartment buildings, spread densely across the countryside. Over the last few millennia, the forest gave way to farmland, and now the farmland has given way to housing developments to be reached by cars, mobile boxes of isolation carrying the commuters to work for their brief and cordial interactions before returning home to entertain their evenings away.

I have no lens into these lives. It was mostly my own fault, but I never made friends here. Too much time at home and too little effort to learn the language kept social interactions shallow and limited. As I sit and enjoy my final espresso at Fitzgerald Coffee, I can’t help but wonder how it might have been different.

A young woman sits in the low chair on the other side of the narrow boutique. Behind her thick-framed glasses, she wears an expression of impatient discontent, but she has been here longer than I have, slowly sipping her sparkling lemonade. She is constantly distracted by some silent conversation behind the smartphone screen that looks large in her small hands. Ashamedly, I take the opportunity to steal lengthy glances. Her open petticoat and tight-fitting jeans belie a fit physique on a petit yet womanly frame. Were I not already in a wonderful relationship, I hope I would have the courage to say hello. I feel a sort of connection, a sort of sympathy, sharing with this stranger the sense of being surrounded by people yet feeling alone. She’s clearly connected to someone on the other end of those messages, but my long looks catch no hint of joy from it. She waves away a fly from her sweet drink, puts down her phone and stares at the clock above my head. Is she waiting or just killing time? What would she rather be doing right now?

I’ll never know. She puts her phone away, grabs her wallet, and stands to pay and leave. As with almost everyone in this country, I’ll never see her again. It’s a common excuse to reserve the effort and anxiety required to make new friends, but I’m not sure it’s a valid one.

The cafe fills with groups. Two couples and two families of three. One couple settles at a small table against the wall when they receive their drinks. They chat amicably. They look into each other’s eyes as they explain their thoughts, often smiling, laughing to show their approval. They stop briefly to think and sip their coffee. I know that their marble-topped table is dirty, but they don’t set their hands on it. The flies go after their cookies, but they swat them away thoughtlessly. The floor is dirty, and Johan pays more attention to his phone than any customer, but neither of them seems to notice. Nor do they now seem bothered by the crowd of tourists or cigarette smoke wafting inside or the fact that the centerpiece of their town is a sleazy old casino or that their country is best known for beer, chocolate, and over-sugared waffles. They’re too distracted by each other to notice such trifles.

I’m often asked what I think of living in Belgium. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about it. It’s got all the basics: passable roads, decent public transit, modern medical services, and most everything you’d expect from Western grocery stores. But it’s not nearly as refined as other places I’ve lived. There’s an amateurishness about businesses that I couldn’t see past, and there really wasn’t anything attractive to see or do.

Maybe I didn’t see enough of the good things about Belgium, but maybe I just saw too much. I did see the nice craft coffee shops and the thick forest of the Ardennes and the warm sand of the beach and fairy tale alleyways of Bruges.

But for much of the time, I didn’t have anyone to distract me from seeing everything else that balances it out, so instead of really enjoying my time in Belgium, I didn’t think much of it.

It’s not that it’s a bad place. It’s alright. It’s just not great.

I mean… it’s fine, I guess.

An Economic History of Luxembourg

This weekend, I decided to check off my list one of those tiny little countries that one rarely has a reason to pass through. While I’m only a four hour journey from Luxembourg, I figured that this might be my last reasonable chance. It’s also convenient because the Ardennes forest is the nearest place for me to find something that resembles a mountain and low population density.

I took off Friday for a three-day weekend, took a bus from Brussels to Luxembourg City, and then had a bit of an adventure with the public bus system to get out to a little town called Mullerthal, where I met up with one leg of a hiking route around the northeast of the little country. I spent a sleepless night in the dense forest and spent the next morning exploring the capital where I had started. The trip had some real highlights that I’ll get to eventually, but they’ll need some context.

For now, I’m going to continue my history kick and share a bit about this tiny country that most of you probably couldn’t place on a map (indeed, many world maps don’t even have enough resolution for it).

That’s actually a good place to start. Where is Luxembourg?

Well, I live in Belgium, and you know that it’s close to me, so it probably borders Belgium.

Indeed, it does, but can you even put Belgium on this map?


Did you find it? Still struggling? It’s a small country. I’ll zoom in a bit.


Ok, now you can see it. And even tiny Luxembourg made the cut!

If you’re still struggling, here’s the answer.


At about 1,000 square miles, Luxembourg is a cutout at the junction of France, Belgium, and Germany.

But don’t let its size fool you. Both the World Bank and IMF have estimated Luxembourg to be the wealthiest country in the world (per capita; the UN disagrees, and I think I know why), and I can attest that it looks like it. Luxembourg city is so well maintained and so full of fancy cars, it’s actually a bit weird. This was the second six-figure car I saw in the first 20 minutes of walking through the city. Most of the others are new luxury cars.


How did tiny little Luxembourg get so rich?

It’s actually not as complicated of a story as one might think, and it actually has a lot to do with its tiny geography.

Luxembourg has actually been around for about a thousand years. ‘Lucilinburhuc’ (literally translating to ‘small castle’) was a castle which became the centrepiece of what would become the County of Luxembourg over the 11th-13th centuries. The aristocracy of Luxembourg led successful armies and expanded their reach during this time. They were so successful that the house of Luxembourg even led the Holy Roman Empire during the 14th and 15th centuries. In the mid-15th century, neglect by the nobles who had gotten too comfy in their foreign roles allowed the Burgundians to conquer Luxembourg. Over the next four centuries, the area would change hands several times between the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Austrians, and the Prussians.

In 1815, with the defeat of Napoleon and liberation of his conquered lands, Luxembourg became a Grand Duchy, but it was divided. The Netherlands (more specifically King William I) was awarded the western provinces of Luxembourg. The eastern provinces became part of the new German Confederation. Most of the area makes up modern-day Luxembourg. Some of the eastern areas are now in Germany, and some came under Dutch control in the twentieth century.

The western provinces were treated just like any other Dutch province, but if you read my last post about the history of the Netherlands, you’ll know that this was a very brief period of unification. The Belgian revolution began in 1830 and ended with the Treaty of London in 1839. I’m skipping over all of this because the important part for our purposes is that the treaty gave Belgium the western half of Luxembourg, which is now (somewhat confusingly) also called Luxembourg (dark blue in the southeast here).


Actually, when I told my colleague that I would be spending the weekend in Luxembourg, he asked, “The province or the country?”

And that’s how Luxembourg gets its current form.


Even though the borders would be set for a long time to come, Luxembourg was in no condition to be a sovereign state. It remained part of the German Confederation until its dissolution with the Austro-Prussian War in 1867. Emperor Napoleon III tried to buy Luxembourg from King William III of the Netherlands. The Prussians still controlled the fortress (in what is now Luxembourg City), and they were not about to let the French just walk in. The most dissatisfying compromise for everyone was that no one would get the province, and it would remain neutral and disarmed. Though still technically the personal playground of the King of the Netherlands, Luxembourg was basically on their own at this point. With the death of William III in 1890, Luxembourg passed to the hands of Adolf of Nassau-Weilburg, the progenitor of the dynasty that still reigns today.

But despite all these pretty pictures, it doesn’t seem like any of this would make Luxembourg rich!

No, it didn’t. Luxembourg was pretty poor at this time. It wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century, that Luxembourg started to put its mineral deposits to use. During the decades leading up to the First World War, immigrants flooded into Luxembourg to work in the mines and steel mills replacing the thousands of emigrants who flooded out of the industrializing capital in the nineteenth century. The increase in labourers led to legislative actions that would lay the groundwork for progressive worker protections in the twentieth century.

The First World War put a real damper on the economy after Germany violated the country’s neutrality, and devastating fighting ruined much of the countryside when they were pushed back. After the war, Luxembourg broke ties with Germany and realigned with Belgium. The “Roaring Twenties” is often characterized in the US by massive steelworks and the first skyscrapers; much of this steel came from Luxembourg. With increasing wealth came pressure for labour reform, and Luxembourg led the world in workers’ rights legislation such as a sliding pay scale that was pegged to the cost of living.

The economic crisis of the 30s hit Luxembourg as well, and another German occupation in the 40s meant that little progress was made until the end of the war in 1945.

It turns out that rebuilding a continent ravaged by four years of the most destructive warfare in history is pretty good for a country whose dominant industry is steel. On top of that, a forward-looking government pursued diversifying policies that attracted investors from around the world and aligned industries with other European nations through the European Economic Community (EEC), a predecessor of the EU.

By the time of the oil crisis in 1975, Luxembourg had 23 registered unemployed. No, I didn’t forget a unit there. Less than two dozen Luxembourgers were registered as unemployed in 1974.

The decade of the oil crisis saw a massive reorganization of industry and government as Luxembourg tried to weather to storm. A fundamental change was the creation of the Tripartite Coordinating Committee. The government was heavily involved in industry (holding a majority stake in the monopolist steel company), and from the 1970s onward, it would do so in a tripartite arrangement: requiring the approval of business owners, labour leaders and public officials. This restructuring alongside other very generous social welfare reforms allowed the Luxembourgish steel industry to survive the crisis and remain an important industry even today.

In the final two decades of the twentieth century, Luxembourg hit its first real boom. Ventures into the financial sector and IT alongside a very friendly tax environment (for both businesses and wage-earners) led to an average GDP growth per annum of over 5%, just behind Ireland, who is often hailed as the great European success story.

The next two decades were even better. With only a small faltering after the 2009 financial crisis, Luxembourg’s GDP has increased every year since 1980.

Good timing, a proactive and nimble government, and some valuable expertise have set Luxembourg in the perfect place to ride the waves of the global economy all the way to immense prosperity.

But this doesn’t feel particularly satisfying because lots of countries are in finance and IT. Lots of places can be seen as tax havens. What makes Luxembourg so special?

I’m going to offer my own hunch here. I think it stems from two things:

  1. They were first. This reorganization took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of Europe was still recovering from the war, the Asian Tigers were just starting to figure out how to do modern economies, Latin America and Eastern Europe were mostly trying to figure out how to get rid of totalitarianism, and the US was already too big and diverse to make sweeping reforms.
  2. Labour protections. Wages pegged to cost of living, tripartite decision-making, and strong unions. Luxembourg requires that employers pay fairly, and business-friendly policies attract the kind of capital to make such pay possible. This way, Luxembourg actually pays lower than the EU average in wealth redistribution, yet the minimum wage is about $28,000. That would be about $15/hour.

There is another reason why Luxembourg is the wealthiest country in the world per capita:

Lazy statistics.

Typically, GDP is calculated as the amount of money earned in the country over the course of the year divided by the average population over the year. That would give GDP per person, right?

Kind of.

Here’s a fun fact: about 40% of the people who work in Luxembourg don’t live in Luxembourg. Another third are immigrants and the rest are actually Luxembourgish. I’m guessing that’s why the UN statistics put Luxembourg third behind Liechtenstein and Monaco. Although it skews the data a bit, even correcting for it leaves a GDP per capita of over $100,000 (on the same scale, the US is at about $60k).

I think what you’re seeing when you walk around Luxembourg City is that the only people living there are the ones who can afford to stay. The ones who can’t afford to commute live on the outskirts of town (there are outskirts, and they’re definitely less pretty). The rest live comfortably in places that are a bit less expensive, but they can afford to commute.

So why is Luxembourg so rich? They work with money. It’s the best way to make money.

dammit, I knew I should have gone into finance…


Mullerthal trail


These are the kinds of German forests that must have inspired Grimm’s fairy tales.



Monument to the United States military that liberated Luxembourg twice.



Upon crossing the bridge into the old city, my first reaction (and I think many others’ is too) was “Is this place real?”



The city is immaculately well tended.


Back to writing

Today’s image: Sunset over Oostende harbor. The fastest way to work is via a ferry across the harbor, mostly used by tourists who can park for free on the industrial side and ferry to the city center. The six steel columns in the left of the frame are attached to the ship. It’s called a jack-up vessel. Those legs push down into the sea bed, lifting the ship out of the water, making it a stable platform for heavy lifting. In a few months she will begin assembling the turbines of Belgium’s next offshore wind farm.

Hello readers! It has been quite a while since I’ve had any travel stories for you. Not that I haven’t had any travels, but I’ve been distracted by other media. After my brief endeavors into video and audio, I’ve realized that I prefer the written word far more. It’s not always the best way to take in information, but in terms of putting ideas straight and reinforcing my own memories, there’s nothing like it. It seems to be the purest form of collected thought. There’s no worrying about my voice or the frame or monitoring the recording equipment. Really the only limitation is the speed at which I can type/write, which doesn’t always keep up with my thoughts. But I’d rather have that than the opposite situation, which I find myself in every time I open my mouth.

Video and audio have their advantages, and I’ll use them when appropriate. But for now, it’s back to the written word. And not a moment too soon! Indeed, several moments too late. I’m already embarked on my latest adventure.

A few weeks ago, I made a week-long stop in New York City to see some family and finalize my paperwork for a visa. Early this month, I arrived in Belgium, where I’ll be based for the foreseeable future. A former classmate-now colleague kindly allowed me to stay in his spare bedroom in his apartment in Gent for 10 days, but a couple weeks ago, I moved into my own place in Oostende (more about the city further down). For the first time in a while, I have a space where I truly feel comfortable and at home. Part of that comfort is the fact that this place is very quiet. Oostende is a quiet town this time of year already, and my courtyard-facing balcony of an apartment building on a one-way side street means that it can get deathly silent in here. I really like that.

One thing that has become more and more clear over the past few weeks is that I don’t do well in big crowds. Busy cities, packed streets, crowded rooms. Not for me. I’ve known I was an introvert since I learned the word, but despite my training to be more socially adept, I’ve gotten more in touch with my introverted self. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, mentioned some research into extroversion vs introversion that has helped me understand what makes someone introverted or extraverted. They can actually figure out with pretty high accuracy your level of extraversion if you’re when you’re an infant. Some study examined how babies react to noise. Depending on how much noise it took to get them to react, they were classified into two major groups: “high reactives” and “low reactives”. The former reacted strongly to a little noise, while the latter required a lot of noise to get them to react. Can you guess which ones grew up to be introverts?

Here’s a hint: many of us introverts hate the sound of chewing. Even a distant sound of someone’s barbaric gnashing can set us grinding our own teeth in forced civility. We react highly to small stimuli.

That bit of knowledge has helped significantly in understanding why I find it so difficult to enjoy places like New York City. The noise is overwhelming. The crowds are consuming. The lights are often unbearable. When I don’t have anywhere to be, it can be an interesting ethnographic exercise to observe these strange creatures who thrive in such an environment. But when I have reason to join the crowd, to dodge aggressive taxis, to squeeze into crowded subway cars, or match the impatience of the long-adjusted New Yorker, the input is simply too much. Either I find my frustration and annoyance bubbling over in rage, or I simply shut down all emotions, including those of tolerance, patience, respect, and generosity.

I don’t think that New Yorkers are mean people. Indeed, I was able to spend a week there because of the generosity of my family who took me in, fed me, guided me, and provided a listening ear. But they can often come across as rude and inconsiderate, selfish and intolerant. I think I understand. Even the low-reactive types, who feed on the energy of a bustling sidewalk or cramped cafe, can only take in so much and give back so much. We only have the capacity to show care and deference to so many people. The thousands of strangers one comes into contact with in New York City have little hope of joining that small circle, and so at best, they treat each other with the indifferent cordiality of social convention.

The time in New York was definitely enjoyable. Explorations of the seemingly endless museum collections, lively dinners with family, and jazz clubs brightened by musicians who would be the talk of the town in just about any other part of the world. But I’m glad to have found somewhere a bit quieter to settle.

Oostende isn’t the place you would expect an adventurous twenty-something to enjoy, but it works for me. It’s a tourist town right in the middle of Belgium’s short North Sea coast. The local demographic probably has a median age decades my senior, but that means people turn in early. Like me! The coffee is pretty good, and the dining is endless. The city center is built for people, not cars. The nearest mountain is two countries away, but the sea is only a block away, and that seems to provide the necessary contact with Nature. The train station, bus station, and tram stop are only a 10-minute walk. From there, I can be almost anywhere in Belgium in less than two hours and almost anywhere in Western Europe in a few more. There are more kilometers of bike paths than I will be able to explore. The weather isn’t great for cycling right now, but it will probably be summer before I can put away the money I’ll need for the kind of bike I want anyway.

This place is also brimming with history. The town of Oostende dates back to the Middle Ages when this area wasn’t even connected to the rest of Europe. Until about 600 years ago, it was an island, on which the villages of Westende, Middelkerke, and Oostende (West-end, Middle-church, and East-end, respectively) developed around the fishing trade. Improving hydrological engineering and the money from trade allowed the people of the town to build a series of dikes and canals that protected it from the sea and connected it to the mainland. This is actually the second time I’ve lived in a strategic Medieval trading post. Visby constantly changed hands as it was the central port for trade across the Baltic. Oostende was sacked multiple times for its strategic position on the North Sea, especially when the port of Antwerp was blocked. Between 1601 and 1604, it became the site of the bloodiest battle of the Eighty Years’ War, which culminated in Dutch independence from the Spanish Empire in 1648. The siege of the city by the ruling Spanish Empire took just over three years and ended in over 100,000 dead or wounded and was a major loss for the Dutch and English. The current layout of the city center (where I live) was set by the 18th century, but most of the buildings from that period were destroyed in a magazine explosion in the late nineteenth century and when it changed hands during both of the world wars in the first half of the twentieth century. Most buildings appear to be from the post-war period. And that’s what I’ve learned just from Wikipedia! Lots more exploring and learning to be done!

And I’ll have to brush up on my war history. I know I’ve heard the names of many of these battles, but I didn’t realize that they were in Belgium: Liège, Antwerp, Ypres, Mons. Actually, much of the first World War was fought in this region! Much of World War II centered around the German offensive and the Allied counteroffensive through the Ardennes, the forested region in southern Belgium. So much to explore!

Also, this town just got a lot smaller. I finally found myself a bicycle. It’s not much, but it’s a pair of wheels, and it will get me a lot farther a lot faster than I could go on foot.

I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures, and I’ll try to post them on here. But many of them will show up first on Instagram and Facebook.


Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in a task that someone had to interrupt you to stop? You looked up from your project as if being woken from a dream. It was slightly disorienting as if you had forgotten where you were. You’d forgotten the world outside of that task existed.

I hope you’ve experienced that because it’s an amazing feeling. People often find similar experiences in performing arts, in athletics, or in artistic expression. I’ve found it in things as diverse as the final minutes of a lacrosse game or the home stretch of a race to the deepest states of meditation I have achieved. It’s the point when you’re perfectly balanced on the edge of chaos, at the limit of your ability, when your mind is so focused on one thing that it doesn’t even have the capacity to keep track of its own existence. It’s the feeling of being exactly where you belong.

The question becomes, how do we produce this feeling more often? Why do we enter this state only on those few euphoric moments of our lives? Why can’t this be a daily occurrence? Sure, we probably can’t live there perpetually, but getting there for a few hours a day should be possible. Hell, that would only get us through a fraction of the workday, which practically demands that we have such focus!

I’ve learned some practices that have helped me get there more often, but like with anything worth having, it’s not easy. I used to be much better at it, but I’m cultivating those habits again, and today I started to see the fruits of my labour.

On Chickens

The title should say it all.

Not really.

Here are some valuable links:

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation

A great podcast from the BBC’s The Inquiry about meat consumption and climate change entitled “Can we eat our way out of climate change?

And for those of you who still aren’t sure how I managed to convince a random Norwegian family to pay me in food and housing for three months, here’s a link to the WWOOF website.

Onto the vlogging!



Rainy Saturday

Hi everyone. Just a quick photo update. Been at home all day, but that wasn’t so bad. It was incredibly productive, and I went for a walk this evening. It was magic hour, and in this part of the world, it’s particularly magical. Also a couple random videos.


European Adventure Day 22: Tórshavn

As I said, I’m done. Not done enjoying my travels, but I’m done trying to prove anything. I’ve left the light suffering of outdoor living for the comfort of the city and have moved into a cozy apartment in Tórshavn for a couple days. Tomorrow, I’ll meet with a friend of a friend, but tonight is for being alone and enjoying some sustainably raised Faroese salmon with roast vegetables. I’ve been missing this meal. Thanks for the recipe, Mom!



(I’m not sure how to share this “photosphere”, but if you can actually scroll around in a 360° view, this is the best I’ve been able to capture the view.)




European Adventure Day 21: Faroe Islands – part 2

I forgot something yesterday. I had another item on my to do list for this adventure: hitchhiking. And I had great success. I cought five rides that took me out to the western end of the islands and back. Except for getting back from the almost uninhabited west coast of Vágar, it took less than ten minutes to get picked up. The first driver, Johannes, was on his way to work in Tórshavn. He has worked for Maersk for 23 years both on the sea and as an engineer for their oil drilling division. We may have opposing industries, but we had a great conversation. The second gentleman spoke only enough English to figure out where I wanted to go and even drove 4km past his destination to drop me closer to the trailhead. On the way back, it took my walking abouy 45 minutes back past the small town of Bøer, where I had been dropped off, to flag down a young man, Samuel, who was on his way to Tórshavn for some errands. We had a great talk about rowing on the fjords since I could sympathize with similarly choppy water on the Severn. The next car was a couple on their way back from a day in Tórshavn. Bodur (something like that) is a fisherman who works mainly between Greenland and Iceland, so he works two months away and has two months off at home. His wife, Bekka (sp?), cares for their three kids while he’s away, but he makes up for it when he returns! The last leg back to Klaksvik was with a couple of elderly gentleman who spoke almost no English but were having a lively conversation the entire time. Faroese is a really charming language. It sounds a lot like the Gotlandic dialect of Swedish but completely incomprehensible to me.

The hike in the middle was short but yet another walk into a foreign world. The island off the coast, Mykines, looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park. The view of the hamlet on the far side of the ridge is in no way captured by the photo. It just can’t reflect the scale. I deleted half the pictures I took because they were so disappointing.



The hi

European Adventure Day 20: Faroe Islands – part 1

I shamelessly admit that I’m done. I’ve seen what I came to see. I’ve gone where I wanted to go. Experienced more than I could have expected. This adventure is rapidly coming to a close, and I would be perfectly happy spending the rest of it lounging around in cafes. Indeed, that’s where I am now. I scaled a ridge this morning, but it was a battle just to get myself moving. I’m glad I did it though. This place continues to blow my mind. Even after seeing it with my own eyes, I find it hard to believe that this is a real place. When I reached the top of the ridge along the trail that connects Klaksvik and Árnafjørdur, it literally felt like walking into another world.

But now I’m back at sea level and perfectly content with my cup of tea, comfy chair, and internet connection. I’ve budgeted a nice cushion for emergency hostel stays that was to be used if I couldn’t find a host or if the weather drove me inside. Now that I only have 5 more nights when I need to figure out my lodging situation, I’ll take my reward for disciplined budgeting. We’ll see where I end up.