Policy can’t compensate

Last week I asserted that a baseline of human decency is not optional in the world’s most powerful office. I know that many people consider that a ridiculous demand because they believe that no politicians possess decent moral character. While I can hardly blame anyone for that kind that of cynicism, let me point out that cynicism and naiveté are opposites of the same coin: both are logically and demonstrably false views of human nature.

Instead, let’s try to be realists. We have every right to know whether a leader will govern lawfully and justly and honestly. But we don’t get those sort of guarantees. Primarily that is because the very power we are endowing them with will tend to have a corrupting influence. The other is that our perception of them may differ markedly from reality. So, the best we can do is seek to discern the person’s moral character before we grant them that power through our votes.

But let us not mistake a candidate’s proposed policies for character. We all do this. He is against such-and-such proposal, therefore he doesn’t care about______ (our military/the poor/the deficit). Or, she favors such-and-such bill, so she is ______ (sold out/heartless/pandering). He wants to increase spending on _______, so he truly has a compassion.

So if, as I am arguing, character is indispensable, the error we must avoid here is to mistake policy positions for virtue. Last week I said, in effect, Demand character. This week I am saying, Policy is not character.

This is a more difficult proposition to convince people of in these polarized times. The other side, with their policies, are not just wrong, they are evil. The corollary to that is, My side, with our policies, is not just right, we are the righteous. When you think someone is wrong, that is, incorrect, you argue with them. But when you believe they are evil, or agents of evil, you go to war with them – with words, and sometimes with weapons. In this context policy is seen as virtue – or vice.

This is also difficult to see because we expect an alignment between a person’s values and the policies they favor. And that is often the case. For example, Barack Obama demonstrated the value he placed on health care reform by not only making it his signature achievement by also expending nearly every bit of his political capital on it. Ronald Reagan committed to winning the Cold war, and focused a good deal of his two terms on hammering away at Soviet vulnerabilities.

But strictly speaking, values are not character, either. Esteeming marriage is a value, but devoutly keeping one’s vows requires character. Many married people who held their marriages dear have fallen to a breach of personal resolve. Policies may reflect what one values, or not, but neither policy nor values constitute character.

When the Atlantic article came out earlier this month, and then was confirmed in part by several other news outlets (The Associated Press, The Washington Post, and Fox News), it revealed aspects of the president’s character that no one wants to see in their Commander-in-Chief. He reportedly spoke of military personnel in the most contemptuous manner. Instead of indicating admiration for their sacrifices, he called them losers and suckers. Insiders expressed that the president cannot comprehend self-sacrifice or commitment to a higher cause.

“According to sources with knowledge of the president’s views, he seems to genuinely not understand why Americans treat former prisoners of war with respect. Nor does he understand why pilots who are shot down in combat are honored by the military.”

For this 74-year-old person to not have a working understanding of heroism, self-sacrifice, and the kind of patriotic sensibility that leads young people to wear the uniform for their country is not a cognitive failure, it’s a moral one. It is another serious deficiency of character, and one that should be considered disqualifying for the official who commands our troops.

Predictably, the president denied the story completely. But, having no way to prove that he never said any of the things that were reported, the White House fell back on policy to show that he isn’t a moral black hole:

“The White House did not return earlier calls for comment, but Alyssa Farah, a White House spokesperson, emailed me this statement shortly after this story was posted: “This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.” “

See? The president loves the troops: he spent money on them. (No doubt his wives and children found that convincing.) In other words, his true character is proven not by his candid words, but by his policies.

And like others of the president’s policies, some would have been enacted by any president, and certainly by any Republican president. But these are touted to show he could never think or say anything shocking, unfeeling, petty, mean, or morally depraved. Because, God knows, he has never made any other statements that were shocking, unfeeling, petty, mean, or morally depraved. Oh, wait.

This illustrates my point. Throwing some money at the Pentagon doesn’t prove love or respect for our men and women in uniform any more than his judicial appointments or de-funding of Planned Parenthood makes him pro-life, or any more than Bill Clinton’s pro-choice positions showed he had respect for women.

Because policy isn’t character. And no matter how much you like a given policy, it can’t make up for moral bankruptcy. An expected answer to this would be that for our elected offices we are voting for policy, and that is our primary concern. We don’t need saints. As I said last week, we don’t need a saint as president. But we do need in our candidate both the person who stands for what we want and the character to maintain their integrity and the lawful and moral exercise of their office.

We need both.

So if you are a voter who decides whether a man or woman standing for office will advance the political agenda you favor, by all means look at the policies they endorse and articulate. They are bound to keep some of their promises, or at least try to. But if you are trying to discern their moral fitness by the laws and programs they want to enact or rescind, please bear in mind: this is politics, in which a politician first and foremost seeks to gain and keep their office, and policies are chosen and crafted with many factors in view, including lobbying, popularity, salability, feasibility, cost, and support in Congress and in one’s own party. They may mirror a politician’s values — but his character?


Not always, but sometimes… Such as when it’s your policy – when you know the severity of a growing pandemic – to pretend to the American people there is nothing to be concerned about. That reflects what our president values (the sham appearance that all is well on his watch) and it also reflects his habitual attempts to hide the truth when he’s afraid it will make him look bad. This is the root – in his character – of most of the lies he tells: they are his knee-jerk response to facts he doesn’t like (which is also why he hates the press). So it makes sense to look beyond the policies to the character of the person making them.

Because there is certainly more trouble where they came from.

Power demands character

In the 90s, opponents of Bill Clinton asserted to his many defenders, “Character matters.” They argued that whatever professional or political skills he brought to the job, his obvious moral failings disqualified him from the office of the president.

The people making this argument were mostly Republicans. Clinton’s defenders, who dismissed many credible charges of adultery, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, were Democrats. Claiming a man’s ‘private life’ has no bearing on his public office (even when they were one and the same), they stood by as the women who accused him were attacked and maligned. They were silent, or they joined in.

Two decades later, these two parties have swapped philosophies: a remarkable development, no less astonishing or disappointing than it was in the 1990s. Now the president’s defenders (Republicans, mostly) want to deny or ignore his private life, and his opponents (of every political stripe) want to question his moral fitness.

Is there plenty of hypocrisy to go around? Sure. But that does not mean it is impossible to make the case for one viewpoint over the other: that once Republicans – even if some politicians were insincere – were right lo these many years ago and the Democrats were not. And that means that the people who now defend our current president with the claim that his moral emptiness poses no detraction from his exercise of power are dead wrong. They could not be more wrong.

The US President is the most powerful office in the world. The military might at his disposal, and the economic power of the nation grant much of this power. And the US, because of its stature and democratic institutions also wields moral influence in the world – a waning influence, to be sure. The concentration of powers in a single office – so consequential at home and around the world – demands a degree of moral character of its occupants.

This seems to me self-evident – and proven by well-known and recent negative examples. Last week The Atlantic reported on numerous demeaning remarks the president made about our military personnel. This week we heard recorded comments from him which make it clear he deliberately lied to us about the threat posed by Covid-19.

The checks and balances afforded by the Constitution are there precisely because the Framers recognized the dangers inherent in the concentration and arrogation of power. But even these safeguards will not prevent or redress the dangers posed by a president who doesn’t respect them, or know what or why they are.

No law can save us from a president who is morally bankrupt. No Article or Amendment can head off the destructive influence of a president who lies habitually; denies or ignores the Constitutional limitations on his power; derides and undermines crucial institutions like a free and independent press or free elections; or flouts the rule of law by, for example, ordering subordinates to defy congressional subpoenas.

The only thing that guards against such contempt for our political, institutional, and constitutional norms is a moral baseline in the one who holds the office. He or she must care enough about our republic and its democratic structures to respect them even when wielded by their political opponents. This respect is a character trait. It must abide within the person. And it is up to us to elect a president with character in mind.

And let me be clear: our presidents have all been flawed – none were perfect, few were paragons of virtue. It does not require magnificent moral character but rather a baseline of decency. That’s all. But when a man, like our current president, telegraphs his contempt, his disrespect, his self-absorbed fixations, he should be taken at face value. When he tells obvious lies habitually, when he ridicules, calls names, and bullies; when he whines and complains with regularity; when he ignores the cries for justice, he is daily revealing his moral character. And he could be given credit for transparency if he was not also turning around and denying the things he has said and done in public – and on the record.

The fact that he is always applauded by himself and his following does not alter the character he is revealing. And yes, these flaws do have a direct relation the the exercise of his office.

Consider for an example what I see as perhaps the most consequential instance of character revelation: his betrayal of the Kurds. On the president’s orders, US forces were withdrawn a year ago from their bases in Syria near the Turkish border. This left the Kurds, who had suffered 11,000 dead in the successful fight against ISIS (versus 6 Americans), exposed to the onslaught of the Turks, who wished to crush the forces that had long fought for a Kurdish homeland. Soon after the US pulled out, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, the massacre of the Kurds began. They had been our allies for decades, but they were stabbed in the back to please the Turks and help the Russians, who moved in and took hold of the abandoned bases, and were left with (given) a trove of US intelligence.

There is no law or constitutional article or regulation that can prevent this kind immoral policy decision. Only a modest degree of decency in the man could do that – and it isn’t there.

A supporter may object that such harsh moral judgments are being made against their man. But the real question is not whether he is truly subject to my assessment or anybody else’s. I freely admit I cannot see into the man’s heart. The real question for me is not, ‘Is he good or bad?’ The question is, ‘What has he revealed through his words and actions about his moral fitness for the most powerful office in the world?’ In that sense I am not judging him as a human being, but rather his words and actions – documented and indisputable – as character witnesses. The witnesses all testify, as they have for more than 30 years, that he has never had – and still does not – the kind of character that so much power demands.

This is one character deficiency – only one: a man who by all accounts demands unyielding loyalty has acted in a most disloyal manner toward his wives, his employees and subordinates, his contractors, his party, military personnel, the Constitution, and yes, our allies. The Kurds were allies and he betrayed them to genocidal enemies in your name and mine.

His past record of disloyalty makes his betrayal of the Kurds no surprise. Disloyalty is part of his character, and character matters. Wedded to power, it’s a matter of life and death.

A man who betrays his friends and allies does not deserve the kind of loyalty he enjoys from his following, and if you support him, he does not deserve yours, either. The best and final safeguard left to us against a morally destitute president is the ballot.

Teach Your Children Well

Right up front, let me say this is not to meant to lecture or preach at parents. It is not meant to put  another burden on the shoulders of parents who who are now bearing so much under the weight of  the COVID-19 pandemic. You don’t need to be told you’re doing it wrong, or you’re not doing enough. What I want to do, as one parent to other parents, is remind you of what is truly important right now, and will prove its importance 20 years from now. It is not an added responsibility; it is the one you already have.

If you now have school-age children at home who would normally be in school outside the home, you may be helping with or providing some educational continuity until schools re-open. Regardless of how much or how little you are doing, I ask you to remember that the most important lessons kids are learning now – all kids – are not academic.

I ask you to try to see these weird and and frightening days through their eyes, and let that influence what you teach them by your words, actions, and attitudes.

Consider what you would like them to take away, and what you think would be valuable for them to learn, because it could shape their character for years to come.

We know kids can be tough and resilient. But they are also tender and vulnerable. For a child to be living through this historical event, there is the potential to form values and outlook that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. How they process that, and interpret what is going on around them, will depend greatly on you.

Are you communicating to them that being at home with them is a burden and a hardship? Or are you showing that you want to be with them?

Are they seeing you stressed, anxious, angry, fearful, or selfish? Without denying your own visceral response to these difficulties, you have an opportunity to show courage: that is, not fearlessness, but facing the situation despite your fears — facing it well, showing them how it’s done.

Don’t feed your children on your fears. This is truly one of the worst things we do to children, and we often don’t even realize we’re doing it, or don’t realize how destructive it is. It often is simply an indulgence. We think of our giving vent to fear as another way of expressing our feelings openly, or staking out or values. But your children are not your peers, and they can’t process your fear the way I or another adult would. They internalize them and become anxious and  fearful themselves. Knock it off. You don’t have to hide your fears, but you need to show your children how we face fearful things with courage and spirit.

Remember, this does not have to be a terrifying or anxious time for them. In fact, for some kids, this will be the six-month summer vacation. They have a right to be free from care. Let me repeat that: Your children have a right to be free from care. They don’t have to see this like we adults do. Every moment clutching grass with their toes, blowing dandelions, chasing butterflies, throwing a ball, playing cards with mom and dad, or skyping with friends is their right as children. Turn that damn news off and keep childhood in play. Do it. Just do it.

In between my 2nd and 3rd grades, Portland’s schools extended the summer vacation because of a budget crisis by releasing us one month early. It was an epic summer. Those extra weeks felt like forever to us. A glorious 4-month break that I remember as one of the best summers ever. But you know what? It was the summer of 1972. The war in Vietnam was just winding down, as ground troops were being withdrawn. Still, spring saw the North’s Easter Offensive and over 600 US troops were killed that year. Left-wing terrorism erupted around the world, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland escalated.  After years of protests, riots, and social upheaval, the world was not happy or hopeful. But I was about to turn eight. Our Summer Without End was not touched by the chaos and violence that was going on. One reason for that is that my parents did not let us see the news. Only when I later realized the insanity of those days did I come to appreciate the extent to which we were allowed to carry on with our childhood. Of course, it didn’t last. But when I looked back, it made the days of innocence seem even sweeter.

It is sweet. But like so many fragile things, it must be guarded.

Another thing today’s children will learn: our responsibility to our neighbors. Will they watch mom and dad compete for goods and hoard and put their household first? Some parents may think their children are seeing them place a high value on “providing for the family,” or “Taking care of our own.” But instead they are often seeing fear and selfishness. You can show them something better. Talk about how your family can share with others. Talk about how your family can contribute. Talk about how their comfort and safety doesn’t hinge on having extra toilet paper.

They will also learn from how you process the endless stream of true and false information, if you show discernment and a healthy skepticism, and act on facts rather than fear or panic.

We can go a step further — all of us, not just parents — to show that where there is neighborly love, fear, if not eradicated, is at least silenced, and not given decision-making power over us. Thinking of others — particularly the frail and vulnerable — and their needs goes a long ways to opening up a narrow concern limited to our own safety and comfort. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Well, this may have ended up preachier than I hoped, but I feel certain that when they are grown, today’s children will remember what we’re teaching them in these days of disruption and anxiety, because they are watching us, and listening.

Let’s give them our best.


60 Days in Europe: Travel Lessons

You can get all the travel advice you need from books and websites. That’s what we did. But I thought I would pass along some of the things we learned as first-timers. We had never planned or experienced a trip like the one we took to Europe in 2014. We knew we were bound to make mistakes and that some things wouldn’t turn out as we planned. And as it turned out, we learned a few lessons that will help us the next time we plan an international trip, long or short.

So here are some of the things worth passing along to others that might be in that situation of planning a trip to Europe without a lot of prior (or any) experience. Much of it will only apply if you want to travel in a mode similar to ours: Long, light, and cheap.

If you really want to travel, you can do it. It has become increasingly cheaper and safer, and is not as much the luxury as many still consider it. If you can save, you can afford to travel, especially if you are willing to travel like we did: light, in hostels, and keeping shopping and expensive meals to a minimum.  Buy a used car instead of a new one. Pocket your eating-out money for a year or two. One way of looking at it is to learn how cheap a round trip ticket can be, and that after that, every $100 you can save will pay for the lodging, food and admissions for an average day. Of course, if you can’t afford to save, you are going without many things other than travel.

Our planning fell into two major divisions: itinerary and arrangements, by which I mean tickets, passes, reservations and rentals – at least the ones that you can and should arrange ahead of time.  In our case, we split the two between us. I created the itinerary and Laura made the arrangements. They were both large tasks, and we began a full year before our trip. Sometimes it is wise or necessary to confirm reservations on the phone, especially with independent hostels.

We both made considerable use of Rick Steves’ guides. In one or two instances his information was not spot-on (for example, the difficulty and duration of the Schlern hike), but he is mostly very reliable and makes good recommendations. In a few instances, there are places worth visiting  that are not found among his recommendations. In England, the whole last leg of our trip was in the southeast – Dover, Canterbury, and Battle – which he does not include in any of his itineraries. I added it, as I did with many stops, because of my own history-geek (or art/architecture/scenery) interests.

How did we travel on the cheap?

First, by planning ahead. Making it up as you go is expensive, and you miss things you’d wish you hadn’t. Finding the deals takes research, and research takes time. If you want to save money, you have to invest time well ahead of your trip.

Second, we traveled light. Everything we brought fit in our backpacks. They could easily be stowed for the day at out hostel or in a locker somewhere. It meant we could grab a train, bus, Metro, cab, or even walk to a destination, as needed. Things we collected along the way we shipped home when we were in Spain.

Third, we mostly ate cheaply, and only shelled out for a few more expensive meals. If you are a big foodie, you must budget a considerable amount of money and time for eating. We shopped in stores or open-air markets for food we could fix at our hostels, or take on the road with us. We ate at a lot of kebab joints, the fast food of Europe.

Fourth, we stayed in hostels. If you have some tolerance for lack of privacy, discomfort and unpredictability, hostels will save you money. You meet people from all over the world, and by world I mean the US and Russia. Yes, if you come late you may end up on the top of a three-tier bunk bed. Yes, the food is not always the best (but sometimes it’s great). Yes, there are co-ed dorms, bathrooms and even shower rooms in some of these places, but we never had any problems. They are safe and usually clean. Some of the hostels turned out to actually be hotels. (They were registered as hostels for tax purposes, we think.) Some of them were in old castles, monasteries, mansions, or villas. Sometimes we had our own room. And $30-$60 a night can’t be beat. We also used Airbnb in Paris and in Edinburgh.

In Italy we traveled mostly by train and a few times by bus. I would not have wanted to drive in Italy: banditi, crazy city drivers and riders, the fact that we were in and out of cities the whole time, and that we covered many hundreds of miles over three weeks there.

In Spain, from Barcelona we drove a rental car until we flew out of Madrid about ten days later. For us, this was absolutely the the thing to do. It was not terribly expensive. They drive on the correct side of the road. And it gave us the freedom to stay or leave when we wanted, and to pull over to take a picture, eat, or explore unexpected discoveries. As we drove toward Seville, we spotted a castle that rose out of vast sunflower fields, and were able to pull over and check it out. Can’t do that on a bus or a train. Another thing you can’t do on a bus or a train is take pictures. That’s why I don’t have many good pictures of Tuscan landscapes.

In the south of France and in Paris, it was back to trains and buses, because our stays were A) in the city, and/or B) very short.

In England, again, after London we drove the rest of the way through England, Scotland and then England again. Yes, they do drive on the wrong side of the road. Yes, it was terrifying at first, for the first few hours. But we were in the country, with light traffic, and we got the hang of it. I would not have done it any other way. Being able to explore and stop when we pleased was absolutely the only way for us.

One of the biggest mistakes we made was to not get a GPS with our car in Spain. We spent probably 6-8 hours lost, driving through Barcelona, Alicante, Seville, and Toledo because hostels and hotels refused to give us directions, and would only give us their GPS codes. On many streets you cannot see the street names, and they change as you go. Get the GPS!

We did not make that mistake in England, and the voice of Hugh Grant guided us faithfully to our destinations, most of the time. Get the GPS.

Another mistake was shorting ourselves of time in a few places that that were worthy of more. Mainly I’m thinking of Florence and Paris and the Prado. Don’t do it.

People often ask us what our favorite place or places were. Just about everywhere we went was worth the trouble and expense of visiting. But I can put my finger on some cities I would recommend to anyone going to these countries. In Italy, Florence. In Spain, Granada (here and here). In France, Paris – of course (here and here). In the UK, our favorite city was probably Edinburgh (here and here).

We also loved the countryside we traveled to, and the places that we had to go out of our way to visit.The Dolomites and Ravenna in Italy; Central Spain, including Cordoba and Toledo; Carcassonne in France; The Cotwolds and the Lake District in England (here and here and here); and Oban and the Inner Hebrides in Scotland –  all the rural driving there was gorgeous.

I leave the best travel surprise for last. I marveled at how seldom places were very crowded or overrun with tourists: the obvious ones, like the Roman Forum, the Vatican, the Alhambra. We couldn’t believe how many places we had virtually to ourselves, or shared with just a few other quiet and respectful visitors. It was a constant source of wonder at the height of the tourist season.

Happy travels!


60 Days in Europe: Day 60 / July 28

July 28, 2014 – Canterbury – Dover – Battle  – West Drayton (London).

From my journal:
Our last day!

Morning in Canterbury. Packed up after breakfast at the hostel.

Emma and I walked to the Cathedral, and along the way I talked about three things that make Canterbury a big deal. One, it’s where Augustine came in 597 to evangelize the English. Two, the archdiocese became the head of the English church. Three, I told Emma the story of Henry II and Thomas á Becket, how his martyrdom in the Cathedral, subsequent burial there, and sainthood made it the most important tomb and pilgrimage destination in England.

She seemed interested, okay?

The Cathedral is fantastic. Besides Thomas’ tomb, and the site of his martyrdom, I was also glad to find the tombs of Anselm and Lanfranc. One of the staff was kind enough to first to verify that Anselm is buried in his chapel along with Lanfranc, but to also give me a photocopy of a couple of pages from Anselm’s biography, covering his burial.

Why did I care about that? I don’t remember.

After the Cathedral it was 11:00 and we decided to walk the center until meeting L & E rather than try to rush over to the Abbey. I got a postcard and some stamps. We met up with them in a store. They shopped while I sat, wrote a card, stamped it and one I already had, and dropped them in a mailbox.

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I got a mocha at SB and we all walked to the car.

We drove to the white cliffs of Dover. Climbed a hill for a view of Dover Castle, then hiked over to some views of the cliffs.

Dover Pano 3 (Custom)

Dover Castle

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The White Cliffs of Dover.

Then we drove to Battle.

– Site of the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, and the Abbey William built to commemorate his victory.

Elyse, Emma, and I walked the long trail around the battlefield to and through the Abbey, to the first  location of the High Altar – which marks the place where Harold Godwinson fell.

Last, I walked through the gatehouse museum.

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Hastings Battlefield: Senlac Hill.

Then we left and drove to our hotel in West Drayton near Heathrow. After checking into rooms, we walked up the street and ate at a pub.

Saw one of the most splendid residential gardens along the way. I snapped some photos of it the next morning, but I don’t think they will have captured the magic.


Days 61 & 62 / July 29-30, 2014 – West Drayton – Heathrow – Home.

From my journal:
In the morning Laura drove the car to the agency  to return it. We caught a free shuttle to the airport and met Laura  there 20 minutes later.  Bought food for the flight.

We left Heathrow about 20 minutes late. In Philadelphia, the better part of our 2-hour layover was spent in Immigration and Customs lines, but we had just enough time to eat (10 pm London time) before boarding – 5:30 eastern time.

The plane left over an hour late because a new federal regulation requiring the balancing of cargo necessitated returning to the gate after we were already out on the runway. Even so, the pilot seems to have made up most of the time.

The most scenic descent I’ve ever seen: just after sundown, orange and blue layers of hills, Mts Adams, Jefferson, St Helens, and the forested hills and the Columbia beneath the wings. Beautiful!

My home town, Portland. TD 9:17, deboarded at 9:30.

Our awesome trip is over; we’ll be home soon. Thank you , Lord!

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60 Days in Europe: Day 59 / July 27

July 27, 2014 – Durham – Canterbury.

From my journal:
After we ate breakfast, I went over to the Cathedral. Since it was Sunday, only the rear of the building was accessible and I couldn’t see the rest. Even so, wow. What an awesome church. Romanesque, with Norman vaulting and Gothic additions.

We packed up, and walked to the car with our packs. Laura suggested we check a different route, a street opposite Dun Cow (which leads to the cathedral entrance.) It lead to a cool looking bridge, but it didn’t appear it would come out anywhere close to Claypath where the car was parked. Walking back to our known route, I spotted a credit card lying in the street and picked it up. It was Chinese, and had the name ‘Ms Chen Jia Ning,’ but no phone number. We asked a couple (who seemed they might be Chinese) and they said No. Then we saw two Chinese young women and asked if it was one of them (no), and then if they could find a phone number on it (no). We said we would dispose of it, and one them said no, it could be used by someone. Then the other said, “Wait! This is my classmate! I know her.”

A few minutes later we walked past the two in a group with other Chinese students standing and talking. We turned and waved and a third young woman came came running up to us thanking us for finding and returning her card. 🙂

We drove from about 10:00 to 4:15, when we got to the the train station in Canterbury to fetch the girls, who had come from Bath.

Elyse and I hung out at the hostel while Emma and Laura went out for some dinner. They couldn’t find a store open, so they brought back Chinese take-out. After dinner I stayed while the three of them went for some sweets.

Elyse watched a movie with other guests in the common room. Laura and I planned our itinerary for the next day.

60 Days in Europe: Day 58 / July 26

July 26, 2014 – Durham – Hadrian’s Wall – Hexham.

From my journal:
Good breakfast at hostel.

Drove to Andrew Kinghorn’s house in Great Lumley, a suburb of Durham. Met Andrew’s mum, Virginia. We drove to Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall. Watched “A Soldier’s Story,” a living history monologue.

You can’t turn around in England without bumping into a Shakespearean actor.

Walked the wall, toward the west, I believe.

Had a really great time talking with Andrew. Theology, nature, animals, archeology. He is a serious birder and nature lover. A sweet, interesting guy and a great conversationalist.

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The Rabbit Whisperer.

We drove on to Hexham to eat, at about 3:00. Virginia called to invite us to ‘tea,’ which in this case meant dinner, or evening meal. We ate around 8:00 and had a lovely visit. We left about 10:00.

Virginia put out a wonderful, enormous spread. It was only our second time in someone’s home on our trip (the other was in Spain).

60 Days in Europe: Day 57 / July 25

July 25, 2014 – Edinburgh – Lindisfarne – Alnwick Castle – Durham.

From my journal:
Drove Elyse & Emma to the train station and left Edinburgh from there.

Drove to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It was a fairly brief visit. First we went to the Abbey; went through the museum, then the the ruins.

At Lindisfarne, you can only drive to the Island at low tide; at high tide the sea covers the causeway. Given the time limit with safe crossing, we decided not to rush to the castle.

Drove to Alnwick, which is certainly one of the best if not the best castle we’ve seen. The staterooms were splendid, with better art and furnishings than we’ve seen elsewhere. The Italian chests were fantastic. I even liked their china collection, which not really my thing. There were performers. A couple of small museums. Really great.

Also, I finally scored a postcard for Scarlett, as the interior and exterior of Alnwick was used for Hogwarts in the movies.

We drove on to Durham, where it turned out we had our own room at the hostel. We walked around the town center and ate at an Indian restaurant again.

60 Days in Europe: Day 56 / July 24

July 24, 2014 – Edinburgh.

From my journal:
Laura, Emma and I took a bus out to Craigmillar Castle, while Elyse stayed in the apartment and took it easy.

We returned and made an evening plan. We walked to the Meadows Park, and returned to get ready for the evening.

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Edinburgh: The Meadows Park

Walked to George IV Bridge (an elevated street) and visited the Elephant Cafe: “The Birthplace of Harry Potter,” where Rowling wrote the first of the series, and I hoped to find the elusive HP postcard for Scarlett Hayes. No postcard, but did decide to eat there.

Walked over to the Royal Oak.

This place is smaller than your living room.

Squeezed in to hear the last few songs of the act that was playing until 9. It was too small and crowded. We got a Gig Guide and looked for another music spot. We walked to Grassmarket as night and fog were falling over the city.

We stayed and listened to a singer/guitarist at the famous White Hart Inn (Est. 1516). A great time. Left about 10:30 and walked back to the apartment about 11:00.

60 Days in Europe Day 55 / July 23

July 23, 2104 – Edinburgh.

From my journal:
Slow morning at the apartment. Laura was gone quite a while moving the car to free street parking and walking home.

We took the bus up to the Castle. Long line, but we had fun visiting. Took the half-hour tour that started at 12:25. Then we walked in the buildings that interested us: St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest extant building in the city), the residence with the crown jewels and the royal apartments, the Great Hall, the War Memorial, the War Prison.

Walked the Royal Mile. Along the way I made a quick tour of the Writer’s Museum (Robert Lewis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott, with the girls coming in to the see the RLS exhibit, and Laura and Emma saw The People’s Story Museum. Ended (for the WC) at the Queen’s Gallery (at Holyrood Palace, a royal residence). Walked over to the cemetery (The Old Calton Burial Ground) before catching the bus home.

Laura fixed spaghetti and salad for dinner. At 9:00 we all watched the The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at the Cameo Cinema – a one-hundred-year-old movie house.

60 Days in Europe: Day 54 / July 22

July 22, 2014 – Oban – Glencoe – Bannockburn – Edinburgh.

From my journal:
Got gas and ice for our food and set to drive coast to coast. We went via Glencoe Valley. It was glorious. Sun with clouds. Of course, it took longer than we guessed, which in turn was longer than Google guessed.

I wanted to visit and possibly tour Stirling Castle, and visit Bannockburn battlefield. The girls were arriving (in Edinburgh) around 3:30, and we realized we couldn’t do both. We told them we’d be late, and made a short stop at Bannockburn, where I spent about 15 minutes. Walked the field, viewed the monuments and statue.

We got to Edinburgh about 4:15, but had trouble locating the girls. Finally did, and got to the apartment (Air BnB) about 5:30.

Laura dropped me and Elyse off at the Festival Theater for the 7:30 VAN MORRISON concert. It was terrific. Not as many songs from the first 5 or 6 albums as I would have liked  – or expected – but he was at the top of his game, and the band was second to none. Shana, who warmed up the crowd with two solos and stood as back-up vocalist, is an amazing singer and blew the house away. Loved hearing Ballerina, No Teacher, Into the Mystic, Philosopher’s Stone. Great, great set.

So grateful for all the blessings we are receiving!


60 Days in Europe: Day 53 / July 21

July 21, 2014 – Oban – Inner Hebrides Islands: Mull – Iona.

From my journal:
Laura’s birthday!
At about 6:00, according to my watch, we noticed all our other devices were saying it was 7:00.

7:00. The time of our ferry’s departure to Mull. We drove down, parked, and RAN to the dock. It was away.

We ended up paying for a tour to Iona, as it was the only way we could get there.

We went and had some breakfast.

9:50 Ferry to Craignure on Mull.

In the Sound there were dozens of huge jellyfish. The smaller were about a foot wide, the larger about the size of a manhole cover.

Bus to Fionnphort (about 90 minutes), where we took a ten-minute ferry ride to to Iona, arriving about 12:45. Laura told one of the ferry crewmen it was her 50th birthday, and asked f she could “drive the boat.” He asked when she was returning, and when he walked away, we thought he was ignoring the request.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and about 70°.

We wanted to avoid the crowds, so we walked all the way to the white sands of the North Beach . Laura got her feet wet. We gathered some rocks. I read some Celtic prayers, including this form St Columba, who came here in 563:

Lord, you are my island; in your bosom I rest
You are the calm of the sea; in that place I stay.
You are the deep waves of the shining ocean.
With their eternal sound I sing.
You are the song of the birds; in that tune is my joy.
You are the smooth white strand of the shore; in You is no gloom.
You are the breaking waves on the rock; Your praise is echoed in the swell.
You are the Lord of my life.

We agreed that could have been written on the very place we were sitting.

We walked back south, visiting the abbey, St Oran’s, along the way.


When we got on the ferry, the crewman took us directly to the bridge and handed Laura the helm! She piloted most of the way across to Fionnphort, and we had a blast with the men on the bridge.

“Once it goes, it’ll go.”

Slept a little on the bus. Waited for the Oban ferry at Craignure – it was an hour late. We walked to the grocery store there and got food for dinner and the next day.

Back at the hostel we fixed and ate dinner.

Disappointment at the Skipinnish Ceilidh House when the show was cancelled. (Counting us, about six people showed up.) It was going to be Laura’s birthday outing.

We walked around Oban looking  for a place with desserts or music or both, but couldn’t find anything. Went back to the hostel and ate the desserts we got at the store. Before sleeping we talked with our roomies, one from Boston and the other from Abilene, TX.

Oban Pano (Custom)



60 days in Europe: Day 52 / July 20

July 20, 2014 – Borrowdale – Invarary – Oban.

From my journal:
Left hostel at 10:00 and began our long drive to Oban. Early on Laura got behind the wheel and drove a few hours.

We stopped for some beautiful views-

One of them is a place called Rest and Be Thankful. That’s really the name of it.


– including a stop at Loch Lomond to eat – but we never found a good place to go down to the shore.

Laura requested that we stop and tour Invarary Castle, which belongs to the Duke of Argyll (Campbells). An excellent place to visit.

And, for Downton Abbey fans, it was used for the Season Three finale, as the 18th century Highlands castle belonging to Lord Grantham’s cousin, Shrimpie.

Drove on to Oban. Went to the ferry dock so we’d know where it was and how far it was from the hostel. Checked into the hostel and walked back the dock to see how long it would take to walk it. But we learned of parking near the dock and decided to we’d drive and park there in the morning.

We had some very good fish without chips (so tired of fried potatoes) and onion rings. Seagull got one of Laura’s as we sat harborside and ate. Most of the shops are closed.

We also took a walk through the heights on the north side of Oban, where we got these high views of the harbor near day’s end.

Back at the hostel we showered and got ready for early departure to catch the 7:00 ferry to Mull.

60 Days in Europe: Day 51 / July 19

July 19, 2014 – The Lake District: Borrowdale – Grasmere – Hawkshead – Ambleside – Keswick.

From my journal:
Rainy day. We decided to make it a “Literary Tour” day.

First, down to Grasmere in the South Lakes to visit Dove Cottage, the home of Wordsworth and family during his happiest and most productive period. There I found my “keepsake volume,” a book preferably small and hardback, to remember our grand tour by. I picked a little anthology of Wordsworth poems. Very fitting, to my thinking, as he was of the Lakes and loved them, and he writes of the places here. And now I love the Lakes as well.

Second we drove down to Hawkshead, to Hilltop, the holiday home of Beatrix Potter. It was fun to see the rooms, furniture, views and other features found there, alongside the illustrations in which they appear.

Little Peter Rabbit and his friends were playing in the yard.

Drove back north, stopping in Ambleside to eat lunch. In Keswick we bought food for dinner and for our drive to Scotland tomorrow.

At the hostel we made cheeseburgers and a really delicious salad. After dinner, trip planning.

60 days in Europe: Day 50 / July 18

July 18, 2014 – The Lake District: Borrowdale – Buttermere Lake – Crummock Water – Newlands Valley – Keskwick – Derwent Water.

From my journal:
Breakfast at the hostel. Beautiful weather, starting cloudy and getting sunnier later on.

Drove to Gategarth Farm car park. (Stopped off at Honister Pass Slate Mine.) Hiked all around Buttermere Lake. Stopped at the village and had coffee and scones (it was our lunch), then hiked the rest of the way around the lake to the Farm.

Drove up to see Crummock Water, then back to Keswick through Newlands Valley – so beautiful!

Newlands Pano 1 (Custom)Newlands Pano 2 (Custom)Newlands Pano 3 (Custom)

On our way back down to Borrowdale we parked at the bottom of the hill beneath Ashness Bridge. Walked up to the bridge, and from there, up the hill. We either went up to Walla Crag, or about halfway up (depending on whether the Crag is the summit). Beautiful views up and down the vale and of the Lake (Derwent Water).


Back down to the car and the hostel. On the way, we stopped again at Ashness Bridge and I found love rocks in the stream for Susan and Tom ❤ . (Tom is from the Lake District.)

Had our dinner from the staff, with a stroll up the road between the Main and the Pudding. Both of us very tired. Read until almost ten then up to our rooms.

60 Days in Europe: Day 49 / July 17

July 17, 2014 – York – Keswick – Borrowdale (North Lakes District).

From my journal:
In the morning we walked back to the Minster and toured the whole building (except the tower), including the Crypt and the Undercroft Museum. Splendid Gothic.

I continue to be moved by the war memorials, of which the Minster had several. Also, a remembrance of Wm. Wilberforce. Magnificent windows. The Great Window is out for restoration, but they had some restored panels to view.

The astronomical clock and the Chapter House (completed 1280s) where Parliament met under Edward I (1297) were also highlights.

We walked back, hitting Starbucks (1st time overseas) and several 2nd-hand bookstores along the way.


Next: The Lake District…

We fetched the car and drove about 2 and a half hours to Keswick. Parked and walked the small end of Fitz Park, across the river and through town, buying food to fix for dinner along the way.

Drove to the hostel in Borrowdale. This country is absolutely fantastic! I can’t say enough about its beauty and charm.

At the hostel we fixed ourselves tortellini and sauce with mushrooms and bell peppers thrown in.

This is where our hostel was situated:


60 Days in Europe: Day 48 / July 16

July 16, 2014 – Hartington – York.

Had cappuccino and tea at the hostel, then checked out.

Walked down into the town and ate in cafe that housed the post office. Laura had me fetch the car while our food was being cooked, as our cards and stamps were in the car. Mailed birthday cards to Mick and Hannah, and a Hartington postcard to Ian.

Drove on to York. Got to hostel about 1:30. Parked the car, checked in, walked into town.

Went first to the Yorkshire Museum.

When we got to the Minster (York’s cathedral), it was about to re-open, but without the undercroft, which would be open tomorrow at 10am. We decided to come back.

Walked around in the rain. Assembly Rooms (now a restaurant). The Shambles. The Guildhall (from the outside). Ate at an Indian restaurant next to the hostel.


Walked in the next block where we spotted a Baptist church.

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Across the street there was a church (in what looked like a theater or music hall) called the Rock., with a notice for a Wed. night meeting at 7:30 – in 20 minutes. We washed up and changed at the hostel and returned.

Here I left two pages blank in my journal, because I wanted to write more about the church meeting, but I never did. They did a variety of things from week to week. One of them was to watch a movie, and then discuss it the following week. They used this as a springboard for a freewheeling discussion of spiritual subjects. The previous week they had watched “Leap of Faith,” with Steve martin. The talk ranged from faith to hypocrisy, charlatans, and different views of the miraculous. I was impressed that they made a safe place for the mostly young people to talk about their questions, doubts, and experiences. It was very lively, and fostered transparency, acceptance and honesty. Also, they made us feel very welcome.

60 Days in Europe: Day 47 / July 15

July 15, 2014 – Stow – Chipping Campden – Broad Campden – Stratford-upon-Avon.

From my journal:
Elyse & Emma (Our daughter and her friend) are departing the US today!

We ate at the hostel and checked out. We drove to Chipping Campden. After a false start we got a map and started walking to Broad Campden. Got lost, of course! A young man walking his dog set us in the right direction. Walked back to Chipping and left about 3:00.


We arrived in Stratford too late, it turned out, to do all we planned. It was 4:00 and sites started closing at 5:00. Had to scratch Anne Hathaway’s house and Mary Arden’s farm. Got to see in order:

New Place and Nash House, Shakespeare’s birthplace, Trinity Church with his grave. They had an excellent presentation, explaining the significance of each of the milestones marked at the church: his baptism, wedding, funeral and burial, as well as his religious education, church attendance and knowledge of the Bible.

By the time we got back on the streets, the town was shutting down, much to our surprise and disappointment. We got kebab to go and ate by the Jester.

Then drove on to Hartington Hall, which was a country mansion turned into a hostel. The first part was built in 1350. Amazing.

The Peak District in Derbyshire.

We were also told it was the first hostel in England, and since I understand the modern hosteling movement began here, that would also make it the first hostel anywhere.

60 Days in Europe: Day 46 / July 14


July 14, 2014 – Stow – Moreton-in-Marsh – Blenheim Palace – Oxford.

From my journal:
We shopped in Stow. We found sweaters (in case they’re needed in Scotland), and a volume of Dickens for a friend. With winter clothes half-price, we spent only £6.50! ($11.)

Drove to Moreton-in-Marsh, and after a momentary look around, drove a mile and a half out to the Falconry Center. Picked up some gifts in the shop, but did not go in, as the tariff was £10 ($17) each.

Drove on to Blenheim, which was something to see, but not £22.50 ($38.25) each worth of something. (The total for the outing was about $90.) The Churchill exhibit was good, and I was glad to see it as I had missed the one at the War Rooms in London. Especially liked seeing his paintings.


Drove to a car park outside Oxford, thanks to one of the best tips anyone has given us – form a lady in one of the Stow shops – that there is no parking in Oxford. Took shuttle in to the Centre and walked the Inklings tour. Ended around 6:15 at the Eagle & Child, by happy accident in time for dinner. We ate (but didn’t drink) where the Inklings did. Shared an enormous order of fish & chips, which is the third (?) and the best I’ve had here. Think I’ll make it my last.

I didn’t.

Walked to the bus stop, took the shuttle back to the car and drove back to Stow. I sat the living room at the hostel and read Wiki on CS Lewis while other quests chatted about news items on the telly.


60 Days in Europe: Day 45 / July 13

July 13, 2014 – Stow – Sudeley Castle – Bradgate Park.

From my journal:
We spent the morning in the hostel, while our laundry was going. I spent a good while uploading Schlern photos to Dropbox and then emailing the link to Karin, a Swedish freelance writer we met up there a month ago.

We drove up to Sudeley Castle, where there was a food festival outside the grounds. Walked around, ate lunch. Meat pie, check. Sausage roll, check.

Drove up to Bradgate Park to see the play.

An outdoor performance of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

It was performed in front of the ruins of Bradgate House, the birthplace and childhood home of Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for nine days in 1553.

It was a very good performance. Unfortunately, Laura’s ears are so blocked she’s practically deaf.

Ate a picnic dinner on the green. Most of the way home (Stow) before dark.