Monday, October 14, 2013

Test case

We've had a complete stranger staying as a house guest for the past several days. Mostly, this is what we saw of him:

Jonathan's backpack.
Jonathan is one of my brother-in-law's former basketball players. He graduated from high school a couple of years ago and is taking time off from college to work and travel. Jonathan and a high school buddy (another basketball player) are spending several months backpacking in Europe, traveling mostly on a rail pass and staying almost always in hostels. When the buddy realized the rail pass wouldn't work in the U.K., he decided to travel in central Europe while Jonathan traveled to England and Scotland via a 14-day rail pass.

Jonathan arrived on Wednesday evening and departed this morning, a Monday. We saw him only for a few hours each day except yesterday, which he spent mostly with us as a day of rest. His visit here was the first time in months he had a bedroom to himself, and a bathroom to himself, and no folks coming and going at all hours. We were able to provide him a few homecooked meals, get his laundry done, watch some American football and other television shows, and generally provide a tiny respite from feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

Eating dinner and drinking Scottish beer at the Firebird in Glasgow.
Jonathan and I travel differently. Not just that he goes mostly by rail and I go mostly by plane or car, though that's a bit of it. It's more that where I read guidebooks and scour the Internet and research all sorts of things before going, Jonathan seems only to get a rough idea of good places to visit and heads off. While I strategize to avoid missing a great site and want to maximize (exhaustingly) every hour spent, he seems confident he'll find the good stuff and doesn't worry too much about a plan.

On Thursday he went by train to Edinburgh to see its castle, and then to Stirling to see its castle, and then back here to Glasgow for the evening. On Friday he traveled a few hours by train to go to Aviemore and do a day of hiking in the Cairngorms before an evening return here. Saturday he took another few hours by train to go to Loch Ness and do some wandering there, before riding back in the evening. Yesterday he slept in, ate some pancakes and bacon with us, went downtown to see the cathedral and necropolis while we shopped for a couple of hours, and then hung out in the afternoon reading and watching football.

It seems like a wonderfully freeing way to travel. I want to emulate some of Jonathan's willingness to head off to a good destination and make a plan as I go. When we travel in a few weeks to Barcelona, I'm determined to leave ample time just for wandering or last-minute inspiration.

Having Jonathan -- a stranger -- stay with us for several days was also something of a test case for me. Kate and I have pondered the idea of opening up our home to other travelers, such as allowing people to come stay with us for free via sites like I'm not sure I want to entertain strangers or have them wandering around the house while Jackson and I are here. But Jonathan showed us that a visitor can mostly entertain himself during the day while providing fun topics for conversation in the evening. Will they all be as polite and gracious and fun as Jonathan? Probably not, but even the duds can be unintentionally amusing.

Off to take a train to the coast, then a two-hour ferry ride to Ireland.
Jonathan departed this morning for Ireland to meet up with his friend. I enjoyed his visit more than I expected to. And he leaves behind a bit of inspiration.

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