A repository of possibilities

A City Guides tour of stunning Pacific Heights, January 2004

A City Guides tour of stunning Pacific Heights, January 2004

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”Rebecca Solnit

I’ve always thought that walking is the best way to really get to know any place — a neighborhood, a city, the woods, the mountains or the beach.  So much is more easily visible to those who go exploring on foot.

While we lived in northern California, I used to love to go into San Francisco and just spend the day walking around.  I would be so absorbed in what I was doing that usually I would not stop to eat lunch (except for maybe an energy bar or some fruit), and I would not even miss eating.  I joked to Jeff about my “San Francisco diet” because, between walking up and down all those hills and skipping the snacks and lunches, it was a great way to lose a few pounds!

I especially loved the free City Guides Tours, which offered fascinating commentary and history on various neighborhoods.  Since the tour guides were all volunteers who were there simply for their love of the city and the fun of introducing it to others, there was lively discussion and time for lots of questions.  Often, those who were on the tours were visitors from other cities who offered up interesting information about their own home towns.

There may be a similar program in a town near you, but even if there is not, I highly recommend taking a day sometime soon to go exploring on foot.  When we take vacations, we make time for discoveries that we might never get around to in our own home cities and counties.  Perhaps an afternoon “mini-vacation” is just the ticket to brighten up a dull winter week.  If you do go exploring in your local area, send us some stories or photos – we’d love to take a virtual stroll with you!

One year ago today

On these walks


  1. During our last vacation we visited one of most the beautiful (marred too) hill stations of South India. The real city disappointed me but the pristine beauty spots were far away from the bustling city. We enjoyed each day’s trip savouring every little detail of the place. We all love to walk (except my lil one) and that is a great blessing, I feel.
    That tree looks so special..

    • That is an interesting tree, isn’t it? I saw some similar to it in the Netherlands, pruned differently but the same unusual look to the branches. I think one great advantage to being a walker is that it’s easy to get past the unappealing aspects of a place and discover the hidden or secluded spots that really shine. It seems to me that every place has such gems if one takes the time to find them. Most of us who travel to other countries somehow end up seeing mostly the cities (unless we are visiting friends who live there) and in reality, so much of a country’s beauty lies elsewhere.

  2. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. I always come to visit here and what comfort it has afforded me recently. I feel so on the receiving end of love and prayers. Thank you all for remembering us. Dr. Vann has been a blessing to so many, near and far. He kept us advised and up to date on so much. I can tell you he would NOT have liked the Super Bowl this year. Oh, to be so sharp! It feels so special to mention him here. By the way, he was aware of “Defeat Despair” and I had read to him of you and Jeff! 🙂 Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I hope you will feel free to share anything you like about Dr. Vann (or anyone else you love or admire) – the world can use these happy stories and good examples! When we lose wonderful people it helps to share their legacy and know that their influence lives on. I have very much enjoyed your sharing him with us. I’m so glad he knew about us! Keeping you close in thoughts and prayers!

      • Sheila

        Good morning, Julia. PACE MAGAZINE ……..ring a bell? I was looking through some bookcases yesterday and there were 2 of those Piedmont in-flight magazines that Dad had saved from the mid 80’s. Of course, I thought of you! We are keeping busy here in Bristol, until the service and reception on Saturday. I so hope these are days of hope and strength for y’all. 🙂 Sheila

        • Oh, my, YES Sheila! In fact, just the other day I was thinking of my old Piedmont umbrella (they gave us each one when USAir took over). Those umbrellas were already obsolete (they were used in the days before jetways, when people would have to climb stairs to board planes) but I can’t bear to part with mine. I am sure when I start excavating my piles of papers and magazines, I will probably find an old PACE magazine or two! We are thinking of you and Bill this week. I know the service will be lovely. Thanks for staying in touch during this very busy and emotional time.

  3. Jack

    Years ago when my wife and I were a little younger, I managed to talk her into walking with me from the theatre district in London to the Portobello Market on a Saturday, a short 5 mile walk. I think I may have generalized that it was “just a couple of miles away” and by the time we got there, she was sufficiently PO-ed that I think I ended up with $500 of plates, platters and other assorted stuff guys don’t care about. She rode the bus back, I, of course, taking Julia’s advice, walked because “when in London…” Every time I use that red platter I think about how much I loved that walk, and laugh at how much my sweet wife hated it. She’s about the shopping, I’m about the walking. Vive la difference!

    • Yes, and just think, without her shopping skills (and willingness to carry things back on the bus) you would not have any souvenirs of that day! As much as I love to walk, I’m also a great fan of public transportation, and enjoy riding the bus when it’s rainy or I have things to carry. Buses are great for people watching! Although in very bad traffic, one can get someplace faster in the city walking than by cab or bus! I have learned to warn people in advance about how long a walk will be before I set out with them…I know very few who are willing to walk more than 2-3 miles at a time. I rarely walk more than 5 miles in a day, although Jeff and I walk a good bit more than that at some cruise ports.

  4. raynard

    Julia, we have a large county park with a 2 mile walking track. you see people walking their dogs and kids, jogging. It also has a tennis court, skateboard park , basketball hoops and several playgounds for the kids and a nice dog park for all size dogs… I “don’t do malls and casinos like most people here, my job is built like “a college campus and all us officers”get out excerise.. Forgot to tell you, In the P.A Convention center, I think it goes, 1 The home show, Car show , then ‘The Flower Show. .They finally got smart and added more chairs cause”it’s alot of walking, talking, snacking and “buying nick nacks”.( Have to find a solution to my ipod battery portable recharger I need with all the pictures we take. “Smartphones are not that smart when it comes to taking videos. Be blessed

    • Raynard, that park sounds terrific. In San Antonio we used to live down the street from a big high school, and we loved walking the track. Pasha was just a puppy then and he was totally into playing in the sprinklers on the football field, running in and out of them like a kid. Good for you for staying away from the malls and casinos, your finances will thank you!! Re: the battery thing – that’s one reason I like to use a digital camera. I order several batteries off eBay for about 2-3 buck each, and keep several of them charged up at once and just change them up as I go along. I get annoyed with gizmos that don’t have removable/changeable batteries, which is one reason why I have avoided Apple products so far, though I got Matt a new iPod classic this year and I got Jeff an iPod touch, which so far he has shown ZERO interest in learning to use. I thought I would get him interested with checking the sports scores, but NOT!!!! 🙂 Any smart phone we got would be smarter than us so we stick to the antique kind that just make phone calls.

  5. I love walking through cities. I walked all over Europe in 1989 and had a blast. It’ a great way to people watch, see architectural detail up close and to get the vibe of the city. Unfortunately I have a poor sense of direction so I get lost easily. So far, though, I’ve always found my way back.

    Great post, Julia.

    • Thanks, Alys! I have a terrible sense of direction and have to have maps, maps, maps. However, getting lost is sometimes part of the fun! It does help if I can spend enough time in a city to learn the overall layout and where things are. I’m way more comfortable walking around a downtown area than driving. I HATE driving in cities and find it VERY nerve-wracking, and San Francisco is the world’s worst in that regard – those hills make me crazy, I’m always terrified of rolling backwards when I’m parked on a steep hill or stopped at a red light. With all the pedestrians I’m terrified of hitting the gas as hard as I have to just to stay in the same place!

      When Jeff first came to see me in Atlanta and we went downtown, he asked how I could find my way around so easily. I said “In the city it’s easy, just look up and find a [well-known, tall] building nearby and you know right where you are – but if you get lost in the country, all the trees look alike!” 🙂 I would love to walk all over Europe some day, or even all over small bits of it the way Amy and I did the times I visited her in Germany. The architecture really does look so much more impressive while strolling than it does in a car. Even in my own neighborhood I notice small details when I’m on foot that I would never see from a car.

  6. Julia…great post and picture. I enjoy exploring new places but not my husband. he walks with a goal in mind…back home.
    My husband received a kindle Fire for Christmas…has little interest in it. He has a basic smart phone just for weather info and GPS. Only uses it to make phone calls.

    I didn’t think I would like my smart phone but I do.~/

    • Merry, your husband and mind sound very much alike! I’m with you…I am a bit reluctant to embrace new technology, simply because I am usually quite content with the “old” technology which still seems amazing enough to me. I have no doubt that I’ll eventually end up with a smart phone (or maybe Jeff’s iPod Touch, if I can’t get him interested). Once I get past the learning curve, I usually love technology.

  7. Michael

    I don’t know why but I had a hard time with directions in Atlanta. No major landmarks? I understand the 285 circle highway, but that was about it.
    A new book out in Seattle is “Seattle Stairwalks.” Lots of hills here. I know of only a few so am looking forward to the book. nothing like the 124 stairs of Morningside park in New York city however.

    • Oh, Michael, you just need to get to know the city better. Aside from the superlative Bank of America Plaza, there are many older buildings I remember from my youth; the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the well-marked and easily spotted Equitable Building, and the Coca-Cola headquarters (not to be confused with the equally memorable World of Coca-cola), to name just three. And then, of course, there are the one-of-a-kind, only-in-Atlanta places (the gold-domed Georgia State Capitol, the Georgia Tech Campus, the Carter Center, the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, Grant Park and the Cyclorama) and the ones most familiar to tourists (Six Flags, Stone Mountain, the Varsity Drive-In). Most of these are easily visible from an interstate highway. If you think of 285 as a pie, think of I-75, I-85 and I-20 as being the lines that divide the pie into 6 pieces (with 75 and 85 merged downtown for a harrowing few minutes). That might make it easier to understand the layout of everything. Not unlike L.A., though on a smaller scale, Atlanta is so spread out that it’s easy to get confused by the huge area and surrounding towns. But once you get oriented, I think it’s a fairly easy city to navigate (though the signage is notoriously poor).

      I have not heard of the 124 stairs of Morningside park in NYC – I will have to put that on my “must see” list! I am crazy about the 400 stairs of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, though. My memory is that I actually walked UP them (pausing often for the beautiful views or just to catch my breath) but maybe I’m imagining that? I know that I walked either up or down them at least once, and decided it was one of the city’s best kept secrets. If we ever make it back to Seattle — and I hope we do — I will have to find that book. Climbing actual stairs isn’t for sissies (and probably not for people as old as Jeff and I are now), but it is way, way more of a workout than any Stairmaster machine no matter what setting it’s on, as we discovered from experience!

    • raynard

      Oh Julia, I forgot to tell you, I just learned how to make free phone calls on my ipod. I also use Google Voice for all my texting for free. Just remembered all of the hiking I did back in Hawaii and even made it up to Diamond Head.( Book em Dano lol)

      • Raynard, after you told me about Google Voice I did read about it and I think I’ll eventually try to use it. But I could not find how to make free phone calls from an iPod. I did get a Skype card which can be used to make them very inexpensively. What program do you use? The Diamond Head hike is wonderful! I made it several times while we lived in Hawaii and once or twice, I even went rogue and ventured off the path a bit – or maybe that was my nephew – for the photo ops! A strenuous climb, but short and well worth it! If Dano chased anyone up that volcano he’d have them right where he wanted them!

  8. Michael

    That’s funny about Jeff and the I-pod touch. I finally down loaded by first audio book onto my Sony Walkman MP3. I think she got for me about three years ago. It takes some time with us male folks and you have to have a little patience.

    • I count downloadable (free) audiobooks from the library and MP3 players among the technological innovations I’ve been most thankful for in the past 10 years. It’s amazing to remember how many audiobooks I listened to on clunky cassette tapes (which seemed streamlined compared to the old 8-tracks)! Hopefully you will learn to love the MP3 players as much as I do.

  9. Michael

    Oh , the tree looks like a Camperdown Elm? Those elms are interesting in that they all come from original parent plant discovered in Camperdown, England. All of them are grafts which are grafted into a parent stock Elm( on top of them). Unfortunately, in the Northwest-many of these are not doing well because of some weird bacteria disease. These trees are especially beautiful in winter when you see their intricate twisting shapes. There is one at the botanical garden where I took some classes at Seattle South Community college. They have a great horticulture program there.

    • Michael, I first heard about Camperdown Elms when you mentioned them last year and sent us a link to the Kubota Japanese Gardens, where one was pictured. I didn’t make the connection at that time to these odd-looking trees (here are some even odder ones I saw in Delft, Netherlands). They obviously must have been pruned or cultivated for that look somehow. Have you ever seen any that were grown in this way?

  10. raynard

    Julia I use Google Hangouts. It’s like their version of Facebook. I think it was merged it use to be Google Chat. Once you load it click on it the page with the phone symbol, then it will give you a key pad and you dial like a regular phone call. if it’s free , it will tell you. I made 3 long distance phone calls so far for free. Since Gmail is Google, it will work great with everyone you know that has a gmail address and hangouts you can do video chat also just like skype, and Facetime on Apple Products like Ipad, and Ipod..

    • Wow, thanks for this info Raynard! I will certainly plan to use it whenever I get Jeff’s iPad set up for phone (don’t hold your breath!) 🙂 Seriously, it does sound like a good thing for someone who doesn’t want to use a cell phone very much. Jeff hardly ever turns his cell phone on and if he could get used to the much lighter iPod Touch I think it would be something he’d rather carry anyway.

      • Raynard

        Julia on Jeff’s IPad if it has Factime on it like my IPod then he can video chat like Skype I think Apple Google and others have official web pages they put out info on.Also a computer pro named Kim Kamando also puts out good advise on her radio show and website and most computer magazines

        • Hey Raynard, I used to read Kim Komando years ago – I’m glad she is still around! I found her website. I wish I had more time to keep up with technology but it’s good to know where to find this stuff when we need it.

  11. Michael

    Thanks for tips about Atlanta landmarks. I have only been downtown a couple of times and did go to the King Memorial Center and also the Carter center.
    Looking at the trees in the Delft picture, they could also be Espalliered apple or pears trees,pruned and trained usually to grow along a fence in a flat longitudinal manner. There are some of these at the Cloister museum in NYC. Espallier is a special kind of ornamental, high maintenance pruning.

    • I had never heard of it before, but it’s certainly striking. I wonder if they can grow flowers on those horizontal branches? It’s fun to see them but I like the natural trees better, especially if I’m in charge of maintenance!

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: