Category Archives: Personal

Shaking Trees: Changing the World, in the Face of Death

My friend Niels is dying and is celebrating life. Today he gave his ‘Last Lecture’ (viewable here in Dutch, Niels’ lecture starts at 42:00), following the example of Randy Pausch in 2008, in front of 400 people. He made us laugh, he made us think. He made us connect. So we can continue on after he’s no longer here. He turned us into his torch bearers, fakkeldragers in Dutch. That #fakkeldragers was the number 1 trending topic on Twitter in the Netherlands this morning, even as a major storm passed over and we like nothing more than discussing the weather, tells you a little something about Niels.

'Last Lecture' Deluxe @shakingtree #fakkeldragers
400 people in the audience

I met Niels 10 years ago. He reached out to me online to ask me a question. Today he said to realize your dreams you have to start by asking a question. He asked me about learning online. He was a student then, and despite assurances to the contrary he could not access the univ’s buildings with his electric wheelchair and fully participate in the curriculum (Niels has spasticity and requires daily care). Undeterred he set out to arrange his own education online. We explored Second Life together, and we hung out in knowledge management fora, on blogs and social media. Only some 3 years later we finally met face to face, on a Mobile Monday meet-up in Amsterdam. Later we were both active in the topic of complexity management, and worked together to help build up a new company around participatory narrative inquiry. He married, and became a father, and despite every Kafkaesk requirement the ‘system’ threw at him he cut out his own path and became an entrepreneur. “He does not think it is impossible he’ll hold a regular job” someone wrote in his case file once. Another that he was a difficult patient to work with as “he keeps insisting on creating his own plans”.

His sense of humor not only keeps him sane, but also is his primary ‘weapon’ to create a space to be heard in health care and social care discussions and systems that are mostly accustomed to deciding or talking over him. “My case file never mentions the happinness of our family or the joy I find in my work” as key to personal wellbeing. That also drives him as an entrepreneur, where ever he goes he brings together those stakeholders that normally don’t enter into a proper conversation, and in those conversations plants the seeds to make the social and health care system work better. To replace faceless bureaucracy with a human face. To align the sometimes bewildering logic of the system with the logic of actual life. To make the system more efficient as well as more effective that way. Niels his last name roughly translates into English as Shaking Tree, and that became his brand. Shakingtree Interventions shakes things up. All trees in the Netherlands shook today, because of the mentioned storm, and it seems a fitting tribute.

A testament to him shaking things up is that the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health Care was an opening speaker today. He launched the annual ‘Shakingtree Award’ and presented the first one to Niels himself. At the same time he asked Niels, as he is wont to do anyway, to set the criteria for the Shaking Tree Award. Those criteria center around having experience with the health care system, being able to shake things up, and having a sense of humor.

'Last Lecture' Deluxe @shakingtree #fakkeldragers
The Shakingtree Award Statue, a tree of touching hands

Even if this maybe, hopefully, isn’t his real last lecture, “I hope I will have cancer for a very long time”, it was a great day to call upon 400 friends, colleagues and strangers to step up and be a torch bearer, a #fakkeldrager. That message, even without his personal shout-out to me to ‘fix this already’ (to use maker spaces to create cheaper tools and adptations), was loud and clear to all I think. Niels wants us to learn how to “dance with the system“, that was his lesson for us today. He is launching a ‘social domain lab’ to continue teaching that.

Today was a good and a fun day, despite the reason why it was organized. Or as Niels quoted Pema Chödrön “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” Over the past 18 months in my personal life I’ve learned (again) that to me beauty resides in that room where such layeredness is allowed to exist. Today reinforced it once more. Thank you Niels.

P1030933 P1030934

On Agency: Summary and My Manifesto

Now that I’ve formulated my overall perspective on Agency (part 1 on distributedness, part 2 on defining networked agency, part 3 on technology needs), this is a summary of the key points and their consequences. Half of these are general insights, condensed from what I’ve been exposed to and absorbed in the past 10-15 years or so. These points are why it matters. The novel combinations I think I contribute (marked in bold) provide the ‘how’ to that ‘why’ by delivering the agency towards increasing our agency. These points form my manifesto to act upon.

The key points in summary are:

  1. The agency deficit and potential.
    There are many issues where many people recognize they need or should find different solutions, because existing structures are failing, but do not see a viable path towards action for themselves. This is the current agency deficit. At the same time many existing tools and instruments are underused because of barriers to entry or the form in which they are currently available. This is the agency potential.
  2. The potential of distributedness.
    Distributed digital networks are similarly structured to human networks. Hierarchies and hubs superimposed on a distributed network are rigid edge cases that don’t fully use the flexibility distributed networks can provide. Human networks can more successfully use technology when the same type of flexibility and fluidity is present in the technology used. This is the path to agency.
  3. The relevant unit of agency is a person plus related group in context
    The unit of agency to consider is not the individual on her own, nor a general ‘target’ group, but the combination of a person and the subset of meaningful relationships for a real and given context. Agency is networked. That way both the individual’s capabilities and perspectives as well as those of the relationships involved can be leveraged. This means that to discuss agency it needs to be done for specific contexts, and with knowledge of the relationships involved. No generic answers are possible, although examples are.
  4. Networked agency is the sum of striking power, resilience and agility
    Because your context does not exist in a vacuum but in a global network of other contexts and connections, agency is not merely about what you can do in your context (striking power), but also how you can mitigate (resilience) or leverage (agility) the consequences of things propagating to you from outside of it
  5. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ technology need to be always used in combination
    Methods and processes that take human networks as a given in how we act, organize and learn (community building, networking, complexity management etc), in combination with distributed hard technology / science is the relevant scope of technology to consider. Not just ‘real’ tech. This combination is how you create the needed bridge and conduit between the digital and us humans, out of the combinations agency emerges.
  6. Technologies need to be ‘smaller‘ than us, barriers lowered
    We need to seek out, recombine, or create expressions of that technology that allows the context specific user group involved to deploy, alter, and trust or control it, without barriers to entry based on money, expert knowledge, or time consumption. This often means making the technology truly distributed, such that local expressions of it are independently possible in an interdependent global network. There is a range of promising technologies on this path that however need an extra push.
  7. Reasoning from a desired specific impact, not from technology features
    It is necessary to reason from the desired impact. Issues that cannot be solved by a single individual, nor on a general level by a group or mass, but only with the active involvement of the group of people it concerns are the ones to focus on. Issues are context specific, so is impact.
  8. Making it specific creates a design aid
    Putting a (list of) specific contexts (person plus meaningful relations) at one end, and a (list of possibly) desired impact on a specific issue at the other, with the lists of potential hard and soft technologies in between, such as in the image below, can be used as thinking aid and design aid.
    It allows you to explore possibilities based on selecting varying combinations of certain technologies, or specific combinations of technologies already available in the involved context, to see how to provide agency to contexts/groups towards desired impacts. This provides agency towards creating agency.

Agency by Ton Zylstra

The Evolution and Role of My Agency Postings: Finding My Unifier

I finally wrote down the full overview of how I look at agency in our networked world, and the role of distributed technology in it, in the past weeks (part 1, part 2, part 3). It had been a long time coming. Here is a brief overview of its origins, and why it matters to me.

Origins
I previously (in the past 18-24 months) wrote down parts of it in rants I shared with others, and as a Manifesto that I wrote in January 2015 to see if I could start a hardware oriented venture with several others. I rewrote it for draft research project proposals (the image below resulted from that in June 2015) that ultimately weren’t submitted, and as a project proposal that resulted in the experiment we will start in the fall to see if we can turn it into a design method, which in itself will become an agency-inducing tool.

But the deeper origins are older, and suffused with everything I over time absorbed from my blogging network and the (un-)conference visits where those bloggers met, such as Reboot in Copenhagen. The first story I created around this was my 2008 presentation at Reboot 10, where I formulated my then thoughts on the type of attitudes, skills and tools we need in the networked age.
There I placed the new networked technology in the context of the social structures it is used in (and compared that to what came before) and what it means for people’s attitudes and skills to be able to use it in response to increased complexity. The bridge between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ technology I mention in the three blogpostings on Agency, originates there.

The second story is my closing keynote speech at the SHiFT conference in Lisbon in 2010 (where we had to stay on a week because of the Icelandic ash cloud closing down European airspace). I blogged the submitted talk proposal, and video and slides are also available. There I talked about doing things yourself as a literacy (where literacy in the Howard Rheingold sense implies not just a skill but deploying that skill in the context of a community for it to be valuable), on the back of internet as our new infrastructure (an echo of Reboot 2008). I suggested that that socially embedded DIY was not just empowering in itself, but very necessary to deal with a complex networked world. Not just to be able to create value for yourself, but to be resilient in the face of ‘small world syndrom’ (the global networks finally making visible we live on a finite world) and cascading failures that propagate at the speed of light over our networks exposing us to things we would previously be buffered from or would have time to prepare for. I proposed the term Maker Households as the unit where DIY literacy (i.e. skills plus community) and local resilience meet, to create a new abundance based on the technical tools and methods that the networked world brings us. I was much more optimistic then how those tools and methods had already lowered the barrier to entry and merely pointed to the need to better learn to apply what is already there. I called upon the audience to use their skills and tools in the context of community, with the Maker Household as its local unit of expression. From those local units, a new global economy could grow (as the root meaning of the word economy is household).

Since then these notions have been on my mind daily but usually absorbed into every day work. I registered the domain name makerhouseholds.eu with the intention of writing up my SHiFT talk into an e-book, but never sat down to do it and let everyday life get in its way. Over time I became ever more convinced of the importance of these notions, as incumbent institutions started to crumble more and general discontent kept rising. At the same time I more strongly realized that the needed technology was failing to create more agency beyond a circle of power-users, and where broad adoption was taking place it was because key affordances were being dropped in favor of ease of use and ease of business models. Especially when I in 2014 started to explore how to make myself less dependent on tools that were providing convenience, but at the cost of exposing myself to single points of failure in what should be networked and distributed, and realized how much work it is to make the tools work for you (like maintaining your own server, or leaving Gmail). That triggered the ranting I mentioned, solidifying my conviction that Maker Households should be about packaging technology in ways that make it easy for people to increase their agency, without compromising their resilience.

Personal importance: Agency as unifier
Why this long overview? Because it seems it led me to finally finding ways to express what unifies my work of the past almost 20 years. As a kid I felt everything was connected, although everyone seemed to want put everything into discreet boxes. Internet and digitization made the connectedness all true, and I’ve been fascinated with the potential and consequences of that ever since I first went online in 1989, over 25 years ago. That unifier has however been elusive to me, even as all my work has always been about making it possible for others to better understand their situation and by using technology more purposefully act together with their peers based on their own perceptions of needs and wants. That was what drove me towards the change management side of introducing technology in groups and organizations, what drives my interest in dealing with complexity, informal learning networks, and the empowering aspects of various internet- and digitisation driven technologies such as social media, digital maker machines, and open data. That unifier has been elusive to my clients and peers often as well. I regularly have people call me saying something like “I don’t understand what it is you do, but whenever I search for things I think might help, your name comes up, so I thought I’d better call you.” Increasing agency as a unifier, from which different areas of expressing that flow, may put that confusion to rest.

Agency, as unifier, also makes the ‘menu’ below the way for me to explore additional fields and activities.

Agency by Ton Zylstra

What would you like me to write more about?

Design Museum
Something to aspire to

A few years ago Elmine and I wrote a short e-book on how to organize an unconference as a birthday party (PDF linked on the right). Since then I’ve regularly entertained the idea of writing another e-book, but that never really happened. While I do have some topics I’d like to write about, I find my knowledge of those topics still too limited to be able to come up with a narrative to share anything worthwile. There are also doubts (fears?) about what type of things would have a potential readership

So this week I decided to ask:

What would you like to see me write more or more extensively about?

Already I got a range of responses, and it is an intriguing list. Some suggestions are about aspects of my own journey, others are about topics that I don’t know much (or anything) about, but where apparantly there’s interest in my take on it. Some come close to topics I already want to write more about, but feel I haven’t found an angle yet.

Here’s the list until now. More suggestions and thoughts are welcome.

  • Optimal unfamiliarity (a phrase I coined in 2004 initially to describe what mix of people make a great event audience to be part of, but has become a design principle in how I try to collect information and learn.), suggested by Piers Young
  • An epistolary travel log novella (something that could arise from my 14 years of blogging about my travels and work), suggested by Georges Labreche
  • Open currencies (which Google tells me they have no meaningful results for, but which connects to my experience with LETS, and chimes with free currencies in p2p networks), suggested by Pedro Custodio
  • Moderating sessions with a mix of analog and digital tools (closely connected to my thoughts about fruitful information strategies in social contexts), suggested by Oliver Gassner
  • Fatherhood (as I became one 9 weeks ago, but I don’t think 9 weeks counts as experience), suggested by Dries Krens
  • Motivating others to act on open data (a large chunk of my work), suggested by Gerrit Eicker
  • Being a European in the digital age (which I strongly claim to be), suggest by Alipasha Foroughi
  • Convincing profit oriented organisations of the value of open access and responsible research (comes close to Gerrit’s point), suggested by Johnny Søraker
  • How and why I left my job (being employed by Dries mentioned above), suggested by Rob Paterson
  • The journey from my involvement in knowledge management and early blogging, to where I am now, and how it impacted the way Elmine and I arrange our lives (lots to unpack here!), suggested by Jon Husband (who, like Rob Paterson, has been part and witness of that journey over many years)
  • The proliferation of means of communication versus the quality of communication (for me this points to information strategies on focus, filtering etc.), suggested by Jos Eikhout
  • Personal information strategies and processes using open source tools (something I blogged often about in various shapes and forms), suggested by Terry Frazier, a fellow blogger on knowledge management back when I started blogging in 2002

Looking at who responded is already in a way a manifestation of some of the suggested topics (the journey, the information strategies, the optimal unfamiliarity, facilitating communities).

I can’t promise I’ll write about all of the things suggested, but I appreciate the breadth and scope of this list and the feedback I can unpack from it. More suggestions are very welcome.

Arsonists Walk Among Us

Playing politically on base emotions has consequences. Choice of words has consequences. It does not make the fear mongers and populists directly or criminally responsible, but it does come with moral responsibilities. If you consistently fan emotional flames you do bear moral responsibility for the resulting sparks and ‘singular unconnected’ fires. What British radio host James O’Brien says in the fragment embedded above about the UK, is as much true in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Austria etc. I share his deep frustration.

The arsonists walk among us pretending to bring common sense and empathy, because “one should be allowed to say this after all, and high-time too”. They don’t go by the names of Schmitz or Eisenring, but it doesn’t take Max Frisch to point them out. The arsonists walk among us pretending it is some mythical Other that will take “what is Ours” and who will burn our house and institutions down. The arsonists walk among us, luring us with reactionary nostalgia for a country and a time that has never existed. It will be those arsonists however that end up setting things alight, not any ‘Other’.

The question is how much of a Herr Biedermann I will be, you will be, we will be, before we learn to send the arsonists packing.

Do we even know anymore how to do that?

The Burning of the houses of Parliament, October 16, 1834 by Turner
The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, Oct 16 1834, by J M W Turner. Image by Pete Jelliffe, CC-BY-SA

Our family name and open archives

In the 1980’s my dad spent many days searching paper archives to reconstruct his paternal family tree. I am going through some of his archives now that we are dissolving my parents household. What was hard work then, now after digitisation, is often available online.

Regional archives have done a lot of work to digitize records of birth, marriage, and death, and make them searchable online. Through the website allefriezen.nl (all Frisians dot nl) one can search for documents by name. The picture below (archive source) is the registration of our family name on 20 February 1812. This was under Napoleonic rule when France had annexed the Netherlands (1810-1814) and family names became compulsory.

Popke Jacobs the great-grandfather of my grandfather registered our name in the “Municipality Ureterp, Canton Beetsterzwaag, Arondissement Heerenveen, Departement Vriesland” (sic). It is weird to see those French government structures in the document.

aannamezijlstra

The full text reads:

“Before us Maire (mayor) of the Municipality Ureterp, Canton Beetsterzwaag, Arondissement Heerenveen, Departement Vriesland, having appeared Popke Jacobs, living in Ureterp, has himself declared that he adopts the name of Zijlstra as family name and has the following number of sons and daughters, to know, Jakob, old 18 years, living in Grouw. Klaas old ten years, Jan old one in his second year, both living in Ureterp, Geeske old 17 years, living in Drachten, Aukjen old 15 years living on the Groote Gast and Trijntje old 13 years living in Ureterp and has signed this with us 20 February 1812.”

It is interesting to note that my ancestor signed his own name, so he was literate. Others registered in the same document signed with a shaky “X”. His occupation was listed as “worker”, meaning he was a hired hand and day laborer.

When Working IT Provides Smooth Service

Over the years the Dutch public transport RFID card system has been weird and dubious in various aspects. But apparently some things do work very nicely.

Last Friday we left for Milano for a few days to go to SOTN15, making a short stop in Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh Museum’s Munch exhibit. Somewhere between the museum visit and dinner near Museum Square I lost my national railway travel card with photo id. Frustrating, and I imagined loosing a lot of time getting it blocked and replaced. I still had a random anonymous RFID public transport card in my wallet, and I used that to get to the airport.

There I looked online what to do to get a replacement. It turns out I could disable my lost card immediately online, and apply for a new id card.
More importantly I could also attach my rail travel subscription to the anonymous RFID public transport card I still had, by entering the card’s number online. I did that, and used it after the weekend to get back home from the aiport, while still enjoying the reduced fares I normally have.

When I got back home, my new RFID card with photo ID already had been delivered and was waiting on the doormat. All my subscriptions and automatic top-up are on it again (except for the bike rental subscription which I had to re-attach online myself, as the accompanying letter explained). The money on the lost card was reimbursed automatically.

A surprisingly smooth and painless experience that took me a few minutes at most.
I spent more time going through my pockets searching before conceding my card was gone, then on fixing the problem.

Estonian E-Residency Granted

Ten days after I applied for e-residency in Estonia, I tonight received a message from the Estonian police and border guard that my e-residency has been granted. That is much quicker than I had expected. So now I will be waiting to hear when my Estonian ID card has arrived at the embassy in The Hague, so I can pick it up!

eidok
The e-mail saying e-residency has been granted

See my earlier posting “I applied for Estonian e-residency” for more info on why it is important, what it is, and how it works.

I Applied For Estonian E-Residency

E-government in Estonia
Estonia has build advanced electronic services for their citizens, and basically moved their entire administration into the cloud (which also makes it territory independent, along the lines of running your national administration as an operating system bootable from a USB stick.) Most of the services you need as a citizen are electronic now. At the core of this e-government service package is you electronic ID. This is what allows you to use those services, and also shows who else has been accessing data about you. Now that everything is digital, it also becomes possible to offer those services to non-citizens. This is what Estonia calls e-residency: an electronic resident having access to Estonian e-services.

You can be an E-resident in Estonia too!
Estonia is the first country in the world to offer ‘e-residency’, meaning you get an Estonian electronic ID card. This does not make you a citizen of Estonia, but it does allow you to use their advanced e-government services. Providing non-citizens e-residency is a bold new step. Now you and I can use Estonian e-services, if those are more convenient to us. This is amazing really, especially if, like Peter Bihr notes, your own government is not up to that level of service at all. Like Ben Hammersley puts it Estonia as “a nation is now competing with its neighbours on the basis of the quality of its user interface“.

Since the fall of 2014 anyone can apply for Estonian e-residency. Until April 2015 you had to visit the Estonian border police in Estonia itself to do that (and 1200 or so did!), but since then you can arrange everything through an Estonian Embassy or Consulate near you. Originally you had to visit twice. Once to apply, and once (after background checks) to pick up your ID card and login credentials. Since May it only takes 1 visit, the rest you do online!

I have applied to be an e-resident
I have been on a mailing list of the Estonian government since last fall to alert me to new developments. They already promised then that online application and 1 visit to embassy would be possible by December 2015 and “likely sooner”. As it was unlikely I would be visiting Estonia (although I enjoyed my 2013 visit to speak at TedXTallinn very much) in the meantime, I planned to wait for that online application. When the alert arrived in May I was busy traveling, and basically have been traveling until last weekend when we returned from a month in Italy.

But now, finally, last Monday, I went to the e-Estonia website to apply. I uploaded a scan of my passport, and a scan of a recent passport photo, and filled out some information (basically the info that is in the passport), I selected the Estonian Embassy in The Hague as where I want to pick up my ID, and I paid the 50,99 Euro processing fee through secure online credit card payment.
Currently they have a bit of a waiting list they said, because of lots of interest, so it may take a month to get processed. [UPDATE]: I received a message my application has been granted 10 days after submitting it. [UPDATE 2]: I received confirmation that my e-ID is ready for pick-up 3 weeks after submitting the request. Will pick it up in 2 weeks, when I visit The Hague.

Schermafbeelding 2015-08-03 om 12.46.49
Confirmation e-mail of e-residency application

So now what?
What can you do with Estonian e-residency? Four services are currently available to e-residents that aren’t citizens. Register a business, do secure online banking, administer a business, and digitally sign documents and contracts. If, unlike me, you’re not an European Union citizen, this also means e-residency allows you to easily enter the European common market. For me all four of those services are of interest.

You access all those services through Ervinal, the Estonian e-government dashboard. You can see below how that looks. If you are a citizen, or reside in Estonia, such a dashboard will show you all kinds of other things as well concerning education, pension, your car, healthcare etc.

Ervinal screenshot
Screenshot (mocked-up with my pic) of the Ervinal e-service dashboard

The X-bus as architecture
I’m professionally involved with the creation of National Data Infrastructures in various European countries. Several countries are creating such things, but they may have different starting points. In Denmark and the Netherlands internal efficiency and a layer of open data is the core, with geodata, businesses and persons being the key data sets. In the UK (which does not have a person register), the entire system is more focussed on semantics, and interfacing between government branches.

The Estonian system is e-government service and citizen oriented and that makes persons and electronic ID the very core of the entire set-up. They have an exchange bus called X-Road, where any other service (including private entities such as banks and telecom operators, or you if you are developing a web-app) can share data based on a person and electronic ID as key. Estonia established X-road in 2002, and there is a European project to make that available and interoperable in other EU countries as well. In 2013, X-Road processed 287 million queries in Estonia, or about 220 queries per Estonian citizen.

All data is decentralized, and the person concerned can see how the data is being shared and with whom (including a redress mechanism if you don’t agree). This is very different from e.g. the Netherlands, where my role as the citizen being described by the data is not defined at all, and the entire system is set up around internal processes about me, but not with me.

Xroad
X-Road schematics, image taken from X-road.eu

Hack your e-residency!
The Estonian government is inviting you to co-develop the services that are available as an e-resident. In September a Garage 48 idea and hack session will take place, to “think outside borders” and put e-residency on the global map.

A month in Lucca: week 5

This week was a bit shorter and different than planned. Originally we were supposed to leave Lucca on Friday and then spend the weekend until Tuesday in Switzerland with friends. However we left Lucca a day earlier than that, and drove home after just one night in CH.

Part of the reason for that decision was that my leg was increasingly painful over the weekend until Wednesday. Another part that my mother isn’t doing well and phone calls with my sister and dad conveyed some urgency. Monday morning I phoned a local doctor about my leg, as during the weekend further internet research pointed to resurfacing chicken pox (herpes zoster), and not heat eczema. By then I had blisters from my knee all the way up my left leg to my middle. So I kept a low profile the first days, resting and reading, but not without heading out for coffee and lunch of course. The visit to the doctor on Monday evening confirmed our suspicion and I returned home with several prescriptions. The pharmacy did not have everything in store, so I went back Tuesday morning to collect the rest. It did mean changing my diet, by replacing the beautiful local wines of the past weeks for a daily fistful of pills.

So given that, we decided on Tuesday to leave Thursday, and skip a planned weekend with friends in Switzerland. Instead we decided to spend one night in Switzerland and drive home on Friday from there.

Having made the decision, my leg of course started improving somewhat the next day. While I was still resting and reading, Elmine started packing up our operation here in Lucca. Our last evening in Lucca we spent on the city wall talking, under the trees, looking out over the hills to the north. A beautiful summer evening.

Lucca, up on the walls
Up on the city walls

Thursday morning we took it easy, as we weren’t expected at our friends in Switzerland until the evening. We had a last coffee at Momus, and did some final packing. We had a pleasant lunch in the city and then packed the last bits into the car. I felt better than the past days and drove. Driving up to Switzerland went without problem, but there was a traffic jam in front of the Gotthard tunnel, so I opted to drive over the St. Gotthard pass (2106m), a major north-south axis to cross the Alps since the early 13th century and the watershed between Rhine and Po rivers. Driving up from the south is a smooth road, with beautiful views. Sadly just before reaching the pass itself we entered clouds that were crossing between the peaks. So we did not stop at the highest point but continued on down on the northern side, towards our destination near Zurich.

Seengen
On the shore of Halwyler See

After spending a pleasant evening with our friends, we left Seengen around 09:30. As it turned out the German highways were quickly filling up, and while we avoided a first traffic jam near Basel by choosing another border crossing, we soon found ourselves in slow traffic. A look on Google maps promised more of the same for the next 300-400kms, so we opted to cross over to Strassbourg in France, and from there drove up through the Vosges towards Luxembourg, briefly switching back into Germany to avoid traffic on the French-Luxembourg border. From Luxembourg we drove through Belgium to Maastricht in the Netherlands. There we had dinner in the inner city, before driving the final 2 hours home. A very European trip, through Strassbourg (seat of European parliament), Schengen (on the Luxembourg border, where the treaty was signed that made crossing 6 borders, CH-D-F-D-L-B-NL, on this day hassle free), and Maastricht (where the 1992 treaty was signed turning the EC into the EU).

Torno Subito
Right back! Sign on shop door in Lucca

After 5 weeks we are now back, and already plotting when we could spend more time in Lucca. Or some place else. It certainly seems to have stirred Elmine much more strongly towards creating/finding more location independent work. After Cambridge, Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki and now Lucca, in each of which we have spent longer periods to live, work and relax, I find this trip has shifted our thinking again on how to select a new place to live. We still plan on leaving Enschede somewhere in the coming few years, but we may want to rethink how to choose where to move to.