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Travellust & the Writer – A Love Story

Life Stuff, Travel, Writing

Travellust & the Writer

That Was Then

I grew up in a small suburb, well outside of Chicago, IL. If we went into the city, it was almost always to visit my Aunt Barb, my grandmother’s sister, and all the cousins out there. There would be occasional school field trips to the Field Museum or Adler Planetarium, but mostly I stayed in my little suburb. Most of the sites in Chicago I didn’t see until I was an adult and able to travel on my own.

I tried to find a pic of me in Chicago, but couldn’t. So here’s TreeTop Park in Ft. Lauderdale 🙂

As far as travel outside of the Chicago area, most of that was for family as well. I can remember a number of trips to Indiana to visit my grandmother when she lived there, as well as a long drive to Connecticut when she was there also. And, for a long time, we’ve had family in Tennessee, so there were also the occasional trips there. The only non-family vacations I remember was a trip to the Wisconsin Dells when I was thirteen and typical moody teenager. (This was also, incidentally, the trip where I holed up in my room at the cabin and read The Stand, cover to cover. Like I said, moody.)

I’m not telling you all this for sympathy, but to explain one of the reasons I devoured books as a kid. As they are for so many people, they were an escape from a very not-interesting life. I visited London, England, and Derry, Maine. I rode the Orient Express and hid in an attic to escape the Holocaust. I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. As I got older and read more, I sweated in the Congo and helped build Hadrian’s Wall.

Books always showed me the world that I felt I would never see.

This Is Now

I’m significantly older now, of course. I’m settled in a home with my spouse. We’ve lived in this place since 2008. This is the longest I’ve lived in one dwelling my entire adult life.

Vals, Italy

I’ve traveled more — I’ve gotten a little taste of the world that I so desired when I was younger. I’ve been to almost two dozen states, one Caribbean island, and ten countries in Europe (don’t be too impressed; some of them were just drive-throughs!). And the things I’ve gotten to see have been incredibly cool.

The beauty of the world and its people have lived up to my expectations.

I know I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had these experiences. My teenage self would never have thought we’d be able to really go to London, to the Italian Alps, to Amsterdam. But we did, my teenage self and I. And it’s been glorious, seeing things that I’d only ever seen in magazines, or the encyclopedia, or, later, on the Internet.

Experience Greed and This Writer

But it isn’t enough.

Me at Westminster Abbey, London, UK

This year, especially, I’ve been jonesing to travel. I want to see the rest of Italy. I want to go back to London, and I want to see other places in England. I want to hang out in a real pub in Ireland and I want to see the Scottish moors. I want to visit New Zealand and Australia. There are so many places I still want to go. So many experiences I still want to have.

It might make me greedy, but that’s okay. Because I think experiences are all we can ever really have from this world. And time is always running short.

My plan for 2018 is to travel more, particularly overseas. This means that you’re going to see a lot more from me product-wise over the rest of this year and next, from books to classes. I hope that’s okay with you. It also means you’ll be seeing more travel postings from me. More pictures of things I see.

The Quarantine House in Curacao. I’m working on a whole blog post about this place!

I want more experiences to inform my writing and my life. I want to understand other cultures, as much as I can, and live in their spaces, even if only for a little while. I want to see more of our world and I want to be able to share it.


How about you? Do you travel? Where is your favorite place that you’ve visited and why is it your favorite?

 

All images are courtesy of Arjen Jansen.

Trip Log: Amsterdam

Travel

 

So I’m actually home now and have been for about a week. I’ve been trying to get caught up on things, which is why this has been so long in the making. But let’s have a look at Amsterdam, shall we?

We only made it into Amsterdam for one day, due to family events, weather, traffic and illness. (Yes, I was sick the entire time I was in Europe – lovely!). I really wanted Line around the Anne Frank House. to go to the Anne Frank House. I’d been there in the past and it’s a most amazing experience. When I was last there, they were building an annex onto the side of the building that was to have more information, exhibits, etc. So I wanted to see how that ended up. I’ve always been fascinated by the Anne Frank story – about all survivors’ stories, really. So I was quite disappointed when we rounded the corner on this bitterly cold day to see a line completely around the building. The metal and glass building you see in the photo is the new part they were building when I was there. So, still being sick, I didn’t want to stand out in the The Jennifer cold. Instead, we went to a little tea house which was actually just a regular cafe. We split an apple turnover and had Earl Grey tea.

We wandered around the city for a little while, then headed over to the Amsterdams Historisch Museum. This museum chronicles Amsterdam’s growth from a tiny, swampy village to the modern city it is today, housing over 750,000 people. All of the information displays were in both Dutch and English, which was very helpful for me and probably stress-relieving for my husband. 😉 There were paintings and artwork, as well as Leather shoes & other relics sociological exhibits, including a lot of information on the charitable organizations which helped the poor especially during the 1700s and 1800s.

I especially found the archeological displays interesting. In some cases, they’d found leather shoes from the 1200s! And it’s always interesting to look at artifacts that people hundreds of years ago used in their daily lives. It always jump-starts my imagination to consider what they might have been doing when they were wearing those shoes.

After, we wandered around a little more, taking photos and chilling out. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant because I wanted to see what Dutch Mexican would be like. The food was good, but it’s the first time I’ve ever had to eat tacos with a knife and fork from the beginning! After the tacos are put together, they put cheese over the hard shell and then put it in the oven. Considering that all the Dutch folks I know use a knife and fork for everything (including French fries and pizza!), I really wasn’t that surprised. But it tasted good and that’s all that really matters!

Ahhh, but then… then I finally got to go to a brown cafe! My husband was born and raised in Amsterdam and he’s been to brown cafes before, but they’re not his thing. But ever since my first visit, I wanted to at least go into one and have that experience. He’d never go with me :p So finally I told him this trip that if he wanted to stand on the street and wait for me, that was fine, but I was going to go in. He went in with me.

It was tiny, with lots of green, red and gold alongside the Bob Marley posters. The upstairs seating area had seven tables crammed into about a twelve by twelve room. Sparkly holiday ornaments hung from the ceiling in – you guessed it – Jamaican colors. The walls were mirrored and the haze in the tiny room was like someone had lit a signal fire in the corner. On the menu, you could order actual drinks (coffee, tea, espresso, etc) along with weed or hash or a mix, loose in a bag. There was also the option of buying a joint: either weed or a mix of weed and hash. And did I buy anything? Well, I did buy something… but I’m not telling what! 🙂

Some photos of Amsterdam for your enjoyment:

Canal Shopping!

Canal Dutch graffiti!

Trip Log: Italian Alps III – Christmas in Valles and an Avalanche!

Travel

 

So we only spent a few more days in Valles, but we were there for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well, which was very nice. It snowed again the night before Snowy moutainside Christmas Eve and then it was snowy and rainy on Christmas Day. Though it was breathtaking to see some of the vistas, it was very, very cold. And since I’d been sick since the day we arrived in Italy (and am still sick, writing this in London!), I’d been trying very hard not to go out for long periods of time. But the photo ops were irresistible!

And now, something funny. I believe I mentioned that people in that area speak both Italian and German. Now, in high school I took Latin and Spanish. In college I took French and about seven years Fog on the mountain ago I took a few Italian classes. So all my foreign language skills are in the Romance Languages. I’m not fluent in any of them, but my mouth, throat and voice box understand how to make the sounds required, including the rolling “r” and the lilting accent at the ends of words. But German… that’s a language that’s always eluded me. Truth be told, I never had much interest in learning it. But because my in-laws are all Dutch and the two languages are relatively close in sounds, they all speak German (rather than Italian). At any rate, I was trying my hand – or, rather, mouth – at German now and again. So I went to order some hot tea, which is what I was drinking for almost my entire stay there. And in German, hot tea is “heisse thee” which is pronounced very, very similarly to the English “iced tea.” I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. So I (thought I) ordered heisse thee in German. I was pretty proud of myself for getting over my fear of looking stupid because I couldn’t speak German. I’m sure you can imagine my chagrin when what came to me was a small glass with cold, cold tea. I resolved to have learned Italian semi-fluently by the time I return. No more German for me!

So we did presents for the kids on Christmas Eve night and on Christmas Eve day everyone tried to take advantage of the last full day we’d be there, by getting out on the slopes. It was cold and rainy all day, though, so by lunchtime everyone was in the warm hotel bar. While we were ordering lunch, we noticed a helicopter in the parking lot across the little street. Over the next hour or so, we saw emergency vehicles bring Emergency workers volunteers from all around. There’d been an avalanche on the backside of the mountain. We didn’t learn details til later, but watched the helicopter disappear to the other side with rescue workers and return at least half a dozen times. At least two trips included dogs. It was really amazing to watch everyone mobilize in order to search and rescue, if necessary. We recognized that many of the emergency vehicles that arrived were from neighboring villages. The way the communities bind together in order to deal with an emergency is awe-inspiring.

Later, we spoke to one of the ski instructors who was part of the rescue effort and he told us that initially, there had been a set of ski poles found near the site of the avalanche, so everyone mobilized as if there were people trapped, though they found out relatively quickly that the poles had just been accidentally left behind and that no one had been in danger. I was very relieved to have heard this, because I couldn’t imagine how terrible it would have been to have learned that a loved one or friend had been trapped in that avalanche on Christmas Day.

The next morning, Carlita and Anita (half of the family team that runs the hotel) made sure we had a good breakfast as well as sandwiches for lunch on the road, then saw us off with hugs and kisses. Everyone at the hotel was so welcoming and friendly. Anita and one of the waitresses, Sabina, had a little bit of English and I helped them learn a little more while they encouraged me with German (not that it did much good, obviously! 😉 ). I really felt as if I were visiting family, not just staying at some hotel in the mountains.

I’d love to organize a writing retreat up there during summertime. Anyone want to go to the Italian Alps and write?

On our way back, we passed some pretty sites. A few photos:Castle on a hill in GermanyItalian Alps

Italian Alps

Church at the parking area in Germany

 

 

We found this little church down a pathway from a small parking area (a rest stop without facilities) on the side of the highway. It’s a functioning church, with services and events like any other church.

Trip Log: Italian Alps II – Brixon/Bressalone

Travel

 

Happy New Year! Wishing all my readers (all five of you!) a wonderfully prosperous 2010!

So I’m at least ten days behind on my trip log. My excuse is that I’ve been sick and haven’t been in a very writing frame of mind. Right now we’re at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam waiting for our flight to London Heathrow. We’ve spent about a week in Amsterdam, some days shuttling among family and some days on our own. This trip to London is our long-awaited honeymoon (married May 2002!), so we’re on our own! But, backing up to the Italian leg:

More snow in the mountains! The day before Christmas Eve, we drove about fifteen minutes to get to the small village of Brixon/Bressalone. It’s got a beautiful little shopping area, plus they were having their Christmas Market. The roads were okay on the way there. We’d had a lot of snow the previous days but they really know how to take care of the roads up in the mountains, so we didn’t have any problems getting to Brixon. It was dark when we left though, so things were a bit slippery and slick.

If you’d imagine a little Italian shopping village in the mountains, you would probably be pretty close to imagining Brixon, with the homes and businesses built along the rise Brixon/Bressalone of the mountain. The narrow streets are a little stressful from an American perspective (everyone’s glad I wasn’t the one driving!), but the drivers are overall very accommodating and, I think, much more friendly than the average American driver. There were a number of tour busses in the village when we were there and I was amazed at how well the drivers managed the curves and hills!

As I mentioned, Brixon has a nice shopping district with cobblestone streets and ivy covered walls. It’s very hard not to imagine Shopping in Brixonbeing in a postcard while walking past the shops. The whole town was lit up for the holidays and it had a magical quality.

As far as shopping, I was looking for a nice pair of Italian boots. I expected they wouldn’t be cheap and I found a range of 140 to 250 Euros. Still, very expensive, but what really kept me from getting a pair was the fact that apparently Italian women have very small feet! I couldn’t find any boots I liked to fit my size 9.5US feet! So the Italian boots were a bust, much to the relief of my wallet!

At the heart of the shopping district, Brixon was having its Christmas Market. Many wooden stalls were built there, many housing hand-made Christmas trinkets. Some had generic China-made tourist souvenirs, as well, of course. And at each corner was a stall selling espresso, tea and other warm drinks. Coffee, particularly espresso, is an absolute staple in Europe. I really have no idea how it can be an after dinner drink, because it would keep me up half the night! Anyway, though we didn’t buy anything at the Christmas Market, it was really fun to stroll through. Some of the hand-made work was truly beautiful! Check out a few photos:

Christmas Market in Brixon Christmas Market in Brixon

Building flanking the Christmas Market in Brixon Fountain at the Christmas Market in Brixon

Carousel at the Christmas Market in Brixon Hand made ornaments on display at the Christmas Market in Brixon

We only spent a few more days in Italy, so one more post on that, then we move on to Amsterdam!

One quick update on current events: We did make it to London and I have to say, I’m really impressed with the Underground here. It’s incredibly easy to get around! I really wish Atlanta had a system like this.

Trip Log: Italian Alps I – Valles

Travel

 

Of course, the day we arrived in Italy, I got sick. Everyone around me had been sick for two months at least and I managed to keep the germies from getting me. Until we hit Italy. So I’m sick during my vacation. How sucky is that? But I’m trying to persevere!

It was snowy here in Val/Valles when we arrived. The hotel is situated in a little valley surrounded Bidet, anyone?by mountains. We have a room with the equivalent of a king size bed, a big bathroom  complete with bidet, and a balcony which overlooks the rest of the valley and the ski lift across the creek. The views here are spectacular. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that the view out my front window looks like a painting on a wall. I can remember when my husband (before we were married) had gone to see the Grand Canyon and said he couldn’t be View from the front of the hotelimpressed with it because it was too big to wrap his mind around. I thought that was silly at the time, but I have a better idea of what he meant now. I mean, how can you  fully appreciate a view like this? It’s almost beyond comprehension. And I find it amazing that people actually live here and this is their normal day-to-day life, seeing these views whenever they look out their windows.

There’s several hotels, little restaurants and a couple bars. The other day, we went Me and my hot chocolate!across the creek, got some hot chocolate at one of the restaurants, then took the ski lift up to the top of one of the mountains. I’m not a skier, so I’ve never even been to any sort of ski facility. I assumed that we’d take the lift up and we’d see the top of the mountain, along with the ski slope that goes down to the valley where our hotel is. Wrong! We got to the top of the mountain and there were ski slopes everywhere! I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that they’d utilize the entire mountain for skiing. What a dope, right? But there were half a dozen ski slopes up there, in all different directions. I know there was some sort of organization to it, but I couldn’t make it out.

Also at the top of the mountain was a little restaurant where those of us who weren’t skiing hung out. Something interesting about this area of the country: it was part of From the top of the mountain Germany until about World War I, and everyone here speaks both German and Italian. So the restaurant menus are in both languages. I’ve taken some Italian as well as other romance languages, so I can make out a lot of the written stuff. But German is definitely predominant here.

Yesterday, we drove about fifteen minutes to a small village called Brixen/Bressanone (German/Italian) where we went shopping. They’ve got a great little shopping area and they were having their winter market with lots of little stalls where people sell holiday trinkets, some hand made, some made in China 😉 More photos of that trip next!

Trip Log: Netherlands to Germany to Italy

Travel

 

I’m sitting in the bar of the hotel we’re staying at in the Italian Alps. It’s almost lunchtime and skiers are clomping through with their big, plastic ski boots. We’ve been here a couple days now, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit and write some things up. I’m going to try to give some highlights of my trip so far. And hopefully the pics will upload properly. Internet here is 2 Euros per hour, so you can imagine I’m not connecting all that often!

Back patio of Amsterdam house

We arrived in Amsterdam at about 11:30am local time on 17 December. The flight itself was good, but we were surrounded by children and they really got into the tag-team screaming (I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere about the secret screaming-child conspiracy). There was snow on the ground when we landed in Amsterdam! For those of us from the US, snow isn’t often a  big deal, but snow is rare in Amsterdam, especially in December. So when we went to the house we’ll be staying at here, all the school kids were outside throwing snowballs and building snowmen.

The next morning, we left with my mother in law and brother in law. We drove about  seven hours and stayed overnight in a small town in Germany. Along the way, we stopped at rest areas where you had to pay 50 Euro cents to use the bathroom. You got a ticket and could take it to the counter and use the ticket as credit for a purchase. I thought this was an interesting way to ensure people bought things at the rest area. And because it was all the same system, you can use the bathroom in one area and use the tickets as credit in another rest area. Very interesting! Though I have to say, for those who complain that Starbucks coffee is expensive, you should try the espresso in Germany! It’s wonderful, but at these rest areas, a single espresso, which would cost $1.80 at Starbucks is 2,85 Euro, which comes out to be about $4US. Talk about expensive coffee!

Mixed grill!

So we go to the little hotel in Germany, called Salzburger Hof, and settled in for the evening. We had dinner in the restaurant on-site and the food was fantastic! We got this family style mixed grill that had weinerschnitzel, chicken, pork, spaetzle, shrimp, french fries and veggies. It was pretty awesome. I really have to admit that the Germans know how to make great food!

Village in the AlpsIt got down to -15 Celsius overnight and it snowed. Freaking cold! So we got back on the road for the last leg of the trip to Italy, which should have been about three hours. It turned into five hours instead. We were driving in temps between –7 and –11*C and the windshield wiper fluid froze in the tubes. You wouldn’t think this would be an issue unless you’ve had the experience of driving in the snow in freezing temperatures. The dirty sludge thrown up from the road stuck to the windows – frozeMountains solid whenever we’d run the wipers. So it was smeared along the windshield, leaving a grey grime for us to try to see through. Of course, we had anti-freeze in the wiper fluid, but it was only for temps as low as –20*C. We ended up buying –60*C and finally got the ice broken up in the tubes at around 1pm. After that, we were able to get back up to speed. We passed a lot of little towns nestled in the foothills of the Alps and even got some photos of small castles and strongholds. Some of the views were absolutely spectacular!

We arrived at the hotel in Valles, Italy at about 3pm local time. More photos to come!

Sporthotel Peintner

Nanowrimo, Neil Gaiman and the Netherlands!

Travel, Writing

 

Like my little word play up there? Yeah, me too.

So you didn’t hear from me in November, I know. I was busy with the nose-to-the-grindstone thing, belting out a very (ugly) rough draft of a middle grade paranormal story. I did win Nano though, with 53k words! Go me! I’m very pleased with myself, as this is the first time I’ve actually won Nano. Most years I wasn’t even able to participate because I was working on my MA, but this year I was determined! And, you know, it’s really amazing the number of words I can write if I stop putzing around and actually put fingers to keyboard.

 

On Monday, 14 December, I had the privilege of seeing Neil Gaiman speak here in Decatur, GA. The Little Shop of Stories (a fantastic indy kids’ bookstore) won the Graveyard Book Halloween Party Contest, along with a store up in Winnipeg, Canada. So the prize was Neil coming to speak and sign. I arrived at about 5:15pm and Neil was going to begin speaking at 6. I wasn’t able to get a ticket for the main room where he actually was, so I was in the overflow room with a couple hundred other folks. When Neil began, he actually did a shout out to those of us in the overflow room, which was really wonderful! He paused and asked where the camera was (we were watched on closed circuit tv) and he waved to us and thanked us for coming. He also assured us that we would be real people soon. 😉

He read from Odd and the Frost Giant, then took some questions which had been submitted prior to the evening. One question dealt with Nanowrimo. It asked whether he thought it was a waste of time, or a good idea. And I really loved his answer. He said that he thought anything that moved an aspiring writing from the “aspiring” tag to the “writer” tag was a good thing. And he also said that for some people it was a good tool to discover that they shouldn’t be a writer. That cracked me up!

At any rate, he was a real trouper! I finally got to him with my two books at 12:30am. I got home at 1am and Neil tweeted that he was finished at 1:30am. Talk about an author dedicated to his fans! He said he signed for 1050 people! No wonder it took so long. This was my first time seeing Neil in person, though I’ve been a fan for a long time. He really did go above and beyond expectations. I have even more respect for him than I did before, if that’s possible!

 

And for the final “N”… I’m at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport right now, waiting to get on a jet plane headed for Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (Granted, when I get a chance to post this, I’ll already be there because I’m not paying Hartsfield five bucks just to get on the internet for two hours.

Now I’m en route, up in the air some few thousand feet. I guess I’m about three and a half hours from arrival and can’t really sleep. These little seats are not particularly comfortable.

Anyway, the trip is a family thing and also a very, very, very late honeymoon. Like eight years late. But better late than never, right? We’re flying into Amsterdam, then driving with family down to the Italian Alps. A week there, then back to Amsterdam for another week. Then to London for another week, then home. I’ll post as often as I can, but I have no idea what my access will be. I’m hoping to get some revisions done since I won’t have the internet distracting me. Ha! 🙂

Good writing to all!