Tag Archive - Travel

11 Moments That Have Made My Heart Skip a Beat

Happy 11.11.11! This is the last of the 11 posts. It has been fun, but I am exhausted. Don’t expect to see anything new from me for a couple of days. Just read back through any of the 11’s you missed. And maybe leave a comment. 😉

Thanks to Bryan who suggested this topic. It was, I believe, the most fun to write. I find myself, at the end, very grateful.

Giving Birth to My Babies  I think it is safe to say I have never encountered anything so transcendent…so astonishing…so absolutely unbelievable as the miracle of life emerging from my own body. Sure I was working. But I felt no pride. Only the most profound sense of having…for a moment…touched the otherworldly. Of standing in a rift between time and eternity. Out of which came this remarkable little bundle of life. I saw it. I felt it. But I do not understand it. And why God allows us to be part of it…I do not know. It is an extravagance of grace.

Sunset, Florence, Summer 2007. (see above) We stood on the Ponte Vecchio and watched a Master artist at work; painting the sky in an ever evolving fury of color. It wrapped itself around us and we were inside it. How do you plan a moment like this? What would you do to attain it if you could? It is gift. Lavish. Reckless. Glorious.

Stepping into the upper chapel at Sainte Chapelle  We wound our way up a dimly lighted stone staircase. It was impossible to glimpse any hint of what awaited til we were spilled out into the room. And then, Oh My!! Three soaring walls of stained glass. Floor to ceiling. The room vibrated with color. It splashed onto the floor. It hummed in the air. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I could only stand there, helpless, tears running down my face. I was undone.

Long had I resented popes and priests who built such extravagances as these from the tithes of peasants who could hardly feed their families. Until that moment. At that moment, I knew I would gladly starve to be cloaked in the glory of God like this. Just once. To feel His Holiness rest on my face as a shaft of colored light.

The Invocation in the Eucharist to make the Bread and Wine, Body and Blood  We are supposed to be singing at this moment. But I frequently find myself unable. It startled me the first time. So weighty and profound, so marvelous and mysterious. I thought, perhaps, that over time it would lose some of this power. I was wrong. Three years later, my eyes fill with tears and my throat closes. My it always be so.

Watching my daughter give birth Don’t even begin to think it is the same thing as number 1. Not even close. Yes, there is the miracle of life begetting life. Of ten fingers and ten toes, and breath and blood. But there is something else. Seeing your daughter become something else. A life giver. She who brings forth. Brave. Strong. Determined. All love. All sacrifice. A miracle of a different sort.

Standing in front of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night  I am a great lover of art. It is not unusual for me to have strong feelings about works I see. But only a precious few have inspired a visceral reaction. This was one of them. The curious thing is that I knew very little about van Gogh when I encountered it over 20 years ago. It’s as though some of the immense passion van Gogh poured into his work was able to communicate itself to me directly, without translator. Gut to gut. Soul to soul. Understanding his story as I do now, I can give words to some of that. But all I had in that moment was the intense pang in my heart that told me there was far more here than swirls and stars and paint. And that bound me to the work, and to the artist, forever.

Watching Jake draw  It has fascinated me since he was a little boy. Art seems to pour out of him. Like water. He picks up a pencil and begins. No hesitations as he thinks long about what to draw. No draw erase, draw erase, til it’s right. The picture is already in his head (or in his heart?) and his hand knows precisely how to translate it to paper. It is a wonderment to me. I am in awe.

Being in Monet’s Garden at Giverney  Perhaps it all comes of having read too many fairy tales. The ones where someone gets swept up out of his day to day world and carried off into some fairy realm. When I was in Monet’s Garden, I felt that I had stepped into one of his paintings. As we meandered over the grounds, I kept finding myself facing a perspective that I knew only too well. But now the fronds of weeping willow swayed with the breeze. Bees hovered over blossoms. And there were ripples between the water lilies. And still, there was this sense that I must be dreaming. That this was too extraordinary to be believed.

Josh singing Amazing Grace at his school talent show  He was a quiet seventh grader. None of his friends or teachers suspected he was so talented. He stepped onto the stage, I gave him an introduction, and lyrical incense flowed from his mouth. Pristine, clear, sweet. Nobody moved. Everyone was completely silent. As though no one dared sully the sacredness of this moment. And I knew how much it would mean to him. And my mother’s heart swelled with gladness.

Up From the Grave…  When I was a little girl, Easter was a new dress, Sunrise service, and a song we only ever sang on that day. It began, appropriately, as a dirge. “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.” The whole time we sang this my heart beat faster and faster because I knew what was coming. “Up from the Grave He arose! With a mighty triumph o’er His foes…” Even when I was too little to understand all that the song meant, something inside me knew that the whole world was turned upside down between verse and chorus. I sang the song many times as I grew older. Even as a cynical teenager. But it never lost its magic. Even now, just typing the words, I have butterflies in my stomach.

The Proposal  It’s not like it was a complete surprise. We had already talked about marriage. We had even looked at rings. Just in case. 😉 But when it happened, for real, I was giddy and scared and excited. And a little piece of me seemed to float over the whole thing and look down on it, like it was happening to someone else. And it took wearing the ring and telling people for a few days before that little piece of me crawled back into my skin. And I was able to believe. And it became true.

 I would love to hear about the moments that have left you breathless. Do tell….


11 Unforgettable Dining Experiences

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
~A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Pooh and I are very like in this. I find food terribly exciting, especially when it is exquisitely prepared and beautifully served. Yes, I eat my fair share of leftovers and occasionally even stoop to fast food on the road. But I am passing fond of meals that nourish the senses. Preferably all of them. I favor long, slow meals accompanied by deep conversation and laughter. And if this happens to occur someplace beautiful with people I love, all the better. Here are 11 of my favorites.

Asia de Cuba, Anniversary March 2010
My sweet husband surprised me with a trip to New York for our 23rd anniversary. He chose the restaurant. He is brilliant. 🙂 Asia de Cuba is a trendy Asian/Cuban fusion restaurant. Philippe Starck designed the unique interior. White curtains and a holographic waterfall help create the unique atmosphere. Our waiter sat down at our table and spent a very long time talking with us to discover what we liked before making recommendations. Everything we ate was beautiful and delicious, but there were two distinct standouts. The calamari salad is one of their signature dishes. Crisp calamari with chayote, hearts of palm, bananas, cashews, chickory and raddichio, and sesame orange dressing. Amazing! And dessert. Oh. My!! The Bay of Pigs was gastrorgasmic. (My friend Maurilio sent this word to me after I tweeted the above picture. He was right!) Bananas covered in an impossibly delicate shell of caramelized sugar, ice cream (coffee I think) fudge and caramel sauces, warm chocolate chip cookies, macadamia nuts, fondant, and whipped cream. It should be illegal.

Gelateria Bellocco, Summer 2010
Our family has eaten our fair share of gelato. We are pretty finicky about what constitutes proper gelato. Last summer, Kelsey and I returned to our favorite gelateria in Florence. We ate there 3 times in 24 hours. But just two days later we were renouncing our favorite for Sergio’s marvelous creations. In particular, he makes a pistachio that uses salted pistachios. I was skeptical, but I was wrong. Salty, creamy, intense, addictive. If I lived in Italy I would have to go to a 12 step program. That’s all there is to it.

Mangia Nashville, Anniversary March 2011
An Italian feast! Five leisurely courses, each featuring two or three selections, served family style. Superb food prepared by Nick Pellegrino, who also sings, dances and quotes lines from the Godfather. It is a wonderful community experience, and a meal you will never forget. (By the way, the desserts at the top of the post are theirs.)

Country Breakfast at my Mama’s
Just ask my kids. If we are going to visit the first question is likely to be, “Do you think Mamaw will make breakfast?” My mother’s biscuits and gravy, and chocolate gravy (I kid you not), sausage, eggs, homemade jelly, fried apples, etc… is legendary. Better than Cracker Barrel. Even better than the Loveless. Yep. I said it.

Picnics in the Japanese Garden at Cheekwood
When the kids were little I would buy an annual pass. We would go every couple of weeks. We would look at the artwork in the museum, then stroll though the gardens and see what was blooming, or putting up shoots, or making seeds. But we would always end up in the Japanese Garden. It was our favorite. And this is where we would pull out our lunch. And just for a while, we were far away in Japan. And this was our garden. And nothing could be more natural than bringing our lunch out onto the lanai and breathing slowly and contemplating the waves of stone, and the colors and textures, the order, the calm.

Cafe Tomaselli, Salzburg
Mozart ate here. It’s true. I think I know why. The pastries are elegant and delicious, and surprisingly affordable. The cappuccino is warm, and frothy, and rich. And everything is served on proper plates and in proper cups, on proper trays, with lovely little sugar cubes and tiny glasses of water, and a spoon laid over the top. And one can imagine, just for a moment, that all of life is just this grand and elegant.

French Boulangeries
It took us exactly one morning to become Parisian, dashing into the local Boulangerie for our morning pastries. Our favorites were the Viennese rolls, soft warm bread with chocolate chips. We would walk down the street, nibbling, till we reached the courtyard behind Notre Dame. There we would finish our breakfast properly, perhaps sharing a bit with the birds.

Boudro’s on the Riverwalk, San Antonio
To sit along the riverwalk at night is nourishment in itself. Then add to that the most amazing guacamole I have ever eaten. It is their recipe we use to this day. Mesquite grilled Texas Quail in a molasses glaze, served over pepper jack grits. Gulf coast blue crab cakes with roasted corn sauce, jicama slaw, and tomatilla cream. Yum. Yum!

Johnnie Foxe’s, Dublin Ireland
Their mussels are legendary, and not without reason. Beautifully seasoned, tender and fresh. Best seafood chowder I ever ate. And our introduction to Banoffee pie. I have been playing with recipes ever since trying to get it just right. Everything is served up in a convivial atmosphere with all kinds of quirky kitsch all over the walls. Makes for interesting conversations. 🙂

Boma Cafe, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney World
Boma is beautiful, as is the whole of the lodge. And they serve up a whole buffet of African fare. Lentils, curries, soups, vegetables, meats, salads, all with exotic seasonings. A wonderful opportunity to sample a wide variety of unfamiliar foods.

African Supper, Malawi
We gathered under a great spreading acacia tree. There were a thousand stars overhead. Our freshly scrubbed bodies were chilly in the night air. A fire blazed, and there were lanterns on the tables. We filled our plates with nsima (rather like grits, but softer), greens with tomatoes and onions, beans, stewed meats, and bread toasted over the fire. We drank pineapple and mango sodas. And we relived the moments of the day. Our stomachs were filled, and we would sleep the sleep of the weary. Weary, but glad.

Tell me about the significant dining experiences in your life. What is it that makes them so?

Buon Appetit!

*Special thanks to Giorgio who supplies the topic for today’s post.

11 Places That Captivate Me

Perhaps it comes of being a farm girl. This susceptibility to…this affinity for…this visceral connection to…place.

It can happen for a variety of reasons. Often the people of a place, or the people with whom you encounter it, are what root it deep in memory. But sometimes the place itself has a mystery, a presence, a beauty that tugs at you; captivating, casting a spell.

Here are eleven places that have held me captive since first I saw them. I have had opportunity to revisit some. But all of them call to me. Like a lost lover. Beckoning. Begging me to return.

Malawi  “The Warm Heart of Africa” It is, perhaps, a geographic term, in part. But for me it will always be a people who love extravagantly. Who know a joy that has little to do with circumstance. Who embrace strangers and take them into their hearts. Here I witnessed some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. I ate toast grilled over an open fire and “showered” under the stars. Here I saw my daughter in her element, loving well, full of joy.

Vernazza  A tiny town on the Italian Riviera that time forgot. No automobile traffic. Gorgeous old buildings snugged into the rocks, clambering over the top of one another for the best view of the Mediterranean. Life moves slowly here. Food is fresh and beautiful and delicious. Tender anchovies straight from the sea. The best pesto I have ever eaten. And Sciacchetra, a warm, rich, amber wine pressed locally from grapes that have been dried first. Lazy afternoons spent sunning on great boulders in the lagoon. Lazy evenings breathing sea breezes and watching the sun paint the sky. My children have been scheming ever since to figure out how we could move there. I do hope they sort it out.

Meteora The most extraordinary place I have ever been. Second largest monastic community in the world…built atop great stone buttes thrusting up out of the earth…nine hundred years ago. Crazy. But there is something very other about this place. The treacherous beauty. The set-apartness. The centuries of worship that have embedded themselves into the stone just like incense has embedded itself into the wood of the church. And you can feel it all around you. A weighty Presence. Wondrous.

Ireland I did not encounter a single locale in the whole of the country that did not have about it an air of magic…of the mystic. This people, this soil, have been so washed in story and song, in poetry and faith, in mystery and imagination, that it fairly throbs with enchantment. We trod the ground of ancient monasteries, stepped inside a 1500 year old church, stood before the glorious Book of Kells, breathed the heady book scent of the Trinity College Library (nirvana), sipped Guinness inside the factory, and gave our hearts to the Dingle Peninsula. My husband and children are connected to this island nation by blood. Mine is strictly an affair of the heart.

Paris  The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, L’Orangerie, Sainte Chapelle, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the boulangeries and patisseries, the Seine, The Eiffel Tower, the beautiful old buildings, the markets… A short train ride out to Monet’s Garden at Giverny or to Versailles. A lifetime would not be long enough to know Paris as I would like to know her. She romances from the moment you meet her. There is a quality of air..a way of being…that I have simply never known anywhere else. When I am with her, I am thoroughly in love with her. And when I am away, I remember her with a flutter in my heart.

Venice Venice in the morning is scrubbed cobblestones, fresh fish markets, ebullient flower boxes overspilling their bounds, and hot frothy cappucino. Venice at mid-day is clatter of church bells, lines of laundry stretched across the canals, vaporettos skimming over the lagoon to see the glass blowers at Murano, and cool salads of squid and baby octopus. Nighttime in Venice….ah, well…nighttime is St. Mark’s Square all aglow with orchestra playing and elegant dinner al fresco on white tablecloths, sinewy black gondolas soundlessly plying the canals to the not infrequent serenade of the gondolier, perusing an endless assortment of Carnevale masks, and falling asleep to the lap of water underneath my window.

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone is like a great scavenger hunt of the most delicious sort. Around pretty much any bend in the road you can expect to be astounded and delighted by the vistas offered you. Natural wonders abound. Wildlife cavorts or lazes about everywhere. And the skies are so intensely blue they will break your heart. One moment I saw things that made me laugh out loud, next moment something that completely took my breath away. Can’t wait to go back and take my kids.

Salzburg  Salzburg is all marzipan and fondant. Everything is a little prettier than it has to be; the quintessence of Baroque architecture and ornament. Salzburg is Mozart and music, and one is apt to encounter a string quartet tuning up most anywhere. Salzburg is Mirabell Gardens, alpine vistas, and The Sound of Music. And Salzburg, for me, is lingering long with my lovely daughter over exquisite pastries and frothy cappuccino at the cafe that once served Herr Mozart himself.

Istanbul Exotic. Colorful. Ancient. Surprisingly cosmopolitan. Of course, it once was the crossroads of the world Even now, one can walk from Asia to Europe, simply by crossing a bridge. So much that matters happened here. Religiously. Politically. My heart pounds as I cross the threshold into the glorious Hagia Sophia. How many thousands of my brothers and sisters in the faith crossed this threshold before me?  Here is a startling collision of the old world and the new. I can use city wide wifi while shopping in the ancient spice bazaar. Construction workers sip Turkish tea from elegant glasses while perched atop their bulldozers. It is paradox. It is chaos. It is wonderful.

East Tennessee When I was a little girl, I dreamed of leaving. Not the mountains, really. But the tiny town where I grew up. It is more precious to me now than it ever was then. I will probably never move back, but I take great delight in standing on the soil that gave me roots. So much of me is woven into that place, even though I have been gone for 25 years. And something of those mountains, the creeks, the country roads, the farms and the people who love them, is part of me still. And when I am there, I can feel it relax a little. And be glad.

Franklin Home. It is, I suppose, an idea as much as it is a place. But here is where my babies learned to crawl. Here we brought them before the Lord and thanked Him for them. Our playground is here. Our park. Our favorite restaurants and pubs. An amble down Main Street always means bumping into friends. It is difficult to imagine a better place to be a family. And as much as we love to travel, it is always, ALWAYS good to come home.

Is there a pace that has stolen your heart? When you daydream, where are you?

*Third in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Photo credit for the haunting nighttime photo of Venice goes to my daughter. It was taken from the balcony of our apartment. If you look closely, you can see our clothesline in the upper foreground. Yes, I did hang our wash from this line. When in Venice… 😉

The Way

It is the last place he ever expected to find himself. He comes to St. Jean Pied de Port to claim the dead body of his only son. A son he hardly knew. Who refused to fit his mold. Who left his doctoral program in anthropology to travel the world and live among the people who were just faces in a book.

How many times had Daniel begged him to join him? To be part of his world?

It had seemed so reckless. So irresponsible.

He sifts through Daniel’s belongings. Bits and pieces of a life. Photographs from far flung places. Of a young man fully alive. A young man worth knowing.

Tom decides he will accompany Daniel on his final journey.  The one he had only just begun. A pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He will carry Daniel’s ashes, leaving them all along the way.

“I’m doing it for Daniel,” he says to the gendarme.

“You do not walk the Camino for another,” he replies. “You walk it for yourself.”

It will ask more of him than he can imagine. He will come to know his son. He will come to know himself. He will not be alone in this. There will be a motley assemblage of comrades. Who find one another. Who need one another. More than any of them realize.

Yorick “from Amsterdam” is here to lose weight for a wedding. This, despite the fact that he seems to know the culinary specialty of every region through which they pass, and insists upon sampling it. But there is another hunger in Yorick. A sorrow. One that can only be shared with those who have walked long and lived deep with one another.

Deborah is bitter, belligerent, and guarded. She walks the Way to stop smoking. She says. But she too is fleeing dark demons. She has forgotten how to trust, to be safe with others…how to forgive…how to forgive herself.

Irish writer, James, is brash and loud. He has some serious problems with the Church, who has been the cause of much bloodshed in his homeland. He has writer’s block. He is here to find a story. The story will find him.

The Way is an artfully made film from Emilio Estevez. The story is compelling and rich, with characters who get inside your heart. The cinematography is stunning. And the invitation…to slow down, to breathe deep, to open ourselves to God and to others…is for all of us.

I implore you to see the film. It will be gift to you. You will laugh. You will cry. You might dare to dream big dreams. And with your ticket, you will cast a vote for the beautiful and the true.

Buen Camino!

To the Field of Stars

…if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth’s lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you. If, on the other hand, the very thought of seeing stars dance piques your curiosity at some deep level of your soul, then pay attention to what follows….

Thin places, they have been called. Geographic points on the earth where the space between God and man lessens, and the Presence is a breathable, touchable reality. Often these bear some connection to a holy person or persons who lived there once, or whose bones lie there still.

And so, the pilgrimage. One walks across one’s threshold and keeps walking…for weeks, even months…until he comes to the sacred place. Here he prays. But not here only. For every step along the way becomes prayer. And the journey is a shaping of the soul. A readying for the Presence. And perhaps, if there were no journey, the Presence would be indiscernible. It is the journey, the trouble and pain, the giving of oneself to others along the way, that prepares the soul to pray. To receive. Without demand. With only gladness. And humility. And joy.

In July 2003, Father Kevin Codd begins his own pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He tells the story of this journey artfully and vulnerably in To the Field of Stars. I am captivated from the first page. And I sob my way through the last couple of chapters, feeling almost as though I, myself, am entering Compostela with these dear friends who have loved well and shared so much of themselves along the way.

I leave you to discover the story of Compostela, the third most traversed pilgrimage in all Christendom (after only Jerusalem and Rome). Herein I propose, instead, to give you a taste of this marvelous story and why you want to read it. My choices are strictly subjective.

Of the commencement of a pilgrimage: The author confesses the motivation only reveals itself clearly along the way. However, most begin as a longing for something other. Something transcendent and bigger. Something that matters.

We want to see there one little sign that there is more to us than just us…We want to see there an extravagant God who does not count or measure but just pours and pours and pours, grace upon grace, stars upon stars, into our sky, into us.

Of walking as prayer and the earth as sanctuary: Father Codd begins the day with morning prayers. The rhythm of the prayer becomes the rhythm of his feet and he finds that walking becomes prayer. And the slowness, the earthiness of feet against soil makes him a citizen of earth, keenly aware of its mysteries. And God is there.

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present…

The heat of the morning makes the pitch in those pine trees give off a strong scent; this is the stuff of which incense is made. I inhale its aroma and remember as I did the day before that out here, too, I am in church.

Of his journey with the Church: Not the least of Father Codd’s wrestlings along the way have to do with the Church. He answers the questions of intelligent young people who feel the Church has lost touch with them. He winces at liturgies perfunctorily performed in some of the tiny towns through which they pass. He also sits in the sweet coolness of a Romanesque chapel and contemplates the Savior. He meets hospitality poured out in Jesus’ name. He watches an old priest drop his briefcase to dance with young people around the zero kilometer marker in Compostela. He sees the Bride of Christ as she is…

…grace made flesh, but flesh it still is: soft and hard, young and old, new and worn, all at the same time. It is so close to God, yet so far from God, yet so close to God.

To the Field of Stars is a pilgrim story, told honestly, with humble grace and great good humor, and a fair measure of poetry. It is laughter. And silence. It is community. And solitude. It is invocation. Contemplation. And invitation….to a life that is…more.

If I Were Really Brave….

Luci Swindoll is a wild woman. Her life story throbs with adventure, with risks taken and narrow escapes, with moments seized and savored. Few people know how to squeeze more glory out of a life than she.

However, even she has a few things she would like to have done differently. Opportunities missed. Moments when she wishes she would have followed her heart. She talks about this in  her book, Doing Life Differently: The Art of Living With Imagination. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I keep asking myself, “What are the dreams I surrendered too easily? What would I do if I were really brave?” And, most importantly, “Which of these is still possible?”

They are uncomfortable, vulnerable, scary, thrilling questions to ponder. I thought it might be easier if you and I consider them together. So, I will share a few of mine with you and you can share yours with me. If you dare. And maybe we will end up borrowing one or two from each other. And we can sit out on the ledge together until one of us has the courage to jump. 🙂

Write a Book  There. I said it. Out loud. It is something that has tugged at my heart for a couple of years now. But I keep sabotaging myself. I say I have no time. Which is true, and not true. I do have many demands on my time. And I feel selfish writing when there is  a baby to take care of and homework or laundry or dishes to be done. But, I also waste time. Every day. Mostly I’m scared. Scared that it will be awful. Scared I will write it and nobody will read it.

Play the Mandolin  I bought one. That’s a start, right? I love it’s sound…in bluegrass…in lovely Venetian barcarolles and love songs. And, though it has 8 strings, it only has 4 pitches. Pretty accessible, given that I am already relatively musical. But it’s harder than it looks. And there’s that whole time thingy. It’s looking across the room at me right now. As I type this. Not accusing, exactly. Singing…softly…

Study Abroad  Was this even available when I was in college? I didn’t know about it if it was. But I wish I had had the chutzpa to get myself out of the country, one way or another, when I was younger; more malleable.

Study Literature or Art History at the University Level I could totally be one of those people who just goes to college for the rest of my life. I actually looked into it a couple of years ago. But, it’s expensive. And the schedule is inflexible. So for now, I read great literature on my own. And visit museums. And attend lectures. And read about artists…

Become Fluent in Another Language  This is one of two that Luci and I share. I know a fair amount of survival French and bits of Italian and German. But, I would like to know another language well enough that I could have a thought in that language without thinking it in English and translating. Does that make sense? Phrases sometimes come to me in French. That’s a start, I suppose. But I am far from being able to carry on a comfortable conversation without lots of stopping and starting and wrinkling my nose and grasping for the right words.

Live in Europe Probably France. Or Italy. Or both. 🙂 Visiting has been so lovely. But I want to live the rhythm of life in a Provencal or Tuscan village. To buy fresh bread at the boulangerie every morning. And assist with the grape and olive harvests. To know a people who sees the world through a different lens. I regularly survey rental properties online. (When I should be writing or practicing mandolin or French. :)) It is a dream, fortunately, that Mike and I share. So, just maybe….

Walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela  Beginning on the French side of the Pyrenees and crossing northern Spain, this is one of the oldest and most traversed pilgrimages in all of Christendom. 780 km. It usually takes 3-4 weeks to complete it. I first learned of it from my friend CeCe who traveled the final 150 km with her sister a few years ago. Orthodoxy has taught me to eat, and breathe, and wear my faith. Now I want to walk it. Father Kevin Dodd’s beautiful book, To the Field of Stars, is stoking my desire. And I am seriously considering a mini pilgrimage (in my car) to a neighboring state to see the new film called The Way which depicts one man’s (fictional) journey. I had decided the Camino would be a most appropriate way to mark my 50th birthday (in 2016) until Jake and I began seriously taking about this:

Hike the Appalachian Trail  Probably not all of it. That takes around 7 months. But we’re thinking we might hit it for a couple of months the summer after he graduates from college. That gives us a while to acquire the gear and take a number of practice hikes. Appalachia is my heritage. I drank the rugged beauty of it in with my milk. It is a worthy endeavor, especially if I get to do it with my son.

OK, there you go. A rather unwieldy collection of dreams deferred…for now…but not forever.

How bout you? What would you do if you were really brave?

Booklist: The Travel Books

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. ~St. Augustine.

Ours is a family of gypsies. We LOVE to travel. Early in our marriage, Mike and I decided that experiences and memories would always have priority over stuff as we made choices regarding allocation of time and of money. So, while I buy most of my clothing at Goodwill and consignment stores, clip coupons, and never buy anything that is not on sale, ours is a family that has seen a good bit of the world.

It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are. ~Alain de Botton

Traveling to far-off places has a tendency to help us find bits of ourselves, and of one another, that have lain hidden. It challenges and inspires us. And, it gives us a treasure trove of memories that are part of the cement that binds us as a family.

When we are not traveling, I am frequently reading about the travels of others, or combing through guide books and dreaming about our next trip. Here are a few of my favorites. Be sure and tell me yours.

Travel Guides

Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door  Rick Steves has been my best friend in planning the several trips we have made to Europe. He and I share a common philosophy about travel: While in a foreign country, one should soak up as much of the authentic culture as possible. Eat where they eat. Sleep in their neighborhoods. Shop in their markets. Why would I want to travel to Istanbul to sleep in an American chain hotel and eat at McDonalds? I can do that here.

Steves puts his decades of experience to work for me, and helps me find those quirky, off-the-beaten-path places that put me in direct contact with the people I am visiting. Our family is eternally grateful to him for introducing us to one of our favorite destinations EVER: Vernazza in the Cinque Terra (along the Italian Riviera). Europe Through the Backdoor gives a great overview and some general travel tips that are helpful wherever you might find yourself in Europe. His guides for individual countries give more specific information.

I especially like his walking guides, both for cities and for museums, highlighting attractions on the way. And, not surprisingly, I appreciate the historical information as well as curiosities and trivia.

DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Concise. Full color illustrations. Small enough to slide into your back pocket. They always include helpful street and metro maps. Usually specific to a city or a region (like Provence). We have them for New York, Chicago, Paris, Dublin, and London. They begin by giving their top ten things to see in the city. Then they give top ten lists for categories: museums, pubs, restaurants, hotels, children’s attractions, sporting events, etc… They usually include a list of excursions outside the city as well. For example, the Dublin guide gave us information about the whole of Ireland. While Rick Steves takes you in through the back door, these guides will make sure you know about all the major don’t miss attractions.

If I still need info after consulting these two sources, I consult guides from Frommer’s and Fodor’s. I love that they too are now adding color photographs to many of their guides. I like the traveling philosophy of the Lonely Planet guides and have, at times, found valuable information therein. But, I find their organizational system cumbersome.


The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton  I make an unusual exception here in that this is the first book I have ever included on a booklist before having read the whole of it. The portions I have read convince me that, if the rest were rubbish (most unlikely) it would still be a valuable read. The author is a contemplative. He takes as his companions on his exploits artists and writers who give him new eyes with which to see the world. He rolls around ideas and observations that are most intriguing. Thoughts about anticipation, curiosity, beauty, art, and seeing our own everyday world as a destination worthy of reflection.

To the Field of Stars by Father Kevin A. Codd  A compelling personal story of pilgrimage, of discovery, of communion…along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage is on my own bucket list. Father Codd’s beautiful account of struggle and pain, generosity and joy is stoking my desire.

Jesus spent a lot of time on the road…I wanted to know what it was like to live as he lived, depending on his feet to keep him bound to the earth and moving forward towards his destiny. Know his feet, know him.

A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi  De Blasi’s background as a food writer is obvious every time she describes the ridiculous food she enjoys in Tuscany. My mouth waters. And I start looking for apartments in Tuscany… This is a beautiful book about a roughly 3 year period she and her husband spend becoming part of a small, close knit Tuscan village. Great community meals, grape harvests, crusty old seasoned characters. Marvelous.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers…looked with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window…

Mmm hmmm. Me too, Peter, me too. Thing is, even though Mayle is completely honest about the challenges…cracked pipes, the brutal Mistral winds, falling roof tiles, etc…I find myself, on the last page, wanting more than ever to spend a long season in France. Mayle’s evocative descriptions take me there. And nourishes the dream….

Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks  A drunken wager gives way to an ironic adventure.  An endeavor so ludicrous, so perplexing, so…intriguing…that folks can’t help joining in. Offering rides, food, lodging. Soon, his reputation precedes him. And his folly becomes a national phenomenon. An unlikely, yet completely true story. An inside look at the ordinary people you and I might have missed. Great fun.

Addendum:  Keep in mind that plenty of books having nothing to do with travel can deepen and enrich your travel experience. For example, planning a visit to Ireland? Take a look at How the Irish Saved Civilization, Beauty: the Invisible Embrace, Angela’s Ashes, Dubliners, the poetry of W.B. Yeats or Seamus Heaney. These books will help you understand everything you see; the architecture, the art, the churches, the markets, the faces, the ethos, the very essence of the people.

Wild and Extravagant…

The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.

~Annie Dillard

I have this collection…photographs from Yellowstone. I had to take them. But, how to explain them? How to describe the sense of urgency to capture…bits of mineral laden goo that to me resemble the musings of a Kandinsky or Pollack? Charred black trunks standing valiantly against stone and sky. Austere. Piercing. Simmering pots of pink mud that make me laugh out loud. Stones painted in umber, sienna, and olive by the continual washing of geyser runoff.

It’s not roses or sunsets or babies. Not your typical fodder for photographs, or meditations on beauty. But I find them captivating. That God would choose to spend His creative capital so recklessly; to imbue the most humble of creations with wonder and a raw grandeur.

There is, perhaps, a lesson in this. How many other places around me does beauty lie, unseen? A teenaged boy who is still growing into his long, gangly limbs. An old woman, bent by the years, whose skin hangs in folds. A stranger whose angry bravado mars, but cannot completely conceal, the image of God. If I linger long enough…if I train my eye to search for it, what might I see?

I submit these quirky images for your perusal, along with observations by a couple of kindred spirits. And I challenge you…I challenge me…to walk through this day with eyes wide open.

Wild and extravagant beauty is all around us.

The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font…Freedom is the world’s water and weather, the world’s nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves pizzazz.

~Annie Dillard

Nature is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.

~Henry David Thoreau

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.

~Annie Dillard

A Home in the Trees…

It’s like staying at Grandma’s, I think, as I pad down the hall to the bathroom. Our rough timbered room with it’s windows thrown open to the cool mountain air has a washstand, but no toilet or tub. Just like when the Old Faithful Inn opened its doors in 1904. Except for the fact that water runs into my basin now from a faucet, whereas theirs would have been poured from a pitcher. Gone, too, is the chamber pot that once stood on the bottom shelf. Thank goodness for that.

Were it a bit colder, we would enjoy steam heat from the radiator. It’s new, part of a renovation done in the last decade, but poured in a vintage mold. It is beautiful. As it is, the blanket feels yummy at night and mornings are a bit nippy, inside as well as out. Just enough to invigorate. The bathrooms we share with others on our hall are clean and bright, with white tiles and lovely appointments. Open windows again provide ventilation.

The ceiling over the lobby vaults to a height of 76 feet. The lodge pole pine, so prevalent in Yellowstone, as well the primary building material for the inn, reaches a mature height of 75 feet. Architect Robert Reamer designed the building to complement it’s surroundings. To become an integral part of the landscape.

“I built it in keeping with the place where it stands. Nobody could improve upon that. To be at discord with the landscape would be almost a crime. To try to improve upon it would be an impertinence.”

It represented a new philosophy. The primary clientele, in the beginning, were the well-heeled and elite. They were accustomed to European style resorts, even in the Americas. So that, a great hotel in Maine would look precisely like a great hotel in Florida. The Old Faithful Inn would be in the vanguard of a movement within the National Parks to create lodging that brought the outdoor experience indoors. Gracious and elegant, to be sure, but organic…authentic.

The imposing fireplace is constructed of 500 tons of rhyolite, a volcanic stone quarried just a couple of miles from the building site. It provides structural support for the vaulted lobby. It is currently undergoing restoration to unclog 3 flues filled in during a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1959. Only the front flue has been operative since then. But, baby, she’s a beauty! For scale, look at the photo above. Now realize that the firescreen in front of the fireplace is taller than I am. A porter has to physically go inside the screen to tend the fire. Though no fire is burning in the photograph, it roared every evening and the chairs around it were always occupied.

The Inn is filled with whimsy. Reamer indulged his boyhood dream of having a treehouse by placing a crow’s nest in the rafters. Decks that hover several stories above the ground became landings for the chamber orchestra and for folks who wished to watch the dancing in the lobby below. Most of these upper areas, including an observation deck on the roof, are now closed to the public because of fire codes. But it’s still magical to imagine climbing along the stairways to a lofty perch in the “trees”.

To reinforce the illusion of a forested interior, a special crew was sent out into the woods to find trees and limbs that had been bended by snow, twisted by the wind, or swollen and gnarled by disease, to provide accent and interest. This is one of my favorite components. I can’t stop looking at them. So very intriguing.

The corner of the inn is 1/8th of a mile from Old Faithful. At the time of its construction, this was the federally mandated guideline. Twice, I watched the geyser erupt from the comfort of the deck. Marvelous!

Most of the appointments, and many of the furnishings, are original. Room numbers, hinges and chandeliers were crafted at an on-site forge. Even the light fixtures are original, as the inn had electricity from the beginning. Arts and crafts sofas, chairs, and writing desks are the same ones used by visitors a century ago. Sometimes it is difficult to remember just what year it is….

If you go (and you simply must go):

*Plan ahead! We booked our room almost a year in advance. And there was exactly one room available at the time of booking. There are cancellations sometimes, so if you get a late start its still worth a try.
*Book a room in the old section. There have been two additions. Though they are very nice and you will still have access to the common areas, your room will be an ordinary hotel room.
*There are a few rooms in the old section that have en-suite facilities if that is important to you. They have incorporated the original shared bathrooms with claw foot tubs. But don’t be put off by the shared bathroom. We Americans think this unusual, but most of the world considers this to be normal.
*If you do not stay here, do yourself a favor and pop in anyway, just to see it. Unlike the early days, you are permitted to pay a visit even if you are not a guest. 🙂
*The inn closes for the winter (and boards up all the ground floor windows to protect against the pressure of 5 feet or so of snow pack). So, plan accordingly.

Recommended resource:

Great Lodges of the National Parks, by Christine Barnes, introduces architectural wonders of the National Parks. I am putting both the book and the dvd on my Christmas list. Barnes has several related titles like Great Lodges of the West and Great Lodges of the Canadian Rockies. I will use them for a little dreaming. And for planning…..

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