Tag Archives: travel

Weekly Photo Challenge: On The Move

A view from below the bridge while on the Waal River:

Martinus Nihjoff Bridge, Zaltbummel, The Netherlands

Martinus Nihjoff Bridge, Zaltbommel, The Netherlands

I captured this image on a recent trip on the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam. Nearing the journey’s end, we left the Rhine for the Waal. This bridge is located in Zaltbommel, The Netherlands,  and is named for the Dutch poet Martinus Nijhoff. Nijhoff is remembered for his poem The Wanderer. Appropriate for a photo challenge titled “On The Move”, isn’t it?

You’ll find links to other’s contributions to this week’s challenge at the Daily Post.


Sunday Quote (St. Augustine) 2012, Week the Last

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

Dreaming of the next adventure

Dreaming of the next adventure

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

 I have found landscapes in Morocco exactly as they are described in Delacroix’s paintings.  ~   Henri Matisse

This week’s WP Photo Challenge was Foreign.   I’ve been fortunate to travel to several countries.  Technically, they are all foreign to me, but Tangier, Morocco, seemed to play the part the best:  sights, smells, sounds, people, textures, light — all of them reminded us that we weren’t in America — or Europe — any more.

Walking through the market place, we felt like our photographs would need Smell-o-Vision to capture it all:  the barbers trimming men’s beardS, the women with large baskets full of colorful and aromatic spices for sale, weavers working intricate designs on their looms, the cat who stole a fish from a bin and the fishmonger who chased him a few steps scolding the thief.  We were on a guided tour and were warned to stay close to our guide.  After awhile, it became clear that this was not for our safety, but a measure of trade protection.  Only those known to the guide were allowed to hawk their wares.

At every corner we were accosted by an entrepreneur trying to sell us some sort of trinket — and unwilling to take a ‘NO’.  There were people ready to take your picture, snake charmers — with snakes!  As soon as the dark clouds rolled in, vendors were at your side with umbrellas.   Having an umbrella in your possession did not stop the sales pitches:  But, madame, this umbrella is so much better!

At lunch, while feasting on a tangy Moroccan stew and sipping lush mint tea,  my husband leaned towards me to whisper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for! He was exactly right: everything was as foreign as the travelers in the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine.

Without the scents and not fairly representing the beautiful Moroccan light, here are a few photographs from that brief trip.

A street in the old town

Colorful steps

Would you like my umbrella? I can make you a deal. I have sunscreen, too!

One of my favorite restaurant meals. (Travel theme: Food)

One day, a few weeks before my 40th birthday, my husband told me that he had a gift for me, a surprise. It involves a plane trip, your passport, and food. I’ve already checked with your mother; she’ll babysit for the week.

Well, I hate surprises and emphatically said that I would not go anywhere if I didn’t know where, arguing that I would find out once at the airport, so it might as well be at home. My mother said I was being a baby. My boss told me that I wasn’t being adventurous. My husband finally gave in: he had made reservations on my birthday at Le Café Jules Verne, the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived in Paris the day before my birthday and started to plot out our week. Several museums were on our list — The Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso, the d’Orsay. We knew that we wanted to go to Giverny to see Monet’s gardens and tried to figure out the best day to go. We went to the Jules Verne and enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking Paris. It was fun to do something so extravagant — lunch at an expensive restaurant in Paris to celebrate a birthday — but I don’t remember much about the experience other than we had good food and an enjoyable time, although the restaurant seemed a bit touristy.

The next day we were moving at too leisurely a pace to get to the train station on time to catch the train to Giverny, so we changed our plans, thinking that we wouldn’t make it to the gardens this trip. But, the next day, a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky, we decided spur-of-the-moment to see if we could catch the morning train. We made it to Gare St Lazare with just enough time to spare and settled into the 45 minutes trip through the countryside.

To say that the gardens are magnificent is an understatement bordering on redundancy. Even for the viewer who doesn’t like Impressionistic art, Monet’s paintings depict a gloriously lush vegetation, full of color, light, and texture. It isn’t hard to imagine what the gardens might be like. But, on a beautiful Spring day, they are even better than that! The house itself isn’t much, but it is the same structure where Monet lived. If you visit hoping to see Impressionist Masterpieces, you will be disappointed. Monet’s works are in museums and collections throughout the world, but his home in Giverny is only decorated with reproductions. And, even at the dawn of this century a large portion of the house was devoted to the requisite tourist gift shop.

After we maneuvered our way through the house and past shoppers in the gift shop (zee big spendurhs as a French tour guide was overheard saying), we spent a few hours in the gardens. Unlike the house, the gardens are a delight to stroll through. Paths that lead through rose gardens. Paths that lead to ponds. Row after row of a colorful, scented sensory assault. And, of course, there is the famous Japanese bridge and waterlilies.

When we were finished with our walk, we could have rushed back via taxi to the train station, or we could have waited a few hours to catch the bus. We opted to stay and wander through Giverny, hoping to find a little restaurant to have a bite to eat. What we found, instead, was a beautiful French country house with a wonderful restaurant. Le Jardin de Giverny was only a five-minute stroll from the Monet house. We had taken the other fork in the road, wanting a meandering route back to the main road where we were told we would find a café. So, you might say that it was serendipity that we saw a path that lead to a garden and then noticed a car park and a restaurant sign. We continued down the drive to Le Jardin de Giverny.

I don’t remember the specific things we had for each of the courses, except for the fois gros appetizers and the truly exquisite chocolates for dessert. But, I do remember that we had a four-course meal with champagne. The restaurant was charming, and with only two or three other tables seated, it seemed that our little table in front of the large window was our own private dining room. The wait staff spoke little English, but they were as attentive as possible. With my scarce-remembered high-school French we figured out how to communicate our menu selections. We looked out over the rose garden and the dappled ginkgo trees and enjoyed wonderful food and a peaceful afternoon.

More than 10 years later, both my husband and I would quickly list this among our best meals ever. I think it says something about my dining priorities that I don’t remember the entrée. I’m not sure that I have that sort of sense-memory for food tastes. For me, dining is much more than the food: it is the presentation, the surroundings, a friendly and informed wait staff, a chef who prepares not a meal, but an experience.  Fine dining  doesn’t have to be a Michelin rated restaurant, or prepared using the latest culinary technique, but an opportunity to remember a point in time: where you were, who you were with, what you felt.

Sadly, based on an internet search, it doesn’t appear that this restaurant still exists and even if it does, I’m not sure that I’d make a trip to Giverny just to dine there.   But,  if I’m ever in the French countryside again, I hope that I’ll stumble upon another out-of-the-way restaurant, a place that is fine dining not because of the food prep or the view or the decor are prized by a guide book, but because it provides an amiable, pleasant, complete experience to accompany the food.  Fine dining is memorable dining.

This is my submission for Ailsa’s weekly travel theme. This week’s theme? You guessed it: food.

I don’t have any photos of the restaurant, but I do have some of Monet’s gardens. Most of these were taken by my husband.

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Ordinary Secret Places

Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week is Secret Places. She wrote about a secret place in the midst of Time Square. How fascinating! I’ve been to Times Square too many times to count and tend to avoid it if I can when in Manhattan — the crowds, chaos and flashing neon lights are just a bit too much for me; once you’ve seen it, there doesn’t seem to me much reason to go there unless you have a specific purpose. After reading Ailsa’s post and learning about her secret place, I will have such a reason next time I’m in New York.

As soon as I learned what the theme was this week, I knew exactly the photo that I should post, but it’s taken me a few days to find it. My son looked at me like I was crazier than usual when I told him that I was looking for a specific picture taken in May, 1980.

You remember taking that? he asked.

Yep, I replied as I dug through boxes of old photos in the basement. There’s a story. I took it in Rome. I always remember the photos when there’s a story.

It was the 17th day of a 22 day bus tour of Western Europe, with a group of students with whom I had just completed a semester of study in London. Although I loved the places we were seeing and was not looking forward to the end of my time abroad in less than a week, any patience I had once had for most of the people in that group had been nearly depleted over the preceding months and the close quarters of the bus were fraying my last nerve. In Venice I told my friends that I wanted to spend the day alone and took off to see how many bridges I could wander over. It was a lovely day, well spent.

I thought that afternoon had restored my good humor, but the bus trip to Rome, followed by several group activities, some scheduled tromps through the Vatican galleries and Roman ruins, a crazy drunken escapade the first night in Rome and a run-in with a motor scooter (a subject for another post!) had made me crave solitude by the third day in the Eternal City. I ditched my friends once again and wandered through Rome without a care in the world. I probably didn’t have too many lira in my pocket either. Just enough for a glass of wine and a bite to eat at a little neighborhood cafe.

I don’t remember everywhere I went that day, but eventually I found myself wandering along the banks of the Tiber. I thought I was such an odd girl for not wanting to join with the big group, for not finding much to laugh about with the girls who wanted to shop, for thinking that the perfect way to spend the middle of the afternoon on a free day in Rome was to wander along the banks of the river with my camera. I didn’t mind though; I was happy.

At some point during my walk, I looked up to see a cat. I had noticed the feral cats throughout Italy, but this cat seemed different from the others. He appeared calm, rather than prowling for any morsel of food. He sat perched in a little alcove on a wall along the river. He seemed to pick out one person from the crowd on the opposite bank and slowly turn his head to follow as they walked down the street. When the person had passed by, the cat chose another person. He didn’t seem interested in leaving his perch to following behind them, nor did he seem to notice other cats that walked nearby. He was cozy in his spot, perfectly content to people watch. He liked his secret place — and so did I. His secret place became my secret place for those few minutes while I watched him and those he watched.

A few months later, after we were back in school, we had a picture viewing party. As we were looking through each other’s photos and reminiscing about our time in abroad, I spotted a photograph by one of my fellow travelers. At first I thought it was mine and then I realized that it was taken from the opposite bank. But it was the same place on the river. And the same cat.

Maybe I wasn’t the only person who decided that day to snap a picture of a cat in his secret place, but he still represents a secret moment to me. Secret places can be any where, or just a moment in time or memory. To me, even after more than 30 years, a photo quickly snapped of a quiet cat still seems the epitome of a terrific afternoon exploring a strange city by myself, seeing what small secrets the city might reveal.

Roman Kitty

At least 17 stories

When we began to plan our recent trip to Florida, I told my husband that I wanted to drive, rather than fly. I argued that it would be more economical than flying and renting a car. Of course, I wasn’t sure that was really true, especially if adding in the hidden costs of vehicle maintenance and the additional mileage on the car. Still, I had my mind set on driving. I wanted to see the land between here and there; I wanted to look at fallow fields and old barns, and muse about interesting roadside signs. Mostly, I wanted to have a slow travel experience, taking our time to arrive and slowly wending our way back to the cold north when we returned. I tried to explain this to a friend whose response was: “If you fly, you might end up with one interesting story. If you drive, you might have — who knows — 17 or 27 different stories. Tell him it’s fodder for more short stories.”

In the end, flights were very expensive and my ears had been bothering me a lot, so I won and we drove. Armed with a few audio books and CDs, my GPS and T’s TripTik (who knew that AAA still did those!), we set off. Despite someone’s alarmist fears that we would have ice and fog crossing the mountains in Chattanooga, we had excellent weather in both directions. (I hope he didn’t see the news reports of the massive pile-up on I-75 near Gainesville. We missed that by a day.)

I don’t know if I came across the seeds of 17 different stories, but, on the return trip, bored by the long drive and without the anticipation that marked the start of our vacation, I picked up my camera. Shooting photos out the window of a car going 70 mph is not the easiest thing. I’m surprised that I didn’t send more shots directly to the electronic circular file than I did. But, as always, when I look through my camera lens, I see interesting things. Like this:

Red Clay of Georgia

The landscape whirled by, but stayed the same. For miles. And miles.

There were billboards that appeared to have been remnants of abandoned stores. Like these, that pointed to an empty building:

Too good to be true -- at least for long

Lowest Price: Would that be zero?

I didn’t get a picture, but next to this abandoned store was an RV and Boat lot, now closed, with a lone, stranded motor boat. Signs of the weak economy are everywhere.

There were frequent reminders that I was traveling through the South, the “Bible Belt” and the part of the country that has referred to the American Civil War as “The Late Unpleasantness” or “The Second American Revolution” or “The War of Northern Aggression”. I have never spent sufficient time in the South to understand the deep-seeded nature of Southern loyalty, but I know that the region is different from “up North” where I have always lived.

It's the sign, more than the theology, that I find startling

There was a confederate flag flying above. No American flag nearby.

Sometimes, when I wasn’t driving, I was intrigued by the idea of capturing the motion of tires on the semis passing us.

Can you look at this and not hum a Willy Nelson song?

I especially like the shadow of the mudflap on this shot. But there were also skylines to shoot as we looped around major cities.

Music City From the Highway

And plenty of furling flags in the slight wind:

Whose broad stripes and bright stars...were so gallantly streaming

And clouds on the crisp blue sky:

A beautiful day

When we stopped, there was graffiti that I found interesting:

BabyGyrl's graffito make no sense 2 me

Did BabyGyrl change the spelling of her name? Makes more sense.

If miserable, I don't think I'd pick the Reststop Restroom to tell the world.

And, of course, there was plenty of farmland: cows, horses, silos, barns old and new.

Raw Milk

I love the color of this barn's roof.

The only stone silos I see around me are ones that have yet to be torn down.

Horses: More comfortable than Mitt's dog?

Love this barn.

This was another favorite.

A source of firewood?

There's a story or two in that decaying barn!

Old and Red barn, somewhere in Tennessee

At the Georgia/Tennessee border there were plenty of signs encouraging motorists to “SEE ROCK CITY”. As this was my leg for driving, I have no photos. But, as we crossed from Tennessee into Kentucky, having turned over driving duties for a while, I knew that there would be some interesting images to capture as we approached Mammoth Cave. While I don’t mean to offend (turn away for the next paragraph if you might be), I used to find that an attraction in this area, named “Golgotha Go-Carts”, to be a very funny site. I don’t understand the theology that sees go-carting around three crosses on a hill as a witness of faith, a cause for conversion. It has been years since I’ve travelled this section of I-65, so perhaps it wasn’t on this road, but, rather, on the State Highway that leads to the cave. Regardless, it wasn’t to be seen. However, there is now a place named Guntown Mountain. And, apparently, lurking in the caves are dinosaurs. I’m not sure if the “life-size” refers to humans or triceratops.

Mommy, can we stop? PLEEEZZZZ?

But, like all places were there are lots of attractions — and some where there is nothing else around for miles — there seem to be places like this:

A roadside attraction?

Open 24 hours. I hope no parent answers the dino plea with After I make a quick stop here.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I think I am halfway to the end of a novella. At the end of the trip, the best site was my mailbox! As fun and relaxing as vacation are, it’s always good to return home, and to all of the stories that reside there.

ELU’s and Lists

A few years ago, I was fuming to a co-worker about having lost a receipt for a dinner that was far over amount one could submit without a receipt.

“That’s easy to fix”, he said. “Figure out how many ELU’s it is.”

“How many what?” I sputtered.

“ELU’s. Equivalent Lunch Units. Or Breakfast units if that’s the meal that you don’t eat. You can submit $10 without a receipt. Just spread that amount over however many days that you need until you reach your reimbursement amount.”

This may not have been acceptable with our accounting department, but it made sense to me. I never ate breakfast so I didn’t submit any reimbursement requests for it. Over the next several trips, I added the EBU/ELUs I needed to get my dinner reimbursed. I also realized, on another trip, that it could take A LOT of skipped breakfasts or lunches to recoup losses, as the lost receipt wasn’t a one-time occurrence and I was usually traveling to the NYC-metro area where one needs an entirely different definition of “inexpensive meal” than in the midwest. So I took my coworker’s second suggestion and bought a booklet of generic receipts. I only needed to use it a few times, but the receipts were sold in bulk, so I had about 1000 of them. Since I no longer travel for business, I have a lot of diner receipt pads around my house. Which is fine; I like to make lists.

Over the last four years, these have been used for grocery lists, to-do lists, phone conversations, directions, recipes. Grocery lists are a necessity if I don’t want to wander aimlessly around Kroger’s. Phone messages are rare as both my husband and I assume, if we are the ones nearby when the landline rings and don’t recognize the number, that the phone is for the other person and will ignore it. Recipes and travel directions get written on any blank piece of paper, so the receipts will do as well as an old envelope. To-do lists, though, are by far the most common use of this scrap paper.

I’ve always been a strong advocate of to-do lists and work journals. If I don’t write down something that I need to do, there is a chance that it isn’t going to be done. I used to write lengthy lists at work containing all of the tasks I needed to do at some point, but found them to be overwhelming. Now, I keep lists of various things that I want to do in the future, and a basic list for the day or week — depending on what kind of week is planned! I’m the kind of person that likes the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing items off of a list. I usually review the previous week’s list and the end of the week to see if there is anything that has been overlooked.

Since I can also be easily distracted by bright shiny objects, often, I can feel, at the end of a day full of busyness, that I haven’t done a thing. That is where a work journal comes in handy! I add things completed to my lists and then mark them as done. Besides a sense of accomplishment, the habit of adding things helps me to recognize when I’ve moved unnoticed away from my priorities. It provides a mean for course-correction.

Some lists, though, are only meant for brainstorming. I was looking for one of these receipt pads the other day in order to record some random thought or task when I found, underneath a pile of mail my husband was sorting, the list below that I find interesting. T said that it wasn’t his handwriting; I guess it is mine although I have no recollection of writing this list. Furthermore, I don’t know exactly what this list is suppose to represent. Here are the items scrawled on this list:

Name of a restaurant 60 miles away
Opera @ LaScala
Opera Verona
Ballet Bolshoi
El Capitan
Visit 6 continents
Melbourne, Aus.
Mermaid Copenhagen

With the exception of the first item — a place owned by a personal friend from my college days, a restaurant we visit a few times a year — these items appear to be some sort of travel bucket list. The funny thing about it, though, is that neither T or I can understand why some of these items would have been put on this list.

Melbourne? Why there and not elsewhere on the Australian continent. Singapore? I’ve always wanted to go to Asia, but I would place China, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand on my list before Singapore. Not that I dislike Singapore, but I tend not to think much about it when I think of Asian travel. Maybe it is some place that I should investigate visiting.

The Mermaid in Copenhagen? It also seems rather singular. My husband said that he has always wanted to see it, but there are other places in Copenhagen too. Patagonia: that is definitely on my husband’s list. 6 continents? I would have listed ‘ALL’ continents, although I realize that as I grow older the chance to go to Antarctica is become less and less likely.

Solveig? Did I mean “Solvang”, or was I trying to channel the main character in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt? My husband says that from what he remembers from traveling there as a child, Solvang, California is a neat little town. But why wouldn’t I have written “Visit CA wine country?” I wouldn’t travel all that distance to only go to Solvang. As for El Capitan, I know that I would like to go there: not to climb it, but to photograph it. Still, it seems odd to be on this list; it is more likely that I would have written “See Yosemite.” Only the two opera references make sense, as LaScala is like Mecca for Opera lovers, and the opera at Verona is performed in an outside amphitheatre. Both are places that I want to see someday.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever determine the origin of this list, though I am now inspired to create a clearer travel wish list. Lesson learned? That I should attempt to keep my lists not only more legible, but also with a clearer, more understandable focus. A title would have helped; that is, if I was the one who actually wrote this list.

Words and Images

I came across two very different sites today that combine words and images. What extraordinary finds!

A Humument is artist Tom Phillips 45+ year endeavor to take a work– W. H. Mallock’s 1892 A Human Document — purchased at random (the only criteria that it cost 3 pence) and to remake the work by using words from a given page and adding images. At first a page may look like someone has taken random words, as if cutting up letters for a cliché ransom note, to form the text, but the words are taken from “rivers” of text appearing in the order printed on the page. Phillips first published A Humument in 1973 and it is now in its 4th edition. Recently he added an Ipad app which I can’t wait to explore. To see some of his work, check out his Tumblr, and his website.

Also combining words and images is the site They Draw and Cook, where artists illustrate recipes. Siblings Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell are the creators of this wonderful assortment and will publish their first cookbook based on the site in October, 2011. The site’s goal is to publicize artists — and to provide you with some great foodie love. They Draw & Cook is searchable by meal, ingredient, location of artist. What fun it would be to follow this recipe for Quiche Lorraine. You could print it out to show your brunch guests if you were that sort of Martha Stewart-y hostess. You can even submit your own illustrated recipe. I think I’m going to make Lina Winkler’s Curry Onions for dinner tonight! Be sure, too, to check out Nate and Salli’s new sister site, They Draw & Travel, which features artists’ maps. I like this one of gourmet coffee shops in Manhattan. Attention entrpreneurs: it suggests that there is a scarcity of such shops north of 59th.

Some day I would like to do something similar, combining writing with my photographs.