Travel … or Escape?

I am a writer and travel is my muse. Almost every time I board a plane or a train or even get into a car for a road trip my mind begins to work up some sort of story or thought. I have napkins full of scribbled thoughts. I have filled the margins of the magazines in the seat pocket. I even used an airplane “barf bag” once or twice to get my thoughts down on paper.

Flying soothes me. It’s uninterrupted time with my thoughts. No calls, texts, emails, Facebook, work, or any other distractions from time with myself. I read a bit, write a bit, and doze a bit. But, most of all, I enjoy the time to just think.

Sometimes my thoughts wander to my destination, perhaps something or someone I want to see when I get there. I’ve gazed out the window and written about something I could see — the sun rising above the clouds (or setting), the patchwork of fields below, the blur of trees as my train passes through a woodland.

Ahead of our trips, Greg and I always talk about what we plan to discuss in the air, instead we end up comfortably retreated into our own personal head spaces, while holding hands or leaning on each other. The fluffy bed of clouds outside the window evokes relaxation … literally thoughts of floating on a cloud. I love flying for that reason. Even when I’m headed somewhere I‘d rather not be, I find myself in a peaceful, contented cocoon of quiet. Airplanes don’t just take me to fun vacations; they take me above the heavy thoughts that surround me on the ground. Flying is an escape.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … escape sometimes!

Rollin’ on the River – Q is for the Queen of Europe’s Rivers

(First in a seven-part series about our great European River Cruise Adventure from October 2018. We’re only posting now because as soon as we got BACK, we closed on our new home and dealt with moving most of our furnishings out west, the holidays, living out of two houses, etc. We know …  excuses, excuses. Nevertheless, here you go).

On deck in Vienna

River cruises are all the rage, and for good reason … they offer breathtaking views from your stateroom, an opportunity to visit several locales that are often off the beaten track, smaller ships that offer more personalized service, window shot 1 and all the conveniences — great food and wine, especially — of more traditional ocean cruises. So when our dear friend and associate Micky Dixon of Travel Planning for You!! offered us a chance to cruise down the Danube in utter luxury, we jumped at the chance. 

Let us state for the record that we are not typical “cruise” people. Our personal style is to plan just enough to ensure we see the important things in any given new place, then fill-in the blanks with whatever strikes our fancy. To us, ocean cruises with their, “If it’s Tuesday, you are now in Key West…go enjoy Duval Street and be on-board by 5” approach just doesn’t suit our style. Now, to be fair to the cruise industry and those who like this approach, we recognize this is a vast oversimplification and perception on our part (we’ve never taken a cruise but we’ve been on Duval Street many times when the ships come in) and many, MANY people like a fully tailored approach. If this is YOU, please see your travel professional, they will hook you UP.

 

Given that, however, we had long believed a river cruise would be different for the reasons mentioned at the outset, and Micky’s trip down the Danube from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary on one of Uniworld’s uber-luxurious ships sounded right up our alley. Greg on deckSince adventure often starts with trying something new, we booked our passage and designated that this trip would aptly fill the requirement for a “World A to Z” trip. After all, the Danube is the “Queen of Europe’s Rivers” so it became our Q Trip.

We weren’t disappointed. We arrived in Munich on a cloudy Sunday morning and were met by the pleasant Uniworld staff at the airport, connected with others who would become shipmates who had arrived from Atlanta, and whisked to Passau to board the SS Maria Theresa. As we were quite early, the staterooms were being cleaned from the previous week’s guests, so our bags were tagged for delivery to our staterooms and we were invited to enjoy the lounge for drinks and a delightful lunch. Our adventure was about to begin.

Maria Teresa at sunset

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it … from a river!

Night Flight

We’ve been chasing the setting sun ever since takeoff. Even now, as we cross the Rockies, there’s a hint of dusk on the horizon.

The moonlit landscape below is magnificent. Snow and mountain make dappled patterns in the moonlight. Desolation all around, except for the occasional ranch or small town sitting in a valley below.

Even on this moonlit night, stars twinkle in the ink-black sky above. I am transfixed, unable to take my eyes off this wonder. But look away I must, for my neck is sore from turning my head toward my window on the world.

I watch the other passengers, heads down in their phones, on their laptops, some asleep. “Look outside, people!” I want to scream. There is beauty in the moonlight, but it is temporary. They have missed it. I have not.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it … at night.

Travel is Personal

This headline may seem a little like a no-brainer to a lot of people, but I’m not sure most people take their travel personally. Here’s what I mean: I’ve been to Paris three times and I’ve never been up in the Eiffel Tower. Oh sure, I’ve been TO the Eiffel Tower, but not up in it. I didn’t want to go up. I also didn’t want to go to the Louvre. I’m not particularly an art lover, so why waste a day in a museum when I can stroll along the Seine or watch a street artist or simply sit in a café and people watch? All those things seem a lot more interesting to me than art.

I’ve spent enough time in European churches that they all start looking the same … stunning stained glass, astounding feats of architecture, majestic. Yes, admittedly, the cathedrals of Europe are gorgeous, but after awhile they just start looking the same to me. I’d rather find the hidden gems, sample the food, soak up the atmosphere of the town, not the tourist meccas.

That’s what I mean by travel is personal. Too many people cave to the recommendations of an author who writes about those things you “simply must see” in cities around the world. Those authors apparently don’t think, or live, like I do. I prefer to travel with a vague idea of where I’m going and leave much of my trip to chance. Usually in a week-long trip I only plan one or two things to see and leave the rest to chance.  If you’re the type who prefers a little guidance and direction, just keep in mind that these authors are writing about what they love. If you agree, their insight can be super helpful, but if you don’t agree, don’t feel like just because they are published authors means their suggestions are right for you.

That said, one of the things I typically plan is some sort of walking tour or half-day sightseeing tour. A really great travel agent who takes the time to get to know you before booking your trip can be the difference between finding the right “kick-off tour” for a vacation and spending a week touring sites that bore you to tears. My travel agent, Travel Planning for You!!, does just that. Micky knows the overview-style tours hit the highlights and point me in directions I might not have thought about. Tour guides are a wealth of information about their towns and can often suggest off-the-beaten-track sights that have shorter lines. Once on a walking tour in Prague, another couple was talking about a place called “Spa Beerland.” With a name like that, how could you not be interested? I asked about it, checked it out on the hotel lobby computer and made a reservation. It is still one of my favorite vacation memories.

When you’re planning your next vacation try to remember, travel is personal! After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it the way you want to!

Same Road, Different Season

saguaro-cactus_2705774

A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Diversions – The Lonesome Road*

“In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”
—  A Horse With No Name by America

 

The road before us stretches for miles, this oft-traveled section of Route 66 in California, near the Arizona border. Top down, the air cool in the February sun, we smile and sing along to the Eagles “Hotel California.”

The road is ours and ours alone. Most have foregone what was once America’s highway for the Interstates. Today, hurried minivan moms and dads choose to keep their kids entertained with DVDs and tablets, instead of joining in the Alphabet Game and looking outside the window to see the desert for what it is … vast expanses of nothingness … an  American West tamed by cowboys, miners and early settlers, yet teeming with life that can be seen by those who slow down and take a look.IMG_0222

A freight train looms in the distance on the tracks paralleling the road, its single headlight growing larger on the horizon. As the big diesel nears, we wave at the engineer. He signals back with a long blast of his harmonious horn. He rumbles by, tank cars filled with oil or some other chemicals; containers filled with consumable products destined for long, low warehouses built on cheap desert land, only to be transferred to trucks bound for your house and mine, ready to be used and thrown away, feeding our lifestyles.

I think about the engineer, and what he sees and thinks as he crosses this great land, day after day. Do others in passing cars wave hello? Or do they whiz by, oblivious to the train’s massive presence. Does he see the beauty of the desert? Or is it just another route on his way home?

For him and us, it is a lonesome road, but in its starkness, there is beauty and serenity that can only be found when you avoid the beaten path.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it.

 

(*Inspired, as they say, by true events.)

Adventure Begins With an Idea

On New Year’s Day, if you had asked me how my life would be different halfway through the year, I might have responded, “It will be hotter?”

Looking back over the past seven months, I have to admit, it’s difficult to pinpoint any specific moment that caused the incredible changes that have taken place:

The mule seemed to laugh as if he knew what was about to happen.

It started in February with the end of a lifelong dream. I even wrote a blog about it. That led to an unplanned trip, which had Greg and I diverting to a new community near Phoenix, Arizona where our spur-of-the-moment side trip led to a house with a floor plan and a community that we both immediately fell in love with.

Next came a series of conversations that ended with a decision to turn our lives upside down and change our lives from a living-for-work-and-career mentality to making retirement a priority.

We snapped a picture in front of the model of our future home.

From that perspective, we decided to sell the home we had lovingly created together and spent thousands of dollars customizing and personalizing. We added a trip back to Phoenix in May, signed the papers to build our dream retirement home and put the ball in motion to sell and relocate.

Realtor pictures helped our house sell fast.

Our house sold with lightning speed and instead of moving at the end of the summer or perhaps early fall, we had less than a month to pack! We are already settled into a temporary home while our Arizona dream becomes a reality.

With the whirlwind of life-altering decisions in just the first half of the year, I can’t help but wonder, if someone asked me today, how I would answer, “What will your life be like on New Year’s Eve?”

It is astounding to look back and see the changes that have occurred. Our motives and pace have been questioned by friends and family. Through it all, the one thing that has kept us sane is our ability to talk about everything; to recognize when we are stressed and share the feelings and work through them together; the willingness to laugh through our struggles and comfort each other when the stress gets overwhelming; and the knowledge that no matter what happens, we are together and as a duo we can get through anything.

A cactus is a cheerful, constant reminder of where we are headed.

We ensured that our top priority was always each other and we worked to keep our eyes on the prize. We said goodbye to some things we loved and dreams we had and chose to focus on a new and exciting future with more than a few unknowns. We are opting for the adventure of creating new dreams and making them happen. After all, as Semisonic pointed out in their song, “Closing Time,” every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

 

 

There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored … and every exploration starts with an idea.