Travel

“S” is for Sabbatical

The World A to Z … it’s not only the name of this blog, it’s my plan to see the world. I started in 2002 with an uncomplicated plan.

I’m up to “S” this year and anyone who travels AT ALL knows that following rule “a” is pretty much out of the question. Sure, there are loads of people who say “some places” will be opened up by the end of the year, but those people also add the caveat, “as long as there’s no second wave.” 

Anyone who reads this blog has probably figured out I’m more of an optimist than not, but I am also something of a planner AND a bit of a realist. I often advise people who’ve never traveled outside the US to pack patience and a sense of humor. Those two items, to my mind, are more essential than toothpaste and soap. You can get toothpaste and soap anywhere, but patience and a sense of humor are priceless and will do a lot more to make your trip a success than anything else.

That said, I was not at all prepared for a pandemic that would essentially close the entire planet to vacation travelers and wreck my otherwise uninterrupted plan to see the world. I reached into the bottom of my suitcase and dug out the aforementioned patience and sense of humor. After all, the best way to deal with something completely outside your control is to roll with it. 

Welcome to Plan B. For now, 2020 is “S” is for Sabbatical. I will put my international quest to see the world on hold and turn my wanderlust to the backroads and towns of this great nation I call home. I’m doing my best to stick to the “never been there” rule. I’ve never seen most of the western US, so that’s where Greg and I plan to focus our attention for the rest of the year. 

“S” will hopefully include South Dakota and its Badlands and Mount Rushmore. “S” will likely include the stunning giant Sequoias of Central California. We’ve pulled out a US map, stuck a few colorful arrows on it and are looking at when to go and what route to take to get there. 

The world may not be open to tourism right now, but there’s SO much to see right here in the west. Besides, there’s still a whole world out there waiting to be explored, even if it’s not in the order I originally planned to explore it.

Here’s where I’ve been so far:

A is for Alps

B is for Belize

C is for Czech Republic

D is for Dublin

E is for Equestrian Adventure in Eastern Europe

F is for Fez

G is for Galapagos

H is for Hindustan (OK … India … but I had to go!)

I is for Italy (in this case, Florence)

J is for Jamaica

K is for Krakow (and Kurpark and Kandersteg)

L is for Lima

M is for Montreal

N is for Nurenburg

O is for Orseolo

P is for Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau

Q is for “Queen” of European Rivers, a river cruise on the Danube, 

Q is for Queen, part 2

R is for Richmond (the most Asian city on the continent of North America)

S … well … S is for Sabbatical (for now)

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Flying, Musings, Road Trip, Trains, Travel

Wanderlust, Moving and A World of Change

A friend from high school recently moved to a new home. It was one of several she’s made in recent years. She and I are very alike that way. In the past eight years I have had six homes. That’s six full-scale, move-everything-you-own-to-a-new-place homes. 

In fact, we grew up that way … the two of us and thousands of other kids known as “military brats.” Vikki, who also an author, and I had Air Force dads, but others had dads and moms who were soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and women. We moved often and, from an early age, learned to expect and even embrace the change that comes with a new home, new friends, a new school and a new lifestyle.

I suspect that my childhood and the following time on active duty are big parts of the reason I have such strong wanderlust. I CRAVE new places and new things to see and do. I long to pack a few things into a bag and go somewhere I’ve never been. I strike up conversations with strangers … sometimes with strangers who don’t even speak English.

If you are a fellow traveler, you probably have many of the same feelings. When people ask, “where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” you simply have no way to answer. There are too many “best places” to pick one. 

My husband grew up in one town for the most part. But something in him is excited about travel, too. I’d like to believe I had something to do with that by taking him with me on several adventures early in our relationship. We’ve been on trips by road, air, rail, river, even horseback. We’ve hiked, biked, snorkeled, soared and sailed. And we’re not even close to done! 

It seems for every trip I take, I add two more to my bucket list. An insatiable desire to travel consumes me. I feed it and it grows like a weed. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … I just can’t seem to get enough.

PS … thanks for the inspiration, Vikki!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z

Blah, Blah, Blogs (or You Decide the Topic)

When you commit to writing a weekly blog it’s easy to think, “hmmm, what if I skip a week?” or – more often – “What the heck am I gonna write about this week?” 

 I am quite proud that the topics I write about are either from the heart or from personal experience. That means I have to come up with a topic even on weeks when Greg and I don’t go anywhere. Honestly, that’s more often than not. 

I’d love to travel more. If you read this blog, chances are you feel the same. Short of winning the lottery or having this blog discovered by a wealthy benefactor who’s looking to sponsor my travels, you are going to be reading a little less about places I’ve been and a little more about HOW to travel. I am happy to share lessons learned, travel tips, hints, and similar topics with you. I’d also like to know what you want to read.

What do you want to know? What topics interest you? 

Send me your questions! Send me your thoughts! If I get enough, I’ll do a fun question and answer blog. I may be writing this every week, but you’re reading it. Shouldn’t you have a little say in what’s discussed? 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … let’s start exploring how much fun we can have together with this blog.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

The World A to Z, Travel

How Do You Travel?

From Washington’s Birthday until the end of May, there are no federal holidays. This season should be embraced by travelers. The need for vacation days, breaks from work and school, are well-studied and documented. A whole quarter of the year without a break built-in is just awful!

The good news is, every school schedule includes spring break. Students and teachers from 5 to 95 have a week off somewhere during this dearth of holidays. If you’re looking for an adults-only type of vacation, you should consider where the spring break crowds may be. After all, HOW you travel is as important as WHERE you travel.

Here’s what I mean: When you plan a trip there are dozens of questions to consider before making any reservations. “Where are we going?” leads to “What do we want to do?” “Do we want to avoid the crowds or head to a popular, albeit crowded destination?” You have to ask about interests – Will I be bored in a museum? Do I want to sit in a beach chair and escape into a good book? What will the kids do while I’m relaxing? Maybe a cruise or an amusement park. Maybe we should send the kids to summer camp and take a romantic vacation for two without them. 

It seems like every question you ask brings up another question … and that’s just the “where” aspect of vacation planning. “When” is also important: “Do we go over spring break?” “Do we take a longer, summer vacation?” If you don’t have a school schedule to worry about, do you take into consideration when you will encounter students or when you can avoid them?

And then there’s the question of “how” you travel. This is the most important question for me – Cruise? Train? Road trip? Flight to a far-off destination? Greg and I are not fans of cruising. We prefer land-based travel because the opportunity for surprise diversions comes up at nearly every turn. We prefer smaller crowds, so we tend to travel during off seasons. That means we give up a few things, though. Sometimes stores and museums are closed at our destination, for instance. 

But there are many times we have opted to head right into a crowd. We took our grandson on a road trip in August. The crowds at the Grand Canyon were immense – busloads of tourists crowded the overlooks and restaurants. He was on summer break with every other school student in the US. We were locked in to his school schedule.

I could go on and on, but by now you get the point. Planning a vacation can be a monumental challenge. You can tackle it alone, with your family or get help. Travel professionals can offer ideas you may not have considered. Researching a potential destination might even lead to a new item on your travel bucket list. Have fun with it! 

Remember, while there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, you have a whole lifetime to see it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Musings, The World A to Z, Travel

Rewrite Your Stars … or How Dreaming Makes You Successful

Within the last few months, I’ve seen at least two movies that include a storyline about a character rewriting the stars; that seemingly predestined journey through life that fate deems inevitable. In these movies, as in real life, those who are able to find a more satisfying, even fascinating path are called dreamers.  

I have always been a dreamer! When I was young, that label was used to chastise: “Get your head out of the clouds.” “Pay attention and stop daydreaming.” “You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t stop wasting your time dreaming.”

Those phrases held me back. I’d dream of rewriting my stars and  hear one of those voices in my head reminding me how futile dreaming is.

Somewhere in my 40s the voices stopped. I started dreaming again. At first it was cautious, but eventually I dreamt with an almost childlike enthusiasm. I acted on those dreams.

There are those who work all day. Those who dream all day. And those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. Go into the third category because there’s virtually no competition.

Steve Ross, Former CEO, Time-Warner

I noticed a sparkle return to my eyes. Smiles came easier. I found myself spending less time worrying and regretting and more time dreaming and looking ahead. I walked away from people in my life whose voices echoed those taunting, anti-dreamer thoughts.

Somehow, looking back, I knew I’d always be a dreamer. I’d always found a way to make a dream come true. I always found enough money for another trip (a consistently repeating dream involves travel). I never gave up looking for professional satisfaction — at least not until I realized my life outside of the office was shining brighter that life in the office. 

When I started to dream more, I found myself surrounded by other dreamers. Oh sure, there were still naysayers in my life and their “poo-pooing” was ever present. I started seeing them as sad and unfulfilled.

My new life is filled with joy. Smiles are a constant. I travel more and am achieving my dream of doing it in style. Sending happiness out into the world has brought it back to me time and time again.

I say “thank you” all the time. To my fellow-dreamer, fellow-nomadic, enthusiastic, happy husband … to God … to the universe … to any and everyone who gives me another reason to smile. 

I relax more and enjoy more. Little annoyances are dismissed with ease, pushed out to make more room for joy. 

Ten years ago it seemed the stars were pointing me to a future of settling for things, of growing old without much excitement. Then I started dreaming again — and I rewrote my own stars!

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … start with a dream.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Musings, The World A to Z, Travel

Black and White — or Shades of Brown?

When my son was about two-and-a-half, we found ourselves at JFK Airport waiting for a flight. He has always been a good traveler and we managed to keep ourselves busy for a little while people-watching. After about ten minutes of a never-ending stream of passers by, he turned to me and gave me one of those looks that only a two-year-old can muster — so very serious, but overwhelmingly curious. 

“Mom,” he asked, “why do we say people are black and white?” 

WOW! How do you answer a question like that? I didn’t want to influence his thought, so I answered his question with a question: “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he pondered, “there are lots of people here and I’ve been looking at them, but I haven’t seen anyone who is black or anyone who is white.”

I responded with another question, “What color are all these people?”

His response was quick and perfunctory, “Brown.” Nothing more, nothing less. His innocent observation of probably a few hundred people was that everyone was brown.

I was proud. JFK Airport is an endless variety of people. International travelers from every corner of the world passed by our seats. We’d seen people with every shade of brown you could imagine. I asked him to explain what he meant by brown.

He said, “well, some people are really light brown – like you, and some people are darker brown – like dad (his father is part-Hispanic), and some people are really dark brown – like the chocolate you like. 

OK, that gave me a little chuckle, people described as the colors of food was a great two-year-old observation.

We spent a couple of minutes wondering why anyone would say black or white to describe a person and never really came up with an answer. I explained that people from different places have different color skin and they also have different cultures and music and food and wear different clothes. He asked if the kids play with different toys. “Yes, they do,” I answered. He asked if he could play with other kinds of toys and I noticed the topic had returned to more typical kid conversation.

That conversation has stuck with me his whole life. He is almost 30 and still has the same wild curiosity about life and people. I am still proud.

I wish everyone could see the world through his two-year-old eyes. I wish everyone could see differences as fascinating instead of scary. I wish people could see the world in a never-ending number of shades of brown and not black and white. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … it’s thrilling and different and brilliantly colorful … go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Travel

A Tale of Cannolis

When I found out Greg and I would be spending a week in Boston, I started asking friends what should I see, do and eat there. I got a good variety of suggestions, but nearly every single person talked about either the North End’s Italian food scene or lobster and chowder.

20200114_131142
Boxed cannoli from Modern Pastry

For those of you who may not know, Italian food is my favorite. In fact, there is not even a close second. “OK,” I responded to the food suggestions, “what EXACTLY should I try in the North End?” The overwhelming response was, “Get a cannoli!” Then each person offered up a different bakery as the best option. A google search for “best cannoli in Boston” offered up a trio of bakeries, too. Faced with this dilemma, my choice seemed simple: Get a traditional cannoli from each of the top three bakeries and have our own taste test. 

20200114_131116
Bakery boxes are tied with string

Luckily, the day I snagged the cannolis I walked in, walked straight up to the counter at all three places and had cannolis in hand in short order. With my boxed and tied packages, I made my way back to the Convention Center where Greg was attending a conference. 

20200116_121317
Modern Pastry

As fortune continued smiling on me, I arrived during a rare break in his schedule. He was informally meeting with a pair of coworkers in the hotel lobby lounge. I walked up, got hugs from all three gentlemen and, grinning broadly, announced that all three were conscripted into taste-testing service immediately.

Hearing no complaints, I opened all three packages and we passed the cannolis around, taking big, flavor-packed bites of pastry and ricotta cream-filled deliciousness.

20200116_121108
Mike’s Pastry

The results: all three men chose the cannoli from Mike’s Pastry. This is, perhaps, the most famous of the cannoli bakeries and it’s fairly clear why based on the results of my unscientific study. I preferred the cannoli from Modern Pastry. I felt the shell was lighter and crispier. Mike’s, we all agreed, seemed sturdier and thicker. The cannoli from Bova’s Bakery was soggy. I had been warned to always get a freshly filled cannoli for that very reason. I didn’t specifically ask for one, so apparently got a cannoli that had time to lose it’s tasty crunch.

20200116_154229
“Mama’s” homemade cannolis

The following day, I had signed up for a food tour: “Boston’s Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour.” This tour ends at the home of our North-End-native tour guide’s mother’s house. Mama serves up true homemade pasta bolognese. Anthony, aka Flash, announced that “Pops” had whipped up some homemade cannoli filling the day before so we would also be presented with Mama’s cannoli. 

It was no contest. Mama’s was head and shoulders above the bakery versions! 

I believe one of the best ways to truly experience a place is through local food. Boston is no exception. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … taste the flavors as you go.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Diversion, Walks

‘Tis the Season

I awoke Sunday morning to crisp, cool temperatures; the colors of the landscape full of burnt umber and orange, beckoning Judy and me out for a Fall morning walk.  ‘Tis the season.

As we tied our walking shoes and pulled-on some warmth, we also grabbed water and sunscreen, for this Autumn walk would not be among shady elms and maples losing their leaves, but among the red rocks cliffs of Sedona, Arizona. On this fall day, the sun shone bright on the multi-hued rock strata that makes Sedona such a magical place. During a weekend designed for relaxation, we were ready for a bit of adventure.

Sedona 10062019

When Judy and I met, I had lived one the east coast for nearly 10 years, having lived most of my life beforehand in Southern California. I joked with my west coast friends that California had only two seasons — brown and three weeks of green — as I welcomed the changing seasons. Judy took me on my first “leaf peeping” trip to Pennsylvania. A to Z trips to Krakow and Nuremberg were conducted in winter. In Venice, we experienced “Aqua Alta;” in Hawaii, torrential rains. We have never confined our trips to one season, because experiencing different seasons and weather around the world is part of the adventure!  

Since we’ve moved to Arizona, we’ve come to appreciate seasons even more, and this little weekend getaway to Sedona was a reminder that no matter where you are or go, there are great opportunities to get outside and experience the constant change that nature brings us.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, and enjoy whatever the weather brings you. ‘Tis the season!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Travel

Q is for Queen of European Rivers … Part 2

The boat … or is it a ship? 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20181031_170905.jpg
The S.S. Maria Theresa docked on the Danube.

The boat … or is it a ship? 

Arriving at the quay to board the S.S. Maria Theresa, a couple of things become quickly apparent… most river boats (or ships) on the Danube look a lot alike on the outside: long, low and almost sinister looking with two rows of darkened glass, usually broken by the maw of an entrance approximately amidships. We quickly learn there are highly practical reasons for this look. One, there are A LOT of river boats on the Danube, which means they must often “raft” (tie-up alongside each other) at the quays, such that the passengers on the outside ship must also disembark through the other ship. Having entrances in the same place makes this easier.

The deck of the S.S. Maria Theresa as we approached a low bridge.

They are low because many just clear some of the bridges that cross the river. When on deck, crew will often lower sun awnings and implore you not to stand, lest you lose your head in a most unpleasant fashion. Even the pilothouse from which the boat is steered raises and lowers!

The common spaces were completely uncommon, with marble floors and walls, rich carpets and drapes. I’ll come back to those in a minute.

The marble bathroom has heated floors for warmth.

The over-the-top luxury continued in our stateroom. While not large by any means, the accommodations were sumptuous … Even the bath was all marble with top-of-the-line fixtures and floor heating. The darkened window opened electrically, letting in fresh air (our weather was unseasonably warm for October). Other staterooms featured French balconies that let the passengers sit outside on a tiny deck; friends we would meet later on the cruise opted for the suite, which offered a larger sitting area and bath, along with round-the-clock butler service.

Inside, however each cruise line brings its own flavor to interior decorating. Uniworld ships are among the most luxurious with a gilt-edged baroque style befitting the Austro-Hungarian Empress for which our ship is named.

Now, about those common spaces, there was a small gym and a place to grab coffee at any time on the lower level…you could even book a massage down the hall! Upstairs there was a large dining room and two bars (our kind of place!). The main bar was staffed most of the day and featured entertainment nightly. The smaller bar at the stern had more of a reading room feel to it, offering board games and books in a free lending library. Next to the bar was a small pool that unfortunately, was a bit too cold for our liking.

Let’s face it, one of the most important aspects of any cruise – river or ocean – is the food. Uniworld and the crew of the Maria Theresa did not disappoint!

Even the appetizers at dinner were spectacular.

Breakfast offered any number of American and Continental fare, including omelets made to order and a great selection of fresh fruit. For lunch, there was always a choice of at least two great soups, a wide variety of hot and cold dishes (with new varieties each day) served right – the pasta was perfectly al dente and meats were moist and perfectly done. And bread … there’s nothing in the world quite like European bread with real European butter!

Dinner … well, let’s just say don’t eat too much at lunch. Every night we were offered a chef’s choice of four courses, or you could order a la carte from an offering of meat, fish or vegetarian selections. Wines from the particular region we were sailing through were featured, described aptly each evening by the sommelier. Moreover, deserts were NOT to be missed!

When dinner was over, most of us retreated to the lounge to chat with friends, enjoy an aperitif, and listen to the excellent entertainment. Then, to bed, where the gentle lap of the water against the hull lulled us into a deep, restful sleep each night.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it … from a bed with a view of the water!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Distractions, Diversion, Musings, Travel

Meandering … and Impatience

EDITOR’s NOTE: I wrote this several months ago, but recently realized it was never posted. The thoughts are still relevant, however. As they say …  better late than never.

I have come to appreciate meandering. For most of my life, nearly everything I did was rush, rush, rush. About the same time Greg and I got together, I learned how to slow down. Along the way, we created road trip “diversions.” As a reader of this blog, you’ve seen us write about these stops that are not on our plan, but rather something that caught our eye and intrigued us enough to check it out.  

The rush of my youth was great for me. I’ve never really had any patience and hurrying here and there is perfect for someone who just can’t seem to find a way to wait for anything. Yet, somehow, here I am appreciating wandering, lollygagging, dilly-dallying. 

Often, when we land after a long flight, we make our way to a favorite restaurant for a bite to eat on the way home. The fridge is not stocked; we are craving a little nosh; and friends beckon. 

Today, though, I find myself wanting to get home. My impatient inner-child longs to rush through the next few weeks as we make final preparations for our permanent move out west. I want to go home, get packed and move sooner. I’m anxious to start the next chapter of life in a new home, in a new world (the desert southwest), with new friends. I know the benefits of taking our time to get through this next phase. We will be more careful, forget less, be more attentive to the details of a cross-country move, but I am still anxious and excited. 

I like to think of it as youthful – a sort of childlike fascination with what’s around the corner – the same kind of sleepless excitement that you get on Christmas Eve when you know you will awaken to the thrill of gifts, laughter and joy. 

I laugh a little as I think of the memes about deciding not to adult – “I’ll be in my blanket fort with cookies and milk” or “I’ll be outside running through the sprinkler.” Waiting, planning, packing, counting the days – adulting is hard! The benefit is, when you’re an adult you know the reward at the other end with be worth it and the waiting and working for it make it all that much sweeter.

EPILOGUE: We have now completed the move and are living in our new home full time. The anticipation was, indeed, worth it. Everything I had hoped for is coming true and I find myself relaxing and enjoying a slower-paced lifestyle. Of course, I am also constantly looking forward to my next trip. After all … there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019