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Home Planet

Archive for February 2013

Travel: Under the Ligurian Olive Tree

   We travel to experience the unique culture of another place. We travel to explore history and to broaden our view of the world around us. But I’ve come to realize that there is another benefit to travel. At some moment, usually when we least expect it, usually wrapped in fragrance, color or some other sense, even the most seemingly insignificant moment is stored somewhere in our memory and can return like a gift.

    It is winter here now. The days are short and sunlight is scarce. For weeks the temperature has hovered just over, but usually under, freezing. Fog rises and lingers. Clouds the color of lead hang over us. I’m not complaining. That’s just how it is in this part of the world at this time of the year. But the other night I reached into the refrigerator for olives to serve with our meal.  As I put them on a tray for the table, I suddenly remembered standing on a pathway in Italy, just under the branches of an olive tree on a narrow terrace above the sailboats in the bay of Portofino. The ground around me was littered with fruit and leaves that had fallen. It was mid-October, just before the start of the Italian harvest season but there were already a few dark ripe olives on the pathway. I stooped and picked them up and held them in the palm of my hand, appreciating the frisson of pleasure at the memory of being in a beautiful place so far from home.
  

   At home the weather was already beginning to change. Winter was only weeks away. But I’d claimed a few days grace in the sun by making the journey to Italy.  I remember so much from that trip. The scenery was beautiful, the food was delicious and the climate was warm and hospitable. I remember the sun setting over Rome and the shadowy stillness of the Coliseum, the energy of Florence, and all the interesting people along the way. But I’d forgotten that moment on the path along the coast, in the shadow of trees that were heavy with olives.
    

   Winter has a hold on us now, but the bowl of briny olives brought back the simple pleasure of warmer weather, of feeling the sun on one’s back. I’m always surprised by the way a travel memory can lie dormant, deep within us, surfacing when we least expect it. Travel brings many pleasures. But some take their time, finding the way home across the miles like a slow postcard, bringing with them the image of a beautiful place and another day.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: An American Grandmother in Paris

    Walking down a street in Paris, I had to step aside to let the woman pushing an infant in a pram pass on the narrow sidewalk.
    My first glance was for the baby, small, bundled in blankets against the cold, damp, winter weather. Then I looked up at the woman. She was about my age, dressed for a stroll, yet still effortlessly elegant in that Parisian way. As we waited at the corner for the light to change, our eyes met and we returned one another’s smile. Our eyes met again.
    I smiled down at the baby, tapped my chest and said “Grand-maman.”
    “Oui,” she replied, nodding back at me and smiling. “Grand-maman.”
    I don’t speak French and I have no idea if she speaks English. But some things are universal.

    In the year since my first grandchild was born, as I’ve traveled I’ve become aware of a new kind of landscape. Grandmothers. I see them in parks, on busy sidewalks, on busses and trains. Sometimes they are with sons or daughters, an extra pair of hands or simply along for the ride. Often, like the woman in Paris, they are alone. Taking care of children while mother and father work. Exactly what I do when I am not away from home.

    My phone is loaded with images of beautiful destinations. On it is a visual record of the places I’ve been for work and for the pure pleasure of traveling. I also have photos of my children and the whole family together. But the images I go to so often, when I’m on a plane or in a quiet hotel room in some beautiful city thousands of miles from home, are those of a little girl smiling up at the camera or sleeping in my arms. My grandchild.
    My favorite is a copy of the first photo made of us together. She is only hours old and I have just walked into the hospital room my son-in-law has just gently given her to me. I am wrapped around her, cradling her, focused only on the tiny person in my arms.
    Now, each time I look at that photograph, I see myself, in the instant the photo was taken, falling hopelessly in love.

    The light changed and the woman, leaving me with one more smile, crossed the street and walked briskly away, turning down another street.

    There was a time, when my children were still small, in my arms, on my hip or walking beside me, that I exchanged glances and smiles and unspoken empathy with other mothers. Women who, like me, were navigating sleepless nights, nursing, tantrums and all the countless little milestones of mothering. Now, I am in a new club. I look into the eyes of women all over the world and acknowledge the deep happiness of being the Grand-maman.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington whose essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel Brings Couples Closer Together

   If you're looking for a way to strengthen your relationship, try hitting the road. Together.

   According to a survey by the U.S. Travel Association, couples who travel together find more satisfaction. They experience better communication and have longer-lasting relationships. They are more romantic.

   Today is Valentine’s Day and millions of cards, boxes of candy and restaurant dinners will be purchased. And then tomorrow morning life will go back to the old routine. But that’s the thing important thing about travel. After a trip, nothing is ever quite the same again. Even if it is only the addition of a few more photos on your cell phone, or a kitschy souvenir on a shelf in the living room, the everyday world we live in has been subtly changed.
 
   Shared experiences deepen our connection with one another. We can be one of thousands of passengers on a cruise ship but the memories we will bring home are intimate and singular: sunsets watched from the deck, wine at dinner, a kiss in the dark.

   Whether it is crossing Europe by train, watching geysers in Yellowstone, thrilling to the sight of whales breaching off the coast of Alaska, exploring ancient ruins in Mexico or even a spur-of-the-moment weekend in the city, what comes back with us after any shared travel experience is the sense of having been a part of something that now belongs to us alone. We linger over memories of having had an adventure, of overcoming the ordinary obstacles that complicate any kind of travel. We celebrate the planning and saving and scheduling that made the trip happen or the exhilaration of giving into an impulse to escape.

   Travel with the one we love sparks the imagination and teases curiosity. It soothes us and relaxes us. It helps us remember what drew us to one another in the first place.

   Humans are hardwired with a need to share and couples who travel together fall into another kind of love. They get hooked and want more. They look forward to another destination, another pin on the map, more photos in the album. And, always, one more kiss.


Read the U.S. Travel Association study here

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: Soaking in the View From the Tub

(Photo of the Hotel Welcome 'Bali' Room, by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)      

 

       For many of us, there are few elemental pleasures that can equal a long hot solitary soak, especially when it is in a tub filled with bubbles or scented oil. Time and troubles seem to vanish with the steam.

        I think this is especially true for bath-loving travelers.

            There have been times that the first thing I’ve done after checking into a hotel and discovering the room came with a tub, was fill it with hot water and let the stress of travel melt away before I set out to explore. And then later, after the day was done, I’d slip back in for one more soak before turning in for the night.

            Looking back at the places I’ve been, most stand out for the scenery, the history and the culture of the destinations. But a few trips, in addition to everything else, are also memorable because of the bathtub. The white marble bathroom and expansive downtown view from the tub at the Shangri La in Vancouver, British Columbia comes to mind. Or the big tub in my private cottage at Blackberry Farm, in the rolling countryside of Walland, Tennesse. Or the deep soaking tub, complete with champagne and chocolate, at the Hotel Le Littre in Paris.

            So many trips, so many tubs, but my favorite might be the big bathtub in the exotic garret “Bali” room at the Welcome Hotel in Brussels.

            Each of the 17 rooms at Hotel Welcome is decorated in the theme of an exotic location around the world, accessorized with furniture, textiles and objects d’art brought back from the travels of the owners.

            The walls of the Bali room are painted a deep red and gold. Rich fabrics and authentic architectural elements and decorative objects accessorize the space.  Elaborately carved wood doors open to reveal a large jetted tub, surrounded by a pebbled floor and faceing a set of French doors and a narrow balcony that overlooks the city.

 

            I’d spent a week in Belgium before flying on to Estonia and then Lithuania and I had returned for one more night in Brussels before catching my return flight in the morning. The hotel, part of which is in what was originally a 19th Century home, is located in the beautiful and historic Saint Catherine district, adjacent to the Fish Market. Surrounded by wonderful shops and restaurants, the hotel is only a few minute’s walk from the bustling Grand Place, and yet it feels like a private hideaway.

           

            After strolling through the historic heart of Brussels, stopping for one more Belgian beer and one more plate of delicious food, I made my way back to my room, packed my suitcase and prepared for the next morning’s flight back to the United States.

            Finally, just as the sun went down, I filled the tub with hot water. Turning out the lights, I opened the French doors and stretched out in the big bathtub. From the privacy of the dark room, I could see the city come to life. Lights came on in apartments and hotels. Footsteps rang out on the cobblestones of the street below. Voices and laughter floated up to where I was. Church bells and music serenaded me.

 

            I thought about all I’d seen and done in the last weeks. Relaxed, well fed, my mind still replaying images from the trip, surrounded by the trappings of Bali but cocooned in Brussels, a city I love, I was filled with a deep contentment. The moment sealed my happiness.

 

            Travel is about new experiences and new frontiers. But there are times when the ancient pleasure of the bath is enough.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Chasing Paris

   It was not the first time I’ve taken a daughter to Paris. Two years ago my middle daughter and I spent a January week in the City of Light, but that’s where the similarity ends. There is a world of difference in 17 and 21.

   At 21, my middle daughter was living away at college and was getting close to graduation. She’d missed me and was ready for time together. Not so with my 17-year-old. She sees a lot of me. Maybe, if I’m reading the subtly of closed doors and rolling eyes correctly, a little too much of me.

   This is her senior year. College comes in the fall. She is so close to independence, to getting out from under my wing and stepping out into her own life, that it’s all she thinks about. She’s been left here at home with us, without her brother and sisters who have grown up and have lives of their own. She wants what they have. She wants out.

   Still, a trip to Paris is a trip to Paris. When I suggested we go just after Christmas, she signed on. For a while it looked like her sister, the one who’d gone with me before, might join us. But the real world—in the form of a real job—stepped in and it was back to one (disappointed) girl and her mother.

   We landed in Paris, checked into the hotel, napped for a couple of hours and that was it. She never looked back. The minute we walked out the door of our hotel each morning, the race was on. We picked a direction, a museum or monument or quartier to visit, and she would set out, quickly leaving me to lope behind her like the family dog.  Occasionally, she would realize she’d left me too far behind and would wait, her impatience only barely masked, until I could catch up. Then, after a block or two, she was off again.

    She’s tall and her long legs speed her along. I am short and was carrying the bag full of cameras, umbrellas, maps and everything else that marked us as tourists. She looked like a local. I looked like a porter at the train station.

   I quickly quit trying to keep up and began to enjoy the sight of her moving across the cobblestones, toward the Eiffel Tower, down narrow lanes and along the Quai Saint-Bernard skirting the Seine. I have a series of photos snapped on my phone as I trotted along behind her, sometimes quite a distance behind her. My beautiful daughter melted into Paris and I was able to watch.

   Chasing her, I remember wanting desperately to be on my own at that age, without the weight of parents and siblings to slow me down. I wanted to travel alone, unencumbered. If, at 17 I’d found myself in Paris with only my mother for company, I would have done my best to shake her like so much dust out of the rug.

   She led me on a merry chase from one end of Paris to the other but I’ll win in the end. She’ll go to Paris again, on her own or in the company of friends. But it will be too late. I will have marked the place. She’ll remember the little hotel I like so much, the one on a quiet street with a school and a market and rows of beautiful apartments.

   She’ll order in French and think about the way I simply couldn’t pronounce Croque Monsieur without traces of my Southern accent coming through. She’ll get tired and remember the way I insisted on stopping each afternoon for a cup of chocolat, demanding a moment to savor the strong flavor and rest my sore feet.

   She’ll return to Paris on her own terms but memories of our trip together will be folded into every crepe, waiting around every corner and strung like lights across the Pont Marie.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com



  

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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