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Home Planet

Archive for July 2013

Travel: Start Your Croatia Tour with a Stay in Zagreb

   Travel, like fashion and pop culture, has trends. Places appear on the radar and soon they’re the hot new destination. And certain destinations just keep getting more popular. For the past decade Croatia has been in the spotlight. National Geographic, the New York Times and even Rick Steves have listed it as one of the places travelers should visit.

   Most people are introduced to Croatia through Dubrovnik, a busy port for the cruise industry.  I started my tour in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia,.

   I don’t know what I expected when I landed in Zagreb, but what I found was a city as beautiful and elegant as any of Europe’s grand dames. The Hapsburg influence is strong and there are traces of Vienna in the architecture—Zagreb national railway employes work in what has to be the most beautiful building in the country.  When the sun is shining, the coffee houses and sidewalk cafes are full of locals and tourists alike and it’s not unusual for a conversation over coffee and pastries, another Viennese influence, to last hours.

   At the heart of the city is the green horseshoe, an urban oasis of parks and squares. Anywhere you walk you are only minutes away from one of these lush green spaces. Red and blue trams move briskly carrying passengers across the city.

   On a hill overlooking the city, reached by funicular or by narrow cobblestone lanes that wind through the old city gates, the oldest section of the “Upper Town” still holds the official government buildings.

   One of my favorite stop was the elegant Esplanade Hotel, the city’s grand hotel. Built in 1925 as one of the original stops on the luxurious Oriental Express as it traveled between Paris and Istanbul, the interior of the imposing building across from the railway is ornamented by marble, stained glass and ormolu. Just above the wide front door a row of clocks tells the time in cities across the world. Renovated in 2004, the hotel is once again a showplace.

   The city of Zagreb is easy to reach, only a short flight from Frankfurt or Heathrow, and worth a visit. From there, travel around the country is easy. Croatia boasts some of the newest and most efficient freeways in Europe.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose 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. This story was previously published in Spokane Woman Magazine.
  

Travel: How to Keep Traveling When Your Luggage is Lost

   I recently spent a week traveling through the beautiful countryside of southern France while my luggage stayed behind somewhere in Charles de Gaulle Airport. Fortunately, my make up and basic toiletries were in my carry-on bag but everything else, my clothes, shoes, shampoo and lotions were packed in my suitcase.
Needless to say, it wasn’t an ideal situation but I made the best of it.

   It helped that my basic travel wardrobe is made up of clothing that will go from daytripping through wineries and museums to dinner at a nice restaurant in the city. Most pieces can be washed in my hotel room and will dry overnight. Open my suitcase almost anywhere in the world and you’ll find two or three pair of black microfiber slacks, lightweight tailored blouses and one black jersey dress. When I need to dress up, I add a silk scarf or pashmina and change my shoes.

   To supplement what I had on my back while my luggage was AWOL, I stopped by a Monoprix and picked up a change of underwear, a white linen blouse, a very French-looking striped t-shirt (from the men’s department) and a pair of pretty leather ballet flats. It all fit in an extra tote bag I had stuffed in my carryon bag at the last moment.

   Luckily, the suitcase was found the day before I returned to the States and the whole experience was a good lesson on just how little we really need when traveling.

   While not having my things was inconvenient, it won’t cause me to stop checking my luggage when flying. My mileage status usually lets me check one bag for free and I like the extra room to bring home liquid souvenirs—wine, jams, sauces, etc.—that can’t be carried on.

  

Here are five tips for surviving when your luggage is lost:



Wash and wear fabrics: Leave the jeans at home. Denim adds weight to your luggage, is too heavy to hand wash and can be expensive to have laundered at your hotel.


Carry-on a change of clothing: Slip an overnight kit in your carry-on bag that includes a change of underwear and an extra set of clothing. (Full disclosure: I broke my own rule and forgot to add a change of clothing to the bag I carried onto the plane. Having that would have helped.)


Have a bag inventory: The first thing the airline agent wanted was a list of items in my bag. It helps to have a packing list or, better yet, a photo of the bag’s contents.


Know your rights: Check with your airline for their specific policy regarding reimbursement for (necessary) items purchased when luggage is lost.


Put your ID inside your luggage: Tags go missing. I slip a business card or two inside my suitcase with my phone number and email address. That way if my bag is recovered but unidentifiable, it can be traced to me through the card inside.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose 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: Holland America takes you Dancing With The Stars at Sea

   I think most of us harbor a secret belief that at the right time, with the right partner,  in the right place, with the right music, in the right costume and with a few good lessons, we could Tango like a pro.

   That’s the appeal of shows like Dancing with the Stars. He did it. She did it. If they can make it, we could make it. We just need a chance.

   This year, with its Dancing with the Stars at Sea theme cruises, Holland America Line is giving dance-loving passengers that chance. During select cruises, passengers get more than just a cruise. DWTS fans can take lessons from the ship’s professional dancers, watch the show’s celebrities perform, have a photo made with their favorites dancers during special events, participate in a Q&A session with the celebrities and even compete for a chance to perform onstage at the grand finale.

   To participate in the ship’s Dancing With the Stars At Sea competition, passengers attend free onboard dance classes where they learn steps taught by the ship’s dancers. At the end of each class, participants perform the routines they learned and are scored by the three judges. The winners are paired with a professional and go on to the final performance on the last night of the cruise. At the finale, each of the winning dance class contestants perform with their partner for the DWTS celebrity judges. The judges offer comments and score the performance and a cruise champion is declared.
   

   At the end of the season, judges will select a winner from each of the eligible Dancing with the Stars at Sea cruises. The 15 winners will get a free cruise and a chance to compete at the final competition for the DWTS at Sea trophy. Not bad.

   In June, my husband and I took a Dancing with the Stars at Sea cruise from Quebec City to Boston on the ms Veendam. Joey Fatone, Mark Ballas, Shawn Johnson and Chelsie Hightower were the stars on board.

   At each performance, the theater was packed. At the special passenger Q&A session with the DWTS celebrities it was fascinating to listen to the comments and questions. These were people who didn’t just watch Dancing with the Stars, they were involved. They’d followed every season and had more than a few things to say about the dancers, their costumes, specific personalities and some of the judges’ decisions. They'd booked the cruise specifically because the dancers were there and they were thrilled to get a chance to ask interact. Some, like a man sitting in front of me, just wanted to make a statement. 

   “I don’t have a question. I just wanted to say Dancing with the Stars is the one thing my wife and I watch together,” he said. “And I get ‘points’ for watching it!”  The crowd laughed but I noticed other men nodding their heads.

   As always, there was good food, a luxurious spa, onboard movies, plenty of time to do absolutely nothing and interesting ports to explore along the way—all the things that make cruising a wonderful way to rest and relax as you travel. The DWTS theme just added to the fun.

   We all came away with great photos and wonderful memories but some got even more than that. They got a chance to step into the spotlight and dance like a star.

For more information about Holland America “Dancing with the Stars at Sea” cruises go to www.hollandamerica.com

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose 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: A Day in Carcassonne, France



    When you first see the medieval walled Cité' of Carcassonne, depending on the direction from which you approach, it can appear unexpectedly on the landscape.  Like the magic castle in a storybook.

    The high stone walls and tall towers wrap ribbonlike around the rocky top of the hill and the Pont Vieux, a 600-year-old bridge, connects the old Cité' with the 'newer' town below with a series of graceful stone arches. 

    The Romans laid the first stones of the walls—some of which are still visible. By the 13th Century Carcassonne’s gates were protecting a castle and, later, the architecturally significant Basilica Saint-Nazaire.

    Surviving countless sieges and wars, the old Cité' of Carcassonne eventually fell into disrepair, eventually becoming a source of stone for newer construction, and by 1849 was slated to be demolished. But the influential mayor organized a monumental and controversial effort project to rebuild and preserve the cite, hiring a noted architect to oversee the project. Some creative license was taken, slate tiles were added and things were not put back exactly as they had been, but the oldest part of Carcassonne was saved. (And, interestingly, it was specifically designed to draw tourists.) Work continued until 1910.

    In 1997 Carcassonne was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and that same year the city’s most prestigious hotel, the Hôtel de la Cité which offers a spectacular view that stretches to the distant Pyranees, was opened by the Orient Express Group.


    In the high season the crowd in Carcassonne can be shoulder-to-shoulder, but in mid-June I had all the room I needed. It was the last day of school and children on an end-of-the-year class excursion laughed as they ran from one thing to another. Someone spotted a pop star in town for the annual Carcassonne Music Festival and they flocked to wave and peer through the windows as they watched as his chauffeured Lamborghini edge through the fortified city’s double gates.

    Shops of all kinds line the narrow cobblestoned streets and I stopped to buy colorful espadrilles, the iconic flat rope-soled canvas shoes made in the South of France, for my daughters. I bought a pair for myself and a bag of sweet French nougat to bring home.

    As I spent my day in Carcassonne, I watched the personality of city change and shift, first gleaming in the bright sun and then at night, Illuminated by lights placed strategically along the outer walls, become shadowed and mysterious.


    A couple of weeks after my return from France, browsing through an antique store, I stumbled upon a “Lady’s” travel book written in 1907 about the Languedoc region of France that was written. It is the highly-romanticized story of two young female travelers, flowery and feminine but, in a way, also a bit radical. At that time, at the turn of the last century, few women had the freedom to travel so independently and the adventures of the two cousins as they toured the countryside must have been appealing to readers. In the chapter on Carcassonne one of the young travelers is inspired by the ancient towers and finds a spot sheltered by the old walls to sit and write in her journal.

    What made me smile was a notation in the Rick Steves guidebook I’d read prior to my visit. In it he mentions a day spent in Carcassonne when he was a teenager, and he included the notes he’d made that day while sitting on one of the ramparts. It seems no one is immune. English author, Kate Mosse, whose 2007 bestselling novel Labyrinth was set in Carcassonne and still draws thousands of readers to the Cité' each year, has a house in the area and she admits to falling under its spell. Walt Disney is said to have visited, coming away with the inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty castle.


    Sure there is a touristy side to what has become of the old Cité'. Toy swords and refrigerator magnets abound.  But beautiful, evocative, places like Carcassonne, imbued with an ancient and intimate history of the men, women and children who once lived there, draw us in. And in that way Carcassonne is impossible to resist. Romance is mortared into the very walls of the place

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose 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
  

Life: Taking Baby Steps

   My granddaughter is suddenly a toddler. Over the last few months we’ve watched her crawl then, almost overnight, put one foot in front of another learning first to walk and then run. Her mother, my daughter, is trained to work with patients with mobility issues and she told me that learning to walk is really just overcoming a constant feeling that you’re about to fall. I watched my own four children learn to walk and I’d never really thought about it that way, but when you do, learning to walk becomes a very brave thing to do. The easiest and safest thing would be to simply sit down and stay where we are, but nature takes care of that and we come into the world with the drive to get up and move forward.


    My granddaughter is in constant motion these days, moving from one corner of the house to another, no longer unsteady and unsure. But those first stumbling steps have stayed on my mind. I noticed that while she was learning to walk, she never once looked down at her feet. She pushed herself up, put her eyes on the place or person she wanted to get to, and launched herself in that direction. She wasn’t thinking about what might get in her way—that was our job—she just had to move.


    Of course, as adults, we’ve learned to watch where we put our feet. We know that one wrong step could send us tumbling. When we set a target and move toward it, we do so consciously and carefully. You get smarter as you get older, right?


    The sad thing is that by growing up and growing older, most of us inevitably lose our inner toddler, the inquisitive, driven, risk taker we were born to be. We watch our steps so carefully, so determined not to fall or to fail, we risk never letting go and getting anywhere. We plant ourselves so firmly and deeply we take root. And one day some of us discover we’re stuck.


    I’ve heard the phrase “baby steps” countless times, but until I watched this baby learn to walk, I’m not sure I ever really understood its meaning. Baby steps aren’t small steps, they’re big leaps of faith and curiosity. They are the means to getting where you want to be, in spite of the risks. This is another of the benefits of being the grandmother, I think. Now, I have time to watch the process with just enough distance and none of the fatigue, exhaustion and worry of being the parent.


    Years ago, I threw myself headlong into into mothering. It was the most frighteningly wonderful thing I have ever done or will ever do. And the reward? Four unique adults who made their way confidently out of my nest just as this little one stepped in.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose 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: Truffle Hunting in Croatia


    Our small group, an assortment of travelers from the US, Canada and Germany,  gathered as Ivan Karlic, our guide, leashed up Blackie, the sweet, specially trained dog who would sniff out truffles buried at the base of oak trees growing in a small grove on a hillside near the village of Buzet. Most of us were visiting the Istrian peninsula of Croatia for the first time and none of us had ever been on a truffle hunt.


    Blackie knew what to do. Nose to the ground, she set out snuffling at the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor. Tail wagging, she moved quickly from one spot to another while Ivan whispered soft words of encouragement. We followed them both, stepping over roots and stones.


    Pigs were once the traditional truffle hunting animals, but as Ivan pointed out, it’s much easier to stop a dog from destroying or eating the truffle than a determined pig. So, these days, most truffle hunters have made the switch.


    Truffles are true buried treasure. Black truffles, the ones we were watching Blackie search for, average 30 to 50 Euros. When they’re in season, white truffles can go for many times that amount. That’s no small thing when you consider most are the size of a walnut or a small apple.


    As we walked behind Blackie, Ivan chatted with us about his family’s business harvesting the truffles from the small wood.  But suddenly he called out to the dog and rushed over to pull her away from where she was pawing at the ground. Using the tool he carried, a flat blade attached to a stick, he sliced into the dirt until the truffle was exposed. Gently, he scraped the dark soil away with his finger until he could gingerly pry the truffle free of the root to which it had been attached. He held up the prize and we cheered. Blackie got a treat for a job well done.


    While we were still admiring the find, Blackie went back to work. Once again we followed her zigzag path, talking quietly as we watched her stop, sniff, sniff again and then move on. When she started pawing at the ground, Ivan ran over to her and again, pulled a hard black truffle from the ground. Blackie moved deeper into the small forest and a few minutes later she hit paydirt again. While Ivan worked to free that truffle the dog started scratching at the base of another tree nearby. He called out for someone to help so I took his place and slipped my fingers into the hole he’d created with his spade. The dirt was cool and moist as I worked it away from the truffle. Like an archaeologist, I worked slowly, gently, scraping away the soil that concealed the truffle until Ivan came back and helped me pull it away from the root. I handed my phone to the woman beside me and asked her to take a photo. In the image, I am a blur. The only thing in focus are my hands, muddy, with dirt-caked fingernails cradling the truffle. It was exactly right.


    We carried the four truffles we’d gathered back to the farmhouse and Ivan’s mother, Radmila, met us at the covered patio. She exclaimed when she saw what we’d found. Apparently, it was a very good truffle hunt. Blackie, after being petted again by everyone in the group, was taken back to the kennel with the family’s other truffle-hunting dogs.


    Radmila broke eggs into a bowl, added thin slices of one of the truffles we’d found and made an omelet of our work.


    She sliced a baguette and topped the slices with butter and another sliver of truffle on top. With savory sausages and bottles of house-made wine, we had a meal so fragrant and delicious I will remember it forever.


    I’d expected the tourist treatment: a field “salted” with truffles that had been planted so we could have the (artificial) pleasure of watching a dog sniff them out. But my experience was just the opposite. I kept the photo and I’m going to frame it for my kitchen. The next time I make an omelet, I’ll think of that day; the feel of the dirt on my fingers and the unmistakable earthy fragrance of delicious buried treasure.
    



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose 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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