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Posts tagged: Europe

Travel: The Great War Centennial 1914-1918: In Flanders Fields

    When I was 12 years old, my family moved into a rambling Craftsman-style bungalow. The house had been built in the early-to-mid 1920s with all the signature details of the era including beautiful wainscoting, built-in bookcases and, in two rooms,  window seats that ran the length of one wall. I spent many hours on those window seats, my forehead pressed against the glass, looking over the rooftops of the neighborhood behind us. I did a lot of reading on that cushioned seat and a lot of daydreaming. 

    

    One day, looking for a place to hide in a neighborhood game of Hide and Seek, I opened the top of one of the window seats, but there was already something in it. I pulled out a fabric-wrapped bundle that held a pair of stiff canvas objects I couldn’t identify and what looked like some kind of mask. I showed them to my grandfather, my source for the answer to all mysteries.

  

     “Those are Doughboy gaiters and a gas mask,” he told me, turning them over in his hands.

    

    I’d never heard of a gaiter and the only doughboy I knew anything about advertised canned biscuits. The mask was familiar, but only from movies and books. I got a quick history lesson about the First World War, the nickname for American soldiers at the time, the rough wool uniforms, legs protected by the gaiters—or leggings—that strapped and laced around a man’s calves and the gas attacks that sent soldiers scrambling, often too late, for their protective masks.

    

    He told me I had ancestors who’d fought in the Great War, pulled out the Encyclopedia and left me to my research.

    

    That was the start of an interest that has lasted a lifetime. The war that was to end all wars never left my mind for long after that, drawing me to books and songs and even fashions of the era. Some time in my early 20s, digging through a box of junk at a flea market, I came across a U.S. Victory Medal. Such medals were sent to every surviving soldier in 1921 to mark his service. It’s in my jewelry box now.

  

     On the back of the medal are the words, “The War of Civilization.” If only it had been. If that war, one of the most brutal and destructive in history, had been the last, my grandfather would not have spent years in the South Pacific during the Second World War. My father would not have gone to Korea and Vietnam. 

     

    As it was, a generation was decimated, lost to not only the war, but the collateral damage of the Spanish Influenza that rode its coattails around the world. By the end, 16 million were dead and the landscape of parts of Europe was forever changed.

    

    When the phrase “The Greatest Generation” became popular, I bit my tongue. It seemed to me the “greatest” generation was the that fought and survived that First World War. Many returned to simply pick up and go on. Others were broken completely, suffering what was called “shell shock.” That generation endured the Great War, the Great Depression and then, the ultimate cruelty, was either called to fight again again or, worse, send their sons to another unthinkable world war.

  

     I finally made it to Belgium in 2012 and one of the stops on my itinerary was a tour of Flanders Fields, the site of so much of the horror of the Western Front. I stepped into preserved bunkers and if they chilled me on a warm spring day, I could only imagine how horrible, how dark and damp and cold, they must have been in the war, surrounded by a sea of mud, echoing the deafening barrage of shells and gunfire, filed with the sounds of the injured and dying.

 

    At the at the Flanders Fields American Cemetery, I walked among the 368 white marble crosses reading the names, birth dates and home states—from Alabama to Washington—of the men that had fallen in the last battles before the armistice was signed in November, 1918.

  

     I sat in what had been the “Gold Star Mothers” room, a place for visiting mothers who had lost sons and buried them in Flanders.

    

    At the German Cemetery, a darker, more somber place, I read more names, some of them 16-year-old boys who’d been encouraged by their teachers to join up and experience what was going to be a quick rout. Startled, I saw the same name as my husband’s grandfather, a man whose family immigrated from Germany to the United States in the years before the war. It wasn’t him but it might have been a relative. No one seems to know.

  

     I stood at the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres) surrounded by the names of more than 50,000 men who have no known grave. I listened as the bugler played and a wreath was laid, participating in a ceremony that has been held each evening since 1927, except during the years of German occupation in the next world war. 

    

    Now, in 2014, we’ve reached the century mark. What began with the murder of an Archduke (and his wife, although no one ever seems to mention it) and ended with the Treaty of Versailles and a shattered world, is being remembered. 

    

    If you’ve ever thought of going to Europe, or wanted to go back, this anniversary is a good time to do it. Follow the branches of your family tree. Chances are, before the great generation that went to the Second World War, you had an ancestor in the First.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

    

Travel: Vancouver Christmas Market

   December in Europe is beautiful and the traditional Christmas markets are a way to experience the best of the holiday season. Of course, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and cross an ocean. I couldn’t fit it in this year so I started thinking about a way to come as close to a European experience as possible without crushing my calendar or busting the budget.

 

    As it happens. Vancouver, British Columbia, launched a Christmas Market in 2010 and I’ve been hoping to get up to check it out. So, why not this year? I had some business in Portland and some research to do in Vancouver. With a little flexibility, I figured I could combine business and pleasure. 

 

 

Sleeping in Seattle

    Instead of flying straight home from Portland, I booked a flight to Seattle and a room at the Red Lion Hotel 5th Avenue. It’s one of my favorite hotels, comfortable, upscale, right in the center of my favorite shopping district and a short Light Rail ride from the airport. 

  

    I checked in, dropped off my bags and walked down to Nordstrom Rack for some Christmas shopping before the store closed. After a good night’s sleep (the Red Lion motto is “Stay Comfortable” and I did) I was up early the next morning and although I could have walked, the short taxi ride (it was just a $5 fare) to the King Street Amtrak station was well worth the extra minutes it gave me.

 

Riding the Rails

    I’m a train lover and I’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Seattle and Portland, and over to Montana, but I’ve never been on the Amtrak Cascades. It’s a fantastic three-hour trip and December is the perfect time to enjoy the stark winter scenery along one of the most beautiful coastlines in North America.      

 

   Rolling out of Seattle just before 8 a.m., the train followed Puget Sound and stopped in a number of cities and small towns before crossing into British Columbia. I got a cup of coffee and a piece of locally-baked banana bread in the train’s Bistro Car and had breakfast in my seat, my eyes on the view out the window. At one point a bald eagle who’d been sitting on the broken trunk of a dead tree, looked straight into my window before flying out over the Sound. I pulled out my iPhone and it was almost as if he was posing for me as he circled overhead.     We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at around 11:30 a.m. 

 

   I checked in at the Loden Hotel and it is a gem. My room was elegant and understated and I was happy with an upgrade to one of the 2nd-floor terrace rooms. The Loden is conveniently located and I could walk to all the downtown attractions. (Winter rates are particularly attractive.)

 

The Vancouver Christmas Market

    I’ve been to Christmas markets across Germany, from Munich’s large elegant market to the smaller, more provincial markets in villages along the Rhine. The Vancouver Christmas Market is incredibly authentic. The 45 charming wood huts were filled with all kinds of goodies. And the tasty potato pancakes, cheese and ham spaetzle, bratwurst, spiced sweet baked apples and, of course, souvenir mugs of Glühwein made me feel like I was at a true German market. 

  

    School children sang carols around the big tree in the center of the square and a Kathe Wolfhart pop-up shop was filled with handmade ornaments and crafts. I’ve always wanted one of the handmade candle carousels and I finally bought one while I was in Vancouver. (I knew I could carry it on the short flights and get it home safely, something that’s always hard to guarantee on long flights home from Germany.)

 

 

The takeaway

   My instinct was spot on. Vancouver is a great place to get an authentic European Christmas market experience, as well as a little “Christmas in the Big City” fun, without leaving my favorite corner of North America.

 

    I spent three days and nights soaking up the vibrant multicultural offerings of the city. Vancouver’s reputation as city of foodies is growing and I can testify to the variety of world-class cuisine.  There are more must-visit restaurants than I can list here, but Tableau Bar Bistro at the Loden (mushrooms on toast!) Homer Street Cafe (outstanding rotisserie chicken), Burdock and Co., Hawksworth Restaurant, Pidgin (book the Chef’s table!) and Rangoli were standouts. And the pastries at Boucoup Bakery are worth a trip any time. 

 

 

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’ (available at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Travel: Contemporary Art and Cultural History at Leipzig’s Spinnerei

    First there were mill workers, the men and women (in later years predominantly women) who worked the machines that made up one of the largest cotton mills in Europe. For more than 100 years, through boom and bust, through war and peace, through the post-WWII dissection of Germany, the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei, an industrial city unto itself, operated in Leipzig, Germany.

    Then in the 1990s, when the mill closed, the mill-workers moved out and artists, always looking for the luxury of great space without great expense, quickly moved in.  

 

    The Spinnerie is now the creative workplace and refuge of hundreds of artists and creatives. The vast workrooms with wide multi-paned windows have become studios and galleries and storefronts. A popular cafe located just inside the entrance attracts people-watchers who spill out to tables and chairs when the weather is nice. There’s a place to buy art supplies and a coffee shop. You can stop by the office to arrange a guided tour, buy a T-shirt or pick up a book (available in English) about the history and contemporary focus of the 125-year-old historic site.

 

    The size and scope of the industrial complex of old brick mill buildings, storerooms, and alleyways—more than 20 buildings encompassing 90,000 square meters—is almost overwhelming. Wherever you look in the sprawling compound your eye is caught by something interesting. 

 

    Neo Rauch, the most well-known artist of the New Leipzig School was one of the first to occupy a space at the Spinnerei.  In a second-story studio, porcelainist Claudia Biehne creates ethereal and otherworldly pieces that become lamps and bowls and sculptures.  To stand in her showroom is like stepping into an eggshell. The light is soft and transfused through the pieces she displays by the big windows.

 

    There are elements of the Spinnerei that put places like New York City and Berlin to shame: The sheer size of the complex, for one thing. In larger, more densely-populated areas, that kind of room to grow and create is unheard of, and there’s the Spinnerei’s proximity to affordable and vibrant Leipzig. There is an energy and intense focus that belies the age and crumbling facade of the structures in the old mill city. 

 

    The art world is paying attention to what is happening at Leipzig’s Spinnerei. It is a model for what you can do with history, and how you can use the past to create the future. 

 

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: 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: Five Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

Nothing takes the shine off a travel adventure like finding yourself sick away from home.  Even the healthiest of us can fall—Colds happen. Germs find us. Stomachs revolt—so it pays to think ahead and pack for those unexpected headaches, troubled tummies and painful blisters. Here are five tips for staying healthy on the road:

Clean hands. Pack hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes and use often. I wish airports would take a tip from cruise ships and provide hand sanitizer stations at the entrance to all terminals and jetways. Everyone picking up a bin at the security checkpoint or boarding a plane should get a dollop. It couldn’t hurt, right? It’s not just germy handrails or contaminated food. Unexpected surfaces such as the airplane seatback tray or even your purse can—according to some sources—be as dirty as the bathroom floor.

Plan ahead. No travel first aid kit should be without the basics: Pain reliever, cold medicines (decongestant, antihistamine, cough suppressant, etc.) and anti-diarrhea medication can make the difference between an inconvenience and an unpleasant medical situation. Band-Aids and travel-sized antibiotic ointment are a given. If you’re going to more exotic locations make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist for the necessary shots and preventative medication. Don’t forget your vitamins.
Note: Keep prescription medications in the original container to avoid confiscation and to make it easier to get a refill on the road.

Write it down: If you have specific allergies— food or medicine— make sure your travel companions and tour operator are aware. Note: Carry the name and number of your physician in case of emergency and have a copy of your insurance card with you.

All things in moderation: Overeating, drinking too much, lack of sleep and jet lag can wreak havoc on your body and weaken the immune system. Some say the best way to beat jet lag is to start preparing days before a trip. Eat less, drink less and sleep more. Skip the inflight cocktail and opt for water or juice instead. While traveling, resist the temptation to abuse the all-you-can-eat buffet on the cruise ship and stay hydrated.

Exercise: Don’t forget to get up and move on long flights and don’t drop the workout routine when you arrive. Many hotels offer at least a basic fitness room. Even if there is excellent public transportation at the destination you’re visiting, hit the cobblestones whenever possible. Take the stairs when you can. Note: There are specific hotel room-friendly workout routines designed for travelers.


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: Five Tips for Travel with Teens

   Packing up the kids for a family road trip is one thing, but flying off to Europe with a teen is a totally different experience. With a little planning and patience you can share a travel experience that you’ll both cherish.
Here are five tips for international travel with a teenager:  

Think ahead: I ask my teen if she wants to sit with me or have her own space before I book the tickets. Then I pack a large ziplock bag with everything she will need to help her stay comfortable during the overnight flight. The kit includes an eye mask, a small inflatable pillow, a pair of lightweight socks and several sets of disposable ear plugs. All she’ll need is an airline blanket.

Take it easy:  Traveling on my own, I usually push on after an overnight flight and crash at the end of the day. But traveling with teenagers is different. Teens need a lot of sleep and you don’t really know how well he or she rested before departure. After checking into the hotel I usually suggest they nap for an hour or so while I unpack, go over guidebooks or catch up on emails.

Please feed the bear: We usually eat a good breakfast before we set out each morning (a hotel with a hot buffet is always a good thing) but I pack nuts, chocolate and fruit (dried or fresh) for those moments between meals when we need to sit down (sometimes in separate places) and recharge our batteries.

Be flexible: Give your teen (some) freedom to wander. They crave independence and it helps young travelers develop the skills they’ll need when they go out on their own adventures. Be sure your child knows the address and location of your hotel and can reach you in an emergency. (I keep the texting function open on my phone when I travel.) Bonus: There can be unexpected benefits to letting your teen pick the itinerary for the day. One of my daughters read about a small designer outlet on a side street off St-Germain.  She led the way and we spent an hour browsing with the oh-so-stylish locals and scored the jacket of her dreams.


Practice patience. Teens play it close. It might be a few years before you get to realize just how much they enjoyed themselves, but eventually the poker face will disappear and you’ll hear them admit it was the trip of a lifetime.

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: 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



  

Travel: Paris in Winter

   Most people dream of Paris in the springtime, when the city blooms and leaves unfurl like tiny pennants on tree-lined boulevards. Or, they look forward to a summer vacation in the high season, when the grass in the parks is lush and green, the warm breeze ruffles your hair as you cruise down the Seine and the sidewalk cafes are crowded with people-watchers and those who love to be watched.


    But I long for Paris in January, when the weather is unpredictable and, on occasion,  unfriendly.
    In winter, Paris is imbued with a faded, elegant, melancholy romance. The sky is low and the air is heavy and darkness falls early. The river looks dense and cold and the top of the Eiffel Tower is occasionally shrouded in fog. Walking down narrow streets the aromas of the bakeries and tobacco shops and coffee houses linger and capture you as you walk past, drawing you in.


    In January, Paris is a study in shades of gray and black and walking down the rain-slick cobblestones, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time, back into an iconic Henry Cartier-Bresson photograph. I marvel at the architecture, the beautiful Hausmann buildings, Art Nuveau Metro stations and arching bridges, all somehow more prominent without the foliage and crowds that will come in warmer weather.


    I took my middle daughter to Paris just after the first of the year in 2011. We arrived early, just as the weak morning light was stealing across the city.  I watched her face as she looked out the taxi window and caught her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.


    We stayed at a small pre-war hotel in the 6th Arrondissement, a short walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg, and each day after breakfast we walked the streets of Paris. From the Latin Quarter to the Champs Elysse  to the banks of the Seine we explored grand avenues and winding side streets. We stood in the hushed Cathedral of Notre Dame. We gazed at the paintings and sculpture at the Musee D’Orsay, buying postcards to bring home as souvenirs. We stopped at the sidewalk creperies and sipped espresso in tiny cafes watching the city go on about its business. And all the while a soft rain fell, washing the city in soft hues. We spent a companionable week that I will always remember.


    This is not to say Paris in winter is without its flaws. The noise and congestion and the ubiquitous dog waste on the sidewalk are still there, just as they are any time of year. But for an incurable romantic, the dark and mysterious days of January are the perfect time to experience the city of light.


    I loved it so much I returned this year with my youngest daughter. She’s been to Paris before on a school trip, but it was hurried and only superficial. This time we explored the city on our own, the way I did with her sister, visiting the places she chose. And once again I got the chance to see one of the world's most beautiful cities through a daughter’s eyes.


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. (Portions of this essay were first published in Spokane Cd’A Woman Magazine.)
  

Travel: The Beauty of Christmas in Germany

(Photo by R. B. Millsap)

 

   One night, on my first trip to Germany during the month of December, hungry and still a little jetlagged from the flight, I walked into a tiny restaurant in a residential district near the center of Munich. I opened the door and then, dazzled by what I saw, stopped to take it all in.  
    

   A forest of dozens of small, elaborately decorated Christmas trees were hanging upside down from the ceiling of the room. I’d never seen anything like it before. Beautifully-wrapped packages of all sizes were stacked on windowsills, strung like ornaments on garlands of ribbon and greenery, and piled into corners. Evergreen boughs, woven with tiny white lights that glowed in the fresh snowfall outdoors and were reflected in the mirror over the bar, trimmed every door and window. 
    

   The intimate neighborhood eatery was filled with locals enjoying a big plate of schnitzel or wurst and crowded with friends who’d stopped by for an after-work drink. I felt as though I’d walked into a scene from an ornate Victorian picture-book, but I quickly realized the over-the-top decor was no show for tourists. It was just a perfectly fine example of the way Germany dresses up for the holiday season.
   

    Anyone who has ever spent time at one of Germany’s Advent or  Christkindlmarkts can relate. It’s the same kind of over-the-top feeling. Strolling down the rows of wood huts, most strung with white lights and wrapped in garland and decorations, it’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back in time.
   

    Most markets are held in the traditional market square or city center. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, the air is filled with the sweet and spicy scents of sausages, pastries, potato pancakes and warm candied almonds and other nuts. Shoppers crowd around booths buying gifts of handmade wood toys, knitted items, ornamental gingerbread and hand-carved wood figures for the family creche. And the Glühwein stands are the most popular by far, with friends gathering to enjoy a mug of the hot, spiced and fortified wine that is so much a part of Germany’s holiday season.
   

    Each market has a distinctive feel. The walled city of Nuremberg is famous for its red and white striped market canopies. The Munich “manger” market is where families come each year to select hand-carved pieces for the creche displayed every Christmas season. And the sprawling, busy, Frankfurt market stretches from the old city center to the river, highlighting both the history and contemporary culture of the vibrant city. The beautiful market in Cologne is consistantly voted one of the most popular.
    

   If you have the time and want to explore Germany at a more leisurely pace, consider booking a Rhine River cruise.  With frequent stops at villages between Frankfurt, Germany and Basel, Switzerland, a December river cruise down the Rhine River gives you a trouble-free way to enjoy the scenery as you cruise past ancient castles, beautiful and productive vineyards, old fortifications and picturesque villages. Each day brings a new opportunity to explore holiday markets in towns along the river, each with its own flavor and vibe, without the crush of peak-season tourists. Small-ship cruising combines the best of cruising—fine dining, comfortable staterooms and leisurely travel—but most river cruise ships carry fewer than 200 passengers so one never feels lost in the crowd.
    

   No place is as beautiful as Germany this time of year. Every year when I hang the wreaths and decorate the tree I think back to that small but beautifully and exhuberantly decorated restaurant on a quiet street in a very busy city. And I'm always inspired to do just a bit more.

    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, 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: Don’t Get Caught with Cold Feet

In the Departures section of the latest issue of AAA Western Journey Magazine, I contributed a list of my own  travel tips and tools; suggested uses for items you might have at home in your own closet or medicine cabinet.

One tip that didn't make the list is actually my favorite. In fact, I use it often.

Hotel rooms, especially in Europe, can be chilly in winter. So, to combat cold feet, before going to bed I fill a disposable (and watertight!) plastic water bottle with hot water. As hot as I can get it without actually softening the plastic. Then I slip the bottle into a soft cashmere sock kept in my luggage for exactly that purpose, tuck the homemade hot water bottle under the covers and slip in with it.

Of course, my quick fix doesn't stay hot as long as a traditional hot water bottle, but it helps me stay warm, relax and get to sleep. The next morning I either put the empty bottle back in my day pack or, it there's an option, recycle it.

Most frequent travelers find a way to “MacGyver” fixes for issues that come up. But, as a friend said, leave it to a woman to figure out a way to warm up her “popsicle toes.”

Lesson from Estonia: Love feeds us all

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Living in villages in the remote southeastern corner of Estonia, the Setu people have been farmers and woodsmen for centuries. No one seems to be exactly sure how long. They are said to be the oldest settled people in Europe, having never moved from their homeland. The pagan traditions of the past melded over time with the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and now, with half their homeland on the Soviet side of the demarcation line drawn after Estonian independence in 1991, leaving families fractured and divided, their primary export is more basic. It is the ancient songs traditionally sung by the women as they worked, cared for their families, worshiped and celebrated family ties. Now, Setu choirs perform around the world, on television, at festivals and fairs.

We were invited to join a group of Setu women at the cemetery for a special celebration. There, a cloth was spread at the base of the gravestone of a woman from the community. Food was arranged on the cloth and when everything was as it should be, the women stood up and began to sing. As they sang they swayed, some wearing traditional white wool coats over their woven skirts, white blouses and ornamental silver jewelry. All wore scarves covering their hair.

When the songs ended the women gestured toward the food, inviting us to come closer. They poured fruit punch, held up takeaway containers of cake and sandwiches and urged us to finish it all. Instead of the hushed voices one might expect in a churchyard, there was laughter and conversation.

The Setu language was indecipherable to me. The way the women were dressed was exotic with the musical jangling of silver on silver, chains of coins draped over large, heavy cone-shaped breastplates meant to ward off evil spirits. But a ceremony to honor the dead centered around food and hospitality made perfect sense. Food is sustenance,  we take it in to satisfy the need to fuel our bodies and minds. But food is also a conduit for love.

Thinking of my childhood, I recall so many meals. Family dinners, picnic lunches and breakfasts of scrambled eggs and toast. Chocolate milk and cups of coffee. Leftovers.

Food was my introduction to each of my children. Our first embrace was when I nursed each one just minutes after birth. Even now, when I can get them all together I have to serve them something. To feed myself, I need to feed them, to see them satisfied and content. Thinking about it, I realize my last moments with my mother on the night she died were spent offering her tiny spoonfuls of ice. It was all I could do.

The scenery and the songs of the Setu may be different from my world, but the driving force is the same. We court over meals, we celebrate milestones—birthdays, anniversaries, promotions—at the table. We grieve those we have lost gifted with offerings of food prepared or delivered by friends and coworkers.

Food brings us together, binds us to one another. And standing in a windswept cemetery, surrounded by stones weathered and mossy with age, I didn’t have to understand the words to recognize the spirit of the songs.


 Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her 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
  

Buon giorno!

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Maybe it's because I shoveled snow twice yesterday. It might be a reaction to my cold nose and hands and the pile of boots and gloves dripping on the floor beside the back door. Whatever the reason, I've been daydreaming about Italy. Remembering time spent in the lush, green, warmth of Tuscany.

So, with a bit of longing for olives and good wine and pasta served by a flirting waiter, I posted a picture of Lucca on my CAMera photo blog.

Buon giorno!

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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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