Posts tagged: Paris
I’m fortunate that my work takes me to Europe several times a year, but I try to go on my own at least once each fall or winter. Sometimes I travel with my husband or accompanied by one of my adult children, and that’s always fun. But I’m just as happy to go solo, to walk down streets that have seen the cultural history of the world unfold and come home richer for the experience.
In the past I looked for a direct flight to Frankfurt or London or Paris. But the 10 or 11 hours in the air, flying directly to or from Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles, took their toll on me. Especially on the way home. For a week or more after my return, I was fatigued and weary, fighting the confusion and physical effects of jet lag. I couldn’t get a lot done.
I began to talk about this with other travelers who live on the western side of the country and I realized I wasn’t alone. Jet lag, when returning from Europe, seems to hit us harder.
It finally dawned on me that maybe a direct flight isn’t necessarily the best idea. I may save a little time but I pay for it in other ways. If I give myself a few extra days on the east coast—usually New York City—to adjust before continuing my trip further west, I come home more rested and less likely to suffer from extreme jet lag.
I have put this theory to the test several times now and it makes all the difference. Now, whenever possible, a trip to Europe ends in one of two ways: an extra night or two in New York or a few days on a short cruise out of New York. Then, at the end of my mini-vacation, I catch a flight home with only a 3-hour time adjustment.
For my return from a recent assignment to write about France’s World War I western front, the Millennium Broadway Hotel’s “Fall into Autumn” package was perfect. I had some additional WWI research to do at the library and a couple of private museums, and I wanted to see a show or two while I was there. I booked a room for three nights in early October.
My Air France flight arrived at JFK Airport just after 4 p.m. After clearing customs I hopped in a taxi and took the 45-minute (rush hour traffic) ride to the hotel. Once there, I checked in, showered, and made myself a cup of tea. By that time it was almost 8 p.m. My room was on the 45th floor and overlooked Times Square. It was fun to watch the crowd with a bird’s eye view as I rested and answered the emails that had jammed my inbox after two weeks away. I had two more nights so I didn’t feel pressured to immediately go out and play. I made another cup of tea, fished around in my bag for an energy bar for dinner and went to bed.
The next morning I woke up early, still on Paris time, and watched the sunrise paint the skyscrapers surrounding the hotel. I’d slept well and I was ready to get to work.
The Millennium Broadway sits between 44th and 45th Streets and the location is perfect. The lobby is always a hive of activity, but the rooms are quiet and spacious ( especially by Manhattan standards.) The hotel is right in the heart of the theater district and within easy walking distance of all the other places I wanted to visit while I was there. The exercise revived me. Each morning, after a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in the lobby restaurant, I felt ready for anything.
By the time I flew home I’d adjusted to the time difference without any jet lag and I was far more productive than I would have been without the Big Apple break.
The Millennium Broadway Hotel’s “Fall into Autumn” package runs through November 30. If you’ve ever wanted to be there for New York’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, here’s your chance! (Note: The discount increases for a stay of three nights or more.)
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s 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” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Winter is the time to plan, especially for travelers. Right now airlines, cruise lines and travel agents have lined up new itineraries and there are deep discounts for those of us who are daydreaming of travel. It’s also a good time to set personal goals, to think as much about why we go as where we go.
Here are five good ways to Go, See and Do this year:
Go it alone: This is the year to be brave and have a solo adventure. The week I spent in Iceland, based in a hotel in Reykjavik but exploring the rest of the country by a different excursion each day, was one of the most rewarding solo trips I’ve ever taken. IcelandAir offers inexpensive and short flights direct from Seattle, the city is safe and perfect for women traveling alone and excursions are organized and inexpensive with coach pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.
See Alaska: The beautiful landscape of Alaska’s inside passage is always magnificent and worth seeing again and again. Even if you’ve taken an Alaskan cruise, it’s worth taking another. The new Holland America Land + Sea Journeys combine a cruise with overland trips to Denali National Park.
If a big ship is not your thing, UnCruise Adventures offers small-ship cruises which allow you to spend more time in the hard-to-reach areas teeming with wildlife.
Delve into History: I confess to being a history buff. I love to see the places where people and events changed the world in big and small ways. This year marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the battle of Normandy, when more than 150,000 Allied troops came ashore and the ensuing battles changed the course of World War ll. Standing at the American Cemetery in Normandy at Omaha Beach, or spending time any of the D-Day Museums that have been established at other beaches, the scope of the invasion and the cost to both military and civilian lives is inescapable. There are options for any traveler, from escorted “heritage” tours to all-inclusive river cruises making brief stops at the highlights.
Take a River Cruise: Thanks to glowing word-of-mouth recommendations by returning travelers and creative advertising campaigns like Viking’s extensive Downton Abbey commercials, cruising the rivers of Europe is the new Grand Tour. Elegant river boats move from one interesting port to another while passengers take in the scenery from the comfort of staterooms and lounges. At each stop English-speaking guides lead tours to the historical and cultural sites. The food is good, the wine flows freely and the pace is relaxing. It’s become the favorite way for Americans to move around Europe.
Pick a Theme: Instead of landing and hitting the cobblestones, guidebook in hand, pick a particular focus. If you love Paris, sign on for an Antiques Diva shopping tour that will take you to hidden shops and fabulous flea markets. Or, join Vancouver, British Columbia, pastry queen Jackie Kai Ellis on one of her upcoming tours of patisseries and bakeries. Take a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Theme travel allows you to learn a new skill, enjoy a favorite hobby or simply enjoy a destination in the company of like-minded people.
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 blogs about antiques and collectibles on her Spokesman.com Treasure Hunting blog and can be reached at email@example.com
To enter Monet’s private world you must first walk through a dark tunnel under the busy road that separates the house and front garden, the Clos Normand, from the famous water garden. Yes, that water garden. The place with mysterious, reflective, pools and graceful willows whose branches hang low over the water, where the elegant wisteria-covered Japanese bridge frames the view of the beautiful water lilies Monet painted time and again.
In Monet’s time, he could walk out the front door and cross a small footbridge to reach the gate, but tourists are another matter. With all the grace of migrating wildlife, they are a hazard on what is now a busy road, so the tunnel gets them safely to a space that draws hundreds of thousands each year.
Stepping out of the tunnel and into the filtered light of the water garden is to step back in time. Thanks to the archivists, benefactors and a team of gardeners who have worked to restore the garden, the landscape is not much different than it was when the painter was there, when he walked the winding paths or sat on a bench to study the play of light and shadow on water. Turn a corner and the view is somehow familiar. You have the feeling you have been here before.
Monet’s gardens are as much a masterpiece as any canvas he created. He did not move into a house in the Normandy countryside in 1883 and simply settle down to paint what was there. Instead, he approached the land around the house he continued to improve and enlarge the way he created each painting, methodically, with layers and and an obsessive attention to color and light. He set out to create the garden he wanted to paint and it soon consumed him.
As I strolled—I was there in early September, just after the height of the tourist season, and there were fewer people sharing the paths with me than might have been a few weeks before—I marveled at the construction of what surrounded me. What seemed to be a riot of plants was as carefully thought out and orchestrated as the brushstrokes on one of his paintings.
Vine-covered arches over the central path, thick with trailing nasturtiums, frame the entrance to the farmhouse creating a vanishing point at the front door. Giant dahlias, with blooms as big as cantaloupes, towered over me. The garden welcomed me. It embraced me.
I stopped to watch one of the gardeners, almost hidden by the plants as she crouched to remove spent blooms, and a passing guide noticed. We chatted for a few minutes and then she said something that stays in my mind.
“For Monet the garden was not about any one flower. It was about the effect, the way the colors and textures and light worked together.”
He called it painting with nature.
Monet never stopped working. At the end of his life, his vision clouded by cataracts, his focus narrowed to the water garden. He built a studio for the purpose of painting large canvasses of the water lilies that covered the mirrored pond. The paintings that still hang in the Orangerie in Paris today.
I have been to France a number of times, I’ve gazed at his work in museums all over the world, and yet I’d never visited Monet’s gardens just 50 miles from Paris. I’m sorry it took me so long to get there.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
As we were driving across mountain passes and through a wide Montana valley to take her to college, my youngest daughter sat in the back seat, surrounded by the boxes she’d packed. The three of us fell into a familiar and comfortable pattern, with her teasing us, making us laugh, as the miles flew by.
For a moment I managed to forget that we were taking her to leave her, to start her new life as a college student. I forgot that with her went our last child, leaving us with an empty house. I forgot that I have no clear idea of what comes next. For a few hours It was just the family off on an adventure. There was an easy affection in the way we spoke to one another and all of the stresses and irritations of the last few months disappeared.
When we got to the campus we checked her into her dorm. We hauled the boxes out of the car and shopped for what else she would need. We went out to dinner and then shopped some more. We unpacked the books and bedding and keepsakes she’d taken with her, plugged in the small refrigerator, put her clothes in the closet and we were done. I realized she was being very patient with us but she was clearly ready to be on her own.
Moving to college is a journey into the unknown, but watching my daughter I realized she was uniquely prepared for this new life. She is no stranger to foreign places.
I reminded myself that this is the girl who ran ahead, turning around to tease me for being a slowpoke as we climbed the Great Wall in China. This is the girl who stood up to and challenged the arrogant and vaguely threatening transit officer who bullied us in Prague. This is the girl who didn’t let the man on the flight to Budapest get away with taking an aisle seat that wasn’t his; he was in her father’s seat and she made him move. This is the girl who lost her way for a few minutes in Rome and managed to find us on her own before we even realized she was gone. This is the girl who led us through Vienna and this is the girl who ordered our meals on our last trip to Paris—in passable French—and who, judging from the way she walked blocks ahead of me as we moved around the city, would clearly have preferred to been there on her own.
I didn’t think of it at the time, when I was planning vacations and saving for tickets to faraway places, but our travels did more than open her eyes to other people and other lands. She came back from each trip with confidence in herself. She may not know it’s there, but I know she’ll find it when she needs it.
She may be anxious and a little unsure now, college is a big leap, after all. But I have confidence in her. This is the girl who can find her way.
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 email@example.com
There is a house down the street from where I live and I often pass it on my afternoon walks through the neighborhood. It is a small white house, a classic Cape Cod, probably built in the lean years before the second World War. There is ivy climbing up the chimney and a tall evergreen tree anchors one corner of the front yard.
Most days, there is nothing about the little house that would draw your attention. It is like a hundred others in the city. But if you pass it on a summer evening, just at the softest part of the day when the sky is darkening to a deep shade of violet but still light at the western edge of the horizon, maybe a few of the earliest stars are already out, it’s possible the front door will be open. And through the screen door you can see into the small living room of the compact house where two baby grand pianos sit side by side, situated so that the pianists can see one another as they play.
I know nothing about the house or the people who live there, but to my way of thinking it is the pianos that tell the story, the way they fill the room, claiming it as a place where music is, or has been, made. When I look into that room I see love. There are people there who love music enough to make it the center of the house.
Once, at the end of a day in Paris, I walked down a narrow street near the Latin Quartier and past an apartment building. A tiny slice of one of the apartments was visible through the open terrace doors and I could see a faded but still elegant armchair, upholstered in a soft blue velvet that was worn in places from years of use. Tall shelves filled with rows and rows of books lined the wall and a lamp cast a soft glow over the chair.
With nothing more than a glimpse into the room I could imagine the person who lives there. I could see him (I don’t know why, but it felt like a man’s room) come home each evening, scan the shelves, select a book and then settle into the chair to read. From the outside, the building gave no clue to its inhabitants. Rows of windows shuttered the lives of those inside, but the love of books, the familiar and satisfying feel of a favorite book in one’s hands, spilled out out through the open door, carried into the night by the golden lamplight.
The peek into those two rooms has changed the way I think about my house. Now, I try to look past the usual clutter, the sleeping, shedding, cats and dog, past the unfinished projects on my to-do list. I focus hard on the way the chairs sit next to the window, perfect for watching the seasons change and the parade of people on the way to the park. I look at the books I’ve collected over a lifetime and the photographs I’ve taken of the people and places I love.
The places we call home say much about us in ways we don’t always appreciate. We focus so much on the superficial—the wreath on the door, the curb appeal, the fresh coat of paint— that we forget that what defines any room as the place we belong has little to do with the decor and everything to do with how we live, and love, in the space.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a journalist and travel columnist 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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.)
Preparing to take a taxi to the Brussels airport, I’ve removed everything from my suitcase and spread it across the bed in my hotel room and I am, one by one, refolding and repacking each piece. Looking at the things I’ve gathered, even though I was trying to be prudent and to remember the charges the airlines level against heavy bags, I realize again how difficult it is for those of us who are susceptible to the romance of ordinary objects. Much more than the expensive souvenirs, we know the little things carry with them the most evocative memories of the places we explore.
Other cities and other countries haunt my house. I can pull a book of matches out of a drawer in my kitchen and be instantly transported back to a cafe in a faraway place; strong coffee, conversation and an unfamiliar view through the window. Matchbooks are not so common these days and most I find were brought home years ago, but I occasionally still run across one and a tiny flame from Prague or Pennsylvania, will light the barbecue on my very American patio.
I frequently, if I like the scent, slip hotels soaps into my luggage between sweaters or folded pajamas to keep them fresh. When I unpack at home the fragrant soaps go into the linen closet. Again, when I least expect it, I’ll come across a bit of Paris or Brussels or Zurich or San Francisco tucked between pillowcases or folded into sheets.
At each museum I visit I purchase a postcard of the painting or sculpture I loved the most and the cards become bookmarks in whatever book I was reading on the plane or are slipped into travel guides. Some escape the pins on the cork board behind my desk and turn up when furniture is rearranged.
A bottle of wine, wrapped and slipped into a boot in my suitcase, is opened later bringing with it a reminder of a special meal or a special moment in Tuscany. Or Napa.
Now, after a week traveling across Belgium, my bags are full of such odds and ends. The silk scarves I collect as I go, gifts and souvenirs for my family, maps, travel guides and destination pamphlets picked up along the way are added to a few favorite hotel lotions and soaps. Finally, when it is all done I pull out the practical gift given to me last Christmas by my youngest daughter and prepare for the worst. Slipping the portable travel scale over the handle of my luggage I lift it, biting my lip as the numbers flash and then finally stop. Good news. For all my worrying, I am a pound or two under the limit.
That means there is just enough room for the big box of Belgian chocolate.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I turned the corner, down an unfamiliar street, my mind so oblivious to where I was going I might just as well have been a dog with its head out the window, lost in the delicious rush of mysterious and fragrant air, just happy to be out and about with no thought of what might be ahead.
Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, swept down by the wind and an early snowfall, and the sidewalks and street were littered with the russet and copper remnants of a spectacular autumn. But at the end of the block a scarlet tree still blazed, a burning bush, bright and vibrant against the faded landscape. Even the sun could not ignore it and sunlight danced in the tree, painting the leaves with subtle shades and shadows.
It was impossible to look away and I didn’t try. I gazed at it as I drove by and even looked back at it in the rearview mirror.
Thursday my family will sit down to our Thanksgiving meal and for the first time one of our small group will be absent. My son is away, working in Japan, and we will miss him even as we celebrate his success.
We are so fortunate to have made it this far without an empty seat at the table. Even in difficult times—and I have never pretended there weren’t some truly difficult days—we gathered, held hands, and spoke aloud the things for which we were most grateful.
Each year I compose a mental list but when it is my turn to speak, the words fly out of my head. I tear up and can say only that I am grateful for the love of those around me. But what I can never seem to get out is that I am filled with gratitude for the gift of a million small moments.
There were quiet Sundays spent reading, curled in the big chair beside the fire, my husband stretched out on the sofa. There were Saturday morning feasts that lured home grown children who filled the house with the sound of laughter and the smell of bacon and coffee.
There were quiet walks through the park with my dogs and the rapturous look on my daughter’s face as we stood in Notre Dame Cathedral on a rainy January day in Paris. There was the afternoon my son turned to me and recited a poem I’d read to him when he was a boy, and my firstborn’s secret smile when she told us her news.
There were shooting stars glimpsed from my back door and my youngest daughter’s shining face as she sat in the saddle, flying on horseback. There was, just this week, the chance encounter with a beautiful brilliant tree in a landscape that had already surrendered to winter.
On Thanksgiving Day I will blink back tears and fumble the opportunity to say what I feel. But in my heart I will celebrate the quiet gift of time and the chance to have lived one more extraordinary year of ordinary days.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. 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 email@example.com