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Posts tagged: Spokesman-Review Pinch

Travel: Music, Culture and Tradition meet in Bergen, Norway

 

   There are only so many ways most of us experience a place as we travel. We are usually on a schedule, with a plane or ship to board at the end of the day or week. We have to make the best of the time we have at any destination so we buy a map, take a tour, or hop on and hop off a bus that hits the highlights. What we take away is uniquely our own, but on the surface may seem similar to what any other tourist experiences. 

 

   I thought about this recently when I stepped off the Hurtigruten ship at Bergen, the final port on my cruise along the coast of Norway. Touring the city, I took the same photo a million others have taken of the Bryggen quarter, the row of colorful old buildings on the waterfront that seem to be leaning against one another. I ate fish and chips at the fish market. I climbed the Rozenkrantz Tower and looked out on the ships on the river. I shopped for souvenirs. I visited museums and monuments. But then, strolling across a wide square, someone slipped a flyer in my hand. There was to be a free performance of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra—one of the oldest in the world—on the square that night. 

 

   Excited, I made my way back at the end of the day. A large platform had been erected and the orchestra filled the stage. A large crowd had gathered and more people continued to come into the square until there were thousands of us standing shoulder to shoulder, gazing at the large screen that projected the images of the musicians and actors. I could see people in the windows and on the rooftops of apartments that overlooked the stage but on the square there were no chairs, no benches, no tables with wine and cheese.  

 

   For more than an hour, the crowd, silent and attentive, was focused on the performance. No one complained about standing on cobblestones or that anyone was blocking their view. The music, familiar and dynamic, was wonderful. The actors were compelling. The language didn’t matter. It was a come-as-you-are celebration of art and humanity and national pride. 

 

 

   Isn’t that what we’re really seeking when we set out to see the world, the chance to turn a corner in some foreign place and step into a moment that strikes us and burns into us like lightning?

 

   I believe it is. 

 

   I could have missed the man with the flyer. I could have spent the evening on another side of town ignorant of the incredible performance in the square. But, as sometimes happens, I was in the right place at exactly the right time. When centuries of history and culture, music and art came together to silence the restless crowd and bring a city to life. 

 

 

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
  

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

Travel: The Cure for the Common Life

     My friend called to say she’d just put a ticket to London on her credit card.  

     “Is the card you’re trying to pay off, the one you were going to cut up?” I asked. There was a long pause and then a deep sigh.   

    “Yes.”

   But, she could explain. She’d found one of those impossible-to-resist fares and she had a friend from college who would let her spend a few days in her flat. “All I have to worry about is getting there and meals, and, you know, other expenses,” she told me. “It was such a deal I couldn’t say no.”   

   I laughed at her flawed logic even as I recognized the reasoning. Meals and “other” expenses in London add up quickly, but that’s the kind of thing you tell yourself when you’re hooked. And we’re both hooked.    

   Travel is a drug like any other opiate. It triggers all the right responses. It alters your mood. It gives you a jolt of energy. For some of us, it only takes a taste and we’re goners. From that point on we crave it. We abuse it. We swear off and then, just when we think we’ve kicked the habit, we succumb again. The younger you are when you start, the worse the addiction is.
    

   Of course, travel has medicinal qualities, as well. Literature is filled with stories of men and women who flee to mend a broken heart.   

   Travel helps us grieve. When a friend died last year, I booked a trip to Iceland and spent a week facing the harsh wind, staring into bubbling thermal pools, gazing out at ash-covered glaciers until finally, standing in the wide rift valley between two of the earth’s tectonic plates, I could bring myself to say goodbye and let her go.        

   Travel distracts us. My last child is heading off to college in the fall. She is the youngest of four and her brother and sisters are already out on their own. One night several months ago, in the deepest part of winter, I couldn’t sleep because my mind kept trying to wrap itself around the idea that after 28 years of full-time mothering, I am about to shift into being a consultant. Never mind the fact that I travel often and don’t mind going off on my own, and that most of my children are avid travelers, for a moment I felt adrift. Like a balloon without ballast. Without a child in the house, what will I do? My husband’s job keeps him tied to a schedule. As a writer, especially with no parenting routine, what would hold me back? A deadline can be met anywhere. I don’t have to be in the office.     

   For a moment I considered buying one of those round-the-world cruise tickets and spending a few months at sea. I plotted what I could cash in, sell off or trade. (I could have a garage sale!) Then I would shelter in a tiny cabin, comforted by the rolling waves, distracted by the parade of ports until I made my way back home. I would, in other words, go on a deliberate travel “bender” until the worst was over and I could come back soberly ready to accept the the fact that my babies are really and truly all grown up. 
    

   So, with that kind of reckless secret plan, who am I to rebuke a woman who spends to her limit chasing some kind of chance-of-a-lifetime British museum travel buzz? (Travel educates and enriches, right?) Besides, she was right. It was a great fare.
   

    “I know I shouldn’t do this right now. ” she said before hanging up. “But after this trip, I’m done for a long time. I mean it.”
   

    We said goodbye, but before I could end the call she called out, “Oh, by the way, I’m having a garage sale this weekend. You should come by.”

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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About this blog

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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