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Travel: Magazine features Eastern Washington highlights

When I was asked to write the Eastern Washington feature for last month's Alaska Airlines Magazine's annual Washington section, I was given only one note: Show us what you like best.

I wish all assignments were that easy. I ran out of space long before I ran out of words to describe this beautiful part of the state

I opened with one of my favorite things to do: standing on a pedestrian bridge over the Spokane River watching Spokane, the state's second-largest city, wake up and come to life on a summer day. I wrote about the beautiful Palouse, the wine and arts culture in Walla Walla and the magnificent landscape of the Columbia River. I crisscrossed the region from the Tri-Cities to the Colville National Forest.

 I got a lot of emails from local flyers who'd seen the piece. If you'd like to read it, you can access the annual Alaska Airlines Washington State feature here.  The Eastern Washington feature begins on page 38

Travel: Ride the Scenic Amtrak Cascades

 

    I paid the $5 taxi fare from my mid-town hotel and walked through Seattle’s King Street Station to the track where the Amtrak Cascades was waiting.

 

    After I stowed my bag overhead I settled into my seat as the rest of the passengers filed on board. There were several other women, each traveling solo like me, a couple of students and a man who immediately opened his laptop, logged onto the free WiFi and went to work. Within minutes the train pulled out of the station. The soft morning light was just filtering through the clouds and the city sparkled as we rolled out of town just before 8 a.m., heading north toward Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

    I’m an unabashed train lover and I have been for as long as I can remember. I admire grand old train stations and I never fail to feel a frisson of pleasure every time I start out on a rail journey. These days, it’s not just the tie to history and romance that draws me. It’s more than the fantasy of all the movies I’ve seen and and stories I’ve read that were built around trains and the people who ride them. My attraction to trains has grown to be much more than that. For one thing, there is none of the stress and hurry-and-wait routine that has become so much a part of flying. It is traveling the way travel was meant to be experienced, with leisure and expectation, in comfort with a wide window to take in the view.  

 

    There are compromises, of course. Without wings, travel takes longer. Sometimes much longer. Trains, like planes, come with the risk of delays. But on a pleasure ride, taking the trip for the experience of all it has to offer—exactly the point of my trip from Seattle to Vancouver, B. C.—it is easy to forget all that. 

 

    Living in a part of the country that boasts long stretches of unspoiled coastline, majestic mountain peaks and every kind of landscape from desert to rainforest, those of us in Washington can become complacent and a bit spoiled. We expect a beautiful view whenever we look out the window. The Amtrak Cascades does not disappoint. 

 

    Rolling through the cities of Edmonds, Everett, Lynwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham we crossed quietly into Canada.

 

I watched the sun paint the sky as it rose and followed the flight of bald eagles as they launched themselves into the sky and soared over Puget Sound. 

 

    The four-hour trip is the perfect route for an excursion. Arriving at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station it takes only minutes to clear passport control. That leaves plenty of time to explore one of North America’s most European cities. I’d suggest a bite to eat at one of the popular food trucks downtown and a water taxi to Granville Island’s market and boutiques before taking the return train at 5:45.

 

    Thanks to the length of our summer days, it’s possible to spend a few hours in Vancouver and still make it back to Seattle with daylight to spare. And maybe just enough time to stroll down to the waterfront to watch the sun set on another fine day in the Pacific Northwest.

 

For updated information about Amtrak Cascades fares and schedules go to http://www.amtrakcascades.com

 

 

 

    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 catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Sail for a Song with Carnival Live

(Photo: Martina McBride performs on the Carnival Ecstasy.)  

 

 

   A few days away from work, escaping the usual family obligations and the routine of the daily grind, can quickly recharge our emotional batteries. There’s no better way to get some much-needed time with your spouse or special someone, or just kick back with a group of girlfriends. 

 

   But organizing that kind of escape can be tricky. Hotels are pricey. Restaurants fill up. Throw in tickets to a concert or show and you’ll make a big dent in the budget. That little escape starts turning into a big headache.

 

   That’s what makes Carnival Cruise Lines' “Carnival Live” concert series so brilliant. 

Launched in April and running through mid-December of this year,  the series brings 49 shows with 15 acts —Jennifer Hudson, Foreigner, LeAnn Rimes, and Lady Antebellum, to name a few— to the Western Caribbean, the Bahamas and Baja Mexico.

 

   The shows are held in the ship’s show lounge and tickets are dramatically less than most arena seats - $20 to $40 for a regular seat and $100 to $150 for VIP tickets which include a meet-and-greet with the band or artist, a complimentary photo and priority seating in the first three rows. 

 

   The Carnival Live series simplifies getting away and makes it all a bargain. Instead of searching for a hotel, making a reservation in a busy restaurant and then buying concert tickets at a premium price, all you have to do is book your cruise, buy a ticket to the show, and settle in.

 

   I experienced the new Carnival Live concept with a four-day cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, on the Carnival Ecstasy. After a day in Cozumel, country music superstar Martina McBride came aboard and performed in the Blue Sapphire Lounge for an enthusiastic audience of around 800.

 

   It was a fantastic show, intimate and personal. McBride performed selections from her new album as well as the songs that made her a star, and fans were on their feet dancing to their favorites. 

It was a great show and a fantastic way to see McBride perform. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and after the show it was an easy stroll to my stateroom a few decks away.

   

   No taxi needed.

 

Looking Ahead

 

While a Caribbean cruise is always a good idea, for those of us in the Northwest, the November cruise to Baja, Mexico, on the Carnival Imagination with Jewel, could make for a perfect girlfriend getaway. A group of four can share a suite for around $450 per person, it’s a relatively short flight, Jewel puts on a great show and, especially that time of year, you get the bonus of a few days under the sun. 

 

Details:

More information about the Carnival Live Concert Series 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel journalist. 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: Readers Inspired to Cruise Norway

 

    I poured the first cup of coffee of the morning and opened my email. There was the usual flood of messages: personal notes from friends, updates from editors and scattershot public relations pitches. And there was one surprising note. It read:

Hello Cheryl-Anne!  

My sister and I were so inspired by your articles about your Norwegian cruise last summer that we decided to copy you!  We have booked a cabin on the (Hurtigruten) Midnatsol for August. 

Do you have any advice for us?  Is there anything you would do differently?  

Jane and Carol 

      I read the email again. And again. You may not know it, but this is a rare thing. 

    Like most writers, travel writers in particular, my job is to translate an experience. To make it come to life. That's the goal anyway, but whether or not anyone beyond family and friends is actually inspired to make the journey is unknown. 

    I wrote back with a few tips, but they sound like women who who like to travel and know what they’re doing.

    The one thing an American traveling on one of Hurtigruten’s Coastal Cruisers should know is they are not cruise ships the way most American’s envision them. They are more like floating trains, the way train travel used to be in this country and still is in other parts of the world, moving people from town to town on time and in comfort. The cabins are well-appointed and the food is plentiful and reflects the locale. But this is not a luxury cruise

    Norwegians use the Hurtigruten cruisers to travel from place to place and they move on and off the ship during the voyage. Occasionally, you might find someone sleeping in a corner of the lounge. It's frowned upon, but it happens.  To me, this kind of mingling was a bonus. Why travel if you aren't going to meet new people around the world? And I enjoyed the conversations I had with the Norwegians who were on the ship with me.

    I would remind anyone taking the cruise to dress for any kind of weather any time of year. And, of course, to bring a camera. The landscape is like no other.

    And what would I do differently?  Well, I might close my eyes a bit more. The midnight sun may be waning by August but daylight still lingers most hours day or night. There are port excursions at any hour and it can be exhausting to try to do too much. I never want to miss a thing so I booked a lot of excursions. And kept my curtains open most of the time so that whenever I opened my eyes I would instantly see the view from my porthole, which meant my eyes opened often and I slept too little. 

    Of course, that's what I say but, truth be told, probably not what I would do if I took the trip again.  I never want to miss a minute. 

    I hope the sisters enjoy their trip and I hear good things when they return.     I do admire their spirit. Life is short and it’s a big, wonderful, world out there. When inspiration comes our way, why not strike out on an adventure when we can? 

    I don’t expect to grow old and die without a few regrets. No one can. But I hope one of them won’t be the journeys I didn’t take.    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s 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

 

 

New AAA Cruise & Travel Store in Spokane

 

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/01/04/2977401/aaa-tries-on-a-new-look-in-tacoma.html#stylink=cpy

Today, Greater Spokane Incorporated representatives joined AAA Washington President and CEO, Kirk Nelson,  Dale Stedman, past president of the Spokane Inland Automobile Association, board member, Greg Bever, and others in cutting the ribbon to formally open the new state-of-the art AAA Cruise & Travel Center in Spokane

The elegant new store, with its sophisticated decor, elevates the travel planning experience by offering a member’s lounge, private conference rooms and personal computer “pods.”

The store will still provide the same AAA services travelers depend on—help booking a cruise, personalized TripTik route maps for road trips, passport photos and more. The retail section offers stylish and durable luggage, packing aids, TSA approved items and other travel accessories and necessities. AAA’s travel and insurance services are available to members and non-members.

The grand opening celebration will continue next week, May 12-17. There will be drawings for prizes that include a $1,000 Delta Vacations voucher, round-trip transportation for two aboard Victoria Clipper, and a two-piece Delsey luggage set.

The Spokane location is the second new store to open in the state, the new Tacoma store opened earlier this year, and Nelson sees this as an endorsement of Spokane’s interest in travel. 

“This shows we believe in this market,” Nelson says. “Spokane got a new Cruise & Travel Store before Seattle.”

Details: The new AAA Cruise & Travel store is located at 1314 South Grand Boulevard. Hours are Monday – Friday 8:30am-5:30pm and Saturdays 10am-5pm. 

Full Disclosure: In addition to numerous other travel publications and travel companies, I am a frequent contributor to AAA Western Journey Magazine. (Read my D-Day Museums story in the latest issue.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel journalist. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

Travel: Salinas Agritourism: From field to table

 

    The men walked along the rows of artichokes, following long, straight, ribbons of green that stretched out to the horizon as far as the eye could see. Moving toward the big mobile processing trucks parked on the road that marked the boundary of the field, they harvested artichokes without stopping. As they walked, in one swift motion, they cut and then tossed the artichokes over a shoulder into the strong fabric baskets strapped to their backs. When they reached the truck, the men dumped the contents of the baskets, put them back on, turned around and started again, this time moving in the opposite direction, marching toward another road and another truck.

 

    A few smiled at the crowd gathered along the side of the road watching and taking photos, but most faces were unreadable as they passed us. There was still a lot of work to be done.

 

    On the open trailer, an artichoke processing plant on wheels, men and women wearing hair nets and gloves sat one behind the other in a line of busy hands that didn’t pause as they quickly sorted, washed and packed the fruit. The boxes were filled and taken away. 

 

    The company they worked for, Ocean Mist Farms, has a four-hour “cut to cool” policy. Everything must move from the field to the cooler in that time and an elaborate system of bar codes and time stamps tracks it all along the way as the produce moves from the field to boxes to coolers to tables around the world.

 

    I’d joined a private tour of the artichoke mega-producer’s fields and distribution center and it was an eye-opening experience. 

 

    Like most people, I’m relatively ignorant of the process by which my food arrives on my table. Oh, I read labels and worry about food safety, but beyond that I don’t know much. I like—I need—fresh vegetables all year, even in winter, even though I live in a place where nothing grows in the winter. So I depend, like most consumers, on the good practices of growers and producers in places like Salinas, Castroville and Monterey County, California.

 

    Walking through the distribution center I noticed pallets of produce labeled for its destination, for the stores where it would be sold. Sitting side by side were cases destined for Kroger stores, Trader Joe’s and for Wal Mart. Food democracy in action.

 

    I found this distribution to be a most interesting thing. We put such a negative label on “big.” Big is bad. Big is careless and always looking for a shortcut. Big is for “them,” not for us. We forget it takes a big effort to feed a hungry, demanding, world, even our small corner of the world.

     

    At dinner that night I ordered an artichoke with my meal. Marinated and fire roasted, it was perfectly prepared. As I pulled each leaf from the cluster, dipping it in sauce and then stripping the tender meat with my teeth, I thought about the process that brought it to me. I could see the faces of the men who’d walked past me in the field, the people washing and packing what had been picked or driving the forklifts speeding pallets into coolers or onto trucks. 

 

    My artichoke now had a story. The big company behind it was suddenly small and intimate to me.  

 

    Although the fields are open to the public during the annual Artichoke Festival in Castroville, I had an exclusive look into the Ocean Mist Farms processing center and I came away thinking an occasional public tour might be a good thing. It’s reassuring to see the path our food has followed, that there isn’t always a caste system to quality and the same food really can be available to all of us.

 

    Chances are, unless it was raised in our own backyards or in the fields of an area farmer, our produce was prepared in one of the fields of a company big enough to grow, process and distribute what we desire. To step into the fields, to follow the boxes, to see the safeguards and quality control is a good thing. To put a human face behind an artichoke, brussels sprout or head of iceberg lettuce shrinks even the biggest company profile.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s 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

 

 

 

National Arbor Day: Plant a tree!

Photo: Seedlings grown at Arbor Day Farm are ready to be sent to new Arbor Day Foundation members 

     I call the Hawthorn tree outside the window my “weather tree.” If it has leaves, it is summer. If the leaves are wet, it is raining. If it has berries, it is fall. If there is snow on the branches, it is winter. If the limbs are edged with tiny green buds, it is spring. 

    Countless times each day as I work, I glance up at the tree, noticing the way the birds are dancing in the branches or the wind has set it in motion. March can’t make up its mind, but April starts the short season of spring in the Northwest. Flowers bloom, trees, like my Hawthorn, bud out, grass begins to grow again, sending pale green blades up through the dead leaves and other detritus of the previous fall and winter. Tulips wake up and jonquils bloom. April stirs a body. It makes you want to go out and plant things. Like a tree.

    April also brings Arbor Day and countless tiny tree seedlings packaged to be given away to school children across the country, always with the same exhortation: Plant trees! 

    Last fall I visited Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and the sight of tables full of plastic tubes filled with miniature Blue Spruce, White Pine and other species being packed to ship out to new Arbor Day Foundation members, brought back the excitement of being a child given the gift of a tree, and the way we felt important as we planted the spindly seedlings in the back yard. 

    I walked the grounds of the teaching farm, through the Hazelnut grove, through the orchard, sampling heirloom apples, and I was reminded of the importance of trees in my own history. 

    My grandfather was a naturalist and often pulled one of his tree-identification books from the bookshelf to show me an illustration. He kept a mental inventory of beautiful or rare trees he discovered as he drove the back roads of the deep south. I remember him pulling over and stopping the car to show me a tall Dawn Redwood in the neighborhood. He pointed to the tangled branches of the Monkey Puzzle tree in the yard of a grand old house at the edge of town. When the majestic Ginkgo trees at the small private college with which he was affiliated turned to gold, he took me to see them, waiting patiently while I gathered a handful of delicate heart and fan-shaped leaves that had fallen. One year he gave me a small Ginkgo. I planted it, moved it twice, and then finally left it behind as I moved away forever. As far as I know it is still there, an unmarked legacy to a man who loved nature and loved me.

    When I moved west to Spokane I immediately visited the city’s “tree garden,” the 56 acres of trees and shrubs at Finch Arboretum just west of downtown. I still go there sometimes. It is an excellent place to wander. 

    While I was at Arbor Day Farm, my daughter and son-in-law were in the process of buying their first home. I decided I would give them an Arbor Day Foundation membership as a housewarming gift so they could plant the 10 free trees that come with the membership in their new backyard. My son, another nature-lover who grew up to be the kind of man my grandfather would approve of, spent the winter studying the history and properties of that most majestic tree, the Douglas Fir. I decided he needed a membership as well and I know he will happily plant his ten tiny firs on the property surrounding his mountain cabin. I am intrigued by the foundation’s work on sustainable hazelnut farming as a way to provide nutrition and combat the effects of climate change. Joining that charter will give me three hazelnut bushes of my own.

    I still have a box of old photos that belonged to my grandparents and there are one or two faded, unmarked, photographs of trees that must have caught his eye for one reason or another. Looking at them I remember they were taken before cell phone cameras, that he didn’t just drive by and snap a photo the way I do now. He would have had to make a trip with a camera. Then the film or slide would have to be developed. This wasn’t a whim. It was a compulsion.

    I thought of that when I came across an old Arbor Day poster. It stated “Trees prevent wind erosion. They save moisture and protect crops.” True. But it was what was written after that that grabbed my attention and resonated in me. “Trees,” the poster declared, “contribute to human comfort and happiness.” And they do. 

    Beyond the indisputable environmental impact, there is an intimate connection between trees and the human spirit. Looking up at the constantly-changing sky through the branches of a tree, feeling the texture of the bark against our fingertips, breathing in the organic perfume of a living thing, we’re moved in subtle ways we don’t always stop to recognize. 

    Sometimes, like the Hawthorn outside my window, they simply remind us that there is a rhythm to life, a cycle of seasons that come and go and come again.

Note: National Arbor day is the last Friday in April but each state can set its own day. In Spokane, Arbor Day events will be held on Saturday, April 26.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s 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

 

Cruise: Fedoras and Flying Fish

 

    We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine. 

    Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.

    The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something. 

    This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.

    The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.

    Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat.  I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing. 

    It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.

    Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.

    I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not. 

    These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.

     I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s 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

Spokane: A raging river is no place to play

    Like so many others in Spokane, in the spring I go down to pay my respects to the river. Fed by snowmelt and rain, the Spokane River swells and grows and becomes, seemingly overnight, a powerful monster roaring through the canyon it has chewed through solid basalt. 

 

    This dramatic sight draws people of all ages and the spectacle takes your breath away. Water spills over the falls, churns, boils and foams sending curtains of fine mist, droplets of water that ride the wind, coating the bridges, paths and spectators before it rushes on, making its way to fill the aquifer that quenches this thirsty land.

 

    This year, with so much snow and rain falling so late in the season, the river is at its wildest, just under flood stage. We were there on Saturday afternoon and we walked along the path to the viewing platform at the base of the Monroe Street Bridge. That is one of my favorite places to see the falls and feel the incredible power. The land drops away at the edge of the rail, the ground vibrates and the sound makes conversation difficult. We stood for a few minutes admiring the view and taking photos before we strolled up another block to the Post Street Bridge. 

 

    From there I noticed a group of boys on bicycles ride down to the place we’d just been. Gathering at the rail, they were roughhousing as boys of that age do, pushing, punching, shadowboxing as they peered down at the water. Suddenly, one of the boys climbed up and dropped over the rail in one fluid motion, landing on the deceptively thin layer of spongy soil covering the slick rocks abutting the concrete arch of the big bridge. He moved to the edge of the steep slope that plunges down to the raging water. 

 

    My heart slammed against my ribs and I heard myself make an instinctive, involuntary, sound like a frightened animal. I was terrified he would slip at any minute. The ground was still soaked from days of rain and there was nothing to reach out and grab if he lost his footing. And the river, always dangerous, is completely unforgiving at this stage. Whatever falls into it is quickly gone forever. 

 

    I looked for my husband but he was out of sight. I raised my phone to call 911, sure that if I took my eyes off the boy he would be gone when I looked up, but at that moment one of his friends must have called him back because he turned and just as quickly hopped back to safety.

 

    “Oh, you stupid boy.” I whispered. “You stupid, lucky, boy.”  

 

    The group stayed another few minutes—long enough for me to snap a photo—and then hopped back on their bicycles and moved on, off to swagger and impress one another in other ways, I suppose. 

 

    I finally walked away but I was still trembling.

 

    I keep replaying the scene in my mind, thinking how one wrong step could have changed everything, but I doubt the boy has given it a second thought. 

 

    I know this is nothing new. 

 

    When my children were that age they laughed at my constant worry. They thought I was simply overprotective, but the truth is, I was unhinged. They had no idea how many dangers there were outside our door and I suppose I believed if I could think of it and warn them against it (whatever it was) I could somehow protect them. New fears would hit me in the middle of the night. What if… What if… What if…

 

    At that age—adolescence and early adulthood—we are vulnerable because we have not yet developed an awareness of just how fragile we truly are. Age, experience, and exposure to the shocking misfortune of others gradually brings on the understanding that at any given moment any of us is fair game to tragedy. Terrible things can happen when we least expect it.  

   

    Eventually, wisdom—and with it a greater chance of survival—comes with the understanding that the reckless make themselves better targets. So most of us grow cautious, careful. Some of us become worried mothers and fathers, nagging our children to take care.

 

    Perhaps one day, when he is a man and he’s watching a teenage son drive away, the same lucky boy will remember the day the river didn’t get him and he’ll call out,  “Hey, don’t do anything stupid!”

 

    But his boy will not look back, and the words will roll off his back like the clean, cool, spray from a waterfall. 

    

     Note: The group of boys mentioned in this column appears in the photo above.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s 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 Ways to Find the Perfect Cruise

   For every person who loves to cruise, there is another who can’t imagine boarding a big ship with several thousand others and taking to the high seas.

   If you fall into the latter category, you might be pleasantly surprised by the way cruising isn’t always what you imagine. From privacy to culture to premium dining, there’s more to the experience than midnight buffets and shuffleboard.

    Here are five ways modern cruising might surprise you:

 

 

You can find your happy place: If you’re on a budget (and most of us are) it’s still possible to recreate certain elements of a luxury experience on even the most budget-minded cruise. It’s all about where you spend. Instead of going for the cheapest possible cabin—usually an interior room deep in the ship—and spending your time and money with the crowd at the bar or party deck, rethink your strategy. Instead, put your money toward a balcony room and economize in other ways. Room service aboard ship is almost always available 24-hours and at no extra charge. That means—especially on a particularly scenic cruise—you can tune out the crowd on the upper decks and savor the view and the solitude from your own private space. (Note: Be sure to check the ship’s smoking policy. Some lines allow smoking on the ship’s balconies.)

 

Books, books and more books: If the weather’s iffy or you’re on an at-sea day, on the right ship you don’t have to stay in your room or a search for a chair in a crowded lounge to spend some time with with a good book. Some Holland America ships come with honest-to-goodness libraries. I cruised from Quebec City to Boston on the ms Veendam and the library became my hangout. I found a book by a favorite author and checked it out with the help of a real live librarian. Every minute we weren’t on a port excursion or watching the coastline from our stateroom, my husband and I could be found on either end of a cushy sofa or tucked into big comfy chairs in the large library. Outfitted with wraparound shelves filled with everything from mysteries to reference books and computer terminals with access to the New York Times photo archive, the library also had big tables for games and puzzles and was a magnet for families and people of all ages.

 

An intimate dinner for two: The long lines and hungry crowds in the dining room are part of the cruise ship cliche. Fortunately most cruise lines have introduced specialty dining. I love Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 steak house restaurants. For $35 per person you choose from an extensive menu, including prime cuts of meat, for a date-night meal worth remembering. And you certainly can’t beat the view. 

 

No bells and whistles. If slot machines and blackjack tables are not your thing, and just walking through the noisy, smoky shipboard casino space—usually in the very center of the ship—annoys you, consider taking a Disney cruise. Disney took the space most other lines dedicate to casinos and adults games and put it to good use as an extensive “kid zone” with state-of-the-art security. This is a real bonus for families, but quite a few savvy travelers—from honeymooners to boomers to singles—sail with Disney. The cruise line’s unbeatable customer service and attention to detail make it a great way to travel at any age.

 

Cruising can make you smarter: The Cunard name is synonymous with elegance and culture. And with the introduction of its speaker series in the mid 1970s, Cunard set the standard for at-sea enrichment. With speakers running the gamut from John Cleese to P.D.James to Bill Bryson to Jimmy Carter, symphony performances and an onboard planetarium, you’ll not only be entertained, you might come home a little smarter than you were when you left. 

 

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: Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park

   There was a soft summer rain falling, but that didn’t keep people away. Tucked under umbrellas, wrapped in raincoats, the crowd—locals and tourists like me—strolled through the main gate of Vigeland Sculpture Park near the center of Oslo, Norway. We all moved down the wide path and across the bridge lined with carved figures. Without the harsh glare of sunlight, the the rain seemed to soften and illuminate the sculptures, adding warm life to cold metal and stone. 

 

   Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is unlike any other; it showcases the work of only one man—Gustave Vigeland. In 1921 Vigeland, already an established artist, made an agreement with the city of Oslo. In return for a home and studio at Frogner Park, Vigeland would create a park built around the bulk of his work and it would forever belong to the city. 

 

    For 20 years, the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked there, creating more than 200 projects for the park. The work includes the impressive entrance, impressive two-dimensional iron gates, a bronze fountain with a tableau of the circle of life. The pinnacle is a five-story monolith of the bodies of men, women and children—more than 120 figures—carved from a single column of solid granite. 

 

    The bridge leading from the entrance to the crest of the hill is lined with more than 50 bronze figures, including the famous ”Sinnataggen” a furious toddler in captured in full tantrum. The figure of the angry baby has become the park’s signature and his left hand shines from the constant touching and rubbing of visitors.

 

  The theme of the garden is life and all its stages. Vigeland’s figures show mankind from birth to death and the sculptures are arranged in groups along a series of pathways.    

 

  Gustave Vigeland’s figures, especially those in granite, are massive, but there is a striking delicacy to each piece. Especially in the rain. I found myself circling them, looking deeply at the expressions on each face, at the language of each body. Taking one photo after another, trying to capture what the artist had expressed.

 

    The true magic of Vigeland Sculpture Park is the way the sculptor imbued granite and bronze with human emotion. His figures carry the joy, anguish, fear and desire of life. They draw you in and stay with you after you leave. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week 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 blogs about antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Five ways to Go, See and Do this year

     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 catmillsap@gmail.com 

What do the books you keep say about you?

 

   I’ve been thinking about the life cycle of books. Well, about my books, anyway.

 

   Lately, realizing it was time to thin the shelves in my library downstairs, I’ve been going through them one by one, bagging up the books that no longer interest me or attract me enough to keep. First, the books go to Auntie’s Bookstore’s “used books” desk. The bookstore staff takes what they want, what they think they can resell, and add a percentage of the original price of the book to my in-store account. I come back a few hours later, pick up what they can’t use and donate what’s left in the bag to a favorite charity.

 

   They exercise has opened my eyes to the deeply personal side to what we choose to read. My bag has been filled, time and time again, with fiction, travel guidebooks—so many guidebooks— literary classics, reference books and a variety of books written around the periods of history that interest me most. (It must say something that I’ve carried out hundreds of books and there was not one self-help title among them.)

 

   Of course, I haven’t returned empty-handed. I’ve already used my account at Auntie’s several times, bringing home a new book that caught my eye. 

 

   I wrote about this process of deciding what what I could and could not let go for Spokane Public Radio. You can read that essay here and listen to it here.

 

   So far, after a month of excavating, bringing up one bag of books at a time, I’ve only regretted letting one go. Within days of donating it, one of the short stories in the book crossed my mind and I wished I could put my hands on it. I guess I’ll have to replace that one.

 

   I’d love to know what you read, what you keep and how you share what you no longer want or need. Do you donate? Pass along to a friend?

 

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

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: Winter is Wine Time in Healdsburg

 

 

Winter seems to have faltered in the Inland Northwest this year, bringing weeks of freezing fog but little snow to the region. So, when a trip to Sonoma County, California was suggested, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been hearing about Healdsburg, the small city in the heart of wine country, and was happy to do some research. 

 

Go: With Alaska Airlines offering direct flights from Seattle and Portland to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Airport, it’s easy to escape, soak up a little sun and spend a few days in wine country. The Charles M. Schulz Airport—look for some familiar faces—has car rental facilities and is only 25 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. (No need to fly into San Francisco and face Golden Gate traffic.)

 

 

Eat: The small city  of Healdsburg is charming, historic and home to some of the most creative chefs in wine country. Don’t miss dinner at Spoonbar! Chef Louis Maldonado is on the current season of Top Chef New Orleans and his food is as good on the table as it looks on TV. Another standout was Dry Creek Kitchen at the Healdsburg Hotel. The setting is upscale and sophisticated and the food is outstanding.  How good was it? When the chef Charlie Palmer stepped out of the kitchen, he was treated to a round of spontaneous applause. 

 

 

Stay: After three nights tucked into a big bed in a pretty room on the top floor of the Grape Leaf Inn, I could feel the difference. I was rested and refreshed. The rambling historic house is within walking distance of shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg and the inn’s gourmet breakfast and frozen fruit “shooter” was a great way to start each morning. Coffee, tea and cookies are always available for late night snacking or an afternoon pick-me-up.

 

 

Taste: I tasted some wonderful wines but Lambert Bridge Winery was a standout. Winemakers JillI Davis and Jennifer Higgins create small-batch wines in a beautiful setting of manicured gardens and valley views. Lambert Bridge is recognized as a food destination. Be sure to book one of chef Bruce Riezenman’s wine-pairing tasting events in the barrel room. Riezenman is also the creator PairIt! of a successful wine-pairing app for iPhone and Android users.

 

Dip: I didn’t expect to bring home a suitcase full of olive oil, but I did. After tasting Dry Creek Olive Oil Company's oils, I was a believer. I also learned a lot as I sampled, including the fact that to be considered true extra Virgin olive oil, olives have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours, something many of the highest priced European oils might not be able to guarantee. Northern California is gaining stature as an excellent olive growing region and Dry Creek oils took gold at both the New York and Los Angeles international olive oil competitions.

 

 

Shop: If you like vintage finds you’ll enjoy Healdsburg Vintage. The rambling antiques mall is filled with everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind architectural salvage. I spent an hour poking into every corner and my find-of-the-day was a $10 sterling silver photo frame.

 

Tip: The annual Winter WINEland festival each January is a great time to visit.

 

 

 

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: Escape to the Oregon Coast

 

    During the years when my children were in school, when I was tied to their academic calendar, I wasn’t able to just pick up and go when the mood struck. That kind of freedom didn’t come for another decade. But once a year I would pack up the family, more often than not, just my two youngest daughters—the others had summer jobs and other commitments—and run away to the Oregon Coast. 

 

    With the girls and the dogs in the car, squeezed in beside coolers and lawn chairs, beach towels and a big bag of books, we would drive for hours until we arrived at our favorite spot, a small town with no mall, no fast food, no distractions. And we would stay for as long as I could afford to keep us there.     

     I took extra assignments during the year to pay for a cottage. I would work late into the night so that when summer came I could throw myself at the Pacific the way we fall on our mothers, desperate for the comfort of something bigger than the small petty worries that chased themselves around my mind morning, noon and night.

 

    Those were wonderful days. When the fickle weather allowed, we spent hours playing in the sand, but there was the greater luxury of time for myself. While the girls slept or read or worked a puzzle in whatever cottage I’d rented that year, I would make my way down to the water. I would close my ears to everything but the sound of the waves hitting the shore, close my eyes to everything but the search for shells and agates on the beach. I would walk for miles up and down the beach, my back bent, my mind wandering, letting the cold wind and stinging sand scour away the brittle crust that had formed around me. 

 

    Somehow, answers that eluded me everywhere else always seemed easier to catch and hold while I walked the beach.     Without the stress of keeping house, meeting work deadlines, volunteering at school and all the other matters that constantly distracted me, I could read my own mind and make sense of things. I could see people and issues more clearly. Words filled my head and sentences and paragraphs wrote themselves, and stayed where I could find them when I got back to the cottage and sat down to my computer.  Without the distraction of television or friends calling and coming over, I could reconnect with my children on a more intimate level. Keeping my eyes on the horizon, I made peace with what I could not change and  measured the distance to dreams I was chasing. 

 

    It’s no wonder those days at the beach, in the company of the wild Pacific Ocean and my own sweet daughters, have taken on such a warm glow in my memory. 

 

    Life has a way of chipping away at us at times: Old friends battle cancer. Work disappoints or becomes less fulfilling. Loved ones lose their way and our own ambitions shift and take new direction. To work through such matters requires equal measures of silence and solitude. 

 

    I can’t go back in time; the two young girls are grown now and no longer mine to put in my car and drive away. But I can go back to the place we were so happy. The sea is still there. The waves still crash against the rocks on the shore and the wind still blows. What I need is somewhere on that beach, half buried with the agates and bits of broken shells. All I have to do is put my head down and walk until I find it.

 

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: Crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge

 

    I’m always quick to tell myself, and anyone who asks, that I don’t have a fear of heights. But then, every time I step out onto a skyscraper observation deck or mountain overlook, or, especially that one time in a hot air balloon over the Nevada desert, I remember, too late, that I do have an extremely robust fear of falling from a great height. 

 

    With that in mind, it took me a few minutes to adjust to the lurching and swaying motion of the Capilano Suspension Bridge beneath my feet. The bridge was reacting to the movement of others who were ahead of me or crossing back from the other side and as I stepped out onto the narrow slice of boardwalk, suspended by cables over a 230-foot chasm carved by the Capilano river, I was a bit unnerved. 

 

    The bridge, first constructed in 1889, is one of British Columbia’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s just minutes from downtown Vancouver but located in a 27-acre forested setting of massive Douglas Fir trees. I was there in December, in the early evening. The weak, wintry, daylight was fading and the colorful holiday “Canyon Lights” were strung across the deep gorge and on all the tall trees on either side of the canyon. It was a beautiful setting but, to be honest, I was only focused on getting to the other side.

 

    Suddenly someone called out and I looked up just in time to see a large bald eagle fly directly beneath the bridge, directly beneath my feet, on its flightpath straight down the canyon. 

 

    I see eagles all the time, they’re not uncommon in my part of the country, but that’s always with my feet on the ground, looking up as the bird soars over me. This time I was was the one looking down, the one with the eagle-eye view. It was an exhilarating feeling. The bird’s white tail feathers stood out against its broad, darker, wings. In that instant I forgot my fear. I let out the breath I’d been holding. I loosened my grip on the cables and turned to follow the eagle until it disappeared around a bend. 

 

    By taking my eyes off the destination, the other side of the canyon at the end of the bridge, I was able to see the remarkable natural beauty that surrounded me; the rough stone walls of the gorge, the dense forest surrounding it, the tumbled rocks at the edge of the river and the way the lights glowed in the misty rain. I was in a beautiful place but I’d almost missed it.

 

    With that, I took my hands off the cables and walked, slowly and deliberately, across the canyon to the other side. Before the light faded, I followed the tree walk, suspended, again, on a path strung along the trunks of a stand of giant fir trees. By the time I crossed the bridge to make my way back, the sky was dark and I could no longer see the canyon below. 

 

    Riding back to the city, watching the taillights of the evening traffic through the rain-splashed windows of the taxi, I decided at that moment that the eagle I’d seen shooting like an arrow through the canyon would be my guide for the coming year; a reminder that sometimes the easiest way to suspend fear is to simply let go, take a deep breath and move on.

 

 

 

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: 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: Slip a Gift Card in a Traveler’s Stocking

    Sometimes the best gift is one that can be opened during the holidays but used later in the new year, sometimes again and again. A gift card, for example. 

    Travel, both domestic and international, can be expensive, even for the thriftiest of us. If you have a traveler on your list this holiday season, consider giving gift cards that can be used to fund a travel experience or make any trip easer and more affordable. 

 

Here are some gift card suggestions for travelers of all ages:

 

Give the Green Mermaid: Most larger airports have at least one Starbucks, so chances are there’ll be one around when you or your traveler wants a cup of coffee on the fly.  It’s always nice to be able to stop for a latte or any of the coffee-to-go products sold at the stores without having to fork over the cash. 

 

Drug Store Dash: No matter how carefully one packs, there are bound to be a few things that are left behind or needed unexpectedly: BandAids for blistered heels, cold medicine to fight off airplane germs or prescription replacements or refills. Having a gift card from a national chain like Walgreen’s or CVS, stores that seem to be on every corner of bigger cities across the U.S., could come in handy for one of those little inconveniences or occasional emergencies.

 

There’s an App for That:  Travel apps are constantly evolving with new options popping up almost over night. Most tech-savvy travelers are always on the lookout for the next big thing. An iTunes gift card keeps them up to date with the latest photo-editing, navigating or social media app. Of course, they can use it to buy tunes, as well.

 

Pre-paid Plastic: Slip an American Express or Visa gift card in someone’s stocking if you want to make their holiday. Traveling with cash is risky and traveler’s checks are all but obsolete. Pre-paid plastic goes anywhere and is always appreciated.

 

Let ‘em Fly:  With an Airline gift card you can help someone take the trip of their dreams or get home for some family time.

 

Phone Home: Most of us depend on our smart phones when we travel but phones can be lost or damaged. That’s when a pre-paid calling card can come in handy.

 

Get a Room: Most major hotel chains offer gift cards that can be used for rooms or (subject to terms and availability) a room upgrade. 

 

 

 

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: Visit New Orleans’ WWII Museum Before Your Cruise

    I hadn’t been in New Orleans for a long time, but the mystique is still true; the city is one you don’t forget. A lot has changed over time and after the devastating hurricane in 2005, but as I walked, taking in familiar sights, the distinctive architecture, the soft Southern voices and the sounds of jazz and Zydeco music, I knew exactly where I was. 

    I’d flown down to cover the maiden U. S. voyage of the Carnival Sunshine, sailing from the Port of New Orleans, and my husband was with me. We had a day to explore the city before the cruise began and we made a quick tour of the French Quarter and the waterfront, before heading up Magazine street to the New Orleans destination we’d really come to see: The World War II Museum.

    I spent a week last summer touring the countryside of the Normandy region of France, and I’d visited most of the D-Day landing sites and museums. Since my return, I haven’t been able to shake the experience. The scope and stories of the profoundly life-changing experiences of the survivors, and the sheer number of lives lost, is, even 70 years later, overwhelming. I was anxious to see how the WWII Museum’s D-Day exhibit captured that time in history.

    But first, before we explored anything indoors, we had another, more personal, monument to see. When the museum opened in 2000 my husband’s family purchased a commemorative brick to honor their father who served in the Marines and was stationed in the South Pacific during WWII. My husband, with one of our daughters, had visited the brick once before, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but I hadn’t seen it. 

    With the help of a map supplied by museum staff, we found my father-in-law’s engraved brick on the walkway near the entrance of the museum. My husband brushed away a few fallen leaves and I took his photo with it. We stood there for a few more minutes without saying anything, both of us lost in our own thoughts of someone we’d loved. 

    My father-in-law died in 2009 and he never got to see the small monument his children placed at the museum to honor him. But he knew it was there and I think it pleased him.

    For the next week, cruising around the Caribbean, soaking up as much sun as possible before going back to the cold, already snowy, Northwest, my mind kept going back to the red brick carved with my father-in-law’s name and the torpedo bomber squadron to which he’d been assigned. 

    I’m glad we’d dedicated most of our free time in New Orleans to visiting the museum. The D-Day exhibit was moving and comprehensive and captured the true horror of the battles of the war. And it gave us a chance to revisit a personal history, to stop and take a moment to remember a kind and gentle man.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week Spokane Public Radio. 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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