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Posts tagged: Women's Travel

Travel: 5 tips for hotel freebies

Most hotel rooms come with a few amenities, things like tiny bottles of shampoo, scented soap, a shower cap, a miniature sewing kit and occasionally some fragrant shower gel or body wash. But, because travel always seems to bring unexpected complications, I’ve learned how to make those hotel amenities serve more than one purpose.

 

Here are five ways you can get more out of hotel freebies:

 

Body Wash: Usually more gentle than shampoo, body wash works well for hand-washing clothing when you’re traveling light or discover a stain or spill on your shirt. (Of course, this is for washable fabrics.)

 

Shower cap: The ubiquitous plastic shower cap do more than keep your curls dry in the shower. The thin plastic, edged in elastic, can be a photographer’s friend. I’ve tucked one around my camera while shooting in bad weather. They also come in handy for wrapping leaky bottles, covering muddy shoes and wrapping items you want to protect in your purse or luggage. 

 

Shoe mitt: You can usually find a soft flannel shoe mitt tucked on a shelf in the hotel room closet or wardrobe. The flannel pouches make a good jewelry keeper or a sunglasses case on-the-go. 

 

Stationery. Some luxury hotels still provide stationery, although I’d love to know when the last guest sat down to write an actual letter. But I’ve used a hotel envelope to hold earrings and other small items so they wouldn’t get lost in my purse. The envelope is also handy for organizing all the receipts from your stay. Simply tuck them in and seal.

 

Laundry bag: In a pinch, the disposable plastic laundry bag hanging in the closet is perfect for wrapping a bottle of wine before you tuck it into your suitcase. I’ve also slipped my tall boots into the bag before packing them in my suitcase.

 

Soap: Not too long ago, I dressed for a meeting only to discover my jersey dress and my tights didn’t want to play nice. I was a staticky mess. I hadn’t packed any anti-static spray but I picked up a bar of soap and smoothed it over my tights. Like magic, the dress let go and I was static-free for the rest of the day.

 

 

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

Portions of this column previously appeared in INB Catalyst Magazine.

 

Travel: History Lives at Belgium’s Menin Gate

When my plane landed in Brussels in the spring of 2012, I was stupid and dazed from lack of sleep. I'd slept only a few hours in the last couple of days, having worked late into the night on Thursday and then pulled an all-nighter on Friday to get everything written and filed before my 6 a.m. departure Saturday morning. 

 

Most people would have buckled up their seat belts and caught up on lost sleep during the long flights, but I have some kind of airplane insomnia. I find it almost impossible to stay asleep on a plane. It didn’t help that we flew over so much unsettled weather (tornadoes across the Midwest) that the flight was too bumpy to rest easy. I was still too keyed up to much more that doze on the international flight, waking at every movement of the passengers around me.

 

A couple of hours after I landed in Belgium on Sunday I took the train to the city of Ieper. I didn’t dare sleep on the train because I was afraid I would not wake up at my stop, so by the time I stepped off at the Ieper station, I was barely functioning. There were no taxis available so I studied the city map and then pulled my rolling suitcase behind me, bumping over cobblestones, as I made my way to the hotel. I slumped over a bowl of soup while I waited for my room to be ready and when I finally unlocked the door, I was finished. 

 

I usually power through the first day in Europe to better adjust to the time change. This time I closed the door, stripped off the clothes I’d been wearing for more than 24-hours, crossed to the bed and collapsed. I didn’t wake up for 6 hours, and when I did, I was famished. Unfortunately, by that time most of the shops and cafes were closed.

 

As I walked up and down the narrow streets near the marketplace looking for a bodega or bistro with late hours, I thought about what drives us to go and see and explore, about what compels us to endure crowded, bumpy flights, grating security annoyances and the harsh physical effects of long-distance travel. But when I turned a corner and caught sight of the Menin Gate I realized, again, that the answer, as is so often the case, was right in front of me.

 

 

The Menin Gate is a massive monument to the more than 90,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the Great War (World War 1) but whose remains were never found. It sits on the edge of the city center and marks the route to the Belgian Western Front. Still, a century later, buglers from the local fire brigade mark the “last post” in a short but moving ceremony each night. A ceremony only interrupted by the Second World War. 

 

The gate is striking in its simplicity and its size. At night, illuminated by spotlights, especially if it is your first glimpse, the gate is an arresting sight. 

 

I was in Ieper because as the site of unimaginable devastation during the First World War, it is the epicenter of a period of history that illustrates, heartbreakingly so, the flawed and all-too-human story of our human history. It was something I needed to see. 

 

Over the years I’ve had the same experience in so many other places around the world. Travel is exhausting. It eats at our resources and frequently requires us to step off the edge of our comfortable lives. And in that way travel changes us, sculpts us, enriches us in incomparable measures.

 

I guess the truth is we go because there is so much to see. And we don’t want to leave this world without having experienced as much of it as we possibly can. We go because there is nothing as powerful as standing in a place you've only read about before and opening your mind and heart to the lessons of history and time.

 

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

 

Cruise and Travel: Stay on time and organized with these apps

Travel seems to get more complicated every year. With all the new TSA requirements,  confusing flight options and fares, crowded airports and seasonal weather cancellations, it can be hard to keep up and stay on track.

Fortunately, the list of iPhone and Android applications is constantly expanding. In addition to my preferred air carrier options (Delta, Alaska Airlines, etc.) I depend on certain apps to keep me on time and on the go.

Here is a short list of popular travel apps including a few of my favorites: 

Tripit: (iPhone and Android) This is my personal favorite. Tripit automatically creates an itinerary with flight confirmation numbers, airport terminal gates and hotel addresses. It also syncs to your calendar and you can share your itinerary with friends and family. Basic service is free. I opted to upgrade to the premium service and it's been worth it.

GateGuru: (iPhone and Android) This handy worldwide app provides airport guides and listings for restaurants, shops, shoe shine kiosks, spas, lounges, A.T.M. service and free Wi-Fi.. www.gateguru.com 

FlightStats (iPhone and Android.) FlightStats’ live flight tracking app lets you access realtime status of worldwide flights by flight number, airport or route. The app also updates weather conditions.

Uber: With service available in more than 100 cities, including Spokane, Uber lets you order a car, gives you an arrival estimate and then notifies you by text when you’re car is on its way.  Uber is a no-cash service, using credit cards only.

Kayak: Listing most major airlines, Kayak is my go-to app for searching for flights and fares and allows me to search for cheaper days to travel.

CheckMate for Travel  (iPhone)  CheckMate is a relative new app that allows you to check in to your hotel from your smartphone. You’ll get a call when the room is ready so all you need to do is stop by the desk and pick up your key. 

 

MyRadar (iPhone and Android )  MyRadar provides realtime weather and radar displays enabling  you to see weather that is coming your way that might impact flights and airline schedules. 

 

Travel: Lavender, luxury, and fine wine in Woodinville

  This time of year there are a lot of people wandering around Tuscany, tasting wine in the hot Italian sun. And just as many snapping photos of the beautiful lavender fields in Provence, France. While I can’t be at either of those places at the moment, I do have a favorite destination just a few hours away that will give me both experiences.

 

   Woodinville, Washington, is just 25 minutes from Seattle but the small town stands large in the burgeoning Washington wine community. With more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms it’s possible to taste the best of the state without traveling more than a few miles. And right now, through the month of August, during the height of the lavender season, you can book a stay at Willows Lodge that lets you add a bit of aroma therapy and agritourism to your wine-tasting experience.   

 

   In the seasonal Lavender Harvest package, Willows Lodge will take you to the nearby Woodinville Lavender’s beautiful field where you can help cut and bundle the fragrant blooms. While there you can pick up tips on growing your own lavender, watch a demonstration of the oil-distilling process and sample the farm’s unique scented and edible products. When you’re done the lodge will bring you home to soak in a lavender-scented bath. 

 

   While the summer concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle always draw a crowd, more and more people from this side of the Cascade Range are starting to add the small town to the schedule as they drive to and from Seattle. It’s worth a stop any time of year, but the Willows Lodge Lavender Harvest package is an incentive to spend a night or two right now, enjoy the spa and a meal at The Barking Frog, and bring home the fragrance of Provence.

 

 

Read more about Woodinville and the Willows Lodge in my travel column in the latest issue of Spokane Cd’A Woman magazine 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Explore Ann Arbor

    If I told you I’d gone to the city to see a few shows, listen to some impressive live music, catch a cutting-edge film festival, spend time in world-class museums, and chow down on an astonishingly diverse and multicultural dining scene including Cuban, Ethiopian, Mexican, Italian, Asian and Turkish food, you’d probably assume I was talking about a big city. Somewhere like Chicago or Seattle or New York.

 

    When when I tell you I did all that in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you should pay attention. 

 

    Ann Arbor, with a population of around 116,000 and home to sports and academic powerhouse, University of Michigan, rivals big urban destinations in terms of food, entertainment, and culture.

 

    I spent a few days looking, tasting, and exploring. Here’s a roundup of my favorites:

 

Feed Your Mind

    

    Ann Arbor boasts a number of superior museums. The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) offers an impressive collection of fine art and artifacts. Two of my favorite pieces were the Samurai armor in the Asian collection and John Stanley’s “Mt. Hood from the Dalles”, a beautiful landscape painted in 1871 with an iconic view of Mt. Hood from the Columbia River. 

    Another fascinating stop is the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. This state-of-the-art facility, housed in an exquisite Victorian-era Romanesque building complete with turret and Tiffany window, is centered around the late-19th Century and early-20th Century collection of it’s namesake, Francis Kelsey. Some highlights of the more than 100,000 artifacts include Roman glassware, Egyptian masks, and an elaborate sarcophagus. The coffin’s owner, the missing Mummy Djehutymose, has his own popular Twitter feed and Facebook page.

    The nearby Gerald Ford Library Museum and archives is also worth a visit. Primarily a holding place for more than 25 million pages of historical documents pertaining to Ford’s political career and the Cold War era, the center offers an intriguing view of the man, including the story of Ford’s birth and childhood.

 

 

 

Taste the World

    My first meal in Ann Arbor, a Cuban burger and batida ( a frozen concoction of mango, pinaeapple, scoop of ice cream and a splash of dark rum) and a basket of what may be the best fries I’ve ever tasted, at Frita Batidas, set the tone for the rest of the week. Everything was delicious and often unexpected. Some of my other favorites were the Ethiopian Injera (soft bread) and Gomen (collard greens cooked with spices, onions and jalapeno peppers) at Blue Nile and lamb-stuffed grape leaves and cold vegetable salads at Ayse’s Turkish Cafe. Of course, no visit to Ann Arbor counts unless you stop by world-famous Zingerman’s Deli. For beer lovers, there are a growing number of microbreweries in the area and you won’t regret a day spent tasting local brews.

 

Always Entertaining

     Football may draw the crowds in the fall, but Ann Arbor hosts large events throughout the year. Seasonal favorites include the winter Folk Festival, a springtime FestiFools puppetry and public art festival, and a three-week summer festival with art, music, food, and film.  

 

Treasure Hunting

    The number of antiques, collectibles and vintage shops within walking distance of Main Street was a nice surprise. Treasure Mart, in the Kerrytown area near the farmer’s market and Zingerman’s Deli, is a rambling historic building full of all kinds of interesting things. Some of the rooms are decorated and arranged like an antiques mall, others are crammed with goodies strewn on tabletops or piled in corners just waiting to be discovered. 

    Located in the Nickles Arcade, a 1918 covered passage lined with unique shops that make the place feel like a bit of Paris in the mid-west, The Arcadian antiques is a jewel box. Crystal and china line the shelves and the store stocks fine antique furniture, but the highlight is a collection of beautiful estate jewelry.  I watched a couple shop for wedding rings, trying to choose from trays of lovely old diamonds and gemstones.

    I did a lot of window shopping but I didn’t come home empty-handed. At Antelope Antiques and Coins, a funky store on the lower level of a downtown building. I plucked an autographed photo of Woody Herman ($10) out of a box of old photos and postcards, and did a little happy dance when I found a Waterford goblet in my (somewhat obscure) “Kylemore” pattern, for only $15.

 

    Like most travelers, I have a fantasy “I could live here” list in my head made up of places I’ve been and couldn’t forget. After this first visit, Ann Arbor moved to the top of the list. A robust arts scene, a vibrant main street, an energetic farm-to-table movement and a cosmopolitan foodie-friendly ethos, paired with a dedication to preserving the past, makes Ann Arbor, Michigan hard to resist. 

 

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: Scenes from an Airport

    After I’ve run the security gauntlet, after I’ve shown my ID, after I’ve exposed the contents of my bag to whoever is manning the scanner, after I’ve emptied my pockets and made my way through, the world shrinks to the faces and voices I hear in the airport. 

 

    An airport is a collection of every kind of human and there is no better place for watching people. The strangers in the crowd are rich, poor, kind, crude, happy and unhappy. They are young. They are old. They sprint down the concourse or they ride in chairs pushed by others. We all hurry and we all wait. We move forward and stand in line. Some speak languages I don’t understand, but at that moment we all have one thing in common: We are all trying to get from here to there.

 

    I stop to buy some fruit for breakfast and beside me a man sits hunched over the bar, his overnight bag at his feet. His face is strained and his mind is far away and I wonder if more than his drink is on the rocks.

 

    As I walk past the “spa” another man stares off into the distance as he massages the neck of one more anonymous passenger who’s bought a little time in the chair. He is a robot with strong, warm, hands.

 

    I find an empty gate and stop to charge my phone before I depart. A few rows away a pilot, his luggage piled beside him, is talking on the phone and after a few minutes I realize he’s talking to his wife and they are discussing the terms of their upcoming divorce. His voice is thick with anger and pain and, embarrassed to have stumbled into the scene, I unplug my phone and move on.

    When my flight is called, people immediately crowd the gate, jockeying for position too early, dragging heavy bags behind them, anxious to get on the plane as quickly as possible before all the overhead bin space is filled. One couple works as a team. She edges forward, slipping between people who are distracted by last-minute emails or texts, their attention on their iPhones instead of what is going on around them. Once she’s in place she motions for him and he slides in beside her. Another mans silently gauges the diligence of the gate agent and I see him decide to slip into the priority line, hoping the harried agent won’t notice. She doesn’t.

 

    On the plane two elderly women, their white hair permed, pink scalp showing between the tight curls, settle into their seats and, delighted to have an empty seat between them, forget we haven’t even taken off. They drop the middle seat-back tray and set up the picnic they’ve brought along, just like they’re on a train. They pull out sandwiches brought from home, wrapped in aluminum foil and tucked into folded paper plates, then settle back into their seats. Moments later the flight attendant comes by, sees what they’ve done, and gently—like she’s speaking to her own grandmother—tells them the tray must be up for takeoff. They’re embarrassed and hurriedly put everything away but something in me responds to their sweetness, their homemade picnic and the gentle way they do as their told.  

 

    Once all passengers are on board, just before they close the doors, a woman tries to switch to an empty seat a few rows up but it’s in an upgrade section and the flight attendants won’t let her. “It wouldn’t be fair to those who paid extra to sit there,” they tell her. The woman goes back to her assigned seat, with a few less inches of legroom, and turns away to look out the window.

 

    Sometime during the flight we pass over the Rockies and the air becomes rough. The man across the aisle smooths his palms over his knees again and again in a soothing motion. His face shows nothing but his hands keep moving until the worst is over. I wonder what he would do if I reached out and covered his hand with mine, the way I would do with one of my children.

    

    The women eat their picnic.

    

    When we land everyone jumps up and starts dragging bags out of the bins, piling them into the aisles and around their feet, anxious to get away, to be part of the prisoner exchange that happens each time a plane rolls up to a gate. 

    

    It’s like a movie. All hours of the day, in airports around the world, the scenes are repeated as passengers file in and passengers file out. Each of us carries more than a bag, more than a boarding pass. We all bear the invisible weight of a story. 

 

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: Transatlantic cruising on the Queen Mary 2

    Our crossing. Such an elegant phrase. Even today, in an age of mass travel, it perfectly captures the tradition of boarding a big luxurious ocean liner and sailing across the Atlantic. Before we catapulted from one continent to another, we crossed. And the phrase still brings to mind the golden age of travel, of movie stars and royalty transiting in comfort and style, of ordinary men and women sailing toward new lives. 

 

    I just made my first crossing from New York to Southampton aboard the Cunard flagship the Queen Mary 2, and I’m afraid it has forever changed the way I will look at travel. I’m not sure I can go back to the hurry-wait-hurry circus of modern air travel without a deep longing to sail again.

 

    When we walked up the gangplank onto the beautiful ship and settled into our stateroom, the experience was nothing like most trips overseas. Security was tight but it was unobtrusive and gentle. The soft strains of classical music soothed us and we joined the other guests on the top deck to toast the Statue of Liberty as we sailed out of the harbor.

 

    During the sailing the first thing we discovered, as we were surrounded by art, beautiful architecture and an understated but sophisticated decor, was that the greatest luxury was time. Every minute belonged to us. We woke without an alarm and went to bed when we felt like it.   

   

    Truly relaxed for the first time in months, our days, unbroken by ports of call, were spent walking the promenade deck, listening to the speakers brought on board or watching the afternoon movie. There was even an onboard planetarium. A planetarium.

 

    At night there was more music, more theater, more movies.

 

    Another luxury was space. We weren’t fighting for legroom in a crowded plane. We had room to roam and breathe. Every day we discovered another quiet corner, another comfortable chair in front of a window. We spent hours in the library located at the front of the ship, surrounded by thousands of books in rows of glass-front shelves. We browsed titles, and caught up on our reading.

 

    We hadn’t known it when we booked our trip, but director Wes Anderson was also on board, accompanied by some of the actors that regularly appear in his movies. Tilda Swinton, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman joined Anderson on stage each afternoon to talk about one of his movies and then screen it for us. I can’t imagine having that kind of opportunity anywhere else. When not in the theater they were passengers like us, strolling the promenade deck, taking photos of the sunset, sipping tea in the lounge.

 

    There was a time when travel was graceful and calm, but today that kind of experience is heartbreakingly uncommon. It is rare to find yourself in a situation where the journey is the experience. Or, at the very least, as much a part of the experience as the destination. But that’s exactly what we had on our time on the Queen Mary 2.

 

    We didn’t just take a trip. We weren’t catapulted across the sea. We crossed and it was grand.

 

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: Riverboat Cruise Brings Columbia River History to Life

    For history lovers, like me, there is something deeply important about following the footsteps of the men and women who came before us. That’s often what compels us to travel, to put ourselves in the place where important things—significant events that shaped the world we live in now—happened. 

 

    Here in the Northwest we are especially fortunate. With vast undeveloped stretches of plains and prairies, dense forests and ranges of jagged mountains, much of the landscape is no different that it was when the first explorers moved into the area. Here, you can step into a landscape that, in places, has changed very little since the first people, and later the first explorers, arrived. 

 

    That’s why I boarded Un-Cruise Adventures S. S. Legacy in Portland for a small-ship heritage voyage up the Columbia and Snake rivers. This was a bucket-list trip for me. I’ve driven along the Columbia, taken the train through the gorge, flown over it by plane and helicopter. But I’d never explored the area the way it was originally done: by river. 

 

    It’s hard to imagine the Columbia River, although known and deeply important to Native Americans, was not discovered until the 1700s. and it was almost another century before a fur trader by the name of Robert Gray first sailed into it and named the fierce river for his ship—the Columbia Rediviva. And that it was still a mystery when Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery in 1804. 

    

    From the moment we boarded the replica coastal cruiser, before we even cruised out of Portland and the greenness of the Pacific Northwest, we were steeped in history. We were met by costumed guides and interpreters and they continued to bring to life the stories of the men and women who settled the area as we moved upriver. 

    

    At the first dam, the Bonneville Dam (there would be seven more locks and dams on the journey) we are still surrounded by forest and miles of fertile land rising up to meet mountains that look like giant thorns piercing the low clouds. We leave the ship to tour the dam and fish ladders.

 

    At The Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail, things began to change. We entered the high desert that covers so much of central and south-central Oregon and Washington. Green gives way to gold. 

 

    My husband and I spent hours on the top deck, taking it all in, watching freight trains wind along tracks beside the swift, opaque green water of the river, long ribbons of cargo shuttling goods between ports and cities. The sun was high and hot in an endless blue sky laced with contrails and dotted with fat white clouds. 

 

    Each day we saw more and learned more. We read books from the ship’s library and listened as our guides put human faces on the stories of settling of the West, the area’s importance in wars and commerce. 

 

    We ate well, gathering for gourmet meals, and socialized well, gathering again for cocktails. We made friends and shared stories with the other passengers, many of whom have led fascinating lives.

 

    We rode jet boats up the Snake River, deep in the gorge that still bears the evidence of the geological turbulence that created it. 

    

    We visited Walla Walla, the small city that was once considered the “Paris of the West” delving into the personal stories of the men and women who lived, loved and died there. We tasted the sweet onions that put Walla Walla on the map and the outstanding wines that have reinvented the area and put the wine world on notice.

 

    We climbed the Astoria Column for a spectacular view and visited Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark rode out a stretch of bad weather so miserable it became part of the history of the area.

 

    By the time we’d made the round trip back to Portland—back through the series of locks and dams—like Lewis and Clark, we’d made a journey of discovery.

 

    We live in the Northwest but walking down the gangplank, heading back home, we knew much more about this beautiful part of the country than we did when we’d set out. We’d seen familiar territory with a new view, from the deck of the beautiful ship that carried us, and we’d followed the footsteps of the first people and the wagon trails of those who paved the roads and opened the doors to let us follow.

 

   

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: 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

 

 

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

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: 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 news: “Dancing with the Stars:At Sea” Alaska cruises from Seattle

    When Holland America Line launched “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” in 2013, the dance-themed cruises, featuring up-close-and-personal access to the performers and celebrities of the long running ABC show, were an immediate hit. The cruise program was so popular it will return in 2014. 

 

 

    While all 15 of Holland America’s ships will include some elements of “Dancing With the Stars” programming, with free dance lessons from the ship’s dance professionals and a dance-off competition to compete for a chance to be one of the 15 ship champions to sail on the 2014 Champions Caribbean cruise, the good news for Northwest “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” fans is that four of the six special 2014 theme cruises featuring dancers and celebrities from the popular show will be 7-day Alaska cruises sailing out of Seattle, WA and Vancouver, B.C.  

 

 

    The ms Zuiderdam will sail June 14 and June 21 from Vancouver, BC.

 

    The ms Westerdam will sail from Seattle, WA., on July 26 and Aug. 2,

 

    These “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” theme cruises will feature special performances, dance lessons with the ship’s professional dancers and meet-and-greet and photo opportunities with the celebs. At this time, DWTS dancers scheduled to sail on all six theme cruises are professional dancers Tristan MacManus and Kym Johnson, with television personality Carson Kressley and actress Sabrina Bryan.

 

    The Dec 6, 2014 Champions Cruise will bring the 15 winning guests (one from each ship) from the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” competitions currently being held on all ships in the Holland America fleet through Oct. 22, 2014, for a final dance competition and the chance to be named Holland America Line’s “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” Champion. 

 

 

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

Note: I was on the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” cruise on the ms Veendam last spring, sailing from Quebec City to Boston.  You can read about that voyage here.

 

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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