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Home Planet

Posts tagged: Women's Travel

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

An Independent Life on Bainbridge Island

When he isn’t traveling for work, my son, the boy who was always busy with some kind of project, lives with a beautiful, intelligent girl in small cottage on a beautiful island just a short ferry ride from Seattle. He is not my boy anymore. He is a man who has made a unique and interesting life for himself.

He’s about to leave for another assignment in India, so we drove over to Seattle and took the ferry to Bainbridge Island to spend a few days with him. The island is especially beautiful this time of year, more like a village in New England than a small town on Puget Sound. I’d never been there before and October is the perfect time to see Bainbridge Island for the first time. The hardwood trees were showing their fall colors and the air was cool and crisp. There were pumpkins everywhere.

As it happens, one of my son’s closest childhood friends is also on the island now, on his own adventure with his own beautiful and intelligent girl, and he joined us for dinner one night at the local pub. We spent the evening together, laughing and recalling things that had happened in the neighborhood when they were growing up.  Listening to them talk about their old friends and where they’ve all ended up. I thought about the group of boys who were in and out of my house and backyard and how fortunate they are that their lives are still threaded together by this shared history and their common interests. I thought about how fortunate we are to be here to see them now.

As a parent, it’s always interesting to get a peek into the lives of our adult children. The children we cared for, worried about and whose futures we daydreamed about and fretted over, usually, one way or another, seem to find their footing on their own.  Just as we did.  I could not have imagined the life my son lives now, his path has been the one he has made for himself. The parents of his friends feel the same way, I know. And somewhere at the beginning of that path are the choices we all made as parents—the wise decisions and clumsy mistakes.  We did the best we could but we were amateurs, just feeling our way.

I left my son and his girl with a hug at the ferry, grateful for the time we’d had with them. And, as always, I filled his pockets with a mother’s silent and invisible blessings. Charms to keep him safe on the road, his road, as he makes his way to the future.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

   I believe it is. 

 

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

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Travel: Preserving Heirloom Apples at Arbor Day Farm

 

   When I was a child, you couldn’t have paid me to eat an apple. The bright red picture-perfect fruit was always disappointing. The waxy skin was tough and bitter and the inside was bland. I didn’t like the way the fruit felt in my mouth as I chewed. The Red Delicious apples that were in the grocery store, on my lunch tray at school or in the fruit bowl in the kitchen at home were the Kardashians of fruit: Pretty to look at but not much more than that. 

 

   It wasn’t until years later when I discovered other varieties, the Macintosh, the Gala and Fuji, the Braeburn and Honeycrisp, that I became an apple fan. The exact opposite of the apples I’d hated as a child, they were crisp and sweet and heavy with juice and I kept them in the fruit bowl and packed them in my own children’s lunches. I baked them, and made apple sauce. I sliced them, browned them in butter and sprinkled the caramelized slices with cinnamon before serving them on cool autumn nights. Once in a while I made a pie.

 

   I began to hear more about heirloom apples, varieties that were old and in danger of disappearing completely, and the growers who were working hard to save them.  It was hard to imagine that there had once been so many kinds of apple and some had disappeared completely while we were engineering fruit solely for appearance and durability.

 

   But visiting the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska, I took the  Discovery Ride around the farm, a 45-minute narrated wagon ride behind a tractor. We learned the unique story of the farm, the history of Arbor Day and the work of the Arbor Day Foundation, before stopping in front of the Preservation Orchard. 

 

   “Now, this,” our guide Carol told us, “is a special place.” 

 

   As she showed us the rows of heirloom apple trees, some still heavy with beautiful fruit, she talked about the farm’s dedication to preserving the old, and in some cases endangered, varieties. Some of the trees were marked and I read the names: Wheeler’s Golden Russet, Old Nonpariel, and Raine de Reinette.

 

   There were others: the Wolf River apple, an apple so big one was enough for a pie. The Arkansas Black, with its distinctive purple color, and Esopus Spitzenburg, the orange-colored apple that was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite.

 

   We were invited to choose an apple from any tree and I wanted to choose wisely, so I took my time, walking slowly between the rows of trees. I finally decided on an Opalescent. I liked the tree for it’s toughness, its branches had been damaged but the tree had borne well in spite of the injury, and, to be honest, I was intrigued by the oddly-elegant name. I reached up, let the apple rest lightly in my palm, and twisted it gently. The ripe fruit fell into my hand and I admired it for a moment before I took a bite. 

 

The apple was dense and crisp and the flavor was surprisingly delicate, with just a hint of violets and strawberries. It probably wasn’t the rarest in the Preservation Orchard but it was a good choice for me.

 

Maybe that’s what is most important about places like the Arbor Day Farm Preservation Orchard. These trees and their fruit are part of our history. Our story. They are worth saving and sharing. You shouldn’t have to be all grown up before you taste something so good. 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: The Private World of Monet’s Garden at Giverny

 

   To enter Monet’s private world you must first walk through a dark tunnel under the busy road that separates the house and front garden, the Clos Normand, from the famous water garden. Yes, that water garden. The place with mysterious, reflective, pools and graceful willows whose branches hang low over the water, where the elegant wisteria-covered Japanese bridge frames the view of the beautiful water lilies Monet painted time and again. 

 

   In Monet’s time, he could walk out the front door and cross a small footbridge to reach the gate, but tourists are another matter. With all the grace of migrating wildlife, they are a hazard on what is now a busy road, so the tunnel gets them safely to a space that draws hundreds of thousands each year.

 

   Stepping out of the tunnel and into the filtered light of the water garden is to step back in time. Thanks to the archivists, benefactors and a team of gardeners who have worked to restore the garden, the landscape is not much different than it was when the painter was there, when he walked the winding paths or sat on a bench to study the play of light and shadow on water. Turn a corner and the view is somehow familiar. You have the feeling you have been here before. 

 

   Monet’s gardens are as much a masterpiece as any canvas he created. He did not move into a house in the Normandy countryside in 1883 and simply settle down to paint what was there. Instead, he approached the land around the house he continued to improve and enlarge the way he created each painting, methodically, with layers and and an obsessive attention to color and light. He set out to create the garden he wanted to paint and it soon consumed him.

 

   As I strolled—I was there in early September, just after the height of the tourist season, and there were fewer people sharing the paths with me than might have been a few weeks before—I marveled at the construction of what surrounded me. What seemed to be a riot of plants was as carefully thought out and orchestrated as the brushstrokes on one of his paintings.

 

   Vine-covered arches over the central path, thick with trailing nasturtiums, frame the entrance to the farmhouse creating a vanishing point at the front door. Giant dahlias, with blooms as big as cantaloupes, towered over me. The garden welcomed me. It embraced me.

 

I stopped to watch one of the gardeners, almost hidden by the plants as she crouched to remove spent blooms, and a passing guide noticed. We chatted for a few minutes and then she said something that stays in my mind.

 

“For Monet the garden was not about any one flower. It was about the effect, the way the colors and textures and light worked together.”

 

   He called it painting with nature.

 

   Monet never stopped working. At the end of his life, his vision clouded by cataracts, his focus narrowed to the water garden. He built a studio for the purpose of painting large canvasses of the water lilies that covered the mirrored pond. The paintings that still hang in the Orangerie in Paris today.

 

   I have been to France a number of times, I’ve gazed at his work in museums all over the world, and yet I’d never visited Monet’s gardens just 50 miles from Paris. I’m sorry it took me so long to get there.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: Feasting on King Crab in Kirkenes, Norway

   When I choose a port excursion while on a cruise, what they’re going to feed us on the excursion is usually not my first priority since food is more than plentiful on most ships. I almost always opt for some kind of unique experience I couldn’t have anywhere else, but the King Crab Safari in Kirkenes, Norway, a small waterfront town only 30 kilometers from the Russian border, offered as a Hurtigruten excursion, was intriguing. And not just  because it promised a feast of fresh crab.


    I was there in August, but the water can still be dangerously cold. First we had to put on heavy insulated suits, designed to protect us from the cold waters of the fjord if we were to fall in. On top of that went a life jacket and we were given gloves to wear.  After we were all suited up we boarded the boat. Instead of seats we straddled benches, holding onto the safety rails in front of us as our guide pulled the boat out onto the fjord and picked up speed.


    While touring the coastline and listening to the history of the area, after skimming swiftly over the surface of the water and moving slowly along the  cliffs where we could see the remains of a Nazi bunker from the German occupation of Norway during World War II, we stopped to check one of the numerous crab baskets that sit on the bottom of the deep fjord. Our guide attached a hook to the basket and used a motor to pull it up from the bottom. As it broke the surface we could immediately see the basket was filled with some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen. (Those that weren’t absolutely massive were thrown back to grow in the cold, dark water.)


    We pulled up to what looked like a small fishing shack on the shore. The small house, just big enough for the long table that ran from one end to another, was the place where we would have our meal. Our guide unloaded the dozen or more giant crabs from the trap and began to prepare our dinner while we settled around the table on benches covered with skins and pelts.


    When they were done, steamed to perfection, the giant crab legs were piled onto platters and placed on the table. The meal was simple: fresh King crab legs and slices of good bread. There was butter for the bread and lemon slices to squeeze over the crab if we wanted it. That was all and it was all we could want. 

   
    We turned on the platters of crab legs like we were starving. For a few minutes all conversation stopped and everyone around the table concentrated on getting to the delicious crabmeat in the shells. We ate until we could not hold another bite.  

   Fresh, simply prepared and served, the meal was good enough to be added to my list of favorites. There was no fancy dining room. No music. No upscale atmosphere. And the view of the fjord through the small windows reminded us with every bite that we weren’t just having a meal, we were feasting on a real Norwegian adventure.


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: Family Travel Gives Children the Gift of Independence

 

 

   As we were driving across mountain passes and through a wide Montana valley to take her to college, my youngest daughter sat in the back seat, surrounded by the boxes she’d packed. The three of us fell into a familiar and comfortable pattern, with her teasing us, making us laugh, as the miles flew by.

 

   For a moment I managed to forget that we were taking her to leave her, to start her new life as a college student. I forgot that with her went our last child, leaving us with an empty house. I forgot that I have no clear idea of what comes next. For a few hours It was just the family off on an adventure. There was an easy affection in the way we spoke to one another and all of the stresses and irritations of the last few months disappeared.

 

   When we got to the campus we checked her into her dorm. We hauled the boxes out of the car and shopped for what else she would need. We went out to dinner and then shopped some more. We unpacked the books and bedding and keepsakes she’d taken with her, plugged in the small refrigerator, put her clothes in the closet and we were done. I realized she was being very patient with us but she was clearly ready to be on her own.

 

  Moving to college is a journey into the unknown, but watching my daughter I realized she was uniquely prepared for this new life. She is no stranger to foreign places. 

 

 I reminded myself that this is the girl who ran ahead, turning around to tease me for being a slowpoke as we climbed the Great Wall in China. This is the girl who stood up to and challenged the arrogant and vaguely threatening transit officer who bullied us in Prague. This is the girl who didn’t let the man on the flight to Budapest get away with taking an aisle seat that wasn’t his; he was in her father’s seat and she made him move. This is the girl who lost her way for a few minutes in Rome and managed to find us on her own before we even realized she was gone. This is the girl who led us through Vienna and this is the girl who ordered our meals on our last trip to Paris—in passable French—and who, judging from the way she walked blocks ahead of me as we moved around the city, would clearly have preferred to been there on her own.

 

I didn’t think of it at the time, when I was planning vacations and saving for tickets to faraway places, but our travels did more than open her eyes to other people and other lands. She came back from each trip with confidence in herself. She may not know it’s there, but I know she’ll find it when she needs it.

 

She may be anxious and a little unsure now, college is a big leap, after all. But I have confidence in her. This is the girl who can find her way.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: Where Will Your Third Life Take You?

    Walking through a covered passage in Montpellier, France, I noticed a number of people going in and out of one of the businesses and I asked someone what kind of shop it was.

    Oh, it is not a store,” she answered. “It is a place for Third Life education.”

    “Third life?”   

   “Yes, for people who are no longer working but who wish to keep learning.” She looked at the sign on the door.

   “Today, they are learning more about the computer.”   

   I realized the place was what we might call in this country a “senior center.”  Most of the people I could see through the window were in their 60s or 70s, a few younger, a few older.  

    I walked on but the phrase “third life” stayed in my mind. It struck me as the perfect description for the way we age.    

   We have no choice in our first lives. We adapt to the circumstances into which we were born—quickly learning some are luckier than others—and we navigate childhood, school, and nascent careers.   

   Our second lives are the years we spend striving and reaching. We make choices—some carefully considered and some with careless abandon. We face difficult decisions. We work, we climb, we search for a mate. Some of us marry, pair up or partner. Some of us have children and either settle down to raise those children full time or shoulder the extra burden of both career and family. These are the years we sleep less, worry more, spend too much, save too little.   

   And finally, the third life. The last child leaves the nest. We retire or simply get tired of the rat race and decide to change careers or cut back. For some, the job or marriage or status they thought they would have falls apart and they discover they can not only survive, they can thrive.    

   Finally, for the first time, bolstered by experience, emboldened by wisdom and motivated by the knowledge that time will not wait for us, we realize we have the freedom to thoughtfully choose the life we will live. We have a few regrets. We still have a long list of things we’d like to do and skills we’d like to master. We want to make a difference.  

    Some waste these years with bitter extravagance, angry and self-absorbed, consumed by old grievances and lost opportunities.   

   Not me.  What’s done is done.  The past is quicksand and the more we struggle the faster we sink. 

   I want to see my children launched and successful in work and matters of the heart. I want to be a part of my granddaughter’s life. I’d like to learn to make a souffle without the damned thing collapsing like a parachute on the ground. Like the men and women in the classroom in France, I want to keep up with technology, to get the most out of what it has to offer.    

   I want to, at least once, beat my husband in a game of Scrabble.   

   There are so many places I want to see while I still have the good health and opportunity to get up and go. Or, with glaciers crumbling, poles melting and forests burning, while they are still there to see.   

   I want to write something worth reading.   

   Somewhere between the next five minutes and the next 30 years, my time will run out and I’ll be done. My first two lives are already behind me. But instead of looking back and mourning the loss of my youth, I know to keep my eyes on the horizon. This third life is a gift, a reward and benefit for making it this far. I want to get it right.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Start Your Croatia Tour with a Stay in Zagreb

   Travel, like fashion and pop culture, has trends. Places appear on the radar and soon they’re the hot new destination. And certain destinations just keep getting more popular. For the past decade Croatia has been in the spotlight. National Geographic, the New York Times and even Rick Steves have listed it as one of the places travelers should visit.

   Most people are introduced to Croatia through Dubrovnik, a busy port for the cruise industry.  I started my tour in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia,.

   I don’t know what I expected when I landed in Zagreb, but what I found was a city as beautiful and elegant as any of Europe’s grand dames. The Hapsburg influence is strong and there are traces of Vienna in the architecture—Zagreb national railway employes work in what has to be the most beautiful building in the country.  When the sun is shining, the coffee houses and sidewalk cafes are full of locals and tourists alike and it’s not unusual for a conversation over coffee and pastries, another Viennese influence, to last hours.

   At the heart of the city is the green horseshoe, an urban oasis of parks and squares. Anywhere you walk you are only minutes away from one of these lush green spaces. Red and blue trams move briskly carrying passengers across the city.

   On a hill overlooking the city, reached by funicular or by narrow cobblestone lanes that wind through the old city gates, the oldest section of the “Upper Town” still holds the official government buildings.

   One of my favorite stop was the elegant Esplanade Hotel, the city’s grand hotel. Built in 1925 as one of the original stops on the luxurious Oriental Express as it traveled between Paris and Istanbul, the interior of the imposing building across from the railway is ornamented by marble, stained glass and ormolu. Just above the wide front door a row of clocks tells the time in cities across the world. Renovated in 2004, the hotel is once again a showplace.

   The city of Zagreb is easy to reach, only a short flight from Frankfurt or Heathrow, and worth a visit. From there, travel around the country is easy. Croatia boasts some of the newest and most efficient freeways in Europe.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com. This story was previously published in Spokane Woman Magazine.
  

Travel: How to Keep Traveling When Your Luggage is Lost

   I recently spent a week traveling through the beautiful countryside of southern France while my luggage stayed behind somewhere in Charles de Gaulle Airport. Fortunately, my make up and basic toiletries were in my carry-on bag but everything else, my clothes, shoes, shampoo and lotions were packed in my suitcase.
Needless to say, it wasn’t an ideal situation but I made the best of it.

   It helped that my basic travel wardrobe is made up of clothing that will go from daytripping through wineries and museums to dinner at a nice restaurant in the city. Most pieces can be washed in my hotel room and will dry overnight. Open my suitcase almost anywhere in the world and you’ll find two or three pair of black microfiber slacks, lightweight tailored blouses and one black jersey dress. When I need to dress up, I add a silk scarf or pashmina and change my shoes.

   To supplement what I had on my back while my luggage was AWOL, I stopped by a Monoprix and picked up a change of underwear, a white linen blouse, a very French-looking striped t-shirt (from the men’s department) and a pair of pretty leather ballet flats. It all fit in an extra tote bag I had stuffed in my carryon bag at the last moment.

   Luckily, the suitcase was found the day before I returned to the States and the whole experience was a good lesson on just how little we really need when traveling.

   While not having my things was inconvenient, it won’t cause me to stop checking my luggage when flying. My mileage status usually lets me check one bag for free and I like the extra room to bring home liquid souvenirs—wine, jams, sauces, etc.—that can’t be carried on.

  

Here are five tips for surviving when your luggage is lost:



Wash and wear fabrics: Leave the jeans at home. Denim adds weight to your luggage, is too heavy to hand wash and can be expensive to have laundered at your hotel.


Carry-on a change of clothing: Slip an overnight kit in your carry-on bag that includes a change of underwear and an extra set of clothing. (Full disclosure: I broke my own rule and forgot to add a change of clothing to the bag I carried onto the plane. Having that would have helped.)


Have a bag inventory: The first thing the airline agent wanted was a list of items in my bag. It helps to have a packing list or, better yet, a photo of the bag’s contents.


Know your rights: Check with your airline for their specific policy regarding reimbursement for (necessary) items purchased when luggage is lost.


Put your ID inside your luggage: Tags go missing. I slip a business card or two inside my suitcase with my phone number and email address. That way if my bag is recovered but unidentifiable, it can be traced to me through the card inside.

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: Holland America takes you Dancing With The Stars at Sea

   I think most of us harbor a secret belief that at the right time, with the right partner,  in the right place, with the right music, in the right costume and with a few good lessons, we could Tango like a pro.

   That’s the appeal of shows like Dancing with the Stars. He did it. She did it. If they can make it, we could make it. We just need a chance.

   This year, with its Dancing with the Stars at Sea theme cruises, Holland America Line is giving dance-loving passengers that chance. During select cruises, passengers get more than just a cruise. DWTS fans can take lessons from the ship’s professional dancers, watch the show’s celebrities perform, have a photo made with their favorites dancers during special events, participate in a Q&A session with the celebrities and even compete for a chance to perform onstage at the grand finale.

   To participate in the ship’s Dancing With the Stars At Sea competition, passengers attend free onboard dance classes where they learn steps taught by the ship’s dancers. At the end of each class, participants perform the routines they learned and are scored by the three judges. The winners are paired with a professional and go on to the final performance on the last night of the cruise. At the finale, each of the winning dance class contestants perform with their partner for the DWTS celebrity judges. The judges offer comments and score the performance and a cruise champion is declared.
   

   At the end of the season, judges will select a winner from each of the eligible Dancing with the Stars at Sea cruises. The 15 winners will get a free cruise and a chance to compete at the final competition for the DWTS at Sea trophy. Not bad.

   In June, my husband and I took a Dancing with the Stars at Sea cruise from Quebec City to Boston on the ms Veendam. Joey Fatone, Mark Ballas, Shawn Johnson and Chelsie Hightower were the stars on board.

   At each performance, the theater was packed. At the special passenger Q&A session with the DWTS celebrities it was fascinating to listen to the comments and questions. These were people who didn’t just watch Dancing with the Stars, they were involved. They’d followed every season and had more than a few things to say about the dancers, their costumes, specific personalities and some of the judges’ decisions. They'd booked the cruise specifically because the dancers were there and they were thrilled to get a chance to ask interact. Some, like a man sitting in front of me, just wanted to make a statement. 

   “I don’t have a question. I just wanted to say Dancing with the Stars is the one thing my wife and I watch together,” he said. “And I get ‘points’ for watching it!”  The crowd laughed but I noticed other men nodding their heads.

   As always, there was good food, a luxurious spa, onboard movies, plenty of time to do absolutely nothing and interesting ports to explore along the way—all the things that make cruising a wonderful way to rest and relax as you travel. The DWTS theme just added to the fun.

   We all came away with great photos and wonderful memories but some got even more than that. They got a chance to step into the spotlight and dance like a star.

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

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: A Day in Carcassonne, France



    When you first see the medieval walled Cité' of Carcassonne, depending on the direction from which you approach, it can appear unexpectedly on the landscape.  Like the magic castle in a storybook.

    The high stone walls and tall towers wrap ribbonlike around the rocky top of the hill and the Pont Vieux, a 600-year-old bridge, connects the old Cité' with the 'newer' town below with a series of graceful stone arches. 

    The Romans laid the first stones of the walls—some of which are still visible. By the 13th Century Carcassonne’s gates were protecting a castle and, later, the architecturally significant Basilica Saint-Nazaire.

    Surviving countless sieges and wars, the old Cité' of Carcassonne eventually fell into disrepair, eventually becoming a source of stone for newer construction, and by 1849 was slated to be demolished. But the influential mayor organized a monumental and controversial effort project to rebuild and preserve the cite, hiring a noted architect to oversee the project. Some creative license was taken, slate tiles were added and things were not put back exactly as they had been, but the oldest part of Carcassonne was saved. (And, interestingly, it was specifically designed to draw tourists.) Work continued until 1910.

    In 1997 Carcassonne was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and that same year the city’s most prestigious hotel, the Hôtel de la Cité which offers a spectacular view that stretches to the distant Pyranees, was opened by the Orient Express Group.


    In the high season the crowd in Carcassonne can be shoulder-to-shoulder, but in mid-June I had all the room I needed. It was the last day of school and children on an end-of-the-year class excursion laughed as they ran from one thing to another. Someone spotted a pop star in town for the annual Carcassonne Music Festival and they flocked to wave and peer through the windows as they watched as his chauffeured Lamborghini edge through the fortified city’s double gates.

    Shops of all kinds line the narrow cobblestoned streets and I stopped to buy colorful espadrilles, the iconic flat rope-soled canvas shoes made in the South of France, for my daughters. I bought a pair for myself and a bag of sweet French nougat to bring home.

    As I spent my day in Carcassonne, I watched the personality of city change and shift, first gleaming in the bright sun and then at night, Illuminated by lights placed strategically along the outer walls, become shadowed and mysterious.


    A couple of weeks after my return from France, browsing through an antique store, I stumbled upon a “Lady’s” travel book written in 1907 about the Languedoc region of France that was written. It is the highly-romanticized story of two young female travelers, flowery and feminine but, in a way, also a bit radical. At that time, at the turn of the last century, few women had the freedom to travel so independently and the adventures of the two cousins as they toured the countryside must have been appealing to readers. In the chapter on Carcassonne one of the young travelers is inspired by the ancient towers and finds a spot sheltered by the old walls to sit and write in her journal.

    What made me smile was a notation in the Rick Steves guidebook I’d read prior to my visit. In it he mentions a day spent in Carcassonne when he was a teenager, and he included the notes he’d made that day while sitting on one of the ramparts. It seems no one is immune. English author, Kate Mosse, whose 2007 bestselling novel Labyrinth was set in Carcassonne and still draws thousands of readers to the Cité' each year, has a house in the area and she admits to falling under its spell. Walt Disney is said to have visited, coming away with the inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty castle.


    Sure there is a touristy side to what has become of the old Cité'. Toy swords and refrigerator magnets abound.  But beautiful, evocative, places like Carcassonne, imbued with an ancient and intimate history of the men, women and children who once lived there, draw us in. And in that way Carcassonne is impossible to resist. Romance is mortared into the very walls of the place

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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