Lessons Learned While Traveling

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On August 11, 2001, my husband George and I departed for a journey around Europe that lasted until the following July. It was sometimes challenging, sometimes tiring, always interesting and the greatest experience of my life (other than some important family times).

While we traveled I kept a diary, recording not just the places we saw but also my reactions to some of our many experiences. We were in Belgium on 9/11. We were in England for the Queen’s 50th Jubilee. We caught a glimpse of Pope John Paul II. And we met many good people.

Just before we left George gave me a digital camera, still a new gadget then and something of a novelty. How I loved that camera! The pictures I took with it look terrible now because the quality was so poor but I took thousands of pictures on that trip!

After 15 years I’ve finally combined my diary with some of those photos and the great many postcards, ticket stubs, maps and brochures we sent home as we traveled. Together, in large binders, they take two-feet of shelf space. I tell myself they will delight me when I’m a (really) old lady so I’ve created these scrapbooks for that future me.

I’ve just read the last paragraphs of my diary for the first time in quite a long time. I had no memory of these words or the experiences they describe. They were written in the months after 9/11 and the beginning of America’s war in Afghanistan. They were written nine months before the Iraq war began. I’d like to share them with you.

“Our excellent adventure is nearly done. We have had a wonderful trip. We have seen so many famous, historic, interesting and beautiful places. We have met so many good and interesting people. Four people we met yesterday and today represent the best part of our trip, and I want to record them as representative of many others.

“We ate at a Pizza Hut in London last night, and our waitress was a young woman from Poland. She was delightful and she was happy that we had been to Poland and especially that we had been to Gdansk as her home is near there. She is earning a master’s degree in Linguistics. She said her life’s dream had been to go to India, and she went there for a month last year. She is a very happy person and we really enjoyed talking with her.

“Then we went to the left-luggage room at Charing Cross station, where I had parked an extra duffle bag I had to buy yesterday for all the souvenirs and junk we are hauling home. The young man working there began quite a conversation with us. He said he is from Lille, France, and that his mother is from Martinique. Again, he asked a hundred questions about where we had been, what we had seen, what we liked best. He was so much fun to meet because he was so genuinely interested in what we had to say.

“This morning I talked for a while with Yolanda, the young assistant manager at the hotel where we stayed in London. She is from Barcelona, and she liked hearing about our trip. She told me a bit about her career and we talked about how great Barcelona is, and about Spain. Each of these young people was so interested in our trip – it was fun to tell them about it.

“Next we took a cab across London to catch our train. It was driven by a man about 40, a Muslim Pakistani, very religious but very knowledgeable about Judaism and Christianity as well has Islam. He said people harassed him after September 11 but that has stopped. He said the politicians make all the trouble, that God teaches us all to be good to one another which is what he believes in. He opposes what the terroristic fanatics have done, and I think he probably represents the vast majority of Muslims.

“Four people in less than 24 hours who represent the hundreds of smart, interested, kind, well-meaning people we have met on our journey. That has been the best part and the most important lesson we have learned. From this trip I learned that all people are alike, that we all want the same things, that this is a small planet.”

Tomorrow the best president of my lifetime will leave the White House and the most unfit will become President of the United States. Like most of my friends I am worried and frightened. I’m going to work at remembering the last lines in my long diary: “All people are alike, we all want the same things, this is a small planet.”

Libbie

 

A new year, new plans, same old me

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My apologies for the long delay in adding something to my blog. The election and its outcome, visits to my family in another state and a varied assortment of holiday entertaining and minor illnesses all combined to interrupt my plans and my good intentions. But a new year has arrived and with it, more good intentions! I’ll be more faithful in updating blog in the year ahead.

Of course I’m planning exciting travel in 2017! And I’m making plans for this blog, plans that I hope will interest you. I spend the summer at Fruit Hill, the farm in Ireland where I stayed for six weeks last spring. I’m also planning a visit my family members in Florida and to (finally!) make my first trip to Disney World. I’ll be going to Alexandria Virginia first, if all goes as planned, and I look forward to time in Washington DC’s neighborhoods and museums. I’m looking into volunteering with young children or refugees and will be writing in the future about my search for the right place for me.

That sounds like a list of New Year’s Resolutions, doesn’t it? I look forward to sharing my travels – both past and future – with you in 2017. Are you making travel plans? If you are, please share them with us in the Comments section below.

Wishing all the best for you in 2017!

Libbie

The picture shown above won 2nd prize in the “intermediate photographers” category of the first photography competition I’ve ever entered. It was taken at the Palais Royale in Paris.

Home Again!

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Although I flew home last Friday I’m still feeling the effects of jet lag and waking up in the middle of the night. That’s making me slow and dopey throughout the day and is at least part of the reason why it’s taken several days for me to write for this blog. (Incidentally, I do plan to continue the blog. If you aren’t on the list to receive an email each time I add to the blog you may want to join it now. My posting schedule is likely to be less predictable. Find the link to request emails below.)

My trip was fine! I traveled for more than five months to eight countries and enjoyed making new discoveries every day. As you know if you’ve been reading as I’ve been traveling, I love the history that can be found everywhere in Europe, the great works of art and architecture left to us by earlier generations, the beautiful natural places and gardens, and the many pleasant people encountered along the way.

Solo travel isn’t for everyone. Sometimes I was lonely but I found traveling alone worked well for me most of the time. I thought about putting here today a list of the places I visited and my memories and impressions of them but that seems unnecessary since I’ve really recorded all that on this blog as I traveled. Then I thought about choosing a few photos you haven’t seen.

Most of my photos are taken on my excellent Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60 camera. I’ve been really happy with the pictures I’ve gotten on this glorified point-and-click camera with a great lens and a 24x zoom. I’m also very happy that I managed not to break it during five months of frequent use.

That camera wasn’t always with me however and when it wasn’t I took pictures with my Iphone 5S. Those pictures were sometimes more spontaneous. In looking through them to pick a few to share with you today I was reminded of days during my trip that might not be remembered as well had I not been able to take photos with my phone. Here are a few of those “memories.” The one above was taken in Killarney National Park, Ireland.

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January: Paris. A view of the great dome of the Lafayette department store decorated for the holidays.

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February: Lisbon. I took this photo at the bus stop by my apartment in the Alfama district as I prepared to depart.

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March: Nice France I like pictures of the narrow passages that wind through the old cities and towns of Europe, and I loved the light that shone on drying laundry here.

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April: England A group of friends gathered for lunch in a lovely pub.

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May: Ireland A few boats waiting for tourists near Ross Castle in Killarney.

Thank you for traveling with me by reading my posts. Writing to you enhanced my journey and your comments and emails dispelled any loneliness I might have been feeling.

Libbie

 

Two Weeks in Malta: A Learning Experience

I suppose on a trip as long and complicated as mine there will be at least one place that disappoints. For me, that’s Malta.

I made mistakes in planning the Malta part of the trip. Although it’s off most Americans’ radar screens, I’ve known a little about Malta since planning a young couple’s honeymoon here a few years ago. I had been wanting to see it for myself since. I knew it was a very popular beach resort. I have the books, I read the web but I missed some basics. For example: I thought I was going to a Caribbean climate – Malta is farther north than New Bern! And although the sun shone every day, the wind at 22 miles an hour today is keeping me inside once again today.

I was sick for nearly half the days I spent here. I now believe it was tap water from storage barrels on the roof of this building running through the pipes (instead of clean public water directly from the local utility) that made me sick. Lesson learned: Always drink bottled water unless you know the source of the water available to you. Because Malta is a member-nation of the European Union, because English is one of the official languages, because many things look familiar and its only 30 miles from Italy, I believed I was in just another safe and charming piece of Europe. And it is — but things are done differently here.

Finally, I have been very disappointed in the apartment I rented here via TripAdvisor. I still don’t know all that’s going on behind the scenes but I do know that the owner of this apartment created not just a very professional marketing package for the web but also a completely false description of himself. “We’re Martin and Michelle” all his ads say. His prices are quoted and paid in English pounds leading me to think he was English. Halfway through my stay he became “Vic” from California. This place meets only the most minimal standards yet the reviews are really good. Although the ads make it sound like one of the big high rise apartments all around me, this place is old, very poorly maintained and ugly! Finally I’ve figured this out: I’m in one of the very best locations in this country at a low rent and others who rent this place know that. (It’s fully booked for the season.) They don’t expect much. So, if they bother to write a review on Trip Advisor, they give it a bunch of stars, talk about the view and the location, and never give a thought to people who will follow them here.

So tomorrow I leave! I’m flying to France where I’ll spend almost all of the next three weeks exploring Brittany. I’ll drive around from place to place for the first week before moving into a gorgeous apartment in the center of a famous old city called Quimper for about ten days. I’m looking forward to having much to tell you about!

Sunny skies ahead,

Libbie

Time Out!

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The view from my window has been a comfort.

I’ve had the flu since Thursday and I’m just getting over it. I don’t know what this bug is that they have here but it must have been brought by the Ottomans or another of the enemies of the Knights of St John as a thousand year curse. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything this bad and it’s taking its time about leaving. I’ll be back to this just as soon as I’m back to being a tourist again.

Libbie

Day 1 and 2 – one very long day!

(Written at the end of the day on December 30)

I’m back in Paris and loving it! Being in Paris is wonderful. Getting here is not!

As I write I’ve been up for about 30 hours. I’ve been dragging about 50 pounds of stuff around, up and down stairs, on and off planes, through mile-long airports. Yes I am exhausted.

Bad weather (and other excuses which changed hourly at American Airlines) caused me to miss my connection to my flight from Philadelphia to Paris late yesterday afternoon. Luckily I was able to fly to Amsterdam overnight and to continue on to Paris this morning on Air France. The difference between Air France and American may best be described by the difference in the food offered. On an 8 hour flight on American they threw boxed “pasta or chicken?” at us around 10 p.m. and around 3 a.m. woke people with half a muffin and one small cup of coffee. On Air France as soon as the plane took off for the one hour flight to Paris they served us fresh, gourmet sandwiches – basil & pesto on wonderful whole wheat bread. I always felt that the American/US Airways merger was good for no one and, after my first experience with the now-merged conglomerate, I’m liking it much less. They didn’t even give away pretzels!

One other thing to remember from today: I (stupidly) took the subway (called the Metro in Paris) from the airport to my first apartment. What I want to remember is that without exception men who observed me struggling upstairs with my luggage walked right on by … women repeatedly stopped to help me.

No pictures today so I’ll send you this link to the ad for the apartment I’m renting for these two weeks: https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p570176vb?flspusage=fl. The apartment is a studio but it’s got everything I need including a clothes washer. It’s very clean, modern and well-located. It’s even got a five-foot-wide TV.

A bientöt!

Merry Christmas!

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After a year or more of planning, my next adventure has begun! Yesterday I flew to Detroit for the first stop: Christmas with my son’s family. Those two beautiful children shown above are my youngest grandchildren. I’m really pleased to be spending Christmas at their house. Their mom is a teacher and she’s taught Sarah and Colin to be very artistic and generous. They’ve made presents for everyone and welcomed me with gifts of art when I arrived. I love being with them!

I’ve corrected an error I made on my last post that invited you to sign up for email notifications of new posts on this blog. If you would like to be notified, please email me at the correct address: in.my.suitcase.too@gmail.com. I promise never to reveal your email address to anyone. I’ll just send a quick email every time I write a new post.

I wish you happiness for the holidays!

Libbie

My Great Art Adventure

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Some people go to Europe for the food. Some people go for the shopping. Some go to see famous sights or with no particular goal. My upcoming trip to Europe will be focused on seeing as much of the world’s greatest art as I can.

Shortly after Christmas I’ll arrive in Paris where (bien sûr!) I’ll have lots of time for the Louvre, the Orsay and other lesser-known art museums. When I made my plans I was looking forward to an extended stay in winter, when the city isn’t so full of tourists. Unfortunately, after the attacks of November 13, there probably won’t be as many tourists as there should be but I’ll be there.

Next I’ll move on to Belgium where I’ll enjoy seeing great works by my favorite artists: Van Eyck, Campin, van der Weyden, Memling. At the top of my list is visiting St. Bavo’s cathedral in Ghent Belgium to see the painting known as the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” (shown above). It was painted ca. 1420 by Hubert Van Eyck and his brother, Jan Van Eyck.

I plan to go to Amsterdam to see the newly renovated Rijksmuseum and to Den Haag to return to the Mauritshuis. If I can find a way there I’ll also go to the Koller-Muller museum located in a large park in the center of Holland. It contains more than 100 paintings by Vincent Van Gogh as well as works by other famous artists.

Later in my journey I’ll be in Madrid for a day at the Prado and for my first visit to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum and the Reina Sofia. Some critics call the Prado collection the greatest in the world. Perhaps, perhaps not. There certainly are many great works of art to be found there.

My love of early art extends farther back in time than the 15th century. In France I love exploring some of the many churches constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries. They often contain primitive sculpture, particularly at the tops of the columns supporting a roof and cloisters. When my journey continues to Sicily I expect to find even older artworks in the archaeological museums there.

In Ireland I’ll enjoy again the fine National Art Museum and the treasures to be found in the National Museum of Ireland. I’m looking forward to visiting for the first time the Decorative Arts & History museum in Dublin as well. And then to London and the great collection at the National Gallery.

From there, who knows? Maybe I’ll stay longer and add Vienna, Frankfurt …

As I travel I’ll update this blog regularly with stories of my explorations as well as photos. I hope you’ll follow along. We’ll see some fabulous art!

 

 

A New Beginning

New Beginning: sunrise over Venice

New Beginning: sunrise over Venice

I believe it’s time now to begin this blog again. Last October I returned home from a wonderful trip to Greece, Turkey and the Mediterranean, ready to write about my adventures. Four weeks later my life changed completely when my beloved husband, George, died.

George gave me a precious gift: the opportunity to pursue my many interests. The best of these occurred in 2001-02 when we traveled around Europe for eleven months! We sailed to England on the old QE2. We traveled from Ireland to Russia, from Norway to Spain. My life was changed forever.

A few months after George’s death I bought a small cottage in the town of New Bern, North Carolina. We had been living in a golf-course community outside New Bern since 2001 but I wanted an older, smaller home in town.  I found the perfect place. Moving and settling in has taken months! Then I spent more months planning a gathering of family and friends to honor George’s memory in our Massachusetts home town. Shortly after that I was made a member of a jury for a trial that lasted for weeks.  Then I was asked to create a slide presentation for my 50th high school reunion. When I returned from the reunion a few days ago my head was filled with ideas for my future travels and for this blog. I’m ready to begin again.

I hope my blog will encourage others to explore the world. Get off the bus! Skip the cruise! As a retired travel agent I’ve often helped clients spend $12,000 for a two-week European vacation for two people. With that budget I could travel around Europe for three or four months!

Here’s my advice to those who want to be travelers, not tourists: Invest your time and money in really discovering new places. This blog was begun to share little-known places that I’ve enjoyed. On this blog I’ll create pages filled with ideas and suggestions to help you make traveling more interesting, more comfortable and more affordable. I’ll share with you links to websites and blogs that I find very useful.  Please share your “finds” with me in the “Comments” section below.

I hope you’ll want to come along with me!