Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jasper National Park: Maligne Canyon Ice Caves

Last January I spent a week exploring Alberta, Canada. A favorite stop was the Maligne Canyon ice cave in Jasper National Park. We were guided by Overlander Trekking and I was so taken with the experience I wrote about it for my Home Planet column in The Spokesman-Review.

I illustrated the column with a photo of my hand print on the frosted stone surface of the canyon.

The essay was also recorded for Spokane Public Radio.

Prague: Castle with a View

The second day we were in Prague, in mid-September, we took another route to the castle district, approaching through a large park instead of across the Charles Bridge.

Walking the path to the Prague Castle I caught this glimpse through the thick foliage, still green in early fall.

It's easy to imagine that this is the same view one might have had hundreds of years ago. A fairy tale view.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Montana Roundup

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

It was like stepping into an iconic Montana billboard. Watching cowboys rounding up bucking horses for the next day's rodeo during the 2010 North American Indian Days in Browning, Montana, I was struck by the beauty of it all. I felt the vibration of the thundering hooves as the herd appeared over the hill. I listened to the men shouting as they rode, reining in their mounts, moving in and out to force the horses into the proper corral. Foals whinnied for their mothers and the herd's stallion reared and postured as he circled the corral.

It was the kind of moment that brings me back to Montana again and again.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Sunset on the Rhine

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Last year, in December 2010, I took a cruise down the Rhine River. At that time, due to early snows and a big melt, the river was extremely high. The day had been gray and cloudy but just at sunset the cover broke and the sunset painted the sky with fiery clouds. The air was cold as we cruised down the river but I stood on the boat's observation deck until the sun dropped out of sight.
That's the power of a beautiful sunset. Think how many similar images you have in your photo files. I know I do. But when the sky lights up we can't help it. We stop and take one more photograph, marking one more beautiful ending to a day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Suite Dreams: Hotel Le Littre, Paris

In January of 2011, my daughter and I ran away to Paris for a few days. We checked in to the Hotel Le Littre and were delighted to find we'd been put in a deluxe room. Our room in the hotel, which was built in 1924, was incredibly spacious for Paris. It was practically a suite. There were two beds and a sofa and sitting area.(Most of the time the sofa was covered by the packages we brought home each night.)

The bathroom featured an enormous tub and my daughter spent an hour or so each evening soaking and reading. (An excellent treatment for jet lag.)
As I lay trying to fall asleep each night, I thought about the history of the hotel and the vibrant history of Paris itself.

Each morning we walked down to the main-floor restaurant and had breakfast (included in the package price.) The milk for our coffee was poured from elegant little hotel-silver monogrammed pitchers.

As any traveler knows, where you rest your head each night matters. It makes or breaks the trip.

My trip to Paris with my daughter is already a very special memory. But our week in a beautiful room in a delightful little hotel made the whole thing even sweeter.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ornamental Travel

I've started putting away the decorations and moving toward the new year. It sometimes takes me as long to undecorate as it did to dress the tree. I stop and look at each ornament - many of which were gathered on my travels - and remember the adventures of the previous twelve months.
This hand-painted glass ball was one of the last I picked up before Christmas. I found it in a little shop in Heidelberg in early December.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tintin Comes to America

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I spent a week in Belgium in October of this year. While I was there I got a sneak peek at Steven Spielberg's new movie The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. I loved it.
Almost as much fun as the action-packed movie was the party that Brussels threw to celebrate the premier. Aerialists "danced" across the giant billboard as celebrities walked the red carpet. Spielberg made an appearance, as did members of the Royal Family.
Streets were packed with vintage cars and vintage camera clubs.

I read the Tintin books when I was a girl but most people in the U.S. have never heard of the gutsy young journalist.

I wrote more in my Spokesman-Review column. Read my Tintin essay here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Planes, Trains and German Christmas Markets

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

After spending two nights in Nuremberg, the Deutche Bahn ICE train brought us to Frankfurt in just over two hours. The trains in Europe are part of the experience. Clean, fast and dependable, they make traveling easy and keep me wanting to go back.

We strolled through the Frankfurt Market, marking the last night of the trip, picking up a few more treats. Tomorrow we catch our flight home with all the candied almonds, gingerbread and sweet German chocolate we can carry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Nuremberg Christmas Angel

(photo by R.B.Millsap)

During the four weeks of Advent in Nuremberg, Germany, the annual Christmas market--spread across the Hauptmarkt under festive red and white striped rooftops--is the center of life. Shoppers come to buy gifts, people gather with friends and co-workers to have a mug of gluhwein and small children flock to catch a glimpse of the Christmas Angel.

The angel--always a young woman from Nuremberg who is between 16 and 19 years old--wears a crown, long blond curls and golden wings, and opens the market with a poem.

She serves for two years and then, after her term in Nuremberg is up, spends the next two years visiting select Christmas Markets in the U.S. One special location is the Christkindle Market in Chicago, Illinois, which is modeled after the Nuremberg market.

Among the requirements to be considered for the role of Nuremberg Christmas Angel are the stipulations that she have the ability to "withstand bad weather" and "have a very good head for heights." This last is especially important as in order to proclaim the market open, she must perch on a platform high above the crowd.

Today we met 16-year-old Franziska Handke, the 2011 and 2012 Christmas Angel and representative of the city. She was incredibly poised and gracious with the children who pressed close to have a closer look. Like the rest of the crowd, we were dazzled.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Stollen at the Munich Christkindlemarkt

(Photo by R. B. Millsap)

We spent our last full day in Munich exploring the smaller Christkindle Markets around the center of town and ended up near the Viktualienmarkt, a year-round food and flower market just off the Marienplatz, When she saw us taking a photo of her stall, Renate grabbed a cake and posed for the camera. After a sample, she made the sale. We'll have a Stollenbacker stollen for the holiday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Urban river surfing in Munich, Germany

River surfing in a canal in downtown Munich? Never imagined such a thing. I was cold just taking the video.

Christmas in Munich: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(Photo by R. B. Millsap)

Strolling along the Munich Christkindlemarkt, passing crowded gluhwein stands and people shopping for hand carved items to add to the family creche, we noticed a crowd in front of shop windows along the Marienplatz. Families were pressed close to the windows to watch a world of mechanical bears and other stuffed animals. But it was the faces of the children that told the tale.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark December

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Whether we're away, navigating unfamiliar streets in an unfamiliar city, or just on our way home from the grocery store, the darkness of an early winter evening can disorient us. Especially in Dark December.

Read my essay here.

Street Santas in Strasbourg: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I was walking down one of the narrow streets of beautiful Strasbourg, France in December 2010. The town was decorated for the annual Christmas market and I stumbled onto these three Pere Noel impersonators making holiday music as shoppers hurried past with their purchases.

It's a pair of Pere and a spare.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Frankfurt Christmas Market: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Strolling through the Frankfurt Christmas Market, we stopped by the M. Eiserloh stall for Susse Mandelbar (sugared almonds.) The Eiserloh family covers almonds in everything from the classic hard-candy shell to hot chili to Bailey's Irish Cream to 24-carat gold. My favorite souvenir so far? A big bag of classic almonds. The extra weight in my luggage will be worth it when I put them on the table this Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trier, Germany: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

The Porta Nigra, the Roman gate at Trier, Germany, has stood for 1,800 years. To pass through it is impressive. To climb the winding staircase and look out on the beautiful city of Trier is a celebration of time and history. Imagine the lives lived in the shadow of the gate. Imagine the footsteps on the Roman road. Trier is now a favorite place is this beautiful country.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Frohes Fest at Koblenz: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Sitting at the German Corner, the point where the Mosel and Rhine rivers meet, the ciy of Koblenz hold court. Like most German towns, Koblenz is now holding a Christmas Market each year during Advent.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Alamo: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

During the day, the Alamo stands in the center of San Antonio, Texas. At night, it feels as though the old mission stands in the center of the universe. It is illuminated and glows and gazing at the weathered stone building it is impossible not to be drawn in to the history and drama of the place.

I was there for the 175th anniversary of the battle and snapped this photo just before dawn, as the ceremony was about to begin. You can read my essay about that experience in my Spokesman-Review column History asks one thing: Remember.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park: Today's Travel Photo #TTP@CAMera

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Standing on the shore of Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald in the middle of winter quiets you. You whisper if you speak at all. The air is cold and clear and the sky, mountains and lake blend into one beautiful scene.

You can read more in my Spokesman-Review column, Winter in Glacier National Park.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Early morning in Basel, Switzerland: Today's Travel Photo

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap. Rights reserved)

Blue-white morning sky, December 2010. This was taken early in the morning as our Rhine River Cruise ended in Basel, Switzerland.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reading on the Road

I carried two books with me as I left for Vancouver, British Columbia. I had been reading The Nazi Officer's Wife, by Edith Hahn Beer, on my earlier trip to New Mexico. The book, which was made into a documentary in 2003, is the true story of a young Jewish woman in Vienna in the 1930s and during WWII. Beer survived time in a forced labor camp and the loss of  friends and family, before going underground in Munich. While there she married a Nazi officer and managed to hide her identity. In the book she recounts a terrifying life during the war. Her story is made more powerful by the fact that she was able to save photographs and documents which have been placed in the permanent collection of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  It is always so hard to imagine the way the round-up and murder of so many Jews was able to go on while the U.S. remained neutral.

I finished the book during the trip and started the second, The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake. The story, set in a fictional town on Cape Cod is centered around the town's Postmaster in the last days before U.S. involvement, and  Frankie Bard,  an American journalist in England covering the war in Europe between 1940 and 1942.

It was just by chance that I started the one book before the other but I think it was more interesting that way. The true story put the spotlight on Austria and Germany. The novel illustrated just how removed we were before Pearl Harbor changed everything.
I finished the final book tonight. And reading both so close together left me with much to think about.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Solitary Travel and the Golden Circle

(photo of Iceland's Pinviller National Park by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Iceland is a good destination for a woman traveling alone. The people are friendly. Reykjavik is a safe city. The food is delicous - fermented shark and charred sheep's head aside - and the excursions are inexpensive and well-organized.

Reykjavik Excursions
is one of the largest tour organizers. You can book excursions online, by phone or - in the case of the Hilton Nordica - at the concierge desk in the lobby. Buses pick you up at the hotel and deliver you (almost) to the door at the end of the day.

I opted to first add the Golden Circle tour which took us up to the Geysir geothermal field, the Gullfoss Waterfall and the awe-inspiring Pingviller National Park (pronounced Thing-viller) and then, the next day, the South Shore Adventure. The South Shore loop carried us as far as the village of Vik past the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skogaafoss waterfall and the Myrdalsjokull Glacier. The glacier was still covered in ash from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.

Sea legs

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When the TravelZoo fare alert landed in my inbox, I was working. I had deadlines to meet. I didn't have time to do any wishful thinking. But the Icelandair sale was so good I stopped what I was doing and within minutes had booked the trip.
So I would have to write another story to pay for it. So what? It was just too good to pass up.

The package included a three-hour whale-watching tour. Whale-watching excursions don't guarantee a sighting but the chances are excellent that in spring or fall that the weather - and the sea - will be unsettled.

On the morning of my trip we started out on glassy seas under partly cloudy skies. But an hour into the loop, the winds rose suddenly and the seas began to roll. What followed was epic. People all over the boat turned green and threw up. Entire families were huddled on the decks or below, clutching sick-bags and retching. The boat was tossing so hard I had to wrap my arm around a pipe and hold on tight. I zipped my coat around me and made sure I could keep my eyes on the place where the overcast sky fell into the icy ocean.

By the time the trip ended its three-hour run, I was one of the few left standing.
This was a total surprise. I've never spent much time on rough water and I always harbored a secret suspicion that I would be the first to fall when the boat started rocking. Who knew?

Of course, there were no whales. They were safe below the surface. Only silly humans would come out to play on such a day.

But, now I know. I know something we all learn sooner or later: when things get rough sometimes all you can do is keep your eye on the horizon. Sometimes, all you can do is hold on, focus on the place where the sky meets the edge of the world and ride it out.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chocolate souvenirs

In a box in the basement, there are four baskets. Easter baskets. Each of my children has had their own basket since their first Easter. Always filled on Easter Morning with the usual fare: chocolate bunnies, Peeps, stuffed animals, trinkets and treasures.

The children are grown now. Well, almost. The only one left at home is the "baby" and she is 15.
I don't stay up late stuffing plastic eggs to be hunted the next day. I don't buy stuffed animals. No one wakes up at dawn ready to go outside to hunt for the basket left by the Easter Bunny. No one relishes the idea of chocolate before breakfast because for all I know they eat chocolate for breakfast - or cold pizza and leftover beer - every day. They are on their own, after all.

Last year I filled a big basket with all kinds of chocolate and candies and then let my children pick what they wanted to take away with them when they returned to their own homes or went back to school. I decided to do it again this year.

I woke up this morning to find my son asleep on the sofa. He'd slipped in in the wee hours without saying a word. While he slept around the corner of the doorway, I pressed a pot of coffee and filled the basket with chocolate eggs, gummies, licorice, toffee and milk chocolate bars from Iceland. It was all hand-carried on the plane and tenderly transported home.

To me, there is great significance in the basket on the table today. It marks the changes in the way we live. They make their way home to me and I welcome them with souvenirs of places I wandered off to while they were gone.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Delta Blues in the Land of the Midnight Sun

I haven't had this much musical fun in another city since the jazz band in Budapest found out I can sing St James Infirmary.
American music is big all over the world. But uniquely American music is a passion for some in other countries. Particularly Jazz and the blues.

While I was staying at the Hilton Nordica, just out of the main city area, the hotel was hosting Bluesfelag Reykjavikur. The Reykjavik Bluesfest.

Each night the hotel bar filled with the sound of the blues - done with an Icelandic twist. Men dresses as Jake and Elwood walked around in shades and fedoras. Long vintage Cadillacs were parked out front, some decorated with American flags. They advertised than an actual Mississippi Blues singer Marquis Knox would be appearing. I watched the Lame Dudes rock out to the Reykjavik Boogie. (Video on YouTube.)

Of all the things I expected to see, the annual Reykjavik tradition of celebrating an oh-so-American musical style was totally unexpected.

And that kind of lagniappe is exactly what keeps me flying.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sea Baron lobster soup. Perfect.

Tonight, after a tip from another tourist who'd read about it in the New York Times, I made my way down to the Sea Baron. The little shack on the harbor is the place for authentic Iceland lobster soup.

The place is tiny, with seating for no more than 20, if everyone gets very friendly. The choices are slim. Lobster soup or whale and fish kebabs.

I ordered the soup, pulled one of the small barrels with cushioned tops that serve as stools, and sat down at one of the three long single-plank tables.

In a minute my food was delivered. One bowl of soup. One basket of bread and butter. One ubiquitous Egil's Gull beer.

It will go down on my list as one of my favorite meals. Nothing fancy. Just delicious food served simply.

Monday, April 18, 2011

There are benefits to traveling alone. You set your own schedule. You set your own pace. But there are disadvantages, as well. It can be lonely at times.

There is no one to share a picnic with or point out interesting things to. There's no one to take a photo of you. If you want a souvenir, you have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Today, walking along the waterfront in Reykjavik, Iceland, I watched a family with teenagers stop and take photos in front of the magnificent stainless steel "Solfar" or "Sun Voyager" sculpture. I finally asked a woman I assumed to the be the mother if she'd take my photo. She was happy to and seemed to enjoy it. She took several and while the wind whipped our hair and we took turns with our photographs, we chatted. She was there with her children. I was there without mine and I missed them.

It was the first time to Iceland for both of us.

A snapshot of yourself done on your cell phone is fine now and then, but it's hard to get any distance or scale. I admit I do have qualms about handing over my camera to a stranger, always imagining someone taking off with it. So, I choose carefully. Like today. The bonus is I met and lovely woman. And I have a photo to remind me of a lovely day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Solo Flight

There is a certain grace to growing older. It brings opportunities that were lost in the day-to-day commitment to parenting and work. After years of staying home with small children, and the boundaries of my work, I am free to fly again. Within reason, of course.
So I do. Whenever I can.
Tomorrow I'm off for a week alone in Reykjavik, Iceland.
I can't wait.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Late summer in Vancouver, British Columbia is glorious. The weather is warm, the sun shines and the water is a s blue as the sky.

I spent a few days in August 2010 exploring Vancouver on my own. The first thing you notice - besides how beautiful - is how walkable the city is. You can stroll from one side to another in minutes.

After two work-related nights at the ShangriLa (Vancouver’s tallest building) I transferred to the Wedgewood Hotel. It was easy to wheel my suitcase between the two hotels, no need to call a taxi. Where the ShangriLa is the epitome of high-rise gloss, the Wedgewood is as elegant and timeless as a string of pearls.

My suite came with a sitting room and a beautiful wrought-iron balcony overlooking the Vancouver Art Gallery and the boulevard below. It reminded me of vintage boutique hotels in Paris. One highlight was having dinner at Bacchus, the restaurant on the main floor. At night, the restaurant sparkles with fine china and crystal. The food is delicious and wonderfully prepared. Breakfast in the same room is as open and airy as a Paris bistro. Wide windows open so that tables along the wall are seated in the morning sun.

I strolled along the seawall, took the Aquabus to Granville Island Public Market and shopped downtown. Later I took a Vancouver Urban Adventures walking tour of Gastown and Chinatown.

Vancouver, British Columbia is a truly multicultural city. At least 50 percent of its residents are Asian but walking down the street you hear any number of other languages and accents.

It’s also a city committed to a greener way of life.

Judy Ahola, marketing director at the Fairmont Waterfront, introduced me to Graeme Evans. As part of the Fairmont chain’s commitment to green initiatives, Evans developed a successful beekeeping enterprise on the pool terrace of the hotel. I wrote about him in my Growing Green column at DownToEarthNW.

When it was time to go, I caught the light rail to the airport. The short ride, and a conversation with the Wedgewood Hotel’s Joanna Tsaparas-Pich√©, were the inspiration for this Home Planet essay, The Universal Language for The Spokesman-Review.
I loved my weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia but it wasn’t enough. I think I’ll book another trip soon.