Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hotel Buffet Communion.

In the morning, when I dress and make my way to the hotel breakfast buffet with the other guests, I notice we are all alike. I study their faces, eyes puffy, faces creased from sleeping too hard or not enough, hair damp and tousled. We don't speak, we don't even speak the same language. We don't try to impress one another.

Some of us behave well, some of us don't, elbowing in to take the last sticky bun or taking too much cheese, surreptitiously building a sandwich for lunch.

I never quite know how to use the coffee machines so prevalent in Europe so I stand too long, hesitating before pushing the buttons, annoying the coffee-starved queue behind me.

No one in the hotel dining room realizes it, but on these mornings when I am far from home, I consider them my traveling family. We are strangers,  but our need is the same and it brings us together: We are hungry. We need caffeine. We are far from home.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Beautiful View: Norway through my Hurtigruten porthole

August was filled with adventure, but my time in Norway was the stuff of dreams. I finally cruised the coast of Norway with Hurtigruten.
I'd studied the photos and words of others who had been there, and the cruise was at the top of my wish list. This summer I finally made it to that beautiful country.

I wrote about the trip for my Home Planet blog and recorded the essay for Spokane Public Radio.

"For 120 years Hurtigruten Coastal Cruisers have been steaming up and down the Norwegian coast delivering people and goods to the cities and small towns that dot the coastline. And, as if the physical landscape is not breathtaking enough, the seasons add their own drama. In the winter snow covers the rocks and trees and the Northern Lights wash the dark night sky with colors that flicker and dance. In the summer the midnight sun takes over and one day becomes another without a sunset and the water is a smooth as glass."

You can read the rest of the column here

Thursday, August 15, 2013

King Crab Safari at Kirkenes, Norway

(Read my Home Planet column: Feasting on Crab at Kirkenes, Norway)

We climbed onto the boat and straddled the padded humps that served as seats on our King Crab Safari boat. Our guide pulled slowly out into the fjord at Kirkenes, Norway, before picking up speed. The cold wind whipped my hair and caught my breath as we skirted the shore.

Our guide used a motorized winch to haul up the basket and pulled out more than a dozen giant crabs and took us to the small shack that had been fashioned into a dining hall. He prepared the crabs and then steamed them to perfection. 

It was a feast of abundance. 

The sweet, salty taste of the giant crabs was like nothing else I've ever eaten. And, I suspect, like nothing else I will ever taste again.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Vigeland Park, Oslo

Near the center of Oslo, a sprawling garden draws locals and tourists every day of the year. The Vigelandsparken, also known as Frognerparken, was designed by sculptor Gustav Vigeland to display the more than 200 sculptures of stone, bronze and iron he created. A massive Monolith with 121 carved into a single stone captures the beauty, pain and struggle of human existence. 

The park was completed between 1939 and 1949, a time of war and social upheaval around the world. 

The morning I visited a soft rain was falling and it deepened the effect of his work, adding drama and emotion to the faces of the sculptures.

 If I lived in Oslo I would visit the park at all times of the day, chasing the light to see the way it paints the figures. 

Cruising the Coast of Norway with Hurtigruten

I'm taking the Hurtigruten coastal cruiser Midnatsol south along the coast of Norway from Kirkenes to Bergen. 

This is not like any other voyage I've ever taken. There isn't the glitz of a mega-ship or the all-inclusive luxury of a European river cruise. It reminds me of a train as we stop at small towns along the way, taking on new passengers or watching others go on their way. Hurtigruten's history as mail ships and a way for Norwegians to travel easily up and down the coast is a rich one. And not far beneath the surface today. 

There isn't any loud music or party on the top deck. The passengers are focused on the view, with good reason: the Norwegian  landscape is unlike any other. Craggy mountains, deep mysterious fjords, barren islands and vibrant, colorful, cities compete for attention.
The sky is light deep into the night, pulling me to the window when I should be sleeping. 

I am in the land of the Vikings and I cannot get enough of this view. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Baby Steps: Another 'Third Life' Lesson

"Years ago, I threw myself headlong into into mothering. It was the most frighteningly wonderful thing I have ever done or will ever do. And the reward? Four unique adults who made their way confidently out of my nest just as this little one stepped in." Read the rest

In this week's Home Planet column for the Spokesman-Review, I wrote about watching my granddaughter learn to walk. I raised four children so watching babies crawl and learn to put one foot in front of another is nothing new. But this time, perhaps it's because as the grandmother I have the freedom to step back and observe while her parents do the hard work, I noticed that as she began to take her first steps she never once looked at her feet. She was completely focused on where she wanted to go.

There's a lesson for all of us in that, I think. It's so easy to keep our eyes on our feet and never once look up to see where we are, where we've been and where we're headed.

Now, in my third life, I’m taking baby steps again. I’ve packed everything I have learned from growing up, navigating a marriage, raising a family, building a career and living an ordinary life in an extraordinarily complicated world. I've got a lot of experience and a little wisdom and I still have the curiosity of a child.

I’m ready to step back out into the world and see a few things.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Girl in the Garden

For a few minutes tonight, I was 8 years old again.

After dinner, I stayed outside playing in the back yard until I suddenly realized the sun was long gone and it was getting too dark to see clearly. The lights in the house were bright through the windows.

Still unwilling to go inside and let the day fade away completely, I sat on the back step listening to the birds sing out in the dark as they called it a day. Something must have dropped down my collar while I was digging around under the rose bushes and I wriggled as I tried to find whatever was tickling me. My hair was tangled with leaves and petals.

The air was cool and soft and smelled like flowers and dirt. My cats stalked imaginary prey in the grass. I was tired and dirty and perfectly content to be exactly where I was at that moment.

When I finally opened the back door and stepped inside, I didn't feel at all like a grandmother. I felt like a girl who'd made the most of a long summer afternoon.

That's the beauty of this stage I call my third life. Sometimes, when I least expect it, I turn a corner and find myself.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

There is nowhere like the Northwest

More often than not, flying home from a trip means I have to fly into Seattle or Portland to catch a short flight back over to Spokane. Sometimes, when I'm already tired and jet lagged, I grumble. But every now and then I look out the window and I'm reminded that extra hop is a gift. There is nowhere like the Northwest. 

Last Saturday, making my way back home from a week in the south of France followed by a cruise from Quebec City to Boston on the Holland America Veendam, I flew into clear skies and a beautiful sunset that washed Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams with soft, beautiful hues. Like a lot of others on the Alaska Airlines flight, I pulled out my phone and  snapped a photo. It reminds me that I'm fortunate to live where I do and the extra miles it takes to get home are an opportunity to see things most people only dream about. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rediscovering the Pleasures of Solo Travel

When I was younger I thought nothing of getting on a plane or train or hopping in my car and heading off to somewhere I'd never been before. And I never minded going alone. But after I married, and then started a family, those solo trips were few and far between. Oh, I got away occasionally, but for the most part, we traveled as a family.

It wasn't until my children grew up and started leaving the nest, and my time was once again my own, that I felt comfortable taking off on my solitary adventures again. And I've discovered I'm in good company.

Maybe it was the influence of Eat, Pray, Love or simply a reflection of some other social marker, but it seems  the number of women who are choosing to travel alone is increasing. And I don't mean college students or gap-year wanderers.

I keep meeting and hearing from women who, like me, have worked hard and raised a family and are now enjoying the freedom of an empty nest.

Travel is a gift we can give ourselves, and solo travel is especially rewarding. It gives me time to think and time to write. In fact, I've written about the unique guilt and rewards of being a  traveling mother.

I like to think by not being afraid to strike out and go somewhere on my own, I'm an example of independence to my daughters. In this week's Home Planet column at The Spokesman-Review, I wrote about being a woman who sometimes goes it alone and I shared a list of a few of the things I've learned along the way.

Read Tips for Women Who Travel Alone and tell me what you would add to the list.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

D-Day Veterans and the Beaches of Normandy

 Earlier this month I was speaking to a representative of the Normandy region of France. When asked about the annual pilgrimage of WWII veterans who make the long trip to revisit the D-Day beaches that were the site of their war experience, he said something that made me think.

"This is probably the last year, or one of the last years we can expect veterans to attend," he said.

The men and women who fought in the war are fading away. Each week's obituary page is filled with notices. Soon, they will all be gone.

In late November 2012, I toured the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. I strolled through the garden, read the names inscribed on the wall and studied the sculpture and fountain commemorating the battle. It was deeply moving to think about the scope and drama of the events of June 6, 1944. More than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and 150,000 servicemen were involved. It was, from all accounts, hell on earth.

I'd like to make the trip to the beaches of Normandy while there's still time to see it through the eyes of the men--and women--who were there. Before they're all gone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Birmingham, Alabama #ThisTimeLastYear

Last spring I made a quick trip to Birmingham, Alabama. If you've never been south in the spring you've missed a treat. The azaleas and jonquils are blooming and birds are singing.

I snapped this shot of the historic Quinlan Castle on the city's South Side. Built in 1927 as an apartment building, the iconic structure is now part of Southern Research Institute. #ThisTimeLastYear

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Search for the Perfect Suitcase

I've taken to hiding them, shoving the new suitcase in the back of a closet or under the bed. The last thing I want to call attention to is the fact that I've bought yet another piece of luggage.

Like so many other travelers, I am constantly searching for the perfect bag. Not too big and not too small. I need it to be tough, but easy to manage. I want it to be heavy-duty but light enough to carry and easy to push down a crowded airport terminal with the one finger. And, of course, it must have wheels that spin 360 degrees.

I don't want much do I?

In this week's Home Planet column, I wrote about my endless search for the perfect bag. And, judging from the emails, I'm not alone. So, how about you? What's your favorite?

(The monster bag in the photo made a three-week Christmas shopping sweep with me through Wisconsin, Texas and on to a cruise in the Caribbean. I got home with all my treasures but hauling it around wasn't any fun! Never again.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Darling I love you, but give me 5th Avenue

Any day of the week Alaska Airlines flights are busy ferrying people from Spokane to Seattle. It's where we go to play, to get away and, for many of us, to get a little work done.

I decided to go over the day before the meeting and do a little shopping before the lunch on Tuesday. (I had a pocket full of Nordstrom Notes I'd been saving all year I and wanted to hit the Rack while I was in town.)

Two things drew me to the Red Lion 5th Avenue: it was right in the heart of downtown, close to Pike Place Market and the stores I wanted. And, it was a way to stay "local" even when I'm out of town.

Red Lion Hotels is headquartered in Spokane. I figure booking a room at a Red Lion Hotel helps my local economy, even if it's in a small way.

It was my first time at the 5th Avenue and I couldn't have been happier. My room looked out over Elliott Bay and the iconic market sign and the bed was comfy.  I was able to check in early, shop, have dinner and then sleep in before heading out to my noon meeting. It was like a mini-vacation with a little work tossed in for good measure.

In the past I've booked a last-minute room wherever I could find the best deal, and I usually had to walk or take the rail around town. From now on, to quote Zsa Zsa Gabor, just give me 5th Avenue.