Travel Talk – Worst Travel Experience

If you’ve done any amount of traveling, it’s happened to you – a missed flight, lost luggage, a cancelled tour (anyone book a Thomas Cook tour recently?!) The key, of course, is to not let it ruin your trip; consider it a challenge to develop your coping skills! Sometimes the alternative turns out better than you planned!

Fortunately (so far) my travel experiences have been fairly straightforward – lost luggage (found and returned to me the next day), food poisoning (spent a day sick in bed – in Paris! – willing my insides to stop revolting against me), getting lost (I do this All. The. Time. You’d think I’d learn.) Maybe the worst was when my plane caught on fire which sounds terribly dramatic, but the plane was still at the gate and I think it was a fire in the galley, not the airplane itself. It did mean we had to disembark and wait four hours for another plane which meant I missed my connection in Detroit where I had to stay overnight (the airline paid) and got home a day late. Fortunately, everything was fine in the end and it didn’t ruin the trip and look, it makes a great story!

Here’s Michelle’s epic travel nightmare!

Travel delays are par for the course, but in May of 2011, my husband and I had an epic tale of a return flight.  The trip that should have been hours, but turned into days – all because of the eruption of an Icelandic volcano named Grimsvotn.

Our plane departed a little late from Copenhagen, Denmark, which delayed us when we reached Manchester, England.  We made it in time for the flight but since we arrived less than an hour from takeoff to Chicago, we were told we could not board (even though the plane was about 50 feet away from us).  We had to go through customs, get our luggage and hope we could find a flight quickly.  This would not be ideal, since many airports were starting to cancel flights because of the volcano’s ash that was approached the UK, we knew we had to get out or risk being stuck in Manchester, which could likely be days, not hours.

After a couple of hours, we were booked on a flight to Chicago via London.  We quickly realized that making this flight would land us in Chicago at nearly 8:30 in the evening and we did not have a flight or hotel booked for that night.  Once we made it to Chicago, my sister-in-law picked us up and we went back to her house in the Chicago suburbs.  It would be a short visit before we headed back to O’Hare in the morning. In the morning, we rode the Metra train to O’Hare only to find out that our flight to Moline was canceled.  We made a spit decision to rent a car one-way (not the cheapest option) and finally made it home that night!  As Ann mentioned in her post, it does make for a great story!

Now it’s your turn – what has been your worst Travel Experience? Let us know in the comments! And please, only stories that end well!

Travel Talk – Preserving the Memory

So, you’ve gone on a fabulous trip, or have one coming up. Now the question is, how do you hang onto those happy memories?

Photo book. There are dozens of companies that help you put together a photo album of your trip at a variety of price points and features. These can be lots of fun to make and you don’t need a lot of technological skills. Just upload your photos to the company’s program, choose your templates and go! I love photography and always make a photo album when I get home from a trip – it’s a great way to relive and remember a special time.

Scrapbook. Take all those brochures and ticket stubs and business cards and put together a scrapbook. I also like to include things like candy bar wrappers and small paper shop bags, anything that is unique and different from home. You can add handwritten notes about the different objects or decorate the pages however you want. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to make a scrapbook – it is for your enjoyment. (The same is true of photo books)

Postcards. You’ll find post cards everywhere of course, even if snail mail is on the decline. They’re a great alternative if you’re not interested in photography, or want a perfect shot of a famous landmark or one you wouldn’t be able to get (like a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Canyon) I pass on the kitschy, jokey postcards, but if that’s your jam, go for it. I love museums and like to grab a few postcards of favorite paintings – they are much better quality than anything I can photograph (and sans tourists!) and look lovely in a frame in my house.

Souvenirs. Every major (and many not-so-major) tourist destination will have souvenirs for sale. A lot of times these are, shall we say, not terribly sophisticated or subtle. Again, if that’s your jam, go for it – not judging. But if you’re looking for something more authentic, I suggest that you shop for souvenirs at the local grocery store. Candy bars (both fancy and regular), coffee, tea and mustard made in the country you’re visiting are excellent choices and easy to fit into a carry on (if you don’t go overboard which I tend to do!). If you have checked baggage, you can take home local wines and olive oils; I’ve even heard of people bringing French butter home in their suitcase!

The ultimate goal, of course, is to have something that reminds you of a trip – the different atmosphere, the culture, the inspirational things you saw, the happy memories.

Now it’s your turn – what do you bring home from your travels?

 

 

Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 2

Hello Travel Fans!

It’s time for our next installment of travel in Iowa! This month Michelle is describing some of the beautiful, natural places to explore in Iowa – it’s not all corn fields here! Over to you Michelle.

Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames – Part of Iowa State University in Ames, Reiman Gardens is a serene space that offers 17 acres of outdoor gardens, an indoor butterfly garden, tropical plant conservatory and endless learning opportunities.  Did I forget to mention it is also the home of Elwood, the world’s largest concrete gnome?  The gardens also feature periodic exhibitions and this summer’s exhibition is “Toys & Games,” in which toys inspired by nature are sprinkled throughout the gardens.  The gardens are open daily and offer something for everyone!

Effigy Mounds near Harpers Ferry – Effigy Mounds National Monument is a perfect day trip in the far northeastern part of the state.  The free trails allows visitors to hike near the animal shaped mounds constructed during the Late Woodland Period (between 800 and 1600 years ago).  According to the National Park Service, these mounds were a regional cultural phenomenon.  Mounds of earth in the shapes of birds, deer, bison lynx and turtle abound.  Some archeologists believe the mounds were built to mark celestial events or seasonal occurrences.  Others speculate the as boundaries between or markers between groups, but it is unclear exactly what was the purpose of the Mounds.  Hiking up to the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River gives a beautiful view of the surrounding area.  Also, near Harpers Ferry are the picturesque towns of Marquette, McGregor and Pikes Pike State Park, which is also a great place to see views of the river.

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge – The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is just south of Des Moines near the Colfax and Mingo exit in Prairie City.  Visit the extensive learning center and walk the number of trails that offer a variety of easy hikes.  To see the bison and elk you will drive through their habitat and be prepared to see them up close – or not, depending on the day.  Even if you do not see as many bison or elk as you would like from your car, the learning center has binoculars in order to spot the herds up close.

 

 

Makes you want to jump in your car and explore these beautiful places, doesn’t it? I especially love the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. You can almost imagine what the Great Plains must have been like before cars and wagon trains.

What about you – what’s your favorite outdoor area to visit in Iowa?

Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 1

Hello and welcome back to Travel Talk! This month Michelle and I are starting a multi-part series about one of our favorite travel destinations – Iowa! Yeah, I know, Iowa is often maligned as boring (I just heard Jimmy Fallon call Iowa boring on the Tonight Show – grrrrr) and flat (yeah, join me on a bike ride and I’ll show you “flat”!) – no big cities (sorry Des Moines!), no dramatic mountains or beaches, no famous historical sites. If you believe that Iowa isn’t worth exploring, Michelle and I are here to change your mind. Iowa is full of beautiful and interesting places with the added bonus of close-to-home and smaller crowds.

Michelle starts us off with some hidden gems!

For the last 5 years or so, my husband and I have trekked around our great state of Iowa in order to discover out-of-the-way places and things.  Whether we start heading north, south or west we have discovered all sorts of interesting and notable places that are definitely worth a look if you want to discover all our state has to offer.  The following is the first of a blog post series with some remarkable points of interest.  We are starting with one of my personal favorites – architecture in Iowa.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Iowa – If you are an architecture fan, Mason City should be high on your list. Mason City boasts one of the largest concentrations of Prairie Style architecture.  Among the highlights is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Park Inn Hotel that has been restored to its full glory. The hotel restaurant, 1910 Grill, is fantastic and worth a stop for either breakfast or dinner.  Within walking distance is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Stockman House, which is open for guided tours and is accompanied by a noteworthy interpretive center.  Along the way check out the Music Man foot bridge and the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum, which holds a large collection of Bil Baird puppets.  The museum also includes the marionettes from The Sound of Music.  The museum also has an impressive permanent collection, including works by Jasper Johns, Keith Haring and Arthur Dove.

A gem of Iowa architecture can also be found in Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, near Cedar Rapids.  Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home for Lowell and Agnes Walter, which was completed in 1950 during the time Wright was designing Usonian houses.  After their passing, the home was given to the State of Iowa and now the Department of Natural Resources offers tours with a small suggested donation of $5.  Built near the Wapsipinicon River, the home has all the furniture and design elements original to the home.  Walk the grounds to the river and you can explore the boat house, also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Merchants National Bank (now the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and Grinnell Visitors Center) Architect Louis Sullivan, who was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor and first employer, designed this bank in 1914 and it makes up part of Grinnell’s downtown.  It is one of the eight “jewel box banks” that Sullivan designed in the Midwest.  Sullivan came up with the term and designed each bank to take on appearance of a jewelry box.  Stop by the bank and take in the ornamentation and details on both the interior and the exterior, which includes radiant stained glass windows and lion-like figures guarding the front doors.

What architectural gems have you found in Iowa? Share in the comments!

Stay tuned for the next installment! Still to come – wild places, museums and uniquely Iowa!

Travel Talk – Going Solo

I’ve just returned from a holiday in London, England. The weather was lovely, the cherry trees were in bloom and the museums and landmarks were magnificent. I ate some excellent food (scones with clotted cream! fish and chips!), wandered through gorgeous neighborhoods such as Notting Hill and Belgravia and visited some of the finest museums in the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery and the Tate Britain. I indulged in my love of gardens by visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (although, this is England, there are gardens everywhere!) and my love of photography by taking pictures of, well, everything! It was, in short, a wonderful trip.

And I did it all solo. No travel companion, no tour group. Just me.

Traveling solo can be hard and I certainly experienced a few bumps and mishaps. Apparently I have no sense of direction and inevitably, when I exited an Underground station (the public transportation system in London), I would go in the exact opposite direction that I needed. Every. Time. And I had to make every decision – where to go, when to go, where to eat, how to get somewhere. There is no one to point out and share any of the many new things you come across, or laugh with over any of the absurdities.

But it can also be incredibly rewarding. I may have always started going the wrong direction, but I also eventually figured it out – on my own – and got to my various destinations. I’m very proud of how I mastered the Underground with barely a blip, from Heathrow airport to central London and then all around London. If I wanted to sleep late or turn in early, I could and if I ate scones with clotted cream every day (which I did), there was no one to question my life choices. There was also no one wondering why the heck I was holding up progress by spending 10 minutes taking pictures of the same tree (I was experimenting with light settings and angles!) There is a huge amount of freedom when you travel solo, and a lot of valuable learning about yourself and what you’re capable of.

A fully solo international trip like this one isn’t for everyone of course, or for every trip. But I encourage you to try it someday if you haven’t already. Even going off on your own for a day or an afternoon can be very rewarding, especially if your interests are different from the people you’re traveling with; for instance, they want to go golfing but you’d really like to visit a museum. A lot of tour groups have built-in free time which would be perfect to venture somewhere on your own. If you need help (or get lost like I tend to), ask someone. I have found that most people are friendly and happy to help, especially when you are polite and respectful of local customs.

Need a little more encouragement? Here are a few books to check out.

The Solo Travel Handbook: Practical Tips and Inspiration for a Safe, Fun and Fearless Trip by Sarah Reid for lots of practical advice.

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom for inspiration.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed for an epic solo adventure.

What about you? Have you ever traveled solo? Where did you go? And how did you like traveling on your own? Tell us in the comments!

Travel Talk – April

When I was little, my family would go on a road trip every August. We would pack the car with snacks and coolers and suitcases filled with swimsuits and flip flops and head out to explore these United States. My Father loved history and natural beauty, so our summer vacations centered on the National Parks and historic sites. (To this day I’ve never been to a Walt Disney park, but have been to many, many Civil War and Revolutionary War sites and National and state parks!) Even now, when summer rolls around and it gets hot and sticky, it reminds me of  driving along endless highways watching America roll past from the backseat of my Dad’s Pontiac, following our route on road maps (this was looooong before GPS!) and the excitement of seeing new landscapes. It gave me the travel bug early on (and a love of history apparently) My parents may not have realized it, but these summer vacations became a legacy that continues to shape and influence me.

And yes, of course the Library has books to help you with your road trip plans! From the basics on where to stay and what to see, to books that spark your imagination. Not sure where to go? Try tailoring your trip to your interests. How fun would it be to spend the summer visiting Major League (or Minor League) baseball parks? Or looking for the best homemade pie or barbecue or craft beer in Iowa (or other defined area)? Maybe you’re not into history like my Dad, but you love trains or gems and rocks or flea markets. Believe me, there’s a road trip for just about any interest waiting for you.

If you prefer your road trips from the comfort of your living room, we have plenty of armchair road trip travel books too. Here’s a selection to get you started:

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui – a widow from India travels across America in search of her son.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac – the classic “road trip in search of oneself” book that my parents certainly wouldn’t have approved of!

The Wangs vs the World by Jade Change – having lost all their wealth, a Chinese immigrant family drives from California to New York and along the way reevaluate the American dream.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – coming to grips with loss and grief on a road trip with a friend.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson. Bryson sets about rediscovering his native country after living in England for many years.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Now that’s a road trip – Lewis and Clark’s epic exploration of the west.

What about you? Do you love road trips? Do you have any planned for the near future? Any favorite anecdotes from a road trip?

 

January Travel Talk – Why Travel?

Welcome to our first installment of Travel Talk. This month, we’re talking about the why of travel – why leave the comforts of home and travel somewhere new? What, if any, are the benefits? Why are some people compelled to travel? Why bother at all?

I consider myself a homebody that loves to travel, which kind of covers both extremes of the urge to travel or not. I’m perfectly happy spending time at home, surrounded by my books and cats and garden. I find that I have to really push myself to get up and get out – it’s a scary world out there! But when I do go I find I love it – seeing new things, experiencing different cultures, trying something that I wouldn’t at home. I come back with stories and memories that add to my life.

The reasons to travel can be as varied as there are people. It can be as fundamental as checking items off a bucket list, pursuing a hobby or interest, seeking the sun or the best snow slopes (depending on your preferences) or just a chance to say “I’ve been there.” And there are a lot of good-for-you reasons to travel too – it can make you healthier, happier and stronger. I think one of the greatest benefits of travel though is that it exposes you to different cultures, opening your eyes to our differences – and our similarities. You become a “citizen of the world” and create a stronger connection to others.

Some great books to get you thinking about the benefits of travel include

Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves

A Year Off: a Story About Traveling the World – and How to Make it Happen for You by Alexandra and David Brown

Rediscovering Travel: a Guide for the Globally Curious by Seth Kugal

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Traveling the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider

So why do I push out of my comfort zone and travel? Lots of reasons, of course, but my top three would be:

  1. Creative Inspiration. Whether it’s seeing great works of art or beautiful landscapes, I find lots of inspiration for my creative side.
  2. To Learn. Learning is not just for school children. It’s an ongoing experience for our whole lives. Learning makes me happy and engaged.
  3. To Have Stories to Tell. Travel never goes without hitches or the unexpected. In the end, they all make good stories both to share and to remember.

From Michelle: While in college, I was lucky enough to spend nearly four months in Vienna, Austria on a foreign term. Throughout this trip is where I discovered my love of travel.  The ability to discover different cultures, people and places was life changing and eye opening.   I think I love to travel for a couple of reasons.  One of my first loves is art and architecture and seeing a country’s treasures in person is a passion.  Connecting art and architecture with the larger world and its history puts it in context and makes it more meaningful.  I also love the memories that travel provides.  Reminiscing about seeing a painting that was on your must-see list or remembering a funny scene on the street is a gift.  Travel is something where you never run out of options for your next adventure.

Now it’s your turn – why do you travel? Let us know in the comments!

P.S. Don’t forget to pick up your Travel Talk notebook at any Davenport Library location!

Introducing the Travel Talk Program!

Hello! Today we’re introducing a new program – Travel Talk. With this Info Cafe program we’ll explore many aspects of travel. Each month we’ll focus on another subject with topics such as where to go, how to research your trip, solo travel, preserving travel memories, road trips plus lots more. We’ll also have a couple of special events including a movie in March and a “worst travel experience” contest later this year. Whether you’re a hard-core adventurer or an armchair traveler, you’ll find something to enjoy!

It’s easy to follow along with the program. Be sure to visit the Info Cafe blog on the second Wednesday of each month when my fellow librarian and Info-Cafe-blogger Michelle and I will introduce and discuss a new topic. If that’s as much as you’d like to do – no problem! We’re happy to have you along! But if you’d like to kick it up a notch, simply comment on the post and/or join in any discussion on that post. We’ll keep track of who comments each month and keep a running total. Anyone who makes a total of eight comments throughout the year (only one comment per month will count toward your total) will receive a small, travel-related prize in December!

In addition, we have passport-size, travel-themed notebooks available for anyone in the Travel Talk program. Simply stop at the customer service desk at any Davenport Library location and ask for a “Travel Talk notebook”. These basic little notebooks can be used to jot quick notes, keep track of your books-to-read list or even your grocery list! I’m planning to use mine to keep notes on any tips and interesting thoughts or suggestions I pick up through the Travel Talk program.

So, are you on-board? (haha – travel humor!) Be sure to stop by the blog again tomorrow when we delve into our first discussion – “Why Travel?”

 

 

 

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood

True crime is one of my favorite subjects to read about and watch. Learning more about the inner workings of different perpetrators and their reasonings for behaving in such a way is fascinating. The lasting implications crime has on the victims and various affected families/friends also intrigues me. Society generally only cares about a crime for the first few months. After the publicity dies down, the whole situation will fade into the background. Reading about real life crimes allows me to believe that I am keeping these situations alive and the victims will continue to be remembered.

Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood was my latest true crime fiction read. This novel is based on the experiences of Sally Horner, an 11-year-old kidnapping victim who was abducted in 1948 from a Woolworth’s in Camden, New Jersey by 52 year-old Frank La Salle. Sally’s abduction is also considered to have inspired Nabokov’s Lolita.  From what I read about this case, this novel is fairly close to what actually happened. Granted the dialogue between Sally and Frank can never be 100% known and neither can be what really happened while they traveled the country, nevertheless, this account gives readers a look into a dark time in a young girl’s life.

Camden, NJ. 1948. 11 year-old Sally Horner just wants to fit in. She watches a clique of girls at her school form a club and yearns to be a part of it. Living with her mother and older sister, Sally has always felt like she exists on the outside of everything. After walking up to this group of girls one day, the girls tell Sally that she has to steal something from the local Woolworth’s in order to become part of their group. Walking into Woolworth’s with all the girls around her, Sally wanders the aisles looking for something to steal. Seeing a notebook, Sally grabs it and begins walking out. Almost to the door, Sally is suddenly stopped by an older man who says he saw her stealing. Having watched her walk through the store, Frank has convinced her that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested at any minute. Telling her that he has to take her to see a judge, Frank says that Sally has to do exactly what he says or she will go to jail. This chance encounter has far-reaching ramifications for poor Sally.

52 year-old Frank LaSalle is not an FBI agent. He has just been released from prison. Living out of his truck/camper, Frank is on the lookout for his next victim and his next scheme. Sally Horner stands no chance against him. Convincing her that he is an FBI agent, Sally introduces him to her mother and they somehow convince her to let Sally leave with Frank. Thus begins the scariest two years of Sally’s life as Frank physically and mentally abuses her. Travelling from Camden to San Jose, Sally meets many people and hopes one of them will recognize her. Her family, old friends, and new acquaintances are all forever altered, just like Sally, as a result of her abduction.

Given that this novel is based on the real-life kidnapping of Sally Horner and her captor Frank LaSalle, I found it to be intriguing and a possible explanation of what happened between the two. While there are certainly many fictionalized sections, the over-arching storyline is pretty close to the truth. With the additional information about Vladimir Nabokov and his controversial Lolita, this story is finally able to give more voice to young Sally Horner. With her death happening only four years after her abduction, Sally was unable to tell her full story like other abduction victims. This book is certainly not a light read, but its close relation to true events allows readers to gain a better understanding of these tragic circumstances.


This book is also available in the following formats:

My Lisbon by Nuno Mendes

My Lisbon: A Cookbook from Portugal’s City of Light by Nuno Mendes is an example of cookbook as travelogue.  It’s a joy to peruse.  Mendes is an engaging writer; his prose captures the mood and spirit of Lisbon. Interspersed with recipes are his vignettes of life in Portugal – Lisbon in particular.  Not only is the text authentic and breezy, but the photos are so spontaneous – you feel as if you’ve glimpsed private moments in the public spaces of this urban, yet warm and relaxed  city.  The oldest part of Lisbon, Alfama, is particularly intimate – the streets are so narrow and there is often virtually no space between the public street and a family’s private living area beyond a thin wall or window. Laundry is literally aired  in public; just look above you!

Whenever I visit a new city or country, I have so many questions. Why do  they do this? What’s the history of that?  This book is ideal for solving these mysteries. After a recent visit to Lisbon, I wanted to know more about why lisboetas decorate the facades of their houses and restaurants with Christmas decorations  – in April. It has to do with the festival of Santo Antonio in which sardinhas (sardines) are enthusiastically celebrated – cooked, eaten and enjoyed in the streets and restaurants.

I wanted to know the story behind the elegantly shabby azulejo (tile) on its buildings. As a native, Mendes speaks with authority and experience about the smells, tastes and sounds of a city that has been dependent on the sea for hundreds of years. Mendes is also a restaurateur so he provides fascinating detail about  the stories behind local ingredients and specialties  (salt, sardines, ham, and custard and more). Many times these stories relate to Portugal’s glory days in the 15th and 16th centuries when its navigators ruled the oceans and claimed vast portions of the globe for their country.

I’ve devoured many guidebooks, dvds, and travelogues about Portugal, but, to me, this book truly captures what’s special about this magical city.