What Should I Read Before My Next Trip?

LessJust read the novel Less in under 24 hours. I had to find out what happened next, then discover the ending. Andrew Sean Greer won the 2018 Pulitzer for fiction with this travel novel. Most booksellers will rightfully shelve it in fiction. I have placed it with my favorite travel reads.

Similar to Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, it is the tale of an author traveling the globe to escape heartache and to find oneself. Except that Arthur Less is fictional. In this story Arthur learns to love himself a little more as he turns the big 5-0. It also gave me insight into gay culture. The author also exploits the advantage of a narrator who seems to be in Arthur’s head. We travel with Arthur from San Francisco to New York City to Mexico to Turin Italy, to Germany, to Morocco, to India, to Kyoto Japan to the Vulcan Steps in San Francisco. The descriptions are delightful, awful, and sometimes also funny, depending on the circumstance.

I have started to highlight “sparkletts” that I love rolling off my tongue or around in my head. Samples from Less include: …that crazy quilt of a writer’s life: warm enough, though it never quite covers the toes …what he met were not young Turks but proud bloated middle-aged artists who rolled in the river like sea lions… The kind of guy who wore his bicycle helmet while shopping…knuckle-whitening rattletrap wellspring of trauma.

It got me thinking about the various books I’ve read to prep for travel or to temporarily satisfy the need for travel in my life. My favorite travel authors whose work I’ve read EVERYTHING include: Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island, and Tony Horwitz Confederates in the Attic. I just learned that Tony Horwitz has a new book coming out May 14, 2019: Spying on the South. (Just preordered!)

I consume a lot of podcasts. One of my favorites is What Should I Read Next? with Ann Bogel. And I was thinking about promoting the release of my travel guide for planning your own civil rights crawl. I thought about applying to be a guest–and there is a questionnaire to complete–so I’m practicing here. The topic I would want to discuss with her is travel literature. Not guidebooks, per se, but the broader idea of books where the characters or author travel. Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is a classic, but there are many more that take a little effort to find.

IMG_7759You may also find suggestions for the place you are traveling next from Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go. I have found some terrific books from her recommendations and some duds. Sometimes I discover that my interest in, say Norwegian, literature is limited. One of her recommendations is in my top three travel books I love:

1. Come On Shore and We Will Eat You All by Christina Thompson, a New Zealand story.

It is hard to choose among so many great books, and yet I remember #2 book having a tremendous impact on me, perhaps because my heart was already tenderized by Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham classics.

2. Looking for Lovedu by Ann Jones, a memoir of traveling from Africa top to bottom

Choosing the third book is really tough because there are so many options. I only have one continent left to visit–Antarctica. I have read the journals of explorers and book about penguins by scientists. When I was in Australia I discovered #3 on my list.

3. Shiver by Nikki Gemmell, a novel set in Antarctica

Ann Bogel also asks her guests for one book they hate (or didn’t care for if you hate the “h” word, haha). This is harder to select because some years ago I learned to abandon books I do not enjoy. In knitting an abandoned project is “frogged” so I write this in my the back of my journal with a note why. I had to rack my memory for a travel book I abandoned or read with a sour face. In college I tried reading something by Paul Theroux. I can’t remember exactly what but I was completely turned off by his tone of disdain for the place or for the reader or both, my memory is fuzzy after 35 years. Nancy Pearl tried to convince me to give him another try, but alas, one chapter in a book store and I returned The Great Railway Bazaar to the shelf. I will provide a more current answer though. After PBS began showing The Durrells television series, I mentioned to someone that I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I hoped (I love Keeley Hawes mostly). They said, “Oh, you have to read the book it’s based on! I loved it.” So I dutifully bought Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals about their life on Corfu and waited for it to get good. And waited. And waited till the end. It’s not for me.

Ann Bogel also asks guests what they are reading now. I have several books on the go, but in keeping with the theme of travel, I am reading next: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This stretches the theme of travel as it is historical fiction involving travel by hot air balloon.

If Ann Bogel asked me what I’d like to be different about my reading life, I’d be hard pressed. I love the variety of my reading, and the amount I read. I enjoy both printed books and e-books. I listen to a lot of podcasts but I’m not that keen on listening to books. Although sometimes the narrator experience tempts me–like when I heard a review of Lincoln at the Bardo–a book I struggled to read and keep the characters straight. Hearing Liz Dolan recommend the audio version with dozens of actors sounded like fun. I don’t like headphones either, so that makes it hard to listen to books on planes or in public. I was feeling bad about not getting more books from the library until I heard one of her guests refer to her book buying as being a patron of the arts. That’s me! Plus when I buy them used from Time Tested Books, or new from Avid Reader, I can share them with my mom and others and keep my local bookstores open.

I write this blog to inspire travel. I am pushing myself into writing travel guides, where I am much less comfortable, because I want to help people design their own more off-beat adventures. Just as Arthur Less and Elizabeth Gilbert learned aspects about themselves that they’d never had known if they had not left home, I always discover so much about what I love, what’s not for me, and what I want to do next when I travel. And always, I pack books I can leave behind so I can lug more books home that I discovered along the way.

 

 

Cycling Round Sacramento

3Z0B0GuiQ8uWnfkA+GdsPgThis weekend I spent Saturday afternoon enjoying what my hometown has to offer. Sacramento has invested in protected bike lanes and traffic safety. And now the Jump scooters and electric bike programs are fully implemented. I rode my own cruiser round town and couldn’t help but smile at the number of people enjoying the bright red Jump scooters and bikes. Why not? The sun was shining and a light breeze kept the temperature in the 80’s. Trees are leafing out on every avenue, roses around the capitol are heavy in bloom, and the rivers are running full.

I cycled across Midtown to my favorite local spot, Easy on I, for a brunch steak with breakfast potatoes (yum!). Then I traveled across 16th Street into downtown. Families were excitedly headed to the Convention Center for the Lego event. Young girls in white were posing for photos after their first communion, wedding parties set digital memories in front of the Capitol, and a poker tournament was getting underway at Morton’s.

I stopped in the middle of Capitol Mall to check out the Jorge Marin “Wings of the City” statues. One is designed for taking photos to look as if you have just touched down from your own flight over the capitol. The other two are interesting and part of an exhibit sponsored by the City of Sacramento, the Mexican Consulate and the Jorge Martin Foundacion. There are nine monumental pieces of bronze sculpture located around the perimeter of the capitol.

eO%Gd6IhR3mXQnGxy9ExLAMy destination was the River Walk Park in West Sacramento. It is just across the Tower Bridge (on the other side of the river from Old Sacramento state park). The City of West Sacramento has done a great job developing their side of the Sacramento River. I was going to listen to my friend Nailah Pope-Harden speak at the March for Science. It made a great setting, but I wondered if participation was dampened at all by people who aren’t familiar with the River Walk Park. It was my first visit.

I cycled home thinking how wonderful our city is for young people, families, and old farts like me.  Next weekend Sacramento will be hosting the Tour of California bike race. We will welcome bicycling professionals and their fans to our fair city. See you soon.

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Celebrate Penguins!

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Art from a greeting card; originally in London Tube advertisement to entice you to ride subway to the London Zoo.

April 25th is World Penguin Day! People in Australia and New Zealand may already be celebrating!

I adore penguins. I will extend my celebration until Saturday when Mom and I are going to see the new film, Penguins.

UC Davis Arboretum Just Got Better!

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I have always loved walking around the UC Davis Arboretum. It was well established when I was a graduate student in the late 1980s, and even then it had a serious water quality problem in Putah Creek. The algae and other problems caused duck die offs and some stinky stretches. Now with a new design to help clean up Putah Creek, you can actually see the turtles swimming in the creek. The redwood grove has new plantings on the floor, and the new trailhead in downtown Davis is complete. If you haven’t been in a while, it is worthy of another look.

The new infrastructure in the creek helps to keep the water clean. Plus it introduces the sound of running water to your walk along the trail. You will get a healthy 3.5 miles of steps if you walk the entire loop. Along the way you’ll enjoy over 20 gardens, interesting bridges and paths and only occasional glimpses of campus life. I’m sure it’s kept many a student sane.

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Watch for slider turtles. The iNaturalist app suggests this is a painted slider.

I belong to the Arboretum so I learn about their plant sales and enjoy a discount. The Arboretum is free of charge. Most days you’ll have to pay for campus parking if you are starting from the oak grove side near the medical campus, so instead park behind Mikuni’s restaurant (by the closed Whole Foods). When you finish up you can enjoy a meal at Pluto’s or Mikuni’s. I’m taking my grandson on Friday!

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Trailhead accessible at end of D Street, in downtown Davis. Put “Arboretum GATEway Garden” into Google Maps.

 

 

 

 

Mooching Around Maldon, Essex

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Maldon is a smallish town (population roughly 14,000 people) with a lot of history and fun current shops and restaurants. Plus they have world famous salt! UK Sarah and I spent a few hours mooching around Maldon one March day. It isn’t far from where Sarah lives and one of the most charming towns in Essex. It is situated on the Eastern coastline with marsh flats and tidal fluctuations that strand boats in the River Blackwater for hours at a time. On my last visit we had explored the Promenade Park.

This visit was more practical with a stop at Tesco for dinner ingredients and then a leisurely stroll in downtown with a bit of shopping (for salt) and lunch at Mrs. Salisbury’s Famous Tea Rooms.

Apparently you can buy the Maldon salt at Tesco, but I didn’t think to look for it there. I was able to find it at the Marks&Spencer mini mart. It is the same box you can buy at your grocer. Perhaps like me you’ve been watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix or read the book and it peaked your interest in Maldon salt. Here are a few excerpts from Samin Nosrat’s book: Sea salt is what’s left behind when seawater evaporates. Natural sea salts such as… Maldon are the less-refined result of gradual, monitored evaporation that can take up to five years… Maldon salt crystals… take on a hollow pyramid shape, and are often referred to as flaky salt. (p25) I recommend buying Nosrat’s book if you’d like to know how to use Maldon salt and at what quantities. Very helpful.

I’ve also been watching Great British Bake Off and purchased a cookbook by Mary Berry when I was in London. I wanted to sample a Victoria Sponge or Victoria Sandwich to see what I’ve been missing. Mrs. Salisbury’s Victoria Sandwich was quite tasty although very sweet. I enjoyed the Victoria Sandwich at The Loft in Tollesbury more. And on Sunday’s the Loft plays vinyl records and creates a laid back vibe perfect for a Sunday afternoon.

I love the go-go of London and Harry Potter world, but there is a lot to be said for relaxing at the English seaside and experiencing a bit of modern English culture.

Sutter’s Fort a Kind of Living History

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My toddler grandson and I visited Sutter’s Fort on a Friday morning along with school kids.

Many a fourth grader in the Sacramento area has taken a field trip to Sutter’s Fort. It is easy to see it as a place primarily for kids. Alas, that would be selling Sutter’s Fort short.

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It doesn’t take much imagination to put yourself into the place of a miller or blacksmith living on this farm enterprise. Or imagine what life must have been like living in a community confined to these relatively small courtyards during floods in winter. This is where many a pioneer stopped thankful to reach “civilization” as primitive as it was. The California Indian museum next door tells the story of the indigenous people who lived here before European settlers and their fate as the settlers introduced small pox and other diseases and land ownership.

Here you see how the fort was first and foremost an enterprise. Many of the recreated scenes are accompanied by a narrated recording, but there are a few volunteer re-enactors who enliven the feel of the clerk’s office or other activity centers within the fort.

John Sutter was a Swiss immigrant who was granted the land from the Spanish for the fort and farms around it. His place in history was secured as the owner of the mill further upstream of the American River in Coloma where gold was discovered. The resulting rush brought a population of seekers and adventurers, quick statehood, and huge environmental degradation and water laws.

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Toddlers will race through the Fort finding very little of interest except the stairs and the gift shop. However, with a little energy expended, you may enjoy a nice snack stop on this bench enjoying the view of ducks, geese and butterflies.

Entrance per adult is $5 and per child over 5 is $3 except on special interpretive days like the Friday we visited. Then the admission is $7 per adult and $5 per child over 5. (Toddlers are free!) The fort gates are open almost every day of the year from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Harry Potter Appears Real at Warner Bros. Studio

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Hogwarts stairway and portraits at the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, England

When I first read the Harry Potter books I found myself imagining the characters and the magic, and of course Hogwarts, but many aspects were fuzzy. That is, until I watched the first film. Suddenly the actors cast became what I saw in my head when I read the dialogue. The details were beautifully filled in by the elaborate costumes and props.

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The lounge of Number 4 Privet Drive is filled with Harry’s letters.

Sometime after the movies began debuting, I was in Chicago and there was a special exhibit of the Harry Potter film props and costumes. I loved it so much I was even inspired to copy the knitted blanket on Ron Weasley’s bed. I had toured movie studios and I knew that seldom do they spend so much time or money on getting to this level of reality!

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Ask at the information booth for the Passport so you can get stamps along the way and find the golden snitches throughout the tour. 

So when we were planning our Harry Potter adventures in London, I was enthusiastic about taking the train to the outskirts of London to the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden for the “Making of Harry Potter” tour. It is around $60 a person for a ticket to enter the world of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and No. 4 Privet Drive. The greeter tells you that it takes about 3.5 hours to walk through (at your own pace) with a lunch stop about 2/3 through. In fact, we explored most of the sets and exhibits and stopped for a quick lunch and it took about 5.5 hours. Not that we are complaining! Plus there is shopping at the end of the tour.


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The graphics firm designed 20,000 individual props for the Weasley’s joke shop on Diagon Alley.

We got some great advice: ask the interpretive hosts if they have a favorite fun fact for the room they are stationed. All of the hosts were very enthusiastic about all things Harry Potter and usually gave us more than one fun fact. This is how we learned that 17,000 wand boxes were created for Olivander’s wand shop. And that many of them are still charred from the scene when Olivander’s shop explodes–a shot they only had one chance to capture. Or that Rupert Grint who played Ron asked to keep the number 4 from the house on Privet Drive.

We went on a weekday and there were lots of school trips. The staff said it is actually less crowded on the weekends. It was a fantastic day.