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.

 

 

Sacramento Scandinavian Festival Easier Than Travel

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It’s a fascinating aspect of American life that we celebrate our cultural heritage, whether it is Norwegian, Lithuanian, or Persian, in a variety of festivals. Food features prominently. It is also an easier way to experience another culture when you don’t have the time or money to travel. Sometimes it just whets your appetite to go!

The Scandinavian Festival, held on one day at the Scottish Rite Temple near Sacramento State University, features many booths with various Scandinavian themed goods. Then in the main ballroom they sell tickets to buy food and have seating to watch the flag ceremony or the fashion show. Many people are dressed in traditional dresses or Norwegian sweaters. All decedents of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, or Finland are welcome, in addition the Sami indigenous people are also recognized as their own nation although they live across Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia.

Two of the people in our group discovered they were Scandinavian thanks to 23 and Me so they were discovering cultural traditions like the food, like the delicious flatbread lefse made with potatoes. I also discovered there is such a thing as Viking reenactment.  I sent a photo (see above) to my brother and found out that he reenacts being a Viking for his history classes at the Community College where he teaches. I learned something about my family too!

Preparing for Denmark Adventure

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I am visiting Denmark this summer. I found my hotel on Trip Advisor. Thanks to Rick Steves’ I am taking a bike tour in Copenhagen with Mike. My chum Susie from University is going to show me her Malmo, Sweden on June 6–the national holiday to celebrate being Swedish. I have printed the instructions to find hidden Giant sculptures around Copenhagen on a bike scavenger hunt.

I am excited that I am going to be able to see two more Scandinavian countries (after Norway in 2013). Originally I thought I’d get into the countryside and see more of Denmark. Then I realized that second half of my trip involves a lot of travel through England, so enjoying one city more thoroughly and staying in the same hotel is appealing.

I discovered Helen Russell’s humorous memoir Year of Living Danishly at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. I read it to prepare for my trip. The culture in Denmark is similar to Norway in many respects. The author refers to Jante’s Law, which I experienced growing up with a Norwegian grandfather.

Aksel Sandemose outlines 10 rules for living Danishly in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, known as Jante’s Law.

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than us
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us
  5. You’re not to think you know more than us
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
  8. You’re not to laugh at us
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything

cod bookSome people think it is synonymous with humility and essential to maintaining the egalitarian Scandinavian society. Some people think it is about enforcing conformity. In another memoir, In Cod We Trust, by Eric Dregni, about his family’s year in Norway, he observes, “These ten commandments may have begun as a morality tale of how not to act, but over time these rules were adopted to teach kids not to be self-important narcissists.”

I am curious to soak up as much of the culture as I can for the relatively short time I am there, and to find out more about Jante’s Law.

Don’t Miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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The mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a gem of an aquarium. It is a truly excellent place to visit if you have children, but even has a lot to offer adults. In addition to the delightful permanent exhibits with the Kelp Forest (with sharks), Sea Otters, Jellyfish and Penguins, the Aquarium hosts special exhibits.  Thanks to the animated film Finding Dory and the Octopus hero Hank, octopi have been rehabilitated in the public consciousness. I’ve always admired the intelligence and ingenuity of octopi so I enthusiastically entered “Tentacles.” It was worth it just to see the Giant Pacific Octopus. Wow.

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Nearby is an excellent exhibit on plastics in our oceans and what we can do to reduce this insidious pollution. I particularly enjoyed various artists’ use of plastic to make sea-inspired collages. You can read more about this issue on the Aquarium’s website.

You can eat at the Aquarium’s cafe, or enjoy your picnic lunch outside on one of the observation decks. The brilliance of rehabilitating an old sardine cannery is more obvious when you stand on a deck extending over the Monterey Bay. I’d actually like to come back on a bad weather day!

I do not like to eat a lot of fish, but I know fish is a healthy choice. I have used my concern over commercial over-fishing to avoid ordering fish at restaurants. Now I can download the Aquarium’s Seawatch App on my phone to check for safe options to enjoy fish guilt-free. Check it out.

I used my AAA member discount to buy my ticket through the AAA website, even so, it is $50 to visit. This may not make you blink, but it does make me pause. I want to be able to spend 2.5 hours or more at that price. I had not been in years–the penguin exhibit had not been added so it was probably pre-1998–and I wasn’t sure I’d visit more than once a year.  Once I experienced the variety of exhibits and spent time on the deck watching the sea, I realized I want to make it more of a habit and I want to share it with my grandson. So I went to the membership desk and converted my ticket to a membership. Watch this space for reviews of the special tours and member events.

Remembering Yarn Crawl in Bergen

Reprinted from a 2013 Redesigning 49 post, “Sweater Countries” in honor of Slow TV an Evening of Knitting:

Tevis observed that I always seem to spend the most time in countries that are known for their wool, knitting and sweaters. He is right: Ireland, UK, Peru, New Zealand, and now Norway. Our last full day in Bergen it was pouring rain, so I left Tevis working in the room and I went on a yarn adventure. I started with the yarn shop closest to my hotel. It was well-lit and had great sample projects in the window. Nellfrid, the shop clerk spoke broken English and I said I only knew two words of Norwegian “tak” (thank you) and uffda, although I haven’t heard anyone say uffda. Nellfrid explained that uffda is more commonly shortened to “uff”, like the weather today, uff.  I really wanted to buy the yarn for a project in the window for Cameon’s daughter. Alas they didn’t have enough yarn or the pattern. Nellfrid sent me on my way with directions to a bookstore and another shop across  town.

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“Across town” is about 10 minutes walking. On the way I stopped at the Norli bookstore. It is strange travelling in a country where the bookstores are not a temptation (almost everything is in Norwegian). Good thing because bookstores still abound in Norway.  They did not have any interesting knitting books in English, so I ducked out quickly went to the yarn shop in the very touristy section of town that one blogger called “similar to JoAnn’s”. I actually liked the cosy basement full of yarn. The clerk spoke English and she explained that they did not have the full line of Rauma yarn and directed me to Husfliden. This is where I bought yarn in Oslo. Actually, not. The shops look identifical (same goods, type of displays, etc.) But the clerk assured me that they were not related. They had the yarn and the “recipe” I needed (insert sound of cash register). I am going to have an adventure using Google translate. Or I will impose on Susie and trade some services.

Now I was close to the train station and I remembered that there was a good coffee shop there as well as a yarn store called Norwegian Spirit. By now it was pouring. The coffee and chocolate croissant revived me. I also met a  delightful waitress Cecilie.  The Norwegian Spirit had some ready made traditional sweaters and some others made by the shopkeeper, a textile artist. They also had a recipe book from the original designer for Oleana Knits. (Insert sound of cash register here)  That led me to the Oleana flagship store. The factory is just outside Bergen. And wow! The designs and the prices are amazing. While skeins of wool are a bargain, ready made sweaters are not.

I was starting to flag Thought about jumping on the bus and going to the Knitting Factory and Museum but the rain and my soaked feet prevailed. I hit one more store where I was rewarded with a penguin.

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I practically skipped back to the hotel–I had such a good day. For a smallish town they have a lot of yarn shops. Nellfrid says knitting is very popular due to the weather.

Tevis was still working hard and I wanted to watch the Tour de France with company. I ventured out again and after a couple of tries I found Finnegan’s Irish Pub. The Pub Man, from Manchester with an Irish mum, loves Le Tour too. He was having all kinds of difficulties opening (no hot water, etc.) However, he was more than happy to set me up with the Tour on television–on the British sports channel so it was in English!–and at one point he locked me in so he could pick up parts. He popped in every so often to find out how the race was going. By the time Kittel won the sprint and the stage the pub was filling with customers. Lovely, lovely day.

Postscript:  I have learned the hard way… take patterns in your native tongue when you travel so you can wool shop for projects you know you can complete!

Surprising Armchair Travel to Sydney

In an Aboriginal tale the bat Narahdarn releases death into the world.
In an Aboriginal tale the bat Narahdarn releases death into the world.

I love reading mysteries and I love reading travel books. This month I moved my household and I seriously pruned the contents of my bookshelves. I also found a couple of books that I forgot I had bought to read. One is Jo Nesbo’s The Bat. It is the first of his Harry Hole mysteries. Interestingly, his books are not mentioned in Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go. But is was mentioned on a page of Oslo tidbits in National Geographic Traveler.

Harry Hole is a police detective in Oslo, but this first murder mystery is set in Sydney, Australia. Besides being an entertaining mystery novel, it is making me want to visit Sydney.

Especially in chapter 24, when Harry and his Swedish girlfriend go to the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium at night. I want to have my own experience after reading this excerpt:

“They descended a staircase that wound down to one of the big tanks.

“The tanks aren’t actually aquariums in the true sense of the word, they’ve just enclosed a part of the Sydney Harbour.” Brigitta said as they entered.

From the ceiling a greenish light fell over them in undulating stripes and made Harry feel as if he were standing on a mirrorball. It was only when Birgitta pointed the torch upward that he saw they were surrounded by water on all sides. They were standing in a glass tunnel under the sea, and the light was coming from outside, filtered through the water. A huge shadow glided past them, and he instinctively recoiled.

“Mobulidae,” she said. “Devil rays.”

See sharks at the Sydney Aquarium

You will have to read for yourself about his encounter with a great white shark.

Isn’t reading the best?!

3 Great Places to Buy Wool in Oslo for the Hip and Chic Knitter

If you knit (or crochet) and you are visiting Oslo for a day or more, then you have three great options for wool shopping. In Norway, if you see “strikke” on the shop window then it is probably a wool or yarn store as we know it in North America.

If you are cruising the Nordic countries and docking briefly in Oslo, there are two shops within walking distance of the port. The first, Strikkedilla (translated as Knitting Craze) is conveniently located in the Oslo City mall (a highrise next to the main train station). The mall includes a grocery store, so be sure to check out the aisle dedicated to nut butters! The knit shop is the smallest of the three and jam-packed with colorful fun projects children would like to wear.

Glasmagasinet at Stortorvet 9
Glasmagasinet department store

The second shop is my favorite of the three, Husfliden. It is inside the department store Glasmagasinet at Stortorvet 9. I was a little befuddled at first by this idea of a department store; it was a bit more like a mall without walls. In the basement I found the yarn, buttons, traditional costumes, and many other beautiful textiles. It was a feast for the eyes and fingers. They also offered readymade Oleana sweaters. If you only have time to browse one store, make it Den Norske Husfliden.IMG_1010 IMG_1009 IMG_1013

If you are taking a day trip to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park, there is a yarn shop a stone’s throw from the metro station (Majorstuen) for the sculpture gardens. I did not spot Tjorven at Valkyriegata 17 right away, so I have included a photo. The clerks were friendly and the yarn lucious. They did not offer any patterns in English (they call them recipes). I realized too late that it would have been smart to look for some patterns on Ravelry before I went shopping. The store clerk showed me a website that has language choices including English. These are the same Norwegian inspired (modern, not traditional) patterns featured in Drops magazine.

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There are also two readymade wool shops that offer beautiful, albeit expensive, sweaters and other wool garments. Dale of Norway at Tullins gate 5 offers more classical sweaters and made me want to go skiing. Oleana garments are inspired by traditional Norwegian design updated with a modern twist and a more colorful palette.

It is Dah-ley, not Dale like Yale next to the Hard Rock Cafe in Oslo. No yarn for sale here.
It is Dah-ley, not Dale like Yale next to the Hard Rock Cafe in Oslo. No yarn for sale here.

One challenge with yarn shopping in Norway is the patterns are almost all in Norwegian, of course. I bought a couple of patterns with yarn to make them, thinking that between Google Translate, friends who speak Norwegian and my knitting experience I could figure them out. Hah! Not yet. When I return to Norway I am taking some patterns that I want to make and then shopping for wool. All of these shops are perfect if you need a tool, or inspiration.IMG_1008

I visited these three shops in July 2013, and I have just checked and they are all still in business. I also used Linda Marveng’s blog post as my guide. She lists additional shops and I visited a few others; however, I am including my favorites here. Linda Marveng is also enthused about Norway Designs, just know that there is nothing knitting related in the shop.

Norway can be one of the most expensive countries to visit in Europe, so I was very pleased to find wool prices a comparative bargain.  Shops are both plentiful and the ones mentioned here carry a good variety of quality yarn. It is good to be in a country where a lot of people still knit. There were some awesome patterns, if I only spoke Norwegian.