Luann is writing …

Venice is Calling …

September 3, 2012

When it comes to Venice, I think of the old adage, “Those who do, do. Those who don’t, talk about it.”

If you hear someone say that Venice is terrible in the summer, that it’s overrun with tourists and it smells bad, ignore them. They fall into the latter category.

Venice, in the summer, is amazing.

Although, the naysayers may be right – in a way. When we visited Venice on Monday and Tuesday, there were hordes of people. Piazza San Marcos was hardly visible, but for the frenetic movement of t-shirts and street-vendor parasols and flashing cameras. All of my photos have people I do not know in them – and they’re not Venetians in gondolas, either. So yes, tourists are everywhere, until you get a bit deeper.

We took a water shuttle along the Grand Canal to arrive at St. Mark’s Square. The Canal was enormous; sea-foam in color, it was filled with water traffic and high waves. The public Vaporetti were shuttling people packed in every square inch of the vessel across to Lido, Burano, or Murano islands. From my view, it looked more like a pond than a canal- a true lagoon.

Venice’s Grand Canal

When we got to St. Mark’s Square, we arrived at a party. A bride and groom were in the square with some of their guests, dancing. The music was pulsating, and dancers in saris were twirling around partners in casual Western dress. The energy was palpable. I put my video camera in the air and caught the happy couple as they turned in circles along with the drum beats and their guests. And then I looked closer. Hare Krishnas had hijacked the wedding party.

Our own party – my husband and I, and two other couples we’d connected with on our cruise – had reservations at Osteria Oliva Nera at 8 p.m. We broke from the crush of people and strolled away from the waterfront in the restaurant’s direction. Soon, quieter streets – and even quieter canals – rose up to meet us, and with them the boutiques that locals visit when they want something beautiful and perfect. Around each corner, a beautiful piece of jewelry hung in a window, the clear brightness of Murano glass at the center. Fantastic shoes, with an equally fantastic price tag, alternated with the Venetian baubles on display.

Venezia

It was just about dusk, so there was a beautiful shadow highlighting the cobblestone  streets. Gondolas and small speedboats docked along residential canals, swaying gently against the languid tide. The gondolas were a uniform black, and the boats a myriad of grays and blue. The stone houses along the canal, some gray while others brightly painted, were mostly dark, their shutters closed from our view. A few, though, were open to the night; green plants and flowers grew out of them in pots, a soft glow from a lamp revealing high white walls. My flat jeweled sandals clapped slowly as they walked along these romantic streets, while my eyes were turned to the windows. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the city’s soul.

After a few wrong turns and two trips over the same small bridge, we stumbled upon the restaurant. Osteria Oliva Nera’s charm was in its outdoor seating. Under a faded yellow awning, the diner could enjoy people watching in this tiny square that was unlabeled on tourist maps. Although we were early by a half-hour, our party had already arrived and we took our much-coveted seats in the fresh salty air.

The first course, served by the owner, was fresh seafood risotto that tasted of sea and butter and all good things. With it, I’d ordered a crisp, cool glass of local Fruili, which was bright and complemented the tastes on my plate. A veal chop and fresh salad followed; I drizzled a healthy portion of olive oil on the latter. Along with all of the flavors of Venice, I drank in the sights that were just a step away from the table. People of all nationalities and styles of dress passed by us; some walking their dogs while others chattered loudly into their white iPhones.

Windows open to the square

Above us were apartments, their shutters thrown open to let in the evening sounds. As I looked up at one in particular, I thought, “What would it be like to live in this magical city, in that apartment? To let the activity to come to you? Would I keep my shutters open all of the time, to absorb that energy? Or would I grow tired of it?” And in my mind, a fictional character had begun to develop.

Back at our own little party, the conversation was that of new friends getting to know each other over the family dinner table. We cleaned our dessert plates and finished the meal with a sip of icy, homemade limoncello delivered with a flourish by the owner. That sweet-sour flavor reflected all of our feelings at having to leave this amazing city for the evening. As a memory, though, we were presented with a small souvenir bottle of the restaurant’s olive oil, cradled in a branded burlap bag.

Facades in Venice

The next day, we’d have four hours to enjoy its hidden corners – and some gelato – before our cruise ship would depart. Those four hours would never be enough. Venice, it feels, is a city that you need to live in to fully absorb. We did our best, though, exploring the city through our stomachs. Lunch was taken outdoors again, in another restaurant recommended by a fellow travel blogger. We skipped dessert in lieu of a deliciously composed tiramisu in another square, and then wandered more until we found ourselves at St. Mark’s Square again. If any place was made for wandering, Venezia was it.

On the final water taxi trip, my husband and I were seated behind a group of pensioners from New York. They were debating on who was going to call back home. After a brief discussion, a tall, white-haired gentleman took the phone and dialed.

“Helloooo? It’s Venice calling,” he said into the phone. I imagined an elderly woman back in Long Island responding, “Who? Who is it?”

Again, but louder: “It’s Venice calling! Venice, Italy!”

More silence. Then, “No, not Dennis! Venice!”

We collapsed into silent giggles behind them.

 

 

I’ll be back soon!

June 4, 2012

The story of Segovia has not fully been told, yet. There are at least two more posts before I can feel that I’ve given the experience any sort of justice on the blog.

But all of my writing time is being reallocated to a course that I’m taking during the summer session. This time, I’m writing under a pseudonym! (I can’t divulge it; that would defeat the purpose.)

I will try to write more when I can, but for now, stay tuned!

Quotes of Wisdom from the Convent

March 24, 2012

Each day, we met at the university, which was in an old converted convent set under the watchful eyes of Ferdinand and Isabella. We’d sit at tables set in a hollow square, and read aloud what we’d written the night before. Some of us would read from a notepad, which was filled with hastily-written paragraphs, while others had iPads or, in my case, a pink laptop.

After the piece was read aloud, we’d allow a few moments for reflection, and then the torrent of questions would come. The questions were the best part of the exercise, because they would tell the writer what they’d missed – or what had resonated most. The scariest part for all of us were the questions that hit a little too close to what wasn’t said. It was the one universal – we would always write one story, but inadvertantly tell another. My first piece, a seemingly innocuous story about my honeymoon, prompted questions so revealing that I’d felt I had shared my life’s secrets.

When my turn ended, the next writer uttered, “Oh, I am in so much trouble.”

* * *

By the third day of this workshop, I’d given up the idea that I’d do anything scripted, and gave myself over to the workshop and the city. The morning runs I’d planned were off the list; the time was spent, instead, polishing up my writing and sleeping until the last possible moment. Most of those dry-roasted nights were filled with urgent typing, so sleep became precious.

Breakfast was, at times, a hastily mixed protein shake or a breakfast bar on the way down the cobblestone-paved hill. Other times, I’d run in just as the group was wrapping up their morning meal to enjoy some fresh cafe con leche and the olive oily goodness of the tortilla and the smooth Serrano ham. Punctuality became less important, and then less achievable. Starting my day in the bright breakfast room, with the retro 80s furniture and the courtyard outside of the wide windows, fed my desire to write about the things I’d experienced, not just the things I could make up.

The hillside outside of i.e. university.

Fiction had always been my calling, or so I’d thought. But after we delved into travel writing and memoir, I realized I was reluctant to reveal too much about others. In fact, one of the questions that our instructor presented to us was whether we had to wait to write our story until the people who featured in them had died. What is your story to tell? Do you self-edit before you even write? I’m trying to stifle my inner editor, but it’s challenging.

Many of these sessions in the cool, dark classroom of i.e. university Segovia were filled with gems like this, questions that writers (established and amateur) face. There were also one-liners and delicious quotes that filled my notebook, such as my fellow writer and poet Gail’s “Basic doesn’t call attention to itself.”

I’d felt as if I could steal this quote and use it to describe this entire experience. Basic doesn’t call attention to itself, but it got under my skin and became a part of my rhythm more than any extraordinary thing could. Your attention is called to the extraordinary, but you absorb the basic and it simply becomes part of you.

Among the people of Segovia

Basic is eating every possible meal outside in the fresh air; each meal carefully composed but its recipe unchanged for many decades. One day, lunch was a fluffy paella under the trees in the courtyard inside the shadows of the old convent; others, merluza on the terrace overlooking the vast hillside of Segovia. Dinner on the cobblestones amongst the people of this great city was memorable. A simple glass of the house’s red wine was sipped, enhanced by the late evening sunset behind the massive Aqueduct. A nice surprise: a ham and cheese miniature sandwich that accompanied your glass of vino tinto. Coffee in its simplicity; no flavor shots, no choice in sizes, just coffee as glorious as it can be in its basic form.

Dinner in the square with friends

Basic is a simple bistecca, with sea salt that was crunchy enough to be considered a condiment. That meal, spent with new friends just below the imposing stature of the Aqueduct, was one of my favorite memories of the trip. We came upon the lovely Elena walking in the square and invited her to join us; the evening grew cool and we kept adjusting our table to be under the light of the setting sun – Elena entertained us by tying a napkin around her neck to keep warm. We enjoyed reading our English-language menus, especially the title of “Meets and Fishes” which was endearing.

The lovely Elena!

The waiter delivered a small peach schnapps with our check (la cuenta). Before dinner, we’d met in a jewelry shop off one of the narrow pedestrian streets of the city, and bonded over beautiful handmade rings and necklaces and rings, some things we’d bring home and wear often and others we’d gift to loved ones when we returned home. And as a thank-you from the owner, a matted sketch of the Aqueduct for each of us.

A pianist on the walk back

The walk back to our hotel after dinner was a delicious one; the perfect way to end the day. More swaying than walking, we strolled along closed storefronts and by the glorious cathedral and through the Plaza Mayor, and by the statue of Frey Antonio to our temporary home – a basic hotel that was also getting under my skin. Rushing anywhere was not permitted; we arrived when we did, and then separated to our own rooms to record the events of the day and to try to capture the sense of well-being that came with being present for every moment.

The Plaza Mayor at Night

 

 

Savoring Salamanca

March 6, 2012

Our second tour was about an hour away, in the city of Salamanca. We rose early that morning and boarded a bus that took us  through the highways of Spain, out of Segovia and by Avila. Traveling within Spain’s interior is a beautiful experience, since the highways are not quite like those that we’re used to. There are usually no overpasses, not too much honking, and a lot of countryside to gaze upon as you pass through. Sprinkled between interesting conversations with my traveling partners were glimpses of fields of sunflowers, which I still regret not photographing in time, since the blanketed hills caught me by surprise. Later we would pass the lines of windmills that Spain is known for, and I’m reminded of Don Quijote and his

Friends in Plaza Mayor, Salamanca

experiences on the roads that we were traveling. We may have been riding a bus (and not our trusty horse, Rocinante) and the windmills were a bit more modern, but it was an adventure nonetheless.

We arrived in Salamanca, which had a different flavor from the other Spanish cities I’dvisited. This one seemed, somehow, more like a city. At first glance, I wasn’t sure I liked it – it ran contrary to what I’d expected it to be. But once we’d move into the city and began at the Plaza Mayor, I felt Salamanca begin to slowly grow on me.

We started our tour at the University of Salamanca, exploring the building and its evident history in every beam and detail. My favorite story is that of Frey Luis de Leon, a professor at the University who had been teaching one day, and then thrown into prison the next by the

Frey Luis and Salamanca

heavy hand of the Spanish Inquisition. It took five years for his defense to acquit him of his supposed crimes, after which he returned to the classroom with the following quote, “Como decíamos ayer.” Translated, it reads, “As we were saying yesterday.” I’m not sure why, but this quote really stuck with me and continues to – a clear statement of moving forward and not letting the past hold back the future. I find it encouraging, even still today.

One other item really stood out to me – the wall markings of the PhD students who fought a bull in order to earn their degree and then used the blood to write a quote and a symbol (the word “Victor” in some permutation) on the wall. These days, they use a more humane paint to inscribe this on the wall – but still a great tradition. A good friend and fellow travel writer was, at that time, awaiting defense of her dissertation and we thought that this would be a great tattoo when she became Doctor, which she would a month later.

Victor - in paint

We took a meandering walk in the hot sun – every, every day was hot in Castilla y Leon – looking at shop windows and churches and even purchasing cookies made by the nuns in a local convent. Lunch was spent at an outdoor restaurant just outside the Plaza Mayor, which provided a flavorful menu del día and people-watching opportunities.

After a long, hot day of walking and absorbing and maybe even baking a little, we boarded the bus on a quiet street just at the edge of the city and drove back to Segovia, waving out the window at Avila and stopping for a moment to take a photo at the base of the hill below the magical castle outside the gates of Segovia. The driver dropped us off at the i.e. University, which seemed incredibly modern compared to the University of Salamanca, and we made the uphill trek through the city gates and to Los Linajes.

Sightseeing Spain

February 26, 2012

After our first day of classes, we took a quick break at the hotel to freshen up, and then return to i.e. University to meet our tour guide, Mariano.

I’d mentioned in a previous post that I am more of a resident traveler; I don’t really explore the tourist sites when I visit somewhere but instead settle in and move with the rhythms of the locals. My notes from this trip remind me of this, since I wrote more about the Spanish food and the shopping that I experienced than the name of the famous arch that we passed under, or the name of the cathedral that framed the Plaza Mayor.

Left to my own devices, I would have never left the confines of the Segovia city walls, but the program included two tours – a walking tour of Segovia that ended with dinner at a typical restaurant and then a bus tour to the interesting university city of Salamanca.

Facetime (and adult braces - ugh)

Before we left, I called my husband back home, using FaceTime on our iPhones for the first time. While I know it’s not amazing technology anymore, at one point earlier in my lifetime it would have been considered such and it was worthy of a photo.  He was back home, celebrating the Fourth of July holiday with his family in New York City. It’s always an odd feeling for me to be away from the States when a US holiday is celebrated and no one is celebrating where I am. But that’s for another post.

The Exterior of I.E. University

Mariano met us at the university, which is where our tour began. He was dressed in my perception of trendy European style, with a fedora and designer-looking jeans and a man-purse. (Forgive me for not knowing the true name of that item!) The first sight on the list – the carving of Fernando and Isabel kneeling at the Crucifixion, a feature that was added many years after the great event, and funded by those Catholic monarchs.

We then moved on to gaze at el Alcázar, the castle that reputedly inspired the castle at the Magic Kingdom in Disney. Due to the late hour, we weren’t able to actually enter this incredible edifice, but the view of the sloping hills and the stunning architecture of this building was quite magical in the late-afternoon light.

The Hills Beyond el Alcazar

Our guide made a point to stop at all of the points of interest, but very little stuck with me about the particulars. Yes, we saw a statue of a famous monk in a corner, and heard a story that sounded vaguely about part of his body being buried there, and another part somewhere else – Avila, perhaps? – but don’t ask his name of me…I don’t remember, although  I was duly entertained at the time. Juan Carlos, I think. Maybe he was friendly with St. Teresa of Avila, whose hairy finger relic sits in a glass case in the city of Avila, which I’d visited the year before. His picture is below – perhaps some of my Segovia Sisters would recognize him.

Instead, I remember the crowds of Castilians moving through their routines; stopping at the

Statue of Monk

DM Shop for some cosmetics, a panedería for a loaf of bread to bring home; each person moving with a purpose, whereas I followed my new friends and the guide dreamily, hardly believing I was there and trying to drink it all of the sights and smells and the warmth of the sun.

I remember the immensity of the Aqueduct and looked in wonder when informed that no mortar could be found, that it stood thanks to a keystone perfectly placed. While we were at the top of the Aqueduct, Catherine, our instructor, pointed out the restaurant where we’d have dinner: Meson Candido.

Now, Meson Candido is a very famous Segovia restaurant, which sits right next to the Aqueduct. Its specialty is cochinillo, which is in plain English a baby pig roasted in its pretty natural state. We made our way down many stairs to the square that sits  below, and were seated in front of the restaurant in full view of this engineering marvel, framed by late-afternoon golden sun. By this time, it was probably 8 p.m., but we were constantly tricked by the light in Spain because the sun didn’t set in July until almost 11 p.m.

Cochinillo y yo

At Meson Candido, the suckling pig is “cut” by a ceramic plate, showing how tender it is, in a ceremony that is ordained in some way by the king of Spain. We wouldn’t actually see the ceremony that evening, because we were dining al fresco, but even outdoors you never lost the feel that you were being hosted in generations-deep, rich tradition. We were served a crisp ensalada, chorizo sausages, roasted mushrooms, and then, the cochinillo. Some of my companions chose fish as their main course, but with my diet ever present, I felt that the cochinillo was a safe bet for me .

When it arrived, it was pretty much in its natural state as I’d suspected. But I’ve put in a photo – you can see for yourself! (A funny note: When I returned home, I met with my nutritionist. She was reviewing my food journal and stopped when she saw that evening’s entry. “Is that – does that – does that say, pig?”)

My new friends and I bonded over this authentic experience, the breathtaking view of the Aqueduct lit up in the twilight, and the energy of Segovia and its people. We strolled through meandering streets back to Hotel Los Linajes at about 11 p.m., chatting in a relaxed way that good Spanish wine and interesting conversation can foster. Back in my room, I open my doors to my un-balcony and open my pink laptop to begin writing my first essay.

Next post: Traveling to Salamanca!

I <3 School

February 23, 2012

Our writing course, Travel Writing and Memoir hosted by Brown University, was set in the hills of Segovia in July. While a lot of the program would be focused on experiencing the culture and sights and learning about Spain, our time in the classroom was equally amazing. What an opportunity, to be in that container and experience the writing of a group of dynamic women who’ve lived some of the most interesting experiences and earned their fair amount of wisdom.

Each morning, from 8:30 a.m. through 4 p.m. or so, we met as a group in a classroom in I.E. Universidad, in a building that was a former convent. The exterior was typical in its Gothic style, and the interior was modernized with some lingering reminders of the original design. Coming to “class” each day, we’d pass by an archeological dig (indoors!), windows that looked out into a sunny courtyard and cool hallways with checked tile leading to the classrooms. Another example of how Spain keeps the old and makes it new at the same time.

The halls of i.e. universidad

Breakfast at Los Linajes usually started at around 7:30; I could hear the jangling of cutlery from my room, which was just above the restaurant and terrace. I could look out my double doors, which led to a gated un-balcony (only an inch or two before the wrought-iron gate), and see who had already gone to breakfast and if the cat had come for his early morning treat. Meeting everyone for breakfast quickly became a routine, with two tables occupied by travel writers enjoying authentic café con leche, tortilla Español, charcuterie and an assortment of juices and cereals. I especially enjoyed that the coffee was served in simple, unadorned stainless steel pitchers that weren’t insulated nor covered. A matching pitcher of steamed milk sat next to it, in the same style. There was no flavored coffee, no iced, no skinny latte; just simple coffee. The lack of options was delicious.

As a group – at least, at first – we would gather in the lobby and make our way down the hill, through the gate to the university, over narrow sidewalks and cobblestones and one particularly interesting gateway that was never intended

Gateway to Segovia

for pedestrians – well, not at the same time as cars. As one does in Europe, I realized quickly that flat shoes weren’t necessarily the best fit for this kind of terrain; something sturdier was required. Each morning, we were greeted by warm, beautiful Castilian sun – it was so idyllic that it was easy to forget that there was a real world waiting for us at home.

That first day, we placed ourselves around a hollow square  and began the instructional part of our class. After Catherine, the instructor, gave us some writing “rules” and tips – and a daily quote – she challenged us all to think of three places that have meaning in our lives, and describe them. And then, as we would for all of our future class meetings, we’d read them out loud.

What I don’t think any of the travel writers expected was to  reveal a lot of personal information through what should have been fairly innocuous descriptions. It was almost like a group therapy session for which none of us had signed up. Not surprisingly, we bonded as a group fairly quickly – and this only strengthened as we went on to more extensive, personal memoir writing that was shared among the group.

My soul really belongs in Spain, because the country’s rhythms so agree with me. We broke for a lunch at 1 p.m., a true Spanish siesta for two hours (with no nap). The universidad’s small cafeteria opened for us, and we enjoyed a fresh lunch out on their terrace just behind the building. The view was at once ordinary and beautiful. Surrounded by a group of interesting new friends and such natural beauty and history, I reminded myself of how fortunate I was to have been given this experience to unwrap and savor. 

Lunch on the Terrace at i.e. universidad

 

 

In Spain and On a Diet

February 19, 2012

It’s Sunday morning in Madrid, and it’s a gorgeous morning. I emerged from the rock tumbler that was my flight and was hit with a wall of hot air. I loved Madrid in the summer.

As I traveled through Customs – my “buenos dias” met with a grunt – and to the meeting place, I could only focus on one thing: finding food.

As usual for me, I was following a strict food plan and as I move outside of my home zone, it becomes increasingly more challenging to eat on plan. Traveling to Segovia for a writer’s workshop, where two meals a day are provided by someone else, was going to really test my skills in finding “clean” low-carb food.

So when I finally found my luggage in the yellow-lit baggage claim area, take a shuttle bus to Terminal 4 – the terminal where, supposedly, most of us were arriving in but not really – I was spent. A lovely, gregarious woman named Elena met me at Arrivals as only a Spaniard could: with a hug, and two kisses. We gathered in a cafe at the Arrivals gate and awaited the arrival of the other ten travel writers in the course; during that time, I snuck away and bought some Marcona almonds and some packaged sliced jamon from the cafe and snacked while the others arrived.  (Could you imagine US airports selling sliced prosciutto in their run-of-the-mill convenience stores? I love Europe!)

By noontime – a full four hours later – we had boarded a bus to take us the hour drive to the beautiful walled city of Segovia. Against my best intentions, I dozed most of the way through the countryside and missed beautiful sights on my way to our destination. The morning seemed endless; getting to Madrid, waiting for everyone to arrive, the hour bus ride – and then at the Aqueduct, the gates of Segovia, we had to stop: The bus was too large to fit on the narrow streets the rest of the way to the Hotel Los Linajes. A fellow travel writer behind me was already writing in a notebook. “Catherine said that you should always travel with a notebook,” she mentioned as she took notes about whatever she’d experienced that day. Catherine is our instructor; several of the writers in my workshop had taken her class the previous year in Pont Aven, France. At that moment, I felt crumpled, still hungry, and inadequate. All of my writing materials, including my notebook chosen for its Zen-like cover, is sitting in the storage of the bus.

Aqueduct in Profile

After a hastily arranged transfer via taxi, we arrived piecemeal to the rustic but charming Hotel Los Linajes. Check out my TripAdvisor review about this adorable Castillian hotel.

Los Linajes looked a bit rustic for my taste on the Web; the decor decidedly 80’s with rust-colored furniture and old-style bedspreads. I admit that I’m a bit of a hotel snob; I didn’t expect luxurious, but comfortable is non-negotiable. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised: The hotel was sparkling-clean, and everything about it screamed charming Castilla. It was pretty simple, but for a trip like this, I came to realize that simple was actually better. It was like I was staying in someone’s home, and I could make it my own. And the hotel was built into a hillside, so most rooms overlooked the beautiful rolling hills beyond Segovia’s gates. Once I’d caught a glimpse of the view, I instantly forgave it the large hill that I’d need to climb after class every day, the thin bedspread, the one-button air conditioning, and the two-pound key fob.

After check-in,  all I’d wanted to do was take a nap. But, instead, it seemed that my fellow writers – eleven of us in all – were going to meet in the lobby in a short while and explore Segovia with our instructor, an elegant, well-spoken woman with a blond bob whom I’d liked on sight. I did a quick refresh in my room and got back in time to head out with my new friends.

So, I’m in Segovia and I’m on a low-carb, no-sugar diet. What to eat? Before we did anything else, we took a five minute walk – uphill, which would be a trend – to the Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayores in Spain are an essential part of the culture. Everything happens in this central square, and most cities have them. There are restaurant, bars, churches, and various points of cultural importance located near or in the Plaza Mayor. While Spain can be very modern, the Spanish are excellent at keeping the old as well and not changing their culture to reflect its Western neighbors.

Our large group settled down at the restaurant La Concepcíon, which offered typical Spanish fare. I ordered a tortilla, a yummy egg dish; a side of sausages and an agua con gas. It was a hot afternoon, but we sat and enjoyed getting to know each other under the white umbrellas shading us from the sun. The energy was amazing; we were all female by coincidence, but I could tell that everyone had a different story and a different perspective – and that we’d all be good friends by the time we parted at the end of the workshop.

We spent the afternoon navigating through the main roads of the city, over cobblestones and through narrow alleyways that led to more delightful sights. The city was clean and beautiful and was busy with the bustle of locals and tourists alike. As we walked by some shopping, I’d made a note of where I’d like to return for future purchases. There were many of those in my future, I predicted.

A Spanish entrance

Early that same evening – what seemed to be truly the longest day – we met in the salon as a group, spread out in a circle on more rust-colored sofas. It was, again, cozy, like being in someone’s grandmother’s basement. Just behind us was the restaurant, and behind that a terrace where many meals would be shared. I sipped a Coca Light as we went around and introduced ourselves, and took the first step in memoir writing – talking about our name and if it had any significant meaning. It was an interesting exercise, since everyone’s parents had told them a story about why they chose the name they bestowed upon their child – and you learn a lot, about the person and maybe even about the parents – in that one small story.

We ended our first day in Segovia out on the terrace, which overlooked the hillside and was home to a very cheeky cat. As the day came to a close, I shared a simple dinner with my new friends: salad, eggs and chorizo al fresco, with a glass of Rioja under the Castillian sun.  It was at that point I decided that I was going to be in Spain and experience it through all of my senses, especially taste.

The terrace at Hotel Los Linajes

 

Dreams of Segovia (and a travel tip)

February 12, 2012

Now that you’ve “met” me, let’s talk about why I decided to start this blog.

But, first, a travel tip:Travel and Leisure magazine offers a wealth of resources for techie travelers on their site. Check it out! (Every post, I’ll try to share some travel tip or link.)

The Perfect “Me” Travel Opportunity

Brown University offers an adult education program, and I took a Spanish course with them a couple of years ago. In February, 2011, I received an e-mail about an upcoming course in Travel Writing and Memoir, offered by Brown in July 2011 and taught by Catherine Watson an award-winning journalist and a fantastic photographer. You know when you get something and everything in you screams, “Yes!” – that’s where I was when I got this e-mail. The timing was right, the fee was affordable, and Spain is, by far, a favorite. I actually had some miles that I could put towards a ticket, so as soon as I registered, I booked my flight – even though the organizers asked us to wait until May to book our tickets. It was never a question that this trip would happen.

Otherwise, why was it so appealing?

I’m an aspiring writer.  My professional life has taken a different turn and my only opportunities to write are usually copywriting for marketing purposes. But I love to write – non-fiction, fiction, short stories, etc. I also love to travel, and I love learning about new cultures, new languages, and new people.

Speaking Spanish fluently is a goal of mine, but not an urgent one since I seem to be able to speak enough to “get by.” It’s something I swear I will do when I get some free time, but I try to keep up some exposure in the meantime – a Spanish class here, Rosetta Stone Spain there, and always Spanish/Latin music. My first international trip, my honeymoon, started out in Madrid and Barcelona before moving to a cruise of the rest of the Mediterranean.

Since then, I’ve always tried to get to Spain. I was fortunate enough to attend graduate school at Suffolk University, which has a Madrid campus – and where I spent two weeks studying and enjoying the city. Business has taken me back there for several meetings over the past few years. What’s odd is that I seem to always have this unconscious expectation that I’ll be back in Madrid shortly – even though there was nothing on the horizon that would give me that impression.

At the beginning of May, the University confirmed that the course would run as it had enough enrollment. A second e-mail, from our instructor, with a couple of assignments and a reading list. I immediately bought several books on the reading list, including two of her own. The assignment, a short autobiography, dispatched just before the due date, which was the end of May.

And so, I arrive!

The preparation for this workshop was somewhat disappointing. The organizers didn’t offer much more than that initial dispatch in May, requesting our autobiography. Further communications addressed the financial responsibility we had to the University, and a late notice about what to expect once we got to Madrid Barajas airport – which ended up being moderately inaccurate. A request for a LinkedIn group, a Facebook page or some other digital way to meet my fellow writers went unanswered. As someone who plans things for a living, this was unsettling.

When I got on the plane, I did not know that I would be one of eleven women (the single gender makeup of the group – coincidental) who would mostly be from the same area. I knew that I’d be in hotel Los Linajes, in the walled city of Segovia – see my review on Trip Advisor – but not if I’d be sharing a room. But what I had hoped for was a life-changing experience – and I got it.

Windmills, as viewed from the bus window

Next post, I’ll tell you about meeting the Segovia writers and our instructor, and our first day in the walled city of Segovia.

Who’s Blogging Now?

January 30, 2012

The highlight of every blog is getting to know the person behind the words. Two people could go to the same party, drink the same cocktail, meet the same people, and yet have a totally different experience. So much of what frames our perceptions lay within our past, experiences, current situation.

As I am on my second foray into a grad degree in communications – first, org comm and now interactive media – I consider myself a social scientist. I enjoy nothing more than observing human interaction – especially in an environment different than my own – and hypothesizing about the reason why certain things happen. It is simply so fascinating to me, partly because it’s impossible to find out everyone’s back story.

So, to save you a little bit of uncertainty about me and why I view things a particular way – a little Uncertainty Reduction Theory – I’ll lay some of it out there and give you a bit of my frame.

Recently, I read an article by a woman who was a foreign exchange student who recently stayed with a French family; her article was about how the French lived differently and what it was about that differently that made their lives so much richer than many Americans’s lives. If you’re interested in why, here’s the link: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/07/travel/five-paris-lessons/index.html?iref=allsearch.

What struck me about this was how we, as Americans, introduce ourselves and otherwise learn more about others. Instead of learning about a person’s character and interests, we start with soliciting the information about his/her CV and then making assumptions and judgments based on that. So, because of this, I’ll attempt to introduce myself without giving you a list of specs.

I consider myself well-versed in the rhythms of travel, although I don’t have any interest in telling you how to get upgrades, or how to stay calm when the child behind you has kicked your seat for the past eight hours and sleep is never going to happen, how to negotiate the best deal in a souk in Morocco. I’m less interested in the mechanics and more in how it feels to be immersed within somewhere. My travel style is not to go on a trip and see all of the sights – although I have done that, especially when traveling with my husband – but more to settle in one place and live like a local. This explains why I’ve been to Madrid five times for over six weeks combined and never set foot inside the Prado.

Work has me on the road a lot, but my greatest experiences are when I’m in a new city and I’m forced to move around, learn the customs and get by when the language isn’t understandable to me. I enjoy traveling for business, but I regret that it gives me only limited time in a place. Often, I’ll return to that place for a future trip. This has been the case with Frankfurt, Punta Cana (DR), Madrid and Barcelona, and Miami.

My first flight was at 22, which was 11 years ago. I got my first passport at 24, just before my wedding in 2003. I’m now on my second passport, not because I had too many stamps, but because my dog ate my original and I had to send the chewed-up version back to the State Department for a new one. :-/

This blog  is going to share with you my experience as a participant in a travel writing course, hosted by Brown University, in July 2011. I haven’t written this story yet – I did begin, but life got in the way and I never got beyond the flight to Spain. For this blog, I’ll still start at the beginning, trying to give you a more sensory experience. I’ll stretch my technical skills to learn a bit more about Web production and also share some photos to make it a richer story to tell.

The stories I’m about to share are from my notes and my memory. I’m going to try to write less about the chronological experience, and more about sharing various scenes from the trip. There were days that were unremarkable, and others that were filled with experiences that are too many to put into one day.

And once I finish chronicling this trip, I’ll share stories from some others.

While I hope you’ll be entertained by what I write, I also hope that you’ll gain insights about the culture that I experienced and perhaps a wanderlust to explore the world for yourself.

Segovia's aqueduct