Travel liturature 

I listen to a lot of podcasts, one of which is Gretchen Rubin’s Happier. It’s a lovely little bit of media, all positive and well, happy. A while back before heading off to Portugal there was an episode about recovering from vacation let down, those inevitable few weeks after a great trip where a person is forced to adjust back to real life. What a drag. One suggestion offered was to find books about the places you just went and read them while adjusting back to reality, in theory this lessens the blow of having to go back to work, the gym, the schedule, what ever it is that you are dreading etc.

I have pulled together a few suggestions and plan on working my way through some more as I remember them and as I read more (I read a lot).

India:

-For a fun historical fiction look for books by Indu Sundaresan these include the Taj Trilogy:

  • Twentieth Wife
  • The Feast of Roses
  • Shadow Princess

– If you have a lot of time on your hands:

  • Shantoram – By Gregory David Roberts
  • Red Earth and Pouring Rain – By Vikram Chandra
  • Sacred Games – Also by VIkram Chandra

– For a more literate heavy read try:

  • The Enchantress of Florence – By Salman Rushdie

Or for the non readers out there watch Johda Akbar a Bollywood film about the relationship between the Mughal ruler Akbar the great and his Rajput princess Johda. There is a really interesting connection between this film and the Salman Rushdie book. Two sides of a historical debate about the truth behind Akbar and his relationship with the Rajput princess. Though if you love the story in Johda Akbar you may not want to read the Rushdie book.

Switzerland and Italy:

  • Night Letters – By Robert Dessaix

It’s funny, I was gifted this book back in college and remember loving it. I remember getting a sense of riding on trains at night, and rambling through ancient streets on a path to discovery. But I cannot for the life of me remember what the book was about. When I looked it up again I had no memory of the story itself. But the impressions still haunt me, when ever I am on train or traveling through Italy I think of this book.

Spain, all books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon but in particular the three (the fourth is set to publish this year) listed below. They are a set but the first in particular was published in some editions with a walking tour of Barcelona and should not be missed.

  • The Shadow of the Wind
  • The Angels Game
  • The Prisoner of Heaven
  • The Labyrinth of Sprits

Spain, Morocco and Portugal:

  • The Time In Between – By Maria Duenas

There is also an excellent Spanish language mini series on Netflix right now of the book also titled The Time in Between. Everything was filmed on location and it is truly a work of art. I cannot recommend the show or the novel enough.

Hawaii:

Alan Brennert wrote a couple really lovely novels that take place in Hawaii.

  • Molokai
  • Honolulu

If you are looking for something a lot more serious try:

  • Hawaii –  By James A. Michener

Michener wrote 26 novels in the course of his career, each terribly comprehensive and rich in the locations they are set. He also wrote 30ish non-fiction pieces and had his very first novel adapted into the Rodger and Hammerstein’s Broadway epic South Pacific.

France:

There are so very many books I have read that take place in France but I think the most important is probably Paris by Edward Rutherford. The book is huge, not just in page number of the amount of material is covered. It follows six families starting at the Belle Epoc period but sweeps back and fourth throughout history giving one of the most singular overviews of French history I have ever read. Rutherford himself much like Michener has had a terribly successful career and has published eight epic novels about locations around the world. I was reading New York prior to loosing my Kindle (doh) and plan on tackling Dublin and Ireland Awakening prior to my 2018 trip with my mom.  Stay tuned for reviews on those.

I hope these suggestions either help motivate you to travel somewhere new or help cushion the return to post vacation reality. As I mentioned I will post more as I come across them. Read on and happy adventuring!

 

 

Sintra, Portugal

Despite all my research into the area I was expecting Sintra to be a flat dry small town. It is certainly in no way flat. It is a beautiful charming semi-Mediterranean hamlet living on a hill. A town which I instantly fell in love with and will dream of until I can somehow weasel my way into living there for good.

We very purposely split our 10 day trip into two locations. We wanted a chance to experience both the country side and the city atmosphere of Portugal a country that was a first for all of us. We rented a house and a rental car, and after a 48 hour travel day, my husband very bravely hoped behind the wheel of our Ford Focus and instantly experienced the horrors of Lisbon freeway traffic. That may have been a mistake. But after only missing one exit we made it safe and sound to our house, in the country and promptly drank two bottles of wine and fell asleep.

Our first full day was spent touring Pena National Palace and The Castle of the Moors, both of which you could see from our bedroom. What a way to wake up! Well, I was actually so horribly jet lagged that I woke up at 4am and couldn’t sleep so I laid on the couch watching some pretty horrifying BBC children’s shows and some sort of Antiques Road Show game show type thing until the sun came up and I could make coffee without seriously damaging my sleep schedule.

But! Once the sun came up the views were breath taking and I vowed I would someday live here. Or at least in Sintra, there is no way I could afford to live in the house we rented.

Sintra is both a small town and a municipality within the Lisbon state. The city area is where we concentrated all of our time, but the area is general is quite large and makes up several small town areas that total in a population of around 300 thousand. So while our house was in Sintra, we were not in the city center, and still needed to walk or drive a few miles to get to the actual town of Sintra. When making plans be sure to check maps for exact locations and transportation options. Also remembering that while things may be walkable by distance that doesn’t mean it is walkable when considering your safety. European town are quite old, side walks are rare.

We chose Sintra specifically instead of the hundreds of other pictures small towns in Portugal because of the concentration of things to see and do. There were a lot of sites claiming Sintra is a perfect day trip out of Lisbon, which I suppose if you picked two or so things you HAD to see and took the train out it would be a great day trip, but there was an inexhaustible list of things we wanted to see. Even at three full days (not including our first day settling in) and we still missed over half the sites. You could really spend a week or two just in the area. In fact when we go back this is exactly what I plan to do.

 

Sintra on it’s own is a UNESCO world heritage site, it has a large concentration of romantic architecture due do it’s long history of being a sort of playground for royalty and the uber wealthy. In fact there wasn’t a single view I found that didn’t have some sort of palatial house sitting in the middle.

And of course amidst all the wealth and splendor are broken buildings waiting for someone to come along and love. Which I love, and very much wish I had the funds to do something about.

Due to the narrow streets and small amount of parking navigating the area can be difficult. While we didn’t have too much trouble finding places, we were also there at the low season and always got into the town area in the morning. I would not recommend driving here during the high season.

 

Could you imagine trying to move a couch into here? Images of the infamous Friends episode “PIVOT” come time mind. We wound up eating at our apartment a lot but we did have one quite nice diner at a place whose name I have inexcusably forgotten. We went in for tapas but wound up having burgers. Calf burgers to be exact, which means veal, you have been warned. The food was great, the service impeccable, we shared a dining room with a bunny and a staff who kept apologizing every time the power went out. We didn’t mind, we loved the whole experience.

The second full day we spent wandering around the gardens of Quinta Da Regaleira a mansion and gardens turned museum as recently as the 1990’s. On our walk up to the entrance I came across what I think may have been coffee trees. Hot cuppa anyone?! They didn’t look ready to pick.

We also spent a good portion of our days just wandering around the town. Drinking coffee, sampling pastries and getting a feel for the area. I couldn’t get enough of the sun or the details on all the buildings. The tile work is incredible.

Above a panel of glazed tiles on the upper balcony of a typical apartment building in the area. Below the entire façade of a house covered in blue patterned tiles. I plan on writing an entire post dedicated to Portuguese tiles.

The third day we were planning on going to the Sintra National Palace, a building that is now dedicate to art and specifically tile work. However both my husband and my mom had gotten the flu on the flight over and we chose to take the third day as a bit of a rest. We woke up late, packed up the apartment, and moved up our timeline to get into Lisbon. It would up being a blessing really. We hit the airport and car rental return without traffic and without incident. Our shuttle driver showed up bounding across the pickup area with a sign and a giant grin on his face. More on that in my later posts about Lisbon.

Additional information:

Yoga and Travel – Part 6 – Non Comparison

One of the main messages of a yoga practice is the idea of non comparison. Yoga teaches you to look inward, concentrate on your own abilities in the moment and to not compare where you are at to where others are at.

As I have mentioned travel has a way of making everything seem more stark, the highs feel higher and the lows feel lower.

I think it is really easy to fall into the trap of comparison when you are outside of your own life and comfort zone.  When you travel you are experiencing the fringes of another possible life. You see different types of dwellings, clothing, shopping, cars, roads, towns, etc. It is so easy to compare this possible life to the one you have.

You can wind up associating the natural feelings of freedom and adventure that come with being on vacation with these different possible lives. Which can in turn make you feel envious or jealous of the people leading their actual lives in these places. Or on the flip side, you can have a bad experience and associate those negative feelings with the lives of the people living in this new place. Which can lead to feelings of judgment and superiority.

It is okay to have these feelings, but it is important to remember where they are coming from and bring yourself back to that place of non comparison. The steps to bring yourself back are the same as they are in yoga practice. Recognize that you have these feelings, look inward at where you are at, take a deep breath and refocus on allowing yourself to enjoy the experiences from your own place and reality.

Or for example, recognize that you are on vacation and things are naturally going to feel differently. Look at yourself, where you are at and be okay with this. Take a deep breath and refocus on what you are seeing or experiencing without added judgment. It is okay to enjoy things that you don’t have, and it is okay for people to do things that you don’t understand. Everyone is different, and everyone is allowed to be themselves. These different lives that you covet or judge are not yours to have.

Enjoy these experiences for what they are. They are beautiful and magical, crazy and different, wild and scary. Take them all for what they are, don’t let your own biases and judgments get in the way of loving every min of them.

Love every moment, for all the good and the bad. For they will be short lived and soon you will be back home.

 

Questions

  1. Have you ever found yourself judging or being jealousy of the lives you experience while you travel?
  2. Have you found a good way to recognize them for what they are so you can fully enjoy your travel without being clouded by feelings of comparison.

Thoughts on Money Belts

The first couple times I went oversees I was utterly terrified of having my money stolen. So I was one of those people, with the giant money belt, holding onto all my important documents and money in a giant sweaty mess under my clothes. It is true I never once got pickpocketed. Hooooray!

To be honest with you it was widely uncomfortable and I kept thinking the whole time, about the locals. They aren’t wearing money belts they all just have wallets and purses. So why do I have this monstrous pocket strapped to me?

Pros of Money Belts:

  • They are great for keeping your passport safe.
  •  If you are traveling with travelers checks  it is a good way to ensure you have your funds are safe.
  • These are also great if you happen to be traveling to a lot of heavy tourist areas. Tourist areas = lots of pick pockets. That doesn’t mean avoid seeing the things you want to see, just be vigilant.

Cons of Money Belts:

  • They are uncomfortable no matter which way you look at it. Especially if its hot out.
  • If it is hot out all your documents and money get soupy, so you are quite possibly going to be handing over a very sweaty 10 euro note to your barista.
  • You have to practically flash people to get your money out.
  • Wearing a money belt does tend to flag you as a tourist, which can often mean lesser treatment and or targeting for theft.

My solutions are pretty simple. I tend to travel off season, so most tourists areas I am visiting aren’t all that crowded and I am very careful about protecting my passport. I also always have several photo copies saved in various parts of where ever I am staying. This doesn’t mean if your passport gets stolen you will be able to get back on that plane and go home. This just means you have some proof of having held a US Passport and the reissue process in a foreign country will be easier. Not easy, but easier.

I also don’t tend to carry a lot of cash on me. I know that I could probably save money by being careful about where I exchange my money. But the hassle isn’t worth it to me, I know this about myself and for me it works. So instead I just carry my debit and credit card and pull out cash at local ATM’s a few times over the course of the trip. Then put larger purchases like lodging costs, and rental cars on my credit card.

Question:

Do you use a money belt? Have you ever had a run in with a pickpocket?

 

Planning for Customs Lines

Flying into and out of the country means that you will at some point go through at least two customs lines. The weight time is important to factor in while booking flights. I have know a lot of people that just jump on a site, book their flights and go without thinking through the actual time needed to get from Plane A to Plane B let alone Plane A to Plane B with a customs line in between.

Every airport is different and if you are really concerned about making sure you get it right you can research airport layouts and average wait times at customs. But I thought I would throw some of my own musing on the topic together for you, just to get you thinking about planning for them.

Knowing where your customs points are going to be are important when planning your flights. The customs check will occur on the first landing in a foreign country.

For example if you are flying from San Francisco, to New York and then on to London. London your destination will be your customs check. This is really the idea situation. But if you are like me flying out of a smaller airport and trying to get to a smaller location, you have a bit more scheduling to contend with. In which case it might be common to have a flight from Portland to Toronto to Munich, where you will go through customs in Canada and German at your destination. Or Portland to Chicago to Paris to Vienna. Paris would be where you go through customs and you will wind up doing so between catching your next flight.

When I got on to book our flights to Portugal I was given an hour layover in Munich to land, get our bags, go through customs, and catch our next flight. Some people may be okay with this, the airlines obviously think its reasonable and that is okay. But even knowing the Munich airport well, I knew I would not be comfortable with only having an hour between flights.

I kept shopping around, until I managed to find flights that allowed for three hours at our European Union Customs entry point (Amsterdam) before catching our final flight to Portugal. This affords us two hours to account for delays in Portland or Chicago for weather, long customs lines in Amsterdam, and any number of other things that could delay us. If we happen to get there and get through customs quickly and on time, then we have a couple hours after flying all night to change, freshen up and get some food before our final flight into Portugal.

Coming back we will fly though Paris, but since both Portugal and Paris on a part of the EU we don’t go through customs until we hit Minneapolis. Meaning I am okay with only having an hour layover in Paris, but I want a few hours in Minneapolis just in case.

These kinds of fail safes don’t guarantee anything but I would much rather wind up waiting a couple hours in an airport because we got through customs so quickly, than several days because I missed my connecting flight by 20 min.  But that is me. It is always important to know yourself well enough that you can pinpoint and understand the things you are and aren’t willing to put up with when traveling.

Question:

Have you ever missed a flight due to long customs lines or not a long enough lay over? What did you do to reach your destination?

Yoga and Travel Part 2 – Dealing with Discomfort

Last week on Part 1 of this Yoga and Travel series we talked about the importance of breathing to reduce the occasional stresses of travel. This week I would like to discuss the uncomfortable situations we can get our selves into while out of our comfort zone and how a regular yoga practice can help you learn to deal with them more easily.

If you have ever attempted to take a single yoga class you will know it is uncomfortable. I say attempted because there is no shame in trying and feeling like it wasn’t for you. At least you tried, that is a huge step for many people.

Attempting yoga can be uncomfortable for many reasons. It might be uncomfortable because you see it as a ridiculous hippy-dippy practice that has no real use. It may be uncomfortable because you made it all the way through the class and realized it is REALLY hard. Or it might have been uncomfortable because you realized laying still in a dark room for several minutes (the final position of any class) oddly brings up a lot of emotions you aren’t quite ready to deal with. I do not discount any of these, they are all valid feelings and I have at one point thought them all.

The one I am discussing here is actually gaining the emotional ability to deal with  discomfort. Yoga is hard, it is just a fact. No matter how strong or flexible you are it will in fact always be uncomfortable because your practice and the poses that you can do evolve as you get better. You will always be holding a pose slightly out of your comfort zone for a length of time that feels like you might collapse but then the instructor tells you to move to the next pose. You didn’t collapse, you keep going, despite how hard it was.

The lessons I took from dealing with discomfort in yoga and have applied to travel is the patience with the discomfort that you feel during class. If standing in a one legged extended side warrior pose with my hands over my head for several minutes taught me anything, it was that I can endure a lot.

There will be situations that just make you want to loose it when you are traveling. But the more you put yourself in uncomfortable situations the more you will learn your extreme capacity to handle it.

Traveling is an amazing experience but no matter what there is going to be a moment where you wonder why you did it. It can be something small like a long line at customers. Maybe you missed your train, maybe the hotel lost your reservations. Or maybe you just find yourself intensely homesick. What ever it may be, you can turn these moments around by remembering that they don’t last forever.

You will probably wind up somewhere trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand you while you are actively missing your train. But at least you aren’t doing it while holding plank the whole time. You can do this, and so much more! Don’t ever let a brief moment of discomfort stop you from doing something amazing. Take a deep breath, find that patience and forge ahead.

Question:

What experience did you have where you thought your whole trip was ruined and what did you do to help bring yourself out of the funk and still enjoy it.

Bank Travel Notifications

These days most credit and banking institutions are extremely vigilant about monitoring card transactions. One of the things they tend to do is watch for unusual activity on cards and then will call the owner or shut down the card. Or both.

This is a fantastic feature, unless you are unable to take calls on your cell phone and you go to use your only debit card to realize you are in Rome for the next two weeks with no money.

This is obviously a very extreme case, and luckily hasn’t happened to me, overseas. But it has happened to me in the US, which was difficult enough to remedy without dealing with time zones and complicated phone situations.

To avoid this possible mishap, I suggest getting in touch with your card companies and alerting them to your travel plans. Every institution has a different process for accepting these.

My bank for example, I have to call customer service and have them put a notification on my account stating dates and locations where “unexpected” expenses should not trigger account holds. My credit card company even has an application on their site, where I can login and set future trips complete with locations and dates.

My advice when traveling anywhere even within your home country, is to alert the organization that holds each of the cards you plan on using on your trip. If you are unsure of how to do this, contacting customer support is usually a good place to start. They will probably be able to help you themselves, and direct you to the quickest way to make these updates in the future.

Additionally it never hurts to have a backup card and extra emergency cash stashed away somewhere in your suitcase. As well as having a “buddy” back home who has all your travel info and is prepared to wire you money in case of emergencies.