Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Travel

Ultimate Family Gift: A Themed Vacation

Here we are in the midst of the holiday season. Are you still looking for that perfect family gift to remember all year long? Consider a themed vacation in a sunny place.

Winter doldrums will hit, but there are a number of ways to benefit from the warmth of the Caribbean Islands and those in the Pacific as well. I’ve enjoyed a few days away now and then to simply read, enjoy friends and family, savor the local foods, and of course, run.

There are any number of resorts that will cater to your needs as you let the cares of the world wash away. There is another way to spend some time with family: dig deep into a topic they would find worthwhile or intriguing. I just experienced one of these on my first visit to the Caribbean in many years.

My recent week away on the French island of Guadaloupe included a study on the topic of the Slave Trade History in Post-Colonial Guadeloupe. 

Ruins of a colonial prison

I came away from my week in Guadeloupe with a deeper understanding of the complex, violent past of many of the islands in the area.

Historian interpets signage at a slave rebellion site 

I also learned some about the plant life and the topography of this beautiful island, much I would have overlooked had I chosen a more passive vacation.

We also had opportunity to enjoy the many beautiful and varied beaches of Guadaloupe

On a much earlier trip to Hawaii, just by chance I happened upon an announcement in a local windward side free newspaper. A local civic historic group was offering a tour of ancient sites in the area. I was surprised that with the myriad  of tourists on the island of Oahu, we were  the only non-residents of Hawaii taking the tour. It was a magnificent opportunity to learn about ancient fish ponds. sacred burial grounds and a drive to some cliff locations that mark the historical changes of power on Oahu.

As a proponent of both the get-away-and-be-pampered vacation and the thought-expanding vacation, I’ll provide my ideas on what makes the latter a success.

1.Prepare well for the subject or territory you will be exploring. In my recent trip, I sought out fiction and non-fiction literature to give me a basis for the history and a sense of place. Ask your tour contact for their suggestions for advance reading.

2. If you are not on a specific topic tour, keep an eye out for information, both on the web and in print, that may be offered by local groups such as the one I ran across in Hawaii. Generally they know their subject matter well and are eager to share their knowledge.

3. Consider a trip that includes a homestay, at least for a portion of the trip. My trip to Guadeloupe did. I stayed in the home of a professional young woman and came to understand much of family life, residential architecture designed for the lifestyle and the climate, and the favorite restaurants and home cuisine that are preferred by locals.

4. Learn in advance who will be your guide and who will be providing information of the credentials of your primary guide. If you are doing a study tour, the background of the leader should be available to you. Is he or she an educator, a resident or former resident, a frequent traveler to the area?

5. What is the maximum size of your group? A smaller group can move more efficiently and sometimes have access to venues not available to larger groups. It also offers more opportunity for individual questions and discussion, but may be a bit more costly. There are always trade-offs.

6. Will there be downtime to digest information and enjoy time with your host or fellow participants? Simply taking a drive for the mountain view, enjoying a warm walk on a sunset beach, or following up on a lead of a wonderful local eatery can provide a break and add to your memories.

7. Will the tour be age-appropriate and of interest for your entire family? Will there be recreational time for those less interested?  

Do you search for something more intriguing for family vacations? Is there a topic or activity your entire family enjoys? Have you tried a vacation exploring a specific topic or engaging in a home stay with a local? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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Walking in Solothurn – Day 5 and Farewell

Our final day hiking began with a train from Solothurn to Deitingen where we walked through a lush forest to the lake of Inkwil.

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The pilings in this lake area are a Unesco world heritage site, originally houses on stilts now primarily underwater due to changes in environment over the thousands of years since the houses were built.

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After another hour of walking we came to a clearing in the forest where two Friendship Force of Solothurn volunteers Susan and Martin surprised us with a forest luncheon.

 

We learned how to properly score a sausage prior to placing over the fire.

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Jürg demonstrated the proper technique to score a sausage to achieve the desired appearance.

Bidding goodbye to Susan and Martin, we continued out of the forest and were again on open trail where we came upon the Lake of Aeschi, a lovely tourist stop suitable for swimming and having a beverage on the lawn that banks to the lake.

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A beautiful afternoon of sun and water followed by a farewell dinner with many thank you and good-byes, and of course music of the region. 

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Tomorrow, we leave this wonderful hive of hikers to cast ourselves to various destinations. Some will continue to travel in Europe, others like myself will be returning to our homes.

I will miss the door-to-door public transport that Switzerland offers. Among the first departures in the morning, I catch the earliest bus at our stop. The bus drops me at the Solothurn train station where I then board the train for arrival at the station in the Zurich Airport, finishing my morning commute with  a walk through security and on to my airline’s gate.

Many thanks, Friendship Force of Solothurn for a hospitable and healthy journey.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking in Solothurn – Day Three along the River Aare

 

Today, before our walk along the River Aare, we spend a bit of time with a historic walk through this lovely baroque town. There are three remaining gates to the city and we also see portions of remaining Roman wall jutting from the corner of a trendy shop.

 

The Solothurn Cathedral (Cathedral of St. Ursus, an early martyr of the church), was originally built in the early middle ages with changes over the centuries including a rebuild in the 1700’s. 

 

 

The detailed history and design is worthy of a guided tour when you make your visit to Solothurn. As is the Church of the Jesuits, a relative newcomer built in the late 1600’s with a stunningly breathtaking interior.

 

 

We don’t leave the town center before seeing some of the many clocks, including one representing the cycle of life/renewal and death, a musical clock, and an 11-hour clock (the number 11 having a special designation in Solothurn – 11 steps to the cathedral, 11 of almost everything with a historical significance).

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Leaving town, we follow the River Aare, passing cattle in pasture meadows, fields of crops as well as some industrial buildings along this lane.

 

The stork settlement at Altreu was a delight. In September, many of the young storks had already flown south. Those too old to make the trip stay to winter here.

 

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Having hiked just over six miles from Solothurn, we boarded a boat  on the River Aare for our return and to meet our dinner hosts.

Our day ended with small group dinners hosted by local Friendship Force members. My good fortune was to be included in a dinner in the neighboring city of Bern where we dined at the home of Urs and Ursula. We were treated to wonderful food, including dishes incorporating grapes, figs and apples from their garden. After enjoyable conversation and cuisine, we returned to Solothurn by auto. (Urs had rented an auto by the hour, a common practice when several people are traveling or large items must be transported. Otherwise, the order of the day is convenient bus/train combinations to get from town to town.)

Many thanks to our dinner hosts as well as day hosts Tamara, Kurt, Lucie and Jürg. Sleep tight and prepare for Day 4 – hiking up Weissenstein.

I came for the Paris Marathon and stayed for the cultural history

Writers and artists who made a home for themselves in Paris, particularly early and mid-twentieth century, are an intriguing group. You can’t poke around Paris too long before running into the haunts of writers, painters and entertainers of that time.

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A popular Left Bank  hangout over the decades for writers and artists

I love to walk or run the streets of whatever city I am in and the streets of Paris with their history are most inviting. In searching for their spirit, I found that using the Frommer’s do-it-yourself walking tours as a base and adding my own scattered knowledge and serendipitous finds to the mix worked well.

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The Shakespeare & Company Café serves a good lunch and has a great people-watching location, but is not affiliated with the bookstore

One of the favorite haunts of many of the creative ex-pats was the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore. I found the original site (after a couple of wrong turns) at 37 rue de la Bucherie and it’s current location at 25 Quai de Montebello in the same neighborhood. It’s a fun bookstore with corners and crevices to tuck into as you browse through books. I particularly like that two books on the topic of running are currently featured on its website.

 

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Ernest Hemingsway’s haunts and homes seem to be well documented. Here I include a photo of the building where he shared a 4th floor walk-up with his first wife. After successful sales of his novel, and moving on to another wife, his apartment (lower photo above) is in a more impressive building. New wife, new life.

 

 

 

 

 

My only formal walking tour during my stay was with Walk the Spirit, specializing in background on black intellectuals, artists, and musicians in the early 20th century and the their impact in Paris and beyond. Authors James Baldwin and Richard Wright, dancer and actor Josephine Baker (learned that she was also a spy for the French resistance), and many more moved to Paris for artistic and economic freedom where they did not experience the constraints of American society of the time. 

 

 

 

 

Artists migrated from other European locations as well. In his mid-20’s, Pablo Picasso found his way to Paris where he worked in the building photographed, reported to be the location where he created Guernica. I’ve wondered what Picasso would have thought of the street art/graffiti filling the walls of this former atelier.

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Not far away, the Picasso Museum sits back from the street where visitors line up in droves. (To find a Picasso exhibit near you, check the Artsy site.)

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And let’s not forget about the booksellers along the Seine who have displayed their wares through the previous century and do so to the current day, selling their miscellaneous literature and other merchandise, from the intellectual to the silly. 

The marathon brought me to Paris and the marathon route brought us near many of the streets above. What a joy to have a few extra days to backtrack and explore the twists and turns of streets walked by those artists of an earlier era.

 

 

 

Every Gate has a Message

Gates are a marvelous architectural element. They sometimes provide entrances, sometimes borders, and always a message. That message can be through a written announcement, but sometimes through tone, whether that be a welcoming walk or a flowering garden behind that gate.

Let’s take a stroll through a few.

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There are gates that entice you to step through to a shady spot on a warm summer’s day,

 

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There are gates that call us back to a nostalgic time when life appeared to be simpler and quieter.

There are gates that establish a sense of place, character and work. Both of the photos above tell us we are near the sea. The beach shingle style covering of the gate to a home in East Hampton, New York off the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t need a sign to tell us we are near the sea. The solid iron gate complete with anchor tells us we are in fishing territory, a place for hardy souls. Indeed, the gate is found in the West Fjords of Iceland not too far south of the Arctic Circle.

 

And then there are the gates where, along with the mood setting, signage or written direction is there to ensure that we know for certain we, or at least some, are not welcome. The beautifully designed gate in the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia, may once have been welcoming, but now has an oversized lock and chain and a tow-away sign. The gate with a “tradesman” sign can be found on a London townhouse, once (and perhaps in some cases still) the indication that deliveries and work of tradespeople took place through this entrance rather than the formal main entrance. The additional two garden gates are from Holland Park in London and a private residence in Hampstead, each with a clear message.

I hope you have enjoyed your stroll through gates around the world. Just don’t park in front of that gate in Estonia.

via Daily Prompt: Gate

Me Behind the Wheel

I like to drive. Not quite as much as I like to run, of course. But, sliding behind the wheel and heading on down the road engenders a similar feeling of freedom.

On a recent spur-of-the-moment road trip with my sister, we drove south out of Illinois on I-55. After a brief rest stop, I took my turn behind the wheel.

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You never know what you will find on a road trip. My sister spotted this interesting tree trunk at an Illinois rest stop. Can anyone identify the tree?

Moving through light traffic along the relatively flat plains, I asked my sister what to expect for traffic through St. Louis. “Nothing you can’t handle” was her response.

She was right. Normal to heavy volume, but calm enough to gawk for a moment to the right for a glimpse of the famous Gateway Arch.

Back into light traffic and continuing south toward Arkansas, I pondered aloud.  My cars, trucks and I have had our adventures while negotiating animal

 

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crossings on midwestern dirt roads, Pennsylvania logging roads in search of trailheads, dodging city potholes in towns all over the northeast, the Youngman Expressway on snow-covered commutes, the Dan Ryan Expressway bumper-to-bumper rush hour and the occasional venture through the tunnel into Manhattan. Nothing I couldn’t handle, as my sister said.

But what can’t I handle? Or perhaps a better question,  what don’t I want to handle? First, I don’t want to take the wheel in Italy. I have not yet been to Italy, but have heard enough of narrow curvy roads, drop-offs, excessive speed, and carefree drivers that sometimes end badly. No, no, no. When I get to Italy I won’t be driving.

IMG_4817Second, I don’t want to drive in the United Kingdom, or anywhere else where law and custom dictates I drive on the left side of the road. On roads through Exeter, Bath and London, I have many times taken my place in the passenger seat, squelching the scream in my throat while madly pumping an imaginary break in anticipation of a head-on collision. All the while my friend behind the wheel drives us calmly and safely to our destination. It’s best that I don’t try this.

Third, well there is no third I can think of. But I’m sure you can. Where would you absolutely not want to drive? Does your list compare with mine? Where is the oddest spot where you found yourself behind the wheel?

Hiking the Versailles Forest with Power Hiking Paris

If you’ve traveled to Paris, it’s likely your agenda included the Chateau de Versailles and the Versailles Gardens. Was the Versailles Forest also on your agenda? No? Well, let me share my visit.

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The Chateau de Versailles and its perfectly groomed gardens in the far distance

I extended my stay after the Paris Marathon to absorb more of this wonderful city. Doing so, I needed to add a long hike to fit in some training for the upcoming Hike Across Maryland after my return home. I did a web search of hiking groups in Paris and found the a Meetup Group, Power Hiking Paris, just what I was looking for. They had a 35K hike scheduled for Sunday, my last day in France. I requested to join the group, and after exchanging a couple of emails with Victor (it turns out I was the 3,500th member to join the group), I was in.

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The trees were coming into bloom with a blanket of French bluebells across the forest floor.

Instructions were to meet at the Gare Montparnasse on the platform for the train departing to Saint-Cyr. I found the hiking group (not difficult to distinguish with backpacks and hiking poles) in the boarding area at this busy station and had the opportunity to chat with most of them enroute to our destination.

Departing the train at Saint-Cyr, we immediately began hiking out of town to the Versailles Forest. As promised, the pace was fast, a swift hike on the flats and ascents and running on the downhills.

We continued in and out of forest and between farms, orchards and through small towns.

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Because I packed light for my travels which had to include my marathon running equipment, trail shoes and poles remained at home. Thankfully, except for one descent that was a bit iffy, my marathon shoes held their grip and the poles weren’t needed.

We took a short break for lunch and conversation in a meadow, then off again. 

Thank you, Victor, Serge and Meet-up Power Hiking for giving me the opportunity to meet and hike with you. It was a pleasure to join you and the hiking group while getting in my training miles and enjoy a forest in France I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit.

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Do you attempt to meet the people who live in the city/country/region where you are visiting? Did you attempt to get a local point of view new to you? I have found several ways to do this, but it’s the first time I’ve done it through Meetup. If you’re interested in digging deeper in your travels than tour presentations or chats with your waiter, Meetup offers groups in a number of activities and interest areas. 

During your travels, do you have other means of getting to know people and explore your interests more in depth? If so, please share.