Boatful of Fashion

Fashion Statements:

Tradition, T-Shirts and Cultural Confusion in Dakar

If the eyes do not admire, the heart will not desire.”

- Senegalese Proverb

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Mother and Child in Dakar, Senegal by Vincenzo Fotoguru Iaconianni

Packing for our five-day foray into the mainly Muslim, West African nation of Senegal, I got some confusing advice from our daughter studying abroad in Dakar.

“It’s okay to show some cleavage,” she said. “But you need to cover your knees. Make sure Dad understands he can’t wear shorts.”

Just to check, I asked her several times whether her sister and I would need to include shawls to cover our heads and shoulders as needed, the way we did when we visited Israel and Jordan.

“No,” she repeated. “Just cover your knees. And make sure you pack nice things. The Senegalese dress very well.”

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Boatful of Relatives

Relatives On Board:

How Family Shapes Tastes in Food and Travel 

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” ― Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

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Table for One: mussels, brown bread and a book at Fishy Fishy Cafe in Kinsale, Ireland

Childhood experiences influence many adults’ taste in travel and food. As a veteran of annual cross-country drives of five straight 500 mile days in a hot, cramped car, I dislike long road trips and would rather fly or take the train. As an Oregon native who fled the rainy winters for year-round sunshine in Southern California, I still prefer rainy, cool destinations to dry, hot ones. My taste in food? Coastal (oysters, mussels and crab), bland (no 5-alarm peppers) and dishes made from fresh vegetables and fruits that thrive in mild, damp climates (arugula salads and berry jam and desserts).

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Italian Lakes, travel poster for ENIT, ca. 1930

I once interviewed Luca Cesarini, an Italian-born chef, who described how his family prepared for their annual drive to stay with an aunt who lived in the Italian Lake District near Milan, 160 miles away.  “My parents packed for that visit like we were moving to Asia,” he said. “We had a relative who was a butcher. He made special sausage and cuts of meat like fresh veal.”

On the day of the big trip, the family would squeeze between the sausages into the packed car. Before they left, his father would inevitably go back inside the house to get a few more bottles of wine. When they got to his aunt’s, the storied Italian lakes were only the backdrop to a cooking production that lasted the entire visit. He remembers it as “a rather dull place, with enough lasagna for everyone to gain twenty pounds in seven days.”

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Anne’s Boat

Imagining the Secret Annex:

What Anne Frank Means to Me

I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

~ Anne Frank, born June 12, 1929, Frankfurt, Germany – died March 1945, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Germany

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Reconstructed Bookcase at Anne Frank House and Museum, Amsterdam

It’s never been difficult for me to imagine Anne Frank and her family hidden behind the swinging bookcase in the Secret Annex. Maybe it’s because I was only a few years younger than Anne when I read the diary, walked up the staircase into the hidden rooms where she and her family found refuge and visited the Anne Frank House and Museum in Amsterdam. Although I understood what happened to her, I identified with her as an ordinary girl, someone who also wanted to be a writer.

For awhile, I also called my diary Kitty, and longed for some drama to record between its covers. Anne, of course, had no choice. Her life was full of the worst kind of drama. All she and her family could do in their hiding place was wait, listen and hope for the best. Although she did not survive, her hopeful voice takes readers into her confidence and makes them love her as a friend. She would be 85 today, June 12, 2014. As an adult, I’ve become more invested in her story as someone who married into a Jewish family, gave birth to my second daughter on Anne’s birthday, raised both daughters as Jews and visited many World War II sites and Holocaust memorials.

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Tribute Beach

D-Day Tribute:

A Visit to the American Cemetery at Normandy

The battle belonged that morning to the thin wet line of khaki that dragged itself ashore on the channel coast of France.”

~ General Omar N. Bradley, U.S. First Army Commander

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The city of Bayeux, France, prepares to welcome veterans, families and dignitaries from around the world for D-Day.

The 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014, marks what may be the last chance for remaining World War II veterans to pay their respects to their fallen brothers (and a few sisters) at the scene of the historic invasion of  Normandy. By nightfall of that day, 9,000 of the 100,000 Allied soldiers who made it ashore were dead or injured. Those who somehow survived soldiered inland to liberate France and help release the Nazis’ hold on Europe over the next two months.

History becomes personal at the Normandy American Cemetery’s Visitors’ Center, in videos of survivors’ experiences, accounts of victims’ family members and the letters of veterans who died that day. The most moving of these involve multiple losses–like the famous story told in the film, Saving Private Ryan–of how the Ryan family lost three of four sons in the invasion, and of the extraordinary lengths the Army took to bring the surviving one home. Bedford, Virginia, lost 19 of its 3,200 residents that day and 3 more in subsequent battles: the highest per-capita World War II loss of any U.S. town.

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A Wreath at the Normandy American Cemetery Honors the 22 Bedford Soldiers Who Died

The common thread of loss and sacrifice binds past and present. Above the peaceful nature trail that winds down to the now-pristine sands of Omaha Beach, 9,387 grave markers line the bluff in lines like military regiments. An additional 1,557 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing in a semicircular garden.

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Normandy American Cemetery

The dead came from towns, cities and farms all over the United States. Boys, for the most part, just barely men, they represented all races and creeds, who joined with Allied countries and French resistance fighters in what President  Franklin D. Roosevelt called, “a fight to end conquest.”  As General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “They did it so that the world could be free.” This 172.5 acres of sadness allows infinite space for gratitude.

Paris Bound

My Paris Romance:

The Story of a Bookstore

On a cold windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive.”

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Shakespeare & Company Books, Paris, by Christine Zenino, Wikmedia Commons

Growing up in family of Francophiles, I have always felt connected to my French heritage. (My paternal grandfather and his cousin spent years tracing our ancestors back to the original Huguenot resident of southern France, Jean Girardeau, whose children fled to the American colonies in 1680.)

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Snails are Served

But after all the build up, the most distinct memory I have of my first visit to Paris at age 10 is convincing my parents to let me order escargot at a restaurant, then falling asleep before dinner (at 10 p.m.) with my head on the table.

I didn’t get back to Paris again until one Christmas break in college, when my sister and I stayed in the Latin Quarter for a few nights on the way to Toulouse, where my Dad was spending a sabbatical year. This time, Paris lived up to its legend. Swaddled in scarves and thick coats, we strolled the narrow, student-filled avenues, eating far more Camembert, croissants and chocolat chaud than we could possibly burn off; stopping to watch the fire eaters and street musicians; and warming ourselves next to the chestnut carts. Because my sister was even younger than I on our first visit, this short second stay swept us up in the euphoria of youth and discovery. We saw Guernica for the first time in a giant Picasso retrospective at the Petit Palais and Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Jeu de Paume (whose Impressionist collection is now housed in the Musee d’Orsay); snapped endless close ups of Notre Dame’s gargoyles; and stood transfixed by a flutist’s solo in the stained glass serenity of Sainte Chappelle.

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Well-Known Notre Dame Gargoyle. Photo by John Cornellier via Wikimedia Commons.

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Boatful of Options

Travel Planning 101:

Research Possibilities, Experiment with Options

Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” ― Albert Einstein

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All Ways Lead to Somewhere at San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art

For the past few years I’ve enjoyed crafting custom trip itineraries for clients of the Australian-based, travel-planning website, Outtrippin. It’s a way for travelers to get detailed advice on the ins and outs of a specific destination without going through a travel agent or tour company.  Clients go to the website and describe their planned adventures, including budget, duration, travel style, interests, likes, dislikes, priorities and other details. After they fill in this information, the trip is posted on the website for “storytellers” (like me) to read, comment on and pitch. After up to three pitches have been received, the client choses the storyteller who gets to plan the trip.

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Climber Reading Guidebook at Sennen Cove, Cornwall, England, with Land’s End in Distance via Wikimedia Commons

The Outtrippin platform yields quirky and inventive trip plans crafted by travel writers who have local knowledge and contacts in a variety of destinations. For example, on her first whirlwind trip to New York city in winter, Iby chose A Local’s Guide to Touristy New York City, by an expert who’s lived there her entire life. For their stay in Kyoto, Peter and Louise selected 72 Hours Hiking and Biking to the Best Temples and Shrines in Kyoto, designed by a writer who studied abroad there. For their honeymoon adventure to Morocco, Li and Rory chose Experience the Magic of Morocco by a woman who has made frequent visits there (including a solo adventure) in the decade since her sister married a Moroccan.

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Central Park Under Snow, February 2010, via Wikimedia Commons

While insider tips can help make a trip successful, here are a few guidelines that will make every trip worth writing home about:

  1. Don’t “Bookend” Your “Travel Story” Before it’s Written.  Say you want to go to Paris in May, before it gets too crowded. In your excitement, you buy a non-refundable airline ticket before doing any research on possible itineraries: other cities you might fly in or out of, events you might want to attend and holidays you might want to avoid. Unless you want to pay a hefty change fee, your trip parameters are set. Moral: Purchase your plane ticket AFTER you’ve planned your trip.
  2. Research the Plot Possibilities. Assuming you have NOT purchased your plane ticket, all roads are open. If you’re in Paris before July 6, you’ll probably want to catch the Van Gogh exhibit at the Orsay Museum. You should note that the museum is closed on Mondays and stays open late on Thursdays. (Maybe the best time to go?) Advance ticket purchase is recommended.  Through further research you learn there’s a San Germain des Pres Jazz Festival. To see it, you’ll need to be in Paris between May 15 and 25. Some events require tickets and have limited seating.  If you’re a movie lover, on the other hand, you might want to go to the Cannes Film Festival, held at the same time. And if you decide you want to go to Cannes first, you might want to fly into Nice instead of Paris and take a road or train trip with stops in the French countryside. Moral: The reward for careful research is a better travel “story.”
  3. Plot the Journey. As you’re planning your route, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of renting a car versus taking the train. Look at a paper map so that you can get a better visual sense of the country and different areas you might explore. Use a site like Travel Math to help you gauge driving times and distances. Do a rough tally of costs for tolls, rental, gas and drop off fees (if applicable) versus train tickets. Plan a reasonable itinerary that prevents you from having to rush on your vacation. Consider the weather at the time of year you’re visiting. If it’s likely to pour, you won’t want to spend a week in the country. Moral: Consider geography and weather.
  4. Know Your Travel “Genre.”  Like mystery and adventure? You’ll want to create an itinerary that allows plenty of time for unexpected discoveries and excitement: maybe trying Europe’s highest bungee jump in Normandy or paragliding and hiking in the Pyrenees. Love romance? You won’t want to miss the castles of the Loire Valley or taking the Napoleon and Josephine tour at Malmaison. Depending upon your budget you also have a wide range of accommodation choices during your trip, from hostels and rooms to hotels, apartments, chateaus, farmhouses and even houseboats. You could also exchange your home for one in France. Moral: Ignore the critics and write the story that interests you. 
  5. Tear Up Your Rough Draft. If you’ve added up all the numbers and the trip is still not working for your schedule or budget, experiment with earlier or later dates, less travel during your vacation or other lodging options. Traveling at night can save one night’s room cost, and staying more than three nights can mean discounted room rates. Do what I call “flipping the trip” and research how turning your itinerary around might affect pricing. Research the cost of flying in and out of different airports versus roundtrip. Finally, compare the price of your preferred itinerary with a car-free small group tour offered by a package tour company like G Adventures or Intrepid. You might be surprised at the imaginative “plots” (i.e., itineraries) the “storytellers” (i.e., trip designers) at these companies have  dreamed up for travelers just like you. Moral: The best stories have strong beginnings, middles and endings. Take time to choose.
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Ernest Hemingway’s Passport with Paris Stamp via Wikimedia Commons

Planning a trip to Paris or beyond? E-mail me today for best prices on trips to anywhere your whims take you. I specialize in custom small group and independent travel; group travel for fundraising; and creative budgeting to help you picture where you want to go and set sail.

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Boatful of Serendipity

Destination Serendipity:

Where Millennials Go, Parents Follow

 Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

~Quote by an unverified source, widely attributed to John Lennon and used in his song, “Beautiful Boy”

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Reproduction of “Lebenslauf” (course of life) by Adi Holzer Werksverzeichnis via Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who has spent time with young children can relate to the lyrics of the song John Lennon wrote for his then-toddler son, Sean. To keep their sanity, most parents of babies and toddlers live in the moment. They stay flexible, roll with the mood swings, expect spilled milk and dirty diapers, and spend a lot of time answering the same questions over and over. But as children grow older and start school, both they and their parents settle into routines that usually allow very little free time.

This scheduling overload is probably one reason young adults want to open themselves to possibility and seek out new experiences, such as traveling and studying in foreign countries, when they leave home. According to the Institute of International Education, not only has the number of U.S. students studying abroad risen, but students increasingly choose to study in countries where English is not a primary language. In 2011, for example, there was a 44% increase over the previous year in the number of students studying in India, as well as sizable gains in the percentage of those studying in Egypt, Brazil, New Zealand and Israel.

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The Taj Mahal by Amal Mongia via Creative Commons

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Style Boat

Where Should You Stay?

Travel Style Dictates Choices

The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was.”

Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

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Sunrise View at Bories House, Puerto Natales, Chile

On the second-to-last night of my full-tilt trip through Patagonia, I gazed out at my version of the secret garden. Through the windows of my peaceful room at Bories House, an adobe hideaway on the outskirts of Puerto Natales, fallow fields glistened with late-winter rain. I had checked in just in time to see the sun set over the snowy slopes of Torres del Paine National Park. I got lost in that view as I snapped it again and again, knowing photos would never convey its lonely beauty. I  set my alarm to try again the next morning at sunrise.

Later, sipping a glass of Chilean Malbec in the small dining room, I asked the owner (who spoke fluent English) if he had many American guests.

“No,” he replied. “Americans want big tourist hotels, not quiet guest houses like this.”

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Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, Oahu

Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I don’t think so. What  do the statistics say about the kind of accommodations Americans generally want? According to a 2013 Trip Advisor survey, the majority (70%) of the over 1,200 respondents said they would book hotels for their summer vacations.

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