3 Reasons Why I Like to Travel

“Why do you like to travel?” Tricia is writing a post for her blog Travels Through My Lens about why people like to travel, and pondering why some don’t have any desire to travel; she wanted a quote from me. It got me thinking. My initial response was:

“What I like about travel is feeling immersed, if only for a moment, in the culture and ambience of a place I’ve never been before.”

That does encapsulate the essence of why I may get tired while traveling, yet never tire of traveling. Her question got me thinking about what attracts me most to other places. It all comes down to three things:

1. Cafes

2. Cathedrals

3. Sketching

Cafes

Mornings are my favorite time of day, the best part of the evening is going to bed so I can get up in the morning. When I travel, alone or with Tricia, most mornings I either quietly have tea in the room while she sleeps, or, more frequently I head out to a cafe. One of the first things I do when we get to a hotel, or a BnB, is to scope out a coffee shop. Before going to bed I lay out my clothes, reading materials, and sketching kit so I can quietly get dressed and leave, hopefully without waking Tricia.

At the cafe I feel like a local, most tourists take vacation as an opportunity to sleep-in, I don’t begrudge them that for a moment, it just keeps my morning less crowded; if I sleep in until 0800, even 0700, I feel like I have missed the best part of the day.

In the cafe there is time to read some news, the Morning Office, a book. I might explore a map planning the day’s adventures, specifically focusing on a good place to eat lunch, which is usually the high point of our day. Cafes, bistros, and restaurants are a priority for us, and an important part of why I travel.

Then, settled in, it is time for a sketch. In Robion, a couple of years ago I went to the same cafe every morning, did four sketches, one each morning. Each was from the same table, just facing a different direction.

Cathedrals

The cathedrals and temples in the world are worth visiting. Of course the magnificent ones – Notre Dame in Paris, the Duomo in Florence, Bath Abbey in England – are awe inspiring, but they are too crowded for my taste. (Visit early or late to avoid crowds – Friday Prayers at Bath Abbey is my recommendation)

Gordes is one of those places in France I love to visit, sadly so does every other tourist who goes Provence, so I am faced with the crowds. Just off the circle at the center of town is Eglise Saint-Firmin, a small and in need of sprucing up cathedral. Never crowded, a bit dark, always quiet. A few minutes sitting spent on the old and warn pews, considering the icons and flickering red candles, triggers all kinds of reflections on what is important in life.

Grand gardens and parks are just variations on cathedrals, as are mountains and vistas. My mind is freed up to be creative, for introspection, peace and meditation. Next to morning cafes and midday restaurants Cathedrals of stone or nature are the best part of travel.

Sketching

Pretty obvious that this is a priority for me. Sketching allows me to connect with the place, it forces me to slow down and really observe – the colors of the building, the shapes, the people and what they wear. In the time I am sketching I am completely immersed in the terroir of where I am. Later, when I flip through a sketchbook, a bit of the feeling comes back, it is like being there all over again. Those sketches of Robion renew those wonderful morning cafes.

Tricia’s Quote Expanded

I think I need to give Tricia a more complete quote:

What I like about travel is immersion, if only for a moment, in the culture and ambience of a place I’ve never been before. I may get tired while traveling, yet never tire of traveling. It all comes down to three things: Cafes, where I connect with the locals, cathedrals, where I am inspired, and sketching, where I capture the moment while creating a memory.

Japan – a prepared adventure

Delta 167, Sunday July 17, 2016 – Non-stop Seattle to Tokyo’s Narita airport. Hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto are booked, house and cat-sitter all arranged, we are set. That is really all we have planned, no detailed itineraries, not much in the way of “must see.”I will readily acknowledge that our approach to travel is not for everyone, yet I encourage folks to give it a try. Three components: Spontaneous plan, Light packing, Technical Logistics.

We arrive on Monday, mid-afternoon. Saori, our Japanese daughter, is going to welcome us at the airport, assist in picking up Wi-Fi hub at airport, then navigating us on the Narita Express to our hotel. Then we will take her to dinner. That is about the extent of our definite plans. The rest is pretty much make it up as we go. There are only two things I specifically want to do, Odawara Castle, and a train that goes near Mt. Fuji. We will work these out when we are there.

Readers of my blog know that “tourists must see” lists don’t do a lot for me. Beyond that we have learned that all of the research in advance helps, yet when you get to the place you are going it looks different, strict agendas made 10,000 miles away are restrictive. Then there is the physical demands, some days we feel like doing nothing. I remember afternoons in Bruges, sitting by the fire at Rembrandt’s, reading and snacking for hours, one of my best memories of Belgium; you don’t really plan for that kind of day, they happen if you let them.

Luberon is a small village in Provence, France. On our first visit to Provence, Tricia was not feeling well one evening, I went down to the bar in the hotel to let her sleep. As normal I struck up a conversation with a local. She told me that Luberon was not to be missed. The next day we headed for Luberon, I had a Croque Monsieur at an outside café, we bought local pottery from the shop with the blue doors in this painting. The joy of spontaneity.

The second important consideration is light packing. We will go to Japan for 17 days, and we will each have a carry-on size roller, plus a small carry on. This is so important. You are flexible if you need to take trains, navigate stairs. And you are not burdened with stuff. I know it is often repeated but it’s true, the longer you travel the lighter you pack. Set out what you think you need to take then cut it down, then do it again. Light packing means flexibility, and that adds to the spontaneity. I must admit that when I see couples travel with two huge cases I really wonder what they are taking and how much they will use. One exception, when we have gone places where hiking is on the agenda we take a larger case, boots and packs do take up space.

The one place I do spend time planning is the technical details. This includes maps, plugs and chargers, Wi-Fi, and a few miscellaneous goodies.

Maps are a big thing for me, first I love them, but I really like to be able to find my way around. With a WiFi hub Google maps navigating works on iPhone or iPad. I also use Maps-2-go, they are offline, and since the GPS works on my phone even if not connected to phone service, it will find you on their maps. Maps-2-go also has great place to store lists of sights, restaurants, etc.. So with these two in place you are ready. Google also allows you to download maps for offline use, along with stored favorites.

If I need directions to a hotel, or for driving, I do turn-by-turn maps of directions before the trip. These are stored in an offline notebook on Evernote, a bit of redundancy I know but it’s comforting when in a strange town and you need to find your hotel. With Google street view you can take pictures of the area around your hotel to help you spot it when on the ground. This helped us in Barcelona and in Provence.

It is obvious, but worth reminding, that you need adapters and chargers for all your electrical stuff. Thankfully unless you have really old electrical items most are already 110/220V so you don’t need a converter. Take more than one adapter, they are small and you probably will want to charge phone and iPad at same time.

I travel for pleasure with only iPad, it does all I need and is lighter than computer. iPad and iPhone pretty much take care of everything from music to navigation. A Bluetooth speaker brings music into room, Google Translate app (different than the online translate) is brilliant as it will capture the text of a sign or menus and translate, no internet needed.

 Couple of things I carry, a real tea cup, and immersion heater- tea in the morning is important so I make it possible most everyplace. Along with that an acrylic wine glass, wine and beer just don’t work out of the placid stuff at hotels.

Travel should be a prepared adventure, take what you need, resources for what you will need, and the curiosity to let each day unfold as it will. Bonnet voyage.

Las Vegas, I won!

Thank you Las Vegas, I think I figured it out. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas – perfect, as there is nothing here I would want to take with me. Sitting in the noisy Southwest Airline concourse, eating a mediocre overpriced meal, something started to make sense – what makes me a bit different as a traveler and travel blogger.canstockphoto4511009-650x487

First of all, I don’t like Las Vegas, nothing about it has any attraction. The casinos are noisy, this place is decadent, being polite about it. Superficial would describe most everything, and so many people are here looking for some kind of fun, but it does not seem to work. If you ever get here, go down to the registration desk of the hotel in the morning, watch the people checking out, they are exhausted, and if you eavesdrop you will find many are hungover, not to mention that when they talk to each other it is about how much money they lost, or how drunk they got.

I am sure I am leaving myself open to all those who go there, “just for the shows and the food.” Yet when there are so many places to eat wonderful food, without having to traverse the profane, why would I want to. I would much rather drive through Sonoma to end up at the French Laundry, than face the crowd on the Strip to get to Keller’s Bouchon in Vegas. And most of the promotions for the shows appear to be produced by the same folks that gave Las Vegas the moniker of “Sin City,” do I really need to see all that?

When I meet people on my international travels they talk about wanting to come to the USA, and go to Vegas, I beg them to see the rest of the country, Vegas is not what we are, or at least I hope not.

When I travel I want to get away from the crowds, the Eiffel Tower was a disappointment to me because of the crowds. I love Paris, London, and Barcelona, but I go out of my way to find the quiet places and I shy away from the touristy. The best times are when we hire (rent) a car and then head for some remote village. Restaurants in a foreign language, with no English translation are the best. I want to blend in.

I want to go where the local people go. Yes, I do enjoy a high end restaurant, but because I like it not because it is THE place to go. Yet, there is something about a dive bar that never loses its attraction. There is this little place in Salem, Oregon called The Extra Point, a dive bar for sure. But always friendly bartenders, and they have Wimpy Burger night, and Taco Tuesday, old pool tables and darts.

Traveling with a checklist of places to see really does not move me. I honestly think I could go to Rome and never see the Coliseum and be just fine with that. A question I ponder is, “How long do you have to stand in front of some iconic location to say you have seen it?” The real question for me is how do you experience it? Many folks walk through Notre Dame in Paris, they saw it, me, I sat in a pew and prayed.

This is most likely why tours are not a big attraction. We have gone on only one in our life, in Bruges, it was a rainy day, we were bored. Thankfully it was a small tour, with an emphasis on history; enjoyable for sure. Yet when planning other trips we rarely consider tours, discovery and exploration are better.

Having identified all of this I need to be clear that I pass no judgement on those who like tours, tourist sights, and Vegas, it is just that they are not me.

I prefer a glass of wine and my sketch pad at a winery over a wine tasting. I prefer a good meal with Tricia at a small café (Marianna’s in Gourds, France) over a chain, or an all you can eat buffet. We spend as much time planning where to eat as we do what to see. Picnics with local confections are a priority. Local food is a doorway to the heart of a location, I want that.

A ramble through a Scottish countryside, or along a canal ending with dinner at a British pub is perfect. Quality over quantity, quaint over extravagant, quiet over a crowd, discovery over a fixed-itinerary – places that are sketch-worthy, voila, that’s it.

So I get it, I want to travel and write about places that move me to get out my sketch pad. I want to eat food at places that give me a glimpse into the spirit of a place. TheWinesketcher, off on another adventure, it can never be too soon. Thank you Vegas, I did win.

 

A good bottle of wine, what’s that?

We were staying at Nash’s airBnB  in Rubion, a small village in the South of France. (Actually our hostess was Corrine, Nash was her dog that we fell in love with). At the local market we bought wine for about 3 Euros, then had a picnic while sitting on a bench in front of an old chateau. It was wonderful -local cheese, bread, and fruit – with the bottle in a small stream to keep it cool.

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The wine for the picnic-in-the-room with this view was from a tiny grocery store in Moustier St Marie, it was from the Cote de Rhone and was also 3 Euros, about $4.50 in US dollars. I cannot think of many glasses of wine that I have enjoyed more, at any price.

I am sure that Wine Spectator never rated either of these two, and have no idea how they would rate, nor do I care. What mattered is that they were good wine.

So what does makes a good wine? A good wine is one that brings joy, gladdens the heart, and often is shared with friends.

But why is any particular bottle better than another?

Tastebuds are strongly influenced by the nose, thus a wine that does a bit of aromatherapy on us before we even taste it is already winning us over. I may not be able to describe every nuance of fruit, tobacco, figs and such, but I know when a wine entices me as it whispers “this is going to be good.”

Of course the color of the wine, and even the bottle and the label might hint that I will like what I am about to taste. Strong tannins, that puckering sensation you get just below your ears, is not a big plus for me; a bit softer works better. And “food pairings” are way overdone.

Price is no guarantee of taste, yet the Shaw wine at Trader Joe’s is almost undrinkable for my palate. I have enjoyed $100 bottles of wine for sure, yet have had $60 bottles that were not that amazing.

The factors that contribute most to a wines enjoyment scale are not what are printed in the tasting notes or on the label. The three most important components to a great wine experience are

History
Ambiance
Companions

Wine has a history.
The story of where the grapes were grown, the winery, and the wine maker may influence the experience more than the terroir; they trigger fond memories that enhance the taste of the wine.

Quivira is a wonderful wine, made better by the vineyard, the winery and the tasting room in Sonoma. We went on a tour, saw the vineyards, tasted grapes right off the vines, saw the famous fig tree, the pigs, the chickens and the gardens, while sipping wine along the way. Every time I open a bottle from Quivira it takes me back to that wonderful day; the wine just tastes  better because of the history we have with Quivira.

Then there is Torii Mor in Oregon, wonderful Pinot Noir, made all the better by memories of warm summer days on their deck overlooking the hills of the Dundee wine region. History truly does enhance the flavor of the wine.

I will always be partial to Cote de Rhone wines in general simply because of my times in Provence. Spanish Cava triggers memories of hidden plazas in Barcelona.

The Ambiance makes a difference
Sitting on our deck on a warm summer day, snacking on wine and cheese makes any wine taste better. I remember some rather plain wines that were wonderful because we drank them with a picnic on the train from Melbourne to Sydney, as I saw my first kangaroos on the hillside, it was my 20th trip to Australia so I was overdue. I don’t remember the name of the wine, but I do remember that wine was part of the experience.

Glasses are part of the ambience. It does not really make all that much difference to me if I drink my reds from huge glasses, my rose from tulip shaped glasses, or Sauvignon Blanc from a smaller white wine glass. But I do love the Italian style glass I bought at the Coppola winery in Napa.

Food adds to the taste, but again too many folks get crazy on the perfect pairing. Visit various web sites looking up the right wine for a certain food and you will quickly discover that there is no consensus on the “right” wine; the experts all have their own opinion. My guideline is if it tastes good it is paired properly. If you really are enjoying that Pinot Noir with the delicate fish, then go for it. And if white wine sounds good with a steak, then you have the perfect wine.

Food adds to the ambience, not because it is meticulously matched, but because you enjoy it. There is something about cheese, bread and wine or a bit of salami, a piece of fruit, a cracker. When you pour the glass, grab a snack and the wine will thank you for it.

Wine is best when you have companions.
Who you drink your wine with is as important as anything to make a bottle of wine a good one. The best wines I have had are those I have had with Tricia. We have had some good wines with friends and enjoyable conversation.

A good wine may be an 80 instead of a 95 on the Wine Spectator list, but if it stands out, puts a smile in your heart, brings you closer together with friends, adds to the enjoyment of the place then it is a good wine.