"" Writer's Wanderings: October 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paris - Left Bank and Beyond

Continuing on our historical walk of Paris, we crossed the Seine to the Left Bank, looking back at Notre Dame and stopping at one of the best "Kodak picture spots."
The Left Bank (left as you go downstream) is historically famous for being home to scholars, philosophers, and poets. The street is lined along the river with street vendors selling books--all seemed to be in French though.

Along the way we were directed to stop by an old Acacia tree said to have been planted in 1602 which means it could very well have shaded those in the court of Louis XIV. Around the corner, we stopped to admire an old church, St. Julien-le-Pauvre, built while Notre Dame was still being finished.
Next we passed the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore started by Sylvia Beach, an American, in the post WWI era. It attracted literary characters of the era like Hemingway and James Joyce. Struggling writers were offered free rent for upstairs space where they could finish their works while searching for a publisher. The tradition is carried on today. The bookstore offers a variety of used English language books.
We moved on past St. Severin, through the Latin Quarter full of Greek restaurants (yes, you heard that right), and through Place St. Andre-des-Arts and Place St. Michel before crossing the river again to Sainte-Chapelle.
Unfortunately, Sainte-Chapelle was closed until 2 p.m., an hour away, so we didn't go in on this passby. On some free time later, we came back and saw the most beautiful display of stained glass windows I think I have seen anywhere. Even though the altar area was partially hidden due to restoration work, the chapel was well worth the trip back. Chairs are set in a circle so that you can sit and admire the beauty as the sun streams in through the richly colored bits of glass. This upstairs chapel is quite a contrast from the one below where we entered. Upstairs was for the royalty and elite and the entrance was through a passageway from the palace next door that is now closed off. Downstairs was where the commoners worshipped.
After a brief passby to see the oldest Metro entrance, we walked on toward the place that housed Marie Antoinette just before she met her death--the Conciergerie. Cathedral-like inside, minus the stained glass windows, it housed all sorts of political prisoners. There is a reproduction of what the room looked like where Marie Antoinette awaited her execution. Off to one side is another room that displays the crucifix she wore as well as the napkin she must have twisted in her hands as she contemplated her death.
Exiting the Conciergerie, we walked again to the Seine River and found another Metro stop where we found our way back to the hotel for a much needed nap.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Paris - Notre Dame Cathedral

One of the best guidebooks I would recommend for any European trip is a Rick Steves’. We bought the one for Paris and stuck little adhesive bookmarks in the places we were most interested in visiting. Armed with that book and a good map of Paris, we set out for Notre Dame Cathedral, the start of the historical walk outlined in the Steves book.

Notre Dame is impressive from the outside and beautiful on the inside with its huge arches and intricate stained glass windows. Bob had downloaded the audio walking tour from the Rick Steves’ website (yes, we really like this guy) so we donned our earbuds mine attached to the MP3 player, Bob’s to his Iphone and began our tour.

As we stood in front of the huge cathedral and looked up at the twin towers, we admired the various points of interest pointed out to us all the while keeping an eye on the hunchback who was looking for tourists ready to pose for a picture—for money of course.

Moving closer to the front entrance, we located Point Zero, a plaque set into the square that is the center of France from which all distances are measured.

Entering the cathedral, it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to the dim light but once inside, you begin to take in the huge arches and the richly colored stained glass windows. A single voice chanted serenely, the angelic tones floating through and around the huge pillars of the sanctuary.
This is a Gothic cathedral. Heavy pillars support the arches. The walls are gray except for where paintings or wooden reliefs adorn them. The stained glass windows appear delicate in contrast.
Outside again, we walked around to the side of the cathedral and peered up at the flying buttresses, the gargoyles, the fancy downspouts of the era. They represented souls caught between heaven and earth. Thankfully we didn't have to worry about them spitting out rain water at us. But for just a few moments, I had to think about Victor Hugo surveying the same area and imagining his precious hunchback hanging out on them as he put together his famous story.

It was time to move on and we started our recording again and rechecked our map. Just behind Notre Dame is the Deportation Memorial built to remember the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Unfortunately it was closed this day. The Steves guidebook describes a long hallway illuminated by 200,000 lighted crystals. Borrowing from a Chevy Chase movie, "I can see it in my mind." The picture in the guidebook helps too. Onward. . .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paris - Oooh la la!

Arriving at Charles DeGaulle Airport at 6 a.m. Paris time, we claimed our bags and began our great adventure. This leg of our trip to France, three days in Paris, would be unescorted and dependent upon our preplanning.

At the terminal, we found the tourist information center and purchased our 4 day museum pass. I know, I said three days in Paris but the passes only come in even numbered days. Next we located the train ticket area where we needed to pick up a set of tickets for use later in our trip that we couldn’t print out at home and purchase our ticket for the trip from the airport to Paris. All were done with little trouble.

Our trip to Paris from CDG was easy enough with one transfer along the way—that is until I was met with a set of formidable steps at the exit. My 39 pounds of clothes and toiletries felt like 100 by the time I got to the top. But right there across the street was our hotel, the Eiffel Seine.

Now the best news to a weary traveler is “Your room will be ready shortly.” We deposited our bags and left to forage for some breakfast. Around the corner, we found a cafĂ© that had a breakfast special: two eggs, ham, toast with jam, orange juice and coffee for 12 euros. Expensive? Not by Paris standards we found out later.

After breakfast, we walked one short block and stood beneath the structure that has come to symbolize this great city, the Eiffel Tower. Even though it is not our first time to see it, it is still awesome to behold. And just two blocks from our hotel! Ah yes, back to the hotel and hopefully a nice warm shower before tackling a two hour historical walk.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hurricane Season

Each time I visit my Florida daughter-in-law's blog during hurricane season, I have to smile. She has a countdown clock at the top that shows how much longer until the season is over. It may have to do with how long she has to fend the kids away from the hurricane emergency box where they know there are some goodies hidden to get them through should they be caught in the path of one of those nasty storms.

If you are planning to travel in the Caribbean, be aware that the hurricane season is from August through November with the peak opportunity for storms in September. As with any weather forecasting, this is only based on statistics and storms can occur any time and in any intensity.

Storms are labeled according to the region in which they occur. Hurricanes are storms in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E.

Typhoons occur in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline and cyclones are associated with the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E and the Indian Ocean area.

For travel in the Pacific, check NOAA for information on peak times for typhoons and cyclones as it varies in different areas.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Travel TIps: Postcard Patter

Postcards are often a beautiful reminder of where you have been as well as a way of telling others where you are. When you send them out to others save one for yourself--especially if the weather hasn't cooperated when you wanted to take pictures.

In some tourist areas, you will find booklets or packages of postcards for a good price. Buy a pack of cards and take them home to use as thank you cards, quick hellos to friends, etc. You'll save on postage over sending a regular card.

Before you leave for your destination, print out a sheet of small address labels with all the addresses of those you will send cards to while away. It saves time when you are writing cards. Just stick on the label and the stamp and send. Remember to add the name of the recipient's country when you are traveling abroad.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Here. Where's My Luggage?

Lost luggage is a problem no one wants to encounter especially on your way to your destination. Overall, 6.5 pieces of luggage are lost per 1,000 passengers. That doesn't sound too bad unless the suitcase with all your vacation clothes is lost and you are on the ship headed for a destination where you can only hope your luggage will arrive ahead of you.

Here are some tips to help locate your bags:
  • take a picture of your bag and carry it with you.
  • put an identification tag with your address, cell phone, or other contact information on the inside as well as the outside
  • don't check important things like your medications or travel documents.
  • if your bag is lost, be sure you have the phone number of the claims office at the airport so you can check back on their progress in locating your luggage.
Finally, if your luggage is lost consider it a "shopping opportunity." Sometimes a small emergency payment is made for luggage that is lost. If not, make your plight known to other passengers and crew. It is amazing how many clothes will be offered to help you through the dilemma. We once saw a couple completely outfitted in evening wear for a formal night when we weren't due into port for two days for them to get their luggage.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Books for the Road -- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Have you ever belonged to a book discussion group? I attend one whenever I can at our local library. This book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is on the list to read this year but I couldn't wait until the appointed month. I was too intrigued.

Anyone can imagine what a literary society might be but add the potato peel pie and well, doesn't that get your feline curiosity up? It did to the protagonist in the book as well, Juliet Ashton, who is a writer looking for a good book to write. One of the members of the society contacts her and there begins a correspondence which leads to a retelling of the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II.

The novel, written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, is told through the letters, telegrams, and a few diary notes. I thought at first I would be put off by that but these clever writers drew me in and developed their characters and story line expertly.

History, human drama, and of course a little romance are all mixed together for a story "pie" that will satisfy every bit as much as one made of potato peels--maybe even more so. If I could have gotten all my history lessons in such a delightful way as this, I would not have hated those classes so much.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cruise Surprise!!

Most of the cruise lines teach their stateroom stewards the art of towel folding to create a menagerie of terrycloth animals throughout your trip. On a cruise aboard the Grandeur of the Seas, our steward must have been bored with the usual bunnies, turtles, and monkeys. When I opened the door to our room one day, I found a man in my bed and it wasn't my husband!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Gift That Kept On Barking

It was Christmas morning. The night before, we had given reverence to Jesus, trying our best to put the emphasis on the “reason for the season.” Full of anticipation, my kids burst into the family room and then stopped short when their Christmas present barked at them. Tied to one leg of the TV was a black and white Beagle-Terrier mix puppy. It was the only thing we could think of that their grandparents had not already purchased for them for the holidays.

The dog received little attention that day and the weeks that followed. Instead, my kids played with all the toys that had come from my mother who collected their wish lists long before Halloween. Grandma brought the seasonal catalogs she received in the mail to our house for the boys to look over. She coined the term “wish book” long before JC Penney and Toys R Us used the marketing ploy. My mother always started shopping early, so by the time I got around to doing Santa’s work, my choices narrowed drastically.

While my mother’s heart was in the right place, beating her to the toy store became a contest the rest of the year as well. There were some things that we wanted to be able to do for our children. We wanted to provide their first bikes and their first baseball gloves—even if it meant having to save nickels and dimes to do it. We wanted to be the heroes in our children’s lives once in a while.

It took a lot of talking and negotiating to come to an agreement over the division of gift-giving responsibilities, but we finally worked out a compromise. The kids circled their desires in the wish books, and we met with Grandma before she started shopping and divided the list between us. Grandma got a few of the “hot” items and “Santa” got the rest.

It was not until I became a grandmother, that I understood my mother’s desire to shower gifts on her grandchildren. As a grandma, I want to see the delight in their eyes, to hear their squeals of joy.

I’ve used the same compromise with my grandchildren’s parents that worked with my mother. The wish list is made and divided for Christmas and birthdays. Often we celebrate the holiday after it has passed. When that happens, we try to buy something that compliments what they have already received—a cartridge for their computer game, extra clothes for a doll, more tracks or buildings for the train set.

The compromise has worked well. The excitement is still there, and I maintain the respect of my grandchildren’s parents who want to provide for their children as I once did for them. Besides, they remember the dog—the gift that kept on barking.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

TSA Tips For Travel With Children

"NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the x-ray machine."

Okay, when I read that I laughed too. It must be a problem however. It is boldly stated right there on the TSA website page devoted to tips for traveling with children.

They have updated a few things on their site. They no longer suggest talking to your children about not saying things like, "I have a bomb in my bag." Perhaps it planted the idea in too many heads that thought it funny. I could see my grandson, Tyler, getting a glint in his eye after a briefing like that and announcing the dreaded phrase at the appropriate moment.

It is a good idea though to discuss with your children what the procedure will be like. Explain that there are rules for flying on an airplane and while some may seem silly, we have to follow the rules. Use age appropriate explanations for those "whys" that will come.

Make it a game for the little ones. Can you find all the metal things that you are wearing and put them in the bag? Then when they go through the x-ray machine, they are rewarded with "You found everything! It didn't buzz!" (That reward always makes me smile!)

Lots of other information is on the website for your travel through the security check including the assurance that the agents will not separate you from your child. I've never seen any children frightened by the security check- just upset over having to give up something that is not allowed through like a drink or a toy gun. Even the most illogical-looking gun made of plastic is better packed in a checked bag.

Traveling with kids can be made fun. It's all in the attitude you set.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Williamsburg Christmas Mystery

One of my speaking topics around the Christmas season is A Williamsburg Christmas. I talk about the Grand Illumination and demonstrate how to use natural materials and fresh fruits in Christmas decorations. All of this stems from a lovely Christmas gift from my husband years ago--a trip to Williamsburg in December.

Throughout the years following that trip, when I decorated for the holidays, I faithfully used all I learned on that trip. Then came the first Chrismas after we adopted our two youngest children. They were five and six years old when they became part of our family.

I made my usual arrangement of fresh greens and fruit on the dining room table. The greens formed a gentle S shape radiating from a grouping of candles in the center. Along the greens, I placed apples, pears, oranges, pinecones, and mixed nuts. Halfway through the Christmas season I would refresh the fruit and use the older pieces in a fruit salad or baking.

One night we were expecting guests for dinner. As I began to set the table, I noticed something different about the fruit in my arrangement. I blinked. Sure enough, someone had taken a bite out of each piece and placed it back on the table again! There was no time to replace the fruit so I just turned it over and hoped my guests wouldn't examine it closely.

I was pretty sure I knew who the culprits were although there was no telling if my three older boys might have done it to be funny. Whoever did it created a wonderful Christmas memory--one that has brought many smiles throughout the years since.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The What-To-Pack Dilemma!

After so many trips and destinations, one would assume that Bob and I would be past the dilemma of what to pack. Unfortunately, even after 40+ cruises and half as many land trips, we still tend to agonize a bit over what we will need to take in the way of clothes and toiletries and yes, at our age, meds.

We've taken to planning either stops at a laundromat, using facilities available on some ships, or sending dirty clothes out to be laundered. At the cost of extra luggage nowadays, paying for laundry is justified.

On one particular trip, we ran into a couple who had a unique solution to what to pack. We met them at the airport waiting to check baggage. They were obviously leaving for a cruise as we were. The tags on their bags gave it away. Bob looked admiringly at the two medium sized suitcases they were checking and asked how they got it down to such a small amount.

"Well," said the gentleman. "We've cruised quite a bit and we got tired of bringing clean clothes home that we didn't wear. So we took to putting a safety pin on each item that we packed. When we wore it, we took the pin off. The next time we packed we didn't bring those things again."

So simple--as long as you remember to take the pin off before you put the clothes on.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

White Elephants?

Today's my posting day at the Scrapbook blog. It wraps up a week long discussion of
White Elephant gifts.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Encouragement--Fuel for the Soul

Very few days go by without my questioning this path I'm on fraught with word counts, comma discussions, platform issues (should I brand myself as a travel writer, a novelist, or just a wannabe), etc., and then of course, rejection. The rejection as you might imagine is the worst. It's a little like being a child who makes this wonderful picture, uses every crayon in the box and tries to capture the image in his head on paper. Then he takes it proudly to an adult who smiles, nods, and asks, "What is it?"

Rejection of a writer's work comes in many forms. When I started, it was usually a form letter in the mail, sometimes signed personally (or by an assistant). Now it is in email form. One form letter I recieved was a list of reasons for rejection that was one editor's idea of humor. Each "humorous" rejection line had a box to check in front of it. The box checked on my letter was "Nothing wrong with this. I just got up on the wrong side of the bed."

The rejections that keep you going though are those that come with a personal note of encouragement. Yes, sometimes those editors and agents actually take the time to write a note of encouragement and that is all the fuel you need to pick up and go on. It only needs to be a few words, like "Great story but not for us," or "Keep writing."

Lately I've been plugging away at an old piece of writing I did years ago, adding to the word count, updating it (cell phones are being used now), and revising, using the skills that I have learned since first telling the story. All because of an agent who rejected me but then said one word of encourgement "If. . ." It may be rejected again but for now, it is all the fuel I need to keep on keeping on. To pursue that dream.

Is there a word of encouragement you could offer someone today? Sometimes it is even found in a smile--no words needed. But definitely fuel for the soul.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Books for the Road--The Pumpkin Patch Parable

I've been a big fan of Liz Curtis Higg's humorous inspirational books for women and have thoroughly enjoyed the several times I have been privileged to hear her speak at conferences. It was a pleasant surprise to find that she has also written children's books.

This past weekend our church held a Fall Festival for the kids of our church and neighborhood. Part of the activities offered was a story time and I was asked to be the reader. The book I was given was The Pumpkin Patch Parable and the familiar name of the author caught my eye.

To my delight the story was wonderful. It tells of a very patient farmer who plants seeds in June and waits for them to grow. Every pumpkin is different in size and shape and some even have lumps but they are still all pumpkins. Then the farmer begins to clean one of the pumpkins, being ever so careful with it because while tough on the outside, pumpkins can easily break if dropped.

As the analogy--you did catch it, right?--goes on, the farmer cleans out all the slimy parts inside making it nice and clean. He gives the pumpkin a new face, one with a smile. Then he puts a candle in it and "holds it to the flame" a moment. The result is that the pumpkin glows from within and becomes a light in the darkness.

All along, there are scripture verses that compliment the story, a convenient teaching tool. Wow, I thought. This is great for the kids, but what a message for adults as well! I borrowed the book and read it to the senior adult class I was teaching in Sunday school next morning. As I predicted, they took home a message as well. Jesus can make us clean, can give us new life, can cause us to be a light in the darkness.

There are other parable books by Higgs and this is one grandmother who is going to look for them in the bookstore.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

China--Forbidden City

Our next stop is the Forbidden City. Mao never set foot in it because he did not want people to get the idea he might be trying to make himself emperor plus the City represented the feudal system he overthrew.

The Forbidden City is huge. Large courts were for receptions and ceremonies to crown the emperor. We visit the side corridor areas where concubines stayed. There is a birthing room but nothing recognizable to my eye having to do with labor and delivery. We stop at the Couples Tree for a “Kodak moment.” Couples need to touch the tree at the same time to promote eternal happiness.

There is major reconstruction going on throughout the complex to prepare for the Olympic tourists.
This is the worst place we have been for crowds. Thousands of Chinese tourists crowd together to see the various rooms. I find myself pushed and pummeled as I try to see into one of the buildings. Before panic sets in I escape. I clutch my bag and maneuver through the mass of bodies all elbowing and shoving to get to the front. I’ll look at Bob’s pictures.

The crowd doesn’t seem to bother him.

To Bob’s delight, the promised Peking Duck luncheon is served in a restaurant at the top of the Silk Market. He has wanted to return and show me around as well as purchase some “Rolex” watches for our boys. This is the best meal of the trip thus far. The duck is succulent. Two chefs stand at one end of the room and carve the roast ducks. Thin slices are brought to our table and we learn to roll the duck, scallions, and plum sauce in a pancake like moo-shu pork. Delicious! Wish Bob wouldn’t hurry me.

As soon as I have the last bite, we rush off to the Silk Market below us. There are seven floors or more—like a department store. Each level has many rows of booths where all sorts of electronics, clothes, toys, jewelry, etc. are sold at whatever price you can bargain for. Of course the big draw is the “authentic replica” merchandise. Bob finds three “Rolex” watches for our boys for Christmas. Hope no one mistakes them for the real thing on the street. Our best find was a memory card that I needed for my camera. I’ve never filled a card before. We find one that is 2 GB and bartar our way to $25 US for it. I’m delighted when I discover it works!

Our group has been joking that most people get off a ship and kiss the ground. We are all so excited about getting real food and clean air that we expect to board the ship and kiss the deck! I’m sure we’ll all meet up in the grill for hamburgers.

It is a 2 ½ hour drive from Beijing to the Sapphire Princess in Xingang. Along the way we make a “happy room” stop. I stay on the bus. The outside of the building doesn’t look promising enough to even attempt a “happy” moment.

As we near Xingang, the air gets thicker and thicker with smog. It is obviously an industrial city and, we soon discover, a huge port. There are three buses in our caravan and none of the drivers know how to get to the ship. After circling around a few times, we pick up a dock worker and he tries to help us out. We end up on an access road that goes nowhere and back up to the main street again. Following the main street, we finally stop and ask someone else. It is so frustrating. We can see the ship but can’t find a way to her and we all know REAL food is waiting for us.

We arrive at the Sapphire Princess about 5:30 p.m. Goodbyes are said to Fred, Duan, and Maggie. We feel a little sadness in parting. They have done such a good job of taking care of us. Embarkation is easy. Much of the paperwork was taken care of at the hotel before we left and we already have our cruise cards.

I open the door to the most wonderful room I have ever seen on a cruise ship. When we booked, the only available room we could get was a junior suite and it is everything the brochures promised including a wonderful balcony with room enough for a party of four. The sitting area has a full sized sofa which I suspect is a pullout bed. And there are two TVs! Lots of storage space and a tub/shower in the bathroom.

We freshen up and head for our 6:15 dinner seating. One of the three other couples at our table is missing tonight. We learn that there are still people arriving by bus to the ship. We probably weren’t the only ones who couldn’t find their way to the ship’s berth. After all this waiting for real food, I discover I’m not very hungry. What’s wrong with me? I order a bowl of soup and a salad. Our waiter looks dismayed but he obliges. The salad tastes wonderful. I had been reluctant to eat anything that might have been washed in water on land because of contamination. I’m beginning to relax. I feel like I’ve come home.

The ship leaves port after dinner and we head for Nagasaki, Japan. Our first port of call.
Other China Posts:
Tiananmen Square
The Great Wall
The Summer Palace
Wuhan to Beijing
Chinese Farmhouse
Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges and Lesser Gorges
Fengdu—The Ghost City
Cruising the Yangtze
Chonging—The Yangtze River
The Big Goose Pagoda
Evening in Xian
Beijing to Xian
Timid Tourist in China-Travel Day
China-The Trip of a Lifetime

Monday, October 05, 2009

China--Tiananmen Square

Today is another “shiny” day and Maggie is beaming with pleasure to tell us. Our luggage must go with us on the bus today as we are boarding the ship in the afternoon. While we wait for the bus to load, I watch a hotel employee with a large feather duster clean the outside windowsills of the hotel. It amazes me that with so much attention to sweeping streets and dusting buildings, the sewage and water quality are such problems.

We leave the hotel early to head to Tiananmen Square. It is larger than I imagined. There is no way to show the size in a picture. Very little is said about the student uprising that was watched by the world as the tanks moved in. Maggie mentions matter-of-factly that 2000 students died here in 1989. Apparently there was also a student uprising in 1919 that was put down here too.

As we cross the street from where our bus parks and enter the square, we see to our extreme left thousands of people lined up next to Mao’s mausoleum. It is only opened a few hours a week for the people to pay homage to him.

To our extreme right, there is a building with one wall facing the square that is completely dedicated to Chairman Mao’s picture. With that picture in the background Maggie assembles us for a group photo as part of a souvenir book should we wish to purchase it later. It is worth the $14 for the group picture alone. We have all become good friends on Bus #2.

The one common thread we have found in all our traveling is children. They are the same the world over. I watch and smile as a three year old sits down and refuses to move no matter how his parents cajole. Somehow they all know how to become as limp as a wet noodle.

We walk around the square and take in the enormity of it while Chairman Mao smiles from his wall at one end. The last emperor died in 1996. Mao is still held in high esteem and much of what was not good is overlooked.

Things have progressed rapidly in the last 10 years. Fred, a fellow cruiser who was here ten years ago, says there was not so much traffic. Everyone rode bicycles and cars were rare. The country, now open to the outside world, is making all sorts of strides but the cost of progress is seen in the high levels of pollution. What a difficult balancing act it must be to industrialize and try to improve living standards all at the same time.

The doors on the government buildings are red with nine brass “knobs” in nine rows. Nine, Maggie tells us, is a “fortunate” number. I think it not so fortunate for those who died here.
Other China Posts:
The Forbidden City
The Great Wall
The Summer Palace
Wuhan to Beijing
Chinese Farmhouse
Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges and Lesser Gorges
Fengdu—The Ghost City
Cruising the Yangtze
Chonging—The Yangtze River
The Big Goose Pagoda
Evening in Xian
Beijing to Xian
Timid Tourist in China-Travel Day
China-The Trip of a Lifetime

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

Books for the Road -- A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth

When I agreed to read A Slow Burn to review it, I was torn between reading it alone or reading it after first reading Daisy Chain, the first book in the Defiance Trilogy by Mary DeMuth. I opted to purchase a copy of Daisy Chain and begin with that. Daisy Chain explores the mind, the heart and the soul of a young teen, Jed, who copes with abuse and then has to cope with the loss of his closest friend, the only one in whom he could confide. Add to that the guilt that he might have somehow saved his friend, Daisy, from being murdered and you have quite a story. It is tough reading because DeMuth truly digs in and pulls out all the stops as she explores his feelings.

In A Slow Burn, I was surprised to find that instead of continuing Jed's story from the first book, DeMuth chose to examine Daisy's mother, Emory Chance, who was devastated from the loss of her daughter and needs to find and give forgiveness. I wondered if the last name, Chance, was coined because she is a woman who finds her chance to be a mother is over and now she is presented with the chance to change her life. All of this while battling a drug addiction and demons from the past.

The second book of the trilogy is no lighter in character and emotion than the first. Both books are extremely heavy reading and while there is some good resolution, the reader is still left with heaviness of heart. The characters struggle with their spirituality, their obedience to God, and never seem to find the joy in their faith--except perhaps for Muriel who dies from cancer with a peace the others never find.

I expect the third book will be much the same but DeMuth's storytelling is compelling and I will be reading that as well. I need to resolve the murder mystery and it will be interesting to see how she handles the telling of Jed's mother's story. While you can read A Slow Burn on its own, I suggest reading Daisy Chain first. There are a few places you will understand better if you do.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

China--The Great Wall

On the bus, Maggie shows us a map of China. The country is shaped like a rooster, she says, with Beijing as the heart. And there should be two feet. Haikou is one foot and if they can get Taiwan back, it would be the other foot.

On our way to lunch, we pass a deserted amusement park that had been intended as a Disney park but the company building it went bankrupt.

Our lunch stop is at a cloisonnĂ© factory. We eat from a choice of Chinese dishes and their version of chicken fingers and French fries. We are hurried through the “factory” and marvel at how the workers could possibly see to make such intricate designs in the poorly lit work area provided them. We purchase some Christmas ornaments during our “shopping opportunity.”

We move on toward the Great Wall. The visibility is good on this “shiny” day. Fall colors add to the beauty and ahead of us, us we climb into the mountains, we get the first glimpse of the wall sitting along the top of a couple of mountain peaks. It is amazing.
At the tourist stop, we exit the bus and hurriedly buy a hat and scarf (each for “one dollah”—mine has a cashmere label, hmmm). While the sun is bright, the air and the wind are crisp and cold.

We enter the “easy” climb side of the wall and make it as far as the first tower before I am completely winded and feeling light-headed. I sit on a ledge and catch my breath, hoping I haven’t pushed myself beyond my limits. When the gray haze before my eyes disappears, I stand and look around at the view. We can see the continuation of the wall and some brave souls climbing even higher.
After the pictures are taken, we make our way down again which seems treacherous because of the angle. Bob appears to be at a 45 degrees angle to the path beneath his feet. I’m sure it isn’t that much but the backs of my legs feel the burn. We walk a little ways up the “hard side” just to say we were there. It is much less crowded and we get some wonderful pictures.

After a little coffee and a rest, we return to the bus and begin to make our way back down the mountains all the while catching new views of sections of the wall. Seeing the terrain, it is mind-boggling to consider the construction feat. Apparently there were parts of the wall built in 221 B.C. by the Qin Dynasty. Emperor Qin was instrumental in uniting China. Much of the wall we see today however was built by the Ming Dynasty in the 1300s to 1600s.

We arrive back in Beijing with just enough light left to see the 2008 Olympic stadium, “The Bird Nest.” Indeed it does look like a giant bird nest. It is said to have 100,000 seats and the opening ceremonies and track and field events will be held there.

This evening is our dinner banquet for all the Princess Cruise passengers. We join others who have been staying at the Beijing Hotel for two or three night pre-cruise tours. The banquet hall at the Beijing is quite fancy—fresh flowers on the tables—but there is still the usual lazy susan and the same type of food. We’re all ready for a good old-fashioned hamburger.

The cultural show mostly features children—perhaps from dance classes? They are delightful and come into the audience to shake our hands when they are done with their routines. I am happy for the opportunity to get a small taste of Chinese opera as well. The costuming is exquisite but the sound is too screechy for my ears. Still, I feel privileged to experience this little piece of culture.

Upon our return to the hotel, Bob tries to coax me into another walk down the street to the food stands we found the first night. I’m too tired to put up with crowds and just want a few minutes to myself. He goes alone and I pray he stays out of trouble. He’s not gone long and reports that he found scorpions, starfish, silk worms and snakes on a stick. My stomach rebels at the thought. I wish he hadn’t planted the picture in my mind before going to sleep.
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