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Exhilarating and Exhausting are the words that seem to best describe our trip to Czechia from August 27 to September 17. We arrived in Prague tired and worn out and in need of rest and relaxation. When you own your own business (me) and are the only pastor on staff at a church (my husband, Mark), there are always a million things to do in advance before you leave on a trip.

Czechia - church roadside

This year was no exception, in fact, it seems like every year, there are more things on our To-Do list than ever before.

Czechia - Prague street

We enjoyed our first two days in Prague and had some wonderful experiences, but we also missed out on seeing several things that we should have due to our frazzled condition. The best thing we did was to schedule a spur-of-the-moment Airbnb Experience:  Ten Course Dinner in a Chef’s Home.

Czechia - Ladislov plate

Ladislav, our chef, was an amazing host, and we enjoyed excellent food and conversation around a table for 8 adjacent to the kitchen in his apartment.

Czechia - Ladislov

The other guests at our table were from Canada and Australia, so we all spoke English, in different accents. It was the highlight of our time in Prague. The B&B we stayed in was wonderfully historic and our host very gracious. We were able to walk a quarter of a mile to get on a bus which linked to trams and metros throughout Prague. The transport system was quite daunting for me, and even with it, we walked 7 miles up and down steep inclines, on cobblestones each day. We had our first taste of Czech garlic soup and cinnamon pastry trdelnik filled with ice cream and fruit in Prague. After an extensive search (we got lost), we found the Alfons Mucha museum and saw his portrayals of Slavic maidens. Sadly, the Slav Epic Exhibition I so wanted to see was no longer open.

Czechia - Prague houses

We saw the outside of Prague Castle from an outdoor cafe with a wonderful view of the castle and city below. We enjoyed a delicious Czech dinner where we had our first dumplings (both bread and potato).

Czechia - Dumplings

But the castle was closed by the time we were done, and our attempts to get there had been so traumatic (long story – think three or four story high escalators, an extremely steep hill, overweight and out of shape people who are terrified of escalators (me), hot, humid weather in the high 90s and no air conditioning anywhere, and one crazed taxi driver who tried to charge us $50 for a 3 block ride to a restaurant he never found) that you may understand why we never went back to see the cathedral, basilica, tower, palace, the hall that hosted knightly jousting tournaments, or the royal garden. We also missed the famous Astronomical Clock Tower in the main  square in Old Town, but we did walk across Charles Bridge twice and climbed millions of stairs to see the view of Prague from the top of the Klementinum Astronomical Tower and Old Library.

Czechia - Prague

What can I say? We were half-asleep and in a daze. These things happen when you’re in your sixties and you’ve just missed out on two nights of sleep.  I appreciated the lovely architecture and colorful facades throughout the city. I could see why people love Prague. But a big city person, I am not.

Czechia - church

Unfortunately, our next stop was Brno, another big city 2 hours to the south. We were supposed to stay in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house, but there was a water emergency and we were relegated to a city center apartment (which I avoid like the plague when searching for accommodations) which turned out to be filthy dirty. You don’t even want to know about the 3-4″ ginormous spider that came running out at me just before bedtime. Although my brave husband killed it, I still didn’t sleep that night.

Czechia - Brno dancers

The one good thing about our city center apartment was that it was near a tram stop that took us to the International Folklore Festival (one of our main reasons for visiting Czechia), where we had a wonderful time enjoying regional music, vintage bicycles, traditional dancing and more good food.

Czechia - Brno bicycles

We had quark dessert dumplings filled with strawberries and a sour cream sauce that were so wonderful I will dream of them until I die – and fried cheese, and more garlic soup. We climbed to the top of the city (twice) to see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, a striking 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles.

Czechia - Brno

Another highlight was the traditional dance review with costumed dancers from many countries.   

Czechia - Folklore Festival

When planning our trip, we figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in a big city, and boy, were we right! Our time in the tiny country village of Rojetin was our salvation.

Czechia - traditional cottage bed

The stars were brilliant, the countryside was gorgeous, and the quiet was just what we needed.

Czechia - garden door

While there, we were able to see three UNESCO Heritage Sites – a lovely church in Třebíč, a star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and our favorite, the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture.

Czechia - Telc cafe

Czechia - Telc

We also discovered a quaint town, Velkabites, where we watched them putting up an extremely high pole with a tree on top for an upcoming festival.

Czechia - Telc statue

It was the season of festivals. We dipped down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were booked for their annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival.

Czechia - Wine cellar

We loved the storybook villages and wine cellars of the area, and the wonderful music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, historic market, and tasty homemade crepes, sausages and cheeses at the festival.

Czechia - Grape Arbor

But our best memory is of Austria, and a wonderful chef at a delightful restaurant just a few kilometers from our B&B. By the time we left, we were full of creatively prepared food, and we felt like we’d made a friend.

Czechia - Znojmo view

The next morning, we headed to Znojmo, where we stayed in an amazing B&B in an old bakery, and discovered a beautiful church with an amazing view over the heart of Bohemia.

Czechia - Znojmo church

The next few days were a confusing jumble. First, the person who planned this trip one snowy day in April while short on sleep (me), got mixed up and thought the towns of Cesky Krumlov and Karlovy Vary were one in the same.

Czechia - CK Window

Bzzt, wrong. Second, while I was sleeping in the passenger seat, our GPS directed Mark to go east, back to Prague, crisscrossing the country instead of driving a short ways north, from one town to the other. Third, we missed seeing a beautiful castle along the route we were supposed to have been going.

Czechia - Chesky Krumlov shop

In our defense, I will say that we were completely wiped out from walking miles and miles a day up and down hugely steep hills on cobblestones and rough rock surfaces. In the rain. 🙂 Or did I already mention that?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov

Despite some rain while we were there, we loved Cesky Krumlov. I’m so glad we thought it was Karlovy Vary or we might have missed it. We actually liked it much better than Karlovy Vary.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov river

It was quaint and beautiful, with a magnificent medieval castle and beautiful gardens, picturesque river walks, good restaurants, and (be still my heart) several hat shops.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov view

Due to my confusion, we didn’t ever stay in Karlovy Vary. That was fine with me, because the nearby town of Loket, where we did stay, was smaller, more manageable and twice as delightful.

Czechia - Loket

I liked it so much that I’ve decided it’s going to be the settling of my next book, Plum Tart Iris, a Wildflowers of Czechia novel. We saw a spectacular sunset while eating outside at a great cafe wrapped in furry blankets to combat the chill from the mountain air.

Czechia - Loket sunset

The medieval castle was amazing, as was the river that curves around town on three sides, and a pottery shop and a creative tea house that I fell in love with.  I interviewed a few locals, and discovered some interesting historical facts that will define the plot of my new book.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary colunnades

But back to Karlovy Vary. I’d already committed to writing a murder mystery set there, so we had to research it. Since 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary spa

The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary mineral water

We walked miles to experience as much of it as we could, but were glad to retreat to little Loket at the end of the day.  Have I mentioned that we were quite tired and very sore but this point?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov table

Mark spent a lot of his time sitting on a bench while I explored the town. I may have been in as much pain as he was, but I am more stubborn. Or maybe not. He was hurting pretty badly.

Czechia - Pernstejn Castle near Zdar

Our next stop was a small castle in Jilove that was built by a famous doctor in the early 1900s, then taken over by the Nazis in World War II (Hitler even stayed there) and then, by the Communists after the war, who used it for visiting dignitaries, and then, turned it into a factory. It still needs a lot of work, but the new owner is working hard to get it renovated and we enjoyed being a small part of its history.

Czechia - woods

Our objective for this stop was to see the Bohemian Alps. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czechia - sunset

After a run in with a lot of road construction and some unsavory Vietnamese entrepreneurs who were gatekeepers to the parks, we decided to forego the promised paradise of rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches. However, while in the area, we drove through a bit of Germany, where I enjoyed a mug of hot Gluhwein and a German dinner and Mark had fun driving 100 miles an hour on the autobahn in our Mercedes rental car.

 

Czechia - crystal

Other highlights – when our plans to see more of the National parks soured, Mark researched and found a factory seconds outlet store at a glass bead factory where I bought millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects. It was heavenly! We also found a Bohemian crystal factory outlet store and came home with two treasures from their shelves.

Czechia - glass beads

Our last four days in country were spent in the small town of Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we hoped to get rested up before our trip home, since we always have to hit the ground running when we get back from a trip.

Czechia - Lesany

We could have gone back to explore more of Prague, but we opted to see some castles in the nearby countryside instead.

The medieval castle and surrounding village, Hrad Karlstejn, was incredible, and after climbing everywhere, we decided to splurge on a horse drawn wagon ride which took us part way to the top.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle tower

We walked all the way down to take in the shops and eating spots along the cobblestone streets.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle

In České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles, was also stunning. We were able to find an English speaking guide who gave us a private tour of the huge chef’s kitchen in the castle.

Czechia - Hluboká Castle

Our final excursion and another favorite was Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was delightful. The formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, and ponds involved a lot of walking, but we persisted and got some beautiful photos.

Czechia - Roses

I had been longing for gardens and flowers and water, as we’re so accustomed to seeing them when we travel to Great Britain, and I was not disappointed.

Czechia - Průhonice Castle

I can’t begin to touch on the dozens of other quaint villages, delicious meals and delightful experiences we had or we would be here all day.

Czechia - after dinner

Suffice it to say, I’m so glad we went, and I so enjoyed walking where my Bohemian ancestors walked.

Czechia - country sunset

In other news, Seaside Daisy, a Wildflowers of Ireland Mystery, is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Seaside Daisy Front Cover 10-17

Please grab a copy soon and let me know what you think! Reviews warm my heart!

Czechia - Plum Tart Iris

I plan on starting Plum Tart Daisy during NaNoWriMo this November while the trip to Czechia is still fresh in my mind. My goal is 50,000 words by November 30. Thanks for listening!

Czechia - Rose Garden

Spring has finally started to poke its head out of the long-frozen ground. Maybe that’s why I’m in the mood to tie up winter’s loose ends and move on to new adventures. By this time most years, we’re deep into planning our summer vacation, with reservations made and dreamy visions of B&Bs and castles and seaside villages floating through our minds as we await May, when we usually depart for our destination.

Scot - Crinan Bay

We’ve always found February snowstorms to be a good time to plan our travels, but this year’s schedule is a bit off because my husband just returned from a tour of the Holy Land.  We both went to Arizona for a conference in January, and now that Mark has had a second “working vacation” already this year (Mark is a pastor, so Israel was a great way to continue learning more about the Scriptures and walk in Jesus’ steps), we decided to wait to take our next outing until late August and early September.  And because his trip to Israel earned him enough frequent flier miles for a free ticket to Europe, we delayed buying our tickets until he returned.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep

So here I am, starting to think about Prague and the Czech Republic, the Bohemian Paradise, Alfons Mucha’s paintings of Slavic maidens, spa resorts and quaint countryside villages, and folklore and grape harvest festivals,  and I just realized I never did a final post about last year’s trip to Scotland.

Scot - kilmartin glen

The bit I left out was Kilmartin, on the far west side of Scotland, and it’s simply too significant a place to ignore. Of all the places we visited, it was the most restful and remote, far off the typical tourist trail. Our B&B was private and plush, a very respite for our travel weary souls, and walkabout backs, hips and feet…

After nearly three weeks on the road, and the trauma of our car hire incident, we truly felt pampered in Kilmartin Glen.

Scot - KM Appetizer

Crinan Bay was just a few miles away from where we stayed, and we delighted in watching the sunset over the sea.

Scot - Crinan boats

It will be different visiting a landlocked country on the mainland of Europe this year. I truly love Scotland’s little harbor towns.

Scot - KM boat

The ancient history and evidence of civilizations past surrounding Kilmartin Glen was fascinating.

Standing stones and burial chambers and Celtic graves and prehistoric rocks carved with Pictish runes… the glen was full of preserved sites to explore.

Footprints of ancient kings and beautiful views of hills and valleys all made for amazing explorations.

But the thing I liked most was the peaceful aura surrounding the glen.

We were sad to leave, yet eager to get home.

Scot - Bothie

A few quick stops at a new-to-us historical village, a beloved garden we discovered two years earlier, and one of our favorite castles, and we were once again following the shores of Loch Lomond back to Glasgow, ready to go home.

To Bonnie Scotland! To tying up loose ends! To new beginnings! So, until next time, you know where to find me, and where my heart remains.

Scot - KM sheep

Twenty-eight years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, and her new release, DAYBREAK, the sequel to NIGHT & DAY, she has eleven books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Scot - kilmartin bay

 

 

You might be wondering how we ended up driving a loaded Jaguar e-Pace SUV around Scotland in the first place, given as we are folks of average means and thrifty habits. The short answer is that we were given a free upgrade – in part because we’d been waiting for the smaller car we’d ordered for three hours. We hadn’t slept or showered for more than 24 hours. We’d also been forced to buy an expensive insurance policy that cost almost as much as the car rental itself, even though our USAA Credit Card covers accident insurance on our rental cars no matter where in the world we happen to be. Long story short, I think the car hire associate felt sorry for us and decided to throw us a bone.

Scot - Jag

I have to admit that we got a bit spoiled in the Jaguar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride was smooth. It had a back-up mirror that responded to the cars movements to direct you with curved lines. The GPS was very helpful in finding our way around. It was an amazing car.

Scot - Rocky Road

When we hit a sharp rock along the side of the road on our second day on the Isle of Lewis and ended up with a seriously flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we assumed we could get the tire changed and be on our way. But the impact of hitting the rock, which more or less bounced us against a ridge of razor sharp rocks and back again, was a hugs gash in the rear passenger side tire and a cracked wheel rim on the front passenger side tire.

We were pretty shook up, and not knowing exactly what had happened, prayed our way to the nearest sign of civilization, about three miles down the road. The tire held out until we  turned into the driveway and drove across the cattle guard, when it went completely flat. The place we found ourselves at looked to be a Scottish version of Outward Bound. We were immediately greeted and offered help in changing the tire. Only one problem – there was no spare and the patch kit the car hire company had provided was woefully inadequate. (An associate later told us they remove the spare tires on their luxury cars because they are afraid someone might steal them.)

Scot - Scaladale

From there began a long, frustrating day of repeatedly calling the car hire company’s help line, waiting, and when no help came and no one called back, calling them again. Repeat. And repeat. With no means of transportation, we had to cancel our lunch reservations at North Harbour Bistro. Thank goodness for the kind and very helpful staff at Scaladale Youth Center – Mark and I obviously aren’t in danger of starving to death, but I can’t imagine what would have become of us if we’d had to wait for more than 7 hours along the side of the road with no water, shade, or bathroom facilities.

Scot - Harris viewIn the end, our car hire company told us we would have to find our own way back to Glasgow (over 200 miles and a three hour ferry ride away), where we MIGHT be given a replacement car. So much for the fancy-schmancy insurance policy with promises of roadside assistance and replacement vehicles they’d forced us to buy. This was not a good time. We were hungry, frustrated and completely lacking in any kind of faith in the car company. 

Scot - Harris mountains

But possessing a good dose of Midwest ingenuity, we started calling around to local garages and car hire companies and found ourselves a little Peugeot in Stornoway that we could have for 24 hours while we sorted things out. We hitched a ride into town with a staff member at the end of his work day. He regaled us with stories of life on a remote island while we drove hurriedly home so he could change and go out into the peat bogs and cut peat – free fuel for all willing to go to the work of cutting, hauling and stacking the bricks. He was doing this for his mother, who needed enough to make it through two winters, as he and his fiancé were going to be married and take a year long honeymoon. We were so impressed by this man!

The car hire office was already closed by the time we arrived to pick up our “new” car (they’d left the keys under the seat and parked it on the street). The effects of our delicious breakfast had long since faded, so we had some dinner and headed back to our B&B, which was an hour away, in Uig. On our way back toward the place where we got stranded, we saw a tow truck with “our” Jaguar on his bed – almost 10 hours after our incident with the rock.

Scot - Uig B

We’d lost a whole day of our much anticipated time on Lewis and Harris. The next morning was also spent trying to find a rental car that we could use for the remainder of our trip. There were no car hires on the Isle of Skye where we were scheduled to get off the ferry on the next leg of our trip, and our ferry left from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on the opposite end of the island from Stornoway. The biggest obstacle was that the car hire companies on the Isles of Lewis and Harris only rent cars for use on the island.

Scot - Harris house

It seemed like an impossible situation until a young man whose sister lived in Glasgow said that we could take their company’s car off the island and get it to his sister at the end of our trip so she would get it back to them. We had to pay an extra fee, but it was worth every penny not to have to cancel our reservations or become foot passengers hobbling along with our luggage, trying to find a bus or train that led to Glasgow. Best of all, our faith in people was restored and then some as we dealt with the kind locals from Lewis and Harris. These folks really went out of their way to help us!

Scot - Scalpay food

The day started getting better almost immediately. We made it to the wonderful restaurant on Scalpay for lunch and I had the chance to visit the official Harris Tweed outlet store to buy fabric as planned.

Scot - Harris Tweed

Mark scored an empty blue gin bottle from the Isle of Harris Distillery to use as a water bottle at home, just like they had at North Harbour Bistro. Afterwards, we walked off a little of our delectable lunch at Luskentyre Beach.

Scot - L Beach

The white sands and tropical-looking blue waters were amazing, while the Belted Galway cows grazing along the shores kept things quintessentially Scotland. 

Scot - cow

After another trip back to Stornoway to switch out our little Peugeot for the even littler Honda Jazz we would use to make our way back to Glasgow, we were off to see the Standing Stones by sunset one last time, and enjoy our comfortable B&B before catching the ferry in the morning.    

Scot - Honda

And you know what? Our little Honda did just fine! It was definitely not luxurious like the Jaguar, but it was great for navigating the narrow roads to the beach. It sat comfortably, and all of our luggage fit, between the boot and the backseat!

Scot - narrow roadsAll’s well that ends well? We’re still fighting with the original car rental company over what we should and should not be required to pay for the short-lived pleasure of driving their Jaguar, but we saw everything we really wanted to on Lewis and Harris, and, we ended up on the right ferry (reservations required) at the right time to the right place. We loved the Isles of Lewis and Harris – the people, first, the Callanish stones second, and my fabric treasures third. And let us not forget Mark’s empty gin bottle – a found treasure that we love, mostly because we got it for free.

Scot - Gin bottle

Because luxuries like Jaguars are nice, but life’s simple pleasures are the best.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep 

Stay tuned for more adventure on the Isle of Skye, and in Loch Carron, setting of Golden Rod, the mountains and gardens of Applecross, Fort William, and the ancient sites of Kilmartin Glen.

It was like 2007 all over again. Not wanting to deal with “big city” traffic, congestion and parking hassles, we drove through Inverness as quickly as possible and retreated to the Scottish countryside, this time, on a farm high in the hills overlooking the Moray Firth. After learning how much there is to see and do in any given area on our previous trips, we tried our best to stay at least two nights in the same place. It’s far more relaxing not to have to pack up and move every single day.

Scot - sunset 2

Our countryside view was amazing. The next day, we headed away from Inverness toward the small town of Beauly. There were several wonderful shops in Beauly, a bank where we were able to exchange more dollars for pounds, a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a high tea, and a great fish and chips place.

Scot - Chanonry Point

From Beauly, we went on two nice drives – the first took us to the narrow end of the Moray First, across a bridge and up the other side. We had a lovely hike along the coast at Chanonry Point, where we missed seeing seals but found a lighthouse and wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace blooming along the rocky beaches.

Scot - lighthouse

A few miles further down the road, we found a small National Trust property that had a delightful garden and a thatched roof house that was the home of Scottish local hero, Hugh Miller.

Scot - hugh's house

His story was fascinating and we related to it on several levels. He believed in Creation and had an extensive collection of fossils.

Scot - Hugh

From there, we headed south through a shady mountain pass to Loch Ness. Once again, Urquhart Castle was closed by the time we got there, so we took a few photos from a distance, watched for signs of Nessie rippling in the blue waters and drove home along the shore.

Scot - Loch Ness

Our B&B for those two nights just west of Inverness was on the first floor of a new house, with a private entry and a very comfortable bed. The sunsets both nights were beautiful, but the midges were starting to bite and came out at sunset. I did a dance as I walked through the grass, snapping and moving and snapping and moving, hopefully fast enough to avoid having a midge land on me.

Scot - Beualy B&B

The next day, we set out to see my Scottish friend, Ang, in Balintore, a seaside village north of Inverness. The fog seems to settle in each night, and it hadn’t yet lifted as we walked along the shoreline, talking. Two years ago, Ang used the word “atmospheric” to describe the misty air hugging the sea, and I will forever think of the word when I encounter foggy landscapes. We exchanged treasures and good conversation – a definite highlight of the trip!

Scot - Ang beach

After lunch, we left the east coast of Scotland and were off  to Ullapool, on the west, when we decided to detour down to another Historic Trust property. As Trust members, we love seeing these properties “for free”.

Scot - inver rhodies

I’ve heard from many people that they’re always amazed at how much we managed to see in one short day. What they may not realize is that everything is so close – the most we drove in a day was 100 miles. It’s also daylight from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m, so if you get up at a decent hour, you can do a lot before dark.

Scot - Invereray

This is one of those days that we stretched things a little too far. Everything would have been fine except that we reached Inverewe Garden about 5:30 p.m. Last entrance was 6 p.m., but the gates to the garden were open until 8 p.m., so we had plenty of time to explore. The sky was blue, but there wasn’t a breeze to be found, and the midges surrounded me in swarms.

Scot - Inver wisteria

Dense forests were crisscrossed with mazes of paths and steps that wound through rhododendrons, bamboo and perennial gardens and eventually, out to the sea. Before long, I was swatting and itching and breaking out in blistering welts. But it was so beautiful, and we got in for free, and…

Scot - inver flowers

The only solution was to walk faster and faster. If I was capable of running up and down rickety, stone stairways that didn’t have handrails, I would have. What can I say? I’m glad we saw the gardens – they were lovely, but I’m not sure the itching and oozing I went through for the next week was worth it.

 

Scot - Ullapool

The sun started to set on our way to Ullapool, and we arrived just in time to see sunbeams shining over the harbor. We found our room at the top of an extremely steep hill overlooking Morefield Brae.  What a beautiful setting! But alas, as we climbed out of the car, our host warned up to enter quickly and close the doors behind us because the midges were really biting.

Scot - Ullapool B&B

Great. While we settled in, our hosts at the Fair Morn B&B found a restaurant with openings for 8:45 p.m. We were seated in a conservatory facing out to the garden and left to choose from a wonderful menu. All was well until we started to notice we were itching even more than we had been earlier. Then we noticed a small window open at the top of the wall. Suddenly, we were caught in a swarm of midges. But the time we caught the eye of our waiter and asked to be reseated in another room, the damage was done.

Scot - skye castle

In the morning, we headed north along the brae and into the mountains where we were treated to castle ruins, sheep grazing, red deer running along the hilltops, and altogether amazing scenery.

Scot - Lochinver house

We stumbled on a craft fair and a pie place at Lochinver and then took a narrow winding road to Achmelvich Beach with its white sands and aquamarine waters. When I heard about the beaches in Scotland, I assumed it would be like California in January, with crisp temperatures and cold winds even though it would have the appearance of being summery. But the day was perfect for beach-going, in the mid 80s, and we had a picnic with the meat and fruit pies we’d nabbed at the pie place in Lochinver.

Scot - Uig beach

By that time, however, I felt like I had a beacon on my back that said “Bug Bait.” There were bugs in the sand, and bugs in the rocks – but unlike midges, these were big, and could be seen, and felt, and they seemed to be going for my eyes, and anywhere my midge bites were oozing and itching. Yikes! I don’t mean to sound negative, but it was not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.

Scot -ullapool house

We ended the day back in Ullapool, where we ate at an upscale fresh seafood shack and found a handmade woolen treasure at a local craft shop. I walked as fast as I could everywhere we went to fend off the midges who were waiting to land. They seemed to get sneakier as time went by, burrowing under my clothes and biting my back and thighs, under my hair and hat. Nothing dissuaded them.

Scot - Ullapool harbor 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was so hot and itchy, but there’s always a bright side… We had a delicious Scottish breakfast to look forward to and a forecast of calm seas for our three hour ferry ride to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. And someone told me that there were no midges on Lewis or Harris because there was always a good breeze blowing. Music to my ears…

Someone once told me that one great way to restart your brain is to take a shower. I’ve had it happen more than once. I’m working at the computer with whatever I’m working on open on the screen and I can’t think of a thing to write. No matter how hard I try, nothing comes. Then, I get in the shower, with no way to write anything down, and no sooner does the water start to rain down on me than the voices of my characters start to jabber inside my head and new plotlines magically form.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

Over the years, I’ve learned that a vacation – especially one to a far off destination – can have the same effect, only in a much more profound way. Here’s what seems to happen when I take a trip, and how to enjoy a traveling adventure that refreshes both brain and body.

 

1. Let go of expectations. Anything can happen on a vacation. I like to plan our trips and enjoy researching places to eat and stay, as well as things to see and do, but I’ve also learned that it’s fairly impossible to predict what will happen on any given day, how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, and what things we might encounter along the way. Once I let go of my stubborn insistence that things have to be a certain way, it’s amazing what can happen!

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  1. Forget about staying focused and enjoy the distractions. You may not be able to tell it from looking at my house (creative minds are rarely tidy as the old saying goes), but I’m a highly organized person, at least when it comes to my professional life. I make lists and cross things off when they’re done. I thrive under deadlines. I plan events with an intricate timeline based on what things I can do ahead down to the tasks that have to be done at the last minute. When I go on a trip, it’s a challenge and a pleasure to be able to relax and realize that nothing matters but having fun.

  1. Open your mind to new ideas, possibilities. It’s kind of sad, the way I go to the same restaurants and order the same exact foods and wear the same few shirts and skirts until they’re worn out from washing. I like being in my comfort zone, but when I’m forced out of my established ruts and have to try new things, I experience a wondrous feeling of freedom and discovery!

  1. Bloom and grow. I try NOT to grow any wider when I’m on vacation – it’s difficult when every corner grocery has caramel shortbread (Millionaire Bars), Battenberg Cakes, Meat and Fisherman’s Pies, pâté, amazing cheeses, and oddles of creamy Cadbury milk chocolate delights. But I love widening my perspectives, learning new things and stretching myself. It’s so easy to become stagnant. Letting a Chinook wind blow in and infiltrate my mind is like spring coming to the soul after a long hard winter.

  1. Meet new people. Stir the pot. I think the older we get, the harder it is to meet new people and make new friends. Most of us have lived in the same place for quite some time, and the people already have their established circles. Adult children and grandkids occupy people’s time after a certain age, and the sad truth is, I’m often so worn out after I do what I have to that I’m too tired to want to get out and socialize. When I do go out, I have to think long and hard about what we have to talk about because we’ve already spoken about everything under the sun at least a million times. But when I’m on vacation, every day is an opportunity to participate in new conversations about different topics, to hear what different people from other countries think and feel about things. It’s a great way to not only liven things up, but to gain a new perspective. I love listening and learning from the “chance” people I meet when we’re traveling.

  1. Strip away the mundane and set your sights on the extraordinary. Letting go of old things is almost a requirement for being able to embrace new things. If you’re clutching at what you have, you can’t open your hands and accept something new. If you’re always looking down, you’ll never catch sight of a rainbow. If you don’t walk away from your work or your possessions, your family, or whatever it is that tethers you to the ground, you will likely never fly, accomplish your dreams, or sail off to uncharted waters.

  1. Let your senses be reawakened. Open your eyes. I’ve written several articles urging people to look for the beauty in their own backyard. It’s a wonderful thing to do. But the fact is, after looking at the same garden or flowering tree or porch swing every day for a quarter of a century, it’s easy to get desensitized to even the most lovely scene. Traveling, seeing different sights and fresh images, and taking the time to walk about and relish the beauty in unfamiliar locations not only jumpstarts my creativity, it makes me notice things through fresh eyes.

If you haven’t taken a good long vacation lately, I highly recommend that you find a way to get away. For me, escaping the familiar and journeying to unknown realms is the best way to rejuvenate.

(As you read this, Sherrie and her husband, Mark, are on their way back to Scotland to enjoy a much-anticipated vacation. Watch for Sherrie’s next book, DAYBREAK, a sequel to NIGHT & DAY, coming from Indigo Sea Press in July. All photos are from our home and previous vacations to Scotland, Romania, Kentucky, and England.)

Late summer is a golden time of year. Fields and ditches are full of goldenrod, tansy and black-eyed Susans blossoms shining bright in the sunlight. Springtime blues, lavenders and pinks gradually give way and are outshined by the yellow gold hues of early fall.

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… Just one reason why late summer is the perfect time to read Golden Rod, my latest Wildflowers of Scotland novel.

Golden Rod

When I first chose to name my new book Golden Rod, I had a flurry of people tell me that they were allergic to goldenrod, and associated  the flower with sneezing and feeling like their head was going to explode.

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My research shows that allergies to goldenrod are very rare, since it is not airborne, and that people who suffer allergy symptoms this time of year are more likely affected by ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

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Although I can truly promise you nothing by pleasant sensations if you read Golden Rod, this brings me to a related topic – why some of you think you are allergic to reading romance novels. Here are some of the reasons I hear from romance reading skeptics:

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Fallacy #1:  Romance novels are for women. I’m a guy.

My Response:  Don’t let my flowery titles fool you. My novels all have two perspectives, two point of view voices – one male and one female. My books are not about women living in a fantasy world – they’re about men and women struggling along in a very real world. Their differing attitudes, perspectives, feelings, needs and approaches to problem-solving provide my books with stimulating conflict, movement within the plotlines, and differences of opinion. I’ve had many men tell me how much they enjoyed my books, and one couple who even argued over who got to read it first.

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Fallacy #2:  Romance novels are shallow, dumbed down versions of the literary novels I enjoy.

My Response: A reviewer who’s a very intelligent mathematician called my novels “the thinking women’s romance.” Doctors, lawyers, and professors have written telling me they enjoyed my books. My characters are complex and my novels include complicated situations and scenarios worthy of readers who like books that stimulate their intellect and emotions.

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Fallacy #3:  I like action and adventure novels, thrillers and mysteries.

My Response: Today’s romance novels can and do include all of the above. My books have included murders, sex-crimes, scams, thefts, kidnappings, and all kinds of deceitful goings on. They also include romance, but love definitely isn’t the only thing between the covers (no pun intended).

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Fallacy #4:  Romance novels are full of graphic sex scenes.

My Response: I’ve written on this topic previously. Some of my books have love scenes and some don’t. When love scenes are included, they’re not gratuitous, they’re there for a reason. They’re a necessary part of the plot. They’re also sweet, tender and satisfying. Sometimes, they’re even humorous. And just like real life, lovemaking is rife with consequences.

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Fallacy #5:  Romance novels are filled with overly dramatic, shirtless bodybuilders and low-bodiced, big-busted heroines who I can’t relate to.

My Response:  My books are set in modern times and my characters are as real as you are. Some are good-looking, others not. They have flaws and frustrations and quirks just like all of us do. That’s what makes them so lovable and most importantly, believable.

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So let me recommend this trusted cure for allergies. Expose yourself to just a little bit, then, gradually a little more, until your discomfort disappears. I’d be delighted if you’d try just one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, and Golden Rod is a great place to start. If you like it, you can read more.  Hopefully, you will find that you enjoy my romantic suspense novels.

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What have you got to lose? Enjoy the goldtones of late summer, and don’t be afraid to read a new book or a new author.

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You’ll find beauty in all kind of unexpected locations.

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More than one person thought we were nuts to head to Death Valley this January when we could have stayed a few more days at the beach.

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You may agree. Or you see why we love the desert after you’ve read a few of the life lessons I learned in Death Valley.

  1. Your greatest flaw may be the thing that makes you beautiful.

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These photos are from the Artist’s Palate, one of the most scenic areas of Death Valley. If Death Valley had enough moisture to support vegetation like the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas and the Appalachians do, these mountains would be covered with trees and underbrush and grasses just like they are, and we would never see the splendor of the colors underneath.

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  1. If not for the darkness, you can’t see the stars.

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If Death Valley was bordered by a beach, people would flock there, and the absolute darkness, the brilliant starlight that we experienced there would be gone. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bright lights of nearby Las Vegas, or even great cities like Paris, the City of Lights, but I’m glad there’s a place where we can experience complete darkness and see the Milky Way. Starlight has a way of settling the soul.

  1. It’s good to be able to hear yourself think.

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If Death Valley was a place where people wanted to settle and live, its airspace would soon be cluttered with the same intrusive sounds we hear in our day to day lives. It’s amazing what being alone, and enjoying a little peace and quiet can do. Stripping things down to the basics help you focus in a way that we rarely have the opportunity to do.

  1. Things don’t equal happiness.

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Having no services, no fast-food places, no internet access, and no cell phone reception makes you realize very quickly that you can survive quite well with very little. The important things come into focus without the distractions that so often occupy our time. Suddenly, you start seeing beauty all around and noticing things that likely would have gone by unappreciated… like a picnic under the stars,  We’ve all heard stories of pioneer families who had only what their covered wagons would hold, if that much, who were happy. We have so much, and are so often unhappy and dissatisfied. It was great to be reminded that without our toys, there is all kinds of old-fashioned fun to be had.

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  1. You won’t believe what a few little sprinkles will do.

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All it takes is a little shower and the desert bursts into a flowery oasis of color. Give someone the slightest encouragement and they will bloom. Those of us who live in places where there are dozens of inches of rainfall every year think it takes a deluge to make things grow, but when you’re in the desert, you learn that just a little bit of rain or kindness or love goes a very long way and can make all kinds of surprising things happen.

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  1. Trust your instincts and wander where you will.

 

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When we first realized we were totally off the grid and that our GPS didn’t work, I’ll admit I was a little worried. I really don’t like the feeling of being lost and I guess I’ve gotten used to the magic voice pointing me in the direction of my destination and telling me where to turn. What I rediscovered was the joy of wandering down this road and that to see what we would find. It’s something my Dad used to do when we were on family vacations. I had forgotten how freeing it is to flex your wings, trust your instincts, and fly.

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  1. Be patient – some things are worth the wait.

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A canyon lit by sunlight looks completely different than a canyon shrouded in shadows. In His Time. God makes all things beautiful in His time. This is a lesson I’ve had to be reminded of over and over again in my lifetime. If you try to manipulate things to fit your timeline, you’re bound to be disappointed. Being patient and waiting for the right time, when the lighting is perfect and everything lines up the way it’s meant to brings dazzling results. A little sunshine makes a big difference.

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  1. When you’re at the lowest spot on earth, there’s no place to go but up.

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Being two hundred plus feet below sea level gave me an eerie feeling. And when we left the lowlands to climb up the canyons, my muscles were painfully stretched. It’s hard to transition from low to high. I’ve been thinking about high points and low points a lot as I’ve worked on my novel, Sweet William, this winter. One of the characters is dealing with the death of someone very dear, and trying to work their way back from deep despair to some sense of normalcy. Another character is living a perfectly grand life at a time when she’s at the pinnacle of her dreams. The only catch is, if she wants to be with the man she loves, she will have to give it all up.

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Is he dragging her down? Can she lift him up? From the heather- colored highlands of Scotland to the flat, black fields of Minnesota’s farm country – which way will she go?

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And the moral of the story? I said I learned some life lessons in Death Valley – I didn’t say I had all the answers. Never fear. I hope to have them soon. In the meantime, be patient with me. Oh, and please be quiet so I can think. I can’t seem to connect to Google Search right now so I’m looking for a star to guide me.

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Some of my best work and most extraordinary inspirations occur when I fly halfway around the world. I’ve always been a homebody at heart – it is quite traumatic getting ready to leave the nest even for a few days. And don’t get me wrong – I love what I do, and my  day to day work inspires creativity of a different kind, but there is something that opens my heart, mind, and eyes to new possibilities when I am away on vacation.

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When I am at my B&B or at the parsonage with my husband, it is so easy to get caught up in the mundane details of everyday life that I forget to look at the bigger picture. When I fly far far away, I am jolted out of my comfort zone and forced to see the world in a different light.

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New scenery, people and experiences not only intrigue me, they spur my mind to look at the world in a fresh way, and to realize that I and the pesky problems that occasionally plague me are not the life force of the universe, or even the end all to my existence.

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My eyes are opened to new possibilities and different options. It’s freeing.

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Sometimes, what I see makes me more thankful for what I have at home.

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At other times, I see empty houses in need of renovation and abandoned storefronts waiting to be leased and think, I could do this! I could make a life here. I could start over, earn a living, make new friends, be happy here.

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Not that I want to move – well, most of the time – but realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around my business, my frustrations, and my own particular agenda is like magic.

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My short-term problems become inconsequential and my worries fly away and my whole perspective changes.

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Sadly, for various reasons, we have no grand vacation plans for this year. I dream of returning to Scotland, France and Germany. Mark is keen to visit his son in Romania. If we do head east, I would love to see Greece, and Bohemia, where some of my ancestors hailed from.

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But instead, we are grounded by circumstances and obligations, and although we periodically think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are not there yet.

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I keep hearing the word Staycation being batted around, which seems to refer to the practice of staying at home and relaxing, perhaps doing fun things where you are,  instead of going on a trip.

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But for my husband and I, who live part time in a beautiful B&B, and the rest of the time at a lovely parsonage next to the church where my husband is a pastor, the concept doesn’t work very well. Since both of the places where we live are also the places where we work, I just don’t see a relaxing Staycation happening.

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So – won’t you join me for a Dreamcation, perhaps to Denmark or Provence,  or Alsace Lorraine?

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I prefer a place where my cell phone doesn’t work and internet connections are spotty. Someplace where no texting is allowed.

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Perhaps a place with so many beautiful gardens, and quaint houses, and  tasty treats that I would soon totally forget what’s happening at home.

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I can see it in my mind’s eye now… a villa in the south of France…

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…or a half-timbered chalet in Alsace.

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I promise you – the views alone will open a window to a whole new world!

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Perhaps we will take in a flower market in Germany…

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…or explore  a village here or there or anywhere, as long as it’s somewhere I’ve never been before.

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Or perhaps you’d like to join me for a taste of Swiss chocolat?

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I hear the patisseries in France are beyond compare.

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Dreaming is my specialty, after all. It’s what makes me a good writer.  Won’t you please join me?

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Sherrie Hansen is the author of 8 novels set in locales as diverse as Denmark, Scotland, the French Riviera, and Embarrass, Minnesota. Her books are available at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, where she spends her days, all major online venues, and at http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com. All photos in this article were taken by Sherrie Hansen on her last trip to Europe in 2010.

Blue Belle Promo Poem

Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. But when Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in the bay, everyone is in danger. A reporter from Virginia and a psychologist from Wisconsin – both in Tobermory, Scotland, both with secrets –  hers, shocking, his kept to protect the people he loves. When Isabelle stumbles upon the biggest story of her life, and Michael discovers the truth, will the painful memories that are dredged up destroy their chance for love, or will they strike gold?  Blue Belle by Sherrie Hansen. Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.

 

 

 

The Isle of Mull, Scotland, is the setting of my next book, Blue Belle (the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland trilogy). Blue Belle will soon be off to my publisher, and shortly after that, ready to read. I just wrote a scene that includes Duart Castle. I hope this helps set the mood! If you haven’t read Thistle Down or Wild Rose yet, now is the perfect time!

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Here’s the Back Cover Blurb: Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. But when Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in the bay, everyone is in danger. A reporter from Virginia and a psychologist from Wisconsin – both in Tobermory, Scotland, both with secrets –  hers, shocking, his kept to protect the people he loves. When Isabelle stumbles upon the biggest story of her life, and Michael discovers the truth, will the painful memories that are dredged up destroy their chance for love, or will they strike gold?  

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Seaside Daisy – NEW RELEASE

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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