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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

 

 

We headed to the Highlands on the next jaunt of our Scottish journey. In some ways, driving into the Highlands reminds me of when I lived in Colorado Springs and occasionally ventured up to Breckenridge or Estes Park. The higher the altitude, the more pine trees and mountain peaks, the more athletic pursuits and other activities geared toward tourists, and the more cute mountain resort towns with large hotels. But as usual, we skipped all that and sought out a quiet, countryside location away from the crowds.

Scot - Aberfeldy cottage

We spent three nights in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. We could see J.K. Rowling’s summer house across the glen from where we were staying, which tells you there is something magical about the spot. The views were incredible, and we loved watching the sunset while walking down the lane with the owner’s English cocker spaniels in tow. There were plenty of flowers to smell and benches to sit on while scratching the dogs’ ears and rubbing their tummies. I felt right at home and loved hearing sheep baaing and a rushing stream while we laid in bed each night.

Scot - Aberfeldy sunset

Our cottage had its own little kitchen, and most of the eating establishments we had hoped to visit were closed for the holiday weekend, so we visited the grocery and stocked up on some goodies for breakfasts and picnic suppers. Mark makes great omelets which were wonderful with rashers and bangers (bacon and sausages).

Scot - bluebells

I was delighted to find the woods around Strathtay still abloom with bluebells.  Mark played a couple of holes of golf while I walked in the bluebell wood. Then, our excitement turned to disappointment when we wandered into town and found that the art gallery on the main square where I bought a painting of Menzies Castle by Artist Audrey Slowrance was now a real estate office.

Scot - Audrey Slorance

After looking wistfully at the listings and feeling more than a little tempted to invest in a piece of Scotland, we finally tracked Audrey down in her new studio in a garage and bought a couple of her lovely prints. It made my day to get to talk to her about painting and what inspires her. How I wished I’d had my paints and a couple of canvases tucked in my suitcase!

Scot - kilts

We also attended the Highland Games and Fair at Blair Atholl Castle, where once again, we had the thrill of seeing the Atholl Highlanders march to the tune of bagpipes and drums. Be still my heart! A walk through Diana’s Forest, which has some of the tallest trees in Great Britain, was restful and quiet after the boisterous sounds of the crowds cheering on the brawny competitors, graceful Highland dancers and talented bagpipers at the Highland Games.

Scot - Phone booth

Our last day in the Aberfeldy area, we followed a narrow, winding, mountainside road to Glenlyon, where there’s a tiny post office in the middle of nowhere that’s famous for its desserts. The waitress’ young daughter, who invited us to sit with her, entertained us while we had a bowl of leek and potato soup, crusty, homemade bread with butter, and pudding… well worth the slightly hair-raising drive along a single track road with too few passing places.

Scot - Kenmore Church

On the way home, we took a new road to Kenmore, a village along Loch Tay that we’d seen featured in several of Audrey’s paintings, and happened upon a delightful spot. We were looking for a loo when we overheard a desk clerk at the local hotel mentioning that Rick Steves’ tour bus would be arriving any minute. Being fans of his TV show, we waited around for a glimpse, took a photo, and gloated because we have such a keen knack for sniffing out desirable locations.

Scot - kenmore

The next day, it was time to head north to our next destination, Ben View House at Lentran Farm, in the countryside near Inverness, where we had two nights booked. On the way, we had two significant experiences. The living Highland Folk Museum had miles of wonderful examples of how the Highlanders lived and built their homes. We learned that several scenes from Outlander had been filmed in the blackhouse village, and I have to admit it was a thrill to walk where Jamie, Claire and Dugall had. The smell of a peat fire wafting in the air, hand woven linens and many authentic touches made history come to life.

Scot - highland folk village

After another bit of driving, we had a bit of trouble locating the Kilted Fudge Company in Aviemore, but our minor detours were rewarded with an enthusiastic greeting and our own personal tasting of over a dozen of their creamy, buttery fudge flavors. After stocking up on oodles of my favorite (Clootie Dumpling fudge, which is not too sweet, and packed with gingerbread spices and raisins), and a few new varieties like Rhubarb Cream, Salted Caramel and Millionaire’s Shortbread, we headed on through the mountains.

Scot - sunset

As we were coming into Aviemore, I spotted a sign that pointed to a Mountain Railway, which of course, made me think of my dad, whose favorite song was Life is Like a Mountain Railway. But then, these days, everything makes me think of him. Last year, when we left for Ireland and Wales, he was in the hospital with pneumonia, and we weren’t sure what would happen while we were gone, so we called him every night about midnight to tell him about our day. This year, over and over again, I found myself thinking, Dad would love this. I’ll have to tell him about it when we call him tonight. How I wish I could, but for that, I’d need a Railway to Heaven.

Scot - Daffodil

I’ll end on that note. Vacations are a wonderful way to relax and forget your troubles, but being free from a hectic routine also gives you more time to remember… and think…

Stay tuned for our trek northward and westward, ho…

I’ve been hearing Scottish accents in my head for over a decade, and now, after returning from my second trip to Bonnie Scotland, my mind’s eye is just as steeped in images of the highlands and islands I’ve been writing about.

B&W View

 

Our trip was a flurry of wildflowers and walled gardens, castles and keeps, and lochs and legends. My mind is whirling with the characters and construct of a new story, ancient ghosts and curses, and modern day longings and desires set to clash like pitchforks and swords at Culloden.

B&W Flag Castle  B&W Blair Atholl

One of my characters is the “rightful” heir of a castle and as fascinated and enamored of Scotland as I am, the other is there only because she could find no other way to wiggle out of her duties as the legal heir of a castle she cares nothing about.

B&W Stained Glass

Even more exciting is the sense of déjà vu I feel about the Wildflowers of Scotland books I’ve already written.

B&W Bluebells

As I spotted each of the wildflowers I’ve featured in Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, and Sweet William, and the castles and kirks that provide a backdrop for each of the stories, the characters have come to life for me all over again.

B&W Lighthouse

One of the highlights of the trip was the day I left a copy of Shy Violet with a random staff member at Eilean Donan’s Castle Café, where many scenes in the book take place. A few days later, on our way back from the Isle of Skye, we stopped once more to eat lunch. The recipient pulled me aside, and in her delightful Scottish accent, said “I’ve begun to read yer book, and I’m loving it! Ye’re a very good author, and I thank ye so much.”

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The whole time we were at Eilean Donan Castle, I kept catching glimpse of people who looked like Nathan or Violet.

B&W Mountains

William and Lyndsie, the stars of Sweet William, felt very close to me when we were on Skye – walking around the mysterious Fairy Glen at Uig, watching the cows graze on Claigon Coral Beach near Dunvegan and dipping a toe in the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle. Because I know what happens to William while he’s on Skye, I had a deep, sense of foreboding until we were on our way home, and I knew everything was okay.

B&W Blue Belle Inn

There’s a magical connection between Scotland and me. I’m a Blue Belle, and always will be. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn.)

B&W Gifts

Loving the blue and white Saltire of Scotland is a natural extension of my love of blue.

B&W Bride

If you’ve yet to fall in love with Scotland, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels and see if the highlands and islands of Scotland resonate with you like they do me.

B&W Swan

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,

White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.

A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,

A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped.

B&W Burns House

Legends galore, buried treasure, and more…

In the Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that’s what’s in store.

Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen Decker rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B – or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

B&W B&B

You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William.

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

Sweet William Front Cover

Sherrie and Mark 2013To friends and family on the occasion of Christmas 2015,

It’s been another exciting year – we have so much to be thankful for! Although we’ve resorted to a form letter once again, we hope to give you a little taste of what we’ve been up to in 2015.

Ohio - Flowers Cross

 

We both enjoy the awesome speakers and music at Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ gatherings. In May we participated in a continuing education event in OH, stopping at Sherrie’s nephew, Michael’s and Abby’s house in IN on the way back. In Oct, we drove to Dallas for the LCMC’s 15th annual gathering, staying with Mark’s cousin, Monte and wife Karen in OK on the way.

From camera December 2015 001

We made two trips to Ely, MN; one in June for a few relaxing days with Mark’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Pat at their “cabin” on Bear Island Lake, and one in July with granddaughter Imix to see  cousins, aunts and uncles who were there to celebrate Pat and Frank’s 50th Anniversary.

Blog - Imix water

The next big event in our busy summer was Sherrie’s Mom and Dad’s 60th Anniversary Party, hosted by Corey and Kaye at Hansen Family Farms. Visiting nieces, nephews and cousins from all over the world (North Carolina to Seattle, and Boston to southern Brazil) made it a very special occasion, with great friends, good music, and a lot of delicious food all adding to the fun.

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After going a couple of years without a “real” vacation, we spent 17 days in Europe in July and August. We combined a visit to Romania to see Mark’s son, Erik, and his new wife with a stopover in the United Kingdom. Driving down narrow, hedge-lined byways on the “wrong” side of the road, enjoying plenty of caramel shortbread, eating at a pie pub with Sherrie’s cousin Sarah and family, visiting the quaint village where Doc Martin is filmed, climbing thousands of steps up to castles and down to the sea, and watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean while sheep grazed on the beach in Croyde, Devon, were all amazing adventures.

England - sunset

The highlight of our 12 day trip to Romania was celebrating Erik’s wedding to Cristiana, or as Mark says, “chaperoning the honeymoon.” In Bucharest, we rented a car and circled the country with Erik and Cristiana as our personal Romanian-speaking tour guides. We spent an afternoon in Bacova, the ancestral hometown of Mark’s great grandmother as well as experiencing many beautiful castles, medieval towns, and the picturesque, traditional villages that dot the mountain valleys and countryside. Erik and Cristiana are well suited for each other and we enjoyed getting to know our newest member of the family and discovering a truly delightful corner of the world that we never would have thought to travel to if it weren’t for them.

Romania E&C

In addition to playing the piano at church, and working more hours at the Blue Belle than she has in years, Sherrie kept busy with the release of Shy Violet, her latest Wildflowers of Scotland novel, writing and casting numerous murder mysteries, and completing a 50,000 word writing challenge in November to finish the rough draft of Sweet William, her next book.

ShyViolet Final Front Cover.jpg

Mark continues to find joy in his call at Zion Lutheran in Hudson, and enjoys watching our church family and Sunday School grow. In the midst of our busy, back and forth schedule, it’s an honor and a privilege to share our lives with and minister to the people at Zion.

Zion - Sunset 2015 2

We are both thankful for the improvement in Mark’s mother’s health, and that Sherrie’s mom and dad have come through a trying year, medically speaking, and still continue to be active. It’s been fun to hear from each of you, too! Although we may not see you often, we continue to keep you close in our hearts and prayers. Until next year (or sooner if you travel our way!), we wish you a Merry Christmas and many blessings in the New Year.

Love, Mark and Sherrie

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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.

 

 

 

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to Dorney. I’ve been as close as Eilean Donan Castle, but I was in a hurry to get to Fort William, and I never thought to go up into the village. Now, I’m writing a book called Shy Violet, the main characters are living in Dorney, and I’m left wishing I had walked a bit further and scoped out the town with my own two eyes.

That’s the way it is with doors. We choose to walk through them, or we skip on by, oblivious to what might be inside.

I’ve always been fascinated by doors, so when we started exploring Scotland, it came as no surprise that all kinds of unique and intriguing doors caught my eye.

Scotland - doors blue

Sometimes, when we get to a door, we’re hesitant to open it. Because doors can lead to places you’d rather not go.

Doors - Luss

Sometimes, when you see a door, you’re consumed with curiosity about what’s on the other side, and you can’t be happy until you know.

Door - Ayr

Doors can be a bit daunting – after all, one can never be quite sure what you’ll find when you open them. 

Door - Castle

Doors can be portals to a make-believe world.

Door - Castle to Castle

The sights you see through an open door can make your imagination soar.

Door - Culzean

Doors can lead you deeper and deeper into a mystery that will take you who knows where.

Door - Double

Doors can lead to an alternate reality – perhaps one from which you will never escape.

Door - drawbridge

Doors can open up to adventures you’ve never even dreamed of.

Door - Edinbough

Doors – and the places they lead to – can inspire overtures and epic poems and all kinds of artistry.

Door - Fingal's Cave Door - Fingal's Cave close-up

Doors can be common, comforting, familiar and welcoming.

Door - Sanctuary

Doors can be austere and foreboding.

Door - St. Michaels

Doors can be pretentious affairs.

Scotland - doors big

Doors can be plain and functional.

Scotland - door plain

When a door opens, light floods into the dark corners of you mind and enlightens every last nook and cranny.

Door - Sea

When you unlock a door, you never know what secrets you’ll uncover.

Door - Secret Garden

When a door shuts behind you, sometimes you wonder if you’ll ever go home.

Door - St A

Sometimes doors are a nice fit. Not too big, not to small.

Door - St Conans

Although it’s always wise to mind your head.

Scotland - door in a row

Sometimes doors dwarf you, and you wonder, who were these doors made for, giants?

Door - St Conans 2Some say that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

Door - St. Andrews

But we all know that when a door is closed, you can get left standing outside in the cold.

Scotland - doors closed

Next time you go in or out a door, I hope it leads to somewhere you want to be – maybe even Scotland – and that someone you love is waiting on the other side.

Scotland - door

Earlier this month, my husband and I drove to Michigan and back on old highways, backroads, and even a few gravel roads for all but a few miles when we skirted Chicago on I-90. We even took a ferry across Lake Michigan in our quest for the roads less traveled. (Don’t even mention our GPS – she’s very frustrated with us for disregarding her advice.) The many unique images that were our reward included seeing an Amish farmer steering a homemade digger behind a team of 6 horses while his bonnet clad wife and little girls and suspendered little boys watched from behind the barn… the sun setting behind the cemetery of a little country church in Wisconsin… and marshy stretches of Lakes Michigan, Erie and Huron, and more – all things we never would have glimpsed on the Interstate.

Likewise, there are certain things a tourist expects to see while traveling in Scotland – bagpipers, Loch Ness,

Scotland - Bagpipes  Scotland Urquart Castle on Loch Ness

old castles and older abbeys,

Scotland Castle  Scotland Sweetehart Abbey

and if you’re lucky, heather blooming in the highlands and men in kilts.

Scotland flowers by the sea  Scotland Bagpipers

But  if you’re brave-hearted enough to rent an auto and drive down Scotland’s narrow little byways (we call them golf cart paths or bicycle trails) on the left side of the road (assuming they’re wide enough to accommodate two cars), you’re going to discover all kinds of hidden gems that the average visitor won’t see.

Last week, I posted a blog at Blue Belle Books – http://www.SherrieHansen.wordpress.com – about Things I Learned While Traveling in Scotland. It was very well-received. Here are a few more glimpses of why I love Scotland and why I started my Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

1. If you’re not sure where you’re supposed to go next, walk to the top of the nearest hill and have a good look around. Most likely, you’ll see something that will point you in the right direction.

Scotland - sheep

2. If the top of the hill is in a cloud, walk down to the valley and follow the river. You’ll know what to do.

Scotland - Hill with it's head in the clouds

3. If you’re feeling downtrodden, bow your head and let the sun shine down on you for awhile. Things will get better.

Scotland Bashful Rose

4. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative when painting your house.  A little color can really brighten your day.

Scotland - Tobermory 5

5. You never know what you’re going to find in your path. That’s life. Deal with it. It’s probably nothing to worry about.

Scottish Hedgehog

6. Learn what you can from those who have gone before us and try not to make the same mistakes.

Scotland Standing Stones

7. Take a close look and make sure you’re not missing something that could be key.

Scotland Castle Top

8.  If you’re in unfamiliar waters, look for a bright light to guide you.

Scotland Lighthouse

9. Grow a thick hide and you’ll be able to withstand the strongest storms.

Scotland Coo

10.  Never be too proud to call a friend and ask for help.

Scotland Phone Booth

11.  If you’re lost, look for clues. They’re everywhere.

Scotland - Beach at Ayr

12. If you have a problem, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Creative solutions are the best!

Scotland Fishing Shack

Reading one of my books may be a little like traveling along the road less traveled, too. Your expectations might not be met exactly, but there are going to all kinds of little surprises and insights that you’ll likely discover along the way that you never would have stumbled upon if you hadn’t dared to venture from the mainstream to give one a try.

In the meantime, keep looking up!

Scotland - Castle Cross

Maybe it’s my Viking blood, but I’ve always had a case of wanderlust. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, We farmers put down deep roots. But in addition to the solid, stable grounding I had as a child, I was also taught that it was fun to travel. My parents took us on camping trips to Colorado, Florida, Canada, and everywhere in between. My Dad loved (still does) to pull off the main road and see what lay down each little lane and byway. No staying in the same cabin at the same lake every summer of every year of our lives – we camped at a different State Park or campground every night so we could see as much as we possibly could.

Storm road

I’m a firm believer that there’s all kind of beauty right in our own backyards, but I’m still curious about what’s around the corner.

Sporing - bluebellsZion - Sunflower 2013 SunSunset - Good Friday

When I was in high school, I signed up for mission trips, choir trips and journalism and poetry workshops on various college campuses so I could see as many little corners of the world as I could. When my Great-Grandpa Lightly died (I was 15), I hitched a ride down to San Antonio, Texas with my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Cathy, who had driven home for the funeral, and spent a week exploring the Texas Hill Country, the River Walk, and the air force base where they lived. At the end of the week, I flew home to Rochester, MN. I was the first of our family to fly on an airplane. I still have the little packets of sugar, salt and pepper and the napkin imprinted with the airline’s logo that I got on that flight.

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When it came time to choose a college, I couldn’t wait to leave home and explore the Great World. I selected Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL, and for the next two years, hopped on the “L” and explored downtown Chicago every chance I got. At the end of my sophomore year, a friend from Maine suggested that we look for jobs in Bar Harbor. I got engaged while I was there and after a military wedding in Lawton, OK. and a brief visits to Minnesota and St. Louis, I ended up living in Germany for 3 years. All of Europe was at my back door. I took advantage of opportunities to see Budapest, Hungary, Salzburg, Austria, Lucerne, Switzerland, Paris, France, London and the Cotswolds in England, Florence, Italy, and Gouda and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and loved every second of it! From there, it was back to Oklahoma, and then Colorado Springs. Every time I had enough money saved up, I took off to see another part of the world – Dallas, Santa Fe, Durango and Telluride, Colorado, Banff National Park, Lake Louise and  Calgary in Canada, Disney World in Florida, Wales, England, Prince Edward Island, Bainbridge Island and Victoria, Canada, the Blue Ridge Mountains, old Virginia, and Washington, DC, Denmark and Norway. I lived for (and worked hard to pay for) the times when I could explore the world and satisfy my wanderlust.

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After years of being single and sometimes short a traveling partner, I was very blessed to find a husband who shares my passion for exploring. Since Mark and I have been married (almost 10 years ago), we’ve taken trips to his home state of California,  seen Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park  (all firsts for me), gone to Scotland, Germany, southern France, Italy, Denmark, the Amish area of Indiana, Florida, and most recently, Louisville, Kentucky. Next week, we’re off to Wisconsin to catch a ferry across Lake Michigan, where we’ll explore yet another area of the country.

KY - blue shuttersIN - reflectionKY - staircase

Some writers (and people in general) never stray far from home. There are authors who set all their books in England, Scotland, the northeast, Northern MN, Texas, or the South.  And I have to admit that I’ll go anywhere with my favorite authors, including staying in the same small town with the same characters. But my books are a lot like my life. I like to explore different places, see different sights, and experience a change of scenery as often as I can. It’s refreshing. It renews your perspective. It reminds me that there’s a whole big wide world out there, and that the universe doesn’t revolve around me. Traveling, experiencing different cultures, broadens us and grows us and changes us. It promotes understanding and empathy. It enriches us in countless ways.

Zion - bowed head

Part of my wanderlust is no doubt a part of my genetic make-up. But I truly believe that another very important part of my thirst to experience new places, people and things is a result of the books I read as a child.

Heaven to Betsy1Laura Ingalls Wilder books

I was there when Betsy Ray headed out to have her Great Adventure in Europe, when Laura and Mary helped Ma and Pa pack up the covered wagon and set out for a new territory, when Daniel Boone went exploring, and when Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea set out to find the Pacific Ocean.

Cal - Rachel SS

Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me, but I hope that my books create the same kind of stirrings in you. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll take a trip to Scotland with Rose and Ian in Wild Rose, the first of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that you’ll join Anders and Jensen in Copenhagen, or Hope and Tommy in Embarrass, the coldest town in the USA, or see what the Midwest is really like in my Maple Valley trilogy, A change of scenery is a good thing. It refreshes. It restores. It renews. Come along for the ride and you’ll see!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]Love Notes Cover - Final

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Seaside Daisy – NEW RELEASE

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Daybreak (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

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Wild Rose

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Love Notes

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