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CZECHIA – even the name sounds exotic – and somewhat intimidating. When we made reservations for our first two nights in Prague and the address included the words Na Hřebenkách, Hlavní město Praha, Czech Republic, I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into.

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We’re almost always in Europe the last week of May and the first two weeks of June. Last year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Scotland enjoying holiday festivities at Kelly Castle, near St. Andrews and making our second visit to the Highland Games at Blair Atholl Castle near Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I would happily have gone back to see the soldiers and pipers marching in their kilts to the beat of Celtic drums yet again, but a new adventure beckoned.

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My husband spent a week and a half in the Holy Lands in April, and in May, we made an unexpected trip to California to bury his mother. Rather than leave on another vacation right away, we decided to wait until the last week of August and the first half of September. Since we were already jarred out of our familiar pattern, we decided to go in a different direction and explore another facet of my family history – Prague and the Czech Republic.

Grandmas

I have no idea what my Bohemian Grandma (Lorna, 1900-2000, in the center) would think of me traipsing halfway around the world to see where our ancestors lived before they settled in northern Iowa, but I’m excited to explore a new part of the globe. And nervous…

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Mark and I have traveled to a few other non-English speaking parts of the world, but we’ve usually had a tour guide who was fluent in the native tongue – our friend Gabriella in Germany, our daughter-in-law, Cristiana in Romania, and our cousin Helle in Denmark. I could tell you some interesting stories about our adventures in Italy, Switzerland and France, where we were clueless when it came to communicating, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, I have good reason to be worried about the language barrier in Czechia. Mark already has a Czech phrase book and audio tape and I hear him practicing every so often… we’ll see how that goes!

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During one of our late spring blizzards when I was holed up in one of our houses, I started perusing the map of Czech Republic for places that we might like to visit. I’m feeling a little more confident now that I can picture our route in my head and have a general idea of what we’ll get to see.

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August 28, 29 – We’ll be spending our first two days in Prague in Sector 5 exploring the paintings of Alfons Mucha, who is known for his portrayals of Slavic maidens and a series of twenty monumental canvases known as The Slav Epic. We’ll also visit Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) where we’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, and the Old Royal Palace and Vladislav Hall, so big it was used to host knightly jousting tournaments. And of course, the 16th-century Royal Garden and Charles Bridge (Karlův Most).

 

August 30, 31, and Sept 1 – Brno, about 2 hours south of Prague, is our next destination.  We’ll be staying in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house with an outside seating restaurant adjacent to a park. We’ll be there during the International Folklore Festival, where we hope to enjoy regional music, dancing and foods. We’ll see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which has remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles, and the the 13th-century Špilberk Castle and Tugendhat Villa. We’re told the area is known for its wild “bear” garlic Czech soup. Sounds right up my alley.

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I’m still trying to decide if I want to see the remains of some 70,000 people slain in war or killed by diseases such as the plague in medieval times between the 14th and 16th centuries at the nearby “Bone Church,” the Gothic All Saints Chapel.

 

Sept 2, 3, and 4 – We figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in the big city, so we decided to spend the next few days in the country village of Rojetin. The guesthouse where we’ll be staying is near three UNESCO Heritage Sites – the the historic and tragic Jewish Quarter in Třebíč, the star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture. 

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Sept 5 and 6 – We’ll be dipping down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were already booked for the annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival. We’re looking forward to thermal spas, the idyllic wine villages of the area, music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, a historic market, and tasty homemade sausages and cheese.

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All this time, we’ll still be within 2 1/2 hours of Prague. But on Sept 7, we’ll venture west to Znojmo and on to the heart of Bohemia. Our next destination, for Sept 8 and 9, is Cesky Krumlov. 

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This town is often referred to by its old German name of Karlsbad, or Karlovy Vary . Established in 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. The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains. It’s also a prominent glassmaking center, and I’m already dreaming of finding a factory seconds outlet store where I can buy millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects.

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The tiny medieval town of Loket, with its impressive castle and beautiful mountain views, only a half hour west, will be our home on Sept 10 and 11. 

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Then, on Sept 12, we’re off to the Bohemian Alps and Jilove to spend one night in a little castle. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

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There are two national parks, Saxon Switzerland Park, which is in Germany, and its Czech sister, Ceske svycarsko National Park, on the Czech Republic’s side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which straddle the Elbe River. We’ll see rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches in Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). The region also has many old castles.

 

Sept 13, 14, 15, and 16 we’ll be in Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we’ll be able to get rested up before our trip home. We’ll see another famous castle, Karlstejn, and 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.

Czech - Lesany Courtyard

We’ll also be near Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park includes formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, ponds, and 25 kilometers of walking paths where we can go for walks IF we can still walk by then…

Come August, I hope you’ll follow along on our adventure via the photos I post on Facebook and Instagram. (Hopefully it’s obvious, but none of the photos of Czechia were taken by me since I haven’t been there yet. ) If any of you have been to Czechia, please feel free to give advice, suggestions or helpful tips!

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Several people have asked me if I intend to write a Wildflowers of Czechia novel when I return. The answer is, probably – there are already images of a poor but fiesty gypsy girl and a wealthy Italian diplomat’s son floating around in my mind. Some of those images date back to a wedding reception I went to in 1980 when I was in Budapest, Hungary – but that’s another story…

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In the meantime, I’m still hard at work on Seaside Daisy, my upcoming Wildflowers of Ireland mystery. Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.)

There’s something very exciting about seeing familiar characters in new situations. I love it when I get to experience my favorites things from days past paired with a handful of brand new adventures to shine a light on things and places that are fresh and exciting. My upcoming release, Daybreak, a sequel to Night and Day, will give readers a chance to reminisce and reacquaint themselves with some of their favorite characters. At the same time, it has to be realized that this second glimpse at Jensen and Anders, Ed, and the Christiansen family begins at a time when everything has changed, some things for the better, and some for the worse. Familiar characters (something old), different situations (something new).

Night and Day (1)Daybreak in Denmark (3)

That’s how I’m looking at our third trip to Scotland this coming May and June. We’ll be revisiting some of our most loved spots, interspersed with a few new adventures and never before seen destinations.  Familiar sights, new experiences. Hopefully, it will be the perfect mix!

We’ll be starting out at a new B&B in a new village, halfway between Edinburgh and St. Andrews, both of which we’ve already seen. We have a beautiful room lined up in Colinsburgh, Scotland, where we’ll be our first three nights in country.

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On our first trip to Scotland, I fell in love with Cambo Garden Estates in Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife. This will be Mark’s first time, and I can’t wait to show him around, hopefully this time, not in the rain – although the raindrops and overcast haze made for some lovely photos in 2007.

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Some newly discovered treasures we hope to see while we’re in the area include Kellie Castle, with its fairytale stone towers, and an Arts & Crafts garden with herbaceous borders and old rose gardens, and Culross, Scotland’s most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries. Envision white-harled houses with red-tiled roofs lining steep, cobbled streets running from market cross to the hilltop abbey. In the centre is an ochre-coloured palace with a beautifully reconstructed herb garden, complete with rare Scots Dumpy hens. We’re told it’s one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland.

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On next few nights will be spent in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. When we’re not enjoying our cozy abode, we hope to visit some new spots – Ailean Chraggan Hotel, where we’re told you can meet the locals, and the food is good. The Breadlabane Bakery is on my list, and a highly recommended Deli-ght, a great delicatessen with very good home cooked ready meals we can enjoy at our home away from home.

Aberfeldy - Inside

Our trip to Aberfeldy will include a visit to a favorite art gallery belonging to Artist Audrey Slowrance

And – a return visit to nearby Blair Atholl Castle where we will once again see the Atholl Highlanders marching in review, and the famed highland games

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From there, we’re off to Inverness, or the countryside near Inverness, where we’ll spend two days at Ben View House Lentran Farm, which looks lovely inside and out.

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While we’re in the highlands, we plan to visit the living Highland Folk Museum. Visitors to this living history Museum can learn how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived, built their homes, tilled the soil and dressed. We can’t wait to see the restored buildings and witness Highland history coming to life.

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The Kilted Fudge Company is next on my list. I first tasted their handmade cream and butter fudge at the highland games in 2016. Located in Aviemore, Scotland, they feature mouth-watering Scottish favourites such as Irn Bru, Crannachan, Clootie Dumpling (my absolute fave), Millionaire’s Shortbread, Turkish Delight and Parma Violet.

On our last visit, we couldn’t quite squeeze in Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family. After watching two seasons of Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria, we’re intrigued by the history of Balmoral Castle, which dates from the 15th century, but was considered too small when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the region and people during a visit to the Scottish Highlands. Prince Albert set about organising the design of the current castle and grounds when the Royal Family purchased the estate in 1852. Construction of the new castle started during the summer 0f 1853, on a site just 100 yards from the original building. The couple spent many weeks each year relaxing at their new home in Highlands, and after Albert’s death, Victoria spent up to 4 months each year at Balmoral.  If we have time, we’ll also explore Braemar Castle, a largely restored 17th century castle originally built in 1628.

From there, we head to Ullapool…

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Our host will be Fair Morn Bed & Breakfast, in a room with a view, at Morefield Brae.  This will be another first for us, as will the lovely Achmelvich Beach, and the award-winning Inverewe Garden, where we’re promised we can lose ourselves in the lush setting and enjoy a riot of colours and scents.

We’ll start out June with a three hour long CalMac Ferry Ride on hopefully calm seas!

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While on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, we’ll stay at Keepers House, Uig Beach, Tinsgarry, Isle of Lewis. Although it was tempting to head back to the Isle of Mull, where Blue Belle is set, or Isle of Arran, which we enjoyed so much in 2016, we decided to strike out and try something new…

The mysterious, and now famous standing stones seen in Outlander will no doubt be our first stop.  We’re also hoping to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We’re told Scalpay’s North Harbour Bistro is the place for a tasty meal and that we need to browse the beautiful Harris Tweed products at the Pink Sheep Studio. We want to see Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with its restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs. Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old. on the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, Luskentyre Beach, and St. Clement’s Church in the tiny town of Rodel are also on the list.

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After another ferry ride to Uig, Isle of Skye, we hope to take in a sunset like this one.

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We’ll definitely revisit our favorite scenic overlook on Skye, and the much loved Eilean Donan Castle featured in my books Shy Violet and Sweet William. One spot that we previously missed is Caisteal Maol (Castle Bare) near Kyle of Lochalsh. We hope to include it on this trip… something old, something new…

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Staying in Lochcarron, setting of Golden Rod, will be a new experience, (Castle Cottage looks wonderful!) but we’ll also enjoy some of our favorite spots while we’re there.

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And then, it’s off to Fort William on our way south toward Glasgow.

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After one night at Loch View Estate, Fort William, we’re very excited to get to explore a new corner of western Scotland, where we get to stay in a B&B that looks absolutely delightful.

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Kilmartin Glen is located between Oban and Lochgilphead, surrounding the village of Kilmartin, on the west of Scotland. The area spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

And then, it’s off to Paisley to repack our suitcases and catch an early morning flight back to the U.S.

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If we have time, I’d love to see House for an Art Lover in Glasgow. It’s situated in Bellahouston Park, about 10 minutes from the flat where we’ll be staying. It’s a wonderful Charles Rennie Mackintosh building with a fantastic restaurant and art collection.

Maybe now you have a sense of why I keep revisiting Scotland in my books, my travels, and my dreams. And although I took a detour back to Denmark and Minnesota in my new book, Daybreak, the concept is the same. Something old and familiar, something new and exciting, something borrowed (aren’t all stories?) and something blue… always Blue. It’s the stuff the best stories are made of.

BlueBelle 2016

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

Wildflowers - Stripes

(Disclaimer:  I use my own photos except for those of places I have never been, which I obviously couldn’t have taken – yet.)

I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I received a card from my Mom and Dad that really made me think. On the inside, it said “Lots of love  from Mom and Dad. We are very proud of all your accomplishments.  Now it’s time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of your labor?”

Yes, there was a question mark at the end, which left me wondering exactly what they meant.

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The card came at a time when I was working hard to finish Shy Violet, my next book – coming soon from Second Wind. I’ve been short staffed at my restaurant and B&B since last fall, and have been doing much of the cooking and cleaning myself. I’ve also been writing the scripts for our popular murder mysteries, about one a month – a very fun, but time consuming process. In the past week, I filled a large order for the cookie business I have on the side, and took my nieces and nephew out to dinner and to a school play (the favorite part of my busy week). In the past month, I’ve also baked 12 or 15 dozen cookies for church, practiced a lot of music, and written a Christmas program for our Sunday School youth. And on the day of my birthday – a Sunday, I had 23 people over for a birthday brunch after church.

Food - Cookies Noah

Even when I’m riding in the car, or watching TV, or doing something that could be construed as relaxing, I have my laptop open so I can  be working on something, or a needlepoint project in my hands. I really don’t like going to the movie theater because it forces me to do nothing but watch.

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Let’s just summarize by saying that I like to keep busy! I’m the original multi-tasker, and very probably a workaholic. My husband says my brain has no off-switch. While I did not inherit these traits from strangers, I guess I should also listen when these same people tell me that I’m at that time in my life when I need to reexamine some of my priorities and start relaxing a little bit.

My first response, when I read the card, was that I don’t know how to relax – don’t want to relax, don’t enjoy relaxing – that I’d rather be busy than the alternative, that I like the hectic pace of my life, and find it energizing.

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And then, a 16 year old girl from our old church died in a car accident on Sunday night – a girl we’d known since she was little – a sweet, talented young woman who should be the honoree at a graduation party instead of a funeral. On Monday, we found out that there’s going to be a wedding in the family – in Romania. On Tuesday afternoon, my mom ended up in the hospital with congestive heart failure – she’s been treated and is going to be fine, but it shook us all up. And on Wednesday, a dear young woman who I greatly admire – talented, beautiful, engaged to be married, just starting out in life, her whole future ahead of her – was killed in a car accident on snowy roads.

Zion 2013 Frost Close

Last Sunday, a friend from church who has 15 or 20 years on me told me, “Do it now. Once you get to be 50, things start to happen. So travel now. Have fun while you can, while there’s still time.” More good advice.

So… I’m off to start writing Sweet William, finish my edits on Shy Violet, and get my next murder mystery done – this one is called, A Taste of Murder – the Galloping Gourmet Gets the Trots – and it has to be done by March 7th. While I’m working, I’m thinking about my birthday card, and trying to figure out what relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor looks like for me.

Zion - bowed head

In the meantime, I am grateful to be alive, and to have had the chance to live out my life, to be loved, and to love. I am grateful for the privilege of living, and I intend to live every second to its fullest potential.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

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By day, Sherrie Hansen operates the Blue Belle Inn B&B & Tea House and tries to be a good pastor’s wife. By night, she writes. Her novels, Shy Violet (coming soon), Blue Belle, Wild Rose, Thistle Down, Love Notes, Night & Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily & Merry Go Round are available from SecondWindPublishing.com.

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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.

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.

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

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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.

Photo36

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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