TBT: My first ever blog post about my father and France

Dad

See why I tell people I look just like him? Cause. I. Do.

I wrote this post in October, 2009, the first entry on my fledgling blogging site, Sentimental Journeys, and it seems amazing now that I was planning my first trip to France. Since then, we have been to France twice, and I long to visit again soon.

Because this post is mostly about my father, and yesterday would have been his 93rd birthday, it seems appropriate to bring it back into the light on Throwback Thursday.

Dad, we hope you are dancing and singing and gardening and cooking happily in heaven. Continue reading

The Book I Haven’t Written Yet

I was at the library the other day, and hidden among the travel guides was a charming little book written by author, artist, and traveler Susan Branch.

Click on link to see Susan Branch's web site

Click on photo to see Susan Branch’s web site

It sat on my TBR pile for a few days, but since it’s from the library, I knew I needed to get cracking on it before it was due. To come clean, I have a bunch of other books that I SHOULD be reading but this one was speaking to my soul. What a wonderful title!

Imagine my amazement, delight, and honestly, my chagrin, when I found that Susan Branch has actually written the book I was born to write. It’s kind of a good thing/bad thing. Written in the form of a journal and memorializing her 25th anniversary trip to England with her husband, the book abounds with quotes from songs and authors, hand-painted illustrations, and photos and stories from her travels. Continue reading

Travel Diary: Lightening My Load

My name is Jennie, and I’m an over-packer.

I’m the person in the line at the airline check-in desk sweating bullets, hoping beyond hope that the airline scale is the same as mine at home and that my suitcase doesn’t weigh more than 50 pounds. I’m a mess when it comes to packing. I just can’t say no to anything that jumps in my suitcase. I’m also the person who had to pay $75 in excess baggage fees to bring my treasures home from France.

I’m determined to send my over-packer-self packing. Continue reading

The Biggest Dish Room in the United States? — Biltmore Part 1

The original photo of the two-story butler's pantry at Biltmore is courtesy of The Biltmore Estate.

The original photo of the two-story butler’s pantry at Biltmore is courtesy of The Biltmore Estate.

Dish rooms are my joy, my thrill, my raison d’être. Well, maybe not quite that much, but y’all know how much I love dishes.

When we began to plan our visit to the largest private home in the United States, I hoped to see lots and lots of dishes. Gobs of dishes.

Located in Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore House and its surrounding estate was imagined and created between 1889 and 1895 by George W. Vanderbilt and his all-star team of Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted. It is still held privately by descendants of George and Edith Vanderbilt and is open to the public. There is a general tour of the house with an available audio guide that takes about two hours. There are also auxiliary guided tours of areas that are not on the main tour. We spent two glorious days exploring this beautiful estate.

In addition to the regular tour of the house, we also signed up for the Butler’s Tour, which took us “downstairs” into kitchen and mechanicals areas not seen on the other tours. This two-story butler’s pantry just took my breath away.

I’ll share lots more about our trip to the glorious Biltmore Estate, but today I’m going to start with a visit to the gift shops on the grounds of the Estate. After all, it’s dishes that we are interested in — right? Continue reading

Travel Diary: Packing for Mars (or England or California)

This post contains affiliate links; see my PR disclosure policy for details.

In book club, we recently read a very interesting book entitled Packing for Mars. It was an in-depth and often graphic explanation of how astronauts live and work in the tight quarters of space exploration vehicles. The stories in the book were fascinating and our book club loved it.

My recent trip on American Airlines made me think again about Packing for Mars and how travelers of all kinds need to strip their packing down to the bare essentials. I dragged around a 24″ roller bag, a small roller briefcase, and a large Vera Bradley tote stuffed with my purse and carry-on items. It was just too much. Continue reading

Travel Diary: Tips for Your Next Trip

Linda Dini Jenkins from Travel the Write Way

Linda Dini Jenkins from Travel the Write Way

This post contains affiliate links; see my Advertising Disclosure policy for details.

Tips From Traveling Friends

I have a blogging friend whom I have never met, yet our thinking trains seem to often run along the same rails — and it happened again this week. I had planned to write a post about some items I’m adding to my travel closet stash, and Linda also wrote a post about the things that are on her travel must-have list.

Linda Dini Jenkins is a travel writer who blogs at Travel the Write Way. She offers tips about tourist destinations, and plans tours in Italy for small group travel. Here’s what she says about this week’s post.

“It’s trip planning season again. At least that’s what all my travel blog colleagues are writing about in their columns lately. This is the time of year, they say, when people start to plan for their annual holiday, especially if that holiday involves crossing oceans. To help potential travelers in their search, all kinds of lists are appearing to promote the top 10 beach destinations, the best European bargain spots, “undiscovered” this or that, and what you should or shouldn’t pack on said trip.” Continue reading

Bicycle Togs — Travel Diary

With the availability of bicycle rentals in so many cities, travelers have the option of getting some exercise while seeing the sights from a different vantage point. Here in Chicago, Paris-style Divvy bike racks are popping up all over the city, and not just along the lakefront. I’m not talking about you hard-core folks who go to Provence on bicycling tours, but with soft-core city cycling comes the need for soft-core bicycle clothing and gear, and that’s where we’re traveling today.

Looks like Paris, doesn't it? But it's Chicago!

Looks like Paris, doesn’t it? But it’s Chicago!

As a middle-aged woman, the last thing I want to do is wear skin-tight bike shorts around town while sightseeing or going into a restaurant. I was thrilled when a friend referred me to Terry — the “original women’s bicycling store.” At Terry, I found the perfect solution to my dilemma, the padded bike skort.

Terry's Flare Skort is the perfect solution to bicycling in cities.

Terry’s Flare Skort is the perfect solution to bicycling in cities.

I own this skort in the print and in black. It has a padded bike short underneath with leg bands that are not too tight, and the skirt has two large hip pockets where I put my iPhone and use the Map My Ride app when riding around town. It comes in plus sizes and is comfortable enough to walk around in, even with the padded seat. It hits me just above the knee at my 5′ 2″ height, and is a respectful length. Normally I wash my bike gear in my washing machine, but this week I washed it in the bathtub (as I usually wash clothing while traveling). The padding took two days to dry, so be aware of that, but I probably could have squeezed out more water with towels. It will fold up into a small ball in the corner of your suitcase and come out looking brand new.

All over Europe, we have seen women commuting on bikes, dressed in their work clothes. I don’t know if they are wearing bike shorts underneath their dresses, but they could do that as well. With a simple bike short liner under your dress, you can pedal in comfort and modesty even in your cute sundress!

GotMyReservations -- Shopping by Bicycle

With a basket and my bicycle togs, I can get my exercise and my errands done.

I also picked up an old Vera Bradley small backpack at a garage sale this summer, and was really excited about it. It’s lightweight and breathes, so even if I actually carry it on my back, it’s comfortable. It’s big enough to put my wallet and my camera in it, leaving my removable basket for library books, groceries, or goodies from the farmers’ market. It’s a win-win, both at home and while traveling, but I would choose a more sedate pattern to use in Paris :).

Next time you are packing for a trip, try taking along a bike skort. Worst case scenario is that you will use it as a cute skirt…

I’m linked up today to Wanderlust Wednesday at Time Travel Plans,   The Tablescaper for “Oh, The Places I’ve Been”, Travel Photo Monday” at Travel Photo Discovery, and “Travel Photo Thursday” at Budget Travelers Sandbox, so stop by and get some more inspiration for your travel bucket list!

 

Travel Diary: Anne Boleyn and Hever Castle

Historical accuracy in the media means a lot to me; I’ve been a history nut for as long as I can remember. I love historical fiction, and as my profile says, I love visiting places where the history is palpable around me. Hever Castle in Kent, England, is just such a place.

Image Credit

I’ve been watching The Tudors series on Netflix this summer, and its treatment of Anne Boleyn during the first season was less than historically accurate. Natalie Dormer was enchanting and heart-breaking in the tragic role of Anne Boleyn; in this article she discusses creating her character for The Tudors. As Natalie worked with the writers, her second-season Anne became more dimensional and more accurate. I have always been fascinated with Anne Boleyn and have eagerly awaited my opportunities to walk in her shoes (and I did walk in the ones that went to the Tower, if I may be a little irreverent about a very sad story). Got My Reservations - Hever Castle Intro When we planned our trip to southeast England, one of my first goals was to visit Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home. Of course, we have to put that in the terms that a girl born  c1501 would understand; she was shipped off in 1513 to learn how to be a courtier in the Netherlands, France, and eventually back in England. Her “childhood” was over at about age twelve and she became a skilled member of court, rarely returning to Hever. If you don’t know what happened to Anne Boleyn and her family, I suggest that you start by reading one of the many excellent historical fiction novels. My current favorites are by Hilary Mantel.

When you enter Hever Castle’s park, you are greeted by a beautifully manicured topiary garden. Your first view of the castle is of its 13th Century gatehouse and walled bailey. Got My Reservations - Hever Castle Topiary According to Hever Castle’s web site, “In the early 1500s the Bullen [Boleyn] family bought the castle and added a Tudor dwelling within the walls and so it became the childhood home of its most famous inhabitant, Anne Boleyn. It later passed into the ownership of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. From 1557 onwards the Castle was owned by a number of families including the Waldegraves, the Humfreys and the Meade Waldos. Finally, in 1903, William Waldorf Astor invested time, money and imagination in restoring the Castle, building the ‘Tudor Village’ and creating the gardens and lake.” That brings us to today’s Hever Castle and our visit there in 2011. Got My Reservations - Hever Castle Drawbridge At the end of the topiary garden, you are welcomed across the drawbridge by interpreters. Dressed in period costumes, they help bring you back to the early 1500s. Once you enter the courtyard, you can see the Tudor wattle and daub structure that was built inside the stone bailey. Got My Reservations - Hever Collage   As it is with most old homes, they wouldn’t let me take interior photos, but much of the house is as it was restored by William Waldorf Astor. It is a comfortable and elegant early 20th century English manor home — except that it was the home of one of the richest men in the world. Every detail, every piece of paneling, every fireplace, and every window speaks of the people who previously inhabited this home and of Astor’s dream of bringing Hever back to life. I spent an hour in the museum area talking to the guide about Anne Boleyn’s artifacts, including the prayer book that she took to the Tower with her, which have been purchased at auction and are kept at Hever. I walked up the small spiral staircase that led to Anne’s childhood room; I truly walked in her footsteps. Got My Reservations - Hever Castle Extensions Astor used Hever Castle as a place to entertain friends and business contacts; he added on exact Tudor-style extensions to the original castle which are now used as a conference center and a bed and breakfast. Although we didn’t end up staying on the property, I would recommend it to any die-hard Tudor history buff. Got My Reservations - Italian FountainIn addition to the new accommodation wings, Astor also built a large Italian-style garden in which to show off his collection of statuary. It was raining by the time we got to the garden, but it was well worth the inconvenience of walking around in the rain.

Got My Reservations - Hever Garden Collage

Image Credit

I’ve always thought that Anne has been misjudged and reviled because her story was engineered, written, and then told by men. It wasn’t HERstory, it was HIStory. Anne Boleyn’s life is a warning to guard the rights as modern women that many women before us have struggled to achieve. Recent events here in the United States show us that 500 years later, women can still be made second-class citizens by the swift stroke of a vote.

Anne’s role as a religious reformer also cannot be ignored. She and Henry had different goals when they broke away from the Catholic church. While the story of the birth of the Church of England is one that can be read in countless books, we were privileged to be at the Globe Theater for a rehearsal of Anne Boleyn, a play about Anne’s role in the Reformation.

Hever Castle is an easy drive in the countryside outside of London and I highly recommend visiting. As with most English castles turned tourist attractions, there is an informal restaurant and other things to do beyond soaking up the history; there is even a jousting tournament in the summer!

I’m linking up today with The Tablescaper for “Oh, The Places I’ve Been” and Budget Travelers Sandbox, so stop by and get some more inspiration for your travel bucket list!

I’ve also  joined forces with Bloglovin’ and I hope that you will follow me — it’s really easy to import your Google Reader links if you need to, by the way. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

A Visit to the Romance Hotel Rome

I am honored today to welcome a new guest blogger to the Got My Reservations family — my friend Debbie. Debbie and her husband are avid and intrepid travelers and have lots to share about the places they’ve seen. In this post, she introduces us to a small boutique hotel in Rome that you may want to put on your Rome Pinterest board, as I did.

We were in the mood for visiting Italy.  The excuse we used was our niece was studying in Rome. However, do you really need an “excuse” to visit Italy?  We don’t think so.

So, since the niece was in Rome, we had to spend some major time there.  We (there were 4 of us – myself, husband, brother and Mom), decided a week in Rome would be nice.  Then, take the train to Florence for 5 days.  Now, when to go and where to stay?

We went to Italy in November, after high season, when rates are lower and tourists are fewer.  In addition, we were able to schedule the trip so we left on a Wednesday afternoon arriving in Rome on Thursday morning, obtaining cheaper airfare and skipping a night in the hotel.  We returned from Florence 12 days later, on a Monday.  We were in Italy over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday,  meaning we only had to use 6 days of vacation time, always a consideration.

One of our main criteria in travel lodging is location. We want to be able to walk as much as possible to see the sights or be able to take public transportation.  We are fine with a 3 star hotel – you will receive a clean, serviceable room with in-room bathroom, good location and service, and a decent breakfast for a reasonable price.

The hotel we found and enjoyed in Rome was the Romance Hotel Rome, located about 4 blocks from the Colosseum in a quiet, safe neighborhood with good restaurants and cafes.  Breakfast was included, along with free Wi-Fi.  The photos on their website looked good and it was “quaint”.  The hotel has only 13 rooms. It was also close to a taxi stop, bus stop and the metro stop is by the Colosseum, so it “ticked all the boxes” we require.

The four of us arrived at the hotel at approximately 10AM.  This was after driving around the hotel twice, as none of us saw the hotel entrance.  The entrance is located at street level with minimal signage.

You enter through the gates and go directly downstairs to the reception area.   The reception area is directly ahead and there is a sitting area off to the side which has a pc available to all guests.

The desk clerk was very kind and helped us to check in and stored our luggage, as the rooms were not ready.  As we were waiting, they offered us drinks, so of course we had to have our first cappuccinos.

We are very “loose” travelers.  We have a list of places we want to see, but no timing in particular (other than making sure we know which museums are closed on which days).  After obtaining a local map from the clerk and talking with him, we decided on a walking tour of the neighborhood.  We did our tour, had lunch and came back to check into the hotel around 4pm.

We went up to our rooms.  This hotel is so small  you must take the elevator if your room is not on the main floor.  Don’t worry; there are stairs in case of an emergency, but they are not easy to access.  The elevator is typical Italian – a cozy squeeze for the 4 of us.  Good thing we are family!

The rooms are small, but then again, you are in the middle of Rome.  We did upgrade our rooms, so we were on the back side of the hotel, rather than street side.  This was a good idea, as it was warm and we had our windows open (there is no air conditioning after the end of October).  The lighting was “OK’, but not great.  It was rather typical for a hotel.  The room had a sitting area and a bed area, each with a window.  The rooms were pretty quiet, but you are in the middle of the city, which means the garbage trucks work during the night 😉

Breakfast was a selection of fresh fruit, pastries, cold cereals, cheeses and meats.  And, of course, the wonderful selection of coffee drinks, made to order by the nice hostess who ran the breakfast room.  The breakfast room is very tiny – in fact, some people took their breakfast and ate it in the sitting area near the reception area, in order to have a bit more room.

We liked the hotel and the staff was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, willing to help in any way.  We would stay here again and recommend this hotel to anyone contemplating staying in Rome.

When not traveling, Debbie works as a glass artist in the Chicagoland northwest suburbs. You can see her beautiful work on her web site, Debbie Watson Glass.

 

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