Have Book, Will Travel

While cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay on a schooner, this girl was immersed in a Harry Potter book. She could have been me at age eight.   ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can tell a lot about a person by their books: at home and on the road.

I have shelves of uncategorized fiction, including books I’ve read and those I haven’t. There’s a small, poetry-sized shelf for volumes of poems. There’s a delicious space for cookbooks in the kitchen. The sustainable living books are on my loftiest shelf.

And—of course!—I have devoted several rambling shelves to travel guides and travel memoirs and travel histories. All the destinations are mixed up: Egypt beside Ireland beside Singapore beside Belize. I’ve remapped the world.

Going Places

Whether or not a book is specifically about travel, it takes me on a journey—figuratively and literally. Many times, when I look at photos from past vacations, I’ve noticed that the book I’m reading made it into a picture or two.

Antigua’s Carlisle Bay beach was lovely, but my mind was in 17th-century Holland: I was reading Tracy Chevalier’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

In fact, I often remember the books I read during specific trips, either because they helped pass long hours on the airplane or because I was so mesmerized by the book that it distracted me from the actual destination.

For instance, I read The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan in Fiji. I had plenty of time toward the end of the trip for reading because a hurricane was moving through that part of the Pacific. Although the hurricane remained 500 miles from the Fijian islands, the water got so murky that snorkeling was bad. By afternoon on the remote island of Kadavu, it started to rain buckets. We were staying in a solar-lit, thatched bure; when ours got damp and dark, we huddled in the dining building, which had a metal roof and hurricane lamps. I was happy to disappear into Tan’s magical mother-daughter saga. The next day, we flew back to the main island and stayed at a hotel near the airport. There, Ken and I sat on the bed and gazed out at horizontal rain and wind as they denuded the palm trees. Escaping again into the book, I could almost forget the howling outside.

“The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred Ireland” by Cary Meehan took me to amazing standing stones, like Kilclooney Dolmen in County Donegal. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I read Jurassic Park during my honeymoon on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Ken read it on the flight east—and during our unexpected sleepover in Atlanta due to cancelled flights. Then I read it on the beach and during the flight home. (To help us travel light, we pack books that both of us are interested in. That way we swap books halfway through the trip.)

In Scotland, I read a second-hand Amelia Peabody mystery—one of a series of charming archaeological whodunits set in Egypt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When I was finished, I donated this one to a retreat-center library on the island of Cumbrae. (That’s another secret to traveling light: leave it behind for someone else to read.)

In England, I read Pride and Prejudice for two reasons: a) because I never had, and b) because it felt right to be reading Jane Austen while visiting the very manor houses, villages and gardens where the P&P movies were filmed.

Dove è la Toilette? (Where’s the bathroom?)

Where would we be without guidebooks and phrasebooks? Lost, I imagine. In the days before e-readers, I photocopied the pertinent pages before I traveled and then discarded the pages as I moved from place to place.

True confession: I still do this because a) I prefer not to lug expensive electronics around the globe, and b) batteries choose to die and wireless tends to disappear the instant I arrive in way-off-the-beaten-path places.

The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead estate in England, was the setting of a love scene in the 2005 movie “Pride and Prejudice.” I read the book while I was in the region. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Rick Steves’ Italy was my lifeline 15 years ago when I traveled alone for a month in the Lake District and Tuscany. I carried photocopied pages (a Rick Steves–sanctioned method), and everywhere I went—restaurants, cafés, museums, hill towns, lakes—Americans pored over the same book. The Rick Steves guide was an excellent ice-breaker: after all, you know the reader speaks (or at least can read) English. Many times I’d lean over to the adjacent table at a trattoria and start a Rick-related conversation:

“I see you’re traveling with the Rick Steves guide. Are you staying in Varenna or Menaggio here on Lake Como?”

“We got into that cute little mom-and-pop hotel in Varenna. You?”

“Varenna. That hotel was booked, so I’m staying at a nice place on the outskirts. A little pricier, but there’s a lovely garden and a fresco in the breakfast room! How are Rick’s suggestions for restaurants here in town?”

“Outstanding! We’ve been to all of them. ‘Stick with Rick’ is our motto.”

Stick with Rick became my mantra for that trip—half of it anyway. I mostly agreed with his recommendations for pretty medieval villages to visit, and I appreciated his historical background. In May, when tourism was light, seeing others with Rick Steves’ Italy was a novelty. By June, as crowds increased, the thrill had worn off and I had to get off the Rick grid for a little solitude.

For better or worse, at home or abroad, books unite us.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

What books have transported you most? Does a certain type of book work for you when you travel? And how do you read: eBook or paper? Leave a reply below, if you like…

I used the titles of books to create a little “book haiku” about traveling. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Shakespeare Thrives in Boulder Summer Festival

William Shakespeare discusses CSF’s production of “Taming of the Shrew” (2010) with picnickers. ©Laurel Kallenbach

To me, it just wouldn’t be summer without the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF), held for more than 50 years in Boulder.

Performed in the Mary Rippon Theatre (a lovely outdoor stage) on the University of Colorado campus, the plays are always quite wonderfully produced, and they are ably performed by a troupe of professional actors.

I personally believe that nothing beats the raw excitement of seeing live theatre under the stars, especially on a warm summer night.

(Yes, there are nights where it rains, and the audience huddles indoors waiting for the weather to clear. It usually does, and the show continues where it left off.)

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival performs in the outdoor amphitheater on the CU campus. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival performs in the outdoor amphitheater on the CU campus. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

I have a special connection with Boulder’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival: For 30 consecutive summers, my wind ensemble, called the Falstaff Trio (flute, clarinet and bassoon), has performed for the Green Shows before the plays.

Green Shows are the entertainment for picnickers in the Shakespeare Gardens before the show. We musicians get “paid” in tickets to the performances.

Pre-show picnicking is another special memory. Over the years on nights that I’m attending a performance, friends and I have spread our blanket under the trees and dined al fresco while listening to other musicians. Or we’ve listened in on theatre conversations: a costumed actor portraying Will Shakespeare wanders the grounds chatting with picnickers about the play they’re about to see.

A recorder player with the Boulder Renaissance Consort entertains at the 2010 Green Show. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Sharing fresh summer dishes and a bottle of wine is a timeless ritual—and sometimes our Shakespeare festival is the only time in the busy summer that we haul out the picnic basket.

Picnic tip: If you don’t have time to prepare food, the Festival sells boxed dinners, snacks, and beverages, including beer and wine. (It’s illegal to drink alcohol on the CU campus except for inside the Shakespeare Gardens). And, it’s fun to save dessert for intermission.)

Over the decades, I’ve seen so many wonderful plays by the Bard; the Festival also produces some non-Shakespeare plays each season, such as 2009’s excellent To Kill a Mockingbird.

With great affection I look back at all those Macbeths, Romeo and Juliets, Twelfth Nights, Hamlets and Midsummer Night’s Dreams.

Picnicking before the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a high art. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Picnicking before the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a high art. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The plays that are rarely done get produced too, though less often: I still fondly remember Coriolanus (1995), Much Ado About Nothing (1997), and Cymbeline (2016) as among the best productions I’ve seen.

Then there are fun quirks, such as the night a family of raccoons walked across the building gutters right behind the stage. Talk about stealing the show! We audience members were pointing at Momma and her four little ones as they ambled through a scene.

Long live the works of Shakespeare, and long live the Colorado Shakespeare Festival!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Rocky Mountain Tea Festival Heats Up July in Boulder

The Rocky Mountain Festival of Tea is held annually at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Rocky Mountain Festival of Tea is held annually at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I stare at the damp, scattered tea leaves inside my cup, which look like Chinese calligraphy: indecipherable, to me at least.

The bits of oolong left after I drank my tea should tell my future. “Soften your focus and follow your intuition,” advises Caroline Dow, who’s teaching a class on tea-leaf reading at Boulder’s Rocky Mountain Tea Festival. This annual celebration of the Far Eastern beverage is held in late July at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

My tealeaves tell a good fortune. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I’m drawing a blank; my cup is a jumble of Xs and blobs. Just then, Dow instructs us to pass our cups to the person on our left and let them interpret our symbols. A woman from Santa Fe studies my leaves. She sees a dog, lots of leggy pieces dancing around, and a flying bird. We consult Dow’s list of images and their meanings.

The flying bird augers good news; the dog represents a faithful friend and protection. Moving legs sound hopeful for me because in three weeks I’m having hip surgery. The mystical leaves of the tea plant bear good tidings.

So begins my two-day sojourn into the amazing world of tea at the Rocky Mountain Tea Festival.

Tea 101

Want to learn the difference between oolong, puerh, green tea, and Lapsang Souchong? The Rocky Mountain Tea Festival brings together tea experts, chefs, importers and aficionados for seminars, workshops, and tea tastings—all at the spectacular Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

Chef Lenny Martinelli demonstrates how to cook with tea. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Chef Lenny Martinelli demonstrates how to cook with tea. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Each year, chef Lenny Martinelli demonstrates how to cook with tea as an ingredient. This year we watched as he made Korean Lapsong Barbecue Ribs, Halumi Cheese with Watermelon, and Black Tea–Glazed Wings—and then got to taste!

The Tea Basics seminar is held by a different tea expert every year, and it focuses on selecting, storing, and brewing tea for your personal taste. For instance, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, drink tea brewed from full leaves; crumbled leaves have more surface area, so caffeine infuses the hot water more quickly. The class I took explored the history of tea, its origins, where it’s grown around the world, and how each type of tea is made to produce its unique flavor. We tasted green, oolong, black and white teas, comparing them side by side, sniffing their leaves, and learning brewing techniques for each varietal.

Tea party tables set up for the kids ©Laurel Kallenbach

Tea party tables set up for the kids ©Laurel Kallenbach

Festival Flavors

The ever-expanding Rocky Mountain Tea Festival draws people from all over the country and offers a four-course tea dinner in which all dishes are prepared with tea.

The menu might include delicacies such as Coconut Green Tea Shrimp Ceviche, Duck Breast with Dragon Eyes Black Tea fig reduction, and green tea ice cream.

A children’s tea party, complete with costumes, crafts, games, a giant teddy bear, iced herbal tisanes and treats such as tea sandwiches, scones, fresh fruit, and sweets. Activities include crafts, simple games, and a Do-it-Yourself dress-up area.

For me, a real highlight was the Japanese tea ceremony demonstrated by women in full traditional kimonos. The evening was a lovely cultural experience.

A Japanese tea ceremony demonstrated the ages-old meditative "way of tea." ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Japanese tea ceremony demonstrated the ages-old meditative “way of tea.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

Seated around a large table, about 30 of us watched the full ceremony, which is simple but detailed, and choreographed with great precision.

Afterward, we all received and frothed the bright-green Japanese matcha tea and sipped it slowly and with great reverence.

Tea Bazaar

Even if you don’t sign up for classes during the festival, you can always drop by the Dushanbe Teahouse and browse through the Tea Bazaar. You’ll find beautiful teapots and other tea-making gadgets, loose-leaf tea, cakes of tea leaves, books on tea, and more. You can taste the best flavors from the many manufacturers there—believe me, I was plenty caffeinated after walking through the rows of vendors!

Phoenix Collection tea tasting at the festival bazaar ©Laurel Kallenbach

Phoenix Collection tea tasting at the festival bazaar ©Laurel Kallenbach

By the end of the two-day festival, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a tea connoisseur, but I sure know a lot more about tea! And now, whenever I need to have my fortune read, I know the answer to life’s questions lies in the bottom of a cup of my favorite oolong.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

5 Reasons “Outlander” Fans Will Love Scotland’s Isle of Lewis

Outlander-coverCan’t get enough of the stunning scenery from Outlander? The Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, has loads of history and spectacular vistas that will satisfy those who love this romance/ adventure TV series.

1. Magical Stone Circle

The ancient stone circle called Craigh na Dun that transports Claire into the past is fictional, but the real circle that it was built to resemble is Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis.

Built from multi-ton stones that were dragged for several miles across the land, the Callanish circle is situated on a hilltop with a view of Loch Roag and the mountains to the south. It’s not hard to imagine this beautiful and scenic circle as being a magical portal through time. These standing stones have been part of this windswept landscape for more than 4,000 years, and during all those millennia, they’ve remained the constants as people farm the land and wage wars and fall in love. To read more about Callanish, click here.

Callanish with woman visitor ©Laurel Kallenbach

A woman inspects one of the Callanish stones on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Scottish Heather

One of Scotland’s national flowers, the pink-purple flower of hardy heather is well suited to Scotland’s rugged, rocky hills. One legend surrounding heather is that it grows over the places where fairies live. And some Highlanders attached a spray of heather to their weapons for luck. Scottish heather has had plenty of medicinal uses through the ages, including as a remedy for digestive problems, coughs, and arthritis. In Outlander, heather is just one of the botanicals that Claire Beauchamp uses in her healing practice. The Scots’ love of heather is exemplified in a season 1 episode in which a man is fatally gored by a wild boar. As he lies dying, Claire asks him to describe his home. He tells her that the heather is so thick he could walk on it.

Scottish heather on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

Scottish heather on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Old Broch Tower

In Outlander, Lallybroch (also known as Broch Tuarach) is Jamie Fraser’s estate, which includes several crofts (see #4) on the ancestral land. A “broch” is an Iron Age fortress-like round-tower unique to Scotland. Not far from Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis is Dun Carloway Broch. Few brochs as well preserved as this one, and you can feel some of the Fraser clan’s heritage in its mossy stone walls. This one overlooks the nearby coast.

Dun Carloway Broch ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dun Carloway Broch ©Laurel Kallenbach

4. Crofts (small farms)

A delightful scene in season 1 of Outlander involves Jamie collecting rent from the tenant crofters soon upon his and Claire’s arrival at Lallybroch estate. Jamie proves to be a bit too indulgent with a few of his less reputable farmers. A croft is essentially a small agricultural unit, usually a part of a landlord’s larger estate.  On Lewis, you can see crofts and visit a historic “blackhouse”—one of the old farmhouses with no chimney that was always so smoky that the ceilings and walls turned black.

A farm on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

A farm on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

5. Hills, Lochs, and Beaches 

Outlander features gorgeous cinematograpy of the Highlands, with craggy hills, lush forests, and placid lakes. Lewis has no shortage of scenery with rocky outcrops, hills and mountains, plus overlooks of the wild Atlantic coastline. In fact, aside from small villages and the town of Stornoway (where there’s an airport if you prefer to fly rather than take the ferry from the mainland), most of Lewis is peat moorland, freshwater lochs, silver-sand beaches, and flowering meadows. These beautiful, wild places are perfect for hiking, bird- or whale-watching, fishing, boat trips, cycling, or scenic driving.

Cliff Beach, Isle of Lewis. Photo courtesy Visit Scotland

Cliff Beach, Isle of Lewis. Photo courtesy Visit Scotland

For more information, see Visit Scotland’s Outlander map of film locations. Or visit the Isle of Lewis information site.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor 

Read more about my travels in Scotland: