Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Update on Visiting Venice

I wrote a previous post, Upcoming Visit to Venice, a few weeks before my latest trip to Europe. I thought it only right to give an update now that the trip is over.  In case it’s not already clear, Venice is one of my favorite cities to visit!

Housing

Rialto Bridge

I’ve now made four trips to Venice (I do get to count before and after the cruise as two times, right?).  On my first trip there I found a reasonably priced hotel recommended by Rick Steves; it was right off the Grand Canal, fairly close to the Rialto Bridge.  On my second trip there we stayed in a hostel on Giudecca, across the Venetian Lagoon from Venice. (I didn’t have anything to do with setting that one up, but considering we had a dozen or so women in bunk bends in one room, I can’t imagine the per person cost was very expensive there.)

Struggling to get into our San Polo Airbnb the first and second time was one of its downsides!

And on this trip we rented two apartments through Airbnb – one in San Polo, very close to the Grand Canal, and one on the mainland, in Mestre. Each different one had its own advantages.  The San Polo one cost a bit more, but was conveniently located near the stop for both the San Stae ACTV water bus and Alilaguna water bus (more on those in a bit). The second one was easy to get to on the #2 bus  (which we were happy to find out was covered by our passes).

Before you make your final decision on where you want to stay, it’s a good idea to determine how you will get there. What looks like a good deal may be more trouble than it’s worth if getting there is a pain. Or that great deal you thought it was may not be so good if transportation turns out to be more expensive than with other options you turned down.

Another view of the Grand Canal

Case in point, my husband had to fly into Venice the day before the rest of us. After some searching I found an inexpensive hotel on the mainland. But when I investigated the transportation requirements of him getting from the airport to the hotel, it was actually easier, and almost exactly the same total cost to put him up that night at the hotel closest to the airport. So I cancelled the first reservation and made a new one. With the hotel next to the airport he was able to get there quickly with their shuttle bus. Then he shuttled back to the airport to meet us the next morning. Simple, and not more expensive when hotel AND transportation were considered.

Transportation

One of our many views of the Grand Canal

As I mentioned above, the airport is on the mainland. Once there you have several options to get to the city itself – train, bus, or special water buses being the three cheapest. (These are Alilaguna water buses, not the ACTV Vaporettos discussed below). A train or bus is a cheaper way to get to Venice, but arriving on an Alilaguna, and approaching by water is certainly more fun and seemed more poetic. (My third time in Venice was actually the first time I arrived in Venice that way, the first two times I had come by train.) You will have the option of buying a round trip ticket, but we knew we would be getting back to the airport a different way, so we only bought one way tickets. (Most of us purchased them when we arrived at the airport, but I think we could have saved a euro for each ticket if we had ordered them online.)

Within the islands that make up Venice you have two general options for getting around – by foot or by water. Walking is great, but you will likely find yourself crossing lots of canals, which means crossing lots of bridges – something I don’t recommend doing with luggage. (Which of course means we did lots of that as we waited to get into that first Airbnb!)

Water buses (ACTV Vaporetto) are a great method of traversing Venice and the surrounding areas. As a general rule you DON’T want to buy single time tickets (at the time we were just there a single ticket was 7.5 euros, a 24-hour-pass was 20 euros, and a 48 hour pass was 30). We decided in advance that we wanted to do the 48-hour-passes for our first 2 days in Venice. We had actually thought about going with just a 24-hour-pass when we returned a week later. But, after refiguring it, we went with the 48-hour pass then too. It only takes 2 trips each day to break even, and we did considerably more than that on each of the 4 days we were in the city. If you have the time and energy to do LOTS of walking, you may not need the water buses as much as we did – though I personally think they are a great way to see the city!

Gondolas

When people think of Venice they almost always think of gondola rides. And we did take a gondola ride this time (which because there were six of us wasn’t outrageously expensive). But, honestly, it’s not something that I feel like I had missed out on by not doing before. It does take you into some of the smaller canals, which is part of the reason we wanted to do it. But, again, the price is fairly steep, especially if you have a small group. (Oh, and be sure you know where you’re getting dropped off. There was some miscommunication there and we were not dropped off where we thought we were going to be. Which led to even more walking.)

Restaurants and Food Options

One of our many views of the Grand Canal

One thing to keep in mind in Venice is that almost EVERY restaurant will add a cover charge just for sitting at their tables. The amount is per person and should be listed at the bottom of the menu. On this past trip we spent everywhere from 2.50 to 5 euros for cover charges (again that’s per person). But, on the other hand, tips are not expected, so it sort of evens out.

One of my favorite things to buy in any city in Italy is gelato! Be sure to check it out as quickly as possible. (If you’re not familiar with gelato it’s sort of a cross between ice cream and sherbet, only better!) I recommend buying it as often as possible when you are in Italy. Even gelato stands will charge you more if you want to eat at their tables – they don’t charge a cover charge per se, but they generally have “eat in” prices that are higher than their “take out” prices. Because I was traveling with a knee injury, sitting regularly was important to me, and I wasn’t opposed to paying those extra fees.

One of the oddest sights we saw on the Grand Canal

Our first night we ate at a fairly fancy restaurant overlooking a canal. It was an interesting experience – we bought a large fish that had been covered with salt and then baked. Sold by the kilo it was a pricey dish, but it was a different experience and the only time in Venice that we spent that much on a meal. It’s okay to splurge once in awhile. (Okay, there was one meal after the cruise that we dined at a restaurant near our apartment in Mestre that was slightly more expensive – but we were coming off the cruise and ordered several courses – so we actually ordered and ate more at that restaurant, and did pay a bit more, but for just an appetizer and a main dish, the restaurant in Venice was considerably more expensive.)

Close to the Airbnb apartment we rented in Venice we had no difficulty finding a nearby bakery to order pastries for breakfast, a coffee shop for the coffee drinkers, and even a little ice cream shop that sold amazing popsicles and shakes.

We did find one little restaurant near the Rialto Bridge water bus stops that was self-serve and didn’t have a cover charge.  Decent food, okay restrooms, and cheap. Sadly we found it on our last day in Venice, or we would likely have eaten there more than once.

Toilets

Bell Tower near St. Mark’s

Not a usual topic for a blog post, but something to keep in mind when you’re traveling in Europe. Toilets can be tough to locate when you need them. When we were in Venice, waiting near St. Mark’s for family members who were on a tour. I actually found the closest public toilet on my map app. It was kind of tucked away, off the main section, so I was glad I had searched for it electronically before searching for it physically.  Oh, and did I mention, public toilets cost money? We spent anything from half a euro to two euros for a public restroom. Again, money well spent if you ask me.  To avoid having to spend too much money on public restrooms, be sure to use the ones that are available at any restaurants you eat at or any museums you visit!

Things to See and Do

St Mark’s Basilica

Doge’s Palace

As I mentioned in my first post about visiting Venice, the “must sees” include the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace. Since I had already seen all of those, I was hoping to make it to a couple of new places – Murano Island, where they’ve been making blown glass for generations, and the Jewish Ghetto (either the first or second ever such ghetto, depending on which history you believe).

Because of some issues getting into our first Airbnb, we lost several hours on the first day, and our trip to the Jewish Ghetto got bumped from the itinerary. (That’s okay, it gives me something to have on the top of my list for the NEXT time I get to visit Venice!)

Glass Blower in Murano

We did make it to Murano. We took a free water taxi out to the island to see a glass blowing demonstration. It was impressive – the prices at the attached shop not so much. But we walked up to some other more reasonable shops and did find some nice Murano glass to purchase.  When we were done shopping we had lunch at a reasonably priced restaurant before taking a water bus back to Venice proper.

After the fact we read a review of the free taxi that said it wasn’t a good idea. But we liked it. It took us through some smaller canals, was less crowded then the water buses (just the six of us), and we got some good pictures. Once we got to the factory/shop who had sponsored our ride we didn’t feel obligated to make purchases there. We enjoyed browsing and moving on.

Burano

Another outer island I visited for the first time was Burano. Burano is known for its lace and for the pretty colors of its buildings. I really hadn’t thought of how few bright colors we were seeing in Venice until I saw the brightly colored buildings in Burano.  The only difficulty with going to Burano was getting back to Venice – it was late in the afternoon by the time we got out there, so the water buses were really crowded going back! The worst lines we ever stood in to get on, and the absolute most crowded, standing room only, water bus we rode on, was that return trip.

But I was still glad we went.  We had no idea what in particular we should do when we got there, so we started by following the crowds. Everyone seemed to start down a narrow road running perpendicular to the canal, so we started down it also. Lots of kiosks and shops along both sides as we headed into Burano.  We had actually found the few little souvenirs we wanted by the time we had headed back just 15 minutes or so. But I’m glad we kept going a bit further. There we encountered a small canal and along it the truly beautifully painted buildings. (That’s where I took the picture shown just above.) So if you can handle the walking, be sure to go back a little ways and do some exploring. There may be even more to see, I’m not sure, but that was as far as we made it.

The entrance to the Arsenal

The fanciest ship in the museum

Another place we got to see a bit of was the Arsenal, an important part of Venetian history. As far as  I know tourists aren’t allowed into the Arsenal itself, but we spent some time in the small, but packed, museum of Venetian Naval History that is right outside the Arsenal. Well worth the time, in my opinion.

Searching for More Information

As I usually do when planning such trips, I did lots of research. Even when I got home I was continuing to search for information for the next time I get to visit Venice.  Along the way I found several informative websites, but one of the most comprehensive ones I ran across was Venice for Visitors. I especially liked their suggestion that to really see the city, a visitor should try to spend a week there – not this time, but maybe next time!

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Update on Global Entry

I love to travel, I really do! And I want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. But, when I have to fly somewhere, the journey becomes more of an endurance than an enjoyment. I’m not afraid of flying, I just don’t particularly enjoy it. The seats are getting smaller and closer together. And then there’s the “fun” of the airports themselves – with the long walks between terminals (give me Atlanta over Charlotte or Philadelphia any day!) And let’s not forget the ongoing security headaches.

Airport Security

If, like me, you are old enough to remember the ease of pre-9/11 flying, these headaches feel all the more real (and painful!) While we all have some understanding of the importance of the increased airport security, it is easy to long for the “good old days” of flying when all of this didn’t take so long or feel so intrusive.

Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

Since I was renewing my passport last January, I decided it was a good time to apply for one of the programs designed to reduce some of the hassles of flying.  Since I generally fly overseas at least once a year, it wasn’t difficult to spend an extra $15 for the more encompassing Global Entry than the solely domestic TSA PreCheck ($100 for 5 years versus $85).

In a previous post, Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart, I spoke a little about my decision and the process of applying for Global Entry. At that point I had obtained my “Known Traveler Number” but I had only had a chance to use the TSA PreCheck portion of it.

But now that I’ve made my first overseas trip since getting Global Entry, I just have to share! I had been under the impression that having Global Entry would save me some time reentering the country when I flew. Oh my, it was better than I had expected.

First Experience with Global Entry

Four of us from our group were traveling back to the states together through Philadelphia – two of us had Global Entry and two did not, so we split up to go through the various security portions. The two without Global Entry got in the back of a very long line and the other two of us walked up to the section with several kiosks and very few people. Within minutes we had processed through those and were on our way to the Baggage Claim section to await our luggage. More than twenty minutes passed before the other two caught up with us there.  I was already happy with my decision to spend the time and money on Global Entry, and we weren’t even done yet.

Full Disclosure: Most of the time we saved going through the kiosks instead of the longer line was then spent waiting for the bags we had chosen to check. Had we just had carry-ons that would have been a true time savings. But the real gain for me was the ability to sit and wait on the bags, rather than standing in the crowded lines – a painful experience for me with my injured knee.

With luggage in hand we headed to the next lines, again splitting between those with and those without the special privileges. The lines there were closer in length, so we probably only saved 5 minutes or so going through the passport check portion.

From there we had to return our luggage to American Airlines for our next flight, and our special status didn’t save us anything – though again, by then the lines were moving quickly, and none of us waited long to get through that portion.

TSA Pre-Check Perks

But then it was time to pass back through security – this time the lines split being TSA PreCheck and non-PreCheck. Two of us were off to the PreCheck line. At first glance the PreCheck line actually seemed longer than the other one, but when we turned the corner we discovered that the non-PreCheck line was significantly longer. This time we probably saved an additional five – ten minutes, possibly more.

To say nothing of feeling like I’m being treated like a real human being when I go through the PreCheck line – the shoes and the sweater stay on, and the CPAP machine and liquids stay in their bags.  Small, but important improvements to my security line experiences! (And since Europeans don’t make anyone take their shoes off going through security – I actually traveled both directions on this trip without that hassle – what can I say, sometimes it’s the little things in life!)

All told I probably saved a half hour or more on my first international trip with the Global Entry perks. And while that may not be a huge time savings for some people, the fact that I was traveling with an injured knee made me appreciate every minute I wasn’t standing in a line.

Luggage

One last comment on this recent trip. Of the six of us in our group, five had been on numerous cruises, and one was a first timer. Amongst us we had five carry-on size suitcases and one much larger suitcase (want to guess which member of the group that belonged to?). As we dragged our luggage through Venetian streets and across canals, both before and after the cruise, and on and off buses and water buses, we were glad that no one had brought two suitcases, and that our bags were generally small.

Carry-On versus Checked

I had planned to bring my bag to Europe as a carry-on, and then check it on the way home. That is my preferred method for international travels – since it ensures my luggage joins me on my trip, but makes things a little easier on the way home. I don’t buy alot of souvenirs (see examples from two of the cities I visited) but I buy enough that it’s nice to be able to expand the bag a bit to accommodate them. On this last trip, American Airlines had other ideas – instead of gate checking my bag on my second small plane of the day, they insisted on checking my luggage all the way to my final destination – convenient – until my bag didn’t show up with everyone else’s in Venice. (It finally did arrive, but not until all the others had long been there, and my stress had risen more than it should have.)

What do you like most and least about flying?

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Writing Timeline Games

My Writing – All Over the Place!

I know a lot of authors seem to focus on one type of writing. But like I’ve mentioned before, my writing is all over the place. While I write primarily on history topics, I often get going in a different direction – into the world of Shakespeare, science, or art, to name a few.

And even when I’m in the realm of history, my writing doesn’t fit as easily into one category as some authors. I write on different time periods (from Leonardo da Vinci to the American Revolution and beyond). And I write both fiction and non-fiction, both in fairly large quantities.

Writing Timeline Games

Because of my combined love of history and using games to make learning more fun, I also like to write timeline games. While that’s not the type of writing most people think about, I think it qualifies. Like with other types of non-fiction history writing, timeline games require a lot of research.

Our First Encounter with a Timeline Game

We first encountered timeline games in the form of Chronology, a game I found on a shopping trip to Walmart one day many, many years ago. The price was right, and the premise sounded cool – history and timelines. For the budding historians in the family (myself included) it was a great way to learn and review world history. Another thing I immediately liked about the game was that while they introduce the dates of important events, it isn’t necessary to have the dates memorized in order to play the game. (I’ll explain the basic game play below, but for now, suffice it to say that timeline games are about the flow of history, which this historian things is much more important than the memorization of dates and names.)

Years passed after we discovered that initial timeline game and we wondered if the Chronology folks would come up with any other cool games covering subsets of history, but we waited in vain. (They did come up with some topical versions – but they were things like Sports and Entertainment, so not quite what we were looking for.)

Making Our First Timeline Games

So in time my sister and I started developing our own line of timeline games. We started with the Civil War and the American Revolution, since they were history topics I had just spent significant amounts of time researching and teaching. For each of those historical topics I had already made pretty extensive timelines as we studied, so converting my timelines into games didn’t require much additional effort.

A sample page from the Astronomy timeline I made later.

The neat thing about timeline games is that they can be used with just about any history study. All you need is a list of important dates and events to put on cards. We generally put our information into the forms on our computer, but you could even hand-write them on index cards if you wanted.

Sample page of cards from our Presidents Game.

Our Current Timeline Games

Over time we’ve made timeline games on a whole host of topics. They’re currently available individually or in a bundle as downloads on CurrClick.com and my hope is to have them all collected soon in a paperback version on Amazon (currently they are only available on Amazon as part of topical studies on the various topics),

  • American Revolution
  • Astronomy
  • Civil War
  • Civil Rights
  • Leonardo da Vinci (if you know my writing at all, that doesn’t surprise you!)
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Presidents
  • Space Exploration
  • Statehood

Once again, you can see some of the variety of topics I have written about. And you can make your own timeline game on pretty much any other history topic of your choice.

Playing the Game – the Rules

It’s also a game that lends itself to small or large groups. We’ve played it with up to ten players, and anywhere between three and eight players works especially well. You can even play the game with non-readers by modifying the rules only slightly.

And explaining the rules to new players is quite simple:

Everyone starts with one card in front of them, face up – the start of their personal timeline.  The remaining cards are face down in a draw pile in the middle of the table.

One person turns over the top card and reads the event on it to the person to their immediate left. That player doesn’t need to know the exact date on the card, they just need to point out whether the card would go before or after the card currently in their timeline. If they are right, they add the card. If they are wrong, the next person gets to guess.

Play then moves around the table. Of course, once a player has multiple cards, picking the right location becomes progressively more difficult (since each card could potentially go at the beginning of the timeline, at the end of the timeline, or between two particular cards).

Play continues until one player has built their timeline of the predetermined length (eight is a nice number, but you can decide in advance on a lower or higher number if you prefer).

Modification for younger players: Have one person read all the cards aloud, rather than having the players read to each other.

Modification when playing with an expert player: You can always handicap someone who knows the topic too well by requiring them to place more cards and/or by requiring them to actually give the date, instead of just the location.

And that’s all there is to playing a timeline game.

Happy learning! (And writing!)

Cathy

Becoming a Full-Time Author

Retired or Changing Careers?

Within weeks of closing the homeschool resource center I had owned for almost fourteen years, I was filling out my application for Global Entry (more on that in a previous post, “Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart”). One of the questions on the form was “occupation.” I considered briefly putting down “retired” in the space, but I hesitated. Yes, my days as a business owner and as a homeschool teacher are primarily behind me (my own twelve children have all graduated and my teaching schedule has shrunk to almost nothing).

Occupation – Author

And yes, when people ask me what I’m doing now, I generally tell them that I’ve retired in order to travel more and write more, both of which are completely true.  So, instead of putting retired on the form, I listed my occupation as “author.” Fortunately, the TSA agent who conducted my five minute interview a couple of months later didn’t ask me my occupation (because by then I might have forgotten putting that on the form!), but instead merely commented on it. Something to the degree of “So, you’re an author?” I’m not sure why that seemed to surprise him, and he wasn’t really in the mood for talking (I’m sure there were dozens more people coming in behind me for the same five minute interviews), so that was as long as that conversation lasted.

But, had we actually talked more, I would definitely have said, “Yes, I am an author. I have been for a long time, though I write full time now.” Contrary to what I’ve read on some places on the internet, I think someone can write part time – I did that for many, many years, and wrote a whole lot of books that way! But it is nice to be a full-time author now, whatever that really looks like.

Full-Time Writing vs. Part-Time Writing

Like most anything else in life, I think writing (full-time or part-time) looks different for different people – or even at different times for the same person. Just like what we write can look very different: I guess there are authors out there who focus on only one genre of writing, though I have never been one of them.

Answering the “Difficult” Questions

I find that, like my interests, my writing is all over the place. I guess that makes it tougher to establish a specific brand or to attract a specific following, but it’s a little late for me to change that. It is almost as difficult for me to answer the question “What do you write about?” as to answer “How many books have you written?”

In fact, at the dentist last week I was catching up with my semi-retired dentist that I hadn’t seen in a while and he was asking me if I had written any books recently. My hygienist hadn’t realize that I was an author and of course she asked the typical question about what I write. I still don’t have an easy answer for the quantity of books. “Eight novels, three short stories, one textbook, a series of art appreciation books, and a variety of other non-fiction books” is a bit of a mouthful, after all. The slightly shorter answer to her “what” question was something along the lines of “I write on a variety of topics and historical fiction is my favorite.”

The Joys of Historical Fiction

As I mentioned in my previous post, “Seeing Stories Everywhere” I like historical fiction a lot. I read it, I listen to it, and now I write it. But just as I hope to continue writing historical fiction as long as I can, I am confident I will keep writing non-fiction just as long. I enjoy economics almost as much as I enjoy history (hence the first textbook I wrote was an economics textbook).

Writing about Economics

And when I can combine economics and history all the better. I put together a book on one of my favorite economists of old: Notes from Frederick Bastiat’s Essays on Political Economy and another one on Machiavelli: A Brief Look at Machiavelli and the Prince (that one combines history and economics). Someday I hope to take a closer look at some of my other favorite economists, including Adam Smith. Since few people have the time and energy to sit down and read the more than 500 pages in his book, The Wealth of Nations, I would like to do an annotated, abridged version of it (like I did with Bastiat and Machiavelli).

Timeline Games

Another thing I enjoy putting together are timeline games, but that’s a topic for a future post.

If you are also an author: Do you write part-time or full-time? What do you write about? (Can you answer the question easier than I can?)

Happy reading and writing!

Cathy

Seeing Stories Everywhere

The Stories Waiting to be Written

Do you see the stories around you waiting to be discovered? Waiting to be told? Does every location, event, or person bring questions to your mind? Questions that you want to find answers to, or in lieu of that, to write answers for?

That’s how I tend to look at things. It’s one of the reasons I can’t imagine that if I lived and wrote for another 40 years (fairly unlikely since I just turned 60, but one can dream!) that I would run out of stories I want to tell.

Fiction vs. Historical Fiction

Dred Scott

Occasionally I read or listen to a completely fictionalized story and think, “I would like to try my hand at writing “plain fiction” someday. But then I shake my head and remind myself that for every historical fiction story I write, three more seem to join the “want to write about” list. (Which currently includes specific people or events like Dred Scott, the Scopes Trial, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, to name just a few!) So it’s highly unlikely that I will slow down from writing historical fiction to write any other kind of fiction anytime soon. (Though I try to never say never.)

Starting the Life of a Writer

I wrote my first travel journal when I was a youngster, traveling through Central America with my family. But I didn’t really consider myself a historian or an author for decades after that.  The reality of both of those descriptive titles came to me when we lived in Wuerzburg, Germany for more than five years. It was there that, thanks to Helga, a wonderful German storyteller and historian, that history stories first came alive to me. And there I caught the desire to capture as many of those stories as possible.  (I wrote more about this in an earlier blog post, “My Growing Love of History.”)

As a homeschooling mom of many children (eight at that time), I didn’t do much writing for many years after completing my non-fiction book on the history of Wuerzburg, but the seeds had been planted. Even with little watering, they were there, and after many years and many more children (four more joined the family before we were done), the seeds finally blossomed.

More Non-fiction Writing

As with so many of my books, the next non-fiction books came from my teaching: Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. (Another previous post, “Falling in love with Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Man,” covers much of my fascination with one of the greatest artists of all times.)

Historical Fiction at Last

From my love of all things da Vinci came my first attempts at writing historical fiction. As someone who has always been a fan of reading historical fiction (Jeff Shaara will likely always be my favorite author), and my love of stories, writing historical fiction should have seemed like a natural leap for me. But I had held back for many years, focusing my writing on the student books and non-fiction books that seemed to leap from my never-ending study of the various topics I seemed to always be researching for my teaching. An earlier blog post on my homeschool site, “Homeschooling with Topical Studies,” describes our journey away from textbooks and into topical studies and unit studies. One of the many joys for this author/historian of doing so many topical studies was the constant “excuse” for doing more research (one of my favorite things to do) and then finding ways to share that first with my family and later with a growing number of students in the increasingly large number of homeschool classes I found myself teaching.

When I finally sat down and tried my hand at writing historical fiction, I was quickly hooked. (It took me less time, one month, to write that first historic novel, Leonardo the Florentine, than it did to find someone to edit it for me, another two months.)

The series of historical novels on Leonardo da Vinci has grown to five finished books, with the sixth one on my writing schedule for later this summer, and at least several more to follow that one over the next couple of years. In between writing the da Vinci novels, I found time to tell other stories as well: the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition told from the perspective of Captain Clark’s slave, York; the story of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, told from the perspective of a fictional British spy; and the story of George, Edith, and Cornelia Vanderbilt and their amazing home, the Biltmore, told from the perspective of a young, fictional childhood friend of Cornelia.

Historical Short Stories

Several years back I also tried my hand at my first historical short stories. While visiting Cappadocia, Turkey and the surrounding area that included some amazing underground cities, I felt like the story just had to be told. Days of research and writing quickly became the first short story in what would become my Attack Trilogy: The Attack in Cappadocia. Soon after completing that book, I was turning my attention back to one of the stories of Wuerzburg – the allied attack of the city towards the end of World War II. I had known some basic facts of that event, but writing the short story of that attack required many more hours of research. For Christmas that year by son and daughter-in-law had already bought me a wonderful book, The Siege of Shkodra. Needless to say, reading that book on the plane heading home led to the third book in the trilogy, The Attack at Shkodra.

As I researched and wrote each of those books, I tried to do two important things – accurately portray as much of the history of the time and location of each event or person, and to tell a good story.   And I have found, as I write each book, the desire within me is to write more.

So, if the world around you seems filled with stories just begging to be told, don’t hold back! Someone somewhere may be waiting for just that story!

Happy writing! And researching!

Cathy

Upcoming Visit to Venice

Venice, Again!

A View of Venice

Have you had the privilege of visiting Venice before? There is no shortage of amazing places in Italy to visit, of course! But if I had to pick one of my favorite cities, Venice would appear high on my list (maybe even the highest!). This trip will include my third and fourth visits to Venice (since we’ll spend a couple of days before and after our upcoming cruise). Even so, it’s hard to believe I’ll be back in Venice soon!

Another View of a Venetian Canal

Note: With one exception, all the pictures in today’s blog are from my first trip to Venice. I have some from the second one – but where they have disappeared to, that is the question! The only picture that’s not from that trip is the public domain picture of the equestrian monument. My photos of the monument are among the missing photographs!

View of the Grand Canal

Like so many other places in the world, there is really too much to see and do, even with several days available at a time. So once again, we will follow my uncle’s advice and “Leave something for the next time.” I’m pretty sure if I visited Venice as many times as I’ve visited Washington, D.C., I would still not be lacking for things to do in either place!

The Grand Canal

My favorite part of the city has to be the water everywhere – small canals that seem to appear at every turn – and, of course, the Grand Canal. And like so many of the other cities I’ve visited, Venice makes it easy and relatively inexpensive to buy a one or two day pass for the public transportation (in this case, the water buses), so I like to make traveling along the Grand Canal a LARGE part of my visits there!

Traffic on the Grand Canal

A Palace along the Grand Canal

The first time I visited Venice I found a small book, Grand Canal: A History of Venice in one of the local bookstores. I had fun learning the history of the many, many palaces that line the Grand Canal, both before and after seeing them.

And then it was fun to incorporate some of their stories into my third da Vinci novel, Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond – when Leonardo visits Venice to give the Venetians advice in his role as a military advisor.

Venice Must Sees

St Mark’s Basilica

Doge’s Palace

Of course, every tourist in Venice has to see St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. I did the tour of the palace the first time I was there and saw the inside of the church the second time.  While the first timers with me this time around see those I may cruise up and down the Grand Canal a few times!

Equestrian Monuments

Equestrian Monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni

As a huge da Vinci fan I was surprised that it took me until my second trip to Venice to go see the statue that his mentor, Andrea del Verrocchio, had designed – the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni. It’s kind of in an out of the way place in the city, and our tour guide had never heard of it before I asked him about it, but for me, at least, it was worth the detour. Verrocchio had started working on the designs for the monument while he and Leonardo were both in Florence. Watching (and possibly helping, before Verrocchio moved his work to Venice) undoubtedly influenced Leonardo’s later work on his own equestrian statue in Milan (for the Duke’s father, Francesco Sforza).

Wandering through Venice

The Rialto Bridge at Night

Street Sign in Venice for St. Mark’s Basilica

Even having visited Venice twice already, I still like to continue my research of what we want to see and do while we’re there. I found several blogs (here’s a great source of information) about visiting the city, with lots of good suggestions. I think my favorite suggestion was to just wander around and “get lost.” It’s tough to get truly lost, because on the corners of many, many buildings you will find signs pointing in the direction of St. Mark’s and/or the Rialto Bridge (the other “must see” for any Venetian tourist). So you can always find your way to one or both of those. And since the city itself is strictly off-limits to cars, wandering through the streets and alleys can be lots of fun!

Flexible Plans

Another View of Venice

We’re still compiling our list for priorities for this trip, and even when it’s finished, we’ll be sure to be flexible. I’m a firm believer in having “flexible plans” when I travel. I find it generally keeps the stress way down!

If we can work it in, I would love to go to where they make Murano glass, and to go to the Jewish ghetto (which sadly has the distinction of being the first Jewish ghetto in Europe). But if we don’t make it to either or both of those, I’ll have something to aim for on the NEXT trip to Venice!

Happy traveling!

Cathy

I had to share just a few more of my favorite Venice pictures:

Enjoying the Journey – In spite of the D.C. Metro Management

I have traveled alone, with friends, with family, and with students. Traveling to D.C. is something I have enjoyed often with one or more of those groups, even though I live almost 700 miles away. And on almost every of my sixteen or more trips (spread over the last fourteen years) I have taken the D.C. metro in and around the city.

Until this last trip (April 2017), our metro experience had been pretty flawless. Park at the end of the Orange line (since our friends live closest to that), buy our tickets or our passes at the machines at the station, and take the subway into the city. (I’ll use the terms “metro,” “subway,” and “train” interchangeably here, since, at least in these contexts, they are fairly synonymous!)

The Library of Congress

But the metro took on a whole new meaning of difficulty on the second day of our recent trip. On Day 1 (a Friday), things were about like I expected them to be. The friends we were staying with are now about 15 minutes closer to the end of the Silver line than the Orange, so we parked at the parking garage at Wiehle-Reston East and took the Silver train straight to the Capitol South station. Easy, direct, relatively fast – pretty much what I expect when I take the subway in D.C. The ride in took us about an hour, but it was an easy hour.

The girls walking through the tunnel on the way between Library of Congress buildings.

Fortunately, when we were exiting the subway, we noticed the signs in the Capitol South Station that spoke of a closure on Saturday and Sunday. At first, we thought it was only that station that would be closed. And since we weren’t planning to be in that portion of the city on our next two days we originally thought the closure wouldn’t affect us. Boy, were we wrong.

Fortunately, Friday evening/Saturday morning we studied the “Disruptions” portion of the “DC Metro transit” app (an app that no one should be traveling the DC subway without!). So, with the forewarning of the signs on Friday and the app on Saturday morning, we were at least prepared for some of the craziness that Saturday’s metro mess brought us. (Though there was no way we could have been prepared for all that awaited us on that crazy day!)

On Saturday, we drove back to the end of the Silver line. As we boarded we realized that the announcements about the various closures for the day were catching lots of the other riders off guard and we were glad that we had at least known some things were going to be amiss.

When we boarded the Silver train we already knew that we could only go as far at the Ballston-MU stop. Why there, you might ask? Because the Metro powers-to-be had decided to close the Silver line past there for the weekend. (Reportedly for repairs, though for the life of me I don’t know how or why they could be repairing as many different places as were closed that weekend.) And, the next section we were on was the same one we would have been on had we been able to stay on a Silver train – so I’m still not quite sure what they were repairing that entailed that first change. (The trains themselves?)

So off we went at the Ballston MU stop to transfer to the Orange line. No problem, the Orange line could take us to where we wanted to go. Well, normally, yes. But that day the Blue and Orange lines were only going as far as Foggy Bottom. More repairs? Apparently.

Inside a Metro Station

Inside another Metro Station

But have no fear, the Metro folks had it well in hand – they were providing free shuttle buses from Foggy Bottom to Federal Triangle. (Too bad for those who just wanted to go to one of the several stops in between!). So, after standing in the sun for 15 minutes or so, we were crowded onto a shuttle bus to stand for the majority of the 45-minute drive to the Federal Triangle stop. (Later we determined there were less than two miles of roads between those two locations. But between traffic and road closures for that day’s protest march, those two miles took a full 45 minutes to drive.  (Had I been up to the walk, we could have hiked between the two spots quicker than that; but alas, not on this trip.)

The shuttle bus driver didn’t seem particularly keen on getting us the entire way to the Federal Triangle stop (more construction issues?) but seemed to just drop us off when we were in the vicinity. In our case, it was fine, because we had decided not to get back on the subway, but rather to just walk the few blocks to the Reagan building where we had decided to lunch in the Food Court. But for any who were planning to get back on the subway at Federal Triangle, they were left to figure out where they were and which direction the subway station was from where they had been dropped off. (So much for a station to station shuttle!)

Leonardo’s portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci – the main reason I take students to the Art Museum!

After enjoying our overpriced meals in the Reagan building (we miss the food court in the Old Post Office building), we went off to enjoy the afternoon plans. (Well, there was a delay in going to see the White House that involved a run in with the weekend’s protest group, but that’s a story for another day.) Suffice it to say that we enjoyed the remainder of our afternoon – at the National Archives and the National Museum of Art. We had originally considered going back up the block to the Natural History Museum, but our travels into the city had eaten up so much of the day, that when we exited the art museum at closing time, we were ready to start our journey back out of the city – though not particularly anxious for what the experience would hold for us.

We walked up 7th Street to the Archives Station. From there it was a short hop down to the L’Enfant Plaza Station where we would normally have been able to hop on a Silver train for the ride back out of the city. But, of course, it wasn’t so easy on Saturday. We took an Orange train to the Federal Triangle stop, where we had to go back up to the mass of Shuttle Buses that were waiting to take us back to Foggy Bottom. The wait for a bus wasn’t particularly long this time, there were actually a large number of them lining up by the street. The problem was that they were once again crowded and we were looking at another long ride of standing up. When we realized that, we stepped off enough from the line to let others on who could handle the standing go ahead of us. Once that bus was full, a gentleman graciously let us back in line, thus ensuring our ability to sit this time around.

We were thankful for the seats for that portion of the trip, because when we got back to Foggy Bottom we were forced to stand again, this time while we waited for an Orange train that was in no hurry to get there. And of course, we could only take the Orange line back to Ballston-MU, where we got to stand yet again for another lengthy wait. (I am fairly certain that wait was almost 45 minutes.) When the Silver train came at last there was actually cheering in the station, something I’ve never heard during any of my countless trips on the subway.

I do like the ceilings in some of the underground metro stations.

By the time we finally reached the end of the Silver line, we had been traveling back for almost three hours (yes, that would be almost three times as long as the longer trips in and out had taken us the day before). And since most of the subway stations have a deplorable lack of benches, way too much of the time traveling to and from downtown D.C. had involved way too much standing. (A bigger problem for my injured knee than the walking we had known we would be doing.)

Late that night we started working out details for how Sunday was going to look. Thanks to my daughter Maria, we made a couple of key changes to our transportation plans. (Because, yes, the subway issues from Saturday were all still prepared to plague us on Sunday.)

The first change we made was the decision to make the drive to the end of the Orange line – Vienna/Fairfax instead of going to the closer Silver line. The extra drive added about 15 minutes to our drive time and another $5.00 to our toll fees, but it saved us from having to make what had been the longest of our transfers the day before (from the Silver to the Orange).

Union Station

Union Station

The next change we made was to our route, so that we could skip the bus transfer portion. (The least favorite part of the previous day for most of our group.) It made for significantly more subway changes, but overall it still seemed easier! We took the Orange Line to Rosslyn, where we picked up the Blue line. Two stops later we were changing to the Yellow Line at Pentagon. We took the Yellow line three stops to Gallery Place where we picked up the Red line for our last leg – two stops to Union Station. (Had we made the same trip on Friday, we could have taken the Silver line to the Red line, and done all that with one transfer!) But we still managed all that in an hour and a half instead of almost three hours!

Hard to get lost on the Mall – which way to the Washington Monument?

After lunch at the Union Station Food Court (much cheaper than the previous day’s) we made our way to the Mall and spent a few hours touring the monuments and memorials there. By 4:30 we were ready to face the Metro yet again. We were only about half a mile from the Smithsonian Station, so we made our way there. Had the subway system been fully operational we could have gotten on the Orange or Silver line there and traveled straight to the end of either – in 45 minutes or so.

But again, not this weekend, that was not the case. Instead we had to get on the Orange line heading away from our destination. Then we were reversing our earlier route: Yellow line from L’Enfant Plaza to Pentagon, Blue line to Rosslyn, and then the Orange line back to Vienna. And, at an hour and a half, while the the trip was probably twice as long as it should have been, it was still barely half of what a similar route had taken us the day before.

So, all in all, we can certainly say that we survived the madness of the Metro. But I’m not sure how many of the city’s first time visitors will be in any hurry to return. While I fully understand the powers-that-be not wanting to cause this much disruption on work days,  do they risk driving away significant numbers of tourists (and tourist dollars) in the process?

Falling in Love with Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Man

Leonardo da Vinci Renaissance Man

I have enjoyed studying and teaching Leonardo da Vinci for almost twenty years now. But I had actually been buying books about him for a number of years before that. Even before I knew why, I was fascinated by Leonardo, the ultimate Renaissance man. And of course, the more I learned about him, the more fascinated I became.

Not only was Leonardo an amazing artist, he studied so many other topics, it almost boggles the mind to consider the things he was interested in, including, but not limited to: anatomy, astronomy, botany, cartography, geology, and zoology. The list seems endless, as do the pages in his notebooks on these and so many other subjects. It seems that very little was outside of Leonardo’s interests.

Drawings of various inventions by Leonardo da Vinci

Teaching Leonardo da Vinci

The first time I had the privilege of teaching a series of classes on Leonardo da Vinci, we delved into a different interest of his each week for eight of our ten weeks. After our introductory session we spent another class learning about Leonardo and his interest in the human body, another one on his interest in horses and his work on the equestrian monument in Milan, and yes, we even did a week on his amazing art. (You can see many of his paintings on this page – but please note, that page is still a work in progress!)

Not surprisingly Leonardo considered his art and his science to be mutually dependent, once saying:

“Study the science of art and the art of science.”

Sketch of a Deluge Witnessed by Leonardo da VinciAnd it is clear from looking at his work in both areas that he excelled in each of them! Had his notebook pages been published earlier, and his work in science shared with scientists that came soon after the Renaissance rather than centuries later, there is no telling what scientific advances might have been made sooner. But, alas, that was not the case, and his notebook pages were lost to many who might have benefited from his scientific work.

Leonardo’s Distractions

Botany Sketch by Leonardo da VinciIn the realm of art, Leonardo stood as one of the greatest artists of his day, in spite of actually completing only a fairly small number of paintings. It is likely that his perfectionist tendencies contributed to that low number, as well as his frequent “distractions” by work on math or science.

Non-Fiction Writing about Leonardo

As I learned more and more in my early studies of da Vinci, it was exciting to be sharing that enthusiasm with students of a wide variety of ages.  Even as I taught those first classes, I worked on my first non-fiction work about him. After six months of research and three months of teaching, I had written a short, but comprehensive, family-friendly biography of Leonardo da Vinci – Da Vinci: His Life and His Legacy. But that, as they say, was just the beginning. I was hooked!

The more I knew about Leonardo’s life and his work, the more I wanted to learn. Even after completing those first classes, I continued to read dozens of books about da Vinci, visited exhibits in various parts of the country about him and his work, and eventually made two trips to Italy to visit many of the places he had lived.

Two of Leonardo's Sketches of ChurchesAnd, as always seems to happen when I am engrossed in a topic, I wrote. The next book I wrote him was another non-fiction book – Doing Da Vinci for Kids. And then I kept learning and kept writing. (For more information on books I’ve written on Leonardo da Vinci, you can go to this page.)

Fiction Writing about Leonardo

But it would be many years and many classes later before I tried my hand at writing fiction. One summer I was at the Creative Learning Connection booth at a curriculum fair conversing with another author who had just completed his first novel. I mentioned, more in conversation than anything else, that I had considered writing a novel someday. He looked around my booth and stated matter-of-factly, “You should write about something you know. I think Leonardo da Vinci would fit that description.”

Several of Leonardo's Horse SketchesGoing home from the curriculum fair I casually mentioned the idea of writing historical fiction about Leonardo da Vinci “some day.” But my children wouldn’t hear of it. Several of them quickly insisted that I start right then, not later. And with some prodding, that’s exactly what I did.  Within a month I had written my first historical novel – Leonardo the Florentine. It would be several more months before I had found an editor for the novel and gotten it published. I’m not sure what was more exciting, holding that first paperback in my hand, or the recent release of Leonardo the Florentine as an Audible book. Both were pretty amazing!

As the years went by, my series grew, and I eventually wrote four more historical fiction books about him – Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan; Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond; Leonardo: A Return to Florence; and just recently, Leonardo: A Return to Painting.

500 Year Anniversary – May 2019

One of Leonardo's Designs for FlighIn May 2019 the world will celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the death of this great Renaissance man. My goal is to have my historical fiction series completed by then, meaning at least three more novels. In the meantime, I will continue to research him, continue to write about him, and continue to fall in love with Leonardo da Vinci.

And I hope I have managed to share just a little of that passion with you!

Choosing a Good Carry-On Bag

In the last post I talked about the importance of packing light and promised to talk more about my journey to find a good carry-on. So, here we go with my latest suitcase search!

Carry-On Luggage vs. Checked Bags

In the last decade or so of travel, the luggage I use has become more and more important to me. With the growing hassle of checking bags – the risk of having a bag lost, the wait time at the baggage claim area, and generally higher cost (though not on Frontier Airlines I recently discovered), I almost never check a bag anymore.

I occasionally make an exception on the way home from a trip, if I won’t be paying for it (i.e. international flights) and when a delay in getting the bag won’t be so detrimental. (Though even then a carry-on makes me the happiest.)

One of "Horsey's Friends" preparing for a trip.

This inexpensive (read CHEAP) bag held up for very few trips!

On a recent flight home from Denver, I had considered checking my bag so I wouldn’t have to mess with it on the plane. But when I got to the airport, there were literally 100 or more people in line at the counter, with two agents to check them all in. There was no way I was standing in that line! I was glad to have the option to just carry it on. (I had chosen to purchase Frontier’s “The Works” package when I had made my reservations – giving me a better seat option, and the ability to do a carry-on suitcase and/or a checked bag – all for a price I was happy with.)

So, I walked by the insane line and made my way straight to security. I had downloaded my boarding pass onto my phone the night before when I checked in, and had chosen to add the carry-on option, “just in case” I didn’t have the time to check my bag (or in this case, the desire to check it!)

Choosing a Good Carry-On

Speaking of suitcases, with all my travels, I’ve gone through several in the last few years. My first splurge on a carry-on was when I bought an American Tourister over ten years ago – and used it until it was falling apart. It was a great bag, the first carry-on I had spent any significant money on (probably $100 at the time). Had I been able to find another bag just like it, my search for another suitcase would have ended right there.

Unfortunately, the store I bought it in was no longer selling luggage, and I’ve never been able to find the same bag. (And my research into luggage has shown me that with companies like American Tourister, not all their bags are created equal, so I’ve not convinced myself to purchase another one of theirs.)

As my search for a replacement bag continued, I decided a couple of years ago to try a Rick Steves bag. I went with the Rolling Backpack – thinking the ability to wheel it or carry it might be worth trying. I took the bag on my second trip to Italy, and did use it as a backpack occasionally as we traveled from city to city. But after using it on several trips, I decided I didn’t really care for the bag – I had difficulty putting something on top it (a totebag or my CPAP bag – both continually tried to slip off). So when I had the chance to pass it off to one of my children, I willingly gave up that bag and moved on to another attempt.

View from the cruise ship in Alaska

One of my most recent trips with my SeatKase was a cruise to Alaska last summer.

My next attempt at a good, useful carry-on bag was the SeatKase. Like the Rick Steves’ bag, the SeatKase is small enough to be used on international flights (not all carry-on bags are). And I liked the idea that you can actually sit on the SeatKase without messing up the suitcase or having it roll away from you; an option that I have used on several trips. (It’s amazing how often there are not enough seats in international airports, or how long one has to wait in line at some cruise check-ins.) So, that feature, which was the primary reason I had bought that particular bag, is really nice. However, the main downside to the SeatKase is the lack of a handle on the top of the bag. While I understand the design issues a top handle might cause, the lack of a handle there is a constant headache. As soon as I get a good replacement, this bag will be the next one to be passed on to a child or someone else in need of a bag.

Meanwhile my husband has purchased an eBag carry-on, the Mother Lode 21” Wheeled Duffle. He has been very happy with it on numerous international trips in the last year and I almost got myself one of those. But I had really hoped to go back to a bag with four wheels, so I kept looking. (My American Tourister bag had four wheels, but the Rick Steves and the SeatKase bags each only had two.)

View of Alaska

Pack light so you can enjoy your travels more!

During my search I was very impressed with what I read about the Eagle Creek line. They have a great, life-time guarantee and their prices are more reasonable than the highest rated brands.

I liked the looks of their Eagle Creek Expanse Awd International Carry-on. Everything about it sounded great. When it came in, I was definitely impressed with its quality. I can see how they can afford to give a lifetime guarantee. But, when all was said and done I made the decision to send it back. I want to pack light. However, this bag is just a bit too small. I was able to pack 4 days worth of clothes into it, but that left NO extra room. I certainly could make use of it several times a year for my long weekend trips. But I don’t see being able to use it for my international trips.

Fortunately, while I was ordering the Eagle Creek my husband was ending up with a second eBag Mother Lode. The airlines managed to snap the wheel off his almost brand new bag and had to repair it. But, with a trip coming up too quickly, he had to order a second bag, rather than wait for the damaged one to be returned.

All that turned out to be providential, since the repaired bag showed up about the same time as the Eagle Creek bag. So, when all is said and done, I am now the proud owner of a gently used eBag Mother Lode. I look forward to taking it on many, many trips, starting with my trip to Washington, D.C. this past weekend. But on loading the car Thursday morning I was saddened to discover that there is no side handle on this bag. While that is not as big a pain as not having a handle on the top – it does make me wonder if my search for my new favorite carry-on is actually over, or just delayed for the time being.

Any thoughts on a reasonably priced, quality carry-on that I’ve missed are greatly appreciated.

In the meantime – happy traveling!

Cathy

Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart

Travel Fun

There are plenty of blogs out there already offering travel tips (I know, I’ve read many of them), so I hesitated to add another one to the collection.  But since each travel blogger offers hints from their own experiences and perspectives, it occurs to me that I might have a few tips to offer as well.

As my last couple of blog posts mentioned (Travel, Travel and More Travel on here and “Traveling along the Lewis & Clark Trail” on my other website), I am a big fan of traveling. It’s been something I’ve been doing for pretty much my entire life.

Dan, Sonia, and I on our horse and carriage ride across Florence, Italy.

Okay, so we don’t get to travel THIS way very often.

I have ridden as a passenger (my favorite), I have driven (I can manage that too – as my 4200 miles in February and March of this year can attest), I have flown (something I endure for the sake of who or what I am flying to), I’ve occasionally traveled by train (I would be happy to do more of that), and I have traveled by boat (mostly on cruise ships – by far my favorite way to travel!).

I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with one or more friends, and I’ve traveled the most with family. I actually enjoy any or all of those options. Here I will share my tips based on my experiences on those various types of travels. Maybe one or more of them will be helpful to you.

Enjoying Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

When I got to the security area, I happily made my way to the somewhat shorter line for TSA PreCheck. This was my second flight since receiving my “Known Traveler” number the previous month. At $100 for 5 years, my Global Entry application is one of the best travel purchases I’ve made in a long time! It guarantees me TSA Pre on all my domestic flights for the next five years, and should make coming back into the country from my international flights easier. (I won’t get to test that portion until June.) But I do have to say getting to leave my shoes on, not having to take any liquids out, and not having my CPAP machine taken apart (all of which happened when I flew in January without TSA Pre), is amazing! I had experienced the TSA Pre options a few times when traveling with my husband, but to now have it guaranteed makes me very, very happy!

A church bell tower in Italy.

From my first trip to Italy. I hope to make good use of my Global Entry on more international trips.

From what I’ve heard, getting just the TSA PreCheck is less complicated. (My sister was able to do it while stuck in the Charlotte airport on one of her trips, and I’ve seen walk-in offices in several other airports I’ve traveled through.) Whereas the on-line application for Global Entry probably took an hour, then I waited several weeks to hear back from them about setting up my interview. Which is where the fun really began – trying to find an appointment time in a place I could easily get to – even though I live in Northern Alabama, I ended up with an appointment the following month in Houston, Texas. Fortunately I was traveling to Austin and could work in an appointment on my way home from there. Otherwise, I might have been looking at months before I could get an appointment for my 5-minute interview.

The Usefulness of Packing Cubes

My recent trip to Denver was for ten days and I easily packed in my small carry-on suitcase. Since my goal is to always fit in a carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip, that wasn’t particularly unexpected. The real surprise was coming home – my sister had given me a pair of jeans, five tops, and two pairs of shoes – all of which I managed to add to my carry-on along with everything I had brought! That was a real feeling of success. The three packing cubes I had originally packed in were much fuller, of course, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

Packing cubes have become a big part of my packing/traveling strategy. One of my sons and his wife introduced us to them almost seven years ago – and we have become quite fans, with eBags being our favorite brand. Most carry-on suitcases can easily hold a set of the packing cubes – a large, a medium, and a small cube, though I had actually used one large and two medium cubes on this last trip.

Packing Light

Beautiful sunset

Even on our 15 day cruise (where I saw this beautiful sunset) I only took my carry-on.

At this point I had planned to talk about the importance of choosing the right carry-ons, but I’m still in the process of making the decision on my next carry-on purchase, so that portion of the post will have to wait a week or two.

One of the reasons my carry-on is so important to me is that I take it with me everywhere! It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling for an extended weekend or a two-week vacation, I pack in a carry-on. In fact, I no longer own a large suitcase (the last one I owned went home with one of my children when they were moving several years ago – and I haven’t missed it since).

I read on at least one other blog the idea of never packing more than a week’s worth of clothes, regardless of how long the trip is.  That pretty much works for me – in fact I’ve been known to pack less than a week’s worth of clothes. No matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve had the ability to wash clothes – often in a bathroom sink or occasionally in a laundromat. (On our 15-day cruise I even sent laundry out to be washed a couple of times – it still cost me less than checking a bag one direction would have cost me.)

My Top Travel Tips

  1. If you want to make traveling easier, and not spend a ton of money, my first suggestion is to buy some packing cubes. There are lots of sizes, colors, and brands to choose from. If you haven’t tried them yet, I can just about guarantee that they will make your packing easier. They make it easier to be organized, and to fit more in.  And if your suitcase gets searched going through security, you will be very thankful! I was going through security last summer with a friend who hadn’t flown in awhile. Her bag got pulled because she had forgotten about the “three-ounce” limit for liquids. While the TSA agent pawed through the suitcase looking for the contraband shampoo, I cringed watching her clothes going everywhere. I hope before she flies again, she adds packing cubes to her packing list!
  2. If you’re planning to do much flying, seriously consider signing up for the “TSA Pre” program or the Global Entry.  There’s only a $15 difference between the two ($85 versus $100, each for 5 years). Traveling is much simpler with either of these!
  3. Invest in a good carry-on if you don’t have one. My youngest traveled to school in Boston last fall in a vehicle. She was effectively moving there, so she only took a large suitcase. But this spring she will be traveling home for a wedding. It was cheaper for us to buy her a cheap carry-on for the trip than to pay for her to check the large bag both ways. (Of course, since she should be traveling more in the future, it was also worth getting her a not-so-cheap one.) And again, more on that investment in a future post.
  4. And, last but not least, pack light! On dozens of trips across the country and across the world I have never regretted bringing too little – though I have regretted bring too much on a couple of occasions! I have seldom forgotten something that I either couldn’t live without, or could purchase somewhere away from home.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

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