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Category: travel

Traveling Outside My Comfort Zone

Several years ago I decided to break out of my comfort zone. Far, far out of my comfort zone. I’m the girl who thinks “roughing it” means no blow dryer. I am decidedly NOT a hiker, not a backpacker, and certainly not a very outdoors-y kinda gal.

So I decided to walk across part of Switzerland and Italy. With a backpack. In the woods. Alone. With 3 shirts, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of pants, 1 skort, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pair of underwear, and not much else. My backpack weighed around 18 pounds. I did not bring a blow dryer (but I’m not gonna lie: I thought long and hard about it). Did I mention I was going to be hiking? All day long? For weeks on end?

The original plan was to walk/hike along the Via Francigena—a pilgrimage route that spans from Canterbury, England, to Rome, best known for Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, who walked the length of it in the 10th century to receive his papal vestments in Rome. I was going to walk part of it for the better part of a month (it takes 3+ months to walk the entirety).

Why would I do this? It’s complicated. But let’s just say I had just been looking for an interesting place to take a very long walk, to do something just so not me, and when I found out about the Via Francigena and realized it went through a good swath of Italy (including Tuscany, which I adore), which is one of my happy places, I was thrilled to do it—hike by day, pasta and wine by night—what’s not to love?

Well, I sheepishly admit that for me, it was the hiking bit that wasn’t to love. I mean I was okay with it. Ish. Hiking up into the Swiss Alps was spectacular. The picture of me with the St. Bernards was taken at the Great St. Bernard Pass at 8,100 feet—after hiking to the top, enjoying breathtaking views along the way. This is where Napoleon’s army invaded Italy, and partly follows ancient Roman roads. The Hospice at the top (where I stayed) has been in existence since 1049 (founded by St. Bernard of Menthon), and became famous for its use of St. Bernards in rescue operations (think: the famous barrel of brandy on their necks).

Hiking down from the St. Bernard Pass into Aosta was just beyond beautiful, with the cheery clang of cowbells punctuating the wind song coursing through the hills and valleys.

But there were parts of the hike that were just super boring—like I could have been hiking in the woods behind my house rather than in Italy. And I kept thinking, I’m in Italy and I could be in, say, Florence, rather than walking in 100-degree heat on a fire trail schvitzing my butt off while depleting my rapidly dwindling water supply, or along a busy roadside, foraging berries, only to look above the branch I just ate blackberries from, only to see a dirty diaper dancing from the thorny branches. Yummmm…

I was hearing the siren call of Italy loud and clear, and it was calling to me, big time, rather than resorting to listening to my iPod for the fifth time in a row, thoroughly bored with my own company. The deal-breaker was the road-walking part of it.

Walking for miles on 2-lane roads in Italy with broken glass, trash and doggy doo lost its appeal for sure, and one day when I was leaving a town during rush hour and was crossing a traffic circle and rolled my ankle and the weight of my backpack threw me into the circle (had there been a car coming I’d have been a goner) kind of helped me decide to adopt a Plan B. Don’t get me wrong: I am in serious awe of people who will hike 15 miles a day for 3 months to get from Canterbury, England, to Rome. But I recognize that is so not in my wheelhouse. 

I just read The Sun Is a Compass, the most amazing book about a couple who trekked 4,000 miles over six months from the Pacific Rainforest to the Alaskan Arctic.

I decided to find my way to Florence, where I parked myself in a hostel for a while, then rented a tiny Panda smart car and drove toward Rome, staying for a couple of nights in a real castle that had been in the same family since the 11th century. The lovely owner gave me a tour; I even got to walk the drawbridge. The castle walls were pockmarked with divots from cannonball hits from wars over the centuries (some cannonballs were even used as wall decorations in the gardens). It was actually kind of a spooky place to be alone at night, but it was a fun and interesting experience.

I ended my trip by meeting my husband in Rome then training it to the glorious Amalfi Coast. Prior to his coming, I Facetimed him in my closet and gave him explicit instructions of what to bring for me in a real, live, suitcase,

After weeks of no make-up, no blow dryers and hand washing my undies and socks nightly in hostel and pilgrim facility sinks, I was probably a little too excited for real clothes. But I was also thrilled to be with my husband—I found it to be very lonely to be out there alone in the woods, occasionally lost. Argh! Getting lost was the WORST, because it would sometimes add a mile or two to what was already a 12+-mile walk for the day. 

I cherish the experience, and it was good to learn that just like how I already knew I detest cilantro, I already  knew I wasn’t a hiker or an outdoorsy girl, and it reaffirmed that I’m super fine with hotels and airbnbs and even hostels—and restaurants and amazing history to immerse myself in as well. It was super cool to find myself occasionally walking on Roman roads, and to imagine the history that preceded my treading on them, but I was more than happy to find myself back in civilization with the comforts of, well, civilization!

Read more about my adventures here:  Via Francigena

La Bella Vita

We were blogging on a group blog recently about locations: writing locations, settings in books, etc. As luck would have it I’d just returned from an amazing month away on a working vacation in Italy and Morocco. 

Below is my post about working vacations. Keep scrolling for some fun pictures of my work venues for that month, and even further down, squeee!!!, you get a first peek at my latest book cover for book 4 in my IT’S REIGNING MEN series, LOVE IS IN THE HEIR, available for pre-order and set to release in late September.

Oh! And book three, BAD TO THE THRONE, releases on June 29. It is my favorite so far in this series, complete with a Harry-esque bad boy prince who I think you’ll fall for…

 And lastly, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter–which will be going out next week. There’ll be a little special something in there for your efforts ;-) .

I recently returned from a lovely working vacation in Italy and Morocco. And the hard part of a working vacation is the work part.

I departed for our trip with a deadline pending for the third book in my It’s Reigning Men series. I had a lot of fun writing this book–the hero in it is a rakish Prince Harry-esque black sheep, and I just loved his attitude. So I didn’t want to rush to end the book, plus I was scrambling to get ready to leave, so I left the final third of the book dangling…

Which meant I had a few days during my trip in which I had to just hunker down, abandon the idea of being a tourist, and focus on writing. Of course this was a bit of a bummer, because I would have far rather wandered the streets of ancient Italian cities and settled in for a leisurely lunch of pappardelle al sugo di anatra (fat strips of homemade pasta with amazingly delicious duck confit cooked in a red sauce) and a glass of Chianti. Which would have led to the need for a nap which would have meant no writing.

So instead, I savored my “rooms” with a view, and hunkered down to finish my novel with some of the most spectacular scenery going.

We writers are so blessed that we can do our work pretty much anywhere. And over the years I have, by default, done that: in pick-up line at the kids’ schools, on the sidelines at soccer practices, with ear plugs in while the kids watched the television that is mere feet from my “desk” which is in the kitchen and basically means hardly a quiet zone.

So my designated work stations while away this time were pretty much unbeatable: at our B&B with a spectacular view of the Duomo di Siena, which is a breathtaking work of architecture; while sitting on the ponte di Santa Trinita in Florence, with a view of the famed Ponte Vecchio in front of me and the world’s most amazing gelato just steps away (Gelateria Santa Trinita—if you’re in Florence, go there and try the sesamo nero, which sounds weird, black sesame seed gelato, but is incredible).

I wrote at an outdoor bar in the delightfully colorful Piazza Santo Spirito (full of great people-watching, which sort of causes problems when trying to focus on writing!), in the Oltrarno, the section of Florence across the Arno River that is more residential and relatively less touristy.

Not for the first time I enjoyed writing in the Giardino di Boboli, the spectacular gardens that are part of the imposing Palazzo Pitti (hoarding headquarters for the Medici family), with a splendid view of all of Florence.

I regretted missing a fascinating tour of the city of Matera in the Basilicata region of Italy, down by the boot heel. My husband got to take that tour while I hunkered down on the deadline-iest of deadline days: I absolutely had to get my book to my editor on that day or it would screw up my publication date, which would make me an enemy of Amazon ;-) . Far be it from me to get on the bad side of Amazon…

Anyhow, the “Sassi” in Matera are a United Nations World Heritage site—originally a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, considered to be among the first human settlements in what is now Italy. The Sassi are caves dug into the rocks, from which an ancient town sprung, one cave atop the other, until a warren of many thousands of caves piled atop and next to one another existed. Until the mid-20th century these caves were inhabited by the poorest of the poor, who were ultimately relocated to housing with plumbing and other modern comforts. Since then the area has been rebuilt to house apartments, hotels, restaurants and shops. It’s an amazing place, extraordinarily beautiful at night when lit up, too.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such an phenomenal opportunity to travel and experience the world and various cultures and incorporate it into my writing (and am grateful that my husband has afforded me these opportunities because trust me, writing isn’t paying these bills). On this trip also, we visited Morocco, and immersed ourselves in an entirely different culture there (and, um, learned the hard way that the closest place to the Sahara desert in which to find a tampon would be a rugged 10-hour drive through the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakech…)

Along the way I also worked on my book while waiting for a grocery store to open in Siena as I needed to buy laundry detergent and was in a hurry to get it done before we traveled to Florence.

I love to incorporate things I experience while traveling into my books, and have used quite a bit of my extensive Italian travels in my current series, the It’s Reigning Men series, especially with the third book of the series, Bad to the Throne, which is available for pre-order now here and will be released June 29.

I hope you can enjoy a little bit of my journeys as you read my books! And please, do enjoy the view!


Gallery

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