Tag Archives: travel

29 Aug

Food in Toledo, Spain

These are croquettes. I’d never had them before.

I’m now a fan.

2014 08 05 21 53 44

I love to sample different kinds of food and not have too much of the same thing. Spain, with Tapas and ‘raciones’ and various serving sizes has an approach to food I really dig. They also keep my kind of schedule, eating dinner at 9 or 10pm and staying up late.

Toledo seems down with Mazapan (Marzipan). An almond paste confectionary. Another first for me. I sampled a lot of it:

2014 08 06 21 37 41

For breakfast I’d often eat ‘tortilla,’ which is egg, potato sort of baked together. They also sensibly serve you queso manchego as it’s own dish, which I did often.

Bread and olive oil is popular. I like.

2014 08 07 11 10 19

Jamon Iberico, it was usually sliced fresh. In this case, right near our table:

2014 08 10 22 34 41

There was more food than that. I was terrible in that I usually just started nomming without taking pics. Emily did a better job, as she wanted pics for her students (she teaches Spanish), but I don’t have all her photos of all the amazing food.

28 Aug

After 1,200 miles by train, we spent a week in Toledo

In my last description of my European trip, I wrote about traveling 1,200 miles by train from London to Paris, Paris on sleeper train through the south of France, and into the North of Spain, and then down into Madrid and Toledo.

The morning after that epic journey, I woke up to wander around streets like this:

2014 08 06 10 35 51

And this:

2014 08 06 14 38 12

There was a street called Two Elbows Street somewhere, to my amusement.

Toledo is a medieval walled city dropped down onto a mountain. There’s a river behind it, and walls in front. Everything is tightly packed together… and old. Here’s a shot from across the river, looking at the whole city from across the valley the river creates:

2014 08 06 20 19 07

And near the Plaza Zocodover, close to our hotel, every corner seemed to contain a tapas bar, or a workshop where amazing gold thread was being hammered into intricate designs.

Oh, and there were shops full of swords everywhere I turned.

At one point I said out loud “wow, that cathedral looks very gothic, isn’t it?” Emily responded, “It is gothic. It’s actually gothic. As in made by the Visigoths and by definition: Gothic.”

2014 08 06 14 49 47

Right. Because in Europe you’re seeing the original thing.

This view, from just in the Plaza Zocodover, was one I kept coming back to. Partly because right off to the right, out of the camera, was an amazing Mazapan shop. But also because of the arch, the stairs, and the view of the plains out beyond it:

2014 08 06 15 27 14

Another memory I’ll hold for a long time was standing across from the city of Toledo drinking a 100 year old local brandy, watching the sun set:

2014 08 06 21 41 15 2

I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have been able to do that. It’s something I’ll be recalling for a long time.

Toledo is full of moments that made me recalibrate standing time. Like crossing a bridge built before the nation I live in came to be:

2014 08 07 15 15 46

Or crossing a street that ended at a door, and passing through it to find a square and people sitting outside eating lunch:

2014 08 07 20 59 17

Or waiting for a car to drive by so that you, too, can enter the official gate of the city:

2014 08 07 21 26 03

The walls are still there, and impressive, facing out toward the plains.

2014 08 07 21 30 13

For me, intimidating. Stories of climbing to get back up to the height of our hotel. However… they’ve installed escalators. Some were outraged, but I’ll be honest: Toledo’s built on a small mountain. It was a life-saver. Probably literally.

2014 08 07 21 40 45

Five, two-story escalators truck you right up the side of the city, and up to a more reasonable level.

Back to our hotel, to watch sunset over the roofs of Toledo at the bar on the top floor:

2014 08 09 21 07 53

Another day trip involved visiting The Monstary of San Juan de los Reyes. The courtyard walk around:

2014 08 10 14 36 39

The orange trees in the courtyard:

2014 08 10 14 37 06

Inside the church, which is stunningly tall. And a reminder that gothic doesn’t mean ‘dark’ and ‘shadowy.’ The arches, the buttresses outside, all are to create sun-filled open space. In fact, it was so drenched with light many of my photos came out washed out.

2014 08 10 14 42 35

On the second level, walking around the courtyard, the woodwork in the ceiling is just stunning:

2014 08 10 14 50 06

2014 08 10 14 51 48

The week seemed to be gone in a snap of the fingers. Some tourists ‘do’ Toledo in a day. Even in a week, I still missed out on a number of things.

Leaving on the train for Madrid and a plane to London was bittersweet. Even as I realized how much had sunk in, I realized I hadn’t, couldn’t, pay enough attention to really absorb it all.

2014 08 11 21 11 10

05 Aug

1,200 miles by train

I’m in Europe, and just finished a 1,200 mile journey by train.

That’s like going from Omaha, Nebraska to New York.

Or, as we went North to South, like me going from Bluffton, OH to Miami Florida.

Anyway. The original plan was to fly into London and then take the high speed train to Paris. It is just a couple of hours. Transfer in Paris to take the high speed to Barcelona. That’s a long haul in a single day, but it would let us spend a couple days in Barcelona. Then high speed rail from Barcelona to Madrid and Toledo, where we would spend our time in Toledo before heading up for London Worldcon.

Here are the complainy bits, which all have to do with Delta Airlines. Skip if you don’t want to hear the whining of someone lucky enough to be able to fly to another country!

======Delta related complainy bits======

The buffer time I put into the plan to make the train to Paris was eaten up by Delta Airlines, who had us sitting on the runway for a few hours (the plane that loaded and taxied after us got there two hours earlier).

Delta in general was a shit experience. The commuter hop from DC to JFK was bumped back, and we had to run to make our connection (I wish I hadn’t). We got yelled at about our (very small) bags because the plane was so small. Then told we could take them aboard by another Delta worker. Then they didn’t fit (yeller was right, to be fair, but not very friendly).

The actual plane to London was also shit. I was promised we’d have power connection, and paid to have Economy plus for extra room as well as the power. I’ve been in coach flights on Air Canada that had power for gadgets, and British Air also had power for gadgets. I lost a ton of freelance work time that I’d planned on being able to use.

Also, the food was crap as well. Also, narrowest Economy Plus seats ever. I really, really wish I’d sucked it up and spent the extra to go British Airways for us both in Traveler Plus.

So, way behind on work, tired, cramped despite paying extra money to not be so cramped, and ill-fed, and landing right about when our train was leaving London for Paris, we arrived in London. Plans up in the air, we decided to wing it anyway. Emily spent time studying in Toledo, Spain, so dammit, we were going to figure out how to get there.

I considered snagging a plane from Heathrow on the spot, but I really wanted to use rail while here because I write about it a lot. And it is cool. I figured the worst thing that could happen is that we spend a night in Paris and pay out the nose for getting new train tickets.

Let’s do it.

======48 hours of train travel begins======

We began by catching the tube into London to get to St. Pancras. There a Eurostar agent helped us catch the next train to London, swapping our tickets for new ones. We had a nice meal while watching the countryside whiz past us at almost 180 miles per hour.

And then under sea as we passed under the Channel!

It didn’t take long before we arrived in Paris at the Gare Lyon. From there we went to the Gare Nord to grab a bite to eat and then talk about our tickets to Barcelona. We found the SNCF ticket office that pertained to our tickets and waited in line. Someone shouted in French that the line would be closed. We weren’t sure if we would get to see a human about the tickets. I started looking for hotels to stay in for the night, assuming I’d buy us brand new set of tickets for Barcelona in the morning, and we’d have just a day there, not two.

Photo

However the SNCF agent managed to get us a sleeper car, first class, leaving Austerlitz. “You’re a wonderful human being!” I said. And we caught a taxi to Austerlitz, where we waited in crowds of people (some playing a piano just sitting out there by the platform). I got to use my first pay-bathroom. I considered using the pay shower, but I didn’t have a towel.

Note to self…

At this point, I made one small mistake. I didn’t hunt down a French/Spanish power adaptor for my devices while at any of the big stations there. Once aboard the sleeper, I realized I had a power problem. We needed to use my phone to change bookings and figure things out, too. So in addition to the lack of laptop usage aboard the plane, I’d get little laptop usage on the trip through France and Spain as well.

Yikes. My plans to keep up with work while in transit had just plain evaporated.

But no worries. I was so tired after flying for 7 hours + sitting on tarmac for 3 (Delta, boo) that climbing into a bed on a slower sleeper train leaving Austerlitz was bliss. I canceled our hotel room in Barcelona for two nights, and we hunted down a room in Toledo and just planned to extend our stay there. Sorry Barcelona, another time perhaps?

Taking off shoes, and locking the door, we watched night-time France slide by as the train rocked us to sleep.

Image

We woke up crazy early the next morning. I got up a bit earlier and just lay there, watching the dawn light up and old southern French countryside roll by and then eventually start misting over.

As we headed west and approached the coast, the buildings became gleaming white and capped with red tile roofs. Saint-Jean in particular I made a note of. Sea-side, cute buildings. I’d like to explore there someday.

The train eventually deposited us in Irun, Spain somewhere around 10 in the morning-ish. Close to Bilbao. We got tickets for Madrid, and had to run to catch the train leaving in just minutes.

I’m not supposed to run, but what the fuck, right? We’re having an adventure.

Image

We made that train, and were off. It was supposed to be a seven or more hour ride, but I realized if we got off at Valladolid we could use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, and catch high speed rail from there into Madrid and pass the train we were on, and shave nearly 2 hours off the ride.

We got into Madrid at 4-ish.

By now, we’d been in a plane or on a train for a long, long time. By Madrid, I was starting to get tired of traveling. Toledo started to seem a magical, magical end point that wasn’t moving.

But. More travel. We hopped down into the Metra (Madrid’s subway) and caught a beautiful modern subway train to Atocha station. From there, tickets to Toledo proved problematic because every damn machine I tried had trouble printing. I finally got tickets, and then my credit card’s fraud protection team locked the card out due to my six or so attempts to buy a ticket.

Sad trumpet sound.

Madrid to Toledo featured a short pause due to a train delay, but it was still at least as fast as a bus, and then we caught a taxi up the tight, winding cobblestone streets and between the walls of Toledo to our hotel.

And now I am on stable land. Swaying a little, still.

Oh, I showered like three times. I kinda want to take one again. It’s amazing how quickly you miss one after 48 hours walking, running, sitting in hot places…

I said on twitter that doing a train trip like this was on my bucket list. I just didn’t expect two days of it. I’d planned one intense day of high speed travel. But oh well! I’ve always wanted to try a sleeper car! And I got to snack outside in a plaza in Paris. And go through the chunnel. And get to come.

It’s our first vacation in a long time. And even though I’m having to do freelance work through it due to not having power on the Delta flight or for most of the train travel, I’m grateful to be here.

We just had amazing tapas for dinner at this place:

Photo

Afterwards we stood and looked out over some of Toledo’s city walls.

It’s a good life.

31 Jul

West Coast book tour: after action report

The hugely awesome people at Tor (my publicist Leah Withers and Patty Garcia) arranged an author tour for Hurricane Fever.

So a week ago I flew out and arrived in San Diego for San Diego Comic Con. I got lucky and was booked into the Omni Hotel, just across the street. Which was fantastic:

Photo

I signed books, talked on my panel, and then met various people. I hung out at a few parties off site and did dinners. I hung out with Tor publicity folk at the booth. I snuck off with Theresa Delucci and Pritpaul Bains to play a demo of Evolve.

As I was there, The Guardian released its review of Hurricane Fever!

After my Sunday signing at SDCC I headed off to San Francisco to sign at Borderlands. I got to grab lunch with Tim Pratt, Heather Shaw, David Findlay, and Nalo Hopkinson. I had a great reading, and then afterwards met with readers for a coffee and more chatting (Joey Shoji gifted me scotch, how cool is that?).

When I got back to my room in San Francisco’s Phoenix Hotel there was a massive dance party going. But the staff there gave me a bottle of wine and a nice card congratulating me for the book launch, so I listening to an audio book on my Bose headphones and drank scotch and wine.

Next morning I dropped in and met folks from the Humble Bundle team, which was totally cool. They recently put up my novella The Executioness, so I was excited to meet and talk to them about what they were up to:

Next stop: Seattle! The view from the hotel room was striking, mountain and needle all in one shot:

Clarion West’s Curtis Chen snapped this photo of my talking excitedly about the Very Big Cannon in Hurricane Fever:

And Devin L. Ganger took this snapshot:

Next morning I was up early and flying back down from Seattle to San Diego to sign at Mysterious Galaxy! Greg van Eekhout picked me up and we had tacos and caught up on publishing gossip and chat.

Here we are catching up:

Greg also snapped this pic of me while talking about the Very Big Cannon in Hurricane Fever:

I got a quick night’s sleep in, and then I flew out from San Diego to Pittsburgh, which took most of yesterday. My old friend David Kirtley picked me up, drove me to a hotel near where Alpha, the writing workshop for teens, is being held.

I am now in between lecturing the students and getting ready for a signing here in Greensburg.

I’ve been, you might say, busy.

I’ll be teaching here at Alpha another day, then driving out to my parents to see Emily and the kids, and on Sunday, flying to Europe.

The traveling has actually only really just begun.

04 Jun

I’ve been invited to be writer-in-residence by Bermuda this October

Last month Dr. Kim Dismont Robinson from the Bermuda Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs reached out to me to ask if I would come and be a part of the Writer-in-Residence Programme in Bermuda this October. I would be responsible for helping direct some three weeks of workshops for interested writers, with a focus on genre.

It’s always a huge honor when the islands reach back out to me. And for anyone to reach out to ask me to teach or guide up and coming writers.

I accepted, and am happy to announce if you’re a reader from Bermuda, I’ll be there from September 27th through October 19th as Writer-in-Residence. There should be some opportunities to come ask me about writing and business outside of the workshop, and possibly a reading. Keep an eye out!

My previous experience in Bermuda amounts to a mere two days stopped there while passing through working on a yacht, so I’m eager to connect with the island some more.

Each Caribbean island has its own history, story, and vibe. While there’s a tremendous commonality, every stay in an island different than the ones I grew up on teaches me new and wonderful things, so I’m very excited and grateful for this.

What a life. Again, sometimes I pinch myself, because that little poor kid from the harbor in Lance Aux Pines Grenada could hardly have imagined this would be my future. As I said on twitter: