Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 22, 2017

My thoughts will be in Matera for the Women’s Fiction Festival!

Matera Women's Fiction FestivalI’ve spent many a happy weekend at the Matera Women’s Fiction Festival in the spectacular, southern Italian “cave” town of Matera.

After a one year hiatus, the Festival will take place once again at the end of this month, but sadly without me.

My inability to attend this year doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking of all those great lectures, discussions, brainstorming groups and late night talks about books and writing (over good food and wine, of course) with an impressive crowd of international writers.

Wishing all a wonderful time in Matera – and look forward to joining you next time!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 19, 2017

Exploring Narni’s winding, medieval streets

Narni, Umbria, ItalyThis past summer, my track-and-field-addicted son attended a running camp in the Umbrian hill town of Narni – in central Italy.

I’ve travelled a lot in Umbria, but it was my first time in this little village.

Picking my son and dropping him off for his camp, I was quite envious he got to enjoy a full week in this picturesque spot.

Narni, Umbria, ItalyNot surprisingly, he said it was most picturesque at night, all illuminated and quiet when many of the day trip tourists left.

Today’s Narni has a little over 20,000 inhabitants. There are traces of populations here since Neolithic times.

The Umbran population resided here until they were conquered by the Ancient Romans in 299 B.C. and the town was named Narnia, a name which derived from the nearby river Nahar (now called Nera).

Narni, Umbria, ItalyNarni’s status grew with the construction of the celebrated Roman road system (of the famed expression ‘All roads lead to Rome’).

The Via Flaminia was constructed and by 90 B.C. Narnia/Narni became a municipality. Its strategic position left the burgeoning settlement vulnerable to Barbarian invasions.

Narni’s Golden Age occurred between the 12th and 16th centuries, when many of its impressive palaces and churches were constructed.

Narni, Umbria, ItalyThe San Francesco church was built in the spot where Saint Francis used to preach during his stay in Narni in 1213. The frescoes were painted by local artists, and are well worth a visit.

I visited here during the annual music festival, and was treated to a cello rehearsal as I wandered the ancient church to admire its art. The 12th century cathedral also merits a visit.

The music festival itself, which I had never heard of before, offers plenty of free concerts and recitals for visitors. It might be worth timing your visit with that event.

Narni, Umbria, ItalyThere is also an Underground Narni tour, which I didn’t have time for on this visit, but will be on my list for next time.

Narni is a great wandering town, and I loved passing through its winding streets on my two visits here this summer. My son became even more intimate with the town – since he and his team ran up and down its steep cobblestoned streets for hours during a treasure hunt. Oh, youth!

Definitely stop by medieval, hilltop Narni the next time you are in Umbria.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 15, 2017

Book review: Wake

Wake book coverOddly, I’d had this book on my shelf for some time.

I remembered it only after picking it up in French in a French bookstore and being drawn in by the story and the excellent blurbs – before realizing I shouldn’t buy it because I had the original version back home. : )

This novel is set in London during  a period I love – World War I. Specifically, two years after the end of the war. Wake opens as decisions are made to create a monument to the Unknown Soldier on the second anniversary of Armistice Day.

Around this central event, we follow five days in the post-war lives of three women in and around London. Hettie is a dance instructress at a Hammersmith ‘Palais’, earning sixpence a dance and waiting for her life to begin. Evelyn mourns the loss of her lover and deadens all emotion working in an army pensions office. Ada can’t come to grips with the death of her son in France and begins to spot his ghost all around her. A single thread binds the lives of these three women together.

This novel beautifully rendered the lives of these women post-war. Once the celebrations for the end of the war die down, life is supposed to begin again. This novel addresses the complexity of the post-World War I world, and the tremendous impact it had on the wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters who are struggling to come to terms with the aftermath and the world that is so rapidly changing around them. A beautifully written and evocative novel.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 12, 2017

At home in Guéthary, Pays Basque, France

Guéthary, Pays basque, FranceLast week, I wrote a post about an enjoyable coastal hike we took on a family holiday to France’s Pays Basque.

This week, I’ll write about the little coastal town that served as ‘home’ during our stay in France’s southwest region. Guéthary, a small town just a few kilometers south of Biarritz, made a perfect base for our stay.

We divided our time between lazy beach days in Guéthary, visits up and down the coast to see interesting Basque coastal towns, excursions into the Pays Basque interior, where more interesting Basque towns tempted us and visits to the nearby Spanish Basque towns.

Guéthary, Pays basque, FranceGuéthary was laid-back and enjoyable, with lots of pretty villas from the 1920s and early 1930s, in what would have been the heyday of this outpost just south of sparkling Biarritz. The views over the coast are charming and quite a few beaches dot the area, so you can enjoy your time trying different ones.

This is a haven for surfers, and the waves can be quite strong. Beaches are clearly divided with blue flags for swimmers, and green flags, with red circles, for surfers.

Guéthary, Pays basque, FranceAs a former lifeguard, I can only sympathize with the poor lifeguards who clearly earned all the euro they were paid constantly calling surfers out for crossing into swimming territory when they got excited about catching the perfect wave. Surf boards and little children simply don’t mix well.

Guéthary is at the far western point of the Central Eastern Europe time zone, so sunsets are extremely late – and fun to watch the drama and colors of the sun slipping behind the horizon of the Atlantic.

Guéthary, Pays basque, FranceThere was a lively crowd of surfers, families, couples and those who have been vacationing here for decades that kept then town busy, but also low-key. The restaurants were okay, although we preferred to buy dinner from the local markets and cook at home during our stay. There were lots of good places to enjoy an aperitif and oysters – alongside those stunning sunsets.

Wednesday evenings were set aside for pelote (a traditional Basque sport) matches on the town’s fronton.

Guéthary, Pays basque, FranceEvery Basque town has a fronton – the wall and hard court where players practice pelote against rival towns, which often serves as the town’s place or piazza (main square). And to the glee of my kids, it served as a convenient wall on which to practice tennis each morning.

We enjoyed watching a match one evening – although I’m not sure we grasped all the rules, or that it captivated us enough to become rabid pelote fans back home.

Guéthary served as an excellent base for exploring this interesting region, and we enjoyed our brief time here as ‘locals’. Although, while we are always happy to practice our French, I must admit none of us made ANY progress with the complicated Basque language.

I’ll enjoy memories of this charming little town along the Atlantic Ocean.

Guéthary, Pays basque, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 8, 2017

Wise words (learned on holidays) to face the ‘rientro’

Banon benchIn Italian it’s called the ‘rientro’. In French the ‘rentrée’.

In America, where holidays are so stingy – if you’re allowed to take them at all – I doubt the term exists at all. If it did, it would be called ‘The Return’.

Back when I worked in my own country, I wasn’t familiar with this expression (or the feeling), but now that I’m accustomed to lovely, long summer holidays, I feel it (sharply) when they come to an end.

Do I ever.

After having been relaxed and out in the fresh air, that fear creeps back about once again being tied to computer screens, and e-mails and meeting after meeting. Deadlines loom and pressure begins to build up.

A good strategy is to try to return home with clear memories of that relaxation and reflective time, and to incorporate it into your daily routine as much as possible. Even if it’s only a few minutes every day.

That’s why I love this bench from the little town of Banon, in the Luberon Valley of France’s Provence region. After climbing up the steep slopes of a little hill town to reach the church, we saw this bench boasting views of the valley below. On the bench was painted the words:


Vous avez gagné

un repos bien merité

And after our efforts, we did deserve a little rest. What a thoughtful person to have put this bench and words of wisdom there. And I will remember that bench fondly now that I’m in the midst of ‘rientro’ anxiety.

Here’s wishing a little well-deserved time for reflection and rest for us all post-vacation! Buon rientro a tutti!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 5, 2017

Hiking to Spain along France’s Pays Basque coastal trail

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceThis past summer, I enjoyed a fabulous summer holiday to France’s Basque region (Pays basque). It was my first visit to this corner of southwestern France, bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the border of Spain to the south.

It was easy to fill my three weeks here with interesting places to visit, even if the weather didn’t always cooperate.

One of the  activities on my must-do checklist was to follow the 25-kilometer sentier littoral (coastal path) that follows the coast from Bidart-Guéthary all the way down to France’s last outpost before the Spanish border – Hendaye.

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceWe were incredibly lucky to enjoy beautiful weather on the day we undertook this hike. This isn’t a given in the region, where weather conditions can change rapidly, but on our day we enjoyed sunny skies and warm temperatures, but often with gentle sea breezes.

The path is well-marked with yellow trail markings and – when it cuts through towns- clear indications for the sentier littoral. We already knew the round-trip 14 km path between Guéthary and neighboring Saint Jean-de-Luz, which we’d already taken, so this part of the journey was familiar.

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceDespite this familiarity with the path, the stunning views over the bay of Saint Jean-de-Luz as you round the corner were no less dramatic.

The path itself has quite a few ups and downs, but it is relatively easy – just ensure you have good walking shoes … and take water along with you.

The path takes you through the towns of Saint Jean-de-Luz (where King Louis XIV married), Ciboure (where the composer Ravel was born and where Matisse spent time painting), Socoa, and finally on to Hendaye.

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceThe views over the coastline are breathtaking, and we took many opportunities to pause and enjoy the surroundings. In the distance, you can see the Spanish coast, and we enjoyed watching it appear closer and closer, as our point of departure shrank in the distance.

We finally reached Hendaye, with legs pleasantly sore and our stomachs grumbling and eager to sit down for a hearty lunch. We stopped off at the extremely helpful tourist information office to get information on the return voyage.

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceAs enjoyable as the walk was, we had no intention of making a round-trip for a total of 50 kilometers in one day. Sadly, on a Sunday, the choice of buses and trains were far fewer than we imagined, so we had to shorten our trip and come back with a train earlier than we would have liked.

This meant that we had to give up our plans to take the ferry over to the Spanish side to enjoy a walk in Hondarribia – only a fifteen minute ferry ride away, with frequent ferries departing from Hendaye’s port. That will have to be for next time.

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceInstead, we cooled off and relaxed our sore muscles with a pleasant swim in the gentle waves off Hendaye’s long, sandy beach. As we packed up to get to the train station, we had a great time watching high tide transform the Hendaye beach, the waves devouring all that golden sand as the water reached the rock barrier reaching up to the promenade.

We took our last (brief) hike of the day – up to the train station where we caught the evening’s last train up to Guéthary.

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, FranceNeedless to say, the quick train ride back was much easier than the 25-kilometer hike, but like my youngest son, who never shies away from an athletic challenge, there was a part of me that wanted to make the return hike and enjoy the full 50-kilometers of that Basque trail.

That will also be for next time.

When you’re in the Pays Basque, be sure to pack along your trekking shoes and enjoy the spectacular views as you hike the length of the French Basque Country all the way to Spain. Happy hiking!

Sentier littoral, Pays Basque, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 1, 2017

Book review: The Human Flies

The Human Flies coverI bought this novel when traveling in Norway. Embarrassingly, aside from Ibsen (whom I love), I’m completely ignorant about Norwegian writers.

I know Norway boasts thriller writers, such as Nesbo, who fill the book shops, but I was looking for something different and picked up this debut mystery novel by contemporary author Hans Olav Lahlum.

The cover reviews promised an ‘Agatha Christie-style locked door mystery’, and this was exactly what the author delivered.

It was a plus that the story was set in 1968 Oslo, and dealt with a city – and nation – coming to grips with life and economic growth after World War II and complicated reactions ranging from guilt to silence regarding instances of collaboration during the Nazi occupation of Norway. This is the interesting historical backdrop to the mystery.

Young detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen- also known as K2 – gets called into a murder case. In Oslo, on 25 Krebs Street, a well-known Resistance fighter and national hero has been murdered. The residents of 25 Krebs Street will all become suspects as the investigation centers there. Kristiansen involves wheelchair-bound, mystery-novel-devouring Patricia on the case. Conveniently, Patricia craves the intellectual challenge of solving the case, but does not want to share the spotlight, which proves advantageous to Kristiansen.

I enjoyed the locked-door nature of the mystery (the classic whodunnit tale), the investigation centering around the quirky residents of 25 Krebs Street, and all the interesting historical background about Nazi-occupation era Norway that is revealed throughout the novel. A very good read, and the first of a series.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 29, 2017

Stretching my legs with a passeggiata in Sora, Italy

Sora, Lazio, ItalyI’ve long been curious to visit the town of Sora, in Italy’s Lazio region and located in the province of Frosinone – just along the border with Abruzzo.

Since it’s a little off the beaten trail from the surrounding areas I visit more often (including the wonderful Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo), I’ve never managed to get there.

Sora, Lazio, ItalyThis summer, however, as I was dropping one child off at tennis camp in Abruzzo and picking up another at running camp in the southernmost point in Lazio, I noticed that the long trip between the two destinations happened to take me by Sora.

Sora, Lazio, ItalyAnd so I finally visited the town on a sunny Sunday in July – and after all the driving behind me and all that ahead of me, it was the perfect excuse to park, stretch my legs and explore the town.

This town with a population of a little over 25 000 has ancient roots dating back to the Sannite people, who were conquered by the Ancient Romans in 345 B.C.

Sora, Latina, ItalyAfter the fall of Rome, Sora faced many invaders – including Saracens and Longobardi, to name a few. The Normans and the Papal forces also fought fierce battles here in the 12th century.

Sora was devastated by the destructive earthquake of 13 January 1915. In fact, there’s a new monument marking the centenary of that event on the town’s main square. Much of the city had to be rebuilt following that devastating quake.

It was a pleasant town in which to stop and stretch my legs on a long trip. Sadly, the town was setting up for a street food festival, which would have been nice to see, but I needed to continue traveling to pick up my son. For next time …

Enjoy Sora when you are in this section of Italy’s Lazio region.

Sora, Lazio, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 25, 2017

Quality over quantity – E.M. Forster

EM Forster“My regret is that I haven’t written a bit more.”

E.M. Forster

I was surprised to read E.M. Forster’s regret – if anything, it proves that harboring regrets makes no sense.

It’s true that the British writer Forster (1879-1970) only wrote six novels (one published posthumously) over his long lifetime – in addition to his short stories, essays, plays, travel writing, and book reviews – but those he left  us are impressive.

A Room with A View, Howard’s End, and A Passage to India are all masterpieces of English literature (and if you haven’t seen the movie versions of all three, rush out and do so now!). Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, isn’t perfect, but it still has so many brilliant lines and perfect scenes that are clear in my mind even years after having read it.

There are plenty of authors who have been far more productive, but haven’t ever produced anything at this level. I feel the same about the author Jane Austen. While it’s a shame we only have seven of Austen’s novels to enjoy, what an amazing seven they are.

So here’s to celebrating quality over quantity. Clearly, Forster never had any real cause for regret …

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 22, 2017

Oslo’s National Museum of Art

National Museum of Art, Oslo, NorwayOn a visit to Oslo, there were three museums I wanted to visit, but I only had time for one. Therefore, the centrally-located National Museum of Art made the cut, and I have two more museums I need to see on my next trip!

Oslo’s National Museum of Art is definitely worth the trip on your next visit. It’s a good-sized, but not overwhelming museum, and there were good audio guides included in the price of the ticket.

The Bridal Procession in Hardanger, 1848

Bridal journey in Hardanger, 1848

Although the Munch Room is the most famous, and contains one of the world’s most recognizable paintings – don’t make a beeline there. There’s plenty more to see.

It was interesting to see how – in the absence of serious art institutes in Norway many years ago – Norwegian artists would go to train first in Dresden, and later in Paris and Rome. Those artists often adopted styles they learned there.

Two girls on a plain, 1883

Two girls on a plain, 1883

But luckily, there were many artists who painted homegrown scenes, and there are many interesting examples at this museum, including Brudeferden i Hardanger (Bridal journey in Hardanger) painted by Norwegian romantic nationalism painter Adolph Tidemand in 1848. The painting depicts the natural beauty of Norway’s fjords and the traditions surrounding the bride’s journey to her new home.

I also loved “Two girls on a plain”, painted in 1883 by Erik Theodor Werenskiold. Werenskiold was known for his depictions of Norwegian peasant life , and I enjoyed this depiction of these two young girls (friends? sisters?) taking a break from  their grueling labor to chat and enjoy the weak sunlight as they observe the landscape around them.

After all, they probably know all too well that the winter months won’t afford such time for leisure and quite contemplation.

Grindelwaldgletscher, 1838

Grindelwaldgletscher, 1838

And then there are depictions of Norway’s harsh and imposing – yet beautiful – nature, particularly in Thomas Fernley’s Grindelwaldgletscher, painted in 1838.

This monumental, romantic scene depicts the power of nature and inspires awe, even more so because beside this glacier stands a man observing the ice formation. He is a mere speck beside the mighty glacier.

Although the Norwegian romantic painters deserve a visit, it is Norway’s most famous son who attracts all the crowds – and the room dedicated to him is the highlight of the museum.

The Scream, 1893

The Scream, 1893

Edvard Much (1863-1944) is Norway’s most famous artist, and The Scream, painted in 1893, is his most famous painting. The painting needs no introduction and, not surprisingly, it has the largest crowd around it.

Knowing about the embarrassing history of thefts of this iconic painting – one such theft in which a post-it was left by the thieves in the space it previously occupied suggesting the museum invest in better security – I expected it to be, well, more closely guarded. But Oslo is not Paris or New York, so it was nice to be able to admire this painting without the glass and arms-length barriers in place.

The Dance of Life, 1925

The Dance of Life, 1925

The Dance of Life (1899) is also there, the painting thought to follow a woman through the various stages of her life: young and virginal in white, at the height of her sexual power on the dance floor (with a partner believed to be a self-portrait of Munch himself, and a much more ravaged version clad in black on the far left. The moon creates a phallic symbol on the sea, perhaps symbolizing fertility. It’s an arresting painting, one I saw many years ago at a Munch exhibition, but I was thrilled to see it in its natural home.

I’ve chosen two of my favorites, but all of the Munch collection is impressive to see – and next time in Oslo I will also get to the dedicated Munch Museum, although I’ve seen much of the (impressive) collection at a Swiss exhibition years ago.

So be sure to visit Oslo’s National Gallery on your next visit to Norway.

Oslo National Gallery, Norway

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