Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 19, 2018

After the hiatus

hiatus, blogging, writingHiatus – a break or gap.
Since I returned from summer holidays, I have not been keeping up my blog. The return to work and kids’ school and daily life kept things more hectic than I anticipated, and then my trusty home laptop died … and I was super slow about replacing it. But I miss writing for my blog and scheduling weekly posts on topics that interest me about writing and travel, so I am happy to be back to blogging after the hiatus!
Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 16, 2018

Far above Cayuga’s waters … revisiting Cornell University

Cornell University, USMany, many years ago, I spent a very happy four years at this beautiful university campus in Ithaca, (upstate) New York, studying political science and history.

Even if I adored my time at Cornell, its location in western New York’s Finger Lakes region makes it a little off the beaten track for my infrequent trips back to the US.

So now that (gasp!) my older son is beginning to look at colleges, it was a great opportunity for me to get back to view ‘my noble alma mater’.  I can’t seem to help myself from lifting lines from the school hymn…

This past summer, a college tour of western New York also allowed me a visit to my old stomping grounds in picturesque Ithaca, New York. Although I hadn’t been back in – ahem – decades, it was still as beautiful as I’d remembered it.

Cornell University, USI’d forgotten just how stunning New York’s Finger Lakes region is. There are wonderful state parks, dramatic gorges, waterfalls, and rolling hills.

This past summer was a bit rainy, and the weather somewhat grey when we were on the Cornell campus. Although, as I recall, that’s par for the course in Ithaca.

We had a great walk around the Arts Quad and down steep Libe slope, where I had my freshman dorm – the imposing Baker Tower.

Cornell UniversityI lived on the fifth floor – a killer to climb all those stairs, but the views over Cayuga Lake from our dorm rooms were breathtaking. Between climbing up and down five flights of stairs to reach my dorm room and battling Libe Slope – in rain, wind and (plenty of) snow- to get to campus, at least the Freshman 15 was never an issue.

My kids loved going across the Suspension Bridge to North Campus, where there were lots of new buildings. North Campus now houses all the freshmen. Back in my day, first year students were mixed between north and west campus.

Personally, I always liked this mixing of freshmen and upperclassmen, but I suppose the idea of grouping them is also nice, and an easier way for the first year students to bond.

Over the years, there has certainly been a lot of building on campus – maybe a bit too much for my taste – but it’s still as picturesque as ever.

Cornell University

Cornell’s Suspension Bridge

We walked the whole length of campus. Oddly, it was the first time I explored the whole Agriculture quad and Vet school. Guess I had enough exercise bounding up and town the tower and battling the slope each day.

My younger son is a track and field fanatic, and he fell in love with Cornell as soon as he saw Barton Hall’s newly renovated indoor track. Then again, what’s not to love? The outdoor track was also new. I remember it being around the football field.

I’m glad that college visits gave me the needed excuse to get back to Cornell. Even if it was a brief visit, it was great to be back at my alma mater. I admit to my bias, but it has to be the most beautiful campus ever.

Cornell University

Who needs the gym when you’re living on the top floor of Baker Tower?

Cornell University

What’s not to love? Barton Hall’s cool new indoor track. Go Big Red!

Cornell University



Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 4, 2018

Hiking the Celano Canyon in Abruzzo, Italy

Gole di Celano, Abruzzo, ItalyEarlier this summer, during a particularly steamy Roman week, I found myself daydreaming constantly about a weekend escape to Abruzzo.

I often get out for weekend to the town of Ovindoli, about 1 1/2 hour drive from Rome. Since the town at 1400 meters from sea level it is much, much cooler than Rome … especially in the evenings when it can get downright chilly.

So the weekend I was there, while it was 40 degrees in Rome, it was warm but minus the humidity in Ovindoli, and my family and I took advantage of the perfect weather to go hiking. And that we did – down to explore the Celano Canyon, the Gole di Celano.

Gole di Celano, Abruzzo, ItalyThis is a great hiking trail you can hike from two ends – either starting in the town of Celano, walking through the canyons and hiking up, or beginning in Ovindoli and hiking down to end at the canyons.

We chose to start from Ovindoli. This is a well-marked path off of the Arano ring trail – trail 12, marked in red and white (see accompanying photo).

The path is not too difficult, although it is quite steep and I left my good hiking shoes in the closet back in Rome, rather than putting them to use when I needed them. Wear good shoes with much better treads than I had on that day, but otherwise it’s an enjoyable hike for dry days (on rainy days it would be too slippery).

Gole di Celano, Abruzzo, ItalyThere are great views over the canyon from the top segment of the trail.

There are some eagles living in area, which I’ve seen n earlier hikes but didn’t see on this outing.

Part way down you can take a short detour to see the ruins of a 12th century monastery, San Marco.

There’s a short explanation explaining its importance at the time of Pope Celestino V, a pope who came from Abruzzo and was chosen due to how far away he was from church politics (he lived as a hermit in the mountains of Abruzzo).

Gole di Celano, Abruzzo, ItalyPope Celestino is also famous as the last pope (before Pope Ratzinger) to have abdicated the papacy.

You can see my earlier post about Pope Celstino here.

We stayed here for a while to admire this spot not for purely spiritual reasons, but because it had a picnic table in a panoramic spot and it was a great place to stop for our sandwiches before continuing on our hike.

The peaceful rest certainly did us good, and we were read to set off to tackle the rest of the trail.

Gole di Celano, AbruzzoThe trail continues down to the actual canyon – said to be the most beautiful in Abruzzo. It is 5 kilometers long and the dramatic cliff faces are up to 100 meters high.

We enjoyed our time walking its length and staring up the canyon walls.

From here, it’s an easy walk back to the trail head. Many people have two cars and park one on top and one at the parking lot at the bottom, to drive back to Ovindoli. We hiked up to the town of Celano (a bit tiring in the heat after our long hike down the canyon).

From the main town square in Celano (beside the castle), we caught the bus going up to Ovindoli.

A great hike down the Celano Canyon. Looking forward to next time!

Gole di Celano, Abruzzo

Gole di Celano, Abruzzo

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 31, 2018

Writers, stop making excuses …

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

—E. B. White

In the always brilliant words of author E.B. White – stop slacking off, and get writing!

Not much to add to these perfect words of advice. I am certainly guilty of waiting for that “perfect”moment to write, even if I’m old enough to know better…

Now that summer holidays are winding down, these are good marching orders as we move towards the autumn and (hopefully) productive writing time.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 28, 2018

A Provence base in Reillanne, France

Reillanne, Provence, FranceOn the way back from a holiday trip in Pays basque, France, my family and I decided to break up the long drive back to Rome with a short stay in Provence.

We made the little town of Reillanne our base to explore the region for a few days and stayed in a pretty gite, Domaine de Pradaous.

It was a pleasant place to return after a hectic day of exploring under the hot summer sun, and we all liked to cool down with a swim in the pool.

Reillanne, Provence, FranceBreakfasts on the terrace were very good, and dinner was available at the hotel. The owners were very friendly and helpful with local tips.

When we returned, my kids also  worked at perfecting their non-existent pétanque skills… although they did get better after a few days of ‘training’.

I’ve already written about many of the nearby attractions, such as hiking in the Oppedette Gorge, visiting the pretty town of Banon and shopping in medieval Forcalquier on market day.

Reillanne, Provence, FranceThe town of Reillanne itself made for a nice wander, with its old 12th century church and belltower at the top of the town providing pleasant views over the valley. The streets are picturesque and winding, so it was nice for a short wander.

Sunday is active, bringing this little town to life with a bustling market on the main square just beside the 12th century Romanesque Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, with its double bell tower and sundial.

The tourist office, just off the town square, was very helpful and we received a lot of local information about what was happening in the area.

All in all, Reillanne served as a very comfortable base to explore this corner of Provence.

Reillanne, Provence, France

Reillanne, Provence, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 24, 2018

Book review: The Stars are Fire

The Stars are Fire - Anita ShreveAuthor Anita Shreve is a master at penning realistic characters and delving deep into their psyches, and The Stars are Fire is a brilliant illustration of her significant talent in bringing her characters to life.

Grace Holland is a young mother of two toddlers in post World War II Maine. Her husband, Gene, has retruned from the war, but like most of the men in the neighborhood, he doesn’t speak about it much.

The story opens in the summer of 1947, where record hot temperatures and a lack of rain have residents worried as autumn arrives and the heat shows no signs of abating.

Wild fires tear across Maine, reaching their small coastal town as Grace and and her closest friend and neighbor Rosie must save themselves and their children.

Cowering in the frigid waters of the Atlantic all night saves the women and their children, but the event will mark their lives forever in far-reaching ways they are unable to predict.

Shreve is masterful at drilling down into a marriage, and particularly one of mid-century America where women had little power. Grace fights to defend her family in increasingly difficult circumstances, and this beautiful depiction of one woman’s love, strength, courage and enduring hope had me rapidly turning the pages as we follow along on Grace’s impressive journey.

When I picked up this book, I did not realize it was Shreve’s last. Sadly, she passed away earlier this year. But her stories of ordinary, independent women often faced with difficult choices are always compelling, and this novel may be one of her best.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 21, 2018

Art deco overload in Arcachon, France

Arcachon, FranceI’ve already written about our visit to the Dune du Pyla – at 105 meters high, officially Europe’s highest sand dune.

Very close to this impressive natural wonder in France’s Gironde region is the pretty seaside town of Arcachon.

This sleepy Atlantic coastal town became a destination of the international jet-set in the mid 19th century.

Napoleon III himself led to its development when he fell in love with the location and began to frequent the sleepy coastal resort.

Arcachon, FranceThe arrival of the railway in 1857 sealed its fate, as did the widespread belief that a combination of the resin of the pine forests in the area and favorable air made it an ideal winter destination offering unique health benefits.

The Pereire brothers, bankers who had settled in the region, purchased a large portion of land in wooded dunes above Arcachon and commissioned an architect to build villas for the wealthy visitors who came to Arcachon to breathe the therapeutic resinous air.

Arcachon, FranceThe Ville d’hiver (Winter Town) was thereby born.

A casino, a lively boardwalk along the sea and pretty parks helped to keep the town a lively place for its well-heeled visitors/

Three hundred villas were built in the area, all in extravagant art deco styles with not one design repeated.

There are spectacular Moorish villas, plenty of gables and turrets, intricate wooden balustrades,  watchtowers galore overlooking the bay, all in a wide array of colors and styles.

Arcachon, FranceWe had a great time wandering around this area and admiring the whimsical and elegant architecture.

Some of the famed 19th century frequenters of Arcachon who stayed in these villas include the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and the French composer Charles Gonoud.

It’s worth the wait to climb up the watchtower to enjoy a birds’ eye view over the town and the bay.

The bay is also well known for its oysters, so it’s worth staying to enjoy a platter of this local specialty.

Enjoy your time in pretty Arcachon.

Arcachon, France

Arcachon, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 17, 2018

The art of observation

“For me, silence had always been another form of communication. After all, you can tell so much just by looking at a person.”

—Herta Müller

I love this quote by contemporary Romanian-born German author Herta Müller.

And it’s true that writers have to make an art of this, observing people and trying to glean from these “silences” their story, their background, their hopes and dreams.

This is part of the fun of the writing process, and how many writers have built an entire world from observations of a person, without a word ever having been exchanged or overheard?

So, writers, start people watching to jump start your next story…

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 14, 2018

Berlin’s spectacular Pergamon Museum

Pergamon Museum, BerlinThere are a lot of great museums in Germany’s capital of Berlin, but the Pergamon Museum is not to be missed on your next visit.

Located centrally, in the city’s Museum Island, the museum building was designed by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffman and constructed between 1910-1930, and it attracts over a million visitors every year.

The museum was designed to hold the impressive spoils gained from excavations Germany was carrying out in Babylon, Uruk, Assur and Ancient Egypt. It was the first museum in Europe to be designed to showcase monumental architectural exhibits.

Pergamon Museum, BerlinThe Museum’s name comes from the monumental Pergamon Altar, the 2nd century BC Ancient Greek altar taken from the city of Pergamon. Pergamon is present-day Bergama, Turkey.

Excavations on this ancient altar took place between 1878 and 1886 by a German engineer, and negotiations allowed the entire series of friezes to be shipped to Berlin, where they were reconstructed in the Museum Island museum.

The market gate from Miletus is another masterpiece in this spectacular museum. Dating back to 100 AD, this market gate is over 16 meters tall and used to stand guard over the Roman Empire town of Miletus in Asia Minor.

This gate is believed to have been commissioned following a successful military campaign, and it is dedicated to the gods Zeus and Athena.

Pergamon Museum, BerlinAnother spectacular part of the collection is the Ishtar Gate from the ancient city of Babylon, dating back to the 6th century BC. The spectacular glazed bricks in rich blues and golds grace the huge gate itself and the processional way leading up to it.

Much of the Ishtar Gate is reconstructed (including many of the blue bricks), but the lions, which were sacred to the goddess Ishtar (goddess of love and the sky and patron of the army), are originals.

Standing before the exhibit gives you an idea of the vast scale of the construction. The original Processional Way was 180 meters long, and standing before this exhibit, you get a real sense of the awe inspired on viewing this ancient wonder.

Pergamon Museum, BerlinA small, scale model provides visitors a sense of true dimensions of the entire complex.

The Assyrian Palace (9th – 13th century) and the Aleppo Room (around 1600) are also must-sees to this spectacular collection.

Even if you have limited time in Berlin, make sure to carve out adequate time to explore this splendid museum and its impressive collection.

The Pergamon Museum is open daily 10 am – 6 pm, with later hours on Thursday. Enjoy your visit back to the ancient world at this spectacular museum.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Pergamon Museum, Berlin


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 10, 2018

He says, she says – and when. It’s all in the timing for a writer

Pen writing“You must know all, then not tell it all, or not tell too much at once.”

-Eudora Welty

Excellent observation from American short story writer and novelist, Eudora Welty (1909-2001). This sums up the process of writing perfectly.

A good novel offers a slow reveal, one of the joys of reading is slowly uncovering the story of the protagonist.

Everyone knows the dangers of “information dump”, when all the character’s backstory is laid out in the opening pages, when you still don’t have much interest in the leading lady or gentleman.

As Welty notes, a good author will tease out her characters and her story slowly, “knowing all”, but revealing the details in slow and deliberate way that keeps your readers rapidly turning the pages.

And when we do, we know we are in the hands of a very skilled author…

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