Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 17, 2017

Jogging in St Julian’s, Malta

St Julian's, MaltaFor those who read my blog occasionally, you may know I often pack along jogging sneakers when I travel – and particularly when I travel for work.

My work days can be quite long, and there’s nothing like starting out early (after I silently curse the dreaded ring of the alarm clock) and heading out for a jog to clear my brain and prepare mentally for the day ahead, while simultaneously getting a brief chance to “play tourist” as I cruise by the monuments. During a long and exhausting work day, I often think back fondly to those lovely jogs.

St Julian's, MaltaWhen I was recently in Malta for work, my sneakers accompanied me once again, but I was particularly proud of this morning jog.

That’s because I suffered a pretty bad ankle sprain this summer and I’ve been out of action on the jogging front for the past three months. My jog in St Julian’s was the first time I’ve been back – and it was glorious to – proverbially speaking – get back in the saddle again.

St Julian's, MaltaFrankly, I was surprised I could do it since it’s taken me a while to bounce back from this one. But my jog from St George’s Bay into St Julian’s and to the edge of Sliema gave me the confidence that I can get out there again on this old ankle.

I enjoyed my jog along the coastline, keeping an eye out for the traditional, colorful Maltese boats.

An enjoyable jog made better by a real sense of accomplishment – I’m finally back, and looking forward to more jogs in beautiful places I’m visiting (and my own ‘hometown’ of Rome). Here’s to healed ankles and bouncing back from injury!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 13, 2017

Bravo, Kazuo Ishiguro!

To be frank, after last year’s nomination of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan as Nobel Laureate for Literature left me rather annoyed, I wasn’t expecting much to emerge from Stockholm this year.

So was I ever so pleasantly surprised to hear that this year’s honor was awarded to fabulously talented and diverse Japanese-English novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. My author buddy Kim Golden put out an excellent post praising Ishiguro .

Like Kim, I first read Ishiguro with what is probably his most famous work, The Remains of the Day. I loved this story of  Stevens, a dutiful British butler, who has invested all of his energies, talents and considerable loyalties into a position (and a world) that is rapidly changing around him in the lead-up to World War II.

His intense admiration and respect for his well-bred employer and his social class allows him to brush aside doubts about the nobleman’s political ideology, or his employer’s  naive views about international relations that so easily transform the hapless lord into a pawn. This absolute dedication to a fading way of life also leads him to miss the signs when a new opportunity for his own happiness presents itself. This beautiful book was also made into a not-to-be-missed film, with a stellar cast of Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and the late Christopher Reeves.

After The Remains of the Day, I went on to read Ishiguro’s earlier, lyrical ‘Japanese novels’:  A Pale View of the Hills and An Artist of the Floating World. I also loved his musically-inspired short story collection Nocturnes. But it was his science fiction/deeply disturbing novel Never Let Me Go that became my second favorite Ishiguro work. This was also made into an excellent film, but the movie couldn’t possibly rival the gnawing horror you feel as you read the novel and the rules of this society and its intense indoctrination become apparent. And I don’t even generally like science fiction…

Brilliant selection by the Nobel panel this year in choosing this talented and versatile writer. Bravissimo, Kazuo Ishiguro!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 10, 2017

Turin’s Egyptian Museum, Italy

Turin's Egyptian Museum, ItalyI was recently back in Turin to visit a friend of mine who was in Italy for a short visit. I hadn’t been back to Piedmont’s capital in years, not since I lived “in the neighborhood” of  (relatively) nearby Milan.

Being back was a pleasant surprise, since the city has changed quite a bit from how I remember it years ago – one of the best things about it is how much of the center has been turned into a pedestrian zone.

One of the things I managed to do on this visit, and that I’ve felt terribly guilty about not having done until this point, was to visit the spectacular Museo egizio (Museum of Ancient Egypt).

My visit made me determined to return in order to dedicate more time to this amazing museum – and next time to come accompanied by my kids.

Next time, I’ll have to dedicate far more time to this impressive collection, since on this visit I was squeezing this visit in before a pre-scheduled appointment.

For those of you who don’t know the museum, it is said to be the third most impressive Egyptian collection in the world – following those of Cairo’s Museum and the British Museum.

Turin owes this enviable collection to the efforts of the Savoy royal family, when they began financing voyages to Egypt to purchase treasures from the past in 1753.

These collections were augmented in 1824 and, most famously, with excavations between 1900-1920 by the Italian Egyptologist, Ernesto Schiaparelli.

Today’s museum houses more than 30,000 artifacts, with English and Italian descriptions accompanying them, and headsets in various languages included in the price of your ticket.

This is a not-to-be missed museum on your next visit to Turin, and it is easy to reach on your visit, since it is located just on the edge of the central Piazza San Carlo.

On my short visit, I only scratched the surface of this impressive collection. It may have taken me far too long to get here for the first time, but I will most certainly be back. When in Turin, don’t miss the chance to travel back in time to Ancient Egypt by visiting this spectacular collection.

In the coming weeks, I’ll write some more tips about what to visit in this elegant Italian city.

Ancient Egyptian Museum, Turin

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 6, 2017

Rereading high school favorites…

The Great GatsbyWith my oldest son in high school, I’ve enjoyed some of the ‘joys’ of returning to some of the old Classics I haven’t read since my own (long, long ago) high school days.

Of course, many classics I reread regularly on my own, but strangely enough, for some others I apparently need a little push.

This is why I found myself at a track and field meet for my younger son last weekend, rereading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby at the request of my older son. He’s reading it in class and “wanted to discuss it with me.” And let’s face it, when a sports-obsessed son wants to discuss novels with his mom, you’re kinda nuts to pass up on an opportunity like that. : )

Of course, I remembered the basic themes, main characters and plot points, but, how can I put this delicately? After such a long time between readings, it’s (almost) like reading the book again for the first time.

I enjoyed it in high school, but I didn’t love the novel. Somehow, I find myself warming to it rereading it all these years later, remembering scenes or character insights I had forgotten about, and – just maybe – reading it through the eyes of a different person, since books means so much more to us at different stages of life.

This has happened to me with other novels we’ve read together, and it’s one of the (many) joys of novel reading – interpreting novels differently at different stages of your life, with accumulated experiences and wider views you bring to the reading experience as – ahem – the years go by and your views change.

What about you, readers? Do you enjoy revisiting novels you read in the past? Do you revisit some of them as your children read them for classes? Are you surprised to revise your opinions of them?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 3, 2017

Basque gravestones in southern France

Basque gravestones, FranceAs someone who loves history, I’ve always been drawn to old cemeteries when I visit places. I grew up outside of Boston, and always enjoyed visiting pilgrim cemeteries when I was a kid.

In Europe, many of the church cemeteries are quite picturesque and interesting – and this was also true of the little towns I visited this summer in France’s Pays Basque – France’s southwestern most region, along the border with Spain, which has its own sizable Basque community.

Basque gravestones, FranceTo add to the picturesque nature of these cemeteries, the traditional Basque gravestones are not only filled with crosses, but also with a type of round stele with symbols that trace back to pagan rituals practiced by the Basques before their conversion to Christianity.

What is interesting is that these symbols and practices lived on and played a prominent role in their Christian beliefs throughout this region.

The typical symbol you see on may of these gravestones is the one most closely related to Basque identity – the Lauburu, which means ‘four heads’ and is said to represent the Basque provinces.

Basque gravestones, FranceThis symbol is seen all over Basque country, so it’s not surprising that it’s common on the traditional gravestones, too.

It’s interesting to see these traditional Basque, circular gravestones interspersed with the crosses – maintaining both traditions in these peaceful, country cemeteries.

Don’t miss a wander around some of these beautiful, traditional cemeteries when you are next in Pays basque.

For other tips in this region, see my earlier posts on the seaside town of Guéthary and hiking along the coastal trail.

Basque gravestones, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 29, 2017

Do you ever need a vacation from the novel you’re reading?

My true problem with reading is that I very rarely give up on a novel.

It’s the same mantra I preach to my kids (with varying levels of success). However, sometimes it pays off.

My kids’ generation are (sadly?) used to novels that read more like action movies – dumping them in the action in the first five pages, lest they lose these fickle readers. So when they are reading older, classic novels, I always ask them to suspend judgement, to enjoy the slower pace and stronger character development, the richer vocabulary, the assumption that they have an attention span longer than 30 seconds, and to allow themselves to delve into the story. I love when my sons return to me and tell me that the novel really got better mid-way and that they were pleased to have stuck with it.

So it seems unfair not to follow this advice myself. But, goodness! Sometimes it’s just too much.

I have discovered my penchant for taking a “vacation” from novels I can’t stand – by reading other novels I know I’ll enjoy before returning to the unloved tome awaiting me on my bedside table.

This happened recently with a much-lauded 700-page literary novel. In the end,  I hated it,, but no one can claim I didn’t try, hoping (beyond hope, apparently) that it would get better. On the plus side, I took two very amusing ‘vacations’ – interrupting the dull, pretentious novel to read others I really enjoyed.

What about you, readers? Do you finish almost all novels you start, or do you give up easily if it’s not working for you? Do you ever, like me, find yourself taking a ‘vacation’ from your chorelike-reading with more enjoyable novels?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | September 27, 2017

Summer holidays in France’s Basque country – and beyond

Pays basque, FranceAlthough I (admittedly) suffer from acute Wanderlust and love travelling anywhere, my main travel weakness is my status as a complete Italophile.

However, as a close second, I’m also a hopeless Francophile.

Pays basque, FranceThese two countries actually have a lot in common, with their strong regional characters that make exploring the various regions a real treat, a plethora of historical monuments, stunning churches and museums, and always wonderful food and wine.

Just writing about it makes me want to turn around and redo summer…

Pays basque, FranceI’ve been lucky enough to have travelled around many regions of France, but I had never been to the southwest region of Pays Basque (Basque Country).

This past summer, I organized a holiday with my family to explore this interesting region, and, since the drive from Rome is so long, used the excuse to stop off and visit other towns and regions I’d visited in the past or was discovering for the first time.

I’ll write more about some of these places in future posts, but here is an overview of the fabulous places I visited during these holidays.

Montpellier, FranceMontpellier – This southern town was a city I’d always passed by but never visited. The long drive from Rome necessitated a stop along the way, so it became an ideal place to stop driving and start wandering.

Although this bustling university town is a lot quieter in the summer months, we all enjoyed this jewel of a medieval town and wandered it on the evening we arrived and once again when we rose early the next morning.

I’ll definitely have to come back to explore more, but I loved the feel of this small city so close to the Mediterranean coast.

Pau, FrancePau – This late 19th/early 20th century Alpine watering hole in the Pyrenees was another town I’ve always been curious about, and this became a second stop-off on the way to Pays Basque.

As I imagined, the town’s architecture was charming, the mountain air brisk and clean, and it had pleasant views over the surrounding mountains.

Pau, FranceAlthough the town itself is easily explored on a short visit, it merits a longer stay to explore the surrounding areas of this region of Bearn.

A twisted ankle recently healed meant I wasn’t in fighting condition for long hikes, so it was best left for a future visit, but there’s clearly a lot to see in this area.

We did enjoy our visit to Pau’s castle, where Henri IV, grandfather of King Louis XIV, was born and spent his first months (bizarrely) slumbering in a royal tortoise shell, which is on display.

Pays basque, FrancePays Basque- This was where we spent the bulk of the holiday, and, despite rather unpredictable weather at times, it didn’t disappoint.

This is an extremely interesting region with a strong, distinct regional character, found in everything from its use of the Basque language (an ancient non-Indo-European language that pre-dates the arrival of other non-Indo-European languages native to the European continent, e.g. Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish), to Basque clothes, festivities, symbols, food and sports (particularly the fast-moving pelote).

I’ve already written about our base during this stay, in the coastal town of Guéthary and the great coastal walk we took all the way to Spain on the sentier littoral.

Bilbao, SpainThere was so much to discover, including coastal towns of Bayonne, Biarritz, Saint Jean-de-Luz, Ciboure, and Hendaye, and interesting towns in the Basque Country interior, where we explored Sare, Ainhoa, Espelette, Bidarray, and the famous stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the picturesque Saint Jean au pied de Port.

We also crossed over to Spain to visit the charming Basque towns of San Sebastien and Bilbao, with its impressive Guggenheim Museum.

This is a region that deserves lengthy exploration – we only scratched the surface in our three weeks here.

Dunes du Pyla, FranceEurope’s highest sand dune in Gironde – On this trip, we didn’t have time to get to Bordeaux, where I have not yet been. But we did visit the outskirts, specifically, the Dunes du Pyla – Europe’s highest sand dune towering at 317 meters over the Atlantic Ocean on one side and lush pine forests on the other.

This was a beautiful place, and we had lots of fun (and great exercise) visiting this wonder of nature.

Arcachon, FranceOn the same visit, we stopped off at the elegant town of Arcachon. Arcachon developed as a fashionable residence for the wealthy seeking a mild climate.

Common 19th century medical thought believe the resin from the surrounding pine forests were good for one’s health.

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but the result was a frenzy of building of adorable art deco villas in this seaside town, and it’s well worth a wander around to admire them all.

Would have loved to have stayed on to see if this resin-filled air is really as healthy as they claim. : )

Luberon, FranceLuberon Valley, Provence – Since it’s also a long drive back to Rome, it was a perfect excuse for yet another stop-over on the way.

This is a region we already know, but one I haven’t been back to in years. Provence’s interior – specifically, the Luberon Valley.

On our last vacation here, we made the stunning medieval hill town of Gordes our base. On this visit, we chose the less well-known Reillanne, mainly for its location half-way between the hill towns we love surrounding Gordes and the spectacular Gorges du Verdon , which would be at home among the national parks in the US.

Provence, FranceWe were anxious to get back to many of these places, and to visit new locations, on this short stop we made on the way back, just on the edge of the little town of Reillane.

The eastern edge of the Luberon is much wilder and less inhabited. There are great walking trails and adorable towns where the summer crowds are a bit sparser than the western towns of the valley.

Reillanne, Viens, Banon, Oppedette, Fourqualquier and Manosque are all towns we explores, as well as returning to the eastern Luberon to revisit Gordes and Goult.

Oppedette Gorge, Provence

Thinking about this WAY too much now that I’m back in the office…

Back in the western Luberon, the Oppedette Gorge was a new discovery for us, and we had lots of fun walking on these paths and enjoying the spectacular views.

A return to Verdon was a must, and we also managed to visit a picture-perfect town we (somehow) failed to visit on our first stay here – Sainte Marie de Moustiers. This town is famous for its clifftop church, to which pilgrims would ascend. It’s still worth the trip up, and the adorable town is a great place to explore.

We cooled down with a swim in the bright blue waters of the Lac de Sainte-Croix on the sweltering day we were there. It was hard to tear ourselves away.

All in all, a spectacular vacation in a beautiful country. Whether returning to old favorites or exploring new regions, I’ll never grow bored of traveling in France.

Provence, France

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.

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