Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 10, 2017

Wishing luck to all you NaNoers!

NaNoWriMoOnce again we’ve reached November, the month where crazy writers around the world embark in Marathon writing sessions under the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.

The goal? To write 50,000 words of a novel during the month, and to do so by shutting down your internal editor and allowing yourself to be overtaken by your creative muse.

I never participate in this (worthy) challenge. Nevertheless, each year I am on the sidelines cheering my fellow writers on during this writing marathon. And it’s no different this year after a  little over a week of this November writing challenge.

Wishing my fellow writers much success as they do battle with word counts. Here’s to dedication, unbridled creativity, the spirit of competition,  and a passion for writing. Best of luck to all you NaNoers!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 7, 2017

Turin’s salon: Piazza San Carlo

Piazza San Carlo, Turin, ItalyPiazza San Carlo is the iconic square in Turin’s historical center. Its nickname to locals is the ‘salotto di Torino’ – Turin’s ‘salon’ or ‘living room’: the natural gathering place for locals and visitors alike.

On a recent Saturday in Turin, it was here I had an appointment to meet with a friend of mine in town.

Iconically, we met under the horse statue, which depicts the Savoy King Emanuele Filiberto.

Piazza San Carlo was laid out in the 16th and 17th century. Before this, the area had been exterior to the city walls, but in the 16th century and urban renewal project expanded the city, which grew to the south.

In 1617 the architect Carlo di Castellamonte was charged with creating Via Nuova, which would later become today’s Via Roma, and this square which would bear his name.

Piazza San Carlo, Turin, ItalyToday, it’s the central heart of the city. The weekend I was there it held an international music festival, with a  large stage set up on one end of the square.

Warm days (not always a given in Turn) see the cafes and restaurants spilling over into outdoor seating on the square.

If you’re in Turin, chances are your path will lead you several times across the city’s ‘living room’ – Piazza San Carlo. Enjoy mixing with the tourists and locals on this picturesque square.

To see more Turin tips, see my earlier post on the not-to-be-missed Egyptian Museum.

Piazza San Carlo, Turin, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | November 3, 2017

Alice Munro on small town stories

“The writers of the American South were the first writers who really moved me because they showed me that you could write about small towns, rural people, and that kind of life I knew very well.”

Alice Munro

I like this quote from short story writer Alice Munro. And if anyone knows how to tell great small town stories, it is this talented Canadian writer.

That’s why I enjoyed learning that she herself was influenced by the stories of writers from the American south. It is true that these are most commonly big stories set in small towns, but filled with powerful emotions and beautiful insights into life – just like what I feel when I read Munro’s take on small town Canadian life. Obviously, minus the mint juleps, sultry summers, and Spanish moss …

What do you think, readers? What are your favorite small town stories/authors? And do you have a regional bias in your favorites?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 31, 2017

Hiking in Provence’s Oppedette Gorge, France

Oppedette Gorge, Provence, FranceThis past summer, we spent a few days in Provence’s beautiful Luberon Valley, following a longer holiday in the Pays basque.

We had already been to this gorgeous corner of southeast France, but we were eager to return and find new areas to explore.

On our last visit to the region we had been to the beautiful Verdon Gorge, and we returned once again to Verdon on this visit.

Oppedette Gorge, Provence, FranceBut we were staying close to a smaller and far less frequented gorge – the Gorges d’Oppedette, so we decided to go explore for ourselves.

This was a great place to go hiking, with dramatic views and thin crowds.

All trailheads start close to a small parking lot at the gorge, and they are well-marked. The trails are relatively easy. We had stopped at a tourism office and the very helpful guide gave great advice, but perhaps exaggerated the difficulty of the trails. Yes, if one suffers from vertigo or is traveling with very young children, there are some steep drop-offs to consider before you go, but generally they are modest hikes and easy to do as a family.

Oppedette Gorge, Provece, France

Stretching my legs and admiring the wonder of nature – something I miss desperately now that I’m back in the city and the office

Our family had a good time on this easy hike, and enjoyed the views and stretching our legs before lots of driving and exploring little hill towns in the region.

There were plenty of hawks and birds of prey the kids enjoyed watching as they soared over the canyon.

Afterwards, we stopped by the little town of the same name – Oppedette, an adorable village with striking views over the canyon.

It felt a little like a ghost town, however, with beautiful holiday homes, seemingly with no one in them. Since this was the height of summer – and tourist season – it begs the question about what it looks like during the rest of the year. If anyone is looking for a retreat from the world, this may just be it!

Enjoy your hiking in the Oppedette Gorge!

Oppedette, Provence, France

Oppedette, Provence, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 27, 2017

I love Provence’s Le Bleuet bookstore

Le Bleuet, Banon, Provence, FranceWow – I’ve found my my new favorite bookstore in France!

We were on holiday in the Luberon valley of France this summer when we were told we had to stop off at the Bleuet bookstore in the charming little town of Banon.

We were visiting towns around the region, and so when we stopped in Banon, we toured around the beautiful town and then spent about an hour at the wonderful Bleuet before stuffing our already packed car with our purchases.

Billing itself as the seventh largest independent bookstore in France, le Bleuet was founded in 1990 and is housed in a series of buildings that have been joined together.

Le Bleuet, Banon, Provence, FranceThe bookstore is spread out over four levels, and contains a whopping 110,000 books – with an additional 190,000 in the warehouse.

I am embarrassed that, living abroad, I have to depend on Amazon as much as I do. It makes me want to cry when I click into their site for books and they want to sell me toasters, socks and baby clothes that I maneuver through to find the books. That’s why I love walking into independent book sellers like Bleuet, people who really care about books and reading. Le Bleuet also offers an interesting calendar of author readings at their store.

As a reader and writer, my conscience is much more at ease supporting independent bookstores like le Bleuet … and I wish they were closer by where I live!

I’ll be back when I’m next in this corner of Provence – and hope all you readers and book lovers will visit le Bleuet next time you are in Provence, too.

Le Bleuet, Banon, Provence, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 24, 2017

Colorful Basque homes & sweet chili peppers in Espelette, France

Espelette, Pays basque, FranceThis adorable Pays basque town not far from the coastline of Biarritz, is beautiful for its typical Basque homes. These etxe homes are white with colored half-timbering. The most common colrors for the half-timbering appear to be red and green, and the  town of Espelette is filled with fine examples.

This picturesque town is best known for its sweet chili peppers – introduced to the region from Mexico in 1650. The piment d’ Espelette has a place of honor in many local dishes. They are used fresh, dried, pounded into a fine powder. There are also chocolates on sale with this sweet chili pepper flavoring them.

Espelette, Pays basque, FranceThe chili peppers are grown in Espelette and in the neighboring towns surrounding it. They are harvested in summer and hung (picturesquely, to be sure) on long strings outside the pretty houses of Espelette – drying in the sun to the delight of the many tourists (myself included) snapping their photos.

Apparently, the official celebration for these local chili peppers is held at the end of October.

Espelette was also the hometown of Father Armand David (1826 – 1900) who was the first westerner to discover China’s panda bear.

Espelette, Pays basque, FranceLike many towns of the Pays basque interior, Espelette is surrounded by beautiful, rolling green hills. We had a great time straying from the rugged coastline where we were based and exploring this lush interior.

We had a very good lunch in a restaurant in town – complete, of course, with the local chili peppers. And we came home, as one is wont to do in this region, with a gateau basque, filled with sweet cherry filling.

A lovely, sunny day in the pretty Basque countryside. Be sure to stop by the postcard-perfect Espelette when you’re in this neck of the woods.

For some of my earlier tips on what to see in the Pays basque, see my posts on seaside  Guéthary, hiking the sentier littoral from France to Spain, Basque gravestones, and an overview of holidays in the Pays basque and beyond.

Espelette, Pays basque, France


Espelette, Pays basque, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | October 20, 2017

(Feels like) Summer reading: Americanah

AmericanahOkay, this weekend I had to take my son to the beach for a fun track and field workout session for him, but it also turned out to be a wonderful, relive-the-summer day for me.

At Ostia, the beach nearest Rome, the massive summer crowds were gone, but the weather was almost as gorgeous as those crowded summer days, and I sat through the hours-long workout, happy a clam, digging into Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

This is one of those I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-for-so-long novels, so part of the bliss I felt last Sunday was that ‘Ah-finally!’ sense of relief, part due to that sparkling sun and bright blue sea that is just too perfect for an October day (How I love Rome!), and the rest is due to Adichie’s spectacular writing that had me lazily seated on my beach towel racing through the first 100 pages as my son and his track teammates raced endlessly (and exhaustingly) across the sand.

Can’t wait to read the rest, but I’m thrilled by reading such an enjoyable novel in such a perfect setting.

If only providing weekend taxi service to my kids were always this good!

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

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