I find that travel gives us a contrasting perspective to life. It reminds us that all things are relative. We explore different cultures and different ways of life. And we learn that they are just that, different, not wrong or bad, just different. It changes us and rounds us into people we weren’t before we embarked on our adventures. I have lived in five different countries abroad and traveled to many others. So here is my Top 5 List of the Countries I’ve Visited. Maybe you’ve visited them too and have more to add?
BOSNIA — My favorite due to its incredibly diverse history and its enthralling culture. It is a country of east meets west with all the best of both worlds. Roam the outdoor markets to find brass and bronze trinkets which are one of their claims to fame and chat with the friendly locals. It is surreal to stroll down ancient lanes while listening to the call-to-prayer echoing off the stone buildings. Put your fingers in bullet holes that have pierced the masonry of still-standing buildings and ask someone about it. They’ll happily tell you their history which is achingly sad. I can’t recommend a visit enough.
BULGARIA — Warm weather, great prices, and rich history. It’s a poor country, not long out of communism in the scope of things. But it is precisely this which endears it to me. It has the feel of tough hardiness while being unbroken. It is inexpensive and welcoming to tourists. There are mountain views and sea views depending on the part of the country you visit. My fondest memory is watching the goat herd drive the goats out into the hills in the morning and hearing their bells jangle as he brought them down again every evening.
CROATIA — Location, location, location. A long, thin country. It’s vast border extends along the coast of the Adriatic Sea affording you a view of the sea around every corner. Sit in the outdoor restaurants next to the sea and enjoy good food at good prices while you listen to the waves lap on the shore. With warm weather, palm trees, beaches, and old historical buildings, you can’t go wrong with a visit.
SWITZERLAND — The magnitude and magnificence of the mountains can be known but not understood until you have seen it in person. The mountain goats are a marvel as they cling to the most precipitous of ledges. Your perspective of your own size and import is altered in awe of the sheer vastness of the ranges. Swiss cheeses and fondues are delicious and easily found…if rather pricey. And you cannot leave without having devoured Swiss chocolate and meringues swimming in heavy cream from Swiss cows.
ESTONIA — Boasts one of the best preserved medieval old towns in its capital of Tallinn. The Christmas market alone is worth a visit. Wander the outdoor booths while the snow falls and you sip a hot mulled wine. You’ll think you’re dreaming and in a romance novel. All year round you can explore the quaint little cafes tucked into various corners of the city and listen to stories of vikings. Located on the Baltic Sea, it’s only a beautifully scenic ferry-ride to Finland or Sweden for a visit.
Thus did the fatal disease rise
like a demon bent on destruction;
it took its course,
not heeding mountain, sea nor clime;
death was its object, man its victim,
and the uttermost ends of the world
its destination; wherever its cold hand
was extended – the people died ….
Death struggled with time itself,
and gnawed the moments
that separated him from his victim.
– John Hogg “London As It Is”
The dismal grey stone making up the ancient decaying edifice looming in front of her was covered in a thick layer of coal dust and grime. It looked like a medieval prison. Unfortunately, it was also their last hope. If the poorhouse turned them away, she feared there was little hope for James. She looked down at the young boy’s cherubic face, now quiet in her arms. He had finally fallen into an uneasy sleep after fussing and crying for what seemed like hours. Bright circles of red on his cheeks told her that his fever had not let up. She could feel the heat radiating off his little body as she cradled him against herself. A small hand tugged at her skirts, and Mary whimpered, looking up at her, “Em, can we go in?” Her cheeks were also flushed, and Emma fervently prayed Mary wasn’t getting sick too.
She carefully balanced James in her arms and banged again, louder, at the heavy wooden door. Despite how slight and frail James was, her arms were burning and she was feeling shaky. She hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning, instead, sharing her bit of stale bread and cheese between the twins. The poorhouse certainly wasn’t anybody’s first choice of refuge, but she no longer had any options. They needed to eat, and James needed a warm place to sleep…and hopefully some medicine.
Emma almost gave up hope before the door finally creaked opened to show a very tall, lanky man with thin, greasy hair combed sloppily over his balding pate. He passed a cursory glance over them with a cynical eye, and for a moment it seemed that he would slam the door without even acknowledging them.
“Please,” she quickly begged, “Please. We’re desperate. Our parents are dead of cholera, and James is sick,” she said, glancing down at her brother, who softly whimpered in his sleep. “Please don’t turn us away. We’ve no place else to go. I’m strong. I can work.”
He opened the door a little wider and gazed at the beautiful young woman standing before him. He stared at her face with cold, shifty eyes for a long moment, and then slowly his inspection drifted down her body, taking in the once good quality, but now dirty and tattered dress and boots. As he raised his eyes, Emma felt her skin prickle, and she shivered. She fought the urge to grab the children and run. Instead, she lowered her eyes to the muddy ground and waited.
Eventually he opened his mouth and grinned at them, revealing large, stained teeth. “Of course, you can come in, pet. That’s what we’re here for to help such unfortunate wretches such as yourselves, and I’m sure the master will want to be seeing you. I’m the porter here. I deal with the people coming and going. Not that many people that come in ever go back out,” he cackled, coughing up a wad of phlegm and spitting it on the ground next to her boots. “Name’s Murphy. I’ll take you to the master of the house.”
Always an avid reader, as a child I used to hide under the bedcovers with a flashlight in order to continue devouring yet another good novel. As an adult I realized after meeting a good friend, who is an amazing author, that I wasn’t restricted to only reading a good story. I could actually TELL one! Thus my love of writing was born.
Living abroad and traveling extensively has given me a taste, feel, and lust for different places and times. Merely strolling down a cobblestone street sandwiched by ancient buildings can allow a glimpse of the ghosts of the past and inspire a fervid desire to know their stories.
I’m a sucker for a good love story and alas, hopelessly addicted to happy endings. However, I began to tire of reading the same-old, same-old historical romances, so I’ve tried to marry my love of a good romance with something more realistic and raw. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.