- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Keeping with our Italian theme to go with An Inconvenient Love’s recent release, we’re heading over to Venice today. A visit to Venice is an absolute must for any Italian tour. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. It has nothing to do with romance, or the architecture or history. Or that must-see tourist spot where you HAVE to take a selfie to prove you’ve been to Italy – although Venice definitely has all those things. No, you have to visit Venice for your sanity.
Venice, with its network of canals in lieu of streets, has no Vespas (at least not when I was there). If you’ve been to Italy, you’ll know what this means. Quiet. Peace. The ability to cross the road or walk on the sidewalk without fear of being run-down. Just getting away from that constant whine of an over-revved scooter is reason enough to visit Venice. But let’s look at the other draws.
Romance. Venice has great marketing. But it works. Romance is in the air, the food, the gondolas gracing the water. Unfortunately, I was there with my brother. So not romantic.
Architecture. The buildings, the bridges, the squares, large and small are gorgeous. Everywhere you look is an intricate detail worthy of consideration.
History. Yup, heaps of that, too. Marco Polo ring a bell? The merchant explorer, not the blind-folded game, which I strongly caution against playing in Venice or risk ending up in one of the canals. Venice has a long and varied history. Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice in 1797? Go on, historical romance writers, forget Waterloo, write a story based around that event. Or, if you have already, let me know about it.
“But what about the smell? I heard Venice stinks.” Well, not when I was there, not that I noticed anyway. But I don’t have keen olfactics. I remember going to Bruge in Belgium with my husband and he spent the whole time complaining about the odor of the stagnant canal water. If you are sensitive to smells, you may want to time your Venetian visit to spring or autumn when the weather is cooler and the water less smelly. It would also mean fewer other tourists, always a bonus.
So, you’ve got one day to spend in Venice. What would I recommend? Grab your camera, stick your map in your back pocket and get lost. Wander the narrow streets, which turn into alleys, which turn into dead-ends where the real Venetian people live (watch out for hanging washing). My brother and I wandered for hours, mostly away from other tourists. We discovered amazing shops and restaurants, far from the over-priced and way-to-busy Piazza San Marco. On our gondola ride, we spotted an interesting looking restaurant. It took an hour of searching but we eventually found it, and had one of the most delicious meals we had in Italy.
Another great thing to do in Venice is get up very early and stroll around while most other tourists are still in bed. I love the stillness of a city just awakening to greet a new day. Especially a city free of Vespas!
Those are my Venice experiences.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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As An Inconvenient Love released last Monday, we’re going to spend the next few posts in Italy. Yes, the story starts in London, but I’ve already covered most of the places in blog posts about Singapore Fling destinations. So, off to Italy we go.
I visited Italy many years ago when I was living in London. My younger brother was coming over to visit me and I asked him which European country he wanted to visit. He chose Italy. Then my darling husband, in truly epic timing, changed jobs the week before my brother arrived so was unable to accompany us. Still, we had a great time. And each meal we ate we thanked hubs for working to pay the credit card bill. My brother insisted on paying for one meal. He had two beers, I had two glasses of wine, and we each ate a pizza. The restaurant wasn’t fancy, but nice. When he got his credit card statement, it cost $80 Canadian. He called to see if it was an error. Nope, eating in Italy isn’t cheap. Fabulous food, probably the best I’ve ever had in my travels, but don’t expect bargains, at least not in the tourist destinations.
We spent a few days in Rome then headed north to Florence. From there we did a day-trip to Pisa, one of the iconic tourist sites in Italy. I really enjoyed Pisa. Yes, there were more tourists than Italians in the town, but it was a nice place. I sat on the grass between the church and tower and marveled at how such an epic fail could become a must-see tourist destination. Without the tower, I’m sure few people would bother to visit Pisa.
If you plan to travel around Italy by train, here is some crucial advice—pack very light. Italian trains do not linger long in stations. There is barely enough time to jump on and find a seat before it’s moving. If you are trying to load tons of bags on-board at the same time, you’re asking for trouble. On our return trip to Florence, two women (an older woman and her adult daughter) and a small child boarded and sat near us. A few minutes later, a red-faced older man sat down. He had been trying to load 14 suitcases onto the train in the two minutes the train was actually in the station. With minimal luggage storage, there bags were scattered throughout the train. I only hope where they intended to get off was the final destination for the train because I doubt they’d be able to retrieve all their bags in time. So, pack light.
Next post I’ll talk a bit about Florence and then we’ll head over to Venice. In the meantime, pick up a copy of An Inconvenient Love and enjoy the Journey to Love with Sophia and Luca.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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For the final post in the Played by the Billionaire series we’re heading to the Caribbean. The last destination for Liam and Lorelei is Antigua. Confession, I’ve never been to Antigua. But if anyone wants to foot the bill, I’m more than happy to go. And doing research on Antigua was no hardship. Blue skies, pristine white beaches, azure waters, rum and steel drum bands—what’s not to like?
Antigua also boasts a near perfect climate. Low 20°C (mid 70°F) in winter, high 20°C (mid 80°F) in summer. With an annual average rainfall of 112.5 cm (45”), compared to Vancouver’s 145 cm (57”), low humidity and near-constant northeast trade winds, it sounds wonderful. No wonder Liam chose it as his escape destination.
If/when you read my prequel novella (currently titled Miss Matched but sure to undergo a title change before publication) you’ll see it is set on St. Lucia. However, as St. Lucia becomes Marcus and Crescentia’s second island home, Liam choses Antigua as he wanted a place of his own.
Antigua is also an ideal destination for sailing. With the regular winds and many harbors to explore, not to mention the 365 beaches, I could happily spend a week or so aboard a boat. With both Antigua and the neighbouring island of Barbuda almost completely surrounded by coral reefs, the diving and snorkeling are reputed to be amazing as well. Reputedly, Barbuda has a pink beach over 16km (ten miles) long. I’d love to walk that beach.
So, all in all, Antigua sounds like an ideal destination. Now all I have to do is write and sell enough books to afford to go there.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Continuing on our Played by a Billionaire theme, our next destination is the Russian River Valley. About an hour and a half north of San Francisco, depending on the traffic, sits this picturesque valley of rolling hills covered in vineyards. In my story, Liam Manning has his city getaway here, his dream house. In reality, my husband and I visited last year, so I could get some first-hand knowledge of the place.
It’s a good thing I went as well, because I had to change a few things from the first draft of my book to the finished product. When I looked at a map, I saw that one route to the valley was along the Old Redwood Highway. As a child, I’d visited Redwood National Park and marveled at the huge trees. In reality, there were no huge trees along the above named road. We did manage to find some, in Armstrong National Park, but they weren’t as prevalent as I had first imagined.
The rest of the valley, however, didn’t disappoint. I found several spots that were inspirational for Liam’s home and a great place to go dirt biking, if that’s your thing. Much more to my taste is the proliferation of spas, wineries and antique markets. But we see more of that in the follow-on story about Helen’s love.
There are lots of quaint little towns throughout the valley, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Forestville and Guerneville. My favourite place was up toward Lake Sonoma. The views from there were spectacular. Just the place I imagined a reclusive billionaire from San Francisco would go to escape the city.
On the way back to San Francisco, I decided we should take a small road over to the coast. Let me tell you, Skaggs Spring Road is not for the faint of heart. I think the rental car company is still buffing out my nail marks from the handle on the door. However, doing that trip in an Aston Martin, oh yeah. The road winds up and down the hills in sharp switchbacks, often only single track. I had been on lots of similar roads in third world countries but was surprised to find one on American soil.
Once on the coast, the road was paved and well-maintained, as evidenced by the number of road work construction crews we had to stop for. It is considered one of the best coastal roads to drive and I will admit it is spectacular. Thankfully, there are lots of places to pull over and take photos. We even stopped for lunch at the restaurant where they filmed Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Birds. I haven’t seen that film, but if I ever do, I’ll be able to yell out, “I ate there.” Of course I had to stop watching the ocean as I ate as it was making me sea sick.
That’s a brief glimpse at my northern California adventure. As with San Francisco, I’d go back in a minute. Next, however, we’re off to Antigua, the final destination in Played by the Billionaire. Join me on the 15th.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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In honour of Played by the Billionaire, which releases on Monday (May 19), I’m going to blog about the main setting for that story, San Francisco. I’ve been to San Francisco twice. First time was as a footloose and fancy free twenty-something. I met up with a Swiss friend who was living there at the time and together with a few of her local friends, we did regular SF things. We went for Chinese food and rode the cable car, etc.
My second visit to San Francisco was last year with my husband. It was essentially a “research” trip as I wanted to see for myself some of the locations I mentioned in my book. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to them all as my husband has different ideas about travelling than I do. He travels to relax and won’t be rushed, where I try to do as much as possible. Anyway, we did go up Coit Tower, as Liam and Lorelei do in Played by the Billionaire.
I also wanted to go to Golden Gate Park and have my husband row me around Stow Lake. But maybe he realized that and we never managed to make it there. The Louis Vuitton Cup was on, it is the preliminary races to the America’s Cup yacht races. Hubs had never really been into sailing competitions until that holiday. Now I foresee a return visit in a few years when the race is being held again in San Francisco (at least that’s the last I heard). And I shall not rant here about the purity of the sport and mono-hulls versus catamaran and rigid sails.
The most amazing thing about my most recent trip to San Francisco was the Saturday market on the waterfront. Hubs stayed in the hotel room to watch a football (soccer) game and I explored. It didn’t hurt that it was August and the farm products were fabulous. I could have spent the whole day sampling peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes… And the food trucks… Then there was the craft market. If I had the money, I would have spent thousands of dollars on the artwork, vintage clothes, jewellery, etc. If you go to San Francisco in the summer, you have to check out the market. Come hungry, leave happy.
I wasn’t impressed by Fisherman’s Wharf. I guess you’re supposed to go there to eat but aside from that I didn’t see the attraction. Chinatown, which I’ve blogged about before (here), was incredible. Hubs got tired of me wandering around every store but there were convenient benches where he could rest while I searched for the perfect Golden Gate Bridge snow globe (the gift Liam gives Lorelei).
I’ll talk more about San Francisco and other places mentioned in Played by the Billionaire in upcoming posts.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I can’t believe I haven’t yet written a blog post about Paris, France, one of my favourite cities in the world, and a place I called home for three short months. Before actually staying in Paris for the extended period, I had visited several times while I lived in London. However as its spring (finally), one of the best times to visit the French capital, let’s go!
I popped my Paris cherry with a couple fellow history buffs. We ignored all the regular tourist offerings and used the historical section of our guidebook to search out fourteenth century churches, medieval walls and buildings, and places of historical significance. Okay, so I might have occasionally peeked into the window of fashion store or inhaled deeply as we passed by a boulangerie (bakery). I was in love.
My second trip to Paris was with a shopaholic friend. So this time rather than searching for ancient treasures, I was hunting for bargains in Galleries Lafayette. Still, if you’re going to shop, Paris is a great place to do it. Of course, shopping in Paris would be even better with loads of money. Things aren’t cheap in the “international capital of style”.
Eventually, I had saved enough money to spend six months travelling, so decided to spend three of those months in France, based in Paris. Mostly because I wanted to improve my French by speaking it daily. I lived with a friend of a friend (who refused to speak English with me) in the tiniest apartment on the seventh floor of a building with no elevator. And there were at least six locks on the door, many of them diabolically difficult to open. I think I must have spent an accumulative twenty-four hours trying to get that damn door to unlock.
Three months (less a few weeks while I visited other places in France) gave me plenty of time to explore the real Paris. I loved the parks, the gorgeous fountains and beautiful flowers. I spent hours in the Louvre with no one else in the rooms I explored. I toured art galleries and wandered through antique shops and along the Seine. For three short months, I was a Parisian.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and you may want to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want your illusions shattered. Paris is a fabulous city to visit but a pain in the Eiffel Tower to live in. There are strikes or demonstrations somewhere, every single day. And I don’t think I rode the metro once without someone begging me for money. You can’t sit on the grass in the park and have to avoid the dog poop on the sidewalk, and don’t even get me started on the traffic. Who in the heck thought it was a good idea to give priority to the drivers entering the roundabout, so that if there are more than three cars the whole thing becomes gridlocked.
Despite that, however, Paris will always hold an extraordinary special place in my heart. It’s where my husband proposed, while sitting on a park bench in the Tuileries Gardens between the Louvre and the Champs Élysée. And this month we celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. Yes, for me, Paris will always be the City of Love.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I’ve been stuck in the editing cave for months now. In fact I started editing my next book to be released in January and now I’m neck deep in edits for a second release this year. So I thought I’d reminisce in this post about a more enjoyable cave adventure I’ve experienced – black water rafting in Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. (The photo here is off the Pancake Rocks in nearby Punakaiki. The one of me rafting isn’t very good but is below).
I’ve been to Greymouth twice, a boast I’m sure not even many Kiwis can claim. It’s not a flock-to-destination like Queenstown or Mount Cook, but I think it’s worth a stop for a day or two. The entire West Coast of the South Island is amazing. There is breathtaking scenery and natural phenomenon to amaze even the most jaded traveller. But one adventure I’ll never forget is black water rafting.
Just what is black water rafting, I hear you ask? Is it white water rafting, navigating a raging river in an inflatable boat, but at night? No. At the core of black water rafting is that other great sport, spelunking, or potholing as my British friends would say (they must have mighty large potholes in the UK). First you explore a cave, admiring all the amazing things like stalagmites and stalactites and in some NZ caves, glow worms (luminescent larvae). Eventually, you come across an underground river. Then you jump in the inflated inner tube you’ve been carrying with you and float down the river until you emerge into daylight once again. All the while, trying not to image what might be in the water, waiting to bite your tushy sticking through the hole in the inner tube.
It’s a great way to spend the day, doing something completely out of the ordinary. Caving, spelunking, or potholing is something I’d love to do more of, taking into account my mild claustrophobia. I’ve been in caves throughout the world, the most extensive of which were in Cappadocia, Turkey (see my post here). Of course, if I don’t get back to my book edits, I may be searching out a deep, dark hole to hide from my editor.
Enjoy the daylight, I hope to be joining you again soon.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I recently did a quiz I saw on Facebook (yes, I was avoiding housework) and according to it the place I should live is Monaco. Done. I’m off. I have actually been to Monte Carlo three times, all on day trips from nearby Nice.
The first time was when I was young and carefree. I was touring the south of France and popped into Monte Carlo, as one does, on my way to Menton, France. By the way, if you want to visit the area. Menton is only about a half hour train ride from Nice and it is way cheaper and the restaurants much more reasonable and not as crowded. But that is probably the subject of another post, so back to Monaco.
Yes, I could live here, quite happily. All I’d need is a little apartment, preferably with a balcony looking over the harbour and someplace to park my Aston Martin (come on, it’s Monaco, one has to fit in). Back to reality, however. As I was saying the first time I visited was just a day trip. I checked out the palace and the shops around it, wandered the cobbled streets and admired the view. Then went down to the harbour and admired the huge yachts and wondered what it would be like to have that much money.
The second time I visited was for the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. As I was broke, I could only afford general admission which meant try to find a spot somewhere in the City where I could see a portion of the track. I eventually found a tiny place, pressed up against a stone wall where I could see twenty feet of the race course, from fifty feet above. All I could see was the top of the cars for about two seconds. I was surrounded by Italian Ferrari fans. By the third lap I had no idea who was in what place, I only knew when the Ferrari’s crashed out because of the reaction to the fans around me who were listening to the commentary on the radio in Italian. As for watching the race, it was completely rubbish. But the atmosphere and the noise of the cars (this was before they turned into whining egg beaters, yes, I’m bitter) was incredible. I’d do it all again.
The third time I visited Monaco was with my husband and baby daughter. We strolled the streets and even let the baby crawl on the sidewalk by the harbour, it was so clean. A group of teenagers stopped on their way home from school and commented on la plus belle petite fille. I imagine that actually living in Monaco would quickly become a pain. The hordes of tourists, the lack of space, the cost of everything… But hey, I’m willing to put up with it, for a few years anyway.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I admit, I’m one of those people who don’t usually visit the tourist attractions in their own town unless I have visitors from abroad. However, earlier this week I had the “pleasure” of joining my daughter’s class on a field trip to Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. I had been there before, over eight years ago (with some friends from the UK), so had a fair idea of what it was all about. Although I must say, chasing five nine/ten year olds definitely added a new dimension to the experience.
As I dutifully trailed behind the nature guide, keeping an eagle eye on my charges, I spent a few minutes thinking about how wonderful an area I live in. It is a temperate rainforest, teaming with life and a variety of vegetation. Thanks to our guide, I now know which tree needles to eat if I get stranded in the wilderness and which to boil up to get rid of a sore throat. Not that I plan to use any of that information but you never know, it may come in handy in my writing.
Of course the main attraction is the suspension bridge. It is two hockey rinks long (yes, that’s how we measure things in Canada) and 70 feet above the river. And not something anyone with a fear of heights would want to traverse. Another highlight of the area is the Tree Tops Adventure where you can walk above the forest floor along a series of suspended bridges. Unfortunately, when we were there they were fixing the attraction and only two of the seven bridges were accessible. As it’s such an important feature I’d call ahead if you’re thinking of visiting to make sure it is all open.
A new feature of the park is the Cliffwalk. Set away from the cliff, you can take a walk above the river on a narrow steel platform. Again, not something I’d recommend for those with acrophobia. But if you have any interest in geology or the effects of erosion then this is the thing for you. Of course if you just enjoy nature and seeing things from a different angle, it’s an enjoyable walk. Or in my case, fast hike after five girls only intent on getting to the end so they could collect their stamp.
There is a lot of interesting things to see and do and learn at Capilano. But I must caution it is pretty pricey. For us as a family to visit it would cost over $100, a lot for a day out, when I can get a similar experience for free at Lynn Canyon. However if you’re visiting Vancouver and have a budget for tours (and a favourable exchange rate) then it would probably be worth it. The view and surroundings are stunning. And as I was sitting there listening to the workshop on bridges that was part of the fieldtrip, I decided that Capilano is where I’d love to have my 25th wedding anniversary party. At night they light up the bridge, Cliffwalk, and many of the trees and I imagine it looks absolutely magical. But that is still a few years off, so maybe if I start saving now…
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I am in serious need of cheering up. So for this post I’m going to the so-called ‘Happiest Place on Earth’, Disneyland. I’d been there as a child, of course, a couple times, but I don’t really remember much of it. Now with my own children, it seemed time to go again.
My trip to Disneyland also coincided with one of the darkest times of my life, and in fact I put off chemotherapy for my breast cancer so I could go. We had booked the holiday before I was told of my revised diagnosis and the need for chemo and decided that an enjoyable holiday was more important to my health than waiting six weeks to inject toxic chemicals into my body.
Anyway, we had a delightful time. We didn’t tell the children until just before we got on the airplane and even then I don’t think they believed we were really going. And then once we landed in Los Angeles, a couple of friends (whom the children absolutely adore) were waiting at the airport. The children’s excitement went from ecstatic to apoplectic.
Due to my mother’s generosity, we stayed at one of the hotels right on the Disney site, at California Adventure. It was nice and close and when the littlest got tired, she was only 3, then hubs, who wasn’t really into the whole Disney magic thing could take her back to the room for a nap. Also, the food was pretty good, although a bit on the pricey side.
The highlight of our trip was the water and light show at California Adventure. Then one night, after the show, we went on the river rafting ride. It was late, a bit chilly, but there was no line and we went on the ride again and again until they shut it down for the night. By the end we were all soaked but I don’t think I have laughed so much in a very long time.
At this stage in my life, my greatest pleasure is seeing my children happy. And a trip to Disneyland certainly accomplished that. They still talk about it, although the memories have faded for the youngest. I’d like to go again, maybe in a few years so they can all have a happy family memory when they get to my age. But until then, I have this photo of me and my knight in shining armour (and yes, my other hand is on his butt).
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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As many people’s attention is focused on the Olympics on in Russia, I thought I’d reminisce in this post on my time in that great country. I love Russia. I love the history, I love the culture, I am completely frustrated by the language, but mostly I love the people. My husband mentioned recently that generally Russians just look miserable most to the time. I explained to him that was in part due to the nature of their language and culture. If you ask a Russian if they know where something is, in Russian, you ask the question in the negative. “You don’t know where the Hermitage is, do you?” You automatically assume that you’re not going to get the information you need. It’s fascinating. Their language is also very precise. It you say you’re going to Moscow, the verb you use for ‘to go’ would indicate if you are going by train, car, plane, etc. Of course if you’re trying to learn Russian, it’s all aggravating.
Due to difficulties in the economy, Russian people have had to become innovative to obtain what they need. The woman I stayed with in St. Petersburg had to have some dental work done. She bartered services to obtain the anesthetic and even the needle for the injection. In a relatively expensive procedure, I’m sure not even half of the cost was paid in actual money.
If you want to blend in while visiting Russia, first look miserable. If you’ve eaten cabbage soup for four days in a row, that isn’t hard. Next, carry around a plastic shopping bag, preferably with a half-naked woman on it. Then is so if you’re walking down the street and you see a long queue of people, you just join at the end. Next, ask the person in front what you’re queuing for. Generally it will be bread, or if you’re really luck, milk. When I was there, fresh milk was a luxury. And to be quite honest, because I wasn’t sure if it was pasteurized or not, a luxury I was willing to forego. Also, if you go to a regular Russian restaurant, and not a westernized one, first ask what they actually have. What is available and what is printed on the menu can be two wildly divergent lists.
Other lessons learned in Russia: If you buy a bottle of vodka from the little kiosks on the street, don’t try to mix it with Kool-Aid to make it taste better. It doesn’t. Nothing can help that vodka. And if you stay with a local, as I did, and visit during the summer be prepared to take extremely short showers. Well, not even showers, more like pan baths. They turn off the hot water in the apartment buildings for up to three weeks every summer. So to wash you have to heat the water yourself, which is usually done with an immersion heater in a saucepan. I mastered the art of washing, including my hair, in three small pots of water. Now, that is conservation.
To return to Russia has always been one of my goals. As the TV channels profile regular Russian citizens and pan over some of the amazing architecture and natural sites. I really, really wish it could be soon.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Yesterday, I received an award from my writer's group for the sale of my first book. As many of my friends and family weren't able to attend, I have decided to post here my acceptance speech. Thank you, everyone--fellow writers, friends and family, for your support over the years. A listing of those who have been crucial to my success over the years is found in the Dedication and Acknowledgement to Singapore Fling.
Hello, my name is Alexia and I’m…I’m a romance writer. It all started almost six years ago, after the birth of my fourth child. Four children was too many for my poor mother to look after and paying for childcare would have bankrupted me. So we decided that I was going to be a stay-at-home mother, or the term I prefer – Trophy Wife.
There I was, a suburban trophy wife and I was sooooo bored. Analysing the adhesive coefficient of dried on cheerios simply wasn’t cutting it. So, I decided to write down one of the stories in my head. It was great, it was wonderful, it had every person’s point of view during a flashback by the heroine to start the book. But the story flowed and even when I wasn’t writing I was thinking about what to write. Within four months. I had a book, my very own, real life book. Now that I had this masterpiece, what to do with it?
An online search led me to join RWA. Then I discovered that GVC (Greater Vancouver chapter) were holding a conference called Write On, Vancouver. There I could pitch my wonderful story to unsuspecting editors. Registration to Write On was $35 less for GVC members, and as it was more than halfway through the year, membership with GVC was only $20, so being a frugal trophy wife, I joined to save the $15.
At Write On, I pitched my never-before-written, wonderful novel to the Harlequin editor and was asked to send it in. I was overjoyed. However, storm clouds were brewing. Attending the conference I began to realize that there was a lot more to this writing gig than simply stringing a bunch of semi intelligible words together. There was not only point of view, but deep POV, omniscient POV and some bizarre thing every writer seemed to dread called a synopsis. Still wearing my rose-tinted newbie writer’s glasses, I sent off my masterpiece, sure that Harlequin would be able to spot the compressed carbon and turn it into a diamond.
Then the storm broke. At almost the same time as I submitted my first story, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Writing went from an interesting hobby I used to cope with boredom, to my escape from reality. Six hour chemotherapy sessions were six hours of uninterrupted writing time. And if you have four children, six hours of uninterrupted time is too precious to waste. So while the nurses filled my body with toxic chemicals to kill the cancer cells, I filled my laptop with stories of love. I also did a lot of online courses, sometimes two a month, and practiced my craft endlessly. By the time my two year cancer detour was over, I’d written six complete stories and started two more. I didn’t submit at this time. I wrote for me and I didn’t want the negativity of rejection to put me off my new-found pleasure.
My health recovered, I now had a plethora of manuscripts and a little more knowledge of how to fix and submit them. I took novel number five, Singapore Fling, spent six months editing, reediting, entering it in contests and rewriting based on the feedback, and then started submitting it in December 2012. It was rejected by the first two houses but finally found a home at Crimson Romance. Now I'm a Published Author Suburban Trophy Wife.
I am also pleased to say that I am now two years cancer free and in addition to my first sale also have a two book deal with Entangled Publishing for releases in 2014. Writing is no longer something I do because I'm bored, or to escape reality. Writing is something I do because I AM A ROMANCE WRITER.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I was seventeen, just out of high school. My parents and younger brother were getting ready for a move to New Zealand and I was going along for the ride. But what to do with those intervening months between school and the move? Go to Central America! My aunt had been living in Panama for twenty-five years, on and off, and was currently visiting Canada before returning south. As she’d recently undergone surgery, I went with her to help out, at least that was the line I spun my parents.
First we had to stop in Miami to get our visas. It was the first time I’d ever seen a real slum. There weren’t many homeless people in Winnipeg, not when the weather regularly went to -20C. One man I saw in Florida was picking up discarded cigarette butts and trying to get one last puff from them. I got an inkling to how sheltered a life I’d had in suburban Canada. But it did nothing to prepare me for the abject poverty of a large portion of the Panamanian population.
In Panama I loved the heat and the simplicity of the food. I learned three different ways to cook rice, use it in a drink (arroz con piña) and make an entirely new meal out of leftover rice and whatever else was found in the fridge. I also discovered the law of ants. They are everywhere and there is nothing you can do about them. If we baked a cake we’d have to place it on top of two cans of soup, sitting in a bath of water in another pan. Water was the only way to stop the ants from getting at food. I learned that cockroaches scurrying across the floor didn’t faze me too much but as soon as they flew it freaked me out.
But I think the most important lesson I learned was that for a huge number of people, life is a struggle every single day. When we drove around the city, at every stop light the car would be surrounded by children trying to sell us popcorn or fruit they’d found on the ground. When we parked, we’d pay another child 25cents to protect the car. Security guards with loaded guns sat outside each apartment building and our own guard dog was on constant alert.
One day I went with one of my aunt’s friend to a shanty town to visit someone she knew who had fallen on hard times. The woman was maybe forty years old (which at 17 did seem ancient). Her house was made up of a couple of wooden pallets, plywood and a rusty corrugated metal roof. Two grandchildren lived with her, a little girl about two and a boy of five or six. The boy would run in excitedly every now and then to say he’d sold the popcorn and ask his grandmother to give him more. At such a young age, he was selling popcorn on the roadside rather than go to school. His parents were dead or gone, he had no one but his grandmother and baby sister and lived in a shack that could fall down any minute. My heart ached for those children, and they weren’t the only ones. I truly appreciated how golden my life was despite having had to endure eight years in Manitoba.
On a happier note, I also learned how much I love hammocks, how incredibly warm the ocean could be and the simple joy of drinking beer and eating my weight in freshly caught and cooked shrimp. My aunt and I drove up to the Costa Rican border, where I was detained by the police. I spent a day on a tugboat that was helping ships through the Panama canal after a landslide narrowed the passage. I climbed mountains and visited remote islands inhabited by an indigenous people who retained their cultural ways. I flew in a tiny airplane that landed on a grass field and found one of the most idyllic spots on earth.
But most of all, I had my eyes opened to the wonder and diversity of the world—a world full of beauty and despair and incredible people. Panama was my first adventure, and thankfully not my last.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Israel is one of those fascinating places I’m so glad I visited, but have little desire to return. It had all the elements I usually require in a country—amazing history, beautiful scenery, and interesting culture. Yet every minute I was there I felt uneasy. Tension was palpable everywhere. I guess the residents are used to the constant threat of terrorist activity and seeing hundreds of machine gun toting security personnel. However even ten years in London with frequent IRA activity didn’t prepare me for a trip to Israel. Then again, I was probably more sensitive to it as an outsider who doesn’t see a lot of guns.
Enough of the negative, though. Israel is a fascinating country and if political tension is low, I encourage you to visit. Buildings and sites almost as old as time, roads you can walk that were built thousands of years ago, and everywhere you look a marker or church to some significant event in history. There are archeological sites, the Dead Sea, tranquil Kibbutz and bustling cities to keep you busy for years…if your stomach lasts. Of all my travels, Israel is where I got the worst stomach bug. In fact it wasn’t until I went to India and began eating yoghurt with every meal that I started to feel better.
So, what were my top five favourite things in Israel? I think the first was getting covered in mud and then swimming in the Dead Sea. I also really enjoyed seeing the site where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered and seeing the ruins at Masada. Visiting the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock were also fascinating. But I think the best moment I spent in Israel was finding this tranquil spot on the River Jordan and contemplating the millions of people over thousands of years who had stood there before me (see photo).
Come to think of it, maybe I would go back to Israel if the opportunity presented. Until then, however, come back on February 1.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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It’s still cold and dark outside so I’m staying a little longer in Thailand. Today I thought I’d talk about a couple of the daytrips my husband and I took and the second part of our stay in Thailand, at a gorgeous resort in Krabi.
We took a couple of tours on the island, or around it. One day we took a boat to some of the outlying islands, including the one where they filmed a James Bond movie, can’t remember which one. The island was small and crowded with other tourists but it was still fun. The scenery to and fro was amazing with tall rocks jutting out of the water like ancient sentinels. On the way back we also stopped at a floating fishing village. Our guide was very amusing and tried to get us all to do karaoke on the bus, except he wouldn’t give up the mike. On the way back to our resort, he announced that our last stop of the day was at a “cachuna factory”. We were all trying to figure out what he meant, were we going to see where they processed tuna? It was quite a relief to find we were visiting a cashew nut factory.
On another tour we visited a pineapple farm. The guide cut a pineapple off the plant and sliced it for us right there. It was still hot from the sun and so delicious my husband wouldn’t eat pineapple for years afterward, because it didn’t have the same taste. We also hiked through a jungle to a waterfall, although most of what I remember about that trip was my husband spotting all the spiders. I should have known then I’d be taking up pest control duties in our marriage.
After ten days in Phuket we went to a remote resort in Krabi, which is on the mainland. We had our own two story villa. Downstairs, the sofa was suspended from the ceiling. It was probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve stayed. Hidden in the resort grounds was a lagoon that you had to hike to. As it had rained recently the clay mud was very slippery and it was a hard hike, half the time we had to climb up by grabbing the vines. I never did get the orange stain from the mud out of my clothes. It also had one of the alleged top ten beaches in the world. But it didn’t surpass Wineglass Bay (see earlier post).
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Cold? I am. So today we’re heading off to Thailand to warm up. This country will always hold a special place in my heart— it’s where I went on honeymoon. Originally, we wanted to go to Grenada in the Caribbean, but as we were married in Canada, but living in England at the time, it was going to be hideously expensive. We realized that if we were going to have to fly back to the UK, we might as well continue eastward. With a bunch of special offers at the time, and the fact it was shoulder season in Thailand, we had a two week honeymoon for less than half the price of one week in Grenada.
Of course, our honeymoon was long before the devastating tsunami of 2004. Our hearts broke to see a place that held so many happy memories destroyed, not to mention the loss of life. I haven’t been able to watch any of the movies or read the books about the events of that dreadful day.
If you’re planning a holiday to this area of Thailand, and if you can afford it, I would highly recommend staying at a resort with a private beach. This restricts the number of hawkers and others that wander the beach and disturb your relaxation. The place we stayed had a free shuttle into Phuket town so when we wanted to shop we could. I had a couple of dresses tailor made and bought a load of Thai silk that I still have. I’ll probably make a dress to wear to one of my children’s weddings from it. Yeah, I’m not very domestic.
One of the best things about a holiday in Thailand is the food. I love Thai food. We had nasi goreng for breakfast, satay for lunch and red curry for dinner. At one restaurant we tried a shrimp dish, but it was too salty and we couldn’t eat it. It didn’t bother us because we tried something different, we didn’t expect to like everything we tried. However, the waitress was so upset that we hadn’t enjoyed it that they gave us a free dessert. Let me just say that Thai’s aren’t known for their dessert. We managed to eat the ice cream, but mostly because we were afraid that if we didn’t they’d offer us something worse.
The Thai people are wonderful and friendly. They seemed determined to make sure we enjoyed our holiday. Except maybe the little old lady who gave my husband a Thai massage on the beach and made him cry like a little girl. I was laughing to see my ripped husband reduced to a quivering mess by a granny. And I passed on the massage.
We had a fabulous honeymoon and every time I suggest a tropical holiday, my husband automatically replies, “In Thailand?” We will be back.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Once upon a long time ago, there was a little girl who liked to watch an old sitcom called Happy Days. And in one of those episodes, there was a character named Kathmandu (I seem to remember she was one of The Fonz’s love interests). That was the first I’d ever heard the word and it stuck with me. As I grew older, I discovered that Kathmandu was a city in Nepal and I was enchanted. Even today, the name evokes a shiver of excitement in me that few destinations can match.
So when I had the opportunity to visit Nepal, I jumped at the chance. And I wasn’t disappointed. Unfortunately, I only had four days there, and I was with my mother, so was unable to discover all the wonders of this ancient and culturally rich city. I don’t think two weeks would be enough time to discover all its charms, especially considering there are several nearby cities that all blend into one large metropolis.
There are amazing buildings and monuments to explore, unique crafts and markets, impressive temples with colourful prayer flags and cultural icons to make even a jaded traveler ooh and ahh. And the people are beautiful, friendly and helpful and we never had a problem understanding or being understood. They’ve adapted to modern society without ever losing their heritage.
Alas, our trip was limited to the area of Kathmandu and the main touristy bits of the surrounding cities and we didn’t have the opportunity to visit any of the countryside. Others in our group were heading off to an animal sanctuary and towards the famed mount Everest.
If I ever get the chance, I’d love to go back to this fascinating city, and indeed, compelling country, hopefully for more than four days. Have you been?
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Thought I’d stick closer to home for this post and we’d hop on the ferry and go over to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. I love Victoria, I have some great memories of visiting there but unfortunately, due to the cost of travel, it’s now a destination reserved for very special occasions. And this upsets me. It’s only a few hours from my house (an hour to the ferry terminal, and hour and a half on the boat, and then half an hour drive into Victoria proper), yet as a family, it costs us over $200 to get there.
Yes, the ferry ride is like a miniature cruise through the islands with beautiful scenery. But if I need a weekend getaway, that $200 travel price tag is the cost of a night in a hotel in Seattle for all six of us. However, if you do make it over to Victoria, and as a walk on passenger, it’s not that expensive, then there is plenty to do. The actual downtown area of Victoria, around the harbour is eminently walkable.
Two landmark buildings which you can’t miss in Victoria are the Legislature (the Provincial Government) building and the ivy clad Empress Hotel. It had always been my dream to stay at the Empress, it seemed so elegant and olde-worldy. So, during my last visit to Victoria, when it was just my husband and I, I shelled out the cash and booked a room. Some dreams should remain just that, dreams. The hotel is lovely but way overpriced for what you get. A tiny room with no view, overpriced parking, overpriced restaurants, wifi at an additional charge, and nickel and dimed for everything else. To me, who has stayed in some palaces and some dives in my travels, a hotel should be judged on its least favourable room. If you the worst room is reasonable, for the rate, then it passes the test. Empress failed. But if you want to walk through or have the “Tea Experience” then by all means, enjoy.
During another trip to Victoria, we had the children with us, and found Victoria a great place for families (if you can afford the ferry ride). My oldest daughter had been studying the artist, Emily Carr, in school so we visited her childhood home, as seen in the picture here. It was a lovely place, full of mementos of her life. There was also a petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park, which the children loved, and lots of green space for them to run around and get rid of their energy.
Victoria actually has several good museums, however for a family of six, the price of admission is too high for our budget, but again, if you have the time and money, there is plenty of ways to spend a rainy day indoors. However, my all-time favourite thing to do in Victoria is café crawl. There are hundreds of little quirky cafés all with their own personality and eclectic food choices. You could hit three or four, load up on tea and cakes and it still wouldn’t cost you anywhere near what tea at the Empress would set you back.
So, there you have it, Victoria, a place I’d go at least twice a year if it weren’t so darn expensive.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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With the plethora of movies and books, romance novels especially, set in Vegas, it’s one of those places where you can feel like you’ve been there, done that, without ever setting foot in the city. Yes, Vegas is over-rated and under-rated and most definitely X-rated. But I can testify that you can have a perfectly wonderful time in Vegas without having any regrets to leave behind.
Why go to Vegas? For me, the biggest lure, I won’t lie, is because it’s cheap. You can get a flight and decent hotel for four days for less than five hundred Canadian dollars, don’t mind where you stay or when you go and it can be even cheaper. Second biggest draw is the people watching.
I’ve been there three times. The first time was a mini-vacation and my first child was only five months old and we flew in from the UK. Both my husband and baby had terrible jet-lag and so we experienced Vegas from four am to four pm, before the two of them would fall asleep. I don’t know a lot of cities in the world where I would feel comfortable walking around at four in the morning, but in Vegas there are as many people up and out then as there are at four in the afternoon. In fact, I think the quiet time in Vegas is probably eight to ten in the morning.
My second trip to Vegas was last year when I was desperate for a getaway, all I wanted was heat, sunshine and to people watch, my husband wanted good food. Vegas was ideal. I am sure there is a gourmet restaurant for every night of the year. All the celebrity chefs have at least one or two restaurants. Our hands down favourite place, so far, is Julian Serrano in the Aria hotel. Every time we go we say we’re going to order the paella but always get lured by the tapas menu.
My third trip to Vegas was this summer when I attended a writing conference. As a writer, Vegas is the king for people watching. Visitors come from all over the world, from every walk of life, and strut their stuff on the strip. Another favourite place is the patio at Mon Ami Gabi. Get a pitcher of Frangria (the French version of Sangria) and let the parade begin. Or Il Fornaio at the New York hotel, sit on the “indoor terrace”, be serenaded by the live music from the Irish pub next door and watch the human show pass your table. Now that is priceless.
The one thing about Vegas that I always forget and shocks me every time is smoking. With smoking regulations so tightly enforced where I live it is so different to go back two decades and have cigarette smoke inside again. Although the ventilation systems do a fair job of clearing the air, I still rush through the casino to get away from the foul air.
So, what happens in Vegas doesn’t have to stay in Vegas. Have a great time, just remember, pace yourself and watch the spectacle, don’t become it.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Last post I promised someplace to relax. Me, I’m a beach person. Not so much just sitting on the beach and reading, I’m too pale to sunbathe for long without resembling a cooked lobster. I love to walk in the sand, just at the water’s edge as the waves lap at my feet. I can walk for miles, completely relaxed, until I look back and realize how far I’ve gone and have to re-traverse. The best beach I’ve ever walked is Wineglass Bay on the island of Tasmania. It’s a beach that can only be reached by hiking or boat so it’s relatively deserted, no overweight men in budgie smugglers to ruin the view—just white sand, green forest and a blue Australian sky.
Its isolation, however, is also its drawback. The relaxation is only temporary. Sooner, rather than later, you’re going to have to hike out. Unless you’re a rich romance hero(ine) and have your million dollar yacht moored offshore, now that would be the ultimate in relaxation.
So another great beach is Talipanan Beach on Mindoro Oriental in the Philippines. Not so far from civilization, it has nice sand, warm water and few people. If you walk long enough and wade through a couple of drainage channels, you can reach some fairly decent looking restaurants. While secluded, it is a public beach so there are vendors hawking their wares. They were friendly but not overly persistent and certainly in fewer numbers than on nearby White Beach.
Not everyone loves a beach, however. So another place I like to relax is in a cozy mountain cabin. Not during ski season, however, because then I just feel guilty about sitting around reading when I should be out skiing. And during off-season these accommodations are much less expensive. Whistler, of course would be my first choice, world class restaurants, gorgeous hikes if I’m feeling energetic and a year-round entertainment schedule. And did I mention the spas? However even off-season Whistler is pricy so for a quick and cheap getaway, I’d probably head to Sun Peaks, forty-five minutes out of Kamloops.
Remote beaches or mountain retreats, those are my relaxation recommendations. Where do you go to unwind?
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I’ve been working on two books lately that take place, in part, in Italy. They are set actually in northern Italy, near Milan, and I’ll blog about places mentioned in the books closer to their release date (optimism at its finest). However as I’ve been immersing myself in Italian culture for the past few weeks, I thought I’d revisit Rome for this post.
Unfortunately, I only spent two days in Rome, not nearly long enough to do justice to this fascinating city. There is so much to see: the Colosseo, Forum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Sistine Chapel, to name just the top five, that a week would still feel rushed. But I expect that Rome is like Paris, the best bits are known only to locals or those intrepid travellers who don’t mind getting lost and poking their noses down narrow alleys (while taking the necessary security precautions, of course). If you’re planning to visit Rome, get yourself a good guide book and a comfortable, but stylish, pair or walking shoes.
Speaking of stylish, if you wear clothes, you need to take at least half a day to go shopping. I still have some of the things I bought in Rome. They don’t fit me, of course, but I still have them because they are too beautiful to throw out. One word of caution, if you are in Italy for longer than a week, do your clothes shopping at the end of your stay, the reason—Italian food.
Consistently, I think Italian is my favourite “ethnic” food type. By consistently, I mean that there isn’t a lot of Italian food that I don’t like, whereas with other national dishes, I like some things but not all. And if you are shrugging your shoulders, thinking, what’s so great about pasta in twenty different shapes, then you haven’t tried real Italian food, in Italy. I know many restaurants and chefs outside of Italy do their best to replicate the tastes of the country, but there is something about actually being there—eating vegetables that were grown in someone’s backyard, or mushrooms or truffles from the forest, that escalates a dish from great to stupendous. Or maybe it’s the limoncello that they put on your table after your meal, a couple glasses of that, and eating dirt would probably be remembered as the greatest meal you’ve ever had.
And museums, I think it would be a crime to go to Italy and not spend at least a couple hours wandering around one of their many fabulous museums. Another piece of advice, though, if there is a specific artwork that you want to see, check to make sure it is actually on display at that location. I lined up for three hours to get into a museum in Florence, only to find that the most famous pieces were on tour outside of the country.
While I would go back to Rome in a heartbeat, it’s not one of those places where I could live for any significant length of time, maybe three months, tops. The noise, the chaos, the fact that crossing the road in a marked crosswalk was likely one of the most dangerous things I’ll do in my life, make Rome a difficult place to relax.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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Egypt has been in the news a lot lately, and unfortunately, not for good reasons. I have mixed feelings about the time I spent in Egypt. On the one hand, the amazing history and mind-blowing antiquities I don’t believe can be rivalled by any other country, with the possible exception of China. However, the failing infrastructure, the crime, terrorism and filthiness of the country made it a less than enjoyable place to visit.
Despite all of the above, I did have a very memorable visit to Egypt. I rode a donkey from the Valley of the Kings (where I visited and got claustrophobic in King Tutankhamen’s tomb) to Hatshepsut’s Temple, which was impressive. Karnak and Abu Simbel were equally spectacular. The pyramids at Giza were…I’m looking for the right word and all I can come up with is…momentary. You go, you see, you snap a couple of photos and you leave. When I was there you could actually go inside one of the pyramids, but it was an uncomfortable crawl until you got to a crowded, extremely hot and claustrophobic inner chamber. I don’t think I’d do it again.
If I had to pick one highlight of my trip to Egypt, it would be the cruise down the Nile. I got to see little villages, watch local fisherman catch their dinner in the Nile, just as their ancestors had done thousands of years ago. As we floated by, small children waved at us, we were passing stars in another episode of their very own reality show. I swam in the Nile, braving schistosomiasis, to say I’d bathed in the same waters as Cleopatra. What can I say—I’m a romantic with a penchant for history. I touched stones hand carved centuries ago by slaves. I felt the history under my fingers and the sand in my eyes gave me an inkling of the discomfort that millions of Egyptians and tourists alike have experienced over the years.
However, with the current political climate it’s not a place I would recommend for anyone to visit at this present time. It’s such a shame because it truly is one of the world’s treasures. Hopefully, one day again soon, it will welcome visitors with open arms (and less potholed streets).
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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I have just returned from San Francisco, which boasts the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and that got me thinking (cue dramatic music). A lot of cities have pockets of ethnic diversity where the people of a certain country have congregated and turned the area into a mini version of their country of origin. Having visited Hong Kong less than two years ago, I can attest to the authenticity of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
So, if you don’t have the money, health or time to travel to distant countries, why not find that area in your locale where immigrants have collected and visit them there? In my own area, the City of Surrey has a large Punjabi population which I’m told is more Punjab than the area in India. The City of Richmond has areas where most of the shop signs are in Chinese, in addition to Vancouver’s own Chinatown area.
If your city or town doesn’t have a specific area where immigrants congregate, there are always restaurants or shops where you can sample foods from their home countries. And many will be happy to talk about their place of birth and what life is like in their native land. You can enjoy a cultural experience and still go home and sleep in your own comfy bed.
I am not going to comment on the political discussion about immigrants adapting to the culture and environment of their adoptive country. This post is about enjoying cultural diversity within your own country.
So, whether you’re a writer wanting to add some ethnic diversity to your stories or a frustrated wannabe traveller looking for a cultural fix before you can jet off to your next exotic destination, why not sample what’s on your doorstep? And if you find a new favourite food or gain a deeper appreciation for another culture, let me know so I can add it to my travel itinerary.
- Written by Alexia Alexia
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As last post we were in the Edinburgh of the South, I thought we’d head up to the original. I’ve been to Edinburgh twice, the first time with a girlfriend on a whirlwind Scottish adventure, the next time with my husband for a friends’ wedding in St. Andrews.
Edinburgh has enough interesting buildings, castles, shops and art galleries to keep you busy for days. But take some time from sightseeing to have a coffee in a tucked away little café and listen to the people. At some point you may wonder what language the patrons are speaking, but trust me, you’ll have more success understanding natives of Edinburgh than those of Glasgow.
During my first trip to Scotland, my friend and I booked a tour of the lochs which was due to depart fairly early in the morning. We were staying in a B&B, which of course included breakfast. So we got up early and made our way to the breakfast room where the lovely proprietress asked us if we’d like porridge or cold cereal after our fruit and yoghurt. As it was a cool autumn day, we opted for porridge and thoroughly enjoyed it. Once we finished we rose to leave only to have the woman rush over to us and ask where we were going. We answered that we had a tour to catch and thanked her for the meal. That wasn’t the breakfast, porridge was the starter. She insisted that we sit back down and eat a proper breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausage, potato scone, beans, mushrooms and a fried tomato (we turned down black pudding).
When we eventually rolled out of the B&B we had to hustle for our coach, but I’ll tell you one thing, we didn’t need to eat until dinner. So, aside from breakfast and people, the next best thing about Scotland is the scotch whisky. Despite what you may have heard elsewhere, I don’t know a lot about alcohol. I know what I like and what I don’t. For me, scotch is one alcohol that can have such a variety of flavours that you wonder if it’s made of the same ingredients. I’ve had scotch that tasted so smoky I thought I’d swallowed a cigarette, and one so smooth it was like drinking spicy water.
I’ve read a lot of historical romances set in Scotland, but not too many contemporaries. I’m not sure why that is, although the castle ruins and moody sky probably are more inspirational to days gone by then modern times. There’s something about Scotland, especially once you’re out in the countryside that is just so timeless, you could be in 2013 or 1013 with little change in the landscape. That’s probably why Scotland is quite popular with time-travel romance writers.
Whatever the year though, if you’ve had a Scottish breakfast, you’ll be well fed. Until next time…