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This is a memoir recounting an English couple’s post retirement move to a village in Spain. Victoria, tired of the cold and rain in the UK, convinces husband Joe to move to Spain. Joe agrees, on condition that the move is for five years only. At the end of that time, they would reassess and decide if they will stay permanently.

Thus we are introduced to a delightful cast of characters, including a lucky meeting with a British expat and her mother, who soon become the couple’s good friends. There are minor mishaps and missteps along the way, some of which are pretty funny, as the couple struggles to learn Spanish and local customs.

The story is engaging and beautifully drawn in a very down-to-earth, refreshing style. This is exactly the kind of tale that captivates me and feeds my interest both in travel and cross cultural issues. I read it in one greedy gulp over two days and hated to see it end. The good news is that the author is planning a sequel!

The one thing I found a bit jarring was the insertion of recipes at the end of nearly every chapter. They were always something that had been eaten during the course of the story, but without a lead-in of any kind and my extreme lack of interest in cooking, I felt they unnecessarily interrupted the flow of the story. If the author had provided a bit of a backstory on her interest in cuisine, it would have made a better tie-in. Better still if the recipes were all put at the end of the book.

A paperback edition is for sale at Amazon, and e-book versions are available both at Amazon and Smashwords. I bought the Smashwords edition.  It would have been nice to have a book cover image at the beginning of the e-book. Other than that, there were no formatting issues.

A great read, highly recommended.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Travel Hat

Being very fair skinned, I need a sun hat when I travel to tropical places.  The wider the brim, the better.  Wide-brimmed hats don’t pack well, and I hate having one more thing to carry on the plane.

Since hats in most of the really sunny places I go aren’t too expensive, I’ve just bought them when I got there. I have a very lovely wide brimmed straw hat that I got in Veracruz and a gorgeous straw hat from Northern Ghana.  It was kind of a pain getting them home uncrushed.

My master plan involves paring down unnecessary possessions so I can be mobile for travel or even expatriating after I retire.  I don’t want to end up with a hat collection, even though they’d make a nice wall grouping.  I also like to be a bit frugal, so I don’t want to spend money on hats every time I take a trip, even if they aren’t expensive.  I needed to find a sun hat that I could fold up and put in a suitcase so I wouldn’t have to keep buying them.

As always, the internet solved my problem.  I keyed in “travel hat” on a Google search recently, and the solution popped up immediately.  There is now such a thing as a crushable, packable travel hat!

This is the one I chose.   I was a bit skeptical at first, but after taking it out of the box, it really did pop into shape without looking crushed or wrinkled in any way.  Impressive!

It’s made of polyester grosgrain ribbon, which means it’s light, airy and breatheable.  The five-inch wide brim is excellent at keeping the sun off your face, and it’s rated as SPF 50.

This is a really pretty hat which, with the wide graceful brim, gives you a sort of Audrey Hepburn feeling.  I absolutely love it!

I ordered mine through Amazon, but Amazon now lists this hat as unavailable. You can order it direct through Jedzebel.com.  It doesn’t seem to have a name, but is known only as NH04.  List price as of this writing is $20.00.  Worth every penny!

I love photography, and as a travel junkie, I love looking at travel photography. But even though a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, pictures can’t  tell the whole story.

It’s frustrating to page through images on Photobucket, PBase, Flickr or somebody’s travel blog and not know enough about what you’re looking at. And that’s why, if I’m given a link to someone’s travel photos on a photo sharing site, I only give them a cursory glance, if I look at them at all.

I want to read an informative blog so I’ll know the story behind the pictures.  I want to know how you came to meet the stranger with the beautiful smile or the lady with the beautiful scarf, what you said to him and what they said to you.  There are many photos and photo collections which can stand alone without explanation.  But even if they’re hanging in a museum, there’ll be a little card next to them with a few words on it.

Whether you go to an exotic, off-the-beaten-path location or visit Paris, there’ll always be scenes that warrant a bit of explanation.  There’ll be things about your images that you, the traveler, will know but the reader who hasn’t been there won’t have a clue.  What does that sign in a foreign language say?  What about the body language of the person in the photo?  Sometimes even what a person is wearing has meaning in another culture. These are the mysteries in the photos that need to be revealed in words.

No matter how beautiful the images, I lose interest much  more quickly if there’s no story to accompany them.

On the other hand, don’t go overboard. When travel blogs turn into history essays, I also lose interest. A little historical background is good. If I want to know more, I know where Google is.

What I really want to know is your travel experience:   what you felt, who you met, what you ate, what occurred.  And, of course, I expect photos to illustrate each and every one of these things!

Travel junkies are also armchair travel junkies.  I’ve always loved travelogues and adventure stories, even as a child, long before I could take any journeys myself.

Travelogues began as newspaper articles and books without illustrations.  Without the benefit of images, a travel writer had to pay great attention to detail,  making sights, sounds and smells come alive by virtue only of the printed word.  Adventurers of the Victorian age like Mary Kingsley, Mungo Park and Sir Richard Francis Burton became masters of the art of travel exposition. Readers, most of whom could not afford the luxury of travel, voraciously consumed every word.

Victorian writers journaled in pen and ink as they traveled.  No way would all their experiences otherwise have survived in their memories until the end of their voyages many months later.  And without the benefit of illustrations, they really had to pay attention to detail.

In the modern age, travelers largely have gotten out of the journaling habit. I try to record the most important events during my trips, but I find it a chore.  After a fun day of sightseeing, I don’t look forward to writing it all down by hand.  It’s just tedious. I can’t handwrite anywhere near as fast as my mind is racing, and my wrist ultimately puts a quick end to the task.

But I can type 120 wpm, and it’s second nature rather than drudge work. I haven’t yet invested in a netbook to help me capture all that I experience.  I don’t travel often enough to justify the expense and I prefer minimalist traveling, taking the least possible amount of stuff with me.  Lately, because of my upcoming monthlong trip to India, I’m reconsidering the netbook.  Details fade from the memory too rapidly, especially when you’re being wonderfully overwhelmed in new sights, sounds and smells.  It would be nice to be able to capture more of it in detail on a netbook day by day rather than just fragments now and then that have to be pieced together after the trip.

The advent of photography didn’t change travelogues much. Photos greatly increase the price of a printed book, and readers prefer to pay less.   But I always treasured the books that did have illustrations and maps.  Although a good story can be told without pictures, there’s no doubt that images exponentially enhance the printed word. I hope more future ebooks include them, as even in black and white on my Kindle, I’d still love to see them.  For the photographer in me, stories without pictures aren’t quite as satisfying.

Blogging gives writer/photographers the capability to present travel stories loaded with illustrations at no cost to either the writer or reader.  But there’s a cost to the writing.  There’s now more of a dependency on images instead of adjectives to bring the reader into the experience, especially if one doesn’t journal along the way.

Analyzing my two most recent travel blogs, I find that to be true even though I did take notes during the trips. If I were writing either one of them as a book without the photos, I’d take more time with the prose and beef up the descriptions.  Maybe it isn’t as necessary  in a blog as in a book, but I’m going to make it a habit to write future travel blog posts as if there were no illustrations.  It certainly encourages better writing and definitely makes it more interesting for the reader.