A little house in the paddy fields, Penestanan, Bali
Travel writing tends to be, for obvious reasons, stories shared about public places the reader might want to visit. But I’m more fascinated with private aspects of travel, the writer’s personal choices when not sightseeing or hiking or otherwise out and about. Eating spots can be interesting but my favorites of all to see, and we rarely do, are where the traveler stayed and slept and spent time in the quiet hours. Here are some of mine.
January 9, 2006 Luang Say Lodge, Pak Beng, Laos
This was my second stay in Pak Beng and I suspect not many people can say that. The village was the overnight stop for backpackers riding freight boats down the Mekong, midway between Northern Thailand and Luang Prabang in Laos. This time Travel Pal Jim and I had decided to have a do-over and take the luxury option on a Luang Say boat with a stay at their lodge on the outskirts of the village. The room is dark because at the time there was no electric service to Pak Being, only generators, hence the low watt bulbs and in the village often not even that.
June 18, 2007 Farm Lane, Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, England
I was spending a week or so walking along the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal, staying at B&Bs along the way. My hostess was a lovely lady, her 17th century timbered and thatched home chosen because of its obvious charm and proximity to the path. I can see in the photo I was reading The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas, brought home afterward with the thought I’d be reading it again. And I remember being happy I could see the house from the path as I continued east along the canal next morning.
November 22, 2007 Penestanan, Bali
My first trip to Bali I stayed in commercial accommodations, 3 of them as I looked for something I liked better. The 2nd and 3rd were in Penestanan, on the outskirts of Ubud, and on a walk through the paddy fields one day I passed this little house with it’s American tenant outside. I asked her if she knew of a similar place to rent if I were to return. Yes, she said, this one, and I did return, twice, to stay in her home. The bedroom was the entire second floor, looking out over the fields. I loved it there.
June 11, 2008 Valentia Island, Ireland
I met Una, who lived near the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes, England when I was walking the towpath and stayed overnight in her Elizabethan-era home. Sometime later she invited me to go with her to her holiday home on Valentia Island. We drove from Wiltshire to catch the ferry from Fishguard in Wales to Ireland, then on to Valentia on the west coast. We walked and visited a garden and a small museum dedicated to the Atlantic cable and I remember eating salmon at the pub in Portmagee just across the bridge. Valentia is a quiet place on the sea, or a lonely place on the sea, depending on your frame of mind.
May 5, 2009 On the Anfiteatro, Lucca, Italy
This was a return to Lucca for me accompanied by an English friend. I’d found this remarkable apartment online on it’s own website, owned for generations by a New York publisher’s family. Far beyond my usual budget, we couldn’t resist and took it for a week. It was huge, the entrance on the lane below the window you can see, rooms on the other side overlooking the Piazza della’ Anfiteatro. A funny coincidence, my neighbor across the street went to Lucca last fall. She sent me a picture of her outdoor table as she enjoyed a glass of beer sitting in the Anfiteatro. Beyond, just above the beer, were the windows of this apartment. Small world.
April 23, 2010 Le Portalet, Uzes, France
After a number of visits spent in Paris & environs, it was time to travel farther south. I began in Avignon then took a local bus to Uzes where I stayed for a week. Found online, the owner of these 3 apartments seemed congenial, they looked beautiful in the pictures and I chose the one called “Voignier.” Just off the town ring road, it was a short walk to the center and I’d have happily stayed forever.
June 6, 2010 The QM2
Cruising had never appealed but the lure of the Cunard name finally had its way with me and I booked a crossing on the Queen Mary 2, from Southhampton to Red Hook in Brooklyn. I originally chose an interior cabin because they were the least expensive but was advised to keep checking for sales as the trip drew nearer. After 2 upgrades I had a balcony stateroom, my private outdoor space just beyond the curtain. One day as I happened to glance out, a whale breached high in the air, seemingly all alone mid-Atlantic. I can’t help but think it was because it was so happy to see somebody, anybody, and the breaching continued until it was left behind.
Apr. 30, 2011 Hôtel de la Poste, Pouilly-en-Auxois, France
So big, so French, this room is among my very favorites. I was on another multi-day walk, this time along the Canal de Bourgogne, the Burgundy Canal. The plan was to take a local bus from Dijon to Pouilly-en-Auxois, then walk back to Dijon. I left my bigger bag in the little hotel in Dijon, took my daypack with essentials, walked to the train station where the buses began their journeys and rode to this town where the canal goes underground through a hill for 2 miles, the Pouilly Tunnel. Next morning I began my walk, following the line of air shafts for the tunnel beneath my feet until the canal emerged and I continued through the Burgundy countryside. It was a memorable few days, an unrushed 58 kilometers, 36 miles plus detours.
June 4, 2011 10, rue Constance, Paris 18
This studio apartment was chosen for its proximity to a place I’d lived in Montmartre long ago. Both were on the 5th floor, no elevators of course, fairly annoying places to live for a variety of reasons but this one was a short walk away from a congenial cafe on rue Lepic where, on my first visit, the barman gave me a second grand crème, no charge. I was his forever.
December 2, 2011 A cottage near Pescadero, California
My son and granddaughters live in a rural area of the San Francisco Peninsula and, their house being full up, I rented this little cottage for a few days in the next village over to visit and have some adventures with my girls. The best part of the place, aside from the bucolic location, was a huge claw-foot bathtub in which I lingered every day, remembering one just like it I’d had for years in a house now long gone.
September 2, 2012 Zhongdeji Villa Hotel, Gulangyu Island, Fujian, China
Gulangyu Island sits in the mouth of Xiamen harbor, where the Juilong River enters the South China Sea. I was there to try to find a way to visit the tulou minority communities in the hills near Xiamen and, as a huge bonus, discovered this charming island enclave, a short ferry ride from mostly modern Xiamen. It was my first experience of spending extended time in a place with almost no other western tourists and few English-speakers but language is only a barrier if you let it be and this elegant hotel was a thrill in any language.
August 14, 2013 Pigeon Point Lighthouse, San Mateo County Coast, California
Another visit to my girls, well documented on Travel Gumbo, the 3 of us saw everything there was to see of the lighthouse, visited a goat farm and sampled cheese, did a walk around and had a picnic lunch in Pescadero and had fun being tourists close to home. It was a congenial group with whom I shared the bunk room, hostel people usually are, and I’d do it again. It’s an understandably popular place so, if you’re considering it, book well in advance. You’ll love it.
The stories that happened in the towns, cities &
countryside outside these rooms can be found here.
Next Saturday, Part II.