Category Archives: Travel

Bohemian Rhapsody Road Trip by Sherrie Hansen

Exhilarating and Exhausting are the words that seem to best describe our trip to Czechia from August 27 to September 17. We arrived in Prague tired and worn out and in need of rest and relaxation. When you own your own business (me) and are the only pastor on staff at a church (my husband, Mark), there are always a million things to do in advance before you leave on a trip.

Czechia - church roadside

This year was no exception, in fact, it seems like every year, there are more things on our To-Do list than ever before.

Czechia - Prague street

We enjoyed our first two days in Prague and had some wonderful experiences, but we also missed out on seeing several things that we should have due to our frazzled condition. The best thing we did was to schedule a spur-of-the-moment Airbnb Experience:  Ten Course Dinner in a Chef’s Home.

Czechia - Ladislov plate

Ladislav, our chef, was an amazing host, and we enjoyed excellent food and conversation around a table for 8 adjacent to the kitchen in his apartment.

Czechia - Ladislov

The other guests at our table were from Canada and Australia, so we all spoke English, in different accents. It was the highlight of our time in Prague. The B&B we stayed in was wonderfully historic and our host very gracious. We were able to walk a quarter of a mile to get on a bus which linked to trams and metros throughout Prague. The transport system was quite daunting for me, and even with it, we walked 7 miles up and down steep inclines, on cobblestones each day. We had our first taste of Czech garlic soup and cinnamon pastry trdelnik filled with ice cream and fruit in Prague. After an extensive search (we got lost), we found the Alfons Mucha museum and saw his portrayals of Slavic maidens. Sadly, the Slav Epic Exhibition I so wanted to see was no longer open.

Czechia - Prague houses

We saw the outside of Prague Castle from an outdoor cafe with a wonderful view of the castle and city below. We enjoyed a delicious Czech dinner where we had our first dumplings (both bread and potato).

Czechia - Dumplings

But the castle was closed by the time we were done, and our attempts to get there had been so traumatic (long story – think three or four story high escalators, an extremely steep hill, overweight and out of shape people who are terrified of escalators (me), hot, humid weather in the high 90s and no air conditioning anywhere, and one crazed taxi driver who tried to charge us $50 for a 3 block ride to a restaurant he never found) that you may understand why we never went back to see the cathedral, basilica, tower, palace, the hall that hosted knightly jousting tournaments, or the royal garden. We also missed the famous Astronomical Clock Tower in the main  square in Old Town, but we did walk across Charles Bridge twice and climbed millions of stairs to see the view of Prague from the top of the Klementinum Astronomical Tower and Old Library.

Czechia - Prague

What can I say? We were half-asleep and in a daze. These things happen when you’re in your sixties and you’ve just missed out on two nights of sleep.  I appreciated the lovely architecture and colorful facades throughout the city. I could see why people love Prague. But a big city person, I am not.

Czechia - church

Unfortunately, our next stop was Brno, another big city 2 hours to the south. We were supposed to stay in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house, but there was a water emergency and we were relegated to a city center apartment (which I avoid like the plague when searching for accommodations) which turned out to be filthy dirty. You don’t even want to know about the 3-4″ ginormous spider that came running out at me just before bedtime. Although my brave husband killed it, I still didn’t sleep that night.

Czechia - Brno dancers

The one good thing about our city center apartment was that it was near a tram stop that took us to the International Folklore Festival (one of our main reasons for visiting Czechia), where we had a wonderful time enjoying regional music, vintage bicycles, traditional dancing and more good food.

Czechia - Brno bicycles

We had quark dessert dumplings filled with strawberries and a sour cream sauce that were so wonderful I will dream of them until I die – and fried cheese, and more garlic soup. We climbed to the top of the city (twice) to see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, a striking 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles.

Czechia - Brno

Another highlight was the traditional dance review with costumed dancers from many countries.   

Czechia - Folklore Festival

When planning our trip, we figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in a big city, and boy, were we right! Our time in the tiny country village of Rojetin was our salvation.

Czechia - traditional cottage bed

The stars were brilliant, the countryside was gorgeous, and the quiet was just what we needed.

Czechia - garden door

While there, we were able to see three UNESCO Heritage Sites – a lovely church in Třebíč, a star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and our favorite, the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture.

Czechia - Telc cafe

Czechia - Telc

We also discovered a quaint town, Velkabites, where we watched them putting up an extremely high pole with a tree on top for an upcoming festival.

Czechia - Telc statue

It was the season of festivals. We dipped down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were booked for their annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival.

Czechia - Wine cellar

We loved the storybook villages and wine cellars of the area, and the wonderful music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, historic market, and tasty homemade crepes, sausages and cheeses at the festival.

Czechia - Grape Arbor

But our best memory is of Austria, and a wonderful chef at a delightful restaurant just a few kilometers from our B&B. By the time we left, we were full of creatively prepared food, and we felt like we’d made a friend.

Czechia - Znojmo view

The next morning, we headed to Znojmo, where we stayed in an amazing B&B in an old bakery, and discovered a beautiful church with an amazing view over the heart of Bohemia.

Czechia - Znojmo church

The next few days were a confusing jumble. First, the person who planned this trip one snowy day in April while short on sleep (me), got mixed up and thought the towns of Cesky Krumlov and Karlovy Vary were one in the same.

Czechia - CK Window

Bzzt, wrong. Second, while I was sleeping in the passenger seat, our GPS directed Mark to go east, back to Prague, crisscrossing the country instead of driving a short ways north, from one town to the other. Third, we missed seeing a beautiful castle along the route we were supposed to have been going.

Czechia - Chesky Krumlov shop

In our defense, I will say that we were completely wiped out from walking miles and miles a day up and down hugely steep hills on cobblestones and rough rock surfaces. In the rain.  Or did I already mention that?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov

Despite some rain while we were there, we loved Cesky Krumlov. I’m so glad we thought it was Karlovy Vary or we might have missed it. We actually liked it much better than Karlovy Vary.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov river

It was quaint and beautiful, with a magnificent medieval castle and beautiful gardens, picturesque river walks, good restaurants, and (be still my heart) several hat shops.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov view

Due to my confusion, we didn’t ever stay in Karlovy Vary. That was fine with me, because the nearby town of Loket, where we did stay, was smaller, more manageable and twice as delightful.

Czechia - Loket

I liked it so much that I’ve decided it’s going to be the settling of my next book, Plum Tart Iris, a Wildflowers of Czechia novel. We saw a spectacular sunset while eating outside at a great cafe wrapped in furry blankets to combat the chill from the mountain air.

Czechia - Loket sunset

The medieval castle was amazing, as was the river that curves around town on three sides, and a pottery shop and a creative tea house that I fell in love with.  I interviewed a few locals, and discovered some interesting historical facts that will define the plot of my new book.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary colunnades

But back to Karlovy Vary. I’d already committed to writing a murder mystery set there, so we had to research it. Since 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary spa

The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary mineral water

We walked miles to experience as much of it as we could, but were glad to retreat to little Loket at the end of the day.  Have I mentioned that we were quite tired and very sore but this point?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov table

Mark spent a lot of his time sitting on a bench while I explored the town. I may have been in as much pain as he was, but I am more stubborn. Or maybe not. He was hurting pretty badly.

Czechia - Pernstejn Castle near Zdar

Our next stop was a small castle in Jilove that was built by a famous doctor in the early 1900s, then taken over by the Nazis in World War II (Hitler even stayed there) and then, by the Communists after the war, who used it for visiting dignitaries, and then, turned it into a factory. It still needs a lot of work, but the new owner is working hard to get it renovated and we enjoyed staying there and being a small part of its history.

Czechia - woods

Our objective for this stop was to see the Bohemian Alps. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czechia - sunset

After a run in with a lot of road construction and some unsavory Vietnamese entrepreneurs who were gatekeepers to the parks, we decided to forego the promised paradise of rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches. However, while in the area, we drove through a bit of Germany, where I enjoyed a mug of hot Gluhwein and a German dinner and Mark had fun driving 100 miles an hour on the autobahn in our Mercedes rental car.

Czechia - crystal

Other highlights – when our plans to see more of the National parks soured, Mark researched and found a factory seconds outlet store at a glass bead factory where I bought millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects. It was heavenly! We also found a Bohemian crystal factory outlet store and came home with two treasures from their shelves.

Czechia - glass beads

Our last four days in country were spent in the small town of Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we hoped to get rested up before our trip home, since we always have to hit the ground running when we get back from a trip. It had a wild boar skin on the floor and the bed was so hard it was like sleeping on a granite slab. But other than that, we liked it. It was very charming.

Czechia - Lesany

We could have gone back to explore more of Prague, but we opted to see some castles in the nearby countryside instead.

The medieval castle and surrounding village, Hrad Karlstejn, was incredible, and after climbing everywhere, we decided to splurge on a horse drawn wagon ride which took us part way to the top.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle tower

We walked all the way down to take in the shops and eating spots along the cobblestone streets.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle

In České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles, was also stunning. We were able to find an English speaking guide who gave us a private tour of the huge chef’s kitchen in the castle.

Czechia - Hluboká Castle

Our final excursion and another favorite was Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was delightful. The formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, and ponds involved a lot of walking, but we persisted and got some beautiful photos.

Czechia - Roses

I had been longing for gardens and flowers and water, as we’re so accustomed to seeing them when we travel to Great Britain, and I was not disappointed.

Czechia - Průhonice Castle

I can’t begin to touch on the dozens of other quaint villages, delicious meals and delightful experiences we had or we would be here all day.

Czechia - after dinner

Suffice it to say, I’m so glad we went, and I so enjoyed walking where my Bohemian ancestors walked.

Czechia - country sunset

In other news, Seaside Daisy, a Wildflowers of Ireland Mystery, is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Seaside Daisy Front Cover 10-17

Please grab a copy soon and let me know what you think! Reviews warm my heart!

Czechia - Plum Tart Iris

I plan on starting Plum Tart Daisy during NaNoWriMo this November while the trip to Czechia is still fresh in my mind. My goal is 50,000 words by November 30. Thanks for listening!

Czechia - Rose Garden

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Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

The World is Waiting by Sherrie Hansen

Some of you know that I lived in Germany for three years when I was younger. I traveled throughout Europe when I was there and soaked up as much of the local culture as I could. I loved living in Europe so much that part of me didn’t want to come home. Those years helped shape the person I am today in many ways, both good and bad, and provided the inspiration for several of my books.

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I’ve always believed that I inherited a good dose of wanderlust from my Danish ancestors. When we went on family vacations, my Dad loved to drive down random roads just to see what he would find. I’m a little more structured about what places I go and what I hope to see when I’m there, but just like my Dad, I love stumbling upon quaint places and unique sights.

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My husband also shares my love of traveling and exploring. That’s why we try to get away on a long vacation every year. This year, we’re headed to Czechia. Some of our friends go to the same cabin on the same lake or the same cabin in the same mountain valley every weekend, summer, or year. We like seeing new things each time we go. We’ve also been told by numerous friends to travel while we can, that the window of opportunity when folks have the good health, time and money to travel is narrow and short-lived.

Blog - Imix water

Maybe you’re at a time in your life when you can’t see the world due to whatever restraints keep you tied to one spot. If so, I’d like to invite you to take a vacation in your imagination. Open a bevy of books and you can read your way around the world.

Quilt - bear

Start by reading NIGHT & DAY or DAYBREAK (by Sherrie Hansen, of course) and experience Copenhagen, Northern Minnesota, Prince Edward Island, the Mississippi River Valley, and The Faroe Islands.

Scotland - St. Conan's

Next, why not try Scotland? You can visit Loch Awe, Glasgow, and Tobermory, Scotland in THISTLE DOWN (a prequel novella,) and WILD ROSE, the first of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

Scotland - Celtic CrossScotland - Tobermory 5

The lovely Isle of Mull, home of the colorful Tobermory harbor and Duart and Glengorm Castles, Alsace Lorraine, and the French Riviera are featured in BLUE BELLE.

Wildflowers - Stripes

If the highlands call out to you, you can see the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle in SHY VIOLET  and SWEET WILLIAM.

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Picturesque Loch Carron, Scotland is the setting of GOLDEN ROD. I love it there so much!

Ely - trees.jpg

Maybe you just want a short vacation to someplace cool with lakes and forests galore like the Northwoods of Minnesota. Duluth, Ely, and Embarrass, Minnesota  are featured in LOVE NOTES along with Harmony, California on the Central Coast.

Scot - Stornoway castle ceiling

Are you getting the feel for how far you can go just by cracking open a book? Depending on how fast you read, and how many books you devour in a few days time, you can see the world for less than $20 a week.

Ireland - beach.jpg

My next book, SEASIDE DAISY, is set in Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula. Ever since I visited Dingle and Killarney three years ago, I’ve been trying to recreate the feel of the place with my words so you can see it through your eyes.  This week, I attended a Songwriting Workshop and wrote a song called Seaside Daisy’s Shanty. I hope it puts you in the mood to visit Ireland when SEASIDE DAISY comes out this fall.

Seaside Daisy’s Shanty by Sherrie Hansen

In the meantime, I’m dreaming about a new book called PLUM TART IRIS set in Czechia, and one after that I think I’ll call COMMON PRIMROSE, set somewhere in Europe. None of us knows exactly what the future holds or where our journey will take us next, but I hope you’ll continue to follow my travels via my blog and Facebook, and accept my invitation to read my books.

The world is waiting!

Scot - Eilean Donan

Twenty-eight years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, and her new release, DAYBREAK, the sequel to NIGHT & DAY, she has eleven books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

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Friendships Through My Ages

My very first friend was, Miss Woodward, the lady who accompanied me to my foster homes. Since it took several tries, we had time to bond while she figured out the answer why. And even though I was still a toddler, I somehow knew she was my only link to my past and I didn’t want to lose that. So when we finally found my “Forever” home, I made sure it would be possible for me to keep in touch. At first we exchanged Christmas and birthday cards. Later, when I was in my twenties, I showed off my child to her to demonstrate and confirm the possibility of successful adoptions. And as time passed we continued our correspondence until she died many years later.

My adopted mother was very involved and influential in my everyday life. In my younger years, she picked friends for me and they were always people who were more knowledgeable or talented in something than I or at which I wasn’t as good. Most of the time, I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed learning, but occasionally, I felt inferior to them. And as I look back at that time, I could have used more confidence building.

My father had six weeks’ vacation each year and the three of us would take a large chunk of this time to travel out West to see the National Parks. We camped all along the way and I was fortunate to visit all the states except Washington and Oregon and all the provinces of Canada. Campsites in those days were great spots to make pen-pal friends and I met several from both the States and Canada.

A couple of my friends were terrific artists who shared their love of horses and art with me. Another loved to cook and she and I had taffy pulling parties. Later, a guy friend shared his love of car mechanics and he helped me keep my ’56 T-Bird in tip-top shape. Another guy friend was into S.C.U.B.A. and we became diving buddies. I later took my diving equipment to Cannes, France when I was in school there, so I could dive with the local club during my stay.

When I found out I had Scottish roots, my son and I joined the local St. Andrews Society and we met several really special people with Scots ancestry and also found a bagpipe teacher. Other people in the society taught me about the history and customs of Scotland and inspired my trips there and interest in writing a book about my adventures. In fact, a lovely man from Scotland has become a friend after he read my book and contacted me to tell me so. He calls himself “The Village Kiltie.”

During my husband’s military career, I took belly dance lessons in several places where we were stationed and after my parents died, I went home to N.J. to settle their estate. While there, I met a gal who became my inspiration/teacher/mentor for a whole new twenty-plus-year career. Who would have guessed it?!

One of my guy friends was into opera, ballet and orchestral music, and since I had studied ballet, piano and cello most of my growing up years, he and I used to share season tickets. And another guy friend and I consoled each other when we each went through divorces.

I had a friend who was a 29 year cancer survivor, who taught me more about living than anyone I’ve known.

As I look back, my mother had a good idea in introducing me to people who could teach me something. It may have been a little difficult in the beginning, but the more I learned the more I wanted to learn, so I pick friends like that, still. I always want to grow and find things and people who inspire me. I have been so fortunate to have met so many really special people. I have photographs of most of them on shelves on either side of my desk and every day when I enter the room, I greet them with cherishing thoughts.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, life, musings, Scotland, Travel, writing

A New Adventure by Sherrie Hansen

CZECHIA – even the name sounds exotic – and somewhat intimidating. When we made reservations for our first two nights in Prague and the address included the words Na Hřebenkách, Hlavní město Praha, Czech Republic, I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into.

Czech - prague

We’re almost always in Europe the last week of May and the first two weeks of June. Last year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Scotland enjoying holiday festivities at Kelly Castle, near St. Andrews and making our second visit to the Highland Games at Blair Atholl Castle near Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I would happily have gone back to see the soldiers and pipers marching in their kilts to the beat of Celtic drums yet again, but a new adventure beckoned.

Scot - kilts

My husband spent a week and a half in the Holy Lands in April, and in May, we made an unexpected trip to California to bury his mother. Rather than leave on another vacation right away, we decided to wait until the last week of August and the first half of September. Since we were already jarred out of our familiar pattern, we decided to go in a different direction and explore another facet of my family history – Prague and the Czech Republic.

Grandmas

I have no idea what my Bohemian Grandma (Lorna, 1900-2000, in the center) would think of me traipsing halfway around the world to see where our ancestors lived before they settled in northern Iowa, but I’m excited to explore a new part of the globe. And nervous…

Romania - Castle

Mark and I have traveled to a few other non-English speaking parts of the world, but we’ve usually had a tour guide who was fluent in the native tongue – our friend Gabriella in Germany, our daughter-in-law, Cristiana in Romania, and our cousin Helle in Denmark. I could tell you some interesting stories about our adventures in Italy, Switzerland and France, where we were clueless when it came to communicating, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, I have good reason to be worried about the language barrier in Czechia. Mark already has a Czech phrase book and audio tape and I hear him practicing every so often… we’ll see how that goes!

Blizzard photo 2

During one of our late spring blizzards when I was holed up in one of our houses, I started perusing the map of Czech Republic for places that we might like to visit. I’m feeling a little more confident now that I can picture our route in my head and have a general idea of what we’ll get to see.

Czech - Mucha

August 28, 29 – We’ll be spending our first two days in Prague in Sector 5 exploring the paintings of Alfons Mucha, who is known for his portrayals of Slavic maidens and a series of twenty monumental canvases known as The Slav Epic. We’ll also visit Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) where we’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, and the Old Royal Palace and Vladislav Hall, so big it was used to host knightly jousting tournaments. And of course, the 16th-century Royal Garden and Charles Bridge (Karlův Most).

August 30, 31, and Sept 1 – Brno, about 2 hours south of Prague, is our next destination.  We’ll be staying in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house with an outside seating restaurant adjacent to a park. We’ll be there during the International Folklore Festival, where we hope to enjoy regional music, dancing and foods. We’ll see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which has remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles, and the the 13th-century Špilberk Castle and Tugendhat Villa. We’re told the area is known for its wild “bear” garlic Czech soup. Sounds right up my alley.

Czech - Brno Old

I’m still trying to decide if I want to see the remains of some 70,000 people slain in war or killed by diseases such as the plague in medieval times between the 14th and 16th centuries at the nearby “Bone Church,” the Gothic All Saints Chapel.

Sept 2, 3, and 4 – We figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in the big city, so we decided to spend the next few days in the country village of Rojetin. The guesthouse where we’ll be staying is near three UNESCO Heritage Sites – the the historic and tragic Jewish Quarter in Třebíč, the star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture.

Czech - Austria

Sept 5 and 6 – We’ll be dipping down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were already booked for the annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival. We’re looking forward to thermal spas, the idyllic wine villages of the area, music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, a historic market, and tasty homemade sausages and cheese.

Czech - Znojmo

All this time, we’ll still be within 2 1/2 hours of Prague. But on Sept 7, we’ll venture west to Znojmo and on to the heart of Bohemia. Our next destination, for Sept 8 and 9, is Cesky Krumlov. 

Czech - Chesky Krumlov

This town is often referred to by its old German name of Karlsbad, or Karlovy Vary . Established in 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe. The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains. It’s also a prominent glassmaking center, and I’m already dreaming of finding a factory seconds outlet store where I can buy millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects.

Czech - Loket

The tiny medieval town of Loket, with its impressive castle and beautiful mountain views, only a half hour west, will be our home on Sept 10 and 11. 

Czech -little castle

Then, on Sept 12, we’re off to the Bohemian Alps and Jilove to spend one night in a little castle. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czech - mountains

There are two national parks, Saxon Switzerland Park, which is in Germany, and its Czech sister, Ceske svycarsko National Park, on the Czech Republic’s side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which straddle the Elbe River. We’ll see rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches in Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). The region also has many old castles.

Sept 13, 14, 15, and 16 we’ll be in Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we’ll be able to get rested up before our trip home. We’ll see another famous castle, Karlstejn, and in České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles.

Czech - Lesany Courtyard

We’ll also be near Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park includes formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, ponds, and 25 kilometers of walking paths that we can go walking on – IF we can still walk by then…

Come August, I hope you’ll follow along on our adventure via the photos I post on Facebook and Instagram. (Hopefully it’s obvious, but none of the photos of Czechia were taken by me since I haven’t been there yet. ) If any of you have been to Czechia, please feel free to give advice, suggestions or helpful tips!

S - Shy Violet

Several people have asked me if I intend to write a Wildflowers of Czechia novel when I return. The answer is, probably – there are already images of a poor but fiesty gypsy girl and a wealthy Italian diplomat’s son floating around in my mind. Some of those images date back to a wedding reception I went to in 1980 when I was in Budapest, Hungary – but that’s another story…

Ireland - daisy sea

In the meantime, I’m still hard at work on Seaside Daisy, my upcoming Wildflowers of Ireland mystery. Thanks for listening!

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Sherrie grew up on a farm south of Austin, MN. After living in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine, she returned home twenty-eight years ago to be nearer her family. Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in St. Ansgar, Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. After twelve years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They divide their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes her novels and murder mysteries on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, and traveling to far off places with her husband. Sherrie has eleven books in print, including her highly acclaimed Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Her new release, DAYBREAK, published by Indigo Sea Press, is the long-awaited sequel to her first novel, NIGHT & DAY, set in southern Minnesota and Copenhagen, Denmark. You can contact Sherrie at https://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor/ or

https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/ or

https://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W/

 

 

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Auld Lang Syne by Sherrie Hansen

Spring has finally started to poke its head out of the long-frozen ground. That’s one of the reasons I’m in the mood to tie up winter’s loose ends and move on to new adventures. By this time most years, we’re deep into planning our summer vacation, with reservations made and dreamy visions of B&Bs and castles and seaside villages floating through our minds as we await May, when we usually depart for our destination.

Scot - Crinan Bay

We’ve always found February snowstorms to be a good time to plan our travels, but this year’s schedule is a bit off because my husband just returned from a tour of the Holy Land.  We both went to Arizona for a conference in January, and because Mark has had a second “working vacation” already this year (Mark is a pastor, so Israel was a great way to continue learning more about the Scriptures and walk in Jesus’ steps), we decided to wait to take our next outing until late August and early September.  And because his trip to Israel earned him enough frequent flier miles for a free ticket to Europe, we delayed buying our tickets until he returned.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep

So here I am, starting to think about Prague and the Czech Republic, the Bohemian Paradise, Alfons Mucha’s paintings of Slavic maidens, spa resorts and quaint countryside villages, and folklore and grape harvest festivals,  and I just realized I never did a final post about last year’s trip to Scotland.

Scot - kilmartin glen

The bit I left out was Kilmartin, on the far west side of Scotland, and it’s simply too significant a place to ignore. Of all the places we visited, it was the most restful and remote, far off the typical tourist trail. Our B&B was private and plush, a very respite for our travel weary souls, and walkabout backs, hips and feet…

After nearly three weeks on the road, and the trauma of our car hire incident on the Isles of Lewis, we truly felt pampered in Kilmartin Glen.

Scot - KM Appetizer

Crinan Bay was just a few miles away from where we stayed, and we delighted in watching the sunset over the sea.

Scot - Crinan boats

…It will be different visiting a landlocked country on the mainland of Europe this year. I truly love Scotland’s little harbor towns.

Scot - KM boat

The ancient history and evidence of civilizations past surrounding Kilmartin Glen was fascinating.

Standing stones and burial chambers and Celtic graves and prehistoric rocks carved with Pictish runes… the glen was full of preserved sites to explore.

Footprints of ancient kings and beautiful views of hills and valleys all made for amazing explorations.

But the thing I liked most was the peaceful aura surrounding the glen.

We were sad to leave, yet eager to get home.

Scot - Bothie

A few quick stops at a new-to-us historical village, a beloved garden we discovered two years earlier, and one of our favorite castles, and we were once again following the shores of Loch Lomond back to Glasgow, ready to go home.

 

So… To Springtime! And to Bonnie Scotland! To goodbyes and new adventures! Until next time, you know where to find me, and where my heart remains.

Scot - KM sheep

Twenty-eight years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, and her new release, DAYBREAK, the sequel to NIGHT & DAY, she has eleven books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Scot - kilmartin bay

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DNA = Deconstructed Niche Ancestry by Sherrie Hansen

According to Ancestry dot com, my DNA is a mishmash of curious combinations. While the main classifications that they identified held no great surprises, after seeing my DNA pie chart, I’m left with unexplainable images of a debonair Italian troubadour sailing to Scandinavia to open a pizzeria and wedding a sweet Danish girl from a seaside village, or a Middle eastern orphan who was conscripted to be the cook on a Viking vessel and ended up married to a Dane. My imagination and my travels have taken me many places in the world, and so, evidently, it was with my ancestors.

Scot - castle ruins

If you’ve read my novels Night and Day or Daybreak, you already know that I have a love for and a strong connection to Denmark. My mom is half Danish and so was my Dad. That makes me half Danish – but who knows what snippets of DNA filtered into the Danish Viking gene pool over the centuries.

Quilt - Jensen

I grew up believing the other half of me was 25% English / Scots / Pennsylvania Dutch (which I thought meant Dutch}, and 25% Bohemian. A few years ago, after living in Germany for 3 years in the late 70’s and not having a clue that I had any German blood, I found out that my Bohemian quarter was actually half Bohemian and half German. When I was in grade school and researching family trees, my Great-Grandpa Miller was already dead and buried. My great-grandma’s Bohemian pride had carried on while the German part of our heritage had gone to the grave with him. I started asking questions when I realized that Miller was NOT a Bohemian surname, and my dad filled me in on the rest of the story. Finding out that we were part German certainly explained why I felt so at home in Deutschland – and my family’s love of the Jaegerschnitzel and homemade Spaetzle recipes I brought home from Germany!

food - schnitzel

My love for and the connection I feel to Scotland is a little harder to explain. But then, I think I have not only explained it, but given many illustrations of it in Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod. I feel at home in Scotland. The scenery and the lifestyle and the people call out to me. Yes, I supposedly had a great-great or great-great-great grandmother who was Scottish. My ancestors hailed from a little village in Lincolnshire called Scoton, which means Scott town. But my passion for Scotland is born of my heart somewhere deep in my soul, and is really quite unexplainable.

Scot - Uig sunset stones

My husband and I are currently in Arizona for a Spiritual Life Conference and later tonight, we’re going to attend a Burns Dinner with bagpipers, Scottish dancers, haggis and meat pies, addresses to honor the great poet, Robert Burns, and of course, some wee sips of whiskey. I can’t wait to meet others who love Scotland and relive various facets of the culture we fell in love with in the 9 weeks we’ve spent in the country – so far.

SW 57

Tomorrow, we’re heading to northern Arizona to visit the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and an Indian reservation – another culture that’s been precious to me ever since I read about Sacajawea in the 3rd grade. Yes, I’m a bit eclectic.

az-purples

This fall, we’re planning a trip to Prague and several villages in the Czech Republic to explore my Bohemian roots. A few years ago, we spent 2 weeks in Romania, where we followed up on leads regarding my husband’s ancestors. I’ve been to Denmark three times, England several times, and returned to Germany with a new appreciation for my heritage. The ties are there, the pull is strong. I can truly imagine living in any of those areas. Somehow, I’ve bonded with the people and places – in part, because of my heritage, and in part, because I listen and pay attention when places and things call out to me.

Scot - Fairy

There’s one other component of my DNA that is an integral part of my personal DNA, and that’s that I’m part of the family of God, adopted by grace, through faith in Jesus. Those roots go deep as well, impacting everything I think, do, and write.

Zion - Sunset

So take me as you find me, for who I am and who I will become as I deconstruct and explore the various niches and facets and colorful strands of my DNA. It’s reflected in my books – in my whole life. If you haven’t already, I hope one day you’ll join me in the journey.

SW 143

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Best of Both Worlds By Maribeth Shanley

Life is full of surprises. Some things you plan; and, well, some things turn up as complete surprises!

When Bob and I first discussed where we were going to retire, we had three destinations on our list.

We lived in the Nashville, TN area, so we decided that we might stay in the area but purchase a refurbished house in the historic district. Our second choice was in the Smokie Mountains area. In particular, we thought about living near the city of Gatlinburg. Our third choice was to move to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As we weighed our choices, we decided that we loved both the ocean and the mountains. Thus, we decided to move to the Myrtle Beach area and then, later, purchase or build a small cabin in the Gatlinburg area which lies on the north side of the Smokie Mountains.

We loved Nashville, but it didn’t have anything more to offer us. Gatlinburg did. So did Myrtle Beach. Had we stayed in Nashville, we would have had to travel to both Gatlinburg as well as to Myrtle Beach. Gatlinburg was about four hours away, and Myrtle Beach was twelve hours away. Retiring in Nashville was the first casualty of our decision.

Gatlinburg was where Bob, I and all our critters had spent at least ten Christmases. The town is lit up like a fairytale during the season, and there’s so much to see in the area. On the other hand, it gets cold in the winter. Sometimes it snows. Did we want to be cold in the winter and shovel snow? The answer was no. Thus, the decision to permanently relocate to Myrtle Beach, yet purchase or build a small cottage in the Gatlinburg area became our plan.

We’ve lived in Myrtle Beach going on four years. We love it here. We both love the beach and, although we only went to the beach twice this year, we have promised each other that next year, we will go more often. I much prefer the ocean over a crowded pool. Plus, I love that, regardless of the time of year, there’s always an ocean breeze.

As we considered our small place in Gatlinburg, one day we walked out of our garage to see that our neighbor three doors up had an RV parked in front of their house. Martin, the husband, was out at the vehicle, so we strolled up to say hi. As we stood in his driveway talking to him, Linda, his wife strolled out with a tub of items she was carrying to the RV. They were headed out the following morning for a two-week jaunt to Montana. The couple invited us to look inside, which we did. After a long discussion about how they have enjoyed their RV and planned to go away at least once each month for a week or two, we walked back to our house.

I usually make all the financial decisions. I don’t recall how that happened. However, I seem to be the one who can make things happen. Bob lovingly refers to me as the CFO. I usually chuckle when he does.

The more I thought about Linda and Martin’s RV the more I liked the idea. Over the past four years, I managed to pay off everything, including a new car and jeep. Also, we own our home. We did that by cashing in two of our 401 plans. As I thought about an RV vs. a small cottage in the mountains, I thought, A cottage would be nice, but it would be a static venue. On the other hand, an RV would mean we could plan trips to many places, including the Gatlinburg area. It made sense to me to go the RV route vs. buying a second home and feeling compelled to use it vs. visit other areas of the country.

I brought up the issue to Bob, and he agreed with my reasoning. I then talked to Linda. She told me that they had made the same decision, i.e., purchase an RV vs. a permanent cottage in the mountains. They loved the freedom of their RV.

It didn’t take much more consideration before Bob, and I made the decision, then the leap to go purchase an RV.  We now own a 29 ft. RV that could sleep up to eight people. In other words, it’s big enough for us and all our critters, two small dogs, two cats, and four parrots.

RV
We purchased our RV four months ago. Our first trip was up to a campground in North Carolina. It was a trip we made where we stayed five nights for free, and it was part of the purchase of our RV.  Little did we know, there was a catch. We had to sit through a sales presentation where we could join Travel Resorts of America. We weren’t all that pumped up about sitting through the presentation and were pretty sure we wouldn’t join. So, on day two, a fella came by our site in a golf cart and took us around the campgrounds showing us all the amenities. As we sat through the presentation, I began to realize it was a very good deal for not as much money than it would cost us over the long run if we didn’t join.

After the presentation, Bob and I discussed our options. We managed to buy one of their packages which gives us free stays at three of their eight sites anytime we want to visit the sites. The three sites define our three “home bases,” which are free to use for as long as we want each trip. Also, we get to stay at the remaining five sites for $10/day anytime we want to visit. The sites are located in various States up and down the east coast.

On top of that, we have access to some other sites that are part of the Travel Resorts of America across the country for only $10/day. Normally, campsites cost $40-50 per day, and that doesn’t include the gas you purchase to get to and from the sites. So, we signed up.

We’ve been camping every month for the past four months and enjoying every minute of our new adventure. Three of those trips have been at our home-base campgrounds. Thus, those camping fees have added up to $0. One of those trips was a trip up to Ohio.

Hurricane Florence was due to come onshore, and as it moved toward the SC/NC shores, it was scheduled to be a category three hurricane. We had already experienced a category one hurricane two summers ago, and after moving into our current home, we decided a category three hurricane would be far scarier. The category one was scary enough.

At first, Bob wanted to stay home. However, after we purchased a generator for $900, and discovered that the generator would only power up one appliance and one lamp, we changed our minds. Being newcomers to natural disasters, we thought a generator would power up the entire house. So, once we realized the limited capacity of the outrageously expensive generator, we decided to take it back, get a refund and call one of our three home bases, to escape the hurricane.

We called the campground in NC where we first stayed. They were under a flood warning, so, we called the Ohio facility which was not one of our home bases. We discovered, however,  that they were offering members a free stay vs. the normal $10/day fee as a “hurricane” courtesy. We spent the following day, pulling in everything from the outside and securing them in our garage and house. We then loaded up our RV and headed out.

When the hurricane hit, the Myrtle Beach area basically suffered a category one. The brunt of the hurricane caused far more damage in North Carolina. Nonetheless, we didn’t have to sit through even the scary winds and rain of a category one hurricane. Plus, we thoroughly enjoyed our four days stay in Ohio where we will return to stay again and enjoy some of their amenities like horseback riding.

Reg. Pilot Mtn

Recently, we spent four days in North Carolina at a campground for which we paid the full charge. However, it was still a great trip. We camped at the base of Pilot Mountain in North Carolina and only fifty miles south of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

 

Pilot Mountain is beautiful, especially when the morning skies to the south are lit up with the pink of a rising sun, causing the granite rock that juts up on the top of the mountain to appear pink as well.

The temperatures were crisp during the evenings. The days were cool but pleasant. It was pleasant sleeping under a few quilts with our two dogs and cats sharing the bed with us.

Our birds also enjoyed the trip. Their three cages sit above the cab, and we always bring plenty of covers to keep them cozy and warm during the evening. Our African Grey parrot, Jasper, especially likes traveling in the RV. His cage sits next to the window so he can watch outside as we drive down the highway. He sings and talks the entire time. The cats love to travel as well. They spend most of the drive time under the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It’s warm under there. The dogs love it too.

When Bob drives, Slugger, our thirteen-year-old Schnauzer sleeps in his bed the entire trip up and back. Our other Schnauzer, Bailey, who is still a puppy, takes advantage of me by climbing up on my lap. I don’t mind at all. This last trip, I drove both ways. Bailey slept on a pad in between Bob and me. Bob’s not the sucker I am. He prefers no pets wiggling around on his lap.

We’ve decided to stay home for Thanksgiving. We were planning a trip to the Outer Banks. However, we decided to add on to our downstairs patio instead. We’ll visit the Outer Banks next summer when we can go swimming in the ocean.

For Christmas, we’ve decided to spend it in our favorite Christmas town, Gatlinburg. We’ll stay in a campground just outside the town. We tow our Jeep whenever we camp. The Jeep gives us lots of mobility.

This next year we plan to take a trip up the east coast, all the way to Maine. Along the way, we’ll stop in Rhode Island, my birth State. I want to visit the beach I used to go to as well as eat clam cakes at Aunt Carrie’s not far from the beach, Sandy Point. It’s beautiful along the beach route which will give me a little bit of nostalgia and will introduce Bob to a part of the country he hasn’t yet traveled.

In a year or two, we plan a big adventure. Bob has traveled out west. I have as well, but only by air. I was once at the edge of the Rocky Mountains where I picked up my brother and his girlfriend and brought them back to where we lived in Illinois. However, I was only able to get a small glimpse of the Rockies.   A trip out west will be a spectacular adventure for me. We’ll drive out by taking the northern route, then return traveling through the southern route. We’ll get to see a lot of the west, and we’ll take our time doing it. We’re talking about a month-long trip.

Despite the threat of hurricanes, we’re happy we chose to live at the beach. Fortunately, the Myrtle Beach coastline is indented, so it misses many of the hurricanes. When they do come on shore, they are the tail of the storm. We’re also happy we now have a means of enjoying the Smokie Mountains and Gatlinburg. Also, we will be taking a trip back to Nashville to see some of our friends and enjoying some of our old stomping grounds. Best of all, we will do all of that and more while driving our rolling home while towing our Jeep enabling us to go wherever we want while we’re camping.

We have indeed discovered the best of both worlds. We live at the beach.  Plus, it has been a wonderful, unplanned surprise to realize we have lots of trips to look forward to in our future.

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Merry of Soul, She Sailed on a Day, Over the Sea to Skye – by Sherrie Hansen

The next leg of our Scottish journey felt like coming home. We make it a point to see new places and things each time we come to Scotland, but we also plan return visits to places we didn’t get enough of the first time around.  Scot - Skye sunset

Coming back to the Isle of Skye on the ferry from Harris felt like meeting up with an old, familiar friend for a quick catch up. We saw a phenomenal sunset while we headed back to our B&B, a newly built addition with a comfortable bed, an amazing, spa-like bathroom and a beautiful view of Loch Dunvegan. Only two things marred our visit – more midges and a sad state of affairs at a much-renowned Stein pub where we’d had wonderful meals twice before. We were truly shocked when our waitress ignored us for over an hour before taking our order, not even bringing us water or a menu, while the Scots at the table next to ours ordered, ate, paid and went their merry ways. I won’t go into the details, but it was the first time we’d been treated rudely, probably because we were Americans, on any of our journeys. When our dinners finally arrived, my meat was tough and undercooked. I would have left without paying, but my nice husband took care of the bill and we departed completely mystified at the treatment we’d received.

Scot - Skye sunset 2

The rest of our time on Skye was delightful. We enjoyed our room and the nice breakfast treats left in the refrigerator, and went to sleep dreaming of the opportunity to see some of our favorite spots from two years ago. After taking in the scenery on the loop from Dunvegan to Sligachan Valley, we followed the highway toward Armadale Castle and Gardens, on the east side of Skye, which we had not seen our first trip.

Scot - castle ruins

The gardens were lovely and the ruins of the castle were serene and full of interesting historical images. Our hike through the forest was as brief as we could manage as the dreaded midges were once again out in full force. Thankfully, after we left the castle, we found a locally manufactured concoction made with natural ingredients and essential oils that did seem to deter the little buggers, as well as soothing the bites I already had.

Scot - Dornie

We stopped at Dorney and Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Loch Carron. Eilean Donan, the only place besides the Glasgow airport that we’ve seen on all three visits to Scotland, is the setting of Shy Violet, and plays a role in Sweet William. I truly do feel a connection to this castle. I took a copy of Sweet William along to give to one of the servers at the Castle café just like I did Shy Violet two years ago, and to my delight, they remembered me! The woman we gifted the book to even had a connection to the house on the front cover. Like so many aspects of our trip, the whole thing felt meant to be.

Scot - Eilean Donan

I had the same pleasant sense of déjà vu in Loch Carron. The idea for Golden Rod was born while I was there two years ago, and it was great fun to leave copies with the owner of the B&B where we stayed and the owner of the Waterside Café, which is mentioned in the book.  We revisited Lochcarron Weavers (and left with more wool remnants), stopped at my favorite craft shop (which had almost burned down in a forest fire the week before).

Scot - Fairy

I bought a wee Scottish fairy, and saw the incredibly scenic overlooks we discovered last time. But from there on, everything we saw and did was entirely new. We had two incredible meals, one at Lochcarron Bistro that included some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Scot - Lochcarron bench 

The next day, we set off for Applecross, a charming seaside village at the end of one of the steepest, scariest mountain roads I’ve ever been on. Mark navigated the narrow, winding road quite well, and our little Honda put forth a valiant effort while I tried to snap photos whenever I could. One didn’t dare stop to shoot a photo midway up the incline for fear you’d never get going again. It was that steep.

Scot - Applecross

Once we rounded a series of extremely sharp hairpin curves, we walked around the summit and stretched our tense legs. From there, it was downhill to Applecross, a very secluded town on the water, where we discovered a delightful garden that was being restored to its former glory.

Scot - garden

It was totally unanticipated, and one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

Scot - Mark in boat

Coming down the mountain via the coastal road was a different kind of adventure, with wandering, remote single track roads lined with wildflowers, boothies, sheep and hairy coo, punctuated by the occasional fishing village. The one thing we never saw was a gas station, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we glided into Lochcarron on petrol fumes and miraculously found a gas station that was still open.    

Scot - Hairy Coo

The weather that day was warm and sunny, and perfect for exploring. We stopped frequently and stumbled upon a few gems on that trip over the mountain. I even discovered the work of a potter whose main shop was back in Strathcarron. I left with several little dishes and hearts made by Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery, all in her signature pastel colors and whimsical designs. If ever I live in Lochcarron, I will visit her studio often.

Scot - pottery

The next morning, after another wonderful Scottish breakfast, we said goodbye and left for Fort William, a stopover on our way to Kilmartin Glen, our last major destination.

 Scot - SW House

On the way, we finally found the spot where I took the photo that is on the front cover of Sweet William. I say finally because we’d looked and looked and never found it two years ago.

Sweet William Front Cover

The trick was, you had to get out of the car and hike past an old church ruin to get to the spot where you could look down into the valley to see what I fondly call Rabbit Hill Lodge (in my imagination and the world of Lyndsie and Violet in Sweet William.)

Scot - Fort William

From there, it was more mountains and a drive through the Spey River valley to Speybridge. We heard a bagpiper playing at the summit and watched a storm approaching from the west. The storm followed us all the way to Fort William and while it doused our sightseeing efforts, it didn’t deter us from poking around downtown and finding a restaurant that had room for two. I had haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), served with a whiskey peppercorn gravy.

Scot - Haggis

By this stage of the trip, we felt very aware of the fact that our vacation days were drawing to a close. I remember wondering if this would be the last time I got to enjoy haggis. I think it was – and a good note to end on, it was.

Scot - FW church

Sunday morning, we decided to try a Scottish church once more, and found a lively congregation much like what we’re used to at Zion, in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is the pastor. They had guitars and sang songs we knew, and the pastor was easy to listen to and even witty at times. While the people were very friendly and welcoming at both churches we visited, this one was more relaxed and joyous and felt like home.

Scot - skye - rhodo close

It was hard to imagine that we would see anything in our last few days in country that would rival the sights we’d already enjoyed, but Kilmartin Glen did just that. It’s called saving the best for last.

Until next time…

Scot - Skye 

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

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Why Wildflowers? by Sherrie Hansen

SW 57

Perhaps I carried a bouquet of goldenrod for good luck at some point in my life, because I certainly feel lucky to have visited Scotland three times – so far.

Scot - Callendish stones

As fans of Outlander know, most books set in Scotland revolve around highlanders, kilts, and keeps. My Wildflowers of Scotland novels (Thistle Down, a novella, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod) are modern-day mixtures of romance and suspense with the Scottish countryside as a backdrop.

Wildflowers - Stripes

They’re also colorful tales, rich in symbolism of wildflowers.

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There are plenty of dark, misty vales, cold, stone castles, and drab, colorless cottages scattered through Scotland. What I love most about the wee wildflowers of Scotland is that they provide the perfect bit of contrast, a much needed dash of color to an otherwise harsh landscape. I hope you can see the Scotland I love in the bouquet of wildflowers I’ve picked for you.

Thistle

THISTLE DOWN – A common, prickly, purple thistle saved the day when an Englishman doing reconnaissance stepped on a particularly thorny specimen and let out a howl, alerting Scottish guards to an imminent invasion by the English. We can all be a bit oblivious at times, especially when we’re up against hard rock on one side and well, hard rock on the other side, too. There’s nothing like the sharp bite of a prickly plant to make you appreciate what you have and see the beauty in your own backyard.

Thistle Down - small.jpg

Such is the premise for my novella, Thistle Down when tenderhearted Pastor Ian MacCraig tries to keep a pair of prickly sisters from marrying the wrong men. Emily Downey has found the perfect groom. If only she loved the man… Chelsea Downey is wild about her boyfriend. Trouble is, he’s two-timing her and everyone sees it but her. Their thorny situation gets even stickier when the church ladies come up with a plan. Can Pastor Ian MacCraig weed out the thistles and get to the heart of the matter in time to save the day?

 

 

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WILD ROSE – Wild roses symbolize perfect happiness, love at first sight, joy and gladness, and happy, forever love. Like other wildflowers, they’re hardy, stubborn and determined to find a foothold whether they be planted atop a stone wall, set amongst ruins, or left to fend for themselves along the side of the motorway. But even the sturdiest of wildflowers can be trampled on when their generous hearts are abused by ones not so honest or caring.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00024]

Such was the case when Rose Wilson learned that Digby, the online friend she met for what she thought was a harmless rendezvous, was a common criminal. Enter Pastor Ian MacCraig, who is trying to capture the thief who is stealing artifacts from his kirk (Saint Conan’s on Loch Awe, Scotland.) The last thing he expects to find on his video is a woman engaging in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses. Rose is mortified and the church ladies are appalled to learn that Pastor Ian, the board of Wilson Enterprises, the constable, and half the town have had a glimpse of Rose half naked. What remains to be seen is how far Ian will go to defend Rose’s honor and if the church ladies will forgive Rose now that they know who she really is… and if Rose can believe she’s worthy of someone as good and kind as Ian MacCraig. Are Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?

GR Blog - bluebells

BLUE BELLE – Bluebells are one of my favorite flowers. The first harbingers of spring, they’re known for their humility, kindness and constancy. They’re as down-to-earth as my characters, and like any springtime bloomer, all the sweeter because you have to endure a bit of weather each year before they return.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

Just as bluebells hide in off-the-beaten path forest glens, Isabelle has traveled to the ends of the earth to try to escape her past. Psychologist Michael is also hiding out, as far removed from his relatives and his practice in Wisconsin as he can get. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried at Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls Michael and Isabelle think they are hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe. Set in colorful Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull, it becomes very clear in Blue Belle that timing is everything – and that sometimes, you just have to jump.

 

S - Shy Violet

SHY VIOLET – Eilean Donan Castle, near Dornie, Scotland, is a modest castle – not as big, old, nor fancy as many, Eilean Donan is subtle and understated as castles go. Perhaps that’s why it’s grown to be so iconic. In Scotland, it’s “aboot” the simple, everyday things of life, pleasures born both of need and necessity. That’s why, if you keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see majesty galore in nature’s quiet offerings… a shy violet hiding behind a rock, a blush of heather in the hills, a splash of rhododendrons growing deep in the woods.

ShyViolet6

Maybe that’s why shy Violet has been so long overlooked in her search for true love even though her name signifies that her thoughts are occupied with the fanciful notion. Violet has always put great stock in the virtues of modesty and faithfulness – particularly faithful love. But that ship has sailed right along with the pirate boat Violet jumped aboard, thinking she could hide from a string of bad decisions in her past. Violet didn’t even know Nathan existed when she inadvertently met his father and ruined any chance of a future with his son. But part of the violet’s essence is to take a chance on happiness. No one knows what will happen when Violet meets a bagpiper whose music spans the centuries in front of a castle with a troubled history. But is Violet fleeing the present only to collide with the past?

SW99

SWEET WILLIAM – Sweet William is equated with gallantry, childlike awe, and the sensation of getting lost in a whole new world of wonder and enchantment. William McKnight is a true sweetheart, and as gallant a man as you’ll ever see, always ready with a smile. From Lyndsie Morris’s tart, hardscrabble childhood, there has gown a spirited flower with character and determination and a true appreciation of the things that really matter in life.

Sweet William Front Cover

But when Minnesota farm boy, William, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear. Set in the Highlands near Eilean Donan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, and in volatile Minnesota, they face the harshest of conditions. Will their love take hold and bloom or will stormy weather crush the romance that’s blossoming between them?

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2016

GOLDEN ROD – Goldenrod flowers are thought to hold many symbols – from caution to encouragement, luck to good fortune. Superstitious folklore advises people to carry a bouquet of goldenrod flowers when seeking out treasure or venturing forth on new, but risky, ventures.

Golden Rod front cover- final

All of these themes and more are explored in Golden Rod as the reader gets to know Lachlan—a centuries old castle overlooking Loch Carron, Scotland; Kacie—a twelve-year-old girl whose dying wish is to see it; Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary MacKenzie—500-year-old ghosts who desperately want to escape it; Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod of Lachlan—the rightful heir who wants to live there happily ever after; and Katelyn O’Neal—the well-intentioned but clueless legal heir who’s about to pay a high price for selling Lachlan to a lowlife scum. Golden Rod is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends and risky ventures, of bad luck and old curses turned to golden wishes. Rod MacKenzie is a gentle gardener and sometimes sailor born of adversity, and so much more lovable than Buck, the arrogant showoff who now owns the castle. How similar to the way of Scottish wildflowers – blooming not in showy profusion, but cropping up here and there in solitary clumps to bloom wherever there is a bit of fertile soil.

Wildflowers

If you’re a lover of wildflowers – wherever they blossom – and most particularly, Scotland, you’ll find the quaint surroundings – and the pirates, pipers and tales of days past that are part of Sherrie Hansen’s novels – to be fascinating. I encourage you to clutch a bunch of goldenrod and take a risk – try a new author!

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Sherrie - bluebells

Twenty-seven years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Wheaton, IL, Bar Harbor, Maine, Lawton, OK, Augsburg, Germany, and Colorado Springs, CO. After 12 years of writing fiction, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker. Mark and Sherrie divide their time between a cottage in St. Ansgar, and the parsonage where Mark serves as pastor. Their two houses are 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. In her “free time”, Sherrie quilts, makes music on the piano, plays with her camera, renovates old houses, travels to the far off corners of the world, and goes on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. Her new release, Daybreak, is her twelfth novel to be published by Indigo Sea Press. Sherrie’s books have been called “the thinking woman’s romance” and her latest books also contain elements of suspense. While many of Sherrie’s books contain issues of faith and family, some also include “steamy” scenes, and some, a candid combination of both. Most are “second chance at romance” stories with primary characters aged 30 to 50. Many of Sherrie’s books contain at least one special quilt.

BlueBelle 2016

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

 Daybreak in Denmark (3)

Books Titles: New Release:  Daybreak, sequel to Night & Day, Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William and Golden Rod, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company of Our Nightmares by Sherrie Hansen

You might be wondering how we ended up driving a loaded Jaguar e-Pace SUV around Scotland in the first place, given as we are folks of average means and thrifty habits. The short answer is that we were given a free upgrade – in part because we’d been waiting for the smaller car we’d ordered for three hours. We hadn’t slept or showered for more than 24 hours. We’d also been forced to buy an expensive insurance policy that cost almost as much as the car rental itself, even though our USAA Credit Card covers accident insurance on our rental cars no matter where in the world we happen to be. Long story short, I think the car hire associate felt sorry for us and decided to throw us a bone.

Scot - Jag

I have to admit that we got a bit spoiled in the Jaguar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride was smooth. It had a back-up mirror that responded to the cars movements to direct you with curved lines. The GPS was very helpful in finding our way around. It was an amazing car.

Scot - Rocky Road

When we hit a sharp rock along the side of the road on our second day on the Isle of Lewis and ended up with a seriously flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we assumed we could get the tire changed and be on our way. But the impact of hitting the rock, which more or less bounced us against a ridge of razor sharp rocks and back again, was a hugs gash in the rear passenger side tire and a cracked wheel rim on the front passenger side tire.

We were pretty shook up, and not knowing exactly what had happened, prayed our way to the nearest sign of civilization, about three miles down the road. The tire held out until we  turned into the driveway and drove across the cattle guard, when it went completely flat. The place we found ourselves at looked to be a Scottish version of Outward Bound. We were immediately greeted and offered help in changing the tire. Only one problem – there was no spare and the patch kit the car hire company had provided was woefully inadequate. (An associate later told us they remove the spare tires on their luxury cars because they are afraid someone might steal them.)

Scot - Scaladale

From there began a long, frustrating day of repeatedly calling the car hire company’s help line, waiting, and when no help came and no one called back, calling them again. Repeat. And repeat. With no means of transportation, we had to cancel our lunch reservations at North Harbour Bistro. Thank goodness for the kind and very helpful staff at Scaladale Youth Center – Mark and I obviously aren’t in danger of starving to death, but I can’t imagine what would have become of us if we’d had to wait for more than 7 hours along the side of the road with no water, shade, or bathroom facilities.

Scot - Harris viewIn the end, our car hire company told us we would have to find our own way back to Glasgow (over 200 miles and a three hour ferry ride away), where we MIGHT be given a replacement car. So much for the fancy-schmancy insurance policy with promises of roadside assistance and replacement vehicles they’d forced us to buy. This was not a good time. We were hungry, frustrated and completely lacking in any kind of faith in the car company. 

Scot - Harris mountains

But possessing a good dose of Midwest ingenuity, we started calling around to local garages and car hire companies and found ourselves a little Peugeot in Stornoway that we could have for 24 hours while we sorted things out. We hitched a ride into town with a staff member at the end of his work day. He regaled us with stories of life on a remote island while we drove hurriedly home so he could change and go out into the peat bogs and cut peat – free fuel for all willing to go to the work of cutting, hauling and stacking the bricks. He was doing this for his mother, who needed enough to make it through two winters, as he and his fiancé were going to be married and take a year long honeymoon. We were so impressed by this man!

The car hire office was already closed by the time we arrived to pick up our “new” car (they’d left the keys under the seat and parked it on the street). The effects of our delicious breakfast had long since faded, so we had some dinner and headed back to our B&B, which was an hour away, in Uig. On our way back toward the place where we got stranded, we saw a tow truck with “our” Jaguar on his bed – almost 10 hours after our incident with the rock.

Scot - Uig B

We’d lost a whole day of our much anticipated time on Lewis and Harris. The next morning was also spent trying to find a rental car that we could use for the remainder of our trip. There were no car hires on the Isle of Skye where we were scheduled to get off the ferry on the next leg of our trip, and our ferry left from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on the opposite end of the island from Stornoway. The biggest obstacle was that the car hire companies on the Isles of Lewis and Harris only rent cars for use on the island.

Scot - Harris house

It seemed like an impossible situation until a young man whose sister lived in Glasgow said that we could take their company’s car off the island and get it to his sister at the end of our trip so she would get it back to them. We had to pay an extra fee, but it was worth every penny not to have to cancel our reservations or become foot passengers hobbling along with our luggage, trying to find a bus or train that led to Glasgow. Best of all, our faith in people was restored and then some as we dealt with the kind locals from Lewis and Harris. These folks really went out of their way to help us!

Scot - Scalpay food

The day started getting better almost immediately. We made it to the wonderful restaurant on Scalpay for lunch and I had the chance to visit the official Harris Tweed outlet store to buy fabric as planned.

Scot - Harris Tweed

Mark scored an empty blue gin bottle from the Isle of Harris Distillery to use as a water bottle at home, just like they had at North Harbour Bistro. Afterwards, we walked off a little of our delectable lunch at Luskentyre Beach.

Scot - L Beach

The white sands and tropical-looking blue waters were amazing, while the Belted Galway cows grazing along the shores kept things quintessentially Scotland. 

Scot - cow

After another trip back to Stornoway to switch out our little Peugeot for the even littler Honda Jazz we would use to make our way back to Glasgow, we were off to see the Standing Stones by sunset one last time, and enjoy our comfortable B&B before catching the ferry in the morning.    

Scot - Honda

And you know what? Our little Honda did just fine! It was definitely not luxurious like the Jaguar, but it was great for navigating the narrow roads to the beach. It sat comfortably, and all of our luggage fit, between the boot and the backseat!

Scot - narrow roadsAll’s well that ends well? We’re still fighting with the original car rental company over what we should and should not be required to pay for the short-lived pleasure of driving their Jaguar, but we saw everything we really wanted to on Lewis and Harris, and, we ended up on the right ferry (reservations required) at the right time to the right place. We loved the Isles of Lewis and Harris – the people, first, the Callanish stones second, and my fabric treasures third. And let us not forget Mark’s empty gin bottle – a found treasure that we love, mostly because we got it for free.

Scot - Gin bottle

Because luxuries like Jaguars are nice, but life’s simple pleasures are the best.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep 

Stay tuned for more adventure on the Isle of Skye, and in Loch Carron, setting of Golden Rod, the mountains and gardens of Applecross, Fort William, and the ancient sites of Kilmartin Glen.

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel