Europe For The Senses

Author/Photographer Vicki Liston blogs on her book and some interesting places she's traveled. "Europe for the Senses - A Photographic Journal" was published under the name 'Vicki Landes'.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Iceland: Untamed and Tourist-Friendly

Oozing volcanoes, thousands of earthquakes, and countless exploding geysers you can set your watch by – it doesn’t sound like a coveted vacation destination. However, Iceland is quickly becoming the newest hot spot for travelers. Just a hop from the U.S.’s East Coast or Western Europe, this little island country is easier to visit than one would think.

Iceland’s attraction is its untamed countryside. Considering that most of this rugged island is uninhabitable, this leaves much open space and fresh air to the brave adventurer for exploring. The landscape is forever changing as the shifting continental plates refuse to give this country a moment of rest. Stand in awed before raging waterfalls and frozen glaciers, hike deep volcanic craters and rocky lava fields, even enjoy ice fishing, whale watching, puffin and other sea bird watching, kayaking and jet-boating. Iceland can be easily discovered with the help of local tour companies – the only question the tourist must answer is if they prefer to go by bus, snowmobile, or gentle Icelandic horse.

Not into roughing it? Iceland will still satisfy – the country is rich in cultural treasures, indulgences, and a serious patron of the arts. Savor a gourmet meal at a world-class restaurant, take in the unique artistic styles at a museum, learn about the tectonic plates and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at a geological center, enjoy one of many musical concerts by local, national, or international talent, or soak your cares away in the steamy Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is probably Iceland’s most famous destination as an oasis of heat amid its chilly surroundings. Heated by geothermal energy, the intense cloudy blue waters feel almost scalding at times and are chock-full of healthy minerals. Troughs of soft white silica mud sit warm in the water for visitors to slather on – all while enjoying the balmy sunbeams and the crystal clear sky.

Despite its seemingly cold and uninviting name, Iceland boasts a mixture of friendly people, fascinating traditions, and an unsurpassed landscape. Need to get out?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Right Under My Nose

As it gets colder and colder, I feel less and less energetic about taking long trips...unless, of course, they involve going south to a warmer climate. I still feel the need to get out and see something, though. Turns out, you can find some pretty interesting places in your own town so I'm always looking for something new to do in Stuttgart.

Not too long ago, an author from NYC contacted me. She said that she'd seen some information about me and my book online but the fact that I was in Stuttgart is what interested her. It turned out that she is a concentration camp survivor and lived in Kippenheim and Jebenhausen - very close to the Stuttgart area. There's a memorial at a train station in downtown Stuttgart and a Jewish museum in her hometown. Of course, this also is of interest to Rob (note previous blog 'One Big Happy Travelin' Family') so we are going to take a train to see the memorial (which has her name as well as several family members' names), leave a flower as a respectful remembrance, and then go out to her hometown and visit. Rob's already given me some very sad information on Terezin - the concentration camp in the Czech Republic where she spent several years in horrific conditions that no person, especially a child, should be subjected to. Yes, it's not a 'happy fun' type of an outing but it not only feeds our interest in the Stuttgart area but ensures that atrocities such as the Holocaust are not only remembered, they are taken in at a personal level.

For those of you that don't make it to the Stuttgart area, visit Inge Auerbacher's website instead: She's the prize-winning author of "I Am A Star", "Beyond the Yellow Star To America", "Running Against The Wind", and "Finding Dr. Schatz". Her website is heartwrenching and hopeful at the same time and I'm looking forward to reading her books!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Deruta, Italy – A Pottery Lover’s Pilgrimage

Window after window of priceless painted ceramics, a symphony of colors that dance seamlessly together, and terra cotta-colored buildings that have overlooked the area since the Middle Ages– it’s almost too much to take in for visitors of Deruta. The sun warmly shines down on the masters that lovingly knead and massage their clay while shoppers ‘oohh’ and ‘ahhh’ over the gorgeous works of art. A day in Deruta promises a treasure trove of finds as well as the potential of making new friends - all packaged up in a relaxed atmosphere worthy of any Italian town.

Easy to find and tourist-friendly, Deruta sits right off of Autostrada E45 and immediately greets its visitors with rows of ceramic shops and ample parking. Despite housing over 200 retail stores, each offers its own elegantly unique patterns so it’s difficult to not want to see them all. Stop by Cama, right off the main road, for a tour of the facility and a step-by-step journey through the process of ceramics. Cama’s proud of their family-owned company and guests of their factory will see an uncle spinning cool, wet clay into pots and pitchers while mom is sanding the seams from the dried earthenware. Follow the circuit to witness the expert artists paint each creamy white argil into a masterpiece of color. Cama’s work has been given to the Pope so it’s without a doubt, high-quality craftsmanship.

Deruta’s Old Town also offers shoppers a delightful time but in a more charming atmosphere. Aged buildings adorned by painted tiles sit just past the city gates and scream to be noticed. Visitors pop in and out of little stores while the cheerful water fountain in the middle of the cobblestone road provides soft background music. Shop owners greet passersby with smiles and conversation, eager to share information on their wares. Visit Mariam, whose talent is truly astounding. She sets herself apart from other Deruta artists by using shades of green and painting the outside surface of her bowls. Stop by Rolli Reno, who paints exquisite tiles of all sizes and incorporates them into trays, key ring hooks, and frames. His style explodes with a colorful symmetry that can brighten any place it’s displayed in.

Deruta’s the ‘Ceramic of Ceramics’…any piece is sure to become a family heirloom.

As Featured On Ezine Articles

Sunday, October 08, 2006

National 4-H Week

Did you know that the first week of October is ‘National 4-H Week’? My sister, Dawn, and I spent about five years in this organization when we were younger, taking everything from ceramics to candlemaking and dog training. I think the most valuable classes I took were in photography. My dad taught each of the classes and I got to use his hand-me-down Canon 35mm (which I still have). I remember learning that you ruin the entire package of light-sensitive paper when you pull them out of the special black envelope under normal room lights. I remember that if you shampoo twice, you can get the smell of the development chemicals out of your hair. I also remember learning the important stuff like shutter speed, light settings, filters, and ISO.

During one of the later years in photography, I had to come up with a photo story for the 4-H fair. This was probably my most unenjoyable project – I enjoyed the close-ups and the action shots but a photo story? Whatever. I ended up photographing the process to make a hard boiled egg…”The Stupid Egg Story” (as I affectionately called it). Well, that ‘stupid’ egg story won over all other photography projects and went on to the State Fair. To be honest, I don’t remember the results at State, but I do remember getting a couple of gift certificates out of the deal.

For the most part, Dawn and I had fun in 4-H. We learned some skills that many of our friends didn’t have, some of which even came in handy many years later. And somewhere in my parent’s basement are the basins, red light, photo paper (inside a black envelope), negative enlarger machine, and smelly chemicals waiting to be enjoyed again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Easy Does It

Today is one of those days that I crave Italy. I dragged myself out of bed in enough time to get Brady to school while still fighting some kind of tragic sinus infection. When we got outside, we saw frost on the grass and our breath in the crisp, cold air for the first time this season. This made me want to head south and do something that requires very little effort.

Florence is probably the ‘easiest’ city I’ve ever visited…’easiest’ meaning low stress, low effort, and an endless number of things to do. The thing is, I’ve never actually stayed overnight in Florence…that’s what makes it so easy. I always recommend staying somewhere in the countryside and then taking the train in (parking is a nightmare so I don’t bother driving). Ride into the Santa Maria Novella station and most of Florence’s main attractions are within 20 minutes walking distance. The tourist information office across the street from the train station (look for the TI) has free maps. From there, you can stroll to the Medici Chapels, the Duomo Cathedral with its adjacent bell tower and baptistery, the Ponte Vecchio, the colorful street market, and a myriad of art museums. Some of the farther sites can be reached via taxi if the walking starts to wear you out.

What you may not know about Florence is that Nutella was invented here! Actually, not ‘Nutella’ the brand but the concept of this heavenly whipped hazelnut chocolate spread. The Rivoire Café at Via Vacchereccia is where it all started. Called ‘Crema Nocciola al Cacao’, the words ‘delicious’, ‘unbelievable’, or ‘devine’ just don’t cut it. They don’t utter the ‘N’ word here (‘Nutella’) and will give you a stern look if you do. The café has seating both inside and out so you can opt to sit in a quiet booth or people-watch as you savor their chocolate and pastries. It’s the perfect stop in-between sightseeing or shopping.

Speaking of shopping, don’t miss the street market. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m obsessive when it comes to baby soft cashmere pashminas – and you can’t turn around in the market without finding piles of them in all colors and patterns. I think I’ve bought about ten every time I’ve gone but the prices are great and they go with almost anything. Just off the street market is Massimo’s Leather – probably the highest quality leather products in Florence and a great personality to boot. Massimo’s absolutely hysterical…I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire time I was in the shop. I also love visiting the pharmacy at the Santa Maria Novella church. Sounds funny, but it hails as one of the oldest in the world and is operated in the same tradition as when it was founded in the 13th century. Not at all resembling the stark, sterile pharmacies we are used to, the SMN boasts gorgeous architecture, gentle lighting, and soothing smells of its many aromatherapy products.

I could go on and on…there’s just so much in Florence. The best part is that it only requires wandering around and finding these unique spots. Easy does it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Interlaken, Switzerland: An Unpolluted Paradise

You’ve got to wonder where the Swiss go to relax and unwind as their entire country is pure heaven. Chocolate, yodeling, mocha-colored cows with bells that gently sing with each step, and charming chateaus – all set within the mountainous bliss of the Alps. I can’t speak for all Swiss, but plenty of them as well as masses of international visitors migrate to the quiet town of Interlaken each year.

Interlaken’s name means ‘between the lakes’…appropriate, as it sits elbow-to-elbow between the Thun and Brienz Lakes. Scenery meant for a jigsaw puzzle, this Swiss Town blends a traditional look with modern times. Ice-cold alpine waters boisterously rush through the town. Colored with a slightly blue-green tinge from the mountain minerals, it provides a source of power for the area. This water power ensures an uninterrupted energy supply and residents and visitors alike enjoy breathing the invigoratingly crisp, fresh air.

A simple walk around town is enough to excite the sense – trendy shops, traditional gifts and books, and restaurants that practically drag in a passerby with the tantalizing aromas floating out from the kitchen. The Metropole Hotel claims the best view in town – climb to its rooftop restaurant and take in the breathtaking panorama while enjoying a tasty lunch. Hikers can continue their strolls up the peaks of the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch Mountains. Those not wanting to travel vertically can instead take a boat ride out on one of the crystal clear lakes that reflect the brilliant blue heavens and towering summits. Conversely, those in need of an adrenaline rush in the mist of this quaint village can hire the services of a local paragliding company. Take a deep breath and jump with one of many experienced paraglider pilots – let the wind gently lift you up and carry you off the side of a mountain, over hundreds of toothpick-sized pine trees. Despite wind-burned cheeks, freezing fingers, and the deafening hum of the cold wind in your ears, a paragliding trip is well worth the unsurpassed birds-eye view of the sparkling lakes below.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Visit My New Online Gallery!

Finally, it’s ready! Visit my brand new online photography gallery at ImageKind! See every single one of the 182 pictures found in “Europe for the Senses” in full brilliant color. Imagekind offers an array of sizes, finishes, and other options such as matting and framing! Click on the ImageKind button above to link to the site!