Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor

Copenhagen


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Before You Apply to the Amtrak Writer’s Residency, Let’s Talk

As a travel writer/literary scribe/nonsense poet, I know what happened when you read Amtrak’s description of their new writer’s residency. Oh you haven’t heard? Amtrak is offering writers the opportunity to ride the rails for a few days. Must have mad writing skills and a substantial social media following.

Sound like you? Great. But there were also some questions about the rights of submitted writing samples that might have you rethinking jumping aboard. Last I heard, Amtrak is working out the legalese.

I’ll let you decide whether it’s a good idea to apply or not. I am here to talk truth about train travel.

The Truth About Train Travel

Me on a train. Don't laugh. No one looks good on a train.

Me on a train in NYC. Don’t laugh. No one looks good on a train.

You visualized yourself sitting in a plush, reclined seat, scenery zipping by your window, glass of wine in hand as you type the next great American novel. You picture telling the other oh-so interesting passengers you’re there to write a novel, a play, a…blog post.

Don’t lie. Some of the fun of being a writer on a residency is saying you’re a writer on a residency. “I wrote it all…on a train!” Cue applause at the well-attended reading of your new train mystery series, Snakes On A Train.

The passengers you picture come straight out of the golden age of train travel. Everyone carries a boxy suitcase and has a charming old-timey accent. The gals wear mink shrugs and derby hats; the gents don fedoras and skinny ties. Except for the ting of silver spoons and platters, it’s quiet as the train chugs along, breathtaking scenery zipping by out the window.

You have more than enough space for your laptop or even (guh) your typewriter. You put your feet up and type away to a special playlist you created for the occasion.

Runaway train, never goin’ back
Wrong way on a one-way track…

That is what I envisioned before I took a four-day train cross country from Chicago to San Francisco. That’s not quite what happened. I am not saying train travel is awful, not at all. I am simply saying it may not be what you think it is.

No stranger on a train.

Strangers-on-a-Train-still-good

What I envisioned.

At age 21, I rode the rails from Chicago to San Francisco and back, paying for it using my paltry tax return.  It was a family trip; my mom, younger sister, uncle and I headed out to California to watch my oldest sister graduate from law school.

My mom refuses to fly and so she takes Amtrak everywhere. None of the following experiences have anything to do with Amtrak or Amtrak service. From what I remember, the service is pretty darn good, the people are nice, and it is a unique experience that everyone should do once.

This is about my romanticized view of train travel, what I thought it was (the Orient Express) and what it actually is (not the Orient Express).

The Deluxe “Sleeper” Car.

Train-Travel-Amtrak-Writer's-Residency

THIS is exactly what happened to us.

When my mom said she booked a deluxe car (for the three of us), I envisioned a hotel-sized room with a big window. I pictured plush beds and chocolates on pillows, gourmet food on silver platters, a little table set up next to the window with a vase and a single rose. Along with little luxuries like a ceiling high enough so that I could stand completely upright. Continue reading

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I Would Like to Thank…

This album is dedicated to all the people who told me I’d never amount to nothin’ –Notorious

The 2013 guide to Montreal and Quebec that I helped author for Fodor’s Travel comes out in March and is available for pre-sale right now.

Some write fake Oscar speeches; I fantasize about crafting clever book dedications. I plan to dedicate future novel to my enormous family for well…everything, the Husband for his patience and encouragement and the Dog who keeps my feet warm as I write. And to my Grandma, for her endless advice.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to *actually* dedicate or thank anyone in the travel book because that would be unfair to the other writers, editors, and photographers who worked on it. Besides, I am a writing phantom taking the form of Eugene Fodor, a fascinating Hungarian wayfarer.

Miss Misery

cloud-painting-art-institute-chicago

This is one of the first paintings I ever connected to. I always thought it was icebergs, but it’s clouds. -Art Institute, Chicago

Should I ever write a novel, I would be tempted to throw it into the faces of those who spurned me early on when I was just a kid. I probably wouldn’t do it, because bitter ain’t the right shade for me, but it’s fun to think about.

One of my favorite writer bloggers  recently wrote an eloquent piece about a teacher who helped influence his writing career. I have a few of those too – wonderful people, who pulled me aside and told me that despite my horrific spelling, I had a knack with words.

I’ve also had the opposite. Miss Bruner, my 7th grade art teacher deserves a failing grade. A teacher should encourage, not manage expectations. Let kids’ dreams bounce above their heads like big red balloons. When the time comes, they’ll clutch some and let others fly. Give them that choice.

Miss Bruner hobbled up and down classroom aisles with a cane. She’d pull your drawing out from your hands, exam it from behind little glasses that sat at the end of her nose and snicker. When we had to sketch George Washington (impossible!), I erased entirely through his eye. I am no Manet. Did Miss Bruner encourage me to learn from this mistake and be more careful next time? No.  She put my rendition of George Washington over her own face and peeped through the hole as if it were a mask.

Ok, so maybe I screwed up the portrait. Maybe she was joking, maybe the George Washington incident was part of her teacher schtick.

But later that semester, when I expressed an interest in going to Venice to view art, she barked:

“How are YOU going to go to Venice? It costs a lot of MONEY, Am-an-da.”  Continue reading


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A Case for the Commercial Writer

copywriting tips, writing jobs

Until Elwood’s modelling career takes off, this is all I have.

I took a hiatus from life to work a contract gig as a copywriter for a major corporation. With the exception of technical writing (or being a hugely famous author), copywriting is the most lucrative day job in the writing world. Travel writing appears to be the least lucrative so unless I want to be one of those hostel people (with dog? and husband? heck no), this is what I have to do.

There’s also video game writing, which I hear pays handsomely. I have no idea what that entails though.

If only I played Zelda more

I should stroll the bohemian stroll. I should be in Uruguay or something. I will be traveling again, once I figure out how to make travel journalism a fulltime job. That’s my goal this year and I am happy you’re aboard for the ride.

Thankfully, my current job is very creative and there’s free coffee. And because of all the stress and caffeine, I have an eye twitch. Maybe after my eye explodes, I’ll have to wear a patch and then I’ll become a super villainess — a corporate crime fighter in a pencil skirt. Continue reading


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The Future of Travel Writing

kobe beef sliders, restaurant review writing

Small bites for small travel writers

I am teaching a travel writing workshop to kids.

About three minutes in, I discovered I am woefully out-of-touch with young travellers.

I started the workshop with things to look for in a restaurant. Maybe it’s a Seattle thing, but these junior foodies were super smart, super opinionated, and super aware of allergies. I was underprepared for Seattle kids and thought they would be younger versions of me, pint-sized pizza enthusiasts who could easily digest cheese and bread.

They’re awesome, that’s for sure. Respectful, fun, and hilarious. But way different than me.

When I was a kid, when we ate out it was at McDonald’s or Beggar’s Pizza, a pizzeria in my old neighborhood. Sometimes my dad would bring me to real Mexican restaurants. By real I mean, the menu included brains and tongue. Not in the same taco because then one might as well just put a cow’s head into a tortilla and call it a day.

I wasn’t really concerned with authenticity or local food or even bad service. Just as long as I didn’t have to eat brains. Continue reading


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Spread Love, It’s the Brooklyn Way

travel blog, lovelyblogaward

Fact: my name means lovable

Quebec travel blog, Seattle travel, travel blogs,

Merci beaucoup, Drinking Tips for Teens

I received the Lovely Blog Award from Ashes to Ashes so long ago she probably doesn’t even remember the day she brightened my world with her comment. And I was just nominated for a Reader’s Appreciation Award from the blogger at Drinking Tips for Teens, who is a fellow transplant to Quebec (i.e. another insane person). If I was more talented in the design department, I’d give Ashes to Ashes the “Simply Beautiful Writing Badge,” and Drinking Tips for Teens the So Funny-I-Almost-Spit-Coffee-All-Over-My-Computer award.

One day, I hope to get better at making badges and invent a shell-less pistachio.

Until then, I will regale you with random facts and nominate other bloggers for these. Them’s the badge rules.

Random Facts

travel blogs, writing blogs, boston travel tips

That scarf has giraffes on it. It’s my third or fourth favorite thing in the world. PS. This is not Brooklyn. PPS. I hate having my photo taken.

1. I owe $11 to the Seattle public library.  I tried to check the books out, knowing I had a fine. “Can I still check these out?” I whispered. I expected a siren to go off and the librarian to cuff me to the desk. Nope. You can continue to read, even when you owe them money. Ahhh. Libraries.  Continue reading


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Quebec City in Cuisine & Clouds

I am finally finished with The Project from both heaven and hell. Funny, just as I finished, a month of 12-hour days, hunched at the computer, I read a forum where this lady said:

How can I get a job like Rick Steves and and Samantha Brown, travel around the world, and be PAID for it?”

If the forum wasn’t four-years old, I would reply: There is no job like that. And also, although I like Rick Steves, I am pretty sure Samantha Brown has no idea w-t-f she’s doing. Now Anthony Bourdain…

(Side note: Rick Steves and Expedia rejected me, so really, there is no job like that, even for me who has been travel writing for 2 years now.)

I also don’t REALLY travel the world, I expatriated and became a specialist in one specific region.

Travel writing, especially guidebook writing is A LOT of hard work. So please, think of us writers next time you toss a guidebook in the garbage. I like to save them, take notes on them, sort of like a journal of the trip. I imagine if you’re creative enough, you can make a cool collage or poster out of their innards.

I understand eventually, they’ll get tossed or (hopefully) recycled, but I hope people really appreciate and use them. Unlike with certain review sites, the writers are (theoretically) trained to taste-out the best restaurants, sniff out the best hotels.

Also, please don’t say, I Could Do Your Job. It’s insulting, like I just waltzed into it with no prior experience. The devaluation of writers is something I plan to tackle in a future post.

Travel writing, by far, with the exception of literary writing, the most rewarding type of writing I’ve ever done. I enjoy getting rid of restaurants who are obviously serving terrible food. And replacing those with ones I know visitors will have a great experience.

Here is a photo narrative of Quebec City cuisine.

Quebec City in Cuisine and Clouds

Want to look like a brilliant photographer? Take more aerial shots and stop using Instagram!

 

If you don’t like croissants, I question your status as a human.

 

Food porn, Quebec City restaurants

The best fish ever. Salmon in a cranberry sauce.

 

All baguettes should be presented like this.


Continue reading


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Travel Writing on the Road

travel writing tips

This is me on vacation (smiling)

 This is me on work (smoking)

(The 1960’s version of me smokes. Judge away!)

I am here. In Quebec, four months after I moved. What am I doing at this exact moment? Sitting in a plush, King-sized bed, surrounded by pillows and chocolates like a Sultan.

Jealous? Don’t be.

This is the part of travel writing everyone knows: The food. The comps. The attractive, overly-attentive staff who hang on your every bite.

The power is exhilerating. I must tell you.

But before you quit your office job, remember this is actual work and takes a lot of patience, attention to detail, and very strong calves. And that the perks make up for a very significant lack in pay. Continue reading