If you are one of our many faithful Reading Wednesday followers you will know that I adore Ken Follett. I’ve read several of his books. They are both marvelous as book in hand and on audible. My favorite Follett is Pillars of the Earth and I have recently also read Fall of Giants. And today I will share my book review of A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett.
Like other Follett novels, A Place Called Freedom creates a chronicle of generations. Mixing historical facts, people and events with fictional characters and places – Follett brilliantly weaves his saga.
In A Place Called Freedom we meet Mack McAsh, a Scottish coal miners son, destine to a life in “the pit” during a period that begins in 1767. During this time miners are forced to a life of serfdom, once they begin working in the mines they must never leave. McAsh sees more for his life and eventually escapes and becomes a leader in the working-class discontent of the time.
Lizzie Hallim, a young woman of wealth and privilege who is expected to marry into the wealthy Jamieson family, owners the mines, lives a very different kind of life from Mack. But soon enough Lizzie realizes the hardship the minors endure and the reality she has been so blind to.
Lizzie eventually falls for the wrong Jamieson brother, exacerbating a hateful relationship between brothers and father and step mother.
A well written and believable cast of characters develops through the book during a tumultuous period of serfdom and slavery, wealth and prosperity, female repression and class injustice, creating a ripe opportunity for the characters to flee to the new American colonies and A Place Called Freedom.
(Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to China in 2014. I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week. So please enjoy this post again about Surprising China, and watch for a new Surprising China World Heritage Sites post next Friday!)
I managed to see two sites on my Asian trip that were bucket list items. Being in China of course means seeing the Great Wall, easily accessible and visited by most American’s who travel here. It was astonishingly beautiful on the clear and cold, crisp day we stood upon it. A site even better than you ever imagined it.
But it takes a bit of an effort to get to Xian, China, the location of the second bucket list item. Xian is a six-hour train ride from Beijing. Xian is home of one of the most amazing things I have had a chance to see in my life, the Terra Cotta Warrior Army of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
How is it that this mind-boggling 2000-year-old relic of ancient Chinese history was only discovered 40 years ago? The accidental discovery by a local Chinese farmer has transformed this community as well as the understanding of Imperial China.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of hollow terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The vast discovery includes thousands of warriors from archers to generals and everything in between.
Seeing it first hand was worth the effort it took to get here. Photos no way do it justice.
I’ve always been fascinated to see nineteenth and twentieth century discoveries; items of lost treasures and civilizations where years of exploration or half hazard circumstance have unearthed. My travels have provided me the opportunity to see some of these treasures first hand; Ephesus in Turkey, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Forum in Rome and Mesa Verde in Colorado are things I have stood next to and asked how? Additionally I’ve stood with wonder at other sites never lost but yet still flabbergasting in particular Stonehenge in England and Lalibella in Ethiopia. It’s that feeling of awe and amazement that inspires me to travel. The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian gave me the goose bumps I crave.
My first question is why were they lost to start with? In the case of the Terra Cotta Warriors, it was done on purpose. The superstitious Chinese culture, both then and now, have strong beliefs in preparing for the afterlife, while here in this life. Afterlife preparation of Emperor Qin Shi Huang began years in advance of his death, when he was as young as 13. Emperors spent as much time preparing to go into battle in the afterlife as they did in this life here on Earth. Tens of thousands of warriors, each different down to the fingerprints, would go in to the afterlife battle with him. And that is where the hollow, life size, each unique terra cotta soldiers are going. For 2000 -years they waited, buried anywhere from 12 to 30 feet underground (depending on rank) for battle. Until the day a Chinese farmers decided to drill for a well. His unexpected discovery made him a local and national figure. But, being this is China, it didn’t make him rich. He continues to live in Xian and spends most his days signing books for tourists.
The discovery was made in 1974 and by 1976 Xian was welcoming visitors to see the soldiers. Immediately upon discovery the oxidation began and the pigment on the soldiers began to disappear. Today the soldiers you see standing just as they were placed 2000 years ago, have no color due to the unfortunate oxidation. In fact, the lacquer covering the paint can curl in 15 seconds once exposed to the dry air of Xi’an and can flake off in just four minutes.
The soldiers have been restored piece by piece in a painstaking and remarkable process. The gigantic exhibit at Xian shows the restored soldiers and horses, then progressively a section showing how most of the relics were found in hundreds of pieces, then finally the still covered tomb where additional soldiers wait their turn to see the light of day. The Chinese government has continued restoration efforts on many additional pieces. However, it has been determined that thousands more soldiers remain buried. And that is where they will stay; until research can provide an answer to preserve the colorful paints those soldiers still bare.
In my fabulous fifties I have an insatiable appetite to see, learn and be inspired. My travel list is long, but at the top are such sites as Easter Island, Victoria Falls, Camino de Santiago, Angkor Wat, Jordan’s Petra, Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the Pyramids of Egypt. All places with a rich cultural history and connection to lost civilizations.
Will I get to all of these? Damn right I will. Ask me where I have been we can talk for an hour. Ask me where I am going we can talk for days.
Let me inspire you to go. See. Do. Live. It’s now or never.
(Note: Our time in China was made special by the first class service we received from Beijing Champagne International Travel Service
I cannot recommend them highly enough. Our drivers were conscientious and safe. But our tour guides are what made us enjoy our travels so much. Lucia was our guide in Xian and Rogin was our guide throughout the rest of the trip. I would welcome them both into my home; this is how highly I regarded their care and expertise they provided. We could not have possibly enjoyed our time in China to the full extent without the help from all of these people. If you are going to China check out Champagne and personally request Rogin. Shi Shi.)
A couple of months ago I read Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network and I really enjoyed it. So I decided to tackle her new book The Huntress. And I loved it even more. Here is my book Review of The Huntress by Kate Quinn.
Quinn introduces an intriguing cast of characters in The Huntress – a post World War Two novel built around the search for Nazi war criminals.
Nina Markova, raised in Siberia, turned Russian fighter pilot known as the Night Witches. Witness to unthinkable atrocities and dealing with her own pain and loss, with deep and disturbing memories of hate and revenge.
Ian Graham, British War Correspondent unable to let go of his own personal search for one particular war criminal, a woman known as The Huntress.
Jordan McBride, Boston teenager and aspiring photographer, Jordan wants to forget the war, move forward and live a life of her choosing.
Anneliese McBride, Jordan’s new step-mother, appears friendly and engaged in her new American life, but something underlies the perfect facade she allows.
This book is tightly written, with a believable plot that develops a different side of oft overdone WWII story. Quinn’s attention to research and detail is apparent in the mix of fact and fiction from descriptive landscape passages to intense emotional drama of the characters’ past and present.
In the end the reality is all of them are The Huntress. See for yourself if you agree.
I really loved this book and highly recommend The Huntress by Kate Quinn.
Five Stars for The Huntress. Read last week’s review of The Immortalists.
(Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to Asia in 2016. I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week. So please enjoy this post again, and watch for a new Surprising China post coming soon.)
Spectacular novel by very young yet brilliant author Benjamin – her second effort and she really hit it out of the ballpark with The Immortalists.
I get giddy with bookie happiness when I find a novel with a unique and fresh plot – and that is decidedly what you get with The Immortalists.
If you were told when you were a child the exact date you would die, how might that information change the way you live? This is the theme of this brilliant family story…a story of children who carry the weight of this knowledge, a story of families with a burden to bare, and a story of a prophecy that will haunt the lives of four siblings for decades.
Sweeping in both scope and and ambition, Benjamin creates lovable characters, heartfelt and passionate human beings whose lives carry forward trailblazing the deep powerful prediction and what to do with this cognizance.
The Immortalists core question focuses on the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, religion and afterlife and most of all, family and aging.
I loved this novel and look forward to reading more by Chloe Benjamin.
Even after all the flights I have taken, I still don’t enjoy it. And our flight to Shanghai is 13 hours – one of the longest we have had. We will fly from Seattle to Shanghai non-stop on Delta Airlines. How to prepare for a long flight? With all the flights I’ve taken, I have a system.
I don’t like taking sleeping pills, because I am just too drowsy throughout the following days, so I have developed a a long-flight preparation plan. Even when the flight is not 13 hours (most of our flights are 3-6 hours) I practice the following flight preparation plan:
Two-Three days before;
No alcohol and no spicy foods. Eat healthy, low sodium and easy to digest foods.
Drink lots of water
Moisturize my skin
One day before;
Make sure my carry-on is well organized and includes the following; passport, earplugs, headphones, eyemask, water bottle, Ibuprofen, motion sickness medicine, chapstick, moisturizer, neck support, wet wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste
Get a good night’s sleep – limit late day screen time
Do all of the above from two-days before
Day of Flight;
All of the above
Get up as early as I can but limit caffeine
Drink a lot of water in the hours before boarding
Set my watch to the destination time
Dress in non-binding clothes including shoes and socks or be sure to pack a pair of socks. Wear a sweater that can be easily put on and off and used as a blanket.
I never wear my contacts on the flight. I always wear my glasses.
Greet my flight attendant and be kind to them. Not only do they deserve it they might be more inclined to help if I need something during the flight.
After I board;
Organize my space before take off so I know where my things are including earplugs, water, headphones, neck pillow etc. I also use wet wipes or sanitizer and wipe down my tray table and armrests as soon as I sit down.
I like to support my feet and either do that with an inflatable foot rest or my backpack.
Take two ibuprofen with water
Look at my watch and visualize the place I’m going and the time of day it is there…see myself there.
Find a meditation station on the in-flight audio or iTunes and begin listening to the calming voice and music.
If I want to eat before sleeping, I choose a light, non-spicy meal and have a non-caffeinated non-alcoholic drink. I never drink wine because it dries me out.
After the meal I go to the toilet, moisturize in the bathroom, brush my teeth and use my chapstick too.
Back at my seat I settle in. Get cozy and warm. Check my watch and think about what time it is where I’m going. Find my meditation music and sit back. Clear my mind of everything or think about fun things I want to do when I arrive. Think about my breathing – like in yoga breath deep from the belly. Relax my jaw. Relax my shoulders. Think about restful sleep.
If I wake up, I drink water. I take a walk to stretch. I take more ibuprofen. I moisturize and use chapstick. Then I settle back in again with the restful music.
This is my best advice for long haul flights. Sometimes I watch a movie if I’m having trouble falling asleep. I never sleep soundly, but I do arrive relaxed and not too disheveled. On arrival I always try to stay awake until a normal bedtime for my destination. Luckily for us, we arrive in Shanghai in the early evening. We should be able to go to bed and hopefully wake up ready to go on our first full-day in China.
I have purchased some compression socks to try this flight. This is the first time I have done that but I know many people swear by them. So I’ll give it a try.
I welcome your suggestions for making a long flight tolerable. Please comment below. If you like our blog, please pin and share. Thanks!
Here we go again. When this all started in June 2016 we said we would either be gone for six months or six years. Well, it looks like we have found a way to make this travel life work, and I expect we will continue well beyond six years. It’s time for our around the world adventure year four.
I have learned so much since we started this adventure. But it’s probably not what you are thinking. Sure I’ve learned how to get good deals, how to maneuver public transit, how to pack and how to say thank you in ten languages.
But those are all technicalities. Not the soul of the journey. Because really, what I have witnessed, experienced and felt the most blessed about is the way this adventure has changed me deep inside. Serendipity.
Watching the sunrise and the moon set at the same time on top of the most peaceful and serene mountains in Galicia, on the final days of my walk across Spain – I experienced deep gratitude.
Conversing without sharing a language with a tiny and precious old man in a backwater village deep in Bangladesh, a man who had nothing to give but wanted to serve us tea – I was humbled.
Having a monk come out of the temple and invite us in for a special tour in Sri Lanka. Sharing with us his temple as his pride for it beamed light out his fingertips and then him blessing us quietly and sincerely for our continued safe journey – I was exalted.
Meeting a tiny Himba girl in Namibia and watching her smile up at Arne with her face full of wonder and awe. I was in love.
We have watched people so different from those in the USA embracing their cultures, their foods, their history with love and understanding of each other – I was astonished.
I am secure in my belief that you can never understand the world, or its many problems, unless you travel. You cannot pass judgement on anyone, anywhere on this earth if you are doing so without ever leaving your own country.
I know this as fact. And more than anything, this is why we continue. Do not fear for us, we are careful. Do not question us we are smart. This lifestyle is not for everyone, but if you wanted it, you too could do it … and you would never be the same.
So once again we depart. Time to say farewell. It’s time for our around the world adventure year four. Our first leg was 22 months. Our second was nine months. And this one – 3.0 – will also be nine months from September to June.
After that – who knows?
We’ve seen a total of 96 countries (some of those before we started the Grand Adventure) and we have rarely returned to a country. With 3.0 itinerary nearly complete, it’s clear to us that we are now tackling less touristy countries, more remote and more exciting – those are our favorites.
We can’t wait. So for all of those who have been asking the where, when, why, and how of our itinerary, here it is. We hope you will follow along. We welcome your questions.
Note – we are usually booked about six months in advance. We are not spontaneous travelers. That is not our style. We are in a constant state of planning as it is, one of the more difficult parts of our journey.
China – September – Booked
We have been to China before and we loved it. Five years ago we traveled to South Korea and China. Visiting Beijing and Xian I was enchanted with the history, the food and the mystique of China. So it’s time to go back. We will visit Shanghai first, then take a river cruise on the Yangtze. We had reservations and plans to spend a week in Hong Kong, but this week we cancelled those. This is the first time on our Grand Adventure that we felt it was unsafe enough to change our plans. Hopeful we will visit Hong Kong in the future.
In Shanghai and on the Yangtze we are on a private tour.
Instead of Hong Kong we are headed to…
Taiwan – September -Booked
COUNTRY NUMBER 97
We actually had discussed going to Taiwan early on in our planning, but the flights were expensive. Funny though, booking flights today it was quit inexpensive. So Taipei here we come. The time we would have had in Hong Kong (6 days) will now be in Taipei. We plan to book a food tour and a cooking class- exactly like we had planned in Hong Kong. I don’t know that much about Taipei, so it will an adventure.
Malaysia – October – Booked
We have only ever transited through Malaysia but have heard such wonderful things about this country we can’t wait to spend an entire month there. First we visit northern Malaysia and Borneo to see the orangutans ( a bucket list for me). Then we have a week in Kuala Lumpur followed by almost three weeks on the island of Langkawi.
We are in hotels in Borneo and Kuala Lumpur and in an Airbnb on Langkawi.
Myanmar – November – Booked
COUNTRY NUMBER 98
Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has only been open to tourists since 2012, and the tourism industry has been slow to grow due to all the much bigger Asian players out there. But this is exactly the kind of destination we are interested in…experiencing the history and culture before it gets run over by tourists.
We will be in four different locations over an entire month, taking our time to really slow travel in Myanmar. We have two weeks in a hotel perched on famous Lake Inle. It may be too much time, but if it is we will sit back, relax and read.
Oman – December – Booked
COUNTRY NUMBER 99
Oman is consistently showing up in lists of where to travel now – particularly where to travel if you don’t want to be with hordes of tourists, tour buses and cruise ships. And that sounds right up our alley.
We will spend ten days in Muscat, the biggest city in Oman, with some day tours planned as well as renting a car to do some exploration on our own of this small, beautiful, historic and safe Middle East country.
Kenya – December – Booked
COUNTRY NUMBER 100
We have skirted Kenya on our African travels, not intentionally, but for some reason have not stepped foot there. So we plan to spend our Christmas holiday lounging on the beach in Kenya.
We have done two safaris in the past (as well as two additional Elephant safaris) so we will not do a safari in Kenya. Instead we have a beach Airbnb and we plan to relax and enjoy the side of Kenya fewer people visit.
Mauritius – January – Booked
COUNTRY NUMBER 101
Well we love a remote island and have had some of our best travel experiences on tiny islands in the Indian Ocean (Seychelles, Maldives) and so this time we will venture to the teeny island nation of Mauritius. Here we plan to really get ensconced in the community, spending six weeks enjoying an Airbnb, the pool and not a whole lot more.
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana – February – Partially Booked
Our plan is to visit Zambia to see Victoria Falls, one of many bucketlist waterfalls I am working my way through. We will be staying in Livingstone Zambia but the falls border Zimbabwe and it’s easy to walk across the border.
Not as close but close enough for a day trip is Botswana, and we will take a guided to tour to Botswana while we are in the region.
Uganda – February – Booked
Ever since I saw Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist I have dreamed of trekking to see the Mountain Gorillas. Mountain Gorillas are NOT FOUND anywhere in captivity in the world, and they are endangered. The only way to see these magnificent primates is to hike into the mountains of either Uganda or Rwanda.
Instead of having a 60th birthday party for me in 2020, I chose to spend the money and go see the Gorillas. I doubt I will regret it.
Rwanda – February – Not Booked
Well, we are in the neighborhood, so why not pop over for a quick visit to Rwanda – the safest country in all of Africa. Following the genocide in 1994, Rwanda has made a remarkable comeback. Twenty five years later Rwanda has a growing tourism industry, thoughtful memorials and museums explaining the atrocities and a welcoming culture. We will visit the cosmopolitan city of Kigali and spend several days on Lake Kivu.
Israel – March – Partially Booked
When I was a little girl I went to summer camp. My young and fun camp counselor had just returned from visiting Israel and she told us so many things about the country, which at the time I knew nothing about. Fast forward fifty years and I am finally going to see it for myself – a dream come true.
We plan to spend 16 days in the country, about ten days with a car traveling to both ends of this small country and then another six days in Jerusalem. We want to take our time and really experience this remarkable land.
Armenia, Georgia – March – Not Booked
COUNTRIES 108 & 109
Like Oman, Armenia and Georgia are two countries few people visit and yet both are safe, welcoming and full of remarkable history. It’s time to discover them.
Our plan is to spend about a week (maybe a little less) in each country and travel by overnight train from Armenia to Georgia. The weather may still be cool in late March, but we are excited to see more of the former Soviet Union and learn how these resilient people have recaptured their culture, religion and history.
Cyprus – April – Not Booked
Gonna kick back for a couple weeks on the island of Cyprus another underrated destination of glorious beaches and remarkable history – and the birthplace of Aphrodite.
Very inexpensive with few tourists, this island off the coast of Turkey should be a wonderful respite.
Malta – April – Not Booked
We will spend April and May relaxing on the island of Malta, another up and coming tourism destination we want to see before it gets too crowded. This beautiful island is autonomous and has sat peacefully and often unnoticed in the Mediterranean just off of Sicily and Tunisia.
We will stay in an Airbnb here and hopefully have warm late spring weather to enjoy the sand and sea.
And then what?
Okay – that is as far as we know for now. Following Malta and as summer emerges in Europe we are considering a car and train trip throughout much of the Eastern European countries we have yet to see; Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This should take up all of May. But details are still developing here.
From Estonia we hope to head to Finland and spend time exploring the northern areas. By this time it should be middle of June. We are currently debating our options from here…Greenland perhaps? Or maybe a Rhone River cruise in France. Perhaps hiking in Scotland. It’s too soon to know.
Our plan is to be back in the USA and our Villa by the third or fourth week of June. And then we start planning for The Grand Adventure 4.0.
Count down to lift off…five days. Yes indeed it is a fabulous life. My Fab Fifties Life.