Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Twenty-Three: Honduras

After doing research for Honduras, I decided to just have fun writing the story instead of weaving facts and historical tid-pits into the post. I hope y’all enjoy this segment of my fictitious continuing story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I had fun writing it! 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Twenty-Three: Honduras
This was going to be fun. I had decided to forgo the usual tourist activities and instead stay with a family high up in a mountain village. There was nothing whatsoever that bespoke of tourist as we rumbled up the mountainside in a overcrowded bus that stank like the hens that were clucking in a crate under one of the seats and I knew as we left the city behind that I was in for an adventure. 
The bus ride was a lot longer than I had anticipated and the hairpin curves made me sick to my stomach and wish I had gotten a ticket for the night time bus. During the eight hours of driving there were only two extremely quick stops, one of them literally out in the middle of no where. I was thankful I hadn’t drunk very much water because there was no place private and I was too used to bathrooms, or at least an outhouse, to be okay with that arrangement. 
At the second stop there were bathrooms, and although I had to pay to use them, I was quite happy to do so. There were also multitudes of children and old ladies who crowded around the bus, reaching up to the windows to try and sell us food. I ended up buying some kind of tamales, a dish I had never had before. To my surprise it was very tasty and I wish I had bought more. Who would have guessed that such a delightful treat would be found steamed in corn husks? It made me want to try the trick when I got home. 
Sophie had warned me over and over again not to drink anything that I hadn’t bought from a bottle because of all the dirty water that could make me sick. Therefore I had several bottles of water in my backpack in case the family I stayed with didn’t have any bottled water. I also figured that I would be able to buy bottled water and soda in the village where I was going to stay. 
It was near dusk when we rounded the last bend and I could see the village clustered below us in a valley. It looked so homey and I was excited to be spending the next five days there, although I was also a bit nervous. I was going to have to communicate the best I could in Spanish because no one spoke English. I had brought along an Spanish/English dictionary and figured that would help some, but still… This was probably the furthest away from big cities I had traveled since being in Mongolia nearly six months before. 
The warm welcome I received did a lot to wash away my doubts and fears. The people looked like they were seriously glad to see me and little girls with bare feet and chapped faces danced around me, glee in their eyes. Strong boys who looked like they were in the middle of a ball game stopped what they were doing and came to join us. They insisted on carrying my luggage after I got off the bus. All around me were smiles and chatter and I instantly felt at home. These people were my family for a week and I was going to do my best to fit in. 
I took a moment to look around me, the sun was setting and the warm glow bathed the dirty, dusty streets, making them look almost unreal. Trash was all over the place and the buildings were made from adobe blocks and painted white and then had cartoonish like drawings on them (I later found out that they were kinda like political advertisements). Old laides sat on little stools and worked rapidly with yarn, spinning it and knitting items. Old men grinned toothlessly at me as they leaned against buildings, arms crossed, wrinkles lining their faces. 
After a moment of the children jostling around me, one of them reached up and grabbed my hand. I looked down to see a girl with two long braids and a hole-filled sweater glowing at me. Obviously they had been arguing about who got to escort me to my new lodgings and she had been the chosen one. 
We wound our way through the village with a whole group of children (including those carrying my suitcase and backpack) trailing along after us. A couple of mangy dogs ran across the road, chasing an even mangier looking cat. Even further ahead a herd of sheep (complete with long tails) were being herded between the houses. Overhead several large birds soared on the light wind currents in a nearly cloudless sky. 
After about two minutes the girl leading me indicated that we had arrived and threw open a nearly-falling apart wooden door. The scents of rice and beans greeted me and I breathed in deeply. There was also an earthy smell, which made sense because we were in an adobe (that is mud brick) house after all. 
Once again I was greeted warmly by the people who had obviously been setting up for my arrival. I felt like an honored guest and decided I needed to take lessons from these wonderful people. When I finally got home I would make sure to have company over more often, and when I did, I would treat them with utter delight, as if I couldn’t be more thrilled to have them staying with me. 
The food was delicious, and to my amazement I even picked up a few new words of Spanish. With the help of a lot of gesturing and very patient children who found it enjoyable to laugh at me and the try and mimic my words, it wasn’t long until I was able to figure out everyone’s names and tell them mine. 

By the time I was shown to my room that night I knew this was going to be a wonderful week. Forgoing all the touristy sights to stay in this delightful village with it’s welcoming people was a decision I would not regret. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Twenty-Two: Cambodia

Welcome to week twenty-two of my fictitious story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Twenty-Two: Cambodia

Half of Cambodia’s population is younger than fifteen. That’s a freaky and sobering thought. Cambodia has a very dark and sad history and I felt subdued as I began my week-long visit to the Asian country. Of course I had just been in Poland that also had difficult history, but that was part of WW2 and everyone knows that WW2 was horrible. It felt like Cambodia’s past was a lot less known and therefore it hit me harder. I was determined not to gloss over the bad parts, but I also wanted to enjoy the beauty of the country as well. 
The second day I was in Cambodia I came down with either food poisoning or else the stomach flu, which probably explains one of the reasons why I found the country somewhat depressing. It seems like whenever I get sick the whole world takes a turn for the worse. In order to get better as fast as possible and also not spread germs around, I spent the next two days in my hotel room, “exploring” via the internet. 
Out of everything I researched Battambang sounded like the coolest place to go. It was founded in the 11th century by the Khmer Empire and is well known for being the leading rice-producing province of the country. I’d never seen rice fields in person although I had seen quite a few pictures with them and have always thought they were lovely. In fact, I once bought a calendar made up solely of rice field pictures. I decided that when I felt better Battambang would be my destination. 
Battambang is populated by a variety of ethnic groups, including Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Battambang City was built on the banks of the Sangkae River which is a small, peaceful body of water. The city was established as an important trade city in the 18th century and it’s population of 2,500 people lived mainly along a single road that ran parallel to the Sangkae River. That sounded idyllic to me. 
The list of things to see in and around Battambang City provided me with enough to do for the remainder of my week and while I was sick I had fun planning exactly what I would do. 
First I would visit Phnom Sampov which is a natural resort which was located about seven miles outside of Battambang. There are mountains and a temple, natural wells, and lots of beauty. 
Next I would go to the Battambang Circus. I’d never gone to a circus before and it sounded like it would be pretty interesting. There were performances every Monday and Thursday evening. Since I had obviously missed the Monday one with traveling and then being sick, I decided to try and make it to the Thursday one. I was especially excited about the acrobatics although it made my stomach feel even more sick to think of people flipping around in the air. The best part about the circus was that it’s put on by the students from the NGO art school and helps disadvantaged children and young people get away from bad situations that are connected with poverty. (Situations such as trafficking or begging.) The circus helps the children get an education both in public schools and also in the arts. I think it’s wonderful when people find creative ways to help others while being empowering at the same time. With a country so full of young people it’s obvious that they need help and the circus sounded amazing. 
It was my second day of being sick when I stumbled on an excellent blog all about Battambang. It promised that the city itself was peaceful and that some people might even find it boring. That sounded perfect to me. After all, I had just survived the last day and a half on the most boring food I could find – namely plain crackers. 
The blog also recommended renting a bike while in Battambang, stating that it was the easiest way to get around and to be in contact with the local people and therefore discover hidden gems about the city. The prices they listed were really reasonable so I added that to my list of things to do. They also mentioned how friendly the people were and that there were bat caves, crocodile farms, and an old Pepsi plant to visit. It sounded like a great place to go. 
I also found a lot of places talking about the bamboo train and so of course I had to look it up. The bamboo train is apparently a wooden pallet on tank wheels with an outboard motor and you ride it on tracks through the jungle and fields. Hummm…Sounds interesting. 
The train was originally a form of local transportation that evolved out of recycled materials when the Khmer Rouge dismantled the regular train network and people needed a way to get between villages under the radar. Nowadays the bamboo train is used mostly for tourists, though. Each ride is about twenty minutes one way and you stop at a brick factory and village where you can hang out for a while if you want to. 
There’s only one track and bamboo trains go both ways, so when they meet up, one of the trains has to be dismantled and moved off the track so the other train can go past. Sounds crazy, but apparently they can do that really fast. Okay, so going on a bamboo train was on my list of things to do also. 

I’d also heard some people commenting about how they liked Cambodian food, but with the state of how I was feeling, the thought of trying out new foods wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of things to do. I was quite thankful that rice was popular in the country and therefore decided to stick mainly to that for a few days until my stomach had calmed down. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Twenty-One: Poland

Y’all, I had fun researching Poland. I think European countries have been my favorite this year while doing the Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks series. There was so much about Poland that I couldn’t fit into the story because there’s simply not enough room. For instance did you know that in Poland courteous hand-kissing is still a common practice? How cool is that? Or that Poland shares its borders with no less than seven countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Germany? Pretty neat, right? 

Anyway, enough chatter! I hope y’all enjoy the twenty-first segment of my fictitious continuing story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I’m already looking forward to finding out where we’ll travel next week… 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Twenty-One: Poland
Most of what I knew about the country came from reading Historical Fiction centering around WW2 and taking place in the Poland. Which, now that I think about it, that’s probably why I was so shocked to find a vibrant and seemingly happy world when I stepped out of the airport. In some tired corner of my brain I’d been imagining soldiers, concentration camps, sadness, and suffering. I was very thankful that wasn’t the case.
My family grew up with Jewish neighbors and their daughters were my best friends when I was a little girl. The father was forever singing the praise of the Poles, telling story after story of how they’d saved so many Jews during the Holocaust. Apparently he had relatives who had been hidden by them and never forgot it. When I grew up I researched it some, curious as to what exactly the Poles did to receive such praise. 
It turns out the Poles represent the biggest number of people of any nationality to rescue Jews during WW2, saving around 450,000 of them. No wonder my neighbor sang their praises. Poland also holds the record of having the most people to have been awarded the title of “Righteous among the Nations” by the State of Israel, with over 6,130 people having received it. 
The noteworthy works of the Poles didn’t come without a price though. I read one place that around 50,000 Poles were killed by the Nazis for saving Jews… Such a soberingly large number. WW2 was such a horrible and sad era of the world, and yet I hope it’s never forgotten. Remembering what happens when people turn a blind eye to evil is very important because what we don’t learn from we’re bound to repeat and I would hate to repeat that. 
There were so many places I wanted to visit in Poland and the first night I was there I spread out a two inch stack of tourist info pamphlets out on the burgundy hotel bedcover. Warsaw was full of churches, palaces, history, and museums. Zakopane appeared to be a great place for outdoorsy types of adventures like skiing and exploring caves. The Balowieza Forest pamphlet promised European bison, parks, forests, and nature reserves. It also had beautiful pictures of lynx and other magnificent animals. 
Gdansk looked delightfully calm with a harbor and breathtaking sunsets. A place called Jelenia Gora sported everything from castles and palaces, to churches and mountain biking, as well as things like theater. Seeing a play was something I had yet to do on my journey so far, and it was an inviting thought to stop by there. 
Krakow pulled me in with professional photographs of Gothic architecture and lots of Jewish history. Poznan had a zoo, Swinoujscie had beaches, Kudowa-Zdroj had open air museums, and Polesie National Park had wetlands. 
It seemed as if every new piece of literature I looked at a new world of possibilities opened up to me. There were so many different things to look at and explore and research. Poland was like a treasure chest just waiting to be discovered and I hardly knew where to start. 
I decided to visit a couple of museums in Warsaw. The first one I went to was the Copernicus Science Centre and it promised that it was kid-friendly and interactive, that sounded like a good way to start the day. Overall I enjoyed the museum but from an article I read made it seem like the founders didn’t believe that science and the Bible go together, so that kinda bugged me. Oh well. My favorite part of the museum was Robothespian, a fully programmable humanoid robot who sang The Sound of Music to me. It’s weird to find a robot sweet, but Robothespian was sweet and I took a selfie with him.
After the Science Center I walked around doing some sightseeing and found a little sidewalk cafe to eat at. I ordered pizza because I’d been craving it for a couple of days. I was surprised when the pizza was served without sauce. Instead the waiter brought ketchup to the table for me to use as the sauce. Surprise, surprise. It was also then that I found out people traditionally ate the biggest meal of the day around 2 pm. I knew I wouldn’t be hungry for another meal in a few hours, but I decided to hold off on lunch during the rest of the week so I could be in sync with the culture. 
Along with the pizza I drank some oranzada, which is sweet and carbonated and tastes like orange. I liked it a lot better than the pizza – it was cold and refreshing. According to the label on the bottle (it was served in a glass bottle), oranzada is pretty popular in Poland. It originated in France, then came to Poland in the 18th century.
After eating the pizza (which was good, but totally not what I’d expected), I indulged and had a couple of paczki, which are Polish doughnuts and one of the most traditional Polish desserts. They became popular around the time of King Augustus III of Poland who reigned in the early 18th century (I’m not sure which came first: the oranzada or the paczki). According to the waiter, paczki’s are most popular on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday. He said that over 100 million paczki’s are eaten each year on just that one day. Craziness. It was no wonder though, because the doughnuts were really good. 

After lunch I went to the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The museum covered over 4,000 square meters and the exhibits had English descriptions which made me happy. There was a huge amount of information regarding the Holocaust which was sobering. I wanted to rush through that part and dwell on the happier aspects instead (because there were plenty of happy displays, too), but I didn’t. 
I found the display of photos taken in the Ghetto by members of the Nazi propaganda unit and the contrasting truth in the form of diary experts from an actual inhabitant of the Ghetto to be especially eye-opening. It’s scary how people can twist and turn the truth to make it into whatever they want. 
For supper I had bigos, which is one of Poland’s traditional dishes and pretty well-liked by the Poles. It’s a stew made from Polish sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, different types of meat, prunes, dried mushrooms, onions, and spices. It’s cooked for several days and then served with potatoes and bread. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but in reality it was one of my least favorite things I tried during the year so far and I could barely gag it down. I did though, and that night I celebrated the victory with a couple more paczki.
The next day I was off to explore the Bialowieza Forest, which was a several hour trip by train. The possibility of seeing a European bison was exciting and I could hardly wait.

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Twenty: Montserrat

Welcome to the twentieth post of my fictious continuing story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I hope y’all enjoy!

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Twenty: Montserrat
My arms were a bright red. I looked at them in dismay then gently poked at them with my fingernail. The touch made me wince and I nearly laughed at my stupidity. After so many weeks spent on islands during the last five months I would have thought that I had either built up a tan or at least learned my lesson, but no, I was once again hosting a terrific sunburn. I pulled the brim of my hat down, thankful that it had shaded my head and kept my face from suffering a similar fate as my arms and lower legs. 
I had arrived on Montserrat two days before and had found it to be delightful. I was getting tired of being a tourist though, and had come to the island determined to do something different for a change. Upon my arrival I had looked it up on the internet to see if I could find any local charity or cause to devote my week to. I hadn’t found anything that caught my attention, although there was some information about the “critically endangered Giant Ditch Frog.” That wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, but I looked into it anyway, curious. 
Humorously, the nick name for the Giant Ditch Frog is “Mountain Chicken” and so there’s a whole project called “Saving the Mountain Chicken.” It was hard to take it seriously, but the government has even gotten involved and everyone seems to find it a worthwhile (and hardly laughable) venture. 
Even though I didn’t find a charity to help out with, I found myself sliding into the Montserrat lifestyle and soon relaxed and settled in. Although Montserrat is a British colony, it’s been considering independence from Great Britain for some time now. Montserrat is a successful blend of African and Anglo-Irish cultures and so therefore is unique. It’s official language is English, which I found to be a relief. 
Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493 and claimed it for Spain. I couldn’t find a lot of information about the early history of Montserrat. There were a lot of Irish who were important in the early years after it was settled in 1632, and so the island is often referred to as “The Emerald Isle of the West.” A beautiful title in my mind. (One of the countries I’ve been most hoping to visit during this year is Ireland. I can’t believe that my year of adventure is almost half way over already. There are still so many places to see and things to experience.) Sadly, most of the Irish didn’t come on happy terms; they were either indentured servants or slaves. By 1648 there were around a thousand Irish families on the island. 
Even today the Irish culture is very present in the country. There are a lot of Irish names, the national emblem is a carved Irish shamrock adorning the Government House, and even the Island’s flag and crest show a woman with a cross and harp. The island itself seems to look quite a bit like Ireland with abounding vegetation (including lots of ferns), emerald-colored hills, and beautiful ravines. 
The people who live in Montserrat were kind, warm, and welcoming. I felt safe the whole time I was there, which was something I couldn’t say about a lot of the countries I’d visited and traveled through during the year. One day I even forgot my purse at the outdoor diner I had eaten lunch at, and when I hurried back thirty minutes later one of the waitresses greeted me with a big grin and held out my bag “Looking for this, miss?” she had asked, as if she’d just been waiting for me to come retrieve it. 
When I expressed my thanks, she’d merely shrugged as if it happened all the time. “If you hadn’t come back for it I was going to see if I could find identification and then I would have called around to the hotels looking for you.” Again she had shrugged and smiled. That alone was enough to bolster my faith in the fact that not every country was rife with strife. 
Much of Montserrat was destroyed by a large volcano long so very long ago and there were still huge portions of the island that were off limits to tourists. The rest of the island was thriving though and vibrant. There were lots of hiking trails and gorgeous beaches. My week was relaxing as I strolled through museums, met lovely people, hiked up steep yet beautiful trails, and even went snorkeling again. I’d fast discovered that snorkeling was one of my favorite things to do while visiting the beach because there was so much to see beyond the surface of the water. It was a good reminder to me that people are a lot like the ocean… Although they may seem one way from the outside, after you get to know them there’s a whole new side to who they are. It’s like exploring a treasure chest and finding all sorts of breathtaking riches and amazing discoveries. 

On my last day in Montserrat I found a Christian church to go to, thrilled that for once the sermon would be in English. Although I’d attended many churches during my travels, rarely could I understand what was being preached. I had made up for that by listening to sermons on-line, but there was something extra-special about this Sunday. The sermon was about how everything we do  will make a difference either for the good or the bad, and we need to make sure we are living our lives the way God wanted us to. It was a good reminder and I journaled about it that night, determined to spend the rest of my travels looking for opportunities to make a difference for the good and hopefully touch lives in a positive way. I wanted my life to be successful in the light of eternity, not just on earth. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Nineteen: Bosnia and Herzegovina

And… Yay! Here we are with this week’s installment of our fictitious story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I hope y’all enjoy. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Nineteen: Bosnia and Herzegovina
I could barely contain my excitement. Although many people think of war and destruction when they hear the name “Bosnia” I’m overwhelmed with memories of stories I heard as a child. Some of my earliest memories of that have to do with my grandparents are of picking them up at the airport when I was five or six and then sitting spellbound as they told me tale after tale about a beautiful country far across the ocean. 
My grandparents had lived in Bosnia for two years to help provide care and a home for mothers and young children who had been misplaced by the war that plagued their country for so long. My grandparents not only grew to love the people, but also their culture and food. There were many days when I would go to my grandparent’s after school and spend the evening in the kitchen cooking with my grandma or sitting on my grandpa’s lap as he told me wonderful stories and together we’d eat chocolate melted on long loaves of French bread. 
To have the chance to actually travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina and see it for real was amazing. The first thing I did when I found out about going was call my grandparents and tell them the news. They were beyond thrilled and right away began telling me about places I should visit and different foods I should try. I took a lot of notes during our phone call and then downloaded a guide book onto my phone before boarding the plane for an all-night flight. When I wasn’t sleeping I researched the sights that I’d dreamed of for so long and made up a game plan, not wanting to waste any of the precious week I had to spend in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 
I flew into Sarajevo which is one of Europe’s cheapest (and in my mind, most beautiful) capitals. The first thing I did was find a place to eat… Not only was I extremely hungry, but I also couldn’t wait to try their food. As can be expected the fare was somewhat different from what I’d grown up eating at my grandparent’s, but also startling familiar in some aspects. They have a large selection of organic food and serve a range of dishes that are contrived from several different cultures, including Ottoman, Balkan, and Austro-Hungarian. 
It was a slow time at the restaurant where I chose to eat and after the chef heard who I was and that I was interested in finding out as much as possible about the country, he came out and joined me after my meal. We sat together and talked for nearly an hour, him in surprisingly fluent English, and me, taking page after page of notes and barely needing to ask questions because he was so through. 
“The residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina greatly enjoy healthy and tasty foods.” Chef Sead kissed his fingers in French fashion when he said the word “tasty.” “We often serve meat, indeed it is the main ingredient of some of our most popular dishes such as burek and grah.” 
When I questioned what burek was, I was met with a horrified expression and Chef Sead created a stir by calling loudly to one of the kitchen workers who emerged several minutes later carrying a plate of food. 
On the plate was a pastry and as soon as Chef Sead started to describe it to me, I gasped.
“You remember it then?” the chef asked. 
“Yes.” I felt a smile spilling over my face. “I used to make this with my grandma.” A borek is a baked filled pastry made with phyllo, which is a very thin, flaky dough. It’s very common in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is eaten for any meal in the day. It’s generally meat-filled and then rolled into a spiral and cut into sections when served. It’s often sprinkled with sesame seeds and is delicious – bursting with flavor. It’s a savory dish and when baked correctly comes out nearly ready to melt in your mouth. 
“What are some of your commonly used ingredients?” I asked after eating some of the scrumptious borek and thanking him quite profusely for it.  
“Ah, we use a large variety of fresh foods such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach…” His voice trailed off. “We’re also known for our bakeries which offer a mouth-watering selection of salty and sweet rolls. They’re all quite fresh and taste almost too good to be true.” 
I laughed at his descriptions, “Do you mind if I quote you outright in my blog, Chef Sead?” 
“Of course not, you’ll mention my restaurant, too, no?” 
I laughed again, “Right, right.” I was so thankful for his time and his restaurant was delightful. I would be happy if I could drive some customers to his little place. So far I was feeling very welcomed into the country, a fact that was due in a large part to Chef Sead. “Would you tell me a bit about what food I can expect when I leave this city?” 
“Ah, along the roads you will quite often see restaurants offering lamp on a spit. It’s wonderful, just wonderful… But of course nothing like what you will find here in my humble restaurant.” He grinned at me then continued, “Soup and salad are common dishes in our country. One of our most common soups has a Turkish origin and is made of dehydrated dough that is then cooked in tomato soup.” He waved a hand in front of his face at my confused look, “Yes, yes, it sounds interesting but you’ll like it. You need to eat it for at least one meal before you leave, alright?” When I nodded he went on, “You’ll be served bread no matter what else you order. We Bosnians greatly enjoy our bread.” 
We continued talking until it was time for him to begin preparations for dinner and then he let me snap a few pictures and get the logistical information that I’d need to talk about his restaurant than I was on my way, along with a paper bag full of fresh pastries, compliments from his staff. 

The week I spent in Bosnia and Herzegovina was nearly magical. I hiked, went rafting and swimming by gorgeous waterfalls, and walked and drove through breath-taking old forests. I walked through castles, stood under old clock towers, ran my hands along ancient arches, and listened to the patter of feet on idyllic cobblestone streets. 

There was so much to do in the country that it made me wish, not for the first time, that I could come back and do the country a second week during the year. Perhaps I would one day come back and bring my grandparents with me.  

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Eighteen: Dominica

So, this week I’ve been focused on editing WLHYL and so it was hard to switch gears and work on this series. I hope it’s still enjoyable and informative, although I know it’s not my best by a long shot. And now, for the 18th segment of my fictitious story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Eighteen: Dominica
We were supposed to have a return ticket to show the custom officers in order to gain entry into Dominica, but thankfully one of the booking agents back at Exploration Airlines headquarters had called ahead and got us special entry permission. And I say “us” because somehow Sophie had worked it out to travel to Dominica and spend the week there exploring with me. I couldn’t have been happier. After over four months, I was homesick for my friends from back home and Sophie was just the tonic I needed. 
Getting to Dominica from Norway was a longer process than normal and for the first time since I’d been traveling with Exploration Airlines, my luggage got lost. 
“Bad things happen when you leave the office,” I said, teasing Sophie. 
“No kidding.” She frowned. “I’m going to go back in the Employes Only area and see if I can figure out what’s going on.” 
I gaped at my friend, “Don’t you think they’ll just be annoyed by you? It’s not like you can really figure out what’s going on, right?” 
“Honey, I take care of airline emergencies for a living. I also know quite well how to handle people and I’ll leave if I’m not needed.” She swept her gaze over me and I knew I looked tired and grungy. I wasn’t the most elegant of travelers especially when the destination was a humid, although beautiful, island. “Are you going to come back with me or do you want to go to the restroom and try and get cleaned up a bit?”
A smile played over my face at Sophie’s try at being diplomatic. “I think I’ll probably head to the restroom and get cleaned up.”
“You did pack a change of clothes in your carry-on, right?” 
“I’m a seasoned traveler.” I waved my hand at Sophie. “Of course I have a change of clothes. You just head on back and figure out what’s going on with our luggage and I’ll go and get presentable.” Somehow Sophie looked fresh and professional, even though I knew she’d been through the same ordeal as me. 
Normally I didn’t think of traveling as an ordeal, but not only had our luggage gotten lost, but we’d gotten lost. I’m crediting the fact that our layover was literally in the middle of the night and so we were rushing through the airport at 2:25 a.m. but we totally missed our flight. We should have had coffee before disembarking our first plane. At least Sophie was with me so I wasn’t left alone while trying to book a new flight. (Our missed flight is, in all reality, probably the reason why our luggage was missing.) 
It took some doing and nearly a half an hour, but I finally felt presentable in my clean clothes with my hair pulled back into a French twist and my make-up (sparse though it be), reapplied. 
“Yay, you’re ready!” 
I emerged from the restroom to see Sophie standing there with our luggage next to her. 
“How in the world?” Sophie was a wonder, there was no other way to describe her. 
“Let’s hurry. We’ve got a van waiting outside to take us to our hotel.” My co-worker started power-walking toward the doors. “We’ve already used up most of today which means we only have five days to explore and there’s so much to do.” 
The driver of the van helped us load or luggage into it. 
“Most of the island is covered with densely wooded mountains and rain forests. From what I’ve read the terrain is quite steep and rugged. I thought we could take the remainder of today to rest since it’s almost supper time anyway, and then tomorrow morning we could get up and do some hiking.” 
“Sounds good to me.” In reality, anything sounded good to me. I was just so happy to be able to sit back and let someone else do all the planning.  
The next morning while I slept-in, a delicious ocean breeze wafting through our open windows making my cozy bed feel extremely comfortable, Sophie got up and did some research on her laptop. By the time I pulled myself out of bed, she had the rest of our week mapped out. 
“We’ll spend the week at Cabrits National Park.” 
I rubbed my still sleepy face. “Wait, we’re spending the whole week at one place?” That sounded strange to me. 
“There’s a ton to do, silly. The park protects coral reefs, wetlands, and tropical forests.” Sophie grinned, “Besides, do you know how big this island is? It’s tiny. We can travel around as much as we want and then return to the park the next day.” 
“Sounds good to me then. Tell me what the plan is.” 
“We’ll spend today hiking. There’s an old English garrison called Fort Shirley and we’ll visit there as well. I thought you could get some footage of the fort for your blog.” 
“Cool, can you tell me more about Fort Shirley?” I took my phone out and began tapping out notes from force of habit although in reality I could probably ask Sophie to repeat any of the information I needed her to.
“Fort Shirley used to be a military outpost and was built in the 18th century to defend north Dominica. The fort housed more than 600 men consisted of over 50 buildings. It was abandoned in 1854 and it wasn’t until 1989 that restoration began. Although several of the buildings have been completely restored, a lot are still in ruins and can be found all over the peninsula.” 
“You sound like a tour guide.” 
“Thank you. Now, on to the rest of our itinerary. Thursday we’re going to learn how to SCUBA dive, Friday we’re going to the Dominica Museum, Saturday we’re going to hike up a volcano, and then Sunday we’ll just hang out at the beach.” 
“Wait, we’re going to go SCUBA diving?” I felt my mouth drop open. 
“Of course. How could we spend the week here and not? It will be fun and safe so go ahead and get excited about it.” 

And to my amazement, I did get excited. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Seventeen: Norway

Welcome to another day of traveling around the world virtually through Noveltea! I’m excited about being (fictionally) in Norway this week. It’s a pretty amazing country from what I read and I was pretty excited to find out that when a book is published the government buys 1,000 copies for their libraries… How cool is that?
And now, have fun with week 17th of my fiction series, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
photo free from Pixabay 
Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Seventeen: Norway
Sophie, my wonder-assistant-planner-and-booker from Exploration Airlines is  originally from Minnesota. Minnesota is the unofficial Norwegian capital of the United States and Sophie is of Norwegian decent. Add those facts together and you guessed it, Sophie flew in to join me during my week-long stay in the breath-taking country. Sophie was nearly giddy when she joined me late Monday night. 
The first thing we did Tuesday morning was eat a traditionally Norwegian breakfast consisting of milk, coffee, and an open sandwich with meat cuts, and another one with butter and jam.
Then we headed to Nidaros Cathedral. It was built over the burial site of Saint Olav who had been a king of Norway in the 11th century. The cathedral was built from 1070 to 1300 and is of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles; it’s the northernmost medical cathedral in the world. 
The building was immense and ornamental with towering steeples and turrets and archways. The inside was vast with columns and tall ceilings and high quality workmanship at every turn. The floors looked like a beautiful patchwork quilt and light filtered through expertly crafted stained-glass windows. The windows on the south side of the cathedral have scenes from the New Testament against a red background, and the windows on the north side have scenes from the Old Testament against a blue background. It was impressive. 
There were so many small details and interstice and corners to explore that it felt like we’d never have enough time to see everything – to soak it all in. The air in the cathedral was cool and almost damp, perhaps a reflection from the rain misting outside. I could almost taste the history as I walked around, a magically, musty, dusty scent filling my senses. I rubbed my hand over the tall columns, tipping my head back to gaze at the ceiling that was marvelously high, leaving me to wonder how in the world the cathedral had been built without modern equipment. 
According to Sophie who had researched the cathedral back during her school years and kinda fell in love with it, the building was badly damaged by fires in 1327 and again in 1531. Parts that were destroyed were not rebuilt until the early 1900s. Also, in 1708 the church burned down completely except for the stone walls. Then in 1719 it was struck by lightning and again fire broke out. The restoration (and rebuilding) of the cathedral began in the mid-1800s and was officially finished in 2001. It was astonishing to think of how many hours of work and even lives had been dedicated to the work of one building. I couldn’t even fathom it. 
For supper we went to a local restaurant and had a traditional Norse dish that is well known all around the world: Smoked salmon. The salmon was severed with scrambled eggs, dill, some kind of sandwich, and mustard. The salmon was delicious and quite… Smokey, which was kind of to be expected. I didn’t enjoy the eggs much as I generally cook mine harder, but it was an interesting mixture and I was glad to have tried it. 
“Did you know that the Laerdal Tunnel is the world’s longest road tunnel?” By the time we got back to our hotel room I was tired, but Sophie was too excited to sleep and was pulling facts both out of her memory bank and the internet. 
“I’ve never even heard of it before.” 
Her mouth dropped open as if I’d missed a very important part of my formal education. “It’s 15 miles long.” 
“That is amazing.” I didn’t know if I’d like the feeling of being stuck in a tunnel for an entire 15 minutes, but I didn’t voice my thoughts. 
“Guess what, the Global Peace Index from 2013 rates Norway as one of the most peaceful countries in the world.” From Sophie’s tone of voice and happy facial expressions, I almost thought she was personally responsible for that impressive claim. 
“Pretty cool.” I grinned, I was happy Sophie could have some fun on my year-long adventure. She’d done so much to help everything go smoothly for me during the first four months of the year. 
“The cheese slicer was invented in 1925 by Thor Bjorklund. And guess what country he was in? Norway.” Then Sophie’s face dropped, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never even used a cheese slicer before.” She looked aghast at the thought. 
“You should buy one when you’re here then.” 
“Perfect idea.” Sophie grinned and then went and looked out the window. “Wanna hear something strange?” 
“Um, sure?” I didn’t know if she was insinuating that the last five minutes of conversation hadn’t been strange, because that’s how I would have classified them. 
“Everyone who owns a TV in Norway has to pay a licensing fee each year that’s a little over $480. And that’s in US dollars.” 
Now that fact did sound interesting. I didn’t have a TV (I wasn’t home enough for it to be useful), but I enjoyed watching shows in hotel rooms from time to time. 
After a few minutes of gazing at the city stretching below us, Sophie was back at her computer clicking away. “Listen to this,” again her voice held excitement. “Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red, sailed to Labrador and then south to a region he called Vinland in A.D. 1000. They found grapes and corn growing wild. Both places, although never settled, marked a Norwegian “discovery” of America.” 
“I kinda recall that from history books.” I grinned at Sophie’s enthusiasm, it was clear she was happy to have a Norwegian heritage. I yawned, “I’m kinda getting tired, do you feel jet lag catching up with you?” 
Sophie sighed and shut her computer, “Actually, yes. I think I’ll go get ready for bed now.” She yawned as she stood up. “I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
“Neither can I.” And I couldn’t. During the week we planned to see Rondane National Park, explore the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, Camp for a night at Naeroyfijord, and fit as much other sightseeing and exploring into the trip as possible. 
I was nearly asleep when Sophie emerged from the bathroom bruising her teeth. 
“Indiana?” My name was mumbled around her toothbrush. 
“Humm?” I squinted at her. 
“Isn’t it strange that with how delicious the food was today that we ate that Grandiosa frozen pizza is Norway’s unofficial national dish?” 

And so instead of fjords or cathedrals or any of the beautiful sights I’d seen during the day, I dreamed of pizza. Frozen pizza.