No Place Like Home

 

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The Plaza de Espana in Seville

It’s good to be home.  While our family had a wonderful vacation traveling all over Portugal and Spain, there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep in your own bed.  It’s even better when you’ve spent the previous two weeks sleeping in other people’s beds in other people’s houses.  Yes, I do mean houses, or apartments in most cases.  Rather than staying in hotels, we spent this vacation renting homes through AirBnB.  My sister-in-law suggested them to us a few years ago, but I was never interested in staying in someone else’s home.  This year, to save money, we decided to give it a try.  My feelings are still mixed, and to be honest, I’m not sure I would do it again, but it was part of the adventure, so I’m glad we gave it a try.

 

 

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The central square in Merida, Spain, just a few blocks from our apartment – our favorite of the houses in which we stayed.

AirBnB was created with the idea that people would open up their home to travelers as a bed and breakfast or that they would allow others to rent their home when they, the host family, was away.  In theory, it’s a great idea.  However, as pointed out in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, that’s not quite the reality of the business.  Rather than staying in someone’s personal home, in most cases, guests stay in an apartment that has been purchased by the owner specifically for AirBnB rentals.  While this was fine with us (and slightly less creepy), according to HBR, it’s having devastating effects on the housing market in several US and European cities where “residents” are no longer actually living in the homes, and real estate prices are driving middle income families out of local neighborhoods.  We could certainly see how this was the case as most of the places where we lodged were in residential areas rather than hotel and tourist centers. 

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The shrine and basilica in Fatima, Portugal

All in all, our experiences were good ones.  Our children had never stayed in a B&B, and they were happy that only one of the places we stayed in was in someone’s home.  While they delighted in the scrumptious breakfast we were provided before leaving Fatima, they didn’t like the feeling of staying in the home of a stranger while the owner slept in the room upstairs.  They much preferred the apartments where we were met by the owner, given a tour, and handed a key, before saying goodbye to the never seen again host.  They did love, however, the opportunity to have their own beds, and in some cases, their own rooms, and it was nice to be able to wash all of our clothes halfway through the trip.

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Katie and Morgan took turns reading to each other on the many subway rides.

My advice to anyone considering AirB&B is simple.  Research, read, and review.  If the apartment is “located in the center of Malaga [and] the square is filled with restaurants, tapas bars, pubs and bars, fundamental enclaves within the Malaga night.,” know that this really means “nothing in Malaga closes, or quiets, until close to 3am, and you’re in the thick of it.”  If you’re an early to bed family or a light sleeper, hearing the partying in the streets until 3am and then the trash trucks and recycling trucks until 4am is probably not going to bode well for your next day of sightseeing.  “Close to the train station” may not mean an easy walk with your bags but rather a subway ride in which you’ll have to change trains three times.

While we didn’t have any major issues, and all of the hosts were pleasant and helpful, I really missed the amenities of staying in a hotel – a concierge to consult, a clean room each afternoon, a steady supply of toilet paper (yep, that was an interesting morning), and a pool, game room, etc. the things that most people enjoy while on vacation.  It was good experience, and I don’t think I would have changed anything, but I did learn to read between the lines.  In some cases, if it sounds good to be true, it probably is.

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The Roman ruins in Merida, thankfully not one of the apartments.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:

Crabbing With Granddad (2013)

A Place to Call Home (2014)

Picture Me (2015)

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Striking Gold


Our family recently discovered a hidden gem while on vacation in Spain. When we were planning our trip, our oldest daughter discovered a little known city called Merida, between Fatima, Portugal, and Seville. Though it is one of the oldest cities in Spain, it has been only in recent years that Merida has become a destination for tourists. A small, quiet town in southwest Spain, it is the site of several Roman ruins including a coliseum and amphitheater. Like much of Spain, the city comes alive at night when locals and visitors as young as three years of age can be seen playing in the streets and watching futbol in the outdoor bars into the wee hours of the night. 

We visited the city over a weekend in June, yet the streets were still almost empty, and the tourist sites had plenty of room in which to move. Unlike other European cities such as Paris or Rome, Merida felt quaint and new in spite of the age of the city. Untouched by most tourists, its beauty can be fully appreciated even during the times of day when one would expect large crowds. It’s easy to take the time necessary to fully enjoy the experience and the ambiance of the city. 

Aside from the wonderful aspects of the city of Merida, I discovered something else while on vacation this year that surprised me. Though our family has vacationed together every year since our oldest was born over twenty years ago, this was the first year that I didn’t feel like I was traveling with three children. Technically, two of our girls are still youths, ages fifteen and seventeen, but this summer, it really felt like we were traveling with adults. 

Shopping excursions shifted from visiting local toy stores to dress shopping as the girls all tried to imitate the fashion tastes of Europe. Desired souvenirs were no longer key chains and snow globes but artwork and pottery. Yes, there were some disagreements, petty squabbles, and normal insecurities that sisters are so adept at bringing out in each other, but there were more moments of real conversation (without cell phones!), mature sight-seeing (no children’s museums), and late nights sitting in Spanish bars talking about college and future plans. 

Though I often lament about how much it pains me to see my girls grow older, I have to admit that spending time with my young adult daughters was a truly uplifting and pleasant experience. I’m not ready to marry any of them off, but I can see the future, and it is a treasure to behold. 

   Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016)

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Finding The Way

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Several times in the past month, El Camino de Santiago has come up in conversation among my friends.  For those who are unfamiliar with it, El Camino is a pilgrimage route in Spain.  The Way of Saint James is a series of routes, predominantly taken on foot, along the Pyrenees and Asturias Mountains (though one can also take a route from Seville) leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of St. James the Apostle.  Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims walk El Camino.  A few years ago, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez brought El Camino to the big Screen in the movie, The Way.  Ever since I first heard about it and subsequently saw the movie, I have wanted to walk it. 

Pilgrims must be in good shape and able to walk many miles with little food and no guarantee of shelter.  Though it started as a religious pilgrimage almost two-thousand years ago, El Camino is often traveled by adventure enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those seeking a respite from the hectic pace of today’s technology-infused world.  I can’t help but wonder whether or not snapchat fans would follow Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards if they chose to make El Camino their next endeavor.  Perhaps some wouldn’t find it quite as exciting as a trip to the top of Everest without oxygen, but I would be glued to my phone watching them document their route across the French and Spanish border to Compostela.

I often say that there is only one thing on my bucket list.  There are many places in this world I would like to see and many things I still want to accomplish, but there is only one thing that I feel I must do before I am called to my eternal home.  Morgan will be in high school for three more years, and then we will have one in law school and two in college.  Ken wants to travel to Alaska when we become empty nesters, and I will happily go with him, but I know that will be just a pre-curser to my ultimate travel experience.  I am determined to follow The Way.

For those who can’t make it to Spain, two Dominican priests are planning on replicating the pilgrimage in the United States.  The route will take pilgrims from New Orleans to Memphis with stops at many churches along the path.  While I am intrigued by this and would happily join them, I would treat it as practice, a pilgrimage before The Pilgrimage, a way to prepare for what is to come.  For preparation is the key.  Stamina and good health must be taken into account, but I believe that there is much more to the preparation than the physical.  If I walk The Way, it will be for spiritual reasons.  It takes about a month to complete the trip, but I suspect it takes a lifetime to complete the journey.  Where am I on that journey?  Only God knows, but I’m pretty sure I have a long way to go, and The Way is just a step on that journey.

According to the web site for the movie, El Camino, “by its nature, serves as the ultimate metaphor for life.”  The well-trodden path serves as a guide, but we must make the journey our own.  We must find our own way.  As for me, I hope to someday find myself along El Camino.  I pray that it is just one of “the ways” by which I will make my final journey.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is now available for pre-order.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015)

Receive Amy’s Newsletter for News about Books and Events