Winding My Way Through Indiana’s Wineries

I’m having a fruit fit and we’re not talking salad. I can’t decide whether I want blueberry, blackberry, red raspberry, cherry, plum or apple. And let’s not forget grape. Fortunately, as part of the Rushville Psi Iota Xi Fall Wine Tour, I can sample each delicious fruit-filled wine before I decide which – or even how many – bottles to buy and take home. And trust me, it’s a difficult decision. I’m currently drooling over the blueberry at Ertel Cellars Winery just a few miles southeast of Batesville, and we’ve only just started the tour. Plus, I have a hankering for merlot, the day is young, the wine samples will be plentiful, and I have to carry what I buy.

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Good thing I work out.

And good thing the Psi Iota Xi wine tour comes with a chauffeured tour bus because, if past history is any indication, I’m a cheap date and will need it. Fortunately, Psi Iota Xi has pulled out all of the stops with the tour I’m on, and it’s doing the same again with its upcoming 2014 fall wine tour highlighting three area wineries, including Buck Creek Winery, Simmons Winery and Mallow Run Winery. This year’s tour is set for Saturday, November 1st, and, in addition to the tour bus transportation, it includes a sampling of wines at each location, one meal and prizes in addition to garden and back room tours.

What can I say? Sign me up – again!

Also, take note, you may receive a free wine trail wine glass at each location. We did on our tour, but I’m not sure if that’s part of the November 1st tour. As the glasses are cute and, well, are wine glasses, it’s worth asking about at the first stop. Still, cute as they are, they pale in comparison to my new favorite plastic wine glass with straw and a lid to keep bugs out, courtesy of my friend, Michelle, who introduced me to wine touring by bus in all of its many glories. Now THAT’S a friend!

The three wineries to be toured on November 1st are just some of the seven wineries that make up the “Indy Wine Trail,” one of five designated wine trails in Indiana. The wine trails stretch from Braiali Winery in far northeastern Indiana (on the “Wineries of Indiana’s North East Trail”) to the Pepper’s Ridge Winery in the Evansville area (part of the “Hoosier Wine Trail”) and include various parts in between. The Indy Wine Trail – not to be confused with the “Indiana Wine Trail” – also includes urban wineries in Indianapolis such as Chateau Thomas in addition to Simmons, the furthest south on the Indy Wine Trail, near Columbus.

The five Indiana wine trails are the brain child of the Indiana Wine Grape Council and were created to foster collaboration between regional wineries in an effort to offer customers a localized wine experience. Visitors can travel from winery to winery to learn about the various wines produced in the state with wine tastings offered regularly at each location. As the trails include visits to several wineries, everyone is encouraged to designate a driver – such as our poor tour bus operator who gets to travel to each winery without touching a single drop so have mercy and tip him or her well – and drink responsibly.

So many bottles, so little time....

So many bottles, so little time….

At Buck Creek Winery in southeastern Marion County, Psi Iota Xi tour guests will sample from Buck Creek’s large collection of red and white wines and will get a private tour of the back room. With names like Dew Drop (a sweet white with a hint of peach and citrus) and Christmas Cherry (a vibrant red made from sweet and tart cherries), deciding which to buy at Buck Creek may also have you eenie, meenie, minie, mowing your way around a half dozen bottles too. Or maybe that’s just me.

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

At Simmons Winery, tour guests will enjoy lunch while sampling wines and wandering the winery’s beautiful gardens. Located on the family’s 115-year-old farm in northeastern Bartholomew County, Simmons also offers a market during the summer months and features pumpkins come fall. With red, white and blush wines available, Simmons – like many of Indiana’s wineries – also makes several specialty wines, including a sweet dessert wine, Vidal Ice, and Winter Spice, a sweet red Marechal Foch combined with brown sugar and mulling spices which is great served warm, especially during the holidays.

At Mallow Run Winery located near Bargersville in Johnson County, try the Dry Traminette which is made completely from grapes grown in Indiana. A dry white with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, it’s perfect for a fall stroll around the grounds. And, like many of Indiana’s other wineries, Mallow Run offers several sweet fruit wines, including its number one selling rhubarb wine, a zippy little number with a tart zing, not to mention a gold medal “best in show” award from this year’s Indy International Wine Competition.

As for the aforementioned Dry Traminette, that wine is actually produced from a grape specifically cultivated to grow in the harsh climate of the Midwest. The Traminette grape was created by Herb Barrett at the University of Illinois originally as a table grape, but it was found to have excellent wine qualities in addition to partial resistance to several fungal diseases. The Traminette also proved to be more cold hardy than its more established parent, the Gewurztraminer grape, while retaining its flavorful character. The Indiana Wine Growers Council has named wine made from the Traminette grape as the signature wine of Indiana so, as a fellow Hoosier, you should definitely give it a try.

According to Purdue University, Indiana’s wine industry annually contributes more than $72 million to the state’s economy, with Indiana wine sales growing on average by more than 15 percent a year. The exploding number of wineries in Indiana – from nine to nearly 80 since 1989 – have certainly helped with the growth in those numbers. Indiana’s wineries currently grow grapes on more than 600 acres, with Indiana wine production exceeding 1 million gallons a year – which translates into 5 million bottles, half of which I’ve probably sampled. Ok, maybe not, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

As for this fall’s wine tour, Psi Iota Xi has opened it up to the public, but as the tour bus is only so big, it’s first come, first served with a limit of 55 seats. Tickets cost $60 per person in advance and include the very worthwhile tour bus transportation for the day, wine tastings at each winery, a delicious meal, and a drawing for prizes. Again, tickets must be purchased in advance – no same day sales – and can be purchased from the Rushville Public Library. For more information call Jan Garrison at 765-561-1105 or e-mail janmg@rpl.lip.in.us or Robin Sowder at rsowder0602@gmail.com.

The bus departs from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Rushville at 9:30 a.m. – go to the west side of the church and just look for the big bus. Return time is approximately 5:30 p.m., but as that’s approximate, you may want to text your designated driver from the bus.

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

As for Psi Iota Xi, it is a charitable women’s philanthropic organization with chapters throughout the Midwest and places a special emphasis on speech and hearing-related causes. With that said, it’s great to be able to support a worthy cause while also enjoying a Saturday outing to experience some of the wonders Indiana has to offer, even if the end result blurs my speech in the process.

If you can’t make the tour, I encourage you to still check out Indiana’s wineries, several of which also have restaurants on site. Hours and days of operation differ at each winery, with some locations changing their availability based upon the seasons. For more information, to get directions or to plan your own visit to any of the three wineries on this year’s Psi Iota Xi tour, check out their websites at:

Buck Creek Winery – http://buckcreekwinery.com.

Simmons Winery – http://www.simmonswinery.com

Mallow Run Winery – http://mallowrun.com

For information on the Indy Wine Grape Council and the Indiana wine trails, go to:

http://www.indianawines.org/tour/wine-trails

Next Week – I explore Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Winery.

Follow my blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News

A Tale of Two Flats

It’s a cold, frosty November morning and December is hard on her heals. As usual when the air turns sharp and burns in my lungs, Charles Dicken’s fills my mind. I can’t help it. As a Dickens bookslover of literature, the big D is one of my favorite authors. I always have great expectations for the holidays and would wrap my presents in the Pickwick Papers if I could. I reach for my well-worn copy of A Christmas Carol and soon picture the hard-edged streets of Victorian London with old Ebeneezer Scrooge stalking his way through the darkened heart of the city, spitting on dirty urchins and muttering bah hum bug under his breath. Tiny Tim limps through my imagination and I can almost smell Mrs. Cratchit’s goose. H’mmmm…. goose….

Charles Dickens London

And this December – like Sydney Carton from Dicken’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities – I’m plagued with an unrequited love. But the object of my affection isn’t a fair maiden named Lucy, but a traditional style Go with Oh flat in the heart of Kensington within walking distance of Charing Cross.

http://www.gowithoh.com/vacation-london-apartments/ref_16415/

In addition to being a stunning flat, the location is perfect as it is within walking distance of many wonderful sites such as the River Thames and Westminster Abbey, but it also happens to be a hop, skip and a jump from where Charles Dickens actually slaved away at the Warren’s Blacking Warehouse at the meager age of 11 while his father rotted away in debtor’s prison.

Kensington 1

I adore the crown molding in this Go with Oh London flat!

Call me crazy, but as a huge fan of history, I am one of those weirdly tactile individuals who likes to stand where my heroes actually stood and walk where they actually walked even if the place in question isn’t one that was near and dear to any of my heroes’ hearts.

As a poor little urchin, I doubt Dickens ever waxed nostalgic about his days at the warehouse, but painful as the experience was, it did inflame his imagination to write truly moving and memorable literature. So to me, visiting London at Christmas to see the sites that actually inspired his imagination and to walk where he walked excites me more than a clean house and new underwear. If I can kiss the cobblestones and hug his house without getting arrested by a bobby, I will.Dickens house sign

Kensington 2

This kitchen would make Ebeneezer Scrooge smile

Hence my love affair from afar with the pretty little Kensington flat courtesy of Go with Oh. With its high ceilings, vintage crown molding, large windows and adorable kitchen tile, it’s the perfect ground zero for a history-laden, Charles-Dickens-inspired Christmas walking tour – courtesy of http://www.dickenslondontours.co.uk/.

But much as I love this pretty little flat with its perfect little location, I’m torn, though mine is not a tale of two cities, but a tale of two flats for another object of my affection would make Bob Cratchit drool with envy.

Camden town 1

All it needs is me, my family and a plate of plum pudding

It’s an equally lovely little flat located in Camden Town, though while it sports two bedrooms, two bathrooms and lovely décor, it’s missing an outdoor mud oven in which to steam our plum pudding. But I think we can make do.

http://www.gowithoh.com/vacation-london-apartments/ref_16400/

Camden town 3

Imagine the goose Mrs. Cratchit could fix in THAT kitchen

Plus, being such a light and airy space, I doubt it’s dripping with ghosts from anyone’s past, present and future, but one can dream and I wouldn’t mind waking up to Marley’s Ghost at either location.

As I said, November is here and December is breathing down our necks. London awaits with her crisscrossed streets, ancient churches, haphazard skyline and history waiting around every corner. My copy of A Christmas Carol beckons in the bookcase. Two apartments stand ready for the renting. It’s time to dust off the luggage. God bless us, everyone.

Now pass the plum pudding. Tis the season and I’m getting in the mood.Dickens flyer

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

Blimey, I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

The first thing I saw were fists, tiny little fists raised to the air shaking with anger, confusion, fear, who knows.  She doesn’t recall why she raised her fists, partly because it didn’t appear on her favorite TV show, Merlin, or on her Kindle, and partly because she was only seconds old.  But I remember it like yesterday as it was the very first time I ever laid eyes on my daughter – ultra sound not withstanding- and she came out with a bang.  Her dark red hair was askew, her lungs were in good working order (and haven’t failed since) and those tiny fists were raised to the sky, making one thing abundantly clear – tiny or not, Jackie Marie was ready to take on the world.

My baby girl at her first communion, no doubt dreaming of a boy with an Irish brogue…. or wondering how far she can spit from there.

And now, she’s just one month shy of 18 years old, a high school senior planning her future.  For her, that future includes prom, graduation, fighting with her brother, heading off to college and – if we plan right and save accordingly – her dream trip to Ireland.

The Irish coast is a calling

That’s where Go with Oh’s dream contest comes into play.  I want to make my daughter’s Irish dream trip come true.  And if I get to tag along for the ride, so be it!

Despite our last name of Fritz, Jackie and I are Irish on my mother’s side (Kelley) and have the strawberry blonde hair, green eyes and freckles to prove it.  We don’t tan so much as pink up and Jackie has more Celtic music on her iPod than pop. She’s in love with all things Anglo Saxon, but not in a creepy Nazi sort of way, and she swoons at even a hint of an Irish brogue in any member of the opposite sex.  As for me, when I get mad, I try to cuss like an Irish sailor, but it clashes with my Catholic school upbringing, though somehow I manage.  If you prick our fingers, we bleed shamrocks and when I pee, it foams like Guinness. Don’t worry – I’m having that checked out.

The Bingley Bridge

Jackie’s dream is to live in Ireland, teach history, marry an Irish man and raise their adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Riley or whatever his last name may be, in the rolling green hills of the mother country.  Yes, you read that right.  Someday I may be the only Hoosier with Chinese grandchildren living in Ireland. Jackie’s learning Gaelic, has plastered her school binders with pictures of the Irish countryside, and works at Burger King partly to save for her graduation trip and partly because she’s too young and her mother won’t let her work at the Titled Kilt. Yeah, she’s that committed.  And yeah, I know that’s Scottish, but it’s close.

Hence our mother and daughter dream trip to Ireland.  Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to Dublin we Go with Oh – we hope!

We don’t see many castles in Indiana

As a mother, I relish the thought of joining her on that trip for many reasons.  From what I’ve seen from pictures, Ireland is stunning.  Imagine how amazing it would be to stand on the ramparts of a castle ruin trying to count how many different shades of green one can see.  Whether we’re strolling the gardens of Trinity College or ambling down a cobbled stone street in some tiny Irish village or hanging upside down to kiss the Blarney stone, one can bet the surroundings will be stunning.

It’s just waiting to be explored

Plus, it’s dripping with history, a love my bookworm daughter and I both share.  I can easily imagine us enoying a gray afternoon in the National Museum of Ireland steeping in Celtic history and Irish lore.  After all, there’s Viking Irish history and medieval Irish history and let’s not forget about iron-aged Irish history – so much to discover and so little time.  And when the museums are few and far between, we most certainly will stumble into every church that strays near our path.  Bring on the incense and candles!

And, there’s that family connection too. How many Kelleys will we find?  And will any of them claim us?  After all, who doesn’t want to visit their ancestral roots, even if they include more than a wee bit of drunken debauchery?

Which brings me to my next set of reasons for joining her on her trip – parental supervision required.  Much like her mother, Jackie has tasted a glass of wine or two and liked it, plus she’ll be 18, of legal age, in a foreign country, smitten by boys with Irish accents and able to go to the bars.  Not that I don’t trust her, mind you, but a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, and if that includes Irish bar hopping, sign me up.  After all, it sure beats sending her to her room.

Lovely, lovely Dublin

 So a good part of our mother-daughter dream trip will be an indoctrination into responsible adulthood before I send her off to college.  Yes, we will be on vacation and yes, we will be exploring the wonders of Ireland in all their radiant green glory, and yes, we WILL go to the Dublin bars, but it will also be our time to talk, to share, to plan and to practice for that next stage of her life.  August will be here before we know it and with it will be college and moving her into the dorm.  She’ll be tasting that first sweet taste of real independence.  Sure, she’ll still be my baby girl, but she’ll be off on her own. It’s enough to make a mother cry with both joy AND dread.

How do I love thee? Let me count the greens.

But to have a dream week with my daughter in Ireland will make that transition so much more bearable from a maternal point of view.  It will still be delightfully painful to part with her this fall, but that looming pain of sending my little Peaches off into the real world will be tempered by those sweet green Irish memories of our time together.  It will still sting and I will still cry, but that’s life and we’ll always have Ireland.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  http://www.gowithoh.com/

And enter the competition at: http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out in it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

Hanging with my baby girl in New York

By Robin Fritz

Sun, Sand and the Kindness of Strangers

Normally the sight of a large man lifting a small child up by the ankles and shaking him vigorously over a black-topped parking lot would send me running for the nearest cop.  But in this instance, I not only smiled, I laughed. 

The brilliant blue waters of Lake Michigan

In Silver Lake, Michigan, with its thousands of acres of rolling, blowing sand dunes, I have a feeling this is a regular occurrence.

The small boy in question, like me, was waiting with his family for his turn to ride over the towering dunes at the Mac Wood’s Dune Rides.  As we sat in the parking lot awaiting our buggy-mobile, we couldn’t help but laugh as the father lifted his giggling son and literally shook the sand off of him.  The growing pile must have come from every possible nook and cranny – from inside ears, between toes, out of hair, cascading from shorts pockets – and his younger brother danced excitedly beside his father’s leg, shouting, “Do me!  Do me!” 

By the end of the afternoon, we would all need a good ankle shaking.

Silver Lake is one of those stunning places which should remind us just how transient geography can be.  Once home to a towering forest, the dunes of

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Silver Lake hug the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near the point known throughout western Michigan as “The Narrows” just due north of the Little Sable Point lighthouse  These long ago towering forests proved to be too enticing to local lumber barons and they were logged out at the turn of the century.  With the loss of their tree cover and its deeply anchoring roots, the dunes began their northward march, moving steadily across the landscape anywhere from one to three feet per year, depending upon the winds blowing off the lake.  As a result, the actual lake at Silver Lake is half the size it was in the 1960s, and homes along the northern shore, if not physically relocated, are sold with an expiration date for, eventually, the dunes will win out and take over.

Despite the dunes’ voracious appetite for local real estate, the surrounding citizens have a love/love relationship with their sandy neighbors to the north that equates into untold numbers of dollars in tourism revenue.  These much

View from the lighthouse

needed dollars – for Michigan is a state still reeling from the Great Recession – pours in from eager visitors ready to stroll, hike, ride, and/or drive over every significant pile of sand that gets in their way.

Protected and managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the dunes are divided into three sections, with the southern third leased by Mac Wood’s for its thrilling rides and informative introductions to this amazing world, while the middle section is available for public pedestrian use.  The northern third is set aside as a public thrill ride tour de force in the form of off-road vehicular mayhem.  More on that in a minute.

Our adventure started off appropriately enough at Mac Wood’s where a

An itty bitty dune

chummy older woman with a quick wit narrated from behind the wheel of our 20-passenger dune buggy bus.  Pulling off of the public road into the protected area we first passed through forest similar to the now defunct trees that once covered the dunes.

Blasting through the forest, we entered the eerily beautiful transition zone between shade and sun where bleached out stumps from long dead pines pockmarked the landscape like so many abstract sculptures.  While taking pride in my ecological bent, I couldn’t help but imagine what lovely coffee table bases they would make with their butter smooth gray and white exteriors.

With a lead foot squarely planted on the gas pedal, our female Helio Castraneves flew up dune and down, around curves and along valley trails, stopping here and there to describe the forces in action.  As we had managed to pick a day windier than most, we also got a free exfoliation in the process, and by the time we stopped at a huge dune for a hike up, my face too was now butter smooth, though I had to dust my way through a layer of grit to get there.

It was then our turn to climb a dune, only we did so on foot – or rather, on hands and knees – for the behemoth in question quickly claimed knees, thighs and calves in the process.  As our lower extremities screamed for relief, my teenaged children, nieces and I reached the top where we enjoyed an other-worldly view.  Imagine, if you will, picking up a section of the Sahara desert – stark, blindingly bright, and severe – and dropping it in the middle of a green oasis of trees, blue lakes, and quaint suburbs.  Yeah, it’s like that.

Afterwards, the drive out was no less thrilling and we left Mac Woods with souvenirs in hand and sand in ears thinking that would be the highlight of our meeting with the mighty Silver Lake sand dunes.  But no, life has a funny way of saying, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” and for us, our adventure was only just beginning.

Steffie and Jackie take it to the edge.

Wanting to see more, we drove to the public access area and hiked to the edge between the pedestrian use portion of the dunes and the off-road vehicle (ORV) use area.  Standing there we watched as dirt bikes, sand rails, four-wheelers, SUVs and modified trucks climbed, skidded and flew over the small portion of dune we could see from our viewpoint in a valley of beige.  As the six of us stood there taking it all in, a bright red Jeep with no doors pulled up and a man with a Minnesota accent said, “Wanna take a ride?”

Did we?  Heck, YES we did!

Now normally I don’t climb willingly into the vans of strangers offering candy, but when the van is a tricked out Jeep and the candy comes in the form of towering dunes, I jump head first into the cargo hold.  My niece’s six-foot three inch boyfriend, Michael, climbed in first, along with my teenage son, Jordan, and my niece, Taylor.  As the rest of us watched, they drove off, disappearing in a sea of sand for the next 20 minutes.  When they finally returned, the grins etched on their faces punctuated my son’s cry of, “It was AWESOME!”

Next, I climbed in with my daughter, Jackie, and yet another niece, Stephanie.  St. Paul Tom introduced himself and we were off first on a trail ride

The dunes of Silver Lake

to get a lay of the land.  Hailing from across Lake Michigan, Tom was visiting with sand enthusiasts from all over the United States and Canada, and as a regular visitor to Silver Lake, he frequently offers introductory rides to persons standing on the sidelines.  BTW, if you meet Tom, don’t even try to offer him gas money.  Refusing my initial offer, he quickly scouted out, found and return the $10 spot I shoved in the console.

No, the reward, he said, comes in the form of smiles, laughs and – in our case – screams of joy as he introduces people to the thrills of riding the dunes.  For the first ten minutes, Tom drove us through the tamer portions of the ORV area, pointing out hidden marshes, fast, hard flats, and newbies with rented vehicles who he would no doubt be pulling out later that afternoon with his ever present tow strap.  Passing a giant dune, I commented on its height which elicited from St. Paul Tom a snicker.  “That’s nothing,” he said.  “Wait until you see what we’re going to climb.”  At that point I questioned his sanity and mine, but as I was strapped in with a three-point hitch it was too late to jump out now.  Rounding that dune, we approached the bottom of one that looked to be nearly vertical and Tom turned to us with a smile and asked, “So, do you want to get up it on the first try?”

Stephanie buried her head in her hands, laughed nervously and didn’t answer.  My daughter – ever the adventurer – shouted, “Make it interesting!”  And I replied, “What she said!”

Without so much as a running start, St. Paul Tom stomped on the gas pedal and we were off.  The modified Chevy 350 engine did its magic and it pulled us up, up, up to the crest – amid dozens of ear-piercing screams from front seat

Silhoutted pines on the shore of Lake Michigan

and back – where we seemed to teeter like Wiley Coyote in so many Saturday morning cartoons.  Tom stopped and we sat there, laughing and taking in the view.  Ahead of us lay dune after dune mirroring the rolling waves on Lake Michigan to our right.  It was, as my son had so rightly said, awesome.

St. Paul Tom proceeded to conquer dune after dune before depositing us sandy and spent back where we started.  It was an unplanned adventure that spoke to so many things I love about traveling – beautiful scenery, exciting adventures and proof that the world is filled with good people.  We thanked him over and over and walked away with memories that will last a lifetime.  And as for the sand, it’s still rolling out of my ears.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Be sure to check out my article on Travel Culture Magazine:

http://www.travelculturemag.com/silver-lake-dunes-and-the-kindness-of-strangers/

http://www.travelculturemag.com/

For more information on Silver Lake Dunes, Mac Woods or dune buggy rentals, follow these links below:

http://www.macwoodsdunerides.com/

http://www.silverlakebuggys.com/

http://www.parrotslanding.com/

http://www.thinkdunes.com/member-profile/2/163/

http://www.wildbillsatvs.com/

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Venice

One hot stormy afternoon in the 1970s when my siblings and I were being difficult little brats, my mother caved and uncharacteristically turned on the TV in the middle of the day if for no other reason than to get us out of her over-permed hair for at least a half hour.  But when the little black and white TV hummed into life and the picture finally came into focus, she stopped dead in her tracks, dropped her basket of laundry and plunked down on the footstool behind her.  And, for the next 45 minutes, my workaholic mother didn’t move.

We were stunned.  The only time that woman EVER sat down was for dinner and mass, so to see her immobile on a midday afternoon was shocking at best.  And what, pray tell, drew her attention away from chores and children?  It was the site of Katherine Hepburn strolling the moldering alleyways of Venice, with Rossano Brassi in tow, in that classic movie, Summer Time.

The movie was already half over when we stumbled upon it that day, but even as a child, I took in enough to realize that Venice was the central character.  Whether it was the canals or Rossano that held my mother’s attention I’ll never know for she still won’t tell, but as a lover of all things nautical, I was hooked.  The fact that a city of canals actually existed ignited my boat-obsessed imagination like never before and I vowed then and there to visit her someday, preferably sans annoying siblings.

But now I’m the mother of chores and children myself, and Venice remains as elusive to me as a pair of size four jeans and a single chin somewhat resembling a right angle.  I still hold out hope that I’ll get there before she sinks forever into the ocean and when I do, I’ll make the most of it by:

1)   Becoming a temporary permanent fixture in Piazza San Marco.

As tourists, we Americans seem to prefer quantity over quality, rushing headlong from one landmark to the next, fanny packs a swinging, barely taking in all that each has to offer.  But Venice is worth lingering over, and linger I shall, preferably in the Piazza San Marco.  Getting there well before sunrise, I’ll stake out the perfect table, order a café late and sit.  For to sit is to see, and to see is to be enthralled as the everyday life of Venice unfolds like a multi-tiered wedding cake tipped over by a drunken groom.  Pigeons will be fed and locals will be observed and tourists will be spotted.  Books will be read, bell towers will be sketched, pictures will be taken, and I will sit and I will breathe and I will enjoy and I will wear Depends.  *Sigh*

2)   Dressing like it means something

Standing in line one Friday night at our local Wal-Mart, behind what I can only guess were three generations of one family all clad in flannel PJs, I felt decidedly overdressed in my blue jeans, turtleneck and brown leather boots.  One can only hope they were of Scottish heritage and overly proud of the family plaid.  But I’m thinking no.  In short, a fashion Mecca Indiana is not.  Rather, ours is a blue jean and t-shirt kind of comfortable world, but oh, not so in Venice. 

In Venice, one dresses for the occasion that is life, for to be Venetian means to embrace the spectacle that good clothing paired with the right accessories has to offer.  For in Venice the theatricality of its food, fashion and atmosphere enable her inhabitants to glide beautifully over the ugly realities of life, whether it be poverty, taxes, earthquakes or war.  So I will wear a flowing floral dress as I shop her cobblestoned streets for handmade sandals, and my jaunty Jackie O sunglasses will beg the question, who’s behind those gleaming dark lenses?  A silk scarf will frame my face – hiding the stubborn gray, mind you – and no one will look at me and assume for an instant that I own a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Who’s Your Mama” or that I live in stretchy but forgiving polyester yoga pants the better part of the year. 

3)   Becoming one with the peach bellinis at Harry’s Bar

As a Hemingway fanatic, hitting Harry’s Bar for a peach bellini is a given, no matter how much of an overblown touristy ritual that may be.  Yes, I’ll admit it.  I want to sit at the bar and drink them by the pitcher full, but not so much so that the toilet smells like a fruit salad afterwards.  No, I only want to get just tipsy enough so that when I close my eyes, I can realistically pretend, if even for a moment, that it’s the 1920s and I’m a colorful ex-patriot writer starving my way across Europe on the Grand Tour.

4)   Making like Mario Batalli and whip up a seafood feast

As a seaport city,Venice is dripping with creepy crawlies fresh from the ocean, just waiting to be devoured with splash of wine and a squirt of lemon.  And traveling with “Go With Oh” means the potential for stellar access to a kitchen – a tempting combo calling to my inner chef – hence I will make like Mario and cook, cook, cook!  Much as I love having someone else clean up the mess, experimenting in the kitchen is one of the few everyday rituals I don’t consider to be a chore.  Thus, inVenice, I will hit the markets for every conceivable slimy crustacean imaginable and experiment.  And then I will sit on my balcony, pop open a bottle of pinot and make like an American and pig out.  And, for that, I may even break out my yoga pants.

5)   Kayaking my way up the canals

While I will definitely wile away at least one afternoon in a gondola – singing Oh Solo Mio as off key as the next tourist – paddling my own rented kayak on a guided tour is an even better option.  With kayaks come a certain level of freedom not obtained in a pole driven gondola and, what I lose in the attractive Italian gondolier, I gain in the ability to paddle close and really observe.  There are sights to be seen in Venice that one can only appreciate from the water, and paddling my own craft, I can compose the perfect photo op that will forever capture my version of Venice.

It’s said that before filming the Summer Time scene where she walks backwards off of the pier into the canal, Katherine Hepburn plugged up every hole in her body to avoid infection from Venice’s dirty waters, going so far as to fill her ears and nose with waxy plugs, doing God knows what down below, and clamping her lips ever so tight at the last moment before taking that fateful plunge.  But she forgot about her eyes and is said to have picked up an infection that stayed with her for weeks. 

While I too wish to bring home ample memories of Venice, a lingering infection isn’t high on the list, though for this floating vision of heaven, I’m willing to risk it.  Whether it be handmade shoes, Murano glass or an imported bacterial bug, I’ll take it, because to bring home a little of that magnificent city is to keep her in your heart all year long.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/

By Robin Fritz, writer, artist, photographer and owner of bad American clothes.

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Paris

It was the lime green pleather jumpsuit with a hot-pink plastic zipper down the front that told the tale.  This was no ordinary Parisan woman strolling past my table at 6 a.m. as I dipped my croissant in coffee near the Gare de l ’Est rail station.  Rather, this vibrantly clad neon woman was a “poole,” a street walker, a hooker, a whore, a what have you – she was a prostitute, don’t you know – and as a 16-year-old virginal Midwestern Catholic school girl freshly flown in as a foreign exchange student in 1980, I was thrilled! 

Surrounded by Indiana cornfields, we don’t get a lot of polyester-clad prostitutes strolling past the breakfast table fresh from stimulating the economy.  It’s a somewhat tamer atmosphere.  Given the lack of adventure, I often find myself wanting more.  And that, my friends, is why I travel.

It’s been 32 years since I last set foot in Paris and my bucket list for adventure has grown.  In that time, I’ve managed to wet my way down the ice toboggan at the winter festival in Quebec City, catch a tiny crab with my inner ear while diving off Key Largo, and chase big city rats for a photo op in Central Park, but now it’s time to go back to the grande dame that is Paris, pen in hand, and cross off a few items.  The lime green jumpsuit I imagine is long since gone, though I doubt it’s deteriorated much in the landfill, and as for the hooker – well, who knows?  But the city is still there as are the croissants and the coffee and the people, and when I do get back, here’s what I hope to accomplish:

1)   Eat my way through a moveable feast.

As clichéd as Hemingway’s Paris may sound to the well heeled and better traveled than I, it’s still my go-to dream when the laundry’s piled high and my teenagers’ socks smell like runny French cheese.  Having devoured that book more than once, it’s time to walk in Ernie and Hadley’s footsteps no matter how many decades separate us.  Much like them, I desire a decent meal at a good café on the Place St.-Michel when a bitter wind blows the rain sodden leaves from the trees in Place de la Contrescarpe.  And I too will wile away a windy day wrapped in the musty warmth of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore where I’m sure I can find a less tattered version of this Hemingway classic.

2)   Strike the mountain pose at sunrise in the Square Jean XXIII

They say yoga is a great stress reliever, but when I strike a pose my husband sticks a frying pan in my outstretched arms and balances a package of bacon on my head.  Not so in the Square Jean XXIII – it’s refreshingly oven free.  Butting up against the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame (perfect inspiration for a day of downward-facing-dog) this peaceful oasis alongside the river offers up gardens, trees, immense manicured walkways and a gurgling fountain, all within the shadow of this classic cathedral.  Accessed by St.Stephen’s door within Notre Dame, it is a sea of sunrise calm and a great way to kick off a day filled with plans of completing item No. 3.

 3)   Partake in a mini communion marathon at church after church after church…

As Catholics go, I’m far from devote, but exploring unknown churches – the more cathedral like the better – leaves me drooling like an old priest over a new alter boy.  Everything about ancient cathedrals leaves me breathless – from the smell of burning beeswax and incense, to the smooth feel of the well worn stone floors underfoot, to the broken multi-colored light streaming through brittle stained glass – it’s sigh inducing on so many levels.  And in Paris, one can trip over an ancient church like a Starbucks in Seattle– they’re everywhere – which necessitates a plan.

For me, it’s not enough to just visit these timeless treasures.  No, my desire is to become a part of their active history and ancient ritual by taking in a quick half-hour mass with communion to follow in as many churches as I can stumble into before the communion wine sinks me like the Titanic.  Thus distant is a factor, leading me to start off with the queen of all churches – Notre Dame (hence the a.m. yoga session) – followed by her adorable kid sister, Sainte-Chapelle of the glowing Rose window fame.  After a hearty chug of communion wine, it’s time to sprint four blocks northeast to the hulking queen that is St.-Eustache where I can recover in her quiet Gothic beauty before hailing a cab to the Latin Quarter where St.-Severin will treat me to one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the city.

And if four masses and communion don’t get me off the hook for that priest joke, perhaps I can cage absolution with a quickie confession at St.-Paul-St.-Louis, built in 1641 for Cardinal Richeleu.  On second thought, maybe not.

4)   Burn a hole in my Batobus pass

Given my family’s Navy roots and sailing background, I can’t visit any water-wealthy locale and not set foot on a boat.  Fortunately, Paris accommodates in that regard with its hop on, hop off Batobus, the floating equivalent of a city bus which navigates the Seine hitting all of its high points, both Left Bank and Right.  Boats run on a generous schedule with departures happening every 17 to 35 minutes – the difference, I imagine, being a function of traveling upstream or down and whether any bodies are floating by – one of the seedy habitual uses of the river by pissed off Parisians since ancient times.

5)   Channel my inner gypsy at Bistrot d’ Eustache

Much as I love exploring churches and riding on boats, they pale in comparison to my first real love – eating good food – and in Paris, one can eat some seriously good food.  But who doesn’t appreciate dinner and a show, especially when that show includes local musicians playing some seriously hot gypsy jazz?  Get there early on a Thursday night when this tiny little handkerchief of a restaurant features live musicians, chain yourself to a table, order up the house specialty and prepare to be entertained.

And next – wait, what?  We’re limited to five?  But how can one limit a city like Paris to a bucket list of five?  Who doesn’t also want to discover some unknown starving artist?  Or snag an invite to an autumn house party on Ile St. Louis?  Or swing by No. 51 Rue de Montmorency and see if Nicholas Flamel left behind any useful anti-aging tips?

Well, five it is, and it’s a start and from there more items for the list will most definitely come.  Because a bucket list is never EVER really finished, is it?  Much like a grocery list, there’s always one more item to add.

So, what’s on yours?

Go with OhFor more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes through their Facebook contest, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/

by Robin Fritz