Writing Away: Wrapping it Up

The final five chapters of Writing Away provide tips for keeping accurate memories tucked inside your journal and tricks for keeping journal-writing fun and exciting.  

Chapter 9: The Sum of Our Misadventures

Spalding continuously emphasizes how important and interesting bad experiences can be.  Sometimes the worst experiences make for the best stories – once you’re able to laugh about it all, of course.  Therefore, be sure to include it all in your journal.  She seems to suggest that you seek out bad experiences, although she reminds you throughout the chapter that it’s not her point.  I remain unconvinced.  However, I will remember to include bad experiences in my journal, rather than trying to forget them (which tends to happen).

Chapter 10: Free Your Mind and the Words Will Follow

Traveling (getting away from the familiar) helps you become a better writer, which is important so that when it comes time to reread the journal years from now, the stories and experiences will be more entertaining and gratifying.  Although travel may supply you with inspiration, you still need to write to improve your writing (of course, but it’s good to be reminded!).  A few key thoughts from this chapter include:

  • don’t be discouraged if your writing “sucks” – it happens to all writers and not everything is going to be perfect the first time around.
  • avoid overusing clichés, stereotypes, and labels.
  • cut down on adjectives such as beautiful, amazing, interesting, etc. and instead explain why something is beautiful, amazing, interesting, etc. (I am guilty of this and it’s something I’m looking forward to working on).
  • to help get your mind and hand flowing, start each writing session with a 10-minute “free write” – don’t lift the pen from the paper, don’t edit, don’t stop. 
  • try writing in the present tense instead of the past.  This can help bring you closer to the event and what you are describing.

Chapter 11: Tell Me the Truth

Many adults don’t write the whole truth in their journals – maybe they are afraid that it will get lost or that family members will discover the journal and read it in the future.  I can appreciate that.  I’ve left certain things out of a journal because if I wanted to share my thoughts with someone in the future, I wouldn’t want to share that memory with them.  One way to start writing down the truth is to act as though it will never be read.  Lock it up, find a good hiding spot, or destroy it (burn it, throw it in the lake, etc.) – this may help you be more truthful in your writing since it won’t be read by someone.  Traveling can also help unleash the truth in your writing.  It may trigger a memory or open your mind.  Allow it to do both of these things. 

Chapter 12: Having a Great Time, Wish I Were Here

The title refers to a couple of anecdotes Spalding shares about travelers taking pictures and videos to enjoy later, and missing the event that’s happening in front of them.  The rest of the chapter focuses on how technology has changed traveling and how handwritten journals are becoming non-existent.  Spalding urges the traveler to continue to use the handwritten journal while traveling, specifically for private memories and reflections.  Technology also has a place in travel – digital cameras for taking pictures, for example.  However, do not go overboard, photographing every single thing.  Instead, focus on capturing the unusual or bizarre.  And finally, while it’s very easy to stay connected to the internet while traveling, use it sparingly – write shorter emails and share additional stories when you return.  

Chapter 13: Bring It on Home

Wrapping up a journal is something I often have trouble with – I’m usually so far behind and, on top of that, I think of stories and experiences that I forgot to write about.  Spalding suggests that you don’t worry about catching up before finishing.  Write a few words or sentences, or even write a “to-write” list to help remind yourself of what you plan to write about.  This is something I still need (and plan) to do for our Portugal and Spain trip.  I am still kicking myself for not getting anywhere close to finishing our first trip to Europe.  I covered Venice and the first part of Cinque Terre extensively, but kept only minimal notes about Nice and Paris.  I still don’t think it’s too late (over 3 years later) because I remember more now than I will 3 years from now.

And with that, my summary of Writing Away is complete.  Hopefully some of the advice has been helpful for those of you journaling while you travel!

Writing Away: Stepping Outside the Box

The (long overdue) second installment of my summary of Writing Away by Lavinia Spalding brings us into the creative side of travel journaling.  While I think the first 4 chapters are very helpful for getting started with journaling and motivating yourself to write, they only scratched the surface on the creativity that can be involved with travelogues.  Let me warn you: some of her ideas are definitely “out there,” but I think there are certain takeaways from each of the next 4 chapters that I can use in my travel journaling.

Chapter 5: Distance Makes the Art Grow Stronger

This chapter is likely a little crazy to many people.  It’s all about arts, crafts, and creativity and how to incorporate that into your travel journal.  I’ll be honest, even for me, someone who enjoys DIY and arts and crafts, many of Spalding’s suggestions just aren’t going to happen.  I can’t see myself carrying around an arts and crafts kit with colored pencils, crayons, paints, etc.  I am already a heavy packer and just don’t need the extra stuff.  That being said, I do cart around colored (ball point) pens, so maybe that would work as a substitute.  One idea I do like is glueing or taping items (business cards, pictures from magazines, museum tickets, etc) into the journal.  I definitely try to hold on to all of these things, since I may use them for scrapbooking, but it does seem fun to include more than just writing in the journal.  As far as drawing goes….I’m not even close to being an artist, but my goal for London was to try to draw something.  I think in some ways a drawing can help explain something better than words, but with my lacking artistic abilities, I’m not sure how helpful it will be.

Chapter 6: Journal to the Center

This chapter seemed to be all over the place – a bit about being lost and confused while traveling and then some information on spirituality and finding your center.  The travel journal can be used to slow down and take in everything.  I found the “Inspirations” section of this chapter to really be the most helpful.  It seems like it had little to do with the rest of the chapter, but there are some great ideas:

  • Notice something each day that you normally wouldn’t.  Look at ceilings, floors, small details, etc.  
  • Choose a subject and write about it in extensive detail. 
  • On the other end of the spectrum, write about a scene in a big picture sort of way, skipping the details. 
  • Write about something and include what did or didn’t meet your expectations.  If your experience isn’t written down, your mind may play tricks and remember the expectation instead the actual experience (I find this to be true). 
Chapter 7: And Now for Something Completely Different

Treat your travel journal like you would an intimate relationship.  Weird? Yes, I think so.  But, the way Spalding explains it makes some sense and I can see how applying some of her ideas will help keep the journaling interesting.  Her advice is to put a lot of attention into it, but continue to shake things up so it doesn’t get boring and stale. 

A few ideas:

  • Make lists – they will remind you of where you were and who you were at that time in your life and will bring back memories of that moment.
  • Step away from the big picture and write about a specific subject. 
  • Self-imposed brevity – 10 words to describe something, haiku, etc.
  • Shared journal – switch off writing in the journal with a travel companion (also keep your own)
  • Write about anything, even if it’s not conventional.

Chapter 8: Don’t You Forget About Me

As the title suggests, this chapter is about remembering, or not forgetting, experiences, food, quotes, moments, etc. from your travels.  It’s easy to think that you’ll be able to recall all of the details when you return, but this is definitely not the case.  The good news is that simply writing it down will help with the memory.  This can be tough, though, because if you spend too much time focusing on capturing every moment, you will miss the moment.  The key is to take notes.  Bring a smaller notepad with you during the day and use it to scribble a note or two to help you remember when it comes time to journal (focus on the subtle details that you may forget later that night).

I definitely used some of these tips on our trip to London, and plan to continue improving my journal-writing by being artistic, writing about details, writing about the big picture, keeping the journal fun and interesting, and keeping a small notepad with me to jot down notes (other than what we had for lunch or dinner, which is the only thing I’ve used a small notebook for in the past).  

The Westin Palace – Madrid, Spain

The Westin Palace offered a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) “Cash & Points” rate during our weekend in Madrid.  SPG’s “Cash & Points”, which allows a combination of points and currency to be used to pay for a stay, often provides the best redemption rates on rewards.  They aren’t frequently offered, especially in Europe.  The availability of a low cost option for us to stay in Madrid at a luxurious hotel actually led us to extend our planned stay in Madrid by one night, and ultimately led to our selection of the Westin Palace.  In fact, we did not perform any of our usual hotel research for Madrid.  The Westin Palace clearly shined as a reputable hotel with a prime location adjacent to the Prado Museum.

Price. The cash rate offered during our stay was €245.  Accordingly, in our particular situation, the $90 + 4800 points “Cash & Points” option was nearly a 5% reward rate ($/points).  For SPG credit card holders, this is a great value for reward points (compare to the 1% and 2% reward options most credit card companies offer).  For those seeking to pay the cash rate for a stay at the Westin Palace, the hotel probably offers a value on par with similar international luxury brand hotels in Madrid.

Location. The Westin Palace is in a great location in the Museum District of Madrid.  The Prado is literally across the street, and lively Plaza de Santa Ana is a short 10-minute walk with plenty of excellent dining options.  Although the Museum District has plenty to offer, it’s not exactly central.  Ironically, the Royal Palace of Madrid is on the opposite side of the city center, over a 20 minute walk from the hotel.  Plaza Mayor, also west of the city center, is about 15 minutes.  Without better knowledge of the accommodation options in the center of town, however, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that the Museum District is not a good location.

Our room at The Westin Palace was modernly furnished and decorated with enjoyable prints of Spanish landscapes and people.

Room. We stayed in a recently renovated Deluxe Room.  Our SPG Gold Status earned us an upgrade from a room without renovations (at least that’s what we gathered from the reception desk).  The room was very modernly furnished, with several enjoyable prints of Spanish landscapes and people for decoration. The bathroom remodel was especially impressive, adorned with natural stone and equipped with luxury fixtures. Our room overlooked the main intersection with the hotel.  There was no balcony, but there was a small place to sit next to the window for people watching. I noticed their window here, and I’m looking for a window installation near me because I’m planning to do something like this at home. Anyway, other than the lack of an outdoor space, we had no complaints about our accommodations.

Dining.  There are several food & drink options at The Westin Palace, but all were out of our price range.  We did splurge on one round at the bar (cocktails were as much as €20!).  We managed breakfast on our own, however.  We were excited about advertisements for a terrace with drink service both on the web and in the hotel elevators.  The terrace ended-up being a complete disappointment.  Firstly, it took a confusing and circuitous journey through the hotel’s fitness center on the top floor to reach.  Then, upon arriving, there were just a few tables with practically no view and a telephone to the lobby for drink orders.  We also did not eat breakfast at The Westin Palace, as the buffet cost an excessive €45.  If you plan on staying at The Westin Palace and have a limited budget, plan on finding dining options elsewhere.

Amenities.  As a 5-star hotel, The Westin Palace offers plenty of amenities to guests.  The fitness center we walked through on the way to the disappointing terrace seems fairly complete, and can be access free-of-charge.  As SPG gold members, we were able to get free wireless internet as our “gift”.  For non-SPG members, expect to pay an exorbitant €19/day, which is sadly in line with other international hotels in Europe.  Although not inside the hotel itself, there is a Starbucks and a Vips cafe (to-go sandwiches, drinks. etc.) in the same building that are very convenient.

I suspect next time we are in Madrid, we will likely decide to stay at an independent hotel or B&B, unless a limited budget and/or a superfluous SPG account balance motivates us to return to The Westin Palace.  Although The Westin Palace worked for our situation on this trip and offered a good location for exploring Madrid, we miss the character of more local establishments and do not believe their cash rate offers guests a great value.

Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol – Granada, Spain

Located a convenient 10 minutes away from the Alhambra and tucked away from the town center with commanding views of the city, Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol is a perfect choice for a small bed and breakfast stay in Granada, Spain.  The small hotel has only 7 rooms, all with a view and all with access to beautiful hotel gardens and seating areas.  

View from our private terrace, Granada, Spain.

Price.  The rooms were €120, €130, or €140 per night for our September stay, plus €8 per person/per day for breakfast and then 8% added for taxes.  We opted for the super double room with the private terrace, which was €140.  However, all of the rooms are supposed to have a view, and the rooms for €130 even have shared or small balconies from which to enjoy Granada from above.

Location.  The location is fantastic.  The hotel is situated above the main center of Granada, so we walked down to get into town.  We visited the Alhambra twice during our visit (day and night), so it was perfect to be able to walk there in only about 10-15 minutes.

Room.  Our room was huge with two twin beds pushed together to make a king.  We were on the top floor (2 above reception) and the only room on that level.  Because it got so warm during the day, we opened up our doors once the sun started to set and let the cool night air into the room.  

Dining.  As I mentioned above, breakfast was available at the hotel for €8 per person.  Guests are only charged if breakfast was consumed, so there is no need to try to pre-plan.    It was served from about 8:30-10:30 and consisted of yogurt, fruit, tomatoes, bread, and something a little special – toasted bread with ham and melted cheese on top.  This was our absolute favorite, and our host gladly prepared it for us!  And we were set up with the best seat on the breakfast terrace both mornings that we had time to dine before heading out (pictured above).  The hotel also had a small kitchen area with snacks and drinks (including beer, wine, and other alcohol).  There was a price list on the counter and guests could take anything they wanted and just keep track on a piece of paper.  We took a bottle of wine up to our room more than once to enjoy on the terrace!

Amenities.  Free wifi, breakfast (for a fee), a large reception area with travel books available for guests, and a stocked kitchen (snacks and drinks for a fee).  The owners were also very helpful for transportation to and from the hotel.  It can be a headache getting to some of the smaller hotels, but we had absolutely no issues. 

Our stay at Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol was very enjoyable and I would recommend this hotel to visitors who will be touring the Alhambra, since the proximity was a huge convenience.  

Hotel Amadeus – Sevilla, Spain

Unusual circumstances landed us in the Hotel Amadeus in Sevilla, Spain.  Normally, we are able to book our “top choice” hotel based on our research, because we allow for plenty of lead time.  However, our plans for Andalucía solidified much later than our itinerary for the rest of our trip and by the time we decided to stay 2 nights in Sevilla, our first choice and a TripAdvisor.com favorite, Hotel Casa 1800, was booked solid.  Luckily for us, Hotel Amadeus turned-out to be a very suitable alternative.  In addition to a prime location in the venerable Barrio Santa Cruz neighborhood and spacious rooms, Hotel Amadeus offers unique common areas with musical instruments (their trademark and also check out their affordable online music lessons available here), an unbeatable continental breakfast, and a beautiful rooftop terrace complete with Giralda views (see photo to the left), a bar, and a refreshing (albeit unheated) jacuzzi.

Price. €185/night for 2 people in a junior suite.  Breakfast was another €10 per person per morning, but well worth it (described below).  Hotel Amadeus was the most expensive stay of our trip.  However, we used loyalty points (SPG) in the more expensive cities of Madrid and Barcelona and decided to splurge on an upgraded room.  In retrospect, we would have booked the much more affordable standard room (€112/night).  With so many things to do in Sevilla and the outstanding common areas in the hotel, we spent very little time in our hotel room.  The basic rooms in this hotel offer excellent value, considering the amenities and location of the Hotel Amadeus.

Location. Hotel Amadeus is located in the Bairro Santa Cruz, the most enchanting quarter of Sevilla.  It is within 5 minutes of the Sevilla Cathedral, which is reached from the lively restaurant-lined Calle Mateos Gaga.  It’s nearly across the street from the popular Casa de  la Memoria de Al-Andalus flamenco show.  The Bairro Santa Cruz is conveniently positioned between the great shopping options near Plaza Nueva and the picturesque Plaza de España, both within 20 minutes walking distance.  No doubt, we’ll want to stay in the same neighborhood on subsequent visits.

Room. We upgraded to a Junior Suite based on photographs on the hotel website.  Unfortunately, there at least two Junior Suite options at Hotel Amadeus, and the one we were assigned was not the same one that intrigued us from the website pictures.  As mentioned earlier, we wouldn’t pay for the upgrade again, especially for our version of the “Junior Suite.”  It was fairly spacious with a modern bathroom, but did not warrant a €73 premium over a standard room.  Our particular room included windows that opened to a view over a small courtyard, but with no balcony.  There were two small couches, a small desk, and and armoire.  We had no complaints about the comfort of the bed.

Hotel Amadeus offers a continental breakfast served in your room or on the rooftop.  Their fresh squeezed orange juice and chocolate croissant were a trip breakfast highlight.

Dining. For a hotel of its size, Hotel Amadeus has excellent dining options.  A beautiful manned rooftop bar is open late and offers an assortment of wine, beers, cocktails, as well as a decent menu of appetizers.  They also offer guests a continental breakfast for less than €10 that is very filling and includes tomatoes, cheese, fresh OJ, and a variety of pasties (including a chocolate croissant!).  The breakfast is also available on the beautiful terrace, which offers great views of Seville.  We recommend a shady spot, as the morning sun can be quite brutal.

Amenities. Hotel Amadeus uniquely places a variety of musical instruments in public areas for the use of guests, inline with their musical theme.  Although intrigued by the idea, did not see any people taking advantage of this amenity.  However, many guests used the common areas for relaxation, as all were adorned with comfortable sofas and chairs.  The rooftop terrace is also a great place to relax, with plenty of outdoor lounging chairs and couches.  There is also a small jacuzzi on the roof that seemed unheated.  A lukewarm jacuzzi fit the bill, however, after a hot day of exploring Sevilla.

The Hotel Amadeus is a great option for Seville travelers.  Although we could not justify the price of our premium room, their standard rooms offer a great value.  They are located in the most desirable neighborhood in Seville and offer guests great common areas, including a beautiful rooftop terrace with views of the Giralda Tower.