That Time in Lincoln

No, not Nebraska. The first one. The one in its own ‘Shire (sadly, no one calls them that here). The one from Ye Olde Worlde! Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The next in my Travels While Living in the UK series! As I get further along in this process, you’ll see more hyperlinks in the travel log below:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

Lincoln was our first getaway after moving into our house, so is as good as any place to jump in and blog about. We had no idea what to expect, but as the home of one of four original copies of the Magna Carta, you know there’s some history.

King Westley the First
T’was a pet-friendly vacation! Here we have Lord Westley surveying our hotel room from his gilded perch.

Let’s jump right in and visit:

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle is steeped in history. Constructed in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, this castle was built on top of a pre-existing Roman fortress. It was later used as a prison into modern times, but now serves as a museum where it houses ruins of its previous lives, as well as an original copy of the Magna Carta!

Each of the photos above has a brief caption, though you’ll note a distinct lack of Magna Carta pictures. They aren’t allowed. It must truly be seen to be believed! The interior display boasts how this important document introduced the idea that all men are created equal, and credits itself as the forebear to the American constitution and the concept of Civil Rights. While perhaps this is overstating the document’s staying power a bit, it was indisputibly fun to see the document with its original parchment, ink, and seal

Lincoln Cathedral

The castle’s nearby sibling, the Lincoln Cathedral is technically the owner of the Magna Carta, and is an impressive structure in its own right. Built around the same time, this cathedral was the tallest structure in the world for over 200 years due to its central spire (which, sadly, collapsed around 500 years ago).

In addition to its use for Anglican ceremonies (we a caught chorale performance of “evensong”) it’s also a big draw to tourists. And, oddly enough, despite quickly approaching its 1000-year birthday, we were invited to bring our dog inside. This only added to the unique experience of exploring one of the largest cathedrals in the UK.

Food, Drink, Fun

Get thee to a yummery! In Lincoln there are some delectable bites to be had, and I enjoyed my first taste of UK whiskey with samples at the aptly-named “The Lincoln Whisky Shop.” I decided to buy a bottle of “Writer’s Tears” which I’m saving for tears of joy, I’ll have you know.

That’s an actual, honest to goodness, Roman archway. Which leads me to…

My Takeaways

I couldn’t get over the beautiful history of Lincoln (and England as a whole). The “old town” is built up on a hill as part of the original castle defense, while the more modern area is along the river, down a hill so steep it would put San Francisco to shame. Funny, I must have been too busy breathing heavily to take a picture.

Our B&B was in this upper, historic part of town, but the entire area was a pleasure to walk daily. As a bit of respite from said overwhelmingly beautiful history, I managed to sneak an afternoon down to the riverfront cinema to catch the latest Star Wars flick:

Though part of my “awe” could be attributed to this being my first UK town to really spend some time in and explore, overall, I’d put Lincoln as a must-see for anyone travelling through the middle of England. And I wish I’d taken more pictures!


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That Time in Oberammergau

I’m coming up on living in the UK for 6-months! And while I’ve told you what parts I love, and what parts have no love lost, I haven’t stopped to tell you what I’ve been up to.
Other than, you know, that whole Star Wars reboot thing.

So, time to update my travel journals.

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Follow us on our ah-maze-ing adventures!

Here’s what’s happened so far:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

T20170327_102931he next six months look to be much more ambitious. The goal is to hit a different spot in the UK every month, and somewhere else in Europe every other month.

I should probably blog about all these things, and maybe I will, but for now I’m jumping into the middle. That’s a classic storytelling technique known as in medias res, which is Latin/Pretentious for “into the middle [of] things.”

So, let’s start with Oberammergau, Germany. This was our first European trip, so it’s a beginning of sorts.

Come with me, fly into Munich, which is actually Munchen, but is called Munich because…globalism? Then we’ll take the Autobahn and max out the rental car’s four-cylinder engine until the display screams, “SLOW DOWN – SNOW TIRES!!!”


Food and Drink

I’m not going to pretend to speak for the entire country, or even the region (Bavarian Alps), but I am going to make a few generalizations. The first, is that this is a “meat and potatoes” kind of place. If you ask for a salad, you’ll get one, but it’ll be made out of potatoes.

Let’s talk about the pictures above. Clockwise, from bottom right.

  1. Prost! Welcome to Germany, land of the beer. On this trip I discovered Weissbier, which in its unfiltered form, makes for a unique, tasty, frothy treat. Sort of like the Hefeweizen I’m used to, only more floral and playful. I’m still hooked months later.
  2. Though we went at the start of springtime, this is still mountain country and there was a chill in the air at night. Some warm mulled wine helped immensely.
  3. Bavarians are known for their sweets, and my week here did not disappoint.
  4. Ox steak. A new culinary adventure for me, if not for the region. Cooking ox with smoked hay seemed all the rage, and why not, it worked. Definitely a pricey meal, though not outrageous and certainly worth it.
  5. This fried chunk of meat  (bigger than the size of my fist!) was called a “pork knuckle.” Add a dumpling, cover it all in gravy, and you get a deliciously rich and heartburn-inducing meal.

Sights and Sites; Scenes and Seeings

In addition to having a really fun name, Oberammergau has many desirable qualities. Not the least of which, is that it’s a sleepy town without a lot of foreign tourism. Many German tourists do indeed travel here, and there are always foreigners present, because it’s the location of a NATO training school. But there’s a delightfully pastoral “untouched by the world” feel to the town.

I won’t go on and on breaking these pictures down one-by-one (though they do have captions). Instead, here’s generally what you see above:

We stayed in a mountain town with amazing views. The first picture is taken from our hotel. Others are right around–it’s a small hamlet. There is an awesome restaurant that one can hike to, which is a steep walk, but worth it. And boy does all that rich food taste amazing afterwards. There are walking trails everywhere, nice wide open ones. And there are monks who brew and distill. Like a lot of the Old World, the churches are the some of the most impressive sights in the town. They are a wood carving people, who also love their meat so much it’s stored in vending machines.

The Passion of Oberammergau

Once a decade, the whole town comes together to put on a play about the life and times of Jesus Christ. You read that correctly. Once a decade, for like three months straight. Hundreds of thousands of people journey to this remote hamlet for the play which is literally performed by the entire town.

Unfortunately, the play won’t be going on next until 2020, but I was able to learn quite a bit from the museum (pictures above). The story goes, that the town vowed to perform this play to honor God if He would spare them from the plague. Well, seems to have worked, because the townspeople have been dutifully holding up their end of the bargain for nearly 400 years!

Ludwig II’s Two Castles

Beyond the Passion Play, the area is most well-known for the architecture of King Ludwig II. The first castle we visited was his home in the last years of his life, while the second was the famed Neuschwanstein castle, still incomplete, yet world-renowned for giving its iconography to Walt Disney’s logo.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside. These were works of art, modern for their time and gilded to the gills. Beautiful spots, worth visiting.

My Takeaways

It was nice getting some springtime sunshine after the damp cold of British winter. I joked after I first arrived that the most notable difference between the two countries is that they sell sunglasses in Germany.

With a name like Schannep, I must have some German heritage somewhere (though no evidence of it in Oberammergau…).

Don’t mind me, just blending in.

I lived in Germany from kindergarten to second grade while my dad was stationed here by the Army. My memories are mostly of Kinder eggs, sledding, playmobile toys, and mainly just being a kid. I have memories of seeing a salt mine, some mountaintops, and sites outside of Germany like the leaning tower of Pisa.

And then there’s spaghetti eis.

“Eis” is the German word for ice cream, and this was without a doubt my favorite childhood dessert. A layer of whipped cream serves as a base, which is then topped by vanilla ice cream/gelato put through a press so it comes out to look like spaghetti noodles. A strawberry “meat” sauce topped with white chocolate “parmesan” shavings completes the illusion.

Spaghetti was my favorite meal, ice cream the best treat, which made this confection the perfect go-between.

I had spaghetti eis here in Oberammergau for the first time in at least twenty-five years. Mostly as a novelty, I ordered it up, expecting something deeply sugary-sweet, but I got more than I bargained for.

With the first bite, my entire body swirled with warmth, like a hug from a loved one after a prolonged absence. I couldn’t have described the taste or texture by memory, but this was comfort on an instinctual level. It’s moments like these that make travel so rewarding.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Enjoy “following” me on my travels? Want to read more blog posts like this one?

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Brazil: A River Runs Through It

Brazil Travel post #12: A River Runs Through It (intro post is here).

Pink Dolphins

Picking up from yesterday’s river post, let’s start with freshwater dolphins. Unlike their seafaring cousins, river dolphins don’t often jump out of water, nor are they known for chasing wake. So, my best pictures look like this:

Hey, a thing!
A dolphin?
Maybe!

Some places will take you to feed dolphins, though this isn’t very eco-friendly, so our outfit did not. However, their photos look like this:

Photo copyright National Wildlife Federation.

According to the folkloric stories told to us by our guides, river dolphins are revered friends, and are never killed or eaten. It’s specifically the pink dolphin that holds their attention, but the grey dolphins gets extra protection too. Why, you ask?

According to local legend, the following story has been known to happen from time to time. When the villages unite for festivals and parties, occasionally a handsome stranger will arrive in all-white, wearing a straw hat. He might take a fancy to one of the young women and make her his girlfriend. Invariably, she’ll wind up pregnant and he’ll disappear, but it turns out the man was a river dolphin all along! He wore that straw hat to cover his blowhole and had to return to sea. Instead of a negative, this event is seen as a blessing. The dolphin will give special powers to his new child, who will be the smartest kid and everything will come easy. They will eventually become the village chief or shaman.

To me, this sounds like a story told by a suave, handsome sailor at port, who said he has to head back to sea. Either way, good news for the pink dolphins! We got our best views early in the morning on our kayaks, or at sunset on the top deck of the Tucano.

Rare tree frog sighting

Here’s another fun story for you. One of the guides suddenly pulled his skiff over to the shore, and called the second longboat over to see what he had found. Ready? This is what he saw from a moving watercraft.

Do you see it?
Keep looking…
Well, hello there!
Nice work, Souza!

Piranha Fishing

It’s finally time! With all my foreshadowing, you probably guessed that piranha fishing was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Good guess.

First, some background. For those of you without rod-n-reel fishing experience, let me give you some basics: Sneak up on the fish, hide the hook in bait or a lure, and don’t spook it–you want the fish to come to you.

Here’s how you fish for piranha: Take a bamboo rod, thread about 10 feet of line with a hook on the end (a reel isn’t necessary). For bait? A piece of raw steak, no bigger than a fingertip. Remember that reference.

To get the fish’s attention, you slap the bamboo on top of the water’s surface, creating a thrashing motion to simulate a panicked animal. Then you throw in your wounded animal chunk (your bait) and within 10 seconds you either have a piranha or your bait is gone.

Success! (photo by Jerry Peek)

Your only real worries are getting the thing off the hook, since it can bite off a fingertip. Oh, and my sure you wear close-toed shoes, because they can take a toe and can get pretty big:

Yeah…that one is the size of the guy’s whole shoe!

Although the best part? Tastes like chicken!

I eat you! You don’t eat me!

The Meeting of the Waters

As I’ve said, we spent our week exploring the Rio Negro because it’s more remote than the Amazon River and allows for more wildlife exploration. On the last day, however, we went to the famous point where the Rio Negro and Amazon converge. It’s an amazing site, and an incredible viewpoint, because the waters don’t mix easily. Here’s what I mean:

Come with me!
To the meeting of the waters.
This image is so iconic, you’ll even see a black and white swirl on handbags and sandals for sale all over Brazil.
The Amazon is much siltier while the Rio Negro appears almost black from the surface.
We made it!

That’s it for today, and we’re almost done with our trip. I think that means tomorrow is the final post!

Click to continue to: Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Would you try piranha fishing?

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Brazil: Welcome to the Jungle!

Brazil Travel post #9: Welcome to the Jungle! (intro post is here).

Okay, here we are, finally heading into the jungle. And great timing too! One of our fellow travelers, Gerald Peek, took some amazing photos and I was able to access them yesterday. He graciously agreed to let me use them for this blog, so you’ll find a mix of Schannep and Peek photos below.

Getting ready to embark. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
And here’s the group we’ll share this journey with. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
This will be our home for the next week. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
Here we are, like you, being told a bit about how the trip will go. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
Our private bunk.
The crew of the Tucano (guides not pictured).
Our fearless guides, Souza (left) and Edgivan. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
The dining cabin, where we’ll share our meals. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
Goodbye, Manaus!
Hello, adventure!

I’m still sorting through the photos, so that’s all for today, but coming up we’ll have jungle hikes, boat excursions, and river night life! Stay tuned.

Click to continue to: Brazil: The Mighty Jungle.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Ready for some jungle stories?

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My Big Trip — To Brazil!

Redeemer
Can you guess how excited I am? Thiiiiiiisss much.

In a few days, my wife and I are headed on the trip of a lifetime. A bucket-list trip, if you will. We’re going to Brazil, first to take a boat down the Amazon, see the jungle, and then head to Rio de Janeiro to see the sites like the one above.

I know what you’re thinking–didn’t I release MURDERED two years ago?

Sure did, and I made the setting as authentic as I could–for someone who had never visited Brazil. And in doing that research, I created a travel guide of sorts that I now aim to follow.

Originally, I thought I’d blog about the trip as I went, but after some thought I’ve decided to delay that until the return. I don’t want to have to rush to an internet cafe everyday and I don’t even think it would be feasible for my river/jungle portion. Instead, I’m going to blog each day as it happens, day by day, then publish it when I get back in daily episodes as if the whole thing were only on a delayed timer.

So when I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.

I’m going to stay in the hostel your character is staying in at the start of the book. Eat at the same Copacabana Palace you can eat at in the book. Ride the cog train up to the Christ statue. I’ll even head into the favelas! During the day, of course. I know the consequences…

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
And, more than anything, I’m going to paint the town red.

I hope you all enjoy your Christmas break as much as I will and I’ll catch you in the new year!

Edit: I’ve started blogging about the trip. Check that out here.


So, what do YOU think? Have you ever been on a trip like this? Doing anything fun over winter?

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Tell Me, Why Do We Love Zombies So?

This is an essay I originally wrote for zombie-guide.com and their “Zombies in Fiction” section. I also want to share it on my page because almost every time I do an interview this question comes up.

Tell us, zombie scribe. Why do the masses love the undead masses?”

So, make sure you go check out their site afterwards (lots of awesome zombie content), but here’s the article in full:

Why are zombies so popular? Well, for many, it’s a call to action. We’re Luke Skywalker, caught in the dregs of daily life, and the zombie apocalypse serves as the storm troopers coming to burn down our uncle’s homestead. Ready or not, time for adventure. Or (in case you’re not as big a Star Wars nerd as I am), let me put it this way: We’re not all the type to go out and join the military or the police force, but we’d like to believe that if danger came knocking on our door, we could rally to that call. The zombie apocalypse is when push comes to shove.

Zombie Luke Skywalker Credit: DeviantArt

It’s pure escapism. Once the zombie apocalypse happens, all the things that are important to us will fall to the wayside. Unemployment, politics, failed relationships–anything that might have you “down”–all become a moot point when the dead try to eat the living. It’s a second lease on life. You get to start afresh. This is where the true You comes out, the side that’s underestimated by coworkers, family, and friends; the side that, deep down, you know is there. The unlikeliest of heroes can now come out and save the day. Were you a pimple-faced pizza delivery guy back in the day? Well, now you’re a zombie-slaying badass and everyone’s clamoring for your protection. What about the overworked and underpaid nurse stuck on the night shift with little chance of promotion on the horizon? Well, now those skills mean you’re the most valued member of your survival team.

With zombie fiction, we can experience this release all from the safety of our own home. We can escape, if only for a few precious hours. That’s part of why with INFECTED, I made YOU the main character. You get to test that measure of your true self, if only for a bit of fun. Make your choices, then see the outcome.

Are zombies at the height of their popularity? Probably… but they’ll never fully go away, even if interest starts to wane. Like everything else in our world, fads come and go, but zombies are forever.