Convention in Berlin: ready or not, here I come! #LGBT #amwriting #amreading

Convention in Berlin: ready or not, here I come! #LGBT #amwriting #amreading

Convention packing: Socks & briefs vs books & swag: the choice is simple…

I’m stressed out! I’m about to lose my mind. Yes, I am. And yes, I know, there are plenty of you out there who think “what else is new?” or “did he ever have one to lose?” I’m about to travel to Berlin to this year’s “continental” convention and you know what? I don’t have enough space in my luggage. As a somewhat ‘choosy’ guy when it comes to clothing, traveling with small pieces of luggage is unnerving. Have a look:

Now you tell me, where is there space for my vanity bag, huh?

Now you tell me, where is there space for my vanity bag, huh? Convention packing galore!

Pilot-case-books

Convention packing: I’m also replacing my usual computer bag with my 1990s pilot case. Thick and lots of space for… you’re spot on: MORE books (and swag) but no socks. Psst! You have NOT seen the discount code for e-books above…

I thought we had a bigger suitcase (I don’t want to make an ass of myself and drag my intercontinental suitcase along), but alas, this morning I discovered that no, no such luck. Apparently we had thrown that one away. So here I am, with a pilot case (for the cabin) and my little tiny cabin case (which will need to be checked in due to the “liquids” rules, I’ll by flying to Berlin with almost no clothes but plenty of books… Pity me, anyone?

Nah, didn’t think so.

But then again, I have no one to blame but myself. Why insist on selling books anyway? Well, it’s pretty much the only way I sell paperbacks these days, since most people buy e-books. But, if they’ve loved the e-book, they’ll buy the paperback at a convention with the author’s signature. So there’s that and that’s why I’m schlepping tons of trees turned paper around the planet.

I L.O.V.E. going to conventions. They’re loud, they’re crazy and they’re exhausting, plus you meet most of the same people again and again. It is kind of like a family or company reunion, where you meet friends you haven’t seen for months/years, and get to meet new ones, too.

Of all the cons, Berlin is by far the smallest one, and given the current climate in LGBT-publishing, it’s even smaller than last year’s, with most of the U.S. visitors having jumped ship, unable to justify the cost of attending an overseas convention (yeah, don’t even ask how I justify traveling to the U.S. twice in a year).

But even when things are hectic and more than chaotic, it’s about the people you love and to support a community you care for and who’s done so much to welcome me and my writing. So I suck it up, reduce my clothing and my cremes, gels and serums to an absolute minimum and travel to Berlin with a light heart, fully loaded with hugs to give out and smiles all around.

After Berlin, I have two more conventions to plan for. See you there?

Southampton, September 3-4

UK Meet, Southampton, September 3-4, 2016, Europe’s largest LGBT book convention

GRL, Kansas City, October 20-23, 2016

GRL, Kansas City, October 20-23, 2016, probably the world’s largest LGBT author/reader convention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great weekend!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

PS: This post is tongue in cheek. I would NEVER leave the house without a proper change of clothes. Don’t worry…

Convention in Berlin: ready or not, here I come! #LGBT #amwriting #amreading

Author/Reader Convention season: do’s and don’ts from an author #LGBT #Mondayblogs #amreading

Convention advice for readers and authors alike: take it or leave it

I’ve got four major conventions on my schedule this year, plus an appearance at our local pride event, to talk about gay fiction. I’ve “only” been doing conventions for three years, this being my third, and there are more conventions that I could ever hope to attend. Just last week, I saw the invite to a convention on a cruise ship. Boy, I’d kill to get there, but I just can’t afford it, and since it’s organized by a publisher, I presume they focus on their own writers. But the idea is cool.

So, as I begin to prepare for my first “con” this year, taking place in New York in less than a month, and having just secured my spot on the last one for this year, in Kansas City, I have a few interesting things I have noted, things you might want to keep in mind when you attend (or if you organize an event):

Communication

Okay, so I am a communication expert by trade, but I’m amazed (not in a good way) how some of these cons are simply failing at communicating. Or keeping their websites up to date etc. Now mind you, I am fully aware that they ALL work more or less for free and in their spare time, yet, some of them have their shit together and communicate regularly, and sometimes even repeatedly (you can never communicate enough.) Some use e-mail, some use Facebook, some use Goodreads (oh blimey!) and most rely on a combination of all of the above, which I personally think is good.

Never shy away from asking questions! And if you’re an organizer, make sure you reply! Nothing is more annoying for a convention attendee to not receive a response, having to double down. It’s not like we don’t have other things to do…

Communication, timely communication, is critical. Why? We have things to prepare. As an author, just to order swag takes time (picture a ship sailing from a production facility in China…) and needs ample preparation. To be asked to hand in an ad with a week’s notice? I’m sweating over someone else’s blunder. Now, this goes both ways. If you’re asked for input, feedback or answers from the organizers, it’s only fair that we respond in a timely fashion as well!

And while I agree that much of the information can be retrieved from websites (and you should go there first), it’s not always that works, and even e-mail does get lost. So ask away. Don’t be shy. You probably won’t be the first one to ask.

Travel

Yeah, that’s a biggie. I often book my trips very early, simply because I mostly travel long distance, and you can get flights using frequent flyer miles or get a better rate if you book early. The “powers who know” will have different advice on when to book, be it domestic or international, months or weeks ahead, certain days. Google it if you’re on a budget.

Most convention hotels will allow you to share rooms. That is a bit of a personal preference. I couldn’t share a room with a stranger, and I’ve yet to become “so” close that I’d want to share a room with someone else. Besides, it is my experience that I am so tired at the end of the day that I’ll literally fall over and crash. Plus I simply don’t wish to compromise with certain personal habits that I’d need an audience. But again, if you’re on a tight budget, go for it, make new friends! 🙂

I can't wait to let you meet Jonathan and the Jacksons again. Have you read the first book? If not, do so before book two comes out. I have a hunch you won't regret it! I'll be presenting these two new books at this year's conventions.

I can’t wait to let you meet Jonathan and the Jacksons again. Have you read the first book? If not, do so before book two comes out. I have a hunch you won’t regret it! I’ll be presenting these two new books at this year’s conventions.

Convention decorum

These things attract people from all walks of life. Now, readers and authors alike tend to be introverts (don’t look at me!) and already, six months prior to my last convention, some of the attendees are freaking out over public speaking, meeting strangers and what not. Now, with all due respect: we’re all pretty much the same here. So chill, relax, pop a Xanax and enjoy yourself a bit. I have yet to have a negative experience at any of these things.

Sure, you may not click with everybody, not every author you meet will be “wow”, not every reader you come across will buy your books, and sometimes our personalities just don’t match. But bitching? People lining the walls afraid to move? Nah! Don’t worry. It’s going to be great. Just imagine everyone being just like you, and I sure as hell don’t hope you’re afraid of your mirror image…

I know that some attendees will go to great lengths and recommend flu shots, alcohol sanitizers and what not to make sure you don’t share germs and don’t catch any… Personally, I think a good dose of common sense will get you far. You may shake hands (mostly you’ll hug), but you’re not going to be close enough, for long enough to catch a bug, and if you do, it might as well have been on the plane or the train getting you to where the convention takes place. So chill!

Do a little research about the city and the place you’re going to. No need to bring sunscreen to Chicago in October, but you might if you go to Florida. On the other hand, you may not bring that extra sweater… And since you’re mostly indoors, well… Again, common sense applies here and there. If in doubt, ask someone for help.

Be friendly, smile when you meet people, say hello. With these three things in mind, you’ll have the best convention experience ever! Trust me. I come home energized, despite being exhausted, every single time.

Author Swag

Convention swag isn't easy. This year, I've opted for pens, postcards & a free book...

Convention swag isn’t easy. This year, I’ve opted for pens, postcards & a free book…

There are two aspects to this, and I’ve recently blogged about what to keep in mind in terms of creating swag. But, it’s not  just the creation that is expensive and time consuming. As an author you also need to consider transporting it to the convention, along with your books (if you get to sell any) Paper is heavier than you can imagine! And unless you fly first class, your luggage allowance will be limited! Then there’s the age old question of “how much?” Some conventions will communicate that, others… not so much. See my first point (and contact me offline to find out who sucks and who does a good job.)

Then there’s the split side of it: what do you take home as a reader? Well, thing is, you won’t be able to use most of what is distributed, and if you know yourself not to be a big user of swag, and you e.g. hate paper, don’t take it. Give the author a chance to give it to someone else. But don’t grab it and toss it in the next garbage bin. I’ve seen that, and it’s a sign of ‘no respect’ to do so. Just take what you actually need, be it a pen, or a post card or lip balm. Keep in mind, on average, for almost any piece of swag, an author will have to sell one e-book to just get the money back…

This is the story I'm going to hand out to select convention readers this year, in a special edition (it's been published before, in an anthology)

This is the story I’m going to hand out to select convention readers this year, in a special edition (it’s been published as e-book before, in an anthology.) Mind you, if nightmares are a trigger for you, this may not be for you. It is, after all, based on a real nightmare I had.

Triggers

Now why would I mention triggers… Here’s the deal: given that many readers are introverts and shy, reading is very attractive to people who suffer from various mental conditions and psychological issues, and who may not feel comfortable out in the “open”, people who feel stigmatized and hurt by comments they hear. In the comfort of their own homes they can be alone, they can read and enjoy a story, and not unlike the rest of us, flee a grim reality for a bit. Thing is, if your brain chemistry isn’t wired like that of the rest of us, you are prone to reacting differently then what society expects.

I was at a convention a year ago where triggers were discussed at length, and someone even proposed to put trigger warnings at the beginning of every single book (which is mission impossible, given that literally anything could be a trigger for someone), but most authors/publishers will warn you if there is child abuse, rape or other forms of physical abuse. Now, if you read romance novels and you require a sex warning, I can’t help you… But yeah, at least in the LGBT world, sex warnings are in there, too, not so much as a trigger warning, but to warn those idiots who see two men kiss on the cover and still don’t understand that it is a gay book they’re about to read. Face palm much?

If you suffer from a mental disorder (OCD, PTSD etc.) and you’re afraid of what might happen at a convention, rest assured, you can go there and feel safe. You won’t be alone, and I’ve yet to see anyone scream and run from a room, or to stop breathing because of a seizure. Let me say this again: you won’t be alone. Some conventions even have a buddy system for newbies. There are literally dozens and dozens of others just like you, and they/we all know what it feels like, and these places are about as safe as you can ever feel in a public setting. People even bring their support animals along, I’ve seen both cats and dogs at conventions, not to mention support people, and no one bats an eye lash. I know one author who’s always surrounded (literally!) by five or six people to keep him away from nosy fans (or to keep him to themselves, not sure which is the case.)

Now, will all triggers be “safe”? I won’t promise you that. If you’re afraid of people, or if the mere thought of sex or – god forbid – an open relationship (you can’t make this shit up!) – scares you, all bets are off! But what is the likelihood of seeing sex (in public) at a convention? Far too slim if you ask me…

Typical convention image

I could show you literally hundreds of images of situations where I laugh with, or hug other people at every convention. But some of these people are “closeted”, and I respect that. So you’ll have to do with me and people’s backs.

Buying books

Oh boy! I’ve seen people haul off entire boxes of books, in extra suitcases. I’d hate to have been at the airport when they check that stuff in.

Some people bring books to the convention to have them signed by their favorite author(s). Others buy them on site, the latest one maybe, to take home. Some conventions will be better at book sales than others, always depending on what the purpose of the convention is.

Many authors will organize pre-orders for their readers, usually with discounted prices, so you get a bargain, and not Amazon. Even on site, you can assume to buy books inexpensively, as there is no middle man (again, Amazon) to take a sizable chunk out of the author’s/publisher’s pocket. A little tip: buy new releases on the first day. They usually sell out quickly, and go back on the final day for back list items. As an author, I don’t want to haul all those books back home, and we’re usually amenable to bargaining and making deals… Just saying. Last year, I had someone come to my hotel room at one a.m on Sunday, after a party, to pick up my very last book.

Now, these days, more and more people buy e-books, easier to carry around, less cumbersome at home. But they are difficult to sign. Some conventions put great emphasis on a beautiful program (others sadly not so much), with a few empty pages for authors to sign. GRL even puts out an entire book with excerpts from all the attending authors, every year. Great memento. Or, the author has a post card to sign for you. I do, and I’m always happy to sign one for you or a loved one (hint: books are great gifts!)

So yes, there are different ways to do things even for e-book readers. I’ve even been asked to sign a Kindle once.

The convention experience

Once you have your lanyard and your swag bag (or not), you head into a whole different world, and boy let me tell you, if the real world was anything like convention land, it would be a better and safer place! Smiles, happy people, friendly people all around, and we all talk about books, stories, feelings, we cry, we laugh, we hug (a lot, but only if you like that!), we share memories, we make new friends, revisit with old ones, and for a day, or two, or three, the world spins just a little bit slower, life is a little bit more gentle, and you go to bed tired, maybe even a little tipsy (or drunk), but with a smile on your face. And you wake up with that same smile.

One last tip, maybe the most important one: you get out of any convention what you put into it!

So go ahead, get’em Tiger!

My conventions in 2016

I’m sponsoring four of the conventions below, the fifth one being paid through government funds. Why? I think it is important to help. These events mean a lot to us readers and authors, and the organizers spend hundreds of hours of their free time to prepare. They deserve our help, any way we can. But, more importantly, will I see you there?

Rainbow-book-fair

New York, April 9, 12 pm

Berlin, June 11-12

Berlin, June 11-12

Gothenburg, June 9, 14:00

Gothenburg, June 9, 14:00

Southampton, September 3-4

Southampton, September 3-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRL, Kansas City, October 20-23, 2016

GRL, Kansas City, October 20-23

 

I really look forward to this year’s first convention. My publisher has scheduled Jonathan’s Promise to be ready in time for New York, and I can’t wait to present it to you. This is one of the most important books of my penmanship, simply because the first book in the trilogy (no, not a series, I don’t do series. LOL) was so important for me and my career. Jonathan’s Hope is the book that’s been selling best, and while I’ve never really understood why, it is a book that people just seem to love (or hate, at least the epilogue.) So I can’t wait to present the sequel, and – come GRL – the final book in the trilogy, Jonathan’s Legacy. All good things must come to an end. That is true for conventions as well…

Now, whether you go to these things or not, whether I’ll see you there, or not (I always end up missing someone), feel free to contact me if you have questions about attending a convention in general, or one of the above specifically. I’d be happy to answer any question you might have, based on my personal experiences. I may not be objective, but always honest.

Be well!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week!

Hans

 

Convention in Berlin: ready or not, here I come! #LGBT #amwriting #amreading

The threat of a stepmother and an Alpine epiphany #amwriting #asmsg

The thought of the evil stepmother had me write a book, and I didn’t even know it…

I had one of my epiphanies the other day, driving my dad’s car down into the Engadine. My father had picked me up at the airport in Zurich, but let me drive the car. We had been talking after my son had fallen asleep, and as we approached the small village of Silvaplana, dad gave me news that would’ve sent me spiraling out of control just a few months ago. When he told me the other day, I didn’t even react.

I can't wait to let you meet Jonathan and the Jacksons again. Have you read the first book? If not, do so before book two comes out. I have a hunch you won't regret it!

I can’t wait to let you meet Jonathan and the Jacksons again. Have you read the first book? If not, do so before book two comes out. I have a hunch you won’t regret it!

Rewind: my mother passed away two years ago, and ever since, my dad and I speak regularly about all things that affect his life. At almost seventy-five, that also includes romance, and – who knows – a second shot at love. As a child, the prospect of a stepmother is… I’m not sure? I remember that when I was a kid that some of my friends loved their new “moms”, others hated their guts. Literature, and the movies give little direction either, it’s a mixed compote.

Seeing mom interact with her grandson that day will stay with us, even though she's gone.

Seeing mom interact with her grandson  will stay with us, even though she’s gone.

When a woman appeared in my dad’s life, I freaked out (and not a little), and it got me thinking. It doesn’t really matter that said woman wasn’t alone, there were several, all friends, but a couple of “happenings” had me freak out. A stepmother suddenly seemed possible, likely even, no matter how much my dad denied it.

Fast forward to last fall, and my writing of the sequel of Jonathan’s Hope. In that book, I (and this is the epiphany) subconsciously deal with this episode in my real life. Now I’m not going to give away what happens in that book, but I’m sure you can guess. The backdrop of the novel allowed me to look at the various emotions that affect people around Jonathan and to have him react to them, almost like a lab rat (sorry Jon!) Which is why I reacted so differently, when I learned this latest piece of news in Silvaplana. No, no stepmother in sight, but whenever, if ever, I’m ready, whoever she may be. I’m at peace with myself and I have no problems with dad falling in love again, which I think is great.

I’m really happy that I have that privilege, that opportunity to work through my fears, my hopes, my dreams in my stories, be it about my son (The Opera House et al), my own relationship (Jonathan’s Hope) etc. I’m glad to have this gift. And I am already curious when I realize what else my books have taught me, without me even being aware of at the time…

If you’ve enjoyed it, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Hans

Convention in Berlin: ready or not, here I come! #LGBT #amwriting #amreading

#Singapore, no words will truly do this metropolis justice. #travel #SIA

Singapore: I will never forget my first trip and I look forward to the next one

The financial district and Marina Bay from the new hotel with the same name.

Singapore: The financial district and Marina Bay from the new hotel with the same name. All photos on this post: private

Have you ever been to Singapore? No? Go! Put it on your bucket list. Don’t have one? Get one! Singapore, Singapura or the Merlion City, is a place on Earth you shouldn’t miss. Why? It defies most of the truths (aka preconceptions) we hold dear about Asia. Singapore belies them all, pokes fun at us measly westerners and shows us that Asia can be so much more than sleazy massage parlors, corrupt politicians or brutal dictators. Yet underneath the shining veneer that is the Merlion city, Singapore is all that, and then some. I love that place, despite the brutal, the corrupt and the sleazy (who doesn’t like sleazy btw?)

The Marina Bay park, not yet completed during our last visit in 2012.

The Marina Bay park, not yet completed during our last visit in 2012. Can’t wait to visit it.

Let me start with the politics. Yes, Singapore is – on the surface – a democracy. But in reality it isn’t. Ask most Malays and they’ll tell you that unless you’re Chinese, you will not succeed in Singapore. When Singapore became independent from it’s brothers and sisters in Malaysia, the Chinese made sure they ruled Singapore, because they’d never amount to anything in KL, or Kuala Lumpur. Without being a racist, the Chinese did a much better job. Malaysia is, to this date, nowhere near as successful as Singapore, despite the advantage in population, natural resources etc. Some say that the reason for the success of Singapore is the Chinese. Maybe.

One thing’s for sure, you won’t see a Malay or Indian PM any time soon. The political system in Singapore is difficult for an outsider to understand. There’s a lot of censorship, bring a sleazy magazine to the country and be flogged (hence brutal), the country also still knows capital punishment for e.g. drug offenses. Yet you go to Chinatown and the sleaze is everywhere, and nowhere are porn sites on the Internet banned. So yes, Singapore has strict laws, being gay is still banned, yet there are gay bars, gay bath houses and even gay pride. The rulers of Singapore are very, how shall I say, “pragmatic”, but don’t dare to vote for the opposition. I hear that entire housing blocks who primarily voted for the opposition didn’t get elevators installed as a “punishment” in the next legislative period. Urban myth? I don’t know, but the story was told by locals, first hand. I had no possibility to double check it.

Singapore’s politics is about bread and games. The local populace don’t care as much about our western ideals of “freedom of speech”, they care more about a job, a pension plan, having a place to live, and for the MRT to function properly (there were riots a couple years ago when the MRT, Singapore’s subway, temporarily stopped working.) Can you blame them? Even the mighty Chinese (the commies, you know) government frequently travels to Singapore to learn from the best: as little democracy as necessary, as efficient a state as possible. China is still very much different from Singapore, but economically, they’ve definitely learned their lesson.

Enough of politics. It’s important to understand though that everything in Singapore is planned, carefully planned and that “bread (jobs & housing) and games (entertainment)” permeates everything, from Marina Bay to Sentosa Island, to Singapore Airlines to the world’s best zoo. As you know, I usually approach my travel subjects more from an emotional point of view, and when I think about Singapore, I always feel safe. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city where I felt as safe as I feel i Singapore. Everything is clean, people are super friendly, food is amazing (and no reason to worry about food poisoning even from street vendors) and crime? I hear it happens, but I’ve never even seen anything.

Psst. This is the best of the best of all lounges. For First Class Suite guests only.

Psst. This is the best of the best of all lounges, Singapore Airlines’ Private Club at Chiangi Airport. For First Class Suite guests only.

Alex waiting for his meal on a Singapore Airlines flight from Sydney.

Alex waiting for his meal on a Singapore Airlines flight from Sydney. Real silver ware and the plates are from a designer, of course.

It begins when you arrive at Chiangi airport, which is more a mall and amusement park than an airport (it does an exceptional job at that though!) and immigration. I’ve never had to wait more than ten-fifteen minutes to get through immigration and let me tell you, that airport has A380s arrive by the dozens. They just have this super efficient system. I wish the Americans would pay as much attention as the Chinese did…

The malls in Singapore are more than just shopping. They're entertainment centers.

The malls in Singapore are more than just shopping. They’re entertainment centers.

When you sit down in your Japanese made taxi en route to the city, you immediately notice how green and clean this city is. Picture a hand manicured lawn the entire 15 miles from the airport downtown and then some. Every tree, every flower seems perfectly groomed. It’s Disneyland to the nth degree. When in Singapore I always stay at the Hilton. No, I’m not a Hilton “bitch” any more, not since they screwed me over as a customer, but the Singapore Hilton is my home in here, even without my Diamond card. It’s located on the far end of Orchard Road, which is the equivalent to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, just bigger, MUCH bigger and longer. Shopping is the National #1 past time of Singaporeans. If you’re addicted to all the “brands” of the world, you’ll find them not just once but probably five to ten times along Orchard Road, every single one. And they are as expensive as anywhere. I don’t know how people can afford them, or how those shops survive, but yeah, they’re everywhere. Plus theaters. Singaporeans love to go to the movies, a lot. And they like parks, botanical gardens, “plain” parks, Marina Bay like parks (I look forward to visiting it for the first time on our upcoming trip), Sentosa Island, the zoo, etc. Singapore has a lot of green areas, still, despite being this tiny island with millions of inhabitants. And that is really the core  of the “games” of Singapore. What do you do, if you live and work in the same 718 square kilometers all year long? Job, check, housing, check, entertainment, check. As a government, they have to make sure that people stay happy, live a good life, and beyond the all important Asian family ties, being entertained properly seems crucial.

Brands, brands, and oh, a row boat? Shopping in Singapore.

Brands, brands, and oh, a row boat? Shopping in Singapore.

I’ve had more than one friend tell me that democracy was luxury, that a job, a good apartment were more important. It goes against everything I believe in, but after having been in Singapore so many times, I see the allure! So here’s a couple of tips for your visit to Singapore:

  • the Zoo. Visit both the day and the night zoo. Totally different experiences and different animals! Best zoo I’ve ever seen.
  • Chinatown, duh! You’ll spend an hour, eat some dumplings and be done with it.
  • Old town (along the river), go for pepper or chili crabs! Yummy!
  • Palau Ubin – See the Merlion city the way it was before it became Singapore. And for Chrissake’s, walk!
  • Orchard Road, go to a couple of malls. You haven’t been to Singapore unless you’ve been to the malls
  • Don't piss in elevators. One of Singapore's oddities. (Not that you would, would you?)

    Don’t piss in elevators. One of Singapore’s oddities. (Not that you would, would you?)

    Go suburbia. Take any MRT to one of the suburbs and see how the locals live in their blocks. Take an elevator and marvel at the “do not piss in here” signs or marvel at the total lack of insulation (who needs it?)

  • The bird sanctuary is also totally worth a trip or two.
  • Marina Bay. I’ll leave it at that
  • Sentosa, but walk up to the top of the hill to the Merlion, take in the views of the harbor.
  • Eat well, be it Chinese, Malayan or Indian food, enjoy it. You’ll eat the best of it out in the food halls in the suburbs. Trust me! Dirt cheap, too.
  • Try Singapore Airlines… It’s an experience whether you fly coach, business or First!

We’re flying out to Singapore and on to Bali this coming weekend and I can’t wait to spend three days in one of my favorite cities on the way back. I have friends I haven’t seen in years, some really close ones. And I have a hunch that I’ll be showing my dad, who’s joining us on this trip, some of the items on the list above. The zoo, Palau Ubin, Sentosa and the old town are child friendly, too, which is good for our son.

Merlion city, here we come again.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on TwitterFacebookPinterestYouTubeGoogle+, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Tuesday #Travel: St. Moritz, top of the world, right? #stmoritz #

Tuesday #Travel: St. Moritz, top of the world, right? #stmoritz #

St. Moritz, the crown jewel of Alpine winter (and summer) tourism

Gstaad, Vail, Chamonix, and now the Russians claim to have their own little dream destination in Sochi, but one place still shines brighter than the lot of them: St. Moritz in the Engadine. For almost one hundred and fifty years, this has been the world’s #1 destination for winter tourists. No, not the most popular one, just the most exclusive, the most desirable one.

Interesting panorama taken a couple of years ago here at my dad's house near St. Moritz.

Interesting panorama taken a couple of years ago here at my dad’s house near St. Moritz. The airport runway is just near a great restaurant, P21.

It’s kind of weird when you are born two villages away of such a place. To me, growing up in the Engadine, St. Moritz was the destination of our weekly grocery shopping trips, I didn’t see the appeal of it. Then again, we rarely drove by the Palace Hotel, or the Suvretta Palace, not until my dad began to work as an independent architect and renovated some of the villas in that neighborhood. All these people are dead now, sadly, from the Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi to the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan. But more than that, most people you would never have heard of, they are/were business leaders and not always in the international limelight. But money they have.

Top of the World, Badrutt's Palace Hotel in St. Moritz. It doesn't get much better than this in the world. Trust me. Photo: Parpan05

Top of the World, Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St. Moritz. It doesn’t get much better than this in the world. Trust me. Photo: Parpan05

St. Moritz has often been called the jet-set capital of the world, and yes, there are lots of royalty, stars and starlets (of both sexes/genders) who frequent St. Moritz. A walk up and down the streets of St. Moritz village (opposed to the lower lying bath part) is like a walking who’s who of business, royalty and show biz.

You think I’m exaggerating. Could be. I haven’t lived in the Engadine since 1987. Things have changed, and I’m sure Sochi is a lovely place in summer. And I know Switzerland has its issues with en overrated currency, “bad” service and what not. But, for all intents and purposes, people still flock to St. Moritz, and the Rolls-Royces are still parked outside the Palace Hotel (which is an amazing place by the way), and the rich and famous still fly their own private planes to Europe’s highest located commercial airport, that of Samedan, my home town, a convenient ten kilometers from St. Moritz.

This railway is one of the few railways that qualify as a UNESCO world heritage site for their Bernina Line. Photo: Wikipedia

This railway is one of the few railways that qualify as a UNESCO world heritage site for their Bernina Line. Photo: Wikipedia

I’m really lucky. I get to visit the Engadine at least once a year, since my dad still lives there, usually by train from the airport in Zürich, on the famous UNESCO-decorated Rhaetian railway. Sometimes we take a rental car. I love to drive over the alps by car, and in the summer, when the Albula pass is open (the pass crossing the mountains the train simply drives through in a century old tunnel), I’m in my element. The mountains, lakes with crystal clear water, glaciers and million dollar vistas, and serpentine roads, perfect for a hand stick driven car with a powerful engine…

One of the great things to do in St. Moritz and the Engadine is dining. There are so many amazing restaurants, and there are plenty of Michelin stars, but that’s not the point. The real deal about the Engadine is to go “local” cuisine, Swiss, a combination of French, Italian and German/Austrian, with unique flavors. The Swiss may not have invented the Fondue, but we have certainly perfected it, and the same is true for so many other dishes.

I could upload a gazillion pics like this one. The Engadine Sun is world famous and the landscapes? Amazing, summer or winter. Photo: Private

I could upload a gazillion pics like this one. The Engadine Sun is world famous and the landscapes? Amazing, summer or winter. Photo: Private

So what should you do when you’re in the area? In the winter, you should ski, alpine or nordic. There are dozens of miles of tracks for nordic skiing and as for downhill tracks, you can do it an entire day and NEVER use the same ski run twice! We used to do this as kids, and it took us a day, but we traversed the entire valley from Sils to Samedan! From one side of the valley to the other.

If you’re in the area during the summer, do NOT miss to wander, literally. Take one of the many cable cars onto one of the mountains and walk, or walk in the valley. Whatever you do, walk, enjoy the unique sunlight and the clean air. Stop at a mountain cabins where they’ll serve you local wine, fresh bread and cheese. Simple fare, but you’ll love it. I guarantee it.

Where to eat?

Here’s a couple of suggestions. I vouch for these, as they’re time tested by me and my family:

  • Hotel Saluver in Celerina, about five kilometers (3 mi) from St. Moritz. The owner’s a family friend, my dad built the hotel, and the food is stunning. Try the chef’s kidneys! You won’t regret it.
  • Hotel Val Roseg. To get there you either have to walk (or cross-country ski) for a couple of hours, or you could take a sleigh ride, but once you’re there, the food and the views are more than worth it! Their dessert buffet is the best I’ve ever seen.
  • P21 in Samedan. Okay, an odd name, but this restaurant sits on the edge to a forest, just off the runway 21 (hence the name) of the Samedan Airport. Quaint place, but the food? Totally worth it.
This is the view from our house in Samedan. We see it every day... Yeah, you sadly do get used to it...

This is the view from our house in Samedan. We see it every day… Yeah, you sadly do get used to it…

Where to stay? I’ve already mentioned the Palace, if you’ve got the cash. The Saluver is very nice and affordable. And if you ask very nicely, you might even be invited to our house… We offer the best view in the entire valley! LOL

I hope this post will make your mouth water about visiting St. Moritz and the Engadine. They’re definitely worth a trip! If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who’s ever been there with me! 😉

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on TwitterFacebookPinterestYouTubeGoogle+, and/or Instagram.

Come back again tomorrow for an interview with my publisher and amazing author Debbie McGowan. Don’t miss it!!!

Hans

 

Tuesday #Travel: #Santorini, crown jewel of the Greek isles #Greece

Tuesday #Travel: #Santorini, crown jewel of the Greek isles #Greece

Santorini: you’ve seen it, without realizing it…

Today’s travel destination is the Greek island of Santorini, or Thira [Θήρα], as it is called in Greek. The Italian name stems from the “Santa Irina” and is the name given to the island by the Latin Empire in the thirteenth century. If you’ve ever seen pictures from Greece, likelihood is that it was a picture from Santorini, as it’s said that 80% of all Greek publicity photos come from Santorini. That’s just how beautiful the island is.

The island of Santorini (right) and the volcano in the middle. Photo: Apple Maps

The island of Santorini (right) and the volcano in the middle. Screenshot: Apple Maps

I’ve been to Santorini three times, and I’ll go there again next summer, on a cruise, for a day. I already look forward to seeing the island from the sea, particularly sailing off into the night. That is going to be a once in a life time experience. Because Santorini, the way it was “created” makes it stand apart from any other island in Greece.

Santorini is basically a volcano. A big one, like Mount St. Helens, and just like the latter, Santorini blew up, most recently about 3,500 years ago. The event, as it was in what some might consider recent history, is the stuff legends are made of. From the biblical plagues to the descent of the Minoan culture and Atlantis, all these events can be related to the Minoan eruption.

What is left of the volcano is basically the outer walls, some dropping hundreds of feet into the ocean, making for a unique geological feature. The Santorini caldera looks like a croissant, framed by two smaller islands of what is left of the other side of the volcano. In the middle, the volcano is rebuilding itself, and has breached the surface on two small islands, which you can visit.

Me, resting (it's really hot in the summer) on the way to the current volcano in the middle of the Santorini caldera. Photo: Private

Me, resting (it’s really hot in the summer) on the way to the current volcano in the middle of the Santorini caldera. Photo: Private

On the rim of the old caldera, the Greeks have built their villages, as well as the capital city of Thira (sometimes called Fira, as the “Θ” can be perceived as an f) During the day, when the sun is shining and baking the island in its warmth, people flock to the outer rims, where there are beaches, sandy or rocky, to enjoy the water. At night, they all crawl to the top to marvel in the view of what looks like a cake, sprinkled with tens of thousands of lights. It is one of the most beautiful sight you can ever hope to see. And if you make it to Oia (in the west) or to the village at the highest point, Imerovigli, you can expect to see a sunset like no other.

Most tourists on Santorini rent a stroller. It’s the easiest way to get around. The streets are narrow and traffic can be a nightmare if you’re in a car. The airport is located near the main tourist resort of Kamari. Now do me a favor: if you ever visit Santorini, don’t go there to spend your week with drunk Scandinavians or English in Kamari. It’s a waste of time and money to go to Santorini for a beach vacation. Instead, get a room in Imerovigli, carved out of the mountain, with the spectacular views of the caldera. Spend the day discovering the island, sampling the wines, and yes, by all means, go to the beach (there’s plenty of them) and swim, but return to your hotel in the afternoon, and just relax enjoying one of the most spectacular views on the planet. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. You don’t want to spend that late afternoon overlooking the east with the mountain shading the sun. You want to allow your eyes to take in the magnificent of mother Earth. If you want a beach vacation, go to Mykonos, Kos, Rhodes or Crete.

I'm not exaggerating. This is what it looks like in Oia, the village to the very west, where thousands gather every day for the sunset. Photo: Pedro Szekely

I’m not exaggerating. This is what it looks like in Oia, the village to the very west, where thousands gather every day for the sunset. Photo: Pedro Szekely

You'd be a fool not to enjoy this, every day of your stay on Santorini! Photo: R. Barraez D'Lucca

You’d be a fool not to enjoy this, every day of your stay on Santorini! Photo: R. Barraez D’Lucca

Here's an interesting view. Imagine all the lights by night... It's spectacular. Photo: Nikos Roussos

Here’s an interesting view. Imagine all the lights by night… It’s spectacular. Photo: Nikos Roussos

Santorini Panorama. Source: Wikipedia

Santorini Panorama. Source: Wikipedia

Like powder sugar sprinkled over a cake, that's how the houses are built along the top of the caldera. Oftentimes rooms are dug into the rock, providing cool nights. Photo: Wikipedia / Simm

Like powder sugar sprinkled over a cake, that’s how the houses are built along the top of the caldera. Oftentimes rooms are dug into the rock, providing cool nights. Photo: Wikipedia / Simm

Santorini by night is an experience all different. From Imerovigli you can walk to Thira. It’s about a half hour walk along the rim, and it’ll pass in no time. Along the way, there are plenty of tavernas and restaurants with that amazing view. You’ll eat delicious Greek delicacies, look at cruise ships arriving or leaving (which I can’t wait to do, and see the caldera by night from below), drink earthy local wines (don’t forget to try the local dessert wine, vinsanto!), and just let your soul dangle, evening after evening. After dinner, stroll through Thira, up and down the winding streets that lead all the way down to the cruise ship harbor and enjoy the crazy nightlife with souvenir shops, bars and plenty of people.

Santorini is soothing balm for the soul. You’ll return from a one-week vacation and any and all damage to your soul will be repaired. I promise you. If you can visit Greece only once in your life, make sure you make Santorini your destination. It doesn’t have as many ruins as Athens or Knossos, but like no other place, Santorini showcases the destructive force of mother nature and its beauty, along with humanity’s ingenuity in one beautiful place.

I can’t wait to return…

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers. You’re more than welcome to interact with me on TwitterFacebookPinterestYouTubeGoogle+, and/or Instagram.

Join me again tomorrow for a post about pen names, alternate egos and the thin line before you’re a fraud… I was almost going there, not so long ago. Others crossed the line. I try to understand why.

Hans