Guilt-Free Girlfriend Getaways to Europe

When my lifelong best friend Ann and I were college students studying in Europe, we met in Italy for a quick and dirty tour of three cities.  We had neither the time nor the budget for more than a breeze through Venice, Florence and Rome.

Oh, we had fun, especially celebrating Carnevale, and we experienced many tourist highlights. Gondola ride under the Rialto Bridge? Check. View of Florence’s striped Duomo? Snapped a photo. Visit to the Sistine Chapel? Saw it, bought the postcard.

It wasn’t until much, much later, when Carol and I spent a week in Rome, that I truly appreciated the country’s rich history and masterpieces.  Aside from a few decades of maturity (mine), the biggest difference was Rick Steves.

Many of my well-traveled friends have relied on guidance from Rick Steves’ books, website, DVDs and TV show for years, but until recently, I shied away from his “Europe Through the Back Door” advice.  I figured that I was smart enough to get the information I needed on my own.  I was wrong.

In Rome, Carol and I found “Rick’s” tips invaluable. Without our guide book, we would have skipped the amazing Ostia Antica ruins. We wouldn’t have known the quickest way into the Sistine Chapel, and wouldn’t have fully understood the awe-inspiring ceiling.  We would have passed by some fabulous sculpture, and, I hesitate to admit, missed the bus to the outlet mall.

And now, life has come full circle, as Carol and I will be imparting our own travel wisdom at Rick Steves’ headquarters this Thursday night.

We are scheduled to give a one-hour presentation on “Guilt-Free Girlfriend Getaways.” Our liaison at the company admits that our talk is a departure from the typical fare (e.g. “Beginning Swedish for Travelers,” “Packing Light and Right” and “Paris: Art Beyond the Louvre”), but she thinks it’s an important offering.

Carol and I have spent the past two years researching and writing our book and, more recently, our blog, and we know a thing or two about how guilt can serve as a roadblock to getting away without family.   We’re evangelists, of a sort, trying to help women rediscover themselves through time and travel with girlfriends.   

In our presentation, we’ll help attendees visualize the optimal vacation for them.  Most of us have limited time and budgets for getaways, so when we do travel, we need to make it count.  The trip must fill our own buckets; we spend the rest of our lives fulfilling other people’s needs at work and at home.

We’ll offer advice for choosing the optimal travel partner(s) – a selection that must begin with a discussion of goals and budget for the trip and an honest disclosure of travel style (for example, an early riser will soon get frustrated with a companion who likes to party until 3 am and sleep in past noon).

We’ll offer advice for trip preparation – both for the traveler and those she leaves behind – and for minimizing stress during the “re-entry process” following the vacation.

Most important, we’ll give attendees permission to pack up and let go.

Those who attend our lecture shouldn’t expect nuts-and-bolts advice on where to eat and sleep and what to see in Europe; Rick Steves does that quite well.  However, we will explain why women need to go, who they should travel with, how to get out the door and what they will gain from their girlfriend getaways. If you live in the Seattle area, we hope you’ll join us on Thursday.

To sign up, follow this link:

          – Linda Williams Rorem, 25 April 2011

Prom and Circumstance

Senior Prom "THEN"

At most high schools around the country the school year-end  is near and for seniors the biggest American ritual of all is about to take place.  It is not the pomp and circumstance of graduation, it is senior prom.

The planning for prom is especially fun for girls. My daughter, Hailey, who otherwise is a jean-loving teen is happily looking on-line at dresses. The new thing is to post a picture on Facebook of the frock selected in order to make sure no one else steals your runway moment.  And while her generation goes shopping together for dresses on-line it is still the same rite of passage.

Watching Hailey brings back fond memories of my own final months in high school, especially since I spent this past weekend on a girlfriend getaway with my own BFFs.  It was a reunion of the women who were my childhood friends and our last gathering was nine years ago.  At our prom, we had the good foresight to get all five of us, sans dates, in a picture that we now recreate each time we are together. The pictures of us in this blog are “then” and “now.”


We grew up in Encino, Calif. and attended Birmingham High School.

 Since that time we have lived in the East, Midwest and South and we are now all settled on the West Coast, ranging from L.A. to Seattle. We were so tight to begin with that even though life has taken us down different paths; we still love being with each other.

We talked all weekend, and barely took time out for sleep. Although the core of our discussions has changed, the core of our characters has not. Topics ranged from careers to cooking and parenthood to politics, but they were still through the lenses of Smartest, Class Clown and Friendliest.

As is often the case with treasured long-time friends, we can poke at each other’s foibles without being mean.  We laughed more deeply than we have in a long, long time – to the point that our bellies hurt.  Our reading glasses might betray our age, but our sense of humor, at least to us, was ageless.

It seemed as if time had stood still, but we had a stark reminder that indeed it had not. Melanie’s father, Richard, had passed away at Thanksgiving and we had a sobering evening when she shared the tribute that had been played at her dad’s memorial service. We sat silently as she told the life story of this wonderful man that we knew as kids. We cried in appreciation of his long joyful life, and his last days with his family before he died of cancer.

I was particularly moved by the pictures of Richard and his best friend of 65 years, who passed away six weeks after him.  I wondered if it would be the same with us. We know that we have many moments like these to share in the future and it is comforting to know that we have lifelong girlfriends to balance out our moments of joy and sorrow.

While driving back to the airport, we tried to lay a finger on why our girlfriend getaway was so amazingly fun.  Pam offered, ”Your friends know you better than you know yourself.  Friends see things in you that you don’t see.” Melanie pointed out that, “Good friends have a long-term perspective. We have known each other longer than we’ve known our spouses. We’ve seen each other through our traumatic and trying teenage years, when we weren’t fully formed and worked through our issues together.” Finally, Melissa said, “Friends are a repository of each other’s memories – good and bad.”

As we said our goodbyes we vowed to take another trip together in two years, because nine years is too long to be apart from good friends.

Carol Lewis Gullstad April 18, 2011



Desperately Seeking Edward and Jacob

With my three sons otherwise occupied during last week’s school break, my husband and I were left with only one child, our 11-year-old daughter. In a few years, she will be our only offspring at home, but because we’re not quite ready for that, we invited her friend, “Smiley,” along on our trip to Whistler, British Columbia.

The trip’s tenor was set when “Smiley’s” mom announced that the latest Twilight installment was filming in Squamish, just 40 minutes shy of the ski resort. The town of roughly 15,000 was once known for its forestry operations, but from here on, it shall be revered as “The Place Where Edward and Jacob Spent a Few Weeks.”

If you don’t believe me, just search the internet for mentions of the groups of girlfriends (of all ages) who’ve traveled to Squamish to see the stars. And that’s where my story begins.

Our girls were happy enough about world-class skiing, but they were more interested in getting hair-feather-extensions and stalking the Breaking Dawn cast – both of which we accomplished after our second day on the slopes.

That afternoon, we quit skiing a little early, so the girls could shower and dress appropriately for their potential brush with fame. Need I mention that my husband chose to stay in the condo to “work”? (All the better, in case I spotted a shirtless Taylor Lautner!) Our 80-pound Golden-Doodle did come along, as the girls figured that if Edward or Jacob happened to pass by, they would certainly stop to admire the adorable pooch.

We arrived just in time for the girls’ 4:30 pm hair appointment, but as my daughter sprinted across the street to the salon, her MP3 player flew from her pocket, landed in the road and cracked. “I feel like that’s really bad luck for seeing the stars,” she lamented.

While their stylish feathers were being installed, the girls grilled the coiffeuse, who revealed that one of the actor’s wives had come in for a new ‘do. But more important, she confided that the crew was staying in the hotel down the street, and often dined at a nearby sushi restaurant. “Every day, as soon as school lets out, I see groups of girls walking towards the hotel, hoping to meet the cast,” she said.

Consulting their list of “Landmarks the Stars Have Visited,” the girls urged me to drive by the hotel (no activity) and the smoothie shop, where a gaggle of teenage girls were camped, hoping that Boo Boo (whoever that is) would make a return visit. We cruised the aisles of London Drug, where the stars were known to stock up on essentials, and then sat outside Starbucks, checking every passing car. Our dog did lure some strangers, but sadly, no celebrities.

When one savvy local suggested we “check out Sushi Sen after 9 pm,” Smiley’s face lit up. However, Mrs. Kill Joy here announced that she had no intention of waiting around for another three and a half hours.

We agreed on a 7 pm sushi dinner, just in case the Twilight cast stopped by earlier. The place was packed with a host of women on “sight-seeing tours,” thanks to the zillions of fan-site posts about the vampires’ and werewolves’ local tastes. As we were finishing up, a waitress began combining small tables near us. “Expecting a big party?” we asked. “Celebrities, perhaps?” No such luck; a group of 15 30-something ladies soon sat down, obviously hungry for celebrity sightings.

At about 8 pm, we stopped by the hotel, where a large bodyguard barred the girls from entering, and started the drive back north. The girls were sad that their girlfriend getaway had lacked star power, but soon hatched a plan to revisit the hotel on Saturday’s drive back to Seattle. As Jacob said in New Moon, “Hunting vampires is fun.”

-Linda Williams Rorem, 11 April 2011

Washing Away Sins at the Vatican

The beginning of April generally means lots of rain for much of North America. In Seattle, this late-winter stretch has delivered more precipitation than any time in the last 30 years.  Last week, my friend lamented in a Facebook posting, “Did I mention how much I dislike rain in January? Oh yeah, and February? And while I am at it, lets throw in March.” I, too, am yearning for warm, dry days and the daffodils that are beginning to sprout through the soaked earth.

As I pondered the flowers’ efforts to bring spring in the wet deluge, it reminded me of the last time I was drenched to the bone.  I was walking through the streets of Rome during a downpour on my way back from visiting the Sistine Chapel with Linda. Like any other big city in the rain, Roman cabs are hard to come by when the skies open up with water. Thus, I had an “opportunity” to see how many puddles I could hurdle in the ancient city. While I am not Catholic, the coincidence of visiting the Vatican followed by buckets of rain did make me wonder.

Linda and I had taken a year of Italian at a local community college as part of our trip plan. However, I did not prepare my packing list as thoroughly as my language skills. I hadn’t given much thought to rain in Rome; after all, I live in Seattle, where I have a closet filled with the latest water-resistant, water-repellant and water–resilient high-tech clothing and footwear.

When I eventually made it back to the rented apartment in Trastevere,  my jeans were completely saturated up to my thighs, my soaked socks were clinging to my freezing feet and my formerly comfortable black leather slides had a whole new look and feel. I was truly the bedraggled cat that got caught in the rain.

Linda let out a peel of laughter when she saw my sorry state and asked, “Did that happen on the way back?” I confessed that I had been walking around with my H2O suit of armor for at least four hours, but since it was our last day in Rome, I wanted to maximize sightseeing and had not wanted to interrupt the day for a change of clothes. Linda remarked that she, too, had been soaked to the gills for hours. We were fortunate that our travel styles were compatible.

Everyone’s willingness to put up with discomfort is different. Make sure that you and your travelling companion(s) are in sync with tolerance levels for hunger, heat, cold, activity and schedule.  Most travel mates do discuss budget expectations in advance, but rarely discuss creature-comfort needs. Nothing kills a vacation buzz–or a friendship–like someone chirping complaints if others prefer to forge onward.

Although we were not singing in the rain, Linda and I had the same expectations: we prioritized sight-seeing over dry clothes. We will soon travel together for another adventure, and next time I will pack my wet-weather arsenal.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, 4 April 2011

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