Posts Tagged ‘Wish You Were Here’



Greetings from…back in Birmingham.

It was an excellent weekend, although shorter than originally planned.

The last workshop of the symposium was scheduled to run from 3:30-5 on Sunday. That was also the only Sunday workshop my son was really very interested in – it was on LIDAR technology, which has revolutionized Maya studies.

(National Geographic ran a breathless, irritatingly hype-y special on this a few weeks ago.)

But after attending four talks on Saturday – three right in a row – and gotten the zoo visit done, I discerned that perhaps….this was enough. A day long workshop on Friday and IMG_20180310_144930.jpgfour academic presentations? For a thirteen-year old? I suggested that perhaps we could just…go home earlier on Sunday?

We talked it over. He was, indeed, interested in that workshop, but LIDAR had been discussed many times in the talks he’d attended, and considering how interested he is in the topic and how hot LIDAR is in the field…he’ll have a chance to engage with it again. The thought of getting home at 5 instead of 10 or later was certainly attractive to both of us.

Decision made…so that’s why I’m writing this from home Sunday night instead of..Monday morning.

But let’s backtrack.

First, our New Orleans hotel. Here’s Amy’s Travel Advice  Section:

I’ve stayed in New Orleans before, in various spots, and never paid what I consider an exorbitant amount. We’ve stayed in various chains in the city, and once at a Residence Inn near the airport. When I started looking for rooms this time, I got serious sticker shock. Nothing, nada even close to downtown for less than 350 a night. Even hotels in Metairie were more than I wanted to pay. Finally, I settled on a Holiday Inn and Suites across the river in Harvey, which was at least under $200.

(And why was this? I poked about and saw a couple of events – the Sun Belt Conference Championship tournament and a Bourbon Festival, but really? Would that be enough to drive prices up for the weekend? Spring breaks beginning? That certainly might be part of it. Well, then we were driving and walking around Sunday morning I saw, not one, but two big cruise ships in port – the Norwegian Pearl and Carnival Dream. That might just have been the tipping point – thousands of folks coming in early to get the party started before departing on Sunday. Maybe?)

Then about a week before the trip, I checked again – just to see. What I actually checked was the question, “Slidell as a base for New Orleans trip.”  Because hotels out there are of course much cheaper. The discussion I happened upon answered that initial question with a resounding NO DON’T DO IT, but buried in the various answers was the suggestion of a hotel – the Prytania Park Hotel – which, the person said, was reasonably priced and close in – just on the edge, between the Garden District and Downtown.

I checked the usual booking sites  – no vacancies listed for my dates. But then, just IMG_20180311_091502.jpgbecause I know that what is listed on the booking sites is their inventory that’s been released to them from a particular hotel – I went to the hotel’s website and checked. Vacancies! For a “junior suite” with two beds and on two levels.  For well under $200 a night. I emailed just to make sure, got a positive response, cancelled that Holiday Inn and booked this one directly with the hotel.

So there’s a lesson for you. Always check with the hotel (or airline, or whatever), even when it seems hopeless.

Isn’t it always the way, though. These innovative ways of doing life pop up – one place where you can check All The Prices! – but it never quite works out the way we think. In this particular case, the booking sites and hotels are vying for profits, with the hotels – especially independent hotels – in a real bind. They can’t survive if they’re not listed, but then those third party sites will take their cut. The hotels are helped by the review systems – to a point. They’re not helped if the third party sites don’t crack down on fraud and competitor sabotage and let unjustified poor reviews stand.

And so for us the consumer? How does it work out? There’s a certain level of convenience in these third party sites like Booking.com. It helps to get a broad survey of availability and an efficient way to look at room arrangements (particularly outside the US where there tends to be more variability), but be aware of two points:IMG_20180311_092001.jpg

First, what I’ve just described: the booking sites don’t have all of a hotel’s inventory available to them.

Secondly, if you end up having a problem after booking, resolution goes much more smoothly if you’ve booked with the hotel (or airline or car rental agency or tour agency) directly. Trying to get refunds and justice with the added layer of Orbitz or TripAdvisor or what have you is going to make things even more difficult than they already are.

Use them for research, sort of trust, and always verify.

Oh, and the Prytania Park Hotel? I liked it. It’s a bit shabby – it’s not a shiny chain hotel or a pristine boutique inn. But it was very clean and secure. Our room was, as advertised, a IMG_20180311_092047.jpg“junior suite” with two twin beds in a loft, and then a downstairs area with couch, chair, desk, desk chair, fridge, microwave, two sinks and bathroom area with tub and shower. And a balcony! The clientele seemed mixed, but mostly families and middle-aged to elderly folks. There was a breakfast, but it was clearly a step down from what you’d find in a Residence or Hampton Inn (i.e. frozen waffles instead of those you make yourself, no proteins, etc…).

There’s not a heap of street noise, although there was traffic outside – there must have a been a club nearby because Friday night, the bass was pretty consistent and loud until well after midnight – but strangely enough, it was much quieter on Saturday night.

Right across the street, there was an older fellow sitting outside on his front porch both mornings, reading. He resembled my father so strongly, it gave me a start: Same build, IMG_20180310_083457.jpgsitting exactly as my father would be reading in the morning if he were outside, legs crossed, with a hat like this on his head, holding and smoking his cigarette just so. I texted the photos to my older sons who both responded with many exclamation points and, in the case of one, the obvious conclusion that my father had faked his own death and escaped to live in seclusion in New Orleans….

And, here on a trip, with a longer one coming in a couple of weeks,  I thought of the conversation I had with him about this time nine years ago, when I told him, a little nervously, that I was going to take the crew to Sicily, of all places. Someplace completely different, somewhere just…away.  I couldn’t face the entire summer here. We had to leave town.  I braced myself, expecting an argument and an attempt to dissuade me. Sicily? But that’s not how it went, at all.

I think that’s great, he said without hesitating a second. It will do you all a lot of good. Go and have a wonderful time.

And so we went. And went. And went…and still go. We go, thanks, for a lot of different reasons – his encouragement, his financial legacy, his own regret at not traveling more earlier in life before it became physically challenging – to him.


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You can read Part I – an overview of our itinerary – here. 

If I had not been hamstrung by some uncertainty regarding dates, the way out and back would have been clear: Southwest from Birmingham, direct. We probably could have done it for around 200 bucks a ticket.  However, that uncertainty meant that by the time I could commit to dates, the cheapest tickets on Southwest were no longer available.  Darn.  Then none of the timing for the other Birmingham-based flights were good (You know how it goes – the decent outgoing flight is never paired with doable return flights.), so I turned to Atlanta.

(The Atlanta airport is about a 2-hour drive away from here. It seems as if, with fairly good air connections from Birmingham, you wouldn’t even consider Atlanta anymore, but believe me, it has its attractions  When we came back from Germany last year, the complications and delays on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Birmingham meant that we would actually have gotten home sooner if our flight had ended in Atlanta, and we’d been able to simply hop in the car and drive 2 hours home, rather than waiting around, re-checking our luggage after it went through customs, waiting for a delayed flight to Birmingham…)

Again, because of scheduling (since we were flying out of Atlanta, I didn’t want a super early flight out, nor a terribly late flight back), I ended up booking two 1-ways on 2 different airlines – total cost around $200 a ticket.

The first airline was Spirit – a super budget airline that sells itself based on the “bare fare.”  The fare is for your seat and then everything else – even carryons and water on the flight – is extra.

Which is fine, because they are up front about it.  We had two carryons that I paid for ahead of time..

(Oh, another thing.  What did we take?  For a ten day trip, each of us had a backpack kind of thing, plus we took two suitcases.  If we hadn’t had to pack jackets for chillier temps at the Grand Canyon – we would be there from May 24-26, and the North Rim had only opened on May 15, and it had snowed that first day – we could have gotten away with just one, I think.  I planned on doing laundry (which I did, twice), and none of us are averse to wearing the same thing two days in a row.)

….and we didn’t pay $3.00 for Cokes or what have you on board, so it worked for us.  Yes, the seat pitch was the smallest I’ve ever experienced, but none of us are big people, so it was okay, if weird.

The couple heading for a two-week hiking/camping vacation in Zion  sitting behind us, however, wasn’t as accepting.  Apparently they hadn’t read the fine print, which is actually in big bold font all over the Spirit website, and were totally shocked by the extra costs – didn’t know they were going to have to pay for carry-ons, drinks, etc, and were prepping for Big Protests.


Anyway, our flight left Atlanta at 9:30pm – I parked in one of those off-airport parking lots, and the service was amazingly prompt – the van to take us to the airport pulled up even before we could get ourselves fully out of the car.  As I said, the quarters were tight, but it was mostly fine, except for the loud, continual complaining from behind us.

Got to Vegas on time – around 11, despite some delays on the ground in Atlanta.

Caught a taxi to the hotel, which was this one – the McCarran Best Western – super cheap at $50/night, and a very good value. It was clean, close to the airport, had free breakfast.  They also have a free shuttle to and from the airport, but it only runs until 11, so we couldn’t catch it when we arrived.  I did, however, use it the next morning, when I got the rental car.

I knew I wouldn’t want to bother with getting the car right when we arrived so late at night.  Hauling the kids with the luggage onto the shuttle that takes you several miles away to the off-airport car rental facility, dealing with the inevitable high pressure from the counter agent, and then driving through a strange city back to the hotel at midnight didn’t seem like a fantastic end to that first travel day. So instead, I booked the car for Wednesday morning, got up early, got the free hotel shuttle to the airport, found the shuttle to the car rental facility, walked right up to the counter (no line at 7am), got the car (Nissan Rogue SUV, Hotwire rate, less than $300 for ten days), drove back on largely empty streets, and was back by 7:45. With Me Time inhe car as an extra bonus. Hey, I take what I can get

"amy welborn"


Next…off to Hoover Dam!

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Many thanks to Lisa Hendey for the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects: travel.  You can read the interview here.

There was a question in the interview that I didn’t answer over there:

Have you ever had any travel “disasters?”

I told Lisa that yes, there was something, and it was an incident I’d been intending to blog about since it happened, but I kept forgetting, and then waiting for the right opportunity again, and then forgetting…but now’s my chance!

So..yes.  There has been one real disaster – only one so far, and while what happened wasn’t as bad as being stranded in an airport for three days or suffering an accident or serious illness far from home, it was traumatic enough. And potentially far worse than it was.

So, yes, it was actually one of the worst moments..of..my life. Second worst, I’d say. Yup. That bad. So here you go….

"amy welborn"

In the Pyrenees

Two and a half years ago, the boys and I had the amazing experience of spending three months in Europe.  If you were reading me back then you know that the course of our journey took us to France for two months – we spend most of September in western France, around Montignac, in Lourdes and then Provence, and then October was Paris.

We left Paris in early November, the plan being to spend most of that month in Italy, and then heading back home after Thanksgiving.

"amy welborn"

Doing what they do – run – in Lausanne. In front of the Olympic Museum (which was closed)

After a few days in Lausanne, Switzerland (the only place in Europe I experienced sticker shock – expensive!) , we took the train to Padua, which was the first stage of the Italian segment.  Padua for almost a week, then Assisi for a few days, then finally Rome for two weeks.

It was to be an all-day train ride from Lausanne to Padua, via Milan.  There were several stops, the longest being Milan.

It was a lovely trip, first through the Alps, then to northern Italy, and onto Padua.  We looked out the windows, ate snacks, read, and some of us were probably praying our mother never hauled us to Europe during (American) football season again.

And…here we go!  Padua!  St. Anthony, here we come!

I should mention that of course, we were traveling with all of our luggage.  I’m committed to packing light, and  I had already sent some of our stuff back to the States with a friend from Birmingham who had spent a week with us in Paris, but still…we each had a suitcase, plus a backpack.  And remember, the boys were two years younger then – Michael was seven and Joseph, twelve.  My point being that getting these suitcases in and out of trains without letting gravity pull an overloaded child determined that I CAN DO IT MYSELF under the tracks was…a challenge that required speed, negotiation skills, and balance.

As we pulled into the station, I knew that we would only have a couple of minutes, since trains don’t spend much time at all on these stops. I also didn’t want anyone – especially Michael – to take a tumble as they struggled with luggage.

So I told them, as we gathered near the door, that what I wanted them to do was get off, stand on the platform and take the suitcases as I handed them down to them. Sounds good.

The train stopped.  The door slid open.  The boys got out. I handed one suitcase down.  Check.  I reached for the other.

The doors shut.

There was some sort of green button next to the door.  I pushed it.  Then punched it.

The train started to move.

I punched and started shouting. I tried to will the doors back open.

The train sped up.  As trains do.

And the last thing I saw as we slipped away, doors shut tight, was Joseph on the platform, arms outstretched, trying to run but being held back by someone, crying out, “MOM!”

Even now, thinking about that moment, tears come to my eyes, even though I (and you) know it all turned out fine.

But at that moment, I was as frantic and panicked as I’d ever been in my life.  I raced up and down the train cars, looking for someone – anyone who was in a uniform.  Finally, I found one, but he spoke no English, and neither did his colleague, but it didn’t take long for him to grasp my point:  Bambini – in Padua!

What to do?

The next stop was Mestre, the first Venice station, and so of course, what I would do is just get off (with the damn suitcases), and find a train right back.  I was confident that the boys knew what to do – to stay put, because we had talked about it often in Paris in relation to the Metro, which could be crazy crowded, with plenty of times we were squeezed on at the last minute before the doors shut.

What do you do if you all get on the train, and I don’t?

We get off at the next stop and wait for you.

What do you do if I get on the train, but you get left behind?

We stay where we are and wait for you.

So I knew they’d stay there. Well, that’s comforting. They’ll stay! In Padua! Italy! By themselves!

Finally – finally  – the train employee reached the Padua station by telephone and ascertained that the boys were safe – they had been taken to the police office at the train station and would, of course, wait until my return.

As I said, it was a barely-thirty minute ride to Venice, but those were certainly the longest thirty minutes of my life.  Our trip had gone so well, and had been such a rich experience, but now, every doubt I’d had about me taking these two kids to Europe by myself returned and echoed with added embellishments of guilt about my  carelessness.

As we pulled into Mestre, an older man who, with his wife, had boarded in Milan and had been seated across from us and seen all of it happen, approached  and offered to help me find the return train to Padua.  So grateful, of course I said yes, and together, we pulled those two remaining suitcases out of the train and found the platform for a Padua train that would, thank goodness, be coming in only a matter of minutes.  We got to that platform, I thanked him profusely, but before he left, he glanced around, found a woman of about my age, and explained to her (in Italian) what had happened.  All I could understand was bambini and his dramatic re-enactment of “Mama! Mama!” But that was enough, and he handed me over.

Another excruciating thirty minutes, attempting to converse with the sweet woman who’d been appointed my guardian, when finally I was back in Padua.  Off the train, to the police offices…and there they were.  Mi bambini.

Oh, my.

I am so, so sorry.  So, so sorry. 

The officers were quite kind as they took my information and made copies of our passports.  The boys said that some bystanders had been under the impression that they were supposed to be going to Venice and asked if they wanted to take the next train, but they knew better, and said, “No, our Mom will be coming back. We know it.”

As we got the taxi to our apartment, Michael – who was naturally far more frightened by the experience than Joseph – muttered, “I’m never riding a train again.”

I told him, as nicely as I could that I totally understood, but we certainly weren’t going to be walking to Assisi, and the whole thing was totally my fault and it wasn’t going to happen again.  I promise. I’d learned my lesson, and from now on, we’d do as I finally woke up and observed the Europeans doing – crowding at the train door, luggage in hand, ready to jump out as soon as they open, and not taking any time to gather anything, because there isn’t.  Time.

"amy welborn"

The street in Padua where our apartment was located.

We finally got to our apartment, after I’d called the owner from the police offices to tell her that we would be late meeting her.  As we settled in and I told the owner the story of why we were late, she gasped and shook her head and murmured at intervals, “Mama Mia.. Mama Mia.” And I remember thinking amid the remnants of my breathless panic, Huh. They really do say that.

Sometimes I think back on that horrid hour of our lives and think, It really wasn’t that bad.  They were immediately taken care of by the authorities.  It was fine. 

But then I think again…what if someone evil had been there and taken advantage of the situation, and offered…

And I can’t think anymore.  It’s too terrible. I can’t fool myself.  It could have been much, much worse, and thank God and Saint Anthony and all the good people there that it wasn’t.


A few days later, we were leaving Padua. Michael had accepted the facts of life and was okay with the train – considering he’d ridden it twice to Venice during our week, that wasn’t surprising.

But our departure and final visit to the Padua station wasn’t drama-free, either.

As we were checking out that day, a big protest parade marched passed our apartment.  The owner shrugged and said, "amy welborn"“Students.  We protested back in our day, now they do.” No big deal.


Well, it turned out to be sort of a big deal.  The protests built as our taxi made its way to the station, and by the time we arrived it was a mess, for the plaza in front of the station was the final destination of the protest, the police had gathered and the students were approaching.  They’d closed off the front of the station. I looked at the driver, he shrugged helplessly, and so we got out anyway.  With, of course, our suitcases.

A bystander warned us that we should probably get away – “The students are going to start running, probably, and there will be tear gas,” he said.

(There were, in fact, injuries.  The protests were one of the many anti-austerity protests around Europe that fall.  As this news article relates, there were two policeman injured by firecrackers – which we heard.)

But we couldn’t enter the station….the doors were locked, and the police stood guard…or could we?

I watched to see what other people were doing, and it seemed pretty clear to me that there must be a back entrance, for I saw a steady stream heading down a side street away and back towards the station.  I have to wonder why our taxi driver didn’t just  take us there for indeed, as we found out after a ten minute walk, there was a back entrance, and it was open and inside, everything was quiet and calm.

Almost there. Almost.

I set the boys at a table at the doorway of a grocery store in the station and I dashed in to get snacks and drinks.  When I returned five minutes later, their eyes were wide with excitement.

“Mom! We saw someone GET ARRESTED! And it was the same police lady who helped us the other day!”

Ciao, Padua!

"st. Anthony" Padua

Shrine of St. Anthony, Padua

"amy welborn"

Seriously – loved Padua, despite a rough beginning and weird end.

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Remember, I have books here.  If you order in the next day and shoot me a bit extra for Priority (shipping by Media Mail is built into the cost on the website), you can probably get it by Christmas, unless you live in Prague or something.


For women (mom, sister, teacher, daughter) – The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days

"amy welborn"

For kids

(The first four below will be signed by both artist Ann Engelhart and by me)

Bambinelli Sunday

Adventures in Assisi

Friendship With Jesus

Be Saints!

Loyola Kids’ Book of Heros 

(currently out of Saints …but of course you can get it elsewhere.)


The Words We Pray

Wish You Were Here

The How to Book of the Mass

How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist

(the last two might be good for someone you know who is inspired by the season to start coming back to church…

Again…the bookstore.  Here. Questions? Expedited shipping?  Email me at amywelborn60 – AT – gmail.

"amy welborn"

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Well, Ann Engelhart and I had a great time over the past few days. We visited, ate good southern food, taped an EWTN Bookmark (to air on 12/14…Bambinelli Sunday!), recorded some conversations between the two of us that we hope to turn into podcasts, did presentations at four different Catholic schools (Saint Rose Academy, Saint Francis Xavier, Our Lady of Sorrows, and Saint Barnabas -pictured below), and I had Ann sign a zillion books.

"amy welborn"


The bookstore is open for business.  I don’t have all of my books available – I don’t have any Prove Its in stock, for example.  But I do have all of our collaborations, the saints books, Wish You Were Here, The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days, The Words We Pray, The How To Book of the Mass, and a few more. 

At this point – until the stock runs out – all of the Welborn/Engelhart collaborations are signed by both of us.  I will add a personalization, if you like. Just indicate so when you order.

If you have any problem ordering, email me at amywelborn60 – at – gmail-dot-com.

"amy welborn"

All prices include shipping.  Shipping is via Media Mail, so keep the slightly slower pace of that in mind when you order.  Also remember that shipping costs include tracking as well as purchasing of shipping supplies.  If you buy all four of the Welborn/Englehart books…free shipping!

I’ll be shipping for the rest of the year, with a break for Thanksgiving week.


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Yes, it is!

Thanks, Sarah Reinhard! It was a fun challenge.

(Another recent Q & A on the book is at Catholic Match – part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)

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Here’s a nice review of Wish You Were Here in the National Catholic Register.  

So why did she go to Sicily? I think Welborn’s answer is to be found in the fact that “home” is no longer “home.” Once a loved one dies, there’s a certain sense in which you can’t go home again. And the more you wrestle with it, the more you have more friends and relatives in the hereafter than here, the more the mansions of this world seem perhaps to be so many temporary lodgings.

Apropos, is it not?

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