TTT: 9 Books I Bought on Vacation

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’m the kind of person who always brings a book to the cabin and…never reads more than a few pages of it. I go on trips with several book and come back with most of them unread except for the audiobook on the plane. I’m often lucky if I get a single book read on a trip. There’s usually so many other things to experience and do and reading tends to be a pretty solitary, relaxing activity, which is not usually trip strategy. So with very few exceptions (like our trip to Taiwan years ago when I had long stretches of time to myself), I tend to buy more books on vacation than I read. And because these books become something like souvenirs, they’re often more memorable to me than the books that I read (or tried to read, and reread the same paragraph over and over again). So although the prompt for this week is books I read on vacation, I’m going to talk about books I purchased on vacation instead.

New York, New York at the Strand: Unnatural Creatures ed. by Neil Gaiman

I bought this book for the cover, the gorgeous typography and twisting branches. We were young college kids on this trip, and we didn’t have a lot to spend on souvenirs, but the book was out in paperback and on sale, and I bought it. This is a great collection of short stories by the way–a cool focus that allows the writers to be very creative. If you enjoy fantasy and dark fairy tales, you’ll definitely enjoy it.

Bend, Oregon: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

I found this at a thrift store with my Mom and Nana–we always beeline for the books. I had read a couple other Atwood books by then so I was excited to see another one. Even now, I know I’ll get through all of her books eventually, but I tend to dole them out to myself so I don’t go through them all at once.

Paris, France: A French version of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I learned un petit peu of French for the trip to Paris my Nana and I took in 2018. I learned enough to get around as a tourist, but definitely not enough to struggle through Harry Potter, and given the choice I’ll probably go back to Spanish, but I couldn’t resist buying something in the wonderful little bookstore. Next time I’ll stick to notebooks. I still have the little embossed bookmark though, and I love it.

Maui, Hawaii: The Quest for King Arthur by David Day

I really enjoy shopping, but not the mass produced souvenir kind, so while my friend was off looking at things in Lahaina, I went and found this cute little used bookstore and an interesting coffee table book about King Arthur caught my eye.

Taichung, Taiwan: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I went into a lot of bookstores and stationery stores in Taiwan and bought lots of washi tape and little cards and stickers and things, but I didn’t kid myself and think I was ever going to learn enough Mandarin even for a simple picture book. But there was a little used bookstore in Taichung that held a shelf of English books, and I was running low on reading material so…it came home with me.

Actually Taiwan was the rare trip that I read quite a bit since I was alone most of the day. I only took books I was willing to leave behind and I ended up leaving almost a drawerful and the hotel called. In retrospect, I should have just taken them down to the bookstore I’d found but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the person at the counter even though the vast majority of people we met spoke at least some English (certainly much more than my 10 words of Mandarin)  i also could have looked it up on my phone… no excuse really. My bag was lighter without them and then I had room for all the washi tape.

Patrick Ness writes really well about the shock and horrors of childhood made manifest as a little boy grieves his mother in the only way he knows how. A beautiful middle grade book. And the movie was decent as well.

London, UK: The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

There was some sort of deal for 3 of certain paperbacks, so I found a few things. I don’t remember the name of this bookstore that we poked into…but I did notice that books are a bit less expensive in the UK and that they’re made a little differently– stiffer and lighter than the floppy US trade paperback. The covers were gorgeous too!

Mikhail Bulgakov wrote the Master and Margarita, which is one of my all time favorites, and this little novella was good, but not as good. It’s about a doctor who switches a human’s testicles with a dogs and they take on each other’s characteristics to amusing results. It’s a weird little book, but it gives you a good sense of the midcentury USSR, which Bulgakov was very much writing against in a fantastical way.

The Essex Serpent is a little dark and creepy and full of magical realism, like most of Sarah Perry’s work. Her writing can be a little dense, but it’s worth wading through (or listening to the audiobook) for the atmosphere she creates in her stories, which borders on the gothic. They made a miniseries of this for Apple TV+, which I haven’t seen yet.

Everyone talks about Jessie Burton’s more well known book The Miniaturist, but I couldn’t get into that setting nearly as quickly as I was swept into a fast paced midcentury London. I ended up reading this book waiting to be called for jury duty. We were there 6 hours or so before being dismissed. I finished both books I brought and went to the library on break. That’s where I picked up the more famous Jessie Burton book, but it was such a tone and pace shift I couldn’t get through the first chapters and into the richer parts. Also, those closeted Holland spaces always feel dark and claustrophobic to me. They’re not my favorite historical setting by a long shot.

Merida, Mexico:  Purchased: The Poems of Octavio Paz

Recently my friend and I went to Mexico, and while we were in this colorful city, I discovered that an expat was running an English language bookstore. I was looking for poetry by Mexican authors, and I was disappointed not to find much although I’m sure it doesn’t sell that well. But I did pick up a lovely bilingual edition of poems by Octavio Paz.

Do you ever buy books on vacation? Let me know in the comments!

Caribbean Vacation Part 3: St Kitts and Nevis

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Clay Villa. Circa 1763. The white parts of the house are original.

Our last day island hopping was spent on the beautiful island of St Kitts. This was truly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to, and I hope that more people get the chance to visit this island as well as its sister, Nevis.

We spent a large part of the day with a wonderful tour guide who showed us three very special places as well as giving information about the capitol and other aspects of the island.


Our first stop on the tour was Clay Villa. The house is still in the hands of the family who have owned it for generations. Philip and his wife, Bridget, open their home for tourists in order to help raise money for the rescue animals they take in (like these lovely turtles above). They’ve taken in various birds, monkeys, turtles, tortoises, fresh water sharks, and other animals that need special attention, love, and care.

Philip gives a little history lesson and shows everyone around the amazing grounds and the lovely home. And then at the end of the tour he makes the most amazing rum punch–you absolutely must try it if you get a chance to go–from fruits in the garden.

Clay Villa is unusual for a plantation on the island because its still in the hands of its original owners. This is because they were the only family to believe that slavery was wrong, and though this led to them being shunned by the colonials (to this day, they’re not on any map of the area), when the island gained independence from Britain, they were able to keep their land instead of it reverting to the people.

Our driver joked that this was the most photographed clothesline in the Caribbean.

I think for my Mom, the highlight of our tour was seeing the batik being made at Claribelle Batik on the grounds of the ruined Romney manor. Each piece is truly a unique, handmade work of art. Each part of the process is done locally (mostly by women) from the designing, waxing, dyeing, cutting, sewing, and selling.

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This amazing artisan is waxing a piece of batik for its third color. The wax resists the dye, so for each color added, more wax is put on to protect the area. A piece with 5 colors takes 9 days to complete because after each dip in the dye, it must be hung to dry for 24 hours. A waxer works with one piece from start to finish. The woman working on these pieces has been creating batik for 25 years. After the piece is finished, it is boiled and the wax is reclaimed and reused.

Pots of hot wax.


The area is also a botanical garden. This particular tree is over 400 years old.

It was extremely hot and humid in this area, and we were relieved to get back in the air conditioned car.


Our last stop was a photo op at Timothy Hill, at the top of which you can see the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean sea on the other.

The tour lasted so long that we only got a little bit of time to spend on the beach, but I wouldn’t have changed one minute of the day. We went with the island phrase “rush slowly” as our motto. It was probably my favorite destination of the trip, and someday I would love to go back there.

Have you been to St Kitts? What is your favorite island/favorite aspect of the Caribbean?

Caribbean Vacation Part 1: San Juan, Puerto Rico

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San Juan was our first stop on my family’s Caribbean cruise. We’d already spent a full day at sea, so we were more than ready to get off the ship and explore. IMG_2703

As we approached the shore, we saw Fort San Felipe del Morro. The fortress, built in the 16th century, is strategically located on a jutting piece of land you have to go around in order to make your way into port. It was from here that the Spanish controlled most of the access in and out of the Caribbean. We didn’t actually visit the fort, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless.

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As we only were allowed a few hours off the boat (we disembarked at 4:30 and had to be back at the ship by 10:00pm), we only had the vaguest of plans, which was to wander around Old Town. We did a little shopping and snapped pictures of the architecture. We tried only to buy things actually made in Puerto Rico, and were impressed by (though we didn’t purchase) some of the beautiful Panama hats that were made there.

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The streets are amazingly colorful and extremely narrow. They combine a beautiful European style with bright  Caribbean colors.

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We met quite a few pigeons outside a 16th century Catholic sanctuary near the old walls. They cooed and strutted contentedly on the blue cobblestones that line many of the streets.

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The boys weren’t interested in asking anyone to guide us in our walk, so our steps stayed fairly uninformed. We ended up eating at a local restaurant that was okay, but I know much better food can be had in Puerto Rico. I’m the history nut of the group, so I missed having someone or something inform me of what I was seeing. But the place is beautiful with a rich tradition and culture that I would love to go back and experience more deeply. We only got a glimpse, but it was an intriguing beginning to our journey.

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? What were the most interesting places, people, or food you encountered? Any place we shouldn’t miss for our next visit?

50th Anniversary Cruise

Toasting at their wedding in 1965, my grandparents Irene and Mike.

I’ve been doing a lot of work for a very special project, which I thought I’d share with you.

On August 22, my grandparents will have been married for 50 years. To celebrate, they’re taking the family on a cruise to the Caribbean where they will renew their vows and celebrate being together.

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For the trip I have designed t-shirts (to be unveiled after the trip, as they haven’t come back from the screen printer just yet), invitations, door markers (because if you’ve ever been on a cruise you know that all the doors look the same), music playlists, and a smattering of other projects I’ll show you later.

Before the trip, I thought I’d share some of my packing tips and, the question foremost in any reader’s mind, how to choose the best vacation reads. After the trip, I’ll share stories and pictures as well as my top 5 must see/do in this part of the Caribbean (we’re visiting Puerto Rico, St. Martin/Maarten, and St. Kitts).

The door markers with first initials–they’ll be laminated so nothing happens to them, and then they’ll go on everyone’s cabin door.

The font I’m sharing was created just for this occasion (though it is now available on the Etsy shop), and it is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve called it ‘Rapunzel’ for all it’s little curlicues like the curls you get in your hair, but what makes this font so perfect for my grandparents is its traditional mixed with modern elements and its whimsy.

My grandparents set a great example for other couples with their dedication to laughter and communication, and I’m so honored to be a part of this very special celebration for them.

You can find the playlist I created for their vow renewal on Spotify–a short mix of danceable oldies from the 60s and 70s.