Monday, September 30, 2013

Maui Travel Guides

As writers are are always doing research, sometimes part of that research involves traveling. If you are like me, you especially love researching places you are going to visit.

One of my favorite places to visit in the world is Hawaii. I visited the island of Oahu on my first trip to Hawaii. This time I was planning on visiting Maui and maybe island hop to one of the nearby island of Lana’i.

For my research, I combed through every Hawaii guidebook I could get my hands on. I found Frommer's and Fodor's Hawaii guides to be good if you want a summary of all the major islands in Hawaii. However, if you are looking for a more detailed guide of a specific island, and maybe find some "hidden" gems along the way, I would go with the Hawaii Revealed series. Unlike Frommer’s and Fodor’s, The Hawaii Revealed series dedicates a book to each major island (e.g. Hawaii ‘Big Island’, Oahu, Maui, and Kauai).

Since this trip was to Maui, I found the Frommer’s and Fodor’s guidebooks to be too bulky and limited in their information. Also the Maui Revealed book came highly recommended on Amazon and Tripadvisor. I had used Maui Revealed before for my first very short (48 hours) visit to Maui. This time I had planned to use my Maul Revealed book to its fullest. To my utter delight, the Hawaii Revealed people also released an e-book application version of the guidebook. The app is available for both the Android and iPhones.

The Maul Revealed e-book app is basically the whole Maui Revealed book in a custom digital format. I’m am a person who still prefers to hold a physical book when I’m reading, but when I am traveling and I have to deal with airline weight restrictions, e-books are my new best friends. For $7.99, I can have the whole Maul Revealed e-book on my smartphone, and I don’t have to worry about carrying two extra pounds of weight in my luggage.

This e-book app is the best that I have seen so far, and you do not need to be connected to the internet to access the application since the whole book (~200mb) is downloaded onto your smart device. All the information in the book is in the e-book app. The only time you need the internet is if you want to visit linked websites or find the map location of certain sites using Google maps. I found this very useful when I was trying to find directions from my location to a specific site mentioned in the guidebook.

The opening page of the e-book is a large map of Maui. With just a pinch of your fingers, you can zoom into the map for a more detailed map of the region you need. You can also pinpoint a location and the app will provide you a list of what beaches, restaurants, accommodations, and activities that are close by.

In the bottom left of the opening screen there is a “locate me” icon. If you’re on the island, the app can pinpoint where you are. At the Bottom right the Favorites Icon stores all your selected “favorites” all in one place. The top left corner has the search function and you can click that to get the general index or search for a specific place.

The top right corner is the "Contents" icon, and this will take you to the contents of the guide. The contents are not organized exactly like the book’s table of contents. Instead it looks to be organized by most popular things and “Sights, Dining, and Beaches” are the first three things listed in the contents. Each of the subjects are organized very easily by region (West Maui, Central Maui, South Maui, Hana Highway, Haleakala & Upcountry, and Offshore Islands). Each region is further broken down by things available in that location. The accommodations and dining sections can also be organized by type, price, rating, alphabetically, or location, which is really handy when people tell me the name of a restaurant and I’m not sure where it is located.

All you really need to travel in Maui is this application. You have great information about the island’s history, great recommendations for dining, activities, and lodgings all in one "book". What I like best about this guidebook is the honest reviews. Not all vendor or locations have glowing reviews. I like that the author will honestly tell you if a specific beach isn’t great and has lots of seaweed, or if a restaurant is overpriced for the things they serve. 

One-Ton Chips definitely something not found in the mainland.
However, if you want a bit more local flavor to your trip or your novel is set on the island and you want more authenticity to your character's life, another guidebook that I recommend is Local Girl’s Guide to Maui by Donna Bender. I had stumbled upon this guide just by reading random threads on Tripadvisor. Being someone who prefers eating at more “local” eateries because they generally taste better and are cheaper, and in Maui a lot of your budget expense will go towards food.

For $10 you can get the Local Girl’s Guide in a pdf, or for $25 you can get a printed hard copy. You can also get the pdf and print it out yourself.  I elected for a pdf download that I kept on my phone.

Local Girl’s Guide to Maui is compiled by “Local Girl” Donna Bender. Her guide is great if you're looking for a quick breakdown of local eateries and grocery stores. The guide also has sections for recommended beaches, shopping, hiking, and snorkeling. But I mainly ended up using the guide for food, groceries, and shopping locations.

My attempt at making Hula Pie.
Another perk about the Local Guide are the simple local recipes Donna shares in her guides. During my stay in Maui, I made Hula Pie according to Donna’s easy to follow recipe. Although I did have to figure out how to make my own Oreo cookie crust, the pie turned out amazing thanks to Roselani’s Macadamia nut ice cream. So if you wanted to have a character make a Pineapple Cosmo or a Kona Swizzle, the Local Guide can tell you how it’s made.

A slice of Hula Pie.
While I was on Maui, I made friends with a few of the locals and I asked for a few dining recommendations. Pretty much all of the local restaurants recommended by the locals could be found in Donna’s guide. If you want to support local markets and stores on Maui, this guide is the way to go. Donna also has a local guide available for Oahu as well, called Local Girl’s Guide to Oahu.

Additionally, Donna is very approachable and easy to contact either by email or through her facebook page. I had a few questions about parking in Maui since our group had two cars, and Donna quickly answered my e-mails and gave me some great tips for parking that managed to save us a bit of money when it came to parking in Lahaina and Ka’anapali.

I used to travel with at least two guidebooks, but now all my books are on my phone or on my Kindle reader. Armed with these two digital guidebooks, I was able to travel comfortably throughout Maui and get quick reviews of restaurants I stumbled upon on my adventures. This trip also taught me the importance of e-books to a Novel Travelist looking to travel light.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Food Inspiration to Influence a Novel

Bonn Germany - A city of inspirational food and music

Over the summer, I put a post on noveltravelist describing the trip that inspired my latest novel, Words In The Windowsill. I noted in that post, that writing the novel afforded me the opportunity to revisit my old journals and photos from that trip. Looking back, I quickly realized that along with the history and music which propels the plot of my story, so much of what inspired me had to do with foods of the regions we visited.

So I’d like to share a bit more with you today about Bonn, Germany along with some inspirational foods I ate while there. Some I even tried for the first time on that inspirational journey.

In some cases, connections were made! For instance, my novel takes place in Europe, in countries that have borders that are really close. It was amazing to see similarities to the recipes of my Italian heritage. Although the countries are different and the people speak different languages, some of the recipes are incredibly similar. I am including recipes for some of these as well. They are seriously worth trying!
Beethoven's House

Bonn, Germany was the capitol of Western Germany until 1990. It is the home to major universities and museums as well as Beethoven Haus, the birthplace of master composer, Beethoven. I reference this home quite a bit in my novel. In Bonn, there is a lot to see and do, even if you are not a music buff, as I am.

When I arrived in Germany, I was so bent on
Beethoven's personal pianos!
Oh, the music that emerged from these.
seeing the home of Beethoven I didn’t realize what more there could be to do. I reference Beethoven’s home quite a bit in my novel. The photo to the right, shows two of Beethoven’s piano’s from inside the home. The Beethoven Haus property also features gardens as well as a concert hall. It is glorious! 

Another aspect of Germany which meant a lot to me was the preponderance of musicians and artists in the towns. There were artists painting and selling their work along the streets. 

Street musicians

But while in Bonn, it is also worth noting a small eatery we visited, where rice pudding was served in a little cup with every meal ordered. I wish I could remember the name of the establishment, as I would love to know if it is still in existence.

Anyway, their homemade rice pudding was very creamy and not baked. It reminded me of the rice pudding my Italian Great Aunt Connie made. Growing up, I just assumed that hers was Italian Rice Pudding, but perhaps a better way to refer to it would be European Rice Pudding.

When I returned home, I asked my mother about Aunt Connie’s rice pudding recipe. With the exception of egg, the recipe below is very similar to the one from my family heritage. 
Aunt Connie's Rice Pudding Recipe
And below, is the German one:

Milchreis (German Rice Pudding)


1 cup short grain white rice
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1 cup cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 inches piece vanilla beans, split open ( or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Directions :
-Mix the rice, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. 

-Stir in the milk and cream, and add the whole piece of vanilla bean. 
-Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often.
-Reduce heat and simmer the rice for 30 minutes, or until soft and milk/cream mixture becomes thick. 
-Stir often.
-Scratch out vanilla seeds and stir into pudding. Discard vanilla bean pod.
-Serve warm with cinnamon and sugar or fruit compote, or both.

My travel journal with great food notes and restaurant names

Another restaurant we visited in Germany was called “Caroline And Hans”. Here is what I wrote in my journal:

“Today we had some free time in Germany. Jenny and I had lunch at the cutest restaurant called Christine and Hans. The owners were the cooks and servers, and kept bringing out everything on the menu. We had a caraway soup, and zucchini soup, along with several different salads, and a plate of meats and cheeses.”

The service they gave us made a serious impression on me. The foods were absolutely delicious, and served up in a very homey atmosphere with special attention to detail. Christine and Hans were there to cook and serve the food. I got the feeling that the service we received was typical of their everyday business. Christine came out of the kitchen to seat us, and told us about everything on their menu. She told us how everything was prepared. Here are a few recipes that remind me of the foods I ate during my visit to the restaurant.

When writing Words In The Windowsill, I took my experience at Christine and Hans and molded it to create a fictitious youth hostel where the foods are laid out in a comforting way and remind my main character (also named Hans-strictly a coincidence!) of his past.

Try some of these recipes, similar to the ones served up by Christine and Hans:

Caraway Sour Cream Soup (Courtesy Taste Of Home)

8 Servings, Prep/Total Time: 20 min.
2 medium onions, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste 

-In a large saucepan, saute onions, celery, carrots and caraway in butter until vegetables are tender. 
-Remove from the heat; stir in flour until well blended. Gradually stir in broth. 
-Return to the heat; bring to a boil. 
-Cook and stir for 2 minutes. 
-Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. 
-Combine sour cream and milk; add about 1 cup broth mixture. Return all to the pan; heat through (do not boil).
Season with salt and pepper. Yield: 6-8 servings.

German Zucchini Soup (Courtesy of
Serves 3 - 4 


1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt or 1/4 tsp. regular salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. black pepper, to taste
2 1/4 c. zucchini, shredded
2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 c. plain yogurt, preferably high fat
fresh basil, chopped

-Heat thick saucepan over medium-low heat. 
-Melt butter and olive oil in pan. 
-Add onion and sauté. 
-Turn heat down to cook slowly. 
-After 5 minutes, throw in the garlic, salt and pepper. 
-Fry until onion is almost transparent, about 10 minutes. The onion will glisten and look almost soupy.
-Add zucchini and stock. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 12 minutes, uncovered.
-Stir in the wine. 
-Whir it all together with an immersion blender or regular blender until it’s creamy. 
-Return to heat. 
-Stir in yogurt and about half of the basil. 
-Heat gently, but don’t let it boil, for fear it will curdle.

Ladle into serving bowls. Place a few bits of basil on top. Serve.

It has been years since I took that trip. As I was writing Words In The Windowsill, my impressions from that trip came through in the prose. My familial connection to the rice pudding, and the service and homey atmosphere of Christine and Hans show up as I describe the fabled youth hostel and Fiddler’s Inn of my novel’s portrayal of 1820’s Vienna.

My next post will include more connections and findings, but from Vienna, Austria.

I would love to hear from you! How have you been inspired by experiences abroad? How might you use those experiences to craft a novel or story?

Contributor Susan Nystoriak is a music educator and writer from Upstate New York, and is a travel enthusiast. When not teaching her students, she spends time with her family and working on her writing projects. Connect with her on Twitter @smnystoriak, or on the web at

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Verbal Sketching

Getty Center, photo by me
I find comfort in museums. Many people find comfort in nature, a return to their primal instincts. Me, I'm at peace in a room filled with paintings and statues from the past. Museums hold the best of humanity. Whenever I'm disappointed in the human species, I go to a museum and I'm wonderfully reminded of the greatness and beauty that human's can accomplish. 

Currently at the Getty Center (Los Angeles) is a great show about the negative space in drawings. The Poetry in Paper runs until October 20, 2013. The curator, Stephanie Schrader, did something very unique with this exhibition. Instead of detailed labels for each drawing, she wrote a Haiku poem describing the piece. The union of past greatness with modern elegance made me laugh, gasp, smile and term the phrase verbal sketching.

Here are some examples:

I've sat in the Capitoline Gallery in Rome several times. I've sketched, I've written, I've hidden from the rain amongst the halls of broken statues. The words "Antiquity looms," captures the mood perfectly.

I love this haiku because it teases the drawing with regards to the negative space. "No chair but not a drop spills," made me giggle like a child who wants to point at the drawing and enter a discussion regarding elementary physics. 

This haiku really captured the idea of verbal sketching for me. Walking along the foggy moors of Scotland, where the air is so thick a castle may lay hidden, undiscovered, only a short distance away, remains a strong memory with me. Yet I've never written a description of those moments. But here, the "Blank expanses" are the endless moors, that at first appear blank. The "Fog dense as citadel walls," is absolutely true, except it is a wall one can wonder through blindly, then a creature jostles near and quickens your heartbeat until you learn it is only a sheep with a blue splotch of paint upon it's white wool. Then the sheep vanishes as suddenly as it appeared. As you get closer to the discovery of a castle, you find yourself surrounded by the structures of a medieval city on the banks of a Loch - an "Old city shrouded" - with battlements poking their heads above the fog as it sinks lower, pouring over your feet and pulling you toward the water's edge. 17 Syllables captures my entire paragraph. That's why haiku is AWESOME. (5, 7, 5, that's all you need.)

This sketch could have been so many haikus because the expression on the old woman's face is in my opinion, rather flexible. Who doesn't love the phrase "Wrinkles of red chalk?" That's just fabulous. That's why haiku is fun. It forces you to bring together multiple concepts in a few words. 

This haiku captures not only the description of the environment, but the attitude and character of the subject which I wouldn't have thought about without the haiku. At first glance, I thought, "That's a nice figure drawing." End of story. I walked away. Then I went back and read the haiku and suddenly an entire person burst forth in my head. This is wealthy young man, accustomed to his spoils and leisures, but soon, his elegant supports will fall out from under him (notice the negative space below him) and he will be forced to discover what skills he can master for his own survival. 

So when wondering a museum, or sitting at a cafe, if you don't have a sketchbook or notebook handy, doodle a haiku on a napkin. It will force your mind to capture a moment, a memory, in a verbal sketch.