Monday, June 3, 2013

It's All About Story

         I've just returned home from an amazing trip.  To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a river boat cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.  The journey was wonderful. Life on board a cruise boat is like spending two weeks in a fairy tale -- no chores to do, lots and lots of good food, entertainment provided, a staff eager to fulfil your wishes -- the ride down the rivers would be holiday enough.  But, we got the bonus of tours at every stop, sometimes two a day.  We visited Roman

bridges, walked the walls of a medieval city, wondered at Gothic Cathedrals and marvelled at Baroque Palaces.  
We trod the cobbled streets of history with educated and enthusiastic guides.  We stared at masterpieces of art while an expert guided us through an incredible museum.  
We saw the world's most expensive salt cellar, (above).  There are little wheels underneath so that if someone said "pass the salt" you could roll the whole thing down the table.  

We saw fortresses and castles and palaces and vineyards and museums and breweries and wineries and statuary and gardens and cuckoo clocks and music boxes.  Our heads are stuffed with names and dates and places.  Apart from cold, wet weather, the trip was wonderful.

    Yet, now that I'm home in Canada, and someone asks me about what we did and what we saw, a lot of it runs together in my mind. Dates are all jumbled up.  One walled city bumps into another and I've no idea what kind of beer they sell in Bamburg.
 What I do remember, clear and complete, is the stories.  When the guide could bring the long dead owner of a castle to life with a story of his unhappy love-life, I remembered.  When the subject of a portrait was described as a jealous wife who broke all the conventions by insisting on sleeping in the same bed as her husband, I remember.  
A princess who cared more for the sick and elderly and poor than she did about her high status, I can remember.
     As writers we are first story-tellers.  My trip was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and a reminder of the power of story.  If ever I'm stuck in my writing, I'll try to remember, who are the characters?  What did they do?  Why do they matter?  What makes them special?  What makes them human?  What makes them interesting?  A character who has a story to tell will keep the reader, or the traveller, turning the pages.

Alice Valdal is glad to be home again and will spend the next several months sorting through a thousand pictures and trying to put all her impressions and memories in one album.   Visit her at 


  1. The second pic is Regensburg, where I lived for 7 years :) Used to watch the cruise ships going by. I lived about a block from that bridge...

  2. Regensburg it is and the stone bridge is memorable for its Roman history. I've also got a picture of the "world's oldest hotdog stand," a little shack beside the bridge that our guide told us had been built as a kitchen to feed the bridge builders. According to her, the kitchen has been in continuous operation in one form or another, ever since. Too bad we didn't have time to sample a sausage!

  3. It was. History from a book and history where it happened are two different things. That's what surprised me most. For me, the Napoleonic Wars are long ago and far away, yet in some of the towns we visited, Napoleon is still a figure of disdain or admiration. What happened then, still impacts today. Very different from my world.

  4. Sigh this is somewhere I'd love to go. How true about those fascinating human vignette's. It makes history come alive.

  5. Stunning trip and photos to prove it Alice! What an amazing blessing. And you're so right. Stories are top!

  6. What a wonderful trip! Thank you for sharing. And thank you for the insight that it really is all about story.

  7. Thanks for your comments. I had a lovely time and I've had a lovely 25 years of marriage too. We whined a bit about the weather, but I hear that the rivers are flooding now, so I guess we were luckier than we knew. Isn't that always the way? Hindsight is a marvellous thing.

  8. Alice, your cruise sounds fascinating and full of amazing stories. Congrats on your anniversary :)