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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2007
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Senior Travel

The Creaky Traveler

Warren Rovetch Shares his Travel Tips for the Mobile but not Agile

Warren Rovetch

In his long and distinguished life, Warren Rovetch has been a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University, an economist, a textbook publisher, and a creator of an environmental education and conference center on the Columbia River. He and his wife, Gerda (affectionately known as G), have traveled the world for more than 50 years, during which time they have made intelligent and effective modifications to their independent travel style.

In his late seventies and early eighties, Warren added a new accomplishment to his credentials: travel book author. As the creator of two volumes in the on-going Creaky Traveler series, “journeys for the mobile but not agile,” he contributes a fresh perspective to travel in Ireland and Scotland, bringing vividly to life the culture, history, and natural beauty of places visited. Part travel tale and part guidebook, these charming, witty adventures include both good and bad impressions, and secrets of the couple’s successful travels.

Transitions Abroad’s Senior Travel Editor, Alison Gardner, spoke with Warren about his books, his philosophy of travel, and what is on the horizon.

Alison Gardner: Most people in their later years choose to explore new destinations on group tours, rather than plan and carry out all the details of their travels independently. What “rules of the road” have you and G defined for yourselves that make you confident and comfortable striking out on your own?

Warren Rovetch: As the decades passed and our bodies sent out “go easy, go slow” signals, we modified our travel style, including our choice of destinations. Even so, five principles have always governed our trips: nourish the soul, feed the mind, rest the body, leave time for happenings, and have fun. These principles haven’t changed, and so far we have been able to pursue them in independent style as travelers, not tourists. As travelers, G and I choose to enter into an experience. Happenings, our fourth travel principle, are especially important. Shakespeare declared, “Readiness is all.” Our richest rewards as travelers are often to stumble on one wonderful thing while in pursuit of another.

AG: So where do you start?

WR: Planning a trip involves painting pictures in my mind, taking into account that all aspects must be rental car-friendly. Exceptions are Amsterdam where streetcars are the key and of course Venice where waterbuses take you everywhere. I learn something of the character of the different places we might stop over—scenery, history, unique qualities, special events, interesting people, new things to learn, suitability for creaky traveling. I then choose the best scenes and assemble them in a moving picture: where we will stop and stay (never less than three days) and the things nearby we will see and do. My planning tools are detailed maps, guidebooks, old movies, and, increasingly, the Internet. Messing around on Google.com and Ask.com can be very rewarding.

AG: Over your many years of travel, have you modified your destination choices? Do you and G work together on developing the itinerary for a road trip or is it more of a one-person research mission?

WR: More effort now goes into making sure the choices of where we plan to go and what we plan to do are manageable. For example, we are now thinking about a trip to the Outer Hebrides, islands off the coast of Scotland. They are well known for Celtic music that G is passionate about. I have fond memories of island scenery shown in an old movie, Whisky Galore, the story of a whisky-laden boat that crashes on the rocks of an island in the Hebrides, bringing great joy to the islanders. And a study of maps shows that what we would want to see can be reached by car. Once we decide on a destination for a trip of three weeks or more, I do the detail searching, checking back with G on how my discoveries sound to her.

Warren Rovetch and wife Gerda
Warren and Gerda Rovetch pictured on the waterfront of a Donegal town, Ireland.

AG: As I get older myself, accommodations have become an increasing priority in the planning process. Has that been the case for you?

WR: Most certainly. The bed and breakfasts and small hotels we choose receive a great deal of consideration. With high expectations, because of our 3-night rule, we aim for certainty. We try to apply seven criteria for our choices: small, not more than six rooms; distinctive personality, run by an onsite owner, not a hired hand; beautifully situated; en suite room with toilet and bath or shower; reputation for superior food; affordable price; and a place where we wouldn’t mind being rained in for a day. I should add that if you find you have made a mistake, and I have made them, cut your losses and move on.

Before making a reservation I talk to the proprietor on the phone to make sure the vibes are good. Also, I will ask about the view from the room. Waking up to a beautiful scene or having a fine outlook on a restful afternoon can contribute hugely to a trip. I still vividly recall the view from the large bay window of our Old Presbytery room in Castletownbere, West Cork, or the Hotel Europa & Regina overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal, or our Dubrovnik accommodation overlooking the exotic sights, sounds, and smells of the town center.

AG: Your two Creaky Traveler books reflect a keen sense of humor and even a quest for the ridiculous, unusual travel experiences that others might pass by. Is this a curious refinement that has developed with age?

WR: There is a lot going on in the world that ranges from humorous to ridiculous. Perhaps I am just more receptive to it than most. For example, I read about Willie Daly matchmaker in The Craic by Marc McCrum. I then Googled Daly, phoned him, and arranged to meet. I arrived at his home in the midst of a hilarious interlude involving Daly and a Japanese TV crew trying to identify the essence of Irish culture.

On another pre-trip search, I found references to the Diseart Institute, a center for Celtic spirituality in Dingle. A few e-mails later, I had arranged to meet the founder, Father Patrick Kelly. He talked about his favorite subject and said, “When there is a knock at the door, I say ‘could this be Christ?’” I was still reflecting on Christ at the door when Father Kelly stood up and said,“I have to go to the bank.” So much for spirituality.

Reading about Kenmare, I discovered it had won the Tidy Town Award. That struck me as something wonderfully childlike. Janie Arthur, proprietor of Sallyport House where we stayed, arranged for me to meet Father Murphy, chairman of the Kenmare Tidy Town Committee. I remember he talked about painting chimneys!

AG: Creative connecting with the local scene seems to be a highlight of your trips. Can you give me some examples of how you do this?

WR: It is really not very difficult. Unfortunately most people going on trips are too reticent. While planning a trip, on a website or in a book you are likely to come across a person who or institution that interests you. A phone call or e-mail will do it. Say why you want to meet them. It may simply be shared interests, or perhaps something you want to write about.

Another way to connect is to ask your accommodation host to set something up in their area. Because of my work with public schools in the United States, I am always interested in talking with kids to find out how they see themselves and their futures. In Ireland, our hosts arranged three of my four visits to sixth grade classes.

Then you can chat with people in pubs and tell them about your interests. It is amazing how helpful strangers can be. In a Scottish pub, I mentioned that G and I would like to see Handa Island, a seabird sanctuary, but didn’t want to go on a tour boat. One beer later we were fixed up with a local motorboat owner, and what a wonderful day it was.

Another method for creative connecting is to plan your visit around a special event. G and I timed our visit to Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands knowing that a Gaelic music event was scheduled. One quiet evening, we headed for the Ceilidh Place Hotel and walked into a storm of Gaelic music. There were informal groups making music at full blast all over the place—four fiddlers fiddling in one corner of the pub, three young beauties tooting on tin whistles in another corner, a guitar duo center stage, Gaelic singing in the parlor, and upstairs a wire harp trio producing the music of angels. It was Feis Rois weekend and the place was rocking. I had contacted the organizer of the event beforehand, and the welcome mat was out.

AG: From your two books, I see that planning is just as carefully done as the trip comes to a close. I don’t believe many people put as much thought into the final days of a journey as you do, but your approach makes very good sense.

WR: I have always felt that the end of a trip needs to be planned with as much care as the beginning. Home should not be where you go to recover from a vacation even if you are retired. This calls for one’s final days to be spent in a place that is attractive, comfortable, interesting, undemanding, and close to the international airport. For example, on our Irish trip, Quin fit the bill. It is a peaceful village with well-preserved remains of a 15th century abbey. Ardsollus Farm seemed a quiet and comfortable place to stay, and the location was only 15 minutes from Shannon Airport.

AG: Have you found an eager readership for your books “for the mobile but not agile,” and perhaps even a wider audience of travelers?

WR: The interest is much broader than I expected. A lot of the sales come from older children who give the books to their parents to encourage them “to get up and go."

The Creaky Traveler in the North West Highlands of Scotland The Creaky Traveler in Ireland: Clare, Kerry, and West Cork

The Creaky Traveler in the North West Highlands of Scotland and The Creaky Traveler in Ireland: Clare, Kerry, and West Cork are available through Sentient Publications (www.sentientpublications.com) as well as in local and online bookstores ($15.95 each).

Alison Gardner, Senior Travel Editor of Transitions Abroad, is also publisher of Travel with a Challenge web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com, a richly illustrated resource for senior travelers featuring ecological, educational, cultural, and volunteer vacations worldwide. Readership is 1.6 million. Contact her at Alison@travelwithachallenge.com.

Travel with a Challenge: The Site for Senior Travelers

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