"I Wish I Could Afford That Trip"

I hear it all the time.

Because the lovely Robin and I travel regularly to the Holy Land, and have enjoyed amazing trips to places like England and Peru, and are even now preparing for a 2013 cruise-and-land tour of New Testament sites in Turkey and Greece (read about it here), some friends and family react with longing and regret, saying often, "I wish I could afford a trip like that."

But that's not how we have made those trips--even though I am as cheap as they come (my last name is Hostetler, after all).

Robin and I were still in our twenties when we determined that time was a-wasting, and we wanted to see Israel as early as possible in our ministry, because we knew it would enrich our teaching and living for many years to come. So we took out a loan to make that first trip, in 1987. Today, I can't even tell you how much it was for or how long it took us to repay it, because neither of those things was important once we had experienced that first life-changing trip.

We also wanted to take our kids with us to Israel, though we couldn't really "afford" it. But we scraped and saved and planned and prepared, and they traveled there with us in 2001. Looking back, I honestly can't imagine having foregone that blessing for any amount of money (and in the company, not only of our children, but--as pictured in the photo above--our niece Elissa and Robin's dad, Dick).

That's not to say we haven't postponed trips or rearranged plans for money reasons. We do that all the time. And we take advantage of every possible way to cut expenses and make trips more affordable. For example, when we committed to a 2009 mission trip to Peru, we tacked on some vacation days for a visit to Cuzco and Machu Picchu; since we were already in country, it made financial sense (even though it still involved some sacrifice). Our visits to Jordan and Egypt were extensions of Israel tours, which made them much more affordable than they would have been otherwise. A few days in Germany and France in 2010 followed a speaking engagement of mine in Germany. On a cruise that docked in Nassau, Bahamas, I had researched a free walking tour of the area rather than buying an expensive excursion. And so on.

My point is, our most rewarding travel experiences have not been something we could easily afford. Far from it. But we have long prioritized life-changing and mind-expanding experiences over many other expenses. We plan and prepare far in advance (for example, I could tell you where I hope to take the lovely Robin on our fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries). We scrimp and save. Rather than confining ourselves only to "affordable" trips, we do everything we can to make our most desirable trips affordable.

Travel Regrets: Oxford, England

In 1995, the lovely Robin and I enjoyed a splendid tour of England and visit with our dear friends Nigel, Rachel, Samantha, Carlene, and Dathan Horridge.

We squeezed as much as we could into those seven or eight days. London, of course, with its Tower of London and 221B Baker Street and Madame Tussaud's and Piccadilly and Trafalgar and Westminster and more. Nottingham. Warwick Castle. Chatsworth. Coventry. Stratford-upon-Avon. And more. So much more.

In such a trip, there are so many tough choices. You can't do everything. But I do regret not having been able to squeeze in a visit to Oxford. I may even have raised a pint to C. S. Lewis at The Eagle and Child. I'm reminded of my regret every time I watch an episode of Inspector Lewis.

But we hope and plan to return to that green and pleasant land in just a few years, and then I will do all I can to make Oxford a point in the itinerary.

(photo by Jeff Wilcox)

Milford Cemetery, Darrtown, Ohio

Yesterday I presided over a brief interment service at Darrtown Cemetery, on Shollenbarger Road just west of Darrtown. It was a cold day, but with very little wind, and the large crowd of family and friends gathered to say a final goodbye to an exceptional woman.

There are three entrances into the cemetery, each one flanked by stone pillars on either side of the drive. As far as I could see, there is no signage identifying it as Darrtown Cemetery (or, as it appears on some maps, Milford Cemetery--it is in Milford Township of Butler County).

The cemetery itself dates to 1806, and the oldest grave in the cemetery belongs to Harriet, daughter of Thomas and Hannah Cooch, who died September 6, 1806. There is a pioneer section of about one hundred graves, and the remainder of the cemetery which contains roughly four hundred markers.

Pinch Me Places: Worms Cathedral

Students of church history will remember the city of Worms as the site of the trial of Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms. The lovely Robin and I visited this awe-inspiring structure in the High Romanesque style on Reformation Day, Oct. 31, 2010--exactly 493 years after Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (Worms and Wittenberg are nowhere near each other--about 325 miles apart).

It's tough to get a good photo of the cathedral. Though its four towers and two domes--and soot-blackened walls from a 17th century fire--dominate the old city of Worms, it is so massive and the nearby buildings crowded so close upon it that the only perspective for a decent shot of the whole thing is probably an aerial perch.

We entered the church to the incredible sounds of the pipe organ and choir, practicing for a Sunday evening concert in front of the Baroque high altar by Balthasar Neumann.

Though the hall where the Diet met to try Luther is no longer standing, the spot where it happened is marked by a beautiful garden. Nonetheless, it was for me a "pinch me" place, especially on Reformation Day!

Traveling Apps

Here is an excellent post from one traveler who used an iPhone for every need of a Boston-to-Orlando trip.

I must say, I've had similar experiences and used my iPhone in many of the same ways. But the blog post above fails to mention some of the most useful apps to me when I travel. They are:

TripAssist keeps all my flights, rentals, hotels, etc., indexed in one easy itinerary.

Take Me to My Car. I use this app to mark where I parked my car before a flight. Then, on my return, finding it is easy peasy lemon squeezy.

My TSA gives me approximate wait times at security checkpoints at the airport.

GateGuru, which I use to find out what restaurants and other businesses are in the area of my arrival or departure gate. Saves me from wandering around and sometimes choosing a less-than-optimal outlet, only to say later, "Doh! I wish I'da known there was one of THOSE in the terminal!"

Waze is a free mobile navigation app for iphone that provides live maps, real-time traffic updates, and turn-by- turn visual and audio navigation.

Of course, I have also used the iPhone-native Weather and Map apps while traveling. As well as Notes and the camera and NightTime, which turns my phone into a night clock. The alarm, of course, as well as setting various reminders on the phone. iBooks and Kindle, as well as listening to music and audiobooks while traveling. Oh, and I have even--from time to time--used my iPhone as a phone. You know, to talk. Edgy, I know.

In the Steps of the Apostles

The lovely Robin and I have long hoped and planned to journey in the steps of Paul and John in Turkey and Greece, but have several times had to change our plans. Well, no more. The dates and itinerary for our 2013 Steps of Paul Cruise-and-Land Tour are set!

May 2013 may seem like a long way off, but it will be here before you know it. And we do our best to plan well in advance to give ourselves and our co-travelers the chance to save and prepare.

Soon, we will be traipsing around Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Patmos, and other cool places, following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John, and others (like Aquila and Priscilla, for example). Our faith will be inspired and the Bible will come alive as we visit Mars Hill in Athens, where Paul delivered his famous sermon about the “Unknown God”…Corinth where Paul lived and preached...Thessaloniki, the city Paul addressed in two New Testament letters (1 & 2 Thessalonians) …Paul’s beloved Philippi where he baptized a “certain woman named Lydia,” the first Christian convert in Europe...Ephesus, where Paul, John, Priscilla and Aquila once lived and taught. We will also cruise to the island of Patmos (where John wrote the book of Revelation)...as well as the mystical islands of Mykonos and Santorini.

This experience will be far more than a sight-seeing tour. It is a pilgrimage. We will read and hear Scripture in the places it was written or received. We will worship where our first-century forebears worshiped. We will “walk the Bible” in ways never to be forgotten.

The ten-day trip includes roundtrip airfare from Cincinnati, deluxe motorcoaches, chartered cruise ship, first-class hotels, professionally guided shore excursions, daily breakfast and dinner (as well as lunch when aboard ship), study guide, entrance fees, host services, tips, taxes, and fuel surcharges for $3,399.

Because part of the tour will take place on a cruise ship, a limited number of slots are available, so if you are interested, let me hear from you soon. A $250 deposit will reserve your spot.

Travelers will depart from Cincinnati on May 8, 2013, and return May 17. Click here for a full-color four-page brochure.

Got questions? You can ask them in the comment box, or email me via bob@bobhostetler.com.

(photos, from top to bottom: the Parthenon in Athens; the ancient library in Ephesus (Kavalla); the island of Santorini)

Mad Anthony Masters Class

Wait till you see where I'll be leading the Master Class today, the final segment of the Mad Anthony Writers Conference.

It's the 1921 Room over Ryan's Tavern in downtown Hamilton, lavishly furnished with antiques and equipped for a royal three hours of working on book ideas, queries, and proposals.

The typewriter is a family heirloom of Vickie Ryan, having belonged to her grandfather, if I remember right.

The tin ceiling plate in the center is original to this 100-year-old building.

It is an awesomely awesome setting that may allow me to pretend to be important. I hope so. But it will be memorable, in any case.

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Rentschler Library

Today, in the course of the Mad Anthony Wayne Writers Conference I will be spending some time meeting with other writers in Rentschler Library on the Hamilton campus of Miami University.

This being a Saturday, the normally crowded library is quiet and uncrowded.

It is obviously a very well-staffed and well-equipped library, and a fine spot for these conversations.

It is a beautiful spot on a beautiful campus.

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Location:University Blvd,Hamilton,United States

Mad Anthony Writers Conference

One of Hamilton, Ohio's distinctive and dynamic delights (how do you feel about the alliteration there? See what I did?) is the Mad Anthony "Write Like Mad" Writers Conference, which this year takes place April 13-15.

The conference site is the Harry Wilks Conference Center on the Hamilton campus of Miami University.

Last evening's events kicked off the conference (after the annual Murder & Mayhem seminar for mystery and crime writers).

Conference director Victoria Ryan (above) opened the conference.

The first session, on writing hooks that sell, was presented by Jane Friedman, former publisher and media executive who blogs at JaneFriedman.com. She was followed by author Christina Katz, creator and host of the Northwest Author Series.

The conference continues through today, with Master Classes offered tomorrow morning.

Location:University Blvd,Hamilton,United States

A Walk in the Park

Yesterday I took my two oldest grandchildren to play at the Hanover Township Park on the former site of Hanover Township School. After my son picked them up and left me in their dust, I decided to take a few minutes to explore a part of the park I've never visited: the walking trail that lies behind the playground.

It provides a paved path over soft slopes, kept nicely trimmed by the state Division of Natural Resources.

The large gazebo (above) sits just inside the entrance to the path.

On that beautiful sunny day, the path was well peopled, biked, and dogged. It was an enjoyable walk. But it's a secret. Don't tell anyone. I'd hate to see it become flooded with people.

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Hanover Township Park Redux

After lunch with the grandkids, I brought them out to the wonderful Hanover Township Park. "We haven't been here for a LONG time," they cried in their glee. Mia ran to and fro, hither and yon, savoring all the park's delights.

Miles, however, focused entirely on the "bulldozer," as he called it, investing in his future as a heavy machinery operator. The boy has found his calling.

He did later make it to the slide, swing, monkey bars, and more. Just for a little variety before Dad came to pick up the two of them and head home.

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Adventures with Miles and Mia

I got to have lunch today with two of my favorite people in the world: four-year-old Miles and three-year-old Mia.

Mia was having way more fun than it looks like she's having.

The table side entertainment included a battle between a rhino, two frogs, and the Green Lantern! It was epic.

But the greatest fun was drying our hands with the atomic dryers in the bathroom. And our faces. And hair. And--well, you get the idea.

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Pinch Me Places: Kinnereth

This installment in this regular series of "Pinch Me Places" is Kinnereth, called by many the Sea of Galilee. The lovely Robin and I treasure many memories on and around this amazing place, which in Jesus' day was the background or foreground for much of his ministry.

The photo above was taken in 1987, when I was young and thin, at Tabgha, the traditional site of the feeding of the five thousand. It was also near this spot that Jesus had his disciples withdraw a coin from a fish's mouth for their tax bill. I tried it myself, but the only fish in the area on this particular day were as broke as I was.

Just a few miles from Tabgha is this setting, the traditional Mount of the Beatitudes, providing this lovely view of the northern shore of Kinnereth.

On each of our four pilgrimages in Israel, we have boarded a boat like this one to traverse the lake, from Tiberias to Capernaum. This was our 2010 vessel, and our guide for that trip, Nader, a Syrian Orthodox Christian who grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Also on each of our visits to Kinnereth, a crew member has tossed a fishing net (like first-century nets....except it's smaller...and nylon....and has manufactured weights...but otherwise exactly the same) to show us how it was done.

And on our last trip, we were blessed by a glorious sunset, the only time we've been on the lake at sunset. This--and many other Kinnereth moments--were truly "pinch me" experiences, that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Travel Regrets: The Inca Trail and the Sun Gates

With this post, I start another occasional feature on Hither & Yon. After much deliberation, I've come up with a truly clever title for the series: "Travel Regrets." Really sings, doesn't it?

The first travel regret I will share is from our 2009 trip to Peru, when we visited Arequipa, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu. The lovely Robin and I were dazzled by Machu Picchu, as everyone is. And we were breathless, too. Not only from the spectacular views, but by the arduous climb to the spot in a high altitude. So when our guide pointed to the portion of the Inca Trail leading to the Sun Gate high above Machu Picchu (you can see the trail in the photo above; the Sun Gate is also visible in the photo, as two little black protuberances at the top left, in the declivity between the mountain in the foreground and the peak behind it), we decided against the trek, which would have taken ninety minutes or more round trip. Sure, we were tired. Sure, it had already been a long day. Sure, we were breathing heavily. But I regret not taking that walk.

The Inca Trail (Camino Inca) is a four-day trek in the Andes mountain range, from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. We were at one end when we left Cuzco early that morning (in a cab) and at the other end as we toured Machu Picchu. The Sun Gates of Machu Picchu consist of those two stones perched at a narrow passage in the crevice of the mountain just above Machu Picchu. The sun shines brilliantly through this portal each day when it rises, which of course gives the pass its name.

I doubt that we'll ever have the opportunity to return to Machu Picchu (we plan to return to Peru, but hope to experience the Amazon River and/or Lake Titicaca then), so I have often kicked myself for missing that chance to hike at least that much of the Inca Trail and to stand in the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

Smashburgers and My Favorite Son

I had the joy of another Monday lunch with my oldest, favorite (and only) son, Aaron today. We met at Smashburger at Bridgewater Falls in Fairfield. It took me a few minutes to find the place. I knew it was in the Bridgewater Falls shopping complex, but was looking for a stand-alone store. I eventually found it, though.

We were greeted quickly and ordered and paid within minutes of our entrance.

I had the "Classic Smashburger." Because I AM a classic. Aaron ordered the "All American," which is like the classic but without the lettuce, tomato, and Smash Sauce (ketchup and mustard instead).

They were good. Messy, but good. Our two meals and drinks cost me just under twenty dollars. But the company was priceless.

Pinch Me Places: St. Marie Aux Mines

In 2010, the lovely Robin and I managed to navigate the French countryside well enough to find the town of Sainte-Marie-Aux-Mines, the one locale in which we know with confidence our ancestor Jakob Hochstetler once lived.

It was much larger than I had expected, with block upon block of shops and restaurants, and at least four churches, though at least two of them seemed to have long been shuttered).
The Catholic church of Sainte Madeline, however, was clearly active (though because it was built in 1747, our ancestor would not have known this structure (though he could possibly have known some of the people who built it).

This building, however (above) would have certainly been known to our ancestor, built as it was in 1596. Today it is the hotel and restaurant Wistub or Winstub (both spellings appear on the building's walls).

It was definitely a "pinch me" place, to walk the streets and see the sights in a town where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and his family once lived, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, in the years prior to my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Jacob's emigration to the American continent in 1738.