Escape and inspiration about unusual and fascinating places, as well as the deeper side of books and travel.
I'm Jo Frances Penn, author of thrillers and non-fiction, and I'll be doing solo shows about my own travel experience and interviewing authors about how travel inspires their writing. Interviews cover places to visit and tips for travel as well as thoughts on modes of travel like walking, cycling, and travel by train and other modes. Plus book recommendations for every interview so you have things to read on the move.
Fjords, Vikings And The Northern Lights. Norway With David Nikel
From the stunning Northern Lights of Lofoten, to the fjords of the western coast, scenic train journeys across the mountains, Viking history, and the culture of the cities, David Nikel evokes a country that has much to explore. In this pandemic year, I’m certainly dreaming of kayaking the fjords!
David Nikel is a British writer specializing in all things Scandinavia. Since moving to Norway in 2011, he’s traveled the length and breadth of the country producing the first and second editions of The Moon Norway Guidebook. He also runs a successful website and podcast Life in Norway where he talks about everything from relocation and travel advice to stories from the Viking age.
* Why fjords are such a feature of the Norwegian landscape
* The Northern Lights at Lofoten
* The different ways to explore Norway including by car and railway
* Places to visit in cities like Oslo
* On the New Nordic cuisine movement focused on simple, fresh ingredients
* Locations for authentic Viking experiences
* Aspects of Norwegian culture that are unique from the rest of Scandinavia
* How Norse mythology fits into present-day life in Norway
You can find David Nikel at LifeInNorway.net
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: David Nikel is a British writer specializing in all things Scandinavia. Since moving to Norway in 2011, he’s traveled the length and breadth of the country producing the first and second editions of The Moon Norway Guidebook. He also runs a successful website and podcast ‘Life in Norway’ where he talks about everything from relocation and travel advice to stories from the viking age. Welcome, David.
David: Hi Jo. Thanks for being here, I’m looking forward to introducing Norway to everyone.
Joanna: Oh, I’m very excited. And we have to start with the fjords because I have your guidebook, and of course, if you go on Google Maps, it’s really obvious that the fjords are a big thing about Norway. So, can you start there?
Why are fjords such a feature, geographically, and what are some of the highlights?
David: That’s actually a really interesting point and it’s something I tell everyone to look at is get out a map and you’ll see the fjords instantly. They are huge.
They were formed by giant glaciers, so huge heavy chunks of ice, in previous ice ages, literally carving away the rock. And an interesting fact about them, and I only found out this recently, is the reason they’re so calm, calm enough to kayak on and for big cruise ships to sail them, is they’re actually shallowest at the mouth, so where the ocean is, rather than further inland. They’re much much deeper further inland. And that of course facilitates tourism.
But their impact, it’s not just about how beautiful they are, although that does bring tourists into the country, it’s also had a big impact on the development of Norway. A lot of the early rural communities, they grew up along the fjords because of the access to fishing and the access to the mountains for farming in the summer. But they also kept a lot of Norway very remote for very many years.
And you even see that today, if you take a road trip through Norway, through the fjord region, you will have to take several ferries. They are in process of building tunnels and bridges and so on but ferries are still a very integral part of traveling around the region.
Joanna: So, a bigger question, because when we say, ‘Scandinavia,’ when we say, ‘Norway,’ I feel that sometimes people put that whole region together in their brain. So, just to be clear, Norway is the one on the western coast, if you’re looking at a map. Which is why the fjords are so important because they’re basically that wh...
Life On The River. The Mississippi River Valley With Dean Klinkenberg
“The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book … it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.” Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
The Mississippi River runs through ten states and has brought life to countless generations, from the first Native Americans, through to the settlers, and into the modern, industrial age. There are great cities along the river, as well as remote wilderness, and a huge variation in landscape, ecology, and culture along the way.
In this interview, Dean Klinkenberg shares his passion for the Mississippi River Valley and gives his tips on where to go, what to see, and why the river continues to be a source of endless fascination and inspiration.
Dean Klinkenberg writes mysteries and travel-guide books about life along the Mississippi River in the USA.
* Geography along the path of the Mississippi River
* The changeable nature of rivers
* Different spiritual meanings of the river
* Cities and towns of interest along the Mississippi south to New Orleans
* Areas of historical interest
* Options for activities like hiking, canoeing, and kayaking on the river
* Local specialties for food and drink
* Recommended books about Mississippi
You can find Dean Klinkenberg at MississippiValleyTraveler.com
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Dean Klinkenberg writes mysteries and travel-guide books about life along the Mississippi river in the USA. Welcome, Dean.
Dean: Thanks, it’s a real treat to be here and to talk to you about my favorite body of water.
Joanna: I’m very excited. Obviously, to any new listeners, I’m British so I’m going to ask some basic questions. So let’s start with the geography.
Where is the Mississippi and what are some of the landscapes it cuts through?
Dean: The Mississippi runs right through the heart of the United States, cutting a north to south path, from Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico. So it touches 10 of the U.S. states in about 2,300 miles. States like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, my home state of Missouri, and then ending just about 100 miles south of New Orleans, at the Gulf of Mexico.
It cuts through some really diverse parts of the U.S. and some diverse landscapes. And it’s an amazingly different river, as you travel from north to south.
Up in the northern reaches of the Mississippi, it’s really a small stream, and there are a lot of places in the 400 miles or so above the Twin Cities, of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the river has been damned a little bit or there’s some obstacles, or even a couple of places you have to dodge a beaver dam if you’re canoeing or paddling down the river.
And then, it gradually gets bigger. By the time it gets to Minneapolis, it reaches the largest set of waterfalls. They’ve been greatly altered today but, at one time, they were a pretty impressive set of waterfalls. And then, the river passes through a narrow gorge for a few miles before opening up into a valley that’s about 5-miles-wide that was carved by melting glaciers a few thousand years ago.
It’s framed by these absolutely gorgeous 500-foot-tall limestone bluffs that run for hundreds of miles south of the Twin Cities, all the way down to St. Louis. Although the further south you go, they lose some elevation.
And then, 100 miles or so south of St. Louis, the bluffs end and the river enters the wide Mississippi delta, as people know it, or what scientists call the Mississippi Embayment. Just a very very wide floodplain that’s up to 100-miles-wide that at one time was covered ...
Life Obsessed. Cemeteries, Graveyards And Ossuaries With Loren Rhoads
“All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet
If you enjoy walking in cemeteries, exploring graveyards, and discovering the artistic bone structures of ossuaries, then you’ll love this interview with Loren Rhoads. We discuss our mutual love of these places where nature often reigns in peace and beauty, and share our favorite places in Europe and North America.
Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as paranormal romance novels, short stories, and essays.
* Memento mori. We are life-obsessed, not death-obsessed!
* Why we both love cemeteries and graveyards and some of our favorite places to visit
* Graves that change the landscape
* The difference in burial rituals and death culture between Europe and North America
* Is there something more than just physical remains in a graveyard?
* Recommended books on cemeteries and graveyards
You can find Loren Rhoads at cemeterytravel.com and LorenRhoads.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as paranormal romance novels, short stories and essays. Welcome, Loren.
Loren: Thank you so much for having me.
Jo: I’m so excited to talk to you. I love your work and your blog is so fascinating and you share so much.
First up, tell us a bit more about you and how you became so interested in cemeteries.
Loren: It was kind of by accident. I grew up in a little farming town in Michigan. And down the road from the farm was this cemetery where my family was buried. So, one year when my mom couldn’t figure out how to entertain us over the summer, she took us down there and taught us how to do gravestone rubbings.
It was the first time I’d seen my grandfather’s grave. And I have a cousin that was born about the same time as me but died as an infant. I’d never really thought about death before that. I knew my grandfather was gone, but I hadn’t thought about gone where really. So, that was my first introduction to cemeteries.
Years later, when my husband and I were going to Europe for the first time, a friend said, ‘You have to go to Père Lachaise.’ And I thought, ‘Jeez, how weird is that we’re going to make a trip to a cemetery.’ But we were there in January, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. And I was just stunned by the little family tombs and all the amazing sculpture, and famous people buried there. At that point, somebody’s gone through the graveyard and chalked ‘Jim’ and an arrow all over the cemetery on all the tombs and if you followed the arrows they led you to Jim Morrison’s grave.
That was my first introduction to the cult of celebrity, I guess that people actually travel to cemeteries to see famous people. But it wasn’t the famous people that struck me, it was the beauty of the place when I got there.
Jo: I agree. And I love Père Lachaise, is gorgeous, it’s in Paris if people don’t know. And, as you say, there are lots of famous people, but all my pictures are of the sort of crumbling tombs, and none of them are the famous stuff.
Loren: Well, I came home with a phone full of photographs and there won’t be a single picture of me or my husband...
Walk Your Own Race: Lessons Learned From Walking A 50km Ultramarathon
“It’s not the mountain we conquer, it’s ourselves.” Edmund Hillary
As I write this, I’ve started four ultra-marathons and finished three of them. I did the Race to the Stones 100km in a weekend (2016); Cotswold Way 50km (2017); Isle of Wight 50km (2018 — I dropped out at 22km); Chiltern Challenge 50km (2020). I’ve learned something new each time and my most recent event went absolutely perfectly. In this episode, I’ll share some of my thoughts, tips, and lessons learned.
* Why would you want to do an ultra-marathon anyway?
* Preparation and practical tips. Here’s my day hike kit list.
* Event day
* Walk/run/live your own race
* Enjoy the journey, not just the destination
* Sometimes, it’s OK to give up. The importance of self-care.
* What’s your next challenge?
* Books about walking
Header photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash
Why would you want to do an ultra-marathon anyway?
If you’re goal-orientated, as I am, it’s a good way to challenge yourself. I also like to push my comfort zone regularly, otherwise, I end up enjoying comfort too much. In this pandemic year, I feel like I’ve been cooped up in the house for months, unable to stray too far, and I really needed to get out and do something different.
Booking an event gives you a deadline. It gives you accountability, especially if you tell others that you’re doing it. Of course, things might change, events might get canceled, but if you don’t book them, they will never happen. I’ve learned to snatch adventure where I can this pandemic year and take advantage of any window of good weather, or good luck, to get out into nature.
The organized events are a great way to see a different part of the country, they are very well supervised and the routes are well-marked so you are never in any danger of getting lost or getting hurt. There are medics at every stop and you can drop out anytime. This event (in 2020) was also COVID-secure with masks and sanitizers and social distancing to keep everyone safe. I have done events with Threshold Trail Series and Ultra Challenge, both have UK based events across most of the year and I would recommend both companies.
Long-distance walking gives me insights that I don’t get with shorter walks. There’s time to really sink down into my physical self, to become aware of my body in nature, my mind moves into more of a meditative state. I am disconnected from the online world, from writing, from expectation. All I need to do is walk and at the end, I need to eat and sleep.
I’m a 45-year-old writer and I’ve only really become aware of what my body can really do in the last few years. I took it for granted for so long, and I’ve valued my brain over my physical self. I like seeing what I can do, and feeling strong and physically capable. I do not take it for granted anymore and I’m grateful for my ability to explore this way. I want to make the most of it because clearly, there will come a time when I am not as physically able as I am now.
Preparation and practical tips
Most organized events will have all the guidance you need for preparation, for example, a training plan and a kit list so you’ll have the information well in advance. You can look at the route and see the terrain and where the hills are, although you don’t need to know the route as it will be well-marked so you just need to follow the markers.
Facing Fears And Changing Your Mind While Traveling. Cycling Around The World With Doug Walsh
If you spend years planning your dream trip, what happens when life gets in the way? Do you change your plans or do you plow on regardless? Is the journey more important than the destination, and are you living in a way that honors that choice?
In this wide-ranging interview with Doug Walsh, we talk about how fears and expectations can shape our travel experiences, and what we can learn about ourselves as well as the places we visit along the way.
Doug Walsh is a former game strategy author and travel writer. His novel, Tailwinds Past Florence, is a romantic adventure with a time travel twist based on cycling around the world with his wife Kristen.
* Planning a trip around the world for six years and some of the highlights
* The generosity of strangers
* Learning about ourselves on long trips — especially when we have to face our fears along the way
* Holding plans lightly and pivoting when necessary
* Dealing with travel burn-out
* Maintaining a healthy relationship while traveling with a partner
* What happens when you get home after a big trip?
* Recommended books
You can find Doug Walsh at DougWalsh.com
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Doug Walsh is a former game strategy author and travel writer. His novel, Tailwinds Past Florence, is a romantic adventure with a time travel twist based on cycling around the world with his wife Kristen. Welcome, Doug.
Doug: Hi, thanks for having me on, Jo. This is a real treat.
Joanna: It’s exciting to talk to you.
Let’s start with the big question which is why on earth did you decide to cycle around the world?
Doug: It was one of those things where I remember the night vividly. My wife and I were sharing an upstairs office. She was in business school at the time. I’ve been working from home as a video game writer, writing strategy guides. And we knew we weren’t going to have kids at that point and I just turned to her one day and I said, ‘Hey, what do you say, when the dogs get old and aren’t here anymore, we take a year off and travel?’
At first, we were like, ‘We can rent out the house, take a ferry to Alaska.’ We live outside of Seattle in the Northwest of the U.S. and we could take a train across Canada, fly to Paris, go to Thailand. And then little by little that just morphed into, ‘We’ll sell everything we own, buy bicycles and we’ll spend three years traveling the world by bicycle.’
Not really sure how it evolved into that. It just snowballed. We were always active. I did a lot of mountain biking. We used to do triathlon when we were younger and it just kind of seemed like instead of hopscotching around the world and just seeing places, we can go slower, stretch our dollars, see the world 60 miles a day, and just let it come to us. I’m not really sure that’s a good answer in hindsight, but it’s how we ended up there.
Joanna: A lot of people are unhappy with the way their life is going. And so they want to change their lives by doing a big trip like this. But it doesn’t sound like that was where you guys were. Were you escaping something?
Doug: I think there was some burnout going on especially with my job. We left on the trip in 2014, but it took a good six years of paying off student loans and car payments and credit cards and all that. We had a lot of debt. We were very irresponsible when we were younger.
We got married right out of college and just immediately went from having no money to...
Murder In Paradise. Mallorca With JJ Marsh
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Ibn Battuta
Mallorca is a beautiful Spanish island in the Balearics, rich with history and culture, from the medieval architecture of Palma’s old town to the picturesque coastal village of Deia and the mountainous interior. Many come to the relaxed island for an escape, but others imagine murder in paradise.
In this interview, international crime author, JJ Marsh, talks about the inspiration of Mallorca and how she sees the world as an outsider, constructing stories from her travels.
JJ Marsh is the bestselling author of the Beatrice Stubbs crime series. Her latest book is The Woman in the Frame, set in Mallorca, which we’re talking about today.
* Why Mallorca is so enticing to visit and write about
* The joy of older cities with lots of history
* Seeing past the beauty of a place to write murder
* Wine and food recommendations
* Is there any truth to cultural stereotypes? Writing as an outsider.
* Recommended books about or set on Mallorca
You can find JJ Marsh at JJMarshAuthor.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo: JJ Marsh is the bestselling author of the Beatrice Stubbs crime series. Her latest book is The Woman in the Frame, set in Mallorca, which we’re talking about today. Welcome to the show, Jill.
Jill: Thanks for having me, Jo.
Jo: It’s great to talk to you and I should say we’re recording this still not in lockdown, but we can’t travel much. I wish we could be on the island of Mallorca having a glass of wine to do this!
Jill: I’ve got the exact wine in mind as well.
Jo: Oh, have you? We’re going to come back to that.
Why Mallorca? Tell us where it is and why you were so attracted to it that you wanted to set a book there?
Jill: Mallorca is a Spanish Island. It’s the largest of the Balearics. But unfortunately, it’s more associated with drunken tourism than culture. But if you travel away from Palma in the south towards the north, you discover a landscape and a history. It’s just such a wonderful place you would want to keep it a secret.
As for my attraction to it, that’s personal. As the child of an engineer, I grew up in Nigeria and Dubai and Hong Kong. So while my teenage self was pretty well-traveled, I wasn’t so familiar with Europe. Then I found out that my estranged paternal grandfather lived in Mallorca. And one of my uncles engineered a family reconciliation.
When we first met him in the north of Mallorca, I was just completely enthralled both by him and his Hemingway-esque persona and the island itself as a story location. I think Mallorca has been waiting in the back of my mind for over 30 years.
Jo: Wow. That is so interesting you growing up around the world like that. It’s just fascinating. I want to come back on the drunken tourism reputation. You’re right. I mean, Magaluf is famous for British people, young parties. But I stayed in Palma and I actually set some of one of my books there, Valley of Dry Bones, because of the monastery and the Franciscans there.
Jill: Oh, yes.
Jo: Palma has this wonderful old city of almost Templar style medieval architecture. But you’re right. If you go outside of that in that area… Do you like that old city area as well?
Jill: Yes, I do.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Insightful and Inspiring
I didn't expect to like this podcast as much as the more practical Creative Penn one, but it exceeded my expectations. It provides real insight into the lives of authors who travel and inspires you to do the same.
Who needs audio books when we have this!
I’ve been listening to Joanna’s other podcast ‘The Creative Penn’ for a very long time, even though I’m not an author, but an artist. I was delighted when she announced she has started a new podcast that shows a different side to her, so now I have even more to listen to as I paint. I was hooked within five minutes of episode one! Hearing about Joanna’s travels takes me on a journey myself. She paints a vivid picture with her words. Wonderful 😃
Brilliant, entertaining, informative, addictive!
Such a great new podcast with a great mix of Joannas book expertise and a real insight into parts of the world I have never been to. She makes each location particularly interesting bringing every place alive with her first hand experience travelling around some far flung and not so distant locations. After listening to her Creative Penn author podcast for years - this new venture was well anticipated and has exceeded my expectations. Her laid back and positive interviews with other author / travellers adds an extra dimension - Brilliant!