Chasing Windmills – “Ancestral Windmills” that is!

I retired from work when my mother was 90. Although she had lived independently for many years after my father’s passing, the time had come when she needed my help to make life just a bit easier for her. The timing of my retirement worked out perfectly for both of us. I moved in with her so she could stay in her own home for the rest of her days just like she wanted. The two of us were quite close and we got along famously. Both of us were delighted to get to spend a lot of quality, uninterrupted time together.

She grew up in a very close-knit family. Familial relationships and ties have always been extremely important to her. I had been researching my ancestry for a few years and had already made two trips to Scotland discovering the origins on my dads’ branches of my family tree so I was particularly delighted to have the time and opportunity to delve into her side of the family and pick her brain. One day we decided to drag out the big old box of pictures she had stashed in the closet. We began looking at them, reminiscing, laughing and having a really good time.

As we sorted, I took the opportunity to scan them into my computer and get them all properly labeled. She would name each person in each photo and start telling me a story about the person and/or the place the photo was taken.  She had a BIG box and there were a lot of photos as you might imagine. It kept us busy for many an afternoon. I learned so much from her. Many of the stories I had already heard for years, but it was fun to hear them at least once more for posterity and I gained a few new ones in the process! Her memory totally amazed me.

After we finished sorting through those precious photographic memories, I was putting them back into the box when I came across one very small photo of an old Dutch windmill with some small children standing in front of it. It was one of the oldest photos in the box – from the early 1900’s.

Windmill Illinois

The children in the photo are probably relatives because this was a windmill that stood in the town where her parents had been born and raised – Golden, Illinois.

As I pondered over the photos I posed the question, “Do you think maybe that windmill is still standing?”

“Nah, probably not,” she replied, “I heard it blew down in a tornado years ago.”

“Well, what do you say we just “google” it?”

So I googled “windmill in Golden” and lo and behold up popped a contemporary photo of it!

“Well, what d’ya know, mom, look at this! It IS still standing and it’s a museum now!”


I followed the link to the museum’s website and was extremely happy to find out more, such as historical information, as well as visiting hours, contact info, etc.  We couldn’t believe our eyes! We looked at each other in amazement, blinked, and then I asked, “So are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Should we just go and see it up close and in person?”

“You mean a “Road Trip”? She grinned.

“Yeah, exactly!”

“I don’t know,” she hesitated, “I’m getting kind of old for that…that’s a long, long way clear back to Illinois!”

“Yes, it is, but we’ve got all the time in the world, mom. We don’t have to do it in a hurry. We can take our time; stop whenever we want. And I’ll tell you what – if you get too tired or don’t want to go any further, I have no problem with doing a “U-ey” in the middle of the road wherever we are and head back home if you find it’s too much for you.”

“Well, okay then – why not?” She grinned.  “When are we leaving?”

In short order I sent an email to the museum curators inquiring about the opening times and hours of operation in the upcoming season explaining my intentions of bringing my 94 year-old mother to visit and outlined our ancestral connections to the town. Much to our delight we received a response quite quickly from a very nice gentleman from the museum, Roger Flesner. He told us that they would be delighted to have us visit anytime we could arrange it and also informed us that he is one of our very own relatives – we share common German ancestors who were the pioneer settlers of the town way back when! Mom and I were so excited upon hearing about this new development and were astonished with our luck.

Roger also put us in touch with his lovely wife, Diana, because she too is a genealogy buff like me and could probably help us further with our search for family information in that area. (Boy was that ever an understatement!) Within about a 20-mile radius of Golden, all of the branches on my mother’s side of the family lead to small towns nearby. Diana suggested I send her a copy of family sheets listing my mom’s various grandparents’ surnames: Tholen & Franzen (German); Poling & Stewart (English and Scottish). She explained she wanted do some research before our arrival to help us save precious time during our visit.  (Ka-Ching! Can you hear the genealogy jackpot ringing again?)

As you’ve probably guessed, one doesn’t have to twist my arm very hard to get me to take a trip! I immediately brought out the Road Atlas and began planning the route we could take, noting the places we could stop and visit en-route and started packing!


After waiting for just a couple of short months for the warmer days of late spring to arrive, we were on our way!


The first major stop on the ancestral trail we followed took us to Reno, Nevada where she married my father.

William Kenneth Daphne Claire Frew 1st yr anniversary

Daphne Claire Tholen & William Kenneth Frew

December 30, 1940

Our next stop – the granddaddy of ancestral archives at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City – The Family Search Center.

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Yuma – a small town in eastern Colorado was the next stop.

Mom was born in one of the apartments above the old Ford Garage in the town’s center!

DSC03522         baby Daphne Claire Tholen

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These wonderful ladies, Shirley and Arlene, met us after church one bright and sunny Sunday in May and surprised us with a personalized grand tour of the museum’s treasures and the town. Mom had never visited Yuma after her parents continued their migration from Illinois to California when she was still a toddler. She had a such a wonderful time seeing it for the first time and I enjoyed experiencing it with her.

A little further east the road took us to Kansas City, Missouri. My youngest daughter, Emily Clarisse, was living there at the time so we also had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with her sightseeing in her fine city.

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We had traveled quite a ways by this point in time; about 1700 miles. Our next stop would be Quincy, Illinois just northeast of Kansas City. We utilized Quincy as a home-base to explore Golden and other towns nearby that my mother’s grandparents were born and raised in.

Before we left on our journey, we contacted my cousin Marianne. Her mother, Roberta, was one of my mother’s three sisters. Marianne and her husband, Russ, had been thinking about flying out to the west coast to visit us from Wisconsin, but when they heard we were making the trek back to Illinois, they decided to drive down and join us there.

Mom and I pulled into the hotel we would call home for the next week or so and everyone was there waiting for us; Marianne and Russ as well as our host and hostess, Roger and Diana Flesner! We all became acquainted with one another over a very nice seafood dinner along the banks of the Mississippi River.DSC03605DSC03606

Over dinner we chatted, laughed, told stories and discussed our plans for the couple of days. Much to our surprise – and delight – Roger and Diana presented a few ideas for an agenda of daily activities they thought might please us:

  • Visit the Golden Windmill – a grand tour package with exclusive viewing and personal tour guides
  • Visit old ancestral cemeteries
  • Enjoy a guided historical tour of Golden and surrounding area towns, including visiting the original homes built by several great grandparents
  • To top it all off – it would all be followed up with a backyard BBQ complete with surprise guests

It felt like one of those episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TV sponsored by!

Bright and early the next day everyone was energized and excited about the days’ plans; especially my mother. She wasn’t a bit tired like she feared she might be. In fact, it rather invigorated her. She woke up bright and fresh each morning, excited in anticipation of the discoveries at our fingertips. Our first agenda item – the Golden Windmill (up close and personal!)

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The windmill was absolutely fascinating. I was delighted to actually get to climb up all of the levels on the inside, right up close to the gear mechanisms in the cap head. It is still operational and in impeccable condition after all of these years. To stand there and see all the fine local woods carved, crafted and built by my ancestors…..  Priceless!

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We spent hours there touring the museum and admiring their collection of interesting treasures that our ancestors probably ate off of or enjoyed having them sit upon their shelves or mantelpieces in their homes. Russ even modeled and demonstrated the “Lightning Seed Sower” which great, great grandfather Harm Heinrich Franzen invented, patented and sold all over the United States in the late 1800’s.

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Roger explained the mechanics of the Windmill and demonstrated how to position the sails ‘just so’ in order to fully utilize the wind power to grind the grain on the mill stone inside.

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The following day was all about visiting cemeteries and finding headstones of our ancestors. Diana, especially, had gone to great length to study the family sheets I mailed to her. She scoured the county records for locations of grave sites of individuals from our family in the various burial sites scattered about the surrounding countryside. She and Roger had taken the trouble to go around and locate the gravestones ahead of time so that they could take us directly to them when we arrived. All I had to do was follow them in the car and they took us right to them. All that mom had to do was get out of the car, stand up and walk just a few short steps to see each one!  WOW!  (Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!)

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As a final ancestral treat, Roger and Diana invited other distant relatives and the village historian, Larry Herschmeyer and his mother, over to their home for a delicious backyard barbecue after making the grand tour of beautiful downtown Golden by the Mayor himself, Roger Flesner, and visiting various homes built by our ancestors!

residence of Walter Sullivan Stewart Golden IllinoisWalter Sullivan StewartMartha Allen (Mick) Stewart


The home of Walter Sullivan and Martha Ellen Mick Stewart (my 2nd great grandparents)

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Walter S. Stewart built this house and here it is still standing today!DSC03656

The Emminga house

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Another great grandparent’s house – Harm Heinrich & Margaretha Franzen – the inventor of the “Lightning Seed Sower”



Tholen John Home Golden ILJohn and Anna Tholen wedding photoJohn and Anna Tholen Family



This house was built by John Tholen, my mom’s grandfather. This is the house her father, Claas Tholen, lived in as a child.





All of these wonderful people made our trip so memorable. Roger and Diana opened their hearts and their home to us and made us feel welcome to our ancestral home of Golden. Talk about mid-western hospitality! They went way out of their way to ensure we didn’t miss a lick on our ancestral treasure hunt. It was really difficult to say goodbye after so many fun-filled and informative days and get back on the road for the return trip to Oregon. Mom really enjoyed herself and remarked that she wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for nothing!

To make the return trip we decided to take a more northern route through South Dakota and Montana.  We visited Mount Rushmore…..


…..and headed for the BIG SKY country of Montana where we met up with another cousin, Kathy Frew.


My father was born in Montana. As a child growing up mom and dad took me and my two sisters on vacation there often to visit relatives. It was fun to reacquaint ourselves with some of the old haunts from years past and make new discoveries about my dad’s ancestors as well.

We started out in his home town of Sheridan, where his grandmother, Nancy Anne Brundage and his great grandfather, Hiram Brundage, also lived many years before.

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We even discovered an old log cabin still sitting among the willows in California Creek that my own grandfather had built!DSC04014


A surprise visit to an old friend of mom’s was also in order. She and Vi really had a delightful little visit after not seeing one another for at least 40 plus years.


DSC04089  Grandma Redfern Elizabeth Agnes Williams

More ancestral homes – this log cabin was the home to my great grandmother, Elizabeth Agnes Williams Clapp Redfern, or more commonly known to family members as Grandma Redfern.

A little further on in the Ruby Valley is an old mining town, Virginia City.





It was also the home of another set of ancestors, my great, great grandparents, Hiram Brundage and his wife Elizabeth (Lizzy) Holiday. She died a couple of months after her last child was born at the young age of 29. She is buried in Boot Hill Cemetery above town. He started the first newspaper in town bringing news of the Civil War to the miners in the local hills.

DSC04403Elizabeth (Lizzy) Holiday




Their fourth child, Nancy Anne, followed her father to Sheridan (where he started another newspaper) and later to Dillon, where our travels took us next. Hiram once again established yet another newspaper, The Dillon Tribune, which is still being published today.





Nancy Anne was a mere 16 years of age when she met a handsome photographer in Dillon – an emigrant Scotsman from Dingwall, Scotland by the name of William Rose Frew. Before long they were married and my grandfather, William Rose Frew II was born.

DSC04456William Rose Frew I Bozeman Montana


Our travels had taken us to many beautiful, interesting and deeply rooted locations. As a capstone we decided to take the Grand Loop through Yellowstone National Park as we headed south and west back to Southern Oregon.





We had the time of our lives exploring the trails our ancestors had taken us on. I am extremely grateful that we had the opportunity to take that trip and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about our escapades of chasing Golden Windmills on our Genealogy Road Trip to Illinois.

Mom passed away peacefully in her home this past spring. This post is dedicated to her – Daphne Claire Tholen Frew – the wonderful, resourceful, fun-loving and family-first woman that she was. I feel fortunate and honored to resemble her in so many ways.

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Combining Ancestry with Travel

Just recently, I took a short road trip down to southern California to visit treasured old friends from my school days.  I visited Tracie and Mike in Marietta and also visited various family members in La Mesa and La Jolla further down in the San Diego area.

While I was reminiscing with my school chums, we were swapping stories about events that had occurred in our respective lives over many years since we’ve seen each other.

Tracie wanted to hear more about my recent travels and learn more about my interest in discovering my family roots as I travel.  After sharing with her one particular story regarding my first visit to Scotland, she made me promise to write it down because it gave her ‘goosebumps’ when she heard it.


So this post is dedicated to you, Tracie!

I hope my readers enjoy it as much as you did…..

Many, many moons ago, on a Friday evening, I was relaxing and enjoying the company of friends after a long week of work.  We were “cozied” up in their living room with “brewskies” in hand and a plethora of appetizers to munch on while we discussed current events, sports, told funny stories, etc., when the topic turned to what nationality our surnames represented and where our families hailed from.

At that time, the information I knew about my grandparents and a couple of my great grandparents on both the maternal and paternal sides was minimal.  I knew, for instance, that I had some English, Scottish, and German in me, but that was about it.  I had no idea who the emigrants were, nor where they emigrated from, in these countries.  I distinctly remember first considering the idea of traveling to Scotland with the express intent of discovering where those particular Scottish ancestors were from. The ‘seed’ for my dream was planted when I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to go to Scotland to try to find out!  Take a Genealogy Trip! Yeah, that would be fun!”

That seed took a long time to germinate and poke its head above ground.  Fast forward in time for about 15 years.  The kids have all grown up and flown the coop to start lives of their own, the internet had since been invented, and I found myself with lots of extra time to do whatever I please ‘after work’ instead of laundry, grocery shopping, etc. like I used to when the kids were young. Then it happened – The two little new leaves on my germinated seed shoot popped through, and I remembered my earlier desire from years past. I decided to spend my newly found free time to finally start pursuing my desire to discover my roots.

As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post, I went online to several genealogy websites. With a bit of fantastic luck, I stumbled across a precious link to many of my ancestors through an online conversation my cousin, Lindsay, in Scotland was having with another cousin, Penny, in the Seattle area.

Since I had been judiciously saving airline award miles during the germination process of my dream, I now had another valuable link to follow up on. I also had someone new in my family to meet, I promptly booked a flight to Scotland to take the “Genealogy Trip” I had dreamed about years before.

I’ll never forget the first day I spent on that trip.  After getting all settled into my lodgings the first night, I looked at the map to determine just how far away the town was from me that my great grandfather emigrated from.  It wasn’t very far at all, and although I had plans to meet Lindsay there later that week, I could hardly stand the excitement, nor did I want to wait any longer!  I decided to go there on my own the very next day to spend time checking it out, walking around the town, and becoming familiar with it. That way, when I went there with Lindsay and got into the “details” of our ancestry, I would already be familiar with the general layout of the town, landscape, and what-not.

Dingwall Scotland, taken from the hill just northwest of town where the Neil Gunn monument stands. May, 2006

It was May 1st, a national holiday in Scotland, which meant most of the businesses in town were closed. There was hardly any traffic on the main street. I had the place to myself. I could wander through the streets without all the hustle and bustle of other people going to and fro. I didn’t see very many people, except for the occasional guy in a kilt!


While I was strolling through the center of town, I noticed the museum and walked over to read their sign about when they would be open.

(If you would like to visit, click here for current information:  Dingwall Museum)


Much to my dismay, I discovered that they weren’t planning to open for the season until the day AFTER I got back home from my vacation!

“Well, that won’t do,” I thought, “I should come back tomorrow.  Maybe someone will be around behind the scenes preparing for the opening, and I could at least talk to them.”

Promptly returning the following day, I was delighted to find two ladies busily making preparations in the reception area.  I knocked on the window and smiled, trying to get their attention.

“We’re closed, dear,” they responded.

I smiled again.  “I know.  Can I just talk to you for a minute?”  I inquired.

One of them came over to the door, unlocked several chains and bolts, and the inner door slowly creaked open, with a smiling face appearing in the narrow opening.

“Thank you so much,” I said. “I noticed the opening dates for your museum.  Unfortunately, I will have left the country by then, and I’m just wondering if you could let me look around?  I don’t mind messes and will certainly stay out of your way.  I just want to see if there is anything about my family in your museum.  I came all the way from California to this particular town. Please….”  I pleaded.

“What is your name, dear?” the kind lady asked.

“Claudia Frew,” I replied.

Lucky Louise, that’s me! That day I miraculously knew the magic word!

She promptly opened the door wide, ushering me in while saying, “Well, by all means, come on in!” She closed and barred the door once again, and as I was glancing around the room, taking in all the interesting tidbits on display, she announces to me,

“Welcome to the FREW ROOM!”

It turned out that the building they use for their museum reception area was once the pharmacy that my great grandfather’s brother, James, owned and operated!

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The Frew clock ticking away on the wall was made by another brother, John.  He had a clock shop just down the street as well.Claudia Frew highlighting the clock by

The numerous poster-sized prints of old photographs scattered around the walls were all taken of various other family members, just to name a few examples.



Ermine robes modeled by a mannequin in a glass case upstairs in the council chambers were worn by John Rose Frew, the clockmaker, while he served as Provost of Dingwall, no less!  There is even a large painting of him!  Talk about a genealogy jackpot!

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I spent the most part of that day exploring the museum, which I had all to myself.  The ladies insisted that since I was family, I could take as many pictures as I wanted of anything I so desired. They pulled out books for me to delve into, had me sit in the Provosts’ chair at the head of the council table, and they even made tea and pastries for me at the conclusion!  It was so much fun.

pat and elizabeth

Little did I know at the time, however, that my cousin Lindsay had made prior arrangements with them (unbeknownst to me) and that I had spoiled his surprise a wee bit with my inability to be patient until I met up with him on Thursday, but he didn’t seem to mind.

The ladies knew I was coming; they just weren’t expecting me for 2 more days!  I’ve remained friends with them since, and each time I return, it’s a pure pleasure to be in their company once again; I feel like I’m coming home.

Pat, Claudia and Ian – 2006

Lindsay also took me all around the town, pointing out houses our ancestors lived in according to census and other records he had researched.

I can't remember whose house this was, I'm thinking perhaps John Rose Frew?    May Naughten's home (now a chippy shop), Thomas MacNaughten's mother, lived here in Inverness, Scotland

He took me to nearby towns and churchyards where other various ancestors once lived or were married at (introducing me to the wonderfully ancient and old churchyards).

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He showed me our great-great grandparent’s headstone in St Clement’s churchyard.

St Clements church     Lindsay in front of Thomas MacNaughten's family grave in St Clement's church

He even presented me with a wholly organized notebook binder containing print outs of all the stories, family trees, records, and pictures he collected for our family!  He even included complete electronic copies of everything on CDs for me!

It all came with a warning, however.

“I am so thankful for all of this information, Lindsay. How can I ever repay your kindness?  With the information you’ve provided, I already have a great example to start, and I can begin my own research and add to the various lineages on other parts of my family tree following this outline!” I exclaimed.

“Be careful what you ask for,” he chuckled, “It can be quite addictive!”

And boy, was he ever right!  I’ve been researching since and have enjoyed every minute!  What a treasure trove of information he provided me to work from – all because I planted a seed of desire.

I’ve returned to that lovely little burgh in the Highlands on every subsequent return and visited the friends I made there. I always find something new and continue to feel more connected to my ancestors.  That’s a beautiful and fulfilling feeling I enjoy tremendously.

This past spring, when I visited Dingwall, the thing I enjoyed most was just hanging out in town. It was fun getting to know some of the locals. I recognized them on the street and said hello to them by name. I stayed with the curators of the museum in their sweet, cozy home, experiencing the everyday routine of Dingwall, attending WRI (Women’s Rural Institute) functions with Pat, and taking little day-ride excursions together.  Just a little “slice of life” in the town where my great grandfather, William Rose Frew, was born and raised.

downtown Dingwall taken from the road up to Mitchell's monument

As a special ancestral treat this past May, I especially enjoyed spending about 2-3 hours each day for about 3 days in the churchyard of St.Clement’s restoring my great, great grandparents headstone, Thomas MacNaughten, and Christina Rose Frew.

before restoration headstone   restoring headstone

It was a labor of love to first, clean, and then repaint inside the stonemason’s cuts on the rose quartz, ensuring that perhaps one day, when my very own great-grandchild visits themselves, will be able to gaze upon it and be able to read it.  You never know!


Combining one’s ancestry with travel agendas can be quite rewarding.  As I have mentioned before, when discussing the google map making, I enjoy adding the yellow hearts to my map.  Each yellow heart represents an individual ancestor I have discovered throughout my continuing genealogical research.  I’ve gone to see many other towns and locations in Scotland, England, and Ireland simply because some of my ‘peeps’ came from there.

Another example of this is when I visited Dundonald Castle this spring.  My 20th-something great grandfather was Alexander de Dundonald.  This castle was originally built by him, and he lived here along with subsequent generations, which included King Robert II, King of Scotland.

Alexander de Donald story   dunDonald banner   King Robert II


When I entered the castle and walked the ancient halls, imagining the vast hall and suites and my ancestors in them, it had so much more meaning to me because I had discovered my ancestral link to this particular place.  It wasn’t “just another castle.”  It made me wonder, as I touched the stones in the massive walls if my DNA was touching Alexander’s own DNA traces that he left only 20 generations prior.

DunDonald castle        dundonald interior

Making the ancestral connection and traveling to visit their origins is immensely enriching for me in many ways. One of the ways it improves me is that It helps me to understand myself better and how connected I am through these ancestors to a multitude of people in today’s world.

stewart lineage

We really are all connected one way or another.

Paris & Amsterdam Maps

As fall approaches, the weather cools, the rain begins to fall here in Southern Oregon and I start to remain indoors more often, it’s a perfect opportunity to start working on the details of what I hope to see and do while I am in a couple of the major cities I plan to visit on my 120-Day Holiday next spring.

The first city I will explore is Paris. I will have two whole weeks to take in the sites at the onset of my journey!  There is such a variety of things to do and see in Paris; museums, cathedrals, gardens, architecture, art, fashion, lights, parks…. food! Because I am going to be exploring in a relatively small geographical area, I like to make a separate map from my “main itinerary” travel map.  I can add a lot of detail in this “zoomed in” smaller space rather than clogging up the “big picture” itinerary map.

To find and add each detailed piece of information I want available to me as I travel, I take notes as I read guidebooks & travel magazine articles, search online, or get recommendations by friends. I find interesting tidbits or helpful information. Naturally I want to remember these details without having to keep it in my head or having to access the guidebook all of the time while I travel. So, I put a place mark on my city map designating the location of my “must see/must do” list items as they develop and I can continue to add details as I research and discover more.  After taking a page or two of notes from a chapter I’ve just read for instance, I head to the computer and add each tidbit I’ve found to my map little by little.

For instance, say I want to visit the Louvre Museum.  To find and create a place mark for that museum I put my cursor in the search bar at the top of the map and then type in “Louvre Museum,”  Google maps finds the exact location of it and puts a red exclamation type place mark on the map.  When I click the ‘add to map’ button it remains on my map and will even include the address, phone numbers, a hyperlink to their website if available, etc. It’s really cool and I know exactly where it is located and has all the pertinent information I need in one click!

After I save it, I designate the icon I want to use in order to tell at a glance what kind of sight it is (a museum, a garden, and church, etc.) and I can also type in additional information of my choosing to the title or information sections of the place mark.

On the Paris Map I have used various shapes of standard icons to designate types of sites – flowers (for gardens and parks), an artists’ palette (for museums containing famous paintings and other artwork), an icon which shows a person walking (for walking tours around neighborhoods I want to follow), a cross (for cemetery’s or churches), etc., etc.

Take a close-up look at the legend to my Paris map below – and then the whole map with the icons marking the spot where the individual sights are located within the city:

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I also created a detailed map of Belgium and the Netherlands, and one for the city of Amsterdam. I’ve chosen different types of icons for these maps to demonstrate the variety available that one can choose from when creating a personalized map.

The first map below indicates the driving route I intend to take through that region. It also has yellow hearts marking the birthplaces of my Dutch ancestors from the 1600’s which emigrated to the new colonies in America as well as a handful of 1800’s German ancestor emigrants who were the pioneer settlers of Golden, Illinois.  (I clicked on one of the ancestor yellow hearts so you can see the type of detail I put into the place mark that I want to have at my disposal.)


In the following map of Amsterdam, I used the same shape of icon throughout to mark the museums, markets, gardens and various other sites I want to be sure to see, but, I made each one a different color and listed them as such in the legend. It’s a more ‘simplified’ version and less “hectic” to look at if you so desire.


These maps contain a ton of information and serve as a basic plan for my travels.  I have found that taking the time to capture details while planning my trip really adds to my travel experience.  I have a basic outline of what I want to visit and experience but one which still allows for flexibility to wing it as each day evolves. If I’m ever at a loss of something to do on any particular day, I can easily refer to my map and refresh my memory to make a decision.  I usually have more than ample amounts of sites to visit and very possibly will not get to each and every one of them; however, I can also prioritize them into the “must see” or the “would be nice if time allows” categories as well.

Having a general plan to follow while I am traveling provides a comfortable serving of confidence for me as to what will happen and what I can expect to see. It also helps me to make the most valuable use of the time I have available and can save me time and money.

However, I have found that remaining flexible is key to having a fulfilling experience filled with surprises around every corner.  This map is only a guide to follow.  A tool to utilize as I explore.  It is not a hard and fast itinerary.  I allow for change and flexibility wherever I can.

When I immerse myself in my new surroundings, I interact with the people I meet. Unforeseen opportunities present themselves and “off the track” experiences occur. Those are the adventures I cherish the most – the serendipitous type. I feel comfortable allowing changes to occur here and there as I go, making adjustments in a variety of ways, but I feel comfortable allowing this to occur, especially if I am traveling solo, simply because I have a good solid plan in place that keeps me headed in a general direction at all times to fall back on or deviate from as the need arises.

As an example, this past summer I spent 3 nights in a wonderful hostel called Skellig Lodge in the town of Ballinskelligs along the Ring of Kerry in southwestern Ireland. (I highly recommend those lodging facilities and it’s owner and the upmost hostess – Freida!)  While I was there I met some interesting young teachers while making dinner one evening in the self-catering kitchen and eating together in the dining room.

As a result of those impromptu interactions, I learned that in a town just down the road a piece there were youth music competitions occurring all week long, contests such as ceilidh youth orchestra division competitions, individual instrument competitions, etc., and that there would be a full-on annual street festival in the center of town with local musical and dancing talents galore as the finale over the weekend.  It was not a town I had planned to visit at all, and hadn’t even planned on driving through, but remaining flexible and having a willingness to go out of my way a bit and adjust my planned itinerary, led me to one of the best experiences of my trip – all from spontaneous tips from fellow travelers over dinner.

When I have traveled without a lot of planning, just “winging it” and letting the wind blow me where it will – granted, I had a good time (I always have a good time) – but in comparison it usually wasn’t as enjoyable and memorable as one that I invested more energy and time during the planning stage. Often, I would miss sights I would have visited if only I had known they were nearby, done a bit more research, planned a bit better.  Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. I for one, prefer to invest time in planning; in doing so I’ve found that it provides me with a richer experience by far.

What shall I write about the next installment?  I’m not quite sure yet.  Perhaps some miscellaneous topics, such as “what to pack” for such an ‘extended visit’ like this 120 day version, how to handle and plan for what I call necessary ‘domestic days’, ‘dip into the culture by going grocery shopping’, or something else I want to share with you that hasn’t even occurred to me yet!

Until then, happy planning while you’re dreaming big!  Dream up the perfect vacation custom designed by you – for YOU! Let an image form in your mind, imagine it to the greatest detail you can muster and to the best of your ability.  But be careful what you ask for – what you dream – you just might get it! Look what happened when I started dreaming just a short while ago! 120 days of Adventure!  4 Months of Fun and Frolic!  Wow!

What will YOU dream up?