Department Stores and Travel

ZurichWhen you travel, how do you approach your visit to a new city, country, or community? What do you make a point to see or experience?

Museums, restaurants, plays, or other cultural activities?

In this post you will learn how I plan my visits to a new city or country and why I always make it a point to visit a local department store.


Zürich, Switzerland

Last week, I had the good fortune to accompany Tim on a week-long business trip to Zürich, Switzerland. A cheap airfare prompted us to arrive a few days early and we made good use of this pre-work time by visiting Montreux, Gruyères, and Luzern. Our mini-vacation on Sunday evening when we returned to Zürich so Tim could report to work on Monday morning.

I am a planner.

I like to know what I am going to see and experience before I get to my destination.

To his credit, Tim planned our long-weekend outing to Montreux, Gruyères, and Luzern. I told him I wanted to see cheese and chocolate and that is how we decided to visit in those cities.

I planned how I would spend my time in Zürich without Tim.

Zurich ZooI devised a schedule of tours and museums to fit my interests and work schedule. My plan included a bus tour of Zürich, the Swiss National Museum, a 3 hour walking tour of Zürich dedicated to the history of chocolate in Zürich and Switzerland, and a visit to the Zürich Zoo, world-renowned for its animal habitats.

I also built in time to walk around to both explore and observe the people of Zürich.

It was during one of my walking explorations that I had a realization: I set the same three priorities every time I visit a new place.


My 3 Priorities When Visiting a New City


As you know, I am a history junkie. I don’t think I will ever tire of learning about how the people of yesterday informed the way people live today. Therefore, museums and historic sites are the first aspects I research about a new city.


Eat Local Food

I am an adventurous eater so I love to eat local foods or foods that are particular to a certain city, country, or region.

I attribute my culinary explorations to my Dad.

My Dad loves food. Each time we took a vacation, my family would hunt down local eating establishments and food items. I love this tradition and I have carried it forward into the trips and vacations I take with Tim.

In Switzerland, we found restaurants that allowed us to try Rösti (traditional Swiss hash browns), fondue, raclette, and chocolate. We also found that the Swiss enjoy a yogurt dish called Bircher Müseli, which I ate it nearly every morning for breakfast.

Swiss Food

Department Stores

This realization took me by surprise, but it’s true. In every major city we visit, I make an effort to visit that city’s major department store(s).

But why?

Admittedly, I am not a big shopper. However, I love to watch and observe people and department stores provide a great glimpse of the products and fashions that local people value (or the stores think they should value).

They also tend to be great places to find and eat local foods. Almost all major department stores have a food store and/or restaurant.

Department store visits also provide me with comparison points between my culture and the people and culture I am visiting. I am always curious what an iPod or other state-of-the-art gadgets cost in other countries (usually a lot more than in the U.S.). I also enjoy seeing items that I cannot readily get at home.

In Zürich, I visited two out of the three different department stores: Coop and Globus. Coop is more affordable and Globus is more middling in terms of price. I did not have time to visit the high-end store called Jelmoli.

The home goods department in both the Coop and the Globus had an extensive display of fondue pots.

The stores displayed the pots for a local audience; they were located behind the stand mixers and hand mixers. The displays allowed side-by-side visual comparisons of the different types and styles of fondue pots. They catered to a people that love to consume melted cheeses with friends and family. Where as an American department store may have one or two fondue pots on display, both of these Swiss department stores offered five to ten different options. (I apologize for not having the foresight to take a picture of these displays.)

I make a point to visit department stores because I enjoy the intimate glimpses of local life and culture they provide.

Swiss Department Stores


If you had asked me about the types of experiences I prioritize when I visit new cities and countries, before I left for Switzerland, I would have told you about how I visit museums and historic sites and seek out different local foods.

I am not sure I would have told you about my interest in department stores, even though I have always made it a point to visit them.


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How do you plan your trips and vacations?

What types of experiences do you prioritize?


Coming Attractions: Book, Podcast, Blog, and Travel

Coming-SoonOver the next few months, Uncommonplace Book will feature posts about exciting projects, content, and trips. In this post you will find a sneak preview of upcoming blog posts as well as status updates on my 3 major projects.



For the last two months I have felt frustrated with my first chapter. I am just about finished with my second draft and until last week I felt like I had all the pieces of the story, but no idea about how they fit together.

Last week I had a eureka moment: Why should I begin my narrative with Henry Hudson?

The realization that I do not have to cover Hudson's voyage or the early days of the New Netherland and West India Companies has led me to decide that I will begin my chapter with an example from 1657. I will use this example to explore the community of Beverwyck and expound upon its earlier history when necessary.

Will this tactic work? I have no idea.

I am giving myself until Friday, August 15, 2014 to finish this draft. I need to be quick with this third draft because I have to move onto my second chapter by August 15, if I plan to finish 4 chapters by early February.  I have to have to submit a good draft of my fourth chapter to the Boston Early American History Seminar by February 3, 2015.



I have scheduled the first interviews for “Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History.” I begin recording on August 13.

I have requested 7 or 8 interviews and the responses have been positive. I have booked 5 interviews, I am coordinating dates with 2 guests.

My goal is to record most, if not all episodes on Wednesdays. A set recording day will allow me to better organize my workflow.

I am trying to book 1 guest per week as I would like to turn my twice monthly podcast into a weekly show by the beginning of 2015.

I am still looking for guests and plan to send out more e-mails once I have set the interview dates for the 3 guests I am coordinating with.

If you have a project related to early American history that you would like to promote to a non-specialized audience please checkout my “Be a Guest" information page. I would also be grateful if you would send the URL ( for that page to any historian you know who may like to be a guest.



Here’s a sneak peak at posts that will appear over the next several weeks.


Conference Recaps

I attended both the Conference on New York State History and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic conferences this summer.

You can expect to see 2 posts recapping panels from the CNYSH this month. The first post will summarize a panel about writing historical narratives. The second post will review a panel about life in the 17th-century Hudson River Valley.

I had the opportunity to attend several great panels at SHEAR. Topics include women and property, yellow fever, citizenship, relations between the United States and South America, early American contact with the Muslim world, and slavery and freedom. Recaps of these panels will appear over the next few months; they will be interspersed among other content.


TravelTravel Posts

I have 2 trips coming up that will likely result in multiple posts.

On August 20, I leave for 8 days in Zürich, Switzerland. Tim has to travel there for work and asked if I would like to accompany him. (A rhetorical question.)

Tim and I plan to tour Lucerne during the weekend and I will spend the rest of the week in Zürich visiting museums and cultural sites in the morning and working on my book revisions in the afternoon.

On September 13, Tim and I will embark on a cruise from Boston to Canada. Tim calls this trip a vacation, but I refer to it as “French and Indian War Tour 2014.”

The ship will stop in Maine, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Québec City, and Montreal. I am wicked excited to travel down the St. Lawrence River and imagine how some of my Albanians used the river to conduct the fur trade.

I am also excited as our stops will include a look at the first Acadian settlement areas along the Bay of Fundy; Fortress Louisbourg, famous in New England for its capture by the Yankees in 1744; and Le Château Frontenac and the Plains of Abraham in Québec City. The British won a decisive battle over the French at the Plains of Abraham in 1759; the victory led to the British acquisition of Canada at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.


Thursday Posts

In February, I mentioned that I would experiment with posting on Thursdays. Since that initial post I have posted nearly every Thursday.

Over the next several weeks you may see fewer Thursday posts.

I intend to remain as regular as possible with these posts, but I am working out a new workflow. I need to figure out how I can best add my podcast project to my present workflow that consists of book, blog, and freelance project time. As you know, some weeks present more challenges than others and I may have to give something up in order to meet my larger book, blog, and podcast goals.

You will not miss out on any content if I find that I need to reduce the frequency of my Thursday posts. I maintain a list of every post idea I have and I take notes at every conference, seminar, and event I attend. You will still receive great content here at Uncommonplace Book.


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What projects, trips, new endeavors will you be working on over the upcoming weeks and months?


Vacation vs.Trip

In January 2012, my good friend Hilde challenged me to go on a real vacation. According to Hilde a vacation means going to a place where you do nothing but relax for a minimum of 3 days. I am fortunate that my partner Tim and I travel quite a bit. We prefer urban centers because we love to visit museums, historic sites, and experience cultural events. We also enjoy road trips. Two years ago we flew to Phoenix, Arizona and spent 6 days driving to Las Vegas, Nevada. Along the way we drove the Apache Trail to see the giant saguaro cacti, stopped to admire the red rocks of Sedona, and took time to see the ancient villages and cliff dwellings at Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle, and Tonto National Monuments. We also admired the Grand Canyon and toured the Hoover Dam.

Sometimes we take road trips without driving. In August 2008, we spent our honeymoon touring Luxor and Cairo, Egypt via foot and plane. In April 2012, we road trains through the Netherlands with stops in Amsterdam, Den Haag, Leiden, Rotterdam, and Venlo.

According to Hilde none of these adventures counted as vacations. They were trips. She defines a trip as any type of travel that has a schedule and/or leaves you more tired than when you left.

So last June, Tim and I booked a vacation at a beach resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I will admit that for the ensuing 12 months I worried about vacation. I am not an idle person. The idea of sitting on the beach for a week with nothing specific to do or see freaked me out. Although they won’t admit it, I am pretty sure Tim and Hilde took bets on how many days I could go before I went stir crazy. If they did, I disappointed them.

Despite my worries, I enjoyed my vacation. For 6 days I slept, ate, read, and swam. Life without a schedule, errands, work, and chores felt liberating. I returned home relaxed and ready to hit the grind again.

Thanks for the push Hilde.

Liz Covart & Tim Wilde, Punta Cana


Reflections on the Hudson River

Yesterday I took the train to New York City. The rail lines lay along the banks of the Hudson River and a ride from Albany allows you to follow the river from its northern reaches to near its outlet in New York Harbor. As the train rides on the eastern side of the Hudson, you can take in river-fronted views of the Catskill mountains and Hudson Highlands. As my train skirted its way through the Highlands, I thought about the British attempt to reinforce General John Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777.  (I realize that I am probably the only person on the train who thought about this.) Sheer rock cliffs jut out into the river and sometimes narrow it a great deal. When I saw how the cliffs narrow the river, I began to understand how the Highlands posed a problem for British General Henry Clinton.

The British and Americans fought the Battle of Highlands on October 6, 1777. The Americans lost the battle. Yet they ultimately won the war in part because their efforts at the Highlands made Clinton think twice about sailing for Albany. Clinton's decision not to sail up the Hudson left Burgoyne without reinforcement, which caused him to surrender his army to General Horatio Gates on October 17.

As the train passes West Point, I also catch a glimpse of the area where the Americans installed their Great Chain across the river. Clinton's victory at the Highlands scared the Americans. Although he decided not to sail to Albany, Clinton and his men sailed up the Hudson as far as Kingston and plagued the settlements in between that village and New York City. Clinton and his men returned to New York City for the winter of  1777/78, during which time the Americans planned how they would prevent future British forays up the Hudson River. In the Spring, Peter Townsend and Timothy Pickering stretched a 600-yard chain across the river between West Point and Constitution Island, one of the narrowest points on the lower Hudson. Townsend and Pickering used large logs to keep the chain buoyant and raised in place. To deter the British from running and trying to breakthrough the chain, the Americans placed a battery on one of the cliffs at West Point. The chain and battery worked. The British did not attempt to sail up the Hudson after the Battle of the Highlands.