Author Archives: Elaine J. Masters

Five ancient to practical reasons you should avoid the eclipse

The eclipse watchers street shadow
The eclipse as shot boy Owen Fuller

Eclipse shot by Owen Fuller:

They call it the King Killer, the death of the sun. The total eclipse of the sun on August 21 is a big deal. The US is in a frenzy of planning and traveling to stand in the great shadow’s path, but ancient societies warn against watching.

They advise against travel or “engaging in risky activities” during a solar eclipse. As the moon blocks the sun, Navajo elders voice caution and Jyotish Astrologer, Blaine Watson, strongly suggests against having anything to do with the eclipse, or with any eclipse partial or full.
1. Vedic Jyotish Experts warn about watching the full solar eclipse:

“This solar eclipse, occurring in the sign of Leo (in Vedic Astrology,) the sign of the king of the jungle, Leo means lion, is deemed a king killer. National leaders are considered at risk as a result.”

Traditionally, in Jyotish we don’t want to expose ourselves to eclipses. They are shadows and considered delicate transition periods, like a change of state from liquid to gas for example where the liquid has to boil in order to create gas. This ‘boiling’ is considered unstable and unpredictable and it is best not to be exposed to it. So, we stay inside. Especially during the total solar eclipse, it is best to stay inside. We also don’t want to have food in our stomachs while eclipses are going on. It is traditional to fast on eclipse days and not to eat until the eclipse is over. This is true for both lunar and solar eclipses.
This total solar eclipse occurs in the sign of Leo with Mercury, the moon, the sun and rahu all placed there at the time of the eclipse. For those of us who have leo moon signs or leo rising signs, this eclipse will have a particularly strong impact and it will be important to take all precautions to avoid risky activities such as long distance travel or crossing streets or brushing teeth. This solar eclipse, occurring in the sign of Leo, the sign of the king of the jungle, Leo means lion, is deemed a king killer. National leaders are considered at risk as a result. ~ Blaine Watson
The solar eclipse path - Annular composition

Annular eclipse image from 2010. Photo credit:

2. The Navajo Nation has similar concerns about watching the eclipse:
Traditional Navajo tribal members won’t look up while the eclipse is happening. Their word for the event is: Jóhonaa’éí daaztsą́  (Listen to how it’s pronounced below.)  The phrase is two words. First is sun followed by a stem that refers to falling but, in this form, translates as death.
Traditionalists believe that watching the eclipse could lead to health problems and misfortune to the family.
According to the Navajos, during an eclipse, the sun dies and is reborn as it passes out of the shadow of the moon. Many Navajo observe the eclipse by fasting the night or day of the event and by staying indoors. According to their tradition, the eclipse is an intimate event between the Earth, Sun, and the Moon. Traditionalists believe that watching the eclipse could lead to health problems and misfortune to the family.
3. The eclipse viewing sites will be impacted, crowd scenes
Across the nation, people are on the move to witness as much of the eclipse as they can. In Oregon where the eclipse hits the continent first, NASA has forecast that Madras, a sleepy city east of Salem, is about to be inundated with hundreds of thousands of visitors. Look up any town in the path of totality and you’ll see what is expected and planned. Roads are bound to be crowded and it’s going to be hot. Here are some tips from an early blog post for taking care of yourself on the road. 
Eclipse Planet - taken in 2015 by György Soponyai

Eclipse Planet – taken in 2015 by György Soponyai Link:

4. Watching the eclipse will be expensive for anyone who didn’t start planning six months ago

Hotels have been booked and if you find a room, prices are through the roof. We found an Airbnb space months ago but will have to drive over 100 miles to view the totality. Campsites and eclipse-festivals are packed. Food and services will be priced for scarcity = more expensive than usual. Gasoline prices will skyrocket and, I hope, nothing worse.

5. There will be lines: Bathrooms, food, and services will be difficult to find or access

The grand solar eclipse of 2017 traverses thirteen states and most of the seventy-mile wide path avoids main population hubs. Those small towns and municipalities, the state parks and camping facilities, in the path are bracing for crowds. Be prepared – bring water, snacks and toilet paper if you are driving the day of the eclipse.

Eclipse photographer with filter

Safe viewing  Photo:

Still, the lure of this lifetime celestial experience is strong.
I can’t fight it. My tribal instincts run toward the cluster *!@?!*? that witnessing the eclipse will be. Since I have meetings in the Pacific Northwest already, I’m going to witness the totality. The sun, moon and the earth will line-up in one of the most celestial phenomenon’s you can see with your eyes. Well not with naked eyes. That’s definitely not recommended. We have found eclipse glasses but many don’t have them. Watching the sun anytime can lead to blindness. The only time you can look up during the eclipse is during the totality, the few minutes that the moon’s shadow fully covers the sun.
Don’t have protective glasses? Make a Pinhole camera for watching the eclipse.

Full disclosure (and because I’m one proud Momma,) my son, Joshua created this animation (but not the captions) as his first project during his fellowship with NASA. 
If you plan on taking the advice of the ancients and stay home during the eclipse, you can still watch it. Visit is external), where you will be directed by default to the NASA TV broadcast.
My friends and family started our plans to watch only months ago. We almost missed finding a car – all rentals in the region were outrageously expensive or not available at all! Hotels were full or charging exorbitant rates for the privilege. We’ll leave our Airbnb rental, a hundred miles from the edge of totality, in the wee hours before dawn to get into position.
When the eclipse happens, I’ll probably be standing next to the car, stuck in gridlock on a road south of Mt. Hood, looking up. What an experience!
Stay safe and leave a comment. Let me know about your plans and experiences of the eclipse.

the eclipse and five, ancient to practical, reasons to avoid watching

Travel Notes & Beyond

Pala Shines – When the nearest casino is a graceful getaway

Pala Casino is the nearest resort between San Diego and Los Angeles

Pala casino pool and the hills surrounding

The road to Pala Reservation curves through an ancient, river valley as it winds east from the freeway. After leaving California State Highway 15 behind, the land opens to sweeping hills. Lazily cruising along offers time to decompress from everyday concerns. Driving down from Los Angeles or up from San Diego to the casino makes it easy to leave the urban buzz behind. I soon discovered that my nearest casino was a great escape and such a fun one at that.

The Pala Casino Resort rises above the pool

The Pala Casino Resort rises above the pool

The AAA Four Diamond Pala Casino Resort rises midst hills that were still green in mid-summer hues. I entered the complex and drove just beyond the casino, to the hotel entrance and then swung my car up to valet parking next to a vast, cascading fountain. Door attendants guided me into the lobby and pointed towards the reception desk. Not a slot machine could be seen but a wall of windows opened onto the grand lawn, swimming pool, and spa surrounded by green. This is a casino resort I can relate to, I thought.

Take a virtual tour of my nearest casino on my YouTube channel:

So many casinos leave me feeling like I’m navigating a noisy maze – you can find your way in but it’s not easy to get anywhere else. At most casinos, my head feels pummeled with incessant beeping and bells. It’s exciting to a point but at Pala, the gambling fun is more measured. “No Smoking” neon signs glowed on columns throughout my nearest casino. The expansive gaming spaces are laid out logically and the casino parking is simple to get to. I didn’t have to hike the length of a football field to get to my room either.hotel room Pala CasinoSpacious bathroom in Pala Casinopala casino no smoking sign

Playing the slots inside the Pala Casino

Privilage cards make it easy to rack up points and track your winnings in the Pala Casino

Complementary Privilege cards make it easy to rack up points and track winnings.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a night out with a one armed bandit but prefer not being pestered into it like an over-zealous date. My partner loves playing cards. I can’t maintain a Poker face so my inner Bond-girl gets a vicarious thrill just watching him play. Pala offered us lots of entertainment and when we worked up an appetite, there were nearly a dozen eating options to choose from.

The Cave restaurant in the Pala lobby

Cocktail inside the Cave Grill at Pala

The Cave, the lobby’s wide, central bar and restaurant, drew me in for an afternoon cocktail. Later we shared an entree there and enjoyed watching the couples and families surrounding us. The nearest casino restaurants ranged from a central food court with several sit down cafes and a sweeping patio; a spacious and popular buffet; a coffee counter with tempting pastries and ice cream; the cool underground Cave Wine Bar and finally a fine dining steakhouse, The Oak Grill.The Wine Cave at Pala CasinoAppetizer inside the Wine Cave

Luis Rey Food Court inside Pala casino

Patio dining outside the Luis Reys inside the Pala Casino

Patio dining outside the Luis Reys inside the Pala Casino

The Oak Room is a world apart, quiet and refined. It makes a wonderful spot for a special occasion dinner. A friendly sommelier is happy to share suggestions for wine pairings. There are intimate tables and a private dining room as well.appetizer inside the Oak Room in the Pala Casino, my nearest casino resort

Oak Room dining Pala casino and resort

I was lucky to be at the Pala Casino on concert night and the inner lawn was laid out with rows of chairs before a wide stage for UB40 and several other bands.The music started just before 8 pm as the night sky was beginning to darken. Several dedicated bars remained accessible during the night and we found plenty of space to dance.concert seating at Pala Casino Resort at dusk

UB40 takes the stage at Pala Casino

Before we left in the morning, I had time for a dip in the pool and checked out the Spa.

Entrance to the Pala Spa

Pala Casino and Resort Spa shopThe Casino is on the Pala Indian Reservation but inside there are few reminders. If you pay attention at the entrances, you’ll find huge framed displays with some of the Tribal history detailed in pictures and artifacts. I loved studying the pictures and wished there was more information about the people in the area. Next time I visit my nearest casino, I’ll leave time to learn more. The Pala Tribe Cupa Cultural Center and Mission San Antonio de Pala are nearby.Historical pictures inside the entrance to the casino and hotel from the lots.

The Pala Casino and Resort is kicking off an expansive renovation which includes larger suites in a new 349 room tower, creating a multi-pool and entertainment complex along with expanded gaming and casino bar space. The renovations should be done in 2018. I look forward to returning to my now favorite and nearest casino for another sweet and fun escape.


Thank you to the Pala Casino and Resort for sponsoring my visit. As always all opinions are my own.

Hope you enjoyed the post. I’m so happy when you share!The closest casino at Pala is a great weekend getawayProudly a part of these travel blog linkups too:

A Short Holiday in Andermatt, Switzerland

Overview of a holiday in Andermatt in winter
River view while on holiday in Andermatt

River view while on holiday in Andermatt

When you visit Switzerland solo, you’ll find yourself exclaiming a dozen times a day about how gorgeous the view is, how delicious the food is, how sweet the hotel is, and no one will hear. I discovered this obvious truth while spending ten days crossing Switzerland on my own. Having no one close to share my excitement with was the hardest part of my trip. My fantasy is to return to explore more of the country and perhaps, with family and friends, to rent a Swiss vacation home.

swiss rail from Andermatt station
My holiday in Andermatt was far too short. I was there at the end of winter and the village was unexpectedly accessible and so welcoming. I’m fighting using the word ‘charming,’ but that works too and I remain charmed long after I’ve returned home. Perhaps I was channeling the German poet and statesman, Goethe, who visited the Gothard area three times in the 18th Century.
“Of all the places I know, this is the dearest and most interesting to me”
                                                                                                       ~ Goethe
Andermatt was full of surprises. Secluded at a crossroads of four mountain passes, the village has swung from being a remote, spa town to WWII military stronghold to an international destination.
Etching of the Gothard crevice bridge not far from Andermatt

Detail from an etching of the Gothard crevice bridge not far from Andermatt

It wasn’t love-at-first-sight and I’ve spoken with others who found the village lacking. I stepped from my train from the Lucerne region, with twenty-eight hours ahead of me before I caught the Glacier Express. It was early spring. The street and sidewalk to my hotel were surprisingly slushy between the station and my lodging. So un-Swiss, I thought! It was as though a messy lawn hid an impressive house. The impression gave way to wonder as I later explored the city, crossing the River and winding through the village.
Holiday in Andermatt Three Kings
My holiday in Andermatt began at the Hotel 3 Koenigs. It was modest, ‘Swiss cute’ and a little plaque near the door memorialized the fact that Goethe once stayed there. I doubt he stayed in my small but comfortable room. The dining room was crafted in Swiss style with plenty of varnished wood and wonderful service. A broad front patio flooded with sunlight and filled with skiers warming in afternoon.
What I can’t show you are the laughing, young couple peddling balloon-tired bikes down the snowy street; lofty ski cars slowly slipping up the mountain; or the glow on the expansive valley at the end of town. Icicles dripped everywhere from rooftops in the neighborhood.
1602 Church of St. Peter and Paul in Andermatt, Switzerland

Built in 1602, the interior of the Church of St. Peter and Paul

An angel in the snowy graveyard at the Church

An angel in the snowy graveyard at the Church

I crossed bridges over brooks freed from the winter chill. In the village between homes, I opened the church doors and the vision took my breath away.  Inside all was white, fine-detailed murals and gilded decorations plus an exquisite acoustic phenomenon. Many concerts and festivals are performed in the space.

Inside the Talmuseum in Andermatt

Inside the Talmuseum in Andermatt

A historical house, the Talmuseum Usern, was open for visitors and I spent a wonderful hour walking through with only one other guest. The pity was not having English on the signs but it was also less to distract from imagining what it would’ve been like to live there in the 1800’s.
The award-winning Andermatt Crystal

The award-winning Andermatt Crystal 

In one corner of the Talmuseum sat a wooden stool holding a giant crystal. The region is legendary for the smokey stones and from June to October, you can join the Smuggler’s Trail treasure hunt. The premise of the game is that the giant crystal of Usern has been hidden in Andermatt.
The snowy courtyard of the Chedi in Andermatt

The snowy courtyard of the Chedi in Andermatt – photo The Chedi Hotel

Dine in a quintissential Swiss Chalet on the grounds of the Chedi!

Dine in a quintessential Swiss Chalet on the grounds of the Chedi! Photo – The Chedi Hotel

I wrangled a quick tour of the Russian hotel, The Chedi. The hotel and vacation condos that comprise the complex are designed in luxurious detail. No expense has been spared to fill the spaces with artwork, glowing fire pits, paneled ceilings, fur throws and low light – all fashioned for the fashionable set. Perhaps I’ll visit next lifetime!

My dinner perch at the Riverside Inn in Andermatt

My dinner perch at the Riverside Inn in Andermatt

Dinner at the Riverside Inn while on holiday in Andermatt

A modest dinner at the Riverside Inn in Andermatt (and much saved for lunch.)

Winter is a lovely time for a holiday in Andermatt. Only when I paused to study the mountainside could I make out skittering skiers moving across the white expanse like water bugs on a pond’s surface. If I’d arrived earlier I’d definitely ridden a gondola to the mountaintop. In summertime, the area is riddled with trails for hikers too.
Riverside Inn in Andermatt
With my notebook for company, I slipped into the Riverhouse Inn and spent an hour listening to a group of guides enjoying a night off, riffed in broken English with the bartender, and slipped upstairs for a few moments to get a glimpse of the rooms.
Horse drawn carriage for a holiday in AndermattIf you holiday in Andermatt:
  • Visit by train using a Swiss Pass
  • Visit by car during the warmer months and don’t miss the Gothard bridges
  • Step back in time at the Talmuseum Usern House
  • Join the paper treasure hunt to find the ‘missing’ Usern Crystal.
  • Stay at the 3 Koenigs, a traditional Swiss Inn
  • Visit the Riverside Inn, a boutique hotel in the town
  • Stay at the Chedi Andermatt for the ultimate in luxury
  • Consider renting a luxury villa for your family or group to enjoy
  • Create your own holiday in Andermatt and contact the local tourism office.
More suggestions for your Swiss Itinerary:
I thank Swiss Travel Pass for making my dream of seeing Switzerland a reality. Now, I need to find a way to spend a long holiday in Andermatt and bring friends!

Travel Notes & Beyond

Hungry and thirsty in Slovakia? Check out these things to do in Kosice

Central Kosice offers many things to do and see
Kosice center Angel and Plague Column

Kosice memorial to the victims of the Plague.

Slovakia, the center of Europe with its High Tetras mountains, sweeping plains, and hillside villages, is too often overlooked by travelers. That’s one of the best reasons to visit! It’s an undiscovered gem. The history is colorful and today the medieval towns, castles and wooden churches offer quiet interests. There’s plenty going on for familes and the party crowd too. From traditional cuisine to chic cocktails, museums, galleries, gothic towers, music clubs and parks, every visitor will find many things to do in Kosice.

The gothic cathedral of St. Elizabeth one of the things to do in Kosice

Visiting the gothic cathedral of St. Elizabeth, largest in Eastern Europe, is one of the things to do in Kosice.

A few facts about Kosice

Chosen the European Capital of Culture in 2013 (with Marseille, France,) Kosice is half the size of the capital city of Bratislava. With a population of fewer than 300,000, Kosice’s central core is walkable and open.

St. Elizabeth's towers over the central core of Kosice

St. Elizabeth’s towers over the central core of Kosice

Mural inside St. Elizabeth's

Mural inside St. Elizabeth’s

Inside the Gothic St. Elizabeth's Cathedral, Kosice, Slovakia

Inside the Gothic St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral, Kosice, Slovakia

The historical district is bounded by remnants of the medieval wall. The river, Hornad, flows through town. When you arrive by bus, it’s a ten-minute walk over the river bridge into the historical core.

Homage to Andy Warhol in Kosice's historical core.

Homage to Andy Warhol in Kosice’s historical core.

There are famous locals too. Around town, I spotted six-foot shoe sculptures. A bit worn in the heel, they are an homage to Andy Warhol, whose parents came from Slovakia.  It’s also the birthplace of Bela Gerster, the engineer who designed the Panama Canal.

Bites and sips in Kosice perfect things to do in Slovakia

Inside Hostinec brewery Kosice

Inside Hostinec brewery Kosice

Slávia - café and the best restaurant in the Košice region awarded by Trend Top 2017 and awarded with 7th place of Gurmán Award 2017

Cocktails at Slávia – Awarded best restaurant in the Košice region by Trend Top 2017 and awarded with 7th place of Gurmán Award

Things to do in Kosice – Eat and Drink!

The borders have shifted with conflicts and political maneuvers over centuries. The cultures and foods of the Austria-Hungarians, the Slavs, and the Polish have left their mark. The Slavic cultures share many traditions and recipes. Milk, potatoes, and cabbage are central to the local diet but don’t think ‘boring.’ Flourishing coffee cafe, brewery, and cocktail cultures offer many things to do, eat and drink.Things to do in Kosice include great dining and drinking


Yes, it appears that the Smelly Cat cafe was named after the coffee shop in the TV series, Friends.

Yes, it appears that the Smelly Cat cafe was named after the coffee shop in the TV series, Friends!

Things to do in Kosice – Museums, Parks, and Performances

There are historical, art and natural history museums in Kosice, but check the hours. When I visited in the spring most opened after noon. We were able to get into the Technical Museum. The collections, like walls of telephones and displays memorializing the Steel Industry, were fascinating.

Memorializing the steel industry inside one of many museums in Kosice

Memorializing industry inside the Kosice Technical Museum

Ironically, I had to take a picture of old phones with my cell.

Ironically, I had to take a picture of old phones with my cell.

Pottery and Gallery street Hrnčiarska. Photo: Viktor of Traveling Lifestyle

Pottery and Gallery street Hrnčiarska. Photo: Viktor of Traveling Lifestyle

Kulturpark / Steelpark

Steel Park is outside of the historical core. Several blocks of Soviet era barracks have been transformed by the European Capital of Culture Project into museums, galleries, and performance spaces. Check the events calendar to see what’s happening while you’re in town.

villa regio in Kosice

Where to stay in Kosice

There are several hotels and pensiones throughout Kosice. Chain hotels sit outside the historical core. We couldn’t have been happier with our loft room inside Villa Regia and claimed a breakfast nook near the window. Over complimentary eggs, rolls and coffee, we glanced out across the courtyard to watch the Farmer’s Market set up. That market has been going strong for several hundred years. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Kosice.

breakfast villa regia kosice

Breakfast nook in Villa Regia Pensione

Check out my post about visiting Slovakia and the countryside.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments and here are two pins to share:

Things to do in Kosice when thirsty and hungry Pins

Travel Notes & Beyond


Not just a boy’s club – Women Scuba Divers make a big splash

Whale shark women scuba dive

Whale shark women scuba dive

Let’s make this clear – You don’t have to be a jock or adrenaline junkie to start diving. If you love the ocean, there’s no greater thrill than scooting around the bottom, getting close to stunning wildlife, sliding through clouds of fish or tunnels. It’s no longer a boys club too and, single ladies, you don’t have to know a bunch of women scuba divers or have a bubble blowing boyfriend to start.

It’s a great community – even for land-locked regions. There are dive clubs with events planned year round in lakes and quarries. Many put together their own trips, pooling know-how and experience to find exotic places and the best times to go. Women scuba divers are a big part of the bunch.

Scuba diving is another way to help protect the oceans too. Jacques Cousteau said, “You protect what you love.” Here’s a sweet video about the mission to help the oceans with PADI instructor, Rocio Gajon.

I’m writing this as I prepare for Women’s Diving Day on July 15th. This is the third year that PADI has organized a day dedicated for women scuba divers. More than 700 locations internationally have participated past events designed to grow the dive community. New and expert divers have come together, in all kinds of activities from high tea on the high seas to shark dives and underwater cleanups. I’ll be stepping into the sea with the women scuba divers from Ocean Enterprises in San Diego. You don’t have to be a certified diver to participate but can tag along with your snorkel and fins, get to know the local divers and learn more about diving.

2016 Women’s Diving Day in La Jolla, California:

Want to join the scores of women scuba divers?

Getting certified as a diver is the first step. I’d recommend PADI dive courses and if you can manage it, take an accelerated course over 4 – 5 days in a tropical location. Perhaps you learned how to dive ages ago and need to refresh your skills? There are courses and events for that. Being confident as a scuba diver is freeing. The skill to let go and just enjoy the underwater world comes with regular practice.

I learned in Cozumel and found the dive masters deeply invested in making me comfortable and keeping me safe. The entire PADI course is set up for security and ease. The water in Mexico was deliciously warm and startlingly clear. I was in love from the first descent – while making every mistake I could. Still, it was much easier to do my open water dive from a boat on calm waters rather than walking in, back bent with tank weight, through cold waves as my son did. There are tips for new divers in an earlier post.

Elaine Titanic pose women scuba divers wreck dive

My son Josh, photo bombing my best Titanic pose.

It doesn’t have to be expensive.
  • Check out dive clubs for used equipment, even camera gear, and lights. Someone is always upgrading and happy to get something for their gear.
  • There are annual sales at dive shops and online. You don’t have to get designer gear to begin with or ever. Make sure the sport works for you before investing.
  • Rent gear. Dive shops will happily fit you with the right sizes. They’ll answer questions and find out what is best for your body shape and size. You shouldn’t worry about fins falling off or a suit that chafes.
  • Learn with a friend or as a family. Dive centers often offer discounts.
  • Dive trips don’t have to drain your bank account. Scour magazines for dive specials, ask at local shops, and join dive clubs. Watch for airfare sales too.
Spinner Dolphins at the surface, Kona Coast, Hawaii

Snorkeling with wild Spinner Dolphins, Kona Coast, Hawaii

I never anticipated becoming a scuba diver. I’m not particularly fond of high-tech sports and their expense. However, after snorkeling for decades, I wasn’t about to give up the opportunity to learn to scuba with my guy, a sea-urchin-diver-turned-underwater-photographer. Over the past eight years, I’ve managed a little over 300 dives. It started with me struggling to keep up, carrying his spare camera and sucking my air tanks dry long before he was ready to surface. That’s all in the past as I just invested in my own camera and lights – second hand – and often climb up the dive ladder with air to spare. I adore my dive buddy as well as joining women scuba divers. Legendary diver, Chuck Nicklin, is my model. He’s turning ninety this year and still leading dive trips around the world. I hope to match his record.

Here’s more inspiration about Women Scuba Divers and the groundbreakers who have helped us all become better divers.

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PADI Women Divers Day 2017


Travel Notes & Beyond



Get happy! The best travel books increase happiness with anticipation

I need a vacation t-shirt

An exotic travel mural fuels wanderlust much as the best travel books do

Travel planning releases endorphins! Anticipation, actively planning an adventure, picturing the fun you’ll have, reading the best travel books – all help relieve everyday stress. They lift you out of the humdrum of daily routines. Reading about adventures, watching movies about destinations, even pouring over maps, creates happiness. Travel fantasies also help relieve the eventual, inevitable complications that arise from making any trip a reality.

Here are a few of the best travel books I’ve come across in the last few months. Two fall into the aspirational category, one is eye-opening for anyone interested in extending their travel budget and immersing in new cultures. The final book is a keen reference for anyone who suffers from Jet Lag.

yoga in poppies at Antelope Preserve.

The Yoga of Max’s Discontent – Karan Bajaj
Rumi once said: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”

Compelling and contagious, this novel hooked me deeply. I’ve been meditating for decades and was a yoga teacher for nearly ten years. It was easy to imagine the aspirations of the novel’s character, Max, but his fictionalized journey into and beyond Yoga will shake anyone who’s fantasized about exploring India’s spiritual culture.

The first page introduces us to Max, a Wall Street banker who travels the world in search of truth and enlightenment. Don’t imagine hippie beads and tie-dye, you can’t anticipate where Max goes with the desire to be something more. Author Karan Bajaj, was already a No. 1 bestselling author in India when he followed the endless trek of professionals chucking their productivity-obsessed professions, their complicated lives, to become beginners again and explore simply being. Within a year sabbatical, Bajaj grasped enough to settle into writing and returned to his corporate job in New York, changed in unexpected ways. The Yoga of Max’s Discontent is one of the best travel books I’ve read.

travel wall art looks like an illustration in the best travel books

The Yellow Envelope – Kim Dinan

A lighter read, Kim Dinan’s novel about embracing a nomadic life will appeal to any of us who have pictured selling everything and leaving for parts unknown for as long as we can. The yellow envelope of the title becomes something of a talisman propelling Kim’s journeys, or repelling them. While the most compelling shifts happen within, luckily, Dinan pens introspection vividly. She dances close to Eat, Pray, Love territory but twists to surprising revelations.

Kim, like the protagonist Max, also abandoned a cubicle job, and told me that “There are times in life where we have to do the things that terrify us.”  I won’t spoil her trajectory for you but the hopeful adventure is fraught with change, realization and quiet drama. How she gets there and where she goes next will surprise you.

everyone smiles in the same language

Going Local: Experiences and Encounters on the Road – Nicholas Kontis

Authentic experiences, cultural immersion, and peer-to-peer encounters have become buzzwords within the travel industry. Long before business caught on, Nick Kontis was traveling and seeking new opportunities to experience the world. The sharing economy and internet access has opened up travel to those venturing on a shoestring as well as luxury wanderers. Kontis details Apps and other tools to connect with locals.

How to travel responsibly and consciously are issues dear to my nomadic heart. Kontis has connected with some of the most successful travelers in media, Tony Wheeler (Lonely Planet,) Rick Steves (TV and podcasts,) Richard Bangs (often considered the father of modern adventure travel,) Don George (pre-eminent travel writer and editor,) Judith Fein (award-winning travel writer and lecturer,) David Noyes (travel writer and photographer,) and James Dorsey (Explorers and Adventurers Club, photographer and lecturer.) Their wisdom pepper the chapters with invaluable insights. Food tourism, volunteer efforts, and home stays and exchanges, with Kontis’ guidance, will turn the exotic, otherness into face-to-face exchanges of a lifetime.

I will be referring to Go Local again and again.

Aiplane art with house sculptures

The Cure for Jet Lag – Lynne Walker Scanlon and Charles F. Ehret, PhD.

I’m including a book that has transformed the way I approach any time-zone hopping flight. Whether it’s crossing from California to New York or zipping abroad, this program – The Cure for Jetlag – has saved many a trip. Jet lag affects each of us differently and unfortunately, I’m one who suffers most. My cells rebel, leaving my head heavy with fatigue and I spend long nights tossing in an effort to sleep. It’s not just personal discomfort but jet lag impacts my work and relationships. This program, which I’ve written about before, is detailed and specific. It becomes second nature with use. I’ve included a link to the updated book below. The program was originally developed at Argonne National Laboratory and used by Fortune 500 executives as well as U.S. Army Rapid Deployment Forces since Ronald Reagan was President.

Where to find the best travel books:


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The best travel books build happiness

Where to eat local in Rome’s Prati District – Roman Food Tour

eat local on a roman food tour starting at Bonci Pizzarium

Eat local in Secondo Tradizione in Rome

Molto Male! How horrible to miss the Prati District in Rome. If it weren’t for the Roman Food Tour, I’d never know the tasty treasures it holds. After days combing the city’s famous landmarks, we met our tour in the plaza of a subway station near the Vatican. It was easy to spy our small group. Within a few hours we had bonded over tasty bites and delicious wines, learning to eat local as curated by our guide, the effervescent, Jess.

For several years, Jess has led the Roman Food Tour company journeys. Italy is in her blood. After living in the US, she returned to her family’s country and make Rome her home. All that’s to say, she’s fluent in English and Italian (plus other languages!) Her passion for fine food, traditional ingredients and authenticity were infectious.

On the Roman Food Tour discover the joys of fine aged vinegars

Eat local in the Prati District

The Prati district is a working class neighborhood that’s picking up steam. Grand, old buildings are filling with office workers and families wanting to be close to their business. The area quietly percolates in the evening. Locals fill restaurants, cafes, clubs, and bars. On weekends a high-end shopping avenue, the Cola di Rienzo, is buzzing. During business hours, lawyers move quickly across the Palazzo di Giustizia, on their way to and from the Supreme Court. There aren’t monuments for tourists to clamber over but they’re most welcome to join hungry guests who know how to eat local and well.Inside the Mercato Trifonale the perfect spot to find ingredients to eat local in Rome

The Mercato Trionfale

The Prati neighborhood also houses Rome’s largest indoor marketplace, the Mercato Trionfale. It originally opened in the 1930’s and became one of the largest marketplaces in Italy. Since 2009 it’s housed in a new glass and steel building along Andrea Doria Road. We returned to explore it the day after our tour and eat local with a few chunks of cheese and snack supplies.

The freshest buffalo mozarella in Le Ciccherie in Rome

Mozarella di Bufala

We started our food tour slowly with a bit of education and the night progressed, as more wine was poured and company relaxed. Jess fed us well with tasty clues on how to choose authentic cheeses and aged vinegar samples at Le Chiccherie cheese shop. Their specialty is Mozzarella di Bufala from the Campagna region. You’ll have to watch the video on how to recognize fresh Mozzarella.

Secondo Tradizione is a treasure trove of fine meats and wine. Once we were seated and clinking glasses in toasts, Jess ventured upstairs to chat a moment with a family who had returned for more after taking the tour a few days earlier. My time in Rome was too brief to follow their example!

Join the Secondo Tradizione owner with a prized aged ham when you eat local in Rome

Did you know that most pizza makers in Rome sell by the slice? ‘Pizza al taglio’ is sold by weight. The server will have you tell them how much you want and then weigh the slice before handing you a bill. Talk about how to eat local, I wish the US followed that example. According to our guide, most places still follow the tradition but at Bonci you pay extra for fame and innovative quality. The Pizzarium is open to the street and on our Friday evening, a crowd was scattered at the few tables and benches along the sidewalk.

The Bonci Pizzarium in the Prati District of Rome

This is pizza inside Bonci Pizzarium!

This is pizza inside Bonci Pizzarium!

The names of the pizzas and the lists of ingredients told me that was going to be like no pizza I’d eaten before. From potato (a tradition) to mixes of onion marinated in juniper, fine pecorino, fresh basil slathered with just enough sauce across an incredibly light, slim crust – each bite was a revelation. Rumor has it that the founder, Gabriele Bonci, has opened a Pizzarium in Chicago. Now that’s on my wish list.Inside the garden of the cat and fox

We were getting very, very full! But the tour continued after a short walk to a family run restaurant, Al Giardino del Gatto e la Volpe. Open for over eighty years, we were treated to two hand-made, menu items – Gnocchi and Ravioli. Settling in at a long table on the back patio, I noticed diners facing huge rounds of pizza. I marveled that a slim miss in a suit had her own. A man nearby hunched over his and a small family had no fewer than 4 personal pizzas in front of them. As full as I was, thankfully we were there for the pasta and Gnocchi. “Like pillows,” Jess described, and she was right.

Traditional Ravioli and Gnocchi

Before parting, we stopped by Fatamorgana, a gelateria. While in Europe, I had been indulging in gelato after walking for hours daily. While it tasted good, I hadn’t a clue about what I was actually eating. Jess enlightened us about the fillers and artificial colorings that most use. Not so at Fatamorgana – each scoop was dense and a marvel of flavors. Ice cream. What’s not to love?!

flavors at Fatamorgana gelataria

Traditional labeling of flavors in Fatamorgana gelateria

Fatamorgana gelato server

And with that final bite, our tour came to a close. With grace, Jess made sure that each of our small group had directions to get home. I needed a walk and strolled through the broad streets of the Prati, then across St. Peter’s plaza, full of tummy and full of the beauty that is Rome.

roman food tour brochure

Special thanks to the Roman Food Tour for hosting us. With tours by day and evening, Sundays and even a Colosseum / Food tour combo there are so many ways to eat local in the ‘Eternal City.’ As they say, “When in Rome…!”

Where to eat local in Rome’s Prati Neighborhood:

Share with a friend (or two or three!)

Local food on the Roman Food Tour

Travel Notes & Beyond

The World’s Greatest Happy Hour Tradition – Rome’s Aperitivo

Art Gallery bartender Rome one of the world's best happy hours
Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Rome's Bukowski Bar

Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Bukowski’s Bar

Bukowski in Rome? Why is a bar just outside of the Vatican city walls called Bukowski’s**? A business card from my Airbnb host was the first clue and I had to investigate. It was my first step towards discovering the world’s greatest happy hour tradition, Aperitivo.

Bukowski’s bar, Galleria and bistrot (sic) is a casual jumble of couches and small tables. Open during the day as a coffee house, jazz fills the air in the evenings as locals mingle over drinks. As a pair of travel-weary Americans on our first night out in Rome, we were a bit naive about local traditions. Two glasses of wine later, as we were about to order a snack, our waitress pointed to a modest buffet and invited us to indulge. It was all part of the world’s greatest happy hour tradition.Inside the Bukowski Bar in Rome

A modest Aperitivo inside the Bukowski Bar, one of the world's greatest.

A modest Aperitivo inside Bukowski’s Bar

The world’s greatest happy hour tradition in expensive Rome begins around 6:30 pm and lasts until 8 pm or later. I indulged early as a Westerner unaccustomed to eating dinner at 9 or 10 pm.

The Aperitivo tradition reportedly began in Milan. ‘L’aperitivo’ (as they say in Rome) is a chance to hang out with friends after work and before dinner. The classic drink is a Spritz made with white wine or Prosecco, Campari, or Aperol. Some claim that drinks are over-priced during Aperitivo hours but that wasn’t my experience. In fact, Aperitivo is an inexpensive dinner for the budget minded (and mind you, we only visited smaller bars.)

Trastevere charms

The next day after a steamy afternoon tour of Rome’s Colosseum and a coffee meeting with a Roman local, we were pointed to the charms of the Trastevere neighborhood. It was perfect for getting away from the crowds. Cafes and bars spilled onto narrow avenues. Small shops and galleries lured lookers. Trees lined small squares. While tourists passed quickly, locals sauntered and paused to visit with friends. We searched for a cool drink and stepped into the quirky art bar, Alembic.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world's best Aperitivo, happy hours.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world’s greatest, Aperitivo, happy hours.

The Alembic Spread in Trastevere

The Hybris Art Gallery and Bar

Another find in the Travestere area is Hybris. While it’s inviting and creative inside, we parked ourselves at a table near the door and watched the neighborhood unfold. The tall bartender mixed gorgeous cocktails. The Aperitivo buffet was delicious and we pretended to be Italian for an hour.


Hybris art gallery and bar in Rome has one of the world's greatest happy hours

My dear Dave in Hybris – note stylish street life behind him.

Stylish in Travestere
Hybris bartender at work
Off the Tourist track – the Pratti Neighborhood

Come Friday, we joined a small group and the Roman Food Tour company. Over a few blissful hours, we sampled and learned about Romes’ most delicious and authentic foods. (Story to come.) As an appetizer, here’s a glimpse inside our Aperitivo at Secondo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secundo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secondo Tradizione.

How to find some of the world’s greatest happy hours in Rome:
  • Secondo Tradizone – Serves fine aged meats and cheese pairings with wine. Open for dinner as well as Aperitivo. Website.
  • Bukowski’s Bar – Casual hangout day or evening. Affordably priced drinks. Facebook page.
  • Alembic – Set on a corner in Travestere, Aperitivo costs 10 Euro including selected drinks. Facebook page.
  • Hybris Art Gallery and Bar – Rotating art shows, great people watching, food and drinks.
  • Take a food tour! The Roman Food Tour offers many options and times.
Links to Rome Aperitivo listings:

** About Bukowski in Rome: There’s no record that the Beat Poet ever made it to Italy but an Italian movie immortalized his debaucheries in Los Angeles. The Italian director, Marco Ferreri, shot ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness‘ in Los Angeles and in English. The movie was panned in the US but found critical success in Europe. Perhaps the Bukowski’s bar owner saw it and somehow identified with the rough writer. Looking at his fresh and happy face, it seems his fate is much kinder.


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Travel Notes & Beyond

Twelve Things to Do in the Slovakian Countryside

Kosice singing fountain wide

Things to do in the Humene open air park

Slovakians often think of their country as the center of Europe. It’s a historical claim but most travelers miss Slovakia completely and, center of Europe or not, they’re missing out. There are so many things to do in Slovakia!

I was there for a week driving through the countryside with a local. Yuri was helping my family find long-lost relatives. DNA travel some call it, and it was a wonderful lens to see the country through. Being hosted by a native, who knew the countryside well, led to all kinds of unique experiences. Here’s some of the best:

Riding the bus into Kosice Slovakia

Bus travel is comfortable and efficient

There are (1) tourist buses (Euro Bus and Flix Bus, to name two) which make getting in and out of Slovakia easy. I traveled via Flixbus from Budapest to Kosice and out again to Zagreb, Croatia. Each was a fairly long ride but the seats were plush and had foot-rests. I had either a full row of seats to myself or the interesting company of international travelers. Each bus had a strong WiFi signal but no power plugs. Although the bus had no bathroom, there was a snack and bathroom break during the ride. Crossing the border into Croatia was a mere formality as well but delays are determined by politics. Ask your driver what to expect – you definitely will need a passport or inter-border card.

St. Elisabeths Cathedral in Kosice Slovakia

St. Elisabeth’s Cathedral in Kosice, Slovakia

KOSICE is full of things to do

This medieval city is a traveler’s delight. Whether you travel in high style (modern, historic or chain hotels and sleekly designed restaurants, well-curated museums and art galleries) or you’re backpacking, (hostels, inexpensive cafes, and bars) you’ll find lots of things to do. My next post will detail bars and restaurants in the area.

Farmer’s Market

We arrived by bus about 10 pm and took a pleasant ten-minute walk into the center of town. After passing the (2) Gothic Cathedral, we found our small hotel easily (Villa Regia.) The next morning outside the hotel entrance, long rows of tables were set up for a (3) farmer’s market and I do mean farmer’s. For several hundred years this marketplace has been feeding the city. On Sundays, we found it turns into an (3b) antique and artisan’s market.

Weekday market in Kosice is one of the things to do

Singing Fountain

There’s a central, (4) ‘singing’ fountain that’s lit beautifully in the evenings and music fills the air. Families and couples stroll the main street. (5) Cafes open on the lengthy pedestrian plaza. Many (6) museums are set along that avenue and easy to get to. (7) During the day, a tourist ‘train’ runs the length of the main street shuttling visitors from one end to the other.

The singing fountain in Kosice, Slovakia

Gothic Cathedral

The towering, Gothic cathedral, St. Elizabeth Minster, is the most eastern in Europe and for a few Euro you can climb the north tower to admire the view. Church bells ring out daily and on Sundays, services are packed with locals.

Plan on spending your evenings strolling the historical core. Pull up a seat at one of the sidewalk cafe/bars for great people watching and don’t miss the historical bars or the odd (8) coffee houses like the stylish, Smelly Cat, or Tabacka Kulturfabrik, which is a coffeeshop/hangout/performance space in an old industrial building.

The old bar, Hostinec in Kosice

Claiming to be from 1542, the bar Hostinec serves some mighty brews.


One of the largest towns outside of Kosice, (9) Humenne, is set among rolling hills near the volcanic Vihorlat mountains. Two rivers, the Laborec and Cirocha, meet there which makes it a wonderful city for strolling and parks. There are several hotels in the city but we elected to make it a day trip.

The grinning monk at a roadside restaurant

The grinning monk at Dvor pod Vinicnou skalou, a roadside restaurant

One day on the road to Humenne, we stopped in Brekov at the (10) Roadhouse, Dvor pod Vinicnou skalou (which roughly translates to Justice Under Rock.) It’s a very interesting road stop and one of the only places where you can order cabbage rolls. The restaurant and grounds are dotted with unique, carved sculptures by the celebrated Polish artist, Marian Pazucha.

In Humenne proper, the central pedestrian plaza is very wide and dotted with sculptures from Communist days. Our lunch prepared us for an afternoon investigating the (11) open-air, architectural museum.

A moment inside a small wooden house inside the Humenne open air museum

If only I could show you the gleaming icons inside the wooden Greek Catholic church, but no pictures were allowed. You can get an idea of how stunning they are by visiting the manor house. If you get to Humenne, negotiate to have the park church opened to see for yourself. It was built in 1745 on the borders between Slovakia and Ukraine in the village of Nová Sedlica. During WWII the church was badly damaged. With a restoration, it was moved to the open air museum in 1977.

humenne manor house

Vihorlatske Museum

We caught glimpses of several ancient castles in the hills on the way to Humenne. Once these bastions of security kept the villagers safe from marauders, Goths and other invading hordes. After gunpowder was available, the great families moved into town and the remote castle culture came to a close.

Luckily the Humenne (12) manor house has survived and visitors are welcome to walk through the grounds and hallways. It’s full of antiques, collections, natural history exhibits and religious art.

A friendly, furry local in Kosice

Visiting with a friendly, furry local in Kosice

With so many things to do in the countryside, a visit to the capital of Bratislava will have to wait. I wish there had been time to see the capital city where Viennese and Hungarian culture mingle but it will have to be another time.

I hope you enjoyed the post and will share it with friends. Pin this!Things to do in the Slovakia countryside

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Travel Notes & Beyond



Getting around Budapest, from practical to frivolous

hello hungary sign
 Getting around Budapest crossing bridges
Jetlag and hubris can conspire to make you a victim. It can happen to anyone, but over-confidence and fatigue led me into trouble while I was getting around Budapest. After a quick airport rendezvous with my jet lagged partner, we stepped out into the midnight air and joined a small crowd, all of us jostling for transportation. I’d arrived the day before and my Airbnb host had arranged a ride to the airport with a Yellow Cab driver, so I felt confident about how much the trip should cost. At that late hour taking another cab seemed like the best and swiftest choice.
A man stepped up and asked if we needed a taxi. In moments, he handed us to off to a Yellow Cab driver and we sped off into the night.
On the way into town, Dave and I quietly discussed how much the trip should cost and he started counting out bills. He’d been in the air for over 11 hours and it was his first time with Budapest currency. Once we arrived, the driver grabbed the bills, swept them into his wallet, and then kept asking for more!
Our 25 Euro ride ended up costing almost four times as much! He left us blinking on the sidewalk as he sped away. Smooth operator! It was a sour beginning to our vacation but luckily, after letting it go as a lesson, we discovered that getting around Budapest can be easy and much less expensive.
A few Taxi tips: (These apply most anywhere)
  • Ask how much first – We didn’t ask how much or agree on the cost of the trip.
  • Take a second to see if there’s a meter – We got in before realizing there was none.
  • Hold on! Our driver was reckless, tail-gated, drove way faster than anyone else, and started texting from the fast lane.
  • Get their license number or snap a picture of them and the car. Report any problems to the authorities! We thought of that long after he’d sped away.
Biking in Budapest
Getting around Budapest
Budapest is beautiful year round but in springtime it positively glows. In May the weather was pleasantly warm, in the 60’s and high 70’s. It can get much hotter in the summer. I was there in the Shoulder Season, as they call the months before the most popular and crowded times of the year – the summer and winter breaks. Hotels and accommodations were less expensive and easier to find than peak times for tourism.
The transportation infrastructure of Budapest is impressive. There are subway trains, trolleys, buses, and taxis, but no Uber, unfortunately. With a little research, getting around Budapest can be easy. There are four central Metro lines and many tram lines. The M1 line is the European Continent’s first underground rail line and improvements keep coming.
Getting to and from the airport

I’d chosen a taxi on a local’s advice and because of the late night/early morning arrival. There are other much less expensive options. Whichever terminal you arrive at in Budapest, after customs there are BKK Information and Ticket booths (also closed at midnight.) There are maps, you can purchase any number of train tickets or the Budapest Card. The cards work in 24 / 48 / 72 hour increments from first usage, so if you’re not planning to go use them for the first day after arriving, purchase just enough tickets to get into town (usually two per person.)

I highly recommend checking out the Budapest By Locals page about your transportation options and the official Budapest Info Page for details relating to your dates and the seasonal discounts and free offers that come with using the card (Free thermal baths!)

 Flix bus can help with getting around Budapest
Budapest Central Bus Station – Nepliget

International and domestic buses arrive and depart from the station. The buses are central to life in the region and much nicer than the public buses and Greyhound buses I’ve taken in the US. There’s free WiFi and some have bathrooms (or they pull over for coffee/bathroom breaks.)


In the station, there’s WiFi to piggy-back onto from the buses but otherwise it isn’t available inside the station. The underground and surface rail lines both have stations here. Nepliget is a central hub for visitors and about a 15 – 20-minute ride into central Budapest. There is an information desk (take a number) and public restrooms (cost.) We were able to check baggage into lockers during a layover between buses and visit downtown easily during a 3.5 hour break.

Buda or Pest?
Our rental was on the Buda side of Budapest, the cliff and hillside area on the west side of the Danube, the area where the castle is. We were able to catch trams into town and walk across the many historic bridges. It’s easy enough to get around from Buda but if you’re into the club and bar scene, the Jewish Quarter and the Pest side is easier.
Aside from Taxis and Public Transportation, there are lots of ways for getting around Budapest. As it’s a central tourist destination there are many bus tours available. Check online or in your hotel to arrange a tour.
The Pest side of Budapest was built on a low-lying plain, which makes it fairly easy to navigate. There are bike lanes everywhere. In the central town, close to both sides of the river, there are many pedestrian and bike-only streets. Bike shops abound but be prepared to rent the day before – it’s a popular past time. We tried renting the green bikes that are available from racks but they only work for Hungarian citizens or other locals (you need local ID.)
Electric Scooter for getting around Budapest
Getting around Budapest on an electric scooter or Segway appealed to my independent spirit. There are tours using both available as well. Around the corner from our apartment, we rented electric scooters for three hours. With a little practice, I got comfortable with the brakes and throttle, turning and balancing.
The scooters made it easy to get to the top of the Citadel, across bridges, to visit the Parliament and main Cathedral. We even got to Margaret Island briefly before my scooter’s battery gave out. With a short call, our host showed up with a fresh battery and we were off again. The afternoon ride lasted about three hours and was a lot of fun.
Enjoy Budapest. It’s a wonderful city to walk but taking public transportation or renting wheels offers a chance to explore swiftly and independently.
Travel Notes & Beyond  

Cruising Croatia Islands – Surrendering to the wind

Katarina Line leaves the harbor

A muse cruising Croatia with Katarina Line

Cruising Croatia

One thing about sailing – nature has the upper hand. In the Adriatic, especially when cruising Croatia, you get to know the Jugo wind. The Croatia news calls it a “Strong southeastern wind that blows along the Adriatic shores from the Sahara desert of Africa.” It can cause white-capped waves and humidity, often filling the skies with gray clouds and rain.

If the Jugo is mild, cruising Croatia goes as planned, but when white caps peak wise captains know to take shelter in port. Luckily, there are many fascinating ports tucked in around the Croatian islands and sailing crews stay flexible.

On a short cruise with Katarina Line, I had planned to spend the night in Split but our Katarina Captain, Tom, knew our departure window to the islands was short and the team quickly changed plans. Over three days instead of seeing three villages, we visited five! I was happy for that Jugo wind.

Leaving Milna when cruising Croatia

Southern Islands

You might think that flying solo internationally to a land where you don’t speak the language or know anyone would be risky. But I didn’t worry a bit about cruising Croatia as the Katarina Line tour guides kept me up to date with emails and texts from the moment the trip was confirmed. Once I landed in Croatia, they guided me easily to the ship in Split.

Split waterfront and the Katarina Line, Seagull

Split waterfront and the Katarina Line ship, the Seagull

The airport shuttle dropped me at an open station a few blocks south of the historical core. I grabbed my roller bag and strolled along the waterfront towards Diocletian’s Palace. It was easy to spot the Seagull and the crew helped me on board.

Full bed Katarina Line

My full bed on the Katarina Line

Seagull Lounge

Seagull Lounge

After welcoming drinks and a short presentation we were soon underway to our first port on the island of Brac.

katarina aperatif

In the small port of Pučišće, we had a delicious seafood dinner and then strolled along the waterfront. Our host, Sanja, led us into a small bar and introduced us to the joys of traditional aperitifs and digestif made from honey, walnuts, herbs and cherries.

Croatian drinks at a bar in the village of Pučišće

In the morning, and just steps from our mooring, we visited a traditional stone cutting workshop where young stone cutters train for years before entering university. The stone from Brac was chosen for the Split Palace of Diocletian and we soon recognized it everywhere.

Brac Stonemason school

Entrance to the Brac Stonemason school

Head in progress inside stonemason school on Brac

Head model inside stonemason school on Brac

On we sailed in style to Milna, Supetar, Stari Grad, and Hvar. In each port we explored on our own, followed trails, ate ice cream or enjoyed the local brews. The company was delightful from crew to fellow travelers – we few Americans mingling with Germans, Brits, and Dutch guests. Each meal was beautifully presented and every effort was made to accommodate dietary restrictions.

A few of the delicious presentations on board the Katarina Line.

A few of the delicious presentations on board the Katarina Line.

In several ports we met historian guides who expertly excited us about the local history and sights, always leaving time for us to poke around on our own.

Historian Dino at a fountain inside Diocletian's Palace

Historian Dino at a fountain inside Diocletian’s Palace

One gate into Diocletians Palace, Split, Croatia

One gate into Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

Captain's dinner Katarina Line

Captain’s dinner Katarina Line

Of course, there was a Captain’s dinner with live music, singing, and a wonderful meal. On the last cruise night in Split and we explored the UNESCO site of Diocletian’s Palace. If it reminds you of scenes from Game of Thrones, you’re not imagining things. Several segments and fights were filmed within the stone gates.

Cruise pals Katarina Line

Cruise pals on my Katarina Line cruise – Hvar

After sad goodbyes, I felt grounded and excited about exploring more of Croatia. While Katarina Lines offers land tours as well as other cruises from bicycling to yoga, adventure to luxury, I was ready to head up to Zagreb – but that’s another story.

Special thanks to the hard-working and fun team at Katarina Lines for making my cruising Croatia dreams come true. I will always admire how you were so flexible and accommodating, even when the Jugo wind kept changing all your carefully crafted plans!

Don’t miss Milwaukee – Windows, walls and wings

The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

 The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

I love great architecture and towns in the American Midwest are full of beautiful craftsmanship and glorious buildings. Milwaukee was a business center in the 1900’s. Captains of commerce erected sturdy buildings and many remain within a few short blocks of downtown. New architecture is taking flight along the shores of Lake Michigan as well. Don’t miss Milwaukee.
Don't miss Milwaukee and Planinton's great arcade

Don’t miss Milwaukee and Plankinton’s great arcade

In 1915, John Plankinton, the founder and owner of a Meat Packing Company, built the Plankinton Arcade as an entertainment center with bowling and billiards. It was fashioned in a 15th-century Italian Gothic style that remains but today it houses shops and cafes.
The Loyalty building in Milwaukee
The Loyalty building designed by Richardson Romanesque in a unique classical style now houses a hotel. Mader’s Restaurant has been serving German fare since 1902.
One window inside the German restaurant, Maders

One window inside the German restaurant, Mader’s

three brothers is part of don't miss Milwaukee
James Beard award-winning, Three Brothers, serves authentic Serbian food inside a historic Schlitz tavern in the Bay View neighborhood. (Note the cream brick.)
A glimpse of the Public Market in Milwaukee

A glimpse of the Public Market in Milwaukee

The Third Ward is overflowing with new cafes and bars. Grab a bite in its centerpiece, the Public Market.
Don'miss Milwaukee and the great Grain Hall

Inside the Grain Hall

Inside the Grain Hall, there are massive stain glass windows and classical murals. The floor is inset with a huge, restored medallion.
This video will give you a moving glimpse. Don’t miss Milwaukee in your travels:


The Iron Block ranks among Milwaukee’s most important Civil War era building. It is the only remaining major example of cast-iron architecture in the city and is one of a few of its kind left in the Midwest.
Pristine cream brick inside Swig in the Third Quarter

Pristine cream brick inside Swig in the Third Quarter

Cream City bricks are made from a red clay containing large amounts of sulfur. It was commonly found in the Milwaukee area. When fired, the bricks become creamy-yellow in color. Unfortunately, they are also porous and soak up city grit. Today many cream brick buildings remain but unless scrubbed with chemicals regularly they remain dark.
The ceiling in the Pfister Building is part of the don't miss Milwaukee wonders

The ceiling in the Pfister Building is one of the don’t miss Milwaukee wonders

The Pfister Hotel lobby is one of uplifting opulence and built for the public to enjoy. Today the hotel still retains its glory. There are panoramic views also in the penthouse Blu Bar.
The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

The Milwaukee Art Museum wings and walkway

But the greatest discovery, to my mind, is the new Art Museum. Created by engineer – architect, Santiago Calatrava.Several times a day, when the Lake Michigan winds permit, the building’s giant wings open to allow light into the interior.
Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum

Inside the Milwaukee Art Museum

The immense space feels like it breathes. It certainly had me breathing faster as I walked through. The Milwaukee Art Museum has been noted around the world for its wings. Inside and out the building is a wonder to experience.
That’s a brief look at some of the windows, the unique walls and the wings that make visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s downtown a great town to walk and ponder.
Here’s another glimpse into Milwaukee culture – The Harley Davidson Museum.
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Mobile WiFi Hotspot – XComGlobal to the rescue

xcom global mobile wifi banner
xcom global mobile wifi banner
Post Updated to include Fair Use considerations, June 2017
As spring fever hits, those of us with wanderlust start packing and planning how to stay connected on the road. There are dozens of APPs and social media connections but you need Internet access. In urban areas around the globe, WiFi is abundant but can be spotty, if you can log in at all, and it might not be secure. If keeping a tether by phone or computer to family, work or GPS in a foreign country is important, on-demand WiFi is more necessary than ever. That’s why I’ve come round to using the Xcom Global Mobile WiFi hotspot.
Mobile Hotspot Options
I’ve gotten pushback from my travel buddy. He has a huge cell phone data plan through work and needs to be reachable by phone. With a Verizon plan, he can pay about $10 a day for the service and then can use his phone as a Mobile WiFi hotspot for his laptop. We’ll see how well his strategy works!
mobile wifi hotspot compared to the expense of roaming data
Check with your Cell provider
It’s not as easy for everyone. Sometimes your cell phone provider will have an affordable plan but read the fine print. Will you need more data than you use at home? Data charges can skyrocket if you’re sending pictures and videos, or watching videos when you’re out of the country. Turn off your data, put the phone in Airplane mode and make another arrangement.
Here’s a video about my experience with staying connected overseas:
Digital freedom with a Mobile WiFi hotspot
I need access to the internet pretty regularly and have found that traveling with a Mobile WiFi hotspot is best. A personal hotspot tethers to existing cell signals. It was of no use while I was bobbing around in the middle of the Sulu Sea on a dive boat for five days. We were 90 miles from land, far from cell towers and the captain had only satellite signals for navigation. I knew that might happen in advance and took a digital break – not a bad idea! (See more about that adventure here.)
How a mobile wifi hotspot works
Three mobile hotspot players
TEP Mobile Hotspot
Last year while traveling in Switzerland, I arranged to use the TEP system. The Mobile WiFi hotspot can be mailed but I arranged to pick up and drop it off in Heathrow Airport while on layovers between flights. On arriving it would have been simple enough but I had to visit a different terminal and luckily had plenty of time to do so before catching my connecting flight.
TEP worked well enough. I needed to be in the range of cell service and found the only drawback was dropout as my trains dipped in and out of tunnels. The unit was a bright red color, which made it easy to find in my bag and it was easy enough to charge electrically (provided I had the correct adapter for the country.) I did notice that more I used it, the more daily data I drew, the signal would slow down and battery life diminished fairly quickly. Still, it was reliable and made my life easier.
One Tep wrinkle – when I dropped it off in Heathrow, I asked for a receipt. It was lucky that I did as the company contacted me later saying the unit had not been returned. What could’ve been an expensive administrative mistake for me was avoided with the receipt. Ask for and keep your receipt!.
Skyroam and Purchasing a Mobile Hotspot
As that system worked so well and I have been traveling in and out of Mexico more frequently, it made sense to purchase a Mobile WiFi hotspot. The advantage is that once it was paid off there’s only a daily use charge.
My local electronics store carried the Skyroam hotspot and I snapped one up to avoid shipping costs. Five free days of WiFi were included – a nice perk. What wasn’t as nice was the fact that the unit didn’t work. It looked like the same device as TEP, which I thought would speed up the learning curve, but it wasn’t working. I had several people check it out and ended up contacting support to replace it.
Again, save the receipt! I luckily did and several months later returned it (with that pesky shipping charge after all.) Will they return a working model? Will they reinstate the extra days I paid for? I’ll update this post once I know more.
xcom global mobile wifi kit is set up for easy internet connection in over 150 countries

Xcom Global Mobile WiFi hotspot kit

The Xcom Global Mobile WiFi Hotspot
My hero hotspot now is the Xcomglobal unit. The company has offices in San Diego, not far from my home and I was able to meet the team, then pick up the package. It came in a nice leather case with documentation and instructions, a charging cord and a multi-country plug. The unit was nested in a small pocket inside.
  1. The Xcomglobal hotspot is small and ergonomic. It’s lightweight and easy to tuck in a pocket.
  2. The password and model number are on the front – Easy to access.
  3. Once I turned it on, it tethered to the closest and strongest cell signal within 30 – 45 seconds.
  4. A personal Mobile WiFi hotspot is much more secure than using public WiFi. You are the only one with the password.
  5. You can connect up to ten devices!
  6. The screen is small but clear.
  7. There’s only an on/off button – no multi-option display or buttons to toggle.
  8. My Samsung Android phone loves it. The WiFi signal pops up quickly and once connected it recognizes the device every time I turn it on.
  9. A personal mobile WiFi hotspot is secure
  10. The device covers over 150 countries.
  11. If you have a multi-country trip coming up, the second country is free.
  12. It’s cheaper per day than other systems at $7.77 US
The few downsides I’ve encountered in a week of use – the battery runs down fairly quickly, so I need to recharge and it’s slow to fully load. I’m working a strategy of turning off and on only as needed. That’s not a problem but with a gaggle of chargers and plugs to manage, I run into prioritizing what charges and when. It just comes with being a digital nomad!
The Xcom Global Fair Use Policy reminder comes in the Mobile Hotspot package.

The Xcom Global Fair Use Policy reminder comes in the Hotspot package.

IMPORTANT: Manage your Data and pay attention to Fair Use Policies

I came late to this part of the mobile hotspot situation. While using Skyroam in Switzerland my internet access slowed. The fact that I was sending pictures to social media and uploading short videos had an impact but the device still worked.

Farm stay near Plitvice Lakes

Farm stay near Plitvice Lakes

On my next trip, during a farm-stay in Croatia, I spent an evening catching up with online work. I was hooked up to WiFi through the Xcomglobal device and all went well. Thunder shook the windows and a heavy rain fell, then the lights went out. My computer wasn’t plugged in so I wasn’t worried about possible damage from surges. Amazingly, the WiFi stayed connected. I didn’t lose my work or have to reboot. All great.

However, the following day my hotspot stopped connecting. I didn’t know what the problem was but I didn’t start investigating until we arrived at our next destination. I contacted Xcomglobal support and thus began my enlightenment about Fair Use policies. They informed me that could take 12 hours for the device to “refresh my data,” and if it didn’t automatically, they emailed detailed instructions on how to manually refresh should I need to. Luckily that wasn’t necessary.

Suggestions from Xcomglobal to lower data consumption:


  1. Close All Applications That Send Or Receive Data Automatically – On the iPhone, this can include iCloud, Photo Stream, and Document & Data backup
    2. Cache Maps Before Traveling – If you know where you’ll be going, you can search for that area and view it while you’re online, then that data should be stored in the app ready to view when you’re offline
    3. Disable “Push Content” – Push content is any data that’s automatically “pushed” to your phone without user interaction. A high volume of push button alerts from email or other programs can increase data usage over time.
    4. Avoid Streaming – Avoid streaming audio or video as it requires large amounts of data.
    5. Don’t Update Apps Or Operating System
    6. Use A Data Monitor App To Keep An Eye On Usage

If you need to download apps, maps, videos, make Skype calls, etc. connect to public WiFi that is password protected (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and subscribe to a VPN service for security. I’m certainly no internet expert but I imagine that while Fair Use limits might be reached, you won’t risk blocking your hotspot.

Easy going with a mobile hotspot

Stay in touch with a Mobile WiFi Hotspot
Postcards are wistfully nice but if you’re traveling abroad they’ll arrive after you get home. I’m banking on my digital systems and photos for memories and look forward to keeping up with work and family with my Xcom Global Mobile WiFi Hotspot.
Have you used a Mobile WiFi device? Let me know how it worked in the comments section!
For more information:
Disclosure: I didn’t receive compensation or a free mobile WiFi unit to test. All opinions are mine. 

It’s time to ditch plastic bottled water. GoPure Review

Bottled water options

plastic water bottles shelf

On a remote island in Thailand, I perched in a comfortable bamboo hut above massive boulders and a gently lapping, tropical bay. As the sun set, I could hear a didgeridoo. The thrumming rhythm was courtesy of my German neighbor, his head full of dreadlocks. We toasted to the night, each raising our plastic bottled water.

The next day I climbed up to the platform restaurant and beyond when an acrid aroma hit me. Smoke was billowing into view. As I climbed over the crest, the view swerved from tranquility to trash. This was the inn owner’s dump where they burnt my leftover plastic water bottle. It was 1991.

Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for this review but a GoPure capsule to test.

Go pure bottled water purifier

GoPure capsule at work

It was a problem then – toxic fumes, no infrastructure for waste, reliance on foreign sources for basic needs and a rising tide of plastic waste in our oceans and in our bodies. Drinking plastic bottled water is a bigger problem twenty-five five years later.

That’s why I was curious about the GoPure pod. On the plastic water bottle front, it not only saves money but one pod also keeps 2,000 plastic water bottles out of our environment. It lasts up to six months and can treat up to 264 gallons of water.

Go Pure Infographic

I knew that having an easy way to purify water while traveling would be a big plus. There are concerns about drinking tap water in the US but also around the world. The pod rids water of these dangerous impurities so you can have peace of mind that the water you’re drinking is clean, safe and tastes delicious.

There are other benefits I discovered while using it at home. Refilling my BPA free water bottle daily has become a new ritual. I’ve been drinking more water and making sure to drink the full bottle of water each day. That’s great for skin and organs. I’ve begun traveling with it and as long as I keep the bottle clean, don’t lose the pod, and have tap water to draw from, this should keep me well hydrated for months.

A little of the science* behind the GoPure bottled water purifier:
  •  The PuriBloc pod is a well-designed device manufactured under GMP. It is simple and convenient to use.
  •  A wide range of tests on the PuriBloc pod and its components demonstrate a marked ability and efficacy in reducing bacterial numbers in water. This property still remains for over 6 months whilst in constant use.
  • There is also an effect of raising pH and alkalinity of water which can improve the taste.
  • An exceptional capacity for removal of health risk contaminants by the PuriBloc pod has been demonstrated at high loading levels. This is a dramatic feature in light of current global anxiety over such contaminants.
  • Trace minerals are released from the pod but will depend on equilibrium dynamics of the prior mineral content of the water. This may also serve to enhance the taste*
* Data sources 
Product Safety Data Sheet Customer’s information Sheet. NanoHorizons In-house tests re
port 16/4/2015 CAL Ltd Report of June 2013 Moyne Institute Laboratory Reports of February and October 2014 Waterford Institute of Technology Report on ICP analyses of water post-PuriBloc exposure City Analysts Report of June 2013 NanoHorizons GMP certificate NanoHorizons In-house tests report 16/4/2015 Ceramtec GMP certificate AquaNu High Porosity Ceramic Overview. Report by The Potable Water and Hygiene Laboratory, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, Federal Republic of Germany 11/4/2014

I wanted to be a biker – Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson Museum

The beauty of the beast inside the Harley Davidson Museum
 Harley Davidson sculptureIt didn’t take much encouragement. I swung my leg over the tank, leaned forward, my hands on the throttle, and mentally mumbled, Vroom, Vroom. That was just the beginning of my night at the museum – the Harley Davidson temple in Milwaukee.
(Disclosure: My visit was included as part of attending the WITS17 opening night party. More about that community of Women in Travel: .)
Harley Davidson Museum Milwaukee
Confessions of an aspiring biker
I grew up in Southern California’s Pomona Valley close to the base of the San Bernadino mountains. My first love was a biker wannabe, he was center stage in my Catholic school rebellion period after high school. I learned the wonders of motorcycle riding while riding out to the beach, loving the sense of freedom, being able to smell and hear everything and to hold on tight to my guy. He bought me a little motorcycle, a Honda 80, for my birthday and kept it at his house so my parents wouldn’t know until I moved up to college in San Francisco.
Elaine motorcycle Harley Davidson
I still remember riding over the Chino hillside, spooking jackrabbits and learning how to handle the bike. However, once I moved north, the relationship soured, as long distance couples often find out. I used the bike only a few times in the intimidating San Francisco traffic before admitting defeat and took to safer forms of transportation in the midst of buses, trucks and crazy pedestrians. Ignominiously the bike became a plant stand for a fuchsia in my living room. Then, like the relationship, I moved on and sold the bike to pay for furniture.
 old time motorcyelc sign at the Harley Davidson museum
Like a kid a candy shop, I trekked around the ‘campus’ as they call it on the river in Milwaukee. The sun was setting fast and I wanted to see things before dark closed in. There was a wooden shed on the edge of a field. It’s a replica of the original 10 x 15-foot shed that the Davidson brothers’ father built behind their home. He was a cabinet maker who probably grew from incredulity to amazement as the boys’ inventions led to a worldwide craze. The company headquarters still stand across the street from the original location in a large, wooden building.
Harley Davidson shed

Replica of the original Harley Davidson shed

The museum is really a reflection of the history of America. The Harley Davidson company stayed in the black by delivering bikes during the Great Depression and World Wars. They’ve been used by police and fire departments for decades.
The original Harly Davidson brothers

The original Harley Davidson brothers

There’s a culture to biking that I can only imagine but within the walls of the Harley Davidson museum, you can immerse yourself in it, biker or not. There’s a floor dedicated to pop culture. There are dramatically lit replicas of the Easy Rider bike and movie poster, the Elvis bike and the Rhinestone Harley, to name a few.
The Easy Rider motorcycle replica inside the Harley Davidson musuem

The Easy Rider motorcycle replica

The Harley-Davidson Museum is laid out over several floors and each is more interesting than the next. I wish I’d had more than a quick few minutes to walk through. Plan on spending several hours.
The Tank display inside the Harley Davidson Museum

The Tank display inside the Harley Davidson Museum

There’s even lots for kids to do. They’ll love sitting on the different motorcycles and playing the old school arcade game, the Evel Knievel Daredevil Challenge.
The Museum is a bit expensive ($20 per adult.) Look online for discounts and even if you can’t break for a ticket visit the store that’s overflowing with memorabilia and replicas of classic shirts, pants, and even pajamas.
Motor bar bike Harley Davidson

Motorcycle on the Motor Bar – open to the public without fee.

The Motor cafe is open to all and sits facing the river with a menu that boasts about “American Classics celebrating life on the road.” That’s a tall order but with Road House Chili, BBQ ribs and lots of Wisconsin favorites I won’t quibble.
The beauty of the beast inside the Harley Davidson Museum

The beauty of the beast

While you walk the grounds keep your ears alert for different languages. The Harley Davidson Museum is a mecca for international visitors indulging their inner biker too. It’s fuel for the fantasy. Vroom. Vroom.
Harley Davidson Museum Campus Map
If you go to the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee:
  • Address: 400 W Canal St, At the corner of 6th and Canal, Milwaukee, WI 53203-3208
  • +1 877-436-8738
  • The Harley Davidson Experience –

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Country bliss – Lajitas, the best of Texas Resorts

Banner for Lajitas Resort

Dawn in Lajitas one of the best Texas resorts

Dawn reveals things magically. We’d pulled into the Lajitas Golf and Spa Resort while the morning sky was still black. In minutes the world came to light, filling the dining rooms’ towering glass windows. That and the strong coffee cleared my head. I’d just started to discover why Lajitas is considered one of the best Texas resorts.

Lajitas golf and spa resort breakfast

It was too early to check in but we dropped off our luggage and went off for a day of horseback riding and paddling the Rio Grande (more of that story here.) Dinner was accompanied by wedding festivities on the terrace. The bridal party was perfectly Texan – the groom’s men wore rhinestone studded jeans and the bride pivoted on embroidered cowboy boots!

Lajitas ranch one of the best Texas resorts

What makes Lajitas one of the best Texas Resorts

The ranch sits center stage. As we wandered the acres, the history of the place opened up. Close to the Terlingua community with its eccentricities, Lajitas offers a quiet and graceful contrast.

Lajitas golf resort and spa arcade

There are shops and a spa of course, but I didn’t take the time to investigate. I wanted to be outside. The Lajitas resort is famous as a magnificent golf course rolling over hills and between mesas. There’s no wonder it’s award winning – voted the #1 most beautiful golf course in Texas by Golf Magazine, Best of Texas resorts for golf by Texas Outside and the Dallas Morning News considers it the # one public course you can play in Texas.

lajitas golf course always beautiful

Once handicaps were mightily challenged – one hole lay across the Rio Grande in Mexico! Those days are gone now but the course still runs along the border and that meandering river. If it weren’t for a light rain, you’d be seeing pictures of me in a golf cart careening along the course trails. Along with trails galore, the resort sits close to a marked nature walk flush with local flora and fauna.

lajitas trail sign

There’s a historic chapel filled with local artists’ work.

lajitas chapel

Nearby, a zip line sat ready, its lines looped up into the highlands. There are nine lines with three different courses for various levels and ages. We met the guides who were getting ready for fall guests. Their shop also manages shooting activities: Five stand sporting cays, a cowboy action shoot full of Wild West arms, a combat course, and packages combining them.

One glimpse of the Lajitas zip line


Inside the outfitters shop in one of Texas resorts

My favorite spot, the key to this being one of the best Texas resorts, is Black Jack’s crossing. Don’t let them tell you it’s just a golf shop – there’s much more inside. The owners manage one of the largest collections of Longhorn displays in the West. Rooms are full of the noble horns. Historic pictures, branding irons, log books, and a wide mural surround the golf shop amenities. I don’t play golf but would go out of my way to see this collection.

inside blackjacks crossing

Another historic space that makes this one of the best Texas resorts is the Ocotillo event space. Once a fine dining restaurant featured in Gourmet magazine, now the two-story building hosts private events. It’s worth a stop to climb the tower and admire the views. There’s even a Texas state shaped pond!

ocotillo event space in Lajitas resort

Last but not least are the stables offering equestrian adventures including sunset and sunrise trail rides.

horses in Lajitas stables

As we completed our visit, dining as the stars emerged, I felt closer to the heart of this land in Lajitas, definitely one of the finest Texas resorts.

lajitas resort grounds

If you explore Lajitas golf resort and spa, one of the best Texas resorts:
  • Make reservations for lodging, golf, spa and activities at the resort (
  • Getting there: There’s a small airport nearby but most visitors arrive by car.
  • Spend some time on the River with Big Bend River Tours (
  • The Barton Warnock Visitors Center has lots of information about Big Bend National Park (

A horseback riding, saddle and paddle adventure – Lajitas, Texas

horseback riding at lajitas stables in Texas
Horseback riding on the mesas above the Rio Grand River in Texas

Horseback riding on the mesas above the Rio Grand River in Texas

Seasoned road trippers, my sister and I had grown up taking long drives with the family but we’d never veered off road to go horseback riding. Our annual trip together, this road trip through West Texas, had us pulling over on a whim often, but this morning we were rushing to make a rendezvous with a singular cowpoke.

We knew that we had to be at the Lajitas Stables corral early and left our modest motel in Terlingua while it was still dark. The idea was that we’d pick up coffee and a light breakfast somewhere along the 26 miles between our launch and destination. What we didn’t realize taking off in the early morning dark was how deserted the road would be and how few places would be open. Two city girls, we marveled at the lack of breakfast places. The idea of a Starbucks or all-night Denny’s on a corner of that prairie land was hilarious and charming.
Dawn breakfast at the Lajitas Resort

Dawn breakfast at the Lajitas Resort

The Lajitas Golf Resort saved our day. While it was far too early to check in, the breakfast buffet was just opening up. Caffeine kicked in as we looked out across the mesas and dawn’s light broke. Tummies satisfied and the cobwebs of sleep wiped clear, we headed to our rendezvous.
Kelly the cowgirl and Lajitas Stables guide

Kelly the cowgirl and our Lajitas Stables guide

I’d envisioned joining a group and horseback riding for a few hours. What unfolded was a half day ride up rocky hillsides with expansive views across the Rio Grande River, spotting wildlife and tossing rocks down into box canyons. It was just my sister Julie, me and Kelly with our sweet horses. The pace was rambling and Kelly graciously tolerated my grilling her with questions. Just before noon, we entered a shallow canyon. “It’s time for our box lunch,” Kelly joked as we stopped at the granite terminus of the box canyon.
Elaine taking notes during our box canyon lunch on a horseback riding adventure

Lunchtime during our horseback riding adventure

She looped the reins loosely, knowing the horses so well that there was no need to restrain them. They were distracted quickly, nuzzling into new greens from the recent rains. That was the hardest part of the ride – keeping them moving with all the luscious new growth along the trails (tasty if you’re a hungry horse and, ‘They’re always hungry,’ Kelly says.)
As Julie and I watched chipmunks leaping on the rocks above and circled the low pools where butterflies flittered, Kelly prepared our lunch. Miraculously, her slim saddle bag held a feast. We gorged on smoked chicken breast, a wondrous bean and corn salad, tortillas, and pickles. Cookies and lots of water capped our meal before we swung back onto our waiting steeds.
Mesa view into Mexico across the Rio Grande river

Mesa view down to the corral and into Mexico across the Rio Grande river

As we rose on a crest we spied the corral and the one horse who had remained behind began whiny-ing. She was lonely! We picked up the pace slightly as the afternoon’s heat peaked. Once we dismounted, I strode over with my bag and felt a sudden flush. Kelly took a glance up and told me to bend over. She took her bottle of ice water (frozen the night before) and poured the chilly liquid over my neck and head. I hadn’t realized how quickly heat stroke can creep up! In moments my skin and temperature were back to normal.
Our paddle master at work on the Rio Grande

Our paddle master at work on the Rio Grande

Good thing too as we turned to say our goodbyes, a van pulled up. It was our second rendezvous of the horseback riding, Saddle and Paddle adventure. I regretted leaving the horses and Kelly but climbed into the cool van as we rode to a low dirt road. Our guide, Matt, backed the van trailer close to the water’s edge and shifted a Zodiac raft into position. Within minutes we had our life jackets on and were slowly cruising down the lazy river.
butterflies on the Rio Grand River

Butterflies on the Rio Grand River

Around us, sagebrush grew close to the lapping river. Birds darted overhead. I tried time and again to capture pictures of the bright yellow butterflies sipping at shallows as we passed. At one point the river split around an island and we were positioned for running the rapids. It sounds riskier than it actually was. My apprehension evaporated at the chance to get into the water. Matt had the four of us link arms as we shuffled into the river. A few moments later, he positioned himself to sit in the water, cautioning us to keep our feet up and forward. One by one we dipped. It was a thrill – brief, fun and a great way to cool off after horseback riding too.
Matt and snack on our Saddly and Paddle adventure
Before we parted with Matt he manifested a quick snack as the skies turned dark and a light sprinkle erupted. I spied lightning over the mesa and marveled at the adventure, horseback riding, paddling and the peace of the Big Bend and Lajitas region.
 Horseback riding above the Rio Grand.

An experience I’ll never forget. Horseback riding above the Rio Grand.

My sister and me practicing our familial head tilt. I won!

My sister and me practicing our familial head tilt. I won!

Go horseback riding, river rafting in the Lajitas area of West Texas:

Read more about exploring West Texas in my 2 part, Road Trip planner. Part 1 and Part 2

Special thanks to El Paso and Brewster County Tourism offices for making our West Texas adventure possible. While we were hosted all pictures and opinions are my own. 
Sharing is caring. Take this pin for example!
horseback riding, Lajitas, West Texas pin
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How to find edible mushrooms – Forager, Adrienne Long

Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska where edible mushrooms hide

A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska, where edible mushrooms hide


We met on a long weekend camping trip in SE Alaska. I had no idea that Adrienne was a fungi expert until the two of us took off on a trail into the woods and she began pointing out edible mushrooms and more suspicious varieties.
Adrienne Long works as a forager and guide based out of Mendicino County. Her biggest passion is getting out into the forest, into the wild, and being able to live off the land. Most of us don’t have a clue about where to find them, which are edible mushrooms or might be fatal.  I asked what got her interested in mushrooms?
A – I always really enjoyed nature and something called me to the fungi. I knew I wanted to learn more and it exploded from there. First I studied in botany classes, mushroom, and natural history. So, I know a lot about what we have growing wild in the Mendocino area, where I’ve lived about 16 years.
mushrooms on trees are sometimes edible mushrooms
E -You can learn a lot about mushrooms in a book but it’s also an experiential thing. Who did you work with to learn about mushrooming?
A – My husband taught me the basics, then I took a class at College of the Redwoods with Teresa Scholers. We had a Teacher’s Assistant, Dr. Ryan Snow, a well-known mushroom forager and internationally recognized. With Teresa, the class was half lecture and half in the woods. Every year that she taught I would T.A. so there was more opportunity to be out in the woods and learn about new mushrooms. Maybe one year you didn’t see it and the next year there’d be a bunch of them out, so with the quantity of mushrooms we have in that area, the more you go out the more you learn.
E – The conditions along the California North West coastal region are prime for edible mushrooms because of the weather?
A – Weather and the trees are important. A lot of mushrooms are reliant on a specific species of tree. That makes for prime mushroom habitat.
E – I used to think that mushrooms were a sign of death; that they broke down things as parasites but you’ve said that they often work with plants. Do you see that often?
A – Oh yeah. Mushrooms are the most important decomposers we have on this planet. If we didn’t have mushrooms we’d just have piles and piles of plant matter that would never decompose. But we also have mushrooms that work with the trees to survive. They help the trees to gather water. There are some that weaken trees and allow other pathogens to enter the system to weaken the tree. So, there are all kinds of fungi out there. When you’re out it’s important to know what kind you’re looking for; if you want a decomposer or a Mycorrhizal mushroom that’s connected to a tree.
Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

E – I wasn’t a very good hippie but remember that some people loved to find certain kinds of mushrooms which were hallucinogens. Do you have those in your area?
A – Not so much. They’re some of the hardest to come by. They’re little and brown. The forest is full of hundreds of species of little brown mushrooms. You could pick one that is extremely toxic or one that is Psilocybin, those are the ones that are hallucinogenic but where we are it’s not very common to find them.
E – One of the most surprising things I learned from being in the forest with you is that the biggest part of a mushroom is not what you’re going to see.
A – They found in Oregon the largest mycelium, the roots of the mushroom underground. The largest one is four miles wide and it grows in a circle. So if you see a fairy ring, a circle of mushrooms, that circle is the mycelium and the mushrooms are on the outside. That ring if it’s large it means that it’s really healthy and the only reason the mushrooms are there are to spread spores and reproduce. The whole fungal body is either in the ground or in a tree decomposing and eating the tree matter.
E – It sounds like something out of a science fiction story but it’s happening all over the world. Is there anywhere you’d like to go to forage for edible mushrooms?
A – Anywhere and everywhere I possibly can. We’ve been to Mexico and I saw Chanterelles but they don’t really forage for edible mushrooms there. I’m willing to go anywhere in the world to hunt and see what species of mushrooms different places have.
Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

E – One of the most popular edible mushroom varieties are truffles. Do you ever find them in your region?
A – Not along the coast, we don’t have the right tree situation for truffles. I think it’s more the Washington and Oregon areas that have those. But even going to Washington is a great thing to do because they have such a great foggy climate. There’s a lot of wild crafted mushrooms that come out of Washington and Oregon.
E – We’re sitting in Ketchikan, Alaska, and spent some time in the forest. Did you find some surprising things?
A – I found a slime mold but it’s not really fungal. That’s another whole organism.
It’s a single cell ameba that goes wandering around the forest and then when it finds something to eat it will send out a hormone. Then all the other little ameba join up and make this mass. It’s pretty amazing and comes in all different colors. The one I saw was a nice shiny black.
E – They come together and then come apart at different times too. Does it react if you touch it?
Here’s a cool, short video about the kind of slime mold Adrienne found in the forest:
A – This one kind of molded together when I touched it but you can watch them move if you want to sit there for a long time. Once it’s finished eating and full, then everyone re-disperses into the forest until they’re ready to procreate. Then they’ll have a big ameba orgy later.
E – There were yellow mushrooms coming out of a tree on our SE Alaska trail and you pointed out that some are better to eat at certain times.
A – Yes, that was called “Chicken of the Woods” and they’re better to eat as little buttons. Some species can be toxic though and you need to watch out. They’re also called “Chicken of the Woods!” if they’re growing on something that’s toxic they could be absorbing those toxins and possibly be toxic to you.
E – That brings us back to an important aspect of mushroom hunting, “Go with someone who knows what they’re doing, who has the experience” like yourself. You work out of Mendocino and Fort Bragg with different organizations. What is the best time of year to go foraging with you?
A – Usually first rain into February, so usually October to February is great. If you want really high mushroom count, December is the best depending on what species of mushroom you’re looking for. Google ‘Mushroom foraging in Mendocino County’ to find me or look for the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. I do nature tours and guided walks out of the inn.
Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
E – You have children, are you teaching them to forage as well?
A – Of course, I have a four year and a ten-year-old and that’s one of their favorite things to do in the winter time. My son loves to go out with his friends and bring home mushrooms. He’ll go, “Oh, see this gelatinous mushroom?” and he’ll eat it. Audrey just loves to carry her basket around and go hiking with me. I feel it’s definitely something they need to learn.
E – Do you have a favorite edible mushroom that you like to cook with? A lot of people are familiar with Chanterelles, but you want to find a particular kind, right?
A – Yes, but there are false Chanterelles but those can be toxic and give you gastro-intestinal disorders, so you want to be careful. You want to know your edibles but more importantly, you want to know the toxics and toxic look-alikes so you don’t mistake those. One of the most important things when cooking mushrooms is to do a double sautee. So you cook them in a dry pan with no seasoning and no oil until the water comes out and evaporates. Then you add butter, oil, garlic, or whatever for flavor and they’ll absorb all that flavor. It makes them much tastier that way.
E – So, when you’re cooking, all that moisture out is it also for safety reasons or just for the flavor?
A – Just for the flavor. You want to cook out the moisture first before adding other ingredients, say for a sauce. I’ve ruined a few just by adding raw mushrooms. It cooks all that water into your sauce and can be very overwhelming. With all mushrooms, it’s better to pick a small mushroom than a larger mushroom. All mushrooms have the same number of cells, whether they’re small or large. They don’t grow by cell division. They grow by cell elongation, so when they’re really big it’s because their cells are elongated and water logged.
E – So bigger is not better.
A – Right, bigger is not necessarily better!
This has been so much fun. What a world you live in! I look forward to seeing where you take all this.
Interested in finding edible mushrooms?
Find Adrienne at or at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino, California.

Where to find the best places to eat in Oceanside

Best places to eat in oceanside are mostly at the weekly night market

Best places to eat in oceanside are mostly at the weekly night marketMuch more than a surf and beach getaway, Oceanside is a dining destination where parking is abundant and you can always get a seat at the table or bar. That is unless you need to get into the 35 seat speakeasy, 101 Proof, on a busy night. The city ripples with tantalizing eating and drinking options. And not just individual places, the Thursday Night Market overflows with curated vendors offering affordable and unique tastes. Choose from plank fired Salmon, Ghawazee small plates, Japanese cakes, Polish pierogi, gluten free pastries for example. Entertainment fills a plaza with live music, Bungee jumping, henna painting. Strolling, eating and enjoying the crowd makes for a relaxing night. I loved simply watching an expert baker toss pizza crust overhead next to a wood-fired grill at one the best places to eat in Oceanside.

The west entrance to the night market, one of the best places to eat in Oceanside

The sunset market on Thursdays is one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.

With all the culinary excitement across San Diego county, it’s taken awhile for Oceanside to get its due. Once it was a bit shady, downtown was punctuated with tattoo parlors and rowdy military bars. The rowdies have moved onto lower rent burgs. The city center and south along the Pacific Coast Highway are bubbling with new energy. Families enjoy the beach and wander downtown day or night. Couples nuzzle in comfy booths and friends mingle everywhere. Cutting-edge chefs, urban farmers, distilleries and ale-houses – there’s a lot to love. Here are several food spots I look forward to visiting again and again.
Urge gastropub is one of the best places to eat in Oceanside

Urge Gastropub / Mason Aleworks / 101 Proof Speakeasy

Urge Gastropub
Once a boxy bank sat on a corner of Highway 101. Today a consortium of brewers, chefs and mixologists have transformed it into a feast for the senses – the Urge Gastropub. I stepped inside the dining room and central bar to face a wall of fine spirits. Behind the kitchen, the brewing prowess the Mason Aleworks team of beer masters fill kegs and tanks.
The boys in the band from Mason Aleworks and the Urge Gastropub kitchen

The ‘boys in the band’ from Mason Aleworks and the Urge Gastropub kitchen

For a behind-the-scenes look into Mason Aleworks and the exclusive 101 Proof Speakeasy, check out my video:
Outside around the corner, there’s a simple sturdy door. Enter and you’re in a classic speakeasy. The Whisky vault, 101 Proof, is an homage to the luxurious drinking salons of the 1930’s. There’s a refined menu, plush upholstery and the talented ministrations of the bartender. The space is intimate and reservations are suggested. Tell them Bugsy sent you.
Bartender inside the 101 Proof Speakeasy

Bartender inside the 101 Proof Speakeasy

Cyclops Farm

Get a taste of the freshest, organically-certified produce from the weekend stand at Cyclops Farms. Meander up to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the Pacific. Farmer, Luke Girling, spent the last few years filling this huge, residential acreage with unique greens, fruits, and flowers for local chefs. His inspiration has caught on as part of an urban farming movement that’s filling suburban neighborhoods with clean and bountiful harvests. The community loves it too. As I stood there on the morning of a tour, he waved to the street several times as neighbors passed by. Follow his Facebook page to sign up for one of the exclusive ‘Water Bill Dinners’ he hosts monthly at tables on the property.

Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand

Luke Girling, founder of Cyclops Farms inside his farm stand

Staci Miller, founder of Miller's Table one of the best places to eat in Oceanside

Staci Miller, founder of Miller’s Table

Millers table sandwich
The Millers Table

Staci Miller has a flair for unique details, creating a restaurant that’s an experience, as well as delicious presentations. The intimate space contains a huge community table decorated with lights and candles. Focusing on artful sandwiches, inspired vegetables, and fresh locally sourced proteins, the culinary team serves their creations without waitstaff. Curious about your hummus, where the delicious rolls come from, what the best wine or beer pairing is? Ask Staci or her team as they stop by the table. Savvy locals know to call ahead for seats or order a picnic basket for a patio or beachside meal.

The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway

The dining room of LTH on South Coast Highway

The Charcuterie plate at LTH

The Charcuterie plate at LTH

Local Tap House

Don’t let the casual vibe fool you. LTH takes great food and drink seriously. Yes, the patio is pet-friendly, garage doors open to the sea breezes and bicycle teams may fill tables. It’s all affordable fun based on a menu full of surprises. LTH embodies a laid-back beach style with an eye to delicious quality.

Chef Davin Waite and his creations from Wrench and Rodent
Wrench and Rodent

With a name like that you’d better be good. Chef and founder, Davin Waite, twists his punk rock sensibilities into the freshest seafood presentations imaginable. Each ingredient is ‘chef selected.’ The ‘Sebasstropub’ is irreverently decorated (yes, there be rodent art,) and small, with a large patio in front and back, and an entrance from the parking lot through a taco shop. Sushi lovers wax eloquent. Fish connoisseurs hum with approval. Just go!


608 pork loin from Chef William Eick

Think you know short ribs? The tender meat is served with roasted vegetables on a bed of Thai Coconut curry. Scrumptious.

608 Oceanside's Chef William Eick explains his bold flavor inspirations

608 Oceanside’s Chef William Eick explains his bold flavor inspirations.

608 Oceanside

This new restaurant is making waves in the San Diego culinary scene. While Chef William Eick serves ‘small plates based on a contemporary American cuisine’ don’t assume that you’ve had anything like this. The restaurant is slender, intimate, and set along the main downtown block of Mission Boulevard. 608 is definitely buzzworthy as one of the best places to eat in Oceanside.

Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland at the Sunset Market

Alicja Miechowski of Taste of Poland

Plank roasting with Michael Bossle in the Flamin' Salmon booth

Plank-roasting with Michael Bossel in the Flamin’ Salmon booth

The Stone Brewery beer garden at the Oceanside sunset market

The Stone Brewery beer garden

Mainstreet Oceanside Sunset Market
Erase any preconceptions of a night market. Every Thursday evening at sundown the event fills several cross streets of downtown Oceanside. The International Food Court is packed with curated stands and inspired vendors. They’re some of the best places to eat in town – all affordable and great fun. I was entranced by the buzz. Live bands play in the square, there’s great people-watching, date-night couples, family diners, and more delicious food in one place than imaginable.  Of course, you’ll also find shopping with crafts and activities like pony rides, henna painting, and bungee jumping. It’s a carnival without the barkers or rides. Also, Stone Brewery has set up an open-air pub in a garden on a side street for those looking for more adult brews. Definitely worth the trip to town.
Getting to the best places to eat in Oceanside
Come down from OC, over from Escondido, pace the traffic and wind up the Interstate 5 from San Diego central. You won’t regret the drive. Better yet take the train. The Amtrak station is steps from town and a few blocks from the beach. On weekends, the Metrolink rolls in from LA and San Bernadino with a discount fair. The Coaster stops in too and one line swings out to East County as well.
sunset over the oceanside pierBest places to eat in Oceanside

I’ve been in and out and past Oceanside so many times while cruising between San Diego and Los Angeles. It was been so much fun discovering more about this coastal gem and I thank the Oceanside Visitors Bureau for arranging a tour for the members of IFWTWA. I’ll be back!

Sharing is caring! Here’s a pin about the best places to eat.

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Desert wildflowers – Anza Borrego road trip tips

desert wildflowers and ocotillo

desert wildflower lily

Anticipation ran high and rumors began before the rainstorms stopped. Is this the year for desert wildflowers Superbloom? Winds, hard rains, and long years of drought have stymied the annual desert blooms over the last few years. So we waited to see if the conditions were right for the desert wildflowers to pop and finally got lucky.

My shoes covered in desert wildflowers pollen

My shoes covered in desert wildflowers pollen

Watch this video about the desert wildflowers road trip:

Careful timing and preparation for a desert road trip can save your life

The area can be scorching with temperatures regularly over 105 degrees for a good part of the year. Make sure your car is topped out with antifreeze and water whenever you go. There’s a steep climb to navigate over the mountains from the San Diego region. It’s also one of my favorite drives. The boulders surrounding the summit are formidably beautiful and the views as you emerge from cloud-filled peaks are breath-taking.

Wind conditions

When heading east along the southern route, it’s also good to know what the wind conditions are. Take extra precautions or another route if you have a high profile vehicle. I’ve seen trucks blown onto their sides and it can be a long wait for assistance in the remote area.

road sign on the way to find desert wildflowers

We set our trajectory to the timing of the first desert wildflowers reports. Wildflowers emerge first in the south just north of the Mexican border. We headed there guided by various tracking sites (see the list below.) There’s a wash on a side road from the freeway that leads to Calexico and it’s been our lucky spot.

carpet of desert wildflowers

From there we reversed our route driving north along Highway 78 towards the town of Ocotillo Wells. Before we crossed the freeway we made a pit stop for coffee at the Ocotillo Wells Chevron truck stop. A great discovery was the freshly made coffee in individual Keurig-style machines. We also discovered some pretty unique snacks on the counter (and left them there!)

larva and cricket snacks

Larva and cricket snacks at a desert truck stop!

Ocotillo Wells is a tiny town but worth a slow cruise. The locals keep it light with creative yard art. It’s also where off-roaders find repair and body shops. We cruised through on our way to lunch in Anza Borrego. (Read more in my earlier post about desert nomads and where the locals eat)

Ocotillo wells nose sign

Spotted in Ocotillo Wells

Campers and weary road warriors often stop at the Agua Caliente Hot Springs. The pools are managed by the county, so this isn’t a spa experience. The adult-only indoor pool has jacuzzi jets and the outdoor pool is family friendly. There are lockers, changing rooms and a few other amenities.

Anza borrego desert state park sign

Once you’ve entered the Anza Borrego Park bee-line to the Visitors Center. It’s natively landscaped and a carefully-positioned building full of interactive exhibits, trail experts, and information about where to go. Movies will entrance the kids and the gift shop is a fun diversion too. The Visitor center packs its calendar with lots of events whether desert wildflowers are out or not.

Borrego Springs – First Dark Sky Community

Star-gazing is wonderful year round in the Borrego Springs area. As the first Dark Sky Community in California, airplanes flying into the small airport angle their lights down and lights are modified on streets, businesses, and homes. Check out star-gazing opportunities if you are staying in the area.

desert sculptures near Borrego Springs

Sky Art

Make sure to save time to see some of the immense metal sculptures that dot the desert landscape. Sculptor, Ricardo Breceda planted his ‘Sky Art’ in the open reaches of the area. Most evolved from his imagination (A giant sea dragon crosses the road!) to Plio-Pleistocene animals and dinosaurs. Spanish explorers, turtles, fantasy creatures and bighorn sheep make great photo opps. In fact, on busy weekends, you might have to wait in line to get your shot. (See link to map below.)

Desert art between Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs

Desert art between Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs

The flowers drew us to the desert this year and we weren’t disappointed. So many plants were in stages of blooming and the desert floor had a low mesh of green growth that I’d never witnessed before. Nature wasn’t wasting a moment to take advantage of the rainfall. Our bonus as we headed home and up the incline into the cloudy summit was a full rainbow.

desert rainbow

***Check out my earlier post about the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve north of Los Angeles for more wildflower encounters.

Tips for finding desert wildflowers:

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