Category Archives: World Travel

New places and the kindness of strangers

Shopkeepers in Rome, one of the new places in 2017
Bedouin shepard in Jordan
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”

― Anaïs Nin

Bedouin Truck driver new places in Jordan
Little Petra flute player new places
Olive grower in Um Quais, Jordan

Caption: Jordan was one of my new places in 2017 and these are just a few of the kind strangers I met there.

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Have you ever traveled to a new city, state, country where you know no one? Visiting new places can be daunting but you may also feel a bit courageous. It’s exciting but a bit scary. It’s harder to find the grace and opportunities between those extremes if you stay tucked away in the familiar. Whether it’s heading to a new area near my home or I’m far away, in new places my senses are on alert and I feel more alive than ever.
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“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ― Gustave Flaubert
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Traveling to new places is humbling too. ” I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says a famous Tennessee Williams character. It’s a complex play, but if the tragic Blanche Dubois had truly opened to a new way of living, to being fully present, A Streetcar Named Desire may have had a happier ending.
Learning to depend on the kindness of strangers – or not
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Those of us who are fiercely independent may find it hard to ask for help. Travel has taught me to get more comfortable with asking for what I need and it’s taught me the consequences of not doing so. Human nature is basically kind I’ve found, and asking for assistance can be chance to connect, it can illuminate cultural differences or lead to bonding over a common issue. By example, the simple task of getting directions might lead to discovering much more and as a writer, I’ve found a few great stories that way.
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I won’t forget falling on a sidewalk in Puerto Ayoura in the Galapagos. I hadn’t seen several bolts protruding out of the cement. As I fell to the hard surface, scraping a knee and bruising my hip, I looked up and for a few seconds it seemed that everyone on the street stopped, turned, and then started walking my way to help. I quickly assessed the damage and my hand shot up, “I’m OK. Thanks.” They turned away as I drew myself to my feet, but what if I’d allowed myself to be comforted? Stumbling around, back in my bubble of independence and sore for the next few days, made me wonder.
The Bukowski Bar was one of the new places in Rome
Taipei Flight attendant assisting a baby in one of those new places
New friends inside the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee

Caption: Three humbling experiences of the kindness of strangers: Top – Rome on my first night. The owners of the Bukowski Bar were very kind and explained their local happy hour customs. A flight attendant tried to entertain a crying baby during my 11 hour flight to Taipei. By myself in Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson Museum, two writers invited me to tag along for the night.

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“A person needs at intervals to separate himself from family and companions and go to new places. He must go without his familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.”
Author, Katharine Butler Hathaway.

Opening your heart to the new can be difficult but it’s part of growing – if we let it. I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, sheltered in a ‘bedroom city’ as my mother called it. My neighborhood at the base of Mt. Baldy was bordered by orange and lemon groves. Exploring those dark, cool rows of trees felt dangerous but my band of friends and siblings would play there often. We’d climb the branches and toughen the soles of our feet by running through rough fields and over scorching rocks. Those first forays into independence and risk set me up for later, far-flung adventures.

Road trips were a big part of growing up too. Most summers, my parents would pack the station wagon for long weeks of wandering. The people we met and new places we explored opened my eyes to a wider world. I’d stepped foot in nearly every state by the time I left for college in Northern California.
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Guide in Split, Croatia, one of the new places for many travelers
Taken in for the evening by a long lost cousin in Zagreb, Croatia
Croatian boat captain shows me a historic writer's home
Ship chef came onboard at the last minute to help us visit new places on the Croatian coastline
Caption: Top – Guide in Split, Cousin in Zagreb, Ship Captain and Chef prepping dinner
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The people we meet often change our lives. They may be lovers, friends, or relatives who entice us to live in different places. After college, I ended up working in Southeast Alaska for six years before eventually returning to the Southern end of the Pacific Coast. There were backpacking weekends, long train trips, ferry journeys, camping, and lots of drives in between. I also learned, on a long sabbatical, that the hardest thing about traveling the world is often setting the trip up. For decades now, I finally relax once I’m on the way, the airplane takes off, or the train leaves the station.
Foodie friends in the Valle Guadalupe
Drew Deckman cooks in the Valle Guadalupe
Home is where the heart is. Travel buddy, Dave Rudie
Close to Home Caption: Top – Foodie friends at Adobe Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico. Below – Drew Deckman cooking in the Valle Guadalupe. My dearest travel buddy, Dave Rudie. 
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky
Buddhist host in the Interfaith New York hostel

My host at the Interfaith Hostel in New York city.

As I write this year is still fresh and new excursions are in the works. I feel differently about travel now, wanting to go deeper, more consciously, and to be more present. I’m so fortunate that my work involves travel and as I witness the world, I look forward to connecting with those I meet more fully. Hopefully, in theses new places, I’ll be experienced as a kind stranger as well.

Mural in Rome featuring Mick Jagger

One of the Red Nose murals in Rome.

 “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
― Jack KerouacOn the Road
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Wherever you’re going next, here are some tips about getting there stress free.
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What new places are you planning to see?
 Mural in Rome and the kindness of strangers

Quito’s Illa Experience – Luxury hotel review

The Illa luxury hotel lobby and it's mirror pool in Quito, Ecuador
Central lobby pool in the Illa Experience - a luxury hotel review

Central lobby pool in the Illa Experience

I didn’t expect to find an innovative, luxury hotel on a quiet, traditional street in Quito’s Old Town. There’s a hillside neighborhood, San Marcos, filled with homes and historical villas, craftsmans’ studios and bakeries. I joined my host from Latin Trails and to visit galleries, vintage antique shops, cafes and church plazas. Climatically, we stopped in front of a simple, elegant entrance with a starburst logo that glowed next to the door. This was my introduction and the entrance to the Illa Experience, a boutique and luxury hotel. 

(Disclosure: I was hosted for breakfast at the Illa Experience Hotel but all opinions are my own.)
Entrance to the luxury hotel and boutique in Quito's San Marcos neighborhood
Ceiling detail in the Illa Hotel entrance

A historical ceiling detail in the Illa Hotel office

Creative revival inside the Illa Experience luxury hotel

It’s inspirational. The 1700’s family villa was opened to the elements which transformed the space. Each evening the universe is reflected in a lobby mirror pool inset with twinkling candles. The rear of the building opens to the rooftops and mountains of Quito, which also  floods the deeply draped guest rooms with light. Many of the original building’s most unique features have been adapted and preserved. For example, in the office sitting room the ceiling is graced with imprinted tin and an antique convent bookcase features shelves that turn, revealing bottles of local wines.

Illa room with traditional ceramic coffee maker

Illa luxury hotel room with a traditional ceramic coffee maker

Illa luxury hotel bath in one of the ten rooms
There are ten rooms on three floors with details drawn from periods in the capital city’s history: Colonial, Republican and contemporary. Local artwork and traditional ceramic coffee urns nod to the past and culture in each room. The guest suites also have views, from colorful Junin Street or to the famous Panecillo Virgin statue.
One of the breakfast treats at Nuema inside the Illa Luxury Hotel

One of the breakfast trays inside the Illa Luxury Hotel

Each meal is a work of art aas I discovered at breakfast. In the petite dining room, I enjoyed fruit from the region, homemade butters, savory and sweet (sesame & chocho beans plus herbs.) Three different Ecuadorian cheeses and a smoked, carmelized jam with raw sugar adorned a silvery platter. All that was just one course of many!

Chef extradorinaire

Chef Alejandro Chamorro studied at the ground-breaking Nomo in Scandinavia and his passion for Ecuadorian cuisine infuses everything he makes. He and his wife, Piedad Salaza, run the award-winning Nuema restaurant together. They are magicians at presentation and craft exquisite fare from locally sourced ingredients. Daily menus include harvests from small farmers, foragers and artisinal fishermen. But, for all their innovation, the Illa breakfasts also offer traditional items like Quinoa pancakes with homemade syrup; “As grandma used to make,” Chammoro says.
Step inside the Illa and stroll the neighborhood in this video:

 


Private and curated wines available inside the Illa Experience

One corner of the private and curated wine cellar with some of the best wines from South America and the world.

One of the Illa’s inspirations are experiences tailored for guests. There’s a painting school in the neighborhood and you can work on your brushwork with a private tutor in a studio at the hotel. Perhaps you’d learn how to make traditional desserts, try a few dance steps or take a lesson from one of the other craftsmen in the area.
Inside the Madera Noble shop. The work features small inlays from bone, wood, tagua vegetable ivory from Amazon seed polished, exported as buttons made in Hong Kong.

Inside the Madera Noble shop, pieces feature small inlays of bone, wood, and Tagua vegetable Ivory, a polished Amazon seed.

The traditional neighborhood whic has been home to generations of artists, writers, and musicians in a tight-knit community. There are small cafes and few cars. It’s a lovely place for strolling and admiring views of town and the hillsides. For all this, the hotel is only a five minute walk from Old Town’s central, Plaza Grande.
 One house was previously owned by the artist, Suarez, born in 1918. A memorial tile plaque sits near the front door. It reads:
“The walls and wood of this house … are impregnated with her dreams and life.”
As we stroll, neighbors stop to say hello. I wish there’d been time to join one restaurant owner for lunch. His award-winning purple porridge is a favorite for Ecuadorian style Day of the Dead celebrations. The soup is made from a sweet purple corn and served with dolls and lambs made of bread. Our host says it’s one of the best restaurants in Quito.
A local fruit stand in San Marcos, Quito, Ecuador

A local fruit stand in San Marcos.

Another neighborhood cafe in San Marcos serves an afternoon special on Sundays. “By afternoon she’s sold out,” I’m told. The owner/chef stands in the doorway next to a grill filled with potato patties and pork that’s been oven roasted in a brick oven. Elsewhere small markets offers seasonal fruits from the region, the ingredients go from “cobb to pot,” they say in Quito.

Chef Chamorro in the kitchen. Photo: Illa Experience website

Chef Chamorro in the kitchen. Photo from the Illa Experience website

My dream is to return to Quito and spend several nights soaking up the ambiance of San Marcos. I’d try my hand at watercolor painting and sip wine as gorgeous morsels fill my dinner table, but that fantasy will have to wait for another time.

Find out more about the Illa Experience here. The hotel is part of the Latin Trails Tour group which also offers luxury Galapagos Island Tours. You’ll see the wildlife and lush experiences to be found on their Sea Star cruise. Find out more about another another  overlooked treasure of Quito – its Roses!
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Luxury awaits inside the Illa Hotel in Quito, EcuadorStep into the Illa luxury hotel experience in Quito, Ecuador

 

Travel Notes & Beyond

Smell the roses when you visit Ecuador

Roses bloomng inside Quito nursery

When you visit Ecuador take time to enjoy the roses

You can’t miss roses when you visit Quito. Perfectly formed, large blooms sit on cafe tables and fill arrangements in lobbies across the city. Better yet, bouquets of long-stemmed roses cost about a dollar in the local markets.

The abundance startled me. In California terms, roses are expensive extravagances reserved for special occasions. When I moved into my Southern California home I inherited a half-dozen rose bushes. I’ve been on a learning curve, nudging them to bloom ever since. Haven’t lost a bush yet but my garden roses look nothing like the ones I found in Ecuador. They also smell differently. While most nursery roses in Quito are fragrance-free (a trade off for the big blooms and long stems,) they also create ‘garden varieties’ for scent and shorter stems.

Find out where your roses come from in this short video:

Why is Quito the Capital of Roses?

Among many of Ecuador’s riches is a high, Andean zone with near perfect growing conditions for all kinds of flowers. The equatorial climate offers direct, natural sunlight year round. The altitude of the Quito region, nearly ten thousand feet above sea level, with its cool nights, is perfect for long-stemmed roses. About 400 varities grow in the highlands. (When you visit, this earlier post about fighting altitude sickness in South America, may be helpful.)

In villages and on plateaus outside of Quito, thousands of Ecuadorians tend to roses. Most grow in long, poly-fabric tunnels that shelter the roses from the blistering equatorial sun. I spied several as my flight home rose into the clouds.

Exporting flowers boosts the economy by over 100 million dollars yearly. Roses were massively popular in Russia until their economy sank. The United States became the primary importer until political jousting led to cancellation of import programs in place since the 1990’s. Those programs encouraged jobs over illegal crops and drug trafficing. Americans have also favored shorter stemmed roses. Now, it appears that China is interested in importing Asia-rare varieties. It takes one to four days to deliver the bundles across the world.

Roses arranged in Quito inns and restaurants.

Rose arrangements found in Quito

Tending to roses has been a boon for many Ecuadorians. Robin Penaherrea, owner of LatinFlor Ecuador, has seen both social and economic changes in counties that have flowers. About fifty percent of the jobs are for women. Adult and grown offspring often work together, which helps them live in their communities too.

Roses with a Conscience

With so much at stake and so many involved, a group of seven certified flower producers formed the Ecuador Fair Trade Association. They pledged to provide fair working conditions, freedom of association (the right to organize,) and respect for the environment. In those organizations the workers receive ten percent of the price paid for the flowers. While the average wage for flower workers in South America is around $250 a month, Ecuadorian flower workers fare better. Those working in Fair Trade companies also have another benefit. The Fair Trade Premium money, that ten percent, goes into projects that directly benefit the workers. They decide how to spend the savings through surveys and ‘democratic’ processes. The benefits include education, computer access and training, health programs, loans to buy land or improve homes.

Renewable energy, reduced pesticide use and organic fertilizers have also been part of the Fair Trade Association member growers mission.

Last roses of my home season.

Last roses of my home season.

Back in San Diego I wondered if any of my garden blooms evolved from varieties imported from Ecuador. For decades their garden roses have been promoted in the US for their scent, shapes and color. I’m no gardener but hopefully, I’ll enjoy them for years to come and will never forget Quito’s beautiful bouquets.

More blossoms in Quito:

Post sources include: Reuters, Why Ecuador’s Roses Stand Out, Floralinkla, How changes in Ecuador Affect You,  Ecuador.com – Supporting producers in Ecuador through Fair Trade.

A Pin to Share:Quito Roses in a Pinterest friendly graphic

Travel Notes & Beyond

Exploring Inside Petra – Are Two or Four Legs Best?

Man at Monastery inside Petra
Explore inside Petra from the famous Treasury site on two or four feet
Inside Petra, there’s a slit in the vast rock they call the Siq. Narrow, sandstone walls rise in ribbons of grey then reds, and far above, the sky is a slice of blue. Ages ago the slim passage was lined with cobblestones and the Nebeteans shuttled guests through in red-carpeted carriages. Today you can still ride horse-drawn carriages but to really savor this noble entrance, walking inside Petra gives the heart time to adjust to continual awe.

Roman costume inside PetraA little history

By 250 BC, Petra was a flourishing trade and power center. By then the Nabateans had been trading throughout the Middle East, into China and the Mediterranean. They were master carvers who adapted much from other societies into their structures and buildings. They also devised ingenious tunnels and water systems to avoid flash floods and protect those walking through the Siq. One tunnel is 88 meters long and cut from solid rock.

One viewpoint inside Petra beyond the famous gate

One viewpoint inside Petra beyond the famous gate

Ride a camel from the Treasury site inside Petra

Ride a camel from the Treasury site inside Petra

Most travelers envision looking up to the beauty of the famous Treasury carvings at the end of the Siq, which opens dramatically to the carvings made famous by Hollywood’s Indiana Jones. But they don’t consider their options for getting to that point, into the vast city beyond and back out again. The Siq opens dramatically to the carvings made famous by Hollywood’s Indiana Jones. To really enjoy seeing Petra, plan for a day spent walking, hiking trails or up steps if that calls to you, or ride donkeys and camels when it doesn’t.

Carriages waiting to take visitors inside the Siq of Petra and back.

Carriages waiting to take visitors inside the Siq of Petra and back.

The best ways to explore inside Petra

  • Be prepared to walk for hours across the flat complex. Hikers will be happy to know there are optional challenges that include steep stairs and trails.
  • Near the entrance to Petra, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage and ride in style to the Treasury or return from there.
  • Whether you walk or ride, don’t miss all that lies beyond the most famous site. From the Treasury, you can negotiate a ride through the rest of the grand city.
  • The complex is laced with canyons and carved, not just for grand temples, but also homes. Many Bedouins still live in Petra’s canyons. They train the camels and donkeys, run the shops and many are guides.

    Make time to enjoy the delicious Jordanian tea and coffee.

    Make time to enjoy the delicious Jordanian tea and coffee.

  • There are grand avenues and vast stretches still waiting to be excavated. Tourism is helping Jordan discover all the ancient Nabataeans built around 250 BC after trading for centuries with the rest of the known world.
  • Do stop for Jordanian tea and coffee or a full lunch at the central cafe.
  • Explore the hills and trails beyond the Treasury site. There are many small shops and artifact collections to peruse on and off the main trail.
Partial excavation inside Petra

Partial excavation inside Petra

The steep hike up to the Monastery is well worth it but if you’re not up for the trail, hire a donkey as we did. I decided to follow my guide’s lead and rode a donkey up the steps – giggling nervously as he stepped close to steep edges or nearly rode other hikers off the trail. It was harrowing but fun. Walking down was a lot easier!
The Treasury light show inside Petra

The Treasury light show inside Petra

Not say goodbye Petra? Return after sunset to see the evening light show. It’s a bit woo-woo with traditional music and muffled narration echoing off the walls. Find a spot to sit for about 30 minutes. Watch for the trays of sweet tea that are passed out to the crowd.
Man and monastery inside Petra

Man and monastery inside Petra

More tips for seeing Petra.

  • Know your limits.
  • Come prepared with water and snacks.
  • Trust the Bedouin guides who know their donkeys, camels and horses. Negotiate but pay them fairly.
  • Wear sunblock, bring a hat and a long-sleeved shirt can be helpful too.
  • Explore side trails and you might find wonderful souvenirs. I brought home silver bracelets and bought spices in small shops hidden off the main trails.
  • Take advantage of the toilets when you see them.
  • Stop for tea often and admire the view.
Here’s a short video about exploring inside Petra:

Petra is one of the world’s wonders for good reason. (And Jordan is full of other wonders too. Here’s another post about that.) I hope these tips will help you to see as much as you can as comfortably as you can.
Many thanks to Jordanian Tourism and the International Food Writers and Travel Writers for making my Petra dreams come true.
Hope you found this helpful in planning your Petra adventure. Here’s a pin to share or bookmark.
Inside Petra with many lookouts and viewpoints

Boobies, lava and teeming seas – Cruising the Galapagos Islands

Watching seal play in the Galapagos Islands
Land Iguana's are one spectacular species you'll see when you visit the Galapagos Islands

Land Iguana

If you're lucky in the Galapagos Islands you'll see new born sea lions

Newborn sea lion and mother

The sea lion nudged her newborn and he replied with a muffled squawk. They didn’t mind that a dozen awed, camera-clicking fans stood about ten feet away. That’s just one of the wonders I witnessed on the Galapagos Islands during my Sea Star cruise with Latin Trails.

The pair rested less than two feet from the after-birth – a smudge of red in the sand – as a several hawks swooped close. “The Kings of Santa Fe Island” our Galapagos Park Naturalist, Hanzel Martinetti, called the ruddy birds as we watched the drama unfold. They were after the remains and would snatch the baby if the mother dropped her guard. Luckily, the Raptors kept their distance while we were there.

Hansel Martinetti, Galapagos Naturalist, helps preserve the wild beauty of the Galapagos Islands

Hansel Martinetti, Galapagos Naturalist

I knew the Galapagos Islands are sanctuaries of stunning wildlife and the source of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary discoveries. I packed a small, species book but that was about the extent of my knowledge before the cruise. Hansel filled in so much.

Here’s a short video from our first day on Espanola Island:

We flew to the islands from Quito. As soon as we landed on San Cristobal Island, Hansel ushered us onto a bus to see the Giant Land Tortoises. Over six days he offered commentaries and answered questions at every pause while we trudged across the islands In the evenings, he led optional talks about sea lions and birds. He also made sure that we never ventured too close to the wildlife and kept us on the marked paths. The guides have a gentle protocol that preserves the experience and lessens the impact of tourism. If we approached another group, we’d stop until they passed, or turn away to follow an adjacent trail. We hardly saw other humans.

Trail ettiquete when visiting the Galapagos Islands.

Baby Albatross and trail etiquette

All this natural bliss was wrapped in the luxuries of our cruise on the Sea Star. I shared a cabin and it was large. I had room to do yoga on the deep area carpet and could watch the stars from our deck. The bathroom was spacious with more than enough counter space for a pair of traveling gals.

Double cabin on the Sea Star

Double cabin on the Sea Star

Granite counters on the Sea Star

Granite counters on the Sea Star

Breakfast featured a full buffet and omelet station. We had an espresso machine to use on demand! Each meal featured fresh ingredients and beautiful presentations. Those who had dietary restraints were accommodated quickly too.

Lunch featuring Ecuadorian Ceviche on the Sea Star

Lunch featuring Ecuadorian Ceviche on the Sea Star

Two of my favorite parts of the cruise were returning from our morning outings to a wet towel, juice or ice tea, and trays of snacks on the deck at a large dining table. After snorkeling or kayaking the cool waters, there were two (!) enormous hot tubs on the top deck. I warmed up in the bubbling waters and shared stories over Pisco Sours while waiting for the sunset. What luxury.

Hot tub happy hour on the Sea Star

Hot tub happy hour on the Sea Star

Who goes on a Galapagos Islands Cruise?

My fellow travelers were a more varied bunch than expected and so interesting. I traveled with another writer who called New York City her home. We shared a dining table with a young couple from the Czech Republic and a gentleman from Quito. A pair of jet-setting newlyweds joined a couple from Florida, who were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. One solo woman, a millennial from France shared a table with three from Germany – a father and daughter plus another solo woman. A videographer from South Africa rounded out the group. Was this representative? I can’t say but it was a fascinating, diverse, and engaging travel family to explore the islands with.

Ship to shore wet landing on the Galapagos Islands.

Ship to shore wet landing on the Galapagos Islands.

Ship routines flowed flawlessly. The staff, all Ecuadorians, seemed to enjoy their work and one day joined us on an island for a crew soccer game while we snorkeled with sea turtles. If we needed anything, they were there to help. I was thoroughly spoiled!

Frigate bird in courtship mode.

Frigatebird in courtship mode.

Flamingos dining in an interior lagoon.

Flamingos dining in an interior lagoon.

Nasca Booby with baby in the Galapagos Islands

Nasca Booby with baby

Preening Blue Footed Booby

Preening Blue Footed Booby

And about the wildlife! Iguanas – marine and land; nurseries, piles and strutting kingpins – made regular appearances. More than once a sea lion chose to sleep in the middle of our path. We carefully stepped around. Bright Tanagers and crimson-chested Frigate Birds stood out. Lava Lizards watched us from poles and rocks. Blue-footed and Nasca Boobies stood by as they preened or nested.

Land iguanas aren't shy or aggressive in the Galapago Islands

Land iguanas aren’t shy or aggressive in the Galapagos Islands

“Too many sea turtles!” we joked after snorkeling one afternoon. I had been in the water less than 5 minutes when a giant turtle swam next to me. When I came in closer to shore to tell my group, they just pointed. There, floating expertly among the bright green algae covering the rocks were nearly a dozen feeding turtles! They hardly looked at us bobbing nearby and more than once I had to arch to avoid their shells as they swam below me in the shallows. Wow. Just wow.Frendly crew on the Sea Star in the Galapagos Islands

Conservation care

The Galapagos Islands are a wonder and carefully managed. Only 87 ships are allowed to tour the archipelago at a time. We never saw more than four at any of our island stops and these were smaller yachts – no more than 25 passengers. A few 100-passenger ships anchored near the Baltra airport or passed us while we traveled at night. I never saw garbage on the beaches or in the water outside of the San Cristobal or Puerto Ayoura villages. From the Leed certified airport in Baltra to the labeled bins throughout the urban areas, the Galapagos Islands are working to take management, conservation, and recycling seriously.

Crew salute on the Sea Star while crusiing the Galapagos Islands

If you go to the Galapagos Islands:

    • Pay attention to the fees required to visit. These include $100 per tourist and a $20 island fee.
    • Do not bring plants or living seeds with you – they will be confiscated.
    • Airlines spray for insects before you land in the Galapagos.
    • Make sure that you travel with cash or use ATM machines in villages or airports. Most places do not take credit cards.
    • Follow regulations to preserve this rare experience. Do not touch or harass wildlife. Maintain your distance (about ten feet.) Don’t speak too loudly or try to get animals to move.
  • Take the Equatorial sun seriously. Even with the December cloud cover, I would get sunburned anyplace I wasn’t covered or missed with sunblock.
  • Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration and manage heat.
  • The islands are safe and there’s little crime. I certainly wasn’t worried that my cabin door didn’t lock.
  • When you sign up with a cruise line make sure they are accredited and host the mandatory Naturalist.

Mark this post for planning and share theses Pins. Happy travels!Discovering Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands wildlife, luxury cruise and pristine beachesGalapagos Island Glories on a Latin Trails Cruise

My trip was hosted by Latin Trails and you can see the ship itinerary here. Although I was their guest, all opinions and photographs are my own. 

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Travel Notes & Beyond

 

 

Fighting Altitude Sickness – South American Edition

The view at ten thousand feet of Quito rooftops
Fighting altitude sickness in South America means preparing for the symptoms

Mural in Ibarra, Ecuador

Altitude sickness hit me in Cusco’s Plaza Grande. My head felt oddly heavy and stepping up a short flight of stairs turned into an endurance test. I live at sea level and should’ve expected the repercussions of jumping from Lima to over 11 thousand feet. Although I’d taken an herbal altitude sickness concoction, even though I chewed Coca leaves, and drank the tea, for over ten days I was plagued with symptoms. They weren’t unusual – a fluctuating pain in my head, a weakness in my legs, every step a grasp for breath, trouble sleeping, and even vomiting a few times! Fighting altitude sickness is not fun.
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Determined to avoid all that the next time I ventured over six thousand feet, I took a prescription altitude sickness pill before a conference in the mountains outside of Denver. Landing was easy. Getting out of the airport and onto a shuttle went smoothly (one of my favorites for the cool architecture that mimics snow-covered mountains.) The Diamox prescription worked, however, out of a range of possible side effects, my fingers started tingling and that didn’t stop for the three days I was at the conference. My fingers stopped tingling quickly after I returned to downtown Denver and stopped taking the medication.
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On my latest trip, I flew into Quito, Ecuador, with an altitude of over nine thousand feet. Again, landing went smoothly enough but once out of the terminal I needed water. The shuttle driver directed me to a Fybeca Pharmacy, outside the terminal, saying, “It will be much cheaper there.” I trust local advice and followed him across to the shop. Two large bottles of water and $1.60 later, we were gliding along the freeway into downtown Quito.
Visit the Angel in Quito at a height of nearly ten thousand feet

The Angel in Quito

Extra water daily can help to fight altitude sickness

I had been told by many that chugging water, as much as I am able, would ease altitude sickness. However, the Institute for Altitude Medicine suggests that an additional liter and a half of water is safest. Otherwise, they suggest that reducing normal sodium levels may cause weakness, etc. I wonder if you eat salted foods – hard to avoid when traveling – if your sodium levels would be at real risk.
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My altitude sickness test began in earnest over the next three days as I explored the Quito. Chugging soda wasn’t an option for me. Likewise with juice or sweet tea. They contain too much sugar and I discovered that only water seemed to relieve the headaches and weakness.
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Quito is a city built on hills between a mountain and a deep river gorge. It’s spread out long and thin due to the geography – about four miles wide East to West and thirty miles long. I was staying in Old Town with its rolling hills and narrow streets. While the headaches lessened over my days, the weakness came and went. I kept drinking water whenever I thought about it and took a few Ibuprofen tablets to help with minor aches. It worked. By the second day, I was comfortable and able to keep up with companions.
Cruce - Crosswalk sign in Quito, Ecuador

Cruce – Crosswalk sign in Quito, Ecuador

Downsides to drinking much more water:

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Drinking a lot of water, or any diuretic means finding bathrooms often. Luckily, in Quito that was not a problem. Stop in for a coffee? “Donde es banos?” Where is the bathroom? I slipped into a hotel lobby more than once. Every church visit or meal meant I asked about the toilet. It wasn’t a problem. All were free and very clean. That area of the city is ancient so toilet paper goes into receptacles in each stall. Actually, it’s a trend across Ecuador and throughout Mexico. Quito takes pains to collect garbage out of public areas and I encountered the smell of bleach more than once.
Recycling bins are all over Ecuador

Recycling bins are all over Ecuador

About drinking water in South America

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Don’t drink the tap water in Quito. Ask if water is filtered when you eat at restaurants. The same follows for Mexico. Plastic bottles are an unfortunate necessity but throughout Ecuador, there are recycling bins. If I were to return, I’d travel with a refillable bottle and a purifying system. There are several on the market. Fortunately, Quito is serious about recycling and most trash receptacles are split into sections to make plastic disposal easy.
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I hope my experiences will help you manage altitude sickness wherever you may encounter it. Here are two earlier posts about dealing with it: Asthma medicines and Altitude Sickness and more about my Peru experiences.
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Don’t let altitude sickness affect your adventures or keep you from seeing the beautiful, high places on the planet!
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Perhaps you’ve experienced this? I’d love to hear your recommendations and stories. Tell me in the comments below about how you managed altitude sickness.
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More Altitude Sickness tips:

  • Altitude sickness can be related to a number of physical challenges. Generally, there’s a higher rate of water vapor lost from the lungs at higher altitudes.
  • The Institute for Altitude Medicine suggests that avoiding caffeine might provoke headaches. Those of us addicted to our morning coffee could experience headaches if we stop drinking it quickly. There may be a likelihood of dehydration due to the diuretic effects.
  • Get emergency treatment if you have life-threatening symptoms!

Why winter is a great time to visit Catalina Island

Catalina Harbor view from Banning House
When you visit Catalina Island in winter be sure to tour the Casino Building

When you visit Catalina Island in winter be sure to tour the Casino Building

The seaplane windows sprayed with salt water as the pontoons hit the water. Slowly we slid to the dock and climbed out of the little airplane. This is my oldest memory of the island and my family returned to visit Catalina several times over the decades. Now my loved ones are scattered around the country, so it’s a rare treat to get together and over to the island.

View from the boat when leaving San Pedro Harbor to visit Catalina

Leaving San Pedro harbor

The Starship Express Ferry coming into Avalon Harbor

I’m not one for crowds. So stopping in Avalon briefly then catching a boat to the tiny landing at Two Harbors was the perfect way to begin our quiet vacation. We left from San Pedro by the Catalina Express and dragged our bags up the hill to the Banning House about three hours later.

One trail up to Banning House

One trail up to Banning House

The main sitting room in Banning House

The main sitting room in Banning House

The house was built in 1910 for the Banning family and sits perched on a hill between the two harbors. The craftsman style inn has only 12 rooms that are booked most of the year. We were lucky to score a family-style space facing Catalina Harbor. Each morning there was a modest breakfast, a happy hour in the evening and we walked down to the Harbor Restaurant for dinner. It was a relaxed and simple routine.

There’s not much lodging in Two Harbors. A campground is available and after the summer crowds have left you might book one of the modest staff cabins. I recommend booking well in advance.

Trans Catalina trail marker

Catalina Harbor viewpoint across the isthmus

Catalina Harbor viewpoint

For two full days, we hiked trails and explored. Our millennials took to the hills as they were training for marathons. There was little WiFi but I did my best to stay up with work for a few hours on the village cafe patio. We tried scuba diving but were thwarted by limited boat rentals. Note* Reserve a skiff ahead of time! Still, it was simple to stroll along the beach and snorkel along the point.

I’ve gone diving from the Casino steps in Avalon and from private boats before. It’s the main reason I feel that winter is the best time to visit Catalina – the water is warmest between October and early January! At least warmer compared to the Southern California coast and my base in San Diego. The coast is colder due to upwelling (where cold water rolls up onto the beaches.) It’s great for kelp but not so for warm-blooded creatures!

Beaches on far side of Catalina Island

Bays on far side of Catalina Island

Before long our group split with two needing to get back to the mainland and we said goodbye as they walked onto the ferry. Then it was off to cross the island by bus and stop overnight in Avalon. The island ranches still preserve the wilds of the interior but there are several small campgrounds where reservations are a good idea.

Buffalo sighting Catalina Island

Buffalo sighting Catalina Island

Crossing by car or bus also gives you a chance to see Buffalo and they’re magnificent locals.

Airport in the sky on Catalina Island

Airport in the sky on Catalina Island

Nature Center on Catalina Island

The small “Airport in the Sky” was full of kitsch and housed in a beautiful Spanish Colonial style hacienda. There’s a nature exhibit and alongside the souvenir shop, a large, casual dining room. Made me wish I had friends with an airplane although I understand there’s a bump on the runway!

Art Deco detail inside the Catalina Casino

Art Deco detail inside the Catalina Casino

Catalina Casino band circa 1930

Catalina Casino band circa 1930

We crossed over to the main town and headed uphill to stay at a small hotel. As I love all things retro from the 20’s and 40’s, I was thrilled to finally tour the old Casino building. It was easy to imagine my mother and her sisters taking the ferry over to dance to the big bands. In those days unescorted women were frowned upon, but if you took the ferry to join the ballroom crowds no one minded. It might have had something to do with Mr. Wrigley banning alcohol on the premises. (He couldn’t keep it off the ferry though!)

Segway when you visit Catalina

On the last morning of our trip, we rented Segways for a guided tour up into the hills. I was wary of scooting around those steep grades but soon felt comfortable. The views were wonderful and at one point we even spotted a rare Red Fox.

Fox sightings aren't as common as they once were.

Foxes are coming back thanks to the Island Conservancy.

When you visit Catalina Island there are so many ways to frame your journey. There are popular festivals, dance clubs, restaurants both casual and fine dining, gardens, camps and private beaches.

Bar scene in Catalina Island

Bar scene in Avalon

When you visit Catalina

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Travel Notes & Beyond

When you travel Jordan start in Amman

Roman plaza in Ammans Citadel - a must see when you travel Jordan
The citadel in Amman is well worth a visit when you travel Jordan

Travel Jordan and don’t miss the Citadel atop Amman’s highest hill.

A camel stood alongside the highway while, between the road and small fields, circles of people sat eating beneath dusky, olive trees. A row of bright flags flapped above an overpass and a blue sign in Arabic unmistakably advertised IKEA. These were my first minutes in the Middle East. I soon learned that when you travel Jordan you dance constantly between ancient traditions and new world buzz. travel Jordan
Bridge crossing while approaching Amman

Bridge crossing while approaching Amman

Soon we crossed through an intersection as a clutch of sheep poured over a roadside meridian. That scene repeated itself dozens of times in the ten days while I traveled through Jordan. The Amman road led through low valleys, the Wadi, and up into hills, Jabal, then through neighborhoods that bore their names.

When you travel Jordan you'll see street signs like this in Amman

One of the Street signs in Amman

A historical glimpse of Amman

The city is laid out over seven hills, then it expanded to 27, and today across the metropolis, layers of civilizations peel back in surprising glimpses. Jabal Amman, the tallest hill, was settled in Neolithic times and never fortified as the lower hills were. Waves of invasions left their marks. Roman Greco ruins still dot the country, many wait for excavation still.
Ottomans swept in to establish a route to Mecca. Centuries later the British sought influence in the region. Their legacy remains in the writings and admiration of T.E. Lawrence and his novel, Lawrence of Arabia. Finally, while other Middle Eastern countries shift allegiances, and through all the upheavals, the Bedouin tribes preserved their independence.

Amman becomes the capital

In the 19th century, Amman was named the capital of Transjordan and the city soon swelled in wealth and position. With two million visitors in 2014, Amman made it to lists of the 100 most visited cities in the world and it became the 5th most visited Arab city.

Safe and protected when you travel Jordan

I never felt uncomfortable while traveling Jordan. We passed through security fortifications and metal-detectors at western-style hotels, and then quickly passed through military checkpoints on the highways. Jordan is determined to remain stable and safe. After recent shootings and the rattling, political circus in the US, traveling Jordan was peaceful and calm.
It took me more than fifteen hours to get to Jordan from San Diego. Make sure you don’t miss a thing on your trip. Overcome Jet Lag from long flights with these suggestions from my earlier post. I won’t travel without the strategies.
The Sugar Cane Juice shop in downtown Amman

The Sugar Cane Juice shop in downtown Amman

Shop styles in downtown Amman

Shop styles in downtown Amman

Our guide, Ramzi, led us to downtown and into the Souk, the streets of shops. It was a busy, Friday night with families and foreign visitors sharing the sidewalks. Lit dramatically, dotted with clusters of people, the Roman Amphitheater rolled back from the street. A man lifted a box of flatbreads, laying out tempting stacks on a folding table. Teenagers jumped to loud music. Women, wrapped in full dark cloth from head-to-toe, raised cellphones to take pictures. Our group dressed casually and walked through it all.
The Roman Amphitheater in downtown Amman

Friday night in the Roman Amphitheater plaza in downtown Amman

A faint call flowed out of an alley and then rose more loudly into my consciousness. It was the call to prayer – another first. We passed trays of spices, stacks of sweets, a Shwarma tower sliced with a sword, a sugar cane juice press, and offers of tea. I wanted to stop by the dress shops and get something beautiful that I’d never wear, but we kept moving until the crowds thinned on the second hill.Sweet shop in downtown Amman

Inside Sufra Amman garden restaurant

Inside Sufra, the Amman garden restaurant

Shops lined the street and small cafes. We entered a softly lit dining room inside a walled garden. This was Sufra and our table was soon stacked with small plates, bowls, and platters. Lemonade thick with ground mint leaves, sweet sage tea, and baskets of warm bread found their place. In an open alcove adjacent to the dining room, a man stood over a round, ceramic oven. He pummeled dough and used a flat pillow to knock it onto the sides. I’ve no doubt he made hundreds during his shift.
Inside the palace of Jordan's Amman Citadel

Inside the palace of Jordan’s Amman Citadel

Jordanian bagpipers lead students in Amman

Jordanian bagpipers lead students in Amman

Ammanian students pose at the Citadel

Amman students pose at the Citadel

Getting to the Citadel early was a great strategy. At the top of Amman’s highest hill are two giant pillars, they’re all that remains of the Roman Temple of Hercules and the area was nearly vacant as we wandered. Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-80) erected the columns and temples.
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I heard a surprising drone – bagpipes! (They were most likely developed in the Jordanian region, although the British claim responsibility for their appearance here.) The bagpipers led a group of young students on their way to the steps of the Umayyad Palace Plaza. Teachers soon wrangled them into position for class pictures.

Inside the Jordan Museum in the Citadel ruins

Two of the oldest human statues, 7250 BC, inside the Jordan Museum.

I was drawn to two rough figures inside the museum. They are the Ain Ghazal Statues, dated back to 7250 B.C. and considered some of the oldest statues ever found. The small museum is well worth a visit with overstuffed cases, skulls, goblets, and statues.
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After wandering the grounds, marveling at the old palace, courtyards and views we left the metropolis of Amman for the wilds of the Dana Biosphere Reserve and a candle-lit eco-lodge set in a hilly divide of Wadi Feynan. More about that adventure to come!
One lobby in the Grand Hyatt Lobby

One lobby in the Grand Hyatt Lobby

Lobby fountain inside the Marriott Amman

Lobby fountain inside the Marriott Amman

When you travel Jordan consider these hotels:

Thank you to the Jordanian Tourism Board and IFWTWA, who made my first visit to the Middle East so wonderful. All photos and opinions are my own.

I hope you enjoyed this short tour of Amman, Jordan. Please share!


24 hours in Amman isn't enough when you travel Jordan
Window shopping in Amman is a treat when you travel Jordan

You won't go hungry when you travel Jordan and visit Amman's downtown for street food wonders.

Travel Notes & Beyond

 

 

 

Mindful Menus – Eating out in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Eat and drink responsibly when eating out in Puerto Penasco Mexico
Patio dining at El Tapeo Puerto Penasco

Patio dining at El Tapeo Puerto Penasco

You roll into Puerto Penasco and don’t speak Spanish, but you’re hungry. The landscape is fairly flat but look out towards the sea, then lift your gaze to the large hill towering over the town. That’s Whale Hill and at the top, you’ll find Casa del Capitan. There’s a lighthouse next door. Let that be your guide. No Habla Espanol? No problem. It’s easy when you’re eating out here. The staff caters to visitors from both sides of the border.

Lighthouse at the top of Whale Hll in Puerto Penasco Mexico

Eating out with traditional Guacamole served at El Capitan with locally grown avacodos.

Eating out with traditional Guacamole served at El Capitan with Mexico-grown avocados.

Casa del Capitan is the highest restaurant in the area and a perfect spot to get your bearings. A round bar welcomes you inside the bright yellow, red, and blue establishment. There’s a spacious, multi-leveled dining room and a wide patio with splendid views of the Sea of Cortez, the strand of highrise resorts to the north-west and the main town below.

Vaquita mural in Puerto Penasco

Vaquita mural in Puerto Penasco

Mindful menus when eating out

Eating out in Puerto Penasco focuses on seafood. Shrimping and fishing have been the one constant in the region. The sea is rich here and it’s brought a notorious dilemma to focus. You may have heard of the plight of Vaquita Dolphins who are being run into distinction by illegal fishing. That’s not happening in Puerto Penasco as the small dolphins rarely swim near and favor the western side of the sea. The problem is complicated and worthy of a Hollywood potboiler including shady Chinese vendors wanting a fish-bladder with dubious health benefits, smugglers, secretive fishing, and a small, endangered creature caught in the cross-hairs.

Shrimp for sale in Malecon shops.

Shrimp for sale in Malecon shops. Are they in-season? Stored properly? Ask!

If you want to make sure you’re eating responsibly, ask your waiter what’s local and ‘what’s in season’ for the freshest fish, shrimp, clams, and scallops.

beach resorts on the Puerto Penasco Bay

Looking northwest from the Penasco del Sol Resort

Rocky Point becomes Puerto Penasco

Locals still call the area Rocky Point. Set along a sandy expanse that stretches for miles to the north and south, the port city has lifted itself from a series of setbacks. Prohibition in the US set investors south to build hotels and watering holes. A falling out left that in ruins. In 1936 Mexican President Cardenas gave the village its current name and formalized plans for a rail line to other points in the country. He also inspired a highway to the US – Arizona border, 65 miles away. That road still leads visitors into the city. From Phoenix it’s a three hour drive to the heart of town.

A few hotels remained but most visitors camped, fished and partied. In the early 1990’s,  laws changed to allow more foreign investment and the tourist boom has been taking off ever since. Looking for a colorful, boutique experience or the heights of all-inclusive luxury? It’s all here. (Read about where to stay in this earlier post.)

el oktupus bar in puerto penasco

Inside El Oktopus, the elegant upstairs bar on the Malecon.

Blue corn and tender beef at El Ocktupus

Blue corn and tender beef at El Oktopus

Malecon gateway Puerto Penasco Mexico

The Malecon

There are hotels and restaurants sprinkled throughout the village. Looking for a snack? Try a fresh cut pineapple or sip from a coconut at one of the many vendor trucks or roadside stalls. The Malecon overflows with them. There are small local and large party bars, waterfront dining and rooms with a view.

Tequila tastings and history lessons inside the Tequila Factory

Tequila tastings inside the Tequila Factory (Factory in name only that houses a dizzying collection.

Bottle of Penasco tequila made in Jalisco.

A bottle of Penasco tequila that’s actually made in Jalisco.

The Marina

Senorita Rita sunset cruise in the Marina

Senorita Rita sunset cruise in the Marina

It’s still a working marina with boats moored near but there are several party boats offering visitor sunset cruises and day trips when the winds allow.

See more of Puerto Penasco and the Marina in this video:

 

Chicken entree in Miguels at the Paloma del Sol Resort, Puerto Penasco

Chicken entree in Miguel’s at the Paloma del Sol Resort, Puerto Penasco

Eating out in the resorts

Don’t shy away from the resort restaurants when eating out in Puerto Penasco. They are many, beautiful dining rooms and creative chefs honoring traditional ingredients while taking them to new heights.

Paella platter served in the El Tapeo wine bar and cafe.

Paella platter served in the El Tapeo wine bar and cafe next to Las Palomas Resort.

Traditional recipes on the table inside the Grand Mayan Resort.

Traditional recipes at a poolside cafe inside the Grand Mayan Resort.

Eating out in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

My trip to Puerto Penasco was hosted by the Rocky Point CVB but all opinions, pictures, and videos are my own.

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Eating out responsibly in Puerto Penasco Mexico

Mindful menu items in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Eating out responsibly at El Oktopus in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Showtime! The Day of the Dead Festival in La Paz Mexico

One of the young Catrina competitiors in La Paz, Mexico
The Catrinas and Calaveras of La Paz Mexico Festival Costume Competition
La Paz Mexico is a relaxed and comfortable city that transforms each fall. A creative frenzy takes over before the annual Festival de Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The fishing-village-turned-vacation-spot has hosted movie stars and nobility. It also inspired John Steinbeck to write his novel, The Pearl. No less than Jacques Costeau praised it as a scuba diving mecca perched on the Sea of Cortez. La Paz Mexico also hosts of one of the largest Day of the Dead festivals in the region and the whole city gets involved.
Young women dressed as Catrinas in La Paz, Mexico

Young women dressed as Catrinas in La Paz Mexico

It’s a family affair in La Paz Mexico

On the evenings of November 1st and 2nd throughout Mexico, families and friends gather to remember those who have died. Altars honoring loved ones appear in offices and churches. They overflow with Aztec marigolds, pictures, candles, decorative breads, and personal items. Home altars and cemeteries are central to the celebration in La Paz, Mexico. Generations gather to remember and to teach the young about their ancestors. It’s a festive time reaching back to the Aztec culture which celebrated death as a pleasant after-life with good company and no worries.
An office altar in La Paz, Mexico

An office altar in La Paz, Mexico

Where did the Catrinas and Calaveras come from?

North Amerian and European cultures see death very differently than in La Paz, Mexico. In the ancient Indian culture of Mexico, death is a woman. She’s called la Flaca, la Huesuda, la Pelona or La Catrina (the Skinny, the Boney, the Baldy or the Fancy Lady.) Her presence, bones and all, is welcome as escort leading the dead to join loved ones who’ve already passed and they spend eternity enjoying each others company.
The original Calavera de la Catrina by José Guadeloupe Posada

The original Calavera de la Catrina by José Guadeloupe Posada

Statues and period costumes were inspired by the political illustrations of artist José Guadeloupe Posada (1852-1913.) He satirized the upper classes during the reign of Porfirio Diaz. Since then many versions of the Calaca, the Calaveras or skulls and skeletons, wear fancy clothes. They are portrayed dancing and playing musical instruments with abandon.
The crowd cheers on the performers and competitors at the Dia de Muertos Festival in La Paz, Mexico

The crowd cheers on the performers and competitors.

I’ve visited cemeteries for Dia de Muertos in Tijuana (Read about that here) but was unprepared for the crowds and sweet rituals at the Festival in La Paz, Mexico.
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On the first night of the festival, I joined the crowd at dusk. The periphery of the huge plaza overflowed with displays of altars. Traditional foods filled vendors’ tables while families of all generations mingled at the free event.

Watch the Festival in this short video:

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Even horses are decorated for the La Paz, Mexico Festival

Even horses are decorated for the La Paz Mexico Festival

The night darkened as I walked through the plaza. Onstage a variety of vibrant dance troupes went through carefully crafted choreography. Comedians performed and the emcees kept things rolling. Then, in the crowd, elaborately costumed Catrinas materialized. Silent and regal, they were comfortable posing for pictures and each costume was more elaborate than the next.
The stage competition begins at the Day of the Dead Festival

The stage competition begins at the Day of the Dead Festival

As the night progressed, the stage cleared while emcees introduced a parade of women, men, and young girls. Each strutted across the stage competing solemnly for attention and the judges’ votes. Unfortunately for me, the winners weren’t announced until the following evening. 
A comedian onstage at the Dia de Muertos Festival

A comedian onstage at the Dia de Muertos Festival

One of the many varied dance performances at the Dia de Muertos Festival in La Paz, Mexico

One of the many varied dance performances at the Dia de Muertos Festival

One of the more creative dance performances at the Day of the Dead Festival in La Paz, Mexico

One of the more creative dance performances.

I don’t speak Spanish so the comedians’ performances were lost on me but it was easy to share the crowd’s enthusiasm. No translation was necessary. Also, not many know but I was an actress for years and always loved period costumes. Knowing how much work and commitment it takes to make these outfits and how much energy it takes to “stay in character” in crowds and onstage, made the Festival a deeply, thrilling night!
Royal bearing displayed at the Catrina competition in La Paz Mexico

Royal bearing in a young Catrina. 

The La Paz Mexico Dia de Muertos Festival

  • If you don’t have a car, have a taxi drop you off. When you’re ready to leave, walk a few blocks from the Festival site to the main street to catch a ride back.
  • Free and open to the public.
  • Held on the evenings of November 1st and 2nd every year.

Find out more at these websites:

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Pictures and video are from November 1st, 2017 and taken by Elaine Masters and Dave Rudie.
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The Catrinas and Calaveras compete in La Paz Mexico Pin 1

Time for a beach getaway? Where to stay in Puerto Penasco, Mexico

Palomas beach resort at sunset

Palomas beach resort at sunset

Less than four hours south of Phoenix there’s a dreamy beach getaway that’s mysteriously off most tourists radar. Puerto Penasco, perched on the northern shore of the Sea of Cortez, is an hour south of the US border but a world away from everyday concerns.

Looking into El Elegante crater inside the PInacate Biosphere.

Looking into El Elegante crater inside the PInacate Biosphere.

The drive south takes you through the wild reaches of the Sonoran desert. Twisting Saguaro cactus salute alongside the road. Beyond them, haggle-tooth red peaks dot the horizon. As you approach the city, signs for the UNESCO protected Pinacate Biosphere dot the highway. Striated black, red, and at times green, miles of Biosphere land lean towards craters. Volcanic cones slope up in the distance.

beach resorts on the Puerto Penasco Bay

Then roadside attractions emerge and you spy tall, scattered rectangles – the area’s high-rise luxury, beach resorts. Suddenly you’re in town. There are so many ways to enjoy the region – hikes in the reserve, renting ATV’s, golf, kayaking, tequila tours, nightlife, and a rainbow of dining options but the best beach getaway revolves around the bright blue and lapping sea.

Penasco del Sol Beach Resort Hotel

Penasco del Sol beach resort sign

I stayed at the Penasco Del Sol, a family-friendly, modestly priced, beach getaway. It’s set on the central beach of Rocky Point, a short drive from the fishing harbor and village. During the fall weekdays, the art-filled lobby and central pool area are relaxed and hushed. On the weekends, couples and families meet and stroll through on their way to soak in the tubs, enjoy the waterfall bar and walk the beach.

Tub time inside the Penasco del Sol beach resort

Tub time inside the Penasco del Sol beach resort

On weekday mornings I could walk the beach with only my shadow for company, but on the weekend crowds fan out from a stepped plaza. A half-dozen tents selling swim-suits to water-wings, food carts set up, and strolling musicians saunter through the beach crowds.

Penasco del sol lobby

Inside the beach resort lobby, there’s a curved bar open most of the day and the dining room serves breakfast buffets and menu items, with traditional specials on Sundays. Dinners full of seafood and local specialties are featured on the evening menu. In the mornings the coffee is strong and I always filled my plate with papaya, melons, and chilaquiles. There were eggs, sausages, local and Norte Americano options too.Penasco del sol room

My room was large enough for me to do some yoga before heading downstairs for breakfast and the day’s activities. In the next building over, condos and timeshare owners had their own pool and beach activities.

 

La Palomas Beach Getaway

On my last night, we enjoyed a steak dinner in the La Palomas Beach Resort and the band, Agua de Coco serenaded us with Jazz classics.

 

Palomas Beach getaway view from room deck

A room with a view at the La Palomas Beach Resort

 

Palomas panorama with sea

La Palomas Beach Resort

The Grand Mayan – Luxury beach getaway

About 45 minutes from town is the exclusive Grand Mayan, a Vidanta Resort. The members-only space is laid out with precision along a broad length of the coastline. A Jack Nicklaus Golf Course lies inland from the resort towers. A tempting, lengthy lazy river snakes through the property. Here members own condos and timeshare apartments which allow them to visit the pools and spas, restaurants and services. The spaces inside and out are palatial with expansion slated over the coming years.

One lobby inside the Grand Mayan property

One lobby inside the Grand Mayan property

The most exclusive rooms come with their own soaking pool as well as a jacuzzi steps from the bed in this beach get away.

The top tier rooms come with their own soaking pool as well as a jacuzzi steps from the bed.

The Dream Weaver Hotel

On the afternoon we went into town for lunch we strolled the Malecon and wandered the village. The town is packed with color and tourist shops. Just up a block from the busiest areas are coffee roasters, small galleries and I spotted the Dream Weaver Hotel.

This quirky place was created by host Diane and each room is unique. The courtyard and upstairs patios are full of local art, murals, reed furniture and there’s a view down to the beach below. These are budget accommodations for those interested in basic comfort, cooking options, and the authentic jostling of village life a few blocks away.

Dream Weaver Inn street view

Dreamweaver lower courtyard

Dreamweaver lower courtyard

I can’t believe it took me so long to visit this part of Mexico! It’s a little over five hours from my home in San Diego and about 3.5 from Phoenix. There is an airport but for the time being only charter flights are allowed.

I’ll be writing more soon about the food and adventures we enjoyed. Mexico is forever in my heart and I look forward to sharing this beach getaway with my family and friends.

This journey was made possible by the Rocky Point/Puerto Penasco Tourism Board. Thank you for hosting me. As always, all opinions are my own. Salut!

Penasco sign on beach

Here’s a Pinnable image to share:Beach Resort bliss inside the Penasco del Sol Hotel

Travel Notes & Beyond

Go West – Driving four US National Parks

Road trip to Mount Rainier one of the US National Parks
One of dozens of trails available around Mount Rainier.

One of dozens of trails available around Mount Rainier.

The US National Parks are grand, wildly diverse and pretty far apart. Visiting several over a week or two takes planning. You don’t want to rush the ride! In too much of a rush to pull over and watch Buffalo sparing because you need to get to the next hotel? Miss the waterfall because you’re snacky? Forget it!
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Plan well, stock the car and surrender to opportunities along the way. Here’s a quick, road trip itinerary from Yosemite, up to the coastal Redwood National Park, to Crater Lake and the wonders of Mount Rainier.
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I’ve driven across the country several times as a youngster – whiling away the time by fighting with my siblings in the back seat, but I’d never done it as an adult. Over three weeks, two couples – my sweetheart, his son, and wife piled into their car and worked our way up the west coast and across to Omaha before parting ways. It not only gave us plenty of time to hang out, but we hiked, watched wildlife and cozied up to some of the most spectacular natural environments in the country. This first part of the trip took us about seven days but you could see these four US National Parks in far less time.
Yosemite entrance sign on a US National Parks Road Trip

Yosemite National Park

Heading north from Los Angeles we ventured into Yosemite first. We have family close to the Southern entrance, so it made a natural launching spot. While we were there it was heartbreaking to see huge swaths of trees killed by a devastating bark beetle. Forest fires have followed and we need to remember they’re part of a natural cycle. My hope is that the current fires bring new growth for generations to come. Still, once the smoke has cleared nothing surpasses wandering through Yosemite Valley. I highly recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. We hiked a bit, enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and drove out as the line of cars coming into the park slowed to a crawl.
Redwood National and State Parks entrance sign
Nothing compares to looking up into ancient treetops in Redwood National Park

Nothing compares to looking up into ancient treetops.

Redwood State and US National Parks

To escape the summer heat we headed west, skirting the San Francisco Bay Area and up the Pacific coast to wander through the National Redwood Forest. Luckily the moist fogs that often wrap that part of the coast lifted for the day we drove through. There are many day hikes and campgrounds for longer-term term visitors but we were on a mission.  I wanted to stay in the area but we’d set up lodging at our next stop, near Crater Lake.
Crater Lake view and the water is more electric blue than a camera can capture.

Crater Lake view and the water is more electric blue than a camera can capture.

One glimpse of the Hoodoo formations on Pinnacles Trail near Crater Lake

One glimpse of the Hoodoo formations on Pinnacles Trail near Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is one of the most startling of the US National Parks. Nothing can prepare you for the stunning blue of the water. The road up gives few hints and there are many trails around and into the crater. In the late summer, small boats navigate around the lake. We were too early in the season to catch that. After we’d wandered for hours, we wound down the far side of the ancient volcanic crater to walk Pinnacles Trail and see the strange hoodoos, towering ash cones, that have developed from ages of erosion.
Mount Rainier is one of the US National Parks in the Pacific Northwest

Mt. Rainier National Park

Our next choice of US National Parks was just a half-day drive away. While living in the NW during my college years, I’d admired it from a distance but never got close. The majesty of the mountain stunned me as we wound up the summit road.
Mount Rainierr Lodge is built of old growth redwoods.

Mount Rainier Lodge is built of old growth redwoods.

The mail bear inside the Mount Rainier Lodge.

The mail bear just charmed me.

The lodge is constructed of old-growth redwood and has been a destination for vacationers since it opened. There are hanging glaciers nearby and many trails from easy to advanced. The best part about staying at the lodge was a chance to hike as the sun set, watching wildlife, enjoying the flowers as most of the other visitors left the park. Mount Rainier is close to Seattle a wonderful city and with lots of flights available.
Deer on the flanks of Mount Rainier
Critters come out as the day fades inside the US National Parks

Critters come out as the day fades inside the US National Parks

Glacier National Park

Our next destination sent us east to Glacier National Park in Montana. The route leads from Seattle and through Spokane. Both are lovely destinations in themselves. Seattle is the better known, but Spokane has the River Park and waterfall. It’s a great stop on a long drive.
Glacier national park in its glory
The Red Car - Glacier National Park historical shuttle
The park has been plagued by recent fires but nature will rebound. I highly recommend driving or taking one of the many public transportation options up the Road to the Sun. No matter what the weather is you’ll enjoy the views.
Take time to immerse in the beauty of the US National Parks

Driving four Western US National Parks

  • Start planning early – reserve lodging in and near the US National Parks at least 6 months in advance to avoid disappointment and get the best prices.
  • The US National Park Service has free days and discounts for seniors.  Read my earlier post about the special days here. 

US National Parks Service websites:

Go West Four US National Parks road trip

From culture to kitsch – How to enjoy a long layover in the Taiwan Airport

Inside the Taiwan airport the Made In Taiwan Lounge

Taiwan Airport display inside Taoyuan Airport

Discover Taoyuan Airport

A long layover in the Taiwan Airport? Don’t worry, be happy! The terminals are packed with diversions and amenities for all kinds of travelers. From art galleries, puppetry, tribal traditions and even Hello Kitty – each waiting lounge in the Taoyuan airport has its own theme!
My seatmate charms the stewardess.

My seatmate charms the stewardess.

Arriving

It’s a tortuously long flight into Taiwan for anyone flying from the US or Europe. That is unless you’re in first or business class. I flew economy for over thirteen hours on China Airlines. While I was comfortable enough with a standard seat and leg room upgrade, I did run into a few problems with seatmates. First was the screaming baby, then the nanny who removed her shoes and had me gagging, then kept shoving into my side. I appreciate how difficult it is traveling with a small child. Everyone did their best. They played with the infant and the stewardess did offer me a face mask!
 Sleeping in the Taoyuan airport on recliners throughout the waiting lounges
With the service and entertainment choices, I was reasonably rested as we left the airplane in Taipei. Unfortunately, my layover wasn’t long enough to take one of the free tours into Taipei (you need at least 7 hours – see more details below. However, my partner and I soon discovered, the airport was packed with plenty to keep us entertained.
Upstairs amenities in the main concourse of the Taiwan Airport

Upstairs amenities in the main concourse of the Taiwan Airport

The Taiwan airport terminals are laid in the shape of large H. A swift tram takes passengers from Terminal 1 to 2. That’s great if you’re in a hurry to catch a connection. However, if you take the Skytrain you’ll miss the galleries, the themed gates and scores of shops from designer to duty-free. You won’t see the playgrounds for the kiddies, gardens, massage vendors offering full spa to chair treatments, and the small gym.
Taoyuan airport food court upstairs in the main concourse
Restaurants offer European to traditional Taiwanese foods or head upstairs to the food court for standard Western fare, from Starbucks to Burger King. Upstairs several Premium lounges offer food, drink, showers and comfortable seating or nap areas. There are elite membership airline lounges and others offer reasonable day/night rates. Before getting on my connecting flight I stopped in the Kung Fu Massage parlor. The fifteen minute, table massage was just what my shoulders and back needed.
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Here’s a short video about the Taiwan Airport theme gates, galleries, and shops

Wifi is available for free throughout the Taiwan Airport. Beyond the themed waiting lounges are spacious seating areas. Most have large recliners perfect for napping. Look for three or more grouped together under stairwells and tucked into side rooms.

maps and brochures for the Taiwan airport in Taipei
After discovering the recliners, we opted for a short rest, hooked up to WiFi, and then set off to explore the airport. I picked up brochures at one of several information kiosks. There were detailed maps in English and several languages. The Mind Garden sounded inspiring but it was simply a seating area stocked with books and magazines. I was especially excited about the Butterfly Garden. However, while still on the map, that space had been turned into something else. We also found that there’s more than one walkway between terminals.
Enjoy a tea ceremony inside the Taoyuan airport terminal

Enjoy a tea ceremony inside the Taoyuan airport terminal

Since we’d flown over thirteen hours we needed exercise. It can be dangerous to sit too long – no matter your age. Staying stuck in cramped seats on lengthy flights can lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis as well as tweaked muscles, sore hips, and back. Read more about the problem and solutions in this earlier post. We walked and walked to work out our kinks.
Taiwan traditional pastries inside Taoyuan Airport

Traditional sweets for the taking inside most shops throughout the airport

Taiwan Airport food

I spied at least one white tablecloth restaurant but most were more casual. While there are drink vending machines throughout the concourses, you need Taiwan change to operate them. Having American dollars wasn’t a problem with other vendors and they did give change in the local currency. Many of the shops offered free samples of liquor, primarily whiskey, and a variety of local pastry bites – Taro, Pineapple and plain. That and a bottle of water could fill-up most any budget-minded traveler. I opted for a fast food meal featuring chicken, noodle soup, and potato salad.
Taiwan noodle soup inside Taoyuan airportThe Glory of High Tech Waiting Lounge inside the Taiwan Airport

Waiting Lounge Themes

These lounges are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Each was set up with exhibits full of color and very detailed layouts. It looked like a different designer was hired for each one.
Hello Kitty shop and waiting lounge inside Taiwan Airport

Doesn’t every airport have a Hello Kitty lounge and gift shop?

orchid garden inside the Taiwan Airport

Nature comes indoors in several garden waiting lounges

Some of the different boarding gates that we visited. (You can see more in the video above .)
Zone A & B:
  • Aboriginal Arts
  • Taiwan Tea
  • Bike Waiting Lounge
  • The Glory of High Tech Lounge
  • Glamorous Textile Art Lounge
  • The Glory of Sports Waiting Lounge
Puppetry waiting lounge inside the Taiwan Airport

Puppetry waiting lounge inside the Taiwan Airport

Zones C & D:

  • Taiwan Music Waiting Lounge
  • The Hello Kitty Waiting Lounge
  • e-Library Waiting Lounge
  • Postal Waiting Lounge
  • Taiwan Cinema Lounge
  • Sea and River Ecology Lounge
  • Arts and Culture Exhibits
  • Pili Puppet Theater Waiting Lounge
  • Foods of Taiwan Waiting Lounge

Taiwan airport children's play area characters

Families with small children will find a large play area with whimsical character statues from favorite cartoons. There are also Breast Feeding and Prayer Rooms in several spots within the terminals.
Taoyuan Airport bathroom ratings

Leave the bathroom and rate your experience!

 Wifi and charging stations inside Taiwan Airport

Map of the night markets in Taiwan

Map of the night markets in Taiwan

Take a free Taipei Tour:

The half-day tours depart in the morning and afternoon. Note that you need a layover of 7 to 8 hours and there are other restrictions. Each is limited to 18 people. You can book at the airport or guarantee your seat by pre-registering online 14-18 days prior to arrival: Check here to see if you are eligible.

Enjoy a Taiwan Airport layover

Most of the airport was waking up during our first stop at Taoyuan. I noticed a very different and more crowded late night vibe when we caught our flight home a week later. If you are in Taipei after a long flight, explore the Taiwan Airport at least for the exercise and entertainment. Your mind and body will be better for it.

Have you ever visited the Taoyuan Airport? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below. I always respond.

Sharing is caring – A Pin for your next trip to TaiwanTaiwan airport guide tips for a long layover at Taoyuan

 

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Want to Escape the Summer Heat? 5 Places You Should See

Escape summer heat at the beach or pool

Summer heat is upon us and with it come unpleasant heat waves and lots of sweating. There are many ways to escape the summer heat, but most just choose to go to the beach or a local pool to cool off.

If you want something more exciting than that, you’ve come to the right place! After all, not everybody enjoys overcrowded pools and expensive drinks. There are plenty of locations you can visit that still have acceptable temperatures and interesting sights to see. Guest bloggers, Agness and Cez of eTramping.com, offer five of them starting with South Africa.

Cape Town, South Africa, has a great climate to escape summer heat

#1 Cape Town, South Africa

Since South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, you can enjoy long sunny days without wishing you had a block of ice to hug. June and July are basically South Africa’s winter, so if you want to escape the summer heat – it makes for a great destination.

Just remember to bring a light waterproof jacket. While South African winters aren’t cold and dreary like in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re still bound to catch some warm, rainy days. Summer is the best season to view the wildlife in this wondrous country. and Table Mountain National Park is perfect to explore.

From atop the mountain, you can view the whole city, Robben Island, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, and Devil’s Peak. What makes for an impressive sight from below is the mist that often gathers up at the peaks. While you’re in South Africa, keep in mind not to dress too “touristy.” You might run into trouble with some of the locals in different townships if you flash your wealth around.

SeEscape summer heat on the Isle of Skye

#2 Isle of Skye, Scotland

The United Kingdom is always a great place to escape the summer heat. British weather is cloudy and rainy almost half of the time, and summer is no different. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting this stunning piece of natural landscape in Scotland. It’s especially perfect for those who enjoy hiking but don’t necessarily like the heat.

Visit the fields of Faerie Glen, the cold and clear waters of Fairy Pools, all the way down to the landslip of Quiraing, whose heart-quickening beauty can’t be captured on camera. Dunvegan Castle and its gardens are also nice if you visit when it’s not raining.

Sadly, despite all the folksy names, you won’t encounter any pixie people. The entire isle is still a magical place to be in and there’s a way you can catch the obligatory summer beach fun. Take a trip down to the Claigan Coral Beach for some spectacular views. Don’t forget your jacket, though – the wind can be deeply chilling.

Machu Picchu visitors escape summer heat easily

#3 Machu Picchu, Peru

If the herds of sheep in Scotland aren’t your cup of tea, maybe you’ll enjoy being photo bombed by the Llamas in Machu Picchu. The summer heat is easy to escape in this ancient Inca city high up in the Andes. You might need some time to adjust to the altitude, but once you do this land of mystery holds much to explore.

A guide might be necessary to get the full experience, but you can travel it solo just as well. Machu Picchu is home to many ruins like the Temple of the Sun, the Moon Temple, the Temple of the Three Windows, and others. After you’re done exploring the area up close, there’s one more thing you need to do. Conquer Huayna Picchu peak and admire the expansive mountain layout.

Reykjavik, Iceland, is a great destination to escape summer heat

#4 Reykjavik, Iceland

If you google pictures of Reykjavik you’d swear the city was made out of Legos! Neatly aligned and colorful houses will greet you in the cozy (albeit cold) capital of Iceland. This is where you should go if you’re completely serious about wanting to escape the summer heat. It’s always cold here, but the sights are something to behold.

Reykjavik is a great place to have as your “headquarters” in the country. From there you can go on Arctic cruises to view the Northern Lights, whale watching, wildlife spotting, and other activities. Tours can also lead you to geysers, volcanoes, and ice caves. In no time you’ll see how diverse the geological formations in Iceland are.

Now, while you’re in the city, consider visiting the flea market, Kolaportid – which is located down by the harbor. You can find all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs here without having to spend a fortune.

The list could go on, but we’d rather not spoil everything for you. There are so many interesting places to visit in Iceland – you’d be amazed just how much natural beauty is hiding on this island at the end of the world.

Mt. Denali is always free from scorching summer heat

#5 Denali National Park, Alaska, U.S.A.

What better way to escape the summer heat than by going on a trip to Alaska? Here you’ll be able to admire the tallest mountains in North America while doing some wildlife spotting. Grizzly bears, moose, wolves, caribou, and other majestic creatures live their lives in this clean and well-preserved park.

Go canoeing and have a picnic afterward. Summer really brings out the natural beauty of Alaska in ways you can’t imagine. Just remember that most of the park is tundra. If you were expecting lush forests, you need to head further south and into Southeast Alaska.

Heads up – Only tour buses are allowed to go past mile 15 in the park. If you were planning on renting out a motorhome to visit the park, that might inconvenience some of you. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to take some excellent photographs and enjoy yourself.

How Do You Escape the Summer Heat?

Are you just an average Joe/Jane that goes to the pool, sipping a cold beverage? Or do you enjoy visiting an exciting place once in a while? Tell us your story in the comments! We’d like to hear about some of the interesting locations you’ve traveled to cool off and have some fun.

Agness and Cez write about staying cool in summer

Many thanks to Agness and Cez of etramping.com for this sponsored post.

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Travel Notes & Beyond

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: http://bit.ly/2uJt9HW

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.
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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: http://bit.ly/2i7edh2

2. The Navajo Nation has similar concerns about watching the eclipse:
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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.
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3. Many of 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: http://bit.ly/2wR643u

4. Watching the eclipse near major population areas will be expensive

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24662369@N07/8188704614/

Still, the lure of this lifetime celestial experience is strong.
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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. 
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If you plan on taking the advice of the ancients and stay home during the eclipse, you can still watch it. Visit www.nasa.gov/eclipselive(link is external), where you will be directed by default to the NASA TV broadcast.
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Here’s a short video about what we experienced where you can actually see the eclipse totality go from night and back to day.

 

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Stay safe and leave a comment. Let me know about your experiences of the eclipse.

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

Travel Notes & Beyond

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.
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“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.

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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:

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Local food on the Roman Food Tour

Travel Notes & Beyond

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