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Sara

      Sara and me

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Just finished reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the bread winners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Travel, on April 2nd, 2020.

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My recent trip – photo is looking south toward Morro Bay, fog is over the ocean

Waaaaaay back in late February, I took a driving trip. At the time we’d heard that coronavirus was in China and while I was on the trip the first cases appeared in Washington State, but there wasn’t even a whiff of quarantine or even much concern. How times have changed. But anyway, I took an 8-day driving trip, in my new car (I’ve been a BMW fan for most of my adult life) and love driving back roads and highways behind the wheel.

Here in California we know the phrase “Central Coast,” meaning it’s the central part of California, and mostly on the coast, although it also includes coastal hills and dales. In the summer it’s often hot there, so I went in spring-like weather and it was lovely. The hills were beginning to green-up.

emerald_iguana_mosaicMy goal was just to drive, enjoy the scenery, stay in a few nice B&Bs or boutique hotels, walk, shop, wine taste and devote an hour or more each day to reading. I did all of those things. Only one night did I spend on the coast, in Cambria, and the weather wasn’t very nice – foggy and cold, so I didn’t hardly walk much and it was the only place I stayed that I’d not return to – the motel wasn’t special in the least. The first two nights I stayed in Ojai (oh-high), a small inland town in the foothills almost east of Santa Barbara. The town is tiny, but my friend Cherrie and her husband often stay near there with their 5th wheel and Cherrie had told me for years about an old-fashioned department store in Ojai called Rains. They were having a sale on some items and I took my time and went to every department. Bought some cute t-shirts and my big purchase was a Patagonia top. I’ve never owned one and was so tickled to find one that fit and was 50% off. The B&B, called The Emerald Iguana, is as cute as a bug. I highly recommend it. I stayed in a large suite that included a kitchen and great room with dining table and separate bedroom. Breakfast was enjoyed on their sweeping patio each morning with excellent coffee and a varied breakfast. The photo above is the centerpiece of the inn – a mosaic iguana.blue_iguana_LR

There’s a photo of the main living room of my suite. It was really nice. It was a beautiful couple of days there. I shopped, had lunch at a quaint little coffee place (with a limited menu) and dinner at a recommended restaurant there. I had enough to take home and enjoyed it for my dinner the following night – only because I had a refrigerator to keep the food! I also spent several hours sitting out on the veranda of my suite, looking at the view (picture below). It was dark enough that the glare wasn’t too bad to emerald_iguana_porchread. There were plenty of birds and buzzing bees and pretty butterflies flitting. Ojai also has a place called Bart’s Books. It’s an Ojai institution – an old, dilapidated house that holds thousands of books. Do I need more books? Nope. But that doesn’t ever stop me from browsing in used bookstores. I think it’s something in the blood of anyone who likes to read, to meander into used bookstores. I bought 3 books – haven’t yet opened any of them, so can’t report yet about them. I bought a Louise Penny mystery, a memoir by Joyce Carol Oates and an essay book by Elizabeth David. All hardbacks.

cachumaDriving again I headed north and breezed through Santa Barbara. I drove over the mountains to look at Lake Cachuma (sometimes dry in drought years, but currently it has some water). It’s an iffy road to drive because it’s a 2-lane highway with just a few passing lanes, so if you happen to get stuck behind a truck and trailer, it can be miles before you can get around them. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I tried not to get annoyed. I think that picture was Cachuma – if not it was some other lake I passed on my trip.

hotel_cheval_streetview_pasoAlong the way I stopped and had an In-n-Out burger. So very good – a rare treat for me. Then I continued on to Paso Robles (technically it should be pronounced pass-oh robe-less but most people say pass-oh-ROH-bulls). I passed through San Luis Obispo along the way, which is one of the hubs of winemaking in the central coast. My DH Dave and I often stayed in SLO, it’s called, when we were on a wine-buying trip. I’ve begun enjoying Paso more than SLO (that’s how the locals refer to both towns), and I had reserved a room at the Hotel Cheval. Oh my goodness, was that ever special. On any future trip, I’m going to book 3 nights at this hotel – it was just hotel_cheval_interior_courtyardextra special. They call themselves unique, and certainly it qualifies. Luxury but not ostentatious. Rustic, yet elegant. Hard to describe. If you walk 150 feet to the right in the picture above, you’d be on the town square. I did a lot of walking all around the town, shopping, just enjoying being outside. On my 2nd day there I did a round about drive to several wineries (Still Waters, Cass). The drive was so pretty. Rural for sure. Love the landscape in and around Paso. Yes, I bought wine – a case altogether. The next day I visited Kiler Ridge Olive Oil and two more wineries before heading toward the ocean to Cambria (mentioned above).

The day after that I meandered along Highway 1, drove through Morro Bay, had lunch, then on to Los Olivos (actually Ballard) a town not too far away, where I stayed in a very pretty boutique hotel, the Ballard Inn. The only thing wrong with it was they don’t have TVs in the rooms (one only in the sitting room area near the lobby). I discovered that in the late afternoon I enjoyed my rooms, wherever I was, and wanted to listen to the news and later in the evening I wanted the “companionship” if you can call it that, of having the TV on before I went to sleep. Yes, I could have tried to stream something on my iPad, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Ballard is a tiny, sleepy town with nothing to do – a great place for a romantic (couple) weekend away – but not so much for a widow. Had dinner in their lovely restaurant (great food) then the next day headed back toward home. I spent 2 nights with my son Powell, his wife Karen and grandson Vaughan near Pasadena. And then home. Loved my own bed – don’t we always? I swear hotels all buy some kind of padded top thing when the mattresses have seen better days, trying to eke out another year of use, and I’m not a fan. I complained at one place about it. It was so thick I felt like I was sinking into a deep feather pillow. But not comfortable.

My trip was great – it taught me a very good lesson – stay in nicer places – eat well – and I did. I wasn’t sad being by myself – enjoyed plotting out my trips each day – stopped to take pictures here and there – did plenty of window shopping and walking. I’d make this trip again but I’d leave off Cambria and Ballard and just stay in Ojai and Paso.

Posted in Travel, on February 20th, 2020.

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What makes this one different?

Last week I spent in Palm Desert, my annual one-week winter trip. The weather was just perfect (about 70 every day) and my friend Ann (from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), flew down to spend the week with me. We stay at the home of a dear friend of mine who rarely goes there anymore, so I’m very grateful she lets us use the condo. It’s a cozy 2-bedroom overlooking a golf course with palm trees and Mallard ducks in the small lake. There’s a spouting stream of water just outside that provides lovely sound. We ate breakfast in every day, and I made a soup that fed us for two of the evenings. I take my beloved Nespresso machine out there, and in fact Ann has now become a convert to Nespresso and says she’s going to buy one for herself.

barn_kitchen_sparrows_lodgeAnyway, we visit with old friends of mine (from when my DH Dave and I owned a house there), and with a mutual friend Ann and I have too. We were wined and dined by all the friends. But one of the days we ventured toward Palm Springs (about a 30 minute drive from Palm Desert) and went to a kind of boutique hotel/restaurant. It had been written up in a magazine a few months ago. What a find. I’m so glad my GPS got us there, because you’d literally drive right by the entrance and never know it was there. It’s called the Sparrows Lodge. The property, legend has it, was the site of Elizabeth Montgomery’s first marriage, back in the day. It’s now been transformed into a small inn with 8-10 luxury cabin-like rooms with a beautiful, tranquil and wide open space between, where they’ve created a casual outdoor eating space. The restaurant is called the The Barn Kitchen.

In inquiring with our waiter about the menu, he recommended the chicken sandwich. I’m sure I probably gave him a mild wrinkled nose glance, but he said oh no, this is really a good sandwich, and that people from all over the valley (the Coachella Valley) go there just to have the chicken sandwich. That was good enough for both of us.

The picture at top doesn’t really do it justice. On that cut half you see facing the camera, there is really nice rustic white bread that’s been grill-toasted ever so slightly, there’s a layer of sliced avocado peeking out at the top, lettuce, slices of tomato, then the oh-so juicy chicken below that, AND some kind of a sauce or dressing. The waiter said it was Veganaise, not mayo. At first we thought there was mustard on the sandwich, because it had heat – nose tingling, sinus-clearing type. We thought mustard with horseradish? Maybe. Or else Veganaise with Sriracha in it. We couldn’t really TASTE mustard, so it may well have been the spicy Veganaise. Or perhaps they spread a bit of plain-old horseradish on it.

What I’m telling you is that the combination was perfection. I was trying to describe this sandwich to a friend yesterday . . . all I can say is that the chef has a deft hand at the balance of the lightly toasted bread, the layers of lettuce, the number and thickness of the tomatoes, and the sublime juicy, tender chicken, plus the sliced avocado made for a stunning sandwich. And then the elusive sinus-clearing dressing/sauce/condiment. Never thought I’d be writing up a post about a restaurant chicken sandwich, my friends.

The Barn Kitchen does take reservations. We went at 1:00 pm and enjoyed our leisurely lunch and were so stuffed we didn’t have any dinner that night. I’m back home now and my mouth is just watering thinking about that sandwich.

Posted in Travel, on September 21st, 2019.

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From  the road trip last month with daughter Sara and grandson John. That’s in Scottsdale. Cute the way they light up the town streets.

Remember, road trip to Virginia, then South Carolina. This was our first night, and you may recall I wrote earlier, in Scottsdale it was 114 at 7pm. We had a very un-memorable meal there, then headed towards Santa Fe. We drove through some of the Arizona and New Mexico Indian reservations on our route, arriving in Santa Fe just before dinner. Had a fabulous dinner at Arroyo Vino, a restaurant a few miles out of town. The daughter of good friends of mine live there, and Tracey’s husband David is the sommelier at the restaurant and also runs the wine store that’s located in the restaurant. Had a wonderful dinner, and enjoyed visiting with them.

Sara had never been to Santa Fe (it’s one of my favorite towns) so she and I spent the next morning walking the cute streets in and around the plaza. The town was holding one of its frequent marketplace fairs that day, all about the Native American arts and crafts, clothing, pottery, etc. I bought an adorable (and very expensive) teeny, tiny(max 2 1/2” high) hand-painted pot with one of the typical Indian designs on it. And I purchased a bright red wool felt tote bag (or purse) made in Taos. The old tote bag I’d taken on the trip gave out and the strap broke, so I had a reason to buy a new bag to hold some of the stuff that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase. Young John wasn’t at all interested in walking the streets of Santa Fe (sigh, oh well) so he stayed at the hotel and read or slept while Sara and I shopped. There is a cute and tiny Christmas store on one of the side streets of Santa Fe, and I bought a Christmas pin (NOT made in China) in red.

IMG_0498IMG_0499Then we were off for more road trip. One of the fun goals on the trip was to try to see a few of the visual inspirations for the movie, Cars. They’re dotted all along Route 66 (now Interstate 40). We stopped in Shamrock, Texas (after we’d spent the night in Amarillo, also un-memorable, sorry to say) where the filling station is a kind of tourist landmark. It was a Sunday, so the station wasn’t open (it is a tourist attraction, not a gas station anymore) but we took pictures and used the very old-time bathroom tucked into it, which was open. Parked alongside the station is Mater, the tow truck that plays a prominent part in the movie. We also saw the Cadillacs stuck in the ground, nose first.

graceland_frontAfter a night in Fort Smith, Arkansas, we high-tailed it to Memphis. We planned to get there in the mid to late afternoon and had reservations for the Graceland Mansion (Elvis Presley) tour at 4:00 pm. It was actually lovely. Circa 1977, when Presley died. I won’t bore you with all the pictures I took inside – it was all nicely done, including the harvest gold refrigerator and avocado green kitchen sink. We laughed about that. Grandson John found us a barbecue place for dinner (the place I’d picked out was closed that night) as another goal was to enjoy Memphis dry-rub barbecue. I was the winner that evening with what I ordered as we ate at Central BBQ, just south of downtown Memphis. We got there early and had to wait in line, and then they bring your food to the table. OMGosh. The – THE – best dry rub barbecue I’ve ever had. Now, I ordered pork ribs – Sara had brisket and John had pork sliders. But mine was the best of them all. They sell their special combo rub (Sara bought one) but I didn’t as my suitcase and tote bag were already mighty full. I’d go back there in a flash if I could.

IMG_0515Since we finished dinner early, we decided to drive into downtown Memphis, and on the spur of the moment, decided to park and go visit The Peabody, the eponymous old hotel that is most famous for their little family of ducks (Mallards?) that are ushered into the hotel every morning to spend the day in the large indoor fountain (which is underneath the flower arrangement you see in the photo, left center), and then ushered out in the late afternoon. It’s quite a tourist attraction, though we didn’t get to see them as we were there in the late evening. We sat in the gorgeous lobby (stunning) near the big grand piano (and part of the time a skilled pianist was tickling the ivories) and had fancy coffee and shared a dessert. If I ever go back to Memphis – I’ll be staying there.

The following day we were up early-early as we did a marathon driving day of about 11 hours to get to Blacksburg, Virginia. We encountered rain here and there across the states, although hot rain, of course. I’ve already written up about taking John to Virginia Tech (report is that he really likes his classes and is enjoying his roommates a lot) and delivering the Toyota to Sabrina at Clemson, in South Carolina. And about the one night at the Biltmore. I’ll close with one of the photos from there. I just love that place. Sara does too. We stayed at the Inn on the Biltmore grounds and actually didn’t tour the mansion this time. We visited the gorgeous gardens, though and enjoyed some tea in the lounge. At that point we were enjoying just sitting to relax.

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Posted in Travel, on March 20th, 2019.

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Can you read the inscription? It was 9:30 am and we 4 girls were having Irish coffee at the Buena Vista. So very fun. After downing the very tasty stuff, we had eggs Benedict (3 of us) and one had corned beef hash. It was actually pretty darned good, considering the Buena Vista is known for Irish coffee, not for the food! That’s me on the left, my friends Judy, Nancy and Lois.

So, let me back up . . . I’m alive and well. Busy. Very busy. I’ve been trying to get Sara up to speed with doing posts, and I spent the weekend with her (and family) and part of Sunday we tried to get a recipe posted. We ran into a glitch, however, when I tried to log her into the FTP software (that’s the special software that uploads the pdf files to the blog site). Could not seem to do it. Sara has a rather complex recipe for chocolate cupcakes with a peanut butter filling and a Swiss buttercream (with peanut butter) frosting. Three separate recipes in one post. I don’t think in all my years of posting on my blog I’ve ever had 3 separate recipes in one blog post. Always a first time, however! Once she’s able to post from her home computer, she should be up and running.

gg_bridgeMeanwhile, a week and a half ago my 3 friends and I (above) flew to SFO and spent 3 full days and 2 nights touring, eating, drinking, walking. Pause and repeat. We had SO much fun, I just can’t tell you. I gained not one ounce, thankfully, but only because I stuck to my diet with the exception of eating an entire popover at Neiman Marcus. With strawberry butter. Oh my, did I feel like I’d fallen off the wagon!

japanese_tea_garden1We stayed at the St. Francis (Union Square) and used Lyft and taxis to get us around to various places. We visited the De Young Museum (a place I’d never been to), went up into the Tower there too – if you haven’t ever been there, you should! We walked a block away and went through the japanese_tea_garden2Japanese Tea Garden – also not raining while we did that. Late in the afternoon we popped into a darling wine bar around the corner from the front door of the St. Francis – I think it was called Eno (for enoteca, I presume) and we enjoyed fabulous boutique wine, cheeses and salami. We had dinner at Scoma’s, an ancient restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. I had scallops and shrimp in butter sauce.

cablecar_sfoWe took the cable car over the hill the next morning for our breakfast at the Buena Vista. Sat at a table with a darling young couple who were having a romantic weekend away. Took the streetcar along the wharf to the Ferry Building and walked all over that place. I spent a bit of money there on myself and a few gifts.

IMG_0264Late that afternoon we went to the Top of the Mark (Hopkins) and had cocktails while we ogled  the fantastic view. The weather was cold, and Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be rainy – it was – but we managed to dart in and out in between showers, so I never had to put up my umbrella. We had dinner at Cotogna, a very upscale Italian restaurant on Pacific Street – really gorgeous ambiance and fabulous food. I’d definitely go there again.

Our last day we trekked to Chinatown (and stopped at St. Mary’s church, the oldest church in SF) and back. Then headed to Neiman Marcus. We’d hoped to have afternoon tea, but we were on a timetable and they weren’t serving tea yet, so opted for lunch. Delicious, by the way. That’s where I gave in to the popover. After that we headed to the airport and got a 6:30 pm flight home to Orange County.

Posted in Travel, on August 7th, 2018.

luggage_packed_in

This photo, from the family trip to Europe, was actually taken on our last day, in the driveway of the house we’d rented in Normandy. There are a few more smaller bags nestled onto the 9th passenger seat and floor in front of that seat, plus all 4 women had a purse as well.

You see, we’d had a meeting about 10 days before our trip, and I’d brought out my relatively small (the red one) suitcase and said yes, there would be 17 days of clothes and other stuff in there. I also took a small bag that rests on top of the roller bag and my purse too. One of the couples took a bigger bag for the two of them (black one, top left).

We only had one suitcase catastrophe. When we flew from London to Florence on CityJet, the airline left John Jr.’s (pictured above) suitcase sitting on the tarmac. It took them a day to find it. And two more days to finally get it to Florence and delivered to us. Meanwhile, Sara and John Jr. went shopping in Florence and bought him some new clothes. Adidas. He was a happy camper when his suitcase finally arrived in Florence, the afternoon before we left. I didn’t wear one pair of slacks and one top, but everything else was worn several times. Fortunately, we had washing machines in Florence, Paris and Normandy, so nobody lacked for clean clothes. Dry clothes were another matter – only Normandy had a dryer, so in the other 2 places there were typical European collapsible drying racks which were set up in hallways throughout our stays.

Embarking on this trip had us all meeting at LAX (Los Angeles International). Son Powell had upgraded everyone so we had first class seats plus the use of the private lounge before both flights. We left late at night so I slept a few hours on the down-flat seats. We arrived at Heathrow, took the train into the city, then a taxi to our hotel. Son Powell is a member of the Penn Club, so we were able to use his reciprocal privileges at the Sloane Club hotel. A lovely hotel for sure, and so very proper English style. sara_powell_hotel_bar

As I mentioned a few days ago, after getting situated in our rooms, we met in the morning room and attached bar to decide what we’d do first.

That’s Sara and Powell, brother and sister. We were all tired, but knew we shouldn’t go to sleep, so we enjoyed the bar, eventually went out to dinner nearby and fell into bed relatively early. I was surprised how well I slept, with jet lag and all. During the following 2 days everyone scattered in different directions (Armory Museum, Churchill War Rooms, a couple of museums, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Thames, Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus). Powell had made reservations at his favorite restaurant, Veeraswamy, an Indian restaurant near Piccadilly. We all enjoyed a sumptuous meal there.

On Sunday the girls had afternoon tea at the Langham (hotel). Sara has a customer of theirs (here in California) who is a Brit, and he and his wife insisted we had to go to the Langham because it’s where Brits go. Not to any of the more well-known tea places like Fortnum & Mason (my favorite) or one of the big, more well-known hotels.IMG_2782

That was our take-away box – isn’t it adorable? We had extra scones and several of the little, dainty sweets. I think grandson Vaughan had some of the contents later that night or the next morning before we left for the airport.afternoon_tea_langham

As it happened, Sabrina (middle) had a friend – Shelby – of hers from Clemson visiting in London, so she joined us for afternoon tea also. Left to right, me, Shelby, Sabrina, Karen (Powell’s wife) and Sara (my daughter and Sabrina’s mom).langham_tea_sandwiches

There are the tea sandwiches – if you can’t read the small print I put on the photo . . . from left to right, cucumber and cream cheese, tomato, mozzarella and pesto, egg and chicken salad. The little thing on the right, as I recall was smoked salmon in a baby brioche bun. My favorite was the cucumber. And yes, I ate some of all of them, despite the bread which I’m not supposed to eat! Or the cucumber, either. Cucumbers contain lectins, a no-no. Unless they’re peeled and seeded, which I do here at home. langham_tea_room

There at right is a broad view of the tea room at the Langham. It was a lovely room, and the room was very full by the time we left at about 3:00 or so. The service was impeccable, our waiter was very fun, funny and gracious – he stood up on a chair to take the group photo up above.

That’s enough for this post. The weather was actually very nice – we had a spit of rain a couple of times, but it didn’t keep us from doing anything. Otherwise it was up to about 80°F each day we were there. Hot in the sunshine!

Posted in Travel, on July 30th, 2018.

sara_me_kir_royale_london

Having just arrived in London, I’m surprised I even look myself! Jet lag, and all.

About 10 months ago two of my kids (Sara, above, and her brother Powell) and their families (plus me) were enjoying a family get-together and discovered that both families had independently decided to take a European trip this summer. In a matter of seconds, they decided to do it all together, and they asked me to go along too.

I’ll be sharing more about the actual trip in the next week or so, as I get to it, to write up posts and work on the photos, etc. But for now, this photo will have to suffice. We had just arrived at our hotel in Sloane Square, deposited our bags in our respective rooms and I went to the lovely lounge/bar. Sara showed up and we ordered a kir royale. One of my favorite drinks. We were on an adrenaline high from the long flight. Within 15-20 minutes everyone else showed up and we had a fun time acclimating to the new time zone and deciding what we would do first. We had 3 children along – Sara and John’s 2 children, Sabrina (the 20-year old who is going to Clemson University in So. Carolina) and young John (17 and a high school senior) – and Powell & Karen’s son Vaughan (10, about to be 11).

At this family gathering, all those many months ago, we kind of narrowed down the scope of our trip to London, Florence, Paris and Normandy. Powell had (at that time) a ton of frequent flyer miles, and he upgraded all of us to business class. He’s a member of the Penn Club, which got us into the private Sloane Club hotel (lovely, by the way), and in the other locations I found us apartments or homes through AirBnB. Having been to all of those cities before, I had a firm idea as to where/what part of those places I wanted us to stay.

In Florence, I found an apartment very near Santa Croce. The only hitch to it was it was up 4 flights of stairs and no elevator. And that’s likely why the apartment was still available 10 months ago. It was a big, spacious apartment with plenty of bedrooms within hearing of the bells of the Santa Croce church, which was literally a long stone-throw from the apartment. A restaurant was within 4 steps from the front door, and we enjoyed more than one meal there. We stayed for 4 nights in Florence. The temps were high (mostly high 80s and low 90s, but with wicked high humidity).

In Paris, I’d found an apartment near the Marais. And when I tell you it had a spectacular view, well, it was amazing, overlooking a park. French doors opened up onto tiny little balconies. That one did have an elevator that would hold 1 person and a suitcase, or 2 people with nothing much to carry. One of the kids had to sleep on a sofa there (Sabrina and I shared a bedroom in most of our locations), and the place did not have A/C. Fortunately, for the 4 days and nights we were in Paris, the temps were in the high 80s, so it was not too bad if we left the apartment closed up until early evening, all things considered. The apartment had a well equipped kitchen and ample seating for all of us to enjoy breakfasts and lunches. A grocery store was about a block or less away.

Then, Powell and John walked to a location about 3/4 mile away and picked up a Mercedes Benz 9-passenger van, drove it back to our apartment and we piled in. Baggage for 8 people took up a fair amount of space, and the small area at the back did manage to hold almost all of our bags. Off we drove to Normandy. I’d found a beautiful home right on Omaha Beach (in a town called Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer), literally a hundred steps from the beach, and another hundred steps to the location of the D-Day landing. We all agreed that the Normandy part was our favorite – the house was beautiful – the owner was very nice and accommodating – and it was so peaceful hearing the ocean waves at all hours or day and night. We did a 2-day tour with a retired British Major General who is an expert at WWII D-Day history. I’d toured with him years ago on a previous trip to Normandy and booked him as soon as I was able to get ahold of him last year.

More on all of those as I’m able to write up the travel log with photos. We’re all home, safe and sound, glad to be in our own beds again. My kitty was so very happy to see me. And in case you’re interested, with my diet plan, about day two I had to abandon the diet – it was just too difficult. I ate a bit of bread, numerous sandwiches, more fruit than usual, had gelato once in Florence (how could I not have it once?), had full-on afternoon tea in London and I wasn’t going to miss out on that! Baguettes were a frequent item on our breakfast or lunch tables, with luscious meats and cheeses. I had 2 croissants in the 17 days – could have had many more, but opted not to. I had dessert 3-4 times at dinner, and on the flight home I ate a delicious cold muesli cereal with pineapple, and I splurged on a scoop of ice cream after one of our flight meals. With trepidation, I got on the scales that night (arriving home), again yesterday morning, and again today, and am happy to say I gained not one pound on the trip despite my falling off the diet. Now that I’m home, though, I’m back to the zero carb diet.

Posted in Travel, on September 18th, 2017.

cherrie_and_me_sooke

That’s me (on the right) with my friend Cherrie, in British Columbia, having breakfast.

A few days ago I got back from a road trip. A 2+ week, 3500 mile road trip. I had posts all set up while I was gone (so you wouldn’t miss me). I have a new car, and I wanted to take her on a nice, long “spin.” Originally I was going to go by myself, because I had lots of places I wanted to stop, to do my own thing, but the end destination was to stay at Sooke Harbour House, in Sooke, British Columbia. This inn, an elegant, old, cozy place holds a warm place in my heart because Dave and I stayed there at least twice, maybe three times over the years. It has a nautical theme, situated right on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, facing south, toward the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It’s on Vancouver Island, about 20+ miles west of Victoria. The inn has a lovely old knotty-pine trimmed dining room overlooking the views. There are lots of places to sit around the property (providing it’s warm enough and not raining), and most rooms have a small deck or patio to enjoy the view, to listen to the bird calls, with distant fishing boats plying the waters. All the rooms have fireplaces, and many have hot tubs on the decks, outside, or somewhere close by. It’s a very romantic place to stay.

To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t sure how “happy” I would be staying there. By myself, without my DH. In this very romantic place. But, I really did WANT to go. Dave and I had been planning a trip up the West Coast for a few months off, when he had his stroke and died so suddenly. That’s been 3 1/2 years ago now. I thought I was (maybe) ready to do that kind of trip.

But when my BF Cherrie heard about it, she said she’d like to go with me. Oh, happy day! She and I travel well together – we’ve done numerous trips over the  years (twice to England without our husbands). I knew I’d have a grand time if she shared it with me. And indeed, we did have a great trip.

We drove from where we live in Orange County, California, up the west coast to San Luis Obispo, then Paso Robles, then we kind of whizzed through the Bay Area (except to have lunch with my cousin Gary) and went to Santa Rosa (to eat at a specific restaurant), then we drove to the coast, Old Highway 1, and stayed on it all the way to Port Angeles, Washington. In that interim of northern California, Oregon and Washington coastline we encountered terrible air from the forest fires still burning in many places. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the ocean (part of the reason for the Hwy 1 slow road). Eventually we took a ferry across the Straits to Victoria.

After our stay at Sooke, we took a different ferry through the San Juan islands to Anacortes, and onto Whidbey Island. It’s a place I used to live (in a former life) and I wanted to revisit what I could of where I’d lived there. We stayed at another old, charming inn, before taking another ferry off the south end of Whidbey to Mukilteo. We bypassed Seattle except via freeways and headed for Portland. Stayed in an AirBNB there (more on that later) and just went all over there, enjoying the good food and Powell’s Books. Cherrie flew home from Portland since she’d been gone for about 12 days by that time (and her husband missed her!), and I did the rest of the trip by myself. I drove down through Oregon and stayed with a friend of Cherrie’s JaneAnn, in Rogue River, then hightailed it to Placerville, where my daughter Dana lives with her family. Two days there and then I did another straight shot home.

I’ll be sharing more of the trip in the next week or so, but just thought I’d give you an overview of what we did. I’m very happy to be back home, in my own bed, enjoying my own shower, and petting my kitty, Angel.

When Cherrie and I were up north, it was cool, even a little drizzly in a few places, and we both talked about how we couldn’t wait to get home and make some tummy-warming soups. That’s my goal today (I’m writing this on Thursday), to make some vegetable soup. I have it in my head that I want to make a green minestrone – a soup that I had once in Italy, and I have a recipe for one, but just haven’t ever gotten around to making it. That’s going to happen today, so if it’s as good as I remember, I’ll share it here!

Posted in Travel, on December 4th, 2016.

bay_of_kotor_distance

Sorry it’s been so long since I wrote more about my Croatia trip. Holidays and family things just got in the way! This picture is one of my favorites from the entire trip. This was the scene as we ventured up over a rise and looked out over this protected, inland Bay.

Kotor (pronounced ko-tr) is a town unto itself (pictures below, not in the photo above) but the whole area is called the Bay of Kotor. I swear, this bay should be part of the seven wonders of the world, it’s that gorgeous. We were blessed with a beautiful day and lovely contrast with the cloud cover. I was in awe. I wanted to camp out right there for awhile before we ventured down to ocean/ground level.

In the bottom left you can see an angular line; that’s Kotor airport. Not a big airport for sure. Kotor is a big summer tourist destination – there were ample small hotels and apartments used for summer rentals. The town of Kotor, a walled city, is off to the right and in another deeper part of the Bay.

After taking jillions of pictures from that spot in the photo above, we drove down the hill (on a scary set of narrow switchbacks where some buses had to do 3-point turns to make each and every switchback) and went to a hotel on the bottom right side of the Bay (at about 4:00 on the bay’s edge in the photo at top). It was by far the most gorgeous hotel, the Regent Porto Montenegro, that we stayed in on the entire trip. We all were disappointed we had but one night there. We went to the city of Kotor for a tour and had dinner there also.

 kotor_city_with_bay

As you can see, there were two cruise ships in port – I know – they look like little yachts, right? No, cruise ships. The walled city of Kotor is at the bottom right nestled right up against the mountain. I don’t know the elevation of the steep cliff we were on – probably about 1500 to 1800 feet. But that’s just a guess.

The next day we took a very small motor craft out into the bay you see above to visit a tiny man-made island. Next is a photo I found at Wikipedia – probably a better one than I took, as it was raining all day. This islet is called Our Lady of the Rocks. It’s now a Catholic Church (tiny) and thousands visit it every year. It contains a variety of art, including a wall-hanging made by a woman who waited for 25 years for her sailor-captain-husband to return home safely. She wove some of her hair into it. It was dark in the room, so my photo didn’t come out well.

Nuestra_Señora_de_las_Rocas,_Perast,_Bahía_de_Kotor,_Montenegro,_2014-04-19,_DD_19

As we left the island, there is another island just next to it (to the left of this island above, that is private. It made such a pretty photo – I have a hankering to paint the picture below of St. George, Sveti Dorde Island. I should print it out large, so I can sketch it onto watercolor paper. The Bay was just gorgeous.

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It rather looks like a church – it’s actually a monastery, in existence since the 12th century. The scene was just beautiful.

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All my life I’ve enjoyed scenes such as this one – it could have been taken on hundreds of different coastlines or lakes throughout Europe. This one in the Bay of Kotor. So pretty.

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old_street_kotor

Here are two scenes from the walled city of Kotor. At left is the ancient church, much celebrated since it’s been in existence since the 12th century. At right was just a photo I snapped of one of the streets inside Kotor. Everywhere it was walking streets, and the little shop at the end of this little piazza had its interior lights on. Very welcoming.

walking_street_kotor

me_window_regent_hotelHere are two more scenes. At left is another view of one of the walking streets. The stores were open and many in our group bought bags and bags of trinkets. I didn’t buy anything. At right is a view of me, standing in the window of the Regent Hotel, looking out at the docks.

I must tell you, as a widow of a man who sailed all of his life (from age 8) when I walked out to the back of the hotel (in the rain) I was overcome with a sense of grief as I looked at all those sailboats and yachts. My DH would have marched right out by all those boats and talked to anyone who might have been around, to find out about the draft, how many feet long the boat was, what kind of an engine, etc. Asking about the sails, about the sailing in those waters, etc.

If you’ve never known about Kotor, you do now, and you need to add it to your bucket list. You won’t be sorry!

Posted in Travel, on November 7th, 2016.

mt_durmitor_lakes

I don’t remember what these lakes were called – I believe they’re part of a dam (in Montenegro). We drove along the edge of several of these lakes, then began a very steep ascent – in serpentines they called it – before we actually arrived in Mt. Durmitor National Park.

We stayed one night in Sarajevo. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip. After reading the heart-wrenching book, The Cellist of Sarajevo some years ago, I longed to make a kind of pilgrimage to the small square in the city where the cellist played during the seige. I thought I’d written up a post on my blog here about that book, but I guess I just put it on my sidebar, which I update ever few weeks. The book is a novel, but based on the history of the siege in Sarajevo in the 1990s. The filament that holds the various stories together is the life of a professional cellist (supposedly based on Vedran Smailovic) who is an observer, from his apartment window, of a massacre that happened in his square – the sniper on the hills gunned down 22 people standing in line at a bakery. The book is about how the people of Sarajevo were totally at God’s mercy during the many, many months of the siege. They had little food, had to walk great distances to get water, and took their lives in their hands when they did, as the snipers were vigilant in the nearby hills. Awhile after that particular massacre, the cellist (this part is fiction, according to some accounts) decides he’s going to play a specific piece of music (the composer Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor – which has a very interesting history all on its own – look it up if you’re interested) every day for 22 days; he went down into that square, right where the people were massacred, and in line where a sniper could have killed him too. He plays the piece of hauntingly beautiful music, a classical piece for cello, and hundreds of people come to the square to hear him play. And for whatever reason, the snipers don’t shoot.

So, I’d hoped to see that square, but our guide misunderstood me I guess – Smailovic did do a concert in the ruins of the National Library (it’s been rebuilt), and well after the seige he did play a concert on the square. On our walking tour – and she pointed out the rebuilt Library to me. Sarajevo is a city, big enough that I suppose she couldn’t very well take me to that place. Sarajevo still has many disfiguring marks from mortar fire and other damage to municipal buildings and apartment buildings. They’re still working on fixing it up. We did visit the tunnel that was built from one end of Sarajevo under the airport and out the other side, 266which was used (all secretly) to ferry medicines and much needed supplies, ammunition too. We walked through about 15 feet of the tunnel – cramped, low, and has a steel track on the ground for pushing or pulling a cart. There at left is a display, showing the tunnel (the white line near the top, that traverses underneath the runway).

We stayed in a Muslim-owned hotel in Sarajevo. I think it was called the Bristol. Very nice. Some in our group grumbled because the hotel didn’t serve alcohol. Really? Fortunately the complainers only talked to our tour leader about it, not the hotel. I’d have been embarrassed if they had. Bosnia is a mostly Muslim country, so when you are in such a place, we should respect their customs.

Once we left Sarajevo we headed further south and to the border of Montenegro. The photo at top was the northern edge of Mt. Durmitor National Park. After crossing the Bosnian and Montenegro borders (which sometimes took 20-30 minutes to wait in line, then for all of our passports to be examined, cross-checked and stamped, then we’d go another 200 yards and do the process all over again to enter the new country), we were off into the mountains. At one point we had to pull off the road for awhile because a film crew was shooting a motion picture somewhere on up in the mountains, and all traffic on this very arterial 2-lane highway came to a complete stop for 4-5 hours. We were lucky to be stalled for only about 30 minutes.

4_wheel_drive_mt_durmitorEventually we got up into the highlands and our group got into 4-wheel drive SUVs and off we went on a mountain adventure. We went on, up and up and up (to about 6,000 feet that day) and above the timberline.  Part of the roads were paved, but mostly they were dirt and gravel and usually only one lane.

It was a gorgeous day and it was very fun to be in something other than a bus.

The photo below was one I snapped as we went through a particularly beautiful valley.mt_durmitor_4

We had lunch at a kind of a summer camp up there – a delicious meal – and as always, way too much food. We had lamb, potatoes, home made cheese, tomatoes, wine and beer if we wanted it, and some delicious strudel like savory pastries. We had those (kind of in a burrito-shape but smaller) with a flaky pastry and a meat and cabbage filling. Really tasty. Then we were off again in the SUVs to get down Mt Durmitor on the other side and into a town called Kolacin. It was up at a fairly high altitude. We stayed in a rustic kind of chalet hotel that was full of high school kids on a field trip of some kind, plus some kids competing in some sports games there.

The next day we were picked up by similar SUVs and off we went to another 8,000 foot high mountain aerie in a different direction. That day we encountered a small pack of horses. We thought they were wild, but found out later they spend every summer up there fending for themselves and the owners retrieve them in the Fall and take them down to his ranch at a lower altitude for the winter. They came8000feet_montenegro_horses roaring down the nearby hills and approached us. We wished we’d had some apples or something to feed them. There were some young colts in the bunch (see the one colt’s head in the middle?). That day we stopped at a different high mountain camp and sat out in the relative open camp (covered, but open and windy, and it rained too) for another big lunch. Similar food – maybe it was beef or veal that time, more home made cheese (that was SO good – it was a free-form kind of stretchy cheese – you’d tear off a portion and eat it with the delicious home made bread), salads, wash_up_station_montenegrocabbage salads, wedges of tomatoes, beer, wine and some sweet for dessert. There was a toilet in an out building there, and a primitive sink for washing your hands.

We were out in the elements for several hours and enjoyed the scenery so much. It was just breathtakingly beautiful up on those mountains. There were a few villages here and there, dotting the distant hills. Probably really cold in the winter.

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The scenery was just so pretty. Kind of like Colorado, I suppose. We all remarked on the gorgeous clouds that day. 8000feet_montenegro

Once again, we were up above the timberline and nearly into the clouds. So beautiful.

Posted in Travel, on November 1st, 2016.

mostar_neretva_590

This small city, Mostar, is just so beautiful. The river, the Neretva, is probably the high point. The city was a crossroads for trade, way back in history.

On this recent trip to Croatia, I learned a lot about the geographic break-up of Yugoslavia in 1994-95. I mean, we all heard about it, right? There were years of fighting that went on for nearly a decade between the Serbs and others. Sarajevo, Dubrovnik and Mostar suffered greatly during those wars (all in Bosnia). They’re even now, just getting their feet on the ground and learning to be a democratic group of countries. And, as I mentioned earlier, each of the 5 countries is fiercely proud of their independence (for themselves, but also from each other). Unemployment is rampant, though it’s lower in the more tourist centric countries. They all are striving for more tourism – they need it until they can build up their economies with other products to export. Lots of investors from around the world are pouring money into hotels to help the tourism.

Mostar (Bosnia):  The old brigde (Stari most) over the Neretva river; Photo: Thomas AlbothMostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, and is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. I took a couple of photos of the bridge (and I managed to trip and fall while I was on the slippery bridge – it was raining). But I found a great photo on the web, above. I think it came from a tourism website.

There is still evidence of the wars – mortar damage to buildings. Much of the landmarks in Mostar were destroyed during the war (including the famous bridge) but they’ve all been rebuilt. Mostar and much of Bosnia is Muslim. Many women were in head coverings, though I don’t recall seeing a single woman in complete coverings (except in Sarajevo). It’s interesting how one Muslim country makes an issue over the women’s dress; others do not. When my DH and I visited Turkey in 1997, very few women were in full coverings, but now it’s a mandate of the country if you’re a Muslim woman.

mostar_bldg

What that building was, I’m not sure – it was next to one of the side rivers of the Neretva. It might have been a restaurant. hindin_han_lunch_mostarIt just was picturesque. While in Mostar, we had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant called the Hindin Han. There’s a photo of the huge plate of food – french fries on the bottom, a chicken breast across the middle, lamb kofta on the right, a pork sausage in the middle (really delicious) and beef kabob at the bottom. And a salad with nothing on it. That meal would have been enough for me for the entire day, but we had dinner at our hotel too. Way too much food. In general, we were served too much food. Mostly the Croatians eat their main meal at noontime, but for us they served us a dinner-sized meal (plus some) at both lunch and dinner. We had a local city guide there, a charming young man whose family owns a coffee shop there. It was after 3pm when we arrived, and he only had regular espresso – I knew it would keep me awake, so I didn’t have any. I was sorry not to enjoy some.

mostar_restaurants_on_river

In Mostar, restaurants line the riversides – what a beautiful sight it was. Wish we’d been able to enjoy more than one of them. We spent just a part of a day in Mostar.

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