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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 about attending further education 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. I could hardly put it down. 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. You yearn to hug her, comfort her. Yet she finds eventually happiness and peace. A beautiful book worth reading. Was a book club read.

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. If you like Hyde’s novels, for the month of September many of her books are available on Kindle at a very reduced price ($1.99 and $.99 each). Go grab them while they’re available. I just purchased 6 of her books. 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. This took place in the 40s, and at the time no women were ever seen on the showroom floors, but these two pretty young women were the harbinger of equality, though none of that comes into play here. They were “runners,” who whisked orders and money to and fro from the salesMEN to the office. They stood in silence near the elevators on the ground floor and waited for a sale to take place. They lived in cramped quarters. They enjoyed everything NYC had to offer them at the time, and they were wowed by an occasional celebrity sighting. 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. No one can seem to solve them, and those who try also get caught in the crossfire. Finally a man is brought in from back East. That’s where the inception of the FBI comes into play, though there was no FBI then. This is a very interesting read, probably sufficient info to do a book club read. A book everyone should read if you know little (or a lot) about the abominable treatment given to the Native Americans over the last several hundred years. 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? When 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. It tells the tale of a 70ish man, a widower, who has been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. He’s a retired physician, knows the scenario of death by cancer, and doesn’t want to do it. He decides he’s going to take a bird hunting trip, east of the mountains in Washington State (Guterson writes a lot about his part of the world), with his two dogs, and he’ll commit suicide. He sets up an elaborate ruse with his children and grandchildren, and heads out. All of this, so far, takes place in the first 10 pages of the book. First he has an accident in his car, and that sets off a cavalcade of incidents. You’ll learn a whole lot about flora and fauna (one of Guterson’s writing attributes). You’ll learn a lot about apple and pear orchards, which abound in eastern Washington (I’ve been there, it’s beautiful, pastoral and full of fruit). Flashbacks of his life story are interspersed throughout, his growing up on an apple farm, meeting his wife, his service in WWII, their reuniting after the war and the life they had. You’ll learn some about his cancer pain, the grief of his wife’s death 5 years prior, and about his resolve to end it all. Please don’t NOT read this because  you’ll think it’s depressing. It is and it isn’t. It’s so much more for the better. And I just read, this book is being made into a movie.

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. Then he discovers that there is a lot more to know and understand about this elderly little lady down the hall and he begins a journey to try to find someone for her, the Luis Velez of the title. If you want to use coming-of-age to describe this, that’s partly true. He learns all about himself, the abilities he didn’t know he had, the kindness that lives within him that he never realized was there, and the friends he makes along the way who make some life-changing differences in his young life. He discovers he has some gifts that he can give to others, something most teenagers don’t understand. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s a bit of a tear-jerker, but for every good reason and moral character trait described in the book. It’s there.

Kristin Hannah is quite an author. She’s written upwards of 20 books, I think. This one, Magic Hour: A Novel is another very mesmerizing read. I could hardly put it down. A young, 6-year old child is found in a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. She’s mute and frightened beyond reason. And she seems not to understand English. A psychiatrist is brought to town to try to unravel the mystery and to “reach” the child. I don’t want to spoil the story, but know that the whole subject of nature (biology) vs. nurture comes into play and will keep you hanging onto your seat until the last few pages.

Ever heard of Barbara Pym? I knew the name, but hadn’t ever read any of her work. She was an English author (deceased now), having penned several books. I think she was an inveterate spinster, and in this book, Excellent Women she wrote about a small village community in England with the humdrum, day to day life, but she wrote with such interesting detail. I thought I might be bored to tears reading it, as it describes a 31-year old woman, considered a spinster in the time (1950s), and the book is about her rather boring life with new neighbors who move into her small home (2 units, sharing a bathroom), the local vicar, his sister, and a myriad of other ladies of the parish. Yet you get caught up in the very minor intrigue of the deteriorating marriage of the couple in the building, the love life of the vicar, and the annual planning for a jumble sale at the local church. This book is considered Pym’s best. I loved the book. I highlighted a bunch of phrases and sentences (I will be doing a book review in one of my book clubs). It wasn’t boring at all, and was entertaining right up to the last page!

Did you ever watch Sandra Lee on the Food Network? This was in the early days of the network, and I did watch her some, although her cooking style didn’t mesh much with mine, since I’m a bit of a make-things-from-scratch kind of girl. But then, I don’t make my own mayo, or jam anymore. And I understand her philosophy, making it easier for busy women to feed their families and juggle a busy life. I’d never thought about reading her memoir. But then, a friend highly recommended I do so. I found a used copy online, and read Made From Scratch: A Memoir. She had a very, very hard young life. Her mother? Well, she shouldn’t have even been a mother. Sandra was the eldest and from a very early age she took care of all of her younger siblings. She was badly mistreated and nearly raped by a family member. Her grandmother Lorraine was her favorite person from the get-go and Sandra took care of her grandmother in her waning years. Once Sandra was old enough she left home and went to college for 3 years, then her entrepreneurial spirit just took over. She learned by doing in every job she’s ever had, and I have to admire her tremendously for her accomplishments. She made money, then lost it, found another niche, made money, then lost it. Yet she’s got the kind of grit that we should all emulate. There are 2 recipes in the book. Sandra is a Christian, and a paragraph that really gripped me was at the very end: “Grace has become one of my favorite words. To me it means learning to balance the good days with the bad. Grace is about being proud of yourself, your actions, your life, what you stand for, and the way you give back [Sandra is a huge philanthropist]. Its’ being generous when someone hurts you; it’s knowing when and how to react. It’s knowing that someone you’re not fond of today might turn out to be the only person who puts his or her hand out tomorrow just when you’re about to step in front of a moving bus. Grace is offering understanding and acceptance when the rest of the world does not.” This book isn’t great literature; yet I’m very glad I read it. She is an inspiration.

The book Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee had been recommended to me by several friends. Finally got around to reading it. It’s a novel about a family of Koreans living in Japan and covers several decades, beginning in the 1940s, I believe. They’re poor. Dirt poor, yet the women just get themselves back up and work. The husbands in the story have problems, health and otherwise. But what you see here is work, and work and more work just to keep above water. You’ve probably read about how poorly Koreans are treated in Japan – they’re kind of thought of as scum of the earth. I don’t know if this phenomena is still true today, but it apparently was even up until a couple of decades ago. As  you read this book, you’ll find yourself rooting for various family members as they progress in life. A fateful decision is made by one that reverberates throughout her life and those of her children. Pachinko (the machines and the gaming economy that runs because of it) is thought of as part of the underbelly of Japanese culture. I remember seeing the pachinko machines when I visited Japan back in the 1960s. So the book infers, much of pachinko is even controlled by a kind of Japanese mafia and certainly has no status if you work in the pachinko arena. Wealth, yes. Status, no. Very worth reading, even though it’s tough going part of the way. This isn’t a “happy” book. But still worth knowing and reading about the subject. Reading the author’s afterword at the end was very revealing and interesting.

Also read An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. The book is set in the south with a young, well-educated, middle-class couple and suddenly the husband is accused and convicted of rape (that he didn’t commit). The book is not about the justice system or his wrongful conviction. Not at all. It’s about the relationship, the husband, wife, and then the 3rd person who inserts himself into the mix. Much of this story is told through the letters that Roy and Celestial write each other during and after his incarceration. Jones recreates the couple’s grief, despair and anger until they finally work their way to acceptance, but maybe not how you would expect it. This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision, making what isn’t said as haunting as the letters themselves.  Some of the above (italics) came from the New York Times’ book review.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces. I’ve always admired her and her acting, but never knew much about her. I remember when she was involved with Burt Reynolds, but knew nothing about her dysfunctional coming of age. I think she’s a consummate actress, and was awed by her performance in Norma Rae, and also with her role as Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  She wrote this book herself, with help from a writer’s workshop and with some good advice from various other writers. It’s very well written. She spends a lot of time discussing the very young years and her perverted step-father. But the over-arching person in her life was her mother, be what she may as far as being a good/bad mother. I really liked the book; really enjoyed reading about how Sally throws herself into her tv and film roles over her life. And what a defining moment Norma Rae was in her career. Well worth reading if you enjoy movie star memoirs.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel. It’s a gripping novel about a young girl whose family moves to Alaska when her father is gifted a small plot of land with a ramshackle cabin on it that’s barely fit for habitation. The family survives only because some of the townspeople offer to help them learn how to live through an Alaskan winter, which is not easy. The girl’s father is a tyrant and a wife-beater as well. Some pages were hard to read. Surviving on the land with nearly no funds is an arduous task in the best of times, but doubly so when you’re dealing with an Alaskan winter which lasts about 9 months of the year. I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you too many details. The book touches on some very current social issues and is so worth reading. Although difficult at times, as I said. But I’m very glad I did. I think it would make for a good book club read – lots of survival issues to discuss, let alone the other social problems that ensue. But there’s also love, which makes it worth the read.

Recently finished reading a book for one of my book clubs. I’m interested to find out who in that group recommended this book, Tangerine: A Novel by Christine Mangan. Had it not been selected for my club, I wouldn’t ever have picked it up. Most of it takes place in Tangiers, in the 1950s. Alice and John have moved there, newlyweds, when Lucy Mason shows up. Lucy is Alice’s former college roommate. Lucy simply moves in. There’s bad blood between them following the death of Alice’s beau during their college years. Lucy, who might appear as a very sensible woman, has a dark physical and mental obsession with her “friend.” Is it horror? Not really by strict definition. Is it a mystery? Not quite, although there are several murders that take place. Chapters jump between Alice’s voice and Lucy’s voice and you understand the mental fragility of Alice, and this consuming obsession Lucy has for her friend. I’m NOT recommending this book, but I did finish it just because of my book club choosing this very strange book.

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.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders  through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A

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. W

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

Posted in Travel, on October 25th, 2016.

plitvice_lake_trees

Really? Who knew there were such gorgeous lakes and scenery in Croatia? People who have been there, yes! I certainly didn’t know. I didn’t read up on Croatia much before I went on this trip, knowing that we’d have a guide who would give us plenty of information.

Plitvice (plit-vee-cheh) Lakes is a National Park about 30 miles south of Zagreb (in central Croatia), and about 20-30 miles east of the Adriatic coast. To say it’s stunning is almost an understatement.

This photo at left is one of my other favorites from my whole trip. And yes, the water color is natural – I didn’t touch up that photo one little bit except to reduce its size to fit here on my blog. I was just amazed at the beautiful pictures I got from my iPhone.

plitvice_lake_2Plitvice Lakes National Park has a bunch of terraced lakes, all interconnected and separated by natural travertine dams. There is a long walking trail, a catwalk all along the lake edges, mostly over uneven wood slats elevated about a foot above the water. There are no hand rails, and people must pass one another along the narrow paths. A bit challenging.  Some in our group did the long walk – I did the short one which was mostly up high, above the lakes, on a very uneven dirt path with roots and rocks in lots of dangerous places. No safety features here. You’re on your own. All of us had to keep our eyes on the ground to not trip. But we paused numerous times to take pictures and to catch our breath. In the photo at right you can see the catwalk along one of the lakes.

plitvice_lake_1

There’s another view of the cascade of lakes with the catwalk path on the far side.

On the upper path we were about 300-400 feet up, I’d suppose. We’d get glimpses of the lakes down below every so often and eventually we met up with the lakes, since they were at a higher elevation the further we went.

I’d suppose this is similar to glacier water, with those colors in it, but no one ever mentioned that on our walks. We weren’t at a very high elevation. Maybe it’s just the mineral content of the water. It was crystal clear.

plitvice_lake_5

 

Here in this photo on the right you can see more of the cascading, but notice all the people on the catwalk. It was warm that day – I would think the folks down below would have been parched and hot. On the upper path we were in the shade mostly but we were hot too.

plitvice_lake_4

Here we were at the upper lake and on the “short” walk we went on part of the catwalk into/onto this lake. I found walking on the catwalk somewhat treacherous – I kept thinking I was going to trip . . . but these lakes were just gorgeous, don’t you agree?

Posted in Travel, on October 19th, 2016.

zagreb_sign

A street sign, nicely done with some English. I think this was in Zagreb. We actually took the funicular (3rd arrow down) from the lower town to the upper town. Took all of about a minute.

Zagreb was a very pretty city – they have a big public park right smack in the middle of town – I thought I’d taken some photos there, but I guess not. Over the 2 nights and a day we visited numerous places and I haven’t been able to exactly pinpoint which pictures goes with which town. There were so many. Notice on the sign above, there’s a museum of broken relationships. We didn’t visit, but our guide told us that people from all over the world sent little mementos of various types, some bizarre, some poignant, some funny, of the detritus that is left from a marriage or a relationship. It might have been interesting to see.

verazdin castle

This is the castle at Verazdin (this photo above shows it so much better than my own photo, with scaffolding stari_grad2all over – came from a Croatian travel website). We visited a museum there. Picture at left is the inner courtyard of the castle. Others below are from the museum, including the ornate dishes (I love transferware) from one of the stari_grad_dishesformer monarchs. Nothing was in English there, so we had to guess at some of the artifacts. Somebody needs to polish the silver in these glass display cases!

We walked the town with a guide. We had a Croatian guide who was with us from our arrival at the airport in Zagreb, until we went into the airport terminal at Dubrovnik 13 days later. He was charming, Danilo, a lovely man, who really knew his history. He would regale us with history lessons sometimes during our long bus journeys. But in each city we also hooked up with a city guide – most places do that – can’t let the country guide do all the guiding, must keep the city guides in business, so in most of the places we visited we had a city guide to tell us all about that place.stari_grad_fan

I thought this ornate fan was just stunning. Oyster shell struts (or abalone?) and very intricate lace and tatting. It was quite beautiful.

zagreb_gaslight

This might have been in Verazdin – it was unique because in the old town they still have gas lights, and they’re still lit by a real-live gas lighter fellow every evening, and snuffed out every morning. Kind of charming. We didn’t see it at night, but I can imagine it was very pretty.

hotel_imperial_zagreb

Our hotel, in Zagreb, the Imperial. It was a beautiful hotel, old world charm but with all the nice amenities of a first class hotel. We enjoyed our stay there.

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