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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.

Recently finished 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.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – 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.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

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 August 7th, 2018.

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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.

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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.

sveti_dorde_island_kotor_bay

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

coastline_by_our_lady_rocks_island

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.

ancient_church_kotor

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.

at8000_feet_montenegro

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.

Posted in Travel, on October 15th, 2016.

mostar_river_1

I’ve just returned from a 2-week trip to Croatia, Bosnia (and Herzegovina) and Montenegro. Wow. That’s it in a nutshell. If you haven’t been, you need to plan a trip there.

The picture above is one of the best photos I took on the trip, I think. There are a few more, but that one just takes me to that place in an instant, in my head. Since Yugoslavia was divided up, there are 5 different countries: Croatia (along the coast south of Venice, Italy and inland), Bosnia (further south on the coast and way inland too, past Sarajevo), Montenegro, which is a small pie wedge of a country along the most southern coast and some inland mountains; and Slovenia (eastern strip, didn’t go there) and Serbia (also didn’t go there). The division of the old Yugoslavia is quite complex, so don’t quote me on all the borders.

These countries are struggling a bit – Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia managed to get into the EU (probably because tourism is prospering) but the other countries are not. Their unemployment rate is extremely high, except Montenegro. All the countries are trying to find their niche (industry and corresponding infrastructures) and promote tourism because it may be their only future. That’s the sad part. The good part is that each of these countries does has a lot going for them in the tourism arena. All 3 countries I visited were very beautiful. Croatia and Montenegro have some gorgeous scenery. You’ll be seeing lots of pictures of these places in the next couple of weeks as I go through my photos and write up a few stories.

And the next question is, from most people – is it a safe place to visit? Absolutely. I felt safe everywhere I went, even the few occasions when I was alone. The countries have very low crime, and there hasn’t been any terrorism activity there. The Croat people are fiercely proud of their respective countries. And because they represent a variety of cultural differences, religions and ethnic backgrounds, they tend to identify themselves as their country’s people, not prefacing it with a Muslim designation or Roman Catholic, for instance. All the people speak the same language (Croatian) which was impossible for us to understand, and I hardly tried!

I took all the photos with my cell phone (iPhone 6s), and I think they’re nearly as good as my really good Canon DSLR. Sure made it easy to carry around my cell phone everywhere we went.

We started in Zagreb (the capital of Croatia), then went down to the coast to Zadar, Split, back inland to Mostar and Sarajevo, then southeast to Mt. Durmitor (a Montenegran national park) and nearby Biogradsko Lake, then to the Bay of Kotor (absolutely breathtaking). And lastly to Dubrovnik. We flew to London after that and stayed overnight after a visit to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home during the latter part of his life, then home. I was gone for 2 weeks and a day. I’m very happy to be home, as I always am after a trip. This trip was rather rigorous, requiring the 14 of us to get up early nearly every morning by 6ish, and rarely got to our nightly destination until 6pm. Long days in the bus. Very few free hours. We were perpetually behind in our daily schedule and sometimes in the evenings, we couldn’t even finish our meals because our bus driver (a really nice guy) was required to finish his 12-hour shift and his pay would be dinged if he failed to meet the nighttime arrival. That happened at least twice on the trip. We didn’t think that was very nice, but, of course, the policy wasn’t ours to make!

The food across the board, was very good. We enjoyed LOTS of specialty cheeses, lots of organically raised beef, lots of fish and not much pork. Usually there was a vegetarian option too. One night lamb was offered, and we had it at an interesting mountain aerie one noontime too. Mostly we had a breakfast buffet with plenty of options for anything from cereal to eggs to breads (great breads of all variety), bacon and sausage and lots of lovely fruit. Hotel coffee wasn’t always great, but I had coffee in individual little coffee places several times and it was delicious. Mostly they don’t offer anything but partly skimmed milk to put in coffee. Yuk. So I didn’t drink a whole lot of it. I asked for cream many times, to be met with a blank face of non-understanding and someone pointing to the skimmed milk pitcher. Oh well, it was just 2 weeks! We stayed in one Muslim-owned hotel (Sarajevo) and some in our group grumbled because no alcohol was served. I think those folks went out after dinner to a nearby bar or club. We were served white wine, red wine, beer and soft drinks everywhere (except Sarajevo) and across the board, the wine was good. The Zinfandel grape originates from that part of the world.

So, bear with me as I sort and catalog my pictures.

Posted in Travel, on April 2nd, 2016.

biltmore_estateIf you haven’t ever been to The Biltmore Estate, you have truly missed out on out one of America’s treasures. It’s open to the public, and also has 2 hotels located right on the grounds of the estate itself.

My friend Darlene has been telling me for years about The Biltmore Estate, and it had been on the travel plan for my DH and me in the spring, but then my hubby died suddenly. We were planning a driving trip of the Blue Ridge Mountains and had known we’d stay there. Obviously, that trip didn’t happen, as I wasn’t going to do the trip by myself. So, when Sara invited me to go with her and granddaughter Sabrina to visit colleges in the south, I prevailed on them to add 2 nights (my treat) to visit and stay there.

After visiting 2 of the colleges on our plan, we arrived at the Biltmore late in the afternoon. Darlene had recommended we stay at the Inn on the Biltmore, and to get a room facing the back, the big meadow toward the winery, which we did. We had a lovely room with a gorgeous view.

inn_at_biltmore_estatesThis estate was built by George Vanderbilt at around the turn of the last century (1890-95 approx). The Vanderbilts made their money from the beginnings of railroads here in the U.S., and they were multi-millionaires. This Vanderbilt, married a society inn_biltmore_view1woman and they lived mostly at the Biltmore, although the family also had a huge family home in NYC. George vacationed in the Blue Ridge mountains when he was young, and always wanted to return and build a home there. Originally he bought up about biltmore_doorway125,000 acres and he and his friends hunted on the grounds in season. George and his wife had one daughter who eventually married into the Cecil family (connected to British royalty), and the estate is still owned by their progeny. Because of inheritance taxes (I’m supposing this as I’ve not read it) that the family decided to open the estate to the public – only that way could they keep the beautiful grounds (now only 8,000 acres). Over the years the land has yielded lots of crops and they raise livestock on it now. There is a winery too.

biltmore_doorThe Biltmore itself contains 40+ bedrooms and about 25 bathrooms – this back in the day when a complete bathroom housed within a home was almost a rarity. To say that the house is exquisite almost doesn’t do it justice. It’s sumptuous. It’s brilliant, glittery in places, tasteful throughout, housing thousands of art pieces that George collected and are worth millions all by themselves.

Visiting the Biltmore is not for the meek of pocketbook. We stayed on the grounds, at the hotel pictured above and I bought a package that included parking (yes, that’s extra even if you’re staying at the hotel) and the breakfast buffet. The grounds also contain numerous gardens which were nothing but brown twigs when we visited. The hilly landscape was beautiful, nonetheless, as we wove on the interior curvy roads. It’s 3 miles from the front gate to the Biltmore, and back in the day you went by carriage. There was a train aft_tea_sara_sabrinaterminus in the nearby town – Asheville. George died quite young of a burst appendix (the infection caused by the rupture). This was before penicillin. His widow continued to live at the Biltmore and she maintained the many educational programs she and her husband had started for the villagers (because the depression caused such hardship). About 30-35 servants worked in the home full time, year ‘round. We did the Upstairs/Downstairs tour, which was just fascinating. The architect and designers included many innovative things into the building of the French Renaissance “castle.” It isn’t a castle, but by my parlance it certainly qualifies.

Our second day there we did the tour in the morning and then had afternoon tea, which is served at the Inn on the Biltmore, in their beautiful library.

Our waiter (in tux attire) was very attentive and made us feel very content. The tea offered are their own varieties, 3 or 4 black tea combinations, and 4 herbal and floral combos. Because it was late afternoon I think we all had herbal teas, which were very, very nice and tasty. The tea was one of the bargains of the visit – I think it was $21.95/pp and included savories, sandwiches, pastries and tea.

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In nice weather the Biltmore offers carriage rides (yes, sign me up) and also an open jeep backcountry ride as well (ditto). In

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season, with the flowers and foliage, the estate must be absolutely gorgeous. Sara, Sabrina and I have promised ourselves we will go back to the Biltmore, stay at the Inn again, and be there when the flowers are in bloom – but in the spring before it’s too warm for bugs and humidity. It was bitterly cold while we were there – it got down into the low 20s both nights, but we were toasty inside and there was no snow or rain, really. A must see if you’re ever in the Asheville, NC area. My advice: you really cannot see the estate in a day; not even in 2 days. I highly recommend a 3-days visit, or do 2 nights, but arrive in the morning, many hours before you can check in and do a tour or two. There are several restaurants on site; all the food we had was exceptional.

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