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Sara

Sara and me

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Finished Chinn’s story, The English Wife. What a great read. Could hardly put it down. I’m reading 3-4 books a week these days, and am so happy when I have a book I can’t wait to get back to. Really the story is about two sisters. Partly in Norwich, England, then in Newfoundland. One there, one here. And some of it takes place during WWII in Norwich, and much of it Newfoundland, then, and more recent. I loved the part of the book that took place on 9/11 when flights were diverted to Newfoundland. Family secrets, family lies, much anger between the sisters. There’s romance. There’s war. There is love of family. Particularly I savored the descriptions of Newfoundland, mostly rock, if you’ve never been there. It’s a twisted tale, by that I mean the family secrets which become the undoing. It’s a bargain on amazon right now, as I write this.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

Jamie Ford has written another good one, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Remember, he wrote The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Loved that book. This one takes on a rather ugly part of America’s past, when Chinese people were treated like trinkets. Ernest Young is such a boy, who ends up being a “prize” at an event, and with great angst, ends up as a kind of servant at a high-class bordello in Seattle. Yet, the women and girls there become HIS family. He is intelligent and learns many lessons. Eventually, when society women battle to close down such houses of ill repute, he leaves that life, with his wife. They have children. The bulk of the book is about the early years around the turn of the 20th century, then you pick up the threads nearing the end of his life, and his wife’s. There are any number of small mysteries, which unravel with a word here or there – you know that word foreshadowing? Really interesting read.

In between more literary novels, I bought a comedic memoir . . . Juliette Sobanet’s Meet Me in Paris. There’s the falling apart of a marriage (and divorce), but in the inbetween, she decides to take a trip (sans husband) around Europe to get her head straight. The kind of tour that would drive me crazy, but it was one night, maybe two at each major city. She knew no one, but soon enough bonds with  three other women. Then she has a chance-meeting of a young Frenchman who had been an exchange student in her home town. They’d lost touch, yet there were definitely sparks there, never realized. Some of the touristy stuff was trite, I must say, although the women do try to take in all the major sites, if only for a few minutes. There is plenty of humor. Some steamy stuff too as she meets up with the young man in another city. Apparently it’s a happy-ever-after story. Great literature it is not, but it was a fun romp, so to speak.

Recently finished Thomas Nelson’s The Hideaway. It seems like there are SO many novels out there about families finding, inheriting or otherwise going to an old house with memories. Especially ones on the water. With stories to tell. It’s a great way to introduce some light mystery to the telling of some other family story. In this case it’s Sara’s grandmother who was enigmatic in every way. And Sara inherits the run-down, ramshackle B&B on Mobile Bay. Cute story with lots of twists and turns.

Also just finished James Conroyd Martin’s Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora (Book 1 of 2). Theodora grew up the daughter of a circus performer, but then moved onto “the boards,” as acting was called back in Byzantine times (Constantinople, 6th century). She always had high expectations – she just “knew” she was going to accomplish great things. She was an occasional prostitute, a mistress, and then, behold, the son of Emperor Justin is mesmerized by her beauty, takes her on, and makes her his wife, amid much royal machinations. A young eunuch also plays large in the story too, a man hopelessly in love with Thea, but knows his love can never be returned or fulfilled. He becomes an historian to the Empress. Quite a story – much of it chronicles her early life and not a lot of it in Constantinople. But riveting story.

I’m doing SO much reading of late. Read this book in one day. The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Loosely based on the story of Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme), it tells a novelized version of a man with incredible power and charisma who gathers a group of willing partners. It’s about the people he cuckolded, and the people who took him down. At the beginning drugs come into play and I almost didn’t continue, but that was a very short section. Well worth reading. Lots to discuss if you’re looking for a book club read.

Once in awhile I read a poignant animal story, as you know if you’ve followed this sidebar for any length of time. Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other by Craig Gross, tells the story of his military duty in Afghanistan, in a war zone. And how his unit befriended a dog, a stray, and how that dog really did become his lifeline. Soldiers aren’t supposed to have any attachment to the stray dogs, let alone bring them onto the home base where he spent part of his time. His unit all fell in love with Fred, but Craig was obviously the dog’s first love. A very inspiring story; a few tears were shed here and there as I read it. Fred now lives here in the U.S. against all odds.

Also read Cara Wall’s new book, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel. It tells the story of two couples. The two husbands become co-pastors of a New York City church. The wives? Oh my, are they ever different. They don’t abide. The husbands try to get a grip on their jobs, pastoring, preaching, and keeping the wives happy. There is joy, grief, a tiny bit of religion, and likely this book wouldn’t make you think much of pastors. They’re flawed as we all are. Quite a read, for one of my book clubs. I had hoped the book would paint a brighter picture of the profession (I have a wonderful pastor at my own church).

Loved-loved Gregory Buford’s memoir, Kept: An American Househusband in India. He aims to be a U.S. diplomat, takes the tests and fails. On a whim, his wife takes the test and is hired. Their first assignment: Chennai, India. They spent two years there, with his much-loved wife going off to do diplomatic duties (albeit at a low level – everyone must pay their dues at the beginning) and Greg is left at home to deal with the servants, the house, the beggars, the nanny, the construction next door, shopping, and also partly caring for their infant. He is a consummate humorist and can find chuckles in almost every task. I ate this book up in one go. LOL funny and interesting on all fronts.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story, centered around a tragic event in their small town in Minnesota. About how he reviews his memories as he grows old, looking at the people, the event, and his part in it.

Shirley Ann Grau’s book, The Keepers of the House. Hmmm. Much to think about. [from an amazon review]: There is a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Seven generations of Howlands have lived on this rural Alabama plantation in good times and bad. It tells the story of this family from the time its patriarch settled the land in the early 1800s to the mid-20th century. Abigail Howland, who came to the house as a little girl, lives with her crusty but loveable grandfather. Her grandfather’s forbidden love life is an open secret, but long after his death it is Abigail who must pay the price for a love match Southern society could not abide. Lots of sub-stories. Very interesting read.

Marie Martin wrote Harbored Secrets. From amazon: In May of 1935, Blinny Platt’s homestead shack burns to the ground forever leaving her family asunder, scattering them like the embers flew on the Montana wind. She was only 8, sent away and in charge of her little sister. She could handle that because Platts take care of Platts. However, it is the hidden secrets of her parents smoldering beneath the charred remains that haunts Blinny until 1982. She once again leaves the home place to build a house for herself. As the foundation is poured and the walls go up, each of the hurtful memories are uncovered. Finally the mystery, left in the ashes of the burned home, is revealed. How could her mother do what she did? Very interesting read.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

Alan Hlad has written quite a novel. From true life. The Long Flight Home. It tells the story based on family history, of the homing pigeons that were used in Britain during WWII that flew back and forth across the English Channel into German-occupied France. It’s a heartwarming story. Heart-wrenching sometimes. War is an awful thing no matter which side you’re on when it comes to how it affects everyday people. You’ll learn a lot about pigeons, but also about love. Great read.

Riveted to Katie Munnick’s novel The Heart Beats in Secret. It begins in Scotland in 1940. A woman, a single mother. A journey across the sea. Then her daughter’s story, and finally the granddaughter’s story, when she inherits her grandmother’s old cottage back in Scotland. Plenty of mother-daughter dysfunction. But it comes right in the end.

Sarah Vallance has written a book about her devastating brain injury. Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain. What a story. What a saga of her recovery. And how she did it. An open wide sharing of her angst, her anger, her journey. Well worth reading. If you have anyone who has suffered a brain injury, it would be wise reading.

Just love all of Amy Harmon’s books. This one is no exception. Where the Lost Wander: A Novel. A pioneer story of a young woman made a widow on the trail to the west. 1850s. As it was in life, tragedies occur. But there is caring and love too. Loved it.

Read Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers. After leaving her childhood home of Switzerland, young Marta Schneider dreams of one day owning a boardinghouse, until marriage and motherhood change her ambitions. Determined to give her family a better life, she vows to raise strong children. But her tough love is often misunderstood, especially by her oldest daughter, Hildemara Rose, creating repercussions that will echo for generations.

Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast.  The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends).

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II about a weary Italian soldier.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with her distant heritage.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. It’s about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt.  You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. 

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

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

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation.

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

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

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

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who  lacks 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. Sweet story.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee. Everyone should read this one.

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. DIdn’t like it much, but others do.

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

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

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.

 

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 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.

Posted in Travel, on March 29th, 2016.

clemsonThat’s probably the most common photo taken at Clemson University (in South Carolina). It was just one of many campuses we visited.

In mid-February (sorry it’s taken me so long to share this post) my daughter Sara invited me to go along with her and granddaughter Sabrina to visit colleges in the south. Sabrina wants to be a veterinarian, and probably not to work in a dog/cat clinic. She thinks she wants to be a large animal vet and maybe in the South (not necessarily equine, but could be), though she’s also interested in exotic birds too. She’s been accepted at a bunch of colleges and as I write this, she hasn’t made up her mind which one, although Clemson, pictured above, is in sara_sabrina_clemson_shirtsthe top two for sure. University of Missouri is wooing her with lots of scholarship and grant money, which could sway her and her family. They will visit that school soon. It’s so darned expensive to go to college these days. Sabrina doesn’t want to attend a California college – not exactly sure why that is – as she could go to college for a lot less money (in-state tuition is cheaper). U.C. Davis is the #2 vet school in the country (Colorado State is #1 now); although Sabrina has very good grades, they’re not quite good enough for Davis, which pretty much requires a better than 4.0 GPA.

So, flying from different parts of the state, we flew to Charlotte, NC and met up there. Clemson was actually the last school we visited. We went to Appalachian State (NC), Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville, Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA) and Clemson (SC). Wake Forest had been on the agenda, but we learned that seeing more than one school in a day was almost impossible, what with 2-5 hours of driving distances between the different schools. And Wake Forest doesn’t have a pre-vet major, so I think Sabrina has bumped them off the list altogether.

Sara had made appointments with most of the schools for a campus tour, and we learned that schools will often schedule a visit with a faculty adviser. That was really helpful, as we learned after the first one at the U of Tenn. From there on, Sara and Sabrina knew more about what to look for, and wanted to see the vet barns and classrooms. We had a vet-school tour with a pre-vet senior at Virginia Tech, which was so very interesting. Of course, the schools only ask students to do this if they’re very rah-rah for the school itself. All of us liked Virginia Tech a lot, and it’s still in the running, I believe.

Appalachian State, although pretty, is quite remote and small, so I think Sabrina has scratched that one off the list. And, although the Univ. of Tennessee/Knoxville is a big pond_sunset_clemsoncampus, and parts are very pretty, I don’t think Sabrina was that intrigued. I didn’t care for the city atmosphere – the campus is right in the heart of downtown, which makes parking a nightmare. As Sara said to me at the end of our trip, it was a good thing I went along, because there were times when I had to stay with the car. We made it in the nick of time for a couple of these tours as the driving took us longer than expected. So, sometimes they went off for a scheduled tour or faculty adviser visit without me as I could find no parking, or nothing near close enough. I frequented a Wal-Mart a couple of times because that was the only place to park. There are a lot of Wal-Marts in the South!

Sara didn’t want to drive in weather, so I did about half the driving, especially on the days it was snowing and icy roads prevailed. We saw so many accidents, and cars, trucks, and even a clemson_alumni_ringtumbled-over semi truck that had slid on ice into culverts. I drove slow and steady and we were fine. We, as Californians, and SoCal ones at that, don’t have many cold weather clothes. I bought a pair of boots for the trip (and then didn’t ever wear them because with my heavy socks on, I couldn’t get my foot into them!), and I wore a neck scarf every day, plus layers of things. We actually enjoyed the cold weather, though we were very lucky throughout the trip – relatively few hours driving in snow, rain or ice, just enough to make it pretty. We wore gloves only on the days it was in the 20s. Most of the days it was in the 30s and 40s. At right is the alumni center at Clemson – I thought it was such an oddity to see a class ring in taller than life-size sculpture. Sunset photo above was taken by daughter Sara with her cell phone.

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Sabrina has a friend who is a sophomore at Clemson, so they were able to walk the campus some after the tour (and we shared lunch at a little joint in the half-block long street of “downtown” Clemson). The school is in the middle of nowhere (so is Virginia Tech, for that matter). But it’s a beautiful campus and big. We saw lots of happy, laughing and smiling students there that day. The last morning we drove to the vet barns and arena. It’s several miles from the campus and might be a problem for Sabrina who won’t have a car there, or at any of the schools she’s considering. Her parents don’t want her to have a car (she has one, my DH’s pretty old BMW convertible, that lives at home). Sabrina has a part time job working at a dog/cat vet clinic near where they live. She’s just loving the experience she’s getting there.

One of the fun parts of the trip was sampling the food. Our first day there we stopped at a Cracker Barrel, in Boone, NC, near Appalachian State. We had the nicest waitress, a local, with a cracker_barrel_snowvery southern drawl, who helped us choose the best of the side dishes. Sara and I shared a chicken & dumpling meal, and we got cheesy grits, fried okra and broccoli. Sabrina had meatloaf with greens and we all had buttermilk biscuits that were every bit as good as I’ve ever made from scratch. It was such a good meal! See photo in the collage below. There is no way I could have eaten the entire meal – it’s a good thing Sara and I shared it and we couldn’t finish it even then!

We stopped our last day there in a small barbecue place in SC, called Southern Barbecue, (the link is to Yelp’s page about the restaurant which is in Spartanburg, SC) and got food to go – a pulled pork sandwich (that I thought was sensational, but I like Carolina Q – the kind that doesn’t use ketchup or a sweet red sauce). We also got a bag of hush puppies. Oh my gosh, were they ever the BEST! I don’t think we had any desserts to speak of – we were always too full of the regular food! Portions were large everywhere we went. Biscuits and gravy were an everyday item on the breakfast buffet. I’m not much for institutional style eggs (hard and rubbery) so I had the biscuits and gravy a couple of mornings.

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kingofQplate

We also stayed for 2 days and nights in Asheville, NC, to see the Biltmore Estate. I’m going to write up a separate post about that since it was so extra special. For me, that was the highlight of the trip. Stay tuned.

Posted in Travel, on November 19th, 2015.

termite_mound5

Termite Mounds. That above is a live one.

Other than seeing termite mounds on TV, usually on National Geographic programs, I’d not paid much attention to them. They’re odd looking. Many are phallic-shaped, and some jesting was mentioned amongst our group about that. The one above is a fairly young mound, probably only about 4 feet tall. And when I tell you they “pepper” the African landscape is an understatement. They’re everywhere.

As days went by and we drove by hundreds of them (pictures below) I began to notice the differences between them, and could tell whether one was live or not. The answer to that has to do with the color and look of the stuff you see on the outside – this one is dark colored, meaning that the workers (the termites who take care of the mound, build it, clean it, excavate it) have been doing their jobs by removing detritus and dung, pushing it up and out, where it clings to the outside. There are vent holes in the mound, which are kept scrupulously clean by the workers.

The soldier termites defend the nest (mound) and have unique stuff they excrete onto attacking animals or insects that becomes a glue-like substance, in effect paralyzing the attacker.

termitemound1The surface of these things is hard. I never did go up to a fresh mound and push on the dark stuff (we were rarely out of the Land Rovers) – perhaps I could have budged it – but I wasn’t interested in touching termite dung. As the weather on the savanna changes the surface of the mound becomes hard, almost like rock.

Termite mounds have a king and queen (similar to a bee hive but without a king bee), worker termites and soldier termites, and believe it or not, a mound can live for about 20 years. Eventually the life span of the insects wane and the mound dies. When that happens other rodents move in – mostly mongoose. Or snakes (but not both).

At first, I thought the termites must choose a place near a tree (because so many of them were mounded next to one), but actually not. These termites aren’t exactly wood eating (like the type that live in the wood in my house) – they eat anything that contains cellulose, which they forage from the surrounding landscape. It’s in hay and other botanical stuff they find. The workers and soldier termites are both blind.

termite_mound_abandonedThere at left is an abandoned termite mound – note that there is no fresh (dark colored) stuff on or around the mound. And the mound has been cleaned out by rodents with plenty of escape holes.

As a termite mound rises in time, baboons use the tops of them as a sentry post, scanning the savanna for predators. And those baboons poop as they’re sitting there. Because baboons eat botanical stuff, their poop contains seeds, hence you can see behind this termite mound a tree that’s grown up beside it. So here I thought it was the egg and the chicken, but no it was the termite first, then the trees.

Utterly fascinating, this planet of ours and how it all works!

Posted in Travel, on November 15th, 2015.

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coke_light_ice

I took a photo of this, just so I could show you the difference about 5 minutes can make in the life of one can of Coke Light in the summer African bush. First it was poured into the glass, with ice, and I’d sip it some, and within 5-7 minutes or so it would be like the left one, all the ice had melted and it was diluted and getting warm.

Those of us on this trip talked about our obsession with ice. Every one of us was asking for ice – ice in our water, ice in our cocktails, ice to take back to our cabin, and ice in our soft drinks. At one of the camps they ran out of ice. I’m tellin’ you, that was one very sad day. Of course, remember that it was hovering at about 100° every day, so except for lying on our beds under the light breeze from the A/C, we were in the heat elements. Our water bottles were at room temp. None of the tent cabins had a refrigerator. We did have one at our first camp, but it wasn’t a safari tent cabin – it was a tree house and a more permanent structure. We did keep water cold in that one.

bush_boutique_sign

At our last stop, Stanley’s Camp, we all did some shopping at their little boutique. They had a nice mixture of things and since I left behind most of my clothes, I was able to fit in a few trinkets. baskets_for_sale

bush_banner

At left is a banner – I’m not sure what it was made of. At right was a shelf full of baskets of all shapes and sizes. There was one I wanted, but it was a bit too big to get into my duffle.

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More baskets of all shapes and sizes. bead_figures_4saleI bought one of those bush figures – the one at left with green trim. I loved the orange one, but I have no place in my house where an orange figure would fit very well.

guide_stanleys_camp

morning_coffee_stanleys_campOne of our guides at Stanley’s Camp. He was a happy person and grinned all the time.

There at left is the lovely tray of coffee and cookies our room attendant brought to us both mornings. Very nice. We sat out on our spacious front deck, enjoying the view over the reed-filled savanna, listening to the morning birds. Did I mention that mostly we had French press coffee everywhere. They’d bring all the parts, with a thermos of hot water and we’d make it ourselves.

blacksmith_lapwing

After I got home, I did some research about the many birds in Botswana, and I identified this guy as two different ones, so am not sure what he was. Pretty, though – kind of like a sandpiper with a similar running gait.

tent_cabin_stanleys_camp

That’s our front porch. Too hot to sit there in the heat of the afternoon, but it was really nice in the early mornings. There were tarps on the sides, so we had some privacy, but the front just had screens, which was fine.

Posted in Travel, on November 13th, 2015.

elephant_baby1

This was the first grouping of elephants we saw, and this cute little baby (he was actually about 3-4 months old) was not far from his mother. Of course, it was a big thrill – that first elephant as we watched the breeding herd forage. They’re slow and soft-footed and their trunks are almost in constant movement. As the babies move about – usually quite close and almost dangerously (you’d think) under their mothers, but the moms are very aware of where the baby is. The baby usually has his trunk nuzzling some part of the mother, and occasionally reaching down to the grass, or pulling a small twig from a tree as this little guy was doing.

elephants1

So many times this was the scene from our Land Rover, watching a herd of elephant crossing an open savanna, probably on a path that’s unseen to us. Sometimes the lead female would glance over at us – they have an acute sense of hearing – and she might pause – but unless she felt we were threatening her or her brood, she went back to foraging or walking. The herds were usually in groups of about 4-6.

lion_hidden_in_grass

Can you see why lion are almost invisible? If they’re lying down you absolutely can’t see them – only when they move does the shape become something. During the daytime the lions will walk some, but their goal is to find a comfortable shady spot to sleep away the intense heat. This female was with a young male (probably her brother) and another young female and they were just moving from place to place. They weren’t hunting, and they gave us no never-mind, as the saying goes. They didn’t even look at us. When the Land Rover got near (with the diesel engine running) sometimes they’d get up and move. Occasionally they’d lift their heads up and glance at us, but usually they’d fall back to a recline.

warthog1

Warthogs, part of what’s called The Ugly Five (hyena, marabou stork, vulture, warthog and wildebeest). So named because they jokingly say they’re so ugly only a mother could love them. We saw wildebeest, but I didn’t get a photo. And I don’t think I took a picture of a vulture – we saw lots of them, but usually off in the distance, circling. Warthogs are elusive – once they spot a safari truck they usually make themselves scarce. We saw the backsides of many of them as they scooted off into the bush.

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Before I go on with more animal pictures I want to paint a picture for you. And this, to me, is the most important paragraph I’m writing in this post, maybe in all of my posts about my safari experience. For the most part, the African savanna is peaceful. It’s amazing. Awesome in its beauty. Eerily silent sometimes, and wildly loud at others. A few times during our game drives the guide would stop, pause when we’d enter a big, wide savanna (I love that word, it’s so soft and descriptive). Once, and this is a time, at a place, that I’ll have indelibly imprinted on my mind . . . we were in a fairly round savanna, with a ring of trees off in the distance – maybe about 1/3 of a mile off. Much like the photo above, except it was that kind of a view, 360°. Off to the left, about a block away, was a small grouping of elephant. Gently walking and foraging. Further right was a big herd of impala, motionless for a second or two until they identified the Land Rover and went back to walking and foraging. Further on was a herd of kudu. So elegant in their stance, with the male horns protruding in the sky. Then there was another small herd of elephant, a bigger grouping with babies in tow. Further right was a small group of giraffe. They’re so graceful – the most graceful of all the animals we saw as they reach and stretch to find the most tender of new leaves on the trees, ever watchful, though. And yet they were almost intermingled with the kudu. Yet further to the right we saw a small group of warthogs that flitted off into the brush. And then there was a small grouping of Cape buffalo. None of the other animals want to be around them – they’re not king of the jungle by any means, but they’re feared by most. They too, were foraging. Walking slowly, feeding. And lastly, another small grouping of elephant.

That place was magical for me. To see these wild animals, all in one place, all living peacefully alongside one another. There were no predators (cats) anywhere. Time and time again we saw similar scenes, but not usually with so many animals visible.

I never saw a kill during my safari trip. Although I’m well aware of the way of life in the wild, I usually close my eyes when I see it on TV. And a kill happens all the time – somewhere. Yet for the most part, the animals graze in peace, their brains watchful for danger, but not dwelling on it. Not like we would if we walked into a drug- and gang-infested neighborhood at night, knowing our lives were in jeopardy.

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Note how they blend into the background. Impala are identified by the dual vertical black stripes on their back end. They look much like deer.

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There’s a kudu. A male. They’re noted for the vertical stripes on their sides, and by their darker color. They’re also big – about the size of elk. And, they’re known for their unusual curlicue horns. Did I mention that once a kudu has 3 full curls on his horns, he’s reaching the end of his life? They’re fast – very fast, and lion don’t generally go after kudu unless it’s a young one or an old one that’s weakened.

xudum_elephant_stomping

This gal didn’t like us. She turned just after I snapped that picture and stomped toward us with her ears full forward. But she stopped. Note the dust around her back feet – she was getting ready to move. They kind of run toward you and bluff you into moving on. There were other elephant back in the brush behind her. The guides are very attuned to when an elephant is going to do a bluff move, or if they’re really charging in earnest! We never saw the latter, when the elephant might have attacked the Land Rover with her tusks. Just let me tell you that when she charged us, the hair on the back of my neck was at full attention!

Note in the picture that the elephant’s far horn is stunted. Most of the elephants we saw were left-tusked and many had a stunted left tusk. Meaning that they used their left tusk for most of the work, scraping bark off trees, moving logs mostly to get at good vegetation to eat, and sometimes they jamb the tusk into a tree (they like to eat the interior of trees) and then can’t get it out, and it gets broken off extracting themselves from the tree. From that point, the elephant may still be able to use the left tusk (they learn to sharpen that tusk on trees so it’s still useful, albeit short), but not so well. Occasionally they will develop skills with the other tusk, but one guide said no, he’d never seen that. If a female loses both tusks, she becomes a breeding female only. If you’re interested in reading more about elephant characteristics, click this link.

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We saw zebra several times, and what intrigued me about them was that off in the distance (let’s say a block away) they were completely invisible in the brush. You’d think those vertical strips would be a dead give-away, but no, when they’re still, they blend into the trees (the stripes looking much like short brush or trees).

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That’s not such a great photo because I’m inside my tent cabin and this group of foraging females surrounded my cabin. The blurred effect is the screen. They stayed there for nearly 2 hours, moving around and around my cabin finding leaves and grasses to eat. They were almost silent except for the occasional foot-fall as they crunched some dry leaves.

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That was the view near the lodge at one of the camps. Peaceful for sure. Birds of all variety noisily talking, maybe a hippo snorting out in the pond, and frogs chirping.

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We saw baboons in lots of the camps, and they’re quite mischievous. They’re big, and also can be vicious. We were told that generally they wouldn’t attack us if they were outside our tent cabins, but that it would be best to wait until they moved on. At one of the camps they liked to sit on the edge of our private pool and take sips of water. They were quite docile if you observed them doing their thing, but if I’d opened a door they might have become aggressive.

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We saw bats sometimes at night as they swooped down over the water. This little guy hung inside the roof of the lodge nearly all day. I was very close to him and he watched me quite carefully.

Our best sighting of lion was one day when we followed a trio – a brother and sister, and another young female. The mother was nearby, and the guides told us that when males get to be older adolescents, the dominant male wants them out of the pride and tries to run him off.

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So, the females (the mother usually) leads a smaller group off to find food and share a meal, to protect the young male for one more season before he must leave the pride.

Once they do leave, young males form a bachelor pride and begin their search for a group of females, as one by one, they think they might be able to fight for, and win.  These two were searching for shade. They walked right up to the Land Rover and right in front of the front bumper as they walked leisurely on to find a place to nap.

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The Cape Buffalo. The horns are so beautiful and such a unique shape. Usually the buffalo move off when we approached, but this group just stared at us for awhile before turning to wander away. As I think I mentioned, they can be very aggressive if provoked.

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A young leopard female. They told us she was very hungry, but because she’s young, she was having lots of trouble catching anything. Unless they’ve made a kill (see below) they nap in the trees. This cat was so startlingly beautiful – the coat, and her piercing eyes. I’ll never forget the eyes – which you can’t see in that photo. She turned, opened her eyes wide (they’re quite big), looking at us. Her pupils were thin slits and the rest of her eyes were like molten gold. A few hundred yards away this female’s mother had killed an impala.

leopard_impala_kill

She dragged the impala several hundred yards, under the shade of a tree and began the meal – from behind the animal’s back legs. Once she’d feasted for awhile, she got up (see picture) and laid down to take a break, with her tail swishing around the head of the impala. She was just feet from us and totally ignored our presence. After awhile she moved back into position and began eating again. Others who visited this site the next morning found her still there, eating. By evening, though, another truck visited and she’d allowed her daughter to have some of the kill. The mother was sated. The next morning the entire animal was gone – with the hyena having eaten all of the bones and other scavengers having eaten the last of the meat. Sometimes the leopard will drag the kill up into a tree – away from the scavengers – and the lion – because the lion won’t (can’t) climb trees. The guide explained that all that was remaining were the insects who were carrying away the last of the kill.lions_resting

There is the threesome we saw earlier – as they checked things out before lying flat to snooze. As before, they totally ignored our presence, so close to them.

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We followed a group of giraffe one day, as they were eating the new leaves from the trees.

The male is the darker one, with 2 females in tow. The females are young, lighter in color. They weren’t willing to mate yet, but obviously one was showing interest because he followed her around, never getting more than a few feet from her, nuzzling her neck now and then. Very sweet. All part of the mating dance.

Whenever we saw giraffe, they were gracefully walking. Only occasionally did we see them run. It takes them a few seconds to gain momentum, which is why a lion can catch a giraffe sometimes.

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There’s a jackal. Beautiful coloring on them. She just trotted along a path near the Land Rover and crossed in front of the truck and went off on a mission, or a trail. She never even glanced up.

A second one, more tentative, came out of the bushes, following the same path, but much more wary of us, but she went along the same route and off into the bushes she disappeared.

hyena1

And there, lastly is the hyena. We were approaching a watering hole that was completely invisible because of the tall grasses. A family of hyena lived in/around this watering hole, but the young adolescents were busy in the hundred yards or so around the water. There were two of them, and this one, a male, was quite curious about us in the Land Rover, so he approached and actually looked up at us from within about a foot or so. He hitched his front leg up on the tire so he could get a better sniff of us, then jumped down and wandered off. His sister approached but didn’t get as close.

I have photos of birds, which I guess I’ll do another post since this one has been way too long! I sure hope you’ve all enjoyed seeing the pictures and hearing my stories.

Posted in Travel, on November 9th, 2015.

xudum_baobab_tree

For years, I’ve been enamored with baobab trees. They have a very unique shape and they are such a stately tree. The baobabs hadn’t yet begun to leaf out (they’re late bloomers in the spring) when I was in Africa. I took several pictures of them, but this one was my favorite.

There are 6 varieties of baobab (by the way, it’s technically pronounced bay-oh-bab, but the natives pronounced it bow-bob), yet only one variety grows in central Africa. It’s often referred to as the upside down tree because it looks like (some more than others) the tree got stuck into the ground with the roots on the top. The trunks (which can grow to a huge diameter) hold water (tens of thousands of gallons) which keep it alive during the hot, dry summers.

The elephants like to eat the inner bark of the baobab – it’s such a shame because they can, eventually, kill the tree. They rub up against it to remove the outer bark, then they get to the reddish interior bark that they enjoy eating. They just keep rubbing and rubbing to expose a big area of that inner layer. Then more elephants stop by and do the same thing, until they’ve badly damaged the tree. The tree can regenerate its bark and will usually recover.

xudum_tent_cabinWhen we arrived at Xudum (pronounced koo-doom), we had lunch, then were shown to our tent cabins. This one was on two levels (half levels) with the bedroom upper, and the bathroom (huge) was 5 steps down.

We had a relaxing afternoon, more of that 100° heat and so Gwenda and I stretched out on those beds with the little A/C blowing right on us. We read, relaxed, snoozed and it never took us more than about 3 minutes to unpack our duffle bags at any camp. We took dunks in the pool – because the A/C stopped working at this camp and we were so hot we could hardly stand it. The water in the pools was always cool, so it was refreshing.

All of the camps provided lovely toiletries for us. One brand, Africology, was popular at several of the camps. I didn’t care for it – the shampoo or the body lotion. The shampoo was really hard on my hair, and the scent in the body lotion was just odd. I can’t tell you why – it just didn’t smell like anything I really wanted to put on my body – but since it was all we had, obviously I did! I read the label, but it wasn’t definitive enough to tell me what kind of weed, bark or flower provided the scent. Whatever it was it wasn’t an aroma I liked. Gwenda didn’t like it either.

Speaking of odd scents – all over in Africa we encountered wild sage. It grows everywhere on the savannas. The Land Rover drove over it, around it and it popped right back up. It has small yellowish flower on it. We didn’t much care for the scent of it and were surprised to learn it was in the sage family. Finally I looked it up in a botany book at one of the camps. Under the description it said the scent was most closely aligned with perspiration. Well, no wonder we didn’t like it! Although all of us smelled of it – perspiration –for the entire trip!

xudum_bathroom

There at left is the spacious bathroom. Most of the tent camps had slatted-floor showers. You can see it there behind the bathtub. Since it was so hot all the way through our safari stays, we rarely had to use much of the hot water, but it was plentiful. Just behind the tub is a tall screen (decorative and functional) and the shower head was on the far wall so we girls had some privacy. I have to laugh – Gwenda and I didn’t really know each other well before we went on this trip, but modesty played no part by about day 4 of our safari camps.

sausage_wheelThere at right was a spiral wheel of bush sausage – it was beef and was cooked on a propane cooker out on one of our sundowner evenings. It was delicious!

xudum_sundowner_ladderThere at left was an old ladder that they used for displaying all the liquor brought along for the sundowner boat cruise. It was just such fun. Not only the boat ride – pictures later – but at the end we stopped and they’d set up this lovely light repast – they’d put a very clean linen towel down the steps of the ladder and had the liquor varieties just so. On the nearby table were glasses and mixers and Amarula. At rightamarula_cocktail is the cocktail they made for most of us – it’s a pour of crème de menthe on the bottom, then they carefully poured Amarula on top. I’m not a fan of crème de menthe, so I opted to have a gin and tonic.

The wild game didn’t come into that clearing – maybe the staff at the camps use these places frequently enough that the animals don’t come near. It was just getting dark and we looked out at the water – just steps away – and there was a hippo who wanted to retake his territory. There’s a rule in the bush – no boats on the water after sunset because the night belongs to the animals. Sure enough, when we were done, the Land Rovers arrived to drive us back to our camp, which wasn’t far away.hugsOne morning we were offered the option of going on a nature walk. It’s something they are just introducing into the camp. In came two of our guides (who are hamming it up) with the 3 women who were going. Gwenda (my roomie) is on the left, in the middle is Carol, our leader (travel agent and fondly called Mother Hen – and that’s a compliment) and at right another Carol in our group. The guys were in native wear, obviously and the gals are all laughing because they were holding onto the guys – on bare skin and the rest of us were teasing them. I didn’t go on the walk – it was in the morning, but not really early morning, so it meant it was going to be very, very hot. They were told to wear very nondescript clothing (no color). The walk was about 2 1/2 hours long. Those who went said they learned a lot about the flora and fauna and the men demonstrated how to start a fire with sticks, etc. Very boy scout territory. They didn’t see any game, as I recall. These two guides were just so much fun – actually all of the guides in all the camps were well-spoken (meaning they spoke English well – they learn it in school) and they sincerely worked at engaging us and showing us a good time. And they worked hard – long hours.

xudum_sunsetIsn’t that just gorgeous? That was out on the boat cruise – we ended up in this rather large channel (felt like a lake, but it wasn’t) just as the sun was dipping behind the clouds. xudum_downed_tree

Posted in Travel, on November 7th, 2015.

xudum_channels

Everyone in our safari group had the opportunity in one or two camps to take an evening ride in a small boat. Some in a 2-person canoe type thing with a guide, others in a 4-6 passenger outboard, flat bottomed. By 4:30-5 pm every day the temperatures started to wane (thank goodness) and off we’d go in the boat. The Okavango Delta is so beautiful. Quiet. Peaceful. If they stopped the boat and turned off the outboard (as they did often) you could hear the birds, maybe crickets and frogs. Maybe you’d hear an elephant trumpeting in the distance.

The goal was to see game, but from a different angle, obviously, than in a Land Rover criss-crossing the paths and roads on land. The guides knew these waterways like the backs of their hands, so they zipped up and around many different channels, seeking some of the typical watering holes for hippo, but mostly we were seeking elephant.

xudum_lily_pads

In some of the more still waters there were jillions of lily pads and some blooming lilies as well. I didn’t happen to catch any in my camera lens as we zoomed along.

There are frogs of all sizes in the water there. As I listened to a TV show  (here at home) the other night, about a couple who were doing a research study in Botswana about elephant bones, they were trolling along in a boat and I could hear the very unique tink, tink of a particular frog sound. It almost sounds like an outdoor wind chime. Every night – if we were near water – we could hear them. I loved the sound. Have no idea what type of frog made the sound, but one of the guides told me it was frogs.

xudum_frog

There’s one of them at right. He couldn’t have been more than 1/2 inch long and he blended right into the reeds. Our guide spotted him as we slowly trolled in the reeds. He stopped the boat and I reached out and grabbed the reed stem and snapped a photo of him. There was another one – an almost translucent yellow one, about half his size on a further reed, but I messed up trying to reach out for the branch. I nearly fell out of the boat trying to reach it and I scared him off.

We had to be very careful about crocodiles. It’s very easy to get lazy about what kind of predators live in the water when you don’t see them. We actually scraped over the top of a croc on the boat ride and he may have sustained a bit of damage from the outboard. We had no idea he was in the water – he was right in the middle of one of the main water channels. It’s tempting when the boat is trolling slowly to drag your fingers in the water. Unh-uh. No-no. We saw a young crocodile one evening when we returned late from a game drive. He was in the watering hole we had to ford (this was in the Land Rover). One of our group spotted him and by flashlight we could really see him well. He was scared-off from our light and as he flipped over a fish jumped out of the water and the croc just quick-like swallowed him. The croc was about 2 1/2 feet long – young. We helped him with dinner, you see!

xudum_channel_view

Did I show this picture (above) already? Maybe I did. Sorry if it’s a repeat. That was at the end of our boat journey – loved the reflections in the water.

flying_okavongo_delta1

There’s a photo I took the morning we flew out, the beginning of the journey home. We flew out of one of those small sand-packed air strips and flew at very low altitude (because it was only a 15-20 minute flight to Maun, a small city in western Botswana). The dark places are areas where there is still water.

flying_okavongo_delta2

The Delta is so beautiful. Some of it has lots of greenery. Other parts of it are vey arid and dry as a bone.

When we were out on game drives we saw all types, but mostly the dry, arid types as that was where the game was – en route to a watering hole, usually.

They can’t all live by a watering hole – the predators would corner them and they have to go great distances to forage for food. They like the open spaces to run away. I think that’s the case. If they’re lucky.

flying_okavongo_delta3

There’s a more typical bit of arid space and a big watering hole. In the winter – the rainy season, all of those slightly green areas are abundantly full of water. The cycle of seasons in Africa is quite distinct and it’s hard on all the animals during the dry season as they have to go great distances to find water, which most of them do at least twice a day.

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