Week 252 January 26, 2019

For the past two weeks Loren and I experienced unexpected troubles. At the beginning of this week I made lemonade, twice. I’m happy to say nothing untoward occurred since… 


One evening I noticed Loren’s sister’s enormous gorgeous homegrown calla lilies and just had to take this photo.


Loren noticed a concert announcement in a newspaper, and that same evening we drove to Fremont to attend. It was a one man show of folk repertoire, featuring works from his career-long inspirations from and collaborations with Pete Seeger, a memorable evening including some opportunities for sing-alongs. 


Another evening we had dinner with Loren’s Godson, and it was meaningful as always to spend time with this young man. I regret not thinking to pull out my camera…

We also spent a day in San Francisco this week. We took BART and UBER’d from the station to Golden Gate Park to visit the Botanical Garden. It was a beautiful day weather-wise to be out and about, and we exclaimed that again and again during our afternoon.

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The featured showings at the garden was the host of Magnolia trees in bloom. The peak of their blossoms are throughout this and the coming week. 

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It was mesmerizing to look at the carpets formed of Magnolia petals all around.


Rhododendrons and other flowering plant species were coming into bloom too.

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We were also able to reminisce here about our visits to Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch and Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, for example easily picking out Banksia, Cycad, and Wollemi Pine species,

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In the late afternoon we met two friends for an early dinner. Again, I regret not thinking to take a photo, before the four of us went to Grace Cathedral to see another friend’s annual Movement Arts Festival. We were impressed to see how much it has grown in popularity and participation since our last time attending

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A very impressive event, and we continue to be proud of our friend for founding it, as it touches the lives of so many artists and those who appreciate the arts.

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Week 247 December 22, 2018

Thanks for visiting our blog, we wish you a Happy Winter! and a very Merry Christmas!!

Loren’s and my week was one of multiple encounters of history. We spent one evening in Niles, in Fremont, California. We drove through the hilly curves of Niles Canyon in the dark to arrive at Essanay Theater, a museum devoted to the Silent Film era. We had two tickets from our gift exchange at a holiday party last week, and we chose to use them on a Silent Comedy night there. We learned from the curator that Charlie Chaplin had made five movies at the Essanay studio in Niles, including The Tramp released in 1915, which had catapulted him to stardom. That evening we saw him in His New Job, followed by “Buster” Keaton in Cops, Charlie Chase in There Ain’t No Santa Claus, and, Laurel and Hardy in Big Business. What was also of interest was the Civil War sword used by Chaplin in His New Job, and, the enormous old time camera that the museum owns. 

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Another highlight this week was when Loren’s Mom enjoyed a couple of former colleagues who came for a visit bearing gifts of holiday food.


Another day, Loren and I returned to the University of California Botanical Gardens, and to avoid the drizzling rain, we visited a greenhouse with lots of cactus on display. One from Madagascar especially caught my attention, one from Mexico caught Loren’s eye.

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The main reason for our return to the gardens was to indulge in a midday Winter Solstice Sound Bath, in which we were treated to an hour of singing bowls, gongs and chimes. It was held in historic Julia Morgan Hall opened in 1911. The event was a thoroughly relaxing experience to mark the turning from the longest night towards the longest day. What was noteworthy was we arrived in wet weather, and emerged to sun and partly blue skies. The relaxation reminded me of a similar experience Loren and I had when we visited a spa in Acqui Terme, Italy.

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As we left the gardens, we found raindrops clinging to a web built on a cycad – the type we saw in Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, an ancient species of plant.

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Afterwards Loren and I enjoyed a lunch date with a former coworker of Loren’s at the Claremont Hotel. This was my first visit to this prestigious hotel built in 1915. Loren reminisced about a training he attended here when he first began working. Our views of the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge improved as the sun sank lower in the sky.

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After lunch Loren and I poked around to find the hotel’s art advertised in a brochure on our table. The most alluring was in the Hillary Tenzing room, celebrating Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Sagarmatha – Mount Everest, which Loren and I also saw in Nepal. 


Our week finished with a gorgeous view of the full moon rising over Castro Valley.



Week 240 November 3, 2018

This week started with Loren caregiving his Mom as per his usual weekly schedule, and with me running usual weekly errands, but I was shocked this week with seeing Santa Claus chocolate candy being stocked on shelves at the supermarket. Then I saw a huge Christmas tree and holiday decorations at the Mall. THEN I saw holiday cards for sale at the Post Office! The topper that evening was seeing a Disney holiday show advertisement during a Warrior’s game. But, if all that were not enough, the next day I saw a Christmas tree on a neighbor’s porch. This was all before Halloween… Too much!


We heard this week from our dear friends from Shanghai who we had met in Nepal while they were on their honeymoon. This year they completed their French Way of El Camino de Santiago de Compostella – you can see her holding their Certificates in the photo below. And, lucky them, they continued on past Santiago to the Atlantic Coast for the Finesterra Camino – the ‘End of the World’ at Cape Fisterra.

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On Tuesday I taught three Bikram Yoga classes in the same day. I think that is my first time doing so and I will do so again next week. I have had a regular routine of teaching the 6am and 7:45am classes each week on Tuesdays. It was nice this week to also teach the 6:30pm, to see different students and to offer them a different teacher at that time. Then it was time for the holiday of the week, Halloween. We started our day with having two long put-off important meetings with a tax accountant and an attorney,

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and that evening, the 13 year old boy who is also staying long term at our AirBnB wore an FBI costume this year, and he wrote up a citation for Loren which included such creative violations as: Failure to wear a costume, Insufficient laughing, and Inappropriate dance moves! 

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Our friend and his Mom then went off to their church for a Halloween party, while Loren and I went off Trick or Treating at a friends’ daughter’s home where our friends were helping hand out candy. We took them the treat of a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our one friend’s retirement, memorably on the day of Halloween. She was duly surprised and touched, and we were delighted to help commemorate the special day.

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Loren and I have now traveled to Lodi, California for our first of their 22nd annual Sand Hill Crane Festivals. We had been enamored of the crane preserves and foundations we had previously stopped to see on our journeying in Nebraska and Wisconsin. These had reminded us of cranes that we had seen in the wild in Florida, Africa and Bhutan. Now this weekend festival offers us an opportunity to witness an actual migration of Sand Hill Cranes in person, which we understand is on par with the wondrous Wildebeest migration, which we had also witnessed when we were in Africa. 

On our drive to arrive here yesterday, we saw a flock of about a dozen Sand Hill Cranes with their black tipped huge wingspan fly right over our car. We saw a few larger flocks in the distance as we continued onward. We then stopped along the way for a little break and an easy hike at Big Break, where we saw the vast California Delta up close.

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As we continued our walk, we found that the regional park included several placards with information about the delta’s history and its environs. We even saw a little girl catch her first fish with the help of her grandparents while we were here. 

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The park also hosts a wonderful diorama map laid out, showing the delta, Mount Diablo with its wide range, and the major central valley cities. There is a cute video on the park’s website with a 7 year old boy showing off the full schematic – you can visit it at: https://youtu.be/EyCfw0XH_tM

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Loren and I then arrived yesterday evening where we are staying for a couple of nights at an AirBnB on a ranch, complete with at least a dozen horses, a herd of sheep, three dogs and the rancher couple who created this place 40 years ago. Our accommodation is in their private Bunk House, a perfect setting for a respite before the festival activities start up later this afternoon.

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I will always remember how when Loren pointed out some construction cranes that we saw in Italy, our friends there said they are called Grus, like the bird. It was only then that I connected that our construction cranes were likely also named for the enormous bird! I am excited to see how many of the other species of bird on this checklist we might encounter on the three tours that we have signed up for over today and tomorrow. 


Week 234 September 22, 2018

Loren and I enjoyed our week away, traveling north from Berkeley, where we were at the end of last week. We started this week visiting in Santa Rosa for lunch and an all afternoon catch up with a friend of Loren’s from high school and his wife. This dear friend was involved in a dreadful car accident a couple of years ago, and had it not been for the side air bags in the door of their car we would not have been able to have this wonderful time. You would never know anything happened by looking at him now, but he still has a fair amount of difficulty with his vision. We wish him the best in his continued healing journey.


Following our afternoon visit we appreciated seeing some of the tribute statues around the historic part of town that commemorate some of the Charles Shultz’ Peanuts characters, as Santa Rosa is where Schulz lived the majority of his adult years. 

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The next morning before leaving Santa Rosa we enjoyed taking a Bikram Yoga class. An image at the door reminded me of one of my earliest instructors from 2004. I was always impressed by his demonstration of this particular posture, but, the image fails to do him justice as he was way more slender in his stomach, while much more built in his chest.


From there Loren and I drove to Geyserville, where we indulged in two nights at a retreat center. The setting reminded us of Egypt, as it was centered around the Egyptian Goddess Isis. We stayed in their Hobbit Hut, which reminded us too of our visit to Hobbiton in New Zealand, which is the movie set for the trilogy of Hobbit movies. We were especially enamored with a gargantuan tree on the property…

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Then we were off further north to visit in Lower Lake at Clear Lake. We stayed two nights with friends who Loren has known since his young adult years. They have a new puppy who is both adorable and teething. Loren and I each came away with similar looking to our friends’ bite marks and scratches on our hands, arms and legs. 


We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with them in their lovely lakefront home. One day they took us to a new winery called Boatique, unique in its featuring of a huge building that houses impressive boats in the vineyard. That evening we went out for pizza and invited other friends from Lower Lake to join us for a fun gathering.

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The next morning we took a Bikram class at the Lake County studio, where I had spent two months teaching some 50 classes, about four years ago now.  

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On the way to spend the next two nights with another friend in the area, we stopped to see “The Box” – a property where Loren had built the garage and deck for a house on Cache Creek that his parents had had built then sold at the start of “The Dome” –

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which we then visited, which Loren had built with some of his father’s help. 

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When we arrived at our other friend’s home, it brought up bittersweet feelings. It was great to see him, but it was hard to see his property. His home was once a two-story building, that was destroyed in the Valley fire. This is a copy of his photo of what was left.  We immediately recognized the walkway, but nothing else. 

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Because of frustrations and hindrances from new building codes, he ultimately settled on a manufactured house to replace his home, after living in an RV on the property until it was done. It is nice, but definitely not that same as what our friend had once created from his own hands. His son, who was nearly finished paying off on buying his grandparents’ home on the same property, has yet to make progress on replacement plans. They were able to save his son’s backhoe, but both lost some other vehicles. So many of the trees were badly damaged too, and, some of the ones that were partially damaged are coming back with a different leaf structure. 

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It is tragic to contemplate the fires. The ones we heard most about in the past week include the Valley, Rocky, Clayton, Sulphur, Tubbs, Ridge and River fires. We saw several handmade signs that said, Thank You Firefighters. We heard about surviving fireballs, firebombs and firewalls. Bears have been sighted in the neighborhoods as a result of their loss of habitat. And, we saw lots of replacement homes coming up amidst scorched trees and earth. It is heartbreaking to know of these friends’ and so many others’ experiences.


Yet, the lake is still beautiful – the smoke from this year’s fires had cleared just before we arrived. We ate the same brand of brats with our friend that we had enjoyed at a fair with another friend when Loren and I were in Wisconsin. Then, I was able to teach the Saturday morning Bikram Yoga class before we headed south again. We stopped in Novato to enjoy lunch with my cousin, then, after arriving home we had a lovely dinner with dear friends to top off our wonderful week away.

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Week 189 November 11, 2017

Hello! This week’s blog post has been rewritten after the fact, as its contents were lost due to the hacking of our friend’s hosting site on Thanksgiving. We apologize if you lost a comment and welcome you to leave a new one. This writing is shorter than the original, since my practice is to write during the week fresh from feelings, experiences, and reactions, though some memories, aided by photos, are indelible.

When we left our hotel in Cairo at about 8pm for our 12:50am flight, the traffic toward the airport was as heavy as when we had arrived. Fortunately the sufficient advance departure allowed us to easily arrive in time for our flight. We made an acquaintance while going through the second security checkpoint and had a very nice visit in the waiting area as we were on the same flight. When Loren and I first left home in April, 2014, we had had great expectations to be able to use our accumulated frequent flyer miles on our Journey. However, that has not been the case very often. However, for this flight – from Cairo to Kathmandu, we were able to use our miles. When we arrived for a layover in Abu Dhabi, we were greeted with a creatively constructed control tower.


It was here that the airline was unable to confirm our seats for our next flight because Economy class was overbooked. In the end we were upgraded, which could not have been a nicer gift, both to make up a bit for not being able to use our miles much on our Journey, but also because we had not slept very well on the first flight. Later we received another gift. When we approached Kathmandu airport, the pilot announced that there was no gate available – this is the busy season to visit Nepal as the cloud cover over the Himalayas is often lifted. As we passed the time flying slowly around the area, the views of a multitude of green covered mountains, then of Kathmandu, were outstanding.

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After a chaotic taxi ride through disorderly traffic driven on the left side of the road, we arrived at our AirBnB hotel in Kathmandu. The next day we moved to “the AirBnB room,” which to our delight was more cheerful thanks to its southerly facing windows. A beautiful yellow butterfly greeting us in our new room added to the charm. We first photographed it, then helped it find its way outdoors.

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We rested up at our hotel for a couple of days, taking our meals in the tranquil, pleasant restaurant downstairs from our room, which at night features candle lighting.

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When we finally ventured out on the streets, we found a maze of shops, businesses and restaurants on narrow lanes, decorated overhead with numerous strands of prayer flags. The challenge was and is the mix of poorly maintained pavement combined with vans, cars, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, rickshaws and pedestrians all competing to pass. Our hotel owner had directed us to a western fare restaurant where we enjoyed the food while listening to tunes from our youth, replete with 1960’s style black lighting.

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We soon become more acquainted with our Kathmandu neighborhood called Thamel, also nicknamed the “Tourist” neighborhood, by walking more of the streets. In addition to several Hindu shrines and temples and Buddhist images and stupas, sadly we found some buildings in grave disrepair or states of devastation, reminders of the massive earthquake that occurred here in April, 2015.  

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We started in on planning the next couple of months of our Journey, then, we booked a trek through our hotel owner’s travel business. We wish you, those who celebrate, a wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving! While you are eating turkey dinner, we expect to be taking in views of the Himalayas…

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Week 188 November 4, 2017

At Milan’s airport at the start of the week, a young man on Air Italy staff remembered “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, the lyrics which Loren and I well know from Scott MacKenzie’s hit song of our youth. I asked if he could sing it but he declined until Loren began. He then joined in with a lovely voice. Farewell again Italy and Europe. Grazie for these more wonderful times, we so hope to return!

We purchased our tourist Visas for Egypt at a bank on arrival in Sphinx International Airport – this is standard procedure. Then we were met by a most efficient man from our tour company who helped us whisk through customs, and afterwards helped us find our hotel transport in a much shorter time than if we had been on our own. 

Cairo is a sprawling city of 25 million people, full of skyscrapers and traffic that we saw throughout our 45 minute drive. Fortunate for us traffic was moving in our direction – until we too were caught in a quagmire of red brake lights. The sheer number of small cars in narrow, poorly marked lanes contribute to the muddle between four rows or five, for example, depending on the courage of a driver to squeeze into a new fifth – even an amazing sixth, on a highway that in the States would allow for just 3 lanes of cars. Others follow, unless car horns stake claim from drivers already in the way, and we heard a lot of honking horns. What was more surprising were the parked cars and pedestrians on the sides of major highways, as well as incredible risks taken by jaywalkers – more often jay runners.

Loren and I awoke early for a pre-tour day trip to Alexandria City, and were treated to a stunning sunrise though through thick haze. We spent the day with one of our upcoming tour mates, a young woman guide, and our driver. I learned that the Egyptians celebrate two special days: 26th July, for claiming income for the Suez Canal from Britain in 1954, and, 6th October, for reclaiming the Sinai Peninsula from Israel in 1973. I also learned that the familiar name Ahmed is actually said Ahck-mehd. We saw the Giza pyramids in the not too far distance as we left Cairo by van.

In Alexandria we visited intact ancient Roman catacombs, the Alexandria museum, the site of the ancient lighthouse, and the library. The lighthouse was one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. but is no longer standing. Built from around 300BC/BCE, it was devastated by an earthquake that hit Alexandria in 700AD/CE. Now a nearly abandoned citadel – or palace, marks the spot. The library is outstanding for historical significance,  innovative modernistic redesign including the world’s largest reading room, and, advanced use of technology. Anyone can visit online: http://www.bibalex.org, worthy of a look.

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Afterwards, we met up with a delightful group of 10 others and our guide for the week, in time to join in the Day 1 activity of our tour’s visit to Khan al-Khalili bazaar, then to have dinner together. One valuable benefit of our Journey is that Loren and I had no jet lag – since Italy and Egypt share a time zone, compared to some who flew from other time zones. 

A bit about our travel mates includes two different Australian men, one who just finished a month working in the United Arab Emirates and the other on holiday during a year work commitment in Saudi Arabia, who both helped to increase my awareness of day-to-day life in these Middle Eastern cultures. It was interesting that many of us live elsewhere from where we were born. For example, a Canadian works in Japan with his wife of Thai descent who was raised in Australia, a Jamaican woman who lives in the US, a female American Chef who is headed to work in South Africa, an Australian who has moved some around his country and is on extended travel, and a German who has relocated within her country. A woman from England and another from Germany round out our new travel friends.

Our next day began with a fun boogie led by a travel mate to another’s phone playing Walk Like An Egyptian. We then spent part of our day at Giza to see the Great Pyramid – the sole wonder remaining of the 7 of the ancient world! Of course I have seen its images many times in my life, but to be up close, in person, is breathtaking for its sheer size and construction. It is like the difference in seeing photos of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park versus hiking the trail to its peak.

This giant manmade structure is the burial site of Pharoah Cheops, created 5 thousand years ago – around 3000 BC/BCE. Made of 2.3 million stones, each is anywhere from 1.5-15 tons of perfectly fitted limestone. We had the incredible opportunity to climb inside, taking steps partway up or nearly crawling in other parts of short, narrow passageways, to see the burial chamber. It is perhaps more magnificent and awe inspiring than Machu Picchu in Peru. Seeing this Pyramid was a long-held dream of mine come true, and to share the experience with other appreciative travel mates was a special added treat.

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There are actually three giant Pyramids at Giza, each with smaller ones for the Pharoahs’ wives. The son of Cheops made the second one, nearly as tall, and the top of this one retains the sleek layer of covering that used to grace all of them. Since he did not like the huge stone blocking the view of his burial site, he had it sculpted to reduce its size. As a result we have the massive Sphinx,


which is near where our group briefly rode camels. The third belongs to the grandson of Cheops, is the smallest and seemed least well made attributing to it being last able to survive the elements.

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We concluded this day with a tour of Cairo museum where we saw a copy of the Rosetta Stone – the original is in the British Museum in London, and, the many gilded and golden belongings, caskets and protective housing of King Tutankhamen’s mummified remains, amid a plethora of artifacts of the Old, Middle, and New historical Kingdoms of Egypt. 


An overnight train ride brought us to Aswan, the southernmost city of Egypt. Here we took a boat to reach Philae, which is the painstakingly relocated Temple of Isis, Goddess of health, marriage and wisdom. In olden times all Egyptians were to make a pilgrimage here. The removal to higher ground was necessary in the 20th century to make way for the new High Dam.

We had time for hand laundry – and, a nap for Loren, the pool for me – at our waterfront hotel on the corniche, or promenade. Then we went for a boat ride on the River Nile, which reminded me of when Loren and I boated to see birds at the source of the Nile in Tanzania nearly two years ago. This was followed by a memorable dinner with a local Nubian Village family who shared meaningful stories of their culture. Loren even had a henna tattoo done in Arabic of the words: Loren-in-Nile. An Ozzie – or Aussie as Americans would say, had the Southern Cross done on his arm, another had the Eye of Horus, known as the Protective Eye, on his arm.

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We had a pre-dawn-morning departure for our bus to tour Abu Simbel, the ceremonial temples of Ramses II and his favorite Queen. Both have four gargantuan statues of him on the facade, and the Queen’s has two additional statues of her. Both were originally carved directly out of the mountain on the west bank of the Nile, then methodically relocated to preserve them from lovely Nasser Lake, which formed as a result of the new dam. They are located just 40 kilometers from the Sudan border. So close…

We spent the next day relaxing on a felucca, “a traditional wooden boat with broad canvas sails,” on the Nile River, propelled mainly by gentle winds, otherwise the Nubian crew gently rowed us. My highlight was swimming in the Nile! I photographed Loren’s temporary tattoo while he was actually in the Nile. We saw the sun set, then I taught the standing series of a Bikram Yoga class, which was interesting for my travel mates, guide and one of the crew to balance even though the Nile is quite calm.

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After a wonderful dinner that our crew prepared, we sang a little and danced a little around a bonfire while the crew sang and drummed. Then we slept on mattresses on the large deck on board. Fortunately we had our sleeping bags to keep warm as the temperature dropped as predicted overnight. In the morning a flock of egret flew overhead before we enjoyed the crew’s delicious breakfast.

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It was awesome to see the Temple of Edfu, dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed god, son of Goddess Isis and God Osiris, and, famous for his Protective Eye. But, afterwards both Loren and I and maybe a couple or few other of our travel mates started to “tomb-out or temple-out.” I was interested but aware that my lack of sleep on the felucca and the pre-dawn day earlier was draining my ability to fully appreciate what we were seeing. We checked in at our hotel for a refreshing shower before visiting the temple complex of Karnak, a massive expanse of open air museum displaying what was an incredible monument to the Kings of the day. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in downtown Luxor, then walked the 30 minutes to our hotel.

Our last full day began with a donkey ride – a fun, first ever experience for Loren and me, through local fields. and, then we went on to the Valley of the Kings, a massive area where many Pharaohs chose to be buried thinking to better preserve their treasure from thieves. In that day it was believed that their treasures were needed after reincarnation. I gladly paid the extra fee to see the Tomb of Tut Ankh Amun…


I felt rejuvenated after a delicious lunch with another local family – father, mother, daughter and two sons in their home, before we went to see the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. She disguised herself as a man to rule, but as she had unseated her nephew, he later reclaimed the throne and this site is known as Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple. We ended the day stopping briefly to see the remaining Colossi of Memnon, huge remains in themselves at the entrance of what was once a much more tremendous site in it’s day.


We enjoyed another dinner at the same downtown restaurant – because the food was that good, and, we had a special birthday to celebrate of a travel mate. Our guide made it extra special with a cake. I realized I had finally mastered remembering how to say Cheers in Arabic: fe sehetak – which sounds like vee seh-head-ahk. It was only on the felucca that I drank alcohol as it is rare to find it in Moslem countries, but, I gleefully toasted whatever beverage – hibiscus tea or juice, for instance, at our meals.


An overnight sleeper train brought us from Luxor back to Cairo, where we said our farewells to our lovely new friends. We had been a most compatible group, with 5 of us 50 or older, the other 7 were in their 30’s. It was a privilege to spend time with such nice, interesting, travelers!


Tonight Loren and I leave for a week in Kathmandu, Nepal. We hope this finds you well!

Week 122 July 30, 2016

We started this week with a 4:30am taxi ride to the Marrakech airport, with a transfer through Bergamo, Italy, to Cluj, Romania. Our first impressions were of all the bright red roofed homes and buildings we saw as our airplane descended, and, how modern looking everything seemed. 
We picked up our rental car, arriving at our AirBnB in Danesti, Maramures in northern Romania at 21:30pm, which was 19:30pm Moroccan time, or 9:30pm and 5:30pm respectively. In all, we lost two hours of time.One thing we are finding common around Europe and parts of the Eastern Hemisphere where we have visited thus far, is the prevalent use of the 24 hour clock, in addition to the metric system of kilometers, meters, centimeters, hectares and kilograms. When I worked in the computer industry I became familiar with what was referred to as military time, which ensures there is no question that the hours after 12:00 are in the afternoon and evening, but, you have to remember for example that 15:00 is 3pm, 17:00 is 5pm, 19:00 is 7pm, etc. and not confuse them with 5pm, 7pm or 9pm. 
We slept well and long that first night – we never even heard the 6am church bells ring. On our first full day we met up with our AirBnB host in downtown Baia Mare for lunch, then obtained lei – also known as RUN for Romanian currency, from an ATM. Everywhere we have traveled outside of the US and the European Union, they have their own flavor of money besides Dollars and Euros. We took a gorgeous two hour drive to see Cimitirul Vesel, which means Merry or Cheerful Cemetary as advertised by either name in different places, or the Happy Cemetary as referred to by one local, in Sapanta. The only things that were not cheerful were the dark clouds and rain while we were there, and, the girl at the booth who took our five lei each admission. The headstones are all gaily decorated with photographs, poetry, or images to identify the person and how they died.
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We drove a different route making a full circle on the two hours ride back. Along the drive we waved hello to the country, Ukraine, which is just across the river. We arrived back in Danesti in time to meet our AirBnB host, his wife and their two sons for a delicious Romanian dinner at a local restaurant. They enjoy hosting guests to give their children a sense of having extended family. It was a lovely evening!
We no longer find people hauling goods on donkeys, see mosques, or hear calls to prayer from the minarets, as in Morocco. Here, merchants haul their wares in horse drawn carts, while church bells ring out at 6am and the noon hour. Romanian farmers arrange their crops of hay to dry on the expanse of fields, using rakes made from honed tree branches. What is similar are the fields of sunflowers, the many nests of storks, the proudly displayed national flags. Here the flag is triple swathed blue, yellow and red, not what we have seen the past three weeks of red with a green star. We no longer see the many olive trees as in Morocco or Italy, nor do we see the duos or trios of militia patrols as we had became used to noticing everywhere in Morocco and Europe.
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What we often smell here is smoke coming from plumes from the locals’ intentional burnings. Lots of rolling green hills are dotted everywhere with tall tan, red or brown haystacks, and many church steeples. We see dogs dart unfettered along narrow roads, amidst farmers driving slow moving vehicles, and speeding trucks and cars that routinely dare to pass lines of slower movers on mountain roads that are full of curves. Women wear flouncy knee length black skirts with white or white polka dot bandanas on their heads. This is some of what we have seen of the Romanian countryside thus far.
We enjoyed a nice hike in an oak forest that Loren noticed along the road, and saw  so many wildflowers along our drives,
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and, chased down a few of the many UNESCO protected oak churches in Maramures, decorated with well preserved paintings and intricately woven cloths.
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At one of the churches, we came across a bride and groom, returning a week after their wedding to take photographs. Another church honors the two Archangels, Michael and Gabriel.
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We also found somewhat familiar local artwork on an abandoned building near the market where we shopped…
Now, we are in Sighisoara, a lovely town of 30,000 people with a well preserved citadel. I must say that this word reminds me of when my brother played Dungeons and Dragons in years long past! The town boasts a beautiful clock tower that literally towers over the surrounding Medieval era structures that are home to a modern people.
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We have actually learned a little Romanian, which has been a bit similar to Italian in some ways. For example Buna seara, said boonah see-ra, means good evening; or sunt incantat de cunostinta, said soont oon-coon-tat day cos-no-stenza, means pleased to meet you; which are somewhat similar to the Italian greetings. However others are more unique to Romanian, like magazin mixt means a convenience store; multumesc, said moolt-zu-mesc, for thank you; and, drum bun, said droom boon, means something like good road, but maybe good travels on the road gives a more accurate meaning.
We have seen a few different street sign references to 1st December, 1918, and have learned that this was when Romania inherited Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina as part of the treaty settlement after The Great War, what is now called World War I. The region of Transylvania, in the heart of Romania, is where the protestant Unitarian religion was born. Loren and I are excited that we will be meeting some Unitarians this weekend. Hopefully some of the people we will meet will be from our former partner church in that part of the Hungarian speaking area of Romania – in Szentivanlaborfalva which is Hungarian for Saint Ivan … … – I am uncertain what the lahbor falva words mean, but, in Romanian the village is called Santionlunca.
PLEASE NOTE: While today we have an exceptional internet connection, we may not have service at times over the next three months. Please check back, I will make my weekly post when possible!

Week 121 July 23, 2016

Me to the internet at our AirBnB: “Lebas aleikum?”
     The internet at our AirBnB to me: “Lebas.”
That means in Moroccan Arabic that the internet is better here than last week! In reality I asked how the internet was, and it said it was fine. If you would like to, you can have another look at Week 120 now to see the full array of photos I would have posted but for the internet… but in doing that, it made this week’s post a little late.
As we drove this week to Merzouga to begin our camel ride to a camp in the Sahara desert, we came across what appeared to be clouds that turned out to be a fierce sand storm! At times the only thing we saw out the front window was a sandy haze. Shrubs in the wind – partially obscured by blowing sand – appeared to be walking, while empty soft drink cans summersaulted end over end beside rolling tumbleweed. We have no idea how Mustapha, our driver found his way to the stables, but he did, and safely!  
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At our nomads’ compound – which they call an auberge – for hotel, heavy raindrops joined the swirling sand. We waited out the storm with “Moroccan whiskey” which is mint tea, but the decision was made to ditch our original plan to ride by camel caravan to overnight in the desert. We were told that this sort of storm could last for days. So, we missed seeing the sun set over the Sahara, but, we were privileged to survive not only a sand storm but also witness a rainstorm in the African desert. 
The wind and rain abated, resumed, and eventually abated again, while we were entertained by two extended lightning storms throwing jagged forks in the distance. We sat outside well into our evening of delicious dinner served outdoors, and more meaningful conversation about human rights and politics. We four tourists slept without further storm conditions on mattresses on the roof of the auberge, which seemed to be not out of the ordinary. Our rooms, which had the delightful scent of freshly burned incense, were still too stifling hot, even after leaving the all the doors and windows open.
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We awoke to our alarm at 4:30 for our dromedary ride – dromedary is the right name for these enormous animals because they have only one hump. I named mine Hob, for Love, in Arabic, then Loren named his Bob. We learned that all dromedary rides are given on males, the females are protected for reproduction. I was impressed by how gentle and calm these animals are. I experienced a relatively smooth ride, despite some shifting sands underfoot, and especially in the early morning pitch darkness. The sky slowly brightened and we witnessed a delightful sunrise near the camp where we would have stayed overnight, before our single file return ride to the auberge. I believe the artists for the character E.T. must have used the faces and personalities of these docile creatures as a model in their design…
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Just as the name Anasazi is considered derogatory to Native American Puebloans, and Negro is offensive to African Americans, native Moroccans prefer to be called Amazighen over Berber. Berber, though still heavily used, originally meant Barbarian – for simply “other than Greek” in ancient times, but since it has developed a poor connotation. This will likely take some time to be eliminated from use. From the Sahara desert, we drove to Gorges Todra, also known as Gorgeous Gorges. Todra means water, and water is life. It rained here – yet more water, then it slowed enough for us to take a drive into the gorge instead of our intended walk, as there was the possibility of flash flooding. But that was not actually an issue, so we walked back most of the way, with Mustafa kindly following in the van for safety.
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This week we tasted our first fichi d’India – the delicacy also known as prickly pear -or- tuna -or- paddle cactus fruit, which the locals say is helpful as an “intestinal” remedy. Regardless, it was a juicy, citrus-like treat with seeds. We found tables laden with them along the streets and in all the souks in Morocco, with a man at the ready with his knife to peel one for us should we want to buy any of them.
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We stopped briefly in Quarzazate, which translates to without – quar, problems – zazate. How I wish that were so in all of the world! From there we drove to our accommodation in Aït Benhaddou on the Quarzazate River. Along the way we chanced upon a real live snake charmer, and Loren and one of the girls took him up on having the snake draped around their necks. Once settled in at our accommodation, we all hiked to the top of the nearby fortified city for great views and opportunities for understanding more of the casbah habitation of the days of old, as well as seeing part of where Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator were filmed.
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Here, as with many of our three and four course dinners, Loren and I drank “Moroccan champagne” meaning sparkling water! There are very few restaurants that offer alcohol, wine or beer on the menu. After all, this is an Islamic country, where the faithful abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages. Younes, our guide, has taught us a little Arabic, and here he is isolating the spelling of just the word Shokran said show-kran – Thank You, from the rest of the words on a sign which said Thank you for your cooperation. I even remembered to start looking at the Arabic letters starting on the left and reading right!
We had our longest drive day of the tour, which included going over the High Atlas mountains on our way to Essaouira for two nights on the Atlantic Ocean. Once there we visited the medina, the beach and harbor, and simply rested in this very popular town, as the cool ocean breezes draw the locals from Marrakech where the summer heats rise well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit until very late each evening. The idea of protection from the evil eye is as important in Morocco as I understood it to be in Turkey. Women in the mountain villages are able to withstand the intense heat in their all black hijab – head scarves, and djellaba – full length robes, in that they believe the black helps to ward off the evil eye.
Now we are already back in Marrakech. We had a city walking tour of gardens, the palace, medina, souk and main square. I learned more, for example that the many eight pointed stars in the decorative mosaics around the country that I have become so enamored of, as well as the unique shaped windows and doors – a familiar sight of rounded and coming to a point at the top, and rectangular at the bottom, are also protection from the evil eye. We learned that the many geometric shapes in the designs seen in so many places are representative of Allah – God, in the abstract.
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Our small tour group had our farewell meeting, then we enjoyed watching a little of the Olympic pre-trial competitions together, which was reminiscent enjoyment as the football, or what Americans would call soccer, game we watched together at the start of the tour.
In our 15 day tour of Morocco, and at our AirBnB in Marrakech we have felt very welcomed. We have seen so much of this country in this short period of time. We visited most of the major cities, traveled over parts of the High Atlas, Moyen – or middle, Atlas, and the Anti – or small, Atlas mountains, which separate the Mediterranean Sea from the Sahara Desert. We have stayed in charming villages, visited with some of the locals, and relaxed by the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
We had the pleasure of traveling with two beautiful young women, and were guided and driven by two generous in spirit native Moroccans. Just as we found of our 75 days in 11 countries in south east Africa earlier this year, as well as with most of our over two years of journeying, just 15 days in north Africa’s Morocco feels like a whirlwind visit, giving us only a tiny sampling of all there is to see, do and people to meet. It was most definitely a worthwhile experience. Now we have been to 12 of Africa’s 54 countries… and we will go to another few new – well, to us, countries in Eastern Europe, beginning with Romania, then to Croatia and others in the Balkans.
One final thought this week – I am learning that there seems to be at least one common theme among long term travelers. That the reason to get away is to be able to ponder, reflect, or think more clearly. This is noted in some of Graham Nash’s lyrics to the song, Marrakesh Express with these words:
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind, 
   Had to get away to see what we could find.”
For me, I most appreciate being on this journey because I am learning things that I never made time for learning while living at home. And, visiting in person brings a place to life for me. Loren has discovered and repeatedly says when asked about the “best” places we have seen, “It is inside myself.”
PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have decent internet coverage, we may not in the countries that we are visiting in the next few weeks. Please check back, I will post weekly when and as often as I can.

Week 120 July 16, 2016

Salam – Hello in Moroccan! Thank you to all our family and friends who reached out to us again and again with all the turmoil in the world. We always so appreciate hearing from you!
We began this week still in Marrakech. One evening our AirBnB host and her partner made us our first tagine – a traditional Moroccan dish made in a unique cone shaped top pottery cookery and sold all over Morocco. We enjoyed the deliciousdinner with our hosts’ friends. Later we walked with her the long way to Jemaa el Fna – the large square in the Medina. We saw the main mosque lights, with a waxing crescent moon shining behind it. We were a bit taken aback by the crowds – partly because it was the first Friday night out after Ramadan, though it is not unusual to have such crowds on Fridays, or, to have such crowds every night. So, you can choose whichever explanation you like, depending on which person’s opinion you choose to believe!
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We three enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice from among the many OJ vendors. And we walked by the various meat stalls specifically to see the cooked sheep heads. Really! I could not and would not make a photo of them lined up with their mouths slightly open showing their little teeth… Then we went to a rooftop lounge for great panoramic views of the Medina, and we walked us through part of the Souk or Souq – the market, which reminded me of a more upscale version of one that I had walked through in Rwanda in December. As we walked back to the apartment, we enjoyed a snack of fresh dried apricots that Loren had bought, and along the way we came across a fun fountain.
I must correct myself about having my first Turkish Bath in South Africa in February. What I had was merely a steam bath, a timid plunge in a cold pool, and a short nap in a private cubby with a bed. This week I thoroughly luxuriated in a decadent Hamam followed by a massage. In a steamy room, my naked body was doused by the bath house woman using pots full of alternating hot, cool or warm water; then rubbed, scrubbed, doused again; lathered with mud, doused, shampooed, conditioned, and doused once more. After a shower, I rested on a leather lounge, sipping mint tea while watching entertaining Moroccan short films reminiscent of Bollywood style. Then I received a massage with oil and had a catnap before resting again on the lounge. Based on the description I gave Loren of my hamam in South Africa, he only signed up for a massage… 
We then met our tour group who are just six people counting our guide and our driver. We left Marrakech, known as The Red City, early in the morning for Casablanca – The White City. On the way in the van, our guide who is a wealth of information about his native country, tried to teach us more Arabic words and phrases. With just two other travel mates, lovely young women friends from New Zealand – one on her way home from a work visa in London, the other about to begin a work visa in London, I have not hesitated to ask my many questions.
We have learned that Morocco has four Imperial cities: Rabat, Marrakech, Meknes, and Fes – meaning that at one time each was the capitol for a different royal dynasty. The current dynasty has reigned since the 17th century and Mohammed VI is King. He and his family are clearly beloved. During “Arab Spring” in 2011, he guided Morocco through a peaceful change of government to Monarchy with Parliament style government, and, the country has their first highly visible female royalty in Mohammed VI’s beautiful wife. There are many tributes to King Mohammed, his father, Hassan II and grandfather, Mohammad V around the country, and people seem expectant that the royal Prince, Hassan III, or dare I suggest perhaps his younger sister, will one day succeed the father.
The country proudly displays red flags with a silk green five-point star – red representing the blood that Moroccans are willing to shed for their country (which they have done with regard to the disputed border with land now known as Western Sahara to the southwest), green for peace, and five points for the five pillars of Islam: 1. There is only one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet, 2. Pray five times each day, 3. Fast at Ramadan, 4. Give Alms to the needy, and, 5. Make a Pilgrimage to Mecca – Hajj – at least once, but that is only if you are able and can afford it.
The name of the religion Islam means Peace, and this country truly feels peaceful, even in its largest city, Casablanca which is home to five million people. We visited the impressive Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Africa and 3rd largest in the world – after Mecca and Medina. This one boasts the tallest Minaret in the world. It holds 25,000 people inside and another 80,000 people can similtaneously attend services – broadcast by loudspeaker, outside. The interior is even more impressive than the outside, well, in a different way.
We also stopped outside Rick’s Cafe – of Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca fame… Then over dinner we had the perfect seats to watch start-to-finish the exciting finale of Euro Football – soccer, where Portugal beat France in an extremely close match that ended in overtime! I was just sorry to see injuries happen to several players.
We traveled on to Rabat – another White City. The cities are nicknamed for the mainly uniform color of the homes and buildings. For Moroccan Muslims, the outsides of their dwellings are supposed to be kept nondescript, to convey the equality of all. Inside they can decorate and differentiate to their hearts’ content. We had a city tour with a guide from Rabat –  just as we had experienced during one part of our tour last winter in southeast Africa, our own guide was not allowed to show us around everywhere in Morocco – this allows the local guides of each city to have employment, and gives a bit of time off to our main guide. This city guide took us first to see the Mausoleum/Tomb of Hassan II, where we could look down into the chamber from a balcony..
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He also took us to see Hassan tower, visit Oudaia Kasbah – castle or fortified walled city,

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the Royal Palace, being on the same grounds as the country’s Pentagon and Royal Mosque,
and, Chellah of Oudaia – an archaeological site of ancient Moroccan culture and gardens.
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There was a terrible earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 with a resultant tsunami that devastated several areas of Morocco…
    “Are you then sure, the power which would create, 
     The universe and fix the laws of fate, 
     Could not have found for man a proper place,
     But earthquakes must destroy the human race?”
   “Lisbon Earthquake Poem” (1755)
by Voltaire
On our way to Chefchaouen – The Blue City, we toured ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis, which, until the 1755 earthquake, were very well preserved. Here we had another local guide with a tremendous knowledge to share from, thanks to his master’s degree in history. This site was partly a Roman military retirement community. In addition to explaining the ruins, he offered interesting stories and tidbits like, SPA (think terme or hamam) is the acronym for Sanum per Acqua – health through water, in Latin of course; and, that originally the swastika symbol which is preserved in many of the mosaic floor designs in the homes meant Peace or Good Fortune too, I found online. At Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains we had a sunset view at dinner after a walking tour of the Medina. With a free morning Loren and I took the hike up to a mosque on a hill for great views.
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That evening we had dinner in Fes with entertainment of musicians including one who played the Oud – sounds like rude, but there are no r’s in Arabic, drummers, a magician, belly dancers, and, with some audience participation, was as memorable as the Pastilla, a sweet chicken and honey dish in filo-like dough, a little like the Greek desert, Baklava.
The next day in Fes – often misspelled as Fez, we met our guide for a city tour. Another wonderful person, this woman’s name means Generous. She took us to see a different Royal palace with immense gold doors, the Jewish quarter with colorful products sold, 

for the view from an old fort, to a ceramics shop, where the level of detail done by hand is incredible. I had a little fun with the mirrors on the wall for sale, that partially show the meticulous decoration,

then we visited the Medina and Souk. This medina is the largest in the world with 9,500 streets, and is very old dating from the 800’s! The streets are so narrow that only donkeys are used to transport goods. There are lots of goods for sale, from technogical to clothing, jewelry to meats, produce, souvenirs, artwork, crafts, anything you can imagine. We also saw the oldest university in the world, now a Theological school, founded by Fatima who was the wealthy daughter of a successful businessman. Also in the Medina are mosques, schools, residences, and places to eat, with so many intricate stucco and mosaic decorations, as we have seen all over Morocco so far. After lunch, we visited a tannery which smells I could have foregone, then a weaver of silks. We were happy for our dear guide after learning that she is four months pregnant!
Now we have driven through parts of the Atlas mountains, enjoying a morning walk in Ifrane and an evening hike in Midelt. The native Atlas lions are extinct in the wild, but we did get to see Margot monkeys in Ifrane. While some of the wealthier people build large cinder block homes, they only use them for special occasions – the prefer to live in the mud homes of their ancestors, because, unlike the cinder block homes, the mud homes stay cool in summer – without air conditioning, and warm in winter. We culminated the day for delightful tea with a local family before dinner.
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Our hearts go out to the people in Bari, Nice and especially again to Turkey this week… where Loren and I would have been had we not decided to drastically change our plans. We had a meaningful discussion after dinner about extremism before waking up to the news of the attempted coup in Istanbul. One thing I am so aware of as we travel is how difficult it is to avoid miscommunication within the same language, much less across differences in language.

This evening we will ride camels into the Sahara desert for an overnight experience under the stars, because it will be too hot to sleep in tents!

Week 119 July 9, 2016


This week we were still on Lake Garda for the Italy versus Germany football – or as we Americans would say, soccer championship game. It began at 9pm and went into overtime. The neighbors were passionately loud, some even had horns quite like on New Year’s Eve. Germany won, which we understand is unusual when playing Italy. 

The next day our native Italian friends picked us up and we had a snack in the town of Torre, where we also made a foto together in the same place where American friends of ours – who we had suggested to visit these Italian friends a few years ago – had also made a photo together. Yes, that is right, we learned that the Italians say, “make a photo, not “take a photo.” I think their choice of wording makes better sense.

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We had our last three days in our beloved Italy with our friends in their beautiful home. We so enjoyed seeing some of their family members again, and, sharing more wonderful time together. Extra special was that we kept one half of a 21 year old promise to go to L’Arena together. We had heard of it from these friends  when we had first met them on a train from Venice to Verona. They were traveling with their two sons – their younger daughter was with her Nonna and Nonno. Their children are all now masters and doctorate level students! Our friends had taught us then that this arena is the best preserved of all in the ancient Roman Empire, and near their home. We made a date then to see Romeo and Juliet together here some day. The other half of our promise must wait, because Romeo e Giulietta was not playing now. Instead, we saw Aida together!

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This evening was a highlight of my life! It fulfilled part of a long-dreamed-of promise, the weather was perfect, the performance magnificent, and, to know that somewhere between 2,500-1,500 years ago some members of Roman society had also sat on the very same marble block seats. Fortunately our friends brought seat cushions for all of us! It was an incredible feeling. The performance was as if I were witnessing a live 1940’s Hollywood production. This company had even chosen to revert the production as it had been performed when L’Arena opened 103 years ago. And, for the first time, they displayed the words in Italian with English translations beneath them, shown on large screens along two sides of the arena. Bravo! Bravo!

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Since this night was a life highlight for me, I want to mention too how the first two hours were too long because the libretto included more repetition than – I felt, was necessary. Perhaps that is why more modern versions had changed the performance. When the second act ended I had no idea how I would survive the next two, sitting on a stone seat, even with the cushion. However, for the second two hours I was so engrossed in the drama and the entourage on stage that, if there was any repetition, I was unaware of it. In all it was an awesome experience. I wish everyone could see this opera, and, in this spectacular setting. Oh, and, as it had begun at 9pm for the necessary effects of the dark sky, we were leaving L’Arena at 1am. It was all very well worth it!


How fun it was to also be in Italy for the Fourth of July! We enjoyed an American style BBQ one evening, which, like all the meals we enjoyed together, was outstanding.

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We also had a memorable day hike with our friends with their delightful dog, on Monte Baldo. There were very few others on the trail, allowing the dog to be off leash for most of the time. It was joyful to see her escapades in that freedom.


One reflection I had as we prepared to leave Italy was how many smiles have come to me when noticing the cheerful colors that some Italian uomini – said woe-min-e – meaning men, which was initially quite confusing for me because it sounds so much like ‘women,’ and donne – said doh-nay, meaning women, wear. For example I am thinking of their bright powder blues, spring greens, olive greens, and vibrant shades of oranges or reds for their pants, and, rich pink shirts, or smart striped suit jackets with matching color solid shirt or pants. These are just a little of what I saw which was most refreshing and invigorating to see!

Our friends then drove us to the Bologna airport, where we enjoyed their delicious verdure – vegetable torte together picnic style, as they referred to us as “the Globe trotters.” We said our sad, hopeful arriverdverci – bye, see you agains!, before we went through security for our flights to Marrakech via Casablanca. Here are our friends’ nostalgic photos from when we met about twenty years ago:

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We did not see Loren’s checked backpack among the baggage being loaded onto our second plane…

I have deeply experienced how music, smiles, and other facial expressions can overcome differences in language and culture. We shared some friendly smiles and gestures with a couple of the Moroccan travelers on our flights, though we speak no Arabic, Berber or French. Some speak Italian and many do speak English. My immediate impression was of our clothing differences – so many women were wearing headscarves, usually colorfully coordinated with their other clothing. Many men wear taqiyah – skull caps. Some of the men and the women wear long sleeve, floor length robes.

As it turned out, Loren’s backpack did not arrive with our flight…

Our first night in Marrakech was the one-day Eid – said eed, festival that follows Ramadan in Islam. So everything, including markets, were closed. We have a lovely, former Canadian AirBnB host, and, the driver she had found for us recommended the only restaurant he knew of that would be open. Our host joined us and it turned out to be – of all things – an Italian pizzeria!

There was no call that night about Loren’s backpack as we had hoped for from the airport…

On our first full day in Marrakech we visited Yves St Laurent’s gift to Marrakech, the Jardin Majorelle – Gardens of Majorelle. Thank you YSL! As for our trip to Morocco, my brother joked, “How can you resist when Loren says, ‘Come with me to the Casbah,’” which I am looking forward to doing later tonight, and a few times during our upcoming three week tour! We ended this week with finding the cafes in Marrakech lined with chairs full of fans facing large screen televisions, to watch the football match between Germany and France. France won, and in the grand finale France will face Portugal.

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Our host and driver have been very helpful, and finally we learned that Loren’s luggage had now arrived on another flight. Our driver took us back to the airport to retrieve it. How fortunate that we were staying in Marrakech for three days – just long enough before our tour begins to claim it. Now Loren has his changes of clothes for the tour!

PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have internet, we may not have viable service in the countries we are visiting over the next three months. Please check back here, I will share my weekly post when and as often as I can.