Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Carolina Wrens

Several months ago, we noticed a wren flying close to our house, flying out, flying back, flying out, flying back, and she was always carrying something.

 

“I think she might be building a nest in our watering can,” I told AdventureMan. He checked the can, and sure enough, it was full of little straw and twigs and pieces of string. Her mate showed up, also bringing strings and twigs and grass clippings.

 

Weeks went by, and we enjoyed their company. We gave the plenty of space.

 

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We had houseguests, and as we were about to leave one day,  AdventureMan spotted four tiny little wrens, trying their wings for the first time. He quickly snapped a shot with his iPhone of the two not yet flying. It is a good thing; by the next day, they were gone. We were just so thankful we got to see them, and our house guests got to see them, too!

 

What fun! We hope they will come back and nest with us again next year!

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April 23, 2016 Posted by | Birds, Circle of Life and Death, Environment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Gardens, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues | , | Leave a comment

Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Months in advance, my friend said “You’ll really want to see Shangri-La,” and I had never heard of it, but I looked online, and it looked beautiful. Doris Duke, one of the richest women ever to live, could buy anything she wanted. She had a good eye for art, good timing, and she bought much of what is in Shangri-La and her other residences at bargain prices after WWII. The value of her art holdings increased dramatically, and she ended up with an even bigger fortune than that with which she started.

How do I know? I am in the middle of my third book, reading about Doris Duke. The books are pretty bad. Each author seems to have an axe to grind, and one author took very little information and used it to speculate endlessly, full of gossip and mean-spirit. Altogether, Duke does not come off as a very kind person, but who can say which version of this very private person is the “real” Doris Duke?

To visit Shangri-La, you must go through the Honolulu Museum of Art. They have an online reservation system – the next two weeks are already fully booked. My friend booked months in advance so that we could attend. We got to the Museum, found a good parking place, entered the museum, receiving a lapel sticker and a wristband which later allowed us to visit the museum for as long as we liked.

We boarded a bus and watched a very romanticized movie about the life of Doris Duke, and then we were there! We were warned we could take no photos inside. What a pity! The interiors are magnificent, all marble, and tiles, gorgeous woodwork, and all kinds of Islamic Art that looks like it would go well in the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art. I couldn’t help but wonder if the newly rich aren’t trying to buy some of their cultural objects back?

 

 

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Our guide ushered us into a beautiful entry, with meshribiyya and tiles and beautiful light fixtures inside. I wish I could show you.

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About half way through the tour, we had a break on a terrace from which we had this spectacular view. I read in one of the books that Duke built this rock harbor without asking permission from the Hawaii government, just did it. It is lovely. The terrace also has gorgeous Persian tiles, the interior tiles are Persian and Iznik.

 

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After visiting the Damascus Room and the Syrian Room and the Mogul Room, we visited Doris Duke’s bedroom, bare but for a couple couches. Then, out to the gardens.

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We were allowed to take photos in the gardens 🙂

 

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This is a tree at the entry to the house; the tree sends down those shoots that form new roots and new trees. It is magnificent!

 

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After our visit to Shangri-La, we returned to the Honolulu Museum of Art, and had lunch. This is the market salad with salmon – Yumm.

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As we lunched, a character went around taking selfies. I think this is a performance artist, and I think it may have been a guy.

PerformanceArt

 

Being three very independent kind of folk, we split up to see what we wanted to see at the museum. There was a special temporary exhibit on Japanese street fashion which I found fascinating. I loved some of these street fashions, which strike me as very imaginative. When I got to the Lolita section, however, little girl dresses for grown women, I found it too creepy and strange to photograph.

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There is a section on Islamic Art with beautiful tiles and examples of several genres of art objects.

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Out on one of the patios, I found this screen which reminded me of a very modern sort of tree-of-life.

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Altogether, a grand day. My friend was right – we really enjoyed seeing this.

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Character, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Education, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Gardens, Living Conditions, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues | , , | 1 Comment

Kailua to Honolulu; A Day of Wonders

We are all early risers, and we are off on a great adventure today, seeing the island as our friend sees it.  One of her favorite places is Bellows Beach, next to the Air Force Base. We loved it, too, for its beauty and for its seclusion. The parking lot was full of cars that seemed to be doing business with one another, so we made sure to take our wallets and cameras with us.

 

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And then, the brides started arriving. We had no idea that this was a “destination.” We stayed far back, not wanting to intrude, and watched them arrive, marry and depart. The limos were lined up as we left, with bridal parties waiting their turn.

 

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This was a day when we were in and out of the car constantly, each sight more beautiful than the other.

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At one of my favorite places, the waves crashed against the lava rocks, so beautiful. We would have stayed longer but we were choking from the smell of weed coming out of the surrounding cars.

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In the Kona Crater, the plumeria are beginning to bloom.

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And the bougainvillea provided a riot of color.

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Diamond Head lighthouse from Diamond Head road.

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Foster Botanical Garden was a pool of serenity in the middle of the chaos of Honolulu:

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I loved that they had an Alaskan totem; the Alaskans and the Hawaiians are related.

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March 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Gardens, Living Conditions, Photos, Road Trips, Travel | Leave a comment

A Walk in the Vieux Carre’, French Quarter, New Orleans

It’s been raining for so long we feel like frogs, with webbed feet. We have a gorgeous day, not hot, not cold, and a hotel in a perfect location for walking, so we go out to master our 10,000 steps. In the French Quarter, it is easy! There is so much to see; it is so much fun just to walk.

 

These kids are GOOD! They have attracted a large crowd, in front of the Cathedral. What a great way to get practice playing in front of an audience and to earn a little extra spending money, providing a little New Orleans culture. Loved our time listening; they really were good

 

Band

 

This policeman with his blue light special, blocked a whole lane of traffic so he could pick up his fresh hot beignet at the French Market.

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The Hop On, Hop Off Bus, New Orleans style:

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“Follow the sign, please!” for the New Orleans city tour. No, we weren’t on that one, just walking around on our own.

CityTour

 

A statue of Bienville, a founder of New Orleans:

Bienville

 

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This is kind of creepy, to me, a woman who tells people their fortunes in front of the cathedral.

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The Maiden of Oreans:

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We loved this terrace garden, on Chartres:

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This man earned every penny. He made up verses to songs about people watching, all very kind, and people gave generously 🙂

StreetSinger

 

Cathedral

January 2, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Community, Cultural, Entertainment, Exercise, ExPat Life, Gardens, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | | 2 Comments

Grenada, Spain; One of the Most Beautiful Cities on Earth

Did you know the Spanish word for pomegranate is “grenade?” I didn’t know that either, but pomegranate is one of my favorite fruits. When I was a little girl, my mother would buy me a pomegranate now and again (these were not common where I grew up) because of the legend of Persephone. I was heavy into Greek and Roman mythology and she encouraged my explorations.

Grenada in named for the pomegranates. They grow everywhere in Grenada, and were in full fruit when we visited. After some of the rainy touring days we had, Grenada shone forth in warm sunshine and blue skies with perfect clouds for photo-taking. We toured the town, and then (dramatic pause) (hushed voice) we visited the Alhambra.

What I have loved about this journey is the intermingling of Arabic in the Spanish; Guadalquivir River “wadi al kebir”, Alhambra “al hamra”, and it really is very red. And it really is very beautiful, so very beautiful in glorious detail. I’m going to bore you with more photos than you ever wished to see because . . . well, I hate to be rude, but .  . . it’s my blog. I love each and every photo.

 

 

Grenada

 

This is our group, gathering around our guide to enter the Alhambra.

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If this were a fabric, I would have a dress made of it. I loved the intricate intersection, and the blending of the blue and cream and brown.

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This is my favorite photo, for any number of reasons, cats, light and shadow, intricate tracery on columns, etc. but it is also a reminder of a very strange occurrence. I had just finished taking this shot, hunched down for a low angle, when a young woman in a group of four came along and shoved others, and then me, out of the way. Literally, she took my arm and started to move me and said “we’re taking a group photo now.”

Normally, I tend to defer, but her arrogance, and her disregard for the feeling of others prickled me, and so I pulled my arm away and looked at her cooly, and said “as soon as I am done with my photo, I will move and you can take your shot. Or you can shoot it from another angle.” I don’t know why I did that, I am surprised at myself. I don’t like to cause trouble. But who has the right to shove others out of the way???

That is the memory this photo brings back.

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Please look at this photo, not that it is anything special but because there are people in it. I want you to appreciate how really, really, very hard it was to take some of these photos without people in them. I had to wait and wait, sometimes, (gasp!) I even got separated from my group for a short time, in the interest of getting an unimpeded shot. We were there at a lovely time of the year, perfect weather, and we thought there would not be too many tourists. We were astonished, in Seville, in Cordoba, in Grenada just how many tourists there were.

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And here is where AHI Travel did something really right. This is the last day of the tour, tomorrow we all disembark and head for the Malaga airport and from there, to places scattered around the world. Just a short walk from the Alhambra is a beautiful hotel, beautifully situated, the Alhambra Palace. We’ve made note of it because we intend to come back to Grenada, and we want to stay in this hotel. This is where we ate lunch.

 

AlhambraPalaceHotel

 

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Our group had a closed in verandah with a beautiful view. Lunch was served in courses, and each was carefully prepared, and delicious. Very very clever way to end the tours on a high note 🙂

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The room was beautiful. The table service was beautiful.

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The view was beautiful.

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After the meal, we got back on the bus to head back for the ship. Once on board, we had a Smithsonian meeting and then another lecture and then dinner, and something happened that has not happened to me for a long time, I had to pack at the last minute. Our suitcases had to be outside our door before we went to bed so they could be loaded to go, very early the next morning, to the airport.

 

I was coming down with something. I felt hot and feverish, and my nose was running. All my life, I have had nightmares about last minute packing. I hate doing last-minute anything, I am a planner, I like having a certain amount of control over my life, even though it is an illusion, it is an illusion I work hard to maintain. How did this happen to me? How is it that I am packing at the last minute, feverish and anxious?

It all got done. Fortunately, there are a limited number of places you can put things. For some reason, I am not able to download all our boarding passes, so we have only the first ones and will have to get the rest at the airport. I know where my passport is (I never have found the one I lost somewhere in my office) and my tickets and somehow we are finished and all is well by bedtime. I just hate that feeling of being rushed; when I am rushed, I make mistakes.

Every now and then something good happens. There is a huge line in Malaga, but our new friends also have tickets that put us in another line, and we get through quickly, with no problems. We say goodbye, we’ve exchanged e-mail addresses, and we go our separate ways. We have time to relax.

We arrive in Paris barely on time, and it is a Sunday morning with long lines at security, and there is no way out, we have to stand in line. We watch one very elderly man, unsteady, but with a great sense of humor, cope as he has to go through the full-body scan. Even though it is a few days before the bombing, security is tight. The airport is a nightmare. We have no idea where our next gate is, and we are almost running, as it is already our boarding time and we are not there. We have to go down this hall and that, then down to some gate where we catch a bus, then from that bus to somewhere else where we get to our plane with five or ten minutes to spare. That is cutting it way to close for me, but I know by now that I am coming down with one of the world’s worst colds and I sleep all the way from Paris to Atlanta, waking up now and ten to drink some Pomegranate Pizazz with honey to make the cold go away.

Not only does the cold not go away – I very generously shared it with AdventureMan. We both felt so bad we were sleeping all the time and didn’t even notice the jet lag 🙂 so by the time we were well again, we were also sleeping on Pensacola time. As soon as we were well, we got the super-strong flu shots to protect ourselves from anything worse than we’ve just had. 🙂

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Cultural, ExPat Life, Gardens, Health Issues, Hot drinks, Hotels, Morocco, Paris, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Travel, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hotel Le Meridian N’Fis in Marrakesh

I can be a pain in the neck when I don’t get my way. When we booked, we had been told our room would be at the Sofitel Marrakech, and I was excited. When we got our final package, we found we were going to the Meridian N’Fis, not the same kind of hotel at all.

“Oh, but it is one of the finest rooms!” we were assured, and they explained that it just was too cumbersome to have some of the guests in one hotel and some in another. Umm. OK.

We hopped in a cab from the Jamaa El-Fna; it was easy. The cab ride cost a dollar. We could have walked, but we didn’t know where the hotel was, and it was maybe a mile away. Our guide had called and said we would be arriving separately (our guide, Antonio, was superb) so they were expecting us. They gave us an orientation, and showed us to our room.

 

Entrance to the hotel:

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Passage to our room:

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Gardens and pool:

 

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Gorgeous serene spa:

 

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Lovely seating areas:

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Hallway to bar, lounge and restaurant:

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You can see, it is a lovely hotel, modern, clean, has some atmosphere. Here is our room. It is spacious, the bathroom is large, and we have our own sitting area with complimentary wine and fruit, and our own patio outside. It’s lovely.

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You can see it is very modern and very clean. We also discovered it is across from a mall, which, when we visited, reminded us greatly of Qatar and Kuwait, and we wondered if Gulf money was invested in creating the mall. It had a Carrefour, and many modern stores. It was fun wandering around with the Moroccan shoppers. The hotel is only a short distance from the oldest and newest shopping areas in town.

I tried to be a good sport. (I am betting AdventureMan would roll his eyes; I was quiet, and disappointed, and not very happy.) I would never stay here in a million years if I were not part of a group. It is western. It is Morocco-lite. I remember with great nostalgia the homey hotel we stayed in years ago, with its wonderful tiny restaurant and genuine food, tiled walls and beautifully worked wood and I wish we were staying somewhere “more Moroccan.”

The bed is wonderful. The bath is wonderful. The promised Wi-Fi is non-existent.

We had a “garden” view. I asked the conceirge where the rooms were that had the view of the Atlas mountains, and he said only a few rooms, at the top of the hotel had a view, and only on a very clear day. It must have been these rooms:

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The food in the dining room is pretty good. In fact, we ate pretty well. Breakfast featured one woman making thin, flaky Moroccan pastries, worth waiting in line for.

As we left the hotel for El Jadida, there were souvenir vendors at the bus. Our fellow travelers who had stayed with the group were a little shopping-starved, and these vendors did great business. The prices seemed reasonable, too, as shoppers snapped up silver bangles, earrings, clothing and shawls. As the buses began to pull out, the most popular vendor hopped on her motorcycle to head for the next stop. I admired her entrepreneurship.

 

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December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Gardens, Hotels, Morocco, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant | , , | Leave a comment

A Quick Trip To Edmonds, WA

I’ve shared many photos through the years of my home town, a little town north of Seattle where ferry boats comes in and go out to the Olympic peninsula; the ferries are part of the highway system. It is a small town with several beaches, homes with great views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains, home and headquarters for Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door, and a great community with a lot of emphasis on civility, community and the arts.

This trip is even better – AdventureMan comes with me. He hasn’t been in Edmonds for a while, and has forgotten how charming and fun it is. We check on our house, discover we love it as much as ever, and then head out around town.

Edmonds has an annual tour of gardens, and there are public gardens everywhere, and hanging baskets on the major streets.

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They have invested in a lot of public art, funded greatly by their annual Edmonds Arts Fest, held in June, usually on Father’s Day weekend:

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Down near the ferry, Adventureman spotted a bald eagle sitting on a piling:

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This is one of those photos I kid myself about. Yes, it’s a cool sign, and the photo also includes that bald eagle, the Olympics, the sound, and the ferry landing. Can I include anything more?

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There are all kinds of people gathered on the Edmonds beaches, soaking up the warm sunshine. These young women gave AdventureMan a candy bar; they had a bunch with them and were just giving them out. Anywhere else, you wouldn’t eat it, but in Edmonds . . . you might be safe

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May 22, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Birds, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Gardens, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Values | , , , , | Leave a comment

Driving by Faith from Yosemite to Monterey

I only discovered by accident that my GoogleMaps app talks. Leaving San Antonio, we discovered she would tell us which lane to be in, when to exit, etc. I liked it because most of the time, we had plenty of warning and when we missed something, there was no judgement in her tone, just new instructions, helpful instructions, with none of that annoying righteousness navigators can assume. (I can say that, being the navigator.)

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I like it that AdventureMan and I listen together, and so I am not sounding like a nag. She repeats. Occasionally, AdventureMan told her to please shut up, that he had this, but she just wanted to be sure.

Leaving Yosemite was easy driving. I drove the leg to Merced so AdventureMan could look, and as we approached Merced, there were signs for stops with fruits and nuts and garlics and oils – all the bounty of the California Valley.

One thing I saw a lot of on this trip was a move towards multi-use restrooms; they were marked for male or female, and to me, this just makes sense. It especially makes sense if you are female, there are always huge lines in female restrooms and never lines in male restrooms. Now, we just all share. Of course, there is always the question of cleanliness, but I found, generally speaking, most of these unisex toilets were maintained with high degrees of cleanliness.

Behind this Merced shop, they are setting up for a large lunch crowd, and they have a petting zoo, as well as parrots

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They had such marvelous food-stuffs, I found wonderful dates, and an avocado oil, and all kinds of almonds and walnuts, pickled garlics, and AdventureMan found peanut brittle.

Leaving Merced, however, the GoogleMap voice told us to take a route that did not seem right. AdventureMan did not want to do it, but as it turned out, it helped us avoid traffic in Merced, took us on these very fast country roads to an intersection where we quickly found ourselves en route to Monterey.

Later, stopped in inexplicable traffic, she kept telling us she could save us six minutes, but it meant getting off the route, going through town and getting on again at the next light. We saw others doing it, but it kind of seemed like cheating to do that, and for what, you’re still stopped in traffic, just a little farther down the road? Most of the time, however, we learned to listen to her voice 🙂

The saddest thing we found, in this paradise where fruits and vegetables grow happily, were all the signs saying “Pray for Water.” California is one of the great food-baskets of the world, and the food supply is reliant on water. In the midst of a drought, with signs it may go on for many more years, they ask for our prayers.

Pray for Water.

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Cultural, Environment, Food, Gardens, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Tucson, The Giant Saguaro and the City Mountain Park

We are so excited. This is one of the highlights of the trip, a visit to the Sonoran Desert, home to Saguaro cactus. Those are those huge cacti you see in movies, in commercials and in cartoons, you’d think they are common, you see them so often, but they only grow in a very limited area of the United States and Mexico, and no where else in the world. We want to see them.

I’m not fond of cactus for my own garden; I don’t like prickly dry things, but I am a huge fan of cactus in it’s native environment, where it looks so right. In the midst of aridity, it is green and living, and one of God’s imaginative creations, perfect. The Saguara, and the other cactus, so many of them, are awe-inspiring.

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I tried to limit what I posted here, we took so many photos. We could have stayed here for hours. There are hiking trails, and the weather early in the morning is cool, the sky a deep, cloudless blue. The morning light is our friend, and these cactus are amazing. Each one so different, and so interesting.

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You can see this Saguaro forest stretching up high on the mountain

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I called the one the “Praise the Lord Cactus” because to me, he looks like an evangelistic cactus 🙂

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Look how fat they get! And how sometimes they are fatter at the top than at the bottom. In fact, they are often fatter at the top than at the bottom; the bottoms seem more vulnerable, like to rot or damage of all kinds.

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It’s Spring, and many of the cacti are blooming!

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I wanted to do this once in my lifetime; now I think I want to do it more than once in my lifetime 🙂 I want to come again in the Spring, when the temperatures are temperate, and you can see the blooms and experience this beauty without the scorching heat.

April 19, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Environment, Gardens, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

The National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

AdventureMan was chuffed. Here we are at the National Butterfly Center! There were already visitors there, early in the morning, but, for the most part, he achieved his goal. He had all the time he needed with the Butterfly Garden gardener, and the two of them talked plants that attract, plants that nourish and plants for the pupa and caterpillar stages. This was sheer luxury for AdventureMan, all the time in the world to talk shop with someone who cares about the same things he does – attracting and breeding butterflies!

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They have a huge list of all the butterfly sightings and when they were sighted. The Center is right in the path for many butterfly migrations. They have a huge Butterfly Center Celebration at the end of October, early November during the height of the migration. Over 150 North American species of butterfly have been spotted at the NBC. If you click on the blue hypertext, you can see when this year’s festival will be.

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These are just a few of the gardens used to propagate plants to attract, feed and nurture the butterfly reproduction:

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Here is how to get there:

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National Butterfly Center
3333 Butterfly Park Drive
Mission, TX 78572
956-583-5400
GPS Coordinates:
26.180243 -98.364973

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Environment, Family Issues, Gardens, Geography / Maps, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment