“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”
Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:
Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.
This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.
We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.
We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.
AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)
This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.
A restaurant nearby the Talisman:
Breakfast at the Talisman:
The historical nearby Bab, or gate:
A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:
A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!
A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:
Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:
Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.
A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya
A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:
I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?
I’ve had such great feedback from all my friends for whom these photos bring back a lot of memories. So, a few more.
Not quite sunset, but approaching sunset from our cabin in Ucluelet. Sunset in May is around nine at night.
We are enjoying perfect weather, not a given when you are in the Pacific Northwest, and not a given on any coastline or any vacation. The mornings may dawn a little grey and foggy, but it all burns off – this week, anyway – and we are having wonderful afternoons.
I don’t even bother trying to shoot whale any more. I have one photo of a marvelous whale tale from our first trip back to Alaska and this time the boat was rocking and rolling and mostly all we would see were backs breaching and spouts. Do you really want to see the place where two seconds ago there was a whale? Hmmm, no, I didn’t think so 🙂
In calmer waters, we also saw otter, seal, sea lions and lots of birds.
The next day, on the bear watch, we also took lots of photos, and I won’t show you all of them because again, as the boat rolls, that perfect shot of the mother bear and the baby bear walking down the beach cuts off the mother bear’s snout, and the next one, the mother shows up fine but the baby is indistinguishable from the shadow in which he is playing . . . or the bear on the beach, you know 40 photos of the bear’s backside as he sucks a clam for one good photo of the bear (without his legs cut off). Wildlife photographers make their money by spending hours, days and months to get those calendar shots, and then being in just the right place at just the right time.
And it is so much fun just to go watch, and to try to get those good shots 🙂
Do you see the little bear? He’s over to the left, in the grass; Mama Bear is looking at him.
Now you get to see him! (And Mama’s nose is cut off, dammit!)
He’s digging and eating clams. He is in heaven, full belly, lots of clams.
Seeing an eagle; good luck!
You can’t believe what you read on the internet. When I research our trips, I “vector” our choices. I take a look at them on TripAdvisor, then I take a look at them on Google, then I might look at them on Google Earth. It all matters.
The Seaview Resort is not a resort, or at least not what I think of as a resort. It is 7 cabins, and most often on TripAdvisor, they are referred to as “tiny.” By reading the description of each cabin carefully, and by reserving early, we got the cabin we felt might be right for us, and it is.
The Seaview resort is located in the midst of a residential neighborhood, and right on the beach, not across the street from the beach. We have Cabin #1, and there are Irises in bloom in back where we park, and lavender growing in the garden next to it. It has a fully stocked kitchen, and a tiny living room with a couch and a tiny dining table with two chairs. I pulled in one of the the lounge chairs from the deck when AdventureMan grabbed the sofa for his nap.
You can look out the big sliding glass doors, or sit on your deck, or sit in the outside lounge chairs, or the seats around the beach fire-pit, or in the boat. You have the run of the resort. There is a large family having a reunion here, and another family in another cabin. Honestly, I can’t imagine more than two people in a cabin, but they claim to sleep four, and I can imagine four people who really get along could squeeze in and be OK as long as it doesn’t rain.
We love this place. It is private, and we like private. We can watch the water to our hearts content. We can watch the light change on the mountains. I can write up some blog entries – the WiFi works great. We are happy.
And here is the icing on the cake:
We had a big mid-day meal, celebrating my Mother, celebrating just being able to be in the same room together for a meal, my Mother and my two sisters and some of their families. As sunset neared, we weren’t big hungry, so we just picked up some takeout from a nearby grocery deli and picnicked on the Edmonds beach.
I saw a wonderful photo opportunity; I was going to capture the Edmonds Ferry as it was heading into the sunset. Just as the ferry began its departure, a man stood in the exact place I had designated for the ferry to enter the sunset, on his phone, waving madly, waving farewell. Waving and waving. And not leaving.
So. When you can’t get the photo you want, grab the photo you have.
It was our house guests’ last night in our area, and we wanted to do something special and memorable with them, so we booked on Olin Marler’s Sunset Cruise out of Destin. We found this trip several years ago, and while our guests enjoy it, we do, too!
It is mid-season in Destin. The Spring Break craziness has just ended, and the Summer Madness has not yet begun. A boat for forty holds ten of us tonight, plus the crew, and the crew knock themselves out to show us a good time.
We had a gorgeous sunset, with dolphins
We had a whole bunch of dolphins, grown ones and little ones, and they were having a great time. They stuck around, and we watched for about half an hour, no other boats in sight.
As we were leaving, the full moon rose and gave us a glorious ride home:
We can’t promise future house guests this experience. We’ve never had it this good. Maybe our guests brought this good luck?
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.
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.
This was a day when we were in and out of the car constantly, each sight more beautiful than the other.
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.
In the Kona Crater, the plumeria are beginning to bloom.
And the bougainvillea provided a riot of color.
Diamond Head lighthouse from Diamond Head road.
Foster Botanical Garden was a pool of serenity in the middle of the chaos of Honolulu:
I loved that they had an Alaskan totem; the Alaskans and the Hawaiians are related.
When I was little, this is the song that everyone was belting out. So many people sang it, Woody Guthrie, Peter Paul and Mary – and I believe it was based on an old American folk song:
As we hit the North California Coast, I could hear this song.
“From California . . . to the New York Island . . . this land is made for you and me.”
We live in a beautiful country. No matter where we turn, we have found beauty. Even parts of the country others find desertified and grim are beautiful in the spring, unbelievably green, but California has to be one of the most beautiful states of all, so much variety, so much beauty.
We love coastal areas, but driving through the redwood forests is also a thrill. The redwoods are just so beautiful, especially on a spring day with sunlight filtering through. It’s cool-warm. Too warm for a sweatshirt, too cool without it. Fortunately, we have time on our schedule to just stop and enjoy whatever we wish, because we are making a lot of stops along these forested roads.
Even a California Poppy! Today is a blessed day!
Of all the vineyards we saw, I liked this one the best. It’s that Art Nouveau thing they have going on 🙂
Annie Miller was a woman ahead of her time, out trapping, hunting and doing whatever she needed to do to keep her children fed and clothed and going to school. When oil went bottoms up, the town of Houma approached Annie Miller and asked her to start up some tours of the swamp, to attract business to the area. She did, and was so knowledgeable that people came from everywhere to take her tours.
Now her son does the tours, and we liked his approach. We call it “Under promise and over deliver” which we think is a great slogan for contractors everywhere. At one time AdventureMan worked for a giant company whose contracts were called “The Gold Standard.” His company cost a little more, but they delivered on every promise and were good at figuring out problems that cropped up mid-contract and working with the government to support the mission.
As this tour departed from the gathering spot at Bayou Delights restaurant, the guide told us that with the colder weather, he couldn’t guarantee that we would see any alligators at all, but that there were other things he would show us. I love that approach. It prevents excessive expectations.
As it turned out, we saw all kinds of wonderful things, both inside and outside of the Mandalay Wildlife Refuge.
This is a revolving bridge over the Bayou Black. You can see the round base on which it can swing sideways to allow really tall boats up the Bayou. The guide saws he has never seen it work in his lifetime.
Entering Mandalay Wildlife Refuge:
Shooting digital is a crap-shoot. You have that tiny delay, but a tiny delay makes shooting wildlife less predictable. I didn’t even know I had this shot until I uploaded my photos to my computer. It was absolutely glorious to see.
I have never seen anyone call an alligator before. “C’mon Ruby! C’mon b-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-by! C’mon Ruby!” And Ruby came!
This is more exciting to me than alligators. These birds are gorgeous.
These two eagles would swoop at the same time for chicken skins; unfortunately, against the dark bayou, you couldn’t see them as they swooped, but I loved catching two of them together as they chowed down on their meal.