A Reliable Tour Guide

Don’t expect a slick sophisticated travel review today. I’m returning to my recent trip to Istanbul to tell you about some of my adventures. Many times when I travel it is because I am tagging along with my husband while he works. We have our methods down pat. We arrive a day or so early and do things together. Then he works for two and a half days while I amuse myself, and then we have a little more time together after his work is concluded.

When people I know found out I was going to Istanbul, a majority of them advised me not to go anywhere alone. Many of them said this not based on any of their own experiences, but because an American woman had recently been murdered there. Personally I  was not afraid. For one thing I already live in a very violent town, and could  hardly imagine Istanbul being worse. Second, I am careful when I travel. I don’t venture into “iffy” areas. The places I want to go are distinctly undangerous – museums, for example. What are the statistics on murders inside museums and museum bookstores? Finally, I trust my own instincts. If I even think I might start to feel uncomfortable in a place, I leave.

Despite my own opinions, the pleas not to go out alone continued. Even my daughter who had recently been to Istanbul asked me not to go out alone. She had not gone out by herself while in Istanbul, but she had had no reason to; her husband was not working. To appease my daughter, I said that while her Dad  was working I would get a Turkish bath at the hotel and go on a tour. That seemed to assuage her fears.

As planned. my husband and I had a day to orient ourselves to the town before he started work. The first day he worked I booked myself for a Turkish bath at our hotel. I knew  this was probably not going to be the most authentic experience, but having had no Turkish bath at all, ever, I thought I could start here. In fact I wasn’t even sure what a Turkish bath was. When I checked in at the spa desk, I was led to a ladies’ dressing room and shown where to put my clothes. and what towel to wrap myself in.

I complied with these directions, and sat down on a bench in the dressing room wondering what I was supposed to do next. After a few minutes I went out to the front, draped in my towel, causing a maintenance man to jump ten feet,( They’re very modest over there) and asked the receptionist if I was supposed to come back to the front. All she said to me was “No.” “OK, no,”  I muttered to myself and went back to the dressing room.  It sure was getting hot and humid in there! I sat and sat. In a few minutes a woman clad in a bikini like outfit  came in from a back door in the dressing room and addressed me in Turkish. When I couldn’t understand her she left. Since I have such trusty instincts I realized, in my sweaty humid state that unless I approached someone I would probably spend my entire day sweating in a towel in a dressing room!  I knew not to go to the front  desk so I opened the back door, where I saw the Turkish speaking woman. Gulping in the fresh air of the corridor I ventured,” Turkish bath?” She responded again in Turkish, but this time I heard the word“hamam” (Turkish bath)  so I vigorously nodded yes.IMG_1827

We needed no language for the bath. I stretched out on a warm slab of marble, listening to some soft music as the attendant scrubbed, lathered and rinsed me. Heavenly! After her ministrations she led me, freshly toweled, to a dark room with chaise longues, and brought me a tray of tea and fruit. And left me.IMG_1833

IMG_1835I nibbled my fruit and drank my tea, resting on the lounge which also seemed heated. After a few minutes it seemed a little…hot. What was I supposed to do now? I peered into the hallway. I saw no one. Once again I decided I’d better take matters into my own hands. Since no one was apparently ever going to come back for me again, I decided I could sneak back  into the dressing room for my phone and take a few stealth pictures. Then I let myself out. No one seemed to notice.

This was where I had my Turkish bath. the same little maintenance man was cleaning the room. so I didn't  take a full shot. I figured I had frightened him enough for one day.

This was where I had my Turkish bath. The same little maintenance man was cleaning the room,so I didn’t take a full shot. I figured I had frightened him enough for one day.

The next day, Sunday, I was booked on an all day tour which was to include being   picked up at the hotel and returned to the Asian side at the end of the day. I arrived in the lobby at the appointed time. After fifteen minutes of waiting, caffeine deprived I spoke to the desk clerk who stated my car was outside. Sure enough, a young man in a business suit was waiting for me in a four door sedan. He ushered me into the back seat and in silence drove me from the Asian to the European side. We pulled into the parking lot of the HIlton, beside a couple of vans, where several Turkish men were conferring. It seemed to me that Turkish men seemed to do quite a bit of conferring.

Someone opened the car  door for me and I got out and stood there. One of the Turkish men approached me and asked if I wanted to go on Tour One or Tour Two. I stated I was booked for Tour Two, because I had already done most of the things on Tour One. His face fell.”Alright,” he informed me,”You are the only one on your tour then.”

Gulp! How does one go about being the only one on a tour? I didn’t know how to get myself back to the ferry to the Asian side so I decided I had best just go ahead with it. I was returned to the sedan, with my original driver, whom I thought resembled Balthazaar Getty, plus Aran, my very own tour guide.

I'm not really sure where all we went. I was just the Queen in the back seat.

I’m not really sure where all we went. I was just the Queen in the back seat.

After riding through several neighborhoods, with Aran narrating and Balthazaar silent except when the two men needed to confer in Turkish, Aran announced it was almost time for our break, during which I might like a coffee. Aah, a stop in a darling Turkish coffee shop sounded just right to me. As I daydreamed of aromatic coffee in the back seat, our driver pulled right into McDonald’s. Yes, I did say McDonald’s.

One of the McDonald's cats.

One of the McDonald’s cats.

While my driver and tourist guide bought coffee upstairs, I went downstairs to the ladies restroom. I had bought a bottle of water ( You can’t drink the tap water there) so I could take my vitamins and such. I was the only one down there, so while I was in the stall I went ahead and dug out my gallon sized ziplock bag which was filled with individual baggies of all my daily medicines.

My water bottle was in one hand and  a baggie of vitamins was in the other, when the lights suddenly went out. I dropped the vitamins and they scattered all over the floor. Here I am. I said to myself.  In this moment. On a toilet. In a bathroom. In the dark. In a McDonald’s. In Istanbul. With two men I don’t know. Taking a tour all by myself. Well, what is travel for if not for new experiences?

I managed to get my pants up without flushing my medicines down the toilet and exited the dark room without further mishap. My two Turkish friends were still enjoying their coffee and cigarettes.

You can have your Big Macs delivered in Istanbul. Good to know.

You can have your Big Macs delivered in Istanbul. Good to know.

Next we went to a scenic overlook. I am afraid I can’t remember the name. It was too hazy for good pictures, but I enjoyed people watching while I tasted a selap, a local drink made of dried orchid roots. Aran  and Balthazaar were standing by, respectfully keeping an eye on me. I was beginning to feel the way Sasha and Malia Obama might feel, precious and well cared for. And deserving it too.DSC_0557

Soon we departed to the Beylerbeyi, a summer palace of the sultans.  Baltahzaar let us out and we entered the palace grounds. Aran told me that visitors must be accompanied by a guide, So he gave me a lovely tour of the palace. Unfortunately photography was not allowed, so I can only tell you it was sumptuous inside.

The tunnel to the Palace.

The tunnel to the Palace.

The palace grounds.

The palace grounds.

We journeyed on to the Serkeci  train station, to the site of the original Orient Express route. A complimentary lunch in the train station restaurant, also named the Orient Express, was included on my tour. Aran ushered me to a table with a gentlemanly flourish. Before I knew it a mustachioed waiter appeared for my drink order. Since I was the only person in the restaurant, I was in fact attended by several mustachioed waiters. In regal solitude I sipped my tea, ate my lunch,  admired the Agatha Christie posters, and read my Kindle.

After lunch I had time to take a few pictures and pretend I awaited an appointment with Hercule Poirot. Aran seemed to have vanished but I eventually saw him   conferring with a few other Turkish men and  drinking tea at a small corner table. I think my darting in and out of the train station alarmed him; whenever he couldn’t see me he rushed outside to find me. In fact there seemed to be an abundance of time to wait after lunch.DSC_0586

Train station cat.

Train station cat.

DSC_0597Because guess what?  We were waiting for Baltahazaar to bring Other People, would be joining us for the second half of the tour!! Was I ever glad to see them! Now I no longer had the  crushing burden of being the only person to tip Aran this day! This dilemma had been buzzing around my brain like an aggressive bazaar merchant  all morning!

When the others joined us we piled into a van and went for a brief turn at  the Spice Market. I was surprised to find myself a little unwilling to share “my” guide with these interlopers. I winced when I heard these Americans asking questions such as ,”Are you a Muslim?’ And, “Why do I see so many covered women?” But I remained gracious, as always.

Can you guess which one of these men is NOT an American?

Can you guess which one of these men is NOT an American?

Our last stop was a cruise  on the Bosphorus. As we made our  way there Aran asked the others what hotels they came from. I was the only one on the Asian side. “What will happen to me when the tour is over?” I asked Aran. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I have to take all the others back to their hotel.  But I’ll show you how to ride the ferry back; it’s easy!” he reassured me. Hmmm. Suddenly I was no longer  such precious cargo.

People watching on the Bosphorus cruise.

People watching on the Bosphorus cruise.

It was such a glorious, sunny  day for a boat ride that we had a huge crowd. It was difficult to take pictures, so after a while I just listened to Aran’s narration and wondered how I would return to the Asian side. In due time the cruise was over. Aran was in a big hurry to get the other tour members back in the van. I can only assume there was some deadline for returning either the van or its passengers. I barely had time to press some lira into my guide’s hand before he pointed where I should get the ferry to the Asian side, and turned in the opposite direction.

I approached the pier as Aran had directed but the sign did not say Kadiköy which was my destination. No one was on duty in the ticket booth. I needed to buy a ticket from someone. Since I did not know I would need my Istanbulkart, I had left it at the hotel. I saw someone talking to a man in a reflective vest, so I decided I too would approach him. He informed me that this was the correct ferry. The destination was the Princes’ Islands, but Kadiköy was the first stop.  And he was glad to sell me a ticket.When the gangplank was lowered I crowded aboard with all the others.

When the tea man came around, I treated myself. Sipping the sweet hot liquid,  I concluded that when I travel there is no such thing as “going out alone”, because I always take me with me. In all of the activities I had undertaken in part to keep my promise not to go out alone I had had to rely upon  my own judgement. Heck, if I’d not taken action the day before I’d still be wrapped in a towel in the basement of my hotel!  Who had helped me in the dark McDonald’s bathroom? ME!! And right now, after being treated like a hothouse flower most of the day by my tour guide, I was left to my own devices to get back to where I’d come from. From now on, I told myself, whenever someone says don’t go out alone, I’ll say, “Don’t worry; I never go out alone!” I am the most reliable tour guide of all.

Read This When You Get Back

Here’s the deal: I’m off to Istanbul in about twenty minutes. That means I have about four minutes to write this post. But I am going to write this so that I can remember how I was feeling before I left. I feel crazy right now, but wonders await me in Istanbul.

I didn’t mean to be in such a chaotic state this morning. But really and truly it is not all my fault. A few days before Christmas my husband remarked that he had been invited to teach a class in Istanbul in February. I immediately informed him that yes, he did want to accept this offer. He took my advice and accepted. For weeks he emailed through a third party in the United States to whomever made arrangements in Istanbul. Eventually  course dates were arranged, but until we knew dates, I could not start my own planning process.

So finally we had dates and a location: Hilton in Istanbul on the European side. I immediately communicated this to my daughter who had recently returned from Istanbul. We looked up the hotel, and I began to orient myself to the locale. Then my husband came home and said that was not the right hotel. It would be at the Doubletree, on the Asian side. I looked up THAT hotel, and began to learn how to get around on that side.

We did not get to make our own airline reservations, which was a little off putting because at first the reservation maker had us changing planes three times. Sigh. I asked my husband if he thought I should even go because it seemed so hard to make the plans. He informed me, as I had him, that yes, I did want to go.

So. Late in January we finally had tickets, which meant I could go ahead and read books about Turkey and try to learn a few words. Every chance I got I was reading about how to get to the Museum of Innocence, the Florence Nightingale Museum, and the more typical “must sees” such as Topkapi Palace and the Aya Sofya. I was starting to feel a little confident about tackling a visit to this magnificent city.

Then my husband came home one night and said, “We’re not staying at the Doubletree; we’re staying at the Parkhouse Hotel.” And so I scratched the Doubletree and began to google the Parkhouse and its environs so that I could navigate the area.

About five days ago my husband began to cough and cough and cough. I suggested he head to the Doctor. He declined. He coughed. I suggested. He declined. He coughed. And yesterday he went to the Doctor. He sounds a little bit less like a recent escapee from a tuberculosis sanitorium, for which I am glad , because he will have to speak  for two days straight at the class he is teaching.

I’ve continued to try to learn words and make plans right up to the wire. I didn’t sleep well last night because my poor little patient tossed and turned. I woke later than I wanted to, and I was mighty cranky. Finally I went and showered. As I combed my wet hair my husband stepped in the bathroom and announced, “Oh. I got an email that they changed  our hotel reservations back to the Doubletree.” And that’s when I started laughing like a hyena.

Whatever! We’re going to Istanbul and we’ll stay SOMEWHERE. My husband will be able to speak or he won’t. I can always come to his class and read the stuff out loud for him, though I don’t know what any of it means. I’ll refer to my carefully loaded Istanbul Eats apps, and learn from my Turkish language book on Kindle. I’ll take photos, and eat good food.  I’ll view as many fabulous sites as I can, and drink in the beauty of the city skyline. The adventures to come will outweigh the craziness of right now. I just know it.

Calendars – Part 1

I am positive I have spent lots of time on this blog  thanking my husband for being so supportive of my creative pursuits. In his eyes, every sock I knit is a piece of perfection, each pencil drawing a masterpiece.  I know I can’t be as smart, talented, and just plain cute as he says I am ! When I decided to try a blog he was cheering me on all the way. I know  each blog post I publish will always have at least one kind  comment thanks to him, my most faithful reader.  He always says after reading a post, ” I could never have written something like this”‘ or “I never would have thought of that”. And I always reply, “Of course you could!” And now, guess what? He has!  And because he has, Mindfulmagpie has its  very first guest writer!  Enjoy!


As far back as I can remember I have always loved calendars. To have such an affection for what many may view as just a utilitarian item may seem odd, but this love affair actually traces back to one of my favorite places on earth. Every year growing up, my family vacationed in Montreat, NC, a place well known to any Presbyterian and certainly even more so to someone who grew up as the son of a Presbyterian minister.


Envision a place nestled among the mountains where the entire town is your backyard chock full of fun adventures like fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, rock hopping, mountain climbing, making arts and crafts, playing all sorts of sports or simply relaxing beside a waterfall, reading a good book. Many Presbyterians consider it heaven on earth. My three siblings and I have had a lifelong connection with this idyllic place. Every year during our stay, we would buy a “Montreat” calendar for the following year.  As I grew older and started my own family, my parents would bring me back a calendar on their trip there even when it was not possible for me to go.

So how could a calendar bring such joy from childhood all the way through to adulthood? What better reminder of your fun filled vacation than a calendar filled with pictures  of the place where you made  most cherished memories? While the pictures were not exclusively photos from the Montreat area, they were of western North Carolina and almost all from the Smoky Mountains, another regular destination for our vacation. Each year the calendar would bring another twelve months of remarkable photos taken by Andy Andrews and each month the photo would show a scene of how it might look in that month. With this gem on our wall at home all year, we would get a constant reminder of that special place every time we glanced at the calendar to check a date.

Sadly, this tradition came to an end when the photographer died sometime after the start of the new millennium. And even more sadly, no one picked up the torch of Andy’s enduring activity. I know I was devastated when this ended and I am sure my siblings were as well when 2002 became our last “Montreat” calendar. For a couple of years, I tried finding other calendars from the Smoky Mountains to extend the magic but they never lived up to the original calendars.


After this failed attempt, I floundered for a few years trying calendars depicting other beautiful scenes but never found a worthy substitute. At some point, and now I don’t recall how, I came up with the idea of making my own calendar. This opened up a whole new palette for me but the challenge was deciding what photos to use. I knew I could never recreate the Montreat calendars since I didn’t live in the area and I certainly couldn’t take monthly trips to take photographs. But I knew I wanted to capture imagines of something else as close to my heart.

During my years of calendar floundering, my international travels led me to a new discovery. Having visited The Netherlands for many years for business reasons, I finally arrived in the perfect time of year to visit Keukenhof Gardens, an enormous park in Lisse, a short ride from Leiden. The gardens allow only a short two-month season to enjoy the splendor of seven million bulbs in bloom.


Visiting Keukenhof surrounded by thousands of blooming, fragrant hyacinths awakened in me a previously hidden love for flowers. While none of my siblings had ever been there to see it and it certainly held no childhood memories, this was surely where my calendaring efforts should go.

My first attempt at making a calendar was pretty basic and very amateurish. But having a trove of photos from six separate visits to Keukenhof, I launched in undaunted. I purchased an inexpensive software package for my computer and hand picked each photo trying as much as possible to pick a theme or color scheme that tied in with an event occurring in that month (orange flowers in October, reds and greens in December). I printed each calendar page and each photo on an InkJet printer (boy did I go through the print cartridges) making sure the prior calendar month was oriented correctly on the back of the current month photo and  then hand assembled them for spiral binding at a local photocopy shop.  I even  punched the hang hole at the top of each page  when I found out it would be an extra $5 just to have the holes punched during the spiral binding process.


I was so proud of my creation that I turned our playroom into a mini manufacturing shop floor and manually created three more to give one to each of my siblings for Christmas. While the location meant nothing to my siblings other than some pretty flowers, it was my best attempt to replace the Montreat calendar. Having gotten positive feedback from my first attempt, a second Keukenhof calendar came off my manual presses the next year as I had only scratched the surface of my vast supply of literally hundreds of Keukenhof photos.

Next year, I became aware of the magic of iPhoto and the built-in calendar creating function, having become a recent convert from PC to Apple. Wow, what I could do with this software and the professional looking calendars printed by Apple! With just the click of a single button, my calendar could be electronically transmitted, professionally printed by Apple and then sent by return mail in just a few short days. This certainly solved my technology problem, but what of my subject? Someone probably only wants so many pictures of flowers; I had to find a new subject.


Returning to my roots in 2010, I fulfilled a long held dream of driving the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). In addition to being a lovely scenic drive, the BRP held fond memories from my childhood for the multiple side trips we had also taken every year on the short drive to Mt. Mitchell,  the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River and favorite cook out spot above the clouds. As a child, I always envisioned as my Dad drove us there what fun it would be to drive it in a little sports car and since the Parkway goes right through Asheville, NC, just 35 miles west of Montreat, I could combine a stop there for my picturing taking as well. Armed with a nice digital SLR and the knowledge of improved calendar technology at home, I set out to photograph “The Calendar of All Time.”

Since my wife had no desire to take a vacation to drive almost 500 miles just for the sake of driving on a road, I set off alone in my little red convertible for what ended up being a combined 2000 miles over five days including the round trip to and from Memphis just to get there. I combined the BRP with a drive on the 105 mile Skyline Drive which ends at mile marker 0 for the BRP. To say the trip was a success is an understatement. Being alone on such a long trip gives one a long time to reflect and reminisce.


There were beautiful scenes to see and photograph, tears of happiness, but also tears of childhood loss and remembrances of times gone by. Some of these emotions came to me as I was driving or shooting a certain spot but many came to me at night when I was alone scrolling through the day’s photos. For someone who loves cars, loves to drive and loves that area of the country, it truly was the trip of a lifetime.

That December I carefully assembled the calendar with my new technology, taking care to ensure that each month’s theme was appropriately represented in the selected photo. How magical it was to include a rural mountaintop barn in front of a live Christmas tree farm for the month of December!


Putting the calendars in the mail that cold December morning, I imagined my siblings feeling swept away with joy and memories as they opened their envelope realizing we would once again be joined together, though miles apart, gazing at a “Montreat” calendar daily throughout the coming year.


In Which I Appear In An Expat Blog

Whee! I am sprinkling imaginary colored confetti  all around the room thinking about the story I have to tell! I’ve been sitting at the keyboard struggling with how to preface my tale by reminding readers that my husband/ traveling companion and I are exact opposites, and that therefore we are in constant tug of war trying to find overlapping ground in and out of our mutual comfort zones. And that sometimes it’s not pretty. But when we can both get a healthy push outside what we were expecting, we are ushered into the land of great memories.   So grab a handful of confetti, and come on! Sprinkle it into the story wherever you want!

Last week I went with my husband to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he goes at least once a year on business. I go with him as often as I can.  We always  arrive two days early for him to recover from jet lag before he teaches a class  for two and a half days, and  I amuse myself. Because he has to take his vacation days for these trips ( They are a sideline, not his regular job) we usually have to leave as soon as he is finished with his class. As one might expect, I feel somewhat chafed under this routine, though I am certainly grateful to get to go anywhere at all, and have tried to make the best of the short time by planning something new for us to do together on the one full day my husband has before his work  begins.

This time my plans were to go outside the city to the Hoge Veluwe  Park. a large wildlife reserve with a world class art museum and restored hunting lodge of the former land owners. Free bicycles are available for riding through the park. The plan was to go  through the park, the museum, and the lodge and then  stop at the nearby Airborne Museum. which tells the story of the World War II battle of Arnhem. My husband agreed to these plans except he just wasn’t sure he wanted to ride bikes in this cold weather.

So Sunday morning, we embarked for the train station, two hours later than we planned, due to having accidentally set our clocks back TWICE for Dutch daylight savings time , and proudly without a guide book, because I had an international phone plan, and I was going to use it. Oops! When we arrived at Arnhem, where we were to catch a bus to Hoge Veluwe, I couldn’t get my phone to work. ( Later I did find out how to make it work.) We stood around the train station trying to read the bus schedules. There was no one on duty in the bus information kiosk. I asked a couple of bus drivers who told me to take bus numbers which didn’t exist. I stepped into a third bus and was trying to describe where I wanted to go, when I heard a  voice behind me saying. “Is this where you are trying to go?”

I turned and there was a young woman with an open guide book, pointing RIGHT at our destination. “Oh yes,” said the bus driver. “We go there.” Aaah! So we boarded the bus, along with the young lady, who explained to us that she too was going to see the Kroller Muller Museum at the park, which has the largest collection of Van Goghs  outside of the Van Gogh Museum. Then we all faced the front and took a winding route through the countryside until we arrived at the back entrance of the park.

Of course we did not realize we were at the back of the park, which meant that the museum was farther away from us than we expected. We heard the young lady with the guide book ask the admission desk lady how one would get to the museum from the gate and heard the woman reply that one could walk or bike the SIX MILES to the museum! Well! So much for “Mr. I Don’t Think I Feel LIke Biking Today.” I’m thinking at that point he was rather relieved to know that biking was an option.

So we found ourselves  combing through the bike racks for the right size bikes, as the little young lady did the same. I call her a little young lady because she was of rather short stature. Sadly, none of the bikes were right for the length of her legs. “Oh well,” she said in a philosophical tone. “I’ll just walk”. Oh my. I felt awful leaving her there while we rode. I found myself offering to try to ride her in or on the kiddie seat which was on the back of each bike, though I knew she did not know us well enough to accept such an offer. As I expected, she declined , and set off resolutely to cover the six miles to arrive before the museum closed.

Cold and windy day

Nothing will induce this man to wear a scarf.

Meanwhile, we set out on our gearless bikes in the 40 degree  windy weather to ride across the park. The terrain went from wooded, to meadow, to sandy, and back to wooded. Every few minutes I would lament the fate of the young lady, for even on wheels this was a difficult six miles.  Couldn’t one of us have ridden the young lady on our bike handlebars? Did she have a warm enough hat? By the time we neared the museum I was hungry and cranky. After parking our rides in the bike stands we ate a quick  lunch in the cafeteria.

I will tell you that the museum is worth seeing. It was founded by the Kroller Muller family to house their growing art collection.

It was good to see the Van Goghs.

Remember this man! We’ll be seeing him later.

Sadly we did not have enough time to give the museum the perusing  it deserved, but I think we made it through most of it once. In one gallery I was relieved to run  right into the young lady I’ve previously mentioned. She recounted her arduous journey, reporting that about halfway through the walk she’d commandeered an abandoned child’s bike with crooked handlebars. It had a rough ride, but she made it work, finding out that when she’d parked the bike it also had a flat tire! We were glad to know that to exit the park we would go on a different, shorter path to catch the bus.

The afternoon was waning, but we took a few more minutes to see some of the sculpture garden. And when we returned to the bike racks, guess what?? There were no bikes left!!!   Someone had taken our bikes!!! So as the sun sunk lower in the sky we walked about a mile and a half to the edge of the park. And there, huddling in the hood of her coat, was the young lady, whose broken child’s bike had NOT been stolen. She knew the bus schedule, and announced the bus we wanted would arrive in twenty minutes. A handsome young Dutch man – yes, the one I told you to remember –  joined us at the bus stop and echoed the expected time of the bus.

As we  listened to the night sounds in the woods, stomping  our feet for warmth, we  finally made one another’s acquaintance. Our young lady introduced herself as Lindsay ,  a native Texan who had only been in the country for two months of a two year stint working in the Hague. She had been trying to go somewhere in the country every weekend. Twenty minutes   became thirty, and then forty, before we decided we had better hike to the next village “only” a fifteen minute walk further, to catch another bus.

Again  we trekked down the road. I was gratified that Lindsay agreed to wear the extra scarf I had brought. I would hope someone would lend  my daughter a scarf under similar conditions. I was in that “slumber party” mode by then, which for the un- slumber -party- minded means that everything appeared extremely funny, for example,  remarks such as “I could break into that barn over there and steal a COW and ride it to the bus station!” So I laughed like mad, knowing all the while that my husband’s brain was swarming with doomsday scenes of himself being stranded in the countryside, unable to teach his course the next day.

Finally we reached the next village, and the bus stop, which judging by the odor of manure  was just on the other side of a horse farm.  The helpful and again handsome young man read the schedule and determined that we had just missed the last bus to Arnhem. But in about another hour, a bus would come and take us to some other  unknown town where we could catch an unknown  train to Amsterdam. To appease my husband’s unspoken worry I said we could also take a taxi to the train station. I don’t think it helped, as he quickly retorted that would cost too much money.

So I shrugged and gave up on making suggestions.  “Where’s your bloody colleague?” our Dutch young man yelled at a bus going in the wrong direction. “Yeah! Lindsay and I echoed,”Where’s your bloody colleague!”Lindsay remarked she would surely have something to blog about from today. Blogs! We both had blogs!  We quickly got to writing down one another’s blog addresses. I couldn’t see my husband but I assume he was staring at the sky and grinding his teeth. Soon his efforts paid off, for we spied a bus pulling up on an adjacent street, and then one which went to Arnhem! We dared not hope as my husband ran over to the bus to confirm its destination. My husband was so flustered that he referred to all of  us passengers as “colleagues” to the bus driver, and exhorted said driver  to  wait for us. We colleagues sprinted  right around to the bus and boarded, except for the handsome young man who apparently was going another way.

Ohh, heated bus seats were a welcome luxury. We hurtled through the night, skipping past most bus stops, as they were deserted. Before we knew it we were pulling into the Arnhem train station. Now all we had to do was get on the train!  Spying  a train timetable,we   saw that the next train to Amsterdam would depart in two minutes! Yikes! The three of us sprinted through the train station. Lindsay and my husband took an escalator; I pounded  up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs was the train for Amsterdam. Lindsay dove in the door. I followed her. My husband followed me. And just then the train pulled out of the station. Looking around, gasping for breath,  I reflected that we must have gotten on the first class car. This car had wood paneled walls. People were eating, and buying beer. We kept walking through cars looking for second class. But all the cars seemed so nice. Eventually we ran into a conductor who asked Lindsay for her train ticket, Perusing it, she announced that WE WERE ON THE WRONG TRAIN!!!! Yes, we had indeed boarded not the Intercity, but  the super fast German ICE train to Amsterdam. Oh well, we were on the train now. “You will have to each pay four extra euros for the train,” the conductor solemnly  informed us, no doubt wondering why all three of us were laughing like hyenas. After forking over the extra euros, we asked if we could stand in the snack area, as the train was so crowded.

It seemed only fitting  to celebrate our adventures with a beer which my husband procured for each of us. So we sipped our beers in the train saloon, propping ourselves between the train windows and the table. mighty glad to have places to prop ourselves. We were relieved and exhilarated, for we had bested adversity that day. Cheers to us! Cheers to the handsome Dutch stranger! Cheers to adventure! Cheers to whatever we hadn’t already cheered!

Our co-adventurer Lindsay.

As Lindsay exited the train at Utrecht, we waved through the window until we couldn’t see her anymore. Early the next day I checked Lindsay’s blog, BitsandPieces04@blogspot.com , and saw that she had already posted about our adventures! Reading her account I felt I was living that day all over again. It was thrilling   to read about myself through someone else’s eyes, and know that we had shared this madcap adventure!  I tried to comment on her blog, especially to ask permission to mention her blog, but it wouldn’t let me leave a comment. Lindsay, if you read this, I hope it’s OK!

I’m home now, marveling over how travel enriches my life. It teaches me that two very different people can can share adventures. It rewards me for the time I spend learning about another country and culture. It reminds me that sometimes I’ll just have to use my  wits regardless of how carefully I  plan. It renews my conviction that all people are connected, and that bonds can be forged among all people. If you get a chance when you travel, do something you have never done before. You won’t be sorry. And I can’t promise, but you could even wind up being mentioned in an expat blog!

Vancouver’s Siren Song

Modern photography has  forever changed my travel memory process. Is anyone else  out there  old enough to remember being invited to your friends’ and relatives’ homes to sit   in their darkened living rooms to see  their slides of the Grand Canyon? Or, when Polaroids came into vogue,  to see eighteen envelopes of newly developed pictures from the beach? Well, I  certainly remember those times. When I was growing up  it seemed that our family  would have  one endless  evening of viewing  either our own travel pictures or those of our relatives, and then we never saw the pictures again.

Today, thanks to technology,  we can see our pictures as often as we want to. And we can  delete the awful ones so that no one is subjected to seeing blurred photo after blurred photo while smiling  and agreeing that yes, the Smokies are breathtaking at this time of year. Having such easy access to my photos lets me savor  my memories over and over again. While looking at my photos, what happened months ago seems to have occurred only yesterday.  Since I will be traveling to Amsterdam at the end of this week I  thought you might like to look back with me  on the  last day  of my trip to  Vancouver in June.

For those not numbered among my thousands of regular readers, I will say that I have posted about Vancouver several times before. To bring you up to date, after we had been in Vancouver for  a few days we had seen many of the “must sees” for first time visitors. But I was anxious  to do at least a tiny bit of exploring off the beaten path. At the last minute, I found the Vancouver blog I wish I had known about earlier, Miss 604. If you go to Vancouver, check out her blog! It is full of daily events in the Vancouver area. Anyway, scrolling through the  blog I found a listing of Vancouver’s hidden gems. And there it was: the Punjabi Market. That was the perfect outing for our last day!

We reached the Punjabi  Market by bus, crossing over into Kitsilano,  going straight down Main Street. As we passed through shopping districts in the drizzly rain, I was kind enough to point out to my husband the many inviting  thrift stores we passed. He did seem relieved when I said what a shame it was we wouldn’t have time to go to them. Maybe next time?

As soon as we arrived in the market area, my companion and I parted ways, he to find a place where he could sit and read, and I to find and capture shiny objects of beauty. I walked up and down the street a few times, looking at the variety of stores. Which ones should I visit? Stores which sold food and large kitchen items were just not practical; this gal does not check bags on an airplane.  And saris? I love them, but a red haired woman in the sari store was going to be a bit conspicuous. Ah, here was a store that  could accommodate my needs!

This may have been the place. Source: vancouver.about.com

I don’t know the name of the place, but it was narrow, and filled with shiny glittering bracelets and other bibelots seemingly designed for the magpie in me. The gracious  shopkeeper, seeing  I was about to have the vapors from the effects of all the delicious shininess, allowed me to look at my leisure and did not object to my taking pictures. When I wanted some of the hanging pretties ( I don’t know how else to describe them) , she agreed to my climbing a step ladder and trying to release said pretties from their perches on the ceiling. She asked where I  was from, and I told her, but she did not seem to have heard of it. When I am striking up a conversation while out of the United States, and the person I am speaking with has not heard of Elvis Presley, I give up and say, ” I’m not from these parts.”

How was I going to decide what to buy from all these treats?Be still, my heart!So I had to have some bangles, and I had to have some of the hanging pretties. Then there were the shoes. I bought two pair, but wish I had bought ten, because these lovely shoes OWN me. I wear them everywhere.They match whatever I plan to wear. If they want to go to the swimming pool I take them. If they want to go to dinner I take them. You would do the same if you had these shoes. May they last long and delight me for years.

Here they are hanging out by the pool.

Seriously shiny!

These too!

About the time I left that store was the time at which I had agreed to meet  with my companion. I found that he had conveniently parked himself at a bar which served  local draft beer. I wound my way up the street and joined him. After a beer, I  suggested we investigate the clothing store opposite the bar. I felt somewhat timid about taking pictures in the store, so my companion approached the lady behind the counter on my behalf.  He  asked her if I might take pictures; he thought  she replied affirmatively. However, after I took one shot she began to exclaim that I must NOT take pictures! Yikes! At least I got one!

These delicacies will have to wait until next time.

It seemed to be time to move on. We caught a bus and went into Gastown. Both of us were sad that our lovely trip was coming to an end. In Gastown we stopped for dinner at the Black Frog Pub.

Hey! Who’s that woman in there with my man?

After dinner we took one last long walk back to our hotel. When we arrived back at  our suite, we were rewarded with a lovely sunset view from our living room window. As we packed we reflected upon the way we had been welcomed in Vancouver at every turn. Surely the city was encouraging us to at least return some future  day if we could not extend our visit today. It was too soon to leave, but we have heard the siren song. We shall return!

Don’t Say, Just Cool

One of travel’s most lasting gifts  is the permission it gives us  to depart from our accustomed  routines. In our daily lives we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of not  doing laundry or not driving the carpool or  not having the tires rotated.  And no matter how much we may love the people who benefit from our daily chores, these jobs take time and energy. Consistency and routine are important to the ordered life, but in my mind, order needs to be balanced out from time to time with a little adventure.

In my household my long suffering husband does the majority of the  quotidian chores: mowing the grass ( I’m allergic), paying the bills ( I may not remember), checking the swimming pool water ( I don’t like science), and taking care of the vehicles.( It wouldn’t occur to me, except to put in gas.) He keeps himself so busy that I have to go look for him if I want talk to him about something, and usually find him diligently performing some thankless task. And right after that he will have another very important task which must be done only by him.

Of course I  have my own designated  chores such as cooking, gardening, organizing, and supervising. Supervising takes lots of time. But by now we’ve worked out who is the most natural person say, to dust. Don’t ask my husband to do that unless we find out the President will arrive  at our home in thirty minutes, and even then he’ll try to convince  me that if he  were to strategically arrange our coffee table books, no one will notice the fur growing on top of the furniture.

With our various responsibilities we often spend the bulk of the weekend days completing our tasks alone, There never seems to be enough time set aside for the “we” of us, for the couple. That is why I so savor our vacations as well as  the memories of them. It’s nice to set aside the time for ourselves, and  even nicer to reflect on how we spent our time together after we’re back and again caught up in the demands of the real world.

I have shared some of our  June 2012 Vancouver pictures here in previous posts, and today we’ll see pictures of two more play days there. The first play day is the Sea to Sky train, and the second is bicycling Stanley Park.

Neither of us had been to Vancouver before, so whatever we did there was a first for us. When reading about activities we had to choose among the many “must do” recommendations to try to see what seemed the most important to us. We both agreed we could not miss the train ride from Vancouver to Whistler.

If you go to Vancouver, know that the railroad offers various trips, but we only had time for the up and back day trip.  The ticket price includes a bus ride to the terminal. We had read that the railroad workers were on strike, but the only sign of that was a group of picketers we passed on our way in. We  were welcomed cordially onto the train as a kilted man played the bagpipes in the railroad yard.

All aboard!

Once in transit, a festive atmosphere ensued as the passengers tried to eat the ice cold, brickbat  Indian bread called bannock which was included in the breakfast.  A German tour group was in our car, and though I don’t know the language,  facial expressions are the same in any language.   For  the next three and a  half hours  the train chugged  in a leisurely fashion  up the mountains to Whistler.  Guides let the passengers know when good photo opportunities were  approaching. We were free to then rush into the observation car, wrapped in blankets they provided, to crowd up to the edge of the  open car for a photo. Adults and energetic children made their way up and down the aisles to be on time for some beautiful view we were about to pass. Others followed, because they didn’t want to miss anything.

Something very beautiful is on the other side of this window.

Now. The route is gorgeous, offering stunning views of the Howe Sound, the Cheakamus River and the general environs.  The train is  clean and well appointed also, and in the United States we don’t get to ride on too many luxurious trains. Plus we love to ride trains. So for us it was a win all around, except that it was hard to get good pictures from the moving train. Now you will know why I took so many pictures of the side of the train!

We were dropped at our destination with instructions as to what time to be back for the return trip. Whistler is a ski town, but we weren’t planning to ski, and it was too cold to do the other fun outdoor activities they had to offer. After our boxed breakfast, lunch was our first priority. Then, fueled by a good lunch and draft beer, we tended to the second issue: I was freezing to death.

My husband had worn  a heavy sweater but I had only a thin shirt and thinner sweater. All morning in the observation car the wind had pierced through cracks in my blanket armor. I was not going to go back through three more hours of that. I have to have the right equipment when I travel. I just do. Luckily the Whistler ski shops had all manner of cold weather accoutrements available to wear in June. We fitted ourselves out proudly  with Whistler hoodies to erase all doubt as whether we were tourists. I can assure you I do not spend many afternoons with my spouse  inside retail stores, so this was a real treat.

The return three and a half hours was much more subdued. I didn’t see many people in the observation cars. Some folks were snoozing. I wanted to sleep too, but four older ladies behind me who each occupied  an entire seat of her own, carried on a loud, uninhibited conversation about new grandchildren. So we snuggled, bundled in our sweatshirts, full, warm, and grateful, and eavesdropped for all we were worth.

I loved this purple plant growing on the rocks.

See how much warmer I am in my hoodie?

The next day was the day for Stanley Park. For various reasons it had previously  never worked out for us to rent bikes and ride when we have traveled,  but this  day we scored! Stanley Park  was just a short but brisk walk from out hotel. Renting bikes was easy at one of the many bike rental stores that surround the park. After I finally mastered the art of getting on the bike, a skill only acquired after I jumped on it the wrong way and fell on my tailbone in front of a group of people, we rode all through the park – in the woods, up hills, down hills,  on the seawall, around the marinas. For long stretches we could ride as fast as we wanted, just as I remember doing as a child,  with  the sun and wind on our faces.

About halfway through the park, we found the Stanley Park Teahouse, where we ate the hearty lunch we deserved after all our exertions. We deserved a beer as well.  I would have loved to eat dinner there because the Teahouse location, an officer’s mess during World War II,  has been voted the best sunset in Vancouver. Maybe next time!

We got to the edge of the park and went down a street to see if there was anything else we had missed. And what did we find?  The Lawn Bowling Club! I saw a sign that said “Open to the Public” so we wheeled right on in. A game was in progress. I don’t know lawn bowling etiquette, but we thought total silence on our part was the most respectful stance. Doesn’t this look like fun?

Alas, no one asked us to play. Probably I didn’t have on the right shoes anyway. I didn’t want to call a lot of attention to myself, but I had to get a few pictures of this cuteness. Somehow the combination of the pristine British expat- seeming lawn, the adorable elderly bowlers, the lush gardens, and the ships in the harbor in the background just thrilled me to pieces. I might need to retire here and join the Club.

Can you see the ships in the harbor across the street?

I did a double take when I saw this bed; it looks almost exactly like my back flower bed at home.

After returning the bicycles, we trudged back up the hill we had merrily hopped down earlier that morning  on our way to the park. Tired but happy, we saw just the sign that expressed everything  we felt:

You said it, honey!

That’s right. Don’t say, just cool! Just have an adventure together!  Whether close to home or far from home, it matters not. At the end of the day you will have new memories and stories to enjoy forever.

Vancouver Memories

Honey, I’m home!  I’ve escaped to the mountains with my sister  and returned to eerily decent weather, with  temperatures in the 60s in the mornings, and highs in the 80s, with breezes and no humidity. With this weather I could just about stand to live here! I know you are all eager to get my mountain report but today I’m going back to the beginning of the summer , to the last place where I felt such pleasant temeperatures: Vancouver.

Actually it was  cooler  in Vancouver than it is here now, but  the coolness was a welcome treat for me. Looking back  at the pictures it is hard to believe that only a few months ago I was someplace where I couldn’t walk down the street without a scarf wrapped around my neck. If someone tried that fashion trick around here they would be asked by old ladies in kindly voices, “Honey, did you hurt your neck?” Anyway, time for a look at Day Two in Vancouver!

Goals for Day Two in Vancouver were simple. Hit the Granville Island Farmers Market early, when it would be less crowded, followed by the Museum of Vancouver, to get a feel for the history of the city. From our location in Davies Village it was a short downhill walk to the place where we could catch a a little tug boat to Granville Island. These tugs come every twenty minutes, so we bought an all day ticket so we could come and go as we pleased.  On the short ride over we envisioned a leisurely walk through the various vendor stalls, occasionally stopping to sample goodies or order a strong aromatic cup of coffee. We were two cosmopolitan empty nesters, out on the kind of cool  Sunday morning adventure that cosmopolitan empty nesters have earned. EARNED.

Oops! We didn’t realize  that Granville Island was the location of The International Children’s Festival, and that very Sunday was the grand finale!   We  gamely toured the covered parts of the market, wending our way through the crowds, and admiring goodies as we had hoped.

Don’t even try to mess with her.

But the density of people was much worse outside. We quickly found we would need to scratch the relaxing plan and go with the survival plan. Apparently people can drive their cars to Granville Island, so everywhere we turned we were dodging Volvos crowded with kiddies either coming or going from the festivities. I  wonder if some of those poor people are still bumper to bumper on the Island, circling until they find a parking place?

All around us were face painters, organ grinding music, kiddie performances  and the like. Surely this is a worthwhile event, but what were we doing here? After looking unsuccessfully for a peaceful sanctuary, we came upon a helpful maintenance man, perhaps fleeing himself, who pointed out a hotel at the end of the island where we might find respite. We made a dash for the Dockside Restaurant  and were grateful to be seated on an outdoor patio, facing  the opposite  direction of the festival.

We hadn’t planned on a brunch, but the salmon burger was delicious, and the live jazz soon made us forget the cacophony at the other end of the island.Yes. These people are covering themselves with blankets.

Next we got back onboard the tug to head for the Museum of Vancouver. Aah! We virtually had the place to ourselves.  A word about Vancouver museums: there aren’t very many. Unlike other large cities, Vancouver seems to be young in its  municipal museum life.

This cozy little museum has some permanent exhibits about life in the area since white settlers came in, up to the present day. ( There is another museum that tells the story of the   indigenous tribes.)The town that became Vancouver grew very quickly after  it was named to be the final stop on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884.  Many ethnic minorities came in to help build the town and the railway and formed their own communities. Suburbs and roads were developed. The town was swept into the World Wars and embraced life’s modern conveniences in the post war boom.

Shoes from the Japanese part of town.

One of the two special exhibits was Art Deco Chic, a study of art deco influence on fashion. I  Ioved, loved, these dresses. And would love to wear them. This exhibit really whetted my appetite to learn more about the history of fashion. It is an interesting lens through which to view history.

This dress from the 1920s was influenced by recent archaelogical finds in Egypt.

This dress was made in Vancouver by the Aurora company.

Robin Hood-inspired accessories.

The second special exhibit was of neon signs from the city. As Vancouver has grown it has faced issues similar to other big cities: zoning, infrastructure, commerce. At one point it outlawed large neon signs. Many were destroyed, others left to languish in junkyards. The exhibit asks if the signs are an eyesore, or  art in themselves? You will have to decide for yourself.

But I think you know which way a magpie would lean on the subject.

After the calm of the museum we were ready to brave the Island again, this time to buy some goodies for dinner. The place was still bustling but at a somewhat lower decibel level. This time we actually went in a few shops, and stopped for a much needed cup of coffee.

After making a few dinner purchases we boarded the blue tug for our final ride. Our heads were filled with the vivid sounds, smells and sights of the day. We looked to forward to having a dinner of market goodies in our room and watching the sun set behind the mountains. And we did.

To The Mountaintop

Sigh. We in the South are dripping with pervasive, intractable humidity. It is hard for me not to assign human traits and motives to the sticky miasma that surrounds me. Could the humidity actually be pernicious? To delight in seeing me sweat down my entire head of hair within fifteen seconds of opening the front door? I will leave those decisions to another day, because it is  too hot to even try to think. Also, I am about to flee this place for the mountains of North Carolina, where at least if there is humidity or rain during the day , I shall be blessed with a breeze by nightfall.

My refuge is a cabin atop a mountain, where some of the time I will lack cell phone service and most certainly  the internet. I welcome the rejuvenation that comes from disconnecting from technology, but want my small readership to know I won’t be posting anything until I return to this broiler… I mean town.

This same time last year my husband and I tried this exact  thing – meaning a getaway to the mountains to disconnect from technology and relax. It was a last minute trip we put  to gether after a summer filled with the wedding activities of two of our children. Naturally since weddings had occurred we were on a limited budget, but that was of little import, I thought, for we didn’t need anything fancy. After a little perusing on the internet, I  booked us a spot in a secluded cabin on a mountaintop in a location that did not require too far a drive away from home. The pictures showed a cozy getaway for two, with mountain vistas.

Our getaway was operated by a sweet couple who brought us their own eggs, honey, and freshly baked bread each morning. 

And it was remote, all right. We had to park our car and use one of their four wheel drive vehicles while on the property. And whenever we wanted, we had the private use of their wood fired hot tub and Finnish sauna once we could locate it on the property.

Yes, that is me after a strenuous hike. The hike where I failed to make it up the steep two mile trail that was going to lead me to the flat part of the Appalachian Trail.

The getaway was private all right. We sat out on the deck at night until the sun went down, enjoying the peace and quiet.

On the rise above us, up a gravel road, was a Buddhist Temple, where visitors were welcome. 

There was just one question that puzzled us. How had anyone managed to get a mobile  home up to the top of  this mountain? For yes, my friends, our remote, quiet, quaint retreat for two was a mobile home. Disguised, of course, by having a deck added and the roof raised, but a mobile home nonetheless. Never, never, in a million years had I ever contemplated spending my vacation in such an accommodation. Well I had been the one to say I didn’t need anything fancy!

Regardless of the rusticity of the surroundings, fond memories were made there. But this year I am trying again to have a mountain getaway. I think I know now how to scan rental pictures to determine if a “cabin” is merely a disguised mobile home. Also, my getaway this year is with my sister, so we don’t need luxury or romance. I did the luxury and romance thing earlier this summer in Vancouver, So wish me luck, and envision me on a mountaintop deck, relaxing in an authentic log cabin, not a prefab home!