Riga Roses

We’ve had many delightful days in Riga. Today was especially wonderful because I got my Latvian Library card. I’ve had such fun visiting and collecting various library cards along this journey. Riga’s skyline was altered a few years ago with the building of this large structure sitting across and adjacent to the River Daugava. Some of the natives hate the building because it doesn’t flow with the art nouveau style downtown and the cobblestoned streets. I agree that it stands out and is certainly imposing. But what intrigued me was the story of the filling of the library shelves. The new building consolidated the holdings of the smaller libraries around town. When the new library opened Rigans gathered together to form a human chain and passed the books hand over hand across the bridge. More about more human chains later.

Included in the human chain to the library was the former President, a female whose family had emigrated to Canada during Latvia’s dark history days. There she lived, was educated and worked as a psychologist. In Canada. She was called back to public service in Latvia just before the election and she won. Note the words just before the election. I now know it’s possible to have short election periods. I’m already tired of Election 2016 and I’m only getting clips from BBC. You all must be crazed. I’m sympathetic and grateful I’m abroad.

While we were at the Latvian Bibliotheque, we were encouraged to visit the John F Kennedy research room located on the third floor because it held a collection of books in English. This room is supported by the American Embassy in Latvia and holds both fiction and non-fiction books. When we lived in Beijing and I worked at USIA’s finger in China I was involved in a book translation and distribution program. Chinese publishers desired to translate and publish American titles. My job was to request copyright permission from WashDC. Obviously, the subject matter of the books promoted American public policy goals. And by visiting the third floor I got to meet Inga, the librarian of the Riga collection. We got to exchange book experiences and we got a tour of the top floors of the library which give you the Riga panorama.

Another Rose was Diana. We had just finished with the education at the Museum of Art Nouveau, touring a fully furnished apartment that walked us through the nuances of this style. It was pouring rain and cold so we ventured into Bhajan Café; it looked cozy and warm and had photos of India displayed. We recall India and the stifling heat. So in we went and I had the best cup of Chai Masala. When I asked for a brand name I was given the recipe. Magnificient. I can hardly wait to share with you!

We decided to stay an extra day in Riga once we discovered that the anniversary of Latvian Independence was slated for 18 November. We got the list of events from the Tourist Information Bureau and decided on the must do-s for the day. First we needed a bit of history to frame the event. The Museum of Latvian Occupation would fill the bill. There we had a real education… Very simply and succinctly in 1920 Latvia won independence recognized by the international community. Their status changed in 1940 when the Soviets took over, which followed an occupation by Nazi Germany and then Latvia was retaken by the Soviets in 1944. In 1989, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians joined hands in a human chain that stretched 600 kilometers from Talinn to Riga to Vilnius to represent the desire of the Baltic States for independence. Latvians take this independence very seriously and joyously. As the week progressed we saw more and more Latvian flags flying from residential and commercial buildings and individuals wearing lapel pins with their national colors.

We started Independence Day with a Eucharistic Service at the Cathedral. The President was there, an assortment of clergy and an amalgamation of local choirs in their different robes. One of the clergy spoke—we couldn’t understand but I saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement. We continued the celebration later in the day with a group singing folk music with traditional instruments. Later, we went to the Freedom Monument and joined the parade to the River Daugava and the site of the night’s fireworks. It was grand!

Riga Link

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“Waltzing” doesn’t work for this particular blog because since I last wrote we left Dubrovnik-Croatia, arrived, scurried thru and left Vienna, visited with our newest Poland “other in-laws” (the other set of the Oliver Wolf grandparent team) and now I’m sitting in my apartment in Riga, Latvia. John says check Wikipedia it’s a real country. We’re in the Baltic States. We’re at 57 degrees latitude, pretty far north. We’re not waltzing…my fit bit tells me I did 38 miles last week.  We’re scurrying.

So what have we been doing? I keep an erasable calendar that I note our daily activities in marker then take a picture at the end of the month. It’s the only way my pea brain can keep up. Between John and I we make up one serviceable brain.

So Vienna…sigh… What a fabulous city! Our apartment there was the best we’ve had along this journey. Renovated, pristine, close to the downtown tram. Vienna was dreamy and musical. We do have a list of things we wish to accomplish in each city… and Vienna filled all the musical and architecture boxes. We were there for 5 days and saw 4 world-class musical performances. Ballet…tick. Opera…tick. Symphony…tick. Boys choir…tick. I’ve decided that Vienna was a city that could feed my heart and soul for a very long time. And speaking of feeding we were able to contribute to Vienna’s care and feeding of the refugees transiting Vienna.   Since all the news programming has been about the refugees we decided to get up close and personal. We were informed about Train of Hope where volunteers show up at the Vienna haupbanhof and help feed these transients. We were able to talk to two of the original organizers of the feeding program: a 42 year old man who looked pretty tired after working at the train station since August. Train of Hope started out with a few sandwiches and apples that volunteers would distribute as the refugees arrived. That’s now grown to a feeding 500-4000 people per day depending upon border crossings and closings. We met another female organizer who spoke of the moment when one of the Syrian refugees gave her a Mary medal from his mother.  We cut veggies with a young Iranian whose favorite car is a 1991 GMC Suburban, an Austrian woman who comes into Vienna on the weekends to help, a Syrian sweet thing whose mother is still in Syria living amidst ruin, a Sikh from India who has lived in Vienna for many years and felt that his mission was to feed the poor. I travel with 2 suitcases and knowing my head will have a pillow for the night. These people are traveling with some of their family, a desire for a peaceful existence and the hope that all will be well. Takes a lot of courage to walk out the door of your home with only a medal from your mom and maybe a change of clothes. I sat in the volunteer tent and watched a mother tend to her sick baby.   She tied a knot in one corner of a blanket and handed it to one of her older children (maybe 10/11) and then she laid the baby in the blanket, grabbed the opposite corner and the two of them rocked the baby back and forth until the baby was soothed. I was touched by the cleverness of the mother and her desperation for her child. I’ve had sick children, I’ve been scared for what tomorrow might bring, I’ve carried suitcases and been in foreign countries but I’ve never been as brave as these people. And never been so possession-poor. Americans are the luckiest of peoples. All we have to do is chop veggies. It was a task with profound implications for me..

From there we departed from the same train station to Opola, Poland with Jolante and Marian Placek, the other half of the grandparent team.  We swam, we sauna-ed, we ate way too many Polish potatoes and sausages for our waistlines but it was delicious. And Jolante and I tripped to Czestochova, Poland to the site of the Black Madonna Icon. It was a fascinating tour, stunning Basilica and the site where other mothers bring their children for a miracle cure. There’s always some history(tradition) and lots of mystery surrounding these Madonna shrines. And I bought my own Mary medal.

So now in Riga. It is a city of many colors, styles and cultures. We’ve wandered down cobblestoned streets with stunning architecture on both sides; buildings with sculpted flowers dripping down their facades, past brick arches, and soaring statuary. I can hardly wait to show you a few of the pictures. I first heard of Riga from a friend who visited from the USSR in 1980 and described it then as being artistic. Riga was still under the Soviet thumb and from my Moscow vantage I couldn’t imagine putting Soviet and artistic in the same sentence but she was right. I read that thousands of storks come to Riga to birth their babes so they must spread their creative juices because I’ve seen more creativity here than most places. We’re staying an extra day because Latvia’s annual Independence celebration is coming up and it’s supposed to be extraordinary. Don’t want to miss that.

Blessings to all

Link to Vienna and refugees

Link to Riga photos





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Captivating Croatia 2

So we’re getting ready to mosey along. Next stop is Vienna for 5 days. Things 1 and 2 continue to serve as the biggest drags on my emotional state and my back. The Dubrovnik stop has been wonderful; we are rested and ready to go.

I’ve been mentally gathering the list of things I wanted to share about Dubrovnik. These are random thoughts as we prepare to change our vista.

The vista here has been splendid. You just can’t get any better than a medieval-style city set on the Adriatic. While we are not in the downtown area I can take the 10 minute bus ride every day and see this magnificent city. Dubrovnik has only about 12,000 permanent residents and 2 million visitors every year. It has a very cozy feel and alleyways that beckon. No mosques in the city but churches aplenty; tonight we go to the Franciscan Church for the Dubrovnik symphony. It’s a good use for some of these extraordinary buildings that have lost their congregations. We’ve walked the cobbled streets, eaten in the restaurants, shopped in the Saturday market, visited the museums and walked the wall that surrounds the city. And it’s been splendid.

But Croatia and surrounding area has a very sad history. The war of 91-95 is crazy. I’ve seen the pictures at the hill overlooking the Dubrovnik city explaining why Croats are the good guys being shelled by the Serbs. And I’ve seen pictures on a side trip to Mostar, Bosnia of why the Bosniaks are the good guys while being shelled by the Croats. Had we gone into Serbia I’m sure we’d see why the Serbs were the good guys. I don’t have a definitive answer other than to say war is destructive no matter which side you are sitting on. Even if you “win” you lose. Lives are complicated with the after effects, hope is diminished, children are orphaned, historical edifices are lost.

One of the tasks in visiting our destinations is visiting the public library, if there is one. You know I love libraries—we should all love libraries. We should all love the fact that in the US a library card is an incredible asset. We should bow to the wisdom of Carnegie in establishing library buildings even in the remotest parts of the US. And in some communities, bookmobiles come to your neighborhood. In many parts of the world libraries are attached to universities and the universities are entered by invitation only. Here in Dubrovnik there is a public library. In my library research I discovered that during the 91-92 War the public library remained open during the shelling.   When war arrived TV and radio communication were affected. My only connection is remembering during the fires in Colorado Springs I so wanted to escape the constant, repetitive news about the fire. I remember thinking even watching Price is Right would have alleviated the anxiety. While life wasn’t “normal” normalcy was what I craved. So the Dubrovnik library created normalcy, a place to gather, a book to read that provided escape. In my house growing up in Salt Lake City, I was taught that voting was a sacred privilege and that you always voted for referendums regarding roads, education and libraries. It was a good thing to learn. And I got a Dubrovnik library card. Cost me $1.65. I can borrow 4 books at a time.

As I said we took a side trip to Bosnia. We rented a car and I became car commander and John was navigator. It really plays to our strengths; I’m not a long distance driver but 3-4 hour I can handle. So we drove to Medjugore, the site of reported visitations of the Blessed Mary. I don’t have any right to try to argue about any one’s religious experience so I take what I want and leave the rest; it was a lovely little town with enough religious fervor to cover everybody. St James Church is kind of the center with lovely gardens and statuary. You would see clusters of people saying the rosary as the Blessed Mother is reported to have directed. It’s a good thing and I am Catholic. When in Medjugore many climb the hill where the visitations took place. This was more than a sweet little wander pilgrimage. This was a boulder and rock strewn mountain that was treacherous! Crowds of people on the same journey trying to not break an ankle. I don’t know about miracles but I do believe that the life journey can be treacherous and that we are all trying not to break an ankle. AMEN!

We then went to Mostar in Bosnia. Another pretty city with a famous bridge that was commissioned by Sulieman the Magnificent during the Ottoman reign. While there we came across an artist who graced us with his version of the War years. The Croats were shelling from atop the mountain where the building tall cross was standing. Like I said these were crazy years. While there we visited a mosque and were able to climb up the 6 floors of steps in the minaret for an outstanding city-wide view. Bosnia was all about climbing.

So what I’ve learned abut Dubrovnik:

There are lots of very tall people here.

Librarians can be heroes and libraries should be supported.

Gelato can be eaten more than once a day—as long as you are climbing.

U.S. highway systems are so much easier to drive at night

Public city transportation is better outside the U.S.

Link to Dubrovnik, Medjugorje, Mostar photos







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Captivating Croatia

We’ve had several days in Dubrovnik. Which is exactly as advertised, truly captivating with its sea of red roofs next to the Adriatic. It’s been described as the “pearl of the Adriatic” and I can attest to that. It is picture perfect. We have a 2 bedroom, 500 sq foot apartment that fits perfectly. So perfectly, I’m trying to figure out what we will do with the size of the new house in Colorado Springs. Here I never have to wander about wondering where John is…he’s always here. Right here, within spitting distance. At this 7-month point we’re pretty transparent to each other. And it’s OK.

So Croatia. It is captivating. Our apartment is about a 10-minute bus ride to the Old City and a 2-minute walk to the long harbor; we sit on a peninsula. We’re across the street from the grocery store, St Michael’s Church is also a two-minute walk, bus stop is out the front door about 100 feet and we’ve a “promenade” that starts about 2 blocks away that goes to the beach and then follows the coastline for about 2 miles. We walked it the other day, which led us to the Atlantic Restaurant, our lunch stop for the day. It was great—a variety of food that we hadn’t seen elsewhere and the Sweet Barbara to serve it (my rose for the day). We introduced her to the AirBnB site and she brought extra hummus and a sweet red pepper dip in gratitude. We got the best of that bargain.

This is a stop that isn’t frantic—it’s a resting and breathing stop. We need that to plan the next portion of the trip. We’re researching cities and airplanes and AirBnB so we need the time. We have a few ideas of what we want to do here. John wants an early morning before-the-cruise-ships-spit-out-passengers to do the photos of the Old City. Dubrovnik is a big cruise boat stop; last year this city of 50,000 hosted over 2 million visitors. That’s a lot of cruise people. No wonder the bus driver was a bit snappish.

And I would like to see a bit of the wine country, do a boat island tour of the nearby islands, and there’s a Segway tour that might be fun since I’ve never driven a Segway. I’m requesting the flat countryside route so I can avoid squashing a cruise person. There’s the usual churches, museums, the Napoleonic fortress accessed by cable car and a photo exhibit commemorating the Serbo-Croatian War in 1991-92 damage to two-thirds of Dubrovnik’s buildings. FYI—Rick Steves states in his Dubrovnik Tour Guide regarding the tit for tat destruction of both sides “the good guys and the bad guys are far from clear cut in these wars.”

One of our first ventures is always to the grocery store. We tend to eat breakfast in and either lunch or dinner out. Usually dinners are substantial so we can take-away and get 2 meals for the price of one. And it’s the usual provisions: eggs, milk, juice, bread, a chicken, beef/pork, potatoes, cookies, lunch meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions. I find it so interesting how prices vary from country to country. So in Dubrovnik, I paid 83 cents for 500g (about 3 cups) of rice and I paid $5.66 for a bottle of soy sauce. Croatians are only driving small cars, lots of Smart cars and gas is $6/gallon. John had to make a trip to the local clinic since he couldn’t hear out of his right ear. Turns out his wax collection had surpassed what is legal. “I WAS NOT WHISPERING. YOU NEED TO LISTEN BETTER! That explains the spitting distance from each other. Trip there was $60; an expense worth every penny. I’m thinking of arranging a weekly trip to have his ears blasted out. Or maybe I could just purchase one of those super soaker guns and blast away myself.

We went to the movies last night and saw The Walk in English with Croatian subtitles. It was in a Cineplex theater in 3D. The exact same experience I would have had at Tinseltown in the US. And a wonderful movie I could recommend. We do have some English on the TV: CNN and BBC, FLN, TLC and some sports. We have apps on our phones for the Washington Post, Reuters and Foreign Affairs so keeping in touch is not a problem. We’ve seen snippets of the political debates—just enough.

All is well here. We pray that you are taking care of yourselves and your loved ones. Blessings! LIZ

Captivating photo link



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Turkish Delight

I know it’s been several weeks since you heard we were in Jordan. Actually I did a posting when we arrived in Turkey but didn’t send the announcement because I hadn’t rounded up the pictures. Which is a fact that you wouldn’t care about but I feel I need to explain.

We were in Turkey for a month; it was fabulous and busy since we had 3 couples visiting back to back for the time. Their company made Turkey even more fabulous since we got to share the adventure. We stacked, packed and enjoyed each day’s adventures. It was a precious time.

For the past 8 years John and I have kept a list of our 10 favorite memories of a travel destination. We continue to do so after each of our “Tripping” stops on the airplane to our next destination. So, I thought I would tell you about some of those Turkish Delights:

  1. Tasting Turkey—Turkey was a fabulous eating experience. It was wonderfully fresh, healthy and incredibly cheap. It was so cheap it was hardly worth the effort to cook so we did a lot of eating out. We had 2 restaurants that were our favorite repeats. I’m drooling in memory as I type. Dinner for 4 usually about $30. Including drinks. I’m thinking Heaven has to serve baklava.
  1. Café Medrassa was a rainy day activity. A renovated hammam (ancient public bath); designed by the foremost Ottoman architect Sinan who also designed the Blue Mosque and Suleyman Mosque. It was one of those café/art display spaces that are cozy. We were stopped on our way down the stairs by Josh who insisted we come back to the gallery. It was raining and we just wanted something warm and covered. There was a central covered courtyard and small rooms which served as display and teaching rooms. Each room had an ancient fireplace, a worn table and chairs and handicrafts on the wall. We had a lovely meal and then finishing, Josh reappeared. I asked about where would be the closest place to purchase an umbrella. “Upstairs and to the right—don’t pay anymore than 10 Turkish Lira a piece—really 10 Lira each!” But then Josh recanted and said “I’ll send somebody.” So we continued to sit and enjoy the Turkish tea and umbrellas were delivered. It was serendipitous. We went to the gallery and there met an American couple purchasing a gorgeous piece of calligraphy. The husband is an Air Force Family Practice MD serving in Germany. I got to hold their newest baby. He did his residency at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Connection! Both my boys were born at Offutt AFB in Omaha.
  1. Our apartment, 3 Kat Flat—that’s the name on the door—was very comfortable, nicely appointed and very convenient. WE HAD A DISHWASHER! The only thing it didn’t have was a coffee pot so we got to go to Housewares Alley (located behind the Spice Market and thru the street enroute to Rustem Pasha mosque; nearby we sat on stools and ate doner for lunch, about $4pp) and found a French Press. Coffee making in Turkey is a laborious task involving a copper pot with a handle and 4-7 brewings. Too complicated for early morning.4.   We met many “rose” people. Each day is filled with roses and thorns—it’s part of life—the good and the bad. But I like to remember those “rose” people who I allowed to break into my consciousness. My day becomes extraordinary when I acknowledge that I’ve been gifted by their presence. So Josh was a rose. So was the Syrian woman with the 2 boys who practiced her English with me on the tram. So was the waiter at the restaurant downstairs that was a Jewish Kurd from Spain. And the Turkish Korean War vet who gave us a tour of a mosque on the Asian side of Istanbul—in Turkish—with pride, he and John showed each other their military IDs. Also a Syrian refugee in the towel shop. Many ask us where we are from and we usually answer America. The answer seems less combative—at least from my point of view. So many stories—many disruptions to each of the lives of my “roses.” At each stop I try to pick up a piece of fiction. The writer for Turkey was Elif Shafak, one of Turkey’s most widely read female voices. She did an essay-length piece called “The Happiness of Blond People: A Personal Meditation on the Dangers of Identity.” If you have a free moment you can download it from Amazon.So we arrived in Croatia on October 10th, leaving Istanbul on the same day as the bombing in Ankara. We were shocked at the news. And more affected by the idea that the bombings occurred because Turkey was allowing the US to use Incirlik to fly air operations into Syria. This part of the world is so complicated. There are so many ways we affect each other as we rub elbows. And I don’t think building walls is the answer.Many blessings  Turkish Delight photos
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Color me Turquoise

So we’ve been in Istanbul for ten days. Welcomed visitors on Day 2 of this stay.   We’ve been out and about since our feet hit the ground. By the way the word “turquoise” has its linguistic roots from Turkey.

Our departure from Amman was bittersweet. Hated to say goodbye to the people who entered our hearts since our arrival into Jordan. Our lives and our viewpoint have certainly been widened and that is the purpose of this year. To live globally, not just vacation globally. And still without the advantages of language we’re just dabbling.

The last days in Amman were filled with lots of elbow rubbing. We had one day to visit a venture funded by the Noor Hussein Foundation which trains rural women in handicrafts and computers. On the way I was able to have a conversation with the cab driver. It was free flowing and he was willing to talk (in English) and I was willing to listen. I always preface sensitive conversations with “I’m an American woman” and freedom of choice is my overarching theme. I was saying that if the Muslim women in Jordan chose to wear the hijab and dark coat in 95 degree weather I had no problem with their choice. But if their clothing was the decision of a husband, father, brother, brother-in-law, then I think the men should spend the day in the heat with the coat and the scarf. It was a lively discussion. That day we visited the 2000-year-old Qasr al Abed, a small palace. We were climbing the original stairs, touching the walls and pondering the life of these ancient peoples. At the end in the shade of this ancient building we encountered two women, scarved and coated. They invited us to share their hummus and their bread. Both had children who were living in the US. English was very limited, and we shared the hummus dipping bowl and exchanged grandchild photos on our phones. It was a wonderful moment for me sharing bread and pondering the history of the building and its occupants and the moment with these other grandmothers. If we could just listen to the ancients’ whisperings, I’m sure we would find many similarities with their concerns and ours today and maybe they would tell us what did NOT work for them.

Our biggest surprise here in Turkey is how very little English there is. Tech support has an app on his phone which translates English into Turkish which is the only way we could differentiate the shampoo from the shower gel at the grocery store (we think). The four stages of acclimation are honeymoon, hostility, humor and home. I think I’m officially in hostility and it really involves the lack of English. In our previous life when I’ve been living in a foreign country I’ve had a sidekick translator. Here, we’re both struggling. Sometimes, it’s funny, mostly it’s annoying. Yesterday, I was doing the laundry just like I did last week. I was taught by our landlord to push this button, then that one, close the door and magic happens. Except yesterday, the washer buttons must have been switched and the washer ran for 2.5 hours! And the dryer would run for 30 seconds and then shut off. Of course, we can’t read the flashing buttons on the dryer to see what has disturbed the Laundry Fairy.   See link to photos—maybe you can translate. The dryer started good, went for 30 seconds and stopped. So I figure, maybe it’s overheated, so I decided to let it rest for an hour. Started fine, went for 30 seconds, stopped, lights flashing. So I did the universal fix—pull the plug and reinsert hoping to reset the cycle. Dryer worked for 1 minute, stopped, lights flashing. So I then go to the computer with the manufacturer name and serial number and google English/machine/instructions. Not so easy to research in Turkish or English. Back to the machine. One of the lights flashing says “Su Tanki.” “Tanki” is kind of like ‘tank’? I discover at the bottom left there is a door, with a plastic tank behind it. It was full. Seems the dryer has a drain that extracts the water from the wet clothing and deposits the water in the tank. “Su Tanki” means I’m supposed to empty the tank. I would have been delighted to do that if the Laundry Fairy had just told me…in English. Dryers fixed! I felt so triumphant! And yet I realize that somewhere there is a bit of hostility. I’m just moving thru the acclimation stages and my TANKI is full today.

Imagine being in a foreign country and expecting THEM to make things linguistically “convenient” for me. So my humbling experience for today is that I am one of those arrogant Americans! Woe to me!

Enjoy the photos and blessings!

Color Me photos




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Kebab 4

The trip to Petra. As I mentioned, Rajai the innkeeper doesn’t travel in a straight line. We left for the 3 hour drive to Petra at 7:30AM and arrived in Petra at about 6PM. It’s about a 3 hour drive. All of it was a wonderful experience and some of it was on the original itinerary.

So our first stop was the fresh falafel place where we saw the disks of falafel being dropped into frying oil. There is actually a machine that does this—think Dunkin Donuts early in the morning. Then there was the absolutely fresh out of the oven bread stop. We then pulled over and using the trunk of the car dished out our hummus/bread and falafel breakfast. Rajai brought the coffee—otherwise there would have been another stop.

Topped up tummies and gassed up (gas here is about $4/gallon—there’s no oil in Jordan) we headed out to Madaba. The oldest map of the ancient world is in tile at an Orthodox church in Madaba. And another church commemorating the beheading of John the Baptist was another stop. Remember Israel and Amman are very close and Amman is on the east side of the River Jordan. This is the landscape of the People of the Book. Then back in the car for a trip to Karak which houses one of the Castles that was used by the Crusaders.

Except, along the route Rajai sees a wedding being prepared. So, after stopping the car and being welcomed by genetically driven Jordanian hospitality and the groom. John is now invited to join the boys and travel back to Amman to pick up and deliver the bride to the wedding party; we girls are invited to join the women in some apartment while they are preparing the food. There is singing and dancing and of course eating involved. The dancing part filled the painful lapses that existed in the Bedouin tent. WE stayed about an hour then continued on the adventure. John didn’t go to get the bride.

On to Petra. Petra is the ancient city build by the Nabateans about 2500 years ago and the site for one of the scenes from Indiana Jones Two. Advice: if Petra is on your bucket list, go early in the morning. We left our hotel located next door to the Petra Visitors Center at 7:30 AM and didn’t return until 1:30 PM. We did a lot of walking. I wear one of those pedometers and in 5 hours I had done 23,000 steps. And that doesn’t include the steps the donkey took carrying me up to the Hillside Monastery. Go before the heat. Wear comfy walking shoes. We finally stopped for something to drink and both John and I were deciding about doing the 1000+ stairs to go up to the Monastery. We were a little undecided so turned to Trip Advisor to see what the masses had to say about the extra energy that would have to be expended in a short time. “Must see”, “Shouldn’t miss”, “You’ll be sorry if you don’t..” We decided that the donkeys could make it faster than we could walk and we had limited time. So my ass followed John’s ass up the hill. Up and up and up. The energy I spent gripping the saddle horn and the reins was outrageous. I have mentioned that I don’t believe in participating in extreme sports. This one was extreme and I didn’t have a helmet. In the middle of the climb and facing the drop-over I realized I had more tread on my athletic shoes that the donkey had on his hooves. Was this activity the basis for “tripping the world?” What were we thinking? And who would be interested in my reporting from a hospital bed in the Middle East? Remember I’m the Queen of Disaster Preparedness so all of this adrenalin clustered in my Brain Stem. Not only do I not want to die bloody I don’t want to die sweaty. It was hot! We made it to the top, our body parts undefiled and after a cold lemonade with mint leaves over ice (fabulous invention) I was ready for the overlook from where I could see a wide expanse of Jordan and Israel from above. We made the return trip unscathed.

The Rose colored city of Petra is extraordinary when one thinks of the façade hand carved by Nabateans with knives. These were artist peoples and it is a wonder. I couldn’t possibly put what I saw into words so you’ll just have to look at the pictures. Enjoy!

As I said “never a straight line” Rajai treated us to a chicken and rice with yogurt lunch and a visit to a Bedouin friend’s cave. The Bedouin likes to collect calling cards and there was quite a collection in his cave next to the Crusader Castle on the hill. On the other side of his cave was a VW that had been gutted and a mattress installed. For the more daring Air BnB travellers I guess. And even if I had asked I’m not sure I would get a straight answer. So I’m left with wondrous descriptive terms of marketing possibilities for tiny the dwelling: “room w/ vu 4 courageous souls” for the adventurers. “Cozy up in Wadi Masu” for the romantics and “Located outside gates of Christian Crusader Castle” for the religious pilgrims.

We’ve been welcomed everywhere and still the adventure continues.

Petra photos



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Kebab 3

Eating in Amman has been a delight. But now I’m missing a pork chop. Before it was hamburger, now pork. I need to learn to be content.

We had a fascinating few days last week. Our innkeeper, Rajai, gave us an opportunity we couldn’t resist. He took us to Mt Nebo environs and a house that he built using only recycled materials. Actually, he didn’t do the manual labor but an Egyptian gentleman did it all. Pictures will be shared but note that this gentleman placed and mortared each stone. There are a lot of Egyptians here who are working to provide for their families at home in Egypt. So this gentleman lives and works here but the family stays in Egypt. When asked, he told us he visits about once per year for about a month. And has for the past 14 years! WOW—that’s a lot of employment deployments.

So we went to visit Rajai’s country house—very basic and rural and isolated. There is another house next door that appeared to be a bit more modern but not much. The scenery was fabulous and as the sun was setting and city lights started appearing we could see Jerusalem and Jericho from the terrace. Amazing to note how close Amman is to Jerusalem. Rajai said that he was sitting on his balcony during the Iraq war in 1991 watching the missiles flying overhead. War is a disruptive reality here. Very real.

In addition to the city lights/Mt Nebo/country house sighting we were invited to visit Rajai’s Bedouin neighbors down the road. He’s cultivated this friendship for years. That’s what Rajai does…he cultivates. I will say he’s a Christian in a Muslim dominated society. He acknowledges many Muslim friends but is un-fond of treatment of women under Quranic mentality and wishes Jordan was more secular. I would say that growing up in Salt Lake City gave me the same view. Myopic view is never healthy.

Traveling with Rajai is never a straight line; we went and visited the Bedouins at night, in their tents. Rajai, the Egyptian builder and John went together to the men’s side of the tent and 2 other female travelers and myself to the female side of the tent. We had brought along a sampling of sweets and were met with snacks from their side: flat bread, butter and a very salty tasting plain yogurt to drink. The butter and yogurt was from goat’s milk. The 8-10 Bedouin women were certainly welcoming, one of the young girls spoke some “courtesy” English. We ate, smiled, drank the yogurt, looked around at their home. Unfortunately, they would not allow pictures. So here’s what we saw: our side had tent canvas “walls” which could be drawn in the cold. There were carpets on the ground and the seating consisted of upholstered cushions on the carpeted area. There was a refrigerator, there were propane hot plates for cooking and there was a cabinet to house cooking stuff. Within the female side I did not see divided areas for individual space. I did not see a toilet or a shower facility. It was basic.

All the women and the teenage girls wore dark misfah (head dressings) and black embroidered full length, full sleeved dresses. We waited a while for the mistress of the house to arrive—Rajai told us that she was a mother of 10. We couldn’t figure out nor could we ask who was in this cast of players in the tent. Were they older daughters, additional wives, siblings, neighbors. We were confused. And remain so.

We stayed for about an hour then stood up to leave—it was probably rude but we still had a drive back to town and an early departure for Petra the next day. WE didn’t wait for male permission to depart—we girls just did it. Another adventure in being the foreigner.

Kebab 3 photos

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I’m a bit behind but I did want to remind you all with the dreidel title that there are officially less than four months until Christmas. The countdown begins…

So off we went to Jerusalem for 3 days and 2 nights. We’ve travelled to Israel twice before. The first time maybe 6 years ago we flew into Tel Aviv and rented a car and drove all over—which doesn’t say there was much mileage accrued since it’s a small country. We’ve been to Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Masada, Accra and the Dead Sea. Israel confuses me. I see such wide-open space between cities. Like driving thru Wyoming wide open spaces. So I get confused/disturbed because these wide-open spaces tell me there’s lots of room in Israel so why are the Israelis and the Palestinians always fighting? I think it’s a Mind the Gap situation. Why can’t they give each other a gap? I was reading the other day an author who talks about the politics of resentment and the politics of reconciliation. If one follows a policy of resentment conflict will continue forever. If one follows the policy of reconciliation conflict could end and repair could begin. What I took away from the history of Jerusalem from the Tower of David Museum was that Jerusalem has been handed over many times from the dawn of time. The abbreviated list of rulers/history includes Canaanites, Israelites, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Israelite Bar-kochba revolt, Byzantian (Constantine)rule, Egyptian rule, conquered by the Crusaders who turned the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque into Christian churches, recaptured by the Muslims, then the Ottoman Turks who permitted the practice of both Judaism and Islam, Brits took it in WW1 and Israel was established as an independent state in 1948.

There is reason from both sides for resentment. The Jewish people have had to cling to survival and with that comes anger, grief, confusion and shame. The Palestinians have been forcibly displaced, their memories of home ripped from them and because of that, they cling to what was and embellish the “sweetness” of their past. So sad from both factions and the rest of the world lies in the middle trying to figure out what is “fair.”

One of the links at the bottom of this post will be video I took on the road from Jerusalem to the Allenby Bridge which is the passage from Jordan to Israel.

We took a cab from Amman to the Jordanian departure point. It took about an hour. Then we exited the cab to enter a building that housed the Jordanian passport control. From there we took a bus thru at least one checkpoint where the officials check the undercarriage of the bus with mirrors. From there, we rode to the Israeli passport control. There, one is NOT supposed to get an Israeli stamp in our passport because other Middle East countries like Syria and Iran would forbid entry into their countries (that is not our plan!). Everybody knows this so we get a paper stamped but not affixed to our passports which serves as an Israeli Visa. From there, we took a bus into Jerusalem. So complicated! The bus then took about 30 minutes and there we were in the heart of the city with three perceptions of the ALMIGHTY.

We stayed near the Damascus Gate and our intent was just to stay in Jerusalem and immerse ourselves in the Old City. It was wonderful. We stayed at a retired convent—they had a chapel (now inactive), gave us breakfast, and were within walking distance of our goal. Near the Damascus Gate is really the Arab side of the Old City. It felt like we were back in Amman’s marketplace. The signage was in Arabic and English and there was the same hustle and bustle of any market place. Fewer women draped in black but there were some. From there we walked thru to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the main Christian Church managed by the Orthodox, Coptic and Roman Churches. Here’s an interesting tidbit: the three Catholic rites couldn’t get along to manage the opening and closing ritual of the church so a Muslim family has held the keys to the church for 100+ years. If one visits the church between 5 and 5:30 AM you can witness the unlocking procedure. Another lesson in the need to “mind the gap.

We’ve walked and walked those 3 days—from one side of the Old City to the other and back again. We would leave at 9 AM and return at 9 PM. And it was fabulous. We had the time to spend where and when we wanted. One of the afternoons we were able to revisit an artist friend in the Artist Colony across from Jaffa gate. We walked the length of Via Dolorosa. You’ll notice from the pictures that there is no sense of sacredness along the Via Dolorosa; there are at least 4 layers of antiquity between the walkway of today and the lane during Jesus’ time. We did every tour available: the Western Wall Underground tour, the Tower of David Museum are both not to be missed and we fought in St Etienne’s Church. Yep, in the middle of this beautiful Baroque cathedral John and I verbally duked it out. We’re spending a lot of time together and one of us was being annoying. I have a friend who tells me that fighting is an act of intimacy. Yep, I showed John my worst side and he showed me his—that’s intimacy. Grace is sometimes messy. And life on the road faces normal stuff. Healing and repair is possible even in Jerusalem. Luckily, the church was empty—I hate whispering during a spat.

So we’re back home in Amman safe and sound. We’re into our final week and then fly away on the 10th of Sept to Istanbul, Turkey where 3 couples are joining us. We welcome visitors. Hope all of you are staying well. I know you are staying busy—there are 2 weddings that I know of and countless birthdays, anniversaries and TREATMENTS that are passing us. We think of you often and fondly and wish the best-est for your day. Enjoy! It’s a gift.

Remember less than 4 months until Christmas…

Jerusalem photos

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Kebab 2

We have been in Amman for exactly 1 week and what an education in Middle East history and culture. And every day we meet another with a story to tell. So here’s my story. I feel safe here in Amman. India had its own cautions—mainly health precautions that we had to adhere to. And the idea of coming to Jordan was met with a lot of security concerns by friends and family. We tend to follow the guidance of the US Department of State; if their personnel are being evacuated I shouldn’t go there. Jordan wasn’t on that list so here we sit. I repeat I feel safe.

With that in mind I also say that we stay alert. We were at the top of one of Amman’s historical points of interest, the Citadel, a fortress sitting atop a high point in Amman and with recovered artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age. I had been fortified with an ice cream as we climbed up the hill in the 90+degree DRY heat (you still end up sweating). As we wandered and took pictures of the valley below, the call to prayer was being broadcasted from one of the minarets in the neighborhood. Somehow, that sound was NOT as ominous, scary, fear-inducing as what one hears as background on US news programming. Maybe, it’s the second-handedness of it while sitting on US soil. We think of it as a call to arms while here the chanting reminded me of the local Catholic church bell tolling I heard from my bedroom just that morning. While out yesterday, we went into one of the souvenir shops. I had picked up some postcards that I wanted and was looking for the shopkeeper to pay. I found him kneeled on the floor between shelving, practicing his tradition during the chant. I waited, he acknowledged my patience and wouldn’t let me pay. I think both of us walked away from the encounter blessed by grace. I was blessed by his observance and he was blessed by my patience. We’re even.

John’s interest in Jordan is guided by history and anything that speaks about the Romans. We’ve done the Jordan Museum, which transported us back 3500 years. Fascinating. But I love the bookstores and shops; yesterday I was walking down the street and saw old postage stamps in a store window. I had gone to the Post Office but all they had were postage metered stickers. I love stamps because I consider them miniature pieces of art and really love it when I can get a stamp with the picture of a building, ruin, site that I’ve visited. So, I immediately was drawn to the stamps in the window. The 85 year old gentleman who helped us had been to the US in 1964, perfectly fluent, charming and we so enjoyed visiting with him. He had a stamp with the view of Petra, our travel destination next week. In addition, we were stopped on the street by a gentleman who teaches post-grad educators at the University of Jordan in the area of curriculum development for gifted and talented. Both men were so welcoming, thanking us for coming to Jordan. That’s the message that I keep hearing: WELCOME! I feel safe here.

Jordan doesn’t have a friendly public transportation system—no subways, metro so we rely on taxis. Mind you the taxis are very, very inexpensive (we’ve traveled 20 minutes by cab and never paid more than 2 dinars—1 dinar is about $1.40). Bus system is around but not reliable but one of the most interesting public transport systems is the “share taxis.” They go only from designated routes point to point, cost 45 cents/occupant. So if we want to go downtown, we walk to the nearby “shared” point and climb in. We can either wait for 2 others to fill the car or pay the extra 90 cents for the absent riders. Unfortunately the shared taxi routes seem to be classified information; we know one route but not others.   There are trans-city buses that hopefully we will use when we visit Jerash up north next week.

We’re off to Jerusalem tomorrow across the Allenby Bridge. We’ll take a taxi to that departure point and then bus across to the Israeli arrival point. The distance between the 2 points is 5 km. We’re staying in an old convent while in Jerusalem. That should be interesting. Returning to my roots once again.


Kebab 2 photos

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