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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Refreshing Old Ways: Sharing the Path

Those of us who remember our Beowolf readings from high school English class merrily purchased our first cup of mead at Renaissance Festivals and were rewarded with a sweet drink. Perhaps we were young and that was palatable. But  it was the last time I drank mead until I moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley about three and a half years ago.

Living in the middle of wine country is a joy in many ways. Not only does it offer a lot in terms of oenophile enjoyment, but the countryside is beautiful.  And twice a year (Thanksgiving weekend and Memorial Day weekend) almost all the wineries open their doors, even if they normally do not have tasting rooms. It was our first Thanksgiving weekend here and avoiding a popular location with the Portland crowd, we headed up Highway 47 north of McMinnville. When we got to Yamhill we stopped, on a whim, at a meadery at Kookoolan Farms.
Yamhill Oregon Local Farm

Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor and her husband Koorosh met as engineers for Intel and purchased a  farm in Yamhill. Kookoolan Farms has evolved over time to work with other nearby farms to offer vegetables and meat to consumers throughout the region and its reputation for quality is well known. To find out more about the farm and all they do check out their website and their Facebook page.

Like me, Chrissie remembered her Beowolf and started making mead from local honey.  She perfected her craft, moving well beyond the sticky sweet stuff so many of us experienced at those Ren Fairs. In her quest, she started gathering mead from other places in the United States and from around the world. This is when I met her. We visited her mead tasting room and was amazed at the variety of tastes offered.

And why not, when you really think about it. Beer, which has the same basic components, has amazing variety. Wine, of course, varies not only by the type of grape but, as I have learned first hand, by the weather, the terroir, and the skill of the winemaker.  Why not discover the same breadth and depth with mead?

Mead has been enjoyed by people for thousands and thousands of years. It seemed to be found often in monasteries which produced honey for the beeswax to make candles. The mead was a fortunate byproduct of that task.  Today, home brewing shops throughout the country can attest to an upsurge in interest and currently there are over 400 commercially licensed meaderies in 46 states, up from 30 in 1997!  Mead is considered to be the fastest growing beverage business.

Many meaderies, like Kookoolan, are very small with only a limited and local distribution. However, there are many that have larger production and a number of bottle shops are expanding into offering a wider selection.

As interest grows, so do the number of books available on the subject. So far, however, most recent books about mead have been in the “how to” genre. Home brewing is highly popular and there are plenty of tips and lessons available to ease the learning curve.

However, as mead started becoming more popular, Chrissie realized there was something missing. Her clues came from the visitors to the tasting room. Not only “Where can I find mead besides your tasting room?” but “What would be a good dish to pair with this mead?”

She realized she had a definite advantage over just about everyone else in the field. When she went to make her lunch in her kitchen, it was fun to grab a small pour, or two or three in the adjacent tasting room and see what tasted good with the dish she had prepared for her meal. As she kept her notes, the light bulb started to burn brightly and the book concept was born.

The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing (ISBN 978-0-578-18895-9) took three years to produce.  It is a joy to read…and even better to work through by cooking and tasting. Chrissie has not only explained the various kinds of meads that are available, but offered well tested recipes to pair with the various kinds.  Imagine, if you will, you have a pretty terrific chicken pot pie you have made, either from your own recipe or the one in the book.  You might be tempted to pair it with a white wine for supper, but your enjoyment can be enhanced with the right kind of mead pairing.

From spicy (check out the shrimp gumbo!) to sweet there is something in here for every palate. 

The books is also divided into regions of the world, as mead is produced everywhere there is honey. One photograph really caught my eye; it showed an archaeological find at Tel Rehov, Israel with a multitude of preserved hives. This discovery proves that ancient civilizations, this one dating back to 900 CE, had a great appreciation for bees, honey and its byproducts.

The book explains mead history as part of the Paleo world, in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region, northern Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and in Latin America. Recipes and pairing suggestions are offered to get your exploration rolling.

And through it all, gorgeous photography. Even a simple photo of the collection of meads Chrissie obtained from meaderies around the world in the research for this book is beautiful, even as it began to overtake the floor space in their dining room.

My hope is in your own life adventures you make room for new challenges.  Part of exploration may be of new places, but some new learning may take place in the known and safe nest of your own. Open your willingness to try not only new foods, but new  beverages too. Perhaps this concept of mead pairings will get you thinking and not only check out the book, but start checking out the shelves in a local bottle shop. At a recent visit to a local grocery store yesterday I found this.

 

 

and now I get to figure out what food will go well with it. Ahhhh, time to reread the book!
15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon 97148                                                                                                                                                                                                                             503-730-7535   kookoolan@gmail.com

 


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Fool Me Once……Wait a Minute…This is Happening Too Often

marionetteI hate being manipulated. When I know someone is pulling some strings, I usually can maneuver around that, anticipating my choices before it comes to a final showdown.

However, there are issues we normal people never know…until the Freedom of Information Act opens sealed files. And so, we find out that we were puppets once again. Case in point is The United States’ entry into World War II because of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. We were righteous in our indignation and because of the Japanese-German alliance, thereby could also attack Germany. That we should have been on that moral pathway two years before is something for another discussion. But here is a presentation of the facts that lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor as I never heard them before.

The desire by those in power to further strengthen their wealth through trade and commerce, through acquisition of raw materials, has played out time and again throughout history. Just as our American government had us manipulating Spain with the explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor to start the Spanish American War. The goal always was to open more trade with other areas, notably, the Philippines.  World War I’s eruption has been told often about how major powers chose certain actions instead of diplomacy. And more recently, we remember the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that had George W Bush to convince many here that we MUST go in and take out Saddam Hussein. Look what that lead to. But Cheney got extremely wealthy, so I guess opening the Pandora’s Box of a loss of leadership is a trade-off the power elite accepts.

We have just weathered a campaign season where it became greatly apparent how easily people are manipulated. Few verify things they read and I have had more than one Facebook Friend tell me if it not her job to educate me. I responded that she needed to educate herself and she has stopped talking to me now.  She did not appreciate my posting facts to refute her emotionally laden editorial writing she posted as truth. It is important that EVERYONE wakes up NOW and slows down with their reactions to how the news is given. We MUST demand more information before our leadership takes us into a situation that will be dangerous to us all.

I remember back to the Gulf War II time when I cautioned we needed to verify before jumping into war. I was chastised by many that I was not being patriotic. Au contraire! It is a true Patriot’s role to help keep us in truth, justice, and what we were told watching Superman was the American Way.marionette-don-quixote

 


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Like to Panic?

Right now there are a lot of pretty bad things happening around the world.  A separatist movement backed by Russia in the Ukraine. A fundamentalist Islamic group acting on a political agenda and killing innocent people in Syria and Iran.  The threat of a climate change which, whether or not the actions of industrialization had an effect, is causing horrible storms, drought conditions and lack of water, rising water levels causing flooding and loss of polar habitat. We also have domestic issues where people seem angrier and more polarized than ever over differences in opinion about religion and politics. But the newest crisis du jour is Ebola.Ebola-Outbreak-Map

Did you travel in Liberia, Ivory Coast or Guinea in West Africa in the past 21 days?   If you answered NO, relax.

Do you work in any of the hospitals here in the United States where Ebola patients have been treated?  These are Emory Hopsital in Atlanta; the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland; Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha; and of course, the two that were at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.  If you answered NO, relax.

Were you on the flights between Dallas and Cleveland? If you answered NO, relax.

Do you have a family member who has Ebola? If you answered NO, relax.

Have you helped prepare the body of someone who died from Ebola for burial? If you answered NO, relax.keep-calm-and-relax-366_large

I think that’s it.  So, you are not at risk.  Still want to panic?

Okay, think about riding in your car. Do you do that? Well, about 115 people die each day in automobile accidents here in the United States.

How about your meds, either prescribed or recreational?  About 114 people die each day from overdoses.

How about diabetes? Did you know the number of people with diabetes is climbing to record highs, mostly because of diet..something people can do something about. Diabetes is the direct or additive cause of about 830 deaths per day.

Do I really need to go on? ebola-info CDC

Yes, Ebola is bad. It has about a death rate between 50 and 90%.  It requires human-to-human transmission to spread and has an incubation period of 2-21 days. Infection occurs if you touch any secretions from the affected person. It is not an airborne illness but can be caught if the ill person sneezes on you.  For more information from the World Health Organization, go to this link.  Don’t bother if you still want to panic.

But if you do go to the WHO page, you can also read how Senegal, a neighboring West African country, is now declared free of the disease. It is a good example that with the proper protocol.

So, the protocol works. Yes, there are only about 9 hospitals in the United States that currently have the means to isolate infectious patients.  It is apparent from the Dallas hospital experience that without the proper protocols, health care workers are at risk.  Various nurses’ unions are demanding action on this.  My sister, who works in the lab at Salem Hospital, told me that when a patient presented with symptoms recently, the protocols were rapidly put into place. (The blood work came back negative.) Every hospital in this country SHOULD have protocols for a major infectious outbreak.

If you are concerned, call your local hospital and ask.   But above all, don’t bother to panic. That, certainly, does no good and annoys the people close to you.motivation___dont_panic


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America’s Shameful Legacy

Imagine you have been travelling overseas for a while and you wander into a local supermarket in Europe. As you shop for your dinner you encounter the foreign food aisle in addition to Asian or Latino foods, there is a section for American foods! This is what you see.american-food

How sad. This is our gift to other cultures. That and

Mc Donalds restaurant in Parisand KFC in China

There may be some Americans who thing this is great…they can eat the food they are used to when they travel to Paris or Beijing. Personally, I enjoy eating authentic French or Chinese food and when I travel I want to eat food prepared well and native to that culture.  I sure wish the people in those countries would not be thinking that processed food and fast food is what we eat……but maybe it is for most people. What a shameful thing we are teaching others about us.


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Define Socialism

I dare you.

Do you even remember covering how socialism works in high school?  Probably not.

But you will have that knee-jerk reaction when it is mentioned by the talking heads using a low ominous voice

You like scary movies so you know that voice means something horrific is about to happen.scary

So, let’s go basic. VERY basic.

There are, to simplify  things, 3 kinds of ECONOMIC systems. (See, I said economic, not political?????)

1.  CAPITALISM (yeah! hooray! this is us so it MUST be the best way!!)  Okay, stop hollering and read just a moment to understand: In a free market system like capitalism, you have the right to open any business you want. You must abide by laws in place and get any licenses and certifications required, but it is up to you to plan to see if your investment will bring you the return you want.  You can also work in whatever job you like.  Finally, you can, despite what your mother says, move to a better location to find that work or that business opportunity in a location where you can make ends meet and achieve that “pursuit of happiness” so offered to us Americans.

Capitalism-4

There are, of course, some down sides. For example, it was because of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle that the government rules about meat packing were started. It seems that some people, whether the own a factory making widgets paying their workers $15 a day and selling them for $15 each or a corporation that declares bankruptcy instead of taking responsibility when chemicals leak into a water source for over 300,000 people here in the United States, some people who are wonderful capitalists are not very good people. You can not legislate morals. One of the problems with this system is that not all Americans have equal access to opportunities. And it has been proven that trickle down economics does not work. And also that sleazy people with good opportunities to get rich are still sleazy people.

capitalism downside

2. SOCIALISM (sound of scary music) Turn the soundtrack off and quit being a pansy of special effects. With a socialist economic system many of the major businesses are owned by the government. It is not impossible but very difficult to open a private business and their regulations make ours look like kindergarten rules. Profits are lower not because consumerism is low but because the government takes a larger chunk of the business income.  You may chose your own profession but you may also be directed to study something where you either show an early skill or the government has a need for workers. You tend not to move, not because you adore your mother, but because the availability of housing is restricted and the concept of mortgages is not typical.socialism_explained_by_party9999999-d5s154c

3. COMMUNISM (heavy stomping feet with this one indicting the monster is approaching) (Also can be confused with TOTALITARIANISM  but again, we are talking economic systems here not political systems.) We got involved in a war in VietNam to stop the spread of Communism. Hmmm, that didn’t work so well. Let’s try to understand why. With this system there is little if any outward show of personal freedom. That REALLY irks us. Income levels are very low and people are dependent on government programs for education, medicine, housing and more. Sounds horrific. But interesting enough, I was chatting quite a bit with a physicist (highly educated) in Russia for about 10 years. He actually MISSED the safety net the old system had offered. Now, with the end of communism, there were a lot of people who were on the street, without housing, without food. More crime. Now, we Americans were indoctrinated that the USSR was the worst place on earth to live. The lack of personal freedom certainly made it a horrible comparison. Even with the new freedom, when I suggested he find a 2 bedroom apartment when he and his wife had their first baby, he was unable to do so. The concept was too difficult to communicate. Even though his English was amazing, the lack of understanding on the freedom to move could not be overcome.

The slogan “from each according to his abilities to each according to his means” is a scary concept for us here in the US.  The people who have managed to be successful, to rise to the top and are managing fine in this economy, are scared that any change will mean they will lose…lose what they feel they have earned. Meanwhile, there are many many people working several part time minimal wage jobs who are not able to feed their families, keep them in safe housing, and feel they are falling behind. They are the ones who might find the safety net, as my Russian friend called it, a possibly attractive situation….except for the loss of freedom.

food

Okay, that gives a very basic review. Now, let’s look at the health insurance system to see where the Affordable Healthcare Act falls because so many people scream in anguish “This is SOCIALISM!!!!”  Let’s see.socialized_medicine

Back in 2008 we were lucky to take a trip to the United Kingdom when Graham was invited to give a talk at a professional conference. We  made it a wonderful vacation, exploring a small part of England and into Scotland. It was in Glasgow, while Sam was running with a kid his age, that I got to talk to that boy’s mom and learned about the health system in place in the UK. That mom is a general practitioner and works in one of the neighborhood clinics that are located to serve a certain size population cluster. She said people in the neighborhood can go to another clinic, but most go to the nearby one for convenience and she likes it as she gets to know people who know each other and can be supportive to each other.

She is the equivalent of my PCP (primary care physician), someone who is a generalist specializing in internal medicine or family practice or some such. She has the ability, she said, to take care of almost 90% of her patients’ needs and then refers the others to specialists.  These specialists may be in her clinic or in a clinic nearby.  Waiting time to see the specialist tends to be within a few days or a couple of weeks maximum.

She said the patients do not pay to see her. They do make appointments but there are always some walk-ins each day. She said many, especially the older people living alone, may really have nothing medically necessary to see the doc, but just need some time to be with someone. In other words, she also performs a bit of some gentle compassionate care in the realm of psychiatric counseling.

This doctor said she will never make a lot of money. She will not have a second home at the coast, or a boat or take wonderfully exotic vacations. She said she is honored to have chosen to work in this field and feels very satisfied with her work and her compensation.

This is a government system. There are similar ones throughout Europe, in Canada and in other nations around the world. How is it that a friend I have living in Croatia can get a crown for one of her teeth for under $200 but I need to pay over $1000? How is it that medicine in Canada costs 10% of some of the prices here?

~~~

We have a capitalistic economic system with large corporations, not the government, seemingly in control in many areas.  The pharmaceutical companies work long years to develop medicines which the FDA reviews. Some turn out to be good.  Some like the fat-blocker I so eagerly took in the early 1990s are later found to cause big problems but got pushed through the approval process because the pharmaceutical companies said they were okay. The insurance companies worked hard in Congress to make sure that the Affordable Healthcare Act was written so they would manage to keep on making huge profits and we would not have a unified government run system.

This is not socialism, people. This is capitalism at its…….well, finest is not the word I would use, but the one I want to use is not polite.

Universal healthcare coverage in the United States is NOT socialized medicine. Don’t swallow your brains with your saliva when your favorite talking head pulls out the scary music please.  I hope you take this and before you refute it because of its simplicity, do some research of your own and then educate us if you feel differently.universalcov 512


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New Americans

About 25 years ago my family was one of two which helped a new immigrant family get settled into their new life in Connecticut. Jane and Igor, along with their daughter and his parents, were Russian Jews who seized the golden ticket to the United States when Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union,  decided to try to encourage its Jewish population to emigrate.  Israel and the US were the major players in receiving these people, who often had had no exposure to the religion.ImmigrationReform

Jewish communities around the country worked to help these newcomers get settled. Apartments were located, furniture and furnishings were donated. We were asked to contribute about $100 and were given a list of toiletries to purchase and place in the apartment. The other family bought some food staples.

Over the next year we worked together to tag team so we would remain in steady contact without overwhelming them. Over the months they started to show us places they had discovered in our own town. That was when we realized the system worked.  “Adopting” an immigrant family was a way to help them get settled without a huge burden on any one of us or society overall.

Igor and Jane both got jobs as computer programmers within 6 months of their arrival, accepting positions below the level they had last worked in Russia but soon were making progress as their English skills improved. The young girl went to elementary school and within a few years had no trace of a Russian accent. The older parents were retired, slow to learn English, but made efforts to participate in activities at the Jewish Community Center and received a small monthly stipend that was part of the government’s immigration program for this group.

I remember an early discussion with Jane. I realized no one had discussed birth control and we knew that in Russia, abortion was used pretty regularly as a way to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Jane’s English was pretty good but she did not have the vocabulary that you can imagine would be used in this kind of discussion. It went somewhat like  this:

Me: Jane, I was thinking that you and Igor might want an American baby.

Jane: (turning red) Oh yes, but not right now.

Me: You know how not to have a baby right now? (handing her a Planned Parenthood pamphlet)

Jane: I will read this with Igor!

A couple years later, when I moved from Connecticut to Tennessee, the family had purchased a home and Jane was expecting their American baby.  In time they received their American citizenship and were active members of their community.

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Today we are amazed and horrified at the number of children who are coming over our southern borders. The United States has always been a magnet for people all over the world who want a better place. While many people here are stuck in economic stress, the tolerance for these illegals is low.

The contrast between the organization that helped the Russian immigrants get settled and the current system is dramatic. Surely we can develop a better system.immigration-economy-new-465


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Cupping a Cuppa

Having recently moved to Oregon, we are happily finding that we are on many of our friends’ summer vacation itineraries.  We take our job as host of the Rankin B&B seriously and try to thoughtfully plan our visitors’ time here to not only show highlights of the area but match those destinations with our friend’s  interests and hobbies.

We have a family coming soon who has no interest in tasting wine or any of the other alcoholic beverages this region offers.  That set me back for a moment or two but I polled my local friends and added their suggestions to my list of locally prepared foods with tasting rooms.  I am now sure we will have more places to visit than we will have time when they arrive!2014-06-13 09.47.39

One friend who lives in Newport told me that one of the local roasters runs their business a bit differently. On Fridays at 9:30am Caravan Coffee offers the opportunity to blind taste two coffees in their weekly public cupping activity.  We were offered to first smell the freshly prepared grounds and describe what nuances we could sense. 2014-06-13 09.42.47Then the hot water was poured over the grounds and we waited a few minutes for the grounds to release their flavor. 2014-06-13 09.52.48 Finally, a third table had been set up with see if we could distinguish between the two coffees.2014-06-13 10.01.35

We were given the opportunity to taste coffee from Brazil and another new one from Thailand. The distributor was there and told us how the Thai government had recently restricted cutting of the teak forest, which the locals had been doing to sell the wood as well as clear the land for rice planting. By introducing shade grown coffee his organization is helping to stimulate the local economy.Caravan-Info-graph-700x1024

Caravan Coffee is one of many coffee roasters in the Northwest but their statement of sourcing is a bit different than most:

  • A member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (Since 1998).
  • 100% Arabica coffee.
  • Only source Specialty Coffees.
  • Certified Quality Grader & Certified level 1 & 2 Roasters Guild whom only chooses ethically sourced coffee for our roasting.
  • We have direct-relationships with some of our farmers and are actively pursuing more.
  • Certified Fair-Trade coffee.
  • Certified Organic Coffee by USDA.
  • The Proprietor and Roastmaster have personally visited several farms from which their coffees are sourced.

The coffee is available at the shop and tasting room at 2750 East 9th Street in Newberg and online individually or as a member of the Coffee Club.  If you are a serious coffee drinker, this may be worth your time checking out!hand_picked_club_subscription-510x600


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High Value Travel: Private Tour Guides

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.                                                                                                           Warren Buffet 1930- , American Investment Entrepreneur

 

I met Carol through the internet in 1996. She was a travel agent in California and soon began to provide service for my boss who flew somewhere just about every month. He was surprised I was using a resource located so far from Nashville and had me switch to the agency used by Vanderbilt.  However, when they overnighted a changed ticket instead of messengering it the two blocks, he learned the definition of value. Carol cared about him and providing her service for his monthly travel, and so she was responsive and easy to get along with. He agreed to switch back to Carol and she provided all his travel arrangements for the five years he and I worked together. I got to know her quite well over that time and visited her in California on two separate trips. 

She retired seven years ago and moved to Croatia. Although her parents had emigrated to the U.S. before she was born, she had been there to visit family several times and it felt right to her. Her hope was to provide individual tour guide service to people visiting Dubrovnik  but found many of the cruisers who didn’t already feel they could just see the place on their own opted to purchase a land tour arranged by the ship. It takes some work to find an alternative to a package someone hands you. And at first comparison, the price may not seem advantageous.

So I want to talk just for a bit about the way hiring a private tour guide can make a tremendous difference in the quality of a visit in a new place or as a way to explore areas of a place that are “off the beaten path.”

Just recently my daughter Lisa and I enjoyed a week in India on a group tour. As soon as I learned the itinerary I hired a private guide for some “free time”. It cost $225 for two guides and a car and driver and I was the one who finally called it quits after 8 hours. What a wonderful time we had getting to see non-tourist areas. If you have been reading my blog (if not, just go back about a month in the postings)  you already learned about how they listened to what we wanted and immediately figured out how to show us the real side of what living in India looks like. DSCF6128

About seven years ago, on a circle tour of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, my family visited Mesa Verde National Park. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that hosted Elder Hostel programs. Elder Hostel, now called Road Scholar, is an educational tour program geared mostly to people over the age of 50. I was intrigued by this b&b’s affiliation because it offered private educational programs as well.????????????

We hired a delightful archaeologist who took us on a 3 hour hike on BLM land. With her expertise we walked among ruins and learned more about the Anasazi people who lived in the area than anything the National Park Ranger told us later when we went into the park. I paid $150 for the five of us and it was worth every penny in the new appreciation each of us took from the experience.honeymoon 234

Three years ago one of my sisters presented my daughter and me with a surprise 4 night trip to Paris. She had found a steal of a deal (I’ve shared how to find those types of travel opportunities in a prior post) and was happy to take us. I decided that we needed to really get a feel for back street Paris and searched the web looking for tour offerings. When I found Richard, I knew I had what we wanted.

Shopping in a market in the Marais with Richard

Shopping in a market in the Marais with Richard

cooking_class_mushrooms_cookingRichard Nahem grew up in New York City but moved to Paris when he fell in love with it on a visit. His sense of adventure, eye for detail and love for the unexpected is what prompted me to hire him. Read through his blog to see what I mean.

We paid him 195 euros for 3 hours of back street tours 2 of the 3 full days we were there. In addition, Richard can arrange for cooking classes and also day tours outside of the city, especially to the nearby champagne wine growing area. Please go to his blog to his website about his tour service. Marais Palace family

Finally, Carol Sosa is available for walking tours of Dubrovnik. This town, called the Pearl of the Adriatic, is on the itinerary for many cruise ships. Visitors have between 4 and 10 hours there and yet, it was interesting to watch the kind of activity many chose the nine days I was there. I saw lots of people walking the main street eating gelato and going into the tourist shops and I saw long lines of tourists following a leader holding an electronic microphone. The sound quality was so poor that only the first ten people could probably hear and understand. However, there were easily 25-40 people trailing behind the guide. These tours usually cost between $25 and $40 per person and lasts maybe an hour.

Cruise ship tour group crowds around guide

Cruise ship tour group crowds around guide

In contrast, here are some things we did with Carol taking us on a private tour.green market2

Ivo working as a guide at the Fortress.

Ivo working as a guide at the Fortress.

Dubrovnik back streets3

old city pharmacyCarol has spent the past six plus years getting to know the secrets she can show to a small party. She has found out the shops that have authentic items made in Croatia, not tourist trap purchases found in some of the main street shops. She charges 70 euros per person for 3-4 hours and your tour is tailored to your specific interests. Read her blog to learn more about her.art

In a nutshell, a personal tour guide can customize the trip for YOU. While you can find tour programs that will give you great overviews (several years ago we enjoyed the boat trip on the Thames in London), and a group walking tour can give you tremendous value usually in one hour (like the Ghost Tour we joined in Oxford on that same trip), only a private tour for you and your immediate group can be geared to your interests and specifically address issues you have.

For example, when my camera died on our walk in Paris, Richard was able to take us to an electronics shop that had great prices, and we not only felt assured we were safe making a purchase there, the experience became part of the “getting to see how real Parisians live” experience.

So, consider hiring a personal tour guide, maybe not every day or every place you visit on a trip, but at least once to expand your awareness of what makes that location, the place that interested you enough to plan the trip, so very special.

 


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Crisis Brewing

Throughout our trip to India I heard again and again about the shortage of water. We were told not to drink the tap water even in the Western hotels.  The water was safe, we were told, but the pipes were decaying and the water contained all kinds of “minerals” that would be unhealthy. In other words, the infrastructure of even the modernized areas of the large cities is getting old.

Water cisterns on top of buildings get regular deliveries of trucked in water.rooftop water The city of Fatephur Sikri where the new center of government had to be abandoned after only ten years because of the lack of water gets its water trucked in.DSCF6281 Water tables are falling, making farming resort back to dry methods; the Green Revolution was not the answer to feed the nation because of the lack of available water.DSCF6547

Election-2014-Card-6Meanwhile, the elections for the new government are now over and we wait for the count.  The nation is clamoring for a change, hoping replacing the longtime Ghandi leadership will result in wonderful improvements.

obama chnageI think back to our own experience when Barack Obama offered the concept of change and won handily.  We were all so hopeful, and look what has been happening here in our own country over the past six years. We seem to be more divisive, more argumentative, more angry over everything.

There was a sense of calm in India. It could be as a short time visitor I was insulated and did not truly understand any unrest I may have witnessed, but I got the impression that the religious practices there give the people a feeling about life that is different than what we have. With the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of reincarnation, there is a surety that this lifetime is only one of many.  Perhaps this provides a sense of calm facing what we would consider considerable frustration.Unity-in-Diversity

My visit to the Muslim family in Agra also provided some insight.  As we left and headed back to the market area I asked our guides where that family was in the spectrum of lower and middle class. For sure it would be poverty here in the US. He said it was lower middle class. I’ve reconsidered all I saw in their home that day. Despite the lack of personal space, no television or computer or other toys typically found in our homes, the tiny kitchen space, they appeared to be clean, well fed and all had places to sleep.  The fact that an extended family was living together in what we would consider a small space is a cultural difference not really related to economic status.DSCF6148

We Americans are used to so much more. Out attachment to television and movies shows us products and lifestyles of the rich and famous, causing us to want more, to expect more, to demand more.  We want what we want and we want it now. Deferred gratification is something that has been forgotten.

DSCF6072Perhaps the Indians know better that to acquire more they must work. Because they do work. Oh sure, we saw some people with their hands out. But we saw more, many many more people hawking their wares. Annoying bunch of people. But they were working. So were the people who were sweeping the pavement. The people cutting the grass. All the many many people doing what we consider menial labor so they could earn a living.

So, I started writing this blog thinking that if the new Indian government does not make some improvements there will be trouble. Particularly, I am concerned about water shortages in India.

But now, as I wind this short essay down, I am more concerned about us here in the US. We have so much and we do not know how to live with less. And yet, that day is coming. We all feel it.


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Massage Envy

About 17 years ago my coworkers in the Vanderbilt Laser Sight Center presented me with a gift certificate to a local spa for my birthday. It took me almost a full year to work up the courage to redeem it and when I went into work the next day I demanded a raise so I could enjoy massages on a regular basis. That didn’t happen but they gave me another gift certificate for the next birthday and after that I managed to squeak out the funds from my budget.

I was going through a rough time in my life.  My husband Dave had been diagnosed with brain cancer and I was slowly losing him. Sam was a baby and Dave had charged me with the instruction to keep life as normal as possible. Balancing the needs of a small child, a dying husband, work and my own health was a challenge and the monthly massage was the only time that was ME ME ME. I treasured it.

And so, massage has remained a part of my health regimen ever since. I have been fortunate to find practitioners who had great hands and wonderful technique wherever I have lived.

When travelling it can be tempting to take advantage of the spa, especially when prices are so much lower than here in the States. On the India trip several people who were part of the SmarTours group enjoyed massages at our first hotel in Delhi and told about the experience in glowing terms. So when Lisa and I checked into the next hotel in Agra and learned we could have an in-room massage for about $20, we scheduled one each!

It had been a long hot day so we each jumped in the shower to present less sweaty bodies. The husband and wife team arrived as I was just finishing, and laughingly told us it was not necessary to be clean. That should have given us a clue we were in for a slightly different experience.

My massage therapist here in Oregon no longer works at a spa but comes to our house with his portable table. Lisa and I were surprised they didn’t carry anything….and they at first suggested we would lie on the floor.  They grabbed the towels from our bathroom and spread them on the beds, though and soon the massages started.

There are several schools of massage and the one I am most familiar with is Swedish Deep Tissue.  The technique, Indian Ayurvedic, seemed to involve a lot of short fast strokes that were only on the surface. I have no idea if there are long term benefits of this method but other than getting very lubed up with the massage oil, I can’t say there was any “ahhhhhhh” feeling after.massage

In fact, after they left the room, Lisa and I looked at each other and   laughed for about ten minutes. The joke was on us, but we were only out about $50 total.