goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Serendipity

Not once did I consider it an April Fools joke but we have no idea how the photo showed up on Graham’s Facebook feed last night.  Kentucky State University has a mobile fruit and vegetable processing truck that visits farms in season to help them preserve their harvest.KSU mobile fruit and vegetable kitchen

Finding no info to take me specifically to the person in charge, I emailed the head of the agricultural school at KSU, dropping The Wild Ramp market experience to give me local “street” cred (more like farm cred).  And now we are setting up an appointment for me to go look-see!

Why the excitement? Two factors. In case you missed it, I am setting up a business here in Oregon to help small farmers preserve their surplus fruits and vegetables. AND we will be in Kentucky for Graham to do some forensic business in May, less than an hour from where the KSU research farm is located in Frankfurt!!Can-Do Company Logo Final

WOW! Life is good!  Now, who can I get to help me write a grant application?

 

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Time Off

Thanks to my sister Laura giving me a special gift to celebrate 60 years, Graham and I enjoyed a brunch cruise on the Willamette River in Portland.We’d been on a dinner cruise a few years ago on the Ohio River out of Huntington, West Virginia with our friends Deb and Milt Hankins, so I sort of expected something similar.Willametterivermap

Not being super familiar with Portland yet we drove in early to give ourselves plenty of time to find parking (2 blocks away for $5)  and maneuver around the Rose Festival which had the riverfront area blocked off for concerts and rides and other fun fair activities.DSC_0058

We made it to the dock in time to chat with the captain who, while chomping down a commercial donut, told us how terrific the food is. (And it was pretty good!)  Missed that donut photo for you, though!DSC_0005

DSC_0002DSC_0035aThe cruise headed upriver, which is south from downtown Portland. The gray overcast cleared and we ended up with beautiful blue skies.  Activity on the river shows how much people enjoy having this playground. DSC_0002a

Development along a riverfront can tell you something about the way a City considered its access to a natural resource. While we did see one industrial business, it is only fair to tell you that most of the commercial and industrial development in Portland is along the Columbia River, not the Willamette.This has left the shorelines free for recreational and residential development for much of what we passed.OMSI (Science Museum) includes a submarine built after WWII

OMSI (Science Museum) includes a submarine built after WWII

I particularly enjoyed the floating houses.

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And of course there were plenty of mansions.

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As we returned downstream the number of bridges became apparent, from the aged Sellwood Bridge which is past time getting replacedAll bridges are given a safety rating from 1 to 100. The Sellwood Bridge rating is a 2. Would you drive across it?

All bridges are given a safety rating from 1 to 100. The Sellwood Bridge rating is a 2. Would you drive across it?

to the new Portland-Milwaukie light rail bridge which will provide a river crossing for mass transit, bicycles and pedestrians, but not automobiles.dsc_0014

We caused one lift bridge to disrupt traffic,but turned back south(upriver) before the next one.DSC_0052

Both Graham and I noticed some downtown construction features-a rooftop tree planted plaza and solar arrays over one roof.DSC_0064aDSC_0064  There are a lot of things about Portland that are truly admirable! The respect for the natural resource of the Willamette River that flows through the City is one great example.

 

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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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Seeing Another Side

Imagine, if you will, a nice spring day. Your main front door is open and you are letting the sun and breeze enter your home through the screen. A knock on the door is answered by your teenager and a stranger, with 3 other people, tells him, “These people are my guests and they want tea.” What would you do?Blue Lotus Chai Tea Cup

I know my inclination would be to tell them where they closest coffee (tea available) shop is located.

Imagine instead, flinging the door wide open and inviting the four strangers inside, making tea and spending an hour, your family gathered around you, listening and learning about the strangers who entered your home.

Come with me into a poor neighborhood of Agra….feel this one with me.

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When Kamal and Nilal met us at our hotel and asked what we wanted to see with our personal tour with them I had thought it was all organized already. I had been in email discussion with the BuddhaPath office in Delhi and was promised a tour of a Buddhist Temple and a mediation session and then some other things. That sounded great as I have read some about Buddhism but know the real life exposure would be meaningful. But the guys had not gotten the memo.

So, basically Lisa and I told them we wanted to stay away from the tourist areas. We wanted, while staying safe, to see how people live. We also had a list of items we were trying to find for friends and wondered if they knew of any market where regular people shop that might have them.

Nilal got on his cell phone and within 20 minutes we were out the door and into the car.  We headed to an area of town SmartTours never would have wanted us to see. This was the real deal…the place where people in the middle middle and lower economic areas live, work and play.DSCF6128

Walking through the market itself was amazing with the narrow street, the moving traffic (I inadvertently walked into a moving motorcycle at one point and was vigorously told off ), the animals wandering around. The mass of humanity.DSCF6130

DSCF6243Shopping was more fun. First of all, the prices were not super-inflated for tourists to begin with. For example, I knew I did not want a sari; I would never find a real occasion to wear one, but I wanted a shalwar, an outfit with pants, tunic and scarf. I had priced one earlier in Delhi and it was over $70.  So, with some hope, we entered a shop. Open to the street with an metal overhead garage type door, the store itself was probably 15 feet wide by 20 feet deep. This was a large shop (larger than the shop with jewelry Lisa is exploring in the photo above). Shelves stacked to the ceiling were loaded with plastic bag wrapped clothing items.  With Nilal getting into the spirit of the shopping, the request was spoken, the estimate of my size was made, and the stack started growing on the counter. Every bag was opened. Every item unfolded. Soon there were about 10 choices on display.  When requested the price was given…equivalent to $40. That was better, but we already knew the system. Bartering, arm wrestling over the price, is expected. Nilal quietly asked me what I was willing to pay, Giving the equivalent in rupees at $25, he then went into his discussion in Hindi. In a few minutes it appeared I had purchased my new outfit for $15.

We hit a few more shops and made a few more purchases. In this market, unlike the ones where the tourists go, the vendors did not chase us. There was curiosity about us; we were the only Westerners on the street. But courtesy and interest was the action.DSCF6159

We wandered south along the street and crossed some railroad tracks, entering into an area where small factories lined the narrower street. Metal works included pots and pans and also what we figured were evaporative coolers similar to what is used in the American Southwest as a less expensive alternative to air conditioning.evaporative cooler factory

Nilal lead us on and then took us into a side alley. He said he hoped we could get to see the inside of a house, and then he knocked on the door, the teenager answered.  He disappeared for a few seconds (probably to check with mom) and then ushered us in.DSCF6141

After crossing the small entryway we entered into a courtyard about 10 feet by 10 feet and open to the sky above. DSCF6147To the side was a room with a few plastic outdoor chairs and several platforms of woven canvas webbing. A middle aged woman offered us the chairs and then asked Bilal in Hindi if we would like some chai. I had no idea what he had said to the teenager that we wanted tea so we looked at him and he nodded and we smiled and nodded. DSCF6144

The room filled with people and they piled on to the platforms.  The family living in the house includes a grandmother, 5 adult brothers, their wives and their children. DSCF6148We counted about 25 people and only met one of the men who was sewing in his room upstairs.  DSCF6150(When I noticed his sewing machine I immediately flashed on the family history that my mother’s father was a tailor when he immigrated to the United States in 1905 and had probably worked in a similar setting in New York before leaving the city for literally greener pastures; he became a farmer.) We learned that the family had owned the house for  at least 5 generations. That the oldest boy was soon to take his college entrance exam.

Understanding that offering them money would be an insult I told them a bit about New York City and then, using paper and pen we drew a map of the United States and showed them other places we had lived. They knew California but nothing else, including Nashville. Marketers for Music City USA would be devastated.

When asked if we would like to see the house I grabbed the opportunity (once again thinking how my house would look if strangers came to call). I watched one of the women make our chai.

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The tour wound up and up and up five flights of stairs.  We poked our heads into several of the rooms and one was nicer than the others; the man must have a good paying job.

DSCF6151The boys then proudly lead us up to the roof where they have a coop with pet pigeons.

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The view from the roof gave us a glimpse that life in this neighborhood is vertical and that not all is as it seems on the street level.

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We talk a lot about hospitality in this country, especially in our church communities. Since 9/11 we also are very quick to think poorly about people who are Muslim. It is so easy to generalize when you don’t know anyone.

These people live at the lower end of what is considered middle class in India. Here it would be poverty level. But the house was spotless. The people were curious and friendly and involved. They had little but were very willing to share with the strangers.

How we measure riches? How do we show acceptance?

Getting off the beaten track is what Lisa and I like to do when we travel. The Taj Mahal, visited that morning, was the highlight of the trip for many in our SmartTour group. For us, the day only got better and better…..to be continued.


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Group Versus Individual Travel

Neither Lisa nor I are typically group tour tourists, so deciding to purchase this trip took some consideration. Our concerns about group tours is that the itinerary may not be a good fit to our own personal interests, that the group itself may be so large that the information the guide has to offer may not be heard well because of our location in the pack, and that if any people on the tour are difficult and non-cooperative it can affect everyone’s experience. We decided to take the risk because the price was considerably less than retail rack rate would cost and the culture in India is so significantly different than my travel experience and the potential language barrier existed that a guide would be helpful.DSCF6249

It turned out very well. The tour group numbered 31 in all and while everyone had different travel experience and attitudes towards what they hoped to learn, everyone was very nice and there were no prima donnas.  One of the fears, that we would have to wait for people who were late returning to the bus, never happened.  And we managed to snag the front seat on the bus next to Arvind, our guide, which enabled us to constantly chat with him, asking lots and lots and lots and lots of questions.Arvenda

The tour schedule gave us an afternoon and evening free in Agra and another afternoon free in Jaipur.  That permitted those that wanted to take it easy to hang by the pool. And it allowed Lisa and me to go explore.DSCF6136

Based on advice I received from other people who had traveled to India I decided we would arrange for a personal tour guide for at least one of those free afternoons. By happenstance I met a farmer here in Oregon a week before my trip who was from Delhi and his brother-in-law there happens to run a licensed tour service, BuddhaPath.  While my request was a bit unusual, because of the personal connection they were happy to arrange a personal guide for our time in Agra.Nilal and Kamal

Kamal came 5 hours by bus from Delhi to join us in Agra.  India law requires when a tour is offered that an assistant is also part of the team, so Bilal joined us as well. Since he was local, he became very busy on his cell phone after talking with us, locating the places that fit the concepts we mentioned. And, in addition we had a car and driver.  The cost was $225, which is very standard for one personal guide for 4 hours wherever I have hired one (archaeologist near Mesa Verde, guide in Paris, guide in New York City and the going rate in Dubrovnik as well). These three guys started with us at 12:30 and I finally told them I was tired around 8:30. Kamal stayed with us chatting about Buddhism for another hour after we were dropped back to our hotel.  We definitely had wonderful service that I can highly recommend to anyone.

I want to share what we did that day, so stay tuned!!! It made the day, that started at the Taj Mahal better and better!!!

 

 

 

 


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World Class Wonder

He was so deeply in love with his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, that when she died in 1631 giving birth to her 19th child at age 41, Shah Jahan was devastated. His heart broke and later one of his sons felt his reasoning was also questionable as he had spent down the kingdom’s treasury to build this exquisite mausoleum to honor her.DSCF6038

DSCF6123DSCF6028It took over 22 years and 20,000 workers to erect the structure. The Taj Mahal is made with the hardest marble found in the world, finer than Italy’s Carrara marble used by Michelangelo in his carvings. Makrana marble, quarried about 300 kilometers west of Agra in the Indian state of Rajastan, is so hard and nonporous that today it is marketed for table tops, knowing that no spilled foods will stain it. In the Taj Mahal the white stone gleams in the sun.  More than 1000 elephants were needed to transport the marble to the construction site. Red sandstone is also included in the site. This was brought from the area in Rajastan near Fatehpur Sikri (more on that site in another blog). DSCF6019a

The marble is so hard that chiseling it is difficult, but much of the surface is inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones also from Rajastan.  DSCF6055Many were stolen by the British during their administrative rule of India, and even today people try to remove pieces. There is a security screening upon entering the grounds and many items, such as nail files, are not permitted. DSCF6084

Postcard-Shot-of-the-Tomb-of-ITimad-Ud-Daulah-aka-Baby-Taj-Agra-2012-05-16Modeled on the Moghul architecture of the “Baby Taj”, the tomb of Mirza Ghias Beg located across the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal has complete symmetry not only in the mauseleum building but on the grounds with the surrounding structures. As a burial site, it also has a mosque and the site is closed on Fridays for the Muslim Sabbath prayers. DSCF6080 The corresponding matching building has no current function.DSCF6066

The only item inside the Taj Mahal that is out of symmetry is the grave of Shah Jahan. Deposed by his son after he learned his father planned to build another matching structure in black marble across the  River from the Taj, the Shah was placed in “house arrest” in the Red Fort down the river from the Taj. There, he could gaze longingly on his love’s tomb until his death a few years later. DSCF6073

Some of the design took careful engineering. For example, the 99 names of Allah inlayed in Arabic script around the entrance, grows in size as it rises so it appears to be the same size to the human eye.

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DSCF6058DSCF6069As you approach the upper level of the Taj shoes must be removed. Our guide, was able to obtain shoe covers, another option, for us, in deference to the rising temperatures (probably about 90 degrees at 10am) and the fact that most Americans are not used to walking barefoot.DSCF6081

There is concern about the future of the Taj Mahal. Built next to the river on a piered foundation, low water levels (caused by reduced monsoons as well as increased water usage by area industry) are weakening the structure. In addition, because of the factories, Agra has some of the worse air pollution in India and although the marble is hard, chemical effects on the stone are beginning to be seen.DSCF6049

This UNESCO World Heritage site is considered to be one of the seven modern wonders of the world. I heard many in our tour group say this was the highlight of the tour for them. For Lisa and me, it was a wonderful beginning of a day that only got better.DSCF6039

 


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Golden Triangle for a Golden Birthday

Awake way too early today as I am shaking off the 12.5 hours difference of the past week in India with my daughter Lisa. Her Golden Birthday trip choice was India and she found an amazing tour package that cost less than the retail price of airfare alone.  (I wrote about how to find travel deals in my CustomTripPlanning blog several years ago after a glorious four day trip to Paris for $499.) The price of the tour was $1299 and additional costs to us included obtaining our visas, recommended inoculations and medicines,  tips for our guides and drivers, and personal spending money.

The flight is long. I first flew from Portland to the east coast as the tour originated from JFK. Air India provided service superior to the American carrier I last flew to Europe. Not only were there small niceties like a foot rest with roller bar, DSCF5794but extensive entertainment options available through the seat-back display which also included a power port for electronic gear.DSCF5795  They offered two meals heading east, and three meals flying west.

DSCF5797I flew directly home after arriving in New York and that was a bit tough. Next long trip like this will be broken up with at least one day in an interim location.  Getting old, I guess, but making adjustments like that will keep me enjoying travelling for a long time to come.

India is a large country, about one third the size of the United States.  This map superimposes the outline of India on North America so you can see the comparison.compare INdia and Us map

India’s Golden Triangle are the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

golden-triangle-india-mapDelhi is the capital and has an estimated regional population of over 16,000,000. (New York, in comparison, has about half the population.)  While the ancient city of Delhi has been occupied for over a millennium, New Delhi was built in 1912 when the British moved the national government from Calcutta. DSCF5859

Agra is best known to most people as the location of the Taj Mahal.  I will write about that world heritage site in another blog as well as how we enhanced our experience by hiring a personal guide to get away from the tourist areas. DSCF6049

Jaipur is located in the State of Rajasthan which has many world heritage sites. It is known for its gems and textiles which, since I sew, got me pretty excited. I stuffed an empty duffel bag in my small almost empty suitcase to carry back my expected purchases and yes, used both suitcases for the trip home. Other people in our tour group had not planned and purchased new bags.

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I have a lot to share with you.  India is certainly the most culturally different location I have ever visited and I bombarded our guides with tons of questions to better understand what I was seeing.  Here are some of the topics I plan to share

  • Visiting a Sikh Temple and the kitchens which prepare 20,000 meals a day
  • Understanding the story behind the Taj Mahal and concerns about it
  • Visits to amazing high quality crafts factories for rugs, marble, textiles, and more
  • Shopping in the street markets and how to deal with the aggressive vendors
  • Exploring rooms and passageways in several other World Heritage sites
  • Getting off the beaten track and seeing how real people live
  • Visiting a Hindu Temple sunset service for Shiva
  • So much more…..and if you have questions, throw them at me.