The Serendipity of Senior Malfunctions when traveling Independently

This first segment has to do with “closed” mountain passes, “bus” people,  (derogatory, yes…due to being independent-travelers), hotel and motorcycles.

Driving to Lake Bled, Slovenia  was nerve wracking with narrow roads and hairpin turns, additionally  complicated with falling snow. But on the plus side, there was little traffic and at the top of Julian Alps, none. Julian alps Then the clouds split, the sun shined and we stopped to see the spectacular scenery surrounding us.

When we drove  again, the snow returned, but stopped just before we reached Lake Bled. (We later found out the road had been “closed” but we could  not read the Slovenian signs.) Lake Bed Slovenia

This tiny lake is surrounded by lush mountains and centered with a small island containing a castle and a church. The surrounding mountains are snow-capped, but almost none around the lake.

We chose Park Hotel, notably for its view of the lake, which we could see from our balcony.   Park hotel The lovely  dining room was only open for breakfast and the service bar in the empty lobby was only staffed just before busses arrived …and departed. We walked down to the lake and found a small restaurant  “Rike”  overlooking the water and serving excellent trout. The next morning we arrived at the dining room at 8:30, and hordes of people  were racing from the dining room to their busses. The waiter started to close the door but we said it’s only 8:30 and he said we usually close the doors when the busses leave. Mike said we don’t have a bus. The buffet was cleaned out, only some lettuce leaves and cold toast. The waiter looked at us “What would you like?” And it was good.

There was a 5 mile pathway around the lake, the weather good and exercise was needed. Tree branches overhead, birds, frogs, water frothing on the sand…wonderful. Near the end of the trail we saw a campsite. Camp ground Lake Bed Just as we bought  coffee and sat at a table, at least 50 motorcycles  (not shown in this picture) roared in.  Guitars appeared, songs rang out, beer was flowing….a very jolly group!  With only a mile to go, and  they would be passing us on a dirt road, we decided to wait till they left. (Some less steady than others.)   We had really enjoyed their conviviality! Some of our “malfunctions” when traveling were the best part.



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The Serendipity of Independent Travelers Malfunctions…..when seeing new places

and just down the street...

Raised in Ohio in a rectangular house with rooms the same, filled with French and Italian Provincial furniture, Casa Batllo, in Barcelona, was a new awakening for me.

Antoni Gaudi, born in 1852 and died under the wheels of a bus in 1926 on his way to church, was a brilliant proponent of organic design and leader of the Spanish avant-guard.  He renovated this building for Joseph Batllo in 1901 and it became the focal point of the block. But this was the first time I had seen Casa Batllo with its  organic and graceful movement from the ground to the rooftop.

Staircase in Casa BatiloThe front entrance leads directly to the staircase…the kind that makes you want to race up the steps, jump on the rail and slide ! (Not a good idea if you want to see the rest of the house.)

Casa Batllo interior

Since there are no straight lines or corners in this building (or many others), the curvature leads your eye to the fireplace! What a spot to curl up with a book/wine in such a comfy location.

Then to the large front room we saw from the street.

Casa_batllo Now we are looking out these wild curvaceous windows to the world beyond.

Already overwhelmed by the house, I was not prepared for the rooftop. Although you can only see it from the street side, it’s worth it.

Casa Batllo Rooftop

Gaudi “sweeps” his building upwards to be encircled by a serpent’s tail….a combination of curves studded with broken glass, colored clay chips and topped with darker colored balls: a vibrant reptile protecting the building below.

Gaudi was hindered by rheumatic ailments all his life….consequently he channeled all his energy and passion into his “creations”.

And from a magically  remodeled house, we see the “creation” of a   magic park: Guell Park (1900 to 1914).

Guell ParkEusebi Guell, owner of the property, originally planned for an “exemplary” suburban  colony of homes.  Yet Gaudi built a park……to the benefit of all of Barcelona!

The land was barren with stony, dry earth which made it unsuitable for both a settlement or a park.  Look at the picture here of the entrance.  Parallel stairs circling what seems to be a large “planter” which, in reality, is a deep cistern  collecting the rain water so vitally needed for the shrubs and trees. There were some steep hillsides on this 50 acre plot of land where Gaudi incorporated  the rain runoff into collection viaducts  for filling the cisterns.

Guell Park Lizard

Coming up the staircase we find the “Dragon/Protector” covering covering another cistern. He represents “Python”, the guardian of subterranean water. This leads us to the columns rising behind him.

Guell Park Pillars

This columned hall both keeps one dry and supports the roof, which serves as the floor for the Greek theatre above.  They are Doric columns with colorful and brilliant motifs.

Gaudi almost completely built this park using material found in the existing landscape.  Building roads and viaducts produced stones and rubble which he incorporated in his construction: preceding the “collage” technique of the Dadaists in the 20’s.

Guell Park Bench

Here Gaudi outdid himself with the “ Terrace” and  “Market” place. The park benches are faced with mosaics of broken, colorful tiles and faience chips.  Individuals/groups could visit…or not…with extraordinary privacy, sitting on the comfortable benches in sun or shade.  And they did and do!……(Gaudi actually had one of the workers sit, butt-naked, on the damp concrete in order to replicate the human figure.)

This last picture gives us an idea of how far Barcelona had to grow to catch up with Antoni Gaudi!

Park GuellV0YTYYz8_H

Our Serendipity has been not tearing down our old house when we got home from this trip….but making softening changes over time. We use to have 8 trees in our garden… now we have 15… that’s a start!






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Bits of Ireland

New Grange Meath

This 5000 year old Newgrange Stone age neolithic Passage tomb near Dublin, Ireland, continues to be a mystery. It predates both Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids. We do know that one of their purposes was for the spiritual  passage of the dead but not much else. Newgrange (above)  was structured so that  the sun directly entered the main chamber only on the Winter Solstice.

NewgrangeThe Winter Solsticesun shines through this passage way.

The entrance stone and the structure were all done by hand—no metal tools—only stone on stone carving  and physical brawn for moving the stones. These boulders were counterbalanced perfectly, obviously, having  remained stable for 5000 years.


Old Stonehenge


Restored Stonehenge

The Irish Stonehenge, County Meath, are tombs with upright stones, from 3200 years ago. After being plundered and with eventual  deterioration, they were extensively restored.

The “passage tombs” were not limited to any one country but spread  about and covering a a period over 5000 years..


Vetulonia passage

The following was uncovered in Tuscany. This Vitulonia Etruscan passage tomb is dated about 5000 years ago and is included because of its similarity  to Newgrange.

All done by hand, stone balanced on stone with a central corridor with burial rooms opening to the sides.

Late that night at our hotel by Newgrange, an incident occurred that restored my faith in the Irish. September is the month for weddings and our hotel was packed with pre-and-post  attendees. About 2am there came a loud shouting from below our window. It continued for a bit and then I saw the most vocal man pound on a bus. And then quiet.

At 4am another disturbance erupted. Shortly another man beat on a curb-side cab. Then quiet. My husband started grumbling. I said “No!” (Being Irish) These are MY people and they settle disputes differently!

The next morning  we were off to Trim Castle. Built in 1174, it is now notable for being used in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart  film.

Trime Castle

Because of the usual battles, It had to be rebuilt in 1224. The main outer wall was erected in 1250, and although tattered by many conflicts, is a most impressive fortification yet.

Trim Castle present

Trim Castle present

We walked around the luscious, green fields, watching the sheep as they trimmed the grass. Inside the castle walls, we were surprised to see safety measures –probably added both for Braveheart and tourists.

See the added picture of the staircase.

Trim Castle Interior

Onto Bunratty Castle which, being strategically located on the Shannon estuary near Limerick, and the Irish Sea,  was constantly attacked.

Built around 1200, it was a ruin by 1950 when Lord Gort  purchased  and restored it to the original state. He spared no expense in the beautiful restoration. But he should have added an elevator. Six flights of Stairs!


Over time they added a” Folk Park”to the back, including a 15th village containing transported structures taken from area towns: weaver’s shop, laborer’s cottage, corn mill …..and thankfully, a Pub.

We then continued to Galway for respite……which was not to be. Our hotel had 7 beautiful pubs on different levels and only one restaurant, which, thankfully, was quiet.
The Irish are a very vital and social people! After dinner we took “The Long Walk” down to the harbor and the Spanish Arch which was built in 1584 to protect the Spanish traders unloading their ships.
Luckily our hotel room was distanced from the bars so we had a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we drive to Limerick and my reason for this trip. My great grandfather and great grand mother were originally from  Limerick and after immigrating, they met and married in New York. I wanted to see where they lived and their town.
As we crossed the Shannon River we saw King John’s Castle across the water and it was magnificent!
Having mailed  my info to the Limerick ancestry months earlier,  they told me to come in and see what they had. We did and it was depressing. There was the info where each had lived but the area had been removed.
Mike suggested  I check out “Murrays” in the phone book but there were over a hundred. He said call some but be prepared for a response about the old family castle that just needs the back taxes paid. I compensated for this historical  loss by walking the city…and it was lovely.  We crossed the bridge and  entered the back of King John’s Castle for a tour.
I pictured my “Greats” having walked these same pathways and seeing the same sights. I loved this city!
A bit wiser, we ended our trip to Ireland  by heading for the Rock of Cashel on the Tipperary Plain. Begun in the 5th century, it was the seat of the Kings of Munster who then got tired of the cold and gave it to the Church in 1101.      
And it was abandoned  in the 18th century. But luckily for us, the sun was shining while we walked the site and ended up in the roofless—but magnificent Cathedral.
Back to the car and on to Dublin where we would fly back to San Francisco.
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The Templar Knights of La Couvertoirade

Templar Village

We left Montpellier, France on the A-75 highway to Paris. It was heavily packed with Sunday traffic and impacted with roadwork repairs. We exited for the first stop in tracking the Footsteps of the Knights Templar at the 11th century site of Covertairade. This beautiful walled city is set in the middle of pastoral farmlands with distant rolling hills. The entrance to the village is through huge doors that were barred from the inside during attacks. Then crossing a tiny plaza in front of a museum, we continued walking past both ancient and some refurbished houses and shops.

460891-la-couvertoirade-aveyron rebuilding[1]
It’s easy to spot the older buildings and the ones being refurbished, particularly windows with glass and some sharper edges on the roof lines.

The streets were narrow and graveled. We came to a lovely 12th century church adjacent to the castle/armory built on top of a ridge.
This is the front of the castle/fortress with certainly sharper lines and the Templar Cross in front guarding the village. This height gave oversight of the stream and farmlands below…a very important factor when you live on a road that leads to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea.




Castle-fortress, particially rebuiltThis is the back of the Fortress and in those times, easily defensible!

Although these local Templars were originally concerned with teaching farming techniques and improving the livestock of the farmers, but roving bands of attackers forced them to also become protectors. Guardians and protectors of this village is what they did. They built basements for storing animals and food. And giant front gates.


The stones in the 2nd row are from the 12th century but a few of the roof tops and towers are not. The small openings in the walls allowed the animals to feed outside but were easily protected.

Some houses have already been rehabbed for cafes and artisan shops, and when we were there, one restaurant.

2 Street scene...Aveyron

The wares of a weaver were advertised on the flag above his shop and below were vibrant blankets, throws and scarves draped over tables and chairs. He said the government was selling these rustic structures cheaply and in particular wanted artisans, -restaurateurs, writers and the like to buy. There were two stipulations: the owner would remodel (plumbing, electricity et al) and would live there. The benefit being one could freely sell his or her wares. Since tourism was just beginning in this area, the weaver hoped it would become quite profitable.

Midi PapillionThe village agent recommended the hotel Midi-Papillon in Saint Jean-du-Drul and called ahead for us.



The lovely old Hotel Midi-Papillon was built next to a deep gorge.

le-pont-vieux, 12th centuryHigh wooded hills surrounded the village with a rough 13th century bridge crossing the river and a 15th century church at the end.

The Hotel fronted a small patio beside the gorge where we could partake of drinks, cigarettes, and coffee—but not much conversation due to the roaring water.

Hotel riverside Patio

After an excellent breakfast finished with coffee overlooking the misty gorge, we continued our Circuit du Larzac.

And that will be Sainte Eulalie de Cernon.

Au revoir!





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Footsteps of the Templars Part 3


Today was Limoux’s Farmers Market. We had to wander around before leaving, checking out the quality of the fruits and vegetables, and other wares and were much impressed. A small bag of fruit left with us. We headed for Andora via Montsegur, the last bastion of the Cathars. We drove around the foot of the mountain to a small car park, planning to hike up to the top, A narrow dirt trail led way, way up to the castle. We decided to take pictures.

Finally, standing in the middle of the trail, we looked up to the destroyed 12th century castle and gave homage to the Cathars. This final group of over 300 were burned alive for trying to establish their philosophy of life and make the world a better place. We remember you and bid adieu.

Back to the car and on to Foix for lunch. The drive through the Pyrenees was absolutely breath-taking . The first sight of Foix was the 13th century castle on a river just beyond and above the city.

In the center of town, we found the large, open-sided but covered Farmers Market with one half set up for lunch and the other filled with small stalls for shopping. There were cast iron columns with wrought iron filigreed decor on the tops supporting the roof. It is hard to get the food in your mouth when there’s so much to look at….and you use a lot of napkins.

On to Andorra….

It was a magnificent drive through; around and over the snow- capped Pyrenees. The countryside, lush with winding rivers and forests was faintly touched with Fall.

Our first view of the city was looking down from the top of the mountain to where Andorra nestled in a narrow valley. Driving through the  city was an experience. New buildings, hotels, condos all became taller and closer as the high valley narrowed.

Andorra promotes itself as a Winter Sports Resort, Right  in the center of town is an enormous chair lift… it was not operating at this time…but it could have been the ride or a lifetime.

In the 14 years since the city had become an autonomous country, it seemed to have become crowded, crass and controversial in its grasp for notoriety and money. Very interesting political background.


On to La Seu d’Urgell and its lush parador of the same name. The Paradors were established by the Spanish government many years ago. The country was teeming with empty castles, monasteries, and nunneries.

The government bought many of them modernizing the structures to the level of 5 star hotels. You will see in the picture that they did a fantastic job. Notice the arches surrounding the courtyard of this 12th century convent. It was kept as the courtyard of the parador but incorporated with the addition of a glass ceiling dome into the main sitting room. The luxurious bedrooms were built on the far side.

I asked for a room with a terrace and spent the next hour sitting, drinking wine and watching the streams from the melting snow as it glimmered its way down to the valley. Need I say spectacular?


Breakfast was overwhelming and, delicious. Full stomachs, including a glass of bubbly(or two), necessitated a long walk and another night here.

We walked down to the 1992 Olympic site for water sports. A canoe practice for young people was underway with the necessary hooting; hollering and splashing. The older group following them were just as energetic but with less hooting. All the coaches and groups were well organized and the park was beautiful.

That evening we walked to dinner in the old town and found a family run restaurant, Cal Teo. Christina, daughter of the owner and our waitress, spoke good English. She had a vacation coming and wanted suggestions. Since France was only 8 miles away and she had never been there, we had many ideas. She would not charge us for the wine.

Back to wine on our patio and the fading light on the snow-capped Pyrenees. Less now than when we arrived.


On to Grand Hotel Rey Don Jaime in Castelldefels by the Barcelona Airport. Our concierge graciously called ahead and confirmed our reservation. It was a good 5 hour trip so we had to hustle a bit. Mike frequently moaned about the wineries being missed but I reminded him of the excellent wine list at the hotel’s restaurant.

It had been 5 years since we had made these same connections to the hotel and airport. Since then they had secretly rerouted the highway. We stopped in a small village…near, we thought, to the hotel, and using our limited Spanish, we were able to get explicit directions from the restaurant cook where we ate lunch. Bingo and a nice tip. It took about 15 minutes to arrive at the hotel.

Dinner, with an excellent wine, was eaten on the patio over-looking the lovely swimming pool and the 12th century fortress tower…all overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

The only excitement that night was looking out the room window and spotting a large boar on the ground below….with four little stripped boarlets tagging behind. Their home was probably on the hillside behind.


After breakfast we deposited our rental at the airport and, with the usual grace and ease, wended our way through the “priority” line for 1st class (obtained of course using miles for up-grades and calling Delta early).

Wine in the lounge and again in our hands as we sit on the plane. A good view of the mountains as the plane rises….I love those mountains.


In this case, some back-ground is necessary before the Journal can begin: a bit of history about the Templars or “Soldiers of Christ”. Most Americans are not familiar with these activists from the 11th century France.

Historically the Turks captured Jerusalem in 1071 which ignited retaliation from the Catholic Church. In 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade that would end with the recapture of Jerusalem and offer salvation and glory to those “Soldiers of Christ” (the Templars) who fought the Infidels. After the success of this Crusade, the bulk of the warriors left the city in the hands of a small troop of Templars for the defense and protection of the pilgrims.

In 1113 another pope approved the “Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John“ who would house and care for the “Walkers for God” pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. Then in 1119, Hugues de Payns formalized the brotherhood of the Templars as the “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon”. Their job was to defend the Holy Land. Installed in the former site of Solomon’s Temple, they pledged themselves both as knights and monks and lived as such.

The Order of the Knights Templar was confirmed in 1139 by Pope Innocent II who placed them under his direct protection. They were a permanent militia charged with defending the Latin kingdoms. Also, in the West, they aided the Christian reconquest of the Iberian (Spanish) peninsula from the Muslims.

Meanwhile their commandaries (huge agricultural estates either given to them or that they took over) produced wheat, barley, oil, wine, wool and cattle, supplied the resources to support their military expenditures. And their teaching agriculture to area farmers benefitted everyone.



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Caroline the Catalyst

I once spoke to a clairvoyant woman when I was 22 years old. She told me many eerie things; she spoke of past lives, told me I rarely ever live beyond the age of 28 because I prefer to live many lives so I live them short. But this life I would live past 28, and in fact during my 28th year of existence my life would, “Open up for me”. She said enough things that resonated true that I have always held this thought in the back of my mind since that encounter. But as of late it donned on me that perhaps there is some metaphysical law which did not allow her to use her ability to tell people their time of death. So she was hinting to me: 28 could be my end?

My Birthday is June 12th, I will be 27. And over the past two years as time draws closer to this age of 28 when I contemplate this thought of death there is a deep feeling that arises inside of me, a feeling that is not of my own self but something greater. As the saying goes: I feel it in my bones.

So over the last year I began living life as if I will be going Home soon. When one thinks of the hand of death as being so close they begin to ask themselves: What do I want to do before I go? Who do I want to speak to and what do I want to say to them?

At any moment someone you love can be taken from you. One day they are healthy, the next there is an accident or they fall ill and are gone before you have time act.

This is what I want to say to Caroline before either she or I go:

Caroline the Catalyst

Caroline started off as my first employer, my job was to socialize her powerful and protective dog, Gamba, with children and people in general. I was around 10 years old at the time, it has been 17 years now and for over half of them it was just a job and Caroline was just my grandma’s neighbor whom I had the typical relationship dynamic between that of a child/teen to a non family elder. Neither Caroline or myself were very sentimental and didn’t show much emotion or affection to one another for anything beyond our work together.

In the 17 years I have known Caroline I have only hugged her once. That was about a year and a half ago when I wasn’t doing so well and I had an epiphany of how much Caroline has done for me, and unbeknownst to her, my family.

For me, she taught the fundamentals of being an employee; of having responsibilities and duties, dedicating yourself to something and showing up consistently and on time. While I was teaching the dogs to socialize I was learning to socialize with an adult outside my family. And she paid me, generously, which enabled me to enjoy the fruits of life and allowed me to pursue hobbies and interest that I wouldn’t have been able to if it hadn’t been for her funding. But even more importantly, Caroline did something for my family.

After the dog walk or sometimes before I would go to my grandmothers house, Caroline’s next door neighbor, to visit. Had it not been for Caroline I wouldn’t have been on Santa Clara Street every week, I wouldn’t have visited my grandmother every Sunday and thus I would not have grown so close to her. Because I ended up spending more time with my grandmother I got to know her better as a person, she got to be an influence on my life and I brought companionship and meaning to hers. As I saw her more often, week after week, year after year, I thought of her more and more. And when my family would go out to eat or celebrate something, or just go on a short outing to Morro Bay or some other location I started asking, “Why don’t we invite grandma?” We did sometimes, but not always. Jane could be difficult to draw out of her house and sometimes I feel she was just forgotten. But I couldn’t forget someone who I saw every week, so I keep pushing my family and her to come together. And I can say over time I successfully did so.

Indirectly, through her employment, without even knowing it Caroline was a catalyst for bringing my family closer together. For this, and everything else you have done and taught me, I love you.

Sorry for putting you in the spotlight, I know you’re not one for self glorification. Maybe I will get a second hug from this, I just hope it’s not your hands hugging my neck.

I would sign off as, “The grandson you never had” but you did and do have me.

See you at Mass sometime.


6/14/2018 Update— I received a lot of mixed interpretations about this post, and my final photo. To clarify, the theme of the blog was inspired by a recent death in my grandmothers neighborhood, (which is an elderly neighborhood) as well as a relative in their 90’s and nearing her time. I thought to myself how that neighbor could have just as well been my grandmother or Caroline and I would have felt regretful for not expressing my thoughts and feelings towards them. And this is a face of contemplation after mulling these thoughts over in Church, not one of sorrow. (Not yet anyways…)

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Final Journey through Turkey: Part 3 redo

Friday 6-21-12

The ride down the hills to Assos was long and hazardous but we made it and checked into our third floor room-with-balcony.

Only eight rooms had a view-with-balcony, which had a heavy overhang to keep out the weather and resembled a small watch-tower.

Walking the waterfront and the tiny village only took 30 minutes. Off to the pool…freezing.. .ha! The 7:30 seating for dinner offered minimal choices: fish or chicken. The food was good and the service excellent. Then the rains came down and we got to watch passing ships from our watch-tower.

Saturday 6-22-12

Breakfast overlooking the bay, with some clouds and choppy waves. We tried walking up the hill to the village above but only got as far as the crumbling but majestic amphitheater when it started to drizzle. The rain actually enhanced the appearance of this ancient structure but not the quality of the dirt road returning to the hotel. We had to step off the road when cars passed. The second time this happened we heard some noise from a fruit orchard and there was a herd of goats, chewing quietly, staring at us.

I whispered and they cocked their heads, moving closer, paralleling us along the fence fearlessly. Being unused to goats on the other side of a shabby fence, we walked quietly until the road shifted away.

Then, bravely, we looked back and missed their curiosity. Watching them chew made me hungry. Nearing our hotel, we stopped at Gazleme, a small restaurant with grape vines covering the overhead lattice work that kept us dry. Lovely lamb stew. Our hotel was filled with Turks. The only English spoken was by one receptionist. Our Turkish was meager but people were very hospitable.


Sunday 6-23-12

While crossing the Dardenelles, I noticed the many crumbling fortresses lining this most strategic body of water. More than 5 countries used the Straits to get to the Mediterranean, a vitally important access to commerce. From the looks of the many fortresses, it was not easy. We found Hotel Owa in the non-tourist town of Gelibolu and got a lovely large room. Our balcony overlooked the downtown and a very busy harbor. Our concierge recommended Ilham Restaurant for fresh seafood. We ate on the outside deck to watch the water action. Their special was grilled sea bass and it was excellent. Everything was lovely. . .except for the three kids screaming and running down the aisle.


Their parents totally ignored the disruption of all the other diners while they continued chatting with their guest. There was muted applauses when they got up to leave-they pretended not to hear.



Monday 6-24-12

After breakfast served by our friendly, English speaking host, we left for Istanbul. Stopping first in Sarky for a wine adventure, but again, no tasting, no tour, wine sales only. Very frustrating to my wine educated husband whose avocation is teaching wine appreciation.

Since I do most of the driving and Mike navigates, I asked for a break in a tiny village where we could park in front of the cafe. The travel books recommended the importance of car and luggage observation. Mike preferred to review the map route and remain in the car. I climbed the porch steps and asked for a cup of “chai” (the Turkish all-day-brewed tea). An older man in a worn sports jacket walked up and asked if he could practice his English. I smiled and nodded. He said his home was Istanbul but he Summers in this village. Two more men joined in and then a fourth. They spoke no English. Getting nervous I called for Mike to join us and the three additional men immediately left. The first man continued chatting for a bit. We have found that most Turks were very friendly but the 3 guide books I read did warn that the men could be overly “friendly” to fair-haired, light-eyed foreign women. As we drive off I saw 2 women fully arrayed in black standing at the kitchen door, glaring at me. One was drying her hands and the other holding (brandishing?) a frying pan.

The remainder of our drive to the airport paralleled the Mamara Sea, and it was beautiful. The international airport, like all others, was very confusing but we successfully returned our Sun car and they graciously drove us to our hotel, describing points of interest. They would pick us up at 10:00 tomorrow for a tour…no additional charge.

I had reserved The Hotel Acropol months before, and since they were not crowded, our concierge took me on tour of the available rooms. He offered a discount for #503 mini-suite; located on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the city. It had a clear view of Haya Sofya on our right and the beautiful Blue Mosque on the left. We looked over the main street of Old Town. We ate an excellent dinner at the nearby Suites Hotel on the outdoor patio and had an interesting conversation with a Swedish couple at the next table. Afterward we enjoyed a glass of wine in our hotel’s top floor restaurant, watching the container ships cursing through the Maramara Straits. This had been going on for centuries. What an amazing vista.

Tuesday 6-25-12

Our tour guide Acif picked us up at 10 and we walked the cobbled stone streets to Haya Sofya. Mobs of people were waiting in line. Using his “tour guide pass”, Acif swept us through. Haya Sofa was enormous and overwhelming. The bright tile work, colors and the height and breathe of the ceiling vaults were incredible. The building corresponded to, but predated St. Peter’s in Rome, and was the headquarters for the Greek Orthodox Church for the Eastern end of the Greek Empire.


Next we went to the Blue Mosque. The Sultan Ahmet donated this whole area to the neighborhood community in the 15th century: the Mosque, a school, the hospital and an alms house. There were masses of people waiting to enter but our guide flashed his pass and we moved to the head of the line. We bagged our shoes in plastic, donned slippers to walk into the carpeted building. Acif led us to a corner and showed us the typical Muslim prayer: face wipe, ears, hair and chest with prayer to give “comfort” to the prayers. Then he knelt on the carpet saying incantations while resting his head and arms on the floor. We were not the only ones who enjoyed watching him.

Then we visited the Turkish Museum of Art noted for its extensive array of carpets. The old prayer rugs were threadbare from the knee indentations over many years, but had worn beautifully. All women were required to weave a “marriage” carpet before the wedding which could take up to five years of work. This was considered a retirement necessity and when sold 40 to 50 years later could bring a good bit of money. The ones I saw were priced from 50,000 to 200,000 thousand dollars… and they were exquisite. Strangely enough none of the museum’s female manikins had faces. Just skin colored material stretched over the head…and totally blank. After awhile, I could not look at them.

Then our guide escorted us to a carpet store. They served us Chai and presented a remarkable history of Turkish carpets. There were sample rugs that had been laid on sand and trampled by goats, sheep or cows before they were deemed worthy to sell. They were remarkable. There were samples of “marriage” carpets that could only be worked on when the weaver was in a “good” mood (Beats not tonight honey I have headache). Some of the carpets were woven with silk and were exquisite. I asked for prices but the salesman said “not yet”. At the end of the presentation he asked me to pick out a rug I really liked. I did. The price was $13,000. I said I have a headache.

They were very disappointed. They dropped the price. My husband said we would have to talk about it and would let them know. Although Acif was disappointed we did not purchase anything, and I understand why, my husband gave him a very nice tip for the wonderful and informational tour. Later we walked to the Grand Bazaar. Old buildings connected by canopies covering alleyways and went on for miles. Shops, small stores and many individual stands selling anything and everything to the hordes of people wandering through.


We ate dinner across from our hotel at Albura Kathisma Cafe. Excellent lamb dish. We took the remaining wine from our room to our hotel’s top floor restaurant and again sat overlooking the sea of Marmarna. Passing ships, setting sun burnishing the waves. Magnificent.



Wednesday 6-26-12


After breakfast, on our last day in Istanbul, off to see the Topkapi Palace. Built next to Haya Sophia in 1560, it is an opulent campus with four courtyards separating the individual palaces. It seemed like there were thousands of people. Because of the crowds, we skipped the palace-museums and walked all -the way to the end.

And it was worth it. A spectacular view of the Golden Horn, the sea of Marmara and the bridge across to Asia. A small breeze blew and the ships moved eternally through the straits. (see picture at end)

It was closing time so we walked to a cafe just outside the entrance for coffee. Watching the hoards rush to the busses, I wondered how many different nationalities we were seeing.

Time to pack up and get ready for our 3:30 AM airport pickup tomorrow for the 6 AM departure for Amsterdam and the USA. After organizing our luggage, we walked down the street to Premier Suites again for dinner on the outside patio. Back at our hotel in our lovely suite, I stood on the balcony looking at the night lights on Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The street noises were soft and the human voices musical.

Good night Istanbul! These two Independent Travelers would only come back in our memories.

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Journal of Two Independent Travelers: Turkey– Redo 2

Friday 10-14-10

After breakfast we headed for Goreme and the outdoor World Heritage Site. It seemed like we climbed up and down mountains touring the caves: the home sites, church sites, business sites and a monastery. The Greek Orthodox settled here in the 3/4th century AD following religious persecution by the Romans. The Greeks were firmly entrenched for 200 years and the Roman pursuit ended. Fascinating to see wall paintings, sculptures and furniture carved out of the walls. Our hotel owner warned us about the tour bus arrival at noon. They did and we had to jump out of their way. We then drove through Zelve (nicknamed “penis valley” and aptly so. Mike loved them).

We stopped frequently to view the huge, natural stone monuments. Heading back to our hotel, we stopped for lunch at a cafe over—looking the river that we could see from our room.

Then Mike went to wine tour and taste at Turasan Winery which he had reserved by e-mail 2 months earlier. Edward was their French wine-maker and spoke English. I sat on our lovely balcony alternating between reading and the beautiful views. Later we walked around the area by our hotel and spotted a small 2nd floor restaurant overlooking the river. Very local but most hospitable. The major cooking area was right behind our table and they were delighted by our fascination with their preparation: swinging pots on an iron rod, adjusting the flame stirring and seasoning. The fresh trout was superb and we tipped well.

Saturday 5-15-12

While we ate breakfast, Mr. Muharren, our Landlord, reserved 2 nights for us at The Beach House in Side.

I learned early on that using the concierge to make future reservations was wise. Also, the rooms and service of the next hotel were 3 steps up from the typical because of this personal contact. We could not leave Cappadocia without touring the extraordinary phenomena of one of the underground settlements. Some of them were large enough to have accommodated up to 30,000 people.



We headed to one of the best: Kaymakli. This structure went 5 levels underground but I could only take 3 before claustrophobia arrived. Networks of narrow tunnels with small living caves opening to the side; underground plazas with community kitchens, horse stables, and storage areas. Looking up you could see the light from the ventilation system and hear the water from the deep wells. These people were very short and it hurt to straighten up after 90 minutes of narrow hallways, uneven steps, and darkness.

We had a better understanding of what it took to survive in those ancient and turbulent times.

A leisurely drive to the sea and the Beach House in Side. Our room faced the sea and we sat on our balcony sipping wine and watching the waves. We went next door for dinner, excellent sword-fish, at Soundwaves run by the hotel’s owner’s son and his wife.


With live Turkish music, a couple of waiters pulled Mike into the dancing. (Men only of course.) A transplanted Aussie and her Turkish husband own the Beach House, the first hotel in Side in 1960. Our room (205) was typically small with a hard bed and pillow. The bathroom shower floor had no demarcation between the shower stall and the rest of the bath. But there were plenty of towels!

Sunday 5-16-12

Breakfast in the lovely bar that opened to the outside terrace and the passersby. We decided to do a “walk about” this ancient town of Side. It was founded in the seventh century BC because of the defensive potential of the rocky cape. The city had its ups and downs until the 1980s and a tourist boom struck. The Old Town was built in and around the classic Roman ruins and most of them were walkable from the hotels.

We walked to the monumental gate and into the 20,000 seat theatre. Stunning.

It is a freestanding structure supported by massive arched vaults and was not built into a hillside. Next were the Agora, certainly large enough to accommodate the forum and markets, and lastly the Antique Baths. What with the heat and humidity, I headed for a breeze on our balcony and took a book while Mike headed for other sites.


Dinner up the street overlooking the bay. Mike asked for a wine menu and the waiter answered “I am the wine list.” He bought a glass to taste– not good. A second about the same. Then a bottle, discolored and old–but our meal arrived and we drank it. A breeze came up and eliminated the humidity.

Monday 5-17-12

Weather comfortable today so off to the magnificent remains of Perge. The grandeur of the defense wall, stadium, baths and the theatre were overwhelming. The original inhabitants were quick studies on how to survive an attack of marauders. They welcomed the Romans into their city, they believed the Romans would help defend against the Hellenistic tribes and they did–and stayed.

When arriving back at Side, we discovered the police had blockaded the road to the sea side community and motioned us into a public parking area. We simply sat there blocking the road and repeating the name of our hotel. The two police, one on each side of the car, yelled and gestured to the public lot. I smiled, said “no” and repeated, “Hotel Beach House”. This continued until a car pulled up behind us. The barriers were dropped and we drove though. Later our hotel owner told us that the city wanted to preserve the beach town for “pedestrians” only, for those who eat and shop. So the city enforced the public lot at the entrance and disallowed the hotel residents to drive in and out with their luggage. Not a wise decision. . .and it didn’t work with us.

That night we ate at Soundwaves again, eating outside under the overhang to watch the storm moving into the bay. By morning the beach was littered with boats, fish and the detritus of a storm. But the sun came out.

Tuesday 5-18-12

And the rains were coming…….

Weather predictions were poor for the next 2 days: time to move on. Penny made reservations for us at the Hal-Tur Hotel in Pamukkale. We had a lovely room facing the salt terraces. What with rain and being mid-week, the hotel was not crowded. We also had a bathtub, and used it! We appreciated the excellent food, wine and fireplace in their restaurant.

Wednesday 5-19-12

The terraces were wet with drizzle so we decided to bypass a walk. Our concierge reserved for us 2 days at Hotel Kalshan in Selcuk.

And we were off for Aphrodite or Aphrodisias as she is called here. This was one of the earliest occupied sites in Anatolia. The Assyrian goddess of love and war, Min, became syncretized with the Semitic Ishtar, whose attributes were eventually assumed by the Hellenic Aphrodite. The Greeks and the Romans did a wonderful job with most of the structures that we see today. We had to leave our car in a General Park and take trams to and fro. We were packed on with a 7th grade field trip. The kids giggled at us, said “hello” and “from?” and took Mike’s picture. He has white hair and a mustache and his hat fascinated them. Delightful.

The Aphrodite site was exquisite. We walked up a hill to the top of the amphitheater; looked over the Agora, remains of the baths and further away to other structures and the Temple to Aphrodite. Back to Selculk. Stopped for lunch at a wonderful French restaurant… after first trying a nearby cafe that was “men only” (local Turks).

The next two nights were at the Hotel Kalsham in Selcuk. A bit shabby but most of the rooms opened out to a lovely courtyard with a pool. . .ice cold. We still had time to see nearby Ephesus. The concierge suggested we park in the lower lot, take a cab to the top and walk the sites down to the bottom. Excellent! As we started our tour, all the busses lined up to take their passengers back to the ships. No crowds and the temperature cooling. Of all the wonderful structures, I was most impressed by the communal toilets. There were about 20 in a semi-circle, just holes in a bench, but with room on either side for coffee or a newspaper. Marvelous engineering, the hillside stream ran underneath and washed the effluent out to the bay.

Standing in front of the magnificent library, one could easily see how much the shore had receded  since the 1st century. Our last stop before the parking lot was the amphitheater. Several musicians were playing. The only thing missing was a glass of wine.

Thursday 5-20-12

After breakfast we are off on a day-trip to Priene. This site was resettled during the Hellenistic period around the 3rd century B.C. Settled first by Athenians (11th century B.C.) followed by Romans then Byzantine. The city enjoyed little patronage from the emperors, with the result that represents the best preserved Hellenistic townscape in Ionia without any of the usual later additions. A long walk—about but not as heavily toured as Ephesus.

Back to our hotel for lunch where we found many “boat people” eating in our restaurant. Later we walked the New Town but found the Old Town much more interesting. I looked for a beauty shop, passing over 20 barber shops, and found only one. It only took 25 minutes for a shampoo and comb-out because 3 women worked on me. (Only one other customer who spoke some English and helped to interpret.) The beauticians wanted to give me the “big bush look” but I used their small brushes and dryer to show what I wanted. They did it and the result was wonderful. I left a big tip because they listened to me.

We returned to Old Town and Old House restaurant, eating in their courtyard. Our waiter, a Kurd, spoke fluent English, and told us how his father’s family all worked hard to develop this restaurant and make it a success. He said most of the Turkish wives worked while many of their husbands sat in cafes drinking coffee. He felt to be successful the family must work together. Our meal was excellent.

Revised and edited by the original author, Caroline Botwin and her computer extraordinaire Kevin Klimczak.

Stay tuned for part 3, the final, of the redo series!

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Journal of Two Independent Travelers: Turkey– Redo

In the beginning, there was research and planning…..

We argued. Mike wanted to see Turkey and I wanted to revisit Spain and France. Three different travel guides discussed the attitude of the male Turk toward the female which add up to one phrase: control and aversion. I was not desirous of spending three weeks in such a culture. Finally Mike asked what it would take to get me to Turkey. Three days in Paris I answered. “Done” he said. (I should have said a week!)

The planning had taken time and effort. We needed reservations in Paris and Turkey and a rental car. Mike perused maps of Turkey until he devised an excellent travel plan. Next was a calendar of the trip. He built in 3 extra days of the three weeks so we could expand some stays if we chose. For two 70 year olds, it took a bit of time.

After leaving our dogs at the kennel, the two Independent Travelers set off.

Driving CA 1 up the coast, we stopped for coffee and wine at Half Moon Bay. One hour later we arrived at our favorite Millbrae B.W. El Rancho Inn. After a walk around the grounds, we headed to dinner in the bar at 7 PM. It was noisy with ANXIOUS TRAVELLERS yet-to-go and those who had just returned. Fun.


We woke-up at 3 AM for the 4 AM airport shuttle, our elite status ensured a smooth check-in. After check-in we went to the Delta Executive lounge at 4:40 AM. I was the first person at the bar for a glass of stabilizing wine.

Time for take-off! And the journey begins.—- We start in France.

Tuesday 5-11-12, we departed at 9:00 AM for a 3 hour flight to Istanbul. Mike had rented a Suncar and we hit the highway quickly. The traffic was horrendous. For the next two hours bumper to bumper and side by side. This was worse than Madrid, Paris and New York put together. I drive, Mike navigates. After the traffic lessened, the road deteriorated and signage disappeared. We discovered that many highways in Turkey were being expanded or restructured. Frequent single lanes were the medium.

We arrived at our reserved Cinci Han Hotel in Safranbolu at 11:00 PM. (See picture below) Driving from the Istanbul airport through Asia to Safranbolu was about 230 miles but the highway back-up cost us many hours.

In spite of the delay, the reception was welcoming and gracious, supplying wine, cheese and fruit even at this late hour. We sat in the open-air center courtyard of this restored 1674 Caravan Inn. This authentic structure had rough stone walls and a canvas cover over the courtyard. Travelers housed their animals for the night in the center and the drivers slept in very small rooms built into the walls and facing the courtyards.

Our room was small with one window and a wooden built-in bathroom in the adjoining dressing room that rocked when walked on… but it was unique. We explored the surrounding Ottoman village after an excellent breakfast. All the original structures were filled with small stores and cafes. Many had hand-crafted items for sale and very friendly owners.


Wednesday 5-12-12, getting into Ancient Turkey…….

Around 11 AM we left for Amaysa and the Painted Tombs. Again the roads were teeming with expansion and reconstruction. After driving part way around Amaysa, looking for highway or street signs (none), we ended on top of a hill looking down at Kale (Castle). It was important to tour this structure built in 300 B.C. Very difficult walking the rough pebbled terrain up and around this defensive fortress sheltering the castle.

Rewarded at the top by sighting the painted caves on the down side of the hill opposite. Again, with no signage, we fumbled our way down to view the tombs excavated above the river.

All the lovely old hotels by the river were full. We found an interesting, old Hotel Melis on a back street with parking in a back alley…

We walked to dinner at a riverside restaurant with a view of the caves. While sipping wine we watched the lights shine from these strange structures that were supposedly built and painted inside with battle scenes from 3000 BC.

Thursday 5-13-10

After breakfast, disinclined to climb to the caves, I bought postcards. And we left for Hattusa. Enclosed by six-kilometer-long walls, this city was, by the standards of the time, an immense site. Originally settled by the Hatti in 2500 BC the Hittites conquered it in 1375 B.C. and the Hittite city was unearthed by archeologists in the first half of the nineteenth century. The fortress encircled the mountain top, warding off attacking multi—cultures for over 1000 years. Fascinating.

Now they were being attacked by loaded tourist buses. We split as 3 of them drove up the dirt road spewing exhaust. A few miles and 1500 feet lower down, we spotted a large crevice-like opening hidden at the bottom of two mountains. Several cars were parked with people wandering around…so we followed.

As we walked through the narrow opening, marvelous rock sculptures grew out of rock as high as 100 feet. We were later to read that Yazihkaya (Turkish for inscribed rock) was the entrance to the temple now defunk. There were around 100 figures, mostly gods from the vast array of Hittite deities.

On to Avanos and finding lodging. Drove through the city and saw only one hotel that was acceptable.

In the process of turning around to redo main street we found a sign, “Sofa, Hotel” that appealed to me. I entered the office and the owner, Mr. Muharren (who, we discovered later a very fine pen and ink draftsman), spoke English.

The owner was a pen and ink draftsman and since he had no, “before’ or “after” pictures he gave me his drawings.



He led me to an open courtyard and pointed to all the “rooms” available. Over the years he had acquired 24 rambling small, single houses and loosely connected them with stairs. Many units fronted the courtyard that covered and centered the compound. The first two units he showed me I refused, but the 3rd was charming, albeit 4 floors up.  The first staircase was up, the second down and through a cave and two more sets going up. The risers were 13 to 14 inches deep with scalloped stones and no railings. Very difficult for Mike recuperating from a fractured hip 8 months earlier. BUT the room was lovely with a modern bathroom and a balcony overlooking the river and the “fairyland” of Cappadocia. Excellent. (Except for the stairs.)

Dinner at 8 in the open courtyard. Two entrees offered: grilled chicken or kofte. An enormous salad bar in a narrow room at the head of the courtyard had unbelievable choices. No English spoken. Mike lifted his wine glass, and using the most important Turkish he had learned, said “Kirmizi sarap please”. (Red Wine) The waiter grinned.

Revised and edited by the original author, Caroline Botwin and her computer extraordinaire Kevin Klimczak.

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The “Wild” Tamed


Lovely presentation of food! The wine is arriving shortly!



These faces are beginning to smile, and perhaps drool a little.

Everybody needs at least half a glass of wine to start— and shortly all these medium solemn faces will become alive!

We also need a glass of wine to determined what the three meat dishes are- some are designed with sauces—that we have to taste together with the food to figure out what the meat is. (And I don’t like liver!)

The sauces were terrific.


And boy are we smiling now!

Our translator and guide had time to join us. Natalia is on the right and maybe has sampled a bit more than we did yet.





Mussels with spices and lemon, and of course white wine. I drank the wine and sipped on the lemon, but mussels—no.

Of necessity the wine must be white.






After eating, Mike decided on some fresh air— but the thought of the century old wine carrier rolling towards him changed his mind. He then went to the bathroom instead.

Some of the rest of our small group stayed and argued about the best of the four wines tasted with our meal.


Then our lovely waitress came over with a trey of three other wines asking them to taste these— and the fight ended.

Numb 6



I asked someone for the lavatory and the waitress said, “Go outside, behind the wooden barrel. (Ha!)”


(Does that look like wet footprints on the lawn to you? I thought so and I didn’t get any closer to the barrel.)



Numb 7

Charles and Mike had come out at the same time and led me to the correct facilities— all three of us vying to use it first—I won.

Vladimir Pushkin herded us to the hospitality room after the meal. He is the sales manager of Fanagoria Estate Winery. And uses his hospitality suite for “special tastings”.




Vladimir is showing us a picture of a huge wine tasting under his jurisdiction of over 500 people several years before.


Mike literally pushed me out of the way in order to get a closer view. “Damn.” he said. These people are all drinking wine?—There’s no fighting, there’s no yelling, there’s no over turned chairs— they can’t be “real wine” drinkers!”

Numb 12


Fueled with fresh air, a bit of sunshine, and an amazing dinner and wine tasting with these wonderful people, we were allowed the dignity of walking out to the car and getting into it and driving towards home. (With a driver of course)



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