International TravelThings I Love



Many recent travel articles report that animal sightings are greater since the pandemic kept many tourists from African travel.  We’re here to confirm that is true in a significant way at our first stop after the overnight in Arusha (see previous post).

Our ride to the Serengeti
Just the two of us (and two pilots)

Whether it’s lack of human presence or the area in general or the season, the hubby and I were the grateful beneficiaries of remarkable and immediate sightings after arriving at Seronera airstrip.  Penuel met us and was our guide/driver from start to finish.  We went for some six hours in the open-air vehicle before even setting eyes on Namiri Plains, one of the Asilia brand’s amazing camps.  Not even a “loo with a view” (potty) break during that time.  What an extraordinary way to begin our stay.

He was very careful not to promise anything in general. The best philosophy is “under promise and over deliver.” We generally do not have trip expectations which mitigates any disappointment. But seasoned and experienced guides know their audiences.  We just said we’re happy with whatever you think is the best experience.  He proved a remarkably talented and knowledgeable leader.

Above, as we leave for our morning drive at 6:30 which early departure is crucial for the best viewing.  Coffee and wake-up “call” come at 5:45.  That “tent” behind us conceals a permanent structure housing a wonderful bed and bath with indoor shower and outdoor soaking tub.  The back is completely enclosed in glass for viewing.   Breakfast (below) is enjoyed a couple of hours into the drive.

Dual guides

The traditional “Big 5” (lion, leopard, rhinos, elephant and Cape buffalo) are what most visitors understandably want to see.  While we did not see any rhinos, we got extremely lucky with the others.  Sightings included cheetahs plus giraffes, zebras migrating with wildebeest, gazelles, hyenas, crocodile, tortoise, ostrich, baboons, hippos, silver-back jackal, serval cat, eagles and likely some I’m forgetting.

Spectacular sunrise

A big benefit of this particular time is the lack of other safari vehicles jockeying into position to view the animals. The most we saw at any point was four others and one was from the Cheetah Conservation program.  The proliferation of animals coupled with sparse guests made for a most remarkable time. But, without the expert operations at Namiri Plains — and the initial guidance of Africa Travel Resource — one could arguably visit and come away with a lesser experience. Ours exceeded any ideas we might have had.

I’ll let the photos tell you the best stories.  Next post:  All the “Cool Cats” in the Serengeti.

Migrating zebras by the thousands
Oh, hi.
Beautiful gazelle

In the camp — near the staff village
And outside the camp en masse
Babboon family
Beautiful shell
Keeping cool
Amazing staff: managers Sam & Brian on the ends, guide Penuel, Hassan & chef Stanley
Lions on approach
U.S. Travel



After enjoying the spectacular scenery and wildlife in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks (click HERE for last post), the next stop was two nights/one full day in Sheridan, Wy., where a lifelong friend (since first grade) has long resided with her husband.  It didn’t take long to understand the draw.

My friend Gwen ..

For us, this stop was right in line for the itinerary — Sheridan is on the way to Mt. Rushmore from Yellowstone.  That simply made it more convenient but we would have routed accordingly to make the stay work.

En route to Sheridan. Maybe that’s “+/-“

We toured Sheridan’s neighborhoods, saw lots of new housing developments, wide open spaces, an actual Main Street, a beautiful new YMCA complex, medical center, college and golf course.  While there’s no Trader Joe’s, there’s good shopping and coffee.  Brinton Museum is highly regarded for western art.  And there’s lots of really nice people.

Bison and elk refuge right in town

I was so happy to finally see Gwen and husband Rick’s Sheridan home and vast property (12 acres), not to mention a menagerie including falcons (2), chickens (13 adult plus young ones), roosters (2), pigeons/doves (150ish), dog (one – Hattie) and snap turtles.

For this gardener, a dream come true!
Why would you ever leave this view?

Dinner at home with great friends, some excellent Russian River Pinot, seeing the property and animals, insanely cheap gas (WTH, California?) — all made for a wonderful time in Sheridan.  Hopefully a return visit won’t take as long as the first.  Next up:  The Dakotas ..

One of Rick’s prized falcons
Future producers

Below:  Scenes from Sheridan

Rick and Bruce by the pigeon/dove house
Bidding us adieu in front of our hotel
This view is everything.
International TravelWining/Dining


When one is already in an area of the world (in this case, the Indian Ocean southwest of India), adding on another segment in the “area” makes a lot of sense.  At least to me and the hubby…
To clarify — and if you’ve been “virtually” traveling on this trip with us — you know we spent 10 days in India and four days in the Maldives.  Why not head southeast to Perth, which is then a straight shot north to Hong Kong, the last stop before heading home?  But that wasn’t the only reason for the visit.
Having traveled in 2010 to Australia’s east coast (Sydney, Cairns & Melbourne), we knew a return trip was inevitable.  What sealed the deal was the gracious invitation to stay at a winery in the Margaret River (Eagle Bay) region of Western Australia.  How did that come about? The hubby’s L.A. client hails from Perth and the winery belongs to her parents and, ultimately, our generous hosts.
We spent the first night in the country in Perth proper before heading south to the wine area.  Como The Treasury Hotel (which I highly recommend) converted an old building into a multi-level complex in the heart of downtown Perth.  Of course, when in Australia, a koala visit is a must — this one at Caversham Wildlife Park — where one could also interact with plenty of kangaroos as well.
Breakfast at Como The Treasury in Perth.
Clockwise from above: The irresistible koala — up close; family of sheep — the one on the right is just 10 days old; kangas in various states of repose.
And then it was on to the raison d’etre.  Wise Wine has been operated by Sandra & Ron Wise since 1992, and is just a gorgeous location.  We arrived in the evening when it was quite dark. While looking for the home, we happened upon wedding festivities (the winery is ideal for this) which garnered more than a few glances. We finally found our way to their spectacular abode where they met us a short time later, got immediately acquainted and settled in for the weekend.
Talk about a “play on words” above;
At right a winemaker is crushing Cab Franc grapes at the winery facilities.
On the property and for the wedding.  More about Crown later.
In addition to the wine making facilities, there are two wonderful restaurants (Lot 80 — that is their divine raspberry dessert below — and Wise Vineyard where we had amazing breakfasts) and some accommodations, not to mention a fair amount of kangaroos.  The hubby encountered large groups during his morning walk!  I nearly collided with one during a (pitch black) night drive — the thing was the size of “Harvey,” Jimmy Stewart’s imaginary companion in the movie of the same name — probably 6′ tall.
Clockwise from upper left: Entering the property; classic “fish & chips” at Lot 80 along with a fabulous raspberry dessert; stonework along one of the paths on the property.
The Wise family home (and our accommodations) left; above is their view of Eagle Bay

Sandra showed us around the area while Ron golfed.  We loved seeing galleries, the spectacular beaches (prime surfing spots) and some wineries.  As with Napa/Sonoma, one could easily spend several days absorbing all there is to do. The hubby and I spent a day driving around ourselves, going to the very southwestern tip of the country (below).
Amelia Park Wines, Margaret River


Magnificent piece of art at the Gunyulup Galleries in Yallingup
 (try saying that fast …)
Above, at the very southern tip of WA, where the two oceans meet. 
The sun sets over Surfers Point in Prevally.
Lots of folks come with their dogs and wine to this scenic spot.
We headed back to Perth for our late evening flight to Hong Kong and saw a bit more of the city before hanging out at the Crown complex — hotels, restaurants (including Rockpool and Nobu), shops and casino.  The Perth skyline is shown below. Next and last stop of this journey:  Hong Kong.
International Travel


The Oberoi JaipurBest welcome amenity anywhere!
Why is the drive from Ranthambhore to Jaipur nearly four hours in length when it is only about 100 miles (180 km)?  Because a “major” road in India can mean just two lanes in each direction.  Mind you, few drivers actually pay attention to traffic lanes, not to mention dodging all the animals, motorbikes, and enormous sacks of hay.


“Wide load” to say the least!
Arriving at the Oberoi Rajvilas is indescribable. It is a true oasis on 32 acres of lush grass with peacocks in abundance. It is just a gift.  And we thought we’d seen some pretty wonderful welcome amenities, but hand’s down this property gets #1 status.  Witness below the edible chocolate. How in the world …??  Someone across the planet reads my blog!  I am honored.


Best welcome amenity anywhere!


Pathway to our room above;
marigolds are used liberally for messaging (below).
Remember “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”?  Filmed in and around the Jaipur area.


Prior to visiting somewhere, I‘m forever collecting information on shopping and restaurants. For Jaipur (one of the world’s major jewelry sites), on the list of must-see’s was the Gem Palace.  Founded in 1852, and still in the same location, this historic jeweler has a sign-in book so incredible I actually took some photos:   


In case it’s not clear:  Jacqueline Kennedy (top; circa 1962); Charles & Camilla (bottom left; circa 2006); Oprah (bottom right; 2012).  We were in very good company to say the least! Alas, no acquisitions.


We had a lengthy and fascinating conversation with 8th generation propietor/scion Samir Kasliwal, at the end of which he showed us some incredible commissioned pieces. I couldn’t resist trying on the 900-carat “chandelier” made for a Kuwaiti royal (as heavy as it looks). Somehow we started discussing our next stop — Udaipur. 


Yours for about a million bucks.


Back story: Before leaving home, we were informed by our tour company andBeyond that all 82 rooms at the Oberoi Udaivilas, plus the other comparable area hotels, had been bought out for a wedding during our scheduled visit and would we consider switching our plans. Firmly no. There’s no way we’re missing this place!  Of course, guess who’s going to the wedding?  Our new friend Samir! And since andBeyond personnel knew the groom, we would be welcome to attend .. along with the 1,200 or so other guests. What’s a few more?  Wedding highlights in the next post.
While in Jaipur we had a full day of sightseeing the historic sights, culminating with an elephant ride and dinner at Dera Amer.  The following day, it was a challenge getting up for a 6:30 a.m. hotel departure to the airport for the short flight to our next and final stay in India:  Udaipur…. 
Can you guess what this gentleman (facing the laptop) does for a living?  Notary Public.  Fax/typewriter/computer — the works.  Inside the walled city on our tour.
Clockwise from upper left:  Next to my Capricorn sign at Jantar Mantar, a Unesco World Heritage site with 19 “architectural astronomical” instruments built in the 1700’s; with our new Indian “friends” who love being photographed with Americans — mostly selfies; inlaid lifesize chess board — we heard something about the rulers using concubines as chess pieces; and the world’s largest sundial.  The hubby still can’t believe I used the word “hypotenuse” when we were there, but I will keep reminding him I did pay some attention in high school.


Atop Amer Fort

The hubby in deep discussion with Fort guards — about “Fast & Furious” movies!

Traveling companion/Aunt Judy Stone & I lasted about 15 minutes … love the elephants but the ride is VERY bumpy!
International TravelThings I Love


It’s likely that people travel to Ranthambhore, India, for reasons other than seeing Bengal Tigers in the National Park (there are just 58 in the area according to the most recent census; nearly 4000 total in the country), but I’m not sure why. Perhaps for the sole purpose of visiting Oberoi Vanyavilas, indeed a spectacular property with just 25 luxury tents … but that is probably not the case.
Traffic with no means of stop signs, let alone traffic signals.
Our journey from Agra to Ranthambhore was via train with a “first class” compartment. From leaving the hotel via car to being greeted at our destination was 4+ hours. If you saw the movie Lion, you know young Saroo spends a few days on a train with barred windows. That mode of transportation still exists today — either in 3rd or even 4th class. Fortunately our luggage was driven separately for us, so that was definitely a plus.  The folks from andBeyond were there until we boarded the train and waiting for us at the other end, which was extremely helpful. And we had a friendly and informative traveling companion in our compartment (after he was fully awake, that is).
Waiting for the train with our escort and the captivated onlookers.
In front of the train station in Agra.
Our companion in the “first class” compartment. He provided tracking info from Google which was very helpful!
We learned from our 2016 African safari that sightings are promised to no one. Indeed the first afternoon drive was hot, long and “whiplash” bumpy with only a brief sighting of a female tiger plus monkeys, deer, wild boar and many birds.  The next morning was worth the entire journey, even with the 6am departure.
Langur monkeys were everywhere in the park.  The guides rely on their calls of “alarm” to track the big cats and other animals.
Barely 10 minutes inside the park (the government divides the park into zones and the assignments are random; this was Zone 6), a very large male — nose to tail 12′ and in excess of 500 lbs — crossed our path out in the open.  After that, we were very lucky to encounter a female with her 4-month-old cubs — still being carefully guarded by mom. In other words, a family of Bengal Tigers. Mama and babies were consuming a large deer carcass, after which they strolled for a bit.  Our guide Farooq had a hunch they were headed to a nearby water hole and he was absolutely correct.  We were the first of several vehicles, and thus had a prime spot.
Papa ..


Mama plus one



Look closely — there are two cubs!


What can one say?  These are simply gorgeous creatures.  The stripes on the cubs are quite narrow and continue to spread as they grow.  One could die from the cuteness of them.  It was extraordinary.  The upside of traveling to India in April is the tigers are more apt to be “out” than certainly in the colder months, and the park is shut down completely for three months during the monsoon season (July-September).  The moral of the story?  Take the good (great) with the bad (hot)!
Jockeying for the best position to see the tigers
     Was able to get this owl in a lucky moment.


With our fearless (and fast) driver Anwar on the left and
guide Farooq on the right, but missing Judy in this photo.


Four drives and two sightings — one major — was just tremendous.  Couple that with incredible accommodations, food, spa and staff, and it was a thrill.  Next stop:  Jaipur.
International TravelThings I Love

THE ROAD FROM DEHLI TO AGRA (Part 2 in a Series)

Three nights; two very full days … that was Delhi, a city so vast and diverse that much more time could be devoted.  But with a total of just 10 days in India, one must move on. Prior to leaving, we enjoyed dinner at the Imperial Hotel — a must see if you’re a fan of the classic colonial style from the 1900’s. We dined at San Gimignano, offering authentic and delicious cuisine … sans alcohol due to a mandatory “Dry Day” prior to the impending local elections.   The next day, we boarded our private van for the 3.5 hour drive to Agra.
We were told by driver Akbar we were on the fastest and most efficient road in India.  He explained the absence of large trucks as the result of expensive tolls imposed.  The truckers are therefore forced to use an alternate road, which same drive takes six hours!
Arriving at the first of several Oberoi properties (specifically Amarvilas in Agra) to be savored on this trip is remarkable in itself, as just outside the walled property is significant evidence of poverty.   We were promised a view of the Taj Mahal from our room (and from many other enormous windows in the property), which did not disappoint save for the less-than-clear air.
 From the hotel lobby
Afternoon in the main part of Agra — these are water buffaloes who couldn’t care less about vehicles around them.
Checking her email??
With barely a day to spend in the area, no time was wasted and we were off first to Agra Fort.   It was hot — probably 110F — which required perseverance on my part; not so the hubby and Aunt Judy traveling with us.  The architecture, inlaid marble and sheer size are most impressive.  After an hour or so, it was back to the hotel to switch to a golf cart for transport to the Taj, just a few minutes from the hotel, in time for a sunset viewing.
Two photos of Agra Fort above; it’s way too vast to do the structures
and grounds justice in a few photos.
Security is quite tight, with men and women going through different scanners and pat-downs.  Finally, this iconic sight was upon us — one of seven or eight Wonders of the World depending upon which list is consulted.  In case you’re curious, we’ve been to five:  Machu Picchu, Pyramids, Colosseum, Great Wall, now the Taj Mahal, and the hubby has been to Christ the Redeemer in Rio.  No Chichen Itza or Petra, Jordan — yet.
It is a remarkable sight, no question.  We had been told in advance that there would be some scaffolding, but that hardly mattered.   And to think that this was built solely as a shrine to a wife (the emperor’s favorite) should give most husbands pause! Not much more can be written, but rather photos to be treasured.
View FROM the Taj Mahal of the entrance.
Would not have thought of coming to India without this ever-so-brief stop in Agra. Next we are off via train to Ranthambhore and a couple days on safari …