Gardens

International TravelThings I Love

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DESTINATION

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In just a week’s time, the hubby and I got a true taste of Uganda — from the bustling international Entebbe airport to the Congo border, the vast Queen Elizabeth National Park  and even crossing the Equator.  It is a country with spectacular landscape, welcoming people, adorable children eager to waive hello plus countless species to view.

But, there’s also considerable government control as evidenced by the banning of Facebook.  And, were it not for citizens planting small crops to take to market or consume at home, hunger can be a challenge for much of the population.  With that, we were very happy to do whatever we could to help those dependent upon tourism with their livelihoods.

Wide load — but not the widest by far!

We had two more animal encounters, both unique in their own way  ~~

MOTORBOAT SAFARI

The 40 km Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park flows between Lake George and Lake Edward through the heart of main game viewing area.  The different perspective of water viewing versus the previous land viewing was enjoyed for a relaxing couple of hours.

Above and below:  Many have asked if I ever felt nervous or scared on safari.  The short answer is no.  But, one must be VERY careful around these massive creatures — especially when there is a calf in tow as pictured here.  One could caption this:  “Proceed at your own peril.”  We backed the hell up.

Below is the ingenious work of the black and white Kingfisher birds who dig holes to protect their eggs from any prey.

One of many crocodiles seen in the area.

Co-existing seen everywhere among the species.

WARNING! BABBOONS …

CHIMPANZEE TREK

Unlike the mountain gorilla trek covered in the last post (click HERE), our descent into the Kyambura Gorge was relatively short, significantly less steep, and ultimately very manageable.  While the hubby opted out midway upon arrival at a difficult passage (below), I proceeded with a park ranger and our driver/guide William.   After immediately spotting a group of fast-moving chimps, we went quite a bit further to have an up-close encounter that made the trek and completed our trip sightings.

On the lookout — flat and muddy.
The help is greatly appreciated.
Barely visible at first
Camera shy

That face ..

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION MOMENT

I was laser focused on not slipping in the muddy and wet (but flat) terrain.  My glasses fogged up from humidity and my phone (used for photos) was in my pocket but was somehow very dim, so basically I have zero visibility.  And then I hear “Hello?  Hello?? I can’t hear you!”  And I look at my phone and realized I accidentally dialed my sister Margie in Los Angeles, who came through clear as a bell.  In a deep gorge in Western Uganda near the Congo border.  But try making a call from Coldwater Canyon in Los Angeles and there’s no reception.  No, we didn’t actually speak.  In a panic I disconnected from just being baffled at the whole incident.  We’ve of course had many a good laugh since via text.

At this point, our formal itinerary from Africa Travel Resource came to an end at the (literally) picture perfect Ndali Lodge.  I encourage you to click on the link to read the story of this amazing place, which land dates back nearly 100 years.

The open air gym
With gracious owners Aubrey & Claire Price

There’s just one caveat for staying at Ndali :: Must love dogs.  Or at least not mind them.  Personally they were a sight for sore eyes having been away from our three for so long.  Two were mere puppies — not more than 10 weeks at the time.  One of the older ones slept on our porch all night.  How can you not love Basil, the brown guy upper left.

Cocktail hour

And, finally, two last incredible views.   Next post :: Africa Hits & Misses plus R&R in Bermuda

International TravelThings I Love

DOWN ON THE FARM AND INTO THE CRATER

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Down on the farm in … Tanzania??  That would specifically be Gibbs Farm, ideally located in the green and fertile hills near the Ngorongoro Crater.  It’s difficult to convey the sheer beauty in that part of the country.  And it was a complete departure from our time spent in the Serengeti (see previous posts).

View from the Gibbs Farm terrace
Our cottage at Gibbs

The concept of “farm to table” food could have originated at Gibbs with it’s 10 acres of vegetable and fruit gardens, picked and consumed twice daily as shown below in the menu and salad.  Then there are 200 chickens providing nearly as many daily eggs, cows, pigs, ducks, goats, a turkey, rabbits and a few domestic cats.

The vast produce beds

Impressively, nothing goes to waste.  There’s a very sophisticated composting system with 14 staff tending the garden’s needs.  The essential crop rotation is a lot of hard work — most by hand.  Then there’s the need for night security to keep the local elephants and baboons away, who will otherwise eat the crops.

Coffee Beans

The main crop in the area is coffee and it’s everywhere.  I learned it’s a six-year investment from seed to usable beans.  That is a commitment to say the least, but the end result is a delicious and aromatic product.  Corn and bananas are the other enormous crops; the by-products are staples in the Tanzanian diet.   With an ideal location near the equator (reminiscent of a 2014 visit to Ecuador), this so-called (by the hubby) “gardener girl” was in heaven and more than a bit envious.

Below:  Masses of italian parsley, broccoli (top); artichoke field, kohlrabi which made for a delicious soup, pineapple and a pumpkin field

Below: the duck pond in foreground.  The goats climb up the ramp around the tower and enter the top to escape hot weather.

We made the drive to Ngorongoro Crater where one must first ascend to the rim before descending to the floor of the immense area created many millenia ago by volcanic eruption.  Unlike the Serengeti where zebras or gazalles would scatter if the vehicle got too close, in the crater they are near enough to touch (but not allowed nor advised).  Additionally, the different animals seemed to congregate more freely.  And the landscape is just breathtaking.

NOTE:  The following photo was just awarded PHOTO OF THE WEEK by the esteemed travel site Peter Greenburg Trusted.Travel.News.  I am honored!

Driving down to the Crater floor

Very pregnant momma
The (not very bright) warthog — aka “Pumba”
Cape Buffalo
Pink Flamingos
Picnic in the Crater
Fortunately, safari vehicles are made for this kind of driving

After our stay, we made the four-hour drive to Kilimanjaro International Airport for the hour flight to Entebbe.  We should have had our results from covid testing (administered more than 48 hours prior) at the Serengeti departure.  A negative result is necessary both to leave the country and enter Uganda, our next destination.

If you’ve seen the fabulous movie Argo, with the nail biting ending, that is a good metaphor for our experience.  Not exactly life or death but still there is never a desire for an “oopsie” to occur and go to a Plan B.  Fortunately, with the assistance of our ATR agent in London and the local Asilia team on the ground, the results magically appeared minutes before the gate closed.  I even offered a bribe of the airport personnel with our plentiful boxed lunches from Gibbs, but to no avail.  I was happy to give the food away regardless.  Everyone was very kind and simply abiding by the rules.

Proof sent to our agents that we made the flight!

Next post:  Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest

 

 

U.S. Travel

JUST A COUPLE OF ROADIES PT 2: 36 HOURS IN SHERIDAN, WY

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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.
Things I LoveTo-Do List

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO …

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Suffice it to say, we don’t know what we don’t know.  How profound is that?  When it comes to upcoming travel, that is certainly going to change.  And no one knows for sure just how much.

The Italy trip previously written about certainly isn’t happening now. We’re looking at November as we speak.  It’s usually a good time to travel, well in advance of the holiday season.

Here’s an upside:  I recently wrote about the importance of brand loyalty.  You know all those horror stories about waiting on hold to get through to the airlines?  American Airlines actually called me! True enough, they inquired how we wanted to handle our April 17 departure to Italy with return May 11, from Bucharest to LA, via overnight at Heathrow.  Would we prefer a voucher for future travel or a refund for taxes and fees?  While these were mileage tickets, the fees were still significant.  Not less than 24 hours after the call, the miles (140K per peson) were reinstated and fees refunded.  Loyalty pays.

The hubby and I might yet do something in May depending on when baseball resumes.  We’ve explored everything from an island trip to road trip including Mt. Rushmore (if the National Parks reopen). It’s still fluid.  No doubt, we’ll certainly notice how surfaces are cleaned, who’s wearing gloves, and have a heightened sense of our surroundings.

I feel blessed to have three passions at home to keep me busy.  It’s amazing how the hobbies keep those pesky things on the “to-do” list undone.  Someday I’ll rearrange the bookshelves and clean out bathroom drawers.  Just not now.

#1 ORCHIDS

This has been a passion since the 90’s when there was even a home greenhouse (long since given way to an outdoor kitchen).  I now keep it simple.  Cut back healthy plants after blooming; water and feed them in a low tray with pebbles (creates humidity) positioned with good indirect light; watch for regrowth.

With more available time, I decided to investigate why I continue to get those dreaded spider mites (fuzzy white bugs) — especially this time of year.  Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) in a spray bottle is as good as anything to get rid of these creatures.  It’s tedious but necessary to look under each leaf and wipe away traces to fully eradicate.  Be sure to also clean containers, pots and plant supports.

There’s currently 15 plants in my house in various stages, containers and arrangements.  They make me happy — so happy I clearly have a problem discarding them (where’s Marie Kondo?).  Trader Joe’s makes this habit way too easy … thankfully.

Simple is best. Store bought plants; arranged at home.
Same as above.
Round container holds three plants — good for at least two months.

 

My re-blooms! Three plants in one container.
My re-blooms! Three plants in one container.
These gorgeous stems are from a cymbidium plant that blooms faithfully every year. They last for weeks after cutting.

#2 PRODUCE GARDEN

The hubby loves to comment on a $20 (home-grown) cucumber.  Only he would amortize the total cost of installation, maintenance, plant material, pest deterrents, etc.  But can one really put a price on joy?  I say no.  My collaborator-in-chief Javier amended all the beds, installed a new drip system, and planted.  Upside to no April travel:  Earlier planting.  Being at home means I can keep an eye out for early trouble signs.

Plant selection; my collaborator Javier; Japanese eggplant (first ever!); one of the beds.
Waiting for beans to sprout; heirloom tomato; first blackberry; fig plant.

#3 COOKING/BAKING

Even the Wall Street Journal had a front-page story on the scarcity of flour and yeast in stores!  Is that the craziest?  I bake and then look for recipients to get the goodies out of the house (neighbors have been great as has my gardener and his team).  Making soups from the contents of my weekly produce delivery is fun (my freezer is FULL!)  And a first attempt at pizza was inspired by purchasing the type of flour I see used on cooking shows (00 Artisan).  My daughter shared a fantastic local gourmet distributor housed in a nearby warehouse that mostly sells to restaurants and caterers.  Pricey?  Yes.  But if you’re looking for 50 types of olive oil and nearly as many mustards, then go.  Oh, and cheese selection, the french butters ..

Immaculate and FULL shelves at Epicurious Gourmet
From top left: Pizza ingredients; dough overflowed; before and after of pizza with calabrese sausage and classic margherita.

Explore your passions until we can share a meal and some wine together.  At home or away. In person.

International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

HEAVENLY HOI AN

IMG_2387 Hoi An

When sharing our itinerary for the recent trip to Southeast Asia, disclosing a visit to the gorgeous Vietnam beach area of Hoi An universally received lots of “ooohs” and “aaahs.”  Including a few days of doing nothing has become a regular part of the trip planning; this respite provides a much-needed opportunity to relax and recharge.  Otherwise, the travel is fast and aggressive in order to see as much as possible in any given destination.

Serenity.

This beach area is accessed by flying into Da Nang International Airport.  Da Nang is another familiar name to many Americans as it was the site of a major air base during the Vietnam War.  This particular location is in the center of the country — it thus provides excellent access to most other cities in Vietnam.

The ancient town of Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage Site, straddling the Thu Bon River.  Our biggest activity there was getting manicures.  Choosing where to go was the big question as the number of available shops closely rivals the number of bars and souvenir stores.  Our two manicures cost a grand total of $14, and that was fine for us.  Compared to Hanoi and Saigon, the takeaway from the town of Hoi An was the height of touristy.  Personnel for stores, clubs and restaurants try every which way to lure customers in for whatever is being offered.  And there were outdoor carts as well.  Maybe the area traffic swelled for the weekend we were there, but the combination of crowds, being pitched and likely the weather (hot and humid; what else?) made the town visit just fair.  Fortunately, the resort itself was a haven for relaxing.

One of three locations the proprietor’s family owns in the area. Foot massages were favored by many of the males in the shop.

 

In the town of Hoi An at dusk

And that was exactly how the few days were spent by the gorgeous pool at the Four Seasons Resort.   The company acquired this existing property in 2016, and they cater to guests from Korea, Japan and the U.S. by number in that order.  The resort does an excellent job of providing both for families traveling with children and those of us without.  The main pool is for guests 14 and older, providing a very relaxing space.  One could opt for cooking classes, water sports and/or venturing into the aforementioned town if desired.   The setting is so beautiful that we mostly just did nothing — precisely what we had in mind.

Spa treatment rooms at right, Four Seasons Resort

As has the been the case with other resorts, we again had the pleasure of engaging the Executive Sous Chef, Alessandro Fontenesi, a character hailing from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.  He took great pride in giving us a tour of the burgeoning produce garden.  There was pure envy on my part for the available space and neat rows of plants.  While the garden is not able to supply all of the resort’s requirements, everything the garden does produce is used.  Crops are rotated and seasonally planted and the results both look and taste great.  We alternatively wanted the chef to continue providing wonderful tastes and for him to stop tempting us with such delicious food.  What a dilemma!

A couple of kindred spirits ..
Offerings from the chef
Ripening melons
Tough job in very hot weather.
Lots and lots of mango trees!
Overview of the gardens
Doesn’t matter how it’s spelled. Keep it away from me!!

After three terrific and restful days (a total of nine in wonderful Vietnam),  we bid our adieu to the great staff with the promise of a return visit.  Next up, two stops in Cambodia.

Could have easily been in Italy with this ..
Pathway to heaven.
International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

EASTERN EUROPE & RUSSIA, Part 6 — TURN OF EVENTS LEADS TO PARIS!

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If you’ve been following along on this journey (Helsinki/Tallinn/Riga/Klaipeda/Vilnius), then you know we had Russian Visa issues prior to leaving the US.  After the earlier-than-planned exit from Russia and with time left before our scheduled departure back home, the question then became:  Where should we go for the remainder of the trip?  You now know how the story ended, with four glorious and unplanned days in Paris (runners-up were Vienna, Prague and London).

Other than our honeymoon plus a day trip from Brussels several years ago, we’ve not spent any time in Paris.   A big consideration in deciding where to go was rearranging the flight home to LA.  Happily, I worked with AA and was able to move things around while still in Moscow, maintaining a terrific mileage ticket (85k) flying non-stop from Heathrow to LAX in First Class!  Obviously, I did not want to lose that, so we added a Paris-London flight and continued onward.  Moscow-Paris offered tons of options, ultimately selecting Luftansa with a bit of a layover in Frankfurt.

Courtyard; Park Hyatt Place Vendome
Gorgeous weather; Jardin de Tuileries
Salade perfection; Les Jalles
Musee d’Orsay

What did we do? Roamed the streets near our Place Vendome hotel, immersed ourselves at the  Musee d’Orsay, did a return trip to spectacular Giverny (below), ate at some classic bistros — including Le Grand Colbert (yes, that one — made famous in the movie Something’s Gotta Give), and just had an extraordinary time. We also had great fun perusing the incredible hotels and their remarkable floral arrangements. I am a serial advance planner, so there’s typically lots of emails back and forth with hotel concierges to make sure nothing is missed.  This stay was more about “What do you feel like doing today?”  The final day was a win/win, with the hubby going to the Louvre plus scouting the very best place to exchange currency, and I endlessly browsed the stores (strictly for research purposes).

Giverny — tulips!
Wisteria and the Lily Pond at Giverny
Exquisite purple tulips
Still reaping benefits after so many years!
Basilica of the Sacre Coeur in the distance

So another post-tax-season holiday comes to an end.  Three weeks of magnificent sights, terrific service, fun with (first-week) traveling companion Julie Shuer, and meeting so many wonderful people.  There were oopsies as always:

  • What happened to my other pair of jeans?? (Lost somewhere at stop 1 or 2)
  • Why are four keys not working on the laptop — it was only a few drops of champagne??
  • Why was the hubby the smart one to take a pair of shorts??  (It got warmer than I expected)
  • Where the hell were all the band aids I needed for all that walking?? (Can never pack enough)

Minor inconveniences (maybe the computer was a bit more than that).  As always, it is a great privilege to explore this incredible world.  Final pix below ..

Brasserie Lipp — classic roast chicken and frites and the most scrumptious Napoleon for dessert.

What’s this?  The secret entrance to the world’s most reclusive jewelry designer – Paris-based  JAR (Joel A. Rosenthal).  Not that I would be granted an appointment (even if I could afford it) for it’s a very small and exclusive club that owns his pieces and for whom he creates.  But that didn’t stop my wish to find the iconic doorbell to his atelier.  The hubby encouraged me not to embarrass myself by bothering to ring.  Point taken.

That doorbell is the only clue.
Discreetly above the door in the Place Vendome

 

If there’s one of these wherever we travel, it is our last supper tradition.
We’ll miss this beauty …