Such a surprising novel. Published more than 15 years ago, I’m not sure how I have never read this amazing novel. Here is my book review The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.
Non-Fiction or Fantasy?
A sprawling novel that covers centuries, Kostova’s debut novel was a culmination of a decade of research. Her childhood fantasies about Dracula through stories from her father, compelled her to re-imagine the tales of Vlad the Impaler in this epic novel.
My friend Merry suggested this book to me, she and I often enjoy the same novels and she was right about this one. Although this story is very long (more than 700 pages) I devoured it and couldn’t put it down.
Drakulya (Vlad the Impaler)
Kostova takes the reader through generations as we follow the story of Drakulya; Prince, Warrior, Legend and Vampire. Traversing the globe from the USA to Oxford, throughout Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Turkey and more. This tale follows the handful of characters who find themselves thrust into the duty of lives focused on killing that illusive vampire.
Honestly if anyone else had told me about this book I probably would have thought it was what “B’ rated movies are made of. But I trust Merry’s review of a book, and so I plunged ahead with this novel. It’s brilliant. The tremendous research that Kostova did makes this fictional tale feel like non-fiction as you are engrossed in this decades long search for the illusive. Her characters are also incredible, and believable, even the character of Vlad himself…who at one point in the story I actually felt sorry for. Kostova is an excellent writing talent, adept at suspense and thrills while creating an exhilarating and intoxicating narrative that spans generations. I loved it.
Surely I will go in search of more of Kostova’s work in the future. I hope you enjoyed my book review The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.
***** Five Stars for The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
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We love Paris like everyone else. But really that’s the problem. EVERYONE loves Paris (and London and Rome) and so you find lots of crowds and high cost. In our travels around the world we have really tried to find new places that few tourists go. Often these destinations end up being our most favorite. And the more we travel the more we want to encourage everyone to consider stepping out of their travel comfort zone, and exploring the unknown – the favorite destinations no one goes. Finding your way to the lesser traveled destinations creates less impact on the planet while bringing greater cultural awareness to the traveler. We ask you to consider these options:
Instead of Croatia consider visiting Bulgaria, one of our favorite countries we have ever been to. Bulgaria has so much to offer, and yet we did not meet a single American during the entire month we were there. We did meet lots of Russians, Germans and some Brits. Bulgaria has a remarkable coastline along the gorgeous Black Sea as well as great mountains for hiking. The food is amazing, the wine is cheap and the 5000 year history is astounding. And the people are so amazing, welcoming and proud. They have endured a great deal in their history, and they have a “come what may” attitude that is infectious. Go visit Bulgaria.
Instead of Italy go to fascinating Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy it’s just a hop across the border to Slovenia, the tiny country once part of Yugoslavia. We have been to Slovenia twice and I suspect we will be there again. Slovenia has a tiny coastline on the Adriatic, and our favorite town of Piran is a perfect place to visit and get some local flavor. But don’t stop there, Slovenia has some of the most beautiful mountain towns and lakes. Much of Slovenia is still agrarian and the people are welcoming and patriotic and friendly. Oh and the seafood. So darn delicious. Go visit Slovenia.
Instead of Mexico go to El Salvador. We just spent two weeks on the Pacific Coast of tiny El Salvador and we absolutely loved it. There are some Americans coming here, but mostly 20-year-old surfers. The media has made us believe El Salvador is a dangerous place, and yet it is no more dangerous than Mexico and Americans flock to Mexico. Come to El Salvador where the water is warm, the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the history though brutal and bloody – is fascinating. El Salvador will soon come out the shadow of its violent past, so visit before the secret gets out. Go visit El Salvador.
Instead of Germany go to Poland. Poland is just beginning to step out of the shadow and become a tourist destination. And it should. We fell hard for Poland spending three weeks there last fall. Poland has some of the most astonishing history anywhere in Europe. The food is fantastic. The people are warm and happy to meet you. The historic villages are well-preserved and beautiful. And it is cheap and easy to get to. We loved Krakow as well as all the other places we visited and using the train in Poland was a great way to travel. You really should visit Poland now.
Instead of India go to Bangladesh. I loved our time in India too, but if you want to push yourself and visit somewhere no tourists go, visit the remarkable, tiny country of Bangladesh. Our short visit to Bangladesh provided us some of the most rewarding moments we have ever had in our travels. It’s difficult to visit Bangladesh without a guide, and we were lucky to find Deshguri, one of the few tour operators in the country. Through Deshguri we able to meet so many Bangladeshi people, who greeted us with more kindness than anywhere we have ever been in the world. We certainly stood out in both crowded Dakar as well as the beautiful villages and countryside, since almost no Western tourists come here. We learned so much during our time in Bangladesh, and left our heart with its beautiful people. A remarkable experience that everyone should have. Visit Bangladesh soon.
Instead of Thailand go to Sri Lanka. Thailand is overrun with tourists anymore. So if you are looking for beautiful beaches, mountains and more, visit Sri Lanka instead. The young backpacking set has found Sri Lanka, but few American visitors of the Fab Fifties era are traveling here. Why not? It is amazing. We spent three of our most favorite weeks in Sri Lanka, one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited. The Civil War is over and Sri Lanka is safe and inexpensive. The food is the da bomb. Hiking and history is around every corner and the beaches are incredible. We saw elephants and leopards, monkeys and snakes. Oh my. It’s Sri Lanka for me.
Instead of South Africa go to Namibia. Our ten-day tour in Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris will go down in our travels as one of the most remarkable places. This country that nobody has heard of is one of the most beautiful in the world. We had an amazing private guide during our time there, but you can also see the country easily with your own 4×4 vehicle (careful though, there is a high traffic fatality rate in Namibia). Namibia has a gorgeous Atlantic coastline, dry mountainous region that is like a moonscape, and multiple fascinating cultures such as the Himba, Damara and Herero people. And to top it off Etosha National Park – single-handedly the best wildlife viewing we have ever encountered. I absolutely fell in love with Namibia. If you have ever considered a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa take a moment and research Namibia. You will be so glad you did. Go see Namibia now.
Instead of the Maldives go to the Seychelles. First a word about the Maldives. We loved our time there, and luckily we found a very inexpensive place to stay. But in general the Maldives are expensive and there is no alcohol! So consider the Seychelles instead. A beautiful set of small islands out in the middle of nowhere off of east Africa. We spent a month on the tiny island of Praslin and loved every minute of it. Groceries were expensive and the variety was less than desirable, but the rest of the experience was very positive. The islanders speak French/Creole mix, and the shy people are friendly and religious. If you are looking for a place to kick back and relax with the warmest turquoise waters in the world, visit Seychelles now.
Instead of Spain go to Portugal. I hesitated about adding Portugal to this list because Portugal does have a thriving tourism industry. But we met very few Americans while we were there. Perhaps more Americans go to Spain because Spanish is a language more Americans can handle. But during our time in Portugal we had very little difficulty with the Portuguese language. We loved Portugal so much we would consider living there. The food is incredible, the cities are beautiful and the beaches are fantastic. It’s a remarkable place with such a variety of geography. Historically Portugal was once a powerful country of explorers and merchants, colonizers and tyrants but today, this quiet and beautiful country is laid back and relaxed and fun. Visit Portugal.
What is next for us?
We are now into a full-fledged planning phase of our next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We will spend May-September in the USA then depart again. Without really trying, we have noticed
a trend in the countries we are planning to visit next, a trend towards less touristy. A trend towards staying longer in one place. A trend towards trying to make less of an impact and remove ourselves from the fray.
I think this is what we always intended to happen on this journey, but it just took us a while to get there. But when we look back on our favorite places we have been so far, it’s always the places with the road less traveled. It’s always the places with few western tourists. It’s always the places the cruise ships don’t go. The authentic and relatively untouched destinations.
A week or so before we arrived in Langkawi we met a young women who was concerned when we told her we would be on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for 26 days. She felt we didn’t understand how little there is to do here.
We laughed about it later. Our favorite places in the world are the places with little to do. We particularly enjoy island-time and take it whenever we can get it. And our time here languishing on Langkawi has served us well both physically and mentally.
Although we spent many days doing pretty close to nothing, we also have enjoyed several busy and active days around the island. And after getting to know this small (25 miles long and 12 miles wide) island just off the coast of Malaysia and Thailand, I would argue that there is indeed plenty to do here.
Most people come here for three or four days. Maybe a week. When we told the young man on the beach who peddles the beach chairs we would be here for more than three weeks he was amazed. He said it was unusual. We have also noticed our age bracket here is unusual. Langkawi seems to be an itinerary of the young-backpacker and honeymooners …with a handful of people in their forties and fifties. We haven’t met any other Americans but it seems popular with the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Malaysians, Germans and Australians.
Our languishing on Langkawi days have often been spent at Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s most popular beach. It’s a two-minute walk to Cenang (pronounced ‘Chenang’) from our Airbnb and we can rent two chairs for the entire day for $5. The water is ridiculously warm and Cenang is the best place to watch the sunset. Although we did none of these things, it’s very popular (and seems relatively cheap) to go parasailing, rent jet-skis, ride on a banana boat, go island hopping or take a mangrove tour.
Cenang has lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed fantastic meals at Happy Happy Chinese Seafood and The Cliff Restaurant but probably my favorite meal was at Yasmine Syrian Restaurant. We also enjoyed several small sidewalk food stalls especially the Lebanese Shawarma Kebab sidewalk cafe and the Warung Cafe for breakfast.
We rented a car on three separate days over our 26 day stay, when we felt ready to get out and see more of the island. The rental car cost us $20 a day while gas runs about $2 a gallon. There really isn’t much public transportation but we found Grab (Uber) to be very efficient and super cheap.
The first day in the rental car we went to the Langkawi Cable Car and rode to the top for spectacular views. It’s relatively expensive by Malaysia standards ($20 pp) but worth it. From the top you can pay an extra $4 pp to walk out on the Sky Bridge. It was foggy when we were there but still a spectacular thing to do. Next we hiked the Seven Wells Waterfall. Free but ouch. It was 600 steps up and boy did I feel that in the morning. But it was worth it. Really beautiful. The waterfall has beautiful pools you can enjoy as part of your languishing in Langkawi efforts. We did not do the Umgawa Zipline, but it seems popular at around $100 pp.
Our second day in the car we drove to Temuran Waterfall in the northwest corner of the island. This is Langkawi’s highest waterfall and it was really spectacular. It’s much easier to access (200 steps) and also has a lovely pool at the base of the falls to cool off once you arrive.
Next we stopped to take a peek at the small but beautiful Pantai Tengorak Beach, but because there was a school field trip there we decided to move on. We enjoyed a spectacular fish-and-chips lunch with view at Scarborough Fish and Chips before heading next door to a much bigger and very beautiful beach called Pantai Tanjung Rhu. We spent several hours here. The water like a bathtub.
Back in Cenang we enjoyed one evening at the Aseania Resort where twice a week they offer a “Cultural Show and BBQ”. Think Luau. Similar to many such shows we have done around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Easter Island, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii), even though it is touristy it’s always fun, informative and delicious. Even though the sound system could use an upgrade, I was really glad we went. At $15 pp and all you can eat, you can’t beat it.
We spent three separate days enjoying day-passes at two beautiful beach resorts. We walked three miles to Resorts World Langkawi at the tip of the peninsula. For $10 we had access all day to their infinity pool, enjoyed pizza and a drink. Two days we walked one mile to Dash Resort. An all-day pass here was $9 and included a drink. It’s a nice way to take a break from the beach and feel a bit pampered. We liked the pool at Dash the best.
We went to the Thursday-only Langkawi Night Market which is tiny but we grazed our way through and had a full-meal for two for about $7. There is also a nightly food truck area right off the main drag- we weren’t overly impressed with the offerings so we never ate there.
Nearly every morning we did a beach and boardwalk run, taking advantage of the flat and beautiful terrain around Cenang to get back into running shape. I really appreciated having the time to do that.
Speaking of running, while we were on Langkawi the island hosted the Malaysia Ironman. What a spectacle that was! It was very difficult to get around during the event as so many roads were closed so we were only able to enjoy the finish line which was very near to our Airbnb. Super fun and exciting to witness an event like this. This is considered the second most difficult Ironman in the world. We saw the top three, all who beat the the course record despite the unusually warm day. It gave me goosebumps to watch them get their medals. What an accomplishment.
The following week we rented a car again for one more day of exploring. We drove around the southern road of the island to the town of Kuah. It’s a big town with lots of shopping and resorts. Not really something we are interested in but we wanted to see it. We then headed north with the intention of going to the Lucky Temple, a Buddhist Temple that accepts visitors. But we couldn’t find it. So next we headed to the Langkawi Cultural Craft Center. I was wishing I had more room in my suitcase for some of the beautiful baskets. I did purchase a beautiful hand painted Kaftan. We spent some time at the beach before heading back to Kuah to the Wednesday Night Market there.
Sunset in Cenang is pretty amazing. Our favorite places to watch sunset was from the rooftop of the El Toro Mexican Restaurant with a margarita in hand, or from the rooftop Flo Lounge on top of the Nadia Hotel. Our favorite beachside bar was Thirstday or we would bring our own scotch down to the beach for a nightcap.
Speaking of Scotch, the entire island of Langkawi is a Duty Free Zone. I don’t know why but lucky for us. We could buy a case of beer for $15, a liter of gin for $9 and a really nice bottle of Aberlour Scotch for $50. Aberlour 12 year in the USA would sell for about $90.
Strangely though, few restaurants serve alcohol since the majority of the businesses are Muslim owned. But you can find a drink in hotel and beach bars.
Sometimes we would take a long walk instead of going to the beach. Although the humidity can be tough, there are few cars on the roads and it felt good to get out and just walk around.
For nightly free entertainment there is never a dull moment down at the beach after sunset. The tiny town really comes alive, and pop up hookah lounges, fire dancers and foot massage studios take over the beach after dark. You can kick back all night in beach bean bag chairs if that’s your thing – definitely fits the languishing on Langkawi theme don’t you think?
We were on the tail end of Malaysia’s rainy season and during our visit to Langkawi and other parts of Malaysia we witnessed some crazy big tropical storms. But always the sun would return eventually. Other than during the Ironman and the week of the Indian holiday of Diwali, most hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions were lightly populated. High season will begin in November.
At the end of our visit, we had hoped to do a guided sunrise hike to the top of Gunung Raya, the highest point on Langkawi. But the weather did not cooperate so we had to cancel. So instead I booked a spa day at Alun Alun Spa in Cenang. It was really nice. I had a manicure, pedicure and a facial. There are many, many places in Cenang hawking foot massage, manicure, full-body massage etc. BUT since I am very particular about hygiene I decided to go to the more expensive and upsacale Alun Alun. I was really glad I did.
After nearly a month languishing on Langkawi -this tiny island ranks pretty high for me as a great place to both kick back and relax AND find plenty of things to keep busy. We were never bored. It fit our definition of island life pretty well, whether languishing on Langkawi or being on the go.
After forty days in Malaysia it’s time to go. Malaysia now falls fourth in the list of countries we have stayed in the longest (Spain, Thailand, New Zealand are the top three). But Malaysia ties for first place as the least expensive country for our travels – tied with Bulgaria. Coming in third is the Maldives.
Thanks Langkawi. Terima Kasih Malaysia. We have loved our time here.
Next stop Myanmar!
Please note WiFi in Myanmar is very poor. We will do our best to continue to post a Travel Blog each Friday and a Book Review each Wednesday. If you like what we are doing here, we would greatly appreciate you showing your love with a share or a pin!Please invite your friends to follow our blog. Thank you!
I am writing this blog laying on the couch in my SEVENTY-SIXTH Airbnb, my 603rd night sleeping in an Airbnb. Whoa. That’s a lot of Airbnb’s!
With that many houses, huts, apartments, condos, lofts, shacks and cabins under my belt, I feel it’s time to give you a list of our favorites around the world. Because even though we carefully research each and every Airbnb before booking, there are of course, some duds. So we like to give a shout out of the best of the best!
Click on the image for a larger view
If you are still hesitating about staying in an Airbnb I really encourage you to try it. We have had outstanding luck using this hospitality model in our travels. Airbnb has changed and grown ALOT since we stayed in our very first one in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood in 2013. The changes are mostly good. For us it has been safe, simple and efficient. We use the following as our guide for choosing an Airbnb;
1. Read the Reviews and look for Super Host and Five Star properties.
2. Check the amenities that are important to you. We always want a kitchen, wifi and good walkable location.
3. Check where it is on the map…BECAUSE if you search Seattle it might show you a house in Seabeck (this happened to us). If you don’t know the area you would be pretty surprised when you try to find your Seattle house.
4. Contact the host if you have ANY questions. We have on a number of occasions negotiated a better price based on our long stay. We have asked many questions such as neighborhood safety, parking, grocery stores etc. We’ve negotiated airport pick up, late arrival, chef service and other necessities.
5. Look closely at the pictures. If you arrive and the unit is NOT what the pictures show contact Airbnb right away. But honestly if you have done steps 1-4 above that probably won’t happen.
We do have one complaint about Airbnb…a complaint I have expressed to the company with ZERO response; As a loyal and frequent customer I would like to see the company AWARD me for my business. Just like an airline frequent flyer program. At the moment Airbnb has more of a focus on rewarding its hosts than its guests – even guests like me who use it almost every day of my life. I hope they will acknowledge users more generously soon.
Click on the image for a larger view
Many of our Airbnb’s don’t stand out for anything in particular, but have served us in an efficient, clean, comfortable and functional way within our budget. That’s all good. That’s the case for the nice apartment we are in right now in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It’s got all the comforts of home; kitchen, washer, two baths, a pool. And it’s in a nice, safe and convenient neighborhood. Our hosts are helpful and even have a car available for us to rent.
So since this apartment is our last Airbnb until next September, we thought this would be a good time to expound on our Favorite Airbnb’s Around the World and what makes those stand out above the rest. We’ve provided link and photos when possible, in hopes that you can consider some of these little gems we have found along our journey. Here is our list;
We just left Guatemala and the Cave House we stayed in on top of a mountain in San Marcos was amazing. It had some quirks, but nonetheless it was amazing. You got your built in work out throughout the day going up and down all those stairs. We give it a big thumbs up.
This Airbnb was three times what we usually try to spend, even while being one of the smallest Airbnbs we have ever stayed in. Oh but that view. Heaven on earth. There is nothing like the crater view of Santorini and it was right outside our door. Amazing.
We have had some really awesome hosts in our 76 Airbnb’s. And we have had some crappy hosts, usually those who leave you to fend for yourself. While we don’t want or need a host to manage our stay, we love it when we have a kind, engaged, thoughtful and hospitable host who is there for our occasional need. We have found that in many locations but the four mentioned take the prize. In Rio our host was incredibly kind with gifts and food and wine. In Exmouth we loved the darling family who provided us fresh ahi, yoga mats and much kindness. Two Airbnb’s in Bulgaria introduced us to the most thoughtful Bulgarians who made sure we had everything we needed including a special oven pan when requested, fresh cherries and Bulgarian roses in our room.
Bulgaria overall is a bargain, and it remains one of our most favorite countries for many reasons including the prices. These two favorite Airbnb’s were very large, multi bedroom units with full kitchen, exceptional hosts and awesome locations. The one in Sozopol included a giant deck with view and a swimming pool. We paid $30 in Veliko Tarnovo and $60 in Sozopol.
We spent two wonderful, relaxing weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this unique and comfortable house right on the beach in Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen nights in a row we documented the most exquisite sunsets…a wonderful end to each wonderful day.
Having a private pool is a real luxury for us, not something that is usually in the budget. Our two favorites listed here happened because we were sharing a house in these locations, so spending a little bit more for the luxury. The Ocotal pool had an amazing view, while the Koh Samui pool was very secluded and lovely.
Best Shared Pool – Hua Hin Thailand
Hua Hin, Thailand
The largest pool we ever had was the full Olympic size pool in Hua Hin Thailand. Despite the fact the pool was closed for maintenance for an entire week of our three week visit, we still enjoyed it for swimming laps and relaxing pool side.
It’s rare to have breakfast included in an Airbnb, and so we took full advantage at these two favorite spots. Each morning in both places breakfast was delivered to us. In Hoi An it was eggs and fruit with the BEST coffee and in Hikkaduwa it was the local Sri Lankan breakfast of either Roti or Hoppers, both which we really fell in love with.
Best Onsite Yoga – El Tunco El Salvador
El Tunco, El Salvador
Since I try to do yoga most everyday, I love it when we have an Airbnb with a nice open and comfortable place to do our own yoga. But even better is when there are yoga classes available onsite, and Balance Yoga in El Tunco El Salvador was the best. I have only taken yoga classes in Punta Cana DR, La Fortuna Costa Rica, and on a cruise ship, mostly because it has not been convenient anywhere else. But in El Tunco it was right out my backdoor, there were multiple daily classes, it was inexpensive and it was exceptional.
We loved everything about our house on the beach in Mal Pais, but the unexpected and impressive daily nature show was a big bonus. Laying in the hammock each evening watching the howler monkeys was truly fascinating…an activity many tourists pay big bucks to see on a tour. Not us. These monkeys came to us almost everyday and it was an incredible sight.
In Siem Reap we stayed in a historic Khmer home, with the absolutely nicest family living down below. Breakfast was included and the house was beautiful, historic and authentic. In Lombok Indonesia we stayed in an authentic Javenese Historic wood house, that had been disassembled, transferred from Java and reassembled on the site of this very remote and small resort we visited. Very memorable.
Best Daily Service – Asilah Morocco
We adored our full-time housekeeper and cook who came with our Airbnb in Asilah Morocco. Not only was it the first and only time we have had a cook and housekeeper on site, but she was so incredible. I gained ten pounds I think during our ten days there. We would absolutely go back to Asilah again and I hope we will. Latifah was very special.
We have stayed in some pretty rustic places, but Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka takes the prize for the most bugs, snakes, and rodents living with us in our hut. We felt like we were on Gilligans Island. And yet, we absolutely loved our three weeks here for the wonderful hosts, the incredible beach front property, the great weather and the delicious breakfasts all at a bargain basement price.
Best All Inclusive for the Price – Huraa Maldives
We spent three weeks on the itty bitty Maldivian Island of Huraa. We had a small room with bath, access to the beach, a great secluded place to do yoga and three meals a day all inclusive for $90…not $90 per person, $90 total. Our time here was spent just kicking back, running everyday, going snorkeling, hanging in the hammock and all for a remarkable price, especially in the very expensive Maldives.
Funkiest – Funky Truck in New Zealand and Tiny Trailer in Bend Oregon USA
Motueka, New Zealand
Bend, Oregon, USA
There are several Airbnb’s we could have given this award to, but these two experiences were so unique they win the prize. We only stayed two nights in each place. Both had outhouses and outdoor showers. Though tiny, both were comfortable and the hosts for both were helpful and hospitable and happy to have us visiting their unique little piece of paradise.
We have had access to a lot of beautiful beaches in our travels. Our favorites listed here though all are because we could walk right outside of our door and enjoy a beach. These three though were all very different; Mal Pais was a beautiful but unique beach just steps from or house made up of rocky pools that provided natures hot tub all day long. Seabeck Washington was a stunning beach on the Hood Canal with spectacular Olympic Mountain view and although a bit chilly, great summer swimming. And finally Hikkaduwa was a long beautiful stretch of golden sand beach with a bar right next door and our hut only steps away. Perfect.
Both Antigua and Malaga are gorgeous, historic and fairly compact cities and our Airbnb’s provided us a great location in the center of these towns to enjoy all the splendor they had to offer, along with the comforts we enjoy like kitchen and wifi. In Antigua we also had a magnificent patio where we could see two amazing volcanoes and do yoga or just sit and enjoy our morning coffee.
Flat and safe are my requirements for running around the world, and we have run in nearly every country but not in every location. Often there are dogs, cobblestones, snakes, mountains, crazy drivers or questionable characters that make running unsafe. But while in El Tunco, Placencia, Seychelles, Split and Punta Cana we ran every single day – safely and with wonderful scenery to enjoy!
Number One Out of Seventy-Six, Our Favorite Overall – Antiparos Greece (Cover photo at top of this page is Antiparos)
There are a few other’s we considered for this BEST OF moniker, but our three weeks in tiny Antiparos in this beautiful home with stunning view on the side of a mountain with a kind and lovely host is definitely our favorite experience, so far, of all our Airbnb’s. It is the one place that we think we will definitely visit again some day. As we go forward with our Grand Adventure next fall we have Airbnb’s booked all over; Asia, Africa, Europe. Time will tell if this favorite in Antiparos can hold its position as Number One.
If you have questions about our Airbnb adventures feel free to contact me. Other blogs that might be of interest to you on this topic are listed here;
Today marks 500 days on the road – and our grand adventure living 500 days of summer. Coming from the often grey and misty state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest, 500 Days of Summer was the goal.
When we started planning our grand adventure, we set an itinerary
that kept us away from cold and rainy places. And not just because we love the sun – but also because it’s easier to pack for these climates.
And so it has gone along this way now, for 500 days. Waking each morning and opening my eyes and saying “hey, it’s still summer.” Nice.
Now we can’t say we haven’t seen some cool, even cold days. We were in New Zealand as
summer turned to fall and we had some pretty chilly nights. Even in North Vietnam the nights were cool and in Halong Bay the mist hung low and we never saw the sun. In Morocco the wind was brisk and our night in the Sahara Desert camp was downright nippy. Here in Indonesia, our time in the
mountains brought thankfully cooler temps, but certainly not cold.
But mostly it’s been warm to hot to REALLY hot as we have navigated this summer life. More than 16 months on the road and I’m on my third (and a half) swimsuit and needing a fourth. I’m on my
Sunny New Zealand
third sun hat, second pair of sunglasses, second set of beach towels and second pair of flip-flops. I’m on my third selfie stick, my tenth bottle of sunscreen and my fifth water bottle – misplacing
four somewhere along the way. My sundresses are tired and faded from sun and sweat and constant washing. I will retire all of these soon and go on a big shopping trip for fresh and new when
we get back to the states.
Because after our visit to the USA (May 14-Aug 7),where we hope it will be summer, we head off on the next phase of the grand adventure, at least
another 500 days of summer.
But until then, summer continues here in Indonesia.
And life is sunny and fabulous!
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It’s already late March. Where does the time go? The grand adventure has been underway for 16 months now and the flights and airports all blur together in my head. But there are a few memorable ones, for both good and bad reasons, so we thought it was time to write about the Best and Worst Airports of the World – according to My Fab Fifties Life.
Seattle on the day we left the USA
My favorite airport used to be Schiphol in Amsterdam. And I still love it. It’s like a small city and can keep you entertained for days (hopefully you don’t spend days there). On our world tour we have encountered some similar airports, mainly the hub airports that are so spectacular in Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Qatar. In these beautifully designed airports you can enjoy
fantastic works of art, delicious dining, designer and convenience shopping as well as usually a fine hotel. You can also find spas and salons, quiet zones, kids zones, smoking zones, charging zones and sleeping zones and often showers.
Almost all the comforts of home.
The Dubai Airport, a giant megatropolis is about to be closed because another even bigger one is
Coming in to Praslin
slated to open very soon. From a distance it looks like something from the future. Huge, artistic and from another world. When finished it will be largest airport in the world. Can’t wait to see it. I was told they will just tear down the other one…weird.
We have had some good experiences in some small airports too. Cape Town, South Africa was the quickest and easiest airport we ever went through. Dhaka, Bangladesh, though rundown and old, was one of the friendliest airports with helpful police who escorted us around the passport control so we could get some local currency to pay for our visa on entry.
Sunrise flight out of Perth
Small airports have a big advantage in that you can be off the plane and in your taxi in 15 or 20 minutes. No long lines, no walking miles to get to baggage claim. Arrival in Alice Springs and Cairns Australia was so quick. Maldives airport was beautiful and easy to maneuver. The teeny Praslin Island airport in the Seychelles was more like a bus station. Off the plane and on our way. Just botta bing botta bang and you are out the door. Nice.
Boarding in Marrakesh
In Koh Samui Thailand the tiny airport had a beautiful area for waiting for departure and it included free popcorn, chips, coffee and juice. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. However the approach by car to Koh Samui was poor – winding in a van through one lane residential streets weaving in and out of kids and dogs and bikes. Yikes.
In Praslin Seychelles there are so few flights a day there is a traffic light to hold traffic when a plane is landing. The plane’s approach is over the road. But usually it doesn’t matter. There is very little car traffic either.
Many smaller and medium size airports look very much the same. It’s difficult to distinguish
On board we always try to have aisle seats across from each other
between them. Dubrovnik, Madrid, Santiago, Cape Town – all the same.
We landed in Guam at 3:40 in the morning. In a daze we maneuvered to the car rental area, happy to find them open and waiting for us. Hallelujah!
Less impressive experiences were in Manila, where the waiting area on the concourse was so tiny and crowded we had to sit on the floor. There was no ATM machine and the unimpressive food kiosks only took local currency. In Casablanca, the airport was fine but the baggage handling with Air Maroc was the worst. Our bags on our short flight from Marrakesh disappeared and no one could find them. When they were found, it was because I went and searched every luggage carousel in the airport and found them myself.
Passport control was horrible in Tunisia and Siem Reap, Cambodia where we stood in line for more than hour for no reason other than one passport control guy wanting to be an ass and seem important.
In Sofia Bulgaria, the small but new and nice
On the tarmac
airport was marred by the unfriendly and unhelpful tourist information desk and the fact that there was not a single ATM at the airport.
In Ho Chi Minh City the airport was okay but it was the dishonest taxi driver who put a bad taste in our mouth. Trying to trick us and drive us in circles and tell us a 100 bill was a 10.
On departing Delhi India the service at the check in counter was so slow that even though we allowed three hours we barely made our flight. And we went through security intending to find a cash
machine on the concourse only to be told ATM’s were only in the check-in area. What?
Our beautiful hotel in the Singapore airport
Sometimes when we have really long-haul flights we will break the up with overnight (and sometimes a day) at an airport hotel. SInce we aren’t pressed for time we find this a great way to avoid jet-lag. We have done this in Dubai, Qatar, Bangkok and Singapore.
We only have a few flights left before we board a cruise ship for our final leg back to the USA. We have learned a lot – how to pack and plan, prepare and endure all these flights. We’ve also learned to just relax because most of the time it’s all out of our hands.
Oscar nominations this week! A big week if you are a movie fan – which of course I am but since I have not stepped foot in the United States in more than 14 months I haven’t seen any of this year’s big films. But instead I have seen a world of real life drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery and animation. Enough to last a life time. So in keeping with the announcement of this year’s Oscar Nominations, I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2017 and 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.
And the winner is…
Hoi An Vietnam
Favorite City – Hoi An Vietnam
By far our favorite destination in Vietnam with it’s colorful old town, beaches, rice fields and fabulous food. We loved this place and the airbnb we stayed in here.
Most Surprising – Namibia
We came to Namibia practically blind, allowing our tour guide from Wild Wind Safaris to hold our hand and we were not disappointed. A spectacular destination I think everyone should visit.
Best Value Destination – Bulgaria
We loved our month in the friendly, beautiful and historic country of Bulgaria where we didn’t
meet any Americans. Put this inexpensive and great country on your bucket list and go!
Best Overall Scenery – New Zealand
Jaw dropping scenery no matter where you go or which way you look, New Zealand is an
Abel Tasman New Zealand
outdoor enthusiast dream and is stunningly beautiful.
Most Crowded City – Hanoi
The scooters alone make this wild city that never sleeps total chaos. Then add the cars, trucks, carts, pedestrians, vendors and well – its pretty wild.
Most Beautiful City – Split Croatia
Whether you are perusing the mega yachts in the
Diocletian’s Palace, Split
harbor or wandering through Diocletian’s Palace, Split is a magical place and my favorite Croatian city.
Most Interesting City – Fez Morocco
Around every corner as you get lost in Fez there is something interesting and amazing and I enjoyed this maze of a city
Most Disappointing City – Tangier Morocco
Getting lost in Tangier is easier but nowhere near as fun as getting lost in Fez. We found Tangier a bit of a disappointment.
Best Airbnb for Service – Asilah Morocco
We adored our “mom” Latifah during our ten days
Latifah unveiling the Tajine
in Asilah and wanted to put her in our suitcase and take her with us. The food and care she gave us was unparalleled.
We had a lot of discussion over this one. We have been, frankly, so lucky with our airbnb’s. And even this one had a few quirks. But we loved it for the view, the private pool and the car that came with it. It was however, also our most expensive Airbnb. https://myfabfiftieslife.com/sweet-samui/
We loved this top floor unit with a huge deck and amazing view. We think we might return to this place some day, only $55 a night.
Best Hotel – Luang Prabang Laos
Luang Prabang Laos
We spent three nights in the beautiful Maison Dalabua hotel in this darling and historic city on the Mekong River and it was one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. From the comfortable and spacious room, the food, the pool, the flowers and the service, everything about it was first class on a budget.
Because noodles always put a smile on your face.
Favorite Overall Cuisine – Thailand
This is the best food in the world. Simple, healthy and so flavorful I can’t get enough of Thai Cuisine.
I’ll never forget the dinner we had at Cervejaria Ramiro with our son Erik and his friend
Salvador who lives in Lisbon. It was a gluttonous evening and I loved every bite. Someday I will go back. In Piran Slovenia with our friends Raymond and Marbi we gorged ourself on the most amazing anchovies in oil followed by spectacular spaghetti
Ladja Padlanika Restaurant in Piran
con vongole. We loved it so very much we went twice.
Worst Food Overall – Camino de Santiago
When we really needed the sustenance the most, our 41 days on the Camino de Santiago provided the least inspiring of food.
Best Cooking Class – Chiang Mai Thailand with Honorable Mention to Cape Town South Africa
I try to take a cooking class in most of the countries we visit, and I do it as much for the cuisine
My favorite Chiang Mai Noodles
and culture as to meet local people who love their food and want to share it. My classes in Chiang Mai (two full days) and my evening class in the home of our instructor in Cape Town South Africa fulfilled what I am always looking for.
Best Beer – Cape Town South Africa and Honorable Mention Piran Slovenia
Capetown because they had a vibrant micro brew scene and good non-lager beers available in most stores and restaurants, and Piran because here my husband had the single best beer he has had since leaving the USA. Don’t know what brand it was but it was a spectacular Slovenian IPA.
Worst Grocery Availability – Seychelles
Hands down the most difficult place to find decent produce and healthy ingredients for day-to-day cooking, we learned to eat a lot of rice, lentils and beans during our month in the
Seeing these two places will stay with me all my life – when you think about opening your mind to understand cultural
Himba Women and Children
differences, embrace and learn from living hand to mouth and become more tolerant of other cultures – visiting these two places had all that and more.
Best Beach for Scenery – La Digue Seychelles
No wonder Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition has shot here several times. This place with it’s unique rock formations, sparkling white sand and out of this world blue water is about as spectacular as they come.
La Digue Seychelles
Best Beach for Spending the Day – Meia Praia, Lagos Portugal
It helped that our condo was a short walk to the beach, where we went everyday during our three weeks in Lagos. Golden sand, lots of room to spread out and easy and safe swimming made this our favorite.
Best Day Hike – Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand
An experience I will never forget, climbing the mountain, seeing the volcanic crater and lakes and just accomplishing this feat will always hold a special place for me.
Most Difficult Day Hike – Climbing Down Table Mountain, Cape Town South Africa
We thought down would be easier. It wasn’t. There were times where I literally didn’t think I was going to make it. My body gave it all I had, and it was
Our three-day Glamping Tour on the Able Tasman was one of the highlights of our time in that country. We were blessed with spectacular weather, met new friends and were introduced to the wonders of New Zealand.
Best Historic Sight – Angor Wat, Siem Reap Cambodia
Angor Wat Cambodia
It was a lifelong dream for me to see Angor Wat and it was not disappointing. The fascinating ancient story that unfolds in these ruins set amidst the friendly and persevering Cambodia people is not something I will ever forget.
Fewest Tourist at a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Dougga Tunisia
Nothing like having an entire UNESCO site to
yourself, and that is exactly what we enjoyed at the beautiful Dougga Roman Ruins in Tunisia. Not many tourists in Tunisia, but slowly they are returning, and we loved our time in this ancient country, cradle of civilization as we know it today.
Even though the food was bad, the experience is now branded on my soul. It changed me and I loved it.
On the Camino
Best Live Performance – Tie Violin Concert Piran Slovenia and Carmina Burana outdoors in Dubrovnik; Honorable Mention to Kandy Cultural Show, Kandy Sri Lanka
Front row seats in a tiny historic theater in beautiful Piran Slovenia made for a special night as we enjoyed a beautiful violinist accompanied by a guitarist. It was just so pleasant. Just as mazing the spectacle that was hearing Carmina Burana performed outdoors in historic Dubrovnik
Carmina Burana performed outdoors in Dubrovnik
town center. Spectacular!
Kudos also to the very authentic Sri Lankan dance, music and firewalker show we enjoyed (also front row seats) in Kandy Sri Lanka.
Best Nature and Animal Experience – Etosha National Park Namibia
I’ve said it before – this country was such a surprise and this National Park was the bomb.
Best Free Experience – Free Walking Tours
Our Free Walking tour guide in Sofia Bulgaria
In nearly every major city you can take what is known as “Free” guided walking tours. These are awesome and we love them because it is always a local guide, someone young and enthusiastic. You tip them at the end – so its not really Free – but it is worth it and we have done this at least ten times. A great value.
Friendliest People – Sri Lanka
Hands down the kindest and friendliest people we
Monk in Sri Lanka
have met – despite all the hardships they have been through; colonialism, monarch assassination , civil war and tsunami. Still they smile. Love them.
Worst Drivers – Vietnam
There are several runners-up here, including Sri Lanka (and we haven’t gotten to India or Bangladesh yet), but still Vietnam takes the prize for the craziest drivers, most dishonest cabbies, scooter
Scooters in vietnam
mania and absolute lack of any pedestrian rights.
Worst Experience – Dog Bite Koh Samui Thailand
Hands down the worst day has been the day Arne was bit by a dog in Koh Samui. The one saving grace is it could have been much worse. But still it makes me angry and the overall feral dog situation in Thailand makes me question whether I will ever visit again.
The colors and the light of the desert at dusk, the animals, the other guest from around the
On the camel trek in Morocco
world and having this experience with our friends Sarah and Steve all added up to a very fun two days and one night camel trek in the desert.
Least English Spoken – Spain
Only in the last decade has English been taught in schools, so few adults are fluent. Especially in the small towns and villages on the Camino we did a lot of pointing and hand charades to communicate. It was fun!
Hottest – Seychelle’s and Honorable Mention Doha, Qatar
We saw some rain in the Seychelles but it was never
Seychelle Islands, Praslin
under 85 degrees and the water was like a bathtub. We only spent one night in Doha Qatar, but it marked the hottest one day on the
trip at 113 F.
Coldest – New Zealand
We were in New Zealand in the fall and we had a few nights were the temperature dropped in the 30’s. Living in the Kiwi Karavan we wore hats and coats and wool socks to bed to stay
Worst Rain Storm – Tie between Hua Hin Thailand and Koh Samui Thailand
After a two hour taxi ride turned into a five hour taxi ride in a monsoon we arrived in flooded Hua Hin Thailand not sure what we had gotten ourselves into.
More than once the sky opened up in Koh Samui, accompanied by flashing lighting and booming thunder.
Best Sunrise – It’s a tie between Napier New Zealand and Galicia Spain
I’m a sucker for a good sunrise, and we have seen
Napier New Zealand
some amazing ones but these two stand out above and beyond for the sheer majesty of the experience.
Best Sunset – La Digue Seychelles (see cover photo)
Mother’s Day Dinner in La Digue we watched the sunset from a beach restaurant and it was a religious experience.
We haven’t even arrived in India yet, but it was hands down the most expensive Visa we have purchased and one of the most difficult online applications. Hopefully when we arrive tomorrow everything will be in order!
Easiest Airport Entry – Capetown South Africa
We breezed through passport and customs so fast in Capetown we were totally surprised.
Worst Airport Entry – tie between Siem Reap Cambodia and Carthage Tunisia
In both cases we got in the wrong line. The line with the guy who was arrogant and pompous and was going to make every passenger know he was the boss. Any sign of dissatisfaction could get you pulled out of line and make your life hell. And so we waited.
Lucky Girl. Fabulous Life Award.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2017-2018. But you do know, the real winner is me. Me and my husband. The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
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