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Five Days

    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Five Days Fes to Marakesh

    Chapter Eleven Comes to an End

    Location: Morocco

    One month in Morocco has been marvelous.  We have seen so very much, and still there is much to see – so we will return one day.  But for now, I am so happy to have experienced this magical and friendly country – especially the past five days as we have traversed the diverse geography from Fes to Marrakesh.

    We hired a guide to show us parts of Morocco we

    With our guide Abdul

    would find difficult to reach on our own – and I am so glad we did.  Our fantastic guide Abdul from Your Morocco Tours was amazing(5 days only $250 per person).  He safely drove us for five days and was funny, interesting and proud of his country and his heritage.

    Have I mentioned how friendly everyone is?  

    Ziz Valley

    With our friends Steve and Sarah we left Fes on a Saturday morning for the long but beautiful drive.  We began to climb into the mountains only a few hours out of Fes.  Eventually we made it to the beautiful Ziz Valley.  Here we began to see the red rocks and reddish pink buildings I had always imagined when I thought of Morocco.  Although the white and blue and green and grey we had seen up to this time was beautiful in its own way – this red color of the desert against the green of

    Desert sunset

    the date palm trees made me feel I was part of a movie set.

    Have I mentioned how great all the roads are?

    After a long day of driving we arrived in the desert, just in time for a spectacular sunset over the Sahara.  It was breathtaking.  I didn’t want it to end.  Awash in orange from sand to sky it was spectacular.

    We then continued a short distance into the dunes to our spectacular hotel called Kasbah Azalay.  Stunning.  How can this be our hotel when we paid so little for this tour?  Not only was it pretty in a very Moroccan way but the service and hospitality was perfect.  We enjoyed a lovely tagine for dinner

    On the camels

    and a good nights sleep.

    A more leisurely day was on hand for Sunday and after breakfast we climbed the dunes and shopped for scarfs in the town of Merzouga.  We then enjoyed a visit to the village of Kamila where we sipped mint tea and listened to the authentic Gnaoua music of the region performed by the ancestors of the original Sudanese slaves who were brought here five hundred years ago.  Their efforts to preserve their culture and music are commendable and we danced and had a great time with them.

    Have I mentioned that this country, more than any other, is where I want to buy things – pottery, rugs, leather? I am restraining myself.

    Late in the afternoon we arrived at the staging area for our camel trek into the desert.  To be completely accurate it’s actually a dromedary trek.  Camels are the beasts with two humps.  The animals with one hump are technically dromedaries, but everyone calls them camels so, hey, whatever!

    On the camel trek with arne

    I wasn’t really sure how this was going to go – was it scary? Painful? Smelly?  Actually, it was a teeny bit painful – but mostly just fun.   The dromedaries were not smelly, they didn’t spit or bite, but once you are sitting up on one, you realize this ain’t no horse.  Wow.  They lumber along and your leg muscles feel the movement, but honestly the next day it was my arms that were sore, from trying to hold on when the camel goes down a hill, or sits down.

    There were ten of us riding and after an hour and half on the camel, including a stop to watch another spectacular Sahara sunset, we arrived at the nomad camp.  We were assigned tents with beds and served tea while we waited for another group of 18 to arrive.  When they did we all had dinner together (tagine) and then a bonfire and music around the fire.  By this time the temperature had plummeted and we put all our clothes on including wool socks and hats and snuggled under the covers for the night.

    Have I mentioned there are more stars in the sky in Morocco?  Billions.

    Wake up at 6am and you immediately feel the pain in your legs (and crotch) and arms.  Yikes.  But back on the camel we go, even before I get a cup of coffee.  Ugh.  I was hoping my camel knew the way to the nearest Starbucks, but instead he took us out of camp into the dunes to watch the sunrise.  Surreal.  And way better than Starbucks.


    After the sunrise and a thousand more photos we were back in the saddle and headed back to town, where we were served a nice breakfast (with plenty of coffee) and had a hot shower before we reconnected with our guide Abdul and began day three of our tour.

    We drove away from the dunes and into the amazing Moroccan red rock canyons and gorges.  A

    Todgha Gorge

    truly surprising area of Morocco I had never even heard of.  The Todgha Gorge was stunning and we enjoyed it late in the afternoon where the 1000 foot walls had sunlight on the tops, but the river was in the shadow of the mountains.  We also visited a remarkable fossil museum where we learned about


    the 500 million year old ocean fossils found in this area and another place where we learned about the ingenious well and aqueduct system the Berber people built to access and save water from the

    Ancient wells

    Atlas mountains 300 years ago.

    Have I mentioned  how diverse the geography is? From ocean to desert to mountains to rivers to lakes.

    Finally we arrived in the Dades Gorge, another amazing marvel of Mother Nature, where our hotel for the night was perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below.  We enjoyed an authentic Moroccan couscous meal and met a nice couple from Seattle and swapped stories before a good nights sleep.

    Up and on our way in the morning we drove to see

    Monkey Feet

    more ancient Kasbahs perched in the Dades Gorge and throughout the red rock region and stopped to view the geological wonder called Monkey’s Feet.  A geology uplift of rock that is unique to this area and impossible to describe.  And yes, it did look a bit like the bottom of a monkey’s foot.

    Midday we visited one of the best preserved Kasbahs in Morocco, the Amerhidil – built-in the 17th century and in remarkable condition.  Given that most of this construction is made from mud and straw bricks, finding well-preserved ones of this age is unusual.  We toured the building, ate a delicious lunch of grilled turkey kebab and then headed on our way to our hotel.

    This night we stayed in another very beautiful boutique hotel with exceptional customer service.  Everywhere we go the people are so kind and helpful and that is the case at Riad Tama.  Big rooms, and a beautiful garden and a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed a a French inspired dinner.

    Have I mentioned a Dar is a house, a Riad means garden but is often used to refer to a hotel or house with a garden?

    Day five- our final day began early at 8:30 with our fabulous guide Abdul as we headed off to the

    Kasar Air Ben Haddou

    famous and well-preserved Kasar of Air Ben Haddou where we spent a couple of hours walking with an incredible guide who had been raised in this village. Morocco has a big film industry and this place is one that is often featured in many films including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jewel of the Nile.

    Have I mentioned a kasbah is a house of a rich family usually with four towers while a kasar is a fortified village with more than one kasbah?

    Our final day continued with another spectacular

    All together and a wonderful time.

    drive with surprising scenery and geography over the Tizi Tichka Pass to the famous city of Marrakesh – our final stop of our Morocco adventure.  We will be in Marrakesh for three days.

    We loved our tour!  An inspiring experience in a magical place.

    In the future when I think of Morocco I will certainly remember the cities we have visited (Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Tangier, Asilah, Fes and Marrakesh) but I think it will be the rural areas I will remember most fondly.  The desert is such a special place to be, and to be able to sleep there and see the stars at night and ride the camels – unforgettable.  The gorges and red rocks and Kasbahs of old are like something out of a movie set (and some are) but they are real.  And beautiful.  And cherished by the wonderful Moroccan people.

    Five Days from Fes to Marrakesh.  What an experience.  What a lucky girl.  What a life.



    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

    Reading Wednesday

    I have never read Harris’ more well-known novel Chocolat, but I think I should now because I truly loved this book. Here is my book review Five Quarters of the Orange by JoAnne Harris.

    France During the War

    The place is a tiny village on the Loire River in France during the German occupation in World War II. This is a place where a terrible tragedy occurs. Who is responsible for this terrible tragedy and how does it change the lives of so many people? This will unfold in the pages of Five Quarters of the Orange.

    Framboise is nine years old the summer of the tragedy. A precocious but naive young girl, whose disdain for her mother leads her to create often cruel ways that put her sensitive mother to bed for days – allowing Framboise and her older siblings to run about the village unsupervised. Framboise summer goal is to catch the mysterious giant Loire River pike called Old Mother, but she unexpectedly finds herself developing a crush on a German soldier.

    The Tragedy

    Framboise mother, Mirabelle Dartigen, is looked on by the villagers as “unusual” and perhaps even a witch for her odd behavior. Mirabelle keeps a scrapbook of recipes that also serves as somewhat of a journal and will play an important role in unraveling the events of that fateful summer.

    The family is run out of the village at the end of the summer, but decades later Framboise returns. She hopes to lead a quiet life and not be recognized as the daughter of Mirabelle Dartigen. But her secret begins to unravel as she runs a small local creperie and her nephew and his wife go to great lengths to get their hands on the infamous recipe book.


    This is a dark story about mothers and daughters. It is a book about being young and naive and living with our mistakes. This is a novel about food, family, and facing the past to have peace in the present. I enjoyed it very much. I hope you enjoyed my book review Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris.

    *****Five stars for Five Quarters of the Orange

    Read last week’s review of The Music of Bees

    My current read About Grace

    We love it when you pin and share our book reviews.


    Message From Cyprus Edition Five

    Blessings, Grief and Goals

    Location: Argaka Cyprus

    The Numbers

    Day 34 on Cyprus – Day 30 in Quarantine/Lockdown

    April 11 th marked seven months since we left the USA

    Cyprus Virus Cases as of today 620 – Deaths 13

    See below for latest news and developments from the island under lockdown.


    It’s Easter Sunday and I’m determined to count my blessings all day…and especially in this message before I move on to the other details of our lockdown life. There are many blessings and I remind myself this when I am falling down the rabbit hole of too much news, too much worry and too much social media. I am blessed;

    • I’m healthy and safe
    • Although I know some people with the virus, they are all acquaintances of acquaintances and so far none of my family or close circle of friends have been afflicted. That I know of.
    • My husband is with me
    • I can talk to my family and friends regularly
    • Cyprus is beautiful
    • Our villa and hosts have been exceptional
    • I have been to 110 countries and if I never get to travel again, well I have been to 110 countries and I am blessed.

    It may be Easter in most of the world, but it’s not Easter here in Cyprus. We actually get to celebrate Easter twice. Small blessing. Today we celebrate on the day most of the Christian world celebrates and next Sunday the Orthodox Easter is celebrated. It’s something to look forward to, although we won’t leave the house for either of these holidays. Blessings.

    Easter Blessings
    Easter Blessings

    Grief Becomes Goals

    Like a big heavy wet blanket, grief is oppressive as it lays on our lives. I’m aware how many people have been feeling this way, and I have too. We are grieving for our past lives and for things familiar. Recognizing what this emotion is is definitely the healthiest step we can make, and recognizing the chapters and long road we face ahead is important.

    On my run this morning I was remembering my personal battle of grief when my brother died. I was highly functioning for months following his death, handling all the gruesome details of my brother’s sudden death, pushing my grief away. There was a very poignant moment for me, when, feeling sorry for myself I was thinking how much I wanted things to just go back to normal. Normal.

    What is normal after a loss, tragedy, crisis? It was that moment that I instinctively knew the answer to one of life’s most difficult questions. There never will be a normal of old. It’s gone, just like yesterday and two minutes ago. Can’t get it back. A new normal develops…and we gradually accept and live in it.

    I think I’m making positive steps towards the new normal, as I have found myself much more engaged in trying to keep busy and definitely looking at what life will look like going forward. Blessings.

    Keepimg Busy

    Healthy Body and Mind

    The movie Wall-E keeps running through my mind, where the human race needs to leave planet earth to let it heal. Remember? And they all live on some kind of Starship Enterprise, getting fat, and lazy and stupid.

    Oh dear.

    I am still finding it difficult to focus on reading…of all things. I should be devouring books, but I’m not. But I have found something else to take my mind off of the bad news. I’ve never allowed myself the time to listen to podcasts, take webinars, or sign up for classes on line. This past week I have done all of those things. And I have learned so much and it feels great.

    Most of the learning I’m doing online is geared towards this blog (although I snuk in a cooking class)…how might this blog look in the months and years ahead with the changes in travel? How can I keep it viable and interesting, inspiring and fun? I took a class about Pinterest and Tailwind and am considering doing an online Tailwind consulting. Tailwind has always baffled me so I kind of ignore it. I also took a wonderful webinar about Instagram and learned some fun new things. Additionally I took a live online class with other bloggers about search engine optimization and affiliate options for bloggers. BTW check out my new and improved Pinterest account here. It’s pretty.

    These are all things I never paid much attention to…but now I am learning and finding it really fascinating. Keeping my mind open to learning. I’m doing yoga and have a new app for that too and I’ve begun training for a half marathon. No Wall-E for this girl. Blessings.

    Hiking on Mauritius
    Keeping Positive

    Latest Cyprus News

    A lot of things happened this week on the island. First, the stay home lockdown has been extended to April 30 th, same as the USA. Easter has been “postponed” until May, as the government tries to get the Church to agree to not hold Easter services. A big task in this very religious country.

    We still need to ask permission to leave the house, which we do via text. We went to the grocery store this week, and were stopped by the police at a road block. We had to show our “permission” to be out, and then we were flagged through. If we didn’t have that authorization, we would each be fined $300. Thousands of citations have been given over the past few weeks and one man has been arrested for some kind of fake SMS scheme he was running.

    There was a flight that left Cyprus this week to Stockholm. We considered taking it, but decided against it. We would have needed to stay the night in Stockholm, take a second flight to London, stay the night in London and then take a third flight to Seattle. This did not seem like a healthy or safe scenario so we decided to wait.

    We received a phone call from the Embassy checking on us. They were trying to determine the level of “need” each American has. This is good, the most interest they have shown in our welfare. We are aware that there are many people who have much more urgent reasons to get back to the USA (jobs, kids etc) than we do. We are also aware of some cases where people are running out of money and need to get out. We do not fall into those categories. We continue to be safe and comfortable. Blessings.

    You may have seen the interview that I did with Q13 News in Seattle this week. It was fun to tell our story, even if they did pronounce my name wrong. It’s okay – not the first time I’ve been called Loud. 🙂

    In our original itinerary we would have been touring the Caucasus right now; Armenia. Georgia and Azerbaijan. But we aren’t so no point in dwelling on it. It’s the new normal.

    Still waiting for Airbnb to make it right by us. Flights we had in May have now all been canceled. Unfortunately they are giving credit not cash. Ugh.

    My gut tells me we will be here until May…assuming the airport opens in early May. At that time we will determine a plan of action. But until then, we will certainly consider any possible flight that comes available, but more likely we will spend our days here, waiting like the rest of the world. Blessings.

    Stay safe my friends. Be good to each other. Happy Easter.

    Cyprus Lockdown
    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Five Presidents by Clint Hill

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    This story is truly incredible.  But so is the way I stumbled onto this book.

    I follow Mike Rowe on Facebook…you know the funny “Dirty Jobs” guy in the baseball hat.  A month or more ago I saw a post from Mike Rowe about meeting a guy in a bar.  An older gentleman who ordered a drink called a “Clint”.  When the bartender was puzzled, the man pulled a card from his pocket, on one side was his name and information and on the other, the recipe for his favorite and personal drink the “Clint”.

    Of course Mike Rowe was intrigued and they struck up a conversation.  I don’t know how long the spoke but I do know Rowe was flabbergasted to find that he was sitting next to a man who had first hand experience at some of our countries most poignant and sorrowful moments.  Mr. Clint Hill, who served five Presidents in the Secret Service.  Mr. Clint Hill, who infamously is the agent clinging to the back of the convertible while Jackie Kennedy reaches across the trunk of that car to collect pieces of her husbands brain.

    Yes that man.  He ordered a “Clint”.

    Rowe later writes about his meeting Hill on his Facebook page, and suddenly sales of his book “Five Presidents” rockets on Amazon.  I am one of those people who purchased the book for my Kindle and I learn that Hill has also written two other best sellers “Five Days in November” and “Me and Mrs.Kennedy”.

    So that is how I came to find this book.  And once I started it I couldn’t put it down.  Writing with the help of author Lisa McCubbin, Hill describes his incredible life as a secret service agent, beginning with President Eisenhower and ending with President Ford…through some of this nations most turbulent times; assasinations, civil rights, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Watergate and so much more – Clint Hill had a front row seat to it all.

    It’s funny because I never really thought that much about what these men (and now women) sacrifice in the line of duty.  Hill admittedly left the service when the unnamed (at the time) post traumatic stress disorder drove him to alcohol.  He sacrificed seeing his children grow as he traveled all over the world.  He slept little and gave 110% every day of his long career.

    And it all is spelled-out in the fascinating book about a fascinating man and his fascinating journey.

    Five stars for Five Presidents.  A remarkable read.

    Read last week’s review of Nectar in a Sieve

    Asia & Oceania Travel

    Seven Boats, Three Days, One Rare Bangladesh

    One for the record books – our visit to Bangladesh

    Location: Bangladesh

    Throw back Monday! Enjoy this one from a year ago once again. One of my favorite experiences.

    We would not have normally come to Bangladesh, except the opportunity was here because our friend Natalie is a teacher in Dhaka.  I preach frequently the need to visit less tourism developed places – and yet am guilty of wanting to see places like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Table Mountain.

    One rare Bangladesh

    Beautiful Bangladeshi dancer

    And so our decision to visit Bangladesh helped us make the leap to a place no one goes, except our friend Natalie.

    We connected with Deshghuri Tours – one of a handful of tour companies catering to the few Westerners who come here, mostly Canadians, Germans and

    One rare Bangladesh

    Fort Lalbagh

    Americans.  Because our time was short we booked a three-day tour with Deshghuri.  It’s difficult to see Bangladesh without a guide.  The cities are crowded and Dhaka is plagued with air pollution.  Driving here is, shall we say, daunting.  So a tour is a must.

    Our first day was to see the densely packed city of Dhaka – home to 20 million people.  Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world and

    One rare bangladesh

    At the beautiful mosaic mosque

    Dhaka has a density of 23,234 people per square kilometer within a total area of 300 square kilometers.  We spent the day weaving in and out of traffic, but also enjoying getting in and out of the car to see some remarkable sites; mosques, temples, university, and the 600-year-old Lalbagh Fort that serves as a lovely oasis in the city.  It was here we really began to feel how unusual it is to have a westerner walking around Dhaka.  Bangladeshi

    One rare bangladesh

    From on board the Rocket Steamer looking at the busy port

    stopped and gaped at us, some asking for selfies, others discreetly taking our photo without asking.  Very strange.

    At the end of the day we arrived in Shadarghat, the steamer terminal and one of the busiest places in Dhaka (which is saying something).  Here we

    One rare Bangladesh

    Rocket Steamer

    boarded our first of seven boats: the 100-year-old “Rocket” paddle wheeler that plies the waters of the Buriganga River.  These boats were, in their time, the fastest thing to ever hit these waters (thus the name), but today faster and more upgraded ferries provide service.  The Rocket continues to work however, and tours often include a night aboard these vessels for the “experience”.  It was definitely an experience as we were on one of the oldest and most worn down vessels.

    On arrival in Barisal early the morning of day two of

    One rare banhladesh

    Nine dome mosque

    our tour we were met by our new guide Ontu.  After breakfast we went by car three hours to Bagherhat, a UNESCO world heritage city and one of the most historic cities in Bangladesh. On the way to Bagherhat we rode a very small and crowded car ferry which is boat number two.   On reaching Bagerhat we toured three remarkable mosques, built in the 15th century!  All still in use today. Two of these mosques were a

    One rare Bangladesh

    80 dome mosque

    remarkable architecture design of domes rather than minarets.  The first was a nine dome and the second was an 80 dome mosque.  Truly fascinating for the time period and in wonderful condition considering the climate and the years.

    We continued by car to Mongla, where we boarded

    One rare bangladesh

    Crossing the river

    boat number three:  a small wooden pirogue which we stood in to cross the very busy river.  On the other side we boarded boat number four, known as a country boat.  It was just the two of us with our guide and we sat back and enjoyed cruising the river on this small 20-foot boat.  We enjoyed a

    One rare Bangladesh

    The country boat

    traditional Bangla lunch onboard, then went ashore at the Sundarban’s breeding sanctuary where we saw deer and crocodiles and walked the mangrove forest.

    Back on the boat and back to Mongla where we

    One are bangladesh

    On the river

    met the car, returned to Barisal (including car ferry-boat number five) and to our hotel in Barisal.  It had been a very amazing day.

    Day three we were up early, and instead of car we were in a Tuk Tuk before the sun had risen, driving an hour from Barisal to the banks of the Shondha River. Here we would board boat number six, a long deep river dwelling vessel,  for what would turn out to be my favorite part of our

    One rare Bangladesh

    Floating vegetable market

    tour.  Cruising through the backwater region of the Shondha we enjoyed the floating vegetable market as well as seeing the river people going about their daily life – scratching out an existence on and in

    One rare Bangladesh

    Meeting the friendly locals

    the river.  The river is both highway and washing machine, bathtub and food source.  We got off the boat several times, including a visit to an ancient and scrabbled together Hindu village where the people were so kind and generous and interested in us.  When we tell them we are from

    One rare Bangladesh

    Meeting the locals

    the United States they say it is their honor to have us in their country.  This is the Bangladeshi way – welcoming, kind and generous; even if they have nothing to give, they will offer you a cup of tea.

    It was particularly interesting to me how astonished everyone – men, women and children – were with my white hair.  They found it fascinating and we felt like celebrities.  Very

    One rare Bangladesh


    humbling experience.

    We learned a lot about river life, about the kindness of strangers, about how important community is to this ancient way of life.  We learned about religion (Islam is the largest religion of Bangladesh; Muslims constitute over 90% of the population, while Hindus constitute 8.5% and Buddhists 0.6% are the most significant minorities of the country. Christians, Sikhs, animists and atheists form 1%), we learned about food, we learned about education.

    One rare Bangladesh

    River life

    But mostly we learned about how much we take for granted.

    Saying farewell to our boat driver we were back in the Tuk Tuk for the hour ride back to Barisal where

    One rare Bangladesh

    Iron workers at the market. They asked us to stay for tea.

    we had time to tour the market before our departure.  The market was remarkable to me mostly because not a single tourist item was there.  This was perhaps the most authentic market I have been to (except for Ethiopia and Burkina Faso).  In fact I have not even been able to find a postcard in this country – a sign of how small the tourism

    One rare Bangladesh

    Beautiful Bangladesh

    industry is here.

    We said goodbye to our wonderful guide and boarded a river ferry, faster and more modern than the Rocket, for the overnight return to Dhaka. Boat number seven.

    Seven boats, three days, one rare Bangladesh.  I’ll not forget my time here.  Unique, remarkable, rewarding and above all, humbling.


    Europe Travel

    Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City

    Location: Athens Greece

    Despite the title of this post, I had actually visited Athens once before. But that visit, just a few hours tour from a cruise ship, was somewhat of a disaster. So, when I had the opportunity to visit again, 17 years later, I was excited. I knew Athens could be fantastic, and I set out with fresh eyes. Over a two and a half day visit, I fell in love with this ancient and remarkable city. Here are my thoughts; Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.

    Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City

    Seventeen Years Later

    Our first time in Athens, we arrived via a cruise ship as part of a Mediterranean cruise. We booked an excursion to the Acropolis during our one day in port. It was a disaster. The bus was awful. The Acropolis was crowded. Our tour guide was boring. Everything about the day was a bust. We were disappointed because my hopes for this city had been so high.

    Fast forward 17 years and we are a very different kind of traveler now. Having been around the world, seen ancient sites large and small, we knew we could do this city on our own. We did, and Athens was redeemed in our eyes. So let me tell you what I recommend for Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.


    Athens For First Timers

    We arrived from Barcelona a little late, but the Athens airport was easy to maneuver and we were in a taxi with our luggage within 30 min of landing. Taxi service from the airport to downtown is convenient and cost about 45 Euro. Our driver was friendly and helpful and spoke great English.

    We chose to stay at the NLH Kerameikos, a small boutique style hotel centrally located to everything. This hotel is not a high end fancy place, but it was perfect for our needs and our budget and included an excellent breakfast and helpful staff.

    Once we checked in we headed out immediately. We had pre-booked entrance tickets to the Acropolis Museum online. We wanted to start with the museum, before we spent time actually visiting the Acropolis. The museum in it’s current configuration was opened in 2009 and provides an excellent overview of the ancient and recent history of the UNESCO World Heritage Acropolis and Parthenon. I highly recommend you do this museum first. We were there in March and it was not crowded at all, but be aware the summer months can be very busy. Definitely book your tickets in advance.

    Acropolis Museum
    Acropolis Museum

    After several hours in the museum we took a leisurely stroll through the Adrianou Pedestrian area back towards our hotel and chose to have dinner al fresco at Kosmikon. Although this area is quite touristy with lots of shops and restaurants, we found the food exceptional and the service excellent. I enjoyed roasted lamb and my husband had a Cretan Pasta with mushrooms. A great start on the delicious cuisine of Greece.

    Mushroom Pasta

    Day Two

    We planned to save the Acropolis for our final day, and laid out a plan for day two that included everything else we wanted to see.

    It was recommended to us to purchase the Athens Combo Pass for 7 of the archaeological sites in Athens, including the Acropolis. In the off season, which was when we were traveling, the pass can be purchased at the entrance to any one of the 7 sites for 33 Euro per person (more in high season) and you have five days to use the pass. Because we were not sure how busy the sites would be, we headed to one of the less popular sites, Kerameikos, to buy our combo pass first thing in the morning on day two. It was very quiet with very few other visitors. So we purchased the passes and walked right in.

    During peak season, you might consider purchasing the Combo Pass online ahead of time, because the rules are different. In peak season you either buy online, or at the ticket entrance to the Acropolis. Once you purchase the ticket at the Acropolis you must enter immediately. Summer is very busy and entry to the Acropolis is by timed-specific entry. Another good reason to travel shoulder season. Be sure to do your research for the time frame you are visiting. Learn more here.

    Views from everywhere

    Throughout day two we visited five of the 7 sites. We did not make it to Aristotle’s Lyceum so I can’t comment on that. Also, of all the sites, the Kerameikos was my least favorite and also the least well cared for with minimal interpretive information. If you are short on time skip it. Here are the ones we loved;

    Ancient Agora

    I loved this big and diverse area, a classic example of a Greek assembly, commercial and gathering area. Not fully excavated even today, the Ancient Agora is estimated to have structures as ancient as mid 100’s CE. The impressive Temple of Aphrodite was my favorite.

    Temple of Aphrodite
    Ancient Agora

    Roman Agora

    The Roman Agora, estimated to have been built around 10 BC after a promise by Julius Caesar, has still not been fully excavated. The columns here are very impressive. This site is much smaller than the Ancient Agora and very beautiful.

    Roman Agora
    Roman Agora

    Hadrian’s Library

    Built in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian, this typical Roman Forum Architecture includes a high wall and decorative columns surrounding a pool in the middle. Definitely worth a visit.

    Hadrian’s Library
    Hadrian’s Library

    Temple of the Olympian Zeus

    This is a former colossal temple at the center of Athens. It was dedicated to “Olympian” Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC.

    Temple of the Olympian Zeus

    Additionally we wandered through the “Plaka”, Athens’ oldest neighborhood now catering to tourists with small restaurants and shops. We enjoyed a coffee and took lots of photos.

    At the end of this lovely day we had a delicious Greek dinner at Hermion in their outdoor garden. We enjoyed a wide variety of local favorites such as moussaka, dolmades three ways, and olives.

    We headed back to our hotel for a rest just as it started to rain. But we rallied later, raincoats in hand, to go see the Acropolis view after dark. We headed to the rooftop bar very near to our hotel called A is for Athens. While sipping a gin and tonic we marveled at the beauty of the city at night, and the ancient Acropolis. What a place it is.

    What a view from A is for Athens Rooftop Bar

    Day Three

    After all we had seen and learned, we were ready to get up to the mountaintop and the Acropolis. The word Acropolis means high place. I really wanted to see it without the crowds, so we got up early and were in line by 7:45am for the 8:00am opening. There were twenty people already ahead of us in line on this chilly March morning. It was definitely worth getting there early. The photo opportunities with so few people in the morning sun was fabulous.

    Acropolis Erechtheion

    The history of this place is incredible and I take this paragraph from because it so eloquently sums it up;

    The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world. Located on a limestone hill high above Athens, Greece, the Acropolis has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Over the centuries, the Acropolis was many things: a home to kings, a citadel, a mythical home of the gods, a religious center and a tourist attraction. It has withstood bombardment, massive earthquakes and vandalism yet still stands as a reminder of the rich history of Greece. Today, it is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site and home to several temples, the most famous of which is the Parthenon.

    Beautiful morning light
    The North Entrance

    Meet the Evzones

    After about two hours of enjoying every aspect of the ancient Acropolis and Parthenon, we headed back down the south side and back out onto the Adrianou Pedestrian Way. The weather had turned quite chilly but we headed to the Parliament building off of Syntagma square to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guards are known as the Evzones. They make up a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades, who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. The monument is a cenotaph created between 1930 and 1932, dedicated to Greek soldiers who were killed during times of war. Changing of the guard happens on the hour daily. Definitely worth a visit to experience their unique march and historic dress.

    Evzones Changing of the Guard
    Evzones Changing of the Guard

    City Bus Tour

    By this time on day three the weather had taken a turn and it was very cold and wet. We decided to do a hop on hop off bus tour to get out of the weather and to enjoy a city tour of some of the sights we may have missed. This is something we do occasionally in cities, especially for the audio part and to get the lay of the land. We did not get off the bus, we just stayed on through the entire tour. It is a really good way to orientate and we learned some new things. We also discovered a couple of areas we might want to visit if we every get back to Athens in the future including the National Archeology Museum and the Benaki Art Museum.


    We ended our third and final day in Athens in the Psirri neighborhood close to our hotel, at the highly rated Bandiera restaurant. Since our day had started early, we were hungry for an early dinner and, despite the chilly day, we enjoyed sitting on the outdoor area under the heat lamps. The food was excellent and so was our server. We enjoyed the most amazing salad as well as fish and lamb.

    Lamb at Bandiera

    What a wonderful visit we had. Time to head back to our hotel to pack and prepare for our VERY early morning flight to Crete. Farewell Athens. Thanks for showing me how wonderful you can be. Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.

    Farewell Athens

    Thanks for reading this week’s blog post Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City. See last week’s post Andorra – The Heart of the Pyrenees. Stay tuned as we continue our European travels through Crete, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia. Thank you!

    Europe Travel

    Adoro la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

    Puglia, a little secret – at least it was to me. Having traveled to the big five of Italy; Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice and Naples, I kinda thought I had “done” Italy. We were researching Bologna, and then I stumbled upon Puglia. And now Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

    Puglia in SE Italy on the Adriatic

    Our five days in the Puglia region was a whirlwind. I thought it would be plenty of time. Re-examining I wish we had ten days, even though we made it work. Interestingly, visiting in February had the advantage of almost no tourists but the disadvantage of many shops and restaurants closed for the month. Evidently this is when many business people take a vacation. It was not a hardship for us, we found plenty to see and do and really loved how quiet and uncrowded it was. We had beautiful weather which we were very grateful for.


    In the course of our five days we hit nine cities and villages. Most places we just wandered aimlessly through the streets, astonished at the history, architecture and beauty. In a few other places we hired a guide to give us more in depth knowledge. And everywhere we ate the incredible food, and drank the incredible wine.

    Sassi di Matera

    Below is a list of the nine places we visited over our five day visit. For your planning purposes I would recommend you look beyond these nine, as there are other places we did not get to. But for this blog post, this is what we did – Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

    A Note – you can do this tour by train, but I really recommend a car. It is a law to have an International Drivers License in Italy so plan ahead. During our visit we used an app called Easy Park to help us find and pay for parking in every city we went to. Italians drive like crazy people. Take it slow and safe and they will go around you.


    This beautiful little town is what first attracted us to the Puglia region. After seeing a photo of the iconic Trulli architecture of Alberobello we were smitten. We spent our five days in a historic Trulli turned Airbnb, and used Alberobello as our Puglia base. Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage village and has grown in popularity for visitors and group tours over the past few years.

    Our historic Airbnb
    Our Airbnb, part of an old farm


    What is a Trulli? In the 17th and 18th century Alberobello was overseen by a feudal lord. In his effort to avoid taxes, he had all the peasants live in the Trulli – a stone house with a conical roof that were built without mortar. The lack of mortar made the structures “temporary” and thus no taxes. At the time, the area was a vast forest (Alberobello means beautiful tree) and the peasants were clearing the trees. Until the late 1700’s Alberobello was not a designated town.

    Beautiful Alberobello
    Spring is in the air
    Alberobello Aia Piccola
    Looking towards Rione Monti

    Aia Piccola

    Today, throughout the region for miles around Alberobello you will see historic Trulli dotting the landscape, including the Airbnb we stayed in. But within the historic center of Alberobello there are two distinct areas of tightly compacted Trulli. We did a private walking tour with a local through both areas. Our guide Guido showed us the smaller Aia Piccola which is still home to many locals. It is a small neighborhood of friendly people. We went inside one home to see how people once lived.

    Rione Monti
    Cats of Alberobello

    Rione Monti

    The larger more touristic area is Rione Monti. This neighborhood is positioned on a hill and provides perfect photo opportunities. This is also where the shops and restaurants are. Many shops are local products including popular wood and ceramic works as well as jewelry and clothing. I purchased a beautiful scarf, a small Trulli shaped olive oil decanter and a charm for my bracelet. On our first day we discovered two delicious local specialties; Orecchiette with turnip tops and Braciole, a delicious slow roasted rolled beef.

    Beef Braciole at the tiny but delicious My Grandmothers Pantry

    Monopoli & Polignano a Mare

    After our morning walking tour of Alberobello and a quick lunch, we headed out towards the coast and the two larger cities; Monopoli and Polignano a Mare.


    An ancient fortified city, Monopoli was founded in 500 BC by the Greeks. Similar to much of this southern part of Italy, Monopoli passed through the hands of the Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Normans. Today it is a beautiful seaside city with a gorgeous Basilica of the Madonna della Madia, sparkling turquoise water dotted with quaint fishing boats and lots of restaurants and shops for visitors. In the summer it is a popular beach destination.

    Basillica of the Madonna della Madia
    So picturesque

    Polignano a Mare

    Another seaside town perched ontop of limestone cliffs with beautiful views of the Adriatic. A rich ancient history beginning in the 4th century, Polignano was likely originally named Neopolis by the Greeks, while some historians say Julius Caesar founded it as a hub along the Via Traiana, one of several ancient Roman roads in the region. Today Polignano a Mare celebrates itself as a modern city popular with tourists all year long. A statue of native son Domenico Modugno, best known for the song Volare, is a popular tourist photo spot.

    Next time I’d love a hotel room with this view
    Domenico Modugno

    Ostuni, Cisterno, Martina Franca and Locorotondo

    On day three we set out early to explore four ancient hilltop villages all within about an hour or less from Alberobello.


    We actually arrived in Ostuni so early nothing was really open yet. But we parked the car and took a long walk around the “white city” – referred to for it’s white walls and buildings. Ostuni is very popular with visitors and the population explodes in the summer. On the morning we were there we seriously had the place to ourselves. It was wonderful to just wander and peek into the various alleys and stairways. The original settlement here can be dated back to the stone age.

    Hidden treasures in Ostuni
    One of many artful doors in Ostuni
    Ostuni Citadel


    We really enjoyed the hilltop village of Cisternino, with views across the valley to neighboring Martina Franca. The village was just coming awake on our arrival. We enjoyed an espresso before wandering the streets, taking in the view from the panorama vista and visiting some local cathedrals.

    The original town is said to have been destroyed by the Goths, and it was rebuilt as a monastery by the Basillian Monks in the Middle Ages. Today it’s dense interior gives it a maze feel and offers visitors to enjoy a treasure hunt as they wander.

    Cisternino high on the hill
    A wonderful view

    Martina Franca

    Named for Saint Martin and founded in the 10th century, Martina Franca is famous for its olive oil production and its Baroque architecture. It’s another good place to take a slow stroll within its gated walls, or wander outside the gates where commerce continues and locals sit and watch the world go by.

    One of the Baroque gates of Martina Franca
    The main square in Martina Franca


    One of my favorites of this day was our final stop in Locorotondo. Another very small hill top village, with the name meaning “round place”. The village was a unfortified walled city from about 1000 AD, founded by Benedictine monks. Today it is a tourist mecca for its beauty and architecture.


    We had a late lunch/early dinner here in Locorotondo, and it was one of the best meals we had anywhere in Italy. We just stumbled into Osteria Il Rosoni, one of the few restaurants that were open. It was a great discovery. We drank the local Verdante wine and ate several local specialties. It was a great way to end day three.

    One of the best meals we had in Italy at xx
    Lamb Shank

    Sassi di Matera

    Day four we headed out from Alberobello about an hour and 15 min drive to Matera. I had seen photos of this place and I knew it had a unique history but was not prepared for how amazing it was. We spent the entire day in this town and if I were to visit again I would spend a night or two in this remarkable UNESCO site.

    Looking across the ravine to Matera
    Astonishing history

    You definitely should start your visit on the Murgia side, across the ravine, to get a good look back at this astonishing cave city. What you are looking at is a prehistoric troglodyte village, thought to be among the first human settlements of what is today Italy. The oldest Neolithic pottery found dates to 7500 BC. It is truly one of the oldest inhabited settlements in the world.

    Today’s city is built on top of the original caves, but many cave dwellings still exist and are occupied in their updated form. In the 1950’s it was considered the “shame of Italy” because the inhabitants were so poor. The government relocated them to a new area. But eventually in the 1990’s the potential for tourism and commerce started to be noticed, and today it is really one of the most remarkable places in the world. Read the Smithsonian story about it here.

    Ancient but living
    A fascinating way of life
    Such a great day

    We enjoyed a really delicious meal in Sassi di Matera at Il Terazzino within a cave. Great food and service too. It was a favorite day and I am so glad we visited this remarkable place.

    Eating in a cave
    Melon and Prosciutto so delicious


    Our time in Pugla flew by, and on our last day we were tired, but decided to make the hour and half drive south to Lecce. We figured it was unlikely we would ever return to this area, so we didn’t want to waste a day. The drive was on a good freeway much of the way and we arrived with plenty of time to find parking and then search out the tour we had booked ahead.

    Symbol of Lecce
    Roman Coliseum

    Lecce has a fascinating history. Most of the architecture is Baroque dating back to the 12th and 13th century. But legend dates the original city to the 5th BC. Below the current town only recently (early 1920’s) was discovered an entire coliseum, and nearby an entire Roman theatre. Both areas are still to be full excavated but will eventually be opened to tourists.

    Roman Theatre

    Lecce has several stunning cathedrals, including the recently restored Basilica de Santa Croce. You should also visit the city’s Bell Tower, popular with tourists and you can climb to the top. The walls of the original city, dating back 2000 years, can still be seen in several places around what is often referred to as the “Florence of the South”.

    Lecce hidden gems

    Back to Alberobello

    We made the drive back to Alberobello, where we wanted to enjoy this little gem after dark on our final night. We had an outstanding dinnner at 100Metricubi, a unique menu of local octopus, bean mash (a local favorite) and of course, wine.

    Alberobello at night
    Beautiful scene Alberobello
    Our final meal was amazing
    Primativa our favorite

    I do not take lightly how astonishing my travel life is. It can be exhausting and sometimes it’s a lot of work for the planning and execution. However, the result is a treasure chest of memories of people, places and experiences that have forever changed me, taught me, inspired me and made me a better steward of the earth. Thank you Puglia, you were something special. Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

    Ciao Bella, Puglia

    Thank you for reading my post Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”. I hope you will consider adding Puglia to your travel bucket list.

    See last week’s post San Marino Hiding in Plain Sight.

    See this week’s book review Still Life by Sarah Winman here.

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