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Five Days

    Africa 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.

    Dunes

    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

    Fossils

    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.

    Fabulous!

     

    Inspire

    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.

    Blessings

    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.

    Goals
    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 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

    Laundry

    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.

     

    Oceania Travel

    Torrential to Triumph – Three Days on the North Island

    Rain, Wind, Sun and Hiking the Tongarui Crossing

    Location: New Zealand

    It was only a few days ago we sat in the 81 degree sunshine in the town of Napier, New Zealand.  The forecast warned of impending rain but it was hard to imagine on that day.  But kudos to the weather forecasters in New Zealand.  They nailed it.

    Not only did it rain – it poured.  For more than 48 hours straight.  We were in Rotorua, where we managed a nice afternoon walk on arrival but then nothing beyond that.  Once it started it was a deluge.  So, we hunkered down for two days.

    The morning star

    We then headed West from Rotorua to visit the famous Glowworm Caves in Waitomo, only to discover on arrival they were closed due to flooding.  We realized the storm had been bad, but hadn’t realized how bad until we began to drive.  Roads flooded and mudslides and trees down all over.  Poor livestock in flooded fields and swollen rivers.  Work crews around every corner trying to

    19.5km to go

    clear.

    Since we couldn’t do the Glowworm Caves, we had to be spontaneous.  We drove south to the town of New Plymouth, which was not originally on our radar.  I’m glad we did.  It is a beautiful little beach town and we enjoyed a portion of their 25km coastal walk.  It was a heavy wind that day and the windsurfers were really taking advantage.

    The weather improved markedly overnight and we awoke to sunny skies and calm seas. We headed North and east again with a stellar forecast making us hopeful to hike the Tongariro Crossing on Saturday.  We now do not take the forecasting lightly, they seem to nail it everyday.

    Overnight Friday night we stayed in a beautiful lakefront free campground on Lake Taupo.  It was a frigid night with crystal clear skies.  Our alarm clocks (which don’t get much use anymore) were set for 5am

    It was really cold at the start – we eventually peeled off layers.

    and we planned to hike the Tongariro Crossing.

    Five am came early; after a very chilly night we awoke to Venus low in the sky as the sun was just starting to show pink on the horizon.  A good omen for a good day.  We had booked a bus to take us from a parking area to the trail head, and then pick us up again at the end of the 20km hike.  We caught the bus and headed to the start of the hike.

    19.5km to go

    Due to the weather having been so bad for the past three days, we weren’t the only ones who had been waiting to do this hike – literally 1000 people joined us on the trail.  But honestly it wasn’t a problem.  It was pretty crowded at the start – but eventually people spread out and it wasn’t so bad.  And we had an amazing time.

    The 20km Tongariro Crossing is one of the most scenic yet stark and stunning things I have ever done.  The crossing goes through craters, past active volcanoes, and over a pass. It peaks at 6000 foot level and skirts gorgeous sacred emerald-green thermal pools.   It was hard. It was exhausting. It was amazing.

    Lava tube

    What a workout.  And an accomplishment.  Every time we tackle and succeed in one of these amazing treks I wonder out loud “why don’t I weigh 100 lbs?” Sheesh.

    But that said, I feel strong and fit and fabulous.  My Fab Fifties Life in New Zealand has been good to the old body.

    Feeling accomplished

    We still have another two weeks, a little more than one week still in the Kiwi Karavan.  So, now that we have completed our goals of hiking the Tongariro Crossing, we head to the farthest north reaching finger of the north island to see what we can see.

    The Tiki Tour continues – and it is fabulous.

     

     

    Everything Else Fabulous

    My Fab Fifties Reading Wednesdays

    Frequently I am asked by readers and friends what I am reading.  I love this question, because I am always reading.  The only time I am not reading is when I am in a car or other vehicle on the road.  I have always gotten motion sickness from trying to read in a car – so instead during those times I work on my cross stitch.

    Back before I retired reading was more of a luxury.  I never seemed to have the time.  When I retired I made reading a priority.  And now with our travels, there is even more time to read.  In the past 13 weeks I have read 21 books – some longer than others – some better than others.  But 21 books in 13 weeks is definitely a record for me. Averaging about 1.5 a week.

    I’ve been thinking about a way I can share my love of reading with the readers of this blog and I’ve decided to do a weekly update or “book of the week”.  That way My Fab Fifties Friends can join in my personal book club – if you want.  So today I am posting a blog about the 21 books I have read so far, giving them a rating and a brief description of each.

    Then starting next week, each Wednesday I will tell you what I am reading.  So if the book club is of interest to you, you can make a point to check the blog on “Reading Wednesday”.

    Only two of the books below were in paperback form.  All the rest I read on my phone in the Kindle App.  But only one of these books I purchased.  All the rest I downloaded from either the Pierce County Public Library or the Kitsap Public Library.  I have accounts with both library systems and at any given time I am on a waitlist for at least half-dozen books.  So the order in which I read is more the result of the library books availability than anything.  When none of my waitlist books are available, I go in search of titles I may never have heard of.  This is how I found some of my favorite reads including “These is My Words”, “97 Orchard Street” and “The Secret History”.

    So – welcome to My Fab Fifties Book Club and Reading Wednesday.  Here we go;

    1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I loved this book that followed a multi-generation family from the East Coast find their way out west and build an often difficult life there.  Wallace Stegner has many books and this was the very first of his I have read.  I plan to read more.

    2. Bangkok Secret by Anthony Gray⭐️⭐️

    I read this book primarily because I was in Thailand, and it did give me some interesting insight and history about the country, but the writing and plot was a bit predictable.

    3.  Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I enjoyed reading Wohlleben’s  thoughts on trees and their lives and personality, although the book was a bit more technical and scientific than I would normal go for, but still I recommend it for it’s unique and interesting observations about trees on our planet.

    4.  Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I really enjoyed this book, which was one of my book club back home’s books of the month.  Jodi Picoult has so many novels I can’t imagine why I have never read her.  She does a really good job in her writing creating a mystery to be solved and keeping you turning the page.  “Leaving Time” follows a young girl looking for answers about her mother’s disappearance and the life she can barely remember as a toddler in an elephant camp.  I enjoyed the interesting details about elephants in this book as well as the wonderful twist at the end.

    5.  Today Will be Different by Maria Semple ⭐️⭐️

    This book was one my book club back home was reading.  If it wasn’t for that fact, I may not have finished it.  This is the second book by Maria Semple I have read (Where’d You Go Bernadette?) and I was not enamored either time.  I found the main character in “Today Will be Different” to be difficult to like.  I personally don’t care for the female characters Maria Semple creates who seem always to be needy and addled.  However, if you liked “Where’d You Go Bernadette” you will probably enjoy “Today Will Be Different”.

    6.  The Mothers by Brit Bennett⭐️⭐️

    I chose this book because it had excellent reviews, but it fell a bit flat for me.  The story is about women in a tight-knit Baptist community who follow the births and deaths and in particular the stories of the women in this small town and their trials and tribulations over a period of years.

    7.  The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Another book from Book Club back home, “The Little Paris Bookshop” is full of interesting twists, crazy characters and sometimes a bit too many coincidences, but I loved the story and it was an easy and quick read.

    8.  I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb (no stars)

    I did not like this book.  The story was convoluted and not in the least believable.  Don’t waste your time.

    9.  These Is My Words by Nancy Turner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I loved this story about a family of pioneers in the Southwest scraping a living, barely, in the 1800’s.  Told from the point of view of a young girl whose English is rough and uneducated, her language and vocabulary changes with her as she matures and endures over the years.  A lovely story.

    10. 97 Orchard Street by Jane Ziegelman⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I stumbled on this book and found it just fascinating – my love of food and history made this non-fiction book about immigrants and how their food changed the American diet was wonderfully written, educational and mouth-watering.  An edible feast.  If you are a foodie, you will love this book.

    11. Lady Susan by Jane Austen⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Well who doesn’t love Jane Austen?  This is one of Jane’s shorter and less known stories and was another book for my Book Club back home.  I read this book in one day and as in all Jane stories I loved the English story of class and culture and traditions in the 18th century.  And in true Jane form – everyone who deserves to, lives happily ever after.

    12. The Secret History by Donna Tartt⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    This book popped up on my Kindle “you might like” list so I downloaded it and read it with gusto.  A crazy story about five friends in college and the serious choices they make and how their lives are changed by it.  Some parts unbelievable, and some more so, the story is a page turner though and I loved it.

    13.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I thought I would love this book, since I had just read her earlier novel “The Secret History” but did not.  It wasn’t terrible, certainly not, but it seemed to drag on for me and was too complicated and not always believable.  The story of a young boy and his exploits from a terrorist attack in New York City to Russian Mafia in Las Vegas and a whole lot in between had me wishing she would wrap it up.

    14.  The Turner House by Angela Flournoy ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A story of a family’s history, addiction, devotion and more, The Turner House opens wide the skeletons in our closet and how family will always endure.  The ending fell a bit flat.

    15.  Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    One of my top reads so far.  Tulip Fever is set in Amsterdam in the 1600’s when the tulip industry was just getting off the ground and speculation was rampant.  In the story a young girl is married to a much older man, but when they sit for a portrait she falls in love with the artist.  Then ensues a complicated tale of lies and deception that changes the lives of multiple people, some for the better, others not.  A really lovely story.

    16.  Michlings by Affinity Konar⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    My top read so far since leaving home.  An amazing eye-opening story of the real life “medical” experiments on human beings that took place during the holocaust on children at Auschwitz.  Much of this story is difficult to read, but a reminder to all of us what horrors people are capable of given the opportunity.  A must read.

    17. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    I was expecting something more from this book.  I’m not sure why but I thought this book was going to help me understand more some of the political views of a segment of the American population I am not really familiar with.  I suppose in a way it did, but this real life story of a boy growing up in a self-proclaimed hillbilly family was more about his survival against all odds in what was most decidedly not the “all-American” family.   I liked it but didn’t love it.

    18.  Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Many years ago I read Anne Tyler’s “Accidental Tourist” but had never read anything more from her.  “Spool of Blue Thread” is one of last years best sellers, but I had not found the time for it yet.  Since it’s more than a year old, I didn’t need to waitlist it, so it seemed like a good option.  Boy was it!  I really loved this story – another epic family tale with twists and turns bringing the characters to life in a way that made you love them all.  A wonderful story about growing up, growing old and figuring out who you are.

    19.  War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells⭐️⭐️

    For some reason I had never read this science fiction story, about “Martians” invading our planet.  It seemed like a good time to tackle it.  I enjoyed the story, although it felt very dated (and it is, written in 1897) but still violent and funny all at once.  No doubt George Lucas took some cues from the descriptions in this book before he created Star Wars.  A classic everyone should read at some time.

    20.  The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    One of my all time favorite plays this comedy of errors is just as good of a read as a play.  Oscar Wilde’s classic English tale will have you rolling in the aisle – a perfectly light and humorous read after “War of the Worlds”.

    21 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Last summer I read my first Neil Gaiman book “American Gods” and it quickly shot to the top of my all time favs.  So I decided to try out some of his other works.  Gaiman is known for his fantasy, mystical and magical stories and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is certainly one of those.  A small boy of only seven experiences a frightening and yet magical event that includes his unusual neighbors, a monstrous nanny and mystical creatures and events that change his life forever.

    So there you have it.  My first 21 books on the Grand Adventure.  I hope you find some of these suggestions useful.  I’d love to hear your thoughts after reading any of these books.  I’m just now starting the books “In the Garden of the Beasts” by Erik Larson.  So plan on checking in next Wednesday and see what I think.

    Enjoy a book today!  Reading is Fabulous!

    Inspire  --  Message From Cyprus Lockdown

    My Fab Fifties Life on Cyprus Under Quarantine

    Location: Argaka Cyprus

    Message from Cyprus Edition One

    As I post this blog we have been self-quarantined on Cyprus for a week. Every day brings a new development. We are currently comfortable and healthy but unsure of how or if our world journey will continue. So for today I thought I would tell you a bit about life on Cyprus under quarantine.

    Some Background

    Some of you who follow my personal Facebook page might remember this post I made on January 23rd. I said “when people ask me if travel scares me it’s things like this (Corona) that scare me more than terrorism or crime. Luckily we aren’t flying for three more weeks but still its the kind of thing that can explode so quickly…”

    That was on January 23rd two months ago and we were in Mauritius. As soon as I read the first story about Wuhan I felt a strong foreboding. But also thought to myself that we had two months in Africa and it would possibly be gone by the time we headed towards Europe.

    Covid-19
    Wearing a mask on our flight out of Mauritius

    But the nagging in the back of my mind made me go to the pharmacy in Mauritius and buy some face masks. The pharmacists asked me if we were going to China? Even he wasn’t thinking about it spreading outside of Asia.

    It was late January when the first case was diagnosed in Washington State USA. But the US government did not react.

    Covid-19
    Carefree in Victoria Falls

    Fast Forward Late February

    We were carefree in Victoria Falls and in Uganda too as we continued with our planned itinerary. It wasn’t until our arrival in Rwanda on February 27th that we began to see significant changes in airports and hotels (as a matter of fact, Rwanda had the coolest hi-tech system in place for screening). This is when I began taking very strong measures such as washing hands more frequently, not touching railings or elevator buttons and scrubbing things in our room like remote controls and door knobs. I’ve always washed down my airplane space and now we began using a bleach product everywhere we go.

    Covid-19
    Still touching people in Rwanda

    In Kigali Rwanda we bought hand-sanitizer and more face masks, despite now hearing that face masks weren’t helpful. I still wanted to have some.

    By this point the virus was spreading in the USA and becoming epidemic in my home state of Washington but Trump continued to deny that it was a legitimate issue or take measures to protect his citizens or the US economy. He was not listening to Advisor’s and making statements like this one – “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”. As we watched from afar the virus take over entire countries we were flabbergasted at the lack of concern from the US President.

    Worries about family back home

    People I know back home were split over the issue and not surprisingly along party lines. One faction thinking it was all getting blown out of proportion (and actually blaming Democrats for causing the outbreak to take the focus away from the election) while the other faction was beginning to hoard food, toilet paper and scream that something needed to be done.

    Because of the malaria meds we took all through Africa I was suffering with some tummy issues and I was really worried about being flagged on the arrival in Israel since I wasn’t feeling 100%.

    Israel

    We touched down in Israel on March 4th and absolutely breezed through the airport. We were totally shocked that Israel’s entry was easier than Rwanda or Botswana and Israel seemed to not be doing ANYTHING to check visitors arriving in Tel Aviv. It sounded just like what was happening in the USA. Head in the sand. I was a bit disconcerted.

    Covid-19
    Unknowingly, this was our final dinner in Israel after only five days

    We enjoyed our first few days in Israel but on day four we began hearing that they may close the border to tourists and our planned day trip with a local tour company to Palestine was cancelled when Palestine closed its borders.

    We assumed we would be fine since we had arrived in Israel before the border closed, but when we woke up on day six (March 10), regular alerts we receive from the US State Department told us anyone who had arrived in the past week would be quarantined for at least two weeks from date of entry. Spot checks were going to be made and we would need to prove we had a place to stay for a 14-day quarantine. Since our planned itinerary in Israel did not include us staying in one place for 14 days we did not have lodging secured. We made a spur of the moment decision that it would be in our best interest to leave the country while the airport was open and we still could. We made this decision at 8:45 am and were on a flight to Cyprus at 1:45 pm. Never in our nearly four years of travel have we changed our plans so drastically. It was a stressful and heartbreaking decision but in hindsight the right one.

    Cyprus

    Before leaving Israel we had contacted the Airbnb in Cyprus to see if it might be available early. It was and they welcomed us 15 days early on March 10th. It’s a beautiful spot and perfect for a long stay. We currently have it booked until April 7th.

    Covid-19
    Cooking Class in Cyprus

    When we arrived in Cyprus ten days ago there were only three cases of Covid-19. We went to the grocery store, the pharmacy and stopped at a sporting goods store to buy sweatshirts. We had coffee in a coffee shop and visited the butcher. Our Airbnb host stopped by with cookies and citrus. Everything seemed normal and no one was panicking. We even did a cooking class and a winery tour and spent one day hiking.

    Covid-19
    Hiking in Cyprus

    But on the evening of March 15th we learned that Cyprus was limiting inbound flights and incoming tourists until April 10th. Schools were closing too and two of the island’s large hotels were closing. The island now had a total of 20 cases, all but one related to incoming visitors. Cyprus is a popular direct flight from London and many British expats live here.

    Covid-19
    Sunset in Cyprus

    This news also included the mandate that any visitor already on the island should self-quarantine for 14 days from the time of entry. So on March 15th we began a self-quarantine. We will stay quarantined until March 24th. For us that means we will still do our morning run, where we have no contact with other people, but spend the rest of the day at our villa.

    BUT THEN, on the morning of the 16th it was announced the island was closing all restaurants, hotels, malls, museums, archeology sights until April 30th. Even one hospital was closed for 48 hours for sanitizing. Cases now up to 39.

    We now realized that at the end of our 14-day quarantine, we still might not be able to enjoy the the sites of Cyprus because everything will be closed. But, it’s out of our hands.

    On March 17th they began turning away people, even residents, arriving on flights unless they had a medical statement of their wellness. And those who were allowed in, are going into a mandatory GOVERNMENT LOCATION quarantine. That’s big…we did not want to be in a government location quarantine.

    Today, March 20 th a big announcement. ALL FLIGHTS are to be terminated in and out of Cyprus beginning Sunday. All flights. Wowza. Even flights for Cypriots trying to return home. There is rumor of a possible curfew. Meanwhile today the US government declared a Level 4 Travel Advisory. Better late than never I guess. Hopefully the idiots partying in the Florida beaches aren’t carriers.

    Cyprus has very quickly, without a lot of politicizing, created a comprehensive economic assistance plan to help it’s citizens get through this. It’s impressive and quit thorough including such things as unemployment, childcare and elder care. I am impressed with their foresight and lack of political bickering.

    As of March 20th, Cyprus now has 81 cases of Covid-19. In the ten days we have been here it’s gone from 3 to 81, an exponential growth.

    Grocery stores remain open, but only a dozen people allowed in at a time. We went yesterday and were presented with hand sanitizer and rubber gloves before entering the store.

    So every day something new and foreboding.

    So Now What?

    So now what? I have no idea. Our next flight booked was to Ukraine on April 7th. But even if Cyprus reopens its airport by then, Ukraine’s borders are closed. Beyond that we are supposed to be in Malta in late April and May. As of today Malta’s borders remain open but anyone entering must self-quarantine for 14 days. No doubt that too will change shortly.

    Covid-19
    Quarantined breakfast in Cyprus

    We were planning to attend a wedding in France in late June and then head to the USA for a six month visit. Even if we forego France we are currently unable to get a flight home. We have a lot of money at stake, with little help from airlines or lodgings as far as refunds so far. We did get a refund from Airbnb for our place in Jerusalem, but lost the money for the other hotels and flight changes in Israel. We also got a full refund from our Kiev hotel after we contacted them with a personal email. We are currently waiting to hear from Ukraine airlines.

    Of course our health is more important than the money, but we actually might be safer staying put than going to the USA. And we honestly might not be able to get a flight for an indefinite amount of time. We just don’t know.

    Our world tour

    We feel we can’t make a decision now until the end of March at the earliest, when several countries who closed their borders on March 14th will make a decision as to what’s next. If borders and airports remain closed we may be able to get flight refunds or at least credit. Or we may have to cough up (no pun intended) the money to get back to the USA. Currently a flight from Cyprus through London to the USA will cost us nearly $2000 per person – that is if the Cyprus airport reopens…and if any flights to the USA are running.

    My Biggest Fears

    My biggest fear is not about coming down with the virus; although we are in our sixties we are healthy and strong. My biggest fear is the economy and how this might effect jobs and lives of people I care about back home. Already my friends and family who own small businesses and restaurants are in dire straits. Even since I began writing this blog several days ago the changing economic impact to the USA seems catastrophic. Frightening.

    Covid-19
    This is where we are

    My biggest fear is that my father (age 87 Alzheimer patient), my mom (age 81) and step-day (age 90 with many medical complications) and my mother-in-law (healthy but age 86) will get the virus. And of course I’m very fearful for my adult sons.

    My biggest fear is this thing will go on for months…years? And we may get trapped indefinitely.

    I am in no way a “sky is falling” kind of person. I am definitely “look at the bright side” girl. In fact I have been criticized in my life as a “Pollyanna” by people with a less positive outlook.

    HOWEVER I am also a realist and see this as a long-term scenario. And that is why the things I listed above scare me.

    Meanwhile

    Meanwhile we have no choice really but to wait and watch at least until mid April. Hopefully by then we will be armed with enough information to move forward in one way or another. There are few other options. The only silver lining is the weather here in Cyprus is finally beginning to warm up a bit.

    I’d love your comments on the blog about your situation wherever you are. I am genuinely concerned for each of you and I am thinking of all of you and sending love and best wishes. God speed.

    Not in my wildest dreams. Wow.

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