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    My Favorite Wildlife Encounters Around the World

    I’ve been truly blessed with some astonishing wildlife encounters over the past eight years in our world travels. This past year has been particularly memorable, and I thought it would be good time to pull together a post about My Favorite Wildlife Encounters Around the World. I hope you enjoy it.

    Leopard Tanzania

    My Favorite Wildlife Encounters Around the World

    When we started the Grand Adventure Travel Life, I didn’t really set out to discover incredible wildlife. It quickly became apparent however, that fascinating, new-to-us wildlife was going to be a big part of our travels. Wildlife in the jungles, forests and savannas. Birds in the air. Fish and mammals in the sea. Even insects, reptiles and crustaceans became a new fascination for these old folks – always ready to learn something new.

    Elephant Family Etosha National Park Namibia

    The wildlife encounters listed below are by no means the only ones…but they are some of my favorites. Some of these moments simply took my breath away. Gave me pause. Held me in rapture at nature in all her glory.


    Australia. Oh my God. The land of never ending surprises. Of course there are kangaroos, wallabies and koala. There are also immense collections of bird life, reptiles and bugs. There are so many animals in the wild, and in fact it’s astonishing how many kangaroo get hit by cars. Australia blew our mind – and we are planning to return for our third visit in 2025.

    Stork, Nelson Bay Australia
    Mama Roo and Joey, Booderee National Park, Australia
    Great Barrier Reef, Australia


    When we first started talking about Namibia, I wasn’t even sure where it was (just north of South Africa). Our ten day tour in Namibia is still one of our favorite travel experiences. The elephant image below, is in my mind, the best photo I ever took. It was easy though…so much beauty everywhere we turned.

    Black Rhino Etosha National Park Namibia
    Lion King, Etosha National Park Namibia
    Sunset Elephant, Etosha National Park Namibia


    To celebrate my 60th birthday we splurged on a Mountain Gorilla Trek in Uganda. Life changing. If you can make this happen once in your life, do it.

    Silverback Dominant Male, Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
    One Year Old Gorilla, Uganda
    Happy Birthday to me!


    I’ve told this story before about how when I was a child we had a picture book with a tarsier on the glossy cover. I was terrified of that animal. Seeing it in the wild in Philippines was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Tiny and harmless, I love these animals so much. We also had one of our best snorkel days in the Philippines…swimming with millions of sardines.

    Teeny nocturnal Tarsier, Bohol Philippines
    Snorkleing at Ningaloo Reef Panglao Philippines


    Our most recent wildlife adventure was a ten-day private tour in Madagascar. I was mostly looking forward to seeing the baobab trees, and was hoping we would see a few lemurs. Oh my goodness. Lemurs and so much more. It was an absolute joy and I am so glad we did this tour.

    Indri – the largest of all the Lemurs in Madagascar
    Fascinating chameleons all over Madagascar
    Sifika Lemur Madagascar


    Botswana was a quick visit while also visiting Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe. But our brief visit afforded us some fabulous wild life encounters including lots of hippopotamus in the Zambezi River.

    Large male elephant, Chobi National Park Botswana
    Curious giraffe, Chobi National Park Botswana
    The hippopotamus is one of the most dangerous animals in the world

    Papua New Guinea

    I did not take this photo (Thank you Canva), but seeing the Bird of Paradise in Papua New Guinea was a dream come true. In fact, we saw several different species of Bird of Paradise, as well as multiple other very special and beautiful birds. Astounding.

    Raggiana Bird of Paradise Papua New Guinea

    Sri Lanka

    We loved our visit to Sri Lanka, a country many people overlook. We started our three week visit with a six day tour, that included a visit to Yala National Park. Yala is home to a giant population of Asian Elephants. It was the most elephants in one place I had ever seen. We also had a wonderful up close and personal encounter with a beautiful and camouflaged leopard.

    Beautiful leopard
    Asian elephant, Yala National Park Sri Lanka


    I had always wanted to see the Orangutans, and so when we decided to spend a couple of months in Malaysia, I began to research how to spend a few days on the island of Borneo and visit the Sepilok Reserve. We did this four day visit without a tour guide, it was very easy to do. We loved the Sepilok Forest Edge Lodge and the fact we could walk to the Orangatan Reserve. AND seeing the incredible Proboscis Monkeys was an added bonus!

    This orangutan just mosied past me on the walkway!
    Funny looking and beautiful too – Proboscis Monkey
    Mama and baby at the Sepilok Reserve

    Costa Rica

    Our three week visit to Costa Rica with our dear friends was one of the most memorable trips we have made. Not only did we get to see sloths for the first time, the turtles and bird life was spectacular.

    Stand up Paddle Board and Sea Turtle spotting in Mal Pais Costa Rica
    What a beauty, Fortuna Costa Rica
    Sleeping Sloth, Fortuna Costa Rica


    We spent six weeks on the island of Roatan Honduras and I would definitely go back. There are several reserves set up on the island to protect and conserve remaining wildlife. I think our favorite moments though were spotting beautiful Red Macaws right near our condo and the giant and docile iguana

    Macaws are the national bird of Honduras
    The biggest iguana I have ever seen, Roatan Honduras


    We came for the scenery and the midnight sun, and we were not disappointed. Wildlife was a bonus and our favorite things were the wild reindeer and the beautiful puffins. I did not take this puffin photo (Thank you Canva), we were not this close, but Iceland did not disappoint and I encourage everyone to visit that incredible country.

    Wild Reindeer, Iceland
    Puffin (Canva)

    New Zealand

    We loved our seven week visit to New Zealand, although we loved it mostly for the beauty, scenery and hiking. We did not encounter much wildlife on this trip, but at the very end of our visit we stumbled on a biologist tagging Kiwi birds. Kiwi are incredibly shy and are rarely seen by visitors or locals. So to be able to meet this beautiful bird before she was released back into the brush was very special.

    The sweet, shy Kiwi bird, national symbol of New Zealand


    Although this trip was before we launched the Grand Adventure, our week touring the Galapagos Islands for my fiftieth birthday is one of our favorite memories of our travel life. Teeming with fascinating animals and bird life, it’s a memorable and once in a lifetime destination. Just go.

    Galapagos land Iguana – he smiled at me!
    Underwater delights, Galapagos
    Blue Footed Boobies, Galapagos
    Male Frigate bird showing off, Galapagos


    Of course, since I am an American, I have had many opportunities to see wildlife in my own big country. Montana is a favorite, Hawaii too, New England as well as my own great state of Washington where I spend my summers.

    Sea Turtles are protected in Hawaii
    Monk Seals are also protected in Hawaii – stay clear
    Young Grizzly, Glacier National Park Montana
    Porcupine in Maine

    There is More

    There is more…but I think these I’ve listed here remain some of my all time favorites. And I’m not done yet…we have lots more travel in our future, as we explore and show reverence to Mother Nature and the fascinating wildlife of our planet.

    Lioness, Nambia

    My Favorite Wildlife Encounters Around the World

    Nature teaches us so much about the fragility of our world, and careful, sustainable travel provides so many opportunities to understand nature better. I have been so incredibly blessed to have had so many amazing up close and personal wildlife experiences – My Favorite Wildlife Encounters Around the World.

    See last week’s post A Day Trip to Bratislava Slovakia.

    We love it when you comment, pin, and share our blog posts. Thanks and talk to you again soon.

    Howler Monkey Costa Rica

    NOTE : With this blog post I end year eight of our Grand Adventure. I will be taking several weeks, possibly a couple months, off from posting new blog material. We have fall travel planned, I’ll be back before that, but in the meantime, I want to be present here in the USA with my family. Thanks for your continued support – I’ll be back…

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review After Annie by Anna Quindlen

    Sad but beautiful novel about grief and loss. Here is my book review After Annie by Anna Quindlen


    Suddenly everything changed. Annie – wife, mother, friend, nurse. One day she is all of these things, and then she is gone. Annie’s sudden death from a brain aneurism will unravel those who loved and needed her most.

    Family & Friends

    A women like Annie, is the kind of person who you think will just always be there. Fierce and funny, despite an overbearing mother in law, Annie loves her husband Bill and her four children and the family is tight. Annie leaves behind oldest daughter Ali, whose own grief at the loss of her mom right in front of her eyes, is pushed aside as Ali struggles to care for her younger siblings, as her father unravels.

    Annie’s lifelong friend Annemarie, a recovering addict, also begins to unravel after the loss of her friend, her rock. Annie was Annemarie’s lifeline, keeping her sober after several near death experiences. But with Annie gone Annemarie begins to find her grief is forcing her back to old habits.

    Moving Forward

    Ali, Bill and Annemarie will all suffer excruciating grief as they learn to grapple with the loss of this immense figure in their lives. But as the clock slowly ticks each will begin to move forward, by realizing how much strength Annie herself has gifted them before her death. They will grow and endure, just as Annie would want them to.

    This is a story of hope, love, strength and finding understanding after profound change. This is what happened After Annie. ****Four stars for After Annie by Anna Quindlen.

    Thank you for reading my book review After Annie by Anna Quindlen. See last week’s book review Knife by Salman Rushdie.

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

    Europe Travel

    One Day in Bratislava Slovakia

    Location: Bratislava Slovakia

    The tiny medieval town of Bratislava is often a stop on Danube river cruises. It’s an easy town to wander on your own, or take an organized tour. It’s also a very easy day trip from Vienna – which is how we we visited and spent One Day in Bratislava Slovakia.

    Bratislava Castle

    Day Trip

    We visited as a day trip from Vienna, where we had spent a week (Visiting Vienna Austria). There are a couple of options for getting to Bratislava. Twin City Liner is a hydrofoil option, you can book direct or go on a guided tour. The full-day tour leaves from Vienna and gives you several hours to wander Bratislava as well as enjoy the beautiful Danube. This service is only in available in the summer.

    Since we were in Vienna in late April, we missed the start of the Twin City Liner season by just a week. So, instead we took a bus. We did Flixbus, with multiple daily round-trip options on a beautiful and comfortable coach for under $20 each. By taking Flixbus, we were on our own in Bratislava to make our own choices. But you can also do a guided tour, leaving from Vienna Opera House using Get Your Guide.


    The hour and a half bus ride from Vienna to Bratislava was super easy. We arrived in Bratislava refreshed and ready to walk around. The weather was lovely. We had booked a walking tour at noon, but we had more than an hour to get our bearings. First thing we noticed was so many different gelato stands. Well, 10:30 isn’t too early for gelato! Savoring our treat we walked around the tree-lined pedestrian walkway, admiring the Bratislava Old Town Hviezdoslav Square. This gathering place is home to one of the cities most beautiful buildings, The National Theater, and a statue of Poet Pavol Országh – a famous Slovak.

    Gelato at 10:30 in the morning
    Beautiful tree-lined pedestrian streets
    Slovakia National Theatre

    Walking Tour

    Next we wandered through the pedestrian streets lined with shops and restaurants to admire Saint Michael’s Gate. Completed in the 14th century this beautiful medieval gate is the last from the fortified city. Be sure not to miss it.

    Saint Michael’s Gate

    Now it was time for our walking tour. As always, I promote a walking tour in any and every city we visit. Walking with a local, we were guided to some of the hidden spaces of Bratislava. We started learning about history and culture at the meeting point of Fransiscan Square – home to the 13th century Franciscan Church. Our guide was wonderful with a great grasp on both the old and new of Bratislava. We visited Primates Square where the Parliament is and visited the statue of Saint George.

    Franciscan Square
    Primates Square
    Saint George

    On our way to the famous Blue Church (mostly famous just because it’s blue) we passed by a former location of another gate to the old city. Next we heard a very interesting account of the Bratislava 1989 student uprisings that would eventually bring down communism. In 1992 Slovakia declared itself a sovereign state from the Czech Republic. Czeckolslovakia became two independent nations.

    Blue Church
    Tanks vs People in Student Uprising


    We finished our interesting walking tour by walking out onto Stary Most bridge, a recently rebuilt bridge across the Danube for pedestrians, cyclists and trams. From the bridge we enjoyed seeing all the river cruise boats in port and the beautiful view of the castle up on the hill.

    River boats passing under Stary Most Bridge
    View from Stary Most Bridge

    Let’s Eat

    The national dish of Slovakia is potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese and bacon. So of course I had to try it. Many places in Bratislava serve traditional dishes, but on the suggestion of our walking tour guide we ended up at Meanto and enjoyed sitting outside on the cobbled street. We had cabbage dumplings as well, fried potatoes and garlic soup. It was a delicious meal.

    Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings
    Potato Pancakes
    Garlic Soup

    Bratislava Castle

    Our final stop on our day in Bratislava was the castle, standing sentry atop the hill overlooking the city.

    There is evidence of a settlement here as far back as the 600-500 BC. Coins have been found from the Moravian Empire but in the 12th century the castle began to change. The towers were added in the 13th century and further renovations occurred in the 15th century. The last large scale reconstruction occurred under the reign of Maria Teresa in the late 1700’s.

    Bratislava Castle
    The Gardens

    But in 1811 a devastating fire took the majority of the ancient building down. It sat in ruins for more than 100 years, until reconstruction began in 1953. Today the castle is home to the Slovak National Museum. The grounds and gardens are a lovely place for families to gather and picnic and it is a must visit when in Bratislava.

    The view of the Danube from the Bratislava Castle

    Back to Vienna

    After a full day trip to Bratislava it was time for our return bus to Vienna. Once again the comfy bus safely returned us, with a very brief stop at the border where a border agent glanced at passports before flagging us on.

    One Day in Bratislava Slovakia

    I definitely recommend One Day in Bratislava Slovakia and you should do a walking tour to get the most of your visit. It was a wonderful way to see a new city and a new country for me.

    Thank you for reading my post One Day in Bratislava Slovakia. Be sure to read last week’s post Mad About Madagascar here. You might also enjoy Visiting Vienna Austria here.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Knife by Salman Rushdie

    I have only read two of Salman Rushdie’s books – Victory City and The Enchantress of Florence. And enjoyed them both. I have never read The Satanic Verses, but of course I know the story of the fatwa against Rushdie following the publication of that book. And I knew about the attack that nearly killed him in 2022. I was very happy to hear about his book, certainly part of the long therapy following the harrowing attack. Here is my book review Knife by Salman Rushdie.

    Get Personal

    Rushdie gets very personal in this account of the attempt on his life August 12, 2022. It had been thirty years the the Ayatollah’s fatwa against him. Rushdie – no longer in hiding – was actually speaking at the Chataquah Institution on the topic of keeping writers safe. And that is when I man, dressed all in black came running down the aisle, onto the stage and tried to kill Rushdie.

    Here You Are

    Despite thirty years having passed, at the moment Rushdie thought – “So it’s you. Here you are.” This honest and intimate account of the attack, near death, and months in recovery is some of Rushdie’s best work. Brutally honest and deep, it’s a powerful first hand narrative of life, love, family, friends, mortality, healing and moving forward.


    Rushdie’s account of this near death experience is raw and real and worth a read. An easy read that brings to light how survival mode kicks in, even when everything around you is trying to kill you. I really enjoyed this book. Worth a read. Thanks for reading my book review Knife by Salman Rushdie.

    Book Review Knife by Salman Rushdie

    ****Four stars for Knife by Salman Rushdie. See last week’s book review Loot by Sharon Waxman.

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

    Africa & The Middle East Travel

    Mad About Madagascar

    Madagascar had long been a bucket list item for me. We had begun researching Madagascar the year before Covid…but of course had to put it on the back burner. I’ve been anxious to get it back in our travel itinerary, and well, let me tell you, it was worth the wait. You may know how much my husband and I love a wildlife and birding adventure. Madagascar really delivered on that front…but in many other ways as well. I am now totally Mad About Madagascar and hope I can impress upon you what an incredible destination it is.

    Ring-Tailed Lemur

    Touring Madagascar

    You can do independent travel in Madagascar, but frankly I wouldn’t recommend it. Infrastructure in Madagascar is poor. Roads are long, bumpy and poorly maintained. Having a driver who can expertly and safely maneuver the roads is important. Secondly, the wildlife. Throughout our ten day visit to Madagascar we had two different regional driver/guides and an additional five other site specific guides. The site specific guides played a very important role in the success of our tour. Their expertise in finding wildlife, birds and plants as well as teaching us about the local history, culture and people was immeasurable. Do a tour. You won’t regret it.

    Common Brown Lemur

    There are dozens of tour companies…probably hundreds. We used a company called Fosa and booked a private ten day tour and upgraded our hotels. We also upgraded to add a flight between the long distance of Antananarivo and Morondava…saving us from a full 10 hour day of treacherous driving. Do your research to find the best fit for you.

    Mad About Madagascar

    Madagascar was so much better than I expected. After our first two days I thought – well we can go home now, it can’t get any better. And yet…it did. It was unexpected at every turn. So let me tell you the highlights of the things we saw, did and experienced. Let me tell you why I am now Mad About Madagascar.

    Red Ruffed Lemur


    It’s these amazing trees that I wanted to see in Madagascar. I really wasn’t prepared for all the other astonishing things…so that was a bonus. But these amazing Baobab trees were everything I had hoped for. Avenue of the Baobabs, also called Alley of the Baobabs, is not the only place you can enjoy the Baobabs. They are scattered all over the region between Morondava and Kirindy in the south. We first sighted them from the airplane.

    Adansonia is a genus made up of eight species of medium-to-large deciduous trees known as baobabs(/ˈbaʊbæb/ or /ˈbeɪoʊbæb/) or adansonias. They are placed in the Malvaceae family, subfamily Bombacoideae. They are native to Madagascar, mainland Africa, and Australia.[2] The trees have also been introduced to other regions such as Asia.[3] A genomic and ecological analysis has suggested that the genus is Madagascan in origin. (Wikipedia)

    Baobab at sunset
    Baobabs are protected by the government
    Avenue of the Baobabs

    Baobab trees can grow to enormous sizes and carbon dating indicates that they may live to be 3,000 years old. Baobab trees grow as solitary individuals, and are large and distinctive elements of savanna or scrubland vegetation. They grow from 5–25 meters (16–82 feet) tall. An amazing site to see. I think every tour will take you to The Avenue of the Baobabs.

    Sunset at Avenue of the Baobabs

    Other Flora

    Throughout our tour we enjoyed many other species of plant life. From the giant Baobab to the tiniest of fungus. Because we showed a lot of interest in plants and birds as well as wildlife, all of our guides went to great lengths to point out the beauty of Madagascar underfoot and overhead.

    Wild Orchid
    Bonnet Mushroom
    Vermillion Waxcap Mushroom
    Lovers Baobab


    I wasn’t very familiar with chameleons before arriving in Madagascar, and I have to say, I think they are my new favorite creature. These handsome docile bug eaters just hang out and mind their business in the jungles of Madagascar, all while sporting a beautiful and showy suit. I love them. Madagascar is home to over 150 kinds of chameleons and we saw many of them, both in the wild and at a reserve that is working to conserve the reptiles who are threatened from deforestation. Our wonderful guides with their eagle eyes spotted sleeping chameleons during our night-walks and camouflaged chameleons in the bright day. Additional reptiles we found were frogs, snakes and geckos. What a show they all gave us.

    Just minding my business…
    At the reserve this one matched my headband
    Panther Chameleon
    Sleeping Chameleon
    Golden Mantella Frog
    A BIG snake
    Leaf Tailed Gecko


    As loyal followers of this blog well know, travel has turned my husband and I into birders. I used to be pretty ambivalent about birds…but once you travel around the world the presence of birds becomes such an important part of each day. We love birding and our guides were incredible at helping us find more than 20 new-to-us species during our ten day tour. And one beautiful giant moth.

    One thing I want to point out is, for the first time ever, we saw sleeping birds. I never have given much thought to where birds sleep. But on our night walk in Kirindy National Park, with our guide, we saw beautiful birds, sound asleep on low branches. A brand new experience for me.

    Sleeping Bird
    Sleeping Bird
    Malagasy Kingfisher (Merlin)
    Red Fody
    Madagascar Moon Moth


    Lemurs are probably the biggest attraction for visitors who come to Madagascar. The island is home to more than 50 kinds of Lemurs, a tree dwelling primate. And despite its close proximity to mainland Africa, the lemurs are found only on the island.

    Nocturnal Mouse Lemur
    Common Brown Lemur
    Sifaka Lemur

    We did not see all of the species of lemurs, but we were pretty impressed with how many we did see. I was hoping we would just see one or two but we saw dozens. From the smallest mouse lemur, about 11 inches and nocturnal, to the largest – the Indri. The Indri can weigh up to 9.5 kg (21 lb) and perhaps up to 15 kg (33 lb). We encountered many families of indri in the Analamazoatra national park, and were astonished by the screaming noise they make to mark their familiar territory. Absolutely fascinating.

    Spectacular Indri Lemur

    Most of the lemurs we saw, both during the day on night walk, were regional to the two areas we visited; Kirindy National Park and Analamazoatra National Park. But we also visited a private reserve near Andasibe where we saw many lemurs from other parts of the island, including the ring-tailed lemur the one most people are familiar with.

    Ring Tailed Lemur
    Diademed Sifaka Lemur

    Culture and History

    We had several opportunities during our ten day tour to engage with the local Malagasy people. Everyone we met was kind and welcoming. Tourism makes up 5% of the island economy, and most people work in farming and fishing and live a sustenance life. Everywhere we went people were toiling in some fashion. We particularly enjoyed a canoe ride in Morondava to see the fishing boats. We also waded across a shallow estuary at low tide to visit a small fishing village. Here about 1000 people live with no running water or electricity growing vegetables, fishing and boat building.

    Rice Fields harvest twice a year
    Many people fish
    Walking to the fishing village at low tide
    Sweet children in the fishing village

    We also had the opportunity on our final day to do a walking tour of Antananarivo, called Tana by the locals. Antananarivo is the capital and largest city in Madagascar, home to nearly 4 million people. We visited some historic sites and walked through the very busy daily market swarming with people. This was the only place in our entire visit we were warned to be diligent about pickpockets.

    Looking at the massive market downhill Antananarivo
    Queen’s Palace Antananarivo
    Antananarivo is sprawling and home to 4 million people

    Things to Know


    There are two official languages in Madagascar; French and Malagasy. Malagasy is just one of 18 tribal languages in the country. Most people in the tourism industry speak a bit of English. All of our guides spoke excellent English.

    Don’t expect to use your credit card. We paid cash for all but one transaction over our ten day tour. Even hotels and restaurants operate in the local currency of Ariary. As of this writing the exchange rate is one Ariary = .23 US cents


    I felt safe everywhere I went, and I was always with a guide. The only time we were warned to be aware of pickpockets was in the city of Antananarivo – a city of 4 million people. Crime is a problem in the city so be aware. But very little of our time was spent in the city.

    Though not all areas of Madagascar are prone to malaria, we did take malaria medicine while in the country. Discuss it with you doctor.


    We stayed in five different hotels during our tour. All were excellent, clean, had delicious restaurants and friendly English speaking staff. Only one did not have Aircon or wifi due to it’s remoteness.

    In Morondava we had a lovely beach-side hotel
    Our stay Kirindy was the most remote lodging with no WIFI and power only a couple hours a day
    In Andasibe we had a really nice bungalow surrounded by the most beautiful gardens


    Our tour for two people with the upgrades I mentioned above cost $5076 for ten days. Our tour included breakfast but not lunch or dinner. We ate all our dinners at the hotels and and few lunches elsewhere. Over the ten days we spent about $400 on food and drinks. We tipped our drivers and guides generously…a total for tips over the ten days was about $250. Our round trip flight from Vienna via Addis Ababa cost $910 per person.

    Mad About Madagascar

    My bucket list of destinations got significantly shorter after this long awaited trip to Madagascar. It was the final destination of an 8 month long journey that started in remarkable Papua New Guinea and ended in magnificent Madagascar. What a life. My Fab Fifties Life.


    I highly recommend Madagascar. If you have considered it, ask me questions. I am Mad About Madagascar and am so grateful it turned out even better than I had always imagined.

    Black Heron (Merlin)

    Thank you for reading my post Mad About Madagascar and for your continued interest and support of our travels. Be sure and see last week’s post Visit Vienna Austria. And come back next week for even more of our grand travel adventures.

    We love it when you pin, comment, and share our blog posts. Thank you.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Loot: A Novel by Tania James

    Long listed for the National Book Award, this third novel by Tania James is one of the best books I have read this year. Here is my book review Loot: A Novel by Tania James

    Irresistible Historical Fiction

    I couldn’t put this book down. Several book reviews of James work use the word “spellbinding”. Indeed it was. I loved every page. James takes a real artifact from India, Tipu’s Tiger (currently a centerpiece in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and creates a fictional tale around it. Brilliant.

    18th Century India

    Young Abbas, a master wood carver at only 17 years, gains the attention of Sultan Tipu and his life will change forever. He is brought to the palace to build an automatron tiger, to be a gift for the Sultan’s son. Here he begins to work side by side with French clock maker Lucien du Leze to create the masterful Tiger. Along the way he meets the enchanting Jehanne, still a child herself but sparks fly.

    British Forces

    When Tipu’s palace is looted by British forces wanting to colonize India, the Tiger disappears. Abbas escapes and slowly makes his way to France in search of Lucien. But when he arrives Lucien had died, but he find Jehanne, living in Lucien’s house and posing as his daughter. The two will begin a partnership of clock repair and carving and eventually set out on a scheme to retrieve the stolen Tiger.

    Fifty Years

    Loot spans fifty years and multiple continents as war ravages and dynasties fall under colonialism. James has a remarkable talent for inventive storytelling. The reader is pulled into a story so visually rich you clearly see yourself in India, London, and on the high seas. It’s imaginative, original and a refreshing read.

    *****Five stars for Loot by Tania James

    Thank you for reading my book review Loot by Tania James. See last week’s book review A Wide Wide Sea by Hampton Sides.

    We love it when you pin, share and comment on our book reviews. Thank you.

    Europe Travel

    Visiting Vienna Austria

    History, Beauty, Music & Charm

    Location: Vienna Austria

    Vienna. Wein. Wow. Somehow in all my travels Vienna had eluded me. Now that I have been there, I have no doubt I will be back. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – right up there with Budapest and Paris, two of my favorites. But Vienna is not Paris and it’s not Budapest. It is its own unique city with fascinating ancient and recent history and a charm and beauty like no other. Today let’s talk about Visiting Vienna Austria.

    Beautiful gardens at every turn
    Vienna is home to incredible art and antiquities


    The rich and varied history and significant cultural and archaeological influence of Vienna have made its historic core a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here is what the UNESCO website has to say about the distinctive history of Vienna.

    Vienna, situated on the Danube River in the eastern part of Austria, developed from early Celtic and Roman settlements into a medieval and Baroque city, eventually becoming the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    Schonbrunn Palace summer gazebo

    During the Ottoman conflicts in the 16th and 17th centuries, the medieval town’s walls, which surrounded a much larger area, were rebuilt and provided with bastions. This remained the core of Vienna until the medieval walls were demolished in the second half of the 19th century

    Baroque Architecture

    n 1683, Vienna became the capital of the Habsburg Empire and developed rapidly, becoming an impressive Baroque city. The Baroque character was expressed particularly in the large palace layouts such as the Belvedere Palace and garden ensemble. A growing number of new palaces were built by noble families, many existing medieval buildings, churches, and convents were altered and given Baroque features, and additions were made to representative administrative buildings.

    Interior Schonbrunn Palace

    Several historic Viennese buildings are now associated with the residences of important personalities such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, when the city played an essential role as a leading European center for music. (Source UNESCO)

    Charles II of Spain – Habsburg Monarchy

    Habsburg Dynasty 600 Years

    Charles II of Spain – Born 6 November 1661, Charles was the only surviving son of Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, who were uncle and niece. While European nobility commonly married within the same extended family to retain property, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were unusual in the extent to which they followed this policy, resulting in poor health and disfigurement as seen here. (Wikipedia)

    The Habsburg Dynasty was in power for more than 600 years.

    Vienna after WWII Bombing

    The Second World War created havoc in the city. Vienna was bombed 52 times during World War II, destroying much of the city. However, today the city is fully restored and more beautiful than ever. (Photo Google Images)

    Visiting Vienna Austria

    We had six days to explore this beautiful city. Prior to arrival we had booked several activities, as well as a room at the Mercure City Center hotel, an easy walk from the main historic center of the city. Our room was comfortable, staff was excellent and the breakfast was well done each morning. Here is how we spent our time Visiting Vienna Austria.

    Stephen’s Cathedral, built in the 12th century, in the historic center


    Our early flight from Belgrade got us to Vienna around 10am. Efficient exit process through Vienna International Airport and to our hotel before 11am. Too early to check in, we dropped our bags, and headed out for a full day.

    Visitors flock to Vienna and carriage rides are popular


    We started at the world renowned Kunsthistorissche Museum. We had purchased tickets in advance, but I think in April we could have walked in. But during the busy summer months, you should reserve your tickets. Built in 1891 the museum is home to a vast collection of the Habsburg Imperial Family and considered one of the premier museums in the world. You could easily spend an entire day. We were there for about three hours and barely made a dent. We focused primarily on painting and sculpture. When I return to Vienna I will certainly see this museum again.

    Rembrandt self portrait Kunsthistorissche
    Velasquez at the Kunsthistorissche

    Leopold Museum

    Our next stop was the Leopold Museum, Vienna’s Art Nouveau collection featuring Austrian artists including the incomparable Klimt. The modern art collection of Dr. Rudolph Leopold makes up the majority of the work, including a vast collection of the works of Egon Schiele and many other artists of the Vienna Succession Movement.

    Egon Schiele

    Austrian National Library

    We popped into this beautiful building on our way to the MozartHaus and found a wonderful surprise. Since 2005, the collections have been located within the Baroque structure of the Palais Mollard-Clary. Founded by the Habsburgs, the library was originally called the Imperial Court Library. Stunning architecture as well as antiquities share the space with a vast collection of ancient tomes

    Austrian National Library


    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived the final ten years of his short life in Vienna with his family. The house he lived in and composed some of his greatest works, is now a museum to his life. Surprisingly ordinary, the house sits on a main street within the historic core. Touring the MozartHaus museum includes a well done audio guide with facts and details about the life of this remarkable talent. However, the movie Amadeus was actually filmed mostly in Prague.



    It had been a long and productive day and we were starving. Time to visit Vienna’s oldest restaurant Griechenbeisl serving traditional Viennese food for 550 years. We dug into this giant Pork Knuckle with sauerkraut and potatoes and delicious local beer. Perfect end to our first day in Vienna.

    Port Knuckle at the historic Griechenbeisl

    Art & Music

    Guten Morgen Wein – day two. Today we had booked a walking tour through Get Your Guide of the Imperial Palace area, which encompasses most of the historic center of the city. Our tour included an orientation of the area with stops outside the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Austrian National Library, the Imperial Gardens, many pedestrian streets and the stalls of the Lipizaner Horses (more on that tomorrow). Inside the Hofburg Imperial Palace Additionally we toured Sisi Museum, where numerous personal items that once belonged to Elisabeth (Sisi) illustrate the true personality of the frequently misunderstood Empress. 

    Hofburg Palace
    Empress Elizabeth (Sisi)
    Sisi Museum – look at that waist!!


    We used Vienna’s easy tram system to head out to the Belvedere Museum, the former summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Today the beautiful Baroque buildings are the heart of the Belvedere collection including 24 paintings by Gustav Klimt with his golden images “The Kiss” and “Judith”. “The Kiss” is probably Austria’s most famous work of art.

    The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
    Judith by Klimt

    In addition to fantastic art collection, the gardens at the Belvedere are exquisite. Be sure to save time for a lovely stroll around the pond to enjoy the gardens on a sunny day.

    The Gardens at the Belvedere

    To Market to Market

    After the Belvedere we hopped back on the tram and headed to the Kutschkermarkt, a neighborhood market outside of the center. Still early in the season, but we enjoyed the beautiful selection of flowers and produce, live music and crafts. Lots of seafood outdoor restaurants here as well, but we opted for a lovely and authentic Italian meal instead.

    Italian in Vienna

    Mozart Concert

    After a quick rest and change of clothes back at the hotel, we were back on the tram heading to a Mozart Concert by the Vienna Music Society. The wonderful concert, with orchestra in period costume, was so much fun, and the Golden Hall was exquisite.

    The Musikverein was inaugurated by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1870. The Golden Hall in the Musikverein is known all over the world, not only because of the annual worldwide broadcast of New Year’s Concert by the Vienna Philharmonics, but also for being permanent seat of the Vienna Philharmonics and main stage of the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. I highly recommend this when in Vienna.

    The Golden Hall
    The Vienna Music Orchestra preparing to play

    Lipizzaner Stallions

    When I imagined visiting the Lipizzaner Stallions in Vienna, I imagined traveling outside of the city to big green equestrian field, like I might in Kentucky or Maryland. Oh no. These spectacular horses perform right in the heart of Vienna, in their own Baroque chandelier-ed arena built for the Spanish Riding School in 1729.

    The Lipizzaner horse is one of the oldest breeds in Europe. The breed got its start in 1580 when Archduke Charles of the Austro-Hungrian Empire established a stud farm at Lipizza near the Adriatic Sea in modern day Slovenia. This occurred shortly after his brother, Maximilian II, had imported Spanish horses to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub. It was from the stud farm at Lipizza that the breed gets its name. Archduke Charles greatly desired to create a horse that was not only suited for war, but also for pulling carriages and performing in the manner of classical riding. Learn more here.

    We booked our tickets in advance to see the morning performance of The Spanish Riding School. Not being a horse person myself, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I loved it. Absolutely astonishing the beauty, grace and athleticism of these magnificent animals. The riders also were amazing. It is highly competitive to be a rider at the school and it takes commitment.

    To undergo training at the Spanish Riding School means a lifelong education, which is always subjected to the needs of the horses. It is tough, takes eight to ten years and requires iron discipline. The handed-down oral tradition of classic equestrian art still applies today and is passed on from generation to generation. The horse takes center stage and determines the duration of the training. Currently, there are three chief riders, eight riders, five assistant riders, as well as five trainees at the school. Learn more. Do not miss a Lipizzaner performance when in Vienna.

    Performance venue for the Lipizzaner Stallions
    Lipizzaner Stallion


    Day three in Vienna and I still hadn’t had any Weinerschnitzel – Vienna’s signature dish. So I had read about a restaurant near to the Lipizzaner Stallions called beim Hofmeister. Their website said serving Weiner Traditional food since 1725. So we not only enjoyed a giant Weinerschnitzel but we ended with delicious Austrian Sachertorte as well.

    Sound of Music in German

    We booked ahead tickets for Rodgers and Hammerstein iconic Sound of Music at the beautiful Volksoper theater. Even though the show was in German, we know the songs and the story well enough to enjoy it nonetheless. It was a great performance, with highly talented cast and great sets. I recommend it when in Vienna.

    Vienna Volksoper (photo Volksoper)


    I will have a separate blog post coming up about our day trip to Bratislava Slovakia (my 134th country), but let me suggest here what a nice day trip it is. If you have the time, take a day to cross the border and visit this lovely medieval city of Bratislava Slovakia. An easy one and half hour drive on a clean and efficient Flixbus bus system is a perfect way to go for less than $20 round trip. During the summer months you can also enjoy a Danube River cruise from Vienna to Bratislava and back with a six hour stay in the city. Watch for an upcoming blog post with more details about our day four visit to Bratislava.


    Two Icons

    There is still much to see in beautiful Vienna, and on day five we hit two iconic Vienna sites. I recommend booking tickets ahead for both the Vienna State Opera House and the Schonbrunn Palace.

    Vienna Opera House

    I have been to several opera performances in my travels, and I’m not personally a connisseur of opera. But you don’t need to love opera to love this tour. We booked ahead and I’m glad we did as the tours were sold out. This backstage tour of how this beautiful theater puts on over 300 performances a year was one of the most interesting things I have ever done. Get your tickets here.

    Vienna State Opera House Theater
    Vienna State Opera House

    Schonbrunn Palace

    Schloss Schonbrunn is not to be missed on a visit to Vienna. It is Vienna’s most visited site so get your tickets ahead. Lots of tour busses full of visitors come here, so be prepared for lines, even if you have advanced tickets.

    Tickets include an audio guide, which was really well done and easy to understand. The wealth and opulence of this summer residence of the Habsburgs is mind-boggling. Reminiscent of Versailles, Schloss Schonbrunn became the glittering focus of court life during the reign of Maria Theresa. From this time on, it played host to the leading statesmen of Europe.

    We arrived an hour before our ticketed entrance time and spent an hour exploring the gardens, forest, labyrinth and walking up the hill to the summer gazebo. Here the view back towards the city, and down to the palace is beautiful.

    We entered the palace at our ticketed time, dropped our backpack and went through security. Picked up our headset and then began the tour. All of that took about half an hour. The tour itself you can take as long as you want going from room to room guided by the audio. We spent about two hours.

    We found the Vienna tram an easy way to get from the city to Schonbrunn Palace, about 5km outside of Vienna.

    Beautiful day at Schloss Schonbrunn
    Palace Gardens
    View from the Gazebo
    Obscenely ornate inside the palace
    Gold, tapestries and crystal everywhere

    Evening Refreshments

    Since it was such a hot and beautiful day, we ended this day five with beers sitting along the river watching the boats go by. Then a simple cold meal of the popular Vienna Brotchen open faced sandwich at Trzesniewski. Delicious.

    Brotchen is a popular Viennes sandwich
    Beers on the river

    Final Day

    There are many more museums in Vienna that we did not see…we will save these for our next visit. We had a late flight on our final day, so we decided to get a late check out at the hotel, and spend the day on the Danube River.

    Along the Danube

    First we enjoyed a walk from the Tram station on the Danube island in the middle of the river. Then we walked along the river front near the river cruise port. Sitting along the river we enjoyed a cold drink before boarding the cruise. We had booked the cruise onboard Blue Danube City Cruise. Our choice was the shorter option of about an hour and half, but a longer three hour cruise with lunch is also available. Although the loud speaker was very difficult to understand when sitting outside, we still learned a lot and enjoyed just seeing the sites from the water on a very beautiful day. Of most interest was passing through the locks.

    Passing through the locks
    Cruising the Danube
    Local wine on a beautiful day


    We hated to leave beautiful Vienna, but it was time. So we booked at table at the famous Lugeck in the heart of the beautiful historic center. We enjoyed a lovely meal outside under the umbrellas, as we reminisced about this fantastic city and all it has to share.

    Impeccable Asparagus Soup
    Kaiserschmarrn, famous Austrian pancake

    Danke Schön Wein

    What an amazing city and I truly think I could spend a couple of months here. Thank you Vienna. Danke Schon Wein. You are a shining example of preservation and graceful growth in the modern world. I will return. Danke.

    Vienna we will be back.

    Thank you for reading our post Visiting Vienna Austria. See last week’s post Visiting Serbia for the First Time here. Be sure to come back next week for a mega post about my ten days in Madagascar.