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    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages

    Location: Transylvania, Romania

    We could have easily spent a month in Romania.  But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the three regions from 1648

    We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.

    History

    In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the Kingdom of Romania

    Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania.  A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.

    “Romanian is an Eastern Romance language, descended from Latin with some German, French, English, Greek, Slavic, and Hungarian borrowings. Romanians are by far the most numerous group of speakers of an Eastern Romance language today. It has been said that they constitute “an island of Latinity”[5] in Eastern Europe, surrounded on all sides either by Slavic peoples or by the Hungarians.” (source Wikipedia)

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    View of Brasov from top of Mount Tampa

    Our time in Transylvania was wonderful.  We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.

    Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained.  Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti.  Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.

    If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries.  A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification.  The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese.  There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think  “Beauty and the Beast”.  But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.

    But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.

    Architecture

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Peles Castle, in Sinai, home to several generations of Romanian royals and still occupied today by Michael I of Romania

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Bran Castle in Bran, occupied for generations by Romanian Royalty and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula castle

    Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century.  They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in.  The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.

    The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.

    The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Brasov’s only remaining fortress gate

    The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.

    Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire.  For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    One of several fortified towers in the amazingly preserved town of Sighisoara

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Houses in Sibiu

    Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers.  Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade.  Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted.  The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Beautiful mix of architecture in Sibiu

    Food

    Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities.  While in Transylvania we enjoyed;

    Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Eggplant Salad

    Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers.  Both were the consistence of dip like humus.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Pork Ciorba (soup)

    Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup.  So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.

    Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Cabbage rolls with polenta and pork

    Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon.  I couldn’t stop eating this.

    Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Papanasi with sour cream and berries

    Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert.  I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious.  Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside.  Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.

    We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country.  We will return again someday to explore more.  But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.

    Thank you! Multumesc! Fabulos!

     

    Europe Travel

    They March On To Die

    My Time in Poland Learning About Hitler’s Extermination of European Jews

    Location: Poland

    No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
    But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

    -Wladyslaw Szlengel, Polish Jewish Poet of the Ghetto

    They March On To Die

    Auschwitz famous gate

    Why I Came to Poland

    For many years I have wanted to come to Poland.   My first realization of that desire was when I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice.  My god.  That movie changed me.  I was only twenty-two years old I think.  Very naive.

    “Is it best to know about a child’s death, even one so horrible, or to know that the child lives but that you will never, never see him again?”
    William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

    I don’t remember learning much about World War II or the Holocaust in high school.  Was I absent that day? I remember Anne Frank however.  We read that in junior high.  We discussed it in class, but my memory of it being a bit edited as perhaps they thought we were too young.  They were trying to protect us.  But who protected Anne? No one.

    What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again. – Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

    They March On To Die

    Shoes of the Auschwitz victims

    I don’t think you can be too young to hear these stories.  How else can the facts sink in, in a way that it becomes a part of our daily conscious where we naturally abhor intolerance and speak out against it? How else can our youth be fully informed, aware and not jaded – as the horrors of that time in history slip farther into the past?

    Complacency

    WWII had only been over for 15 years when I was born.  It’s been longer than that since September 11th happened (17 years).  Time is a convenient blanket, smothering the memories and protecting complacency.

    They March On To Die

    Jewish families being herded out of Krakow

    Complacency is the world’s evil and our world is full of it today, yesterday and always.

    They March On To Die

    Auschwitz

    Human Numbers

    I am by no means a WWII or Shoah expert.  But I have a place in my heart that aches for what happened here in this beautiful country of Poland that I have fallen in love with these past two weeks.  I want to think of what happened here in human faces and real lives, but the numbers haunt me and I need to share;

    • Three MILLION Jews exterminated in Poland, half of the six million killed in total
    • Only 10% of Polish Jews survived
    • Another estimated but undocumented 1.5 million ethnic Poles killed – many for helping, aiding or hiding Jews
    They March On To Die

    Suitcases of victims

    Human beings like you and me. People with names. Birthdays. Lives. Goals and dreams. Doctors and lawyers.  Teachers and housewives. Students. Rabbis. Men, women, children and entire families. Grandmothers.  Beautiful young women. Little boys. For no reason other than hate.

    “You kill yourself when you hate. It’s the worst disease in the world.”
    William Schiff

    After I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice in 1982 I began to search out books and movies about the topic.  Not just about Poland but about the war, and the death camps.  As you are aware I read a lot.   I have been deeply  touched by many books – in fact many recently, that have come out about this topic. Although some of these books and movies are fictional, many are not.  And there is so much to learn from both the non-fiction and fiction stories.

    They March On To Die

    Jewish Cemetery Kazimierz (Krakow)

    The Nazis

    The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.  That first year they stripped Jews of their possessions and their jobs and herded them into walled off ghettos.  The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest and contained more Jews than in all of France.  More than 100,000 people starved to death in the Warsaw ghetto. Many more died of horrible disease such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery because medical care was unavailable.  If you haven’t seen the movie The Pianist it’s a must.  Haunting story of the Warsaw Ghetto.

    “Humanity seems doomed to do more evil than good. The greatest ideal on earth is human love.”
    Wilm Hosenfeld, The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45

    By 1941 Hitler’s right hand man Himmler began his calculated plan to

    They March On To Die

    Bullet riddled ghetto wall Warsaw

    annihilate the Jews of Europe through genocide.  Within two years 800,000 people had been shot to death and buried in mass graves.

    But it had only started.  The 1943 Wannsee Conference launched the final solution of the “Jewish question”.  Six death camps began the mass extermination through gas chambers using Zyklon B.  Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of these.

    From the ghettos in Krakow, Warsaw and around Europe the Jews were loaded on trains – told to take minimum belongings and their valuables for their new life in the East.  Thousands would die on the trains, suffocated and

    They March On To Die

    The selection process at Auschwitz on arrival by cattle car

    starved. Their valuables? Pilfered and to this day most unaccounted for.

    Have you seen the movie The Women in Gold? It addresses the issue of the things the Nazi’s stole from their Jewish victims, particular a painting in this case by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

    They’ll never admit to what they did, because if they admit to one thing, they’ll have to admit to it all.

           – The Women in Gold

     

    They March On To Die

    Cattle Car that brought victims to Auschwitz

    Death Camps

    Those who arrived at the death camps were quickly processed through selection.  Most were dead within their first few hours at the camp, stripped and taken to the “showers” which of course were not showers.  Anyone lame or old or young or unable to work was exterminated immediately.  The rest would work to death.

    The Paradise of Death

    It was like an old religion
    Dividing the saved from the damned.
    Only that the saved went to hell.
    The damned- to the paradise of death  – Raquel Angel Nagler

    Auschwitz was also home to the notorious Doctor Mengele who did unspeakable things to children, twins and other unusual “specimens” who he used as human guinea pigs for his “research”.  Have you read the book Mischling? One of the most astonishing stories I have ever read.  Astonishing and sickening.

    “The whole world will never look back. And if they do, they’ll probably say that it never really happened.”
    Affinity Konar, Mischling

    It’s disgusting to me there are still those who believe it never happened.  Same people who think we didn’t land on the moon?  Same people who don’t believe in Global Warming?

    Idiots.  This is fact;

    1.5 million Jewish PEOPLE died at Auschwitz; 200,000 of them children

    They March On To Die

    Memorial in Krakow for 65,000 Jews killed from that city

    3 million Jewish PEOPLE exterminated in Poland

    6 million Jewish PEOPLE murdered in WWII

    150,000 Non Jewish Polish PEOPLE died

    23,000 Roma Gypsy PEOPLE killed

    15,000 Soviet POW PEOPLE killed

    25,000 others GONE

    They March On To Die

    Where the death camps were

    Ignorance

    Before the war began Poland had the largest Jewish Population in Europe.  More than 3 million citizens whose ancestors had been in Poland for more than a thousand years. Only 10% of the Polish Jewish population survived WWII and the genocide.

    Many ethnic Poles died trying to help the Jews. But others turned against them.  It was similar in other countries.  While there are many stories of resistance fighters in France and Poland there were other citizens who helped the Nazis.  Recently I read the book Sarah’s Key and learned about the French Jewish Roundup in Paris in July 1942.  I had never heard of this horrible thing before.  Shame on all those whose smugness, prejudice and hate killed so many.

    “The truth is harder than ignorance.” – Sarah’s Key

    They March On To Die

    Where they burned the bodies

    The thing I keep asking myself is why did we not help them? Where was the United States? Where was the League of Nations? Where was the Catholic Church? As early as 1941 it was common knowledge in the world leaders what was happening.  People and governments looked away.  Partly because they were afraid, or busy fighting other battles, but this was genocide.  Pure and simple. And no one came.

    They March On To Die

    The remains of the incinerators the Nazi’s destroyed at the end of the war

    My time in Poland has been both lovely and gut-wrenching.  The Poland I see as a visitor is beautiful.  But I know, like all nations, there are underlying problems and anti-Semitism is here.  As an American I am painfully aware of how ignorance begets hate and intolerance – rampant in my country.  In the past, in the present and more likely than not in the future – there will be hate.  People who can’t or WON’T tolerate anyone who is different from them.

    I don’t believe hate is something you are born with.  It is learned.  Hate and prejudice is learned.  Just like empathy and tolerance is also learned.

    Educate Yourself

    It brings me back to two things I promote on this blog;

    1. TRAVEL –  My message through this blog has always been one of inspiration.  And inspiring anyone to pack a bag and go to an unknown place is my greatest goal.  You will be changed.  You will be full.  You will be amazed, what travel can do to your life, your prejudice, your tolerance and your happiness.  Just go.

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

    They March On To Die

    Those who didn’t die on arrival lived in hell

    2.  READ –  My other message on this blog is to read, read, read.  And if you can, learn to read outside your comfort zone.  Read history, and fiction and non fiction and more.  There is nothing so simple as reading a book that can open your mind to the world outside your door. Just read.

    “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” —Malorie Blackman

    Poland and Auschwitz are sacrosanct now.  Everyone should come here to feel and remember the human lives.  The very real human beings who became ashes.

    They March On To Die

    One women.

    But of course it’s not possible for everyone.  So read.  Watch films. Learn.  And most importantly, remember.  Remember a little girl. An old man.  A family.  Most importantly remember what we humans have allowed to happen in our recent past.  Think about the Holocaust in names and people’s lives rather than numbers and dates.  Don’t let that die.  Otherwise, nothing was gained and we all are lost.

    Books

    (This is nowhere near all that is out there.  Just some suggestions)

    • The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne
    • Mischling by Affinity Konar
    • Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
    • Night by Elie Wiesel
    • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
    • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
    • Ireana’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo
    • The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
    • The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
    • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
    • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
    • We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
    • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
    • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
    • Maus by Art Spiegelman
    • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

     

    They March On To Die

    Where victims were sent

    Movies

    • Schindler’s List
    • Sophie’s Choice
    • The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas
    • The Hiding Place
    • The Diary of Anne Frank
    • The Pianist
    • Life is Beaiutiful
    • Son of Saul
    • Maus
    • Immortal Bastards
    • Europa Europa
    • Au revoir les enfants
    • The Women in Gold
    • Fiddler on the Roof (not WWII but spectacular anyway)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Europe Travel

    Berlin for First Timers

    The Grand Adventure

    Location: Berlin Germany

    Click on any photo for an enlarged version.

    I have wanted to go to Berlin for years. I’m not sure why it took me so long. Since we have traveled to Germany, France and Italy several times, we haven’t made those countries a priority on the Grand Adventure so far. But Berlin was different. I had to go. Berlin for first timers was a whirlwind. And worth it.

    We arrived on the Deutsche Bahn train from

    Berlin for First Timers

    Deutsch Bahn

    Brugge via Brussels on a Sunday afternoon. It had been a very long journey involving three trains and  4:30am wake up.  We checked into our Airbnb and headed out to the neighborhood market only to find everything shuttered on a Sunday. So we ate delicious Turkish food for dinner in our very Turkish neighborhood and then fell fast asleep.

    With only three full days in Berlin we hit the ground running on Monday morning. Literally.  We got up and did an early morning run through our neighborhood park. Refreshed, we stopped at the now open market for supplies before heading back to our apartment to get ready for our day.

    Since we are training for the Camino we walked everywhere in Berlin, but Berlin for first timers is easy by subway, elevated train and bus system accessing most of the greater Berlin area.  There is also a wonderful taxi system and Uber.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    Berlin for First Timers

    The wall

    Our first day we walked and walked enjoying the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and several sites where you can see and touch old remnants of the Berlin Wall.  These included the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie Black Box Cold War Interpretive area, and Potsdam Plaza.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Currywurst with beer

    Since we had already eaten one of Berliner’s favorite fast foods (Turkish kabob) we tried the also famous Currywurst . The invention of Currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949, after she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage..  You can have Currywurst with skin or without (skin being the casing for the sausage before cooking ).  We tried it both ways and I preferred with the skin – a nice crunchy texture.  That said, Currywurst was not my favorite.  On another day we also had Bockwurst.  Served with potato salad and I really liked that.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    Berlin for First Timers

    Checkpoint Charlie a recreation

    Day two began early with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, officially titled Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This controversial memorial encompasses 2711 concrete blocks of different heights taking up an entire square block of the city.  Underground is a very poignant and somber, yet interesting and thoughtful museum that focuses on families and the humans who lost their lives during this evil period of history.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Black Box Cold War Interpretive Panels

    On day two we also signed up for a Free Walking Tour, always one of the things we search out in any city.  Of course Free Walking Tours aren’t really “free”.  You pay the guide at the end what you think the tour was worth.  And our Free Walking Tour in Berlin was the best one we ever did.  Our guide Georgia was exceptional.  We loved it and I highly recommend New Europe Tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    On our tour we visited a lot of the same places we had seen the day before, but seeing them with Georgia our guide was a whole different experience.  We learned amazing history starting with ancient history of the region right up through the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall and of course a great deal of history about Hitler and WWII.  It was fascinating.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Car park over the bunker

    By the way, throughout Berlin there is almost no reference to Hitler. That is by design.  There is a point to not have his name included in most things.  In fact, we stood on a car park that is on top of the bunker where he committed suicide.  There is only a simple sign, added only recently when Berlin hosted the World Cup in 2006.  Did you know Hitler’s remains were dug up from the original burial site in East Germany and dumped in a river?  This is so there is no final resting place for this horrible human being and so no one can ever have a place to go and glorify him in any way.  The Nazi Swastika is outlawed in Germany.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eisbein

    Berlin for First Timers

    Weiner Schnitzel

    Following our tour we headed for lunch.  We wanted some good hearty German food so we ended up at Augustiner am Gendarmernmarkt.  More Bavarian than Berliner but it was delicious.  I had Wiener Schnitzel and my husband had a gigantic Eisbein (pork knuckle).  No dinner was necessary after the delicious lunch!

    Berlin for First Timers

    Site of the Book Burning

    Next we walked to Museum Island, just over the river you’ll find a gathering of Berlin museums.  We stopped at the Bebelplatz, where famously the Nazis burned all the books.  Here a unique memorial to that fateful event lays underground.  Then we visited the Alte National Gallery – Berlin’s best regarded Art Museum.  This is certainly no Louvre or Uffizi, but the museum is compact and easy to tour with a lot of German artists as well as nice collection of Impresionist from Renoir to Monet.

    We ended our day taking a narrated boat ride on the river Spree.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun to see the city from the water and enjoy the narration providing us even more interesting facts about Berlin.  There are numerous locations around the city where you can start these boat tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The west side of the East Side Gallery Wall

    Day three was a walking day.  We had over the past couple of days enjoyed seeing some of the remains of the Berlin Wall that are in the city, but the longest remaining part of the wall is actually about six miles from the main city area.  So we walked.  It was hot, but we enjoyed the walk which took us through Alexanderplatz, where Berlin’s TV tower stands – an iconic modern soaring spire that includes a restaurant on top.  You can see the tower from anywhere in the city.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The most famous mural at the Eastside Gallery

    Our destination, the East Side Gallery is the name of the mile long portion of the wall, consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. According to the Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery e.V., an association of the artists involved in the project, “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”, and has more than three million visitors per year.[1] This was something I had seen so many times in photos and I really wanted to see it for myself.  It was amazing.  A highlight of our time.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eastside Gallery

    You don’t need to walk the six miles to the East Side Gallery.  You can take the subway, busses, taxi or Uber as well as several local tours include it.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Pretzel

    We wandered back along the river and stopped at the Tiergarten Biergarten to enjoy a couple of German beers as our amazing time in Berlin was coming to an end. The Biergarten in this beautiful park sits on a tiny little lake and you can enjoy pizza and pretzels, gelato and beer.  You can also rent a little row boat and row around the lake.  Such a pleasant way to spend a sunny day in this fascinating city.

    Berlin for first timers could include a few
    more things that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do, mainly going up into the observation dome at the Reichstag.  You need to make a reservation to do this, and we just didn’t know that with enough advance notice.  I wish we had because I understand it is really amazing.  Do it if you can.

    With a few more days we also would add some live performances.  Berlin has a thriving theater and musical performance scenes including outdoor theatre, symphony and opera.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Biergarten

    Finally, a great way to see the area would be by renting a bike.  Berlin is as flat as it possibly can be, has literally hundreds of miles of bike lanes and paths, including beautiful paths through forested parks and along rivers.  On a beautiful day seeing the city by bike would be a lot of fun.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The view from the River Spree

    So there you have it, Berlin for First Timers.  I really loved this gritty, indomitable city. Even with all the tourists it felt real and raw.  I can’t think of another European city that has witnessed so much history and hosted so much strife and animosity and come out shining on the other side.

    Berlin for First Timers.  I highly recommend it. Fabulous. Fabelhaft!

    
    

     

     

     

    Inspire

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe with Just One Suitcase

    Looking and Feeling Grand on the Grand Adventure

    Location: United States

    After wearing the same clothes over and over on our Grand Adventure I was looking forward to some major shopping once I got back in the USA. I knew I could create a fabulous travel wardrobe that would fit in  just one suitcase.

    I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two months purging my old travel wardrobe and adding fresh new and fabulously fun and comfortable items.  There are only five items from my previous wardrobe (excluding underwear) that make the cut for this next phase of my fabulous travel wardrobe.

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    The white dress five ways. This is from J. Jill. I’m gonna love this dress I think.

    I have a really good understanding now of what works for me as a full-time traveler; what makes me feel good; is comfortable, pretty and easy to care for; what is well constructed and can withstand hand washing, sweat and constant wear; and most importantly what is versatile for many kinds of climates and all kinds of fabulous.

    That’s what I look for in a fabulous travel wardrobe.

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    Black Dress six ways. This is a TravelSmith purchase, wrinkle free fabric. I love it. It made the cut for this next phase. Denim jacket is Levi.  Black and white kimono scarf I bought in Bali. White tie blouse is from Macy’s.

    Granted, most of the clothes I need are for warmer climates.  However on this next phase we will see some cool weather, especially while we are in Spain and Portugal in late October and November.  So I need to take this into consideration.

    I’m basing my fabulous travel wardrobe on some anchor pieces including; one white dress, one black dress, one pink dress and one green dress.  In addition I have added; one black linen drawstring pants, one white linen drawstring pants, one white walking shorts and one black walking shorts.

    With these anchor pieces I have added multiple tank tops and t-shirts and blouses as well as one sweater, two cardigans and my denim jacket. I also have two kimono scarf wraps (one silk, one cotton) and two

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    The green dress four ways. This is another Travel Smith purchase. The silk Kimono scarf and the black leggings are from Sirvana

     

    scarfs.  All of these items together can create an endless array of options for me.  The photos show just some of the ideas I have.

    I also have a couple of fun hats and a small collection of versatile jewelry to mix and match.  Although most of the time we aren’t getting dressed up, it’s nice to have some jewelry options for casual outfits as well.

    My wardrobe includes

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    Pink dress four ways. I got this dress on a clearance rack at J.Jills. It’s linen – my favorite fabric. There is that Sirvana kimono again.  Teal and pink scarf is from Target.

    some handbags and six pairs of shoes.  My shoe choices are flat or low heeled with excellent arch support and lots of comfort.  Anything other than that doesn’t make the cut of a fabulous travel wardrobe.

    In my suitcase you will also find my small collection of mix and match items that serve me for hiking, running and yoga.  These activities are a big part of most every day in My Fab Fifties Life so making sure I am comfortable when I’m working out is a priority.  Our fall hike of the Porto Camino will likely include some rainy days, so I am preparing with a better rain poncho

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    White pants and or shorts six ways. There are endless options here. Linen pants are Caslon from Nordstrom. The white shorts I have had for years. Black lace duster from Sirvana. Blue and white striped tank is DraperJane by Reece Witherspoon. White Lace tank from Travel Smith. Washed denim top from Marshalls and red top from StitchFix.

    than the one I had last year on the Spain Camino.

    I bought two of the same swimsuit but in different colors.  This way I can wear the first one until it starts to fall apart and have a back up ready.  I hated trying to shop for a swimsuit on our travels. And because I wear a suit almost every day, mostly in salt water, they really wear out.  I’m also bringing my older one-piece suit that I found in storage.  I prefer a one piece suit when snorkeling so I want to have it for those times.

    Making the cut from last years wardrobe are my

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    Black pants and or shorts eight ways. Of course black is flattering, but these pants are also comfortable. Linen pants are Caslon from Nordstrom, black shorts I have had for years. Teal button up tank and print tank from J Jill. White top with black embellishment is from Macys. Mustard sweater is Coldwater Creek.

    bold flowered print long sleeve gauze blouse.  I love the color and comfort of this top and even though it’s long sleeved it is perfect in hot weather.  It will come in handy in Muslim countries where I want to cover my arms.

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    My gear for running and yoga. Black shorts and shoes are Brooks. Leggings from Sirvana.

    I’m also bringing my 12-year-old teal linen sundress which is my favorite and is a perfect beach coverup.  I did some hand stitching to it this summer to fix the hem and some fraying. Good as new and ready to go again.

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    I have hiking options for all weather possibilities. And we likely will use them all! Most everything you see here is from REI. Poncho from Magellan. My hiking shoes are from Kuru- specifically designed for plantar fasciaitis.

    In addition I’m throwing in my denim cropped white jeans.  I’ve never had a more comfortable pair of jeans and they work in so many ways.  A keeper for sure. My black shorts are also on the return list.

    And finally, my black dress from Travel Smith I wore over and over on the last phase of our travels I will wear over and over on the next phase.  This dress is a wonderful wrinkle free fabric and feels really good to wear.

    There are a few other minor miscellaneous items I plan to bring, but I feel more pared-down than when we left two years ago.  We both will continue to use our sturdy REI roller bags, now in their fourth year and who knows how many miles and baggage handlers they have endured.  We had to change the wheels on one of them, and are carrying a set of wheels for the other bag just in case.

    Fabulous Travel Wardrobe

    My swim attire – the blue and the green tops are identical except for color. I bought the Sarong in Bali and there is my old trusty teal linen sundress that has been around the world several times.

    In addition Arne has his backpack and I have my new roller carry-on.  I’m confident we will have plenty of room.  Not only for our clothes but for all the other items (did you see the YouTube video we posted about packing non clothing items?  We also posted a time-lapse on Youtube that is fun to watch).

    The thing is, you would basically pack the same if you were going on a month-long vacation.  Granted there are some things you wouldn’t need to pack (back up wheels for your suitcase or 12-months of contact lenses), but it’s essentially the same.  I would most likely bring the same amount of clothes for a month as I am for a year, a fabulous travel wardrobe.  It’s all about planning and knowing how to mix and match to feel and be your fabulous best.  Everyday, every country, everywhere.  Go. Be. Fabulous.

    Launch is in T-minus 25 days!

     

    Inspire

    Preparing to Travel Full Time – It’s In The Details

    The Grand Adventure

    Location: United States

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    Note – at the request of one of my friends, I have updated this blog, originally posted in November 2016, with fresh new information.  Enjoy it again.

    “How exactly do you prepare to leave the country and travel full-time?”

    As our departure day to leave the USA again grows near, this is the recurring question.  People we meet often show, interest, surprise, envy, jealousy, horror and confusion. But most of all they are curious. How exactly do you prepare to leave the country and travel full-time?

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Thailand

    So over the past couple of weeks I have been pulling together some details to share again. A lot of details.  In fact, I would answer the above question with a simple sentence.  “It’s in the details.”

    Before we embarked on the first phase of the Grand Adventure we spent several years preparing.  A younger person, like my son, can prepare more quickly, in a matter of months.  But for Fab Fifty rock stars like me and my husband, it took more time.

    For us about three years.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Morocco

    When the idea first sprouted, I knew immediately we would do it.  Without a question I knew it was right for us.  All while knowing it isn’t right for everyone.

    In fact, making a major life change like this should take some serious soul searching – are you cut out for a life of travel? What is your tolerance level?  Consider everything from beds to cultural customs when considering your personal tolerance for living outside of the United States.  Do you have phobias? Afraid of bugs? Snakes? Rodents or people not like you? Are you afraid of cultures where everyone isn’t white?  Are you willing to eat new foods, communicate in languages other than English and squat to go to the bathroom? Give it a think because, a life of full-time travel isn’t for sissies or intolerant people. You gotta be open, willing and fairly fearless while being smart, observant and adventurous.

    Once you know your tolerance level that in-turn will help you determine your budget.  Because if you are only willing to stay in upscale American style hotels, then your budget will need to look very different

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Vietnam

    from ours.  Our travels have us staying in primarily Airbnb’s that average about $70.  And honestly if you are only willing to stay in American brand hotels with 300 thread count sheets and someone to cater to your every whim – well, you should just stay in the USA. Because you will miss the most rewarding part of travel – getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your world view.

    We have a daily budget of $200 all-inclusive (transportation, lodging, food and misc).  This is plenty for most places and not enough for a few places, but we are frugal and hope it all evens out.  Because the

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Spain

    reality is if we can’t stay within our designated budget then the Grand Adventure will be over, sooner rather than later.

    Speaking of timeline – we don’t have one.  This of course would not work for everyone, but for us it fits.  We will continue the vagabond life as long as we are having fun.  As soon as it becomes anything other than fun, we will wrap it up.  But so far, 99% fun.

    So listed below are some “details” on how to prepare to leave the country and travel full-time.  Most of these things we have had to learn on our own – so if this list can alleviate any work for someone else considering traveling abroad full-time in retirement, use it well.

    PURGE – we started our purge process more than two years before we put our house on the market, as we let go of nearly every bit of fluff we owned, including house, cars, boats, trailer, furniture and more.  We have a 10×12 storage unit now that is holding what remains of our stationary lifestyle and life’s memories. During this same period we worked to purge my Dad’s house, remodel his place and get it on the market as well as move him to a smaller place.  It was a big goal to get him out of his large house before we left. It was a huge job but it needed to be done.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Cambodia

    DOCUMENTS – we updated our passports even though they were not expired, so we would not have any issues with needing to do that from abroad.  We also updated our Washington State Drivers License.  We will carry a copy of our marriage certificate with us but not our birth certificates because the passport is sufficient.  We have researched every possible country we think we might visit to learn the entry/visa requirements. We are carrying extra passport photos because some countries require obtaining a visa on entry with photo. We also carry International Drivers License, even though we have NEVER been asked for one.

    SPREADSHEET – we created a spread sheet, which is evolving constantly and we can access via Google Drive, to track all of our travel including air and ground transportation and lodging.  This spreadsheet includes notes regarding entry rules for countries. It’s also a fun tool for tracking so many things from miles traveled to beds slept in.  The data we have is incredible.

    MAIL – we are using a PO Box that belongs to my Mother-in-law, but we are trying hard not to receive

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Croatia

    any mail.  We have notified our friends and family not to snail mail us, we have contacted magazines and catalogs to eliminate junk (not very successful however) and we have changed all of our banking, retirement and property related mail to online only. I canceled my 35 year subscription to Bon Apetit.

    TECHNOLOGY – we have new smart phones, an iPad and my Brand new light weight Mac Book that will travel with us.  In addition we will bring our old flip phone.  For our smartphones (we each have an iPhone) we buy a sim card in each country for one of our phones to enable the phone to have a local phone number and data.  We then also use our iPhones with wifi for things like blogging, Facebook and Instagram.  The flip phone is programmed  with our old Verizon phone number from the states.  Although we don’t plan to use that number often, it keeps it active for emergency.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Seychelles

    We also have our Bose noise-canceling headphones and our Bose SoundLink Mini speaker that measures about 6 in x 3 in.  We carry this with us and it allows us to listen to music using Spotify and listen to Audible or other books.

    APPS – We have a few travel apps we like especially Airbnb, Expedia and Google Maps.  We also have a Google translate which is really cool.  You can point your phone at a sign or menu item in another language and it will show you what it says in English.  Love it.  We use WhatsApp, an app that allows you to make overseas calls via the internet, this is primarily the way we communicate with our kids.  To call our parents, who aren’t on WiFi, we use an app called TextNow which allows free phone calls from anywhere to the USA. We also use Kindle, Yelp, Uber, Get Your Guide and Trip Advisor.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure New Zealand

    CORDS AND CHARGERS – I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a universal cord for all electronics, but alas wishful thinking.  So we have organized and sorted all our cords, charges and adaptors to travel along. We research ahead to make sure we know what adaptors we need in each country. We have one packing cube we use for all of these items.

    CREDIT CARDS – don’t you hate it when your credit card company announces suddenly that you are being mailed a new credit card because your card has been compromised?  Well that would really screw us up if that happens.  So we have FOUR credit cards.  One is our primary and three are backups.  Three cards have no foreign transaction fees (which is a killer).  We also have multiple ATM cards. All credit and debit cards are chipped.  VERY IMPORTANT is that we do not carry all these cards together in one place.  That way, if our wallet or purse is lost or stolen, we will have back up cards available in a different location.  We have contacted all of the card companies for both credit and debit and let them know we will be traveling abroad for an extended period.  We have put a reminder on our calendar to do this again periodically. We carry several hundred US dollar in cash for emergencies.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Portugal

    PRESCRIPTIONS – I take two prescriptions regularly.  It’s been a challenge to get enough of my meds stocked up.  My insurance company will allow, with a special doctor’s note, two 90 day vacation overrides.  I have been stocking up in other ways too, but it’s not going to be enough.  I will need to find access to these meds to fill the rest of the time, because we won’t be back in the US for a visit until next summer. Shipping prescriptions abroad is illegal. We have some people coming to visit us, so I may have them bring me my pills. But I am confident I can find the meds or an equivalent.  I will need to pay cash for those at the time.  I have also 12 months worth of contact lenses and we each have our glasses plus a back up pair.

    DOCTORS – during the three months we have been in the USA we have had a ton of appointments; family physician for full physicals, new prescriptions and precautionary antibiotics; eye doctor for new contacts and glasses; dermatologist for annual check up; dentist for cleaning and some work; gynecologist for check up; and annual mammogram. I had my updated yellow fever, and DPT shot and did a round of typhoid and got a two month supply of malaria meds.

    MEDIVAC INSURANCE – considering our age, we felt there was value in purchasing evacuation insurance.  This insurance covers expenses to transport us back to the USA in case of a medical emergency that can’t be handled locally.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Spain

    EXPEDIA AND AIRBNB – we love how these two
    online websites allow us to keep files of all your bookings.  This eliminates the need for printing and gives us easy access to our bookings.  We use them both frequently.

    DECIDING WHERE TO GO – After two years of non-stop travel we feel much more comfortable with our movement around the planet.  It feels natural.  We usually agree on where we want to go and make our decisions based on budget, weather, safety and interest. We love to go new places, but have a few favorites we return to. We take turns planing the itinerary, often taking a country each.

    Although we aren’t completely booked yet, we have a plan for August 2018 through June 2019 that includes; Denmark (visiting Arne’s cousins), Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt &Jordan (the only countries currently where we are doing a tour), Portugal & Spain (where we will walk our second Camino de Santiago), Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru & Chile (these five countries on a cruise with Arne’s Mom), Brazil, Costa Rica (joined by our friends from Washington), El Salvador, Belize (joined by our two sons), Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Cuba.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Tunisia

    GIRL STUFF – I’ve learned some things about myself over the past two years. Despite how easy it is to have long hair and wear it in a pony tail everyday, I just hate the look on me.  So the budget will need to include more haircuts.  Mostly I do my own nails and wear hardly no makeup, but I still like to have my eyebrows waxed from time to time. I have just a handful of earrings and necklaces I wear and of course the charm bracelet. I’ve just purchased a jewelry case that’s I hope will help my jewelry not take such a travel beating.

    The Grand Adventure Australia

    PACKING – this topic is by far the one most people ask about, and indeed one of the hardest.  We will continue to use two large REI rolling bags.  Arne will continue to use his backpack as a carry on. But this time my backpack will stay home and I just purchased a new rolling carry on. And packing cubes have changed my life.  Organized and categorized I love using packing cubes.

    It helps that we are traveling, for the most part, to warm climates or to areas during their warm season.  We may see cool and rainy in Portugal and Spain in the late fall. Honestly the clothing choice has been easier than the shoes.  And the bulkiest items are not clothes or shoes it’s toiletries and

    The Grand Adventure Namibia

    medicines. I just purchased a flat style toilette bag to replace the larger boxier cube style one we have been carrying. I’m hoping this will free up some space in the suitcase.

    Without a doubt I am bringing twice the clothes as my husband, but I have learned so much this past two years for what works for me and what is comfortable and easy to maintain.

    How to travel full-time

    The Grand Adventure Laos

    I threw out almost all the clothes I used the past two years and have replaced them with fresh, new and comfortable.  Watch for a blog soon all about my new travel wardrobe. I think you’re gonna love it.

    In addition we have our electronics and documents and toiletries, first aid and meds.  We have our Scrabble game, our hiking poles, a selfie stick, an REI titanium French press, a can opener,a small knife, collapsible small cooler and colander.  I have a new “butt cushion” to hopefully alleviate sciatic pain on long flights.  I’ve thrown in some pens and pencils, scotch tape and packing tape, a bungee cord, cloths pens, plastic bags (multiple sizes) our headlamps and some extra batteries.  Of course I don’t leave home without my Washington State University flag, my Seattle Seahawks flag and THE MUG.

    So there you have it.  The details.  I’ve probably forgotten something.  We feel more prepared and less anxious than when we left two years ago.  We are looking forward to this next phase.

    Ready to launch year three of the Grand Adventure! T minus 33 days.

    I welcome your questions.

    Fabulous!

     

     

     

    Oceania Travel

    The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    Just Keep Swimming

    Location: The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” – Dory the Fish from Disney’s Finding Nemo

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Nemo

    Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies, and this past week I have had endless Finding Nemo moments and quotes running through my head.  Being

    in Australia and finally snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, my thoughts have wandered to the

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Reef and fish

    adventures of that movie and I have smiled to myself underwater and thought “Just keep swimming.”

    Although going out on a snorkel trip on The Great Barrier Reef took us way over our Grand Adventure daily budget (actually everything in Australia is

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Birdseye view

    taking us over budget), we could not come here to beautiful Cairns and not see the reef.  It’s another one of those “I don’t have a bucket list” bucket list items.  I love snorkeling and I wanted to have that once in a lifetime opportunity.

    The weather on the day we went wasn’t great – grey and overcast and we even saw some rain.  I am in constant worry about my motion sickness

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Colorful

    problem, so I stood outside and watched the horizon the entire hour and half boat trip out to the reef, even when the rain started to come down.  Hey I was gonna get wet anyway right?  Luckily, thanks to massive amounts of drugs, my sea sickness problem did not materialize while on the boat.  That was a good sign!

    “You got a problem, buddy? Huh? Huh? Do ya, do ya, do ya?” Dory

    We booked our reef tour with Reef Magic out of

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Marine World of Reef Magic

    Cairns which took us to the outer reef and a pontoon platform stationed there called Marine World.  We disembarked the boat to the pontoon and here we were outfitted with our snorkels, fins, masks and Lycra “stinger” suits to protect us from

    Great Barriee Reef

    Jellyfish

    jellyfish.

    “I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.” Dory

    Reef Magic offers many options from the pontoon, all at an additional charge including snorkel safari, snuba, scuba, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible boat and helicopter rides.  But since

    Great Barriee Reef

    That’s us!

    we had already exceeded our budget (for two of us we paid $426 Australian about $330 US), we were just interested in snorkeling.  We were dressed and ready to go pretty quickly and one of the first people in the water.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Us with Wally

    We immediately encountered “Wally”, one of the biggest fish on the reef.  Luckily Reef Magic’s professional photographer was on hand as we entered the water and she got some amazing shots of us with Wally.  All the photos in this blog are from Reef Magic’s professional photographer.  Since we don’t have an underwater camera we have never gotten underwater photos on any of our snorkel trips on the Grand Adventure.  So, despite the fact my husband almost wet his pants when I told him the price, we bit the bullet and bought the photos for an additional $75 (about

    Great Barrier Reef

    Hey Wally

    $60 US).

    “Ahh you guys made me ink.” Pearl

    Wally is a resident fish of this part of the reef.  He is an amazing species called Maori Wrasse.  This fish is a female for the first eight years of its life.  And then poof.  It’s a male.  I know – what the heck?  Isn’t that nuts?  Some times I think Mother Nature is menopausal!

    Great Barrier Reef

    Coral

    After our encounter with Wally we began to explore the reef.  Marine World has a cordoned off section of the reef for its guests to enjoy.  Within this area there was a huge variety of corals; big, small, blue, green, orange, white.  Some are soft and rounded, others spikey and dangerous looking.  In all the

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    snorkeling I have done, I had never seen coral that waved in the current like it did here.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Most of the coral we see in our lives is dead.  And while its pretty even when it is dead and dry, the beauty of live coral is spectacular.  Yes this is an incredible living

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    creature and we surely must protect it.

    “Righteous! Righteous! ” Crush

    So I loved the corals and kept going back for more of that but of course there were the fish. Many, many fish.  I don’t know all their names, but they really are beautiful to watch.  Some of the fish are very solitary, just going along and doing their

    Great Barrier Reef

    Fish!

    business, feeding and swimming and doing what fish do.  Other fish keep in groups, large schools that move together almost as one, weaving above and around the coral mountains.  There are some fish that are so tiny you don’t even see them until you are swimming right through them, while others

    Great Barrier Reef

    Giant Clam

    are so big that they freak you out a bit.  Many fish are shy and you need to look inside the coral to find them.  There are also beautiful giant clams, sea slugs, squid, eels and rays.  And no we did not see any sharks.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Ray

    From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.” Gill

    We swam to the outer edge of the roped off area and we were alone in this section just as a beautiful turtle swam by on the surface.  We

    Great Barrier Reef

    Turtle

    almost missed him because we were looking down and he was swimming right next to us on the surface.  But then he dived and we watched him swim to the bottom looking for a snack.  I believe this was a loggerhead turtle.  We had seen this kind in Sri Lanka. Beautiful brown bodies and not too large.  We watched him swim away beyond the area we were confined to and into the great wide ocean.

    “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…” Crush

    After about an hour we went back to the pontoon to have a rest.  Reef Magic served a buffet lunch

    Great Barrier Reef

    Pontoon

    that included salads and fruit, bread, chicken, sushi, lasagna, curry and roast beef.  But I only ate a little cause I continued to worry about my motion sickness.  Arne ate my share.  It all looked good.  Great Barrier ReefCoffee, tea and water was also available and a bar on the boat was open when we weren’t underway.  Clearly they have had motion sensitive passengers before and they were well stocked with ginger beer (like ginger ale, non-alcoholic). My beverage of choice.

    “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Bruce the Great White Shark

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Fish in all sizes

    We headed back out to snorkel more after lunch.  The water seemed a bit calmer but it was also more cloudy so not as easy to see – but that was okay.  We tried to swim to all the areas and to the far-reaching parts of the swimming area.  We noticed most snorkelers stayed very close to the boat.  Understandably if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or not comfortable in the water.  Reef Magic had life jackets as well as float noodles and other devices for anyone looking for a little more reassurance.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Some are shy

    We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then decided to call it a day.  We went back on the pontoon and stretched out on a lounge chair for the next hour and a half.  Surprisingly, despite the overcast sky, it was warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn.

    Great Barrier Reef

    My Fab Fifties Life!

    Finally it was time to turn in our gear and make our way off the pontoon and back to the vessel for the hour and half ride back.  Once again I stood and watched the horizon the entire way, including during a deluge about half way home.

    But I did it.  I did not get sick.  I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.  I can check that off the “I don’t have a bucket list”

    Great Barrier Reef

    Dory

    bucket list.  And remembered to just keep swimming.

    “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dory

    Thanks goes to the wonderful photography of Reef Magic!

    Read more of our Australia adventure here

     

     

    This post includes affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you buy any of these products.  Any money earned goes to help support the cost of the blog.

     

    Inspire

    My Fab Fifties Life Travel Awards

    And the Winner Is…

    Location: Travel Awards

    And the Winner Is…

    Oscar nominations this week!  A big week if you are a movie fan – which of course I am but since I have not stepped foot in the United States in more than 14 months I haven’t seen any of this year’s big films.  But instead I have seen a world of real life drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery and animation.  Enough to last a life time.  So in keeping with the announcement of this year’s Oscar Nominations, I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2017 and 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.

    And the winner is…

    World Travel Awards 2017 2018

    Hoi An Vietnam

    DESTINATIONS

    Favorite City – Hoi An Vietnam

    By far our favorite destination in Vietnam with it’s colorful old town, beaches, rice fields and fabulous food.  We loved this place and the airbnb we stayed in here.

    Most Surprising – Namibia

    We came to Namibia practically blind, allowing our tour guide from Wild Wind Safaris to hold our hand and we were not disappointed.  A spectacular destination I think everyone should visit.

     

    Best Value Destination – Bulgaria

    We loved our month in the friendly, beautiful and historic country of Bulgaria where we didn’t

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Bulgaria

    meet any Americans.  Put this inexpensive and great country on your bucket list and go!

    Best Overall Scenery – New Zealand

    Jaw dropping scenery no matter where you go or which way you look, New Zealand is an

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Abel Tasman New Zealand

    outdoor enthusiast dream  and is stunningly beautiful.

    Most Crowded City – Hanoi

    The scooters alone make this wild city that never sleeps total chaos.  Then add the cars, trucks, carts, pedestrians, vendors and well – its pretty wild.

    Most Beautiful City – Split Croatia

    Whether you are perusing the mega yachts in the

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Diocletian’s Palace, Split

    harbor or wandering through Diocletian’s Palace, Split is a magical place and my favorite Croatian city.

    Most Interesting City – Fez Morocco

    Around every corner as you get lost in Fez there is something interesting and amazing and I enjoyed this maze of a city

     

     

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Fez Morocco

    Most Disappointing City – Tangier Morocco

    Getting lost in Tangier is easier but nowhere near as fun as getting lost in Fez.  We found Tangier a bit of a disappointment.

    ACCOMMODATIONS

    Best Airbnb for Service – Asilah Morocco

    We adored our “mom” Latifah during our ten days

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Latifah unveiling the Tajine

    in Asilah and wanted to put her in our suitcase and take her with us.  The food and care she gave us was unparalleled.

    Best Airbnb Overall – Koh Samui Thailand

    We had a lot of discussion over this one.  We have been, frankly, so lucky with our airbnb’s.  And even this one had a few quirks.  But we loved it for the view, the private pool and the car that came with it.  It was however, also our most expensive Airbnb. https://myfabfiftieslife.com/sweet-samui/

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    We loved our private pool in Koh Samui

     

    Most Authentic Airbnb – Siem Reap Cambodia

    Staying in an authentic Khmer home in Siem Reap was a treat in itself, but then adding the wonderful breakfasts and services our host provided us made this place one of our all time favs.

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Cambodian Khmer House

     

     

    Most Unusual AirbnbMotueka New Zealand

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Funky Truck

    We spent two nights in a funky old truck/camper with an outhouse and it was a hoot.

    Most Rustic AirbnbHikkaduwa Sri Lanka

    We nicknamed this place Castaway Cottage and it was like living on Gilligan’s Island – complete with lots of critters including rats, snakes, mongoose, monitor lizards, gecko and BUGS!

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    View from our Sozopol Airbnb

    Best Value Airbnb – Sozopol Bulgaria

    We loved this top floor unit with a huge deck and amazing view.  We think we might return to this place some day, only $55 a night.

    Best HotelLuang Prabang Laos

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Luang Prabang Laos

    We spent three nights in the beautiful Maison Dalabua hotel in this darling and historic city on the Mekong River and it was one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in.  From the comfortable and spacious room, the food, the pool, the flowers and the service, everything about it was first class on a budget.

    FOOD

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Because noodles always put a smile on your face.

    Favorite Overall Cuisine – Thailand

    This is the best food in the world.  Simple, healthy and so flavorful I can’t get enough of Thai Cuisine.

    Best Restaurant Meal – Ceverjaria Ramiro Lisbon Portugal, Honorable Mention to Ladja Podlanica in Piran Slovenia

    I’ll never forget the dinner we had at Cervejaria Ramiro with our son Erik and his friend

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Lisbon Portugal

    Salvador who lives in Lisbon.  It was a gluttonous evening and I loved every bite.  Someday I will go back.  In Piran Slovenia with our friends Raymond and Marbi we gorged ourself on the most amazing anchovies in oil followed by spectacular spaghetti

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Ladja Padlanika Restaurant in Piran

    con vongole.  We loved it so very much we went twice.

    Worst Food Overall – Camino de Santiago

    When we really needed the sustenance the most, our 41 days on the Camino de Santiago provided the least inspiring of food.

    Best Cooking Class –  Chiang Mai Thailand with Honorable Mention to Cape Town South Africa

    I try to take a cooking class in most of the countries we visit, and I do it as much for the cuisine

    My favorite Chiang Mai Noodles

    and culture as to meet local people who love their food and want to share it.  My classes in Chiang Mai (two full days) and my evening class in the home of our instructor in Cape Town South Africa fulfilled what I am always looking for.

    Best Beer – Cape Town South Africa and Honorable Mention Piran Slovenia

    Capetown because they had a vibrant micro brew scene and good non-lager beers available in most stores and restaurants, and Piran because here my husband had the single best beer he has had since leaving the USA.  Don’t know what brand it was but it was a spectacular Slovenian IPA.

    Worst Grocery Availability – Seychelles

    Hands down the most difficult place to find decent produce and healthy ingredients for day-to-day cooking, we learned to eat a lot of rice, lentils and beans during our month in the

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Hmong Village Laos

    Seychelles Islands.

    CULTURE, NATURE AND EXPERIENCES

    Best Authentic Cultural Experience – It’s a tie between Hmong Village Laos and Himba Village Namibia

    Seeing these two places will stay with me all my life – when you think about opening your mind to understand cultural

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Himba Women and Children

    differences, embrace and learn from living hand to mouth and become more tolerant of other cultures – visiting these two places had all that and more.

    Best Beach for Scenery – La Digue Seychelles

    No wonder Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition has shot here several times.  This place with it’s unique rock formations, sparkling white sand and out of this world blue water is about as spectacular as they come.

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    La Digue Seychelles

     

    Best Beach for Spending the Day – Meia Praia, Lagos Portugal

    It helped that our condo was a short walk to the beach, where we went everyday during our three weeks in Lagos.  Golden sand, lots of room to spread out and easy and safe swimming made this our favorite.

    Best Day Hike – Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

    An experience I will never forget, climbing the mountain, seeing the volcanic crater and lakes and just accomplishing this feat will always hold a special place for me.

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Tongariro Crossing

    Most Difficult Day Hike – Climbing Down Table Mountain, Cape Town South Africa

    We thought down would be easier.  It wasn’t.  There were times where I literally didn’t think I was going to make it.  My body gave it all I had, and it was

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Table Mountain Hike

    more than a week before I didn’t hurt.

    Best Outdoor Experience – Able Tasman New Zealand

    Our three-day Glamping Tour on the Able Tasman was one of the highlights of our time in that country.  We were blessed with spectacular weather, met new friends and were introduced to the wonders of New Zealand.

    Best Historic Sight – Angor Wat, Siem Reap Cambodia

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Angor Wat Cambodia

    It was a lifelong dream for me to see Angor Wat and it was not disappointing.  The fascinating ancient story that unfolds in these ruins set amidst the friendly and persevering Cambodia people is not something I will ever forget.

    Fewest Tourist at a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Dougga Tunisia

    Nothing like having an entire UNESCO site to

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Tunisia

    yourself, and that is exactly what we enjoyed at the beautiful Dougga Roman Ruins in Tunisia.  Not many tourists in Tunisia, but slowly they are returning, and we loved our time in this ancient country, cradle of civilization as we know it today.

    Best Tour – Namibia

    Our ten-day tour with our amazing guide “Seven” introduced us to this unknown country so full of natural wonders and spectacular animals.  I love Namibia..

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Etosha National Park Namibia

     

    Worst Tour – Three day bus tour of the Mekong Delta Vietnam

    This tour was cheap but it wasn’t worth it still.  Terrible traffic, over pitched and very touristy.  Sorry we went.

    Most Unique experience – Camino de Santiago Spain

    Even though the food was bad, the experience is now branded on my soul. It changed me and I loved it.

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    On the Camino

    Best Live Performance – Tie Violin Concert Piran Slovenia and Carmina Burana outdoors in Dubrovnik; Honorable Mention to Kandy Cultural Show, Kandy Sri Lanka

    Front row seats in a tiny historic theater in beautiful Piran Slovenia made for a special night as we enjoyed a beautiful violinist accompanied by a guitarist.  It was just so pleasant.  Just as mazing the spectacle that was hearing Carmina Burana performed outdoors in historic Dubrovnik

    Carmina Burana performed outdoors in Dubrovnik

    town center.  Spectacular!

    Kudos also to the very authentic Sri Lankan dance, music and firewalker show we enjoyed (also front row seats) in Kandy Sri Lanka.

    Best Nature and Animal Experience – Etosha National Park Namibia

    I’ve said it before – this country was such a surprise and this National Park was the bomb.

    Best Free Experience – Free Walking Tours 

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Our Free Walking tour guide in Sofia Bulgaria

    In nearly every major city  you can take what is known as “Free” guided walking tours.  These are awesome and we love them because it is always a local guide, someone young and enthusiastic.  You tip them at the end – so its not really Free – but it is worth it and we have done this at least ten times.  A great value.

    Friendliest People – Sri Lanka

    Hands down the kindest and friendliest people we

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Monk in Sri Lanka

    have met – despite all the hardships they have been through; colonialism, monarch assassination , civil war and tsunami.  Still they smile.  Love them.

    Worst Drivers – Vietnam

    There are several runners-up here, including Sri Lanka (and we haven’t gotten to India or Bangladesh yet), but still Vietnam takes the prize for the craziest drivers, most dishonest cabbies, scooter

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Scooters in vietnam

    mania and absolute lack of any pedestrian rights.

    Worst Experience – Dog Bite Koh Samui Thailand

    Hands down the worst day has been the day Arne was bit by a dog in Koh Samui.  The one saving grace is it could have been much worse.  But still it makes me angry and the overall feral dog situation in Thailand makes me question whether I will ever visit again.

    Experience I liked More Than I thought I would – Camel Ride, Erg Cheba, Sahara Morocco

    The colors and the light of the desert at dusk, the animals, the other guest from around the

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    On the camel trek in Morocco

    world and having this experience with our friends Sarah and Steve all added up to a very fun two days and one night camel trek in the desert.

    Least English Spoken – Spain

    Only in the last decade has English been taught in schools, so few adults are fluent.  Especially in the small towns and villages on the Camino we did a lot of pointing and hand charades to communicate.  It was fun!

    WEATHER

    Hottest – Seychelle’s and Honorable Mention Doha, Qatar

    We saw some rain in the Seychelles but it was never

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Seychelle Islands, Praslin

    under 85 degrees and the water was like a bathtub.  We only spent one night in Doha Qatar, but it marked the hottest one day on the

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Doha Qatar

    trip at 113 F.

    Coldest – New Zealand

    We were in New Zealand in the fall and we had a few nights were the temperature dropped in the 30’s.  Living in the Kiwi Karavan we wore hats and coats and wool socks to bed to stay

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    New Zealand

    warm.

    Worst Rain Storm – Tie between Hua Hin Thailand and Koh Samui Thailand

    After a two hour taxi ride turned into a five hour taxi ride in a monsoon we arrived in flooded Hua Hin Thailand not sure what we had gotten ourselves into.

    More than once the sky opened up in Koh Samui, accompanied by flashing lighting and booming thunder.

    Best Sunrise – It’s a tie between Napier New Zealand and Galicia Spain

    I’m a sucker for a good sunrise, and we have seen

    World Travel Awards 2017-2018

    Napier New Zealand

    some amazing ones but these two stand out above and beyond for the sheer majesty of the experience.

    Best Sunset – La Digue Seychelles (see cover photo)

    Mother’s Day Dinner in La Digue we watched the sunset from a beach restaurant and it was a religious experience.

     

     

    TRAVEL

    Favorite Airline – Emirates

    They know how to treat their passengers, even those of us in Coach

    Least Favorite Airline – Air Maroc

    The only airline (after 37 flights) to lose our luggage.  Eventually it was found.  Plus the smell of something (not cigarettes) burning during approach.  Ack.

    Best Airport – Hamad International Qatar

    A very user-friendly and beautifully designed airport.

    Teeniest Airplane – Air Seychelles 

    Eight seats.  ‘Nuff Said.

    Most Expensive Visa – India

    We haven’t even arrived in India yet, but it was hands down the most expensive Visa we have purchased and one of the most difficult online applications.  Hopefully when we arrive tomorrow everything will be in order!

    Easiest Airport Entry – Capetown South Africa

    We breezed through passport and customs so fast in Capetown we were totally surprised.

    Worst Airport Entry – tie between Siem Reap Cambodia and Carthage Tunisia

    In both cases we got in the wrong line.  The line with the guy who was arrogant and pompous and was going to make every passenger know he was the boss.  Any sign of dissatisfaction could get you pulled out of line and make your life hell.  And so we waited.

    Lucky Girl. Fabulous Life Award.

    So there you have it.  The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2017-2018.  But you do know, the real winner is me.  Me and my husband.  The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?

    What a fabulous life it is.