Category Archives: Travel

The History of everything

I had a four day weekend over Easter, and I spent it cooking and reading, both real treats for me. The gift of goat meat sent us on a Mediterranean cooking binge, and made me get out a cookbook I had neglected for some time, A Mediterranean Feast, by Clifford Wright. It is 815 pages of the history of Mediterranean food from Spain to Turkey, and all the countries in between. There are hundreds of recipes as well as references. He writes extremely detailed information about each of the recipes and the history of this food and the people who ate it from the Middle Ages to the present. His main emphasis is that the Mediterranean food that we know today is very strongly influenced by the Arabs, and that many food writers of the past have ignored that fact.

One of my favorite comments is in the section devoted to the history Greek and Turkish food, and the stubbornness of Greek food writers and historians to acknowledge the influence of the Ottomans on Greek cuisine,  “Unfortunately, there are no comparative historical studies of Greek and Turkish food by disinterested third-party scholars. In any case, all claims regarding the heritage of Greek food must by taken with a grain of salt….” (p. 219).  Wouldn’t it by fun to be such a disinterested third-party scholar?

It is hard to decide if this book is more of a cook book or a history book. I think it succeeds at both. I would love to write such a book, although I am not sure what I would write about. I suppose a history of children’s play would be fun, as I am a play therapist.

What kind of  history book would you like to write?   What Mediterranean countries have you visited?

Contain Yourself!

Photo Credit:  Bored Panda

After a request for photos yesterday, I thought I’d expand a bit on the wild dog story.

My first trip to South Africa was with a client who wasn’t crazy about working with my company.  Her previous company had just gone through a merger and she inherited the job of overseeing the travel programs.  We were already contracted for two programs when she came onboard so even though she had contacts in another incentive house, she couldn’t change suppliers at that point.  She was professional about this but she never seemed happy or excited.  Now it’s completely plausible that she just wasn’t a person who like to emote but we’ll never know.

We had a large group, bigger than any one safari camp could hold, so we needed to check out three different camps and decide which winners would go in each.  That meant that we had to stay in each of the three camps, one camp each night.  Boo hoo. These were luxury camps with incredibly nice rooms (all three camps had gorgeous indoor bathrooms and great outdoor showers), amazing food and, of course, the safari runs.  You got up very early for the first safari run of the day (think 4 a.m. early) – heavy “snacks” before you left then a massive breakfast when you got back 3 hours later.  Then a late afternoon safari, getting back in the dark for a huge “boma” dinner.  And you’re in Africa all this time.  Amazing.

It was all I could do to contain myself during the trip.  (Actually I can hardly contain myself on any of my trips.  I can’t think of a single time I’ve gone on a site inspection that hasn’t been wonderful.) My client was the opposite; she was doing her job by being there but she couldn’t muster any enthusiasm.  It wasn’t surprising when she bailed on the last safari run of the trip.  When the driver and guide came to pick up the Account Exec and me, they told us that they’d heard from other guides on the radio that there might be wild dogs up near “the cut line” (this is the edge of each camp’s territory.  Guides are not allowed to take their charges into another camp’s territory).  They said if we wanted to try to find the wild dogs, it would take a bit and we’d have to head straight there.  The Account Exec and I immediately agreed.  As we were driving up, we both acknowledged that if the client had been with us, she would not have wanted to do this.

Well thank goodness she didn’t come.  The wild dog pack was indeed on our side of the cut line and it was amazing.  They weren’t too worried about us so we were able to observe them for almost 2 hours.  There were a lot of puppies and they were very cute.  It was a defining moment during the trip, a trip with many unbelievable moments.  The photo above is not mine (long story about where those photos are currently stored) but it is very similar to some of the photos I took that day, especially when the dogs and pups came a little closer to the jeep. The puppies are much cuter than you would think, with huge ears and puppy faces.

Even now, after almost 20 years, I feel sorry for that client.  I hope she enjoyed South Africa, even if she didn’t show it.

What makes it hard for you to contain YOUR enthusiasm?

Comfort Ye

Husband announced the other day that he considers Gjetost to be a comfort food. I have never considered it to be so, but he was really happy when he found some at the store earlier this month.  It is too sweet and chalky for my tastes.

This is a year that has screamed a need for comfort. It has been hard to find at times over the past ten months.  I think the worst day in memory was yesterday, as we anxiously waited to see if Daughter’s plane left Denver with her on it.  We hadn’t seen her for a year.  Her flight into Bismarck on Tuesday was cancelled, and she couldn’t get a flight home until Christmas Eve. She had an excellent  time with her grandmother. though, which was a comfort to both of them.

I was so worried all day yesterday.  I tried to distract myself with music. The King’s College Lessons and Carols service was a good start, but it was a really long day. I made some soup, cleaned the kitchen, played solitaire, did laundry, and wrapped some presents, all with a horrid sense of dread and apprehension.  Our cat must have sensed my distress, as she stayed unusually close by me all day.

The only thing that would provide comfort for me was to hear that she was boarding her plane, and then to give her a big hug (but not, she insisted, until she showered to get the Covid germs off her). She was texting us  in caps as she waited for the plane to take off.

What foods, books, music, people, places, activities, or  other things give you comfort these days?

Keeping An Eye out

I drive home  for lunch most days. It takes me about seven minutes to get home. I take the same route, and on the way I keep watch for two gorgeous Standard Schnauzers who are sometimes in their well fenced-in yard enjoying the sun. They are perfectly matched and are very well trimmed. I love watching them run around their yard in the few seconds I glimpse them as I drive past.

Son tells about two Great Horned owls he watches for as he walks his West Highland Terrier.  He once observed an owl try to nab a duck in mid flight.  It wasn’t successful.  The owls hoot as he strolls past.

What do you like to keep a watch for?

Following My Pajamas

I ordered some new pajamas on September 22, and, because there is really very little else to do here and because I have no life outside of work, I took great amusement following their progress from Maine to North Dakota via FedEx.

It took more than two weeks for them to arrive. They left the warehouse in Maine on 09/25 and arrived in Massachusetts that same day.  Five days later they were in Connecticut.  As I recall, it isn’t very far from Massachusetts to Connecticut.  I hope they had fun in the interim.

By 10/1 they were in Clyde, Ohio and then Chicago.  By 10/2 they were in Fargo. I live 300 miles from Fargo, and for some reason they left immediately for Billings, Montana,  which is 600 miles to the west of Fargo.  They left Billings on 10/3 and travelled 300 miles back east,  arriving in my town at 9:00  pm according to the package tracker.  They appear to have meandered around town for twelve  hours. I imagine them at the Spur Bar, having a couple of beers before climbing wearily back into their box. They were checked in at the FedEx warehouse in Dickinson at 9:00am on 10/4, and were delivered on the morning of 10/5.

I wish I could get the story behind all the delays and the visit to Billings and what they did in town for twelve hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning. They are really nice pajamas, but I wish it didn’t take so long to get things out here.

What stories, book series, authors, famous people, movie series, trends, or comic strips do you follow?

San Diego Surprise!

When YA and I went to San Diego last month, the second attraction on our list was the San Diego Zoo.  The zoo has a great reputation and YA has wanted to go there for years.

It was hot that day (although not as hot as the day before at the Safari Park) and due to covid, none of the zoo shuttles were running.  Like the Park, the zoo is built on the hills of San Diego, with different regions of the world represented in their own areas.  And like we did at the park, YA and I covered the whole thing during our day there.

Our first surprise was the North Sulawesi Babirusa.  Never heard of it?  Neither had we!  The last time I encountered an animal new to me was 20+ years ago on my first trip to Africa.  In Kenya I saw an okapi – a large deer that looks like a cross between a horse and a zebra.   Babirusa means “pig deer” Malaysian and have daunting looking teeth and the males also have remarkably dangerous looking upper tusks.   We didn’t see any baby babirusa but if you look online, they are very cute.

We got our second surprise about an hour later in the Africa Rocks section of the zoo.  We came upon a large empty enclosure with a sign that said “Fossa” – another animal that neither YA nor I had ever heard of.  One of the zoo employees told us that they had just cleaned the enclosure and would be putting out “lunch” for the fossa in a minute, so we stayed.  She put food all over the space so the fossa would “hunt” for it.  If you’ve every thought about what the result of a dog and cat union would be, the fossa is it.  Or maybe dog, cat and weasel?  It was beautiful with a long, luxuriant tale and looked like it would be quite a proficient hunter.  Their natural home is Madagascar and apparently they are able to bring down even the largest lemur species.

It was a great day and we were both happy to have made the acquaintance of two new animals that we had never encountered before.

Have you learned anything new lately?

109 in Escondido

The number one attraction on our to-do list in San Diego was the Safari Park.  I had been there about 20 years ago, but as is typical of my travels, I didn’t get a long tour – just the back of a truck to feed giraffes.  While this was a fabulous experience, I had always hoped to get back for a thorough visit.

It was a 40-minute transfer up to Escondido and we had our ride scheduled so we would get there right at opening as the website had said that it was “first come, first served”.  We didn’t need to worry – the pandemic has definitely changed people’s leisure habits – it wasn’t crowded.  In fact, as the day wore on, there were fewer and fewer visitors.

The park is like a zoo, except fewer animals with larger habitats, separated into different areas: Gorilla Forest, Condor Ridge, Elephant Valley, Tiger Trail, etc.  Due to covid-19, all the various tours by safari van and truck were cancelled, so we were faced with getting through the whole park in one day.

We started with the Tiger Trail and that’s where we met the first of the volunteers stationed around the park to answer questions.  These are my favorite people; it’s always fun to ask questions and chat about the animals and the park.  The tiger in the photo is Rakan, a two-year old Sumatran tiger.  He came to the safari park when he was five-months old from the Smithsonian Zoo, after his mother aggressively rejected him.  For the entire time we stood and talked to the volunteer, Rakan laid majestically behind very thick glass, as if it was his turn for the photo op.  YA snapped this great photo.

As the day wore on, YA started to complain about the heat.  I was quite hot as well, but I thought it was probably just all the walking around.  I had looked at the San Diego forecast that morning – high of 85.  Well, turns out that when you drive 45 minutes north of San Diego, towards the mountains and desert, the high is a bit higher.  In fact, at 2 p.m., the temperature was registering at 109.  Yikes.  And the safari park is NOT built on a flat land.  I know that for every up we had a down, but by the afternoon, it felt like all we did was climb up!  We went through a lot of diet pop and water but powered through; who knows if either of us will ever get back to the park.  The other areas we really enjoyed were Condor Ridge, Elephant Valley and Gorilla Forest.  I suppose it’s not a surprise that there were great volunteers at all those locations.

It was a great day and I don’t think either of us have ever appreciated how cool 85 degrees feels after you’ve walked all over a safari park in over 100!

What animal do you like to visit at the zoo?

Heavy Lyfting

There was some serious budgeting for the trip to San Diego with YA.  First off, the trip would not have been possible at all except for free airline tickets that I won last summer as well as all the award points that I’ve saved up at work over the past few years (they paid for the hotel and the zoo/safari park).  That left us with food and transportation.

We had an Excel spreadsheet for all of this and the transportation was the most challenging.  While the airport, the zoo and Balboa Park are all fairly closely clustered, the safari park was quite a distance.  Plus we were working with a limited selection of hotels due to the budget (I only had so many award points).  I initially just wanted to rent a car, but that got expensive fast with overnight parking as well as parking at many of the attractions we wanted to visit.  We used a website we found for approximating taxis in San Diego – not much better of a price point.

YA suggested we should just use Uber/Lyft like she did on her last trip and the initial research showed quite a bit of savings over rental cars and taxis.  But I was hesitant.  I’ve never used Uber or Lyft and it made me really nervous.  YA said she would take care of it all.

The first morning, the Lyft driver showed up at our house 10 minutes after she set it up.  Perfect.  Since that was the transfer I was the most nervous about, I could relax.  Uber/Lyft are just big software applications that hook drivers up with passengers.  More than once during the trip, we had a driver change while we were waiting; at the zoo the driver changed twice after we set up the initial request, which ended up getting up back to the hotel sooner than we had anticipated.  After doing a bit of research I figured out why it’s cheaper and why taxi associations are up in arms.  Uber/Lyft drivers are not employees – they are individual contractors and the software just puts them together with folks who want a ride.  No fleets of cars to maintain, no huge workforce to deal with employee issues, insurance, etc.  (I did this research because the day before we were to come home Uber and Lyft both announced they were going to stop service in California (that night!) due to a new law that the state has passed concerning the employee status of drivers.  Luckily within a couple of hours there was a stay granted so that Uber/Lyft can continue challenging the new law, so we were still able to arrange a transfer to the airport the next morning.

Really the only problem that I found was that both Uber and Lyft driver rely completely on GPS, unlike taxi drivers who actually do a lot of training and testing before getting their licenses.  So if the GPS is off, then the ride is off.  On our first full day, we headed up to Escondido to the Safari Park.  It’s a long haul, about 40 minutes and YA had her phone open to the Lyft app the entire time so we could track where we were along the route (apparently this is “how it’s done”).  As we approached the main entrance to the park, there was a clear turn off and a huge sign but our driver went right by it and turned left at the next driveway, which was exactly what GPS was telling him to do.  Unfortunately this was some sort of service entrance with a security gate; it took YA a couple of minutes to convince the driver to go back to the first entrance to the park.  Luckily, you pay upfront for your trip, not by the miles or the time you are actually in the car, so this kind of thing doesn’t jack up your price.

So every single one of our transfers was done by Lyft.  YA says she likes Lyft better than Uber but she can’t articulate why.  It doesn’t seem like the two companies can be that different; several of our drivers had both Lyft and Uber stickers on their windshields.  But whatever the difference, it worked out quite well for us, saved us money and I survived using a new technology.  Of course, we’ll see how it goes if I ever had to set up a Lyft on my own!

Any new technology that you’ve survived recently?  Or that is driving you crazy?

Where in the World is VS?

VS and YA are out and about this week.  A few clues:

  • This county has the most small farms of any US county.
  • Fast food mega-chain Jack-in-the-Box was born here.
  • Theodor Geisel was one of the most prominent citizens here during his lifetime.
  • The largest comic-con in the world is held here.

Where are we?

The Vasa Syndrome

Header photo credit: Peter Isotalo  A 1:10 scale model of Vasa’s  elaborately decorated stern.  

On August 10, 1628, The Vasa, a brand new war ship commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, set off on its maiden voyage from Stockholm. It got about a mile  into the harbor when a mild gust of wind tipped it over and sank it, killing about 30 sailors. It wasn’t salvaged until 1961. Quite a bit of the remains of the ship and much of its fittings and cargo are on display in a very popular museum in Stockholm.

The Vasa Syndrome is a term used today to describe modern institutional or business failure due to poor communication, unrealistic  goal setting, and lack of adaptability by management. Gustavus was off fighting a war in Germany and Poland, but kept making changes to the design of the ship, insisting, for example, that there be 84 bronze cannons when the ship could only hold 36. He wanted it built quickly, with elaborate decorations and carvings that showed off his grandeur and greatness on its multiple decks, the height of  which made it unstable in the water.  It was tested for stability in the water and failed the test, but was allowed to sail anyway.  It ended in disaster.  It seems things never change.

What are your experiences with the Vasa Syndrome? Got any good stories about boats?