We survived Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam remarkably unscathed and have now landed in the markedly more civilized city of Kuala Lumpur  (at least, in my humble opinion). The capital of Malaysia and home to almost 8 million people in the greater metropolitan area. The first impression that struck me was how clean and modern everything was from the airport to the highways. The road signs even looked distinctly ‘western’ in appearance. Our Airbnb dwelling was described as a ‘zen garden’ getaway from the hectic city center on the website. There may be a hint of hyperbole in this description since the dwelling is a small very sparsely furnished apartment on the 19th floor of a 40 story high rise. Geographically, we are in the Soho 2 Tower in Damansara Perdana in Petaling Jaya which is about 7km from the city center and about 75km from the airport. Our exploration of the immediate surrounding neighborhood (on foot) revealed this area to be very much an ‘urban jungle’. It is a time worn phrase to be sure but when you are surrounded by tall concrete buildings and overlapping multi-level freeways and few pedestrian  friendly walkways it is an accurate description.  To be fair, there are some ‘created’ green spaces amidst the office and hotel towers but by and large, there is nothing very ‘zen’ about this particular location. The local restaurants are ok, some featuring local cuisine and some with a decidedly western slant, but certainly nothing to write home about.


We had a very hectic travel schedule over the holiday season and managed to visit Egypt, Hong Kong and Vietnam in the space of one month. We needed a place to settle down for awhile, catch our breath and get the girls back on schedule with our travel-home schooling. I admit that I did not know much about Malaysia before coming here. One of our good friends on Maui and well known take-away Indian food purveyors at the local farmers’  markets, Uma Dugied is from Malaysia. Uma would often mention returning periodically to visit her family here and replenish her famous spices from her family’s spice mill business in Malaysia.

As a structural engineer, I have also been intrigued by the famous Petronas Twin Towers for many years. The project was designed by Cesar Pelli Architects in 1992 and completed in 1998. The identical towers at 452 meters (88 stories) places them at about 13th highest in the current listing of the world’s tallest buildings. The tours of the tower cost approximately $20 USD for adults and $8 for children. The tour groups are relatively small, spaced about 45 minutes apart and very well staffed and organized. We opted for an early evening appointment at 7:15 so that we could see the city lights. The tour starts at the 41st floor skyway that connects the two towers. We had pre-arranged for a taxi to take us to the towers in the afternoon to avoid rush hour traffic. Our taxi driver, Jason (bluecabmalaysiavip@gmail.com) told us that the skyway floor was originally transparent glass but that there were too many visitors reluctant to venture out onto the glass floor which is 175 meters (570 feet) above the street level and the skyway floor was later changed to a non-transparent floor. Of course, there are still floor to ceiling expanses of glass for the full length of the skyway. The second stop of the building tour is the 82 floor observation deck which has incredible 360 degree views of the city. I thanked my girls for indulging me since the tower tour was my idea but I think that they all enjoyed the experience of visiting one of the world’s tallest buildings.

There have been some outstanding taxi drivers that we have met in the course of our international travels this year and Jason from Blue Cab Malaysia was one of these individuals. We called on him many times during our stay in Malaysia and he was always prompt and courteous. His English was quite good and I really enjoyed talking to him while he transported our troupe across the city and I learned a lot about Malaysia including his political views. I always find this topic to be quite interesting and am always surprised at how open some of the people are that I’ve met even when talking to a foreigner (ie., me). I expressed to him some of my skepticism about politicians and government ‘doublespeak’ in attempts to brainwash the masses and I found him to be a kindred spirit in this regard.

When we first met Jason, we had not done our homework yet about Malaysia and asked him for a recommendation as to what we should see and do. He recommended the Batu Caves and famous Hindu Shrine & Temple which was nearby. The Hindu Shrine and Temple caves are located in a limestone formation accessible only by climbing 272 stairs which was a good cardio workout for all of us. There are hundreds of wild monkeys that live and frolic in the surrounding caves. Our taxi driver suggested that we purchase some peanuts to feed the monkeys. Of course, the girls loved tossing peanuts to the monkeys as they approached us. One particularly brave fellow snatched a whole bag right from Grace’s hands to her surprise. The cave temple contained many intricately carved statues and altars to the various well-known Hindu deities.


We also spent the better part of a day at the Zoo Negara in Kuala Lumpur. The zoo boasts a wide array of the usual popular animals featuring giraffes, elephants, camels, hippos, lions and tigers, etc. even a Giant Panda on tour (on loan from China). There were so few visitors on the day that we attended (Monday) that it was practically deserted. The zoo opened in 1963 and is badly in need of infrastructure repairs and updating. I assume that modernization of this zoo is low on the governments priority list. The admission price for adult ‘foreigners’ at 85rm is almost double that of local residents. To be fair, the price was a bit lower for children but it was still twice the rate that residents paid. All things considered, we would not rate this zoo very highly compared to the Madrid zoo that we visited in Europe.

One of our priorities on our travels has always been to try to find playgrounds for our children. Our taxi driver directed us to a very large park and playground near the Petronas Towers in the city center. We found the playground and off our girls went to explore and run around for awhile. Tiffany and I found a nearby park bench close enough to keep an eye on the girls . Before long, Eleanore came back crying and told us that she had fallen down and hurt her right wrist. She was cradling her wrist and we knew that she was not exaggerating (since she is usually very stoic and won’t readily admit if something is wrong with her). Tiffany decided that the prudent thing to do would be to take Eleanore to a clinic or hospital to have here injury checked out. We contacted our taxi driver, Jason and told him what had happened. He knew immediately where to take us which was a local hospital within about a 20 minute drive. He dropped us off right at the emergency room wing of the hospital and told us to contact him when we were finished. The hospital appeared to be a well-staffed, modern facility with a friendly staff. We were not required to fill out any paperwork. The initial exam fee was 50 Malaysian ringgit (about $12 USD). After a relatively short wait, Tiffany and Eleanore went to see the doctor and her wrist was x-rayed. Tiffany’s instincts were proven correct since Eleanore had indeed partially fractured the radius bone above her wrist. The doctor applied a temporary cast and we scheduled a follow-up visit within a few days with a pediatric doctor at the same hospital. The total hospital bill for this day  including the doctors consultation, x-ray and temporary cast and sling was 80 Malaysian ringgit ($20 USD). Eleanore told us that she was not in any pain but we took it easy for the next couple of days and returned for a follow-up visit. The initial diagnosis was confirmed by the pediatric doctor (who specializes in orthopedic injuries).  To immobilize the arm and facilitate healing, the doctor applied a fiberglass partial cast. He informed us that the fracture that Eleanore had incurred was very common and that she would normally fully heal in 3 to 4 weeks. Eleanore was a trooper thru the whole ordeal. The final bill for the follow up visit with the specialist was 800 Malaysian ringgits (under $200 USD).

Our trip to Malaysia ended with a whimper and not a bang. We called our favorite taxi driver, Jason who cheerfully drove us to the airport. Bernie had a lively conversation with Jason enroute to the airport and they both had an opportunity to rant a bit about politics and the economy and taxes (all very universal topics of discontentment) in this modern globalist world that we all share.

Onward and upward, back to the islands!






Botox at the Orient

After a somewhat grueling pace of three countries in the past month, I needed a day out. At home on Maui the children would be attending Waldorf for 6 blissful hours each day, but abroad it has been full on, non-stop, 24/7.  I am exhausted! How do I get away from it all? A full day of pampering.  After a delightful chocolate breakfast with the girls and Bernie at Maison Marou, I walked them to the park and went my separate way.

I headed toward the Benh Thanh market, walked two blocks, then entered the market to cut through to the other side where there is a Natur’l Beauty Lounge.  I made a hair appointment for the following morning at 9:30am. Next, I went up one level to the 7th floor where I found a delightful little lifestyle store and bought 5 amazing tea cups, a creamer, a rice bowl, a serving bowl and a tray.  These amaï ceramics are artfully made  you can see the full product line http://www.amaisaigon.vn.  Then I went next door and changed money at the bubble tea shop and also ordered a green tea matcha with black pearls.  I proceeded to cross the street to the market side to get a taxi. I was stopped by a bicycle tuk tuk driver asking me where I was from and trying to engage  me in conversation.  He continued with his pitch while I patiently awaited the end, showing me a book of handwritten guest reviews.  When I asked how much it would cost he replied pay me whatever you like.  Knowing this would not end well, I insisted on a price upfront. The man said 250vnd over $10US.  I walked away, quickly hopped into a taxi.  There are two reputable companies in Vietnam VINASUN and Mai Linh, however you need to make sure that the numbers on the cars are accurate as there are impostors posing as licensed operators and  I was on the way to my next destination.

Orient Skincare and Laser Center for Botox.  I arrived 10 mins later and paid the driver 40vnd including a generous tip and walked into the lovely little Medi-spa I had researched online this morning.  I consulted with the receptionist who spoke perfect English and made an appointment for 5:30pm, this fit into my plan perfectly as I was headed to my next bit of pampering at the Temple Spa.  I had been handed a flyer the previous day  and that was when I started developing my day away plan.  The receptionist called a taxi, it arrived immediately and I was escorted by a man holding an Umbrella (to protect my skin from the sun) over my head 10 feet into the taxi.

Temple Leaf Spa. Upon arrival I was greeted with a menu card, I wanted the 3 hour package, unfortunately without an appointment, I was only able to get 1½ hour package and a ½ hour facial and a 1 hour full body massage.  I filled out a little sheet highlighting all of the areas of the body and circling  strong, medium or soft for the level of pressure.  I circled strong all the way down the body.  I was taken upstairs where there were small partitions separated only by curtains and instructed to put on shorts, take off my bra and cover up with a towel and hang all of my belongings in a basket bag on a hook.  The space was basically just a massage table and enough room for the therapist to move around the left side of the the table.  I could hear a man next to me snoring lightly.  I have had massages in Asia before so I was not bothered by the closeness to my neighbor. As soon as my facial began, the previous stressful month melted away.  The products Temple Leaf Spa uses are delightful very light fragrances and all organic. The massage as ordered was fiercely strong.  The strength of this women astounded me.  It may have only been 1.5 hours but it felt like a day. My services ended at 3pm as I sat sipping my lemongrass tea, I was offered a free ceramic oil diffuser for reviewing this spa on Trip Advisor.  Since I had plenty of time to kill until my Botox appointment, I downloaded the app, left a glowing review and received my free gift.  Downloading the Trip Advisor app proved useful later.

At this point, have eaten nothing since my latte/chocolate breakfast, I went to the restaurant next door, Gaucho (an Argentinian Meatery).  I ordered a goat cheese on toast appetizer and an arugula salad with parmesan and thin slices of filet.  This seemed like a reasonable amount of food.  I attempted to order asparagus and was told by the server that I had ordered enough food. Soon after I placed my order a small loaf of freshly baked bread arrived with a ramekin of butter, pepper salad and a whole clove of oven roasted garlic.  This I mistook for my goat cheese toast.  I ate half of the bread and all of the garlic. The server offered me more garlic and I thought why not?  I will not be bothered by a single mosquito for the rest of my travels.  Then the salad arrived, I did my best but left one of the three pieces of filet.  A few minutes later the goat cheese bread arrived (the first course apparently was the free bread!). I explained to my server my confusion and ate one slice of the bread and a few cloves from the second garlic bulb. I asked my server to wrap it up for take-away. This was not  my first nor last experience of ordering too much food and explaining it awkwardly later.  I continued to sit and read the book Devin had left me.  I was actually missing everyone by now, I can’t remember the last time I ate alone at a restaurant with a book.

As the hour of my appointment approached, I crossed the street, got into the other of the two reliable taxi companies and proceeded to Orient Spa. Okay, here is the skinny on Botox.  I have been getting it since I was 31.  Taking the requisite breaks during pregnancies and breastfeeding.  I am not sure why we make such a huge deal about it.  I love it, a lot of my friends know, but some just think I look young.  I do look young and I work at it with a combination of yoga, healthy diet, clean living and plenty of sleep and a bit of help from the botulinum toxin.

When I get botox in the States, I get 23 units exactly. The price varies between $12-14 USD per unit.  I know the number of units that is used in my face to produce the desired effect, (I want to look rested).  I tell nurse Sherry (my Maui connection) that I am a yoga teacher and I still want to have some lines in my forehead and I want people to question whether I do anything to gain my youthful appearance, not be certain.  I have had botox done by various medical professionals including a leading plastic Surgeon in Minneapolis.  I would like to describe how it goes… You enter the waiting room, from there into the treatment room which temperature-wise is always 10 degrees too cold. The room usually has a sterile look and feel with a medical table/bed.  You are then shown a  lovely drawing of a face much like a makeup artist might show you when she is recommending products at the Chanel counter.  You are shown your face in a highly magnified mirror (this is startling!) and you are asked what you would like to change or what you dislike about your looks. This is a terrible question.  If you are being treated by a male, it has been my experience, that he than takes a sharpie and dots your forehead all over where is is going to place the injections.  You are asked if you have had any alcohol the previous day, taken Ibuprofen or if you are on Omega 3’s as this can thin your blood causing additional bruising.  Once the amount of Botox is determined  the surgeon/nurse whoever is treating you returns to the room with many small insulin-sized syringes and cleans your skin with an alcohol swab and starts injecting the various sharpie marked dots, each injection a new needle. Asking you repeatedly to frown and relax, smile and relax.  Sherry never uses a sharpie. I find that women are far better at  the botox injection procedure than men.  It seems that many times as the botox is going in there will be some that shoots back out of my skin (of course I find this more agonizing than the needle prick because I know that is about $5+ that just shot out of my face (ie., wasted product).  I cringe every time this happens.  The actual injection feels like a slight burn as the toxin enters the body and later like a heaviness. I am reassured that each day for the next 3-4 months, I will wake up looking younger. I detailed what American Botox is like to draw a comparison with my Asian experience which I describe below.

I return to Orient Spa just before 5pm. I am early but so is my doctor.  I am given for the second time today a small juice glass with a bright purple cold drink. I am told that this is made from the butterfly flower that is actually blue but when they add citrus it becomes this gorgeous shade of purple. It is delicious. Next the receptionist offers to hold my packages for me, then takes me back to meet with the Doctor.  She proceeds to translate for me our earlier discussion during my consultation.  The Doctor agrees that I should do the crows feet area to achieve my desired result.  The result I am after as I said earlier is a rested look.  I have always had a somewhat droopy upper brow.  Botox not only makes me look younger but corrects something that I never had even in my youth, a raised brow.  In the States they insist that I need injections in a V-shaped pattern along the middle of my forehead to get this lift.  In Vietnam, I was told that the crows feet area and an single injection to the edge outer eyebrow would lift my brow.  I was skeptical.  Would  treating this area alone do the trick?  I approached this as I have approached all experiences on this trip with faith that perhaps there is a better way. I was quoted  3500VND ($150) about half of what I spend in the States.

I was taken upstairs to an elegant room with 12′ high ceilings and French design, there was a embossed deep purple wall paper on the left wall and a dim light sconce. The rest of the room was white. I was told to lie down on the table where I was warmly wrapped in a blanket.  No fluorescent lit cold rooms here!  There was a jazzy  kind of music playing, very pleasant and not the least bit annoying.  The assistant delicately began a mini facial.  This was my second facial today.  She applied a numbing cream which I recognized as lidocaine.  I have never been numbed before for Botox in the States. After this she proceeded to massage my shoulders and scalp, I could not believe this royal treatment. I am all wrapped up, almost asleep and numb; when the table gently converts to an upright chair position.  The doctor then enters the room marks my crows feet (the little lines that form on the outside corner of the eye when you smile) with a white pencil and proceeds with the injections. I am not sure as to the amount of Botox I received as there appeared to be two needles used one for each side of my face totaling 8 injections.  I did glimpse the needle out of my peripheral vision and noticed it was quite full in contrast to the minuscule number of units that cost so dearly at home. This whole process was very spa like and in stark contrast to how it usually goes in the US.  After the treatment was finished I was taken to a veranda that overlooks a pool and tropical garden to sip tea as I was presented with my bill.  Everything was lovely,  it has been 8 days since my treatment and the results are not fully present until 14 days. Since I consider myself experienced with Botox, I can see that the result is good and sufficient. I highly recommend Orient Skincare and Laser Center in Ho Chi Minh.

IMG_0652I won’t go into the details of my not so pleasant hair experience the next day at Natur’l Beauty Lounge. Suffice it to say that I was overcharged and dissatisfied with my services. You can read my negative review of this place on TripAdvisor.  I miss you Sarah Evans! The stylist did everything you said not to let them do, tons of insane texturizing, but once he started it was like a scene from Edward Scissorhands.  It’s only hair it will grow back! Its not that bad truly, I’m mostly upset about paying more for my hair than the Botox. Outrageous! While my food at Gaucho was excellent, I should caution everyone to refrain from eating two entire cloves of garlic I finished the 2nd clove after I got home.  I suffered later with intense cramping and… you can imagine the rest, I won’t detail it here. Not Egypt, not bad water in Asia but too much of a good thing got me.




Greetings from Vietnam! A year ago, it never even crossed my mind that I would utter those words in my lifetime, much less a year later. Our flight from Hong Kong was pleasant and uneventful but the long queue for the visa application at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City was a bit of a pain. Even though we had applied on-line and brought the ‘official paperwork’ and the tiny little (2″x 3″) photos that were requested for everyone in our family; the process still took about an hour and a half to complete including payment in new US dollars only for the fees ($25 per person for the normal single entry visa). While we were waiting for our turn at the counter, I heard a bit of grumbling from some of the more experienced fellow travelers (on the same plane) that many Asian countries have switched to on-line visa applications including pre-payment of fees or have dropped visa requirements entirely (Malaysia). We patiently completed the visa application process, checked in with Passport Control, retrieved our baggage (already having been unloaded from the conveyors), exchanged some dollars for the local currency ($1 US dollar is about 23,000 Vietnamese Dong). Then we found our driver (actually, two vehicles) and were on our way into the city. The driver that Devin, Scarlet and I were riding with got lost and stopped to ask for directions several times. The roads were clogged (it might have been rush hour!). I tried to communicate with the driver but he ignored me. I reasoned that he knew as much English as I knew Vietnamese (none) and I did not hold it against him. We did make it to the apartment finally, albeit 30 minutes or so after Tiffany, Eleanore and Grace had been dropped off. Thankfully, Devin recalled what the exterior of the building looked like and also spotted the girls at the same time from about half a block away. We motioned to our driver and he silently pulled over and dropped us off.

So here we are in the thick of the chaos that is called Ho Chi Minh City (aka, Saigon). Officially, the population is 13 million strong. Our Airbnb apartment is smack in the middle of it all in District 1. Maybe it’s just me, but a numbering system for urban areas (instead of names) has always bothered me. Tiffany explained to me that Paris also uses a numbering system. Since this was formerly a French colony, the numbers may be a hold-over from a bygone era.  I don’t know exactly how ‘big’ our district is geographically or even how many ‘districts’ there are currently. I have never been in a country where it seems that the number of motor scooters outnumbers the population but I swear that is what it feels like here! There are few pedestrians here (except for unwary tourists)! Based on my observations and first hand experience, pedestrians have no ‘right of way’ here, not even on the sidewalks, which are merely another drive lane or a place to ‘park’ hundreds of motor scooters on any given block, after block, after block. We have been honked at by motor scooter riders while walking on the sidewalks as they attempted to pass us (on the sidewalk) or to get to a parking spot on the sidewalk. There is constant honking from the incessant traffic from about 6:30 am until well past midnight. I am sure that the countryside is a bit more tranquil but we won’t get a chance to find out on this trip to Vietnam.IMG_0551

In my observation, as ubiquitous as coffee shops and cafés are in Europe, that is the case with repair shops for motor scooters and tire shops here. Except for some major roads, there are no stop signs or yield signs at intersections. I don’t even know how to describe the phenomenon. The traffic including motor scooters, buses, taxis and trucks, pedal-powered carriages transporting tourists and (occasionally brave bicyclists) flows each way into any given intersection and somehow miraculously meshes and sorts itself out with a cacophony of horns. This is repeated over and over again. The discordant nature of it all defies western logic and certainly urban traffic planning. I can honestly say that I could not drive one block in this city without having a nervous breakdown.  Even the mundane action of crossing a normal city street requires a bit of bravado since crosswalks (if there are any) are routinely ignored by all the motorists.  One must step into traffic (literally) and begin the dance anticipating a small gap between the motor scooters that are coming towards you (usually from each direction at the same time), then advancing, then pausing momentarily again waiting for the next gap, of course all the while being honked at for having the audacity to cross a city street on foot (and not two wheels). If anyone recalls the popular video arcade game of “Frogger” (way back in the early 1980’s). This game would be an apt description of a pedestrian crossing a street in Ho Chi Minh City. These streets would be fertile testing ground for the ‘driverless’ AI vehicles that are in the process of being foisted upon us by the ‘powers that be’. Good luck with that!

We read on a travel website that a ‘must see’ for any visit to Ho Chi Minh City is the Ben Thanh market and so we went. It was located about 6 blocks from our apartment, so we walked. The infamous enclosed market itself covers a city block but the streets on all sides of the market are also teeming with vendors and sidewalk shops. There are literally hundreds of vendors squeezed into tiny spaces and very narrow aisles. There seemed to be a lot of repitition of merchandise from one vendor to the next. Some of the stalls have signs posted stating that the ‘prices are fixed’ and prices cannot be negotiated. Grace spied an overpriced plastic toy kitchen set. I knew that it was overpriced since plastic childrens’ toys mass produced for pennies in China generally are overpriced. I figured the fair cost should have been about $2. The sticker price was 244,000 VND (slightly more than $10). The proprietor would not budge on the price claiming that the ‘company’ sets the fixed prices. We walked away. No sale. The next day we came back to the area since Tiffany and the girls wanted manicures & pedicures. We went back to the Ben Thanh market and surprised Grace with the toy that she wanted from the day before along with something that Eleanore had spotted as well. No sense in haggling this time. Tiffany just paid the sticker price for the plastic toys but caught an error that the shopkeeper had made by almost overcharging her for the already overpriced items. Judging from the duplicitous merchandise selection in this market, I suspect that this is market is likely a corporate enterprise set up to look like a hodge-podge collection of hard-working mom and pop proprietors and shop keepers. Honestly, we were underwhelmed by the Ben Thanh market and had higher expectations. I guess we just aren’t ‘typical’ tourists.

Ho Chi Minh City does boast some spectacular historic architecture including the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (completed sometime between 1860 & 1880 by French colonialists) and the 800 seat, Saigon City Opera House (built in 1897 by a French architect). We observed both of these buildings from the street during one of our self-guided walking & shopping trips thru District 1.

We also enjoyed some excellent, modestly priced restaurants in our ‘district’ featuring authentic Vietnamese home cooking and ‘street’ food. We also frequented the local Starbucks which is very popular with locals and tourists. (Sometimes, you just need to go someplace that reminds you of home to ground yourself.)  

As a child growing up in the 60’s, I still have a very strong recollection of the Vietnam War which seemed to be in the news headlines almost every day. I had to go back to Wikipedia to get the dates right. The United States involvement in the war officially ended in January 1973 (45 years ago this month!). I was 20 years old. My draft number was 239. The last draft number called was 215. I was lucky. Some of my friends and cousins were drafted. Some enlisted. By the grace of God most of them made it back alive and in one piece. I admit that I had some trepidation about visiting Vietnam but I am not exactly sure why. We had done our homework and read that there are pickpockets working the crowded market areas and thieves waiting to snatch purses and cell phones from naive tourists even walking on the sidewalks. The local residents that we encountered at the restaurants and shops and around our Airbnb neighborhood were really very nice to us and we had no problems in this regard.


Searching the internet, I learned that tourism was only a trickle starting in the late 1980’s and has since become a huge component of modern Vietnam’s economy with many millions of visitors every year. Well, the Stroh Ohana made their contribution this year.

Fini. On to Kuala Lumpur!



Christmas Stuff…ing

I have always been equally stressed & excited about Christmas preparations.  Having not grown up with the holiday myself, I always fear I will get it wrong somehow and yet I love the season.  This year, however; was different.  After having been away from our home on Maui for 5½ months I just couldn’t get in the spirit.  Christmas was the primary concern of our Children during the discussions which preceded our travel. Questions asked: How will Santa find us? What if we are in a predominantly Muslim country?  Can’t we just fly to Minnesota and surprise visit Wendy and see snow for a week and then come back?

Bernie and I did our best to assuage the nervous tension of our little ones.  Scarlet (nearly 11) asked the most questions and has the sense that Santa will soon stop coming to her and this could indeed be one of the last Christmas of her childhood.  Holidays abroad are less joyful for me and somehow slightly more stressful, the main difference was compressing the preparations & shopping into two days instead of two-months! At home, we would have started playing Christmas music around Halloween and doing Christmas puzzles, drinking hot chocolate, watching Christmas movies., etc.

During our Christmas Eve break from shopping, Bernie asked me when we were having breakfast what I wanted for Christmas and I struggled to come up with anything.  Usually I know exactly what I want and it is usually something like a delicate piece of jewelry, a pair of Italian shoes, clothing, etc.  Having gotten rid of so many things, nearly everything, in order to take this trip, I feel that I am somewhat changed by it and no longer want things just for the sake of wanting them or just because it’s a holiday and that I should get something because that is what is expected.

Our friend Fatma from Egypt, surprised the girls with a small collapsable Christmas tree which Scarlet put up in one of the mini rooms of our hotel complete with ornaments, telling the girls that it was from Egyptian Santa. Our girls when to sleep reluctantly on Christmas Eve with nervous anticipation. But Chinese Santa was very clever and left a note and a trail of coins leading to Devin’s room where the presents where found in small piles with each child’s name on a small card.  The girls awoke bright and early to discover this surprise to my delight and experienced a magical Christmas abroad.

I am acquiring things along the way; hopefully useful home items, handwoven wool rugs from Egypt, a small ceramic pitcher from Portugal, not just knick-knack clutter. It feels somehow wrong to ask for more when I have so much and am living my dream of long-term travel.  I have mentioned this in an earlier post, but reality surpasses the dream.  I never could have imagined that I would travel to this level and at this length, it just sort of happened.

Usually every November, I go through the house with garbage  bags and bins and collect things that we can simplify (get rid of) before the new influx of stuff arrives at Christmas. Simplify has become somewhat of a dirty word around our house with the girls running around screaming “Mama is simplifying, hurry hide your stuff”. I would love to move away from a gluttonous Christmas and toward a more heart-felt version filled with joy and good will and away from all of the STUFF. How does one accomplish this?  Well it seems that our family is on its way toward this goal.

One Christmas miracle this year is that Scarlet told me she doesn’t need to buy a whole bunch of stuff when she gets back  to Maui.  Let me explain this… when we were selling off our possessions on Maui I sold most of Scarlet’s extensive lego Friends collection on Ebay.  We spent hours, maybe even days sorting and separating and devising the best approach to sell them off and we came up several small lots of 100+ pieces… I assured her that she would earn money from this sale and upon our return to Maui she could spend it on whatever she wanted for the new house. I started the 13 auctions at .99¢  never dreaming that I would only have one bidder. This bidder won all 13 auctions, insisted on combined shipping and after receiving several hundreds of dollars worth of legos for a grand total of 13¢ less than $13 + shipping left me my first negative feedback in 7 years of Ebay-ing, apparently I had left out 2 pieces that she had seen in the photographs.  I was so upset as was Scarlet by this event that I promised her $200 in spending money upon our return….the amount that I had expected to get from the sale of the legos. She would like to spend the money on a new desk instead of on frivolous treasures.

Rose Latte, Brick Lane (Photo Credit: Devin)

At this very moment, New Years Eve day, I am feeling like heading home.  I know it will pass but at this moment Grace has a fever, Devin is sick, I feel exhausted…Somedays I have had enough.  The family spurs me on.  Bernie says I am not ready to go home yet. Scarlet says we told everyone we were going to do this, we can’t quit now. I recite the serenity prayer over and over before bed and pray for acceptance, courage and wisdom.

I resolve to lead a simpler life upon my return home. Happy New Year to all of our friends, family and readers.



HONG KONG (China?)

During the ‘unplanning’ of our international journey last spring, my daughter, Scarlet, expressed a desire to see a Giant Panda preferably in China. We had seen the documentary ‘Born in China’ and this no doubt piqued her curiosity a bit. Wow, I thought. How are we going to accomplish that feat? Tiffany researched Giant Pandas and found  several (expensive) guided tours and zoos that featured Giant Panda exhibits in mainland China. Hong Kong also boasted a theme park with Giant Pandas. The visa requirements seemed daunting for mainland China and we opted for Hong Kong instead where (Americans are allowed to stay in Hong Kong for up to 3 months.). The Asian continent was always on our watch list but now we had our first destination booked for Christmas week.  Scarlet actually got part of her wish granted since we unexpectedly saw a wonderful Giant Panda exhibit at the Madrid Zoo.

Mini Hotel Causeway Bay Lobby

We arrived in Hong Kong without incident on December 20, 2017 after a 13 hour trip from Cairo on ETIHAD AIRLINES. Our trip had a 3 hour layover in Abu Dhabi which definitely helped to break up the long flight. We were flying east and the time difference between Cairo, Egypt and Hong Kong is 6 hours which we knew was going to mess with our circadian sleep rhythm once again. Tiffany had found a mini hotel for our Christmas week stay in Hong Kong. It literally is called the Causeway Bay Mini Hotel. For our party of 6 (including Devin), we had to book 3 rooms. I am sure that everyone has heard of the ridiculously tiny apartments and dwellings that are quite common in Asian countries due to the overcrowding and congestion in urban areas. Well, we got to experience this phenomenon first hand at the Mini Hotel. The width of the rooms was exactly equal to the width of the bed (either a single queen or two (side by side) single beds), not an inch wider. There was about 5 feet of ‘free floor space’ between the end of the bed and the bathroom. The beds were built on a platform with a hollow storage space below for mini suitcase storage. The bathrooms even had small hot showers. Not much wiggle room but functional!  (Note: if you have any ‘claustrophobic’ tendencies, this hotel may not be your ‘cup of tea.’) Our rooms were on the 16th floor of the 19 story hotel and of course our girls loved riding the elevator. The check-in desk (literally a desk) was in the basement level of the building. There was no ‘wasted space’ in this operation. No extravagant lobby with high ceilings and fancy décor but it was elegant in its simplicity.  There was an eclectic mix of photographs and artwork on the walls and comfortable chairs and couches. An ‘Andy Warhol style’ poster of Chairman Mao adorned one of the walls. And did I mention the ‘curious but pleasant’ French music that was always playing in the background? The staff was hard working and always amiable (especially the room maids).

Our slated arrival in Hong Kong was on Christmas week after all and the girls wondered (prior to our arrival) if there would be any holiday decorations? They were not disappointed! There were Christmas decorations  everywhere. Trees, lights, tinsel, bows, wreaths, candles, ornaments, Santa, reindeer, etc. You get the picture. We were surprised to learn that the Causeway Bay area is considered one of the ‘snazziest’ shopping zones in Hong Kong. (Great, I thought, just what we need…you didn’t detect any cynicism in my tone did you?) There were several 16 story shopping malls within minutes walking distance from our hotel. The girls were delighted of course and so we joined the hordes of shoppers trying to ‘blend in’ as much as possible. Our shopping forays were successful and Santa was able to find our Mini Hotel in the middle of Hong Kong. Our children experienced the ‘magic of Christmas’ once again and Tiffany and I breathed a sigh of relief (or exasperation, I am not sure which is more apt?). And to top it all off, we all got a bit of culture and went to see the Hong Kong Ballet performance of The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky). The ballet was at the Hong Kong Cultural Center. We took a 15 minute ferry ride across the harbor to Kowloon and then had a quick lunch at McDonalds (yes, they have McDonalds here!) and then walked to the Cultural Center. We took a taxi back home (under the harbor by tunnel this time) and had a delightful Christmas Day dinner at our favorite restaurant ‘Brick Lane’. We actually managed to visit this particular restaurant which featured ‘full English breakfasts’ five times and became somewhat attached to one of the waitresses, Jodie, a native of Hong Kong who served us every time. (I think that she kind of liked our family too!) One day when we were just passing by the restaurant she rushed out to greet us on the sidewalk.

What about the Giant Pandas? Well, we did make it to Ocean Park (a relatively short, inexpensive taxi ride from our hotel). Ocean Park is a aquarium, zoo,  and amusement park all rolled into one. The park is located on a fantastic site on the shores of the South China Sea that is partly valley and partly mountainous. There are aerial cable cars that transport patrons from one side of the park to the other in very efficient fashion (Note: the cable cars do not cost extra and are a bonus to the reasonable admission price (average $50/ person). The all glass cars offer incredible panoramic views of Hong Kong and the deep water harbor. The park also boasts some fantastic stomach churning roller coasters which Scarlet and her sister Devin really enjoyed! And yes, we did see the Giant Pandas, but it was mid-day and they were ‘napping’ during our visit. Oh well. We even managed to ride one roller coaster all together as a family, since Grace was tall enough to ride with an adult. Ocean Park in Hong Kong was an enjoyable and especially memorable day for our whole family!

You may be wondering why I wrote the title of this blog with a question mark next to China. I had always assumed that Hong Kong was in China, right? While we were in the long queue for the family roller coaster and having a conversation about one thing or another related to China; someone ahead of us impudently interjected himself into our conversation and stated emphatically that we were not in China, but in Hong Kong! We just smiled and gave tacit acknowledgement to his remark. But it got me wondering. I later posed the question on the internet and got some surprising answers to the question. For history buffs (and maybe a Trivial Pursuit answer); Hong Kong was always a British colony until 1997 when it was officially ‘turned over’ to China. Hong Kong has its own currency, legal system, language, culture, etc., and operates more or less autonomously as an independent entity. Technically, Beijing controls all of China but I think that because of the huge economic clout that Hong Kong has, I think that Hong Kong essentially does what it wants.

What else is there to say about Hong Kong? I struck up a short conversation with a university student who is studying to be a Civil Engineer. My girls and I shared a table with him at a shopping center food court. (He seemed pleased to meet an American that held the same degree.) He told me that the city is undergoing phenomenal growth and urban development and was eager to complete his studies and start his career. The impressive world class architecture is second to none that I have seen so far in my world travels. And as a working structural engineer, I have a whole new appreciation for bamboo since I saw many ‘under construction’ high rise towers wrapped with sturdy bamboo scaffolding. The traffic is insane (and the residents and taxi drivers that I talked to agree with me). The narrow streets and sidewalks are teeming with people constantly from early morning until very late at  night. Elderly women pushing two wheeled carts overflowing with (you name it) alongside endless buses, taxis and delivery trucks seemingly oblivious to the danger.

The laundry service at the hotel was $9 US for one pair of jeans and $4 US for a pair of underwear a rate we could not afford with 5 little women dirtying laundry. We found an inexpensive laundry service (in an alleyway)  that charges by weight. The first time that we found this place (somewhat by accident) we had a bag of clothes that probably weighed between 15 and 20 lbs. We were instructed to place our bag of clothes on an old fashioned mechanical scale and the proprietor took out her calculator and handed us a piece of paper with a number scribbled on it. When I was handed the invoice for $64, I was sticker shocked. The proprietor laughed and explained that the price was in Hong Kong dollars (equivalent to approximately $8 US dollars). OK, I agreed to the price. Their service was very good and we ended up going back there several times within the week.

I appreciate and admire the tenacity of the residents that make this city work so efficiently. The short week that we spent here was only enough to whet our appetite as the saying goes and we would definitely plan a future  visit to Mainland China.

Bernie & Tiffany


I always find it impossible to predict the gifts a place will give. Egypt gave me something that I could never have asked for. She gave me a name.

It begins with the horses. Not just any horses, our guide informed us, Arabian horses. Of course they would only give us the mild and gentle ones; not the horses that could dance or pull embellished carriages. My horse was called Whiskey. As we trekked through the large northern desert, the enduring monuments of Egypt were fixed just on the horizon. The end of the day was just beginning and I adjusted my scarf around my head to battle the chilly breeze. I held Whiskey’s reigns with hands decorated in Turkish rings. I began to remember the events that had delivered me to this moment.

Overwhelmed with calmness, I took a deep breath and for a moment could smell the freshness of the Red Sea. My snorkel kept catching water and my arms and legs were covered in tiny bumps that reminded me that it was far too cold to be swimming. The sea whispered to me and I listened. I began to run; I ran from the sea, through the sand, and along the mountains. Mecca was in front of us, and the mountains of Moses lay behind us. I allowed my memories to leap from one to the next, the way the past naturally dances through the mind.

Leaning out of the window of the taxi, the sweet smelling sugar cane moved gently with the subtle breeze. I awoke that morning, with the call to prayer bouncing loudly around my room. It seemed to fill every corner, beckoning me out of my warm bed. And I let it. I wondered if I would still like the sound if I understood its meaning. That sleep felt heavy, like it was the deepest sleep I have ever had. Although, deep sleeps always seem to fight each other, all wanting to wear the crown of the deepest sleep. Of course there is no way to know for sure. My dreams had been loud ones; the kind that stay in your head until the first conversation of the morning fills your ears.

My thoughts sailed through my mind like our little boat on the river that runs north. I looked at the line where the river and the sky met. The sky held a low hanging haze and when the haze whispered to the water, the water responded with an impression of the haze. I wondered for a moment what the haze must think of its reflection. I wondered if it was pleased with what it saw. I most certainly was. Every point, every line, every color was arranged so perfectly, as if we were in a painting. And in that moment, I was so thankful that the artist had chosen to paint me into the scene.

In an instant, only the time required for a wink, I was drawn out of my mind and back into the desert by our guide. He began calling to my sister, using a name that only barely resembled her own. The last glimmer of light that the sun had to give, caught one small green jewel on my ring, and I allowed that moment to lead me back into my mind.

I thought for a moment that I could taste the redness of the hibiscus tea that a shop owner had brewed for us. Beautiful things were all around us. Descending from the ceiling were glimmering glass ornaments. The shelves were filled with brass lamps and candlestick holders. He had placed a tray of Turkish jewelry in my lap. This is for you. I wondered if he knew something about me that I did not. The warmth of the tea on my tongue, allowed my body to melt into the small sofa.

I remembered what it felt like when I first washed my hair in Egypt. It was gritty and sandy to the touch. Everything was. A layer of dust was just a way to tell the time. As things grow old, they collect dust. And I thought that perhaps this is why Egypt felt so timeless. Everything was dusty, as if the entire land was a shop that sold curiosities from the past. The hourglass had broken and had scattered the sands of time in every place it would reach. And some of it had found its way onto me.

In a rather unnatural manner, my mind jumped from the dust to the sea. Confused, my mind skidded between memory and reality. And then I heard the guide shout. Marina! I responded. Yes! He continued to call me Marina and I continued to respond. He seemed to be calling from beyond himself, and I was answering from deeper than within. And there was something about this bizarre pattern that revealed something. Egypt had given me a name.

I was covered in her dust, I was hearing her call, all while I was breathing her air. I felt for a moment, that I was becoming part of her. And there was something about it all that felt so permanent.

What is your name? My name is Marina. What will you name be tomorrow? My name will be Marina.



IMG_0236 2Our visit to Egypt was like a whirlwind. Three days in Cairo at Le Meridien to get acclimated, 12 days in the South Sinai Peninsula (Dahab) at the Red C Villas, 3 days in Luxor at Mara House and 3 final days in Cairo at Giza. Our Giza Airbnb dwelling was literally a few blocks away from and faced the pyramids! On our first day back in Cairo, we rode horses (even Grace had her own horse) around the pyramids and drank Bedouin tea at sunset marveling at the incredible desert landscape all arranged by our Airbnb host (Ashi) he even joined us on the ride. We hired 6 horses and there was a surprise guest a four month old colt. Nearing the end of the ride the girls asked the colt’s name and the owner said he hadn’t named it and would they like to chose a name.  The name chosen was Charlie after our friends’ Great Dane  they are about the same size. The girls had fun posing for photographs against the awesome pyramids in the background with our horseback guide who also joked that he was a ‘professional photographer’.

We spent three very full days with an excellent tour guide visiting the temples and tombs in and around Luxor. The tour guide was arranged thru Mara House where we stayed in Luxor (maraegypt@gmail.com). We met an interesting pair of fervent travelers from Melbourne, Australia that were also staying in the guesthouse (John and Nicole).  They are teachers on an extended summer vacation leave. We found them to be very pleasant and interesting people.  They also have a travel blog (a bit more polished than ours that you may want to check out (bontakstravels.com). We had many interesting conversations with John & Nicole enroute to our ancient destinations in and around Luxor which also included a relaxing evening short felucca (boat) trip on the Nile. The first day of the tour was to the Valley of Kings. A very desolate but strangely peaceful place where 64 tombs have been discovered to date, including the tomb of probably the best known pharaoh (at least to westerners) of Tutankahmun. This tomb was discovered with all of the pharaohs afterlife treasures intact. Our tour guide, Mohammed, explained that the tomb was actually dug into the rock below another tomb and went undiscovered by the looters who managed to plunder the treasures in most of the other tombs thru the ages.  The fascination maybe even obsession that the ancient Egyptians had with the afterlife is hard to put into words. The dedication to their task of recording every detail about their beloved pharoahs lives and preparation for the ‘afterlife’ in hieroglyphics meticulously carved into granite is certainly remarkable. Every surface of the massive stone columns and walls in the temples even the ceilings are covered with hieroglyphics. I asked our tour guide if he was able to ‘read’ hieroglyphics and he explained that it was indeed part of their extensive study to become a tour guide. I asked Mohammed if he worked any other jobs when he does not have any bookings for his services as a tour guide (I ask a lot of questions). He explained that working multiple jobs is strictly forbidden in Egypt. A tour guide can only be a tour guide. Opting for another career or occupation would require him to relinquish his license. Egypt has high unemployment and I assume this is the reason for such a draconian law.

One can certainly read about all of the enigmatic places in ancient Egypt and watch documentaries but they really are worth experiencing in person. As a structural engineer, I admit that I was awestruck at the sheer magnitude of these architectural works that have survived for over 4000 years and marvel at their construction. How did they quarry the massive stones from Aswan (some 200 kilometers away) and send them down the Nile? I am sure that they didn’t have carbide drill bits, diamond tipped bandsaws or dynamite which are commonly used in modern quarrying operations. Ok, somehow the massive blocks made it to the temple (or tomb) site. How did they stack, align and level the stones so precisely? I looked but could find virtually no gaps in the stone joints (and no mortar). I also couldn’t help but imagine just the logistical challenge of directing the craftsman who were charged with the arduous task of carving the thousands upon thousands of complicated hieroglyphics into the hard stone to complete the project.


I am certainly grateful to the people of Egypt who have become such good caretakers of their ancient archeological wonders. At the same time, I have to admit that it was a bit unnerving to see so many armed military personnel at practically every one of the sites that we visited in Luxor and Cairo.  There were armed guards at numerous check points on the roads and at every monument entrance. I was wondering if their presence was really to thwart any potential attacks on tourists or just to keep unruly tourists in line (I did not see any). I sensed that Egyptians are very much used to the overbearing military presence and consider it normal to their way of life in the 21st century.

I also did not understand the ban on cameras in many of the temples and tombs. These are 5000 year old carved stone edifices which I don’t think would be harmed in the least by a cellphone camera. I asked our tour guide about this policy, I did not receive a satisfactory answer.

I have had a long fascination with the pyramids that probably started when I first read the book ‘Pyramid Power’ (published in 1973). I was 20 when I read it along with several other books that were published shortly after. I built scale model pyramids out of glass, metal and wood so that I could do some of the ‘pyramid power experiments’ outlined in the book. I have always been interested in the esoteric subject of ‘sacred geometry’ and for me, the pyramids  belong in this category at well.

Our ‘Pyramid and Sphinx’ day was spectacular. The weather was perfect, a dappled partly cloudy sky and very agreeable temperature. Our Airbnb host had just acquired his guide license’ a week ago and offered to arrange transportation and to accompany us this day. Fatma also accompanied us. (Tiffany and Scarlet first met Fatma last March on their previous mother-daughter trip to Egypt). We were unrushed and spent several hours at the pyramid. We all went inside the Kings Chamber (even Grace) in the largest pyramid at Giza (which requires an extra ticket in addition to the general entrance admission). (Although other rooms have been found, I think that the Kings Chamber is the only area accessible to the public.). If you are claustrophobic, I probably would not recommend this. We were fortunate enough to be in the Kings Chamber alone with our family and just one friendly security guard. I can’t say that I had any visions or other paranormal experience while in the solitude of the massive stone crypt but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

IMG_0251We ended the day with a tour of the Sphinx. A very strange creature carved out of one gigantic block of sandstone that to me seems strangely out of place here. Our tour guide explained that the Sphinx is much older than the pyramids. (I have read that there is a no clear consensus by the ‘experts’ as to when the pyramids were built, much less as to how they were built.). 

We decided to leave our Airbnb early and spend the last day in a hotel nearer to the airport. Our next big trip is to Hong Kong and we wanted to get plenty of rest for the almost 13 hours of travel ahead! Stay tuned for more travel adventure updates.

A special thanks and mahalo to all of our dear friends and family and the new friends that we have made along the way that are keeping up with us on our journey.

Bernie & Tiffany



Dahab, Egypt on the Red Sea

IMG_8555As we continue eastward on our year of adventure; we have now left behind the part of the world that we are the most familiar with in terms of family history, culture, language, food, religion, etc. Our first destination in these stranger waters is Egypt.  For the record, Tiffany and Scarlet did travel to Egypt this past spring. Scarlet chose Egypt as the place that she wanted to visit for a 10 day mother-daughter bonding on her 10th birthday. The girls were with a pre-arranged tour group run by an Irish woman (who goes by the nickname Mara) and her very capable assistant, Fatma. By all accounts, their trip was an incredible adventure that created indelible memories. Tiffany decided then and there that she had to return to this fascinating place with her whole family and so here we are.

What comes to mind when you say that you will be visiting Egypt? Pyramids, pharaohs, King Tut, hieroglyphics, the Nile River, Cleopatra, Moses, the Red Sea. Of course, all of these things and much more! The largely desert country straddles the Middle East and Northern Africa. My knowledge of bible history is a bit rusty but I vaguely recall that Egypt is the land where the Israelites where held in captivity and servitude by the pharaohs for many years. The ‘Exodus’ from Egypt of God’s chosen people was a 40 year arduous trek thru the desert until they reached the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. Moses ‘parted’ the Red Sea (with a little help from above no doubt) and the Israelites crossed into the ‘promised land’ of Israel. This is my very much abridged version of the famous bible story and I am sure that I have left out many important details.

We arrived in Cairo very late on December 28 (3:00 am in the morning) and booked the first few nights in the Le Meridien Hotel which is connected directly to Terminal 3 at the airport (there are 3 terminals). We had promised our girls a swimming pool and room service (a welcome change from our austere Airbnb’s). Le Meridien was great and we enjoyed a relaxing few days as we eased into our Egypt experience. I was able to get some work done as we allowed our girls a small break from homeschool as well and the girls (especially Scarlet) enjoyed the large outdoor heated pool.

It was time to move on to the Airbnb that Tiffany had found for us. The residence is located on the shore of the Red Sea in the town of Dahab (in the Sinai Peninsula). The trip required a short plane ride from Cairo to Sharm El Sheik and then a 55 minute drive by car to Dahab. The house had an idyllic location literally on the shores of the Red Sea but as it turned out, it did not have much else going for it! The online photos (and description) did not seem to match the house much. We had expected that ‘the beach house’ would be quaint but also comfortable. The water stopped working after a few hours and the internet connection which I need for work was very poor. The kitchen area also had a nauseating sewer smell that we tried to air out by opening the front and back door. But our efforts did not seem to help matters much. It was already dark but we needed to be able to at least flush the toilets (we had some drinking water). We called the property manager who initially greeted us at the house when we arrived. About 10 minutes later, a truck pulled up to the house and a man jumped out and pulled a hose into the yard, opened a wood door and proceeded to fill the water tank that was buried in the front yard. Apparently the tank had run dry. (We did not even know that there was a buried water tank in the first place.) After the tank fill-up, the water was working again and we went to bed. The next morning, we discovered that the water had stopped working again! We waited until about 8:00 am and called the property manager but could not reach him. About an hour later, we finally got thru to his cell phone and he came over to the house. He did not come inside but simply turned on an outside spigot and water gushed out. He looked at me somewhat puzzled and left. I went back inside the house and sure enough the water was working again for about 20 minutes and then it quit again. The internet still was not working very well and the odor in the kitchen still hung in the air. The water shutting off again was the last straw for me and Tiffany proceeded to find us another rental in the area. She cancelled our reservation at the ‘beach house’ and found a vacancy at the Red C Villas literally about a 1 km away. (FYI…for anyone booking thru Airbnb, a decision to leave a rental should be made within 24 hours of arrival but the decision should not be made lightly as many Airbnb owners have a strict policy of no refunds for cancellations. We assume that Airbnb owners do not want to risk getting a bad review and will often offer a partial refund to unsatisfied tenants). We had not completely unpacked so it was no big deal to pack up, find a taxi and head to our new temporary home in Dahab. We knew that we could not check in until later in the afternoon but we counted on at least being able to drop our luggage and perhaps hang out at the outdoor pool. When we arrived a the Red C Villas, we met the owner, an English gentleman formerly from London. He graciously allowed us to store our luggage on the premises. We also upgraded our booking to a 2-level unit that was just being vacated by a Russian couple who had spent 2 months in the villa. The owner (Stephen) is a very pleasant fellow and we got to know him quite well.

Red C Villas, Dahab

Dahab, Egypt is an interesting place indeed. I looked up the meaning in arabic which is ‘gold’ or ‘golden sand’.  Islam is the dominant religion in Egypt. Five times a day (starting at sunrise) we heard the ‘call to prayer’ from the mosques. The ‘call to prayer’ is a deeply moving and melodic chant if you have never heard it before. We walked the dusty streets of the town near Asala Square. This is what all the locals were doing since there were no ‘walkable’ sidewalks as such. There were roving packs of goats wandering the streets in search of food oblivious to the human and vehicle traffic. We were informed that it was ok to feed the goats any food scraps and leftovers. And so we did…several times. One morning when I was headed out to find ‘Ralphs’ German Bakery’ in our neighborhood (an authentic ethnic bakery and cafe) started by an expat from Munich in 2009. I saw a small pickup truck drive by with four camels sitting into the back, calmly looking around – probably happy to be riding for a change instead of lugging a saddle pack and tourists around on their humps! Definitely something you don’t see everyday in the states especially on Maui!

Mostafa Mahmood

There is not a single vehicle stop sign, yield sign or any street sign for that matter. There is honking (of course). It seems that everyone and his brother is a ‘taxi cab’ driver and they will honk at anyone walking down the street to pick up a fare. This was the only place in our travels so far thru Europe where the ‘taxi’ drivers hail you instead of the other way around. We had done our homework in advance and somewhat knew what to pay for taxi rides (very inexpensive, usually 10 to 20 Egyptian pounds which is roughly 50 cents to a $1.00).  We really liked one of the taxi drivers that we met, Mostafa Mahmood. Mostafa is 23 and moved to Dahab with his mother and father about 5 years ago from Luxor. He speaks a little bit of English and always had a great smile and disposition. We called on him whenever we needed a taxi to go somewhere that was too far to walk. Mostafa also arranged a special trip for us to “the blue hole” which is a well know diving and snorkeling spot about 5 kilometers from Dahab. The trip also included a long camel ride for all of us which was quite the experience. This is what ‘tourists’ do in Egypt and the camels for the most part seem pretty agreeable. The use of camels by the nomadic Bedouin tribes for travel across the desert goes back centuries.

We spent a lot of time at an area in Dahab known as ‘the lighthouse’. The area is popular with expats and travelers primarily for the diving and snorkeling. There are many seaside restaurants, all very affordable and friendly. The total bill for a satisfying meal for all five of us (including milkshakes or ice cream and Turkish coffee or Bedouin Tea) was always less than $25 USD (500 Egyptian pounds). One can find pretty much any kind of food (Russian stuffed cabbage rolls, pizza, fresh fish, vegan, Thai curry, baba ganoush, shish kebab and everything in between).  We had a late dinner at one of the restaurants that we especially liked (Jays) and we noticed the lights in the distance across the water. I asked our server about the lights and he told us very matter of factly, ‘that is Saudi Arabia’. I must admit that hearing this from the server was kind of ‘mind blowing’ as to exactly where we were. Saudi Arabia was literally 14 kilometers away (less than 10 miles) from where we were having dinner. All of the restaurant proprietors were extremely friendly and made us feel very welcome. We were always greeted with ‘you are welcome’ . Whenever anyone anywhere meets us we hear a minimum of three ‘you are welcome’, ‘you are most welcome’, ‘first time in Egypt?…Welcome’. The Egyptian people are not only very hospitable, but it is apparent that they sincerely want us to be pleased by the food, service, camel ride, and will go to any length to ensure this.  We were always asked where we were from. While Dahab seems to be popular with tourists from Russia, Germany and Japan, American tourists are apparently rare in this part of Egypt. The food staples at the small local markets (no supermarkets in Dahab!) were also very inexpensive. There are also inexpensive fruit and vegetable markets as well that we frequented to keep our ‘seemingly always eating’ children and the neighborhood goats well fed.

I even got bold enough to get a haircut in Dahab as I was starting to look a bit like a mad scientist with my crazy hair. My ‘barber’ spoke no English but the proprietor of the ‘spa’ which offered the ‘mens haircut’ and a full menu of every other type of facial and massage that you can imagine translated for me.


We were pleased with our visit to Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula and the friendly people that we met. We are excited that Devin (Tiffany’s oldest daughter) on break from college is rejoining us on Saturday and will be spending the next month traveling with us. We are off to Luxor in a few days and then back to Cairo for the next leg of our Egyptian travels. There will be much to report about in the coming posts!




88 days in Europe

I started to write this post on the 88th day of our European adventure but Tiffany & I did not get to finish it until we were already 5 days into our Egypt trip. I am amazed at how quickly the first three months of our trip abroad has elapsed. In our ‘unplanning’ of this adventure before we left Maui, we had anticipated spending the allowed 90 days in the EU – Schengen Area with the normal visa. We booked our first destination on the Azores Island of Ponta Delgada in Portugal.  Practically every onward destination from there has been made without any premeditation or planning! In our 87 days, I estimate that we have traveled approximately 12750 miles (20400 km) by planes, trains, cars, subways, electric trams, taxi cabs, buses, tuk-tuks, cable cars and horse drawn carriages. I am not including the many hours (and distance) that we covered on foot exploring our surroundings whenever we landed in a new destination. I am pleased to report that there were relatively few complaints from our three girls (10,7,6) when we went on our many self-guided walking tours whether it was thru narrow city streets or nature trails. We often went on these walks with no particular agenda, purpose or map (not even ‘smartphones’!).  Our EU adventure included 5 countries (Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and Malta). We stayed in Ponta Delgada (Azores Islands of Portugal), Lisbon (capital of Portugal), Sintra (Portugal), Porto (Portugal), Madrid (capital of Spain), Barcelona (capital of the Catelonia Region of Spain), Vallirana (Spain), Vilanova i la Geltru (Spain), Nuremburg (Germany), Rostal (Germany), Palermo (capital of Sicily, Italy) and the Island of Malta.


We have lived in 10 residences (houses and apartments) that we booked thru Airbnb or Booking.com for usually one to two week stints. The rent varied considerably from $47 per day to $167 per day. Occasionally we have also stayed in hotels for a few days usually on impromptu extracurricular adventures. We have rented cars in Portugal, Spain and Italy. The renting part is easy and fairly inexpensive. It’s the driving part that was occasionally very challenging! Some of us have shopped (of course!). Shopping for clothes and other must have ‘treasures’ (and sometimes homeschool supplies or art projects) requires creative repacking of the suitcases each time that we move on to the next destination. It has also required us to mail packages home in every country. This seemingly simple task has been challenging in some countries (and expensive). We have posted some of these stories in our blog. Since I have to work at my consulting structural engineering practice while traveling to pay for our life abroad this year, I rely on the internet to communicate with my clients (most of whom are located in Minnesota). The reliability of the internet and WiFi systems in the residences and even hotels where we have stayed has been very poor to very good.  We have become quite comfortable using local public transportation (buses, trains & subways). Deciphering the schedules has been challenging at times but we have managed to not get ‘too lost’. Since we have been living in houses and apartments, we have shopped in the local grocery stores and street markets (which seem to be everywhere in Europe). By and large, we have found that prices for food staples, cosmetics and toiletries are significantly less than in U.S. stores for similar or the same items (we are getting majorly ripped off in the states!) For example: Byly natural effective deodorant $15 US (amazon) €1.67 in Spain, Baguette  $4.99 (Whole Foods) €0 .65 any country we’ve been). The same can generally be said for normal restaurant prices across Europe. All in all, we have found Europe to be a relatively good bargain for international travel.

We interviewed our girls Scarlet 10½, Eleanore 7, and Grace 6 to get their views on our travels thru Europe. Here are their words (mostly unedited):


  • What was your favorite Airline?

Scarlet: Nile Air (fast service gave you food on a 40min flight)

Elle: WOW ( I like how it sounds, purple plane), Delta (Maui airport because it has a Starbucks)

Grace: Night Flights because its dark and you can see out the widows and it looks pretty

  • What has been your favorite place we have stayed?

Scarlet: Nuremburg Apartment…why? cozy, warm, good beds and good places to walk to (Hot Tacos)

Elle: Lisbon Apartment, Madrid Apartment (4bedroom), Le Meridien Hotel (Cairo, room service and a heated pool)

Grace: Sintra House (with the musty cups, because I could watch the trains go by) and our current villa in Dahab

side note: I find that small children tend to remember the most recent things best.  There fore including some things that were not technically part of Europe.

  • What was the thing you enjoyed most that we have done?

Scarlet: Shopping with family, Lion King in Madrid, Madrid Zoo

Eleanore: Bird Show at Madrid Zoo

Grace: Feeding the Cats in Sicily, being chased around by a little Spanish boy at the Airbnb in Vallirana, Spain, Lion King Madrid, Aquarium Malta, Esplora (Malta)*

*If you get a chance, Esplora in Malta is an incredible interactive children’s science museum and Planetarium. The best we’ve seen anywhere in Europe or even in the states!

  • What was the most boring thing that we have done so far?

Scarlet: Cleaning

Eleanore: Post Office

Grace: Prado Museum, Madrid

  • What was your favorite mode of Transportation?

Scarlet: U-bahn Germany (took only a few minutes to get somewhere)

Eleanore: Tuk Tuk, Portugal

Grace: U-Bahn (subway, big tunnels, underground, cool)

  • What was your favorite food experience?

Scarlet: Hot Pot, Madrid (where you cook your own food at the table in a boiling cauldron called a Hot Pot, we were hoping for familiar Chinese dishes and instead had platter and platters of uncooked unidentifiable food brought to us and had no idea what to do with it. Tiffany’s Comment)

Eleanore: Wendy’s pancakes in Minnesota (my mom’s best friend) “Wendy’s pancakes are so good”

Grace: All you can eat Sushi in Sintra, Portugal and 3 course menu in Spain

  • What was your worst food experience?

Scarlet: Hot Pot, Madrid “It was fun cooking it, but not fun eating it”

Eleanore: Popeye’s Village Hamburger, Malta

Grace: couldn’t come up with any

  • What was the best dessert you had on this trip?

Scarlet: anything chocolate

Eleanore: Plain Mango ice cream, Nuremburg

Grace: “I don’t know because there are so many to choose from.” Store bought Neapolitan   and Stracciatella Ice Cream, (Lidl Grocery, Sicily)

  • What was the worst dessert that you had on this trip?

Scarlet: Yogurt flavored ice cream, Madrid

Eleanore: Nutella Street Crepe, Dahab Egypt (again most recent not Europe)

Grace: Banana Street Crepe, Dahab Egypt

  • What was your favorite purchase?

Scarlet: “I like it all”

Eleanore: Stuffed Cat Steiff Germany

Grace: Snow Dog stuffed animal in Barcelona Airport and Penguin stuffed animal at Malta, Aquarium

  • What was your favorite animal encounter?

Scarlet: Pandas, Madrid Zoo

Eleanore: baby twin goats, streets of Dahab Egypt

Grace: Cats at the Baglio in Sicily

  • What was the best park that we played at?

Scarlet: German Park next to Norma Grocery Store

Eleanore: German Park next to Norma Grocery Store

Grace: Sea Park, Aquarium Malta

  • Where was your favorite place that we visited?

Scarlet: Germany the house, temperature (coming home to a warm house), people were nice and it was pretty

Eleanore: Minnesota (to see Wendy and Cash and the uncles John and Pete) North Dakota (to see Grandma Stroh and Zoe)

Grace: Minnesota (Wendy and Cash, good food, good pool, good waterslide), North Dakota

  • What was the most beautiful thing you saw in nature?

Scarlet: Falling leaves in Germany, Rocky formations in Sicily

Eleanore: São Miguel Island, Portugal, overlooking the Atlantic and  beautiful Islands

Grace: Porto Beaches

  • What  language have you heard that you are interested in learning?

Scarlet: Spanish, because I am already learning it

Eleanore: Germany

Grace: Gracias (Spanish)

And that’s all for now folks. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!

Tiffany & Bernie









The Malta Experience

View From Valletta

A well kept secret, one of only a few mini countries in the world, and it is truly a wonderful place to visit.

Sacred, historically medieval, and beautiful, we arrived from Rome met the kids at “Popeye’s Village” for a rigorous round of miniature golf and it’s been non stop ever since.

How wonderful to see such a magnificent Island through the beautiful eyes of our progeny. 

We love their energy and all of the probing questions reminding me of my childhood, including the insatiable passion for ice cream. 

Bernie and Tiffany Home Schooling the girls around the world for a year is developmentally invaluable for them. 
Hands on Geography, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Language, Economics, Art, and Time Management, quite a course load.

It’s been said that you’ll be the same person in twenty years that you are today except for: 
“the people you meet and the books you read”. A side note is that Devin is reading, “The Brother’s Karamazov”  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky on this trip (obviously a Philosophy Major), you gotta love this kid.
On our visit to the Mdina Cathedral of St. Paul, amazing, Eleanore had the most numerous and complex theological questions, 
our own little inquisitor.

I predict that my four granddaughters will all be beautiful, articulate, and fascinating women.
To have the whole family together for this Thanksgiving is absolutely wonderful.
However it won’t be a Turkey this year, it will be lamb at the Golden Sands, Golden Bay, Malta
since we are in the Mediterranean: ” When in Rome “.

Back Row Left to Right: Bernie, Devin, Scarlet, Tiffany, Brenda, Greg         Second Row: Eleanore and Grace

We’ve found the most important thing in life, is that you stop and get together sharing time with your loved ones wherever they may be.

Black Friday will be gold and white for myself and Brenda as we voliamo via Alitalia tomorrow to Vatican City, 
another mini country, for the weekend on our way home with a stop in London.
Happy Thanksgiving to All ! 
R/ Greg and Brenda