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 ( 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 ( 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 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