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  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.




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.



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










Our first impression of Palermo was that this island has immense natural beauty; tall impressive rocky hills contrasted by the blue of the Mediterranean. It was a really easy flight from Nuremburg. While we waited for our luggage, I got the girls a snack at a nearby vending machine. I was ‘over the moon’ about the vending machine dispensing a snack consisting of a tiny brick of parmesan cheese with saltines (I was expecting parmesan flavored crackers).

It was necessary to rent a vehicle as our destination was too remote for any public transportation.  This is our fourth European car rental thus far.  The basic cost of the car rentals has alway been extremely low (€5-8/day) but there are a few cautionary things to note:

  1. Renting a child car seat is ridiculously expensive (€8/per day).
  2. GPS and WiFi €11/ per day
  3. The car rental agency  will charge a damage deposit in the amount of (€500 for a 1 day rental and up to €1200 for a longer term).  This will be reimbursed after the car is returned intact. (Good Luck!)

Despite some very harrowing driving experiences (see driving MAD…rid!), not to mention parallel parking on ridiculously narrow streets between two cars without a centimeter to spare; we have managed to return all of the rental cars unscathed so far (cross your fingers on the fourth).  I  have noticed that when booking an inexpensive car from Travelocity, Ryanair, etc.,  the option to buy insurance pops up. Don’t bother. The car rental agency does not recognize this as ‘legitimate’ insurance and still requires you to put up a significant deposit from your credit card.  It was explained to us at the car rental agency that this is ‘third’ party insurance and has nothing to do with the car rental agency and in the event of an accident you would have to pay for the damage and later try to recover from this third party… total scam. The very lovely car rental agent then tried to sell me more insurance saying that she would throw in the car seat for free thus saving me €80 if I only I would pay an additional €279 up front. My budget deal had suddenly turned into a very pricey car rental.  I refused this dubious offer and opted to take our chances by securing the insurance on the car with the credit card deposit instead.  I recalled that when we were at the car rental in Barcelona, we were waiting behind a French couple that was taking ages to complete their rental. We had no idea what was taking so long. The French woman kept waving her paperwork in the air, saying “we already paid for insurance”. They had made the same mistake that we did purchasing the online insurance which the car rental agent promptly rejected.

We had a relatively easy drive from the airport as our Airbnb host had emailed us impecable directions. We arrived too early to check in so we drove into the neighboring village to buy groceries.  This is when we first saw it: THE TRASH.  Yes, it was everywhere…not litter but entire garbage bags strewn on both sides of the road like a landfill, except on the road.  It was an incongruous and disconcerting contrast to see this gorgeous landscape with the huge piles of trash along the roads.

Bernie read a few online posts and found out that the trash problem is not just confined to Sicily but exists pretty much everywhere in Italy. There is a lot of finger pointing in the government, disgruntled employees, graft and corruption and yes, even local mafia that share the blame for the huge trash problem. Even though the residents pay a lot for trash collection services, the actual collection is infrequent and sometimes does not happen at all. So they throw it out on the road.  I witnessed this happening on a Saturday morning as a station wagon pulled over to the side of the road and unloaded several bags of trash.  It seems some people burn their garbage as I have seen small fires from a distance and smelled the smoke.  At our Baglio, there are labeled bins and very specific instructions as to how to separate the garbage, leading me to believe there are those who are conscientious about the rubbish situation.

The Baglio is situated amidst olive groves five minutes south of the Mediterranean. From the upper sun terrace you can see the Sea and the Mountains.  This is my favorite Airbnb thus far ($49/night). A baglio is a building (usually stone and masonry) that encloses a large courtyard with one point of entry typically a large wooden door that can be secured.   Baglios were originally built to defend against pirates and other criminals. Half of our Baglio has been renovated. The remaining half is home to several cats which the girls have befriended. The renovated farm house has stone tile flooring, exposed log ceilings and a lofted second floor. Substantial tall doors open out to an enclosed walled-in patio. You can reach the rooftop terrace through the lofted second level. A perfect blend of the old and new. If you are curious for more pictures you can see them at this link:

After an intense lightening storm which knocked out the electrical power and the WiFi (a generator and emergency lights kicked in); we decided to take a few days and explore Palermo the capital city of Sicily.  Bernie read a few blogs concerning the manic driving in Palermo, and we opted to park at the airport and shuttle bus it in, having learned our lesson in Spain.  This plan all worked out rather smoothly as we had visited the airport the previous day to connect to Wifi.  We were becoming quite familiar with the Palermo airport by this point. We checked into this underwhelming hotel (Hotel del Centro).  It was adequate, but somewhat less comfortable than our Baglio.  We walked around a bit and ate local desserts on our first rainy night. The next day we had a reprieve from the rain and took a horse carriage ride around Palermo taking in the sights and sounds. See video below.

I picked up a brochure at our hotel listing several high end stores at an outlet mall somewhere near Catania.  When I asked at reception how to get there the plump and somewhat surly concierge told me It was too far I couldn’t get there from here an that I should go to a different mall, which he proceeded to pull up on his desktop.  To look at the screen I had to pass a little door and step up behind the counter, Elle followed me in the man loudly said “attenzione”, as Elle bumped his security screen, I rushed her out of there and again she bumped the security screen and received another “attenzione”. We are not sure Elle realized she was being admonished in Italian. Bernie would not be detoured by this lack of information. He found out how to travel by bus and we set out the following day.  I had some trepidation about the bus station since I had read a post describing the dangerous crossing from the bus drop off to the street. The post read:

“Via Roma is dead ahead of you when you come out of Palermo Central Railway Station main exit. From here, you are can only escape by playing chicken as you dash through the middle of The World’s Fastest-Moving Taxi rank, The World’s Craziest Coach Station, and then Italy’s Most Dangerous Roundabout which is adorned with Italy’s Longest Zebra Crossing. Honestly, it is 40 feet long and actually divides into two separate black and white stripy ends forming a giant Y-shape. Whoever designed this place scored Null Points for road planning, as they entirely forgot the bit about humans needing to get in and out of railway stations. You have to go through this ordeal if you want to get out of the station and into the city. I advise you to do as the locals do, and buy a string of rosary beads to twirl while running, all the time praying loudly to the Madonna for protection and guidance.”

We walked to the train station having  no trouble at all crossing  Via Roma, we have become very adept at crossing busy streets, in Europe. Purchased our pricey tickets (€18/person roundtrip, €90 for our family), and settled in on our very comfortable, lightly perfumed Mercedes Bus for the 1hour 40minute journey to PRADA. It was a very scenic along ride along the northern Mediterranean coast, including  countryside, mountainous roads, cows, sheep, sun.  The children hardly complained a bit.  We had 4 hours at the mall and a mission. I headed straight to PRADA and purchased a gorgeous pair of seriously discounted black high healed leather boots, which are completely impractical for my Maui lifestyle, but make me feel young. After the first stop, PRADA, I visited Versace, Gucci, Dolce and Gabanna, just because I’m in Italy and why not?  The girls were playing at the playground during this time. Right next to the PRADA store was this really opulent Italian children’s store called MONNA LISA, this place was over the top, opera style princess dresses, high heeled glitter shoes and faux furs. The girls each came out with an outfit, Elle got the rainbow glitter high heels, she preferred the gold, but they did not have her size. We went back to PRADA, so Scarlet could try on a pair of ballet flats but she didn’t like them, so we left and went to lunch next door. After lunch I went back to PRADA (third time) the sales associates were all smiles and as I checked out with my score €100 Miu Miu sunglasses the woman who sold me the boots smiled gestured 3rd time and made a heart with her fingers. For my first time at PRADA it was worth the effort it took getting there.

We love to read your thoughts and comments.


Eat, Play… Live (Essen, Spielen…Leben)

EAT: I’ll admit, I had a preconceived notion of what German cuisine would be like.  Mostly the atmosphere of the restaurants; dimly lit, heavily cloaked in velvet, with antler décor and many food items containing blood.   We have yet to see anything like this here in Nuremburg, quite the opposite. The local eateries are very modern, gorgeous well-lit interiors, with bent wood furnishings, felted wool place matts and seat cushions, many including vegetarian options. Our first food experience was a vegan place just a few blocks from our apartment, we were eager to get a break from the jamón of Spain. The girls happily consumed lentils and rice, while Bernie and I tried the Veggie Burgers mine was called the Monkey Burger and yes it contained sliced bananas and had a peanut sauce and was quite delicious.  The second day we wandered into another well-designed establishment and I ordered a green bowl. We thought this was just a regular coffee shop, but to our delight they had a variety of wholesome and delicious food offerings, reminding us of home. Later in the week we stopped at this nondescript place called HOT TACOS.  The exterior was understated but to our surprise, the interior very quirky and quit charming and the food excellent.  This place was run by a New York born grown-up English speaking military kid, who was very friendly and took much pride in his establishment and could not figure out why we would leave Maui for this weather. They enquired if they could return home to Maui with us.

PLAY: We have discovered well-designed organic play structure, after play structure here in Germany. As our Waldorf friends know, our play structure at Haleakala was imported and built by German Engineers. I am coming to realize that this type of design is not unique to Waldorf Schools, it is just how the Germans design.  The structures are high off of the ground, daring, challenging, entertaining our girls for hours (or as long as we can bear the cold).  Grace said “Mommy can we go to the stick park?” A park we had missed while walking to the Kinder Museum. This structure is all but camouflaged to anyone who is not on the constant look out for a park. Contrary to the parks in Portugal and Spain, while prevalent, all appeared to be designed for small children 4 and under.  I have learned in my parenting that risk taking is a necessary part of a healthy development, that the girls need to experience danger to a certain extent in order to thrive, grow and learn to moderate themselves.  We have found that the Germans have incorporated this tree-climbing element into their design. The girls have been delighted by changing fallen leaves and begged to make piles to jump into, while I freeze.

We found the Spielzeug Museum at last, containing 600 years of toy making history. The girls enjoyed it, but had more fun the previous day at the Kinder Museum.

Live:  As we have told ourselves and others, our mission for this journey was not only to see new places but to really live in that place  and experience the daily life.  We are accomplishing that.  Amidst the touristing, visiting some local sights we are shopping at little markets for groceries, playing on the playgrounds, taking local transportation (the U-bahn) yes we have become quite accomplished in this.  We must look like we know what we are doing, so much so that a woman asked me to help her with the ticket machine in some foreign language (maybe Russian?). We love the U-bahn all of my public transportation fears assuaged by the expedient, clean and efficient transportation €11.40 (all-day ticket for our family). To our surprise no one has checked our tickets it seems to be the honor system, I question if the penalty is so severe that no one dare risk it.  Below are some clips of street entertainers and people out strolling about on a Sunday afternoon.  Exiting the U-ban yesterday, hear what we encountered:

Loving all things German, my husband, our school, the Mini Cooper, the country, etc.


P.S. Comments are totally welcome and invited we love hearing your thoughts.

Curious Life


Life is a curious thing. If anyone could have told me 11 years ago that in 2017 I would be traveling the world for 9 months with my beautiful daughters and husband, I would not have believed it, yet here I am. It has been rough at times,  I’m not going to lie or cover over the gritty truth with smiling photos.

We have been living in Airbnb’s and therefore appreciating the local life, shopping in corner stores, taking local buses, washing and hanging the clothes to dry, the list could go on endlessly.

The thing is even if you told me last year we would do this I might not have believed it.

My skin is dry, my face broken out, and my bottom quite larger than when I left Maui mid last July (The bread is really good here). The children have crying bouts as often as I do. Bernie and I have laughed harder than we have our whole marriage, it helps that he does some kooky stuff occasionally (regularly). Through it all we are developing a closeness a bond, a tenacity… when I feel like quitting and going home Scarlet spurs me on saying we are going to do what we said we were going to do, we are not quitters. Then Eleanore says something delightful like:  “I’m going to move to California, no wait I’m  scared of the dark”.

We came with a finite about of space and it is difficult to say no to buying just one more little stuffed animal (x three) especially when I have mommy guilt for packing up and selling all of their stuff. Every time we have to move to a new Airbnb, and pack up the house I feel like I am going to have a mild mental break. Then the Universe grants me another little boon, like low shipping costs, friendly postal workers, no line and an ample parallel parking space in front of the Correus (post office). Proving that all of my worries are needless and a waste of vital energy. I have been trying to learn this lesson for ages, don’t stress, be in the moment, breathe. It goes against my waiting for “impending doom” nature.

We’re really doing this it is sinking in 50+ days in and booked through January… there is no going home. We are home. We are doing this to connect with each other, ourselves, other cultures.

The beauty of this curious life is that we don’t know what is next or just around the IMG_6623corner and when we think that we do we’re mostly wrong. The surprise, the feeling that yes the Universe holds me I am supported… oh and that shopkeeper who ripped me off on stamps the other day also has to answer to the laws of Karma.

P.S. I wrote this a week ago and now I am happy to report my butt is shrinking, my face has cleared and I got a dental cleaning for 19euro ($23). Life is better!


Prado y Pandas

While attempting to purchase online tickets for el Museo del Prado, I discovered that you can visit this famous art museum (one of the five most visited sites in the world) for free  during the last two hours of each day.  As we had already purchased a two day city tour hop on and off bus ticket, I carefully planned that for the 2nd day, Sunday we could enjoy a tour of modern Madrid, have something to eat and arrive at the Museo at exactly 17:00.  Much to my delight this part of the plan was fulfilled exceedingly well.  As we hopped off the bus and proceeded to the entrance of the Prado, we became aware of a line to get in.  This line snaked back and forth around the side of the building and probably consisted of somewhere between 500 – 750 people.  The wait was just 30 minutes as the line moved very quickly.  I was a bit naive to think we would show up and waltz right in; nevertheless, we  had the incredible opportunity to be among the work of the Masters.  Most of what we saw was heavily religious themed and the children asked questions and made comments like “Mommy why is his head on a plate to a massive wall sized depiction of John the Baptist?”  or “Now I am scared I will/ we will be nailed to a cross”.

We spent one hour at the Prado and a half hour buying postcards and other souvenirs, including a cross stitch kit by Goya. Always trying to think up ways to keep with the curriculum.  I managed to sneak a couple of photos, the first one I was unaware that it was forbidden and the second, well I just couldn’t help myself.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch

The very next day we went to the Madrid Zoo Aquarium, located a few kilometers from the city.  I persuaded Bernie to drive, again a mistake! We looped around Bernie’s roundabout and ended up parking in a swanky garage on Calle de Serrano, this is the high end shopping district comparable to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. After parking the car accepting defeat we hailed a taxi and  implored the driver to admit our 5 passengers, 1 rider above the legal limit and held my breath the whole way… that no-one would get carsick.  We arrived at the zoo, and after a not so easy entry with our smartphone ticket-less tickets, entered the expansive zoo aquarium.  We dashed to the Pandas, the stars of the zoo.  Scarlet’s only wish for this trip was to see Pandas in China.  When I discovered that they have Pandas at the Madrid zoo it was a must see!  We still plan to go to Hong Kong for Christmas, but just in case, we got to see the Pandas of Madrid.   There were throngs of elementary school-age children crowding the Pandas exhibit, but we were able to watch Bing Xing delicately eat a green apple followed by many stalks of bamboo. See the video bellow:

Next we walked around the corner and too are delight saw baby elephants cuddling affectionately with their mothers.

Later we saw many delightful animals, 2 bird shows and very spectacular dolphin show.  We again were limited with the time as I thought the park stayed open until 20:00 only to find out that it closed at 17:30.  I gave Scarlet the choice to go to the gift shop with her younger sisters or run back for another quick peak at the Pandas.  Much to our delight she chose the later and we were rewarding with a viewing of a young female panda,  Chulina (Cutie) was born in January making her an 8 month old cub.  I recently learned that there are over 2000 Pandas in the wild in China and more in zoos. Madrid has had very good success with breeding these magnificent animals.  See the below video:

All was well in the end as we found the right city bus to get us in the neighborhood of our Airbnb, found a mall which contained a  Starbucks and managed to walk several blocks in the right direction,  play at a park, and find our way home.

Porto. Our farewell to Portugal.


We have spent 27 days in this intriguing and welcoming country. Much more than parks, palaces and museums,  what has made this visit memorable for me was meeting and talking to the people of Portugal. The countless cafes and pastelarias (pastry and snack shops) that we visited in Ponta Delgada on the Island of São Miguel, Sintra, Lisbon and Porto were for the most part far from the popular tourist areas but instead were ‘around the corner’ and always frequented by locals. Very little English was heard or spoken by the staff (not at all sometimes) in many of these simple but stable establishments in their respective communities. We shopped in tiny mercearia (mercado) neighborhood grocery and fruit stores to stock our Airbnb dwellings. We were always treated very well even though I know we made a few shopkeepers in several small boutique children’s stores nervous with our three girls scattering off in all directions and of course ‘touching everything’.

We made the acquaintance of a very congenial taxi driver named Carlos, who picked us up at the airport when we first arrived in Lisbon. He greeted us very warmly but as soon as Tiffany showed him the address where our first Airbnb house was located, he proclaimed in no uncertain terms that the address was definitely ‘not Lisbon’. He explained very carefully that the location was actually some distance from Lisbon in a ‘satellite neighborhood’. He dutifully found his way to the address after consulting his Google map a few times. His English is very good and we had an engaging conversation with him on the ride. Carlos is a proud native of Portugal. He shared about his two children (ages 5 & 20). We enjoyed his company and conversation so much that we emailed him several times when we needed his taxi services. He has traveled Europe extensively but has never been to the United States. (He is also following our travel blog.)

Carlos transported us to our ‘downtown’ location in heart of Lisbon. From my perspective, the city has some incredible architecture, both very new and very old. Our Airbnb dwelling was on the upper level of a two story building. The house was compact but modern and well designed. The owner of the Airbnb explained that his family had bought the building recently and completely renovated it from top to bottom. There was a small outdoor patio. The ‘pool’ that was listed in the description turned out to be about 18″ wide by 24″ long and about 12″ deep. Not exactly what my girls had in mind when we told them the house had a pool. From our location, we did a lot of walking to explore the city center of Lisbon. We did not have a specific agenda or destination but simply set out to walk in every direction until we got tired. Some days we took a small Tuk Tuk Taxi back home (these vehicles are more like oversized golf carts than actual cars) and seem to be everywhere. On one of our outings we came across a street musician who impressed us with his talented guitar and vocals. (Tiffany attached a short video clip.)

For our last destination in Portugal, we decided on Porto based on the recommendation of some shopkeepers that Tiffany met. I decided that we should take the train from Lisbon to Porto instead of flying. Tiffany was admittedly nervous about the idea. The thought of dragging five individual suitcases plus our slightly larger suitcase (which has all the homeschooling supplies) thru a train terminal seemed very daunting. As it turned out, it could not have been easier. The train terminal was spacious with marble floors (of course) and very easy to navigate. The train was called the Alpha Pendular and had free WiFi (so I could work, if I chose to). There is no screening or checking of baggage at all. The passengers are responsible for placing and storing their luggage on board. There was ample room for luggage and the seats were very comfortable. Based on our initial experience, we will likely be taking more trains to other destinations as we continue our journey.

Porto is located on the northwest corner of Portugal.  The large metropolitan area is home to 2.4 millions people and the ‘namesake’ of the ‘famous port wine’ that this region produces. The Airbnb dwelling that we booked was less than 2 blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The water was too chilly for swimming not too mention the very intimidating waves, but our girls enjoyed exploring the beach and looking for ‘treasures’ (ie., sea glass, pebbles and shells).  Our Airbnb host really was quite thorough in explaining where ‘everything’ worth seeing was located in Porto. We took an ‘electric tram’ since there was a station several blocks from our house into the Porto Centro. We walked and walked. Impressive architecture everywhere. Marble and granite cobblestone sidewalks (very narrow). We visited a famous ‘bookshop’ – Livraria Lello (the bookshop has an unusual carved staircase that allegedly inspired J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books). J.K. Rowling formerly taught English in Portugal before her rise to fame with her popular books.

A very tall church tower caught my eye (Irmandade dos Clerigos – built in the mid 1700’s) that appeared to be accessible to the public since there were people near the top on an observation level. I asked for volunteers if anyone wanted to join me in climbing to the top. To my surprise, my three girls were eager to climb the tower (Tiffany opted out since she has a bit of vertigo when it comes to heights). The girls and I managed to climb the tower stairs (Scarlet counted all 184 steps on the way down). Our last ‘big’ experience for the day was riding the cable cars suspended high above the city on the other bank of the river that runs between Porto and Gaia (the city on the other side of the river). The experience reminded me of a scene in an old James Bond movie except he was on top of the cable car with his nemesis instead of inside. Taxi cab ride home and a good way to end the day. Tiffany discovered a couple of small children’s boutiques PiuPiuChick and Babyboom. The businesses were family owned. The experience was lovely as they shop-owner’s sister dressed and redressed the girls helping them find the perfect European look.

Atlántico Ocean – Fun at the Beach

On the afternoon of our arrival in Sintra, we set out to explore the village and came upon a small group of people waiting for the tram (an electric trolley) that has been operating since 1904.   We overheard a German tourist and his wife nearby speaking in English. Hearing the English, I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to get some information about the tram.  He informed us that the trolley was about to depart in 10 minutes and that we could purchase tickets just inside the building around the corner. He cautioned us that the elderly woman inside at the ticket counter spoke no English (or German). So without knowing where this tram was going or anything else about it, we purchased tickets (10 euros) which was the total fare for our whole family and rushed to catch the tram. The tram had a maximum passenger limit of 24 (there were 6 wooden bench seats that could just accommodate 4 adults each). Bernie managed to converse with the German tourists that he ended up sitting next to for most of the trip (in English), who were also on holiday from Hamburg.

After 40 minutes of breathtaking views of castles, palaces, beautiful old mansions and one particularly scary moment when we discovered our tram coming head on with another tram on the same track); we arrived at Praia das Maçãs (Apple Beach).

There were a few hardy souls on the beach as the water turned out to be colder than expected.  Bernie and Grace ventured down to the beach but only got as deep as their ankles. I was content to people watch on the beach and take photographs.

Praia das Maçãs

Adjacent to the small beach there was a large rock outcropping that had quite a few interesting feats of rock balancing (obviously by fellow tourists or locals). It was hard to resist the impulse to add to the collection of organic stone sculptures so Bernie with the help of Eleanore made his own contribution.

We decided to make the most of the beach day by staying until the last tram departed back to Sintra at 7:00 pm. There was a seaside restaurant that looked interesting so we decided to get some dinner before the last tram ride. It seemed that neither our waiter nor the chef spoke much English. The owner (or chef) led me to a glass case where several fish (whole and intact) were laying on ice. Before I could say anything, he had picked up one of the fish and I interpreted this gesture to mean that he was recommending this for our meal. The fish was served (cooked of course), but also was still more or less intact with the tail and head (and eyes). It was delicious but a bit unnerving as we were not accustomed to having fish served this way! Bernie called this a ‘real shore’ meal.

We knew that the younger girls would be tired and would likely fall asleep on the tram and we still had to walk over half a mile to get back to our rental guesthouse. And fall asleep they did. We managed to wake them up in time and to walk home in the dark with only a little bit of grumbling. The day was done.

We had enjoyed the day thoroughly, so much so, that we came back to the beach the next day and did it all over again (except for the fish dinner).

Hope you enjoyed my blog.






Blog Worthy


I really wanted my first blog from abroad to be full of optimism as I am in the early stages of fulfilling a life long aspiration to journey.   I have always wanted to travel and it is happening now on the largest scale imaginable.  Did I mention I am a homebody with a tendency to isolate?DSCN0271

Post crazy last few months of simplifying (a dirty word in our house meaning to throw out), selling, packing and giving away stuff, lots of stuff (in a free pile on the side of the Kula Hwy.)  I would like to report that I am in travel bliss; however, this is not my reality… I keep having emotional ups and downs… super-high highs and tearful lows all while trying to stay really optimistic, centered  and chill for my daughters.DSCN0007 I think of myself as a glass half full type of girl, but the last several days have been rough.  Exhaustion, off food schedules and  the fact that I am constantly packing up our stuff. Did I mention? I loathe packing. Coupled with the fact that I am in shopping withdrawal is super-intense.

As I sit and type this, Grace (my youngest)  turns to me and kisses my arm and tells me how much she loves me.  I think to myself “I am a good mother”. At other moments like seeing the Haleakala Waldorf newsletter I think  “I am definitely scarring them for life”.

Uprooting us and traveling for a school year was a challenging decision.  Am I self-centered and indulgent for not putting this off until they are grown? The truth is we are not doing this so much for our children as with them.  I need this! Will they benefit? I hope so.  Will they be damaged? I pray not.  Most of our friends support our decision to do this, of course they are well-traveled themselves and know the incredible value of experiencing different cultures. It is important to me to have this personal growth while it can still impact my mindset and life.

We have finished our first week of homeschool. Figured out mail chimp and managed to write a couple of posts. Our first airbnb was a dream. Then we spent a night in a little Villa Quinta de Carma in a charming Parish town of Freteiras we spent 4 hours driving  back and forth and across the Island to  find. We booked this place through Agoda and never received a bill from the owner.  We will have to turn on the cell service for the day and contact them to remit payment, as they have yet to email us our bill.

I keep repeating the mantra “the Universe is conspiring in our favor” this seems to help when we finally get up the courage to try the bidet only to have it leak. Or find ourselves in need of changing houses at our second airbnb  after only two nights due to the long distance from everything, lack of wifi and faulty plumbing.

Yesterday I had 40 mins to buy groceries before our scheduled taxi arrived, I became consumed with buying food that would make us feel at home all the ingredients for feta cheese wraps for Scarlet, cinnamon sticks and oatmeal for Grace, and tiny little jars of jam for Eleanore.  In my excitement of loading the basket with vegetables I failed to realize until checkout that you are meant to weigh in advance and print our a barcoded sticker for each item.  As the produce was at the front of the store; therefore at the bottom of my basket and consequently at the end of conveyer belt, in a attempt to conserve plastic bags I hadn’t even bagged them.  As the line grew behind me and the customers became more and more agitated, the only words I could understand were “muito verdura” much vegetable. I apologized and tried to communicate to forget about the vegetables but the cashier was lovely and Insisted “rapido” fast, as  I tried to explain that I was late for the taxi and my family was waiting. My pulse was elevated I was uncomfortable, to say the least, in the end all was well the taxi was held by Bernie and the meter was running and we made it home.  Simple everyday life made slightly more challenging, sometimes it is nice not to catch every word uttered about you in Portuguese.

Tomorrow we move to Sintra, Portugal to an airbnb that costs double what our current place does ($149)…. God, I hope there is an amazing little dress shop just around the corner.

  • New Words in Portuguese:
  • Garfo= Fork
  • Garoto= short coffee with milk
  • Pastilha= Bubble Gum (very difficult to pronounce)
  • Verdura= vegetables
  • Muito= much, a lot
  • Frango= chicken
  • Batata= potato
  • Leite= milk