Norway Trip Report Day 5

Day 5

Bergen

I may have gone on a tangent (remember the Fly??) in yesterday’s blog entry, which completely distracted me from sharing the real excitement which was the drive to Eidfjord.  I touched on it yesterday, but it really deserves more than 2 lines.  The fascinating part was the landscape changed slowly transitioning from one scene to another- each one more interesting and unique than the other.  For the majority of the journey, we were the only car on the road.  An occasional truck zipped on by- shuddering our little Peugeot.  At one point, we entered an area that had an outer space essence to it Hardangervidda http://hardangervidda.com/.  We were as high as we could go, the land was flat and the terrain was unlike anything I have ever seen.  There were no signs of life and the desolate ground absent of any fertile earth.  There were miles and miles of rock fields akin to a quarry almost with big boulders, tiny pebbles and everything in between.  I had a fleeting moment of panic due to two ideas that kept circling my brain in an ADHD fashion.

One was what if we blow a tire?  Surely AAA does not have road service here.  As handy as the Hubs is, I have never tested his tire changing abilities.  The second more pressing concern was prior to our arrival, in an effort to understand Norwegian culture better-the Hubs provided me with a DVD for entertainment pleasure called The Troll Hunter http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1740707/.  This “documentary” centers around the premise that there are evil trolls out there that kill people.  The movie is gory, scary and has a Blair Witch Diary feel to it.  More importantly is, one eerie region looked very similar, almost identical to where many of the frightening events occurred in the movie.  Not one car passed us during this time, which heightened my already simmering paranoia.  

This morning we woke very early (5am), the massive Fjord greeting us through the moonlight.  We rose at this odd hour to view via youtube.com the presidential debate going on in the USA between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  TV in Norway has been slightly disappointing.  Having said that it really is important to disengage on vacation, but keep one “toe in the water” per se on current events. 

The breakfast at the Fjell & Fjord Eidfjord Hotel http://effh.no/ was pleasant.  We noshed on thick, brown bread and eggs and made our plan for the day.  The friendly hostess and helpful chef came to the table to help us navigate a local excursion to a waterfall close by.  Something in translation must have been off, because we never did find the waterfall.  We did however, circle the Fjord and end up down a gravel path to nowhere.  We circled back, took some last photos in the quiet and serene stillness.

We made our way in our trusty Peugeot to Bergen.  Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. In the old seafaring days it also served as the capitol (which is now Oslo).  Getting here was a different driving experience than yesterday, but still quite entertaining.  We made our way through countless tunnels, one after the other, corkscrewing through the mountains. 

Arriving in Bergen, the light drizzle turned into a steady rain.  We are staying at the Hotel Park Bergen http://hotelpark.no/en/.  It is a white picturesque dollhouse perched on the very steep top of a hill.  What it provides in charm it lacks in practicality.  Rolling down a 180 degree angle with a suitcase full of dirty laundry was certainly a potential.  We were greeted by a stoic receptionist who further informed us that all parking in Bergen requires a paid for parking sticker that they will gladly assist us with by including a substantial fee to our bill. Yay.   

We then were informed that the hotel does not have an elevator.  Thank GOD for that lovely, strong and able bodied Hubs of mine.  The room however, is quite lovely.  It is small shoebox, with an even smaller bathroom.  But, it has free WIFI, a balcony and beautiful views of Bergen and mountains off in the distance.  I have a desk facing a large window facing the street and feel like a modern day Norwegian Carrie Bradshaw (Sex in the City shout- out) as I tap away at my prospective great novel.   

As the rain continues to gently fall with no signs of letting up-we chose to lay low, do necessary tasks such as laundry and stay dry-momentarily.   One word on Norwegian engineering and their dryer….It took over 7 hours to dry and still all our laundry was moderately damp.

After laundry duty and a brief nap for yours truly, we set off for dinner.  At the recommendation of our hotel we went a few blocks down and had some yummy Thai food at Allehjornet Thai http://xn--allehjrnet-5cb.no/.  The food was pretty straightforward Thai cuisine.  We have ironically been averaging the exact price for our meals-roughly $62.-which strangely varies from a 4 star restaurant to pub grub.  The encouraging piece is we packed lots of snacks from home and have been conservative in our indulgences, all in an effort to appreciate our one good meal each night.

After dinner, the rain diminished for a brief moment.  We walked down to the city center and then of course, the rain kicked in coming down steady and hard.  Umbrellas in hand and yours truly grumbling the whole way, we took in a bit of the Bergen atmosphere.  Only the real diehards were out, but apparently this weather is nothing new for them.  They all seemed well equipped with stylish and useful raincoats and sturdy boots.  Yours truly may have been lacking in one of these essential components.  But, nonetheless, our days here are limited and we made the best of it.

Hopefully, tomorrow brings sunnier skies.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion-tomorrow I will be soggy as well.

Thanks for tuning in for my Norwegian Adventure,

~B&F~

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Norway Trip Report Day 4

Day 4

Eidfjord, Norway

Well, let me set up the scene. Sitting in a cozy lodge, candlelight glowing, my view is of a massive Fjord.  Below is a waterside village-a nautical still life, breath- taking and truly awe inspiring.  So, let’s just rewind back 24 hours so I can catch you up…

Last night to wrap up our Oslo adventure bucket list we had pre-purchased tickets for a cello concert at the Oslo Opera House http://operaen.no/en/.  We ubered to the other side of town.  The Opera House is a unique architecture that is iconic of Oslo.  It has a large open modern feel to it.  It is right on the water and its characteristics are meant to represent a beach as its concrete sidewalks slant down towards the water.  The whole area is fairly new and is under a state of growth and rejuvenation.  The Cellist we were seeing was Sandra Lied Haga.  We had front row, center seats.  The very talented and entertaining artist gave a heartfelt, stellar 2.5 hour performance with piano accompaniment.  She played a diverse selection of classical pieces with emotion and passion.  We sat next to a lovely couple from Seattle and swapped travel stories.  My neighbor promised to kick me if I started to doze.  Which was a good thing as the artist was directly in my eye view as I could literally count the stitches in her dress seam.

After the enjoyable concert we ventured down town and made our way to Tommi’s Burgers http://www.tommis.no/ – a greasy spoon dive that only serves burgers and fries.  We pulled up a crusty stool and devoured a pretty darn delicious veggie burger for me and carnivore choice for the Hubs.  Fancy concert followed by greasy burger…That is how we roll- A perfect 24 hours from start to finish.

Ok, now let’s discuss the horror that the Hubs & I encountered upon the return to the hotel room.  The weather in Oslo had been unseasonably warm.  We cracked the window open to enjoy the fine Oslo climate.  Apparently, during this action a nasty, ornery and possibly terrorist fly (the insect with wings) came in.  This fly was like no other.  This creature buzzed around our ears teasing and torturing us as we prepared for bed.  He circled back and forth, tormenting us.  We laid awake throwing socks and towels at this airborne nuisance.  We left the light on hoping he would stay by the glow of the lamp.  At some point, I think he got sleepy and slept with us.  But, when I awoke, the buzzing began all over again.  Exhausted, annoyed and merciless, I swatted at the little guy who must have been just as pooped as we were because I finally did get him.  It was a battle of wills that has forever changed my view on those feisty little buggers.

We left Oslo slightly sleep deprived due to insect harassment, but a renewed spirit to embark on the rest of our journey.  Our next stop was Eidfjord.  We set up our navigator for the scenic route.  Well, this course did not disappoint.  With classical music providing perfect background harmony, our little Peugeot hugged the sides of the curving highway.  The topography changed as our voyage continued.  First, it was plush greens, cow fields and farms.  Then, it progressed to scaling mountains, monolithic in height.  From there, it turned into boggy fields and coastal communities.  We took a break and got gas.  The gas station was smack in the path of the tour bus.  As we pulled up, a busload of 50 eager camera clacking tourists rushed out, hit the bathrooms, rushed the troll section, ambushed the snacks and then as quickly as they came, they were off.  I am certain this will be the theme of the trip.  God Bless these lovely people really.  They are a pleasant harmless bunch contributing greatly to the Norwegian economy.

After many, many photo ops, roadside pop outs and nauseating driving footage, we finally made it to our home for the night- Fjell & Fjord Eidfjord Hotel http://effh.no/.  The quaint hotel is perched up atop a hill, flanked by Fjords on both sides and the glassy mirror lake below.  The hotel is not overly fancy, but has all the creatures of comfort needed.  The big sell is the million dollar view.  Upon arrival we took a nice walk.  We witnessed a double rainbow, which was pretty magical as it bounced off the fjord. 

We settled in and ate dinner at the hotel restaurant.  We sat window side in the shadow of the Fjord as the sun set- dining on creamy vegetable soup and mountain trout (the hubs).  The hubs ended on a traditional note enjoying the tasty veiled peasant girl http://www.mygourmetconnection.com/recipes/baking-desserts/other-desserts/veiled-maidens-apple-cream-parfaits.php -a concoction of apples, cream and biscuits.

Which leads me to this moment- in the lodge, recapping my delightful Norwegian adventure.

Tune in for more tales from a Girl, her hubs and a suitcase as we make our way through Norway…

~B&F~

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Norway Trip Report 2016

Norway 2016

Day 1,2 &3

It’s that time of year again, where A Girl, Her hubs and a suitcase go exploring the world.  This year we channeled our inner Viking to embark on the Nordic wonders of the world.  First stop Oslo.  But, first-just a brief word on the travel logistics.  We started the journey in Tampa, Florida. A rather uneventful and quite pleasant half-filled plane took us directly to Frankfurt, Germany.  With a Dr. prescribed “happy pill” on board, this girl alongside her hubs slept almost the entire flight.  Flight anxiety usually percolating like a hot cup of sanka is the norm for this nervous ninny, so the tranquil plane ride and much needed rest was an appreciated surprise.  Additionally, the final short leg to Oslo went just as smooth. 

We picked up our adorable Peugeot and nestled our bodies in the heated seats as we made our way through Friday evening rush hour traffic.  The rain was pelting down as the slick road challenged the hubs keen driving skills.  But, off in the distance, blue skies emerged and the sun slowly started to appear, a friendly and inviting welcome greeting. 

Stone walls flanked the highway displaying jagged rock as rolling hills and mountains peeked off in the distance.  On a tree lined street, as auburn colored leaves slowly tickled the ground we approached our hotel –Saga Hotel http://sagahoteloslo.no/.  The unassuming, charming 19th century dwelling is our residence for three nights.  It is a stone’s throw from the hustle-bustle of the city center, but situated in a chic, upscale, neighborhood with a young and energetic vibe. 

We got ourselves settled in our quaint and cozy room, took much needed showers and embarked on a mission for food.  The hotel suggested Agra Indian Restaurant http://agrarestaurant.no/, as traditionally The Girl and her hubs love to dine on Indian food the first night of any European excursion.  A 10 minute walk later and we were sitting amongst the fragrant, spicy aromas of mouthwatering Indian cuisine.  The meal was hot, flavorful and deliciously satisfying.  The service was good. The meal was pricy and indulgent, but seemed to be in line with the inflated prices that seem to pervade Norway that we have seen so far.

From there, bellies full, feet sore and jet lagged we trudged on back to the warmth of the hotel for a nice night’s slumber.

Day 2 /Oslo

Our first real full day in Oslo began with remnants of sun poking through the curtains.  After an uneventful shower scene (yours truly usually has some catastrophic international incident such as the Hong Kong shower flood of 2015, the Milan coffin sized shower event of 2014 or the Hubs bidet assault of 2016 in Turkey that would make the Sultans blush….) But, no issues here-thus far.  We crammed our way to the crowded breakfast area, teeming with hungry and ambitious young Norwegians fully embracing the concept of free breakfast.

We made our way through Karl Johans Gate where the Royal Palace and the accompanying park called Slottsparken dwell http://www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/boroughs/city-centre/#! 

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Lush green spilled out from the grandeur of the palace and it seemed every Norwegian was out soaking up the last remaining sunny days left- rambunctious dogs, enthusiastic kids and kissing couples all out enjoying a splendid Saturday.  We made our way to the National Art Gallery of Oslo http://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/.  There was a special exposition on Japanese Art that was truly enjoyable.  The highlight was the notable Scream painting from Edvard Munch http://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/.  Of most interest were the annoying patrons, that took side by side pictures depicting their own agonizing version of the tormented face.  This traveling twosome was no exception, displaying their unique version of this representation.  All in all the museum was top notch, entertaining and well worth the visit. 

 

As we piled out on the busy street, we made our way down towards the water.  We stopped at a Norwegian version of Starbuck’s called Wayne’s Coffee http://www.waynescoffee.no/.  Wayne could have picked up a few tips from Starbuck’s.  However, the stop served dual purpose as we replenished our energy with a light snack, hydrated and refueled-for this brief stop would carry us over for many hours.

The sun was smiling down on the Norwegian peeps and according to the happy young blond faces-everyone was fully taking advantage of this gift from the climate Gods.   We made our way to the pier, where outside restaurants were surrounded by ques of eager diners.  Grateful for our light snack, we pulled up at comfy lounge chair/bench and took in the scene.  We sat there for a long time, many moments in silence just relaxing the day away-a welcome respite in this thriving energetic atmosphere.  We walked on further down the wooden boardwalk, looking out at the blue sea, an isolated lighthouse in the distance-like a lonely soldier protecting its people.

It took many steps, some foul language and a stern pep talk from the Hubs to get me moving and in the direction of the hotel.  For dinner, we went a couple blocks down to a bar/restaurant called Homan http://www.homanbistro.no/.  As a vegetarian, my trips always involve preparation and research of the food in the region.  For Norway, my potential prospects were limiting, so I really prepared for the worst.  I have so far enjoyed the food and considering I thought my choices would be fish or reindeer, neither have I had to choose from.  At Homan Bistro, the vegetarian options were scant.  However, the very savvy Hubs asked if an omelet could be made.  A couple audible grumbles from the waitress later, and Voila- I had a delicious omelet with mozzarella and tomato served in a hot piping skillet.  We dined by cozy candlelight amongst a small crowd-the Hubs happily slurping his fish soup.  Again, the prices were a bit steep, but were pleased with the meal and the service.

After dinner, we took a stroll as the dark autumn night settled in.  The last remaining heat of summer slipping away as cooler weather just ever so slightly chilled the air.  We stopped at Deli de Luca http://delideluca.no/ -an upper scale convenience store of sorts.  We indulged in passion fruit sorbet for a bit of sweet pampering and then made our way back to the room to call it in an early night.

Day 3 Oslo

I awoke upside down, disoriented and sore.  I guess all good things -when on vacation.  I quickly got myself together preparing for our last real day in the “big city”.  Another breakfast with the rest of the eager beavers, fighting like a real Viking over the last waffle (not really, but this crew is a feisty bunch and they do take their breakfast quite seriously).  We got in our temperamental Peugeot and drove the 2 miles to the Viking Ship Museum https://www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/viking-ship-museum/ situated in Bygdoy https://www.visitnorway.com/listings/bygd%c3%b8y/2785/.  It is an island literally right off the city center of Oslo.  However, as you enter this region, there are cows and farms and it is anything but the energetic pull of the city.  With impeccable timing we arrived a minute before the museum opened.  As we breached the entry way, a tour bus of approximately 100 enthusiastic Asians dispersed, camera snapping ready to embrace all things Viking.  On a serious somber note, the museum holds 3 ships from the 9th century.  These 3 ships are sacred to the Norwegian people.  The ships were used to transport the dead of high ranking chieftains.  The ships are truly pristine and the chronicling of the excavation was meticulous.  Several selfies later, a quick rampage through the gift shop, fighting off the rambunctious tour group, a splurge on “Moose Droppings” (a delicious cinnamon chocolate covered candy) and we were off.

About a mile down the road, we went to the Norsk Folkemuseum http://norskfolkemuseum.no/en. However, unclear as to how to pay for parking, we became annoyed and abandoned the idea only hitting the interesting gift shop for some overpriced souvenirs.  Back to the hotel, we dropped off the car and walked on foot to Vigelandsparken http://www.vigeland.museum.no/en/vigeland-park.  Within walking distance, it was a nice stroll through the quiet neighborhood.  We were not alone in this idea as swarms of people were out enjoying the pleasant weather and family time.  The park is comprised of 212 bronze sculptures depicting the many stages of life.  Rising high up in the air 56 feet tall is a phallic sculpture called the Monolith. 

As one gets closer, it is easy to see they are over 100 human figures entwined around the column.  There are many layers to the grounds with colorful gardens and vibrant flowers.  Of particular interest/annoyance was a large population of school aged children, tethered to their phones, eyes planted on the screen chasing after phantom pokemons.  Apparently, the Pokemon Go was launched recently in Norway.  Whatever the case, and however ancient this makes me sound-I was sad to see young children (and a lot adults) completely disengaged with life and careening through the park with no regard to anyone or anything around them.  It almost felt as if it was the takeover of zombies, shuffling and scuffling through the park, eyes fixed on their phones.

A few words I would like to share on my interactions with the local people of Oslo.  Although, I am viewing everything through a small microcosm- I have made note of some fine characteristics of the Oslo-nians.  There is a true sense of family and community seen.  Young nuclear families, sturdy and able bodied, sun kissed with the glow of innocence and youth.  The mothers seem to display a juxtaposition of strength and will; however, they also seem to embody fragility and delicacy that is truly powerful to witness.  The fathers have a child-like energy, fit and athletic as well.  But, in contrast, they are in control and seem to be in charge of this unique family dynamic.  I have been perplexed with the culture and feel of the city as strangely, it all seems so reminiscent of somewhere in Europe I have been.  It holds the romance and allure of many of the European cultures.  However, oddly, as familiar as this all feels, it also holds a mystery and a unique nature that I simply at this point cannot put my finger on.

Tune in for more travels of Nordic delight,

~B&F~

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A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase

Cleveland in 36 hours—Can it be done? YES!

Well, here is my small but mighty account of my 36 hours in Cleveland.  You may be scratching your chin and wondering “why- my dear friend-why Cleveland?”  Well, to tell you why I must transcend you back in time approximately 2 weeks ago.  The idea was conceived over a tasty batch of salty chips and salsa accompanied by two for one bloody Mary’s at Chili’s happy hour.  Sitting at the bar with the Hubs and glancing over at highlights of a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game-the plan was formulated.  By the time the warmth of the vodka percolated in my veins and the acidic combustive concoction of dueling tomato products began to ignite my reflux- the tickets were purchased.  Some couples celebrate their 4 year wedding anniversary with the gift of flowers, linen or silk but for this daring duo it is a 2 day getaway to the “land of Cleves”. Oddly, Cleveland has been on the “bucket list” for many a years.  My desires for my Cleveland quest were fueled even more so by the astonishing looks of bewilderment, amusement and disbelief for my worrisome weird wish.

So, after a bright and early 4:30 am wakeup call- the Hubs and yours truly embarked on the 2 hour flight to Cleveland.  Upon arrival we hopped on the RTA –Cleveland’s railway system http://www.riderta.com/.  The train is pretty quick, cheap and convenient.  It plopped us off in Tower city http://www.towercitycenter.com/, a grand shopping complex, open and airy with many distractions.  However, the Hubs and I had much to cram into a 36 hour excursion- so no time to waste….

 

A rather grumpy Uber driver, not representing his city very well, took us the 0.4 miles to our residence for our day and a half stay at the Westin http://www.westincleveland.com/ .  Quickly, we disposed of our bags and with an anticipatory shimmy in our step, we marched on down to East and 4th Street www.east4thstreet.com for lunch.  This hip, young hopping area was crawling with throngs of lively peeps out in full force for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankee baseball game set to start.  The stadium was a stone’s throw from the potpourri of aromatic, tantalizing restaurants nestled on this street.  We decided on an appealing establishment called The Greenhouse http://www.thegreenhousetavern.com/ .  One enters this festive dwelling with bicycles descending from the ceiling, a staircase, the wall- basically bicycles everywhere.  The concept is innovative farmhouse fresh.  A unique veggie burger on a vegan bun rocked my socks accompanied by a rather pricy and spicy bloody Mary.  The Hubs went with an old favorite waffles and chicken.  The portions were adequate but slightly on the meager side.  This was a plus as our tootsies would be doing a lot of walking eventually racking up 20,000 steps for the day.

With nourishment in our bellies and a magical mystery musical mission we followed the crusade of rock worshippers to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame http://www.rockhall.com/.  The sun was bright, the sky was clear, a calming breeze settled in the air.  The weather was simply idyllic-leaving behind the humid, rain forest- like moist heat of Tampa now a distant memory- a mere 4 hours ago.  Instead, our wimpy internal thermometers usually profuse with sweat welcomed the practically artic like weather conditions.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame resembles the unique glass pyramid of The Louvre in Paris.  Opened in 1986, over 700 inductees have been honored there.  It is a multilevel structure with wide open space and illuminating sunlight streaming in.  Located on the shore of Lake Erie, the white capped waves salute the monolithic building.  Once in there –it is hard to ignore the crowded and popular United Nations demographic encompassing every ethnic, cultural and age spectrum.  Young and old, black and white, the millennial hipster as well as the aged octogenarian joined teamed for a mutual interest-Music.  And, not just any music, but the kind that gets your toe tapping, fingers snapping and hips a swaying.  The experience takes you through chronologically the interesting roots of rock and roll.  The exhibitions are multisensory retrospectives offering inviting videos, graphics, costumes and memorabilia.  My personal favorite was the display on The Beatles.  There was an interactive, stimulating energy that penetrated the crowd igniting a pervasive spirited vibe.  At one point, a live band echoed throughout the hall.  The amplified staccato lingered in the air offering intangible lyrics floating by like dispersed dandelion petals.  The acoustics washed over the crowd in wondrous waves evoking smiles and forming new memories.  We spent several hours exploring, once fully satiated, we left checking one more item off our list.

We trudged on back to the hotel to change and rest.  Once our energy stores were replenished we headed down to our hotel’s restaurant Urban Farmer http://urbanfarmercleveland.com/.  This unique restaurant is a modern steakhouse with a rather rustic feel to it.  You may wonder- what could a vegetarian eat at a Steakhouse?  Well, eat I did-and what a magnificent meal!  Seated on a brown speckled cow hide couch, we were given fresh cornbread presented in a tin can with homemade rolls.  The menu included all your usual steakhouse regulars, but all with a fresh, flavorful and enticing twist.  The Caesar salad was fresh and crisp and the dressing had all the perfect components.  A young lady wheeled around a tempting charcuterie plate fit for a still life painting.  Although we did not partake in this indulgence, each time she circled round, I appreciated the beauty and splendor of the cheesy wonders.  A creamed spinach side dish perhaps the best I have ever had followed by oysters and salmon for the Hubs rounded out this magnificent marvel of a meal.  The service was impeccable, the food a bit pricey-but a real must if in the area.

After dinner, stuffed to discomfort we walked around the energetic streets of downtown.  The baseball game earlier went into extra innings.  The Hubs tethered to his cell phone monitoring his team –the Yankees progress.  Nail biting, praying and negotiations with the Almighty were coming out of the Hubs-eventually paying off, because in the 10th inning the Yankees pulled off a win.  As we wandered the streets, sad solemn beaten faces greeted us as we pranced around with pride as we adorned the enemy’s hats.  Even amongst the palpable disappointment, there still remained an excitement and revelry in the air.  The Republican National Convention (RNC) is scheduled for next week.  Due to this thrilling event, the city was spruced up displaying proudly red, white and blue -all clean and shiny.  After a 16 hour day, we were pooped-we made our way back to the hotel to rest up for our final day.

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The next morning we were greeted with the same beautiful 75 degree weather.  We then ubered to our last item on the bucket list-The Cleveland Museum of Art  http://www.clevelandart.org/ .  This is described by many art critics as one of the top 4 art museums in the United States.  So, do not be surprised if next year “A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase” is off to Detroit to tackle another top rated art museum.

Approaching the museum, which is located within the University district we passed the massive sprawl of the Cleveland Clinic http://my.clevelandclinic.org/.  This was a shining moment for me as many years ago, I worked in their satellite campus in Florida.  I beamed with pride at my previous employer, proud of its reputation and its contribution to the economic and healthcare needs of its community and really the world.  Arriving to the Cleveland Museum of Art right at opening, for me this is the best way to experience an art museum.  Walking through the silent, art filled galleries stirs up a meditative internal peace within my core.  I am open to all ideas and ready to immerse myself into the historical, imaginative, evocative journey that only art can offer.  This art museum is truly a hidden pearl veiled in a completely underrated and misunderstood city.  We made our way through the time periods, European and Renaissance, Medieval, French Impressionist and Modern.  Some highlights worth mentioning include the Tiffany room.  The art deco shimmery stained glass vivid with intense colors delighted my soul.  The armory room full of medieval pomp and circumstance transferred me back in time.  I could almost hear the guttural cries of 15th century knights as my eyes caught sight of the steely, intimidating swords.

There were numerous old masters such as Goya, Picasso, Van Gogh, and Botticelli just to name a few.  After a morning of visual stimulation, we built up an appetite.  We ate brunch in one of the two dining options in the museum Provenance http://www.clevelandart.org/visit/provenance.  A delicious and visually beautiful offering of fresh items were provided.  As we discussed our favorite pieces and munched on our tasty provisions, we enjoyed our window side view of the museum’s plush grounds.

Renewed with stamina- fueled by brunch we continued on with the museum, perusing the outside grounds and a highly interesting “carcass” of sorts of Rodin’s Thinker, which was partially blown apart back in the 1970’s by the Weather Underground.  It remains there as a testament to the strength and pride of Cleveland.  Wrapping up our tour, we circled back around for an encore -savoring our last final moments of our adventure.

As we made our way back to the airport, the friendly Uber driver George, recounted Cleveland’s history and how it has evolved.  We passed posh neighborhoods with mansions made of brick and old world charm. We skirted through run down communities, neglected buildings and abandoned warehouses.  It was interesting to see the different layers of this diverse city.  I came to Cleveland on a whim with nothing but curiosity in my heart.  I left Cleveland with a new found fondness for the inaptly place they call “the mistake on the lake”.  This lovely city showed me what an underdog is made of- the grit of a fighter, the grace of a dancer, the courage of a soldier, the steadfast loyalty of a trusty companion and the frenetic energy that some good ole rock and roll helps sooth the soul.

Thank you Cleveland for the whirlwind of fun we had for 36 hours.

Tune in for more traveling tales in September when A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase set off for Norway!

~B&F~

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Istanbul Turkey Trip Report March 2016

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 1

Greetings from the mighty land of Istanbul, former home of the Ottoman and Roman Empires- a unique city on the Bosphorus Sea that straddles two continents-Europe and Asia. The planning and preparations that took place prior to embarking on this journey were exhausting and concerning.-canceled flights, worried friends, fluky, downright strange and cryptic events that have no place in this blog. However, it is noteworthy as it simmered behind the scenes like a witch’s bubbling vat. Nonetheless, minor irritations at best–because here we are in our surreal and exotic world, with all that way in the rearview mirror. Travel is never easy and it is the effort, time and energy that is put into it that reciprocally brings pleasure, awe and gratification.

Entering Istanbul, the vast Bosphorus Sea greets you. Bifurcating this region, high rises and trendy condos flank each side. Palm trees sway in the air, illuminated with many encouraging abundant signs of construction and re-gentrification. I currently am sitting perched atop the first floor of my beautiful room at the Vault Hotel http://www.thehousehotel.com/the-house-hotel-vault-karakoy.aspx in the area of Karakoy. This region lies in the northern part of the Golden Horn mouth on the European side of Bosphorus. It is also one of the oldest and most historic districts of the city.

Entering the hotel, one is almost transported back in time. The establishment was a former bank and even still houses a vault- which will be explored at some point. The antiquities housed within the hotel are breathtaking and imposing. Greeted by the friendly staff, we were quickly taken care of and taken to our little jewel of a room. It is a petite room, a perfect geometrical square with impressive floor to ceiling windows, an opulent ceiling and art befitting for a gallery. Of course, it has all the creature comforts of home, as well as free WIFI, a gorgeous marble bathroom and a bidet that the Hubs was accidently violated by (mistaking for a toilet handle).

With a very strange, but dually exciting midnight flight across the Atlantic, we did not arrive until late evening to Istanbul. Not tired, but lacking motivation, we explored our internal surroundings and dined at the restaurant here in the hotel on the roof deck http://www.kasalokanta.com/tr/rooftop/ . Sitting window side, we held a bird eye’s view of Istanbul. The Hage Sophia- which you will hear much of later, stood impressively in the distance.  The Sea -dark and infinite, showed off the many ships crisscrossing the calm waterway. Lights twinkling in the evening sky as nocturnal birds flapped their wings in a delicate dance.

Our waiter, friendly and very informative helped us choose our selections from the Turkish delicacies. He started us off with fresh and flavorful bread with a tangy tomato and olive oil tapenade. This was followed by an appetizer so impressively displayed, of 10 spoons housing a variety of Turkish specialties.-all of which were delicious. A creamy, garlicy hummus, a unique fennel and plum jam, a tart yogurt spread and others.

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Each bite more tantalizing then the next. Dinner comprised of eggplant and Halloumi cheese in tangy and smoky tomato compote. The cheese, a Cypress cheese unique to this area, melted over the eggplant like gooey velvet blanket-all these flavors, foreign and pleasant to my taste buds.

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The meal ended with the sweet and delicate loveliness of baklava-the airy pastry and pistachio sweetness with a tease of clotted cream on top.

The meal was absolutely memorable, the service was impeccable, the atmosphere and view 5 star and the price was very reasonable.  Considering our options this evening was a bag of nuts or this- I would say we chose wisely, a real perfect start to an exciting adventure.

Well, as all spring trips usually occur (if you are a faithful follower of A Girl, Her Hub and a Suitcase) you will know today it a Red Letter day for this duo-as it is also the Hubs birthday today. So, I must bring this to a close as the celebratory festivities of the birth of the Hubs is about to commence.

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More tales of Turkish delight to come,

~B&F~

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 2

Greetings from your Turkish travel queen. I come to you live with your latest and greatest trip report update. Before I ramble on about today’s exciting events, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this….I hear all your safety wishes-every last one of them. And, the Hubs and I truly appreciate it. In fact, when wandering this diverse, vast earth of ours-it is these sentiments sometimes that get me through the sometimes scary world of travel.

However, I hear you.  I get it.  The world is not 1999 anymore.  A lot has changed, some good, some not so good.  But, the Hubs and I have also changed and grew wiser, more “worldly” and adaptable to the differences that exist among us.  Each trip, every spring and fall, wherever this traveling twosome roams, we do our research.  We treat this like a marathon.  We train our brains and our bodies, both physically, mentally, and spiritually to immerse ourselves in the culture we will be adjusting to.  This is a respect driven task and not only do we become avid members of this foreign community in our hearts: we also embrace the differences we may encounter.  I am not in a bubble and see the challenges that face us all in this ever changing world we all share.  This adventure- the Hubs and I embark on –our biannual pilgrimage of sorts has molded us both to be more forgiving and open to the environment in which we are in.

Having said all that, if you read this blog and feel the need to update me on current world events or dramatic tragic happenings-I ask of you-this is not the forum.  I again appreciate your concern and even understand that this may not be your “thing”-however, I need each one of you to truly understand this-The Hubs and I are guests in these foreign lands.  We welcome the customs and ways of life we encounter.  Our eyes are truly open to the danger that present (and don’t present) themselves.  I am not on a Disney ride with singing elves or a fire-breathing dragon.  This is real life, I document as I interpret it.  So, continue to whisper your prayers and wish for my safe return.  I feel the love and grasp the sentiment.  But, please limit the safety chatter and New York Times updates.  We are watching the news and understand the dangers that lurk among us.

One final note on this….Everywhere we have been within this lovely city of Istanbul has had “airport-like” security.  Scanners, metal detectors, military guards with machine guns all calmly but powerfully providing safeguards in this vulnerable community.  Vigilance and awareness is essential and the usual mindless ambivalence seen in the past is not present here.  However, the Turkish people accept the deal they have been given right now and have adapted to the security threats that really affect all of us on a global level.

After all this dialogue, there is no easy way to segway into Turkish breakfast, but I shall try…

Awakening from our slumber, we made way to the grand dining hall for the complimentary breakfast that   awaited us.  Turkish delicacies lines the marble breakfast bar, many unknown to this gal.  A breakfast menu was also provided with Turkish omelets, waffles and other scrumptious options-loading our empty guts with food to which would ultimately sustain us for many hours.

We set on foot in the damp and intermittently raining air across the Galata Bridge, bringing us to the other side of Istanbul.  The seagulls swooped over us, one later on in the day christening my auburn afro.  It was early morning, fisherman were out thrusting their poles ready for a fruitful day.  The tourists were still sleeping, most of them except this duo as store front owners lifted their gates ready for a lucrative retail day.

Our walk ascended, slowly climbing in narrow streets with themed storefronts for each block.  Our block is the Mecca for chandeliers (not very helpful when searching for food), the street next to us is Plumbing central.  Eventually, we hit a music store, unique from anyone I have ever seen called OTAG Musik Merekezi http://www.otagmuzik.com/ . A curious cat rubbed at our legs as beautiful Mulberry guitars hung from the walls.  The adorable shop owner Yasar welcomed us, ushering us to try anyone of these acoustic angels.  The Hubs as you may or may not know is quite the guitar aficionado.  Those mighty sausage link fingers can really strum up a melody and his talents did not lack in Turkey.

The lovely Yasar pulled out her best car salesman bravado, tempting the Hubs with musical possibilities.  However, not wanting to lug around a guitar all day and the vision of accidently thumping 27 poor skulls as we made our way through coach on Turkish airlines deflated his visions of musical majesty.  However, Yasar allowed us a picture as the Hubs plucked away doing his best Eric Clapton meets Istanbul impression.

Next stop, Topkapi Palace http://topkapisarayi.gov.tr/en built in 1460 this palace was the digs for the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.  Everyone seems to be quite titillated with seeing the Harem, where all his ladies lived.  However, we skipped this and focused more on the immense layout of the compound and the gorgeous water views all along the Bosphorus River.  The grounds were sprawling and the vibrant Turkish tiles still maintained their deep rich hues.  The selfie sticks were swinging and the crowd was steady.

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We then we popped our head in and shoes off to see the Tombs of the Sultans and then off to Hage Sophia http://ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en.  This is one of the most iconic visions of Istanbul.  It is an archeological wonder, originally a church that was erected in the year 360.  Destroyed and resurrected many times, eventually in 1453 it became a mosque.  In 1935 it was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Inside it is a hybrid of Christianity and Islam.  The Hubs climbed the many ramps to the top for sweeping views.  I opted out of this activity as energy and motivation was slipping like sands in an hourglass.  Hailing a taxi, we made our way back to the hotel for a bit of rest and surprise birthday celebrations.

A major reconnaissance mission was under way as Sammy my front desk accomplice had provided a chocolate cake of epic deliciousness from Koskeroglu http://www.koskeroglu.com.tr/.  It was the Hubs birthday and being on an international trip of a lifetime is not enough for this big hunk of love Hubs of mine.  In our room, in a beautiful presentation was this cake delivered by the chocolate Gods. It was by far the best cake I ever had and served as a ridiculously indulgent lunch as it was many, many hours since our breakfast.

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Bellies full of birthday gluttony; we rested our weary feet in preparation for our evening celebrations. Via taxi in staggering evening traffic, we had an evening at the symphony- http://www.borusansanat.com/tr/etkinlikler_5/bifo_33/konser_bifo-freddy-kempf_54/ this included pianist Freddy Kemf and the Borasani Philharmonic.  The evening began with a somber melody of remembrance for the recent activities that transpired in Ankara that led to many deaths.  It was a beautiful piece that was stirring and evoked many emotions.  This was followed by several upbeat Gershwin numbers and finished with some flawless classical pieces.  Between travel exhaustion, physical fatigue and time change adjustment, several pats and kicks were given to each other to keep the eyeballs open and commence any disruptive snoring.

After the show, a harrowing taxi ride through the streets of Istanbul was had.  Clutching the seatbelt and praying, we were plopped off in the middle of a one way highway as the taxi driver lacked GPS and apparently any driving sensibilities all at a ripped off rate, nearly doubling the price.

With no dinner options available except the remnants of a stellar chocolate cake, we returned to the rooftop restaurant of our hotel https://www.zomato.com/istanbul/kasa-roof-lounge-vault-karak%C3%B6y-the-house-hotel-karak%C3%B6y-istanbul . Some tasty bar food was enjoyed, served by our same friendly waiter from the evening before.

By the end of the meal, it was midnight.  It had been a long enjoyable day, full of sightseeing, birthday jubilations and musical pleasures.

Join me next time for more Turkish tales,

~B&F~

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 3

3 hours of sleep but this gal is going strong. I think it’s all that hummus, salty sea air or merely the magical powers of pigeon poop.  Either way, Turkish life suits me well.  After a hearty breakfast, the Hubs and I a bit cocky on our travel high, or simply an overabundance of carbs at breakfast-we bought a pass for the tram that navigates quite easily around the city.  Yesterday I wasted much time and precious energy with our entertaining trek up to the sights.  We embarked on the tram system like total locals.

Exiting at The Blue Mosque our intention was to go there. However, immediately a lively, rather aggressive gentleman took us hand in hand to his carpet store. The move was rather ballsy, I would say-but The Hubs was merciful giving this poor guy a chance.

 

Fearful that this may turn out like the Orlando time share we almost broke the bank for, I intervened.  Waving my finger in my best New Jersey accent, informing him his business practices were deceptive.  Meanwhile, The Hubs was still wrangling for a bargain, inquired the price of this a one of a kind-carpet.  Realizing that there are better ways to wisely depart with $2500 for a fancy bath mat, we high tailed it out of there.  The one good piece of information the gentleman did offer was the Blue Mosque did not open until after 1:30 on Fridays as this is an important day of prayer.

So, instead we visited the basilica cistern http://yerebatansarnici.com/ -a subterranean water system derived from 537.  The water was delivered by a forest in Belgrade and then housed in this marble underground reservoir.  The unique dwelling is right off a city block, but as you descend the steps, eerie dim red lights illuminate a path.  Marble large thick columns are perched within the water and frisky girthy fish swim just below the surface showing off for the tourists. Mystical Turkish melodies and the occasional drip are the only sounds that pervade the stillness.

From there we made our way to the Grand Bazaar http://grandbazaaristanbul.org/Grand_Bazaar_Istanbul.html – Istanbul’s’ unique version of Mall of Americas; but, before we get to that-let me share a bit of my cautionary tale.  I had to use the bathroom and conveniently located was a water closet (WC).  Not realizing this was a pay toilet situation.  So, naïve me- I walk up to a gentleman behind a desk, which in my opinion may be the world’s worst job ever- he then subsequently asked for one Turkish lira (35 cents) and handed me your run of the mill kitchen napkin.  Only one may I add! So, he points me in his foreign dialogue to a door, rather vaguely.  I apparently go to the wrong door and enter a prayer session with men and shoes on the floor.  Well, this is odd I say to myself.  I quickly skedaddle out of there.  Eventually, I make my way to the toilet.  Ugh, may I say.  Absolutely deplorable-but when you got to go-you got to go.  Careful not to touch a thing, I try to get out of there quickly rather heavy on the hand sanitizer.  However, in my haste and slightly slippery from my over sanitization- I trip fall splat on the wet (unclear as to what biohazards may have touched me) floor.  Traumatized, bruised and now contaminated I find the Hubs.  We then immediately go to Starbucks which actually has a free bathroom, real toilet paper, but actually much more biohazards than the prayer room/water closet.  That is my story on – A funny thing happened on the way to the Grand Bazaar.

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The Grand Bazaar is an absolutely overwhelming experience-but a MUST if in Istanbul.  Dating back from 1455, it is a colonnade of over 3,000 shops that twist and turn in mazelike hysteria.  There are themes to help organize ones needs-however, I did not catch onto this at first.  There is jewelry, candy, clothes, knick- knacks and much, much more.  We got very lost within the jumble of corridors-a compass would have been very helpful.  At 1200 noon as the Hubs was trying on his turban-like hat, the gentleman assisting us informed us that all men had to go for prayer.  Before you know it, men started closing shop, running down the corridors all to pray for the hour.  Over a loud speaker, the call to prayer (ezan) billows out over a loud speaker, a guttural cry that for me created a physical, visceral reaction.  The prayer evokes emotion and once I heard this, I felt it inappropriate to do such mundane activities such as shopping.  I pulled to the side and respectfully just sat in silence, until the tonal reverberations subsided.  This is my experience of a very sacred practice, and I have tried as best as I can to describe to you.  In my reporting, it is not my intent to poke fun or joke about this.  I hope that reverence was notated in my documenting of this act.

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During the shopping extravaganza, we stopped off at a candy booth and taste tested numerous sweet treats called Turkish delight http://www.turkish-delight.com/v2/index.phpMay I add that after about 7 or 8, there really is no delight-just a mild headache followed by some benign nausea.  However, this did not stop yours truly, who along with her trusty companion left with several boxes for the peeps back home.  When you taste it, just remember the sacrifice that I made choosing the right flavors.

From there, we sat on a park bench overlooking the water and crowds of people spilled out into the square.  We had a very light snack (still full from TD) and rested our feet.  Contemplating our next activity, we made our way over to the water.  A sleazy somewhat friendly guy approached us for a boat ride excursion.  Impulsively, we consented and made our way to a lovely boat.  We boarded the boat with about 30 other semi-annoying individuals who in their spare team like to feed seagulls, take selfie after selfie and agitate the heck out of sweet angelic tourists such as myself.

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The air was crisp and cold, in the 40’s but the sun was ferociously bright.  We sat on the top deck, looking left and right, Europe, Asia back and forth.  The seagulls trailing alongside as the tourists with ADHD tossed morsels of food at the greedy fowl.  It was a perfect activity that rounded out an amazing day.

We made our way in the dwindling sunlight back to the hotel to rest.  This much needed respite turned into a full on nap that only by chance did we awaken.  At the suggestion of the hotel, we ate dinner at a trendy restaurant that similar to our hotel was a previous bank.  Neolokal http://www.neolokal.com/?/en is a beautiful establishment 3 doors down from our hotel.  We dined on waif like portions with crafty descriptions.  Don’t get me wrong, the food was tasty and satisfying, but it was more art then substance.

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After dinner, we walked around our neighborhood, getting to know our surroundings.  We eventually made it back needing rest for a full day tomorrow.

Tune in for more tummy ache tales of too much Turkish Delight,

~B&F~

 

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 4

Today was a somber day.  There was a bombing in Taksim Square.  According to what I know, 5 people were killed and 36 injured-7 of those seriously.  What are my thoughts on this? I have many.  First of all, I chose to continue on with this blog because it is a true account of my experience-good or bad.  I usually pepper it with funny commentary to lighten a sometimes heavy subject.  This entry will be void of that.  In fact, this entry is dedicated to the victims of this tragedy.  I continue on because my philosophy has always been the same- I will not live my life in fear.

I know there are many arguments wisely debated regarding this.  However, I am here in Turkey-living this, and truly only I can really accurately judge my actions and reasoning.  I am here for the remainder of my trip.  I have no intention of leaving early.  Let’s walk through some of the practicalities…

First of all, despite this senseless and terribly heartbreaking event- I am enjoying myself.  The people of Istanbul are just as upset over this and do not condone this violence.  In fact, the people here are some of the nicest I have encountered.  It is a nation of passion, vibrant in all aspects-their food, bold colors and religious fortitude.  There are always extremes in everything.  It is those at the polar ends of the spectrum that make poor, deadly decisions.

This issue is way bigger than me and my blog is not the place for political debate. I know too little to go down this road.  I would like to share one story with you regarding today’s events.  The story for me pulls everything together and has given me a bit of clarity on life and how fragile it is.

Today our schedule was completely devoted to a tour with a private guide.  Gamze Artaman http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/guides/artaman_g.html specializes in “off the beaten track” tours.  We began to talk about the art of Whirling Dervishes.  If you are unfamiliar with this –it is a form of meditation that entails spinning in a rhythmic fashion.  It was created by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi.  At the center of all his teachings is divine love.  Just as we began discussing this, we were right by the Mosque it first began.  We received special permission to enter there as it was closed.  We followed all the basic rituals, taking our shoes off, covering my head as we entered the quiet and empty hall.  We sat in the stillness as Gamze explained the meaning behind Rumi’s teachings and the Sama ceremony.  Her interpretation centered around rebirth, redemption and reincarnation.

Listening to her as she related this to the very recent loss of her young husband, clarity began to settle and everything in my heart was open to this thinking.  My core began to swell with love and any fear was quickly replaced by a strong and powerful inner peace.  We continued the conversation a bit longer, the idea deeply settling in my soul leaving me with a new found understanding of my purpose here on earth.

We left still unclear on a plan as to what do the rest of the day.  But, quickly a plan was formulating.  We would go to Taksim for the remainder of the day.  We would start at the top of the street and wind our way down, eventually leading straight to our hotel.  We stopped for a coffee rest break- when Gamze suggested we rethink our plan as there was some sort of attack in Taksim.  We sat at a table, drinking hot tea watching CNN Turkey and slowly began to learn of what had happened.  I instantly thought of my mother, my sisters, my friends and my safe home.  I got such a strong sense of “homesickness”- and all I wanted to do was hear my Mother’s voice.

Even though it was barely 6am, and my thoughts were purely self-need driven-it was a need I had to instantly fulfill.  And, so I did.  I selfishly woke my mother unloaded my burden on her, leaving her alone worrying.  But, this child at this moment needed to know there was still one safe place in this world.

The rest of the day I will spare as it all seems rather silly in the scheme of things. But, it served as a grateful distraction, channeling my energy as a helpful diversion.  I need to point out the divine fate of this day.  We had not planned to go into that Mosque, we had not planned to have a 30 minute conversation about the fragility of life and second chances and by doing that-we were not in Taksim square, possibly under other circumstances.  All of this-yes is “happenstance”-but on a day that only stimulates more questions-this was enough of an answer for me.

I will continue to document my trip.  My reader, I respect your choice to disengage if you choose.  But, if you get one thing out of this-such as hug your child tighter, live in the moment for just a second longer, and know that maybe-just maybe there might just be something more out there for all of us.  I hope that this helps you understand me a bit more.

~B&F~

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 5

Last night for obvious reasons-it was a “lay low” kind of night.  The streets were an eerie ghost town, especially for a Saturday night.  As my warm air breathed on the cold window creating a mystical fog, I saw not one human on the street outside.  An occasional lonely wandering dog trudged on by, oblivious to the changed world.  The kaleidoscope in which I now viewed every aspect of this trip had changed leaving all its vibrant hues to shadows of darkness.

We ate snacks in the room as the rain tapped away at the window.  We watched nonsense shows on TV just to avoid the news.  And, then eventually restless from our inactivity we relented to sleep with little protest.

In the morning, the streets remained empty.  We spoke with the hotel staff to try to extract any local information.  We were provided some very basic advice that served little use and did not really offer us any further sense of well-being.  We embarked out into the cold air trying to contain some microcosm of normalcy.  As we continued to walk, we found ourselves in front of the Galata Tower http://www.ibb.gov.tr/sites/ks/en-US/1-Places-To-Go/towers/Pages/galata-tower.aspx -built in the 6th century it served as a prison, a watchtower and a lighthouse.  It scales 230 feet up in the sky and offers amazing views of Istanbul and beyond.  The elevator takes you up 7 flights and then you climb 3 flights.  There is a thin circular terrace that loops around the narrow top.  Visitors dangerously squeeze on by trying to capture the best view.

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From there it was one straight uphill climb to the Galata Mevlevihanesi Hall http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/Beyoglu/galata_tekke.html. If you recall yesterday with Gamze the tour guide we discussed extensively Whirling Dervishes.  This spiritual dance has enamored me all during the planning of this trip.  We found the museum to purchase the show for this evening.  However, the kind gentleman at the box office showed me his phone acting as the translator displaying one very telling message CANCELED DUE TO TERROR.

To say I was not disappointed would be untrue.  However, I quickly put this in perspective and will always choose safety first.

We continued walking as the sun starting to warm up the cold air.  The few people walking would sporadically make paranoid eye contact sizing up their risks and exit options.  Individuals stared blankly void of any tell-tale signs of emotion.  As if on a pilgrimage, we found ourselves walking on the exact street the incident occurred and quickly realized we were standing amidst groups of people who have curiously like us consciously or unconsciously arrived to the same place.  The Turkish flag hung above flowers that lay in the doorway, like a strong, proud soldier protecting his people.  Photographers, camera crews and the curious lingered respectfully.  Speechless with a lump in my throat I said a silent prayer, a whisper of gratitude and then moved on.

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By midmorning, though- more people began to pile out on the streets.  Palms pressed in hands from church on Palm Sunday, a resilient calm seemed to pervade the city street.  Commerce slowly commenced, Starbucks opened and it finally seemed that we as a whole may be able to move on from this.  A feeling of hope seemed to cloak the people, like a heavy warm quilt.

We stopped for lunch at a local place with a menu full of gaudy, bright photos acting as deceptive enticement for a hungry tourist.  The food was pretty bad, although the pictures were keenly accurate.  From there, we sat at Starbucks, which was nearly empty- a real sign of normalcy off its axis.  The Hubs and I had deep conversations, clinging to one another‘s thoughts like a buoy in the rough sea.

Nothing works better for the emersion back into real life than retail therapy.  We found some very unique musical stores with interesting instruments.  This was a very welcome distraction.  Then, we went to an amazing art establishment called Artangels.  This very one of a kind store that specializes in hand- made crafts all made by the owner Nuvit Tuzel and his wife.  Beautiful ceramics, crochet objects and other unusual items can be found here.  We made many purchases in there, while enjoying lively conversation and sharing the depth of what had happened with this lovely gentleman.

We continued to wind our way down the street in route to our hotel.  Along the way, I encountered something that I want to share with my reader.  This is once again a cautionary tale and I hope that these shared mishaps benefit you the reader in some way.

Yesterday, a young man walked by me and dropped a brush from his shoe shine kit.  I kindly said, “excuse me you dropped something.” And, this young man continued to follow the Hubs and I quite closely (too closely) and attempted to grab his feet to shine.  The Hubs was quite insistent he did not want nor need this.  We were lucky to shoo him away.

Well, similar to a deja vous experience-the exact same thing happened again!  And, yet again, I said “excuse me you dropped something.” The young man did the same thing except this time, he succeeded in grabbing The Hubs feet.  He said- I do this for free. I am so poor.  Then, I tried to give him a couple dollars and he took a $20 instead of providing me change.  I got all “JERSEY” (NJ) on him and starting yelling and cursing at him-realizing the whole bloody thing is a scam.  He scurried away, but then ran back to me handing me half my money back.

On the way back to the hotel, we noticed 2 other shoe shine men do the same drop the brush technique!  I almost kicked their stupid brush down the street!  However, The Hubs requested I restrain myself.  At the hotel, I shared this with the desk staff and they informed us, that although The Hubs shoes were nice and shiny (and they were)-to quickly rinse them as they use some sort of animal excrement or something to clean the shoe with- that eventually damages them in 10 minutes (there may have been a bit of a language translation here- I hope).

For dinner we ventured out looking for the “perfect” place.  And, boy oh boy did we find it…Andrea https://www.zomato.com/istanbul/andrea-karak%C3%B6y-istanbul/menu is on a quiet side street about a brisk 5 minute walk from our hotel.  We stumbled upon this treasure purely by accident.  It is a previous Monastery and its presence is quite welcoming.  Red lighting illuminates the inside like warm burning embers.  Loud techno music thumps away rhythmically in a continuous loop.  The interior is cloister meets classy brothel with a dash of high energy rave.  There are 3 levels.  The bottom floor is a bar complete with good looking millennials enjoying the benefits of “adulthood”.  The second and third floors are for diners, which was only us.  The menu was all in Turkish and the waiter patiently struggled to help me while I indecisively vacillated between options.  In the end, I committed to a lovely plate of hummus and some interesting noodles.  The Hubs had a creamy tomato soup and a beautifully cooked salmon.  During our meal, a bride (post wedding nuptials) threw her gown rather obscurely next to us and invited us to her wedding shindig downstairs.  Although, this would be a first for us-we opted out as we have an early outing tomorrow that will be an all-day (and night) event. Due to this-most likely, my blog will resume on Tuesday-our last day.

One final note regarding all the events that have transpired in the last 2 days…..Please try to understand, we are trying to make the best out of a very sad and scary set of circumstances.  My pithy jokes and attempt at benign sarcasm is all in an effort to salvage the remainder of our trip.  It is hard to comprehend that one day after all this madness that one could shop, eat, sight see and have the audacity for humor.  However, life has resumed here.  People are out, business as usual-doing their thing.  My hope is that you the reader do not find offense to the resumption of normality and recognize the absolute need for this.  The alternative will only help evil to prevail.

Love and all things Turkish,

~B&F~

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 6

Up this A.M. before the crack of dawn we had a big day planned and escaping the city could not have come at a more perfect time.  We spent the day on a private tour with 10 individuals through a company called Crowded House http://crowdedhousegallipoli.com/gallipolitours/1day_gallipoli_tour.html. At 6am, we piled into a “crowded van”, hence the name??  The group was an eclectic bunch with many years of travel between us all.  There was a lovely couple from Australia, a family of 3 generations including a teenager on his spring break.  A darling single mother and a high spirited young boy celebrating his 8th birthday as well as a very well-traveled, young, charming couple from London, recently relocated from Australia.

It was a 5 hour trek to the destination-each way, with a breakfast stop and numerous bathroom breaks.  The breakfast and lunch were included in the cost of the ticket and were subpar/borderline prison gruel.  However, the establishments were acceptable and accommodating and perhaps I am a bit spoiled by the amazing cuisine that has been consumed thus far.

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We voyaged out t to Gallipoli peninsula- a region in Turkey famous for a battle that lasted over 9 months in 1915 and over 45,000 lives were lost.  The Hubs and I relish history and anything War related.  We had done our research prior to this and I highly recommend the Russel Crowe movie The Water Diviner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CkLC4Zr2Mw that weaves an emotional depiction into a gripping historical account.

After the long journey and our bellies full-we finally arrived to the vast seaside battleground-which is now a national park.  Our guide Bulent Yilmaz Korkmaz bulenbill@yahoo.com expressed his excitement and enthusiasm for this subject with robust fervor.  The tour takes one to 11 different sites on the wide spread grounds- all with breath taking sweeping views of the Aegean Sea.

Walking on the sacred grounds of the many cemeteries, there is stillness in the air, a quiet vibration –that if you listen closely you can almost hear the battleground cries of young boys that died way too young.  It helped me to reflect on my own personal losses and fears that I have recently been forced to face on this trip.  As I let the sun shine on my face and the wind whisper in my ear, a restorative healing began to take place.

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We stopped for a very unappetizing cafeteria style road stop dinner that was so unappealing, hunger seemed a smarter option.  We began our 5 hour journey back with intermittent head bobbing, nodding off slumber followed by chatty restlessness.  I learned many things about my travel crew and remembered one of the many joys of travel is encountering new people, unique stories and meeting at that mutual meeting ground of shared commonalities.  With the magic of social media, friendships can continue way past a trip ending.  Arriving back at the hotel 16 hours after we set off, tired but fully satiated I would certainly recommend this to a future traveler.

One last note….I have received much feedback –regarding my “decision” to continue on with my trip.  I feel one final time-I must address this.  I hope I can explain this in a way that is both respectful but transparent.

Let me compare this to what I understand and appreciate most-ART.

When viewing a painting, art is subjective.  It is all in how one views it.  The closer you are to it, the more different and possibly distorted it appears.  As you shift back, and your eyes adjust the view takes on an alternative perspective.  Sometimes, one needs to walk away from the picture, take a breather and look at it with fresh eyes.

This incident that occurred less than 10 minutes from our hotel, and where I was to be that day- is quite close to me.  Local news is in a different language, and therefore I am dependent on the information that is released on international news.  What you my reader may be seeing, hearing, or reading may be quite different than what I am exposed to.  So, as I wind down this vacation with one day left-understand my perception is reliant on the variables in which that are present.

One very final note on this and then we can really seal this baby up.  Life has moved on here-business as usual.  “Running to the embassy”, “renting a car and escaping”- these are some of the options people who care for me have suggested.  We are not in Uganda during Wartime.  Getting on an airplane early? What will this solve? Where do I draw the line? That’s the bottom line-where does the line in the sand be drawn?  Travel just within the United States? This does not exempt me from harm.  Travel just on the Eastern Sea board? Travel only 20 minutes form my house?  Where and how does it end?

This is not a rant.  My blog is a sacred place for me.  It is a real- time daily account of what I experience.  I completely appreciate your prayers, love, well wishes and curiosity.  Please keep them coming.  But, ultimately – life is about living it to the fullest, embracing challenges and moving past overwhelming hurdles.  My friends, we got this!

~B&F~

Istanbul, Turkey

March 2016

Trip Report

Day 7

I have chosen to finish my trip report from home.  Let me explain the series of events that transpired the last remaining hours in Turkey.  Day 7 (our final day) began with enthusiasm and trepidation.  Normally, the Hubs and I do a “circle round” of our favorites, meaning, we venture back to some of the sites we enjoyed to get a different perspective of it, or simply see something in it we may have missed the first go around.  However, many of the sites such as Hagia Sophia http://www.hagiasophia.com/ and The Blue Mosque http://www.bluemosque.co/ which we wanted to re-visit were crowd gathering places and this did not feel “safe” to me.  So, after our final delicious breakfast consisting of some of the many items I will miss such as -honey-drenched pastries, salty, briny olives, and Turkish cheese, we formulated an alternative plan.

Out into the spring like air, we headed out on foot to The Istanbul Modern http://www.istanbulmodern.org/en – Istanbul’s modern art museum.  It is a large open space, with glorious views of the Bosphorus Sea.  The art is whimsical, colorful and in many different mediums-such as visual, musical and tactile as well as various combinations.  It ranges from curious to political, with hidden meanings embedded within the context of the art.  We spent roughly an hour there.  It served as a “palate cleanser” for our brain-offering our minds a clean slate, wiping away many of the lingering fears and uncertainties that had been vexingly tapping away at my cerebral cortex.

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From there, we took the Istanbul Funicular http://www.istanbultrails.com/2009/08/getting-around-in-istanbul-by-metro-tram-and-funicular/ -Istanbul’s metro system up to the top of Taxim http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/Beyoglu/Taksim.html for shopping and soaking in the remaining hours of our time here.  We absent mindingly window shopped- a juxtaposition of fear and paranoia intermingled with moments of distractive joviality.

We darted in a Cathedral St. Antonio, http://www.sentantuan.com/  one of the few I had witnessed on this trip.  The ornate church was a temporary home to my heart in this sea of unfamiliarity.  I sat in a pew next to The Hubs in the silence.  As the religious icons faced me, I silently prayed for our safety and relished the peace that swelled inside of me.

At one point, during our promenade we witnessed a large crowd, strapping men, marching, literally linked arm and arm.  These suited men all had foreign emblems and wording, unknown to me or The Hubs.  As this team thumped their feet down in unison, they made their way down the street as if on a mission.  Flanked on each side and behind the mass, were paparazzi, cameras, and reporters scurrying to get a shot.  The Hubs and I were completely caught off guard and curiously, cautiously tried to connect all the dots.  We stopped a camera man, who was more concerned with his footage then our annoying nosiness-and asked him what this was about?  He hurryingly barked “CONSULATE”.

Unclear with this clue, we chalked it up to translation confusion and matters that don’t concern us.  As we continue to walk down the hill, we made our way back to our friendly shop keeper Nuvit  Tuzel the proprietor of ArtAngel.

We were greeted with enthusiastic hugs, double cheek kisses and squeals of excitement.  His wife and nephew were there, and as if now family, he offered us apple tea and a seat.  This was the exact moment, my vacation turned.  It’s like there was before, and an after on this trip.  Technicolor then black and white-this was the moment.  On his laptop was streaming CNN reporting another terrorist attack in the Brussels airport.  34 people were killed.  Departing tomorrow-less than 12 hours from this point, my mind began to spin like Alice down the rabbit hole.  Fear wrapped its arms around me; my “quilt of safety” had now turned into a lead blanket, weighing me down, crushing my spirit and enveloping me in a fear so visceral, I was strangled in inertia.

All the ornamental art pieces in the store surrounding me seemed to be mocking me of my naivety.  All my claims of safety, my insistent pleas of shelter, all evaporated like liquid vapor right before my eyes.  Our new friends sensed this change in me and offered such neighborly love and comfort, that this gave me a brief respite.  Nunit’s daughter lives in Brussels so this too was quite close to his heart.  He passionately talked about his anger about this latest installment of events.  His starch anger contrasted vastly with my deep sorrow bordering on ego driven shattered pride.

In between this see- saw of emotions, we purchased the last of our trinkets and souvenirs for friends and family all the while, seriously contemplating if me, The Hubs or The Suitcase would truly make it home safely.

After our purchases, Nunit walked us around the corner to a local popular lunch spot.  It was all traditional dishes, colorful, tasty and cheap.  We ate in silence as my eyes darted around, every minute between ordinary chit chat mentally recording all my surroundings.  My fellow diners seemed to be doing the same.

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On our way at the bottom of the hill, was a music store Natural Muzik https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natural-M%C3%BCzik/315822431784035.  The Hubs- an avid guitar player wanted to give this Turkish guitar called a Baglama http://www.allaboutturkey.com/muzikalet.htm one last try.  The owner was very patient and determined to earn the Hubs business.  We sat in this cozy establishment, surrounded by beautiful Mulberry, Spruce and Juniper instruments- calm in the midst of the chaotic storm in my head.  The Hubs strummed away in Turkish melody.  The notes warmed my heart and offered for a small moment some calm in my muddled mind.

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Convinced this was the Turkish bargain of the century, the Baglama was procured.  This musical indulgence replaced the cost of the Hammam http://www.allaboutturkey.com/hamam.htm adventure that we canceled on this day.  The Hammam, if you are unfamiliar to this as I was–is a Turkish bath experience. Our hotel offered a private Hammam, which we had scheduled on the inception of this trip  It includes a lot of nakedness on both parties –in this instance Hubs and I –separately- and the Hamman-ster (I know this is not the right phrase).  You are placed in a sauna type setting and basically have the first 3-4 layers of dermis sliced off like a cheese grater.  The Hubs, delicate like a Georgia peach had numerous concerns about this.  Ultimately, his concerns to me were validated with my research and so thus –our bathing escapade was thwarted.  It would have- in my opinion made great Blog content.  However, the sloughing was canceled –fortunately for the Hammam masters as The Girl and The Hubs would be something that they could never –un-see.

Baglama in tow, we made our way back to the hotel.  Off to our final meal for our trip, we went to Pera Thai http://www.perathai.com/.  The restaurant was virtually empty.  We dined on some common Thai dishes with some uncommon, unknown flavors to us.  It was an interesting interpretation of Thai cuisine.  Over dinner, I continued to share my concerns with The Hubs, who offered support and encouragement.  It would be very hard if both of us were mentally and emotionally combusting, so I appreciated his strength and optimism at this time.

We made our way back taking in the last of the Istanbul skyline.  The Hagia Sofia perched up on the hill; all lit up like a warrior watching over its worried flock.  We winded around the Galata Tower, down the cobblestone 180 degree drop of the street back to the hotel.

Let me summarize this trip and Turkey-both separately.  This trip challenged my strength and my ability to overcome some very scary obstacles placed in our path.  Would I do this to myself again?  Have I tested the travel Gods too much this time?  Travel is never easy.  For me-travel is the art of learning new things, new cultures, different ways of life and exposure to the unknown.  Unfortunately, this trip was complicated by evil that exists in the world.  This form of evil will always be present in countless ways.  It is up to us, not just in travel, but in life to move through and beyond this to see all the beauty that truly exists in the world.

Turkey is a beautiful country, and Istanbul is a one of a kind city.  The Roman ruins that stand side by side overlooking a modern highway are a testament of this city’s survival.  Its bold colors from carpet to tile, its vibrant spices and simplicity of the food to the passion of the people are all apparent in their everyday representation of life.  Istanbul has carved out a special place in my heart-as a survivor, straddling two worlds and bridging these into one beautiful mosaic of culture.

See you in September 2016 Oslo &Norway… ~B&F

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Categories: Istanbul, Turkey, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Entire Trip Report 10 days in Hong Kong November 2015

WARNING:

This is a 10 day trip report. It is chuck full of goodies but is meant to be read in increments or you will be exhausted. Enjoy!

Hong Kong Trip Report November 2015

Day 1

Greetings from Hong Kong

This is a destination that has been on the bucket list for a long time, but for whatever reason always seemed unobtainable. This year due to our sad,sad dollar in Europe and cruddy exchange rate as well as stellar airfare for HK this endeavor was brought to reality.  I don’t have much to report tonight, but a little rundown is certainly warranted. Now, I never go into flight or journey details of what it takes to schlep the hubs and I thousands of miles, frankly because it is how most think of childbirth regarding the struggle and pain that must be abolished by the memory in order for survival of the species. However, for those who know me, much stress, anxiety and trepidation was had anticipating a 16 hour flight. So, I must report- the flight was delightful. Trying to outwit the airplane Gods, we selected our seats 7 months ago- an aisle and a window. Well the aircraft stars were aligned because the only spare seat on the plane was the one smack in the middle of me and the Hubs. Additionally, whether a flight is 2 hours, 4 or 16-it really is no difference. A good book, a couple movies, several naps, 2 meals and several anti-anxiety meds (physician prescribed) and before you know it the wheels are touching down.

We arrived in Hong Kong in the veil of black night and evening sky with golden twinkling boat lights illuminating the harbor like a game of battleship. I have never arrived in a city in darkness and it does add a feeling of mystery to it. We took an uneventful taxi ride into the city, me in the back seat, taking in the overwhelming lights and palpable energy. The taxi driver sitting in what should be the passenger seat as we Americans know it- on the “wrong side of the road” as HK was once a under British rule until 1997.  Lights pulsed from buildings as high as the eye could see, condominium high-rises flanked each side of the highway, my brain trying to take in the entire sensory overload.

We are staying at the Ovolo Central  http://www.ovolohotels.com/en/hotels/hongkong/ovolo-central/ . This is a lovely hotel, modern clean and virtually every imaginary amenity you can imagine-including a free mini bar (including booze) restocked daily. We are on the 20th floor of this tall, slender, glass structure perched up on an elevated street. This is our home for the next 10 days.

A day and a half of travel really confuses one’s brain. Add a 13 hour time change and mood altering medications (prescribed by my Physician- people-and only for travel) makes decision making complicated. Sleep?Shower?Walk?Eat? After freshening up, we really wanted to get a lay of the land. So, we set out amidst all the activity of an energetic Friday night crowd. The buildings reminded me of a Jinga game, building after building on top of each other. We walked around while people spilled out from bars, snippets of conversations hung in the air and the overall humidity draped around my neck like a thick scarf. HK being a major metropolitan city contributed to the aromas that permeated the air. Indian food, Lebanese, pungent beer- all stirring up hunger that neither one of us were previously aware of.

Close to the hotel, actually next door was a cheeky, kitschy American diner-called The Diner http://www.thediner.com.hk/ . We sat in a red vinyl booth, with USA paraphernalia surrounding us as Laurel and Hardy served as background entertainment and ate –a Beet burger for me and Steak and eggs for the hubs. It was not bad, it was not great. Not what I would suggest on day one of an authentic Asian experience.

We are now calling it an early night tonight.

Tune in tomorrow for more tales of A girl, her hubs and a Suitcase

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 2

Have you ever paid a stranger to fondle your ear lobes?  More to come regarding this but first -greetings from Hong Kong from your trusty blogger and travel extraordinaire. Come join me as I share the adventures of two Americans causing mischief across the Orient. This morning, was quite the typical travel sleep kerfuffle (for at least one in this duo). As we are located right in the hub of nightlife here in HK, the walls of this fine hotel were gyrating and shaking to the techno beat of dance music until 4am. Fortunate for them, I was on Eastern Standard Time and had no idea what time it was. My body clock was so confused that sleep was an elusive moving target. Eventually, the music stopped (in the wee hours of morning), right about the time I also realized the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit as the room was so cold it could have doubled as a meat locker.

Oh let’s talk about this shower….A lovely spa- like experience, a girthy shower where one can do a high kick if they felt inclined (not this gal) a Niagara water flow above, causing a magical cascade of water happiness. This shower has renewed my faith in all hotel showers. I was in hygiene heaven. Breakfast was served right next to the hotel in an airy café. A yummy buffet of tasty pastries, fresh fruit and made to order omelets was offered. This was all included in the price and fueled us for our long day ahead of us.

We strolled out into the thick humid air that oddly at 8:30 am was like a work weekday, with bustles of people flocking the sidewalks, synchronized marching purposefully with a mission. Not sure what that was since most of the stores were not even open. The sidewalks, shining and wet were being pressure washed, rinsing away the havoc of the previous evening’s debauchery, due to the outdoor alcohol consumption permitted here. As we walked down the many steps in the region of Lan Kwai Fong, shards of large glass carcasses were dutifully swept away, making room for future revelry.

We landed at a Starbuck’s, picking a window-side table providing ample people watching on the busy street below. We sat there two hours, enjoying the city hustle from our quiet little perch. In the same building, was our next event in which we will discuss the hidden art of finger lobe fondling and where to get this done if ever in need of this procedure in HK.

On my bucket list has always been to get a massage in a foreign land. The concept is so ridiculously indulgent that the idea has tantalized me for years. The Chinese are famous for the art of reflexology and so to me this was the perfect trip to bridge these two together.  We booked a medical massage and a foot reflexology massage at Gaos Foot Lank Kwai Fong http://www.gaosfootlankwaifong.com/contact.html . We were checked in and then they separated me and the hubs. In a small room I was led, with a woman that spoke no English. She barked harsh phrases and pointed non- sensibly to me and my clothing. I am still unsure as to what the commands were. I was thrusted face down on the table and this tiny 90 pound woman began to pummel me with her tiny hands, kneading her little digits into crevices creating charges of electrifying pain in areas I did not know existed. I yelped, moaned and even prayed –wondering what I did to this lady to deserve this. That is when the finger made its way into my inner ear and lingered several seconds to long caressing my ear lobes, in a rather Mr. Bean meets masseuse scenario. The hubs was not subjected to any inappropriate ear action.

This experience went on for 45 glorious minutes. I was then escorted out to another area where the hubs (who apparently had a very similar experience-sans ear lobe pokage) sat shell-shocked in a leather recliner. From there, the punishers immersed our feet into a hot bucket of soapy water and were layered with soothing, warm pads that draped our neck and shoulders. We were given some Chinese herbal tea while fake birds chirped in unison creating a bit of a Shangri-La type moment. We were massaged and caressed, a magical oil slathered on our feet washing away the previous memory of the torturing on the massage table just minutes before.

The services itself were quite economical and the foot portion was very enjoyable. If ever in HK, this is a must do-but just be prepared. This is not your Red Door Spa moment with eucalyptus permeating the air, hot fluffy towels and a nice thick robe. This is the real deal, no frills, work out the kinks and deal with the consequences later type of massage. Just know, you may stir something up, that you may not want to disturb. After the event, the hubs was curiously nauseous and his belly was quite unsettled. I was a bit jarred and hurt in odd areas and still a bit traumatized by the knuckle popping techniques experimented on me. Other than that, it was a lovely experience.

From there, anxious to test out our newly renovated joints we began to walk on foot and “just get lost”. We made our way to the harbor. We took the ferry across the harbor to the neighborhood of Kowloon. The water on the harbor illuminated an eerie aqua marine hue. The waterway was ripe with activity. Ferries criss- crossing this rather short distance, making the waves choppy and rambunctious. The heat at this point was nearly oppressive and made me long for the “cool” climate of my home base in Tampa, Florida! Make-up, smelling nice and any picturesque moments was curtailed by the weighty sledge hammer of humidity.

Disembarking from the quick 3 minute ferry in Kowloon, we sought cover in an air conditioned mall. We found an outdoor balcony overlooking the harbor and ate a quick snack, soaking in the pleasant view. We made our way back to the ferry, back to Hong Kong Island, traipsing up the many, many steps (much easier going down than up) back to our oasis of the hotel.

We took heavenly (much needed) showers and took a luxurious nap, exhausted by the day’s events. Invigorated we ventured out into the Saturday night madness of Lan Kwai Fong (aka—party city). The scene is really indescribable but I will try. The energy is electric. The music pulses into your body at a cellular level. It is a diverse crowd but mostly young, good looking and care free. Awww, youth. The scent is varied and noxious at times. A combination of testosterone, rotting fish, stale alcohol and an occasional tantalizing aroma of many foods, grease, and sweat. The music is wide-ranging and each bar, restaurant and shop offers different sounds. The Doors, love me two times with that great guitar riff followed by salsa music next door. Then, in comes the thump, thump, thump of a techno dance beat that melds in with your atrial lub dub and this goes on all night (as mentioned earlier).

Our beloved nephew- shout out Kevin H. recommended his favorite Thai restaurant Café Siam http://www.cafesiam.com.hk/ . After last night’s diner debacle (although, not bad-just not Asian) we checked it out. On the third floor of the building is this small intimate restaurant. Tables with window seats, displaying all the craziness below offer a bird’s eye view, in a peaceful respite. Trying to be a bit outside our wheelhouse, we went with unfamiliar dishes. There is a definite difference between American Thai cuisine and Authentic Asian fare. I ate a tasty salad with peanut dressing and had a curry eggplant dish. The hubs had a prawn appetizer wrapped in an item that resembled locks of golden curly hair. The meal was relatively affordable, the atmosphere was perfect and the portions were enormous.

After dinner, we hung out for a bit soaking up all the liveliness of the crowd. We made our way slowly up the 50 cagillion steps back to the hotel. Day 2 was full of fun, food and fabulousness.

Please tune in for tomorrow’s installment of A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 3

First rule of travel-be flexible with your expectations. This has been a tough lesson to learn but over the years, I have been forced to be at peace with disappointment, plans gone amuck and moving to plan B quickly. Today was a perfect example of this. Our original plan was to go a Viator excursion highlighting World War II famous locations and such. The company in my personal opinion is a bit sketch and I would recommend that you avoid using this untrusting company.  They had rescheduled our original date to suit their needs. In addition, the tour was prepaid. It was a 4 hour tour and we woke up early to make it to the meeting place at 8:30 am. The meeting place was at the Postal office, and as luck would have it-there happen to be 2 postal offices within 3 blocks of each other. We apparently were at the wrong one. We waited 30 minutes and then resigned that this was not happening. We immediately started to rethink the day (Let me just add here, too-the tour was prepaid and sadly non-refundable).

We made our way to the ferry http://www.nwff.com.hk/public/home.php with the hope of going to one of the bordering islands off of HK. Lantau is reachable by ferry, a pleasant 30 minute ride across the harbor. We made a split impromptu decision and we were off. From the ferry, we took a bus up the mountain. This was another 30 minute drive up harrowing ,curvey roades and well worth the $14 per person round trip.

The bus drops you off right at the base of the village, with the Big Buddah statue shadowing everything else. The Big Buddah commands the area, bringing worshippers out from all over the world. It is relatively young (1993) but serves as a spiritual source of worship and luck for the devoted. Along the grounds of the statue are walking trails, ornate temples and oddly feral extremely tame cattle. They share the paths with stray dogs, the docile Monks on the property and annoying tourists, poking their steers and appallingly posing for selfies. Yours truly has a video with one as I made blubbering conversation and inquired if she-he spoke English?

After viewing some of the temples, we made our way to a vegetarian counter and purchased some authentic Asian light fare. Incents permeated the air causing a foggy visual residue. After much debate, I climbed the 268 steps in 90 degree weather to fully grasp the size and scope of the statue as well as the impressive views. And, indeed it was. Little old ladies with hunched backs and escorts bypassed me on one side, as blind men tapping their canes sidestepped me as I clung onto the railing heaving my chest and silently counting my pulse. Eventually, I made it to the top. The hubs and I rejoiced (being as August I had knee surgery and had to relearn how to walk up and down steps). We soaked in the sights and slowly scaled our way down the steps-going down much easier.

We toured the grounds of the village, making a few purchases eventually finding our way back to the bus, down the 30 minute journey to the ferry. This was followed by the 30 minute ferry ride back to HK Island. From there, we trudged through town craving good old fashioned Udon noodles.

We stopped at a divvy bar called The Hong Kong Brew House http://elgrande.com.hk/restaurant/hong-kong-brew-house/ just in time for the hipsters to start their night. Peanuts on the floor and a grit that probably never leaves- we relaxed our feet and the hubs had a beer. I had a“Lemonade” that was clearly 7up. The exhaustion began to penetrate my bones. From there, we went to an establishment called Crab Noodles http://www.openrice.com/en/hongkong/restaurant/central-crab-noodle/149949.  The pungent smell of (surprisingly) crab permeated the small space and the slurping, fishy odor and odd meal selection choices prompted me to change my mind. So, we trudged on back to the hotel with a light snack of cheese crackers purely for substance.  The day was full, and no meal could really have enhanced it any further.

We are calling it an early night as sunburn has made a mark on my virgin skin, the feet are beyond tired, swollen and on the verge of blisters. One side note, I want to add. This lovely hotel we are staying at, I complained about the all-night concert until 4am every day. Well, the room is equipped with fancy noise blocking curtains that are remote controlled. So, I wish to retract my statement as with this fancy piece of equipment resolved the all night madness pervading my dreams and disrupting my valuable rest.

Thanks for tuning in

Check in tomorrow for more fabulous tales of A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report November 2015

Day 4

Sometimes all good things must come to an end…(sigh)-or at least a pause, which is the case of my shower jubilation. If you recall in a previous blog entry I blathered on in detail about the “heavenly hygiene”, cascade of liquid loveliness, waterfall wonderfulness….Well, the flood kind of impeded that.  Mid lather, the hubs starts banging on the bathroom door and apparently, I was submerging the whole blessed room. Suds in the eyes, and task incomplete, the shower situation was aborted-apparently, the bedroom had turned into a swamp.

Of course, this magnificent hotel http://www.ovolohotels.com/en/hotels/hongkong/ovolo-central/ that I really must continually rave about, drummed up their emergency SWAT team (aka, maid/plumber) because after an enjoyable breakfast, minus some soapy residue on your truly-the shower was magically fixed and the floor was a buffed shine. Not one remanence of an aquatic disaster.

After our eventful morning, we made our way back to the ferry to Kowloon http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/dine-drink/where-to-eat/kowloon-city.jsp  to visit The History Museum of Hong Kong http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/History/en_US/web/mh/index.html . Now, I am certain we made life much harder on ourselves than necessary getting to this place, as we are still learning the lay of the land. But, just picture the hottest summer day, intense sun bearing down-like an ant under a magnifying glass. That is what the Hong Kong sun feels like. Now, I am no stranger to intense heat, as I live in Florida-but was unprepared for this amount of sweating that has occurred on this trip. We made our way, pounding the pavement, the pedometer tallying up on the abundance of steps- eventually to our destination. I must pause here and really praise the fine people of Hong Kong. Many times, during this trip we have been lost, disoriented, trying to gather our surroundings. Countless times, an individual has stopped us and even escorted us many blocks to where we needed to go. One young gentleman walked with us for 20 minutes, friendly chatter the whole time. For this wayfinding phenomenon, I give major thanks.

We eventually arrived at the museum, hot, slightly bothered but ready to take on the exciting history of Hong Kong. The hubs and I were both granted discounts, which made this activity quite economical; again that Masters is sure paying off…. We made our way to the comfy café to cool down and I had an interesting “pineapple ice” drink. Nothing fancy here-literally a large glass of ice, with a can of pineapple and juice. So simple, but cooled my inner core about 10 degrees instantly.

The museum is very large, open and extensive. It takes one chronologically through Hong Kong history literally starting with the rock formation 400,000,000 years ago and ending with the unification of China back into the hands of the Chinese government in 1997. It is very interactive and one feels as if they are a part of the displays as life in Hong Kong. It is bright, vibrant, vivid and multi-sensory with music, video documentary and an abundance of information. We spent roughly 4.5 enjoyable hours there.

Venturing out from there, we made our way slowly and rather unsurely to the Jade Market http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/shop/where-to-shop/street-markets-and-shopping-streets/jade-market-and-jade-street.jsp . This became a mission of mine, and the hubs was very determined in getting me there. We figured out- somewhat the MTR train system and eventually made our way into the crowded and popular market district.

Walking through these open air bazaars is a true experience. Booths with raw chickens hanging, tables of every vegetable you can imagine, strange herbs and fish, right next to bras and underwear. The smells were overpowering at times, from briny fish to musty mothball. It was a shopping frenzy, and fortunately for me, there was zero shopping interest in any of it. Not even the raw chicken!

Eventually we made it to the Jade Market, a green stone that is popular in China. I was requested from my friend back home-shout out to Bryn-to obtain a Jade bangle. Upon entry we were accosted immediately by a feisty lady, who immediately became my best friend. Urgent for me to purchase anything and everything she began tossing Jade items at me. The hubs, overwhelmed by her energetic selling techniques ventured off only to be hounded himself by another fierce competitor. I finally settled on a bangle, and now the haggling began. “Best offer” she barked over and over thrusting a calculator at me. We eventually after much back and forth- determined a suitable price. I still am not sure what I paid, but I know it was less than half of her original offer. I then started looking for a pair of earrings. My new pal for life, she says to me “you are now a returning customer; I give you the best price.” More calculator hot potato tossing ensued until eventually, she resigned due to the market closing. Upon leaving, I realized all my Hong Kong currency was tapped out. Good for her, my offers weren’t any higher.

After the exhausting negotiations, draining heat, intensifying crowds, noisy traffic, oh and did I mention empty stomach, dehydrated kidneys and throbbing feet— I was spent. The only problem was we were far, far, far from our hotel. Being as the hotel is on an island, we had to get to the ferry. Fueled by sheer determination, my feet trudged on, passing hipsters glued to their phones, eventually making our way back to our home base.

At this point, it was time for dinner. We settled upon a lovely Thai Malaysian restaurant called Good Luck Thai http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294217-d3335019-Reviews-Good_Luck_Thai_Food-Hong_Kong.html nestled on the same street as our previous Thai excursion. Sitting side by side on a comfy couch, we hydrated on beer, water and apple cider, taking advantage of their happy hour. The menu was unique including Indian, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. We enjoyed some yummy Roti (Indian bread) as well as Pad Thai and the hubs had a very spicy Masala dish that required extra beer to temper the heat. The meal, atmosphere and service were top notch.

Fully satiated we made our way up the many steps, back to the hotel to rest for the remainder of the evening. It was a tiring day but well worth the effort for the outcome.

Tune in for more tales of A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 5

I have found a new form of meditation. It is called Monkey watching. Consider me your modern day Sigmund Freud. I could create world peace with my concept I am certain.  But, let me back up a bit.

This morning they were no plumbing catastrophes or drainage disasters. Yippee. Oh well, actually a minor one. Our lovely hotel, have I mentioned how much I love this hotel? One of its selling points is you can do your laundry for free on the premises. So, this morning, biohazard garments in hand-I proceeded to wash the dirty clothes. Upon starting the machine, copious amounts of soap began to erupt from the machine. Bubbles percolated everywhere under the contraption, dripping down the appliance. I beckoned for help and my new best friend; the poor front desk gentleman seemed perplexed. I silently prayed that he was not the poor sap that had heard my cries of panic yesterday during the battle of Waterloo.

Crisis averted- a mandatory task was accomplished. When traveling for ten days, laundry must be a consideration and unfortunately time must be allocated for such menial duties. The front desk manager during the folding of the underwear recommended several good suggestions for activities for the day. Taking his ideas, we formulated a plan.

Right down the street from our hotel a quick 10 minute walk– all uphill, is the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens and Zoo http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/parks/hkzbg/ . The gardens wind around and unfold like an origami layer by layer, subtlety until brilliant flowers, fragrant smells, and plush vegetation surround you. Turn the corner and low and behold (to my delight) in a cage were monkeys swinging from a vine, catapulting in their enclosure like professional acrobats. In their little sanctuary, all sorts of mayhem and hijinks ensued. They held a captive audience, each spectator mouth open, pointing enthusiastically, secretly wishing they could propel themselves in a similar fashion. Around us, school age children shouted in glee, some in English, some in Chinese-demonstrating that joyfulness is a universal language.

For those who know the hubs, I lovingly refer to him as “monkey”, due to his springy agility and mysterious skills to climb furniture in a rather vertical fashion. So, having him in his “natural habitat” brought great pleasure to both of us. We sat there mesmerized with the performance, waiting for the monkeys to tire. This never happened- at least on our watch. We made a brief stop to the indifferent and visibly bored orangutans and then swung over to the aviary equally impressed by the tranquility of the graceful birds. This activity is free to the public, and well worth the time we spent there. It is a beautiful oasis in the chaos of the city. It allowed my brain to decompress from all the over-stimulation and constant motion, compelling me to embrace my inner child and remember the joy these similar activities had offered me in my youth.

From there, our next stop was to visit Victoria Peak http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/highlight-attractions/harbour-view/the-peak.jsp. Slightly lost (and lacking a map- a common theme for us) we kindly asked a lovely woman to point us in the right direction. Again, just as in our other experiences, this lady escorted us down steps, winding roads and hilly pavements, all with yours truly lugging behind at a snail’s pace (remember the knee mentioned earlier). She went out of her way to ensure we got to a safe disembarking point and as if like a gift from the Gods, she disappeared down the busy street like a dreamy mirage.

Victoria Peak is the highest point on the island and if there is only one thing you do while in HK-this should be it. The easiest way (and by far the most interesting) is by tram http://www.thepeak.com.hk/en/5_5_1.asp. It is a cable car that is over 120 years old and takes you on an 8 minute steady 27 degree incline up to the top. As the cable car ascends, an odd sensation of the world turning on its access begins to take place. Bypassing monolithic high-rises, the slender towers begin to appear as if they are on an angle verses the occupants in the tram. It is an overall dizzying experience, almost un-worldly and literally offers a bird’s eye view of the entire island.

Once off the tram, the topography and weather system dramatically change. Welcoming balmy breezes embrace me and lush greenery, jagged ancient rock and the feeling as if I am suspended in a cloud overwhelms me. Oddly enough, once you exit from the tram, strategically placed is a colossal shopping mall. As if when I am at the pinnacle of Mother Nature, just what I want to do is shop for the same garbage I can get on any Saturday in suburbia. That part was a bit off-putting, however, with the temptation there and lacking any willpower, I did contribute to the financial commerce of Victoria Peak. Tour groups were abundant and annoying as usual, causing me to whisper a grateful side note to myself-that I have the best tour guide around-the Hubs of course.

Speaking of commercialism at its finest, from there we lounged around, resting our feet and soaking up the views from Starbuck’s. We had an indulgent light snack to refuel and ending our sojourn up the peak with a calming walk down a secluded path-away from all the tour madness and hubbub.

We took the tram down, as equally enjoyable and mild altering as the ride up. From there, we made our way back to the hotel to shower and rest. Later that evening, we dined at Jashan http://www.jashan.com.hk/.  A welcoming surprise as the choice was derived purely out of hunger and desperation- turned out to be a wise decision. It is a cozy restaurant with views below of the trendy Lan Kwai Fong area. We were placed in a comfy corner table plush with silky pillows and the glow of candlelight. The Indian spices delightfully penetrated my olfactory nerves and hunger kicked in ferociously. We ordered our usual favorite Indian dishes and savored every morsel. If ever in HK and hankering some yummy Indian fare as well as some romantic ambiance, I highly suggest this as a first choice.

Tired, wholly content and ready to call it a night we made our way back in the balmy night. May I add here, as you all had to endure the relentless commentary regarding humidity, sweat, blah,blah, blah…. The weather today was absolutely delightful. A cool breeze, a so welcome reprieve from the strangulating humidity fell over the city, all day with a threat of grey sky and rain. But, it never did rain and only offered a much desired pardon from the persistent and pervasive hotness.

Tune in for more tales of A Girl, Her Hubs (the “monkey”) and a Suitcase…………

~B& F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 6

Balance is necessary for travel- action vs. rest, exhaustion vs. meditation, culture vs. mindless decadence. The daily desires vary on a trip and this is what adds life each day to a new adventure. Stacking too many things on top of one another, running from site to site just to check off a list dilutes the experience and eventually wears away the love of travel. I have learned this lesson the hard way. The purpose behind my blog is to add a bit of humor through the lens of travel, but mostly to save you-my reader from the hardships and mistakes I have made along the way.

Today was a day aimed at balance. This morning we began the day at Starbuck’s. Located in the same building as the foot massage establishment- The hubs coyly comments “if you want another massage, we have some time to kill.” Well, even though the full body massage was a slightly traumatic event, the foot reflexology part was enormously pleasurable. Worried if I hesitated, the offer would vanish, I immediately accepted the generous proposal.

Back to Gao’s Foot Massage http://www.gaosfootlankwaifong.com/ where they immediately took me back, propped up my feet and went to work. The hubs sat beside me, opting out on the luxurious act but my co-pilot on this somatic joy ride. The petite, sadistic lady’s fingers manipulated my feet creating euphoric feelings of delight followed by piercing jolts of agony. As I grimaced, it tended to encourage her to dig deeper- the howling, jerking and contorting only prompted a sinister giggle and more intense prodding. Meanwhile, the hubs sat next to me reading a book and appeared way more zen than I. However, in spite of all the negative commentary, afterwards I felt rejuvenated, recharged and ready to take on our next caper.

Uber car service-life changing. Using the handy dandy app on the phone, within minutes a man named Alex in a fancy Tesla showed up escorting us to Stanley http://www.hk-stanley-market.com/history.htm#.VkM1ozZdFMs  our destination for the day. An enjoyable and stress free 20 minute ride with friendly conversation flowed as we passed homes of the richest of the rich in Hong Kong. Waterfront mansions dotted the shoreline of Deep Water Bay http://www.hongkonghomes.com/en/living_in_hk/housing_districts/deep_water_bay.htm. Arriving to our destination from a driver was a luxury that was not lost on us.

Stanley is a picturesque seaside village but more importantly the last stand for the British troops before surrendering to the Japanese during the war in 1941. This fact really resonated with us as today is Veteran’s Day. May I add at this point, we arrived at Stanley oddly 11:11 on 11/11, which is consistent with when World War I hostilities ceased at this precise time.

We walked around the promenade along the water’s edge, the salty seaside feel and boardwalk conjuring up childhood memories of the shore. Tucked away, at the end of a path was Pak Tai Temple http://www.hk-stanley-market.com/pak-tai-temple/#.VkM35TZdFMs. The aquamarine water lapped along the rocky shore line. Tranquility washed over me, flooding me with emotional gratitude.

Hunger began to settle in, and consulting our guide book a rather unconventional restaurant was suggested King Ludwig’s Beerhall http://www.kingparrot.com/restaurants.php?id=15&bid=20 . Ok, I know at this moment you are reconsidering reading further-German food in HK? Maybe not our best decision, but some positive aspects here-the view was stellar, widespread seaside vistas, beer was exceptional and the food particularly good. The pretzel starter was an epic disappointment, however the potato pancakes were quite good and the hubs Pork Knuckle, although “gamey” was one for the books! This meal would carry us through for the next 12 hours and so add fulling to the bill. Interestingly to add- this major military building The Murray House http://hong-kong-travel.org/Murray-House/ which the restaurant is located in, dates back from 1844 and was relocated from a different location then put back together at this site.

We walked along the street making our way to Stanley Military Cemetery http://www.cwgc.org/find-a- cemetery/cemetery/49428/Stanley%20Military%20Cemetery. Honoring Veterans in some way on this day was essential for us. We walked along the many gravestones, mostly young soldiers. It was very sobering and forced me to re-focus on what this day is about.

We made our way back to the markets where activity was bustling. Everyone told us this is where you go for anything you want to purchase. A couple items were taken off my list and I am proud to report my bargaining skills were very impressive.

We took the crowded (but cheap) bus back to our home base. Back at the hotel rest was necessary due to the 6 days of vacationing catching up with us. Apparently more than we knew as we slept awaking several hours later skipping dinner and calling it an early low key night.

Tune in for more tantalizing tales of A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 7

Macau

After a much needed slumber, we awoke bright and early along with all the other worker-bees (very industrious group of peeps here) to set out on our day trip excursion. May I add here, there is no behind the scenes travel agent, not even Rick Steves assisting us on this trip. The hubs- tourism aficionado, does all the research, creates a very well organized itinerary, and structures the entire schedule. Add this to many of his extraordinary skills including furniture climbing, guitar playing and my designated paparazzi for all events. My writing and relentless complaining as well as a reliable depletion of all fiscal funds are my contribution. I would say it is an even balance.

We took an Uber https://www.uber.com/ to the ferry https://www.turbojet.com.hk/en/routing-sailing-schedule/hong-kong-macau/sailing-schedule-fares.aspx  to go to the Island of Macau http://www.macau.com/en/. Macau is a Portuguese settlement and is a hybrid of sorts between China and Portugal. Both influences make up this unique country. If doing this excursion, be mindful that you need your passport and go through a customs process upon entry and egress. Also, there is a different form of currency, but they gladly accept HK$, but not vice versa upon your return to HK.

We purchased our tickets and were shuffled rather quickly onto the ferry. The whole process for boarding took less than 5 minutes. It is a comfortable ride and due to a recent ferry tragedy, the turbo didn’t feel so turbo. It was rather a slow ride, a little over an hour. The gentle rocking movement served as a lullaby, as the hubs and I quickly fell asleep.

Disembarking off the port- mayhem, crowds and pesky hawkers swarm you. The attraction to this area is it is the only legal gambling in China, which makes it a very popular destination- the “Las Vegas of Asia”. We quickly made our way onto a taxi and a quick 10 minute ride brought us into the main hub- the ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral http://www.macau.com/en/Ruins-of-St.-Paul’s-2-14-6.html . The eerie carcass of a 17th century church that burned only remains. It stands tall and proud and represents a culture equally as resilient. Selfie sticks poking from all angles (including yours truly) all fighting for the perfect Kodak moment.

On the same grounds, situated within the Montes Fortress we made our way to the Museum of Macau http://www.macaumuseum.gov.mo/w3ENG/w3MMabout/MuseumC.aspx . It is a fine representation of the rich history of Macau and its people. Outside on the top floor, part of the Montes Fortress http://www.worldheritageofportugueseorigin.com/2015/07/17/fortaleza-do-monte-fortress-in-macau/ also from the 17th century served as a military center. There was also a historic battle- a small victory involved the Dutch Military. Large cannons dot the area that provides a breeding ground of picture taking. The views of the city are abundant here and there is a mish mash of old verses new. Big, ostentatious gold buildings shadow over old tenements adorned with laundry.

We made our way into the center of the village, many steps leading us down into a mecca of stores. The crowds at this point had overtaken the area, massive tour groups scurrying for their leader. We eagerly moved past this heading towards the casinos. Hunger kicking in and concerned with appealing options, we gratefully saw a massive sign of the MGM Grand http://www.mgmmacau.com/ off in the distance. Like a mirage in the desert, we migrated to it- a piece of familiarity in an unknown land.

Eventually after much pavement pounding, we made our way to MGM Grand. We were greeted by the loud rhythmic sounds of slot machines, bright lights of a casino floor and the lazy indifferent gamblers getting their fix. It was a vast difference from the atmosphere moments before in the main square. The contrasts was not lost on us.

Through the glass, a chorus line of buffet delicacies called to us. We dined at Rossio  http://www.mgmmacau.com/rossio. A procession of indulgences displayed on tables- an abundant cornucopia of delights. We don’t need to go into the food sloth of details here but will refer to an appropriate borrowed Vegas saying “What happens in Rossio- stays in Rossio”. Our waitress was a real treasure and gave outstanding service and truly represents the kind people of Macau.

Here is where you are asking-“did you gamble”? We are such amateurs that sadly we could not even find the hole to put the coin. Are coins even used anymore for slot machines? We sat perplexed shoving our useless Macau money in every orifice we could find. Ultimately determining that we are gambling morons and aborting. I am sure this was all captured on video surveillance and was the entertainment of the crew for the day. My own family employed in the casino industry must be shaking their own heads in shame.

When and if you go to Macau, know that if you have any intention of visiting a casino they will provide the shuttle back and forth to the port. We found this out too late for our taxi arrival into the city, but did take advantage using this service back to the port.

With 4 Macanese coins left in my pocket and a full (rumbling) belly we headed back to the port. With just minutes to spare, back on the Ferry and eventually back to HK. The whole outing- a full work day, 8 hours was more than enough. Tired, heartburn and mildly seasick we taxied back to hotel for an early evening.

Tune in tomorrow for more tales of A Girl, Her Hubs (love him!) and a Suitcase

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 8

Sleep. My sleep is so very messed up. It is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time which is what I am used to. I believe I adjusted fairly quickly with almost no jet lag, except I am sleeping at 7:30 pm and then up at 2:30 am. This is why when YOU are ending your work day-boom pops up another travel report magically. Just picture me, half way around the world (depending on where you are reading this from) typing my tired little fingers away-all for the hopes that my moronic mishaps will be to your benefit. Currently, my sad tired bones have been awake almost shy of 24 hours. But, I am diligently multitasking by performing my blogging duties as well as laundry. And, yes once again-like Groundhog Day, I put in too much detergent and caused a bubble-tastrophe -same clerk on duty – same indifferent nod.

Today was not my finest moment. In fact, I am not sure what to make of it. Let me begin and chime in whenever you see fit. Over our same cheese omelet that we have eaten consistently for 7 days, as well as the same occupants that have sat next to us and ignored us, we derived our layout for the day. With only a few things left on our list to do, we decided to knock out one of the more intimidating ones-hike Dragon back trail http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/tours-walks/guided-tours/nature/dragons-back-hike.jsp, which is located in Shek O Country Park. Having done virtually zero research, we contacted Uber to get us to the park. The driver had never been to the park, knew the address nor knew how to go (this should have been our first warning). He googled the address and using his phone to navigate proceeded to drive us there.

Now, small detail, we never requested that he drop us off at the entrance. This is equivalent to asking a taxi to take you to The Grand Canyon. There are many entrances and areas to enter. Long story short, Uber was a fail, followed by a taxi epic fail, resulting in going up the down staircase scenario of the Dragon back trail (most certainly not the preferred approach).

All the reviews rave about the scenic, breathtaking views of Big Wave Buy-unfortunately, we never reached this. We trekked through deep brush, subterranean tangled vines imbedded in the ground, causing a “tight-rope” balancing act. It was similar to a video game -each level of hell producing more havoc. Jagged rocks screaming for an ankle injury mocked me, bees buzzing frenetically in circular round-abouts causing me to frantically swat and swipe in mania. Then, the rain came causing the already treacherous rocks to be slippery death stones. School kids came in masses the opposite direction leapfrogging mindlessly as I was clinging onto a tree branch praying to the Big Buddha. Now, you ask where was the hubs during this bedlam? Well, those climbing skills and agility come in handy and he was constantly waiting for me (always the weakest link), watching with patience as I cursed the Trip advisor review rating the difficulty of this hike a 5. How dare they!

The overgrowth of herbaceous border created an umbrella effect trapping the insane humidity making the atmosphere a sauna. Sweat dripped off me as I had never experienced. After almost 3 hours on the trail (the review said a breezy 2 hour stroll!) passing many hikers who assured us there was no view for a “kilometer”, which seemed to be there measurement for everything (even though it was sufficiently triple that)- we officially gave up. But, when in the woods in heavy brush and one decides they have had enough-it is not as simple as calling Uber-Um, yes I am between the 16 inch spider and the beige rock….

Therefore, we had to turn around and backtrack the 3.5 kilometers that we had already hiked. Just to understand our frustration, please read below as this was my expectation….

According to the discover Hong Kong website-this is how it is described:

A lovely cool path takes us through shady groves of bamboo and lush woodland, accompanied by birdsongs. You will emerge into open hillsides often covered with wild azaleas or rose myrtle. Reaching the spectacular Shek O Country Park, you will follow rugged undulating spinal ridge of the Dragon’s Back. From the ridge there are spectacular views eastwards to Clear Water Bay Peninsula and islands in the eastern sea approaches to Hong Kong. To the west, there are views of Stanley Peninsula and the South China Sea. At the foot of the Dragon’s Back is the popular village Shek O with its sandy beaches and alfresco restaurants. You will finish the walk by strolling through shaded tunnels of exotic vegetation. Then take transport back to Central, Hong Kong.

From there, I am not proud of this, but by accident, we stole someone’s taxi. They had pre-called and became just a case of mistaken identity and we were off. We took the taxi to the MTR train station. From there, in our sweaty, aromatic disgustingness we took the train to the hotel.

We stopped at Starbucks, had a quick, light snack and back to the hotel to freshen up for the evening’s activities. We had tickets to see The Chieftain’s http://www.thechieftains.com/main/.  The Chieftains is an Irish band that dates back from the 60’s. This activity does not scream Hong Kong, but again HK is a major international city that has world class entertainment. And, that is what this was.

Again, taxi failure was the theme for the evening. All week, humidity has hung over the city like a heavy blanket. This evening the flood gates opened and it began to pour. The combination of Friday evening (pre-weekend) craziness and the in-climate weather made it virtually impossible to obtain a cab. Wi-Fi has been unreliable internationally so Uber was out and additionally had a 3x markup, also for the weekend. We waited in the pouring rain with the lovely hotel attendant Mink, trying desperately to careen a cab. Over and over again, we were ignored, snarled at or another person would run and steal the cab. It was infuriating. After 20 minutes of this nonsense, we decided with the traffic moving at a crawl pace anyways-we would simply walk to the venue.

Our lovely hotel attendant Mink trailed the way even though she was officially off the clock. Again, I share this as another symbol of the kindness of the HK people. She took us the whole rout, clearly out of her way-simply to do a kind act. At our destination, she refused any kind of compensation, bowed to us and scurried away. It truly was one of the most unselfish acts and quickly evaporated the taxi turmoil from previously.

The Chieftains were playing at City Hall Concert Hall http://www.cityhall.gov.hk/en/hkch/index.html a rather no frills concert hall. We had unbelievable seats for an even more incredible price of $20 a piece-I believe. The concert was simply magnificent. They clearly have a recipe for success that works due to their longevity. The Irish music was festive and celebratory involving full participation from the audience. In their acts, they included local talent such as a HK children’s choir, a dance troupe, and a mesmerizing bag pipe crew. He weaved lively stories in with the musical numbers name dropping multiple times his encounters with entertainment royalty such as Sting, The Rolling Stones and even Paul McCartney. At one point, the dancers ran through the audience grabbing individuals -an Irish conga line of sorts erupted and by the end of the evening my hands were sore from clapping.

The ultimate ending of the show included an intimate Q&A with the leader of the band. A small group stayed behind and he answered random questions and even offered more insight of his long-lasting staying power. This was the highlight of the show and possibly the day.

Outside we were overcome with the bright lights of HK at night. Up until now, we had not truly seen the entire scope of color, electricity and excitement. A laser show of sorts illuminated the HK sky as high rises turn into a star wars night show -each building having its own unique personality brightening the evening sky.

The buzz of the night crowd, awakened hunger in us and again began the forage for food. Having exhausted all options in the area we were walking, we decided to try a place close to our hotel. It turned out to be a very wise decision.

We went to a popular and trendy Lebanese establishment called The Sultan’s Table (no website link found). Just 2 doors down from our hotel, the teak tables and hookah mist greet you. The food was for the books-a fresh cold appetizer of tangy, salty feta cheese and ripe tomatoes followed by a grilled assortment of vegetables and pungent rice. The hipsters were out in full force blowing aromatic smoke rings from their smoking contractions. Loud pounding music vibrated the walls as the hubs and I screamed to each other in an effort to converse, competing with the pulsating techno beat.

At this point it was past midnight, it had been a long and full day. We finished the meal off with some tasty morsels of honey drenched baklava and Turkish coffee.

Tune in for more tales of A Girl (actually an old broad with muscles aching, back twitching &, ankle throbbing) Her Hubs (suffering from a rip roaring Charley horse) and a suitcase (which all of the contents are toxic from sweat)

~B&F~

Hong Kong Trip Report

November 2015

Day 9 & 10

Final Blog Entry

Lines….the bane of my existence- the hubs, I and a newly acquired friend experienced a queue like no other yesterday. I am telling this story in hopes that you, my fellow reader can benefit from our poorly chosen path.

We had earlier in the trip taken a day excursion to Lantau http://www.hong-kong-travel.org/Po-Lin-Monastery/  (refer to Day 3) and had enjoyed ourselves so much we wished to replicate the day, in an altered fashion. It had been suggested to us from individuals that apparently thought they were wiser (hmmmph…) – to take the MTR train to the “sky ride” http://www.np360.com.hk/en/  to Lantau verses the ferry followed by the bus to get there (which was our original route).

The train portion was uneventful. But, as we entered the np360 cable car line, we were greeted by a 90 minute wait sign. Our eyes squinted up to see rows of people filed up as far as the eye could see. Eager families clustered and huddled, armed for battle with fanny packs, coolers and selfie sticks. These people were in it for the long haul. Behind us in the line was a lovely young lady named Adele from the Czeck Republic. We immediately connected and swapped travel stories as she is a “Mary Poppins” of sorts teaching some very fortunate Chinese children English in their home. Her life accounts were fascinating as she travels the globe and does this all in her young age of 24 years old. The sun beamed down on us with no evidence of future shade, but her anecdotes were so alluring that we did not notice the time passing by. As the line curled around misleading us with illusive techniques, the hours ticked on by. Before we knew it, 3 hours had clicked away. A staggering amount of people behind us and an overwhelming surplus of persons in front, we were sandwiched in a communal nightmare.

This “agony” became a bonding experience for us as our muscles, backs and legs twitched in pain and fatigue. Like flamingos, perched on one leg, we balanced our exhaustion, second (and third) guessing our pitiful preparation for this choice. Many times, we discussed shelving this horrible idea and improvising an alternate plan. But, again, we felt committed and all of us shared this dreamy fantasy of the promising views the sky ride would offer.

After 4 hours, ticket in hand (10 times the price of the bus and ferry) we boarded our cabin with other occupants they crammed in there and the tacky photographer said “smile” as the hubs restrained himself from strangling the poor sap. The sky ride is 25 minutes and does have amazing views, however, there is little air circulation and the views are dotted through hand- smeared, unclean windows. Big Buddha peering his head about half way through causing an eerie silhouette across the grassy mountain. Sunset was approaching, which did add a certain magical element, but all in all-the 4-5 hours wait (I lost count at some point) of  an aching back , numb feet, screaming bladder, all in a germ festering gathering in the ungodly heat as well as paying a ridiculous amount, make this experience a major thumbs down.

Arriving at the village, we parted ways with our new pal, Adele. Our main focus was on some good old fashioned retail therapy. Having many peeps on the list to bring back some useless piece of junk, that will most likely end up at next year’s garage sale was imperative. Many times, the hubs is useful in thwarting these impulses-but in this instance he was ready to get his “shop” on.

The hubs invested previously in a traditional straw hat on the prior expedition. But, why should one straw hat be sufficient? Another one was purchased as well as some other useless trinkets. Meandering from store to store, we mindlessly browsed until stores began to close. Our delicious vegetarian Chinese market we had frequented previously was also sadly closed. We had looked forward to some more delicious traditional Chinese cuisine.

Walking towards the Big Buddha (like pros as we were now repeat customers) we found our friend Adele. She had completed all her tasks on her to do list, having strolled up those 268 steps- a whole lot quicker than yours truly. We bumped into some handsome monks in their finest burlap and made friends quickly. They took pictures of us as I revealed jokingly that Adele was a famous movie star from the Czech Republic. She posed convincingly, playing along-all in good fun.

We made our way back to the crowded bus (bypassing a repeat 4 hour wait back on the sky ride). The relaxing ride down the mountain allowed for some much needed rest- cat napping the entire way. From there, we hopped on the ferry. The sky was black and the air was salty- soothing sounds of water and waves lapping against the ferry lulled me into more inertia. A quick 25 minutes later, the hustle bustle of lights and flashing neon alerted us that we were back on the island.

Parting ways with our new pal, we exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch. In all honesty, she served as a valuable life preserver. Creating laughter, comradery and much needed distraction. Traveling even with the companionship of the amazing hubs, sometimes generates a feeling of loneliness-being in a foreign country lacking the comforts and familiarity of home. Even though our worlds could not have been more different, we shared a common humanity that altered the course of the day.

Exhausted, hot, and sunburned (the theme of the trip at times) we realized we had not eaten. We found a lovely restaurant within the ferry terminal called The French Window http://www.miradining.com/french-window/  . A beautiful restaurant with a full landscape of HK harbor all lit up. The place was very chic, open and inviting. We dined on delicious, fairly light gastronomy. The service was impeccable and the views spectacular. However, it was quite pricey and proved to be our most expensive meal. Balancing that with being our only paid meal for the day justified the indulgence.

At this point, my legs were rubber, back was in spasm-mode and my joints were not cooperating. The hubs alert to my pathetic state summoned a taxi that shuttled us up the hill back to the hotel. I slowly moseyed to the room and collapsed on the bed. Blog was suspended last night due to total body system failure as well as a mild case of mental delirium.

This morning having slept in slightly, after breakfast we returned to the Botanical Gardens and Zoo http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/parks/hkzbg/  . We felt we had to see those darn monkeys one last time. We sat at a bench surrounded by rose bushes and plush foliage captivated by the monkeys’ antics and rambunctious behavior. They swung, climbed and scrambled about their cage knowing full well they were entertaining their audience. Families lingered towing strollers, mothers with children caboosed to their bodices clearly enjoying much needed together time. It was a nice snapshot of local life in HK.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped by the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception http://cathedral.catholic.org.hk/index.php?id=4 . A late 19th century Catholic Church rather austere and simple compared to the temples we have visited. I silently said gracious thanks to my God and a prayer for the sad recent international events that have transpired during our time here. Grateful for my safety and wellbeing, I sat in humble gratitude.

Bringing this trip to its final conclusion, we dined right down the street at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen & Bar http://www.diningconcepts.com/ . A popular place even for a Sunday night, it was hopping. It has an open kitchen concept and the menu specializes in British fare. The pumpkin soup was pure perfection. Our main courses were hearty, with ample portions. The service was stellar. The waitress was very friendly and curious about our time in HK. The hubs wanted so badly to say in his best Gordon Ramsay voice “this food is cr@p!” However, it really was flawless. The only downside is we were too full for the gorgeous looking desserts. Next to us was the most precious looking child celebrating her 3 year birthday. An Asian family completely enthralled with their adorable little girl. The closeness of the family was a perfect example of my many observations of the people of HK. We trudged on back the city staircase for the last time- sighing a deep breath that we had fully and completely absorbed the people, culture and heart of HK.

Tomorrow we leave for home. I always like to do a Top 10 and recapture the highlights of the trip.

    10.Museum of Hong Kong History

    9.Day trip to Macau (amazing buffet at MGM-Rossios)

    8.Monkeys at the Botanical Zoo

    7.Lantau Trips with the Big Buddha x 2

    6.The Chieftains Concert at City Hall Music Hall

    5.Stanley Market

    4.The Victoria Peak

    3.The varied and delicious restaurants of HK

(American, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, German (yep) Lebanese, French and British)
2.Ovolo Hotel Central (and the amazing shower and free laundry)

1.Lan Kwai Fong (major party area & night life)

Additionally, I want to add that I really appreciated the kind spirit of the HK people. They were so courteous and kind as well as helpful and accommodating. Everywhere we went families huddled together, doting mothers, interactive fathers, and possibly the cutest children I have ever seen. The spirit of HK will live on in my memories reminding me to cherish the people closest in my life, enjoy a little nightlife, eat well and be active. It is the true meaning of Feng Shui.

Tune in for more tales in March 2016 when A girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase takes off for Istanbul, Turkey.

~B&F~

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