Splashing through Grenada

On Christmas Day, our plane lands bumpily at Maurice Bishop International Airport in Grenada. It’s my first time in the West Indies, preceded by a 12-hour flight during a bad winter storm.

As we taxi on the runway, a flight attendant says “You can take off your sweaters now!” I laugh loudly because I wear three sweaters and a jacket to keep out the cold from Miami Airport. The air conditioning blasted us while it was only 40 degrees outside. Miami doesn’t seem to have heat.

But the island of Grenada does. It’s in the eighties now. As we disembark, I peel off my layers. A well-dressed man asks if it’s our first time here. Yes, it is. I ask if it’s his first-time here and he answers, “oh, no, it’s my home. I come here every year.” He says “it’s a very peaceful place and people don’t like to fight.”

This is underscored at our resort, where each morning begins with smiles and greetings from the staff as we pass by. “Morning morning,” some say, or “Happy holidays.”

We don’t feel the heat, and it’s mainly sunny with the occasional short burst of rain. We walk on the cement path that meanders through the Royalton, surrounded by flat topped, spreading trees and the bougainvillea, the national plant of Grenada. We ate in the tropics. Birdsong welcomes us and we’re off to the breakfast buffet, a melange of steamed bananas, sliced grapefruits, oranges, and starfruit, as well as omelets and yesterday’s cut-up waffles and pancakes, available again. Large families, from toddlers to grandparents, crowd into the hall. Kids stay free.

I hurry to drink a cappuccino and force myself to eat an egg white omelet filled with vegies. I just want to finish so we can spread our towels on the chaises lounges, which we pull up almost to the waves. It’s hard to balance when you walk into the surf because the sand sucks you deeper and deeper into the sand, causing you to topple. Called Magazine Beach, it’s not expansive but postcard beautiful, a tropical paradise with turquoise water and white choppy waves.

Farther out on the horizon, the water is indigo. Two young boys chat happily as they try to find creatures of the deep. Their parents are nowhere in sight. How did I parent when my children were about ten? A gecko digs into the sand. Soon, a mother shows up to ask if the boys want tacos from the lunch bar.

After we sun ourselves under interlaced palm fronds, I walk over to the infinity pool behind my husband and me. He’s a bit allergic to chlorine and pools, so I go alone, stepping down the graduated steps to the cool water.

It’s not long before I hit the wall where water spills into a trough of sorts. An older woman walks by gingerly, with her arms spread out at her sides, careful not to lose her wide-brimmed straw hat. She manages not to spoil her makeup, either.

A young girl does handstands in the shallow part of the water, without much control of her body. She nearly misses me.

I return to our sandy shelter. Shortly, the tall, thin lifeguard warns us that it will rain. We feel a mizzle, but don’t have a sense of urgency until the sky releases a monsoon season like I’ve seen in movies. We gather our stuff and race to the lunch tables, which have an overhead.

The waitresses seem bored and resentful and why not? They wear white nets over their tiny braids, as well as nylons and shirts and vests.

I notice the couple at the adjacent table, particularly the woman, who is wearing a burgundy two-piece suit from the hotel gift shop. Yesterday I almost bought it, but it wasn’t my size.

Grenada is called the Spice Island, mainly because of its nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg grows on evergreen trees, and while I don’t see any, we spot a man selling nutmeg on the beach. The rain stops within half an hour.

We tear ourselves away from the perfect beach and join an island tour. The Grenadines include the smaller islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, as well as annactive submarine volcano called Kick-Em-Jenny.

Looking at a map, I see intriguing place names like “Les Sauteurs,” or jumpers in French. It marks the place where Black Caribs refused to be taken prisoner by the conquering French Army in 1719. Some thought it would be less painful to jump off a cliff than to withstand torture.

The British captured the island and its plantations 1763, bringing Black slaves with them. Slavery was sbolished in 1834.

On our bus tour, I recall the plane passenger’s observation about peaceful Grenada and decide it’s accurate. Our driver honks at every bus he passes, saying “we’re a friendly people.”

The signature Caribbean drink is rum, and we soon stop at River Antoine Estate rum distillery. In existence since the 18th century, the plant still uses the original machinery and processes. After touring the establishment, employees escort us to a small patio where we’re offered a taste of rum. Several strong men gulp down the drink and almost spit it back out.

After living near Napa Valley for years, I am amazed that we are not charged for tasting. Instead, a guide encourages us to take pictures of the premises and post them on our social media pages. Some people do buy bottles, which must be less than seventeen percent proof to pass American customs officers. On the trip back to the resort, someone breaks his bottle, leaving the bus with a distinct smell.

We meet a couple from North Carolina, Lucien and Isolda and sit next to them at the lunch at an old plantation. A former English professor at North Carolina State University, he says this is their fifth international trip in 2022. We sit next to George, from the United Kingdom, who says his wife couldn’t come but she’s Polish. Asked about King Charles, he says “he’s doing a good job although he has big shoes to fill.” His face turns red at the mention of Prince Harry and Meaghan Markle, who he says are “just out for publicity and money.” We change the subject, no pun intended.

After lunch, we pass orange, blue and even lavender pastel houses with elaborate windows next door to grey shacks. It’s an uneven blend of wealth, with clothing stores run out of people’s homes. We pass a bank called “Offshore Holdings” and I wonder about tax advantages.

Our next stop is a tour of s local chocolate factory. A tree out front grows full chocolate pods. They are often washed by stepping on them, like grapes for wine. We buy some 70 percent cacao bars and hot chocolate at a small fountain bar.

The tour nears the end at Annandale waterfalls in Grand Etang park. We walk down a steep, winding asphalt path, passing a treehouse bar called Wild Orchid. Its neon lighting flashes purple and pink. As the surrounding rainforest creates darkness all around. Friday nights local artists play their music, while the bar serves cocktails as well as meals like coconut shrimp and chickenburgers.

Since there are no walls, you have a good view of the thirty-foot waterfall. Its pool inspires several tour goers to swim in its chilly waters. I watch from the hill, thinking how three years ago I would have accompanied them. There’s a railing, but the steps seem too steep for me.

By the time we return to the Royalton, it’s 6:30 pm, three hours after the stated stop time. If there’s one thing I learn in Grenada, however, it’s that you can’t rush island time. The restaurants are still open for dinner.

Taking in the trees

Forest bathing 

            It was a hard week, one in which I hadn’t slept much. I was feeling couped up, wishing our condo got more sun during the day. 

            Then, I spotted a friend’s Facebook post showing how she had fixed a similar slump by walking among the trees, in particular the redwoods at a certain Saratoga park. Neither my husband nor I had ever been to Sanborn County Park, which has 3,453 acres and 22 miles of trails sandwiched between Saratoga and Skyline Boulevard.

 Rich has been working remotely for the past year. Despite his deadlines, we dropped what we were doing to drive south from Los Altos. Rich appeared to humor my mood, but I knew he also loves to get outdoors.

            After a 20-minute drive, we entered the park, passing the gatehouse where the guard’s only question was “How many?” She noted there were two of us on a clipboard and there was no charge. I wondered what the Covid-19 restrictions were for the park, but the phrase, “25 percent capacity” flashed in my mind. Was that just for restaurants and stores? Maybe it also applied to county parks. I later found out the per vehicle charge will be $6 starting April 1.

            There were few cars; one was flanked by parents opening the car doors for their young children. Signs said the park closed at sunset. It was only 3:00 pm. 

I looked up and turned around like a slow-motion dervish, noting the 30-foot redwoods that made up Peterson Grove. We walked on a platform built inside the gigantic trees, and I remembered the book my daughter had given me last time she visited: “Forest bathing Retreat – find wholeness in the company of trees,” by Hannah Fries.

            In it, the author talks about the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature, breathing in the fresh air and trees. The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku refers to a kind of forest therapy started there in the 1980s as an antidote to the conditions that urban, cement-choked  life causes. I had always felt better after being out in the negative ions for a few hours, sure that trees had some magical mystical quality. The gnarled branches seemed to connect to each other without touching.

            The thing I felt most was my own fraility.  I had just had a shoulder arthroscopy, making me aware that I might fall on that side. I was like a broken tree. Still, the sound of leaves blowing, called psithurism, invigorated me and I felt I was receiving healing energy from the trees. The air smelled fresh, clean, and I tried to stand still while my husband moved forward.

            The book says, “sit as still as you can in one place for a while – 20 minutes or so, and see how the forest begins to slowly go about its business again all around you.” We found an amphitheatre, marked Outdoor Stage. I could imagine a play staged here, with chairs placed around in a semi-circle. It was cold but silent. Around us, a few broken-off branches lay scattered on the earth.

            We walked past a hike-in camp site, with sturdy plastic cabinets to keep out animals. Then we traveled through the RV camper hook-up sites and back to our car. After just an hour, I felt lifted up as high as the redwood trees, open as the sky. And that night, I slept eight hours straight, feeling refreshed in the morning. The forest bathing therapy had worked to rejuvenate me. It’s worth another trip. 

Redwoods at Sanborn County Park

Mardin: Silk Road city welcomes diverse religions in Turkish dust bowl


Mardin, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, is just an hour from a Middle Eastern war zone. And yet tourists pour into the area, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Even Prince Charles visited the oldest orthodox Syriac monastery in the world, which is still a working Syriac monastery. Mor (Saint) Gabriel Monastery closes after dark, but you can see monks tending the garden during daylight hours. Located in the Tur Abdin plateau, a few kilometers from old Mardin, the Assyrian monastery is also called Deyrulzafaran. It is massive, with 365 rooms for each day of the year, and services are held daily.

Mardin is known for telkari, an ancient jewelry technique using pure silver.


Jewish, Syrian, Yezidi, Kurdish, Arab and Chechen civilizations have left their marks on Mardin, which is nevertheless on the State Department’s list of risky areas. Turkish soldiers wrestled with PKK Kurdish fighters last year, making the region off-limits for foreign service employees.

But I’m glad we were able to make the trip from Istanbul to Mardin in August, 2019, despite the extreme heat.

Telkari is an type of ancient jewelry making using pure silver. Mardin is known for the craft.

If only you could walk through the narrow, stepping streets of the old town, to experience for yourself the walk of ages. I felt like I was in upper Mesopotamia,


The jewelry stores sell silver bracelets in a special design that is characteristic of the region. When we returned to Istanbul, for example, my sister-in-law immediately knew the style of her sultana bracelet, wrapped up one finger then down to her wrist. I bought myself a stone and silver beaded necklace for $13 and offered to pay in American dollars. The owner was quite pleased, but I made sure that he would be able to exchange the dollars. He nodded his head, of course, because the lira was down.

I witnessed the honesty and generosity that Muslims in my country exhibit on a daily basis. Everyday, people helped me lift my travel scooter over curbs and steps that were inches tall. As a limited walker, the terrain proved arduous for me. Men appeared to carry my little travel scooter or to inquire if I needed help.

Christian Syrian refugees determine about 40% of the population, with Kurds coming in next place. Turks only make up 5%.

The rocky terrain merits the Syriac name Mardin, which means fortress. Since life is so hard here with narrow steep roads, taxi drivers gave me their cards and told me to call them if I couldn’t make it up a hill. They were willing to track back to get me so that I didn’t suffer walking straight up in the sun, a hot ball of fire in the afternoon. Another driver gave us his card and insisted we call him if we couldn’t walk anywhere.

From the air, Mardin looks like a kaleidoscope of colorful wedges. But this area is no Trivial Pursuit. The capital of Mardin Province, it’s deep in what was once Upper Mesopotamia. We arrived on a full plane on the Pegasus Airlines discount brand, leaving from the domestic Istanbul Airport (SAW), named Sabiha Gokcen, Ataturk’s adopted daughter. Ironically, according to Suzy Hansen, in Notes on a Foreign Country, Gokcen flew many air force missions against the Kurds.

Since this week of Kurban Bayrami, calls for people to eat leg of lambs like Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Remember the Old Testament story of the sacrifice of Isaac, who gives his son’s life to show his devotion? God was so impressed, he decreed that in the future, believers could sacrifice lambs instead.

In the Muslim faith, one must also practice Zakat, or donating two percent of your income to the needy. So that people can buy lamb for the homeless, there were pop-up butchers everywhere.

Just a few years ago, tourism faltered, with only 2000 beds and not many comers. Now, there are thousands more hotels and the tourism has tripled, partly due to a phenomenon of a woman, Chef Ebru Baybara Demir. Although born in her father’s country of Mardin, her family moved to Istanbul so she could have the best education and opportunities. Now, she’s paying it forward.

Mardin’s a city under an ancient citadel about 3,000 feet tall that protected empires: Byzantine, Selcuks, Ottoman, Syriac, Duer, the best and the brightest of the world. As a Sunni Muslim (on my birth certificate), I never really knew what it meant to live according to Islam. My parents, freed of any extended family pressures when we moved to the States, taught me that religion was the opioid of the masses. We subscribed to secular humanism magazines, and while I knew a few Islamic prayers, they were mostly learned when my Grandmother visited and recited them whenever my father drove in New York City traffic. “Bismillah, lahmahni rahim” is one you might recognize from Freddie Mercury’s song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Friends of theirs prayed three times a day and asked for a private space when they came over for dinner, but my psychiatrist dad told me religion was just a crutch.

Mardin Airport from Istanbul’s Sabihah Gokcen

Around us, men with hair spilling out of their shirt sleeves looked out the tiny windows to get a glimpse of the agrarian region they may have left years ago to make life in the big city. That’s how Istanbul became the sprawling megapolis with a population of 15.7 million people. Mardin has only

The unbearable heat hit us hard on debarking. Porters threw luggage and strollers in plastic bags on the sizzling pavement while I tried to sit on a shady part of the plane. I could feel the sticky weight of every piece of clothing I had on. We finally got our baggage and made our way through the building to the parking lot.

Ata, a man who works with Chef Ebru Baybara Demir, picked us up at the airport. He loaded our luggage and my travel scoot in the back of his truck with the sunflower oil he had just picked up at Migros (Turkish Safeway) and offered to take us to her office in the center of the old city. My daughter Leyna was there to do some grain business with Ebru, a celebrity chef. I remembered my Turkish and said “kiyafetimizi degsterelim once.” He understood that we needed some down time, but he seemed indefatigable himself.

Ebru, as she is known, donates food and clothing to the Syrian regugees, especially during Kurban Bayrami.  Since moving back to her father’s homeland in 2000, ago, Demir has helped increase tourism while giving women refugees jobs and training at Cercis Murat Konagi restaurant. Ebru and her husband restored the mansion, turning it into a highly rated restaurant.

If you go, order the appetizer plate.  It comes with several health takes on Turkish dishes and the presentation with decorative spoons on a tray. Chef Ebru says she has a copyright on the dish.

Under the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II, the governor of Diyarbakir Haci Hasan Pasa commissioned the building which now houses The Sakip Sabanci Mardin City Museum and Dilek Sabanci Art Gallery. The Armenian architect Sarkis Lole designed it as a calvary barracks in 1889. In the photo above, one can see what used to be a stable. The museum displays Ottoman artifacts, jewelry, busts of gods and goddesses.

There’s an eery silence in the air here. I felt this also in Ephesus, near the Virgin Mary’s house. It reminds you of the history of the place, past civilizations that offer a gravitas to Mardin.



Beyond the guidebook: Read these books on Provence

A good trip sparks anticipation. I try to read a few books about a destination to figure out its culture, not just the tourist sites. Guidebooks, of course, have their place.

The Chateau de Cassis is at the top of a long path and has a great view of the harbor.

In the movie ” A Room with a view” Vanessa Redgrave uses her Baedeker to explore monuments in Florence, tearing a page out as she goes. Great way to save on extra luggage weight.

Try to research quirky facts on the Internet or find pertinent blogs. Even uber-positive tourism sites can help you narrow down the towns that will appeal to you.

For a more balanced view, check out TripAdvisor.com or the travel pages of newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post. The problem with reader reviews or comments is that you don’t know whether the person writing is in your “tribe” or not. Do they have the same interests or world view? You’ll have to use your judgment, perhaps by looking up past reviews by the commenter. If a hotel inspires high praise and pans, you can guess that your opinion may fall somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes hotels in Europe, ask guests to write positive reviews in Booking.com and on Yelp. Do not fall for that trap. And if you post your own review, remember that other travelers are relying on your message to decide whether or not to visit a spot. Instead, be honest and mention the good, the bad, and the ugly.


For our trip to Provence, I talked to French friends, got tips on what to read, and bought photo books like “One Hundred and One Beautiful Small Towns in Provence.” Published by Rizzoli, New York, this coffee table book includes villages in Provence-Cotes d’Alps as well as other provinces in France. The photographs will inspire you and underscore little-known facts. The pages on Arles, “gateway to the camargue,” show a striking sunlit amphitheater, where the town stages pretend bullfights

We chose that storied city, a favorite of President Macron’s, as our launching point. Some people choose to fly into Paris to take the Train a Grands Vitesse (Known as the TGV ) to Arles, but with limited time, we flew south on Air France to Marseille.

From there, we rented a car and drove west to our first hotel near the center of Cassis. I had been there years ago in the winter. It was a sleepy village then, but now it’s a vital and bustling town. We hit the beach, but the water was ice cold.

In another inspirational book, “the French Riviera for Artists,” the author, uses her watercolors to capture the mood of each town, from

A sample of the books I carried with my snacks and a blanket to sit on. The straw basket called out to me in Cassiss, because it had “Ma Vie en Rose,” embroidered on it.

I don’t just rely on guidebooks. I research quirky facts on the Internet, read blogs and even uber-positive tourism websites to help us narrow down the towns to visit. My husband and I booked hotels for September. I anticipated sunflowers, the Van Goghs in Arles, and the famous sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean. My husband imagined Roman ruins and colliseums and warming bowls of bouillabaisse. We both counted on warm weather, so I looked up hotels with pools.

Before any trip, I put together a reading list, partly to assess the mood of a destination. Is the region gloomy like the marshes in Jane Austen, or intellectual like Simone deBeauvoir?

It’s important to jot down any hotels, cafes or museums that seem worth a trip, according to bloggers. Don’t forget Rick Steves’ guidebooks. They’re loaded with accurate historical details for travelers to absorb. Long after you’re home, you’ll remember the personality of a place. Take photos, take in the ambience and relax into the scenery, too. Talk to everyone you can.

Author Nancy Pearl, a librarian who says she leans more toward armchair travel, triggered my own book habit with “Book Lust to Go, Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds and Dreamers,” Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2010, 270 pages. Several more editions of “Book Lust” have come out since I first discovered Pearl, who thinks books can tell you a lot about the people, culture, and outlines of a new place. I love that she included travelers as well as dreamers in her subtitle!

A geographical index in front of “Book Lust to Go” lets you choose from Afghanistan: Graveyard of the Empires, to Zipping through Zimbabwe/Roaming through Rhodesia. Pearl’s suggestions are mainly fiction books with some nonfiction thrown in. Or maybe I’m just more drawn to fiction.

Marcia DeSanctis writes from the heart

Here’s another one for you, full of unique places to see. Marcia DeSanctis wrote “101 places in France Every Woman should go,” to transmit her love of the country. Published in 2014 by Solos House, Inc, “101 Places” is part of a series on travel. DeSanctis writes beautifully about French landmarks she discovered while teaching high school French in Paris. I stopped at a few of the sights she writes about lovingly: L’hotel Particuliere in Arles and the Calanques of Cassis.

L’hotel Particulière in Arles, a 17th century mansion, was one of the best places we stayed. Recommended by DeSanctis because of “the courtyard so serene, the white sheets so pressed, and the tucked away bar with the wine menu scrawled on a chalkboard so inviting.” A romantic aura and the floral smells made this one so memorable.

In addition, the narrow lap pool and trees bending down onto the patio create a quiet refuge. We stayed on the bottom floor due to the steep steps to the other rooms, not very accessible, but our windowed ground floor porch reminded me of parts of Paris long ago.

Provence from A to Z still holds up

For Provence, we gathered Peter Mayle books from the local library. Once an ad executive, Mayle bought a farm in the South of France with his wife Jennie in 1987 to escape dreary England. His 1988 book, “A Year in Provence,” became an immediate bestseller, and several others followed.

Like Pearl, Mayle starts with an alphabetical theme in “Provence A to Z.” “Toujours Provence,” ” Encore Provence” and”Marseille Caper” among many others.

Marseille, the largest city after Paris, used to have a shady reputation. Now, it’s the kind of place President Emmanuel Macron chose to meet with Angela Merkel, prime minister of Germany. Read about the marvelous Le Petit Nice and Gerard Passedat here.

But when my husband Rich read “Marseille Caper,” I learned a thing or two about provencals. They talk slowly, appreciate a good bottle of wine, and love to socialize. Wine shapes most meals. The restaurant Mayles describes as having the best bouillabaisse is Perron.

You can’t go to France without thinking about food, and Mayle certainly explores the provencal kitchen in all its flavors. Try the bouillabaisse when you can, for example. Mayle talked about the restaurant Peron, the first restaurant we went to when we were in Marseille.

San Juan-Les-Pins – “Cooking with Picasso”

“Cooking with Picasso,” by Camille Aubrey describes a year when Pablo, the great modern artist, rented a house in San Juan- les- Pins. I’m grateful to Karen Bonke, a book club friend who turned me on to this one. It’s whimsical and a mystery. The story unravels from two viewpoints: that of Ondine, the lover and Picasso’s cook, and her granddaughter, who knows there’s a painting of her grandmother somewhere in the south of France.

Sampling glamping in Nevada City


Try #13, the Cowboy tent with a Western theme and a place to hang your hat. Whimsical touches like horses’ hooves decorate the walls. Photo by Eren Goknar.

About two miles from downtown Nevada City, InnTown Campground provides RV hook-ups, camping, and tents with wifi connections. If you love sleeping outdoors, but not on the ground, glamping may be for you.

Just remember that you still have to lug your toiletries to the restrooms and  outdoor showers. The two two shower facilities include one that is handicapped accessible.

Owners Erin  and Dan Thiem provide heated mattress pads, but no heaters. Remember, even though you will sleep under a canvas tent, you still have to walk across the circular driveway to get to the two showers-one indoor and the other outdoor.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word means blending camp activities with the comforts of home, like plugs, wifi, pillows and a queen bed. We particularly liked the InnTown’s new heated mattress pad with dual controls, since it gets chilly in the Sierra Nevada hills at night. The tents sit on platforms and your bed has real mattresses and linen.

Nevada City

Settled in 1849 at the height of the California gold rush, founders decided on “nevada” because it meant snow, and so that Nevada City so it wouldn’t be confused with the state of Nevada. Because of the cold weather, the glamping tents at InnTown shut down from December until March, but the regular camping and RV sites are open throughout the winter.

Try out cooking at the kitchen, which has a homey, clean look and a table for your family to play games or eat meals. The cafe sells hot chocolate

People tend to know each other. Visit on July Fourth for the Hometown Parade and you’ll see  patriotic displays worthy of Mayberry, RFD, the fictional town set in small town America on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

With a population of only 3,200, Nevada City delivers big adventures with  a small-town vibe.  The three to four-hour drive from the Bay Area makes it easy to get there over a long weekend.

Though not as far nor as big as Lake Tahoe,  a river runs through it.The Yuba River becomes a popular swimming spot in the summers, when you can see cars parked on Highway 49 for a couple miles.

It’s a good place to see the fall colors of the Sierra Nevada hills, and while the kids might like camping, my favorite activity is wandering downtown past 19th century Victorians. The downtown feels like any  town you’ve seen in old westerns, but the roads are paved.

The Empire Mines offers docent tours, and the campground is next door to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Museum.

Locals like to go to nearby Grass Valley for the Nevada County Fairgrounds. While the fair doesn’t start till August, the Strawberry Music Festival hosts several bands in May.

Now, with Covid-19 changing everything, you can still camp and enjoy the outdoors. The camp store is closed, but you can access the kitchen, laundry, T.V. area and reading nook. Family outdoor movie nights are a favorite with campers.

The fifteen glamping tents start at $110 per night.  One tent has four twin beds; there are others with two queens.  Find everything online at inntowncampground.com. There are also 18 motor home sites, which provide water and electricity hook-ups and start at $65 a night.

Locals like to go to nearby Grass Valley for the Nevada County Fairgrounds. While the fair doesn’t start till August, the Strawberry Music Festival hosts several bands in May.

The Spice Station: Mistress of spices in Silverlake District, LA


Silver lake District in Los Angeles projects urban grittiness, but there are some amazing finds here. I wandered into the Spice Station recently, after a day at the art museum.

It takes five minutes or so to find 3819 Sunset Blvd., because first you have to meander through a path, the lovely impressionistic courtyard covered with trellises and a fountain . After the courtyard, you will step into the actual store, filled with spices in apothecary jars.


Owned by husband and wife team Peter Bahlawanian and Bronwen Tahse, the store carries 140 spices, teas, and tissanes.
I took home jasmine tea and Himalayan salt in packets. The small cottage is lined top to bottom with jars of spices.

DTLA art galleries and museums

More than 100,000 pieces of art in Los Angeles County Museum of Art 5905 Wilshire Blvd. guarantee that you’re not going to see all of them in this lifetime!

But pick and choose and take in the ones that call to you. Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month, otherwise it’s $15 for adults, $10 for seniors 62 and older.
Temporary exhibitions include one on Samurai armour, another on Pierre Huyghe, and a third on the Hudson River School. Visit lacma.org for additional information.
The streets around LACMA also contain lots of art galleries. Wander around for hours.

Providing comfort on the road

In travel, as in romance, it’s the little things that count.

Beyond the glossy brochures lie mundane travel discomforts. You might be able to coast with bad weather or steep admission prices, but it’s downhill once you add hunger, sleep loss, or misplaced items.

San Francisco’s Humangear comes to the rescue with travel gear bearing cute names like GoTote, GoToob, GoTubb and GoBites. Each one promises to help you civilize your adventures with amenities from home.

Tiny buttons, pills, or earplugs will fit into the .9 cubic-inch small size GoTubb ($7). My personal go-to, these BPA and PC-free containers house rings or earrings, typical items that go missing on trips.

Fill the medium-size tubs ($16), which hold 5.3 cubic inches, with pennies from heaven or vitamins.  You can also store food in the GoTubbs.  Humangear suggests herbs or spices, or maybe bring ketchup on safari with you. I have filled them with almonds and cranberries to tide me over until we find someplace to eat.

Organization nuts (sorry, pun intended) can also label the tubs on an indented area, which resists wearing off.

To retrieve your stuff, just squeeze the soft cover with one hand – there’s no need to screw off the top. That’s a real plus for seniors and boomers with arthritis. The tubs come in three-packs in colors like urban black, pastel orange/red/clear or green/blue and transparent.

GoToobs, similar to the translucent ones already sold at drug stores, allow travelers to carry beauty products, soap, toothpaste or food. If you’ve ever tried to remember what clear liquid is in a carry-on bottle, you’ll appreciate the dial on the collar. You can turn it to “soap,” “shampoo,” “conditioner” or “sun,” to keep track of what’s in the tube.

The tubes , which run from $7 to $19, also come in TSA-approved 1.25-ounce small, two-ounce medium or three-ounce large cylinders.  The medium size has a suction cup. The squeezable silicone tubes fit into snug spots and the hard collar is dishwasher-safe.

Unless you’re on a cruise, you may not know what time you’ll be eating your next meal.  GoTotes let you bring nutritional bars, nuts, apples or whatever tides you over while waiting for the tram, bus, or cab.  The blue medium-sized bag ($32) expands to seven inches wide when open and sits  11.25 inches by eight inches when flat. A strap snaps together for hanging.

Unlike many lunch bags, these durable fabric containers will stand up  when open, making them easy to park on uneven benches or picnic tables.  The interior pockets can hold utensils like the GoBites nesting fork and spoon made from BPA-free nylon.

Use the  ($8) Duo fork and spoon set together to make a handle long enough to scoop out take-out food.The ergonomic fork will tear food in half, so parents don’t need to worry about bringing knives that can into the mouths of babe For more information, visit humangear.com. Some travel GoToobs and GoTubbs sold at REI or Whole Foods.



From left to right: the GoTote, which opens flat for stability, the GoBites spork, GoTubb for smaller items, and GoToob, where you can store shampoo or other liquids.



Visiting Bergama/PergamonWorld Heritage site

It was 90 F during July, the month of Ramadan, as we drove our rented Fiat into Bergama, Turkey. A few women walked around the busy town in beige raincoats with colorful headscarves, managing not to droop in the July heat.

That contrasted with the scene  we just left in Yalikavak, on the Bodrum Peninsula. There, Europeans and Turks sunbathed without their tops, and few Turks wore conservative clothing.

We  headed to Bergama, population 60,000, once the ancient city of Pergamon, home to several civilizations: Byzantine, Islamic, Roman and Greek, as well as serving as the Hellenistic capital of the Attalid dynasty. Parchment was invented here

Sandima 37, a cute bed and breakfast that served typical Turkish dishes on our private patio. It  had a pool and the room was really a suite, complete with living room and large bathroom. The

We spent one night at the newly opened Pannonica Jazz Bistro listening to jazz and old standards. The next evening, we went downtown shopping for mobile phones and hand-embroidered pillow cushions.

Gallery Mustafa, on Dr Alim Ekinci Cad, no48, sells iconic suzani and Ikat pillows and  to start shopping in Bodrum City..

At Xuma Beach, people moored their yachts all day  in the blue Aegean, making me think, “must be nice.”


Poised on a 330-meter-high ridge overlooking the Bakirçay River valley, Pergamon in its heyday held palaces, a theater, a library and temples devoted to Trajan, Dionysus and Athena.

Bergama landed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list June 25, 2015. The ancient city and its “multilayered cultural landscape  alongside Bursa and Cumalikizik” were noted for their importance to the birth of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century.

For the first time, we saw  women in shalwars  (loose trousers that narrow at the ankles). A large AKP (the Islamist Party for Justice and Development) banner straddled the city centre, a dusty, congested intersection with intersecting streets. We stopped for directions to the Hera Hotel, but the directions  to go right and then straight only succeeded in leading us to the Red Basilica, not the place we wanted to spend the night.

Bergama is home to the Askleipion, or healing center; one of the highest amphitheaters in the world; the Red Basilica; and other ruins. Pieces of the  Zeus Altar, transported to Berlin by the German engineer, Carl Humann, who discovered the Turkish site in 1855. The altar, built in the second century A.D. under King Eumenes II, has been restored and sits in the Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island. Scenes on the frieze illustrate the life of Telephus, supposed founder of Pergamon and son of Hercules and Auge.

The Turkish government has been trying to reclaim the altar for quite some time, arguing that the structure should be back where it was built.However, the officials agreed to the


Right above the Red Basilica, built under the reign of Hadrian, are the windy, narrow streets of Eski (Old ) Bergama. Our reservations were for the old stone Hera Hotel.

It didn’t look like we were going to make it up there, though, because a couple of the streets were narrower than our Fiat! The city map we had proved useless, as some roads were one-way.

Bergama is known for its silk as well as its wool carpets. We passed a few rugs displayed outside the shops. Women wearing printed cotton shalwars and headscarves sat on stoops, waiting for sundown, when, according to Islam, they could break their fasts. Men sat in cafes nursing their coffees.

Finally, we found the cute Hera Hotel with its sign in Greek lettering, on Tabak Kopru Street. Two friendly women helped us with our luggage. Each room had a god or goddess assigned to it, and ours was Artemis, goddess of the hunt, forest and hills.

We weren’t fasting like most people, but we were starving, and asked where we could eat. The younger woman told us to follow her up the steep, meandering streets to Les Pergamun, Hera’s sister hotel, where Kybele Restaurant was open. We ordered kebabs and a regional eggplant specialty, which were nothing special. The owner introduced himself, and I felt slightly guilty eating in front of the staff. The waitress assured us that she wasn’t fasting.

The next morning, we rode a gondola to the top of the Acropolis, enjoying a sweeping view of the 10,000 seat amphitheater. For only 15 Turkish Lira, about $5 each, we arrived at the ruins of the Zeus Altar, the white marble Temple of Trajan, finished under Hadrian II’s reign from AD 125-138.

Not mentioned much in the guidebooks are the lovely painted doors. All the front doors in the old section feature different designs and colors that add a joyful feeling to the rundown buildings.