Linda's Blog—Travel and Art

  • How NOT to Climb the Dome in Florence

    images of the cathedral in Florence and inside the dome


    Climbing the Dome of the Cathedral of Florence—Il Duomo, aka Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore 

    As many of you know, my ‘partner in crime’, Brenda Bickerstaff-Stanley, passed away suddenly January 5 (see what I wrote on my website). I have decided the best way to get back into my blog was to write about one of the many travel/art adventures we had together. Climbing the Dome of the Cathedral in Florence Italy. 

    Both Brenda and I had been to Florence before; she just a few years before, I about 39 years ago. In 2014 we travelled with a group to Cinque Terre, landing and leaving from Florence (thank you, Garry-Lou Upton!). Two of the highlights there were climbing the Dome of the Cathedral, and later that afternoon touring the Uffizi Gallery with a tour of the ‘secret corridor’  (the Vasari Corridor) above the Ponte Vecchio that connected the Uffizi to the Boboli Gardens. It ended through a small, unassuming doorway in the corner of the garden. Very cool. I expected attic-like rafters and cobwebs, but what we got was wide corridors with huge windows, plastered walls, and lots MORE ART. The corridor was not crowded, and what spectacular views of the city! FYI, the corridor is much longer than the section we walked.  Read about the corridor


    view of Vasari's Corridor    view of the Arno River from the corridor    door from the corridor to the Boboli Gardens


    Climbing the Dome

    October may be good time to avoid parents with children, but that’s when everyone ELSE comes out. Florence was very crowded. You buy your tickets to enter the Cathedral (at 10 am) in a small office near the church, and we got early tickets. The line moved quickly; backups had not yet begun. 

    There are a lot of steps. A LOT. (I read 463, but I’m sure someone left out a zero). These were designed so workers could work on the dome; they were not designed for two-way traffic accommodating thousands of visitors. I am going to describe what I REMEMBER:

    We walked up stone stairs, until we came to the base of the dome. At that point you came out through a door and could see the basilica below, and the great frescoes not just above, but BESIDE us. The area closes to us was covered with plexiglas so there would be no damage, and you could walk around the perimeter of the dome base. A great way to see Giorgio Vasari’s fresco of the Last Judgement.

    Our mind was on getting to the top of the dome and walking around. Which I had done years ago; when I was 39 years younger. And much more stupid. And yet, I was doing it again. 

    Brenda and I had packed light; almost empty purses with small sketch pad and pens. And water.  Thank goodness, because it is a long, long walk. Did I mention there are stairs? And no railings. Just lots and lots of stone stairs, winding ever higher, with just the walls to brace yourself. Maybe there were railings; I don’t remember.

    photo of stairs

    Nope, no railings.

    At certain junctions, the stairs would change—they became less wide; less wide became narrow; light became darker; darker became lit by slits of windows. At one point a guard stood to stop the crowd going up so others could go down, or vice versa, This was a good thing, because it gave you a chance to rest. 

    Then we got to continue. More steps. Fortunately, we had started early, so there were not many ahead of us, or even behind us, but as you climb you do go slower. And then we got to the last section before the final ascent…

    At this point you begin to go straight up. The STAIRS go straight up, leading to ladders. In general, you would not know this until it was too late (because at this point there is NO GOING BACK). Fortunately, I looked. Well, I was trying to figure out how to lift my legs high enough, because the steps had a rise of 10” , and my legs have a rise of 8” (the average rise of a step in the U.S. is 7”, with an 11”  run). I know the height, beause I measured it, because I always carry a small measuring tape with me. I tried once more, and as I did I looked up. And saw what looked like a ladder, waaay up over my head. 

    side view of final stairs        looking up the final stairs

    OK, I see now it is not a ladder, but at the time that is what I thought. Must have been the rarified air.

    NOPE, nope, cannot make it. I stepped aside, and we stood there, trying to decide if would be possible to go on, or should WE give up. Brenda is a few inches taller than I, and the riser height was not quite as much as issue for her. 

    And then the rest of the crowd caught up with us, and suddenly Brenda not so much STEPPED up as was  PUSHED up…. She never had a chance. I yelled I would ‘wait for you here’, and she was gone. 

    I waited, and waited, with enough time to measure the steps, and take photos, and wonder if there was another way down that we had missed and should I go down, and then people began coming by, and finally, Brenda appeared. In response to my question, “Did you make it, was it worth it?”, her response was a terse, “Yes, and no”. 

    Well, we began our descent, waiting for others along the way (because, REALLY, you do not want to have to pass people on those stairs). And then we started laughing. Laughing so hard, in fact, that we had to stop to breath, because at that point the absurdity of what we were doing hit us. 

    We got out in the bright morning sunlight, and immediately walked/stumbled to a cafe for coffee/soda/croissant so Brenda’s legs could stop trembling. We got some great sketches done (I wish I had some of hers now), she got a cab back to the hotel, and I went into that little museum/orphanage we sketched. 

    And I think she eventually forgave me. 

    sketch of the dome         sketch

    VIew a great video   at 6:11, he mentions 'the final assault'. I think this is where we were. If the link doesn't work, copy and paste this URL:


    Next blog: How I came to sketch with pens...another story about Brenda


  • Close Enough is Good Enough


    images of bottles of water and file folders on my kitchen counterMore on New Year Resolutions—Close Enough! Part 2 on Managing my Resolutions

    I decided to take a break from my travel/art adventures to write about New Year’s resolutions, which I hate. Two weeks ago I wrote about why you SHOULDN'T make New Year's resolutions,  Link 

    So, I want this to be a SHORT update on what I’ve done to get ahead of plans for 2017. 

    As I stated before, it seems to be really important to ME to get ahead of the curve. I love making plans, but I have learned that I have to control them, not they, me. That deadline to START on New Year’s Day has always seemed ridiculous. You plan to start going to the gym, then find out you have to wait 2 weeks to get an appointment to be trained on the equipment, because everyone else in the Universe had the same idea. Everyone. And then by February the bad weather has kicked in, and well, you know….

    If you call the gym and make an appointment BEFORE January 1, you are set to go even before the big day. See, no pressure, because YOU took steps that removed the pressure. Maybe you get enough of  a routine started that you can keep it up. 

    I have found that being realistic helps, too. If you want to start going to the gym, fine, but are you really going to go every day? Is that even possible? Would 4 days be more realistic, or 3? Make your goals realistic, like this….

    The Beginning of My Painting Career:

    By the spring of 2005 I was painting a lot, in addition to teaching full time in the public schools. It occurred to me that if I wanted to get more serious, I had to prove to myself that I had the self-discipline to paint not just when I wanted, but on a regular basis, without prompt or deadline.

    So, I asked myself, “What can I do to prove (to myself) that I have the self-discipline to produce art in a regular, sustained manner?”

    Paint all summer! That’t it, I would paint every day the entire summer. I decided I would start as soon as school was out. This would also help me determine if this was just a hobby I was playing with, or something I could take to a level of vocation.

    How many days of painting would that be? I counted the weeks off in the calendar (8), and figured five paintings a week (allowing for weekends, or a trip). That came to 40 paintings to do. But then, I realized I would need some time for other activities during the summer, so I determined 30 would be a better number, one every other day, roughly. That still didn’t seem like a reasonable number, because during the summer lots of other events come up. So I negotiated with myself for 20. Twenty was doable, and if I could produce 20 paintings from the last week of June to the last week of August, I would take that as an indicator that I could produce paintings on a sustained schedule. 

    I completed 17. Close enough!

    Drink More Water:

    I said I was going to drink more water in 2017. I began right after the last blog, and I am up to three 8 oz. bottles a day. I use the small bottle because it SEEMS easier. Eight of those a day is doable, four 16 oz bottles seems much more daunting. Silly, but perception is everything. And, a small bottle is easier to carry with me. I just refill from the faucet. 

    Will I get to eight of them? Six during the winter seems more likely, increasing during the summer as needed. Close enough, and I’m already halfway there!

    Shorter Blogs:

    I began in May with a short blog about artists needing websites (no, Facebook is not enough), but the blogs grew to 1500 very  quickly, which is what ‘research’ suggests is a good number to shoot for. After a few times, I thought that was too much for readers and for me, so I carved back to 1200-1300 words. Below 1000 will make it even more sustainable over a long period of time. My goal for this one was 700-800 but I think it will be closer to 900 by the time I finish it. Close enough!

    Painting What I Want to Paint:

    I mentioned that one goal I wanted to work on was to paint more for myself. I love having a project in mind, usually one that offers a challenge to me, but having lots of gallery obligations can interfere with focusing on those projects. To that end I have taken back a number of paintings I had in a few gallery spaces. Less worry, less responsibility, less guilt over not fulfilling my obligation to provide art for these locations. I don't know why I feel like this is important, but it has been hanging over my head for a while, so taking care of it feels REALLY good! Clear the way for more ideas and projects that I engineer! I was able to remove those folders from my files (in my kitchen), and it meant LESS TO KEEP TRACK OF!

    I have a long list of ideas—if I can get three done this year, I will be thrilled! That will be close enough!


    What are some ways you’ve taken control of your goals? What might be your ‘close enough’ parameters?

  • DON’T Make New Year’s Resolutions!

    I really dislike the concept of New Year resolutions. The idea of starting off fresh, starting over, is an enticing one. The problem is, very few follow through for any length of time. 

    I always feel like I’m already behind the eight ball when I ‘start’ my resolutions on New Year’s Day (actually, the day AFTER New Year’s Day), and there is a great deal of pressure and stress. Is that really the way I want to begin my New Year? No. No, it is not.

    So, a few years ago, I came up with a different plan, and it is so much easier, with a far greater likelihood of success—I build success into my plan! I look at what I am already doing, and I expand on that. I start a few weeks before New Year’s Day, I consider all items to be part of a YEAR-long plan, and by January 1 I am already ‘working my plan’! 

    MY PLAN has two parts: 

          PART A. Where have I been?

    In order to build on success, I consider all the positive things I’ve done or accomplished during the current year. For example, at first I was thinking that not much had happened during 2016, but when I really started to think back over the year, WOW, a lot went on!  Among other things:

    1) I painted with Roos Schuring in Holland, something I had wanted to do for two years! During the trip I became fearless as I braved the cold, wind, and sand. I travelled completely by myself, and made all arrangements by myself, figured out what to do when my cards were lost, and basically learned that all the backup plans I had put in place worked.  Paintings      Blog    

    2) I COMPLETELY REDESIGNED MY WEBSITE. I am much happier with the way my website looks (although there are some flaws in the server that provides the service). I began the redesign in December of 2015, but did not launch until February of this year. See, built-in success

    3) I STARTED MY BLOG. This is something I have been thinking about for a few years, and so I give myself big kudos for finally acting on that notion. 

    4) For social media, I did Facebook LIVE videos,  I got on Instagram, and I just recently got on Twitter (not sure about that one).

    5) I applied for and received permission to copy some paintings at the VMFA. Again, something I had been thinking about for several years, and finally just DID IT. These will lead into some painting projects for 2017.


         Part B. Where do I want to go?

    1) I would really like to be more organized in my approach to using social media to promote my paintings. I have written down some protocols, some hashtags—sometimes I follow them, sometimes I don’t…I think my casual approach is actually taking too much time, and not doing a very effective job.

    2) I need to write shorter blogs, so I can more easily keep to a weekly schedule (see #3 for 2016) This one is part of that plan! Not worrying so much about images is also part of the plan.

    3) I would really like to do some video of me painting. My Facebook LIVE! posts will help me (see #5 for 2016). I will get a handle/stand for my iPhone, maybe this week.

    4) I want to paint what I want to paint, and not for the next themed shows. I think there will be less participation in such things, and more working on several series I have had in mind but not had the time because of other people’s themed shows. The paintings I copied in the museum have helped me work in this direction to a certain extent.

    5) I will be moving my studio in the spring, so I will need to organize, clean, and eliminate. Part of my plan for #4 is to use the large canvases I have in my studio.

    6) Just as an aside, I need to promote my workshops more, so check them out HERE! So far I have scheduled Art Marketing, Linear Perspective Drawing, Paint Knife 101, and Color Mixing January through April. ( See, now I've begun to put that plan into action...)

    7) I really must drink more water…I will begin with one 8-ounce bottle, and build up from there.


    Also, I haven’t taken class in a long time; I hear Vermont calling me—or France, I’m flexible...


    With all this in mind, a few weeks early (like LAST WEEK) I start putting plans into place and even begin to implement them. By the time New Year’s Day rolls around, all the pressure is off because I am already on a roll. For example, I have already sold a lot of frames in my studio that are of a style I do not use anymore. I have already cleaned my drawers. I have already started making my blogs somewhat shorter (AHEM, this one is less than 1,000 works), and I have already created a page in my iPhone’s NOTES app that has my hashtags listed and grouped so I can cut-and-paste quickly. 

    HOWEVER, I just read of a really neat way to MORE QUICKLY bring up a group of hashtags with a few keystrokes. SWEET.  Thank you, Leslie Saeta!  Here’s the LINK. My gift to you, by way of Leslie Saeta!

    And here is some info on the Power of Hashtags. Thank you, Lorelle Rau!


    I post these plans in my studio and at home. AND, if I don’t get to all of them, that’s OK too, because I will still be ahead.


    A work about bucket lists:

    I never thought about riding on a hoverboard, but this week I did that, and I have decided it should be on my bucket list, so I have put it down, and now I can  cross it off my list. See how that works? 

    Now, where is that bottle of water…


    "Don't fear failure. Fear being in exactly the same place next year as you are today."  Michael Hyatt

  • Sketching in the Streets and Alms for the Poor

    banner with image of crenellated parapet of el Hakim Mosque, and Bab el Nasr, Bab el Futuh in Cairo


    Continuing my story  about travel and art in Egypt (finally!):


    Sketching in the Streets of Cairo:

    In 1990 I sketched in the Khan el Kahlili, the main bazaar in Cairo, which stretches along the main thoroughfare in the Fatimid section of the city (built about 1000 years ago). The section is also called Medieval Cairo. After I asked permission to lean against his wall, a shopkeeper gave me a bucket to sit on, which was very welcomed (I didn’t NEED to ask, but it was a good way to be polite and get a conversation started).  He also brought me bottled water, AND shooed away people who would stay too long asking questions Of course, I bought something from him when I was done.

    drawing of Sirgany Jewelers and a mosque

    The following year I sketched on the street leading to  Bab al Futuh, which is right next to Al Hakim mosque. As I was sitting on a bench drawing the crenellations at the top of the mosque, a little girl came up to me to watch. She did not bother me, just watched and smiled. I gestured with my camera if I could take her photo, and not only did she agree, she struck up a ‘glamour girl’ pose—head tilted to one side, one foot out. After a few minutes, an older woman, who apparently thought the little girl was bothering me, told her, “Ya bint, imshee, imshee!”—“Hey, little girl, scram, get lost!” And she did—and then came back later. I still think of her, and later I drew her from the photo I took of her. She because part of my card series “Women and Children”. 

    little girl who posed for me in Cairo


    An Adventure in Getting Lost: 

    Another day I decided it would be a great idea to walk around ‘Fort Sulkowski’ (aka Schulkowski). I was intrigued by the the name, and though it would be fun! I had my map. I had my bag with my sketch pad and pencils (a small 6x8 pad? Of course not, 12x18, because really, why would you carry small when large is so much more cumbersome?). I had my water in my purse (one of those ‘ergonomically’ designed shoulder things, that expand indefinitely), along with at least 5 lbs. more of things I might need. I had my video camera (full size, with 3 extra VHS tapes and two extra battery packs (because why carry 1 when 3 will do?). I had my walking shoes. And I had my plan. Basically,  I had three very large bags (my purse, my video equipment, and my drawing supplies) hanging off my shoulders.

    I would begin by walking around the Fort until I came back to where I started. A very simple plan, beautiful in its simplicity. It would take a while, but time I had. What could go wrong?

    First, let me just say that distances on a map are deceiving. Just sayin’.

    Secondly, when a map looks like a wall is there, it might not be. 

    Thirdly—and I cannot stress this—contrary to popular belief, taxis do not just drive around EVERYWHERE looking for fares

    So, I began my walk early in the morning, looking like a bag lady. I walked to the Fort from the Victoria Hotel. 

    I skirted the wall, took lots of photos, and some video. No sketching. More walking, photos, video. No sketching.

    And then the line of the wall didn't so much stop as just dissolve. Looking at the map, I thought I could figure out where it picked back up, and walked int that direction. 

    I walked for a while, and then I noticed that the area didn’t look like anything I had seen before. The houses looked very British, and upscale, the streets were wider, the traffic was sparser, and there were NO TAXIS. This might have not been so significant, except by this time I was getting hot, and tired, and hungry, and I was ready to give up and go back to the hotel. IN A TAXI because I had NO idea where I was. 

    I stopped to look around, looked at my map, looked around some more, asked someone on the street where I could find a taxi. They spoke no English. That was the bad news. The GOOD news is that Egyptians are the nicest people. This man gestured for me to wait, got someone who could speak English, and they found out what I needed. I needed a taxi. They got me a taxi. 

    I had no idea where I was, nor how much it would cost to get to the hotel, so I asked for the cabdriver to drop me off at Bab el Nasr (El Nasr Gate), which I figured was closest to me. It was, and when we turned down the street I recognized the masonry and almost cried. He pulled over and let me out just outside the gate. (See map below of my path)


    map of my wanderings around Cairo















    It was so lovely to walk into that gate, providing such cool shade against the heat of midday. 

    I decided to sit and rest for a few minutes on the sidewalk curb (which was inside the deep gate) before heading on. I put down all my paraphernalia, and supported my head in my left hand, my right hand extended over my knee, palm up. In the midst of many feet walking by, I was aware of a man’s feet, with a limp, going by. Black trousers, black shoes. I could hear the shuffle as it passed. I was also conscious of a pause in the sound, and then, more shuffling, getting louder. A pause. Something fell into the palm of my hand. A piaster. An Egyptian piaster. 

    An Egyptian piaster was like a penny, but less. One hundred in an Egyptian pound. At that time, 3 Pounds Egyptian equalled about one dollar.Still, to an Egyptian citizen, this was a lot of money. A loaf of bread was a few piasters, and they add up. Without thinking I jumped up and ran after him. I stopped him and gave it back, thanking him profusely, even though he did not want to take it back. 

    Then it hit me. I must have looked REALLY bad for him to think that I was begging. I also realized I had not had any water since breakfast (or had lunch, for that matter). No wonder I was sinking, and no wonder I looked like I needed help! I was also wearing a black, long-sleeved T-shirt, a longish denim skirt, and a black scarf I had tied behind my ears. I quickly drank some water, and then went on my way. 

    Later, I wished I had saved that piaster. After all, he was just acting in good faith, helping the poor and needy. I denied him that. And it would have been fun to have that piaster still.

    What I learned: People are kind, having water is not helpful if you don’t DRINK the water, and I carry too many ‘what if’ things (to this day). 

    My friend Lucy Smith (aka Scheherezade Imports) JUST got back from Cairo. You might want to check out her Facebook posts:   


    Some of my Egyptian paintings:



    Khan al Khalili

    Bab al Futuh

    Bab al Nasr

    NOTE: ’Fort Sulkowski’ is actually the Mosque of Baybar, which has been various things during its existence (after it was a mosque), including a fort for Napoleon (named after an officer in his army), a soap factory, and a garden. 

    Next time: We Pause for Resolutions

  • Sunrise Behind the Pyramids

    banner for blog--map, Mena House, paintings



    The first time I travelled to Egypt it was to meet up with my fiancé there, who was visiting family in Amman, Jordan. More about that later.; this is the story of a group of women traveling to Morocco, then Egypt. 

    My second, third, and fourth trips to Egypt were in 1990, 1991, and 1993. Each trip had its own special story and flavor. 1990 and 1991 were especially good years. 

    In Morocco

    The 1990 trip began with a visit to Morocco. We were in Marrakesh (which is where Morocco gets its name; it is pronounced ‘ma RAH kesh, which sounds like Mor RAH koh). We were there to go the Festival of Folk Arts,  where towns and tribes from all over the country sent dancers and singers to perform their unique regional dances and songs on stage, every night. Each night the performance began after sunset, after the last call for prayers of the evening. 

    I kinda/sorta got left behind as my group traveled through the streets of Marrakesh to get to the ruins of El Badi Palace, the location of the Festival. The stage straddled ancient pools in the garden of the palace. There was so much to see and photograph! Storks landing on the tops of buildings, doorways, you name it. At one point I looked away from my camera and realized that I had no idea in which direction my group had gone, and the streets were deserted. Very deserted. As I stood there, contemplating my options, I found out how NOT alone I really was. About 4 people came out of their doorways or leaned out their windows to point the way. At least THEY were watching out for me, because my group sure wasn’t! (Although, in their defense, there was a lot of “Linda, come ON!” being said earlier). 

    But this story (and the next) is not about the streets of Marrakesh or Tangier, (which will be another blog). It is about the streets of Cairo. Because after we left Marrakesh, we flew to Cairo, for fun. We did some things together, but I also went off on my own, a lot. 

    On to the Pyramids…

    On this trip I decided it was REALLY important for me to get film footage of the sun rising being the Pyramids. A great idea, one my friends supported (which was good, because I was not going alone). So at 3:30 in the morning we got up, caught a taxi outside the hotel (I think we had arranged for this the day before), and drove to El Giza. We got out. No one around. No. One. We had expected to be able to get a donkey or something to take us into the desert so we could be behind the pyramids, because that is where we needed to be to see the sun rise in the east. BEHIND the pyramids. To get to the plateau on which the pyramids sit you go UP, and at some point you actually can see a line of demarcation between the green of the area irrigated by the Nile, and the Sahara Desert (at that point, the Western Desert). You can practically straddle the line with your legs.  But not at 4 am in the morning. 

    The cab stopped and let us out. There was no one there and really, why would there be? Everyone else was in bed or in nightclubs.

    We walked. It’s not like you could get lost, because, well, they were kind of RIGHT THERE all the time. It was sandy and gravelly, but no high dunes. We walked, and walked, and found a great spot to sit to watch the sun rise. 

    We waited. Sounds wafted up from the city—dogs barking, music coming from the nightclubs that would not close until dawn. The only other sound was the hum of the mosquitoes. Who would have thought. I guess even though we were beyond the irrigation canals, there were still lots of areas for them to breed. So, we waited, and swatted, and I did a video pan of the area every now and then to get the change in the sky as it lightened for the day. I would hoist my camera to my shoulder, quiet my breathing, start my pan (always right to left, for some reason), and try to ignore the mosquitoes that had landed on the now exposed area of my arm. 

    We waited some more. We swatted. I panned. And then, we gave up. It was 7 am, no sun had shown, we were getting hungry, and my friends were more than a little irritated. And hungry. We were very, very hungry. 

    Finally, we gave up and started walking, headed toward the Mena House Hotel for breakfast. We walked past the pyramids, now towering in the light of early morning. We came close to the Sphinx as we moved closer to the Nile, and heard a donkey bray as a grounds keeper moved towards us, fussing and wanting a fee (which he was not authorized to get. He just wanted baksheesh—a tip). I turned around at the sound, and

    THERE IT WAS. The sun. Seen through a haze of dust and pollution. Not at all in the direction we were watching, but much more to the left of us. All this time, and I had miscalculated the direction. I did a painting of it later. 

    So I got my video, the breakfast was delicious, the Mena House was gorgeous (a luxury hotel), and then we took a taxi and went to our rooms to bed. 


    painting of sunrise behind the sphinx










    What did I learn?

    • People ARE watching you, you are not paranoid

    •  Mosquitoes will find you, no matter where you are

    • Sound really travels in the desert

    • Waiting for the sun to rise is like waiting for water to boil

    • Never underestimate the power of smog

    • Always bring a compass

    To see the paintings:


    Next week: Alms for the poor, and “Imshee, imshee”



  • Coffee, Water, and Dinars

    image of coffee urn, coffee, and Tunisian dinar


    TRAVELING ALONE, PART 9—Coffee, Water and Dinars


    I am addicted to coffee. There, I said it. I love it, I drink it all day, and when I don’t have it for a while, I get a very bad caffeine headache. So, when I’m traveling, I need to take this into consideration. 

    My solution? Starbuck’s Iced Coffee. Easily dissolves in warm/tepid/cold water. Perfect. One pack will give me at least 3-4 cups. 

    In packing for my trip to Tunisia (and Rome, since I would also be there), I bought 2 boxes. That would be more than enough to take care of my early morning coffee for the whole trip, if it was not available where I would be staying. Never assume. 

    I packed, repacked, packed again, finally fitting everything into my suitcase and carry-on. I never had to use it in Rome—breakfast was early (with cappuccino, thank you very much), and then I had it available all day long on the streets, finishing at dinner. 

    The day I left Rome for Tunisia, I arrived at the airport by 10 am, but my 12 noon flight did not leave until late in the evening, and if you read my earlier blog (“I Will NOT Get Out of This Taxi…”), you know I did not arrive at the hotel in Monastir until about 10 pm, maybe later. I was beyond exhausted, and collapsed into bed. Slept soundly until I woke up at 5 am with a horrible caffeine headache. The kind that can make you sick. Really sick. I was in this situation because I did not have coffee the previous evening, and once your body is used to a certain regime for caffeine, it does NOT like to do without. Seriously. 

    Congratulating myself on having the forethought to pack those packets for iced coffee, I got up to get them from my luggage. They were not there. Not in the the ‘cube’ I used to put some snacks and OTC meds like aspirin. Not in a hundred other places I looked. Nothing. I looked in my carry-on. Nothing. I looked again. Still nothing, only now I was really sick. I would get over it, in about 6 hours—6 miserable, nauseated hours. 

    This was my first full day in Monastir; and they had a full day planned for us—breakfast at 7, meet the mayor and other dignitaries, tour the fort (which they opened just for us), visit the burial shrine of Habib Bourguiba, the man who brought democracy to Tunisia. After dinner, a show. And alway, the beach. I COULD NOT BE SICK.  

    Finally, just for giggles really, I checked my purse. ONE packet. One. For the entire trip. Like finding gold. I tore open the pack and actually shook some of it directly under my tongue (because did I have a spoon? No. No, I did not), swallowed (several times, because despite the fact that it dissolves in cold water, it does not dissolve INSTANTLY), and laid down. 

    After about an hour, it worked. I didn’t feel great, but I was able to dress, go to breakfast (have some real coffee), and meet all the artists (who had had the ‘meet the artists’ meeting the night before, which I missed. See “No, I Will NOT Get Out of This Taxi…”). 

    I Need A Regular Supply…

    Made it through the day fine, and had a great dinner. But I also found out that coffee was only served at breakfast. I really wanted to have some coffee in the morning when I got up, which was about 2 hours before breakfast, and I wanted to save the rest of the coffee packet, for another emergency. 

    So, every night, after the evening’s events, I would go into the bar a the hotel, order an expresso, pay a few dinars, and take it back to my room for the next morning. I certainly got a few looks from the men in the bar, but no one bothered me, except to occasionally ask me where I was from. 

    At the time I bought the expresso I would also purchase a 1 liter bottle of water. This was also very important because the locals recommended that we not drink the water out of the tap. I used it to drink, and also to brush my teeth. I would fill my smaller plastic water bottle to carry with me during the day. 

    This practice was not cheap. The coffee was several dinars, as was the water. Maybe 7 dinars altogether. I did this for over a week.

    On Finding Cheaper Water, and Money…

    One day, on a rare free evening, many of us were sitting around the lobby, just chatting, and someone mentioned going to the ‘convenience store’ for water and snacks. What? Wait—What?

    Yes, just about two blocks away there was a real convenience store with cold water, snacks, simple food items, newspapers, etc., just like you would find anywhere, but on a smaller scale. And for a LOT less money. A large bottle of water was less than one dinar. 

    I got directions, and the next day walked over, enjoying the beautiful scenery, a brilliant cobalt blue sky (which ended up being one of my best paintings EVER), and watching the people and children walk around.

    When I got there, I picked up the water, some yogurt, and snacks. I took all to the counter and asked, “Bekam hada?” which is Arabic for “How much is this?”. He looked at me, I looked at him, and he just wrote the amount down in his best Arabic numeral writing (that is to say, what WE use). Pretty smart—He was prepared for most visiting European nationalities this way. I had the cash, paid him, and was on my merry way, congratulating myself on accomplishing this, and kicking myself for not inquiring about such things earlier. I also knew the exchange rate, so I knew that the prices were good. By the way, most items had prices on them, I just needed to add them up. The prices were written in what is used in the Middle East today, now called Eastern Arabic numerals (which I can read).

            chart of arabic and hindi (persian) numerals

    I did this at least twice more, and saved a lot of money. 

    The other way I saved money was to exchange it at the hotel’s desk. I had gotten some in the airport at the ATM machine (MUCH cheaper than a moneychanger), but at least once more I needed more Tunisian dinars. The concierge knew the current exchange rate, had the amount I needed at the desk, and did not charge me extra. I had my money exchange app (, a GREAT app), so I knew the rate as well. Very convenient, and economical. 

    Oh. And the coffee I had packed for my trip? It was waiting for me on the sofa when I returned. Ready for my next trip.


    Lessons Learned:

    •  Important items should be in your carry-on. ESSENTIAL items should be in your purse (men, fill in whatever it is you use instead of a purse)

    • Ask questions! Where do the locals buy water? DO the locals buy water? (Maybe it’s not necessary)

    • Shop local when you can, not tourist. Great for the economy, better for you. Helps you to know the REAL place

    • Know the  exchange rate, so you can make intelligent purchasing decisions

    • Know how to read the local currency and numeric system. The vast majority of shop owners EVERYWHERE are honest, but still....