May 29, 2017 11:50 PM
Adventures in Mud
There are mud baths, mud facials, mud cloth, and mud pies.All good, desirable things. ‘Here’s mud in your eye’, a great saying. We go out of our way and pay lots of money for hot mud baths, in situ.
However, I cannot say I have enjoyed any of that. Mud is my nemesis. It has taken quite some time for that to sink in, because it looks so innocent, just sitting there. It’s in my way, why not walk across? Why not step into it? Why not ignore it?
Because mud is out to get me, and I have finally realized that.
My first encounters with mud were innocuous enough; I made mud pies. Actually they were attempts at mud pottery, and at the tender age of 5 I learned that mud is. not. clay. Assuming I could get it to stick together in a form long enough to put it out in the sun, the results were still not satisfactory. Pies were never on my radar—my mother made pies, and the ones she made certainly did not taste like the ones I made. Just to clarify, hers were much better.
My artistic forays with mud mirror my painter’s attempts at coal dust painting. If you’ve ever tried to mix coal dust with water to make paint, you understand. To sum up: not enough stirring in the world will cause that oily dust to transform into paint. Or ink. Just sayin’.
In my adult life my confrontations with mud have also been art related, mostly because it was standing between me and what I wanted to do.
At Fine Creek:
It looks so innocent. A few years ago I was plein air painting at Fine Creek. A lovely place, and a lovely day. A beautiful June day, birds chirping, water babbling, all is right with the world. I was with a group of painters who get together to paint outdoors, the Virginia Plein Air Painters.
We were all spread out, and I wanted to get as close to the water as possible. It was an easy walk, after a short set of stone steps, to the rock-lined edge of the creek. I got a great start, but after a while I wanted to see what the other artists were doing, and I could see some a bit further down the water, so I decided to walk along the stones rather than all the way up the steps and around. It was a straight shot, just a few flat boulders and some wet spots.
Just wet spots. No mud. Really. And I did not listen to that little voice that asked, “Do you really want to do that?” Because yes. Yes I did.
So, I put down my palette knife, wiped my hands, and started down the creek, stay well away from the water, so I would fall in. Stepping ever so carefully.
But not carefully enough that I didn’t slip on a wet spot, that turned out to have mud underneath. Such a little spot, and such a big bruise. Fortunately, I was able to get up, brush off my bottom and my ego, and go on, not much worse for wear.
And then I had to go back.
And of course I was going to go back the way I came, because this time I knew where the mud was. In that spot. And I didn’t even hear that little voice say, “Do you really want to do that?”
This time I carefully and thoughtfully skirted the spot of doom, giving it wide berth, hugging the stone retaining wall…
Which had mud at the bottom edge.
This time as I fell I was able to slow my fall a bit because I fell INTO the foliage at the top of the wall (which was about arm height). I congratulated myself on my good fortune as I picked myself up again. At least I didn’t get hurt.
As I was approaching my easel one of the other painters, Eleanor Cox, said, “Linda, you better go wash your hands, that’s poison ivy.” Whhaat? No, couldn’t be, she must mistaken. She warned me again, but I shrugged it off, and continued painting, wiping my neck with my scarf, because now it was getting warm.
But, because her warning haunted me, I did go the restroom shortly thereafter and wash my hands carefully.
To bad I didn’t do that BEFORE I used my scarf to wipe my neck and chin.
The itching on my neck, behind my ear and under my chin started that evening, which I took to be mosquito bites (because I am the Queen of Denial). Exactly the spots I had wiped with my scarf. It was 3 days before the small blisters announced that Ellie was correct.
Two years later, I met my nemesis again, This time on the steps of Venice. Again, it stood between me and what I wanted , which in this case was an awesome and unusual view of the canal at the end of the street on a quiet morning at 7 am.. You can read my blog about that at
I stepped ever so gingerly down the first step, because I saw that green slime, and figured it was slippery. And then I stepped, carefully down to the second step, so I could lean out just a LITTLE bit further...
Well, I did get my photo….
I also saw stars, and for a minute could not feel anything below my neck. Suffice it to say, I no longer think of mud as just an annoyance. I also now listen very closely to that little voice that says, “Do you really want to do that?”
More and more I have learned to listen to that little voice. Most of the time.
And I have learned to wear boots. I learned that in Holland, on the beach. But even boots won't help you in a tidal pool, as my good friend Annie Brash Kelvin can testify (but I will not show you a photo of that).
FYI, you may notice I no longer have the option for a reader to make a comment. That is because I was targetted with comments on optimizing SEO, porn, Viagra, Russian ads for porn and Viagra, and some other stuff in Russian I could not make heads or tails out of. If you have a comment or question, email me, or message me. I am now seeing this a lot (ads for making money at home working for Facebook, which are scams) in the comment feeds on Facebook.
Feb 28, 2017 9:03 AM
Travelling in the Soviet Union, Part 1:
“What Do You MEAN, My Luggage is in New York?”
In December of 1986, I had the rare opportunity to travel with a group of educators to the Soviet Union. It meant I would be spending Christmas in the Soviet Union. And New Year’s Eve.
This was because of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost which began in 1985.
I talked it over with my principal, and we decided this was a great trip for me! I would leave the day Christmas break started, and would return the day before school started back. A two-week trip with NO DAYS missed. It was a sign.
I signed up, mailed in my money, and bought my ticket to New York (where I would meet up with the rest of the people going). I bought new luggage (with wheels), bought my dress for New Year’s Eve, winter boots, and gifts from the U.S. for the people I would run into (including candy canes I planned to put out on Christmas morning for all the participants). I took photos of the the Christmas lights around Richmond to share. I packed my watercolors (because I knew I would have time to paint), and my sketch pad. AND, I packed the things I could not do without in my carry-on: make-up and toiletries, toothbrush/toothpaste, pjs and underwear. The essentials. At the last minute I put my sketchbook into the carry-on. We had an overnight stay in Brussels, and this way, I would not need to even open my suitcase. That was the plan. Here's my carry-on. Pretty small by today's standards.
The day came. My family drove me to DC for a grand send-off (I was going to the SOVIET UNION, for Pete's Sake), I checked my bag, I flew to NY, I met up with the group, and I…didn’t have my luggage.
I think I told the DC people I was checking the luggage to New York. I was SUPPOSED to tell them to check the luggage to Brussels (where we changed from Sabrina Airlines to Aeroflot). Who knew? By the time the person in charge of the group (Peter) realized what I had done, we had to board the plane. With my checked luggage still in New York.
On the up side, I looked really nice in my black wool skirt and heels on the plane.
During the trip to Brussels, Peter told me I had better buy boots once we landed, because I would certainly need them and he was not sure how long it would take me to find a pair, if I could, once in Moscow.
So, once we landed in Brussels, while the rest of group went to see the sights, I went a few blocks down the street to buy boots appropriate for the cold snowy days ahead. I found a big department store, found a great pair of boots (flat, fur-lined, and suede on the outside). MUCH better that the ones with heels in my suitcase in New York.
Now, I did not speak Dutch or French (although I understand a bit), but I had been able to make my needs known through signals. I got my American Express travel Cheques out, and….found out the store could not accept them, because they were in American dollars, and I was not in the tourist area, they were not in a position to exchange money. My only chance was to get back to the hotel, hope the exchange bank in the hotel was open, get some Belgium francs, get back to the store, all before the store closed at 6 pm. It was about 4.
I walked back to the hotel, the bank was open, got the cash, headed back to the store, and…slipped on the sidewalk, because it had started to snow. And I was in my heels. By this time it was rush hour, with everyone trying to get home. Not only did no one stop to help me up, they pretty much stepped right over me without breaking stride. So much for the Christmas spirit.
I picked myself up, got to the store before it closed, changed my shoes right there in the store, and was still able to join the group for dinner. Sans heels.
The next morning we left for about a week in Moscow and a few days each in Tallin (Estonia) and St. Petersburg.
When we got to our hotel in Moscow, I realized we were on Red Square, with a view of St. Basil’s Cathedral, with the snow falling down, light EXACTLY like a photograph I had from National Geographic. I was so excited, I didn’t even notice I lost my hat. But I was getting some great photographs.
For the rest of the trip I wore my wool skirt, my new boots, by wool coat, my cotton knit long-sleeved shirt, a sweater someone loaned me, a hat someone else gave me, and my blue scarf and gloves (which matched the hat I lost, and also a cobalt blue sweater that was still in my suitcase in New York). For the rest of the trip I did not have to make decisions about what to wear. For the rest of the trip it took me about HALF the time to dress it usually did.
And for New Year’s Eve I tucked the neckline of my t-shirt and draped a beautiful Russian scarf around my neck. I felt gorgeous.
I discovered that not only did I not mind NOT having a choice of clothing, I actually enjoyed not having to think about it. It was the most freeing experience in the world, and it changed my entire way of thinking about clothes.
So when I take a casual ‘la-de-dah’ attitude towards multiple changes of clothes, this is why.
Eventually I did some paintings from my trip: See the paintings
What did I learn?
• Carry WHAT YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT in your purse and in your carry-on. It is precious little.
• Wear your essentials if possible (boots).
• You will always need to depend on the kindness of strangers (my travel mates).
• You can do with a lot less than you thought, and it is very freeing to do so.
NOTE: I almost titled this blog, “These Boots Were Made for Walking”. p.s. The banner for this blog shows a 50 Belgian francs note. Now they use euros.
Next blog: Why I went, and what would it take to change your mind?
Feb 13, 2017 10:11 PM
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Dec 15, 2016 11:14 PM
TRAVELING ALONE, Part 11—
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.
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”.
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)
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:
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
Oct 2, 2016 8:35 PM
TRAVELING ALONG, Part 10—
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.
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.
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: www.lindahollett.net/world-views
Next week: Alms for the poor, and “Imshee, imshee”
Sep 25, 2016 7:55 PM
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).
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 (XE.com, 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.
• 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....
Sep 19, 2016 8:32 PM
TRAVELING ALONE, Part 8—“Where is Everybody?”
The final big event for the 11th Festival of Fine Arts in Monastir was a reception to show off all the paintings done by the artists, in the location at what was hoped to be the future Museum of Contemporary Art in Monastir. We were to meet in the lobby to get on the bus trip to the building, so I went to my room to rest, for just a few minutes. I thought I would lay down for about a half hour. I was exhausted.
We were to meet at 5:45, bus to leave at 6. I woke up out of a dead sleep at 5:40. If you can picture the old cartoons with little speed lines and clouds of dust kicked up behind the characters, you aren’t even close to what went on in my room over the next few minutes.
I got to the lobby, out of breath, still in a sleep-induced daze, heart pounding, rehearsing my apologies, knowing that things were probably running late and everyone was still sitting around, waiting. I rushed into the room and found
NOTHING. NADA. NIENTE. ZIP. ZIFR. For a moment I didn’t even see the clerk. I tell you, it was an eery feeling. It’s like you’r in the middle of a time/space continuum of some sort. I went to the dining room. Silence. I looked outside. Cars speeding by. Nobody.
At this point I assumed I was early, that everyone else was late (because that’s the kind of ego I have). I jokingly went up to the concierge and asked, “Where is everyone? Am I early?” Expecting a chuckle of agreement.
Instead I got a tick of the head, a slight lift of the eyebrows (you would have to know an Arab to understand my reference to this movement, but it is usually accompanied by a slight sucking of the teeth). Basically it meant I was out of luck.
“They are gone.”
“Gone? I’m only 5 minutes late? How could everyone have gotten on the bus so quickly? What do you mean?”
“They left early.”
My brain could not compute any of this.
“About an hour ago.” (That’s another part of the story)
“Where did they go?”
Tick, eyebrows, teeth. Accompanied by a shoulder shrug. Great.
Basically, I was out of luck. No idea where the venue was, no way to get there.
Did that stop me? No. No, it did not.
I remembered that the opening events (two weeks ago) took place at Cap Marina (Cape Marina); there was a building there that was the art center, maybe THAT was where the reception was. Or, at least, near it.
OK. I had a destination. Now I needed transportation.
There was public bus transportation, but I had only ridden that with others. I was not comfortable riding it on my own, to a place I did not know. A TAXI!
Long story somewhat shortened…
The concierge told me I could hail a cab on the street in front of the hotel, on the opposite side of the street. I asked him how much he thought it might cost me. Maybe 6 Tunisian dinars; maybe more. I went back to my room to get the paper we received at the beginning of the Festival which described the event. No address, but a description.
I went across the street and stopped a cab. “Can you take me to the marina? How much?” “15 dinars.” “No, I was told 6!”. We agreed on 10 (I considered that 6 plus a generous tip, and was in no mood to do the usual negotiations). Deal.
At the Marina
He took me straight to the marina (about 10 minutes, if that).
I walked through the entrance, out towards the water, and
Where? I thought maybe I would hear sounds of a party—What was I thinking? Nothing.
To the art center. Locked.
Asked around, did anyone know of an art reception, a party, a large group of people, artists (feeling more foolish by the minute). I found a marina policeman who understood ‘reception’. He walked with me AALLLL the way to one end of the marina. To a hotel. With the word ‘reception’ over the desk. Sigh. I asked the concierge about the event, showed him the paper, he had no clue. Sigh.
I told the policeman this was not it, and we walked back towards the entrance, where he…walked into the marina police station, and closed the door. And left me alone. I guess he had figured he had better cut his losses. I was beginning to feel the same way. It was hopeless, and I was a fool.
On the other hand, it was beautiful, balmy evening in Monastir, Tunisia. I would be going home soon, and I had not had much time to just walk around and enjoy the area, by myself.
So, that is what I did. I walked along the waterfront, feeling the gentle breeze, just being ‘in the moment’. Along the way I asked several people who where in kiosks if THEY knew anything about the event. They did not.
By this time I was almost at the other end of the marina. One last man gestured for another man in a car to drive over. He was a teacher, on his way home. I told my sad tale once more, and could understand my paper well. He said he was not aware of anything going on in the marina tonight. He also suggested that I might want to head back to the hotel. I told him I would, but wanted to walk around a bit more, it was such a beautiful evening. He shrugged, and said, “As you wish.”
I walked on a bit further, and then realized He spoke the truth. It was getting late in the evening, the sun was starting to set, and it would be dark soon. The marina was pretty deserted.
I did not feel any specific alarm, but it occurred to me that I did not want to look for a taxi (or get into a taxi) in the dark. I did not know how well lit the entrance to the marina would be, so I headed back, walking briskly. By the time I got to the entrance darkness had fallen, and the whole place was lit up light a Christmas tree. There were lots of people arriving, walking around, getting out of taxis. I caught a cab that was unloading its fare, he said 15 dinars, I said I had only paid 10 getting there, he agreed, and we drove back to the hotel.
AND, I got to see a small part of Monastir at night, outside of the hotel grounds and beach. Beautiful.
When I got back to hotel, everyone was sitting in the dining room, and everyone wanted to know how I liked the exhibit. When I told my sad tale, many people (the ones I had been hanging with) said they missed me, but figured I was somewhere else in the building. And there were 2 buses, so all assumed I was in the ‘other’ bus. It was nice to know I was missed and thought of, and they were upset. Apparently at the last minute word had gone around that the event would start an hour early, but somehow I had been overlooked. If I had not gone back to take a nap, I would have been in the lobby to hear. Oh, well. I had my own adventure, and it was lovely.
I guess I must go back, to see the art. And find the future Museum of Contemporary Art in Tunisia. We know it is not in the marina.
Advice and observations:
1) When there are tours, agendas that are being set by others, places that are destinations for a group, always get street addresses, write them down, do not rely on others. WRITE. IT. DOWN.
2) Always establish the price of the taxi fare BEFORE you get into the taxi. You can still tip if you wish.
3) When local people suggest you head back, you should. They probably know more than you know. In retrospect, I don’t think the teacher thought I was in any danger, but I was a woman alone in a secluded area.
4) You can miss a lot when you take a nap.
5) Adventures come at the strangest times.
The coffee story (and water) will have to wait until another time….and if you knew my addiction to coffee, you would know that it really can't.
Sep 11, 2016 10:56 PM
TRAVELING ALONE, PART 8—Even the Sweat Has Sweat
I should start by saying that it is appropriate that I am writing about my trip to Tunisia, because the 14th Festival ended yesterday, and it has been great fun to see the postings on Facebook. It was a wonderful experience, and the location perfect.
Hot in Tunisia:
We were on the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel had the original section, and a large new section. The new section had the pool, and more modern conveniences. But the rooms were smaller, and the older section (in which I was located) had larger, more charming rooms. They had a sleeping and sitting areas (perfect for putting out your luggage). The bathrooms were quite large, with a shower, sink, toilet and bidet. However, because the ceiling were quite high, the curtain around the shower hung a bit high, so when you took a shower, the water spattered out more than a little bit.
My room faced the sea, and I could have easily left the sliding door open to listen to the night sounds, and been quite safe. However, being a woman alone (but not the only one by far), and because American women have a reputation that makes Swedish women seem like nuns (thank you, TV shows ‘Dallas’ and “Dynasty’), I did not think it prudent for those walking by my room to see an open door late at night. Besides, I wanted to sleep with the air conditioning. It was warm, with a lovely breeze, but being able to sleep comfortably was really important. We were very busy during the day.
Ah, during the day….
In the beginning, we were gone during most of the day, traveling here and there. We would leave after breakfast, sometimes be back for lunch, but then out in the afternoon. Good thing, too, because during the day the air conditioning was turned off. I didn’t realize this at first; I thought the room was warm because it faced north west, and because the electricity was turned off when you left the room. This is because, like most European hotels, the room key is put into a wall socket to connect the power. In order to lock your door from the outside, you take it out of the socket, which means there is not power (and no air conditioning).
Imagine my surprise when I stayed to paint (because otherwise I would not be able to finish the required two paintings), and realized there was no air conditioning, even WITH the electricity turned on.
I found out later that some of the artists had asked for, and gotten, fans. Too bad I didn’t think of that. I found this out when Najwa (Saudi Arabia), Fadia (Lebanon), and I had Arabic coffee in Najwa’s room. She had her coffee pot, her heater for the water. And. a. fan. I won’t lie. I was not so much jealous as KICKING myself for not asking for one myself. By this time, there were no more. Still, I was drinking very fresh Arabic coffee with two lovely and gracious women, talking about art. Heaven, with a fan.
So, my day went something like this: Start painting after breakfast when it was cool, outside on the patio. In the shade. Lunch. In the early afternoon, when the sun started to heat up the patio, I would move inside, but by the door, because the light was much better. As the sun came further into the room (and getting hotter), I would move further into the room, until I was near the hall, where I would open the door for light from the hall. At night, in that location I could use the entrance light and the bathroom light to paint by. Inside, it was hot. At least outside there was a breeze.
Until the day the breeze stopped.
It happened overnight, about 7 or 8 days into the trip. I walked into the dining hall, which normally had all the windows open and the curtains billowing in the breeze. Well, the windows were open, but the curtains just hung there, limp. I will just say it was hot. And humid.
No A/C during the day, but at least at night in our rooms.
The next day was worse. We were all sitting around our meal, after enjoying a lovely buffet of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, breads, cheese, meat. Coffee, tea, juice, water. Lovely. Except for the heat. We were sweating in our plates. As in, sweat dripping off our noses sweating.
By this time many of us had become friends, and I felt comfortable sitting with many of the artists, men and women. Fadia (Lebanon). Gabrielle (Belgium). Elisabeth (Austria). Najwa (Saudi Arabia). Saad (Morocco). Yusuf (Azerbaijan). Hanne (Norway). Mariline (France). Ania (Italy). Katerina (Germany), to name just a few. So that is how some came to be sitting around after breakfast, moaning about the heat. I was remarking about how I was sweating into my painting, how miserable it was, and Yusif came up with the now-famous line, “Yes, even the sweat has sweat”. Truer words were never spoken. Yusif’s work
Dressing Too Light:
The other event that the heat precipitated was what happened one of these afternoons. It was fairly common for people (like other artists) to walk outside by our patios, and there were also local dignitaries visiting the artists. One afternoon I had moved inside, and was wearing very little. It was hot, and the sun was starting to shine onto my patio. I had moved inside, my patio door was open for some light, but the curtain was partially drawn for shade and privacy…or so I thought.
I suddenly became aware of voices, voices that slowly came closer and closer. Voices talking, laughing, chatting, and coming closer. I pulled the curtain completely closed, still the voices came closer. A little voice in me said, “Move now!”, and I did, grabbing my cotton robe, holding it up to me just as a woman stuck her head in my door! I think she was more than a little surprised. I don’t know whose eyes were bigger just then, hers or mine. She quickly apologized (in French), and I could hear her making an excuse of some kind to the men. What a shame, because they were part of the Mayor’s Delegation. We had been told they would be dropping by, at some time. Boy, did they!
What did I learn from this?
1) bring a little fan (and wear a wet cloth around your neck)
2) bring an extra light
3) ask for a fan
4) start painting at dawn
5) if your patio door is open, wear a robe
6) don’t sweat the small stuff
Next blog: “Where is everybody?” And coffee, bottled water
Sep 4, 2016 10:14 PM
TRAVELING ALONE, Part 7—How to Control Your Camel
I have ridden a camel before, years ago in Cairo. It was an exciting experience.
The main thing to remember is that at no time should your driver let go of the reins. Camels have minds of their own, and even though this was quite a few years ago, I distinctly remember calling out, “Whoa, camel, whoa camel!” as we spiraled down the pathway beside the Pyramids. Turns out, you REALLY need to pull back on the reins E-V-E-N-L-Y to stop your camel. If you don’t, he continues to go forward and since his head is turned to the side, he will move in circles. But he won’t stop. I had lots of activity going on behind me. Men finally caught up us (probably the camel was getting dizzy).
Fast forward 32 years. Part of the arrangements for my trip to Tunisia included an overnight camping trip to the desert. I had no idea what that entailed, but I wasn’t going to go all that way and NOT go on the camping trip, especially since I had to pay whether I went or not. I was sure it would not be too rough, because this is something tourists do a LOT—camp in the Sahara Desert. Right?
Right! (Ha, you didn’t expect me to say that, did you?)
I will describe that later. But before we got to the campsite:
This side trip included stops at many archeological spots (like El Jem, the location of the third largest Roman coliseum in the world) and lovely towns. Towards sunset the bus stopped where we would catch a ‘train’ to the campsite. But first, a camel ride to see the sunset!
Riding the Camel:
It took a while to get everyone (me) up onto the camels. They are sitting, but they are still pretty high up there. And then they rise up. It is a struggle, leaning forward, then back, then you are up, then more up. Hooray! It was not a great distance, but the trip was a great part of the fun. I took LOTS of photos with my phone, but I realized at some point that it was dangerous to just carry it in my hand. I might drop it in the sand, which could have been disastrous (of course I also had a digital camera, because if you know anything about me by now, you know that I am redundancy personified).
So, I leaned back to put my phone away in my pocket.
If I could give you one more word of advice, it would be this: Do NOT lean back on your camel. Turns out, that is how they know you want to get down. And apparently, once down, it is not that easy to get them back up. Hence the panic among the camel drivers. They KNEW what was about to happen, and all of a sudden there was a fury of common around my rear end (do. not. say. a. word). They REALLY did not want that camel to drop down.
Fortunately, the drivers saw what was happening in time, the camel did not drop down, and I got to see the sun start to set in the desert. We did not wait for it to go all the way down, because we needed the light for our ‘train’ to find it way to the campsite.
Train to the Camp:
Our train consisted of many golf carts strung together. We had time to take take LOTS of photographs, have great conversation, travel in the open air, and experience night falling in the desert. I got gorgeous photos not only of the sunset, but the sky opposite the sun. And when I say time, I mean it was VERY dark when we finally got to the camp…
I heard that the driver got lost, had to phone into the camp, and either got talked back to camp or had someone find us. I am glad I didn’t know this until later. Of course, I had a bottle of water with me (would you have ever doubted it?). The bigger problem to me was that my camera AND phone batteries were running down.
In the end, we were greeted by a huge bonfire, wonderful music, horse and camel acrobatic riders, then a fabulous dinner with MORE entertainment. The camp had flushing toilets and showers, and each tent had 4 beds with mattresses and linen, rugs, side tables and electricity. The other women in the tent were all people I had already been visiting with, so it was a very comfortable experience.
We did not get to bed until after midnight, and had to get up at 4 am so we could eat breakfast (which was fabulous), get back on the ‘train’, and get to the bus to travel back to Monastir. ALL the camp lights went off at 1 a.m. They were serious about us getting up at 4—The lights in the tent automatically came on, and a man came to the tent and poked his head in to be sure we were up! I had already decided to not even change out of my clothes—what was the point? So I was pretty much ready to go. The good news: I got to photograph dawn in the desert on the ride back to the bus. These desert photographs eventually became a series of eight paintings: www.lindahollett.net/world-views
The bad news: there was no bad news! It was a beautiful day, and we got to see more of the Sahara desert (from an air-conditioned bus), and many beautiful sights.
Camping in the desert—check THAT off my bucket list.
• you can't control your camel; you need help
• always carry water (and a snack bar)
• carry back up battery power
• it’s easy to pack an overnight bag when you don’t plan to change your clothes
This is enough for now, so NEXT blog: ‘Even the Sweat Has Sweat’.
Aug 25, 2016 9:28 PM
TRAVELING ALONE, PART 6—Getting there from here (alone), and how my trip to Tunisia came to include Rome. (I posted this August 29, 2016 10:32 pm)
In 2013 I applied to and was accepted into a two-week art festival for artists from all over the world in Tunisia. This was for the 11th annual International Festival of Fine Arts in Monastir, Tunisia. Then I had to figure out how to get to Monastir from Richmond, Virginia.
I could do that. I had booked airline tickets before. How hard could it be?
Turns out, you can’t get there from here. At least, not the way I had planned to go.
First, there were no direct flights to Tunisia, from Richmond. I REALLY wanted to leave from Richmond, to avoid DC airports. The problem was, when I entered in the parameters of travel I wanted (like traveling through Barcelona), all of the airlines wanted to take me through Chicago by way of Houston, and finally to Tunisia for a measly $6,000+. (I’m making up the cities—not the price).
After about 3 hours, I have an epiphany—why not have AAA help me? I paid big bucks every year, and got a lot of peace of mind, but hardly ever used their services. Time to change that.
So, I just dropped by, told them what I needed, and the dates. Ron (because we bonded), did a few magic keystrokes, and then a few more, and then asked the question that changed everything: “Do you need to go through Barcelona?” The only reason I had stated that as a condition of travel was because I knew people there. That was it. So…No. No, I did not NEED to go through Barcelona. That turned out to be a good thing, because it turns out that Barcelona only had flights going to Tunisia twice a week. BINGO! Once we took that out of the equation, obstacles started to drop away like leaves off a tree in fall.
First I could choose other cities to go through that had daily flights: Paris, Rome, Frankfurt. Hmmm….
Paris. Even though this would be a connecting flight, the possibility that I could have to stay over (because that had happened before) meant I wanted to select my hub city carefully. Loved the idea of Paris, but my French is limited, and the stress of having to brush up on French in addition to my Arabic made my stomach go into knots. No.
Frankfurt. That seemed to be logical, because I had 3 years of German in high school, and I could brush up quickly (maybe), but I was not enamored of staying in Frankfurt, if it became necessary. So, nope.
Rome. Rome….Bella Roma. I had been there in 1975. I studied Italian there, and felt more comfortable reviewing my Italian than any other option. And it was ROME. I LOVED the idea. Rome it was.
Now for the timing. Leave the US, land in Rome, and Ron (who was now my new best friend) suggested I plan to spend the night in Rome and take a fight out the next day to Tunisia, in case there were flight delays. Brilliant! And I would be spending. the. night. in. Rome.
And then I started to think…It’s a lot of trouble to go through customs, baggage, to a hotel, unpack (even a little bit), and then do it in reverse the very next day….seems to make a lot of sense to spend several days in Rome. You know, get over jet lag, acclimate to the Mediterranean weather in September. It would be a sacrifice, but one I was willing to make. It only made sense, right?
Then I could fly to Tunis, Tunisia (a 45 minute flight) stay for 11 days, and return to Rome on my way home. And since I had to stop there anyway, and since I would be very tired and perhaps stressed (all that traveling and painting and who-knows-what-else), it would probably be a good idea to stay in Rome a few days on my return home to rest and recuperate. It was only logical.
So, 3 days before Tunisia, 4 days after. In Rome. I could live with that.
And then the flight to Tunis is delayed. “Only 45 minutes”. Only an hour”. “It will be a little while longer”. I will not bore you with the details, except to say that
1) all of us waiting for that flight bonded,
2) children all over the world will make a game anywhere, anytime, with anything, including soccer with a bottle cap, and
3) we left 7 hours later than we were supposed to.
I arrived in Tunis about 8 pm. I was supposed to be picked up about 1 pm. I had been emailing the person (Nejib Rokbani) who was supposed to pick me up with updates all afternoon. I went to the Greeting desk for visitors in the Tunis airport (which is a VERY large airport). No one was there. Then I realized I was at the wrong desk, and went to the correct spot. People were there, but they had NO idea what I was talking about. They directed me to the HELP desk. At this point I tried to call Nejib again, but my phone would not connect. Yes, I had called the phone company before I left the U.S; yes, I had gotten directions for calling in Tunisia; no, nothing worked (turns out, I misread the directions).
I had put all my important contact information in the front of a folder I carried with me, that had the travel info, the event info, everything, in case I was asked. While I was trying again to call Nejib AGAIN (by now it’s about 8:45) a gentleman who was standing nearby and had overheard my conversation asked me if I needed help. Boy, did I! I told him I could not reach my contact with my phone, and he offered to call with his. I showed him the number, which he called. Nejib ANSWERED. He explained my situation, in Arabic, Nejib told him what I needed to do. Nejib’s nephew would meet me at the visitors’ desk in about 45 minutes. HOORAY! And then my knight in shining armor walked away (his aunt had arrived), and I never even knew his name.
Nejib’s nephew met me, a lovely young man, drove me through Tunis (about 9:30 by now), and into an alley. Well-lit, but an alley. Into a large building with LOTS of cars. He told me that I was going to take a service taxi to Monastir and Nejib would meet it. Now, this might have been a real cause for alarm for most women, because this was REALLY going into the unknown. REALLY alone. Late at night. And in a car with a lot of other people.
The Service Taxi:
Fortunately, this situation was not unknown to me. From Amman, Jordan, my husband and I had taken a service taxi to Jericho (and then on to Jerusalem). A service taxi is one that takes off when it is full (about 8 riders), and there is a set fee for each rider.
So, I knew what was going on. He took me to a taxi, loaded my luggage, and gave the driver instructions. In Arabic. Fine.
It was the driver, a young boy, 5 other men and I. The taxi took off, and I immediately fell asleep. Some time later I awoke to the sound of a modern day version of ‘Leilet Hob’, one of my all-time favorite Arabic songs, and this was a wonderful way to wake up. Then the taxi slowed down, stopped, and one of the men got out. It was a pretty isolated area, and I remember thinking, “Boy, I would hate to have to get out in such an area”.
Not 10 minutes later, the taxi slowed down again, stopped, there was some shuffling in the back, and the driver came around to my side and opened the door. “Madam, please.” Please what? And he gestured for me to get out. In the dark. In the middle of what looked like middle of the desert. “ME?, NO, this is not Hotel les Palmiers!” “Madam, please”. “No, this is NOT Hotel les Palmiers, No, I’m not get…”. At this point I was DUG IN (think of a cartoon scene from Bugs Bunny)
And then, Nejib’s face appeared behind the shoulder of the cab driver. I recognized him because of Facebook. “Nejib, Nejib!” I was never so glad to see anyone in my life. Apparently, Nejib and the taxi driver had been in contact over the phone, and they had established the meeting point.
I scrambled out of the taxi, he took my luggage, put me in HIS car, and drove me to the hotel. The concierge was waiting for me, and by midnight I was safely ensconced in my room. By the way, Nejib spoke almost no English. He spoke Arabic and French (turns out, I should have brushed up on my French after all).
And then the adventure began….
So, what worked?
Rome was a great choice. I staying in the pensione I had stayed in years ago, so there was no stress there.
I had my contact information right at hand.
I knew about service taxis.
I had my FACEBOOK page. Not only did I recognize Nejib, but even when I could not connect to email, I could get on Facebook, for the entire trip. Facebook was a huge part of how I was able to keep in touch with friends and family.
Next blog: How to be the boss of your camel, and 'even the sweat has sweat'.
Aug 21, 2016 1:32 PM
TRAVELING ALONE, PART 5—Getting Through Security, or Not...
Traveling by air has changed a lot over the years. It is harder. Much, much harder.
There are more rules, and everything can take a lot longer. This blog is not about comfort (like how crowded the seats are now). It is about security.
Security is good. I have no complaints, but I have a lot of stories. When I travel, I have come to expect to be stopped going through Security. Always. However, that has taught me a lot, so here I will share a few tips that may help you, Dear Reader:
1) If you plan to use a money belt, don’t put it on until after you go through security—
It shows up in the x-ray as you walk through, and when they ask you if you are wearing a belt and you say, “well, yes, it’s under my shirt”, (because, when they say to take all belts off, you never think of that as a BELT), you get whisked off to a privacy booth so they can have you take it off. And then, when they swab the inside pouch checking for ?, you continue to chat with one of the women in the booth, until the swab comes back positive…
Long story short, they assured me that a new belt—which it was—can show a false positive for any number of things because of the factory chemicals, and I was allowed to go my merry way. We had bonded.
Now when I travel, I keep it in my purse until it goes through security, and THEN I put it on. But well worth the trouble.
2) Paints do not go into your carry-on luggage—
I knew this. I KNEW this. But in carefully packing for my 2013 trip to Tunisia by way of Rome (another blog, for sure), and making sure I had my ESSENTIALS in my carry-on, I added my container of oil paints I would be using in Tunisia. I don’t know why…I think it had something to do with too much weight in my checked luggage, and not wanting to pay $100 for being over the weight limit. It was late at night and I had to get up at 3 a.m. So, I shuffled a few things around, and went to bed.
The next morning I was up early, at the airport by 5:30, luggage checked (underweight, boarding pass and passport in hand, going through security by 5:45. Feeling VERY smug that I had been so efficient in packing, planning, and in general being far superior to most of the travelers around me. And being early. Very, very early. Why, there was no one ahead of me in Security when I walked through!
I hoisted my carry-on onto to the feeder belt that carries everything through the X-ray scanner, and waited at the other end for it to come out. And when it did, so did a security guard.
“Ma’am, would you mind opening your suitcase?” Sure.
“Ma’am, are those paints?’ Sure.
“Ma’am, you can’t take paints onto the plane in your carry-on.” A sudden stillness came over the universe. “But I have to carry them on. I’m going to an International gathering of artists and I have to have my paints!”
“Yes, ma’am, but they can’t be in your carry on.” And then the ‘duh-h’ factor hit me. I knew that, and I knew there was no negotiating. “Well, what am I going to do?” Sounding a bit desperate.
“Well, we can pull your checked luggage off the line, and you can put your paints in it.” Again, a silence descended all around me.
Now, to understand my reaction to this option you must also understand that when I packed the night before I had to literally SIT on the suitcase to close it. I could not have fit a paper clip into it, much less a plastic carrier 8”x10”x3” that weighed at least 5 lbs (I know, I weighed it).
Also, even though I might have been able to switch things out, the thought was just overwhelming. NO way was I going to do all that. And it would have taken so long—I was loosing my time edge, and I really wanted to get a good seat at the gate.
Thus my response: “I cannot do that”. Calm belying my rising panic.
“Well, you could check your carry-on. You would have to pay a fee for the extra luggage”.
I quickly reviewed all my options, and the time, and the line that was growing behind me (because I was no longer the only person going through Security). Loosing my paints was preferable to having to pull my checked luggage off line.
Again, long story short, I went back to check-in, checked my carry-on (after I took out my make-up, contact solution, computer and cords, and the back-pack that was IN the carry-on), paid $50, and went back through Security.
Best. Money. Spent. Ever. I breezed through Security. Greeted the security personnel, with whom I had now boned. I got onto the plane without the hassle of pulling that case behind me, and having to get someone to hoist it to the overhead.
Got a great seat at the gate, and I was very happy with the paintings of Rome and Tunisia. paintings and more info
3) Pack you small, loose stuff in luggage ‘cubes’—
Zippered small bags you can put your underwear in, your cords in, you medicine and sundries in. Then, when security goes through your luggage (and they will), you can hear them say, “This is the neatest packing I have ever seen”. Than makes it all worthwhile. Good thing they won’t see it in a week.
4) Never admit your luggage has been out of your sight—
When I was leaving England (after painting in St. Ives, Cornwall), I brought my luggage down from my room so I could have breakfast and then leave for the airport. Very efficient. I left my luggage behind the concierge’s desk (I didn’t want to take it into the dining room), ate, and took a cab to the airport.
Lovely people, the Brits. So polite, so pleasant. Really, a delight. As I was waiting in line in the Bristol airport, I was chatting with the officer checking everyone BEFORE they got to check-in. I told him I had been painting in Cornwall, had seen Stonehenge, loved walking the streets of Bath and Bristol. In short, we bonded.
And then he asked me the question:
“Ma’am, has your luggage every been out of your sight?” “Well, yes, when I took it down to breakfast, I put it behind the desk, but, of course, that’s not really out of my sight, I was just in the next room…”
Come to find out, that pretty much IS the definition of ‘out of your sight’.
“Ma’am, come with me.”
We rolled my suitcase to a SPECIAL area of security, they opened it, checked my paints, I told them they were water-mixable oils (and had a tube with description to show them), checked everything else, and I was on my way.
Or so I thought.
In line to get onto the plane, we were going out onto the tarmac, and I had my backpack and purse to carry on. They were pulling people off to do random searches of baggage, and yes, they stopped me. And it was the same lovely gentleman who had questioned me before, but he did not do the search. They had women for the female passengers. I think they knew I would not complain.
Well, we had bonded.
It was a non-event, and the rest of the trip was easy and lovely. And, I got TWELVE gorgeous plein air paintings out of the trip! see paintings
Worth the trouble. ALL worth the trouble.
In future blogs I will be posting more security recommendations.
Next blog: What to do when your ride in Tunisia is not there to meet you at the airport….Or "No, I will NOT get out of this cab in the middle of the desert!”
Aug 17, 2016 12:00 AM
TRAVELING ALONE, PART 4—How Not to Fall into a Venetian Canal, Or A Cautionary Tale
First, a bit of background:
In 2014 I travelled with a group of artists to Italy—Cinque Terre, Florence, and eventually, Venice. The group went home from Florence, while my good friend and painting pal extraordinaire Benda Bickerstaff-Stanley and I went on the Venice to sketch and paint.
To visit Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”), many groups stay in La Spezia, which is just a 5 minute train ride away, and has hotels large enough to hold larger groups. Lovely town, we stayed ACROSS the street from the train station, and were just a 20 minute walk from the harbor if we wanted to get boats to take us around. All of it up and down hills. UP. AND. DOWN.
I love getting up early and walking around the streets alone, before lots of people are up and about. The first morning in La Spezia I walked to the train station (I had to get the concierge to let me out of the hotel because it was so early the doors were still locked) to see what was going on, and get some coffee.
Everybody was going to work. Who knew? We were in I-T-A-L-Y. I’m feeling the beauty, the charm, the elegance, the warm of the Italian people. What I got was people catching the commuter trains to go to work. And they were all in McDonald’s in the station getting breakfast. This was good, because I REALLY wanted some coffee, and the breakfast at the hotel would not be served (for our group) for another hour. So I watched. Women in their heels, men in their suits, all ‘belly up to the bar’—ordering their coffee from seemingly endless choices, paying for it, drinking it, and then walking away. Mostly espresso and cappuccino, and croissants or some other pastry. Order, pay, eat, go. All standing.
So, after a few moments of observation, I determined that I could do this, and I did. But I sat down, so I could also watch the trains. So much fun to just watch people walk by. AND I saw them use a fancy lift to move a woman in a wheelchair from the platform to the level of the train. Very cool!
What does this have to do with the canals of Venice? You will see…
So, fast forward about ten days, and Brenda and I are in Venice.
Ah, Venezia. I was there in 1975, and it was great to be back. After 8 days of walking up and down the hills of Cinque Terre, it would be great to walk on flat land. I thought. Odd thing though, all those little bridges crossing over the canals are like little hills. Hills with steps, but hills, nevertheless. Lots and lots of little hills. It was like Cinque Terre on the east coast.
Lovely room, on the corner with TWO views of one of the many canals, with great views of stucco, flowers on balconies, and laundry in the sun. Heaven.
The next morning, my first day of Venice in 39 years, I decided to get out and walk around. Early. Because that’s what I do.
The great think about Venice is that so many of the streets lead right to a canal. Straight into a canal. Like, you could walk right to the end of a small street, and step down (just 2 or 3 steps) into the water. Such a street was just two turns away from the hotel. This little street had a great view. A great, great view. So I walked along and took photographs. When I got to the end, I looked left and right, and could see down the canal in both directions. Took more pictures. Leaned out a bit, took more photos. Looked down, saw the step was clear, stepped down and took more photos, leaning out. But I really wanted a clearer view to my right. I looked down, and saw the next step was muddy-looking. But when I see mud, and I think grit. Silly me.
So, I v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y stepped down.
When I came to, I was seeing stars, and I could not feel anything from the neck down. While I was waiting for my vision to clear, and chastising myself for being so incredibly STUPID, the feeling came back into my body. I was sitting up against the wall, so I must have landed straight down on my spinal column, and the shock went right UP my spinal column. I tried to get up, but could get no purchase on the mud. I needed to get up one more step before I got to the street. I did not want to move too much, in case I slipped and DID end up in the water. I certainly didn’t want to move while no one was around. When I looked up the street, I noticed one lone gentleman walking his dog, at the other end of the street.
Trying to remember any Italian for help, I decided on ‘Attenzione, attenzione!’ ‘Attention, attention.’. He heard me, and came over. His hand gestures told be how foolish he thought I was, and I thoroughly agreed! I could not let him pull me up, because it was too slippery and I was afraid I would pull him into the water (and I think he was afraid, too), but with him nearby I had enough courage to get on my knees and crawl up to the street level, at which point he could help me up. Standing up we took an inventory, discerned that I could walk, and I walked back to the hotel.
I told the concierge what had happened (in case I didn’t make it to my room) and Brenda checked me out. At that point I realized that I had hit the back of my head against the wall because I had some blood in my scalp, and a big ol’ goose egg. However, I did not want to lie down, I case it was more serious than I thought. We went down to breakfast, and walked around the rest of the day. That is all. Other than my head being so sore I could hardly put my head on my pillow, it was a non-event.
The reason I share this is because I did one thing REALLY wrong (aside from the obvious). I did not have the identify of the hotel on me.
If I had become unconscious, there would have been no way for anyone to know where I was staying (although I did have ID on me, and eventually they would have found the hotel).
RULE #1 for travel (thank you, Garry-Lou Upton): Always have your hotel card on you. One at a time—do not carry your collection with you.
RULE #2 for travel: Get extra medical insurance for travel (which I did). Not just hospital, but transportation. Suppose you have to be helicoptered out of a situation? Often your U.S. health insurance will not cover overseas issues. This is not a luxury.
And what would I have done if I had been alone? I would have sat in the lobby for several hours, until I felt that I was showing no signs of concussion. or worse. And if I had, at least I would have been out in public, instead of ill in my room.
Next week? Getting through Security. Or at least, TRYING to get through Security…
Aug 10, 2016 11:09 PM
Traveling Alone, Part 3— MY Credit Card(s) Won’t Work, Money for a Hotel, and a 'Bit' More about Phones…
When I arrived in Katwijk, the first thing I needed to do was purchase a shopping trolley to carry my painting equipment down to the beach (a covered vertical grocery cart). Normally I would have brought one, but it would have taken up too much room). The owner of the B and B found a local store (Blokker) very close by that carried them, but when I tried to pay with any of my cards, they were declined. All. Of. Them. I paid cash, and was in a bit of a panic about paying for my room (which I had not done yet). I called the bank, but they said it was not a problem on their end, all was activated. At this point I had not tried an ATM (there one down the street).
I told the B and B owner what had happened, but when we ran the credit card, there was no problem. Whew! The same problem occurred at another local store, but all was fine with restaurants, hotels, cabs, etc. My card worked in the ATM as well.
This was just one of those quirks of travel. Like finding places that do not take plastic at all.
Thank goodness I also had extra American dollars, and the reason will become apparent in a minute…
For my return home I had booked a hotel outside of Dullas Airport. The reason for this was twofold:
1) I was able to park my car there, take a shuttle to the airport, and leave it there FREE for 14 nights. When I returned, I took a shuttle to the hotel and
2) I was able to get a good night’s rest BEFORE I got home.
Some might disagree with me, but I found that getting this good night’s rest prevented me from suffering many jet lag symptoms once I got home. I was able to decompress, relax, and drive back into reality. If I had gotten a commercial drive to the airport, it would have cost only a little less than the room. If I had caught the plane in Richmond, it would have cost me more. That would have been OK, but the hotel arrangement was jus too easy, and so many people do this. This enabled me to have a direct flight. THAT is priceless.
HOWEVER….Remember I had lost my cards. When I got to the hotel, I did not have any credit cards, and they had been cancelled. I had enough cash to pay for the room and and get some meals. That’s why you carry more American dollars than you normally would. Actually, my last blog said $200, but I would really suggest $250 to $300. Cushion. I might also have been able to get my husband to call in his credit card number for the room (darn, I didn’t think of that, until right now).
One more thing about phones overseas. For the past few years many people have advised me to buy a phone and pay for a plan when I got to where I was going. Really? I have looked around while traveling, and I have had NO IDEA where to go. Someone said the post office, or “oh, they’re everywhere”. Well, I could not find ‘everywhere’, and this comes under the category of MY TIME IS THE MOST VALUABLE THING I HAVE WHEN TRAVELING. Time spent looking for these places, studying usage plans, making decisions, all take time away for painting. Or visiting. Or watching the waves come in. I paid a lot of money for THOSE things, not shopping for phones. So I signed up for a travel plan with Verizon ($85), and watched my data usage by turning off cellular data or using ‘airplane mode’ most of the time (you pay extra for data usage above a certain amount). I just did all my posting at my B&B, where I had wifi. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, I only had to pay the straight monthly fee, and nothing more. Even though I had scheduled my international phone usage to coincide with my travel, I still called as soon as I got back to the states to make sure it was deactivated. And by the way, the ‘extra cost'? It depends on the company and plan. But something like $25 for every 100 mb of data. Since April, the monthly fee has gone down, and a certainly amount of calls and texting are free. Perfect.
Thank goodness I had a battery pack for my phone, too! This is an ESSENTIAL. Photos, trying to pick up signals, they all use your batteries, but photos and videos BY FAR draw the most energy. Do you REALLY want to be in a great spot at 7 in the evening and not be able to take a shot because your battery is dead? No, you do not. For me, this moment would occur about 1:00 in the afternoon, unless I had my ‘juice pack’. Thanks to Amy HR Donahue for THAT reminder after my last blog. It’s so obvious I forgot. www.amydonahuefineart.com
Be sure you know how to activate it —I had to call the store I bought mine from to activate it right after I got to Holland. I THOUGHT it automatically did that, and I was wrong. I suggest buying it and using it at least a month before you travel. They weigh more, take up more space in your pocket, and as always, takes some getting used to.
I even had a small external battery pack, with cord to attach to my phone, in case I needed a back up for the back up—Don’t laugh, I used it twice.
And be sure if you have anyone traveling with you, THEY have a phone. Unless you are joined at the hip, in all likelihood you will separate. And when you do, you NEED TO BE ABLE TO CONTACT ONE ANOTHER. Both with a phone. TURNED ON! You should not be on Airplane Mode when you are separated, because then you cannot get a phone call, or anything (you can take pictures, video, and tell time). If you just turn off Cellular Data, you will not use data, but you can call.
WHAT DID I USE MY PHONE FOR?
• Calling home (husband, bank, credit card companies)
• Using Google Maps app to find where the store/museum/street was while walking around. It showed me how to walk there, like it would show a car how to drive). Sometimes the place was only a block away! That also allowed me to be sure the taxi was more-or-less heading in the right direction. I would check out the directions the night before.
• Using XE app to check currency exchange rates
• Using Mila’s Tools to convert metric measurements to something I could understand
• Using my Translator app to translate
• Checking my flight status
• Using Booking.com to make room arrangements (I did this in Katwijk to book a room in Amsterdam)
• Calling a Dutch friend to reschedule a lunch appointment, so he would not worry (Okay, he left HIS phone at home, but it would have worked IF HE HAD HAD HIS PHONE WITH HIM)
• I COULD have used my Square app if someone had wanted to make a purchase
One last thought about the phone cost. You have spent $1000, $2000, $3000 for this great trip. Do you really want to spend your time quibbling and worrying over $25, $50, $100? No you do do not. Relax.
Next blog— Location: Venice. How not to fall in a canal, and what would you do?
p.s. I will soon be able to reply to comments! But for now, if you want me to reply, please include your email address within the body of your comment. You must also put your email in the email box, but I can’t see that (for now). Later, it will still not be visible to others, but I will be able to see it.