Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Africa - oh my!

The first time I read about Jane Goodall in National Geographic I wanted to go to Africa. I even became a flight attendant when I was twenty-one so I could afford the trip, but I never got there during my short career in the friendly skies. I put money away when I could, but the trip never happened until the call became too great. Last year I decided that I needed to go to Africa before it was too late – for me or the animals.

Bob and I just returned from a three-week trip to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. We booked a tour with Overseas Adventure Travel, a company that caters to active Americans over 50 and were joined by two old friends. We only had 14 people in our group. I highly recommend OAT and if you decide to book a trip to one of their worldwide destinations please use me as your referral (customer #001382737) and you’ll get $100 off your trip. http://oattravel.com/

on one of our lion walks
We landed in Johannesburg a few days early and spent that time with a client who takes care of the animals at a lion preserve a few hours north of ‘Joburg’. We got to walk in the bush with 7 lions that were less than a year old. What naughty kids they were – running off, jumping up on people and acting like all young kitties (don’t have anything dangling from your body). They were boisterous but manageable. At night we were awakened by the roaring of the older lions. That’s a sound you never forget. I also spent time there communicating with the lions, leopards, serval, caracal, and tigers. It was a great way to get our feet on the ground.

I wanted to go to Africa to see the animals, and animals we saw. It was amazing how many critters roamed everywhere. We saw the big five (lion, cape buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino), sometimes four of them in a day. In South Africa we encountered both white and black rhino, and even spent some quiet time in the dark with three rhinos as the full blood moon rose over the trees.

elephants in the river at the lodge
Our first lodge was situated on the Crocodile River and during lunch we watched elephants, Cape buffalo, antelopes and hippos along with many species of birds. I was in heaven! At the next lodge a herd of elephants ran trumpeting from the woods to the water hole a couple of hundred yards in front of the camp. They drank and played and chased off the baboons. One night a few wandered into camp and chewed up a lot of trees.

Many of our safaris were in national parks: Kruger, Hwange and Chobe, and they reminded me of being in Yellowstone, only the animals were different. When you saw cars pulled over everyone sped up to see what they were watching. Once it was lions, another time a hyena, a leopard, and always there were elephants.

In Zimbabwe we visited a school that is supported by OAT and also went to a nearby village. These stops were more fascinating than I had expected and by the end of our trip I found that the people and the countries and the land were as important to me as the animals. It really is an amazing continent.
typical home
This is just the start of a series of blogs about our time in Africa and the places, people and animals we met. I hope you enjoy them and that soon you will experience the wonder of Africa for yourself.

Monday, August 12, 2013

England and France - Three

Southern France  July 13-24, 2013
Just south of Cannes
In only a few hours of driving you can go from the middle of the Alps to the Riviera. We drove south    through the Italian countryside. Once along the Mediterranean your driving choices are crowded freeway with limited views and culture, or seaside road with manic traffic, motorcycles and scooters passing left, right and sideways, plus maze-like transits through small towns. It was kind of fun and terrible at the same time. We did a little of both routes hoping that France would be less hectic than Italy.  We stopped for a much needed break in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and had a snack while people and yacht watching. Further down the French coast we found red rocks that looked just like Sedona!

The town of Vence
Our home base for these two days was a very nice B&B with a pool near Vence.  Our only issue was the last few miles of narrow winding road to get to and from it each day. We spent a day at the beach and I got to swim in the Mediterranean. The women in France all wear two-piece suits. Mary was usually the only one on every beach in a one piece, except for two ladies in their 80s! (and of course there were a few with only the bottom portion of their bikinis on).

Our B&B host suggested we take a small mountain road through the Gorge du Verdon on our way to Provence.  After the winding and crowded waterfront road we weren’t excited about a winding mountain road, but we are sure glad we took their suggestion.  The Gorge itself was not so wide but it was deep and the rock formations on the way reminded us of the Sierras. In fact, France reminded us of California in a lot of places. It was WAY more mountainous than we expected. Not too far from the gorge, we discovered a small medieval town tucked into a hillside called Moustiers des Saint Marie.  It was a fantastic setting with a chapel tucked high into the rock-cliff and a spring-fed stream running right through the middle of town. We really liked this place which is known for it’s ceramics. Beyond the gorge the river flowed into beautiful lake.

In Provence, we stayed in Greoux les Bains, a cute little town with lots of cafes.  Nice small hotel, narrow stairway to third floor, no-air conditioning, but a very large un-heated pool that I appreciated very much. We had a wonderful drive through the blooming lavender and sunflower fields but we missed the baths. We were also happy to see a wide variety of crops in France, but still no wildlife. Our only sightings were two foxes.

I love the small towns that look like they haven’t changed in a few hundred years.  The economy of these places is very interesting.  I realize that new development and large cities keep the countries going, but there is something very satisfying about being in a small town of maybe 500 people where the stores, houses and small businesses have been in their same location and operated at essentially the same volume of business for hundreds of years.

Rennes les Bains
Speaking of small towns our next stop was a hot springs hang out during the hippie days.  Rennes Les Bains is a very small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  The natural hot spring is still accessible just outside town, but there is a developed warm pool in town where most people go.  While we were there, remnants of the hippie heyday were everywhere - a small open-air market, young nomadic singles and couples with kids, etc.  Mt Bugarash is nearby and has some of the same legends and aura as Mt Shasta. Mary and I hiked about half way up.  It is a very cool place.  

Carcassonne is a fully restored medieval town complete with towers and moat.  It is very   We stayed overnight just outside the walls of the ancient city so we were able to hang around into the night and enjoy a lovely meal.  I liked Carcassonne very much.
touristy but also very great.

After a long drive on the wonderful and expensive French highway system, we arrived in Chartres, home to the wonderful and magical Cathedral of Chartres.  Our hotel room had a good view of the front the Cathedral that dominates the town and surrounding area.  The Cathedral dates from the 11th century, has a labyrinth in the floor and some of the most amazing stained glass and flying buttresses.  At night during summer they project a laser light show on three sides of the cathedral and a few other buildings in town.  On TV or the web the show looks pretty hokey, but in-person it is really spectacular.  Since the sun sets so late, the shows go late into the night. We were able to see it lit up from our bed.

Chartres Cathedral
Speaking of late sunsets…I had always thought that Paris was at about the same latitude as San Francisco, but it is more like Minneapolis. Almost all of the major cities in northern and central Europe are in the higher latitudes. Florida actually lines up with Saudi Arabia!

Our last stop was Paris.  We got to Paris the day the Tour De France was ending there. We watched the finale from our hotel room rather than fight the crowds on the Champs Elysees. Our last two days in Paris were very hot - 95 degrees!  We toured around the city and caught all the major sights, but it was very crowded in late July so we only got into one Museum, the Rodin, which is one of my favorites.

After a wonderful flight to Atlanta on an Air France Boeing 777, and a short hop on Delta to Sarasota (SRQ) we were very glad to be back in our new home.  By the way, Air France had great meals, fservice, free drinks and smiling happy flight attendants in economy - what a pleasant surprise.   

Logistical Suggestions:  If you drive in Europe, we highly recommend a GPS. They aren’t perfect but they are great for roundabout directions and if you make a wrong turn they just pick-up from wherever you are. The French freeways are expensive, but worth it for the time saving and they have great and plentiful rest and service areas. It was not any fun driving in England! Being on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car is a challenge. Add tiny roads with hedges or walls right up to the asphalt and you’ll find Mary hyperventilating.

Thoughts on Food:  We were thankful not to see a lot of American fast food places.  We saw none in the smaller towns and only MacDonald’s, Burger King and KFC in the larger cities. England had very little vegetables on most menus (only peas), and almost no salads.  France had great salads, but they were expensive relative to other items on the menus. France, of course, had generally very good food, one surprising thing was that pizza and pasta were everywhere in France. We never thought we could get tired of wine, bread and cheese, but I think we did it on this trip. A glass of wine in France was often as cheap as a cup of tea, so how can you turn that down?

England and France 2013 - Two

 Northern France  July 1-12, 2013

Ile de Sein
 After flying into Paris we immediately drove out to the Brittany Coast.  We were heading west to   We went there with our friend Frederique and her daughter, in hopes of connecting up with Dony,  an ambassador dolphin. Ile de Sein is a special place, rugged and peaceful with almost no significant vegetation, but there is a village of stone and plaster houses with a few shops and businesses. Fishing was the historical industry, and there still is some fishing, but day tourists and seasonal residents seem to account for the majority of activity.  The area has many rocky bays and shoals and beautiful lighthouses.  If you have seen a picture of a lighthouse almost being inundated by a large wave, the picture most likely came from this area.  Luckily, we experienced pretty nice and calm weather while we were there.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see Dony.
spend four days on Ile de Sein, a small island several miles off the coast in the Atlantic.

Beach at Fouras
After Ile De Sein, we followed Frederique to her home in Fouras, just south of La Rochelle on the mid-Atlantic Coast of France.  Fouras is great town of moderate size, and Frederique and her kids live in an original townhouse right across the street from the bay and a castle!

Zena's place
From the coast we went straight to the interior of France near the center of the country – the Morvan region. Zena, an old friend of Mary’s, lives on few acres in a 200+ year-old farmhouse. She has outfitted and decorated the house really nicely, keeping the rustic feel d├ęcor while upgrading functionality.  We thoroughly enjoyed the fresh food from the garden and

Zena’s excellent cooking.  We explored the old Roman ruins and sites in the area, and made a trip
to Abbey De Fontenay.  This restored 14th century Cistercian abbey near Montbard is a gem.  It is far enough off the beaten track to not be crowded, and the buildings and grounds are very peaceful and awe inspiring.

From a cathedral of monks to a cathedral of mountains, we went to Chamonix, a town in the French Alps near the Swiss and Italian borders. Mont Blanc (the highest peak in Europe) and its sisters are the main attraction. Skiing in winter and hiking and cable car riding in summer.  The weather was great and the majesty of the Alps from Chamonix was breathtaking.

Mt. Blanc
We drove through the 7 mile-long Mont Blanc Tunnel from Chamonix to Italy and spent a day and night in Pre St Didier. There we enjoyed a very relaxing day at the thermal baths - a lovely complex of pools, waterfalls, saunas, relaxation rooms, snacks and massage.  We both loved it and appreciated the break from sightseeing, driving and walking. Our massages were good too. We needed this because our next stop was the hubbub of the Italian and French Rivieras.

England and France 2013 - one

A while back Mary got invited to speak at the second annual Awakening to Animals Conference in England.  At the time we thought it would be great to extend our trip a few weeks and explore France and connect with a couple of friends living in France.

As it turned out the trip came only two months after we moved into our new house in Florida, so we weren’t real anxious to leave our new home on an extended trip. But, airfare is expensive, so we decided to keep to our original schedule; 10 days in England and 23 days in France.

England June 19-30, 2013

Before the conference we spent a night in Oxfordshire at Swinford Manor Farm B&B.  The farm was very nice and located right along the Thames, near Oxford.  There was a nice trail beside the river
where we could see the private barges and view the very old and still operating hand-powered lock system.

The conference in Kenilworth was excellent; eight presenters over two days - topics ranged from saving white lions in Africa, to natural horsemanship and emotional healing with horses, to holistic veterinary care, to Tellington Touch, to Mary’s presentation on Whale and Dolphin Consciousness & Spirituality.

After the conference Mary and I went to see the ancient stones of Avebury and Stonehenge, and to the Glastonbury area where we met up with Mary’s friend Madeleine. She showed us the sacred sites of the Tor and the Chalice Well. Glastonbury is quite the ‘new-age’ town, and we had fun wandering through the many crystal and rock shops.

Thanks to a picture on a BING search engine home page, we headed south to the Dorset Coast to explore Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. This area along the English Channel across from Normandy is very beautiful with rolling hills and cliffs and some very interesting rock formations.  Durdle Door is an arched rock formation that looks a lot like a very large Dragon taking a drink of water from the ocean.  We had a nice hike along the coast.

We then drove to London for two days of sightseeing before heading to France.  London was packed with tourists and they were also in the middle of the Gay Pride weekend when we arrived, so the people watching was fantastic, but the crowds and traffic were a bit much.
As we traveled the English countryside trying to stay on the left side of the road and not hit the quaint stone buildings jutting into the roadway, we were longing for the wide open spaces of North America. We got spoiled traveling in our fifth-wheel trailer for so long - always the same bed, air conditioning and no hauling heavy suitcases up and down narrow 300 year-old staircases. We looked forward to France where we could at least drive on the right side of the road again. Driving on the left side of the road from the right hand drive cars was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

We were surprised by a few things in England. We didn’t see hardly any wildlife other than a few dead badgers on the road. The only crops we saw were hay and wheat. The food and drink were very expensive, and except for London – the food choices were pretty boring and almost always the same. It was hard to even find a green salad on the menu! We did find the rest areas on the English motorways to have excellent services and snacks.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Emerson-Getten Housing Safari

Mary has always wanted to go on an African Safari and we are still hoping that we can do that in the near future.  But, right now we are on a Housing Safari.

 I frequently go out on ‘Game Drives’ (driving around looking at neighborhoods and houses), in addition to wringing out every last bit of information and insight I can from the internet.  Mary usually stays back at camp – she is busy with work now, and she does not have a great deal of patience for sorting through all the maybes.  She is much more happy to scrutinize the short list.  We are, of course,  looking for the ‘Big Five’ – curb appeal, tropical landscape, open floor plan, great neighborhood and right location.  Oh yes, it has to be affordable for us, too!

We started out thinking we could spend about $400k and be able to be on one of the barrier islands (Gulf Islands) Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key or Lido Key and within walking distance to the beaches of the Gulf.  However, we found that you don’t get a lot for your money and that insurance and taxes out there are high, and when there is a hurricane warning you are in the first evacuation zone. We also realized that while we liked the elevated houses, it actually separates you from the nature that we are trying to get close to.  Also $400k is a stretch and would mean we would both be working for quite a while.  Here are a couple of our ‘affordable’ favorites from the islands..


We considered trying to build on the islands but all of the lots are in excess of $200k and building is expensive on the islands. Here is one nice lot on Longboat Key..

We then discovered the Northwest Bradenton Area (west of 75th St West and north of Manatee Ave). This area is very close to the beaches (even biking distance) and there is also the Robinson Nature Preserve and Palma Sola Botanical Garden to provide hiking and biking in a large natural area of mangroves and bayous where the Manatee River meets Anna Maria Sound and Palma Sola Bay.  Great bird watching and sunsets!

In this area, it looks like we could get much more house and land and be closer to $300k. We have even seen some pretty good things under $300k.

We have come to understand that we are looking for a combination of house, landscaping, neighborhood and location that has some special ‘wow’ factor for us. We both like unique, and therefore the new or tract neighborhoods feel a little ‘Stepfordish’ to us.  Sometimes, even funky feels a little better than a more upscale but uniform neighborhood.  These three houses are a good representation of what we’ve seen..

http://www.michaelsaunders.com/properties/property-detail/9206-18th-nw-dr-bradenton-fl-34209/M5828312/ (great location and neighborhood)
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/8509-19th-Ave-NW-Bradenton-FL-34209/82392202_zpid/ (nice house - similar to Evergreen floor plan (below) – same builder)

Lot prices are much more reasonable in NW Bradenton than on the islands, and we are discovering that building costs are much lower here in Florida than in Washington. Therefore we are likely to consider buying a lot and building a house. The good news is we don’t need or want a big house so it might be possible to get the things we want without the price getting too out of hand. But building is a big uncertainty, so we are considering a house plan with a development home builder, but since it would be on a large lot in a different neighborhood it would not seem as ‘cookie-cutter’.   This is one of the lots we are considering.

These are three of the floor plans we are considering.


Any feedback, thoughts, ideas or insights you might have will be welcomed and appreciated.
We will keep you posted…

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

We Made It!

Bob and I spent our last two days on the road, running ahead of, then waiting out, and dodging storms. We drove out of Knoxville early as the rain started, and stayed ahead of the storm all day.  It was a doosey - Knoxville got 5+ inches in 24 hours! 

We spent the night at a nice little RV park just north of Valdosta, GA. We had been passing fields of cotton during the trip and hoping we could pick some.  Luckily, just down the road from the RV park was a small field of cotton. This was the first time either of us had seen cotton growing up-close so we stopped and picked a few balls. It feels just like cotton except it has hard seeds in it. The plants also have flowering blossoms.

That evening we had dinner at Cheddars, a new favorite restaurant of ours. They have great food at even greater prices. Check and see if there is a location near you!

The next morning, there were HUGE storms approaching with high winds, thunder and lightening, so we hunkered down with the weather channel and waited for most of it to pass. It was a good decision as they lost power in parts of Valdosta just south of us, and we didn’t get much wind or heavy rain where we were.

We drove into Florida just before noon yesterday and stopped at the big welcome center for some free juice and brochures. What a great place. Bob and I both agree that I-75 is one of the best highways in the nation. The section from southern Georgia all the way to Tampa is in great shape, and they have nice rest areas in Florida about every 30 miles. Bob sampled a lot of the vending machines.

Lake in the RV park
We are getting settled into our new RV park in Bradenton, just north of Sarasota. We’ve got a shady spot and the neighbors seem nice. It’s still a little quiet around here as most people are gone until winter when it will be totally full. I enjoyed walking around the RV park’s lake today and checking out the birds. This evening we went to the beach for sunset and then celebrated with Bang Bang shrimp and drinks at Bonefish Grill – another favorite eatery. There are a few around the country.

Bob on the beach

Mary in the waves
Tomorrow Bob and I will celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary in our new state. It’s exciting to be starting this new phase together. The next several months will be filled with researching neighborhoods, searching for houses, squeezing in some fun times at the beach, and maybe even working.  We have a one-year lease at the RV park, so we don’t have to rush. We will continue to post any blog-worthy news. Bye for now………

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Volunteer State

Mary and I spent a few days in Tennessee mostly visiting with friends and family. 

My niece Misty lives just south of Nashville.  She is a couple of years older than my son Matt.  Her second daughter was born six months before Matt’s first.  Matt and Misty have skied together a lot, both as kids and adults. Misty and her husband Adam have a great house just outside Franklin, TN and the two daughters seem to keep them pretty busy. It was great to spend an evening with them. 

While visiting Misty, we stayed at the Nashville KOA and got to see one of our favorite things – the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile.  Mary and I had previously looked in to being Wiener Ambassadors, but the website was looking for young energetic types - not geezers. 

Misty parents (Deb’s brother Mike and his wife Kathie) recently moved to Lenoir City, TN, just outside Knoxville (about three hours from Misty).  They had been stuck in Portales, NM and suddenly got the opportunity to move to the Knoxville area.  They have only been there for two weeks! 

The four of us got to play tourist in Knoxville on the day of the big game between the University of Tennessee Volunteers (Vols) and the University of Florida Gators.  Knoxville seems to be a fantastic medium sized city and the entire city was decked out in “Volunteer Orange”.  The color is exactly the same as the Home Depot orange, so I felt right at home.  We enjoyed the farmers market and historical area of the city, but it was especially exciting because it was so alive with people tailgating and having fun even 7-8 hours before game time.  Unfortunately Tennessee lost the game.

Mary has a friend that also recently moved to the area. Carie and Mary were flight attendants together at Northwest Airlines almost forty years ago.  Mary’s career was quite short, but Carie is just now retiring!  Carie and her husband Andy built a beautiful house on one of the many TVA lakes in the area about a year ago.  We had a very nice lunch with them, and even got to go out on their boat and experience the winding wooded Watts Bar Lake.

In fact, we learned that it is possible to boat all the way from eastern Tennessee to the Mississippi and then out to the ocean. A big surprise for us has been the abundance of navigable waterways throughout Arkansas, and Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built many dams starting in the 1930’s, largely to provide electricity and flood control.  Thanks to the convoluted topography, a side benefit is hundreds of miles of smooth waterways that provide animal habitats and a myriad of recreational and residential opportunities for the citizens and visitors of Tennessee.

Mary and I had thought of taking some more side trips before we head to Florida, but we are ‘getten’ ready to set up our home base in the Sarasota area. We can explore more of the Southeast later. So, tomorrow we will head down I-75, and after one more overnight stop we should be at Pleasant Lake RV Resort, our new home base for now.