My Secret Love Affair…

…With a Man Named Rex Stout

I love books. I can, and have spent hours in a book store browsing. When I am ready to buy books I arm myself with a list of my favorite authors and I scan every shelf and every title to see what new treasures I can find waiting for me. Blame my love for a good book on my mother. To keep her five young children quiet, if even for a short time, she would make trips to the local library where we were allowed three books each to take home every week. How I loved those excursions to the local library and as I carried my treasure trove of books to the car I wondered what worlds would open to me that week.

I know this is where my love of travel began. These books that gave me visions and glimpses into parts of the world I had never been too but thought I would like to see one day. Books that took me to Africa on a safari, to Norway to see the Northern Lights, to China to see the great wall, to Greece to see the Parthenon, to Rome to see where gladiators fought, and to learn the mysteries of the great pyramids in Egypt. Books can take you anywhere.

Filling our home with books is what Mike and I do everywhere we live.  These were all waiting to be read.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Filling our home with books is what Mike and I do everywhere we live. These were all waiting to be read. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The only book I have read more than once is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is still true today that this has been the only book I have read more than once. I stand in a book store or a library and I’m overwhelmed with the options of the books around me and I just don’t want to spend my time reading the same books over again. The Secret Garden therefore was as special to me then as it is today.

My reading tastes haven’t really changed all that much from the time I was a kid. I have always loved a good mystery. Be it a murder mystery, a good ghost story or even a good historical whodunit. Yes, as a child I read every Nancy Drew story available and was engrossed. As the years went by I branched out and picked up my first novel written by a man named Rex Stout and I was enthralled with a brainy detective named Nero Wolfe. How I wanted to be that smart about all things. I read every Lawrence Sanders novel and cheered his character Archie McNally. I cried over the first Carol O’Connell novel I read, Judas’ Child, and I keep up with every book she releases to learn more about what Kathy Mallory has in store for us and when will she finally show us her vulnerable side.

I read a lot of true crime novels as well but more than anything I love a good biography including the autobiographical. I have read some great biographies on people as diverse as Frida Kahlo to Ann Boleyn, Harry Houdini to Cary Grant; Genghis Khan to Lee Harvey Oswald; Henry Ford to Edward G. Robinson and Winston Churchill and Ethel Barrymore.

Being surrounded by books just makes me happy.  Mike and I have been able to find books in English everywhere we have lived.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Being surrounded by books just makes me happy. Mike and I have been able to find books in English everywhere we have lived. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Many of my favorite authors have sadly passed away, some long ago, and they took their most famous characters with them. What they didn’t take with them however was their words, they left those behind for generations to enjoy, for people to dream, for those around the world to wonder if things are as they seem and to hopefully want to explore this world for themselves to see the great treasures left behind.

I read to my youngest niece when she was little. I wanted her to see the far away lands and have the words to inspire her to want to look beyond her own little world and wonder what was out there past her safe haven borders. I guess I had an impact. When she was the ripe old age of 5 she told her Mother that she wanted to get a passport and travel the world. To calm her Mother, who looked shocked that her only child would contemplate leaving her, she told her not to worry, that she would be back, and I can’t wait to hear the stories she’ll tell…

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

Gordon Ramsay Makes My Skin Crawl

Let me clarify my title up front; it’s really not the guy who gives me the willies but what he does. Here in Torrevieja Spain on the local cable TV they show lots of American television shows. One of them is Kitchen Nightmares hosted by celebrated and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.

On each episode Gordon enters a dysfunctional restaurant and after interviewing the staff and owners; after eating some of the food; and after watching them in action, he slices and dices the establishment until he reduces the place to a pile of rubble so that he can help them rebuild. In restaurants where the décor makes you as sick as the food Gordon’s staff redecorates the place while he works his magic on the menu and the restaurant staff’s personalities.

The real horror of the show is in how disgusting the practices are inside the kitchens in almost all of these restaurants, many of them spread throughout the United States.

Before we began to travel the world I lived in California for many years and in this state all restaurants are required to display a report card that they receive from the Department of Health on how their restaurant is doing. If you have visited California or live there seeing an A, a B or a C in a restaurant window should be cause for not just celebration but comfort. I know I won’t eat in any place that doesn’t have an A in its window.

This grading system however does not exist in many of the other states in the US and certainly not in any of the other countries we have visited thus far. After watching Kitchen Nightmares how I wish the World Health Organization would get into the act and require every food establishment in the world to be marked, A, B, C. Since there isn’t much chance of this, for those of us who travel and explore countries and cultures whose hygiene practices are not our own eating in local restaurants is our version of Kitchen Nightmares. We really don’t know if the food coming to the table should be eaten or how it was prepared. We can only pray for the best and hope we aren’t talking to the great porcelain Gods later.

Recently a call went out to the expat owners of restaurants in Spain, France, Greece and Cyprus from the producers of Kitchen Nightmares. They are looking for restaurants in the EU who want Gordon to come and rescue their places. It will be interesting to see how many take him up on his offer and even more interesting to see how many of these places survive. I know I would love dearly to send him a list of places I think he should check out. These are places that Mike and I have eaten at where the food served to us was, shall I be generous and say, unappetizing. So on one hand maybe I don’t really want to know what Gordon finds…

…but on the other hand maybe we do need the Gordon Ramsay’s of the world to give each restaurant a grade to put in their window. I know I’d love to see an A, a B, or a C in the front window before I entered any restaurant anywhere in the world. This would make eating out one less thing to worry about as we travel from country to county. Now where did I put that link for the show producers?

Florence Lince

www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

The ABC Tour

Mike has always joked that he is on the ABC Tour. That stands for, Another Blessed Cathedral. In many ways he is right. We have visited the main cathedral or church in every city we have traveled too. However, there are reasons other than my just wanting to light candles.

Many of the cathedrals or church’s we have entered have been around for hundreds of years, some going back as far as the 13th Century. Many of these places of worship were sponsored by the wealthiest patrons of their time so no expense was spared in the decoration or the carvings that can be found inside their walls. These are not modern buildings with stucco drywalls and simple stained glass windows or paint by number paintings. Many of the places we have toured have sculptures and deities leaping from the walls, chiseled in their glory to make them feel like they are alive; they have medieval stained glass windows that tell a story or gives praise to the people who helped to protect the church; they are filled with wooden ceilings and golden altars and even in some cases scientific advancements.

 

This stained glass window in the Church of Perth, Scotland shows the legendary Black Watch regiment,  Scotland's elite military regiment whose history stretches back almost three centuries.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

This stained glass window in the Church of Perth, Scotland shows the legendary Black Watch regiment, Scotland’s elite military group whose history stretches back almost three centuries. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

In other words many of the churches and Cathedrals we have entered are really works of art unto themselves and they should be photographed and visited. I prefer visiting a city’s main Cathedral sometimes more than its main museum.

 

This is the ceiling in the Church of St. Francis in Sibenik, Croatia which dates back to the 13th Century.  The ceiling is made of wood and the paintings date from 1674.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

This is the ceiling in the Church of St. Francis in Sibenik, Croatia which dates back to the 13th Century. The ceiling is made of wood and the paintings date from 1674. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Mike was raised Protestant, I was raised Roman Catholic. Mike wasn’t overly what you would call religious when we met so when I first told him that I wanted to visit the main Cathedral or Church in every city we visited he thought it was some sort of pilgrimage thing or something. Then he learned that I didn’t care if the church was Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian or a Mosque; church’s and religious houses of worship are really testaments to great art.

This mosque is located in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.  It was the first time either of us had entered a Mosque and it was beautiful in its décor and simplicity.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

This mosque is located in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the first time either of us had entered a Mosque and it was beautiful in its décor and simplicity. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Sometimes the artwork begins well before you enter the church.  This is one of the doors that enter The Vatican in Rome, Italy.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Sometimes the artwork begins well before you enter the church. This is one of the doors that enter The Vatican in Rome, Italy. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

The main altar in the Cathedral in Taxco, Mexico is covered in gold leaf and sculptures.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The main altar in the Cathedral in Taxco, Mexico is covered in gold leaf and sculptures. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

At famous Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland (of Da Vinci Code fame) the sculptures are part of the façade and leap out at you as you get close to the entrance of the chapel.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

At famous Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland (of Da Vinci Code fame) the sculptures are part of the façade and leap out at you as you get close to the entrance of the chapel. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Gold leaf fills this church, not just the main altar, in Monreale, Sicily.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Gold leaf fills this church, not just the main altar, in Monreale, Sicily. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Sometimes the main church's are used for ceremonies.  Changing of the guard happens in the Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina because the remains of Argentina's most loved general resides here; General José de San Martín.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Sometimes the main church’s are used for ceremonies. Changing of the guard happens in the Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina because the remains of Argentina’s most loved general resides here; General José de San Martín. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

After traveling for over three years and entering well over 100 church’s or Cathedrals he now has come to enjoy exploring them as much as I. In fact when we get to a new city one of the first places he pinpoints on a map is the nearest church and/or Cathedral. Maybe he can be a convert after all…

 

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

Are You Sure You Need to Pack That?

I think back to how I used to pack for a two week vacation to Europe and I cringe. Since I usually took those silly escorted tours (because I figured I couldn’t possibility get by in any country where I didn’t speak the language) I was always allowed one suitcase while on the bus. I made sure it was the largest suitcase I had since I couldn’t fathom wearing the same clothes twice or even in not having on clean underwear every day.

What a fool I was. Now I wouldn’t dream of packing half of the things I used to pack. Gone is the need to have a pair of sandals and sneakers and bedroom slippers and a cute evening shoe. I have one pair of hiking sandals that are my bedroom slippers, my sandals and my sneaker all in one. They are also my cute evening shoe. Magically four pairs of shoes became one functional pair and because I’m wearing them my suitcase weighs less.

I used to pack a pair of pants that I would wear for 4 days. Then I packed a shirt to go with those pants knowing that I wouldn’t wear the shirt more than twice so that was two shirts for every pair of pants. For a 14 day trip that is a lot of clothing, but I wasn’t done!

I needed a new pair of socks and underwear for every single day that I was on the trip. I needed a sweater in case it got cold; a couple of casual dresses in case it was so hot that pants just would be too heavy to wear and of course a couple of dressy dresses for those nights when formal wear was expected.

Now as many women know I haven’t even begun to mention that I still had to pack cosmetics, jewelry to go with each outfit; personal hygiene products; lotions, potions and puffs. Maybe I would even pack nylons; or maybe special bras to go with certain outfits and…wow, really, what was I thinking?

Today when Mike and I travel for a week we carry a moderate sized backpack. We have one change of clothes; a couple of spare underwear; one pair of socks and a rain or all weather jacket. We carry a toothbrush but all toiletries we buy where we are going so that we don’t have to carry heavy items. Everywhere in the world sells body wash, toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo, even airline travel size. There is no reason to cart those items in a suitcase or a pack.

For a two week trip we might use one suitcase for the two of us and we still have room left over in the suitcase. Could you and your significant other share one suitcase for a two week trip? If not, you are both packing too much.

Perhaps this is an instance of with age comes wisdom because more than 30 years after I began to travel the world I certainly would never pack for a two week vacation the way I used too. I know now that my vacations are not about what I’m wearing; they are not about my having a different outfit to wear every day and they certainly aren’t about me having cute shoes to wear with my outfits. Vacations are not meant to impress the other travelers around me. No one remembers what someone was wearing when they had their picture taken in front of Iguassu Falls or Machu Picchu or San Juan del Sur, or…   Vacations are about whom I’m getting to meet; what I’m getting to see and where I’m going, and the only thing I really have to pack now is my camera.

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Tapas Time

Every country seems to have a culinary specialty, some dish or food item they are especially fond of and where everyone in the country makes their version of it.

Here in Spain it is no different and the food that makes this list is Tapas. Tapas can best be described as sample dishes of specialties. Tapas can be made up of seafood; salad; sausages or cheeses.  They are served either hot or cold and can even include paella, Spain’s most famous contribution to world cuisine. Every bar and restaurant in Spain seems to have a Tapas menu. Tapas are served as less of a meal but more than an appetizer. It is not uncommon for scores of people to go out late at night after a movie or a show and hit a bar to get a drink, usually beer or wine here in Spain, and then to order a tapas or two.

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Even the local mini-golf sells Tapas. Mike enjoyed their offerings; MAGRA DE IBÉRICO A LA JARDINERA and LONGANIZA BLANCA CON VERDURAS. I ate a veggie sandwich but our total spent here was only 7 Euros. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Here in Torrevieja we are in the middle of a Tapas Crawl, otherwise known as the 10th Annual Ruta de la Tapa. They hold this competition to see which bar or restaurant has the best Tapas in this region of Spain. This year 56 bars and restaurants joined in on the fun. To enter this competition your selections have to first be approved by a committee. Each restaurant chooses two areas of specialty; there is the standard tapas and gourmet tapas.

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At Pantasana’s Mike tasted the TOSTA DE SOLOMILLO CON CRUJIENTE and DELICIA DE BACALAO SOBRE CUNA. I passed even though one dish was vegetarian. I was saving myself since Tapas can be filling. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Contest dates are April 3 through 6 and then again from April 10 to 13. The bars and restaurants serve their Tapas from noon to 16:30 and from 19:30 to 23:00 on these days. This makes it easy on everyone interested in partaking since the hours are the same in all establishments and the only thing different will be what is offered. Each participating restaurant will also have two different Tapas to offer for each of the two weekends; so what they serve April 3 to 6 is not the same offering as April 10 to 13 so you can go back to the same place twice and order different Tapas.

 

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I was so glad I waited. My favorite so far, the Tapas from Taj Mahal. They served shrimp roll (ROL DE GAMBAS A LAS DOS SALSAS) and spicy vegetable fritattas (PAKORA VEGETAL) which came with two sauces, a sweet soy and a spicy duck sauce. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

A standard tapas order comes with a drink, again usually a beer, offered for only two Euros and gourmet tapas and drink is offered for 2.50 Euros. In a country where the unemployment rate is still the highest in the EU and where many people cannot afford to make their mortgage or utility payments eating Tapas for a euro or two is the cheapest thing to do here.

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At Cafeteria Mediterraneo we sampled the potato and chicken pie (PASTEL DE POLLO) and the toast topped with cuttlefish and tomato compote (BROCHETA DE SEPIA CON TOMATE RAFF). We weren’t too overly enthused with either entry. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

For the current competition there is a staggering 220 different Tapas being placed on offer. You literally can eat your way from one Tapas bar to another; in fact this is what is expected. If you eat no less than 10 Tapas you are allowed to vote for the best in Torrevieja (you will have your Tapas passport stamped in every place that you go in order for your vote to count).

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Armed with our Tapas map and our voting card we walked from Tapas bar to Tapas bar sampling the food being made just for the competition. They hold this competition twice a year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Tapas are available all year round in Spain. You would be hard pressed to visit a bar or a restaurant which did not have a Tapas menu so coming here at anytime means you can create your own Tapas Crawl. However there is something to be said for getting to actually vote for the best Tapas in Torrevieja. So forgive me as I leave you because, “there is more Tapas to go before I sleep…” (My apologies to Robert Frost).

 

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

Ahoy, Land Ho…

Mike and I are always looking forward. Forward to where we will explore, where we will live and how will we get there.

By the very nature of how we live we are constantly moving forward. I am doing this now while having been in Spain for only two months. I am already planning our move to our next base, the continent of Africa.

My preliminary research says we will leave here in July and take the ferry boat from Gibraltar to Morocco; fly from Morocco to Johannesburg and then take up residency in S. Africa for 3 months. We plan to be on the African continent 9 months in total. Every country in Africa has a different visa arrangement with the US and as such this will give us the unique ability to live in 5 African countries in a 9 month period.

We plan, at this point, to start by living in S. Africa where I will finally get to take a real African safari. There are 34 tour companies which offer safaris out of S. Africa, and the tour offerings are as varied as the terrain. Some safaris have you living in tents while others have you in base camps; some show animal migrations and some guarantee you will see more wild life than you will ever see in a zoo. Lions and leopards have always been two of my favorite animals and the chance to see them roaming freely and in their natural habitat is something too good to pass up.

Next we will head to Swaziland where we are allowed to stay for 30 days. Swaziland is one of Africa’s smallest countries which has four seasons and a strong culture of tradition such as the Reed Dance festival that happens every August/September.

Namibia will be a nice rest for 3 months. Namibia became a German colony in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck to forestall British encroachment and was known as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika). It is reported to be one of the most beautiful coastal regions on the continent and English is the official language spoken here.

Because of man’s pure greed we have decided that we need to see the island of Madagascar, where we are allowed to spend 30 days, before the island is completely deforested of all its beauty. Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and is among the world’s principal suppliers of vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang (a perfume tree originating from the Philippines used in aromatherapy), as well as providing half of the world’s supply of sapphires.

We then end our time by hopping to the Seychelles where we will stay for our last 30 days. One can actually stay up to one year on the island (by constantly renewing your entry visa, but 30 days is usually enough time anywhere someone else thinks is paradise). The Seychelles are actually a 155-island country spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, whose capital, Victoria, lies east of mainland Southeast Africa. The official languages are French and English and tourism is its main industry.

And after Africa?

We have begun to talk about perhaps heading to Germany, or Norway as our reintroduction to life in the EU, but who knows? Maybe the mysticism of Asia will call to us or even life on Greenland will look refreshing after all our time in Africa.

Sometimes looking forward is really more like spinning a world globe and seeing where it stops. It can be fun; spin a globe, hold your breath, and hope it stops in a new and exciting place. In any event we’ll be looking and moving forward, eventually ending up back where we began; home in the US…and we’re already looking forward to it.

 

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

Who Wrote That?

Usually, I did.  I write lots of travel reviews on sites where I think they will do the most good.  I review hotels and hostels, restaurants, guided and self-guided tours and even travel and tour companies.  I am considered a ‘senior contributor’ on a couple of sites that take reviews which just means I have written in excess of 100 reviews for every category they have.

I write my reviews well after our stay or our travel.  Mike and I have not written one review for anyone who has paid us or given us an upgrade in a hotel room or compensated us in some way.  Usually we give them our business card on the way out the door not on the way in.  This means we aren’t getting service reserved for VIP clients but for the regular folk who spend their hard earned money but should be treated fairly for it.  It also means we are free to write an honest assessment of a hotel or the food we are served.

This review thing works two ways.  You see I search online for reviews for everything travel related well before we book anything.  And I read mostly the negative reviews.  I certainly don’t read any review written by someone who has written one review which is glowing and positive and way out of whack with the other reviews I’m reading.  Usually this tells me that the review is bogus and carries no weight with me whatsoever.  People should really stop getting their friends to write bogus reviews; what they need to do is spend time fixing the problems in their establishments or on their tours instead of faking reviews.  You can tell a fake review a mile away.  People complain on sites like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Pissed Consumer and more.  I read them all and I’ve written on them all.  When I see reviews from past clients which make my toes curl we avoid that hotel or hostel like the plague (especially if the reviews are current).  If the bad reviews are years old and all the current reviews are positive and written by credible reviewers we might give the place or the tour a shot (and we have).

Only once have we been thanked for our review, and that is because we don’t normally return to a place to eat or stay or tour after we visit once.  However, the city of Perth in Scotland doesn’t really have a great selection of restaurants to eat in and the one with the best pizza* we visited 3 times in our short stay in that city. On entering the restaurant after our first review had posted, the manager seated us and then thanked us for our positive review of his restaurant and his food.  It was nice.  And no, we didn’t get anything for free on that return visit except good food and good service and isn’t that what we really want?  How did he know it was us; because I don’t have a cutesy gravatar name on my reviews, I use my real name with my real picture.  Reviews written by someone with a real name and a real picture are given more credibility by me than someone called anonymous.

Head to the internet and on a search engine type in consumer complaints on…and name your favorite restaurant or hotel or tour company and see if anything pops up.  Sometimes it’s an eye opener what is on the internet.  Trip Advisor is not the only travel review site on the internet; it’s the largest and most used but people write reviews on many, many sites so read them all. I do and I’m not alone.

Then write those reviews, the good ones and the bad ones.  Build your credibility as a thoughtful reviewer so that other travelers are forewarned and forearmed to make a good decision before they spend their travel dollars.  That is really why we write these reviews; especially the bad ones to warn other travelers before they book.

Florence Lince

www.about.me/florencelince

 

*Paco’s was the name of the restaurant located in Perth, Scotland in case you are interested in trying it