Tag Archives: travel

The Amazing Animals of Petra

Since we’re all stuck at home right now and travel has ground to a halt, I thought I would share some of my old travel memories to provide something to look forward to, or at least to dream about.

I had the good fortune to visit Petra in mid-February 2020, right before the coronavirus hit.  It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, reminding me of a cross between Cappadocia, Machu Picchu, and the Wild West.  I could write a book on it, but for now I’m just going to focus on the amazing animals of Petra.

In Petra the Bedouins are everywhere, riding around on donkeys and mules, yelling to each other, and offering rides to tourists, which makes it a very lively place and not like a dead city at all.  The number of animals is astonishing: puppies, donkeys, camels, mules, and horses, many of which take shelter in the tombs.  The puppies are adorable, but there are too many of them; they really should spay and neuter their animals.  One Bedouin merchant with kohl-lined eyes saw me watching some puppies and asked if I wanted to bring one home for free.  I said I wished I could!

Here are some of my favorite animal pics I took in Petra (and a few from other places in Jordan).



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Filed under animals, cats, dogs, Jordan, Middle East, Petra, travel, Uncategorized

Things to Buy in the Yucatan

I don’t usually buy much on my trips, because the stuff I really want — hand-made crafty items — are usually too expensive.  But that wasn’t the case in my recent trip to the Yucatan.  While good quality, hand-made items aren’t exactly cheap, they were well within my price range.  Plus you can bargain for a lot of things.  I’m not a good haggler, but I still don’t feel like I overpaid.  I came away with a real swag bag of stuff.  Such as…


  1. A hand-embroidered bag made in Chiapas for about $30.  I loved the colors and pattern.  I got it in a craft store in Valladolid, where you can’t really haggle.
  2. A cedar mask from a vendor in the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, for about $30, but I may have overpaid.  These vendors are everywhere in Chichen Itza.  You can often see them working right next to their tables.  It’s kind of annoying to have the vendors calling out to you while you’re looking at some of the most famous examples of Mayan architecture, but there’s no getting around it.
  3. IMG_2829 A jaguar whistle, also from Chichen Itza.  I got it for about $5, but I may have underpaid.  When you blow into it and move your hand over the hole on the bottom, it makes a sound like a jaguar roaring.  But I can’t do it nearly as well as the vendors did.  You hear them making this sound constantly in Chichen Itza.
  4. Maya chocolate.  Cost about 100 pesos from a store in Valladolid.  The Maya basically invented chocolate, so I wanted to try this more “authentic” version.  It’s pretty good — a little chalkier than I’m used to, but good.  Comes in many different flavors.
  5. IMG_2830 Shells.  Okay, so I didn’t buy these, but I thought I may as well include them.  I found them on a deserted beach in Cozumel, which is a shell-collector’s paradise.  I brought home a small conch, a light pink cowrie shell, and some other beauties.

Have you ever bought anything in the Yucatan?

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Filed under Mexico, travel, Yucatan

The Intangible Pre-Travel Checklist

There are plenty of lists out there on how to pack for a trip – what to take in terms of clothes, jewelry, shoes, toiletries, etc.  But what about the countless intangible things you have to take care of before you can put your feet up and relax?  Those nagging, pesky little issues that you think you’ve squared away until your plane takes off and you say to yourself, “Wait – do I have enough money in my checking account?”  Well, I’ve made a list of all the little things I have to do before jetting off to my next destination.   It may come in handy for you too!


If you want to relax, take care of these things first!

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Filed under humor, travel

What’s the Deal with Asian Showers?

I’ve read lots of horror stories about Asian toilets (i.e., the notorious squat toilet), but none about Asian showers.  By this I mean a shower that has no tub, curtain, or any other kind of separation from the rest of the bathroom.  You turn on the water and, voila, the whole bathroom gets wet!  I’ve experienced this personally in Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.


An open shower/ bathroom in Cappadocia, Turkey


Another open shower/ bathroom in Taiwan

I know I’m showing my ignorance as a Westerner, but I just don’t get this kind of shower.  It seems very impractical.  You can’t leave much in the bathroom (clothes, towels, etc.) because it will constantly get wet.  Unless the shower drain works perfectly, you will have a small flood in your bathroom every time you shower.  When the water finally does drain out, it leaves a ring of hair, lint, and other nasty stuff on the floor.  It promotes the growth of mold and mildew.  Plus whenever you go into the bathroom to use the toilet, you’ll step in a wet, icky mess.

I guess it’s cheaper to build bathrooms this way, but I don’t think it would take much to add a curtain and some kind of recess in the floor for the shower area.  I saw a bathroom like this in Thailand, and it worked pretty well.

What do you think about the Asian shower?  Is there a trick to using it?  Are there advantages to it I’m not seeing?  Or does it bother the heck out of you?


Filed under Asia, humor, Thailand, travel, Turkey

Selling My Photographs on Fineartamerica.com

I put some of my photographs up for sale on fineartamerica.com. I don’t expect to make much (or any) money off of it, but I want to be able to share my photos with others who might appreciate them – and if I can make a few bucks, so much the better. I’ve uploaded what I think are my best shots from Asia, Europe, and America. You can find my profile here.

My profile on fineartamerica.com

My profile on fineartamerica.com

I chose fineartamerica because it’s free to list your art, as long as you keep it under 25 pieces. More than that and you have to pay. You can set how much money you want to make off of each sale (in my case a few bucks), the company charges their fee for production/ printing/ framing/ shipping/ etc., and the total of that is what the customer sees. Easy!

What are your experiences with selling your photographs?


Filed under America, art, Asia, Europe, photography, selling art, travel

The Scooter-Trained Dogs of Koh Phangan

My traveling companion and I rented a motorbike in Koh Phangan, a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand.  I mean that he rented the motorbike – I just held on for dear life.   I got used to it after a while, and it was a good way to see the island, but what I really liked about it were the passengers it attracted.  These were cute, friendly island dogs, and it looked like they were well taken care of.  But the best thing about them is that they are scooter-trained.  Yes, you read that right.  It happened twice that, while our bike was stopped, a random dog would get on the platform and stand there, waiting for us to take him or her . . . somewhere.  They know exactly where to stand for balance and are expert hitchhikers.

The first time was this dog, a beautiful white one.  Since we were caught off guard, we eventually forced her to get off – but not before posing for a few pictures.

Dog #1:



We thought it was a fluke, but later that day another dog got on our motorbike and did the same thing.  This one was also much more stubborn, and we couldn’t have gotten her off without really pushing.  So we started driving – very slowly – with her on it.  She was really good about it too, staying completely still, tongue flapping in the breeze.  Every once in a while we would stop and make it clear to her that she could get off.  At one point we stopped next to another stray dog, thinking she would like company, but they started growling at each other so we hightailed it out of there.  She got off to stretch her legs when my companion stopped to look at something, but hopped right back on when he mounted the bike.  She finally left us for good when we got to the major town of Thongsala, where there was a pack of stray dogs to welcome her.  We guess this is a normal way for them to get around the island – hitching a ride with humans!

Dog #2:

There are lots of other friendly animals in Koh Phangan. Take, for example, the cat who joined us for dinner at our hotel.


And this lovely lizard.
And don’t forget the elephants!


No, this elephant does not have a disfigured trunk, it just looks that way.


Filed under Asia, cats, dogs, humor, photography, Thailand, travel

Great Travel Quotes Part 1

I read The Beach by Alex Garland recently, since it’s about finding an island paradise close to Koh Phangan in Thailand, where I went last month.  I thought these three quotes about travel were pretty brilliant.

“I don’t like dealing with money transactions in poor countries. I get confused between feeling that I shouldn’t haggle with poverty and hating getting ripped off.”

A tenement in Bangkok

A tenement in Bangkok

“On that trip I learned something very important. Escape through travel works. Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat belt signs lit up, problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken hearts. By the time the plane was airborne I’d forgotten England ever existed.”

Ready to escape!

Ready to escape!

“Collecting memories, or experiences, was my primary goal when I first started traveling. I went about it in the same way as a stamp collector goes about collecting stamps, carrying around with me a mental list of all the things I had yet to see or do. Most of the list was pretty banal. I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, Borobudur, the Rice Terraces in Banave, Angkor Wat. Less banal, or maybe more so, was that I wanted to witness extreme poverty. I saw it as a necessary experience for anyone who wanted to appear worldly or interesting. Of course witnessing poverty was the first to be ticked off the list.”

My travel checklist

My travel checklist

Do you have any favorite travel quotes?

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Filed under Asia, books, travel, writing

DIY Sicily 2014

This is my travelog for our trip to Sicily in early February 2014.  We put this trip together ourselves — no travel agents, tour guides, etc.  It’s a pretty straightforward summary, and I hope it might be helpful to others who are planning a trip!

Day 1:
Took a Delta flight from JFK to Milan, then took an EasyJet flight to Palermo. R. had to check his suitcase on the EasyJet flight. They charge you for everything, including water and even printing a boarding pass, if you don’t already have one. It was a long, exhausting day of traveling. Took the train from the airport to the city center, and our hotel (the Ambasciatori Hotel) was a few blocks away and very easy to find. We had lunch in a beautiful restaurant, where we shared a pasta dish with little shrimp (a bit too fishy for me) and a chickpea stew. R. wanted to keep exploring, but I was too exhausted – usually he’s the one who needs to take a nap! Our hotel was nice, with extremely soundproof (and lightproof) windows and shutters.

Day 2:
Got our first cannolo in the morning, which was cheesier-tasting than the ones we get in New York. We walked to the Palazzo dei Normanni, seeing a lot of orange trees and decaying buildings along the way. The Palatine Chapel was very impressive, with a muqarnas ceiling and opus sectile floor. The rest of the palace was rather plain, except for the Roger II room, which was covered in mosaics like the chapel. We saw where the parliament meets, and we went down to the basement where they have the remains of a Punic fortification.


Palatine Chapel, Palermo

After this we walked to the Ballaro market, which was really lively and gritty. R. got a spleen sandwich (one of their specialties) and a delicious lemon soda drink from a stand with a huge crowd of guys gathered around it. They also had a lot of produce, meats and cheeses. Saw tons of oranges and tomatoes. We got some excellent pecorino cheese, and I saw a man carrying a live chicken in a plastic bag. The market was my favorite part of Palermo.

We wanted to go into La Martorana church but they were having a service there, so we went into the adjacent San Cataldo church, which has three peculiar red domes in the Arabo-Norman style. Next we went to Palazzo Abatellis, home of the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, and saw The Triumph of Death. By this time most things were closing early because it was Sunday. I would have liked to have seen the archaeological museum, where they have the metopes from Selinunte.

We tried to go to the Inquisition Museum but the person in the ticket booth said we had to wait for someone to come back, so we went to the Teatro Massimo instead, where some scenes from Godfather III (which I hadn’t seen yet) were filmed. We were the only ones on a pretty interesting guided tour. It’s a beautiful theater, and the panels of the roof can be opened to let in the air. We saw the royal box which anyone can sit in, as long as they buy tickets for all 27 seats.

Next we went to the place where setteveli cake was invented. It tasted like regular chocolate mousse to me. In general Sicilian desserts are far too rich and sweet.

The place we wanted to go to for dinner was closing when we got there (it was raining heavily), so we wound up going to a restaurant called Something da Brodo. I got pasta alla norma, I think, and R. got ravioli. It was good but pretty skimpy on the ingredients, and not cheap either. Also, why don’t they give you olive oil or butter for the bread in Sicily?

Day 3:
We were going to try to wake up early and see the Cathedral, but we were both a little tired of Palermo’s grittiness and run-down appearance, so we just took a taxi to the Sixt car rental place. It took forever to get through the traffic, and we got stuck in traffic again when R. started driving the rental car. Finally we escaped Palermo and reached Monreale, where we saw the cathedral, which was a larger, grander version of the Palatine Chapel. The mosaics are very large and easy to identify.

We stopped in a local place that sold pastries and alcohol together, and got a cassata and profiterole – both extremely sweet. We also got some meat and cheese from a grocery with a very friendly owner.

Cassata and profiterole

Cassata and profiterole

R. and I were considering going to the anti-Mafia museum in Corleone, but I think you have to make reservations in advance for a guided tour. So we tried to drive straight to Selinunte, but the map and signs were so confusing that I navigated us right to Segesta instead. It’s a temple in the loveliest of settings, with a ravine and waterfall behind it. We also climbed up the mountain to see the agora and theater, which were much farther than I expected. It kept raining off and on, but we had the best views of the temple.

Temple in Segesta

Temple in Segesta

After this we drove to Selinunte, which is an impressively large site. I got to climb on the ruins of the temples. There are two parts to the site, and you have to drive between them. The second section had an agora and an extensive fortification system, and overlooked the sea. We saw and heard flocks of sheep nearby. In this and most of the sites we visited, there were barely any other tourists. It was nice having the place all to ourselves.

Next we drove to Agrigento and had a terrible time finding our hotel, which was next to the cathedral at the top of the medieval hill-town. The streets are so narrow and winding, many are one way, and the signs are terrible. We had to ask some people for directions, and one man very kindly led us up the hill on his motorcycle. We never would have found it otherwise.

When we got to the B&B Liola, we found the owner, Alfonso, waiting for us. He was very nice and chatty, and spoke to us in a mix of Italian, French, and English. He and his wife lived in a nearby house. We filled out a breakfast menu for the next morning, when his wife would come to cook for us.

We walked down a steep set of stairs to reach a restaurant Alfonso recommended, but we didn’t like it too much. I got some artichoke dish and R. got pasta with tuna. The medieval part of Agrigento is very picturesque, but it’s not meant for cars.

Day 4:
Our breakfast in the morning was very good, although it was a real carb fest. We got a cannolo, croissants filled with jam and chocolate, a pastry filled with ham and olives (a specialty of Agrigento), and other extremely sweet pastries. We also got fresh cheese and tomatoes, a scrambled egg, and fresh squeezed orange juice. I was too stuffed to touch the other things – yogurt, fruit, toast, etc. Alfonso’s wife was very nice and spoke to us in Italian.

Breakfast in Agrigento!

Breakfast in Agrigento!

We tried to go into the cathedral but it was closed. I think they were doing work on it. So we drove to the archaeological park (Akragas), where we saw lots of temples and ruins set among yellow flowers (broom plants?) and blossoming almond trees. It was a pretty incredible sight. The Temple of Concordia is remarkably intact. Also saw some hawks and lizards.

Agrigento, Temple of Concordia, with modern statue

Agrigento, Temple of Concordia, with modern statue

Then we went to the Agrigento archaeological museum, where they have a collection of artifacts uncovered at the site. There were a lot of vases, votive offerings, interesting molds, grave goods, a few statues, and the original telamon from the temple of Olympian Zeus. The museum itself is in the middle of ancient and medieval ruins.

I wanted to go to the Scala dei Turchi, but instead we went to the Vulcanelli di Macalube, a strange site where thermal gas creates weird mud formations. There were a few mini “volcanoes” that were oozing mud with a blurping sound. It was in the middle of the countryside and we were the only ones there, until a German couple showed up. When we drove back through the town we were stopped by a flock of sheep and goats.

Vulcanelli di Macalube

Vulcanelli di Macalube

We kept driving to see what else we could find, and we came upon a rock formation with caves like we saw in Cappadocia. This was near the town of Grotte. I think we went to one more town after this, which was cute but not used to tourists. People kept looking at us kind of funny.

We spent a long time in the car trying to find the section of Agrigento that had the best restaurants, but it was worth it. That night we had the best dinner of the trip, at a place called La Posata di Federico II. R. got an amazing pesce spada dish. I got pasta alla norma again, and the spaghetti came inside half an eggplant. R. also got an excellent veal dish. The portion size here was the best we had, and the prices were reasonable. We got very lost again on the way back to the hotel. At one point we went down a street so narrow we had to put our windows in. We didn’t know if we would make it through!

Day 5:
The next day for breakfast we ordered less carbs and more protein. The meat and cheese were delicious. Then we drove towards the hill-top town of Enna and saw some really beautiful countryside. Enna’s a cute medieval town – very hard to drive in, of course – and we saw Il Castello di Lombardia, which is a Norman castle built over a Saracen castle built over Greek and Roman ruins. A very interesting and curious place. The cathedral and most of the other churches were closed.

Next we drove to Villa Romana del Casale, which is one of the best Roman ruins I’ve been to. The mosaics just go on and on, and they’re incredibly detailed. Most interesting was the Great Hunt, showing exotic animals being transported to fight in colosseums, and the “bikini girls.” I thought it was strange how many of them had blond hair. They were doing work on the “apse” of the basilica. It was really nice how we could walk on the raised walkways and see everything perfectly. Towards the end it got really cold, and we got back in the car and drove to Syracuse.

Villa Romana del Casale "bikini girls"

Villa Romana del Casale “bikini girls”

This drive took us forever, and we got lost several times because of the horrible signs. You would see one for Syracuse, and then you would just be left hanging. We stopped in a town and got directions from some guy who gave us oranges, who told us to head towards Lentini and then turn down the coast. We did that, and after a long, exhausting drive got to our hotel in Ortygia, the Domus Mariae Benessarae, which is run – or at least owned – by Ursuline nuns. The hotel was really nice and spacious. R. and I were so exhausted from the drive that we fell asleep as soon as we got in.

Day 6:
We had a very nice buffet breakfast in the hotel (lots of fresh cheese, jam, cake, etc.). We went into the Baroque chapel next to the dining room that’s open only to hotel guests. Our hotel was right on the water, which is crystal clear. Ortygia was by far the most relaxing, laid back place we visited in Sicily. The car traffic and congestion were light compared to the other places. It has a very Mediterranean feel to it. First we went to a hotel where they discovered a Jewish mikveh in their basement that had been filled in and forgotten about for centuries, after the expulsion of the Jews. There are three baths in the central chamber (which is Byzantine style), and two private baths on the sides. The guide said they don’t know where the water comes in from, and they don’t know where it goes; but so much water comes in that they have to pump it out.

We walked all around the island and saw the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and the cathedral, which was formerly the Temple of Athena. The cathedral is fascinating because you can still see the columns from the Greek temple inside and outside the current structure. It’s amazing how many layers of history Sicily has. We spent a while here, then went to the nearby Church of St. Lucy, where they have a Caravaggio painting of her burial.

Syracuse Cathedral, with column from Temple of Athena

Syracuse Cathedral, with column from Temple of Athena

Next we walked into the mainland part of Syracuse to the archaeological park of Neapolis, where we saw the Roman theater, the altar where they could slaughter hundreds of cattle at one time, the beautiful Greek theater with what I believe was a limestone quarry behind it, and the Ear of Dionysus. The echoes in the ear were amazing, and you could hear the pigeons cooing and their wings fluttering as though they were giants.

We had a hard time finding the archaeological museum, and when we got there they were closing. So we went to the catacombs of San Giovanni, a church that used to be the cathedral but which now is an empty shell. One thing I found interesting was that the church changed orientation (direction) after it was destroyed in an earthquake. Our tour guide was a woman who didn’t speak English very well, but what we saw was fascinating. We went into the crypt with the remains of medieval and Renaissance frescoes. The church was built on the site where St. Marcian was martyred and where St. Paul preached, I think. The catacombs were built out of a Greek underground aqueduct, and the cisterns were used as chapels. It was also used as a bomb shelter during WWII. There were rock-cut tombs everywhere, but all the ones we saw were empty. There was one that still had the cover on it, with three holes where they would pour milk, wine, and honey. I think they only found one finely carved sarcophagus. She showed us one tomb that still had Christian symbols painted on it.

We walked back to Ortygia and had a meal that was good but forgettable, in a very homey and lively trattoria. I got ravioli in a pork sauce and R. got spaghetti with clams.

Day 7:
After another great breakfast, we got back in the car and drove to Catania, which was a straightforward drive for once, and returned the car at the rental car place by the airport (which was not easy to find). There was no place to store our luggage, so we had to take it with us on the bus to the center of the city, since we had a few hours to kill. We could see Mount Etna as we were driving to the airport. It was white with snow and dominated the landscape, and there was some kind of mist coming off of it.

Catania is a very gritty and run-down city, kind of like Palermo. We went through the extremely lively fish market, which was hard with our suitcases, and into the piazza in front of the cathedral, where they have an elephant statue carved out of volcanic rock. The cathedral has a lot of volcanic rock in it too, and stands on the place where St. Agatha was martyred. I think her festival had just ended, and they had lots of palanquins (?) in the aisles with statues showing her breasts being cut off. I also saw Bellini’s tomb. We walked down the Via Etna, where you can see part of Mount Etna in the distance, but our luggage was too heavy for us to walk far. I got a sesame candy from a stand. After this we took the bus back to the airport and got on our EasyJet flight to Paris. For some reason they let me check my suitcase for free, which was nice.

I hadn’t been in Paris in over 10 years. From the airport, we took the train to Gare du Nord, and our hotel (Hotel Gare du Nord) was right there. Our hotel was nice enough, but I really don’t like that neighborhood. There were lots of drunk people, homeless people, etc.

Day 8:
We walked around Paris a tiny bit, just enough to see Sacre Coeur from a distance. We also got a croissant and a pain au chocolat, both of which were delicious. R. got some cheese from an amazing supermarket.

My overall impression: Sicily is a fascinating place, with the best Greek temples outside of Greece, but it’s much grittier than northern Italy, and it’s not an easy place to get around by yourself!  Prepare to drive a stick and deal with lots of tailgating drivers and a serious lack of signage.

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Filed under ancient, Europe, food, history, Italy, photography, Sicily, travel

Turkish Food: What a Delight!

One of the things that surprised me most about Turkey was how good the food is. I had expected it to be like Middle Eastern food, with maybe a hint of Greek, but I was blown away by the endless variety that presented itself. Outside of Turkey, Turkish food is represented by the ubiquitous doner kebab. Well, I didn’t have doner kebab once while I was in Turkey – there was simply too much else to try. Due to the widespread reach of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish food combines the best of Balkan, Middle Eastern, and Persian cuisine, and much more. They take great pride in the freshness of their ingredients, and menus are small but robust. As an added bonus – at least for the American or European tourist – Turkish food is cheap. The food costs about half as much as what I would expect to pay in the States.

With that said, here’s a gallery of my gastronomic tour through Turkey (I went to Istanbul and Cappadocia). Bon Appétit!

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Filed under food, Istanbul, travel, Turkey

Why You Should Never Go Down Unmarked Roads in Maine Without Four-Wheel Drive (in Pictures)

I’ll let these pictures tell the story of how we almost lost our rental car in the icy waters off the coast of Maine. To read the whole story, published in The Michigan Quarterly Review, click here.


We found ourselves horribly, helplessly stuck on a beautiful, unspoiled beach. Note to self: Camaros and sand do NOT mix.


We tried making a loop around the beach, but that just made us more stuck.


Ummm, is it just me, or is the tide coming in? (GULP)


A pick-up truck found us, but they couldn’t get us out either.


Rescue came not a moment too soon. Thank you, tow-truck guy!!!


Looking back at what might have been…

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Filed under humor, photography, travel