Browse Category by Destinations

Portugal the land of Discoverers!

Just say No to the month of March!

The Portuguese really know how to handle rough seas as we learned while visiting in March. It poured on us for 8 of the 10 days we were there. Not only torrential rains and 50 mile and hour winds and temperatures from 40-60F, but a huge tornado blew through and closed the Lisbon airport down. All traffic was rerouted to Faro Portugal.

So, travel sometimes is not all blue skies and butterflies. Sometimes it is difficult! Pack a sturdy raincoat and a positive attitude when coming to Portugal. We had a good time, but we are seasoned travelers. We hired a car and a guide and just trudged through all the rain and wind.

During the 15th century Portugal led the age of discovery and established itself as one of the longest maritime empires. I was surprised to see how many countries they conquered and so far, away. Brazil, Africa , India and parts of China.

What we loved about Portugal was the cost of food and drinks were very reasonable. A Superbock beer would cost 2 euros and a six pack of their famous dessert was about 8 euros. They also had some good white wines. We were not fond of the lack of choices in food. Lots of cod and sardines, veal but only processed chicken. We had some excellent meals but just a few.

Portugal is the western most country in Europe. They use the Euro and are on the same longitude as New York. In my opinion Portugal lacks an identity. Yes, they are fantastic seaman and discovered many countries but that was 500 years ago. They are also known for their port wines but that is like drinking sugar water mixed with cough syrup! Other favorites are sardines, cod fish and cork products. Sorry but none of that makes we want to run over there.

We used Uber and Bolt a lot in Porto as well as some green taxis near our hotel. The high speed train from Lisbon to Porto was only $47 euros one way and was quite pleasant. The train does not have many places for big luggage so get on early.

We loved all the tiles on the buildings. Some tiles go back 1000 years.

People were very friendly but not everyone speaks English. get out your google translator.

Yes, go to one Fado concert but one is all you need. Fado is some of the most depressing music you will ever hear.

Education is free in Portugal but a young man with a CPA degree will only make about 18,000 euros a year and a one-bedroom condo can cost 450,000. Most grown children still live with their parents as it is almost impossible for them to buy a home. We heard this story over and over.

We found a better exchange rate at the train stations then we did at ATMs. Most everywhere takes credit cards.

The land of discovers- here is a map of all the countries they discovered 500 years ago- pretty impressive!

The Portuguese were very good at sailing to new worlds. They definitely understand bad weather.

Our hotel in Lisbon

The view from our room

The beautiful lobby

Our fabulous driver and tour guide

Lisbon Skyline

The Thieves market on Tuesday and Saturday – A MUST

The thieves market on Tuesdays and Saturdays such fun!
The Thieves market has some very interesting displays!

How to survive torrential rain and wind.

What got me through eight days of pouring rain!
  1. A cute and sturdy raincoat. Not a poncho not a thin raincoat. A thick plastic one that must be waterproof not water resistant. The hood must have a tie . You cannot sit and hold the hoodie on in 50 mile an hour winds. You have to batten down the hatches. Why wear black on a miserable day. I loved this raincoat because it was cheery and my husband could always locate me in a sea of black puffers. A small puffer coat or my long jean jacket underneath this rain coat.
  2. A pocket size umbrella by Totes worked great until it did not. I also had to buy a slightly larger umbrella that did not fit in my purse. The tote umbrella stayed strong and never went inside out like cheap umbrellas. At the end of the day the Tote umbrella did not keep my bottom dry. Still very useful as I could always carry it on me.
  3. My Baggallini purse. It also got soaked repeatedly but dried out quickly and kept my items dry on the inside.
  4. Skinny jeans. Right now big legged pants are in style along with bell bottoms but in a downpour they only get longer and wetter. Skinny jeans stayed drier for me on the bad days.
  5. You cannot control the weather but you can control your reaction to it. We rented a driver for all 4 days that made it much easier and dryer for all our sight seeing. Just bring a positive attitude and a can do attitude and you will not miss many sights.
The tornado that shut down the Lisbon airport.

Great Viewpoint in Lisbon

Pena Palace our favorite destination

Pena Palace was our favorite place even in the rain!
In a sea of black coats you can always find me in this colorful raincoat.
Street artist that paints with coffee! I love his dedication to style!

Baby steps on these streets

All the streets are on hills and made of slippery tile cobblestone. All the streets are on hills! We had to walk like old people and do baby steps. Sometimes young tourists would run around us and bust their bums. No running on these streets.

The famous pastry

The most famous baker in Lisbon sells 500,000 pastries a day in summer time.

Street artist Arturo Bordalo turns trash into art

He has 7 murals around Lisbon. All made up of recycled trash like tires and metal scraps. Beautiful.

The time out market with good friends!

Maritime museum is a real treat!

My long jean jacket that kept me warm under my raincoat.

The famous trolley cars

Our Hotel in Porto-fabulous

We absolutely loved this hotel or should I say we loved the river view from our room. We could sit on our balcony and listen to the Spanish guitar players and singers below our window. At night time our sky exploded with hundreds of seafulls all circling over us. We stayed an extra day at his hotel because of the view and being right in the middle of all the action. Yes we coud have stayed for free in a Holiday Inn outside of town in an industrial area. But we would have missed so much. Sometimes you need to feel the city in an old hotel right in the middle of everything. Loved this hotel.

This is view from room 410

Room 410- I could sit out here all week!

Our sunset cruise for two- only $250

We rented a sunset cruise with this company. it was a mother and her 27 year old son. He was very open about th economic situation in Portugal. All college is free in Portugal. Our 27 year old boat captain got a CPA degree. He only makes 18,000 euros a year.. The cost of a one bedroom condo is $450,000. There is no way a young adult can buy a home. He still lives with his parents and hopes to inherit the family farm. It was just an hour and a hall ride with snacks and drinks.

Porto Cruz rooftop bar across river from our hotel

1881 Porto library

Very cool place to visit. You have to have a ticket and a timed entrance. We selected the upgraded ticket and got in before 50 other people. its crowded and crazy but well worth seeing this 140 year old library.


Costa Rica February 2022

We loved our visiting monkeys!

We had been to Costa Rica in 2019 only from on a cruise ship and felt it needed more discovering, so we went February 14- March 1, 2022. Covid was rampant there and everyone wore masks including outdoors. The week before we got there, they had 40,000 cases in one week in a country of 5 million people. We were nervous but decided we could be safe and wore our mask too. We brought our own test kits and 24 hours before our flight home we took them and were negative. It proved to be one of my favorite vacations. I grew up wanting to work at on an animal farm liked Doctori on tv. Every day we had animals visit us. Monkeys, sloughs, agouti, macaws, racoons (not my favorite) big Iguanas.

Four monkeys showed up and three left as soon as they saw Mark. This one let him know that he was not leaving!
Big Iguana climbing up tree.
Such sweet creatures!
Aguti is like a cross between a big rat and a rabbit as he hops!
We loved this resort- I would even go back by myself as it felt safe and so much fun

We spent a week at this resort and stayed in Mott Mott 307. It was a small unit for two people. Many of the homes are individually owned and all are a bit different. Our unit was the smallest in the area. We had all the living, dining and cooking outdoors under a roof. The inside was where the bedroom and bathroom and air-conditioning were located. I cannot tell you how wonderful this place was to visit. We loved just lying in the hammock and watching the view and the daily parade of animals that came to visit us. We took many nature and birding tours off site, but the best was on site. They have a sloth institute and for $30 a piece we walked all around and saw more birds and animals that in the big national parks. So even if you are not staying at the Tulemar you need to go on this tour.

Best tour on island

What we liked about Tulemar was our own personal concierge person. You need anything and they handle it, including filling up our refrigerator from the grocery store before we got there with items we selected. Making reservations at local restaurants and arranging all transportation to the beach and anywhere on the resort with just a phone call.

We went to a wonderful cooking class where we learned about the green squash that tasted like a cross between a pear and a squash. We also learned a cooking tip that no one had ever taught us before about onions. Apparently, the reason onions make you cry when you are cutting them is that they need a source of water to attach to and your eyes usually are the closest thing. So, the cook put a little bowl of water right next to the onions I was chopping and no more tears!! This was a huge help to me. We made a delicious meal and learned all about growing vanilla and cocoa.

We also learned that this host as many other Costa Ricans really had a hard time during pandemic. They told us stories of such struggle without the tourists. This cook decided since there were no tourists, and he was very good at making pastries that he and his wife would make pastries to sell to the locals. They did ok for a few months but one day no one came to buy pastries because no one had any money. They ate less and grew some strawberries but rapidly they went through all their savings.

You need to get up real early and go birding or hiking with a tour guide. We would also go to the pool about lunch time as that is when the parade of monkeys came through. They are so cute, but they well steal your food. First one monkey comes up and looks at you then goes behind you. Here comes 5-10 more monkeys to entertain you while the first one slipped behind my back and stole my pineapple off my drink. They are so smart.

the Pineapple thief
Mama monkey- those babies hang on even whil Mama is jumping from tree to tree

Things I liked about the resort other than the constant animals, was the food( was delicious )the maids were great, and I felt very safe. I would even return by myself it felt so safe.

Another thing we liked was you could daily laundry for free or just a tip. Put it out in morning and back by the afternoon. We loved the hammock and the daily view of the sunset. We loved the beach, and the food down there was terrific too. Loved the pool and nightly singers. We just really loved the people too. Everyone is so friendly, and boy do they need some business to return.

My favorite spot to watch the view and the monkeys

The things I did not like about Costa Rica were the heat! 77-97 every day. You have to get up and go birding by about 6:30 and finish by 11. Just too hot.

Several nights we were raided by racoons. Since all the cooking was outdoors and the trash was outdoors, if we cooked and did not clean up everything they would come and open all drawers trying to get to trash. One morning we had been slimed by a whole family of raccoons. It was gross. We called our concierge and within an hour everything was back up. We had forgotten to lock the trash can.

I did not like that there are hilly streets in Tulemar. Everything is up a hill. You can request a van at anytime to take you anywhere, but it made it difficult to just take a walk.

Quepos has been experiencing a red tide for months. Red tide kills fish.

One night I had a mama racoon and 4 babies on our deck. I went out to shoo them away and the babies left but she growled at me. I think next time we will rent the unit above us that has the cooking inside.

In the mountains of Costa Rica and cold at night

We belong to the Georgia Audubon society. They had a trip to this resort to see the famous quetzal. When they came back and gave us a recap of where they had gone birding this was one of the small hotels they stayed at in the mountains. We decided to recreate part of their trip and it was well worth it. This is a small little hotel with maybe 10 different little houses for rent. Just walking the grounds is a horticultural delight. Flowers everywhere, birds everywhere, hummingbirds everywhere. Good food, just a basic room with a fireplace and no heat. We did use that fireplace to stay warm. We hired a local guide who took us to find the quetzal. Probably the most beautiful bird in the world. The birders in Costa Rica started working with the local farmers that had white avocado trees. White avocados are so small and not really good for human consumption so many of the farmers just cut them down. This is a delicacy to the quetzal. So, the birders made a deal with the farmers that every time they brought someone onto their property to see the quetzals that the birders would pay them a small sum of money to keep the white avocado trees and make it a little easier for the tourist to visit the tree. This worked out very well for both the birders and the farmers. Many of the farmers are older now and not farming so much so this becomes their pension and their interactions with people in old age.

The G.O.A.T of all birds and I got to see three of them!
Local artist the I bought a painting from in this store on the side of the road.

Costa Rica is about flowers everywhere!

Now let’s talk about the fishing! It was marvelous. You have to go early in morning, but we caught over 10 fish, saw a Dolphin and a mama whale and baby. The coolest thing I have ever seen was a school of red herring with the sun shining through them. Looked like little red parasols you get in a drink. Tiny and spinning right before the big fish came and gobbled them up.

Great day fishing!!!!
A tree that hugs you!
Our favorite bird guide Berni!

96 Miles North & Take a Left

Pandemic travel in 2020 is closer to home. Yet you still can get in your car and go 96 miles somewhere. Just plan a small day trip.

Ok this is not a destination for world travelers. It is during the pandemic and my husband planned a surprise overnight trip for me. When my dog sitters called and asked where he was taking me, I replied I still don’t know, GPS says 96 miles north and take a left.

Hiawassee Georgia

This is a small town in north Georgia near the North Carolina border. It is surrounded by Appalachian mountains and a lovely lake. It was so much fun just to get in the car and go somewhere new. We pack food, sanitizer and try and find places where few people are around us. Hiawassee is about 96 miles from our home. I had a ball doing pretty much nothing but hiking and eating a fine meal.

Hamilton Gardens is a treasure!!!!!!!!!!!

In September we only found one rhododendron in bloom but the gardens are still worth it!

Hamilton Gardens has the largest collection of rhododendrons in Georgia. Over 1100 plants and 1500 azaleas in this tiny garden on the lake Chatuge. We went in September and none of that was blooming but the gardens were marvelous. We went on a Sunday and never saw a single person. I can’t wait to get back up here when the colors change and when the rhododendrons will be in bloom!!

They have an art in the garden and you have to do a scavenger hunt to find the 7 pieces of artwork installed in the garden. I missed the elephant so I want to go back! They have 1.5 miles of mulched trails for your outdoor pleasure.

Pack a picnic lunch and come eat and look at the fabulous view of the Appalachian mountains. Bathroom is supper clean and has live flowers in it too!

We found another trail the you walk around the lake and we really liked it because this trail was flat and you constantly saw the lake. It is called the Chatuge trail and it is about a mile. See the dotted line right off the ramp to put in your boat. We loved this flat trail and check out the trees on the edge that have been hit by lightening and are still living.

View from hike around Chatuge trail. Mountains will surround you on this hike.

Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds-We went to an outdoor mile long garage sale in here, but check their website as they have lots of car shows, Christmas lights and music events that are on the calendar here.

Copper Door Restaurant

Copper Door Restaurant is 10 miles away in Hayesville, NC. One of the top 100 restaurants in the United States by Open Table. A four course meal all inclusive will run about $78 per person. It is nestled at the base of the Appalachian mountains. It was very good but, I still feel a little uncomfortable inside restaurants. The wait staff all wore masks and tables were separated . Food was delicious but we decided to take our dessert to go so we could spend less time inside. It was so good in our hotel room.

Paradise Hills Winery Resort and Spa -has a very nice outdoor patio with live and local music on Saturdays from 1-5 pm. They are down the road near Blairsville, Georgia. You don’t have to buy their wine to sit there. We sat outside and looked at the mountains and the vineyards and heard really pretty good music from this fellow. If you walk down the hill they have several goats in a pen that are fun to look at too.

Live-local music in an outdoor wine patio is fun and felt safe being outdoor and small.


Thailand 2020


It is funny how I love to travel but always dread it right before I go! I try and think of ways to get out of it. Yet I am always so happy when I return? I guess it is because we are stepping out of our comfort zone. We are going somewhere odd and far away. The language is different and the food is different and the long, long flights just to get to Bangkok. We spent 21 hours in the air and one 3 hour layover in South Korea airport. Then right before we leave the corona virus breaks out in China and one of my doctors here suggest I might rethink going to Thailand. We left on January 23, 2020 the day they labeled it a possible epidemic. We came home February 9, 2020. This was more than one month before anything happened in the United States. I let me Doctor know that I have never worried about returning home. Yet this trip, I was worried about returning home. We were in five different Asian airports and we all wore our masks in these airports.

Myanmar border control checking all people crossing the border for high temperatures for Coronovirus.

Corono virus was a real bummer on this trip. It had just started right before we left and went into full fledged fear as we traveled. The Chinese love to travel to Thailand and within one week of us getting to Thailand all Chinese travel stopped. Our tourists locations were absent of people. Our tour guides were shocked how quickly they quit traveling. Yet many stores in Thailand refused to open because of fear. The bars we went into sprayed your hands with disinfectant. At the borders they took peoples temperature by infrared and by thermometer. Fear, fear, fear and bad air quality in Thailand made more fear fear fear. There was a lack of masks available so we were glad we brought our own. The masks just made us feel a little safer. I will always travel with these mask in the future.

11 million people live in Bangkok and there are 10 million motorcycles! They ride in between all the lanes!
No school buses so total chaos when picking up the kids.
A family of 5 on a motorcycle and no helmets!
They do not bury the electric or cables they just mass them together like this all over the streets. It does not look that safe?

Johny’s gems- a fabulous jewelry store since 1960

Many American soldiers shopped here during the 1960-1970.

My father was in the military and went to Vietnam in 1965. So did my friends father. Both of our fathers passed away when we were 17 years old so any memory we have of our dads is important to us. Yes my dad brought back some jewelry for me from Vietnam when I was a little girl. I am not sure where he bought it but my friends father bought her and her sister and mom many gems from this store. She assumed he used all his extra combat pay to buy them all these lovely jewels. She asked me to go there for her. I went and it was one of the highlights of our trip. It is little shop in an residential area. Probably has not been remodeled or painted in 40 years. Still the current owner is Johny’s son and he is 60 years old. He grew up right above the shop.

He immediately offers my husband a beer and then I go about shopping as he tells the history of the store. All across the top of the store are pictures of service men who shopped there 50 years ago. Of course I scanned all the photos looking for my dad and my friend’s dad but they probably were not very big spenders to get there picture up on the wall. There were three American presidents and all the astronauts have been there too. Even Princess Diana shopped there. Also three popes have had jewelry from here. Most recently Pope Francis order 50 cuff link sets for his security detail. He choose as I did the black star sapphire. This is only found in Thailand and is a dark brown to black stone with a gold star that moves inside it. It is is a bit masculine but the ring I got looks very nice. I also purchased a couple of necklaces and Mark even got a lovely wood statue. It really was fun watching As Mark bargained to get the price down. At one point Johny told Mark that” you offered me more money the last quote and you are going the wrong way my friend.” Mark said well what if I bought you a beer. Johny says” I just bought you a beer so you will have to come up on price. ”

Chaing Mai with new friends
White temple Chaing Rai

This is the coolest artistic temple I have ever seen.


Mobile WIFI you carry on you! Well worth the money!

We did this twice now. Once in Japan and once in Bangkok. In Bangkok airport you go down to the third floor in the basement and go to this little store. We reserved ahead time and picked it up when we landed and returned it when we came hone back through the Bangkok airport. In Japan we picked it up at the Tokyo airport and returned it by mail from the Osaka airport. Both trips we had constant WiFi. It is a very small device that fits in your purse or even a big pocket. You can attach 5 phones to it but be careful of how much data everyone uses. Why we liked it was because when we were out for the day we could always have internet and be able to text each other or receive texts and what’s app. You could also check emails and Facebook and other social media platforms. Once when I was separated from Mark as he always carried the mobile WiFi, I just went up to the store I was in and asked them to get me on WiFi. Then I texted mark where I was located and that I would wait for him. I think we paid about $90 us dollars for 18 days. Well worth the money for people who are addicted to their phones and the internet. They say it is safer than using public WiFi too.

The floating market

The best coconut ice cream on a hot steamy day!
This is as close as I would stand to these snakes. You could pay $3 and they would wrap one of them around your body for a photo. You could even kiss it.

The famous train market

Every 30 minutes a slow moving train comes across these tracks. All people and goods have to be moved back off the track. It is called the most dangerous market in the world.

Iconsiam shopping mall

This is the malls bathroom. It was stunning!

Iconsiam is a great mall. No need to go above the first floor because most of it is American brands or high end brands like Gucci. Stay on the first floor for just a beautiful setting and lots of great Thai food and even burgers, pizza and everything that you can imagine. Just walk the first floor and grab some food. Go to the bathroom as they are the loveliest bathrooms I have ever been in. Also the store Nehyru is a great Thai made little cosmetic and travel bags.

Go outside at night for the light show it is magnificence. Then take a free little boat ride across the river and back for fun.

The food

I am not a big fan of Thai food but I did like pad Thai and loved mango smoothies. I got real tired of rice with every meal, including breakfast and many times I only ate rice because I just could not eat all the fried fish with a million bones. Now if you are a gluten free kind of person you will love Thailand as I never saw any bread whatsoever. No bread at all. No cakes no cookies, no pies. No gluten.


They don’t have Uber in Thailand but they have Grab. Works identically to Uber. No cash accept for tolls. The driver will collect all the receipts and you have to pay them to him.Make sure and download it before you go. We used them probably 25 times in 18 days. Total cost was $83. We never waited more than 4 minutes for a ride. Never.

The Goddess of the Earth- she protects Buddha by squeezing water out of her hair and making floods that take away all the armies that want to hurt him.


Costa Rica -Pura Vida 2019

Full disclosure- I was on a cruise ship and we stopped just for a short time during the day in 4 small to large cities. Three of those days we did excursions and two days we went and explored on our own. Really I feel like I just had a spoon full of Cost Rica and now I want to go back again and again. I usually do not like to go back to places I have already visited, but I would come back to Costa Rica. One third of the worlds bird species live here. The best fishing, the best wildlife, the best flora and fauna and the best dancing. The Costa Rican people refer to themselves as Tico’s and Ticas. Everyone smiles at you, even the flowers.

My first yellow fin Tuna

We went fishing in the Isle of Parida. Cast fishing was difficult because you are suppose to cast and reel in very quick while jerking the rod. Well after 10 minutes of that you are wore out. None of us caught a fish that way. When we trolled with the bait hanging off the back rods we hit schools of yellow fin Tuna and Wahoo’s. We saw dolphins and vultures all around us. This was very exciting fishing.

The hitch hiker butterflies

Late one night while we were sailing about 100 of these butterflies showed up on the back deck of our boat. The lights attracted them. What they were doing in the ocean I have no idea but we enjoyed our stow aways.

We also visited Santa Juana on a tour. We loved it. First we drove through a huge palm tree farm. This is where they make palm oil. Honestly we drove about 10 continuous miles through these Palm trees. I could not believe how beautiful it was. Then you see two guys on a motorcycle carrying a 15 foot pole with a machete on top. This is how they would get the fruit off the tree. We stop at a local farm where oxen turn sugarcane into liquid. We got to taste it and even get a kiss from the bull standing behind me.

Then we go on a nature walk with breathtaking views to a waterfall where most of the group changed into their bathing suits and jumped into the big deep blue hole. This was quite refreshing.

My first Tilapia!

Then they take us a to a little pond that is stocked with tilapia and we fished with what looks like pellets of dog food on a cane pole. A wonderful day seeing the rural areas of Costa Rica.

This is a flower in Costa Rica. It attracts humming birds.
Great Fishing in Costa Rica
In 1950’s a group of Quaker families from Fair Hope Alabama moved to Costa Rica and protected this bird the Resplendent Quetzal from extinction.

Shopping at the San Jose Airport is fantastic!

Amethyst and turquoise necklace. I bought at the San Jose airport gift shop. Lots of interesting pieces.

Make sure to allow time as they have a lot of very interesting jewelry, wood crafts, really cool howler monkey t shirts, chocolate, food items, stuffed animals, sunglasses . Great food courts and friendly people.

Pura Vida means living the good life!


Panama Canal – 2019

The last lock of the Panama Canal!

Really what kind of person thinks “Oh, I think I will dig across 50 miles of land and let the two oceans touch?  Then I am going to make it big enough for huge ships to transport goods and people across it.  Then, I am going to do this in a foreign land and hope it doesn’t affect the world?” Oh, and let’s do it 100 years ago.  I cannot even fathom how this would work and still does to this day!

Well go watch the movie “ A man, a plan a canal”.  These people must have been the true big dreamers in the world. They did it without internet without phones and plagued by mosquito’s, malaria and yellow fever.  Over 28,000 people died to make this happen. Didn’t anyone think it might disrupt the land and make South America float away?  Didn’t anyone question it for long term problems like fracking today?

The Panama Canal should be on everyone’s travel list.  I spent the day on the bridge of the Windstar cruise ship standing at absolute marvel at how this works. 

This little boat rows toward our ship and throws a rope to his counterpart on the ship.
The little engines that controlled us in the locks with big wire ropes.
We shared the lock with these 3 small boats.

From such elementary steps of a row boat that comes up to a big cruise ship and hooks up a rope. That rope is hooked up to a steel rope that is pulled by a little locomotive on each side that pulls and stops the boat through the canal. 

Two pilot ships pull up to our cruise ship and 10 linemen get off. Five men for the front and five men for the back.  They catch the ropes and throw the ropes to their counterparts below.  That rope is threaded through a little steel tank type vehicle that pulls you in the middle of each of the many locks.  You wait for water to go down or go up until the gates open.  As soon as they open the gates the waiting birds dive down to get the confused fish that are caught up in the meeting of the two oceans.    Our huge cruise ship was in the locks with a small fishing boat and a medium size party yachts. Those small boats were in front of us and I am sure they were glad that the cruise ship was being held back from them by huge steel cables. Our ship weighed almost 10,000 tons and was 440 ft long.

  True funny story!

 There was this big party yacht that decided to go through the canal.  Everyone was in a festive mood and decided to moon the workers as they went through.  Waiting for them in the end of the 50 miles was the port authority.  They had pictures of everyone’s butt and face and arrested them all.  It cost that boat an extra $35,000 fine.

Things I loved about the vacation are it is a short flight from Atlanta, only 4 hours. It is on the same time zone and they use American dollars. We loved the Panama sky line too. The coolest thing is that Panama is a county that goes east to west and the only country where you can watch the sunrise on the Atlantic and watch it set on the Pacific. Being an east coast girl I never really get to see it set on the ocean. So to see both was awesome.

The old town in Panama City is very much like Cuba. Colorful buildings and balconies. Many cool restaurants. Really don’t bother with shopping because all the stores sell the same things. Some stores charge twice as much as the other stores and then say they are having a sale of 20%. All the Panama hats are made in Ecuador. You will not see the locals wearing them. There is a nice statue all the way at the end that is a monument to the 22,000 men that lost their life building it. Uber is very easy and prevalent. Just walk around and look at the buildings.

Old Town
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute guide.

Get to Panama a couple days early and go to island of The Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute. This a natural rain forest that has been protected for almost 100 years. Arrange all of this ahead of time and do a 3-4 hour hike with a naturalist. We saw many howler monkeys, crocodile, Tucans, Spider monkeys, several types of birds, leaf cutter ant colonies, something that looks like big rats, butterflies, bats, and the beautiful buttress trees which make great hiding spots for animals and little children. Since this area is untouched pretty much by civilization you are seeing nature as it should be. After hiking for 3 hours there is a small encampment to study animals in their natural habitat. A small little dining hall will serve you a lunch and then another couple hours hiking. I was too tired to do the second hike so I stayed in the air conditioning in the dining hall and watched several movies about the area. I fell in love with the sloths as they are such sweet slow moving animals.

The bottom of the Panama tree has buttresses. A great place for animals and kids to hide.
Spider monkeys
Just watching us watch them.
Owl butterfly
The colorful character next to me is called the dirty devil. He was used in colonial times during all kinds of religious ceremonies. This was a wonderful restaurant that had dancers delicious food and very inexpensive. A great way to start your Panamanian adventure. The food was great and cheap with free floor show!

We loved this restaurant. It is called.

Food was very good and they had a floor show that made us feel like a real Panamanian. The traditional dancing and musical instruments and the dirty devil! In many ceremonies he gets baptized but we did not see that. He just danced around us and livened the party.


A trip everyone should take in their lifetime.No matter how old you are you can get a birds eye view from a cruise ship. First make sure to go have several facials before you go because the heat and humidity are almost unbearable. Make up will slide off your face and your hair will frizz and look awful. So go buy a real cute hat and sun glasses and you will be fine. I come from the heat and humidity but, it is nothing like the equator! I was glad I had my ex-officio underwear that breathe and keep you cool. I was also glad to have my REI pants and quick dry shirts. Forget blue jeans and even blue jean shorts.

I also was thrilled to have my portable fans. A big hat not a baseball cap and a small backpack. Definitely bug spray and I am talking Deet – not Skin So Soft! I also used my SPF 45 for face as you have to keep applying. I really liked Wet Ones to clean up . Make sure to drink as much water as possible. I bet I went through 5 bottles of water and I almost had another heat stroke. You need to double or triple your normal water intake.

Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador. No Panamanians wear these hats.
The memorial in old town in remembrance of the 22,000 workers that died.
The Panama skyline
The Harpy Eagle is the national bird and they eat small monkeys.


Another thing we loved was Amber Moon Panama Taxi service. We arranged it all by email before we got there and they always showed up on time. They were waiting on us at the airport and took us two hotels. Even the Friday morning at 5:30 am to pick us up and drive an hour north to the Smithsonian tropical Research Institute marina. They were waiting on us there after a full day and took us back on a very busy Friday evening. Then Saturday morning picked us up and took us to Colon to get on the cruise ship. Really nice drivers and no up front payment like some of the other taxis services wanted. Their email is Phone is + 507-66640171. Renan Portugal was our contact. Punctual, reliability and honesty is their motto.

They were all of the above and fun guys too!


Japan 2019


Japanese Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom season

The gardens are so serene and calming. If you can come during the cherry blossom season you will never see anything with such beauty! Everywhere you look takes your breath away.

Japanese gardens

I was not prepared for how beautiful Japan would be during cherry blossom time.  I was not prepared for how kind the Japanese people would be. I was not prepared to fall in love with this country.

Japan was never really on my bucket list till now.  We never really liked Japanese food yet we eat shashime or raw fish for breakfast.  Not really something I want at 8 am but you can find something to tolerate, sometimes it was french fries and fruit and  white miso soup.  I was also surprised by how much I like chrysanthemums tempura and their pickles.  I fell in love with dried seaweed on my rice and really like sake or plum wine.

I was surprised at the lack of smokers.  Non of our hotels smelled like smoke.  Very rarely did we even see a smoker.  Occasionally you might see someone smoking in restaurant. Smoking was very rare!

Free at every hotel we stayed.

All hotels offer you toothpaste, toothbrush, hair brush, shavers, Q tips and small scrunchies. Plus the normal soap ,shampoo, conditioner, face cream and more.  I never used my toothbrush from home.

First impressions of Japan


The Japanese love to heat their butts! Some of the trains even have heated seats. Not only that but you can have the spray hit your bum area or use the bidet for women’s area. There is a computer on the sides of all toilets. after 14 hours on the plane to Tokyo we land and I use the toilet in airport. Quite a surprise when you sit down. Very nice though.

There are so many controls that they have to actually write in English the word Flush because I have no idea what all the buttons are used for. One is for sounds of chirping birds or music. That is in case you are going to make any noise. One button is for a bidet effect, one button is for a bidet effect on the bum area, and one button adjusts the heat on the seat.

There are signs all over like below:

This was in a public restroom.

2. NO TRASH at all and no trash cans. Japanese people take their trash home. We never even saw a cigarette butt on the street. Mark watched a street cleaner try to pick up a crumb of the street. They removed all public trash cans for fear of terrorized.

3. SURGICAL MASK. 1 out of every 8 people is wearing a face mask. They a do this for several reasons. Some have allergy, some because they are afraid of getting sick, and some because they are shy. This would have been great if you were a teenager and you had a pimple on your nose.


Unbelievably beautiful! Nature’s heaven on earth.


Ask a Japanese person for directions and they will stop and walk with you to your location. We could not find our Korean Barbeque restaurant. So we stopped at a restaurant near where we though our restaurant was located and the owner walked us over to our little restaurant.


The voices, the accents the bells, flutes and drums. The high pitch of the voice on the elevator. All the instructions from police on loud speakers, usually just telling you to watch out for cars.


Really most of the time I have no idea what I am eating. I found I like the hot pots which is where you get a bowl on a heater and they mix chicken and cabbage and onions and other vegetables and cook it for about 5 min.

Later we meet up with a friend of the family and she orders all kinds of things off the menu. One dish something kept moving. It sort of looks like a thin wide potato chip and it waves at you. Supposedly it is dehydrated seaweed?

I found out I really like eating lotus flowers and white miso soup. I also liked all of their pickles. Loved them- even the pink ones.

8. The bullet trains and how to use them– see my other post on how to use the trains.

9. THE LACK OF BANKS! I have never been to a country where you do not see big banks. all banking seems to be done in 7-11 atms? very odd for such a huge country.

10. THE STATUES ARE MASSIVE, and look so frightening! This is a poet?


Sumo wrestlers and me!

Sumo wrestler restaurant

Two former sumo wrestlers have opened a restaurant in Tokyo. It holds about 20 people. The restaurant is very small but has a wood floor for demonstrating this fine sport. At first they explain the sport and then do a small demonstration in front of you. In their hey day they were the number 4 and number 77 in the world. They weigh 260 and 360 pounds.

The only thing they wear is this small loincloth. I will admit it is overwhelming at first to be chatting it up with a 360 pound naked man. Then he serves you lunch in it. Nothing ever shows, not a hair, nothing hangs out at all. Even when they do this excersize right in front of you. Nothing shows.

Sumo demonstration

After the demonstration they asked if anyone wanted to try and push him out of the ring.

No one raised their hands so I jumped out on the floor and gave him my fiercest look. He gave me a big smile and said OK put your hands on my chest and move me one inch. I pushed with all my might and nothing moved.

You can challenge a Sumo wrestler in Toyko

There was a big controversy last year at a sumo wrestling match. It is a tradition that no woman has ever been allowed inside the sumo wrestlers ring. Not even the Empress of Japan has ever been inside that 15 ft of hallowed area.

There was a politician that was introducing the sumo wrestlers and he dropped down in the ring of an apparent heart attack. There was a female nurse that ran up to the stage and started performing CPR. The crowd was shocked! Almost immediately the announcer came on the speaker and ordered all women out of the ring immediately. She did leave and the man did live but the Japanese still suffer from gender inequality. The question was is one mans life worth breaking 100’s of years of tradition? Or is 100 years of tradition worth more than one mans life?

Don’t be mistaken these two sumos served us a wonderful and healthy lunch. They also were very intelligent. I told my opponent that I was from Atlanta. He said oh the Olympics were there in 1996. I absolutely loved this experience. Absolutely loved it.

Destinations, Etiquette

The Japanese and their rules!

The Tiny pieces of paper deviant is on your left!

Rules are very important to the Japanese culture. Individuality is not encouraged. You need to be mindful about this when you travel there.  Here is an example of how we broke the rules and caused such an uproar over little tiny pieces of paper. 

 On our tour was a trip to a paper making factory.  We received a lesson on how to make paper. First, we wash this screen in a solution and pull it up to dry.  Then we are supposed to select 3 little tiny pieces of paper to decorate it with before we dry it.  The pieces of paper are less than an inch and there are some moons, cats, dogs, goldfish and more.

 So, Mark picks up 6 pieces because he cannot make up his mind.  You can see the tiny pieces on his wood tray on the left side. He envisions his little post card to be the envy of all other examples.  I tell him he is only supposed to have three, the guide told him he was only to have 3 and then the paper police showed up and started yelling at him in Japanese.  She told him he would have to pay another $2.50 for the extra paper he wasted.  He said fine and she was still livid and walked off in a huff.

This upset so many people over what?  The rules!  Mark saw it as tiny pieces of paper and she saw it as not following the rules.  Meanwhile their where 17 of us in that class, so should she have gotten so angry over $2.50.  In her culture yes.  He was a deviant! A tiny pieces of paper DEVIANT!

They have a definite slipper thing!

No one goes bare foot or even with plain socks! the Japanese love their slippers. First you have to take your shoes off when you enter the home. Immediately you have to put on slippers. If you go to the bathroom you take those slippers off and put on bathroom slippers. If you go into your bedroom you have different slippers. So in a span of 10 feet in our hosts home we had to change slippers three times.

Read an etiquette book about Japan before you go.  They are serious about following the rules.  Hundreds of years ago a samurai would cut off your head if you did not bow correctly.  Americans love being rule breakers, but it will only cause you trouble in Japan. 


Shinkansen–the Japanese Bullet Train: Tips for Survival 2019

Shinkansen–the Japanese Bullet Train

This one is the green JR line which stands for Japan Railways. The Nazomi Shinkansen train is the fastest with the fewest stops. They can travel up to 150-200 miles an hour.

Last seat in every car has room for big luggage.

Tips for the Japanese Bullet Train

  • Do not buy reserved seats, buy non-reserved. Usually, the first 3 cars or last 3 cars are non-reserved. There’s no difference, and if you have reserved seats, you have to find your exact car. Non-reserved also offers you more options. Trains can be 16 cars or 8 cars depending on the need, and the trains stop at the exact platform markings. One time, we got in line for a 16 car train, and it turned out to be an 8 car and the train had stopped early on the platform. We had to run to get to a car, but had several to pick from.
  • Try and get the last seat in each car if you have big luggage. There is a big space behind the last seats.
  • Buy food at train stations. I know the idea of eating food from a train station sounds terrible in the U.S., but food at Japanese train stations is remarkably good and quite fresh. We bought good sandwiches and bento boxes that were delicious. You should also buy food in the stations because only the super fast trains like Nazomi have food carts.
  • English is displayed on train monitors, but remember, they always add the word “shin” to the front. So Osaka station will read “Shin-Osaka.”
  • Trains only stop for 3 minutes, so be prepared. Make sure you stand on the left and let passengers off before you get on the train. My suggestion is to get there early, get in line immediately, and then once you get on the train, get out of the way as soon as possible. They will not wait on you. Trains are never more than 36 seconds off schedule.
  • Bathrooms are available on bullet trains.
  • Hooks are also available next to seat for jackets and bags. Small bags can fit in upper shelves, but not bags bigger than 21 inches.
  • All seats face forward. When the train turns around, there is a little foot peddle that turns the seat the opposite way. Sometimes families of 4 will turn one set of seats so they can face each other. If you do this, you can create a small space for big luggage between the 4 seats.
  • Out of respect, you should carry trash with you and place your seat in an upright position for the next customer.
  • The trains are very clean and every once in a while, a conductor will stamp your ticket.
  • Keep your ticket–you need it to exit train station. You will need to put your ticket through the turn stile, or else you can’t exit. Always keep your ticket handy.
  • Smoking is only allowed in one car.
  • No seat-belts. I found that odd, yet they have not had one accident in 50 years.
  • The subway systems have special lanes for women. So if you are a man, stay out of the pink zone.
This guy did not read the sign on the ground .