Fifty Shades of Green

Fifty shades of green.  Go ahead, wrap your head around that and you’ll be surprised how many shades you will recognize. Kelly green, spinach green, hospital green, milky green, pistachio green and fern green, for example.  They say the human eye can see 10 million colors, and while fifty shades don’t seem to make a dent in that, the variety and depth of color that you see when traveling through African countries on safari is simply beautiful.  There is nothing quite like it.

Pine green, apple green, sagebrush green, dusty green, emerald green, birds nest green and safari green: recognize those?   Perched up on a hill overlooking the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe is a perfect safari lodge, Imbabala Safari Lodge.  From there, you can see and feel all those shades of green.   The lodge comprises about a dozen bungalows, a swimming pool and a main open-air bungalow for cocktails and dining, and from there, looking out over the Zambezi is spectacular.  The river winds, hippos blare, crocodiles lurk.  Where the green shrubs meet the water’s edge, animals hide.

Floating along the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe (Imbabala Safari Lodge)
Floating along the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe (Imbabala Safari Lodge)

Greens of blue, amber, green tea, lily, ice, pastel, golf, laurel, slate, peacock and lime:  Shades of green continue westward in Botswana, where floating along in a pontoon on the Chobe River brings you up close and personal with the animals, flora and fauna. Wide, flat, endless riverbanks flank the Chobe and birds abound.  Here, Southern carmine bee eaters (birds) sport vibrant turquoise green crowns.

Southern Carmine Bee Eater Botswana
A Southern carmine bee eater, basking in the sun. Chobe River, Botswana.

Meadow green, golden green, paradise green, bronze green, green bean green, palm green, olive green, and chartreuse green.  The colors in Kruger National Park in South Africa are rich indeed.  Around every curve of a road, each new vista is unique and full of color, and shades of green, of course.  Roads in Kruger are varied; some are paved, some are soft light colored sand, and others are hard packed red dirt.  I was particularly in awe of the views where the vibrant greens met the dry red dirt (or sometimes the wet red mud!).  Would an artist be able to capture all the colors?  A European roller is a favorite bird with its royal green and turquoise feathers.

European roller, Kruger National Park, South Africa
European roller, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Fifty shades of green.
Grass is always greener, at least in Kruger National Park, South Arica

Granite green, lettuce green, dark green, gumdrop green, hunter green, light green, moss green and yellow green.   In The Kingdom of Swaziland, the world’s second largest monolith is surrounded by bush, shrubs, grass and trees.  While Sibebe Rock is about 3 billion years old, the plants obviously are not.  Have these fifty shades of green, along with the other millions of color, been around for that long?

Grey, banana, jasmine, balsam, Irish, jade, sea, vibrant, asparagus and holly greens: just a few more shades.  Recognize any?  They all blend naturally and beautifully together.  When cruising through national parks in Southern Africa, I can’t help but feel like I am surrounded by fifty shades of green.   At least fifty.  The colors are different over there.  Go see for yourself.

Ivories in Atlanta

Passengers banging suitcases into walls as they race to their gate, a child crying because her liquid filled snow globe souvenir was confiscated by a TSA Agent, and metal chair legs scraping across floors in a food court are some typical sounds anyone hears when passing through any airport.

On a recent flight to South Carolina, I changed planes in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport.  My flight was early, but there wasn’t enough time to take an earlier connecting flight. So, I wandered around and found a nice (read: quiet, clean, and not jam packed with travelers) food court and a reasonably healthy meal.  A decent looking fake flower (silk) in a small white vase decorated my table for one.

Within minutes I heard a beautiful tune; a musician was playing the shiny black baby grand piano right in the middle of the concourse.  And, wow, could he play!  He tickled those ivories just like in the movies, and I melted away.  I felt like I should be enjoying a full-bodied glass of red wine curled up on a plush velvet couch in the corner of a small wine bar.

I recognized several of the songs he played, including As Time Goes By (Casablanca), In Your Own Sweet Way (Dave Brubeck) and Just the Way You Are (Billy Joel).    The music was such an unexpected treat, and it was easy to see other travelers enjoying the moment as well.

Tickling the Ivories in Atlanta
Louis Heriveaux – Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport

It was obvious he could play by ear and that he had the gift; you know, where a musician can stroke a few keys, figure out what will feel good and then lets ‘em rip.  Travelers stopped to compliment him, and some placed a few dollars in his tip tray.  Louis Heriveaux (www.louisheriveaux.com) was the pianist, and he also composes and produces music.

Next time you’re transiting an airport, just stop, sit for a while and watch and listen – I mean really listen – to all that’s going on around you.  If you’re in Hartsfield-Jackson (Concourse E) on a Tuesday, listen for Louis  playing the ivories.  You may just find the sounds you hear are real music to your ears!

My Little Big Rig

When I was little, I wanted to be many things when I grew up but being a truck driver was not one of them.  Yet, now I can call myself a truck driver.  Kind of.

January 1 seemed an auspicious day to pick up and load my rental truck – my little big rig – for a cross country journey.  After 30 minutes of paperwork, instruction, shopping for ratchet straps and making payments at my local Home Depot, I was handed a single silver key to my truck. Glad to have two strong arms, I hoisted myself up into driver’s seat, slid behind the wheel, and cranked the engine.  Across the parking lot I rolled, 7 miles an hour. It was going to be a long drive.

At oh dark thirty the next morning, fog met me in the driveway and I discovered the wiper blades were in great shape.  I cautiously reversed out of the driveway, and headed for the turnpike.  My truck hugged the right lane, and I was humored that I was quite comfortable cruising along 5 miles under the speed limit.  The headlights worked, my brain didn’t yet need the distraction of a radio and my seat was reasonably comfy.  It was still going to be a long drive.

  • Donna at the helm of the little big rig
    My own little big rig

Soon I needed to pass an even slower vehicle in front of me. I took several minutes to fully assess the lane to my left; I had no rear view mirror and I had to get used to the two-part mirror on my driver’s door.  While the huge mirror reflected much, it was the small mirror that filled in the blind spot.  Finally I was confident I could switch lanes so I drifted to my left.  It worked!  No one was hurt and I didn’t cause an accident!  I passed the slower vehicle, waited another mile or so and drifted back to the right lane.    Out of nowhere, a full sized 18-wheeler blew past me on my left.    With limited peripheral vision, it was impossible to see or sense other vehicles approaching from behind, until they were right next to me.  Over the next four days and 2,000 miles, I would never became accustomed to that.

The driver of the next huge truck to pass me actually slowed down to drive side by side, shoulder to shoulder, axel to axel.  I glanced to my left:  oh, my gosh, I was eye level with a truck driver in an 18-wheeler!  Gulp.  I cruised on, remaining in the right lane, in my own little big rig…until the sign by the Florida Agriculture Inspection Station commanded that “all trucks stop”.  Sure, I was in a truck, but my 16-footer only had 6 wheels.  Did that mean I was actually driving a real truck?

I pulled in to the Inspection Station and smiled at the guard, asking “am I supposed to be here?”  He replied in the affirmative, asked a few questions, and when he learned I was headed to Colorado, his colleague was inclined (happy?) to inspect my cargo.  I started to make a joke about a certain kind of plant that is legally grown in Colorado, but stopped before I planted any seeds.  No pun intended.   I hopped out of my cab, unlocked the back and rolled up the door.  (I had one of those fancy combination locks that 7th graders use on their school lockers.)  After a bit more than a cursory examination, the inspector approved my cargo and I was free to go.   Three state borders, five hundred miles and a couple of pit stops later, I pulled into a hotel in Mississippi.  It had a small parking lot.

Throughout Florida, Alabama and even half way across Mississippi, I had carefully analyzed all the ingresses and egresses of gas stations, driveways, parking lots, and so on, but at the hotel I couldn’t be bothered.  It was dark, it was raining, and I was very tired.  And my GPS had been providing bad intel, so I was cranky too.  I ignored the “no trucks allowed” sign, parked incorrectly and chatted up the front desk clerk.  Turned out that my little big rig was allowed after all, and the clerk showed me a perfect spot for the truck to spend the night.

At dawn I fired up the ignition and began the 2nd leg of my journey driving through drizzling rain for 400 of the next 500 miles.  I now had at least 12 hours experience and my journey was going well except I wanted for one thing:  a tall semi-dry cappuccino from Starbucks.  Try to find a Starbucks in Mississippi that you can see from the Interstate; it isn’t going to happen.  I finally drove into the city of Jackson, sans peripheral vision, and got my fix.

At the end of the day, it was such a treat to arrive at long-time friends’ home near Dallas and to have a good conversation, a hot meal, and an adult beverage waiting for me.  Ahhhh….Marty volunteered to ride (and drive!) with me for the next and last 1,000 miles.  Being able to share driving and chat along the miles would be luxurious.  Marty confirmed we would spend the entire next day driving only in Texas and before she took the wheel, I gave driving lessons in a large parking lot at a gas station in the middle of somewhere.

We alternated driving every few hours, had contests to find the cheapest gas ($1.73 a gallon!), and learned that our auxiliary cable to the stereo didn’t work.   Our massive dashboard stored our collection of water bottles, snacks, and iPhones.  We finally stopped for dinner and a hotel close to the border, still in Texas of course.  An ice storm had wreaked havoc on the small town of Dumas, and muscling the little big rig across icy parking lots was challenging.  In the freezing rain, we still opted to drive 100 yards to go out for dinner.  Back at the hotel, we parked and re-parked the truck four times until we were satisfied we would have an easy exit in the morning.

The fourth day was Home Stretch Day.  Winds in New Mexico and Colorado were fierce, and rattled the sides of the truck.  They decreased the mileage from 10 to 8.5 mpg.  Oh well.    Eighteen wheelers continued to pass me, and I am now more in awe of the great skill required to maneuver one of those big rigs; I say steer clear when you share the road with one.   Truck drivers have their hands full – and they are bigger than our normal civilian cars – so let them have the space to drive.   I rediscovered that it is a lot easier to see and absorb America the Beautiful as a passenger; somehow as a driver it is too easy to ignore the scenery.  It was fun to see snow on the ground next to the sunny yellow New Mexico border sign, and the rugged Rockies were magnificent as we paralleled them for hours.

One of many border crossings...
One of many border crossings…

We finished the journey and safely parked the little big rig our destination, north of Denver, in time for another home cooked meal.  It still took a day or so to unload and return the truck, but wow, what a ride!

Top 10 Airport Observations

Like many other millions of Americans, I spent part of my Thanksgiving holiday at one of our nation’s busiest airports.    My journey to gate A24 in Denver International Airport was easy breezy, due in part to traveling with just a small carry-on and also to only having 12 people in front of me in the security line.  These stress-free moments gave me ample opportunity to form my Top Ten Airport Observations.  In no particular order, they are:

  1. Why are there so many luggage stores IN an airport? Don’t most travelers arrive at the airport already with their own suitcase?
  2. An easy way to annoy passengers is to demand that many in the gate area who have carry-ons must check them at the gate because the overhead bins onboard are guaranteed to be over flowing…and come to find out, the overhead bins are only a third full, and there is enough room in them to actually stash a few extra stand-by passengers (if only the Federal Aviation Authority would allow it).
  3. Some people think it is okay to lay down in the middle of the floor while they wait for their flight. See photo below.

    Some people think it's okay to lay down on the floor near their departure gate.
    Some people think it’s okay to lay down on the floor near their departure gate.
  4. Restaurants in a food court often fail to have an exit plan for their customers. While there might be five cashiers waving people over to take their orders and collect payment, but there will be zero opportunities for those same people to exit the chaos.
  5. One can’t help but wonder why there might be four departure gates, all in one corner of a terminal, all within 100 feet of each other. It was very understandable that people for the Phoenix flight were in the Salt Lake City line and some Salt Lake City people were in the Tucson line.   Maybe the airport architects learned that trick from the restaurant architects (see above).
  6. When (out of curiosity) you politely ask a TSA agent why a laptop and a wallet must be placed in separate bins, he won’t explain the WHY. He will answer you by simply repeating the WHAT.
  7. The hand driers in restrooms are ear-splitting loud. Does the perceived need for supersonic fast hand-drying cause this?
  8. A friendly smile and a “hello, how is your busy day going for you?” comment to an airline attendant or TSA agent goes a long way. Most of them will even smile back.
  9. The sharpest looking traveler does not wear baggy, worn athletic clothing and tennis shoes. He wears a sharp leather jacket, crisp jeans and polished shoes and he has his personal items neatly tucked into his small and manageable carry-on.
  10. The tackiest traveling tourist carries souvenirs and junk in plastic bags. Oh, wait!  Maybe it is these people who comprise the target market for the above-mentioned luggage stores (see Item 1).

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels!

Ottoman Turkish Bath

Every 20 feet, heavily accented invitations are called out to me as I walk past each shop on the cobblestone pedestrian streets of Kusadasi, a small town on the western coast of Turkey.  “Lady in blue jacket, come in here.  We have the nicest ceramics,” calls one Turkish man.  Several others offer “free Wi-Fi for you”.  And others promise they were “recommended shops” and that I will be best served if I shop in their store.  Locals and tourists flock to an old Turkish bath.  In the background, I can hear music playing softly and small tea glasses clinking on ceramic saucers.

Shop keepers sell silk carpets, wool carpets, leather goods, shoes, t-shirts, designer purses, tea, Turkish delight, bracelets, hanging lamps and other items.   Currency exchange shops, tourist information booths, pharmacies and restaurants line the streets as well.  A few large, lazy dogs nap in the sun.

Eventually I see an advertisement for a traditional Turkish bath and within minutes I have a reservation at Ottoman Turkish Bath. Apo is the short, green eyed, cigarette smoking Turkish sales agent who discusses options with me, and ultimately calls and makes the reservation at the hamam. I pay $25 USD in cash, and Apo escorts me to the corner where I meet Abdullah, a non-English speaking driver who will take me to the Turkish bath.  I am delighted to meet Melissa from Malaysia who is in the car as well.

Once at Ottoman Turkish Bath, we change clothes in the lockerarea (not quite an actual locker room), and are each given a thin smallish towel to use as a wrap.   After our brief tour, we settle into the dry sauna.  Melissa has just arrived on a ship cruising the Aegean Sea and is nervous about her first Turkish bath.  Next we enter the not-yet-hot steam room and turn on the steam ourselves.  Both the sauna and steam room are similar to what Westerners are accustom to, and the heat feels good.

The salt room comes next.  The 8 x 10’ floor is 3” thick in coarse salt, and two empty brown plastic buckets are on the bench.  I call out to an employee, and am relieved that he brings back the buckets filled with fresh salt.  We were hoping they wouldn’t scoop from the floor!  In true DIY fashion, we scrub our own skin with the salt, and help each other with our shoulders and back.  It is tricky to hold the towel with one hand and scrub with the other.  The salt room feels too crowded when two Brits join us, and I take the opportunity to rinse off in a private shower stall.

Salt Room - Ottoman Turkish Bath
Salt Room – Ottoman Turkish Bath

Alas, it is time for the main course!  In broken English, Zara invites me to lie down on the warm marble slab/platform in the middle of the room.  Every few feet around the room is an individual washing station, each with a hot and cold spigot and a big marble sink.  Over the next half hour, Zara will repeatedly run hot water into plastic containers to then pour on me.  She drizzles a 10” high mound of thick soap suds on me, all as result of squeezing special soapy water through a thin muslin cloth.   She alternates between rinsing, “sudsing” and scrubbing me and when she is finished my skin is pink, shiny and very clean.

Ottoman Turkish Bath
Ottoman Turkish Bath

I slosh across the lobby to return to the locker area and retrieve my clothes.  A few shirtless Turkish men lounge in the lobby on plastic lounge chairs, and they invite me to join them for tea and lounging.  Not in the mood to make small talk and practice my seven Turkish words that I’ve learned, I politely decline and request a ride back to the main section of Kusadasi.   Soon Melissa, the two Brits, and I are driven back to town and we part ways.  It turns out to be a good experience and is fun to refresh my memory from my first Turkish bath over fifteen years ago.   It is not surprising that not much has changed, given that Turkish baths date back to the Ottoman Empire.

Byzantine This, Ottoman That

Thick sour cigarette smoke welcomed me at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport and it was umm….not welcome. Trying to escape the fumes, I ducked behind one offending smoker and instead met an invisible wall of bus and taxi exhaust. After traveling for nearly 24 hours, I simply wanted a fresh salad, a hot shower and a tasty adult beverage – and not necessarily in that order. But the assault on my senses meant that fresh air quickly jumped to the top of my Want List.

Soon I arrived at my hotel and was relieved to breathe the fresh air that drifted in from the Sea of Marmara. Located just across the street from the water’s edge, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant is the perfect place to unwind from the red-eye flight. It overlooks much of the neighborhood in Sultanahmet where the ancient Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia are beautifully lit at night.

When it was time to explore, I knew I would not learn all the rich (and lengthy) history of Istanbul, but I would appreciate all the beautiful architecture, mosaics and art. First came Byzantine church architecture, Byzantine Empire history, and Byzantine gold mosaics. Then came Ottoman Empire history, Ottoman opulence, and Ottoman antiquities. Visiting places such as Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Spice Bazaar, and Hippodrome provided a good history lesson that I summarized as too extensive to master! I visited about 112 of the 5,000 shops at the famous Grand Bazaar – founded as a simple marketplace in the Byzantine times and then upgraded in the Ottoman times. It flourishes today with often over-priced carpets, scarves, food, ceramics, leather goods, shoes and purses. Shoppers are expected to haggle.

Not far from Galata Tower, which provides a great ariel view of the city from about 50 meters high, friends wandered into Taksim Square and enjoyed “participating” in a mild protest/demonstration. My Turkish guide, Shilo, told me that demonstrations are often peaceful and seemingly scheduled, so it is not uncommon to see a special interest group set up a table and hand out pamphlets for a few hours.

Istanbul is a busy city, thriving on more than its fair share of Byzantine and Ottoman history. The locals seem friendly, the streets have the most uneven cobblestone I have ever walked across, and the prices for the good food are reasonable. The sites I see and the stories I hear fall into the “wow” category and I cannot pick a favorite. If shown a map of Istanbul, I will simply close my eyes, point to different areas of the city, and aptly say Byzantine This, Ottoman That. It will be fitting.

Boulder Ironman Finish

I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as I jogged across the finish line at the Inaugural Boulder Ironman http://www.ironman.com this summer. Earlier in the day, the Ironman staff and volunteers had laid bright red carpet along the 13th Street finish chute and had lined the runners’ path with metal crowd control stanchions. My friend Ann was on the other side of the line, snapping photos as I crossed under the digital clock and celebratory signs.

Crossing the Boulder Ironman Finish Line
Crossing the Boulder Ironman Finish Line

Thousands of elite athletes, regular athletes and their support teams descended upon Boulder, Colorado that week, all with one thing in mind: get the athlete successfully across the finish line. The 140.6 mile route was the classic Ironman journey of pain: 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles (yes, a full marathon!) of running.

The morning had started early for me: the swim start line was not too far from where I lived, and a man’s voice over the loudspeaker traveled across the Boulder Reservoir as he organized the first wave of swimmers to get ready to start. Note: I was still in bed when I heard the loudspeaker; oops, I was going to be late…

So Ann and I met at a street corner and cycled our way towards the first transition area where athletes would switch from swimming to biking. Since we were too late to see the awesome athletes, we improvised. We started out on our own version of the Ironman. Florescent orange tape marked the official route and it was easy to follow along.

Boulder Ironman Road Sign
Boulder Ironman Road Sign

Obeying the rules of the road, we stopped at all stop signs and red traffic signals. I enthusiastically waved at the stopped drivers and exclaimed, “Hi! We’re in the Ironman, can’t you tell?!!” They all took half a second to realize I was facetious, but most played along and yelled back, “Yeah, of course I can tell! Keep up the good work, and good luck!”

We made our way to 13th Street, where the finish line was ready and waiting. However it was at least 6 hours before the first uber athlete would officially cross the line to win the race, the digital clock had not yet been turned on, and no crowds had gathered. That meant the coast was clear: I stepped on the red carpet, and in my cycling cleats, I jogged 20 yards across the line for my own personal photo op. I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.

Not all who wander are lost

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