Photos for your Easter Basket


“A picture is worth a thousand words.

Camogli at sunset

I recently visited my friend Karen, who rents an adorable apartment above the town of Camogli on the Italian coast south of Genoa.  She was my guide for five days as we explored this bellissima region.  Following are photos which say it all.

View of Camogli from Karen’s balcony

Karen at her favorite spot in San Rocco, about a half-hour walk from her apartment. Right, Camogli.

San Fruttuoso, a restored Romanesque abbey, can only be reached by boat from Camogli or on foot via a hiking trail. We opted for the boat.

We had several hours to wait for our return boat. The only restaurant had not yet opened for the season, but the beach was a delight for relaxation.

Manarola, above, is one of the five Cinque Terre villages perched and nestled along Italy’s rocky Ligurian coast. They are a magnet for tourists, especially Americans after travel writer Rick Steves touted their merits. Many years ago husband Bob and I hiked the trail between the villages. It was magnificent – not packed with the masses. At this writing, parts of the trail are closed for repairs. Karen and I visited four villages by train.

Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre villages

Lots of tourists, mainly Americans, visited Vernazza, the most popular village, in March, well before the tourist season.

Portofino is another tourist hot spot.
Karen and I enjoyed a pricey lunch in Portofino.
Along the coast near Portofino

We followed the recommendation of a German tourist and hiked to the Portofino lighthouse. Right, another view of Portofino

Nino, a very affectionate and friendly cat, belongs to the owner of Karen’s apartment who lives below her. I thought Nino was one of those rare cats with two different coloured eyes. Not so, I learned. The blue eye minus the pupil is his souvenir of a cat fight he lost.
Was this cat an ancient ancestor of Nino?. This portrait of a monk and his cat hangs on the walls of San Fruttuoso.

Only in Italy: My hotel room window had a clothes line outside (left) — very practical. Clothes hanging out to dry decorate many buildings in Italy.

One more photo of Camogli

Albergo La Camogliese, a centrally located hotel in Camogli, is affordable with friendly, helpful staff. You even get a clothes line outside your window.

My other writing projects, Immigrants on the Italian border and Alzheimer- caregivers and victims, are on the burner.

If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.

Looking Ahead

A complicated tale of money, violence, crime, racism, lies, traffickers,  a story of misery, tragedy, heartbreak and death:  Immigrants on the Italian- French border.

I met this friendly young man from Guinea in Ventimiglia. He told me he fled his corrupt, poverty-ridden country by boat from Tunisia. He wanted to continue on to France where he hoped to find work since he speaks
French. He was very proud of his flashy red sport garb from Guinea where he was a “footballer” and also a sports reporter.

There are similarities to the dreadful situation on the Mexican-US border.  Thousands and thousands risking their lives to escape conflict, persecution, famine, death. The journeys are dangerous, often plagued with violence, theft, and hunger.   They only want a chance at life, to have food and shelter, to work, to live in peace.  They deserve that chance.  Will they get it?

Relier volunteers filling food sacks for the immigrants.

I live in France just 20 auto minutes from the French-Italian border.  I recently started  volunteering  with a French organization, Relier, offering assistance to the homeless immigrants in Ventimiglia, the Italian border town. The majority are young, black males  from dozens of different African countries .  Most want to enter France, perhaps proceed to other European countries.  In this part of France, they are not welcome.

Immigrants in Ventimiglia enjoying a free meal provided by Relier, a volunteer organization .

It is a complex topic. I plan to write a more extensive article/blog soon.  I need more time and research.  Watch this space.

Another topic I am very involved with is Alzheimer.  For four plus years I have watched this cruel disease slowly destroy my husband.  I will write more on that too, with a focus on the dedicated caregivers devoted to the lost and confused.

Bob Update

Bob brushes a rabbit at his new home. Rabbits, cats and dogs visit once a month to the delight of the residents.

I had hoped to post a blog on one of the above sooner,  but since that has not been possible, and it’s been so long since I have posted, I wanted to give a preview of what’s on my agenda.  And, an update on husband Bob since my last post:  Christmas without the Merry.

The helpers I mentioned in that post,  Kyle and Paola, were fabulous, although Paola quit after three days.  Apparently, it was too much for her.  I could not have survived without Kyle. He managed Bob with perfection and helped me keep my sanity. It was not easy for either of us.  The accident (fall and broken pelvis in several places) greatly accelerated the Alzheimer.  Bob was confined to a  hospital  bed in the living room.  He was difficult, especially  at night when he was very agitated and slept little. 

This restaurant at Les Citronniers, Bob’s home, is for the non Alz residents. I can accompany him there from time to time for a tasty meal, with wine of course.

After three weeks, Kyle and I, both exhausted,  came to the same conclusion.  We could not continue.  Fortunately, I found a place for Bob in a near-by EHPAD, a type of French medicalized senior citizen home.  He is in the Alzheimer unit with 14 others.  The staff are patient, caring.  The food is good, very French with four-course meals and a gouter (snack) in the afternoon. The ambience is pleasant–  bright, clean and spacious. He has never asked to leave, to come home.  I don’t think he remembers our apartment nor realizes where he is and why. That is sad, but probably a blessing. I visit daily. 

If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.

Christmas without the Merry

Apollo Statue, Place Massena, Nice, France

Happy Christmas. May your holiday season be filled with joy, fun, good food and loving company.

Unfortunately, this will not be the merriest of Christmases for us. On December 2, husband Bob fell in Nice. We had been enjoying the spectacular lights, the Christmas market and lively ambiance. He was especially relaxed and happy which made me very happy.

Bob enjoyed oysters, a French holiday special, just before the dreadful fall in Nice.

But it all came to a tragic end. He was transported by ambulance to a Nice hospital where X-rays and a scan showed he had broken his pelvis in three places. He spent six days in the hospital. I alternated between commuting and staying in a hotel so I could visit. I was not pleased, neither with the care nor the hospital personnel. I decided he would be better off at home where I could care for him.

Since he is supposed to be bedridden for six weeks, this is especially challenging. His Alzheimer is advanced to the stage that he neither remembers nor understands. I realized I could not cope alone. Thanks to recommendations from friends, I was able to find live-in, 24-hour care. Kyle, who is with us five days per week, is a young and robust Filipino who is a master at changing Bob’s diaper and cleaning him up. Paola is Italian, the quintessential Italian mama She is with us two days per week and is an excellent cook. These Christmas angels are a blessing.

We visited an orthopedic specialist at the local hospital this week. Good news. Bob can now sit up (previously this was forbidden) and can begin to practice walking in early January. And, he can use a chair toilet which is now next to the hospital bed in the living room. (A super Christmas present)
I am hoping there will be an opening for him at the hospital’s rehabilitation center. He will need serious physical therapy.

Paola prepared a delicious roast sea bass.

Life is full of ups and downs. Bob and I are very fortunate. We have had lots of wonderful ups.

Nice Christmas trees

We are also very lucky to be part of the French health care system and its generous benefits. Not perfect, but:

1) We paid nothing for Bob’s hospital stay, all the tests, medications.
2) We paid nothing for the ambulance trip from the hospital back to our home, about a 45-minute trip, nothing for the ambulance trips from our apartment to the local hospital for X-rays and doctor appointments.
3) All prescription medications and doctor visits are completely covered.
4) A nurse comes daily to give an anti-coagulant injection at no cost to us.
5) A nurse comes twice per week to draw blood for a lab test – all covered.
6) And, we have been supplied with an amazing array of equipment for an at-home hospital. No charge for rental and delivery of a hospital bed, bed table, wheel chair, walker, therapeutic lounge chair, and the chair toilet.

In addition we are entitled to regular check-up visits by a nurse and twice per day visits for aides to come and bathe him, change him. We are on the waiting list for these. There is a serious lack of medical personnel in France. Fortunately, we have our at-home help.

Kyle helps Bob into the potty chair.

It is not all roses. I was not thrilled with his Nice hospital stay. I found the staff – nurses, aides, interns – cold, lacking in empathy, concern. Once when I needed assistance with him, neither a nurse nor aide was to be found for almost an hour. During the entire six days at the hospital, we never saw a full-fledged doctor, including 11 hours in the emergency room. It was frustrating and depressing. Apparently, it is the same problem – not enough personnel. But those at the Pasteur hospital in Nice need a Dale Carnegie course: “How to win Friends.” Just a smile and “How are you today?” would have made a big difference.

Happy Happy New Year. Be careful. Stay healthy.

Thanks for reading, following Tales and Travels. And a special thanks for commenting. I love hearing from you.

Click below, then scroll way down to Leave a Reply.

I finally added a new recipe: Chicken Paprikash, inspired by our fabulous visit to Budapest in September. See Today’s Taste above right, or scroll way down if viewing on a phone.

If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.

Behind the Scenes in Budapest

Heroes’ Square in Budapest

During our recent visit to Budapest, like most I was dazzled by the city’s grandeur.  But I wanted to dig a bit deeper. Hungary’s autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been accused of stifling press freedom, of undermining democracy.  The European Union accuses him of “electoral autocracy.”  He has rewritten the constitution to consolidate his power.  Election laws have been changed to favor his party. He has undermined the independence of the courts He has sealed the country’s borders with Serbia and Croatia with fences which are being made taller and taller to keep immigrants out. 

“We move, we work elsewhere, we mix within Europe, but we don’t want to be a mixed race, a multi ethnic people who would mix with non-Europeans,” Orbán said at a conference in Romania in July.

The racist comment was denounced by many world leaders.  He later tried to walk it back. (During my four  days in Budapest, I saw only four black people.)

 It is no surprise that Orbán is a darling of American MAGA Republicans. He spoke at the August Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas. Trump entertained him at his New Jersey club, and Orbán is rooting for Trump’s return in 2024.

Vaci Utca is a popular pedestrian shopping street in Budapest.

Tourists enjoy Budapest unaware of political turmoil.  Life seems good.  Restaurants are full.  Merchandise is plentiful.  But, since there are too many dangerous similarities to the current political climate in the US, I was curious. What does the “man on the street” have to say about Orbán. I asked a few folks, as well as a journalist colleague.  The following is not meant to be a definitive treatise on Hungarian politics, just a brief glimpse behind the scenes.

“It’s shame what is going on in my country because of Orbán, journalist friend Agnes told me. “Hungary is not Hungary anymore. It is Orbánia. Democracy does not exist in my country.” She explained that only one newspaper and one television station report real news, the truth. Others spew government propaganda.

“We are not as bad as Russia yet, but we are going in that direction.  Slowly the government is trying to kill a free way of thinking.”   The education system, she said, is in a “critical state.”  Teacher’s salaries are very low.  Young people no longer want to be teachers.  There was a major demonstration on October 6 with 10,000 students, teachers and parents blocking a bridge to support teachers’ fight for higher salaries.

Among the people I spoke with,  some share Agnes’ opinions on Orbán.  Others love their leader. 

A 74-year-old woman at a bus stop who is “very proud of Hungary”  had this to say:  “Believe me there are no problems in Hungary. It is not by chance that Orbán won for the fourth time.”

Edith, another elderly woman, is also an Orbán, fan. I asked about democracy and freedom.

“Everything is free here, Look around. What is not free?” Edith asked.

A young man hawking souvenirs agreed.  ‘I do what I want to do.  If we had no democracy that would not be possible.”

At a paprika stand in the Great Market Hall, I spoke to a young vendor with an opposing view. “People in the countryside are brainwashed,” he said.  “They only have three TV stations all controlled by the government.  People in cities see the reality, but these are hard times… the economy, the war in Ukraine.  What can we do?”

Indeed, the country is not in great shape. The economy is heading into a recession.  The currency, the florint, has plunged to new lows.  Inflation has risen to double digits.

Daniel;, a 24-year-old waiter, left his home in a country village to find work in Budapest, but he is now looking for work outside of Hungary. “I want to leave Hungary. Things are getting worse.” According to Agnes, Daniel is not alone. “Many young people are leaving the country,” she said.

Daniel considers the political situation “very bad…almost as bad as Russia…there is no democracy.”  He said he does not vote because there is no one better than Orbán. “That’s our problem.  Our politics are very amateur.”

“The opposition is impotent,” Agnes said.  “They do nothing.  There are no strong characters.”

The war in Ukraine is another divisive topic.  According to “fake” Hungarian news, Ukraine invaded Russia.  I spoke to a young souvenir salesman who echoed Orbán’s rhetoric on the war. “If the West stopped supplying Ukraine with weapons,  the war would be over in two months,” he said.  “You went to war in Syria and many other countries.  No one cared.  Why do you care about Ukraine now?”

Elena, a Ukrainian who fled war in her country and is now working in Budapest, finds that many she meets live in a vacuum, watching and listening only to state news.  She explains reality and shows pictures from Ukraine.  She has changed many minds, she says.  “This country still has a post-Soviet footprint.  It needs to change.”

Orbán has been prime minister in Hungary since 2010, steering the country farther and farther to the right.  Poland has followed his example.  Far Right Democrats in Sweden did so well in recent elections, they pushed the center-left from power. Giorgia Meloni, a far right candidate, was the winner in Italy’s recent election. Trump and MAGA Republicans are hoping to be on the same track in the US.

The scenario is precarious.

“I feel ashamed that I am Hungarian,” Agnes said.  I hope I will not have to say that I am ashamed to be an American

Architectural gem in Budapest. There are many.

If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.

Picture Budapest

Dynamic, bustling, beautiful.  Old architectural wonders.  Luxurious thermal baths.  Trendy boutiques. Innovative eateries.  A lively after-dark scene.  Friendly, helpful folk -many speaking English.

Budapest’s Parliament is one of the largest parliament buildings in the world. It was inaugurated in 1902.

Budapest, the “Paris of the East,” is a fun and interesting place to visit.  Husband Bob and I recently joined a group of eight from the British Association in Menton, France (near where we live) for  a cheap Whiz Air flight from Nice to Budapest.  All was grand until our return flight was canceled due to the air traffic controller’s strike in France. Getting home was complicated – a day waiting at the airport, an evening flight to Milan where we spent the night, then train and taxi. Nonetheless, we all survived and are happy we experienced this exciting city. 

Overlooking the city on the Danube

Following are photos of our visit.  I will be writing more soon:  A post featuring the views of Hungarians on their far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban,  and another on food.  As an American journalist, I was curious to learn why Orban, a buddy of Donald Trump and chummy with Vladimir Putin, is so popular at home. As a passionate foodie, I was intrigued with the history of Hungarian cuisine and its specials (more than goulash).  Stay tuned.

If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.

The Parliament – encore.
The Great Market Hall, a major attraction, was built in 1897. It has three floors of goodies, from fruits and veggies to souvenirs, pickles and paprika.
We enjoyed an evening dinner cruise on the Danube with serenading musicians.
Budapest is a wonder of treasures from important eras of European architectural history. The Parigi Palace, above, is from the early 20th century.
The Dohany Street Synagogue (1854-’59), Europe’s largest synagogue, is a blend of Neo-Morrish, folkloristic Hungarian and Jewish styles.
Classy Old World cafes are a Budapest delight.
Many in our group spent a day at Szechenyi Baths, just one of many in the city often called “The City of Spas.” BudapestBand/Bartha Dorka
We attended a fabulous organ concert at St. Stephen’s Basilica, named after Hungary’s first king.
The Neo-Renaissance Hungarian State Opera House (1884) has recently been renovated.
interesting building decor.
Our group in Budapest

More coming soon, including – at long last recipes.

If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.