They were not impressed, excited, nor interested. Stretched out in their large cages, they did what cats do best: Sleep. The 145 cats entered in the first international cat show of Monaco were quite content to catnap through their two days of glory. That’s how cats spend some 15 hours per day, even as many as 20 hours – snoozing. No need to let a cat show interrupt your beauty slumber.
When it was their turn to be in the spotlight, on the stage to be examined from tail to ears, they were tolerant, seemingly bored. No doubt many of these champions and would-be champions had been down this road before.
Such is the life of fancy cats. I love cats. I have three, but mine are your basic alley-cat variety – all rescues. Nonetheless when I learned of the cat show in nearby Monaco, I convinced hubby (not as enamored of felines as I am) to join me to check out the cats.
Enormous cats. Hairless cats. Long-haired cats. Cats of all colors. Thirty-nine different breeds to admire. I had no idea there were so many kinds of kitties, but I learned that The International Cat Association (TICA) recognizes 71 standardized breeds.
The favorite, most popular breed is the Maine Coon. These cats are big – huge. I was smitten with Pegase de Nikko Coon, a big boy who weighs in at 10 kilos (22 pounds). His proud owner, Christiane Phily, touted that he was still growing. His grandfather weighed 14 kilos (30 pounds), she told me. She has 20 of these giant felines known for their pleasant personality. “They are very impressive. They look wild, but they have an adorable character,” she said. Her starting price for a Maine Coon, about 1,000 euros ($1,170).
Years ago, when seeking a replacement for my beloved Buddy, a large and affectionate black cat, I decided after all my years of owning rescue cats, I was entitled to upgrade to a genuine pedigreed pet. I wanted a Maine Coon. Husband Bob, who is more than indulgent of my passion for cats, agreed to drive to a breeder some 3 hours away. I had wanted a male, but there was only one young male for sale. He was pretty, but he cowered in the back of the cage, not exhibiting the extrovert personality of the breed. Price tag was 600 euros.
I thought long and hard. I pictured all those pitiful, homeless cats in shelters. I could rescue one for a small donation. Did I really want to spend 600 euros on a cat? This one did not convince me. We drove home catless. The next day I went to the local shelter and came home with not one, but two tiny kittens – my girls Simba and Oprah. Sisters (twins), they almost look like mini Maine Coons.
In addition to cats coming from all over France for a chance at fame, the cat show included exhibits of haute gamme cat food, “adapted to the carnivorous diet of cats” (I came home with some free samples), cat toys, trees, beds. One exhibitor offered information on animal communication by telepathy. She claims to communicate with pets and transmit their messages to owners. She also offers courses in “animal communication and magnetism.” If you wanted a portrait of your cat, another offered animal aquarelles.
I had hoped to take some quality cat photos, but this was beyond my skills. The viewing wall of the cat cages was a sheet of reflective vinyl. The lighting was tricky. The backgrounds were dreadful. When not sleeping (boring photos), the cats were in motion.
I tried. Below are some classy cats, plus my not-so-classy cats.
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See Today’s Taste for a winning pasta recipe featuring egpplant, one of my favorites.
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I may be one of few who is not overwhelmed with Costa Rica. I did not dislike the beautiful country. The beaches are grand. The people are delightful. The food is good. But, I have been to too many other places that are more “me.” I had hopes of sighting interesting critters in the jungle on “safari” treks. I spotted few.
The critters are there. I suspect too many tourists have been tromping through the jungle, following guides with telescopes, sending the animals deep into the bush in search of peace and quiet.
While husband Bob spent two weeks with his daughter Kellie who has a holiday home in Costa Rica, I toured – on my own but with pre-arranged transportation between destinations. I joined guided tours through parks and to noteworthy sights during my visit last January
The Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s most popular national park and where I joined my first guided hike. Groups like ours, all dutifully following a guide with a large telescope on a tripod, crowded the trails. Word spread quickly of a sighting. Instantly more guides, telescopes and tourists appeared.
Excitement was high at the sighting of a sloth hidden high in dense tree foliage. With the naked eye it was impossible to see anything but leaves. Those with gigantic zoom lenses (there were many) did manage to spot the creature. The rest of us relied on the guide’s telescope. Yet, even with high powered vision, all I could see was a tuft of fur.
This ritual was repeated time after time. The guide, with trained eyes and jungle experience, would spot a creature– various kinds of birds, lizards, sloths – camouflaged in the dense growth. Each of her followers then had a turn for a telescope view. And then, a keepsake photo with their cell phone camera which the guide placed, one by one, on the telescope.
It was steamy humid. I grew impatient and bored. I kept thinking of Africa where majestic creatures are often easy to spot. The tour ended on a beach where hundreds of monkeys frolicked. Monkeys may not be exotic, but they are fun and easy to see. I loved them.
More monkeys, iguanas, a rare lizard, all kind of birds, a deer – I saw them all on the grounds of the Posada Jungle Hotel adjacent to Manuel Antonio park where I spent four nights. This was better than a guided safari, and at my doorstep. The beach near the hotel was fabulous, for swimming and sunset viewing. I spent several evenings aiming for the perfect sunset shot while sipping a mojito.
Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano is a stunning sight. I was lucky. It is often hidden in clouds, but I saw it in all its glory. There have been no regular volcano eruptions since 2010. The surrounding region is popular for hiking and all sorts of rugged,extreme adventure. I opted for gentle adventure, a hanging bridge hike and another hike near the volcano.
Hanging bridges are common in the Costa Rican jungle. I was intrigued. It is exciting, even a tinge scary, to walk high above gorges on these structures which gently sway as you cross.
After the near-the-volcano hike, we set off to the Tobacon Hot Springs, a jungle wonderland of hot springs, pools, waterfalls, streams – all a bit kitschy, but crazy fun.
Birds were the star attraction during my relaxing boat tour of the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge near the Nicaraguan border. The guide entertained us with interesting facts about Costa Rica, as well as river wildlife, as we
drifted past lush rainforest and wetlands. In addition to the birds, we saw bats, a few crocodiles, a lizard… but nothing that thrilled me. I am spoiled. It’s hard to beat being up close and personal with mountain gorillas. (See previous post, “Gorillas in our Mist” Dec. 2015)
I was underwhelmed – and freezing – on the Monteverde Cloud Forest guided hike. This time it was cold and rainy. We learned a lot about various kinds of trees and vines, but – even with the telescope – spotted no exciting wildlife.
The van rides from one destination on my itinerary to the next were often long. The scenery, sometimes spectacular, and chatting with other passengers made the trips interesting. I met folks from the US, Canada, Scotland, England and Israel, including several young female backpackers en route to yoga retreats. Costa Rica is big with the yoga set. There were serious hikers and surfers. Costa Rica is also popular with surfers.
However, I did not come to Costa Rica to surf, nor to soothe my soul during a yoga retreat. Unfortunately I am too old for zip lining and canyoning. Spotting an illusive creature through a telescope did not thrill me. Granted, the beaches are super, but I do not need to travel so far for a fabulous beach
So, Costa Rica does not rank among my favorites, yet I am glad I experienced the country. And, tasted Costa Rican ceviche – a memorable culinary delight. Kellie shared her recipe. Click on photo top right.
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I was draped in shimmering scarves. A colorful turban perched atop Bob’s head. We boarded an oxcart, sat regally on pillows, and set off, bumping along a dusty road, en route to “ a mesmerizing, surreal dinner.”
Soon it would be dark, but it was still light enough to admire distant mountains, lonely cows foraging for food and the occasional villager checking on his sheep. We were headed to a 16th century step well in the hills surrounding Rawla Narlai, an ancient hunting manor turned hotel/resort deep in Rajasthan, India.
Step wells are just that – subterranean Indian architectural structures, wells accessed by a series of steps down to a pool of water.
Dinner at the edge of this ancient well was good, but it was the ambience that deserves the stars. Magic and mystical. Seven hundred oil lamps flickered all around the deep hole. Hypnotic sounds echoed from the eerie darkness. Costumed waiters mysteriously appeared offering us all manner of delicacies on silver trays.
OK. It is all very touristy and not the kind of experience we usually opt for during our travels. But, we were the only tourists. Just us, the waiters, and a few musicians in the midst of this wild and weird setting. When there are more participants (almost always), more entertainment accompanies the spectacle. We had it all to ourselves, and it was indeed “mesmerizing,”as promised in the literature.
Not many tourists visit Rajasthan, India’s best-loved region, in May when temperatures reach 45 C°, (113 F°) – even above. But, after attending Alok and Ankita’s April 2018 Wedding (see previous post June 21, 2018), we wanted to see more of India. It was hot, very hot, but we survived. We did all on the itinerary except the ride on the legendary Kipling Train, “only 3rdclass.” We were told the train was not running, but I suspect the tour operator felt two old geezers would likely succumb on the two-hour “rudimentary” journey in that heat. He may have been right.
It was a disappointment, but we feasted on so much during our fascinating Rajasthan journey — and I do not mean food. There was plenty of that, but, for the most part, a bit too fiery for us. Palaces, temples, forts, gardens, crafts, folk art, bustling cities, varied landscape — Rajasthan has all.
The idyllic “holy” village of Narlai sits at the base of an imposing rock hill topped with a colossal elephant statue. We, and an Indian family, were the only guests at Rawla, our 32-room abode that originally belonged the King of Jodhpur and served as a retreat for the royal family.
We followed a hotel employee for a guided village walk, were invited inside a few houses, and marveled at a newly reconstructed Jain temple. We witnessed the daily religious fire ceremony.
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which preaches non-injury to living creatures and re-incarnation. Many Jains from Narlai, as well as Hindis, have gone off to work in big cities, but own property in the village and contribute generously to its temples (300 in the village of 10,000).
For me the crème de la crème of the Indian trip waited up in the hills – a sighting of the secretive and seldom-seen leopard. See previous post: “India’s Big Cats.”
Narlai may not be on the average Rajasthan itinerary for foreigners. Our “morning walk through the pink city,” offered by the Samode Haveli in Jaipur was also off the beaten tourist track. This, like the other hotels where we stayed in Rajasthan, is a heritage hotel, a lavish palace still owned by maharajas but converted into a hotel.
We left the hotel at 6 a.m. and followed the hotel manager to places not on the tourist circuit . Most guided tours offer nothing “out of the box,” he said, so the hotel came up with this tour to show visitors more of Jaipur than the city’s top sights, the Amber Fort and city palace museum.
We visited the market, stopped for tastings of street food specials, and we learned, about garbage collection, street sweepers, religion and more.
Hindis believe that all living things have souls and cannot be killed. As an animal lover, I am intrigued with the sacred, ubiquitous cows, stray dogs, and monkeys. The cows that wander freely everywhere usually belong to someone, he said.
The owners tie up the calves and let the mothers roam, knowing they will come back to their babies. The dogs, he said, usually have homes of sort too. “Everyone makes so much food so they give leftovers to the dogs.” The dogs return and “guard the house.” Beware of monkeys. We noticed a group of the rascals on our walk. “That one is especially bad,” he said, pointing to the “dominant male…. He sends his troops out to scout houses. If the coast is clear, they return and raid the place. They know how to open refrigerators. They are very intelligent.”
Visiting Rajasthan’s magnificent palaces and forts is impressive, awesome. We also especially enjoyed a visit to a tiny enclave of Bishnoi, a tribe known for love of wild animals. The tribal leader, a jovial character, showed us how he wraps 15 meters of cloth around his head to form his turban. He insisted we taste Bhang, a very potent brew which “can make you crazy.” Alcohol is supposedly forbidden, but “Lord Shiva likes Bhang so much we offer it to him,” – and have a healthy shot in the process.
Rajasthan is all about color: vibrant saris wrapped around women; towering vivid, turbans crowning men’s heads; markets bursting with colorful vegetables, fabric and jewelry. Even towns are associated with color, Jaipur, “the pink city;” and Jodhpur, “the blue town.”
“A picture is worth a thousand words” Enough of my words. Scroll down for more picture highlights of Rajasthan.
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Our fascinating 11-day tour of Rajasthan was organized by Wild Frontiers. Accommodations in the gorgeous maharaja palace hotels were fabulous.www.wildfrontiers.co.uk
By popular request following a Facebook photo, Today’s Taste features a decadent and delicious recipe. Click on photo above right for details.
First stop, Winchester, Virginia. Stepson Rob and grandsons Samuel and Lang live outside the city in a lovely country location below the ridge of Big Schloss Mountain, part of the Appalachian chain. Their house, which we had not seen, is spacious and tastefully decorated by Rob – with a few treasures from Germany donated by his father.
Rob drove us around the picturesque area with stops at the Muse Winery Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River and a visit to the Woodstock Brew House in the town of Woodstock, Va. The artisanal beer was a treat, as was another German favorite,
sauerbraten at a German restaurant in nearby Harrisonburg
On the way home from dinner we passed a Krispy Kreme donut store. They were excited. The red light was on. ?? We learned this means donuts are coming off a conveyor belt to be doused with glaze. Purchase them fresh and warm and enjoy on the spot. “You will love these,” they insisted. The boys had more than one each… Bob and I failed to share their love of Krispy Kreme. We’ll take croissants, merci. But, good to know about that red light. And, the German dinner was wunderbar.
Bob spent several days with Rob and the boys, then flew on to Ohio for a reunion with six of his seven brothers and sisters, as well as many nieces and nephews. They had a belated b’day celebration for Bob, 80 last October. I flew west to San Diego for a reunion with some of my family.
My brrother Tom, who now lives in San Francisco, wanted a reunion in San Diego where he had worked for several years. Brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie came from Boulder. Nephew David and his mother Joan came from Kentucky. Missing was brother Dave, Joan’s husband and David’s father, who had work commitments and could not join the fun.
Tom was our guide. He made sure we visited famed Balboa Park, his beloved Coronado, downtown landmarks and more. Thanks to nephew David, who combined business with pleasure, we were chauffeured in style. His rental car was upgraded to a gleaming, cherry red Cadillac. A tight squeeze, but we all piled in for a scenic ride up the coast to La Jolla where we took lots of photos of seals.
More seal photo opps awaited on our sailboat adventure with Captain Charley in the San Diego Bay. We enjoyed superb views of the city skyline, sailed past the Naval Base, and, in addition to seals, watched dolphins training to detect mines. All beautiful, fun and relaxing, until Joan realized her Iphone was missing — not to be found on board. It obviously had disappeared overboard. Although the phone was insured, most of the photos had not been backed up. Lesson learned: back up all.
Balboa Park, San Diego’s “cultural heart” with 17 museums, gardens, the city’s famous Zoo, plus stunning Spanish-Renaissance architecture, is impressive. Tom recommended a visit to the Botanical Building with more than 2,100 permanent plants, including collections of tropical plants and orchids. Alas, it was closed for cleaning. Instead we went to the Japanese Friendship Garden.
Yoshie, who is Japanese, enlightened us on many aspects of this marvelous garden with its streams and pools where vibrantly colored Koi (Japanese carp) swim.
My favorite part of the San Diego visit was the Ocean Beach street fair. It is a regular happening, we learned, a feast for foodies with a range of international culinary treats: Mexican burritos, Chinese steamed buns, paella, lobster rolls, tangy East African specials, pizza – even crème brulee. Plus – lively music — and dancing in the street. Tom and I joined the dancers.
We ended California family fun at the beach in Coronado watching the sun set with a Margarita in hand. All agreed. We should have these reunions more often.
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Coming soon: Rajasthan, the best of India, and then, Costa Rica, which followed this US trip. If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared.
A new taste — trout for fish lovers. See recipe, click on photo above right,
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In April I joined my friend Wilma and 11 other German tourists for a 15-day tour of northern India and Kashmir. The advertising campaign touts the country as “Incredible India.” It is – as well as intriguing. Following are some aspects I found incredibly intriguing during my travels.
PEOPLE: My favorite part of India. They are the friendliest, kindest, gentlest, most open and talkative folk. Indians often approach and start a conversation. Where are you from? Do you like India? They ask to have their photo taken with you, and they eagerly pose for photos. On a train, they share their food. In Kashmir, I was invited to join a picnic. When I had a nasty crash during one of my solitary escapades in the boondocks of Kashmir (details in future post) two young men came to my aid, offered comfort and a ride.
My seat mates on our train ride to Agra were delightful: A retired gentleman and a recently-married young woman, Shruti. We chatted non-stop. I learned a lot about India.
Poverty in the country is overwhelming. There are beggars. At the tourist sites, the souvenir sales crew do pester. But, if you reply with a firm NO, they usually back off. Many have mastered salesmanship. “You look like a movie star,” a crafty fellow at the
Khajuraho temple known for its erotic sculptures told me. My hair was a disaster. I was hot, sweaty, tired and felt like an ancient hag. He won. I bought the bronze bowl with the sexy etchings which I really did not want, but now I am glad I have this bizarre treasure which brings back fun memories.
Despite the body-to-body throngs in many places, I felt safe in India. I was careful and cautious with my purse and camera, but never felt that someone would accost me and grab my valuables.
Many of my German travel companions were on their fourth or fifth trip to India. “People” is one of the major reasons they keep returning to India, they said. “The people are so friendly. They have so little but they seem satisfied. They have lebensfreude (joie de vivre, zest for life). It fascinates me,” observed Sepp.
MARRIAGE: Some seventy percent of marriages in India are arranged. Shruti, 27, showed me pictures on her phone of her December wedding with 1,000 guests in attendance. She had spent a mere 10-minutes with her husband-to-be before the wedding. They asked each other questions about what kind of life they wanted, what they wanted in a mate. His answers matched her desires. She is obviously happy with her new life and man, and glowed when talking about him. She said some of her friends had married for “love,” but she preferred to honor her parents’ wishes and let them find her a husband. For India, she married late, but “I told my father not to find me a husband until I finished school,” she explained.
As is the custom in India, she now lives with her husband and his mother. Once married, daughters live with their husband and in-laws. This is old age insurance for the parents, assuring that they will always be taken care of. However, problems between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law are legendary and the brunt of numerous jokes.
Shruti has no problems with her mother-in-law, but, unlike most married women in India, she is not in the kitchen cooking with her mother-in-law all day. She has a career and works in a bank. According to guide Rajesh, 70 percent of Indian women are housewives who spend six hours per day in food preparation. Indian cuisine is labor intensive.
My other train companion has two daughters, both married. He had a hard time finding a husband for one of the two as she is overweight, he said. She found a husband on her own.
COWS: Yes, they are sacred. They are everywhere — and perhaps not too bright. Now I understand the German expression: blöde Kuh (stupid cow). Hindus, 80 percent of the Indian population, are vegetarians. Cows are never slaughtered. Thanks to their milk, they are viewed as maternal figures, and are raised for dairy products, as well as plowing the fields. Cow manure is used as fertilizer and fuel.
So, what happens when a cow is too old to give milk or work the fields? The beasts are turned loose and wander freely everywhere, often in the thick of roads clogged with cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, tuk-tuks . Horns blast. Drivers shout. The gentle beasts are oblivious to all. Traffic comes to a standstill. No one wants to hit a cow. There are other places to roam, but India’s cows seem to prefer to be in the midst of the melee.
They thrive on garbage, and there is plenty in India. In Varanasi where we witnessed numerous cremations on the banks of the Ganges, cows – and dogs — munched on the debris around the places where bodies had been burned.
Some lucky cows end up in cow retirement centers, Gaushalas. India has 3,000 of these, but, according to animal husbandry statistics: 45,150,000 cows. Most meander ubiquitously throughout the cities and countryside.
Being an animal lover, I wanted to pet the poor fellows. The guide warned: Don’t touch. If hungry, they might be mean, buck with their horns, he said. I doubt the ones I saw would have had the energy. I obeyed nonetheless. I think these crazy cows add a puzzling, calming charm to India’s chaotic ambience.
TRAFFIC: Cows do complicate the snarling masses of all sorts of vehicles as named above, plus pedestrians often in the midst. How could anyone even think of driving in this madness? The noise is more than incredible. Every driver seems to have his hand plastered on his horn. Who is honking at whom? No way to know. Who has the right of way, other than the bovines? Survival of the fittest. Just plunge ahead and hope for the best.
Hats off to the drivers. We each had a rickshaw for our ride from the hotel to the riverbank in Varanasi. The traffic was abominable, but my skillful rickshaw driver kept his cool, pedaled his vehicle with aplomb, weaving around cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. There were many close calls, making the ride more thrilling than the wildest of roller coasters.
We had frequent long journeys on a comfortable, roomy bus. In India, the bus driver is in a separate glassed in compartment with his assistant sitting next to him. The assistant is de rigueur. Four eyes are needed to watch ahead and to the sides for all-too-frequent obstacles. Our bus assistant also served bottled water, and, in our case, often stopped to purchase bananas for his passengers.
We rode on rutted roads through the countryside and small villages, and on super highways as good as any in the developed world.
Alok told us there are 2,000 traffic deaths per day in India. Many drive without a driver’s license, but a license can be purchased – no test required.
DOGS: There may be as many homeless dogs as there are cows. These canines are not pets, never were. They all are similar in appearance: medium size, short, beige/ tan fur. They wander freely everywhere, but most seem to have enough sense to stay away from auto traffic. They, too, thrive on garbage. None I saw looked malnourished, and they were not vicious. Yet I resisted the urge to pet. Unlike the docile cows, I feared one could bite. After experiencing India’s stray dogs, I came across this article, “The World is Full of Dogs without Collars”: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/19/science/the-world-is-full-of-dogswithout-collars.html?_r=0 It’s an interesting read for animal people.
What about cats? I only saw two during the entire trip. No wonder. With all those hungry dogs, they would end up as dog food.
CONTRASTS: The poverty, filth, garbage, noise and pollution are all mind-boggling. On our last day, Alok wanted us to see the new state-of-the art metro in Delhi. It, too, was mind-boggling: futuristic, spotless, sleek, quiet, fast.
Intriguing. Incredible. That’s India. More to come in future posts: Amritsar and the Sikhs, Dharamshala and Tibetan refugees, Kashmir.
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No Indian recipe this time, but how about tasty Thai – sort of in the same neighborhood? See recipe column at right for Thai-Style Asparagus Beef Curry. Add some spice to spring asparagus. Click on above photo for recipe.Holy Man. Religion is another most intriguing aspect in India. These “holy men” often pose near tourist sites, hoping for a donation.