Spicy Sri Lanka

 

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Banana leaves are used as wraps.

“Add a pinch of chili powder,” Iran instructed, then explained that Sri Lankans would add far more, at least 3 teaspoons. That would definitely pack a punch.  But then, Sri Lankan food is not for sissies. It is HOT.  Well, we thought so.


Happy New Year.  Happy Travels. May 2018 be filled with joy, good health, serenity and discovery. 


Chef Iran prepared seven different dishes for us at his home near Ella in the Sri Lankan hills where he gives cooking lessons.  We helped…and learned.food,21

He adjusts the spices, i.e. the heat factor, to western palates, he explained.  We had a fabulous meal of all his delicacies which we found tasty and just right on the heat scale.

During our two-week tour of the country, we frequently stopped at simple restaurants where buffets of numerous different dishes are the norm. Nimal, our trusty guide and driver, checked with the kitchen staff, then told us which concoctions to avoid — the ones with a fire factor of at least four hot peppers. There were many.  Even some of the supposedly mild ones were too much for us….maybe we are sissies.

Hotel restaurants which cater to international visitors offer both Sri Lankan favorites and western fare.  Sometimes the Sri Lankan specials are toned down, but not always.  I love to try new and different things.  But, after setting my mouth aflame more than once, I learned to start with tiny tastes.

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Fruit salad anyone?

The island nation offers an abundance of fish, exotic fruits, including 20 different kinds of bananas, all manner of vegetables — and spices. Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, mace, tamarind and vanilla are among the Spice Island’s noted products. They grow in abundance all over the island in fertile and diverse soil types and varying temperature conditions, and are important export products.

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Chilies — a Sri Lankan staple

Yet it is chilies which are the most consumed spice and a key ingredient in the national dish, rice and curry, which Sri Lankans eat three times per day.  The curry can be made with vegetables, meat or fish, usually coconut milk, plus a blend of spices which enhance the dish with intense and exotic flavors.

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Bob gets slicing  instructions.

We helped Iran dice and chop to prepare three curries: bean, dahl (lentils) and chicken.  He also made aubergine moju, deviled potato and fresh coconut sambol. The latter is a condiment made from ingredients pounded with chili.

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These chilies have plenty of fire power.

His classroom is simple, a table and two gas burners.  He cooks in coconut oil and makes his own curry powder, a blend of coriander, cumin seeds, curry leaves and cinnamon. He roasts both curry powder and chili powder to give a smoky taste to certain dishes.

His mother taught him to cook, he says, and he is delighted to pass on her knowledge, skills and secrets to eager visitors, like us, from around the world.  Not all take cooking lessons.   “Guides bring guests here for a homemade meal, traditional food.  Sometimes there are groups of 15 or 16.”

Sri Lankans eat their main meal at lunch.  While restaurants offer numerous dishes, “at home we only have rice, one vegetable and one meat, not five or six different ones,” Iran said. When eating, Sri Lankans usually mix all the different preparations together on their plate, resulting in a mush which would not qualify for a Facebook food photo.   They drink alcoholic beverages before the meal, not with it.food.20

Sri Lanka is a land of many religions. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians are even known to visit the same pilgrimage sites. Many are vegetarians, although not necessarily due to religious restrictions.  Nimal said his family does not eat beef.  “Cows are gentle animals and give us milk.  No need to eat them.”  They also reject pork because “pigs are dirty animals.”

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The best places to experience the bounty of Sri Lanka are its markets. During our travels we visited several, all scenes bursting with vibrant color and hectic activity.  At the Pettah markets in Colombo huge trucks overloaded with produce drive through lanes crowded with shoppers.

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The Dambulla Produce market, a vast wholesale market, is the place to see an incredible variety of produce – and to stay out of way of the frantic workers.  A vendor at the market in Kandy gave us samples of fruits we were not familiar with — mangosteen and red bananas. There I purchased spices, for myself and friends.

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Iran gave us several of his recipes.  I tried his chicken curry.  Yummy.  See recipe, top right. food.17

In addition to offering cooking classes and home cooked meals, Iran rents several rooms in his home to guests.  He gets lots of kudos on Trip Advisor.  Contact him at irankarannagoda@gmail.com

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For more on Sri Lanka, see previous posts: Wonders of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife.

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Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@gmail.com and info@dsltours.com) chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating.

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Dried fish find their way into many dishes.

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Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife

As a cat lover (big and small), I was hell-bent on a leopard sighting. This solitary, secretive feline had eluded us on two different safari trips in Africa. Sri Lanka had to be the place.

Sloth bear

Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is said to be home to at least 25 of these beauties. During our February tour of the island nation, we visited that park as well as two others. Sadly, no leopard showed his spots to us. We did see elephants, rabbits, a spotted deer, one wild boar, a mongoose, turtles, lots of birds including numerous peacocks. And, a sloth bear, a rare sighting according to the guide.

Mongoose

“Most tourists don’t see the leopard,” a guide later told me. However, we did learn that the day prior to our visit to Yala and the day after, lucky tourists did spot the evasive cat. We felt cheated.

No leopard, but lots of magnificent elephants. Some 4,000 Asian elephants, an endangered species, make their home in the tiny nation. Herds of 200 or more are a common sight in August and September in Minneriya National Park. The herds we saw in that park were much smaller, 25 to 30, but fascinating. The pachyderms are obviously accustomed to tourists and come very close to the safari vehicles. Guides know many of them by name.ff.41

I was intrigued, touched, with a mini-family grouping. A crippled mother and two offspring, one four years old and the other eight years old, were alone, apart from the herd. The guide explained that the mother, about 40 years old, had been hit by a train. She was left with a bad limp, forcing her to move very slowly. She could not keep up with the herd. Her two offspring stay with her to protect her, he explained.

Elephants need about five square kilometres each to support their 200 kilograms per day appetites. Deforestation and over development in Sri Lanka have diminished their habitat. As in Africa, they encroach on farmland. As in Africa, it’s elephants vs. humans, a challenging conflict.

White birds hang around the elephants we saw. We learned that the elephants, grazing on grass, shake the stuff before eating it. Worms fall out – a tasty meal for the birds.

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Serpent Eagle?

Sir Lanka is a paradise for birders with 400 different species, 26 of which are unique to the country. We saw many on our safaris.

On a visit to a turtle hatchery we learned about the island’s sea turtles which lay their eggs along the coast. Eggs not collected by poachers (turtle egg omelettes are popular) hatch after several weeks and hundreds of baby turtles make their perilous way to the sea. Few survive. Many are devoured by fish and birds. At turtle hatcheries, eggs are collected and hatched in an incubator. After just one day, they are released into the sea at night. Even with this method, only one in 100 survive, about the same as in nature.

The conservation benefits of the hatcheries are limited, but the tiny turtles are adorable. Adult turtles of varying sizes also swim in hatchery tanks. Many have been injured and would not survive in the sea.

The hatchery we visited had been started by the owner’s father in 2000. He died shortly thereafter and his sister took over. She, another sister, their children and his mother all perished in the devastating tsunami which ravaged Sri Lanka in 2004, killing roughly 40,000 of its citizens. The owner and his surviving brother refurbished and reopened the hatchery.

No doubt more popular than its animals and safari parks are Sri Lanka’s beaches. They are grand, but the mountainous interior was my favorite. We spent two nights in the hills above Ella, a picturesque area of tea plantations with splendid views, hiking trails and cooler temperatures…a paradise.

For more on Sri Lanka, see previous post: Wonders of Sri Lanka.

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and info@dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

More photos of Sri Lanka follow.

Unique tree in Peradeniya Botanical Garden in Kandy.
No wonder they call them street dogs,  There are not as many of these homeless dogs in Sri Lanka as in neighboring India, but still too many, and sad.
Only five percent of Asian elephants have tusks. They can live to be 65 years old.

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Sri Lankan tea is famous worldwide. Tea, first planted by the British, thrives in the hill country.

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At last, a new recipe and just in time for those summer blackberries.  Click on photo of berries, upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.

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GERMANS ON THE ROAD

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German tour group at the Taj Mahal

Gerlinde trekked for 12 days in northern Myanmar, a region with no roads, only accessible by small plane and requiring special permission to visit. “It was the best trip ever, such an adventure, no tourists. We did not see a white face for five days,” she said.

Erich traveled by camel, through the Jordanian dessert for a week. He camped in a cave used for burials. “It was very romantic. Normal tourists don’t do this,” he said. He recalled other past adventures: Driving from Germany to Iran; being robbed, a knife at his neck, in eastern Turkey.


I wrote this article for the magazine German Life (www.germanlife.com) where it was recently published. As soon as I conquer a new operating system on my computer, I hope to post more on Sri Lanka.


Sepp has climbed mountains in Pakistan, India and Nepal. He and his wife Inge have been to Morocco, Mauritius, Uzbekistan, all European countries, and recently to India for the fourth time.

Annette returned to Rwanda for the fifth time to hike uphill through dense bamboo forests to observe mountain gorillas. “I am addicted,” she explained.

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Annette, far right, on her fifth trip to Rwanda, a trek to see mountain gorillas.

Many Germans, like those mentioned above, are passionate about travel. While the above adventures may not be among the pursuits of the average tourist, Germans are known, not just for their travel lust, but for seeking out exotic destinations and unique experiences…sometimes too unique

Ivy, a staff member at a safari lodge in Botswana, told a horrifying tale of a German couple who were driving through the game park in a rented car which broke down. The husband left his wife and set out on foot to find assistance. His wife stayed in the car and was rescued. He never returned…only his boots were found.

Most tourists visit the game parks with a group and guide, Ivy said, but “the Germans prefer self-drive.”

Comments on German travelers from a travel web site included this from someone who had worked at a resort hotel in Eilat, Israel: “From all the nations that would make our guests (and workers) it seems that the Germans were the most traveled people.”

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In the Myanmar jungle, Gerlinde encountered leeches.

Another comment: “I was recently in South Africa and let me tell you that I think I met more Germans than South Africans. They are everywhere!!” With six weeks of paid vacation per year, Germans have more time to travel than the average American. Travel they do, especially in winter to escape the oppressive, cold and dark days.

Norbert Fiebig, president of the Deutscher Reise Verband, sums it up on the organization web site: “Germans attach great importance to travelling. Most Germans are fascinated by relaxing holidays and discovering cultures and landscapes that are foreign to them.” Blogger Andrew Couch, who writes about Germany, finds “the quality of life idea of having vacation time is deeply a part of German working culture.”

Perhaps Germans are inspired by the country’s literary giant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) is a classic. Für Naturen wie die meine ist eine Reise unschätzbar: Sie belebt, berichtigt, belehrt und bildet, ” he wrote in a letter to Schiller in 1797. “For natures like mine a journey is invaluable; it animates, corrects, instructs and develops.”

Last year I accompanied a German tour group to northern India. Most of the group, like Sepp and Inge, had been to India numerous times, as well as many other countries. They especially like the friendly people in India, the culture, and “last but not least, the good food,” said traveler Rainer.

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German tourists in Dharamsala, India

Our Indian guide, Rajesh Mendiratta, has been leading German tour groups for 25 years. He started out in the tourist industry working in a hotel. German guests complained that the

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Tour guides Alok and Raj

guides did not speak good German, he recalled. He decided to learn the language, studied at the Goethe Institute in India and became a guide mainly for Germans.

The Germans are interested in learning about everything. They are very correct people. They are appreciative,” he said.

Most in our group knew Raj from previous trips. He has visited some of them in Germany. “They invite me in their homes. I value their friendship,” he said.

For the second portion of our trip, a younger Indian guide, Alok Tripathi, took over. Like many Indians he speaks English, but he decided to learn German and focus on German tourists because “there is too much competition with English.”

He agrees with Raj and has found that “Germans want to learn everything, the culture; traditions…Americans just want to shop.” Yet, Americans get a plus for tips. They are more generous, he said.

According to Raj, Germans rank as the number one nationality visiting India. “They saved us,” he said, referring to the slump in tourism 10 years ago when other nationalities, including the British who had been at the top, cut back on travel to India. Germans kept coming.

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Germans visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, where heads must be covered.

While Germans love India, it is not their favorite foreign destination. That distinction goes to Spain, followed by Greece and Italy. “Greece is currently having the strongest growth with booking plus of 41 percent compared to last summer,” said Susanne Stünckel, a spokesperson for TUI Deutschland, the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world.

Long-distance destinations such as the U.S., Mexico, South America, Canada, Indonesia and the Seychelles, are also “growing rapidly,” she said.  New York is the German favorite in the U.S., followed by Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

More Germans, like those previously mentioned, are venturing off the beaten track, Stünckel noted, “moving more and more into exotic destinations with increasing travel experience.”

One such place is Iran, which travel agent Bettina Rohleder in Karlsruhe termed “very popular.” Travelers, including Gerlinde who visited Iran with a guide,  find the country friendly and fascinating.

Yet Germany is considered the most popular overall destination of Germans who are happy with short travel distances, the close proximity of attractions, and being able to speak the same language.

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The Black Forest, above, is popular for “Wandern” (hiking), a favorite German pastime.

Hiking in Bavaria, swimming in the Baltic Sea, culture and history in Berlin – it’s the variety that people love,’’ said Karl Born, professor of tourism management at the Harz University of Applied Sciences in Saxony-Anhalt.

Hamburg is tops for culture this year with the recent opening of the Elbphilharmonie, the city’s new concert hall acclaimed as one of the largest and most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. The glassy construction resembling a hoisted sail was designed by Herzon & de Meuron and is attracting visitors from around the world — not just Germany.

According to the German National Tourist Board (GNTB), culture is the number one drawing card (75%) for visits to the country, followed by the outdoors and countryside. Whatever the motivation, more and more international tourists are joining the Germans to experience the wonders of Deutschland. The nation’s tourism numbers have been up consistently for the past six to seven years.

Germany’s reputation as a stable, safe and affluent nation has boosted its status as an attractive travel destination in recent years, especially as tourists increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of international terrorists,” notes Deutsche Welle, the country’s international broadcaster.

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Germany’s number one attraction:  Neuschwanstein Castle

With 35 million international visitors in 2015, Germany placed eighth in world tourism rankings by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. France took top honors that year with 84.5 million visitors. Most foreign visitors to Germany come from the neighboring Netherlands, followed by Switzerland, with the U.S. in third place.

The top attraction in the country: Neuschwanstein Castle. Other favorites are the Berlin Wall,

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Wilma at the Taj Mahal.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Heidelberg Castle, the Cologne Cathedral and the Romantic Road. Berlin is the most popular city, followed by Munich.

“Germany is full of attractions,” says my friend Wilma who lives in Darmstadt. “I like the Rhine. I like Bavaria and the mountains. I like the cities, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg. There are so many old and interesting things. Germany would be the best country for travel if it weren’t for the weather.”

Never mind the weather, Germany was number one in the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Countries” index.

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Please feel free to comment.  Click below, scroll down to Leave a Reply and add your thoughts. … More new recipes coming soon.makeread2

 

 Wonders of Sri Lanka

 

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Mihinthale

The treacherous climb to the top of Sigiriya, Lion Rock, is a tourist must.  We had told Nimal, our first-rate Sri Lankan driver and mentor, that we were reasonably fit and up for moderate hiking.  That was before I viewed this massive monolith of stone with steep vertiginous metal staircases attached to its walls: definitely more than moderate. I wanted to wimp out. My courage and determination dissolved.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was hot, very hot. There were no trees to provide shade en route to the top.  It was crowded, a single file of slowly moving bodies inching upwards on those dreadful stairs. This did not look like fun.  Was it worth it?  Could I make it?  After the Chinese disaster (See previous post:  “China II:  The Fall”) I could not risk another crash.

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Nimal

“You can do it,” Nimal assured us.  He arranged a local guide.   I let him carry my camera and water and concentrated carefully on every step. Fortunately a landing with a gallery of remarkable frescoes provided a welcome break en route up.  The reward, stunning vistas atop, was well deserved.  It is generally believed that Sigiriya was a royal citadel during the fifth century, although another theory maintains that it was a monastery and religious site.   Our guide adhered to the citadel theory and told us that King Kassapa had 500 concubines, for whom he built swimming pools with diving boards.

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Superb views atop Sigiriya

There are many more astonishing sights in Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India.  Although not much bigger than Wales, Sri Lanka packs a lot into a small area: glorious beaches, ancient temples, hillside tea plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, rain forested peaks, more challenging climbs.

The country’s 30-year civil war, which ended in 2009, kept visitors away. That has changed dramatically. At Sigiriya, and just about everywhere we went during our two week tour of the country in late February, we encountered lots of tourists.

We visited many other sites, temples and ruins.  The city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, is a complex of archaeological and architectural treasures.  We followed a parade of worshipers walking along a giant piece of orange cloth, 300 meters long according to Nimal.  It symbolizes Buddha’s skin, he told us, and was to be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya, a magnificent white dagoba or shrine for sacred relics.

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Devotees help carry  the orange cloth which will be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya (below).

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The climb at Mihinthale, another temple complex, was beyond us:  1,843 granite slab steps with the sun blazing down on them. No shoes allowed –you had to ascend barefoot.  No way.

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Tough feet, as well as stamina, required for this climb.

Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s medieval capital from the 11th to the 13th centuries before it was abandoned to invaders from South India.  We – and many others — toured the area by bike with stops to admire and photograph.  The major attraction is the site with colossal Buddhas carved out of rock.

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Reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa

At Dambulla Royal Rock Temple, some 150 different Buddhas are enshrined in five  caves.  The Disney-like entrance to the site, with a monstrous Golden Temple and

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Cave Buddhas

mammoth concrete Buddha, seems out of place, but the gentle climb along a wooded path to this hilltop temple complex is easy and pleasant.  Entrance to the caves is controlled with a certain number admitted for each visit. It is well worth the wait to see these remarkable statues in this dimly lit, mystical ambience.

srpart1.nBoth tourists and worshipers flock to Kandy, a lovely hill town whose magnet is the Sacred Tooth Temple where one of Buddha’s teeth is said to be hidden inside a golden shrine or casket which in turn contains six more caskets, much like a Russian box.   We joined a large crowd and patiently waited in line for a night time opening of the heavily guarded room containing the tooth shrine, and our turn to file by the relic casket.   Although there was little to see, the holy ritual and huge temple complex are intriguing.   According to Lonely Planet, Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must complete at least one pilgrimage to the tooth temple.

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Worshiping at the Sacred Tooth Temple

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

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Gaudy entrance to Dambulla complex

More on Sri Lanka in coming posts:  flora and fauna;  food, markets and produce, beaches and hilltop retreats.  Don’t miss it.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down, below following photos,  click, scroll down again and add your thoughts.  

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Ruins at Polonnaruwa
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Cave Buddha at Dambulla
The concrete Buddha surveys the landscape
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Polonnaruwa

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Summer Gone-by

Reillanne, our village
Reillanne, our village

It’s time to start thinking summer 2017…but first, a look back at summer 2016. I should have posted this long ago… better late than never.  After eight summers of renting our guest apartment to tourists, we officially closed last August – no more paying guests, but time and room for friends and relatives.

It was a rewarding experience. We met interesting folks from many countries.  Some have become friends.  We learned about their lands.

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Klaus and Eva

Austrians Klaus and Eva were our first renters of the season, as they have been every summer for the past six years.  We have become friends and are delighted they will come back this year, not as renters, but house sitters when we travel to Germany.

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Jean Christophe and Isabelle

They always arrive with bounteous gifts of Austrian delicacies. A roof rack on their car holds Klaus’ ample supplies for their stay, including Austrian beer and wine.  Of course they appreciate Provence wine too, especially summer rose.

Isabelle, who works in a bank, and Jean Christophe, who is in the insurance business, arrived from the Paris region in a spiffy Mercedes convertible.  They had been to our region many times and were happy to be back.  After a day’s outing, they often played boule in our driveway, although it is definitely not the best terrain for this Provence favorite.sblog-23

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Jeroen, Anika and Stans

We enjoyed Belgians Jeroen and Anika, both teachers, and daughter Stans.  They came  loaded down with two bicycles, plus baby supplies:  baby stroller, baby bed, a plastic pool, pool toys.  They had fun introducing Stans to the big pool. They biked, too.

Jeroen is one of those super cyclists who have conquered Mt. Ventoux many times.  “Any serious Belgian cyclist must climb Mt. Ventoux,” he said.  He did, as well as the Mountain of Lure which he says is beautiful.  “It’s only 100 meters less than Ventoux, but no one knows about it.”

Anika’s passion is markets. They visited six in the region. Her favorite:  Apt.

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Steve and Yoshie at Pont du Gard

Friends and family also visited in summer 2016. With my brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie we enjoyed a mini-trip to visit the fascinating Chauvet- Pont d’Arc Cavern with replicas of prehistoric cave art dating back 36,000 years.  The original art was discovered in a nearby cave, but it is closed to visitors to protect the treasures.  The replica cave and art are mind boggling.

A non-birthday party with grandsons Lang, and Sam.
An un-birthday party with grandsons Lang and Sam.

Step-children Kellie and Rob with grandsons Lang and Sam joined us in June. Good times in the pool were enjoyed by all.   Bob even joined in – a mini miracle.  He is not a water person, and almost never goes in the pool.  I make up for him.

Kellie and Bob who prefers bicycles to the pool.
Kellie and Bob who prefers bicycles to the pool.

Summer ended with a visit from Colorado friends Kathy and Bob, whom we know from our days n Germany long ago.

Karthy and Bob, with another Bob in the background.
Kathy and Bob, with another Bob in the background.

Now that I have finally put summer 2016 to bed, time to move on to new adventure and travel.  Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – here we come!  Watch this blog.

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down and add your thoughts.   Don’t miss future posts. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.  More photos follow.

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Rob, Sam and Lang
At Table de Bonheur , our favorite, with super chef Hans
At Table de Bonheur, our favorite, with super chef Hans
Kellie relaxing
Kellie relaxing
It was a good summer for geraniums.
It was a good summer for geraniums.

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