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.

Painted stork (I think)
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.

ff40

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

ff38

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.

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.  Click below, scroll down to Leave a Reply and add your thoughts.  

GERMANS ON THE ROAD

gl.5
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.

gl.1
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.”

DSCF5601
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.

gl.2
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

GL.11
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.

gl.6
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.

bf.7
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.

817fRlqJ3PL._SL1500_
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,

india.wilma
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.

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

 

In the Merde

Yes, in deep and desperately needing escape. I/we cannot get out from under the  ominous, all-encompassing black cloud which has bombarded us with one disaster after another.  What did we do to deserve this merde?  Did someone put a hex on us, cast a black magic spell of evil?

The current calamity ranks as the worst, yet those preceding were far more than minor photo.hexmishaps. (see previous posts: “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment” and “China II: The Fall”).

More merde followed those catastrophes but let’s start with the present which began the afternoon of April 10.

I was typing away at my computer when a frantic husband ran in screaming.  “I need some ice. I need some ice quick.” Too hot?  He needs a cool drink?  No such luck. He related that he had fallen from a ladder while trimming a tall bush.

I was not terribly sympathetic.  At his age, he has no business on ladders.  Last summer he fell out of a tree when trying to trim.  He has fallen off the wall in front of our property when cutting shrubbery.  He relishes climbing a wobbly ladder into our attic. ladder - CopyClimbing must have been one of his favorite boyhood exploits.  But, he is a boy no more.

He had an enormous lump on his calf.  We iced it down.  He was in pain, but he could walk/move with no problem.  Nonetheless that evening we went to the emergency room at the Manosque hospital, about a half hour away.

And, there we spent 3 ½ hours.  Leg was x-rayed.  Nothing broken.  We were told to wait and see the doctor again.  We waited and waited. Many of those who arrived after us had seen doctors and left.  My patience and nerves were shattered. I had a killer migraine.  Bob was getting antsy.  We learned our doctor was on the telephone dealing with a very urgent case. Bob’s leg injury was obviously not urgent.  Who knows how much longer the wait would be?  We  left.

Next day he saw his local doctor.  The lump was a gigantic hematoma, now red, purple, pink and horrific.  His foot had also ballooned – too fat for his shoes. The doctor ordered a Doppler ultrasound to check for blood clots, and he arranged for the test with a nearby doctor that evening.   All clear – no clots.

There had been a half-dollar sized blister on the surface of the hematoma. At some point it burst and a large scab formed. But, the swelling was increasing. The grotesque colors on his leg now engulfed the fat foot, too.

We decided this required another look by a medical professional.  His doctor was off that day, so we trekked back to emergency where this time we only to had to wait a few minutes. A doctor checked it out, said it was infected, gave us a prescription for antibiotics and another one for daily at-home nurse visits to change the bandage (a wonderful plus of French medical care).  He turned us over to a nurse who we assume followed his instructions and cut delicately around the scab which immediately began oozing thick, black blood (the hematoma contents).  She covered it with a large bandage and sent us on our way.

merde.6
Nurse Vero cleans the hole.

Back home the next day nurse Aurelie I appeared, removed the bandage and was horrified.  “They did this at Manosque?”  She began pressing the hematoma, again and again and again, draining it of the ancient blood. I watched, incredulous.  Would it ever stop?  It did, but left a gargantuan cavity in his leg.  It is this cavity which the nurses came to clean out and stuff with treated gauze every day.  In the beginning it took a meter-length piece of gauze to fill the cavity.  The mountainous lump was/is still there, but getting smaller.

Several days passed and a  new nurse arrived, Aurelie II. She was shocked.  “This does not look good….How long has it been like this?”  She urged us to go the emergency department at the hospital in Aix en Provence.  We learned from her, and others, that the Manosque hospital does not have a good reputation.

Afternoon plans were canceled and we set off to Aix, about an hour and 15 minutes away.   A two-and a one half hour wait merited an examination by a very patient and thorough doctor.  He carefully cleaned the “hole,” stuffed it, patched it, wrapped it and sent us on our way with a prescription for a different antibiotic and a new at-home nurse prescription.  He also sent a swab of the cavity to the lab. The results later indicated the infection was resistant to the first antibiotic, but the second, the one he had prescribed, was on target.merde.7

Meanwhile, our lives have been in turmoil since the fall.  My Easter dinner party canceled.  A hotel overnight in Aix canceled. A weekend in Italy canceled. My doctor’s appointment canceled.  No time for my activities:  photo club and French writing group.  The real tragedy, the month-long trip to Germany, out the window. We had planned to see some friends, but the trip was primarily a research trip for me.  I write for the magazine German Life and planned to gather material for future articles.  It was a time-consuming, complicated trip to arrange – reservations, appointments, calculating driving distances and times.  All for naught.  Merde!

Nurses continued to come daily for the cleaning-stuffing wound ritual, warning us that full recovery would be long.  Aurelie I suggested we see a “specialist des pansements” (bandage specialist) at the Manosque hospital, a woman (Hungarian) whom she had great regard for.   I made an appointment, but we had to wait 2 weeks to see her.

When the bandage specialist saw the dreadful wound and learned that we had been to the hospital emergency room way back at the beginning of the sorry saga, five weeks prior, she was angry.  “Why didn’t they call me?  They know this is my specialty?”  She said if she had started treatment initially, by now Bob would be recovered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Supplies delivered from hospital for at-home care, all covered by national French health insurance.

She advised Bob be hospitalized for a week to start treatment with a machine which would suction all the bad stuff lodged in the cavity.  The process would take about a month, as opposed to three to four months if he continued with the nurses at-home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bob and his talking purse.

treatments.  He would need to spend about a week in the hospital, and then go home with machine.

The machine can hang from his shoulder, like a purse, and can operate on batteries, so he can be mobile.  He was given permission to go home for the weekend. We were elated.

On Sunday we were about to depart for lunch at the home of friends in a nearby town.

Telephone rang.  Hospital.   They had taken a blood sample during his stay.  Results indicated “a very dangerous infection.” Get back to the hospital immediately so treatment can be started, they urged. That ended lunch with friends.  More merde!

I did some research on the bacteria he had contracted – both common hospital infections, multi-antibiotic resistant. Of course, the hospital insists he did not get the infections from contamination there, even though he had been infection free when entering the hospital.

So, now in addition to the machine, he was/is on a drip of a very strong antibiotic for 10 days.   This was the last straw, too much. We were both at rock bottom, very nervous about the gravity of these infections, sick of the hospital, depressed, despondent.the-last-straw

Our sanity was saved, again by the fabulous visiting nurses.  After four days back in the hospital, “hospitalisation a domicile” (home hospitalization) was arranged.  A nurse comes  three times per day, at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.,  to hook him up to the drip which lasts about 1/2 hour each time.   The 10 days will end tomorrow, but he will still have the machine, however it only requires a nurse’s attention every three days.

merde.1
Nurse Aurelie I and the drip hook up.

Nurses may call it a miracle machine, praising its medical prowess, but we call it Farting Freddy.  It is noisy, emitting sounds identical to farts all too often. We are ready for a return to the world, a meal in a restaurant, but dare we?

On top of this tragedy, and the others previously mentioned, my China fall still haunts me.  The broken collar bone did not heal correctly, the bones did not realign (non-union). It is still painful at times.  I am (was) a devoted lap swimmer, but the crawl, my stroke, is difficult. Double merde!

merde.8
My hand splint.

Another complication: somehow nerves in my upper arm, below the damaged collar bone, became compressed.  My left hand movement is limited, namely the two little fingers which are basically frozen. At first I was told recovery could take a year.  Now they say two years.  I have learned to type with one good hand, and one finger of the left hand.  Many kitchen/cooking tasks remain challenging.

And yet another whopper: basal cell skin cancer. I had a tiny bump on my nose, cancer caused by the sun and not usually dangerous. Removing the mini lump would be a piece of cake, so I thought.  Not quite – underneath the skin the lump was not so tiny.  Removal left me with 26 stitches on the side of my nose and face.  Fortunately I had a skilled plastic surgeon.  The scar is easily hidden with makeup.  But, after all that, he did not get all the cancer.  One cell remains. More merde!

Perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel of merde. Since Freddy attacked the wound, it is slowly shrinking.   While these troubles have been – and still are – annoying, I realize it all could have been far worse.  But, we need a break from bad luck. If anyone can offer a hex of happiness and good health, a magic spell of good fortune to chase away the merde, please send our way.

In between all of the merde, we did have a lovely trip to Sri Lanka. See previous post, “Wonders of Sri Lanka.”    More on that coming soon. 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.  Click below, scroll down to Leave a Reply and add your thoughts

makeread2

fairy

Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment

prisoner-14256499.jpg

We were locked in. No way to get out. The stubborn lock would not budge. We were on floor 4 1/2 by US standards.   Jumping out of the window was out of the question. Scream for help – would anyone hear? Despite many phone calls and promises, no one came to our assistance.

One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Frustration turned to panic.  During our incarceration, Bob tried numerous times to unlock the door. He was angry. I was a nervous wreck…

I had booked an Airbnb apartment in Paris for two nights between our trips to the US and China.   On the Airbnb site this “lovely flat in the Marais” looked gorgeous: bright, roomy, gleaming. At 319 euro for two nights, it was more than we usually spend. But, we would be tired after the all-night flight from the US. We wanted to see more of the Marais. And, although this was a new listing with only two reviews, they were basically positive.

When Angela, our greeter, met us at the door to the building and led us up a narrow, shabby, dirty staircase, I was crestfallen. Could that beautiful apartment be in this rundown building?

airbnb-1
Section of wall in the “lovely flat”

There was no elevator. We were loaded down with clothing for five weeks and different climates. Bob made several trips up and down the 4 ½ flights, struggling to get the suitcases up the narrow passages while Angela struggled with the lock. Perhaps I have the wrong apartment; she lamented, and then went up and down to try other doors. No luck. She made several phone calls – I assume to an agent who managed the apartment. Owner Franck had told me he would not be in Paris when we arrived.

This must be it, she said at the first door she had tried, and asked Bob to try. He wiggled the key back and forth many times. He pushed and pulled, but the lock would not give. More phone calls. More tries.  Forty-five minutes had gone by, and we were still standing in this dismal hallway. We were exhausted and had longed to relax, take a short nap and then a fun walk. Bob tried the uncooperative lock one more time. Success. We were in.

Angela was elated.   We were not. We surveyed the surroundings.   Photoshop obviously works wonders. Instead of a bright and spacious apartment, the “lovely flat” was dark, crammed, depressing. The furniture was the same as in the photos, but not much else.

Before Angela left, Bob went outside to test the door. It opened. However, we insisted that someone, preferably a locksmith, come to verify that the lock was in working order. We needed to be sure that when we went out, we could get back in and not end up stranded on that dreadful staircase. She made a call and assured us that someone would show up in 20 minutes to check the lock.

We felt it best to wait before settling in and taking that nap. “We better make sure we can get out,” Bob announced at one point. OMG! Sacre Bleu! The door would not open. We were imprisoned. This can’t be true.  But, it was.  (Keep reading.  It gets worse before better.)thief-jail-illustration-theif-white-background-32201960

I called Airbnb. There were many options: press 1,.2, 3. I tried all, but  always got a recorded message and was put on hold. The relaxing Paris afternoon we had anticipated had become a frantic nightmare.

Since I had no luck with the regular channels, I tried the  English language assistance option.  Someone answered: A man in Ireland. Hope at last. I told the sorry story. He said he could help and asked various questions about our reservation: address, birth dates…and then the last four digits of the credit card used to make the booking. We have several credit cards. I gave him the numbers of the cards we had with us. No match. I must have used the French card to book. I explained that we did not have that card with us. He was adamant. Without those numbers, he could do nothing for us.

I was incredulous. This was too much. No more hope. Would we ever escape?  I blew up. I cried. I used nasty language. He hung up.

airbnb-2
These wires made me nervous. Fire hazard? We had no means of escape.

Now what? Call the police? The fire department? I went to the window, hoping to find a fire escape, although I doubt I would have had the skill to navigate it.  Nothing there.  So, back to the French Airbnb number and alas, after a wait, I reached Emeline, a real person who was sympathetic, patient, understanding. She said she would arrange for someone to help us get out, that we did not have to stay in the apartment, that she would email me listings of other Airbnb apartments that had availability, and that we would be reimbursed for the sum we had paid for the apartment, as well as the taxi fare to our new accommodation.

We were making progress. Surely someone would come to break the lock and rescue us soon. I was getting claustrophobic.  I needed to escape –soon.

While I looked over the listings, Bob continued trying to open the door. He is usually very patient (not like me), but he was losing it. He was infuriated. Our nerves were frazzled. I looked around, hoping to find a bottle of something potent and alcoholic  left behind by a previous guest.  We needed it desperately, but not even a tea bag to be found.

It was close to 5 p.m. We had arrived at the apartment at 1:15 pm, and we were still prisoners in this “lovely flat,” still waiting for a savior to come and free us.

Bob tried the door yet again. Eureka!  He had the magic touch.   It moved.  It opened.  We were free. We fled.

I had booked an apartment in Montmarte chez Sacha and Sydney which appeared beautiful, and cost just 233 euro for two nights, 86 euro less than Franck’s place. Although we had already given Airbnb 319 euro, we had to pay for the new booking. With too much luggage, we trekked to the corner café, got a taxi and set off to the new flat which was even better than the photos: huge, light, inviting. This time I had picked a winner.

airbnb3
Chez Sacha and Sydney — truly “lovely.”

A few days later I checked our credit card details online. We had been given a refund of 3 euro. I was furious, but by this time we were in Hong Kong. I sent an email to Airbnb and learned that to obtain a refund, I needed to proceed with the resolution process and was entitled to a maximum of 275 euro, not the 319 we had paid.  Why the 3 euro?  A mini reward for all our suffering and a lost afternoon?  That remains a mystery

First step for a refund is to fill out an on-line form stating your grievance which is sent to the owner. I did, confident that he would surely grant the refund in these circumstances. Wrong. He refused.

’You insulted me and Angela instead of letting us one hour to manage this issue with the door – which is not a big issue…. It just happened to be a bit difficult to open and needed a bit of oil, nothing I could expect and nothing to be that aggressive… People are not your servants. A host is not your slave Leah, and I will refuse any refund as you were aggressive and made a scandal when there was no real reason to act as you did. You didn’t have to cancel this booking, especially not the way you did …”

home-lock-it-up-picture-id186851756
“Not a big issue” if the door won’t open???

One hour? We waited three hours. One should carry a can of oil if booking an Airbnb apartment? No real reason to be upset? It’s acceptable to be locked out — and then locked in– a rental  apartment? Cancel the booking? Emeline had done that for us.

I sent Airbnb a response, stating that I did not accept Frank’s decision and explained that I would follow up upon our return, asking them not to close the case.

After returning from China, I filled out yet another form requesting that Airbnb review both sides of the story and make the final decision. I kept receiving computer generated responses which indicated no one had ever read my response. I was getting more than fed up with Airbnb. Back to the phone. (I want a decent hourly wage for all the time I spent on hold listening to Airbnb background music.)

I was patient, and fortunately, eventually, I reached  Ellie, an Airbnb case manager. She was understanding, sympathetic – and did not demand the last four digits of the credit card. She checked into the case. Despite my instructions to wait for my rebuttal, Airbnb had closed the case.  I had to go back to square one and begin the lengthy process all over.

The entire story would not fit in the space allotted on the Airbnb online form.  Ellie said to send her an email with the details and she would forward it. But, it had to go back to Franck first. Again he refused and asked me to stop harassing him.  What planet was he on? Did he realize how much harassment his defective lock had caused us?

When you speak to an Airbnb rep/case manager, the person is not permitted to give his or her last name, nor a direct number to reach him/her, not even a personal email address. You have to reply to the general Airbnb email address. I did, but added: “Attention Ellie” to the subject line. My messages did reach her. She responded, but said she could offer no further help and sent our case on to someone else.

That someone was Danny in Dublin. Like Ellie and Emeline, a decent human who was understanding — and extremely apologetic.  He called our tragedy an episode of “miscommunication that had gotten out of hand.”  Is there such a thing as Irish understatement?   Whatever, he assured me that we would get a full refund, 319 euro, plus the taxi fare. Thank you, Danny. We did.

greeter.2.jpg
Instead of an enjoyable afternoon ambling through the Marais, we were imprisoned in a non-too lovely apartment.

Meanwhile I had gone back to the Airbnb site and noted that the price for “the lovely flat in the Marais” had been slashed, from about 159 euro per night to 60 euro per night. I asked Danny about this. He explained that Airbnb does not inspect properties listed and hosts can set rental prices as they desire. Why did Franck drastically drop the price? Perhaps because he was not getting bookings, he surmised. Hmm..I suspect there is more to it.

Airbnb lesson learned: Be wary of booking a new listing. Look for listings with lots of positive reviews. Just in case, take a can of oil.

This was our second Airbnb experience. Two years ago we booked an apartment in Paris’ 16th district. It was exactly as described and ideal for us. Hostess Nathalie met us, greeted us, had a welcome gift for us, and provided all sorts of helpful information on the area – shops, restaurants, public transportation.

We expected much the same with the booking in the Marais. Franck, it appears, has more than one apartment listed with Airbnb.   The same with Sacha and Sydney, hosts at the second apartment whom we never met.

According to an article in The Guardian, the number of Airbnb hosts “has doubled in the last year with revenue up 60%.” Investors, perhaps like Franck and Sacha and Sydney, are buying up properties to rent through Airbnb. “ With that growth has come an ecosystem of support companies, typically property management firms that submit the advert for the property onto the website and then may manage guests arriving and leaving, dropping off and collecting keys, for example,” states the article.

So, don’t always expect personal contact with the owner which was originally one of the drawing cards of Airbnb.

We have not given up on Airbnb. I just booked an apartment in Ventimiglia, Italy, which has numerous glowing reviews, plus lots of kudos for the owners who are on the scene.  Nonetheless, Bob insists we not forget to take a can of oil.

Isolated oil can on white

China followed Paris, where, sadly more misadventure awaited.  Yet another crash, but far worse than the one in India I wrote about in a previous post,  “Adventure — and a CRASH –in Kashmir.”

Details on China in a coming post.  Don’t miss it. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.

I am on the mend, but slightly handicapped (broken collar bone). No new recipes until I can get back in the kitchen and cook with two hands —soon I hope.

makeread2

A real Fantasyland? (only in Italy)

toptownOnce upon a time, high in the Italian hills overlooking azure Mediterranean waters, a local gardener decided he would like to become a prince. But, he needed a kingdom – or at least a patch of land to rule. No problem. He did some research and figured a small portion of this mini paradise did not legally belong to Italy. (That is all a bit complicated.) He convinced the local population of his claim and managed to have them vote to give him the title of Prince. That was in 1963, and Giorgio Carbone, His Supreme Highness, ruled the micro nation Seborga until his death in 2009, when Prince Marcello I assumed the throne.

So, all 2,000 citizens of the fairytale-like kingdom have been living happily ever after? More or less, but with some political intrigue to muddy the waters from time to time.

I had never heard of Seborga.  When the American Club of the Riviera sponsored an event in the principality, a gala dinner following festivities for the national holiday, the feast of Saint Bernard, I signed up. And, did some Seborga research.

A gala dinner to commemorate Seborga's national festival.
A gala dinner to commemorate Seborga’s national festival.

Perhaps I exaggerated the part about Giorgio wanting to become prince. Who knows? For details on Seborga history, see Wikipedia.   In brief, from the 10th century, monks ruled the principality. They sold it to the King of Sardinia in 1729, a sale Giorgio and his followers claim was invalid. Italy, they maintained, annexed Seborga “illegitimately and unilaterally.”

The Principality of Seborga (14 square kilometers) calls itself a separate state within Italy’s borders, similar to Vatican City and San Marino.

A demonstration to show how Seborga's currency was made in days gone by.
A demonstration to show how Seborga’s currency was made in days gone by.

Italy ignores these claims and has jurisdiction over the territory.   . Nonetheless Seborga has its own army, flag, royal family and currency. The latter, as well as passport stamps, are popular with tourists.

Prince Marcello, a 38-year-old former professional speedboat racer, is protected by his eight-member, blue-bereted Corpo della Guardia who were on duty for the national day festivities. To the delight of spectators, the Prince and Princess made a ceremonial entrance to the town in a horse-drawn carriage following a parade of costumed locals and guards.

Princess Nina and Prince Marcello
Princess Nina and Prince Marcello

Marcello’s German born wife, Nina, serves as foreign minister of Seborga. The couple were formally received by Queen Elizabeth in 2011. On the world stage, Burkina Faso recognized Seborga as an independent state in 1998. According to one source, some 20 other nations also recognize the tiny nation’s  independence.  The U.S. has an ambassador to Seborga who attended the national festivities.

blog.1That is not enough, says Nicolas Mutte, described by the Wall Street Journal as “a shadowy, possibly French figure whose occupation is unknown.” He posted an online video this spring proclaiming himself “His Serene Highness Nicolas I,” Seborga’s new ruler. Mutte, who says he is a descendent of Napoleon, seeks a split from Italy and accuses Marcello of only promoting tourism and folklore.

Although the Prince, a local real-estate entrepreneur, was elected on promises to fight for independence, secession has taken a back seat as Seborga and its traditions have become a tourist magnet. Marcello does not seem threatened by Mutte. “Seborga is a free and blog.3sovereign principality that has elected me as its prince,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Mutte has no rights over Seborga.”

Even Giorgio had to fend off pretenders to his throne. In 2006, a woman calling herself “Princess Yasmine von Hohenstaufen Anjou Plantagenet” stated that she was the rightful heir to the Seborga throne. Giorgio dismissed her claims, calling her the “internet princess.”

All of this intrigue adds to the fascination of this secluded fairytale sovereignty snuggled aside a long and twisty road above the coastal city of Bordighera on the Italian Riviera. Throngs of visitors conquered the challenging journey to attend the August festivities. Flags, hundreds of the principality’s blue and white banners, set the scene for a parade, music, seborga+fone 069flag throwing demonstrations, costumes, dancing – and the dinner. ( I only hope Seborgans have better food than the definitely-not-delicious offerings we were served at this repast. At least there was no shortage of wine.)

Seborga, the eponymous capital city of the principality with a mere 337 inhabitants, is one of those ancient hilltop villages of skinny, cobbled streets that climb and descend, past old stone dwellings decorated with flower boxes.   Views of the Med and distant peaks from the town terraces are splendid. A visit to its privately owned gramophone museum is mind boggling.

So, too, is the Seborga story.  Could I overthrow Nina and become Princess Leah (think Star Wars ) ?

?
We wore our finest for Seborga.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.

blog.8
Members of the prince’s Corpo della Guardia were happy to pose with guests for photos.

Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Please leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.

Like tomatoes? Click here for Today’s Taste, a tasty tomato dessert.

makeread