Grimentz: Geraniums galore and more

 

And the winner is — Yvonne Rouvinet. The competition: Geraniums.

Grimentz, a tiny Swiss hamlet high in the Anniviers Valley in southern Switzerland, is the Shangri-la of geraniums. The fiery red blossoms are the village claim to fame – brimming from boxes on houses, apartments, hotels, shops. Tourists clog narrow cobblestone lanes with their cell phone cameras.

Yvonne Rouvinet and her prize-winning geraniums.

Every August the village sponsors a geranium contest. This year there were over 170 entries in three categories: apartments, businesses and chalets. Rouvinet took top honors in the apartment category, beating out 130 other competitors.

Grimentz, a quintessential Swiss village,  was my destination for a solo mountain break. Husband Bob stayed home with his daughter who was visiting.  I miss the Swiss Alps where Bob and I had so many amazing adventures. We biked, with panniers, six of the country’s nine national bike routes. We hiked, often spending nights in gemütlich mountain lodges and huts. We skied its challenging slopes. I enjoyed several terrific press trips to different parts of the country. Those were the days. We were younger and very fit.

The Grimentz-Sorebois cable car ascends to  2,700 meters.

At times it was all too nostalgic. I could not hold back the tears when I saw cyclists loading their bikes on the trains. How many times had we done the very same thing? I hate growing old. I still yearn to soar down black runs (red would do), hike to high peaks, bike those three remaining Swiss bike routes. Merde!

Reality really set in when I set out on a hike which the guy in the tourist office recommended as “flat and easy” – supposedly an hour and half trek to the Hotel Weisshorn. I rode the funicular from St. Luc to the start of the trail. I had a backpack, but unfortunately no hiking poles. The trail was stoney. From the onset, there were ups and downs, not steep, but not my idea of flat. I progressed slowly, stopping to take photos. This was the Planets Trail with markers for the various planets along the way. After about 45 minutes I reached a large clearing where an imposing planet-like structure stood at the edge of the mountain. A woman sat on a bench underneath. I approached and asked her about it.

Marie Claire takes a rest under Saturn.

“Saturn,” she answered. I told her I was on the way to the Hotel Weisshorn. “Oh, it’s up there,” she said, pointing to a distant building atop a mountain. No way. This was not a “flat, easy hike.” I was devastated. I was already tired and my knees hurt.

Marie Claire is from Belgium and has been coming to nearby Zinal every year for many, many years, this time with a son.  Her husband died in 2006. She hiked to the hotel two years ago, but intended to take a pass this year and head back down. Her son had charged ahead.  She invited me to join her for the descent. She saved me, lending me one of her hiking poles.

Flat?  How naive was I?  Nothing can be flat in the Swiss Alps.

We talked about our old and broken bodies. She has two knee replacements. I have one. We both have hip tendinitis. I have a decaying back. Marie Claire was also an inspiration, very positive about everything. “You have to keep moving.”

I failed at the Weisshorn hike, but certainly I could master the hike around Lake Moiry. Clement Vianin, a Grimentz native and the manager of the charming Hotel Meleze where I stayed, suggested I take the bus to the Moiry glacier, then hike the trail around the lake to the dam and bus stop at the other end. Bravo. I did it.

Moiry Glacier.  Climate change has taken its toll.

Like all mountain glaciers, this one has suffered from climate change and has receded significantly.

The lake is a marvel of intense, vibrant turquoise. Minerals from the glacier’s melting ice give the lake its gorgeous hue.

Lake Moiry

I relished hiking around the lake at a snail’s pace, stopping for lots of photos. I even tried macro on some wildflowers. This is the Switzerland I love.

I was in heaven the first night when I entered the cozy, woodsy restaurant of the Hotel Meleze permeated with the aromas of Switzerland – fondue and raclette. I ordered one of my favorites, the deluxe version of Croute au Fromage, bread topped with ham, Gruyere and an egg, baked so the cheese melts and the egg cooks. This called for several glasses of Fendant (Swiss white wine). During my visit I indulged in other Swiss favorites, Rosti, grated potatoes with any melange of other ingredients. I chose one with lots of melted cheese and an

Cheesy Risotto

egg. I had another cheese bombshell, a Risotto speciality at the Becs de Bosson restaurant. Parmesan is pounded smooth in a big bowl as you watch. Grappa is added, then the hot rice. That was my Swiss cheese farewell. I savored it all, but by then I had had enough cheese and was ready for a return to fish from the Med.

Back to those geraniums. I plant them every summer, but mine never looked like those in Grimentz. “It’s the climate,” Rouvinet said. “Not too hot. That is not good.” She also pointed out that the old dark wood of the village buildings “gives a good effect” to the geraniums. Many of the ancient houses date from the 13th to the 15thcentury.

The villagers use a special fertilizer for geraniums. They caution against over-watering. Dead-heading the faded blossoms is also critical. Many chalets and apartments in Grimentz are not occupied year round. Thirty village volunteers visit unoccupied residences to care for the flowers.

Wooden houses were built upon a base of stone where grain was stored.  Wine now replaces grain .

Grimentz is in the French speaking part of Valais, a  bi-lingual canton in Switzerland.  The town, elevation 1,570 meters, is a ski resort as well as a geranium Mecca. It has just 450 permanent residents, but the number skyrockets to as many as 4,000 in winter when  skiers arrive. Summer and geraniums bring almost that number, but many just come for the day to admire red blossoms and take  photos.

Rouvinet’s prize? Not a bottle of champagne. Not a bottle of Fendant, but a bottle of fertilizer and a coupon to buy geraniums next year.

Scroll down for more photos.

Road to the Moiry Dam and glacier at right.
Picnic at Lake Moiry
Sunset in Grimentz
Name this flower

 

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Ship Ahoy Norway

fullsizeoutput_1ac0What a jolt.  Icy water was poured down my back.  Ah! Ouch!  And I volunteered for this? I was on board the MS Nordlys with some 300 other passengers cruising the Norwegian IMG_3117coast. This was our baptism, a rite of passage for crossing the Arctic Circle.   It was a chilling experience, but fun with lots of laughs, shrieks and photos. Participation was not obligatory.   Many, including husband Bob, passed on the baptism.

The Nordlys (northern lights) is part of the Hurtigruten fleet.  “Hurtigruten is not just a cruise ship. It is a unique hybrid, a cruise ship and a ferry,” said David Lam, a member of the expedition team on the MS Nordlys. “It’s a ferry with nice facilities.”

The ship was our home for 11 days as we embarked on a unique voyage exploring the stunning coast of Norway. Our cruise began and ended in Bergen, sailing all the way to Kirkenes on the Russian border and back. Passengers  representing seven different nationalities were onboard during our cruise. Many, like us, were senior citizens.

Days on ship begin with announcements in four languages (Norwegian, English, German and French) about 8:30 am. No sleeping in. If you want breakfast, it is time to get up. The ample buffet of all the usual breakfast goodies, including different kinds of smoked fish, ends at 10 a.m.

 

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Days are filled with interesting lectures, relaxing in comfortable lounges, marveling at the ever-changing scenery, and shore excursions. Announcements alert the passing of noteworthy sights. Passengers gather outdoors on deck7 (the Nordlys has 8 decks) for explanations and photo opps. We were blessed with several warm, sunny days, as well as cool and cloudy days, but only one rainy day.We experienced rough seas once. The boat rocked. We rocked when walking as if we had had one too many — but that would have been costly on the Nordlys.

Norway is very expensive. The cruise was very expensive. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, not covered in the cruise price, are expensive.KiZfEnLSRYWAfF8GRdJBGQ

When crossing the Arctic Circle and entering the region of the midnight sun and northern lights we were invited to toast the event with a glass of champagne with a strawberry. I naively thought this was gratis. No. That champagne cost 125 NOK (Norwegian krone, about $12.50).

No matter. It was fun minus champagne. The return Arctic circle crossing celebration involved a spoonful of wretched cod liver oil followed by a spoonful of a sweet liqueur. Grimaces and laughs this time. You could keep the spoon. Plus, have a glass of champagne for a price.

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Entering the legendary Troll fjord, a 2-kilometer fjord with a narrow entrance and surrounded with steep-sided mountains, called for another celebration. Most cruise ships are too large to enter the fjord. Smaller Hurtigruten ships, like the Nordlys, can only enter during the summer months. It was amazing  to witness the ship turn around in the tight space.

This feat was celebrated with a cup of troll coffee. Price: 99 NOK ($11) for a cup of coffee with a splash of schnapps. But, you could keep the souvenir fjord cup. I had passed on the champagne, but splurged on the coffee – shared with Bob.

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Troll fjord

“At Hurtigruten we give you the opportunity to travel with meaning. Building on our explorer heritage dating back to 1893, our explorations are grounded in the likings of people who value learning and personal growth over luxury…you won’t find waterslides, casinos or any sort of dress code,” states the Hurtigruten brochure.

We had booked an Arctic superior cabin on deck 6. It had all the necessities, including TV with CNN (important) but was miniscule. Galant Bob took the window side of the double bed. To get in and out, he had to side step.

A German woman from Augsburg told me she had taken four or five luxury cruises. “This is very different. It is not a luxury cruise, but I knew that. I am glad I came. I wanted to see Norway,” she said.

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The cruise is an excellent way to see Norway, especially if one participates in some of the shore excursions. They too are pricey, but offer the opportunity to see and learn about this Nordic land. We especially enjoyed biking in the town of Trondheim, a visit to the indigenous Sami, feasting on King Crab pulled directly from the frigid waters as we watched, and several bus excursions through  spectacular countryside.

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In addition to organizing entertaining celebrations and leading excursions, the friendly and knowledgeable expedition team conduct lectures covering various topics; polar explorations, birds of Norway, Norway and Norwegians, and more. The latter was enlightening. Norway vies with Finland for having the happiest citizens. Dream on, DT, Norwegians do not want to emigrate to the U.S.

While breakfast and lunch were buffet feasts with open seating, we had assigned seats for the three-course dinners. The food was good, innovative and interesting, focusing on local ingredients and Norwegian specialties.

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Tasty reindeer — better than beef, and said to be “sustainable.”

We received a menu with each meal explaining in detail the ingredients and preparation. The salmon was the best I have ever eaten, and the reindeer was a rare and delicious treat.

As mentioned, Hurtigruten is more than a cruise ship. In the late 19th century, services along the 780-mile coastline from Bergen to Kirkenes, a busy route for transportation of goods and people, were unreliable. Shipping companies were invited to submit tenders for operating an express route between Trondheim and Tromsø, or Hammerfest. In 1893, Captain Richard With’s steamer, DS Vesteraalen, established a regular sea link between the towns which was later expanded from Bergen to Kirkenes, a trip of only seven days. The connection was named “hurtigruten” – the fast route. With went on to explore other Nordic destinations.

“This marks the beginning of Hurtigruten’s adventurous and unique explorer operations,” states the company literature. Destinations now include Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Antarctica, as well as ports along the Norwegian coast.

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In addition to cruise passengers, cars, bicycles, motorcycles and some cargo were on board the Nordlys. We met many “walk-in” passengers who used the ship as a ferry from one stop to another. If their transit is less than 24 hours, they can travel without booking a cabin. Some, with backpacks nearby, stretch out on comfortable lounge chairs and sofas. They are free to use all ship facilities, including the jacuzzis.

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Hurtigruten is at the forefront of sustainable tourism. The company is building the first ever hybrid-powered expedition cruise ships and has eliminated single-use plastic from all its ships and hotels. Their “Coastal Kitchen” relies on locally sourced products.

Yes, it is expensive. But, it is a beautiful and enlightening experience (minus the baptism and cod liver oil). And now I have a Polar Arctic certificate.

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Sri Lanka: Reflections

 

The World Weeps,” I wrote last week in the aftermath of the horrific fire and destruction of Notre Dame cathedral. However, as many have pointed out, “that is just a building.” It lives. It will be restored. Most importantly, no one perished in the flames.

The Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka wiped out the lives of 253 innocent victims. Families in church worshiping on this holy day. Vacationers having breakfast in hotels. All ages. All walks of life. For them, there is no tomorrow.

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Sri Lankans at a holy site.

Is the world weeping? Are we becoming somewhat numbed to these dreadful acts of terror which destroy lives and much more? Does the dramatic plunge of the burning spire of Notre Dame have a greater impact than bombs ripping through a church filled with the faithful? It seems harsh, but I have to wonder.

A British gentleman I met at a luncheon mentioned Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. The British press did not make a big deal of it, he said, as “it was a small country, far away.” So, too, is Sri Lanka.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, we are shocked with the savage attacks in the country. We are saddened to learn the heartbreaking stories of the victims. In March, brutal attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, claimed 50 lives. We worry.  Where will they strike next?

Terrorism, be it in the U.S, France, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, wherever, has claimed too many lives, scarred survivors, ruined the way of life for many. It is frightening to think that these attacks, as in Sri Lanka, have become part of life these days.

France’s billionaires are rescuing Notre Dame. Who will rescue Sri Lanka? I grieve for the country

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Nimal

when I think back on two enriching weeks spent there in 2017. I was impressed with the friendly, hard working people: Nimal, our guide and driver; Iran, a gifted cooking teacher; the jovial market vendors, the helpful hotel staff. Are they OK? What is their future?

Tourism has been Sri Lanka’s salvation. The country’s bloody 30-year civil war, which ended in 2009, kept visitors away. Gradually tourism revived as more and more discovered the astonishing sights of this island nation in the Indian Ocean. 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. Will the fear of more terror prevent tourists from discovering these treasures?

Tourists brought jobs and opportunities. Nimal, our excellent driver/guide, was building up a

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Chef Iran

clientele whom he chauffeured around the county. With Nimal’s encouragement, Iran, an excellent cook, had begun to offer cooking lessons in his home. More hotels were under construction, all promising more jobs. What now?

It is all troubling and tragic.  Yet, I was relieved to receive emails from Iran, the delightful cooking teacher, and Nimal, our Sri Lankan driver/mentor. Iran wrote: “We hope every bad has happen not to be repeat any where in this world. We all safe but tourism will badly suffer as our bookings are getting cancelled. Thank you and keep in touch. As a journalist you can help us lot.”

And from Nimal: “Its really unexpected tragedy and don’t know what to say.  Its bad luck for us. Tourism was good and world start to come and see our country,”  he wrote.  “We believe things will get settle soon and people will be able to go ahead with their normal life.”

Let us hope is is right.

Below are photos of Sri Lanka’s friendly folk:

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

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Paris Visit: Random thoughts

 

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We visited my very favorite city last week. It was basically a business trip to see an American/French lawyer on wills – very important.

The trip got off to a rocky start. I lost my iPhone. I realized the loss while still in the airport, before boarding our RER train to Paris. Panic of course. On the train I had the bright idea to call the phone. I was shocked. Someone answered – lost and found at terminal 2D. They had my phone. It would have been too time consuming and complicated to reverse course and go back to the airport. I would have to wait to recover it two days later en route back home.

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Day 1: no sun

We would have to do Paris without an iPhone, without GPS, without the phone camera. But, at least the phone lived, and I had my Olympus.

From the airport, the RER took us directly to Châtelet, very near where I had booked an airbnb apartment. Châtelet is a major transportation hub in the city. For me, it’s the dreaded metro stop where you too often need to change lines and walk for kilometers underground. Since our visit was short, just 2 ½ days, I was determined not to spend half the time in those depressing underground passages: A Paris visit without the metro. I almost succeeded. We did take the metro once to see a movie, “The Green Book,” which we loved.

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Pompidou Center

We walked and walked, the very best way to experience Paris. The first day of our visit was gray and grim, but the sun came out on day 2. At popular attractions, such as Louvre and at the Pompidou Center, there were long lines. However, there were no lines at Notre Dame, which I had not entered in years, nor at La Chapelle. Notre Dame was dark and intriguing. I tired capturing the mystical ambience with the Olympus, but I fear my limited skills were not up to the task.

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Interior Notre Dame

On the short walk to our apartment, we passed a frequent shopping stop from bygone days: E. Dehillerin. In my younger days, inspired by Julia Child, I was heavy into gourmet cooking. Over the years I spent big bucks on shiny copper pots purchased there. They graced the kitchen walls in our house, but had to go when we moved. I was very pleased that their new owner, the professional chef who purchased our house, will put them to good use.

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Some folks go to Paris to buy chic clothes.  I spent my money here on pots and pans.

The old world interior of the 19thcentury store with wooden plank floors and tall, tall open shelves filled to the brim with all manner of kitchen paraphernalia is still the same. The neighborhood, which used to be on the rundown side, is now upmarket spiffy.

But, so is much of Paris – far different than the way I remember the city on my very first visit, long, long ago as a student. That’s another story…

A more recent change: E-scooters everywhere. There are rental depots throughout the city. We felt safer on foot.

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The phone…Fortunately we allowed extra time for the rescue task on the way home. There was no lost and found in terminal 2D. We were directed to Easy Jet customer service in terminal 2D – not easy to find. They had had the phone, but since it was not claimed within 24 hours it had been sent to terminal 2A. I think we walked more in Charles de Gaulle airport than all of Paris. Once we finally reached 2A, we had to find the right place. Another challenge. But, we conquered. The iPhone is home with me.

It is good to have, of course.  But, you can survive without the phone, without GPS. Remember maps?  I used mine in Paris.

Although I was not lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young woman, I did visit. It has stayed with me.  Yes, it is a “moveable feast.”

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Lunch in Paris with former Stars and Stripes colleague Leonard Hill, right, and Claudine (not in photo, sorry Claudine)is a Paris must and always fun.

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Family Fun in the USA

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Sailing in San Diego Bay with members of my family, from left: Tom, Joan, Steve, Yoshie and Dave.  Capt. Charley at the helm.

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.

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Samuel, Rob, Bob and Lang at the bridge.

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,

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Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River


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.

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Virginia home of Rob, Samuel and Lang

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.

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Bob, far right, with his brother John and sisters, from left,  Susan, Judy, Kathy and Sandra.  Missing: brothers George and Tim.

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.

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San Diego from the sailboat

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 fullsizeoutput_14fcchauffeured 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.

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Dave and the Caddy.

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. 

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I went  overboard with seal photos — too many.  But, I like this one.

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.

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Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park

Yoshie, who is Japanese, enlightened us on many aspects of this marvelougarden with its streams and pools where vibrantly colored Koi (Japanese carp) swim.PFZfUgbsSI29iZgMpO3x4w

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.

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Joan went for pizza. This is one slice of a monster.

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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Dancing at the fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scroll down for more of the family photo album.

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And the winner of the best San Diego sunset photo, brother Steve who shot the scene with a Panasonic Lumix LX100.  “I love this little camera,” says the photographer.
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In Ohio:  Bob’s niece Tammy and husband John.

 

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In California: The “boys”:  My brother Tom, nephew Dave and brother Steve.
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In California: The”girls”: sisters-in-law Yoshie ,Joan…and me
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In Ohio;  Bob’s niece Kim, husband Alan and nephew Jim.

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.

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In Ohio:  foreground, Bob’s nephew John and wife Cindy.

A new taste — trout for fish lovers.  See recipe, click on photo above right,

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