Gallivanting in the Galapagos

These islands had been on my bucket list for decades.  Time and price had held me back to some extent but with the threat of climate change looming I decided I had better go sooner than later.

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I chose to stay on land instead of booking a cruise allowing me to do some of the sites on my own and then taking day trips on small boats going to islands that would give me the best chance of seeing the animals (and fish) that I most wanted to see.  This option was also  less expensive.

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I could have saved even more money if I had waited until arrival to book the boat trips.  One could save up to 50% if you were flexible and willing to fill up spots on tours  at the last-minute.  I didn’t want to chance it since I only had four days. One could also save this much buying  air tickets in Quito instead of 0nline…again, I no longer take those risks.

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I stayed at a great mid-range hostel called Colima Galapagos  on Santa Cruz in the town of Puerto Ayora. This island is home to both the famed Darwin Station and many land tortoises, marine iguanas, and various birds. There was plenty to explore right here for the first two days and then the last two full days were spent on  different boats going to other islands for snorkeling, hiking and lunching.

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Much to my delight I saw a pilot whale and jumping  manta rays on the way the first day, then hiked among the land iguanas, marine iguanas and a few of the hybrids.   I also saw the blue footed booby and frigatebirds among many others.  Snorkeling that day I met a white-tipped reef shark and a plethora of colorful and sized fish.

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Pelicans and sea lions were plentiful everywhere but as I live in San Diego I wasn’t as thrilled with them. (spoiled I know) The second outing involved a pod of dolphins swimming with the boat in addition to another school of the largest manta rays I’ve ever seen.  That day I snorkeled with a big sea turtle feeding under me.  Awesome.

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Take a Minute and Look Around

The University of California, San Diego is in La Jolla, not far from my home yet I’d never really visited the campus.  One of my sisters graduated from UCSD and one of my daughters did her graduate work there.  Still,  I had never entered the 1200 acres filled with trees, incredible artwork and amazing buildings until this fall when I found myself with some free time after dropping off my brother-in-law at his physical therapy session close by.

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I was in awe. Since my photos do no justice to the place, I’m including a link to a site that will explain my delight :



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Belarus, Off the Beaten Path

Belarus was the last country in Europe (both eastern and western) that I had not visited. Getting there would not be easy: the visa requirements in addition to the “how to get there” appeared overwhelming.  After looking at ground transport through Poland or Lithuania and air from Ukraine or Russia I discovered that their national airline, Belavia, flies from more countries. When I found a very reasonable fare to Berlin I knew this trip could become a reality.  However, there was still the issue of a visa. Most countries who are encouraging tourism will offer some sort of waiver or online application, not so Belarus.

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The restrictions  to get a visa for this country will probably deter anyone who is not insistent. Thankfully, from a review on Trip Advisor I found an independent guide who was willing to help me through the process in return for me hiring him to take me on tours to UNESCO and other important sites close by Minsk.


Some buildings are forbidden to photograph and it is considered rude and an invasion of privacy to take photos with locals in them unless special permission is granted. Imagine this might be the case everywhere but my guide made it a point and reminded me often.


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The weather was colder than I had expected but the sun was out and that apparently is an anomaly in Minsk. Andrei, my guide, arranged for me to stay in a couple of different apartments instead of a hotel, both in the city center. One of them was a home and the owner graciously gave advice about the best Spanish wine shop and lent me his jacket before he turned over the keys and left! The dark stairway was not indicative of the beautiful space overlooking Oktyabrskaya (central) Square.

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I enjoyed wandering through the city, shopping for groceries, people watching and eating one of the best meals ever at a little spot called the News Cafe.  Andrei took me on a couple of tours to see some of the most important monuments and some beautiful castles and villages and we always stopped for delicious and hearty soups!

Before my visit all I really knew about Belarus is that the tennis player Victoria Azarenka was born there, that it were a former member of the USSR and on the doomed pathway to Russia during World War II.

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The almost total devastation of the country is memorialized by the  Khatyn complex located outside of Minsk at the site of a village that was destroyed in 1943 and many of the inhabitants killed (75 were children under the age of 16). It is heart wrenching. This memorial is dedicated to all Belarussian citizens who were killed during what they call the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.  More than 2 million people died!

The Mound of Glory is a memorial complex honoring Soviet soldiers who fought during World War II. The creation and artistic expression of these memorials is astounding.

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We also visited two different castles, both belonging to the Radziwill family at one time or another. They were ancestors of the husband of Jackie Kennedy’s sister. The last picture is the oldest surviving town hall in all of Belarus in the ancient village of Nesvizh.

It was a constant history lesson with Andrei showing an amazing memory for facts in addition to his fun and somewhat cynical comments.


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Delta Oasis

A weary traveler looks for moments of calm: a place to sit in comfort, somewhere to grab a bite and drink, free wi-fi,  a clean bathroom,  maybe even a shower if you have time.

On my way back from Belarus through Berlin then on to Paris with a stopover in Seattle  I had 3 hours before finally heading home to San Diego. Upon disembarking I discovered an amazing treat:  the new Delta Sky Club that just opened on Concourse A at Seatac.  Wow!  A picture window of Mt. Rainier!

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With all the travelling I do the privileges and comfort a lounge offers are worth the money they charge.  Savvy customers have found ways to enjoy this perk for less money by having a certain credit card or by flying a qualifying number of miles each year to be gifted access. ( the latter is how I do it)

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There is a “spa” on site, offering massages and other treatments in addition to some great items one can buy for the dog sitter, Christmas or  yourself!  The bathrooms and the showers are large, spotless and supply free lotions, shampoos etc.

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Paris Redux

At the end of our journey down the Rhone we planned a two-day stopover in Paris  to celebrate an anniversary of sorts. When she graduated high school 20 years ago I treated her to the “city of lights” and her first trip over the Atlantic.  It helped that I worked for an airline at the time and was even able to get us in first class. Feeling confident of my prowess as a new travel specialist, I made all the necessary bookings (with Rick Steves’ help).  We stayed at a delightful little hotel called Champs du Mars with our tiny room overlooking the street. Since she was already a vegetarian we made good use of the epicurean delights on Rue Cler eating a daily lunch of bread, a variety of cheeses and some wine.  At night we’d usually step out for pomme frites.

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We had a fabulous time doing all the tourist stuff: walking, museums and the boat ride down the Seine. Every time we got lost having a young beautiful 18-year-old asking directions usually meant that we were escorted back to where we needed to be.



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Sites along the Shore

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Before disembarking in Viviers, we were told that there was a little church high on the hill that was famous as being the oldest cathedral still in use…so we climbed up the highest hill only to find a statue and not much of a church at all, but one can see it in the next photo taken from that spot!

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Avignon is a delightful medieval center almost totally intact and surrounded by a wall that the popes built in the 14th century. It was easy to be mesmerized by the beautiful gardens and a bridge to nowhere. The palace, cathedral and said bridge are all part of UNESCO’s World Heritage site.

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Arles  is “Gaul’s Little Rome”  another of UNESCO’s  world cultural heritage sites, particularly the amphitheater.The landscape around here was also captured by  Van Gogh in many of his paintings.

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Aix-en-Provence, via bus trip with the Germans…history was not translated but we enjoyed the views.

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Tournon is a lovely quiet remnant of life centuries ago.

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And Lyon was the start and the end of our week on the Rhone.  We did the new city before and the old city after.  I’d say that Lyon served well as travel bookends for this trip.

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Even the Dream Vacation has its Challenges!

Okay, I think I owe my daughter an apology.  Although she was the one who suggested a river cruise I’m thinking she wishes she didn’t leave the actual planning up to me. The week and the route were okay but spending so much time with your mother is another thing entirely. We were both aware of our differences: our sleep clocks are opposite….I’m an early riser and early to bed, she is not; and those little rooms, while charming, are not sound proof.

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I was assured by the young man who booked our trip that this boat was usually a younger crowd and mostly English-speaking.  Wrong.  At 69 I was one of the younger ones if you didn’t count the grand-kids accompanying their grandparents and it took me almost the full week before I identified the two other people on board who spoke English as their first language. Unfortunately that meant I was heavily relying on my daughter to be my playmate as well as my bunk-mate.  However, she paid her own way and hoped to enjoy a different sort of VACATION…which to her meant lying by the pool, reading a book and not having to socialize with me or anyone else.

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Not me. I was waiting for the boat to dock so I could get off and explore.  The excursions were set up for either the German travelers (79%) or the special group from Spain (20%) who had their own guide. We were told that we could go along with the German group and only pay half since we would not understand anything other than a few words. Consequently I did many solo trips through the towns, but was able to convince her to join me in taking the bus to Aix-en-Provence assuring her we could go off on our own.  We laughed when the French guide confided in us that the Germans were quite concerned that the Americans would not make it back to the bus in time….we were there first!

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Then there was the bicycle tour to the Mediterranean since the Rhone wasn’t deep enough for the boat to go the entire way.   The sign up session was in German but I asked for a briefing at the end in English. We pedaled for only  20 minutes before we arrived at the beach and the group started locking up their bikes.  I asked what was going on and was told that we now had 3 hours to swim and tan before heading back! My daughter had her suit under her clothes but not me.  Neither of us had towels, sunscreen, or an understanding of what just transpired.  So much for the exciting bicycle jaunt! We convinced the guide that we could find our own way back.

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And lastly, the food, which was delicious and bountiful but not so for my companion, the vegetarian.  I asked the tour booking agency about this and he confirmed there would be no problem. Unfortunately the chef mistakenly thought a vegetarian still eats fish….guess I should have been more specific.  She ate enough cheese and eggs (thank goodness she’s not a vegan!) that toward the end of the week she stuck with a simple salad.

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Lessons learned: Just because a trip is all-inclusive does not mean that changes can’t be made and I’m lucky she was my daughter and didn’t ask for a refund.  I’m guessing her next couple of trips will exclude me!




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