Frank Lloyd Wright: Cedar Rock, Iowa

“As we live and as we are, Simplicity — with a capital “S” — is difficult to comprehend nowadays. We are no longer truly simple. We no longer live in simple terms or places. Life is a more complex struggle now. It is now valiant to be simple: a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means.”
Frank Lloyd Wright, The Natural House

I look around my house and wonder if I am living in Simplicity. Are there enough windows to let in the natural light? Are plants able to survive naturally in my house growing straight from the soil? Is there too much space?

A road trip through the Central part of Iowa brought me to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most complete designs. Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, Iowa. The house was completely designed for the personal use of Mr. and Mrs. Walter. Mr. Walter was a native of Quasqueton. He was a very successful businessman who owned the Iowa Road Building Company for thirty-seven years. He sold the company in 1944 to his employees. He wanted to retire and enjoy life. He and his wife became very involved in the arts. They admired the work that Frank Lloyd Wright had done on his architectural designs. They asked him to design their house.

Cedar Rock

Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest architect of the 20th century. He designed more than 1,100 buildings before he passed away at the age of 91. Wright built the first house in Spring Green, Wisconsin where he grew up. He named it “Taliesin”. This building had to be built three times. It was destroyed by fire twice. The first caused by a “deranged servant” and the second by an electrical problem. He didn’t have much luck with wives either. He was married three times. The first two he divorced.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Cedar Rock home using the Usonian design. Usonian was the concept he wanted to use for designing homes for the middle-class families. Although I don’t think that many middle-class families between the time of 1944–1955 could afford to buy a house for $120,000.00. The house my parents bought in 1956 was about $8,000.00. We were classified as middle class. The Usonian homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright were tailor-made for the individual and his family. The spaces in the house would be practical and functional. He incorporated “organic architecture”: fresh air, in-house plants, and the sunshine. There were no basements or attics for storage. If you needed to store something and not use it, then get rid of it. He would be very annoyed to walk into some modern-day houses because everything is kept whether needed or not.

No room for storage in this bedroom

The Cedar Rock house was completed in two years. The Walters made a list of the most important items they wanted to include in the house and Wright designed it their way. He chose the curtains, carpets, and picked out the accessories. The house came with furniture, appliances, and plants. The Walters brought their books and clothing. The house was move-in ready.

The natural decor was a must. These are colored rocks illuminated by the natural glow of the sun

The biggest room in the house is the “entertainment area”. This room has a grand piano, movable pillows to allow for more seating and a very small area for sitting and eating. The idea was to socialize with everyone and not to compartmentalize the people. Instead of standing in a corner you had to stand in the center. No wallflowers allowed. The entertainment area is all glass windows. The windows give you the feeling that you are outside in the garden and the woods. The view also includes the river. It’s a dinner without flies. The skylights brighten the interior space and the windows above help release the hot air trapped near the ceiling.

Dining table

There are no air conditioners. An indoor garden has plants growing in the natural soil of the ground. Not planted in pots.

Plants growing straight from the floor

There is a separate entrance from the exit. This was to help the guests feel more comfortable. You could sneak out the door without the host noticing and you didn’t have to explain why you were leaving. The house is airtight. Our guide describes a night that had winds blowing at tornado strength and torrential rains and the house was not affected.

Cedar Rock “Entertainment Area”

Mr. Walters was a very avid boater. He had the biggest boat around at the time. He had a private boathouse designed so that he could get away without anyone knowing about it. Not even his wife. The boathouse is equipped with a bed. Maybe for longer nights.

 

The Getaway Boathouse

The property has a very nice walkway and trail. The walkway goes out to the river and through the trees. I arrived early for the tour and decided to walk to the house. Tours are provided by boarding a wagon that is pulled by a tractor. You can not enter the house or walk around it without a tour guide.

 

Garden steps

 

Small trail from the Information center to the house

Mr. Walters passed away in 1981 and his wife followed in 1986. They had no children. Mrs. Walters donated the home to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1982. The money left in her account when she passed was given to the Commission for the upkeep of the house. Her wish was to let other people come in and admire the beauty of the house.

The houses now are designed to be very big. They have attics or basement in the East or Midwest. Walk-in closets are a most for most new homes and families. In a Usonian house, the kitchen was very small. The size of a “butler’s” kitchen or a walk- in pantry. The hallways were narrow and bookshelves were designed to blend in with the hallway. Having all windows eliminated the problem of interior decorating. Nature was the decoration.

The bedrooms are very small and so are the beds. The windows in the bedroom open out into the garden to give the feeling of being one with nature.

 

Master Bedroom

 

The official plaque of a Frank Llyod Wright Home.

There are only twenty-five buildings that received this plaque from Frank Llyod Wright. He gave it to owners who did not change the design of the building or move any of the furniture around. He hated it when people moved the furniture. He would actually move it back to its original position.

My house has a lot of windows to view the desert. My plants don’t grow straight from the ground. They are in pots that need to be watered often. There is too much space. There are three bedrooms, a loft, a medium sized kitchen, living room, and three bathrooms. Only one bedroom, one bathroom, the kitchen, and loft are used every day. Wright would not be happy with the way I live. It is not very Usonian.

7 things to know about the Ireland Writing Retreat in Donegal

My first writing retreat took place in Donegal Ireland. My life as a travel writer is in the incubation period. I am grabbing at every straw I can to become a better writer.  There wasn’t much information describing the workshop. I took my chances. It was not disappointing. I made friends with other writers. Two of them were Irish and one was from the US.

Many new and experienced writers are looking for places to help them perfect the art of travel writing. I hope to help anyone who is thinking about attending this retreat and is looking for facts.

7 things to know about the Ireland Writing Retreat in Donegal
Venue

The Ireland Writing Retreat is held and organized at Teac Jack in Donegal, Ireland. I spent six days in Dublin before heading to Donegal. I flew from Dublin to Donegal. The second most scenic approach in the world. I thought we were going to land in the ocean. Others took the bus from Dublin.

Teac Jack is a B&B located in Gweedore in Donegal. It has a bar, restaurant, and a beautiful view out the front door. Breakfast is served every morning from 8:00-10:00.  A full Irish breakfast includes fried ham (bacon), eggs, sausage, and a warm tomato. The eggs can be ordered as sunny-side up, boiled, poached, scrambled, and over easy. Orange juice, milk, apple juice, and coffee are available for drinks. There is a table that includes yogurt, cheerios, rice cereal, and oatmeal. Types of bread include wheat, white, and dark brown. Bread can be toasted in a toaster oven. There are no pancakes or waffles. Scones are not served for breakfast, but you can ask and you shall receive.

I went for the full breakfast on the first day. The second day, no bacon. The third day, no mushrooms. The fourth and fifth day, one egg, yogurt, and a warm tomato. The last day, ordered the whole breakfast for the last time.

Disadvantages: Teac Jack is isolated. The only place to walk is the beach. There are no other shops, bars, or restaurants nearby. I began to get cabin fever. We were also blessed with rain for two days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Irish breakfast

A house nearby. One of the Irish writers and I took a hike.

Activities

The program description includes the following activities.

Boat trips to the island of Gola:

The boat to Gola

There was one trip to Gola. The island was once inhabited by families. We were greeted by a couple who prepared lunch for us. Lunch included sandwiches, scones, cupcakes, and drinks.

Hiking in Gola

Cemetary for Catholic babies not yet baptized

Gola countryside

Leisurely walks and a tour of Glenveagh National Park and Castle:

The history of the Glenveagh castle is a tragic one. Unfortunately, on the day we visited the castle it was raining. The gardens are beautiful. I couldn’t get many pictures of the garden. There is a little café that serves, scones, cakes, tea, and coffee. We stopped in to have tea and dry off.

Irish language and dance classes and lively, heart-warming, foot-tapping traditional music concerts:

There were no dance classes. Every Tuesday night Tech Jack hosts the residents and their friends to a Ceili (Kaylee), Irish traditional music. I attended with some of my classmates. Two of my classmates were Irish and one of them was an avid Ceili dancer. Most of the dancers were women. They told me that they leave their husbands at home because they are boors.

The dancing starts at 8:30 and continues until 11:00. Most of these women never stop dancing. These are not young chicks. The ages ranged from 60-82. I was dragged out to the floor a few times. I didn’t know any of the steps. I tried to follow and ended up stepping on a few toes. I wish I would have had a few lessons before we attended.

There were no traditional music “concerts”. An accordion was the only instrument used. There was a performance by one dancer and a fiddler for about two minutes. A singer sang one Irish song. This is not a concert and should not be promoted as a concert. I was disappointed.

There was one leisurely walk that took us down to the beach. We picked wild raspberries. They were sweet.

A visit to Teac Mhuiris introduced us to the life that once was in Donegal, Ireland. After the lecture, our host, Maggie, brought out bread, cakes, scones, and tea. A Gaelic teacher taught us a few Gaelic phrases most commonly used in everyday language. Many people in Donegal speak Gaelic as their native language. The pronunciation is complicated. I was never able to get the words to come out of my mouth in an understandable way.

WIFI

WIFI was available in “Jack’s Bar” and the room where the classes were held.  It was not available in the hotel rooms. This was a disadvantage because we had to sit in the bar with our computers to do our work. The heat in the classroom was shut off when we were not using it. The bar was noisy and there wasn’t much space to work.

Classes

The writing classes took place from 10:00 -1:00 every day.

Tea time/Story time/Language classes

The information on the site includes the following information:

Hands-on teaching techniques including one-on-one, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, critiques of participant’s own work completed before and during the week-long writing retreat. 

We were given an assignment and it was due within 24 hours. There was no offer of one on one in person critiques. The critiques came in the form of feedback online. The critiques did help. They were not profound critiques. The critiques were given by Sean Hillen the instructor/author.

A workshop presented by Emily DeDakis, a dramaturg, had us do various writing activities including putting our ideas into various groups. She gave us the assignment to write about something that we would never tell anyone. I didn’t do the assignment. She wasn’t going to give any feedback and I didn’t understand what the purpose was. Why should I tell her a secret when I don’t even know her?

Another workshop was presented by Laurence McKeown, a play writer. Laurence had a very interesting story about being held in prison for 17 years. He was on a hunger strike for almost seventy days. We found his story fascinating. He gave us intensive feedback on an assignment. The assignment was to write a story that included 50% dialog. It was misunderstood by all the class participants. He corrected them in a way that made them bleed. So much red ink!

Farewell Dinner

The agenda listed the Farewell Dinner as an “evening filled with wine snacks, and lively conversation”.  We had sandwiches that were hastily made and not tasty and lots of wine. The “lively conversation” included a local guitarist whose voice gave me a headache. He told us that he doesn’t write music, he just sings from memory. Another local tried to sing a traditional Irish song but had a very bad cold. We had some lively music from one of the participant’s husbands who played country western music and she had a beautiful voice. The lively conversation switched to Irish politics.

Welcome Dinner

A magical mystery welcome was the title of the welcome dinner.  The owner of Cafe Kitty gave a presentation on potatoes and how they can be cooked. She brought a sampling of her mashed potatoes for us to try. They were good. Later in the week, we went to her restaurant for lunch. Sancho entertained us with a few Irish fairy tales.

Transportation

There is no public transportation. Cabs were available and expensive. This is a problem if you want to go to another town to go shopping or eat. The cost of transportation by cab to the airport is 25 euros.

Meals

Lunch and dinner are not included. You could spend between $30-40 for food and drink per day.  Breakfast is included everyday.

Everyone has different expectations when trying something for the first. The overall experience was good. New friends, good food, rainy weather, new places, and a different language. It was an experience. I feel that the people who were running the workshop did not put enough effort into the program. They were trying to save money at the participants expense. I  admit that this is my first experience and I can’t compare this program to another.

 

New Irish friends

If These Castle Walls Could Talk


If These Castle Walls Could Talk

Today is a perfect day to visit a castle in Ireland. Grey, misty, damp, and a bit of mystery in the air. Castles are mysterious, secretive and overwhelming. Ireland never had any kings. They were under the kingdom and power of England. The Normans came to Ireland in the Medieval times and built castles that didn’t last long. They were trying to conquer Ireland. Many of the castles became ruins or were destroyed. Irish castles were built by foreigners trying to overtake and control the Irish people.

My four classmates, a married couple from New Jersey, two Irish women, and I pile into an old blue Ford van. Members of the Ireland Writing Retreat on Donegal held up in the inn for almost four hours. The weather is not being very cooperative. Then again it is Ireland. It begins to sprinkle as we travel about thirty minutes to our destination. The land is desolating. There is no one around. There are a few farmhouses, some goats roaming around and eating grass, and a lot of green. It is green everywhere. At home in Arizona, I see the desert. Cactus, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats. It is exciting to see such a different climate. I can put up with this rain for now.

We arrive at Glenveagh Castle located in Churchill, Letterkenny, Ireland. It is no longer sprinkling. It is pouring. We jiggle the door latch to open the door. The door slides open and out we jump. My umbrella refuses to open. Norma, one of my Irish classmate attempts to share hers with me. Norma is an author. She has written two books. She is a very happy woman in her 80s and we have become friends. Her daughter is the same age as mine and we both lost our husbands about three years ago.  She has become my hiking buddy. There is only one minor problem with the umbrella situation. She is much shorter than me. I slowly slip the umbrella out of her hands and hold it over both of our heads.  We share a laugh. We head straight to the information center. The room is very small. The receptionist is behind the information desk. There are at least eight other people squeezed into the space. A family with two young boys are sitting on the bench. The older boy keeps asking his father “Do we have to see another castle? Can I wait in the car?” This kid is castled out. We get our tickets and have to wait for about twenty minutes. I am not waiting in this crowded office. I want to go outside and take pictures.

I head outside. I have my trusty raincoat with a hood that I bought on Amazon one week before the trip. Thanks to the quick delivery provided by my Amazon Prime membership, it arrived two days before my flight. I am sure I will be protected. It is raining much harder now. My curiosity will not go away rain or not. I take out my camera. Cover the lens to the best of my ability and start snapping away. I am in the garden. The garden is walled and was planted and taken care of by the wife of John Adair, the original owner of the castle. Unlike her husband, Cornelia was a kind landlady and very generous to the poor. The garden was modeled after Italian gardens. There is a total of eleven hectares of informal gardens with a different theme. I wish I could see the flowers without the rain. The smell of the rain and the flowers are powerful for someone like me who sees rain twice a year. Yellow dahlias, pink and white roses, Japanese cherry blossoms, yellow osterglocken (daffodil) from Wales, white orchids from Panama (Holy Spirit Flower), and the pink Scottish Bluebell (national flower of Scotland). It is September and many of the flowers have reached their peak season.

 

I find a small bench and sit for a while protected from the torrential rain falling around me. I look around me and the mist has fallen and taken over the beautiful scenery of the garden. It is very mystifying. I find my mind wandering off and thinking what life would be in a castle. I look at my watch and realize our tour will begin in five minutes. I navigate my way to the entrance. I feel like I am walking in heaven. The rain makes me happy and gives me energy. It adds mystery to the castle.

John Adair was one of the most hated men in Ireland. Many Donegal natives would consider it a curse to even mention his name in conversation. Adair had a temper and felt a sense of entitlement that most people did not appreciate. He became a very affluent man by traveling to New York in 1850 and working on land speculation. In 1870, he returned to Glenveagh, Donegal. He began to buy up smaller portions of land the locals owned to create his large estate. The local farmers were struggling to keep their families fed and clothed. Adair was not interested in the problems of the people around him. He had no interest in helping them.

Adair had a dream. He wanted to build a castle that would be much bigger than Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish Retreat. In 1870 he built the castle on 16,958 hectares of mountains, bogs, lakes, and woods. Glenveagh Castle is four stories tall, rectangular, and made from granite.  The walls are 11/2 meters thick. The castle includes turrets, a round tower, and fortified battlement ramparts to keep out the enemies. Adair didn’t have any enemies to keep out. He wanted to keep out the Irish farmers. They were no threat to him.  Just a nuisance.

Our tour begins in the entryway. The walls are off-white and four pairs of deer busts with their antlers adorn the hallway. Two of them mounted on the wall and two on small pedestals. John Adair was an avid hunter. He replaced the poor Irish people with deer. This made me sad and I wonder how a man could be so cruel. We enter the music room. It is small, blue ceramic fireplace in the corner, blue/green plaid wallpaper on the walls (reminds me of my school uniform),  an antler chandelier hangs in the center of the room, and a big window opens to the lake below.

Our guide tells us this is where the men hung out, smoked their cigars, and shared hunting stories. We visited the oval bedroom. The guests slept here. If they needed anything, they had a little bell that would summon the servants. There were twelve indoor staff and eight gardeners.

One of the bigger rooms in the castle is the Drawing Room where the women would meet. They gossiped, worshiped themselves in their mirrors and worried that their makeup would melt because the room was so warm. They didn’t want to “lose face”. This is true and everyone in the group began to laugh. The women talked about their husbands, boyfriends, and children. They didn’t have any household duties. If they needed someone to attend to them, they rang the bell and someone would be at their beck and call.

I wanted to find out how the castle was built. Who were the laborers who carried the stones from the lake and painstakingly built the walls? Were they paid for their work? Were they the poor Irish farmers living on the land of John Adair? The guide didn’t give us this information. Another mystery.

The first thing Adair did was to evict the local families. Some say it was because he wanted to “improve the view from his castle.” Who wants to look at the poor?” The local families lived in homes with thatched roofs made of cereal straw and reed covered with wooden rafters. The walls were double packed with earth. The floors were flagstone or packed earth that didn’t help in keeping the home warm. A hearth was located in the central area of the home. There were neither chimneys nor windows for the smoke to escape. The people would have had to pay more taxes for the windows. The soot-blackened homes were known as “black houses”.

The locals became very upset and protested his hunting retreats crossing over their lands. They reported him as trespassing. He became furious and even more determined to get these people off of the land. Adair wanted to use the land as a sheep farm. He had brought his own shepherds who eventually got into a bit of trouble. One of them was accused of murder and having an affair with the dead man’s wife. She became pregnant and was sent off to Scotland.

Eviction of the locals began with Adair acquiring the necessary documents that would allow him to send his “crowbar men” house-to-house evicting families. The first house they came upon was the home of a widow and her seven children. After the family was given the news, their house was destroyed so that they could not come back and live in it. A total of two hundred and forty-four people were homeless including one hundred and fifty-nine children. Michael O’Grady paid for half of the people to move to Australia. O’Grady had purchased land in Australia for the sole purpose of providing land for the displaced farmers. Forty-two of the evicted ended up in workhouses in Letterkenny. These evictions were the most infamous in the history of Ireland.

John Adair passed away in 1885. His wife lived until 1921 and was remembered as being kind-hearted. Glenveagh was bought by a Harvard professor, Arthur Kinsley Porter. He led a very lavish lifestyle. Frequent dinner parties, deer stalking, fishing, and kept a wonderful garden. He disappeared from nearby Inishbofin Island in 1933. His death is a mystery.

Castles are pieces of European history. They represent the great divide between the rich and the poor. Who built this grand castle in Glenveagh? There is no mention of the men who carried the massive granite stones one by one up and down the hills. Were these men paid? How much were they paid? Where are the answers? I can only guess that some of the farmers left behind built the castle with no pay. They were slave laborers. There is no plaque or description of the builders. Could it be something that people just want to forget? It is important to remember history and to honor those who put so much sweat into this great castle.

I left the castle with these questions. We had some time before our van returned. We stopped at the restaurant in the visitor center. There were pies, cookies, chocolates, tea, and coffee. We all ordered something to eat and drink. I ordered coffee and a piece of cheesecake. I asked my group if they knew who built the castle. No one had the answer. The information desk wouldn’t give me an answer. Is it a secret? I want to know.

The van arrives. The rain slows to an annoying drizzle. I am disappointed. I would like to spend more time at the castle. We drive down the road and I can’t resist turning around and looking at the castle tower. It is so tall and profound. I can imagine what the life of the people outside of the castle and inside the castle was like. Two completely different groups occupying the same land.

The road we travel back is the same road that so many of the Irish walked to arrive at their ships taking them out of their country into a far and distant place. Places such as the USA and Australia, no longer in charge of their destiny.

This bridge was crossed by the evicted farmers and their families.

A message carved in Gaelic wishing everyone safe travels and mourning their loss

I look out into the vast green farmland. It is quiet and has an eerie feeling. There are no people in the fields, driving cars, or walking around. Was it always like this? It looks so lonely. No one talks as we make our way back to the Tec.

The countryside as it is today

Castles are mysterious. They hold secrets that we will never know.

 

 

Ditch the Box Hotels

Hospitality is much more than word today. It has become an industry that runs the danger of becoming too high tech, with too little high touch.

John Hogan

I define a “box hotel” as a place with a bed, two nightstands, a lamp on each stand, a desk, a chair with wheels, a flat screen TV with multiple channels, a bath with a shower, a couple of pictures on the wall depicting the surroundings of the town, city or state. You might have a window. If you are really lucky or a time honored patron, you will have a scenic view. If this is your first time and you are on a budget, you will probably be staring at a brick wall or into someone else’s room.

The lobby of the hotel includes more pictures, fake vases, red carpet, and dark walls and chandeliers. There is usually a bar that charges seven to ten dollars for a glass of wine. Check-in begins in the lobby. You wait five to fifteen minutes to be checked in. You are handed a key, a plastic card that includes all of the information about you, the wifi code, and a parking permit for the garage. The parking is not free. A hotel in one of the big cities will whisk your car away and you have to call to get it back.

Choosing the right hotel is always one of my dilemmas. I don’t want to spend a lot on hotels. I do want a safe place to stay. I have found various alternatives to hotel stays that provide real hospitality. Full breakfast in the morning, private bedroom, shared bath, community rooms for those who want to play games or talk. Bed and Breakfast, private homes shared on Airbnb, and hostels remodeled for retired travelers.

Hospitality should be a “place”, where people can still be exceptional individuals, where they can extend their own personality and style.

John Hogan

Schuster Mansion

I have the privilege of staying in the Schuster Mansion in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I am attending a conference for Women in Travel, WITS. The mansion is an alternative to the “box hotel” recommended by the conference staff. Cheaper, historical, family owned, and a feeling of being welcomed.

The mansion was built in 1891 by George Shuster a tobacco baron. The mansion became an apartment building in 1924. Many of the victorian style homes in the neighborhood are apartment buildings. Rick and Laura Sue, the current owners, bought the mansion in 2008. They have been remodeling it for almost nine years and are not finished yet.

I arrived at the mansion around 3:30 p.m. I rang the doorbell and Laura Sue opened the door. She was dressed from head to toe in victorian attire. A sweeping yellow dress with a white lace apron. I arrived early and she was still entertaining ladies attending High TeaShe serves High Tea three times a week. The ladies partake of several different kinds of pastries and teas. Laura Sue tells them the history of the mansion and how people lived in the Victorian Era. I don’t have a chance to attend any of the teas. I sat down on the sofa in the parlor and waited for her to finish.

She went over all of my information. Gave me four choices for breakfast and handed my key. It was a real key. I am staying in the Prairie Room.

The Prairie  Sky Room

The Prairie  Sky Room is the only single room. This room was the living quarters of three servants in 1891.  The bathroom is shared with the room next to me. I am the only one here four out of the five days. The ceiling is painted blue with clouds. Lace curtains cover the windows. Yellow drapes with blue flowers grace the sides of the windows. There are pictures of victorian women dressed in their pastel petticoats, blue, pink, and yellow. Most of the pictures in the house are of Rick and Laura Sue’s ancestors and childhood pictures of themselves. Creaky wooden floors, a blue floral ceramic water pitcher sits on the side table. Two old fashioned porcelain lamps with iron pedestals positioned on the other side tables. A TV is provided in the room with access to multiple channels. There is no desk in the room. I have to go to the parlor to use my computer. The bed was very comfortable, not too hard, not too soft.

Various decorations in the Prairie Sky Room

There is a total of six bedrooms, some of them suites with a sunroom, in the mansion. Rick and Laura Sue live in the Ballroom which is not yet completely remodeled. Much of the furniture in the mansion was donated by friends and guests or bought at garage and estate sales. French doors open from the front room into the parlor. In the parlor, a blue floral upholstered sofa and embroidered chair are accompanied by crystal candle holders, two ticking clocks, an old cast iron typewriter, various colored glass vases sitting on a shelf. The sun shines in to bring out the bright colors of blue, green, lavender, red and orange.

The experience of staying in the mansion for four days was like staying at my grandma’s house. Not that my grandma lived in a mansion, the feeling is like someone really cares about hospitality. A glass of Riesling was $2. Not bad. The long breakfast table was set with white old-fashioned laced tablecloths, freshly pressed cloth napkins, flowers, and tall thin white candles. Guests can schedule breakfast anytime between 7:00-10:00. Breakfast is served fresh to each guest. If you want to eat at 9:00, your breakfast will be made right before you sit down. You can even have it served to your room. I ate at 7:30 every morning and always had someone to talk with. It’s a great set up if you are traveling alone and don’t like eating alone. Like me!

I feel it is very important to support the entrepreneurs who put so much time and effort into these private “hotels”.

Nahargarh Haveli

Planning a trip to a country you have never visited before can be a little scary. Sometimes we have to take calculated risks. Reserving hotel rooms requires research. Thanks to the many travel sites, we can find information from previous travelers. Does the hotel offer wifi? Is there a restaurant on the premises? Is there public transportation nearby? Is it safe? How many stars does it have? We can look at pictures that other travelers have posted. What is the “star” rating? What is the price?

Planning a trip to Jaipur, India? Skip the box hotels. Skip the tourist magnet hotels. You will be impressed by the beauty and the incredible cleanliness inside these hotels built for tourists and very rich locals. You will not experience the “real” culture. I stayed at the hotel Nahargarh Haveli .

Nahargarh Haveli is a privately owned hotel. It is located in a very quiet residential neighborhood closed off by gates. The only people allowed in are the guests and the residents. Our room is a room with two double beds. We reserved the room for two beds. We arrive at the room and find what we think is a queen bed. We ask the front desk for a room with double beds. He goes into the room and separates the queen bed into two double beds. What a concept! The beds in every country around the world are much smaller than the beds in US hotels. There is a private shower, TV, wifi access, and a coffee maker. The ceiling of the bedrooms, lobby and breakfast room were colorfully decorated in green, yellow, blue, and orange.

The breakfast was a buffet. This buffet included eggs, cheese, yogurt, meats, cereal, made to order omelets, an assortment of juices and bread. I often wonder what visitors think when they wake up in the morning at an expensive hotel in the USA and find there is no “free” breakfast. I have traveled to Spain, Portugal, and India and the breakfast is always free. It is a very big spread. You can eat breakfast and lunch. They have signs posted “Do not take food out of the restaurant.” I have witnessed some Americans stuff food into their backpacks and purses before leaving the breakfast room. It must be a great way to save money.

Nahargarh Haveli has a restaurant on the third floor. We arrive at the hotel tired and hungry. We are too early to order dinner. The waiter told us that we could order snacks. He presented the snack menu to us and were pleasantly surprised that it included smaller portions of the dinner menu. We order rice, a potato dish, and a curry dish. I liked the food in India. I can’t tell you the names of the food I ate because I didn’t understand the language. Most Indian food includes potatoes, red chiles, cheese and green chilis. The majority of Indians are Hindus and don’t eat any kind of meat.

We eat dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the neighborhood. It is very peaceful. A very big change from driving through traffic and avoiding hitting people walking everywhere in the streets. A six-year-old boy is riding his red bicycle down the street while his older sister is chasing after him. I don’t understand what she is saying. Maybe “Get off my bike”. A four-year-old girl is running around the patio. We are told she is the daughter of the man and woman in the kitchen cooking. Very family oriented. We finish our “snack” and return to our rooms.

The total cost of this hotel is $25 per night. No, I am not joking. I recommend this hotel to anyone who is traveling to Jaipur, India.

Ditch the box hotels! Support the entrepreneurs around the world.

I want to see a world in which every entrepreneur has access to the resources he or she needs to succeed, and where through the power of supportive communities – that means you and me – every resource can be made available.
Jessica Jackley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Old Friend, A New Culture: Delhi India

One of my main purposes for traveling to India is to visit a very good friend. I met Hiroko in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was a student in my ESL class. Hiroko is one of the most adventurous persons I know. We traveled to Chicago many times by train to shop and sight see. Hiroko’s husband was transferred to Delhi, India almost seven years ago. My husband became sick and we were not able to visit. Unfortunately, my husband passed away two years ago. I decided it was time to go to India and see Hiroko.

Travel by rickshaw

Rickshaws are a very useful source of transportation in India. They don’t require fuel, are easy to repair, and are cheap to maintain. The investment is attainable. Bicycle rickshaws are a very cheap way for everyone to get around. They transport food, hay, bricks, heavy boxes, and people. School children ride bicycle rickshaws to and from school instead of school buses.  Rickshaws can cram up to 8 children at one time.

Rickshaws lined up and waiting for customers

My friend, Hiroko, and I decide to climb into one after negotiating the price. There really isn’t a lot of room for negotiation as a foreigner. The price starts high and is only reduced a few rupees. We climb into the small cabin. Everything is so much smaller when you are tall and not very thin. Hiroko holds out the palm of her hand and draws a circle with her finger indicating that we want to go around the local market area. We don’t speak Hindi and the driver doesn’t speak English. The driver is in his forties and probably weighs no more than 150 lbs. The weather is warm and I can see beads of sweat running down his face and neck as he peddles through the narrow streets lined with vendors.  We hit a few potholes and bumps on the way. The padded seats don’t seem to help the impact. It is a good thing that I have a naturally padded rear end. The driver is getting tired and looks frustrated. I feel sorry for him. He can’t figure out where we want to go.  He stops every five minutes and asks the question “Where is the entrance to the market?” No one knows the answer. Fifteen minutes have passed. We are lost.

He stops, descends from the bike, and summons a man who has a very good command of English. He asks us “Where do you ladies want to go?” Hiroko tells him that we want to go to the front of the market. He relays the information to the driver and gives him directions. He seems to understand and off we go. The destination was right around the corner.

This is not a place where foreigners/tourists come. There are no museums, famous temples, shopping malls, or supermarkets. These streets belong to the people and their stalls that sell fruit, vegetables, food cooked in front of you, and clothing. These people are hard working and want to you to purchase their items.

Fruit and vegetable stall

Everyday Life

We stop at a samosa stall. A man and his young son of about 12 years old welcome us into his stall. His son greets us with a “hello” and shyly smiles. We sit down on two white plastic buckets. He serves us each a  deep fried samosa filled with potatoes. I ignore all of the advice given to me about not eating street food. It is just too tempting.  We dip our samosas into a green chile salsa. I tell him that these are the best samosas. He smiles. We pay for our purchase and thank him. I hope we made him happy.

Man and his young son at the samosa stall

As we are walking down the street I notice this woman standing in the heat holding an iron.  She stands on her feet for about 8-9 hours a day. She irons clothing that the people in the neighborhood bring to her. The iron weighs about four pounds and is very hot.

The ironing lady

We stop at another stall. A man is making sugar cane juice. He is older, maybe in his late 60s. We watch the sugarcane stalks go through the grinder as the juice comes out of the other end of the machine. He smiles and I urge my friend to stop. We buy some juice and drink it. It is very sweet. I only hope that today’s food doesn’t come back to haunt me tonight in my sleep.

Sugar cane juice stand

We decide to take a ride on a tuk-tuk to the local supermarket.

Tuk-tuk

Supermarkets are not as popular with the common people as the local stalls. Supermarkets are expensive and the vegetables are not as fresh. Not everyone is allowed in the supermarket. Many of the locals are kept out. Our bags are checked at security. Men and women are lead in separate directions.  The women enter a small enclosure and the curtains are drawn. The security guard who is a woman proceeds to slide her wand all around me. I pick up my backpack and proceed into the supermarket. It is about one-third of the size of our monster supermarkets.

There are no “street” people, fixed prices, and not many customers. I wander through the store and find Kellogg products, Heinz tomato sauce, and Nestle instant and condensed milk. The prices are about triple the prices at the stall. Hiroko prefers to buy her vegetables at the local stall because of the freshness. We decide to invest in three small boxes of mango juice. We are checked out by not one cashier, but three cashiers. Not a single woman is working in the store.

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Foreigners are not allowed to drive in India. They must employ “drivers”. Hiroko and her husband both have drivers who take them where they need to go. Hiroko’s husband uses his driver to go back and forth to work every morning. Hiroko keeps her driver very busy. She is always on the run. Vinod is our driver. He greets us with “Namaste” as we exit the apartment complex. We climb into the car and Hiroko begins giving directions. Vinod has a very limited command of English and Hiroko speaks Japanese. He has been her driver for almost 6 years. They have their way of working out the language differences. We are on our way to the center of Delhi.

The traffic moves very slowly. There are almost no working traffic lights nor stop signs. People drive defensively honking their horns and almost never using their turn signals. Vinod is a very careful driver. He has a knack for squeezing in front of others without hitting them. The traffic makes me nervous. I decide to focus on the people around me. We aren’t going anywhere. Women with babies and small children sit on the back of motorcycles driven by their spouses or other male members of the family. Most of the time women sit sideways. Some are wearing helmets, but the majority are not. Women don’t drive in Delhi. Vinod told us he doesn’t let his wife drive. I can understand. I wouldn’t want to drive here either. It reminds me of driving bumper cars at the state fair.

Six to eight elementary school girls wearing their green plaid uniforms and green sweaters pile into a bicycle rickshaw. The girls are giggling and catch a glimpse of us in the car. They start waving frantically and yelling “hello, hello”. I roll down the window and they all shout “What’s your name? What’s your name?” I yell above the noise of the cars and busses, “Carol”. I make the mistake of asking “What’s your name?” because 8 different names come flying in my direction. I didn’t catch a single one. Our car finally inches up and before I can take a picture of the girls a van pulls up and blocks my view. The girls are gone.

The van passes us and behind him is another rickshaw. This one has seven males in their twenties. They catch my eye and began to send me hand signals. One asks me if I want to meet his friend. I throw up my left hand and point to my wedding ring. They laugh and wave goodbye. Friendly banter in the middle of traffic going nowhere anytime soon.

First Tourist Stop

Forty-five minutes later we arrive at Qutb Minor, a 73 m-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. This is one of the must-see monuments in Delhi. Foreigners/tourists are charged three times the price as locals. Hiroko is considered a local. She carries a document stating that she lives in Delhi. We don’t have a guide. Other foreigners have formed a line behind us. Many of them accompanied by a private guide they have hired to shuttle them around all day. Guides are a very helpful for tourists in India. They provide valuable historical information, recommend restaurants, and protection when necessary.

Groups of Indian elementary school children dressed in their gray pants and navy blue vests are trying their best to stand in line.   Their teachers are telling them in English, “Line up here”. They proceed into the park in single line formation following their teachers. Elementary schools in India have both coeducational and segregated classes. Some of them pass by and sneak a smile and a few giggles when they see the foreigners watching them and taking their pictures. I wonder what they think about us.

School children waiting to enter the Qutb monument park

We take pictures, read the guidebook, and walk around. Every time I turn a corner, there is a young Indian couple stealing kisses and embracing. Showing signs of affection in public is not acceptable. Young people take advantage of theaters, museums, and national monuments to show their feelings for each other.

Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar

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We stop at the market on the way home to pick up some things for dinner. The market has stalls of vegetables, dry goods, pharmaceuticals, dried fruits, nuts, and clothing. Hiroko has her preferred vegetable stall. We quickly pass by all of the others who are trying to hawk their products. Hiroko walks into her vegetable stall and everyone greets her with “Namaste”. She goes about picking her vegetables. She is being closely followed by one of the workers who is holding a small plastic container with small holes.

Hiroko chooses a vegetable and he places it in the container. He tries to get her to buy mangoes, she says no. There are gooseberries, grapes, cauliflower, ginger, bananas, and cabbage. He hands the plastic container of vegetables to another man who weighs it. The tally is done by hand with pencil and paper. The next man gives Hiroko the total. She haggles for a little less and is successful. She pays with her debit card.  We leave the bag with them and proceed to the next stall.

There are no women shopping nor working in the stalls. The men lie around, drink tea, and talk to each other. I walk through the stalls observing the colorful clothing and the various choices of nuts and dried fruits. Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, dates, apricots, and apples.

Vegetable shop

Vegetable stall

This was the first day of my visit to Delhi, India. Please read Part 2.

 

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7 Cultural Observations of India

It is better to be blind than to see things from only one point of view. — Indian proverb

To experience India through the eyes of a local let me see the daily life of the Indian people. My hosts were a Japanese couple transferred to Delhi because of emloyment. I would like to thank them for the opportunity to walk the streets, eat in local eateries, and observe the culture. I don’t think I would have had the same opportunity if I were on a tourist bus.
1. Types of Transportation

Bicycle rickshaws, tuk-tuks, buses, private drivers, and motorcycles all compete for space on the roads in Delhi, India. Bicycle rickshaws transport fruits, vegetables, and eggs to the shopping stalls and small supermarkets. They also carry loads of bricks, steel rods, and freshly cut hay. Tuk-tuks transport as many as ten people hanging from both sides.

Buses are mostly old and rusty with no air conditioning. People are packed onto the buses with their heads and arms protruding from the windows. Private drivers are employed by most middle-class and upper-class. Motorcycles are a very popular form of transportation. They are the easiest to squeeze into small pockets of traffic. Traffic in Delhi moves very slowly.

Family on a motorcycle

Can you find four types of transportation in this photo?

Transporting loaded boxes by bicycle.

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.

Mahatma Gandhi

2. Employment

Employment in India is made of mostly men. Men work in places where women shop. They sell dresses, saris, perfume, jewelry, shoes, accessories for the home, and food. Many of the men do the shopping. Employment includes working in food stalls, selling fruits and vegetables, restaurants, providing transportation, and security.

Women who shop usually have a man with them. There are foreign women who work in some of the “foreign shops”. Foreign shops are for people who are not Indian and can’t bargain. Women of the lower class work as maids and cooks in homes of those more fortunate. Indian women don’t work outside of the home.

India has a large proportion of unemployed young men. Men from the ages of 20 -35 hang out on the street corners chatting with their friends, playing traditional games, drinking masala, and talking on their cell phones.

Food stalls

Making sugar cane juice

Fresh fruits and vegetables

The second fundamental feature of culture is that all culture has an element of striving.

Johan Huizinga

3. Bargaining

Bargaining is a very big part of Indian culture. There are no prices posted in the local stalls. You must ask the price.

Excuse me,  How much is that bag of peanuts?

Salesman: 30 rupees

Indian buyer: How about 25 rupees?

Salesman: I will sell it to you for 28 rupees.

Indian buyer: OK

I am with my Japanese friend who doesn’t really get many bargains. She can’t speak the language or know the art of bargaining. Indians don’t like to bargain with foreigners. I try a couple of times in English. I am turned down. I walk away.

Shops that cater to foreigners post a sign “fixed prices”. No bargaining in these stores. The fixed prices are visible at shopping malls and supermarkets.

Handicraft stall

Clothing stall

4. Holy Cows

Cows are not worshiped as Gods. They are deeply respected by the Hindu religion. It is illegal to eat or possess beef. The cow is recognized as a “caretaker”, a maternal figure.  The cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, and selfless giving. There are more than 44,900,000 cows in India. The highest in the world.

Cows wander the streets of India eating garbage. They cause problems. They step out into the middle of traffic and everyone must stop until the animal decides to move. Sometimes men will get out of the cars and coax the animal to the side of the road. Hit one of these cows and you could go to jail and pay a hefty fine.

Cows get sick, injured, and old. Some of them are rescued by gaushalas. Sick and injured cows are taken to these rescue areas. The cow is treated and lives the rest of his life as a happy cow.

Rescue for injured and hungry cows

Cow ambulance

5. Food

Indians who follow the Hindu religion don’t eat meat. No chicken, pork, or beef. Indians who are Muslims eat everything but pork. Eggs, cheese, and chapati a type of Indian bread are the staples of a Hindi diet. Food is spicy. I loved the food. I ate so many styles of curry and dishes made with cheese. We frequented the local restaurants and were always rewarded with great food.

I must confess that I did get a case of “Indian baptism” which lasted only one day because I was prepared with the right medication. India has a few American fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Burger King. The menus in these restaurants are very different than the ones in the USA. I stayed away from American restaurants because I was looking for local food. India is paradise for vegetarians.

Grilled Paneer

Dal

Not sure. It tasted great.

6. Traffic

Traffic in Delhi includes cows, pigs, dogs, scooters, tuk-tuks, buses, private cars, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, and bicycle rickshaws. Everyone is competing for the same space at the same time. Traffic lights don’t work. Stop signs are ignored. People are trying to squeeze in everywhere possible. There are no alternative routes. Streets are narrow and full of potholes.

People are crossing everywhere. There are no designated crosswalks. Young children, dirty and poorly dressed, knock on your windows and ask you to give them money. Older children and adults are walking through the traffic selling balloons, coconuts, ice-cream, roses, and water. Most of the people ignore the vendors. One man with no legs is riding a skateboard. I can’t see him until he comes next to the car.

There is some progress in building wider freeways.

Bumper to bumper

Motorcycles, bicycles, and tuk-tuks compete with cars and busses.

Nobody is going anywhere

7. Security

Security is everywhere. Bags are checked and both men and women are scanned with a wand for entry into supermarkets, museums, malls, restaurants, and all visitor sites. Military police stand on every corner with their rifles. Security waits at every entrance to gated condo areas.

I found monkeys hanging out at the Ministery of Defence. The security prevented me from taking a picture of the monkeys. It was really the only place with so many trees in the whole city.

Security at the airport begins on the sidewalk. No one is allowed to enter the airport without a ticket.

Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of security or monkeys!

 

 

 

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Up Up and Away

 

World Hot Air Balloon Championship

It was July 13, 1985 when I had my first encounter with a hot air balloon. Our family of three had just arrived to Battle Creek, Michigan from Japan. We had been living in Japan for five years and my husband was being transferred to Battle Creek, Michigan to help open a new plant. We had just ended a twelve-hour flight and we were tired and disoriented.

We arrived at what seemed to be the only hotel in Battle Creek because it was so crowded and the city was so small. We checked in and held on to our three-year old so that she wouldn’t get lost. We finally found our way into the crowded elevator trying to squeeze our over packed luggage along with a stroller. As we were successfully stuffed into the elevator a young man of about twenty-two asked my husband if he were one of the Japanese balloonists. We both looked at each other because we had no idea what he was referring to.  We said, “No, is there a balloon festival?” and he said, “Yes”. We headed up to our rooms in the elevator and my husband was asked the same question again. We turned on the TV and realized that Battle Creek was celebrating their annual World Hot Air Balloon Championship representing twenty-one different countries. One of those countries was Japan.

We attended the festival in Battle Creek for twenty years. Now, my friend and I  were on our way to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta one of the largest balloon conventions in the world.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

It is 4:00 a.m. and we are on our way out the door. The early morning is very dark, not a star in the sky. The morning is crisp with a very slight wind blowing in our faces. The GPS is set for our destination which should be no more than ten minutes away. It is giving us the directions, “turn left on Jefferson, in two miles turn right on to Washington.”  We arrived at the Balloon Fiesta field outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of the largest balloon conventions in the world. It began in 1972 with 19 balloons and expanded to 600 balloons. This event takes place every year in October for one week. Balloonists who participate come from all over the US and the world. They must compete in their own states and countries before they are accepted to participate in the event.

We walk towards the only light we have seen for almost 40 minutes and find ourselves in front of vendors which are tightly lined up on the side of the path leading to the main field. The smells of doughnuts, elephant ears, breakfast burritos, and Pinon coffee are in the air. We walk over to the field and find some old wooden picnic tables, which we can’t see until we bump into them. This is when a flashlight would have come in handy.

The Launch

There are two very important factors that prevent hot air balloons from ascending, too much wind and rain. These factors will make or break a perfect launch.

The sun is beginning to rise which means that the balloons will be inflating and we will soon be witnessing one of the most popular hot air balloon festivals in the USA.  There is only one problem, there is too much wind. Spectators sits around on the picnic tables and lawn chairs waiting patiently for the announcement of ascension.  There is anticipation for everyone who has traveled from all over the USA and the world to watch these colorful bulbs get up into the air.

The balloonists are laying out their envelopes, the actual fabric which holds the air, on the field waiting for the “all go” signal. Everyone’s eyes are focused on the sky above them.

Lift Off

The signal finally comes and the balloons begin to inflate.  People are crowding on to the field and getting their cameras ready for the artistic panoramic scenes the balloons will create once they are all launched. The balloons are orange, red, blue, green with designs that include stripes, stars, diamonds, and sponsored balloons which have names such as Pepsi, and Kodak.

Animal shapes of famous cartoon characters, such as Tweedy Bird with his bright yellow head and orange nose, followed by Puddy Cat, the big black and white cat with the red nose, who is forever chasing Tweedy Bird around. Both the children and the adults identify each balloon by name as it is being inflated. It is a magical moment .

Unfortunately, these balloons are not able to ascend very far, they are heavy and cumbersome to fly long distances and the wind is working against them , not allowing them to get more than fifty feet into the air. They stay above the crowd and no one is disappointed because this is the time to get some great shots of these magnificent balloons. The bigger balloons don’t stay up more than fifteen  minutes before plopping down on the grown and showing their frustration. The rest of the balloons end up landing no more than one to two miles away.

This time the wind won.  Balloon Festivals take place outside and depend on the movement of the natural elements wind and rain. They don’t like either one.

Consider yourself lucky, if you  experience a successful Hot Air Balloon Launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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