"" Writer's Wanderings: March 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beware Customs Regulations Where You Travel

If you travel a lot, you may become too accustomed to filling out those custom forms and passing through the immigration area of the countries you are entering. For much of the world, it is not much out of the ordinary. Usually the rules are:

  • Don't bring fresh fruits, veggies, or meats into the country.

  • Do not bring an unusually large amount of cash

  • No unusual insects or plants (These often have to be cleared through special channels)

  • Soils, sands, etc

You might also be asked to declare if you are bringing a large amount of literature, electronics, etc. into a country especially if you are there on business. (Once crossing into Canada we were asked, after declaring we were there for a TV interview for my book, if we were carrying books to sell.)

Another unusual occurance was as we entered Australia from Papua New Guinea. Any wooden souveniers had to be checked out to make sure they didn't contain any insects.

It's a good idea to check the country's customs regulations well ahead of your trip particularly if it is an exotic place like Dubai. To our dismay, we discovered recently that their regulations included a long list of banned medications--many that are over-the-counter drugs in most countries. Almost all cold or cough remedies and some of the bronchial meds for asthma are banned as well as anything with codiene. Lots and lots of prescribed meds are banned and you are limited to how much you can bring for personal use--30 to 90 days.

The suggestion is to bring meds in their original containers along with a copy of the prescription from your doctor.

They will also ask you to declare books, DVDs, CDs, and photographs. I'm guessing it's more for content that they do not want distributed.

This trip seems to get more complicated the closer it gets. But it was a good lesson to us to check with the customs regulations before going to another part of the world we have not experienced yet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dubai - A Little History

When you think of the Middle East, you think of oil but oil is only a small fraction of the prosperity of Dubai. Abu Dhabi the capitol of the United Arab Emirates is actually a larger oil producer. Dubai started out as a fishing village known for trading, fishing, and pearling.

In 1830, they were taken over by a branch of the Bani Yas tribe from the Liwa oasis led by the Maktoum family who still rule today. Dubai became a part of the United Arab Emirates when it formed in 1971. The UAE is a union of seven different sheikdoms that have now become one nation.

Dubai, the second largest emirate of the seven, is actually two towns divided by a creek--Deira on the northeast and Dubai on the southwest. By the turn of the 20th century, Dubai was a sufficiently prosporous port and attracted a lot of foreign settlers mostly from other areas of the Middle East and India.

International trade increased even as their pearling industry decreased due to competition from the Japanese cultured pearl market. Their skillful trading began to bring them much prosperity even before the beginning of oil production in the 1960s.

In 2003, Dubai was recognized as by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as a financial hub.

Thanks to the foresight of its leaders, Dubai has now become a world reknowned tourist area with over 300 hotels and ever growing tourist attractions--the world's tallest hotel, an indoor ski area at a mall, a community built on a man-made penninsula, and of course its gold and spice markets.
A city certainly worth exploration.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dubai, What to Wear?

What did we do before the internet? I have been kept busy searching out answers to my questions about Dubai. Today's quest was to decide what to pack to wear for those few days in the city. All sorts of rumors abound about Middle Eastern dress for women most of which do not apply in Dubai.

While I'm not traveling alone, according to Dubai.com, the United Arab Emirates is very safe for women travelers but it is still a bit unusual in this culture for lone women travelers and they suggest staying in a four or five star hotel to avoid unwanted attention especially if you are going to the beach. Actually, I didn't know there was anything less than 4 or 5 star hotels in Dubai. Certainly the prices of hotels would not indicate that.

Tight or revealing clothing is definitely not appropriate however (aside from those private hotel beaches). And if you should leave the city, you definitely want to be careful that your dress does not offend. The suggestion is for "loose trousers and a long sleeved cotton shirt." Good advice not only to keep from offending but also to keep from burning in the hot sun.

The other tip I read for women has nothing to do with dress but might be a good one to keep in mind for business-minded women. Some devout Muslims prefer not to shake hands with a woman. Wait until one is offered.
As for Bob. . .it's a little less stringent but I'm afraid his favorite vacation attire--shorts--will not be appropriate.

Time to check my vacation wardrobe. What to wear. . .What to wear. . .

Friday, March 25, 2011

Eating Halal

This will be our first time to fly on Emirates Airlines and we have tried to get a feeling for what the service and food will be like. So far, people either love it or hate it. But as I was pondering whether to purchase food and take on board or to chance it with their menu, I started searching for others' posts and comments about the menu.

Surprisingly, this site popped up with pictures someone had taken of the trays of food in economy class. The breakfasts don't appear too different from the usual fare--fruit cup, omelet, juice, croissant, etc. The sausage is made of veal though because as Frommers website put it, Emirates is known for its Halal food.

Halal food? That sent me searching again. I discovered several sources that explained that Muslims have certain dietary restrictions, one of which is no pork. And their food animals must be slaughtered in a certain way.

The lunch tray described included a curried chicken with a hint of coconut. All in all, this sounds like a trip that will tempt and try the tastebuds.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anticipating Jet Lag

Dubai, our next destination, is almost halfway around the world--an eight hour difference from our time zone. While we've had bigger challenges (Japan is 14 hours, Australia 12-14) the problem we face this trip is that our plane flight takes place when we would normally be sleeping and we arrive just in time to enjoy a few evening hours and retire to bed again. Hmmmm.

Jet lag is more difficult to deal with when traveling from west to east. It has to do with the change of daylight which regulates our sleep patterns. The National Sleep Foundation says, "Basically, our bodies work on a 24-hour cycle called 'circadian rhythms.' These rhythms are measured by the distinct rise and fall of body temperature, plasma levels of certain hormones and other biological conditions. All of these are influenced by our exposure to sunlight and help determine when we sleep and when we wake."

What to do? We could begin to acclimate by slowly adjusting to the time while still home. From the information I gathered at the NSF and the Travel Clinics of America, we should begin going to bed earlier and getting up earlier since we are traveling west to east. That would put us to bed around dinnertime and have us up the next morning around 2-3 a.m. Not a good solution for us and besides, where's the sunlight at 2 a.m.?

I think the best advice I gleaned was that we should be well rested before we begin our trip. We will probably take a few short naps and then try to stay awake for the last half of our flight. Jet lag is always a challenge but a small consequence to pay to see the world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ah, Love the Smell of a New Suitcase!

Some people drool over the smell of a new car. I like the smell of a new suitcase. Better yet, I love the way the zipper works without getting caught and how the wheels are aligned. Needless to say, with our traveling an average of four months a year, our suitcases take a beating. On our last trip, the old suitcase handle that pulls up so you can roll it behind you got stuck. Add to that the almost worn through corners, a bad zipper, and we knew it was time for a new one.

Now suitcase shopping is not easy and very much like car shopping. What do you do? Buy an expensive one that has all the bells and whistles but may not last or do you go with something cheap that you don't regret having to replace sooner? We chose a more middle road approach.

The one we found is suitable. Lots of space for packing. Lightweight so when we add the clothes it doesn't add so much to the weight that we're paying overage fees. It also has the "fancy" wheels that let you push it or pull it. Now there's a feature I can really live with! I found that it was much easier to push it than to pull it behind me and it handled very easily. So much so that we may consider getting a garment bag with the same kind of wheels.

Now it's almost time to pack again but this time I know that I'm gonna love my new set of wheels!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Books For The Road - Secret Daughter

With the prospect of cruising to some more exotic ports in the near future, I downloaded a more exotic book to my Sony Reader for our last cruise. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda takes place in America and India. The product description says:

On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to Asha. But in a culture that favours sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter's life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her even after the arrival of their cherished son. Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. Somer knows life will change with the adoption, but is convinced that the love they already feel for the baby in the pictures will overcome all obstacles. Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and Asha, "Secret Daughter" poignantly explores issues of culture and belonging.

The story is a contrast of cultures and economic realities. The ease of life in America is contrasted with the slums of Mumbai which in turn are contrasted with the wealthier class of Mumbai. I found the descriptions of the slums and the fight for survival heartwrenching and yet the author manages to open your eyes to the good things that come of the strong family ties there. The customs and traditions of India are woven throughout the storytelling and give the reader a glimpse of Indian life.

But the story goes beyond borders, beyond customs and traditions of any country by bringing into view the strength of motherhood and the importance of family whether it be biological or chosen.
Secret Daughter was a great read! And a great way to "visit" India.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cruising Through The Panama Canal

For a look at what it is like to travel through the Panama Canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific, please take a look at my article published here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Books for the Road - A Still And Quiet Soul

Normally I recommend books here that I feel would be good to take on the road with you as you travel. Usually they are something of interest in the non-fiction realm or a good read of fiction. A Still And Quiet Soul by Cathy Messecar is a little different from that norm.

A Still And Quiet Soul is written as a study book—a book to help you contemplate life. It’s purpose is as a guide in the search for contentment in our spiritual lives. Messecar defines inward peace this way: “Contentment learned from our trustworthy God brings satisfaction of mind and heart in feast or famine.”

Unfortunately as the author points out, so many things of life can interfere with that contentment: worry, whining, busyness, possessions, suffering, impatience. Messecar takes us through those areas of our lives and leads us to discover what may be keeping us from the contentment God promises.

Then we are led to seek and discover what God wants in our lives to make us content: prayer, obedience, answering Jesus’ call in our lives.

In all of this, Messecar shares her story and the stories of others, both Biblical and today’s ordinary Christians who have sought and found contentment in their lives.

I have the privilege of knowing Cathy Messecar and can affirm that she indeed is acquainted with contentment in her own life amid the many struggles life has brought her way.

A Still And Quiet Soul can be used for those travel times where you want a few moments a day to draw nearer to Jesus or it can be used as a group study for a retreat or just a Bible study at home.

On the road or in the home, A Still And Quiet Soul will shine a light on the path to contentment in your own life.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dublin, OH - St. Patrick's Parade

With a city named Dublin, even though it's in Ohio, you just have to expect that they will celebrate St. Pat's day in a big way. We were encouraged to go and enjoy the parade this past weekend. After all, when your grandkids are participating, who can resist a front row seat.

The weather cooperated beautifully with temps climbing to the low 50s and a nice abundance of sunshine to brighten the day and bring out the green. Everyone was green! Participants and parade watchers as well. What a great welcome to the spring that hopefully will soon arrive.

Dublin doesn't stop with a St. Patrick's Day parade however. The first week of August finds the city alive with all sorts of Irish festivities at the annual Dublin Irish Festival. If you have a bit of Celtic spirit, check it out.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shrove Monday - Rosenmontag

Yes, today is Friday. And yes, we've already started into the lenten season but I discovered that there is more celebration going on around the world than just in New Orleans or Rio on the days before Lent begins.

In Germany, parades and parties take place on Shrove Monday or Rosenmontag. While it is not a national holiday many schools and businesses close and there are parades and festivals in the streets of some towns. The theme according to the article I read seems to be a little Saturday-Night-Live-ish. They satirize politicians and make fun of German stereotypes and other public figures.

It's not the day to wear a necktie in Cologne. Apparently one of the customs is to cut off neckties because they are a symbol of authority.

The traditions of the Carnival festivities are possibly traced back more than two thousand years ago to the Roman period when it was a custom for servants and slaves to play the role of the master for one day. Hence the poking fun at politicians and public figures today.

Let's face it. Sometimes it's just good to blow off a little steam--as long as it is in good fun.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Road Trips - The Mysterious

As I mentioned in Tuesday's post, I've been exploring the Hampton Inn Landmarks website. They have what they call "DriveAbouts." Sounds Australian. They have grouped some of their landmarks into interesting tours you can do in your car.

Each tour is themed. One has to do with baseball diamonds, another with children's literature, another, the land of Lincoln and so on. One that caught my eye was a trip that started out in Felton, CA, and ended up north in Longmire, WA. The DriveAbout is called, "The Weird and The Wonderful--Unsolved Mysteries" and includes such things as the Bigfoot Museum, the site of a Japanese bomb, a lavendar farm with a medicine tree (according to its website it is now closed to the public), Crater Rock Museum (I'm guessing petrified wood qualifies as a mystery), Twede's Diner (site of the Twin Peaks filming), the Troll (sculpture under a bridge in Seattle), the University of Washington stadium where the first fan "wave" was started, and then ending at Longmire, WA, where the first modern-day sighting of a UFO gave rise to the term, "flying saucer."

If you are looking for some fun road trips near you, go to the Hampton Inn Landmark site and check out the DriveAbouts. Or make up your own from their list of landmarks. You can search the site for those within a radius of the city you choose. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The World's Largest. . .

We have often teased on road trips, especially when the kids were young, that we were going to stop and see the world's largest ball of rubber bands, or twine, or aluminum foil. I do remember once seeing a home made sign that said, "See the geyser." We turned off and parked down a dirt road where the man who took our $1.25 said the geyser would blow at any minute. Sure enough, the man disappeared and a geyser sprung up a few minutes later right where he said it would. The kids were impressed.

Lately we have stayed in a lot of Hampton Inns and as the elevator doors close, there are small posters on the inside that depict unusual landmarks throughout North America that have been restored largely through the efforts of the Hampton Inns Save-A-Landmark program. My curiosity got the better of me and I looked up the website for the restored landmarks. It is quite impressive indeed and full of all sorts of unusual places.

Several of the landmarks have to do with the world's largest. . .you name it. In Manitoba, Canada, for instance, there is the world's largest pumpkin. Of course it is just a replica pumpkin, 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide weighing in at 1684 pounds.

The world's largest shoe house is in Hallam, PA, and was originally built in 1948. It measures 25 feet tall and 48 feet long.

And a little closer to my home, the world's largest cuckoo clock in Wilmot, OH. It was built in the 1960s to advertise a restaurant. It stands 23 feet tall and was renovated in 2007.

There's also the largest buffalo, teapot, and Santa Claus. I'm not quite done exploring the website. I'll let you know if I find anything more of interest.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Books For The Road - Caught

Harlan Coben never disappoints. This novel however was a departure from the Myron Bolitar novels of his that I normally read--or in this case listen to. Caught was an audio book on CD read by Carrington MacDuffie.

Back cover: Wendy, an ambitious reporter, has undertaken a new and exciting assignment: tracking down alleged child molesters and outing them on live television. However, when the latest exposed molester goes missing and his victim's father claims to have killed him, Wendy discovers that a vigilante group of fathers has set out to kill the people Wendy features on her program.

By the description, you would think that this centered around a vigilante group but actually it went off in a different direction as Wendy discovers that she's been set up with several others and it has more to do with the victims' past association than with the child molesting story.

The plot twists and turns and just when you think you have it figures out, it takes another ninety degree turn in a direction you haven't guessed. At least that's the way it went for me and I'm usually pretty good at figuring out where the story is going. It was a great "listen" and made the hours on the highway pass a little more easily on our trip home from Florida.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Alligator For Dinner

Yes, you read that right. Alligator. It is raised as a food product in Florida and available at many local restaurants. We had some alligator tidbits--kind of like chicken nuggets--at one restaurant we went to. Our grandkids wanted to try it. Our three year old granddaughter really liked it. I didn't think they had much taste apart from the spices used to enhance the flavor.

Alligator is a lean meat, low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. Tail meat is said to be the choicest cut and is a mild flavored white meat with a texture similar to veal.

At a fish market where we bought some snapper to make the Sundowners Poached Fish (poached in coconut milk-really good!!), I happened to see a rack of pamphlets with recipes for various seafood and one was dedicated to the alligator. So, if you are ever able to pick up a pound of alligator, here's a recipe for you.

Grilled Gator Kabobs

1/2 cup Florida orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup Florida orange juice
2 Tbsps light soy sauce
2 Tbsps brown sugar
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 pound Florida alligator meat cut into 1 inch cubes
Assorted Florida vegetables or fruit, cubed

For the marinade, combine orange concentrate, orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and spices in a medium glass bowl. Reserve half for basting. Add alligator cubes and stir to coat well. Marinate for at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator for increased flavor.

Soak wooden skewers in water for 10 minutes to prevent them from burning.
Thread marinated alligator cubes onto skewers alternating with vegetables and/or fruit.

Heat grill to high heat and grill kabobs for 6-8 minutes; turn once. Brush with extra marinade for first five minutes. Discard any leftover marinade.

4 servings

Okay, so if you can't get alligator, the recipe works with chicken, veal or pork as well.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Paradise Point

This morning we leave for home with great hopes that the snow will be melted and the temps will remain above freezing. It was fun being a Snobird if only for a month. The place we stayed is called Ocean Pointe and is a complex of condominiums in Tavernier, FL, which is the tiniest little community between Key Largo and Islmorada.
The condo was a two bedroom corner unit that had an ocean view from the living area and a semi-ocean view from the bay window that faced south-southeast. Lots of sunlight streamed in everyday as we enjoyed perfect weather. Temps in the mid 70s to lower 80s and often a cool start in the morning which lent to a great time on the tennis courts.

Our view also included an osprey nest which entertained us at times. One morning we heard quite a commotion. I wondered what sort of family spat had arisen. I'm guessing it was over who had the rights to the fresh caught breakfast.
The second bedroom came in handy as we were close enough to our Florida grandkids to invite them to visit on several weekends.

The complex has a swimming pool, hot tub, tennis courts, a small beach, a board walk, a marina, a cafe, lots of mangrove trees and palms, and some nice picnic tables and grills that we enjoyed as well.

Our condo exhibited the signs of much "love" as any home would that is well-used but it was very comfortable, had all the necessary items to make our stay comfortable as well as unexpected stocks of supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, soap, etc.

Our hosts (owners of the condo), Greg and Stevie Bovee, were very helpful and friendly. We got to meet them in person as they came to get a new WIFI modem installed. They call their condo Paradise Point. Sadly we say goodbye but with the hope of returning one day as Snobirds again.
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