Madeira Holiday

A Google search for warmest places to visit in Europe in February yielded Madeira. Two friends and I landed on the island today, welcomed by blue skies, mild weather and blinding sunlight. We got to Porta do Sol in the early afternoon, in time to witness a local carnival parade.






And this evening, I stood on the balcony and watched the sun sink into the ocean.(null)

It’s a fabulous vacation!

Happy 2015


So here’s the thing. Life is made up of tests and victories. The victories are accomplishments, celebrations, moments for joy, love and happiness. The tests challenge optimism and joy, but they are necessary for personal, professional and spiritual growth. I forget to value my tests for having shaped me even more than my victories.

As 2015 starts, positive memories are never far away. You likely know most of them because I posted them on Facebook. I self-sensor a lot when I write online but in the tradition of the Christmas letter, while flipping the script, here is my list of my best learning moments this year.

I spent a week in the hospital. My insurance paid except $200 for the private room upgrade. I’m fortunate that I could access great medical care. The downside: vegetarian food to Czech hospitals means boiled carrots, potatoes and cabbage. Best meal: rice with carrots and CHEESE!!

I twisted my ankle twice (the same one) just walking down the stairs. I don’t care what anyone says: 30s are not the new 20s!

I’ve wasted hours chatting with um … too unique guys on online dating sites. I cannot get that time back!

I bought a treadmill to alleviate my guilt over binge watching television. I am usually bored of the repetitive motion and the difficulty in hearing the tv after about 30 minutes.

I’ve had to use “find my iPhone” to find my old (4S) iPhone twice this year. At least neither time involved me getting the police to help (tales from Japan).

I traveled a lot; I saved little. (Yes, there it is a cause and effect relationship, not just a correlation.)

I don’t always make the best decision. No, it’s not a mistake but a choice.

1. The number of times I left my keys at work with my spare keys inside my apartment.

3, the number of times I’ve started to cry in a public place when thinking of my grandmother.

2, the number of times I’ve been late paying my rent because I forgot to set up automatic payment.

540 – the amount of US money that got stolen from me in Johannesburg.

It was really hard to come up with this list. I guess our brain protects us by finding it easier to recollect the good. Guess how many times I self censored in this post? 😉

Happy New Year friends, family, (global) neighbors. I hope that you have an abundance of victories and grow triumph over all your tests.

Fare thee well Summer 2014

The five weeks of summer just flew by; I’ve already been back at work for over a month! Somehow, I convinced myself that I had a quiet summer planned and that I would be in Prague. It’s amazing that I managed this delusion given that I had tickets to spend 2 weeks in Southern Africa, a few days in Orleans outside Paris, a few days in Berlin, and a week in Slovakia. Add to this the fact that a friend and her two and a half year old daughter were staying with me for 2 months, and 5 members of my family (not staying with me) would visit for a few days, and my only excuse is that I had originally planned a quiet summer.

Southern Africa was wonderful. I didn’t have the best start with over $600 being stolen from me. I didn’t go anywhere with the money except my hotel (Faircity Mapungubwe Hotel), the hotel shuttle and the airport. I’m just lucky that not all my money was stolen, and I still had my wallet for the rest of the trip. Needless to say, I have no desire to revisit Johannesburg! In the interest of completeness however, I must say that the Apartheid Museum was very educational. Upon entry my ticket indicated whether I should use the entrance for Whites or Non-Whites. Wow, what a powerful way to make the point. The tour to Soweto was interesting, especially Nelson Mandela’s first house and the Horace Mann memorial. However, a large part of the trip was uncomfortable for me as I felt pressure to donate funds to local people who we visited on the tour, and I felt a bit like I was visiting a zoo. Not pleasant …

After Johannesburg, Cape Town was a treasure. Wonderful food, and the freedom to walk everywhere. My hotel in Johanesburg had advised me not to walk anywhere. In contrast, the wonderful staff at Parker Cottage in Cape Town had a map for us and encouraged us to walk around the area. I could easily get sidetracked here speaking about the wonderful staff and delicious breakfasts at Parker, but that would make the post too long! Oh, what fabulous seafood! And high tea at the Mount Nelson… I would visit again just for the food! It may not have been the best idea to go to high tea after a trip to Robben Island however, since I do get motion sickness but I managed to overcome the nausea to enjoy a fabulous high tea with great savory bites and unlimited sweets, teas and coffees.

Robbin Island had mixed reviews on Tripadvisor but I thought that the visit to the prison and tour by the former inmate was poignant and interesting. The bus tour around the island was less interesting to me; the only point of interest to me was the stone quarry where Mandela had toiled for many years.

From Cape Town, we flew to Maun and then on to Kwara Lodge which is a private concession. I saw my favorite sight of the whole trip here: a den of wild dogs with 15 puppies, and over 7 adults in the pack. That was incredible! We also saw some mating lions, a cheetah, hippos, elephants, giraffes, numerous birds, zebra, warthogs, etc. Chobe Elephant Camp was our next stop, which we used as a base to visit Chobe National Park where we saw the most spectacular sight of a leopard in the trip with its (impala) kill, a pride of lionesses eating a baby elephant, and a fish eagle snatching a Egyptian goose from the water. Both places were all inclusive. They struggled to support my friend with her primal diet for snacks and first breakfast, but the selection of food was good and plentiful. From Chobe Elephant Camp, we travelled a short distance to Ichingo River Lodge in Namibia. This was my least favorite place. There was nothing more to see from a safari perspective as we had been on a river safari from Chobe Elephant Camp. We did go for a pleasant hike and saw a huge baobab tree. However, the feel of the lodge was much more old colonial/imperialist than the others. I did catch a tiger fish, on my first (and only?) fishing expedition, which is small consolation.

The final stop was Zimbabwe, which we travelled to by land from Botswana. Victoria Falls Park is wonderful; the walk across the Victoria Bridge to Zambia to see the bungee jumpers and zip liners was worth it. I wasn’t interested in either of those adventures; the helicopter ride that I did instead provided great panoramic views of the falls. I highly recommend it. I found people to be friendly in Zimbabwe. Many people were plying their wares but were not nearly as pushy as in India. In fact, their seemed quite adept at consoling themselves for a missed sale by saying “maybe later”. The Stanley Terrace at the Victoria Falls Hotel has great views of the falls but we were disapointed in the high tea; the bread was stale and the tea selection was sparse. Jungle Junction restaurant had great food, and decent entertainment. I much preferred that over the overpriced, touristy show at the Boma, which was expensive and disappointing.

It felt good to visit Africa again. Living in Sudan was a long time ago but I have some good memories. This trip was well organized (thanks Mark at Gondwana Tours & Safaris) with prompt transfers and smooth travels. A trip to remember!

A Tribute to my Grandmother

Saying goodbye isn’t easy.
Especially when it is to someone
who lit up your life
and let you light up hers.
Someone who you love too much
and who always enfolded you in love.
Someone who you think of
at countless moments each day.
You treasure your memories
And struggle to accept that they are complete.

I remember being carried to bed at night
and snuggling beside her to warm my toes
My confessions in the dark of the mistakes I’d made
Watching The A-Team, Mr. Who and Knight Rider on Saturday afternoons
Visits to the bush doctor with foul-smelling results
Long comfortable silences, and difficult conversations
Going to the store to buy Glow Spread
and coming home to bake a pound cake
Making cocoa sticks
Me cooking for the children in the neighborhood
on Saturdays when she had gone to the garden
Watching her apply white powder for church
And wiping white reside off, stating that we’re brown.
Pickups from the airports, and dropoffs, blinking back tears.
And always, always feeling her love.

I don’t know how I’ll say goodbye.
To my grandmother, who was really my mother from babyhood until I was 12.
I carry you in my heart Anastasia Rosina Smith.
December 25, 1938 – November 20, 2013.

First Impressions: Food

I did some research before coming to Prague and was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of cuisines, including a variety of vegetarian and whole great food options. The evening of my first day here, I ventured into a restaurant in Dejvicka and had delicious crab risotto. In my first two full days here, I stumbled upon two vegan restaurants. The first one was all tofu (which I’m trying to limit); the second one had more variety, including whole grain baked goods.

I will resume cooking again soon, but for now, I’m enjoying the great restaurants. I’ve had excellent Mexican at La Cantina, creative vegetarian at Maitrea, wonderful Italian at Grosetto, fresh and tasty waldolf salad at Cafe Louvre, and sumptuous chocolate lava cakes on several occasions. I am keeping a list of places that I’d like to try and places that I’d like to revisit.

For those days when I do cook at home, there are two Vietnamese fruit and vegetable stands less than a block from me, and there are weekly farmers’ markets around the city (in certain seasons). The raspberries and blueberries are delicious at the moment with a balance of sweet and tart. I’ve added them to my daily breakfast routine for this season.


Meal from Country Life


All items contain tofu


First Impression: The Bus Driver I’d like to Forget

So I don’t cry very often, and never in public. I guess I shouldn’t say never because there is something about transportation systems that reduces me to tears. I still have nightmares about crying in frustration and exhaustion at Charles de Gaulle airport. Now I can add the frustration of abuse from a Czech bus driver.

OpenCard and 90 minutes ticket

It took me two weeks to get my bus pass in Prague (OpenCard) and in the meantime, I bought 30 minutes, 90 minutes, 120 minutes and full day passes. You authenticate the pass on the transit at the arrow and it is seldom checked by a patrol.

One day I bought a day pass and authenticated it on the bus. However, the machine printed in the wrong illegible place so I printed it again at the arrow. I wondered in passing if that would pose a problem but decided to not worry about it.
There is one bus to work that goes outside the city limits, so the bus driver checks all passenger tickets. When he saw mine, he ripped it up after first ripping into ME in Czech. Even though I understood his point and had no problem paying 24 crowns (~$1.20), I felt like a worm the whole ride. Am I ever happy to have finally received the OpenCard!

Happy Nawruz

Nawruz is celebrated by Baha’is around the world from sunset on March 20 to sunset on March 21. It marks the beginning of a new year in the Baha’i Era. In a couple of hours, I will join friends in my community in breaking the fast for the last time this year, and celebrating the start of 170 BE (Baha’i Era).


Each day, in One Second

I think that this is an interesting project. I see the creative value, and it is a different approach to journaling your life.

Is 1s a day enough to capture your life? Will looking for the one second each day change your awareness? Instead of just capturing your life, could it change your life? What’s your one second today?

Tsukiji and Sushi

“Ultimate simplicity leads to purity”. This is the most memorable quotation from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, in my opinion.

When I think of food, it is true that you can best appreciate the richness of texture and flavor of a food when it is prepared simply.

Jiro Dreams Of Sushi – Trailer from curious on Vimeo.

I was talking to a friend in Tokyo about my plans to visit Tsukiji, when he mentioned that I should first watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I was spending the night in a hotel room, and opted for an early (Friday) night but got to watch the movie when I returned to Nagoya last night. For some reason, the rows upon rows of concreted tuna looks macabre in a way the they did not up close. Up close, they looked frozen but in the movie, they seemed to be looking right at me.

To visit Tsukiji, I woke up at 4 am. When I got the wake up call, I was tempted to give it a miss, but I figured ganbatte and got out if bed. I was number 61 at the Fukyu Osakana Center when I got there at 4:32 a.m. I was hoping to be in the early tour at 5:25 but I was one person too late, so I had to wait for the late tour at 5:50 a.m. Only 120 total participants are allowed in the two tours. Thankfully, we were corralled into two holding spaces where we were grouped by vest color. I wore a blue vest (but I have no proof of this because I was barely awake and horrified at the thought of capturing my barely awakeness on SD).

Promptly at 5:50 a.m., blue vest group was lead to the tuna auction house. What a sight! Rows upon rows of tuna on both sides of our little viewing area, which is delineated by ropes.

As bells began to clang, the excitement built and the auctioning started. It moved fairly quickly and the signals are so subtle that I never knew who was betting. There appeared to be boxes of sliced tuna as well as whole fish. After an auction winds down, there is a short period of calm before another one starts, focusing on another row of tuna. In between auctions, you can watch the men meticulously examining the tuna with flashlights and picks.

I wasn’t sure the trip to Tsukiji would be worth it. I thought it might be one of those things where people exaggerate the experience. I was proven wrong. I had never seen such an energetic exercise with such fine attention to detail. As I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I could make the connection between the art and perfectionist of top sushi chefs and that of their suppliers. There is focus on relationships, and such pride in and appreciation for excellent quality.

I think that Jiro Dreams of Sushi demonstrates some of the things about Japanese society that makes it challenging: perfectionism, impatience, family pressure, the shame of failure. There’s passion and dedication and love of one’s job too, as well as attention to detail and pride in doing excellent work. I appreciate this about Japan. Yet I wonder, what suffers as a result of perfectionism? When you choose perfectionism in one thing, what do you knowingly or inadvertently give up as a consequence? And when you have a gift or a “talent”, do you have a responsibility to fulfil that potential?

I highly recommend watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi and if you happen to be in the Tokyo are on day when Tsukiji is open, visit it: