Travel Magic!

What is it about the magic of travel, meeting new people, learning a few vital words of the local language, exploring diverse cultures, and tasting indigenous meals and wine? Separated from our daily routines and customs, a sense of liberation from the familiar patterns which define us. Despite my sometimes-intense travel schedule, I relish the Journey and after I return, the sweet memories and experiences begin to crystallize. I always ask my clients to learn at least 20 words of a local language, to show respect and deepen their cultural experience, learn at least please and thank you.

Gwen Books

Yes, I did make friends with the Oregano grower and purchased a large bag of his spices!

My recent cooking class with NY Times writer David Tanis at the Anna Tasca Lanza School in Sicily added many new Italian food words to my limited vocabulary. We especially clung to acciuga, properly pronounced, it sounds like a sneeze, it means anchovy; it became a favorite word every day along with puma, passaporta, gelo di Mellone, lampo (lightening), va bene, quasi tutto and of course, the greetings which change depending on the hour of the day – it was challenging to remember when Buon Giorno should change to Buena Serra and later to Buena Notte. We enthusiastically murmured Ciao and remembered it should be Arrivederci, so we said both!

No, we didn’t crash the wedding. It just looks like we made friends with the bride!

Taking the wrong train back to Milano from Lake Como due to a ticket dispenser saying get on the next traina resulted in enjoying the countryside at a slow pace and a station stop every few minutes with locals hopping on and off – it added 30 minutes to our trip sans air conditioning; but we knew we had our passaporta’s, thus if we ended up in another country, we would be va bene! Even the smirk of the conductor when I asked Dove sede 55 & 56, was worth the mistake – he looked at us like we were Lucy & Ethel – you are on the wronga traina, its nota my faulta! He didn’t fine us for having incorrect tickets and eventually asked if we could make change for 20 Euro, of coursa, va bene, we replied. We made another new acquaintance, viewed the regional countryside, explored a modern Milano train station. The slight inconvenience has added priceless laughter in describing the goof to friends and family, an experience to treasure. When I saw the graffiti, I hoped the luxury coach we took to Lake Como might be further back on the train!

Dove sede 55 & 56? Uh Oh.

Dove sede 55 & 56? Uh Oh.

The interactions, the getting lost (in my case, this was often)…I discovered that my friend was just as gps challenged as I, after her trust me declarations resulted in an extra distance from our destination, further lost, I took my phone out with us, goggle maps does work, even in a village of winding cobblestone streets. We made every attempt to decipher an Italian dinner menu our first night in Milano. Lack of language actually endeared us to many and our genuine attempts at practicing our developing vocabulary created new friends-  with our guide, our movie actor room ambassador, in restaurants, taxi cabs, and olive oil farms. We received a note from our handsome movie actor Ambassador: Gwendolyn, where are you today? I miss your American vibe! Raffaello.

Even our guide eventually adapted my phrase endlessly uttered to me by an Italian man in Milano many years ago, Pay Attencione – which was a caution that I was going to be run over – however, he repeated it so often, it began to sound like an order…on narrow streets with Italian drivers, it’s an important phrase.

Making an effort at embracing life, traveling despite the world chaos, choosing exploration rather than fear, this is important at home and out in the enormous glorious world.



My Kenyan Safari

My end of year overland journey was filled with wild adventure, local culture, first class amenities, a luxury lodge and a wonderful portable tent camp in the migration path in the Maasai Mara on the banks of the Sand River.

In the last few weeks, the herds have arrived to the Serengeti, with half a million wildebeest competing for grazing with herds of zebra, all will eventually cross the Mara river.

It goes without saying that we provide the best guides and in our portable camp, Stormin’ Norman, the indomitable bush camp chef, turns out soufflés, exquisite appetizers and bountiful banquets. Eventually you beg him to stop serving more food, he doesn’t understand NO!

Our private charter flight sets the stage, a low pass over the Great Rift Valley escarpment spotting herds of Zebra on the plains; we landed softly on the strip not far from Ol Doyno Lodge, which is situated where the Chyulu Hills stretch out to meet the plains.Wedged between Kenya’s Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks in the heart of the Chyulu Hills, this is a place of timeless wild beauty presided over by the magnificent summit of Africa’s greatest icon – Mount Kilimanjaro. Small but luxurious, the lodge only accommodates 20 guests.The lodge itself was rebuilt in 2008 and sits in thick woodland on a gently sloping hillside with views out over the plains to a distant Kilimanjaro. Designed to merge outdoor and indoor living, a series of unique suites and villas (no two are the same) appear to emerge from the arid landscape on either side of a palatial lounge and dining area. The structures are open to the spectacular view, no walls stand between you and the wild terrain. Eight of the ten private cottages have their own swimming pool while all enjoy roof terraces where intimate “star beds” can be set up, allowing guests the thrill of sleeping in style under a canopy of endless stars. The hide is a delightful viewing spot and the perfect location for sun-downers. Set amid a jungle of fallen trees on the floor of the plain, wild animals meander by mere feet from your perch amid the hide. The watering holes below many of the rooms are filled with recycled water, thus the Elly’s and Zebra know it is a reliable water source and visit, even after dark. As you fall asleep on your star roof, a quiet slurping reminds you that a thirsty elephant is visiting for a moonlight drink.This is cat country, moments after landing, we watched a cheetah mom teaching her five young cubs the stalk and hunt.An authentic Maasai village is nearby for visiting and the Ol Doyno lead guide has family in the village, thus you enjoy a very personal visit.

 Luxury accommodations, exciting game drives, leisurely poolside lunches, afternoon plunge, sun-downers in the hide or atop the tallest rocks in the plain…followed by a gourmet dinner and after dinner drinks in the main salon…Civilized Safari!There is nothing like the broad expanse of a Kenyan horizon. It’s not too late to begin planing an unforgettable African Journey!