When you’re eight-months-old and you live in Beijing and your parents have a close friend who’s having a milestone birthday party in Paris (1920s theme, cruise and formal dinner on the Seine), what’s to do? Call up your Nainai and Yeye (Grandma and Grandpa) and say “Meet me in Paris. We will have fun, and you can babysit me when my Ma and Ba go to the party.”

Like she had to ask twice?

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Varanasi was the last stop on our OAT tour. From there we flew to Delhi and on to Trivandrum, the English spelling of Thiruvananthapuram (try saying that three times or once), its name in the local language, Malayalam. Trivandrum is the capital city of the Indian southern state of Kerala. It’s almost on the southernmost tip of India, on the portion of the Indian Ocean called the Arabian Sea in India.

On this leg it was just us and our friends, Grace and Francis (Pete) Peters, who live in Morgan Hill, CA, about 70 south of us. We met Grace and Pete on our African safari trip in 2011 and became fast friends. Believe it or not, they travel more than we do. Grace and Pete are why we came to India now—the reason for the whole trip.  

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Visiting Varanasi takes the traveler to the spiritual heart of India. This city along the Ganges is considered the country’s holiest spot for both Hindus and Buddhists. We landed there on December 24 in the midst of a three-day church festival for Christmas. As if that wasn’t enough, we ate our festive hotel dinner that night (Indian menu, Christmas décor and Santa Claus hats for the men) to the accompaniment of youthful carolers. When they took a break, rousing renditions of “To Life, To Life, l’Chaim,” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”) and then “Have Negilah” rang out from three large tables of Israeli travelers. No horah dancing, but a lively and ironic interlude. “Of all the gin joints,” who would have expected this crowd?

This was close to the end of the official tour part of our trip through Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which led us through Bhutan and northern India. We were a group of seven in Bhutan and ten in India, a very manageable size. Our veteran group leader, Krish, keeps a selection of silk saris in OAT’s customary Varanasi hotel, and a woman who works there came in to drape the four women in the group for Christmas Eve dinner. The Israelis were amused. My weekly Hebrew conversation class at home enabled me to talk to them almost as well as most spoke English (including a few raised in the United States). They were intrigued that we were going to Israel after India.

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Bhutan is a small Himalayan country one associates with Shangri-la. Physically it is beautiful, and its people and culture are enlightened by Buddhist values and practices. All around, in cities and villages, even the lowliest home or store is decorated with painted patterns found also in temples and dzongs (fortresses).

Bhutan has been a hereditary kingdom for the past 100 years, previously having been ruled by landowning governors. The current king, 32 years old, is the Fifth King; he succeeded his father, the still living Fourth King, who decided to retire a few years ago and abdicated. Prince Charles should be so lucky. The current king and queen were married last year, and their photo is everywhere. The William and Kate of Asia.

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After a one-night stopover in Delhi, we moved on to Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, where we spent a couple of days. Among the highlight sights is Mother Theresa’s home, with a significant museum exhibit on her life (including her Nobel Prize certificate, but only interior photos allowed were of her tomb). Her sector of the city is, of course, vastly different from the clean and majestic park where the Victoria Memorial sits.

There’s a relatively new bridge over the River Ganges. Our guide was eager to take us over, but it was close to the end of the day’s touring, so a quick ride. To save time the driver made a U-turn around the toll booth we’d just gone through, stopping traffic two ways. To say the least, it was a red flag to the police (we could just imagine doing this on the Bay Bridge or Golden Gate), and the bus was detained for a while, with a policeman escorting us back to our hotel to stay close to the driver. The same driver turned up the next morning for our trip to the airport, so our tips must have come in handy for him!

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No, not “Alfie.”          

Monday morning (December 3, 2012) at Hong Kong airport. We lost Sunday to the International Dateline.

My website has an “About” page that’s about me from the standpoint of my writing, how I got to be where I am today as an author of a novel. But that’s not all there is about me, and even what I am about is not all about me. Got that? Let me try to explain.

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Readers may wonder why I blog on travel and not just my writing. From the beginning I titled the blog “Travels and Travail,” relating to the authorship experience. While travel is hardly travail, it certainly augments and complements the writing and broadens the writer’s outlook (and body look). Blogging is writing, too, which is a good thing, since this is the most writing I’ve done in the past couple of weeks.

After our non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving in Glasgow Ei and I flew to southern Spain. The 2+ hour flight that departed at 8 am from Glasgow was packed with Scottish vacationers, many sporting flip flops and shorts and drinking beer for breakfast. We flew Easy-Jet, a European no-frills carrier. Nice folks, no rowdiness, just a little noisy. With Glasgow’s climate, who could blame them for starting their holiday from the moment of take-off?

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