Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Note to readers
      I took a year off from travel but here we go again, and not too soon for me.…….
Summer 2019
St Thomas USV
  As many of you know, I lived in the US Virgin Islands for many years during the 60s. 
After I left, I still considered it my home, and would return almost every year through the 1990s.
      Then, because I began more international travel, St Thomas seemed to get lost in my venues of visits.  It was Europe, Asia and the South Pacific that drew me, and I moved on to 
Eastern Europe, Greece, Egypt, China, India, Southeastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.  
   But this July at the invitation of a dear friend, I returned to St Thomas and had a very pleasant visit.  In 2017, St Thomas experienced a major hurricane from which much of the Island has not recovered.  My friend Paul’s condo association had just finished the exterior repairs on his unit and he had to go down to check it out.  Would I like to go?  I jumped at the chance.
      Paul’s condo, which is very high in the Frenchman’s Bay area, had minimal damage next to many properties on the island. Located on the bottom floor of a three-story condo building, it lost its hurricane shutters and broke the floor to ceiling glass windows.  Of course, water flowed in, and so did the rats, which ruined the furniture.  
View from the condo

      But his neighbor Jason did not fare as well.  His condo on the main level, was in direct line of the storm.  He described sitting in the bathroom with his partner, and their dog, wrapped in a mattress.  “The storm broke through the shutters and the glass windows and blew out the front door. Water gushed in everywhere. The wind was clocked at 245 miles an hour. We have sold out, we are moving to Savanah, Georgia.” Unlike Jason’s damage, what I saw left over from the storm seemed minimal. But I was not in all the nooks and crannies of the island; on all the back roads of residential areas. 

View of West End
      As for Paul and me, we spent part of the week, checking out new furnishings, and the interior changes needed, then it we vegged on the beach and behaved like tourists. Paula, who is the son of a dear friend of mine, grew up on the island and really knows his way around.  So, as an excellent tour guide, he drove me around the whole island, West end – Fortuna Bay, the North side, Petersburg, Frenchtown and the East End.            
Frenchtown restaurants and marina
St Thomas McDonalds

Old Russian Consulate in Frenchtown

     Although the view from Mountain Top was beautiful as ever, the current owner(s) (I understand one of the Armor Bothers??) had changed the building, and it is now a large junk shop. The charming curved venue where one could observe much of this beautiful island is gone.  Years ago, tourists could sit at the bar drink banana daiquiris and view most of the beautiful St Thomas vista.  Ah! The gentile days!  
    The same is true in downtown Charlotte Amalie.  Shops like Riises, Little Switzerland, and Caron’s (a shop owned by the Actress Leslie Caron’s father-now, I think defunct) are now, only jewelry, liquor, and perfume stores.  Many years ago, a traveler found liberty cottons, lovely linens, 

china and silver from all over Europe, waited clocks from Spain, miniature Teddy bears waited, to do summersaults with just a nudge from Switzerland; a multitude of items to feast to the eyes and nudge the pocket book.  Now of course the market is geared to the grab’em and stap’em day trippers from cruise ships.  I am sure they are lovely people but not purchasers of fine European goods, rather lots of cheap liquor, etc.
    Charlotte Amalie has few buildings still boarded up from the hurricane. The location of the old Sebastian’s Restaurant on the waterfront for one.  In addition to the hurricane, Drakes Passage is also closed because of a restaurant fire within the passage. On Government Hill, the Hotel 1829 is boarded up as well. But I was told this was done after the previous hurricane, prior to the one in 2017.  By the by, the tour books claim that the name of Hotel 1829 came from the year before it originally opened, but I have it on the authority of an ‘old St Thomian’ that the name is actually derived from the barometer settings when a storm is eminent.  
Charlotte Amlie main street


Where I lived on Black Beard's Hill

A cruise ship in the harbor
  Although I have lamented the changes I found from my old St. Thomas days (and I realize change is always inevitable), the most dis-hearting change was Yacht Haven, the big marina on the edge of town.  It was once a marina for small (from 25 to maybe 80 ft. long) power and sail boats with a long pier with lots of small finger piers reaching out to “T” piers at their ends.  Now, it has a long pier and two very long perpendicular piers.  One running along the shoreline, the other quite far out. These have been built for mega yachts only.   The hotel has been turned into condos and the rest of the buildings are full of international designer’s shops.  
Condos at Yatch Haven

 I remember when very day at 2 o’clock sharp, Francisco Coxcal’s  black standard poodle would rush from his boat at a 

gallop and splash into Yacht Haven Hotel’s pool to the shock of any guests taking a swim.  When ‘Bird’, a young Blue 

Heron, and his little black cat friend, ‘Patrol Cat’, would arrive together on the hotel terrace every night at dinner to cadge 

food from the guests.  Oddly ‘Bird’s’ favorite food was chicken.   When Ellie Stein would get ‘three sheets to the wind’ 

and go sailing in the harbor in her families’ 45 steel hauled sailboat waving to all as she passed (she is probably one of the 

best sailors I have ever known).  
    As my friend, Phoebe King said when I told her about Yacht Haven, “But Bobbie, that was a family community. Kids played on the docks, there were dock parties among the residents. How could they ruin that?  Where did the smaller boats go?”  She asked.  
   “Red Hook, anchored out, where ever they could.”  I answered.
   Besides St. Thomas, we also spent a day vegging in St. John, at Trunk Bay Beach and in the village.  It was as if nothing had ever happened in St. John. It was its old perfect self.  

Trunk Bay Beach

We stopped at the quaint shopping center, Mongoose Junction, and an acquaintance told me, that as soon as it was safe, Michael Blumberg of Bloomberg News hired 1500 electricians and sent them to St. John, while the singer Kenny Chesney helped locals with finances to repair their homes.  Mr. Chesney is quoted as saying, he would not repair his own home until everyone else’s is fixed.  Nice people!
Ferry Boat between St John and St Thomas 

Along the harbor of St John

 I understand that the British Virgin Islands are still in great disrepair.  Also, that the magnificent pristine White Beach on the Island of Jost Van Dyke has condos on it.  Baa Hum Bug!
    Back at St. Thomas, we spent many evenings dining at Balongo Bay Beach Club, and having leisurely afternoons swimming in their pool.  By and large my St. Thomas visit was lovely and the company grand. 

Paul and me by the pool at Balongo Bay Resort

The old St Thomas Fort which survivied many hurricanes
Old Bandstand which also has survived many hurricanes

Monday, June 26, 2017



 Mumbai, or as most of the locals still call it, Bombay, is a city of massive human density and 

urban sprawl.  On a map, beginning at the airport, its shape reminds me of a bear claw, broadening

out as one gets nearer to the southern waterfront.  Three hundred years ago, the topography, that

makes up the city, consisted of seven islands connected by land reclamations.  The final reclamation

finished in1942 created what is now the southern Fort District of the city.  

Inside the Mumbai Airport
Corridor in the Taj Hotel

The fort business District, named after the British Fort George, is home to Mumbai's major

museums, a Fab India store location, many other local shops, and The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The

hotel, which was damaged by the Lashkar-e-Tabia terrorist group from Pakistan with

the help of Pakistani/American, David Headley in November 2008, has now been beautifully

Swimming pool at the Taj Hotel

Tea Room at the Taj Hotel

The taxi ride from the airport to the Fort District took about

45 minutes.  About halfway along the

 route, which was rift with heavy traffic, we passed a numerous number of mosques, actuating the

large Muslim community within this city.
Typical Mumbai Mosque

 I stayed at the YWCA International Center -International Guest  House (website: www.ywcaic.info),

which takes both male and female guests.  The cost is between 40 and Sixty dollars a night. This

includes a private room, and bath, lots of hot water, TV, internet, and two meals a day, buffet

breakfast and dinners.  Not flashy but adequate, with lovely help and also delightfully interesting

guests(some of whom come from cold climes and stay the winter season).  Another plus about the

YWCA is its location.  It is within walking distance of almost everything, from the Taj Hotel,

museums, good restaurants, shopping and the post office.  If you get thirsty for Starbucks there are

two nearby as well; one at the back side of the Taj Hotel.
View from my room at the YWCA

And walk you will, for outside of Miami

Beach, Florida, and Napier, New Zealand,

Mumbai has the best collection of Art Deco

buildings you will find anywhere in the world.

These are not like the small
Another view from my room at the YWCA

artful little hotels Miami Beach is known for, nor the charming little shops of Napier, but rather large

stately buildings with Egyptian base relief motifs, Mesopotamia Ziggurat pyramid facades and any

number of other more modern elegant base relief styles. I was overwhelmed by the grander and the

beauty of these architectural pieces of art.
Mumbai Art Deco

Mumbai Art Deco

An example of Mumbai Art Deco 

As for restaurants, I ate lunch twice at the Taj Mahal

Palace Hotel; in the main dining room and the tea

room. I enjoyed the Taj Tea Room the most. where I

was seated with a harbor window view.  Oddly,  the

waiter at first thought I was a Parsi woman and began

by speaking to me in Hindi.   I knew Mumbai has the

largest Parsi population in India.  However, the waiter explained that many Parsi women are

are the most educated of Indian women.  Although in regards to my being Parsi, I think he

was putting me on.  He said with great sincerity, that many are blond and speak remarkably good

English.  The upstairs Tea Room food and service were excellent and the view superb.  I also eat at

the Leopold Cafe, a tourist trap, which is always packed and serves mediocre food.  However, the

Leopold has the distinction of being the one major restaurant that the terrorists also attacked in 2008,

so, of course, I had to try it   I also went to one of my standby Indian favorites for Masala Chi, Coffee

Day, a snack place with good chai.
Sign at the Leopold Cafe that was also bombed in 2008

One of the things I found interesting was that three-wheeled auto rickshaws are banned in the

Fort District, of Mumbai; only taxis, buses and private cars are allowed.  Additionally unlike New

Delhi, I only met one taxi driver who spoke English, and none of the drivers seemed to know their

way around the city.  In Delhi, the capital of India, almost everyone speaks English and the

people, even the laborers seem to be sharp clever people who knew where everything was all across

city.  Whereas in Mumbai, the business and Bollywood capital of the country, among the

people I met - and I was in what was considered one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the

city - very few spoke English, which is the language of the government; i.e. one cannot get a

government job anywhere in India if one doe not speak English.
View of Mumbai Habor

I know in my short time there, I missed some great attractions; the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with

leopards, birds and other wildlife, Elephant Island with caves full of carved sculptures and monkeys

(note: I dislike monkeys), but would enjoy seeing the carvings, and dancing at the National Center for

Performing Arts.

Hopefully, I will be in Mumbai soon again and will be able to report on those other attractions.

Meanwhile, my next posts will be about a holiday visit to Winchester, England, then on to the

Caribbean islands of Montserrat and Guadalupe.

A carriage ride on the habor walk outside the Taj Mahal Hotel



Saturday, April 22, 2017







Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer dryness
    I left the Gir National Forest area around 10 AM. After traveling about 40 kilometers on a single lane road, we entered a four-lane divided highway.  I was guaranteed a driver that spoke some English but was not surprised to find that his only language was local Gujarati of this Indian state.  Not only did he not speak English, he could not read it either, and all the road signs were in the English language.  The only communications we had during the whole 11-hour trip was my poking him to get his attention, pointing in this direction or that and saying Bhuj.  The trip was only supposed to take seven hours but because of miscommunications, it took four hours longer.  The road was excellent and well marked, but the landscape throughout the whole of Gujarat was much like that of Gir Forest, parched from lack of rain.

Hotel Oasis
It was dark when we arrived at Hotel Oasis. Although it was centrally located, the hotel was disgusting by my standards.  That night I shared my shabby room with peeling paint and at least one cockroach.  Unfortunately, it was too late to change hotels.

   Note: One of the sites I really like for picking a hotel is Trip Advisor, but although contributors are suppose to sign they have no connection to the hotel they are recommending, in both Ahmedabad and in Bhuj there were many recommendations by local residences.  This exactly why I read at least ten reviews before making my hotel choices in both cities and even then, I got it wrong the first time in both cities. 
Hotel Price 
Often times when my sleep schedule is upset or the travel has been stressful, I have the physical reaction of a cold or slight respiratory infection, and one had developed by morning.  That next morning, I transferred to the Prince Hotel, rated number one in Bhuj and spent two days resting before I ventured out to again.  The Prince Hotel was rather worn as well, with a bit of peeling paint, yet it was a 100 times nicer than Hotel Oasis.  My room rate included breakfast, but if I had it in my room, I was not only charged a service fee but also for the breakfast. 
Typical Indian dress displayed in the museum.


After two days, I ventured out to the local tourist office and the Museum.  Even with directions by the hotel staff to the auto-rickshaw driver, he still could not find his way.  He finally dropped me near my intended location, and I had to wander among adjacent streets from building to building until I found the tourist office.  Once there, I found two young workers who had the requisite skill of all Indian government employees; they could speak English.  Yet they had no knowledge of the area, no brochures, and no maps.  What they did have were government jobs. 
Two students standing in front of a museum applique display. 
   After my Bhuj Tourist Office visit, I wandered back down the street to the local museum.  It was quite interesting with not only the expected historical textile display but also wonderful archeological and local history sections.  Unfortunately, I did not spend as much time as I had wished, as this was school groups day and there were at least 120 elementary through high school kids there who were more fascinated with me than the artifacts they had some distance to see.  Kids are fun, but over 120 all in the same area is a little overwhelming.  There were so many, they were like swarming bees in every section of the museum.  Upon escaping the multitude of youngsters, I hired an auto-rickshaw to return to my hotel and found what I perceived on my way to the tourist office.  Bhuj was one of those typical down-in-the-heel impoverished Indian villages.  But a village that, while maintaining its shabbiness, had expanded because it was surrounded by wonderfully talented artisans whose hand-produced products were found only in this area of India.  
    Upon my return to the hotel, the desk clerk arranged for me to go on a northern tour the next day with a young guide who took me to textile makers, craft makers, and the Kutch. 
A village door

A village house

Another village house

A woman entering a house

This part of Gujarat is called Kutch, a word meaning tortoise in Sanskrit because it is a marshland.  A marshland, which during the monsoon season is covered with rain and the influx of salt water from the Arabian Sea. During the winter dry season, when the water recedes, much of the land is covered with a hard crust of salt, i.e. like a tortoise’s shell, the Kutch. 
One of the artisans' little village near the Kutch.
An atist finishing an applique
During the tour, I was taken to see artists in applique and patchwork, and Rogan: a hand painting technique mixing sunflower, linseed or castor oils with vivid colors of various minerals 
(interesting the area is covered in fields of Castor plants).   These malleable thickened pastes are stored in earthen pots to be applied on dyed cotton or silk cloths using either a wooden or metallic stylus in geometric or floral motifs.  

Painting Materals with Rogan paints

Finished Rogan material 
      We also visited a woodworker who made beautiful colorful kitchen cooking utensils and a metal

Hand making wooden utensils.
Beautiful wooden untensils

worker who, using no tools except a little hammer, made a lovely cat wind chime with little bells,

which I bought.
Hand making bells and chimes

Some bells

Then we went to the Kutch.

 Since Mr. Modi, the former Gujarati Governor,

has become Prime Minister of India, the Kutch

has been cleverly developed as a tourist


A temporary tourist tent village is placed on the

hard salt surface during the dry season and

rented out

to, in my opinion, gullible travelers who stay there for three to five nights, shopping at the pop-up

kiosks for local goods and going on to the vacant salt flats to experience the sundown.  Throughout

the crowd, impromptu musicians play local instruments’ and drums. It is also advertised that evening

entertainment happens within the tent village, but visitors who are not staying in the complex are

stopped at the gate, so I missed that part of the experience.  Since I was not captivated by the idea of

paying 225 US, for three days/two night at what was called the White Ram Resort experience, I

missed out on the inside village activities of Para Motoring, Bungee Trampoline, ATV rides, pool,

board games and Library.

A member of the Indian Military

Waiting for riders

Dancing on the KUTCH

In local dress on the KUTCH

The sun just before fading on the KUTCH

Typical tribal dress
     That evening in the lobby, of my hotel, I met Mr. A.A Wasir, a gracious, elderly gentleman who had what he called The Museum Quality Textiles. The next day upon my visit to Mr. Wasir’s, I was astounded to enter a large room harboring a vast collection of extremely valuable antique Indian textiles, floor to ceiling shelves on either side of the room of beautiful Indian fabrics.  Later, I learned that it was from Mr. Wasir’s collection around which the lovely petit Materials Museum at the HG hotel in Ahmedabad was designed. 
beautiful appliqué
Just one small shelve full of Indian fabrics
of the many, at Mr. Wasir's.

For your camel or family pet

Mr. Wasir holding a lovely handmade piece
handmade belts at Mr. Wasir's

     The next day, I flew from Bruj to Mumbai (Bombay), a city much different than ‘my old stamping ground Delhi’.  But That’s another story. 


                               PICTURES OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN OF THE KUTCH

 Although school is available to them, most of these children do not attend. After going for a short time, they give it up because they find a school schedule too rigid.  They would rather remain home, play, and show their family goods to any tourists that might arrive.

 Note the different clothing designs from the different village groups. I was told that although these households are very poor, the women have at least eight different outfits.

Rocking the baby in its crib