Tuesday, August 25, 2015


We went to Egypt at the end of January.  

Wow, incredible antiquities, good food, and perfect guides.
The Great Pyramid
After looking at a couple of tours, one of which was recommended by an acquaintance,  we made all the arrangements ourselves. We find that we usually can tailor a trip to our interests by making our own lodging and travel arrangements and using private guides. It is actually less expensive than tours and is a perfect way to support the local economy more directly.
In researching Egypt travel, Norm found Jane Akshar, a British expat Egyptologist - who lives in Luxor. Jane is a wealth of information, and with her help we decided on the sights we would take in, both in Cairo/Giza and Luxor. Jane also arranged for our guides in both areas. She and her husband Mahmoud own several buildings with flats for rent http://www.flatsinluxor.co.uk/. We rented a beautiful flat in Luxor from them.
The view from our flat in Luxor
In Giza we stayed at The Sphinx hotel. The location was incredible, although the accommodations were marginal.We only had three nights there and enjoyed the location.  We had an unobstructed view of the
pyramids and the Sphinx from our room. We enjoyed the early morning and evening traffic of workers coming and going outside of our window. The clip clop of horses and camels was a perfect soundtrack for the views. We were able to walk to an excellent restaurant each evening while there.
Our guide and driver picked us up at the hotel each morning. While in Giza we traveled to the nearby Memphis and Sakkara ruins, and of course the pyramids, Sphinx, and the Cairo Museum.
From Cairo, we flew to Luxor where Jane and her driver picked us up at the airport. She arranged for dinner to be delivered to us shortly after our arrival. After we experienced the food and service, we decided to take all of our meals in. Breakfast and lunch were already provided. We only had to look at the menu and let them know what we would like for the next meal. It was like eating at a restaurant, but with better service and no doubt cheaper. It was the first and probably last time we would have staff!
In Luxor we visited ancient temples and tombs of the nobles, kings, and queens. It was overwhelming trying to decide which places to go and we finally put it all in Jane’s hands. She chose a nice selection for us and we were very pleased with the incredible experience and the guide’s educational commentary about the sites visited.
In an underground tomb!
The weather was pleasant, I am not sure of the temperatures, but we were never too hot. T-shirts or light long sleeves worked well. Women are encouraged to cover their legs as a respect for the culture. We were comfortable in light-weight convertible pants. The only seasonal issue we had was the field burning which was in progress outside of our flat on our last two days. As one would expect, the burning created a heavy veil of smoke making the stay less pleasant. We witnessed the hot air balloons sitting suspended in the smoke, it must have been quite unpleasant for the passengers.
We are happy that we went to Egypt; we never felt unsafe and were well taken care of.
We took lots of photos and have them posted on our website: http://norm-collie.com

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Major Price Reduction!

We've just reduced the price on our Costa Rica property from $675,000 to $599,900!  We really have mixed feelings about selling, but circumstances force us to return to the U.S.

We have also suspended accepting reservations for our casita.

Detailed information on the property is at http://www.norm-collie.com/home-sale.html

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

We've been in Costa Rica for seven years now.  It's been a wonderful experience but we've decided that it's time to move on.  

So....we put our house on the market today.

Here's some information about it.

Luxury Home & Cottage & Pool on 4.5 Acres

Stunning Mountain and Ocean Views.

Berlin de San Ramon, Alajuela, Costs Rica

Offered At $675,000



  • The main home features lofted tropical wood ceilings, an open floor plan and 2+ bedrooms
  • Amazing view of the ocean, the Straight of Nicoya and the Nicoya Peninsula
  • Gourmet cook's dream kitchen.
  • The main home is fully wheelchair accessible.
  • The main home features lofted tropical wood ceilings, an open floor plan and 2+ bedrooms
  • Amazing view of the ocean, the Straight of Nicoya and the Nicoya Peninsula
  • Gourmet cook's dream kitchen.
  • The main home is fully wheelchair accessible.
  • Fully furnished one bedroom cottage currently generates approximately $5,000 per year as a vacation rental.
  • Approximately four and a half acres, totally private.
  • 50 foot solar heated salt water lap-pool
  • Situated at 4,850 above sea-level, where the climate is always temperate
  • Surrounded by coffee plantations;  truly in the countryside
  • Graveled private nature trails on the property
  • Grid-tied solar electric panels.
  • 15 minutes from San Ramon
  • 45 minutes from the San Jose (SJO) airport
  • One hour from Pacific Beaches  


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Two Weeks In Europe

We traveled to Amsterdam, Venice, and Florence at the end of March for 2 weeks.
It is the first time we “squeezed” in three separate cities.


We flew to Amsterdam, via Panama City, starting here in CR. The train station in Amsterdam is just downstairs in the airport and there is a steady stream of trains taking weary travelers to the Central Station in Amsterdam, a 15 minute ride. How completely civilized! Upon arrival at Central Station we followed the very clear directions to our VRBO apartment, only a 5 minute walk.
Amsterdam Central Station
Typical Canal in Amsterdam
Our first three days in Amsterdam were spent walking along the canals and visiting the Rijksmuseum, Hermitage, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and the Red light district. The city is filled with people bicycling to and from work, doing errands and traveling with the whole family in many instances. We were often in the bike lanes rather than the sidewalks without realizing it, but a friendly call out or a bell warned and reminded us to get out of the way! It is a very quiet city with few private cars. The trams and the bikes do not make noise.

I enjoyed seeing the houses along the canals and especially loved the slate grey ones with red trim. All are narrow and tall with a large hook for hoisting furniture to the upper floors.


We flew to Venice and again were pleased with the easy connection from the airport. A bus just outside the baggage area took us directly to Venice and we again had only a 5 minute walk to our “hotel”; a monastery. Our room was simple but perfect with a big window looking over a small courtyard.
A gondola on the Grand Canal
We immediately learned how easy it is to get lost wandering the labyrinth of streets in Venice.  Some of the streets are no more than three feet wide! It took us forever to go a short distance on our way to Piazza San Marco. That was our first “walking tour”. Although we did walk a fair amount during our stay there, we found the vaporettos (water busses) to be not only efficient but wonderful for getting a feel for the ancient city. Such a variety of interesting buildings border the canals. And the water vessels are just as varied, since no vehicles can enter Venice proper, one sees working boats for trash collection, construction projects, deliveries, as well as the gondolas and beautifully maintained water taxis.

St. Mark's Square

We went to the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum. The Bridge of Sighs is in the Doge Palace, which is the passage/bridge between the palace and the prison. The museum and the palace were interesting and filled with great art, but we were already becoming a bit “art weary”, therefore opted out of visiting several other museums. It was fun just being there and of course we enjoyed the food.



After 3 nights we took the train to Florence. The train station was only a short walk, but we had to haul our suitcases up and down the bridge steps. The trip was relaxing, we had reserved seats and enjoyed the comfortable and scenic ride. At time we had speeds up to 245 kilometers/hour. Again we marveled at the efficiency and convenience. We could have taken the same train to Rome and other areas beyond.

The Duomo
In Florence we had a very hard time finding our “nunnery”, but finally with help, realized we had passed it right away after crossing the street from the train station. There was construction and we had missed it. But a friendly concierge at a nearby hotel helped us find it.  The room was clean and the location was good, but we chose to check out the next morning after finding an alternative. The other guests were incredibly noisy, and the beds were too short for Norm. The nuns were truly surprised about the noise level. It was apparent that their quarters were much removed; hence they were unaware of the noisy students. We found a very charming B & B around the corner, run by a sweet woman who only spoke Italian. We managed to communicate enough with Spanish and English to cover the key necessities. It was quiet in the room and the building, but the street noise in Florence was relentless. Seriously there were roving bands of adolescents (students on field trips?) out until the wee hours with their hormones causing them to shriek in glee. Consequently, sleeping was challenging!

Copy of David
But once again, our location was excellent and we were able to walk to all of the attractions that we wanted to see. We went to the Uffizi and Academia museums. We were very tired and bored of religious art but there were some things of interest in both museums. At the Uffizi we saw Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring, both incredibly beautiful.   There were other incredible artworks of including da Vinci, and Michelangelo; we cruised by many others (we were getting numb).  At Academia we saw Michelangelo’s David---all 17 feet of him (carved between 1501 and 1504). No photos allowed in any of the museums, so we will have to go to the internet if we want to remember him and the other art works we saw. We saw several other Michelangelo sculptures as well; all beautiful but David is truly amazing. And of course we had to try as many gelato flavors as possible in Venice and Florence

We decided to explore a garden off the tourist path and found Bardini garden on the map and researched through the internet. It was great walk across the medieval stone Vecchio Bridge over the Arno River and up the hills via narrow streets. We stumbled upon Galileo’s house and observatory/workshop along the way. The garden was uncrowded and we enjoyed familiar spring blooms. The Wisteria tunnel was wonderful, even with only half of the blossoms emerged. The views of Florence from the hill on which the garden is situated provided a totally different perspective.

Back to Venice

One of the bridges that we had cross with our luggage
We bid farewell to Florence after four nights and took the train back to Venice. Upon arrival in Venice we found out that the vaporettos were on strike. When Norm asked how we would get to our hotel location, he was told “you’re walking”. Fortunately it wasn’t far, a 20 minute walk and only 4-5 small bridges (with stairs) to lug our luggage over! What were we saying about the marvelous transportation systems?
We walked to the airport bus the next morning also, even though the strike was over, we needed tickets from our location and there wasn’t a place to buy them. Not a huge problem, the same bridges and a very big one over the Grand Canal---one step at a time!

We arrived back in Amsterdam learn that the airport to central station train was not in service due to maintenance work. But there were plenty of buses to get us to a functioning train that would take us on to Central stations. The only problem was the trains for that leg were few and far between and full. We managed to cram ourselves into the second train and make it to the city Centre. It felt like that should have been utilizing those pushers you see on Japanese trains! What were we saying about the fabulous transportation systems?

Our last full day in Amsterdam was spent at the Botanical gardens. It was a bit funny to be in the huge greenhouses and find several plants that we have in our yard. But outside, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of the familiar early spring flowers that we do not see in a tropical climate.

We had another transportation glitch between Panama City and San Jose, the airline had lost our reservation, but it was resolved in time for us to make our last flight and get home to one very happy dog!
You can see more photos of this and some of our other trips at:  http://www.norm-collie.com 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coral Season (but not at our house)

Well we hope we don’t have such a startling experience in our future.  Being at 4850 feet, we have fewer snakes than those living at lower elevations. We do have at least one venomous snake, the striped palm pit viper, a lovely pale green specimen with some blue markings. We have seen one live one on the trail, but our gardener has encountered 3 others when working around our yard. Fortunately no mishaps. The only other snakes we’ve seen are a very large king snake crossing the road and some degenhardt’s scorpion eaters.
Our closest neighbors have seen one or two corals in their yard, but we haven’t ever seen one. 

Last week, our Spanish teacher, Grettel and her husband Jorge, our mechanic, told us this story. 

Grettel’s words and photos follow.

"Last Tuesday Jorge came home as usual after 6:00, I was in the kitchen doing the dishes. He doesn't turn the stair lights on very often. So, he just walks down, gets his key and opens the door and closes it, as simple as that, but that night when he came down and shut the door he felt something, something that jammed the door for a second but he just pushed harder. That night was normal, we talked, ate,... 
Photo by Jorge Araya
In the morning, I was having breakfast while he opened the door and saw something that stopped him. I read his body language and thought "DANGER". I didn't move after he shut the door again very quickly, and said "It's poisonous".  

So, I stood and ran to get something to kill it, but it was already dead by the time we discovered it because Jorge had killed the snake that night before. 
Photo by Jorge Araya
Remember the thing that jammed the door? Well it was a big and beautiful coral snake."

Evidently, ‘tis the season, because some other friends found one under their Christmas tree on the patio a several weeks ago. 
Photo by Jen Sherridan


Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Swimming Pool!

This year, instead of giving ourselves gifts for Christmas, Birthday or Anniversary (45 years!!!), we had a pool installed! It’s a lap pool, two meters wide, 15 meters long , 1.3 meters deep and holds approximately 12,000 gallons of water. We heat the pool water with new solar panels on the roof of the house. Even up here in the clouds, we’re able to get the temperature up into the high 70s, perfect for swimming laps. The pump and filter are located under the patio, so we don’t have a pump house obstructing our view, and the system is saltwater which is better for your skin, doesn’t burn your eyes, and is much easier to maintain. Collie, the swimmer in the family has been doing laps nearly every day since completion two weeks ago.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Back to the Pacific Northwest

When I learned that the international calligraphy conference was going to be held in Portland this year I started planning a trip. Calligraphy Northwest was a perfect impetus to pick up my pens again. The last international conference I attended was in Portland in 1991 and held at University of Portland. This year the conference was held on the Reed College campus. The campus grounds are beautiful with many large old specimen trees; a lovely place to stroll between conference events.

Being in Portland was a great opportunity to connect with old friends, so I went 4 days before CNW started. I spent lots of time with my sister Martha too.

We moved from Portland to Bainbridge Island in 1986. I had not seen many of my Good Samaritan Emergency Department co-workers since then. My visit to Portland was the impetus for a Good Sam ED reunion. It was great to see so many of my former colleagues. We shared a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in trenches of the emergency department.

After the conference, I headed to Bainbridge with a friend from the island who drove to Portland to take me back to the island! We had a great long visit during the 3.5-4 hour drive. Norm arrived via SEA-TAC that evening.

We spent a couple of days shopping for things that I didn’t purchase in Portland (sans tax). We also enjoyed some of our favorite island restaurants and excellent home cooked meals by our hosts. We watched the 4th of July parade on the island and listened to our friend play saxophone with his band at the beer gardens. 

King Tut
On Thursday we hopped the ferry to Seattle to take in the King Tut exhibition and the Chihuly Glass and Gardens. The Tut exhibit has been touring the USA and Seattle is the last stop. We saw the exhibit that traveled in the 1970’s also, amazing.

Chihuly Glass

 The Chihuly Glass and Garden is  a brand new and permanent indoor and outdoor installation at the Seattle Center. Both Tut and Chihuly were wonderful. We are so happy that our visit timing allowed us to see Tut again and the new Chihuly garden and glass installation. I especially loved the Indian baskets nested between the stylized glass baskets. We both loved the boats afloat filled with glass and the glass floats (63-67). The large tree like structure seen on images 38 and 39 was filled with gold sea creatures. There are a couple of detail photos (45 and 46).

Bainbridge Island Japanese Exclusion Memorial
On Friday we visited the Bloedel Reserve and Japanese Exclusion Memorial wall on the island. The Japanese Exclusion Memorial was very moving. I still tear up when looking at the photos.

We returned home to our Costa Rican mountain late Saturday night and have been catching up on chores, unpacking, and errands. My plants have really grown and I am already planting cuttings of the sweet potato ornamental vines and cleomes into the weeded areas. It is the green season----sunny mornings and thunderstorms in the afternoons. Perfect for growing and getting new plants settled in. And there was a flock of parrots here today, no doubt checking to see if the guavas are ready yet.

All of our photos can be seen at: http://www.norm-collie.com
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