Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There

Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my African experience.

To start off I want to focus on the rundown of the trip and planning leading up to the trip. Then I’ll end this post with my arrival in Kenya (day 1 of the trip). My upcoming posts will follow this timeline.

Here’s the RUNDOWN of the entire 3 weeks of travel.
Day 1: getting to Kenya and meeting up with Erica (my sister and travel blogger of As Her World Turns).
Day 2: exploring Nairobi, Kenya since I only have 24 hours in this country.
Day 3: traveling to Moshi, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro’s airport and closest town/city) and meet up with the School of Good Hope, where a friend of a friend teaches children. Also meet with our Zara Tour Guides (Bruce and Thomas) to discuss the climb and get any last minute items for climbing the mountain.
Day 4: Start climbing Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route.
Day 5-11: Climbing Kilimanjaro.
Day 12: One rest day at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi.
Day 13: Take public transportation into Arusha (nearby town/city) to meet up with our Nomad Tours safari group, who we are with through the end of the trip.
Day 14 + 15: Stay in the Serengeti and spend the two days game driving.
Day 16: Stay in the Nogorogro Crater and spend the day game driving.
Day 17: Come back into Arusha for the night.
Day 18: Drive overland with our Nomad group to head toward Dar es Salaam.
Day 19: Arrive in Dar es Salaam and take a ferry to Zanzibar.
Day 20-22: Spend time in northern Zanzibar and then head back to Stone Town Zanzibar, where I had to depart the Nomad Tour and spend the night by myself at the Shangani Hotel.
Day 23: Depart Zanzibar and make my very long trek back to the US.

You can see above, it was a very packed 3 weeks of travel. How do you even begin to plan all of this?! It’s helpful that my sister is a travel blogger and enjoys this sort of planning, as I just followed her lead. The first thing we did while trying to plan was figure out a goal budget and a list of places I wanted to see. This ultimately decides the number of days of the trip, as each day adds $$$. My budget when this conversation first happened was $5000 (to include hiking Kili, a safari, time in Zanzibar and all air travel), which I figured would go far in Africa, but it was all more expensive than you would think. My goal length of time was 2-3 weeks. Once the list of goal destinations was made, and after a lot of “well if I’m already here, I might as well also see here”, it ended up costing more around $6000 and being a solid 3 weeks. But if you’re going halfway around the world you might as well do it right, right?

I highly recommend making a list/spread sheet of costs because like I experienced, it gets VERY overwhelming. My spread sheet had a page just for vaccinations (and researching the best prices around LA), a page just for tracking airfare (as there were so many flights and options to consider), clothing +gear (as the climb required me to purchase more clothing and hiking aids, and the safari required a completely different set of clothing), extras (an international cell phone plan? snorkeling in Zanzibar? Travel insurance which is required for the tour, etc) and then a page tabulating all these numbers. Yikes. All these little things really add up.

Before you leave, I suggest getting $500 (as safety money) in clean bills (no rips, tears, pen marks etc) and make sure the date of the bill is 2006 or newer, and get small bills. Some places are fussy about money and you don’t want to be in a situation where you have money but they won’t accept it. If you use a debit or credit card you’ll probably be hit with fees (investigate your banks rules before you go), so having this safety money, actually saved me from being charged big fees. They take US dollars in most places (assuming it fits those rules above). I suggest bringing cash for the porter/guide tips on Kili (more on that in my Kili posts), money for food + gifts, as well as cash for visas ($50 in Kenya, $100 in Tanzania). I was traveling with about $1000 total cash, which every day that number went down. I was nervous about having that much money on me, but I always kept the money on me or locked up. We also exchanged cash in both Kenya and Tanzania for their countries shillings. I suggest getting a currency converter app to make it easier to track the amount you’re spending.

***When budgeting any international travel, be sure to budget money for immunizations. I didn’t budget the right value of these shots/meds and my budget went from $6000 to closer to $7000. I called all over Los Angeles researching where to get the best deal on these immunizations as none of it was covered by my health insurance. The best deal ended up being the Heathy Traveler in Pasadena. I made an appointment and went 1 month before my trip. Be sure to research via the CDC which immunizations are required, and which additional immunizations you want to get to feel comfortable. Most of these shots last for at least 10 years or in some cases cover you for life, so while it’s a pricy up front cost you can see it as an investment on future travel. Keep a running list of what immunizations you’ve had as it will save you money in the long run.

Since I was in Nairobi (a city) for 1 day and then at a high elevation in Moshi, I didn’t need malaria medication until I was in Arusha getting ready for the safari. I took a generic malarone medication for this, which actually was covered under my insurance (woo hoo!). This medication you take 2 days before entering a malaria area, all during your stay and then 7 days once you’ve left the area. With other meds you have to take even longer after you’ve left the infected area, so malarone is a good one to take.

To enter Tanzania and Zanzibar you have to show proof that’s you’ve gotten an immunization to Yellow Fever. Keep this paperwork forever, as you’ll need it to enter other countries too and it’s very important. I also got the hepatitis B vaccine (it’s a 2 series shot), and the typhoid fever oral vaccination (cheaper option than the shot). You’ll have to pay for the doctor’s visit to get these done, as well as pay for the meds they prescribe. Get the anti-vomit and anti-diarrhea medications and even bring imodium as I can guarantee you’ll use them here. They also offer a bunch of other immunizations, I just had to weigh my budget against the odds of getting some of these illnesses to figure out which vaccines I wanted to get.

Bring the above medicines as well as advil, advil pm/sleep meds, allergy meds (it’s very dusty), tums, benadryl, and any other meds you might need. I normally don’t take much medicine, but I took several of these meds while in Africa.

This was a challenge. I was in a tent and sleeping bag for 16 nights out of a 23 day trip. That’s a lot. This was a great way to save money but to make sure I was relatively comfortable I bought a blow-up travel pillow on amazon, and a fleece sleeping bag liner (a must for Kili). I also packed my cold weather sleeping bag, which as you can imagine sucked up a lot of space in my travel bag. On Kili, Zara Tours provided mats, and Nomad Tours provided mats on the safari, so there’s no need to purchase and carry one in your bag.

For Kilimanjaro, it’s all about hiking clothes and layers. I probably packed about 2 full changes of clothing to cover me for the 7 days (plus 7 pairs of underwear and socks). At the end of each night it felt good to change into clean underwear and socks even when your outside clothes were dirty. Keep in mind on the summit night/day you’ll probably wear everything you’ve packed (I did). Include a poncho/rain jacket as it’s always raining in the jungle portion of the climb. Bring clothes (hat/gloves/gator) that you would bring on a ski trip, and bring clothes that you would wear for a hot day of hiking and then pair them up. That’s the best advice I can give. Also pack power bars and energy boosters for the climb. Plenty of food is provided, but not mid-climb each day, so if you need an energy boost in the middle of a 6 hour hike, I suggest you pack something. I packed a power bar and Clif shot blok snack for each day of the climb and that was good for me.

Bloggers said “you’ll be so dirty you won’t be able to put in your contacts so don’t bring them”. I disagree and I’m so glad I brought contacts and my glasses/sun glasses. I wore my contacts every day. I also purchased something called a P EZ (not pez like the candy), and it is hilarious. It’s to help women pee standing up (like if it’s zero degrees and you don’t want to take your layers off, or if you need to just go by the path where people might see you). I think every girl should own one for hiking but also for gross bar bathrooms. Female bloggers recommended this to me. I only used it a few times, but I was also very lucky and had a toilet on Kili (more on that in a future post). If we didn’t have that toilet, I would have been using that every day. Think about it ladies.

Footware: Bring waterproof hiking boots, but also bring a pair of sandals that your feet can slip into with socks on. For example, if it’s freezing cold and you have to use the bathroom at 2am, you can keep your four layers of socks on by just slipping into a sandal to go use the restroom it’s SO much easier. Plus after a long day of hiking it feels good to be in something other than your boots (which will get muddy and gross). It’s not a fashion show, so don’t worry about the whole socks-in-sandals thing, as you’ll want to be in those sandals with socks on by the end of day 1.

While you are climbing Kili, you are able to leave luggage at the hotel, which is a great place to ditch the safari clothing as there’s no point carrying that stuff up the mountain. Which reminds me, bring FAA approved travel locks for all your bags. There are many times that you have to separate from your bag and a travel lock will hopefully deter would-be robbers. I even kept my bags locked in the few hotels we stayed in just to be safe.

For the Nomad Safari Tour, you want to dress for the heat during the day which is light airy clothing that covers you (which prevents sun burns, over heating, and bug bites). Avoid bright white, black, navy or bright colors as these attract misquotes which can carry malaria. At night, bring a light jacket and a sweatshirt as it can get chilly in August at night (it’s their winter). Bring a hat and sunglasses as it’s bright on the Serengeti.

Our safari tour ended for me in Zanzibar, which is a beach resort island off the coast of Tanzania. It’s mostly Muslim, so bring shirts that cover your shoulders, scarves and long skirts. Bring your bathing suit, as you should feel comfortable wearing it at the beach without judgement. It’s mainly in Stone Town where you need to be respectful of their unofficial dress code.

To save on space, try to pack layers for Kili that are tan/beige and can be re-warn while on the safari. You can always do “laundry” in the sinks at hotels if you pack a little laundry detergent. Bring lots of sunscreen for both the climb and the safari as well as bug spray (just for the safari/Zanzibar). Most places have netting over the beds for sleeping, but I still managed to get 3 face bug bites on the first day of our safari.

I have a Verizon phone plan, which has a terrible international option ($25 for a small amount of data). It just didn’t make sense to do this, especially since they don’t tell you how much data you’ve used and the plan rolls over up to $400. Aka, just checking email could end up costing you $400, even though you think you’ve only spent $25. Not ok. Erica suggested getting sim cards in each country, as they often have places that are cheap and at the airport. My plan was to get one in Moshi, but the airport was so tiny and didn’t have a cell phone store (or any stores for that matter). I ended up going the whole trip keeping my cell on “airplane mode” and using the free wifi at the different places we stayed. This was SO liberating! Every few days I was able to check in with my parents and post a few photos and then turn my cell phone off. It was amazing. And for all of Kili I didn’t even pack my phone! Not only was this the cheapest option (free), but it also kept me the most in-the-moment, instead of constantly checking email etc.

Nomad Tours requires travel insurance, just incase something doesn’t go as planned… like we miss our ferry, or the bus breaks down and we can’t do things we’ve already paid to do or something costs a lot more as a result, it covers the cost. In Africa there are so many things you can’t count on- for example at one airport while I was checking in for a flight the guy said “Oh we canceled that flight 6 months ago” (more on that in a future post). Things just aren’t very organized and you have to roll with it. I got my travel insurance from (not affiliated with Nomad Tours) and it was $85 for the whole trip.


You can see my long “to pack list” in the shot above. Keep in mind you’ll have to carry your own bags a lot, so do your best to keep it light. I would suggest a large canvas duffle (which works well on the safari and fits in the lockers on the truck) and a backpack that you can carry with it. I also brought a smaller purse with pockets (which could slip into my backpack if needed). I would suggest packing your bag a full week before as a dry run. By doing this I was able to see what I was lacking and gave me a week to think about what I could remove to make it lighter.


Above, I took this photo in my apartment as I waited for the airport shuttle to arrive at my house. I used and it was $20 one way (plus $5 tip). Sure, we picked up a van full of people before I got to the airport, but I allowed plenty of time and didn’t have to pester friends for a ride- win! The photo is to give you a sense of scale of my bags. It was still pretty heavy for me, but I’m glad I didn’t pack a roller bag as those are not recommended. The red color made it easy to spot and the canvas made it malleable which was good.


LAX has an awesome international terminal. This was my first time flying directly out of the country from LA and this puts the rest of the airport to shame. They even had a LAMill! And it looked like the real LAMill in Silverlake. The space is very modern with many yummy dining options and I like that they’ve incorporated LA specific restaurants like LAMill and Umami Burger.


I flew from LAX to Amsterdam via KLM Airlines, then Amsterdam to Nairobi (also KLM). My flight out was on time, comfortable and since it was a 747 (huge!) it had a lot of amenities that make flying go by quickly. I prefer these long comfy flights as opposed to the 4-5 hour US flights which feel like riding a bus (no space, no food, no music, no tv). It’s nice to enjoy the meal after take off, put on a tv show, enjoy a free glass of wine and nod off. Then an hour before landing you get another meal (usually a breakfast). It’s delightful.


Looky here, it’s The Newsroom in Dutch!


I arrived in Nairobi around 8:30pm, and their airport has all the flights exit their planes on an exterior staircase bought right to the door of the plane, then you take a bus to the luggage terminal/immigration. Unfortunately, my stay in Kenya is just 24 hours which was long enough to require a $50 visa. Oh well, I was so glad to get to see Nairobi, so it was worth it. After waiting in a very long Visa line, at 10:30p I got my bag, went to an atm to get 3000 Kenyan shillings (like $35 US dollars) which would cover cab fair, meals and entrance fees for my 24 hour day in Kenya.


Erica and I booked a room at the Nairobi Airport Stop Over House, which included a yummy breakfast, a shared bathroom, and free wifi (we each paid $36 a night). When booking with them they said for an additional fee they would send a car for us. I think it was $15 and included tip. This meant that at 10:30p, I found the guy holding a paper with my name on it and he took me directly to the hotel. Easy-peasy. He taught me a few Swahili words (“Jambo” is hi), took us through a police check-point (scary since it was my first one) and then through 2 different gates each with armed men (holding huge guns). Where am I?! Thankfully I ended up safely in the right place. Welcome to Kenya!

Secret Stair Walk #42: Pacific Palisades – Giant Steps

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Time for the LAST Secret Stair Walk!! I’ve been wanting to share this will you for weeks, but between weekend activities and work/mid week adventures I’ve not been able to fully focus on writing this post. For the last secret stair walk my good friend Grace joined me and we were warned by my book that this was a monster step walk.


The walk begins high up in the hills about Sunset in Pacific Palisades. On our way to the trek we pass giant homes in a beautiful neighborhood. Once we find street parking we loop through a few small streets until we reach a dead end and the road becomes a trail.


The views in this canyon are incredible. Once we pass through the neighborhood it becomes more of a hiking path with cliffs and incredible views.


Up we go!


This path leads to the Rustic Canyon entrance of Topanga State Park.


Higher and higher! I know what you’re thinking- how is this a secret stair walk? It’s more of a hike! You’ll see….


Eventually on your left youll pass this break in the fence. This is where our stair climb will end, but it gives you a view into the canyon and the estate built by Winona Stephens in the 1930’s. Folklore says that Stephens was convinced by a Nazi-sypathizer named Schmidt into investing her fortune and land into creating a self-sustaining compound so that they would be ready in the event of Hitler taking over America. At one point all the land in the photos below were part of this compound which included water tanks, diesel fuel tanks, generators and living quarters. This compound fell into disarray when Schmidt was arrested for being a Nazi Spy during World War II. Eventually the property was deeded to the state and is now a frequently visited spot by urban explorers, stair lovers, and graffiti artists.


Stair Time!!!


This stair climb begins by dropping down to the bottom of the canyon. Looming in our minds is the eventual climb back up the canyon walls.


This climb s covered in graffiti and littered with trash, so be careful with each step.


This empty water tower is after the first big descent, but then lower you must go!






At last we make it to the canyon floor.


This is where we really see the compound remains… and all the graffiti.


Every inch of this structure is covered in graffiti and the floors are covered in empty paint cans.

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Bath tub!


There are many trails and loops at the bottom of the canyon, and after we’ve had our fill we head to the last set of stairs that take you from the canyon floor back to the top of the trail. This is the largest known staircase in Los Angeles with 531 steps.


Time for the monster!


We had to snap a photo to celebrate the last staircase. And yes, it is one continuous staircase with only a few larger steps that act as landings. You’ll probably have to rest a few times going up, and the higher you go the more impressive the canyon views.


We did it! Celebrating at the top of the climb!


That’s all folks! That’s the end of my Secret Stair book. It’s a relief to have it completed as it is an accomplishment, but Im sad to know I’ve completed all the walks. It’s been an amazing challenge that’s gotten me to explore neighborhoods I otherwise would have no reason to see. It’s opened my eyes to LA, gotten me outside on a sunny Sunday, and it’s given me countless hours of free fun. I also want to thank everyone who’s joined me on the walks. And to those of you who’ve told me you bought the book, do the walks. You’ll have a good time, I promise.

Secret Stair Walk #11: Downtown Los Angeles

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Time for another Secret Stair walk and we are getting close to the end of the book. This downtown LA walk was a really fun way to spend a Sunday. My friend Jamie and I carpooled downtown on this beautiful weekend morning.


We started at Grand Central Market, but didn’t grab breakfast. We decided a celebratory meal was in order at the end of the walk instead of the beginning.


Since I was last downtown the Market has had some upgrades done. For example there’s a craft bar for kids, a cool coffee shop, and of course…


The EGGSLUT stall! It’s no longer just a food truck, and it’s worth the wait in the long line. Trust me.


After a walk through the market we continued on the stair walk. Angels Flight is currently being fixed, but that’s no worries since we were in it for the exercise.


At the top of Angels Flight is Grand Plaza with shops and outdoor seating. In the summer this is where Grand Performances holds it’s free events. I HIGHLY recommend visiting this plaza and also seeing one of the free shows. Bring some grapes, cheese and a blanket to sit under the stars and enjoy a free show.

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Downtown murals.


Downtown LA has amazing sculptures all over the place.


This is taken by the public Library at the top of the steps.


This is the front of the library entrance.

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Sculptures, sculptures, sculptures…

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There are so many bridges and walkways downtown with incredible views. Also I had no idea Los Angeles had it’s own World Trade Center.


The Westin.


I’m afraid of heights, so taking this photo scared the beets outta’ me.


Indoor stairs count as stairs on this urban stair walk.


I told Jamie to pose like I was taking an action shot of her running. I think this is hilarious. Also, this hotel has a running track as one whole level of this attrium. That’s pretty cool. The whole floor is dedicated to work out spaces.


Back outside we explored more urban oasis’s hidden in the city.

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We went down to to the Walt Disney Hall and looped around the back of the building.


This art piece is behind the buidling. It’s made of broken porcelain plates.



We looped back to Grand Plaza by the Moca. We had to stop in and browse the gift shop.

We made our way back to Grand Central Market where we ate at the Egg Slut stall. It was amazing. So delicious. Jamie and I agreed this was such a great day. The weather was perfect for playing outside and it’s always fun finding new little gems downtown. I highly recommend it!

Secret Stair Walk #10: Happy Valley and Montecito Heights

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

It’s FINALLY Saturday, and I’m in weekend zen mode while trying to fight off the start of a cold. I’ve got a candle lit, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is on my tv (I’ve never seen it!), I’ve just slept in a little and now I’ve got the pleasure of sharing a Secret Stair walk with you.

This next walk is #10 in my book, and was extremely unique. It took me to the neighborhood of Montecito Heights, which I’ve never explored before.


It begins in an area with a mixture of low income housing and apartment buildings.


Tiny motorcycle with sidecar…  Amazing.


These short steps lead to a little park just off the main road. This private area was also a midday love nest for teens, so I adjusted my route to avoid catching people in compromising positions.


Back along the trek we started to head up into the hills. This walk had many adorable yapping dogs like this cutie above.


… Higher and higher up and down rolling hills.


High up on the hillside, the views were smoggy. It’s crazy to think how close to downtown this neighborhood is and yet there were times the homes became spread out and very rural. In fact at time the roads became dirt and only wide enough for 1 car.

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This loop is a 3.7 mile trek with lots of staircases. It was a great workout.


At the top of the next big hill, the views were incredible.


And at the top of that hill the road became dirt again. There were actually houses off this road. Here we are just a few miles from downtown LA and there are dirt roads and…


TUMBLEWEEDS! Actual tumbleweeds (and many of them at that) were rolling all around me.


The road was so bumpy it was hard to walk on it so I imagine cars have difficulty on this steep hillside.


Another cute white fluffy doggie.


The houses were very sparse up on this hillside, and several looked more like squatters using the land. I saw so many old dumped cars that looked like they were rehabbed to be like a room for tenants. It was a really strange place to be. Especially given the amazing views, you would think this land would be worth millions, and yet the properties looked like sheds with outdoor fire pits as kitchens, and cars used as bedrooms.


As I looped back down the hillside, more signs of traditional living popped up.

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I turned a corner and got this view of a relatively bare hillside with odd looking massive concrete homes lining the edge of the hill. All of the homes have fallen into disrepair and yet the incredible views these homes have… I just don’t get it?

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After looping back to the main road, I was met with signs of life other than doggies. This mural is near a local school.


As I was crossing to end the loop and get back to my car, this lovely bird sat for a while on the crosswalk button I needed to hit. Also, don’t you love the texture on that wall?

Well, that’s the end of this loop. I hope you’re all enjoying your Saturday. Why not get out there this weekend and do some Secret Stair walks?

Secret Stair Walk#5: Mt. Washington

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Sadly, Im no longer in the funemployment game, so my Secret Stair walking days are now reserved for weekends only. Thankfully I have a handful that I still need to tell you about. This next walk is Secret Stair Walk #5: Mt. Washington.


The walk begins by the busy intersection of Figueroa and Avenue 45. It starts with congestion but then quickly becomes a quiet neighborhood trek.


I love finding little neighborhood details.


After a steep hill, comes steep staircases. Thankfully, what goes up must come down.


This walk was “pre-rain” so the sky still has a cloudy (cough* smoggy) haze to it.


This old ranch had some fun colorful lighting to jazz it up.


It’s rare you see tile work like this along the driveway.


Reaching the top of the hill, I could barely see the faint outline of the downtown skyline. Grrr smog.


This residential neighborhood opens up at the top of the hill to be a quiet valley without many signs of life.


After the short dusty loop, it becomes a plush neighborhood again. In fact, it leads right to the Self-Relization Center on Mt. Washington which has super pretty gardens open to the public. It’s so relaxing there.

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They keep the gardens so well manicured.

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This is some tile fun on a bridge just past the meditation center.


I passed a few local schools up on Mt. Washington. I imagine the neighbors walking their children here. It must feel so far from LA, because it’s all so peaceful up on the hilltop.


Thankfully, I was not attacked by a dog here.

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Stairs, stairs, stairs…


The faux broken turtle trying to climb the stairs…



I love doors and gate doors are no exception.



Back down to the hustle and bustle of Figueroa.

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you have a busy weekend full of Secret Stair walks!

Secret Stair Walk#9: El Sereno Circles

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

I’m excited to say that today I’m completing my last Secret Stair walk from my book! It was one of my goals for February and I’ll finish today, just as the month is winding down. Since I’m still back-logged with walks to share with you, I won’t be able telling you about today’s walk until sometime next week. In the meantime, here’s my walk #9: El Sereno Circles.

This walk was pretty short (1.8 miles) and I completed it on February 14 (Valentine’s Day).

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This walk starts along a busy street. Seeing a pay-phone (minus the phone), I had to take a photo.


It’s a short walk, but it’s got stairs! Up I go!


The views are great, unfortunately it was a bit smoggy (classic LA).

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A cat joined me for a stretch of the loop.

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For some reason this Valentine’s Day was filled with so much sky writing. Constant skywriting. I took this photo above to try to line the stairs up as if to say “I heart the secret stairs”.


Texture fun.


This walk has a ton of barking dogs along it, so be prepared for that. As I took this photo of a decorative gate, the dogs on the other side of it went from silent to loudly barking at me.


This staircase is not part of the walk, but it’s funny that the stairs sort of lead to nowhere.


Patterns and texture.


In honor of Valentine’s Day.

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I’ll leave you with this photo above. As I was looping back to my car and waiting at a stoplight, I saw this ad taped to a pole. It seems to be some kind of event where morbidly obese people in scooters slam into cars?? It made me sad, but I felt I should share it, since I am documenting the walk and this was along it. Also, who knew this was a thing?? More importantly, why is this a thing??

Secret Stair Walk#7: Highland Park- Southwest Museum

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Most of the walks that I have left to complete are in the Highland Park area, so this next walk is #7: Highland Park-Southwest Museum. It’s a 3.2 mile loop with a fair amount of hills. 


You can see the sky was a bit overcast so the photos aren’t as bright and cheery as they could be on a typical LA day.


This walk had lots of lawn statues which were fun to find. Some were tiny so it was like Where’s Waldo. 

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Home-made signs and a lion statue. 


More religious statues… this one is mounted to a log. 


From far back down the hill you could see these steps. I knew there were what was next, so with heavy breathing I climbed up higher and higher. 


Yes, this is a huge super steep hill with many flights of super steep stairs even higher up beyond it. 


But the views from the top of the hill make all the climbing worth while. 

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This was a nice quiet mid-week walk. 


The book points out this shrine in an old garage that’s now open-air. 

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This above is the Southwest Museum. It’s barely ever open to the public (one Saturday a month??) but it does have a library open to people with an appointment. The book made it sound like I could walk through the space, even though it was closed to the public, so I walked through. They were repairing the trail, so I was forced to walk in the way cars would drive in, which had me in a different place from the book. I saw the library had people in it so I tried the door- locked. I knocked, seeing someone at a desk right in front of the glass door. He didn’t acknowledge me. Really? For all they knew I was injured and needed medical attention, but nope- I didn’t have an appointment. Then an older man (security guard?) who didn’t speak english very well insisted that the book was wrong and that I wasn’t even allowed to walk through the public spaces. I find this hard to believe, given that I wasn’t asking to go into the museum but instead walk outside on the public grounds. I have to say- shame on you Southwest Museum. I expected more from this institution and was really let down. So I made my way back down to the road, having to cut out a section of the walk from the book, frustrated. 


I found a way to loop back with the walk and found this upper walkway along Figueroa across from Sycamore Grove Park. It was an oasis of a walkway which separated me from the busy rush of cars speeding by on Figueroa. 


There were apartment buildings and some large old victorians along the path, as well as this second shrine. 


The book recommends checking out this quirky home toward the end of the walk. As I was reading the plaque and taking pictures a man comes out of the house, sees my walking book and offers a great history of the neighborhood. He was very sweet, and renewed my sense of humanity, after my frustrations with the unhelpful people at the Southwest Museum. Thankfully this walk ended on a positive note. 

Secret Stair Walk#8: Highland Park- Highlands

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

After finishing walk #6, Biz and I drove over to the other side of the neighborhood to do walk #8.

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This was also a pretty quick loop that started flat (see above) and then took us up into the hills.


Creepy ghost head fountain.

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Several of the yards we passed had fun lawn items. Many houses had left over Christmas decorations. The house in the photo below  had these freaky looking robots out in the front yard.


Time for stairs- up, up, up!


The top of the hill offers views of the west.


House number fun.

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We saw this sign at the end of the walk. How cute is that? It’s sad the cat’s lost, but still the drawing is adorable.

This walk was largely residential, which is why this walk book is great. I otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to be trekking through these hills and seeing these views.

Secret Stair Walk#6: Hermon and Highland Park

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

It’s time for walk #6: Hermon and Highland Park. My good friend Biz joined me for the loop. This was a pretty quick loop, but it was nice to see another side of town.

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I just love these old store fronts and signs. As someone who works in the art department, we often “age” new sets to look old on camera. I think it has me hyperaware of rust and the qualities of aging.

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Along one of the roads were a ton of old vintage cars. That’s not something you see every day.


There’s a snake themed public space along this road. It had a Gaudi-esque flare to it with stone mosaic pathways. It also had a snake theme which made me uncomfortable (I hate snakes).

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After the park we walked over the highway and a “roaring-river”.


We ran into this Wildflowering LA spot.



This was a fast loop, so we combined it with walk#8. That’ll be up next!

Israel XIII: Last Day in Israel

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea
Israel X: Old City Jerusalem at Night
Israel XI: Old City Jerusalem Daytime Part 1
Israel XII: Old City During the Day Part 2


After 12 posts, we’ve finally caught up with my last day in Israel, which also happens to be Thanksgiving. We woke up in Jerusalem and spent the day there before cabbing it to Tel Aviv for a Thanksgiving feast at Orna and Elle on Shenkin St. with our friends Brian and Andy. Jerusalem is about 45 min to an hour from Tel Aviv, of course we left in the late afternoon traffic and it took us 2 hours. But we made it and had a lovely night with good friends. But let me step back and tell you how I decided to spend my last 5 hours in Jerusalem.

My uncle had a work meeting, my sister decided to take a day tour to Bethlehem, and I was free to see whatever I wanted to see. I decided to stay in Jerusalem and cross more items off my to-see list. At this point I’d seen so many sites from other religions, but not many from my own upbringing. Here’s a map of how I spent my day:


I got all packed up and then walked from our hotel into the Jaffa Gate of the old city. I just love these pathways.


I walked through the old city and excited through the Damascus Gate.


The above photo is from the outside of the Old City looking at the Damascus Gate.


Just outside and north of the Old City is the Garden Tomb. At Sunday school as a kid, this is where we were told that Jesus was buried and then resurrected.


This is a small lovely site. It was so peaceful considering beyond the walls is a bustling city. Everything about this site is donation based. Even using their audio walking tour guide was free. Everyone working here was so nice and considerate. The whole vibe of this place was so different from all the other religious sites that I had seen. No one was kissing where Jesus touched. No one was selling religious trinkets. It was just such a lovely peaceful place.


These above markings are what help indicate that this is the site of the tomb described in the bible. The only bummer is that on the other side of this fence is a bus depot, so it’s smokey and loud at this edge. It’s quite a juxtaposition to be looking at these Biblical markings from Jesus time with buses pulling in and out right below it.


This is the tomb where Jesus body was placed and then gone the next morning.


Since I was the only one at this portion of the garden (there were tour groups spread around the different garden stations), I couldn’t tell if it was okay if I went into the tomb. So I tippy-toed in hoping not to get yelled at.

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It was so interesting being inside the tomb. Wow.


I went back into the Old City and cut through the Muslim Quarter to the Lion’s Gate.

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It’s hard to tell that the Lion’s Gate exit is a steep decline.


This is the land on the east side of the Old City.


This is the Church of Gethsemane. This was on the must-see list for Israel.


It is so beautiful, but know that the tour buses empty out here, so it’s always packed with people.


The Garden of Gethsemane sits to the north of the church, and is where Jesus and his Disciples prayed the night before Jesus was crucified.


Inside the church, I wasn’t willing to wait in the long line to touch the place Jesus sat. Instead I sat and a pew and took in the space. The mural on the wall shows Jesus sitting on the rock that everyone touches. I’m sure in Jesus time, this area was all rocks so how is this rock “the” rock? It’s the same with all the religious spots.


More of the garden.


Right by the garden is the Grotto of Gethsemane.


I also really enjoyed this place. It was not crowded at all, which is good because it’s a tiny room buried below. This is supposedly where Judas betrayed Jesus and the guards found him here.

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Next to the grotto is the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.


The tomb is at the bottom of these stairs. It’s very smokey in here from all the incense.


I continued up the hill (right next to Mount of Olives).


I stopped to see the Church of Mary Magdalene. Several female saints are buried here.


Afterword I headed back into the Old City where I saw this grafiti. Religious graffiti.


I had to stop into this tiny pastry shop which came highly recommended. It’s called Zalatimo’s and it’s at the south east corner of the Church of the Sepulcher. It’s right at the bottom of a stairwell that connects the market level to the upper level of the church. It’s a one man operation, he makes one item (mutabak), and it’s been passed down for generations. Stop in this place if you can find it and chat with him while he bakes. He only spoke a little English, but we managed to have a conversation which was fun.


After picking up this treat, I headed back to the hotel where my Uncle and I check out and headed for a very quick trip to the Israel Museum. Above is the roof of the building which contains the Dead Sea Scrolls. So interesting.


There’s also a scaled model of the Old City of Jerusalem (not as it currently is). Look how large it is compared to the people.


It was a very short stop, and after 45 min we had to head off to Tel Aviv. I really look forward to coming back to Israel at some point. I enjoyed it so much that I know Ill be back. If I had more time I would have walked the top wall of the Old City, visited where the last supper supposedly took place and I would have gone to Bethlehem.

Thanksgiving dinner was a lot of fun back in Tel Aviv. We all had an early wakeup call in the morning, as we headed to the airport with Andy and Brian to take off to Istanbul, Turkey! The adventure continues!