I just wanted to let you know that I will be phasing ExpatWriter.com out and migrating everything over to TammyWunsch.com. The content will not change – I will still be writing about travel, wine, and animal welfare – however, I am also an author so I am rebranding myself as Tammy Wunsch, Author and Content Writer (and still an intrepid explorer despite this damn pandemic!).
So, follow me to TammyWunsch.com and stay tuned for my new book, Reunions Can Be Murder which will be published very soon.
Thank you for your support and I hope to see you at the other site!
This is my final installment on my series about my trip to Italy in the summer of 2019. I spent six incredible weeks traveling the depth and breadth of Italy. Each region and town I visited was spectacular. The sights were amazing and steeped in history. Join me on the last nine days of my trip as I leave Milan for Modena to Siena and Pitigliano and finally down part of the Mediterranean coast to Rome. I wasn’t planning on going back to Italy this year but even six weeks were not enough time to fully explore this beautiful country.
I picked up my Fiat at the Milan airport and headed to Modena, home of everything balsamic vinegar. The car was an experience unto itself. I rented a manual shift car because it was less expensive. While I am experienced with manual shift vehicles, it had been over two years since the last time I had driven one, so that was exciting. First off, if you’ve never driven in Italy, be forewarned – they drive WAY TOO CLOSE. On the highway, you’re driving about 140 KPH (approximately 80 MPH). The car behind you is driving about 142 KPH and is so close that you can clearly hear them swearing at you even though there is no way for you to move over. I ended up driving in the middle lane a lot of the time.
The car rental agency rented me a GPS – imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a Tom Tom (do they still make those) and the current settings were in Portuguese. I ended up having to pull over to the side of the road and press random buttons to finally program it to speak English and then figure out how to use a Tom Tom.
Finally, figuring out the toll system was no picnic. Most of the toll stations on the highway are the equivalent of the self-checkout line in a store. You pull up, insert a ticket, and then pay. Sounds simple, but nothing was labeled and I inserted my ticket into every available slot as well as my debit card. One time, I used cash and the change was dispensed in Euro coins that bounced out of the collection bin. I had already spent way too much time at the machine and was surely annoying the cars that were stacking up behind me, so I left it and moved on.
I didn’t love Modena but a lot of that was probably influenced by the rainy weather and the fact that I was there on a weekend. Nearly everything shuts down on Sundays and it’s often difficult to find a place for lunch.
While there, I took a tour of a balsamic vinegar producer and learned all about the grapes used, the process employed to ferment the grape must, and the stringent rules that producers must follow. There was a tasting and the difference between authentic Modena-produced balsamic vinegar and run-of-the-mill balsamic you find in your local grocery store is astounding. I ended up purchasing three bottles: traditional balsamic, raspberry balsamic, and truffle balsamic (after my truffle hunt, I’ve become a fan).
After Modena, I traveled to Siena and enrolled in a few day trips. Above, you can see the beauty of Siena and the largest piazza in Europe. I have recently seen a photo of the piazza and, due to the lack of people walking on it, grass has started growing through the cracks of the pavers. Watch the video below and listen to the bells in one of the smaller piazzas.
One of the first tours I took was a Vespa tour of the Chianti hills of Tuscany. If you look very closely, you will note that I am not on a Vespa, however, a Vintage Fiat 500. Having never driven a Vespa before, the tour operators give you literally a two-minute lesson in a 20′ X 40′ parking lot with one of the operators running alongside you and screaming in your ear what to do. Naturally, I did not feel comfortable on the Vespa so I transitioned to the Vintage Fiat. When I think of “vintage”, I usually think of restored and, I don’t know, safe? These cars were anything but. My car stalled whenever we slowed down. At one point, one of the tour guides had to push the car to the top of a hill and pop the clutch to get it restarted. Another of the vehicles had its gas pedal fall off and the driver and passenger had to split up into the two other, barely-functioning vehicles. It was a nice day despite the Vespa/Fiat fiasco.
We stopped at Rocco di Castellina and had some free time to walk around. It’s a charming walled city full of character, incredible views. and interesting stone-covered walkways.
After leaving Rocco di Castellina, we meandered through the hills of Tuscany to a local Chianti Classico vineyard – Poggio Amorelli. I learned that there is a difference between what I thought of as Chianti and the Chianti Classico. The Classico is delicious with a ruby-red color and aromas of violets and cherries with an earthy spice. To ensure you are buying the correct type of Chianti, the Chianti Classico is marked by the DOCG, which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Denomination of Controlled Origin. The DOCG symbol is a black, young rooster (Gallo Nero) on the label.
We finished our day in Monteriggioni which is an impressive walled, Medieval town. The town was originally part of a castle which stood in this location since 1200 and whose towers can still be seen for miles across the Tuscan hills.
My next day trip took me to San Gimignano, another wine tasting at a vineyard, and back to Monteriggioni.
San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a medieval walled-town with 14 towers visible from miles away. It also boasts the world’s best gelato and a cistern that dates from the 13th century. The day I was there, there was a market day and the streets were closed off to automotive traffic. The streets were overflowing with market stalls and pedestrians. As you walked down the street, there would suddenly be an opening and you would look out across the hills and valleys at breathtaking views.
At this day’s wine tasting, the vineyard paired their wines with Tuscan favorites: pasta, cheese, charcuterie, and. pastries.
The tour finished in Monteriggioni where I stopped at a local wine shop for a very sophisticated wine tasting. You purchased a card with a certain number of points programmed in. When you found a wine you wanted to taste, you would insert your card and the points would be deducted from your card. Different wine tastings had different point values. It was really very clever.
After nearly six weeks of travel, I wanted to relax for a few days before coming home and jumping back into normal life. I did some research and found a spa that I could go to for one day and a hotel that was within 20 minutes of the spa in Pitigliano. I thought it would be a short drive from Siena to Pitigliano but there was not a highway so I drove about four hours through hills, mountains, and valleys on switchback-filled roads. I was white-knuckled most of the time with my jaw firmly clenched. I drove through some areas that were very desolate and thought if I had driven off the road, people might not find me for months.
Once arriving, I discovered that, without a doubt, Pitigliano was the most majestic-looking town I encountered in six weeks. It sat high atop cliffs that were brightly illuminated in the evenings. I accidentally found myself across the gorge from the town – in reality, I couldn’t find parking in town and couldn’t turn around so I ended up driving out of town until I could somewhat safely make a U-turn. The town was picturesque with narrow pedestrian streets that made you feel like you were in an Anne Rice novel. There was a festival the night I was in town and kids were running all around and competing in some games in the square – at 11:00 at night! The hotel I stayed in had their own mini-spa which even had a salt cave.
I spent a day at the Saturnia Thermal Spa and it was not quite what I had expected. Coming from the United States, we are accustomed to (probably) stringent regulations on health and safety. There was a large thermal pool which was quite sulphuric. That was as expected, however, the mold growing on the side of the pool and floating throughout when it broke off was not expected. There were also two circulatory baths. One was a wading path where you walked from hot to cold to hot water to improve circulation. The other was two jacuzzis – one hot and one cold – and you alternated ten minutes in each pool. There was also hydro-massage and saunas and quiet spaces to sit and relax. I also had a problem finding the exit but left feeling as if my body had partially recovered from the thousand miles I must have walked in the previous six weeks. It was a fantastic way to end the trip.
As I prepared to leave Italy, I drove my car down along the Mediterranean Coast. I decided to stay by the airport rather than in the center of Rome as I didn’t want to deal with the train the next day. While it is convenient, I was done with dragging my suitcase up and down stairs and onto trains and trying to find a spot for the my suitcase. I stopped and ate a a quaint little beachside restaurant. It was the perfect ending to a memories for a lifetime trip.
In summary, my least favorite town was Bari and that had more to do with the lack of internet at my residence. If I hadn’t had an assignment due and so much trouble finding internet service, I’m sure I would have been delighted with it as well. It was a beautiful city, I just didn’t have a great experience.
My two favorite towns are Perugia (Umbria) and Pitigliano (Tuscany) and I can see myself returning to both.
Overall, I enjoyed Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy. I can definitely picture myself spending time on the shores of the lake annually. The microclimate was perfect and the towns felt very comfortable.
My recommendations are what’s right for me. Take a trip for yourself and discover what you love most about Italy!
While waiting for a tour of the lake district to start, I spent a few days in Florence. It was still as hot as Hades but I walked through the city to experience the architecture and vibe of the city. Nothing can prepare you for the sheet size and vastness of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, translated as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower and more commonly known as the Cathedral of Florence or the Duomo di Firenze. (This is going to be a long post so if you want to know more about the Duomo di Firenze, please click here.
The Ponte Vecchio, or the Old Bridge, is stunning, crowded, overwhelming, and breathtaking all at once. This medieval stone bridge spans the Arno River and is lined with shops as bridges were in the past. Formerly butcher and baker shops, now shops catering to tourists, it is the oldest bridge in Florence and was the only bridge over the Arno until 1218. I doubt anything built today would last for 800+ years! To add some intrigue, the Vasari Corridor runs along the top of the bridge. This secret passageway connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti (if you’ve read Dan Brown’s “Inferno,” you are in on the secret).
Have I mentioned how hot it was in Florence? I escaped to the Boboli Gardens and wandered around to enjoy the vistas of Florence. I also enjoyed some culture at the Uffizi Galery. I was hoping for some AC but at least the thick walls kept out a lot of the heat. The building was constructed between 1560 and 1580 and, once again, the architecture is nearly as stunning as the artwork. The Uffizi has one of the largest collections of Old Masters in the world. I saw Michelangelo, DaVinci, Titian, Rembrandt, Reubens, Van Dyck and too many more to mention.
I continued my day of culture at a performance of the Three Tenors of Florence. It was held at the Auditorium de Santo Stefano, a converted church, and was absolutely lovely. The music was accompanied by ballet dancers and the acoustics were phenomenal. Walking back to my hotel, it was a little creepy to see the streets so empty after having been so packed earlier in the day.
I joined a Trafalgar – Cost Savers tour as I was starting to feel a little lonely after four weeks alone. It was an 8-day tour of the lake region in the Lombardo region. I was very reluctant to try a tour. When I was in high school, my parents took my sister and me on one of those “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” tours. I was afraid that this tour would also be filled with complaining, elderly Americans who wanted everything just like they had it in the USA. I was very pleasantly surprised, however. I met people from all over including the UK, South Africa, and Australia. There were a few elderly people but there was a good age range from 30’s and up. I wasn’t the youngest – but I certainly wasn’t the oldest either so that made it better.
On the first day, we took a boat trip on Lake Como. I saw some beautiful scenery from the lake tour and then we wandered around Bellagio, commonly referred to as the pearl of the lake. I climbed to the top of the little town and then back down where I met up with a new friend from the tour and we each enjoyed a glass of wine at a cute little wine bar. After climbing down the second set of stairs, we thought we should try an Aperol Spritz which was made with Aperol liqueur and sparkling rosé wine. It was both delicious and refreshing!
We next traveled to Switzerland and Lake Lugano. The lake was refreshing and relaxing and I loved these paddle boats with a slide attached that were for rent to tourists.
In the town of Lugano, we took a funicular to the top of Mont San Salvatore. We enjoyed breathtaking views. Take a trip with me down the funicular in the following video – if you dare!
Our next adventure brought up back to Italy and Lake Stresa. I had visited Stresa two years previously on our way back from Zermatt to Milan and fell in love with it then. It is extremely picturesque but we were only there briefly so I didn’t get a chance to explore the islands in the lake or the Palazzo Borromee.
The Palazzo Borromee is still partially a private residence. The grottoes beneath the palace were so that the owners could walk around and cool off there on hot days. I was awe-struck by the gardens and I got my first glimpse of a white peacock – I never even knew they existed before!
The tour stopped in Orta which is a charming town with narrow, winding streets – and yes, more stairs!. It was the perfect place to relax with an Aperol Spritz – after all, you need to taste quite a few to determine who makes the best one! On the way out of town to our next stop, I tried a Caffé Shakerado which was adventurous for me because I don’t like, or ever drink, coffee. This was sweetened and shaken up with ice until it was extremely chilled. The best way I can explain it is that it tasted almost like a coffee milkshake. There was a lot more caffeine, however, and I felt the effects when we arrived in Verona.
The first photo above is “Juliet’s Balcony” – not really because “Romeo & Juliet” is a work of fiction. It’s in a tiny courtyard that you access through a passage that people have attached written notes with used chewing gum. It was rather revolting to see, despite the sentiment. The second photo is what I really thought the good people of Verona had erected as the “actual” balcony as it was much prettier. Verona had its own coliseum, however, most of the town seemed dedicated to shopping and tourism. I definitely could have skipped this portion of the tour.
Next we came to my favorite lake – Lake Garda. It is the largest lake in Italy and it felt so incredibly calming and awesome. From watching the paragliders to the boat ride around the lake, it was absolutely stupendous. Lake Garda is surrounded by mountains and enjoys a micro-climate in the north that allows them to grow both lemons and olives. I thoroughly enjoyed the town of Limone, the colorful flowers, and the ingenious way that there are two roads around one portion of the lake – one for pedestrians/cyclists and the other for automotive traffic. This is the second place (Perugia was the first) where I felt I could live.
If you are going to experience the Dolomites, take the cable cars in Bolzano, Italy. The area used to be part of Austria so there is still a lot of German spoken in these parts. We hiked in the 100+ degree heat and viewed some intriguing rock formations. One of the local restaurants provided some delicious – and free – apfel strudel and local wine. I had a brief Sound of Music moment which was wonderful.
Nearing the end of the tour, we stopped in Bergamo. We took another funicular up the mountain through the town. We had a few hours to wander around and I delighted in the charming town that had fantastic pizza.
The last day of the tour took us to Milan. When I went when I was younger, I did not like Milan at all. I have grown to really appreciate the thriving city. From the unassuming Teatro all Scala – I vow to see an opera there someday – through the famous galleries and to the Duomo, Milan is a marvel and I feel myself becoming more and more comfortable there every time I visit.
I’m nearing the end of my six-week journey. Next week will be the last installment in this photographic journey through Italy from the summer of 2019. I packed a lot in, driving myself (Yikes!) from Milan to Modena to Siena and finishing in Rome. I will be back and I wish everyone in Italy – and around the world – a safe and speedy recovery from this global pandemic. It’s scary out there but there is a lot of beauty to enjoy and adventure to experience. Arrivaderci, Italia!
I really enjoyed the eastern and southeastern portions of Italy last summer. The views were gorgeous everywhere you looked (see Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series). However, I fell in love with Umbria. Perugia is one of my top three favorite towns in Italy now. I was absolutely stunned by the beauty lushness, and magnificence around every bend in the road.
Follow in my footsteps and experience virtually what I discovered.
Perugia – An Amazing Walled City
From the first moment when I stepped off the train, I was enchanted by Perugia. It was a little overcast so I decided to take a taxi to my hotel. Good thing as the taxi immediately started to drive on the street that went straight up. Apparently, the train station is at the bottom of the mountain. I mentioned to the taxi driver that it was good I didn’t walk with my luggage and he heartily agreed.
There is a funicular to take you partway up and then a series of escalators built into the mountain to make navigating the city so much easier (with fewer steps to climb though those are available should you so desire). I stayed at the Hotel Sangallo Palace about halfway up the mountain. It was perfectly situated with the escalator a short walk away and I was able to hear the jazz music wafting down from the top of the mountain and up from below. Truly spectacular.
The walkway and stairs were part of a former Roman aqueduct. Walking down a narrow, medieval street, you would turn a corner and be presented with the most breathtaking view. The escalators were built into the mountain and you emerged in Etruscan ruins.
Umbria Jazz Surrounds Your Soul
I was there coincidentally during Umbria Jazz. The sounds of music filled the streets and there were free concerts and performances everywhere. It was like having a classy soundtrack of my life.
The concerts were all sold out by the time I wandered into Perugia, so book ahead. Umbria Jazz is usually held in July, though I’m not sure what will happen this year. They get some pretty top-notch jazz musicians, too.
History and an Etruscan Well
The Etruscans were there before the Romans and provided clean, public water to their citizens. Below are remnants of an Etruscan well which is thought to have been dug in the second half of the third century BC (yes, that’s right. Before year 0!). It was later used by Romans and other inhabitants of the town.
Phenomenal Cooking School in Umbria
I took a cooking class outside of Perugia. The cooking school is located in a farmhouse and we used many ingredients grown right on the farm, including their delicious wine and olive oil. It was absolutely amazing and I met and cooked with people from all over the world. The school is called Let’s Cook in Umbria and I highly recommend you sign up for a multi-day class I took the 5-day class and could have stayed longer. I left with recipes and memories that will last a lifetime.
After our cooking class and lunch – where we dined like royalty and drank wine made at the farm – we took some daytrips. Our first activity was to participate in a truffle hunt with a trained dog – and one in training. After, we attended a truffle tasting. I never thought I liked truffles before. I do now.
Terrific Truffle Hunt
Another excursion took us on a tour of Assisi. It’s all uphill but the views were incredible and the history contained in the cathedral was awe-inspiring. Even if you’re not religious, you need to appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry that was put into these medieval churches and mountainous towns.
The Craftsmanship of Orvieto
Our final excursion from the cooking school was to Orvieto. Another superbly designed and crafted cathedral. The scale and scope are incredible and it’s hard to believe that the cathedral could have been built at a time with no cranes or power tools.
Until We Meet Again, Arrivaderci Perugia
If you ever have a chance to visit Perugia, run, don’t walk. I will definitely return time and time again.
Join me in Part V of my summer vacation when I go to Florence and take a tour of the Lake Region. Spoiler alert: I find my favorite lake!
After my time in Rome, I ventured across Italy to Pescara. Pescara is a lovely town right on the Adriatic Coast. My only problem was that I was staying on the wrong side of the pedestrian bridge.
If you travel to Pescara, I highly recommend that you stay near the center and not far from the train station. There is a large pedestrian central square about two to three blocks from the seaside that is packed with restaurants, bars, and shops. There are also beachside restaurants and shops on the street that runs along the beach – Lungomare G. Matteotti – that has both nice restaurants, casual dining, and gelato shops.
Unfortunately, I stayed on the other side of the pedestrian bridge where there were only a few restaurants and not many shops. I was recovering from Rome though so I was content to stay around the hotel.
Travel further with me through Italy today as I revisit Pescara and Bari.
I took a walk before dinner and was mesmerized by the port side of town.
I crossed the pedestrian bridge into central Pescara and discovered a whole new world! Beautiful beach with a long promenade and a charming piazza and shopping center.
While in Pescara, I took a private wine tour of two family-owned wineries. The wines were fantastic. I met the tour leader in Scarfa, about 20 minutes away by train from Pescara.
The scenery in Abruzzo is stunning and breathtaking and the wines were delightful. We went to the Chiesa di San Donato where locals bring in their containers to fill right out of the vats for the week. Each container only cost a few Euros to fill. The family was very nice and the owner smiled and often repeated: “Wine is life.” With the views, the wine, and the ambiance, I can’t say I disagree.
The second winery, Castello dei Caracciolo, was located in Tocco da Casauria. We toured their 200-year old cellar and tasted their wines and olive oils. This was another wonderful winery and a thoroughly enjoyable part of the trip.
I would recommend this Private Wine Tour – which I booked through Viator. The tour leader was very knowledgeable and interesting and provided local meats and cheeses to complement the wines. We tasted Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano, Pecorino, and Cerasuolo – all lovely wines even fresh from the steel tanks!
After leaving Pescara, I traveled down the coast to Bari. I stayed in a converted Abbey which was rather remote and had terrible internet service, but it was modern inside and quiet.
Bari is a beautiful city – I even came unexpectedly on singing priests walking down the street. That doesn’t happen every day, at least not in my life!
I took a recommendation and went to explore the Strada Arco Basso – this charming street where women sit outside in the street to make and dry pasta to sell in the local shops. It all looked delicious!
I hope you’re enjoying my trip through Italy – it certainly beats sitting through a slideshow! I welcome all comments on new places to explore in Italy. Come back next week to see what I did in Brindisi and Lecce.
Last summer, I spent six weeks in Italy. They were experiencing a heatwave that was blowing sands from the Sahara in Africa. It was hot the ENTIRE time I was there – 90+ degrees. I think it rained only twice in six weeks and once it dropped to the mid-70s.
I traveled all over Italy last summer. I started in Rome. Crossed over to Pescara. I had never been to the heel of the boot of Italy so I decided to travel down the Adriatic Coast to Bari, Brindisi, and Lecce.
From Lecce, I thought I would try to escape the everlasting heat and journeyed north to Perugia – which has now become one of my favorite Italian towns. After Perugia, I stopped in Florence and picked up a tour of the Lake District in Milan.
After the tour, I rented a car – that was an experience – and visited Modena, Siena, and ended my vacation in the beautiful town of Pitigliano. A short drive down the Mediterranean Coast brought me back to Rome.
It was busy and beautiful and delicious and fun! I made some new friends and discovered parts of Italy I had never visited before. The next few posts will be a visual tribute to Italy and my tour. Most were posted on Instagram or Facebook so may look familiar.
Please follow me on those two sites if you don’t already. This summer’s trip is already being planned and it’s going to be AMAZING!
Enjoy my trip to Italy. I’d be happy to discuss any portion of the trip if you would like to leave a comment.
For a large city, Rome is incredible. It manages to be both modern and ancient at the same time. Every corner you turn, you have the opportunity to discover a ruin, a beautiful fountain, or even the Colisseum.
I took a 30-minute train ride to Frascati for a pizza making and wine tasting class. It was amazing! Slightly cooler (maybe only 90 degrees) and absolutely stunning. Sampled some local reds and whites, nibbled on delicious appetizers, learned how to make amazingly authentic pizza, tasted wine donuts that are made to dunk in your wine, and met some fun people. A fun and worthwhile experience if you’re ever in the area. Our guide Max was interesting, fun, knowledgeable, and very charming. I can’t say enough nice things about this tour!!!
Next week, I’ll continue my mostly-visual, Italian travelogue with photos from Pescara, Bari, Brindisi, and Lecce.
Please share your favorite cities in Italy and tell me what’s not to miss in those cities.
On January 31, 1961, Ham became the first chimpanzee in space as part of the United States’ space program. Ham didn’t volunteer for the “honor”, nor do I believe did he feel any pride in his accomplishment.
Ham was kidnapped from Cameroon in 1957 and was held captive on a farm in Miami until the Air Force later purchased him. He was sent to Holloman Air Force Base where he and 40 other chimpanzees were forced to participate in grueling tests to determine which chimpanzee was best-suited for being launched into space. Ham became one of six chimpanzees to be considered for the launch. He scored well on his tests and his reaction times were faster than the other chimpanzees. Ham was a quick learner who knew that succeeding at a task would earn him a banana treat. The tests consisted of measuring the chimpanzees’ endurance to being confined for long periods in a chair and trained to operate levers in response to light cues.
Ham, though still only known as No. 65, was launched into sub-orbital space on this day in 1961. The flight experienced some issues, such as loss of pressure and a very rough splash-down. The capsule landed 130 miles from the target and began taking on water. It took the recovery ship several hours to reach No. 65. Amazingly, Ham survived with only a bruised nose. Photos of the recovery how No. 65 with an enormous grin which was interpreted as happiness. Chimps, however, only bare their teeth due to extreme fear and anxiety. When back on land, photographers asked for another photo of No. 65 in his “couch” – the seat he was strapped into in flight. Ham refused to sit in the couch, even when several men tried to force him.
Now that No. 65 had successfully completed the flight, NASA decided they that No. 65 could have a name. In an unsurprising lack of creativity, they named him an acronym for where he was imprisoned – Holloman Aerospace Medical Center.
He was then sent to be exploited at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for 17 years where he lived alone before being transferred to the North Carolina Zoo. At least he was able to live with other chimpanzees at the North Carolina Zoo. Ham died on January 18, 1983, at the age of 26. Space programs had been sending animals into space throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Beginning in 1948, the U.S. military launched V-2 rockets with rhesus monkeys as test subjects. Over three test flights, all three monkeys died. The first monkey suffocated in space and two subsequent monkeys died on impact. For the next 40 years, the Air Force chimpanzees and their descendants were used as biomedical research test subjects, space-related experimentation, disease research, toxicology experiments, experimental surgeries, and breeding.
When the Air Force was done experimenting with chimpanzees, they planned to euthanize their test subjects. Dr. Carole Noon had a vision of creating a sanctuary for the chimps that had been subjugated by the Air Force. Initially, the Air Force refused Dr. Noon’s offer to provide a home for the Air Force chimps until a lawsuit awarded custody of the chimps to her. Jon Stryker of the Arcus Foundation shared Dr. Noon’s vision and purchased 150 acres in Florida for a chimpanzee sanctuary. The Air Force chimps arrived in 2001 and were able to live out the rest of their lives in peace and tranquility, without fear of being exploited or used as test subjects.
Save the Chimps was founded for the Air Force chimps, though quickly grew when, in 2002, Dr. Noon rescued 266 chimpanzees from the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo, NM. The chimps had been used as biomedical research test subjects and most lived alone in concrete cells. The Coulston Foundation had the worst record of any lab in history since the inception of the Animal Welfare Act.
Save the Chimps has rescued chimpanzees from many dire circumstances. Their residents include chimpanzees rescued from research labs, the entertainment industry, zoos, and former pets. Today, over 250 chimpanzees live on 12 man-made islands in chimpanzee family groups. They receive three meals a day, enrichment, medical care, and celebrate every holiday with parties on their islands. The chimpanzees also enjoy the love and affection of a dedicated staff of caregivers and volunteers.
Save the Chimps is one of my favorite animal sanctuaries. I volunteer at the sanctuary when I am able to travel to Florida and represent them at animal-related events around New England. It continuously confounds me that anyone could look into the eyes of a chimpanzee and still view them as a subject for any type of testing or experimentation. It is inhumane and beyond cruel.
“They have bravely served their country. They are heroes and veterans.” – Dr. Carol Noon
There are many ways you can support Save the Chimps:
I hate the holidays. I suppose I always have. It is not a joyful time of year for me. Add the fact that my birthday is four days before Christmas and the feeling is exponentially intensified. Mostly, I could never celebrate my birthday on my birthday – or anytime near – due to holiday events and festivities. When I was younger and exchanged gifts with friends, inevitably a few friends would combine my birthday and Christmas gift and then exchange gifts with other friends, thereby diluting my birthday even further.
A few years ago, I decided to cancel my celebration of the holidays. I started volunteering at an animal sanctuary over the holidays and I have never been happier. The first few years, I volunteered at Save the Chimps (STC), a fabulous chimpanzee sanctuary located in Fort Pierce, Florida. Another year, I stayed home and volunteered at Our Companions Animal Rescue, a local dog and cat sanctuary to whose news magazine I submit articles. That was also great, but I still had to endure winter and a lot of downtime.
While I love the chimps at STC and the rescues at Our Companions, this year I wanted to volunteer a place that was warmer than home and within driving distance. Plane travel over the holidays is rarely enjoyable. I looked to my Facebook feed and found the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), a gibbon sanctuary located in Summerville, South Carolina, right outside of Charleston. I contacted the sanctuary and they said they would be happy to have me there for the holidays.
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” ~Elizabeth Andrew
I arrived in South Carolina on December 22 and started volunteering on December 23. I was enchanted from the very first time I heard the gibbons singing to each other.
Click the link below to listen to the gibbons’ song:
That first day, Shala, the Sanctuary Director, took me on a tour to meet the gibbons, and I was enthralled. Each subsequent day, I fell a little more in love with the amazing gibbons who call IPPL their home.
The Facts About Gibbons
Gibbons live in tropical and subtropical rainforests in India, Bangladesh, China, and Indonesia. They have long arms and strong legs and are arboreal – meaning they live in the tree canopy. Following are some more fun facts about gibbons:
Gibbons are territorial, monogamous and generally live in bonded pairs.
They are part of the ape family but classified as lesser apes because they are physically smaller than the great apes.
Gibbons mostly move through the trees by brachiation – swinging through the trees by their long arms. They can move at speeds up to 34 miles per hour.
If they do “walk”, they are bi-pedal.
Gibbons are not able to swim which keeps them isolated on some islands.
Females are the head of the family group and gestate for approximately seven months and usually only have one offspring at a time.
Gibbons usually stand about three feet tall and weigh between 10-20 pounds.
They are mostly covered in light-colored, ashy or tan hair to very dark brown or black hair. Some have a band of white hair surrounding their face.
Gibbons do not make sleeping nests like other apes and generally sleep upright.
They are omnivores but prefer mainly fresh fruit.
Gibbons modulate their vocalizations, making it sound like they’re singing. The singing is used to communicate and protect their territory. Different gibbon species make different vocalizations.
There are 20 species of gibbons. Unfortunately, all are threatened by extinction due to palm oil production, logging, and the illegal pet trade.
“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill
The International Primate Protection League (IPPL)
Dr. Shirley McGreal
IPPL was founded in 1973 by Dr. Shirley McGreal when she became concerned about primates being captured, transported, and exploited. She has worked tirelessly to protect all primates, both big and small. Some of Dr. McGreal’s successes include:
Founding a gibbon sanctuary in 1977;
Publishing IPPL News and being recognized by the BBC as one of the world’s best wildlife publications;
Exposing and closing down many smugglers’ networks that were illegally shipping primates from Asia to the West;
Uncovering gruesome radiation experiments on rhesus monkeys and numerous inhumane medical and biological warfare research experiments on primates;
Lobbying worldwide governments to ban the practice of wildlife trafficking;
Fundraising for numerous worldwide primate sanctuaries;
Investigating the conditions of primates in zoos and other entertainment venues;
Rescuing and providing shelter to gibbons at IPPL headquarters in South Carolina.
Dr. McGreal was presented with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her “services to the protection of primates” in2008 and has also received numerous letters from Prince Phillip regarding her service to primates.
Currently, 34 gibbons who call IPPL home. The sanctuary is located in Summerville, South Carolina, about a half-hour northwest of Charleston. It is set on 37 acres in a rural area of town and is surrounded by trees and land which act as a buffer between the gibbons and the local, human residents. There are 10 gibbon houses that are hurricane-proof and climate-controlled. Each house also has a television to provide enrichment when they cannot venture outside. Numerous outdoor enclosures that are attached to the houses by a series of aerial walkways that can be used to move the gibbons with less stress and no anesthesia.
All but one of the gibbons are members of the white-handed gibbon species. There is one yellow-cheeked crested gibbon, Tong aka Tiggy, which I must admit, quickly became one of my favorites. Not only does she look different from the other gibbons but her vocalizations are very different as well. Other favorites included Maynard, Val, Spanky, and Gideon, though they all had such unique personalities I feel I would equally love them all if I were able to stay longer.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
As most of the gibbons were born in captivity and never learned ape behaviors from their parents, they would never be able to survive in the wild. They are protected and loved at the sanctuary – a much better fate than so many others. Many of the gibbons do live in pairs, however, some bachelors who have learned to co-exist peacefully – to a certain extent.
Each morning, the gibbons wake up and are let out of their houses into their enclosures where they can brachiate, climb, and observe their surroundings. Their first meal of the day consists of about a pound of vegetables. The gibbons prefer fruits but need the nutrients of the vegetables to stay healthy. Feeding them their vegetables in the morning ensures they will be eaten when the gibbons wake up hungry.
At lunch, the gibbons get approximately one pound of mixed fruits. These are their preferred foods but gibbons are rather fastidious – they do not like to get dirty. If a piece of food is too sticky, they will drop it immediately.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
The gibbons go to bed when it starts to get dark. Night rounds consist of walking throughout the sanctuary, picking up the food containers from each enclosure, ensuring the gibbons are locked inside their enclosure, and giving them a peeled banana for dinner. Sometimes the gibbons are stubborn and need to be enticed into their enclosure but it is for their health and safety. The temperature can drop to freezing and that would not be good for their well-being.
A Typical Day for a Caregiver
A caregiver’s job is never done. Besides preparing the meals and feeding the gibbons, caregivers need to ensure that they receive required medicines, monitor their poop output, ascertain that they are eating sufficiently, and that the enclosures are cleaned, both inside and out. There is also veterinary care to provide regular physicals and dental examinations.
As a volunteer, I frequently hosed down the outside enclosures, often closely supervised by my new gibbon friends. They would chat with me and show off by swinging acrobatically throughout their enclosure. Normally, the thought of traipsing around outside, unwinding hoses, and spraying food and feces out of an enclosure, and rewinding up the hoses would sound like a distasteful job to me, but I must confess, I relished the opportunity to be close to the gibbons. Hearing the gibbons sing and watching their interactions was peaceful and joyous. I left the sanctuary after ten days feeling sore but also entirely relaxed and serene.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank
Some of the gibbons are playful and some are very friendly. As a volunteer, I was cautioned against any physical contact with a gibbon unless accompanied by one of the staff. The friendlier gibbons would press their backs against the enclosure and look at you beseechingly for a back scratch. Some would huff and puff at you if you didn’t scratch them as much as they wanted. One of the gibbons liked to have his feet held. I witnessed the playfulness and sneakiness of the gibbons – one pulled a Santa hat off a caregiver on Christmas day and tried to wear it, eat it, and tear it up before dropping it in a puddle and another would grab for the sanctuary director’s raincoat when she was passing out dried fruit snacks.
One of my favorite activities was helping with enrichment for the gibbons. One day we made and delivered popcorn which most of the gibbons enjoyed. We tried jell-0 another day molded into holiday shapes but that didn’t go over as well. The stickiness of the Jell-O was a definite turn off to some of the gibbons. Something they all seemed to enjoy was dried fruit which can be donated to them through Nuts.com. Dried mangoes appeared to be a particular favorite. Other types of enrichment they receive include PVC pipes filled with treats, mirrors, and stuffed animals.
Other jobs that must be attended to at the sanctuary such as picking up and sorting through food deliveries, groundskeeping, and general maintenance. The sanctuary is not open to the public but there are member days when members can come and listen to an expert give a talk about primates and meet the gibbons.
How You Can Help IPPL
Are you intrigued yet by IPPL? Do you want to help them and their mission? What can you do?
You will not regret one single moment you volunteer at IPPL nor anything you provide for the gibbons. Explore IPPL’s website and Meet the Gibbons. Follow them on Facebook. You will soon find yourself beguiled by the amazing lesser apes. I know that I will be visiting IPPL to volunteer as often as I can and I hope to meet you there as well!
I forgot to mention…there are also six otters in residence at the sanctuary. Otters and gibbons – how nice!
Just about every company on the planet can use a good computer programmer. Whether they hire someone in-house or use freelancers, programming is a skill that will always be in demand.
Do you know any of the following programming languages?
If so, then you can build a portable, and lucrative, income with the skills you already possess. You can either use one of the micro-job sites to find clients or launch your own business as a Freelance Programmer. If you’re good at what you do, then word-of-mouth may be enough to keep you as busy as you want to be. To ensure that your clients refer you to other companies or provide testimonials for your website, you need to focus on customer service. Focus on the client relationship, stay organized, and ALWAYS deliver your projects on-time!
If, however, you looked at the list above and thought they were written in a foreign language – technically speaking, they are – learning to program can be relatively easy and quick. It is best to focus on one of the programming languages and make it a specialty. After learning some basic programming skills, your abilities will increase with usage and studying the code on websites, apps, and trial and error.
Here are some of the best-rated, FREE, computer programming courses:
MIT OpenCourseWare: MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity. There are over 2,400 courses available. Through OCW, educators improve courses and curricula, making their schools more effective; students find additional resources to help them succeed; and independent learners enrich their lives and use the content to tackle some of our world’s most difficult challenges, including sustainable development, climate change, and cancer eradication.
edX: Founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012, edX is an online learning destination and MOOC provider, offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere. We were founded by and continue to be governed by colleges and universities. We are the only leading MOOC provider that is both nonprofit and open source. Enroll in the latest computer science courses covering important topics in artificial intelligence, cyber security, software engineering, and big data. Add a portfolio of programming skills or get an overview of the field with Harvard University’s Introduction to Computer Science, a free course that you can start today.
Coursera: Every course on Coursera is taught by top instructors from the world’s best universities and educational institutions. Courses include recorded video lectures, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and community discussion forums. When you complete a course, you’ll receive a shareable electronic Course Certificate. Courses are online and open to everyone. You can learn a new skill in 4-6 weeks. Courses are priced at about $29-$99.
PVTuts: PVTuts (PVT) is a free website devoted to providing concise text and video tutorials in all popular programming languages. The goal of our tutorials is that they only explain what is relevant and practical without any repetition or needless theory, so as to give you a highly efficient learning experience.
Udacity: Learn in-demand skills, build incredible projects, and gain an industry-valued credential. Take your first step by exploring our schools to find your perfect program. Programming is a critical skill in today’s economy, and there is a shortage of qualified developers. Whether you’re new to coding, adding more skills, or advancing your career, 10 hours a week will prepare you for your ideal developer job.
Udemy: Udemy is a global marketplace for learning and teaching online where students are mastering new skills and achieving their goals by learning from an extensive library of over 80,000 courses taught by expert instructors.
freeCodeCamp: freeCodeCamp is a donor-supported tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our mission: to help people learn to code for free. We accomplish this by creating thousands of videos, articles, and interactive coding lessons – all freely available to the public. We also have thousands of freeCodeCamp study groups around the world.
The Odin Project: The Odin Project provides a free open source coding curriculum that can be taken entirely online. Since it’s inception, it has helped many students get hired as developers and has assisted countless others learn enough programming to work on their own personal projects. The Odin Project is now sponsored by Thinkful, a new type of technology school that provides 1-on-1 learning through its network of industry experts, hiring partners, and online platform to deliver a structured and flexible education. The Odin Project is maintained and continually improved by a team of volunteers, many of whom learned to code with us. This curriculum itself is free and we tried to link to resources that are themselves free so anyone in the world can use them. The Odin Project curriculum is full of projects that will help you build a strong portfolio of work on Github to fill out your resume. We’re committed to connecting students together so they can stay motivated and learn faster.
Khan Academy: Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. We tackle math, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. Our math missions guide learners from kindergarten to calculus using state-of-the-art, adaptive technology that identifies strengths and learning gaps. We’ve also partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content. No ads, no subscriptions. We are a not‑for‑profit because we believe in a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. We rely on our community of thousands of volunteers and donors.
Codecademy: Whether you’re trying to level up your career, build your side project, or simply play around with programming, you’ve found the right place to start. Our online coding tutorials with easy-to-follow instructions, immediate feedback, and a tested curriculum take anyone from non-technical to “I can code.” Our courses are designed to keep you on track, so you learn to code “today” not “someday.” Most of our free courses take fewer than 11 hours. Our global community of coaches, advisors, and graduates means there’s always someone to answer your question.
I am a Content Writer and Blogger who promotes portable income opportunities (PIO), living, product, and service options for current and future expatriates to live successful international lifestyles. I write a travel blog which explores diverse destinations, PIO, wine tasting, and animal sanctuaries. As a former – and future – expatriate, I love to produce content which can make an international lifestyle attainable and enjoyable for everyone!
Let’s get to know each other! Post your favorite picture, story, or link relating to travel, portable income opportunities, a winery adventure, or animal sanctuary.
My favorite picture is posted as the featured image. I do not have enough superlatives to describe the beauty of the Alps. If you haven’t been, go. If you have been, you know what I’m talking about.
So, let’s get to know each other and maybe find some new places to go and things to experience. Post a picture and description of your favorite travel destination, winery, or animal sanctuary.