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Travel With Marilyn

Remembering the Glories of a Garden

Marilyn JonesRecently I needed photos of Birmingham for an article. When I searched my files I came across flower photos I had taken at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. I had never used them or written about the impressive gardens.


In the 1950s James W. Morgan, city mayor at the time, led an effort to establish the gardens on a portion of unused city property east of the Birmingham Zoo on the side of Red Mountain.


The gardens officially opened in 1963. Today the site is home to more than 12,000 different types of plants, 25 unique gardens, more than 30 works of original outdoor sculpture and several miles of walking paths.


The Mission: Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens promotes public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens and the environment and receives, raises and administers resources for these purposes.

The Vision: The vision of Birmingham Botanical Gardens is to be one of the nation's preeminent botanical gardens.


With more than 350,000 visitors every year, the mission and vision are ideals that have come true. It has become Alabama's largest living museum and offers the only public horticultural library in the nation.

There is no admission charge and the gardens are open 365 days a year; dawn to dusk.

Come and walk with me and my memories of this grand place.





Babylonstoren is a South African Treasure

Marilyn JonesA decade ago Karen Roos, a magazine editor and lover of South Africa's Dutch Cape history, purchased a fruit and wine farm dating back to the late 17th century. She renamed it Babylonstoren and set about transforming it into the showplace it is today.


Located near Franschhoek, it was in 1692 the land was granted to burgher Pieter van der Byl by the then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. Prior to that, the Drakenstein Valley was inhabited by the nomadic Khoisan communities for centuries. Van der Byl planted the first vineyards on the farm and altered the water courses to provide irrigation.

The Garden

Instead of wandering the property on my own, I take a guided tour through the property; a maze of fruits, vegetables, trees and lovely flowers framed by the Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains.


Our guide tells the group that some of the earliest farm structures are still on the farm and used today including a manor house dating to 1777 as well as the Koornhuis (for storing wheat), the old cellar, fowl house, dovecote, the leaning bell tower and the historic gates. A cow shed was transformed into Babel restaurant where I would later have lunch.

Set within eight acres, the big garden was inspired by the historic Company's Garden in Cape Town. "The Company Garden supplied sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company with fresh vegetables and fruit during the days when the Cape was a halfway station between Europe and Asia in the 1600s," our guide explains as we set off.


The garden is fashioned into a labyrinth of "rooms" segregating different fruits, vegetables and flowers.

"All of our plants in the garden are edible," our guide says. "More than 300 different plants are grown here."

Included in the mix are everything from fruit and nut trees to asparagus and mushrooms. The produce supplies the farm's two restaurants — Babel and the Greenhouse. As we walk and learn more about the gardens, employees are busy harvesting crops.


When the formal tour ends, I continue to wander through other areas of the garden taking my time to enjoy the scents, colors and atmosphere of these natural rooms and arbors.

Soon it is time for lunch at Babel. The menu is guided by what is available in the garden. The group of women I am traveling with decides to try each of the "color" salads offered — red, yellow and green. Not only are they delicious, but the presentation is amazing.


Babylonstoren also offers luxury accommodations. According to the website, "When new accommodation was added to create the Farm Hotel, every care was taken to ensure that the integrity of the original architecture and its sympathetic relationship with the landscape and climate, were reflected."

Babylonstoren is a true treasure for anyone who appreciates gardening, farm-to-table dining and the joys of the great outdoors.

For more information email

All photos used are the property of Marilyn Jones.

What’s New For Spring Break and Summer Travel?

Marilyn Jones 

Like every travel writer, I spend a lot of time planning my adventures. Right now I am planning a trip to Egypt in April, and a marathon 3,500-mile solo road trip in May and June. Along with my planning comes the desire to have the right “accessories” for every situation.  

Road Trip

In addition to plenty of audio books to make the miles sail by, I’ll be taking along a cooler for Diet Coke and snacks. I’ve tried several over the years and one I really like is eBags Crew Cooler II


Originally designed for flight attendants and pilots, this little cooler has all the bells and whistles you need in a compact design. A few features include a top "dry" compartment perfect for non-perishables, a zippered mesh pocket in the lid to keep napkins and other small items in place and, of course, a “cold" compartment that is completely insulated. An elasticized mesh pocket against the body is great for packets of mayo, mustard, etc. plus there is a zippered mesh pocket against the front — a perfect place for silverware. On the sides of the cooler are special pouch-pocket water bottle carriers. In addition to handles and a removable shoulder strap, it has rear pass-thru pocket for stacking on top of your suitcase, which I love for taking it into hotels with me.

I also purchased a first-aid kit for my upcoming road trip in May. I always carry Band-Aids, but felt the first-aid kits would bring everything together in one place in case I would actually need to get to my supplies quickly. This kit comes with scissors, tweezers, a whistle, first-aid manual, and all the supplies needed to help someone whether that someone is me or a fellow traveler. 


RFID-Blocking and Anti-Theft

As you may know, I am a huge fan of RFID-blocking and anti-theft accessories.    

RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track information attached to objects including credit cards and passports. Although it has been around for years, it’s relatively new use is identity and digital theft. RFID skimming enables information from RFID-based smart cards to be read and duplicated.

Many companies are making and selling purses, backpacks, passport cases, wallets, luggage, and credit card sleeves to shield against attempts to steal information. 

I found several RFID-blocking bags and wallets for my upcoming travel including two beautiful bags.

Travelon’s boho crossbody bag comes in several great designs and features an RFID-blocking main compartment and card slots, a zip wallet pocket, locking front zip pocket and rear zip pocket, and a feature I love: a mesh expansion pocket that holds a water bottle, umbrella or sunglasses! There’s also a tethered key clip with LED light.  


Travelon also offers a matching wallet that can be used as a wristlet. Featuring two zip compartments, card and currency slots and a coin pocket all with RFID–blocking, it is the perfect companion piece to the crossbody bag. 


Another great find is this messenger bag. In addition to the RFID-protected card slots, the fabric is slash-resistant and the shoulder strap has an internal stainless steel cable for an additional way to protect your belongings. Locking hardware also allows you to secure your purse to the back of your chair without worrying that it'll be snatched by someone passing by. 


I often use a neck wallet while taking a backpack and carry-on suitcase on an airplane. It’s a secure place for my passport, credit cards and cash, and is easy to keep out of sight. I also use it while moving around a cruise ship or even as a mini-purse while sightseeing so that I don’t have to carry a larger bag depending on what I am doing.

And let’s not forget the men in our lives. There are several RFID–blocking wallets available for every taste. 


Airplane Travel

I came across the coolest luggage I have seen in quite a while. Morphus International Carry-On — the world’s largest carry-on! Basically it’s a suitcase inside a suitcase. Bought too many souvenirs? Just separate the inside suitcase from the wheeled luggage to double your carrying capacity for the trip home. Or if you are planning to trek on your vacation and need a sturdy backpack, the inside suitcase features straps to convert it to a backpack. Check out the Eagle Creek website and the video. It’s an amazing concept! 


I found two neck pillows that I think are superior. The first one I actually forgot to pick up in security and by the time I realized it was gone I was too far away from security to go back and retrieve it. I love it so much that I bought another one. It completely surrounds your neck giving you 360 degree support. 


I just discovered another neck pillow made with memory foam that I am anxious to try on my next flight. It would also be perfect for car passenger travel. According to the website, body heat makes the memory foam mold to your head and neck, keeping your head from bobbing off to the side or drooping down. There’s also a button strap to prevent the pillow from falling off your shoulders. 


I just added a reflective luggage tag set to the suitcase I use most often for airline travel. The set includes a set of zipper pulls, handle wraps and an ID tag making the suitcase easier to identify on the luggage carousel. 


I also splurged on a travel umbrella because of its small size and its sturdiness. I really feel ready for any on-the-road travel as well as my international adventures this year. 



Many travelers collect Christmas ornaments to help them remember the great times they’ve had on vacation; me too! If I can’t find the perfect ornament while on my adventures, I order it from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. They offer hundreds of beautiful ornaments representing destinations throughout the United States and around the world. Many can be personalized like this one I made to remember a cruise I am taking with my daughter and granddaughter.


So get out there, explore, enjoy, find new adventures; this is a great year to travel!!

Village on the Danube River offers excellent History Lessons

Marilyn Jones 

On the shores of the Danube, a blue church spire signifies the approach of Durnstein, Austria, a town with a population of less than 1,000.


High above the village is another landmark, Kuenringernurg, the castle where Richard the Lionheart was held in the 12th century during the Third Crusade. I am a passenger on the AmaWaterways AmaSella and I am excited to visit this tiny village with a welcoming reputation.


Historically, Durnstein was first mentioned in conjunction with Kuenringernurg.

I walk through the old entrance to the city, known by the locals as Steiner Tor, and into the village. The streets are narrow and many of them are pedestrian-only, making an exploration even more enjoyable. Located just northwest of Vienna, the village is known for its charming streetscapes, dining and shopping opportunities.


A monastery was established here in 1410 and the church was completed in 1720. The original colors have adorned the church since the day it was finished; the blue and white of the steeple representing heaven, and the gray and yellow of the abbey representing earth. It is famous as one of the finest baroque towers in Austria.


It is raining, but this doesn’t dampen my spirits. With limited time I opt to forgo the church in exchange for walking through the village stopping at tiny gift shops and admiring the centuries-old architecture.


I walk to the river at one end of Main Street and then walk back slowly taking in the beauty of my surroundings.


Never underestimate the significant history or quiet beauty of less-known locations while on a Danube River cruise or another European river while comfortably sightseeing from the ship along the waterways. Durnstein is a delight and one I would enjoy returning to.

Exploring Historic Santiago, Chile

Marilyn Jones 

I wake to rain pelting the windows. My plans for the day are to explore the heart of Santiago and a little — or a lot — of rain isn’t going to stop me.

Juggling an umbrella, camera and tote bag, I start out by exploring the quiet streets in a neighborhood just outside downtown. Many of the palatial mansions, from the turn-of-the-last century, house accommodations and restaurants.

I head for the Santa Lucia Hill. The hill was held by the indigenous Incas until it was captured by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia on December 13, 1541 — Santa Lucia Day. Today the hill is a beautiful park commemorating the founding of Santiago. The fountains, statues and staircase leading up to a fort built in 1840 are additions made by Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna. The writer, journalist, historian and politician spearheaded change and improvement in the city in the late 1800s.


I make a brief visit to the National Library of Chile. Built in 1913, it is ornately decorated with stained glass, chandeliers, pillars and carved wood trim.

San Francisco Church dating to 1622, the oldest colonial-era building in Chile is close by. Pulling open a massive wooden door, I am immediately immersed in the warmly lit Franciscan sanctuary.


Next door is the church convent that now houses a museum exploring the colonial period of Chile and South America. Collections include paintings, sculptures and furnishings.

La Moneda Palace

Although tours are not available, I wander past several century-old government buildings including La Moneda Palace, the current seat of government. It was built in the late 1800s. In 2010, to celebrate the bicentennial of Chile’s independence from Spain, a public square was completed beside it.



Paths leading down from the plaza offer access to the underground Palacio de La Moneda Cultural Center, which features Chilean art and history exhibits. If you want to shop in a quiet location, the cultural center is a great place to browse for affordably-priced Chilean-made crafts, artwork and textiles.


In the pelting rain I dash past the Plaza de Armas, the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago, toward Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago and its shelter. Serving as the seat of Santiago’s archbishop, it was built in the late 1700s and is filled with amazing artifacts including a silver alter. I wander through its solitude and beauty as thunder rumbles overhead.


When the storm subsides I walk to the 1872 Central Market for a late lunch. Past vendors selling fresh seafood of every description including mackerel, salmon, merluza, swordfish and pescada, I look for a place to eat.


Originally built for national art exhibits, the market now houses more than 70 restaurants serving fish and seafood. I choose El Galeon where I enjoy reineta, salmon and Northern Chilean mango.  

It’s a long walk back, so I set out after lunch. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. I take my time to savor the beauty and charm of Chile’s capital city. I see a lot on my first day and grow appreciative of the city’s charm.

Floating in the Dead Sea: A Fun and Unusual Outing

Marilyn Jones 

From our hotel in Sweimeh, Jordan, we took a short shuttle ride to the Dead Sea. The fun began even before I reached the beautiful beach lined with recliners and colorful umbrellas. Two members of my Exodus Travels tour group were already in a small enclosure laughing as they smeared Dead Sea mud all over themselves. Soon everyone joined in the fun.

The mud, like the water, is rich in minerals and very good for the skin.

The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. Its name comes from the fact that the water is far too salty for marine life.

Soon our mud-covered troop headed for the beach and the Dead Sea. Because of its high content of salt, it is nearly impossible to sink. The water was surprisingly warm and felt good on my skin. I floated and enjoyed this unusual encounter for more than an hour until the sun began to set. I hurriedly got my camera and walked a good distance from the beach to get a photo of the sun reflecting on the sea as it set. The perfect ending of another perfect day.

If you have the opportunity to experience a dip in the Dead Sea while in Jordan or Israel, make sure and wear waterproof sandals. The salt can be jagged and can cut your feet. Also, only float on your back. Accidents happen when weak swimmers try to swim stomach-down because their legs float best and their head will be submerged. Short of drowning, inhaling the water can cause life threatening medical problems because of the water's very high electrolyte content.

So, be safe and have fun. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!!

dead sea

dead sea

dead sea

dead sea

dead sea

Memory Maker is a Great Addition to Your Walt Disney World Vacation

Marilyn Jones 

If you’ve visited Walt Disney World I’m sure you know there are photographers located throughout the parks at strategic locations as well as ride photos – you know; right when you’re plunging down Splash Mountain or your elevator car is being dropped in Tower of Terror.


This kind of photography has come a long way since being handed a ticket and lining up to look at photos at the end of the day. Now, you can view, share and order photos online at

When a photographer at Walt Disney World takes your photo, instead of receiving a paper claim ticket, you receive a Disney PhotoPass that links all your vacation photos together into one online account for easy online viewing and sharing. You use one PhotoPass for their entire vacation or get a new PhotoPass each time you have your photo taken. Disney’s PhotoPass is a service offered to Walt Disney World visitors at no additional charge. What you pay for are the photos you choose at a later time.

Memory Maker

Guests can also pay a one-time fee for access to every photo taken with Memory Maker.

On a recent trip my family purchased Memory Maker for $169. If you pay within three days of your visit or at the resort, the fee is $199.

Memory Maker includes:

  • Unlimited digital downloads of all your Disney PhotoPass photos and videos
  • Select attraction photos and videos
  • Select character dining photos
  • Discounts on prints of your photos
  • Magic Shots - featuring Disney Characters and more, added to your photos
  • Digital borders and stickers to personalize your photos

We visited all four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Studios and Epcot. Not only did the photographers take exceptional and creative photos, they were also set up for great night photos; photos the average person couldn’t create. Plus, this ensured every member of the family was in the picture and we didn’t have to ask a stranger to take the photo.

Magic Band

Another plus; if you are staying on property and are wearing your Magic Band (or you purchase a Magic Band for your visit), your ride photos are also sent to your account automatically. When a photographer takes your photo, they scan the Magic Band.

In the end we received more than 700 photos including special event photos from the time we were at Walt Disney World.  

I can highly recommend Memory Maker. Capturing your Disney memories is so complete; there’s no need to bring a camera along when you visit!

photo pass




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