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Travel With Marilyn

Little Petra: Another Chapter in Jordanian History

Marilyn Jones 

After two days in Petra, our Exodus Travels tour journeys north to Siq al-Barid, known as Little Petra. Part of Petra Archeological Park, it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Little Petra

Unlike the larger Petra area, Little Petra does not require admission and is very quiet in stark contrast with Petra, but nonetheless strikingly beautiful and mysterious. Archaeologists believe that Little Petra was established in the first century, when the Nabataean culture was at its peak in the region.

Little Petra

The larger Petra site was first discovered by Europeans in 1812 when a Swiss traveler, Jacob Burckhardt, became the first Western visitor since the Romans. He did not venture north of the larger Petra where Little Petra is located.

Little Petra

Little Petra was known only to the Bedouin nomads who sometimes camped there until the late 1950s when a British archaeologist, Diana Kirkbride, added to her excavations at Petra digs in the Beidha (a major Neolithis archaeological site) area which included Little Petra.

One feature Little Petra has that the larger Petra does not is a biclinium, or dining room, discovered in 2010. Located in one of the caves, it features art depicting grapes, vines and a winged male child thought to be in honor of the Greek god Dionysus and the consumption of wine. The 2,000-year-old ceiling frescoes are a very rare large-scale example of Hellenistic painting.

I pass a beautifully carved and ancient facade and children playing on a small sand dune before entering a narrow chasm leading to more discoveries. Caves, tombs and storage areas line the terra cotta colored canyon walls. An elderly Bedouin woman shows how she spins wool, a man plays a one-stringed instrument and children sing a traditional song for tips. A handful of merchants sell scarves and jewelry.

Little Petra

Little Petra

It is peaceful here. Visitors clamber up steep uneven steps to view the site’s famous cave paintings and a spectacular view of the canyon. We are free to go inside the caves to better understand life here centuries ago.

Little Petra

As we leave, our guide, Omar Hamadeen, asks a Bedouin family if we can see the inside of their tent. The tent is made of woven goat hair and is waterproof. The tent is divided into two spaces — one for the wife and daughters, and the other for the father and his sons. In the center is a fire for warmth and cooking. Most of the Bedouin tribes migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to what is now Jordan between the 14th and 18th centuries. Today Bedouins make up 33 to 40 percent of the population and live in the vast desert wasteland.  Some Bedouins in Jordan are semi-nomadic. During part of the year they adopt a nomadic existence, but return to their lands and homes in time to practice agriculture.

Little Petra holds many secrets yet uncovered. Spending time here offers yet another view of this Middle Eastern country’s past.  

Little Petra

AmaWaterways partners with Master Chef Joanne Weir

Marilyn Jones 

Sailing with AmaWaterways along one of the world’s rivers is an experience for all the senses including taste. This cruise line is especially known for its excellent meals. Now AmaWaterways is partnering with Master Chef and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Joanne Weir as the lead sponsor of her new PBS series, “Plates and Places with Joanne Weir.”


Two episodes of the series, set to debut in February 2018, were filmed in fall 2017 during AmaWaterways’ Enchanting Rhine river cruise, capturing the culinary highlights on board as well as regional specialties from the cities and towns along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

chef 2

During the cruise, which took place on board the fleet’s newest ship, AmaKristina, Weir shared her love of cooking with guests through cooking demonstrations and the addition of small touches to the tasting menu at the intimate Chef’s Table restaurant, a feature on most cruises.

amakristina 2

AmaWaterways is continuing its collaboration with Weir and her team by presenting a special sailing, Taste of Bordeaux – Culinary Cruise Hosted by Joanne Weir. The seven-night cruise will embark on July 26, 2018, traveling through the Bordeaux region along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers. Fans of Weir will have the opportunity to engage with the celebrated chef both on board and during shore excursions exploring local culinary and viticulture highlights. The author of 18 cookbooks, including her latest, Kitchen Gypsy, will also give culinary presentations on board the AmaDolce, which are open to all guests.


The 2018 Culinary Cruise takes guests through the Bordeaux region of France, one of the world’s undisputed wine capitals, and will be punctuated by a comprehensive choice of complimentary shore excursions highlighting French culture, food, and wine, including visits to vineyards and a wine festival. Passengers will also visit the 14th-century Château de Montaigne, once the former residence of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne.

I can speak from experience that the culinary team, led by award-winning Executive Chef Primus Perchtold, always provides a great dining experience. I am sure the collaboration with Weir will only add to their tradition of fine dining and excellent service.

AmaWaterways is a family-owned company celebrating 15 years on the river offering cruises on Europe’s Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Main, Rhone, Seine, Garonne, Dordogne, Dutch and Belgian Waterways and Douro Rivers, Southeast Asia’s Mekong, and Africa’s Chobe River. 

Photos courtesy Joanne Weir and AmaWaterways.


Ideas for the Traveler on Your Holiday Gift-Giving List

Marilyn Jones 

It’s that time of year when we all start to think about the holidays; baking, decorating and shopping. Shopping can be pretty easy though if someone on your gift list is a traveler. There are so many gift choices from focusing on the memories to choosing something practical.

The memories

Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland offers an amazing array of travel-related Christmas tree ornaments. From destination-specific to travel in general, you’re sure to find the perfect ornament.

ornament - desitination specific

Globe with Airplane Glass Ornament, for example, is a good choice for any international traveler, or choose a specific country or destination ornament to celebrate the past year’s adventures or an upcoming trip.

ornament - international traveler

How about a decorative item? UnCommon Goods is another fantastic online store offering several travel gifts.

Cork Globe

The World Traveler's Cork Globe is great to remember past journeys or for planning new ones.

travel sign

I love the Personalized Travel Milestone Marker. Personalize with vacations spots, hometowns or anywhere else that deserves a milestone marker. Or, if you’re unsure of what the recipient would choose, simply give them a gift card and allow them the fun of designing it.

Travel guides also make fantastic gifts for planning trips or remembering past ones. Two publishers I can recommend are National Geographic and Jonglez Publishing, known for their “secret” guides including Secret Florence and Secret Venice.


Packing tools

Traveling often means living out of a suitcase. Lewis N. Clark offers an excellent Hanging Toiletry Kit. The bottom part is 3 inches wide with little sleeves to hold items such as hairspray, mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner. There is room in the bottom for other items as well as a front pouch, two pouches on the top part that fold out to hang, and a pouch on the front of the folded-up kit.


Their matching Jewelry Roll keeps jewelry protected, accessible and tangle-free. The jewelry roll includes an earring strip, ring holder and zip pockets for necklaces, bracelets and watches.

I have given so many friends Packing Cubes over the years. I love them! I think of them as mini dresser drawers: one for tops, another for undergarments and pajamas, and so forth. After packing the cubes, they fit neatly into my suitcase. When I am at a hotel looking for clothes, I simply take out the cube, get what I want and put the cube back; no fuss, no muss, no stress.

packing cubes

I also recently discovered Packing Tubes. They fit perfectly between the ribs caused by the suitcase handle. They are excellent for socks and other small items, and they save me even more space in the suitcase. 

Eagle Creek has two items I take on nearly every trip that would make excellent gifts: the Packable Duffel and Packable Backpack. When I travel somewhere, I don’t have a carry-on; only my backpack with my computer, camera, electronic cords and medications, plus a small neck-stash. On my way home, I fill the packable duffle with my laundry and use my suitcase for carrying souvenirs. When I am out and about seeing the sites I appreciate a daypack as well for a bottle of water and to stash my purchases. Of course, never put your passport or money in your daypack; always carry a neck-stash to protect these valuables from pickpockets.

Travel Safety

I am a huge fan of RFID-blocking gear.

(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, its relatively new use is identity and digital theft. RFID skimming enables information from RFID-based smart cards to be read and duplicated.

As I indicated, I always use an RFID-Blocking Neck Stash as a little purse. In it I put my passport, driver’s license, boarding pass, credit cards and a little cash. If you’d rather carry a purse, try the RFID-Blocking Purse/Backpack. It easily converts from a purse into a backpack. And for evenings when you might want something more stylish, there is also an RFID-Blocking  Fine Leather Clutch.


One other item I just discovered is a Travel Door Alarm. It has a motion sensor that triggers the alarm when someone has opened the door. Small and easy to use, it is an excellent extra measure of security.


Travel Accessories

When traveling internationally, you’ll need an electric converter. One I just found is a combination adapter, converter and USB charger.


Another new find that I am enamored with is the Wrap-N-Rest Pillow. Instead of being in a U-shape, it is a circle. And, with a Velcro strap, it hangs from my backpack.

The Bagnet is an awesome gift for any woman who has gone into the ladies room and discovered there wasn’t a place to hang her purse. It can be used on any heavy metal item including a restaurant dining table or inside of a locker; the uses are seemingly endless.


My go-to travel shoes are CMUK. Lightweight, they don’t take up a lot of space in the suitcase and are so comfortable! Gift cards are available.


Every trip poses a new set of circumstances. How long are you going to be gone? Will you have access to laundry service? Do you plan to buy a lot of souvenirs?

Here are three pieces of luggage that I can personally recommend because I have used them and know they stand-up to airline handling.

The Carryall III Spinner Pullman carry-on is durable and lightweight (only 7 1/2 pounds). Checking a bag? The Gear Warrior AWD 26 is perfect for one-week trips and the Gear Warrior AWD 29 works well for longer adventures.


So, have fun shopping; there’s so much to choose from for the traveler on your list.

Disclaimer: In some cases, the writer received the reviewed merchandise either free or at a reduced cost.

Visiting Prague’s Jewish Quarter is an Emotional and Educational Journey

Marilyn Jones 

When I entered the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter, I was not prepared for what I saw. On the walls are painted the names of nearly 80,000 Czech and Moravian Jews; victims of Shoah concentration camp during Nazi occupation.

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Founded in 1479 by Rabbi Pinkas — one of the Jewish community’s wealthy members — it now serves as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The synagogue was converted into this moving monument between 1955 and 1960 by painters Václav Boštík and Jiří John. After the Soviet invasion of 1968, the memorial was closed for more than 20 years. It was fully renovated and opened again in 1995.

As emotional as the site of all those names is, on the second floor are children’s drawings from Terezin concentration camp where the Jewish children were imprisoned during World War II. The drawings tell of the persecution of Jews in the Czech lands between 1939 and 1945. It’s hard to look at the pictures knowing most of the children were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Březinka extermination camp. The paintings illustrate the transports to Terezin and everyday life in the ghetto as well as dreams of returning home.

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Pinkas Synagogue is part of Prague’s Jewish Museum that was founded in 1906. Three other synagogues (Maisel, Klausen and Spanish), the Old Jewish Cemetery, Ceremonial Hall, and Robert Gultmann Gallery are also part of the museum. One of the oldest and continuously existing Jewish museums in the world, its mission is “to document the history, traditions and customs of the Jewish population in Bohemia and preserve valuable artifacts from the Prague synagogues that were destroyed during the liquidation of the Prague ghetto.”

Old Jewish Cemetery

Just outside Pinkas Synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest Jewish burial grounds in the world. The oldest tombstone dates from 1439; the last funeral took place in 1787.

Tombstones are only inches apart because the cemetery is actually 10 layers. When there wasn’t any more room for new burials, a layer of soil was placed on top of existing graves. The tombstones from the under layers were erected on the top layer where the newly departed were buried. There are 12,000 tombstones in the cemetery.

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Maisel Synagogue was built by the rich mayor of the Jewish Town in 1592. Although the original Renaissance building was a victim of fire in 1689, a new neo-Gothic synagogue was built in its place from 1893-1905.

Today it houses a collection of Jewish silver, textiles, prints and books. Most of the collection was brought to Prague by the Nazis with the intention of establishing a museum of the people they planned to annihilate.

The Klausen Synagogue is the largest in Prague. Originating in the 16th century, the current structure was built on the site in 1694 in the early Baroque style. The exhibition continues in the Ceremonial Hall and includes exhibitions about the Hebrew Bible. The displays also focus on the synagogue and its significance to the community.

In the gallery are exhibits relating to the daily life of a Jewish family including customs associated with birth, circumcision, bar mitzvah, marriage and divorce. It also provides a glimpse into a Jewish household and kitchen.

The Spanish Synagogue is the newest of the Prague synagogues. It was built in the Spanish Moorish style in 1868. The most ornate of the city’s synagogues, its exhibition deals with the history of the Jews in the Bohemian lands from the reforms of Joseph II in the 1780s to the period after WWII. On the upper floor is a permanent exhibit of more than 200 of the most valuable silver artifacts from the museum's collections including Torah ornaments — shields, pointers, finials and crowns.

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Old-New Synagogue

Although not part of the museum, Old-New Synagogue is a must-see. The oldest working synagogue in Europe and one of Prague’s earliest Gothic buildings dating to 1270, it is like time travel to walk its small circumference and see its treasures on display. 

Worship here has continued for 700 years, interrupted only between 1941 and 1945 because of the Nazi occupation. 

Prague's Jewish Quarter

Prague's Jewish Quarter

A visit to the Jewish Quarter is emotional and educational. The tour was a Viking River Cruises optional excursion and one I can certainly recommend.  

Prague and The Lobkowicz Palace

Marilyn JonesAn original love letter dated June 20, 1622, is displayed in a glass cabinet under a green velvet cover in The Lobkowicz Palace. Translated it reads in part:

Zdenek Vojtech Popel, 1st Prince Lobkwicz to Polyxenia Lobkwicz

My beloved,

The good Capuchin friars are returning to Vienna so I have wanted to give them this letter, with which I kiss your hands, entrusting myself to you with Vaclav, and to know you are, my queen. Here, work seems to never end. It seems like a thousand years since I saw you: I wish I could make a quick trip to Vienna.

I have some things that the Governor of Bohemia has sent…

A kiss for Vaclav, and to all my regards; And have me, my only treasure, in your good graces. Don’t forget about me. May our Father bless you, and protect you one thousand years.

Your loyal husband,


I had the privilege to see the letter and read the translation when I took one of Viking River Cruises specialized excursions in Prague.

After lunch in the Lobkowicz family’s original living quarters and a private concert in the baroque concert hall, I was allowed to roam through the palace. Each room is filled with the family’s priceless collection, including paintings, decorative arts, weapons and tableware. An audio guide narrated by family members and the museum curator was provided, making the experience even more personal.


The assemblage is the oldest and largest private collection in the Czech Republic. Visitors have the opportunity to explore the history of Europe through the perspective of the Lobkowicz family.


As described in museum literature: “Highlights from the Museum include works by masters such as Canaletto, Brueghel the Elder, Cranach, and Velázquez; an impressive display of family and royal portraits; fine porcelain, ceramics and rare decorative arts dating from the 13th to 20th centuries; an extensive collection of military and sporting rifles from the 16th to 18th centuries; and musical instruments and original scores and manuscripts by Beethoven and Mozart, including Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies and Mozart’s re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah.”


Each portrait of a Lobkowicz ancestor, items of religious significance, and other personal items lead to an understanding of European history along with the 700 year family history.


The collection survived through the centuries including during the Nazi and Communist eras. The palace and collection were finally returned to the family in recent years.


It is a privilege to understand a little of the graciousness of the family and its importance in European history; a privilege, for an afternoon, to be a guest in this opulent palace.

Valparaíso: Chile’s Oceanside Gem

Marilyn Jones 

The city is a kaleidoscope of color; brightly painted houses clinging to the hillsides like the sides of a trowel with the city’s busy port at its tip. Valparaíso is Chile’s second largest metropolitan area after Santiago and one of the South Pacific’s most important seaports.

Upscape tour guide Manuel Garcia wants me to have this view before we start to explore neighborhoods and the historic quarter designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. As I take in the breathtaking view, Manuel explains that during the second half of the 19th century, the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. European immigrants arrived with the hope of work on the docks. The city became known as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific” by international sailors.


“The second half of the 20th century wasn’t as kind to the city,” he explains. “Wealthy families abandoned the city when the Panama Canal opened and ship traffic and port-based businesses suffered.”

Fortunately, the new century has been kinder to the port city. Today, in addition to the port and the artists and cultural entrepreneurs who set up businesses in the city, tourists have discovered the city’s many charms. The city’s labyrinth of cobbled streets, colorful buildings, and the UNESCO designation have all worked as a successful formula for attracting guests to the city. Because it’s catering more to tourism, cruise ships are adding Valparaíso to their South American itineraries as well.


The port continues to be a major distribution center for container traffic, copper, and fruit exports. Home to Chile's naval headquarters and the National Congress, Valparaíso also transformed itself into a major educational center with four large universities and several large vocational colleges.

After his excellent description of the city, we head for the historic heart of the city.


We walk through Plaza Sotomayor, past grand public buildings, Iglesia La Matriz del Salvador church (originally built in 1559), Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, and monuments to the city and Chilean heroes.  

From the center of the city we take one of the funiculars — known as "ascensores" throughout Valparaíso — for a closer overview of the port and beautiful neighborhoods with Victorian houses and narrow, winding alleyways lined with restaurants and shops. Some of the ascensores where built as early as 1883.


It's also possible to visit one of Pabla Neruda’s three houses (his other two houses are in Santiago and Isla Negra). Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1971.

After several hours of touring this interesting and colorful city, we enjoy a late lunch with views of the city.


When our tour ends, I thank Manuel for his excellent knowledge of the city. After only a few hours of exploring, I have a new appreciation for Valparaíso with its noteworthy history and extraordinary beauty.

Melk Abbey is an Austrian Masterpiece

Marilyn Jones 

It is a rainy windswept day when I visit Melk Abbey, an AmaWaterways river cruise excursion in Austria. We meet our very young guide (who looks more like a teenager than the scholar tour guide she is) in a grand inner courtyard before entering the abbey proper.


It was Abbot Berthold Dietmayr and his architects Jakob Prandtauer and Joseph Munggenast who were the driving force behind building Melk Abbey in the early 18th century on the foundations of a medieval monastery. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the biggest and most beautiful Baroque enclaves in Europe. Built on a cliff overlooking the Danube, it is Austria’s most visited art-historical site.

Our guide explains as we enter a museum-like area that the motto of the Benedictine order is “pray, work, learn.” This motto is illustrated in room after room in an effective modern-art way. She tells us this is still an active abbey with 31 monks and that its primary income is from tourist visitation.  

Since 1089, Benedictine monks have continually lived and worked in Melk Abbey. Today, the abbey also houses a secondary school.

About halfway through the tour we exit out onto a large terrace where we have a grand view of the city of Melk and the Danube River before entering the abbey’s famous library.



The main library houses 16,000 volumes and is graced with a ceiling fresco by Paul Troger. A spiral staircase leads to another set of 12 library rooms containing more than 100,000 volumes, some of which are very valuable. Italian writer Umberto Eco drew inspiration from this site for his novel “The Name of the Rose” in which a monastic library plays a key role.

The most important space in the abbey is next on the tour — the church. When constructed, Baroque masters were commissioned including Antonio Beduzzi for interior design, Johann Michael Rottmayr and Paul Troger for the frescos and altarpieces, Guiseppe Galli-Bibiena for the pulpit and high altar, and Lorenzo Mattielli and Peter Widerin for sculptures.

Even if photos were allowed of the abbey’s interior, they couldn’t illustrate properly the wealth of history and art housed in the library and church.


After touring the abbey, I take the time to meander through the gardens before returning to the bus that would take me back to the AmaStella. AmaWaterways’ excursions focus on culture, tradition, history, and beauty; just what a journey to Europe should be about.

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