Finally, home to North Carolina and then back to Mexico in two weeks. If you follow me on Facebook you know I’ve been traveling in Eastern Europe. This was a tour offered by one of the largest operators in the world. Their buses and ships zigzag the continents and oceans.
See below for a few treasures I am offering for sale from the trip.
In eleven days, we traveled from Tirana, Albania, to the Dinaric Alps and coast of Montenegro, to historic Adriatic fortified towns occupied by Greeks, then Romans, then Venetians, then Ottomans, then Austro-Hungarians, then Italians and Germans. After WWI, they became part of what we knew as Yugoslavia. The break-up happened after the death of Tito and in the aftermath of the Serbia-Croatian War of 1991. These are new republics.
This is a land of the conquered and conquerors. We entered Kotor, Montenegro, for a one hour-fifteen minute lunch stop, climbed through winding mountain passes to visit crystal clear glaciated lakes and limestone caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, came to Split for a one-and-a-half hour walkabout. A full day in Dubrovnik was pure luxury. We slipped through Bosnia’s sliver of an access to the Adriatic, before entering Slovenia, part of the European Union. We used Lek,Kuna and Euros along the way.
I went out of curiosity, to be a roommate to my friend, and because the cost was low enough to justify the impulse. Will I do it this way again? Not likely.
We all wear name tags and use headsets, move in lock-step according to the schedule. Most mornings, this 43-person group was on the road by 7:30 a.m. (sometimes earlier) to cover miles of territory, luggage packed and loaded, breakfast inhaled. Many of my photos were taken from the bus window. There was no interaction with native people other than shopkeepers we met along the way. Local tour guides provided interpretive historical and cultural commentary during the one- to two-hour city walking tours.
I learned that there are villages in Slovenia where needle lace is still being made. In towns where we stopped, during free time, I tried to seek out antique dealers who were selling vintage textiles and jewelry. The selection was sparse. Eventually, I succumbed to the rhythm of the group, took a deep breath, and went along for the ride.
Note: From Left to Right, #1, #2 and #3. These three pairs of sterling silver earrings are hand-crafted. The first pair #1 is new with delicate, intricate filigree. Price is $175. #2 is vintage and I bought these earrings in the seaside town of Makarska from a silversmith whose family has been in the business for generations. Price is $165. #3 is a vintage pair of large sterling filigree earrings from Kosovo that I bought in Opatija, Slovenia. Price is $395. Mailing for any pair is $12 USD. Send me an email if you are interested. firstname.lastname@example.org You can see the influences of Austro-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks in the designs and workmanship.
What I validated was an important lesson in how I put together experiences for travelers who choose Oaxaca Cultural Navigator excursions: it is more valuable to go deep than wide. It is essential to meet local people to learn about and understand life, culture, values, challenges and opportunities. A middleman interpreting social and political issues isn’t enough. To really be in a country, one must go to where people live and work, take meals with them, share who we are with each other. For me, a small group is defined as ten to fifteen travelers.
Yes, people want to see the world. Most want to see the world for less money, to go to as many countries as possible, to get the Passport stamped. Do do so, one must join the crowds. I heard from fellow travelers that they go on river cruises with 125 people, which they consider a small group. The mega-cruise ships that hold thousands docked in Dubrovnik and Venice, spit out day-trippers who overrun these once beautiful cultural sites. Perhaps they buy a double-scoop of gelato and then re-board the ship for the endless buffet. Imagine these cities now as shopping malls with all the international brands paying high rents, pushing out local artisans and residents — a topic we never discussed.
Still rough around the edges, coming out of Communism with heart and hopefulness, Albania and Montenegro are undiscovered jewels and most promising. Worth a trip back to explore the Ionian coast that borders Greece, worth a trip back for the delicious dark and crusty bread and seafood, worth a trip back to go deeper. We shall see.
I´m in Eastern Europe, starting out along the southern Adriatic Coast of Albania in the capitol city of Tirana. I’m on a cultural tour of the region that has no particular focus, with a friend who needed a roommate. It would never have occured to me to put this on a travel bucket list, but I´m glad I did.
I call this Eastern Europe because it was once part of the Communist bloc pre-Gorbachev, that turned it’s loyalties to China and Mao, a stricter version communism after Glasnost.
This is a developing country. It broke its shackles of repression after more than 30 years of isolation, forced labor camps, concentration camps, and extermination of liberal opposition. This is a city of bunkers built between 1960´s and 1980´s out of paranoid fear of invasion by foreign powers. By 1983, over 173,000 bunkers were built. Tirana today dedicated two to the martyrs who died in opposition, a memorial to a holocaust.
With this in mind, the group I´m traveling with visited the National History Museum. The galleries are devoted to Albania history with ties to Greece, Italy, Macedonia and the Ottoman Empire. Artifacts, including marble busts, bronze weapons and jewelry from archeological sites are on display here.
An entire gallery is devoted to remembering those who suffered and died under the regime of Enver Hoxha. Here, I cried. This is fresh history. Recent history. Living history. And politics here is everywhere.
Albanians love Americans. Woodrow Wilson said Albania should be independent after the Balkans were divided after WWI. In 2007, George W. Bush was the first US president to visit here. Two young students told me it is their dream to go to America. It is heartwarming to be welcomed so enthusiastically by people we meet. The history is dark, yet there is a sunrise to the east in the second poorest (only to Kosovo) country in Europe.
There is a small gift shop at National History Museum. It is filled mostly with vintage textiles that are 60 to 80 years old. The cloth is handwoven wool or cotton, embellished with embroidery or appliqué. The symbol of the country, the double-headed eagle, reminds me of some of the indigenous regions of Oaxaca where the same iconography is central to the language of cloth.
I see weaving patterns that look like Zapotec rugs. I see tiny joining stitches that looks like Mexican randa. I see belts woven on backstrap looms embellished with fringed and wrapped tassels. I see the creativity of a people who desired to adorn themselves in beauty, a consistent them worldwide.
There are mostly European visitors here in this city of one million people, in this country of three million. We were told that there are six million visitors here annually now and the country is struggling to keep up with tourism infrastructure. The time to come here is now!
I am meandering on my own after the museum. I want to go to New Market and head in the direction a museum guard points me to. At a corner, I hesitate. I ask two young people where to find it.
That’s how I meet Casey and Ben. They speak English. I ask them if they will be my guide for the afternoon. They have free time. They are university students starting their first year, and classes are delayed because the registration system is kerfluffled. Along the way they tell me that young people don’t stay here. There is huge unemployment and the jobs are in Italy or Germany. Their dream is to go to the US. They are delighted to help me and I am delighted to give them each 500 Lek, about $5 USD each. Lucky us!
After New Market, I continue on my own to Oda Restaurant and have a traditional Albanian lunch of stuffed eggplant with veggies, corn bread and beer. Then, back to Hotel Rogner for a rest.
Tomorrow, we are off to Montenegro. Who knows what I’ll find there!
This afternoon I’m boarding an international flight for the Adriatic Coast of Europe, where I’ll be traveling with Hettie on a tour for two weeks — my first tour ever! (We shall see how it goes.)
In my move toward minimalism, I’m attempting to pack lighter (for me) and that means taking one medium sized 26″ suitcase. Yes, it will be checked.
A friend suggested that I share my packing tips with you. I welcome your additions to the suggestions offered below.
After extensive research, I ordered a set of Diniwell packing cubes. A Great way to organize your stuff. These have industrial strength zippers and are deeper than most. The mesh top allows you to see what’s inside.
(Note: For years, I have used clear plastic zipper bags recycled for this purpose after buying sheets, pillows, mattress covers sold in them. Over time, they have torn and are no longer useful. I always liked how I could see what I packed, so I wanted to replace this system with something similar.)
I take a sturdy Oaxaca handwoven basket and stuff it with boots, shoes or toiletries. I use it on the return trip to protect anything fragile I might buy. (On this trip, I intend to discard one pair of shoes at the end.) The bubble wrap and packing tape are in the outside zipper pouch of my TravelPro suitcase, which is now 10+ years old and still durable.
My carry on for this trip will not be a rollaboard. And, I’m not taking a computer, opting for an iPad with keyboard instead. I’ve decided on using my favorite Oaxaca woven shopping bag as carry-on container, along with my Topo duffle-style backpack and my Picuadro cross-body travel bag — it’s tough and sturdy. The money will be in a pouch tucked under my shirt. I have used the backpack comfortably throughout Mexico, India, Spain and Japan.
Packing List: Clothing and Shoes
1 pair blue jeans (Raleigh Denim is my preferred brand)
1 pair Raleigh Denim bermuda shorts
1 jean jacket (bought from Target)
1 dress (my Zayzelle design made with breathable Japanese cotton)
4 cotton/linen shirts
4 pair underpants
1 bra to pack, 1 to wear — one black, one white
5 pairs socks, 1 wool and 4 cotton
3 scarves to vary the look
boots for urban hiking (Caterpillar brand), sandals (Wolky), flip flops, black flats (Alegria) — foot comfort is essential
To Wear and Carry on Board
Comfy cotton Japanese loose-fitting worker pants
Short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and long-sleeve cotton t-shirt for sleeping
Linen long-sleeve jacket
REI long-sleeve polypropylene zipper jacket in case it gets cold
Wool quechquemitl (short poncho)
Cotton or wool scarf
Jewelry pouch — NO BLING
To Carry on for Overnight Travel
Neck support pillow (Cozzy brand) — I researched extensively, ordered and returned others, and found this one to be the most comfortable
Toiletries/make-up, toothbrush and toothpaste, face wipes
Ear plugs and eye mask
Snacks — power bars, 2 packages Ramen noodles, ginger candy
Printed itinerary with record locators, flights, lodging contacts
Passport and copies
Small travel notebook (Moleskine) and pens
Technology: Be sure everything is fully charged before you leave home
iPad and charger
Auxiliary power pack and charger
iPhone and charger
Adapter to use in-country
Power strip, small
Miscellaneous to Pack
Laundry soap, Tide stick, sewing kit
Scissors, nail clips, emory board
Shampoo, rinse, creams, lotions
2 clothespins for drapes that don’t shut
Jenny says: Bring clear plastic zipper bags
Joan says: Never check a bag — bring wash and wear
Helene says: leave plenty of time to get through security to avoid stress
Madelyn says: Bring bubble wrap and tape
Sandi says: Cut a water bottle in 2 pieces, 1/3 and 2/3; wrap your treasure in toilet paper, insert inside bottle, push both pieces together; great for protecting breakables
Becky says: Write a packing advice article
What are your tips? For those of you who can travel for 2 to 3 weeks with a carry-on, please share how you do it!
As if it weren’t enough to lose El Maestro Francisco Toledo this week, news comes this morning from dear friend Patrice Perillie that Margarita Avedano Lopez, founder and president of Tixinda Mexican Dreamweavers Cooperative, has died.
The cooperative, one of the most famous on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, is in the Mixtec weaving and dyeing village of Pinotepa de Don Luis, about an hour up the mountain from the Pacific Ocean.
Margarita’s brother, Don Habacuc Avedano, is one of the few remaining men who harvest the rare caracol purpura snail for its incredible purple dye, which Margarita used in her weavings.
We know this village intimately because we visit it as part of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. We know Margarita for her outstanding collection of regional textiles that she sold in the village market, and for her extraordinary prowess as a back-strap loom weaver and dyer.
True, there are others to carry on. Yet, recognizing women in this region who preserve culture and tradition through artisan craft is essential. The work of Margarita, known as Tia Tere, deserves special acknowledgement because of her dedication to traditional methods: weaving the posahuanco (wrap-around skirt) using natural dyes such as indigo, caracol purpura and cochineal, and carding and hand-spinning (with the drop spindle) native coyuchi and white cotton into the finest threads.
As the generations age and pass from us, how do we keep their memory and their talent alive, going forward? To honor Margarita, it is imperative that our appreciation for Oaxaca traditions carry forward. It is essential that we continue to support handcraft. I feel privileged to have known her and to have acquired cloth that she wove and fashioned into fine garments.
Descanse bien, Margarita Avedano Lopez. We will miss you immensely.
Japan Textile Study Tour, November 6 – 19, 2020, 12 nights, 13 days, start in Kyoto and end in Tokyo — 7 spaces open
We take you on a textile adventure of a lifetime to the land of the Rising Sun. Japanese style elevates textiles to a fine art form. We go deep into the culture of hand-weaving and indigo dyeing, high fashion and simple garment construction, venturing into old mercantile shops, contemporary design studios and temple markets to discover how cloth defines a people. Along the way, we discover historical sites, eat traditional foods that have ceremonial significance, visit museums and immerse ourselves into a modern Japan that is underpinned with ancient tradition.
Japan is an amalgam of ancient craft wisdom that is translated into art as a metaphor for life – from pottery to textiles to knife-making to humble and refined cuisine to garden landscape. We visit craftsmen who were provisioners to emperors. Throughout our travels, we touch on the philosophy that girds the culture – aesthetic sensibility, wabi-sabi (perfection in imperfection), and iki (simplicity, originality, sophistication, spontaneity, refinement).
You will travel with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC director, writer, producer and photographer. Our co-leader is Nathan Somers, textile artist, collector, indigo dyer and historian. You will visit many sites Norma and Nathan know from personal and professional experience.
This is a hands-on, slow-savor, deep cultural immersion travel experience for up to 12 active textile lovers. Three people have already registered. There are 9 spaces open.
Our itinerary concentrates on the textile culture
of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, and Tokyo, once known as Edo, where day-glow
neon and phantasmagorical skyscrapers cast a futuristic glow over the old
In Kyoto and Tokyo, we will navigate the city and
reach our local destinations using outstanding public transportation – faster
and more reliable than private services. Bus and Metro service is punctual,
frequent, safe and reliable. This gives us an opportunity to travel with the
locals and familiarize ourselves with neighborhoods and the ease of travel in
Who goes on the Textile Study Tour to Japan? Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, textile
lovers, historians, photographers and those wanting to learn more about Japan, weaving
and natural dyeing there.
F-11/6: Depart your home city and travel to Kyoto, Japan
Sa-11/7: Arrive Kyoto in late afternoon. If you are up to it, join us in the hotel lobby to meet up for an optional group dinner (cost is OYO)
Su-11/8: Meet at 1 PM for a Welcome Lunch, stroll the Imperial Palace, visit a traditional miso shop and confectionary maker (B, L)
M-11/9: After breakfast, we will set out to explore the Nishiki Market, meandering the famed fish and food stalls, have lunch, then stroll Teramachi Street where we will visit vintage textile galleries, then transition to the Geisha neighborhood of Gion for more! (B, L) Dinner OYO
Tu-11/10: Shibori Workshop and Shibori Museum. Hands-on session to make your own shibori-designed textile with indigo dye. (B, L)
W-11/11: Our focus today is on the old weaving center of Kyoto with a visit to Nishijin Textile Center and several shops that dye and make indigo garments. Afternoon OYO (B, L)
Th-11/12: It’s important to have choices! Take the day to create your own itinerary or come with us to visit Arashiyama where we will stroll the famed Bamboo Forest. You have the option to take a rickshaw ride and meander sacred temples in this more rural Kyoto neighborhood, with optional and traditional keiseki multi-course lunch (B)
F-11/13: Travel to Kawaguchi Lake, overnight at resort hotel with spa (B, D)
Sa-11/14: Morning natural dye demonstration with renowned indigo dyer in the mountains of Yamanashi. We will take a tour of her studio, where she will demonstrate indigo dyeing methods, and present a private showing and sale of her work. Travel to Tokyo in late afternoon. (B, L)
Sa-11/14: We love markets and the most famed in Japan is Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market where we will to early in the morning to take in splendid company of super-fresh oysters the size of fists, sushi and sashimi bites, sake sips, and crispy tempura rolls. Then we are off to Nippori Fabric Town to shop for yardage, with a stop at Kata-Kata or Gallery Kawano (B, L)
Su-11/15: Attend two major Temple Markets — Takahata Market and Oedo International Forum — where you will find old kimono, pieces of vintage cloth including silks, natural dyes and hand-weaving, vintage collectibles such as ceramics, carved wood, figurines, jewelry, art and much more. (B)
M-11/16: We set you loose in Ginza — high fashion center of Japan — for Department Store Shopping and to explore the Basement Food Courts. Department stores feature unparalleled designer boutiques and food treasures. If you prefer, you might like to go to Nuno Works in Roppongi and peek into the upmarket world of Akasaka boutiques. (B)
Tu-11/17: We discovered Yu Office Design during a no-particular-destination afternoon. They are a new, innovative design studio working in hand-woven cotton, silk and hemp with indigo dyes. We will visit their studio or invite them to our hotel for a show and sale. (B, L)
W-11/18: After breakfast, set out on your own to chart your own course. You might like to visit the Imperial Palace, the National Museum or retrace steps to go back for a treasure that passed you by. We will meet again for our grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. Dinner (B, D)
Th-11/19 Tour ends and participants depart (B)
*Travel Note: You can arrive to Osaka Kansai International Airport which is 40 minutes from Kyoto and depart from Tokyo Narita Airport. You might also find more favorable airfares flying to/from Tokyo. Check www.skyscanner.com for schedules and airfares. If you fly to Tokyo, you will take the Shinkansen bullet train (2 hours, 15 minutes) to Kyoto to meet up with the group on November 6. Rail tickets can be purchased in advance online. We will send more detailed information to the group after our travel cohort is formed. You can choose to arrive earlier or stay later at your own expense.
Norma Schafer is director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, writer, blogger, photographer and food aficionado. Her love of indigo has taken her to Mexico, India and Japan to explore the culture of weaving and natural dyes. On this return visit to Japan, she takes you to her favorite textile haunts to meet makers and collectors.
Nathan Somers is an educator, textile artist and vintage Japanese fabric collector who lives in Durham, NC. Nathan teaches indigo resist throughout the southeast United States, and making guest presentations at spinning an weavers’ guilds. His primary area of study is Japanese textile traditions.
In 2016, Nathan was the subject of a Japanese
television show that came to Durham to film his collection. The producers then tansported
him to the Island of Amami Oshima, Japan, to study with an indigo dyer.
How did it all begin for Nathan?
In 2007, Nathan found himself rummaging through a
box of Japanese textile scraps at a Portland, Oregon, antique sale. The fabric,
with its hand spun threads, uneven selvedges, complex patterns, and deep indigo
inspired him, but at the time he didn’t understand the techniques that had been
used to make the textiles.
Nathan began to study all he could about how these
fabrics were produced and what their designs were meant to convey. Nathan’s
textile collection comes from Japan’s temple and shrine markets and through
contacts with dealers. The collection spans the late Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912)
periods. He focuses on Tsutsugami (freehand paste resist), Katazome (stencil
paste resist), Sashiko (mending or reinforcing stitch), Zanshi (waste thread
fabrics) and Boro, (repeatedly mended and patched textiles). These textiles
heavily inspired Nathan’s own work, which focuses on the Katazome stencil paste
the years since first finding that box of fabric scraps, Nathan has researched traditional
Japanese fabrics to best understand their production and design. He has traveled
to China and Japan to deepen his knowledge about dyeing and weaving. Nathan
experiments extensively, grows cotton in his home garden that he weaves and
dyes, and also works with foraged fibers like Kudzu, wisteria and hemp – all essential
parts of fabric production in Old Japan.
Nathan is an outstanding resource to guide us on this textile adventure, explaining dyeing, weaving and design processes as we travel, helping us to identify cloth origins, quality and value.
What is included?
A total of 12 nights accommodation
12 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 2 dinners as outlined in the
Hands-on indigo dye workshop
Textile fabric shopping – vintage and
Natural dye, weaving and stitching
Market and gallery tours that
encompass textiles, food, culture
Visits to cultural and historic sites
Shinkansen Bullet Train tickets or
luxury van transportation from Kyoto to Tokyo
Intra-city metro and bus tickets
Entry fees to museums and galleries
as part of the itinerary
Comprehensive pre-trip planning guide
Knowledgeable tour leaders – Norma
What Nathan says:
I am so excited to have this opportunity to
co-lead this tour. Japan is an
amazing country and regardless of where you travel you have a strong connection
to the past and to the Japanese concepts of mottainai (make the best of what you have) and wabi sabi (beauty through imperfection). I am excited to share with others my
love and appreciation of Japan and its traditional textiles. The beauty and
simplicity of the fabric is plain to see, but by learning about the complex way
in which they are made offers a greater appreciation for the intricacies and
aesthetics of this textile tradition.
We reserve the right to
substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
Cost • $5,895 per person double
room with private bath (sleeps 2) in top-rated deluxe accommodations • add $985 for
a single supplement
Reservations and Cancellations. A
$750 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is
due in four equal payments – on December 22, 2019; March 22, May 22, August 22,
2020. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. If for any
reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the tour, a full-refund will be
We will send you an itemized
invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before August
22, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date (less the $750
non-refundable deposit). After August 22, 2020, there are no refunds.
If you register after December
22, 2019, you will owe $750 plus 1/4 of the balance due. If you register after March
22, you will owe the non-refundable $750 fee plus 1/2 of the balance due. If
you register after May 22, you will owe the non-refundable $750 plus ¾ of the
balance due. If you register after August 22, you will owe 100% of the balance
due (if there are openings).
How to Register: Send
an email to email@example.com
Tell us if you want a
shared/double room or a private/single room (single supplement). We will send
you an e-commerce invoice for $750 by email that is due on receipt.
Who Should Attend:
Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, textile
lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Japanese art,
textiles, culture and history. If you love First World Exotic
Travel and the inspiration of the best of Asia influences, this trip is for
Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:
We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes
$50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be
sent at least 45 days
In addition, we will send you
by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma
Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by
email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!
Reservations and Cancellations.
We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice
when you tell us you are ready to register. All documentation for plane
reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be
received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel
your registration without reimbursement.
Fitness Level – Moderate Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Tour participants must be able to walk two miles, board buses and trains, carry their own luggage unaided, and navigate uneven surfaces including stairs. We may walk more on some days. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on! If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We send printable map via email PDF usually within 48-hours after order received. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map