Guest blog series “Travel Memories” #8 – Olumo Rock, Nigeria

Greetings fellow travelers! If you’re ready for an adventure, you’ve come to the right place!  Last time we took you to Bulgaria and today, join me as we go to Nigeria.

Today’s guest blog is from radio personality, speaking coach and, I’m happy to say, my new friend – Ayo Owodunni.  


When he is not busy co-hosting his dynamic and fresh morning radio program from Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, Ayo loves to travel and explore locations that make his country unique. 

Now, then, let’s marvel together at Olumo Rock – a place that once protected warriors, and which in turn, recently needed protection itself. 

Here’s Ayo: 

 olumo rock

A safe haven for those who looked beyond its majestic beauty and focused, instead, on its strength and protective power, Olumo Rock is located in Abeokuta, Nigeria, about 60 miles north of Lagos.

Abeokuta literally means “Under the Rock.”  The natural fortress may have protected a variety of people over the centuries, but it was during the 19th century, as it served as refuge for the Egba tribe during a series of tribal wars, that its protective qualities are most known for.

The Egba land warriors discovered Olumo and realized the enormous heaping pile of boulders naturally provided them the perfect strategic place. The wide flat top of the rock gave the warriors a fighting advantage, not to mention a great view of enemies below.


It was so strategic, in fact, that the Egba warriors lived on Olumo for more than three years.  Lookout and living space, the rocks reportedly even served as a place to bury their dead.  It seemed nature had designed a unique citadel for the Egbas to help them survive.

The wars eventually came to an end and the Egbas climbed down, settled into the valley and established the town with the name forever honoring the rock: Abeokuta.

olumo rock top

Till today, the Egbas prides themselves in their rich history and their tribe-saving rock.

As a child, I visited Olumo Rock, but admit I was never fascinated by its significance.  I was more interested in using it as my natural playground, than learning its dramatic role in history.  But, as I grew older and did more research on my country, I came to discover more about the historical site and have since fallen in love with the rock and its warrior-filled story.

olumo rock2

Sadly, however, one of the biggest frustrations I’ve also come to discover about my country is its lack of conviction in preserving historical landmarks: from media reports about the dire state of the first prime minister’s burial site, to the deteriorated condition of Badagry Slave Port (used to ship out slaves from Nigeria to the western world – where I was shocked by the horrible state of the museum with broken windows, uncared for artifacts and untended lawns outside), national monuments had become national embarrassments.

Following suit, a few years ago, Olumo Rock faced similar neglect until the federal government decided to step in and finally turned it into the treasured monument it is today.


For me, Olumo Rock is a reminder that the universe will always conspire to give you your heart’s desire.

But we must do our part as well. Olumo Rock, which once saved people, has now been saved by people.

Thank you, so much, Ayo, for an inspiring story of an inspiring place.  

Where do you go for inspiration?  A natural wonder? A church, temple or synagogue? Your backyard?  Share your story as a comment here or write a longer essay to me at 

I’ll happily post it!  And if you’re looking for inspiration, I’m also happy to remind you that “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – a book of wondrous conversations and adventures – is available on – With nearly two dozen rave reviews already, I’m sure you’ll love it too!

Ciao, tutti! Till next time,

Baci, Gina


Guest blog series, “Travel Memories”: Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria

Ciao tutti,

Spring is almost here and my thoughts are turning to possible places to go for Spring Break!  So, it’s a perfect time for another guest writer get-away adventure.  Today, I am pleased to introduce fellow author, Ellis Shuman.

Ellis has been traveling ever since he was 15 years old, when his family moved from Sioux City, Iowa, to Jerusalem, Israel. Ellis served in the Israeli army, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on a cooperative agricultural community known as a moshav.

 In 2009, his job in an internet marketing firm was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria, for two years. During that time, Ellis and his wife traveled all around Bulgaria and fell in love with the country. After their return to Israel, Ellis couldn’t stop thinking, or writing, about Bulgaria. He has just published a suspense novel, “Valley of Thracians,” which is set in many of the places Ellis visited during his Bulgarian years.

Let’s now go to Bulgaria with Ellis: 

When I think back to the two years I lived in Bulgaria, there are so many travel memories. My wife, Jodie, and I arrived in Sofia in January 2009 on a two-year relocation of my job in internet marketing from our headquarters in Tel Aviv to our Bulgaria support center. We decided to make the most of our Bulgarian experience, and traveled extensively around the country at every opportunity.

One journey stands out, however, and the places we visited would play a major role in the suspense novel I wrote upon our return to Israel. One weekend, when our friend Iris was visiting from Israel, we drove to the northwest. We stopped in the town of Montana to pick up Ivelina, a colleague and friend of mine from the office, and she served as our travel guide as we headed through the lush countryside to our destination.

We arrived in Belogradchik, a town whose name literally means “small white town.” We were not far from the Serbian border, and about 50 kilometers south of the Danube River, which forms Bulgaria’s northern border with Romania. The town was built on the slopes of a steep hill; we drove up its winding streets to the top.

Belogradchik Fortress 2

Belogradchik Fortress is a man-made construction set against a stunning outcrop of rocks. The combination is so unique and picturesque, that it seems to have been lifted straight out of a Disney fairy tale. The initial fortifications at the site date to Roman times, with the rocks serving as natural protective walls.

Belogradchik Fortress

Initially, Belogradchik Fortress was a surveillance post, as it overlooks an extensive area. In the 14th century, the Tsar of the nearby town of Vidin fortified the walls, extending the fortifications and building additional garrisons in the protective shadow of the rock massifs. The fortress fell to the Ottomans in 1396, and they further strengthened the stronghold.

Belogradchik Rocks 2

The Ottomans upgraded the defenses of the fortress in the early 19th Century, and they used the fortress to suppress a Bulgarian uprising in 1850. The stronghold last saw combat in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885.

Belogradchik Rocks 3

More unique than the fortress is the surrounding countryside. The Belogradchik Rocks, seen from above when standing inside the fortress compound, are a stunning arrangement of strange-shaped sandstone and conglomerate rock formations. Some of these rock buttes resemble human figures, and the area is full of legends as to how they were created. Sculpted shapes form rocks known as the Madonna, and the Schoolgirl.

Belogradchik Rocks 4

To fully appreciate the beauty of the fortress and the views of the rocks, we made our way up a series of ladders. There were railings to protect us from the sharp drops down rocky cliffs. The view from above, overlooking the town and the distant mountains, was stunning.

Belogradchik Rocks

The Belogradchik Rocks were named in 2009 as Bulgaria’s candidate to be selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. The site is hardly known outside Bulgaria, and it was quite strange to walk around the fortress in the total absence of other tourists.

Ellis at Belogradchik

Bulgaria has so much to offer visitors, and it is all available at very affordable prices. The Belogradchik Fortress is just one of many amazing destinations in the country. For me, the visit to Belogradchik will always form one of my most memorable travel memories.

Thanks, Ellis!

As I mentioned,  Ellis is the author of Valley of Thracians, a suspense novel set in Bulgaria. The book is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions. Ellis continues to write frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, and other interesting things at his blogEllis and Jodie’s Bulgarian Adventures.

Till next adventure, tutti, where are you planning to go this Spring Break? Perhaps not as far as Bulgaria – or maybe you’ve already been there and have a favorite memory from it as well. Would love to hear!

Safe travels – here, there and in life!

Baci, Gina

Italy’s largest antiques fair!

Who wouldn’t love a festival of shopping?  It doesn’t get more bedazzling than when, during the first weekend of every month, Arezzo closes of its cobbled streets to cars and opens them instead to an array of vendors who spread out blankets of vintage jewels, fill tables with porcelain dishes, figurines, furs and clothing, line ancient stone walls with paintings and mirrors and cluster over-sized hand-carved furniture into every available corner.


From the tiny Madonna del Prato street to the sun-filled expanse of Piazza Grande, you are bound to find something that surprises you and that you’ll want to take home.


Like this weekend, when Lulu decided she had found her new best friend – in the form of a ceramic canine of indiscriminate breed – but with a discriminating price of 1,200 Euro.

“Non lo toccare!”  “Don’t touch him!” I cautioned.


Arezzo may not be in Rick Steve’s guide of must-sees, but I’m here to tell you that he doesn’t know everything! Here in the heart of Tuscany, Arezzo’s Fiera Antiquaria  is truly something to behold.  Started in 1968, this is Italy’s oldest and largest antiques fair.  And with the jaw-dropping backdrop of the medieval churches and palazzi surrounding you, the old merchandise actually seems rather fresh and new.


Lulu and I never miss it.  This morning, with Lulu decked out in her fatina di le stelline (fairy of the stars) face paint, we went exploring.  Of course, with the makeup, Lulu couldn’t help but stop in front of a mirror.


Then I paused to consider my favorite among some delicately hand-made and hand-painted terracotta dolls – I must have a thing for fairies, because I was drawn to the fata turchina, or blue fairy, from Pinocchio fame.


I resisted my impulse purchase desire and we then turned the corner to see something straight out of the Seven Year Itch. Minus Marilyn and the steam-grate.

“It’s super-lovely,” Lulu gushed.

“Yes,” I agreed. “But it’s also 100 Euro.”  No could do.


In the end, Lulu and I didn’t end up buying anything.  But we did have a marvelous time exploring our town and its treasures.

We even managed to find another mirror.  This time with me in it too!


And anyway, there’s always next month.

We’ll be here.  How ‘bout you?

Please come to visit our terrific town in the heart of Tuscany.  We’ll gladly show you around!  Till next time, if you’d like to enjoy more adventures with Lulu in Italy, please treat yourself to my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – available worldwide from

bookcover press release (2)

Till next time,

What’s your favorite shopping pleasure?  Would love to hear!

Baci, tutti!