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Events Food People Travel

Icelandic Christmas

Last month, I gave a talk about an Icelandic Christmas at our church’s “Christmas Around the World” event and thought to share one more post about a country I really enjoyed visiting!

Iceland is really pronounced, (deeper 1st syllable) “EEs-land.” (All the pronunciations in this article are my clumsy attempts to say it as well as I can after listening to the phonetics online.)

It’s a beautiful country! Europe’s largest glacier shares the island with many bubbling hot springs and spouting “GAY-sirs”, where the word geyser was born. It has active volcanoes, like the one no broadcaster can pronounce. You have a choice of where to sink in and relax in the many spectacular geothermal hot pools around the island. The island’s cold running water comes straight from natural springs; hot running water is from the thermal springs, but don’t drink it!

Many movies and TV shows have been shot here. Iceland is the only place in the world that you can actually see the collision of BOTH the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates! Iceland’s Thingvellir (THING-vet-lish) National Park is the UNESCO World Heritage site of one of the world’s earliest and longest running parliaments, starting from 930 AD!

When Iceland was settled in the 800s, most residents were pagan, worshipping Norse gods. Their language is almost unchanged from ancient Norse! Before Christianity was introduced, winter solstice celebrations were extravagant events.

When Olaf Tryggvason, a Christian, ascended the throne of Norway in the late 900s, more people in Iceland became Christians. So much so that strong religious differences between the pagans and the Christians stirred up the beginnings of a civil war.

So, in the year 1000, after a meeting of all of Iceland’s leaders, the country’s official religion was declared to be Christianity. Christmas is called, “Yule” or “jYu ol” (“Jol”) in Icelandic. It is not a reference to Christ or the church. It’s a Norse word and existed in Old English as Yule. So, Christmas in Iceland is a mix of Christianity and old Norse traditions with two celebrations – celebrating the birth of Christ and the beginning of the lengthening daylight hours.

Christmas is a serious event. People start decorating as early as October to brighten the increasingly longer nights. They have Christmas markets, even one by an ice skating rink, concerts and Christmas buffets filled with delicious Icelandic Christmas foods!

The whole house is cleaned, everyone gets something new to wear, the best food is purchased, the house is decorated and HUNDREDS of cookies are baked!

Yule time “officially” lasts 13 days, from December 24 to January 6, when all Christmas decorations are removed from the streets. Christ’s birth is celebrated on December 25th and the Three Wise Men are celebrated on January 6th.

Beginning 13 days BEFORE Christmas, the first of 13 Yule Lads comes down from the mountains. Old folklore says that they were the sons of trolls and each day a different boy would come down to cause trouble. These days, they’re “good” lads that look more like skinny Santa Clauses. Each child puts their best shoe on the windowsill. The lads pass by. If a child was good, a small present like candy, a book or a toy is left. If a child was bad, a rotten potato is left in the shoe!

Another strange, yet popular, tale says that EVERY Icelander MUST receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas. If not, the Yule Lads’ HUGE black cat, known as the Christmas Cat, will wander around the island on Christmas Eve and EAT those who don’t have new clothes!

A much more inviting image than that of a human-eating cat is of a child happily reading a brand new book in a cozy bed. Did you know that 93% of Icelanders will have read at least one book each year? And, one islander in ten will publish a book in their lifetime – fascinating!

The annual Jólabókaflóð, or “Yule Book Flood,” is a Christmas tradition that had it’s beginning in World War II. At that time, foreign imports were limited, but paper was plentiful. Nowadays, publishers release a flood of new books right before Christmas and people go bananas! What a beautiful way to spend a quiet Christmas evening, settling down with a good book.

On December 23rd, three things occur:

1) December 23rd was once a religious day. That’s when Saint Thorlac (Tour-r-r Lack), the patron saint of Iceland, died. Now, it’s traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year and has become the “last-minute-shopping-like-crazy” day! Icelanders spend the evening in the city, and shops and cafes stay open late.

2) In (R-r-rAY-gya-veek) Reykjavik, the country’s capital, the annual peace walk goes down the main shopping street with marchers carrying torches. It’s a pretty amazing sight!

3) And, December 23rd is when many families make and eat skata (SKAH-ta). It’s a dish made from a member of the shark family that looks more like a stingray. Much like Asia’s stinky tofu and durian, it has an OVERWHELMINGLY foul odor. Skata smells like something is rotting, although it’s only fermented. This is usually the only day it’s eaten ALL year because the disgusting smell is so strong that if you’ve been cooking or eating a lot of it, it gets into your clothes and stays with you!

Cemeteries are often decorated with Christmas lights! The Christmas, or Yule tree, is usually decorated early Christmas Eve. Originally, decorations included candles, fruit and popcorn or cranberry garlands. Nowadays, a star or crown will top the tree, and the Icelandic Flag is often used as a decoration, along with garlands, lights and more decorations.

A popular Christmas side dish is laufabraud (LAY va bredt) meaning leaf bread, which are wafer-thin rounds of wheat dough cut into delicate patterns and quick fried. (The bread goes back at least to the 1700s.) Early December, the whole family, even the men, get together to make the bread so that it can be enjoyed with the Christmas meal. Nowhere else in the world does anyone make such unique “breads.”

A simple Christmas meal also includes lamb, often smoked, red cabbage and boiled potatoes. The Christmas cake, jolakaka, has raisins in it.

Another unusual tradition is that on Christmas Eve, at 6pm, Christmas Day starts!

After dinner, presents are taken from under the Christmas tree and opened. Some will leave their cozy warm houses to go to church. It is like a typical American family holiday. People eat at home, play board games and snuggle under blankets watching Christmas movies. Christmas Day, December 25th, people visit family. The day after, Boxing Day, involves going to MORE family gatherings.

Years ago, TVs would be turned off on Christmas between 5p and 10pm, to focus on Christmas activities, but that’s no longer the case. Still, there’s no public dancing or entertainment on the 24th and 25th. It’s family time. This is Iceland’s longest holiday – everything is closed from noon on Christmas Eve until December 27!

The Aurora Borealis often appears during this time. And if you want a White Christmas in Iceland, you’ll do well to head to Northern Iceland.

On a side note, some of my Sunday school classmates made four Icelandic Christmas cookies: Silver Coins (Spesiur); Rice Krispies Muffins; Chocolate-Cornflake (Marens-Kornflexkokur; Soft Chocolate Pikes. The overwhelming favorite was the Marens-Kornflexkokur cookies from the saveur.com recipe.

These are the sources I can remember: wikipedia; whychristmas.com; saveur.com; guidetoiceland.is; iceland.is; icelandunlimited.is; icelandtravel.is; readitforward.com

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Food People Travel Uncategorized

Iceland Goes Before Istanbul

Last fall, my husband and I left our home in the sunny warmth of the Texas heat to begin an almost 3 month adventure! The plan was to start in Iceland, travel across Western Europe and fly back from Istanbul.

Iceland
Iceland!

We headed to “The Land of Fire and Ice”, also known as Iceland, Island (pronounced “istlant”) and the Republic of Iceland. It has other, older names that I can’t pronounce. One that I can, is the Kingdom of Iceland. Yes, kingdom, and with their own coat of arms!

Wait! I can’t go on about our trip without giving props to Iceland’s amazing football team’s performance during the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament! With a bit over 330,000 Icelanders on 40,000 scenic square miles, it’s the most sparsely populated nation in Europe. And yet, it’s national football (soccer) team beat England … ENGLAND!!!

Do you know that joke? “A Swedish coach, a part-time dentist and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson walk onto a field …”

It was just awesome when 27,000 Icelanders (about 8% of the country) flew to France and vigorously supported their team.  Heard they were model fans. They stayed out of trouble, unlike the rowdy, brawling British and Russian fans! And for the team to arrive home to a sea of people carpeting the field near the harbor and singing the “Viking War Chant” in unison, so cool! (Thanks, RT global news!)

Well, we arrive in Reykjavik to no such glorious welcome. It’s overcast and a bit dreary-looking, with a constant misty drizzle. We booked an AirBnB, just a five minute walk to the downtown shops and restaurants. It’s a one bedroom apartment with a decent sized kitchen/living room in a residential area.

CityWalk tour with Marteinn
Oh, the stories Marteinn can tell you!

We go on a free CityWalk tour with energetic Marteinn. The drizzle lets up and I get some photos. Marteinn is the walk’s founder and he’s very informative.

Reykjavik City Hall
We walked along Lake Tjornin and right into Reykjavik’s City Hall!

We visit City Hall, the building on the left at the end of this path along the lake. There is a restaurant in the building where the lake’s fish swim by the window. Tip: There’s also a giant map of Iceland and clean public restrooms!

Funny thing. Even though it’s called Iceland and has glaciers, you won’t see ice floating in the water, not even in winter.

Another funny thing. Their telephone book is alphabetized by first name, then surname, occupation and address. The exception, people like singer/composer Björk. She’s so famous only her first name is needed!

Hallgrimskirkja church interior
Inside Hallgrimskirkja church is uncluttered simplicity.

We roamed the city, stopping at the local main landmark. The magnificent image of Hallgrimskirkja church belies the sleekly designed interior. It was nice. We went up to view the city from the church’s observation tower.

Hallgrimskirkja church observation tower
Harbor view from the observation tower of Hallgrimskirkja church.

Lunch found us at a local restaurant that served Icelandic food. I enjoyed my lamb soup and sandwich! At dinner one night, my husband ordered whale. Ugh!!! I couldn’t watch him eat it, even though he said it was similar to steak.

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre
Can you just feel the Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre’s space?!?

Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre view of the old harbor, Reykjavik, Iceland
Enjoy this view now, as the old harbor will eventually be blocked by tall buildings in the name of commercialism!

One of the more interesting halls I’ve been to is the Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre. It’s honeycomb-like framework and great expanses of space are beautifully open to gazing out. Sunrises and sunsets must be spectacular when viewed from its upper floors!

Icelandic waterfall
Another of Iceland’s scenic views.

We also booked a Golden Circle tour. Tip: Don’t wait and book it the day before like we did. Book well in advance as all the better companies will be super busy when the cruise ships arrive! We wanted to go on the small group tour that pulls over and lets you take photos with Icelandic horses. We wound up with a tour company whose guide said little about the surroundings on the way to each destination. It seemed she was just there to ensure that everyone got back on the bus. Good thing we read up about Iceland’s natural beauty and history!

The first stop was just outside of Reykjavik in Þingvellir (Assembly Plains), site of Alþingi (General Assembly), Iceland’s first national parliment. To be standing where chieftains gathered to form the country’s very first national parliament was pretty amazing to me!

Althing, Iceland
Alþingi, Iceland’s first national parliament was formed in 930.

Next stop, the roaring Hvítá river where the two waterfalls of Gullfoss (golden falls) guide the rushing, teeming water straight down into a 105 ft. gorge!

My husband took the photo at just the right moment.

Gullfoss rainbow, Iceland
A rainbow arches over Gullfoss’ two waterfalls at  river.

We enter Haukadalur valley. The valley is known for the Strokkur and Geysir geysers and various mudholes and fumaroles. Yes, the name geyser came from Geysir. We didn’t have to wait very long for Strokkur to erupt. It happened every 8-10 minutes.

Strokkur Geysir steam
Strokkur geyser blew, mudholes bubbled and gaseous steam filled the area!

On the way back, I spot a group of men standing by a river. When asked, the guide explains that it’s a rescue party. Someone is in trouble further up the river and it looks that they are deciding how to handle it. The rescuers are volunteers and they put their own lives at risk each time they go out. So, please exercise good judgment when crossing streams and such when travelling this magnificent, wild country.

Rescue party by the mighty river
The rushing, powerful waters make the rescue party (on the left bank) seem quite insignificant.

Iceland is presumed to have been formed from volcanic lava and is sitting atop two of the earth’s shifting plates, Eurasian and North American, causing earthquakes and geysers and volcanoes to erupt. Speaking of volcanoes, Iceland has more than 200 of them. There are 30 active systems running through the island. They put out so much heat that Icelanders harnessed it to supply the entire island with hot water and energy. Careful, you can drink the cold tap water, but the hot tap water is not drinkable!

Remember Eyjafjallajökull, the 2010 volcano that no newscaster could pronounce? It erupted and caused flight delays in Europe and its lava created two new mountains!

Now, if you want to really view a volcano from the inside, that would be Þríhnúkagígur. It’s the only volcano in the whole world you can actually go down, deep inside!

We were so happy to have experienced a little bit of the island’s natural beauty. I created a flipagram of our time in Iceland.

If you want to read more about the culture and history of Iceland, Katharina Hauptmann shares some interesting articles about Iceland. I researched online at wikipediaVisit Iceland and several sites that I’ve forgotten already. Just google Iceland and you will see lots to educate yourself on this amazing nation and its storied history!

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Events Food People Social Media Travel

Where’s Soo?

 

The Question

Did you wonder what happened to me this year? Did you think I dropped off the face of the earth??? I admit it. There wasn’t much reaching out this year, but I’m still here. Really. I am.

 

The Explanation

For one thing, I became more active on Twitter. Quickly posting 140 character tweets, including images, is so freeing. And I learn lots by following amazing people in various fields of interest. I even won an ASUS tablet on Twitter! (Tell you about it in another post.)

The second reason is because we have been traveling quite a bit. Often, in my posts, I try to research places or subjects I mention to give you interesting tidbits and facts. That requires a little more thought and planning, which can be difficult to do when we’re on the go.

 

The Gratitude

But, let me tell you …

This has been a wonderful year! A blessed year! A year of thanksgiving!

A little one has come into our family and enriched our lives immensely. And to add to that, my husband and I have taken more time to travel our beloved United States and beyond.

 

January

DSC06416We visited Ice Land at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. It was 9° inside! They brought in a team of experienced ice sculptors from Harbin, China. Also known as ‘Ice City’, Harbin is the acknowledged cradle of ice and snow art in China and is famous for its spectacular ice and snow sculptures.  

The Moody Gardens theme was a SpongeBob SquarePants Christmas and went into the first week of 2015. 

 

Before heading home, we had dinner at Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, the largest fresh fish house along the Gulf coast. With over 100 years of seafood service in Galveston, this is the place we go when we want a view of the water and to be pampered in a lovely setting.DSC06488

 

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States and has a large number of Asian residents. Understanding the need to educate Americans about Asia, a group led by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington established Asia Society Texas Center in 1979.

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I visited the Asia Society Texas Center when there was an exhibit of The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi. His 2005 mask of Johannes Vemeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was so unexpected! Can you imagine being behind the mask, trying to feel what she was thinking?

 

 

 

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Oni Sadobo, 2011, was made of the treacherous monk from a famous Kabuki play. Very meticulous. Even the brown specks on his face replicated the foxing seen on the original woodblock print!

 

 

 

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I couldn’t resist trying on a mask! Like it?

 

 

 

 

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers free general admission every Thursday. Lots of wonderful things to see. One of my favorite pieces is by Mary Cassatt. Mary was one of only two women and the lone American to join the Impressionists. Her close friend, Edgar Degas, encouraged her to join and what a gift she has given us! “Susan Comforting the Baby” is such a lovely snapshot of a typical moment in everyday life.IMG_0561

 

Really like this sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg, born just down the highway from Houston, in Port Arthur, Texas. Only then, he was called Milton. The chairs are really metal, assembled to appear wooden!

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Interesting man. In the mid-1940s, Robert had planned to go into medicine, but after serving in the Navy, he enrolled in art school in Kansas. The following year, he went to Paris to study at one of the art Academies.

In the 1950s, Rauschenberg recyled found things like tissue paper and dirt into his art. Throughout the years, he designed costumes, sets and lighting for dance companies. He also founded or co-founded several organizations to help artists.

 

February

The Chinese Lunar New Year brought out some beautiful clothes. This shy young boy was kind enough to stop a moment and let me take a picture. (As with any recognizable close-ups of children, I ask their parents or guardians for permission first.)

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We head north to spend time with relatives. It snowed, which doesn’t happen often in the Houston area. It was lovely!

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This is also the month trail riders and wagons start the trek to Houston’s Livestock Show & Rodeo! It can take weeks for some teams. This particular team, Los Vaqueros Rio Grande, drove their five wagons the farthest: 386 miles!  It starts in Reynosa, Mexico, crosses into Hidalgo, Texas and comes right by our community on the three week ride into Houston. They have been riding into the HLSR for 42 years! I have only seen them go by our community THREE times in the 20 years we’ve lived here, so it was a real treat to take a quick shot as they rode by!

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March

I went to Arizona to visit my old roommate. We celebrated Palm Sunday at an inspiring, bonding outdoor mass. (I’m Baptist, but she didn’t know of a Baptist church, and well, we worship the same God.)

 

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Afterward, we walked the Labyrinth at the Franciscan Renewal Center. The labyrinth is a physical representation of the journey of one’s life, including experiences, changes, discoveries and challenges. As you walk the path, you are invited to remember the story of your life. For medieval Christians who couldn’t take the long, hard pilgrimage, labyrinths were the alternative form for prayer. The seven circles are shaped like the Cross and you can walk it any way you like.

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This particular labyrinth was designed by Taffy Lanser, a founding member of the international Labyrinth Society.

 

We also went to a festival in Scottsdale.The theme might have been Spain. They had gorgeous Andalusians (Pure Spanish Horses) walking about, singers and (I think) flamenco dancing. Gorgeous desert blooms!

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The only down side of the trip was when I was catching a flight back. I had just found out I had to change my flight and leave a day earlier, which was that day! The flight was moved to two hours before take-off and I rushed to find a taxi to take me to the airport. Compared rates and went with Discount Cabs. BIG mistake! Wished I’d taken the time to research it. I gave location and destination and was given an approximation, give or take a few dollars. The cab was late, it didn’t look like a cab, and the driver was new. I had to get in or miss my flight. When I asked the driver why he was so late, he said he didn’t take his phone in when he had to stop at a store. NOT very professional. The final bill was $17 more than the quote. I lost a few minutes trying to speak with a supervisor about the outrageous overage. Three people later, no refund. So, the moral of the story is to use Yelp or check the Better Business Bureau or Google search (or ALL of them!) when comparing prices. The least expensive may not be such a bargain in the long run. Beware Discount Cabs!!!

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Categories
Food Travel

Traveling Through Texas?

Christmas and the first day of 2015 have passed, but many travelers are still navigating the roads home. If you’re passing through Texas, I have three suggestions:

Really Clean Restrooms!

Buc-ee's merchandise can be fun!
Buc-ee’s merchandise can be fun!

If you see a Buc-ee’s, pull over for clean, clean restrooms that are open 24/7 all year round! I know what I’m  getting when we spot the toothy beaver billboard. This home-grown group of large, bright, neat-as-a-button convenience stores is full of things travelers need or want. There are lots of fuel pumps, usually around 15 to 20 tiled restroom stalls for the ladies, hot and cold deli foods and snacks like beef jerky and sweet Beaver Nuggets. In addition to outdoor barbeque grills and bags of ice, they have expanded their gifts section and there are lots of kid-friendly products, too! Ah, yes, I do ♥ Buc-ee’s.

A 10¢ Cup of Coffee

Hankerin’ for a little break as you drive through historic downtown Corsicana? This charming city, named for the French island of Corsica, is about 55 miles south of Dallas. If coffee’s on during regular retail hours, the downtown location of Collin Street Bakery on W 7th Avenue sells a simple cup of 10¢ joe you can sip while perusing their tasty treats. They opened several relatively new locations selling more lunch foods like sandwiches and soup, but I think this one has character. Besides cookies, breads and cakes, they’ve been baking their world famous DeLuxe Fruitcake for over a century!

Fruitcakes are still made from the original 1896 Old-World recipe brought to Corsicana by the bakery’s co-founder, German master baker, Augustus Weidmann. I’m not into fruitcakes, but my husband loves their really moist pineapple ‘cake. Years ago, Mr. Barnum brought his circus through the shop and everyone began ordering fruitcakes to send to family and friends throughout the world! Decades later, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus still places orders.

If you have time, you can drive down the street to get an unexpected view of Moorish Revival architecture at the former Temple Beth-El on South 15th Street. Originally built in 1898, it’s listed with the National Register of Historic Places.

You wouldn’t think from the easy going small town feel that Corsicana is where the first important Texas oil field was discovered and where the Mobil and Texaco companies were founded!

Texas BBQ, anyone?

Rudy's is a casual restaurant, usually visible near a freeway.
Rudy’s is a casual restaurant, usually visible near a freeway.

Since 1989, a string of Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q spots have been keeping Texans and the southwest happy with tender barbeque soused with their special blend of “sause.”  You won’t (sadly, for me) find a crisp lettuce salad here, but you will find lots of meat with a choice of sides. The ribs and (fatty) brisket are full of flavor! People can argue up and down Texas about the best BBQ in the state, from Smitty’s, Black’s and Kreuz in Lockhart (the BBQ Capital of TX) to Franklin’s in Austin and Snow’s in Lexington and on and on. But … for easy access from the freeway and decent gas prices at their pumps, Rudy’s will do.

Happy and safe traveling to you in 2015! 

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” Jeremiah 31:25

Categories
Travel Uncategorized

Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial architecture in the town square
Colonial architecture in the town square

February 15, 2014

We finally make it to Granada! It’s already starting to feel HOT. Maybe a visit a month or two earlier would have been better. Oh, well.

Granada’s a quaint city with Spanish influences and is sister city to Guatemala’s La Antigua. It’s said to be the first European settlement in mainland America. If the claim that it’s registered in the official records of the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in Spain is true, that, indeed, bespeaks of royal acknowledgement of an exceptional lineage! Granada may have been spared major damage from the Sandinistas in the 1970s – 1980s, but an earlier history of battles and invasions from other countries, a long-running, often violent feud in the mid 1800s with neighboring city, Leon, and other issues have taken their toll.

Although Granada (named after the ancient Spanish city) is not quite as well-maintained as its “sister”, the past decades have seen an attempt to revitalize the city and save its ancient colonial architecture. Judging by the variety of indoor shops and decent eateries here, the city is becoming a more desirable tourist destination.

We stop in the “calle peatonal”, pedestrians only street, to sip a beverage, watch people go by and browse the vendor tables.

An artist adjusts a link before selling Gerda his hand-twisted silver necklace
An artist adjusts a link before selling Gerda his hand-twisted silver necklace

Using just a reed and a snip from small scissors,  this boy creates a heart with arrow through it. At any age, artists work hard to make a living in Central America.
Using just a reed and a snip from small scissors, this boy creates a heart with arrow through it. At any age, artists work hard to make a living in Central America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                    We explore farther and discover the Iglesia de San Francisco. Firefighters from Italy walk by, but Gerda’s too shy to approach them and see if they will trade firefighter patches. (Ah, Gerda! Missed your chance to meet interesting men who share your love of firefighting!)

Iglesia de San Francisco is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Central America. Sadly, the famous robin's egg blue paint seems to have faded.
Iglesia de San Francisco is considered to be the oldest cathedral in Central America. Sadly, the famous robin’s egg blue paint seems to have faded.

Iglesia de San Francisco’s current building is fairly new – in 1524, it had wooden walls and a straw roof. It burned down about 160 years later to be rebuilt as a sturdier structure. In 1856, it was intentionally burned down by the infamous American scoundrel, William Walker. His men set fire to the city when they left, destroying most of it.

Walker was a power hungry mercenary who schemed to become President of Nicaragua with a goal to control all of Central America. Those other Central American countries took exception to the idea. Walker didn’t rule very long, a year perhaps. It’s said that in 1860, he was hunted down and executed in Honduras.

If you miss Catedral de Granada in the town plaza, you're looking in the wrong direction!
If you miss Catedral de Granada in the town plaza, you’re looking in the wrong direction

 

 

 

Catedral de Granada is a boldly painted church in the plaza. The sprawling building is quite prominent!

 

 

Enter a peaceful sanctuary
Enter a peaceful sanctuary

 

 

 

The cathedral’s first structure was built in 1583, destroyed by the previously mentioned 1856 city fire, then completely rebuilt by 1915.

 

 

 

To view more Granada iglesias, visit http://felipedelbosque.wordpress.com. 

 

All around us, the city shows off its bright colors! The Baroque style with Moorish influence is quite evident. Granada is waiting to see if it qualifies for the World Heritage List.

Many styles of architecture abound!
Many styles of architecture abound!

A horse-drawn carriage goes by cheerfully painted houses.
A horse-drawn carriage goes by cheerfully painted houses.

Locals hang around a beautifully detailed gazebo
Locals hang around a beautifully detailed gazebo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in here seems to be slow and easy.

Napping 4-legged resident
Napping 4-legged resident

I was surprised to see sanitarily wrapped vegetables!
I was pleasantly surprised to see wrapped vegetables!

Stopping play to watch visitors
Stopping play to watch visitors

 

Often, you will see darling children, such as this one on the right, on my blog. Except in crowd shots, I always ask for permission to take their images if they are recognizable, be it for a photo or video. It’s a habit from working in media. It’s also the right thing to do. Especially in Central America, parents are very protective of their children. Several times, a negative shake of the head was sent my way and I moved on.

Tip: Please respect the cultures of countries you visit. I noticed that if I very politely and smilingly communicated with locals, they reciprocated. English-speaking locals or ex-pats were very kind to explain local customs.

 

Tip: If you are looking for a change of scenery, Granada offers a low cost of living, attractive incentives for foreign investors such as limited tax breaks and there are few restrictions on foreign ownership. Just be sure to visit before any decisions are made.

 

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Social Media Travel

Volcan Masaya, Nicaragua

February 14, 2014

We had planned earlier to head to Granada. Gerda’s bike tour starts in Granada, so we all decide to travel there by taxi. But … Masaya is on the way. We book rooms and are off to see Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya! It has the distinction of being Nicaragua’s first National park and its largest. The area contains active and inactive craters and calderas. The last eruption was in 2008. It’s part of the Central American Volcanic Belt, running from Volcan Tacana in Guatemala to Volcan Irazu in Costa Rica.

"Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!"
“Wel-come to Ma-sa-ya!”

We’re warned that we shouldn’t inhale the strong sulphur dioxide fumes for more than 15 minutes. It is amazing to be so close to an active volcano!

Cricket couldn't see through the thick smoke screen
Cricket couldn’t see through the thick smoke screen

The stairs up to the cross are closed, but we’re able to go around and take another path up. I should say, “they” are able to, as I can feel great apprehension beginning to build up in my chest as we begin the climb up. So, I decide to stop, turn around and take shots of the smoky landscape. With shifting wind and heavy plumes of toxic sulphur vapors, I finally head down to catch a clear breath.

Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross
Gaseous vapors drift past the cross as Gerda, Lonnie and another visitor explore the terrain after climbing up to the cross

I DO love horse rides!
I DO love horse rides!

We take a too short horse ride to the path up an inactive volcano to see the grand vistas. Cricket and I stay behind as Lonnie and Gerda hike up along the rim with our taxi driver. On the way here, our driver, Wilmer Jose, was practicing his English and playing his English learning tape for us. Instead of dropping us off at the Centro de Visitantes and leaving, he waited for us to purchase the tickets and took us up to the volcano and craters. So, we asked if he wanted to hang with us and drop us off at our hotel in Masaya, and tomorrow, take us on to Granada. He did! I think it’s his first time at the volcan and to ride a horse. Tip: If going by taxi, confirm with your driver that he will wait for you to purchase a ticket at the visitors center and take you all the way to the volcan’s parking lot. Don’t be left to walk that really long walk like I read someone did on tripadvisor.com.

Many people walk all the way around the rim
Many people walk all the way around the rim

On the way out, we visit the Centro de Visitantes to see colorful exhibits and balcony views of surrounding craters and lakes. A cool way to wind down from a tiring walk.

Idyllic scene
Idyllic scene

An overview of Masaya
An overview of Masaya

Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.
Gerda proudly points out her home! Note the dangerous pink lines of a mosaic of shifting oceanic and continental plates.

Laguna de Masaya in the distance
Laguna de Masaya in the distance

We finish with a delicious meal and dessert.

End of  a happy Valentine's Day!
End of a happy Valentine’s Day!

Categories
Food People Travel Uncategorized

February 2014 Nicaragua!

The present situation regarding Central American children seeking refuge in the United States is disturbing. There are strong, emotional pros and cons on both sides of the issue. I won’t go there. I just want you to know the beauty I saw there earlier this year.

In 1524, the Spaniards established two settlements in what is now Nicaragua. The pre-Colombian Indian civilization there was decimated by their cruel acts. Strange foreigners with powerful weapons came ashore, seemingly out of nowhere. They forcibly took land, tore apart families, forced relatives to toil for them and sent others off on slave ships, never to be seen again! And to top it off, the Spaniards brought deadly diseases that no one had ever experienced before, slowly and painfully killing off the population.  

So began a tumultuous history through multiple centuries. From power struggles, becoming a part of the Mexican Empire, breaking away from Spain (1821), an American mercenary becoming Nicaragua’s president (1856), assassination plots, horrendous civil war crimes, terrifying dictatorships, the U.S.’s unwanted presence, the birth of guerrilla warfare, government corruption and the list goes on and on.

Nicaragua may be the largest of Central America’s countries, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. No wonder it is still trying to recover from centuries of turbulent upheavals!

I hope the time we spend here helps a tiny bit towards that recovery. We arrive in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. The plan? Leave the next day for Granada, a city known for having some of the finest colonial-era architecture in the country. We spend the night at a backpackers’ lodgings. Oh, joy! Our room has a private bathroom and is air-conditioned.

Next morning, as we prepare to leave for Granada, the owner introduces us to another English-speaking tourist. Gerda’s from Canada. She’s a veteran firefighter from the Northern Territories. Gerda is enthusiastic and persuasive. Very persuasive. She talks us into going with her to Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve, a secluded tropical forest in Ticuantepe, outside of Managua. It’s named after the green Pacific Parakeets known as Chocoyos.

A local taxi takes us on a jarring, pothole-filled ride up, maybe an hour.

Gerda peeks out from the bunkhouse
Gerda peeks out from the bunkhouse

We three are the only overnight guests in the 455 acre tropical forest. We go up a steep, three tiered walkway. Lonnie & I have the bungalow. Gerda has the bunkhouse all to herself. She has electricity, but just a trickle of cold shower water. We have cold water, but no electricity. (The bulb blew out twice.) Out come the headlamps! At least we have mosquito nets. With the two screen-less windows shut at night, it was pitch dark. The cabin could have used a really, really good cleaning, but since the reserve is operated by (wilderness) men, that’s not going to happen.

Alan Pasos is our very competent guide for the morning, evening and 5-hour hikes. He goes home each night after our dinner and two others keep watch overnight. Alan’s English is good enough that we communicate reasonably well. For two days, he leads us on nighttime and early morning walks to the two waterfalls, often pulling out a birding book to identify a species. He took several of the photographs below, often nimbly scurrying up trees and steep terrain!

We walk silently behind Alan, watching for his signal to stop as he listens for animals traversing the brush and trees. We must be quick to see a furry animal slip across the path or rustle through trees, many pairs of hidden eyes following us. Alan finds a BIG, squiggly night crawler. Of course, Gerda has to pick it up!

Some of what we see:

Chocoyero 11
Welcome to adventure!

 

Chocoyero 7
A colorful resident

 

Chocoyero 6
I was surprised to see a little crab scuttle across the path!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocoyero 9
Blue Crowned Motmot

 

Chocoyero 8
Cricket: “Hola, my little cousins!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocoyero 4
A beautifully bushy tail

 

Chocoyero 5
An owl eye butterfly. The eye scares away predators!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocoyero 12
A young owl peers through the brush

 

Chocoyero 10
Alan gets up close and personal to a howler mother and her child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the days, Alan and his father take Lonnie and Gerda on a mid-day five hour hike. Steep terrain, stringing ropes from tree to tree and unstable paths causing mid-air dangling at times!

That’s not for me.

A hammock is on the cabin porch, tied. It’s so pretty!

Tip: If you see a hammock lying around, ask for help.

I ask. They climb up, wrap and tie the ends. I swing on it, daydreaming, until motion sickness sets in. Time to climb down and write in my journal. Later, I take my cell phone down to the lobby to charge – that’s a pleasant surprise! I bring a puzzle from the suitcase. Spend a little time there before leaving the puzzle for another lazing tourist.

Lonnie comes dragging in, cut and bruised. Gerda bounces in behind him, dimples flashing, eyes alight with the joy of testing one’s endurance! She had wanted the six hour hike, but that would have pushed past Lonnie’s limit.

Lonnie shows his hiking wounds to Cricket
Lonnie shows his hiking wounds to Cricket.

 

Each morning and evening, Alan would lead us to the waterfalls to be amazed at the hundreds of chirping birds roosting in holes in the limestone walls. We peek in a few holes after the birds fly off and there are crickets, too. Alan is so dedicated, making sure we see the beauty of his forest. To me, it’s a jungle, with long, trailing vines and lush foliage. We see so many interesting inhabitants and plants that make up the teeming life of the woodlands!

A 6am walk to the waterfall to hear and see the birds start their day:

Alan’s mother cooks our meals. We eat beans, rice and plantains … three times a day. I find out that plantains can be boiled, fried, grilled, smashed, mashed and sliced. At breakfast, boiled eggs and stewed tomatoes are added. At lunch, boiled eggs are added. At dinner, a piece of chicken is added. There is a cup of delicious fresh squeezed orange juice with meals. Gerda, the ever polite Canadian, asks to meet and thank Alan’s mother in person. Gerda brings treats for the children. Seeing the dirt floors and little chicks running around, we realize how fresh our meals are!

Chocoyero 13
Alan picks oranges along the way for juice later.

 

Chocoyero 15
Family and friends gather for fellowship and prayer

Gerda starts a two-week bike ride through Central America this weekend. She brought school supplies for the tour donation, but decides the elementary school down the road needs it more. We add a monetary gift and start walking toward Escuela San Jose de los Rios.  We visit classrooms and go out to the courtyard where we officially present our gifts to the principal of the escuela, Senor Corea.

Chocoyero 16
Gerda and I sit with one of the classes after passing out bags.  Gerda included Canadian maple leaf pins!

 

While we are passing out bags, the exterminator begins fogging. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get service in an isolated area. They come when they can.

Chocoyero 16
Students gather in the courtyard as classrooms are fumigated

 

If you are planning to visit Nicaragua, consider Chocoyero-El Brujo.

Tip: It is one of a handful of Nicaraguan nature reserves that allows camping. To wake up to screaming howler monkeys or the raucous chatter of thousands of little green parrots starting the day is so cool! You can bring your own gear or reserve the bungalow or a bed in the bunkhouse.

Tip: Contact the reserve as early as possible if you plan to stay there. It may take some time for them to email you back, but it’s worth it. I don’t know if Alan even has international calling on his phone. Gerda tried calling, unsuccessfully, for weeks from Canada to confirm by phone. In Nicaragua, she was able to get through.

You’ll learn a lot with Alan and you’ll be helping a country that can use all the help it can get.

And please tip generously! This is a cooperative that is not government funded. Alan says that the people who maintain Chocoyero are volunteers who are paid ONLY when there are visitors. Life in the forest is hard. Tour companies may bring in daytime visitors, but with their own guides.

You can click on Tripadvisor to read recent reviews.

Sources on Nicaragua:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua

http://wikitravel.org/en/Nicaragua

http://www.infoplease.com/country/nicaragua.html?pageno=1

Categories
Events People Travel

“Happy July 4th!”

A reminder to my fellow Americans:

This female eagle was seen in Yellowstone Park.
This female eagle was seen in Yellowstone Park.

 

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ~ from the Declaration of Independence

 

 

 

The teeny, tiny white dot in the background is the eagle. We had a wonderful time!
The teeny, tiny white dot in the background is the eagle. We had a wonderful time!

 

Last week, we visited Yellowstone Park. Matt from Buffalo Bus tours did a great job showing us bison, elk, a bear and deer in the park. More in a later post.

A “Happy July 4th!” shout-out to Em, Miss B., J., K., E., R., M. and all the lovely people we met on the shuttle!

 

This year is the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner:

“God Bless America!”

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Events People Travel Uncategorized

February 12, 2014 Meet Cricket!

You will love my lovely hometown!
You will love my lovely hometown!

 

 

 

Hola! My name is Cricket. I was born in the central plaza of La Antigua, Guatemala. I am made of twisted wires and two pretty turquoise bead eyes.

Are you my cousin?
Are you my cousin?

 

 

 

 

 

I have looked for other family members, but it seems that they are not nearby. It is good that I am curious and make friends easily.

 

 

 

Let me show you some of the lovely things in my picturesque hometown.Cricket 2

Rooftops are perfect for exercising and reading!
Rooftops are perfect for exercising and reading!

Exotic ice cream creations to tickle your taste buds!
Exotic ice cream creations to tickle your taste buds!

Cricket 9

"Painting" sawdust carpets for Semana Santa
“Painting” sawdust carpets for Semana Santa

Though not considered lovely, the painted public wash tubs have seen decades of dirty clothes.
Though not considered lovely, the painted public wash tubs have seen decades of dirty clothes.

Senor Crepe makes Cricket a complimentary dessert
Senor Crepe makes Cricket a complimentary dessert

 

There are many pretty flowers here.
There are many pretty flowers here.

 

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February 5, 2014

Wednesday

The colorful squares you see are in the cemetary
The colorful squares you see are in the cemetary

IMG_5469

 

We tour Santa Maria de la Concepcion, a small town near Panajachel. Duncan, a local tour guide, says he’s the only one giving tours to Concepcion. In his opinion, the town is a little-known gem.

 

 

 

 

Concepcion 1IMG_5475

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a tranquil little hamlet with a 400 year old church. The bell continues to peal.

 

 

 

There are very few visitors to the sleepy little town.

 

 

Another centuries old building being put to good use
Another centuries old building being put to good use

 

 

On the way back, we stop in Solala and visit the museo. It was dedicated maybe a year or two ago by the queen of Spain!

 

 

 

 

 

The building was originally shorter
The building was originally shorter

 

 

 

In another life, it was a government building.

 

 

 

Back on the streets of Panajachel, we talk to Frank. He’s lived here 20 years. Some of his tips if you are staying in Pana:

*Don’t use the local BAC bank. If there’s an issue at their ATM and it keeps your money, the bank will NOT give you your money back.

*Primavera is the best hotel in town.

*El Bistro has the best steaks.

 

Please refresh the link occasionally when viewing my blog. I have been known to add more information in the form of videos, or possibly more photos, to previous posts!

 

 

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iPhoneography Travel Uncategorized

February 3, 2014 Lago de Atitlan

What a view of the lago!
What a view of the lago!

 

 

Our second night in Casa del Mundo is in room #17. After room #10’s coziness, this room feels so open. The private terrace is also bigger.

 

 

The casa has picturesque balconies and trailing greenery
The casa has picturesque balconies and trailing greenery

 

Views from all levels of the property are breathtaking!

In the hotel’s drive to reach self-sustainability, a high tech solar-heater system harnesses Lago de Atitlan’s sunshine to provide all the hot water for the property.

 

 

We go hiking. I’m fussed at because I stop to capture so many moments! In the Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a photographer pauses in shooting the rare sighting of a big feline. I’m sorry, if I can get the shot, I will. Sharing is a good thing. And … my memories will fade, so it’s always nice to have a reminder!

Casa 5Casa 3

Casa 2Casa 2

Casa 6

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Travel Uncategorized

February 1, 2014 Reserva Natural Atitlan

Saturday

Tuk-tuks around Panajachel are Q5 a person. I’m sure the locals pay much less. We could have taken a long walk to the Reserva Natural Atitlan, but decide to pay Q10 a person for the ride out of town and up to the 400 acre site. Yes, tuk-tuks sound and look like lawnmowers under three-seat golf carts, but they are fun rides! Quick turns make it easy to play “corners”, the game where you purposely sqeeze the person against the door as the vehicle races around street corners and curves, squealing with laughter! I feel the breeze and grin with joy as lake views rush by. So truly blessed to be here at this moment in my life!

R N Atitlan

Guatemala has exciting volcanoes and forest lands. The Reserva Natural Atitlan, located in the San Buenaventura Valley outside Pananjachel, may not be as large as other preserves, but it has many areas to explore!

 

 

We visit the butterfly sanctuary, walk down to the lake, cross hanging bridges by waterfalls, marvel at a spider monkey vigorously swinging by its tail, and soak in the peaceful forest!

   R N Atitlan

 

Oh, look who we run into again! Nicholas and Johanna, the backpackers we met in Tikal who gave us Equi, the grasshopper. It is so nice to see them again!

Equi the grasshopper made of reeds, reunites with his first "family." Can you see him? He is perched on the rail post.
Equi the grasshopper made of reeds, reunites with his first “family.” Can you see him? He is perched on the rail post.

We end the day with dinner at Circus Bar & Restaurant. Tonight, Carlos, a local flamenco guitarist, invites two brothers to join him on stage.

Categories
iPhoneography Marketing People Travel

Three Blog Tips

I just read a comment from one of my posts. The blogger mentioned that she is an “aspiring blog writer” and asked for suggestions. I thought about it and decided to share some basic steps for newbies.

1.   Bloggers are learning all the time. Check out sites like Dear Blogger, greg@dearblogger.org. I follow Greg as he’s generous with his advice. Anyone can ask him anything, whether they are a beginning blogger or well established. He started a YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/narayguy/videos, with tutorials on how to start a blog, different costs of hosted sites, how to make your site more attractive, etc. I started with WordPress.com before following him, but he uses WordPress.org to be able to do some beautiful enhancements to sites using plugins, etc.

If you’re hoping to profit from your blog, there are several big guys out there, but I like Nate Smith, nate@nathanialsmith.com. He is encouraging with good tips and spiritual inspiration. You can search around and follow many others, but look for sites that fit your needs as a blogger.

2.   This is very, very important! Please remember to pull from your passion. Post articles that you are truly interested in, not those that are just current topics that you hope people will link to. Cover subjects you know or that you researched and have a working knowledge of, that might be of value to others.

3.   Mix it up! Some entries I will post describe just what happened and photos. Others, I will add some background about the area we visited, photos and a video or two. Sometimes an opportunity arises that I can’t let go by, like when I learned about The Internet of Things, https://soosoosees.com/2013/10/14/day-30-new-york/. It’s fascinating to me how everything is moving at warp speed!

Experiment with tones and textures. I posted a video of a Savannah, Georgia Trolley Tour in sepia. “Johnny Mercer” came aboard and gave a spiel of his life in music. It begged for that treatment, https://soosoosees.com/2013/10/02/day-16-savannah/.

And, here’s a photo I took of actors in a Tombstone, Arizona re-enactment of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. (p.s.: The gunfight wasn’t really in the corral!) Thought it would look more striking with texture and a feel of the Old West. Edited it on my iPhone in Snapseed, blurring present day shoppers and vehicles in the background with TouchReTouch. Both are free apps. It could have been nice in black and white, but I do like tints!

Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers are ready
Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers are ready

There are plenty more tips I could give, but off the top of my head, these three simple steps will help you on your way!

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Travel Uncategorized

January 29, 2014 Casa Santo Domingo

Wednesday

Bronze in the lobby
Bronze in the lobby

 

Casa Santo Domingo is a grand hotel with beautiful gardens, pocket museos, workshops and quiet corners of beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casa Santo Domingo garden

 

 

The hotel is 25 years old. The ruins that it has absorbed into its structures was built in 1538 as a convent, or monastery, depending on how you interpret the two words.

Crypts
Crypts

 

 

 

It’s surprising to me that so much of the convent survived as the quake started in July and aftershocks continued until December!     Casa Santo Domingo altar

 

 

The convent came crashing down during the 1773 Santa Marta earthquake. The quake was so named as it started on the day designated to honor Saint Martha.   Santo Domingo

 

 

We stroll the grounds, admiring so many amazing views of the ruins.

 

 

 

The candle workshop offers candlemaking classes!

Casa Santo Domingo 3

A potter decorates a mug at the back of the candle shop
A potter decorates a mug at the back of the candle shop

A worker climbs down from the supply area in the back of the candle shop. I believe that is part of the ruins jutting out!
A worker climbs down from the supply area in the back of the candle shop. I believe that is part of the ruins jutting out!

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Travel Uncategorized

January 27, 2014 Volcan Pacaya, La Azotea Cafe Finca

Monday

View along the trail up
View along the trail up

So exciting! Today, we go up Volcan Pacaya. It erupted the week before we came and flights were cancelled. Thank God, everything settled down and we had no problem flying in. I start wheezing as we begin the 1 1/2 hour ascent, so I get a horse for Q100 ($12.50). A group member calls me, “Princess” as I’m the only one riding. I tell Two-Hats Tom to leave me alone, I’m still on meds for an upper respiratory infection!

My horse, Valente, brings up the rear of the tour. His handler stops often along the trail to break off a leaf here, a bloom there, and explains how locals gather resources from the forest. His English is better than the park assigned guide’s.

This leaf's underside is velvety soft. It can be used in cheese quesadillas or as emergency toilet tissue!
This leaf’s underside is velvety soft. It can be used in cheese quesadillas or as emergency toilet tissue!

I think I was told that these berries, when mature, are used in dyes.
I think I was told that these berries, when mature, are used in clothing dyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A safe distance from the main cone of Volcan Pacaya.
A safe distance from the main cone of Volcan Pacaya.

There’s a constant vapor cloud. We’re not allowed to climb up to the rim, though I’ve seen pictures of people near its lava flows.

Jadwiga and Two-Hats Tom have a great view!
Jadwiga and Two-Hats Tom have a great view!

Recent eruptions give locals concern as Pacaya sits on a magma chamber, making it very unstable. It produces hundreds of explosions each day, causing more lava to flow down.

The views are wonderful. We can even see Guatemala City!
The views are wonderful. We can even see Guatemala City!

A 1961 eruption was unexpected and lasted almost a month! In 1962, a collapse near the volcan’s summit, possibly caused by a volcanic vent, resulted in a pit crater.

Heaven seems closer up here
Heaven seems closer up here

Pacaya’s 2010 eruption was so powerful that it caused the main cone to collapse. The volcan is listed at 8,373 ft., but I don’t know if it was re-calculated after that event.

More Pacaya information can be seen at: www.volcanodiscovery.com/pacaya.html‎, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacaya‎ and volcano.oregonstate.edu/pacaya‎.

More shots of our hike: http://www.qwiki.com/v/j3JT6pga

In the afternoon, we take a slow tour at a local cafe finca (coffee farm).

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Travel Uncategorized

January 26, 2014 La Antigua

Sunday

Reminders
Reminders

 

We attend Iglesia Del Camino, the only Spanish to English speaking church in town. It’s 10 years old and makes a “joyful noise unto the Lord!” Ah-h-h, my soul is revived!

 

James, Soo & Lonnie
James, Soo & Lonnie

After service, we lunch across the street. We see the other Iglesia Del Camino visitor from today’s service. I go out and ask if he’d like to join us and he does! James says he came in last week to teach at a local English school. He’s also from the states. Less than a year ago, he quit a corporate job, took Spanish and TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) classes and applied to teaching positions in Central America. He’s now living his dream!

James heads out and we wander …

How wonderful that these  purple blossoms come out in time for Easter!
How wonderful that these purple blossoms come out in time for Easter!

Two young vendors take a  break in the shade
Two young vendors take a break in the shade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artisan carefully smooths out a jade piece
Artisan carefully smooths out a jade piece

 

 

Antigua generale

 

 

 

 

Antigua bldg

Evening in Antigua is beautiful.

Palace of the Generals
Palace of the Generals

The sun's fading rays
The sun’s fading rays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proverbs 25:5  As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.

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January 23, 2014 Tikal

Thursday

The first day we’d arrived in the park, we bought tickets and went in after 2:30pm. (The sunset tour started at 3:30pm.) Even though tours for Tikal Inn guests are free, park entry is not. We’d read that you can get tickets and enter the park after that time and be able to use the same tickets to get into the park the next day. IF … you come in the next day during regular hours of operation, that is true. The sunrise tour starts before regular hours so we still had to buy (reduced price) tickets. Tikal Don’t let Tikal Inn’s unappealing front entryway throw you. The overhang is sadly in need of major repair, the lobby area worn, but pass through it to see a pristine pool and beautifully maintained lawns leading to the cabins. The waitstaff is very nice, especially Oscar. Complimentary breakfasts and temple tours add value (though the guides could use more English lessons!). The room is very utilitarian and the the tub drains very slowly, but there’s a clothes rod with several shelves. Electricity only works 6am-8am and 6pm-10pm, so you’ll need to be quick about it if coming back from the sunset tour. (Yesterday, we came back by 8pm, went straight to dinner in the dining room before getting back to shower before the lights went out!) A nice touch was the complimentary 1.5 liter of water.

Val and Paul relaxing in the casual Tikal Inn lobby area.
Val and Paul relaxing in the casual Tikal Inn lobby area.

 

 

We made friends with Val and Paul, a Canadian couple.   Tikal Jaguar Inn

 

 

 

Today, we move over to Jaguar Inn. It is next door and even closer to the park entrance. Our room is a lovely improvement. We were greeted with a complimentary 20 oz. bottle of water. And, the lights and fan work ALL the time – YAAY! I heard the pool wasn’t up to snuff, but they have a computer for guests and the restaurant’s restrooms with outside sinks are clean and updated (unlike Tikal’s). The dining room is connected to the front desk, updated, roomy and with beautiful picture windows.

Nicolas and Johanna with Equi
Nicolas and Johanna with Equi

We say good-bye to Johanna and Nicholas, backpackers who sat next to me on top of Temple IV yesterday. An Equadorian friend had given them a grasshopper made from reeds. They give Equi to us because they know he would be crushed in the backpack. They’ve hitchhiked all over the world. After a short wait, a ride materializes and they’re gone!

 

We speak to, Caesar, a U.S. raised park guide not associated with the inn who very helpfully arranges for a canopy tour driver to pick up our suitcases and drop them off at Jaguar, at no charge, before taking us to the ziplines.

Tikal Zipline After a “Super” zip tour, we cross the road to lunch. There, Equi meets a real live tarantula. Tikal Tarantula Dinner at Jungle Lodge, the first lodgings in Tikal. Archeological teams stay there as it’s closest to the park. It’s bigger, nicer and has fancier food. The rooms are spacious with high-beamed ceilings and mosquito nets (Tikal Inn and Jaguar Inn don’t have nets) and have full electricity 24/7. One of my favorite things to do here is digging around their ice cream case, the only one in Tikal!

We walk back to Jaguar Inn, using our flashlights.

Jaguar Inn's charming bungalows
Jaguar Inn’s charming bungalows

Jaguar's cozy camp area
Jaguar’s cozy camp area

 

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January 22, 2014 Tikal National Park

Wednesday

We join the tour in front of the hotel at 4:30am. With headlamps on, we play follow-the-leader through twisting, uneven trails through the dark, silent forest.

Temple IV comes into view and we trudge the many flights of wooden stairs up to the top. I am not comfortable with high places. I’ll go, but not very happily. It’s when we get where we’re going that I’ll appreciate the surroundings. So, ’til then, I avoid looking straight down and feeling rising waves of panic.

If you come to see the sun rise in Tikal, prepare to be disappointed. Yesterday was the perfect morning! People told us it was one of just two sunrises in the past two months. Not today. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s January, but we need jackets against the chilly winds.

 

 

 

We ask why restorations are so obvious. This is so there is no question that there has been a repair. You can see the original work and know where it had to be reinforced and still maintain the authenticity of the original structure.

Temple III is the only temple in the city made of volcanic stone that is only found in North and East Peten. They had to travel far to bring the stone here and no one knows why.

We walk to the front of the park and visit the two museos, a laboratory and the vendors.

These stelae are authentic!
These stelae are authentic!

Could this be part of an original stela still in the ground?!?
Could this be part of an original stela still in the ground?!?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another original carving
Another original carving

Tikal museo 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tikal purse

I love how there’s a post office in the park! It’s a breeze buying postcards and plopping them down on the counter for that “special” Tikal postage stamp. One of my very favorite souvenirs is a woven purse I bargain for in the vendors’ stalls across from the main souvenir building. It’s zippered, with the same scene woven in slightly different colors on each side.

Happy with the day, we walk back, munching ice cream bars from Jungle Lodge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January 21, 2014 Flores to Tikal

Flores

Tuesday

We enjoy a nice view from our breakfast table before taking the complimentary shuttle to Tikal. At first, we had thought to do what some tourists do – stay in Flores and take a day trip to Tikal. We decided to stay in a hotel at the entrance to Tikal National Park that gives complimentary guided sunset and sunrise tours at the ruins.

Isla de Flores is calm. Nothing much seems to be happening. Tourists wander around, taking in the serenity and browsing the little shops.

If you’re in a rush to get to Tikal, private transport will be faster than this morning’s shuttle. It’s a little late for our 7:30am pickup. We transfer to another shuttle and then we wait quite a while for the airport group to arrive.

Daylight shines on Tikal as we are dropped off. We’ll stay at Tikal Inn for two days before moving next door to Jaguar Inn for a day. Both are right across the road from Tikal National Park. It’s a bit of a ways to our cabin. Many of the travelers we’ve seen have large backpacks. Maybe we could have traveled lighter …

Down a long sidewalk ...
Down a long sidewalk …

single-file ...
single-file …

and onto a wider path
and onto a wider path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sunset tour starts at 3:30pm. There’s no “real” sunset, just the light drifting away toward the East. These ruins could be the largest concentration of restored Mayan temples and buildings in Central America. There are many, many more buildings in Tikal, overgrown with greenery, looking like grassy mounds. There just aren’t enough volunteers to unearth them.

It's a steep, winding trail to the Great Plaza
It’s a steep, winding trail to the Great Plaza

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buried treasure
Buried treasure

The stelae in the plaza are replicas
The stelae in the plaza are replicas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January 20, 2014 Rio Dulce to Isla de Flores

Monday

Yesterday, Jacqui and Brian left for Tikal. We had breakfast together. With big hugs, we promised to keep in touch.

Daylight fades on the Rio Dulce
Daylight fades on the Rio Dulce

 

 

In the evening, we went down the river to Hotel Vinas del Lago and watched a Super Bowl playoff game with our dinner. It was the first time I’d ever seen a dock covered in real grass!

 

 

 

Fronteras1

 

 

A motorcyclist eyes a man carrying live chickens down the street
A motorcyclist eyes a man carrying live chickens down the street

Today, we leave for Isla de Flores before going on to Tikal. Time to leave the peaceful sweet river. We wait in Fronteras for the bus to Isla de Flores. The lovely colors of contemporary Mayan dress can be seen everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The daily lives of residents is interesting.

 

 

 

Behind us is the tiny island that houses a museo
Behind us is the tiny island that houses a mus

Four hours later we arrive in Isla de Flores. On the ride, we make friends. My new pal was born in Guatemala, adopted and raised in the United States. Years ago, she began coming to vacation in Guatemala. She has an affinity for this beautiful country and her Spanish is improving.

 

 

View from our room at Casa Amelia's
View from our room at Casa Amelia’s

 

 

The city is jam packed full of buildings. There isn’t much green space but the island is very clean.

 

 

Flores 3

 

I buy a scarf from Chick Boss, a shop on a mission. Many families benefit from jewelry and accessories made and sold in this shop.

 

 

 

Flores 4

 

We eat at La Luna. The colorful lights and decor are very nice, the food was alright. I just think the fish was a bit overcooked.

 

Flores 5

 

 

Dessert at Sarita, a popular ice cream chain.

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January 18, 2014 Fronteras, Livingston

Rio D plank

Saturday

Today, we walk to Fronteras, the nearby town, for breakfast. The path goes from wooden planks and dirt roads through forest trails to asphalt streets.

It's early and this four-footed local needs a bit more shut-eye
It’s early and this four-footed local needs a bit more shut-eye

 

 

 

Locally sourced produce
Locally sourced produce

Open market
Open market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We eat at Bruno’s before wandering around town. It’s Saturday, so people are out for market day.

It's worth a visit to the old fort
It’s worth a visit to the old fort

 

In the afternoon, we ride a fast launcha to Livingston. Along the way, the driver slows so that we have a great view of Castillo de San Felipe del la Lara …

 

 

Can you see the Great White Heron, or is it a Great Egret???
Can you see the Great White Heron, or is it a Great Egret???

 

 

 

a small island with birds …

 

 

 

We can only dip our feet in for a short while in the tiny little hot spring
We can only dip our feet in for a short while in the tiny little hot spring

 

 

 

a small hot spring …

 

 

 

A young girl canoes out to sell us trinkets
A young girl canoes out to sell us trinkets

 

 

 

brief stops in a few small coves …

 

 

 

Canyon gorge's limestone walls
Canyon gorge’s limestone walls

 

and a ride through the gorge of a limestone canyon on the way. The canyon’s beautiful white limestone walls are covered with rich … green … overgrowth. How disappointing. Well, the walls are quite tall.

 

A view of the Gulf of Honduras from Livingston's dock
A view of the Gulf of Honduras from Livingston’s dock

Livingston is where the Rio Dulce empties into the Gulf of Honduras. It’s named after Edward Livingston, member of a prominent family that immigrated from Scotland. He was active in the Democratic-Republican political party organized by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791-93 before it split into two parties. In 1801, he was U.S. Attorney for the district of New York while also serving as Mayor of New York. Edward wrote the Livingston Codes, the foundation upon which the United Provinces of Central America based their law in the early 1820s. The provinces later became Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Family transport
Family transport

Unfortunately, Livingston is not a very pretty town. There are restaurants and gifts shops up and down the main street, but the landscape slowly changes as we leave the area and head down to the shore to visit the Garifuna community. There are other communities of Afro-Caribbeans, Maya and Ladino peoples, but I will concentrate on the Garifunas. 

A colorful stall
A colorful stall

In the mid-1600s, a ship or two, depending on which version you have, sank off the coast of St. Vincent. Many slaves survived and blended in with the Carib Indians. They intermarried and became the Black Carib, or Garinagu. They are better known as Garifunas, the name of their culture and language. In 1796, the Black Caribs joined the French to battle the Brits. The Brits won and their enemies were forced to leave. The Garinagu were allowed to go to Honduras. Eventually, many migrated to Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Most of the Garifuna in Central America are near the sea
Most of the Garifuna in Central America are near the sea

 

An elderly gentleman greets us as we pass him. We stop and ask if we are going in the right direction. He says he is going there and can show us the way. We gladly fall in!

 

 

 

Julio is enjoying his retirement in Livingston
Julio is enjoying his retirement in Livingston

 

Julio is Garifuna and Spanish. He grew up in Livingston. Said he loved growing up there as a child, but the future wasn’t very bright. When the opportunity arose, he left for Los Angeles, then New York – two cities with the largest concentrations of Garifunas in the United States. He made a decent living and sent money home to the family. Thirty years later, Julio retired and moved back, to the memories of his childhood. When he was growing up, it was a beautiful little community with not many people. It has changed.

 

Livingston 16

The air is quiet. Julio says there is a mass for dead relatives at church and many are there today. Waves gently roll over the sand. The peaceful shoreline belies the sad state of this community. It’s like the Guatemalan government forgot about the Garifunas and their needs.

 

 

Many can't afford to feed their animals and let them run loose to find food
Many can’t afford to feed their animals and let them run loose to find food

 

 

There is no garbage service, so trash litters roadsides and where ever one wishes to drop food wrappers and containers.

 

 

 

Livingston 15

 

A dilapidated nightclub, an abandoned, partially built apartment building and other uninhabited buildings are sad reminders of developers’ dashed hopes.

 

 

The owner proudly poses by her sign
The owner proudly poses by her sign

We arrive at Gamboa Place, an authentic Garifuna “restaurant” to taste a favorite local dish, Tapado. It’s a seafood soup, eaten with a whole fried fish. The woman who owns it is another of those who left to find work and send money home. She went to Belize, where there is a large Garifuna community, before coming home and opening her own business. She said Belize has been making more of an effort to save the Garifuna culture and language, but it’s a struggle. It is said that there are approximately 300,000 descendants around the world, with less than 100,000 in Central America and only 90,000 native speakers left.

No octopus, but there's conch!
No octopus, but there’s conch!

Julio is comfortable eating at an outdoor restaurant where I notice that a man is washing dishes in well water. We are happy that the soup will be boiled and the fish fried. It takes a long while before we get our food. It finally arrives and is delicious!

 

Wicked looking eyes!
Wicked looking eyes!

 

 

A curious dog comes by to check out the food and is shooed away. One feline visitor is quite upset we didn’t share fish bones.

 

 

 

 

 


Livingston 20

 

On the trip back to Rio Dulce, we are like the water taxi. People are dropped off and others are picked up. Brian made a new friend at one of the stops.

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January 17, 2014 Rio Dulce

Friday

What a relaxing environment! Tortugal’s bungalows are rustic and quite charming.

Love the roomy mosquito net!
Love the roomy mosquito net!

Dining by the water, walking along the dock, wandering the trails, gazing at the bobbing boats …Rio D dock

Castillo de San Felipe de la Lara
Castillo de San Felipe de la Lara

 

We hop in a launcha for the short ride to Castillo de San Felipe de la Lara in Rio Dulce National Park. It’s very close – we can see it from Tortugal’s deck. There was a discussion on kayaking over, but it’s a bit windy and I’m not a strong paddler.

View from above the drawbridge
View from above the drawbridge

The Spanish colonial fort was built in 1644 to protect the port of San Antonio de las Bodegas from pirate attacks. The location is at the narrowest part of the river that travels all the way to the Gulf of Honduras into the Carribean Sea. At night, a chain was stretched across the river from the bank to the fort to keep out uninvited visitors. Unfortunately, that and the moat with drawbridge couldn’t protect it from being destroyed and looted several times.

One of the cannons found upriver
One of the cannons found upriver

In 1688, the fort was rebuilt … again. This time, the addition of more ramparts and guard stations stopped the attacks. In 1956, the fortification was beautifully restored. During the restoration, a search for the original cannons found them upriver from the fort! We didn’t know we’d need a light to explore the dark lower level of the fort, so I pull out my phone and use the flashlight on my Camera+ app.

 

 

 

Souvenirs and food are a hop, skip and jump from the fort!
Souvenirs and food are a hop, skip and jump from the fort!

Nowadays, after the tour, you can stroll the grassy lawns, pick up souvenirs and buy some local food before leaving.

Peaceful river
Peaceful river

 

 

 

 

 

The river is beautiful as night falls.

 

 

 

 

We have pizza & movie night on deck. Watching “Captain Phillips”, a thriller based on the true story of present day high seas piracy, is a fitting end to the day.

Pizza, popcorn and Tom Hanks, under the stars!
Pizza, popcorn and Tom Hanks, under the stars!

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Travel

January 16, 2014 Rio Dulce

Thursday

The taxi driver we used yesterday is taking us to the Litigua bus station this morning. We’ll be listening to water lapping against the dock in Rio Dulce tonight!

He’s late. We wait. An older man waves at us from his taxi. We shake our heads and continue waiting. I see a pick-up with a mounted machine gun in front of a hotel. Half a dozen black vehicles are lined up in the hotel’s curved driveway. In relatively safe Zona 10, machine gun wielding soldiers/security officers are a common sight, but this group means business!

VIP escort
VIP escort

Ten minutes later, we decide to walk over to the certified taxi line. Our driver walks by. “Hey, Marlon!” He is nonchalant. He says his father is taking us. (How would we know that?!? My internal radar should have kicked in.) He takes us over to the man who waved at us earlier. We get in, all the while his father is chuckling with amusement. (Spoiler alert: His good humor isn’t going to last.)

It's a bit startling seeing a man hanging from the local bus, kinda like a stunt man!
It’s a bit startling seeing a man hanging from the local bus, kinda like a stunt man!

Tip: Take the white certified taxis. The trendy, late-model taxis are not considered safe.

After about 20 minutes in the mounting early morning traffic, the landscape changes to more mountainous scenery. I shoot my husband a sideways glance and say it looks like we’re headed out of town! We hurriedly tap Marlon’s father on the shoulder and franticly shake our heads – “WRONG WAY!!! Litegua, not Antigua!”

BIG Tip: Going to a foreign country? Learn as much of the language as possible so as to avoid miscommunications!

He pulls onto the side of the road, waits for cars to pass, reverses gears, going backwards to reach a break in the highway to make a quick U-turn. This is a busy thoroughfare, mind you, so it’s a little hairy! We swing into bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling towards town. One recognizable word he’s muttering is “Idiot!” We finally arrive and miss the bus by 10 minutes. The next bus to Rio Dulce is several hours later. When things like this happen, I try to take it in stride. There’s a reason God wants us to experience this – just wait. It may take a while, but something good will come of it.

This mother at the bus station reluctantly gave permission to be photographed. I'm glad she did!
This mother at the bus station reluctantly gave permission to be photographed. I’m glad she did!

The Litegua bus is comfortable, but the restroom doesn’t work. It’s going to be a long 4 to 5 hour ride. Unclean/pay-to-use restroom stops along the way to Rio Dulce are a discouraging foretaste of what to expect the next two months. *Sigh*

It’s dusk when we arrive in Frontera, the town the Rio Dulce (“Sweet River”) flows by. Most people refer to the town as Rio Dulce. The river starts here after streaming out of the east side of Lago de Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake.

Tip: There are a couple of ATMs in Frontera, but you might want to go to one of the guarded ATMs in Guat City (or the big town you’re coming from) before arriving. If you decide to use U.S. dollars, merchant exchange rates will be in their favor. Dollar bills must be relatively new, with no folds or tears, or merchants may refuse them.

Now I see why we were destined to miss the first bus – God wants us to have company! Another couple (who missed their bus too!) is also going to the same hotel, Tortugal (“the place of the turtle”) Hotel & Marina. Jacqui and Brian are Australians and we work together to get a launcha to the hotel, not far across the lake. There is a footpath, but it’s not recommended for tourists after dark. A local is kind enough to call the hotel for us and the boat is coming. Darkness rolls across the water as we sit and get acquainted. By the time we all arrive at the hotel’s dock, we’re comfortable with each other. At dinner overlooking the river, Jacqui comes over to our table and suggests we all go exploring together during our stay. Yay – God is good! If we had not missed the first bus, we would have been eating separately and not had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy new friendships!

 

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January 15, 2014 Guatemala City, Guatemala

Wednesday

Ya-a-a-y!!! Central America! So much to discover!

Glimpsing Guatemala
Glimpsing Guatemala

We arrived yesterday and don’t plan on spending much time in Guat City as it’s like #12 on the list of “Most Dangerous Cities in the World.” God willing, as long as we stay in the touristy areas, guard our belongs and are aware of our surroundings, it’ll be fine. A young woman researcher living outside Guat City says to stay off our smartphones in public – phone snatchers are watching. Even her locally purchased phone was stolen.

*Tip: If getting quetzales at the airport – walk out the airport door, cross the drive to the parking lot side and take the elevator on the right, up to the third floor location of Banrural. Kiosks inside the airport exchange rate – 6.51. Banrural exchange rate – 7.78!

A taxi picks us up to go to the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture) in the Parque Central. I pull out my camera and start snapping away. The driver glances over his shoulder and quickly tells me to put it down! (Later, I find out that thieves on motorbikes have been known to drive up to a vehicle, point a gun and grab purses and other valuables before making a speedy escape.)

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura
Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

I have to say that when we arrive at the palacio, there are no English speaking guides. We’re told there ARE no English speaking guides. Reading Tripadvisor, many mention English speaking guides. Oh well, I like researching interesting places …

A grand salon for important meetings
A grand salon for important meetings

The palace was once known as the most important building in Guatemala as it’s the point from which ALL the roads in the republic originated – amazing! It looks to be centuries old, but was completed in 1943 when Presidente Jorge Ubico was in power. Forced prison labor toiled many years to build the residence. The bricks are green(-ish), Ubico’s wife’s favorite color.

Visitors gather 'round the guide as she points out the fresh rose on the bronze hands of the Monument of Peace, commemorating the end of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
Visitors gather ’round the guide as she points out the fresh rose on the bronze hands of the Monument of Peace, commemorating the end of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.

From what I’ve read, this presidente was a totally self-absorbed despot.  He had a thing about the number “5.” Wonder if it started when he noticed his first and last names have five letters each. The building has five main pillars, five fountains, arches in fives, there are five stories, etc.

Ubico's thumbprint atop the door handle
Ubico’s thumbprint atop the door handle

He even had his fingerprint imprinted onto all 500 door handles in the building. Thankfully, in time, he was removed. He later died in exile in New Orleans.

Bullet casings railing by one of many larger-than-life murals throughout the palace
Bullet casings railing by one of many larger-than-life murals throughout the palace

There are many detailed murals depicting various stages of Guatemala’s history. Can it be true that the stair rails are made of spent bullet casings?!?

 

Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago
Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago

We walk across the plaza to Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago (First Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago).  Building started in the late 1700s, with full completion 86 years later. (I apologize for the poor quality of this photo. I couldn’t get a clear shot in the bright sunshine.)

The catedral's vaulted ceiling
The catedral’s vaulted ceiling

 

 

 

The Metropolitana is not just another cathedral. It holds immense meaning for Guatemalans.

 

 

 

Penance
Penance

 

 

It has survived three major earthquakes within two centuries and weathered countless events, including a bloody prolonged war, coups, and a revolution.

 

 

 

Lighting candles
Lighting candles

A man leans over to admire the alfombra, a sawdust rug
A man leans over to admire the alfombra, a sawdust rug

 

 

It houses the country’s oldest icon and its very first pipe organ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catedral Candles

 

 

The twelve pillars in front are etched with thousands of names, a heartrending tribute to those who disappeared or were murdered during Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war. It is still recovering and will take decades to do so.

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Magic Day 5: Belize City, Belize

Thursday,  November 7, 2013

"Sorry, what can I do?"
“Sorry, what can I do?”

We’re told to not venture outside of the tourist areas, so Lonnie & I sign up at Belize Caribbean Tours to visit the ruins. We hope that a small group with a guide will be a nice experience. It was a mistake … a BIG mistake. They herd four of us around for almost an hour, to three different “waiting areas” as they try to get more people to fill up the van. There are about a dozen of us who finally leave. But not before the agent gets an earful, even after he offers to add another stop along the route (that would squeeze the schedule’s timeline). If there’s a long wait time, passengers should be told. They probably didn’t want to lose customers, but it’s still a poor policy. We know better now that unless you already have a group going, DON”T sign up for a van!!!

Mayan ruins
Mayan ruins

Imagine their lives ...
Imagine their lives …

To be fair, our guide, Richard, is quite good. With 16 years as a guide under his belt, he’s a constant stream of Belize history. He says to ask him anything, even about his family. (We now know how much it costs for his child to go to school and what color her uniform is.  We also go by the school she attends.) There’s a short tour of the city, then countryside, before taking an hour long trip to the ruins. Okay, it’s fun speeding past the huge, lumbering cruise buses that sway along the horribly pockmarked excuse of a road. Thinking positively, our oft times jarring ride can also be seen as an invigorating seat massage. An advantage of a small group is that we can listen up close to the commentary – we definitely would not be able to hear as well in a large group walking the ruins. 

If you plan to visit for a while, this is some of what Richard shared with the van as we went hurtling along. Belize’s top four industries are agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and oil. There is no local paper, but they have electricity and lots of cable shows to keep them connected with the world. Water is 1/2 a U.S. cent per gallon. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America. Thirteen years ago cruise ships began docking in Belize and Americans came, buying property and building homes here. Every citizen in Belize who turns 18 is gifted property from the government – in the city, a small property, in the country, up to 10 acres. A 2000 sq. ft. home in a decent neighborhood in the city runs about $250 for property tax. If you have someone working for you (maid, gardener), you have to pay income tax, about 7%.

June to November is the rainy season. We come at a good time. Last week everything was flooded and all tours were canceled! The last big hurricane here was in 1961. The crime rate is very low, 89 homicides/murders so far this year for the whole country. Richard talks about concrete homes, delicious fruit, the population, and much more! 

Happy image compliments of the house photography team:

A magical Elegant Night
A magical Elegant Night

Dining room dancing! Add another performance from Marlon, the Singing Waiter:

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Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas

Saturday,  October 26, 2013

At least we get bagels and biscuits with gravy for breakfast! Other friends are getting powdered donuts and milk!
At least we get bagels and biscuits with gravy for breakfast! Other friends are getting powdered donuts and milk!

Yesterday was our first day back in seven weeks! We only had time to change out clothes for others and spend the night with relatives. Today, we take care of some business before driving an hour to Galveston. A good friend’s daughter is getting married this evening and we just made it home in time for the event. It’s the weekend before Halloween and hotels are packed. There are ghost tours and all sorts of activities during this time. When my husband made the Priceline online reservation, he wasn’t using the mouse. Somehow, scrolling down, a one star hotel in an adjoining city was confirmed. It’s the first time we have ever hit a one star. Eeek! What are we in for?!? After talking to a friend who also couldn’t get the room they wanted, we don’t feel so bad. They wound up with a one star in Galveston because everything else was booked. 

Perfect day for a wedding
Perfect day for a wedding

 

The wedding is a beautiful affair! It’s held in the circular garden next to the 1859 Ashton Villa, an elegantly restored Victorian home.

Victorian style and gold filigree touches enhance this Texas Historic Landmark
Victorian style and gold filigree touches enhance this Texas Historic Landmark

 

 

 

 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nowadays the villa’s only available for private events.

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People Travel

Day 46: Toronto

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It’s laundry day again. I only mention it if Lonnie makes me go with him when there’s no hotel laundry room. When the hotel charges $6 to pick up, launder, fold and deliver just one t-shirt, it’s time to find the laundromat. (Along the trip, we stayed with several different friends and family and used their machines.) Lonnie googles area laundromat reviews and finds one that’s “very clean” with shiny front loading machines, etc. that’s just down the street. A nice man shows us how much to load and how long to dry the different size loads.

 

Several of the recipes were created by Milestones chefs!
Several of the recipes were created by Milestones chefs!

Lunch time! We go to Milestones, a Canadian franchise. It’s like a nicer Cheddar’s. We’ve been to several Canada-only franchises along with independants. Then, more shopping with our son before he’s dropped off at the airport. Bye, Baby Boy.

Boo! I’m back to navigating. No more long naps and less mindless daydreaming.  😦  😦  😦

 

This part is a lesson in being prepared and consequences:

A rainy, windy trip to the U.S. Border
A rainy, windy trip to the U.S. Border

It’s pouring rain all the way to the American border. We’re asked for proof of vehicle ownership. We can’t produce it! We had it when we started this trip and it’s nowhere to be found. After more scrambling around, we’re told we have honest faces and we’re let through. “But … if a trooper pulls you over and you can’t prove vehicle ownership, it will be impounded.”  Needless to say, my husband becomes an even more careful driver than he usually is.

Redhawk Grille's cod

We pull up at the Redhawk Grille in Painesville, Ohio for a late dinner. It’s been a long drive from Toronto and a light meal is in order. The menu sounds so creative. I have high hopes for the chef. Well, maybe their specialty is steaks and chicken, but Lonnie’s cod is overcooked and dry.

 

 

There are more than 5 dozen sweet scallops in this dish!
There are more than 5 dozen sweet scallops in this dish!

 

 

My scallops are the tiny sweet ones. There are more than enough, but they don’t taste sweet or fresh. Sigh … another dish I don’t finish.

 

 

 

 

Quail Hollow Resort's lobby
Quail Hollow Resort’s lobby

We arrive next door at the Quail Hollow Resort. It’s a well-aged beauty. (Sorry for the distortion of the long back railing. It isn’t curved, but a straight rail across.)

 

 

Ice cream any time you want it!
Ice cream any time you want it!

 

We had read negative comments on Tripadvisor, but our fears are groundless. Issues we’d heard about are resolved and the room is fine. What’s even fine-r is the choice of ice cream for purchase in the lobby! 

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People Travel Uncategorized

Day 45: Toronto

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tasty Ramen Noodles with Satay Chicken Wings soup!
Tasty Ramen Noodles with Satay Chicken Wings soup!

 

 

We don’t usually eat at a place more than once, but we enjoyed yesterday’s breakfast so much that we go again. I fancy a richly flavored soup and cup of sweet Hong Kong tea.

On the way to Niagara Falls
On the way to Niagara Falls

 

 

Now we’re ready for Niagara Falls! It has been raining, but the sun breaks out as we arrive.

We don super thin yellow plastic ponchos before going down the elevator.

View from the Canadian side
View from the Canadian side

Perpetual rainbow
Perpetual rainbow

 

 

There are plaques with historical facts along the tunnel to the second level lookout – oh yeah, look out for heavy mist coating the camera lens!

Along the Wine Country trail
Along the Wine Country trail

 

 

Once we have our fill, it’s on to the wine country trail. Lots of winding country roads. We get to a small town overrun by tour buses and shuttles. People pack the sidewalks, going in and out of cute little shops. It’s Bar Harbor all over again and no place to park. We don’t stop. Another day, Niagara-on-the-Lake!

Woo! Hoo!
Woo! Hoo!

Heading back, our son wonders if diesel truck drivers still pull the stack cord if you motion pulling it. We slowly pull even with an 18 wheeler with a shiny diesel stack. Our son waits to catch the driver’s eye, then pumps his fist up and down. The white mustached driver looks a little startled, then reaches up and gives the horizontal cord a quick pull. We cheer loudly and clap!!! It still works for a 20-something. Thank you, Grant Haulage, for such accommodating drivers!

A sweet break
A sweet break

Back in the city, Lonnie & I have our first visit to Tim Hortons. There are now Tim Hortons in the states, but we want to try it in Canada. I bite into a chocolate glazed donut. Hmm … it’s okay. I prefer a Shipley’s donut. I like to think that it was Shipley’s that ran Crispy Creme out of Houston. I probably prefer Shipley’s due to the fact that our dad would come home from an occasional all night mah jong game after the restaurant closed. If he did well, we might get a bit of his lucky money. Other times, he would bring home a white box of freshly glazed Shipley’s donuts and wake us up. It’s hard to beat a melt-in-your-mouth, still-warm Shipley’s!

Beet salad
Beet salad

Award-winning poutine
Award-winning poutine

French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup

 

For dinner, we go to Coquine, a restaurant recommended by a friend. My beet salad is very good. Lonnie’s $28 cod is not a generous serving, as our server claimed.

 

 

 

Our son enjoys his the most. He ordered French Onion Soup and … you guessed it, poutine!

 

 

 

 

 

Both have been voted Best of Toronto two years in a row. The poutine is especially tasty. The gravy includes a duck comfit and is rich and savory.

 

 

 

Back at the hotel, our son catches up on his social media while we go downstairs for dessert. The crème brulee is the best I’ve ever eaten! It’s creamy, rich with flavor and most importantly for me, not too sweet. If something is too sweet, you can miss the dish’s true flavor. Ah, the perfect end to a full day!

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People Travel Uncategorized

Day 44: Toronto

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marathon Cafe

 

Marathon Cafe is a typical no-frills place, but they have an award-winning milk tea and decent food. They offer western-style breakfasts with bacon, eggs & toast. They also offer Chinese noodle soups and dishes.

 

Rainy Toronto
Rainy Toronto

We do a lot of window shopping at Eaton Centre before going to their huge food court. It must have over 50 options! We go in three different directions and meet over Chinese, American and Indian dishes. Bellies full, time to drive by Casa Loma, the local castle. It’s taken over by multi-story scaffolding. Cross that out for another trip. It’s raining. Cross out the CN tower.

Nicely wrapped vegetables are so different from those in most U.S. Chinatowns
Nicely wrapped vegetables are so different from those in most U.S. Chinatowns

Roast pig with slivers of pickled vegetables
Roast pig with slivers of pickled vegetables

Thought we had ordered the Mayonnaise Shrimp ...
Thought we had ordered the Mayonnaise Shrimp …

 

 

 

To the biggest of the five Toronto Chinatowns, the one downtown. Canadian Chinatowns are the cleanest!

 

 

 

 

Then, to the House of Gourmet Seafood BBQ and Noodle Restaurant. It’s packed with Asians, a good sign.

 

 

 

 

Again, we order in English, are misunderstood and get a different dish than expected. Still, the food is flavorful.

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People Travel Uncategorized

Day 43: Montreal, Toronto

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yesterday, a lovely Dutch woman greeted me in her native language at breakfast. Today, I try to repeat it and I mangle it badly. The man next to her smiles and repeats it. I do better the second try. He invites me to join them. I do! They are brother and sister, in for their older brother’s 50th wedding anniversary. They show me a photo of a happy group and we share family stories.

WelcomInns Hotel has a simple and nicely presented continental breakfast
WelcomInns Hotel has a simple and nicely presented continental breakfast

WelcomINNS is a simple, clean hotel that has a simple breakfast. The difference from the average American hotel that has complimentary breakfast is the way guests are treated. There are bright white tablecloths, silverware, ceramic mugs, juice glasses and trays to carry everything. The petite blonde who maintains the dining room greets everyone with, “Bonjour!” and a sunny smile. She hums as she bustles about stocking foods and condiments and cleaning off tables. A co-worker pops in to get a muffin and stays to help her re-stock some supplies, cheerfully chatting away in French. You can tell this hotel has great team chemistry!

Our sweet daughter has been calling us throughout the trip to see how we are doing. It is good to hear her voice.

I do not do well connecting with tweeters on this trip. @AnnTran_ , @earthxplorer @DanielHebert, all a miss! They agreed to meet with me, but it always depends on schedules. Ann Tran had just returned from hosting a tweet-up in Maui, Hawaii. She hosted a tweet-up in Washington, D.C., her home base, that Thursday. I had planned to attend, but we were still in Virginia. Then, she was playing catch-up when I was free. She tweeted me later to see how I was doing. What a lovely person! She has over 350,000 followers and still makes time to connect one-on-one. J.D. Andrews, was exploring the earth in Paris when I came to Miami, but took time to wish me safe travels. Daniel Hebert was coming back home to Kingston, Ontario but I couldn’t be sure when we’d be going through that day. Oh, well … there’s a reason for everything that happens and I accept that.

Montreal's underground shopping experience
Montreal’s underground shopping experience

Everyone’s back from their Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, so it’s harder to find a parking space. We ask for directions to a tunnel entrance and a kind woman walks us to the nearest one! It’s a BIG underground system and we go to the area with lots of shopping. (Most of the businesses provide services for the downtown workers: eateries, cleaners, convenience stores, shoe repair, etc.)

One of Montreal's underground eateries
One of Montreal’s underground eateries

Eureka! After looking for the past two years, I find my winter jacket! Most quilted jackets make me look like the Michelin Man – puffy. Or, they are short ones. I want one that gives a little more coverage. This one does that. It’s on sale and its slim-fit sillouette doesn’t make me look like a marshmallow. Happy, happy!

 

Biodome's version of the Antarctic
Biodome’s version of the Antarctic

We enter the Biodome. It reminds me of Galveston’s Moody Gardens. The dome houses everything, whereas Moody Gardens’ three pyramids are separate buildings.

A beaver chews wood in the North American wilderness
A beaver chews wood in the North American wilderness

The five ecosystems represented in the Biodome are rich in animal life and flora & fauna.

Leap frog!
Leap frog!

We’re too old for the kids’ activities, so we make our own!

Tour the Biodome with us!

Toronto, here we come!
Toronto, here we come!

Tonight we lay our heads in Toronto. We’ll be based at the Delta the next three nights. It’s near the Markham Chinatown and is a former Radisson. It could use some updating, but right off the bat, I love it here – there’s a big view of the city lights, recycle trash bins, soft beds with fluffy pillow tops and a separate switch for the bathroom fan!

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Events Travel Uncategorized

Day 42: Montreal

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In the car, we listen to the CD of an older man who sang on the boardwalk yesterday. He sang French songs beautifully, but only had American songs on the CD. Our son can’t stop laughing as the man used an over-the-top Louis Armstrong voice in ALL of his songs!

Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

Even with the GPS, we take a wrong turn and finally figure out how to get back on track. We visit the visitor’s center on Rue Notre Dame and get a walking map of notable landmarks. We view many, including Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. In the chapel at the back of the basilica, world renown songstress, Celine Dion, was wed.

Notre-Dame Basilica chapel
Notre-Dame Basilica chapel

Lighting a candle in the basilica
Lighting a candle in the basilica

Inside Notre-Dame Basilica
Inside Notre-Dame Basilica

Restaurant Oh! Dumplings
Restaurant Oh! Dumplings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My son pops into Restaurant Oh! Dumplings for a quick snack on the run. He says it’s, “Oh-kay.”

Les 3 Basseurs
Les 3 Basseurs

 

 

 

Lunch at Les 3 Brasseurs (The 3 Brewers) was alright. My goat cheese flatbread was good. Lonnie’s schnitzel with bratwurst was average. Our son’s beer-battered poutine was good.

Decorated pumpkins take over the Botanical Garden greenhouse!
Decorated pumpkins take over the Botanical Garden greenhouse!

 

 

Tonight, we go to the Montreal Botannical Garden. We visit the greenhouse and Insectarium first and are disappointed to have not gone to the Mosiacultures Internationales first!

Unusual insects such as this lovely winged specimen fill the Insectarium
Unusual insects such as this lovely winged specimen fill the Insectarium

A sad fact ...
A sad fact …

Watch out!
Watch out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosiacultures Internationales is winding down, with exhibits being dismantled.

Love is all around
Love is all around

Catch a ride!
Catch a ride!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada 3We walk over to view The Magic of Lanterns. Hundreds of handmade silk lanterns from China illuminate the Chinese Garden. This year’s theme is “The First Emperor’s Procession.”Canada 1

Canada 4

In the teahouse, a talented performer creates magic!

Meat lovers could be happy here!
Meat lovers could be happy here!

For dinner, our son takes us to a friend’s recommendation, Schwartz’s Deli. It has got to be the best meat sandwich I’ve ever had! Must be the authentic atmosphere and teasing waiters. It was special enough to have a musical made of it. For a quick dessert, a walk over to Ripples to enjoy Mint Oreo and Cardamon ice cream! My cardamon scoops are chock full of nuts – pistachio, almond, etc. and tiny bits of savory cardamon. It was great at the beginning, but a bit strong toward the end. A good choice for something different and a piquant end to a satisfying day out!

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iPhoneography Travel Uncategorized

Day 41: Quebec City, Montreal

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mapping out Quebec City
Mapping out Quebec City

 

We head for Old Quebec City, a designated United Nations World Heritage Site. By foot is the best way to see what is purported to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We park at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and take a short walk through the lovely historic hotel. My early-to-rise husband is right. We always get out of the hotel too late to make the tours. Our son and I say it’s vacation and we shouldn’t have to get up at 7am. So, we wander the streets with maps in hand, drinking in the atmosphere of days gone by.

Quebec style Crusty Cheese sandwich!
Quebec style Crusty Cheese sandwich!

 

Lunch at Le Petit Coin Latin is a simple, yet quite enjoyable experience. My spinach lasagna is good, but Baby Boy’s deliciously Crusty Cheese (with thinly sliced mushrooms) sandwich is better!

 French is a beautiful, melodic language. Everywhere, we are greeted with a delightful “Bonjour.”

The narrow cobbled streets with their colorful shops are so inviting. The city draws me in to discover a quaint gift shop or the perfect chocolate bite!

There are wonderful art galleries to explore. Along Dufferin Terrace you can see so many parts of the city.

Picturesque Old Quebec
Picturesque Old Quebec

 

On a drizzly afternoon, staring out across the St. Lawrence River is calming. It’s like an old French village painting. Striding along, we check off the Fortification of Quebec, Dufferin Terrace, Place Royal and a little urban park, presumably the Plains of Abraham. There are more on the list we don’t get to, but I don’t mind.

On watch over the St. Lawrence River
On watch over the St. Lawrence River

 

 

 

No need to rush around like crazy people so we can say we saw all those things. We can see more on the next trip here. More important is the time we have with our son, enjoying the moment.

 

 

 

Montreal foliage
Montreal foliage

 

 

 

We’re off to Montreal! There seems to be more fall foliage here than in Maine.

 

 

We have diinner at a Portuguese restaurant with nice white tablecloths and a quiet atmosphere. Should have Yelp’d and Tripadvisor’d it. The complimentary olives were a nice appetizer, but the paella was mediocre and the pork dish was a little tough. Just shows that a presentable full service restaurant does not always equate good food. Should have gone to the casual poutine place that had high marks and roasted chicken. Still, we’re here in Montreal and lovin’ it!

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Travel

Day 39: Boston, Portland, Freeport, Belfast Harbor

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It’s 60° and overcast. We’re back in Boston. Our son caught a bus in this morning. We pick him up in Chinatown and go for lunch at Gourmet Dumpling. We share a table with two strangers, which is a common practice in popular Chinese restaurants. The positive about this place – it’s filled with Asians so it must be good. The negative – if you don’t speak their dialect, your order in English might be misinterpreted and you get a wrong order (a 15 minute longer wait for us!). It was a decent meal. For a snack on the road, my husband picks up Chinese pastries (a beef curry bun, several char shew bows and don tot) from the bakery next to the restaurant. Our son goes down to another to get his favorite, Char Shew Bow (bao). We compare. The bow, a bun filled with Chinese style barbequed pork in a savory sauce, from the first bakery is not baked in the signature red barbeque sauce. It’s more like the pork is boiled and dunked in brown sauce with little bits of chopped fat added. Hmmph! Bow from the second bakery is better. They mix red tinged barbequed pork with regular pork in a thick sauce. To me, they are not true bows like we get in New York and Houston.

Bite Into Maine food truckYaay!!! Baby Boy rides shotgun so I can snooze/read/write in the back seat! He plays Navigator for Lonnie while I work on a blog entry and gaze occasionally at the passing scenes. Our son’s app finds an award-winning food truck, Bite Into Maine, known for their lobster rolls! The truck is in Fort Williams Park.

Portland Head Light

 

 

 

It’s by the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine.  I think it’s so cool that in 1787, George Washington directed this lighthouse to be built!

 

 

 

Sea winds make it easy for children flying kites in Fort Williams Park
Sea winds make it easy for children flying kites in Fort Williams Park

 

 

It’s a beautiful scene and a little strange to see a food truck there. I forego a lobster roll to rush down and take as many photos as possible.

 

Enjoying lobster stew on the back deck of Portland Lobster Co.
Enjoying lobster stew on the back deck of Portland Lobster Co.

 

 

 

Next, our son guides us to Commercial Street to check out the local trends. We split up and I go straight for a tasty cup of Lobster Stew! As Rachel Ray would say, “Yum-O!”

 

 

 

 

I got the green mini photo album propped up of Maine moments!
I got the green mini photo album propped up of Maine moments!

 

Enjoying the moment. I pick up a handmade mini photo art book by local photographer Anna Karlina Peplowski. On to Freeport and the L.L.Bean stores! Lonnie has been looking forward to seeing the 24 hour store. We get there and I decide the jackets are too puffy for me. I am also not into plaid and oxford shirts, so I save my money.

Time for a reno!
Time for a reno!

 

It’s pretty late when we arrive in Belfast Harbor, to a quiet little inn by the bay. It sorely needs a major renovation, but maybe that’s supposed to be the charm of the area. It’s the first room on the trip that has two entries, to the inside hall and to the parking lot. It’s also the first one to have a separate switch for a bathroom fan. I love good circulation! We eat left over dim sum. The Salt & Pepper Chicken Wings taste just as good as the others we ate in the restaurant!

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Travel Uncategorized

Day 38: Gloucester, Rockport, Bear Skin Neck, Manchester-by-the-Sea

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gloucester, MassachusettsGloucester, Massachusetts is America’s oldest seaport. It’s the setting for the book, “The Perfect Storm”, a real life storm that hit Cape Ann in 1991 and caused massive destruction all along the coast. (George Clooney starred in the movie version of the book.) We stop by the visitors center and I find a thick sweatshirt with Cape Ann, Massachusetts embroidered on it for $25. That’s a good deal and it helps the center too! We decide to take a chance and go by Gorton’s Seafood and ask if there’s a tour. The nice lady at the desk says they no longer give tours and hands me a little bag of goodies – Gorton’s coupons, Gorton’s magnet and a fish shaped toggle clip. I’ll take it!

Seaport Grille
Seaport Grille

When asked for suggestions for a good local restaurant, she recommends the $10 lobster roll at Seaport Grille. It’s away from the main tourist area and by the bay. She says it’s s-o-o-o good! We get there and miss the $9.95 Lobster Roll special by a day. Friday is $9.95 Fish Taco Day. Wanna see someone sulk?!? My husband is so upset! His taste buds were all set for a mouthwatering lobster roll with all the trimmings for less than $10. That’s on top of not finding the restaurant that has a double lobster deal. Poor baby. So, if you’re going through Gloucester on a Thursday, check out the $9.95 Lobster Roll!

 

This Rockport crafter stitches between sales at the Pink Armor, a shop specializing in handmade gifts
This Rockport crafter stitches between sales at the Pink Armor, a shop specializing in handmade gifts

 

 

Rockport is nice and Bear Skin Neck has an interesting name, but Manchester-by-the-Sea is my favorite of the three towns.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Manchester-by-the-Sea
Manchester-by-the-Sea

It’s cozy. The cove is smaller and easily accessed from several different vantage points. There is an abundance of art galleries that makes me wish I’d packed my watercolors! The narrow streets that lead up to the water create anticipation for the glorious views that will unfold! So far on this trip, today has been the most beautiful for me.

 

Courtyard by Marriott                                                            A huge platter of cookies and coffee greet us as we arrive at the Courtyard by Marriot.  Some of the Marriotts we have stayed at on the trip have recylce bins, but not so this one. 😦   Still, it is a lovely room. I swear the curtains are the same as the ones at the Courtyard in Coconut Grove!

We Yelp the list the front desk gives us and drive five minutes to Garrison’s. A big Friday night dinner crowd is waiting. We’re tired. We look across the street and see a Wendy’s. Hmm … let’s go! We happily munch on crispy salads and small sandwiches. To my salad I add the tortilla chips and nuts that they provide and make my chicken sandwich lighter by removing the top bun. This is the first time on the trip that we eat fast food and it’s the perfect light dinner!

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Travel Uncategorized

Day 37: Boston

Thursday,  October 10, 2013 

We fill up on a hot breakfast before heading out. As we enter Boston, the traffic becomes congested. So different from the rolling hills and easy traffic of New Hampshire. We see parking garages charging $24 for two hours and more. Lonnie hits his EasyPark app and finds one for $20 for all day. We get there and realize they are repairing the entrance and everyone is using the exit for both ways! It’s a block from Chinatown with easy access to other areas. I say, “Go for it, Honey!” Talk about living dangerously! We have to honk before each concrete curve up the parking garage and a couple of times we or the vehicle coming down will have to back up to let the other pass. At the curve, many of the cars have no business squeezing into a small slot at the end, causing great concern as we carefully negotiate around jutting bumpers. “Whew!” We make it up to the top of the 8 level garage. When we tell the guys downstairs our harrowing drive up, one says matter-of-factly, “We all need a little excitement in our lives.”

It's still here!
It’s still here!

We eat at the restaurant we’d eaten at about 15 years ago on a family trip with the New York cousins.

Then, we go by Fanueil Hall and walk the Holocaust Memorial. So poignant …

The Holocaust Memorial is easily accessible to everyone
The Holocaust Memorial is easily accessible to everyone

The horror ...
The horror …

Please remember ...
Please remember …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of things to see and we just wander around, drinking in the atmosphere.

Samuel Adams watches over present day Boston
Samuel Adams watches over present day Boston

1847 Custom House finds new life as a Marriott hotel
1847 Custom House finds new life as a Marriott hotel

Board of Trade Building embellishments
Board of Trade Building embellishments

Residence Inn by Marriott
Residence Inn by Marriott

We settle in at the Residence Inn by Marriott. It’s a new experience as we haven’t booked at an extended stay hotel before. This is wonderful! We’ve stayed at plenty of Marriott properties on this trip. The Fairfield Inns by Marriott are not up to my expectations of what a Marriott property should be. The Courtyards by Marriott have lovely decors and nice touches. The larger Marriotts have been a lovely experience. But, this Residence Inn would be my choice when we settle down for a bit in Houston between trips. A full kitchen holds dishes, silverware and pots needed to cook meals. And, they have a recycle bin! No cooking this trip as we head to Legal Seafood to see if it tastes as good as it did 15 years ago! Our server is friendly and professional, but my lobster bisque is a BIG disappointment.  A few small pieces of lobster in a pinkish bisque that had no seafood flavor … this one of the very few times I don’t polish off my soup. Lonnie’s seafood platter came out lukewarm. When we brought it to their attention, they made a new platter, hot broccoli included and comped his order. So, however we feel about the quality, Legal Seafood stands behind their food and will make it right!

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People Travel Uncategorized

Day 36: Cavendish, Manchester

Wednesday,  October 9, 2013

Vt. Apple Pie Co.There aren’t a lot of restaurants around, but someone mentions Vermont Apple Pie for breakfast. We recognize the couple at the next table as being at the hotel last night. We strike up a conversation. Another table comes in. They join in on the conversation. A fourth table is seated and asks if we all know each other before jumping into the lively conversations floating around. One of the diners impresses me. He’s 78 years old and used to ski in the area. A couple of weeks ago, he bought skis and will be taking to the slopes this winter! (His wife voiced her concerns with a “What can I do?” shrug.) Lonnie’s breakfast is fine and my breakfast quiche is pretty good. Hmmm … apple pie after a full breakfast? Well, that’s what the place is named for, so we order Apple Pie a la Mode. Another hmmm. Let’s just say that if the pie is not freshly baked or has not been re-heated in the oven to crisp up the crust, microwaving it is not a good way to go.

Sharon, Vermont visitors center houses a Living Machine Center with a 360° view of the fall foliage!
Sharon, Vermont visitors center houses a Living Machine Center with a 360° view of the fall foliage!

Behind the center, visitors are encouraged to sit back and enjoy the view
Behind the center, visitors are encouraged to sit back and enjoy the view

 

When we reach Vermont, it’s time to go by a visitors center. Sharon, Vermont has an interesting one. It has a Living Machine System (with a glorious view of the countryside). There are two tanks – an anaerobic (without oxygen) reactor and a biosolids holding tank.

 

 

The man at the front desk says on Father’s Day, in the valley below, there’s a hot air balloon festival. When they launch, a magnificent mass of brilliantly colored balloons gently rise up past the center!

 

 

Rock of Ages quarry

 

Rock of Ages quarry is a short stop. We go to the visitors center first to watch a video about the history of the quarry before walking across to the visitors’ platform in the factory. The video is interesting, but it’s really an infomercial. We don’t make time to visit Hope Cemetery to see the granite car, soccer ball, etc.  Maybe the next trip around.

Love the tasting tables!
Love the tasting tables!

 

 

 

On to take the Ben & Jerry’s tour and drop by Cabot Cheese. I especially enjoy trying more types of cheeses than the ones I usually buy in Sugar Land.

 

 

 

We'll be waking up on the bright side tomorrow!
We’ll be waking up on the bright side tomorrow!

Arriving at the LaQuinta in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re pleasantly surprised. The last LaQuinta (New Haven) was the worst LQ we’ve experienced on this trip. Happily, this one was renovated in 2011 after its purchase. It has had at least five owners and was a neglected child in the Clarion family. LaQuinta came in and changed everything! Along with a cheerful, professional staff, it was awarded a 2013 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence. It’s also the #2 LQ in the East Region. (One of my very favorite LQs is in Aurora, Colorado!)

The front desk gives us a list of area restaurants and we Yelp the Red Arrow Diner before heading over. It seats maybe 25. It opened in 1922 and besides a short break, has continued to serve the surrounding community. The third owner created an interesting menu. It even has a favorite of Guy Fieri’s. My husband’s Chicken Fried Steak has a cream gravy with sausage bits. He says the sausage doesn’t overpower the other flavors and it’s good! My Turkey & Rice soup has lots of vegetables, so it’s a pretty balanced meal. Red Arrow Diner has a really nice way of welcoming newcomers. If they find out it’s your first visit, they have a surprise for you! It involves the whole diner and includes a small commemorative memento. Come visit and feel the love!

Categories
Travel

Day 32: New York – Subway music, dim sum and a surprise party

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lonnie & I take the train to visit relatives in Flushing.  There are many stops along the way.

One stop entertainers!

Usually we see street musicians and subway musicians, so we are surprised to see (what I assume are) three Mexican musicians hop onto the train along the route.  They play enthusiastically all the way to the next stop and quickly exit!

Dim sum cart
Dim sum cart

 

 

The relatives take us to dim sum in Flushing.  The food is delicious and the restaurant is impressive.  All the columns around the very large dining room turn the same color at the same time – lavender, blue, pink, etc.

 I notice that their Chinatown looks busier than the one in the city.  Cousin explains that after 9/11, many of the Chinatown businesses moved out of the city.  

 

 

 

Flushing’s Chinatown is a thriving community and very busy on a Saturday. 

Just one of the many places Aunt took us!We visit various Asian markets on the way to Cousin’s house.  Everyone follows Aunt as she goes through, picking and choosing the best thinly sliced beef, vegetables, lobsters, tofu, crystal noodles, fish and shrimp balls, etc.  All will go into a hotpot dinner – yum!  We go by a couple of bakeries.  Aunt says they have the best char shew bow and other savory pastries.  We can snack on them late afternoon as dinner will be quite late – some relatives are coming after a long work day.

We aren’t home too long before relatives start coming.  Loud greetings and big hugs ensue.  The calm afternoon morphs into a noisy evening.  Latecomers arrive and steaming hotpots are brought to the table, ready for quick immersions.  Small mesh ladles are loaded with raw ingredients to dip into the roiling broth.  Shrimp and fish balls dance about as they are pushed aside to make room for several ladles at one time.

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!

Surprise!  A cake and butcher knife come out, wrapped presents appear and we celebrate an upcoming event!  “Happy birthday, Cousin Eva!”

What makes the meal so enjoyable is the love that glows within, the give and take conversations of a close-knit family.  So nice to be here to soak all this up!

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iPhoneography Travel Uncategorized

Day 30: New York – Mobile Marketing Trends, BonChon, The Metropolitan Museum

Thursday,  October 3, 2013

"Thank you, Ryan and Stephanie!!!"
“Thank you, Ryan and Stephanie!!!”

 

 

We visit our son’s office. His very sweet co-workers present me with flowers that remind me of Texas!

 

 

We also meet our son’s boss, a mobile marketing guru.  I can’t let the opportunity pass without asking for an interview!  Twelve years ago, he brought music libraries (ringtones) to America.  In last month’s Mobile Media Summit in New York, he sat on several panels.  He shares his views on the omnichannel, his top three apps, The Internet of Things, tips for marketing students and more:

BonChon crispy goodness!
BonChon crispy goodness!

 

Afterward, we have lunch with a cousin at BonChon, a restaurant specializing in Korean fried chicken.  BonChon is Korean for “My hometown” and has become a very successful international franchise.  The chicken is deliciously crispy and flavorful!

                                                                                                                    We walk off the lunch by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Massive displays and fabulous collections make for an enriching experience.

Art 3

Funery items of a wife of Thutmose III
Funery items of a wife of Thutmose III

Art1Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking back, I see the wide entrance to a period building.  It’s the Ukrainian Institute.  It seems familiar.  I believe I’ve seen a write-up about the building.  There’s a 20th Century Art Collection on display until October 18.  By now, I’m dying to see the inside and tell my husband we can squeeze in another exhibit.  It is eye-catching and has a beautiully preserve quiet beauty.  Oh, the stories I can imagine it could tell!

Ukrainian InstituteUkrainian Institute 1Ukrainian Institute 2

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Food Travel Uncategorized

Day 26: New York! New York!

Sunday,  September 29, 2013

Our son leaves early to wait in line for seats to the noon service at Hillsong NYC.  His girlfriend comes by to take us to the subway and show us how to buy metro week passes.  We three hop on the subway and head out.  Hillsong NYC is an offshoot of the original Australian church.  The New York congregation meets at different venues around the city.  From what I understand, they want to make it easy for those who don’t normally attend church to do so in familiar surroundings.  We must be at the contemporary service.  Today’s worship service is in a nightclub.  It’s different, seeing the lighting system beam color all around, the bright tones bouncing off a large mirror ball hanging from the ceiling.  Our son saved seats in the balcony as he knew the music would be too loud for us downstairs.  The message is about forgiveness, something we can all relate to.  

Baby Boy takes us to sample Joey’s Pepperoni Pizza’s $1 slice of cheese pizza.  Lonnie pays a buck more for meat.  I prefer cheese and am glad I did!  Then, we go to Baohaus to sample their baos.

Baohaus creations
Baohaus creations

If I haven’t mentioned it before, a bao is the breading that goes around a filling.  It’s usually savory.  The bao could be folded like a taco shell or shaped like a round bun with filling inside.  Baohaus is one of the original bao places that started in New York a few years ago.  My fried tofu bao has plenty of sauce and crusted peanuts. I’m not a fan of braised pork belly.  Though I seldom eat pork belly, I like it crispy.

Fat Bao's Crab Daddy - soft shell crab with spicy mayo and Asian slaw
Fat Bao’s Crab Daddy – soft shell crab with spicy mayo and Asian slaw

My favorite place for Chinese buns in Houston is Fat Bao.  It’s good and they have created some interesting combinations.  Their Fat Fries is a favorite – fries with a topping of bulgogi beef or pork belly.  And, Fat Bao has complimentary cucumber infused water!

We go by Union Square and laze around in the sun, eating our baos and soaking in the sounds of musicians on the stage and tourists milling about.

“Family” joins us and we go to a local bakery, Eileen’s Special Cheesecake.  Yum!  So light and not too sweet –  my kinda cake!

Foo Kee Seafood Restaurant
Foo Kee Seafood Restaurant

At night, it’s a multi-course dinner with family at Foo Kee Seafood Restaurant in Flushing.  The meal is delicious!  If you haven’t noticed by now, our family and friends consider it their duty to stuff us to the gills when we come visiting.  They will often greet guests with “Have you eaten?” and proceed to push food on you, whether you just ate or not!

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Travel Uncategorized

Day 21: Virginia

Tuesday,  September 24, 2013

Our friend, the walking encyclopedia, gives us a history lesson on the way through Shenandoah National Park.  We will be missing all the apple festivals in Virginia.  The area’s festival promotes vintage apples, like the species that Thomas Jefferson developed.  The October festival sells varieties of heirloom apples to encourage local growers to preserve them by continuing to grow them.  The first apple originated in what is now Afghanistan.  If I remember correctly, it was later noted that one, the Golden Pippin, was the only apple the French Emperor would eat. A light comes on and our friend pulls out the owner’s manual, tells us we have low tire pressure.  The young woman at Boyce Service Center checks the tires and says they’re fine – it’s possible the spare is getting low.  Tires these days have wireless pressure sensors built into the tire that can send out a signal to the car’s system if there’s a problem.  I will say, if you are ever going through Boyce, Viriginia and need a pit stop, Boyce Service Center has a clean restroom.  As the only female there, the young woman says she cleans it every day! Here are some sights as we drive through the park.  The perfect opportunity to see  Two friendsteeming wildlife on a glorious SeptemIMG_9232ber day. Gimlet Ridge Overlook Pass Mountain OverlookHogback OverlookThen, we have lunch in Luray before touring the caverns.  Uncle Buck’s restaurant had decent food, but we had to wait quite a while before it came out.  Found out that the owner came in and wanted lunch, first.  Hmm.. Luray watersWe tour the caverns and hear the usual story of discovery.  The guide then reveals the mystery of finding bones of a young girl, fossilized into the stone.  How could anyone have entered the cavern?  The opening was too small.  And there were only a few bones.  Where are the rest of them?  You’ll have to take the tour to get our guide’s take on what might have happened. Luray caverns vet memorialWe’ve been to Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas, but there is no fallen stalagtite as huge as the one here!  During the tour, we come upon a tribute to locals who went off to war and perished.  I also found it interesting that there is an organ on the cavern floor.  How enterprising.  They book parties down here.  Luray 3-wheeler

Our tickets also get us into the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum next door.  There are some good displays of Rolls Royces, milk trucks, etc.Luray speedster

Owning one of the few automobiles of the time, feeling the open air whizzing by as one tooled down the open road must have been exhilarating!

We start for home.  Pit stop when we fill up at the Mobil station at 63 West 14th St. in Front Royal.  Horror of horrors!!!  There’s no inside restroom, just a port-a-can on the side of the building. Yuck!!! Yuck!!! Yuck!!! Well, that aside, it’s been a long but enjoyable day.

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Travel Uncategorized

Day 20: Virginia

Monday,  September 23, 2013

Dave's Seafood & Subs' soft-shelled fried crabs with handmade onion rings
Dave’s Seafood & Subs’
soft-shelled fried crabs with handmade onion rings

We eat lunch with a friend at Dave’s Seafood & Subs.  Loved their fried crab sandwich!  The batter on the onion rings stays put, no sliding here!  There’s also a stop at Willard’s BBQ to take brisket to another friend.  Willard’s has the closest thing to Texas style ribs and brisket!

Mom's Apple Pie shop in Leesburg, VA. sells more than apples!
Mom’s Apple Pie shop in Leesburg, VA. sells more than apples!

We spend several days with another friend.  He missed some things about Texas: Blue Bell ice cream that is made in Brenham and is slowly working it’s way through the states.  His favs are Butter Pecan and Condensed Milk.  Mine are any of the Blue Bell Vanillas and Cantaloupe!  He also misses Holmes Pecan Smoked Sausage.

He takes us to his favorite pie place.  We picked a pecan pie made with brown sugar.  Very good.

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Day 13: Orlando

Monday,  September 16, 2013

We have lunch with another old friend.  That’s two hours of reminiscing and trying to out-do each other at having senior moments.  His son works for Universal and he offers to get us in.  We thank him and tell him we’ve “Been there, done that” with kids.  We need to get some things done before dinner.

After the show with my old boss, Cam!
After the show with my old boss, Cam!

I look forward to seeing my old boss again!  She and her husband meet us for the “Outta Control Comedy Show” at Wonderworks.  It’s an endless stream of popcorn, salad, pizza and beverages as we enjoy catching up on each other’s lives and former co-workers we still see.  The television station we worked at is a smaller one and many of us interacted and often socialized away from work.

Outta Control Comedy Show host sets a $20 on fire!
Outta Control Comedy Show host sets a $20 on fire!

I will say this about the comedian/magician – not only was he hilarious, but he patiently worked with a young audience member who had a disability.  The maybe 12 year-old could not stay focused and would wander around the stage looking at things.  The magician would call him back many times and coach him to do the few steps needed to complete the illusion.  It was a “feel good moment” when everyone cheered the young man.

The Best Western Plus in Orlando could use a renovation, though it is close to activities and has one of my favorite pluses – double sinks!  They had 5 sets of towels for us and the “Clean” TV remotes, designed to be easily wiped down.  I wipe down every hotel remote we use as they are the germiest items in hotel rooms!  

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Travel Uncategorized

Day 12: West Palm Beach

Sunday,  September 15, 2013

We have so much to be grateful for on this trip – new experiences, learning to blend together better as a team, meeting so many interesting people.  So, I was very happy to be going to church service with a childhood friend!  Pastor Ron delivered the message well.  He also made a comment that more churches should encourage their members to do:  “Embrace visitors.  Let family and friends sit elsewhere.  They’ll forgive you.  Visitors won’t forget.”  I also learned that there is a dengue fever outbreak up the coast.  They prayed for that situation and many others.  How comforting!

During the greeting each other part of service, the woman next to me asked if I was a member.  Told her “No,” that we were on a seven week trip.  The moment service concluded, she turned to me, grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “It’s so good to meet fellow travelers!”  That started off a full ten minute discourse on the joys and challenges of travel.  Mary and Warren had recently returned from one of their trips and gave us plenty of advice on Canada.  Mary said one of her favorite places is the Bay of Fundy, located near Nova Scotia.  It is renowned for having the highest tides on the planet, reaching up to 53 feet.  Two times each day, one hundred billion tons of sea water flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy.  Because of that, it forms an exciting and varied marine ecosystem.

Even though we’re touring the West Coast at another time, Mary raved about Alaska.  The first of May is when they leave Florida for Alaska.  In Alaska, Fred Meyer stores are traveler friendly.  Mary says if you have a camper, you can park in their parking lot up to three days.  They have a concierge for the people staying in the parking lot.  That person will greet them and direct them to free morning coffee.  I hope that’s still true by the time we get there.  My husband, at one time, wanted us to travel in an RV.  I nixed that when I reminded him if he ever became sick, I wouldn’t be able to drive as I can’t reach its pedals.  Mary recommended a camper truck because:

There were limited places that they could take their RV and gas usage is very large.

It’s no problem to drive a camper truck.

If you get a camper truck, they recommend you have a shower installed.

Get at least a 2000 watt water generator.

Don’t go to Alaska with a pop-up camper – go for the hard top.

The car ferry price will be the same as an average car.

Fun things to do:

Arkansas has the 911-acre Crater of Diamonds State Park.  Where else can you publicly mine real diamonds?!?  They’re always discovering diamonds in the field, including the world’s only perfect diamond ever discovered, the Strawn-Wagner Diamond.[1].  If you go, there are three stategies: dig, sift, stroll.  Digging in the hard soil is pretty difficult.  Warren prefers just strolling around as the fields are plowed often.

Mary advises talking to locals.  They were at an Amish yard sale in Pennsylvania when they were invited to go down the street for a wine tasting at the local vineyard.  Adventures are all around us!

For lunch, our friend took us to the Singing Bamboo for dim sum.  It was delicious!  I miss Houston’s many choices of Chinese restaurants.  One, Fat Bao, is focused on the bao, a bread bun or folded bread with different fillings.  When we get home, I want to try the (ahi?) tuna tacos.  They’re pricey and I heard baos are half the cost in N.Y.  We’ll be there in a few days!

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Travel

Day 10: Miami, Fort Lauderdale

Friday,  September 13, 2013

We drive over to South Beach.  Finding parking on the streets is impossible so we go to the public parking garage.  What a deal, only $1 an hour!

Yummy spinach at Pizza Rustica!
Yummy spinach at Pizza Rustica!

We book a bus & boat tour and go next door to Pizza Rustica, 9th and Washington, for a quick lunch before the tour.  My spinach pie is delicious!  My husband’s is just as tasty.

The gigantic Cuban cigar one exile will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.
The gigantic Cuban cigar one exile will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.

One of the tour stops is Little Havana.  The cigar shop we visit is owned by a Cuban exile.  Our tour guide shows us the humongous cigar the owner will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.

An Azucar employee scoops up a big helping of Cuban Flan ice cream!
An Azucar employee scoops up a big helping of Cuban Flan ice cream!

Further down the sidewalk, I see people coming out of Azucar ice cream parlor.  Went in and asked for something different from the others.  He goes back into the kitchen and brings out a metal container of creaminess. Out of the shop I walk, luscious Cuban Flan ice cream in hand!