Posted in My Travels

New Orleans 2019 Day 3

Onto Day 3…

My husband had to be at the convention center at a decent hour, early but late enough to feel like he slept in.  He left me with a kiss on the forehead quietly, leaving me to sleep, and sleep I did!  I can party like a rockstar, I just can’t recover like one. By the time I got out of the room it was too late for breakfast, so I skipped coffee and took a walk to a place that I had wanted to check out, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Restaurant. It was just a block from the hotel, which was a perfect distance away as I was not feeling all that great.

Lucy’s is set up with a SoCal surfer bar theme with a California-Mexican menu.  Which is why I wanted to go check it out.  I LOVE MEXICAN FOOD! The cooking smells along my walk over were detected from the crosswalk, super good.  I walked in to find the place thumping; filled with lots of people, which was a bit much for my head at that moment, so I opted to be seated outside in the sunshine.  It wasn’t just quieter out there, but being in the warm sun was exactly what I needed to start to feel restored.  I wanted to eat chips -n- salsa and chug water, but thought I needed a more comforting feel for my empty belly.  So, I ordered a chicken quesadilla appetizer. While waiting for my meal, I decided to do more research of fun places to check out while I people watched.

When my appetizer arrived I was pretty surprised at how large it was.  And it being for just myself, it was a lot; especially, without my husband, the human garbage disposal. haha   MY LORD.  It was the best quesadilla that I have ever had. THE BEST.  The ingredients were super fresh.  The combination of cheeses all melted together with the crispy grilled, yet juicy, marinated chicken made me so happy. Yummm, it was just a joy to eat all of the gooeyness. With the first bite I started to feel a lot better. Sometimes you need greasy foods to get over a hangover. Yes, I was pretty hung, kids. hahah I ended up sitting there for a while, enjoying the sights while putting a big dent in that meal.

I had planned on going for a walk around the area after eating, but as soon as I paid for the bill, I decided that going back to the room was probably best. I felt like I needed water and rest.

Before I knew it, I was in our room passed out. Yes, I napped. I woke up feeling amazing, though!  I jumped up out of bed and started to get ready for our night out.  My husband happened to call just as I was pulling my clothes together to let me know that he was leaving the convention center, walking back to the hotel.  He was so happy to hear that I was feeling well, and that I napped.  I don’t normally nap.

Our plan for the night was to attend the closing celebrations for the convention, which started at the National World War II Museum then moved to Ogden Museum then the Contemporary Art Center.  All in one block radius.  Before heading to the celebrations we were meeting up with a friend of his for dinner, it was one of his colleagues and my best pal from the night before. haha

My husband and I headed down to meet up with our friend to eat near the museum in the Warehouse District at Cochon Butcher, which is known for great local food. And guess what? It was sofahking good!!  The place is inspired by a butcher shop, has a bar, and decked out in Star Wars and comic book memorabilia.  Super fun aesthetic to the place.  The food smells great inside. It is a very low-key order and sit, cafeteria style, place. We ordered drinks, a beer for our friend, a Kiss from a Rose for me, and an artisan cherry cola for my husband. My husband and friend both got the beer beef with mac n cheese and I got a BLT, of course.  I will never pass up a BLT, and, definitely never from a place like Cochon Butcher!!  Everything was delicious. My husband’s dish was cooked perfectly and was so comforting. The bacon in my sandwich was that thick cut savory goodness we all dream of. Like I am dreaming of now.

Mmmm. Bacon.

After downing all the goodness and gossiping about all the debauchery from the night before, we took off on foot for the museum. It was a quick ten minute walk over, which we all needed. We got to the rockin’ location happy and full. The place was a buzz of museum people outside. The whole venue was lit up and most of the party was held outside.

We had a quick drink as we grabbed tickets to see their 4D show, Beyond All Boundaries, for 8:30PM.  Since we had some time, we started to make our way through the exhibit halls by way of the Road to Berlin then Road to Tokyo.  It was pretty visually, a beautiful exhibit space. The stories they told were through America’s eyes, and each soldier they highlighted had such compelling stories.

As we left the building to head outside to grab a drink, we saw another person from our bar hopping the night before. She also grabbed tickets for the same time, so she tagged along with us to see the 4D show.  The show was about 48 minutes long, it starts in one space then goes into a theater. It highlights the war narrated by Tom Hanks’ voice, which I loved.  The show itself could lean to hokey for some, but it was fun for me.  I loved the surprise elements and the stories they shared.  It was like a visual media extension of the two exhibits we walked through; I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, because they really did make an impact with the story telling.

After the show we walked through the store, which had some fun products.  Then we made our way over to the party across the way inside the main building, the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, where all the food was set up.  The space was beautiful!  Hanging from the ceiling was a c-47 aircraft and a Higgins Boat in the corner across from a mock train that I didn’t have time to see.  There was a fun trio, The Victory Belles, who sang war time songs in flashy vintage military inspired costumes.  They sang musical hits like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, God Bless America, and then at the end they sang a Service Medley that a lot of people in the audience seemed to like.  While we watched the show, we grabbed some bananas foster that was served with cheesecake.  Bananas foster originated in New Orleans, and is a must eat.

Between sets, my husband talked with a lot of people.  I did as well, which was nice.  A lot of the people I had been meeting brought their significant others or were chatty themselves.  We stayed at the party till it closed out talking to one of the people that worked for that design firm from the first night.

We never made it to the other celebration venues, but my husband felt like it was not a big deal as so many folks were at the WWII museum. We left there to beautiful bright night skies.

It was a really good day!

Posted in My Travels

New Orleans 2019- Day 2

Day 2- The first half of my day was spent on my own trekking around the French Quarter.  WHAT. A. BEAUTIFUL.NEIGHBORHOOD!

My husband went off to speak at the conference ridiculously early. He left so quietly that I was able to stay asleep soundly. I have to share this part of myself, I LIKE TO SLEEP IN. I ended up waking from sleep at around 9:40AM. This. Was. The. Best. Start. To. My. Vacation. I hopped out of bed to open the room darkening curtains to find glowing sunshine. Yes! Grabbed an outfit and hit the shower. This room had a great shower, the kind of shower head that is above your head not off the wall. And the water came out of it in a lush waterfall. Ahh. It was relaxing. I took my time getting ready, watching some TV along the way. The little luxuries I don’t have time for at home unless I am home without kids.

Did I mention no kids on this trip??? Haha

By the time I got my big butt out the door it was 11:20AM! And, I was starving! Luckily, across the street was a remarkable cafè, Revelator Coffee Company. Unluckily, they didn’t have food this morning (my husband had the same fortune, as he told me later.). I grabbed a 12oz latte, they serve by size in ounces not small/medium/large, and made my way to French Truck Coffee for something to eat, and to peruse through my travel book and online bookmarks. By this time, my husband called to check in, asking me, with his loving concerned voice, where I was, if I had gotten coffee and where I was planning to go. He told me his talk went well, and repeated his itinerary for the day. I had decided, while sitting in the cafè, right before he called, to take my own Anne Rice tour of the French Quarter then meet up with him at the Marriott on Canal for a quick hello, as he had a meeting scheduled to break at 2:30PM. He had a window of time before going back to the convention center.

Any Anne Rice fans reading today? She is a spectacular writer, and used her city as the backdrop for most of her books.  As a younger woman I had read a few of her books. The world she created always fascinated me with her romanticized characters, bloody stories and mysteries. Then when the movies came out, it was beyond a thrill to watch.  So, I figured since I was in New Orleans that I should pay some homage.  When I google mapped a route, I found that one of the houses was about a mile away, a twenty minute walk, down Royal Street. Which we had walked down a part of the day before. The cafè I was in was a few steps from St Charles, which a few blocks down made its way to Royal Street. Royal had a lot going on.. shops, music, and art galleries, just my speed to check out.

So off I went.

First stop was over to the only Starbucks I had seen the whole trip, on the corner of Canal and St Charles Street. At least I think that is where I was, hahah. Where, of course, I grabbed a New Orleans themed mug.  I can’t give up this tradition quite yet. My cabinets wish I could though.  From there I got to see the St Charles St trolleys in action, which were beautifully painted red and green.  Ringing their bells as they went by.  I love trolleys, especially the ones in San Francisco, but these trolleys were special, too.

The best parts of walking around on your own is that you can stop anywhere without anyone giving you grief. Not that my family does that, they are truly great to walk around with, but there’s a freedom to just go where you want without anyone around asking you for things or pushing you to something else.  I had the whole day at my leisure, and let me tell you I took full advantage.

I ended up going into every store because the humidity was pretty high, not a complaint, but my hair needed the breaks!  haha I ended up tasting homemade pralines and hot sauces while talking to the local people.  It had started to rain as I left the praline shop. I tucked myself away under a balcony by a sidewalk to grab my umbrella, when I noticed a big brass band playing jazz. They were spectacular.  The banjo player was walking around through the crowd, and he was just so cute and talented, most of the folks walking by stopped to take a listen.

Really, I had such a great time shopping for souvenirs.  There were so many eclectic shops filled with unique gifts. As soon as the rain started it stopped, and I was keeping on my trek of finding the first stop on my Anne Rice tour, the houses along 700-900 Royal, then a walk a couple of blocks to the the Gallier House. This was home to vampires Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire. From there I took a coffee break, where I got some time to rest up my feet and talk to my husband a little bit. He was on his way to lunch with everyone and wanted to make sure all was kosher with me.  It was :).

After my coffee break, I took a walk up to 632 Dumaine Street to see Madame John’s Legacy house, which was where they filmed some of the movie IWAV. The house was closed for renovations, so I kept going forwards down Dumaine Street.  I took a right down a small street and ended up upon Jackson Square.  Which was beautifully laid out.  Across from Jackson Square is Cafe du Monde, another Anne Rice book spot, and an amazing place for coffee and beignets (but I don’t go till our last day because of timing).  Beyond the bustling street of Decateur, is a set of stairs that takes you across to the Mississippi River.  And you are right to think I sang typing that out just now.


New Orleans is such an interesting place. The Mississippi River sloshes right up to the city, without walls or barriers.  None either while walking along it for a mile..NONE!  The brown water tries to glimmer in the sun as the freighters chug along puffing smoke from their engines.  It felt like I was watching a television show on a time that once was.  They recently put in a walking path along the river, aptly named The River Walk.  I talked to my husband about meeting him for a brief minute after 2:30PM, so I decided to make my way to the hotel from there.  I didn’t realize how far a walk it was, because, baby, it was FAR.  But it was a nice walk.  Lots of tourists and school groups checking out the local history right along with me, so it was sweet.

Then I finally made my way to say hi to my husband at the Marriott on Canal.  Boy, what a walk!  He was wrapping up a meeting, and I just quickly went by to give a kiss hello and rest my feet a bit.  He didn’t have much time, so he went on his way and I went to go find food.  I went down to Mother’s Restaurant for a po’boy.  I had read this was the place to go to have one.  Not only did I read that, but one of our Uber drivers from the night before was adamant I go.  The place is pretty unassuming, a cafeteria style place with lots of memorabilia on the walls. You order at the cashier and sit, then someone brings you the order.  I treated myself to a Coke, which I rarely do, and a small shrimp po’boy.  I ate every single piece of that sandwich.  HOLY DELICIOUS.

After this meal, I took a walk around the area then headed to our hotel.  All I was told by my husband was that he would be back a certain time and that I should be ready to go out for dinner and then more museum convention events. I believe there were three going on this night. But dinner where?  He didn’t want to ruin it for me.  He likes surprising me, and he does this a few times on this trip..which I think is why I loved NOLA so much.

Second half of my day started off amazingly.

I got ready to go out for dinner just in time for my husband to make it back to the hotel.   We walk about three blocks to the restaurant he wouldn’t tell me about.. which was EMERIL’S!!  YAY!!!!  I was hoping we would get the chance to go!!  Just a back story, when he asked me where I wanted to go while in New Orleans, I had said at least one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, because, BAM!, I love him.  He sort of skirted around telling me he couldn’t get reservations to any of them, but only that he scored reservations to a few places I wouldn’t be disappointed with.

Dinner was superb.  The service in this place is top notch, we had a gaggle of servers to attend to us, by far the best service of our lives, and we have dined in some swanky $$$$ places, my friends.  We got a couple of cocktails to start, a side car for me, of course. Then we were served bread 3-ways; pepper focaccia, corn bread, and rustic white bread.  Just the bread alone was worth the trip into the city, haha.  We ordered lobster fettuccini, filet, and a chocolate soufflé.  Very straight forward dishes, but the way they served them and how they put the components on the dish together was a word..perfect. My husband’s pasta dish was so lush and creamy, and the lobster was delicious. That filet with the creme fraiche sauce was the best of my life.

I didn’t want to leave this restaurant, but we had to. 😦

We left there to head over to the first museum of the night, the Museum of Art.  What a beautiful spot.  The whole place was electric with people walking around.  They had these women dressed in the coolest costumes I had ever seen.  They each had a full body suit on in the theme of the character, like a peacock for instance.  Then the costume had a light up piece, like the peacock feathers she wore propped up.  It was so cool.

My husband knew a lot of people at this party, and we ended up having one of the folks he knew from MN join us to walk the gardens.  This is where they had stations of food and bars set up.  As we were walking along we bump into his colleagues from his office, who become our group through the night. We hopped from station to station grabbing drinks, and talking, and gathering more folks into the group.  I met a lot of great people this night.  From the art museum we walked down to the next location which was the children’s museum, it was set up outside as the building was under construction.  We hung out here a long while drinking and talking, and after a while our group got larger, and decided to walk to the next stop.  The next stop was short lived, we grabbed a mint julep and talked to two people then all ran for the buses to take us back to the main hotel for the event.

When we got to the hotel, we decided to go on partying and bar hopping. Which I was excited for, because I wanted to head to the Hotel Monteleone to get another sight from Anne Rice crossed off my list, AND, because they have the carousel bar inside.  This bar is so beautiful, and surrounds the inner workings of a carousel.  As you sit at the bar you spin, the bartenders and such stay static, but you go around.  Now, all I can say is that these bartenders have a great memory, because after one spin around I would forget who was who and what they owed me.  hahah

From the carousel, we headed down to Bourbon Street.

Ok, so I said my second half of the day started amazingly, so does this mean it ended not so amazingly..and the answer is.. sort of!??

Let me explain.  The night wasn’t terrible, nothing dramatic happened or anything, it’s that some of us drank a lot.  We were socially having a great time, and well, we drink, and party over here, and then over there.. then over here. And then at that place…and let’s just say, etc., etc. Some of us get hammered.  Some of us get trashed.  Some of us don’t remember much other than waking up with a massive hangover.

That would be most of the group we are with, including yours truly. 🙂  But the good thing is, I didn’t have to be anywhere the next day as they did!  hahah

Overall, it was a real fun night, but it leaves me quite quiet the next morning.  😛



Posted in My Travels

New Orleans 2019- Day 1

HelloooOoo, my beautiful WordPress readers!

Last week I joined my husband on a work trip to New Orleans…our very first time visiting. He had to speak and attend a museum conference, and thought it would be a great opportunity for me to tag along. So glad that I did.

What a dynamic city!

New Orleans is rich with history and tradition; it’s welcoming and familiar. It’s culinarily vibrant. Architecturally beautiful. It’s diverse. Artsy. A phenomenal party city. It’s musical. Eclectic. It’s friendly. And it’s hot!! (Which is not a complaint. I’m a heat loving girl!). I have never enjoyed a city as I did on this trip.

To acclimate myself on sights, sounds, and eats, I did do research online and in books, but then I just ran on my own wits when I got there for fun. It is the perfect city to abandon guided ideas to and get lost in adventure. That seems to be my ‘thing’ when traveling.

A good portion of my days on this trip were on my own, because of my husband’s daytime schedule, and we went without our two kids. I know! Woo!! It never was an issue for me to be on my own, however; I think New Orleans is a great place for a single person. Even though it is a city, it’s not astronomically large, like, say, LA, where you need a car. There’s a trolley system that is proficient and the city is definitely walkable. Ubers and Lyfts are everywhere, too. But the best part is that the people are super friendly. And I mean friendly. It was odd for me at first. Being from Boston, up North, the people are like the weather; we pride ourselves on being friendly, but in reality, we are selectively friendly… when we feel like it. In New Orleans, you will get hellos from every direction as you walk, from even the sketchiest folks. You will hear a lot of people address you as ‘Sugar’, ‘Baby’, ‘Honey’, or, as I even got a ‘Sugar Baby, Honey’! Haha. The folks we encountered were special for sure and I liked that intimate interaction even for those brief moments. Well, one woman did talk to me for thirty minutes as I was buying pralines from her. She was an immigrant from Thailand, and our conversation was about the history of New Orleans..and, we got to talking because of plastic bag usage. We were both not fans of using them, and she liked that I had my own bags to carry souvenirs so she just started talking to me over that commonality. She was so sweet and I believe she called me ‘Miss Lady’ fifty times, which kind of made me chuckle.

The local people are usually the best part of travel, just FYI. They show us how people are culturally different but for the most part, are the same. The interactions we had with that ‘Southern hospitality’, we had always heard of growing up, actually made me feel good, and a community connection. I kind of like being told I am sweet as sugar. 😉

Now let me talk about the food in New Orleans. New Orleans is as awesomely food centric as a great city can be. If you follow me, or know me, you see that I am pretty food obsessed myself. Food is a large part of the traveling experience. Second to the locals, it is a great way to understand the cities and towns you visit. Sounds weird, but it is absolutely fact. Travel Italy from the North of the Alps to the edge of Sicily tasting all the different pastas, or Paris for breads, or even hit up NYC for pizza, and you will understand how each region has its unique spin and/or ingredients, which taps a real connection within us to the culture and to that place. Especially, if that place uses ingredients locally. Enjoying (or not) a meal, in general, is like an automatic trip whenever you eat that meal again.  Like from my favorite scene from Ratatouille; the one when Anton Ego eats the ratatouille (a peasant dish- which I love to eat myself) at Gusteau’s restaurant. He is immediately transformed from a cold man to a joyous boy when he traveled back to that special place and time… from just a bite. Boy, I just love that scene!!

Though my trip to New Orleans was short, it left an impact on my soul.  Which means, I will definitely be going back there one day!

Ok, let me get started with the actual trip with photos and what not.

Day 1- The Cambria Hotel, a Quick Adventure then Two Parties

We took off for New Orleans pretty early, as we had to drop off our daughters to my in-laws first. The only good thing about traveling on a Sunday is there is barely any traffic heading to the airport, so we drove right in within 25 minutes. Parked then our adventure began!

We got to New Orleans at about 1:15PM.  It was grey with rain, but we didn’t care much since the day was to be spent bouncing around indoors at functions.  We checked into our hotel, The Cambria, right in the city. This hotel was decorated so cute inside that I almost died.  Almost.  We had originally booked the Marriott on Canal, but changed it so my husband could walk to the Convention Center if needed. At first I was apprehensive to change, but man, I am so glad that we did!  This hotel was just perfect for us in every way.

We got ourselves put together for a run to grab some food in the French Quarter.  One of us didn’t eat anything but the blue chips on the plane and was about to eat their purse. (ME)  The walk from our hotel to the French Quarter was just a quick 20 minutes, but with so many things to see it felt way faster than that.  The rain stopped and the skies opened up to partial sun!  WOOHOOO!!  Walking around to the French Quarter was un, and boy, what a beautiful city.  There are so many buildings ornate and stuck in a different time. We walked down a lot of their well-known streets like Royal Street, Decatur Street, Chartres Street, and Bourbon Street, which in the daytime looks very unassuming, just tired and dirty. haha I want to make a joke here but I think I shall refrain.

We stopped into Kingfish Kitchen for our first meal of the trip.  IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT!  We got greeted by the sweetest staff, with their Louisiana drawl seeping through their words a bit.  We opted to sit by the window to people watch, which was a good idea.  See New Orleans doesn’t have open container laws, people just walk around with cocktails and beers all day long.  As long as it’s in a plastic cup, there is no one to stop you from public drinking.  Needless to say, I watched a TON of people at 5PM holding onto large fish bowl style cups having a great time walking past that window.  I loved it!  hahah

We had two plans after hitting the Kingfish, two parties.  One was a private function at a design house and the other was the kick-off celebration for the museum convention.  Sounded boring to me, but guess what, guys?  Not at all boring!!  So, as we had to head to two parties afterwards we didn’t want to totally pig out on this meal.  We grabbed a set of daiquiris to start, because we miss Cuba so much, and then two dishes to split, a shrimp and grits and a pork taco with crackling.  Gosh, I can’t tell you how amazing these two dishes were without salivating right now.  I have NEVer, and I mean never, had shrimp and grits this good!  NEVer!  And this was my first attempt at eating crackling, fried fatty pork skin, which is the most delicious food ever invented.  After another round of drinks, we took off on foot to our next stop, the private party.

Well, I wore the worst shoes for my first day, especially for walking as much as we were, that making it to the first place was pretty taxing on my feet.  We decided on the walk that we would go back to the hotel after this party to change for the next event, which is another “so glad we did” moment. haha  But let me go back to the private party.

This party was by invitation only and thrown by a design firm in New Orleans.  We all figured this party was going to be drinks in an office, but again, we were so wrong!!  We were greeted at the door of the firm by two lovely people who handed us drinks and waved us in towards the elevator to go up to the second floor.  Before going up, one of my husband’s colleagues, Ed, arrived. Which made me happy, since I love Ed and knew no one else by my husband.  We all got on the elevator together, wondering where we were headed.

On the second floor was the firm’s owner’s flat..and by flat I mean HOLY CRAP AMAZING APARTMENT!!  Wowweewowwowow!!  The place was perfection in every way, except I was not living in it. It was decked out with plush designer furnishings, an outdoor deck with pool, and it smelled like fresh squeezed Sicilian oranges.  Just perfect.

We walked around a bit, grabbed a drink at the bar set up at the front, then headed for outside. There was a brass band playing on the back deck that lead to a newly installed pool that overlooked N’Orlins, as the firm’s associate outside was saying it to us.

I wonder what it’s like to have money.

There’s Ed finding us, eventually, outside.

The catering at this party was crazy good. I, again, tried something new, broiled oysters Rockefeller. And holy frack, was I missing out never trying these before.  I swear I ate like six in twenty minutes.  Ok, I am slightly exaggerating, more like 25 minutes.  hahah The prosecco flowed, and conversations did too, it was a good place; and my husband was having a great time with colleagues and networking with new people, too.

I got to sit on some plush seats around the apartment to rest up my feet, too!  heehee

I did not want to leave, but I had to. Our first stop out of there was back to the hotel for a shoes change and then we were off to the second party.  This was the kick-off celebration for the convention, and it was at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which was to say the least, interesting.  The place is decked out with tons of vintage or vintage-inspired signs, props and photos.  There was a lot of fun going on with walking through the swarms of people.  But personally speaking, this museum party was more odd than a celebration.  Maybe I am odd?, but it was set up wonky and there wasn’t much food or drinks to celebrate with; we figured the party would have been to the nines with food and beverages, seeing that we were at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum… but we were wrong! hahah  This is why you eat before going out!

Anyways, this was a fun stop after all. I got to meet a lot of people in the museum world, some familiar too, and I got to talk with the Museum of Science folks who were traveling separately from us to the convention.  There was only a small group from Boston on this trip, which was nice.

We had to make this an early night, as my husband had to talk at the convention pretty early.  We hung out at the museum till around 10:30PM, then jetted right back to the hotel to wind down and unpack.  I secretly wanted to head back to the design firm’s party, but oh well.  😉

It was a pretty fun day to start this trip!


Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- Varadero Beach, our last full day

Hey Everyone,

Ok, well, after all this time, I am finally typing out our last full day on the island of Cuba!  After this is our departure back home.  😦

We woke up to beautiful bright skies on our first morning in Varadero. Our only plan for the day was to hang out at the beach then buy souvenirs! Finally one day of not running around.

We went down to breakfast to eat at 9AM. They had a table set up for us under a canopy out back attached to a garage. The garage was set up as a kitchen and the windows facing our table housed aquariums with fish swimming.  On this day we were greeted by another woman, Ana, who works with Iris managing the house. She was in charge of cooking us breakfast.

The breakfast of this casa was served in courses just like the previous casa. We started off with coffee, hot milk and juice. JUICE.  This casa offered orange juice.  Also, I asked for an extra-large bottle of water (to take to the beach).  The best part of a casa particular is that the people running the breakfasts would cook everything from scratch.  It was pretty amazing.  We were served hot homemade savory mini muffins sprinkled with sesame to start. They were really good! But Ana also put out a dish of mayonnaise with queso fresco, we were not sure why.  Then we were served fruit; there was a fully cored pineapple, which was just ok, and a platter of local fruit, which was not so good.  Even at this location, hours away from Havana, the local fruits tasted strange.  We followed this with an order of eggs and toast.  Following the eggs was a buckwheat pancake drizzled with local honey.  The girls really enjoyed that.  Then came a plate of bananas covered in chocolate with sprinkles special for the kids.  It all ended with individual jello molded in different shapes.  You can’t make it out in the photo below, but the adults dish of jello had a flower shape on it, but our girls had Minnie Mouse!  Is this not an insane amount of food?

After this two and a half hour breakfast, we got into our swimsuits as quick as possible and made a mad dash for the beach.   The beach, again, did not disappoint.

We got to the beach right before noon to find the ocean much smoother, and the waves coming to surf at a normal pace.  The water was even more crystal clear than yesterday, didn’t think that could be possible.  Once we found a spot, we were greeted by a very young man dressed in an official lifeguard scuba suit.  He introduced himself as Martinez.  He was a jack of all trades hired to guard the beach during peak hours, and, on the side for extra money, he offered rental umbrellas to beachgoers and run for drinks.

Then a cute group of girls set up camp under an umbrella they rented from Martinez at the edge of the beach, but sat directly on the sand right next to us. No towels, just a bluetooth speaker. There was a whole beach around us, but they set up five feet away.   Almost right away Martinez walked over with a drink delivery for the girls.  We were impressed, not about the girls, but Martinez’s drink caddy!  He was able to deliver glasses on the beach!

The girls started playing Spanish pop songs and fluttered around us taking selfies.  I offered to take a group shot of them.  They were so happy, and already tipsy somehow!  They started to get personal real fast after that picture.  They understood I spoke English, so they just started spewing information at me.  Within a few seconds I learned that they were two sisters with a best friend hanging in Varadero for a day trip to the beach. They were on vacation from Mexico, though one of the girls recently moved to Texas to marry.  They jumped right into asking me how old I was, what state I lived in, who I was with, why I was in Cuba, how long I was married, and what I did for a job.  It was like they were on speed with how fast these questions came out.  I am pretty stoked though, they thought I was 33yo..jussayin I am 42! 🙂

I still may have it.. whatever it is… eh whatevz.

Then around 2PM after sweating in the sunshine, I got antsy for a drink. My husband did too.  He offered to run for drinks since the guy was busy, which was awesome. He surprised me with huge mojitos for us and sodas for our girls. They didn’t come in glass cups, but they were pretty frickin’ amazing nonetheless.  The rum in Cuba is truly special.  After we had our drinks, which went down waYYyy too easily, we got in the water for a little fun with the kids.  While in the water we could see humongous fish swimming by, super cool!  The vistas of the water in the distance felt like they could go on forever.  The crystal clear aqua-colored water was dreamy.  After a few minutes, I decided it was time to get back to the towels, I felt the mojito catching up.

My husband then came back to the towels, and the girls near us were now pretty drunk.  Martinez dropped off another round of drinks, and headed over to us, clearly making eye signals like these women were a handful.  We talked to him for about twenty minutes about the job, as his friend left the girls behind him.  He told us how he took his job hyper seriously, and how he had a family to take care of.  The girls were behind him calling him over again.  Before he left he asked us if we wanted another drink, which we said yes to!  We ordered another round of mojitos and virgin pina coladas for our girls, and he happily ran to go get them.

He came back with our drinks a few minutes later in glass cups in his cool caddy!  Yes, I am super happy to have glass cups on a beach!  It does make a big difference.  He let us hold on to the caddy to keep all the cups together and out of the sand, which was super nice.

The stylish bubbly girls on the beach all of a sudden turned into belligerent drunk girls. Martinez was called over to them once again to help them get a taxi.  They shouted their goodbyes to me as I made sure they grabbed their things. They walked along to the exit with Martinez ahead. The walk for them up the beach was sad, however. One of the girls just kept falling down.  Face first. In the sand.  And struggled to get up each time.  It sounds funny, but it was just sad.  Martinez shuffled them along into a taxi.  And came over to us to apologize and assure us they should be safe.  I hope they got to Havana all right.

After the women left we basically had the beach to ourselves.  The tides don’t shift much on this beach so we dragged our towels closer to the girls playing in the sand.  My husband started chasing the girls then jumped in the water with them. Then I.. guess what?  I PASSED OUT!  I am not sure how long I fell asleep for but I woke myself up with a snore.  Yes, I did!  🙂  And it felt so good!

We hung out on the beach until the sun was starting coming down. We all started to become hungry and decided it was the right time to go freshen up for dinner.   On our walk back to the house, we saw the most spectacular start to a sunset we had ever seen.  The colors in the sky were neon pink, yellow and blue, just spectacularly glowing.   It lasted so long, as it was still setting when we went out for dinner.

We walked the main street of Varadero for a while trying to decide where we were going to eat.  We had planned to go to two places, both were packed with long waits; one place had a two-hour wait!  Luckily, we had the offline mobile map that had listings of all the restaurants in the area.   We looked up a few spots to check out.  We walked by a lot of restaurants along the boulevard that were not on the map though.  But unluckily, every spot we wanted to check out was booked solid.  So we stopped in to a place we walked by that looked nice, and had seating, La Vicaria.  It ended up being a super fun place and the food was so good!!

We started off with daiquiris and pina coladas, of course.  The restaurant was open air under a thatched cabana. Which made it interesting as while seated we saw chickens and cats walking along the restaurant.  My kids enjoyed that part.  We got fried and grilled chicken platters, a grilled fish plate and a pork tips plate, and, a side of fries because my kids saw them on the menu and freaked out.  It was all really good.  We ended up staying there enjoying our dinner for about two hours or so.  Then we took a nice walk back to our casa particular, but not before buying some rum.. and soap!  The house we were in had this deliciously scented banana soap in the bathrooms that I saw in the pharmacy and had to have!  Can’t wait to use it!

My review of the day.

There really was no profound introspection during this day at the beach.  I had a lot of fun in the sun, while catching the show that was the gaggle of girls on vacation.

Next Cuba post will be our last day– departing Cuba, but first we check out a few sights.


Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- Viñales

Hello Everyone!

Here we are on our third day in Cuba.  We had made three classic car reservations ahead of our trip.  One was for this day to take us to Viñales.  Viñales is a town, about 2.5 hours from Havana, known for their tobacco farms, and their 51sq mile lush valley that is surrounded by large mountain-like limestone hills, known as mogotes.  These mogotes are huge! They draw a lot of activity from hikers, rock climbers, and cave explorers.

Day 3

We woke up, luckily again, to bright blue skies.  Since it was our last morning in the apartment, we took some time getting ready while enjoying the breezes and sounds from the windows. We had to gear up in long pants as our itinerary for this day had us roughing it!  But first, breakfast.  We planned to head over to Habana Vieja to a restaurant we had read about beforehand and happened to see the morning before.  It was actually right across the street from where we had breakfast. It had a way better display than where we had ended up the morning prior.

We had some time to sit and relax, as our car reservation wasn’t showing up to our apartment until 10AM.  Also, when Mary from our casa particular was going to arrive to collect keys.  We soaked in the last morning on this side of Havana. I’m so glad we decided to go to a different place for breakfast, as I really enjoyed the coffee and the toast. Ha ha

Once we arrived back to our apartment, our car was waiting outside for us, as well as, Mary. The car was a super cool blue 1951 Plymouth hardtop. Which made me giddy! And our driver was waiting along side the car all neatly dressed in his orange button-up shirt and jeans.

We quickly went upstairs to grab our luggage then handed our keys to Mary as she sent us off with hugs and kisses for a great trip.  We filled the trunk with our bags then hopped into the car with our super cute driver in orange, Ernesto. Who spoke very good English and was very polite.  We started off on our trip by heading down the beautiful Malecon!

As Ernesto was zooming down the Malecon, he pointed out the American Embassy along the left.  Just as we were about to talk about it, whammo, we got a flat tire!  This definitely made us worry yet all laugh, because of course at our embassy, right?  But Ernesto was such a great sport about it as he changed out the tire as quickly as he could.  While we were instructed to wait outside the car, we took some time to hang out at the edge of the wall.  We got to gaze upon the beautiful sea lapping and smashing up against the rocks.  I decided to walk down the Malecon towards the embassy for a few shots, too, and just as we were finding the bright spot in the flat tire, the police showed up.  They questioned everyone about the flat tire situation, then went about sitting behind the car to protect Ernesto from the traffic whipping by.  He had to get under the car to change the tire.   VERY DANGEROUS! But he did it! Though he came up from it dirty. 😦

Poor kid.

Once the tire was changed, we stopped nearby to fill it.  After that quick fill up, we were back to the road driving to the Valles de Viñales lookout point.

Driving in Cuba is pretty interesting.  There are a lot of people out, at all times, and they are everywhere.  Driving side roads, main roads, and highways you will find people in groupings waiting for either a personal ride, taxi or bus.  Also, there are horse and buggies carting people or items around. And sometimes, there are animals just grazing along the highway.  It all is fine, but it was a bit shocking to see people on highways in the most remote areas waiting for rides.


We spent a lot of time checking out the views of the valley.  What a beautiful sight!   We enjoyed a drink there and shopped the two local pop up shops they had set up along the tree line.  We had spoken to a few other tour drivers that knew Ernesto, learning about the area.  It was a fun stop, and my husband and I asked to come back if we could catch the sunset later on.  Depending on the time.

From the lookout point we headed to a local tobacco farm to learn some cigar rolling and possibly ride horses through the countryside.

The farm we end up visiting is a small family run farm.  We were introduced to our farm guide, Josue; it was just our family on this tour.  After introductions, and his happiness hearing we were Americans, we were led to the tobacco drying space. It’s a one story thatched structure with tobacco leaves drying all around with a table set up at the front showcasing their processes. Right away we were shown how the plant looks (there was a vast field right outside the doors) and how it grew.  The walk through was short and sweet; basically, we learned what parts of the plant are the best to use in cigars.  We were then led to another building where they showed us how the cigars are rolled.

We were walked through the ways they pick the leaves, which were best to go in the middle versus the exterior.  Josue then explained how 90% of the local farm crops are sold to the government leaving the remaining 10% for the farm to sell, to visitors like us.  I found that devastating.  He then proceeded to show us how they bundle the cigars and how to best care for them.  Passing every item around for us to touch and smell.  My gosh. The tobacco smelled of chocolate, leather, and heaven..  like that perfect warm smell we want our men to smell like, know what I mean?  Once we finished that lesson, he pulled out a handsome bundle of cigars, a bottle of locally harvested honey and a bottle of homemade rum, then asks if we would like a smoke!  UHM, YES PLEASE!

Before we were handed a cigar, our guide asked us if we wanted to smoke one like Che Guevara.  Apparently, Che had asthma and filtered his cigars by dipping them in honey!  IS this a true story?  I am not sure, but holy wow was a honey dipped cigar amazing!!

Our guide then proceeds to grab two glasses for me and my husband to try their special rum.  The rum made in this part of Cuba is from guava fruit. It was interesting to try while smoking a honey dipped cigar. Actually, tasted like whiskey to me!  haha

We hung out with our guide for a nice hour. We talked about so many things pertaining to the history of the area, Cuba, and even music! But I think my favorite part was at the end when he asked us about the show Breaking Bad!!  Well, it was best when we told him about Better Call Saul!!  OHMYGOD! His face dropped. How awesome!?

Our day was not over yet!

From being taught cigar rolling we walked over a hill to go on our first family horseback ride!  It was the first time for us riding on a horse; I had gotten on a horse once as a child, I think at a zoo or farm, but that was it.  We were set up with a horse wrangler and went on our way.  From the farm, on horse, we got to cross a highway, oh yes, to trek around the countryside and farmlands.  It was so beautiful and peaceful.  I felt so lucky to be there during this experience.

Our horses were funny creatures, however. I think my horse was in the middle of an argument with my husband’s horse, cause she did NOT want to let him pass or anything from the second we got to the riding path.  She would smash her head on his body or cause a scene with him only; if he ignored her she’d start a fight with another horse! So dramatic!!  I spent a lot of time looking around at the scenery while keeping my horse from the others. My husband’s horse and our youngest daughter’s horse were also sort of jerks. haha  They would fight to stay ahead!  Then our oldest daughter’s horse was so calm, hung back of the group trotting along.

It was so much fun to ride my horse! I do have to ask why there is no padding on the saddle? Yeeoowwwzaaahhhh! (It hurts your tush, just be aware).

Our day on the farm was coming to an end.  😦

We said our good byes to everyone then headed to a paladar, a family run restaurant,  that Ernesto suggested.  Along the drive to the paladar, Ernesto got pulled over by the military police!  Haha This poor guy couldn’t win this day with driving.  He ended up being ok, but my gosh, this poor guy! My husband and I decided that minute right in the first photo below, that we would treat him to dinner.  (Which he humbly refused, till I wouldn’t take no for an answer. heehe)

The paladar, El Campesino, was fun and the food was fantastic!  We got seated outdoors, which abutted a family farm; it was a perfect setting after the day we had experienced.  This place offered great cocktails, like, you guessed it, my favorite, Havana style daiquiris!  We each ordered a delicious dish, too. My husband got ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce).  I got the roasted pork loin, and the girls each got grilled chicken dishes.  Ernesto got the braised chicken, just FYI. It looked pretty great. They offered two types of rice and beans, and they were served family style.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal together while talking about politics and history, it was perfect.  I love having discourse where we can share and learn from one another.  Ernesto is such a great guy!!

We took a drive after dinner back to the Valles de Viñales to see if we could catch a sunset.  Welp, we were not that lucky to catch a sunset, but the views of the valley and mogotes at dusk was beautiful.  It quickly turned dark, so we left Viñales for our new home in Havana, La Rosa Ortega, in a different neighborhood called La Vibora.  This was a two and a half hour drive back, in the dark.

This drive to Havana in the pitch dark was so crazy scary.  Not for Ernesto, he was a cautious driver but everything else.  Remember how I said there were people out everywhere on the drive there? Well, in the dark people are still all out there, too!  You can be driving along a pitch black highway as your lights catch something in the darkness, it’s a group of people waiting under a bridge. Then a hundred feet from them is a racing horse with buggy.  Not lit except by the car’s lights as it approaches.  Then on some small town roads it was like everyone was out socializing in large numbers on the streets, in the dark.

Thank the Lord for car high-beams!!

We got to Rosa Ortega’s late, around 9PM-ish. We were all anxiously waiting to get there to hit the sack. When Ernesto dropped us off we all hugged like long lost family, and I gave him a gift for his wife and daughter. (I had brought items to gift on this trip)  He was such a wonderful guy. When we walked into the gate of our new place, my mouth dropped.  I knew what the house was going to look like, but oh my gosh it was so beautiful! In the dark!  It looked like an Italian Villa in Tuscany with winding bright colored bougainvillea climbing out of its pottery clinging along this huge fence that hid a magical looking mansion.

We were greeted by Jose Carlos, the night shift manager.  He brought us into the reception area, and checked us in with our passports. After check in, Jose Carlos, directed us to the the patio below where there was an outdoor kitchen. We got to meet the grounds German Shepherd, Brenda. She was the sweetest dog, who loved following us around. Jose Carlos walked us through all the aspects of the casa particular as he introduced us to the night staff.   Jose Carlos then asked us sit down for a special welcoming drink (fresh pineapple juice).  It sounds corny, but it was a beautiful way to start this leg of our trip. I started to feel like I was actually on vacation for the first time since landing in Cuba.

We then followed this welcoming reception with putting all of our things in the room and to freshen up.  MY GOSH.  Our room was amazing!  From the second we walked in it was impressive. It was modern and spacious. The artwork was soulful yet playful. The materials all around felt new and clean; it felt like home. The apartment had a full kitchen, dining room, living room, two bedrooms with huge closets, and big bathroom. One of the coolest features, and my favorite, was the large terrarium set up to separate the kitchen from living room. It was about a fifteen foot high glass case that was open at the top to the outside.  It housed orchids along the wall.  So pretty.

After setting up our space, we headed back to the patio for a nightcap.  You guessed it,  daiquiris. 🙂



My review of the day.

Our third day here, I am reaching towards a feel, as if Havana is trying to open up my eyes to something more than its physical beauty.

Being a tourist, staying on the beaten track, can hold you back from the true potential of a place.  I think today showed what makes this place wonderful.  The people.   From saying goodbye to Mary in Habana Vieja, who warmly sent us on our way. Then meeting Ernesto, being able to watch him have these minor failures on this ride, yet continue with grace and humility.  At the farm, learning about the tobacco and cigars, and rum, was awesome. It really was, but then talking to that same man about music and movies, it was kind of surreal in that setting.  Then after a long day, arriving to the casa particular which was beaming with the welcoming Senor Jose Carlos; who didn’t miss a beat.

I see you, Havana.


Next Cuba post will be Day 4–  Touring Havana in a Vintage Convertible
Posted in My Travels

Planning for CUBA

Hello WordPressland!

Out of all the places we have visited, this trip to Cuba is the one generating the most excitement from everyone.  The number one question we have received, after being asked to bring back cigars and rum, is “Is it easy for us (US citizens) to travel there?”.

Not terribly difficult, but, US citizens do have travel restrictions.

Even though President Obama lifted trade restrictions and gave US citizens ease to travel to Cuba in 2014, President Trump enforced some additional rules in 2017.  These laws are enforced by the US not Cuba, and they aren’t difficult rules to follow. BUT they are laws that you have to adhere to if you want to travel with ease and not have your trip come up in five years to haunt you.  (It’s a communist country, after all.)

Here are some of the US laws you will need to adhere to for a successful Cuba trip.

✓ You must acquire a travel visa/tourist card for yourself and anyone traveling with you to enter the country. It is a paper card that must be kept with your passport till you return home.  This can be obtained through your airline as you physically check in for your flight or online.  Prices vary airline to airline.

Our experience through JetBlue: We purchased the visas in person as we checked in for the flight.  It took literally five minutes. As of February 2019, the cost of the visa through JetBlue is $50 per passenger.

✓ This coincides with the twelve acceptable categories to enter Cuba. You just have to declare your reason for your travel when you book your trip and any time someone asks you, which should fall under one of these categories

  • Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalism
  • Professional research
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances
  • Support for the Cuban people (most people will fall under this)
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Certain export transactions
  • Educational activities and people to people travel

(obtained this list from

✓ Cuban health insurance.

Our experience through JetBlue. When we booked our tickets we had paid additionally for taxes, fees and other charges that assisted us with this option.  The additional costs were as follows per passenger:

  • Cuban Health Insurance $25.00
  • Passenger Services Airport Tax $25.00
  • US Transportation tax (international) $37.20
  • US Customs User Fee $5.77
  • US Immigration User Fee $7.00
  • US APHIS User Fee $3.96  (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
  • US September 11 Security Fee $5.60
  • US Passenger Facility Charge $4.50

✓ You have to have an actual itinerary to travel to Cuba (roughly 6-8 hours daily of interaction with the Cuban people). We are allowed to go, but no matter what the reason, we have to travel to sort of stimulate their economy by visiting/spending money in privately owned business of culture or agriculture (like a casa particular-family run B&B, paladar- family run restaurant, or farm). We are not able to stay or dine in government/state-run businesses.  You don’t want to anyway, trust me. 

You can find further details on our travel restrictions here on the US Treasury’s website, or, another website we found useful, Such comprehensive information on that website.

Other points to know about Cuba…

Cubans love Americans. We found that everyone we talked with were interested to find out we were from America.  Most were even ecstatic to find out we were from Boston, home of the Red Sox!  Cubans LOVE baseball, and try to follow their Cuban players when they make it to the big leagues of America.

Cuban Money:  You cannot use American credit cards or debit cards in Cuba, cash only.  Cuba has a two currency system, Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).  The CUP, is less valuable than the CUC. It is what the locals are paid by their government monthly; it has their government officials faces on them.  The CUC is for tourist use and is printed with their national monuments on them.  The best places to exchange your money are the airport when you land, or major hotels.  All money has a tax to exchange it, but American money (USD) has an additional 10% tax added to the exchange. Which is high.

It’s a smart idea to exchange your money ahead of time from US Dollars to either Canadian Dollars or Euro before hopping on the airplane.

Not every Cuban hates their government.   We had a few conversations that opened my eyes about how agreeable some Cuban people view their government. Even the younger generation.

WiFi:  There is WiFi in Cuba, it was introduced years ago, but there are not many places to get it for free like there are in the States.  There are three ways to get internet access: buy an ETECSA telecommunication card and stand in a park where they have access portals, in a casa particular or hotel.  You will see a lot of people sitting or standing around the parks in Havana.  It’s the only places you see the locals with their phones in their faces like home.

The internet is spotty and restricted, as it is controlled by the government, so try not to do anything that requires you to rely on its use. And remember they are a communist country and it’s their WiFi.

If you are lucky to have free WiFi at a casa particular or hotel, soak it up! We had it for the first three days of our trip, bought an ETESCA card for the rest of our time but it worked so horribly that we gave up and went off grid.

Which actually worked out great.  I like disconnecting from the interwebs!

Cuban FoodCuban food is typically simple and rustic.  Its food roots are influenced by its Aboriginal, Spanish, African, and Caribbean inhabitants.  At most restaurants you will find Cuban style sandwiches, entrees, drinks and cocktails. Most meals are still affected by the severe poverty that hit Cuba hard, and will consist of a protein like pork (cerdo), chicken (pollo), shrimp (camarones), fish (pescado), or beef (res); served with rice and beans or fried plantains or root vegetables. The rice and beans can be cooked separate or together (aka Moros y Cristianos- which are my personal favorite way to eat them!).

Here is an example of a menu we looked at in Varadero.  You will notice a few things; this particular menu is written in Spanish and English, not always typical. The menu lists two prices (CUC/CUP). And there is a detail telling you what the dishes come with as a side (choice or rice with beans, or traditional rice and beans, and fried vegetable). And next to the menu is a photo of a typical dish (from a dfft restaurant).


We did eat at some pretty modern restaurants that offered nothing typical.  I will share that in the coming posts.

Cuba is safe! A previous misconception that I had of Cuba was that I would have to be in fear for my family’s safety 24/7.  I was wrong.  Walking the streets, day or night, in the city, on the farm or at the beach , we never felt threatened. EVER.  There is a lot of poverty throughout Cuba, especially in Havana, but even with the poverty, the people were wonderfully friendly, had pride and were immensely accommodating. Petty crimes, like pocket theft, do happen. But that happens everywhere across the globe.

FYI-  be aware that the people in the city are trying hard to make money.  This can come across as threatening to some tourists.  They are in a constant state of what I called ‘the hustle’; meaning they will run up to tourists (friendly mannered) to convince them to dine, taxi or buy souvenirs at their or their friends’ places.  If you turn them down politely they walk away.


Our Itinerary at a Glance

WHEN:  February 2019; Cuba’s dry season and Winter.
The weather in Cuba’s Winter hovers around 75F-85F! Compared to Boston’s 30F-40F.

HOW LONG:  7 nights; Saturday to Saturday.
JetBlue has direct flights on Saturdays to Cuba from Boston; also, JetBlue has direct flights from most major US airports.

WHERE:  We pulled together a list of what we wanted to do from all of the research (books, the internet, and travel shows). 

  • Take a ride in classic American cars, especially a pink convertible Cadillac!
  • Visit Old Havana, the historic part of the city
  • Check out the local cuisine in a paladar
  • Stay in casa particulars
  • Visit Revolution Square
  • Fusterlandia
  • Bay of Pigs
  • Visit the grand old hotels
  • Shop the markets
  • Drive to Hemingway’s house and/or bar hang out
  • Go to a tobacco farm to learn how to roll cigars..and smoke’em 🙂
  • Visit the Havana Club rum museum, and ..well, drink rum
  • Take a horseback ride in the country
  • Walk/drive the Malecon
  • See the beach

Once we finalized this list, we looked at a map to figure out where to stay on the island.  We chose to stay on the Western side, with hopes to go back to visit the Eastern side.

Day 1– Arrive in Havana

Day 2 – Habana Vieja (city)

Days 3 – Viñales (country)

Day 4 -Havana (city) 

Day 5 -Havana (city) 

Day 6 -Havana to Varadero (beach)

Day 7 – Varadero (beach)

Day 8- Varadero to Havana for departure

Next Cuba post will be an overview of our Day 1 – arrival and going out our first night.