Posted in Random Stuff

Mother’s Day 2019

Hello WordPressland!!

Hope you had a great Mother’s Day weekend celebrating all the mothers in your lives.

What. A. Fantastic. Weekend.

Let me start with Friday. Per usual, it’s a holiday so I treated myself to a new pair of earrings that I have been coveting for a while. They finally went on sale, so, of course, I bought them. Love them?? They’re blue and green snakes by Betsey Johnson.

Then Saturday was a mix of work and fun; but more fun than work.

Saturday was my last free full day before going away, heading to New Orleans with my husband this Sunday. I was saving it for us to scrub the house, pack and do some laundry. But my sister ended up asking me and the girls to go out for pedis and lunch with our mom, which was tough to squeeze in. So, we met up with them for pedicures.  We had so much fun, well, me and my oldest did anyways.  We got seated together, then a few seats down were my mom and sister, then a few seats down from them was my youngest. :\  But, regardless of how we were spaced out, our pedis came out great and it was nice to spend the time with my family.

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We rushed home after the nail salon to clean up the house.  My girls really did an amazing job cooperating on cleaning up. My husband ended up having to work last minute, so it was just the three of us.  With one man down, we worked so well together, they turned out to be so helpful, that we got through the major parts of the house in record timing. My gosh my kids have a lot of things!    All that hard work left us the night free.  Since my husband worked most of the day, and we were tired from running around all day, we decided to meet up with our besties last-minute for dinner at Biltmore and Main, which was super-fantastic.

The blood orange whiskey I got there was pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Biltmore and Main- Steak tips w chimichurri sauce, mash potatoes and asparagus

Sunday; Mother’s Day, started off perfectly!

My kids slept in late, which is a bonus in the parenting department. Especially at our house where our oldest is up and out of the house by 6:45AM! The skies were gray but that didn’t put a dent in our moods. The girls and I hung out making coffee as my husband went to grab some morning treats for us.  He insisted on grabbing us breakfast.  Even though I said it was crazy since we were going to brunch!  Well, he persisted, and got some pastries and cooked bacon from Whole Foods.  Their bacon is off the hook good, and bacon is like my all time favorite food.  And he brought me flowers. 🙂  We hung out a while eating as I was opening cards and gifts, which I have to say is a great part of Mother’s Day! ahaha  Then we lost track of time! We had to adjust our brunch reservations so we could get dolled up beforehand.

I.Love.Brunch. 

It is the most perfect meal ever created.

My husband surprised me taking us to Chickadee down in the Seaport area by the Innovation and Design building.  (I love birds and I love brunch, he gets me so well!)  They just started offering brunch, and since we are brunch nuts he thought it was a good time to check the place out.    This meal was a lot of fun, and their cocktail selection was so peculiarly great.  There were a lot of mixes on there that I thought were unique..maybe I am wrong, but look at the menu below and you tell me.

The place was so pretty, all dressed in grey and white, with birds.  I just liked it so much.  It smelled so good as we were seated, and the amount of families there celebrating Mom made me smile. The cocktail menu was, like I said, unique, but what was truly cute about it was that all the drinks were named after birds.  SO CUTE!!  I highly recommend the SnowBird; which was a lemony, elderflowery, vodkay, thymey deliciousness.  YES, those are all words.  

We started off the meal with a few donuts to share.  We got the s’mores crunch donut and rhubarb jelly donut.  I am not normally a rhubarb fan, my husband is, but the rhubarb jelly donut was terrific.  I could’ve eaten all of them on my own. haha   Our entree choices made me laugh.  Out of the four of us, three of us got spicy chicken and cheddar waffles!!  My husband got the dutch baby with blueberries.  The food was great, and we all agree to make a trip back to try more of the selections they had to offer.  Especially the chick-shuka and chickadee bowl.  Now I want to drive down there to eat..  arg!!

We dined for a while, really enjoying the atmosphere, food and cocktails..and each other’s company! After we left the restaurant, the rain was coming down a little bit.  We wanted to surprise the kids by taking them to Taiyaki on Seaport Blvd.  I don’t know if you guys remember my trip to California last year.  We had taken the kids to an ice cream shop that made Japanese Taiyaki, that is ice cream in koi fish-shaped cones… ring a bell?  Well, a few companies making Taiyaki started opening up across NYC and one came to Boston.   Unfortunately, the parking situation down on Seaport Blvd really blows.  It won’t stop me from being there all Summer, but it does deter us from time to time when the weather stinks.  We couldn’t find a spot for twenty minutes around that shop, and opted to getting an ice cream closer to home. So we did.

We ended the night cuddling on the couch, catching up on our latest family binge, Parks and Rec.  We have a season left; I know we plow through binges like nobody else.  The girls and I may finish it this week while my husband is away..because we can and will!  haha  When they went off to bed, my husband and I started our binge of Sneaky Pete.  Such a good show!!

That was my Mother’s Day!  I wish it didn’t have to end, it was really a good time.

I am so lucky with the family I have cultivated here.  My kids are the shining light in my life, who bring so much compassion, laughter and happiness to my days I can’t even explain it with any justice.  And none of this wonderful mother-life would be possible without my heart’s soulmate, my husband.  I have the most selfless, hardworking, caring and loving man. Thank you, and our girls, for making me feel so loved and thought after.  Not just one day a year, but every day. 

xoxoxoxo  

Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- Late-Spring Fun

Hey Everyone,

This morning we are taking a stroll through my top ten favorite things to do as the weather starts to sizzle in late Spring.

Let’s get it going:

  1. Gardening. Though some see yard work or gardening as a chore, I enjoy it. 

  2. Being able to shop at SOWA, Boston’s outdoor market in the South End.  

  3. Wearing fun, colorful sundresses and sandals. Or buying new ones!! haha

  4. Hiking Ward Reservation while it’s blooming.

  5. Eating outside!  My favorite part of the warmer weather is dining outdoors.

  6. Opening the sun roof in the car!!  woo!

  7. Catching glimpses, or seeing a full on ‘Geese Walk’, of the baby Canada geese around Spot Pond.

  8. Being able to ride bikes!

  9. Waking to amber-colored, much earlier, sunrises from my bedroom window, and, watching neon-fuchsia, much later, sunsets from my kitchen window. (Sometimes I walk up the street-up the hill- to check out the full displays.)

  10. Walking the Back Bay, Public Garden, and Boston Commons hand in hand with my husband, and …WITHOUT a coat!


What are your favorite things about Spring?  List below or on FB! xo

Posted in Random Stuff

Easter 2019 (in photos)

Hello WordPress!

I am keeping this one short and sweet, a photo collage, as I have to run to PT!  Today has just flown with work. 

Hope those who celebrated Passover and Easter this weekend enjoyed every moment with family and friends in peace.

Here is a collage of our day, minus the after dinner dessert with family.  Trying to use my phone less, which is great, but also lends to me not taking many photos.  :)~

xoxox

 

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019 -Leaving Cuba

Hello Everyone!

Here we are, our last day in Cuba. Our departure day.

Our flight was scheduled for 5:30PM. Varadero was about a two and a half hour drive from the airport in Havana. We had reserved a vintage taxi to pick us up before leaving for this trip. And, our last driver, Lester, told us at this Varadero drop off that he would be the one picking us up for this trip to the airport.


We all had a restful night’s sleep, and woke up to cheery sunshine glowing into our rooms.  The windows in this casa, did not have glass on them, nor did it have a screen, just shutters to shield the light.  They weren’t closed tight, so you could feel a breeze coming through with the light.

We packed up all of our things, then made our way down to breakfast. Our taxi was going to pick us up by noon for the trek back to the airport, so we had some time here. You have to always factor that a meal is going to take at least an hour and a half, but most likely more. This morning we were greeted by both Iris and Ana.  It was very nice.  We had a similar type of breakfast today.  We were given the same savory mini cakes with butterfly confetti on them, which was special for the girls. The random plate of mayonnaise and queso fresco along with the cakes.  Then a bowl of fruits were served.  My husband was happy to see it was all bananas, as he loves those; he always eats the mini ones we get at home. Next to the fruit bowl was a platter with salads, that were beautiful but tasted odd. A cored pineapple showed up, then a buckwheat pancake was served while an order of eggs was taken with bread.  

 

We had some time to spare so we took our time eating breakfast.  As we were sitting here the elderly woman who lived in the apartment (as a resident) came by to say hello.  We had talked to her and her husband for a brief second on our first day as they helped me maneuver the outdoor shower for our sandy feet, and, then again we exchanged quick greetings when we were off to the beach yesterday morning.

She only spoke Spanish, but again, with my knowledge of Spanish and fluency in Italian we communicated. Using the offline mobile dictionary was a great help!  Actually, the woman and I ended up having a great compassionate conversation.  She was detailing about growing up in the area. It was pretty difficult, but her family got by. I pieced together a lot of her emotional journey.  She seemed very happy to have my ear for the short moment we talked.  We greeted each other good-bye, then a few minutes later her husband came by to say hello.  He didn’t stop to chitchat, I think he was just being nosey  haha.

We then made our way back up to the room to make sure we packed everything and to wait on our taxi.  With some time to spare my husband and oldest daughter wanted to make one last run to the souvenir market by the beach.  They went to do their thing, and my youngest daughter and I sat on our porch enjoying some last-minute sunshine in the salty air.

Weird.The photo I took below with a dog on the roof.  
The sky looks so grey, but it was NOT a cloudy morning!

Lester arrived right on time. He drove the same blue vintage Plymouth from two days ago for this trip.  We packed up our things, handed the keys to Iris and went off on our way to the airport.  It was bittersweet leaving the peninsula.  I had finally started to enjoy the relaxation that Varadero brought me.  But, we all know, vacation isn’t supposed to last for life.

While driving to the airport, we talked a lot to Lester.  He was such a nice guy.  He told us all about his girlfriend, showing us her photos on his phone of her, and his plans to propose to her some day soon.  He asked us how we met, and how long it took to get married.  He was surprised to hear how young we were when we met, but more so how we had dated for five years before getting married, then waited four years to start a family.  Is that surprising?  hmm..

Before hopping in the car, we had asked Lester if we could make one stop along the way, to he Revolution Square.  We never got to officially see it, or stand on it, so I wanted to go pretty badly.  Lester didn’t give a definitive answer, for timing reasons.  Once we got to the outskirts of Havana, he said there was more than enough time to make a stop to the square.  YES!!

We pulled into the lot adjacent to the square.  It was packed with the coolest vintage cars!!  It is kind of a funny coincidence that the red convertible here below was the very same one we saw on our first day walking in La Habana Vieja!  THE SAME ONE!  It is so beautiful in person I can’t even tell you how much the photo does it zero justice.

We walked over to the square, and it was empty.. just us and another family.  The square faces a lot where we were standing, that was flanked by these enormous buildings that had the infamous metal structure statues of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.  Each structure has a statement signature underneath.  Che’s said,”Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Victory, Always).  Camilo’s said, “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel).

After the walk around the Revolution Square, we took off for the airport.  It was just a quick twenty-minute ride through Havana.  Along the ride I had seen a lot of local propaganda on walls and billboards.  Not one Cuban billboard this whole trip dedicated to anything but the socialist agenda.  It was all so fascinating to me.

We greeted Lester with hugs and kisses of good-bye at the airport.  He was such a nice guy.   The airport was a breeze to go through.  We checked in fairly easy.  Went through immigration just as we did when we arrived.  One child per adult with the Immigration Officer. A stamp your passport after a few questions, a snapshot of each traveler, and you are on your way to go through security.  Which in Cuba may be easier than at home.  We got to our gate within a half hour of saying bye to Lester!  We ended up waiting for our departure longer than that.  While waiting, we grabbed a few more bottles of rum for ourselves at duty-free, and, a few bites for the ride home.

We left 85F Havana for 30F Boston!  We got home to find an immense amount of snow on the ground, and a storm on its way.  But you know what?  I actually did not care.  I missed home so much!

My review of our trip.

Never has a place left me with such complexity in my soul.  I walk away from this trip emotional.

The poverty. The social and economic issues and history.  The constant propaganda.  The oppression.  The buildings all in ruins. The trash collection not constant.  Yet, the people were kind.  From the moment we stepped foot into the country to the moment we left we always knew that the kindness from the people would be a constant in our day.   Where we had mostly visited had such immense poverty, Cuba still shined like a diamond. Albeit in the rough, but still shining.

Through its people. 

We started seeing a trend after our first day.  Everyone we met was highly educated, college/university graduates, and they were all proud to tell us that they had free education and free healthcare.  Funny how familiar this sounds as our own country is at odds with those pro and con in this area of politics.  I am not discussing politics, merely stating the obvious.  It’s also interesting to walk around in a city of millions where we never saw one child acting up, and we saw thousands of families on this trip. We saw no parents yelling at their children. Not saying it doesn’t happen, it’s just we never saw it in front of our eyes.   Also, we never saw anyone belligerent in the streets.  No one strung out on drugs. No homeless. Not a person who smelled offensively -dirty or of body odor; everyone was dressed nicely, smelling of detergent.  The houses we could see inside of were neat and clean.  I mean.  Do you guys know how rare this is on that scale?

I guess what I have been saying all along is the reason I am emotional from this visit. The people in Cuba are truly exceptional people.  I am so glad I had this opportunity to see this country.  A country I had always figured would be off-limits to me forever.  I am so glad that I got to see the beautiful sights, historical and special to Cuba, even if at times they were depressing. I feel like this country is on a rebound to being great again.  I hope so too.

I am also so glad to have met Maria and her husband Juan Carlos with their daughter of Vistalmorro.  Ernesto and Lester who drove us around great distances and always had a smile.  Julia and Silvio who own La Rosa de Ortega; with Jose Carlos and the staff. The elderly lady at the school.  The antiques dealers.  The bartender with the glasses at El Floridita.  Our waiter at Varadero60.  Iris and Ana of the Casa Cubana de la Familia, and the elderly couple downstairs. The random guy at the artist market who called me beautiful. Our taxi driver on Valentine’s Day Eve.  The Afro-Cuban artist who walked me personally around her gallery. The waiter from La Fondita Heredia. The group of colorfully dressed women in the park. The multiple taxi drivers in the city who drove us home after a long day.  It is all due to their generosity, kind watchful eyes, soft words and open heart that made me love Cuba.

“Havana, ooh na-na

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na (oh, yeah)”


Thank you for reading along!  Hope you all enjoyed my point of view of Cuba.

Posted in Random Stuff

CUBA 2019- Hemingway House and Varadero

SELRES_5de68f1d-210b-4da2-999f-c2a2ba0030aaSELRES_87e291db-d27c-4a01-99d4-5cbcc2b777a3SELRES_84962270-c50c-402a-a416-6f68d561dfd0SELRES_659a1678-f381-4d9d-858f-d5380c9c7c70SELRES_659a1678-f381-4d9d-858f-d5380c9c7c70SELRES_84962270-c50c-402a-a416-6f68d561dfd0SELRES_87e291db-d27c-4a01-99d4-5cbcc2b777a3SELRES_5de68f1d-210b-4da2-999f-c2a2ba0030aaWhat’s happening, everyone!?!?

Here we are on our sixth day in Cuba.  It was VALentine’s Day, and it turned out to be a pretty great one! Especially compared to the day before.  For starters, the rain stopped. Yes! Then we left the bustling city of Havana, in our third reserved classic car, for the laid back beach of Varadero. We made a few fantastic stops along the way and ended the day eating at a kickass restaurant.

Before I go onto journaling my day, quickly let me point out, Valentine’s Day in Cuba is a big deal.  I mean, BIG deal!  They really go all out for the day.  Here I thought I was would be the love-day-centric one with dressing cute and having the kids wearing springy heart headbands, but everywhere we went, places were themed, decorated to the nines.  It was like a magical place for me.  haha (Get it? nudge Cuz I love all holidays? nudge nudge..)


Overnight, the storm came back.  The sounds of the pouring rain and wind were horrendous, and we were so thankful our children slept through the whole thing. Waking up on this morning, I noticed before jumping out of bed, that a lot of birds were singing and chirping from the trees below our room. Something we hadn’t heard on this trip yet. The skies still looked grey when I peaked to check, but also seemed like the clouds could break to sunshine.  Just couldn’t tell.

Secretly the night before bed, I had set up a surprise in the corner of the kitchen by the terrarium for the girls. Nothing crazy;  silly cards, themed candies and a few fun toys.  When I walked from the bedroom through the kitchen, I noticed that they had left cards there for me and my husband, and each other, too! Those rascals got me!! 

As we got to the patio for breakfast, we were surprised by the staff, too. They had set a table for us with a special Valentine’s Day chocolate treat at each place setting. Gee, I wonder how long they waited for us to come down!?  Right when we got coffee, we had the girls exchange cards and open gifts.

Ok, onto breakfast.  Our last breakfast at this casa particular.  Which looking back, was such a beautiful, special place. We absolutely enjoyed this location with its people and beautiful landscape. I hope if we ever go back to Cuba we start our trip off right from this casa particular!

I laughed when we got coffee because what showed up…that darn bowl of fruit salad!  haha My husband didn’t have a chance to say we wouldn’t be needing it on this morning.  So, he did eat some, I don’t know how, but I watched him do it!!  (If you have no clue why I am laughing, it’s because during this trip we found the fruit to be strange in texture and flavor, just very undesirable.)

With the sun struggling to appear, our car showed up right on time at 10AM. It was a 1949 blue Plymouth sedan!  The tour guide who picked us up was Lester, the owner and best friend of the driver who took us to Viñales a few days before. Lester was a very young and pleasant man.   We packed up the car with every bag and person then headed on our way.  The drive to Varadero is about two and a half hours long. We had planned two stops beforehand, the Museo Ernest Hemingway  (Ernest Hemingway’s House now a museum), which was 20 minutes away from the casa, and then the Bacunayagya Bridge lookout for pina coladas, which was an hour and a half away from the museum.

For some reason Lester, his voice and demeanor, reminded me of the comedian/actor/podcaster Bryan Callen.  If you don’t know who Bryan Callen is.. shame on you, and I highly recommend The Fighter and The Kid podcast.

Lester started driving us in a totally different direction through Havana. He told us to get to Hemingway’s House, our first stop, he had to take us through a different ward, which is a neighborhood that not many tourists go through.  This neighborhood was totally different on every level from where we had been before on this trip.  The serious economic problems were glaring.  I had alluded to this previously in my Cuba posts, but driving through this neighborhood it was raw. In your face. There were no impressive embassies, no large distinguished hotels, no crystal ocean views, no historical monuments, and definitely, no vividly bright buildings; here had none of that.

Side note:  This is what I battled with emotionally through this trip.  It is a beautiful country with a lot of history and culture. So much of its modern-day culture, however, is draped in its socialism, which lends to this devastating way of life and poverty peppered throughout.  We would see poor living conditions a lot, not to this extreme as we did here, but every night I was left feeling sad.  Wanting to give everyone I saw whatever I had to offer. The people we were meeting were so wonderful and generous, even if they were living in what we know as an oppressed society.  Which seems to be on some uprising, or at least I hope it is.  It really is a complicated country. It’s hard to explain to people that it’s beautiful, with its rich history, without telling them of this heartache.  I mean, I am sure people can turn a blind eye, it’s just I don’t know they can.

This neighborhood spilled into another and then into the San Francisco de Paula ward.  This is where Hemingway’s house/museum is found. It is definitely a different vibe from the streets we just traveled through.  We were now on a wider boulevard with large homes, and green trees tucked perfectly around. Such a shock from the one we just drove through.   We were just observing a man wheeling cakes through black exhaust to sell by the train tracks, then we were driving up this amazing wooded driveway to a villa. 

Hemingway’s house lays upon serene wooded and hilly grounds, with a vista of Havana from the back patio of the house.  It is just beautiful. My gosh.  Though the house is not open to visitors to walk through the inside, it is completely open for viewing from the outside through doorways and windows. This goes for the three-story look-out building adjacent to the house, as well.  Everything is preserved, and staged, as he had it while he was alive. While you poke your head into a living room, or a bedroom, or even into his bathroom, you can’t help but want to jump in there to play house with all of his belongings.

Walking the paths of the gardens was peaceful.  We went down the main path towards the recreation area; there was a swimming pool, cock-fighting ring and his boat. What an amazing sight!  First you come across the pool to the left. It was empty, but all I could think of was the blue glistening water on a sunny day. And, Ava Gardner skinny dipping and how I would totally be there doing that same thing!  The cabanas that flank the back of the pool are decorated with poster sized photos of Hemingway with his famous friends. Just thinking of all the people who went through that space is dizzying; must have been an amazing sight!

Right past the pool is the burial spot of his favorite cats.  They were in front of his boat; they look as if they are guarding it!  His fishing boat, recently restored, is not accessible by guests, as it’s grounded in the tennis courts space. I spent a long time looking at this boat.   This boat saw a lot of action in the water with Hemingway. He invited notable guests on that boat.  He caught record-breaking sized fish. He made a few epic water trips like those we read about to Bimini. Also, he used this boat to search for German U-Boats during WWII and on science expeditions off the coast of Cuba!  How cool, right? Also, two of his books were influenced by the time he spent on this fishing boat, The Old Man and the Sea, and, Islands in the Stream.  So much history.  If that boat could talk, it would probably have some insane stories!

We left the Hemingway House with the sun still struggling to come out. It did peep out a few times. Ahead of us was another hour or so of driving before our next stop. We were headed for a little stretch and drink at the Bacunayagya overlook.  This overlook is in the town of Bacunayagya and faces a valley where the highest bridge in all of Cuba is located. The Bacunayagua Bridge is considered a modern Cuban engineering marvel.  It is quite impressive, and the view from the overlook was magnificent of the valley.

The overlook had an outdoor cocktail bar. This place was a lot of fun; a great place to check out views holding a pina colada. An interesting little fact about cocktail bars like this is Cuba is that they make the drink virgin, then you put the alcohol in the drink.  So, we had a lot of fun making questioning faces with the bartender pouring lots of rum into our drinks. 

We were feeling pretty happy leaving there, to say the least.  🙂

After leaving the bridge, which we were able to drive over, we drove along the coast line of Cuba.  Wow, it was beautiful.  The colors of blue and aqua beaming from the water looked like a postcard. It was fascinating to see how not the Cuban government nor its people capitalized on the spaces along the water. I mean, we drove for a good hour along the water without any homes or businesses, not that they were needed.  That isn’t what I am inferring, but all I could wonder was how prime real estate could exist without any need for it.  Back in the States this space would be eaten up!  (I hope for Cuba’s sake no one does overbuild and ruin the coast.)

We made it to Varadero!  Yes!  The skies were still a little grey.  No!

Varadero is known as a beach resort town.  This town is located on the Hicacos peninsula, which lends to great surrounding views of the Atlantic Ocean.  One side of the peninsula is beach front, the other side is a coastal highway.  The beach is about 13 miles long, with government-run resorts along a small stretch of beach. (We never walked to that part.)  As colorful homes are conveniently located along tightly nestled grid alleyways, roughly a block away from the beach entrances. Between the homes and the beach front are the restaurants and souvenir shops.  There are no boardwalks lined with stuff, this is a natural sight where the streets make their way to the sandy edges of the beach paths with small fences and trees.  Walking the paths towards the beach is a HUGE treat, visually.

We were reminded along the drive by Lester that the Cuban government did not allow its citizens to vacation in Varadero until a few years ago.  We learned this information before arriving in Cuba.  The boom for its privately owned industry is very recent, open a handful of years.  Which is something we thought about throughout our trip.  I can’t imagine my government telling me that I couldn’t vacation with tourists in my own country.  But that is what they did, and that is how they lived.  

We arrived to our casa particular, the Casa de la Familia Cubana, at 2PM.  We were greeted by Iris, one of the staff helping the owners of the house. Iris took us on a great tour of the house, showing us all the ins and outs, and details for breakfast. We had a lot of space.  Two bedrooms equipped with AC and fans.  Our bedroom had a mini fridge, which was stocked with waters and beers. We had two full bathrooms, which was a treat!  A kitchen with dining area that had access to the roof deck and to the patio where they served breakfast every morning.

Iris was a very sweet woman, but spoke no English.  Which was fine with me!  haha

After our walk through of the house, we ran to get into our bathing suits because you know what came out when we got to the house?  THE SUN!!!  Seriously, it was like a gift from the universe.  We drove over the town border, onto the peninsula, then the skies cleared up and the sun just shone with all its might.  I was beyond happy to see the sun.

We headed straight for the beach with towels Iris handed us and the water from the fridge.  I stashed a few snack bars in the bags too.  Oh I forgot to mention, that we had taken the rice and plantains from dinner the night before to have for lunch today.  Which we scarfed down before the beach.  I totally forgot.

This is all we had planned for the day, get to Varadero, sit on the beach then eat dinner somewhere nice!

The beach was literally a five minute walk away from our casa.  We crossed one major street, then took a right down another toward the entrance of the beach.  Along the walk there were restaurants and breweries, other casa particular, and public bathrooms lined up.  The walk onto the beach transported you to a more private space.  The sands were cool to the touch of your feet, even in the sunshine, and the turquoise waves were brilliantly crashing.

There were not many people on the beach, as we were warned not a lot of people would be.  It’s Cuba’s Winter season, so not many locals will go, which was ok by us!   The storm from the days prior really shook up the ocean, bringing us these crazy waves.  I have never seen such clear blue water anywhere else as I have in Cuba.  The colors made my eyes sparkle and my heart flutter.

The sun started to set, but we had to run to get ready for our reservations.  We were so excited to go out tonight! Not just that we were all starving, haha. We got to the house to find the view of the sun set from our front door.  We got ready as fast as we could because we were running behind, and still needed to flag down a car to get us to the restaurant.

We flagged down a watermelon colored vintage Pontiac.  This car was cool!  The girls loved it because, well, watermelon colored and a convertible! And my husband loved it because the driver of the car blared Cuban music along the drive, and would randomly honk his horn to pedestrians on the side-walk.  The horn sound was whistling, you know, that sexy whistle. If you play the video below, you can hear it in the background of the song. That ten minute ride to the restaurant was super funny, and set a tone for the night.

The car dropped us off, with the music blaring, right out front of the restaurant that was booming with people! The entrance to the restaurant was decorated fully in red balloons with a sign above that read ‘love you forever’ with hearts. We walked up to the desk to check in with the woman.  She greeted us by handing a Valentine’s Day themed cocktail to each adult, a caipiroska, and a virgin drink of the same to each child. We were then seated at a table outside which was perfect because the weather was warm and there was a light breeze. The table was set in red with flowers in the middle and a box of candies for the girls.

We had an exceptional waiter.  He explained that they had a prefix menu for Valentine’s Day along with their regular menu… and what a menu they had! I decided to get the Valentine’s Day prefix. My husband opted for the seafood platter as the girls decided to get a risotto dish, which was black squid ink with seared beef, and a pasta dish, which was with a meat sauce, to share.

Soon served was the appetizer to my meal. It was a play on sushi; three large rolls on a plate neatly.  One was a twirl of squid ink risotto with a black salmon center.  The next was a red wine tinted risotto with Serano ham. And the third was a traditional white risotto with shrimp. We enjoyed that dish so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to take a picture; and I kick myself every day because it was so beautiful to look at! We grabbed another round of drinks, and then the mushroom cream soup with balsamic vinegar reduction was served. This soup was by far the best soup I’ve ever eaten in my life! And I’m not exaggerating. The soup was that good. The consistency, the finesse, it was all beautiful. My family took a bite but let me eat the majority of it..which I gladly did!  haha   Then everyone’s main dishes arrived.  We tasted the pasta and risotto dishes, which were pretty great.  My husband’s seafood platter was so good, but my dish really out shined them all. I had the paired pork chop and steak with a port wine salsa. The food on my plate was definitely cooked with love. Even the side of potatoes, that seem to be au gratin, were some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

All while we were there, about 3 hours, in the background was a band playing at the end of the enclosed patio.  It was a guitar duo, playing classical versions of modern songs.  No singing, just guitar.  They were amazing. This restaurant just had such a great vibe.

What a joy of a meal. A great way to end a day.

 

 

My review of the day.

I was so grateful when the sun finally showed itself as we got to Varadero.  This was the first day of our trip that I felt like I was on vacation.  We got to see some sights, but knowing where we were headed, to the beach, my thoughts didn’t seem so heavy on my shoulders.  Like I was letting go of thoughts of back home and focusing on …nothing, just me and relaxing.  It was a day my family needed.

And I just have that to say in my review today.  🙂

 


Next Cuba post will be Days 7 – hanging out in Varadero.

 

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- RAIN DAY

Hey Everyone!
Well, as you can tell from the title, the rain we had the day before barely let up overnight and washed out this day.

Our plan for the day was to head back to the center of Havana to check out some shops and continue on our historic tour around.  Well, we never made it because the universe had other plans for us.


We woke up to gloomy skies. The first morning without sunshine on this trip.  We had a morning plan to swim again till noon, but with the skies so grumpy we thought otherwise.  ‘We’ meaning my husband and I, as our girls did not care to skip swimming.  Their mindset to swim is strong.

Breakfast this day was basically the same, with some minor differences from yesterday.  We were served a traditional Cuban juice to start this time, which of course, I took a smell of but did not taste. Everyone tried a sip and gave the “why did I drink that?” face.  I watched it immediately settle in front of my eyes into a murky brown drink, so no way was that going down my throat.  Following were crispy fruit turnovers served with pineapple marmalade and our coffees and milk.  The marmalade and pastry were beautiful.  My husband requested no fruit on this morning. For my husband, a fruit junky, wanting no part of them… they must’ve tasted horrible.  Next to make a breakfast appearance was the yummy basket of toast, where they asked about cooking our individual eggs.  Then we were given a platter of tomatoes with hotdogs.  Hotdogs.  Yes, I said hotdogs.  They were more like a würstel, a Vienna sausage.  I only know what würstels look and taste like because in Sicily, where I have been many times growing up, it is liked as toppings on pizza.    

The kids flew up to the pool right after eating.  They swam gleefully for a long time. They were having fun diving, calling for us, and screaming for the dog, Brenda, to join them.  That girl was not having it, she was old.  Then the rain started to fall.  The girls did not care, so they continued on swimming.  My husband at this point went to talk to the manager about what things we could explore locally before heading to Havana later.  She gave him a map with a few fun spots on it.  When we looked at it together, we made the decision to check out a local antiques dealer.  Thinking the rain was either going to pass.

The girls swam for two hours! We grabbed them from the pool for a snack and drink, before getting dressed.  The shop was about a fifteen minute walk away from our casa particular. As we exited our room we saw that two large golf umbrellas were left for us.  Score!  We had packed ponchos for this trip, but figured the rain would be compliant.

The place was only down the street right?!

We went on our way.  The street our casa was on was interesting to say the least.  Geez, the neighborhood, at this point is safe to say, was interesting, too.  Our casa and the villa across the street were these exquisite mansions on top of this steep hill.  Beautiful in every detail imaginable.  As you would leave the homes to go to the street it was like you were in a war-torn country.  The roads were ripped up.  Trash collection areas were overflowing with what looked like a month’s worth of trash, with cats hanging out all over them.  Which on the bright side, we NEVER saw a mouse or rat, or cockroach, or anything of the like! There was an explanation for the roads, but still it was pretty crazy to see.  The streets were all ripped up because there was a neighborhood wide water pipe replacement in process. But a week prior to our arrival, a tornado hit the other part of Havana.  The workers were instructed to the tornado torn areas to get them back in shape before returning to work on the water pipes.  Crazy right?!

As we were dodging potholes and the like, the skies remained gloomy but hopeful; there seemed to be a spark of light behind the clouds trying to break through.  Just as we made it down a pretty steep hill, like five minutes from our casa, that hopeful thinking sank. The skies grew dark then opened up to a heavy rain with an extreme gusting wind.  We walked as much as we could. The winds were just whipping too much. We thought to take some refuse under a tree with the umbrella.  While there it was tolerable to stand.  As soon as we thought it wasn’t terribly bad to keep walking, the rain changed from heavy drops to literal sheets! Trying to figure where we were within the distance to the shop on the map under all the wind and rain was hard.  It was so noisy, blustery and wet that I couldn’t hold my wits together.

Yes! The rain and winds picked up so much at that moment that concentrating was difficult!  I looked up from where we were to see a large house like building with a porch and a plaque on the fence with the word escuela faintly printed on it.  Ahh, a school! So I grabbed the girls by the hand, yelled to everyone to head up onto the top of the stairs of the school where there was better shelter. We made it.  Standing there, we were all hopeful that the rain would scatter soon as it did the night before.

Nope.  It didn’t!

The rain turned to a literal tropical storm two minutes after we got on top of the stairs (when I shot that small snap video). The water that was falling flooded the street in seconds, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  Some cars had to turn around because the flooding was so bad along the corners of the road!  We were huddled in the doorway of the school behind the umbrella getting drenched by the rain being whipped around as we were watching this storm unfold before us. Each gust of wind moved us around to try to find dryer spots.  My husband and I were at a loss because what were we to do with the amount of water on the streets and sidewalks. Not only could we not walk, but the idea to find a taxi fleeted fast.

The storm was crazy!

We were there battling the storm for about twenty minutes when all of a sudden the door behind us gave way, and we heard this sweet voice. A small elderly woman, who we think was a teacher passing by in the lobby, welcomed us inside the lobby in Spanish.  What I could understand was she was asking us to come in from the storm then directed us to take shelter till the storm passed on.  She even said a prayer for us. What a sweet woman. We shook her hand a million times saying thank you. Seriously, we were so thankful.

We were in an Elementary School!  The lobby door was flanked by vintage glass panels, giving us a wobbly view of the storm outside from the inside. Every few minutes a parent would come to the door to pick up their child. These people were soaking wet as they must have walked to the school for pick up.  Each opening of the door was harder and harder for the person, as the wind was blowing at a great strength.  We watched every child walking to the door with their parents being blown from the stairs then rained upon through the window.

We were safe in the lobby.  We sat around there for an hour or so trying to figure out our plans. My husband grew restless.  Surprisingly, not the girls who were happily distracted playing; one on my phone playing Wood Block puzzle and our oldest playing old snap videos on her phone.   I was just happy to be inside!   My husband started roaming the lobby, it was open to a semi covered outdoor courtyard. By this point, sitting around for an hour and a half now, seeing that my husband was not up to waiting this storm out, I told him to take the umbrella to head down to see how far the shop was compared to where we were waiting.  Take a browse and come back.  The wind seemed better to trek through, and it looked as if MAYBE the storm was moving past.  Us girls stayed behind as he went along.

After 20 minutes of being on our own, I grew nervous, naturally.  Where was he?   The storm died down a tremendous amount as we watched child after child being picked up.  We all felt like the school was emptying out fast and we would probably be asked to leave at some point soon. Hesitantly, I took the girls off for a fast walk towards the shop address I memorized. I was fearful of getting caught in this storm without my husband, without an umbrella or without shelter.  The roads were no longer flooded, and lots of people were walking by us.  Just as we were crossing to the other side of the street, we bumped into my husband!  He was safe and so happy to give us the umbrella.  He did find the shop, browsed a bit and was heading back to grab us.

He walked us to the shop, which was someone’s home.  That is how it is in a lot of family run businesses.  They are out of their homes, which are set up like stores, just with a full kitchen at the end.  This place was impressive. I only took these three pictures below, but the place was not only beautiful and colorful, but filled to the brim!!  It was all so fascinating!

Once we went through this house, the antiques dealer’s assistant walked us across the yard, through the rain, to another house they owned that was also filled to the ceilings! Just wow. They had themed rooms throughout, too. There was a room of vintage kitchen jars. A room of glassware. A room of cookie jars. A room of propaganda. A room of metal statues. A room of local artists..  I can definitely go on and on!

We had a great opportunity to buy some antiques, so we did.  Just a few unique items that you just can’t find here in the States.  The dealer was a quiet man but friendly.  He went out of his way to take us to the depths of the house looking at antiques.  He sort of reminded me of my best friend Tony.  The shop’s owner, house owner, however, was a more talkative man. He was real concerned during our purchase that we were walking back to where we were staying.  He kept asking if we wanted a ride, but we kept declining.  It was a super nice gesture.

We left the shop talking about all the cool stuff we just saw and bought.  It was still raining, much more tolerable drops, but we now had heavy bags.  There was a big tree out front of the shop which was perfect to help shelter the girls with the umbrella, as we flagged a cab.  The streets were not flooded, but we were having the darnedest time hailing a taxi.  The whole city of Havana is chockers with taxis, but the one time we would welcome some harassment from a taxi driver we find none!  Figures!   After about ten minutes, we heard someone whistle over to us.   It was the shop owner! In his driveway outside of his car!  He demanded to give us a ride back to the casa particular.  We didn’t think twice really, because riding with him for six minutes was a much better scenario than us trying to hike up the steep hill in thee rain that we easily came down before in dry weather.  He was a very sweet man, even talked to us in the little English he knew.  Apparently, he was good friends with the owners of our casa!  He kept saying it was is pleasure to drive us, which I believed.  He seemed sincere.

Seriously, the people of Cuba are quite wonderful. 🙂

By the time we got back up to our place, it was getting dark.  We had spent an entire day out and all we did was shop at one location!!!  OHMY!  We went right to the main house to make dinner reservations at a place they had suggested to us earlier.  We made reservations for 7PM, and a taxi was going to pick us up at 6:45PM.  Which meant we had an hour to kill.

Did someone say daiquiris on the patio?!!?  Oh, that was me.

We got freshened up for our dinner in minutes after drinks. It was rainy still, so even though I changed, I didn’t want to lose the cap!  Our taxi came to pick us up on time.  When we gave him the address, he smiled because the ride was short. So short that he offered to pick us up after dinner for a total fee of $6 CUC, because he said it would be more worthwhile for all of us.  I mean, that was super nice, right? Our reservations were for La Fondita Heredia.  The taxi driver brought us to the restaurant’s door, handed us a business card, then literally parked across the street.  Whether he waited the whole time, we aren’t sure, but he was there in seconds after we called for pick up.

The restaurant was so much fun!!!  We walked in to this beautiful modern space to find it decorated with red and white balloons for Valentine’s Day (it was the eve of).  We were seated by the bar where you walk in.  We were greeted by our very nice waiter. He spoke English very well, and greeted us with a complimentary drink of our choice.  We got a round of drinks, which were so fancy and delicious.  A canchancharra for my husband, a sangria for me and the girls’ usual drinks, a pina colada and a frozen lemonade. Right as we started ordering our main dishes the restaurant got busy!  In a matter of ten minutes sitting there every table, both floors filled up.  A lot of people were out to celebrate VALentine’s Day.

We ordered a round of appetizers to share, a chicken tamale casserole, talk about amazing!, and plantains stuffed with tuna.  I didn’t eat the tuna appetizer but they all raved how fantastic it was. Talking to our waiter was a lot of fun.  We ordered another round of drinks.  Then our meals arrived; ropa vieja, chicken chimichurri,  pork tips and shrimp enchilada.  This feast came with a side of tostones and moros & cristianos (rice cooked with black beans) family style.  We ended the meal with a round of flan for my crew.  I just couldn’t fit another bite of food in, so I had to pass.

This meal was so comforting and delicious. You could just see the attention to the dishes, and the flavors.  It was the best meal of the trip thus far.     

Our waiter let us use his cellphone to call the taxi, who arrived in seconds. Was he sitting nearby?  I mean, we were dining at this place for about 2 hours, or even more!  He was so joyful picking us up, and got us back up to our casa particular safely.  Driving these crazy ripped up streets was so nerve-wracking in the daylight, but at night-time it was scary!!

We arrived to our apartment full, happy but utterly tired.  We changed into pjs then hung out on the beautiful leather couch in the living room watching a murder mystery.  It was a great way to end our rainy day


 

My review of the day.

What a soggy and blustery day! While we were watching TV tonight, all I could think about was the kind hearts of the people we encountered today.

The elderly woman who let us in from the storm.  She didn’t have to do that; she had a school to take care of.  We were strangers to her, but she saw us struggling and opened her heart.  The antiques shop owner going out of his way from the comfort of his home to driving us in the rain, up the largest hill I had ever seen in a city. He opened his heart.  The taxi driver at the end of the night.  He did not have to help us out with a good price for a two-way cab ride or wait for us, either.  He didn’t have to do anything even close, but, he opened his heart.

What better gesture on Valentine’s Day Eve is there than opening your heart to someone?  I can’t think of any.  ❤︎


Next Cuba post will be Day 6–  We head off to the beach of Varadero, and go out for a special Valentine’s Day dinner!! Does the rain stop??

 

Posted in Party Time!

Christmas 2018 and NYE

Hello WordPressland!

Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas Season and a great start to 2019!

Christmastime Fun!

We had a great season exploring all that Boston has to offer before school vacation, AND after! My eldest sister is home from Italy with her family, and is for another 10 days or so, so we got right to the fun.  My niece is 10yo, and she has never seen Christmas outside of her region of Italy. And, Christmas here in the States is like nowhere else.

We glam it up in every direction with decorations, lots of trees and an amont of lights compared to none; it is quite the spectacular sight if you have never seen it before. (and as I spent one Christmas in her hometown in 2007, I know she had NEVER seen anything like a holiday here.)

We tried to do so much.. we started the first day they got here by seeing the Christmas St Bernard Dogs at Smolak Farms. Those dogs look animated, that is how cute they are in real life.  Then we celebrated our Mom’s 70th birthday, which I hosted the cake afterward.  We then took the kids to see the Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet. My family and I had a few holiday parties between, then we took a trip with all the family to see the Enchanted Village at Jordan’s.  I brought my sister with her family with me to work one day so she could walk around to shop. Then we celebrated my 42nd birthday.  After that was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Then we celebrate my niece’s birthday. After that we took everyone to the Museum of Science to check out the new sights there. My family and I had a party that we brought my niece to at the Hampshire House. Which was quite the kick ass party.  Then it was Christmas week, where Christmas Eve was hosted by my sister-in-law. Christmas Day was hosted by my parents, we had a sleep over and a few friend parties between as the girls slept at my sister’s one night for a kids birthday for my niece, then I hosted New Year’s Eve night, and that follows these Christmas pictures below.

All in all it was busy, but fun.  I may need a vacation soon after all this!

 

New Year’s Eve!

‘You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.’ -C.S. Lewis

☆☆☆Happy 2019!!☆☆☆

It had been four years since we hosted a NYE party, and with my sister home we figured why not this year?   We had decided last minute to make this party a potluck. With thirty people coming we had to figure out how to make everyone happy, and potlucks are a great way to make sure folks eat what they like… and I actually like hosting them. And man oh man, did my guys out do themselves! We offered a lot to begin with..unlimited cava and prosecco to start, a chili bar, crab cakes, taquitos, roasted mini peppers (which I can’t get enough of), a cheese plate, a literal vat of guacamole and dip with an insane amount of chips. Everyone ended up bringing so much…a monster Italian pandoro sandwich, pizza, chicken enchiladas, mini hotdogs, pulled chicken, sausages, mac n cheese, cakes, cookies, and the list goes on!! (I am swearing off food after this week btw.  I had lost 7lbs in December, and I think I have gained back five from NYE alone!! haha) But it was all well worth it.  I loved hosting this party this year even if my house still looks like it was hit with a tornado.  🙂

The next day we were sluggish, but we made it for January 1’s dinner with my family at my parents’.  Very low-key, just like I like it.  Now I am off to work.  YES I typed this all out before the kids got off to school.  Maybe 2019 will be a productive year?  haha No I know, I doubt that, too.  🙂

That’s it.  I hope you all had a great start to this fresh new year!  Best wishes for a healthy, prosperous 2019.

xoxoxox