Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- Self-Care Ideas

Self-care is a deliberate activity, action, or purpose that helps in regulating your mind, feelings and/or body.  Taking time for one’s self is absolutely important. You can change your whole perspective of your feelings, day-to-day situations, your energy, or anything that you need to uplift yourself from.

Below are my top ten favorite ways to self-care.

 

Valeria’s Top Ten Thursday- Self-Care Ideas

  1. Meditate. If you have never done it..it’s easy!  Find a comfortable spot to sit 10-15 minutes uninterrupted. If you have more time, that is even better. Set your cell’s alarm, place it close to you but not on you.  Close your eyes. Take conscious deep breaths. Listen to your breathing. Relax each part of your body as you feel the ground below you.  If you can, try to just be, without thinking about your day-to-day stresses.

  2. Apply a face mask. All faces can benefit from this!  Try any type that suits your skin type or needs- fibre, clay, gel, charcoal or mud, just follow the instructions.

  3. Listen to a segment of your favorite podcast, or watch it on YouTube.

  4. Take a bath.  Try it with lavender bath salts!

  5. Stretch. Since having my shoulder issues stretching is necessary.  I find I am so much happier on the days I stretch.

  6. Feel the sunshine.  Get outdoors, stand in a window, in the car..anywhere!  I like to  take a few minutes to appreciate the warm feel on my skin.

  7. Make coffee, tea or any drink you enjoy. My favorite pastime is to drink a latte on the couch; no cell phone, no TV, no books, nothing.  Just focusing on the warm joy of the coffee.

  8. Sit quietly.  I like doing this in the grass of my backyard. Looking at the colors and listening to the natural surroundings.

  9. Organize a cabinet or closet.  It’s funny to think that doing the work of organizing actually makes you feel good.  For me, it lifts that back of the mind stress, AND, I believe the concentrated motion of working, like this, helps us steep through situations to clear the mind.

  10. Read a book. Take a moment to read a few pages. Snuggle up on your couch, head to the beach, or, sit in your bed, anywhere you can take the time to dive right in for a few moments.

 

▶︎ I announced on FB that I am moving my Top Ten Thursday lists to a monthly post.  This will be my last TTT post for March.

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- 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 My Travels

CUBA 2019- Fusterlandia and Habana Vieja

Hello WordPressers!

Our fourth day in Cuba started off with bright sunny skies. The day’s plan was to eat breakfast then head to the pool to enjoy some sun before heading out on our second previously reserved classic car tour.  Pick up was for 1PM, which left us a good amount of time to relax a little.


This was our first morning in this casa particular, La Rosa Ortega.  It was even more beautiful in the daylight.  When I opened my eyes our room was lit up in a peachy glow.  The glow went throughout the house, especially in the terrarium.  There were so many orchids draped in the light on the wall, with one magenta flower blooming in the top left-hand corner. It really was a neat visual in the space.

Getting ready in this apartment was fantastic.  We had so much room, which is a huge deal when you have a teenager and a tween..who are total opposites.  We made record timing getting into our swimsuits and covers. Not an argument to break up, and I was able to get myself put together without any interruption. Which doesn’t ever happen. Ever. It was a miracle morning!

Right outside the front door there was a view of the pathway to the rooms, and flanked to the upper right was a driveway that was not active.  It was a grand cascading driveway that formed the letter ‘J’.  In its crook were many parked retired classic cars.   One of which, a black Cadillac, that I drooled over.  Some little girls dream of unicorns and rainbows, well this girl had dreams of owning a vintage Lincoln, like the one there, but with suicide doors.    

Breakfast at this casa was made with so much care and love, that it was hard for me not to at least try what was presented.  The juices here also had a weird texture or taste, so after this first breakfast I just stayed away from juice in general.  We started this breakfast off with coffee and milk, and, hot milk and tea for the kids.  The milk served in Cuba is whole fat, and it is not bright white like in the States (just a heads up).  It tastes great and is perfectly paired with their strong coffee. We were then served the first course of a pastry and homemade marmalade; yes, they served us in courses.  This was a special treat after a weird few days with breakfast.  Now, I like jelly and all, but this marmalade was the BEST I had ever eaten.  It was beautiful in every way; the colors of the fruits they used and the texture, it was so enjoyable.  Needless to say, I had eaten a lot of it.

During our meal we heard a parrot whistling, and playing with one of the maintenance men.  The man would walk up to the pool railing, about 25 ft away, whistling to the parrot then the parrot would whistle back; in that sexy whistle.  The second I walked up to the bird he just stared at me, wanted nothing to do with me.  The maintenance guy, however, in Spanish behind me was telling the bird to whistle. The bird seemed freaked out by me so I walked away.  The bird whistled finally when I walked away!!  SOB!!

Back at the table, the traditional fruits were placed on the table.  Here they made it into a soupy fruit salad, and well, it was not ‘Yummy. Yummy’.  Man, I just don’t get why their fruits had such a crazy off flavor. At this point the woman running the space asked us about eggs.  Since I had only eaten a bite of eggs the day before from my kids’ plates, and was not into them, I was curious and asked for one over hard. My kids asked for scrambled and my husband omelet.  After that, we were served this beautiful basket of toasts and breads with the most amazing butter.  Then a platter of tomatoes with a chorizo type salami was placed on the table. The eggs then followed and we were left to enjoy a beautiful morning under the thatched eating area.

Our kids couldn’t even wait for breakfast to end, they wanted to run up to the pool to play.  Well, we let them go up a touch before finishing their meals.  We then soon followed.  The pool area was beautifully set up above the patio, facing the gorgeous yellow house and overlooking an expansive view of Havana.  It was almost too perfect.  We were there as a family alone the whole time, splashing around playing with the pool toys we had brought. Really enjoying the water and the sunshine.  We then grabbed some drinks, yep, daiquiris and pina coladas!  I miss these daiquiris typing out these days.

It was time to get ready for our big day ahead!  We were all so excited for this tour!! We reserved it to take us to all the hotspots of Havana in a shiny pink convertible.  And, well, we didn’t get what we reserved..  ugh I hate complaining.

So, we had made this reservation ahead of the trip, specifically for their gorgeous pink convertible that they had on their website. When this other convertible showed up that afternoon, my husband gave me the look of disappointment.  I just smiled and carried on getting amped to go out.

Ok, so the car wasn’t exactly what we asked for but I didn’t want to ruin it for the girls and figured the tour will still be fun, regardless.  WELLLLLLLLlllll.

A tour is usually with someone who knows about the area they are taking you around, explaining why the sights are important or at least knowing something about the area.  As much as this man taking us on the tour was nice and knew where to drive, he didn’t really tell us anything about the sights he was pointing out, nor did he speak English very well (or at all).  Which was not part of the reservation.  We asked for a specific car and an English-speaking guide.

Our tour guide started off with taking us down a street pointing out all the embassies around, we were obviously near embassy row.  These things were easy for us to understand without much more explanation.  Then things we didn’t quite understand the reasoning of why he was pointing them out started right after.

Our first stop was to a river.  Why was this river important?  We have no idea.  Well I do now since I googled “rivers of Havana” when I got home. SMH.  All we saw at that moment, however, were a work crew on our left, some old world pavers and steps to our right, and a sight of the water rushing below.  From the guide’s expression I understood it was somewhere important, but he couldn’t say more than the word river to us about it.  I learned that it was the Almendares River, an important river of the area that was used centuries ago to separate the provinces then became a major waterway for industry.   The construction crew there, I learned, are working on a project to bring back the area with greenways of paths, plants, parks and even restaurants to enliven the city.

As we left the river, he took us on a tour through a beautiful wooded area.  Why was this wooded area important? We don’t know.  I learned it was the Havana Forest. As we were driving the path, the trees were making interesting shapes, like the elephant in the photo below.  So many old trees along the path were twisted around like that.  The sunlight was struggling to make it through the lush canopy. There were a few sights like an old castle like building and a park where families were playing with their children among these huge trees.

Then from the wooded area we ended up in the city. We were driving by some interesting places, but nothing was said by our guide. We arrived at our next destination, Fusterlandia, in the Jaimanitas neighborhood outside Havana.  This place was so super cool.  From the drive into the neighborhood you are immersed in art. Our guide parked, let us out, then motioned to us and literally said, “You go look. I am here.”

Well, OK then.  Thankfully we researched this place beforehand.  It is an artist colony that started as an art project of José Fuster.  He is a folk artist who was so influenced by his overseas trip to Spain, as he was struck by Gaudi’s artworks. When he returned to Havana, he decided to transform his impoverished neighborhood into a work of art.  Little by little he tiled his space, then his neighbors, then the whole neighborhood.  The end result is this folksy, colorful tiled space that brings a smile instantly to your face.

We enjoyed it so much.  The main part of the area, Fuster’s art studio, was transformed into a three-story outdoor wonderland. Each rise of your eye level, along each floor, brought you a totally different view-point of the surroundings. Each tiled space would show you its secret, like the pool below that was tiled in blue abstract tiles turns to reveal a woman bathing below from the top level. So cool!  Every piece of building was tiled.  It was so impressively unfathomable.  The time and talent behind this space.  After looking around this space we decided to take a quick walk to the shops that surrounded the streets.  We hopped to different jewelry stores, where I bought myself a cool wooden bracelet.  Then we got to look at an art gallery where we found this woman artist who specialized in Afro-Cuban art using different mediums like spray paint, newspaper, or naturally made paints from locally sourced plants, she was so talented. I talked to her for some time as she showed me all the upcycled materials she had used in her gallery.

We really enjoyed this time on our tour.

We planned to go to the Hotel Nacional in Habana Vieja from Fusterlandia. Well, this is where my husband started to lose his mind.  My husband is a passive giant, seriously, what a patient person, but on this afternoon tour I could see from the back seat that he was slowly turning into the hulk. haha I just have to laugh, because it is so not in his nature to do what he ended up doing. Ok, so I am not sure how I can explain the oddity of this tour further.  Our guide started pointing out some sights, but not more than one word about it.  Even if we’d ask about it, he would just repeat what he said.  Like this:

Our tour guide pointing to a hotel in Miramar (affluent area):  “Hotel Melia Habana”  (which was written on the building)
My husband, sitting up front: “Ok, what about it?”
Our guide: “Hotel.”
My husband: “Why is it important?”
Our guide: “Hotel.”
My husband: “Yes, hotel, but what about it?”
Then my husband points to another hotel coming up with the name on the front: “Hotel Panorama? Hotel.”
Our guide smiling: “Yes hotel.”   
Then my husband just repeats what he sees along the tour like a chimp:  “school”,  “park”, “man”, “car” as our tour guide smiled along saying yes. 

…I can go on; Though I was starting to become upset with my husband for his behavior, I understood where it was coming from. From the start it wasn’t the right car, then our tour guide was not the right match for us, as he didn’t speak enough English nor did he understand our social queues, nor did he try.

When we made that Fusterlandia stop, my husband pulled me aside while we were looking around to ask me if I wanted to continue the tour with this guy or not. We decided I’d make the call at the next stop, The Hotel Nacional.  When we pulled up to that hotel, I gave my husband the nod to let the guy go.  We paid him in full, I mean it wasn’t his fault, it was his companies fault, and left him to go enjoy of our day on our own.

Hotel Nacional is a national monument and my gosh, is it GORGEOUS!  We walked in to the most welcoming doormen, and the lobby had that stately old-world feel.  It was gleaming with people, and cheerful staff waiting to help.  We wanted to grab a drink and relax along the water.  Oh, and eat, because my family needs to eat at all times.  We made a beeline for outside to where they had a seated area. We grabbed drinks, daiquiris for us adults and a lemonade and pina colada for the girls.  Then they ordered traditional Cuban sandwiches to share.

The hotel was beautiful outside.  There was a peacock walking the grounds, and in the back ground was the gardens overlooking the Havana Harbor shimmering. We decided after our little lunch to walk the gardens towards the water.  We knew that along the pathway there were the original caves and canons on display that made up the old Santa Clara Battery.  This is where, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara set up defenses against aerial strikes.  It was surreal to see this stately hotel in the background to these canons and trenches.

We walked back into the hotel to roam the lobby.  It was chock full of historic information and had so many impressive famous people who stayed there, we were just in awe.  Our youngest was most impressed with Walt Disney staying there and hearing what dish at the restaurant was named after him.

From the Hotel Nacional we decided to take ourselves over to the market area for local art, jewelry or whatever we could find.  We took a conventional taxi straight to that stop, the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market.  This was in the cruise ship port/waterfront area of Habana Vieja, the high tourist area near where we went the first day.

I LOVED WALKING THIS PLACE!

This building was so beautiful on the outside, it is the oldest warehouse in the city, and they went through a major restoration a few years ago. Where they turned into the central location for local artists. it is a bit chaotic at first, but the chaos comes from the hustle of the artists.  I met some funny people shopping within each stall. One of whom, was really into me, and wouldn’t let up until I took a selfie with him… yup.

The building was split out from one end to another neatly, however. Everyone was grouped by their stalls, like, paint artists flowed into the clothing artists that shared space with the jewelry artists that gave way to print artists. Peppered in some of the walk throughs were hair artists looking to braid or chalk color hair.   There was a lot to look at here, so much talent!  I bought myself two of the coolest resin rings that I have ever seen in this bizarre.

We were a stones throw away from one sight we had wanted to visit, the Havana Club Rum Museum.  We got there just shy of it closing, so we couldn’t take a tour, but were able to look around at the cool lobby ..and use the bathrooms.

We left the museum to look for a classic car, preferably a convertible, to continue on with the rest of our tour.  The girls asked about a pink convertible, which we weren’t sure about. We walked towards the Malecon, where we had seen a row of beautiful cars the day before. Again, there we saw a few guys hanging out with some nice vintage cars, but not exactly what we were hoping for.  Gorgeous, but blue, green or burgundy colored.  A random tour guide walked up to us, hoping we would take his car service.  This guy spoke English so well; we turned him down because the girls didn’t like his car so much, but ended up asking if there was a pink convertible, maybe a cool Cadillac, anywhere nearby.  He smiled at us then immediately waved over to someone else.

And guess what?  The guy he was waving over was the owner of the ONLY pink 1959 Eldorado Cadillac convertible in service in all of Havana (and this fact checked out when I got home!).

OHMYGOD!! The girls were jumping up and down cheering for this car, and so was I.  Needless to say we hired the guy on the spot to take us around to the few locations we had left on our itinerary.  We hopped in the car to find it was customized, too  They extended the seated area of the car to add in a bar!!  Talk about a dream car, right!?

We drove down the rest of the Malecon, talking to the owner’s tour guide.  The owner, himself, did not speak any English, but his guide did.  He was a super friendly guy who was born in Cuba but brought up in Norway.  His English was great, and he LOVED talking to us about the politics of Cuba.   As we were going down the Malecon the sky started to dim, and by the time we were driving over to the John Lennon Park the skies opened up to a deluge.  The guys quickly put up the convertible top, and we got to see the park from the car.  So, I saw the John Lennon statue I wanted to sit on from the car.  Womp.

The rain did not stop.  It actually got worse.

We drove by the Plaza de la Revolución, the ONE sight I talked about standing on in person.   It is the largest plaza in the world, and my hype for it was because the day before we were told that there were millions upon millions of Cubans from Havana on the plaza during Fidel’s memorial services when he died. Not just there to pay their respects, but because they were all MANDATED to go!!  I imagined how crammed everyone would be going around the José Martí Memorial building because they had to be there. Plus, I really wanted to see the Palace of the Revolution, across the street, for the steel memorials, most importantly of Che Guevara.  But we got to see them from the car.

After this, the guys drove us around a while longer to see Chinatown and a few more obscure places. Then we all realized this rain was not letting up.  When the girls mentioned they we were starving by this point, we decided it was a good time to end the tour to go grab dinner.  They recommended we go to the restaurant La Guarijita.  We had them drop us off there, and magically the rain slowed down, so much so, that they offered to take down the top for us to take some photos.  Which was a lot of fun.  Everyone came out of the restaurant and from around the neighborhood to see the car.

It was a beautiful car!

While we were out there, the rain picked up again. We realized we made the best of a rainy situation by going to dinner at that moment.  The restaurant ended up being fun fun.  We got seated quickly, as the restaurant was empty, but that all changed quickly as the place filled to the brim minutes after we sat down as two large groups of travelers came in right after us. WooH!

We immediately ordered daiquiris, a frozen lemonade and a pina colada once we were seated. Then we ordered our meals. My husband ordered what was essentially sweet and sour pork.  I got braised chicken with onions, and family style fried plantains and tostones.  And…  This is where my kids lost their minds in ordering.  They got pizza.  haha  PIZZA!  Surprisingly, the pizza wasn’t as terrible as I had expected it to be.  I only tried the crust, but the girls and my husband swore it tasted like a normal pizza.

We were at this restaurant for about three hours.  When we left the doors it was still raining, but not as badly as before, so we decided it was a good time to make it back to our casa particular and hired a classic car taxi to take us back.  The drive back was entertaining as the driver was a young man who spoke great English. We talked about Cuba, and what it is like to be a taxi driver there with his family.  He was a very nice man.

We arrived to the house to find the rain had turned to drizzle.  Now there was a crispness felt in the air.  I didn’t get a chance to check out the actual home of the casa particular, so this was a great time to do it.  The house was beautiful, with so many antiques and large chandeliers.  Magnificent.

We asked the night shift manager about the weather.  The weather information without good wifi is an issue.  No one knew if the rain was short-lived or not, but we were semi-assured that rain in Cuba doesn’t last very long.

We all went to change, and the girls begged to hang out on the patio for family game night.  Which was a great idea.  The bar and kitchen night staff was all around, so we got to hang out with some daiquiris while playing Codenames with the girls, and, our dog pal Brenda.  Codenames is such a fun game, if you haven’t heard of it. We bought it last year for a trip we took to Maine to visit our friends. We had such a ball with everyone, but mostly the kids enjoyed it.  So, we bought the Disney version for the girls at Christmas.  It was such a trip playing this version here in Cuba, and super hard after a few daiquiris!  I can’t wait to bring this along this Summer with our friends.

My review of the day.

This day was a great example of making the best of what comes your way.  Even though a lot of curveballs were thrown at us, we hit them all out of the park, not letting them affect our vacation.  We saw some once in a lifetime places and things like Fusterlandia, the Hotel Nacional, and the canons and trenches!  We ended up riding in a pink 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible along the Malecon!  We met some interesting people at the art colony, the restaurant and along our rides in the taxis. We even got to spend time together, which is all we want to do anyways.

Nothing dampened our spirits… even in the rain!


Next Cuba post will be Day 5-  Rain doesn’t pass that quickly in Cuba.

 

Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- January Highlights

Hello WordPressland!

Here we are, the last Thursday, and, last day of January! January has flown by pretty fast, right?

Today’s top ten theme may be something I write about each last Thursday of the month.  Highlights to reflect on to wrap up the month. 

I’m always trying to find the bright spots in life. Anything I can do to help me see..that life is pretty damn good even if it feels otherwise. Actually, this is a great exercise for everyone to do, as well. Think about your last thirty days.  You’d be surprised at what you will recall, where your mind leads you, and/or, what you learn about yourself. Some of your recollection may not be all that exciting, but parts of it may have brought you happiness. It may not be all that positive, but it may guide you to make better life choices.  That is my point, look for the bright spots!

So here I go…

Valeria’s Top Ten Thursday- January Highlights 

  1. Physical Therapy progress! I am having double shoulder impingement issues, and the pain has definitely lessened in my left arm!  Which is a win. My right shoulder, on the other hand, is progressing more slowly. Which stinks!
  2. Papi from the Red Sox walked by us with his entourage at the hotel at Foxwoods!
  3. Danced on chairs and sang (literally) a hundred songs with friends at a fundraiser.
  4. Finally made time for myself after a time robbing December.
  5. Which also means, I finally got to spend an entire evening snuggling with my daughters, watching movies and eating cheese doodles. I love the cheese doodles.
  6. Even with a lot of food centric events this month, and that night of laziness and cheese doodles, I kept the eleven lbs I lost in December off!
  7. Received a dozen red roses this Monday, which was a great surprise. 🙂 I also love surprises!  I am always accepting flowers and gifts.. jussayin’.
  8. Oddly, my farsightedness got better by a quarter point in each eye!! New prescription is sweet!  I did, however, think I was going old-age-blind before my eye appointment.  Also, I love my opthamologist! He is the coolest guy on the planet! 
  9. Stayed up till 3AM one night talking to my husband; which would’ve left me sleep deprived but because he is my biggest cheerleader, his support made me feel so good and clear. 
  10. Counting down from weeks to days till our big vacation. We are under double digits now!! Wooo!

AHH!! I loved writing out this list!! 

Reflecting on the month, like this, I realize that not much is needed for me to feel content.  I learned that sometimes it’s wise to talk through your problems with loved ones, even if it has nothing to do with them directly.  Speaking your thoughts out loud can help you think clearly.  Also, I see that I may have a crush on my opthamologist.  haha jk! But he is a great eye doctor. 

I know that not all months may convey this good message, but January 2019 has, and I am grateful. 

xoxoxo 

 

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

Posted in Party Time!

My Parents’ 50th Anniversary Celebration

Hello WordPress!

Two weekends ago we celebrated my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary! Woo! I know, fifty years is quite an amazing milestone, when you sit to think about it.

My parents’ anniversary is actually in February, but since my eldest sister is home from Italy this Christmas season they felt it would be the perfect time to celebrate this major event. With all their children, and grandchildren, together.

My parents; Concetta Latino e Salvatore Graceffa 02/08/1969

My parents. I just love them. Their fairytale started when they got married in Aragona, Sicily in 1969. They migrated from Italy to America not long after getting married. A new life with new possibilities laid ahead as they arrived in the Bronx in the fall of 1970, with not much money and pregnant with my eldest sister. My father had some family who migrated years earlier there and figured it was a good starting point.

Trying to acclimate to the American language and new culture was not easy at first, and they were not sure how long they would stay in America. But they had one another. My father found a job and my mom stayed home. My eldest sister was born in 1971, then a year later they had my older sister.

As my sisters were toddlers, my family moved from New York to Massachusetts for a better life and work opportunities. They had moved to an Italian/Sicilian neighborhood in Waltham, they felt at home there. My father worked hard every day, long hours, as my mom stayed home with the children. It wasn’t always easy but they had one another. They liked Waltham a lot as they encountered hometown friends and made life long connections that made them feel that missing sense of community from home. This is where and when I was born, in 1976. Which I coin as the best year of their lives. Ahhemmm.

In 1978, my parents had the opportunity to buy a house in the city of Malden. Since living in America they had rented, so this was a huge dream to buy a home. This home is where they have lived, nurturing each other and their family since. My childhood home is a reflection of my parents. The pride they have for it. All the work they put into it. It’s the beacon for this fairytale they have worked so hard on.

And, a fairytale is what they lived and still are living. Fifty years relying on each other for support and love. Fifty years of laughter and memories. Fifty years of commitment. Fifty years with three daughters and six grandchildren. Fifty years of learning new culture and language. Fifty years of stolen kisses in front of their family (and my dad goosing my mom, I see you!) Fifty years with many friends, who are like family. Fifty years of celebrations. Fifty years of stories that could fill a novel. 🙂

True love is a rare, warm, beautiful emotion.

❤️Happy Anniversary!!❤️

Now on to the celebration .. what a great party. My parents booked the Tuscan Kitchen in Burlington, and my sisters and I planned the rest. It was a successful collaboration, even with my eldest sister in Italy most of the time! It was truly a visually beautiful night and my parents were so happy.

Here are some photos: