Posted in My Travels

New Orleans 2019- Days 4 & 5

Hey Everyone! I am posting days 4 and 5 together as the last day was a quick half day on our way home.

Day 4-

My husband had to go to the convention center for a quick hour to wrap up some business. Which gave me a good amount of time to shower then grab coffee across the street and finally start packing up our room!

Once he got to our room, he reminded me that the restaurant we were headed to later for lunch had a strict dress code. Which meant, I had to change out of my shorts and into a dress. I swear I changed my outfit like three times a day on this trip! I felt bad for him however. The dress code for men was very strict with no jeans and needing to wear a suit jacket. It was about 90°F out with full sun! Luckily, he brought a lightweight suit jacket and it ended up being breezy along our day out.

We walked around the city for a little bit then grabbed a Lyft to our lunch reservations. We were off to The Commander’s Palace. The Commander’s Palace is one of those old-school restaurants that seem stuck in time but serve award winning food. The service is of the highest quality and you are treated like the most important guest in the room. We were seated upstairs on the second floor by the grand window. Neither one of us have been there before, obviously, but our waitstaff did a great job acclimating us and giving us insight to the best dishes offered.

If this restaurant sounds familiar it’s because this is where Emeril Lagasse made his start, and also Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Shannon and a handful of others. Oh, and it’s featured in one of Anne Rice’s books. Got that checked off my list!

We started off our meal with martinis, cosmos. This restaurant offers martinis for $.25 if you order a meal, and there is a three drink maximum per person. Unheard of right? Then we ordered the soup course; my husband ordered the turtle soup, yes turtle. At first I did not want to try it, because if you follow me on social media you would have seen that a few days before I left for this trip I found a baby turtle in my yard. Which stared at me soulfully for a long while. What beautiful eyes. So that’s all I could think about when I heard he wanted to try the turtle soup.

But then we got the soup at the table.

I did try it. Interestingly enough, the dish tasted like and looked like a rich lentil soup. The pieces of turtle were cut fine, and I took like two bites, which one was just the soup covered over the spoon. So I’m not sure if turtle would be rubbery or dry or whatever because the bites were like lentil soup… that’s the best way I can describe it. What happened next is how you know service is of the utmost importance to a place. Our waiter, the lead, checked in on us with the soup. When my husband said the soup was ‘good, but not out of this world’. Our waiter took the soup and came back with a chicken gumbo. He told us that even though we were OK with the soup he wanted us to be beyond satisfied and brought us a new soup.

And that gumbo was the best soup. So I’m glad he took it upon himself to switch out the dish. haha

Then we grabbed another round of martinis, the citrus blue ones below, just as our main dishes appeared. I ordered the white gulf shrimp and my husband ordered the catfish. Our main dishes were excellent. The care for these entrees was apparent. The shrimp was cooked perfectly along with the tomato sauté and the catfish was fried so delicately that it was a true joy to eat. We then ordered another round of martinis, back to the Cosmo. We had to make it a martini afternoon trifecta!

There was a bit of time between the meal and our dessert. We ordered the bread pudding soufflé with whisky sauce and the strawberry shortcake with Chantilly cream, which we had to order along with our meals because they took about 30 minutes to make. Holy fantastic! I am not a big dessert person and I don’t know what I was thinking ordering strawberries because I’m not a fan of strawberries. But the waiter described that it had my favorite cream, which is Chantilly. I grew up eating that in all my birthday cakes. Also, I am not a fan of bread pudding either. Haha Well, what amazing food. I have never had a biscuit like that ever in my life. The strawberries, the cream, the presentation… it was all superb. My husband’s dessert of the bread pudding, having that warm whiskey cream sauce poured inside, made it so special.

I would go back to New Orleans just to have those two desserts!

 

From the restaurant we took a walk over to the cemetery nearby. This was something my husband was trying to surprise me with because I wanted to go to at least one cemetery and taking the day off yesterday put a damper on seeing some things. I know, a cemetery on vacation? It sounds gruesome and gloomy but the cemeteries are really beautiful there, and the mausoleums are works of art, really. Unfortunately, we got to the cemetery gate as they just closed. My husband was sad for me but I was OK! Just gives me another excuse to go back to New Orleans… And eat that strawberry shortcake!!

We made our way to magazine street. This area has a ton of art galleries, interior design stores, antique shops, just real eclectic shops just the whole way down. My husband is a really good guy, and one of my favorite things about him is he does like to go shopping. Even if it is to just browse, he will go into almost every store with me. So we weaved our way through all of the stores that we could, taking a rest here and there, but making our way to grab a Sno-Ball. These are New Orleans versions of a snowcone. Shaved ice flavored with a syrup but the way that they shave ice it comes out fine and fluffy versus a snow cone which has bigger granules of ice.

It’s kind of funny, how this area was set up with these places. Magazine Street was a straight shot of businesses, but it was in the middle of a highly residential neighborhood. Then on a corner rich with homes there was a restaurant, like the Commander’s Palace. Then the Sno-Ball hut, it was smack dab in the middle on a residential street. It was just interesting to realize now that I am typing it out.

After we had our quick icy pick me up, we made our way further down the neighborhood towards the trolley line to grab a trolley. The website http://www.norta.com gives you live progress of the street cars by line, this is a great tool as you walk around. The stops are right on the street, just marked with a simple sign. It was kind of cool because we’re standing on this giant Boulevard waiting for the trolley and I look up in the trees to see sparkling beads hanging from the branches and leaves. When I google the street and routes for the Mardi Gras parade, I learn that we were on one of the main routes. So these beads, I start to realize, are in every tree going down the street. It really was something so specific to New Orleans! These glimmering trees.

 

We go back to our hotel for a little bit, freshen up, rest feet and-so on. Then we jump in a Lyft to go down to Frenchmen Street. We had a late dinner reservation at Paladar 511, and before that we wanted to walk around this area to check out the nightclubs and the art scene. I have to say that it was such a great last night in New Orleans alone with my husband!

Frenchmen Street is very different from the other parts of New Orleans where I had visited. It’s grittier. It’s sketchier. It’s dirtier. It’s more lively. I don’t know if that’s even possible, because the whole city is so lively. It’s so full of electricity, buzzing in every direction. People are everywhere, but in the most beautiful way enjoying what they are immersed in. This eclectic beautiful city filled with great food, beautiful music, and rich history. Gah,I just loved it!!

We made our way down Frenchmen Street, passing so many night clubs with brass bands playing jazz. You can’t help but smile walking down the street. The choices of clubs are numerous. Our first stop, however, is not a bar to catch music, we started over at the palace market. It’s a local market where artists sell their handmade pieces that you really won’t find anywhere else. I saw some really cool unusual pieces. I didn’t grab a picture of it, but there was a seated area at the end of the market. The market ends in almost like a cul-de-sac kind of circle. And there are pieces of chalk laid out for everyone to draw whatever they want on the ground. The artwork was amazing and I kick myself for not taking a picture of it!!

We had heard about a club named The Spotted Cat, and it just happened to be a few doors down from the palace market.

 

It is a Wednesday night. The street is pumping full of music, people, food, everything! We walk into that club to find a jazz band playing, Shotgun Jazz Band. So fun!, they kind of remind me of one of my favorite bands, just slower paced, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The club has a one drink minimum, so we fly right to the bar to grab a drink. We got the drinks just as the band took a break. Haha But. As soon as they leave the stage we jump right to the front of the bar, better seats, and guess what? The band comes back on. This time with a woman leading the band playing trumpet.

Our late night reservations for dinner were at the Paladar 511, as I mentioned. This place was a recommendation from one of my husbands friends. It is in a more remote area away from Frenchmen Street. So just FYI, walking there alone may feel shady. I felt it was shady and I walked over there with my husband who is 6’3!

The restaurant was hopping! We got seated in a quaint booth. Our view of what I thought was of the bar ended up being the kitchen. They have a predominant part of their kitchen in the middle of the restaurant, so you can watch them cooking. It was really fun for us because we are deep into conversation watching these people deal with all these dishes that they have to put together, we just had a really good time with our view.

The meal we had was fantastic! Great recommendation and I highly recommend it as well. After reading the menu we decided to get a few dishes to share, ie. our own tapas style. We started off with a round of drinks; my husband got a cider and I got a calva dorsa royale cocktail. Then we started our meal with the porcini cream raviolo, that was delicious. We also started with the tuna crudo, that had pistachio, fennel, avocado and pieces of mandarin orange with a lime cumin vinaigrette; it was so good. For our main dishes we split the mushroom pizza that had leaks and fontina, and, the pork saltimbocca that had grilled broccolini with the marsala sauce. The food really was fantastic. We ended up hanging out there until the restaurant closed.

 

We had such a great time sitting there, talking about New Orleans, and just everything. By the time we left it was very late so we decided to take a last walk-through up Frenchmen Street then head back to the hotel.

It really was another perfect day.

______________________________

Day 5- Our last day.

We woke up with the plan to hit some of the French quarter sites my husband was not able to see with me. Our flight back home was mid-day, which left us a few hours to eat, sight-see and get a car for the airport.

We packed up our room then made our way to grab coffee and beignets over at Café du Monde, another Anne Rice location crossed off my list!  Café du Monde is one of those historic places you just read about and have to visit.  It is located at the end of the market by Jackson Square.  Their menu is not fancy, it’s pretty straight forward with a minimal coffee selection.  We grabbed two lattes, which are chicory coffee with milk and an order of beignets.  The coffees were nice, and creamy, but nothing I would consider craving. The beignets, however, were so darn good!.  They are served hot with a mound of fine powdered sugar on top (and underneath).  The fry on these is done perfectly, greasy enough, crispy enough, doughy enough.  All just right.  We ended up grabbing another order, because the orders come with three, and my husband really enjoyed them!  We also grabbed two orders to go as a surprise for our daughters at home.

Did I mention we were away without our kids?  hahah  I know, I know, shut up.

From Café du Monde we walked over to Jackson Square then back past to the Mississippi River. We met some interesting people as we were there. Very interesting. Then we looped down the water over to the first cross street and we went shopping around the French Quarter to an area I didn’t get to before. Then the time got the best of us and we had to make our way back to the hotel to get ourselves going.

It was so sad.

 

I didn’t want to leave just yet. I loved New Orleans. The familiar feeling I got while there felt like I was home.  A good comforting feeling.

Well, that is all I have on New Orleans!  The Big Easy! 🙂

I hope all of you who are reading have had the opportunity to go or one day get a chance to go.

xoxo

Posted in My Travels

New Orleans 2019- Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

So off I went.

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

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

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

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

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

MI-SSI-SSI-PPI

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

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

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

Second half of my day started off amazingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the carousel, we headed down to Bourbon Street.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Posted in My Travels

New Orleans 2019- Day 1

HelloooOoo, my beautiful WordPress readers!

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

What a dynamic city!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what it’s like to have money.

There’s Ed finding us, eventually, outside.

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

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

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

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

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

It was a pretty fun day to start this trip!

 

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- Varadero Beach, our last full day

Hey Everyone,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My review of the day.

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


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

 

Posted in 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??