Must Do Miami

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South Beach is bit like Las Vegas. Both have lots of alcohol-fueled partying with young men and women celebrating their youth while destroying their livers, live music and the obligatory minute millionaires driving their rent by the hour Lamborghini for everyone to notice.  But South Beach is so much more than what you first notice. Take a longer look and you see and appreciate the diverse culture reflected in the eclectic food and music. There is a deep pride and respect for the past, instead of tearing down buildings, the Art Deco buildings are restored and the past is celebrated.

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We chose to stay in a boutique hotel on Collins Avenue, right in the middle of South Beach. The Kimpton Beachcomber Hotel, a small three story boutique hotel. What is a boutique hotel you may ask? Most often they are small and have unique amenities. The lobby was unique and eclectic with live edge wood sculptures, bookcases, sofas and comfy chairs and lots of interesting art. This is not a homogenized hotel! As we are checking in we are offered wine at the complimentary happy hour. The hotel personnel are both friendly and genuinely helpful. The room is small yet beautiful. The beach is located behind the hotel pool area. The back area includes a bar, towel service and a variety of yard games, rocking chairs and sculptures of cows. I did say this place was eclectic.
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The Kimpton offers seats on the beautiful sandy beach, as well as bar service. The bites and drinks were not exorbitantly priced, and who doesn’t enjoy a picnic lunch in the sand? There are several miles of beautifully manicured walking and biking paths just before the beach. We took advantage of the hotel’s free bike rentals and rode up and down the paths early one morning.
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In South Beach you must try the diverse food offered. We were given the recommendation by a waitress to try a Peruvian restaurant called CHALAN ON THE BEACH. The uber fresh seafood was lightly seasoned and plentiful. We shared a sea bass ceviche which was nothing short of spectacular. The patrons were mostly locals ordering house specialities. We also enjoyed a seafood dish with rice, seasoned with Peruvian spices that seemed to sweeten the fish and rice.

When in South Beach trying some authentic Cuban food is mandatory. We visited HAVANA 1957 and ordered the daily specials of Cuban meatballs and rice. The dish was also served with soft, sweet plantain slices. The prices were very reasonable, except for the mojitos. At $15 and up they seemed pricy for lunch. No worries, we came back a couple of hours later and enjoyed delicious half priced mojitos at the bar inside
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We also had chicken, lamb and steak kabobs as well as incredibly delicious deeply roasted Brussels sprouts at CLEO a Middle Eastern place. The bar was ornate and the restaurant was a cool respite from the Miami afternoon heat.

On our final night in Miami our hotel had a pig roast (but from the looks of the poor fellow I think he was deep fried). For only eight dollars we each enjoyed pork tacos, homemade tortillas, rice and beans. The beer was local and cold and soon the Latin band was playing music and everyone was dancing to the beat as the ocean breeze blew.
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Jackie Gleason had a show many years ago that I watched as a child. He used to say how beautiful Miami Beach was as he began each show with the words “How sweet it is!”

Tick Tock the Traveling Clock Continues

The road trip continues to the final destination of the grandfather clock.

The first few days of our road trip to pick up a grandfather clock was filled with the sights and sounds of airboats, the cast of Disney world and the waves hitting the beaches in Florida.

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Now we need to get moving so we can get the clock home.  We traveled from Pensacola  beach, a beautiful beach that we couldn’t swin in due to the rip tides .  We traveled from Pensacola to New Orleans, Lousianna.  The trip took only about four hours.  We were very happy with the two bedroom craftsman Airbnb that we booked in the Garden District with friends.  New Orleans lives up to its big reputation as a party destination, complete with generous drinks and delicious local delicacies.  The Po’boys we devoured were from a local dive bar in the Irish Channel district called Parasols.  The dive bar had all the necessary ingredients, local clientele, no frills atmosphere and  delicious roast beef Poboys served since the 1950’s.  When we walked in and saw all of the regulars lined up at the bar we all knew we were at the right place.

We visited Burbon Street and enjoyed the rowdy atmosphere and activities but by our second day we wanted to enjoy some beignets and listen to some great music further down the French Quarter.  I loved all of the colorful houses and each Uber trip I felt compelled  to name the color of each gingerbread house we passed. “Look, periwinkle, sage, salmon, yellow!”  Once a preschool teacher, always a preschool teacher.

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A “celery” and White House

My friend and I were looking to have Tarot cards read for us, but we kept looking for a really “good one” and unfortunately we were never satisfied.  Not really sure what a “good” tarot card reader is but we both knew it should not involve an iPhone.

I can not say enough about the phenomenal music we were lucky enough to hear all along the French Quarter.  We were in NOLA for Southern Decadence, a gay pride event with music, parades, dancing and more.  Apparently New Orleans hosts hundreds of festivals celebrating the unique food, music and people that make it so fabulous.  We will definitely return to NOLA to spend some more time discovering the treasures of this wonderful city.

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Entertainment everywhere with lots of jazz
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Great times in NOLA with friends

We woke up early the next day to get a head start on the road to San Antonio. This was a  LONG leg of our journey.  Over 600 miles.  We had cappucino at a corner coffee shop and did not stop except for gas and bathroom breaks for the next nine hours.  We happily jumped out of the van, changed and went on to enjoy the River Walk in San Antonio.

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River Walk San Antonio

We were both getting tired of hotel rooms and maybe each other too, but the end was in sight.  The next morning we loaded the car once again and made our last push for home over 590 miles to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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I may not have done any driving but I’m a pretty good navigator

Greg drove for over 2,800 miles with 48 hours behind the wheel.  Was it worth it?  Hell yeah.  We have this beautiful clock and the memories that travel imprints on you.

The clock is now safely home in our bedroom and it looks beautiful but I would be happy to not have any long road trips for a while.  And I didn’t do any of the driving.

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Greg’s grandfather clock in it’s new home

Fabulous Four

We have been traveling together for over a month.  Typically my husband and I get along well with one another.  We don’t argue very often and because he is very agreeable and easygoing we are a good match.  We can finish each other’s sentences and we often do. But even two people who love each other lots need other people in their lives.  We were very anxious to visit our friends from Arizona who are expats in Switzerland. They are a fun and active couple, but never did we imagine all of the experiences we would pack into a four day visit to their home in Gland Switzerland.

In only four days we did wine tasting, rode several gondola lifts to the top of Mont Blanc, stood on “The Void” at 12,500 feet, traveled by train up to a glacier cave, rode a luge ride, took a chocolate making class, visited a chocolate factory and sampled everything, toured a Gruyere cheese factory, ate cheese fondue, visited the Gruyere Chateau, heard the traditional Swiss horns, drank in a “Alien Bar”, took a boat ride to France, enjoyed a number of delicious wines and local dishes at restaurants in both Switzerland and France, crossed the border multiple times,  went shopping, hiked in the woods and saw firsthand a Swiss WWII bunker and toblerones, drove through some local farms and picked a turnip, used up all of my memory card on the camera, and lastly enjoyed a fantastic home cooked barbecue with our friends.

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Standing in “The Void” on Mont Blanc
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Half way up Mont Blanc
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The very interesting “ALIEN BAR”
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Inside the glacier cave and yes it is melting
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The chocolate cooking class was a blast!
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A view of the garden at Chateau de Gruyere

 

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Not the boat we took to France
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A local cow-bike parade
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Fields of sunflowers
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Views of the Swiss countryside
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WWII Swiss bunker
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Dinner in the lovely garden with friends

Rambling Las Ramblas

A rambling account of our activities, tastes, sights and sounds of Barcelona

 

We arrived in Barcelona ready to walk Las Ramblas, (the  pedestrian center for shopping, sightseeing and people watching)  Barcelona is packed with visitors, shopping opportunities, restaurants and really interesting neighborhoods. On our first morning we took part in a walking tour of the old city.  We saw Roman ruins of the old wall that surrounded Barcelona, ancient churches and learned much of the history of Barcelona.  We have been warned by many about pickpockets and it is apparent that you must be aware and vigilant with your purse, wallet and cellphone.  But this is a spectacular city with so much to do and see.

This week we have had some wonderful experiences.  The weather has been fantastic.  We have loved walking and dining outside in the cafes along the plazas. Often  buskers (street musicians who rely on tips) surround the area with the lovely sound of their music. Barcelona is an extremely walkable city and we have walked nearly everywhere.  We visited the beach which turned out to be a crowded, urban beach. A young  guy was passed out  the sand in front of me for quite a while.  I thought he might be a bum, but later his friend came and gave his something to eat and drink.   He went into the ocean and didn’t even have a towel.  Apparently he and his buddy went to the beach from the last party. They were foreign exchange students from Australia.  When we left the beach I gave him my unused towel.  The guy was so sweet and grateful.

We also visited La Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished basilica designed by architect Antoni Gaudi.  The inside was spectacular with changing colors as the sun moved in the sky.  We were relieved that the visitors were limited, which afforded us time in the church so we could appreciate it’s beauty and simplicity.  It is definitely a good idea to purchase tickets online to reserve a specific time so you don’t have to wait in line.

We went to Tibadado mountain up a funicular to see the view of Barcelona from the mountain to the sea.  At the top of the mountain is a beautiful church, Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We climbed around a bit and had an early dinner at Mirablau, with a view of all of Barcelona.

It’s fun to visit several local markets.  I loved seeing all of the unique local fresh produce, fish and meats available. We both enjoy cooking and we love paella so we jumped at the chance to book Marta’s Private Paella Cooking Class which we found on TripAdvisor.  After a bit of a difficult time finding her building (we will blame Mapquest and not my husband) Marta warmly greeted us to her home.  We met six other people from around the globe who shared our interest in cooking. Marta, a former teacher explained the fundamentals of paella with patience and charm.  We learned about the importance of quality ingredients and the order in which they must be cooked.  Everyone took part in the preparation of the meats, fish and vegetables.  Marta has a large propane powered paella pan on her patio that easily held enough food for a dozen people. Within a few hours we learned all of the elements of paella typical of  Catalonia.  It was great fun to be part of this diverse group of people who worked together and produced a truly delicious meal! We sat down at the table toasted one another and enjoyed the best paella ever.  If you are interested in joining Marta’s class you can contact her at:ambtucuinem@gmail.com

 Bon Voyage to Barcelona

A picturesque spot in Eze, France
Bon Voyage-good journey, yes indeed it was a very good journey aboard the Celebrity Equinox.  We stepped onto the cruise ship for a seven day cruise from Civitavecchia to Barcelona.  It was a needed change of pace for us.  We went from cleaning up after ourselves and finding places on our own to explore and dine at, to letting the cruise line take care of everything.  Our only responsibility is to show up on time for medals and get back to the ship before it leaves port.

After nearly three weeks in Italy, Greg and I were more than anxious for the company of others.  We have met some wonderful people from the UK, Australia and the US.  Everyone was friendly and happily gave us suggestions for places to visit on the rest of our travels.  We have indeed met some new friends that we hope to visit with again.

The first port we visited Livorno, a nice little port town where we decided to walk the two miles to the train station and take a short train ride to Pisa.  Pisa is actually a lovely town with nice pedestrian walking and shopping areas.  I was surprised with how really beautiful the tower is.  

The typical tourist picture of me holding up the tower
 

Our next stop was Villefranche-Sur-Mer, near Nice France.  The port was an idyllic little town with cafes and a lovely beach.  Before we began our adventure we stopped in a cafe for some cappucino.  Apparently we looked a bit touristy to the proprietor and he tried to charge us 24 euros for our drinks.  I simply smiled nicely and said that there was some mistake.  He quickly apologized and decided to try his scam on the next unsuspecting tourist.  Since we have become so comfortable using local transportation we took the train to Eze, a small picturesque village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We initially attempted to climb up to the town from the train station however given the fact that we were not wearing proper shoes for the trip, and it looked like a humongous climb, we opted to take a local bus.  The steep, winding, narrow roads with multiple hairpin turns confirmed to me that as I get older my fear of falling off a cliff is as strong as ever.  The town was lovely and the view was spectacular.

Harbor in Villefranche-sur-Mer
 

Stairs, stair, stairs in the town of Eze

Corsica is a French island with a distinctly Italian attitude. We loved the food, fresh and delicious. The outdoor market was teeming with fresh cheeses, breads, produce and locals shopping for the day. 
We went to the beach to swim and enjoy the spectacular view of the sea with wifi and drinks served chair side.  It was my favorite port, and I hope to return again one day.

 

 

The beautiful beach in Corsica

The bleached white rocks in Corsica
On our last two days on the ship were in the port of Mallorca, Spain.  We enjoyed the city tour on an hop on hop off bus on our first day and a beach day on our second.  I made time for shopping for Mallorca pearls and other jewelry.  The prices for food and drinks were incredibly inexpensive.  

Greg, resting while my shopping continues

We are now onto Barcelona.  The adventure continues.

Seaside Sights and Siestas

A respite at the ruggedly beautiful Cinque Terre, Italy

 

We enjoyed our visit to Florence.  Although brief, our three days were packed with sightseeing and culture, lots of culture.  At times it seemed as if there were too many treasures to take in.  Our next destination is Cinque Terre (five lands), encompassing five picturesque villages along the Mediterranean. Once we left the Florence apartment, we walked along Via Panzani with our luggage and backpacks and were soon joined by many other travelers making the half mile trek to the Florence train station.  Upon arrival to the train station every few minutes there were announcements to beware of pickpockets, however there appeared to be no policia to dissuade the thieves.

Once we exited the train in Manarola (the village within Cinque Terre), we followed the tourists through a tunnel and up many flights of stairs and ramps.  One tourist asked if she could hire a Sherpa to carry her luggage up the hill. As we entered the center of the village, a lovely young woman approached us and said “Nancie?”  We were elated to have found our destination.  By the grace of God, Francesca carried my heavy suitcase up  the fifty-four stairs to our new flat.  That was quite the workout, it is no wonder that all of the women in this village have killer legs, no need for stair masters here.  We have gorgeous views of the town, and except for the construction next door, we would have a sea view as well.  We decided upon Cinque Terre, because it is simply beautiful.  Around the village we see spectacular views of the colorful homes clinging to the mountainside, at the edge of the sea.  Time for rest and relaxation.image
By about five o’clock many of the day-trippers and excursionists have left the village.  Although some shops shutter their doors awaiting the next rush of tourists, many stay open and offer simple fresh seafood and pasta.  We explored the village, found a great place for an aperitivo and took tons of pictures. We shopped at Terre 5 Coop for beer, wine and groceries a few times, so  I was upset when the door was closed in my face and I was told “we are closed now”.   I completely understand the importance of a siesta, I embrace the siesta.  However when the door was  reopened for the local man behind me, I felt a bit put off.  Following siesta time we again visited the market to buy some more supplies and get some bananas for breakfast.  When Greg picked up a couple of bananas, the woman behind the register began complaining loudly about “Americanos”.  We know we are tourists, guest really  in another country, so we approach everyone with pleasantries, buongiorno, grazie, Etc. Next we were then told “no credit cards”,  even though we used credit for the previous two days.  I am now boycotting that store for the next few days, but I don’t think they will notice.

We sleep like we have never known sleep here.  The sound of the waves crashing on the shore and our complete exhaustion is  enough to ensure a sound sleep. Both of us were anxious to do some hiking here in Manarola.  We ventured to another village for an early morning cappuccino and then onto another small town for a much needed lunch and vino.  This seven mile hike was spectacular.  My Fitbit tracked one hundred forty flights of stairs and 18,000 steps. These hikes are unlike any we do in Arizona.  The climb is straight up, and we hike through wine vineyards, olive groves, forests, all along narrow mountain trails.  I do not like edges!  While hiking, I avert my eyes at the edge of trail, with the perilous drop off into the sea below.  Greg enjoys all of the journey.  He is unafraid of edges and is not clinging on to grapevines like me.  He walks  behind me with the GoPro.  He claims that he’s there to catch me since I am about as surefooted as a three legged jackass.  However, I’m pretty sure he just wants to document my untimely passing for the insurance company.

Greg and "the edge"
Greg and “the edge”

International Insomniac 

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In college I slept through rowdy roomates, randy roommate and even downright rude roomates. I could close my eyes and I was asleep. When I went to bed with my husband he turned on the radio, “Please turn that off” I requested. “It’s the only way I can ever sleep” he explained. Greg grew up listening to Yankee games and Gene Shepard on the radio, it was his sure fire way to get to sleep. I eventually learned to get some sleep with the radio on, as long as it was boring talk radio or sports. My preferences were some guy talking on and on about trains or people talking about tonight’s game. The killer for me would be some news story, or worst of all some right-wing conservative. I would feel obligated to argue whatever point they were making, usually at 2am.

Once I had my three children sleep, as I had known it ceased. I would get up with the babies and feed them, change them and ensure they were breathing, comfortable, not too warm, not too cold, sleeping in the correct position etc. As my children grew I would worry about their well being, mostly very late at night.  Once my children were older I worried about them driving. We’ve had our share of car accidents and I am frankly shocked that we haven’t been blackballed by the entire car insurance industry. As my children grew and moved out on their own, my thought are of them in the middle of the night.  Sleep is elusive.   At home on a typical morning I rise at 4:20 am, because I love my 5am gym class.  At this point in my life, I figure  as the late, great Warren Zevon said, “I will sleep when I am dead”.

When we arrived in Rome we had not slept for twenty seven hours.  I was sure that the expensive European bed that our AirBnB had provided would lull me to sleep like a baby.  We tried to emulate the guidebooks gurus’ s advice and stay awake and get on Rome time as soon as possible.  We stayed up as late as we could, but soon I was wide awake at 2am.  In the afternoon we figured a short nap would help us.  Five hours later we awoke to the sound of seagulls cooing.

Since our arrival in Rome, I have been plagued with a headache every night.  At first I was concerned that I was allergic to Italian wine, luckily that was not the case.  I finally figured out that maybe I was suffering from caffeine withdrawal. After dinner I had a cappuccino and my headache vanished!  This was about 10 o’clock, but I was just happy to find relief.  Eventually exhaustion kicked in and we were both sound asleep.

I am so grateful for technology, it helps me keep in contact with family and friends.  Being so far away I love hearing about things that are going on back in Arizona.  I am a bit less appreciative of technology when my family and friends call on FaceTime or Skype at 2 or 4am. When my dentist’s office called at 3am two days ago I merely told them “I am in another country!” and promptly hung up.

I think now that I have kindly reminded my friends and family about time zone differences we may sleep all night tonight.  But for now I am AWAKE.  This morning  I enjoyed a espresso AND a cappuccino.  I think I still need to learn about moderation.