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  • It's still All About Travel 11:32 AM on June 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    It’s Still All About Travel 

    “JUST IMAGINE”

    ……the theme of the 2012 Pasadena Rose Parade.  Very fitting I thought, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the economy was on the up swing, health better, and attitudes more positive.

    I do love a parade; it makes me feel good inside, I feel myself smiling with happiness, oohing and aahing the gorgeous flower laden floats, and tearing up as our flag and military pass by.  As long as we have parades, we have a link to our past and hope for our future.

    Actually, I have at least three (maybe more if I think about it) favorite parades.  The Pasadena Rose Parade that I’ve watched every year since 1952 on TV, and was fortunate enough to enjoy in person a couple of times.  The Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco and the Mardi Gras Parades in New Orleans tie for second.

    I’m not making any New Years resolutions, but I have decided 2011 is in the past, the woes and irritations are behind me; 2012 will be one more step ahead and life is going to be better for one and all!

    And in remembrance of Roy Rodgers and the last float in the parade – HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU IN THE NEW YEAR!!

     
  • It's still All About Travel 10:06 AM on April 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    LAST DAYS IN CUBA 

    It’s our last two days in Havana; we meet with 3 Cuban Economists from the Union of Cuban Jurists.  Was a real eye-opener.  From my point of view, they were mostly interested in getting our support to lift the Embargo, and when asked what they liked best about the United States – the answer “nothing”…that’s what she said!

    However, we left Cuba on a real high note.  We visited the restaurant/cabaret where the Buena Vista Social Club was entertaining.   What a hoot!  Some were original musicians, but could still sing, play and entertain.

    Dancing with the music!

    I absolutely loved the trip, enjoyed talking to people on the streets.  Noticed a lot of poverty and (once beautiful) shabby buildings.  I would love to return in about five years to see (hopefully) improvements.  Cuba is a country rich in minerals and very attractive to the Chinese who are investing.  Personally, I cannot vouch for their health care system, I do see that tourism their only economy, and more than ever I believe Socialism does not create growth.  Their enormous 50-year old roadside signs “Socialism or Muerte” should read Socialism is Death.

     
  • It's still All About Travel 7:38 PM on April 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    CIENFUEGOS and TRINIDAD 

    Saying adios to Melia & Tonia, and doorman Eliziar, we boarded our bus and made our way south to the port city of Cienfuegos and the well-preserved colonial city Trinidad.

    It’s warmer and more humid we find, passing miles of palm trees, prickly brush and idle land.  A large government farm seems to be under cultivation here and there.  No cattle, few sad looking horses.  Christopher fills us in on the politics and economics of the country as we go on our way. Bacardi Rum, the United Fruit Co, the American  raft-rescue planes shot down in 1992, the sugar connection with the United States, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Russian connection, the U.S.embargo all figure into the complex Cuba/United States history.

    Sign along the road “Revolution is Independence”.  Citizens are reminded daily.

    Banana Man

    We stop along the way (rule #1 of travel – do not pass a toilet without using it!) where we snack on ice cream, and fresh bananas right from the farmer’s hand.

    We stop, listen and keep time to the band concert in Cienfuegos Plaza . It was extremely good, and drew a big crowd of tourists and locals.  Spoke to policemen – they smiled!

    We were treated to a dance recital at a local Art School for children.  Even the very youngest were very professional; I was impressed by their ability and concentration.

    Trinidad is a beautiful little town, very clean, lots of colonial architecture and all cobblestone streets (Oh, my feet!!). There were many local vendors and am so wishing now I had taken advantage of shopping!

    On our way back to Havana, we stop at the Bay of Pigs.  We wade in the sea at the site of the failed mission.  The museum with the downed U.S. planes and captured equipment is very disturbing.

    Children's dance school

     

     
  • It's still All About Travel 6:06 AM on April 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Cuatro Dia 

    We’re off this morning via our trusty bus to explore a sustainable rural community, the Bio-Reserve “Las Terrazas”.   A re-foresting project after terracing the hillsides and moving people into individual homes on the government owned property.

    It has been planted with natural plants to the area.  The homes look very clean and well cared for.  The children look happy, and the chickens have the run of the place.  A man-made lake is visible and it is an impressive feat.  Of course, it is one small area, with a very small percentage of the population benefiting.

    We stop off at a government run school in the area.  The kids are clean, happy and playing some game of their own making.  We peek into the open doors of the classrooms.  Again a very small percentage of the children in comparison with the total population.

    Did I mention we all must keep a daily log of our activities and interaction with Cubans?  We are told we must keep it on hand for 5 years as the IRS could question us is we actually had social contact as the special permit demands.  We have, we do, and we will.

     
  • It's still All About Travel 7:57 PM on April 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Havana Sights 

    We visited the Colon (Columbus) Cemetery and took pictures of the elaborately sculptured memorials. The Memorial to the Bombaderos (Firefighters) was beautiful and impressive.  18 firemen died in the 1800’s when they entered a building they did not know was full of explosives.

    On to a totally different experience to the Callejon de Hamel, an outdoor multimedia art space know for its murals, and then after another lunch of beans and rice, etc, we headed to Jaimanitas to visit the home and workshop of ceramic artist Jose Fuster.  As a kitty lover, I was delighted to see a black and white “home” kitty.  He/she had obviously been hurt at one time and would not let me get closer than a few inches

    We saw many “street” dogs in Cuba, and very few kitties.  I didn’t ask why, I thought  rather not know.

    I purchased an American language Cuban newspaper “Granma” today from the two ladies outside our Hotel door.  Tonia & Melia were my immediate best friends.  I also gave them the many hotel soaps and shampoos I had brought from home.  They will use them to barter for other items they need.  I admired their tenacity to sell these newspapers on the street day after day.

    Melia, Tonia and Tourist

     
  • It's still All About Travel 6:29 AM on April 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Tres Dia 

    We have a busy day ahead – after our usually sumptuous breakfast, champagne included.  I could get used to this!

        


    Off to a visit to Casa del Habana where we meet with cigar experts, learning the history as well as the correct way to prepare, light and smoke a cigar. They give us complimentary cigars (which I give to our door man Elizear).  After being property initiated in Cigar smoking, we hop back on our bus, drive through the elite Miramar neighborhood of diplomat homes, and then on to Museo del Ron (that’s right – “ron,” not rum but meaning the same).

    The many generational company “Bacardi” left the business they had built up over the years, and moved the corporation to New York City, and continued business in Puerto Rico and Mexico.  Havana Ron took over and now is a public run corporation in Cuba.  We sampled their product, took pictures of a miniature diorama of the Ron factory.  They didn’t give our samples, but did serve Mojitos.  I buy a bottle of “Bacardi” Rum when I get back to Redding.  I’ll be serving Mojitos to toast Bacardi and loyal Cubans at our Book Club “Cuba” event.

    After lunch (more beans and rice), fish & salad – all served beautifully. we are on our way to Hemmingway’s hilltop home, Finca Vigia  on the outskirts of Havana.  Not a whole lot to see there, and not even one of his multi-toed cats still hanging around.

    I purchased a couple of block prints (Customs surely will consider them “art” depicting a couple Hemmingway’s books.

     
  • It's still All About Travel 8:30 AM on March 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Restaurants and Paladors 

    I think our National Geographic group was very fortunate that our “leader” Christopher had so many personal contacts in Cuba.  I truly believe we would not have been able to experience the variety, and the quality of eating-places.

    There are 2 different types of , publicly owned and run by the Government, the Paladars, privately owned by citizens.  Most of them started out as small kitchen enterprise and now have developed into personal business opportunities.

    We ate outside patios, under trees, in very small compact rooms, outside the Cathedral one evening, and once in a 3-story tenement building.  “La Guarida” was setting for the art film “Frescas & Chocolate”  (Strawberries & Chocolate).  As we walked up the circular marble staircase, we could see floors missing, bare studs barely holding up the next section.  The very small dining area walls were covered with exotic artwork; the kitchen was a cramped area small than my bedroom closet.  The owners, chef and waiters were eager to share their very special cuisine with us.  They have carved out a first class restaurant using ingenuity and grit.  It was an experience none of us will forget!

    Cuban food is not real spicy, but is flavored well.  I like fish, chicken and pork; they know every way in the culinary world to prepare the meats.  Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded cabbage were always the salad.  They know how to bake bread; their flan is out of this world.  Their ice cream is a national favorite.

    I was surprised to have lobster served two nights.

    For your information (when you make your trip to Cuba, we ate at El Café del Oriente, Dona Carmela, La Guarida, El Patio, El Tocororo, Casa Verde, and Café Taberna.

    Because La Guarida was unique, I’m adding extra pictures

     
  • It's still All About Travel 8:00 AM on March 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Dos Dia 

    We gather this morning to hear Christopher Baker’s first talk:  “Land of Eccentricity, Eroticism & Enigma”.

    Taking notes as fast as I can scribble:  An ethic mix of white, black, other mixed Mulatto races.  “Campanero”, a term during the revolution but reverting to Senor & Senoras now.  “CDR” – Committee Defense of Revolution.  Eyes and ears everywhere.  After collapse of USSR influence in Cuba, called “Special Period”.  A time of great hunger and devastation for Cubans.  2 million persons left Cuba during early 1960’s.

    Ration books that supposedly give basic foods for 10 days.  However, often no food is found in the state markets.  1967 businesses taken over by government.

    40% of food comes from United States, even after the Embargo. Farmers taken off their farms and relocated to the city – businesspersons moved out to take over the farms.  Chaos.  Fidel decides to cross established dairy cattle with a large plodding animal from Africa.  Result, no milk, no dairy products. just big ugly grey critters with floppy ears and big horns.

    Cubans love their music, baseball, chess, checkers and ice cream.  They appreciate the human body, and have a very open attitude toward sex.  They are friendly, love life.  In talking to the people of the streets I found them very appreciative of Americans.  Not so toward the U. S. Government (maybe the political billboards have something to do with that?), but seem to have no animosity toward American tourists.

    Christopher, our guide, has spent many years in Cuba, his trusty BMW motorcycle taking him places otherwise not easily reached. His fascinating book “Mi Moto Fidel” is available through his website as well as everything you would want to know about Cuba.

    http://www.moon.com/blogs/cuba-costa-rica

    We are on our way, taking the ferry across the bay to Regla, where we visit the Church of the Black Madonna.  Riding the ferry is to experience the friendliness of Cuban children.  More than ready to pose, especially if one has taken the time to talk with them first.  A small child, all dressed in white, we were told was in training to be a “Santeria”.  A saint with the African/Catholic religious mix.  Whenever we saw a female of any age wearing white from head to toe, we knew she was a Santeria, or in training.

    The Parque Central was directly in front of our hotel.  Baseball fans debate the game on a daily basis; old American cars are lined up – owners more than happy to show them off.  I asked one how he obtained parts to keep his 56 Chevy running.  He said he has a friend in Canada.  (Canada has no embargo).

    Dinner tonight at Dona Carmela, a paladar -

    r (privately owned restaurant).  Lobster and a very interesting cut of lamb, salad, beans and rice, ice cream and coffee.  What a life!

     
  • It's still All About Travel 6:01 AM on March 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Uno Dia 

    Arrival in Havana via Delta Charter flight.  We wait in line to be processed at Immigration and Customs.  We present our Passports, the special People to People license No. CT-17903 from the Treasury department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allowing us the right to travel to Cuba, then fight our way through the mountain of green plastic wrapped food from Cuban relatives in the United States to friends and family.

    The bombardment of shouts from people trying to make themselves heard over the cacophony of airport arrival and departure information, the humidity, and the entreaties from the taxi drivers all add to the slightly out of focus realization we are finally in Cuba.

    An air-conditioned bus takes us to lunch at El Aribe.  We are out on the patio being served a surprisingly good lunch of chicken, salad, black beans and rice.  Oh yes, then ice cream (a Cuban specialty) and very good local coffee.

    It is hard to adjust our expectations to our realizations this first day.  We drive past many political billboards of Fidel and Che extorting the virtues of Socialism.  The Revolution is still alive after 50 years it seems. A multitude of U.S.made cars from the 50’s blast past us.  Pedi-Cabs dart in and out without ever being smashed by the many tour buses.  A continual whirl and color and sound keep us on the alert.

    Our National Geographic Tour Guide, Christopher Baker and Tour Facilitator John David Kling take us to the “Plaza de la Catedral” that evening where we are served Mahi, rice salad, coffee and Flan.  (So much for the granola bars we all packed!)  One myth blasted and probably more to go by the looks of things.

    A beautiful evening, an eventful day – what a way to start the tour of a lifetime!

     
  • It's still All About Travel 3:08 PM on February 6, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Goodbye Zoe 

    Zoe plays Solitaire

    Getting out my suitcases the other day for packing decisions, I realized something was missing.  It was Zoe, my little brown Abyssinian kitty.  She knew when the suitcase came out; it meant I would be leaving her for a while.

    It was difficult to neatly arrange my clothing, when she was so insistent on re-arranging them when I turned my back. If I forgot to close the suitcase, she would make her bed there for the night.

    I missed Zoe that day, and I miss her everyday.  She was 15, which is pretty old in kitty years, but not ancient.  She went fast, which is a blessing for both of us, but that doesn’t mean she is forgotten.

    Abby’s have a distinctive, very sweet personality.  She was definitely “MY” kitty.

    Zoe didn’t like to cuddle (except on a cold night) but she was a touching, patting and kissing kitty.  If I did not wake at a time to suit her, she would hop up on the bed, pat my closed eyes, then my nose, then press her paw right on my lips.  If that didn’t work, I got a fast kitty kiss, and when all else failed, she would nuzzle into my hair and put a strand out with her teeth.  She knew she had me then!

    She wanted to be near me always, but especially if I was spending more time at the computer; than she thought necessary.  She would sit to the left of the keyboard; reach over and very quickly hit a key.  When I admonished her, she would draw back her paw, and when she thought I wasn’t looking would reach over and hit a key again.  Her way of getting attention!

    She was so funny.  When I brought in the laundry from the clothesline, she would jump in the middle of the basket, pick out my undies, and dash down the hall with it in her mouth, dragging under her body, between her legs.  I’m surprised she didn’t trip.  It was her favorite trick.

    She had a favorite pink and purple fuzzy toy.  She would bring it from one end of the house to another to find me and present it.  Meowing all the way at the top of her voice.  Art said when I was gone, he would hear her bringing to the front door and stand there meowing, and at bed time hauling it back to the other end of the house to my bed.  It was worn and ragged, restitched many times until it was just a wad of purple/pink fuzz.  Its still around, I can’t bring myself to get rid of it.

    Zoe was a sweetie, she didn’t meow, she “mmmmmmmm”d.  Funny kitty.

    I’ll miss her little brown kitty fur in my suitcase, and I’ll miss her at the door when I return.

     
  • It's still All About Travel 7:58 AM on January 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    CUBA UPDATE 

     

    Our BIG adventure is coming up fast.

    I’ve submitted all my passport information for the special visa and now I’m working on a “People –to-People Information Form” from National Geographic.

    As the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has granted National Geographic a specific license for our trip to Cuba to meet with Cubans and exchange ideas and perspectives.  (I’m quoting this directly)  “This kind of program entails a full schedule of encounters where all travelers are asked to take an active part in representing the U.S. and imparting relevant knowledge of our own country while in Cuba, while learning from Cubans directly.”

    The form I’m filling out asks (among many things) if I’ve managed or owned a business, had experience in historic preservation or construction, played a roll in my religious community, read Hemingway’s books and would I like to read a passage that I find particularly meaningful, experience in conservation, knowledge of botany, knowledge of horses (!?), knowledgeable in U.S.-Cuba relations and history, experience in community engagement through the arts, music or other initiatives.

    I checked off a couple – such as managing a business (travel), knowledgeable, but not well versed in U.S.-Cuba relations, and for community engagement I noted my stints on Redding Tourism Commission and Redevelopment Commission (some years ago).

    So it’s looking like we’ll be spending quite a bit of time exchanging ideas, and that will be fine.  At least I’m finally getting to Cuba!  As far as I have time for photography and enjoying the historical downtown architecture, and the seaside areas I will be happy.

    More to come……

     

     
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