Posted by: pennyinparadise | January 21, 2018

Mexico – San Miguel de Allende & Dolores Hidalgo

San Miguel de Allende was the frosting on the cake!!!   We fell in love with it.  Culture galore!   Great restaurants, art galleries, museums, theaters, music….really great.   We had a great Airbnb condo.

Our Airbnb in San Miguel

Map of San Miguel Centro

Entrance to our Airbnb

Some street scenes, churches and buildings in Centro, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are in the gallery below:

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The homes in San Miguel are mostly behind walls with courtyards and beautiful interiors.  Here are a few photos of some homes.

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There are various hot mineral baths in the area….our favorite is La Gruta (the grotto).  Acres of beautiful lawns and gardens, restaurants and pools.   The pools run from medium to warm to hot.   You can spend the entire day there…it’s a fabulous experience.

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One of the highlights of our visit to SMA was the huge variety of restaurants and the wonderful food and courteous and prompt service.

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Of course, no vacation is complete with golf, so we played a couple of times in San Miguel.   My favorite course is Ventanas (Windows), which is a Nick Faldo designed course.   One hole had 12 sand traps in front of the green!!

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Besides great food and art, there is great music everywhere.   And, an occasional horse.

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About an hour away from SMA is Dolores Hidalgo….birthplace of Mexican National Independence and where they make the colorful Talavera pottery.  En route is Los Laboradores development, which is lovely and unusual.

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Posted by: pennyinparadise | January 21, 2018

Mexico – Guadalajara, Tequila, Talaquapaque, Tonala & Ajijic

After leaving Puerto Vallerta we flew to Guadalajara, where we stayed in a lovely condo in a great part of the city.  Beautiful homes, restaurants and the US Embassy.

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There are 2 private trains that take you to the town of Tequilla (yes, with 2 ll’s) where the liquor was invented hundreds of years ago by indigenous peoples when they discovered the Blue Agave, when burned in the fire and left to ferment, created a mood altering beverage which they named after their town.   Now there are hundreds of thousands of acres of Blue Agave grown in this area.   The 2 trains are Jose Cuervo (means Crow in Spanish) and Herradura (means horseshoe in Spanish).

We boarded the train in a big, modern terminal and had a ball en route to the Herradura factory, which has been in business for over 100 years.  The brand was bought by Brown Foreman, but the family still lives on property in the big mansion.   The trip included lots of different tequila drink recipes on the way there and back.  We got a very comprehensive tour, followed by a lunch and show by a huge troupe of Mariachi musicians and costumed dancers.   GREAT fun.

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Another day we drive to Tolana, a small town of crafts and arts, near Guadalajara.  Another day we visited Talaqapaque where artists abound.  Our driver, Miguel, was entertaining and educational.  Like Chicago had COWS, Toronto had MOOSE, New Orleans has FISH and Ocala has HORSES…..Talaqapaque has PIGS….and Jim kissed them all!

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Not far from the Guadalajara Airport is a HUGE lake called Lake Chapala with several small towns around it.   We visited Ajijic, which is a charming little town on the lake, which is 65 miles long and 30 miles wide.

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Posted by: pennyinparadise | January 21, 2018

Mexico – Puerto Vallarta & Bucerias

This year our vacation trip was to Mexico.   First, to Puerto Vallerta, or more accurately to Bucerias (a coastal village 10 miles north of PV).   We stayed in an ocean front condo with a lovely swimming pool, which was greatly appreciated.   Even in October PV is hotter than hell and you either have to spend mid-day inside in A/C or in the pool or ocean.

Bucerias is a quaint little village with good restaurants and shops…we had a great time.

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A couple of highlights to this first leg of our trip were:

TERI & DON MURRAY…..years ago when I first moved to Panama, I enjoyed the friendship of this couple who were world wide adventurers.   After leaving Boquete they moved to Brazil for a while and then to Orcas Island.   We lost touch in the last few years.  So Jim and I are walking down the street in Bucerias and I hear my name….and there are Don & Teri Murray just pulling away from the curb from the restaurant where they had breakfast.  YES….after all these years, on the street of a small town in Mexico, we run into each other.   I forgot they had lived here years ago and started a bakery called Pie In The Sky, which they sold to people who now have 5 stores.  If you want a fun read about some of their adventures, you can get their book PIE IN THE SKY ADVENTURES from Amazon.

Teri and Don Murray at the Marina in Bucerias

Jim and Don at favorite ExPat hangout

One day we treated ourselves to a luxury game of golf and overnight at the Four Seasons Resort and Golf at Punta Mita.   It was SO HOT that a guy came around every 3 holes with ice water neck scarfs and bottled water.   This course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and is only available to guests of the hotel or residents.   It has the ONLY naturally occurring island green on earth.

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Posted by: pennyinparadise | December 24, 2017

Boquete’s Flower & Coffee Faire 2018

For years Boquete has created a Flower & Coffee Fair.

Posted by: pennyinparadise | December 24, 2017

Boquete’s Cabalgata

Horse Parade on the streets of downtown Boquete

Posted by: pennyinparadise | September 19, 2017

Cuban Adventure #1

This year I wanted to give Jim something very special for his birthday (besides his big party seen on my last post), and I decided a trip to Cuba was it.   Jim’s grandfather, Booker, was a real character who made frequent trips to Cuba in the 50’s before Castro took over in 1960 when it was shut down travel for Americans.  One can travel to Cuba (where the whole rest of the world vacations) from Panama, but at the time we went, Americans were everywhere.   The travel ban is lifted for certain reasons and things will change very rapidly…they already are….when the Americans hit the island.

However, recent news is that several airlines are not moving forward on plans to fly from the US.   Disappointment by early visitors from the US is caused by the difficulty getting internet service, no cell service, no American credit cards accepted, expensive hotels and food.   Our group stayed in a large 4 bedroom/4 bath condo that was very modern and not expensive.  We didn’t have any problems but never got on the internet (which was a blessing in disguise).   We felt very safe at all times….however we were always in the tourist areas.

At the party I gave Jim his REAL present….a trip to Cuba!!

So the party was great…I had a TaylorMade golf ball birthday cake and we had 40+ people for the party and golf shoot out in our back yard driving range.  At the cake cutting I gave Jim his “present” which was the invitation below.

Here’s Jim’s birthday card

We went with 8 other people, and had a blast.   We took lots of photos….so many photos that we’ve had to split them into several galleries and 6 posts.

The airport was pretty modern, but we were told not to check our luggage (only carry on) because it would take hours for it to come on the carousel.  Lots of tour groups arriving, including Americans.   The trip into Old Havana where tourists stay offered a display of many billboards praising Fidel and many praising Che and Cienfuegos.

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In the heart of Old Havana (Habana Vieja) there sits the Capitol building.   Designed and built by an American company in the 1920’s/30’s, it is currently undergoing a huge renovation projecct.   The tour guide told me that “it is 2 meters longer than the one in Washington”.   This was a familiar theme in Cuba…..such as the tower in Revolution Plaza being “2 meters taller than the Washington Monument”…and when asked if they have ever been to the US they say “No…of course not!”, and when asked how they know these things they say “Because Fidel told us so”.   Very sweet but very sad.

The National Theater (sometimes called Teatro Gran) is the magnificent building you see the corner of in the first photo below.   Further in the gallery will be closer views of this magnificent building.   We were fortunate to see a Flamenco Show there one night.  It was exactly like being in Carnegie Hall in New York.   Amazing.

Other buildings are shown below, including the iron portraits of Che Guavara and Camilo Cienfuegos displayed on two modern buildings on the opposite side of the Revolution Plaza, across from the Revolution Tower and statue of Jose Marti’ (the man who fought for freedom from Spain….Cuba’s version of Simon Bolivar who feed South and Central America from Spain.

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Everyone knows that Cuba has an amazing amount of 50’s cars…we were surprised by the sheer numbers of them and the incredible condition most of them were in.   And not just in Havana…we understand the entire country has them.  There were thousands in Havana…so many that I’ve had to create more than one gallery just to show you a small portion.

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Posted by: pennyinparadise | September 17, 2017

Cuban Adventure #2

To continue our trip to Cuba, and after seeing many more old cars, we visited the Museum of War (Russian tanks, planes, etc..) which also houses the boat “Grama” (the one Fidel brought from Mexico, overloaded with 80 men and guns and ammunition.  They got lost and landed in the wrong place so ground troops couldn’t find them!!).  Photos of some other great places, including a visit to the original Sloppy Joe’s (the one in Key West is a knock-off created after Hemingway was gone).

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Sloppy Joe’s is the ORIGINAL, from which the Key West one was adopted.   It was packed with Americans.

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Just like Vietnam…..this country’s politics celebrate their “victory over the giant US” and by bringing in the Russians.  The question is….do the people ever look around and say…“the Imperialist devils sure did know how to make beautiful things”.   Nothing beautiful has been built by the Revolution, but the government has recognized that the “capitalist pigs’ money” is pretty nice to have….so, they are spending $$ to improve what was built before Fidel.

 

Posted by: pennyinparadise | September 16, 2017

Cuban Adventure #3

So many photos that it’s taking many blog posts to get them all in….

Havana is situated on a bay with a big Spanish fort across from the city.  The bay is actually an inlet which contains 3 harbors…see map below.

Havana is situated on a huge bay that is guarded by a Spanish Fort built in the 1600’s.   The principal fort guarding the city is shown on the upper right, across the inlet from Old Havana.   Getting to the fort from the city is easy, thanks to a tunnel built just before the revolution, by a French company.   Just 2 years later Fidel took over and that was the end of major infrastructure projects in the city.

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The Parisienne dinner theater and nightclub has a fantastic show with great costumes and music.  A really must see….situated in the Hotel Nacional…Havana’s most famous hotel that was designed to look like the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.  (Excuse the out of focus photography)

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Of course, Cuba is a Catholic society however other religions, including Santaria (VooDoo) are tolerated.   The ubiquitous Cathedral is in the heart of Havana.

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Posted by: pennyinparadise | September 14, 2017

Cuban Adventure #4

The Buena Vista Social Club performs around the world, and their home is in Havana.   There are actually 3 theaters in the building, all going at the same time.  But no noise can be heard from the others when you are seated in your theater.   Havana is filled with music that is VERY specific and can be easily recognized as Cuban, which is unique among other latin music.  You had to wonder (if you see the YouTube of these guys walking around Manhattan, Paris, London and other “capitalist” cities) what the performers thought when they came back to Cuba to the run down conditions and poor people.

And, of course, no visit to Havana is complete without a visit to the Hemingway House.   His wife found the house and rented it for a time…then decided to buy it (for only $14,000) and renovated it. There’s the main house, where the Duke and Dutchess of Windsor (former King of England who gave up his throne for the American divorcee, Wallace Simpson) visited.   The strange thing is that the guest room has 2 twin beds and NO bathroom that we could see.   It was basically a 2 bedroom/1 bath house with no kitchen.   Food was cooked in a house nearby and brought up to the dining room.   Staff also lived in the wooden house you will see in the photos below.    Of course, Jim is super ramped up in all things Hemingway.  If you’ve visited us in Panama you’ll see Hemingway and Havana stuff everywhere.   Jim’s restaurants, Hemingway’s, are fashioned after his homes in Key West and Havana.

 

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Of course, we visited the Havana Club rum museum.   This is the national rum owned and operated by the government (as is every other thing in Cuba).  It was originally started by an American who was ousted when the revolution came and Fidel took over all businesses.   Everywhere you walk there are beautiful Spanish style buildings.

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We had lots of great entertainment….you’ve already seen the photos of the Parisienne show at the Hotel Nacional, and the Buena Vista Social Club.   Another night we went to the famous Tropicana, which surprised us because it was an outdoor theater with the stage and seating among huge tropical trees.

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An additional salute to Earnest Heminway, we visited La Floridita….one of his favorite hangout bars in Havana.   There’s a bronze statue of him leaning on the bar, with his favorite bar stool, behind a rope so you can’t get to it, but we got someone to snap a photo of us (as you can see, that person had too much rum and couldn’t keep the camera still).   The dining room at La Floridita was intimate and beautiful and you can just imagine Hemingway hosting meals for friends there.

And finally, a visit to the tiny nearby port town of Cojimar where Hemingway kept The Pilar.   And, of course, he had a favorite bar….

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Posted by: pennyinparadise | September 13, 2017

Cuban Adventure #5

We stumbled upon a great museum that was a house of a wealthy sugar cane grower, built in the late 1800’s.   Downstairs were exhibits;  one was of amazing Spanish fans intricately carved from ivory, mother of pearl and with fans made of lace, feathers, etc.   The ladies of the time used these works of art to keep off the heat of Havana.   Also downstairs was an exhibit of totally unique ceramic art and as I was exclaiming on how much I liked it, a man with his wife and small son came up to me and said “this is my work”.  He is a professor of ceramics at the University of Havana.  VERY unusual and creative.   Finally, the downstairs museums displayed a great many antique keys, locks and ironwork….all shown in the slideshow below.

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Upstairs in this house museum were the living quarters of the family, all preserved just exactly as it was in the 1800’s….furniture and all.

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The government owns every business in Cuba.   New regulations are now permitting persons who are sole owners of a business (ice cream cart, musician, etc.) and this man had a great idea…..dressing up his dogs to take photos with for a tip.   This is just outside the Ambos Mundos Hotel which means “Both Worlds”.  Hemingway lived here in room 522, which is now a museum, for many years.   A tale is told about a woman who was in love with him who stayed in another 5th floor room and climbed the railing along the outside to get to his room at night.

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