Day 1,265 of Traveling the World, Miami, Florida. April 10, 2021.

Oh, what a grand day! Roosters everywhere. Street art galore. Colorful frescoes. Cigar stores by the dozens. Brightly painted storefronts. Lots of whimsy and fun. Plentiful Cuban cuisine. Street vendors selling peanuts. Mojito specials in all the bars. Ice cream! And did we mention….roosters, roosters, roosters? What a wonderful time we had in Little Havana.

So, why roosters? The rooster is important in Cuban folklore, representing strength and power. It is a compliment for a Cuban man to be called a rooster. These rooster statues, all over Calle Ocho, were the biggest draw for selfies as well as regular photos. As you can see below, in both statues and wall frescoes, the roosters are colorful, whimsical (do you see the FEMALE rooster???), and ubiquitous. Little Havana’s main drag, Calle Ocho, or 8th Street, is six or seven blocks of restaurants, live theater, cigar shops, and other retail businesses. Yet with so much art happening, the district felt much larger. We delighted in every part of it, but that may be so because we have been quarantined for a year!

After the rooster photos is Domino Park, which we were eager to see, but it was closed. It is where people gather at the small tables inside to play dominoes, and has been described as the heart of Little Havana. But that will have to wait for another visit, after the pandemic. Following that photo – here come the cigar shops! Lots of wooden Indians on display! In one, you can see a young man in a yellow tank top rolling cigars. Quite amazingly, each one looked like a clone of the one before…same thickness, same length, just perfect. And the man in the blue shirt is enjoying his cigar at an inside table, but we didn’t venture inside to “experience” the smokiness.

You can see in the next photo that even the trash cans are decorated with artwork. They were each unique and quite pretty. The split photo depicts a planter on the street that looked beautiful from a few feet away. When we got close, we discovered the topless dancing women. It looks more like the Moulin Rouge to us, but maybe these types of shows were common in Havana, as well.

The next several photos show some of the street art we encountered on our walk through the district. Just beautiful. We are not sure of the entire translation of the long “cartoon,” but it looks like a very well-endowed woman is found to have….silicone! And then, she deflates. At the end of the street art is a photo of a lovely little patio, which sadly had few takers, BUT it was only early afternoon. There were a fair number of people walking around, and we passed by several tours, but the pandemic is still keeping the crowds away.

The montage of the four Picasso-esque women actually was on….outdoor dining tables! What a delight to walk by and discover them. Following that is Miami’s most famous ice cream store, Azucar (Spanish for sugar). Some storefront, huh? You can see the flavor board. They had many unusual flavors. We passed on Avocado, Chocolate Guinness, Corn, Pigs in a Blanket, Coca-Cola, and Burn in Hell, Fidel! We settled on Cafe Con Leche (chocolate ice cream with Cuban coffee and oreos) and Mulatica (cinnamon ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookie bits). They were very, very good. But, in case Mom is wondering, yes…we also had real food. We shared a Cuban sandwich for lunch!

The last six photos gave us the best laugh of the day. They were taken at a bar with pretty funny signs outside and in (“Bring your girlfriend: 20% off; Bring your wife: 45% off; Bring both at the same time: FREE). There were also lots of Lucha Libre masks, a Wall of Shame, and two restrooms at the back labeled “Confessionals.” Hmm. The last photo is a sign with their business hours, which we also greatly enjoyed. All in all, we have walked through some of these sorts of ethnic areas around the world, and mostly feel they are just a loose collection of themed buildings and stores. Here in Little Havana, we had so much fun discovering something every few steps. It gets a big thumbs up from these two world travelers!

Day 1,254 of Traveling the World, Miami, Florida. March 30, 2021.

Please notice that for the first time in about a year, the above title doesn’t use the word “Retrospective.” We actually went out yesterday and spent time at a museum. Since it was largely outdoors – gorgeous gardens! – and people in the few rooms were both masked and distanced, we felt comfortable.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is located in Miami, in the upscale neighborhood known as Coconut Grove. It is a National Historic Landmark, and is the former Italian villa-style estate of the cofounder of International Harvester, James Deering. Located on Biscayne Bay, construction took place between 1914 and 1922. It has been the filming location for about a dozen movies, and is where President Ronald Reagan hosted Pope John Paul II in 1987 on his trip to Miami.

The estate feels a lot like Hearst Castle on the central California coast, albeit much smaller and with direct ocean access. The first several photos are the first areas you encounter upon entering the property. The third is very interesting…running down both sides of the main driveway is a descending water/pool system that culminates in three or four pools along the way.

Upon entering the home, you are greeted by the statue that is fronted by purple orchids. The photo after that is just behind this statue, and is the center axis of the home: a large airy glass-ceilinged atrium filled with fountains, statues, and greenery. It is off this main atrium that you walk the porticos in the next photo, and all around the edges of the house are the living areas. The upstairs bedrooms, with views to the bay, and surrounding the atrium, are being renovated, and access was prohibited for now.

You can see maritime motifs throughout, with a ship in stained glass and another hanging in the main entrance hall just off the bay. Very interesting is that the property’s breakwater was designed as a ship, with a walkway in the middle of it leading up to the home. After that is shown the indoor/outdoor swimming pool, rumored to have only been used once by Deering himself, although his family used it for decades. There is an unusual ceiling mural inside of an underwater fantasy, one of two in existence by artist Robert Chanler. In 1992 and 2005, hurricanes submerged the grotto and mural, making for a challenge in preserving this valuable artwork.

The gardens are extensive, with many statues, fountains, mazes, and varieties of ferns, trees, and flowers. There is a wild swamp area, with a sign warning of alligators. That made us hurry to the next place! The four-tiered waterfall is most impressive, leading up to yet another level of gardens. The two birds you see drinking from the fountain are glossy ibises. Their long sharp beaks would be frightening if they were digging into your skin, but as we passed them, they flew away from us!

The young woman in red was being photographed all over the estate. At first we thought she would be part of a performance, but it seems that this was part of her Quinceanara celebration, her 15th birthday. The photos following the lady in red are of the estate living spaces, including a music room as well as a small pipe organ in another room. Each room has windows to the outdoors, but as you can see, are kept dim to preserve the textiles and objects from a century ago. We liked the last two, a strong arm holding a torch, and the sea god, Neptune, looking like he is worrying about his “hair” getting mussed!

All in all, an amazing day, if only because it was a small taste of getting back to normal and doing something touristy. It was hot, 82 degrees F but “feeling like” 86. It isn’t yet April, but the steamy and humid weather has returned! There were a “good” number of people visiting Vizcaya, but it wasn’t wall-to-wall visitors. Most everybody followed the signage about masks being required, even outdoors. People avoided getting too close to one another. We chatted with some Chinese teenage students going to school in Illinois (a word they said carefully and were clearly pleased to be pronouncing for us) after volunteering to take their photos. It felt like a life that was somewhat back to normal, and after a year, that was a very good thing.

Day 1,250 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Lake Geneva: Lausanne, Switzerland; Evian-les-Bains, France; La Cite Medievale d’Yvoire, France. March 26, 2021.

Flowers everywhere! You would never ever think that this was October in Europe, as it looks like Spring is bustin’ out all over! We visited the Lake Geneva area from October 7-9, 2014.

The first four photos are of Lake Geneva from the Switzerland side, in Lausanne. Our hotel was in Evian, France, across the lake, so we crossed over, but in the morning returned to Lausanne to explore its Old Town. It is such a pretty city! The next five photos are from the old quarter. We found an American Store there, which most large European cities tend to have, and found chunky peanut butter and Tabasco sauce. Don’t laugh…scoring “real” peanut butter across the sea is huge. Local brands don’t taste very good. For lunch that day, we threw caution to the wind and tried a sandwich of Brie with fresh raspberries (rather than ham or turkey) on rustic raisin bread. It was beyond amazing!

The rest of the photos are of Evian and Yvoire, which is a bona-fide medieval city established in 1306. We took two 20-minute bus rides from Evian to get there, about 20 miles to the west of us, on the shore of Lake Geneva. As you can see, every business, every porch, every back yard was just blooming with pretty flowers. And all glimpses of water that you see are, of course, Lake Geneva. We both recall that it rained about half of the time we were there, so we didn’t get to see as many of the villages surrounding the lake as we had intended. It seems we need a longer stay to give you a more thorough report! As soon as the world opens up again…

Day 1,238 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Pattaya City, Thailand. March 14, 2021.

The Sanctuary of Truth creates an impressive sight on the Gulf of Thailand. Constructed entirely of wood, it was started in 1981, and completion is not expected until at least 2025. As you can see in some photos, since it is still under construction, hard hats are required inside. Every surface of the structure is decorated with ornamentation from the Hindu, Buddhist, Thai, Chinese, and Khmer traditions.

We visited Pattaya on February 13, 2016, as part of a 28-day cruise around Southeast Asia. We rarely choose to take the ship’s excursions, as they are notoriously more expensive than they need to be and often include stops with their shopping “partners” so that the cruise line can get a kickback from your purchases. At the port, we found a small company selling tours to the Sanctuary, about 7-8 miles away, for $23 per person. In all, a group of nine of us were on the minibus, and we got to know each other on the way there. We were told to meet back at the bus at noon, giving us about two hours to explore the sanctuary and take photos. Like most days in the region, it was hot – humid – sweltering. At noon, seven of the nine of our group were on the bus, waiting for the last two. Still waiting at 12:20. Still waiting at 12:40. Ten minutes after that, they came strolling slowly toward the bus, stopping to look at tables of souvenirs. Then, unbelievably, they walked past the bus and toward the large gift shop! We couldn’t believe our eyes. Two of the men ran after them, told them all of us and the driver had been waiting in the heat for them for 50 minutes, and they replied nonchalantly, “Oh, we are looking for water. We’re only 15 minutes late.” Needless to say, we have been very reluctant since then to book a shared van experience with others!

As you can see from the photos, the sculpture detailing in the wood is magnificent. There was something to see in every part of the interior. There were also elephant rides being offered! We walked through the town when we returned from the tour and took advantage of a Thai massage session. Two hours for two people cost us just under US $30. And it was amazing! We also stopped for Pad Thai and Tom Kha Ghai soup, a slightly spicy Thai soup made with coconut milk that is one of our favorite foods on the planet. It was this experience in Thailand that compelled us to revisit in 2019 for a month. The people are great, the sights are unique, the food is amazing, and the prices can’t be beat.

Day 1,230 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Croatian Riviera. March 6, 2021.

Looking at these photos, you would be hard pressed not to think it was the coast of California, the French Riviera, or even Tahiti. But think again…it is the gorgeous Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, driving along the Adriatic Sea.

We drove the coast north to south in mid-October, 2015. Along the way, we visited the fabulous ancient city of Split and stayed several nights on the island of Korcula, located between Split and Dubrovnik. As we drove, we ooohed and aaaahed over the beautiful beaches and the views of the Adriatic. We said, more than once, how much it reminded us of the French Riviera. We stopped at the beach cafe in the fifth photo for breakfast and felt like we were back in California. It was just spectacular. Lo and behold, when we got farther south, there was a sign proclaiming, End of the Croatian Riviera. We laughed, as we had no idea it was thus named, of course.

We would like to note that traveling in this part of the world, prices are extremely low for just about everything. We rented our car in the capital, Zagreb, for $69 for seven days, and even the Hertz agent asked how we had snagged that rate! (It was simply advance planning.) Looking back at emails we sent during this trip, our full breakfast for two with coffee at the outside cafe amounted to US $6! In our beautiful hotel one night, both dinner and breakfast the next morning were included with the price of the room, a huge buffet with everything you can imagine. The room (with meals for two) cost US $65. And when we bought coffee for both of us with two croissants in Dubrovnik, it was a mind-bending US $1!!!

With the way that Yugoslavia was split into separate countries in 1991-1992, there is one little glitch while driving down the coast of Croatia, just before getting to Dubrovnik. For 23 miles, the road passes through Bosnia-Herzegovina. So yes, you got it…we got slowed down, as we needed to stop at passport control on the Croatian side. It is so delightful that the Bosnians call this stretch of road – wait for it – the Bosnian Riviera! Apparently, Riviera is the name everyone wants for their little stretch of coastal highway, as it sounds so exotic and romantic. You may also know that there is an Italian Riviera. We have found, traveling the world, that any time you are on a road adjacent to an ocean or sea, beautiful vistas will unfold before you. It was no different in Croatia, where we would love to return in the future.

Day 1,214 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Bullfight, Madrid, Spain. February 18, 2021.

We went to a bullfight in Madrid on October 14, 2007. It was a first…and a last! Many people told us, as we traveled around Spain in 2007, that we should experience the excitement and “culture” that is inherent in a bullfight, one of the country’s proudest traditions, and the source of much debate. So, on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, we walked several miles through the city to get to the main bullring.

We didn’t understand the ticketing pricing system, as they showed us where our seats would be, and the price was very low, about 7 euros. The seats were fairly close to front and center, and we were thrilled. We later found out that the more expensive seats are in the shade, while ours, of course, were in full sun. You can clearly see the good seats in the fourth photo! But it was late afternoon, and after some time, we also were in the shade. All the normal snacks and drinks were for sale, as at a baseball or football game. But an elderly man with a small cooler kept running up and down the aisles yelling, “Wiki! Wiki!” We had no idea what was for sale until the people behind us told us he was selling shots of whiskey!

As it began, you can see the parade of the matadors and horses, waving and soaking up the admiration. You can see the horses are wearing protective coverings…in case they get gored! Prior to 1930, the horses wore no protection, and often the number of dead horses surpassed the number of dead bulls. Now, we must say, hoping not to offend any bullfighting aficionados, this is one miserable and pathetic sport. There is no fairness to it. There is no one-to-one competition, in the sense of healthy vs healthy.

Once the bull is released into the ring, the matador tests and evaluates it with a few swipes of his cape, to see what the bull is like and which of its sides it favors. Then he runs away. Then come the picadors on horseback, armed with lances, which they plunge into the bull to weaken it, teasing the bull so that it runs around the ring, losing blood and getting weaker. Only then does the matador appear, like a hero, and finish the bullfight, which is over once the bull dies (about 30 minutes later). But the matador doesn’t stay in the ring for 30 minutes with a full-bodied, healthy bull! Oh, no! He might get hurt! So the bull is weakened until he isn’t so much of a threat. Even so, some bulls have been strong enough and enraged enough to kill the matador.

In Spain, danger to the bullfighter is a requirement for their national pastime. Every season, matadors are gored. A total of 534 matadors have died in the bull ring over the past three centuries, the latest in 2017. Being from a country without a bullfighting tradition, it seemed pretty barbaric and very, very unfair to the bull. It has been outlawed in many countries, and there are places where the “bullfight” consists of men running around the ring in teams, teasing the bull, doing gymnastics, but with no blood shed. The bull lives to see another day, exactly as it should.

Much of the 2020 bullfighting season in Spain was canceled due to the Covid outbreak. In May, when over 26,000 Spaniards had died due to the pandemic, the bullfighting industry demanded the government compensate for industry losses, estimated at 700 million euros. Bullfighting has become an unpopular sport with much of the Spanish populace, so this demand caused outrage, prompting 100,000 people to sign a petition against the idea. All in all, the future of bullfighting in Spain does not look very bright.

Day 1,204 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Evora, Portugal. February 8, 2021.

By glancing through these photos, you must think we are mixed up with our holidays – Halloween rather than Valentine’s Day. But no, this was our visit to the Capela dos Ossos, Chapel of the Bones, in Evora, Portugal on October 1, 2007. Loving horror movies and novels, and all things creepy, this was the perfect destination on our first trip to Spain and Portugal in 2007. Since that time, we discovered that other bone chapels exist in the world, and we also visited one in Rome, Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, a few years later. Maybe we will post those photos sometime soon.

This chapel was built by Franciscan monks in the 16th century for purely pragmatic reasons. There were 42 different cemeteries in Evora taking up space that could otherwise be utilized for residences and retail buildings found in cities. So they exhumed 5,000 corpses and arranged the skulls and bones on the chapel walls as a contemplation on the inevitability of death. The archway leading into the chapel, shown in the first photo, translates as – “Our bones that are here wait for yours.”

After the first photo are, oh, hundreds more of bones and skulls, bones and skulls, bones and skulls. There is even a complete corpse hanging up! We thought you might tire of them, so after all of the bones is a very gold photo of the actual Church of St. Francis, where the Chapel of Bones resides. After that are three photos of the Prata Aqueduct in Evora, built in the 16th century to convey water into the city. In the first aqueduct photo, you can see that now a roadway crosses underneath it. The photo after that is most interesting, as it shows how residences and businesses were actually built into the arches. And then, lastly, you can see how they designed the arches to be smaller and smaller as the aqueduct comes down to street level.

We once again have saved a fun photo as the last! Europe loves hanging out laundry to dry, but it is usually on porches or in front/back yards. This laundry photo left us scratching our heads. As you can see, there was a long, white wall across the street from the church that ran for an entire block, with no houses, no gates, etc. And yet, someone from some other place ran a short laundry line on the wall and hung up a red shirt and two socks! A true mystery. Weird, but maybe not as weird as exhuming 5,000 graves and embellishing a chapel with the bones in decorative patterns!

Day 1,188 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Venice & Murano, Italy. January 23, 2021.

Masks. Water: lots of water. Canals. Bridges. Mazes. Gondolas. Murano glass. A Palace adjacent to a Basilica. This is Venice, Italy! What a memorable, fabulous city. We visited from November 30 to December 4, 2009. It was a perfect time to be in Venice, as it was sunny, cool enough for a light jacket, decorated for Christmas, but not jammed with the throngs of tourists that we had read about. Best of all, during the off- off- season, we stayed in a lovely hotel just behind St. Mark’s Basilica for $70 per night! When I checked the rates online for the same hotel for the following July, it was $450! We really lucked out with the prices and the weather.

Venice is a maze of walkways and bridges. We had found a lovely internet cafe (necessary back then) with delicious espresso and decided we would return the following day to check our email. We knew where it was…just off of St. Mark’s Square, down an alleyway, across two canals, and take a right…the cafe was midway down, amidst a bunch of shops. Except….it wasn’t. We tracked back, tried again…nope. So we started wandering aimlessly, not knowing where we were, and yep, you guessed it – it appeared right in front of us. That’s how Venice is. You learn to buy something the first time you see what you like, as you may never find the shop again!

The first photos are of Venice’s mask business, of course. It seemed a colorful way to start. They are followed by various scenes around Venice, on the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal, the Doge’s Palace, and St. Mark’s Basilica, complete with its famous horses outside on the roof. After the horses are photos from our day trip to the island of Murano, two miles by water taxi, and world famous for its unique glass work. If you have ever been in the lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the flowered glass ceiling is all Murano glass. We went to a glass factory for a demonstration, of course, then wandered around the island, known for its colorful houses. As you can see, though, even in a tourist spot with its beautiful colors, there always seems to be laundry hanging out to dry!

Something we had never considered: Venice is all about walking, as there are no streets and no vehicles. We saw many people on the water taxis and on the walkways pulling carts behind them filled with one or two bags of groceries. They can’t shop all at once for groceries to last a week or two, as we can with a car, as that amount cannot be easily carried. So, almost every day, they must buy only what they can easily convey. It is a difficult life, in that regard.

It did rain the last day or two we were there, and while we were on Murano. You can see one thing they do in the next to last photo: install wooden barricades on the bottom of their doors to keep out the water! In St. Mark’s Square, they put out wooden walkways to walk on above the flooded square, about 2 feet off the ground. We don’t seem to have gotten a photo of them, but had to use them the morning we left. Water spilling into everyday life seems to always be on their mind. But…what a city! Che bella!