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Where Are We?

What do you call a town where….

…Accuweather says there is a zero percent chance of rain for the next ten days.

…we have to make hard choices between competing events we would really like to do virtually every day.

…where we can get delicious margaritas like this for five dollars.

…where you can see one of the most beautiful churches in the world by day or by night.

…where something like this can pop up at your hotel doorway in the middle of the afternoon.

It is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico which is located – as the locals like to say – on the fun side of the wall. It is hard to disagree with that. We arrived for our two week stay on Valentine’s Day.The first order of business on Friday is to go to the Jardin in the center of town to buy the local paper, Attención. You then grab one of the benches and study the events for the week and develop your plans. This is not easy! For instance, on Tuesday afternoon there were three things we really wanted to do and we could only choose one. After developing our plans, we set off to buy tickets. A couple events were already sold out which forced changes to our plans. Two weeks is just not enough time, so we are reconciled to the fact we are not going to be able to do some of the things we were looking forward to.

And it is also true that you can’t go home again. We went over to see our favorite grocer, Leo, and found that he had sold the business. You may remember Leo from previous blogs as always giving me a big hug and Susan a big kiss when we came in his store. Also, our favorite empanada store was out of business. But most places we remember are still in business and the city is as beautiful and as much fun as ever. With apologies to Kaye for stealing her line, we love it here!

Dresden

On Tuesday we took a day trip to Dresden, Germany.  It was my first trip into what was formerly East Germany.  Dresden was heavily bombed for three days by the US and British Air Force toward the end of the war, so most of the buildings in the historic city have been reconstructed.  The city center is filled with beautiful Baroque and Rococo architecture.  The only problem is most of the buildings are made of sandstone and have been blackened by pollution from East German cars that burn a mixture of oil and gasoline.  The whole city needs a good pressure washing, but this is impossible due to the soft sandstone.  Instead they have to use a chemical wash that is either not fully effective or does not last very long.  One area that had been cleaned two years ago was already looking scruffy.Zwinger Palace is now home to several museums.A fountain at Zwinger Palace.The Procession of Princes on the wall of the Royal Palace is longer than a football field. It was originally painted on the wall; but after the painting started to deteriorate, the image was recreated with almost 25,000 ceramic tiles in 1907.  Miraculously, the tile mural survived the Allied bombing.The interior of the Dresden Lutheran church looked more like a performance venue with its numerous curved balconies.Numerous spires punctuate the Dresden skyline.  Dresden recently built a modern bridge across the Elbe river near the old town against the wishes of UNESCO, thus becoming only the second site in the world to have its world heritage status revoked.  We still thought it was a beautiful city.

The Adventure Continues

That title is not to imply that we lacked for adventure last week when Hurricane Matthew had us in his sights.  We live in evacuation zone A on the South Carolina coast – that is the zone closest to the ocean and so the first to be evacuated.  On Tuesday, the governor called for all zones to evacuate to somewhere 100 miles from the coast.  By Wednesday she had modified this to a Zone A evacuation beginning immediately.  We made arrangements to evacuate to a friend’s house in Myrtle Beach about nine miles from the coast, but we were in no hurry to leave and kept hoping the forecast would change in our favor.  This led me to studying the new spaghetti charts (for those of you who don’t have to worry about hurricanes, the spaghetti charts are the hurricane path as predicted by some twenty different computer models) as they were updated every six hours.  These models kept predicting Matthew would turn out to sea somewhere around Charleston which would reduce the impact on us.  By Thursday, when Susan took her walk around the neighborhood, there were just six other cars left in the development (which  has hundreds of units).  Finally, we evacuated on Friday afternoon.  The roads were deserted, so my worries about being stuck in traffic with fellow evacuees were unfounded.

The wind and rain didn’t begin until the middle of Saturday morning.  We then started watching the hurricane coverage and didn’t stop watching until we lost power about eight hours later.  Matthew never made the predicted turn out to sea.  It actually made landfall a little north of Charleston and then plowed straight up the coast into North Carolina.  Normally, the winds are weaker after the eye passes you.  Do to an approaching cold front from the west, the winds were much stronger on the back side of this hurricane.  Things were settling down by about 6 PM, but the exit roads from our refuge were flooded so there was no possibility of returning home.

We went home Sunday morning with only a few minor floods to drive through.  Our home escaped essentially unscathed.  We had about 18 inches of water in the storage room on the ground floor which got into my bucket of tools.  There were a few shingles in the back yard, but they don’t seem to be from our unit.  And we had power!  The friends we had been staying with evacuated to our house Sunday night as they still had no power.

The HOA has cleaned the debris from the front of our unit.  It will be weeks or months before the coast will recover.  There are trees down everywhere.  Traffic lights are turned in the wrong direction.  Signs are upside down, crooked, fallen over, and gone.  Of the dozens of walkways to the beach in our immediate area, only one is functional.  The others are some variation of this:We lost about fifteen feet of dunes.  Still we are thankful that we came through it relatively well.

Saturday, we put Matthew behind us and head to Fort Lauderdale to board a flight to Prague.  We are well aware what would have happened to our plans if Matthew arrived a week later.  After a few days in Prague on our own, we will join an OAT tour of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.  At the end of the tour, we will stay in Budapest for a few more days before flying to Rome to join a Celebrity transatlantic crossing back to Fort Lauderdale.  Our friends Jean and Ron from Minnesota will be joining us for the entire trip.  While we have traveled together on five international trips, the Fort Lauderdale airport will mark the first time we have met in the USA.

As always, thank you for following our travels and please remember that we love to hear from you! 

Walking in the Rain

One of the main reasons to come to San Miguel in the winter is the beautiful weather.  The typical day is high temperature in the 70’s or low 80’s with a clear blue sky or a few fluffy clouds.  The temperatures are cool at night with temperatures dipping into the 40’s or 50’s.  Rain is infrequent (maybe twice a month) and is in the form of brief showers.  That all came to an end this week with two straight days of significant rain in the afternoon and evenings.  One afternoon we even had hail!  You could tell this was an unusual event since everyone was coming to their doors to look at it.  We managed to get caught outside on both  rainy afternoons.

I have commented before about the hazards of walking in San Miguel: the holes in the sidewalk, the unexpected steps, the windowsills at head height, etc.  The difficulties increase substantially when it rains.  First, the stones that make up the sidewalk are worn smooth from years of being walked on, so they become very slick.  Since all the walks are on a slope, small careful steps are required.  Second, the buildings are immediately adjacent to the narrow sidewalks and have flat roofs drained by pipes protruding over the sidewalk.  The water flowing from many of the pipes reaches the street, but this means that water from some of them hits the sidewalk – particularly at low flow.  Even the water hitting the streets can splash on you if it hits a passing car.  The next problem is there are no storm drains on the streets.  The water just keeps flowing down hill and getting deeper and deeper as well as wider and wider the further downhill you go.  I walked on my heels when I crossed the street to keep my shoes dry.  Susan lived with wet shoes.  And the final challenge was what technique to use with an umbrella when passing someone on the narrow sidewalks.  In summary, you really don’t want to go walking in San Miguel on a rainy day.  And of course it is very difficult to get a taxi in the rain.

I have posted several pages of pictures from this year and my mailer program does not send out emails for this type of new page.  For Peru pictures, click here.  For Oceania cruise pictures, click here.

  The weather did result in a nice sunset view from our rooftop terrace. 
 These are the pipes draining our rooftop terrace.  The maid cleans the terrace twice a week and our pipes do not clear the sidewalk.  This creates another walking hazard.  You can be walking on a blue sky day like this and suddenly be hit with dirty water from hosing down the terrace. 

We still love San Miguel. The weather is cold today and tonight, but then we are supposed to get back to normal.

  

Questions Answered – Food and Sources

i am going to try to answer several questions from comments in previous posts. First, there was a comment that all this stuff about restaurant conversations is interesting, but what are you eating?  Since that is a topic near and dear to my heart, I’ll start there. 

Interestingly, because Burgundy is wine country, it is also home to numerous good restaurants. Since good food and wine go together, wine lovers are typically food lovers. All the vintners and buyers will only eat at good restaurants, so it is claimed that a bad restaurant can’t survive. Certainly, all our restaurant experiences in France have been good. 

Burgundy is noted for a number of dishes: escargot de Bourgogne (snails sizzling hot in garlic butter), beef Burgundy, coq au vin (rooster stewed in red wine), Dijon mustard, and oeufs en meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce). We ate all of them except for the eggs. Our favorite was the escargot. The best we had were in garlic butter with parsley and hazelnuts.

While on the topic of food, we stayed last night at a fifteen room hotel located in an old mill that included a Michilin star restaurant. While we were planning the trip, someone sent me a list of places you probably didn’t know about; but should. Most of the places on the list were tourist attractions, but this hotel and restaurant were also on the list. I found that it was an easy stop between Dordogne and the Loire Valley, so we decided to splurge and add it to the itinerary. 

   Le Moulin du Roc is located on the banks of a stream in a tranquil garden setting. There were ducks swimming in the stream and we saw an otter at dinner.  

   Eating on a terrace beside the stream.

It was our first Michilin star experience. There was about one wait person per two to three tables, so service was excellent. The dinnerware was Limoges. There was new silverware at every course whether you needed it or not. The menu was as follows:

  • Foie Gras and bread.  Dordogne is the heart of foie gras country and I was going to skip it on “animal rights” grounds, but it was included and it was delicious. 
  • A Japanese dish of thinly sliced rare beef with a sauce. 
  • Our chosen appetizer of ceviche.  I personally prefer the ceviche at Bonefish Grill.
  • Our entrees.  Susan had lobster with coconut milk foam and I had grilled red mullet.     
  • A custard cream with kiwi
  • Macaroons (yummmm!)
  • As much as we wanted from the desert cart. I had a white chocolate cake with cherries and pistachio, a chocolate tarte, and kiwi sorbet. Susan showed more restraint with apricot tarte and a chocolate something. 

We both agreed it wasn’t the best meal we ever had, but it was very good and quite an experience. 

The other question I got is where I get all of the factual (hopefully) information I come up with. I get a lot of it from the Rick Steves guidebooks. I think they are indispensable for European travel. We get the Kindle editions, so we don’t have to lug any books around but can read it on our phones or tablets. It is not as convenient to use as a real book, but it saves a lot of weight and space. Other times I use information from publications at the travel sites or from tours. For instance, we were able to get an English tour of the cave. And in other cases, I just Google it. 

If you have other questions, just leave them as comments and I will try to answer them. 

    Life on the High Seas

    When taking a transatlantic or repositioning cruise you see a lot of ocean. This is a typical view from our room.    

      

    As the comedian on the ship said, you want to avoid looking out the window or out on the deck as long as possible, for once you look out you have seen all you are going to see that day.  He suggested if you don’t like the view on the starboard side, you might try going over to the port side; but you will be disappointed that the view is the same there. Same for the fore and aft of the ship. Since leaving Miami, the only thing we have seen for seven days besides sea, sky, sun, moon, stars, and clouds is a single freighter ship. We have heard reports of flying fish and whales, but we have not seen any. 

    But the lack of variety in scenery should not imply boredom. While there are plenty of opportunities for relaxing, there are also a lot of activities.  Susan is partial to the gym and walking on the track while I am partial to the lectures and entertainment. We both spend a good amount of time at the pool and it seems it is always time to eat.  Since we have to set our clocks ahead an hour most nights, we eat breakfast between nine and ten, lunch at one, tea and scones or sushi in the late afternoon and finally dinner after the evening show from 8:30 to about 10:30. Hey, it’s a tough life but someone (actually about 3200 someones) has to do it. 

    Fortunately, the seas have been very smooth so far and Susan is doing well without a patch (which she won’t use again) or Dramamine.  To give you an idea how smooth the cruise has been, the Captain declared,it his best transatlantic crossing!  Our room is very quiet, so we are both sleeping well.  

    Our trip got off to a slow start with the plane leaving 30 minutes late then having to wait 30 minutes for a gate after we reached Fort Lauderdale and finally waiting 45 minutes in line at the car rental counter. We had a great time visiting friends and family in Boca Raton and then took a shuttle to Miami to check into our ship. When they gave us our keycard, it had our cabin number but somebody else’s name on it.  Uh oh!  The agent looked at her computer for a disconcertingly long time and then told us we had been upgraded from a window room on floor three to a veranda on floor eight. We have no idea why we were upgraded, but we didn’t ask a lot of questions and are enjoying our veranda!

    Sent from Cartagena, Spain

    We Lived to Tell the Story

    San Miguel is very popular with American expats, so there are a lot of activities every day in English. On our first walk around the neighborhood looking for grocery stores, markets, drug stores, etc., we came across a small movie theater located in a restaurant just a couple blocks from our house. We crossed the street to check it out and guess what was playing that night – The Interview.

    In an effort to support freedom of artistic expression, we decided we had to see the movie. We went to the restaurant for dinner that night and to the evening showing of the movie. The price was $6.50 each including a drink and a bag of popcorn. The theater has a different movie every day. They claimed to be the only theater in Mexico showing The Interview. They said they were filled to capacity the first two days, but tonight there was only one other couple in the theater.

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    The theater is very small, but comfortable and charming. They even have a piano to use for silent movies, but there are no silent movies on the schedule so far. They show the movies from a DVD.

    We went to the movie with low expectations, and were not disappointed. Susan proclaimed it the dumbest movie ever. I wasn’t quite that harsh as there were a few funny moments; however, I was glad we didn’t spend a lot of money to see it.

    I walked around the old town yesterday in my Panther tee shirt which I packed after they made the playoffs. I appear to be a fan base of one in San Miguel. The game wasn’t always pretty, but I am happy for a “W”. Go Panthers.

    Site Organization

    I have created a new “How To” section on the site. This section contains a new page on packing plus old pages on planning and coping with problems. If you want to read the new page on packing, click here. You can find the “How To” section in the menus below the picture banner on a computer or by tapping the “menu icon” (the three horizontal lines) on a tablet or phone.

    Home Sweet Home

    We got an early start for our thirty minute drive to the airport. There was a brief moment of panic when the Hertz GPS lady couldn’t find the Hertz drop off at the airport. Again it was Google maps to the rescue. We flew out of Dublin and to our surprise we went through US immigration and customs there. You first check in and go through Dublin security where you can leave your shoes on. Then you head to US immigration where you go through security again and get to take your shoes off before going to the immigration line. The immigration agents in Dublin appear to be US citizens stationed there.

    Our agent just wanted to talk college football. Penn State is playing in Dublin in two weeks and he somehow thought we were Penn State fans. There was a brief moment of panic when he asked us “Are you still on probation?” Everything was cool when we realized he was talking about Penn State instead of us. Also somewhat surprising, he showed us a picture of our checked luggage and asked us to confirm it was ours. The whole thing from arrival at the airport to gate took about 75 minutes. As a brief editorial comment, if you set out to design a transportation system that is as unpleasant as possible, I don’t think you could do a better job than what TSA and the airlines have done.

    We arrived at JFK on time and got out quickly since we didn’t have to go through customs. We decided to take the shuttle bus to Laguardia to catch our flight home. The man selling the bus tickets was what Susan called a stereotypical New Yorker: abrupt, abrasive, and bossy. It made us yearn to be back among the friendly Parisians!

    And then we arrived at Laguardia. Up until then I thought JFK was my least favorite airport. There is a sign at the entrance to the terminal that they are building a new terminal but in the meantime they are improving this one to “give you what you deserve”. Apparently we don’t deserve much. I guess flying puts me in a critical mood. Our Spirit flight was an hour late leaving the airport because of a broken arm rest. After an attempted repair with duct tape, they asked for a volunteer to leave the full plane. When that didn’t happen, the captain came out, inspected the offending arm rest, pronounced it OK, filed a report with the FAA, and took off.

    We thought you might be interested in the luggage we used for our four months in Europe so we took a picture in the Aer Lingus check in line. We were able to fly carry on with Spirit Airlines with this luggage. The one thing that is a little misleading is Baggallrini is missing from the picture. Longchamps is a new addition to the luggage and replaces Bagalini for long distance trips. I would like to say a few kind words about Baggallini. She is perfect for carrying metro tickets, maps, umbrellas, and all the important things you need walking around town. And the best part is Susan is the one carrying her!

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    We went to the beach this afternoon with great anticipation. The weather was warm and sunny. The ocean temperature was warm but refreshing. The beach was not overcrowded. The bad news? There were jellyfish in the water and anyone who went in the water was getting stung. Bummer!!!