Category Archives: Travel

Palm Springs 2016 (3/3)

[Click here to read Day 1 or Day 2.]

Day 3

On Thursday, we enjoyed a slow, peaceful morning on the patio before venturing out to explore the thrift shops and antique stores in Rancho Mirage. We didn’t buy much, but had a nice time anyway. We ended up in downtown Palm Springs at the end of our shopping excursion, where we visited Great Shakes to cool off with a Date Shake and a Blueberry Hill shake (blueberry, lemon, and lavender).

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We sipped our shakes and wandered the streets. Near the Chamber of Commerce, we came across a tiny, historical general store. It was once a private collection of original goods and products dating from the 1800s through the 1940s. Now, the collection can be viewed for just 95 cents per entry.

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We drove back to the condo to enjoy leftovers for lunch. We soaked up some more sun on the patio and then ventured out to a nearby hiking trail known as the “Bump and Grind”.

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It was very steep walking, but the view was beautiful.

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When we returned, I went for a run before our dinner at Sammy’s Woodfire Pizza. There, we enjoyed some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, followed by mini donuts for dessert.

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On our route home, we drove through the El Paseo Shopping District to admire the fancy storefronts and the unique artwork along the streets.

Before bed, I packed my luggage. Our fourth and final day was mostly travel: driving our rental car back to the Ontario airport and flying through Vegas to Detroit. Everything went smoothly in spite of high wind advisories in the Midwest, and we arrived back home in Perrysburg around 1am.

It was a wonderful getaway!

Palm Springs 2016 (2/3)

[Click here to read Day 1.]

Day 2

Paul seemed to have no problem adjusting to the three hour difference between the time zones, but my body decided I needed to wake up every day by at least 4:30am — which was 7:30am back home. I dozed in bed or spent time on the internet each morning until Paul woke up.

The good news is that I won’t have any trouble adjusting back to the Eastern time zone when we get back!

On Day 2 (Wednesday), we spent the majority of the day at the Joshua Tree National Park. We left around 8am to drive 45 minutes to the park’s south entrance.

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The park features the meeting of two different deserts: the Colorado Desert and the Mohave Desert. Each desert features a unique type of vegetation. It was neat to see the progression of change in the sights as we drove through the park. First, here are the photos of the Colorado Desert.

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Close up of a cactus.

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At various points during the drive, there are pull-offs, some with hiking trails of 15 minutes to 3 hours.

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We saw a lizard. 🙂

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This trail featured “Skull Rock.”

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At this point, we entered the Mohave Desert, which means we started seeing Joshua Trees!

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A desert flower.

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This pull-off area, Keys View, featured an elevation of 5185 feet. We could see Palm Springs and the San Andreas Fault in the distance.

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My favorite area was Barker Dam. Here, early settlers had built a dam for their cattle.

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During the hike to the dam, we also got a view of hieroglyphs on the cliff.

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The Joshua Trees are all so unique!

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We left the park through the west entrance. Below is a map of our drive through the park (click to enlarge).

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We drove an hour to get back into Palm Springs and then made a quick stop at a little sandwich shop called The Sandwich Spot to split a sandwich. We ordered the Djokovich: turkey, bacon, avocado, cheddar, and a garlic vinaigrette on Dutch Crunch bread. It was a fantastic sandwich!

Back at Grandma’s condo, we chatted on the patio for awhile. I decided to go for a short run while Paul decided to squeeze some fresh lemonade. The many fruit trees within Grandma’s country club feature oranges, grapefruit, lemons, kumquat, and clementines — and it’s all free for the taking to anyone in the community.

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After a shower and lemonade, we went to Talay Thai-Dim Sum Restaurant to enjoy some Thai food. The Yellow Curry was to die for, but we also enjoyed sharing Pineapple Fried Rice and Drunken Noodles.

Back at the condo, we enjoyed each other’s company in the living room and chatted.

Click here for Day 3.

Palm Springs 2016 (1/3)

Paul and I just got back from a lovely — albeit too short — trip to Palm Springs, California. Having $400 worth in travel vouchers about to expire prompted us to schedule the trip! Paul’s grandma lives out here during the winter, so we were thrilled to be able to visit and stay with her.

What follows is our travel journal of this trip.

Pseudo-Day 1

Our flight was supposed to fly out on Monday morning on February 15; however, we were very disappointed to encounter a horrendously long line at the Southwest Airlines counter. We quickly learned that the reason for the huge backup was due to dozens of travelers in need of rebooked flights because of a snow storm that passed through Chicago overnight. Unfortunately, those necessary rebookings caused many other travelers to get stuck in line unable to check their bags, and therefore miss their flights.

This is exactly what happened to us. Despite arriving at the airport at 6:15am for a 7:30am flight, we stood waiting in line with our bag until 10am before reaching the counter. The clerk rebooked us for the next earliest flight, which was the following day at 6:30am.

We took the shuttle back to our car with disappointment, but we resolved to make a fun day out of our Monday off nonetheless. We decided to spend the night with Paul’s mom in Ypsilanti so we wouldn’t have to travel far to get to the Detroit airport in the morning.

Using my iPhone, I searched for thrift stores and antique stores in the area. We visited a few interesting stores and came home with a assortment of old buttons and an old sewing machine drawer to use for decoration.

For lunch, we found a Cuban restaurant in Ann Arbor called Frita Batidos. Paul ordered a frita (a frita is a Cuban version of the American hamburger: with chorizo sausage mixed in the hamburger and fries on the burger) and I ordered a pulled pork and coleslaw sandwich.  On the side, we enjoyed crispy plantains and churros. And, of course, a coconut cream Batidos to drink (a milky frozen treat).

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After lunch, we went to Paul’s mom’s house to relax. We spent the evening with our nephew, Tyler, and went to bed early in anticipation of an early wake-up the next morning. Before bed, having learned our lesson, we repackaged our clothing into a carry-on sized bag.  🙂

Day 1

We left for the Detroit airport at 3:30am, armed with only carry-on bags. We got through security in record time and were pleased to have plenty of time to kill at the gate before boarding.

We had a short layover in Denver and then landed in Ontario, California at noon. An airport shuttle took us to the rental car area, where we picked up our reserved rental car: a 2016 Ford Fiesta hatchback in red.

The drive from Ontario to Palm Springs was just over an hour. During the drive, we admired the sun, warm temperature, palm trees, and windmills.

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Palm Springs (and specifically, Rancho Mirage) is located in the Coachella Valley. Being neatly surrounded by mountains means that the weather is very consistent — it is rare to get a rain shower and the skies seem always to be blue. Palm Springs does experience seasons — although it is during the scorching summers when locals avoid being outside and driving in the heat.

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Paul’s grandma owns a lovely condo within the Rancho Las Palmas Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

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We were hungry for lunch, so we went out to the restaurant at the Desert Willow Country Club — Grandma’s favorite place.

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Paul ordered a gourmet hamburger while grandma and I enjoyed their outstanding Monte Cristo. It was the best Monte Cristo I’ve ever had!

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We enjoyed the lovely view overlooking the golf course as we ate.

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Back at grandma’s condo, we enjoyed the sunshine from the back patio and watched the golfers tee off.

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After a quick nap, Grandma made a dinner of chili and salad, with brownie and gelato for dessert.

For the rest of the evening, we relaxed on the patio, walked around at the outdoor shopping area across the street, sat in the hot tub, and chatted in the living room. This is what vacation is made of — relaxation!

Click here for Day 2.

Las Vegas Trip (3): F March 28, 2015

We slept in the next morning and then rented a car. First, we drove towards the south end of The Strip, where the famous “fabulous Las Vegas” sign is. I love how this selfie photo turned out!

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Then we drove to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about a half-hour away.

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We hiked all afternoon in the wonderful sun. The rock was beautiful.

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We enjoyed the flora and the fauna, too. We saw lots of pear cactus, a rattlesnake, a little gecko, and little wildflowers.

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We weren’t successful in avoiding sunburn, but it was totally worth it!

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For dinner, we decided to visit a buffet. Vegas once had a reputation for having very inexpensive buffet restaurants. This is no longer true. Our buffet dinner was not cheap, nor were most of our meals!

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Here is a view of another of the huge themed hotels on the Strip, this one with a New York City theme.

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Our flight home the next morning was supposed to leave at 8:30am. Our flight was mysteriously delayed until 2pm, however; so we ended up spending the entire day at the airport or in the plane. We landed in Detroit around 9pm. On the upside, I finished reading an excellent book on piano teaching, and Paul and I spent time dreaming about how we are going to use the travel vouchers that Southwest gave us.  🙂

It was a fun trip! Three days was the perfect amount of time to see the city and do some tourist-y things. Next year’s MTNA conference is in San Antonio — and I’m already looking forward to that!

Las Vegas Trip (2): Th March 27, 2015

In the morning, Paul’s internal coffee meter was running low as usual. We went to a great little coffee place attached to the Monte Carlo hotel.

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I enjoyed a huge blueberry scone.

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We walked back to the hotel to get a few hours of sunshine and reading by the pool. It was lovely. 🙂

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When we had enough of the pool, we walked around for a few hours again. The Bellagio is another huge, fancy hotel, this one with an Italian theme. Out front, there is a pool with a fountain show synced with music that plays every half-hour in the evenings.

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The lobby features blown glass art on the ceiling.

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The Bellagio also has a indoor conservatory.

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Here is a panoramic view:

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The Bellagio hotel has an art exhibition which was currently hosting a Fabergé exhibit. Paul has always wanted to see this, so we went. The detail work on the Fabergé eggs, frames, and other art is amazing.

For dinner, we ate at a Spanish tapas restaurant called Jaleo. The food was absolutely incredible! We were floored by every dish we ordered.

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After dark, we went back to the Ballagio Hotel to see the fountain show at nighttime.

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Outside of the Mirage hotel, they have a “volcano” that spews fire and water every half hour.

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Then it was time to catch the “Beatles Love” Cirque du Soleil show. One of my adult students was generous enough to buy us tickets for Christmas when he heard we were going on this trip. Photos were not allowed during the performance, but here’s a selfie photo before the show! The athleticism and grace of the performers was incredible, and the costumes/acts were very fitting to the Beatles songs we heard.

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It was a full day!

Las Vegas Trip (1): W March 26, 2015

I thought I’d do a little bit of travel blogging about our mini trip to Las Vegas following the MTNA conference. Paul flew to Vegas on Wednesday, the last day of my conference, and we stayed through Saturday.

Paul took a taxi from the airport to meet me at The Rio, which is the hotel where my conference took place. Together, we walked to “The Strip” as it’s called (Las Vegas Boulevard, the main street through downtown) to find some lunch. We ended up eating at a French restaurant called Mon Ami Gabi.  I ordered a ham and cheese crepe and Paul ordered an ahi tuna burger. We were starving, so we also ordered an appetizer: warm brie with honey, roasted chestnuts, and garlic.  Everything was delicious. And we got to eat outside in the sunshine.

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Next, we checked into our hotel, The Carriage House.  This was a great place to stay because it was just a block from The Strip — so it was quiet, but still within walking distance from everything. There was a nice outdoor pool and our room even had a kitchenette.

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We spent quite a few hours walking around The Strip, exploring and admiring the huge, themed hotels. For example: The Eiffel Tower replica (part of the French-themed hotel where we ate lunch) shown below is half the size of the original, but cost over $40 million to build!

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For dinner, we went to Yusho: a Japanese restaurant. I ordered a chicken wings kabob and Paul had pork shoulder fried rice with caramelized kimchi. This restaurant was very affordable but the food was absolutely incredible!

Stay tuned for Day 2!

TRAVEL JOURNAL: PUERTO RICO DAY 5

January 31 – Day 5

Day 5 was our last full day in Puerto Rico!

It was also the only day that we woke up early in the morning.  We wanted to see the sun rise over the ocean.  It actually wasn’t as spectacular as we had hoped, but I did get a couple of nice photos.

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We spent the morning and early afternoon relaxing on the beach again.  In the afternoon, we took a taxi to Old San Juan once again.  I tried to take more photos to capture the streets and colorful buildings that are ubiquitous there.

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I love those cobblestone streets and balconies.

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…and I love all those bright colors!

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We took another stroll on the walkway along the coast.

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We encountered many stray cats along the walkway again.

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And we took a “selfie” photo together.

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For dinner, we ate at Carli’s — the place we visited first during the food tour two days previous.  The dinner we ordered was fantastic and we got to hear Carli play live with his jazz trio.  Can you see him in the background behind Paul in the photo below?

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It was bittersweet to return back to the hotel that night!  Our trip was coming to an end.

Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 4

DAY 4 – January 30

Paul and I enjoyed a relaxing beach day for Day 4.  I didn’t take many photos that day because I didn’t want to take my camera near the sand.

On Days 1-3, the weather had been consistently warm (in the 80’s) and breezy.  On Day 4, the weather was much the same — except that we experienced random, sudden patches of rain that would last less than five minutes.  During those five minutes, we rushed to the nearest covered bus stop or a cluster of trees until the torrent stopped.

We walked to have lunch at the Crepe Maker.  It was good food, but wasn’t inherently Puero Rican obviously.

We spent most of the afternoon reading on the beach.  We slathered ourselves with sunscreen and only got burnt wherever we missed with the sunscreen.

When we became hungry for dinner, we walked to a fancy restaurant on the beach called Pamela’s.  We ordered Pina Coladas with our entrees.  Paul ordered battered cod with mango chutney and risotto (rice) on the side.  These photos may not look very appealing (it was dark in the restaurant), but I assure you: the food was fantastic!

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I ordered port tenderloin (best I’ve ever tasted!) with a tropical chutney and a creamy risotto on the side.  This was definitely the best restaurant meal I have ever had!

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We walked back to the hotel in the moonlight.  (Everyone eats late in Puerto Rico.)  We sought out the deck chairs on the hotel roof and read our books until we got tired enough to sleep.  What a life!  😉

Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 4

DAY 4 – January 29

On Day 4, we rented a car and drove over an hour to the El Yunque National Forest.  El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System.

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The roads within the National forest are narrow, curvy, and hilly.  At various points along the way, there are stop-off points to park and hike the trails.

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First, we parked at the trail for the La Mina waterfalls.  The trails are all paved, and with good reason: without pavement, the trails would no doubt wash away.

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We saw a few snails and lizards as we hiked.

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After 45 minutes, we arrived at the La Mina Waterfalls.  This is the only waterfall in El Yunque where visitors are allowed to get into the water.

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It was beautiful.

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We hiked back to the car and drove to another stop: the Yokahú Observation Tower.

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Climbing the stairs.

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…and here is the view from the top!

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We would have loved to hike the trails that lead all the way to the El Yunque peak but due to delays with getting the rental car in the morning, we could not stay in the rainforest as long as we would have liked.

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After arriving back at the hotel, we took a stroll on the beach.  Then we enjoyed a nice dinner at an Argentinean Steakhouse.  It was nice to spend the rest of the evening in the hot tub and then reading our books on the balcony of our hotel room.

 

Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 3

DAY 3 – January 28

On Day 3, we returned to Old San Juan by taxi.  This time, we spent more time walking around, enjoying the architecture and stopping into some little shops.

Some of the streets of Old San Juan still have the old, original cobblestone.

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When trade ships from Europe came to Puerto Rico in the 1700’s, they came with hulls filled with iron slag (run-off waste from iron smelting) as ballast (weight to help keep the ship afloat).  Upon arrival, the ships emptied the iron slag and filled their hulls with cargo to bring back to Europe.  Starting in 1784, the iron slag was used to create the cobblestones to pave all of the roads throughout Old San Juan.

The iron slag is what gives the cobblestones the characteristic blue tint you see here.

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The Iglesia de San José is a cathedral with Spanish Gothic architecture that was constructed beginning in 1523.  The family of Ponce de León (Spanish explorer and first governor of Puerto Rico) attended church here. Ponce de León was buried here for 300 years until his body was moved to the San Juan Cathedral in 1913.  Unfortunately, the church was closed when we were there so we could not see the inside.

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We followed a road down from the church through a tunnel which led to a cemetery near to El Morro.

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Many prominent Puerto Ricans have been buried here over the years.

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The Catedral de San Juan is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere (1521).  The original church on these grounds had wooden walls and a thatched roof.  The church was destroyed by hurricane and rebuilt a few times over the centuries.  The current building was renovated in 1917.

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This Cathedral is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture.

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The front of the church and the pipe organ.

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La Princesa is a beautiful, renovated building that currently houses the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.  The building was originally the penitentiary built in 1837.

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When they renovated the building, they left a few of the original jail cells untouched.

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Around the back of the cells is where prisoners were sometimes executed.

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Next, we decided to check out the Casa Cortés ChocoBar.

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Paul ordered this mocha frio…

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…and we both enjoyed this thing.  It is essentially grilled cheese with chocolate.  🙂

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Soon afterwards, we headed to the meeting place for the Old San Juan Food Tour that we had registered for before the trip.  Below shows our tour guide inside of Carli’s Fine Bistro and Piano.  Carli Munoz is a jazz pianist (and apparently was the pianist for the Beach Boys for ten years!) and now a restauranteur.

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At Carli’s, we enjoyed three small appetizers:

  1. Bacalaítos (cod fritters)
  2. Tostones (fried plantain slices)
  3. A dessert called Barriguitas de Vieja — “Granny’s Tummy” (a spiced sweet pumpkin fritter).

Yum!

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Next, we visited a coffee shop called Cuatro Sombras, which is one of the few coffee shops in Old San Juan that roasts their own coffee.  Paul was in heaven learning about and sampling their gourmet coffee.  And yes, he bought a couple bags of coffee beans to enjoy at home.

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Our guide on the food tour pointed out interesting buildings and gave us an overview of the history of Puerto Rico.  Below is pictured one of the narrowest apartments in the world.  It is about five feet wide!

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At Cafe El Punto, we enjoyed an empanada with pico de gallo sauce.

Next we went to Barrachina, which claims to be the original home of the piña colada in 1963.  (Although another place, Caribe Hilton, claims to have created the first piña colada in 1954.  In any case, I’m glad it was invented because it is delicious!)

The main meal during the food tour was mofongo with a chicken sauce over the top.  The resturant, Rosa de Triana, brought out wooden mortars and pestles so that we could mash the plantains ourselves!

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For dessert, we enjoyed flan at the outdoor Cafe La Princesa.  Our tour guide told us that in the Caribbean, flan is generally made creamier than in Europe.  I had flan while in Italy, and I would have to agree that the flan we ate in Puerto Rico was creamier.

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We sure had our fill of good food and sights on Day 3!

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