Tuscany.

I had always thought that those glorious views of Tuscany you see in travel magazines were all taken from only one or two spots. Well after our three days of driving to, through and from Tuscany, let me tell you the whole place looks likes those pictures (well except for a few industrial areas). It was just beautiful even though we were in and out of sprinkling rain for most of the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We left Modena on Saturday morning (boy driving in a city in daylight and on a weekend is MUCH easier than at night at weekday rush hour!) headed for Lucca. The non toll routing provided by the car’s navigation system took us up and down and up and around some teeny tiny roads through the mountains. While beautiful, it was a hoot when we hit some tiny village and had to do a 12 point turn to make a right turn in the middle of the town. We stopped at one place along the way and bought some 40 month old Parmesan-omg, so good and only 7 bucks or so a pound. Wish we could fit a wheel in the suitcase!

At the top of the mountains we stopped at a ski resort for a break and a hot chocolate and saw snow!

In the drive down the other side we came across the medieval footbridge, Pont de Magdalena. I’m still trying to figure out what was being brought down the river from the mountains that needed such a high arch.

From there we arrived shortly in Lucca to find some sort of Comic-Con or Halloween festival going on. We drive around this walled city but the nearest parking was a mile away so we decided it wasn’t going to be possible to do a quick stop for lunch and elected to head on.

While being in Italy on a long holiday weekend had its advantages (chocolate festival!), it also impacted our trip. Places that typically wouldn’t have been crowded on a Thursday or Friday were (Sirmione) and I think the crowds were bigger at the villages in Tuscany over the weekend that they would have been otherwise.

We stopped for a quick sandwich in a suburb of Lucca and then continued to San Gimignano. This walled town is a wonderful memory from my time in graduate school in Genova. After spending a rushed two days in Florence trying to see everything an architectural student should see, our group of 9 spent a night in this village of towers in 1981. Rather than having to see things, we were able to just “be”. When we exited the only really nice Hotel we stayed in that semester on that Sunday morning, we walked onto the Piazza Cisterna (water well) to find a very blonde (Finnish?) brass quartet sitting around the well playing. Other than the four of them and the nine of us, it was like we had the whole town to ourselves. Over his objections, we all told our professor we weren’t leaving quite yet and pulled out our sketchbooks so he wouldn’t keep complaining and enjoyed an extra hour in what was then a magical place.

Unfortunately like all places, tourists are now all over town and we arrived to find a market taking place everywhere because of the holiday weekend. Needless to say it wasn’t peaceful but it was picturesque. We had a jarra (pitcher) of the local white wine and shared a cheese plate while people watching in the piazza before leaving for Staggia our home for the final two nights in Italy.

Our Airbnb in Staggia was in a renovated fortress and in addition to a wonderful loggia was at the ground floor so no toting of bags up stairs! Our only complaint was the bed was really really low-it was like they had taken the typical low IKEA bed we have had in a number of places and cut the legs off!

None of us were overly hungry so Mike and I ate the salad we had bought in Milan and been carrying around with us. After dinner Mike and I went exploring around our place and came across a bakery with the biggest croissants I’ve ever seen. We should have bought one to share for breakfast but didn’t so I can say whether it’s taste was as grand as it’s size.

On Saturday morning we headed to Sienna. It was a raining on and off so we elected to only do a quick walk through the Campo, Sienna’s major piazza and have a cup of coffee under an almost rainproof awning before heading back to the parking lot outside the walls (and down five escalators!).

This grand space is the location of the Palio horse race. While it would be incredible to see this 90 second race (3 times around) I don’t think I could deal with the claustrophobia of being one of the 50,000 spectators!

The square is dominated by the tower on the City Hall. Across from it, is the fountain where running water was first brought into the city. I was amazed that the drain at the bottom of the plaza wasn’t larger given how much water it must handle.

From Sienna we headed towards Montalcino, one of many wine villages. This walled town was the location today if some sort of scavenger hunt so there were lots and lots of runners climbing up and down the steps and hills getting their cards stamped. We enjoyed walking through the town and had a light lunch of a shared wine, meat and cheese tasting.

Afterwards we headed off to Montepulciano another wine town. It was the first town in days without a festival! Like the others the interior and exterior views were great. Mike and I agreed that next time we are in Tuscany, we want to spend two or three weeks in one of these small towns and really get to know them.

We returned to the apartment and finished up the two bottles of wine we had purchased in San Gimignano before heading half a block down the street for our final Italian dinner.

We had a great time with Roberto our host, waiter and son of the chef and chefess. We were the only non Italians in the 24 seat restaurant and were made to feel right at home. Before long the place was full and it was obvious that both the staff and the guests believed in having s good time.

Peggy had chicken liver pate with onions and anchovies as her starter along with her bottle of white wine. The pate was good even for this non liver lover.

Lowell had pici (a local pasta that is like a twisted spaghetti-each piece is made by hand – with tomato and LOTS of garlic. Very tasty!

Mike and I split a bowl of pappardelle in Mom’s meat sauce. Delicious!

For her dinner, Peggy had pici with anchovies and breadcrumbs. She loves her anchovies. It was great though we don’t have a picture.

Lowell, Mike and I split a Steak Florentine-1.3 kilos (46 ounces) of deliciousness.

Along with the steak we had a salad and a platter of the best potatoes ever. The were thinly (but obviously hand done) sliced and fried with garlic, sage and lots of salt. The picture below is after we had all eaten a handful. So so good!

Peggy is celebrating her 39th birthday (we don’t ask what anniversary of her 39th!) later in the cruise and after much wine (we were intrigued with how Roberto left the cork attached to the bottle) Lowell told Roberto about it and he brought out a birthday dessert and the whole restaurant sang Happy Birthday in Italian to Peggy.

As you can see in the picture above, guests sign the restaurant’s wall which we did and Lowell gave Roberto a $2 bill to paste on the wall with his.

Roberto brought us all grappa to end our dinner. None of us needed it and given we had to wake P&L up the next morning (they typically are very early risers) methinks they may have been overserved!

Our trip to Cittivechia the next day was uneventful and we boarded the ship by 1 pm.

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Dublin.

After our last Full Scottish breakfast for awhile we headed to the airport. We talked about taking the bus which left from about a block away but the timing was difficult to understand and it was going to take over an hour, so we needed up taking a cab, which while it cost 20 pounds was much more convenient. We have found that we are more comfortable taking public transportation FROM the airport where time isn’t as critical as opposed to the airport where we don’t want (can’t) be late.

Ryan Air checkin was a breeze-they like many European airports have selfcheck in kiosks which issue the luggage tags which you attach and then take to a conveyor and drop off. So no lines unless you have an issue! EasyPeasy.

Security was busy but turned out to be fun. Apparently, a groom and his mates were off to Malaga for his stag party. And like the bachelor we ran into on the train from Salzburg to Passau a few years ago (check the archives for April of 2016 i think) the groom was in costume. So what we first thought was a very tall Emirates flight attendant wasn’t!

We enjoyed some of the artwork on the LOOOOONG walk to Ryan Air’s gates – it basically is in Cork, but at least it was a fun walk.

We soon boarded and were off to Ireland.

We have found Ryan Air to be no better or no worse than legacy airlines. We need to pay for luggage as our “rollaboards are expanded and are over the maximum weight for cabin bags and with one of their programs, you can assign exit row seats for a little bit more money, so we have plenty of leg room and typically the cost is about half of what one of the legacy airlines charges. Of course you have to bring your own drink or food, but with the 50% savings it really is a no brainer.

We arrived in Dublin and based on earlier research we bought the 72 hour LEAP pass at the tourist info stand in the airport. It cost under 20 euros (Ireland’s is not part of Britain so they are on the Euro) and was good for all public transport in Dublin for the three days we were there. The express airport bus (Route 747 – how cute is that?) whisked us into the city and to a bus stop about a 10 minute (flat) walk to our Airbnb. The roundtrip cost for the airport express was just over 12 euros so for only a little more we got three whole days of usage (and I gave two grateful Ryan Air gate agents our tickets when we left Dublin which meant they had a free ride home from the airport since there was still two or three hours validity.)

Our Airbnb https://abnb.me/D4oHLL1RiR was in a typical working class neighborhood of Dublin on the south side near Christchurch and St. Patrick’s (which is pictured at the top of this post). It was as expected though I had forgotten it was up two flights of stairs. I guess it was getting us prepared for what was to come in Porto.

We particularly enjoyed the shower and the comfortable sofa and the umbrella which was provided and which unfortunately we would need.

By the time we got settled in, it was almost dark and we were tired so we went around the corner and got a bake it yourself pizza and just relaxed.

After a great sleep, we got up early and rode (thank you Leap Card) the bus from just down the street across the river and halfway up O’connell Street (the main drag of the northside) to meet our “Free Walking Tour. We have found these tours to be great wherever we have taken them and Dublin was no exception. You tip what you think appropriate at the end of the tour.

We met at “The Spire” which was erected in 2003 as part of the redevelopment plan for the street. It stands on the site of a former column honoring Nelson which was bombed and destroyed in 19666 during the disagreements between North and South. Apparently it is a hot topic among Dubliners, our guide didn’t seem to like it much as it doesn’t have any tie to the historic nature of the city.

There were about 120 folks at the spire for the tour, luckily there were four guides so we split into four groups and set off towards the river. Along the way we were told about the history of Dublin and the buildings we were seeing.

After crossing the river, we saw Trinity College and walked through the Temple Bar area of town. This part used to be a dying part but is now nightlife central.

After a coffee break we headed towards Edinburgh Castle. This was once the Queen’s house in Ireland but now is the President’s place. Elizabeth was the first monarch to visit since 1922 when she was here in 2011. It’s history goes back to the 12th century but only one of the four round towers remains standing and the entire place has had many additions offer the years.

From the castle, we continued our tour to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This church is built at the site where St. Patrick baptized the heathens while he was the catholic church’s missionary. The grounds are beautiful and we wished it hadn’t of been raining and cold so we could have enjoyed them more. So we said goodbye to the group and we headed towards our apartment in search of lunch as it was after 2 pm.

We stopped into the pub just down the street and had the perfect meal. Guinness beef stew (with mashed potatoes) and a Guinness. Does it get any more Irish?

The pub was obviously popular with the locals and we were warmly welcomed by the Owner, Wayne who was proud to let us know he had once’s worked at a hotel in Dallas. There was a group of young (?) ladies preparing to head to Liverpool for a “Dirty Thirty” party for one of their birthdays. They all had apparently gone to the Bianca del Rio school of makeup and it seemed to add at least 10 years to each of them. However, they were having a good time and added to the ambiance! But the stew and beer really made the day, hot and tasty on a cold and wet day.

The next day was also rainy and cold so we elected to use our LEAP pass and ride the train as far north as we could to the seaside town of Hoath. It was an interesting ride through the closein suburbs and then we reached the North Sea and big houses that purportedly sell for upwards of a million pounds.

We wandered around the village, saw some sea lions, had fish and chips, and then made our way back to the City.

Afterwards, we retired to our apartment and I had my first nap in a long long time.

That evening it was still raining (we have been so lucky, Scotland and Ireland are the first places we have really used our umbrellas – well Mike has used his, I lost mine in Lisbon in June but thankfully lots of the Airbnb’s have had them. I am worried about next week in Italy -writing this from Portugal on 10/25/18 and the forecast for Italy all next week calls for showers) so we ran down to Wayne’s place and got two containers of potato soup…Yum!

Then we packed and prepared to heads to Porto.

There were no issues the next day taking the Airport Express bus back though we were worried there might be due to the hurricane, the first ever to make landfall in Portugal. Luckily it only delayed our flight by about and hour-we even had time to have one last Guinness for Mike and a G&T for me in the lounge before it was time to board.

So that should catch us up….I think I have been keeping up here in Portugal. While we hate to leave, we are looking forward to our week in Italy with Peggy and Lowell, especially bein able to drive and see the Tuscan countryside – here’s hoping Mike doesnt’ see some villa he wants to buy to fulfill his “Under the Tuscan Sun” fantasy…though I did overhear he and Peggy discussing which fountain they were going to jump into naked!

Lisbon

We had a good four days in Lisbon before waving goodbye to Lois this morning as she jets back to the USA. I know we both will breath a sigh of relief when she texts us this evening that she has arrived in Miami and successfully made it to her hotel for the night.

She is staying tonight in the same hotel we stayed in 17 nights ago inside Miami Airport. But the really big sigh will be when we get a text from her on Friday that she is back in Danville.

We rented a two bedroom/two bath Airbnb for our short stay in Lisbon. The apartment was great except that it’s eco air conditioning system didn’t seem to do anything to cool the apartment off. Thank goodness the temperature at night dropped to the mid to lower seventies and we could open the doors and use the two fans to help make it bearable.

We laid low the first full day in Lisbon as it had been a rough travel day-left our stateroom on Breakaway at 7:30, off the ship around eight, then the joy that is checkin and security at the airport for our flight. Lois got to enjoy the comfort and food in the SAS business lounge as she was flying her return ticket on TAP. Mike and I got to sit at a coffee stand and pay $15 for a cup of coffee, one of tea and a sweet roll since we were flying our return Econ ticket from Mike’s infamous birthday flight from Lisbon to Copenhagen.

Monday night we ate at one of the restaurants at Lisboa’s former market which is now half market and y’all food hall. Readers from last spring will remember we are here several times. lol

On Tuesday we visited the cloister of the monastery in Belém (and had pasteries!) before we took a sunset cruise (ah, the weather was so comfortable) up and down the river on a 55′ sailing yacht. There were a total of 7 guests and two crew so it was very personal and enjoyable.

On Wednesday we rode the train to Cascais, the beach town Mike and I enjoyed so much in the spring. There were more tourists this trip (maybe the heat was bringing them to the beach) so while beautiful, we think it might not be the great town we initially thought.

This morning we left the apartment at 7am..ok 7:08 for the airport. Lois’s flight took off about 10:30 am and Mike and I have spent the day in the lounge waiting for our 4:30 flight to London. Only two more hours!

San Miguel de Allende

We have had a relaxing and uneventful two weeks here in Mexico.  We have ventured out for meals and happy hour a couple of times but frankly really haven’t done much sightseeing.  The town is picturesque and the center is only about a mile stroll (mostly flat) along cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks from our place but other than the churches and shopping there isn’t that much to see…its more about being here.  And we have enjoyed that!

The locals and the expat Gringos are all very friendly and helpful.  The weather has been incredible.  We have had a day or two of temperatures above 80 degrees but the humidity is so low that as long as you aren’t in the sun it is very comfortable.  In the evenings the temperatures fall to the lower 50s.  So while most of our friends and family have been suffering through a very hot summer, we have been most pleased that we elected to be here! And having the pool has been nice in the warmer days.

Our “Vacations Rental by Owner” (VRBO) condo is one of about 30 in a small complex with a pool.  While there is a huge rooftop terrace, it is accessed by a very tight spiral staircase from the kitchen balcony with the view of SMA you see at the top of the post, so we haven’t really used it.  But I have enjoyed coffee in the morning and wine in the evenings from the kitchen balcony.

Several have asked about any issues with visits from Mantazuma.  The condo has purified water in one of the kitchen faucets and by law all SMA restaurants have to use purified water for ice and since its such a tourist town, most of them use it for everything…so thankfully, we haven’t had any issues  It is strange to have to wash everything from the store that isn’t going to be cooked in anti bacteria solution.  But given the issues in the USA with romaine and such this summer, maybe we ought to all be doing that!

We visited the “Tuesday Market” this week.  AMAZING.  I couldn’t get over how big it was.  Imagine the largest flea market you have been to, combine it with a farmer’s market and an arts and craft show, add in some food trucks and then double or triple it and you might be close to this spectacle.  We had intended to eat lunch there and there were certainly lots and lots of tasty morsels we wanted to try but our lack of spanish combined with the crowds and not being sure how to order (do you order and then sit down, sit and order?) meant that we simply bought some veggies, fruits and aqua frescos (fruit waters) and then grabbed a cab back to the condo.  Then we walked towards town for lunch.

Never seen huge chicoronnes before:

And who knew you could buy peeled watermelons?

Speaking of food, below is the SMA food porn to date.  I am particularly enjoying the abundance of beans and mole’.  We have also made good use of the well equipped kitchen here to eat in.  There is a huge supermarket a short walk away (with $2 taxis waiting to bring us home) that has not only mexican foods but also american ones….peanut butter was a welcome sight after four months without any!

Chicken Mole and Chicken Enchiladas

There are a ton of places with Tacos El Pastor-stacked marinaded chicken cooked on a vertical spit and served with a slice of pineapple, onions, cilantro, lime and your choices of salsa. Yummy! Usually only 7 pesos each or about 35 cents!

Black bean soup, goat cheese stuffed chili’s in mole and “Mexican Vermicelli”

Mexican breakfasts-huevos with chorizo and chicquiles ( nacho chips with verde sauce) and eggs.

We are here until next Monday and then we head to Raleigh (via Mexico City, DFW and MIA) for two nights. From Raleigh we go to Seabrook Island for a few days to celebrate Claudia Freidank’s birthday (her 29th of course) before heading to Danville and Mike’s mom where we will generally be until we leave with her for Copenhagen and the Baltic Cruise.

While we have been here, we have also been working on our travels after Lois leaves us in Lisbon on 9/27. Jenny and Brian, a couple of Brits we met on the Viking Transatlantic foolishly invited us to come visit them in Scotland and to their surprise, we are taking them up on their offer.  Hopefully they won’t come to regret it!  We will leave Lisbon a few hours after Lois and spend four nights in London before flying to Aberdeen where if all goes as planned, Jenny will pick us up and take us to their place nearby.  After some time at their place visiting the sights near Aberdeen (we have been promised the best fish and chips in the world) all four of us are going to spend a night near Loch Ness and then two in Glasgow.  They will then head back to Aberdeen and we will jump a train to Edinburgh for two nights before we fly to Dublin for three.  From there we fly to Porto where we will have rented an Airbnb on the coast for two weeks.  Yost and Sam (our friends from DC who invited us to join them on our River Cruise a few years back) are coming to spend five nights with us there.  From Porto we will fly on the 29th of October to Milan to meet Peggy and Lowell on the 30th.  The four of us are going to take the next six days to drive to Rome (two nights outside Milan plus four more in Tuscany somewhere) to catch the transatlantic cruise home on November 5th.

We also have had several discussions here about our future plans.  We agree that we both miss having our own place so I don’t think we will be becoming full time nomads…but we also agree that we have enjoyed slow travel and being someplace longer than just a few days. So we are beginning to think about what 2019 holds for us.

The possibilities are broad – Tommy Barrett, Mike’s friend from college is working up a plan to go to Cambodia and we are considering that, we really enjoyed the transatlantic cruise so that would be fun to do again, and we are loving the cool summer here in San Miguel so that is also a possibility for next year. Lucky for us, we don’t have to make any decisions anytime soon!

Hats

Just a quick post. I failed to take many pictures the other day in the hat factory showing how they are made. We stopped in the hat museum adjacent to our apartment building today and thought I’d share a couple of pictures that show they are actually woven.

We tried to find hats to fit us, alas we are too big headed…..now don’t go there!

Below is the view from the museum’s second floor looking out over Cuenca. Below that are two showing the view of “our” shady balcony from the same place. The balconies cut into the roof are in the third floor apartments

Cuenca Week One

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Other than some minor issues (like breathing) we had a great first week. While a larger city than I realized (I really need to do more research!) it has the feel of a small town.  This is especially true in the historic center of the city which is centered by Parc Calderon, a block fronted by both the old and new cathedral (that is it in the background above).

The people are friendly and greet you with a nod and a Hola or Buenos Noches as you pass on the sidewalks.  The central area is FLAT! and there is only a slight slope (at least by Portuguese standards) up to our Airbnb. Speaking of which, it is one of the nicest while one of the cheapest we have stayed in during our adventure.  It has two bedrooms (with double beds – our only real complaint) and two baths, a nice living/dining room, working kitchen and in addition to the washing machine –  a dryer. Below is a sunset we enjoyed from the balcony.

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Cuenca is known for having a perpetual spring, the temperatures typically don’t vary more than five degrees throughout the year – typically low 70s during the day and upper fifties/low sixties at night.   Except during their “winter” when they can be slightly cooler and they have more rain.  So far we have only had one grey day and the temperatures have been glorious – especially compared to those being experienced by our friends in the US.  The coolest evening has been 51 and the hottest day was 73….typically, it has been in the upper 60s during the day and the upper fifties at night with partially cloudy skies.  Since nobody in Cuenca has heat, we have been sleeping under blankets. For both of us it has been heaven!

Well, except for that breathing thing….Cuenca is at 8,399 feet above sea level (remember the bus ride up from Guayaquil at the coast took almost 4 hours to go what is 78 miles as the crow flies) which means the air here has 72% of the oxygen that most of you are breathing right now.  Mike didn’t have any trouble the first couple of days (when we tried to take it easy to adjust) but I experienced some dizziness and what our friends (Janet & Christian LeBlanc from my Clemson days) who live here refer to as being a zombie. After a busy day on Wednesday when we likely overdid it walking to the big supermarket (we taxied back) and then uphill (in this case a hill the Portuguese would recognize) to the LeBlanc’s for dinner, we both felt very rough (headache, dizzy, woozy) on Thursday.  Mike spent most of the day prone reading…and I barely moved around the apartment. Thankfully that awfulness passed by the next day and except for getting out of breath if I forget and walk a normal pace or when we walk up the hill and then the steps to our second floor unit, I think all is good now on the high altitude front.

During the week we took both legs of Cuenca’s tourist bus – they say it is HopOn HopOff and is a double decker with open seating on top but we never saw anyone HO or HO.   One route heads south and the highlight is a stop at Turi where there is a small village with a great overlook of the entire city. But we also passed many historical spots in the city.

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The northern bus route which we did on Wednesday (before the ill fated death march to the supermarket) was not quite as interesting other than we got to see some parts of the city that we would have been unlikely to visit otherwise.  But the highlight was a visit to a factory where they make Panama Hats.  From what we were told, Panama hats were initially made only in Ecuador and got their name because they went through Panama and (this is what I suspect is the real truth) when Teddy Roosevelt was asked where he got that snappy hat, he said Panama.  The hats are still made by hand and by indigenous women (not being sexist…that is just the case) typically at home.  This factory then takes their product that looks like a woven holder for a potted plant and bleaches or dyes it and shapes it into the hundreds of different shapes – men’s, women’s, planter, fedora, etc.  Depending on the weave (the finer the straw from which it is woven the better) prices range from $30 up to a thousand or more.  If we decide to spend much time here in the future, then I suspect we will end up with them to keep the very strong sun (closer to it by being at the equator and at the high altitude) off our tender heads and noses.

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We have enjoyed reconnecting with Christian and Janet.  Christian and I were classmates at Clemson and housemates during graduate school.  Janet was an art history professor.  They lived in Greenville, SC until last year when they bought a house here.  It has been great to have local friends.  Especially after six months of really only having each other to talk to.  We have met a few folks along the way but only a very few, so we are enjoying time with them.  They are putting the final touches on their house renovation and are really enjoying their life here.  We went to church and then brunch with them last Sunday and since then have been lucky enough to have two (one more is promised) home cooked meals at their place.  We celebrated Christian’s birthday (photo below) by joining them out for dinner one night and last night went to see the Pacific Boy’s Choir perform at the Cuenca cultural center (to a full house!).  It was a great evening.  First a local girls choir honored us with a three songs, then the guests from San Francisco performed.  They were great.  I hope that some of them end up going to UVA and joining the Virginia Gentlemen…they are certainly of their caliber.  From what the LeBlancs tell us, the government funds almost all of the cultural performances – symphony, concerts, shows and the public is invited gratis.  Yet another thing budget friendly about Ecuador!

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Speaking of budget, I am happy to report that we were about a $1000 under our budget for the month of June and are over $6,000 under for the year so far. WhooHoo….though I know the are going to need that surplus come September since we hadn’t budgeted for the Baltic Cruise.

Certainly Ecuador is living up to its budget friendly reputation.  I got my shoes shined for a buck down at Parc Calderon while waiting for the HOHO bus and for the first time in my life pretended I was Rosie O’Donnell and tipped 100%! And we bought bunch of sunflowers at the flower market for $4.

Supermarket prices are in line with the US for the most part except some things are much cheaper – avacados, limes, oranges and some are way more expensive – can you say $7 for a small jar of Peter Pan peanut butter?  With the exception of the birthday celebration which was at an upscale restaurant and happy hour which included mojitos, none of our restaurant meals have cost more than $5 per person. Even then, the fine dining experience, our entrees were under $12 per person…and they were high end.  I only took a picture of mine which is below, but Mike had a large portion of Tuna, Janet an equally large and delicious filet of salmon and Christian had a steak.  The total bill for four with 2 beers and two wines and two desserts including tax and tip was $81.  When is the last time you ate out at a high end restaurant for $20?  Most of the small restaurants offer a fixed price lunch which typically includes a soup, a main, a dessert and a fresh juice.  All have been tasty some outstanding.  The most expensive was $4 and the least $2.

Our $$2.50 lunch of potato soup, some sort of stew with rice and a teeny tiny brownie and juice.

Our $2.00 lunch of a different potato soup, a chuckwagon steak (they were out of chicken) and delicious fresh fruit for dessert.  Of course I splurged and spend another $2 on a piece of chocolate cake and a coffee!

Dinner at a seafood place one night – Mike had a combination plate that included Cerviche served in a friend plantain bowl & ecuadorian seafood fried rice with a piece of fish.  I had fish with rice and beans and tostones.  Both dishes were tasty.  Total meal including two beers was under $20.

After making delicious Chicken n Dumplins (tortillas make fine dumplings) at home for lunch one day and not being really hungry for supper we went to happy hour down at a little cafe Christian and Janet told us about.  We had two for one mojitos and a delicious “nacho” plate – half fried flour tortillas and half fried potatoes with chili and delicious guacamole – it was not mushy – maybe made with grated unripe avacado? and lots of onions and lime juice.

During the week we finalized our plans for Quito – four nights there starting on the 14th and for Mexico, found a nice one bedroom condo with a community pool in San Miguel De Allende on Vacation Rentals By Owner (all the Airbnbs we liked were booked or uphill!) so if the weather turns hot (it isn’t supposed to) we will at least be able to have a pool to enjoy.  We will be there until August 6th when we head to Mexico City and overnight using Hilton points at their hotel IN the airport for our flight the next day.  We then are heading almost immediately to Seabrook Island to celebrate our dear friend Claudia’s birthday at the beach.  After that weekend, we will be in Danville until September 8th when we head to Copenhagen with Mike’s Mom Lois for the Baltic Cruise. She will finish her trip with four days with us in Lisbon.

What we do after Lois’ departure is still up in the air.  The plan had been to go stay where we think we might want to retire if that place is in Europe.  And Portugal seems to be the lead horse in that race. If we have decided on somewhere else, then we figured we would pick someplace in Europe we hadn’t been to spend the month before it’s time to head to home in November. We really like Cuenca and think it might make a great retirement locale BUT they changed their visa rules so that we can only stay 90 days each year on a tourist visa OR have to stay all but 90 days on a residence visa (for the first two years).  Since neither of those work with our desire for significant travel while we are able, it doesn’t appear Cuenca is right for us at this point.  So, we aren’t sure whether we are going to spend October on the Portugal coast (no hills please) or take up the offer of Jenny and Brian from Scotland (we met on Viking Sky crossing in March) and visit them in Aberdeen and see some of Scotland ….or maybe both, ain’t the flexibility of retirement great?

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last minute update…as the pictures were uploading we had a minor tremor! Nothing significant- rattled the doors to the balcony

Ecuador!

Had on time and uneventful flights on COPA from Miami to Panama City to Guayaquil. Lovely meals served on both and discovered that Guava Juice and Rum is a tasty cocktail!

After a short taxi ride to the combo shopping mall/food court/bus station and a little bit of difficulty in finding the ticket office, we boarded our bus to Cuenca. Because Ecuadorians are relatively small, we bought 4 seats to make sure we had leg room. They assigned us the front row so we had extra. I guess we traveled business class the whole trip!

The ride from the coast up to 8399 feet took about 3.5 hours but it was beautiful. The picture at the top of his post was just after we left the city. The rest are as we rode up higher and higher. Lots of switchbacks. I can only imagine how beautiful without the fog in must be in some places. At two places vendors literally jumped on the moving (albeit slowed down) bus and rode a bit. One had ice cream and two others had baskets of empanadas and other pastries. They then jumped off and I guess rode a different bus back to their starting point? We passed huge fields of sugar cane and bananas and/or plantain trees. At roadside stands we saw those, pineapples (hanging upside down), dragonfruit and tons of pumpkin and other goards.

Unfortunately we hit at Friday rush hour when we got to Cuenca so it took another 45 minutes to get through town to the bus station. Then a short taxi ride to our Airbnb and we can finally have a real night of sleep! We did go around the corner and have dinner from a Mom, Pop and 3 kids stand? Stall? Former Living Room? Around the corner. Had two skewers (one pork and pork sausage, the other turkey and chicken) with rice, lentils (or some bean that looks like a lentil) potatoes and plantains. Along with two warm cokes our total bill came to $6!

We are now back in the apartment and this is our view of the cathedral from our balcony.

More later…but after 57 hours of traveling with only a 2 hour plane nap and a 4.5 Hotel sleep, I am going to bed! ‘Night