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Fri, Feb. 10th, 2017, 10:40 pm
Viñales–the countryside

When I was arranging our tour to Cuba, the potential participants in our group were, generally, not very interested in Viñales. The area is famous for its tobacco plantations, home of the best tobacco for Cuba’s best cigars, which (everyone knows, or pretends to know) are the finest in the world. But my friends and relatives and I, we are a nonsmoking group of people, and it was hard to get up much enthusiasm for a tour of the tobacco world, when the vacation was short, and there was Havana with its great food and wonderful music, and of course, Cuba’s beaches.

But a bit of research revealed that the Viñales valley is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a landscape of sublime loveliness–an agricultural valley surrended by dramatic dome-like karst hills (mountains?) that is quite unique and worth visiting, if only for its physical beauty.

This is what it looks like, approaching the town from the east.

We stopped for lunch at a working farm with great (fresh, local) food, where we could look out over the valley and walk in the garden.

   

For the first time in my life, I saw pineapples growing. I always imagined them growing right next to the ground, like a kohlrabi or a fennel bulb; other people I’ve talked with thought they grew on trees. Neither of these is true. They grow on stems, like artichokes. Here is one:

The agricultural part of the valley is peaceful. In the hot afternoon, a couple of farmers (well, I *assumed* they were farmers!) headed home for a rest–or a meal–or a friendly drink of rum or coffee, or a good cigar.

Speaking of cigars, after lunch it was time for a short trip through the dazzling countryside, followed by a tour of an organic tobacco plantation and cigar manufacturing.

  

Everyone was invited to try a cigar–and we all did! The gentleman above rolls the cigars shut using honey for glue, and we all agreed that his cigars were smooth and sweet.

  

It was a great experience, but we were not converted from our non-tobacco ways, and most of us (except you-know-who-you-are) easily resisted the temptation to buy any.

Moving on, we reached a stunning overlook of the valley late in the afternoon.

  

In the next post, I’ll show a bit of the town of Viñales.

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Thu, Feb. 9th, 2017, 03:49 pm
The best restaurant in Cienfuegos

We are traveling in Cuba, Dan and I, along with our daughter Margot and her friend Erika. The day we arrived, I sprained my ankle.

Here’s how it happened. Dan had put the bar of soap in the shower stall, but I needed the soap at the sink. So I went to get it. Fortunately, I was barefoot, so there was no problem stepping into the shower stall to get the soap, even though (for some reason) the floor was wet. Unfortunately, I was barefoot, so, as I stepped out of the shower stall and down the small step to the tile floor of the bathroom, my left foot slipped on the wet tile, and I fell, landing with my right foot at an angle that no foot should ever land at.

Yes, it hurt.

Yes, it hurt really bad, but I knew it wasn’t broken. I know what the pain from a broken bone feels like, and this was (as I said) really bad–but it wasn’t that.

In the morning, it was a bit better, but I still couldn’t do certain key activities like, for example, going up and down stairs. Or anything involving placing my right foot behind the centerline of my body. So I stayed in the hotel with my foot up and with ice on it while everyone else got their first taste of Havana. At lunchtime, I hobbled along with the group because I was determined to miss as little as possible.

The next day was a day tour of Vinales. We spent most of the morning in the car, so no problem there, and the foot didn’t really hurt much any more.

The next day, my right foot was almost entirely blue and a bit swollen, but it didn’t hurt much, so I did the walking tour of Havana and other activities of the day without a problem.

Then it was time to move on to Cienfuegos. Beautiful Cienfuegos, the pearl of the south. I wore my flipflops for the car ride, and Dan couldn’t help but notice that my foot was swollen, and the swelling seemed to have moved up to the ankle as well. He remembered that several years ago his mother had broken her ankle and had had to take blood thinner to ensure that a blood clot did not go to her heart. Or her brain. He began to worry about blood clots and insisted that when we reached Cienfuegos, we must see a doctor.

My sweet, caring husband!

After we got settled into the casa where we were staying, we went to a clinic. This turned out to be the doctor’s house (I think), with a sign in front indicating that the doctor was available 24/7. We went in. There was no line, and the doctor was available to see me right away.But first, there was the matter of the insurance. All tourists entering Cuba are required to have medical insurance that is good in the country. The U.S. airlines automatically provide this insurance for their passengers. Did I have my boarding pass?

I did.

The doctor made a copy of it, and of my passport information, and informed me that everything was all paid for. She was very nice and seemed quite competent, pressing in various places–Does it hurt here? Here? Here?

Well, really, even though my foot was a multicolor sight to see, by this time it hardly hurt at all. “What do you think is the matter?” I asked.

There ensued a five-minute-long conversation in Spanish between the doctor and our guide, the delightful Jorge. “What is she saying?” I finally asked.

“You need to get an x-ray,” the guide said.

“Why?” I asked.

There ensued another very long conversation in Spanish.

“What’s she saying?”

“It might be broken.”

“It’s not broken!” I said, but Dan signaled me to back down. He was worried about blood clots and wanted the diagnosis to run its natural course. X-rays can show things other than bones.

I sighed. “Okay. Let’s get an x-ray.”

There was no x-ray facility at the doctor’s office, so they put me into a conveniently available ambulance, along with Dan and Jorge and my own personal nurse, and off we went.

The hospital facility had definitely seen better days, but it was fairly clean. A patient in line ahead of me at the radiology laboratory lay on his stretcher smoking a cigarette–something you’d never see in the U.S. “He’s here for an x-ray,” Dan quipped, “because he has lung cancer.” A bad joke, yes, but understandable, given the somewhat surreal circumstance.

Well, they x-rayed my foot left, right, and center; developed the film on the spot; and gave it, still dripping wet, to the nurse to take to be read.

The ambulance then took us downtown, where Dan, Jorge, and I had a great walking tour of the town. My multicolored foot did not hurt. After walking a few miles up and down Cienfuegos’s beautiful streets, we took a taxi to a faux-Moorish castle by the sea for a drink and watched the sunset.

Then we walked back to the clinic. It wasn’t that far–maybe only eight blocks or so.

Behold, I did not have a broken bone! I’d been saying this from the beginning, but now I had some very graphic x-rays to prove it. And what I did now have was an anti-inflammatory cream to apply three times a day and some interesting-looking pills. No charge. Thank you, United Airlines!

“What about blood clots?” I asked.

The doctor said this was not an issue, since my foot was not in a cast, and I was very active.

“What are these for?” I asked, indicating the pills.

There ensued a lengthy conversation in Spanish between the doctor and the guide. After several minutes, I asked, “What’s she saying?”

The guide laughed and said they were discussing which they liked better: Cienfuegos or Trinidad. The doctor preferred Cienfuegos. Not so the guide.

“But what are the pills for?” I persisted.

“They will help with the swelling. And the pain,” said the doctor.

I decided not to mention that there was no longer any pain. Instead, I asked, “Can you recommend a good restaurant here in Cienfuegos?”

Her face lit up in a smile. “Oh yes!” (It turned out she could speak fairly good English, even though she was shy about it.) “There is a good one that is very expensive, and then there is one that is medium price, and it is my favorite restaurant.”

“Yes, *that* one,” Dan and I chorused.

And when it was all over, the ambulance took us back to our casa.

Not to keep you in suspense, the restaurant is El Prado. Do not confuse it with the cafe of the same name next door. We ate great food on the rooftop terrace to a live band of marvelous Afro-Cuban-jazz music. We drank two bottles of excellent South American chardonnay and entertained the marriage proposal of our waiter to either or both of our lovely young women traveling companions. An April wedding was considered. We do not know the young man’s name, but he was willing enough to call me “Mama.”

This may all seem like great lengths to go to, just to find this one marvelous restaurant, but remember, we also got to know a gracious Cuban doctor and nurse, and we experienced a Cuban hospital, and we rode in our own personal ambulance several times.

And we no longer have to worry about blood clots from my multicolored foot.

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sun, Oct. 9th, 2016, 07:57 am
Hard at work in Shirakawago

A person can’t visit Shirakawa-go for long without wondering what’s involved in maintaining those steep, thickly thatched roofs. The answer is: teamwork! Many hands make light work; the job takes only a few days when everyone pitches in. Here are two photographs, one much older than the other, of roof replacement on two of the largest houses.

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We were fortunate to see work being done on another roof, on a much smaller scale, while we were there.

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One man is gathering the straw into bundles; a second is raking the loose straw together and also handing the bundles up to the men working on the roof. The men on the roof are alternately feeling the roof thatch to make sure it is tight and solid, stuffing straw into the roof wherever they can to make it tighter, and shaving the edges of the newly stuffed straw into a neat line.

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The other work in progress, it being mid-September, was the rice harvest. Rice, it turns out, is growing in many fields, large and small, throughout the village. It is surprisingly beautiful.

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Scarecrows!

In a larger field, we saw one farmer using a hand-operated harvesting machine. In others, people harvested entirely by hand.

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The sheaves are protected from the rain in their beautiful rows.

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Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sat, Sep. 24th, 2016, 02:41 am
The Bridges of Tokyo

We rode the water bus from the Asakusa district of Tokyo down the Sumida River to the Hama Rikyu garden. In the process, we passed under maybe thirteen bridges, all different colors and styles. I found the texture of the bridges against the backdrop of Tokyo’s buildings as pleasing as the scenery.

But first, here’s the view from Asakusa terminal, first, looking directly across the river, and then looking down the river, where the boat will soon go.

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Now, here we go down the river!

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After this, we docked at the lovely Hama Rikyu garden, but that will be the subject of another post!

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Thu, Sep. 22nd, 2016, 09:49 pm
In the Ginza

Tokyo subways are wonderrful. We took them everywhere. With few exceptions <cough, cough, Shibuya>, the signs are clear, the stations well marked, and even which exits lead where are clearly indicated. And it’s always surprising, when you leave the station at a new destination, what it’s going to look like. It could be the rather daunting so-called “pedestrian scramble” at Shibuya, for example.

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Or it could be the sophisticaed shopping district of Ginza.

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On the main street of Ginza, name brands and high-end developers can afford to build eye-catching buildings.

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In the narrower side streets, interesting shops, must make their presence known with banners and vertical signs.

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inside one shop, we found this intriguing glass ceiling.

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But what’s inside another store must wait for another post!

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Tue, Jul. 1st, 2014, 02:48 pm
Fun, Positano style

Never say we people in Positano don’t know how to have fun. We do! We have great fun! Our Positano hosts know how to show us a good time, and then–before you can say Volare!–we know how to have it!

Fun, Positano style, starts with a free ride. A bus from the restaurant picks you up at your corner, or at your hotel if you happen to have one, and then wends its way up impossible hills on streets so narrow it takes a five-point turn to get around the corner, to pretty nearly the very top of the mountain on whose slopes Positano is laddered.

The views of Positano way below us are breathtaking.

Positano from above

Fun continues at La Tagliata restaurant when the waiter asks if we’d like white wine? Red? Water?

We are quite literally on top of the world, and we’re in a good mood. Yes, we say. Yes. All three of those things. And we are in fact plied with bottles we lose count of, house-made white wine and red wine. And water.

And the food! We are served endless courses of bountiful variety of food. More than enough for everyone. But still it keeps coming.

Somewhere around dessert time, the band comes out, and they begin singing the most tacky, the most schmaltzy, your-grandmother-would-have-loved-this kind of well-known Italian songs imaginable. But there is no groaning allowed here. This is the *fun* program!

Percussion instruments are handed out to every table, and everyone is encouraged to participate. And someone from every table inevitably does.

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But you’re not off the hook if you don’t want to stand up and play an instrument. You can still clap! This is the Positano Fun Restaurant we’re talking about here! So if you won’t even clap, we have just the thing for you. Handkerchiefs! Stand up, folks, and wave those handkerchiefs! That’s Amore!

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If some of us inhibited New Englanders require instruction, it is provided. And it works!

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But sooner or later, all good things must come to an end. The bus awaits to take us home. There are seven of us and only four seats left, but no problem! We sit in each other’s laps and make the acquaintance of our new best friends on the bus. Of course this leads to the ever-popular refrains of Volare and That’s Amore, and one by one as each group leaves the bus we sing each other Arrivederci.

I still have Volare stuck in my head. Can someone help me out a little here?

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Mon, Jun. 30th, 2014, 02:32 pm
Positano, my home town

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Okay, actually Positano is not my home town. I live in Newton, Massachusetts, USA. But for a week this year–May 3 through May 10–it became the home town of my husband Dan and me, our children Margot, Adam, and Clair, and our friends Steve and Susie, when we rented a gorgeous villa with the view you see above.

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Our last full day in Positano after a busy week going one place or another, we spent at home. For visualization purposes, I have outline this home in red in the picture above. The corner room with the Juliet balcony is our bedroom. The next two windows each belong to a separate bedroom, and the fourth bedroom, with a private balcony is around the corner. Below, a broad terrace opens up from the living and dining areas. This terrace has an area for sunbathing and a covered area with a table that’s great for breakfast, lunch, and snacks while enjoying the sea breezes. Below the terrace sweeps an extensive garden, and below that, vistas of the sea, where we can watch the ferries going up and down the coast and out to Capri.

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This villa, like many in Positano, can be accessed only on foot, along a narrow pedestrian street punctuated with stairways.

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Finally, on our last day here, I walked down the 375 stairs (okay, that’s probably an exaggeration) to our local beach, the smaller of Positano’s two beaches. There’s one very attractive hotel and restaurant, and the opportunity to rent beach chairs and umbrellas.

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Myself, I chose to follow the path that from here winds around the cliffs to the larger beach at the town center. 

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From here, I walked farther north, to the far end of Positano’s main commercial tourist area, where the views looking back at the town were–like everything about Positano–charming.

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Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sun, Jun. 15th, 2014, 02:10 pm
Views near Golden Grove – the Southeast Light

I would have thought that after some twenty-five years of having a home on Block Island there wouldn’t be much of the touristy stuff left that we haven’t done at least once anyway. But the other day, on the drive around the southern part of the island, my friend Ellen and I stopped at the Southeast Light.

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And–here’s the new part–we went in. There’s a gift shop in the ground floor of the light tower. As I peered admiringly up at the handsome circular stairs…

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…I became aware that a tour of the tower was about to get started. So of course I signed up. How could I not? This is exactly the kind of tower a person (well, me) wants to climb. The circular stair is graceful and elegant.

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The views from the top are expansive.

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And–best of all–there’s an actual functioning Fresnel lens! A moment’s diversion here. Fresnel lenses are arrangements whereby the arcs of the lens divert the light from a source so that instead of shining all around it’s focused in one direction. This makes the light source much brighter, so that it can be seen from farther away. I couldn’t get far enough away to take a complete picture of the entire lens, but here’s one of the Fresnel lens that used to operate at San Diego.

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The Block Island Southeast Light operates a green light that blinks every five seconds. I can stand right next to it and look at it without any pain or afterimages–and yet it can be seen eighteen miles out to sea. The light is inside a Type 1 Fresnel lens (large), of which there are only eleven or twelve still operating on the coasts of the United States.

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These two pictures are looking directly at the lens; here’s looking up from below:

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What the tour of the Southeast Light does not cover are the living quarters for two families that are part of the structure. This might be made into a B&B sometime in the future. What fun!

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sun, May. 11th, 2014, 12:57 pm
What I know about the olive trees of Puglia

Almost as soon as we entered Puglia (or Apulia, as it is known in English) from Campagna, we noticed two things: the landscape, while still beautiful, had gotten flatter–and it was filled with grape vines and olive trees.

And some of those olive trees looked really, really old. “How old,” I asked Dan, “do you think those trees are?”

“I’d guess really old,” he said. “Maybe two or three hundred years.”

The charming and peaceful Masseria Salinola in Ostuni, where we are staying, has some of these old trees on its property, so I asked our host Daniele how old the trees are.

“These here,” he said, “are at least one thousand two hundred, or maybe two thousand years old. But the oldest trees in Puglia are three thousand years old, maybe more.” It is very strange, as I write this, looking at a tree that was probably a young sapling when Jesus was alive.

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“Did you know,” Daniele continued, “That Italy produces the most olive oil of any place in the world? And forty percent of Italy’s olive oil comes from Puglia.”

Olive trees self-seed when left wild. If you think about it, this is not surprising. That pit inside the olive is, after all, a seed. All it takes is the right terrain and the right climate, and both of them are right here in Puglia. The original people of this region harvested the olives from the trees wherever they happened to grow. But the Romans, when they arrived in the region, did what the Romans seemed to naturally do–they arranged the trees in rows.

The olive oil of Puglia is good beyond all reason. As are the olives. We’d love to take some home…if only we weren’t already laden with some five bottles of wine… more liquid than we can really carry onto the plane, and only two days left to drink some of it down…

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sat, May. 3rd, 2014, 02:29 am
Munnar actually has a town

Munnar actually has a town, and it’s actually cute and kind of fun. This came as a bit of a surprise, since tourists don’t generally go to Munnar to visit the town. They go to Munnar to visit the resorts and spas, healthfully and ecologically sensitively set in the mountainous countryside, such as the delightful Blackberry Hills Retreat and Spa where we stayed.  They go to see the stunning scenery, to enjoy the fresh mountain air, and to learn about tea.

I don’t think that going to town even ranks in the top 34 things to do in Munnar in tripadvisor.

Well, true, the town is kind of small, but we enjoyed visiting it all the same.

There were, for example, craftsmen hard at work at their craft. This man is, I believe, doing something involving fire. And gold. And jewelry.

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There was a fruit and vegetable market–which Dan and I always find interesting.

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And maybe best of all, shops piled on shops in a jumbled pattern that for me was sheer delight.

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Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

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