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Baseball and Trees: Day 2

Baseball and Trees: Day 2

Wed. July 17, 2019:
Oakland, California:

I woke up around 5am because there was just so much noise outside, blaring in through the window. It sounded like a construction demolition crossed with a garbage truck. At first, I thought it might be a truck, but no way could it be going for that long. It seemed endless. Also: who does that at 5am?! Common decency says start at 6am!! They were lucky I had not adjusted to the time difference and as far as my body knew, it was actually 8am. Which, come to think of it, is still an ungodly hour. Hence, the grumpiness. Not helping matters, my allergies were in full swing and my face was puffy. Eventually I gave up and woke up at 6:40am, which was about when the noise stopped.

We walked to Arizmendi bakery for breakfast. I held off on getting coffee because the only placed we passed on our walk was a Peet’s Coffee that was inside of an office building and hence too much of a detour for my tired self. It was only a 40min walk, I could wait for coffee. On the way we walked around Lake Merritt and saw more Canada geese than I have seen back home. A guy sitting in his car shouted “nice skirt” at me, except I was too enthralled in conversation to notice until Brent told me later. My original plan was to get a cheese bun but when I laid eyes on the cinnamon bun all bets were off. I could not resist. In the end I kind of regretted it, there was too much icing and I was left wondering what the cheese bun was like. Brent had a bun with chocolate chunks, it was alright. We also got a brioche braid and a sourdough baguette for later. By later, I mean the walk back. We needed something to distract us from the grogginess and dehydration from last night. The brioche bun was a fail, it had raisins and was dense. The real winner was the baguette, it was poking out of my elephant bag and we just kept ripping pieces off. The walk back was more pleasant: we saw so many dogs by the lake and some pelicans just hanging out.

Back in the hotel we desperately chugged water in an attempt to rehydrate before heading out to the A’s game to meet John. After catching up in my notebook, I caved and took a nap. I was full-on napping, complete with drool and hand-twitching. I woke up but apparently, I could have kept sleeping because we did not need to leave as early as Brent had originally planned. By that point though I was awake and I did not want to risk another round of grogginess. I watched Friends and South Park because I could not stand the new The Price is Right, it was just too modern for my tastes. And the Pioneer Woman show was insufferable. Why is she telling me about a salad she is going to make while she drives her car?!

It was a short train ride to the Coliseum. I was actually really excited to see it, one of the last concrete donut stadiums still standing (I had listened to an episode of 99 Percent Invisible on the topic). It was easy enough to find our way there, we just followed the crowds from the train. I was kind of surprised at how many people were there given it was an early afternoon game on a Wednesday. We met up with John and got a tour of the stadium. We were also given credentials so we could go down to the field. In my head I imagined myself being able to run to the pitcher’s plate and goof off. I did not expect the strict rules about not being allowed onto the grass. It should be called being allowed “beside the field” not on. It is misleading. Groups of day-camp kids were going around the perimeter of the field and one kid shouted at us that we were awesome. It made my day and that kid is totally going to be a future politician, he one-upped baby-kissing.

John had given us seat upgrades, now we sat 8 rows from the field. On the way to our seats we got drinks. I tried to order a margarita and the lady tried to convince me to get a paloma instead (same price). I have no idea what that was all about. It was an eventful game, there were a lot of home runs. I was not impressed with their home run celebration, it was just a sign in the outfield that lit up and said “Holy Toledo.” Pretty weak if you ask me. There was a desperate lady a few rows ahead of us to the left, she wanted to get on camera so bad with her birthday sign. Clearly, she does this every year, she had many crossed-out numbers on the sign. It did make me wonder if every year she was this desperate and ignored? Adding to the desperation, children kept running down to our section to try and get a free baseball and then walking back really disappointed and empty-handed.

We lasted about two innings before we had to get up. We were roasting in the sun. We retreated to the shade of the concourse in search of food. We were on the lookout for a few things at the ballpark. I had my eye on alcoholic popsicles. I found the vendor: a tricycle, but it was unmanned. At the Launch Test Kitchen my fears were confirmed: they were still serving the spam-sushi dish, hard pass. We could not find the Texas toast grilled cheese place. In the end we got garlic fries (a must), Roundtable pizza (a mini, we are not crazy) and chicken tenders. The chicken had been on my list as a backup but it worked out great. They had little plastic cups and six different dipping sauces at a self-serve station. We ate the chicken tenders while we waited in line for the garlic fries. While we ate, we guffawed at the people who waited in line, were one away from the front and left. Or the people who didn’t get garlic fries. Why were they even there?! You can get a hotdog anywhere! The honey sriracha sauce was the clear winner, followed by the buffalo and hickory BBQ. The boom-boom sauce was just weird, kind of like mayo with but with something else in it. Genius that I am, I went back to get more sauces for our fries. The honey sriracha was so damn good. And the ranch would pair well. The pizza was alright, but the base crust was way too thick for my liking, I couldn’t even dip it properly. Plus, by that point I was quite full so it did not get my full attention. It was still hot out in the sun but I felt a little better, being distracted by fries and pizza helped. The Stella Artois cider also helped. The fizziness just felt that much more refreshing. The A’s won and once again we got swept up in the crowd, trusting that they would lead us in the right direction.

We followed the crowd a little too closely and got on the wrong train. As we were getting on a guy was yelling at another guy and was all up in his face, screaming “get off this f*cking train.” Looking back, we should have taken his advice. Thankfully we noticed and were able to get off a few stops later and catch the correct train.

I needed a shower so bad. I was covered in sunscreen and so sweaty. Apparently though I did not have on enough sunscreen. Back in our hotel room I noticed I was starting to get a bit red in spots. I had just enough time to get dressed and ready for dinner. We had a 5:30 reservation at Chez Panisse and I was so excited! Finally! I would get to eat at Chez Panisse! I was a bit nervous but mostly excited- even if it didn’t show, it was a bit tamped down by tiredness.

It was a short 20-minute train ride to Berkeley and then a nice walk down the main stretch of town. Unfortunately, we did not get out of the right BART exit to see the Papa John’s where i got dinner last time we tried to eat at Chez Panisse. It was kind of odd doing the same walk and trying to remember what was different and what was the same. For sure that McDonald’s was not there last time, otherwise there was no way I would have suffered through Papa John’s.

Even with the leisurely walking pace and stopping in at a store (they had a chalkboard advertising craft soda, I wanted to see if it was true- it was) we were still early. We tried to walk in but were told to wait in the foyer. Looking at the passersby on the sidewalk, you could tell who was coming to Chez Panisse for dinner. The restaurant itself was very beautiful, even though we didn’t get to see much of it. We were seated near the entrance. I had kind of been hoping for a table in the sun room. At least we had a view of the kitchen.

No sooner had we sat down, we were offered an aperitif: a glass of prosecco with elderflowers. It was so refreshing and sweet and just what I needed. The server asked us if we were here for a special occasion and Brent mentioned we had tried to eat here a few years ago, five or so?– but alas, the kitchen fire. He was like yeah no, that was six years ago. The amuse bouche consisted of an olive, pickled carrots, onions and leeks. In my notebook, regarding the olive it just says: how was it so good?! I don’t like carrots either and it was delicious. The bar was set. Every dish was delicious and across the board it was consistent and high quality. This was the most consistent dinner from start to finish of all time. There were no lows. Everything was delicious, especially the duck breast. It was a wow dish for me, borderline for Brent (who doesn’t even like duck). Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the dessert course was rolled out. The apricot sorbet was incredible, the almond cake amazing. Even the berries, a simple garnish, were so much better than any berries I’ve previously had. How is this possible?! After dinner we were given mint and lemongrass tea (fresh from the garden) and candied orange peels. It was the perfect end to a perfect meal. I took the paper menu as a souvenir. Brent had ordered the wine pairing and we split it. This worked out nicely, neither of us got smashed but we got to enjoy some fine wine.

It was a slow and tired walk back to the BART station. We stopped in at Safeway to try and save some time the next day. But the selection was so crappy that really it did nothing. There were no wacky Oreos and no Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. We got Gatorade, iced coffee and Pop Tarts which was only half my list. On the train we got an invite from John if we wanted to come over. Brent said no, we are tired and should go to bed early. And then 5 minutes later texted back saying we’d changed our minds. Realistically, how often do we get to see them? Getting a bit of extra sleep was not worth missing out. We dropped by the hotel so I could leave my purse and grab my Lulu sweater and the (very nice) wedding card that Brent had made for them. It was nice to hang out and talk. On the walk back we discovered we could have had a much nicer walk along the waterfront through Jack London Square. But we had no way of knowing that previously.

Back in the hotel I was getting deliriously tired, trying to write in my notebook when my body thought it was 2am and my sunburn was still developing.

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Posted by on July 26, 2019 in Fooding, Life's Goals, Travel

 

Baseball and Trees: Day 1

Tues. July 16, 2019:
Toronto flight to San Francisco, California:

This trip had been a long time coming. We had not seen Brent’s sister in years and we had both our wedding and hers to celebrate. Plus, despite two trips to San Francisco we had yet to go to a Giants game. It was due time.

Because I was coming to the airport straight from work (morning half-shift), I got to the airport four hours early. I assumed that I could find a place to sit at Starbucks in Terminal 3 while I waited for Brent. Nope. The whole airport was crammed and I ended up sitting outside on a low ledge. It was not ideal for my knees but at least I could read in peace. That did not last very long. Some guy had decided that this was the place- just outside of the airport doors- to clip his nails. While standing beside a luggage cart. I bailed and went inside, doing another lap looking for seats. Still no luck. I went back outside but this time sat outside a door closer to Wendy’s and far away from the gross guy. There was a guy standing in the road looking at his phone. A truck pulled up and honked at it him, like get out of the way! He looks up from his phone, clearly annoyed and walks back to the sidewalk- then continues giving the truck the stink eye and keeps making like he is going to go over and yell at them. Because they honked at him. Because he was standing in the road. In their way.

At Wendy’s we split an order of the bacon jalapeno cheese fries. They were good but they quickly got to be a bit heavy and too much. It would have been nice to have a half portion of that and a half portion of regular fries to alternate. When I had checked the status of our flight online earlier it said that the wait at security was 2 minutes. I thought surely that had to have been a typo. It was not, we were through so fast. And then it all came to an abrupt halt as we inched towards customs. That line was about 30 minutes waiting. Meaning neither of us won the bet, I had said 20min, Brent had said 40min. we also bet on which border guard we would get and of the three, it was the one neither of us had chosen. In my defence I did not know he was an option as at first it seemed like there were only two and I swear he was a late addition.

We had been at Terminal 1 just a few weeks ago and now I was all set to go and find that Sprite lemonade I had seen. Except it was nowhere to be found. I did manage to get another new soda flavour so that tamped down my fomo a bit. The cherry sorbet Coke was like cherry coke and vanilla coke mixed together, but it was too heavy on the vanilla for my enjoyment. We were lucky to have no delays, despite a momentary downpour that seemed like it would cause trouble.

We had seats in the exit row. At first it seemed great, so much leg room and it’s only two seats so no strangers! Except we only had one TV and it was too far to reach. I rotated through reading a chapter of my Patient H.M. book, listening to CrimeTown podcast and playing Mario Odyssey. We soon discovered another annoyance to exit row seats: the bathroom people. They saw fit to use our extra leg room space as a waiting space. One lady asked if she could sneak by us to look out the window. It is a tiny can’t-see-anything-out-of-it window on an emergency exit! Worse still were the periodic whiffs when the bathroom door opened. Once again, we were not given snacks on our Air Canada flight. Where’s my little bag of pretzels?! I had sort of anticipated this after Cuba, so I came prepared (overprepared?) with Bulk Barn snacks. The peanut butter M&Ms were a disappointment, I couldn’t find the Reese’s Pieces so I got those a substitute but it brought the whole mix (regular M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces peanuts) down.

Once in the airport, the BART was easy enough to find, despite the misleading signs pointing us to an out-of-order train. It was about a 30minute ride to Oakland and thankfully we did not have to switch lines. Our hotel was two streets over. We dropped our stuff in the hotel, remarked on the hamster-cage smell of our room and immediately headed back out. The plan was to meet Cait & John at Beer Revolution for one drink. It was close to 9pm, we were on East coast time and they both had to work the next day. The walk over was quite sketchy. A (cute) brown rat ran across our way. Things got way better once we cleared the underpass, it was completely different and more gentrified on this side.

Beer Revolution was everything I had hoped it would be. I found out about when I googled where to find Pliny the Elder beer. It did not disappoint and I even picked up some home decor ideas (a bar top of beer caps encased in polymer resin, a keg used as a table with a matching top). You can almost definitely tell a bar is going to be good if they have a giant chalkboard with an overwhelming amount of hard-to-read beer names. They didn’t have Pliny on tap… but they had it in bottles in the fridge! The bartender gently and skillfully removed the caps with minimal damage and I was able to add to my collection. I had a guava cider, aptly named You’ve Guava Be Kidding Me. It was nice and refreshing and totally hit the spot. One drink quickly turned into two. No complaints here, they had a blackberry sour from Almanac brewery on tap. It was decidedly not that sour, yet still really good. Was I starting to like beer? What’s a third drink if you’re already comfy and settled in? Seven Stills had a gimlet beer on tap with cucumber, lime and juniper berries. I never in my life thought I would have this complaint about a beer, but it was too cucumber-y.

The walk back felt far less sketchy. It may have been all the liquid courage we had imbibed. By the end I’d had 3 beers and Brent had 4.5 (he helped John finish his second Pliny). A girl hopped off her skateboard and it rolled towards us so Brent pushed it back to her. The beer combined with the lack of food and time change gave us a walloping. In the night Brent was asking me if I was “Ontario OK?” and I was very confused.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2019 in Travel

 

Blech

Blech

It is kind of surprising that I had never eaten at Terroni. It is one of the few restaurants that I remember being part of the downtown Queen West walk and it has just always been there. It was on a list of top restaurants for Toronto tourists to eat at, and so ti was on my list of places to eat at. There was a 50-50 shot that Brent had eaten there for a business meeting. We opted for the Adelaide location as it was the most touristy and that was the one on my list. Before Brent got there I ordered a gin & tonic. I am really coming around on the drink when made right. It was nice because at Terroni you could choose the type of gin, type of tonic and the garnish. It is how I ended up with a rose gin and elderflower tonic garnished with a cherry. It was delicious. My only complaint is they gave me an entire small bottle of tonic, so the drink got watered down as I sipped and added tonic (who is going to drink tonic on its own?! Come on!).

So far so good. We ordered a charcuterie platter, the cheese and meat option. Brent ordered a salad. I was a little weary of the salad, this place seemed a little too not-fancy to do a tiny salad. Apparently this applied to the salumi as well. I have never in my life had this kind of experience: a giant, table-consuming, platter of meat and cheese and not one word of what was displayed. It was placed in silence. Be that as it may, the soft cheese was some of the best cheese I’ve ever had. No clue what it was though. It was way more food than we’d been expecting. This kind of worked out for the best.

Brent had ordered a pizza. It was delicious. So I ate some more. I was hungry. Why didn’t I eat my pasta dish you ask? It was terrrible. Godawful. Horrible. I was expecting tomato sauce and sliced sausage. Not dry-ish noodles and blobs of ground beef. A housemade spicy sausage sounds delicious. Ground beef not so much. The bites of pasta with mushroom were somewhat OK. But it was just so awful. What about the parmesan you ask? It was piled in a corner of the plate under everything. WHO DOES THAT?! Cheese goes on top! Given the quality I did not even want to touch what was probably just “parmesan” anyways.

This went down as one of our worst meals of all time. Which is too bad given the pizza was really good. What the f*ck?

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2019 in Fooding, Uncategorized

 

On The Fence

On The Fence

Number 10 on Toronto Life’s Top 100 Restaurant was Quetzal. We had some idea of what to expect, as this was a new restaurant from the people behind Bar Isabel and and Bar Raval. I was a little bit hesitant, I was not impressed with Bar Isabel but I loved Bar Raval. As soon as I walked in I was wrapped in the smell of the giant woodfired oven in the open kitchen. This was going to be a good dinner. My outlook only improved after ordering a cactus-rose cider from 101 Cider House. I was torn between it and the rhubarb-infused gin feature cocktail. But that could be my second. Brent arrived soon after my drink and immediately pointed out the Revel cider I had missed at the bottom of the features menu. It looked like this was going to be a three-drink dinner. No complaints here (that is, until that night when I couldn’t sleep because my head was pounding).

Brent had his eye on three different starters: a chicken empanada, a citrus salad or something with a veggie in it. I had a very biased opinion on which he should get. I was worried though, the empanada sounded like it would be too much, but the waiter confirmed it was a fine starter. I couldn’t resist the wagyu beef skewers on the features menu. They were served together on one plate. It was the closest dish we had ever come to being a wow without being a wow. We did briefly debate if maybe it was a wow? But the fact that we had to debate it kind of answered our question. I was a fan of the beef skewers. So simple, just beef with a few large salt crystals- but so juicy and tender and just everything you want from a meat dish. The empanada with the smoked chicken, oh man it was so good. The cucumber in the salsa added a touch more but overall a great dish. The server had joked if we wanted any veggies, I just laughed. The sauces would count.

Brent ordered the steak, I had the red & green chorizos. We traded halfway. The chorizo was disappointing. The green one had a great seasoning but it kind of crumbled and fell apart as I was eating it and it was a bit dry. Both were. They greatly relied on the accompanying salsa. The steak was amazing, it came with the same salsa on the side but I preferred the chimichurri. I am a sucker for cilantro. The Revel cider was refreshing and borderline citrus-y but very light. It had something German in it starting with a G and going on for 12 letters. I had initially overlooked it because it just seemed like a beer item not a cider. Oops. The rhubarb cocktail won of all three, how could it not? Even though I now blame the gin for my headache (this morning I had mistakenly blamed the cider).

In the end though it was a lot of meat. I needed some non-meat. Thank god for dessert menus. How do you say no to a spiced mexican chocolate sorbet with passionfruit and pink peppercorns? It turns out that when they say sorbet they meant mousse/pudding. The passionfruit was weird, it was mushy and did not go with the dish at all. I scooped it off the side making the dish much better.

Half the walk home was spent debating where into the rankings it would fit. The next day I went to put on the same dress and I found it smelling woodfired stove- not in a bad way.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2019 in Fooding, Uncategorized

 

Havana Weekender- Day 4

Havana Weekender- Day 4

Sun. July 7, 2019:
Havana, Cuba to Toronto:

I woke up in the night to go to the bathroom. I thought surely, I could still get in some more sleep. I climbed back into bed, got all comfy… and Brent’s alarm clock went off. At least it was an easy wakeup. But still. Checkout from the hotel was slow because they didn’t take credit cards. To settle our minibar tab the lady at the front desk had to radio to her colleague who checked the minibar then confirmed our receipt. While I was waiting to hail a taxi, a car pulled up and two partiers got out. The lady looked like she was still having fun but the guy just looked so run down and tired. I was impressed with how late they stayed out. It was surprising how many people we saw awake at that hour and it was an odd mix of partiers and people getting up for work (at least 30 people in line waiting at a bus stop).

The airport check-in counter was not open yet but there were other people milling about. I went upstairs to the mini cafe to get a coffee. It was an odd set-up, everyone was just crowded around like at a bar. I lined up behind the lady at the register, assuming everyone else was just waiting for their food and drinks. When the girl beside her asked me something in Spanish then proceed to order next, I got mad. I went across the seating area to the mirror image cafe where there was no one. The coffee was 0.60CUC, I have the guy 1CUC he did not give me back any change. It was way too early in the morning for all of this. I was surprised when after I ordered, the guy started drawing an espresso shot and steaming milk. I was expecting a crappy cup of being-kept-warm drip coffee. It made me feel better. It was served in a plastic drinking cup and I seriously feared the cup would melt. It was really hot but somehow it cooled down really fast? I didn’t care, I just needed coffee so badly.

We got through immigration and security really quickly. There was still no sign of Camilla and Alexis, they had told me the night before that they were getting a taxi to pick them up at 3:45am. Earlier than us. I was too antsy to sit and listen to podcasts. I wandered over to the duty-free shop, which thankfully, was open. I got a bottle of Havana Club 3-Year for my mom and a bottle of Ron Caney white rum. I had seen a bottle of Aquivar but I had no idea what it was. I saw it again at the checkout and asked what it was. They pointed to the back and said it was on the shelf. I asked if its rum. They said yes. I pointed at mine and asked which was better. They said the Ron Caney was better. I am glad I got it, because I could not find it at the LCBO. I also got a different brand of orange soda and some very ranch-y Pringles. We devoured the chips and some English Toffee Peanut M&Ms that we had not eaten on the flight over.

By 6:20am there was still no sign of them. I was starting to get worried. I went for another walk around the airport and finally saw them. It was a lot of fun walking around the airport with Adrian, pointing at stuff and watching the sun rise. When it came time to boarding, the guy took their passports and made them wait to the side. They let Brent on. Then he looked at my boarding pass and passport. He took them over to his kiosk and started writing for what seemed like an eternity. He must have written an entire novel on the back of my boarding pass. When he finally finished holding up the entire line behind me, he gave Camilla and Alexis their boarding passes and let them on. Then he finally let me on. This whole time, no one else was admitted, the line just had to wait. It was very confusing. I kept falling asleep on the plane while trying to listen to podcasts. At least I was able to have a Coke and that kept me awake enough to be able to play some more Mario Odyssey. Our flight arrived so early that even getting through Pearson was a cinch.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2019 in Travel

 

Havana Weekender- Day 3

Havana Weekender- Day 3

Sat. July 6, 2019:
Havana, Cuba:

Again, I woke up before 9am and deemed it too early. I continued on until safely after 9am. At breakfast I was finally able to get my fresh-squeezed mango juice fix. (There are three hearts drawn in my book next to that sentence). The bacon was a little too chewy for my taste. Yesterday I had seen a fruit on offer that had a green rind and pink flesh. In trying to explain it to Alexis I inadvertently made a food of myself. It sounded like I was talking about a watermelon. I sent Camilla a picture but they didn’t respond in time so I had to bite it to figure out what it was. It was just a grapefruit. Less bitter than usual but still a grapefruit. I had a bite of Brent’s waffle, it was like biting into a waffle that was left to defrost. We had to go exchange more money after breakfast. The money Brent had exchanged the previous night was gone. He had messed up the room bookings and not gotten us a room for Saturday night. This was realized immediately after booking, a while ago. He booked the second room but forgot to include me on it so they made him pay that day. Trouble was, they wouldn’t bill it to the credit card used initially, we had to pay in cash. We had overestimated our budgets so luckily, we were not headed for another Austria situation.

Back in the room, Brent changed into his bathing suit and we headed down to the pool. I lounged on a chair, half-asleep, quarter-regretting I had not brought my iPod, and quarter-regretting not having brought two books. Afterwards he went to the bar to order us some poolside drinks. Mojito and rum & coke in hand, we set the record for earlier drink: 10:30am. The mojito wasn’t as good as yesterdays.

Because it was still early in the day, we decided to head out first to Hemingway’s house and then cab from there to Old Havana. It would save us a walk and leave the rest of the day free for Old Havana and family. The hotel concierge asked us where we were going. He explained that because it was further away and not in the city centre it would be hard to get a cab back. He suggested that the driver wait there for us and we agreed on a price. He then translated all this to the cabbie. It was a great system and quite frankly the airport should adopt it. It was so much easier. We had a quiet drive, not sure if the radio was broken or just off. I regretted (again) not bringing my iPod with me. The irony is that I had carried it around all day yesterday. And only last night did I unpack it thinking it unnecessary. It was stressful to see jaywalkers just stepping into the street, there was a moped just zigzagging between cars and cutting off a bus.

It was a nice-looking house, surrounded by greenery. The house was atop a hill and from the back you could look out over the trees and see Havana in the distance. The dining room had giant doors that opened onto the view. We could only peek into the house from three sides but we saw it all. We saw his typewriter, his war correspondent outfit, his alcohol bottles. There was a massive boar head above his desk and I imagined how intimidating it must be to write under such conditions. He even built himself a small tower, complete with telescope. The sign said that down the walkway there was a pool, cock-fighting ring and tennis courts. What it should have said is there’s Hemingway’s pool, his boat is where his tennis court used to be and there is not a trace (save for the sign) of the cock-fighting ring. It took us about 40 minutes to see everything. We had been told one hour. We went back to the map- did we miss something? Was there another museum building? We had missed the cock-fighting ring, as we turned back the lady asked for our tickets, we said we had already given them and amid the confusion she let us in. We backtracked, saw the sign and then left. It cost 1CUC to use the bathroom, except when I saw that the attendant had to go and pour a bucket of water into the toilet to flush it, I suddenly felt like it should really cost more than that. Brent had written down the cabby’s license plate and as we searched for it he asked me if I would recognize him. Of course not! I am bad with faces. Thankfully he recognized us.

Another quiet cab ride to Old Havana. He dropped us off near another entrance into Old Havana that was much more easily accessible to and from the Malecon. Yesterday we had to backtrack a bit and go down winding side streets because of construction. It did not help that the map kept losing signal. We walked over to Plaza des Armas to meet Camilla. Surely, on a Saturday they would have the second-hand book sale. Nope. I messaged her to instead meet us at Cafe Escorial, where I planned to buy Lucy some coffee and myself a tiny cup of coffee. By Plaza des Armas we saw the tiniest little kitten, it definitely had not been properly weaned and was so small and young and it just broke my heart, it should still have been with its mother. The only other animals around were three stray dogs. On the way we passed by cat park again and once again it was full, there were water bottles and bowls for the cats so at least they were somewhat taken care of. We got to the convent and still no word from Camilla. I remembered that there was a train car near there that had been used to transport an important person around the country (alas we could not go inside of it). So, we went to look at it and she met us there, while we hid out in the shade desperately drinking water.

I finally had my tiny cup of coffee and it made me so happy. It was so tiny I had to take a picture of it beside my camera for scale. It was a darker roast than I am used to and it was sprinkled with cinnamon. Camilla joined us for our mini-trip to the Presidential Palace, Adrian was still napping. On the way, Camilla pointed out Cafe Santo Domingo, saying it was one of the places her and Alexis liked going to. We had to make a pitstop. I needed a soda as well. The orange flavour of Ciego Monterro was not as good as the cola, it tasted like vitamin c tabs. Brent had the TropiCola which tasted less root-beery than TuKola and was better. We split a brownie (dry and more cake-like), chocolate covered donut (so good, soft & fresh), and a senorita (flaky pastry with nutty filling and a chocolate top akin to a napolonka). We came up to the Presidential Palace from the back and had to circle it to get to the entrance. The interior was beautiful with vaulted painted ceilings. It was also kind of starting to deteriorate, with painted chipping, which actually added to the beauty of it, the presence of time. The windows looked down over a horse statue on the lawn and you could see the ocean and the Malecon. In the distance we could hear thunder, it was not cars passing by as Brent kept insisting. We wandered through the exhibit out of order, by the time we realized it was too late to backtrack. I was more interested in the building itself than the Museum of Revolution part. It was interesting to see a museum exhibit done from a specific and biased point of view. It was also made very clear to me just how little I know about Cuba and its history.

There was more thunder and gathering crowds as we walked back to the convent. On the way we stopped into the $10-deodorant store (as Alexis had dubbed it) to see if they had any soda/water/beer for sale. Instead i got some nestle Bono chocolate cookies. I thought they were Cuban, nope they were from Paraguay. They were not good. Afterwards I remarked how cheap the rum was and how anxious I was about duty-free being open. Camilla mentioned having room in her luggage and offered to take a bottle for me. I nearly ran back to the store. I got a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Reserva for 8CUC (when I later looked it up, I was shocked at the LCBO price).

We went back to La Bogedita and squeezed past the crowd down a little hallway to the back of the bar where the restaurant was. There was almost no one back there. No sooner had we sat down and been given menus, the guy came back asking if we wanted mojitos. Yes please! It was so much better than the hotel one. They even printed the recipe on the menu! (I would later try making it home without the tools to muddle- it was awful!). The whole restaurant was covered in graffiti. It was funny to see near the top where only the tallest people could sign. The walls also had pictures of all the famous people who had visited. Periodically other tourists would pop in, but no one stayed, they just wanted pictures. The restaurant was known for the fried pork chunks but honestly the roast pork leg was way better. The cristianos and moros was also better than at the hotel. This time it had meat chunks in it. The fried root vegetables were also amazing.

The trouble was that we had just about finished our drinks by the time the food had arrived. No one asked our drink orders until the plates had been cleared. Brent tried to order a Cristal beer for himself and a Ron Collins for me. He asked for the bill at the same time which caused some confusion. The guy may have been asking if it was two beers, of course we assumed he was asking if it was two separate bills. He then said there was no Cristal, so Brent asked for any Cuban beer. He got a Carlsberg and I got nothing.
Instead we went back to the drink vendor. We had already visited him on our way to dinner to get some hotel drinks (2 beers for Brent, a lemon-lime Ciego Monterro for me). I needed more. I was dehydrated. We got a bottle of water and a pineapple Ciego Monterro. I felt better after and it was the best of the sodas so far. It tasted like candy. We had finished the giant bottle before we even met up with Camilla.

The coffee was in a flimsy paper bag in my purse, so of course it got a tear and spilled in my bag. Everything smelled like coffee, even more than the previous day. Thankfully I had an extra plastic bag in my purse. Walking back along the Malecon, all the fishermen were out in full force. I almost stepped on a fish that was flopping about, slowly dying, having probably jumped out of a bucket. Another man had caught a fish that was at least 2 feet tall (it was leaning against a wall, tail down). I was craving fresh-squeezed mango juice again and i was hoping the hotel might have some available in the cafe. They served it at breakfast so logically they should still have some kicking around all the time? Right? Nope. we did stock up on some more water. I could not believe how dehydrated I was. It goes without saying but still, i was shocked. It was frustrating that we couldn’t drink the tap water.

I showered and changed into my jammies once we were back in our room even though it was just after 6pm. I was tired, sweaty and still dehydrated. Now I was also getting a bit hungry, we’d had an early dinner. I got dressed again and went down to exchange some more money. The rum was so cheap, I needed to stock up at the airport. While I was “out” i also got us some more Mr. Potato chips, sour cream & onion flavour this time. I found them a bit off, they were like 85% of the way there to real Pringles but Brent was loving them- he’d had them before in the Philippines. When I was buying water from the cafe, I chanced on one of my most brilliant ideas yet: the cafe provided room service, which includes cocktails. I casually asked if I could order a cocktail and take it to my room, leaving the glass there for the cleaning staff to return. The guy did not seem to care, I don’t know if this was just a common request or he had no idea what I was saying. Either way, I was finally getting my Ron Collins (like a Tom Collins but rum instead of gin) fix. I came back into the room juggling all three, with a victorious smile on my face. IT WORKED I thought to myself smugly. I was a genius. The Ron Collins was so good, just lemon, sugar, soda water and rum. Between that and the chips, it really hit the spot. There was nothing on TV so I played Mario while Brent read. We had a relatively early bedtime anyways, seeing as we would be getting up at 4am to head to the airport.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2019 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

Havana Weekender- Day 2

Havana Weekender- Day 2

Fri. July 5, 2019:
Havana, Cuba:

I woke up at 7am because Brent was fidgeting with the air conditioner. Apparently, it was set to 10C and he was cold. In the bathroom I could hear a rooster crowing outside, it was way too early for any of this. I went back to bed and slept until after 9am but still woke up in time for hotel breakfast. I had no idea what to expect of the breakfast buffet. I certainly didn’t think that spaghetti would be on offer. Yet there was no bread and butter to go with the meats and cheeses. I stuck to my go-to: pastries and baked goods. The little vanilla donuts with crispy tops and soggy bottoms were oddly good given the state. The best part was the coffee. Can’t go wrong with a good cup of coffee. After breakfast we headed out onto the back terrace of the hotel. We walked to the edge of the property to see if we could get down to the Malecon. Nope, it was down a steep cliff and across a road. But we could see it. We also saw the giant Cuba sign on the edge of the property. It must have looked nice from down below. We also spotted a peacock hanging around behind one of the outdoor restaurants.

When we initially told my sister and her husband that we were going to walk to Old Havana they balked at the idea and told us to take a taxi. We waved them off. A 40minute walk is nothing for us. The heat and humidity? Id been to Florida in July, two years ago we did Georgia and South Carolina in May- it would be fine. You forget how exhausting the heat and humidity and sharp sun are. Even at 10am we were sweating. It did not help that the first half of the walk we were headed in the direction of the sun, it was just glaring. We also didn’t have any water, mistakenly thinking we could just pick some up in a shop along the way. We also learned that jaywalking is not an easy task. We were trying to get across the street to the Malecon, the ocean-side sidewalk. We were on the lookout for San Lazano tower. Google said it was a point of interest. Off in the distance I could see something tower/statue looking. I focused on that, I just had to get there. Except before we got to it, we saw a small stone (cement?) tower. It was just a cylinder by the side of the park near the road. Google lied. It was not interesting at all.

We were such tourists, Brent in his Hawaiian print shirt, me in my tropical floral maxi dress. A tour bus stopped for us, except it was going in the opposite direction!! A guy ran across the street, dodging cars, just to offer us a horse carriage ride. No thank you, we said. And just as quickly he ran back across. It was disconcerting watching locals jaywalk. They went lane by lane, often standing in the road waiting for it to clear, or else just running for it. That was pretty much the entire walk: guys striking up a conversation about the Blue Jays (Brent was wearing Jays hat) and then offering us a tour or a taxi. The trick was to not stop walking, be friendly but keep walking and say no thank you.

On the way into Old Havana we passed by La Bogedita. It was on Brent’s list: have a mojito and order the pork. It was famous for inventing/perfecting the mojito and because Hemingway drank mojitos there. Appropriate to the celebrity status: there was a huge crowd spilling to the sidewalk outside. We would try again later in the day. At Plaza De Catedral we got to peek inside the cathedral and the view from the lobby was good enough that we didn’t feel we needed to pay admission to tour the place. Our plaza tour continued with a stop at the Municipal Plaza followed by the Plaza Des Armas. There was no second-hand book sale going on at Armas but we were debating coming back the next day. As I was photographing the fountain, a guy approached Brent and quick-sketched him and then offered to sell it to him for 3CUC. It was a funny drawing; his chin just had a bunch of lines on it for the beard. We happened on the parade my sister had told us about by chance. A dog joined in and was barking like mad at the people on stilts, he followed along as they went- bark bark barking. Somewhere around the time we got into Old Havana we saw a drink vendor and we made a quick detour. Brent had a beer, I had a TuKola (it tasted like Coca-Cola mixed with Dr Pepper and root beer) and most importantly: we got a giant 1.5L bottle of water. I chugged that soda so fast.

The heat and humidity were getting to me, I was feeling groggy and getting grumpy. I had worn my GAP slides because the forecast called for rain and there was no way I was going to get my leather sandals soaked. I had totally forgotten that by “rain” they probably meant Florida-style not Toronto-style. A quick burst which would immediately start drying. The cobblestones were not my friend. The offers of taxi rides had subsided now that we were in Old Havana. They had been replaced by offers from restaurants. Free wi-fi is not as enticing if you’re roaming and can use your phone as you would at home. We passed a small park that was FULL of stray cats. We had already passed 1-2 stray cats sitting around in front of shops or wandering but I had no idea just how prevalent they were. I was overwhelmed. I wanted to scoop them all up and take them home. There were at least six cats in this park alone. One was munching on a fish head while three others looked on. Two others were lounging in the shade. Another was laying smack in the middle of the sidewalk.

Our next stop was Café Escorial in Plaza Vieja. I had read about it in Lonely Planet, the recommendation was confirmed by my brother-in-law’s mother. I was psyched. The plan was to buy coffee to take home. It did not occur to me to have a pitstop and actually drink a cup. That is just how braindead I was (lack of sleep combined with the sun/heat). We were near where my sister was saying but she wasn’t answering her phone so we continued on. We walked over to look at El Capitolio. It was a beautiful building unfortunately marred by restoration work on the domed roof. It was totally modelled after American capitol buildings. At this point the air was so thick with humidity, you could tell it was going to rain. It had to, it could not be this humid and not rain. We paid for admission to both sections (national and international) of the Museum des Belles Arts without realizing it was two separate buildings and that the international one was down the road. It was only when we finished the first building and realized it had all been Cuban artists. The collection was bigger than I’d expected and very varied. I actually enjoyed the modern art because it was so small a selection. I liked the paintings by Tomas Sanchez the most. It was also really great to be inside away from the sun and in the AC. Refreshed and with only half a bottle of water left (it was that hot) we went back to La Bogedita to try our luck again. It was still really busy, so we sidled up to the bar in the tiny opening and ordered mojitos. The guy was a mojito-making machine. He would line up 10 glasses and just pour into all of them in a row. I wondered how many mojitos he must make in a day. It was kind of fun to be surrounded by other tourists all doing the same thing. We reached peak tourist moment then.

We slowly made our way over to the convent where my sister and co. were staying. Just as we got there the rain started up. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly. We sat on wicker rocking chairs on an outdoor covered terrace in the hall, Adrian had command of the room for his nap. I had brought Camilla the Bulk Barn snacks as requested and now we just tore into them. Except for the yogurt-covered pretzels. Those had not fared so well in my bag and the heat turned them into one melted blob. The heat did, however, improve the Reese’s pieces. Oh man were they good with their soft melty centres. We had about an hour or so to get ready for the baptism, plenty of time to rest our feet and drink more water. My feet were so swollen, sweaty and dirty, I ended up washing them in the sink. Eventually it was time for the baptism boy to wake up. It was cute watching him groggily process that his aunt and uncle randomly appeared in the time he had been napping.

We milled around the convent courtyard while friends and family trickled in. I did not expect so many people to be there. I had to wear a shirt to cover my exposed shoulders and man was I sweating bad. It was a nice short service in the convent chapel. I didn’t understand anything except the word for water and I recognized when they started the Our Father Prayer. Apparently, the priest had made some jokes that everyone found hilarious. The nuns had made fresh-squeezed mango juice for us for a mini-reception afterwards. Adrian loved it, he chugged a whole glass, only stopping momentarily for air. I agreed, it was delicious and it left me forever after craving fresh-squeezed mango juice. I even briefly toyed with the idea of buying a juicer when we got home.

Afterwards we all headed out together to Helad’oro, an ice cream place that had opened in 2016 and was recommended in Lonely Planet. We ran into one of Alexis’s friends but as they were chatting, I got distracted by a nearby cat. Just as I had setup my shot, some people walked right into it. I was ready to turn around and be all like can you believe these people to Brent… when I realized it was they who had walked into my shot. They continued on, assuming I’d join them but I fell behind still trying to photograph the cat. I did manage a great photo of them having a confused discussion. I was surprised at how good the ice cream was, and doubly surprised that they had my beloved Speculoos. Camilla and Alexis had ordered theirs in a cup and they were served their ice cream in little plastic drinks cups which amused me for some unknown reason. We walked back to Plaza de Catedral to eat our ice cream. Adrian wanted to pet a stray cat, the cat wanted the ice cream, there was a bit of confusion and worry. But most importantly I got more great photos.

Brent and I walked to El Floridita bar. Setting a new benchmark for most tourist-y activity of the day. Inside was jam-packed with tourists. Once again, we had Hemingway to thank. This time the drink was daiquiris. The condensed menu just listed daiquiris 6CUC. What flavours?! All around I could see red and white ones. The lady beside us ordered one strawberry, one banana so naturally we copied her order. Except as Brent was ordering I noticed the fuller menu. We could’ve had better flavours! Instead we had a daiquiri in each other’s most hated flavours. So, we only traded a sip. Despite the citrus-y note, it still tasted of banana. The blenders in the bar were just constantly going, but they were actually drowned out by the live band that was playing. Once again, we were squeezed into an impossibly small spot by the bar with barely any room to move.

It was a long, slow, hot walk back to the hotel. I was tired and hazy. All the fishermen from the morning were gone and there was hardly anyone on the Malecon. Even the small sardines that had littered the ground were gone. We took a short rest break in the hotel while I scrambled to empty my foggy brain into my travel notebook. I gave up after finishing Thursday’s entry. I was too hungry to function. We wandered around the hotel to scope out all of our food options. We found a little shop where I got some Malaysian Pringles called Mr. Potato. We finally settled on the outdoor restaurant with the peacock in back. They had ropa vieja and moros and cristianos. Both items from the 1001 Foods book. I ordered the slow-roasted-pit pork. How could I not? They had a statue of a pig on a spit outside! The dishes came with three sides: bean soup (it was just beans, not soup at all), rices and cristianos and moros which was basically just a mix of a different type of rice and beans. To drink I had a Papa Hemingway cocktail (lemon, rum and maraschino cherry) which really hit the spot. It was odd that we were not offered water or a dessert menu. As dinner was winding down one of the peahens (we determined over the course of dinner that there were two peacocks and two peahens) jumped onto the fence near the table behind us. She got shooed away and flew up to the tent over the restaurant. We could hear her scratching around walking up above us. At least they had quieted down. During dinner they were so loud, just screaming at each other. One of the peacocks was chasing a peahen, first she sped-walked away from him. So, he picked up the pace, even sticking his neck out in front. So, she started to run and threatened to fly away.

After dinner we wanted to get a drink from one of the other hotel bars and walk the grounds but apparently each of the outdoor hotel bars had a seating area and they bring the drink to you. We wandered around, found the nice pool and eventually watched the sunset over the ocean and the Malecon. It was a beautiful sunset but hard to photograph because of all the damn street lights. On the way to the elevators we passed the front desk and the lady was drinking a tiny cup of coffee and it so made my day. Back in the hotel room we actually hit up the minibar. One: it was relatively cheap compared to what we were used to, but two (more importantly): we had such limited options. I had another TuKola, this time I added some 3-Year Havana Club for a true Cuba libre cocktail. I was (again) surprised at how many TV channels we got. At first there was nothing on so we just kept flipping channels hoping something would change. In the end I was able to watch 13 Going on 30 with no commercials- much to the detriment of my writing.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2019 in 1001 Foods, Travel

 
 
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