Sunday, April 24, 2016

Art for Earth Day

I'm a little late getting my post up but had to share a few colorful and creative examples of recycling.

While in Isla Holbox I spotted several items that had been repurposed. One photo I can't find was a wall of canning jars so if I find it I will add that photo this post. The jars were painted and mounted on wood frames and had a single seashell mounted on the front of each jar. It was a beautiful wall that made a striking impact as you entered the hotel reception area.

I hope you enjoy these examples. Let's keep reusing and repurposing!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Holbox Mexico and its Unexpected Treasure

Two weeks ago my son and his wife held their wedding celebration in Holbox. It was such an adventure to have members of our families from 4 continents fly into Cancun, make a two hour drive to the city of Chiquila and then take the ferry to the beautiful island of Holbox.

Before meeting my daughter-in-law I'd never heard of Holbox but these days it seems like it's making headlines regularly as one of Mexico's best kept secrets - a real paradise.

There are a few things to know before you go to Holbox.The ATM never has any money available so you have to bring cash. No big banking here. It's a safe place. We were told that if anyone commits a crime, one can expect to face public humiliation and then banishment for life. I'm not sure if that is true but it makes for a good story. There are no cars on the island which means there are no paved roads.  Even in the rain, you get around by riding in taxis that look like this.
But there is GREAT food, lots of friendly people, a town if you want to be around civilization but plenty of quiet at the beach if you want to leave the noise behind. The best part about Holbox is the natural beauty. You really do lose track of time.

It was great having a big group come together to celebrate the marriage of son and daughter-in-law and we made the most of our time with dining on the beach, rooftop happy hours, shopping, swimming, visiting and taking in the beauty of this island.

Half price cocktails every day from 5-6 AND THERE IS A POOL ON THE ROOFTOP!

Hammocks over the water. Just right for reading and napping

So many great shops!!!

Fresh catch of the day at Raices

But one of the best moments for me was spending time with my granddaughter Miah and having time to visit.

Miah: Jojo, we are on vacation and it is beautiful here but not everyone here lives in such a beautiful place.
Me: You are right, Miah. What made you think about that?
Miah: When we were driving here we passed a lot of houses and I could see inside. Some of the people don't have beds.

I was deeply touched by her thoughts. There are many treasures to be found on Isla Holbox but I think I found the pearl.

Thank you Miah.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hotels - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I enjoy various types of hotel experiences but every now and then unexpected and sometimes memorable things happen. Maybe the hotel I booked wasn't quite what I was expecting or somehow things just went wrong.   Most of the time these adventures end up being part of my vacation story because they can be both remarkable and memorable. For instance my kids still talk about the family vacation when we were staying outside of Boston and ended up in a room with soaking wet carpet and ants.  The most memorable part of the story was that the manager of the hotel was mad about having to move us. So strange.

Then there was the time we were staying at the historic Hilltop House Hotel in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and the staff kept talking about the ghosts. The hotel was amazing and had the most extraordinary views but my kids were terrified. None of us slept a wink but we've never forgotten being able to stay in a haunted hotel. Apparently they have closed this hotel and what a shame.  It is a beautiful location with lots of history (and ghosts)!
From the Portfolio Photoseek website
Then I had my own fear of ghosts when traveling to LA.  I was trying to stay at a reasonably priced hotel near where we were holding a conference and I was so excited to have found the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel.  It is a beautiful and a lot of exhibits so that guests can learn more about the history.  If you love old Hollywood there's lots to enjoy.  And they have ghosts.  Not just one, but many, and after hearing that the Black Dahlia walks the stairwell, that was it.  I moved every piece of furniture in front of my door to block out any unwanted guests and of course I never slept that night either.

India was one of my most favorite places to visit. Ever. In India our accommodations covered a range of places - from home stays to a 5-star, depending on the city.  But there was one place we are not likely to ever forget - Don't Worry Chicken Curry.  It is the scariest place I've ever stayed. The location of the hotel was creepy, the hotel was not at all what it appeared to be on the website (the website has been revised I see) and the staff was insulting to our guide.  Scary, creepy, poor accommodations and rude. Worst. Hotel. Ever.  And I was ever so thankful we made it through the night. Again, no sleep.

Soggy towels, no toiletries, air conditioning out of order and this was the toilet paper provided. It was too scary to open the window so we toughed it out but it was scary!
This fall while in Morocco we stayed in the strangest place. Nice but strange.  Most of our trip we stayed in gorgeous riads but then there was one hotel we stayed where we could be close to the sea.  We got an upgrade when we checked in and it sounded great, but it had the strangest decor. The place had a living room, a bar, a balcony, multiple rooms but all with the weirdest decor. I couldn't stop taking photos.

It's wonderful when everything on a trip goes as planned, right?  After all, it is a vacation and a time to relax and enjoy. But over the years I've learned that some of these weird hotel adventures add to the travel memories and sometimes make the trip even more memorable.

I'm very grateful for TripAdvisor.  I'm a level 5 contributor and I'm always grateful to travelers who share their experiences - good and bad. What travel forum do you use when you plan a trip?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sorbet Anyone? A Royal Dessert

In January my husband reminded me that an exhibit at the High Museum of Art would soon be closing and he wanted to have the chance to see it.  It was such an odd thing for him to mention. He generally does not enjoy museums and in fact when we travel together I carefully plan our itinerary to include museum visits in small doses.  So what was the exhibit?  Habsburg Splendor, a collection of masterpieces, costumes and objet d’art from the Habsburg dynasty.  I love the High Museum of Art and I maintain a membership there so of course I jumped at the opportunity to enjoy a night at the museum.

What an interesting exhibit and there were several items of interest but the one item that captivated me and my husband was a centerpiece for sorbets.  Various sea shells including bonnet snail shells were made into cameo serving pieces. The piece was in a case but I did my best to get photos. Can you imagine what it took to make this item?  I wonder how many shells were broken in the process.  

Official photo from the High Museum

I was on the floor looking up to capture the cameo on the underneath part of the shell. 
Nearly everyone was captivated by this item.
Just a few weeks after our trip to the museum my husband and I visited Versailles.  It was our first time to visit and in some ways I was disappointed.  It seemed so plain and I couldn’t figure out if it seemed plain because Hollywood has glamourized the life and times of Marie Antoinette or had my visit to Peterhof Palace minimized my view?  I’m not really sure but I’m happy that we finally had a chance visit Versailles. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Do you like saffron?   The only saffron I’d ever had before going to Morocco was saffron rice which I’m sure I enjoyed but I had no knowledge about the harvesting or value of saffron until our trip.  
The farmer's field. Saffron (crocuses) grow underneath the almond trees.
During part of our travels we drove through an area where the argon trees grow. (And then you start seeing goats in the trees but that’s another story)!  Eventually we entered an area where there were also a lot of almond trees growing. Our guide asked us if we were interested in stopping for a cup of tea. 
A typical pouring of the tea - with showmanship
We stopped in a tiny farming community at a country store and our guide explained to us that we were in a farming community where they grow saffron.  We missed the harvest season by a week. At this small farm a group of seven women had already picked the flowers and harvested the saffron. When the flowers are ready to be picked they only have a couple of days to remove the saffron threads from the blossoms.
Can you see the small threads?

I love the purple color of the blossoms
Saffron is expensive.  In fact it is the world's most expensive spice.  One pound of saffron can cost as much as $5000 and tt takes approximately 150,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron.  That is a lot of flowers! The little roadside store where we stopped for tea employees 7 neighbors to come help with the picking and harvesting of the spice so this is big business and an important part of this community's local economy.
Saffron for purchase
In addition to learning about the process of growing saffron the local farmer’s wife offered us saffron tea.  It was delicious and sweetened with local honey. 

I’m sure I enjoy many foods with a limited understanding of the efforts of farmers but in the future I’ll be a lot more excited about saffron when I see it on the menu.