Jul 29, 2014

A luxury eco-resort in Honduras - Las Cascadas


Several years ago when we were in Honduras, John and I stopped to see a new luxury ecolodge outside of La Ceiba called Las Cascada Lodge.  I fell in love with it.  It is nestled in the rainforest surrounded by trees and flowers. The rooms, there are only three of them, have a view of the jungle waterfalls. There are several cascading falls each with a small pool at the bottom that is big enough to swim in. The hotel also has a swimming pool. I always
wanted to stay there and finally this time we did. Everything about the lodge is first rate including the construction which makes use of natural materials. I walked up the well-built stone steps and crossed the short wooden bridge to the second level and luxuriated in the pool. I tried to image it during the rainy season when the waterfalls and pools have more water but even so it was wonderful swimming surrounded by the rainforest.  I went in the pool below the lower falls too. We were the only people at the lodge it was serene. Olvin was our personal chef.  

In the morning Olvin made us a traditional Honduran breakfast: Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs ranch style) with refried beans, cheese, Honduran spicy sausages called “chorizo” and tortillas. Of course, Honduras coffee is a must.  I find Honduras coffee very smooth and the caffeine doesn’t seem to bother me. I watched Olvin make the eggs and thought he had the easiest method I had ever seen. 

Huevos Rancheros
1 tomato
Half of a green chili
4 cloves of garlic
3 small sprigs of cilantro
1/4 white onion
Salt to desire
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp salsa
1/2 tsp habenero pepper (optional)
A bit of sugar
Black pepper

Place all the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.
Seasonings can be adjusted to personal taste.  Pour into a sauce pan add a little Tabasco sauce if desired. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add eggs, cover and cook for about 20 minutes until eggs are cooked. 

After breakfast a nother couple checked in and headed out on a river rafting trip on the nearby Congreal River. Olvin served us a wonderful lunch after which Ryan, the General Manager, took a group on a Waterfalls Descents and Canyoning Tour. Their trial descent was on the waterfalls just in front of the lodge.  It looked like a lot of fun. Las Cascadas is for sale what a wonderful family compound it would make.

John and I hated to leave but we wanted to check out another
place – La Ensenada Resort near Tela, and only 75 minutes from the airport in San Pedro Sula. The resort is an all-inclusive and similar to Palma Real Resort near La Ceiba but not as extensive; however it is only seven years old so there are expansion plans.  The resort was excellent with a
great pool, long beach, well-appointed rooms, and the buffet meals were very good. I think all trips should end with “me” time so I spent my time around the pool. The resort is busy on weekends but virtually empty during the week.  My husband visited Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, which is one of the largest tropical botanical gardens in the world.  It was established in 1926 by United Fruit Company to see what fruit and hardwood trees would be best for Honduras. 

Jul 21, 2014

Enjoying Honduras' Banana Coast

The area around Trujillo, Honduras is being promoted as the Ban
ana Coast which is much more marketable than the area just to the east called The Mosquito Coast. However, the name “mosquito’ refers to the Native Americans who lived in the area not the insect of which there are many.  

Trujillo is an interesting place.  It is where Christopher Columbus first stepped foot on the mainland of the Americas and where O. Henry hid out while a fugitive from justice. His book, “Cabbages and Kings,” describes Trujillo in the late 1800s and it has not changed all the much since the book was published in 1904. One of the lesser known Trujillo personalities is William Walker, an
American who between 1853 and 1860 made several attempts to take over territories in Mexico and Central America. For a short time he was the self-proclaimed president of The Republic of Sonora in Mexico. Next he invaded Nicaragua and captured the city of Granada, where he named himself president of Nicaragua in 1856. He was run out by Costa Rican forces in 1857.  In 1860 he was arrested by the British in Honduras and turned over to Honduran authorities, who tried, convicted and executed him. The spot where he was executed and this burial site are tourist attractions. 

We have been to Trujillo many times and on our recent trip we
were pleased to see that things are finally being spruced up for the expected influx of tourists arriving on cruise ships beginning in October.  The area has had a hard time recovering from the 1998 hurricane. 



When we visit Trujillo we stay at a friend’s beautiful house in agated community high on a hill above Trujillo Bay near the small Garifuna village of Santa Fe.  Casa Alta or Casa 17 is the ultimate getaway. The three-bedroom house has all the modern conveniences, a pool and a sweeping porch with hammocks.  Ah, the good life away from everything.  

One of the shore tours that will be available to cruise people will be a fun experience playing in the natural pools and waterfalls on the Rio Grande River between Trujillo and Santa Fe.  After a refreshing swim guests are then treated to a traditional Garifuna meal of Sopa de Pescado (fish soup) with Muchuca (plantains). The staff kindly shared the recipes.


Sopa de Pescado 
4 cups fish stock (chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted)
2 crushed cloves of Garlic
one diced sweet pepper 
salt and other seasonings to taste
1 cubed yucca (or potato)
1 sliced onion 
1 cup coconut milk
1 or 2 fish (The Garifuna use red snapper but any fish will do).

1. To the fish stock add onions, sweet pepper, salt, and any desired spices.  Give it a little kick with jalapeƱo peppers. Add yucca (or potatoes), sliced onions, and coconut milk. Cook until the yucca is tender.
2. Cut fish in half, score. Bread with light crumbs. 
3. Fry the fish.
Place fish in a bowl. Pour the soup over it. Serve with machuca on the side with a few slices of lemon. 

Machuca
2 yellow plantain – peeled and cubed
2 green plantain – peeled and cubed
¼ teaspoon salt 
2 Tbs grated coconut

1. Boil the plantain with salt until soft.
2. Add coconut. Mash together until similar to mash potatoes. Traditionally it is mashed African style with long wooden pestle in a wooden mortar. Serve on the side with the fish soup.

Jul 14, 2014

Visiting Lincoln, Nebraska

When Nebraska became a state in 1867, Lincoln became the capital of Nebraska instead of Omaha, the territorial capital. Today the city is a destination with art, nature, history, and a myriad of things to enjoy. 

1.The Capitol: Rising from the boxlike base is the 400-foot Tower of the Plains topped by a 19-foot bronze “The Sower.” It is the second tallest U.S. state capitol. Don’t miss the panoramic view from the top of the tower. Inside, there are mosaic floors, paintings, and murals depicting the Native American and pioneers heritage. 
2. History Museum: The museum boasts 10,000 years of history.
The First Nebraskans section depicts their clothing, food, pottery and a Pawnee earth lodge circa 1865. Explore Nebraska’s road to statehood with its pitfalls and successes along the way including Nebraska’s complicated position in the Civil War and the impact the Homestead Act had on the state’s development. 
3. Art: The Sheldon Museum of Art extensive collection includes works of art by Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. Great Plains Art Museum is a treasure trove of art depicting life on the plains. The Kiechel Fine Arts Gallery specializes in contemporary and 20th century Regionalism art. 
4. Gardens:  Don’t miss the Sunken Gardens. It was a
Depression-era project that turned a dumpsite into beautiful gardens with ponds and sculptures. It was completely renovated in 2005. Outside the Sheldon Museum of Art the gardens are dotted with outstanding sculptures. The University of Nebraska has more than two dozen garden areas that show off the best plants for Nebraska.
5. Live Arts: The Lied Center for Performing Arts is the place for Broadway musicals, country singers, jazz musicians, and international dance groups.  Haymarket Theater and Nebraska Youth Theater offer excellent high-quality productions featuring local students.  The Zoo Bar is a blues nightclub styled around the Chicago blues clubs. 
6. Lincoln Children’s Zoo: The zoo is fun and educational for
the young and young at heart.  The zoo has a wide variety of mammals, reptiles, and insects with many learning experiences. Learn how to lure a butterfly to your finger, pet a lizard, watch the seals perform and get close to a white-handed gibbon. 
7. Sports: Be part of a ‘red out’ by donning a red Cornhuskers T-shirt and root for the home team at Memorial Stadium. Watch your favorite sport event of the unique Cube, a huge LED set of screens, in the Railyard. Tee off at one of the golf courses or rent a bike to explore the miles of trails in the local parks.
8. The Haymarket: The historic district is a one-stop destination
for shopping and dining. The revitalized area is an eight-block area that includes many historic warehouses and the Lincoln Railroad Station that are now home to trendy shops and great places to eat from quick bites to fine dining.
9. Unique: Check out the unique attractions. In the Haymarket District visit Licorice International featuring ‘everything licorice.’ At the American Museum of Speed with historic competition vehicles on display and an amazing collection of automobilia.  The International Quilt Museum has one of the world’s largest collections with more than 4,000 quilts.

10. Day trips: Use Lincoln as a base and visit the Arbor Day Farm and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. Don’t miss the historic village of Brownville, Indian Cave State Historical Park in Shubert, and Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice. 

Jul 11, 2014

Things to do in the Fox Cities, Wisconsin

John and I enjoy visiting places that – to us – seem off the beaten path. The Fox Cities make up the third largest metropolitan area of Wisconsin. The small towns in the Fox Cities area have traditional main streets with a plethora of things to enjoy.  Think of it as “life in a slow lane.”  We stayed at the Holiday Inn and garnered points for future stays.  

Here are some things to do:
1.Shopping: Looking for something new or something old or
something unique, then you will surely find it at the Fox River Mall called “Wisconsin’s Shopping Place” with more than 180 retailers, or the Harp Gallery dubbed “Wisconsin’s Best Antique Store,” or the unique shops in the downtowns of Appleton, Neenah, and Menasha. 
2. Museums: The History Museum at the Castle has an excellent
hands-on Houdini exhibit that shares some of the great magician’s secrets. The Hearthstone House, which had the best of everything, was the first home in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. The Museum of Glass has an impressive collection of paper weights – a personal favorite.


3. Science: The Barlow Planetarium is a world-class facility with
a 48-foot projection dome and star projector. Interactive keypads at each seat allows for audience participation in the shows. Next door is the Weis Earth Science Museum where visitors can learn about “The Restless Earth” with a focus on Wisconsin’s mineral heritage and mining history.
4. Nature: Enjoy nature on the eight miles of trails at the Gordon
Bubloz Nature Preserve. Or, hike the Red Bird Trail at High Cliff State Park located on the shores of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin’s largest inland lake. The hike features the Winnebago Indian Chief Red Bird statue, a 40-foot observation tower, and panoramic views.
5. Chocolate: Chocolate sweetens any trip. Take a tour of the
family-owned Vande Walle’s Candies and don’t leave without trying the Angelfood Candy.  At Wilmar Chocolate you can “Build Your Own Bar” by opting to include such unique ingredients as cayenne pepper, ginger and sea salt. Both confectioners are passionate about their quality products. John’s favorite.
6. Sports: Enjoy a baseball game at the Fox Cities Stadium, home
of the Timber Rattlers, a Class A minor league team where Alex Rodriguez made his debut. The High Cliffs Golf Course is just one place in the area to tee off.  There is also the Appleton Family Ice Center, the Fox Valley Roller Rink plus boating and fishing. 

7. Iconic Wisconsin: Wisconsin is renowned for cheese so no trip
is complete without a visit to Simon’s Specialist Cheese Store to try their cheese curds and chocolate cheese. To learn about the Wisconsin’s paper industry visit the Paper Discovery Center with many hands-on displays but don’t leave without making your one piece of paper.
8. The Arts: The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center presents
Broadway shows and other world-class shows in their state-of-the-art theater.  Get in touch with your creative side at the Fire Art Studio where they offer pottery painting, jewelry making and more. The Trout Museum of Art has an eclectic mix of artwork.  

9. Time out: Stone Cellar Brew Pub and the Appleton Beer
Factory both serve great locally made beer along with fun food. For oenophiles head to Kerrigan Brothers Winery and tour their wine making facility then relax on their patio. For unique dining experiences check out Ione’s Dining Room at Fox Valley Tech College and Vince Lombardi’s Steakhouse.
10.Special events: Check FoxCities.org for more information and
special events that range from Ladies Day Downtown complete with fashion show and freebies to Thursday Afternoon at the Movies to Iron Man Competitions.



Accommodations: There are many great places to stay including
the Best Western, Residence Inn, Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn. Remember to sign up for their customer loyalty program for added benefits. 

Jun 26, 2014

Cooperstown Dreams Park

Cooperstown is famed as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The attractive village has many attractions including the Glimmerglass Opera, the Farmers’ Museum, and the Fenimore Art Museum.

What caught me by surprise was the Cooperstown Dreams Park. The baseball team our grandson plays on in Las Vegas was invited to play at the Dreams Park; of course, my husband and I had to go to watch. It was an amazing experience.  I could not believe that I had never heard of it since it has been in operation since 1996. Each week for 13 weeks 104 teams arrive from all over the United States and a few from Canada to play baseball. With the team come the families and friends – what an amazing benefit to the economy of the area and New York State; some visitors extend their stay to visit other parts of the state. 


The Dreams Park is a slick operation providing an unforgettable
baseball experience for players who are 12-years-old and younger. When the player arrives they check in with their coach to takes them to the barracks which is off limits to everyone but the team and coaches including parents. The players are housed, fed, and supervised inside the player’s compound. This leaves the families free to explore the Cooperstown area between games. The week starts with an opening ceremony with a long talk by Lou Presutti, the owner and founder. Dreams Park is the realization of his life-long dream. The
mission is to “serve, play and protect baseball as it was meant to be played.” Coach Presutti does things the old-fashioned way with very strict rules including a dress code: no cap on backwards, no droopy pants, and shirts must be tucked in with a two-game suspension for those who don’t follow the rules. Uniforms – red and blue to distinguish the home team from the away team - are provided along with many other things. All the uniforms are washed every night. About 100
parents are selected from the stands to participate in the ceremony. Mothers in pink t-shirts dance to “New York,  the fathers  in blue sing “YMCA” and both sing patriotic songs. People are honored, staff is introduced and the evening ends with two flag-carrying skydivers land on the field.


The next three days are filled with games at 8:30, 11, 1:45, 4:30 and 7 on all 22 fields. Each team plays two games a day.  My grandson hit several homeruns. The grounds crew fetches the ball and gives to the player which then can be taken to the engraving shop with the event immortalized forever.  Even though the participation fee for each play is hefty there is free entry into the park and playing fields, and there is no price grouching at the food, photography, and souvenir stands.  


Part of the experience is trading team-logo pins. It was a great making-friends activities and sisters of the ball players loved helping out the players by running from dugout to dugout to trade pins. Players received a ring during the closing ceremony. 

Accommodations for can be pricey. My son rented a rustic two-bedroom cottage on nearby Arnold Lake only 15 minutes away from Dreams Park that was a perfect place to swim and fish. Some of the Las Vegas people visited to fish and swim with comments like “I can’t get over how green everything is!” 

Jun 23, 2014

Two Do Not Miss Attractions in Beijing

The Great Wall of China is not a continuous wall but a number of
sections built over a long period of time.  If all the sections are included in the length it would span about 13,600 miles. There are conflicting reports on whether or not the Wall was seen from the Moon with most people saying it was not. I would be inclined to agree. The wall, while massive, is a long thin line. We visited the Great Wall on our first trip in the 1990s. On our recent visit to Beijing John and I
decided to visit a different section of the wall. The Mutianyu section is touted as less visited than the Badaling section. The Mutianyu section had a cable car which I thought would eliminate a lot of climbing. We booked an English-speaking day tour with Gray Line. It was a drizzly day with low clouds so when we got to the first stop which was the Olympic Village the views of the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, the iconic buildings used during the Olympics, were underwhelming. 


I thought the experience at the wall was going to be a big
disappointment because of the weather but when we arrived at Mutianyu the skies had cleared and the weather was beautiful. I thought the presence of a cable car meant no walking and no stairs.  I was wrong. From the parking lot it was an uphill climb past vendors and then some stairs to the cable car.  The ride up to the wall on the cable car afforded a view of the wall and treed countryside. There were some more steps but the views and the wall were impressive.  Some people walked to the other watchtowers.  Some of the able-bodied adventurous people climbed up and then whizzed down on a toboggan.  There is also a camel ride available. Interestingly, the wall was built to stop invading armies but it never did.  Is there a lesson to be learned from this?

On the way back we stopped for a Chinese-style lunch in a very nice alfresco restaurant. Chinese meals are served family-style on a Lazy Susan and everyone helps themselves. The meal was excellent.  The last stop was at a tea shop, and, yup, we could have bought all sorts of tea.  Many people did but we did not.


The other must-do in Beijing is visiting the Forbidden City. We
visited the last time but it is always impressive. For about 500 years the Forbidden City was the home of the emperors and closed to the public. Today it is home to the Palace Museum and listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved wooden structures in the world. There are tours but we just walked from the main entrance through the entire length to
the tranquil gardens.  The buildings are beautiful. Every day there are a lot of visitors. There are guides and audio guides but we just walked slowly and read the signs.  A good movie for people planning to visit Beijing is the “The Last Emperor” about Puyi, the last emperor of China. He became emperor when he was two. When the People's Republic of Chna was established in 1949 Puyi was imprisoned as a war criminal. When he was finally released he worked as a gardener and lived as a private citizen.  Life has some interesting turns. I never thought I’d visit Beijing – twice.