Aug 25, 2014

A Chocolate Walking Tour of Boston

Whenever John and I visit a new area we check to see if they havefree tours, Global Greeters, culinary experiences and/or chocolate tours.  While the culinary experience and chocolate tours are not free they add an interesting facet to our travels.  When we were in Boston we signed up for the Back Bay Chocolate tour offered by Boston Chocolate Tours, (www.bostonchocolatetours.com). It is just one of their tours.  They also offer shopping that includes chocolate stops and cupcake tours.  It is all yummy. 

The Back Bay area is a trendy area lined with unique shops, popular restaurants, and Victorian architecture.  It was once an area that had stagnant pools of tidal water and horse stables. The bay was filled in and the surrounding area developed in the late 1800s.  It is now compared to 5th Avenue in New York City. It is a great area for a walkabout even without the chocolate as the area is home to Copley Square, the Prudential Center and the Public Library. 

On Saturday morning, the only day of the week the tour is offered,
we met at Hotel Chocolat, a trendy European cocoa grower who manages the production of chocolate from bean to bar. The tour group is limited to 16 but our group was smaller. There was a group of young ladies who were just starting a long day of fun things to do with and for the soon-to-be bride.  There was also a married couple and the tour was a birthday gift for the wife – what a “sweet” idea. The others were just chocolate lovers. 

After we gathered in the private tasting area of Hotel Chocolat we learned about the production of chocolate from bean to the bar.  Inside the large cocoa pod are the chocolate beans surrounded by a white mucous substance. Chocolate only grows in the tropics and the children in that area suck on the seeds calling them “poor-people M&Ms.” Interestingly, the shells are now being marketed for making tea instead of throwing them away.  Hot water is poured over them creating a refreshing energy-boosting tea.  After the informative chat and a melt-in-your mouth dark chocolate truffle we headed out on the leisurely 2.5 hour, 1 mile walk, but first we stopped outside Hotel Chocolat for a cupcake – chocolate, of course.  A great way to promote their chocolate tour. 

One of my favorite stops was at Teuscher Chocolatier where their
signature chocolate delight is their Champagne Truffle that uses the finest chocolate ganache – of course – infused with Dom Perignon champagne. Teuschers is a Swiss company that started in 1932 and has had a presence in the United States for over 40 years. We were told the Teucher Truffles should be kept at a low room temperature, about 68 degrees, and best if consumed within 10 days which brought a chuckle from all of us because they would never last ten days! We visited several chocolatiers and stopped at Ben & Jerry’s where we learned about
Fair Trade which is an important element in Ben & Jerry’s and most chocolatiers.
Fair Trade is a social movement with the goal to pay a fair price to producers in developing countries to help them achieve better conditions and to promote sustainability. Think about it: Awesome, while we were eating chocolate and ice cream we were helping those in Third World countries. 


Aug 18, 2014

War of 1812 Peace Gardens

It is so easy to drive by places day after day and not notice what is along the way. In my case it was the 1812 Peace Garden on Oswego’s Leotta-Seaway Trail Park. I knew about the War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail because when John and I were in Batavia we visited theirs.  Volunteers were busy planting new flowers.  They had box lunches which they offered to share with us. Another wonderful person-to-person experience. 

When I returned home I did some research on the Peace Gardens and learned that the War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail commemorates two hundred years of peace and friendship between the United States and Canada. Our shared border is the world’s longest undefended border. The 1812 commemorative gardens are part of the International Peace Gardens established in 1992 in Canada to promote global friendship and international understanding. The history is fascinating. During WW II Canada offered a safe haven for the Dutch Royal Family. During their stay Princess Juliana gave birth to a daughter, Margriet. That day the Canadian Parliament declared the hospital wing where she
was born to be Dutch territory so that one day Margriet would be able to inherit her country’s throne. She is currently eighth in line of succession. Each year the royal family sends thousands of tulips to show their gratitude. In that same spirit of friendship Ottawa gifted the United States with a tulip garden. There are International Peace Gardens in many countries. Each year an International Peace Garden is dedicated in a city around the world to recognize the contributions that the city/country has made in making the world more peaceful. Their motto is “Let the seeds of peace begin here and spread throughout the world.”

The War of 1812 Commemorative Gardens are an outgrown of the International Peace Garden movement. There are 17 War of 1812 Peace Gardens along Lake Ontario at places that were significant during the War of 1812. The garden route covers more than 600 miles. It is only right that there is one in Oswego where so many significant events of the “Forgotten War” took place.  Oswego’s was developed in 2003 by City Engineer Anthony a. Loetta, the Jay Saternow family and several community volunteers. It is part of the Leotta-Seaway Trail Park and the Oswego Harbor Rail Trail with a pedestrian Bridge that spans the Oswego River and continues on to Fort Ontario. 

The creation of a pedestrian walkway out of the defunct rail tracks
is a wonderful way to connect the city for walkers and bikers. It is a great reuse of property.  The Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie opened to the public in 2009 and is a popular place for biking, hiking, and walking with over three million users since it opened. Many events have been developed to raise money for its upkeep. Because of its elevation it offers great views of the Hudson River and the countryside. There are historic panels along the way. 

One of the newest walkways is the one-mile High Line in New York City on the elevated former NY Central Railroad spur. It is on my “Gotta’ Do” list. Meanwhile I will enjoy Oswego’s. There are informational signs on the edifice between the garden and the walkway over the river.  The edifice is designed to look like a railway station so there are lovely benches.  

Aug 11, 2014

Check out Global Greeters for a free tour

Global Greeter Network, www.globalgreeternetwork.info, is a
wonderful way to find a free person-to-person tour.  Greeters are volunteers who love their city so much they volunteer to give free two-hour tours. They take visitors to parks, shopping, or lesser known neighborhoods. Greeters are not professional guides so Greeters do not take their guests to museums leaving that to professional guides. 

Big Apple Greeters in New York City started the first program of its kind in 1992. They offer tours of many neighborhoods in all five boroughs.  Several years ago we signed up and had a wonderful walking tour of the heart of New York City.  The guide explained fascinating details about the buildings and their architecture.  On my next visit I’d like to explore DUMBO, an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, an area that was once a hub of industry in Brooklyn. 

Big Apple Greeters was our first Greeter experience since then we
have enjoyed meeting Greeters in Chicago, Adelaide (Australia), and Buenos Aires (Argentina). In Buenos Aires we asked Alberto Levin, our guide, to take us to places associated with Eva Peron of “Evita” fame. Sr. Levin was a real help because we had dropped our camera and he took us to a Pentex repair place that would have been impossible to find without his help. 

On our recent trip to China we signed up for a Greeter tour in Chongqing. We wanted to learn about hot pot and other street food.  When we were in Beijing in the 1990s we had hot pot and loved it. The broth was on the table and we went to a buffet to pick out what we wanted to put in the pot. When we were in Chengdu, China a few years ago we went into a traditional hot pot restaurant thinking we would know what to do but hot pot has modernized. The tables now have a recessed hot plate for the hot pot and guests choose what they
want from a menu.  The menu was in Chinese and even though the staff was very helpful we did not share a common language so we never quite figured out the fine points of eating hot pot modern-style.  Nick, our Chongqing Greeter, arrived at our hotel, the InterContinental, with two young ladies.  We were the first to sign up with the Chongqing Greeter Program so I think they were unsure what to expect and there is safety in numbers.  They were all college students and proficient in English.  


The InterContinental is located on a pedestrian street lined with high-end shops but they knew exactly where to find a traditional food court.  It was just down the street but we would not have found it on our own. Like all malls there was a variety of food from grilled corn to dim sum.  The hot pot table had a recessed area for the hot pot which was divided into spicy and mild broth – the ying and yang of hot pot. The menu of items to cook in the hot pot was in
Chinese so Nick ordered for us. We preferred vegetables but they preferred the organ meats. With hot pot everyone gets to eat what they prefer because the items are served on a plate and diners dunk the items in the preferred broth. When it is cooked it is time to enjoy it.  Another great Greeter experience. 

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.