Little Italy – Sicily offers exciting vacation experiences

Published on http://luxuryitaly.com/2017/07/28/sicily-vacation-experiences/

Abundant sunshine, great beaches, crystalline waters, fresh local food, and the largest active volcano in Europe – what more could you ask for in an Italian vacation? Sicily, a triangular island off the boot of Italy, is really a country unto itself; at least the Sicilians think of it that way. 

The village of Taormina, perched high above the sea on the eastern side of the island, has always been a must stop for tourists. From composer Johannes Brahms to comedian Woody Allen, all have enjoyed its restored mediaeval buildings and stunning ocean views. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came to Taormina and left their mark. The Teatro Greco, a 3rd century Greco-Roman amphitheater, hosts a variety of events today, and from the seats, one can see Mount Etna rising in the distance, still smoking from a recent eruption.

 

A spectacular view from the terrace at Al Saraceno Restaurant

A spectacular view from the terrace at Al Saraceno Restaurant

The Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay clings to the cliffs and was themed after the lost city of the same name, and the lobby and hallways certainly feel grotto-like. The rooms are large with all the extras – great bed, bath products, slippers, and robes. The bathroom was smallish, but the tub was deep enough for a long soak. The small patio off the room offers a terrific view of the waters below. Breakfast was served on an outside terrace right above the pool and the sea. The cantaloupe was perfectly ripe, and with fresh-squeezed orange juice and eggs made to order, the day started off right. Gazing at the bright blue waters of the Ionian Sea didn’t hurt, either. 

A charming local restaurant, Al Saraceno, is situated high above the bay and is known for its spectacular, panoramic view; diners can watch the lights come on below each evening. The owner, Alfio Puglia, is very attentive to his guests. Wood-fired pizza dough is served in place of bread. Fresh local fish came in a mixed grill and included king prawns, calamari, and scampi served with olive oil, garlic, lemon, parsley, and oregano. 

Great wine… and Mount Etna

Up a very winding road was Patria, one of the largest privately owned wineries in Sicily, with the local rich volcanic soil providing a unique terroir for wines. Tours take visitors to a volcanic cave with the layers of eruptions clearly displayed within.  

Once oriented, we sat around a huge table for a feast with the vineyard owner. It was easy to lose track of the courses (maybe seven). Fabulous wines were paired with each offering – Neri d’Avola, Etna Rosso, Cabernet, Etna Bianco, and their vintage 2001 Etna Rosso. Multiple varieties of antipasti, both hot and cold, were followed by wild mushroom risotto, seafood pasta, and finally grilled boar medallions. (Some Norwegian tourists, sitting at another table, burst into song halfway through our three-hour meal, which provided an unusual musical accompaniment to a wonderful Sicilian experience.) 

Valley of the Temples

Ruins of the Greek-Roman Taormina Theatre

Working off an enormous lunch at Patria, visitors can visit Mount Etna and walk around one of the many craters left from previous eruptions. The lava fields looked like the moon’s surface, with blasted and cratered lava rock stretching downhill for miles.  

On the other side of island, a day trip to Agrigento offers a window to the history of this special place. Lunch al fresco on the Terrace of the Gods at the five-star Villa Athena hotel included an incredible seafood pasta, followed by crab-stuffed white fish. Dessert was a pistachio semi-fredo, a cross between ice cream and a soufflé. Many glasses of a lovely, cold, white Alta Villa Grillo wine followed.  

The Villa, built as a magnificent private home at the end of the 18th century, became a hotel in 1972. The gardens of the villa surround a vivid blue swimming pool, which blends into the landscape of almond and olive trees. The patio overlooks the distant, but visible, Temple of Concordia – an incredible masterpiece of Doric art from the 5th century BC – rivals any Greek temple anywhere else in the world, even in Greece itself. The temple owes its preservation to being turned into a church in the 6th century, which saved the fundamental structure of the original temple.  

Just outside of Agrigento, a two-hour walking tour takes visitors through the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. Founded in 582 BC, Agrigento was one of the most important and most culturally advanced Greek cities in the Mediterranean. The archaeological park consists of seven temples (and various other remains) built between about 510 BC and 430 BC. These are: 

  • Temple of Hera 
  • Temple of Concordia 
  • Temple of Heracles 
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus 
  • Temple of Castor and Pollux 
  • Temple of Hephaestos  
  • Temple of Demeter  

Ancient Akragas, as Agrigento was known, attracted philosophers and poets who described it as “the most beautiful of mortal cities.” Today, it attracts visitors from all over the world, who stroll through the temple ruins, imaginingtheir past glory.  

No matter what your interests, Sicily today and Sicily of the past combine to make an amazing vacation location. 

 

 

 

Escaping the Winter Chill on the Cheap

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer, Feb 9, 2014

IMG_1555Without a break in the freezing weather on the horizon, I finally snapped and started searching for a cheap airfare to where the sun was shining. It’s possible to have a budget trip and get a tan during the winter, but it takes some careful planning, flexibility in your travel dates and a willingness to spend some time on the Internet. Here’s a primer to sun in the fun on the cheap.

First, unless you have a free place to stay, plan your destination around the cheapest flights. I usually start with websites such as Orbitz or Expedia, so I can see where the lowest cost flights are going. If you can travel on Wednesday, the fares are usually lower.

In this latest case of cabin fever, my husband already had a trip to Sarasota, so I started looking at flights and couldn’t find one less than $400. I widened my search to Tampa, and bingo—Spirit Airlines was offering a flight for $116 (round trip). By the time I added the cost of taking a suitcase and paying for my seat (Spirit charges extra for everything except the air you breathe), the fare was about $200, still half what other airlines wanted for a flight to the same part of the country.

It was a nonstop flight (a huge plus), on what must have been the most tightly packed plane I have ever seen (a huge minus). Thank goodness the seats didn’t recline, because my neighbor was already 10 inches from my face. I just kept thinking about the sunshine in my future.

My next stop was to start looking for hotels. I usually start with TripAdvisor. While the site has gotten much more commercial since it started in 2000, it is the best place I know to get a sense of what hotels are available and what guests say about them. I especially like the feature that tells you what room to request. Just like flights, make sure you check a few nearby cities. Sometimes it really pays to rent a car and drive a few extra miles to get a better hotel deal. I recently found a $15 a day car rental rate. Yahoo.

Airlines will try to book hotels and cars for you but I have found you can get a better rate on both by going directly to their websites. If you really feel lucky, try naming your price for your rental car and your hotel room on Priceline.com. I’ve gotten some amazing deals on both, but be careful—one time I ended up flying through Newark in the opposite direction to where I was headed.

Having a rental car pays off by giving you more options of where to stay and where to eat. If you plan to stay within walking distance of the sand and live off the coffee pot and out of the mini-fridge, then skip the rental car. Otherwise, having a car gets you to the best local places to eat.

Once you have your flights, hotel and rental car, you have one more research task — finding some great places to eat. I make sure my hotel room has a mini-fridge, so I can store breakfast food and some lunch supplies. For meals out, I start a web search with the name of the city and the phrase “budget meals.”

Local city magazines often run annual lists of reasonable places to eat, and those sources have yet to fail me. Asking at the front desk of the hotel can also yield some good suggestions (once they stop convincing you to try their restaurant). Another tip is to eat lunch out rather than dinner and look for early bird specials or happy hours with heavy appetizers.

I wish you good luck bargain travel hunting and happy hours in the sun.

On the Trail of Harry Potter

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer 3/18/2012

Just how far will a Harry Potter fan go to connect with the bespectacled hero now that the last movie is done? How about two countries and three cities?

Our love of the teenage wizard and his friends first led us to a city not too far away, Orlando, Florida. Orlando is home to the Wizarding World at Universal Studios, and this park has been a blockbuster for Universal since it opened a little less than two years ago.

By standards of neighboring Disneyworld, the park was pint-sized (three attractions), but still wonderful. The ‘not-to-miss’ ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Adventure, the latest in thrill ride technology, including a robotic-arm roller coaster.  As we squinted our eyes and suspended our grown-up sensibilities, we were in the story for a few glorious moments as we soared high above Hogwarts on a magical bench!

Three Broomsticks was the place for lunch, with delicious fish and chips and atmosphere to match. Ollivander’s wand shop was the next stop.  Honeydukes, the sweet shop, and Zonko’s, a toy and gag shop, lined the short Hogsmeade street. The Hogs Head Pub was our last stop for a real British beer.  All in all, the park was a worthy replica of the movies.

As Harry Potter asked,  “Can we find all this in London?” And as his friend Hagrid answered, “If yeh know where to go.” The Harry Potter movies were all filmed on location and in a studio in Great Britain. Our next stop on the Harry Potter trail was London, and our trip had to include a Harry Potter tour. For two hours we trooped all over London, looking at familiar sites from the movies that we never would have noticed without our well-informed guide. The walking tour came as part of our Big Bus double decker tour ticket.

The entrance to Diagon Alley, introduced in the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, leads to a real alley.  The filmmakers used a red telephone booth near Scotland Yard as the secret entrance to the Ministry of Magic. We imagined Harry, Mad-Eye Moody, Nymphadora Tonks and their friends in the chase sequence from The Order of the Phoenix high above The London Eye, the 135-meter tall Ferris wheel along the banks of the Thames River.

The walking tour was broken by a quick stop at Hardy’s Sweet Shoppes, where we got free samples and a discount on purchases. While not quite Honeydukes, it was a great place for unsanctioned Potter-themed souvenirs such as Dumbledore’s favorite lemon sherbets and the wizard wands (black licorice with pixie stick filling).

The new Warner Brothers Studio Tour London will be opening on March 31, giving fans a behind-the-scenes tour of where all eight movies were made and showcasing a huge array of sets, costumes and props. The Studio Tour is located at Warner Brothers Studios Leavesden.

One more British city was on our Harry Potter journey—Oxford, home to the renowned British university of the same name. Christ Church, with its battlements and pinnacles, is one of 38 colleges comprising Oxford University and was eerily reminiscent of Hogwart’s School of Magic.  We got goosebumps as we walked through many of the locations used in the movie. As Harry and the new first-years enter Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall greeted them. We walked up the same 16th century staircase that led up to the Great Hall. Walking between the trestle tables towards a raised platform at the end of the long room, we almost felt ready for our own sorting ceremony.  What house would be chosen for us?  We’ll never know.

 

Pottermania at Universal Studios, Orlando

Published in the Chronicle/Advisor

As the final and eight movie of the Harry Potter series winds down its triumphant stomp of all previous box offices records, it seemed like a jolly good time to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, Orlando.

Given our preference for Disney World when making the Florida theme park trek, it was only the lure of the bespectacled wizard that got us to book a two-day visit to Universal Studios. Universal is actually two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The Wizarding World is one of the Islands of Adventure.

We arrived at the Orlando Airport in the morning and already missed the well-oiled Disney transportation system— no rows of buses waiting to whisk us away. Instead we settled for a cab ride to the Hilton Grand Vacation Resort. We choose the Hilton across from Seaworld because they were offering a fabulous rate for a two bedroom villa and ($99 a night). Yes, there was a catch —a mere 90-minute time-share presentation. It was a big unit and a very nice resort but we weren’t in the market for a timeshare of any kind for any reason. Suffice it to say we will never take a discounted hotel room of any size for listening to timeshare pitch.

Transportation continued to be an issue at the 33-acre Hilton property as well as our decision not to choose one of the three hotels on Universal’s property. The Hilton resort was so large (and it was raining) we called for a ride to take us from our end to the restaurants or main pool. While their website promised free transportation to Universal, it was once in the morning and once in the evening which didn’t work for us. Otherwise we were back in a $20 cab ride to and from the theme park.

But enough about the accommodations, let’s get to the main event! For all serious Potter fans, it was worth the trip and the $85 one-day one-park admission.  Wizarding World was extremely crowded, and quite small by theme park standards (three attractions) and still wonderful. The showcase ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Adventure, the latest in thrill ride technology, a robotic arm roller coaster. It is not for those who fear heights as you soar high above Hogwarts on a magical bench! It was one of the best rides I have been on ever for sheer excitement and an authentic feel of being in the story.

We lunched at the Three Broomsticks, a cafeteria style restaurant. Stay away from the turkey drumsticks and choose the fish and chips instead. Don’t forget to order a Butterbeer. Our stop after lunch was at Ollivanders wand shop we experienced a charming magic wand experience.  Honeydukes, the sweet shop, was a required a stop as was a wander through Zonko’s a toy and gag shop. Not quite up to Fred and George’s standards for jokes and gags but then again they were wizards and we were mere muggles.

The Hogs Head Pub was a welcome spot for the adults to sip a real British beer (or two) while waiting for the teenagers to repeat every ride.  I’m not sure when the park would be less crowded, it has been a blockbuster for Universal since it opened a little over a year ago.

We did a few other rides while at the Islands including the Incredible Hulk Coaster (gasp I was upside down for a long time) and the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man.  The park had lots to offer including some outstanding restaurant choices.—over 50 in all.  City Walk Universal offered us dining at Emeril’s. BAM!

The 12,000-bottle wine cellar was only part of the draw along with the cuisine of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. We could watch the chefs at work in the huge open kitchen (Emeril was having a night off I guess). It was definitely white tablecloth fine dining with prices to match but well worth it.  It didn’t matter that we wearing theme park attire, waiters hovered behind every chair. Whatever you order, do not skip dessert. The banana cream pie with caramel sauce and shaved chocolate is to die for. It was so good; I might start with it next time. I might order two pieces and skip the entrée. Not really but close. The double thick cut pork chop slathered in a tamarind glaze and served with 
bourbon-mashed sweet potatoes was outstanding.  A bowl of the Seafood & Andouille Gumbo was very satisfying. The other entrée we tried was the pan seared sea scallops 
with a mango beurre blanc. Did I say, YUM?

If your budget doesn’t allow for fine dining, we also grabbed a terrific “have it your way” burger at the Whopper Bar on City Walk.

Next time we visit, and we will, we’ll stay at one of the three hotels on the property so we can walk back at forth and take advantage of early and late park hours. Maybe we’ll even squeeze in a visit to the other part of Universal Studios. If you are sad about the end of the Harry Potter series, a visit to the Wizarding World might be in order to feel the magic once again. Brilliant idea!

 

Destination Disney: A Family Vacation with and without the kids

Published in the Chronicle/Advisor

If you want to have a romantic vacation alone with your spouse, plan a week at Walt Disney World with teenagers. I promise you will never see them unless you insist that they meet you for a meal or two. We decamped for the Happiest Place on Earth, armed with sunscreen and leftover Disney dollars, looking for sunshine and amusement. We found both.

We’ve visited Mickey and Minnie Mouse before, in Florida, California and even in France. We prefer to stay at Disney properties because they are very good hotels, consistently well maintained and because of the transportation system. The bus and monorail system allow every one to go their own way without any fuss. With cellphones and texting, we stayed in touch. Some preferred the rides at The Magic Kingdom, while others of us preferred the wine and beers “around the world” at Epcot. Guess who liked what!

The first night we stayed in a family suite at The All-Star Music Resort, one of Disney’s value resorts. The All-Star Resorts (Music, Movie, and Sports) are examples of how Disney has developed lodging for all tastes and prices, including campgrounds. Disney advertises rooms for as low as $84 a night during some seasons at these properties. The two-room suite had two bathrooms, a comfortable queen bed and sleeper sofa. Six people could be squeezed in—all with beds. Seemingly all night long, kids swam in both the guitar- and piano-shaped swimming pools.  Mercifully, the room we had was well insulated.

Our second lodging choice was the newest Disney Deluxe Villa resort, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. Everything in Disney is themed—this resort takes its cue from the horseracing mecca of its namesake in New York at the turn of the century. Our room was equipped with a mini refrigerator, microwave and balcony. Its only drawback was its size; they called it a studio, but the four of us were tripping over each other by week’s end.

Tickets for the parks are very pricey. For a single day, one park, you pay $82 for one park.  A “Park Hopper” ticket—which allows you to move from one Disney park to another—is $136 per day.  The more days you buy, the less the ticket costs; you ‘only’ pay $50 a day per person for five days. You get a full day of activity from as early as 8:30 a.m. to one night where the Magic Kingdom was open until 3 a.m.—that would be in the morning, before dawn. An adult favorite was strolling around the World Showcase, where you can drink and eat in Canada, Great Britain, France, Mexico, China, Japan, Italy, Norway, and Morocco — all in an afternoon. The teenagers did the rides, ranging from Test Track, a car racing simulation and Soaring at Epcot to Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom. Perennial favorites (and now movies) are the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. And don’t miss the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom.

Eating is a big expense, but there are ways to economize. Having a big breakfast at the resort helps, as food at the hotels was consistently better tasting and less costly than in the parks. Then, eating an early dinner, with a few snacks in between, helps the budget.

The best lunch was a tie between the belly dancing lessons plus kabobs at the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot and the hamburger and onion rings at the Turf Club Bar and Grill at the Saratoga Resort.

The sushi chef at The California Grill, atop the Contemporary Resort, is world-renowned (not sure how that happens) and the sushi we ordered was both lovely look at and very tasty. This restaurant is known for its extensive, and I mean huge, wine list. The pork belly appetizer was a winner, as was the pasta entrée. Expect to pay a minimum of $50 per person for dinner. If that’s not in your budget, go for a glass of wine at 10 p.m. and watch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. It is the best place to see the spectacular fireworks display that happens every evening.  You may even stand out on a restaurant observation deck for the maximum effect.

We also visited one of our favorite restaurants at Epcot, Chefs de France. Our waiter had worked there for 25 years and bore a strange resemblance to Maurice Chevalier. The steak was outstanding, with a lovely crème brulee to finish. The fixed price menu at $39.95 was a good deal with three courses selected from a list of choices. We picked lobster bisque, short ribs braised in red wine and profiteroles, cream puffs stuffed with ice cream and covered in chocolate sauce.

After all that walking, a short visit to the spa was needed. Given everything else there is to do at the resorts and the parks, getting an appointment was easy.  The spa facilities were clean and empty, with a whirlpool, dry and wet sauna for use. It wasn’t the most luxurious spa, but it was an above average facility. The aromatherapy massage was top quality and at resort prices, but worth the splurge for the sheer relaxation value.

Relaxation is in short supply at Disney World with so much to see and do. All of the resorts are full service with activities, and nicely appointed fitness facilities. Every time I visit I vow to spend more time at the swimming pools and every time I get sucked right back into park hopping. I guess we are all just big kids, no matter what our age.

On our last day in Disney, we sat outside the cleanest pub you’ll ever find, The Rose and Crown, the sun shining on our faces enjoying a pleasant 75 degrees, sipping a nice Guinness stout and imagining ourselves in London. For what we paid for the trip, we probably could have gone to the real London but it would have been cold and rainy just like home, and Florida’s sunshine and Disney’s magic was what we needed.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Keys Long Weekend: Sun, Sand and Seafood

Published in the Chronicle/Advisor

You know you’re not in Michigan anymore when the first warm blast of air (scented by jet fuel) hits you as you leave the plane and enter the jet way. When I asked a Michigan native why they live in the Florida Keys for half the year, “It’s as far south as you can go and still be in the U.S..” South is good when there are piles of snow lining your driveway. We had modest goals for our long weekend—sun, sand and seafood. And water—lots of blue water!

The temperatures were hovering in the high 70s as we drove down U.S. 1 towards the Florida Keys. Three airports are in driving distance of this chain of small islands stretching for 120 miles between the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean. West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami all boast Keys friendly driving distances. You can also fly right into Key West’s small international airport (think postage stamp run-way) but the airfare is considerably more expensive.

The drive down the Keys is a mostly two-lane highway, where topping 55 mph is an accomplishment. But what’s your hurry? It is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, with expansive vistas of aquamarine water reaching as far as the eye can see on both sides. The first of five major keys or islands is Key Largo, a perfect spot for lunch after flying and driving since 0’ dark hundred. A family (and an army) travel on their stomachs after all! We choose a perennial favorite with an unoriginal name, The Fish House at mile marker 102.5. Mile markers are attached to the road signs and tell you were you as you progress towards the last island, Key West, mile marker 0.

We were sold by the claim that they serve only fresh fish brought to the restaurant’s back door and then filleted and prepared on the premises.  How much fresher could you get? The outside of the restaurant looked sketchy as my daughter said. But inside was bright, with the fish motif carried to the nth degree including nets hanging from the ceiling. And the food was fabulous. Succulent boiled and u-peel shrimp, called pink gold by the locals, best in class fried calamari, lovely grouper Matecumbe, baked and topped with fresh tomatoes, shallots, basil, capers, olive oil and lemon juice. The last dish was The Fish House’s original creation that has been featured in “Cooking Light” magazine.

You drive across dozens of small islands with names like No Name Key, Greyhound Key and Plantation Key. Our destination was Duck Key, home of Hawks Cay Resort where we have stayed before. This weekend we were going to stay with friends a few keys down but wanted to check out what a $35 million renovation had done to what was already a lovely resort. It’s a big place, 402 rooms and villas with five restaurants. That was at least two more than last time we stayed. The beautiful saltwater lagoon was as inviting as we remembered and they had really souped up their dolphin program. Called the Dolphin Connection, they say it is the only one of its kind in North America. Now they even have Segway tours using those wonderful upright two wheeled scooters. Quite a place at quite a price, rooms usually start at $300 a night but they did have a web only special of $189 a night that would be a huge deal if it matched the dates you wanted to stay.

Continuing down the route, it was almost time for dinner. There is a food theme to all our travels. Lots of choices in Marathon, the mid point, but we traveled on to the Square Grouper in Cudjoe Key, at mile marker 22.5. It was worth the extra miles. The fish selections had all the freshness of the Fish House but with even more inventive and exciting flavor combinations. A square grouper is what they call the bale of marijuana that gets dumped overboard by smugglers when law enforcement comes alongside (news to me!).

The menu is dived into ocean and earth and we sampled from both. We tried the island shrimp cakes with banana pepper aioli and the pasta with shrimp scallops and fresh fish of the day. My husband almost licked his plate of roasted duck breast with a spicy tamarind garlic sauce. The wine was displayed in unusual cubbyholes around the restaurant and the wine list was pronounced very satisfactory by the wine snobs at the table.

Now on to Key West itself, the largest town by far with 25,500 souls. Lots of hotel and restaurant choices here, and nice, uncrowded public beaches. We met our other two goals, lying in sand for sun baked oblivion for many hours (with lots of sunscreen!). Some people avail themselves of the plentiful snorkeling, sport fishing, glass bottomed boats and jet skies. About five miles off-shore, along the length of the Keys is the only living-coral barrier reef in the continental U.S. The coral formations are famous for their abundance of fish, from impressive schools of blue-striped grunts to toothy green moray eels. This is a must see on our next trip.

Once we were thoroughly unthawed, we ventured into town. Fortified by a terrific mohito (rum, mint, lime, sugar and soda water) at The Grand Café on Duval Street, we walked almost the length of the street. This is important only because Duval is known as the longest street in the world, since it stretches from the Gulf to the Atlantic. By now the temperature had soared to the high 80s, so ice cream was a must. We choose The Flamingo Crossing where they make their own. English cream, mint chocolate chip and Cuban coffee satisfied our frozen flavor cravings.

Lots o’ tacky T-shirt shops, interspersed with some nice art galleries and clothing stores line both sides of Duval Street. Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, you can buy beverages as you walk down the street and carry them from spot to spot. We ended up in Mallory Square to watch the sunset, a Key West tradition. In the shadow of a giant Disney cruise ship, we were feted by street musicians and young men on unicycles, juggling fire and knives. The carnival atmosphere is heightened by the wild variety of visitors, from the two men wearing the same hideous Hawaiian shirts, meeting by chance to discuss who paid less, to grandmothers pushing strollers and teenagers on the lam from their parents.

Our final meal was a tribute to the small island nation only 90 miles from Key West, Cuba. Key West is actually closer to Cuba than it is to Miami. We chose El Siboney, a family owned restaurant in a plain brick building slightly off the beaten track. The budget conscious prices were a good way to end the long weekend. It’s the kind of place where locals order by the number. I had the number 3, Roast Pork, Casava, Tamale. Casava is yucca root and tastes like potatoes. It may have been potato for all I know.  It was a huge plate of food for $9.95 so my husband had to eat half of it to accompany his El Siboney Steak, a specially seasoned hangar steak with yellow rice and black beans.

Then it was back to the rental car for the three- hour drive past shimmering blue waters, lined with mangrove trees, to the airport and our flight back to reality and the frozen Midwest.