Lithuania Bound: Rucava, pop. 495

We went on an overnight trip to Lithuania, and on the way we stopped in a little Latvian town called Rucava . The visitor center was located in an old mill that Bob’s grandfather used to own.

It’s cool that he has an ancestral mound and places like this. My ancestors’ farms and land are long gone, not that there was much to begin with. There were lots of old instruments and a random assortment of fishing equipment and a very unusual bear-like decoration.

A very pagan-looking partier

I am peasant. I make the rye bread. I bring to castle.

On the upper floor there was an art gallery displaying the cool collage artworks of Agita Laugale.

View from the upstairs windows

As we drove, we counted 15 stork’s nests. On the way back, on a different route, there were 24.

People even have plastic storks in their yards instead of the plastic flamingos Americans love.

We stopped in a small Lithuanian town for lunch, and there was a weird small town suspicious vibe, like, “You ain’t from these here parts, is ya?” Some of that can be attributed to it being a former Soviet-occupied country. In the first little restaurant we walked into, as Bob and I awkwardly stood around waiting to be seated, a woman came out of the kitchen and screamed at us in Lithuanian. Then Bridin came in, and I suggested we find somewhere else to eat, as we had just been yelled at. Bridin pointed out the screaming coming from the kitchen, and in an effort to assure me it wasn’t personal, said, “See? she yells at everybody.” But it takes around an hour to be served in Baltic restaurants, and I didn’t want to spend all of that time listening to screaming. We found a nice little pizza place around the corner. Pizza in Eastern Europe is pretty dependable.


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Liepaja: Wandering Solo and Thrifting

That little shop in the market whet my appetite for some thrifting and I found several places within walking distance. I like taking pics of the buildings as I wander. I felt very safe just creeping down empty lanes and alleys.

I liked this painting. I was looking for one like it for ages for my retired seafarer room.

Another painting that caught my eye…why is the angel forcing that child off the cliff?

I loved this little person, but they were super heavy. I can only buy small and lightweight souvenirs.

I did buy one of these. It seems like the back should be open for you to store your garlic, but it’s a purely decorative anthropomorphized garlic.

There were lots of trippy figurines.

I was naturally drawn to the albums


and the dolls…

The second thrift store I went to was closed for another 30 minutes and I decided not to wait, but this cat hung out with me for a while.

Afterwards I had lunch in a hipster Asian fusion place called TEIKA, where I was finally able to explain to someone how to make real iced tea!

There were gladiolas everywhere. We didn’t know where the fields were, but it seemed every single person was casually carrying a bunch home from the market.

I started off with their delicious wild mushroom soup, which I had ordered to go the other day and had to return for. It has little pate choux dumplings in it.

Followed by shrimp in a buttery sauce meant to be eaten on French bread.

I ended with a salad that had many of my favorite ingredients: dried cranberries, raspberries, almonds and arugula, but it was advertised as burrata and seemed to be whipped brie. Very unusual. It was topped with an adorable chunk of honeycomb.

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Liepaja: A Relaxing Day

Monday Morning, I wandered over to the pharmacy to pick up a few things. I had to get something for mosquito bites and Bob wanted baby aspirin. I used my finely honed mime skills and semi-literate translation app. We were doing OK, with her figuring out everything I needed until I scared the crap out of her.

“You can’t give aspirin to babies!!! Aspirin will hurt the baby!!!”

“No, for me, for the heart.”

“For you,  not for baby? No aspirin for the baby???”

“No, I’m not going to hurt the baby! I mean, there is no baby! Only me.”

So if you’re ever in Eastern Europe, ask for “Cardio aspirin.” NOT “baby aspirin.”

We met up with Bob’s mom and went to the movies. I love the movies here because they have these snacks that are like styrofoam bacon. You know Asian shrimp chips? Like that, only little bacon chips. I had thought we were buying too much, but Bob’s mom was right. I ate the whole dang container.

One of Bridin’s favorite restaurants is Olive. They have a varied menu, but everything we have tried so far is delicious. Fruity iced drinks are very popular right now. But they are made with mixes. It’s very hard to get regular iced tea made with real black tea.

We shared shrimp on rosti. It was fantastic.

I ordered a curry with handmade tagliatelle.

Sometimes it’s nice to just have a mellow day.

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Liepaja: To Market, to Market

  1. We had a lovely day visiting the outdoor market, then hit the grocery store, which I always find fascinations. Just like last year, there were huge jars of chanterelles for 4 Euro, and this year they had boletus.

The mushroom monger wanted to take a selfie after I asked him if I could photograph his wares.

Last time I was fascinated by the pictures in a closed thrift store. It was open, and I went in. With the current anti-Russian sentiment, I was very surprised to see this.

I love the market!!!!

We then hit the grocery store. I could peruse grocery stores for hours.

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The Postman’s House in Liepaja: Oh, Balls!

Bob’s favorite restaurant in Liepaja is Patnieka Maja, which translates to “Postman’s House.” It makes us joke about Dr Zhivago and a mime-type joke of  “past-your-neck” like “past-your-eyes milk.”Located in the center of a park, the old house has lots of flowers and a large, multi-step wooden deck. It’s a comfortable place to spend an hour or two, which is how long you are usually there.

People complain on the internet about the wait for menus, drinks, and your eventual order. It’s not that strange in Europe. And the lack of friendliness isn’t that weird in a post-Soviet country where you don’t speak the language. We bring our own bottles of water and plan to spend the afternoon.

One of their most popular dishes is a Latvian smoked cod stew, but we usually go for meat and potatoes. The pork is always good in Latvia.

We especially like the ribs.

Which are accompanied by strange little potato boats.

Last time we were here I was tempted by a house special called “Naughty Letters,” which was bull testicles. I am just a very curious person, and have also been known to accept dares even when no one is daring me. When am I going to get this chance again? Last year I saw a couple next to us get what I assumed was this dish, a shiny meat bag filled with meatloaf. It looked like haggis. They were loving it.

So, this time around, I really thought about it, and as Bob has learned to do over the years, he just said, “I’m not going to tell you what to order.” I am not a fan of organ meat in general, although I do like in descending order:

Foie Gras. Like meat butter. Pure heaven. And I would rather be a foie gras goose than a Foster Farms chicken any day.

Gizzards: I grew up eating chicken gizzards, and I enjoy them fried in batter at Dinah’s in Glendale.

Cow’s stomach (tripe) in fiery hot menudo. Again, I grew up with it and I don’t know if I would like any other preparation.

Beef heart: I had a carne asada-style preparation at St John’s in London, and it was OK, if not amazing. Chef Kuniko Yago prepared beef heart dumplings once for a Jonathan Gold event and they were honestly one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Tongue: I once had an amazing banh mi sandwich made by Chef Ray Garcia, but I’ve also had it several times where I don’t like the powdery texture.

Sweetbreads: I was once bullied by two esteemed chefs into eating some at a food event. They were crisp, fatty and delicious. I tried them at an Argentinian chain restaurant and didn’t get past the first bite. Good chefs can make anything delicious and bad cooks can make anything awful.

I am not in love with Haggis, though due to my Scottish heritage I have eaten a polite serving several times. It’s sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), along with oats and spices, cooked while traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach. It could do with a lot more spices.

I can’t stand chicken liver, beef liver, brains or kidneys.

So…I tried asking questions to figure the testicles out. I asked if they were filled with beef, like haggis. I mean, I eat hot dogs and sausages in natural casings (intestine). So it would be like that, or like haggis. Just plain old ground meat. The menu does say “stuffed.” I ordered it. It took FOREVER to arrive, along with Bob’s lovely fish.

It wasn’t the same thing as I saw last year.

I sliced into it, and discovered that the purple veins went through and through. It was not full of meat. Well, it WAS. Full of testicle meat. I’m knee-deep in my own dare now. I can’t back out. I cut a bite and it tasted –exactly like beef liver. Which I hate. Of course it was organ meat…sexual organs. Of course! Well, I just had to know, and now I knew.

Later that night, after Bob had left to stay with his mom, I thanked the gods for Pici Pizza! And then I made jokes about balls the entire rest of the trip, which you know is the real reason I ordered them.

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Day One Continued: Riga to Liepaja

We had lunch at Flying Pigs, which again, was delicious. I don’t usually trust menus that have too wide of a variety of food, but Bob’s mom’s Thai noodles, Bob’s shish, and my shrimp salad were all perfect.

We drove past the medical museum but didn’t go in, but the murals were cool

Random stuff:

I pointed out the exposed brick to Bridin and asked, “Is that a style?”

She said, “That’s from getting bombed.

The drive through the green countryside to Liepaja was gorgeous, if long.

The thing about driving in a country that is 50% forest is that once you have passed that rest stop in the middle, there is nowhere to stop for two hours. I finally accepted that I was going to have to piss in the woods. We pulled off on a dirt road. Nervous, I asked, “Isn’t this someone’s driveway?”

“No, it’s just a dirt road.”

We pulled over and I asked, “What is that? Is that a sign? Is this a hiking trail?”

“No, it’s fine. Just go.” So, I walked behind the trees and saw that it was a mailbox! I looked behind me, and there was a house that was probably already watching me. We went further up the road, and I waded DEEEEP into the forest. My feet sunk into about four inches of organic decomposition. I later told Bridin there were mushrooms. She asked if they were edible, but I didn’t want to investigate any further. Anyways, I’m a city mouse; how would I know?

No sooner did we pull back on the highway, what did we see? A friggin gas station!

When we arrived at Art Hotel, they had given me the same room as last year, so I was pleased.

We walked over to River in the hotel next door on Bridin’s recommendation. I ordered beef cheeks with a cherry sauce that were tender and rich. Bob’s pork was nice. The beef here isn’t usually very good because they aren’t pumped full of crap and grain fed like ours. Grass fed is ethically better, but the meat is tougher. I stole some of Bob’s potatoes. Latvians are realllyyy into potatoes. They sell enormous sacks of them by the side of the road.

The server was unfriendly until I said, “Thank you,” in Latvian and she rewarded me with a smile.

As usual, the next morning Art Hotel had a fantastic buffet breakfast.

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Latvia Day One Continued: Art Nouveau

There is a large Art Nouveau district in Riga, though you can often see turrets, curvy lines, faces, goddesses and floral decorations on buildings all over the city. 850 buildings from the turn of the century (1990, the “early one.”), are considered authentic Art Nouveau, with many of them protected by UNESCO.

We enjoyed the buildings of mikhail eisenstein on alberta and Strelnieku streets. it is considered an open-air museum. He was born in 1867 to a poor Jewish family in Saint Petersburg. He lived and worked as an architect for 20 years in Riga, where he designed almost 20 Art Nouveau masterpieces.

2A Alberta Street 

The building is covered in screaming faces and a more Egyptian/robot vibe, if there is such a thing. You can also pose with the cool griffins. The arches at the top are also a beautiful use of negative space.

4 Alberta Street

Looking much more like a confectionary than any of the others, it nonetheless features lions, gorgons and griffins. Three faces near the top appear to be deep in conversation or maybe singing.

8 Alberta Street

Part of a row of attached 3-story bays, with lions’ heads, pelicans, flowers and trippy faces.

12 Alberta Street

This building, in the style of National Romanticism, is way more about the turrets and I didn’t get a lot of detail.

13 Alberta Street

Peacocks, nymphs and satyrs frolic across this building’s facade. As we approached it, Bob kept pointing out a giant face.


Right there, under the flags!

I don’t see it!


This building isn’t listed anywhere, but I have photographic proof it exists. More singing people!

Stayed tuned for more…

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Day One: Riga

This is my third trip to Latvia, and Bob’s seventh. We were able to upgrade to Economy Plus, which was awesome. Unfortunately, they make you walk through Business class and see their cool little pods, which makes your section not quite as exciting. But we got priority boarding, what seemed like way better food, and a little cabin with only 24 seats.

Caprese salad on the plane

There were individual loungers that leaned way back and had a footrest pop up. We chose the bulkhead so we had extra leg room for Bob’s super long legs. I spilled a Diet Coke all over my seat and moved to an empty middle row to try to lie down, but the armrests of the loungers don’t go up, one bummer. I was unable to sleep, so by the time we landed in Riga I was totally discombobulated.

Bridin’s pup, Lily

Bob’s mom had gotten us rooms in a Hampton Inn, and it was way nicer than the chain in America.

We had dinner there, which was surprisingly good. We split a burger and I ordered pasta with bacon and onions, which Bridin once told me was very Latvian. When it arrived, she stated, “Latvians call ham “bacon.”

I said, “So do Canadians.”

The next morning their buffet breakfast was awesome. American hotels need to learn from this. Most European places have cold cuts and sausages that are basically hot dogs. The Hampton Inn also had all of the makings for an English fry-up and fresh peach-filled pastries that were divine. They seem to think Americans eat vegetables at breakfast too.

The next morning, we toured Riga, serendipitously happening upon a little festival in the park. Local senior centers were performing, and it was awesome! Latvian folk dancing is very much like Scottish Country dancing. And any moves that weren’t the same as Scottish Country Dancing, I recognized from square dancing and Ballet Folklorico. I wonder if folk dancing is pre-wired in the brain like language is.

These twins were charmed by Lily, as most people are, and let me take their picture.

There was a little market selling jewelry and crafts as well as refreshments.

Cherry – Cannabis Beer!

I was heavily pressured by two people into eating hemp seed halvah, “There’s no THC in it.” “There’s no sugar in it.” But it had an offputting smell so I held out. Plus, if something’s only merits are what’s NOT in it, that’s not much of a selling point.

This lady made candles to look like delicious treats. I didn’t buy one because I would constantly be disappointed they weren’t really dessert.

The ice cream man was very friendly. I ordered oatmeal, which was improved by the addition of caramel, but there were big, weird oats in it. Bob got sea buckthorn, which was very sour.

There were big cauldrons, one with borscht and one with sauerkraut. A man asked Bridin why I was taking pictures of the food. She shrugged and said, “Amerikkans.”

There was a monument in the park to Colonel Kalpaks, who led the Latvians against the Bolsheviks at the start of Latvian independence. Wikipedia says he was killed “by mistake” while fighting alongside the Germans against the Bolsheviks. I would kind of like to hear that story.

There was also an outdoor photo exhibit of people in the olden days. They looked a lot like my ancestors.

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San Diego Day One: Artichokes and Dead Boys

I like the Casbah, a punk dive bar in San Diego, and when I saw that the Dead Boys were playing, I bought a ticket. It’s not really the Dead Boys without Stiv, but it’s still amazing to watch Cheetah Chrome shred. And really, I like their songs so much I would even go see a Dead Boys tribute band. I took an Uber there, and there were three bands before the headliner, so I wandered down the street. The Crack Shack was right there, but I had that for lunch.

I had heard and read good things about Zinque. I ordered the artichokes, and they were exactly like the ones I had eaten in Rome. I haven’t found anywhere else here that makes them without the vinaigrette.

I also ordered a pasta with morels. Morels are tricky, as it is almost impossible to get all of the grit out of them. But they were pristine and delicious in this well-balanced pasta dish. I have discovered there are several Zinques in the LA area, so I won’t have to travel for this delicious food again.

Then back to the Casbah. I hung out a lot with one of the bartenders who was really cool. We would definitely be friends if I lived down there. I caught the end of some surf instrumental band called something pinche something. It was like Lawndale and Das Damen had a baby. I stood at the front of the stage to keep my spot and some guy pushed his way through us and set a whiskey bottle on the stage. I told someone standing next to me, “He must be the lead singer. He has that vibe. Yep. Meet Jake Hout.

They opened with Sonic Reducer. Hout was a combo of Stiv, Iggy, Tommy Lee, Mick, and Frank N Furter. The mosh pit got crazy. After about half the set, I got slammed from behind really hard and flew through the air losing a shoe, and landing on my stomach onstage. Some guy, being helpful, stuck his arms under my armpits and lifted me off the stage, but held me in the half nelson, feet off the ground, while I hollered ungratefully, “Put me down!!!” Later the rhythm guitarist kindly retrieved my phone from behind his amp.

Jake Holt definitely won me over when he went to the ground. Gotta love a frontman rolling around in front of the bass drum.

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San Diego Day One: Chicken Oysters and Haunted Hotels

I haven’t been to San Diego in a while. It used to be our weekend spot before we switched to Desert Hot Springs. I got into town around 4:3o and was a bit peckish. I just happened to drive by Top Chef Richard Blais’ “Crack Shack” chicken place, and I pulled right over. I loved the Pasadena location, which is now shuttered.

I ordered the chicken oysters, which I have never seen anywhere else. You could make a case for chicken oysters being a grown-up replacement for nuggets. We aren’t talking about “Rocky Mountain oyster” oysters. The chicken oyster is one of those chef’s secret fetish things. It’s a little oyster-sized bit of dark meat near the thigh that is supposed to be the best part of the chicken. Instead of the heavy, crunchy coating that is used on the bone-in chicken, the oyster coating is light like tempura. I also ordered the schmaltz fries to go, but by the time I made it to my hotel room they were cold.

So, wow, my hotel — Hotel Sofia in the Gaslamp. A lot of the hotels here are old brick buildings that look like they used to be apartments, or department stores, or orphanages, or asylums…OK, I’ll stop now. But my first impression was that this place is 10/10 haunted.

Check out these creepy pictures from their own website:

I looked up “Most haunted hotels in San Diego.” The Sofia was second, only beaten out by the Coronado. But I couldn’t find any specific stories except for this one from Tripadvisor reviews:

“Quite possibly haunted – the room just felt spooky, period. I’m sure it’s just wiring issues that go along with an old hotel, but lights would randomly go on in the room, stay on for an hour or so, then turn off just as mysteriously as they had turned on.”

Although a bit small, as older hotels tend to be, the room was clean and comfortable, and didn’t feel at all haunted.


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Symphony of the Seas: Cozumel Port

There was a lot happening at the port in Cozumel. There were about 30 shore excursions all searching for their people. After I found my group, I wandered off in search of tacos. I discovered Tequila A Go-Go, a 60s hippie themed bar.

I ordered steak street tacos and an iced tea. I was waiting for a while, since it seemed like the kitchen was in another building. My bill was over $40 USD!!! In LA three street (taco truck) tacos would be under $15. When I finally got my tacos, after worrying I would miss my bus, I saw that they had given me two orders. I had asked if an order was one or two tacos, and I guess my Spanish is worse than I thought. I was in too much of a hurry to complain and maybe I had ordered two orders. I gave the other plate to the tour guide, and he was very pleased. But yeah, $21 for a burrito? Definitely taking advantage of the cruise line gringos.

After the excursion I did some shopping. I bought a little charm. When I travel, I get a charm as my memento. They are cheap and take up no space packing.

There was a great mariachi band playing for the tourists. Turn up the volume!

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The Sleeping Sharks of the Yucatan

When I was a kid, we watched Jacques Cousteau faithfully in my house. My dad was a diver, and we all snorkeled off of Catalina frequently. I still remember an episode from 1975, when I was 9 years old, where they dive into caves off of Isla Mujeres and for the first time, the world outside of the Yucatan peninsula saw sleeping sharks. Previously, it was believed that open ocean sharks had to swim constantly to keep water flowing through their gills or they would die. They are primarily harmless nurse sharks, although the expedition came across one of the more dangerous nurse sharks. You know, I like the sound of that. From now on I’m going to call everything I do an expedition.

You can watch the episode below, starting at around 20 minutes. It’s trippy to see them poking fish, petting sharks, and even catching a ride on a sea turtle, considering the current scientific practice of leaving sea animals the F alone. I was so startled at their behavior while watching the show, I impulsively shouted at the screen, “Stop touching that fish, Cousteau!”

So, when I saw that there was a shore excursion off of the ship that included rays and nurse sharks, I was doubly excited! As a child I had no idea what this exotic Isla de Mujeres was, but as a grown-up I definitely knew about Cozumel! I had just never made the connection. In fact, I had been here before to swim with whale sharks and had no idea I was so close to this childhood wonder.

The tour boat first took us to a reef, which was partly dead, but it was heartening to see that there were still live corals. There were a lot of small, brightly-colored tropical fish.

There was a bit of a current, which caused me to sometimes drift too close to the other snorkelers, so I avoided them. I veered over to the deeper waters, hoping to see a shark or a barracuda, but it was probably too close to the cruise ships to see any big sea creatures.

The guide yelled at me to stay with the group, as they do, and I dutifully tried. But one guy wanted to free dive and didn’t seem to realize that we were wearing inflatable life vests, so all he could do was turn upside down and kick like a duck. After getting whacked a few times with his fins, I did swim away from him. Check out this pic of a fin in my face from my GoPro:

But as close as I stayed to the cluster, it was never close enough for the guide. I finally cried out in exasperation, “Estoy con el grupo!!!” That made him laugh really hard and leave me alone for the rest of the time. People on the East Coast of Mexico are really surprised at my high school Spanish compared to Baja.

Maybe it’s dark, but I kind of feel like the caption on a photo like this will someday be, “…and this is the last picture ever taken of Elise before she disappeared forever…” And I wouldn’t be mad at that.

We docked and I saw the fenced-off harbor swimming with rays. I realized then that the rays and sharks were in captivity, and I was very disappointed. I thought we were just stopping for lunch, then heading off to other dive spots. Yeah, OK, I was naive enough to think we would be exploring sea caves without dive gear. I mean, maybe it could have just been sea cave-adjacent. I am against keeping sea mammals in captivity (I know sharks and rays aren’t mammals, but similar thing). I would never do a captive dolphin “adventure.” Now I was torn. The fenced-in areas seemed big enough, at least for the rays. It kept them fed and safe from predators. The rays had had their barbs removed for our safety, and we were assured it was like clipping toenails, not painful at all. I looked it up, and Wikipedia agrees. Here is some more info from Wiki on the Southern Rays:

“The southern stingray (Hypanus americanus) is a whiptail stingray found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey to southern Brazil.[2] It has a flat, diamond-shaped disc, with a mud brown, olive, and grey dorsal surface and white underbelly (ventral surface).[3] The barb on its tail is serrated and covered in a venomous mucus, used for self-defense. These spines are not fatal to humans, but are incredibly painful if stepped on.”

Buy the ticket – take the ride. I might as well do the full tourist thing. Here is my tourist picture. I joined the rest of the tour group in the water after donning very slippery water shoes they provided. I had decided I was over-packing and didn’t bring my own grippy water shoes. I eagerly slipped and floundered across the rocks over to the edge of the pool where I was directed. A ray swam up against my leg as the guide announced, “They know white legs in the water mean food!” A huge ray pushed into me. There was a big rock behind me, acting the part of a mischievous friend on all fours behind you, and I dutifully fell on my back with a splash.

Back on land, there was a barbecue set up for tacos, but this is what caught my attention, and where I spent my lunchtime. It was a tropical dream come true.

There was another larger fenced-in kind of lagoon with some sleeping nurse sharks and rays. I was bummed out that they were in captivity. I later told my nephew, “It was a captive situation,”

To which he replied, “Well, I’m glad they finally let you go.”

I felt bad for the sharks, all huddled in the corner. In spite of the chain-link fence, it was still magical to finally see the sleeping sharks of the Yucatan. My dad would have been thrilled for me.

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Symphony of the Seas: Excursion in Bacalar

Fed by an underground cenote, this lagoon’s waterways seperate into seven or more shades of blue. Although called the Lake of Seven Colors, with a sandy bottom and warm water for swimming, it is a series of passages that lead to the sea. I took a shore excursion that included a boat ride and lunch in a little resort area.

This is our boat captain. He asked me what kind of music I liked. After some discussion, he put on reggae, which was the perfect music for living my best life on the water.

The lagoon had many shades of blue, and you can see them in these pictures, especially the ones with a clear delineation. These photos are from inky indigo to pale turquoise.

When we got to an area of shallow, clear water, we took a break for a swim. The only other people on the boat were an Italian couple. Although we had a language barrier, we got on like a house on fire.

Afterwards we had a nice lunch of fajitas. Later they brought out fried fish, like fish n chips that was some of the best fish I’ve ever had.

I don’t know what kind of birds these are. They are cool.

Although we didn’t visit it, the town is home to The Fuerte de San Felipe, a fort built to fight pirates, that is now a museum dedicated to the history of piracy. After lunch I wandered around the little town.

All of the cruise ports have entertainment and little shops and restaurants. The port had interesting performers for photo ops.

When I was a kid, we saw the Danza de Volares, Dance of the Fliers, on a TV show called “Thrill Seekers.” I had not really thought about it since. I was so shocked and delighted to see them in person in the cruise port, I stopped dead in my tracks and uttered an expletive.


“The Danza de los Voladores, or Palo Volador; “flying pole”), is an ancient Mesoamerican  ceremony/ritual still performed today, albeit in modified form, in isolated pockets in Mexico. It is believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec and Otomi peoples in central Mexico, and then spread throughout most of Mesoamerica. The ritual consists of dance and the climbing of a 30-meter (98 ft 5 in) pole from which four of the five participants then launch themselves tied with ropes to descend to the ground. The fifth remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought. Although the ritual did not originate with the Totonac people, today it is strongly associated with them, especially those in and around Papantla in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

…In Maya mythology the creation of the world is associated with a bird deity (Itzamna) residing at the World Tree (the center of the world). Five “birdmen” at the top of a pole represent bird deities. The main dancer stands in the center and plays a flute, which represents the sound of birds singing. The four other “birdmen” (representing the four directions) spin around the pole to represent the recreation of the world (and the regeneration of life)[10] In the early form, instead of only five men there are six men dressed as birds with each member climbing on top and performing a dance and at the end tied ropes around their waist and who all jump in unison and descend downwards. Many villages in Mexico banned this version of the practice due to injuries and even death.”

…The most controversial change has been the induction of women to perform the ceremony. Traditionally, it has been taboo to allow women to become voladores but a few have become such, all of whom are in Puebla state. One of the first males to train women, Jesús Arroyo Cerón, died when he fell from a pole during the Cumbre Tajín 2006 cultural festival.[14] The elders of the Totonacs believe this was divine retribution and still prohibit the performance of the ritual to women participants.”

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Symphony of the Seas: Hooked Seafood

For one of my lunches with the meal plan, I chose Hooked Seafood. They had a huge oyster bar, with a friendly man busily shucking. Even though I don’t usually eat oysters, I’m a fan of the aesthetic.

I liked the decor. I would kill for some of those big glass floats.

Upon being seated, you were served a big, flaky cheddar biscuit to bring on those eastern seaboard vibes.

I chose clam chowder for my first course. It was good, but nothing will ever measure up to The King’s Head chowder.

I wanted two mains, and one of the things about cruise ships is that you can order as many things as you want. My server told me it was discouraged, but that he would make an exception. Both dishes had an original twist. The lobster roll was seasoned with lots of Old Bay. It was accompanied by the proper Kennebec chips.

The fish and chips had an unusual coating, but I really liked it.

I finished up with a lovely coconut cream pie. Pro tip: They had the same pie and many of the same desserts at the buffet.

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Symphony of the Seas: Wonderland

I had purchased the meal package that allows you to dine in one of the themed restaurants every night and have lunch on days at sea. The first restaurant I chose was “Wonderland” because I am really into Alice in Wonderland, and molecular gastronomy. You enter through a portal that I assume is falling down the rabbit hole. They could have done more with it, painting it in a spiral or adding clocks.

A gentleman greets you and walks you to your table. He was the Johnny Depp version of the Mad Hatter, not the Gene one, but he was adorable, and so charming. I felt immediately at home and comfortable. Where he really shone was with the children. I watched him interacting with them, and they LOVED him.

The menu comes with a paintbrush and water. When you paint the menu, the courses appear. Once you “brush” the menu at Wonderland. You choose dishes based on five natural elements — Earth, Sea, Fire, Ice and Sun. Really, the elements thing was kind of unnecessary. But it was cute. I forget how many choices you have, and I would have asked for more had I not been able to try everything I wanted, but it was enough for me. The plates were all small bites, which I liked, because I could try more. The server told a cute little story with each of the courses.

From “SUN” I chose Baby Vegetables in the Garden,” which was adorable, and had superfresh and delicious baby vegetables.

Also, reconstructed caprese salad. They took a tomato, mixed it with a bunch of stuff I can’t remember, then re-packaged it to look like a tomato. The other tomatoes are just blanched and skinned, then there is goat cheese snow. It was excellent.

From “WATER” I tried Liquid lobster served with bone marrow and caviar, from FIRE, a shrimp wrapped in and from AIR I had a Chicken and the Egg, which was a deviled egg in a nest. They were cute, and the egg had some real showmanship, but taste-wise they were kind of meh.

I also had a very delicious cone with wasabi, crab, and avocado mousse. Also, what I now realize is sea bean. I covered up my ignorance by pointing out the sunset.

I also had a short rib and mashed potato that was supposed to look like chocolate cake and whipped cream, but really just looked like a short rib and mashed potatoes. The dessert was an exciting reveal.

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