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To My Puerto Rico…

17 Oct

san-juan-viajes1

I was born there, never thought I would leave.  I was happy, had all I could ever imagined and more.  An amazing childhood, family, friends, school, college… it seemed like my entire life was there.

Driving from San Juan to Cayey, seeing the mountains and all the lights at night.  The singing of our Coquí, which I dearly miss, and the smell of the ocean when you go through “La Puerta de San Juan”.  The cobble streets in Old San Juan, and it’s picturesque houses.  El Yunque, Lechón en Guavate, Frituras en Luquillo, Café in Yauco, bioluminescent bay in Fajardo, the famous Parque de Bombas in Ponce, and all the placitas in all the cities that host so many fiestas patronales, artisan, and any other festivity we can imagine.

Having fruits and vegetables grow in your own backyard, making me fall in love with all things sour like parcha, acerolas, tamarindos, and of course guayaba is another favorite or mine.  Plantains are a must for so many typical dishes our PR has – tostones, mofongo, pionono and more.

The wonderful beaches surrounding us, filled with palm trees for shade and coconuts for fresh sweet water.  Fresh fish for so many other amazing dishes to enjoy!

Of course the music, we can’t forget.  Our PR is always filled with it, keeping our spirits up and happy.

Puerto Rico is a land of very welcoming people, ones who are proud of their island and eager to show it to its visitors.  We take pride in our history, culture, food, and music.

Yes, I say We.  It’s been almost 20 years since I left the island.  It wasn’t what I had planned, or even imagined happening but life happens and you have to change with it.

At first it was a tough and not welcomed change.  I missed my PR, and everything I had left behind.  I would cry and go back as often as I could but, one gets used to their new “life” and thankfully I adapted to my new “home” but PR always has my heart.

It is true, one takes things for granted.  Living there for so long I would often say “I still have time to go there or do that”, I also started thinking, I rather go somewhere new, before going “back home” again, well maybe I should have not postponed it as much as I did.  Time, as an adult, is limited and the things I wanted to do and see in PR have had to wait.  Even when I go back it’s still not enough time to do it all.

As if time wasn’t limiting me, then Hurricane Maria hit.  This was absolutely painful to watch.  To see my little island being hit unmercifully by this hurricane, knowing family, friends, and everyone else were powerless, it was nerve-racking.  The not knowing after was worse.  No communication with anyone, not knowing the extent of the damage, how people were affected…  I do not wish that to anyone.  Then images started to appear on social media…  The PR I knew and loved so much was no longer there.  Tears formed in my eyes without me even knowing.  A helpless feeling took over me when I saw how devastated our island was left.  These were the images I had seen so many times from other islands and never thought it could happen to us.  The stress of not knowing anything about my family members intensified the pain I felt for PR.  But, I had to keep faith and be hopeful, as every Puerto Rican has been through all this.

Yes, we are down but not defeated.  Our island and it’s people are strong, resilient, hardworking, and eager to get back up.  We all want our PR to be what it was before or even better and show why it’s so rightfully called “Isla del Encanto”.  We all help in any way we can to contribute to that, and not only us enjoy the charm of the island but everyone else that wants to visit and see it for themselves.

Just because I don’t live there anymore does not mean I don’t feel what the island feels.  This is where so many memories, laughs, tears, achievements, dreams, were made in my life.  Puerto Rico is in my heart and will always be my home and I can’t wait to go back and see its splendor again, and its beautiful people.

And to end I leave you with one of my favorite songs (from Fiel a la Vega) that always make me feel nostalgic but always brings a smile to my face.

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Havana, Cuba

12 May

There might be some mixed feelings with people visiting Cuba.

I am well aware of the hardship the Cubans have gone, and still go through.  The pain, the struggle, not able to see family for a long time, not being able to go back to home.  Of course I don’t agree with any of these, and my heart goes out to them.  I completely understand why some do not agree with us going there but, here is the other side…  in no particular order.

* Curiosity – This is a place that was banned for years.  Forbidden, closed, that we only were able to see by what leaked through TV or by what our friends told us about it.  So, of course once we’re allowed to go, we would want to.  It’s human nature.

* History – So much has happened in Cuba, and all has been kept almost untouched.

* Travel in time – Again, since so little from the “outside” world has touched Cuba, it’s like they are stuck in time.  Something I appreciated, since a lot reminded me of my home Puerto Rico, and helped me imagine it as it might have been years ago, maybe during my Grandmother’s time.

* The People – Beautiful, friendly, hospitable, happy.  I loved talking to all I encounter, comparing our islands, our Spanish, our accents, our food…  It was a breath of fresh air to be around people with similar culture to mine.  I would not trade these conversations and smiles for anything.

* The Ocean – just like In PR, the ocean has a distinct smell of Home.

* The Food – This is always an important part in my trips.  We do have similar dishes but the condiments, names and preparation are somewhat different.  It’s great experiencing these and maybe even incorporate in the dishes I already know.

* The Music – Salsa is a must in Cuba.  Listen and dance it!

Instead of staying at a hotel, we opted for an AirBnb. close to El Malecón, we would walk to most places.


After seeing the house, and leaving all our things, we headed out and walked blocks until we found a bar.  The setting was interesting, like a church, with ocean view.

Out first drink, you guessed it, a Cuba Libre.  The breeze and the view were amazing, so we stayed for a second one.


With reservations for dinner that night, we went back to get ready.

The restaurant La Concordia has outside seating on the 3rd floor, giving this a “rooftop” vibe.  LEDs that change color are placed on each table.  Great for a date or any type of gathering.


Saturday was my favorite day.  We started with a city tour in antique cars, which they call “Máquinas”.  Convertible, 1950 – 1960s cars, colorful and absolutely beautiful.



Several stops, plus conversation with the drivers/ tour guides, give you a good amount of information of the island, history, and culture.


Walking tour was next, which took us to “Plaza de Armas”, some Plazas, what would be considered “downtown”.  Also got to see where Hemingway drank “


Rum tour was interesting, and ended with a shot.  And while we waited for our driver, we were at the bar enjoying some live Salsa music and dancing.  What can be better than that?


A quick stop at Sloppy Joes and then off to dinner.

Dinner was a treat!  We went to  where they do Dinner and a Show with members of the Buena Vista Social Club.

The highlight here is the show…  Song after song, with incredible voices and entertaining personalities.  They make you dance, laugh, and even go on stage!  They include everyone in the audience, even singing part of songs from the countries visiting that night.​​

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Still dancing with all the songs stuck in our heads, we found a promoter who guided us to different clubs around the area.  My favorite of the night was Cafe Tin Tin.   Live music, good drinks, dance space.  Real fun!


Next morning, and last day.  We decided to walk around one last time to take in all the beautiful views one last time.


Our AirBnb hosts were there to see us off, not without a hug first and wishing us safe travels and to come back soon.

Cuba is beautiful, so are the people…  So much to see and do… So happy I got the opportunity to experience it.

Medellín, Colombia

25 Feb

Medellín, land of beautiful mountains, extensive array of flowers, and happy, hospitable people.

This was a weekend trip, 3 full days.  We loved every single one of them.

Driving or walking there’s always something to see.  Lots of green, and flowers of all sorts adding color to it.  Fruits are another thing in abundance here, you must try Lulo and granadilla.

Artistic graffiti decors almost every wall, that’s not a house of business.  The mountains are a site on its own.  The contrasts of these, with the buildings and blue skies is a breathtaking view.

The people obviously contribute to the magic of Medellín, with their attractive accent, good manners, open to talk and help anyone.  Where ever you go, you will get a “good morning”, “have a nice day”, help locating a place, or just making conversation while you wait for the metro or cable car, etc.  They are not afraid to be friendly, to be hospitable; in a world where people live afraid, so closed in, and knowing their past history, this was amazingly refreshing, and hopefully contagious.

Medellín has a lot to offer, for us to see.  We did a lot in those 3 days, and here’s a little preview:

Stayed at Loyd’s Hotel, at El Poblado.  Location is the highlight of this hotel. Quaint and away from the busy streets, but just walking distance to so many restaurants, parks, and bars.

If you have limited time, tours might be the best way to go. That’s exactly what we did.

Day 1

First day we did a half-day city tour.  This took us to Pueblito Paisa.  A cute little town, with incredible views

From there we went to Comuna 13 where the Electric Stairs are, and my favorite part, beautiful graffiti by one of their very own Chota13.
Although it’s a very humble community, the art on the walls, and even on the tin roofs, gives this place a lively atmosphere.

Cable cars is a fun thing to do. This is every day transportation to a lot of people.  To us, was a fun ride to see more of the city and its infrastructure.

Plaza Botero is good for pictures, with his oversized bronze statues, and if you have time, go to the museum to see his paintings too.

After our tour was done, we walked around to do a little tour of our own.  This would be a food and drink tour.

First we had lunch.  Soup, salad, rice, patacones, meat and juice. All for about $7 each.  Yes, delicious and cheap!

We found La Tiendita del Vino.  As soon as we saw their beautiful patio seating, we knew we had to just sit and relax there.

Walked around Parque la Presidenta, where a lot of artisans are to sell jewelry, art, and food.  Obleas are a must try, and regardless of what else you add to them, always have them with Dulce de Leche.

On the tour they told us of a brewery, so we searched and found it.

3 Cordilleras – after the 3 mountain chains that cross Colombia.  5 different beers available, and live music.

A couble of other bars and what would go better with that than a “perro”.  I’m not a fan of hot dogs but Colombians do know how to make them.

Day 2

Full day tour to Guatape, and La Piedra del Peñol

It’s about 2 hours from where we were staying but the ride is totally worth it.  So much to see.

We even stopped to see some farm animals.

La Piedra del Peñol is over 700 steps up.  Breath, take breaks, drink water, but finish it!  Believe me, you DO NOT want to miss that view from the top. Absolutely incredible.
Going down is not so bad so make sure you take as many pictures as you can, not sure how often you will want to go up there again  :p

We toured the city of Guatape and my favorite part was El Zócalo.

A very picturesque small town, with cobble stone, and colorful houses.  All decorated with zócalos (almost like tiles) at the bottom of them, some telling a story, others of what their professions are, or some of their favorite things.
Walking down the streets you can see the water.  This town really makes you feel relaxed and on vacation.

Time to go back and eat!

We made reservations at El Cielo.  One of Medellin’s top restaurants.

The restaurant is beautiful.  Filled with plants, wood high ceilings, with fans, making you almost feel that you are dining outside.

They have 2 menu options, we chose “The Experience” which consist of 13 courses.

This dinner was exactly that, and experience.  They not only work on taste but on all your other senses too.  Vision, smell, touch, and hearing when they describe each plate being presented.

Plating is clean and artistic.   Each plate has been thoughtfully selected to complimented what’s being served on it.

The chef plays with flavors, textures and colors.  Not to mention liquid nitrogen.

This menu also includes table- prepared coffee, and of course dessert.
Highly recommend this restaurant to anyone traveling there.  This experience is absolutely unique.

 

Day 3

Pablo Escobar Tour

I know there’s many people who are against these tours, and I can understand why.  There was a lot of suffering during that time.

But I’ve always believed that History is there to teach us and hopefully not repeat it.

And also think that, because they don’t want to repeat the fear and chaos of that time, is why the paisas are as friendly and lovely as they are.  They decided to make a difference.

The tour is very interesting.  You get to learn a lot of “both sides of the coin” – Pablo/ and the Government.

The views are wonderful in this tour, especially if you go to La Catedral.

There’s so much more to see in Medellín, to the point we already want to go back.

But, for now, I return home, and share with you my wonderful trip, as always hoping it moves you to plan yours as well, and helps you when you do go.

Travel – Austin, TX

22 Dec

Traveling can be so many things to so many people.

I can’t imagine someone not liking to travel.

You see traveling to me can be:

  1. An escape. I think we all feel the need to get away.  To see something new, to get out of the routine, to feel alive, to leave the problems and voices, that sometimes hunt us, behind.  To pretend you have a new life even if it’s for a few days.
  1. An Education – everywhere you go you learn something new. Culture, history, the people, traditions… all these can teach us so much and expand our world.
  1. A bonding experience – be it with friends, family, significant other. Traveling brings people together.  Traveling can be a meeting place for those who live far, it can be a great way to get to know that other person better, it builds memories we’ll remember for the rest of our lives and will keep us united even if in those memories.
  1. A Health booster – I’m not an exercise person but LOVE cities where I can walk everywhere. Fresh air, cardio, clear mind, this revives anyone’s spirits.
  1. A Networking opportunity – when you travel for business this is obvious, but even when for leisure we encounter so many people that is hard not to talk about our work. Sometimes from these conversations opportunities arise, either to build your own network or help others do so, and/ or grow in their business.
  1. A Feast – Food, New flavors, Music, Local Craft Beer, signature drinks.  All these enhance your travel experience and might even influence your kitchen when you are back home.
  1. Relaxing – you can just travel and do absolutely nothing. Sleep in, lay on the beach, stroll your way around without a schedule.

Most of my trips are a combination of all of the above.  Take my last trip for example… Austin, TX

My friends and I have very different lives.  Distance, work, others have kids, school, an active social life…  We not always have the time to get together, much less travel together.

Thankfully this past week 2 of my friends and I were able to.  To this day we don’t know how we decided on Austin – maybe because it was a place neither of us had been… point was we all were ready for a trip.  End of the year – done with school, work, and routine, this would be our very well deserved break.

We got to see Capital State, plus got to see beautiful architecture both modern and old.

We found a great location to stay where we could walk almost everywhere.  Take in the air of the city, scenery, and gave us a chance to talk even more, laugh, share stories, and create memories together.

Food was absolutely amazing.  There was not one meal we did not enjoy fully in Austin.  Every one we talked to and said this to, their reply was “that’s what you do here, eat and drink”, and that we did.

The absolute MUSTS for me were:

Odd duck – very interesting menu, with incredible variety of flavors

Gordough’s Public House – everything donuts.  Burger, sandwiches, dessert, and beer towers, all coming out of a tin food truck parked on their patio outside.  How fun is that?!?

Eberly – absolutely beautiful place with exquisite food and décor.

Lick Honest Ice Cream – flavors that you might not think off all blend together perfectly in this ice cream heaven.

A glass of wine overlooking the Lake, at Alta’s might be the perfect way to relax here.

Another great way to relax is visiting some of their local breweries – some, like Jester King are designed to spend a day there drinking, eating, playing games, or just enjoying the beautiful sight.

Not sure why they say “Keep Austin Weird”.  Didn’t ask anyone but, maybe it’s for their street art – They have the Hope Outdoor Gallery but everywhere you go you might see beautiful street art that speaks to you.  

Maybe it’s all the guitars you find throughout the city, starting at the airport, all painted in different themes.

Maybe it’s their artists and it’s music.  Sure came across a very interesting and entertaining one at The Continental Club.​

Or maybe it’s their mix of old and new buildings meshed together.  Or maybe the fact that one of their attractions are bats, or, if you ask me, the crazy weather – we had temps of 56 degrees to 73 degrees, then dropped to 29 degrees – yes, I would say that is weird.

Weird or not, Austin was definitely fun, delicious, out of the ordinary, and a trip with friends we’ll never forget.


 

San Diego, CA

9 Jun

What a beautiful place San Diego is…

Must admit, this wasn’t a city I had considered traveling to, when deciding where to vacation next but, they were hosting Yelp Spring Break 2016, and after last year’s one I knew I had to attend.

First thing I noticed was how beautiful it is, even from the little window on the plane.  The view coming in is amazing!

The weather even more!  We went mid-May and it was still low 70’s and high 60’s – no humidity.  Coming from hot and humid Florida, this is a BIG deal!

On top of that, everywhere I looked there were these beautiful purple flower trees (my favorite color) as if they were expecting me all along.  Way to make a girl feel special!  :p

Our Airbnb added to the enchantment of the arrival.  A cute, old, yellow house, surrounded by those same trees.


When you stepped in, you felt like you crossed a timeline, antique décor, dark wood, my favorite part was the third floor… open space, multiple beds, one bath, it felt like a “frat house” or camp house (at least from what I’ve seen on TV).

Our first day there was a short one, since we had several delays at the airports but we still got to attend one of the YSB events and then eat at Juniper & Ivy.  If you haven’t been, this is a must.  It has a romantic but casual vibe to it but best part is the food.  We decided to order “family” or “tapas” style so we could try as many dishes as we could (who know when we’ll have the chance to come back).  Drinks, Devil Eggs, Sea Urchin, Foie Gras Cookies, Gnocchi, Chicken Liver, Duck, and more…  Everything was excellent!

San Diego has a great selection of Craft Breweries.  Even though I was not able to sample a lot of them, we did try some and also a very cool whiskey bar called Seven Grand

Little Italy is another must, for every one visiting San Diego.  Restaurants, shops, nice spot to walk and spend a day outside.  We were lucky to try Landini’s and meet the owner.  His passion for the food they prepare and his restaurant immediately shows.  And their pizzas are truly one of the best I’ve ever had.  So much that we ordered it again, (delivery this time) before we traveled back home.

Also in Little Italy we found iDessert.  Fun place, where you can create your own “stuffed” meringue dessert, completed with liquid nitrogen, making you feel like a mad “sweet” scientist.   Great for kids of all ages.


La Jolla is another great spot to visit.  Beautiful waterfront walkway, with views of the sea lions (you can even walk down to the beach to get a closer look and pictures), and further down the seals (these are lazy – they sleep almost all day).

While walking along the fence, you will also see a bunch of cute little playful squirrels.  Dare you not to take dozens of pictures of these!

Either before or after your walk, stop at Bobboi – this is authentic Italian Gelato.  The owner has worked hard to keep the authenticity of these, making them every morning with organic and pure ingredients.  They will let you sample as many flavors as you like, and it will be tough deciding on just one or two after this.

If you have time, go to Torrey Pines.  This was my first time hiking (Florida is flat) and it was easy, beautiful and fun.  It’s a great place to relax, leave “real life” behind for a couple of hours, and just enjoy the views and fresh air.  At the end you’ll find yourself at the beach, where you can walk some more, or sit and relax for a bit while taking more pictures.

Of course, the San Diego Zoo is a must.  Famous throughout the USA, and one of the biggest I visited – wear comfortable shoes.

Here you can see pandas, polar bears, otters, giraffes, elephants, tigers, monkeys, flamingos, and so much more.

Coronado beach is beautiful, especially during a sunset.

The Air & Space museum was another favorite.  They have 4D movies, simulator rides, observatory area.  Very interesting and interactive museum.

Of course, Tacos a are a must…  We found El Zarape on our last night there and by far the best tacos we had on our trip.

Also, is great to see the local hangout spots and that’s exactly what Waterfront Bar & Grill is.

I know there’s a lot more to do and see in San Diego, and can’t wait to go back.

But for now, here’s my trip in a nutshell and hope it helps you plan yours.

Safe and fun travels!

A couple of “Firsts” in China

20 Apr

Can you believe I “had to” go all the way to China to pick strawberries?

Yup, I’m back from another work trip to the Orient but luckily we always manage to squeeze in some fun.

This time after one of our meetings, the factory owner escorted us to a Strawberry field and we all got to fill multiple baskets with big, beautiful, perfectly red, delicious strawberries.  This was my first time doing it, and it was fun sharing the experience with my China office colleagues and suppliers.  We helped each other pick the best ones, until all our baskets (and bellies) were completely full.



Another fun night, was also after a meeting.  To end the night, they invited us to their beautiful cellar, and we got to do a “private” wine tasting with a really nice view of the HK skyline.  This was (I think) my first time drinking Bordeaux wine, in a private cellar with over 4K bottles of wine. 

Walking the gardens of one of the hotels in the morning, was the most relaxing way to start our day.  Happy birds singing and beautiful flowers all around, overlooking the water.  This was my first time seeing blossoms too. 
I went to a little market where, they told me, I had to try the Vietnamese street lamb.  Very tasty!    

And I saw my very first (Ginseng) Buddha fruit


Learned a new “drinking game” called Big Liar at a pub in Ningbo, and shared many laughs with everyone playing.
Also tried a new hotel (Shangri-La), in HK, after many years staying at the same one, and was a very nice change.  Club level, beautiful view of the bay & HK skyline, and excellent service.  VIP treatment all the way. 
No matter how many times I make this (work) trip, we always mange to enjoy ourselves, do something new, and look forward to the next.

As I’ve said before, it’s all how you see things.  May we never lose the sense of wonder and excitement, even in the “little” things.  This will make life so more enjoyable, happier, and give you many wonderful and memorable experiences.  Happy Journey to All!

Vegas here I come! 

8 Mar

Ah, Vegas! Bright lights, late nights, party and drinks. Sleep an hour or two and repeat…

Yeah, this wasn’t that kind of trip.   :p

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done Vegas the “right way” and it’s one of the best trips I’ve ever had but, this time, I went for work… by myself.

Stayed off the strip to be close to the convention, up early to work. A lot of walking and networking for 4 days straight.

Still, it would be a sin to go and not have a little fun. So, off I went.  Instead of having dinner by myself in the hotel room, I decided to go out and try some new places.

I’m usually shy but, have noticed that the more I push myself to break out of that, the more opportunities and experiences I get.

For example:

First night I wondered around the strip, at a slow pace, taking everything in. Had time to see a couple of the Bellagio Fountains show (still one of my favorite attractions in Vegas), also got to see their Garden, which this time was dedicated to the Chinese New Year of the Monkey.


I treated the hotels like they were museums, admiring their displays, stores, decorations. When you are not worrying of getting dressed and getting to clubs or pool parties you have more time to enjoy these things.

While walking I saw a place called Beer Bar. It has kind of a balcony seating, perfect for solo dining. I found a spot and enjoyed a really good burger while watching another show of the Bellagio Fountains.

Second night, I decided to go out again. This time went to FireFly. Place was packed, and wait time was approximately one hour. The hostess immediately directed me to their sister restaurant Imperial Tacos & Beer. There I found a seat at the bar and ordered. Bartenders were so friendly I didn’t feel like I was by myself at all. Very attentive, making conversation and jokes. Eventually a guy sat next to me, who happened to be in town for the same convention I was attending. We started talking and, being that I’ve been in the business longer was able to give him some tips on how to grow his business. I felt really good being able to help someone, and very grateful for the fun company that night. I enjoyed it so much I almost lost track of time… I had bought a ticket to see Cique du Soleil: Zarkana.


The show is amazing! And, because I needed only 1 ticket, the seat was great, with excellent view.

Third night, of course, I went out again. This time I got to try FireFly. I had it bookmarked since I knew I was going to Vegas, and so glad I didn’t leave without trying it. First because food and drinks were amazing! Service equally great, and second, because again I had the chance to talk with new people and laugh with them.

I sat at the bar, and not too much later two guys sat near me. Again, because of my shy nature I focused on my food and didn’t pay much attention to them, trying to not call attention to myself but their conversation was funny and could not help but laugh. That’s all it took. They immediately included me in their conversation and it was so entertaining, light and fun. Just like the night before, conversation turned to work.   One of the guys is a dancer. He danced at the show Jubilee, and now that the show is over he’s looking for new opportunities… his dream, Broadway! As is in my nature, I offered some advice and a sincere wish of him making it and hoping to see him again, on stage next time, doing what he loves. I didn’t get their names, but the moment we shared sitting at that bar was enough to make me smile and earned me a hug goodbye.

After this, because of my first Cirque visit, they gave me a discount for a second show and I took advantage of it. Went to see Mystère at the Treasure Island Hotel. Smaller theater so even closer seats. The show is entertaining and funny. And so ended my Vegas trip.

 

Morning came, early wakeup to make it in time to the airport, beautiful sunrise view form my window and, even though my main focus for the trip was work, I came out of it, as I usually do, with some great food finds, amazing people, sights and photos to share, and the desire to travel more, to experience more, to see more.

Weather traveling alone, with coworkers, family and/ or friend, traveling is always an adventure… It all depends on you and what you make of it.

Don’t close yourself in a hotel room, go and explore!