Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Upper Penninsula of Michigan

The U.P. as we Michiganders call it is a pretty out of the way you really have to try to be going here. It's a big strip of land off Wisconsin that juts over the top of the Lower Penninsula of Michigan and which requires crossing a hugely scarey huge bridge called the Mackinac Bridge.

My mother is from the U.P. so we went up fairly often as a kid, although usually to Mackinac Island, which as a kid was my favorite place on Earth. As an adult, not so much. It's a cute little island where only horses and carriages are allowed, tons of fudge is made and you can cycle around the whole island in a few hours.

However, I had never seen my mom's hometown of Newberry, which is how I found myself spending my 4th of July at her 50th High School Reunion.

While the U.P. is beautiful, I have to admit it takes a far more outdoorsy person than me to really enjoy it. I like being able to get cell phone coverage and being able to get on the Internet.

There aren't many towns or cities up there, the largest is Marquette , which we did go to visit on this trip. It is amazingly beautiful and surprisingly cosmopolitan for the U.P. (where the average dress is flannel shirts and hunting gear). This is because it is home to Northern Michigan University.

Although I have to admit, the local grocery store in Newberry had more vegan.veggie, gluten-free and tofu products than any similar size grocery store I've ever seen. Maybe the U.P. is moving on up.  The U.P. relied heavily on logging and mining for years and company recruiters used to go Norway, Sweden and Finland (countries with similar climates) to recruit new workers and residents. Which apparently set up some divisions with the locals so instead of Mexican Town or China Town, Newberry had Finn Town and Swede Town.

We stayed in the lakeside town of Curtis at a place called Pine Bluff Resort. Curtis is a little village but if you are into boating, swimming, off roading, fishing, etc. you will love it.

I, however, am not so much of my week was spent sitting around sweating (we had the worst heat wave the U.P. had ever had and they don't have AC up there) and watching Law and Order marathons on TV.

Although we did do day trips to Marquette and also to the  Tahquamenon Falls, a beautiful waterfall which, due to the wood upstream turns the water copper colored. It's also a State Park and has the only brewpub allowed in a state park, Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub. This brewpub is owned by cousins of my mother and is only allowed because my great-grandparents donated the land around the falls and the state (after putting up a long fight) finally allowed the restaurant to be built.

If you come from the south, after you cross the Mackinac Bridge, you will be in the town of St. Ignace which is worth a day or so, if only to climb Castle Rock, visit the Mystery Spot or eat a pasty.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie

So we cruised along until we hit the village of Put-in-Bay (which is actually the most southerly island) and it was worlds apart from Kelley's Island. PIB is kind of like if Key West met the Canadian side of Niagra Falls met the Jersey Shore.

Tons of people moor their boats here and party all day and night. Drinking is the main activity and tourism is the only economy.

It tends to be more older boat dudes and cougars during the days and college/frat kids at night from what I'm told. I'm sure there are lots of date rapes and regrets the next morning in PIB.

It was interesting to see but the only reason I would come back is to go to Perry's Column which is the most massive Doric Column in the world and the 3rd highest monument in the US (after the Washington Monument and St. Louis Arch). It's 352-feet high and commemorates Commodore Oliver Perry's victory over the British in the War of 1812. I didn't know much about this war but apparently it was the war that finally told the British to get the hell out of here and that we were an independent country (there were still British v American skirmishes after the War of Independence) and it was this victory at PIB that helped give the Americans the upper hand.

There is one other historical fact at PIB in that it sports the world's longest bar in the whole world! (verified by Guiness...records not beer). It's at the Beer Barrel Saloon which is basically the sad place your parents would go hang out. The reason it is the longest (which you can't see from the pic) is that it zigs and zags through a lot of area and it's a really long bar.

Although they do serve PIB specialities like cored strawberries filled with liquor and topped with whipped cream, which are not sexy to see someone eat, and jello shots straight out of a syringe that the waitress squeezes down your throat. Again, not sexy.

We hit a couple of bars (hey, my coworkers are all cops now so bars it was) and just pretty much hung around until it was time to leave. It's a cute island (we walked back through the residential section a bit) but I don't see how people live here. It would be like having 10,000 screaming, hormone raging alcoholics with anger issues as your neighbors.

I guess that's why there are only like 150 people who live there full time. Basically, PIB=not a place I would bring kids (although I read there are some caves to explore so maybe that would be a PG rated activity for them).

Kelley's Island, Lake Erie

I joined up with a couple of my coworkers a few weeks ago to take a cruise of the Lake Erie Islands (yes, an archipelago in Ohio, who would have thought?).

There are several islands (some are privately owned) but the 2 main ones that people go to are Kelley's Island and South Bass Island (with the party hard village of Put-in-Bay).

I drove to Sandusky, which is about an hour away and where Cedar Point Amusement Park (aka the Roller Coaster Capital of the World) is located to catch the Good Time Cruise Ferry. There are direct ferries which are faster but this is more of a cruise complete with narrative history of the area and it goes A LOT slower. But there's a bar (which opened at 9:30 a.m. and had customers the whole day...there were a lot of singles and a bachelorette party on board).

Kelley's Island is known as being more family friendly and laid back than Put-in-Bay. It has about 400 full-time residents but thousands of tourists in the summer. It's also the only island in the US to be designated as a National Historic District.

When we landed, we only had an hour and a half before we had to be back on board, so we had arranged to rent a golf cart (you can do this on the boat) to tour the island. I especially wanted to see the glacial grooves which were left when a glacier receded over limestone during the last Ice Age. The Smithsonian took a big chunk of them, but there are still quite a lot left to see.

This island is great for bird-watching, hiking, biking or just relaxing (not like Put-in-Bay which is what I quickly learned)

We cruised around the island for about an hour and then decided to grab a quick drink before we boarded. My boss had recommended the "world famous" Brandy Alexander's at the Village Pump which sounded disgusting but apparently are fabulous. I know what a real Brandy Alexander is but they put ice cream in theirs which sounds weird but my boss and his wife have gained 10 pounds since learning the recipe and making them at home.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

World War II POW Camp in Ohio

Leo and I decided to drive up to Port Clinton, Ohio a few weeks ago, which is about an hour or so away from Toledo. The area is most famous for Cedar Point, the huge amusement park, but we wanted to check out the small towns along the way and go for a drive in the country.

While Port Clinton was quaint and cute (and the jumping off point for Put-in-Bay, an archipelego in the Great Lakes) what most struck me was our stop along the way to Camp Perry. Nowadays, Camp Perry is most known for having the world's largest Civilian Marksmenship Competition, where people come to competition shoot but back in the day it was a functioning military installation.

It still is to some extent but not much. Leo's had to train there a few times but it's pretty dead.

However, the camp does house hundreds of little white cabins all set in rows upon rows upon rows.

I learned they were housing for German and Italian POW's during World War II.

I thought I was pretty good at history but I seriously never knew there were POW camps here in the US (besides the Japanese camps). It makes sense but somehow I never put two and two together.

Most are completely uninhabitable but it was so eerie looking at them, knowing you were staring at a real pice of history. They are also completely creepy and when I managed enough courage to look into one, I saw a burned out old mattress and bed frame, empty beer cans and a lot of trash.

Not sure if they are now a bum camp or a teenage get-away.

When I mentioned it to a guy a t work, he told me that on his grandfather's farm there used to be several POW's working. They were allowed to work there because so many American men were gone. They obviously weren't going anywhere, since the majority wouldn't have spoken English (although this area was settled by Germans so I'm sure the Germand could have gotten by somehow) and didn't have any money. Not to mention, working in a field in Ohio is better than getting your head shot off in Russia. Just barely.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sipson, England

This had to have been one of the weirdest places I have ever been. For my last night in England, I wanted to stay at one of the hotels near Heathrow since I had an early flight and had to return the rental car (whose GPS died on me enroute to the airport and I had to get Internet directions from the manager of a local pub).
I gambled on Expedia's blind fare (where you accept a price but don't know what hotel you will be at). I got Holiday Inn. Sigh. But it was a nice Holiday Inn. I think I was getting it confused with Howard Johnson's or something.
I wanted to have a glass of wine but not pay bar prices, so I asked the front desk guy how far of a drive is it to a store? He told me I could walk out of the hotel, turn left and there would be a pub.
This was in itself a little odd, since there was nothing else around there besides the airport. Most airports I've ever seen are like our Detroit Metro (basically stuck out in the middle of nowhere so no one complains about the noise) and Heathrow is no exception.
So I walked literally 250 feet down the road and see the pub but I walk another 300 feet and see another pub and a small village. Mothers were picking up their children from school and walking them home, people were hanging out in front of the pub or just walking around.
It was surreal to be so close to one of the world's busiest airports and then have this scene of domesticity and everyday life.
Apparently, there was a huge controversy in this village (called Sipson) because Heathrow wanted to expand and the village would have been destroyed. They eventually won but are still bitter about it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rye, East Sussex, England

From my home base in Bexhill-on-Sea, I took a day trip to Rye, a small village about 20 miles away. Rye is the type of little village Americans think of when they think of England.
Cobbled streets, narrow winding lanes, half-timbered houses.
It's apparently the type of little village English people think of when they think of England also as it's a popular day trip from London, being only 2 hours by train.
I can't say I did anything all that special...just walked around...viewed the local church and cemetery....saw Rye Castle (which was built as defence against the French back when Rye had a harbor and the water hadn't receded).
Mostly, I was on a mission to find these dang fox and hound hunting scene coasters my stepmother wanted. I searched in every shop in Rye and found every other type of coaster but no fox and hound (yes, I think hunting is wrong and cruel but she asked for them).
Alot of shop owners even seemed quizzical when I asked for them. I guess they never got the memo that every American thinks that's all that British people do...wear riding clothes and hunt foxes in between tea and scone breaks of course.
Rye is noted for having many famous authors live there, including Henry James. Additionally I learned that Paul McCartheny lived/lives there and his children went to school there. Rye is also the hometown of Bob Marley's ancestors (what did we do before Wikipedia?).
It was definitely worth the visit, but this is the kind of village you want someone to walk around with (since that's about all there is to do) and I was solo. Sigh.
The day I went there did seem to be some kind of motorcycle rally or something which was slightly inconguous with the surroundings.
If you do drive, there is a public parking lot by the big windmill, which was so much nicer than when I went to St. Ives in Cornwall. Because there was no parking in that town and the streets wers so small and it was so crazy to drive, I just drove right outta there without stopping. And then had 3 big drinks when I finally got back to my B and B!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bexhill-on-Sea, England

My final destination of this part of the trip was Hastings but since the recreation of the Battle of Hastings was on, the nearest room I could get was in Bexhill-on-Sea, another...wait for it....English seaside town. How many can there be in 1 country?
I wouldn't recommend the B and B I stayed at (Bexhill B and B) only because it was not close to downtown. It was a good 30 minute walk, although this eventually led me to discover a great pub, called The Bull Inn. It was a decent 10 minute walk also but I met the nicest people there, including the bartender who was obsessed with American football and was actually a barrister in London during the week.
The best way to describe Bexhill is that it's a Victorian bathing spot. It definitely seemed dated. Since I was staying 2 nights, I hung out a lot at the strip mall down the street from my hotel. I love checking out grocery stores in foreign cities and there was a Tesco I spent alot of time at.

Bournemouth, Dorset, England

Heading back to the East Coast I decided to stay the night in Bournemouth which is (another) English sea side tourist destination. I stayed at the Hermitage Hotel which really did have the perfect location but was difficult to locate at first. It was across from the pier and very close to the center of town. Bournemouth is interesting in that they built a huge central park in the center of town (obviously not as big as NYC's) and it had several cafe's, a balloon ride for the kids and places just to hang out and relax.
Since the beach is the biggest draw and I was there in October, I mostly just walked around. It seemed like a nice place to live if not a little boring. Supposedly there is major night life but since I'm not 21 anymore and I was single this didn't really interest me (nor did listening to bad Brit Techno).
Iwalked the pier both at night and before breakfast. It really is nice but nothing to write home about. It was kind of weird seeing some homeless teenagers living under the boardwalk in the morning. One thing I thought was interesting were the beach huts. I had read about these old in English novels but they are a series of little huts you can rent by the hour/day. You use them to change into your bathing suit I guess but I peeked in the windows and they all had mini stoves with tea pots in order to make tea. How British. Not my preferred choice of beverage at the beach....

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tintagel, Cornwall. Home of King Arthur

In my previous visits to England, I never made it to Tintagel Castle, so I was determined this time. I think this was actually the first castle I've ever seen in England, odd for a country known for having produced so many of them.
It's rumored to be the birthplace of King Arthur (of Round Table fame), which means that it draws a lot of people who sell and buy crystals, magic balls, wizard figurines and healing stones.
I did however find a "Only Fools and Horses" mug though. Who knew they even made such things?
It's a cute little town but definitely not much to do besides check out the castle. There are only 5 hotels in town. I stayed at The Wootens which was nice enough (although it looked like it was straight out of the 70's or something) but if I did it again I would definitely stay at The Cornishman which made my hotel look like a haven for marauding seniors.
The main avenue is Fore Street and that's where all the shops and restaurants are, as well as the path to the castle. It's a very long steep paved path but you can pay for a guy in a Jeep to drive you both ways (seriously, who was this guy? I don't think he worked for the village since he was wearing shorts and sneakers and his car was just a beat up old truck---free enterprise, you gotta love it).
There is a little snack bar for anyone who wants to stop and have a tea or coffee.
When you finally see the castle, it's a little underwhelming since it really is only ruins but it is very majestic because it's so isolated and wind-swept. You can see how it became incorporated in the Arthur saga.
What I didn't realize before I came, was that the freaking castle is way out on a headland and you have to climb this little staircase across the ocean in order to get near the castle (and then climb some more around the outside all the while risking possible sudden death by fall). There are no ropes or safety devices I could see. I'm not a baby but c'mon..this place would never fly in the States.
Of course I punked out. I didn't want the next day's headlines to read, "Dumb American Tourist Falls Off Rock and Drowns".
I amused myself by seeing the parts of the castle/fort that didn't require an Evil Knieval stunt and called it a day.
Most of the rest of the day I spent just walking around, browsing in shops and stopping for the occaisonal cider. That night I went to The Cornishman for dinner and met a few locals, as well as the extremely elderly village drunk, who took a shine to me and promptly began sexually harassing me while he waited for his to-go order.
Thankfully, after it came, he mumbled something about getting on home and stumbled off into the sunset.
Why is it always me?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Port Isaac, Cornwall aka the Home of Doc Martin

If it's not enough that I like Agatha Christie, I'm also obsessed with Britcoms (from the 1970's on to today). One of the prettiest, although not my favorite, is a drama called Doc Martin which was a spin-off of a movie called, "Saving Grace (with Colin Ferguson)".
Doc Martin (yes like the boots) is set in a quaint seaside fishing village in Cornwall called Port Wenn. Imagine my surprise when I learned there is a real-life Port Wenn, only called Port Isaac.
I drove the hour or so from Land's End and as if a precursor of things to come, my GPS F'ed up. Basically, I ended up driving through 20 miles of cornfields, one lane roads with high hedgeroes on each side (if an oncoming car approaches, one of you needs to find a lay by and pull over...or reverse until you find one and yes, this happened to me), and cow fields.
Convinced I was going the wrong way, I finally headed down this steep tiny cow path and all of a sudden, the village appeared.
I thought driving with other cars coming at you along the hedgeroes was bad. I was completely unprepared for what you do when another car comes at you and you are cemented in by two 13th century buildings.
After a long stare down, the other driver must have figured out I had absolutely no idea what to do so he gave way. Thankfully, this was almost opposite my hotel, The Old School (which is used in the Doc Martin series as the village school). Unthankfully, I had just passed the hotel, so I had to somehow turn around, among hordes of tourists and oncoming traffic. I just managed to turn around and nearly took out a sandwich board sign announcing the daily specials at the deli across the street.
Port Isaac is beautiful and isolated and amazing. But one night is just about enough. There's not a lot to do there as the beach is a working beach for fishing boats and not suitable for swimming and there aren't any museums or shops except tacky souvenier shops.
So, I drank. And walked around. And then drank some more Cornish cider.
I met some local people who were nice enough to hang out with me and tell me a little about the town.
Apparently, the town is completely dividied over Doc Martin. Half love the show because it brings in tons of tourists (they told me tourism went up 90% since the show. Especially with Australians who apparently come there in droves to see where Doc Martin lives. When I was there I met a father/son team from Richmond, Virginia who came because of the show).
While the other half hate it....I'm actually not sure why...I guess the added tourists and the annoyance of having to deal with TV crews.
I hung out at the Golden Lion, which is a pub but also a nice restaurant. (damn hyper link isn't working but it's a beautiful place right it).
On an odd note, one of the regulars stopped in. He's a guy in his late 20's, early 30's and he had no freaking bottom front teeth. And this didn't apparently bother him or anyone else (I'm pretty sure he had a girlfriend). He looked like a 5th grader who had just lost their bottom teeth and are proud of it (except this guy was shaved bald and pretty rotund).
What is it with the English and teeth? I'm sorry but sometimes stereotypes really are true....

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Land's End, Cornwall

One of the other places I really wanted to visit in England was Land's End. Just the name alone is romantic. Land's End lies at the most westerly point of England and there really is only one hotel to stay at...the appropriately yet perhaps unimaginately named Land's End Hotel.

(see hotel at far right)

It's about 9 miles south of Penzance (yes, that Penzance..again a big thank you to Andrew Lloyd Weber or whoever wrote that damn thing). The closest other village is Sennan, which by calling it a village is very generous.

It consists of a bar, post office/general store, small grocery, mechanic and one other bar which is a long climb down a cliff (well, maybe more accurately very steep hill). It is however, very famous for surfing and I was told that in the summer it's insanely packed (like a 2-hour wait for dinner in the pubs...apparently Land's End is a very popular family/teenager vacation spot).

To get to Land's End, you literally follow the road until it ends. The hotel/tourist center is the only thing there and you can pay for the day to park and explore or stay the night.

Caveat: There isn't much to do here but that definitely adds to the mystique. I had thought there would be a small town or something but Sennen (at a mile away) is the closest. So what is there to do? Walk, hike and birdwatch. All of which are fun but for 1 night at most. I unfortunately had booked 2 nights.

Night comes early to Cornwall (and the gray marine layer which adds to the dusk) and I pretty much just hung out at the restaurant on site and in my room. Note to future self: Do not drink too many Cornish Rattler ciders (damn that shit is super strong!) and accost other hotel guests.

The village of Sennen does have an interesting old church (complete with a plaque of the names of all the villagers who served in World War 1 and World War 2).

The most interesting thing to me was the First and Last Inn which is one of the 2 aforementioned bars in town. Depending on your viewpoint, it would be the first or last inn you would see. It apparently was a haven for smugglers and other ne'er do wells back in the day.

I just found it full of chatty old men (who for some reason had an obsession with watching Judge Judy reruns) and a bartender from Sheffield who was on the run from the law). Go figure.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Torquay, Devon, England

After leaving Watership Down, I drove for about 6 hours to my next destination: Torquay (tor-kee). All I really knew about it is that it's where Fawlty Towers was supposed to be set and Agatha Christie had lived there (yes I like Agatha Christie and yes I know this ages me by about 50 years).

For me, it was mostly a breaking point to my destination in Cornwall. But it was a pretty little seaside town. They have been trying to market the area as the English Riveria for decades now. Not sure if they've succeeded since I've never been to the French Riveria but I suspect that they're not since the first I had heard of this moniker was when I did my Internet research (seriously wtf did people do before the Internet?)!

Overall, it was a cute town but I think much better explored with friends. I walked around by myself for a long time (it was Sunday so a lot was closed or had limited hours). One thing I learned this trip is that there is very little all day food places (except fast food). Most pubs/restaurants close between 2 and 5 for food. Which I guess I should have known since I did a work abroad trip to London when I was 19 and worked in a bar that totally closed during those hours but I thought it was just a peculiarity of that bar.

I was repeatedly offered Sunday roast which is basically beef swimming in fat and gravy, mashed potatoes, veg (ugh what an ugly word) and who knows what other awfulness. I definitely reconfirmed my position that British people can't cook. I ate more cheese and tomato (tomaaato) sandwiches in that week than in my whole life and only about 2 were decent. One actually had mayo on it and another had oil (not sure of what variety) dripping out the end of it. Shudder.

I'm also not so much into the beach. I love looking at it but I can't be assed to spend the whole day just laying out (hello wrinkles, crows feet and cancer) or actually swimming (rule #1 don't swim in anything you can't see the bottom of). So maybe Torquay is not so much for me.

But the owner of the B and B I stayed at was from London and he said after moving to Torquay, he would never go back to London. This was said while at the same time mocking the local radio station which for some reason kept playing El Debarge songs during the mornign drive time hour. What decade do they think it is down in Devon? lol.

Although it was weird because somehow Leo had gotten one of El Debarge's songs stuck in his head a week or so before my trip. Coincidence? I think not.

I stayed at the Cleveland Hotel which was clean and the couple who owned it was very nice (in fact they accidentally charged my 5 pounds too much and the owner came running out to catch me before I drove off). A nice B and B but it was about a 15 minute walk to the water. There are plenty of hotels closer, but I'm not sure how much they charge and most of them seemed pretty janky.

Watership Down, Hampshire

I went to England a few months back to accomplish some "bucket list" things. And yes, I know I'm old if I reference a bucket list.

There were 2 places in England I specifically wanted to see. One of these was Watership Down, which is an actual place and not just a book (which I had previously thought). The book (of the same name) is a epic journey type story but told through anthropormophized rabbits. It can be read as a children's book or as an adult book (kind of like Harry Potter). The author, Richard Adams, lived in the area and used to make up these stories to tell his children and eventually started writing them down. There is also a movie version of the book.

It lies in Hampshire which is about an hour or hour and a half drive from London (I hit a detour though so maybe it's shorter). I also had the disadvantage of learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road (I had done this once before in 2003 but it never really gets any easier).

There is limited accomodation in the nearest village of Kingsclere which doesn't really surprise me because I learned that the British don't really think the book is that big of a deal and are a little surprised that people come from so far away to look at a hill. (I know I'm not the only one..I did Internet research). In fact, no one I asked (who didn't live there) knew where Kingsclere even was or had even heard of it. Some people I talked to in the village had never even been to the hill even though they were life long residents.

The hill (or down as the English call it) is however, a popular place for walkers and cyclists (and apparently thieves since there were signs posted everywhere not to leave valuables in your car....sigh....a sad juxtaposition of rural tranquility and urban reality).

I stayed at the George and Horn which I thought was great. It's a 16th century inn with a pub downstairs. Granted it's not 4 stars but I don't have a 4 star budget. There is a parking lot in back and they serve food which was convenient. I got to meet some of the locals and they took me to my first rugby match. Granted, it was a local game of 15 year-olds but it was interesting to see what people do in a rural village in Britain.

It is true...the pub is the center of life in England. It was Saturday night and the whole village was out and they all know each other. English people always say that they aren't like Americans in that they go to the pub to socialize, not to get wasted (like Americans). All I can say, is bullshit.

The pubs do close early but the majoroty of those people that night were out to get off their heads (and nearly all suceeded).

We checked out the other pub in town, called The Swan. I had read about this pub/inn and it had gotten good reviews but these must have been from people in their 90's. It was Saturday night and there was no music on and people were reading newspapers. It was near dead silence in there. Trust me, I'm not into clubs or crazy bars but this was ridiculous. If you want to be quiet and read the paper, stay at home for chrissakes. I think if you had even tried starting a conversation with one of your friends in there, all the other patrons (who really were about 90..except for a lone group of teenagers...umm super weird) would have given you the serious stink eye.

The next day I went up to see the hill. I got good directions but it's still tricky to find. You have to go through the village of Ecchinswell and I use the term village loosely since it consists of 1 pub and a bunch of houses. Although I was told every year they re-enact witch dunkings in the river behind the pub. Oh those crazy English.

Unless you're a fan of the book, the hill is really no big deal. A nice place for a walk (which I did) but nothing to write home about. Although I did see Andrew Lloyd Webber's house (yes, that Andrew Lloyd Webber, he of Cat's fame) and apparently he's a real least that's what I was told. Personally, not being a fan of musicals, I could care less. Unless maybe to call him a douche for writing so many of the damned things.

There are tons of rabbits running around on the hill (and plenty of rabbit poo so tred carefully) although there weren't any signs marking it was Watership Down, so who knows? I might have been staring at just some dumb old hill.

There is apparently a walking path but it's about 10 miles so I skipped it. On the path you can see other things in the book, like Nuthanger Farm. I'm just not that ambitious.

So that's at leat 1 thing crossed off my bucket list. (Did that term even exist before that Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie exist or did they make it up?)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Puerto Rico Baby

In late June of last year, we got a call in the middle of the night that Leo's mother was sick and in the hospital in Puerto Rico. This was a Monday night. By Tuesday morning, we were on a plane from Detroit to San Juan. The airlines have this thing called "bereavement flight" or something like that, where if there is a death or sudden illness in the family, you can fly at the last minute for a (somewhat) decent price.

As we descended into SJ, the pilot said over the intercom, "Wwwweeeellllcooommmeee to Puerto Rico!" and alot of people clapped. Leo told me it's a tradicion when people land in PR. A lot better tradicion than flights I've taken from Mexico where people pray and make the sign of the cross upon take-off.

The first thing I learned is that Puerto Ricans love them some parades and getting in their cars, blocking the streets, waving flags and shouting. And apparently they love traffic jams. What we learned had happened was there was a basketball player (originally from PR) who plays for some team that had just won the whatever big basketball contest and was returning to the island. You would think the guy was a king the way everyone was so excited. It took us an additional 2 hours to get out of that mess.

According to Leo, all Puerto Ricans love a celebration...they celebrate their own holidays and the mainland US's. And any other they can think of.

After we got Leo's mom sorted, we walked around old San Juan, which wasn't that exiting to me since it was very touristy although we were there in the hurricane season.

One day, we drove the MIL to her hometown in the center of the island,a little town called Comerio (River eater is the best translation I can think of). Apparently, year ago a little boy got caught in the river's tide and called out that the river was eating him.

It definitely isn't a tourist town so that was what made it so interesting. We walked around the downtown, hung out around a church plaza and went to a hippodromo (horse betting track bar) that the MIL's cousins owned. Weird to say but it looked like a divey corner bar that could have been found in any Midwestern town. Old arcade games, smell of smoke, TV's in every corner and cheap beer.

I also learned in Comerio that Puerto Ricans have a special word for OJ. In other Latin American countries, it's called jugo de naranja but when I asked for this in the store, the teenage boy working there just looked at me until he had an epihany and he's like, "Ohhhh, jugo de china" which means Chinese juice. I have no idea how orange juice would have anything to do with China but that's just how the Puerto Ricans roll I guess.

One other trip we took was driving along the top of the island to reach the "Surfing Capital" called Rincon (or corner). Apparently it's a world famous town but not being a surfer I had never heard of it.

It was a cute little town but if you're not into surfing, I didn't think it was worth the trip (it took us about 3 hours) because it's a regular 2 lane road with stop lights the whole way there. There is an airport there though so if this is your destination, I highly suggest you fly.

What finally made the trip so memorable though it that we helped the MIL clean up some stuff around her house and since it's in the tropics, the breezeway to the car port/garage is an open wrought iron gate.

Leo and I were moving some bags and we were like WTF smells so bad? We couldn't figure it out, we smelled everywhere until finally, I was like, "Ok, it's's my shirt." Turns out a stray cat had gone through the garage and sprayed all over the bags (I had carried them to my chest while Leo had just picked them up which was why my shirt reeked).

Leo was like, " El gato hizo pipi" and laughed. Nice. This was how we spent our 6th wedding anniversary...getting sprayed by stray male cats.

Memorable at least....