The best of the rest: Final days in Lisbon

You know that feeling of sadness that sets in when you know your vacation time in an incredible locale is about to end?

You know that feeling of sadness that sets in when you know your vacation time in an incredible locale is about to end?

Yeah, that mixed bag of feelings where you’re kind of ready to get home to your own bed, but you also can’t fathom leaving behind your days of happy wandering.  I really wasn’t ready to leave Lisbon.  I liked this city even more than I anticipated I would.

Determined to spend every moment I could out in the city on my last day, my friend and I headed out to check out a couple of things left on our Lisbon list (and to eat at Time Out Market one more time).

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Santa Justa Lift

I’d read very mixed reviews of the Elevador Santa Justa.  It’s a bit like the Pyramid in front of the Louvre. Some people adore it; some people despise it. The lift was opened in 1902 and was originally named Elevador do Carmo (you’ll see why in just a bit).  In truth, I find the Santa Justa Lift to be a bit of an eyesore…but, it really is the most convenient way to get from the Baixa to the Barrio Alto, unless you really like walking uphill.

You can use your city travel passes or Lisboa Card to take the elevator up and down.  It works like the rest of the transport in Lisbon, simply swipe your card in front of the scan pads located at the entrance of the lift.

After standing in line for about 15 minutes, we were ushered into the lift.  If you’re thinking the Santa Justa Elevator looks a bit like the Eiffel

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Santa Justa Lift

Tower, you aren’t wrong.  Raul Mesnier de Ponsard was a big fan of Gustave Eiffel and used his tower as inspiration.  The elevator stands only about 150 feet tall, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views at the top.  (On a quirky note: 20 people can ride up in the elevator, but only 15 people at a time can come down.  Expect a bit of a wait.)

At the top of the Santa Justa was one of the sites I had been waiting to see, the ruins of the Carmo Church and Convent. Perhaps the most spectacular site I saw in Lisbon – and I saw lots of spectacular sites – the ruins of this Gothic church are a cannot miss, in my opinion.

The Carmo church, built between 1389 and 1423,  was THE church in Lisbon until the devastating earthquake that changed Lisbon completely struck on November 1, 1755. Attempts at restoration were eventually abandoned and the ruins were left to grace the Lisbon skyline.

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The arches of the ruins of the Carmo Church and Convent

The magnitude 9 earthquake rocked the city of Lisbon, brought this church to rubble and destroyed the 5,000 some books that it housed.

The remains of the altar now house a small but fantastic museum and visitors are free to take their time marveling at what remains of the Gothic structure.  I spent hours looking up at the striking arches, imagining what this church looked like in its glory days. 

I have so many photos of these arches.  Every angle brought a new gorgeous view.  (I’ve posted some of them in the slideshow below).

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I visited two other churches on my last day.  I walked right up on Igreja da Madalena, the Church of Mary Magdalene, on my way to the Lisbon Cathedral.  This little church was a lovely surprise and is actually on the historic register.  Like many places in Lisbon, the church today is a product of several reconstructions. Incredibly ornate, it’s worth a stop.

Just up the hill, you will find the Lisbon Cathedral.  The Sé de Lisboa as you’ll hear it called (its official name is Santa Maria Maior) is a Romanesque structure that dates from the 12th Century.  You can enter the church at no charge.  Pay a small fee to see the cloisters and the church’s treasury which houses jewels and artifacts from its history.

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Entrance of the Lisbon Cathedral
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Cathedral of Lisbon
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Stained glass in the Cathedral of Lisbon
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Cathedral of Lisbon
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Cathedral of Lisbon
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Cathedral of Lisbon
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Entrance to the Cathedral Treasury

Our last official tourist duty in Lisbon was to hop aboard one of the trams that shuttles you around the hilly city side.  The tram stop for the famous Line 28 is just outside the Cathedral.

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Tram 28

Hop aboard the yellow car and ride the loop to enjoy Lisbon’s neighborhoods without the leg workout.

Obrigada Lisboa. Espero vê-lo novamente em breve.

 

Day trips from Lisbon: Cascais and Sintra

If you’re looking for a day trip from your vacation base in Lisbon, I’d like to tell you about two easy options that are only approximately 30 minutes away from the city: Cascais and Sintra.

Using Lisbon’s excellent public transportation system, hop on the subway at the nearest Metro station, ride to a stop where you can connect with the commuter train system, the comboios, and you can easily and comfortably make your way to Cascais and Sintra like I did. You can also use your Viva Viagem or Lisboa Card on the commuter rails (in addition to the subway and city buses, etc.)

Cascais

Located on the Atlantic coast, Cascais,a quaint seaside town and former fishing village, offers visitors stunning views, plenty of shopping, good restaurants, and lovely beaches (which in truth are better enjoyed in the summer than in November). The streets are packed with the adorable and colorful buildings and the tiled sidewalks I’ve come to love in Portugal.

Front and center in Cascais is La Cidadela, a 15th Century fortress that was built to protect against invaders from neighboring Spain. The fortress now houses an exclusive hotel, bars and restaurants and several shops but still has its lovely view over the Atlantic and the mouth of the Tejo River.

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Perfectly walkable is the Parque Marechal Carmona in the historic center of Cascais.  The grounds are lovely and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.  During my visit, it was also full of birds: peacocks and chickens are everywhere.

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Rooster in Parque Marechal Carmona
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Parque Marechal Carmona
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Chicks in Parque Marechal Carmona

There are a couple of other sites I’d recommend in Cascais. A short walk from the park lies the Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum and the Casa Santa Maria Cascais.  The two attractions sit side by side and you can buy a ticket that covers entrance into both.

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View of Casa Santa Maria

Casa Santa Maria, or the House of St. Mary, was built by an Irishman, Jorge O’Neill, who made a fortune in tobacco.  The home conveys a sense of luxury and is full of those gorgeous Portugese azulejos. The home, built in 1902 was gifted by Mr. O’Neill to his daughter as a wedding gift.  The house has changed hands a few times since then and owners have added their personal touches.  Check out the amazing view from the dining room.

 

 

Just next door is the Santa Marta Lighthouse. Built in 1868, the lighthouse stands over what was a 17th Century fort.  There are some interactive exhibits here and you can climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for a spectacular view.

 

Sintra

If you got your fill of ocean views in Cascais, visiting the hilly Sintra is another good day trip from Lisbon.

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Beautiful foliage in Sintra

Sintra is filled with quirky mansions of grand design and is located up in the hills of the Serra de Sintra.  The climate here can be quite a bit cooler than Lisbon, which is precisely why the well-to-do built their summer homes here.  If you’re visiting during cooler months, be sure to pack a coat (and maybe even gloves and a hat).

I dramatically underestimated (a) how hilly Sintra is and (b) how many castles you could visit in a day.  If I had my trip to do over again, I’d actually plan to spend a couple of nights in Sintra to really maximize what I got to see.   That said, here’s how my day trip to Sintra actually went.

If you all remember from my previous posts, I was actually sick during my trip to Portugal.  But, medicated with some amazing cough medicine and decongestants, I decided that I could make the trip to Sintra after all.  I’m normally a planner, but being under the weather, I decided that I could just wing my day.  Maybe not the best plan.

Upon arrival by train in Sintra, you’ll head out of the station and find several different options for touring the town.  Now, you can walk Sintra, but it is incredibly hilly and you may not want to exert that kind of effort. There are lots of hop-on/hop-off bus tour options that drive you from castle to castle.  You can hire a tuk-tuk. Or you can choose to rent an electric car.

We wandered in to the Go2Cintra electric car rental and rented an electric car (read: golf cart with cover) to hit the hills and castles of Sintra. Because I was hopped up on cold medicine, we decided my friend would drive.

The concept of these electric rental cars goes like this: rent the little car with your driver’s license and credit card.  Have the agent help you add the What’s App messaging app and a Google Maps route to your phone. Head out and enjoy seeing all the castles in Sintra. (Side note: there is no way to experience all of the castles in Sintra in a single day.  Cannot be done.)

Tiny electric car rented and me crammed in the back seat, we hit the hillsides of Sintra.  Driving with actual cars in a glorified golf cart was interesting, especially around blind corners.  Mindful that our golf cart had little acceleration and limited speed, I think we did ok. We were enjoying the scenery, making our way to the first castle, when we passed the parking for said castle and couldn’t figure out how or where to turn around to go back.  No problem, we thought.  We did find parking for castle two, but decided upon arrival that we’d rather save our time for a couple of other stops.  We hopped back in our tiny car and headed back out on the roads and that’s when things got…interesting.

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The neighborhoods of Sintra from the backseat of our tiny car

What the agent at the car rental neglected to tell us is that Google Maps can – and does – reroute you from your planned route when it thinks it knows better than you about where you are supposed to be going. Let’s just say, we were enjoying some of the off tour sites in Sintra when we got a phone call from the Go2Cintra office inquiring about our location.  (Oh yeah, the office does track you via GPS, which is a good thing).  After a brief call with the office, we were rerouted.  At this point, we’d missed half of the castles, but what are you gonna do?

From the regular neighborhoods of everyday Sintra, we made our way to the coast and Cabo da Roca.  This is the westernmost point in mainland Europe. It was cold. It was windy. And the view was totally worth it.

Windblown and back in the car, we headed back into the hills for our first real stop: Convento dos Capuchos.  CLOSED.   This quiet, Franciscan monastery is definitely at the top of my list for my next trip to Sintra.  As is the Quinta da Regaleira, which we also missed.

Batting a thousand for castle stops, we finally made it to admire the outside of the Castelo dos Mouros, the ruins of a 9th Century Moorish Castle.  This castle was restored in the 19th Century by King Ferdinand II and is worth a look.

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Pena Palace

Just down the road, we finally left our tiny car and toured the Park and National Palace of Pena.

Taking its place in the Portugese hillsides, it’s hard to miss the multicolored Pena Palace. I’m calling this palace the Frankenstein palace as it is a grand building that contains every architectural style you possibly think of.  It’s both enchanting and odd all at the same time.

The castle is built over the foundation of a Middle Ages chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  According to legend, she appeared at the site and thus, a chapel was built in her honor. A monastery soon followed and it stood for years until being damaged by lightning and fires.  It, eventually, succumbed to the power of the great earthquake that shook the greater Lisbon area in 1755.

 

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Bright yellow walls of Pena Palace
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Gargoyle detail from Pena Palace
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Pena Palace
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Pena Palace

In 1838, King Ferdinand II set his sights upon the ruins in Sintra and transformed them into the royal family’s summer home. The castle stayed in royal hands and had its last royal visitor when Portugal’s Queen Amélia, the last Portugese queen, spent her last night in Portugal here before being exiled.

We spent hours wandering the lush grounds.  Gorgeous and green, there are chalets, ponds, and benches everywhere.  Our last stop of the day was worth a somewhat frustrating experience of missing places we really wanted to see.

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If you are able, I’d highly recommend the hike up to the Cruz Alta, the highest cross in Sintra.  The cross sits atop the highest point of the Serra de Sintra. The walk up the hillside renders spectacular views and shouldn’t be missed.

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Cruz Alta

 

 

 

More of Lisbon

Day two in Lisbon I started to feel unwell.  (Catch day one here). You know, just that typical congested head, coughing kind of cold virus that everyone succumbs to in the fall and winter.  Not one to miss out on sightseeing, I headed out anyway.

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The steep climb to the National Pantheon

Today’s plan was literally to get lost wandering the Alfama district. The Alfama is a maze of tiny little streets dotted with adorable homes covered in azulejos.  Tiny shops and restaurants are tucked into every corner and each time you take a turn, you feel compelled to take a photo of the cutest street you’ve ever seen.

The Alfama is very hilly and you’ll get a killer leg workout in.  After hopping off the Metro, I started my ascent.  The Panteao Nacional or National Pantheon was first up on my list. If you’ve got a Lisboa Card, you can scan your card to get in.

20191114_195230You can see the massive white dome of the Pantheon from almost anywhere in the Alfama.  The church itself wasn’t inaugurated until 1966 after a series of troubles in construction. Inside you’ll be blown away by the use of different stone.  The church is laid out not in a typical Latin cross formation ,but in a Greek cross floor plan.

Also worth seeing here are the six cenotaphs of some of Portugal’s most notable sons and daughters and the pipe organ which was moved from the Lisbon Cathedral, the Sé, in the 1940s.

 

You can get a stunning view of the district from atop the Pantheon dome’s terrace.

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Sao Vicente da Fora

From atop the Pantheon I could see the towers of what turned out to be the São Vicente da Fora. The monastery was founded in 1147 and was dedicated to Lisbon’s patron saint, Saint Vincent. The structure now houses a museum.

Entrance into the church is free but there is an entrance fee of 10€ for the museum. The contents are well worth the price as it contains several luxe pieces from the Catholic church as well as a close look at the architecture and tiles of the building.

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Sao Vicente da Fora

Azulejo mosaics are prevalent in the cloisters. The bright blue and white tiles are in surprisingly good shape given the age of this structure. The details in each azulejo panel are fantastic.

Down a corridor, you’ll also be able to view the old monks’ refectory.  The refectory became the pantheon for the Braganza family, the last rulers of Portugal.  The highlight of the pantheon is a breathtaking sculpture at the tomb of King Carlos and Prince Luis Filipe, his heir. Father and son were assassinated in 1908.

And, as with many of Lisbon’s monuments, don’t miss the spectacular city views from the top.

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After visiting both churches, I spend some more time wandering the streets of the Alfama and discover the most adorable cafe tucked away.  You won’t really know about the shops or restaurants in the Alfama until you are literally upon them.

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Portugese meats, cheese and green wine at Rendevous

Rendevous was perfect for a snack of Portugal’s best meats and cheese and a glass of green wine. The Trip Advisor reviews tell you all you need to know about this charming restaurant.  The food and service were excellent. And we finished the meal with our first shot of ghinja, a sour cherry liqueur served in a chocolate shot glass. Nothing wrong with that.  You’ll find ghinja all over Lisbon.  A shot is about 1€.

We wandered more of the Alfama and of course, had another pastel de nata, this time at Santo António bakery near the Castel de São Jorge. (We missed the last admission to the Moorish castle by about 10 minutes).

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At this point in the day, I’m feeling worse, so I pop into a pharmacy.  Pharmacies in Lisbon are in every neighborhood and are almost like urgent care centers.  I talked with a very kind pharmacist who spoke brilliant English.  (I found that most people in Lisbon spoke perfect English.  They were also very patient as I mangled Portugese in an attempt to learn a bit.  If you can read French or Spanish, you’ll be able to read Portugese pretty well, but Portugese does not sound anything like its Romance language cousins for the most part.)  After describing my symptoms, the pharmacist whipped up two prescriptions for me.  (No antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription).  Back at the hotel, a take out meal of Ramen soup was on order.

Day three in Lisbon was a short one.  My friend left her room early and headed out to see the Castel de São Jorge while I slept off my latest dose of cough syrup. Around noon, I took the subway back to the historic center to meet my friend.  We hopped back on the tram heading to Belém.

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Time Out Market

First stop, lunch at Time Out Market. The Time Out Market is part traditional market with florists, fruits and vegetables stands, butchers and seafood vendors, but the other half is an extraordinary food hall featuring the city of Lisbon’s best dishes and drinks.

A curated food market, Time Out Market allows visitors to taste the dishes from Lisbon’s most amazing restaurants all in one sitting.  Simply order what you like from a mini-restaurant (or two, or three, or ten) and sit with your friends and new acquaintances at long open seating style tables.

It’s a fantastic place to try the food that makes Lisbon what it is.  We sampled everything from croquettes with goat cheese and carmelized onion to famous Portugese bacalhau à brás to garlic butter shrimp to steak sandwiches to chicken samosas.  Wash it all down with a glass of wine, beer or a cocktail. Everything is amazingly delicious. If it isn’t, it’s not allowed in the Time Out Market.  (We ate here several times).

Stop two, check out the Torre de Belém.  Not far from the other monuments, the Belém Tower was built from 1514-1520 as part of a defense system in the Tagus River. This is another UNESCO heritage site and is a stunning medieval tower standing tall in the water.  After its days defending the city, the tower became a lighthouse and even a customs center. In the tower, you can climb up the tower to view the inside, including a chapel and a gargoyle in the shape of a rhinoceros.  (The first rhino set foot in Portugal in 1513.)  A fee is required to enter the tower itself; or you can view the outside for free.  (Note that this monument, and many of Lisbon’s monuments, are closed on Mondays).

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Torre de Belem

Day four is completely lost to much needed sleep, medication and more Ramen.  Several doses of cough medicine and hours of sleep later, I head out to visit Cascais and Sintra.

Have I been abducted?!

You all know how I like to tell you about all the quirky places in the state of New Mexico?  Well, about the quirkiest place you can find is perhaps the city of Roswell.

57435692_10219405643591518_2248855377380638720_nDue to no fault of its own, really, Roswell’s claim to fame is space aliens. Yep, you heard that right.  In July of 1947, The Roswell Incident took place.  An Unidentified Flying Object, a UFO, crashed at a ranch outside of Roswell, NM (quite a ways from Roswell, actually). Or so the story goes.  58460891_10219405618470890_8143089261130809344_n

Once officials were notified, the military swooped in from Walker Air Base (the Air Force base was decommissioned in 1967), gathered up all of the evidence and the alien bodies, threatened folks to keep their mouths shut, issued a cover-up story about a weather balloon and….

Well, the mystery and stories about what really happened in Roswell have persevered. And, the city of Roswell itself has firmly grabbed hold of their alien connection and you can see it all over town. It’s a pretty spectacular example of taking the odd tidbit you’re known for and running with it.

Roswell is home to approximately 50,000 people, making it the fifth largest city in New Mexico.  And the city itself has a pretty rich history. It is the county seat of Chaves County and if you’re interested in aviation or rockets, Roswell has a lot of interesting people in its past, including Charles Lindbergh, Robert Goddard and more recently, Felix Baumgartner.  New Mexico Military Institute is in Roswell and there are lovely museums and restaurants and plenty of places to stay, but I’m here to talk about the aliens.

If you find yourself in Roswell, fuel up at Big D’s Downtown Dive and then throw yourself right into alien culture.  Aliens are literally all over the streets of this town and they will provide you with lots of fun photo taking opportunities.

19092707_10213769948902673_4456882170496300556_oThere’s perhaps no better place to start than the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Right on Main Street, the museum will provide you with a timeline of all of the action  along with UFO art, stories from abductees, and some life sized alien replicas.

This was the first time that I popped into the Research Center portion of the building. Let me just say: If you want to read all things about aliens, UFOs, and etc., this is your place.

Want to up your alien experience to the next level?  The City of Roswell hosts a UFO Festival every year in July.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

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What exactly do they do out there?

I’ve driven by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRA) outside of Socorro many times.  The NRAO is home of the Very Large Array (VLA) or a set of giant satellites that in my mind were always aimed at space searching for alien life.  That’s not exactly true and probably came more from the movie Contact than it did from any actual research on the VLA.

Let me preface this entire blog post by saying I have a very limited understanding of anything more than mildly scientific.

54257461_10219173335063950_8692413439395495936_nI’ve driven by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRA) outside of Socorro many times.  The NRAO is home of the Very Large Array (VLA) or a set of giant radio telescopes that in my mind were always aimed at space searching for alien life.  That’s not exactly true and probably came more from the movie Contact than it did from any actual research on the VLA.

Anyway.  After having a presentation canceled, my co-worked and I decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon of not working.  Neither of us ever having actually been to see the VLA we headed down to check it out.

The VLA is about 50 miles outside of Socorro and it’s pretty much in the middle of a high desert with nothing else in sight.  Turns out that was an intentional decision when construction started on the very large array in 1973.  The giant satellites of the NRAO collect radio waves from space and these radio waves are very faint.  And, when you are trying to collect faint radio waves from space, you need to be in a quiet and open area…hello New Mexico. The flat area outside of Socorro is also surrounded by mountains which act as nature’s buffer to ambient sound.

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The sounds are so faint and the telescopes so sensitive that you’ll be asked to put all electronics in airplane mode and then power them off while you are here.  You are allowed to briefly power things on to take photos (while in airplane mode). 

The visitor center has several interesting displays that will help people without science minded brains (like me) to understand the basics of what goes on at the VLA.  In a very non-scientific nutshell: the VLA uses the giant radio telescopes to collect radio waves from space.  A giant supercomputer then compiles all of the data from all of the different 54423210_10219173337744017_2983587495607795712_ntelescopes into composite photos that allow us to see what space looks like.  It really is pretty amazing and the visitor center has several incredible photos that came from the data that’s been collected.  In addition to providing insight as to what space looks like, astronomers use this data to track asteroids, watch exploding stars and investigate black holes.

That’s where my understanding ends.  There is a documentary that plays in the visitor center as well as some on-demand videos in which some very science-y guys attempt to explain what goes on at the Observatory to people like me.  No one answered my two burning questions:  how much do these beasts cost?!  My guess is somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And, has anyone ever broken one?

54517386_10219173335543962_6153953244788817920_nThe best part of our visit was the walking tour.  (Guided tours are available – check the website). You will have an opportunity to get outdoors and get close to one of the VLA’s radio telescopes.  These 230 ton monsters can be moved on special loading trucks – provided that the winds are no more than 20 mph.  Employees use jacks to lift the dishes up off of the bases.  They are then lowered onto these specialized trucks that can move the radio telescopes along 40 miles of railroad tracks on the NRAO property.  The telescopes travel at no more than 5 mph on the tracks to their new location. This allows the VLA to adjust the arrangement of the satellites to suit their needs. You can check out the current configuration of the VLA here: https://public.nrao.edu/vla-configurations/.

 

Teotihuacán

Interested in climbing ancient pyramids?  How about learning more about human sacrifice?  You can do both at the UNESCO heritage site of Teotihuacán.

Interested in climbing ancient pyramids?  How about learning more about human sacrifice?  You can do both at the UNESCO heritage site of Teotihuacán.

Located approximately 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, the ancient city of Teotihuacán is definitely worth a visit. This amazing anthropological site can be accessed by bus (buses leave Mexico City about every 30 minutes or so from Terminal del Norte) or you can do as I did and hire a driver.  For about $50 US per person, my friend and I hired a

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Shrine at the entrance of Teotihuacán

guide to pick us up at the hotel, drive us out to Teotihuacán and drop us back into Mexico City – very convenient and a lot less crowded and hot than a bus.  Your hotel concierge can help you arrange this service.

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Pyramid of the Moon

Headed out on the highway north, you get another look at just how populous and crowded Mexico City really is.  Hillside after hillside of colorful houses stacked side by side line the roadway.  Once you get out of the city traffic, the drive to Teotihuacán is a pleasant one.  It can take approximately 90 minutes to get there – mostly due to the traffic in Mexico City itself.  We left our hotel early, approximately 7:30 AM, for our trek to the pyramids.  Upon arrival, I was glad we chose a morning (rather than afternoon trip).  Mornings are cooler and less crowded. Temperatures at Teotihuacán were in the low 80s during our visit in March and the sun is unrelenting at the site.  Very little shade is to be found so make like a tourist and pack a sun hat and/or parasol to shield you from the sun.  The elevation in Mexico is higher than you might imagine so make sure you’re getting enough water (restrooms are available towards the entrance gates at Teotihuacán).

You’ll find three entrance gates into the site.  The first gate allows you to walk the29542306_10216423428277999_2689725515269700708_n Avenue of the Dead and explore la Ciudadela, the second gate is closest to the largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, and gate number three enters the site closer to the smaller of the two pyramids, the Pyramid of the Moon.  It is absolutely possible to walk the entire site, but you can also ask your driver to drop you at any of the three gates.  With limited time, we opted to be dropped off at the Pyramid of the Sun and picked up at the Pyramid of the Moon.

You will need to purchase a ticket to enter the Teotihuacán.  This can be done at any of the gates and the cost in March of 2018 was 70 pesos for an adult visitor.  Shops and vendors selling everything from water and snacks to hats to obsidian fetishes line the walkways.  Vendors will try their best to get you to buy something and it’s normal for you to bargain a little to get the best deal.

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Pyramid dog

Once inside the complex at Teotihuacán, I was amazed at how large the square was.  Numerous ruins have been excavated and are on display for you to view up close. Carefully preserved and brightly colored murals are also on display in a museum on site.  Anthropologists and historians are not quite sure who built Teotihuacán or what its original name was.  Teotihuacán was the name given to the site by the Aztecs and the city was already in ruin upon their arrival.  The city was probably established around the year 100 BC and had started its decline around 600 AD.  This means that the city was up and running during the time of the Mayan empire and in fact, Mayan texts show reference to the city of Teotihuacán.

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Pyramid of the Sun

While you are here and if you are able, I would highly recommend climbing one of the pyramids. (If you have more time and money, take a hot air balloon ride over the site). Both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon were probably used as some type of religious and/or sacrificial site. There is a lot of interest in the Pyramid of the Moon by researchers because of its strategic place at the end of the Avenue of the Dead.  I

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Nap time at the Pyramid of the Moon

suspect at some point, for preservation purposes, climbing the pyramids will no longer be allowed as pieces of the stairs are already beginning to break off, but today it is expected that you will climb up one or, if you are superhuman, both pyramids. You get to put your feet on history, literally, and the view of the archeological site from atop the pyramid is pretty spectacular.  Be warned that these pyramids are large. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world.  The stairs are very steep and in some places very narrow.  The steps are not all consistent in size either.  I’m fairly tall and long legged and there were a few stairs that were a challenge for me.  (But, just when you think about stopping you see a woman twice your age and half your height making it up….) There are ropes on some of the steeper parts of the pyramid that you can hold while climbing. Because of the uneven nature of the ground here, I’d recommend you wear a sturdy pair of sneakers or trail shoes.

After climbing our way up the Pyramid of the Sun, I began thinking about a few things.  1. I need to get back to my workouts. 2. The people of Teotihuacán were in damn good shape. 3. The view is spectacular. 4. I probably just walked over the bones of people that were sacrificed to the gods.

That’s right, the builders of Teotihuacán worshipped many gods and from all accounts had rituals that involved human sacrifice – including, on occasion, children whose bones were said to be scattered at the corners of the pyramids.  It’s kinda disturbing and it’s kinda fascinating, these human sacrificial rituals.  I’ve read that many times those that were sacrificed were warriors from enemy tribes, but sometimes someone from your village was chosen as a sacrifice.  Depending upon what each god required in the form of sacrifice you might be decapitated, have your beating heart pulled out of your chest or just be struck over the head. I’m currently looking for a good book to read to learn more about human sacrifice in these tribes.

The history of the Central and South American tribes is captivating and is worth more than the passing mention it gets in history classes.  People living in the Americas before the reign of the European conquerors were part of large and complex societies with far more development in math, science, farming and warfare than we tend to think.  If you’re looking for a good book, I’d highly recommend 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 

While Teotihuacán seemed by all means to be a vibrant city with estimates of 125,000 inhabitants (making it the 6th largest city in the world during its time), the city suffered some decline and the inhabitants eventually left.  Drought and ecological decline resulting in malnutrition of the population may have played a part, but there is also archeological evidence that a fire was systematically set in the city – set intentionally to the places that housed the upper class citizens.

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Tequila

At this point in the day, my quadriceps are burning and both my friend and I are ready for a snack.  Our driver, Mario, takes us down the road to a restaurant and tequila distillery called Mi Mexico Lindo.  Here we enjoyed a nice plate of tacos and a taste of the house sweet, almond flavored tequila.  (It’s five o’clock somewhere!) . After you enjoy a meal, if you are so inclined, you can tour the facilities and taste the liquors made from the agave plant: tequila, mezcal, and a special little fermented drink that’s been around for hundreds of years: pulque.

After your visit to Teotihuacán, make some time in Mexico City to follow up with a visit to the  Museo Nacional de Antropolgía. This enormous museum has a world class collection of artifacts from pre-Hispanic Mexico.  Organized in 12 ground level halls, you can get much more insight on the indigenous peoples of of Mexico, including the Aztecs.  You can buy tickets ahead of time on the museum’s website or purchase at the museum.  Note that there is a separate ticket line for tourists, especially on Sundays when the museum is free to Mexican residents.

 

Ciudad de México

If you’ve been contemplating a trip to Mexico City….Go! It’s a wonderful city with friendly people, great food, charming neighborhoods, and amazing museums.

Who would have thought that I’d end up loving a place I was so hesitant to visit?

You hear things about Mexico: drug cartels, corrupt government and police force, the time your cousin was escorted around the city in an armored car while on a business trip- and you think, these things are not a ringing endorsement for Mexico.  But when your friend tells you about a long weekend trip to Mexico City, you think: why not? And then you start reading up and you realize that Mexico City, with over 150 museums, art, culture, and tacos galore, sounds like an interesting vacation spot indeed. And it is.

Mexico City, home to some 22 million people (with another 6 million daily commuters, I am told), is the largest city in the Americas and it’s probably not the place you think it is.  For all of my hesitancy around scheduling a trip to this giant metropolis, I can’t wait to get back.

One of the joys of traveling to Central America is the ease in getting there. My flight from Houston, Texas to Mexico City was only 90 minutes.  And, to sweeten the pot, Mexico City is currently on the same time as my home.  (Mexico City does observe Daylight Savings Time, but they don’t spring forward until April 1st).  After reading about what a nightmare baggage claim can be in the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, I decided to carry on.  Armed with my Samsonite under the seat carry-on suitcase and my Baggallini purse, I deplaned in Mexico City after an uneventful flight.  The only real excitement was the two Mexican gentlemen seated next to me, politely stifling chuckles while I sat, nose pressed against the window and mouth wide open at the sheer size of the city.  When you go, you’ll get it.  Once you descend through the haze (there is a pollution problem in a city this size), you’ll see what looks like a never ending city.  It simply sprawls on forever.  I’ve been to some big cities: Paris, London, Los Angeles….and these all pale in comparison. I was also mesmerized by the vibrant pops of purple that I could see from the air.  These turned out to be my newest obsession, the jacaranda tree.

A few points to note if you are planning a trip to Mexico.  US and Canadian citizens need a Passport to visit for up to 180 days.  No Visa is needed unless you plan to stay longer.  If you’re flying in from elsewhere, check to see what documentation is needed.  On the flight, you’ll be asked to complete an Immigration Form for entrance into the country.  This form is not unlike immigration forms I’ve filled out for other trips, except that you will be asked to retain one portion of your form.  It will be collected when you exit the country and it you don’t have it to hand in, you’ll be assessed a fine of 42 Mexican Pesos.

You’ll also want to exchange some money.  Several places in Mexico City did accept credit cards, but I found that the city operates on more of a cash basis than I anticipated.  You can exchange money at the airport (the exchange rate is great for those of you coming from the USA – about $16.80 Mexican to ever $1 US Dollar) or you can easily access a cajero automático, ATM, while out and about.  US Dollars were accepted some places but not with the frequency of a coastal resort town.

A note about plumbing: you cannot flush your toilet tissue in Mexico City.  The plumbing cannot handle it.  This isn’t uncommon in many areas of the world: Greece, parts of Italy, other countries in Central and South America.  (I wrote about it when I went to Ecuador.) You’ll find a small wastebasket next to the toilet.  Simply deposit your used tissue there and proceed with your day.  In some of the more rural stops, you may find that there is no toilet tissue or that you’ll be asked to purchase tissue for your visit.  Tuck a small pack of tissues or a tiny roll of Charmin To Go in your purse for these occasions.

The city of Mexico City is made up of 16 burroughs and has everything you’d expect to see in a bustling metropolis.  While I felt completely safe during my visit, there are a few precautions to take here, as you would in any city of size.

  1. Don’t take an unauthorized taxi.  Make sure that you are registering a ride with an authorized and marked taxi cab.  Criminals posing as taxi cab drivers is a thing here so do your due diligence and take a cab that is authorized or have your hotel arrange for a cab for you.
  2. Uber is a great way to get around the city.  We used Uber almost exclusively for our trip and had a great experience.  Simply fire up your Uber app and order a ride just like you do at home.
  3. Mexico City does have a subway and it’s rumored to be pretty convenient and fast.  Be alert and mind your bags and wallets.  As our hotel concierge noted, most of the crime in the tourist heavy parts of Mexico City is pick-pocketing.
  4. Police presence is everywhere in Mexico City.  From traffic cops to riot police, you will see law enforcement on the streets.

There are several great places to stay in this city.  We opted for the Hampton Inn and Suites – Mexico City Centro Histórico.  This beautiful hotel was a convent in its former life

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Hampton Inn and Suites

and the building and terrace are lovely.  It’s also right in the middle of the busy historic center of the city which means you’re within walking distance of some of the main tourist sites: Zócalo, the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

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The Zócalo

We arrived late on a Friday afternoon and opted to spend our first evening getting to know our neighborhood with a stroll to the Zócalo (formally La Plaza de la Constitución), about a 2 block walk from our hotel.  Take care in crossing the streets in Mexico City!  Traffic is insane – both pedestrian and vehicular.  There are crosswalks, but they are not always respected.  The Zócalo is a large plaza that serves as a gathering site for the city’s many festivals, religious events and concerts.  It’s one of the largest squares in the world and it is the largest square in the Western Hemisphere.  (Get used to me saying that, by the way.  Everything in Mexico City is the largest, oldest and most visited in the Western Hemisphere).  Mexico City has an interesting Aztec tradition and the Zócalo is built right over one of the main ceremonial centers in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

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Palacio Nacional

From the plaza you’ll be able access many shops and restaurants.  You’ll also get a great look at the Palacio National, the seat of the federal executive in Mexico City.  The National Palace has also been here since Aztec times and materials from Moctezuma II’s palace were used in crafting the building you see here today.  Go inside to see Diego Rivera murals.  (You can see more Rivera works in the Public Education building.  Simply show an ID and let the guard know you’re there to see the murals).

Also on the Zócalo, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los Cielos.  In typical European conqueror style, Hernan Cortés ordered the building of the cathedral after his conquest of Tenochtitlan and he built it atop several sacred Aztec sites.  Like the Palacio National, stones from the original Aztec sites were

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Ancient traditions on display at the Metropolitan Cathedral

used in the construction of the early cathedral.  At least the Spaniards recycled when conquering the native peoples?  The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (that’s a mouthful) was built in sections between 1573 and 1813 and is, are you ready, the oldest and largest Catholic cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.  It’s also incredibly beautiful and a great place to check out several different styles of architecture at once, including the Churrigueresque style front entrance.  Please note, this is an active cathedral as it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Mexico City. Mass goes on quite frequently.  Please be respectful of the barriers put up so that those attending mass are not disturbed.  You’ll also want to ensure that you are somewhat covered up for a visit here – that means no shorts and no bare shoulders (I always tuck a large scarf into my bag for this reason).

Mexico City style note:  you will not see many shorts in Mexico City at all.  Even though the weather can get warm here (up to 85 degrees F), you will see people a bit more covered up.  Jeans are very popular and you’ll typically see longer sleeved tops and layers.  Skirts and dresses are commonly seen as well.  You’ll be fine here with a selection of pants or jeans (even cropped pants, ladies) or skirts with a few tops and a couple of cardigans or scarves.  Bring sensible walking shoes.  Mexico City’s streets are old and in some areas uneven cobblestone.  My final style note is to avoid wearing white athletic shoes…nothing screams American tourist more loudly than this.

A quick walk from the Cathedral and we ended up at our dinner destination for our first evening. The restaurant was not our intended destination, but after a long and mixed up conversation with the concierge, we ended up at La Casa de los Azulejos, an 18th Century tiled palace that was built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba.  The gorgeous home, tiled in the traditional blue and white tiles of the Mexican state of Puebla, is now home to Sanborns.  Sanborns is a drug store chain that you’ll find in Mexico, Panama and El Salvador.   It was opened by two California brothers who moved to Mexico and it featured the first soda fountain in the country.  During the Mexican Revolution, Sanborns became a meeting place for the troops of Emiliano Zapato.  Today, you’ll come to appreciate Sanborns as a department store with a consistent restaurant and clean bathrooms.

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Casa de Azulejos

From the Casa de los Azulejos, it’s a short walk and an a harrowing street crossing to get to the Palacio de Bellas Artes or the Fine Arts Palace.  This building was begun in 1905 and finished in 1930 in the Art Deco style.  The building features murals by artist Diego Rivera, a stained glass curtain by Tiffany & Co. and it’s sinking.  All of Mexico City is actually sinking and you’ll see evidence of it around town.  From cracked foundations to added stairs to monuments, the city is fighting a never ending battle….all because Mexico City and its ancestor, Tenochtitlan, were built in a lake bed.  You can catch performances here from Ballet Folklórico de México, but the building itself is best viewed from across the street at the Sears.  I kid you not.  The Sears department store, which very much looks like a grand department store from the golden days, has a coffee shop on the 9th floor with a fantastic view, I am told, of the Palace.  Go early.  The coffee shop is tiny and there will be a wait – we didn’t get there in time.

On day two of our trip to Mexico, we visited the Pyramids at Teotihuacán in the morning and then returned to the neighborhood of Coyoacán in southern Mexico City.  Coyoacán is a Nahuatl word meaning the place of the coyotes.  Built upon a pre-Hispanic village of the Tepanec people it is now a Bohemian neighborhood with lots of restaurants, colorful squares, restaurants, and museums.  One of the highlights here is the Frida Kahlo museum: Casa Azul.

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Casa Azul

The Blue House was Kahlo’s childhood home and it is the home where she died.  It was donated as a museum in 1958 and houses several of her works.  I can appreciate the work of Frida Kahlo, though I wouldn’t want it hanging on my wall.  Frida’s life was both interesting and tragic and that is reflected in her works.  As a child, she accompanied her epileptic father, a photographer, perhaps instilling a love for art. After a horrible bus accident, she was bed ridden, eventually forced to wear a leather corset and sit in a wheelchair to offset the medical issues from the accident.  Kahlo married muralist, Diego Rivera, and by all means it was a stormy relationship with affairs on both sides.  One of the rumored affairs for Frida was Marxist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.  (He’s got a museum here, too).  The grounds and gardens are gorgeous and are worth a visit even if you’re not a Frida fan.

This museum is very popular.  Book your tickets online before you go so that you can wait in the shorter line.  If you want to take photos inside the museum, you will need to purchase an additional photography pass in order to do so.  Your entrance here also gets you into the Diego Rivera house and museum, Anahuacalli.

After museum going, we were hungry and we stumbled into a bakery called Pan de Gabriel.  We visited a bit with the man manning the register, who explained to us that the bakery was a vegan bakery.  Not at all what I’d expect in Mexico City.  Everything in the bakery was made without gluten, sugar, dairy or eggs and it was still delicious!  After a chat with the bakers, who were thrilled that we were giving Mexico City a chance and that we loved it, and a visit with a couple from New York, we were off on another Uber ride back to the historic center for dinner.

Dinner at El Huequito Bolivar is soooo worth it.  Mexico City is know for its tacos and this taqueria specializes in tacos al pastor.  For those of you not in the taco know, tacos al pastor feature spit-grilled pork mixed with fruit and – most traditionally pineapple – and chile.  El Huequito marinates its pork in their specialty orange salsa and it’s delicious.  Be careful of the salsa.  On this trip to Mexico I tasted three salsas hot enough to kill me and I’m used to eating spicy food! Enjoy some tacos and a refreshing bottled coke, margarita or beer here.  (You know not to drink the tap water in Mexico, right?  Not to worry – refreshments, including safe to drink bottled water are easy to find).

After dinner, my friend and I were both craving a sweet so we wandered back towards our hotel to a bakery we had seen before: Pasteleria Ideal. Let me just interject here that Mexico City knows how to do baked goods better than any place else I’ve ever been – and that includes Paris where pastries are serious business.  Residents of Mexico City love pan dulces or sweet breads and nowhere was that more apparent than in this bakery on a Saturday night.  The place was packed!  Upon venturing inside, we see a veritable smorgasbord of pastries laid out on a series of tables in the back of the bakery.  People grabbed restaurant serving-sized trays and a set of tongs and began piling the baked goods high!  When you had what you wanted, you proceeded to a station where your goodies were wrapped and weighed.  Take your receipt to the counter to pay and off you go with pounds of delicious sweets.  I’m not sure if this is a weekly indulgence for most in Mexico City, but I’m thankful that we’d been walking enough to have a pastry.

Day 3.  Tired feet after two days of walking and climbing pyramids, we decided to take advantage of something that was suggested to us: The Turibus.  The Turibus is just what it sounds like: a double decker tour bus cruising the streets of Mexico City and it’s a great option for safely seeing the sights.  For approximately $9 USD, you can ride the Turibus and its five circuits from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM to see the sights and to hop off at any of the sights you want to explore more.  With unlimited hop on/hop off rights and a gorgeous day, it seemed like a good way to see a bit more of the city while giving our feet a rest.  Buy tickets at the major Turibus stops (like the Zócalo) or buy them right on the bus.  Simply show your wristband the next time you want to hop on a Turibus.  The buses also have Wifi and recorded information about the sights.  Listen over the speaker in Spanish or plug in a set of headphones to listen in other languages.

29513043_10216434756561199_4420047116847458862_nWe hopped off at the Angel of Independence, a beautiful monument to independence on Paseo de la Reforma that was built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of Mexico’s War for Independence.  The sinking sculpture, more steps have been added to the base, is a sculpture featuring the four bronze figures of law, justice, war and peace, as well as Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.  It’s also a gathering place for the many walkers, roller bladers and cyclists out on a Sunday morning when Paseo de la Reforma closes down.  Several people were out enjoying the weather and a few were out peacefully protesting the concerns they had about the Mexican government.

After a stop at the world renowned Anthropology Museum, we walked over to Chapultepec Park, the largest city park in Latin America and one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere.  Bosque de Chapultepec is the green space in Mexico City and it is enormous (think Central Park in NYC).  The park houses several museums, the zoo, the botanic gardens, and a lake among other things.  We took a stroll through the park that sees more than 250,000 visitors per day.  The park has been inhabited since pre-Columbian times and is a great place to spend an afternoon.  Stop for a paleta or refresco at one of the many vendor stands and enjoy performance art, a paddle boat ride on the lake, or some time at the zoo.

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Bosque de Chapultepec

A ride back to the hotel on the Turibus and a quick dinner and I can’t believe my time in Mexico City has already come to an end.  Allot yourself plenty of time to get back to the airport.  Depending upon traffic, it may take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  Check-in and security at the airport were surprisingly easy.

¡Adiós, Ciudad de México!

If you’ve been contemplating a trip to Mexico City….Go! It’s a wonderful city with friendly people, great food, charming neighborhoods, and amazing museums.

 

Music City and airport etiquette, y’all

Nashville, Tennessee, home to country music and about 2 million people. It’s also host to large conferences, hoards of tourists, and it has become the top city for bachelorette parties – I kid you not. 

Music City is hopping, y’all!

Nashville, Tennessee, home to country music and about 2 million people (give or take, in the metro area) is also host to large conferences, hoards of tourists, and it has become the top city for bachelorette parties – I kid you not.

Getting from Albuquerque to Nashville takes a good portion of the day.  And this trip was my first work trip after quitting a job, getting a job, and etc. I find business travel is always easiest when you’re in the groove – when you’re gone more than you are home and you know exactly what you need to take with you (work uniform – black slacks, coordinating blouse and jacket, sensible heels).  When I’m out of the groove, I over pack and end up checking a bag which makes me angry all over again that my ticket wasn’t on Southwest where my bags fly free (and there are no change fees…don’t get me started on my last experience with United).

Airport travel tends to bring out the best and the WORST in people and  in all my travels, I’ve seen everything including a lot of things I wish I could unsee.  So, before we dive into my short time in Nashville, let me run down a quick list of things I wish I’d quit seeing at airports and on airplanes:

  1. Not everyone should have TSA Pre-Check.  I should.  I fly a lot, can recite the rules and regulations, wear reasonable footwear in airports, and can get through an open security line in under 20 seconds.  People who haven’t flown for 30 years, women who wear heeled boots that lace up over the knee, and people who come through the line with 35 stuffed bags (that won’t fit in an overhead compartment) do not belong in the frequent traveler line.
  2. Women speaking on cell phones in the public toilet.  Ladies, nothing is so important that you need to subject your listener to a soundtrack of tinkles, toots, and constant flushing.  Call them back.
    • Also, ladies, can we please make a concerted effort to flush before leaving the stall?
    • And, please don’t leave your newborn baby in its stroller outside of your stall.  I saw this in Phoenix and was horrified.
  3. The top of the escalator is not a good place to stop and have a conversation.  Neither is the end of the moving walkway.
  4. All of the seats on the plane will arrive to the destination at the same time.  You do not need to crowd the boarding area 20 minutes before the boarding announcement.
    • Upon arrival, you also do not need to crowd the baggage claim.  The suitcases keep coming around and around and around…..
    • Don’t be crazy at the baggage claim.  I once saw a woman in Denver come busting into the baggage claim area, announcing that she was from “mother f’ing Jersey.”  That somehow gave her the right to get her “mother f’ing suitcase” off the “mother f’ing carousel” before the rest of us “mother f’ers.”  This could be a whole post unto itself, but long story short, she was asked to leave the mother f’ing airport.
  5. On the plane, please get what you need out of  your bag before we take off.  There isn’t room for you to be up and down and in and out 45 times on an hour long flight.
    • And maybe, maybe try to potty at the airport.  I’m always amazed at the number of people that need to get up to use that disgusting airplane lavatory on a 50 minute flight.
  6. Please try to remain in your own seat.  My lap is not for your newspaper.  Your feet shouldn’t go under mine.  If I don’t know you, I’m not keen on you resting your drooly head on my shoulder. Try not to spread your legs so far apart that your seatmate can’t move (men, ahem).   And, if you plan to drink so much that you might pass out and not awaken upon landing, please plan early and get a window seat so I can deplane.  (This happened coming home.  I thought I was going to literally have to slap the man on the aisle to get him up. Several very sturdy shakes by the shoulder did the trick – thank God).
  7. Both armrests belong to the sad sack in the middle seat. He’s got nowhere to go.
  8. Please exit in an orderly fashion. Jumping up to block the aisle while we’re all waiting to get out of the sardine can does no good.

And one small request, for the love of God, please wear closed toe shoes or have clean feet.  Especially in the summer. I hate flying in the summer for several reasons but perhaps the number one reason is that airports across America smell like feet.

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Nashville as seen from the Music City Center

Now back to Nashville.  I’m in town for a large conference at the Music City Center – conveniently located right across the street from my hotel.  On the way into town, I’m blown away by how much Nashville has grown since my last visit several years ago.  With work travel it’s always unknown about how much I’ll get out to explore the town, but I did get out enough to experience two things that Nashville is really good at: food and music.

Folks in Nashville seem to eat three things:

  1. Barbecue
  2. Hot Chicken
  3. Pimiento Cheese

Let’s talk about hot chicken for a hot minute.  This is a BIG deal in Nashville, and much like Chicagoans with their pizza, every Nashvillian has an opinion about where you can find the best hot chicken, so ask around. It’s spicy, it’s fried and it’s generally served on a bun with pickles – although I have seen hot chicken kabobs and hot chicken salad…. If you’re not chowing down on hot chicken or barbecue, chances are you have something smothered in pimiento cheese.  I’m not sure where this craze came from but people in Nashville cover their food with pimiento cheese like people in New Mexico cover their food in chile.

Downtown Nashville is surprisingly pedestrian friendly.  Walking from your downtown hotel to the area attractions is easy and safe.  Lots of fountains line your walk.  I was fortunate to see a few things in between conference sessions.  23668746_10215276351881806_955906005620184495_o

If you are a hockey fan, you’re in luck!  Nashville is home to an NHL team and the stadium is right downtown. Due to poor planning, I missed my chance to see the Predators in action – maybe next time.  Music fans won’t want to miss the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Even if you’re not a country music fan particularly, this is an informative and fun, interactive museum.

 

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Country Music Hall of Fame
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The Country Music Hall of Fame

You must, must, must head to South Broadway (or So Bro as it’s called) to hear some live music.  THIS is Nashville.  My team and I walked to So Bro to grab a bite (hot chicken and pimiento cheese, of course) and to check out some of the bands on Saturday night.  We

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The Tin Roof

ate at the Tin Roof before wandering Broadway a bit.  Bands play in literally every bar and honky tonk on the strip, so you won’t have any trouble finding music. You also won’t have any trouble finding your share of intoxicated folks stumbling around.  Now, I’m not insinuating all of these people are from Nashville.  Tons of tourists stumble around So Bro and, as mentioned, Nashville has become one of the hottest spots for bachelorette parties in the

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South Broadway

country.  So just be prepared that great music comes with girls falling down in the street and loud and drunken screams from bridesmaids galore…. Once the music starts playing, you won’t even notice.

 

 

 

 

Kansas City Here I Come!

I’m going to Kansas City. Kansas City here I come! I bet you’re singing it now, too, aren’t you?

There’s a song about Kansas City and I haven’t been able to get the Fats Domino classic out of my head since I boarded my flight last Saturday.  I’m going to Kansas City. Kansas City, here I come! I bet you’re singing it now, too, aren’t you?

I flew into KC on a Saturday so I could spend a little time with my cousin and do some fun stuff before heading up to St. Joseph on Monday for the eclipse and before getting down to work on Tuesday.  (Read about my trip to St. Joe).  The weekend was hot and humid.  It can be this way in KC.  I am a Midwesterner by birth, but after you live for years in the West away from the humidity, you can somehow never return…

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Baseball at the K

Thankful I’d packed some capri pants and a tank top, my cousin and a couple of friends and I headed out to “the K” to watch the Kansas City Royals. (The Royals play baseball for you sports averse people).  Even though they’re having a rough season (my aunt described it by simply plugging her nose), I enjoy a ball game.  Our seats, thank God, were in the shade because Sunday was a scorcher.

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Baseball at the K

The ballpark is a really fun one to visit and they’ve done some work on the grounds since my last visit.  The game was entertaining and the Royals pulled out a win! Oh, and by the way, the on-site Hall of Fame museum is really interesting AND air-conditioned.

Kansas City is known for a few things.  It’s the City of Fountains. It’s a barbecue city – complete with a Barbecue Society.  It’s a sports city.  But what I like best about Kansas City is its old buildings. Kansas City is a modern, functioning city, of course, but it is a city that has found a way to repurpose its old buildings.  And I love that.  You can keep your modern, reflective glass skyscrapers.  Give me a chunk of stone with embellishments any day.

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Hotel Phillips

I got the opportunity to stay in two hotels downtown that are in repurposed buildings.  The Hotel Phillips has always been a hotel, but is now owned and operated by….you guessed it, Hilton Hotels.  Right on the corner of 12th and Wyandotte, the hotel is in a prime location for checking out the city.  I find Kansas City to be a very friendly city and I rarely feel uneasy here, but it is a big city, so just keep your wits about you as you stroll around.  This hotel has a very

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Hotel Phillips

boutique feel and I can safely put this one into my top ten favorites.

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Hampton Inn in the Gumbel Building

The Hampton Inn (another Hilton property) is in the former Gumbel Building in the Financial District. The Gumbel Building was opened as an office building in 1904.  It was the first commercial building constructed of reinforced concrete. You can check the building out at 8th and Walnut.

The Financial District has several impressive building specimens.  I think there is something so lovely about these old buildings.  Most of them were constructed in the early 1900s and are decorated with crests, friezes, and flourishes that leave modern office buildings feeling cold and stale. I have a friend that tells me all the time that I was born in the wrong era and I suppose that could be true.  There’s something about these elegant, old buildings.  Take a look at the Scarritt Building if you’re having trouble imagining a day when people took time to put on something better than yoga pants and a ball cap.

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There are a few other places where there are some buildings that simply beg to be gawked at.  If you like to wander neighborhoods where you can imagine life in a house you could never afford in this lifetime, drive over to the Hyde Park neighborhood, park your car, and walk around. Not far from these homes is the gorgeous Our Lady of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church. This is a stunning Catholic Church and it’s worth a trip inside to take a look even if you’re not Catholic.  (I wasn’t raised Catholic but might be Catholic by osmosis after living so many years in a largely Catholic state…)

 

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Rosedale Memorial Arch

The greater KC area is a large metropolitan area and you can stumble upon hidden little monuments and parks. Today I saw a sign for the Rosedale Memorial Arch, so I pulled off the Interstate to take a look.  I had no idea what the memorial arch was commemorating (turns out it’s a monument to the men of the Rosedale neighborhood who served in WWI).  In addition to the monument itself, you can get an incredible view of the Kansas City skyline here.

I hope you’ll get to Kansas City to wander around and check out the incredible buildings, maybe catch a game, and fill your gut with some barbecue. (And check out some of the other great things to do in the metro area: https://www.visitkc.com/visitors/things-do)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eclipse Watching in St. Joe

I’m a geek. I admit it.  I geeked out about this total solar eclipse….geeked out to the point that I scheduled a work trip to get me close to a place where I could view the 100% eclipse.

I’m a geek. I admit it.  I geeked out about this total solar eclipse….geeked out to the point that I scheduled a work trip to get me close to a place where I could view the 100% eclipse.

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Downtown St. Joseph

About an hour north of Kansas City lies the town of St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Joseph just happened to be right in the eclipse pathway so guess who had to get up early to make the drive up? Yep.  At 7:00 AM, Miss HeatherLynnP was headed north on I-29 to find a prime piece of real estate to park it with her snacks and eclipse glasses.  Friend Boo Boo in tow, we made it to St. Joe with plenty of time to do some sightseeing (duh) before the big event.

St. Joe is an interesting little town.  I’m sure I’ve been through  more than a handful of times in my life, but I couldn’t recall taking time to check out the town itself.  St. Joe boasts two claims to fame:  it’s one of two endpoints for the  Pony Express and it’s the place where Jesse James died.  The town is right on the Missouri River and was a rough and tumble frontier town that was incorporated in 1843.  The city has had many ups and downs in its history and that’s really evident when you wander around town.

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The downtown melds together boutique shops, art, and abandoned, run-down buildings. I’d recommend finding a place to park so that you can wander around to check out the many sculptures and murals that line the streets of St. Joseph.

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Wyeth-Tootle Mansion

You can tell there was once money here.  Nowhere can you see a better example of just how much money than at the Wyeth Tootle Mansion. This turn of the century mansion has 40 (FORTY! who needs that much space?) rooms and has been lovingly restored.  We didn’t get to go into the mansion on this trip as a special luncheon was being held in conjunction with the eclipse, but you can get a good idea about the riches involved on the website.  Across the street, a home which Boo

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Mansion in the Historic District

Boo coined as the town’s “haunted mansion,” stands another behemoth once owned by someone who made his money in the meat packing industry.

You can see remnants of wealth in other places, too, like the large, abandoned homes that have fallen into disrepair around the historic neighborhood.  It always makes me a bit sad and nostalgic to imagine what these boarded up structures might have looked like in their heyday.

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Abandoned building

Churches can fall victims of abandonment, too, until a group of citizens step in.  While taking a look at a gorgeous old cathedral, a couple of gentlemen came to say hello as they’d noticed we were starting at the facade of what is now the Immaculate Conception Shrine.  The Shrine had previously been the Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1908. Membership waned and the church closed until a group purchased the property and re-opened it as a shrine and national pro-life memorial.  Miss HeatherLynnP isn’t interested in discussing her personal politics, but if

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Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

you appreciate a beautiful building and peaceful place, drop in.  The Shrine is being lovingly restored, piece by piece as money allows, and it holds some lovely stained glass.

 

After getting my fill of historic buildings in various states of dilapidation, Boo Boo and I headed out to get some caffeine and to see if we could locate a couple of lawn chairs.  After a bit of discussion, we decided that we’d head out to Remington Nature Center, one of the preferred eclipse viewing sites.  We figured the $10 parking fee was worth an organized clearing with bathrooms.  The skies in St. Joe were mostly cloudy, but we were hopeful that the clouds would burn off as eclipse time neared.

We didn’t get that clear sky, but the clouds broke apart often enough that we did get several good views of the eclipse.  When the rain started falling and the sky looked socked in, we decided to head out.  Braving the much heavier return traffic to Kansas City, we pulled off of the Interstate simply to be outdoors when the total eclipse actually happened.  Even with cloudy skies, the feeling in the air changed dramatically.  Things got very quiet and still….except the weird kid in front of us dancing up and down the off-ramp.  He might have been on something or maybe he was just high on eclipse energy. Whatever, dude.  Get your eclipse celebration on!