Good Friday

Another scrummy mallorca with egg, bacon and cheese. Mmmmm (and, yes, that IS sugar on top)

Good Friday in Puerto Rico is more important than Easter Sunday: the sacrifice, my friends, the sacrifice.  Unlike in Oz, the US and many other places where it’s the Resurrection that takes centre stage.

I was in Old San Juan, one last time before I head home, probably for good, on 1 June.  I thought that the Easter weekend would be perfect, as I not only wanted to visit San Juan one last time, but also the island of Vieques just near the main island of Puerto Rico.

A church-based street march on Good Friday

I had plans of wandering the marvellous blue cobblestoned streets, in and out of shops, picking up a few gifts for my family and friends back home.  Imagine my disappointment when I emerged from yet another mallorca breakfast at La Bombonera to find the shops almost all closed!  So I found a square next to a church, and just spent some time people watching as the man with the shaved ice van hand-scrapted the ice and then poured flavouring on, as the crowd gathered outside the temporary tent selling empanadillas, and just taking in the atmosphere.

Cafe St Germain's Leaning Tower

Luckily, my favourite cafe, St Germain, was open and I enjoyed a marvellous mushroom soup and a “leaning tower” of mozarella, avocado and tomato, smothered with pesto and a squirt of caramelised balsamic.  Total, utter bliss.  And then there was the dessert…cakes to DIE for.  A must for any visit to Old San Juan.

Jesus, bearing the cross of a bad hairdo.

On my way out to find dinner I emerged from my room to find an enormous crowd outside my hotel, which is across from a large, beautiful church.  They were enthralled by a re-enactment of the crucifixion, resplendent with Roman soldiers, the two thieves, and of course Jesus himself. 

After watching a while, I pressed through the crowd in search of dinner…once again to find everything closed.

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Australian Homemade: all the way from Belgium

Imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues told me that there was a place called “Australian Ice Cream” in Antigua – of all places.  She raved about the ice cream, and expected me to know all about it – of course I had never heard of it.

She sniffed around for more information, and it turns out that “Australian Homemade” is a Belgian ice cream and chocolate franchise that gets its ingredients from Australia.  I heaped scorn on this idea: if you have access to Belgian cows, why would you import cream from Australia?

Las Saturday, on my way to Barbados, having booked my flight quite late, I had the worst connections in history:

  • depart St Kitts at 8.15am for the 20 minute flight to Antigua
  • 7 hours in Antigua
  • depart Antigua around 4.30pm for the 1 hour 20 min flight to St Lucia
  • 5 hours in St Lucia
  • arrive in Barbados around 11.30pm

Naturally, the only choice I had was to go exploring on my transit visits, and of course to scoff ice cream (which I did twice, and then again when I visited Antigua for a meeting the following week).  It is important, my friends, to fully appreciate my love of ice cream.  I adore it so much that I own my own ice cream maker, and am prepared to pay $20 a tub for New Zealand’s Kohu Road Cookies and Cream ice cream.  I am often joined in my celebration of ice cream, and my good friend Kim and I were known to spend numerous nights scoffing pizza and Baskin Robbins ice cream (packed tight in large, groaning take-home packs) in front of DVDs of Sex and the City and The West Wing.  I cried when the local Baskin Robbins closed in Lane Cove.  Even though it’s now open in Chatswood, you can’t tell me it’s the same as having a BR in your very own suburb.

So, off I went to Australian Ice Cream in Antigua.  The advertising was a smidge…well…porno.  However, I am pleased to tell you that the product itself was gooood.  Too much ice cream these days is over-whipped and do full of air it lacks real creaminess.  This was creamy and the quality of ingredients was obvious.  Plus, there were plenty of flavours to choose from: raspberry yoghurt, pear sorbet, macadamia crunch…

I did some research, and it turns out that they source ingredients from all over the world (macadamias from Australia, natch) but that the recipes were inspired by the founder’s mother making ice cream in the Australian outback in 1972.  There are stores in places like Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and even New York.   The story is here: http://web.australianhomemade.com/history_1989_en.html

So, even though we don’t have this franchise on our shores back in Oz, I think we can be happy that this particular franchise is doing our country proud!

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Bad to the Bone

Following the bikers into the Spice Mill carpark

Before I knew it, I was surrounded.  Bikers everywhere.

On my way to Spice Mill for my regular weekend lunch, I had followed a group of motorbike riders; something I’d not seen before on the island.  By the time I reached the restaurant, the car park was brimming with tough, leather-clad dudes and dudettes.  And about 30 Harleys.

Tough looking dudes and chicks with a big commitment to bandanas were everywhere.  Racing them into the restaurant, I managed to nab a table and slip my order in before they did – I figured I was doomed to hunger otherwise.

For $20 each, they got to choose between a burger, fish burger or chook curry.  (Must have been the Biker Special ;-)).  The crowd started getting a little huffy: the food was pretty slow out of the kitchen.  It seemed one brave move to leave a roomful of bikers hungry.  The following week I found out that the cook had “walked”, creating pandemonium.  It just goes to show that the worst can happen at the worst of times.

I must say that they seemed a friendly and well-behaved crowd.  Maybe it’s just Hollywood and the bad seeds that give this crew a bad name.

After some sniffing around on the internet, I found this company offering bike cruises and, looking at the dates and destinations, it seems like this might have been the group spotted at Spice Mill for lunch.

There seem to be a lot of positives about cruising with your bike (and I thought for a few minutes what it would be like to actually own a Harley…) but this one was the clincher:

Where those ‘other’ bikes cruises do not have the authority to allow you to bring your own bikes, they seem to allow their guests to make fools of themselves whether in the dining room, pool deck, or elsewhere…. ETA wants our guests to truly enjoy their bike-cruising experience in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Not to worry here…. no one will ‘bare’ themselves during dinner!

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Versailles

No, I haven’t skidded off to France for a visit (although some time in France does seem rather overdue).

Versailles (pronounced “ver-sai-yes”) is one of Miami’s institutions.  It’s often said that the best Cuban food is actually in the US, presumably Miami since it’s Cuba central, and having tasted Cuban food in Cuba, this must be true.  I had another series of meetings in Miami, so it was time to scoot off and take a look around.

Yuuum. Guava pastries at Versailles.

On the same Food Network TV show as I discovered Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, I also took note of another Miami hot spot: Versailles, famous for its guava pastries. 

Empanadas - in beef, chicken, and spinach and cheese.

Miami International Airport has several Versailles outlets and, although they don’t serve the whole range, on my last visit, I recognised the name and grabbed a couple of guava pastries as I jumped on the plane.  Naturally, I was hooked.  They were a light, crisp pastry, with a not-too-sweet guava filling inside.  Mmmmm.

Mandatory Cuban dudes

Versailles is located in Little Havana, only a 10 minute cab ride from Downtown Miami.  As someone who’s been lucky enough to visit the real Havana, I was struck by how much the architecture does indeed resemble the Cuban capital.  Add to this all the signs in Spanish, and you know you are in for a treat.

When visiting Versailles, it’s worth knowing that there is a restaurant serving Cuban food, and a bakery/cafe.  Today, I was only after the cafe as I had a hankering for some empanadas and guava pastries, and there were plenty of those.  I had read online that this place can get frantic, and is usually full of gesticulating Cubans yelling in Spanish, luckily it wasn’t too busy when I dropped in.

Numero...35!

First up, you take a number.   Then, pay careful attention: they first call your number in Spanish and, only if there’s no response, will the number be repeated in English.

As you do this, gaze around at the goodies and decide how much you can carry (how much you can afford isn’t an issue – the pastries are cheap and are only $1-4 in most cases.

Fried. Pork. Crackling.

There were also some more evil choices, such as deep-fried pork strips with crackling.  Oh, yes folks, after my Versailles visit, I might not have been able to face my dinner that night, but that pork was goooooooooood.

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Barbados

Yes, I know I’ve been slack.  The internet connection in my hotel has been dreadful since I arrived back from Christmas, so I haven’t really been able to get a post done.  Plus, I’ve been working on a case study that I might need to present in Singapore later this year.  As always with such things, it took way way longer than I thought

Friendly locals

I promised you more about my adventure drive around Barbados.  Barbados is certainly one of the most developed islands in the Caribbean.  I wouldn’t call the place “rich” but its 300,000 polulation lives pretty well, and it has a fiersome tourist reputation (go on, admit it: it’s one of the places in the Caribbean you’ve heard of), so would probably be one of the islands that suffers least when there is a drop-off.

Barbados' wild east coast

When in Barbados, I stayed on the South Coast.  Skip, the IMF dude I worked with last year, lives there and he kindly booked me accommodation.  The hotel was in tourist central, which is not my usual thing.  I decided to embrace it, and discovered that it was across the road from a rather yummy place called The Pastry Box where they sell handmade cakes, owned by what is obviously a very talented French pastry chef (the cannoli are to die for).

I drove around the island, heading to Bridgetown first and then up the very exclusive west coast.  Barbados’ west coast is where the cashed-up crowd can be found.  No surprise, really – it’s lined with gorgeous beaches and calm waters.

Sugar cane fields of Barbados

The middle of the island is green and, unlike the rest of Barbados, green and hilly.  Unlike most other places in the Caribbean, sugar cane still grows here.  The east coast is another thing entirely: sheer cliffs confront angry waves on the Atlantic side of the island.  Tiny towns with names like Bathsheba dot along the otherwise abandoned coast.  There are stories of people going swimming here and washing up in Africa, but I’m not sure I buy them.

As beautiful as it is, I’d say that the two big downsides of Barbados are the traffic and the prices.  It’s a sky-high place to live.  Skip quotes some prices: try US$9 for a pineapple.  He reckons that, being careful, he spends US$200-300 on groceries each week, just for one person.  Yikes!  No wonder the locals favour rice and beans…

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Lucky me

I’d been back in St Kitts around 1 day when Tim, the Chairman of our Committee, calls me on my land line.  Since he normally calls me on my mobile, the first thing I asked was “Did you ring the land line to check that I’m back?”  He gave his usual hearty laugh and jokingly said “oh yes”  (not that I believe he was joking)

One of the main streets in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados (early on a Sunday morning; it's usually more terrifying than this)

However, before long, he announced “We’re going to Barbados next week for a meeting on Tuesday”.  My little feet pattered under my desk and it didn’t take long before I asked if he minded if I worked from there on Monday so I could check the place out over the weekend.

Tim is rather a sweetie, and he knows sniffing around the Caribbean keeps me happy so he quickly agreed.

Along the Careenage in Bridgetown, a long narrow strip of water where the boats dock

The most seamless Liat trip I’ve experienced delivered me to Barbados 15 whole minutes early and I was off to enjoy this paradise, that song about Barbados rattling in my head (well, at least the words I could remember, which were “isle of sun” and “Barba-a-a-dos”, which really were good enough for me. 

The taxi driver was a little edgy: the official fare was BB$34 (US$17) and I didn’t have the exact fare and he didn’t have change.  After acting like it was MY job to have the exact money (coming from the airport…) I made him wait while I changed it at the hotel desk.  The IMF dude who I used to report to kindly booked me into a hotel – although it was in the middle of tourist central AND the high season.  SO not a combination I like much at all, but really I can’t complain.

Soon enough, it was off for a swim.  Barbados is truly one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, with absolutely magnificent beaches: that combination of pure white sand, clear acqua water and sunny blue skies is impossible to resist.

For my next post, I’ll take you on my little tour of the island.

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Back!

Mum and my brother, Jason, meet me at the airport

OK, I admit it: while in Sydney I’ve been horribly, horribly slack with this blog. 

If I told you it started with 3 catch-ups with friends, endless dog and nephew cuddles, a hair dressing appoinment, a dental check-up, a massage, trips to the shops, and preliminary preparations for the family Christmas, all in my jet-lagged first two days in Sydney, would you have any sympathy?

No, I didn’t think so.

On the way back from the airport, I bought the family sandwiches from one of my favourite cafes, Zivelli at Lane Cove (which was sold while I was away! Thank goodness the food is still great)

I promise (Kim and Anna please take note!) I’ll put up posts from the last 5 weeks for you shortly and in the meantime here are some shots from my trip.  Right now, I’m ensconsed back in the Trump Soho in New York, on my way back to St Kitts early on Sunday morning.  I was lured back to the Trump Soho by a terrific deal on suites during January, and am enjoying views uptown, including the Empire State Building.  Luckily, unlike my visit last month, I’m spending more time in the room, alot of the reason for which is a massive dump of snow on the city (which is only a pretty sight when you don’t need to push through the sludge).

Mutt's Butt (he looks like his aunt from this angle)

While in Sydney I found out that heaps of you have been keeping up with my adventures on this blog, which I am thrilled about, but I really didn’t know as you DON’T COMMENT.  So, you know what to do.

Anyhow, I need a ruling from you, my lovely friends, which provides a perfect opportunity to test your commenting skills.

Tyler peeks in from outside

The dilemma is about flying etiquette.  Now, before I kick off I will say that I am big on plane etiquette since I think the little temporary society of passengers really have to behave or all hell could break loose.  For this reason, I won’t recline my seat in Economy if someone is directly behind me.  As some further background, and as someone who does her fair share of long-haul flying, I have certain strategies to minimise jetlag such as immediately setting my watch to my destination and shifting to the new time zone from minute 1.  So, for my flight from Sydney on Thursday, the plane took off just after 12 noon, and I set my watch for 8pm New York time, had dinner, watched a movie and tried to get some sleep.  By the time the plane lands in LA at around 6am local time (9am New York), I know that I’ve had my chance to sleep and now need to stay awake until I reach New York.  This usually involves lots of coffee, diet coke and as much sunlight as I can manage to shine on my face (another proven strategy).

Mum ponders (at the Leura Deli)

This time, we were late out of LA due to the massive snowstorm in New York, so we took off at around 10.30 am LA time/ 1.30pm New York time.  I was next to a window, and pressed my nose up against it to get those rays on me and resist too much more than brief catnaps.

Now, a number of other passengers decided that they wanted to get some serious sleep, so they hurled on their blankets and reclined.  The flight attendant came up and asked if she could shut the windows because people were sleeping.  

Mutt in his mum's arms, and his dad

I completely understand that, just because you are at a window seat, you don’t “own” the window and if the airline schedules that the shutters come down due to time zone changes, safety concerns, etc, then that is perfectly understandable.  For example, a few hours after we left Sydney the cabin lights were dimmend and shutters pulled down to create the obvious sleep time as Qantas eased us into our new time zone. 

Max, Mutt (on ground) and his mum Teresa

So, despite this request, I politely asked if I could leave the windows light since I wanted to stay awake, get sunlight, work, and look out the window.  I thought this was pretty reasonable given it was broad daylight outside, we’d been in darkness already almost all of the flight, and it was the middle of the day at both our departure point (LA) and our destination (NYC).   Also, I have done the Sydney-New York flight about 4 times now, and don’t ever remember the shutters coming down on the second leg.  She agreed with my request, but a few minutes later the people in the centre were grumbling about the light and they were promptly moved.  I felt no sympathy since I’d got on in Sydney too and figured that, if you want to sleep on the second leg of the flight, you should keep the eye covers that Qantas gives you on the Sydney-LA leg.  Come to think of it, isn’t the fact that those eye covers don’t get handed out on the second flight a sign?).

Tyler and his rubber chicken (the chicken is quite the snappy dresser)

Whenever I glanced around, no more than half of the business class cabin was trying to sleep, with the others watching movies or reading.  About 2 hours prior to the end of the flight, she did ask me to put the shutters down, and I reluctantly said OK.

So, what do you think about this one?  Should the shutters have been up or down?  What would have been de rigeur in this situation?

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