A Travellerspoint blog

Cyprus: Craft Villages, Monasteries, and Archaeology


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

The second half of our visit to Cyprus much improved our opinion of the island. The western end around Paphos is less rural, has nicer beaches, and the historical places have been better preserved. We moved to a hotel in Paphos for four nights before we left and we're so glad we did.
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It's very different and very nice and we would definitely recommend it and consider going back.

Before we left the Larnaca area though, we got out for a day trip into the mountains and found some amazing views and a very quaint village that is home to a handmade lace industry.

STAVROVOUNI MONASTERY

This Greek Orthodox monastery, dating from the 4th century AD, sits on the very top of one of the highest peaks in the area.
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It is only open to men so we didn't go in but there are amazing views from the drive up steep, winding roads and from the small chapel outside the gates. You can see all the way to the coast.
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We then traveled through some other small villages, past this magnificent Greek Orthodox Cathedral...
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LEFKARA

...to the village of Lefkara, famous for the handmade lace they produce. Lefkara was the most lovely village we visited in all of Cyprus. Narrow winding streets (do NOT ask Scott about having to drive through the streets that at points our car cleared with inches on each side!), beautifully maintained buildings, and shops full of the most exquisite lace. It almost made me wish I had a house to put some in! I did buy some clothes though - flowing things in preparation for Marrakesh.
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A quick note before I move on to Paphos about our housesit. There were definitely pros and cons to it. Free housing is of course a plus. Being tied to the house to take care of house bound dogs was a minus. I'd forgotten the amount of time caring for dogs takes from your schedule, especially when they're shy and don't really like to leave the house. In the end, the part we enjoyed the most was the sunset we saw each night.
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And I will long remember the smell of the place. Earth and animals - the universal smell of dry, rural landscapes. To me, it is a wonderful smell that brings back memories of childhood in Montana.

HISTORIC PAPHOS

Paphos is a large, sprawling resort town on the southwestern coast of Cyprus. It has modern hotels, apartments, and condominiums stretching for about five miles along the coast. The water is beautiful and there are lots of restaurants and cafes. There is also a LOT of history and well preserved archaeological sites.

The landscape was very dry and brown in October but the rocky beaches are beautiful and the resorts were oases of green.
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Although Scott teases me when I want to visit archeological sites about dragging him to "old holes in the ground with some really old rocks", even he was impressed by Nea Paphos, a site inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO for its outstanding ancient remains. It consists of two major areas, the Paphos Archaeological Park and the Tomb of the Kings.

Paphos Archaeological Park
Still being excavated, the site is famous for the mosaics uncovered in the 1960's by a farmer plowing his fields. There is a large area of Roman villas dating from the 2nd century BC, two of which have been covered by buildings to preserve them. In the corner of one, a Hellenistic mosaic was uncovered under the Roman floor and it dates back to the 3rd century BC. Strolling the grounds and viewing the mosaics is remarkable - the details and colors are beautiful and the fact that they were not lost to time is truly astounding.
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The House of Aion, one of the two covered houses, dates from the 4th century AD and has one of the most beautiful mosaics.
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Our favorite though was the House of Doinysos, it occupies 2000 sq. m of which 556 are covered with mosaic floors decorated with mythological, vintage, and hunting scenes. It's is named after the god Dionysos who features on several of the mosaics. The variety in the mosaics, from purely decorative to intricate depictions of gods and animals, made it one of the most interesting places we've ever seen. (Sorry about the photo quality, it was hard to get pictures that really captured the color inside the building.)
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Also on the site are remains from later times such as Arabian baths and the Saranta Kolones Fortress. Built by the Lusignans in the 12th century and destroyed in an earthquake in 1222, the pillars, arches, and moat that remain are fun to explore.
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As a whole, the site is very large and amazing. Situated right on a point of land that juts into the Mediterranean, it also boast beautiful views and a lovely light house.
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Tomb of the Kings
A misnomer of sorts as no kings are buried here, this vast necropolis on the outskirts of Paphos is definitely worth exploring. It was hot and dusty but the views and the amazing burial chambers, based on ideas imported from Egypt by the Ptolemies who ruled Cyprus from 294-58 BC, were worth it. In use from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, the site is vast and only partially excavated.
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Again placed right alongside the Med, the site is worth visiting just for the windswept, sandy coastal views.
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Paphos is amazing as these types of archaeological sites are found throughout the town, some are closed off as they're being restored and others are just off the street with no explanation unless you have a guidebook. The tomb complex where the seven Machabee brothers who were martyred in 174 BC is one of these. Marked only by a tree filled with votive rags, you just wander down into it.
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Last but not least on our tour was the Chrysopolitissa Basilica, another World Heritage site. The vast remains of a 4th century Christian basilica surround a smaller medieval church still in use. The original basilica was huge, having seven aisles still visible with the fallen columns that supported them.
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Also on the site is the tomb of Eric Ejegod, the 12th century king of Denmark who died in 1103 on his way to the Holy Land, is buried and St Paul's pillar, the alleged place where St Paul was scourged 39 times before converting his tormentor, the Roman governor, to Christianity.
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MODERN PAPHOS

Alongside all of this history, Paphos is first and foremost a resort town. A favorite among the British, there are pubs serving Guinness and Shepherds Pie alongside the traditional Cypriot restaurants. The food is excellent, it's very walkable, and the beaches are great - many are designated Blue Flag. To top it off, there is a 7 km long walking path all along the coast - all the way from the Tomb of Kings at the western end, past the Archaeological site and the lighthouse, around the point to Pafos Castle, and ending at the eastern end with the very high-end resort.
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Scott's impression of all the Roman Gods he's been forced to view the last few days - squishing the fort and all those mere mortals inside with one hand!
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So all in all, we definitely loved Cyprus. Give it a visit if you want a very inexpensive and beautiful Mediterranean island but we'd suggest sticking to the Paphos area.
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Posted by mrb430 04:25 Archived in Cyprus Comments (1)

On Cyprus it's Still Summer

Exploring around Larnaca and Nicosia


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SETTLING INTO "HOME"

I'm lying in the sun on a chaise sipping homemade lemonade made with lemons from my lemon tree just waiting to get hot enough to get back into the pool. Scott is napping on the outdoor sofa under the umbrella after his swim. We've settled in on Cyprus.
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We're staying in a house in Matozos, a small village outside of Larnaca on the southern coast. We feel a little marooned here. We have one taverna (restaurant), which thankfully serves excellent Greek Cyprus food, and a grocery so we have what we need but that's about it. We're house-sitting and taking care of two dogs, Donna and Ana.
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The owners left us a car so we have wheels to get around but so far we've just explored the village by taking our daily walks and going to the market. We walked one day to this pretty little church right on the water.
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We did also venture to the next bigger village, Kiti to go to the larger grocery store and have lunch at a taverna there. It has the phone store, pharmacy, fresh market, and bunches of restaurants.

The island feels familiar in so many ways. It's hot and very dry like Costa Rica was when we visited. It's the driest time of year here. It's rural and full of farms and ranches and smells an awful lot like Wyoming.
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The sheep herd comes past some days with it's shepherd and the dog.
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It has ancient olive trees...
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...and fig trees like Croatia - each day on our dog walk we pick the ripe figs from a "street tree" to bring home.
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But it's unique in having all of these things together.

The food is very similar to Greece. We found the fruit and vegetable market and have been making salads with feta cheese and eating humous, pita, and olives. The store is filled with jarred greek vegetables and greek oils and vinegars. We're in our happy place food wise.

NICOSIA

From Wikipedia:

Nicosia is the southeasternmost of all EU member states' capitals. It has been continuously inhabited for over 4,500 years and has been the capital of Cyprus since the 10th century. The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of Nicosia segregated into the south and north of the city respectively in early 1964, following the fighting of the Cyprus crisis of 1963–64 that broke out in the city. This separation became a militarised border between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus after Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, occupying the north of the island, including northern Nicosia. Today North Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by Turkey, that is considered to be occupied Cypriot territory by the international community.

We visited the city with our host, John, and toured the south then crossed the "Green Line" to the North. My feelings about the city are much the same as I feel about Cyprus as a whole so far, it's such a missed opportunity and a bit sad. The layers of history reflected in the architecture and landscape are being lost to decay and neglect. There are very few sights that have signs to describe what they once were and whole areas that in other cities would be preserved and marketed with walking tours just sit still and silent. It was almost eery to walk the quiet streets just trying to imagine what was once there. We've really seen very little of the country so far so this might change after we visit the tourist "hot spots".

But it was a wonderful day and there are some highlights.
Omeriye Mosque
We visited our first mosques while in Cyprus. In the south, we saw the Omeriye Mosque. It's a beautiful building on the outside. I may be naive, well I certainly am about Islam, but I was surprised that mosques have no adornment on the inside. I especially love the minarets. It made us very excited for Marrakesh at the end of the month. We also stumbled across another small mosque in town.
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Archbishop's Palace & Byzantine Museum
One of the few places that has been preserved, well the palace is actually fairly modern, it was also a beautiful place with interesting architecture including a Byzantine era church.
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We even saw some Greek Orthodox priests on their cell phones.
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Across from this was a block I just loved. For some reason it was hung with tons of lanterns?!
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And then there was the windmill in the middle of town?
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Crossing the Green Line
Finally we crossed the "Green Line". Apparently it is called that because when the division happened someone used a green marker on a map to set the border and it's just stuck. It was a really hot day so we were happy to find a cafe and sit in the shade for some lunch before continuing. As an aside, it is HOT here. Miami hot. Just 1000% drier!
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There is a "no man's land" in between North and South and it's really eery. In some places a street just ends at a barbed wire fence, in others buildings stand abandoned in between, and at yet other places there are large separations. There are UN watchtowers all along it, although they don't seem to be in use anymore.
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Overlooking this section is one of the most historic Ottoman neighborhoods in Nicosia, Arabahmet. It retains the winding street patterns and historic buildings and there is a conservation project, though it doesn't seem too active. It butts up against the old city walls and here again seemed a missed opportunity to lure tourists from the shops as they are very large and there is even a moat! We were the only tourists venturing out in this area.
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NORTH NICOSIA

I did feel like Northern Nicosia had more interesting areas than the South and was definitely worth the visit. Right when you cross the border there are winding streets full of shops and restaurants that are really fun to poke around in.

In the Arabahmet neighborhood we stopped into the Arapahmet Mosque...
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...and then I dropped Scott and John at a cafe and went onto the Selimiye Mosque. This building has a very long an interesting history from the Byzantine period, through the Crusades and the Knights Templar, on to the Venetians and finally through it's conversion to a mosque under the Ottomans. You can read it here.
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Last but not least was a visit to the Bandabulya Municipal Market and Büyük Han. The former is an indoor market building housing all kinds of food and clothing shops and the latter is a historic building that started as an inn and has had many incarnations since then. Check out it's history here.
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It's impossible to avoid the fact that there was a conflict here that displaced thousands and thousands of people as the two cultures separated across the Green Line. People left their land and their houses behind and it seems the country is still coming to terms with it and struggling to find a way forward. As in Croatia, there is a sense that things would be different if the UN had not intervened - if there had actually been a "winner". It's been interesting to see the result of UN actions and to see it from the side of the countries involved and not just from the US perspective.

LARNACA SALT LAKE

The other day trip we've done so far was over to the Larnaca Salt Lake. You may have noticed from pervious posts how much I love salt lakes. If there's any near us, we're bound to see it. Something about the colors, the reflections, the emptiness appeals to me.
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This one is also special because it has an aqueduct and mosque beside it. The aqueduct is from the 1750's so not Roman but still very impressive.
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Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque
The mosque was built by on the spot where, in 649 AD, the aunt of Mohamed, Umm Haram, fell from her mule and died. It is sacred to muslims being the primary pilgrimage site in Cyprus and ranked immediately after Mecca, Medina in Saudi Arabia and Al Aksha in Jerusalem. Today it is open to all, although proper covering is still required (and provided).
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The term tekke (convent) applies to a building designed specifically for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood and the complex has a mosque, mausoleum, minaret, cemetery, and living quarters for men and women. It's truly a beautiful and peaceful place and it's site on the salt lake makes for an amazing vista.
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PLANNING 2020

And since this is already a long post I might as well add to it with a word about 2020. We are spending a lot of our time here thinking and planning for 2020. We realized that, although it's what we had set our sights on doing, the prospect of just "seat of our pants" traveling throughout SE Asia honestly sounded exhausting. Add to that we are starting to feel the lack of having people in our lives other than each other and the random bar mate, a desire to have activities not directly related to travel, and the knowledge that to get these things we need to stay put for awhile and you come up with the "hub and spoke" approach. So, like any good IT person, we developed a list of requirements for our hub. We're evaluating options in Asia and the Caribbean against those requirements, and selecting a few candidate places we might settle down for awhile. We plan site visits, but of course, and then a final selection. We're feeling energized again and excited for this change. We'll keep you posted as our "project plan" evolves!

Posted by mrb430 01:49 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

Family Fun in Miami Beach


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I'm writing this from the Costa Coffee at Gatwick Airport, London. We arrived at midnight EST, 5 AM UK time, and 7 AM Cyprus time. Take your pick we're tired already and have another 15+ hours of travel until we reach our "home" in Cyprus. The glamour of international travel!
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But it gives me time to reflect on our last week in Miami Beach and our visit with Morgan and her boyfriend, Steven.

THE VENETIAN POOL

Morgan came down a few days before Steven and she and Scott were kind enough to indulge me in a trip to The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. This place has been on my list since I was in Miami Beach during college and I finally made it! Originally a quarry where stone for many of the first buildings of Coral Gables came from, including the original house of Solomon Merrick, it later became, and remains, a public swimming pool.
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It's a lovely example of 1920's Coral Gables, along with Vizcaya (see my previous post) and you can just see the bathing ladies of the time and imagine what it must have been like back when Coral Gables was the place to be in Miami.
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It has grottoes...
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...waterfalls with pools to climb and soak in...
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...and one big one you can swim underneath.
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It was a great day and really a unique place to visit.

SUNSET SAILING

Next up, after Steven joined us, was a redo of the sunset sail Scott and I did three years ago. After hanging out at the bars at Bayside, we boarded the Caribbean Spirit catamaran for our sail. We had a great sail and a great sunset.
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We never tire of the view of the Miami from the water.

WYNWOOD WALLS

We always enjoy visiting the neighborhood of Wynwood with it's amazing collection of murals. It has changed A LOT since three years ago. There is building everywhere, mainly new apartments and condos, and it makes me fear for their ability to sustain the murals long term as most are on dilapidated or abandoned low rise industrial buildings. Hopefully they have the foresight to protect some of these spaces. The new buildings are adding huge murals to them but they're "professional" and don't give the same feel as the originals. If you can, visit it before it's gone!
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We really had fun hosting "the kids"! Lots of beach time, pool time, and of course a Sunday Funday to top it all off.
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It was really good to be back in the States for a month. Much as I might hate to admit it, it did feel like being home. But it's a new month and that means on to new adventures including our first house sit. Cyprus, Marrakesh, and the Canaries up next so stay tuned.

Posted by mrb430 04:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Back "Home" in Miami Beach


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We overheard an American tourist here in Miami Beach the other day say "I'm going back to the US tomorrow". I suppose for many the idea that there are places here where English is not the primary language spoken, say Little Havana, or where the diversity rivals any other international city is a downside but for us it means we feel at home here. Of all the places we've traveled in the US, Miami is the place we fit right in.
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Unusual for us, we are staying in a hotel suite (yes we still have a kitchen, although we still had to buy a tea kettle and a sharp knife!)
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Miami Beach has passed some of the strictest short-term rental laws in the US. No lease can be less than 6 months and a day. As a result, Air BnB is almost non-existent, except illegally. And let me just say, staying in a hotel for three weeks is a hoot. The staff has gotten used to me walking around in my bare feet and beach dresses like I would in a house and they've stopped trying to get us on the Hop-on Hop-off bus. Maybe this is especially true at 5th and Ocean where most tourists this time of year only rent for one or two nights over the weekend. During the week, we have the hotel largely to ourselves. It's as amusing to us as I'm sure it is to the staff to watch all the party kids come in for the weekend. So, thank you hurricane season. And thanks to the powers that be that all the current hurricanes are turning north! We've had some very windy, blustery days and lots of afternoon storms but that's par for the course. Sometimes I can't tell if we're in Miami or Bocas del Toro!

But the "tourists" make the weekends fun for us while we're out indulging Scott's football passion. Last weekend we spent Saturday at a dive bar whiling away the hours of college football with the locals and cheap buckets of beer and then changed it up for Sunday at the Clevelander, our favorite Sunday Sh!t sh0w. You can simultaneously watch football, the incredible scene unfolding on Ocean Drive, and the extravagance of the pool party - for a price of course!
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A few words about being back in the US. If you don't count our overnight in Orlando in April, it's been seven months since we spent a week or so in L.A and over a year since we were in the US full-time. Coming from Croatia, a country of great homogeneity, the diversity of Chicago and then Miami has been particularly striking and welcome. So too is the amazing wealth of the US. We saw an amazing example of historic American wealth on our visit to Vizcaya, James Deering's mansion in Coral Gables. The house and gardens are worth a visit if you're ever in Miami. As an aside, we feel like Americans may not appreciate the "palaces" that are here in America as much as we do those in Europe. You know, we go to Europe and tour Versailles and the Scottish castles but we forget about the Hearst Castle, the Antebellum Mansions in the south, and places like Vizcaya. Maybe it's the discomfort we have with the "robber-barons" and before that our shared disgrace of slavery but the result of our history is places of equal worth for a tour as the palaces of Europe. We suggest you search them out as you travel.
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Built right on Biscayne Bay, it has taken some hits from hurricanes over the years but remains an outstanding place.
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Of course, for me, the gardens are the best part. The use of local limestone and coral is really fantastic. And the lushness of the tropics combined into the landscape were a real change from the dry, desert-like places we saw in Spain and Croatia.
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But perhaps the most striking thing about the US is the result of two things: efficient tax collection and a "trust society". You may hate taxes but the infrastructure and public investment in the US that flows from them is awesome and results in such cleanliness, beauty, and comfort. I think we take this for granted but it really is a gift of public works. And we may rail against the "over regulation" of the US but this too is a very different and much appreciated aspect of the US that I think goes unnoticed until you don't have it anymore. Crosswalk lights, crosswalks for that matter, public parks, paved walking and biking paths, all of this is very rare in other countries if it exists at all. Of course, it all comes at a cost and makes the US overly expensive for basic things like phone service and health care. So it's nice to be back and enjoying our tax dollars at work (yes we still pay taxes too!) but we still are of a mind that it's not yet time to come back for good.

But it's a great place to celebrate my birthday! This will be my third birthday if Florida, second in Miami Beach, and it never stops being fun. We spent it this year touring Vizcaya and then in Little Havana. Calle Ocho, at it's heart, it a fun-filled wonderland of cigar stores, Cuban restaurants and bars, and amazing food.
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After walking the Calle, we ended up in the Ball and Chain, in existence since 1935 it's hosted the likes of Chet Baker, for some awesome Cuban cocktails and music.
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Finally, we had dinner at the iconic Versailles Restaurant, serving Miami since 1971.
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More football fun today hanging at Monty's at the marina on the bay - avoiding the wind off the ocean. Feels a lot like our old DC favorite Cantina Marina. When I asked Scott's feeling about what's different being back here, his response was "the bars are better". Which basically translates to "there are outdoor bars with multiple screens playing football", yes American football not soccer, on each one! And then there are the Dominican (alas Cubans aren't legal) cigars...Romeo and Julietta men say yes!
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And free WiFi means I can finish up the blog with a Bloody Mary! So we're both happy.
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We leave for Cyprus, Marrakesh, and the Canary Islands at the end of the month but not before Morgan and Steven come to visit so stay tuned for more fun from Miami Beach.

Posted by mrb430 09:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Chillin' with Family in Illinois


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

Well we made it back to the USA uneventfully and landed at O'Hare. It's always fun to fly back to Chicago as I grew up just north in Evanston and it's the airport I took my first international trips from back in college. We grabbed a taxi up to the North Shore and settled in for a week of family. It was a really relaxing stay with my brother and it was great to be with my mom on her birthday.

As planned, we ate a lot! So much good food in Chicago. A favorite is Char Polish from Mustard's Last Stand - a place that has been there since I was a kid!
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And, of course, we did our normal pilgrimage to Greek Town for a family dinner and to celebrate Mom's birthday.
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It was really nice to meet Claire, my brother's new friend.
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We really enjoyed her company as we hung out watching football and on a trip downtown.
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We even got treated to fireworks.
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The Chicago Riverwalk is such a cool place! Chicago would be on our list except for the weather! It was already pretty cold and I always forget how little the sun shines. So we are very grateful to Marcello for hosting us all and for my Mom and Dad for making the trip out to see us. It was a really wonderful visit.

But we are also grateful that as I write this we are back in Miami Beach in the sun!
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Posted by mrb430 08:53 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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