Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tropical Fruit

When I was a child, my mother's idea of dessert was often 'fruit'. My mom grew up in an orchard in the Niagara Fruit Belt, and she loved all the fruits of the growing season. I admit, the local fruit is delicious, but the season is too short, and for the remainder of the year we were stuck buying fruit kept in cold storage or imported. The only fruit from the grocery store that I really enjoyed during winter was the citrus fruit - naval oranges and clementines.

Here in Mexico, I've been exposed to a whole new range of fruits, including mango, pitaya, and papaya. Old staples such as watermelon, cantaloup, banana and pineapple are here year round, but are better at certain times of the year - right now seems to be one of the best times for the melons. We also eat imported fruits such as kiwi, and fruits grown in other regions of Mexico such as red or green grapes, apples, and pears.

My #1 favorite fruit is the Mango, a fruit I had never tasted until I lived here in Mexico. There are many varieties of mango, even here on the island - deep yellow, light yellow, greenish-red. My favorite is the deep yellow - not sure of the correct name, but here's a picture. We eat a large plate of fruit each morning with breakfast, but THIS mango also qualifies as dessert, it is so yummy!

The Pitaya is about to come into season. The pitaya is sort of like a cross between kiwi and honeydew melon - soft pulpy white flesh with a bunch of tiny, crunchy black seeds like the kiwi (although I think the pitaya seeds are a little crunchier). Pitaya is a refreshing fruit, so great to eat in the hot summer months.

One tropical fruit I can't seem to get to like is the Papaya. I know it's very popular here, but when I eat it all I can taste is gas. Yup, gas - as in the kind of gas that is emitted from the human body, usually in secret.

Now, I don't really know what gas tastes like, but isn't there a relationship between taste and smell? There is some trigger there when I put a piece of papaya in my mouth, and it is distasteful.

I know a few words for human gas - but I only use two in my vocabulary. The Spanish word I know is 'pedo' - a cute little word Miguel taught me. "Oops, escaped one pedo, excuse me". My mother taught us to call it a 'toot'. "Did you just toot?"

And so that makes me wonder about the origin of the saying "tooty-fruity". Did the word come about after someone tasted papaya and decided, like me, that it tasted like gas? "Oh, that fruit is disgusting, it tastes like a toot!". Could be, you know.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Things that don't make the news

Bad news travels fast. But good news? Much harder to find in the papers or on the tv. Must mean there isn't much money in writing about good news.

But I'm not interested in making money here, so here's my good news for the day...

Wednesday morning we were on our way to town for breakfast. We took a road we don't normally take, the inner road of Salina Chica.

As we reached the stop sign coming from the west side, I noticed a very skinny man wobbling along the curb. He had on decent clothes and looked clean. His belt was pulled very tight to hold up his pants and he looked like he was about to fall into the traffic. I wondered if he was drunk, although it was only 9 am.

Miguel drove across the street and pulled up just in front of the guy. He took some money out of his wallet, turned around, held out the money and told the guy to go and buy himself a sandwich.

The guy refused the money, said he was ok. Miguel said "Look, you helped me the other day, please take this and buy yourself a sandwich". The guy still refused until Miguel insisted. Finally he took the 20 pesos, insisting it was on good faith, and gave Miguel a 'mil gracias' (thousand thanks).

As we drove off, Miguel told me that this was the guy who had worked at his house one day last week, hauling rocks. The guy is actually a skilled tradesman but is out of work, so Miguel gave him some work (and paid him for it). The man looks to be starving, and his wobbling in the street indicated extreme hunger. And yet, out of pride he would not take a small gift of 20 pesos without a lot of pressure, he'd rather go hungry than be a charity case.

I'm sure there are many such stories, this was just one that I happened to witness.

Times must be tough here on the island for the local people. Businesses have closed or reduced services and staff. People are living on a lot less money than they are used to, and yet, driving around, I do not notice a difference in behavior. People are still sitting in groups in front of their homes visiting with family or neighbors. People are still going to the market. There might be a bit more people walking than usual, and Miguel reports that there are more people than usual sitting in the square looking for work.

I asked Miguel how the people are really doing, and he said that they are managing because the people of Mexico are used to living with hardship and little money. They know where to cut corners and still survive in tough times. And I think I believe him, because everything I've seen with the Mexican people here is that they are resilient. As I was typing this last paragraph, two young men passed the house, carrying a machete. They went into the empty lot across the road and cut a pile of wood - probably so they could make a fire and cook something to eat. Resilient!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Could we just FIX the flat tire? (and other fantasies)

We drive around on a golf cart with tires that are holey. The air leaks out at different speeds depending on the tire. One tire we fill in the morning and by evening it is down again. Other tires last a few days before they need a fill-up. We have our own compressor, and the situation is so bad now that Miguel doesn't even bother to put the compressor away - it sits behind the front door, along with the long extension cord. I do not know why we (and I only say 'we' here to show I'm part of a team) don't 1) get the tires, all of them, fixed or 2) replace them. There is probably some logic there that I'm not getting.

Pet food knives. They disappear around here for no apparent reason. We used to have 3 knives we used only for animal food. One in the kitchen, one on the back terrace, and one on the front terrace. We are down to one knife on the front terrace, the others have vanished and 'nobody' (you know who I mean by this, right?) knows where they went. And nor does he really care - he still has one knife, that's all that matters. I'm sure the others are buried in some pile of dirt somewhere, used as a gardening tool or a screwdriver.

Dog food bowls. They disappear around here too. I suspect there will be a direct relationsihp to the success of the dog-catcher to the disappearance of our bowls. Because it is stray dogs that come up on our front porch and take off with the bowls of left-over food. 'We' are keeping the front gate closed now (most of the time, because 'we' are not always paying attention), so maybe our bowls will stick around for a while. Miguel found one bowl in the middle of the road on his way to the market - not even close to the house. The rest? Vanished into thin air.

The ultimate fantasy? A day in the hammock on the front terrace, with the shade and gentle breeze cooling off my skin. No cats climbing the screen behind me, no dogs chewing and licking at their itchy spots while they lay under me, no phone ringing just as I get myself comfortably positioned, and nobody calling from the street just as I doze off.

Ah - I can see it all now. Perfection.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not my best day, just a bunch of random thoughts

I think this is the hottest day so far. I am soaked in sweat and cranky and I'm just sitting here under the fan. The laptop generates a lot of heat, I am thinking about taking it out on the front terrace but am not sure I will see the screen clearly even in the shade. I could put on the a/c but then I get cold. And the unit just irritates me anyway, especially when I'm already irritable.

I really just want to find a hammock and shut out the world today. I had a three-day weekend thanks to the US holiday. I was really looking forward to doing some things around here, but I feel like it ended up being a lost cause.

On Saturday they came to install the accordion door that has been pending for the last 6 months. And it took them all day, until 6:30 pm. So much for my plans to do some work in the garden or enjoy the pool.

On Sunday Maya was sick - a high fever and very lethargic. Killed any thoughts about going to the beach for the day, I wanted to be here in case she got into trouble. I wasn't sure if she was coming down with the infection that killed Patas, or what was her problem. Cats can't tell you what hurts, you just know something's not right with them.

On Monday we went to see Delfino to tell him we needed him to make a visit. He came around 11 am, and we had planned to go to Cancun after his visit if all was well. Maya was clearly feeling better but still not 100%, and Delfino said he would be back last night around 7:30 to give her another injection. By the time Delfino left, Miguel was into a project over at his house and so I waited for him. Time went by, and when Miguel finally showed up at 2 pm, I realized there was no way we could make it to Cancun to run our errands and be back in time for Delfino. And so we didn't go.

And...Delfino never did come last night. I'm sure he got tied up with other animals that needed him more. And today I'm back at work, so going to Cancun is not going to happen until next Saturday. No problem, we'll make it work, it will just be another lost weekend day.

Today it is one year since Chaquiste died in the humane animal trap. Baked in the sun, poor little guy. I will never forget that traumatic day. He was not a happy cat, but it was a horrible way to die. Although I guess there are few 'good' ways.

This morning I witnessed something here that upsets me so much, one of the downsides to living here...the dog-catcher at work. They were after Negra, who had followed me to my neighbor's house and was waiting for me outside the gate while I fed their cats on the front terrace. I happened to see something out of the corner of my eye and was able to intervene because they missed with the rope and she ran off. I told them she was my dog, and they said to get her in because they were taking them off the streets.

There were two other dogs in the truck, just quietly lying there. I feel so helpless and even Miguel tells me that it's not my business, it is just people doing their job. Yeah, well...when he is disturbed by things like this (and he doesn't fool me, he is), he can go and down a few beers to distract his mind. As a non-drinker, I don't have that luxury, I have to deal with the pain and anger with a clear head. And a snooze in the hammock to regain my perspective.

It's times like these that I feel a million miles of distance between my culture and the culture here. I know there is nothing I can do, change has to come from within, and I am constantly reminded that although I live here, and in certain instances am considered 'casi Mexicana', in the end I am, and always will be, on the outside looking in.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Miracle of Libertad

As we drive around, we see dead animals in the road. Usually iguanas, but sometimes kittens and birds. Yesterday we drove around the island and saw 5 dead iguanas and one crab, and I know if we drive around again today we will find similar numbers.

Miguel will not leave dead animals on the pavement unless there is nothing left of them, and so, we stop (and sometimes back up) so Miguel can remove the body to prevent further insult to their little bodies by the passing public. He places the bodies in the plants at the roadside, hidden from view.

It's really sad to see the number of little animals that lose their life by trying to cross the road. Sometimes we spot a live animal standing at the side of the road waiting to cross, and we hiss and wave at it to tell it to go back.

Several weeks ago Miguel came home to tell me about a dove he'd picked up on the road. It was badly hurt but still alive, and since we have cats here, he took it to his house (where his daughter lives). He put the dove in a box and gave it food and water, and left it. Miguel said the dove could not walk. I was sure it would die as birds tend to be that way, and I even tried to convince Miguel to take it to Delfino so he could euthanize it. But Miguel has a different philosophy - he doesn't believe in euthanasia, he believes in letting each animal have its life, and its death.

For the first few days I expected Miguel to tell me the bird had died. The poor thing couldn't walk, it could just lay there. But it ate and drank, and so Miguel continued to give it a chance. And one week to the day he found it, the dove started walking around its box!

The second week the dove jumped out of the box and strolled around the back garden, exercising its wings and pecking for food. And so the dove got a name - Libertad (freedom).

Last week the dove flew! However, with a broken tail, it flew like a ship without a rudder. No ability to steer, and so it flew into a wall and crashed to the ground. Apparently uninjured and thankfully the neighborhood cats did not bother it.

Miguel said Libertad will not be allowed in the front of the property again, as next time it flies into a wall it might break its neck. But Libertad can strut around the back yard, and even though a very fat cat lives there, it does not bother the bird.

We don't know what Libertad will do next. But this dove has amazed me, and I would not be surprised if it learns to fly and compensate for the missing rudder. Or maybe the tail will heal, just like the feet and then the wings.

Small miracles here on Isla Mujeres.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Trip to Norway - Conclusion

At the Amsterdam airport we had to go through Immigration to get to our gate area. They only had one line open for non-members of the European Union (EU) but it was hard to see that when one was at the back of the mass of people. We ended up standing in the wrong line, but I noticed that many others were too, so we just held our ground. Finally they started opening more lanes and switching the lanes that were open to non-EU people, so everything moved a lot faster and we got through.

We shopped at the duty-free to use up our euros. Finally it was time to board our flight to Mexico City. They had a security belt right there at the gate, and once through, we entered a departure lounge.

The plane was full again, and because it was daytime it was a lot busier on-board than it had been on the way down. The flight was at least an hour longer too, and because it was hard to sleep, it seemed to go on forever. We were in a row of three seats this time, so every time the girl beside me needed to get out she'd nudge me. I think she was up three times, and in between she dozed and listened to her mp3 player. She slept through the offering of the first refreshment and they had to come back and serve her. She slept through the offering of lunch, and the flight attendant came back for her and made the comment that the next time she would just let her sleep. So when they started coming near us with the hot meal near the end of the flight and she was sleeping again, I jabbed her with my elbow.

I probably jabbed her a little harder than I meant to - possibly a build-up of resentment at the times she'd nudged me to move. She jerked awake but at least she got her meal.

Several hours into the flight there was a disturbance a few rows behind us, in the middle bank of seats. Peeking back and reading body language of the flight attendants, and seeing the concern on their faces, I figured a passenger was in trouble. Soon they came over the loud-speaker looking for a doctor. Several doctors responded but by then the first one was well into diagnosing and treating the patient. The flight attendants brought out the emergency drug box and the oxygen tank. I figured the passenger probably had a heart problem - possibly chest pain or a heart attack. A few minutes later they made an announcement asking if any passengers had aspirin. I was sort of surprised that an emergency drug box wouldn't have basic aspirin.

Finally they stabilized the patient and moved her to the front behind the curtains (they must have a bed there or something, maybe for staff breaks?). Having the flight attendants tied up with the passenger meant the other attendants had to work harder to keep the passengers fed and watered. Finally they resorted to pouring glasses of drinks and leaving them on trays in the galley where passengers could just help themselves if they needed something in between the services.

I guess the passenger wasn't at risk of dying because we continued on our flight to Mexico City. When we got to immigration we saw her sitting in a wheelchair, so she was well enough for that. I hope she was fine, it must have been so scary for her and her husband to be on such a long flight and be sick like that.

The line at Immigration was not that long but it moved so slow. I resigned myself to missing our connection, but then they opened a couple more lanes and there was a chance if we rushed to the next gate.

As we made our way through the airport, we asked at the information booth where we needed to go and were directed to the gate number. Following the signs, we encountered a block, where the guard asked for our boarding passes. We didn't have boarding passes because KLM had not been able to print them in Norway. The couple in front of us had the same issue and had to fight for the right to pass so I was ready with our itinerary and the guy gave it a good look and let us pass. He also told us which gate to go to - a different one than we'd been told by information.

Weaving our way through hallways, moving walkways, and escalators, we got to a security checkpoint where they wanted to scan our bags. We were now 15 minutes away from take-off, but they insisted on going through our backpacks. They opened all our sealed duty-free bags (souvenirs) and we had to cram it all back in. They told us which was our gate (even a different number than the other two agents had told us - why couldn't anyone tell us the truth!?). We ran to the gate which was just a few feet away.

Everyone had boarded and they were about to close the door when we approached the gate agent. She wanted to see our boarding passes and wanted to know why we didn't have them. We explained and she said something about "15" and to hurry. Nobody was moving out of the way to let us board so we didn't move, and again she said something about "15". Finally Miguel figured out that they wanted us to board and sit in row 15 (they never gave us boarding passes), so he sort of pushed past the guy standing in his way. I went around to the end of the roped off area and the agent huffed at us and shouted something at me so I just stopped and said "I don't understand!".

Miguel was the one who explained it to me and so we rushed on-board and found some seats and sat down. They closed the door behind us. I couldn't believe we'd made it on the plane. We both settled down and fell asleep.

Arriving at the Cancun airport was a delight - no immigration and no customs since it was a domestic flight. We collected our suitcase, handed in our customs form, and exited the airport. Luis, our friend and taxi driver, was waiting for us. The timing indicated we would miss the Ultramar and would have to wait an hour for the next ferry. After all our hours of travel, waiting another hour was not appealing, so Luis took us to the Magana ferry instead, which tends to be a few minutes behind the Ultramar. However, we missed that ferry too but at least the next one would be in 30 minutes, not an hour.

We arrived home to be greeted by Charlotte and Jim, who had kindly stayed at the house and took care of everything while we were gone. It was so good to get away and know we were leaving things in good hands. And it was good to be home.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Trip to Norway - Adios Trondheim

The day before we left we got some heavy snow. Because we would be leaving at 4 am the next morning, we put the big suitcase in the car the night before. Miguel got another chance to get his picture taken in the snow...

The days are very long in Trondheim. In fact, with the snow, it seemed like it never really got dark except in the middle of the night.

We had to get up at 3:30 am for our drive to the airport. Miguel didn't sleep well that night, wanting to make sure we didn't sleep in. Consequently I didn't sleep well either because he was up and down and looking out the window and watching tv and just plain restless. He was ready long before I got up at 3:30, and he fretted that I wouldn't be ready to leave on time. However, I know how long it takes me to get ready the morning of a trip, I knew I'd be ready. We were all in the car before 4.

I was dismayed to see all the new snow on the ground, I was hoping my dad's offer to drive us to the airport would not result in a problem for him with all the snow. I got more and more worried as the closer we got to the airport the heavier the snow came down - we were in a darn blizzard!

But he has good tires on his car and he got us there safely. Several times around the airport to try to find the entrance to our terminial (signs were obscured by snow), and finally we found where we needed to park. The terminal was open but the ticket agents weren't working yet; however, in good time they opened up and the line started to move.

We were in a single line that split as it got to the front, and of course we picked the wrong side. We watched many people who'd been behind us move up and get their ticket while we were stuck behind someone with a problem. Finally we got our ticket and made our way to security.

My dad wanted to get a cup of coffee and the only place to get it was behind security. He talked to security and even though he didn't have a boarding pass they allowed him to go through with us. Unfortunately, it was too early and the restaurant near security was closed. We had to walk to another part of the terminal for our gate - too far for my dad to go, so we hugged and kissed goodbye and made our way to our area. My dad said the drive home was much better, so that was a relief. Sorry he never got that cup of coffee.

But what a cup of coffee it was! Actually, it was the hot flaky danish that was so wonderful. I couldn't believe it when Miguel wouldn't have one; it was one of the best pastries I've ever had in my life. I actually went back to get another one to take with us, it was that good.

Despite the storm our flight boarded on-time, and off we went back to Amsterdam. They gave us a sandwich on the plane, and I rarely skip the meal so I ate it. It was an odd sandwich, one side was filled with a lemon cream sort of deal, and the other side was a cheese. We both went off to sleep very quickly, and before we knew it, we were in Amsterdam.

Trip to Norway - Trondheim part 5

One day we went out driving along the coast and through the mountains. I am a lazy tourist - sitting in a warm car snapping pictures is my idea of a good time. Don't ask me to visit museums or art galleries or churches, just show me some pretty scenery and I'm happy.

Our drive was even more comfortable since I was sitting in the front seat and I had my own seat-warmer. Toasty!

Trip to Norway - Trondheim part 4

When we planned our trip my dad had warned us that it would still be cold and there would be snow, so I bought Miguel a winter coat and all the other clothing he'd need when I was in Canada in December. The only thing we didn't take were boots, and even though there was snow on the ground, our sneakers worked out until the morning we left, when there was a layer of fresh snow on the ground.

We carried our winter clothing on the plane just in case our suitcase got separated from us, and it turned out to be a good move because we needed the coats and gloves during our tour in Amsterdam (bitter cold wind). And we certainly needed them in Norway, although it really wasn't bitter cold (for me, Miguel has described it as very cold).

I'm not a winter person, but I enjoyed visiting during this time of year because it was very pretty and we got to see people enjoying the winter sports.

Miguel wanted pictures of himself standing in the snow so he could show his family. And so I took pictures...

Miguel can never complain that I didn't take pictures for him!

Trip to Norway - Trondheim part 3

Miguel and my dad will eat just about anything. I remember the first year they met at my place in Canada - Miguel was surprised that my dad ate hot chili peppers just like he did. I've seen both men pop things into their mouths that made their eyes water and their skin break into a sweat, but they insisted it was great.

Else will try most things too although she does not like food too spicey. I am the fussy one - I can eat food spiced with chilis (not as hot as Miguel), but there are a lot of things I won't eat. Fish and seafood, to name a couple. Which is a shame - living here in Mexico, on the sea, and visiting Norway, on the sea, where fresh fish and shrimp is plentiful, and I won't touch it.

Not to worry - our first meal was a delicious roasted chicken with basmati rice, white gravy, and Mexican fiesta mixed vegetables. Delicious!

I can't remember what we ate for all our meals, but it was all good. When the others ate shrimp, bought fresh down at the market, I ate chicken. We fixed our pan-fried potatoes and Else just loved those. My dad took a liking to the ground-beef tacos we made on our last night. I think we all appreciated all the wonderful food we shared.

I really couldn't get enough of all the fantastic breads. I adore good bread and that is one thing I really miss here. I have a bread machine and I really need to try some recipes and see if I can get good results using the flour I can get in Mexico. I had a bag that I brought down from Canada, especially for bread and pastry, but it's gone now.

We all are used to just two meals a day - a full breakfast and then the main meal in late afternoon. After our afternoon meal, Miguel and I headed across the hall to our little suite, and we all took a siesta.

Evenings were spent drinking coffee and eating wonderful Norwegian pastries, cakes, and ice cream. It didn't seem to matter which bakery my dad went to, everything was fresh and delicious and we looked forward to our evenings on the sofa eating yummy things like this. That is another thing I miss here - great baked goods. We have a few things that are good, but nothing to compare to the pastries we ate in Norway.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trip to Norway - Trondheim part 2

Trondheim is a modern port city with a population of just under 170,000 people. My father, a Canadian by birth, an American by profession, and a Norwegian by marriage, has lived with his Norwegian wife in Trondheim for the last 15 years or so (since his retirement from the work force).

In the late 1960's we lived in the tiny village of Lillesand, population of about 1000. While our house was being built we lived in this hotel - quite a nice place, right on the sea. I know we have lots of pictures from there, but none of them digital or where I can get my hands on them. It was a very pretty town though, and a wonderful place for a child with an imagination to play.

So more than 40 years later, I wasn't sure what to expect in Trondheim. I'd heard stories and seen pictures from my father's collection, but I still only had Lillesand, with its hills and fjords, as my point of reference. Surprisingly, Trondheim looked a lot like Lillesand - picturesque and colorful wooden houses and fishing boats.

But where Lillesand was a tiny village, Trondheim is a modern city. We were eager for my father to take us for a drive. But time for that another day, today would be the day to visit with family. We hadn't seen Dad and Else in two years, and we had a lot of catching up to do.

When we arrived at their condo, I was touched to see one area of the counter loaded with Mexican fixings for meals. And the fridge held more treasures. We would not suffer for lack of our favorite things to eat, that's for sure.

Miguel tells people about my dad's second fridge - the balcony outside the living room, where he stores his things that he wants to keep cold. Things like beer, wine, soft drinks. It was cold enough to keep everything cold, but not so cold that it froze. My dad's fridge worked out just fine for the two men.

Miguel standing in my dad's 'fridge'

Animal Antics

Maya daring me to take her chair on the back terrace

Minina hanging upside down

Maya, such a lady

Caught on the bed

Maya wondering what Luna will do when she wakes up and finds Maya sleeping beside her

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trip to Norway - Trondheim part 1

The flight from Amsterdam to Trondheim was about 2 hours long. We were given sandwiches of goat cheese and cold cuts, but since we were full from our airport dinner we put them in the backpack for later.

We landed well after 10 pm, and as we exited the gate, I noticed that the majority of people were heading into the duty-free shop instead of to the exit/baggage claim. Not usually one to bother about duty-free, I thought there must be something they knew that I didn't, and so we followed the crowd.

I'm not a drinker, and I don't know prices in Norway, and I didn't know how to convert the money, but I do know that things are very expensive in Norway, and the tax rate is high. Just watching everyone scoop up bottles of alcohol made me sure that I couldn't go wrong buying something there. But what? Miguel to the rescue - he suggested a whiskey for my dad, and picked out the brand and said it was a good one. I picked up a package of Toblerone chocolates for my step-mother, and we headed for the cash. The guy in front of us had a 6-pack of beer, so I asked him if it was a good price. It was, and so I picked up some beer too (for Miguel).

After duty-free we headed to the baggage claim and picked up our suitcase. I looked around for Immigration - nothing. The exit said 'nothing to declare' and there was nobody there. A booth beside that exit said 'something to declare' and there was a man inside. I went over and showed him my duty-free receipt and asked him if I had something to declare. He said it was fine and we were free to go. I was surprised that we had come all the way from Cancun via Mexico City and had we not exited in Amsterdam for our tour, we never would have gone through either customs or immigration! Hmmmm...should it really be like that?

Outside we had no idea where to go, but finally made our way across to the taxi area and found a cab. The drive to the hotel cost about $15 (I think). We checked in. I really was surprised at how well it had all gone, considering that everything was booked via the internet and we'd been in three different countries.

Our room was clean and had everything we'd need for one night's stay. The bed was not queen-sized, it was two twin beds pushed together. Each bed had its own Norwegian comforter and since the beds were not fastened together, there was no way Miguel was going to be able to slide over to my side and hog the bedding - he would fall through the crack and land on the floor. After 25 plus hours of travel, I was going to enjoy the night's sleep in my own bed with my own comforter. Yes!

My father told me that the hotel was known for having the very best breakfast in all of Norway, although he warned me it would be a Norwegian-style breakfast. Ok, I know about those - lots of raw fish and strong cheese and other things I won't eat. But wow - what a pleasant surprise when we got down to the buffet. There was just about everything anyone could want for breakfast, including a few different types of fresh-baked breads that we cut ourselves. I think I ate 5 or 6 pieces of toast along with some cold cuts, an egg, fruit, and other things. I really didn't need that much toast but the bread was the best I've had in many, many years and I enjoyed it.

When we first got to the restaurant we were the only ones there. There really weren't even any staff, anyone working there was in the kitchen and they just popped out to replenish the food. Nobody waited on us, nobody spoke to us. Self serve in every sense. As we were finishing up our breakfast, a troupe of about 25 people came in - all dressed like construction workers. We were lucky to have finished, because those people (I can't say 'guys' because there was one woman) went through the food like nothing. Good timing on our part.

After breakfast we headed back up to our room to wait for my dad (they live about 45 minutes away but he had other errands to run before picking us up). I sat in the chair looking out the window while Miguel shaved.

I am sometimes amused by simple things. Today a old woman was beating her rugs out on her balcony, probably enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. She had one of those folding laundry stands that collapse if they tip, and on top she placed her rugs. She used something that looked like a snow shoe to pound on the rugs - I googled and found it is called a rug beater. Funny, I used 'rug beater' as my search criteria and there really is such a thing!

I watched her beat the heck out of a rug and then she started to drag it into the house. The heaviness of the rug caused the entire laundry stand to collapse on her, and she messed around with it but finally won and got the whole thing inside. Then she came back out with another rug, set up the stand again, and gave it a beating too.

Over at another balcony I noticed comforters hanging out the window to air. Spring cleaning day in Norway.

About the time I figured my dad would be arriving, we headed downstairs to check out. Standing at the desk I saw a BMW backing into the lot. I've never seen my dad's car but I knew it must be him. And there he was! So good to see him. We loaded our stuff in the car and were off.

Trip to Norway - Amsterdam layover

We started off our tour of Amsterdam by visiting a shoe and cheese factory.

I never really figured out how those two factories came to be in the same building, but it was quite interesting. We saw a demonstration of how the shoes are made from templates with ancient machinery.

The fellow doing the demonstration was wearing wooden shoes, and as he clomped around on the wooden floor, I wondered how many people actually wear the wooden shoes any more. We didn't see anyone on the streets wearing the shoes, so maybe it is just the farmers and workers? The guy explained that the reason for the shoes was a) they are waterproof, and b) they protect the feet from injury if anything heavy falls on them. Made sense.

The factory was lined with all colors and sizes of shoes. I tried on a pair and even though my foot fit nicely inside, the shoe was hard and I sure made a lot of noise as I walked. I decided that if I ever bought a wooden shoe, I would use it for this rather than put it on my foot.

The store was selling wooden shoe keychains, and we bought a tube full to give as gifts. They are so cute.

The next part of our tour took us through farmland where we saw the canals and stopped to see a windmill.

The canals freeze over in winter and they ice-skate on them. We didn't see anyone using the canals and with all the roads, I wonder how often people use the canals now.

I really wanted to know more about it, and to see more, but there wasn't time on our tour.

The last part of our tour took us into the city, where the driver pointed out places of interest, including the canals...

What amazed me the most was the number of people on bicycles. Thousands! People going to and from work, picking up their children from school, or just shopping. The city of Amsterdam is discouraging vehicles by charging huge sums for parking, so people are complying and using bicycles. I can imagine in the rain and snow it's a pain, but otherwise, what a great way to get around, especially when the city is designed to accommodate all the bicycle traffic. There were hundreds of bicycle stands for people to park their bikes.

Of course no tour of the city of Amsterdam would be complete without seeing the Red Light district. We were gently asked to put our cameras down as we drove through, and I understood why once I saw the girls in the windows. I did not really understand about the red light district before then, what an eye-opener! Miguel didn't 'get' it though - he thought they were models until I explained it later.

The final part of our tour was seeing a couple of famous homes - Anne Frank and supposedly the narrowest house in the world. Since only the front of that house is narrow, this house is claimed to be the real deal. Unfortunately, I can't find any pictures - I would just love to see the interior of both of these homes. I'm nosy that way.

Back at the airport, we had to go through Immigration and security. Immigration was a non-event, they just stamped our passports. Security was a little pushy and unfriendly, but we endured. We found a restaurant to get dinner, made our way to our gate, and got on our flight to Trondheim.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trip to Norway - part 4

Ok, life is getting back to 'normal' (school is finished until next week, the guest suite is empty, the animals are healthy) so it's time to get on with the pictures and details of our trip to Norway.

We flew KLM airlines. The flight from Mexico City to Amsterdam was long - 9 or 10 hours, sort of can't remember now. Total travel time was 25 hrs, much longer than the travel I'm used to doing. What to take in carry-on?

I was worried my back would not hold up in the small seats for that length of time (I have very weak mid-back muscles). I took small pillows and blankets for both of us. KLM provided pillows and blankets too. We had plenty of things tucked behind, around, and over our bodies in our small seats. My back was not an issue at all.

I thought we might go hungry. I bought chips, cookies, water, nuts to take onboard. KLM fed us two full meals during our flight - dinner and breakfast, and in between they plied us with refreshments and snacks. We were stuffed and never opened our snacks.

I thought we might be bored. I took books and mp3 players. We didn't need anything, we slept except when we were eating/drinking.

And we tried not to watch the 'show' by the couple in the seats in front of us. There was a large gap between their seats, and they spent most of our waking hours licking and fondling and smooching and french-kissing each other. I don't mind shows of affection, but this was actually quite revolting. Along with the fact that the guy was sick - not sure from what but the flight attendant suggested he refrain from alcohol and just drink juice until he was feeling better. I was sure we'd catch whatever he had, but maybe his girlfriend lapped up all the germs. Yes, they were lapping at each other's faces. Ewwwww!

We had another flight attendant issue where we were the forgotten ones. I was admiring how our flight attendant was handling the passengers, including the sick one in front of us, and being so nice and chatty with everyone as she handed out dinner trays. She repeated the selections over and over to each and every person and never seemed to get impatient. We politely told her our choices, and she handed them to us. And then she pushed the cart along to the next rows. Oops, she 'forgot' our dinner rolls. I was not about to skip the dinner roll, there was a nice pat of butter sitting on my tray just waiting for a hot bun to soak it up. And I correctly guessed that the roll might be my favorite part of the meal, except for the dessert.

Unlike the attendants on the flight from Cancun to Mexico City, we succeeded in catching her eye and asked about the rolls. She was not happy about it, told us to wait and she would get to us. Eventually she did, but really - what is it about flight attendants that they cannot be consistent with what they serve and how they serve it? I feel like they sometimes play favorites. We were just two quiet, polite people sitting in our seats, with our seat belts fastened, our chairs in their upright position (out of courtesy for the people behind us), and our carry-ons stowed underneath the seats in front of us. Model passengers, if you ask me. We never asked for anything other than when it was offered, we were no trouble at all, unlike some people. So why was she annoyed with us for reminding her about our dinner rolls?

Meal consumed, if not really enjoyed, it was time to sleep. I have no problem sleeping on planes. I can even sleep in airports while sitting in the chair at my gate. And so I slept. I thought Miguel slept too but a couple of times when I woke up to change position, I saw that he was sipping away at a coffee, or drinking a refreshment. I guess I missed the cart on those passes, but he didn't.

Finally we arrived in Amsterdam, where we would have a 6 hr layover. I was surprised that we just got off the plane and did not go through immigration or customs; we were free to go to our next gate or just wander around.

First we changed money, and then we found a booth that offered tours of the city. We were lucky that one tour fit right into our layover, and that another couple that had flown from Mexico City too were also interested (they needed a minimum of 4 people to do the tour). They called Immigration to let them know we would be going out, and letting them know what country our passports were from, and everything was arranged. We were led out of the airport area by our guide, passing through Immigration without doing anything other than showing them our passports. So easy.

Our guide did not speak Spanish, so he conducted the tour in English. Good for me, not so good for the other couple as they did not speak or understand English. Miguel speaks and understands about 50%, but throw in a Dutch accent and his understanding rate goes down. There was some sort of flip chart where the guide flipped to a number and that number corresponded with a Spanish printout telling the guests what the guide was talking about. A lot got lost in translation, but everyone kept nodding their head so I guess they were ok with the process (Mexicans can be so tolerant and polite).

Our first stop on the tour would be to a wooden shoe factory. To be continued...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cool Photo for a Saturday

If you go to the website hosting the photo above, you will be able to hold your mouse over any of the people and see their names. If you are interested in finding out more about the person, click on the person and it will take you to a Wikipedia link.

Since I'm just learning web programming/design, I'm impressed by the amount of work that went into coding this picture with the links. As a person not really appreciative of works of art, I do appreciate the details in this painting. I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I wish I didn't have to write this

After an illness lasting for the last 10 days, our little Patas (black kitten) died this morning. Delfino really doesn't know what killed him other than a metabolic disorder. We have been back and forth to his clinic so many times over these last few days, and I know we did everything we could to try to save the little guy. It wasn't to be.

The clinic is full right now with cages stacked on top of each other - all full of cats and kittens. I can't even begin to count them and I don't know how Delfino keeps up with all the work at this time of year. I honestly don't know how he does his job period, I would get so discouraged, but Delfino believes that within the next year we will see fewer cats and more people interested in spaying/neutering their pets. I hope he's right. He continues the campaign to educate.

We've decided to call the grey kitten Smokey, even though my daughter doesn't approve. It seems to be a name that Miguel can pronounce, and he has started using it, and so I guess I'll go along with it and the kitten will be called Smokey. We have really been enjoying her antics playing on the back terrace, including harassing Maya and Minina. She was sick before Patas got sick but a bout of antibiotics and she quickly recovered and seems fine and is bursting with kitten energy. She seems to think she should be coming in with the other cats, and now that we know she will be alone out there, we may have to change our thinking on her being an outdoor cat. We'll see how it unfolds. Right now she's quite content out there on her own, she has her tunnel and other toys, and nature's toys - ants and other bugs.

R.I.P. Patas...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Banana, Anyone?

These are from the banana tree at Capi's Apartment in April. They are fully ripe, green bananas. They taste just like yellow bananas, and they are delicious. The yellow bananas in the bunch are overripe - still good, but you have to eat them fast.

Miguel shared the bunch with neighbors and brought a big bunch home. We ate the bananas every day and served them to our guests in the morning fruit bowl. Then Miguel went to Oaxaca and left me with about 15 very ripe bananas. I ate what I could but then they got to the stage of over-ripeness, and if there's one thing I don't like, it's over-ripe, mushy bananas. (there are lots of other things I don't like, but this story is about bananas).

I hated to throw out the bananas so decided I would make banana bread. Since the bananas were attracting fruit flies, I stuffed them in the fridge. Then I got busy around the house and didn't get around to making the banana bread. Sadly, the bananas ended up in the compost.

Yesterday there was a smaller bunch of green bananas on the counter. As I tried to peel the banana I noticed that it was not peeling nicely, and the banana inside was hard. I popped a piece on my mouth and it tasted like wooden chalk. Blah!

Miguel later informed me that those bananas came from the market, and they are yellow bananas, and were very unripe as green bananas. Beware the green banana!

There are different types of bananas here too. Normal bananas, as we think of them, and then 'macho', which are usually the ones fried and put on the side of your meal. On Friday Miguel prepared platano macho for our guests - fried, topped with jam and crema. Delicious!

So, when you buy bananas here, make sure you know if they are green or yellow, and normal or macho. Otherwise you'll get a surprise.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Caught in the act

We've had a rough few days with health issues (human and cats). No, not the flu. But no time to write, and since you guys seem to like pictures, I thought I'd post a few more - all taken this week.

Cats caught in the act...

Luna - she found a box sitting on the couch, one we'd used to haul stuff back from Costco. To her it seemed the ideal bed, even though she has the entire couch. She's been using her new bed all week, and since she's taken to staying out at night, she's darn tired when she comes in in the mornings, and her box ensures nobody bothers her.

The Minina look-alike. This cat likes to hang out in our garden, and since we've had lots of problems with an aggressive white cat beating him up, we've started feeding him inside the garden too (we used to feed him across the street). This morning Miguel had just finished watering the plants when he spotted this cat taking a drink from the birdbath.

Maya - she loves to be around the tub when one of us is taking a bath. The other night I was running the bath water and when I went into the bathroom, there was Maya, parked in the sink, waiting for me to show up to start my bath.