Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Monday's Postcard: Holland

More postcards from the 1980's this time from Holland. I always like to visit Amsterdam this time of year, when the crocus and flowers are starting to come up!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

80 years later: Trying to recreate family photos in Havana

Once I heard that we could go to Cuba, that my airline would be flying to Cuba, well of course I wanted to go see it! I have always been fascinated with Cuba. I am one of those people who when you tell me I can't do something, that is exactly what I want to do. There were ways to go to Cuba in the past on Educational trips or with a Church Group, but you had to fly through Mexico or Canada and it just seemed like too much trouble. Even today, you still have to jump through a few hoops, but with direct flights from Miami, FL and Charlotte, NC on American Airlines. It is so easy to just GO.

They have Hop On Hop Off Bus tours!

Transtur is HUGE we saw their buses everywhere full of German, French and Italian Tourists
What we forget in the USA is that everyone else in the world has been able to go to Cuba for the past 50 years when we could not. The rest of the world has had the opportunity and they have gone to Cuba. Tourism is one of the biggest, if not the biggest source of income for the island. Unfortunately, Cuba has had to compete with flashier Caribbean Islands for that tourist dollar. Why go to Cuba where you might not have toilet paper or even a toilet seat, when you can lay on the beach just as easily in Jamaica or Barbados.

In November of 1937, my Grandmother Arkebauer traveled to Cuba with my father who was only 15 months old at the time. I have photos from that trip and I thought it would be fun while we were in Havana to try to find the places where the photos were taken and try to recreate those scenes. Luckily two of the photos had information written on the back about where they were taken. So I knew that I had to go to the Plaza Hotel and El Morro.

The Plaza Hotel became a hotel in 1909. In the 1930's Albert Einstein was there for a banquet! My Grandmother and Father were there in 1937. In the 1950's a casino was put in and in the 1960's the casino was shut down and the hotel became part of the National Tourism Sector after the Triumph of the Revolution. You can still stay there today if you want to pay $100-200 a night for a room.

El Morro is actually Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, it was named after the Three Wise Men or Three Magi. The fortress guards the entrance to Havana Harbor.  Built in 1590, El Morro served as a prison and as a defense protecting the Havana Harbor. To close off the harbor to pirates and invaders, a huge iron chain would be spread across the water to the smaller fort on the Old Havana side of the mouth of the harbor. The lighthouse was built in 1845. We paid 6 CUC to tour the fort. 

We had a lot of fun scrambling around the fort trying to find the locations from these photos. I think we did a pretty good job recreating them. After all, it has been 80 years and there have been some changes to the areas.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Preparing for Cuba

Okay, so Ryan and I decided to go to Cuba for my 51st birthday this year. US Airlines just started flying to Cuba in 2016. The US government granted approval for flights in July of last summer and American Airlines started service to the country last September. However, the loads are light and American has already cut back service from 13 flights a day to the island to only 10 and if the demand is not there, there could be more cuts. Tourism is still prohibited for US citizens and I kept telling Ryan not to say we were tourists!! Travel for education and vague "people to people" reasons is okay. To get the Visa, you just need to pick one of 12 US government approved reasons for travel.

When preparing to go, I researched everything. I read blogs, I read books. I purchased 4 guide books that we took with us. Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Cuba, Moon Guide Cuba, Footprint Handbook Havana, and Full Compass Guides Real Havana.  I searched the internet. And now I will share the information I found with you.

The VISA:  If you travel American Airlines, you can purchase your visa at the ticket counter or at the gate when you check in for the flight. It costs $100 (some other airlines charge less, more on that later) and you can pay by credit or debit card. They will give you a bunch of forms to fill out. Keep these with your passport. They will stamp the forms and your airline ticket instead of stamping your passport. You will need some of this stuff for your return flight, so just keep it all with your passport.
This is where you pick your reason for travel. We picked Support of the Cuban people. It sounded good. No one ever asked us about our reason and we never had to defend our choice.

Credit Cards: They won't work. US Bank Credit and Debit cards do not work in Cuba. Don't bring them. I left everything at home except for one card to use for a hotel in Miami prior to the flight and for the Visa. Bring CASH.

Ryan now has CUC
CASH: They charge a 15-18% fee to change US Dollars. So basically if you take $100 you are only going to get about $85-87 back. We were there for 6 days and brought approximately $1000. This would have been a pretty large hit for us, So Ryan changed his dollars for Euros before we got to Miami. When you change Euros to the CUC in Cuba, it is approximately 1 for 1, so this worked for us. Canadian Dollars are another option. I changed my dollars for Canadian Dollars, and then to CUC in Cuba. Just decide what currency you want to have, what works best for you and use that.

Exchanging the money: At the airport there are two money exchanges, CADECA, one right outside of baggage claim and another upstairs at departures. Check and see which has the shorter line. There is going to be a line. You will get CUC which is the Convertible Peso for Tourists. There is another form of money called the Cuban Peso or Moneda Nacional. (CUP) It is for residents.  1 CUC equals 25 CUP We did not get CUP and we never really needed it. I read somewhere that the Cuban government was going to try to phase out the CUP. We did try to eat at one restaurant and all the prices were in CUP. We asked about paying with CUC and they were going to price gouge us. (for example, a soda was usually 1 or 2 this restaurant if we paid with CUC they were going to charge us 6 CUC for a can of soda) Needless to say, we went to another restaurant. If you want to eat street food you would need CUP.  Most things for sale for tourists were priced in both CUC and CUP. I was also told you could exchange money at banks, but usually the bank lines were longer than the Cadeca lines.
The line to change money at the CADECA in Vinales

Insurance: I read several articles that said you were required to have insurance or proof of insurance to go to Cuba. We were told that this was included in the Visa for American Airlines and that was a reason why it was $100 and not $75 or $50 like some other airlines. Just save your airline ticket and Visa forms as proof of the insurance. I thought that sounded reasonable. So that is what we did. We were never asked to show any proof of insurance and nothing happened, so I didn't worry about it.

Looks like there is a wifi hotspot over here
The Internet: The internet in Cuba is highly regulated. Most Cuban households have access to a Cuban intranet that allows emails in Cuba and a few foreign countries.  For the majority of Cubans, the world wide web is not available from home. In 2015 the government opened up a network of public wifi hotspots. You will see dozens of locals seated along sidewalks using their phones to connect in these areas. The internet is not very fast, but is suitable for checking emails and reading news. You must have a wifi card with a pin. It is only available to Cuban residents. However, many locals will sell you a card. When we walked by these areas, we would have people offering to sell us wifi. You can get on the internet at some of the fancy hotels. and there are internet cafes supposedly. I say supposedly because I never saw an internet cafe. If you plan on using your cell phone. double check that your international plan includes Cuba, many do not. I was told that rates were going to be about $4 a minute on calls originating in Cuba, and at least $1 per text message. There are public phones and you need calling cards for these. You can purchase calling cards. They are priced in CUP, they cannot be used for international calls, only local. But would be good to confirm taxis or casas if you are traveling extensively around the island.

Something you don't see in the USA much anymore, public phones were everywhere
Because of the cost and trouble of getting on the internet, Ryan and I decided to just unplug for the 6 days that we were there. We knew that there would be no google maps or googling of any kind. So we went prepared to be out of touch. I brought our guide books and I had purchased one map of Havana to take along. I also printed all of the email communication that I had while booking our places to stay and our taxis. I printed out google maps of some of the routes we were going to take around Havana and in Vinales. So we had everything we needed to be internet free for 6 days.

A Casa Particular in Vinales

Where are you going to stay in Cuba? There are state run hotels and there there are Casa Particulars. The hotels are relatively expensive and you will be staying in a hotel with a bunch of tourists from Europe. The Casa Particulars are a private house and room rental network throughout the entire country. They are owned independently and not run by the state. The rooms are priced from 20 CUC to 40 CUC. We paid 35 a night in Havana and only 30 a night in Vinales. They are licensed and inspected by the Cuban government. In order for a Cuban to rent out a room in their home, they must pay a tax to the government. They also have a list of criteria that must be met such as modern bathrooms, functioning air conditioner etc. All licensed casas display a small blue and white sign near the front door.
Here you can see the sign 

Most casas also offer low priced dining options. You can get breakfasts for 3-5 CUC and dinners for 8-10 CUC. You are not required to pay for the casa ahead of time. If you arrive and don't like it, you can leave. If you have not changed money yet, you can stay the night and pay the next day. There are many ways to search for casa particulars on the internet via Air BnB and other agencies. By the way, we were here in Cuba in High Season (December-April) and there were many casas available, even on the weekend. So do not despair if you arrive without something pinned down. There were many available the week of March 14-20 when I was there.

This was the sign on a door in Old Havana

Breakfast at the Casa Tatica y Chino in Vinales was enough food for an army! 

What about the wonderful Cuban food? First off, if you love Cuban food in Miami, that is not really what you will be getting in Cuba. I read one blog and the guy said that he loved Cuban food, until he actually went to Cuba! Part of the problem is that they don't have access to a lot of great ingredients. Spices? you have Salt and you have Pepper. You see lots of Pork and Chicken because that is what is available. Beef is more rare. Most cattle on the island are for Dairy and their Dairy situation is weird too....powdered milk everywhere, but they have a lot of ice cream and ice cream stands. Beef is usually imported from South America, so not so fresh, but ask, at one restaurant Ryan wanted the steak and I asked about it. The waiter said that the beef was from Cuba (this was also one of the most expensive meals we had ....Ryan's Chateaubriand was $15). I love seafood and would often try to order it in restaurants, nope, not today. Out of fish. That being said, we had some really great meals in Cuba. The fruit is awesome. Pineapple, Papaya, Guava, Bananas were all over the place. The bread was pretty good and available everywhere. And the pork was wonderful too. A "traditional Cuban meal" was offered at almost every restaurant and would consist of your choice of meat (Lamb, Pork, Chicken, Beef or Fish) with rice and beans and some salady type thing on the side, cabbage like slaw, lettuce, tomato and cucumber, something like that. It was usually a great deal  being $3-$5 for the plate and often would include a drink as well.
We never ate here, but there was always a long line! Hot Dog place in Havana, La Casa del Perro Caliente

Ice Cream places were everywhere!

Pizza for him and Grilled Lobster for me
Cuban sandwich usually just ham and cheese no pulled pork or pickle like we have in the states
Traditional Cuban Meal with Lamb, but kind of bland

Cookbooks at ArteChef

The best meals we had in my opinion were at the ArteChef restaurant in Havana and at the Dulce Vida Restaurant in Vinales. ArteChef is connected to a culinary school. This is where Ryan had his $15 Chateaubriand. I had Fish in a Garlic Sauce. ($8) The sauces for the beef and the fish were awesome and it was one of the most flavorful meals I had in Cuba.

Chateaubriand for $15 at ArteChef

Flaming Sambuca for dessert, hey it was my Birthday!
 Dulce Vida is an Italian restaurant and they make their own pasta. I had the Lobster with Gnocchi  (for $10) and Ryan had Lasagna. Wonderful.

Lasagna for him and Lobster Gnocchi for me!
The best "traditional Cuban meal" that we had was at La Pelota in Havana. We both had pork for $4 each (I tried to order Lamb, but they were out) and you could tell that it had been marinated in citrus, great flavor. As I have said, the problem I found with the food was just that it was bland.

Best Traditional Cuban Meal at La Pelota in Havana
One last Cuban Sandwich at the airport before we leave to go home
That is all for now, I will blog more later about our adventures in Cuba recreating the 1937 photos I brought from when my Father and Grandmother were there 80 years ago!

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 Monday's Postcard: Ireland

Ireland during the 1970's County Clare and County Down  Happy St Patrick's Day this week!
All the postcards that I am highlighting this year came from a box of postcards that my cousin Holly sent to me! Thank you Holly!! And another friend, Kim Little just sent me a bunch of postcards....(and I know she just recently moved and has been downsizing!! LOL) So this is in no means a request for everyone to send me their stacks of postcards, but they are very very welcome. Better send them to me than put them in the recycle bin!!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Amanda Arkebauer in CUBA !

"This was taken in the courtyard at Morro Castle." "Mr Sewell from San Antonio, TX" and my father George Arkebauer aged 15 months. "The dog belongs to the soldiers" (at the Fort).
In November of 1937, My Grandmother, Amanda Arkebauer took my father, who was then 15 months old and traveled to Havana, Cuba from Fort Wayne, Indiana. All I know about that visit are from these photos that were in a photo album I inherited when my Grandmother died.   Two of the photos had captions on them. The above photo of Mr. Sewell from San Antonio, TX ( who it is written, carried my father around all day) and the photo below of Margaret and my Dad on the roof gardens of the Plaza Hotel. I am not sure who Margaret is....but I was in Salt Lake City at the Genealogy Center there and I found the records from when they returned from this trip to Cuba.  Among the passengers is Margaret Nixon from Akron, Ohio and I imagine that that is who this Margaret is. Unfortunately, everyone who could tell me more about this trip and these photos is deceased. 

"Margaret and Sonny on the roof gardens of the Plaza Hotel in Havana"

My Grandmother, Amanda Arkebauer, is in the center with the white purse, Margaret on the left, Mr Sewell from San Antonio, TX on the right behind my Dad and I have no idea who the other woman is in their party.

Next week, Ryan and I are traveling to Havana, Cuba. I hope to follow in the footsteps of my Grandmother and infant father and visit the Morro Castle and the Plaza Hotel. And my message to everyone is, talk to your parents and grandparents NOW. Go through their photo albums and get the information now, who are these people? Because when they are gone, all you will have are photos of people that you do not know and the stories behind the photos will be lost. I am lucky that two of the photos had a lot of information scrawled on the back of them. 
Amanda Arkebauer and George Arkebauer Cuba 1937
The manifest I found in Salt Lake City with my Grandmother and Father returning to Miami from Cuba in November of 1937 

Monday, March 06, 2017

2017 Monday's Postcard: Cotswold

These are postcards from Cotswold in England. 
There are always areas of England that I have not explored yet!! I need to go back. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

2017 Reading List February

                                        August Macke (German)  Elizabeth Reading, 1911

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough  (Audiobook) My history lesson for this month. I really enjoy his books and this audiobook was read by the author. great stuff!
Sandra of the Girl Orchestra by Ruby L Radford an antique YA book I am reading for fun. Sandra owns a very special violin and there is a mystery surrounding it. Lots of great period fashions and such.
The Residence by Kate Anderson Brower (library) I really enjoyed this book about the staff of the White House. The author says she was inspired by watching Downton Abbey. If you liked the movie The Butler, this book gives an even more in depth view of all the staff behind the scenes from the White House chefs and Florists to the painters and plummers.
The Book of Small by Emily Carr set in Victoria, BC in the late 1800's. I loved this look at life then through the eyes of a little girl. Similar to Anne of Green Gables in her lust for life and her affinity for getting into trouble. I highly recommend.
Mischling by Affinity Konar (library) The story of twins during the Holocaust who were part of Mengele's "Zoo" very good, but of course it is grueling to read about. Ryan and I are considering a visit to Poland soon with a visit to Auschwitz so this is part of my prep for that trip.
Good As Gone by Amy Gentry (library) ripped from the headlines....a girl returns home.....years after being abducted. Is it really the child they lost? What happened to her all those years away. The family was broken, devestated etc. I saw a really neat documentery about a boy and the one who returned was a scam artist who took advantage of the grieving family. Anyway this book was really interesting and I enjoyed it
Lost in My Own Backyard by Tim Cahill (library) about Yellowstone National Park. A nice overview and can lead you to more books for more in depth info
Mr Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (library) I really enjoyed this one. a fictional account of a girl working in the War Cabinet Rooms for Churchill....if you like Maisie Dobbs and the Lady Georgiana books by Rhys Bowen, then you might like this one too.
The Spy by Paulo Coelho (library) About Mata Hari, I really enjoyed it
Irrepressible, The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham by Emily Bingham (library) loved this one, it is non-fiction about the life of a woman who was rich and liberated during the Jazz age. She ran around with the Bloomsbury Group in London and had affairs with men and women. The author is the great niece and was intrigued because no one in the family wanted to talk about her great aunt, so she started researching the life of this woman and found many love letters that were the basis of the information in the book.
Escape Clause by John Sandford (library) The latest Virgil Flowers mystery/thriller. Two tigers are stolen from the Minneapolis Zoo and Virgil Flowers has to find them before they are killed for their parts. I am a huge fan.
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (library) In light of what is happening in America right now, everyone should read this book. It was written in 1935.
The River at Night by Erica Ferencik (library) A thriller about some women who go on a girls rafting trip into the wilds of Maine. I recommend it
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (library) I recently watched the BBC mini series, so of course I HAD to read the book!! the first half is great and the second half gets bogged down with the courtroom scenes. Sort of like when you watch Law and Order. I always enjoy the part with the cops and detectives figuring out the crime, but when they get to the courtroom and have to get into the proof and the defense etc, I get bored. And of course the book is better because you get so much more detail. Descriptions of feelings and the descriptions of place are much more rich in the book, although the mini series does do a good job of it
The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood (library) another "ripped from the headlines" story of child abduction. I liked it (another British author)
S. by Doug Dorst and J J Abrams okay, this is a weird book/experience. The novel is presented as a story within a story. It is composed of the novel Ship of Theseus by a fictional author, and hand-written notes filling the book's margins as a dialogue between two college students hoping to uncover the author's mysterious identity and the novel's secret plus loose supplementary materials tucked in between pages.
S. has been called "part work of art, literary experiment, and love letter to the physical expression of books."
As someone who loves physical books and hates reading online or on a kindle this book is just wonderful!! The authors intended the book as a physical object, and not just a story. Abrams noted that "to physically hold it is kind of the point." One reviewer called S. an argument for paying extra for a physical book, "a possessor of wonders that cannot be translated into digital bits."

The NewYorker had a neat review of the book and maybe does a better job of explaining it.
NewYorker Review
A Separation by Katie Kitamura (library) A woman's husband goes missing while they are in the midst of a divorce.

Plus another note....I still to this day learn new words by reading! A word used in one of these books this month was coruscating...what the heck...."there's that coruscating smile"  So I had to dig out the dictionary and figure out what coruscating meant. I will save you the google and here ya go:  Coruscation:  cor·us·cat·ed, cor·us·cat·ing, cor·us·cates. 1. To give forth flashes of light; sparkle and glitter: diamonds coruscating in the candlelight. 2. To exhibit sparkling virtuosity: a flutist whose music coruscated throughout the concert hall.

To Be Read:

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye
The Reserve by Russell Banks
The Dry by Jane Harper
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins