Colorful Cartagena, Colombia

The city of Cartagena located on the Atlantic Coast of Colombia was founded by the Spaniards in 1533. It was known then as Cartagena de Indias.

By 1586 construction began on a stone fortification to protect the city from Caribbean pirates. In time, the city was enclosed by 7 miles of militarily fortified walls. It is considered one of the most extensive fortifications of South America. Cartagena was a major trading hub for the Spanish and Portuguese.

The picture below shows the stone wall and canons surrounding the old city. In the far distance is Boca Grande where the beach hotels and modern apartment buildings are.

The next photo shows La Torre del Reloj, the Clock Tower, the entrance to the walled city.

 

In the 1990’s Cartagena underwent a major restoration. Today you can visit La Ciudad Vieja, the old city,  and feel like you have stepped back in time enjoying its beautiful streets, architecture, and culture.

My husband I recently visited Cartagena, Colombia. The city is divided into various neighborhoods. The hotels by the beach and modern apartments are located in the Boca Grande area. We chose to stay in the old colonial city in Sofitel’s Santa Clara Hotel in the San Diego neighborhood. The Santa Clara was originally built in 1621 as a convent for the order of Las Clarissas, also known as the nuns of the Order of St. Claire. The convent operated for 240 years until 1861 when the government took over church properties. The property was then used as a prison until 1884 and as a hospital until 1974. The property was then abandoned and fell into major disrepair. Sofitel purchased the property and after a major renovation opened the hotel in 1994. Today it is one of Cartagena’s most beautiful hotels.

The spectacular inside courtyard of The Santa Clara hotel. On the bottom right hand side is one of the original 4 wells of the convent.

Stepping out of our hotel and exploring the neighborhood.

Iglesia de Santo Toribio located in one of the corners of The Plaza Fernandez de Madrid

In the picture below, on the right hand side is, La Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria de Cartagena de Indias.

Below is The Charleston Santa Teresa Hotel in Plaza Santa Teresa

The next two photos are of the Plaza San Pedro de Claver.

Evening strolls in Cartagena

Below is the Plaza de la Aduana – Custom’s Square



Colorful mochilas made by the Wayuu Native Americans from the Guajira region of Colombia. 

Houses in the three colors of the Colombia Flag, blue, red, and yellow.

We loved this beautiful and colorful city of Cartagena and we look forward to visiting again!

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Chocolate con Churros

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A Spanish-American friend in college used to boast about Spain’s famous “Chocolate con Churros”, and how he would dip the delicious deep-fried dough pastry into the thick hot chocolate. Although I have been to Spain multiple times the opportunity to try “Chocolate con Churros” would finally come when I visited Seville. And it was all that my friend said it would be, it was heavenly!

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Our family went to Bar El Comercio, a family run business since 1904, specializing in “Chocolate con Churros” and serving other drinks and snacks. The “Chocolate con Churros” is only available in the morning and mid afternoon when the kettle of oil is sizzling hot and each order of churros is made fresh. Since we did not know how big the servings would be we decided to order 3 portions for 2 adults and 2 children. To our surprise the servings of churros were huge and we could barely finish our delicious snack. The “chocolate” was not what we know as hot chocolate, but instead was a beautifully thick fondue-like creamy chocolate in which to dip the churro pieces in. My mouth waters just thinking about that afternoon.

 

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Some fun history about Bar El Comercio

http://barelcomercio.com/index.htm

For a good article about Churros see Serious Eats:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/04/spanish-churros-con-chocolate.html

 

Nine Mouth-Watering Reasons to Visit Italy

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Photo courtesy of Clara Petrucelli.

(Top row, left to right)

Penne Rigate all’Arrabiata – Penne in a spicy tomato sauce with crushed red pepper flakes.

Fettuccini Porcini – Fettuccini with Porcini mushrooms.

Rigatoncini all’Amatriciana – Small rigatoni with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato. This pasta originates from the town of Amatrice. One of the towns in Italy hit recently by the earthquake.

(Second Row, left to right)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – One of Rome’s signature dishes made with eggs, cheese (pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper.

Fettuccini al Ragu – Pasta with a meat based sauce.

Pappardelle Cacio e Pepe with goat cheese – Pasta with “cheese and pepper”, Pecorino Romano and black pepper.

(Third Row, left to right)

Gnocchi alla Pomodoro – Small dumplings made with a dough of potato, flour, and egg served in a tomato sauce.

Ravioli Capresi – One of Island of Capri’s signature dishes. Ravioli, filled with caciotta (artisan cheese), Parmesan cheese, and marjoram served in a tomato sauce.

Penne all’Amatriciana – Pasta with sauce made with Guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato.

Spaghetti alla Nerano

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

This summer our family returned to Italy. We ventured to the Amalfi coast and stayed in the beautiful town of Positano. From Positano we took several day trips to the town of Amalfi, Ravello, and to the Island of Capri. It was during our boat trip to Capri that the captain pointed to the beaches of the town of Nerano and said that the famous pasta dish, Spaghetti alla Nerano, originated there. After circling the Island of Capri we were dropped off at the Marina Grande and from there we walked uphill to the city center of Capri. After our exhausting hike we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Al Capri Don Alfonso Café. I had the famous Spaghetti alla Nerano, a spaghetti served with a simple yet delicious zucchini sauce. It was so delicious that we were determined to replicate this dish at home.

View from our restaurant in Capri

View from our restaurant in Capri

Spaghetti alla Nerano – Spaghetti with Zucchini Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 garlic clove (use 2 cloves if they are small) – minced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. of zucchini (about 4 – 6 small zucchini)
  • 4 ½ to 6 oz. of Italian Provolone cheese grated. Note: Make sure it is aged hard Italian provolone cheese. Do not use soft deli provolone cheese. If you cannot find Italian Provolone substitute with Italian aged Parmesan.The amount of cheese is up to you. Our family prefers the recipe with the lower amount of cheese.
  •  Italian grated Parmesan cheese for topping.
  • 1 lb. of Spaghetti
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • A handful of fresh Basil julienned
  • Salt and Pepper

Preparation

  1. Thinly slice the zucchini using a mandoline.
  2. Start boiling water for the pasta. Make sure to generously salt the water when it comes to a boil.
  3. Add the olive oil to a separate large pot. Warm the oil and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to release flavors into the oil but do not let the garlic brown. Remove garlic from the oil and set aside.
  4. Add the sliced zucchini to the oil in layers, salting each layer separately. Sauté the zucchini until it cooks down completely._DSC2637_new
  5. Cook the spaghetti for the suggested cooking time. We cook ours 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time because we really enjoy pasta al dente. Remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water that will be used later.
  6. Separate the cooked zucchini into thirds.
    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Cooked down zucchini separated into thirds.

    Place 1/3 of the zucchini in a blender and add a ½ cup of pasta cooking water to blend. _DSC2647_new

  7. Combine the blended zucchini with the rest of the zucchini and add the sautéed garlic. _DSC2649_new
  8. When the spaghetti is done cooking remember to save about 2 cups of pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
  9. Return the spaghetti to the pot with the zucchini mix. _DSC2651_newRemove from heat. Add the cheese and the butter and mix vigorously to create an emulsion. You will want a silky sauce._DSC2660_new If it is too dry then add more pasta water as necessary. Top with fresh basil leaves and serve immediately.

Note: Some recipes do not call for blending the 1/3 of the cooked zucchini. That is entirely up to you. I like the thicker sauce that the blended zucchini makes.

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Buono Appetito!

The Freedoms I Take for Granted

Dragon Bridge over the River Hàn in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Dragon Bridge over the River Hàn in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Well-known Vietnamese blogger, Nguyen Huu Vinh, and his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, were found guilty yesterday and imprisoned for five and three years, respectively. There were found guilty of abusing their democratic freedoms. What freedoms? Let’s not kid ourselves.

In 1975 the Communist regime of Vietnam took over the whole country. By 1985, Communism had not worked very well for the country’s economy so they introduced a socialist-oriented market economy. Today, Vietnam has a thriving economy with tons of tourism but there is a dark side. I visited Vietnam in 2013 and witnessed this firsthand. The reality is that although Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, it is still a single political party country that does not tolerate dissent. There is no democracy in Vietnam and citizens have limited rights. A citizen cannot speak against the government and the government controls the media. The Vietnamese government arbitrarily arrests activists, lawyers, and bloggers if they feel they are criticizing the government.

Vinh’s blog, “Ba Sam” was a political and social blog founded in 2007. The blog aggregated news stories from major state-run newspapers and also published individual blog posts written by activists. His blog reached up to 3.7 million page views. What also made Vinh a unique blogger was that he had once been a policeman and had had ties to the communist party elite. His father had been a government minister and his grandfather a former ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Vietnam stands the chance of becoming the biggest winner in the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement making them even more important players in the global economy. But I have always felt that a country that does not treat its citizens well, can only go so far, i.e. like China. Ironically, in 1945 Ho Shi Minh, the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north communist Vietnam) was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence and the words of Thomas Jefferson that say, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. The constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north communist Vietnam) adopted these lines in their 1946 constitution and provided for freedom of speech, press, and assembly. Of course these rights were never really instituted. By 1959 the North Vietnamese constitution took a more communist tone. The constitution was revised yet again in 1980 to better serve politically unified Vietnam. In its article 67, the Vietnamese constitution guarantees the citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, and the freedom to demonstrate. But here’s the kicker, the government says, “ no one may misuse democratic freedoms to violate the interests of the state and the people”. Vinh and Thuy were found guilty of violating their so-called democratic freedoms.

At moments like this I truly appreciate our founding father’s gift of the First Amendment. I share it below with you for your reading pleasure and to remind ourselves that we are very fortunate to live in a country with real democratic freedoms.

Today my thoughts are with the people of Vietnam. I wish that someday they enjoy true democratic freedoms. Today, my thoughts are also with blogger activists around the world who promote human rights and peace.

Faces of Vietnam

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Amendment I

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.  It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.  It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.  It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.

 

One of our wonderful tour guides. He views life as a glass half full. He is appreciative of the few democratic freedoms he does have and he is very optimistic for the future of Vietnam.

One of our wonderful tour guides. He views life as a glass half full. He is appreciative of the few democratic freedoms he does have and is very optimistic for the future of Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

Brussels – Our Other Home

Brussels Arc de Triomphe in Cinquantenaire Park

Brussels Arc de Triomphe in Cinquantenaire Park

By now you have heard the terrible news of the bombs that went off in Brussels. Brussels is our other home. We lived in Brussels close to 5 years, from 1997 until  2001. It was an amazing experience and was made even more special because both our children were born there. We left a little bit of hearts there. Today my thoughts are with the people of Belgium.

The Town Hall Building in the Grand Place/ Grote Markt

The Town Hall Building in the Grand Place/ Grote Markt – Brussels

Our early years in Brussels 1997 – 2001…

Walking the streets of Brussels with our son.

Walking the streets of Liège, Belgium with our son.

 

Walking the children and the dogs in our neighborhood.

Walking the children and the dogs in our neighborhood.

 

In the Hallerbos, The Bluebell Forest of Belgium located in Halle

In the Hallerbos, The Bluebell Forest of Belgium located in Halle

Our return trip back in 2005…

Visiting the hospital the children were born in: Clinique General St. Jean or in Femish

Visiting the hospital the children were born in: Clinique General St. Jean or in Flemish Algemene Kliniek Sint Jan located in downtown Brussels

 

The Mannekin Pis, a famous statue of a little boy peeing into the fountain's basin.

The Manneken Pis, a famous statue of a little naked boy peeing into the fountain’s basin located in Brussels.

Tasting and learning about the most delicious chocolate in the world, Belgium Chocolate. Here we are in front of Pierre Marcollini with our loot.

Tasting and learning about the most delicious chocolate in the world, Belgian Chocolate. Here we are in front of Pierre Marcolini Luxury Chocolates with our loot.

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Enjoying and climbing the sights of Antwerp, Belgium At The Het Steen Castle

Photos from our return trip in 2013…

The magical medieval city of Bruges

The magical medieval city of Bruges, Belgium

 

Eating the most awesome waffles in the world!

Eating the most awesome waffles in the world!

 

With my children in the Grand Place/Grote Markt

With my children in the Grand Place/Grote Markt 2013

 

 

 

Passing Down “Words of Wisdom” to My Daughter

Last night, my daughter and I were laughing while reminiscing about something that happened to her when she was 1½ years old. The year was 2001 and my husband, children, and I were living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My in-laws had come to visit and we thought “Wouldn’t it be lovely to take my mother-in-law out on a boat ”. We knew my father-in-law would not join us because of his motion sickness. Anyway, we set sail on a warm, humid, overcast day, on a beautiful “clean” sailboat on the waters of the Bay of Banderas. And like most parents do, I packed snacks for our excursion.

Now, when we go back and look at some of the photographs of the trip we realize how much my daughter took a liking to “las papitas”, the potato chips that I packed. So much so, that she is either holding a chip in every picture, or has her hand in the bag of chips, or is pointing to the bag asking for more.

My daughter with "papitas" in hand.

My daughter with “papitas” in hand.

Grandma Mimi helping Clara with the potato chip bag.

Grandma Mimi helping Clara with the potato chip bag.

"Don't mind if I do"

“Don’t mind if I do”

"Looking good"

“Yummy, just can’t get enough of these”

 

Ah this blissful moment…

My Blissful Moment and my daughter pointing to the potato chip bag

My Blissful Moment and my daughter pointing to the potato chip bag and saying “Quiero mas papitas!”.

I’m living in the moment with the sea breeze blowing through my hair, the smell of sea salt in the air, the sound of the sails flapping in the wind, the view of the bow carving through the water, the dolphins jumping in the distance…This blissful moment would be abruptly interrupted by the explosive projectile vomiting sounds of the tiniest person on board. Yep, all those potato chips my sweet daughter had shoved down her cute little mouth would resurface and cover the deck of this very “clean” boat. In a frenzy, and probably saying something like “Ay, dios mio!, I started pulling out baby wipes and trying to clean the very smelly mess while fighting my gag reflex. I was so grateful because the boat crew appeared unflappable. They jumped into action to help me clean saying “Tranquila, no se preocupe”, “Relax, don’t worry”. It was kind of hard to relax after that but the good news was that my daughter had seemed unfazed throughout the whole episode and was probably feeling good enough to have a couple more “papitas”.

Funny how there are no pictures of our boating excursion after that point in time. I think I was probably traumatized and just wanted to get back to shore for a margarita. But the few photos that we took were enough to seal the memories in forever and give us plenty of material to make us laugh.

So this whole story came up again last night and we laughed all over again. At the end of the story I turned to my now 15-year old daughter with a serious face and jokingly said, “Note to self, no potato chips on a boat, remember that for when you are a parent someday”. To which she responded with a huge smile, “Hey, that’s a great idea for a baby shower gift for me one day, a list of parenting tips from you like that one!” Ah yes, how clever, I would begin documenting my words of wisdom to pass down to my daughter. First on my list, “laugh as often as you can with your child”, second on the list, “Do not bring potato chips on a boat” and the rest, well, that will take me some time to write because having children has taught me much more than I ever imagined and without them I would not have “words of wisdom” to share.