Grand Canyon in the Winter

A few weeks ago, we drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. It was a five-hour drive. So, if you’re a passenger and you don’t get car sick, I have a list at the end of this post of some books you might enjoy.

It was our first time there. Just a friendly warning if you plan on driving there in the winter, it would help if you have a bit of experience driving in snowy conditions. It was overcast when we arrived there in the afternoon. It didn’t take long until it started snowing with white out driving conditions. So, just take it slow. The following day was pretty much the same weather. We were lucky to have a couple of hours to take photos. The clouds made for some dramatic scenery. I couldn’t resist turning some of them into black and whites.

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The view from Desert View Watchtower


So which one do you prefer? The black and white photo above or the coloured one below?

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Here we go… I loved The Martian by Andy Weir. And if you’ve seen the movie and haven’t read the book – please do yourself a favour, read it because it is so much better. The movie cut out a lot! When you start it, just make sure you have loads of time because you’ll want to finish it in one sitting. I kid you not.

Another book I thoroughly enjoyed was The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. A different pace from The Martian for sure but just as riveting. I’m not going to give summaries here because you’ll find those on the links I’ve provided. Here are other notable books I’ve read recently:

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Old Havana and Ernest Hemingway

Hotel Ambos Mundos

We end our walking tour of Old Havana at Hotel Ambos Mundos (it’s the pink one) built in 1924. This hotel is popular because of Ernest Hemingway. He stayed in this hotel from 1932 to 1939. The hotel has preserved his old room, number 511, and made it into a small museum. Also if you want to get your picture taken with the ladies smoking cigars, you’ll find them sitting in front of that yellow house across from the hotel.


$1.00 for dinner and $0.75 for lunch – what a deal!


El Floridita

The other place Hemingway often visited was the bar Floridita just down the street from Hotel Ambos Mundos and across Monserrate Street from the The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana. Unfortunately, it was closed when we got there.We had meant to go back but ran out of time! Here’s some interesting info on the bar:

  • The original name of the bar was “La Piña de Plata” when it opened in 1817.
  • It was later renamed to “El Floridita” or Little Florida.
  • Constante Ribalaigua Vert started working at the bar in 1914 and he invented the frozen daiquiri.
  • The Papa Hemingway Special is a grapefruit daiquiri.


Although we didn’t get to go inside, here’s a photo from Wikimedia just to give you an idea. Look to the side of the bar near the window. There’s a life size bronze statue of Hemingway.


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A Walk Around Old Havana: Plaza de la Catedral

Havana Cathedral

The Havana Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, located in the Plaza de la Catedral) dates back to the mid-18th century built by the Jesuits. Most of the houses surrounding this plaza also date back to the mid-18th century.

Cuba Havana Plaza de la Catedral

Plaza de la Catedral

Here’s a close up of the front of the cathedral. Notice the Baroque style facade. The materials used to build the cathedral came from the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, if you look closely at the building facade, you should see marine fossils (I did not look closely enough).


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A Walk Around Old Havana: Plaza de San Francisco

On the way to Plaza de San Francisco, you’ll notice such diverse architecture styles but it all seems to work together adding to the charm of Old Havana. One of the neat hotels we saw along the way was Hotel Los Frailes. The staff were dressed as monks! Too bad I didn’t get at least one of them in that second photo below.





Plaza de San Francisco

There were a lot of people on the day we went to Old Havana. It was hard to get a decent shot as you can see in the photo below. Plaza de San Francisco’s most prominent building is the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis which was built in the 16th century. But it was only used as a church under the English rule in Havana, then as offices under the Spanish rule. Today, it is a concert hall for classical, chamber and choral music and a museum. The climb up the bell tower might be worth it for some fantastic views of the city.



See the photo below? Take a close look at the back of the altar. The wall doesn’t extend, but it’s a tromp l’oeil effect. Neat, huh?


This life size statue called El Caballero de Paris. It’s located on the sidewalk just in front of the entrance. You’ll notice that the statue’s beard and finger shines! It’s constantly polished from people touching it because they believe it will bring them luck. Embarrassed when I noticed where the finger is pointing; I didn’t have another photo! I took the photo so quickly just to take advantage of the rare time that it wasn’t surrounded by throngs of people!


United Buddy Bears

We had a special treat when we were in Havana in February 2015. The United Buddy Bears were on display in the square! I had never heard of the United Buddy Bears before this. It originated in Berlin in 2001. The United Buddy Bears promote “living together in peace and harmony“. Their motto is:

“We have to get to know each other better …
… it makes us understand one another better,
trust each other more, and live together more peacefully.”

There is a bear representing each of the 140 countries on display. “The international artists’ different styles are joined together in one work of art, spreading zest for life. … The Message: The Buddy Bears stand together “hand in hand”, symbolising the future vision of a peaceful world. Each bear stands for the people of the different countries and their culture, yet not for political systems.” Click here to read more about the Buddy Bears and when it might be coming to your city!

Now, if you take a look at the next few photos below, you can see the bears surrounding the square.


Of course, aside from the bears, are the beautiful buildings. The Terminal Sierra Maestra building will most likely be the one that will catch your eye as soon as you enter the square. With its pale coloured facade, it is a contrast to all the other buildings in this square.



We had to search for Canada’s bear and here it is! So, I didn’t quite get the pixels but here’s the artist, Trevor Good’s explanation on the design and you can click here for the site:  “The motifs are based on classic Canadian paintings and reflect what I believe to be an essential part of being Canadian: The physical magnitude of the land that is Canada creates a distinctive feeling of modesty. I the relationship between the pixels and the image is just like the project of the bears: many individual objects coming together to present a feeling of empowerment and also recognition that this world needs cooperation and respect; we all need to be humbled by something in our world, and in my own personal way I find this in art and nature.” If your country has a bear, you can find out about the artist’s interpretation for yourself here.


Across the basilica is the Chamber of Commerce which was built in 1909. It served as Cuba’s stock exchange until the revolution. Kinda reminds me of some of the Renaissance style architecture in Italy. The second photo below from Wikipedia shows the entire building.


Chamber of Commerce (Lonja de Comercio)


As you exit the square from the other side of the basilica, you will come across this building. What I noted from the building is the clock at the top. Not sure if you can see it but the number 4 is shown as Roman numeral “IIII” instead of “IX”. This caught my eye because we had bought a clock for our house that also had the Roman numeral “IIII”. I did a little search and there really isn’t a clear answer. But what I was given as an explanation at the time was that the use of “IIII” creates a visual symmetry. Other explanations provided is that it is the old Roman numeral way to depict the number 4.


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A Walk Around Old Havana: The Old Square

It’s hard to believe we’re now in the middle of July. Been busy travelling during the first half of this year and towards the quarter end of last year. Didn’t plan it that way but that’s how it worked out which really sucks because that means no more holidays for the rest of the year. Hoping we’ll be able to take advantage of a couple of long weekend trips but that’s about it. On the other hand, I will have more time for my blog which has been neglected. On top of the travelling, I’ve also been catching up on my reading. Since reading goes hand in hand with travel, I am including a list of notable books I’ve read so far this year at the end of this post. So, let’s pick up where I left off on my last post. Let’s go back to Old Havana and take a walk around.

Old Havana (Habana Vieja) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. This designation initiated a major restoration of the buildings in Old Havana. Today, you’ll see among other things, beautifully restored Spanish colonial buildings and Baroque churches. Enjoy leisurely walks through its plazas. You don’t have to worry about vehicles because no cars are allowed.

As we started walking around, one of the first things I noticed were these beautiful tiled street signs. Coming from Toronto where all the street signs are your typical rectangular sign on a pole, the street signs in Old Havana are charming.


As you walk along the streets of Old Havana, you’ll notice these wonderful inner courtyards.


Plaza Vieja or The Old Square

Plaza Vieja or the Old Square is one of the most beautiful squares in Old Havana. It might even be my favourite of all the plazas that we visited. I was attracted to the vibrant colours and the mixture of architectural styles from the 17th to 19th centuries, mostly colonial residences. They have done such a great job preserving these historical buildings.

The Old Square hasn’t always been called that. It has had many names – New Square (Plaza Nueva) when it was first built in 1559, then Market Square (Plaza del Mercado) in the 18th century and to its current name dating back to 1814. This plaza has witnessed major events such as executions, fiestas and bullfights. But these days, it’s a place to hangout. There was this sculpture of a bald naked woman holding a fork riding a giant rooster (I kid you not!). I wasn’t able to get a photo because of the number of people surrounding it. But I did find this article. In the middle of the square was a marble fountain but was demolished in the 1930’s when they built an underground parking lot. Seriously, right? A replica of the fountain was re-built which is surrounded by fencing.



This row is stunning with the beautiful stained glass windows!




And don’t miss this view of the Capitol Building! The Old Square is a nice place to just hang and relax. They have musicians serenading their guests at this outdoor patio.


As promised, here’s a list of some notable books I’ve read since the beginning of this year. I’ve provided links to each of the books for more info. If you look at the list, some of you will probably think, “She just read that this year?!”. “I know! I know!” I’m catching up. My top three from the list below are as follows: Still Alice, The Glass Castle and Me Before You. Enjoy!


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Capitolio Nacional Cuba

Last week, I finally made it to Havana – a dream come true! It didn’t disappoint. What a vibrant city! If you ever get a chance, it’s a must see. Over the next few posts, we will visit Old Havana or in Spanish La Habana Vieja. We took one of those day trips from Varadero. This short little day trip left me wanting to explore it more.

Capitolio Nacional

Our first stop was the Capitol Building. Architecture look familiar? The inspiration for the building was the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and the Pantheon in Paris. It was completed in 1929. Before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, it was the home of the Cuban government.


The Capitolio Nacional Cuba contains the third largest indoor sculpture in the world (after the Buddha sculpture in the temple complex of Nara Japan and the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln in Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial). The Statue of the Republic (Estatua de la Republica) is an idealized representation of Cuban nationalism modeled after a beautiful Cuban female model, Lily Valty. Cast in bronze and covered in 22-carat gold leaf, the statue dominates the main hall of the Capitolio Nacional.” Click on the link above to read more about El Capitolio on the site. Found this photo of the Statue of the Republic.

"Larepublica" by Angelo Zanelli - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Larepublica” by Angelo Zanelli – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Parque Central

Other sites around the Capitol Building is Central Park (aka Parque José Martí). That’s the statue of José Martí in the middle. José Martí was a poet and a Cuban National Hero. He died in 1895 fighting for Cuba’s independence.



IMG_9001Gran Teatro de la Habana

This beautiful building beside the Capitol is home to Cuba’s national ballet and opera – the Gran Teatro de la Habana. “A theater since 1838, the building contains the grandiose Teatro García Lorca, along with two smaller concert halls: the Sala Alejo Carpentier and the Sala Ernesto Lecuono – where art films are sometimes shown.” (via Lonely Planet)


Check out the details on the facade!

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Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

Across the street on the other side of Parque Central is the National Museum of Fine Arts established in 1927.


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Stay tuned for more on Havana, Cuba.

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Sightseeing in San Francisco

San Francisco is a walkable city but some may find the steep streets a bit of a challenge. When we were there a couple of years ago with our parents, we didn’t do as much walking as we did when it was just me and the hubby. The last sites I’ve chosen for this post are the Palace of Fine Arts, the Painted Ladies and that very crooked street, Lombard Street.

Palace of Fine Arts

I always get a little obsessed with the Palace of Fine Arts. I love just sitting in front of the lagoon and admiring the view and of course, taking a ton of photos of such a beautiful subject. It’s easy to see the influence of Greek and Roman architecture. There’s a lot of detail to take in from the weeping women atop the colonnades to the rotunda itself and all the sculptural frieze. I never tire of it.

The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District. It was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in the Beaux-Arts style. But this is not the same structure from 1915. The original palace was actually not built well, so it was demolished and re-built in the 1960’s and renovated in 2009. It used to host art exhibits, theatre and was the home of the Exploratorium museum up until last year.

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As you walk around the lagoon, try to see if you can find the wildlife that live there like this bird. Some are well disguised so look hard.




Panoramic view of the Palace of Fine Arts from 1919 (via Wikipedia).





The Painted Ladies

You’ll find “Painted Ladies” all over San Francisco – they refer to the Edwardian and Victorian houses that are painted in multiple colors to enhance the architectural details. The ones below are located near Alamo Square. It was very foggy during our visit and quite cool and windy so we couldn’t appreciate the view or enjoy the park. But I managed to take this photo of the Painted Ladies which are often seen in postcards.


Here’s an ideal view from Alamo Square Park on a bright sunny day courtesy of Wikipedia.


Check out the angle of this street! But this not even the steepest street in San Francisco.


Lombard Street

I’m sure you’ve heard of Lombard Street. It’s usually listed as one of the must-see sites of San Francisco. It is a very steep street with eight very tight turns. The traffic sign at the top states a speed of 5 miles per hour but you don’t have to drive down, there’s a sidewalk if you choose to walk. In the summer, it is filled with flowers; the photo below was taken in January, so no flowers. You can take the Powell-Hyde cable car from Ghirardelli Square or Union Square to the top of Lombard Street so it’ll be easier to walk down. The best spot to take a photo is at the bottom from Leavenworth Street. Just be mindful of the traffic. I can’t even imagine how the people that live on this street put up with all the tourists that visit. But maybe it’s worth it for that view.


The view from the top of Lombard Street looking east towards Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. Pretty awesome view, isn’t it?


Here’s a close up view from the top of Lombard street; you can see the Coit Tower and the church steeples of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.


To get a better idea of how tight those turns are, here’s a view of Lombard Street from Coit Tower via Wikipedia.


And there you go – a few sites you could visit for free in San Francisco. There are lots of ways to get around the city but you may want to consider driving – who knows, you may find it fun (or scary) to drive up and down those steep streets.  If you do decide to drive, try this route and start at the Palace of Fine Arts, then to Lombard Street (take a detour to Filbert Street which is just a couple of blocks east), next to San Francisco City Hall and then Alamo Square. Enjoy!

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