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Ensenada, Ensenada, Mexico

101_0068Louise Speaks:   Another stop on our Baja cruise is Ensenada Mexico.  Now again, since101_0076 I have been on this cruise many times before, and I lived just outside of San Diego, I have experienced many times before, but Thelma has never been here.   Ensenada  is a coastal city,  the third largest city in Baja California.  Ensenada is just 78 miles south of San Diego on the Baja Peninsula.  It is locally referred to as La Cenicienta del Pacífico, “The Cinderella of the Pacific.”  And if you visit the Ensenada coastline you’d know why.  The only thing I could compare it to would be some of the richest coastlines in northern California like Big Sur or Monterrey.  I spoke at great lengths with our tour guide about  coastal beach living.  I was told that when you hear of people spending at least a million dollars for a small beach house in California, you can get a mini mansion in Ensenada for about $25,000.  Makes one think about moving to Mexico.  In fact many people working in San Diego, make that 78 mile trip everyday so they can live on the beautiful coast of Ensenada while earning the American dollar in California.

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centro_cultural_20415The cruise lines are pretty good about having you in port long enough that you can take enough excursions to really get a feel for the port.  During the morning we were given a tour of the Riveria Culture Center, formerly the Hotel Playa Ensenada.  The Hotel is now  used as a culture center and a popular venue for major events.   The main objectives of this center are to preserve the cultural, historical, artistic, archaeological and architectural heritage of the state.  The city wants to  encourage the citizens to promote,  foster and spread their cultural values and strengthen the fine arts.  They are hoping to develop social communication as well as every activity that favors the spiritual and intellectual harmony among the citizens.  I took my grand daughter here many years ago for a folk lore celebration where folk dancers in their native costumes entertained us while we had an authentic Mexican lunch.100_2462

20170125_101154Its history dates back to 1930, when it opened under the name, Hotel Playa Ensenada; very popular for its lavish décor and casino. Our guide was very informative of the decor especially  the chandeleirs.  The rooms and buildings that made up this beautiful recreational complex, of Californian and Neo-Mudéjar style, are now two event venues: a theatre and a bar.  Today the lavish bar offered Margarita tasting as part of the tour, and they were very tasty Margarita’s .  The Margarita  is claimed to have been invented in several different places and at several different times.  However, Ensenada takes  claim  that it was invented right here at the Hotel Riviera del Pacífico for Marjorie King Plant at the time when she was the joint owner.  Margarita is a Spanish version of the name Marjorie.  Our guide had a very interesting explanation of this find, but you’re going to have to go to Ensenada yourself to hear the story.

In the patio outside the bar, local venders were selling their goods.  Many of them were making their goods right in front of us.  To see them crocheting, or doing basket weaving, or painting plates, you could see how talented these people are.  The prices were so reasonable, you just wanted to tell them to charge more.  No two items were the same, and the colors were brilliant.  What a fun stop and did I mention how good the Margarita’s were?

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fish-ringFrom the cultural center we took a Coastline tour along the Gold Coast, that pretty much showed us all Ensenada has to offer.  One of our stops was the Fishing Farms, where they use  breeding rings for the blue fin tuna.  We were high up on a cliff, so we could easily see the fish rings below.  The practice of catching blue fin tuna and hauling them inshore to be fattened in a pen was developed during the 90’s.  Turns out the blue fin tuna has been fished for in Ensenada  for many, many years. Before, instead of taking the fish and bringing it to the farm and feeding it, they used to catch the tuna, load them on the boat, and take the fish to the cannery.  But since 1997, they tow the live fish in the net in a very smooth way, bring them close to the shoreline, and then keep them there for a month, or up to four or five months. During that time, they feed the fish sardines.  They don’t use any artificial feed.  They feed the tuna sardines that are caught in local waters close by the shoreline.  They actually use fresh sardines,  They catch the sardines today and give them to the tuna tomorrow…now that’s pretty fresh.  You are able to see the fish rings from the coastal area, and there are hundreds of them.  Most of the tunas are headed to Japan, where they will become sushi.  When an order comes in from Japan, the divers take the fish, alive,  from the pen one by one.  They then sacrifice the tuna on the boat one by one using a Japanese technique that guarantees that the flesh is not damaged.  They then bring the tuna from the fish farms to the port  in Ensenada.  From the port they go to the plant.  At the plant, they clean the tuna, pack the tuna, and put the filleted tuna in a box.  From the plant, the boxes are  trucked to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles are shipped to Japan by air.  In Japan, the tuna is auctioned on the Japanese market.  From the time you kill the fish until the time it is in the auction market in Japan and to the consumer, is only about 72 hours.

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101_0059While on our morning tour we stopped for a quaint lunch at La Fonda’s.  A cute grass hut restaurant right of the gold coast of Ensenada.  There were homes on each side of the restaurant because in Mexico, when you have property you can do what you choose with that property.  So this home is now a restaurant and a small motel…but the views were unbelievable.  While waiting for lunch and taking in the view, our tour guide was just a book of knowledge telling us all Ensenada has to offer.  I think he was recruiting for new residents.  Reading the menu was quite fascinating when you think of the money exchange.  We ordered a taco dinner and on the menu it lists a price of 160 Pesos….seems expensive for a taco dinner, but in actuality that is less than $8.00.

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100_2490We made it back to the ship, just in time to board the bus for our afternoon excursion to La Bufadora, “The Blow Hole“.   This is probably the most popular attraction in Ensenada.  La Bufadora is about 17 miles south of Ensenada all along the southern coastline of Baja.  Driving to the Blow Hole, you will see many of the agricultural fields and the cardboard homes the workers live in.  It is a chance to see the poorer side of Ensenada in comparison to the richer side we saw this morning as we drove along the Gold Coast.  La Bufadora is a marine geyser  or blowhole located on the Punta Banda Peninsula.  The spout of sea water is the result of air, trapped in a sea cave, exploding upwards.  Air is forced into the cave by wave action and is released when the water recedes.  This interaction not only creates the spout, but a thunderous noise as well. like Boof, hence the name La Bufadora.   The phenomena repeats every minute or so with its volume depending on the strength of the waves.  La Bufadora is one of the largest blowholes in North America, often shooting upwards more than 100 feet  above sea level.  The exhibit hall roof top is approximately 80 feet above sea level and the blowhole frequently sprays above it.  We didn’t see any sprays quite that tall, but it was still pretty tall.

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100_2480As you walk to the blow hole you pass 100s of venders selling their goods.  Here you will find anything from leather, to silver, from blankets to clothing.  You will also find nuts, and dried fruit, and even margarittas and cuban cigars.  The vendors are shouting back and forth along the streets trying to earn your business.  Our tour guide was pointing out to us where we would get the best deal…and who was selling the real silver etc.  I’m sure she gets a cut for recommending certain venders, but she truly was a sales person.  Thelma bought silver and nuts and there was quite a selection for both.

101_0099At the corner where the bus was parked is a taco stand.  Not just any taco stand but the one everyone was talking about.  When I was here years ago, this taco stand was being run out of a van.  Prior to arriving in Ensenada I told people make sure you get a taco from the van right where the buses park.  That business out of a van, is now a large building, with about 8 workers and a patio outside with about 10 picnic tables.  I knew the tacos were good, but this young gal has really made a business for herself.  So of course we had to help the cause and order two large plates to take back to the bus.  The tacos are just as good as they always were.  I guess next time we come by she’ll be in a two story restaurant with indoor seating.

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Although we are only 17 miles from Ensenada it was a good hour drive back to the ship.  Now we are in rush hour traffic for Ensenada but we made it back to the ship in time for sail off.  Today was a fun day.  There are many excursions to choose from, but I was trying to show Thelma as much of Ensenada as possible.   I think Thelma got a good taste of Ensenada, and saw some interesting things along the way.  It had been a few years since I have been on tours in Ensenada because usually I just stay on the ship, but today was fun seeing old stuff and seeing Thelma enjoy the new sites.  Next time we come though, we might just stay on the ship and drink.


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Sites in La Jolla, La Jolla, CA

Louise Speaks:  We have been to La Jolla before, in fact a few years ago.  But in trying to complete Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before I Die”  we have had to go back and find some of these sites.  I had mentioned these sites in the previous La Jolla post, but this trip we actually went to them.  Today is a rainy day, but nothing like rain and weather along the beach.  Remember La Jolla is like the Riviera of California.  In fact the name La Jolla means “the Jewel” and the Jewel it is.  You can just smell the amount of money in this town,

100_9896Our first stop was the Torrey Pine Golf Course.  We had just watched a golf tournament here100_9913 with Tiger Woods and we knew that this was one of our stops so it was pretty cool to have watched it on TV and here we were.  Although it was raining there were still people golfing…I guess it’s ok to golf as long as it’s not lightening.  The golf course was very green and getting greener with the rain.  They were setting up for the PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open  which apparently is a pretty good size tournament.  Bleachers were going up.  TV booths were being set up and it was quite impressive.  Torrey Pine Golf Course sits on the coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which is a site in itself.  This is the course where in 2008, under brutal conditions, the injured Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate during sudden death where they played 90 grueling holes of exciting golf.  The course is a North and South course, where you are able to challenge yourself, as well as enjoy the beauty of the area. The golf course is the site of the 2008 U.S. Open Championships, and the this event will be back in action on-site in 2021.  The name Torrey Pine was named after the Torrey Pine, a rare tree that grows in the wild along this local stretch of coastline in San Diego County.

100_9914100_9912Right behind the golf course, on the same grounds is The Lodge of Torrey Pines.  As we approached the lodge, the vallet pakers were very helpful with giving us information about the Lodge.  The first place they directed us was their rain forest garden, a place that you can just walk through and meditate.  They then pointed out the beautiful stained glass doors at the entry.  The down side was that the stain glass is suppose to be incredible in the sun.  We were not able to enjoy that view as it was raining.  We then went into the lobby where  we were still able to see how beautiful the stain glass truly was with the light from the chandelier above.  The 100_9907Lodge at Torrey Pines is the img_1142premier luxury hotel in the San Diego area.  The Lodge has received the AAA 5 Diamond Rating for consecutive years running and continues to be the hot spot for relaxation and rejuvenation.   The expansive public rooms with fireplaces, large mantelpieces, overstuffed couches, comfortable leather chairs and amazing views of the Torrey Pines Golf Course and the Pacific Ocean beyond.  The resort offers luxurious accommodations with premium services and amenities.  With 170 guest rooms and 8 suites, you will have no trouble finding a room that works for your particular needs.  For a romantic getaway, the hotel is perfect.  With a full service spa, you and your loved one can experience pure romance.  The Lodge also0 has a heated pool with relaxing poolside cabanas, whirlpool, croquet lawn, and a large terrace with chaise lounges for basking in the Southern California sun.  What got our attention was the view…there is not another one like it.

100_9921Our next stop was the Diva Surf School.  It started out as the first all-girls surf school back in 1996!  They have always strived to empower people to learn to surf in a fun and encouraging environment, while teaching the ways of the awe-inspiring ocean.  The girls are  proud, appreciative, and humbled to see Surf Diva grow the way it has.  The school now offers international, co-ed, corporate, team-building, surf, SUP, kids, veterans, and adaptive programs for people of all ages and all abilities.  Although the lessons actually happen in the ocean, the building that we went by was actually their boutique.   The Surf Diva boutique is  filled with your favorite fashion finds so it brings the shop great joy to see all the beach-lovers shopping for those California styles.  The girls motto is that as long at they  maintain that original thrill of sharing the stoke with each lesson they teach and with every board, bikini and bar of wax that they sell, then they have done their job.  Since it was raining we didn’t have the opportunity to go down to the beach and see lessons, but I’ve seen surfing before, so I’m good.

100_9919Continuing our tour of La Jolla, we drove by the La Jolla Playhouse.  The La Jolla Playhouse has garnered more than 300 local and national awards for its productions, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 35 Tony Awards for its Broadway transfers, as well as the 1993 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.  The mission of the La Jolla Playhouse is to advance theatre as an art form and as a vital social, moral and political platform by providing unfettered creative opportunities for the leading artists of today and tomorrow.  With their youthful spirit and eclectic, artist-driven approach they plan to  continue to cultivate a local and national following with an insatiable appetite for audacious and diverse work.  In the future, they hope that the  La Jolla Playhouse will be considered singularly indispensable to the worldwide theatre landscape as they become a permanent safe harbor for the unsafe and surprising actors of tomorrow. They hope the day will come when it will be essential to enter the La Jolla Playhouse village in order to get a glimpse of what is about to happen in American theatre.  We drove around the grounds and there are several theaters forming this village.  In looking at the posters there were many famous and well known productions being played at the same time.  The variety was very impressive.  Since it was raining, we didn’t walk around, but it was very impressive to just drive through the village and see the different theaters.

thOur last stop in La Jolla was George’s At The Cove.  We had a hard time finding this place becausebar the sign outside just say’s George’s…but based on the phone numbers and address the two are the same.  What’s unique about George’s is that they have an indoor formal restaurant and an Ocean Terrace with views to die for.  According to the manager, they say they approach every day as a special occasion – one that begins with a bounty of locally grown and harvested products and ends with inventive preparations that surprise and delight their guests.  Andre stated that one of the best things about being in San Diego is that you can be outside year-round.  It’s a part of a lifestyle.   Andre told me that  when you want to eat outdoors, there’s no better place than the Ocean Terrace, acclaimed as the region’s best rooftop dining.   They have tables  overlooking the Pacific Ocean  or you can grab a seat at their elevated bar for a perfectly relaxed Southern California lunch or dinner with a million dollar view.

I have always loved La Jolla.  I used to come here when I lived in California, and La Jolla has the best beaches around.  The shopping and places to eat and just the quaint places to walk around and window shop.  The things we saw today were definetely tourist attractions, but it’s the town and the beach that is the real attraction.  That being said, La Jolla gets an A rating and a definite California stop.

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The Villages of Van Buren, Iowa, June 22,2016

Louise Speaks:  The villages scattered across SE Iowa in Van Buren County are famous for what they have…one stop light.  Now Thelma who was born in Iowa has never even been to this part of the state, but it is listed in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” so of course we had to stop.

This is part of Iowa’s earliest settlements and in their hay day were very productive.  Today the Villages of Van Buren County have turned their historic brick buildings into charming B & B’s, restaurants and gift shops.  Bonaparte and Bentonsport are considered the main villages or cities, but each village has it’s own character and it’s own claim to fame.  There are only 7,100 residents in the entire Van Buren County.

100_9553Our first stop was the Bonaparte Retreat in Bonaparte, IA.  We weren’t really sure what this stop was but it looked like an old hotel going over some major renovations.  Bonaparte itself had almost no life.  We did not see any people except for 100_9555the construction workers, working on the building.  I asked one of the workers what the place was and I was told it was a restaurant but was only open during lunch and dinner.  We were here about 2:00 so it was not open. The construction worker I spoke 100_9556with was very knowledgeable.  He told me that the Bonaparte Restaurant has a widespread reputation as an outstanding restaurant and used to be an old grist mill.  This made sense since it is right on the river.  He also said it was to bad I couldn’t go inside because I was told that besides the great decor they also served great food.  He also said that people come from as far as a 100 mile radius just to eat there and that their guest book contains signatures from all over the world.  Now being that the streets are dirt, nothing in town was open and there wasn’t a person to be see, this seemed hard to believe.  But he was a local so what can I say.  In doing a bit of research I discovered that the grist mill was active in 1878 and is now known for it’s juicy rib eye steaks and Windsor chops.  I also discovered that Bonaparte has a population of 468, but I don’t know where they were hiding today.

100_9561Directly across the street, and our next stop was the Bonaparte Inn.  This is suppose to be open and have 13 rooms.  This Inn was once the Meeks Pants Factory.  We peeked in the windows and by the signs of the cobwebs covering the doors, I’m 100_9560guessing this Inn was not occupied.  There is a very cute patio with a gazebo that would make a great site for a wedding, but it didn’t see, to be seem to be used much.  The views from the upper windows would have been spectacular as they over look a small park that runs right along the river.

100_9565Our favorite stop in Bonaparte was the Bonaparte Pottery Shop.  There is a story here and you just have to stop by and talk with Marilyn.  Marilyn and her husband Don were looking for a good place to go fishing when they purchased this place in 1992.  They were Img_3112b_smallgoing to build a log home right on the river.  However, in 1993 the Des Moines River jumped it’s banks and their property was flooded.  Thinking they had lost everything and had began the paperwork to recoup their losses, they noticed pieces of pottery emerging from the ground.  It soon became an archeological site and many digs have been done.  The property is now a registered historic site.

13466087_1778598352387054_1251541870677630552_nMarilyn never had her log home built.  She now lives in what was once the gift shop.  But the real gem is the building she now uses as a museum and sells pottery that she has found or that has been made in her pottery barn.  The story is much more fascinating than I am making it sound here, but I’m trying to get your imagination going so that you will go visit Marilyn herself and let her tell you her story.

We spent way more time here than we had planned, but talking to Marilyn, looking at the pottery just coming out of the ground and hearing the history while being inside the old lumber mill made it very hard to leave.

Img_3103b_smallThe lumber mill that was built in 1876 is in remarkable state of preservation.  You can see remains of old kilns and even a 30 foot high beehive kiln that was used to fire stoneware pottery.  The lumber mill was used as a decoy to cover up the fact that pottery was being made and fired in the 1800’s.  The second floor of the mill has been cleared out but you can still see hand prints of workers from hundreds of years before.

thomasesAgain, this is a must stop, so much history and just fun facts.  The sad part is Marilyn has no one to continue on with the pottery tradition.  Don has passed away and Marilyn is getting up in years.  She does have a son who has no interest in pottery.  I hope whoever takes over this historic site has the same compassion for it’s history that Marilyn has.  It is just too much history to be forgotten.

100_9566From Bonaparte it was off to Bentonsport or Keosauqua, IA which is how it is known to locals.  This is a more quaint village than Bonaparte and did have many tourist roaming the streets.  We were here to see  The Mason House Inn, the oldest “steamboat hotel”.  Joy Hanson invited us in but we were unable to see any of the rooms as she had no vacancies.  This Inn is in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, and Joy did tell us that Patricia actually stayed here, one of the few times we have been given verification.

The charming Inn is a 170 year old B & B in the historic district.  The Inn was built in 1846 by Mormon craftsman coming from Illinois.  It was meant to provide housing for steamboat travelers.  The building has been used as a hospital three different times and was also a station on the Underground Railroad.

100_9570What I found most unique is the Caboose Cottage.  This is a real 1952 railroad caboose from the Roscoe, Snyder & Pacific Railway line from Texas.   The caboose features a queen size bed, a dining area, a full kitchen and a private bathroom with shower. Just looked like a real fun place to stay.

100_9572Directly across the street from the Mason House Inn is the Historic Bentonsport Bridge.  The size seemed massive.  It is not being used today in any capacity, not even for pedestrians to walk across, but it still makes a statement.

100_9575As we were leaving town we stopped by the Hawkey Canoe Rental.  I’m sure the reason Patricia mentions this in her book is because of the summer festivals that occur in Keosauqua, IA.  The Canoe Van Buren Festival hosts at least 100 canoes carrying guests along the river to enjoy much entertainment, with stops to eat and sleep, and many places to shop.  All day long you may hop on and off a canoe all along the river.  The rest of the summer the canoes are available to rent so that you may enjoy the river at your own leisure.

thThis entire drive through Van Buren County follows the Historic Hills Scenic Byway.  You follow the river and the scenery is just breath taking.  So many trees and so much greenery.

What a great day and so many things to see.  Thelma is in awe that in all her years living and visiting Iowa she never made it to this part of the state.  This is a place to come back to and just enjoy some of the shopping and eating in all the historic buildings and seeing what antiques are luring inside the quaint shops.  I would have to rate The Villages of Van Buren an A.  There is just so much to see and do and everything is so historic.  There really is too much to see in just one day.  I’m sure we’ll be back to Iowa so now we have a reason to go through the SE corner of the state.

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