NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Keep An Eye On Your Pants

We’re not really the adventure-travel type. That’s why, when planning our spring break trip to Puerto Vallarta, Russ and I snubbed the jungle canopy zip-line option, the deep-sea dolphin swim and even the VIP nightclub crawl (“Party like a professional!”). Instead, we went with the all-inclusive family resort with five fabulous restaurants. We’re boring that way.

But given how slowly we move these days, we weren’t altogether surprised when adventure nipped our heels in a most unexpected way … when a thief in the night stole my husband’s pants.

Let me explain. He wasn’t wearing them at the time. Instead, we were both sound asleep just a few feet away.

The day had begun with a 3 a.m. slip-and-slide to Hector Airport in snowy slush. All that stood between us and Paradise was 14 hours or so in purgatory, soaring 1,500 miles south in what could best be termed “livestock class.” Fueled by Delta’s 4-ounce plastic glass of pop and a packet containing exactly 11 smoked almonds, squeezed into accommodations that made a dental chair seem comfy, I dreamed of azure skies, a surf-kissed beach and buffets abounding in seafood and fresh fruit.

We’d won this glorious trip in Moorhead Rotary’s annual travel raffle. From the moment we stepped into the lobby of the splendid Riu Palace Pacifico, we knew it was a true prize: Stained-glass ceiling, 8-foot crystal chandelier, elegant Old World trappings, the kind of lush tropical courtyard that would make my poor Minnesota houseplants weep … and look! The buffet was dead ahead!

Soon we were strolling back to our room, sated on fresh shrimp and mango, more than ready for a good night’s sleep. I stepped out on the charming balcony for a last moonlit salute to Bahia de Banderas. Then we both sank into an exhausted coma.

Next morning, I returned to the balcony with my coffee, watching the M-shaped wings of frigatebirds float gracefully high above. With a shock, I realized that rhythmic roar wasn’t the north wind, but the pounding of the Pacific surf. It was a perfect moment.

A fellow guest startled me as he strolled along the walkway that encircled the hotel just beyond the edge of our balcony: “Hola, buenos dias.”

And no bugs! There wasn’t even a screen over the sliding door … which, come to think of it, had been slightly open when I got up ….

And then Russ awoke and said, “Where are my pants?”

“Where did you leave them?”

“Right there” — and he pointed to the chair in front of that door.

There are only so many places you can misplace a pair of pants. We searched all of them. Searched again. We even looked in the little safe inside the closet. Who’d put their pants in the safe? Not Russ for sure! We checked anyway.

Slowly, reality dawned. The trusting Minnesota genius who’d slipped outside for a bedtime glimpse of the sea hadn’t managed to properly lock the door. While we both snored, an unseen guest had tested the slider, found it unsecured and stretched inside just far enough to grab one of the only two swipe-worthy prizes within reach.

All I can say is, thank goodness he didn’t take my knitting!

But he did slip away with Russ’s nice tan slacks, belt and — worse — the wallet in its pocket.

A dilemma most dire! The worst part was reporting the theft to the hotel security chief … who asked, “Why didn’t you put them in the safe?” He listened, stony-faced, to my excuse (“that’s not where we keep them in Minnesota”), then asked for a description. A moment later, one of his minions brought out said pants, nicely folded. They’d retrieved them just after dawn while patrolling that pretty courtyard. I’ll bet they wondered what we’d been up to.

Naturally, the wallet was missing. The thief didn’t get too much — only small bills intended for tipping, a Minnesota drivers license for a 6-foot 3-inch redhead … and the same two credit cards I was carrying in my purse. I quickly learned our thief hadn’t missed a beat, testing them in the wee hours, but without success. Visa’s fraud-sniffing protocols had somehow spotted him instantly and slammed the door on both accounts …

… leaving us 1,500 miles from home with no operable plastic and only the few small bills in my own pocket.

Bank of America’s representative was highly efficient. In just a few minutes, she’d closed the account and forwarded replacement cards, which were in our mailbox back in Moorhead by the time we got home. In the meantime? Get a job, perhaps?

The second Visa card was issued by our credit union, Affinity Plus. The emergency rep was not only helpful but sympathetic. Would we like her to send emergency cards to our hotel? Yes, please! But our hopes were dashed when she called back a little later. The processing company would happily approve stop-gap assistance, she said … if I could authenticate myself by sharing our joint savings account number.

Suspiciously, I did not know it by heart.

By now, the sun had set on another day. As the moon rose over the bay, I texted our travel agent — “help!” — and resolved to place a direct call to our local Affinity folks — by now, closed for the day — the next morning.

And then the cavalry arrived. Tod Ganje and Jill Baldwin from Travel Inc. both responded before bedtime. Possibly texting in their pajamas, they debriefed us, consoled us and promised to help. Our biggest concern (since hotel, meals and travel were already covered) was how to check our suitcase for the flight home without that everpresent plastic. By the time we awoke after a sound sleep, Tod had prepaid the baggage charge and entered it on our flight documents. Perfect.

Meanwhile, as we were drinking our first cups of (delicious) coffee, Affinity’s Roz Johnson sprang into action. I asked her for that elusive savings account number; instead, she called the card processor herself. They could send the emergency cards, she and her counterpart agreed, but that wouldn’t help, since they’d never get across the border by the time we had to head home.

So our heroine came up with a better plan. Roz sent me down to the hotel’s ATM. I called her when I got there. She alerted her contact, who unfroze the purloined account just long enough for me to withdrew enough pesos to get us by. I called Roz back, and her minion once again closed it.

And all was well.

It was a wonderful trip! We can’t wait to go back. Meanwhile, let us meditate on the lessons our adventure has taught us.

First: If you travel with two credit cards, split them up. Next time, I’ll carry just one, and Russ the other. If history ever repeats itself, we’ll still possess one piece of functional plastic.

Two: Booking travel and banking online may work just fine in the best of times. But when the cards are down (so to speak), I’ll take the help of a smart, caring human professionals like Roz, Tod and Jill every single time.

And, finally … always pack a second pair of pants.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Gaudí’s Sagrada Família — A Site To Behold!

It’s the view, along with the Mediterranean, from my daughter’s top floor flat in downtown Barcelona: Gaudí’s infamous Sagrada Família.

After days of exploring Barcelona and accompanying breathtaking Spanish countryside, which included a five-day trip to Minorca, I toured the Basilica, the largest unfinished Roman Catholic Church in the world, with my former sister-in-law, Heather Carri and her fun friend, Mike.

Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, construction of the Basilica started in 1882 and continues to this day. Plans are to have it complete within the next 10 years to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

The experience was overwhelming, which could be one reason why it took me four months to post these photos!

I chose to simply walk around, be in awe, pray, take photos — along with the hundreds of other visitors — and not listen to taped history, the facts of which I would forget anyway. I didn’t write cutlines for each photo.

To view my ca. 130 photos click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/barbara.lavalleur.1/media_set?set=a.10215836846264292.1073741856.1539231094&type=3&pnref=story

You’re welcome to leave comments and/or questions which I’ll answer if I can or you can find out more on these links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia

https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/gaudi/barcelona-gaudi.html

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Monet’s Garden

Places I’d like to visit again? Monet’s Garden.

Claude Monet, one of the giants of Impressionism, is among Dorette’s and my favorite artists. We’ve seldom missed an opportunity to see his work.

We’ve also twice visited his estate near Meudon, France, a short train trip from Paris. Traveling with us last year was Avery Dusterhoft, Dorette’s granddaughter, who brought along her sketch book to draw scenes of Monet’s famous water lilies.

Naturally, the Monet estate operates a gift shop. Dorette purchased this reproduction (above) of a painting Monet created a short walk from the lilies.

It’s titled “Les Coquecots,” translated in English as “The Poppy-field.”

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Father Sherman’s Magnum Opus: ‘Prairie Mosaic’

With every turn of a page in “Prairie Mosaic,” the reader will delve into the rich ethnic history of North Dakota. The Rev. William C. Sherman labored for many years to reveal an astonishing level of detail, down to the township level, and to tell the story of the state’s inhabitants.

“Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota,” originally published in 1983, has been published by the North Dakota State University Press in a fine second edition (2017, 151 pages, photographs, maps, tables, index), with an insightful new introduction by Dr. Thomas D. Isern of NDSU.

The Rev. William Sherman.
The Rev. William Sherman.

“In 1983 the Institute for Regional Studies, a little-known academic publisher headquartered at North Dakota State University, issued the title, “Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota,” by a little-known prairie scholar, William C. Sherman. Distribution was limited … Evident at the time was the dedication of the scholar behind the book, Father Bill Sherman, and the enormous amount of work that must have gone into the completion of the meticulous local complications and cartographic depictions of ethnic immigrant settlements on the northern Plains, as well as the author’s affectionate familiarity with the landscape and its people. Evident in hindsight, however, is how Sherman’s study took place — in the belated development of ethnic studies on the Plains, becoming a touchstone for a rising generation of scholars uncovering the region’s immigrant past.” (Isern, pg. ix of the Introduction)

The maps and their accompanying descriptions are the compilation of an enormous amount of detailed and tedious work entailing “the determination and proper placement of some 50,000 bits and pieces of data.” (Sherman, pg. 118) This landmark work takes the reader back to the settlement days and reveals the customs and traditions of these sturdy folk. The strongest undercurrent was the role of the various churches in forming community ties and perpetuating culture.

When I was growing up in Slope County, I would hear folks remark, “He is a Bohunk,” and it was explained to me that this was a slur for people of Bohemian origins, but I hadn’t since then given it much thought, until reading “Prairie Mosaic.” In Sherman’s book, a reader can see just where the people of different ethnic origin settled, including those of Native American origins. I was quite surprised to learn that a group of Japanese homesteaders laid claim to land in western Montrail County. I was also surprised to note that the valley of the Little Missouri River was predominantly inhabited by Anglo-Americans. There are dozens of these nuggets of information on every page of this book.

My only criticism would be that it is a shame that some of the photographs are without captions. Readers who are interested in this topic should also look at the excellent website Digital Horizons, housed at NDSU, “an online treasure house of thousands of images, documents, video and oral histories depicting life on the northern Plains from the late 1800s to today. Here you’ll find a fascinating snapshot of the lives, culture, and history of the people who shaped life on the prairies.”

Ron Vossler writes of “Prairie Mosaic”:

“To borrow an idea from anthropology, we can theorize (and hope) that just as ancient Asian trade centers flourished where different cultures rubbed together, places where caravans stopped and variegated races intermingled, so now in North Dakota, now that the spring mud and winter snow are no longer the impassable obstacles they once were, and the little Norways and little Germanys are no longer so isolated, and with people like William Sherman giving us research and ideas in volumes like this one, the same flowering will occure here: a transfer of the well-known work ethic to solving social problems, and encouraging intellectual endeavors and social relationships — carrying as great a load in our minds and our hearts as those early settlers once did on their backs.” (Book Review of “Prairie Mosaic” by Ron Vossler in North Dakota Quarterly, Spring, 1983)

The rich heritage of North Dakota holds much to be proud of, and everyone will delve deeper into this heritage by reading this book. To my mind, this book’s enjoyment would be increased by tucking it into a bag and taking it on a North Dakota road trip, stopping along the way frequently to read the stories of the earliest inhabitants from its pages. Add to the bag, the books “North Dakota Place Names” by Douglas A. Wick (Sweetgrass Communications, 1988) and “A Traveler’s Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites” (third ed. SHSND 2014), along with a good atlas and experience a multilayered expedition, rather than an ordinary road trip. Oh, and be sure to sample authentic food along the way.

North Dakota’s landscape is a quilt of many colors that enriches all of our lives.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Winter Interlude

We went away over Christmas for a winter interlude with my sisters and their families and my mother, gathering in a large house in the woods of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Driving west across the Memorial Bridge, we could see chunks of ice in the Missouri River. We traversed familiar west Dakota roads, in the midst of the first true cold snap of the season, all of our cars loaded full of passengers, food and family.  As I drove, I counted 22 ruffed-legged hawks from Belfield, N.D., to Belle Fourche, S.D., and spotted a large herd of antelope south of Crow Butte, S.D. The prairie was mostly brown (the drought continues,) and we only experienced one near-whiteout south of Buffalo, S.D.

The rental house was in the aspen and pine forest near Lead, S.D. We work together as a well-oiled machine and in no time at all, we had transformed the house to our gathering space for the next four days, each of us taking turns cooking the meals and performing KP. A long folding table was heaped with cookies and other holiday treats and at the end of this table, we set up a bar.  Some of the famous Walby Tom & Jerrys were whipped up, too, and the wine was uncorked.

Jim and I attended Christmas morning Mass in Lead. For the next four days, everyone did what made them happy, a variety of activities that included card and board games, reading, movies, visiting, napping, downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, sprinkled with a few visits to the nearby Deadwood, S.D., casinos.

We had given each other books for Christmas and taking turns, both read the new Louise Erdrich novel (too bleak for my taste). We caught up with the kids who live on the East Coast and played lots of pinochle and cribbage with my mother.

The first couple of days were bitter cold, but the youngest headed to Terry Peak right away for some skiing.

My mother is a stitching wizard, and she presented me with a beautiful new apron, with the words “Red Oak House” and some of the leaves of the plants in our yard. We were particularly happy to have been able to bring her on this trip as she has a deep love of the Black Hills and seldom is able to travel anymore.

My sisters and I bundled up and took a walk, stretching our legs and exploring the area. There was adequate snow and more in the forecast. Later on Christmas Day, our friend, Valerie Naylor, who lives nearby, came for a visit.

The two fireplaces were quite popular with everyone as was the hot tub. Relatives who live in the southern U.S. texted me that we were very hearty folks, having seen the news of the temperatures in the Dakotas.

On Day 2, Jim and I drove over to Spearfish Canyon and took a two-mile hike to Roughlock Falls, relishing the fresh air and quiet grandeur. There were a few other folks on the trail here and there, but we mostly had it to ourselves.

On Day 3, my sister, Beckie, and I took our cross-country skis to Eagle Cliffs trails and did a few loops in the lovely powder snow and burned off some of the cookie calories. It was very peaceful there and we saw no one else on the trail.

With the sunset, came the first flakes of an all-night snow. And in the dawn light, we could see that there were about 6 inches on all of our cars. Time to load up and head north to our homes!

The temperatures were a little on the upward trend Thursday, but the forecast of more frigid weather was on our minds.

My mother rode from Bowman, N.D. with us and as we passed through Slope and Stark counties, I enjoyed her stories of those old days so long ago. She has very interesting and funny memories.

Today has been unpacking and dealing with Chelsea’s dead car battery, greatly touched at the friends and family who had attempted to assist her in our absence. While Jim got her car going, I hauled in heaps of firewood in preparation for the upcoming cold snap.

The Missouri River is now frozen over and will be for the foreseeable future. My husband has ice fishing on his mind. Our gardening boots are replaced by winter boots. I’ve had my trusty black Sorels for 25 years now.

It is time to add another down comforter to the bed and settle in, reading books, writing manuscripts and fighting the proposed refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. And maybe we will squeeze in the Bismarck Christmas Bird Count.

This poem by T.S. Eliot is on much my mind today as we anticipate the Epiphany. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Havana By (Classic) Car

I’ve never been much for bucket lists. But if I were, I’d have been able to check off a big one earlier this month. That is to see Havana, Cuba, from the backseat of one of the country’s classic American cars from the 1950s and ’60s, still operating on the streets every day.

The importation of new cars — and lots of other things — has been rare in Cuba, ever since, you know, the revolution.

But there are thousands of classic cars throughout Cuba. If you have a car here, you have a job in the country’s thriving tourism/taxi industry. Another cottage industry has sprung up around the cars with what must be dozens of shops that produce otherwise unavailable parts to keep them going.

The cars are practically the first thing tourists notice about Havana. Actually, we are not tourists anymore, we’re told we are travelers. Each of us with a special new “people to people” visa. The application for ours changed two, maybe three times before we got here. But enough about politics.

Ginny picked out “our” car from a row of classics, a 1952 Pontiac Chieftain, red and white with a ton of chrome. It was our driver and our guide in the front seats, Ginny and me in the back, sitting on what looked like the original red leather.

We’d spent the morning tooling around Old Havana and elsewhere in the city, taking in the sights like Revolution Square, where two guides got into a slight argument as to whether Fidel Castro’s last speech was two hours long or four hours long.

We’d see the U.S. Embassy, where the most recent unpleasantness has been some sort of mysterious audio attack on the people who work there. Or rather, who used to work there. The parking lot looked nearly empty.

We drove past the Floridita Hotel and Sloppy Joe’s, two of writer Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes, unchanged in the least by time. Later, we’d stop for a quick mojito (white rum, club soda, lime juice, sugar, crushed ice and lots of mint leaves) at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, not one of Hemingway’s favorite watering holes. And at the “most important” of Havana’s four major cemeteries, and one of my favorite stops, we’d see a large monument to Hemingway’s favorite bartender, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, whose life is celebrated annually by other barkeeps from around the world who come to Cuba each year to remember him. In life, he must have worked very, very hard for Papa Hemingway.

A very funny older woman showed us around the cemetery. At one stop, she told us we were standing, more or less, on the grave of Christopher Columbus, unmarked and covered over by a street. “After all,” she said, “Spain lost the war.”

All in all, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time — sitting up.

At one point, our guide asked me what I thought of Havana “so far.” I said I felt like I was in a movie. Not “watching” a movie, but “in” a movie. I’ll never forget how he threw his head back and laughed —  for quite awhile.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Tropicana

For me, a trip to Cuba earlier this month would not have been complete without experiencing the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Its cabaret show is considered among the top three shows in the world (by people who decide these kinds of things, I guess). After seeing it, I believe it.

For openers, Havana’s Tropicana nightclub shouldn’t be confused with the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. I stayed at the Tropicana on The Strip once. I loved it. What I remember most, in addition to the hotel’s beautiful collection of tropical birds, was the mirrors on the ceiling above the beds. For me, a first. And another story for another time, perhaps.

People still arrive at Havana’s Tropicana in those beautiful vintage cars from the 1950s and ’60s everyone thinks of when they think of Cuba. Also tour buses. But it’s the classic cars that make people feel they’ve just stepped out of a time machine.

You’re handed a (Guantanamera Cristales) cigar at the door, if you’re a man. Women are given flowers. Champagne is poured at the tables (very slowly, for some reason). Later, a bottle of Cuban rum arrives at each table. Still later, cans of Coke. Cuba Libres are mixed by the customers themselves.

The real show is the show. Backed by huge orchestra with conga drums up front and strings to the side, the cast, according to the guide books, features 200 dancers, many of them fully clothed at different points during the evening. Actually, there is no nudity. The Tropicana is now owned by the government. Fidel used to bring his guests here.

Sitting on the aisle, Ginny got to bust one or two of her best moves with one of the dancers who hung around our table long enough for the three of us to take a selfie.

There’s no special scenery in this show. And aside from the lighting, no special effects. But lots of talent. Four or five male and female singers are insanely good!

One production number flows seamlessly into another nearly nonstop for two hours. It is spectacular!  If Desi Arnaz had appeared in a tux and straw hat, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s like that.

Supposedly the show changes every 15 days, but as a whole, I doubt that it looks much different than it did back in 1959, when American celebrities (and mobsters) visited the Tropicana. And that’s the fun of it. It is what a nightclub should — and used to be. Exotic, exciting and fun. They don’t really exist like this in very many places anymore. Except here. Not even in Las Vegas.

Entertainers like Liberace and Josephine Baker have been a part of the show over the years. Nat King Cole was so popular he was asked to return the next season. He did, but only on the condition that he be allowed to stay at Havana’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba, something he had been denied during his first visit because of the color of his skin. Just as he and others had done in Las Vegas, he helped break the “color barrier” in Cuba. Today, there is a statue of Nat King Cole in the hotel’s museum which doubles as a bar.

Cuba loves its cabaret shows. I heard someone say there are more than 200 of them throughout the island. But the Tropicana is king, and considered nothing less than a national treasure by the locals. It’s as simple as that.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — A €62 Bowl Of Soup! 

One of the benefits I enjoy when traveling the world is trying new dishes in the country I’m exploring.

My ever-increasing list of favorites include Germany’s humble spätzle, England’s simple Shepherd’s Pie, Scotland’s perfect Scotch Eggs, France’s yummy Brie and Bleu d’Auvergne cheeses, Cuba’s creamy flans and Spain’s authentic paella.

Shortly after arriving on Menorca, one of Spain’s three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean this past October, I overheard people talking about the island’s famous lobster soup. “You have to try it,” was their consensus.

However, not every restaurant features this delectable specialty on their menu. So I was fortunate when my daughter, Andrea, and I were exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Ciutadella on the island’s west coast and almost literally stumbled upon Café Bálear.

The modest-size restaurant with my preferred water view was perfect. While the main seating area is inside across the narrow street, we were drawn to the dozen tables outside positioned precariously close to water’s edge at the tip of the marina.

Menorca’s lobster soup is definitely a step up from my regular favorite tomato basil soup. Highly regarded by locals and first-time customers alike, this restaurant has been in the same family for almost 50 years.

We sat at a table joining the mostly local customers sitting comfortably under umbrellas that screened us from the late autumn sun.

Our waiter brought the obligatory menus touting numerous dishes featuring fish and seafood, freshly caught from their own boat, the Rosa Santa Primera.

We selected a starter of freshly caught shrimp to go with a crisp glass of cool wine and crusty white bread. Andrea, who has lived in Barcelona for over a year and enjoys fresh seafood often, ordered a steak.

But I knew my tastebuds were in for a treat when I ordered the Caldereta de Langosta — Menorca’s famous lobster soup — and the waiter’s body language affirmed that I had made “the right choice” despite a significant ding to my pocketbook. At €62 — that’s $73.60! — it is without question, the most expensive soup I’ve ever eaten.

We settled into our comfortable chairs, watching the ever-present birds and other patrons while enjoying our Spanish wine and conversation.

In short order, our waiter arrived with Andrea’s steak and an enormous thick brown pottery bowl — at least 16 inches in diameter — filled with a dark red broth and a huge lobster.

With accomplished flair and only inches from a 4-foot drop to the water’s edge, our waiter ladled out the rich, dark red broth in my white soup bowl and then delicately placed several pieces of lobster in the middle of the bowl, leaving me to strategically remove its delicious morsel of white meat from the spiky shell without splashing on my clothes.

After a second helping in which I managed to eat every morsel of the lobster, there was still a full meal’s worth of broth, which I was able to chill in our hotel refrigerator and enjoy cold the following day.

Somehow, it is understood that you do not share your Caldereta de Langosta delicacy with anyone at your table, although no one ever explained why.

If you go:

  • Menorca: We spent $350 each for the 45-minute round-trip flight from Barcelona, a five-day, four-night stay at the fabulous Hotel Meliã, which included the largest breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced, plus car rental for five days.
  • Café Bálear, Pla de Sant Joan, 15. Ciutadella, www.cafebalear.com*, website is in Spanish. If you’re like me and don’t speak the language, click on English for a translation. When you go, be sure to order Caldereta de Langosta — Menorca’s famous lobster soup!
  • Hotel Meliã, https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/menorca/melia-cala-galdana/index.html

Upcoming:

My next blog will be Barcelona by Bus, followed by a Tour of Sagrada Família, Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Menorca: Mediterannean’s Hidden Treasure

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago if I had plans to spend a few days in Menorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean, I’d have said not anytime soon.

However, when you have a daughter who is a seasoned world traveler and lives in Barcelona, Spain, you learn to keep your options open.

Andrea found a terrific buy that included:

  • Round-trip flight from Barcelona.
  • Five days and four nights at Meliã Hotel.
  • Five days car rental.

And all for only $350 each. I said, “Book it!”

So after a few days in Barcelona spent with friends from Germany and England, we headed for Barcelona-El Prat Airport and after a 45-minute flight, landed in Menorca.

Hotel Meliã served as our “home” for the next few days. It was top-notch, beautifully appointed with spectacular water views, the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced (which is saying something given I lived for 20 years in Europe and have done a fair bit of traveling). On our last day, we especially appreciated being able to check out at 5 p.m. vs. 11 a.m., since our flight was at 7 p.m. Basically, we got an extra day at no cost.

Menorca — in some places spelled Minorca — is one of three Balearic Islands, touted in tourist blurbs as “the treasure of the Mediterranean.” It is one of the best preserved and most unique natural environments in the Mediterranean. The other two islands, Majorca, much larger and more touristy, and the smaller Ibiza.

After driving along some of the 134 miles of coastline, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Menorca was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

For sure, its pristine sandy beaches are its main attraction leading to the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. Locals claim that it is easier to get around on a horse than by car due to the miles of meandering bridle tracks and country paths.

The island excursion turned out to be a delightful surprise and one of the highlights of my 17-day trip to Barcelona for so many reasons. We were there Oct. 21-25, which was a great time to go, since most places including our hotel had or were closing for the season the following week.

With the hotel at probably 25 percent occupancy, there were no lines or wait times for service at restaurants, cafes nor any of the other attractions we visited.

The stunning beach cove in front of our hotel had only a fraction of the normal high season swimmers and water activity that made for a more relaxing, quiet atmosphere. We shared the vast comfortable dockside seating areas with only a handful of other hotel guests — mostly from England, France and Germany — for our afternoon glass of wine or plate of tapas. A few times, I was on my own with my leg raised icing an injured hamstring — with a gin and tonic in hand to make it all better — while Andrea was off exploring the more rugged points of interest on the island.

 

Speaking of gin, I did try the local gin, which is famous for its characteristic distillation process used for 200 years. It is made from alcohol derived from grapes vs. grains. The taste was definitely different. I think I’ll stick with Beefeaters.

The temperatures were great, too, for which I was grateful as I don’t do well in hot weather. We enjoyed high in the 60s and 70s with cooler evenings. Keeping with the annual precipitation averages of between 3 inches to 17 inches, we only experienced a few raindrops on one day.

I was happy to take advantage of the Red Cross station next to our hotel right on the beach. It provided me with a free wheelchair for my entire visit, which came in handy when we visited some of the prehistoric sites featuring Talaiots, huge stones of megalithic construction in various locations throughout the island.

One day I hopped on a plastic 3-wheeler, and a Red Cross worker pulled me the few meters to the beach where — with the help of special water crutches — I was able to stand in the clear, cool water which was great therapy.

Given my walking limitations and the season, I thought we did pretty well to visit eight out of the 14 “unmisable” activities listed in the 2017-2018 Menorca Explorer tourist guide.

Fun things we visited:

  • Maó, a town at the east end of the island near the airport with one of the largest ports in the world; a busy waterfront with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops; and Town Hall with a neoclassical façade and clock. We stopped for coffee and tapas at an outdoor cafe.  Then we visited the outdoor market where I bought a cool pair of Spanish trousers.
  • Prehistoric sites where signs of ancient settlers and fortresses are left from the island’s British occupation.
  • The ubiquitous, fascinating dry stonewalls called Paret, which are constructed without mortar or cement using different size stones to create miles and miles of boarder walls typically three to 4 feet high protecting livestock and serving to separate properties.
  • A Son Martorellet production of the famous Somni black stallion dancing horses in Ferreries, www.sonmartorellet.com.
  • The Ria Factory Tour & Shop also in Ferreries (www.ria.es), where I bought two pairs of their famous handmade leather sandals called abacus.
  • The plentiful wild olive woods called ullastrar, oak groves called alzinar, pine woods and tamarisks near the beaches.
  • My favorite town, Ciutadella, at the west end of the island with its old quarter of labyrinth of streets, shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, churches, historic art, interesting old buildings, beautiful port and the main square called Plaça des Born with its newly restored Cathedral of Menorca.

Would love to have …

  • Gone on a boat trip around the entire island, however they had stopped for the season.
  • Taken an adventurous visit to the caves — both on land and underwater — to see fish, birds and animals like the famous Mediterranean tortoises and sargantana lizards in their natural habitat.
  • Stopped at the Menorca Museum.
  • Traced the full permitter of the island on the Cami de Cavalls to appreciate it’s ecological and environmental significance.
  • Photographed the five lighthouses which protect ships sailing near the island.

Where to stay:

Where to eat:

Watch for my upcoming blogs about Barcelona:

  • A €62 Bowl of Lobster Soup
  • Barcelona by Bus
  • Sagrada Família: Over 100 Years in the Making

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Willa Cather’s Red Cloud

Although it is now more than 30 years ago, I remember very clearly the day when I was a graduate student at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University and Dr. Michael Rothacker gave his students the assignment of reading a novel of our choosing and writing a report on said novel.

My friend, Pamela Jean, and I went right over to the Main Library on the Vanderbilt campus, where I gravitated to the American literature section. Likely Pamela recommended to me the novel “My Antonia,” by the inimitable Willa Cather. I devoured it, with its sumptuous details of pioneer life — and I aced that assignment. If you’ve not read this book and are interested in learning more about the prairie, I urge you to do so pronto.

Since that time in Nashville, Tenn., I’ve read more of her books as well as her “Selected Letters” and have enjoyed many conversations with friends about Cather, including one just this very afternoon with North Dakota’s Poet Laureate, Larry Woiwode, in the Menards parking lot.

As I’ve described in another blog, Two English majors take a mostly blue highways trip, one of our travel guides is the book “Novel Destinations.” Our recent travels also found us in Red Cloud, Neb., Willa Cather’s childhood home.  Fortuitously, as we were finalizing our plans for our trip to Des Moines, Iowa, the New Yorker magazine published a story by a writer who had visited Red Cloud, entitled “A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie.” I put it on Jim’s reading pile and made my plea for adding a day onto our trip to go there ourselves. He was skeptical that we’d be able to find a room for the night given the timing of this article, but I called and booked one, in what is called “Willa Cather’s Second Home,” a lovingly preserved home in an enchanting prairie town.

We arrived on a Sunday night, after dark, and followed the detailed instructions for letting ourselves into the home, beginning our full immersion into Cather’s world. To our great delight, we discovered that we were, in fact, the only guests that night and had the entire house to ourselves! We settled in and made ourselves quite comfortable, and then explored every square inch. It was ever so quiet. Like little kids, we texted photos to our close friends who we knew would most appreciate this news. Jim mixed up Manhattans, and we settled in to read some of the literature that the Willa Cather Foundation, which operates this house, has left here and there for guests. Here is the link with lodging information if you are interested in staying there.

When I was a child growing up in Slope County, we had a bureau like this in the kitchen, next to the round oak table.

This book on a table in the home caught my eye because just the day before as we drove through Nebraska we were talking about the poet and Nebraskan Ted Kooser, who wrote the foreword. I was so excited about being in this place that I couldn’t sleep, but the pages of this book lulled me into a calm and I finally crawled into the comfy bed and drifted off.

The next morning, we ate the breakfast that had been left for us and set off for the Visitor’s Center, which occupies a full block in the downtown, in the historic Opera House. But first, we walked around the exterior of Willa Cather’s Second Home. When she would come home to visit her parents, she would often be seen on the balcony that is just off her second-floor bedroom, scribbling away in her notebook.

There we took in the excellent exhibits and recounted to each other our personal Cather memories, asked questions of the committed staff members and made plans for further explorations. Next we walked around the downtown area. which is chockablock full of interesting old buildings, getting a feel for Cather’s time, followed by a drive around Red Cloud, where many of the historic homes have markers out front describing their significance to Cather’s time.

Below is the house her parents were living in when she was born, where she lived from 1884 to 1890.

This is the train depot, her embarkation point for the wide world east of Red Cloud. It is very well-preserved, and there are exhibits within.

Our final Cather destination was south of Red Cloud, the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, purchased by The Nature Conservancy, with the help of the Woods Charitable Fund, in August 1974, 612 acres of native prairie. The Willa Cather Foundation acquired the area from the Conservancy in 2006. Here one truly gets the sense of what the prairie was like in Cather’s time, complete with a cold, stiff wind the day we visited. With good reason, Visit Nebraska calls this place “a botanical treasure.”

Today I donned my souvenir sweatshirt and realized that this was a sign that it was time for me to write this post. I need only look at it to know there are some of her books I still need to read. Meanwhile, we hope to visit Red Cloud again and meet some friends there who share our love of literature. Do go.