Monday, December 30, 2019

French Riviera


We’re a bit nervous. For some strange reason, I took the bait and bought airline tickets that would give the three of us, including Tim in the wheelchair, a scant 45 minutes to change planes here in Munich smack in the middle of the World Cup crowds coming to the airport (Germany was host to the event in 2006). We are told that would have to include going to the terminal and going through passport control.

Our plane is parked far away from the terminal, at the outer reaches of the apron, with about a dozen other aircraft. How are we ever to pull this off?

We’ve already been traveling 20 hours. A twelve hour flight from Los Angeles, a brain-deadening six hour layover at Heathrow, now arriving on Lufthansa in Munich with another 90 minute flight to go to Nice. We’re tired and now worried we’ll be delayed even further when 45 minutes just won’t be enough.

But wait…

Two very nice German gentlemen meet us on the plane. They carry Tim down the stairs to a waiting wheelchair accessible airport van. All of us hop in and they start driving. They ask us if we’re going to see some cup games…no, we aren’t…and they ask us how the Super Bowl works.

They drive up to a little glass booth at the edge of the terminal. Letty and I are allowed to go in and Tim waits in the van. We give all three passports to the friendly guard who stamps them and we’re back in the van.

We are then driven to the door of our next plane which is parked right next to the one we got off of. Exactly 45 minutes later we’re buckling in.

I’ve heard of German efficiency but this is my first personal experience with it. Thank God for it. I must make a trip back here to experience more of this Bavarian hospitality (we would, too. In 2009 we came back for a week instead of 45 minutes – Ed)

The tiny Lusfthansa RJ85 whisks us over the Alps to the little airport in Nice, France and we’ve arrived. Our driver from Airport Transfer Service is waiting at the gate with our name on a sign. Just outside is his van and a half-hour later, we’re pulling up to the Citadines ApartHotel in Cannes.

It must have been busy here yesterday…the Cannes Film Festival ended the day before we arrived. Today though, it’s a quiet town. As quiet as Cannes gets anyway.

Our room is a suite with a smallish bedroom, a living room, and a combo kitchen/dining room tying it all together. It’s not accessible but we manage with a bath chair in the tub. There are accessible rooms here, but not suites. It is step-free access to, and in, the room.


The location is about a quarter mile from the beach and the neighborhood is full of great little shops. Two boulangeries are across the street and a small market is behind the hotel for necessities like eggs, milk, and wine. A butcher and charcuterie are also within a block.



A quick walk around the neighborhood to get our bearings. We see the sign welcoming festival goers just down the street from our hotel, then it’s back to our room to sleep off some jet lag.

In the morning, we set out to do some exploring. Since we’re still adjusting to the time, it’s early morning and we walk through the deserted streets of Le Soquet to go to March Forville, the covered market there.

As the vendors unload, we have a croissant and an espresso at a tiny little café across the street. French food and coffee are so delicious. After breakfast, a quick jog across the way puts us in the market.

In America, we have farmer’s markets that make supermarket food look like junk. Here in France, the supermarket food and produce make our U.S. farmer’s markets look bad in comparison. The farmer’s markets here in France make the French supermarkets look like rubbish. It’s incredible how good the food here is.

Completely unblemished lettuce heads two feet in diameter; black nectarines; dark purple asparagus; and that incredibly fragrant French garlic that they don’t like to export. In addition, there’s a section with tables full of seafood just caught, cheese counters, olive brokers, butchers, eggs, and more. You can get the entire grocery store here.

We stock up on fruits, vegetables, some great unpasteurized goat cheese, and olives before heading out to an adjacent charcuterie to pick up some marquez sausages. This food we will cook for breakfast each day in our room while taking our other meals out.

The first day, still a bit jet lagged from yesterday, we just take it easy and walk along the beach. Most of the beachfront in Cannes is private…you’ll either need to be a member of the particular club or pay an admission. None of these looked wheelchair accessible with the stairs leading down but at each end of the beach is a free public section. Both had ramps down but once you reach the sand, you’re on your own.

The water is clear this week but a little chilly, a lot like the temperature back home in California…but the Med has cleaner water.



The next day we rent a car and take off. It’s a very nice, scenic drive to Nimes. Not a lot of traffic at all until we get into that city, and then there’s a ton. We go beyond Nimes to Pont du Gard, a World Heritage Site with a massive Roman aqueduct crossing the Gardon River.



A newer walkway is adjacent to the ancient structure allowing people to walk across and take a close-up look with disturbing it. Look closely at the stones and you’ll see hundreds of years worth of graffiti.



It’s an idyllic place with lots of places to explore. Most of the site is wheelchair accessible but you’ll need strong, working legs to climb up to the top. The river attracts a lot of swimmers and kids on rafts.



Back in Nimes, we park in the big underground structure in the heart of town. Nearby is an old Roman coliseum that, after all these years, is still in business. A bullfight is scheduled there for later. For us, after taking a lap around it, we have a delightful lunch in its shadow. There is also a Roman temple nearby and a lot of other shops and restaurants to explore. Nimes is a fascinating city.



We head back to Cannes, driving by Avignon and seeing the pope’s old fortress on the hill.

That evening we have a great French dinner up the block from the hotel at the unFrenchly named Feelings. The food is outstanding and after the dinner hour it turns into a piano bar.



The car is ours for one more day so we run for the border. It’s not a long drive to Italy so we decide to head to San Remo for the day and to have a nice Italian lunch.



The autostrada is way up the hill, San Remo is at the bottom and it’s a steep, windy, and narrow road down. We make it and even find a free parking lot on the beach where we find this old Fiat 500. The old Italian men nearby tell us that there are still a lot of the old versions of this car running around Italy, we soon find out they’re right.



There’s a nice, but rocky, private beach here and we walk along the beachfront until we find a ramp up into the town. There’s a lot of traffic and about five blocks of shops and restaurants. San Remo looks like an Italian town that’s seen its best days pass by. A little ragged around the edges…still a nice place…but not one that tourists will flock to.

A small trattoria with tables on the sidewalk provided the lunch of a simple pasta with cheese and olive oil sauce. It was delicious and just right in the amount, not the gut-busting plates of pasta we get back home.

A stroll along the boulevard helps us burn the calories, and then it’s back to Cannes. Along the way, we make a stop in Antibes to splash in the water at the beautiful beach here. A couple of local guys working in a dive shop help me carry Tim and his chair down to the water and back.

In the morning, we walk over to the train station, about three blocks from the hotel, to see about taking a day trip to Monaco. There’s a tourist office right next to the main entrance of the train station but the staff there is not too helpful. Just inside the station is an information booth that is very helpful.



The attendant there tells us they just need 30 minutes notice before the train departs for the staff to accommodate the wheelchair. We buy tickets, from an English speaking ticket clerk, and inform the staff that we’ll need assistance.

A baggage handler is dispatched and takes Tim down to the end of the platform where a ramp was installed for wheelchairs. You cannot do this yourself…it is too dangerous with the trains crossing…so someone on the staff must take you through it. Letty and I go under the tracks via stairs and come up to the platform on the other side (you can see how this works in our 2009 video of the French Riviera trip-Ed).

A modern low-floored train arrives. If you need one, a ramp or lift will be provided to get you into the train. In our case, we just popped the front wheels of the manual chair up a few inches and boarded the train. There are several designated spots for wheelchairs at the end of each car.



In less than an hour we arrive at the sparkling, fully accessible, underground train station in Monaco. Someone on the train or in Cannes called ahead and a greeter meets us on the platform and takes us on an elevator to the main station lobby and explains the accessible routes for exit and entrance. Our exit takes us back down the elevator to the platform. At the opposite end is a long tunnel that deposits us about a block away from the Place d’ Arms. This is the plaza at the bottom of the hill that holds the royal palace.

There is the ubiquitous European market going on here today (love the market tradition here) and a couple of decent souvenir shops. I ask an official looking lady what the best way to get a wheelchair up to the top of the hill is. She tells me about the bus and then says if I’m feeling particularly masculine, I can try pushing the chair up the nearby staircase.

The staircase is the kind where there is a 3-4 inch step followed by about 4 feet of level ground before the next step. Challenge accepted…I start up the stairs. It is quite hard to do this way and I don’t recommend it. The buses to the top are accessible but somehow I made it!



Masculinity restored, at the top of the staircase is a large plaza in from of the palace. We make it just in time to see the changing of the guard. A phalanx of white suited men, some armed others playing musical instruments paraded up the middle of the plaza where the on-duty guard swapped places with the new guard in a ritualized manner.



Afterward, we take in the views of the tiny country from each side of the plaza and retreat to the maze of tiny streets, alleys, and passageways across the plaza from the palace. Nestled into a niche against the wall of the old cathedral, we find a nice spot for a lunch of pizza and mussels. It was delicious and relaxing.



We then set out on a cross-country trek, spending a few minutes in an adjacent park next to the aquarium before walking down the hill. At the bottom, we walk by the beautiful municipal pool. Barricades are in place, left over from the Monaco Gran Prix that was held over the weekend. In the auto club window across the street is the trophy from the race.

A nearby elevator takes us up to the top of the hill. That hill is named Monte Carlo. At the top is the famous casino. A great plaza with a fountain in front is surrounded by cars with names such as Bentley, Maserati, Ferrari, and Aston-Martin. There is an accessible entrance off to the side and we go into the lobby.

No pictures or packs are allowed, you must check everything at the coat check where there is a mandatory tip to retrieve them. If you meet the dress code, you can enter the casino for a 10 Euro charge. We’ll just look around in the ornate lobby, thank you.

Next door is another casino, this one with no charge and a more relaxed dress code. I’ll call this the “poor man’s casino.”



We do some window shopping at places with names like Cartier, Louis Vitton, and Hermes. There are other stores without the expensive names where we can buy some more suitable souvenirs.



Soon, we head back to the train, go back to Cannes and have some bouillabaisse down on the waterfront.



Our last day in Cannes and it finds us at the dock on the north end of the bay. Just offshore are the Isle d’ Lerins, a couple of islands that are mostly devoid of civilization. A quick ferry ride will get you over to them.

Okay, so here’s the problem. The ticket booth and the ramp to the boat are both located up a flight of stairs. At the bottom is the blue sign with a wheelchair. An arrow on the sign points to the right and I follow it. At the end of the dock is an elevator with a security guard sitting in front of it. I ask him if we can use it to go upstairs and he says yes (or oui in this case). I tell Letty to go buy tickets and we’ll meet her there.

Tim and I go up to the dock and go to the ticket office. After we have the tickets in hand and are waiting to go to the boat, a woman who works in the ticket office asks how we got the wheelchair up there. I tell her about the lift at the end of the dock. She tells me we weren’t supposed to go that way. I ask her how we were to go and she says up the stairs…with a wheelchair…upon which is sitting a 145 pound person.

I tell her sorry but she then loses it and wigs out demanding that I take Tim down the stairs and bring him and the chair up the proper way. I politely refuse. She gets even more angry….yelling and pointing, generally causing a scene. Her coworkers come out of the office and try to reason with her but it’s just not working…she will not stop if it means she would be wrong.

I’ve had enough, I tell her to call the police if she wants but we’re getting on the boat NOW. I turned around with her yelling at my back and made my way to the ferry. The crew was nice and put us on board.

I don’t like what happened but out of the many weeks we’ve stayed in France over the years, that is the only rude French person I’ve ever encountered. I don’t want readers here to see that and tell themselves that “yep, rude French people…just like we’ve heard.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

With the exception of the crazy lady of the dock, every French person we’ve encountered there has been nothing but nice, helpful, and gracious to us. Don’t let that stereotype infect your thinking.



Once that episode is over, we have a nice boat ride to the island. We’ve brought some wine and cheese along and plan on a beach picnic. On the island, it takes us about half-an-hour to walk to the other side where you can find some solitary spots with picnic tables and tiny little coves to swim in. None of these are flat enough to get Tim into the water (there are beaches adjacent to the ferry dock where you could) but after what I found, he didn’t want to get in anyway.



We find a beautiful, prime spot with a picnic table and a view over the channel to the second island about a half mile away. The water is sparkling. After some wine and snacks, I decide to go in.



The water is crystal clear and a bit on the cold side. After wading out about 50 feet, I start noticing little clear globs floating around me. The water is filled with jelly fish…hundreds if not thousands of them. I gingerly wade back to shore. My wife doesn’t know what’s wrong and wants me to go back out and take a picture.

Uh, OK, but I can’t promise it will come out good (it doesn’t…our signals got crossed and she thought I said there were a lot of sea sponges out there. Ask your kids about Spongebob Squarepants if you don’t understand).



Safely back on shore, we walk to the other end of the island where there is an old fortress. It is famous as the prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was held. It is not accessible so Letty goes in to see it and take pictures…which turned out not to be allowed…while Tim and I waited at the entrance and chatted with the ticket sellers there.



Back at the dock, a snack bar sells really good baguette sandwiches so we have some and a beer before heading back to shore.



That evening, we have one more dinner at Feelings before going to bed. In the morning, it’s back to the Nice airport where we’ll fly to London.



Stay tuned for that…

Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Cocktail Hour: Strange Brew - Part 2


In part 1, we brewed our Belgian Dubbel Ale.  It's been two weeks, fermentation is complete, and it's time to bottle.


Watch the Video!



We must transfer the completed beer into another tank, mainly to filter out the bits of dead yeast and other bits, and then it's just a matter of pouring into bottles, pressing caps on them, and waiting.

It'll take another couple of weeks of bottle aging and conditioning until it's ready to drink. At that time, Tim and I will taste test them for you. 
Cheers!

Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 27, 2019

CLASSIC TRIP - Puerto Vallarta, October 1998


Here is an old report on one of our favorite beach destinations, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Yes, the report's been here before but we've added a whole bunch of new pictures.  Plus something else...

Our first trip to Puerto Vallarta was in 1991. We liked it so much, we pretty much came every year during the 90's, back when Tim was little enough to carry and get over all those stairs.

On our second trip in 1992, I borrowed my dad's VHS camcorder. Recently, I dug out the old VHS tape, digitized it, and edited down 90 minutes worth of video down to 10 minutes.

23 years ago, when Tim was but a wee lad of 5, we took this video down in Puerto Vallarta. I apologize for the poor audio, but it makes a neat time capsule of a time we'd go down to this beautiful destination.


Watch the Video!




Enjoy, and then you can read the old report, below, from 1998.

Darryl

Sunset from El Set

11 years ago, we spent a week in Puerto Vallarta.  We used to go there quite reguarly before Tim go too big to pick up...the access in Mexico is not up to U.S. standards at all.  One trip even necessitated carrying him...and his wheelchair...down 125 steps so this is a trip you do very carefully although there is now a service that caters to guests in wheelchairs in Puerto Vallarta.  Here is our report for you to enjoy from the old site until we get back from our current travels:

If you looked very closely, you could see the bats clinging to the roof of the cave. The swells of the sea heaving under the boat causes a little concern as we are thrust up toward the roof of the cave, even though we've done this many times before. At just the right point in time, the skipper guns the motor and shoots the skiff, and us with it, into the emerald green waters just beyond...

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the world's busiest airports. Usually we try to avoid flying here but since we are crossing international boundaries today, our options are severely limited. One good benefit of flying LAX is that parking is not as expensive as other nearby airports.

We have been using Wally Park for several years now and have never been dissapointed. This is a private, nearby parking facility that is well guarded, indoors, and offers good rate. With our AAA discount, it was less than $7 per day. Car washing, detailing, valet parking, and padded (really!) parking stalls are also available at extra cost. Free airport shuttles get you to your gate in minutes.

The Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX is a massive place that usually is very crowded with travelers coming & going. However our airline, AeroMexico, had recently moved over to Terminal 5 where the crowding is much less severe. We check in with a minimum of problems and head over to our gate to wait.

We were to wait quite awhile as first the arriving flight was about 20 minutes late. In turn, this caused our flight to lose it's spot in the airport que and we were further delayed. Finally, after a 1.5 hour delay we were leaping off of the runway and headed to Mexico.

The pilot, trying to make up for lost time, put the pedal to the metal and we made up 1/2 hour in the air. After a 2.5 hour flight, we arrive in PV just after 6:00pm local time. Gustavo Diaz International Airport, Puerto Vallarta's airport, has been updated since our last visit. In the past, we would have to deplane via stairs onto the tarmac. This is when it would hit you...the intense, steamy heat. I would be soaked by the time I hit the bottom of the stairs.

This trip is different because there are now 4 new jetways into the terminal. We leave the plane straight into the air conditioned comfort of the terminal. Jr.'s wheelchair is waiting for us in the jetway.

Going through customs in Mexico is unique. There is signal, just like a traffic signal, with a button on it. You press the button and the light randomly lights up either green or red. Get a green light and you're through customs and on your way. A red light means your bags will be searched first. We're in luck today...we get a green light and instantly clear customs. Total time to clear immigration, customs, and claim our bags...10 minutes.

Once we're done with the formalities of entering another country, we make our way out to the front of the terminal and secure transportation to our lodging from the taxi stand. There, you are sold a ticket good for a one way trip in the taxi of their choice. Since there is a monopoly of sorts at the airport (normal roving taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers here), there is a bit of sticker shock on the cost....$27.00 US. In a week the return trip from our condo would be less than $7.00 US.

The taxi ride to the condo is about 15 minutes. We stayed on the south side of town which is the complete opposite side of town from the airport. This would be a good spot to present a few notes on lodging in Puerto Vallarta.

PV proper can be broken down into 3 distinct zones: The north end of town (the Marina or airport area), central part of town, and south of town. The north end of town is where all the really big tourist hotels such as the Krystal and the Sheraton Bouganvillas are in the Marina development. The hotels here are nice enough, but this area is really geared strictly for tourists and leaves you outside of the good parts of town and away from the best beaches.

The central part of town, downtown, is really where PV charm sparkles with the classic red tile roofs, flowering vines everywhere, and cobblestone streets. It's where the Rio Cuale meets the ocean and beauty abounds. Hotels here tend to be much more budget oriented. Our favorite here is the Molino de Agua, a beautifully landscaped paradise set on the point where the river meets the sea. Other hotels in this area are, such as the Hotel Rosita, are perfectly adequate and cheap...but by no means luxurious. The beach here, Los Muertos, is PV's most popular but the water is not clear. Rather it's kind of murky like you would find on most Southern California beaches.

The south end of town has a distinct riviera feel to it as many fine homes cling to the jungle shrouded hills over the ocean. Accomodations here tend to be small and luxurious although there are a few big properties such as the Camino Real and La Jolla de Mismaloya here too. Prices tend to be a bit more expensive here but are still a bargain compared to American prices. The beaches here are among PV's best with crystal clear, warm water and great snorkeling.

It is along this south coast that we prefer to stay, with downtown being our second choice and we generally stay away from the north end.

We are lucky enough to have a friend who owns a couple of time shares at the Lindomar Adventure Club and were able to rent a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom oceanfront condo for $500 per week. Now we realize very few people will get a deal like this but a quick research of the web reveals plenty of equally nice condos in the area renting for $400 $1000 per week. Particularly intriguing is the Punta Negra resort and the Hotel Playa Conchas Chinas.


We arrive at our destination just as the sun is going down. We're not very hungry, so we just head down to the beachside bar for some appetizers and drinks. Our first big discovery is made here...the best chicken wings in town are made right here at our condo at Lindomar. Truly delicious, we enjoy them before retiring for the night.

Our room is actually a suite of rooms with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 patios adjoining the beachside pool, a kitchen, dining room and living room. Your money buys you so much more down here. It easily accomodates the six people in our party splendidly: myself; Mrs. Webmaster; Webmaster. Jr.; Mrs. Web's mom; and her brothers Ruben and Amaury. We take one bedroom, mom in law takes the second, and the guys bunk out on the twin beds that the couches in the living room convert into.

Sunday dawns and we're ready for the beach...Mismalyoa beach. Arguably Puerto Vallarta's most famous stretch of sand, this beach is actually 7 miles south of the town proper. It was here that John Huston brought Richard Burton and Ava Gardner to film the seminal "Night of the Iguana". Elizabeth Taylor accomanied Burton here, carried on a torrid affair that lit up the tabloids...and put Puerto Vallarta on the map!

Today, it is guarded by the twin towers of the ultra plush La Jolla de Mismaloya hotel. The ruins of the movie set...now a restaurant and bar...are still there. The hotel dominates the beach, it's visage covering a good 2/3 of the bay and a healthy stretch of sand is off limits to all but registered guests. The other third of the beach, across the mouth of the little Rio Mismaloya, is home to an odd collection of mom & pop restaurants that serve fresh food & drinks to beachgoers. The lagoon at the river's mouth is home to a fleet of skiffs and fishermen. Trouble is brewing between the two sides of the river, but more about that later...

We take the bus from our condo at Conchas Chinas beach to Mismaloya. The current fare is 2.5 pesos, about 35 cents. We head down the access road along the south wall of the hotel to find that the old wooden bridge over the Rio Mismaloya has been dismantled and a new one is being built. We portage Jr. and his chair over the river's mouth to the palapa (non hotel) side of the bay and stake out some good hammock chairs in front of Arturos's restaurant. Arturo opens up a tab for us (restaurant owners here will gladly let you use their chairs and hammocks in return for your business) and we order breakfast on the beach.

After a few flap jacks and eggs, we head out into the warm waters of the bay to test out the snorkeling. We see many colorful tropical fish along the rocky edges of the south side of the bay and quickly float out to the bay's edge. The water is bath water warm. At times, it even feels a little too warm. I head back to the beach. Jr. and me play in the waves and let them crash over us, filling our trunks with sand.


This is how the day goes, snorkel a little, swim a little, order a few more Coronas, splash in the waves, and then do it all over again. Other than a burn on my back (I forgot to put sunscreen on there) and some mosquito bites, the day is nothing but fun. We catch a bus back to Conchas Chinas and get ready to head into town.

We head into town and take a long walk along the Malecon, PV's version of a boardwalk, and then head over to Cenederia Ene...a small, family run eatery that serves delicious Mexican food at bargain prices. I had a platter of gorditas (about $2), my wife had a bowl of pozole and Jr. had a burger. All about the same price and delicious.

It's very spartan but clean and bright. Your entertainment consists of spanish movies on the TV.
After dinner, it's time to go grocery shopping at the Guitterez Rizo supermarket. Since we have a kitchen, we decide to stock up on groceries and make some of our meals and drinks in the condo. Prices here are about the same as in the states. Laden down with groceries, we decide to spring for a taxi back to the condo.

This is when we notice big discovery #2...all the big taxis are gone now, replaced with small Nissans that won't hold six people. We have to hire 2 taxis to get us back to the condo. Come to find out, this is planned. The driver tells us that PV is getting rid of all the big taxis in favor of the small ones in an effort to generate more fares. PV is growing up and developing ever more each day...I don't know that I like every development though.

Monday finds us sleeping in and spending the day at Conchas Chinas beach directly in front of the condo. After a home cooked breakfast of ham and eggs, we head out to the beach. Since our condo is on the beach, we're able to just leave the patio door open for quick forays to fill up on rum punches and beer.

The water this day is a little murky and the snorkeling just adequate. We turn instead to frequent swims in the warm water of the Pacific alternating with cool dips into the beachfront pool. The heat and drinks work their magic on us an after a few hours, we switch off into siesta mode for the afternoon.

After waking, we head over for one of the highlights of our trip.

One of the main reasons we like to stay at Lindomar is that it's right next door to our favorite restaurant, El Set. This is truly not just PV's best restaurant, but one of the world's great dining spots. A meal here is superb (click on the link above to go to their web site and check out the menu). My favorite here is the Selva Negra (Black Jungle in english). This is a truly superb and tender filet mignon covered in a champagne walnut sauce. It is mouth watering, melt in your mouth, truly delicious food. It's served with a baked potato along with fresh vegetables. Mrs. Web enjoys the Mocajete Tlaloc, a concoction of pork and chicken served in a melted cheese broth in a stone grinding bowl with shallots and peppers. This is also a very delicious dish.

This great food is also served in one of the world's most spectacularly scenic spots. The restaurant is outdoors set into terraces carved into the jungle hillside, overlooking the ocean, aimed square at the setting sun...our sunset Puerto Vallarta picture that graces this site was taken from our table at El Set.

We ended up eating here three times during the week and had three superb sunsets. Tonight's actually recieved applause.

The service here is PV's best. Extremely gracious and professional waiters tend to your needs. We come about every 3 years and they always remember us.

Strolling mariachis...not the loud, anxious for a tip kind that you see too often in L.A. but the more softly playing, romantic kind...come by each table. You don't want them, no problem...they take no offense. But you should really take advantage of this tableside entertainment to cap off a perfect meal (20 peso tip is appropriate for each song).


After dinner, we walk back over to the condo and watch "The Usual Suspects" in english with spanish subtitles on a local station. It's funny to see what they substitute in the titles for the sometimes X rated language (which is played uncut).

Tuesday is an in town day spent shopping and exploring. PV is one of the best places to just walk and take in the local street scenes. It's a very beautiful and interesting place. One interesting stop is at the small archeological museum on the Isla Rio Cuale in the center of town.
On display here are items dating back thousands of years dug up in the mountains surrounding Banderas Bay. This incense burner is one of the newer pieces...only about 1300 years old!

Wednesday is our big activity day of the week. This is the day we head down to Mismaloya to hire a boat. Here you can hire a boat and it's skipper. The skiff can easily hold 10 people, has a canopy, snorkel gear, fishing gear and and ice filled chest to do with as you please. The price for all this...$25 per hour or $100 per day. This has always been our big adventure when we come to PV and today is no exception.

We find a skipper, Lino, who along with his assistant, Jose, will take us in the good ship "Night of the Iguana". We hire the pair and the boat for the day (you with calculating minds will work it out to $15 per person for the day on the boat). The area to the south of Banderas Bay is Mexico's second largest rainforest with no roads, only boats and very hardy hikers can access it's coast.

There are 3 villages along this coast that cater to tourists: Yelapa, Quimixto, and Las Animas. They're too touristy for us with too many peddlers. We prefer to head to one of the many unpopulated and deserted beaches along this coast. We head to our favorite deserted beach... Majahuitas!

Here we make big discovery #3...a kind of painful one...Majahuitas is not the unknown deserted beach it once was. For years, Majahuitas only shared it's sparkling white sand, coconut palms, jungle, and crystal waters with a cabin owned by an absent American owner who never visited her holdings here. Now there is a new resort on the beach, albeit small, the Majahuitas Resort...where you can pay big bucks to stay in one of the 6 cottages cut off from civilization.

Others have also found out about this beautiful little bay. On our arrival, a tour boat sits in the bay with about 40 german tourists sunning on the beach. We beach our little skiff and don our gear. Diving into the bay we find the water to be as crystal clear and warm as ever. The snorkeling in the bay is nothing short of excellent. Jr. and I head into the waters of the north end of the beach to be delighted by the antics of puffers, angel fish, and too many more I can't name.

Later we head to the south end to see an even more astonishing array of underwater delights including a swim through cave and coral. We crack open some ham sandwiches, beer and soda for a picnic on the beach.

Trouble is brewing back at Mismaloya. According to Lino, the developers of the hotel there and certain politicians are trying to force the local vendors and boats off of the south third of the beach to make way for more development. The most troubling aspect of this plan is that Mismaloya would become a totally private beach, shut off from the public.

This day, the boat owners are rallying at city hall to try to prevent this plan. Lino is here because he is taking care of the boat & business for his friend who is at the downtown rally. It would really be a shame if PV went this route, effectively killing one of it's golden egg laying geese.

Hopefully some saner heads will prevail.

Back on Majahuitas, Lino tells us he knows of an even better spot for snorkeling just up the coast. After lunch, we pack it up and head out. Lino takes us about a mile north of Majahuitas to an unnamed cove. We are completely alone.

The beach here is tiny, so we anchor offshore and dive in from the boat. Lino is not wrong.

Covering the ocean floor is a carpet of coral as far as we can see. The water is teaming with colorful tropical fish who eat bread crumbs out of our hands. I take Jr. for an extended swim across the bay with Amaury and Ruben. The activity never stops under the water here. Looking closely into the rocks and coral, we see eels, angel fish, trigger fish, puffers, and more. The snorkeling today is among the very best we've ever done, including Hawaii and Jamaica. Those who say there is no good snorkeling in PV need to get out of their hotel adn get down to the clear waters of the south shore.

Lino takes us to one more stop...the obigatory ride to Los Arcos. This quartet of offshore rocks is PV's most famous landmark. Wave worn caves carve through these huge rocks forming the famous arches. This is also PV's best known snorkeling spot with many boats anchoring nearby allowing divers access. Amaury and Ruben take the plunge and swim through one of the caves.

After the dive, Lino takes us on the final boat adventure for the day...a ride through the caves of Los Arcos. This is where we join the first paragraph as we wait for just the right moment in the cresting swells to gun the boat's engine and shoot through the cave. Around us we here the squeals of hundreds of tiny bats. Beneath us, the blues and greens of the clear water flicker in and out of the light. Then, it's back out into the sunlight to do it again.

Above us, clinging to the shear sides of the rocks, are dozens of pelican nests. Lino tells us that this is a protected breeding area for the birds. In April and May, the rocks explode with hundreds of pelicans roosting with their eggs.

After the adventure of Los Arcos, it's back to Mismaloya. We end the day around 4pm. Shaking hands with Lino and Jose, we hail a couple of taxis for a quick ride back to the condo.

Back at Lindomar we shower up and rest for dinner. Tonight, we make a repeat visit to El Set and are treated to another exceptional dinner, sunset, and music. We call it a night and head back to the condo to catch game 4 of the World Series before turning in.

Thursday dawns calm and we spend this day snorkeling around Conchas Chinas beach. The water is as clear as we've ever seen it here. We make several short dives plus one long one that ends up in our being washed ashore at the Camino Real hotel, about 1/4 mile down the road.

The security guards don't like the idea that we prefer to walk back from here (thus having to go through their lobby) but they eventually relent...we remind them that it's better that we're leaving rather than entering...and we walk back to Lindomar.

The evening finds us dining at Chavas restaurant downtown. The food here is delicious and cheap among some very pleasant surroundings. We are eating from a second floor balcony that looks out over the La Iguana nightclub across the street and the town beyond. Many mariachis come strolling through here, enough to be a minor bother, but we have a great dinner of frog legs and enchiladas.

Amaury and Ruben head off on their own for a night of clubbing while the rest of us head back home.

Friday, the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to grow in intensity. The ladies spend the day shopping in town while the rest of us spend another day snorkeling in the warm, clear waters of Conchas Chinas. One more day on the beach, one more dinner at El Set...one more night to go.

Saturday, our last day here. Our flight doesn't leave until 9:00pm. We pack up and leave our bags with Miguel at the front desk of Lindomar (we have to vacate the room by 11:00am) and get a rental car. What we get is a VW Safari (also called a Thing here is the US) without doors windows...or seatbelts!

We head south to Chico's Paradise, one of a number of jungle restaurants in town situated along the raging rivers. We spend a little time here eating a light lunch and head down to the river for a swim. Mrs. Web then notices a small iguana drowning in the river. Amaury jumps in and rescues the little guy who turns out to be quite tame friendly.

As much as the guys would like to take it home, we instead release it back into the jungle and head out. We spend some more time driving around the countryside until we decide that the car is just too uncomfortable to ride in any more. We drop it off and head back to Lindomar.

Lindomar has one great feature, if your flight is late...like ours...you can use the hospitality suite for the day. This is a suite set aside for guests use on check out day for naps, showers, etc. We make good use of it as we rest up for our flight home.


Well, now it's early Saturday evening and time to head home. Always the saddest part of the trip, we oblige but know we will return. The flight home leaves right on time, the service is excellent, and we land on time at LAX...only to be held up by ground controllers adding another 1/2 hour til we reach the gate.

Immigration, customs and baggage claim go very smoothly and we return back to our real world here in Southern California. Until next time, we say adios to Puerto Vallarta and ride off into one of those magnificent sunsets...



Darryl
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas in the Capitol: A Floating Dinner in Sacramento


We must like this hotel, we've stayed here repeatedly over the last decade and a half. At first, it was called the Hallmark Suites. Great free breakfast bar, cocktail lounge, and pool area. Nice two room suites.



It became the Sierra Suites after that then changed into a Hyatt House. All still the same but looking a little worn at our last stay a couple of years ago. Soon after we checked out, it closed down and underwent a year-plus renovations and reopened a few months ago as a Doubletree Suites.


Watch the Video!

Nice location across the street from the Sunrise light rail station, giving you easy access to downtown Sacramento to the west and the even nicer Old Town Folsom to the east.



This time, I was offered a two story loft unit with two bathrooms, mobility access, and two bedrooms each with a king size bed, for the same price as the two room suite we had before.

Well, I can't pass an offer like that up...



After checkin, we take our delicious Doubletree cookies with us to our room in the next building. 



The room is indeed spectacular. A large living room with a sink, fridge, coffee maker, and microwave welcome us as we enter (I could picture the sink area being a kitchen before the renovation. Comfortable sofa, deskchair, and large tv dominate the rest of this room.

Beyond that is the downstairs bedroom with it's king-sized bed and bathroom. Funny thing about this accessible bathroom...it is very large but has a tub without a shower on a hose and...no...the management has no bathchair they can put in there. There's a grab bar next to the toilet and a roll-under sink and no door.  I mean none...no sliding door, no curtain, nothing.

(Management offered to move us to a smaller room which would mean Tim would have to move to the sofabed instead of having that large king to himself)

Upstairs is another bedroom with another king bed for Letty and I. Another bathroom up here is smaller and more spartan but...get this...it has a walk-in shower! Swap the tub downstairs with this one and the room would be close to perfect, except for that missing door downstairs.

We do travel with a spare shower chair on road trips for just such an occasion but the room is just too darn nice and big to move to a smaller version. We'll see about some other arrangement for compensation later.

I go to a nearby Wendy's and we feast on Christmas Eve around our hotel room table on some hot 'n juicy burgers while watching old movies on TV. It's a very comfortable, cozy, and low-key evening.

In the morning, we head to the lobby for a light breakfast. In it's previous lives, the hotel had a great, free breakfast bar. The buffet and omelet station are still here but for a price now. A "Continental" buffet is $12.95 and the full buffet is $16.95. A bit much since we basically just want some bagels and fruit.

It's very slow on Christmas morning. The hotel is mostly empty and nobody is eating. The counter guy makes us a deal...pay for a continental buffet, which he'll knock 10% off of because it's Christmas...and we can all share it.

That'll do (pro tip: don't be afraid to negotiate a better deal when you've got the upper hand).



We rest up and clean up (Letty and I have excruciating back pain today we think that was brought on by the uncomfortable couch in the Marriott we stayed at on the way up here) before loading up and heading to Old Sacramento along the riverfront in downtown.



On arrival, we have about a half hour to kill before our reserved time, so we head over to Candy Heaven, a large candy shop known for their generous free sample policy. Sample we do - we even sampled the chocolate covered crickets - and buy some candy for later.



It's time to eat so we head over to the Delta King, an historic paddle wheeled river boat permanently docked here. We're shown to a nice table and settle in to eat.



This is becoming a tradition for us to come up here and have Christmas dinner on the boat. It's the only time each year the restaurant here serve their turkey dinner.



It's among the best turkey dinners I've ever tasted with a perfectly roasted and juicy bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It's delicious and filling (that's why we went light on breakfast).



While the entire menu is available, I come strictly for the turkey dinner. Letty and Tim will digress to other menu items such as cioppino, pasta, or even fish 'n chips.



Tummies sated and spirits high, we head back to the hotel to enjoy the rest of the holiday together.

Darryl Musick
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