History of the Virgin of Guadalupe

     Mexico is a Catholic country and the Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. Her feast day, December 12th, is celebrated by Catholics in Mexico. In addition, each village in this area has their own separate week to celebrate. Here in Cofradía there is a week-long fiesta in our town square, with church bells, music and firecrackers starting at 5am, repeated every 6 hours,  and lasting until one am the next morning. On the night of the final day, a large castillo (tower) is constructed, loaded with row after row of fireworks, which is set off one layer at a time, starting at the base. Our week for celebration is usually some time in January. 

     On December 9, 1531 an indigenous native named Juan Diego was walking through the hill country of Tepayac. He had already converted to Christianity, and on this day, near Tepayac Hill, he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. This woman identified herself in his native Nahuatl language as Mary the mother of Jesus.

     Mary commanded him to go to Tenochtitlan, visit the bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and say that they were to build a church on the spot where he had seen his vision. He went to the bishop’s palace, but was turned away by his servants, who told him to come back the next day if he really wanted to see the bishop. 

     When he returned to the spot where he had seen her, he told Mary to send someone else because apparently he wasn’t worthy. She insisted that she had chosen him, and so he returned the next day. During the meeting, the bishop said that he needed a sign in order to believe what he was being told.

     He returned to the hill, and was greeted by Mary. He told her what had transpired and of the bishop’s desire for a sign. She told him to return the following day and he would have his sign.

     Unfortunately, he was unable to return the next day, as his uncle had become deathly ill and needed his care. After 2 days, he went out to find a priest, and while passing Tepayac Hill, he encountered Mary again.

     She told him that he did not need a priest, as his uncle was now cured, but rather he should climb to the top of the hill to gather roses and bring them back to her. The weather was freezing cold, but he went to the top of the hill and found roses in full bloom. He gathered the flowers in his tilma – a cape/poncho made of cactus fiber – and brought them to Mary, where she arranged them and charged him with bringing them to the bishop.

     He brought them to the bishop, and when he opened his tilma…..

 there were not only roses, but his tilma now contained a picture of Mary just as he described her. The bishop then believed him, and the next day brought the tilma to the cathedral, then went with Juan Diego to the spot where he had had his vision.

     Afterwards he went back to his village and met his uncle, who was now completely well. His uncle told him that he had met a young woman surrounded by light who told him that she had sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She said, “Call me and my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” It is thought by some that Guadalupe was a mis-translation from Nahuatl to Spanish of the work Coatlallope which means one who treads on snakes. 

Here is a photo of the church that was built on the spot where Juan Diego had his vision (in what is now Mexico City).

The plaque above one of the doors of the church reads, “Near this place at dawn on Saturday the 9th of December 1531, the mother of God spoke for the first time to Juan Diego. In the afternoon that same day and at dawn on Sunday the 10th of December, she spoke with him again. On the 12th of December in the morning he picked the roses of the miracle at this site.  1970 year of the Guadalupano meeting.”

These are the stairs leading to the top of the hill and the original church.

This is a sculpture garden signifying the indigenous people and a priest bowing down to a vision of the Virgin

This is a photo from the top of the hill, looking down on the old basilica on the left and the new basilica on the right. 

Here you can see all the pilgrims from around the world camping out on the plaza. You can see the clock tower on the right of the picture. Families come, pitch tents and sleep here at night. 

This is a stock photo of the old basilica

Here is the inside of the new basilica. You can see to the lower right of the large gold cross a rectangular frame.

Close-ups of the frame. It is said that within this frame is the actual cloak of Juan Diego. I was reading that the church had been subjected to floods, smoke from fires and even in 1921 a bomb which was  exploded by anti-clerical forces. It is said that an iron cross was twisted out of shape and the marble altar rail was damaged, but the tilma was completely unharmed. 

The new basilica at ground level.

Here are the older churches. When I visited the first time, I hadn’t realized there are two older buildings. You can see the reason why they are no longer in use and are unsafe to enter – the older one started to lean, much like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Another view of the older churches from the plaza.

Several busloads of us from Cofradía did a pilgrimage there. This is some of us in a procession carrying a glass case with flowers and a statue inside. We also brought with us many bags of produce – fruits and vegetables from this area as offerings.

A closer view of the clock tower. You can see the plaza behind it and some of the pilgrims.

There are statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe throughout Mexico. This is the Virgin of Guadalupe on my property, cut out of black volcanic rock by a local artisan.  There are white roses around her, as it is said she likes white roses.  This was for her inauguration, and currently there is wandering Jew as ground cover. 

     And here ends my presentation. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Until next time, adios!

December 12, 2018 – the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Being a Catholic country, Mexico celebrates many saints during the year, but December 12th is a very special day – the celebration of the patron saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. In my next post, I will present my slide show all about this saint, but for now I will just say that on December 12, 1531 she performed a miracle for Juan Diego, an indigenous man who lived in Tepayac.

Today is a national holiday, with schools, banks and all manner of businesses closed. There are celebrations throughout the country.  In the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the priests and congregation sang La Mañanita to the Virgin. The Mañanita is also what is sung when a person has a birthday.

and here are the English lyrics to this song:

But, today I was not in Mexico City, and so I attended the celebration here in Cofradía de Suchitlán in Colima State. We headed out of the village to the parking lot of the El Jacal restaurant.  A parking lot is the best way I could describe it, but that really doesn’t do it justice. It is quite a large area with cement seats that remind me of a Roman amphitheater and across from those seats is an altar where Mass is performed.  The restaurant was not even visible from this point.

As we approached the seating, a band was playing La Mañanita to the Virgin.  Then we all took our seats and the Mass began. There was no kneeling, as there was no place to kneel, so we alternately stood up and sat down.

People filed down the stairs to receive Communion:

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and when the Mass was over, the band played again:

I’m sure you hear the popping sound. No celebration would be complete in Mexico without fireworks or firecrackers!

When the band was finished for the moment, the Azteca dancers performed:

This clip is only 15 seconds long, as my battery was running low, but if you wish to see more, I have longer videos in previous posts.

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While the Azteca dancers were performing on one end of the field, the band was playing on the other end. People were also selling food somewhere between the two. My friend Lourdes and I  stopped to admire the Virgin which was in the back of a pickup truck:

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and we, and other people stopped to admire the altar:

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Here you can see the crowds that have gathered for the Mass and celebration:

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And so here ends my story of our activities on this special day. Tomorrow will be my slide show to tell you all about the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Good night all, and see you again tomorrow!

 

 

 

Home-Grown Coffee

The first thing I fell in love with, in what is now my house, was the garden. As soon as I walked through the gate for my first visit to Richard and Magda’s house, I thought to myself, “This is the garden of Paradise.”  For so many years before retirement, I had not had a garden and on top of that, I had worked nights and was sleeping during daylight hours, so I was ecstatic to learn that my friends were selling their house. I now would not only have a garden, but the garden would be in a place that would never see snow nor the freezing temperatures of the north and plants and flowers would grow all year long.

Although I am such a bad “farmer” that I would starve to death if I had to make a living from this, I enjoy the small amount of edibles that I grow and when I have excess, I share it with my neighbors.  Since I love coffee and there were three coffee trees on my property when I moved in, I decided to try my hand at harvesting and preparing my own coffee.

The coffee bean is actually at the center of a berry, called the coffee cherry. The skin is initially green, and when it turns red, it is ripe for picking. The pulp is very sweet and is full of caffeine. I have searched for quite some time to find any kind of recipe to make use of the pulp, but the resulting food or drink would contain so much caffeine, that I resigned myself to the fact that it is better used as compost.

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unripe green coffee cherries

 

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coffee cherries turning red as they ripen

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Coffee cherries being rinsed after harvesting. 

     Once the coffee cherries are harvested from the trees, they need to be de-pulped. I don’t know how commercial coffee plantations do this, but for my personal operation, I went to my neighbor Gloria’s house and used her hand-cranked de-pulper.

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Gloria helping with the de-pulping of the coffee cherries

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Taking my turn at the grinder. Note the container of water which helps with the process.

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Top of the machine where we put the coffee cherries and water.

     It reminded me of the meat grinder my parents used to use to make their own hamburger meat. The only difference is that I did not want to grind the cherries, only to de-pulp them. So we put the cherries into the top, and would grind them a little bit in one direction, then reverse direction, and then repeat the process so as to strip the pulp but not crush the beans themselves.

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separating the remaining pulp and debris from the beans

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We would add water to the grinder to help with the process.  The grinding process did not eliminate all the pulp, so after taking it home, I still had to remove a lot of the pulp by hand. There would also be bits of pebbles, leaves and other matter that needed to be removed, and it was quite a time-consuming process.

Once the beans were separated from the pulp, it was time to dry the beans in the sun. I wanted half to be caffeinated and half to be decaf, so the ones to be decaffeinated were left to soak in water for 24 hours. Both were then dried in the sun for 5 days. To tell which were which, I spread them on different colored materials and then put them in labeled baggies once they were dried.

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Drying in the sun after the pulp is removed. 

     My neighbor Lourdes obtained a roaster to roast large quantities of the beans, and she said they would be happy to roast my coffee also. What I didn’t realize was that even after the pulp was removed, the beans still had a thin skin on them, called the cascara, and that the cascara also had to be removed before roasting.

Fortunately for me, they also had a machine to do that work. Honestly, I don’t know how the coffee growers managed all this labor-intensive work before electricity.

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Beans falling into the bucket after the cascara is removed.

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Lourdes’ husband Alfonso and her son Pedro removing the cascara and collecting the beans.

Cascara shooting out the side of the machine.

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Bags of coffee beans minus the cascara

    So Lourdes’ husband Alfonso and her son Pedro helped me with removing the cascara, and I am sure that what flew out of the machine was adding nutrients to their soil.  The beans were dropped into the machine, the cascara was ejected forcefully from the side, and the beans dropped into a waiting bucket.

Now it was time to do the roasting, after any debris was once again removed. Just as with dried beans, there might always be tiny pebbles or other debris that need to be picked out.

The following photos and videos are of them processing large quantities of beans. With quantities that large, it takes about 40 minutes per batch to roast. I was too tired to show up when it came time for them to roast my paltry amount of beans, and my batch would take a lot less time. IMG_1372

beans ready for roasting

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Pedro operating the roaster

First, the beans were dropped into the roaster, which rotated to roast them evenly. Then a valve was opened and they were stirred mechanically until they were cooled.

You can see the rotating drum above the flames where the coffee is roasted and the pan where they are mechanically stirred as they cool down. 

     Now that my coffee had been roasted, it was time to grind it. I did this at Lourdes’ house, then divided up the coffee into bags – one bag of decaf for Gloria, one bag each of decaf and caffeinated for Lourdes and one bag of caffeinated for me.

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grinding the roasted beans

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the finished product

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bagged and ready to take to our respective homes

I thought it was delicious, but was wondering if I was biased, but Lourdes and Gloria assured me that my coffee was, in fact, delicious.

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Getting ready to make some homemade coffee.

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Mmmmmm!  Heavenly caffeine!

     Because it takes 8 lbs. of coffee cherries to make one pound of the finished product, I have planted 5 more trees, so I will have 8 coffee trees total. Currently, the five new ones are just saplings, so I don’t know how long it will be before they produce the cherries, but it will certainly be worth the wait.

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my newest coffee saplings

     And so, I wish you all a good weekend and hope you have enjoyed learning about all the work that goes into providing you with your morning cup of caffeine. Until next time – ¡ Adiós !

New York Again

After a fun-filled week in Colima, Mexico, it was time for my world-traveling granddaughter to return to her family in New York State. But before that happened, I decided we would make one more stop in Mexico in the state of Jalisco.

We went by bus from Colima to the town of Tlaquepaque, near Guadalajara.

The town of Tlaquepaque is a very nice town full of artisans. You can find many shops with pottery and fine clothing, paintings, sculptures, museums and many very good restaurants. During the day the streets are lined with people selling homemade wares – jewelry, pocketbooks, etc.  I felt it was a good way for Brenna to see another aspect of Mexico before returning home.

     Street scenes in Tlaquepaque

Statues are everywhere…

        Fortunately, all this activity was just a few blocks from our hotel, so we could spend the day walking around, go back for a rest and then go back out again. I have absolutely no sense of direction, even when using paper maps and a GPS, but I had been in this hotel many times before, so I knew my way around.

     That night we went to a restaurant on Avenida de Independencia, and while we were eating, a man asked if he could draw our caricatures, so I said ok.  It took him a while, since he was drawing both of us on the same canvas, and when he was finished, my face was pretty accurate, although I wasn’t drinking as the drawing indicated, but with Brenna’s face, I think she looks more like Ashley Judd – though maybe in a few years she WILL resemble the picture. IMG_1163 the finished drawing

IMG_1160What Brenna actually looked like

     After a good night’s rest, we headed to the airport by taxi. Once we were in the airport, we were about to have a problem regarding luggage. I had bought 4 pieces of pottery in Tlaquepaque, and was not about to put it in my checked luggage. When we got to the security line, I was told that I could not take the pottery on the plane, that I would have to check it.

After arguing for a few minutes, the man on line behind me stepped in – turns out he was a pilot. He asked what airline I was flying, and when I said Interjet, he rolled his eyes. He told me that if I could fit the pottery into one luggage bag, then I could take it by hand onto the plane.

Fortunately, one of the shops in the airport sold luggage, and I was able to buy one cloth bag in which all the pottery fit. And so with everything in ONE carry-on bag, we passed through security and were on our way.

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my new carry-on bag

It was an overnight flight and we arrived the following morning, around 6am, at JFK Airport, were picked up by her father Jake and headed to Upstate New York.

     IMG_1168 (1)View of a family of deer on Brenna’s road in New York

Yes, we have deer.  And grass. And trees. Manhattan is only a small part of New York. 

     Family came to visit and gifts were given out. Brenna’s mother Kathy even made me Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, because she knows it is my comfort food when I am sick and I can’t get it in Mexico.

Brenna was very fortunate that her boss at her new job allowed her to take a whole month off for our trip, and so she had to go back to work the day after we returned.  As a result,  I  spent the day with her father’s mother and visited a former co-worker of mine, Carol, and delivered two of the pieces of pottery that I had bought for her – one as a housewarming gift and one stayed wrapped to be opened on Christmas.  The other two pieces went home with me.

It was nice to see everyone again, especially since I don’t anticipate returning for another two years. It was well worth the cost of the trip, but now it is time to start saving up and replenish my bank account.

Since time wasn’t an issue to return home, I decided to save the family from  having to go down to New York City again and I flew out of Stewart Airport in Newburgh, a small airport nearby.  Being a small local airport, direct long-distance flights aren’t their thing, so my itinerary was:

Stewart to Detroit

Detroit to Los Angeles

Los Angeles to Guadalajara

followed by a 3-hour bus ride from Guadalajara to the Colima bus station, followed by a taxi ride home.  And so ended the Great European Adventure. I am sure over time Brenna will find that she learned more than she might realize now, and while there were certainly stress and homesickness for parts of the trip, it will still be fondly remembered for years to come.

 

Brenna’s Mexican Adventure

In 2011, after many years of volunteering in Cameroon, I was searching for a new place to volunteer. Since I was still working full time, it had to be short-term and within my budget. Being in Rotary International, that year I attended the Rotary International Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, and in the House of Friendship I met Ted Rose and Susan Hill, who were promoting their organization, Project Amigo, a literacy program based in Mexico.

Well, I was learning Spanish, Mexico was closer to home than Africa, it was affordable and the volunteer commitment was only one week, so I took a chance and volunteered. After the first week, I was hooked and continued to volunteer my time.

As retirement drew closer, I kept thinking that I might want to retire there. I lived my whole life in New York and hated the cold, snow and ice. I had vowed for years that when I retired I would move to a place where I would never have to see snow again. With the volunteer work weeks, I was getting to know the residents of the village as well as the staff of Project Amigo, the weather was great and life was much simpler there.

After being warned by one of the board members not to jump into it, but to stay there for 6 months and then make a decision, I moved into one of the volunteer residences in January 2016, but after 3 months realized that Cofradía de Suchitlán would be my home.

I met a nurse named Magda during my first volunteer week, and we had remained friends over the years. She and her husband Richard were selling their house – and since I had always loved their house from the first time I saw it,  I bought it.  And so, when planning this trip, I let Brenna and her mother know that I wanted her to see my village and my home before she returned to New York.

So after our 12-hour flight to Mexico City, a connecting flight to Colima Airport and then a taxi ride, I was home!

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The itinerary here had been carefully arranged, as I assumed that Brenna would like to interact not only with SOME English-speakers, but would also like to spend time with someone her own age.

There are just three of us living in the village who are native English-speakers – myself, and Ted and Susan, who just happen to live around the corner from me. So we had lunch at Ted and Susan’s house along with my Canadian friends from Colima – Stephanie, Steve and their son Matt, with whom Brenna was very happy to have a long conversation, and in the process learn many words that are not taught in school, if you catch my drift.

We also visited the Casita del Café for refreshments.

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In my absence, the owner (and my friend and neighbor) had been making apple pies from my recipe, but the customers could tell the difference and were clamoring for pies made by hand by “Paty,” and so one day was spent with Brenna helping me make my famous pies to keep the customers happy.

Meanwhile, the first thing I noticed when we returned to my home was the bananas on my tree needed to be harvested. From their weight, the tree had bent over, so the bananas were now resting on the ground. Knowing how heavy they were, I enlisted Brenna to help me bring them to my porch. Armed with my machete, I began to cut the branch away and after a few seconds, dropped the machete and ran away shouting.

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Unbeknownst to me, there was a large wasp’s nest under one of the leaves. You can see part of it as a white, round ball on the right middle side of the photo. Well, the buggers got me on my arms and face. Fortunately, they did not sting Brenna.

First things first, I ran into the house and took 50 mg of Benadryl. Then I sprayed Raid on it.  Next day, there were still some left alive, and I had heard that mixing laundry detergent with water would do the trick, so I not only did that, but got out the Raid again.  A while later, there was nothing left alive from that nest and we were free to carry the bananas to the porch.

We tried to string them up, but they were so heavy that the two of us couldn’t do it. Fortunately, when my gardener Angel arrived, they were strung up and would ripen just fine where we left them.

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with my trusty machete examining the bananas

     While planning the trip, Brenna was asked what she would like to do and what were her interests. She mentioned art, castles and the beach. The first two requests were taken care of in Europe, but we still had to go to the beach.  Brenna told me she had never been to the ocean, and fortunately the Pacific Ocean was only a 90 minute drive away. Coincidentally, there is also a turtle sanctuary near that beach, so a big outing was planned for us, my friend Lourdes and her family, including her two young grandsons who had also never been to the sanctuary.

But before this happened, Brenna was about to become familiar with another medical facility – this time in Mexico.  One day I decided we would go to Colima for lunch and invited another neighbor to go along. Unfortunately, the neighbor decided to vomit all over the inside of my car while we were on the road. My first instinct was to turn the car around, but realizing we were halfway to a clinic, I headed in that direction, only stopping in the parking lot of a shopping center to run in and buy a shift dress, towels, wipes and a bottle of water.

When we arrived at the clinic, they directed us to a bathroom where I changed my neighbor’s clothes after cleaning her up as much as possible.  She was examined, medication given, then we went to a pharmacy to fill her prescriptions and headed home.  Then I cleaned up the car as much as I could, and sprayed tons of deodorizer on it.

By the next day, there were so many people to accompany us to the beach that I had no choice but to use my car.  One of the guys drove and I sat on towels in the front passenger seat where the baptism of my car had taken place.  The day after the outing, my car spent the day at the automotive place where they had to take the seats out to do a proper cleaning, but 10 hours and 900 pesos (about $45)  later, it was like new.  God bless those guys – it had to be a real nasty and smelly job and to top it off, it was a brutally hot day.

And PS – I always have a bucket and towels in my car now in case of another emergency, and still am nervous when this particular neighbor is my passenger.

Anyway, back to the outing.  El Tortugario Ecologico is a national reserve in Cuyutlán, Mexico.  Sea turtle eggs are collected, then buried in the sand in a protected area. When the eggs hatch there is a “turtle release” where the babies, called hatchlings,  are placed in the sand near the shore and allowed to make their way into the sea.  Without humans around them, most would surely be picked off by birds or the eggs would be dug up by animals.

There are also turtles of various ages and species protected in tanks for breeding or for protection if for some reason they would not survive if released.

Classes are held for school groups and the general public. There is also an area which houses two crocodiles and there is a boat tour of the lagoon. We were very fortunate that there was to be a turtle release the day we visited, but it was not to happen for several hours.  However, when talking to the staff, they took pity on us and arranged to release a few of the babies just for us before the actual stated time.

We were told that we must handle the hatchlings with clean hands – no smells such as perfume, hand cream or sunscreen, so as not to confuse their sensitivity to Earth’s magnetic field, which is how they navigate and are able to return to lay their eggs to the exact location where they hatched.

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Staff member talking about the hatchlings and explaining the process of returning them to the sea

 

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Brenna with her hatchling

     And so it was time to release the hatchlings. A line was placed in the sand and we had to stand behind the line and put them down in front of the line. Once we let go, we were not allowed to touch them again. Even if the waves knocked them upside down, or tossed them back onto the sand, we could not touch them, as it would interfere with the imprinting onto their brains of the magnetic field location of their “home” beach to which they would return as adults.

If you wish to learn more about this wonderful turtle sanctuary, you can find it on Trip Advisor in English and you can Google it for information in Spanish.  If you are visiting Mexico, especially with children, it is well worth the trip, though turtle releases are not guaranteed with your visit.

After the sanctuary, we headed to Tecoman for a nice lunch. At this restaurant there was a swimming pool, so we all cooled off with a swim and had a delicious lunch. The restaurant sits on the beach, but the current is too dangerous for regular swimming activities. However, Brenna did get to go into the Pacific Ocean, where we waded and splashed around a bit.

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And so we returned home after a day of fun and sun.

Our final day in Cofradía was spent at Project Amigo. Each of the work weeks has a specific theme, and this was “Swim Week.” We walked the few blocks to the Project Amigo office and had breakfast with the other volunteers.  The day before, the volunteers had packed backpacks for the students and we helped them to distribute the packs to the students in Quesería, the migrant camp, where Project Amigo had built additions to their school.

We had a regular ceremony where each volunteer would take a pack and the student and a parent would come up to receive it. The parent would then give words of wisdom to their son or daughter.

The other half of the day was spent at the pool, where our students were taught how to swim and various games were played in the pool. One of the girls spent a lot of time hanging onto Brenna, and I assisted with the weaker swimmers, supporting their bodies as they swam.

That evening we had dinner with the volunteers and the two students I support were there also. So Brenna was able to get to know the volunteers that day, including some close to her age, and also to meet my students and give them gifts from our European trip.

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Well, seems I have written quite a lot for today and I imagine you all must be getting tired. So, I will end here for now and finish our tale with my next post.  So have a good night and see you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Glasgow by Train, then Flying Home

For three weeks, we had been traveling from place to place by air – large planes, tiny planes, connections which we barely made, and so on and so forth. Since our next stop after London was on the same island, I decided to give us a nice experience by taking the Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Glasgow.

We arrived at London’s Euston Station around 10:30pm and found our train. I had reserved two private berths which was a good thing. Each berth, even if reserved privately, had two beds, one above the other. There was a sink and enough space for my two suitcases. It would have been uncomfortably crowded if we had been in the same compartment.

Unlike the long-distance Amtrak trains, there was one bathroom and one shower per train car, not located in the berths.  I don’t remember exactly, but I believe there might have been 6 berths per car, which would be up to 12 passengers total, or maybe 7 berths and 14 passengers.  Since we would be arriving in Glasgow around 7am, I decided that my shower could wait until we reached our Air BnB.

For me, it was a luxury not to have to worry about arriving at an airport, going through security, and all the other things involved in air travel for a change. For me, the room was cozy and comfortable. I love looking out the windows, whether on a bus, train or hotel, and so I lifted the shade. It was around midnight when the train began its journey, so of course I would have to wait until sunrise to see the landscape, but I read a little and then went to sleep.  Before going to sleep, an attendant came around to take our orders for breakfast.

Waking up at sunrise, I could enjoy the landscape outside and before arriving at our destination, we enjoyed breakfast delivered to our berths.

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view from the window of my Caledonian Sleeper berth

     Once at the station, we took a taxi to our Air BnB accommodations. This time we were in a lovely house where our hosts Fiona and Alex lived. Brenna and I each had our own bedroom, which was nice. And – they also had a washing machine, so we would be able to do our laundry! Yaaaayyyy!!!!

Fiona showed us around the house and we had a nice chat. After a while we walked into town and found a supermarket where we could buy some groceries. There were little Scottish meat pies, cookies, scallops still in their shell and the fish fillets were died a yellow color. An explanation was given when I asked about the yellow color, but unfortunately I didn’t write it down in my diary, and since it’s been over 2 months since that time, I am at a loss to explain it.

The following day was our appointment with Refuweegee, the organization that cares for the Syrian refugees who arrive in Glasgow. For those who follow my blog, you know that I have already published a post about them. For those new to my Facebook page, I will post the article after publishing this one

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Selina and Sarah of Refuweegee, with me and Brenna

I was so impressed with the spirit of the Glasweegians, particularly their care for the refugees among them who had lost everything.  If I was in my 20’s or 30’s again and had to pick another place to live, it would definitely be Glasgow. 

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copy of one of the welcome letters included in the welcome pack, given to the refugees when they arrive in Glasgow

     The train station was only two blocks from Fiona’s and Alex’s house. We waited and waited and several other people arrived and were waiting also. Finally one of the dads called somewhere on his cell phone and found that there was construction work being done, and so the train would not be arriving for several hours.

So we went back up to the street and hailed a taxi, arriving to our appointment at Refuweegee just in time.

That evening, after arriving at the house, we had long chats with Fiona and Alex. We also received directions on how to get around Glasgow by bus and the subway, and also the number for a taxi service.

I had read of a museum called the Hunterian on the grounds of Glasgow University, so we took the bus and subway, then walked around for what seemed like forever before finding the museum, due to construction and confusing directions that we received from the locals.

In one section, there were loads of ancient artifacts, but what interested me the most was the medical section of the museum. Glasgow was the seat of advances in neurosurgery, and I had been using the Glasgow Coma Scale for evaluating my patients for decades, not making the connection until I saw this exhibit, and then saying to myself, “So this is where it all started.”  I was awestruck, standing in this place in front of the actual instruments and papers from so long ago.

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Another interesting exhibit was the Blackstone chair, still in use at times. Students having their oral exams would sit in the chair. An hour glass would be turned over, and when the sand had all gone to the bottom of the glass, the student’s time was up and it was then the next student’s turn.

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There was also a plaque in honor of James McGill, founder of McGill University in Montreal, Canada

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After the museum, we continued exploring Glasgow.  With fewer and fewer stationery and book stores, at least in the U.S., we were thrilled to come upon an immense store named the Paper Chase, two floors of every type of paper, stationery and writing implements you could think of, and Brenna discovered pen/brushes that looked like thin markers but painted like paintbrushes.  We also walked around a nearby mall, and of course there were shops with all kinds of Scottish clothing and wares.

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After a while, we went to the bus stop, but it took a while to realize the bus we wanted had stopped running for the day about 1/2 hour before we arrived there, so once again we hailed a taxi to go back to the house.

I also have to comment on the Scottish accent and pronounciation. The people of Glasgow call themselves Glasweegians and Edinburgh is pronounced Edin-boro.  Although they are speaking English, when speaking with someone with a heavy Glasweegian accent, it was extremely difficult for me to understand them. If you want to hear more about this, you can check out You Tube for some videos. One video blogger is Wee Scottish Lass, but there are many others where you can learn the vernacular.

That Saturday I had booked an overnight flight from Glasgow to Mexico City via Amsterdam. In the past I had flown to Sydney, Australia from New York for a Rotary International convention, in coach. It was so uncomfortable and the risk of blood clots so severe that I swore I would never fly coach for such a distance again (total time was about 20 hours or so). Therefore, in addition to spending extra money for the hotel in Paris and the Caledonian Sleeper, I purchased business class tickets for the flight to Mexico City.

First stop after Glasgow was Amsterdam, where we had a layover of about 3 hours. Along with our tickets, we could go to the lounge in the airport, where a meal and coffee were complementary.  And then it was time to board the Aeromexico flight.

The seats were in the front row and 4 across – two in the middle and one on either side of the bulkhead. Brenna and I had the bulkhead seats. So comfortable, and the seats actually flattened into a bed. As the flight was 12 hours, it was nice to be able to stretch out and not be cramped with my joints folded for all that time, so we landed in Mexico City refreshed.

Unfortunately, our flight from Mexico City to Colima had been changed, so there was a wait of over 7 hours, during which time we ate in the airport, read and walked around. After landing in Colima, we took a taxi to Cofradía de Suchitlán and I was finally home – and Brenna was about to experience The Real México !!!

Adiós and Hasta Luego !!!!

 

Adventures in London

In my last post, Brenna and I were finishing up our stay in Ireland. During our walks around the village of Clifden, I noticed a shop that advertised next-day business cards. I went inside and inquired, and was told that I could send an email with graphics and they would have the cards ready the next day. Since I had been to many conferences and was tired of writing my info on a scrap of paper when everyone else was handing out business cards, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.

I sent a head shot and found a Rotary symbol on-line, along with my phone number, email address and just the village and state of Mexico where I live. I also had a heading with the name of my Rotary club – the Rotary e Club of the Southwest USA. When I went to pick up the cards, the person in charge of printing had left out the “e,” thinking it was a typo. And – he had already printed up 200 cards. Oops! I explained that the small “e” was very important, so he said I could pick up the re-printed cards in the morning.

Fortunately, our car service wasn’t due to pick us up until 1pm the next day, so I was able to return to the shop the following morning and left with my business cards. Whew!!!

There was one other hiccup that had been bothering me since before we left the U.S. – Our flight from Ireland was landing at London/Stanstead Airport on Friday the 13th – the same day and same airport President Trump would be there. I had visions of delays and traffic jams dancing in my brain, with the thought that no matter what happened, at least it was a direct flight so I didn’t have to worry about making a connecting flight.

As it turned out, our departure from Ireland was only delayed one hour, and our host in London already knew we were arriving in the evening, so there was no problem.  From the Stanstead Airport we took a bus, and then a taxi to our Air BnB, which turned out to be an apartment on the 10th floor of the building. We needed to ring the apartment, as there were two other guests staying there. We finally arrived at 11pm and once we were in, we were given a key to the building, to the front door of the apartment and to our bedroom.  We never did see the owner of the apartment, but had many pleasant conversations with the other guests.

Our London Dr. Who walking tour wasn’t until that Sunday, so we spent Saturday exploring London via walking and taking the London Underground. We found our way to the Sherlock Holmes museum, which was very interesting. Holmes and Watson, in the novels, lived at 221B Baker Street.  This museum was on Baker Street, but technically had another number, but, I guess, for the tourists and fans of Sherlock Holmes, was designated as 221B.  The building had the furnishings of the time and mannequins depicting various characters from the novels.  The line was very long to get in, and tickets had to first be purchased from the souvenir shop next to the museum. I think we waited about 90 minutes to get in.

The following day, we took the Doctor Who London Walking Tour. Not being a Whovian myself, a lot of what the guide said didn’t mean much to me, but it was still enjoyable, and Brenna was able to meet many people her own age who were also fans, including a girl from North Carolina.

One of the places we stopped on the tour was the actual Stratford-on-Avon theater, where Shakespeare’s plays are still performed.  After the tour, we continued walking around, visiting the London Eye and seeing the Tower of London, which, unfortunately, had netting and scaffolding around it for maintenance and repairs.

Also, when crossing one of the bridges across the Thames, we saw people relieving tourists of their hard-earned cash with shell games, and also a young man practicing on the bagpipes. Apparently, there was also going to be a bagpipe contest at some point in the near future.

During our wanderings, we also visited Paddington Station. Yes, Paddington Station as in Paddington Bear.  In that station, they actually had a shop full of PB merchandise, including books and stuffed bears. I bought a bear in anticipation of our trip to Refuweegee (the organization that helps refugees) in Glasgow.

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Brenna at the Paddington Bear shop in Paddington Station

     We did quite a bit of walking, and Europe was experiencing an unusually hot summer, so eventually we headed back to our apartment. One nice thing about staying in this Air BnB was that we had access to a kitchen and a washing machine, so we bought our own food and cooked it, saving the cost of restaurant meals, and also making it more convenient to be able to eat when we wanted and not be dependent on hours and availability of local restaurants.

The Air BnB was about a 40 minute walk to the nearest Underground station, but in exchange for not being close to public transportation, we had an incredible view of London in the distance. We also used the taxis quite a bit. We were told to use only the black taxis, as they were more regulated. We were supposed to be able to sign on and pay ahead with a credit care, much like Uber and Lyft, but that never worked, so I ended up paying cash for every ride.

As I mentioned, I am a member of Rotary International, and also a member of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors (which is actually healthcare workers, not just doctors), and I had been notified by my club that I qualified for my Paul Harris+1 pin. However, there is no club near where I live in Mexico.  My fellow IFRD member, Dr. John Philip lives with his wife Christine outside of London, so I notified him ahead of time that I would be in London and wanted to visit them and attend his local club meeting and receive my pin there,

We arranged to take the train to his home, attend a meeting and stay overnight.  We took the train and it was so nice to have a relaxing visit. Usually we only meet up every two or three years, when I have the time and money to attend the International Convention.

The train tickets were an interesting experience. The two tickets and the receipt all looked the same. You put your ticket into a machine, then it pops back up and the turnstile gate opens to let you through to the platform. I kept wondering why my ticket didn’t work, so I ended up squeezing through with Brenna – both of us at once. When I got on the train and took a good look at my ticket, it turns out that I was using my receipt, not the actual ticket. Since you also need to put the ticket in a machine when you reach your destination, I was wondering what would happen, but as it turned out, there was construction at our destination, so the machines weren’t in use. Well, I DID pay for the ticket, so it wasn’t like I was jumping the turnstile without paying.

It was nice to be able to visit my friends and have leisurely chats, as well as seeing their new home. We walked around the village, which was quite quaint, complete with a canal and a small bridge which could turn to let boats pass. That evening we attended the Newbury Rotary Club meeting.

It was a wonderful club meeting and we met so many nice Rotarians. At our table, sitting next to me was a man who introduced himself by saying, “Would you like to shake the hand of the man who shook hands with Prince Harry?”  The man’s name was Roy Wood and he is a member of mapaction.org, one of the charities that Prince Harry supports ( https://mapaction.org/about-us/ )  Mapaction is an organization that gathers  information during disasters, providing responders with critically important information necessary for them to do their jobs.

During the evening, I was presented with my pin by Irene Waters, president of the Newbury Rotary club.

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Receiving my Paul Harris +1 pin from President Irene Waters

Newbury Rotary Club

England

     And then it was time to return to Dr. Philip’s home for a good night’s rest.

The following morning, we took the train back to London and packed up our suitcases.  Tired of going from place to place by air, I booked two tickets for private berths on the Caledonian Sleeper to take us from London to Glasgow.  For many parts of this trip, I looked for ways to save money, but for some things, since this was a trip of a lifetime for Brenna, I decided to spend the extra money. Having a hotel in Paris just two blocks from the Eiffel Tower with a balcony with a tower-view was one expenditure, and the sleeper train was another.  I felt it was well-worth the extra money in addition to not having to visit another airport and ride in  tiny planes again.

And so we said good by to London – next stop, Glasgow!

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left to right – Dr. Philip, Brenna, Christine Philip, me

Kylemore Abbey

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Our next stop on the Irish section of our European adventure was the current Kylemore Abbey, conceived by Mitchell Henry and his wife Margaret and built as Kylemore Castle. Construction was begun in 1867 and completed in 1871, putting 100 men from the surrounding area to much-needed work.  Mitchell not only wanted a grand home in which he and his family could live, but he also wanted to help out the community, which was suffering greatly from the Great Irish Famine.

And so, he built this wonderful castle, complete with 70 rooms and modern innovations such as hot running water.

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It was elegantly furnished, as one would expect of homes of that era.

I am always amazed when I see such estates, and cannot imagine what it must have been like to live in such surroundings. Included on the grounds of the estate was an enormous walled garden with a home for the caretaker and many glass hothouses.

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Along the path from the Abbey was a sign for The Ironing Stone (Giant’s Wishing Stone), and as we walked, we kept searching for it. Finally we reached the end of the property, turned around and headed back to the Abbey. And – we found it ! I realized that on our way out, there were some visitors standing near what I had thought were just wooden poles that had been put into the ground. Now that we were headed in the other direction and there were no other tourists around, we realized that what we had thought were only posts were actually the “fingers” of the “giant.”

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Tragically for the Henry family, Margaret died from a fever contracted while visiting Egypt. This happened only four years after the castle was completed. In her memory, Mitchell had a church built on the grounds in her memory.

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and the mausoleum containing her body was nearby

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In 1903, the castle was purchased by a Cincinnati oil baron for his daughter as a wedding gift for her marriage to the Duke of Manchester. She went about “modernizing” the castle, removing some of the wood and stained glass. I believe I was told on the tour that these parts of the castle were not discarded, and eventually the Duke lost the property through his gambling.

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It was then purchased by the Benedictine nuns and converted into an abbey and an international boarding school

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The nuns had fled from their abbey in Ypres, Belgium during World War I,  and in gratitude for their safe arrival in Ireland, erected a statue of Jesus on the hillside near the abbey.

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You can read more about their history here:

http://www.irishidentity.com/extras/clergy/stories/kylemore.htm

 

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And so I am at the end of my narrative about our visit to this beautiful historic site in which the nuns continue to live and care for the property.  With nothing more to say, I will leave you with a few more photographs of this tranquil place:

 

Céad Míle Fáilte – A Hundred Thousand Welcomes to Ireland

Before I begin with Ireland, I will insert part of the fireworks display from the 4th of July in Denmark.  Since any followers have already read that post, it is probably best to insert it here, as well as inserting it back into the 4th of July post for any future followers, so here goes:

And now that I’ve added the video, I can continue on to Ireland. The best I could do without arriving in Ireland too late in the day was a 7am flight , so off we went in a taxi at 4am to the Cardiff Airport, flying in another small plane to Edinburgh where we had a 3 hour layover,  after which we finally landed at Knock Airport.

Two hours later by taxi, we arrived at our destination – the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel in Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. The countryside was just as green as it appears in photographs – absolutely gorgeous. We also passed fields of grazing sheep, and I noted that patches of their wool had been dyed (in one farm they were bright pink and in another, pink and blue) to denote who their owners were.

The Abbeyglen was a beautiful building from another era, made of stone and lovely woodwork the likes of which you don’t see these days in modern buildings. The dining room was very elegant and our room made us feel like we were in someone’s home rather than a hotel, with a large bedroom and sitting room complete with a day bed and couch.

One thing I did notice here, as well as London, Wales and Scotland was that the showers did not have a glass shield all the way around the tub. A glass “door” only went half the length of the tub and it had to be angled in to keep the water from going all over the floor.

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Entrance and front of the hotel

and a very curious edifice close to the hotel building

Across the street from the hotel was an inlet that turned out to be part of the Atlantic Ocean, so when the tide came it appeared to be a lake, and when the tide went out again, it was a large mud flat.

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It reminded me of when I was in Cameroon with a British charity. We had stayed in a small hotel right on the beach before heading inland. Before going to bed the waves came right up to the small retaining wall at the edge of the lawn. In the morning I was astonished to see people out on the rocks for quite a distance in what had been the ocean the night before.  I had grown up on Long Island in New York State, but had been away from the sea for so long that I had forgotten about the tides! Another thing that was different was the orientation of North vs South; on Long Island, looking out at the Atlantic, north was to the left and south to the right, but on the other side of the ocean north was now to the right and south to the left.

Clifden was a beautiful small town and you could walk around the perimeter in no time at all. Many restaurants,  bars, beauty shops, jewelry stores and a BOOKSTORE!  I was in heaven, and browsed and finally bought 4 books – one of which, of course, was “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” With electronic books taking over, it is becoming more and more difficult to find paper books and book stores, at least in the United States.

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We did walk over to the post office, which was quite tiny. I had been hoping to send the bottle of Akvavit that I had purchased in the duty-free shop in Denmark to my son in Denver, however it was a no-go – at 45% alcohol, it was too potent to go through the mail.  If it had been a much smaller percentage of alcohol, it would have been ok.

However, what we COULD send were gifts we had bought and Brenna’s prom dress and fancy shoes back to her mother in New York. Problem was, the post office didn’t sell boxes, so we had to go next door to the stationery store to purchase a shipping box, then return to the post office and send it off.

Since I had already opened the sealed duty-free bag in which the alcohol was packaged, I needed lots of bubble wrap so that I could put the bottle in my checked suitcase for our next flight.  Unfortunately, the stationery store was out of bubble wrap. They kept telling me “it will be delivered later in the day” and “it will be delivered tomorrow” but that never happened.  We did go into a supermarket across the street and I noticed an employee putting bottles of wine on the shelf, so I asked if they happened to have bubble wrap from their deliveries of wine. Sure enough they did – she was very nice and went under the counter to give me as much as I wanted.

In the morning, we also went looking for a good place for Brenna to get a haircut, and inquired from some of the local people where to go. We finally found a highly-recommended shop and Brenna took her seat for a haircut, and also decided to get highlights. With all her hair, the cut took quite a while, and by then it was time for lunch. The beautician said that we should just go get something to eat and would let us pay for the cut just yet, saying she knew we would be back.

After lunch, we returned and a few hours later, Brenna had her cut and highlights. She had been talking with the beautician during the cut and mentioned that this trip was her 16th birthday gift, so when Brenna tried her best to give her a tip, she absolutely refused and wished her a happy birthday. Everyone we met here in Clifden was so incredibly nice, it was like we were home and they were family….

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Brenna with her new  ‘do

and, of course, eating more salmon

     We did more wandering around and found a shop with, among other things, wool clothing. Poor Brenna still hadn’t found a hat that she fancied, but I found one:

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and so we went back to the hotel.

And now for a little backstory about the Abbeyglen.  I knew when planning this trip that I wanted to go to Ireland, but not sure exactly where to go. My step-daughter, Brenna’s mother, suggested that we go here. Brenna’s great-grandparents had gone and her parents had gone there also, so we would be carrying on a family tradition.

Unbeknownst to Brenna, her mother had called ahead to let the staff know we would be coming and it was for her 16th birthday, and so they planned a surprise for her. Well, it was supposed to be a surprise, but before the waiter brought her cake, he talked with me about MY birthday, and I had to say “No, it’s my granddaughter’s birthday.” Oops!

But it was to be brought out imminently anyway, so no harm done:

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And so, that will end my post for today. The next article will be all about Kylemore Abbey and further adventures around Clifden. Until next time……………….

Cardiff, Wales – A Tale of Two Doctors

This whirlwind European trip was a 16th birthday present to my granddaughter, Brenna.  For years, she had been promised a trip when she turned 16. At first, she wanted to go to Australia, and I had already promised that she could pick the country to which she wanted to go. When she kept insisting on Australia, I told her mother that since half the cost of the trip would probably be the tickets, it would not be as many days as it could have been.

Then one day, I received a call from my step-daughter, Brenna’s mother. She said that Brenna was a big Doctor Who fan, and she had discovered that there were Doctor Who tours in the U.K., so Brenna then decided that she would rather go to the U.K.  And so, we were bound for Europe instead of across the Pacific to Australia.

It turned out that there were Doctor Who tours in two different cities – a bus tour and a walking tour in Cardiff and a walking tour in London, so I signed us up for all three. So off we went from Denmark to Wales via Amsterdam – two flights in a small plane that wasn’t pressurized as well as the larger commercial planes.

At altitude and more severely upon descent I experienced excruciating pain from my left inner eyebrow to my temporal-mandibular joint and behind my ear. I couldn’t hear in my left ear, and in addition I had severe low back pain to the point where I could barely walk. We made it by taxi to our hotel, where I learned that the local urgent care center was closed for the night but would open in the morning. I decided that I could wait until morning to go there, then had a room-service dinner.

In the morning, we took a taxi to the “GP” which is what they call their urgent care center and there I met the first doctor of today’s blog title. I was told that since I am not enrolled in the NHS that I would have to pay for the visit.  The cost of the visit was          40 British Pounds Sterling – about $52 USD.

The doctor gave me a thorough examination and I was prescribed Amoxicillin for my ear problem (bloody inside, pain and still couldn’t hear) and Tylenol with Codeine15/500 for pain. Went to the chemist (pharmacy), they charged me a little over 10 Pounds (about $13 USD), and then dispensed the Amoxicillin and a box of 100 (ONE HUNDRED) Tylenol/Codeine pills!!!!!  With all the controversy in the United States about prescription pain medication abuse and addiction, I couldn’t believe it and said I would only need about 4 pills, but the one hundred was what was dispensed.  I did end up only using 4 pills, and gave the rest to a doctor to donate to a hospital or clinic.

While I rested and recovered in our room, Brenna walked around Cardiff, and visited a fair that we had not heard about before we arrived. I admired the view from our balcony, which was right on the harbor, looking out onto the water and at a family of swans who swam daily among the lily pads.

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I also decided to take advantage of their lovely afternoon tea. I had a great seat by the window, was served my choice of tea and a nice assortment of cakes and sandwiches.

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In the morning, I definitely wasn’t up to taking a walking tour, and so called the organizer, Brit Movie Tours, to see if they would allow Brenna to go by herself, since she would be with a group of people. Since she was not 18 years old, they said no, so we had to skip the walking tour, but we DID take the bus tour. There was some walking involved in the bus tour, but the tour guide said I could remain on the bus for those parts

We met at the Millenium Center, and she was quite easy to spot, as you can see from her photo (hint: it’s her dress that gave her away).

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Signposts

The Welsh written language seems to have a lot of “w’s” and “y’s” and not too many vowels.

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The Millenium Center with its copper-colored roof

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Our tour guide. 

     The bus would stop at designated spots and our guide would hold up photographs of scenes from Doctor Who, indicating that those scenes were shot where we were standing at that time.

At one point, we stopped at the bottom of a hill and all the other passengers disembarked to climb the hill, but I remained on the bus and rode up to the top. There I found the ruins of a cathedral.

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and a war memorial

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We also stopped at a mill in which wheat was ground.

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After the tour we wandered around the harbor and attended the fair, which included tents with many types of food and crafts. And the next day, we continued wandering about, exploring the areas around the harbor.

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Brenna relaxed by going to the amusement park that had been set up, going on many of the rides while I relaxed in the shade. We then continued on our way, looking for a restaurant in which we could have dinner, and stumbled upon Ianto’s Shrine, from a spinoff of the Doctor Who program.

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and then stumbled upon another Doctor Who landmark, the American Diner in which some of the scenes took place:

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photograph of the actors in the diner

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the booth in which the actors played their scene

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Our final night, we returned to a restaurant on the waterfront where we had had dinner the night before. The food was excellent, and the staff was very friendly, so we decided to eat there again and were not disappointed.

Since we had a 7am flight the next morning, and had to leave the hotel around 4am to make the flight, we packed out suitcases and went to bed early. Ireland would be our next stop with nothing in particular planned – so we were going to have 4 days to chill out after long plane rides, 5- and 6-hour time zone changes and zipping from one country to the next.

So – next stop, Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland!