Pancho’s Takos


We had planned to go to one of our favorite restaurants, Café de Olla, on our last night here in Puerto Vallarta.  However, we made a tactical blunder and ate way too much food at a late lunch at Café 105 aka Claire and Dave’s room.  Rather than stick with our original plan and end up eating to the point to massive discomfort and drinking to the point of unseemly silliness at de Olla, we went, instead, to another favorite restaurant, Pancho’s Takos.

Pancho’s Takos is a little hole-in-the-wall joint on one of the main drags in Puerto Vallarta.  It is always packed and typically has a ridiculously long line extending down the sidewalk.  Once seated, you are crammed around tiny tables in fairly uncomfortable chairs.  The noise level from the assembled diners, would be diners and passersby is perilously close to deafening. What’s the attraction? you might well ask.

The answer would be that the food is particularly tasty and very inexpensive; the customers are all jolly and having a fine old time; and the staff, primarily nice looking young men, is incredible.  They weave their way through the crammed tables taking orders, carrying trays of food, gripping giant margaritas in a form of organized chaos that is a delight to watch.  It’s street theater at the cost of a couple of tacos.

I’m happy to say that our little group was able to contribute to the theatrics. As you might notice from the attached photos, Michael and David wore (intentionally) their matching shirts from that fine haberdashery, Costco of Palm Springs.

From the moment they boarded the bus at Costa Sur until we were seated at Pancho’s Takos, they were turning heads.  I like to think in a good way; after all, it takes very self confident men to carry off “samies” with such aplomb.

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Whales and Whirlygigs


My lack of posts is indicative of our lazy days here in Puerto Vallarta.

For several days, we had quite a bit of whale watching action right here at Costa Sur. In fact, one day as I sat reading some novel or another I watched as three whales shot into the air simultaneously not that far off our beach.  Close enough that I could see the beasts and their markings very clearly.  For those of you who know how short sighted I am even with my new cataract free eyes, you know how close that must have been.

Other people have seen large manta rays very close in and veritable frenzies of mating sting rays also very close in.  I, however, have not seen any of the ray action.

Yesterday, eight of us did a whale watching tour with Jose.  It was fun but we didn’t see any whales until almost three hours into the boat ride . . . smallish boat, good chop and swells on the water.  We were soaked from the spray but the whales did perform for us and I guess that made it worth while.  No photos of whales to show.  I didn’t even bring my camera on this trip and Michael’s iPhone’s camera just isn’t up to the job.  It was a great outing nonetheless.

One day, on a walk on the Malecon, we saw a large group of small children who were, I believe, somehow involved with the Mexican Red Cross.  The kids were dressed as nurses and doctors.  Sadly, almost all of the girls were dressed as nurses and all of the boys as doctors.  They were cuter than heck anyway.

This evening, Sunday, we walked on the Malecon to see all of the families who are out and about.  It was lovely.  A nice sunset, a slight breeze, not too humid and the temperature was perfectly pleasant.

Tomorrow is our last full day here.  It has been a delightful break from a Pacific Northwest winter.

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The Day of the Iguana


Local color

It would seem that Puerto Vallarta first came to prominance as a tourist destination as a result of being the location for filming 1964’s “The Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton, who was accompanied by his not-yet-wife-but-already-lover Elizabeth Taylor.  I have to confess that I have never seen the movie but I certainly have seen the reptiles* for which it was named.

On two days during our semi-early morning walks in town, we have seen multiple iguanas in one particular grove of trees near the mouth of the river.  They are close enough to be seen but far enough away not to startle or be startled, although they don’t seem to be the type of animal to startle easily.  I did see one move ever so slowly but that was about it in terms of activity.  I know that the appearance of these creatures is not unusual but it was the first time I’d seen them, so, I was pretty excited.  Check that off my to do list.

Cousins Claire and Dave arrived yesterday evening.  They are travel phenoms; or are they just crazy?  They arrived back in California from a month in Southeast Asia on Saturday and now they are in Mexico.  I may have to take a nap just thinking about that schedule.  But, phenoms or crazy, we’re glad they’re here because we love spending time with them.

*I had to look up iguana to find out what type of animal it was.  I thought it might be an amphibian but it is not.  I now know that an easy way to tell reptiles and amphibians apart is to notice whether the animal has scales:  Scales = reptile; No scales = amphibian.  Using that simple definition, however, I, too, could be considered an amphibian as I don’t want to get anywhere near a scale!

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Stay Calm; You’re on the Inside of the Wall


One of Michael’s favorite things: Riding the bus into town

Last night’s entertainment was “The Tenors.”  Not quite Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras, but pretty darned good. The dinner buffet theme for the night was Italian, so, the music was semi-appropriate.  I still think that no one (but no one) does “Unchained Melody” better than Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers but these three guys made a good effort.

It was very pleasant to go to sleep to the sound of the surf breaking on the rocks below our 5th-floor balcony and equally pleasant to wake up to it.  A good night’s sleep is always a surprise and a delight on the first night of a vacation.

This morning we made the trek to the Ley grocery store to purchase supplies.  Took the local bus into town, then made a long walk to the store, with a detour at La Campanario café for a scrumptious breakfast of chilaquiles (?) with eggs and bacon.  Super yummy if you like that sort of  thing, which we do.  Took a taxi back with our multitude of bags.  It’s hard to believe we will need all that stuff for our ten day stay but I bet we manage to get through it all.

Michael is playing water volleyball as I write this post.  Very ambitious.  Me, I’m just going to gather up my book and my watercolor paraphernalia and mosey down to find a shaded chaise.  That should keep me occupied and happy until happy hour rolls around.


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We Have Arrived


Sunset from our balcony at Costa Sur

After a not-too-long day, we have arrived in Puerto Vallarta for our short sun break.

We left Portland this morning at 7:40;  it was pouring rain, a typical northwest winter day.  We were on a nonstop flight to Puerto Vallarta.  There was a family of four in the row behind us.  I think the daughters must have been no more than 6 and 3 years old.  As we took off and headed into the sky, the older daughter, who was sitting by the window, kept saying to her dad, “this is amazing!! This is wonderful! This is amazing!  Good bye Portland for eight days.”  It was so darned cute and made one realize how exciting travel should be.

We bounced all over the sky for about 90 minutes.  Michael was NOT thrilled!!  Even the flight attendants were buckled into their jump seats during this period.  Needless to say, people were getting antsy.  The wanted their early morning boozy drinks with which to begin their Mexican holidays.  They wanted to have some snacks.  They really wanted to use the bathrooms!!

Michael and I were fine having had a nutritious breakfast of toasted English muffins and Sugar Frosted Flakes at the Portland airport Clarion Hotel and having taken advantage of the bathrooms during the ten minutes after the seat belt signs went off and before they came back on.

I must admit, however, that when the in-flight service began, I was very happy to add a mini-bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream to my morning coffee.  I discovered that one of the advantages of my exalted status of MVP Gold is that one can get a complimentary boozy drink even if seated in the main cabin.  Boy, that makes paying for all those business class tickets worthwhile.

Arrival in Puerto Vallarta was just a few minutes late and we sort of zipped through passport control only to be held up at baggage retrieval by the very late appearance of my suitcase.  It did arrive, however, so I’m not complaining.

It’s beautiful here, warm and sunny.  We made it to the resort, Costa Sur, well in time for the happy hour doubly strong margaritas. Hooray!!  We are now, at 7:08 p.m., back in our room and I’m thinking an early night might be in order.  Did I mention that the happy hour drinks have twice the alcohol?

Tomorrow morning we will venture into town for a grocery supply run; we like to have breakfast and lunch here at the resort in our room and then splash out for dinner somewhere, if not fabulous, at least interesting.

One of the lovely things about coming here is that we have met so many of Claire and Dave’s friends that when we head down to the pool area we are guaranteed to see some very nice people with whom to visit. This afternoon it was Linda and Steve.  It was fun catching up with them.  Makes us feel a little bit at home, which is nice when you are so far away from your actual home.

More later.

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Final Food for Thoughts and Thoughts on Food


Tuna pizza at Eurofoccacia in Terni

As we are packing up all of our things, which have managed to migrate to the far corners of our little home from home, I am reflecting on our time here in Europe for the past month.  I told someone before we left that it was going to be grand.  And, in spite of subpar health, it has been.  It’s wonderful to explore an area at a different time of the year and Christmas is a particularly jolly time to be out and about.

From the wonders of Vienna to the decadence of a Christmas Market river cruise to the comfortable simplicity of our time in Umbria, this trip has had everything:  Snow, rain and sun; wiener schnitzel, coulibiac and ravioli; cosmopolitans, gluhwein and pear cider; jumbo jets, horse-drawn wagons and river boats; opera arias, organ concerts and Christmas carols.  But best of all, this trip has had people:  Husband, cousins, friends that came along with us, friends we reconnected with over here and friends we made once we had arrived.

But as is always the case for us, once our thoughts and faces have begun to turn homewards, we just want to be there.  We will be leaving Narni in a few hours to head for Rome.  Before we get there, however, we plan to have lunch at a little restaurant we discovered the last time we were here.  I’m looking forward to their polenta, which wasn’t available in the summer.  I’m also trying to decide if my appetite will be robust enough to justify ordering their white pizza as an appetizer.  Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Rome tonight then British Airways tomorrow to London and then on to Seattle.  One night in Seattle and a drive south to Salem and home.  It has been grand but it’s going to be great to be home.


A Narni Santa Claus

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Morning Has Broken

Well, today’s title is a skosh ahead of itself.  It’s 5:45 a.m. and dawn is still a way off but I am up, so, for me morning is here.

I haven’t been a particularly good correspondent since Christmas.  Maybe my lack of writing can be chalked up to end-of-the-trip blues;  we head to Rome tomorrow afternoon for flights home on Saturday.  Or, perhaps lack of inspiration is a side effect of our continued less-than-stellar health situation; all of us are hacking and blowing and suffering from varying degrees of cold misery.  Or, it might be that there just hasn’t been anything to write about. NO!! That is most definitely not the case.

December 26th is a holiday here: St. Stefano’s Day.  Many businesses were closed but not cafés or restaurants or certain sights.  We decided to drive over towards Greccio to visit the Sanctuary of St. Francis.  It seemed as if half of Umbria had the same idea.    It is a tiny place and cars were parked in every nook and cranny in the diminutive parking lot and on the sides of the narrow road that led up to the place.  Michael found a spot for our long Opel station wagon and skillfully maneuvered the car into it.

In spite of all of the cars and all of the people, once we were inside the sanctuary itself, it wasn’t crowded.  There are quite a few walking trails around the sanctuary and many of the people must have been out on them.  As it has on past visits, the sanctuary, with its ancient (13th century) dormitory consisting of seven or eight minuscule cells and the tiny chapel all constructed from ancient, dark, worm-eaten wood, is moving in its simplicity and antiquity.  One can imagine a few good men living and praying together there.

Contrast that experience with what we saw yesterday in Assisi and one can’t help but wonder: What would this apparently humble man, who walked from place to place with nothing but a coarse robe and faith, have made of the basilicas constructed after his death to honor him?

We began yesterday’s outing to Assisi early for us at 8:15; we wanted to take advantage of as much daylight as possible.  What we hadn’t counted on, although we saw it was forecast, was the RAIN.  Oh my gosh!  Our weather has been perfect for our entire trip but yesterday was determined to make up for it.  This rain was like the worst northwest winter gully washer rains.

By the time we had walked from our parking place at Piazza Mattiotti to the Basilica of San Francesco (possibly on opposite ends of the town), we were well and truly soaked. The trouble with raincoats is that if they don’t reach the ground or if you don’t also have rain pants, they only keep half of you dry.  Our pants were sodden and our shoes were squelchy as we entered the lower basilica.  Good news:  Everyone else was in the same boat . . . although that might not be a very apt expression in this context.

The basilicas did not disappoint; the paintings are still breathtaking.  No photos allowed, which is the reason for the lack of photos in this blog.* At least no photos allowed for those who saw and heeded the signs.  Others were busily clicking away.

Whenever we go to Assisi, I tell myself that the next time I am going to find out how one goes about having one of the monks take you around explaining what it is you are seeing.  Alas, I still haven’t done it.  Good news:  Something to look forward to  on another trip.

Because of the sogginess of the day and because Michael was feeling particularly poorly, after our basilica visit, we took time only for a coffee and tea break before slogging home.  It rained harder on the way home than it had on the way over.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible.

*I include this one photo taken at the Sanctuary of St. Francis in September 2016.  This same nun was working in the gift shop on Tuesday.  Michael showed her this photo and told her when it had been taken.  She was very happy to see that we had returned.



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Christmas Day in Narni

8B7BB56C-15B3-45D2-A900-442B95E1CFA6I know this isn’t Santa Claus or even St. Nikolaus but he looked like a Christmas guy to me when I saw him in the Orvieto cathedral.  For that reason, he will have to act as stand in.  Some of you out there can probably identify him; that’s what I get for having smart friends.  But don’t tell me, at least not yet.


Another beautiful Narni daybreak for Christmas. Lots of lovely colors in the sky, on the hills and reflected on the shutters.  We planned on not exchanging gifts, which dramatically reduced the stress oftentimes associated with this time of year.  Of course, what could  be a better gift than just being here.

Michael took a very slow approach to the morning but Joan and I were up and walking by 11 a.m..  But perhaps that qualifies as a rather slow start to the day as well. Lots was going on in town.  But first a slight digression; only slight because it was one of the things going on in town.

In Narni, putting the trash out is quite complicated. We have containers for:  Glass, without bags; Plastic and Metal, without bags; Paper, without bags; Organic, with bags; and, Residual, with bags. A pickup schedule is on the refrigerator and, although it says it is the schedule for June through September, it’s all we have for guidance.  When we asked our host, he told us to look out the window in the evening to see what our neighbors are doing.

Between the schedule and the peeking, we seem to be doing okay.  Paper is picked up on Mondays.  We didn’t have enough to put out on our first Monday but today our container overfloweth.  But it’s Christmas Day; surely, garbage does not get picked up on Christmas Day.  We peeked last night and no one on our end of the street had put out the blue containers, so, we didn’t either.

Not surprisingly, therefore, when Joan and I stepped out the front door this morning and saw a city garbage truck picking up paper, we were shocked!! What kind of country is this that makes its sanitation workers work on Christmas Day? The sanitation workers apparently take a relaxed approach to Christmas duty because by the time we made it up the hill and popped into a little café/bar, two of the workers were inside enjoying a holiday glass of wine.

Both Joan and I were wearing Christmas jewelry that blinked and flashed and I believe we made quite the fashion statement.  The young woman who made our coffee was curious as to where one might purchase such finery.  She may have been relieved when we said the United States.

Plenty of people were wandering the streets.  People with festive bags perhaps going to grandmother’s house, people well padded with furs perhaps out just to be seen, even a couple of guys with reindeer horn head gear bundling tiny children out of a house.

We discovered that all the little baby Jesuses who were missing from the crèches had miraculously appeared overnight . . . right on cue.  We even exchanged “buon Natales” with a couple of priestly men outside of the cathedral.  And, of course, while all this wandering up and down was going on, we were serenaded by the sound of recorded American secular Christmas carols.  Does this mean that there are no Italian secular Christmas carols.  It’s hard to believe that if such things exist the American version is preferred.

Back to a warming bowl of tortellini in brodo.

Merry Christmas to you all.

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La Vigilia di Natale


Christmas Eve, Stroncone Umbria

Otherwise known as Christmas Eve.  December 24th is when most of the Christmas action takes place in Italy.  It is the night of the big meal (featuring plenty of fish) and it is when presents are exchanged.  Because we had ordered a complete Christmas Eve dinner from our fresh pasta shop and because none of us are exchanging gifts, we had no pressure to do anything in particular today.

This morning, we went to Massimo’s for a few things that we might need in the next couple of days and then went to Pasta Fresca Valeria to pick up our food,* which consisted of:

Gamberoni in salsa verde (big shrimp in green sauce)

Insalata di polpo (octopus salad)

Capesante gratinate (gratineed scallops)

Insalata russa (Russian salad – potatoes, carrots, peas, etc. in mayonnaise)

Parmigiana di gobbi (cardoon parmesan)

Rotolo di tacchino  con porcini e tartufa (rolled up turkey stuffed with mushrooms and truffles)

And, we bought tortellini and chicken broth for Christmas Day.

We’ve already had the parmigiana (YUM) and some of the octopus and Russian salads (also YUM).  Later this evening we will tackle some of the other options.

Before we began eating, however, we took a short drive over to Stroncone to wander the narrow streets of its medieval center.  Not a person to be seen BUT at the tobacchi (tobacco store) on the main little square there was a 2/3’s size Santa . . . singing American Christmas songs and moving its hips in the manner of Elvis.  It was quite bizarre and the oddest thing was that at the end of its routine it said “happy holidays.”  Joan and Michael had been discussing the happy holidays v. Merry Christmas issue earlier this morning.

We made friends with one of the several cats that were patrolling the village.  They all looked very well fed and very well insulated.

* I should mention that we also stopped at the pastry shop and picked up a few lovely things there, too. And that would be in addition to the panettone we bought there yesterday.


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On Our Own Without Our Driver


Morning from the sofa, Narni

Michael’s cough has gotten better, then worse, then better.  We made another trip up the hill to the farmacia and, after explaining his symptoms to another pharmacist, obtained a new kind of syrup. This one designed to relax the bronchial passageways, maybe.

Anyway, Michael decided a day at home was called for and Joan and I decided a day out was on our agendas.  The upshot was that for the first time in years, I drove the car in Italy.  I really can’t remember the last time that happened.  I’ll admit to being a tiny bit apprehensive but I needn’t have been as all went just as one might have imagined.  No problem.  Just one small misturning but since we were still headed in the correct direction only on a road running parallel to the one intended, I think I can almost treat it as no mistake at all.

We went to Orvieto to marvel at the cathedral and marvel we did.  Every cathedral and church is unique.  Some are quietly elegant, some are a bit rough around their edges, some overwhelm with gilding.  Orvieto is just gorgeous.  The exterior is covered in splendid mosaics, very refined bas reliefs, and supported by the most exquisite columns.  Well, not really supported, of course, but lots of columns, including the twisted, mosaic inlaid one shown below.

The first photo below reminds me of a comic book; three panels with an uncompleted conversation balloon in the panel on the right.  I just kept wondering what she was supposed to be saying.

Along the same lines, in the big scene of bad people going to bad places, I couldn’t help but wonder why the one guy’s butt was green.  Only his butt.  Does it mean that he isn’t quite a fully formed demon?  Or is it just bad meat?  I’ll never know.

Another feature of this particular cathedral is that many of the windows are not leaded or stained glass but consist of very thin sheets of alabaster. Sunlight coming through them creates a beautiful golden glow.

Joan and I were the last people out of the cathedral before its 1 p.m. closing time.  The huge doors were locked behind us with a great noise.

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