Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lima, Peru

I'm sitting in the VIP lounge in the airport in Lima, Peru. I'm not usually a VIP at the airport, and I am entirely grateful for the spread of juice and snacks and coffee, since my midnight flight to Atlanta has been postponed until 3 am, and by then I will have been here for six hours.

Lima is a good city, at least the parts of it that I saw. It charmed me and reminded me why I had fallen in love with South America almost ten years ago.

It is winter here now, and the skies have been uniformly overcast since I've been here, but there has been almost no rain, just a London-like mist once in a while. Not enough for an umbrella, just enough to be romantic for the first 15 minutes and to be annoying thereafter. The weather is cool, but the humidity makes it feel like the mist gets under your clothes to stay there and torment you all day. The weather makes the city feel comfortably melancholy.

I always love to look at the architecture when I ride in cars around a new city. A city's architecture and geography are like the lines and expressions of a face -- in them, you can see the story, illustrated. In Lima, most of the buildings are the same rebar-concrete-tile concotions that populate lower and middle class neighborhoods worldwide. Colorful paint and careful gardens do nothing to make these boxy things elegant. They cram together on the road almost fearfully, suspiciously. But then you get the pleasure of seeing the coy little post-colonial or 19th century house, peeking out from the phalanx with a wink of dramatic windows and doorframes. That is the reward for keeping one's face to the taxi window.

Our office is in the Miraflores municipality of Lima. This area is mostly a shopping district, with some cool stores and restaurants, some things for tourists, and some hotels. It isn't bad, but it isn't the place you'd want to live, necessarily, although it is a chic neighborhood. I stayed in the La Paz Aparthotel, and recommend it, except for the atrocious coffee. They were very friendly. I had a basic suite, with a kitchenette and stocked minifridge. Miraflores has a few nice antique shops, so if that is your thing, check out the places on La Paz, just in front of the hotel. It is safe to walk around, even to a reasonable hour at night, as long as you keep your city wits about you. A place I highly recommend for a drink and light Cuban food is the Club de Habana, on Manuel Bonilla. It is actually run by a young Cuban guy, and the clientele is friendly, the decor warm and comfy, and the food is great. Just next door, they have a gallery space where they show work from local artists.

A colleague took me to Barranco, a part of town with more historic buildings and a reputation for a bohemian culture. I could imagine the bohemians of Lima concocting their schemes for bringing down the dictatorship in cafes, smoking endless cigarettes. We walked all over the area, which is beautiful, especially in the early evening, and stopped finally for a drink at a cool place called Posada del Angel. It is full of strange antiques and painted riotous colors. The food is good, but the service is painfully slow. It is worth a trip, though. Also, all along the aqueduct, there are little restaurants where you can get a good meal, just like hundreds of tourists visiting the beach before you for decades past. We also went shopping, of course, to a lovely but expensive store called Dedalo. Local artists sell their craft work there -- not your typical artisan crafts, but more modern, high-quality, home decor stuff. It is expensive, but they have very nice things.

The next day, we went to a museum of Peru's history (I was ill, so I don't remember the name of the museum). It is in the San Isidro section of town, which is a flat stretch of little one- and two-story houses around plazas. The museum is in the home of Simon Bolivar in Lima, which is huge. It is very well curated for a museum of its type, and has all kinds of cool exhibits from the pre-Incan cultures to the present. I loved the textiles they had, and was fascinated by the most recent exhibit on the Fujumori years. I recommend a trip there if you get a chance -- but wear comfortable shoes, as it is big and you could easily spend a couple of hours there. After the museum, cross the street to the old tavern and get a Cusquena beer. We didn't because I felt horrible, but supposedly it is nice. This tavern is one of the oldest in Lima, continually operating.

So, on the whole, it was a good trip. The proposal went ok, everyone in the office was great, good hotel, interesting city. I recommend a trip to Lima.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Pennsylvania Road Trip Vacation

Since July 4th is all about the United States’ independence and being patriotic, the Professor and I planned a domestic vacation. His parents invited us to hang out with them in a cabin in Cook Forest for a couple days, during which time we could visit with some of their family. We decided to take the long way up and a longer way back, to see some more of the state.

On the way up, we took 83 to Shrewsbury, where we stopped at the Shrewsbury Antique Center. The Center is packed with really great vendors, selling everything from old farm tools to old books to old clothes. If you like antiques, you should make a side trip there on your way into PA.

We also stopped at Homan’s General Store. The Professor took advantage of their coffee, and I wandered around to see what they sold. Being in there, I could imagine what it would be like to live in a small town and go to the store, where you knew the kid who worked there and his family.

The next stop was the Penn State Creamery. Go there. They serve the best ice cream ever – and I’ve had a lot of ice cream in my life! Penn State’s Food Science program runs the Creamery, where they sell ice cream, milk, cheese, yogurt, and other milk products, as well as snacks and coffee. It is all very high quality, and I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed our Bittersweet Mint and Coffee with chocolate chips. My Mom would have loved the Mint, because it has the shaved chocolate instead of chips that she loved. We liked it so much, we returned on our way back for more ice cream, cheese, and iced tea. Yum.

We rolled out of the creamery in the direction of the Bellefonte KOA, where we pitched our tent. The campground was packed with RVs spewing noisy, excited kids. We followed the imps to the pool and took a swim. There was this one kid who kept doing cannonballs and other fancy jumps into the pool. Over and over, in, out, run jump, laugh. He was having a great time, and instead of being annoying, as those things sometimes can be, it was really fun to watch, and reminded us of how much fun we had doing the same thing as kids.

After cleaning up and relaxing for a bit, we went to The Tavern Restaurant in State College for dinner. It reminded me of the Townhouse in Media a little bit. The service and the food were good. I enjoyed my Cajun chicken, and the Professor had good pork loin. We highly recommend the spinach salad. In spite of the good food, though, I think that this place had the worst wine list I have ever seen. Most places that don’t have a good wine selection don’t bother to put it on a list, but this place unabashedly waved its horrid wine selection in one’s face. Get a Pilsner, instead.

Breakfast the next morning was fabulous. We went down to Bellefonte, a cute Victorian town, and ate at Jabco’s Mill Race Café. The Professor had fluffy pancakes and I had French toast, both of which were great. It was our waitress’s first day at work, and she did a great job. We ate outside on the porch overlooking the mill race, which was really pleasant. The café is next to the railroad, just across from the visitor’s center.

On our way up to Cook’s Forest, we stopped by Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery. The drive to the vineyard was beautiful, following small roads through outrageous green fields and trees. We tried several wines, which were ok. We liked the bought a few bottles, including one bottle of their blueberry wine. Now, I’m not usually into fruit wines, but this one, made only of blueberries, no grapes, was actually really nice, and will make a great desert wine on a summer evening.

We arrived at the cabin in Cook’s Forest for dinner of barbeque and a fun evening of hanging out around the fire roasting marshmallows and playing games. We stayed in the cabin with the Professor’s parents and brother and sister-in-law and their baby. The little guy is so cute! He is almost walking, and crawls at turbo speed, giggling and chattering to everyone along the way.

While in Clarion County, PA, we visited with various members of the family of the Mother of the Professor. They were all very nice and welcoming people. I had been worried that I would feel like I was on display, but I actually felt very accepted and welcomed. Most of the family still lives in the area, some in the ancestral family homes, and some just meters away from their parents and siblings. One of the Professor’s Aunts is an expert quilter. When we went to visit her, she showed us some of the things she had done recently. They were really beautiful.

On the fourth of July, we all packed into the cars and drove to the Lucinda Church Picnic. The Church, St. Joseph, hosts a fair and dinner each year, and has done so now for over 60 years. In the Church parking lot, booths provided ample opportunity to “donate” money, with a chance to win everything from quilts to camp chairs to baked goods.

We bought some raffle tickets for the quilt raffle, put in a few bids on the Chinese auction for camp chairs and a big tent, and then the Professor, that intrepid gambler that he is, won us a loaf of lemon poppyseed bread at the baked goods stand! It is yummy.

The dinner was a true experience. Each person buys a numbered ticket for $6.50. if you want to sit with your friends or family, you need to make sure that your ticket numbers are close, because they seat by number, filling up the tables again as people finish eating. We waited until about 13 members of the family were around, and went in with the 500 group.

Inside, the hall is full of long tables, all set with homemade noodle soup, water, and bread. The noodle soup is a big hit in Lucinda, and there were signs everywhere outside, announcing that the soup was not available for separate sale this year. It lived up to its reputation! Perfectly salty and warm and delicious. The bread was good, too.

The menu for the dinner:
Wheat bread
Homemade noodle soup
Mashed potatoes
Roasted chicken

And the pies. When you walk into the hall, before you sit down, you select your slice of pie. There are more types of homemade pie than you can imagine. I had my first-ever strawberry rhubarb pie, and the Professor had cherry. Oh, it was good. All of the food was wonderful, and we tottered out of the hall full to bursting and happy.

That evening, we went over to Wolfe's Corners fair with the family to watch a horse pull. This was a truly cultural experience; both the Professor and I felt as though we were in a different country. Work horses, which stand several feet taller than an average man, are harnessed to a sled that is piled with concrete blocks. They compete to see which team of two can pull the most weight for 27 feet of distance. I think that they topped off near 7,800 pounds or something. It was amazing. These horses were straining and sweating and beautiful, and they generally worked in tandem with three men controlling the reigns and the metal rigging that connected them to the sled.

It was interesting to watch the people. We were, as far as I could tell, the only people there taking photos. Most of the men wore jeans, some wore work shirts or t-shirts, a few were shirtless, and many had beards or other facial hair. The women were dressed in a variety of ways, from conservative to small and tight approximations of hiphop video dancers. It was fun, and we rooted for a horse team that we liked, and were satisfied that they did well, and another team that we liked won.

I highly recommend a trip to Cook’s Forest. The forst itself is beautiful, you can rent a nice cabin (from Vince, owner of Stone Crest cabins and the Briar Hill furniture place), and do all sorts of outdoor-type activities. Stone Crest has great cabins.

We took an even longer way back, down 80 to Lewisburg, where we took 15 south to Selinsgrove, and found our way to the Foxboro B&B. I had called a number of B&Bs on the way, and this one was the cheapest and the woman seemed nice. It looked convenient to our next-day activities, so we went with it.

The B&B is in a modular log cabin home, which was very nice. Too nice. The Professor even thought that it was spooky how nothing was out of place and everything was insanely clean. Then we figured out that the owners were evangelical Christians, and that most of the people who passed through the place shared that bent. Well, then it was freaky, but still really nice. The Weavers seem like perfectly nice people, and Mrs. Weaver’s breakfast was delicious. But that almost makes it worse, because even then, everything was “just so”. It was a nice place to stay, but I wish that we had known about the religious thing before we went. Plus, she doesn’t take credit cards, which was a little annoying.

That night we had dinner at BJ’s Barbeque. We don’t recommend the BJ’s Ale, but the food was good. The plates are loaded, so share a meal – no healthy person should be able to eat that much in one sitting. Try the Frickles.

After breakfast, we circled back north on 15, across 45 to Mifflinburg, hitting some farmers’ markets and whatnot on the way.

Before we reached Miffilnburg, we went to the Joseph Priestly House. Dr. Priestly was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson and was known for the discovery of oxygen. Also he was the founder of the Unitarianism in the United States. We got a tour with the director of the site, Andrea, who is very knowledgable, not only about Dr. Priestly, but also about women's history. She has done a great job learning about the family and the daily workings of life in the house, and gives an interesting tour.

In Mifflinburg, we had an unsuccessful trip to the Buggy Museum, which only has hours on days inconvenient to us (Thursday through Sunday). We stopped by Mary Koons Quilts (see more on that in the knitting blog) and D&L Soft Pretzels (a must on 45).

Heading south on 104, we stopped at Penns Creek Pottery. Bill Lynch and his wife, and other artisans, make and sell beautiful pottery and other craft work in this carefully converted historic barn. All of their work is beautiful and creative, with colorful and unique glazes. If you like pottery, you must go there. They are talented and friendly people. The barn is located just over Penns Creek, north of the village of Penns Creek on 104, and it is open Tuesday through Saturday.

We stopped quickly at two wineries, Shade Mountain on 104, and Hunters Valley on 11 & 15, and got a few more bottles of wine, including a novelty mint wine from Shade Mountain called Six Dwarves. As you can imagine, there is nothing really special about these wines, but they aren’t bad, either.

We had lunch at a cool hamburger place called Cruisers Café. The owners converted an old Texaco station into a 50’s style burger place, replete with Coke memorabilia and cheerful waitresses. We had bison burgers and fries, which were both tasty. It was a really neat place.

We arrived home in the evening, exhausted but satisfied with our Pennsylvania road trip vacation.