In the summer of 1996, after graduating college, thanks to my mother’s support and encouragement, I had the opportunity to travel through Western Europe for a full two months as a graduation gift before hitting the “real” world and settling into a full-time job.
This summer will be 20 years since that amazing, life altering trip and since I just refreshed this blog with an emphasis on travel, I thought it would be fun to revisit the handwritten journal I kept on that journey.
I was very meticulous about journaling every day – I often took notes in a smaller journal then every few days would review my notes and maps and write my thoughts out more fully. Places and new terms were highlighted (highlighters were bought in a stationery shop in Florence). Even though it was tedious sometimes to try to catch up, other times it was a great excuse to slow down and find a cafe or park to do my writing. Some days it kept me occupied on long train rides or was a great nightcap at the end of the long day walking.
I won’t publish every entry (I made a point to journal each day of travel) but I’ll type up my favorites so you can join me in laughing at the thoughts and writing style of a 22 year old Elaine. They’ll be featured under this new category, Time Travel Tuesday.
Below is a picture of the journal itself. And it was such a perfect travel journal! Since it was spiral bound and hardcover, I could fold it upon itself and write without needing a hard surface like a table. And when I wasn’t writing on it, I could use it to play cards or write postcards. It held up great throughout two months of travel!
Hello everyone! I hope you like the updated look and the new focus on travel. I’ve had this blog since the summer of 2001 and I couldn’t just give it up after 15 years. You can read a little more of the blog’s history here…
In addition to simply updating the theme with new background art, I’ve added a page with videos from our different trips and a page of my Instagram feed. I even have some pretty nifty maps detailing my travels.
I hope to revive this blog sharing my stories from past and current trips. I think I will even start a “Time Travel Tuesday” where I write up some of my favorite journal entries from my unforgettable summer in Europe back when I was a recent college graduation. It was 1996, before the formation of the European Union, before cell phones and GPS to help guide me. Can’t believe it’s been 20 year!
That being said, I hope you join me on my adventures!
My Tia’s house is the light coral one on the 2nd floor with the terrace on the far right. You go through the black gate to go up the stairs.
I know I’ve been posting a lot of photos from Cuba, And it’s funny because through the various Instagram filters I’ve used, I am romanticizing the city. As I edited my photos in Instagram I’d show my Tia Gladys my pictures and she was like, “Wait, that’s my street or that’s the city? You’ve made it look so nice!”
As a Cuban-American who has gone twice now I have mixed feelings on how everyone views Cuba as a tourist destination and how everyone is anxious to go. It’s like a new hipster destination and the old cars and crumbling structures are quaint photo ops.
Look, I’m not against Americans going at all but I do hope that if you find yourself traveling to Cuba, that you educate yourself on the realities of what the Cuban people have been through and are still going through. As a tourist, you see the romantic, sort of cleaned up version of Cuba, not the hardship going on behind closed doors. Did you know they still have rationing? And the reason they have all those old cars is because no cars could be imported until recently? Oh, and Che Guevara is NOT the hero history has tried to make him be.
I can recommend several books if you are interested. “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Julie Sweig may be a bit heavy & academic on the history but it’s great background.
And I leave you with a picture of the market where my Aunt shops & picks up her rations – whenever they get the limited items they do get.
This is a great article that explains the classic car phenomenon in Cuba, or almendrones as they are called, but to summarize:
“New American cars have been off-limits under the U.S. trade embargo since 1960. In fact, until a relaxation of rules in 2013, Cubans were forbidden to buy any cars manufactured abroad. And only the most affluent Cubans can afford new vehicles. According to my unscientific survey of Havana streets, purchasers seem to go for the Korean brands Hyundai and Kia..”
“However shiny they may look from the outside, not all the American classics remain in original condition… Such substitutions have been necessary because the U.S. embargo bans replacement auto parts as well as new vehicles. That has also led to a lot of imaginative reengineering such as modifying springs made for train cars into replacement auto springs, which doesn’t guarantee the smoothest ride.”
Today’s story… We visited the house Mom & Dad lived in as newlyweds (Dad had lived there during his previous marriage). The current owners graciously allowed us in. This mirror and shelf are right at the entrance and the current owner said they just can’t be removed without doing damage so there they are, over 50 years later.
I took a picture of Mom in front of them and here are pictures of her in the same spot on her wedding day and the day after as they headed out on their honeymoon.
While in Havana, I did not see a single mosquito. My aunt explained to me that it was because the state was fumigating homes (inside your home, not just spraying in the streets). On my last day we heard, then saw them coming down the street. Fascinating to me since here in the US most people would not take too kindly to military personnel coming into their homes to fumigate. Now, you could say no (like my aunt who asked them to come the next day because she hadn’t been prepared for them – you have to leave the house for 45 minutes when it’s done) but they make a note of it and you can’t say no too often. Also, I shudder to think what toxic chemicals they are using.
A final note – the newspaper has a column, much like a health inspection column, that reports businesses where any signs of mosquitoes have been found. They describe how many, what larval stage – and they are fined. Cuba takes the Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya very, very seriously.
We visited the house my parents lived in and the huge mango tree was still taking over the backyard like it did 50 years ago. Mangos were falling off the tree as we walked through so the current owner sent us home with a bag full. My aunt let them ripen a couple of days – the smell was wonderfully sweet and emanated into the living room from the kitchen – and made us mango shakes.
Did you know that Cuban citizens still have a ration book and are allotted a certain amount of basic staples a month per person. A roll of bread per day per person is part of the rations. The small blue book on the counter is my aunt’s ration booklet.