Curacao Dreams December 2019

Curacao here we come.

Visit Curacao, you won’t be disappointed. This small island has a lot to offer. Besides the usual offerings like sand & surf, there’s great shopping, dining both local and international, museums, art galleries, Great houses or Landhuizen as the old plantation houses are called, off shore adventures and so much more. Getting around is so easy, Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu the local dialect are all spoken freely. From what we’ve seen and experienced, the country seems very safe, police and private security were ever present and we felt very comfortable venturing out on the town even in the evenings.

The best time to visit, economically speaking is off peak season, May to November. Hotel rates and airfares are much cheaper but really, any time of the year is fine since there’s hardly a threat of hurricanes, average temperatures are in the mid 80’s F (30 C) and rainfall is minimal.

We spent a week at the newly renovated Marriott Beach Resort, but while everything was shiny and new, you could see they were still working some of the kinks out. The hotel wasn’t very full as it had only been open for a few days. We asked for and got upgraded to an ocean front room. Overall though, it was a pleasant experience.

Room with a view.

On our second day there, we decided to take the 2.5 mile (4 km) walk into Willemstad. If you’d rather not walk, you could take a local bus (Autobus Bedrijf) fare is 2.00 Guilder approx US $1.15 There is a bus station in Otrobanda and also Punda. Taxis (licence plate TX) are another option to get around. Taxis are unmetered and work off a rate sheet based on four persons. Rates can change depending on the amount of luggage you have or if you need service after 11:00 pm. Discuss fare before hand. There are no Ubers here. You can also rent a car, a compact is all you need, all the major rental companies are represented here or you can just hire a driver for the day.

Willemstad has four distinct quarters. Otrobanda is on the west side, cross the Queen Emma bridge to Punda and further east is Pietermaai, to the north across the Queen Wilhelmina or L.B. Smith bridges is Sharloo.

We checked out Rif Fort (built in 1828) now a trendy spot that houses retail shops and restaurants, a beautiful setting where you can see cruise ships in port and next door the Renaissance Hotel Casino and shopping mall.

Rif Fort with nearby cruise terminal & Renassaince Hotel & Mall

We grabbed a quick lunch at the Gondola Italian restaurant, their pasta and pizza are the best.

Gondola Restaurant Pizza & Pasta.

After lunch, we headed over the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, stopping occasionally for photos. This bridge opens periodically to allow ships and other water craft to travel in and out of the inner harbor. We happened to catch a few openings later in the day.

Watch video here.

Queen Emma pontoon bridge
Handelskade (on the waterfront)

We marveled at the beauty and color of the buildings along the Handelskade, great photo op here.

Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge

On the north side of Punda, we paid a visit to the Central Market which has a wide array of goods, fruits, vegetables, clothing shops, souvenirs and the like. Next door is the Old Market (Plasa Bieu) which is now a food court specializing in local cuisine. I really wanted to try the iguana soup but thought better of it, maybe next time.

Central Market.
Inside Plasa Bieu.

We enjoyed some ice cream at the Iguana Cafe which offers al fresco dining on the waterfront. It was a welcome treat after a day of exploring the city’s side streets, shops, art galleries and eateries.

Iguana Cafe on the waterfront.

Some scenes from our self guided city tour.

Art District.
The term”Dushi” is Papiamento and is used as a term of endearment. Depending on the context, it can mean love, sexy, sweetheart, nice, pleasant or tasty.
Lots of outside dining.

As part of our city exploration, we strolled through the historic Pietermaai district, checking out the fully restored 200 plus year old houses that’s now home to boutique hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Very vibrant night scene here for which we returned in the evening to dine at Ginger’s and drinks later at Cafe Mundo Bizarro enjoying some salsa music.

Restored houses in historic Pietermaai district.
Cafe Mundo Bizarro

Salsa music video here.

Ginger’s is a Cozy Restaurant serving Carib, Asian, Indian fusion cuisine.
Tandoori beef & chicken sate.

So many dining options along the waterfront. We stopped for lunch at the Grillking Steak house. Local, family friendly and reasonably priced eats.

We came across this local gem on our walk into town.
Waterfort Arches restaurants & bars nestled amongst the walls that protected the canal, built in 1828

We took some time out to visit Kura Hulanda Museum ($10.00 admission) to learn about the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas. Great collection of artifacts on display. If this experience doesn’t move you, you simply cannot be moved.

Museum chronicling the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas
Replica of a slave ship hold.
Monument to the abolition of slavery.

The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere dating back to 1651, Mikve Israel-Emanuel can be found in Punda. The interior has a sand floor symbolizing the desert through which the Israelites made their journey to freedom. To book a tour, email info@snoa.com

Oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, has a sand floor to simulate the desert

We were there during the Holiday season so everything was festive and bright. The town really comes alive in the evening, the lights, music, it seems on every corner, food vendors, outdoor cafes packed, everyone having a great time.

It’s time to get out of the city for a bit so we rented a car and set out to explore. We rented from Hertz (available at the hotel) for one day US$49.95 base price for an economy compact. Driving is easy here ( you drive on the right side) Once out of the city, traffic is very light. We wanted to experience a bit of the rugged north shore with it’s desert like landscape and also the beaches.

Out of Willemstad on the main highway Weg Naar Westpunt, we turned onto Weg Naar St Willibrordus. About two miles down the road, just pull over to see flocks of flamingos, best viewing time is early to mid morning, this is a free attraction.

We stopped in to the Landhuis Jan Kok, one of the many slave plantation houses on the island. It now showcases the work of late local artist Nena Sanchez. There’s also a gallery in the Willemstad art district.

Landhuis Jan Kok.

Heading back on Weg Naar Westpunt we made a quick stop in Barber at the Hofi Pastor nature area to check out the very impressive 800 yr old Kapoc tree with it’s massive roots and gnarly limbs. There are a few short hiking trails here. The $3.00 entrance fee is more of a donation than anything else, few amenities here but it’s all about the tree.

800 yr old Kapoc tree.

On the road to Shete Boka National park, the wild north side with it’s caves, blowholes and inlet. It feels worlds apart from Willemstad, there’s a peacefulness about the area. We paid US $10.00 entrance fee plus $2.00 for a map. You could explore either on foot or venture farther out by car, we chose the latter. To some the entrance fee might seem like a lot but the money helps to provide security in the more remote regions of the park. Security is taken seriously here so there was no sense of uneasiness as we went a bit off the beaten path. We entered one of the sea caves where I shot this video. A bit eerie and cool at the same time. Check it out.

Park entrance, $10.00 entrance fee $2.00 for map. Security presence in more remote parking areas.
Desert like landscape on the north side.
Natural Bridge.
One of the many blowholes. Check out the short video below.

There are no seven mile beaches here. Most, especially on the north west side can be described as inlets carved out of cliffs but they are a good size nonetheless. We visited Playa Porto Mari where wild but friendly pigs are known to roam about. It’s a beautiful white sand beach a bit off the beaten path, popular with tourists and locals. There are some amenities, snack bar and restaurant, toilets, changing rooms and chair rentals. Great for snorkeling and diving. Dive shop on site.

Playa Porto Mari where wild pigs visit the beach occasionally, we did see one as we were leaving.

Our anniversary dinner at Namora’s Restaurant. Located within walking distance of the Marriott, it’s fine dining at it’s best. All the courses were prepared and presently exquisitely. Dinner for two is easily US $200.00 plus but it’s not somewhere you go very often. Something to bear in mind, most nicer restaurants add a service charge anywhere from 10 to 20% some of which goes in a tip pool for your servers so beware of that when you tip. It’s not allowed to be taken off your credit card so it’s added directly to your bill.

Time to say goodbye. We really enjoyed our time here and recommend you add this destination to your list. Danki Curacao, te aworo.

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Germany, two days in Berlin, 2013

In 2013, I took a trip to Germany to meet up with my lovely wife Trudy. We’d been dating long distance for a while and I was really looking forward to meeting up with her in her home country. It was my second trip there but it would be my first time in Berlin. On long flights and especially in the cramped quarters that passes for coach these days, it’s a good idea to wear your compression socks, whether you’re at risk of DVT or not. We started using these a few years ago and never fly without them, we especially love the ones from SBSox (affiliate link) After Trudy picked me up from the airport, we checked in at the Berlin Marriott close to Potsdamer Platz where we relaxed for a few hours. With fresh legs, we head to the city. We tried to see as many sights as possible in the short time we had due to the fact that on the next day, we had a three hour drive ahead of us to Trudy’s hometown of Helmbrechts.

Outside the Berlin Mariott hotel.
Berlin bear outside the Mariott hotel.

After our arrival, we only had half a day so we started exploring the city sights that were close to our hotel.

Brandenburg Gate is quite impressive.
US Embassy.
Outside the US Embassy.
The Hotel Adlon, luxurious five star hotel located just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate.

For lunch, Trudy had the famous Berlin Currywurst and I had the fried Semmelknoedel (bread dumplings) It’s always exciting to try the different cuisines when travelling.

Since our time in the city was limited, the next day we took the hop on, hop off bus from Potsdamer Platz and began our own city tour.
Some sections of the Berlin wall near Potsdamer Platz.
Berlin Cathedral.
Relaxing in Lustgarten Park, great way to spend a summer day.
Der Deutschen Kunst, National Gallery of Art.
Bridge on the river Spree.
Cruising on the Spree river in Berlin.

We visited the Topographie des Terrors which is an indoor outdoor museum that chronicles the atrocities the Nazis inflicted upon the European Jews. The site used to house the headquarters of the Gestapo. There’s a large section of the Berlin wall still standing here.

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, a very solemn place for quiet reflection.
Berlin wall.
Many more walls need to be toppled.

After World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors administered by the US, France, UK and the Soviet Union. Checkpoint Charlie in the US sector was a border crossing between East and West Germany for the Allied forces. It’s also the place of the 1961 stand off between American and Russian tanks. We visited the open air exhibition which shows in great detail the history of the area.

US sector, Checkpoint Charlie.

As we walked around the city, I couldn’t help but notice these pink pipes running throughout. I thought it was some kind of cool art installation. I was told that since the ground water level is so high in the city, during construction of new buildings, the basement sites tend to flood and the water has to be pumped to the canals or river by way of those pipes. Apparently, the area on which the city now sits used to be swamp and marsh lands hence the high ground water.

Lots of different ways to get around town. The “hop on, hop off” bus is also a great option if you don’t have a lot of time in the city. We ended up doing a lot of walking anyway which is what we generally do, obviously having great shoes is essential. Paired with the right socks makes for a comfortable day, love those Balegas (affiliate link)

Built mainly for East Germans, these simple, low quality 25 hp two cylinder Trabant cars are now just a novelty. Just imagine having to be on a waiting list for ten years or more to get one of these cars back then. These days, you can do a one and a half hour self drive city tour with guide for about $60.00

There are so many historic buildings and not enough time to see them all.

CDU-Fraktion im Abgeordnetenhaus, (political party, offices of state representatives.
The Reichstag building now houses the Bundestag (German Federal Parliament)
Neue Kirche or new church dates back to the early 1700’s, was Calvinist and Lutheran, later Protestant and now serves as museum of German Parliamentary history.
St Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church)
Rotes Rathaus (town hall) near the Berlin TV tower in Alexander Platz
Plattenbauten, cheap high rise buildings were common in East Germany.
We dined on some great Indian curry before hitting the road.
Leaving Berlin, Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin is such a fun city but you obviously need more than a couple of days. We definitely want to go back and explore more at a not so hurried pace. We say “auf wiedersehen” for now. Check out this video of the drive from Berlin.