All posts by karenfranza

Mercado del Mariscos

Jan 23 – What to do today? We’re running out of major attractions to see in the city. Some tours and bloggers suggest a trip to the local fish market, so that is our plan for the morning.

Birds circling over a building was our first clue
More birds – we must be close!
Oh yeah – we can really smell the fish now
Lots of fish
Shrimp and prawns (camarones) in all sizes – my favorite!
Sea bass (corvina) is a popular fish here

After a tour of all the choices, we went outside to the string of fish restaurants, all hawking the same lunch choices. I got camarones in garlic salsa with rice, and Jim opted for the pulpo (octopus) with yucca fries.

Yummy, and that yellow salsa was HOT!

Next to the market we saw lots of fishing boats at anchor. It was low tide, and some boats looked like they’d been there a long time.

We walked further down the Cinta Costera, which we learned had just been built in the last ten years to reclaim the waterfront area. We would have walked farther, but it was HOT, and the sun was beating down.

El Toro
Scooters for rent

We realized we were not far from the Casco Viejo (Old Town), and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon nosing around. More in the next post.

Metropolitan Natural Park / Parque Natural

Jan 22 – Today we left the shiny skyscrapers for a walk in the jungle. Within the city limits is Metropolitan Natural Park, offering a shady walk and a chance to see some local flora and fauna.

What are these kids looking at?
And more turtles!
I love these curly, ropey things
Nothing Jim likes more than a shady trail
The ranger pointed to a sloth in this tree – my camera is at maximum zoom, but I can’t see it – can you?
Here’s what the sloth would look like if we could see it!
A termite nest up in a tree
As we reached the top of the hill, we were met by a family of friendly coatimundi, looking for handouts and exploring people’s backpacks
This one was a little too aggressive for me!
From the hilltop we looked down on the city
There’s the Canal locks!
A view of Ancon Hill – Jim has plans to climb it later in the week
Hard to see, but a parade of leaf-cutter ants crossed our path…
…on their way home to their big anthill by the kapok tree
Dieffenbachia in the wild!
Not too much is blooming, but here are some!

We got back to the hotel and rewarded ourselves with an afternoon swim. For supper, we saw Sancocho on the menu, and remembered that this was one of the national dishes we were to try. Sancocho turned out to be chicken broth with a big piece of chicken breast, served with arroz blanco on the side. So…chicken soup with rice. Very nice!

Panama Canal / Canal de Panamá

Jan 21 – Today was our day to travel to Miraflores Locks to see The Canal. Although we traveled through the canal for a day in 2008 (while Jim was teaching for the Semester at Sea), this was our opportunity to see the locks from the land.

Jim plotted a way to get us to Miraflores using the subway, several buses, and an hour of time, but we opted instead for a $4 Uber ride, and were there in 20 minutes.

Look at all the shipping containers – we must be getting close!

Miraflores is totally a tourist attraction, with a $17 entrance fee and a 3D IMAX movie in English, narrated by Morgan Freeman. Turns out that the movie was the entire attraction, as there were no ships going through the locks when we were there.

Here is a $17 history of the Canal. The Spaniards thought about a canal across the isthmus, but didn’t have the technology. The French tried and failed to dig a canal in the late 1800s: between the rain undoing their digging and malaria and yellow fever killing the workers at a rate of 500 deaths for every mile dug, they gave up.

In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt orchestrated a one day coup to free Panama from Colombia and take over the Canal Zone. A US engineer had the idea to dam up the Chagras River / Río Chagras, creating a lake in the middle. This simultaneously provided hydroelectric power for the project and decreased the number of miles to be dug. A UK doctor discovered that mosquitoes were the carriers of the diseases, and they started aggressive spraying the canal area to eradicate the pests.

Ten years later and voilá! A canal run by the US from 1914 until 1977, when Jimmy Carter agreed to gradually give it back. Panama took total control in 1999.

The locks looking toward Lake Miraflores and the Atlantic
The locks looking toward the port of Balboa and the Pacific
I’ve looked at locks from both sides now – low water on the left and high on the right. It takes about ten hours for a ship to traverse all 12 locks.
Some ships have less than a foot of clearance on either side. (photo from visitor center)

When it was determined that the Canal was becoming obsolete due to the size of newer container ships, larger locks were added on both sides of the originals, just like adding new lanes to the Interstate. The upgrade was completed in 2016.

Newer ships can carry 24,000 containers (photo from visitor center)

We’ll, that was quite an education. Thank you, Morgan Freeman!

As it didn’t take too long to see the Canal, Jim had a plan for our afternoon. There is a park / bike path called Cinta Costera that runs right along Panama Bay, providing us a scenic, semi-shady walk. To get there, we had to walk by all the posh skyscraper hotels.

Jim had the idea to walk into the tallest hotel and ride the elevator up to the top floor to see the view. We boldly strode in with our shorts and walking sticks, right past the staff in their formal dress.

Unfortunately, once upstairs, we found just a hallway with no windows, so Jim sweet-talked a maid into letting us into the Royal Suite!

I wonder if Harry and Meghan ever stayed here?
Quite the view! Thanks, Jim!
Now, back to our walk. First, we crossed over the highway.
Which way should we go?
Watched kids playing volleyball, riding scooters and bikes. We even saw a group practicing a Tik Tok dance!
Wouldn’t this be a pretty place to live?
Your yacht could be here!
Vendors selling shaved ice
There is a famous statue of Vasco Núñez de Balboa here – the first European explorer to find the Pacific from the new world in 1513 (the indigenous people holding him up do not look happy)
Ta da! A beautiful day!

Old Panama / Panamá Viejo

Jan 20 Today we took a municipal bus across the city to see the ruins of Old Panama. The bus uses the same Metro card we purchased yesterday, and whether you choose the subway or the bus, the cost is 35 cents. The bus was just as nice as the train, and allowed us to see different parts of this big city.

When we were three stops from the one that Google told us was ours, an old man in the seat in front of us started pointing and indicating (in Spanish of course) that we should get off. Sure enough, there was a building that said Visitors Center, but just as we saw it, the bus moved on. Better to trust Google, we thought.

We jumped off where Google suggested, and we were indeed at Old Panama – we could see it through the fence. We tried to walk through the gate, but a guard pointed back up the road – no admission here. We had to walk 20 minutes back down the busy highway until we got to the stop the old man had indicated. Nice Person of Panama, and Google, you let us down!

Once through the proper gate, we hopped on a tram that took us to a small museum.

Inside, we learned some of the history of the Spanish conquest of the area in the early 1500s, the establishment of the first European settlement on the Pacific Ocean in 1517, and the ultimate destruction of the old city in 1671 by the infamous buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan. He took all the silver and gold, and burned the city down. The Spanish reviled him, but the British knighted him for his deeds.

Wood carving
Carvings from an early church
This baby looks like he’s up to no good!
An exhibit described the Crypto Jews – those who professed to be Catholic to escape persecution in Spain
The tomb of the musician – an indigenous female arranged in the pose of a dancer – one of many excavated tombs
We climbed the tower of the old cathedral…
…where we could see both the old and the new city …
…and out to the Pacific Ocean
We kept expecting to see faces in the stones, like in Angkor Wat
A big old cypress tree

When we were ready to go home, we hopped on the bus, only to discover that our metro card was out of funds. What to do? The card can only be refilled at a subway station. We offered cash to the driver, but he just waved us onto the bus. Another Nice Person of Panama!

Waiting for our food at Concolón

After an afternoon swim, we sauntered over to Concolón, a restaurant that promised authentic Panamanian street food. Unlike other central and South American countries, we have encountered no actual street food here, much to Jim’s dismay. Jim ordered a plantain lasagna and I chose chicken with macaroni, neither of which sounded like street food. Jim’s came in a tiny bowl, and mine on a huge platter – one to feed a chihuahua and one to feed a Great Dane! We were so flabbergasted that we forgot to take a picture. Suffice it to say that both were delicious, liberally seasoned with culantro (the national herb here, with a much stronger taste than cilantro) and between us, we managed to make all the food disappear. A satisfying day!

Panama City

Our hotel

Jan 19 – The Executive Hotel in the newer part of the city has everything we could want, including a swimming pool and a generous breakfast buffet. But silver skyscrapers are not our thing. Jim said the city bears no resemblance to the Panama City he visited back in the 70s.

Cool buildings

This morning we set out to conquer the Metro station and find our way to the Old Town, Casco Viejo. The Metro was modern and clean, with a helpful attendant in a glass booth who sold us a reloadable metro card and did her best with gestures and no English to let us know that we had to load the card with funds at a nearby machine. There is no English signage here. We stood dumbly in front of the machine trying to figure out what to do, when a woman strode up, inserted our card, pushed some buttons and showed us where to insert our dollar coin. Nice Person of Panama!

Wall art!

We got on a clean, shiny train, not too crowded, and, three stops later, we emerged in a grittier part of the city. Google said we had a 20 minute walk to Casco Viejo. Now, I know we’re here to warm our bones, but it is HOT and humid here. It may take me a few days to adjust.

We reached the Plaza de Independencia, which has the Palacio Municipal one one side, and the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria the Ancient on the other.

Palacio Municipal
The Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral it was nice and cool, so we took our time looking around.

Lovely main altar

There is a reliquary and a wax statue of San Joselito here, a 14 year old Mexican boy who was tortured and murdered for his faith in 1928 and became a saint in 2016. First saint we’ve seen in blue jeans.

San Joselito
Life sized statues – looks like Jesus is in trouble again
Pretty Madonna, funny looking baby

Around the corner was the Church of St Joseph with a very gold altar.

Now, am I wrong, or is this a holy person taking a selfie?

Saint Selfie?

We walked around the Old Town and admired the colorful buildings:

Locks of Love, and a view across the bridge to the modern city

Arrived back home for an afternoon swim and a lovely dinner. An excellent first day.


Jan 18, 2023 – Want to warm your bones in the middle of the winter? Come with us to Panama!

What do we know about the Republic of Panama? It’s a really narrow little country in Central America, tucked between Costa Rica and Colombia, with the Caribbean Sea (leading to the Atlantic) to the north, and the Bay of Panama (leading to the Pacific) to the south.

Colonized by the Spanish in the 1500s, it became part of Colombia in 1831. The US got access to the special area in 1904 to build the you-know-what (remember A man, a plan, a canal, Panama? Best palindrome ever!)

The official language is Spanish, with enough local eccentricities to make it hard for us to understand. The official currency is the balboa, but they don’t actually print any, using US dollars instead. No conversion math – yay! Weather = tropical, with temps in the high 80s – 90s expected every day. This season is called the dry, and the summer months are the wet.

We got up early and Lyfted over to the airport. When we walked in, I thought we must have missed the Rapture – a totally empty check-in area, and a totally empty TSA screening area! We talked with the screeners, who are usually too busy to chat, and a good time was had by all.

Unfortunately, our flight was to Newark, which is an hour and a half in the wrong direction, but that’s where United sent us.

Isn’t that New Yawk City?

Then a five hour flight straight south to Panama City. Good news: Panama is in our same Eastern time zone, so no jet lag or resetting our watches! More good news: tap water here is totally drinkable, at least in the city.

Jorge, the Uber driver, was happy to drive us the half hour to our downtown hotel, where we collapsed gratefully into a very comfy bed. More tomorrow!

Aviemore to Pitlochry to Edinburgh, Scotland

August 23 – This morning, after another lovely breakfast, we put our big packs on our backs and walked to the Inverness bus station. Our arranged tour is over and no one will be transporting our packs for us anymore. Rather than spend a long travel day getting back to Edinburgh, Jim booked us one night each in two small towns on the way.

Aviemore Railway

Aviemore is in Cairngorms National Park, best known for winter skiing, but also for biking, climbing and hiking the Speyside Way, which runs parallel to the Great Glen Way.

Our guesthouse is right across the street from the local Church of Scotland, with the cross of St. Andrew in the window. The cross looks like the letter X because that was the shape of the cross that Andrew was crucified on. Andrew never visited Scotland, and I was unable to find why he is the patron saint of this country. This is the view from our window. See the rainbow?

We took a short walk down part of the Speyside Way. We met some horses disguised as zebras.

A different kind of trail marker

Back in our room, we spied another rainbow!

I liked the architecture and stone walls:

Ravenscraig- some of the house names sound like they should be in Harry Potter

Aviemore also has its very own standing stone circle, over 4000 years old, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The stones have been mostly buried to protect them.

Do you hear the stones singing?
Jamie, here I come!

In one of our hotels, I found a copy of a Diana Gabaldon book I had never seen. Hadn’t I read them all? Turns out that Cross Stitch was the original name of the first book in the UK, before it was changed to Outlander. Now you know.

Original title of Outlander
Aviemore has nattily attired train conductors…
…and helpful bus drivers – this is our double decker bus

You won’t believe this, but as we were leaving for supper, a third rainbow!

August 24 – Back on the bus this morning for the 75 minute ride to Pitlochry. Seen from the bus window:

Pretty mountains
I wonder what castle that is?

Pitlochry has several golf courses – an important sport here – a hydroelectric dam, and is home to Blair Castle. I got excited when I found out about the castle, as my family is connected to Clan Blair. Too bad for me, the castle has been owned by the Atholl family for 750 years. Blár is the Gaelic word for meadow, so I guess it just means the castle on the meadow. It was a ways out of town, and we did not visit.

More pretty buildings:

Pitlochry Church

There are lots of shops and restaurants in town, and tons of visitors. We did our souvenir shopping today – a plate for our wall and trinkets for the grands. The older they get, the harder it is to find something we think they will like.

Pretty Main Street
A hairy coo bakery

In the evening, we walked to the hydroelectric dam., which is a tourist spot with a visitor center and a lively bar. The dam was not spewing (do they turn it off in the evening?), but we got to see the fish ladder and a stunning sunset.

Suspension bridge
Look Lexi – a horse sculpture!
Some locks of love on this boat
Fish ladder – no fish jumping at the moment
Gorgeous sunset

August 25 – After breakfast, we walked through town one more time. Saw a sculpture that made us cross the street to get a closer look. Obviously a woman, but what is she doing? Hitting her children with a stick? Playing an invisible violin? Turns out she is holding a golf club – worst stance ever.

Then back on the bus to Edinburgh, with one transfer that got us to within a block of our hotel. Kudos once again to a transportation system that gets you where you want to go!

August 26 – Up at 3:15am to get to the airport for our 6am flight to Amsterdam. Layover at Schiphol Airport is always a pleasure, including a mini Rijks Museum display and shop.

Porcelain elephants for sale at the Rijks Museum shop

Then on to Atlanta, and by 11pm we are home. Up for 26 hours – who can sleep on a plane anymore – all in the same day. A little worse for wear, but very happy to be here. ‘Til next time!

Inverness, Scotland

August 22 – Now that our hike is over, we are taking it easy today, strolling slowly and seeing the sights of Inverness. Lots of beautiful architecture.

Leakey’s Book Shop, opened in 1979 in an old Gaelic church, is the largest second hand bookstore in Scotland. It is packed full of old paperbacks, hardcovers, maps and prints, and you can still see some of the stained glass windows.

We visited the Inverness Cathedral dedicated to St. Andrew, which felt more like a cozy parish church. It is the northernmost Scottish Episcopal Cathedral in Great Britain., built in 1866.

Inverness Cathedral
Cathedral entrance
Angel baptistry
Beautiful wood carvings

For Eliese and Janice, the Quilting Kieglers, below is a quilt fashioned in 2020 of scraps left over from making masks during the early days of Covid. Affixed are butterflies honoring parish family members lost to Covid.

Butterfly remembrance quilt
Quilt with squares of the churches in the diocese

I especially liked the crocheted church mice placed all over the church. So cute!

We checked out the Victorian Covered Market, originally built in 1870, burned down, then rebuilt in 1890. It has historical photos down each side.

We ate lunch at the riverside, then walked south to visit the Inverness Botanic Gardens. Lots of gorgeous blooms packed in a small space!

River Ness Islands
A koi pond with some big mean-looking fish

And we saw some painted hairy coos.

A relaxing day.

The Great Glen Way – Drumnadrochit to Inverness

August 20 – Today is our penultimate hiking day. It was pouring down rain when we woke up, but within the hour, the sun broke through. We have had such great weather on this trip.

At breakfast this morning we met Philip and Roger, who are bagging the Munros – climbing to the summit of each of the 282 Scottish mountains over 3000 feet tall. Today, Roger is bagging his 282nd Munro! Congratulations Roger! 🥳

Philip and Roger

We had to walk a mile along a busy highway, which was no fun but still provided some pastoral views.

Then we started to climb again, for much longer than I like to climb. Today is our highest elevation day.

See Urquhart Castle in the distance?
We climbed all morning
Finally, Loch Ness from above!

Then we were out on the moors, with purple heather all around:

When the mist is in the gloamin’, and all the clouds are holdin’ still.
Take my hand and let’s go roamin’ through the heather on the hill. – from Brigadoon
There was a café in the middle of nowhere
Then, back onto the moors
Straightest path ever

As we just don’t walk 20 miles a day, our tour operator split the day for us. We reached our rendezvous spot out in the middle of nowhere, where a taxi was supposed to pick us up, but the taxi driver could not find us. An amusing hour on the phone ensued, (what landmarks do you see? Trees.) until he eventually showed up to take us to our guesthouse in Inverness. We are staying in the Fraser Room (no relation to Jamie.) Tomorrow is our final day!

August 21 – Another beautiful, sunny morning. We enjoyed our last hiker’s breakfast, got into our taxi – this driver knew exactly where to take us – and got back on the trail.

Back into sparse woods
We followed a stone wall for a long time
Last mossy moss
The River Ness, which flows from the Loch into the city
Our first view of Inverness
The Great Glen House, ecologically sustainable building
We walked through the suburbs
Watched boys practicing football
The end of the Caledonian Canal
A bridge over River Ness
We walked through several parks
A wooden Nessie
The city war memorial
…with several more MacLennans
We’ve arrived!

A plaque marked the official end of the Great Glen Way. Unlike the previous hike, there were no other walkers to celebrate with. As we struggled to take a selfie to commemorate the day, a couple at the restaurant across the street stood up and applauded us. We did it!

The Great Glen Way – Invermoriston to Drumnadrachit

August 18 – After another fine smoked salmon and egg breakfast, we set out onto a trail that immediately went uphill, and kept going uphill much longer than I wanted it to. See the town down below?

The day is gray.

We got to the woods, and they looked really, really dark. The tall pine trees blot out any light. Careful, Jim!

Jim found a pine cone heart on the path
Little stone cave
Finally, the Loch!
Heather lined both sides of the trail
Then, the sun came out!
Now it’s a lovely day

Because there was no lodging at the end point of our walk, our tour operator arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us back to last night’s guesthouse. I like it when we can stay more than one night in the same place.

Tomorrow’s hike is all road walk into Drumnadrochit (Drum-na-DROCHHH-it), so, with the help of the taxi driver, we planned an alternate adventure. Can’t wait!

August 19 – Our taxi driver picked us up at the guesthouse and took us two miles past the town of Drumnadrochit to Urquhart (IRK-hart) Castle, the second most visited castle in Scotland.

Urquhart Castle

The castle was built around 1250, and passed through many hands before being blown up by the occupying English in 1690 to prevent the Jacobites from using it. It has been falling to ruin ever since. That does not stop a half a million tourists a year from coming to see it.

There were signs indicating that archeologists surmise that one area must have been the kitchen and another the stables, but you really had to use your imagination.

The tower
This must have been the prison!

The trebuchet below was built in 1997 for an American documentary that was filmed here. There is no indication that trebuchets were ever actually used to hurl big stones in a battle here.

Wildlife in the gift shop
The tourists!

Then we visited the Loch Ness Centre to see all the ways folks have been looking for the monster.

Diving bell
Yellow submarine

They haven’t found him yet. A few weeks ago there was an article about a local Nessie sighting. It turned out to be a swimming alpaca.

Then we walked into Drumnadrochit for a scrumptious meal, and to provision for tomorrow’s hike.

A piper
A floral reproduction of Urquhart Castle

We are staying at Drumbuie Farm, which raises the famous Highland cattle – beef cows of a gorgeous color that look like they need a haircut.

Highland cow cupcakes at the market
A Highland bull
and a Highland cow

Tomorrow is our penultimate hiking day!