Friday, May 31, 2013

Safaris in Central Florida

I had a great time on safari in Malawi - rhinos, Cape buffalo, impalas, baboons, etc.  But the fun didn't stop when I came home.

Friends from New Jersey and Michigan are visiting so we did a little nature gazing right here in Central Florida.  We started with Blue Spring State Park then moved on to Lake Jessup, where we took an airboat ride into the swamps, looking for 'gators.  The next day we headed to New Smyrna Beach, where we saw the sunrise, followed by sightings of a pod of dolphins and a couple of manatees, just off the dock of the restaurant where we were dining (JB's Fish Camp, one of my favorites).

First animal sighting. a dinosaur sitting on the fuse box for the pool.  I have no idea who put him there.

We stopped at Waffle House on our way to Blue Spring.  Kyle was VERY excited.

What are these people staring at?

This huge gator, sunning himself on a log.  Can you spot him?

In the winter, the manatees hang out at the spring.  This mosaic one is there year 'round.

This park is not far from my house and I drag all visitors there.  Be warned.

On the Black Hammock airboat on Lake Jessup.  We saw lots of 'gators.

An osprey nest with a momma and daddy osprey and their babies.  They mate for life, like eagles.

This big guy swam in front of us. One of the dozens we saw.

Can you spot the 'gator in the mud?

Sunrise over New Smyrna Beach.

Their first time driving on the beach.  Happily, we got rain on our drive home to help get rid of the salt on my car.

The manatees and dolphins were too fast for me.  This is a manatee tail in the Intercoastal waterway in front of JB's Fish Camp.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I was a bit intimidated grilling for Tom, who'd won all around champ in a barbecue competition the day before.  He was kind and helpful.

There was plenty of food.


I've been home a couple of days now.  Yesterday, local friends came by to celebrate the holiday and meet my Peace Corps friends, Kyle and Chelsea.  Thanks to jet lag, I was pooped but it was a very casual affair and it was great to see everyone.

Here are some photos as we ate and relaxed by the pool.

My Samoan ava bowl, filled with apples.

Chelsea, Florida Mary Lou and Mike, who appears to be preparing to leap into the pool.

Tom, Tina and Rex. We started with hummus, spinanach dip and chips.  I grilled chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs.  Friends brought salad, deviled eggs, baked beans, brownies and caramel candies.  It was delicious!

Kyle and Chelsea.  Notice that Chels is wearing a lavalava over her shorts.

There was a lot of talk about swimming but we left it at that.

Michigan Mary Lou and Ralph (aka the "mystery husband")  MML had met the other ladies but the events were women only and they were beginning to think she was lying about having a husband.  She proved them wrong.

Last Supper in Armenia

I'm back in Florida, happy to be home, but haven't had time to post any more photos.  I arrived Friday night, May 24.  Friends from New Jersey and Michigan arrived May 25.  I hosted a barbecue yesterday (May 26).  Today, we are resting.

Here are photos of my last dinner in Armenia.  It was also my best meal there.  We dined at Caucasus restaurant on traditional food.  It was delicious.  I already miss Armenian food.  I hope you enjoy these photos at least half as much as I enjoyed the food.

These clay salt and pepper cellars are very common.  I now have one in my kitchen.  Salt is "in the belly", red and black pepper are held in the hands and toothpicks on top.

This appetizer was made of greens and ground nuts and was fabulous.  Sort of like a dry'ish spinach dip, but tastier.

We ordered bread.  It cost less than $1 for the whole basket.

My plate of first course.  The dumpling is filled with melted cheese and butter.  How can you not love that?  In the lower right was a chicken/yogurt dish that I scooped up with the wonderful bread.  On the lower left is the greens/nuts ball and bread on the upper left.

I believe I could happily live on this appetizer until I died from a heart attack.  Bread is baked with cheese, butter and an egg in the middle.  You pull off a chunk of bread from the outside and dip it in the melty goodness in the center.

Another bread/cheese/egg/butter dish - this one in thin layers.  Amazing.

Lamb kebab.  

A whole fish.  The dinner, as is typical in Armenia, was served family style.  As we kept ordering and eating I started to worry about the expense.  I shouldn't have.  Dinner came to $5 USD per person.  For an Armenian feast.

The morning I flew out dawned clear and cool.  I had a perfect view of Mt. Ararat from the airport.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Food in Armenia

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food.  Let's be honest.  Food is one of my favorite things about life.

I love to try new foods and am up to try pretty much anything.  After having visited over 60 countries, though, it's becoming harder and harder to find new taste treats.  Armenia has served me well.  From mulberries to fruit lavash, my taste buds have found a new home.  Here are some photos of our trip to the market in Yerevan yesterday.

Denise and Otis swore that their color coordinated outfits were not planned.  I'm not buying it.  They're standing in front of the fountain which is at the entrance to the subway.  Sadly, it is no longer operational.  After the dissolution of the USSR, Armenia (and other places) was left with little infrastructure.  Many parks, fountains, factories, etc. have still not been restored.  The progress made in the last 20 years is a testament to the strength and determination of the Armenian people.

The entrance to the subway has a bit of a Mad Max/end of the world feel to it, but the subway itself is clean, efficient and only 25 cents a ride.

First sight when entering the market.  Dried fruit plates.  Decorative and completely edible, they're offered to guests with coffee.

These are the fruit juice covered strings of nuts I first tasted at the art/craft market on Sunday.  America - we need these!

One of the tragic side effects of the conflict in Syria is the number of refugees seeking asylum in Armenia.  The bright side?  One Syrian family started this spice/olive/etc. business at the market.  Best hummus in Yerevan.

Spices!  Cheap and fresh.  Want some fresh saffron from Iran?  Yup, we got it.

Olives are popular and inexpensive here.  I bought a quarter kilo of the small green ones on the right.

Fruit!  It's only May, so most fruits aren't ready for harvest yet.  This is some of what is available - some local, some imported.

I was taking a photo of these beautifully displayed local cherries when a vendor wanted to literally get in the picture.  For effect, he snagged a cherry from the top.  The vendor who owned and had just stacked the cherries gave him a cheerful telling off.  Laughs all around.  It was early (for Yerevan) and we were among the few shoppers.  Vendors smiled, chatted with Denise and Otis in Armenian and I just smiled.

The man in the middle sells the dried fruit/nut mixture that I love.  He gave us samples of EVERYTHING he sold.  Otis goes to him regularly.  Denise and the female vendor from a nearby stall were using the dictionary to help with translation.  She was every bit as interested in learning English and about us and we were to learn Armenian and about her.  It's a friendly, safe place.

Another view of the dried fruit plates.  Amazing.  No sugar/preservatives added.  All edible.

We bought zucchini, garlic and some other stuff from this lady who sells to Otis regularly.  She was so pleased to have her photo taken with him.  There aren't many black folks in Yerevan and he still gets strangers asking to have their photo taken with him.  They also don't see a lot of natural blondes, so the two of us walking together get stares.  Just like Peace Corps.

The market is about 5 times the size of the Apia market and offers fresh meat, sausages and dried meat and fish, fresh fruit and produce, cheese and bread.  One stop shopping and more free samples than Costco!

Lavash is the staple bread.  It is thin and comes in a variety of textures. It is similar to a tortilla and delicious.  I asked to take this woman's photo and she was pleased to oblige.  Her neighbor asked me "German?"  I said "No, American."  She seemed a bit disappointed.  Wish I could have explained in Armenian that while I was born in America, my genes are from Germany.

I'm not much of a beer drinker, but had to try the local brew.  Served with a frosty mug it was cold and tasty.  A bit heavier than typical American beer.

Yuck.  Yet another PDA.  Young love.

My chicken schwarma lunch.  That's grilled chicken, herbs and pickled veg wrapped in lavash.  $1.75

Breakfast this morning.  So sweet, so delicious, so fattening.

I can't remember which fruit this is made from but he called it the Snickers.  It tastes just like a Snickers bar.

The tomato, stuffed with nuts and dried fruit.  I hate fruit cake but I could eat this stuff all day long.  Or until I went into a diabetic coma.