Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (and Lots of Searching), Mérida

A lot is closed in Mérida on Mondays so when I learned that the newish Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (Great Mayan World Museum) was open, it made sense to head there today. I knew that it was quite a ways north from Centro, so I’d have to take a bus or a taxi.

I went to the Paseo de Montejo tourist kiosk to ask about the bus.

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I just thought it’s kind of cool to be so near Cancún, a popular holiday destination for Quebecers.

The lady told me to go on Calle 60 in front of the Hyatt and take a green or yellow bus marked Siglo XXI, Gran Plaza, Francisco de Montejo, or Liverpool, and that the cost is just $7. The Hyatt was just a block or two over.

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I can’t believe that there is a Chili’s in Mérida! I also saw a Boston Pizza (!!!!!!) and a TGI Friday’s!

I arrived to find a bus waiting at a red light that not only had most of those things written on it, but also Museo Maya! That was easy! Like in Maz, the driver had change.

It was standing room only at first, but I eventually got a seat. As we drove further and further from Centro, I realised that I really want to live close to the Zocalo. Campestre, a runner up neighbourhood, seemed clean and quiet, with easy proximity to both a Soriana and a Mega, but it’s definitely the suburbs.

The drive to Gran Plaza was probably 15 minutes. I could see the museum in the distance and waited to see how close I could get to it before getting off. I ended up overshooting by two blocks, not bad!

 

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The museum looks rather like a Borg cube from a distance.

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It’s an imposing structure, but there is not much upstairs. The museum itself is all on ground level. Very surprising.

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The museum opened on 12/21/12, “Year of Mayan Culture” and coinciding with the Mayan end of the world date.

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Mérida is the “city of peace.” It is considered one of the most harmonious countries in the world.

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There was an exhibit about an old-style wooden sailing ship and its voyage. Two crew members shared their stories. One was from Winnipeg…

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And the other was from Mazatlán!

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Entry for “extranjeros” (foreigners) was $150. Holy smokes!

First stop was a movie called “Armageddon” about a meteor that landed in the Yucatán and wiped out the dinosaurs. I caught a lot of what was said and between the language being very poetic and the music being so sad, I was practically sobbing when it finished (LOL). My favourite bit was near the start when the narrator speaks of a new normal day rising and how ordinary it is and shows all the animals going about their business. *pause* The only thing extraordinary about this day is that it is the last day. What would you do on your last day before the world ends? Then boom and all those critters perished. Heartbreaking stuff, I tell you! 😀

The movie ended with a quote by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I then moved into the museum proper. There is a lot in English, probably close to 95%, and it is decently translated, so that just about justifies the very high cost for foreigners to visit. I stuck to Spanish mostly, just for practice, but was glad the English was there to verify words I didn’t know.

The Armageddon exhibit is a temporary one and was fascinating, giving lots of insight into prehistoric Yucatán. I learned that there is a new scientific branch of study emerging, that of the Armageddon, or mass extinctions.

 

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There were some interesting dinosaur skulls on display.

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And fossils.

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And more skulls.

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And a partial skeleton. Can you see how the back end has muscle and skin while the front is just the skeleton?

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The next exhibit was about Mayan culture. The museum is very poorly laid out with no directional signage whatsoever. I had to ask a guard at the end of each exhibit where to go next.

I learned a lot about Mayan civilisation over the next couple of hours. They were as advanced a civilisation as, say, the Greeks or Romans, with cities, governments, a fully developed concept of mathematics (including zero), and a rich oral and written language.

One of the things that I notice about a culture is whether or not it has a sense of aesthetics, as that speaks a lot to how far beyond subsistence the culture is. The Mayans made a lot of beautiful things. I love the embroidered dresses and blouses. These are made with cross-stitch, an embroidery style I practice and never thought to use on clothing.

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This part of the museum had beautifully tiled floors.

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Of course, the museum eventually had to move on to the ugliness of the European conquest. It is estimated that when the Spaniards arrived, there were 800,000 people in the region. A few hundred years of massacres, famines, and epidemics later, only 20% of those people remained.

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I enjoyed an exhibit about the Mayan ball games, which are still played today. There were giant stadiums, or courts, built to play these games publicly. I am boggled that this culture was considered primitive by European standards.

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The ball itself was pretty impressive, made with a primitive vulcanization process (ie. it was essentially rubber) and it could bounce!

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One of my favourite parts of the museum was these interactive touch screens. There were a lot of them. Some had Q&As, others had quizzes, and some had games. They were available in Mayan, Spanish, and English!

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One of the last ones had this game that taught me the very confusing Mayan counting system. Here, I managed to count to 83,187 in Mayan, no easy feat!

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At the end of the exhibit, I was let out into a courtyard with photographs of famous sites in the Yucatán. This church is stunning!

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All told, I was at the museum about 2.5 hours. I felt that I got a lot for my $150 and that the museum has very good information that is well laid out. They just need to solve their navigation issues. So this is a must see in Mérida and, again, the bulk of the museum has good English!

From the museum, I headed off in direction of where I thought I could catch the bus back to Centro. I passed the monument commemorating the 100 years of Korean immigration to Mérida. I did not know that Mexico had a strong Korean expat community and urge you to go read more about it.

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A bus marked Centro pulled up to a bus stop at the same time as me. Talk about timing! I got off the bus a block from the restaurant where I wanted to have lunch, but they were closed. *sighs*

I walked around my general neighbourhood looking for an alternative place to eat lunch. Pickings were very slim on a Monday. It wasn’t even a case of waiting till 2PMish (it was noon when I arrived back from the museum), which is closer to the time Mexicans have their largest meal of the day.

Walking around, I noticed some gorgeous architecture:

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And some funny translations:

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I gave up on finding lunch near home, didn’t want to go eat my leftovers (which would have meant having to find groceries to make dinner too), and needed a hat for tomorrow’s plans, so I schlepped down to the area of the Zocalo and the mercado. Food choices were also dire in this area, but I finally found a chain diner-type thing called Trompos that was open. Reader Colm mentioned eating there.

By this point, it was almost 2:30, I’d been ready for lunch since 11:00, and I’d walked a lot. I ordered a cold beer and what looked good without really thinking of the calories I’d about to take in. They got me at “al pastor” and “salsa verde,” but I ignored the guacamole, sour cream, wheat tortilla, and bacon. OMG, what did I do?! My “ke-burro” was very good, though. I was disappointed that it was not “bathed” in salsa verde as promised, but then the server came back and gave me some more, saying the chef hadn’t been sure I’d want the usual portion. Funny because it wasn’t spicy.

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Lunch would have been very reasonable if they hadn’t charged me TWENTY-EIGHT PESOS FOR A BOTTLE OF WATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I buy the same bottle at Oxxo for $6! I know restaurants have a markup, but it’s usually about $15 for water. This was highway robbery. I would not go back to Trompos because of this. I did like their weekday afternoon beer price of $25.

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I then wandered around looking for a hat. It was hard because Mérida is known for its “Panama” hats and so there don’t appear to be many cheap hats available. Since I now knew how to get most of the way home on a bus, I was happy to wander for a long while. Centro was more vibrant than yesterday, especially around the mercado.

Did you know that Mérida’s cathedral is one of the oldest in North America? It was completed in 1598.

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There were a lot of vendors today and people doing some serious shopping!

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So. Many. Shoes in the mercado. This is just a tiny portion of them!

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Here’s a Maya Museum bus, but coming from it. Take a bus on calle 60 to go north, calle 62 to go south (most streets here are narrow and one way).

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I had passed the Chaya Maya at one point after eating and a greeter tried to lure me in. I told him I’d eaten there already. Well, I ran into the same guy an hour or so later in front of the cathedral and he wanted to know more about me (nothing pushy or invasive, just wondering how I’d liked the food, how long I was in Mérida for, and we also compared Mérida and Maz). We chatted a bit and then I asked if he knew where I could find a cheap hat. He gave me directions to a shop and it had what I wanted! Unbelievable!

The hat shop owner wanted to know where I’m from and I said Saskatchewan, Canada. He proudly said that he knows where that is because he lived in Mississauga, ON, for a time! He’d moved to Canada for the promise of a “better life” and said that he made a lot more money working there than he did running his hat shop in Mérida, but he couldn’t get ahead, buy a house, or send his kids to good schools. So he came home, happy to have had the experience so that he can better appreciate how good life is here despite all of Mexico’s problems. He thinks I’m really lucky to be able to live in Mexico on a Canadian (actually U.S.) salary. YES. That is a huge deal! I would be just as broke here as back home if I was making Mexican wages!

My hat was $150 firm when we started chatting, but $140 when I finally paid him. Not a huge difference, but appreciated!

I then went to calle 60 to get a bus. One marked Hyatt came by almost immediately and I tried to flag it Maz-style (sticking my arm out) since I’d seen other people do that, but he drove by me. I decided to try with the next one, also marked Hyatt, and this one stopped!

I wanted to get off at the corner of 60 and 35 (a block or two before the Hyatt) and look where I landed:

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Not a bad first couple of experiences riding the bus in Mérida! Home was about six blocks east and north from there, including having to cross the Paseo de Montejo.

Oh, look here’s a picture of my hat. The rose has to go. 🙂

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It wound up being a very full day even if it doesn’t feel like I got much done. One thing I’ve learned is that this neighbourhood sucks for food beyond fast food such as tacos (and there are no carts that I’ve seen yet), tortas, and the like. I have yet to find a restaurant that is open past 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. The only sit down restaurant I found today that was open was a very pricy Italian place and some Gringos told me that they’d waited more than 30 minutes to even be acknowledged when they sat down. I wasn’t in the mood for pasta, so I gave it a pass. I’ll definitely need to get closer to Centro. Having a choice of eateries is important to me. I work from home and sometimes the only thing that motivates me to get out is not having to cook!

Tomorrow, I’m heading out of town. Spoiler: Mayan pyramids, here I come!

 

Paseo Túnel de Minería, Calle Constitución, and Barrio de Analco, Durango

After the city museum, I crossed the street to enter the Paseo Túnel de Minería, a mining tunnel reproduction and museum.

Here’s one of many tourist maps you can find around Centro:

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Tunnel entrance elevator at Plaza de armas:

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It’s quite a ways down!

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I was once again told that the museum is temporarily closed and that there is instead an exhibit on child exploitation and sex trafficking. I said I still wanted to go in and they let me go down the stairs. But at the bottom, they had an English speaker (sort of — I think my Spanish was better!) make sure I really did understand what I was getting into.

The special exhibit has you start at the end. Most of the mining information stuff has been blocked off, but you can still get some of the info. Really, I wanted to do this just for the tunnel itself, so there was plenty there to make the journey worthwhile.

The tunnel was actually pretty spooky!

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There were information panels and displays all along it. Very disturbing information, of course, but informational.

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You can see here how they covered up some of the mining stuff:

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Near the end, there, there was a very powerful animated film about a young girl getting recruited through her Facebook account. I was very lucky in the early days of the Internet to never get into a situation like this! After the film, there was a man handing out information on resources for women and children caught in a bad situation and how witnesses can report things.

This wasn’t a fun part of the day at all, but I came out knowing that Mexico is working to protect the rights and liberties of its women and children, and that is something that was well worth knowing.

I came back above ground at Plaza de armas, so I decided to stroll down the pedestrian Calle Constitución to go check out the oldest neighbourhood in Durango, Barrio de Analco.

I couldn’t get enough of this building at the corner of Constitución and 5 de febrero! Love the flying buttresses!

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And the church bell!

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This bit of Calle Constitución is modeled after the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with stars for all the famous actors who have filmed something in Durango. It is a lot more attractive and cleaner than the original walk of fame. 🙂

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Finally, an actor I really like!

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There was a craft market as well as a man selling tacos from a cart. They smelled divine…

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Ah… the best actor of all time. So happy to see his name here:

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There was a bit of a park at the end of the street:

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And a pedestrian overpass that no one was using!

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The main street in the Barrio de Analco was lined with well preserved old houses, a real feast for the eyes:

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But get off the main road, and you pretty much have slum, not unlike in Maz’s own Centro:

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It still has its own charm!

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Coming back to Constitución, I thought that it would be nice to have that apartment upstairs!

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The crowd around the taco guy had dissipated a bit, so I got in line! I just wanted a snack since I had big plans for lunch. But it was just past noon (I swear time stood still in Durango) and I had a long walk to lunch, so sustenance was required! $8 for a carne asada (BBQed beef) taco, with lots of different salsas and toppings, including chopped cabbage. I liked that the seller wore a face mask and changed his gloves to handle money. I eat from carts all the time in Maz and have never been ill, but sometimes find the hygiene standards could be a bit better.

I was just about to take my first bite when a man said in perfect, but heavily accented English, “Oh, you didn’t get to Mexico yesterday!”

I turned to him, a little bewildered, and asked him what he meant. “Number one, you’re eating from a cart. Number two, you just ordered; didn’t care what he was selling. Number three, you just started piling on toppings without examining anything and when we warned you that the green stuff was spicy, you added more!”

We had a chat as I ate my very delicious taco and he asked why I picked that cart, only because it was, in his opinion, the best tacos in that part of Durango! “Easy,” I told him. “It’s the one that had the biggest crowd!”

Sated, I headed back towards 20 de noviembre for the very long walk to the Emir restaurant. I was surprised to pass a truck that had a parking ticket!

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The restaurant was very easy to find, just well past the Soriana and 5KM from my hotel according to Siri (I doubt it was really that much…). Emir is an ‘Arabic’ restaurant, the only one in Durango. Went for their mysterious (no description) ‘Lebanese platter’ (not quibbling over the fact that the Lebanese are not Arabs). Some time later, this arrived:

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Growing up in the Montreal-Ottawa corridor with its huge Lebanese population, I’m very familiar with the cuisine and disappointed by attempts made to recreate it away from that region. Oh, I sometimes scratch the itch, but I really need to go back east to reach full satisfaction. So imagine my surprise that this was by far the best, never mind most satisfying, Lebanese spread I’ve had outside of Montreal-Ottawa! In Durango, Mexico! My only disappointment was that the fried ball that looks like an American football wasn’t a falafel (but it was still delicious). I was amazed by my willpower when I turned down more pita, but caved at the offer of baklava and Turkish coffee! This was a meal I will remember for a very, very, very long time. Total cost was something like a mere $220 with the tip.

The walk back to the hotel was rather necessary and I had a nap when I got there, but that was mostly because I didn’t get much sleep the night before because of all that coffee!

My day was far, far from done!

Driving Through Saguaro National Park and Visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

For this afternoon, I wanted an activity that would get me out of the truck (so not too far from Coolidge in the direction of Tucson), but which would still be outdoorsy. I found the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which sounded like the perfect way to wile away an afternoon. To get there, my GPS routed me through Saguaro National Park, a route I would have avoided had I not had my parks pass as it costs $10 to enter this park for a week. I pulled over a few times to enjoy the view of all those hills covered in one saguaro cactus after another. It looked positively like an alien landscape!

Later, at the museum, I asked someone there all my questions about the saguaros. First of all, the g has the Spanish pronunciation, so it is more like sa-wah-ro  than sa-gwa-ro. Next, the root system really interested me. The saguaros have a lot of roots, most of which are just below the surface and the radius of the roots equals the height of the cactus. So if you have a 10′ cactus, the roots extend 10′ all around it. The older the root, the more woody it is. The saguaros are firmly rooted, but sway in the wind. They get their first spear (arm) when they are about 75 to 100 years old and they live a long time!

The desert museum admission is just shy of $20 and you need at least two hours to see everything. I stayed 2.5 hours and that was just enough to view everything except hike the desert loop to the coyotes because it was just too dang out.  Anyway, I see coyotes all the time back home, so I decided to see the (indoor) snake exhibit a second time instead. 🙂

This museum is really a zoo and botanical garden. You get to see all the animals of the Sonoran desert as well as the plants, insects, and geology. It is beautifully laid out.

I arrived around 1:40 and was told to hoof it down to the rear of the site to catch the raptor show at 2:00. This was an incredible experience! Several types of trained raptors, including peregrine falcons, Harris’ hawks, and barn owls fly over and near the crowd. One hawk swooped so close to me that I had to duck! The show lasted a half hour and we learned about how these birds thrive in a desert environment.

After that, I just wandered the site with my map, looking at what was interesting, from the aviary to the big cat canyon, the mineral dump where I was able to find a treasure to take home to the hummingbird garden, the bee and butterfly habitats to the cactus garden, and more. There was lots and lots to see and plenty of cool buildings to duck into when I had enough of the unrelenting sun. There was also a conveniently located café selling ice cream at a reasonable price. 🙂

The museum takes good care of its guests by not only providing a lot of sources of good drinking water for refilling bottles, but also sunscreen in every bathroom!

My camera ran out after the black bear. I got some more pics with my iPhone, but I forgot to bring the transfer cable into the bunk with me. All you’re missing is pictures of prairie dogs, several rattlesnakes, and every more saguaro-covered hills. In other words, not much. 🙂

I learned so much today about this desert that extends as far north as B.C.’s Okanagan region. The saguaro-savvy staff member and I talked about about that and she explained that prickly pear-type cacti do well in colder climates, hence why we have them in Canada. She was surprised that we have them as far east as southern SK, though.

From the museum, I took a twisty road to Tucson, stopping along the way to soak in the view. It’s been another full rich day!

Well Fed In Wichita

Normally when I do driveway camping, I’m on my own for meals. Oh, I of course have a few with my hosts, but we pretty much stick to our own routines. L informed me upon arrival that he had stocked up on extra groceries for my visit. He made a nice breakfast my first two mornings and a really yummy saukerkraut and pork chop crock pot dinner last night.

His daughter and I got talking about food and when it came out that I love Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, she suggested we have lunch yesterday at Le Monde cafe and deli, a cozy restaurant with a mostly Mediterranean menu. What a joy it was to share an entrée of hummus and pita with someone!

This morning, L and I went next door to B&S’ for brunch (a couple I had met on the beach). I had breakfast burritos for the first time! I don’t eat eggs, so I’ve always stayed cleared of those, but S’ mix was much heavier on the sausage and veggies than the eggs, so they went down just fine.

After gabbing and about a gallon of coffee each, L and I headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing.

We started off by taking in the Keeper of the Plains, a monument that stands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers (Ar-kan-zes, not Ar-ken-sa!).

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This monument represents the local indigenous peoples and marks their sacred ground. There are some informational panels near the monument.

Next, I asked that we go downtown so I could photograph the statues along main street. We had a lot of fun getting photographs with those, but I’ll go easy on L and not publish the rather saucy ones. 🙂
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Next, we headed over to the River City Brewery for something cold (and non-alcoholic) to drink where L left me in charge of his valuables.

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We then went across the street to the Museum of World Treasures, one of the most amazing museums I have ever been to. It is an eclectic personal collection of everything from dinosaur bones to Egyptian mummies, WWII memorabilia, and autographs. We could only take pictures on the third and first stories, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the war and royalty exhibits were impressive!
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We then headed back to the River City Brewery for a late lunch/early dinner. The Brewery makes a variety of beers and only serves its own brews. We put in an order for the pulled pork special and L asked me if I wanted a beer because he wanted one. I took a glance at the menu and suggested we order the sampler, which got us NINE small glasses of beer (it came out to about two beers per person).

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We were a little surprised to discover that our BBQ pulled pork sandwiches came topped with creamy coleslaw, but it wound up being really yummy!

The beers were mostly great! There were a few that neither one of us liked and a few that one of us disliked, but we mostly agreed. I really liked their fruity Maibock as well as their Old Town Brown. L like the brown one too as well as the Emerald City Stout, while I found that latter one lacking in mouthfeel and preferred, to my surprise, the milk stout that had a maple syrupy finish.

We had our stouts with a stout and pretzel brownie, not that we were able to finish it. 🙂

It was a really fun day. Thanks, L!

A Fun Afternoon at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas

Undeterred by the pouring rain, Ms. Cinnamon and I headed out for the afternoon. I asked if she wanted to have lunch out and she suggested Vietnamese, which was exactly what I had in mind. So we headed over to the Bistro B.

The restaurant has a crazy huge and overwhelming menu. I decided that we didn’t have all day and that I wanted vermicelli, chicken, and lemongrass, which I found as a number 113. Ms. Cinnamon ordered the same thing.

The ginormous meal of fresh salad, noodles, meat, and a side of fish sauce looked lovely and tasted pretty good, but it was nowhere near lemongrassy enough for me. There was just a hint of it in some bites, but for a meal labeled lemongrass, it wasn’t enough. So I questioned the server and he offered to take back our food, but we refused since there was nothing wrong with it and we didn’t want to have to wait for them to make something new.

Well, he came back minutes later with a small plate heaped with more lemongrass and sautéd onions! And guess what he told us? That the chef purposely toned it down because the dish is too flavourful for most of the folks who come to the restaurant! Now, what we were served was not bland in the least, but the added lemongrass really made it shine. Yu-um!

Sated, Ms. Cinnamon and I headed out to tour the Perot Museum of Science and Nature, which is new in Dallas. I took a picture of the exterior when I was out the other day. It was almost 2:30 when we arrived and the museum closes at 5:00. Well, we had just enough time to see everything, but would have really needed another hour or two!

This is a very hands on museum with a lot of fun activities. From the lobby, you get a dizzying escalator ride straight up to the fourth floor dinosaurs and space exhibits, and then you work your way down.

The museum is great for kids and the kid at heart. My favourite exhibit was up in the fourth floor mezzanine birds exhibit where you put on 3D glasses and get to soar like a bird. The effect is remarkable as you get to swoop, dive, and fly by moving your body. This photo gallery gives a small sample of the exhibits. At $15, the museum isn’t cheap, but you get a lot of bang for your buck!

We stopped at the Central Market, a super fancy grocery store, on the way home to grab something quick and easy for dinner. I got a few groceries and then spent some time in the deli area trying to decide what I was in the mood for. The sushi very tempting, but I went with my first instinct, which was to have a mixed Mediterranean plate with hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, cucumber and tomato salad, and lots of other good stuff where you pay by the weight of your container. Yum!

It was really cold today (I doubt we hit 50F), but at least the sky has cleared.