Savoring the local life in Lille



Taking a bike ride with a local guide is one of the best ways I know to get the feel of a new city. Nothing seems as far away on a bike as it does on foot, and if you're lucky,  she or he will share tips on favorite places to eat, museums to visit and short-cuts that save precious steps when you're out sightseeing on your own. Sign up for a group tour, and you may even score a private guide as I diid on my first visit to Lille, a city in Northern France near the border with Belgium, an hour's train ride from Paris.

I signed on for a tour with a company called Le Grand Huit, but it turned out to be a slow Friday. I was their only customer. Instead of cancelling, my guide, Frédérique Lamoureux, above, treated me to a 2.5-hour, one-on-one ride on a sunny fall morning. We road along riverside bike paths, dedicated bike lanes and cobbled streets. Flemish before it became French in 17th century, Lille has a different feel than other French towns.Think beer instead of wine, strong cheeses, waffles and architecture reminiscent of what you might see in Brussels or Amsterdam. 

Just as interesting as riding around town with Frédérique was learning a bit about local life. She is the mother of three girls, ages 3, 5 and 7, and uses her Dutch bike to carry all three, although the seven-year-old now often rides on her own. Each morning, she and other mothers take thier children to school in what they call the "bike bus," a caravan of kids and mothers riding together. At 41, she recently started working again after taking a government-funded, two-year maternity leave. 

 Frédérique pointed out that Lille was originally an island bisected by canals and rivers, now mostly filled in with buildings. Most visitors stay in Vieux Lille, the picturesque old quarter, filled with quaint restaurants and bars, but also lots of tourists. Neatly-planned row houses reflect laws that required new owners to copy the styles of their neighbors. Not everyone follows those rules today. Note the tiny pink ball in the left corner of the photo below on the Place de Theatre, one of Vieux Lille's two main squares. The owner of a lingerie shop painted one of the original cannonballs built into the facade of his building pink to resemble a woman's breast.




I booked a B&B (a room on the top floor, six flights, 60 steps up from ground level, no elevator) in 19th century Lille, the expanded new city about a mile away from the old town. I was disappointed at first that I hadn't found a room in the Vieux Lille, but staying in a local neighborhood turned out to be a great choice. Vietnamese, Cambodian, Moroccan and Indian restaurants lined little side streets, along with inexpensive French bistros.  My hostess at L'Art de Vivre B&B served local cheese, croissants, yougurt, fruit and homemade jams at breakfast, leaving me no room for lunch. At the Saturday market a few blocks away, farmers set out bottles of homemade pear and apple cider and rows of giant cauliflowers. Cheese trucks and olive trucks shared a parking lot with vendors selling mattresses and sweaters. 



Lille has many fine museums, including a massive fine arts museum, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, and a small museum devoted to Louis Pasteur who came to Lille at the behest of brewers to work on the study of fermentation. One afternoon, on Frédérique's advice, I took the metro (Lille's system is driverless, which locals like to say is immune to strikes) to the town of Roubaix.  It's a short walk from the station to La Piscine (French for swimming pool), a museum of art and industry, in an Art Deco building on the site of a former community swimming pool. Architects incorporated water features and shower cabins into display spaces, and used old bath tubs to house the museum's fine art collection. 





Like Paris, Lille has its share of American-style fast-food restaurants and coffee shops. I was disappointed to see a cafe on Place du General-de-Gaulle serving coffee in paper cups. Worse was the prospect of a "FIve Guys" burger chain due to open soon on a main pedestrian street. 


Why this when I found in my own neighborhood excellent food, served at charming little bistros brimming with local ambience. At Le Chat Dans L'Horloge (The Cat in the Clock), I sat at a little wooden table next to a wall decorated with copper pans and old magazine covers. The night's fixed-price special was a creamy goat cheese tarte, steak frites and a glass of wine for  $17. 


The next night it was a chicken tangine with pears, almonds and orange-flavored honey at Le Souk, a Moroccan restaurant that even on a Saturday night was quiet and uncrowded. The bill, with a small pitcher of white wine, was $19. Meanwhile, the guys at Five Guys must be onto something. A friend reports a 45-minute wait at the chain's new location in Paris.

Coping with Trump's war on travel


Istanbul's Blue Mosque

When Donald Trump took office last January, many of us were asking ourselves how his policies might affect travel for Americans abroad.

Nine months later, we have some answers. 

Our dollars are worth less against almost every major currency. 

Travel to Cuba has been restricted. That country along with 40 others, including Mexico, Egypt, Jordon, Colombia and parts of Israel, have been hit with U.S. government travel warnings advising Americans to stay away.   

And the latest: U.S. citizens can no longer get a visa to enter Turkey, disrupting travel plans for thousands, and leaving tourists, business travelers, tour operators, airlines and cruise lines in limbo when it comes to future plans.

What might be next is anyone's guess. In the meantime, here's a rundown on where things stand in the immediate future.

Turkey

Turkey's decision to stop issuing visas to American travelers either in-person on arrival or online through it's e-visa program, came in direct response to a move by the U.S. to suspend the issuing of visas for Turkish citizens hoping to visit or study in the United States after Turkey arrested a U.S. consulate employee on allegations of espionage. The U.S. suspension followed a March travel warning, reissued in late September, recommending Americans citizens carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey. By the time you read this, the latest spat may have ended, but until then, and perhaps after, due to the possibility of this happening again, we will have no choice.  

This is sad, because Turkey is one of the most fascinating places in the world to visit. More than 37,000 U.S. nationals traveled to Turkey in 2016, a drop from the 88,000 visitors in 2015, a change that can be attributed to the coup attempt and security crackdown in Turkey last year when many cruise lines and U.S. tour operators cancelled trips. 

Tour operators and airlines are coming up with refund policies to help Americans who had already booked trips. Intrepid Travel said travelers booked on coming trips who are affected by the visa suspension will be issued refunds or can use their deposit toward another tour.



The dollar

The U.S. dollar, long a symbol of American economic might, has fallen steadily since Trump took office.

As of August, the value of the dollar index, which tracks the dollar against six major global currencies, had fallen about 10% since January. Europe's political and economic problems apparently haven't outweighed the effect chaos and uncertainty in U.S. In January, the dollar exchange rate against the euro was $1.06. Today's it's $1.17.

Cuba

The State Department has issuing a travel warning, urging Americans not to travel to Cuba after 21 U.S. diplomats and family members became ill after a string of mysterious attacks. No tourists were affected, and no other major country has issued a similar warning.

The travel warning has created plenty of confusion and resulted in some cancellations of planned trips to Cuba, but RESPECT (Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel), an association of 150 travel agencies, tour operators and others who provide travel services to Cuba, told the Miami Herald that the warning is unjustified and its members are continuing to organize trips to Cuba.

“This is just not a question of travelers’ safety,” said Bob Guild, co-coordinator of RESPECT and vice president of Marazul Charters, which organizes group tours and individual travel to Cuba. He told the Herald that so far this year there have been 500,000 U.S. visitors to Cuba, including Cuban Americans. “None of them, to the best of my knowledge, has experienced similar health issues. The State Department warning is a political warning, not a health warning.”

The warning comes on top of new restrictions the Trump administration placed on Americans travesl earlier in the year, forcing most to go on expensive group tours instead of traveling independently as people from most other countries freely do.

Other countries

Consult the U.S state department's long list of advice on travel elsewhere, then check to see what Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia are telling their citizens. Official government travel  warnings can sometimes impact travel insurance coverage, so be sure to check on coverage details before buying a policy. 

Where to go?

Donald Trump's idea of "foreign travel" might be a quick hop to Puerto Rico followed by a golf game in New Jersey, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to buy into false fears. Exercise caution, just as anyone visiting the U.S. should be doing right now. Change plans when it makes sense, but by all means, keep on traveling.

Air France to add Seattle/Paris nonstop flights next March


Air France will restart Seattle to Paris nonstop service next spring, six years after handing the popular route over to code-share partner Delta Airlines in 2012.

Starting March, 25, 2018, Air France will fly between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, five days a week, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays in Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

The new service will be in addition to a daily flight offered by Delta, meaning Seattle will have two flights a day and two airlines from which to choose. The competition can expect to impact fares and hopefully service, with Delta faced with finding ways to match Air France's reputation for food, wines, seat comfort and overall ambience. Atlanta-based Delta has a huge base of operations in Seattle, and recently opened a new Sky Club at the airport. 

The Air France flight will leave Paris-Charles de Gaulle at 1:30 p.m., arriving the same day in Seattle at 2:20 p.m. The flight will depart Seattle at 4:30 p.m., arriving in Paris the next day at 11:10 a.m. 

Delta's flight leaves Seattle at 1:11 p.m., arriving in Paris at 8:20 a.m. the following morning. It returns at 10:10 a.m., arriving in Seattle at 11:51 p.m.

Flight time for Air France will be around 9.5 hours, slightly less than Delta's 10-hour flight aboard Airbus A 330 aircraft.

Sea-Tac one has been one of the fastest growing U.S. large hub airports for the past three years. Between 2015 and 2016, international traffic increased by more than 11 percent. Since 2007, 14 new international carriers have come to Seattle which now offers nonstop service to 26 international destinations.

Construction started earlier this year on a new international arrivals facility,  scheduled to open in late 2019. The facility will double passenger capacity and reduce connection times. Gates capable of serving international wide body airplanes will increase from 12 to 20. 

B.C.'s Galiano Island: Settle in for scenic wonders and serendipity


A Canadian ferry travels through Active Pass 

Quiet beach walks. Check

Hikes through old-growth forests. Check

Whales and wild deer: Check

Mix the usual island pleasures with a dose of serendipity - as in who knew we'd find ourselves on a bus filled with passengers shaking maracas and singing Beatles' tunes - and it's easy to fill a weekend exploring British Columbia's tiny Galiano Island. 

One of the least-developed of the Canadian Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the lower mainland,  Galiano is just 17 miles long and 3.7 miles wide at its widest point. 

"We're about people wanting to be quiet," says glass artist Marcia DeVicque, one of the island's 1,000 or so residents. "If I get more than three cars in my drive, I call it Galiano Gridlock."

Just an hour's ferry ride from Vancouver, Galiano could be an easy day-trip, but my husband, Tom, and I found plenty of reasons to settle in, starting with the peach and raspberry scones from the Sturdies Bay Bakery and Cafe, down the hill from our Airbnb, a three-room cottage close to the ferry dock. 

Our host, Alexandra, pointed out the location of a Saturday farmers' market at the end of her street, and several hikes and walks we could take from her front door.
 With half the island used as a tree farm by the lumber industry until the early 1990s, almost one-fifth is protected land, most of it open for public use. 

 "It's acceptable to hitch-hike," Alexandra told us. "The locals will pick you up." Perhaps, but much better to bring a car, we concluded, given the mountainous geography and abundance of forest trails. 

Using a Galiano Parks and Recreation Commission map we picked up at a kiosk next to the ferry dock, we followed dozens of numbered access points to well-maintained beach and bluff trails, with time outs for visits with artists, farmers and the world's most entertaining bus driver.

Here are some suggestions on where to walk and stop along the way:

Retreat Cove and Tapovan Peace Park

Most visitors find their way mid-island to Bodega Ridge Provincial Park, known for its cliffside trails and views over the Gulf islands and the Olympic Mountains. 
Nearby, off Porlier Pass Road, are two lessor-known sites and the studios of two well-known artists.

Reachable on foot are a small sandstone caves at Retreat Cove (No. 31 on the map). We parked, and followed a path to the water, heeding a sign that said "Access to caves at your own risk." It also noted we were on private property, not unusual on Galiano where trails often border or go through private, residential land.

Trails lead to sandstone caves

Easy to miss is the small sign off Porlier Pass for Tapovan Peace Park, 200 acres of forested land dedicated to the life of Sri Chinmoy,  an Indian spiritual leader dedicated to world peace. 

A  Tapovan is a forest or wilderness for spiritual practice, according to a Galiano Trails Society map we found at the entrance. A steep, half-hour walk up a series of stone steps lead us to a bluff overlooking Trincomali Channel and a statue of Sri Chinmoy.
Hidden in a grove of cedar trees just north of the park are the galleries of potter Sandra Dolph and glass artist Marcia DeVicque

Glass artist Marcia DeVicque

Dolph draws inspiration from her daily walks with her dog along Pebble Beach, incorporating shells and leaves in some of the pieces she displays in her open-air Cedar Grove Gallery.  Devicque shows off her colorful mobiles and bird feeders in a garden populated with hummingbirds and hundreds of tiny frogs.


Cedar Grove Gallery

Montague Harbour/Gray Peninsula 

Sheltered Montague Harbour is the gateway to Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, and Gray Peninsula, home to First Nations peoples before the arrival of Spanish explorer Dionisio Galiano in 1792. A loop trail is an easy hour's walk through the forest and white shell beaches. Locals say it's one of the best places to watch the sunset. 

A few miles away is the Hummingbird Pub, an island institution popular with families. We could have easily driven, but instead we parked the car at the marina, and waited for with Tom Tompkins  (aka Tommy Transit) to show up behind the wheel of the free Hummingbird Pub Bus. 



The Humming Bird pub bus

Suddenly we're all back in high school as Tompkins, 71, hands out maracas and tambourines, cranks up the music, and bangs on symbols and a cow bell mounted above the dashboard. 

"If you're not shakin' it,  you're not makin' it," he yells as we  rock and roll to the Beatles' "Help."


"Tommy Transit"

Burgers and beer aside, it's possible to find Indonesian, German (served from the same food truck) and Thai food on Galiano. The award for most creative use of local ingredients goes to Pilgrimme where chef Jesse McCleery composes dishes from food mostly foraged, grown or produced on the island. 



Dinner on the deck at Pilgrimme

Relaxing on the deck of his wooded cottage one evening, we sampled our way through four or five shared plates including a bowl of marinated olives tossed with chopped pine needles, herbs and chiles and a salad of roasted peaches, local greens and blue cheese. 

Active Pass/Bluffs Park

Close to the ferry terminal on the south end of the island, is Bluffs Park, Galiano's oldest wilderness park, overlooking Active Pass. Galiano is one of the main feeding routes for ORCA whales, and the best viewing spots are near here. A detour through the Galiano Cemetery took us along a path marked "Whale Trail," and down a flight of concrete steps (No. 17 on the map) to a sand beach with a long view up the pass.

We didn't spot any whales day we were there, but we weren't disappointed. 
Serendipity kicked in once more when we noticed a flier advertising the Galiano Conservancy Association's "Musical Walkalong for Learning," an annual, three-hour guided walk through the forest, accompanied by musicians playing flute, cello, horns and more. 

Musical "Walkalong"

Whales, I've seen before, but never have I hiked through the woods, and come upon a bass player standing in a clearing, or harpist perched on a bluff above a crystal blue bay. 


If you go:

Tourist season on Galiano winds down after Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 9 this year). Some businesses close or keep seasonal hours. Best to call ahead if you have a specific restaurant or art gallery in mind for a visit. Year-round activities include golf, kayaking, biking and hiking.

Getting there: See www.bcferries.com or call 1-888-223-3779 for schedules and prices from the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen, near Vancouver.  Travel time is 55 minutes. Reservations recommended.

Getting around: With no regular public transportation, Galiano is best explored with a car, or if you don't mind hills and narrow roads, by bike.  

Galiano Adventures rents mopeds May-September. The free Hummingbird Pub bus runs from Montague Harbour Marina and the park campground to the pub and back from the end of May through the last Saturday in September. 

Where to stay: Cabins, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs and campsites are available in various price ranges. We paid $108 (U.S. dollars) per night for our Airbnb, a small cottage with a kitchen and private bath on the south end of the island near the ferry dock. 

Looking for a splurge? Within walking distance of the ferry dock is the Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa. Fall rates on oceanfront spa and villa suites range from $199-$299 Canadian dolllars ($161-$241 U.S. based on the current exchange rate). The hotel provides Smart Cars for guests. 

Upcoming events:

Find local artists and farmers at the Saturday Market, from late May through October 7,  10 a.m.-2 p.m. The island's annual Blackberry Festival is Oct. 7.  

Galiano's annual Literary Festival takes place next February 23 - 25, hosted by the Galiano Island Bookstore

Continuing through May is the Galiano Concert Society's 2017-2018 "Baroque and Beyond" series. 

Tourism info: Pick up maps at the Galiano Island Chamber of Commerce information booth on Sturdies Bay Road, near ferry dock. More trail information on the Galiano Trail Society's website.

A night at the movies in Washington State's historic Port Townsend

Kombucha on tap at the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend

It's Friday night at the movies in Port Townsend, a historic maritime community on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. Friends and I arrive 45 minutes before show time at the Rose Theatre's Starlight room on the third floor of a former Elks club hall. Upholstered chairs and comfy couches face tall windows with views of Puget Sound's Admiralty Inlet. One of three cinemas in a vintage multiplex that began as a vaudeville house in 1907, the room has just 46 seats, and often sells out.

"Everyone has their special chair," says Port Townsend resident Jane Kilburn,  seated in the front row next to an antique end table. Someone calls out "Lauren Bacall," Kilburn's signal to take a small back and white photo of the film star to the bar, and retrieve her order of house-made hummus, olives and peppers.

The Starlight Room

We find spots several rows back, and wait for someone to shout "Paul Newman." Raspberry mojitos and microbrews appear along with lentil sliders and salads. Until the screen comes down and the chandeliers dim, it's easy to forget we're here to see a film. But mood lighting and gourmet snacks aside, the main course at the Rose is a rotating buffet of on-screen entertainment well worth a weekend visit.

"It's always been my goal to show both commercial and art house films," says Rocky Friedman,  who along with partner Phil Johnson,  went door-to-door with rose-patterned carpet samples to find community investors willing to finance restoration of the theater in 1992. Twenty-five years, 15 tons of popcorn and 3,176 movies later, the Rose thrives by offering a mix of entertainment designed to appeal to this community of well-educated population of retirees along with tourists and younger locals.

Gourmet snacks and drinks in the Starlight Room 

Friedman might rotate as many as a half-dozen selections within a given week, giving visitors a chance to create their own mini-film festival.  Showing recently on three screens (158 seats in the original Rose Theatre, 79 next door in the smaller Rosebud Cinema and 46 in the Starlight Room upstairs in an adjoining building) were Wonder Woman, Paris Can Wait, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, the Wedding Plan, Restless Creature, a documentary about New York City ballet star Wendy Whelan; and Baby Driver.

In addition to films, Friedman streams performances by New York's Metropolitan Opera. London's National Theatre and Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. He staged a dance film festival last May, traveling to New York to preview 42 movies before selecting 23 to show over four days. To celebrate the Rose's 25th anniversary on July 11, there was a free screening of The Godfather and free popcorn.

With 34 investors involved, the Rose is more than a labor of love, says Friedman, 64, a filmmaker and screenwriter. It's a viable business, managing to turn a profit even as theaters such as the Seven Gables and Guild 45th in Seattle, have closed.

For an independent theater to succeed,  "You've got to create reasons for people to set down the remote and come out and go to the movies," he says. "The intent has always been to personalize the whole experience."

Popcorn with real butter

A grand staircase with 55 steps leads to the Starlight Room, opened in 2013 in partnership with Port Townsend's Silverwater Cafe on the ground floor. A former photographer's studio with floor-to-ceiling black-out curtains, the room was ready-made for a theater. Seattle interior designer Michele Bayle combed local thrift stores, estate sales and auction houses for vintage furniture and fixtures. Silverwater created a menu of small plates and drinks. Vintage movie posters and black-and-white photos of film stars decorate a bar area stocked with a popcorn machine and bowls of chocolates and gummy bears.

Just as regulars have their favorite chairs in the Starlight Room, they also come early to sit in a cozy, nine-seat balcony in the Rose Cinema where the popcorn comes with real butter and patrons can order local Finnriver cider and Kombucha on tap

Friedman no longer personally introduces each film as he once did, but the tradition continues with his theater managers providing a bit of background on the movie or the director before each screening.

His goal from the beginning was to create a business that allowed him to do what he loved.

"For me, it's all about the work. "I feel grateful for being able to do what I love for 25 years."

If you go:

Chances are you'll be taking in a film at the Rose Theatre in the late afternoon or evening, which means you'll be looking for things to do earlier in the day. Some suggestions:

Farmers Market

Don't miss the Jefferson County Farmers Market Saturday, 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. in Port Townsend's historic Uptown District. Organic farmers, artisan food producers and arts and crafts vendors are celebrating the market's 25th anniversary this year. Bring a cooler or a picnic basket, and stock up on small-batch cheeses, pastries, soaps, ciders, and seasonal produce. New this year is Fiddlehead Creamery selling vegan ice cream in flavors such as sesame tahini and raspberry Thai basil.

Saturday market


Northwest Maritime Center

Port Townsend's maritime legacy lives on at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., host to the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (Sept. 8-10). There's a marine thrift store, library and boat rental center on site.

Fort Worden and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Visit Fort Worden State Park, a former U.S. Army installation about 1.5 miles from downtown. Near Point Wilson, where the Puget Sound meets the Strait of Juan De Fuca, the park is home to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, an interactive natural history museum with a hands-on aquarium.

Finnriver Orchard and Cider Garden

What began as a small cidery on a family-run apple orchard and blueberry farm has grown into a destination with food, music, a bocce ball court and a new tasting room at 124 Center Road in Chimacum. Stop on your way in or out of Port Townsend for samples of Finnriver ciders and fruit wines. Food vendors sell wood-fired pizzas, crêpes and bratwurst.


Finnriver tasting room

Getting there: Port Townsend is at the northeast tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. From the Seattle area, take a ferry to either Kingston or Bainbridge Island,  cross the Hood Canal Bridge, and follow WA-19N. Travel time is a little more than two hours. See http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Where to stay: Port Townsend is known for its bed and breakfasts in historic Victorian-style homes.
Choose from an inn on the beach to a room in a house built in the 1800s.  See listings at www.enjoypt.com along with information on hotel/motels, vacation rentals and RV/camping spots.

Rose Theatre reservations: Movies in the Starlight Room (21 and over)  sometimes sell out. Order advance tickets online at http://rosetheatre.com Prices are $10 for adults; $9 for seniors and students and $8 for children 12 and under. Matinees are $1 less.

Tourism info: See www.enjoypt.com, or stop in the visitor information center at 2409 Jefferson St. Suite B.


And the losers are...Trump's new Cuba policy penalizes Americantravelers, Cuban entrepreneurs


Should it really cost $500 a day or more to visit Cuba, one of the world's poorest countries?

I asked that question last year when the Obama administration eased travel restrictions for American tourists. Up until that time, the only way most Americans could legally visit Cuba was on an expensive "People to People" group tour sponsored by an operator licensed by the U.S. government.  

That changed with new rules allowing travelers to put together their own independent educational trips for the purpose of learning about Cuban people and their culture.
Among the beneficiaries were the Cuban people who run bed and breakfasts in their homes (many now part of the Airbnb system), private restaurants and small businesses catering to independent travelers.

It's beyond me whom the Trump administration thinks will be hurt or helped by reversing this policy. 

Somehow someone (Little Marco, perhaps) came up with the idea that a crack-down on independent travel would cause the Castro government to suffer to the point that it would meet U.S. demands for political reforms.

But as the Washington Post pointed out recently, the new rules will have just the opposite effect. Herding Americans back to the types of prepackaged, predictable group tourism that the Cuban government actually prefers will not only help further its political agenda, it will increase the amount it earns in tourism revenue by taking business away from Cuban entrepreneurs who cater to independent travelers.

The latest moves do little more than placate a minority of hard-line Florida Cuban-American conservatives demanding payback for their political backing. If it's media hype they were looking for, it's media hype they got in the form of headlines and front-page news stories. Rather than negotiate a "better deal," Trump fell back on divisive rhetoric aimed at disparaging Obama rather than making any substantive changes that might improve relations or the lives of Cuban people.

Embassies in Washington and Havana will stay open, and cruises and direct flights between the United States and Cuba will be protected. Cuban-Americans are still free to travel to the island and send money to relatives, and travelers can still bring back large quantifies of rum and cigars. According to one White House official, the administration does not intend to “disrupt” existing business deals such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by Marriott International Inc, to manage a historic Havana hotel. 

It's true, the new rules aim to ban or limit Americans from patronizing military-linked businesses, estimated to control more than half of the island’s tourist economy. Travel representatives are hoping to get around this by redirecting their business to hotels run by civilian organizations, although it's unclear what difference that will make since the Cuban government ultimately benefits from almost all business transactions through licensing fees and taxes.  

Bottom line: Yes, you'll still be able to visit Cuba legally - for a price.  An eight-day, seven-night "Classic Cuba'' tour offered by InsightCuba, for example, costs $4,895, or $611 per day, not including air fare. Contrast those costs with a $500 Seattle-Havana air fare on Alaska Airlines and seven nights in a $50- per- night Airbnb in a private Cuban home. Throw in a generous $75- a- day for meals, museums and mojitos, and you're still under $1,500 for an independent trip.


 Cuban B&B hosts will suffer under new restrictions on independent travel   

Most tour operators  work hard to create meaningful itineraries. Nevertheless, they are bound by Cuban and U.S. requirements, licenses and fees that drive up costs.

If you're considering a tour, best advice is to compare various itineraries to find one that fits your interest and budget. Consider trips offered by non-profits, such as Global Exchange, or organizations such as  Road Scholar which offers educational trips for people over 50.

Even on tour, it's possible to find ways to meet ordindary Cubans and experience a bit of real life away from the group.  

A few ideas:

Enter the Cuban economy

 Familiarize yourself with Cuba’s dual currency system. You’ll be exchanging dollars for convertible pesos (CUCs), a “hard currency” worth $1 each, minus a 10 percent exchange tax, a tit-for-tat for the U.S. embargo against Cuba. You can avoid the 10-percent tax by bringing either euros or Canadian dollars.

One of the hardest concepts for outsiders to grasp is that most Cubans are paid a government salary of about $20 per month, earned in the local currency, called pesos Cubanos or CUPs (worth about 4 cents each). Education, housing and health care are free. CUPs buy the basics: cooking oil, cheap meals, coffee cut with pea flour. But much of what the average Cuban wants and needs — drinkable coffee, washing machines, materials to fix up their homes — is only available to those who can pay in hard currency. (Tourism and money sent by relatives in the U.S. are the main sources).

To get a sense of everyday Cuban life, tip in convertibles, but for a truly local experience, change $5 into pesos Cubanos, and enter government-subsidized Cuba. Buy a 4-cent ice-cream cone, or patronize one of the fledgling entrepreneurs selling pizza and pastries for pennies from their kitchen windows. 


Waiting in line at La Coppelia is a Havana tradition

Havana's famous La Coppelia ice cream parlor, a sprawling outdoor complex where Cubans line up by the hundreds, accepts only CUPs, except in a tiny area walled off for tourists. Use your CUPs and join the local fun. 

It's an ideal place for foreigners can mix with Cubans who don't have something to sell or aren't working in the tourist industry. Many tourists miss this real La Coppelia experience, however, because the guards steer foreigners to a separate "hard currency'' area where two scoops served in a glass dish cost around $2.75. 

Explore Habana Centro

Get off-the-beaten path: Tourists see Havana's renovated Habana Vieja (Old Havana), but for a feel for what living here like for most people, walk through a neighborhood like Havana Centro, where kids play ball in the crumbling streets, and people sell snacks through open windows. 


Habana Centro
Calle Obispo, a pedestrian shopping street linking some of the prettiest parts of Habana Vieja with seedier Centro, brings tourists and locals together with its eclectic mix of luxury hotels, art galleries, cafes, hard currency stores displaying frying pans and toothpaste in the windows and "peso'' ice cream shops. 

Follow the bloggers

Learn about Cuba’s changing economy and differing views about life under 
Raul Castro. Follow blogs by Cuban activists on Translating Cuba.

Blogger Reinaldo Escobar made a prediction on the day before Trump's speech announcing his policy changes.

"The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth," Reinaldo wrote. "He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda."

The applause will die down. The headlines will be replaced by new news. Meanwhile, thousands of Europeans, Australians and Asians will continue to travel freely to Cuba. Everyone that is, except us.

For more ideas, photos and snapshots of everyday life in Cuba, I invite you to see my full Cuba blog.

Valencia: Spain's low-key third city


 

When most of us think of Valencia, we think of the sweet oranges grown in Spain. Indeed orange trees are everywhere in this Mediterranean city. They shade parks, sidewalks and parking strips, reminding visitors of a time when the hope was that fruit might replace the silk trade as an economic driver.

The two days we spent in Valencia recently wasn't long enough to explore all there is to see and do, but it was long enough to make some memories that have nothing to do with oranges. When I think of Valencia from now on, I'll think of diving into a pan of paella at a beach restaurant, biking along a former riverbed transformed  into lush gardens and parks, and wandering through one of Europe's biggest markets, sampling olives, chocolate and slivers of ham. 

Most visitors to Spain make their way to Madrid and Barcelona, both filled with art and historical sites, but also bursting at the seams with tourists. As Spain's "third city," Valencia is more low key, attracting less of an international crowd and more Spanish visitors. Its historic center is filled with wedding cake architecture and cafes tucked into narrow streets with more bicycles than cars. Established by the Romans, occupied by Muslims and re-conquered by the Spanish, it's a city where it's possible to find within a few blocks walk or bike ride, Roman ruins, 10th-century Muslim-built walls, Baroque churches and a Jetson-like science complex surrounded by a pool of water perfect for paddle-boarding. 

 


 

Picking a hotel  in or close to the historic center (Barrio del Carmen) and a Metro stop is key for doing as much as possible with limited time. Ours' was the Zalamara B&B in a quirky neighborhood filled with Chinese shops, restaurants and hair salons. There wasn't much of interest in the immediate area, but the location was perfect, a five-minute walk into the old town, the Metro and the north train station.

Some highlights:

Mercado Central: This is a historic, art nouveau-style market built in 1928, and given a facelift a few years ago. Artisan food vendors are generous with samples of cured ham, olives, chocolates and pickled vegetables. We spent an hour and a half here before visiting the 16th-century Gothic-style Llotja de la Seda -former silk market - next door. I bought several small gifts to take home including little cans of smoked paprika (it comes in sweet, mild and hot) for $2.50 each. The mercado is also the place to sample Horchata, a milky-colored drink made with ground tiger nuts and water.

 

 

The Valencia Cathedral combines Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance art and architecture on the site of a former mosque. As much art museum as church, the 13th-century cathedral is known for its alter pieces and side chapels filled with religious paintings. Admission includes one of the easiest-to-understand English audio guides I've used in Europe. 

 


Biking: Valencia is bike-friendly, with dedicated street lanes and paths. Most scenic is the path that skirts the Jardines de Turia, a former riverbed transformed into six-mile green belt, with 14 parks and 19 bridges. The river had always been prone to floods, and in 1957, Valencia decided to divert it course, and use the riverbed to create one of the largest urban parks in Spain. Lots of places rent bikes by the hour or day, but we decided to go on a 25 euro, three-hour organized tour with Valencia Bikes  Not only did we luck out with our guide, Mila Moro, an ancient history professor at the local university, we were the only ones to sign up for the English tour, meaning Mila became our private guide.

 
Leading us into the old city on a Sunday when there were few cars or pedestrians, she pointed out Roman ruins and ancient walls built by the Moors, then steered us into the 21st century with a loop around the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic complex that includes an opera house, science museum and planetarium.

 

The Beach: A tram ride to the beach, followed by a paella lunch is the classic way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Valencia. You won't be alone. This is a local tradition, especially for families celebrating a baptism, first communion or a birthday. Noisy groups filled most of the best tables at a string of waterfront restaurants when we arrived around 4:30 p.m., late for lunch by Spanish standards. Things quieted down 5:30 when we choose a restaurant for a pan of Paella Valencia (rice, chicken, rabbit and snails), and a platter of boquerones fritos (fried anchovies).

 


 

Dinner with a localEatwith.com is the Airbnb of dining. Go to the website, pick a host offering lunch or dinner at a destination (there are many listings for Spain), time and price that suits you, and make a request. Victoria Soriano, 40, a graphic designer who speaks fluent English, loves to cook, responded immediately when I wrote, inquiring about the Mediterranean vegetarian dinner she described on the website. 

 

A few weeks later, we took the Metro several stops to a residential neighborhood, and rang the bell on her 3rd-floor apartment for an 8:30 p.m. dinner. Like most Europeans, Spaniards are used to living in small spaces. Victoria keeps her bike in the entryway. Bookshelves and racks of CDS line the walls of her living room furnished with a bright red couch and chair.  

Joining us was her friend, Ampa, an English teacher who tutors students 8-9 hours a day. The conversation flowed as we sipped wine, and sampled Victoria's potato omelette; homemade tomato jam with goat cheese; spinach with onion, egg and pine nuts; and a noddle dish with vegetables and saffron. Victoria has been doing the meals for four years, once or twice a month. She's willing to take up to eight guests, but will book a dinner for a few as two. It was past 11 p.m., early by Spanish standards, but late for us when we finished a dessert of strawberry ice. Victoria called us a taxi, and we were back at our hotel before midnight, happy to have discovered a new neighborhood, new foods and new friends. 

Meanwhile, there's always room for another Horchata. We found it, along with a brie and artichoke quesadilla, at Cafecito in the gentrifying Ruzafa district, once shabby barrio, now filled with hip cafes and restaurants.