Every December the Boston Ballet stages a production of The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. I know it’s a tradition for some families to see the performance every year, but I wasn’t sure whether taking my daughter to see it made sense, because I was afraid she wasn’t mature enough to sit through the two-hour performance.
I was wrong.
This past December 2015, we were lucky to win two tickets to The Nutcracker through a WBUR raffle. (WBUR is a local National Public Radio station, my favorite station that I listen to every day.)
As our family gets ready for the annual holiday of Thanksgiving, probably the most important holiday in the U.S. because it’s celebrated by people of all faiths, I think back to a November more than twenty years ago, when my husband and I, married just three months prior, got stuck on I-89 in Vermont when our car broke down.
We had just visited my husbands’ parents in Vermont, and with a huge turkey they gave us slowly thawing in the trunk of our old station wagon, we were heading back to our apartment in Boston, to celebrate our first Thanksgiving together.
Our car broke down about half an hour after we got on the highway.
And it was raining.
That was before everyone had cell phones, and in those days if you broke down along a stretch of a highway far from the nearest emergency call box in cold November rain … Well… it wasn’t fun.
After a few minutes in the full sun you can almost feel your skin sizzle, and your hair nearly burns your fingers as you run your hand through it. The area is vast, but the tourists surrounding the guide crowd under the sparse trees, seeking shade from the oppressive heat.
This is what visiting Chichén Itzá feels like in April. In short: it’s ungodly hot.
We saw Chichén Itzá in 2013, when we vacationed in Cancun on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. That over was two years ago, but I don’t suppose the area has changed much since then, though some of the excavation work has probably moved forward.
A Bit of History (as always)
“Chi” means “mouth” and “chen” means “well” in Mayan, thus Chichén Itzá means “at the mouth of the well of the Itzá tribe.”
I’m afraid I found conflicting information as to who the Itza were and when they arrived in the region, so I’m not going to say anything about that.
The well mentioned in the name is the nearby cenote, a naturally formed round, deep depression in the ground filled with water, and pretty steep walls. This particular cenote wasn’t actually used for fresh water, however, but rather ceremonial purposes. When the cenote was dredged at the beginning of the 20th century, the archeologists found not only hundreds of objects at the bottom, but also human remains that showed signs of human sacrifice.
Chichén Itzá was a large city, which archaeologists think started gaining importance between 700 to 1,000 A.D.
At the beginning of the 10th century the region saw the arrival of outsiders from the Central Valley, the Toltecs (or people influenced by the Toltecs according to Encyclopaedia Britannica), who made the locals accept their own gods. The main Toltec god was the Feathered Serpent called Quetzalcoatl in Aztec, which was translated to Kukulkan in Mayan.
The most spectacular structures in Chichén Itzá were built during that period – 11th to the 13th century, but the whole area of Chichén Itzá includes both Toltec and earlier, Mayan structures.
Hotels or vacation rentals, that is the question, isn’t it? Especially if you travel with a family, and not just by yourself.
We usually opt for vacation rentals – whole houses in rural areas, or apartments in the cities. Sometimes they are fantastic, sometimes not so much. Here’s our review of Le 760 Honoré-Mercier Apartments in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, where we stayed for four nights last May (2015).
Le 760 Honoré Mercier
The vacation rentals at Le 760 Honoré Mercier are located in a brand new building just a short walk to Old Quebec area, and a block away from Rue Saint-Jean with grocery stores, restaurants, and plenty other stores.
Le 760 Honoré Mercier offers a variety of 1-, 2- and 3-room apartments, and they’re all complete apartments, with a full kitchen, bedroom, and dining- and living-room areas.
There is also a garage underneath the building, and when you check in, in addition to a card key to your apartment, you also get a key to enter the building. Only guests of the building can open the front door, even though there is a registration desk and concierge right at the front entrance.
When we visited Quebec City last May, we booked Le 760 Honoré-Mercier Avenue 604, which is advertised as a two-bedroom apartment for maximum 6 people.
Two bedrooms it does have, but I’m not sure how six people could sleep there comfortably, since the apartment only has two beds, and the sofa in the living room is not a sofa bed.
Luckily, our daughter was just small enough to fit on the sofa bed, but a larger child or a grown up definitely would not like it.
Right past the wide open massive iron gates, the vast courtyard is full of tourists eager to catch a glimpse of imperial splendors of the past.
In the times of Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 till 1916, on Mondays and Thursdays any subject of his empire could supposedly ask for an audience with the monarch in his opulent Walnut Room.
What did it feel like, I wonder, to approach the Schönbrunn Palace, crunching gravel underfoot and petition in hand?
Schönbrunn’s size must have must have impressed even the wealthiest of the emperor’s subjects, not to mention the simple city dwellers, if they were in fact ever allowed to see the Emperor.