The downhill car of the Heidelberg Funicular--the Bergbahn--descends into the station at Kornmarkt.

The Heidelberg Funicular to the Castle: Riding with my Grandfather

The ride up the Heidelberg Funicular to the city’s famous castle is smooth, quiet, shiny. It wasn’t always that way. Did my grandfather know it then?

Photo of the Week: The Heidelberg Funicular

The downhill car of the Heidelberg Funicular--the Bergbahn--descends into the station at Kornmarkt.

The downhill car of the Heidelberg Funicular–the Bergbahn–descends into the station at Kornmarkt, in the city’s Old Town.



The Heidelberger Bergbahn (the Mountain Railway) is famous. Everyone wants to visit the glorious ruin of Heidelberg Castle, perched atop a high hill above the city’s Old Town. And no one much wants to walk up that steep hill. I certainly didn’t. It was summer, and hot. I’d already been on a walking tour of Old Town earlier that day. And even a sweet sit-down at an outdoor café with a magically good piece of apple tart and milky coffee didn’t mean I was ready to climb up so far to see the “Schloss.”

I did take a look at the route. Perhaps I just wanted to know what I was avoiding. I saw that I had a couple of choices for hoofing it. I could walk up a steep, winding path. Or I could climb a staircase—a very long staircase, with 315 steps. And just so you don’t forget how far you still have to go, the steps are numbered for you. That apple tart was sitting heavier in my stomach as I contemplated that staircase.

So no, I had no urge to climb that day. Off I went to examine option two, the famous Heidelberg funicular. Much better!

I love funiculars. Something about the steep ascent and the oddly canted cars speaks to me, I suppose. And besides that, I had purchased a Heidelberg Card, the pass that gets you significant discounts on city attractions plus free rides on the public transportation system. Included with my card was a combination ticket for entrance to the castle grounds and a round-trip funicular ride to get you up there and back.

While waiting the few minutes for the funicular car to descend to us, I checked out the fascinating photo exhibit about the history of the Heidelberg funicular. And that is when it became just a bit magical for me.

The funicular first opened in 1890, when my grandfather was a 10-year-old boy growing up in this beautiful city. Unfortunately, I never knew him; he died when my own father was a very small child. But now, in his city of birth, I felt like I was starting to learn him, just a bit. As I’d wandered the narrow lanes of Old Town, I felt him walking beside me, gently touching my elbow now and then to whisper, “Look over there, girl. I used to know the owner of that shop. He gave me sweets after school. And there, that corner, we must turn there and I will show you something wonderful.”

Some History….

From the photo exhibit, I learned how the original Heidelberg funicular operated, and I thought it ingenious.

There are two cars—one to go up while the other is coming down. Originally, each car was fitted with a tank that could hold eight cubic meters of water. At the top, the water tank of the car heading down was filled. That much water is heavy, and once the brake was released, the extra weight caused the car to descend. As it dropped, it pulled the cables that caused the bottom car to rise. At the bottom, the water was drained out and pumped back up to the top again through a steam-powered pumping system.

Today, the trains are electrified. There are two distinct stages of the funicular, lower and upper. The first stage delivers you to the entrance to the majestic ruined castle. It’s all shiny and new now, with smooth lines in stainless steel outlining the modern rolling stock. The cars are less than a dozen years old with five comfortable passenger compartments that can carry 100 people at a time. There are large panoramic windows so you can get the whole benefit of the view. They are even heated for winter trips.

The second stage, opened in 1907, did not exist when my grandfather might have been here. It is not so shiny new. In fact, it uses the original wooden cars, though completely refurbished and very charming.

I took those Victorian-era cars as my mental model on the ride up to the castle. And on that ride, I began to wonder….

Remembering the Unknown

Had my grandfather ridden up this steep, 41% gradient in a wooden car as a child, some 125 years ago? Did my great-grandfather perhaps bring the whole family here on a Sunday outing, after church of course, to see this modern marvel?

Or maybe a few years later…. When he was 16, did my grandfather, Michael Meyer, ride up the steep hill in this very place, maybe with his sister Clara beside him? Or perhaps even with a sweetheart? Did that almost-a-man teenage boy feel the need to visit the castle and, more importantly, look down on the beautiful city and the gently curving Neckar River below? Did he count the arches in the ancient stone bridge crossing the river? Did he memorize the line of the trees on the other side?

Did my grandfather need to go up there that day to say good-bye to the city of his birth, knowing he would never see her again, before he got on a boat to America?
I rode up, I looked at the city below, at the river and the bridge and the line of trees. And I wondered….


A combined ticket for a round-trip ride on the Heidelberg funicular and entrance to the castle grounds, the pharmacy museum and the giant wine barrel, cost 7€ in summer of 2016. If you purchase a Heidelberg Card, these tickets are included, as is a pass for unlimited use of the city’s public transit system. The Heidelberg Card is available at the Tourist Information Office directly in front of the central train station. The summer 2016 price was 15€ for a one-day card or 17€ for two days.

To get to the Kornmarkt funicular station, take a #33 bus from the central train station or the Bismarkplatz and get off at the “Rathhaus/Bergbahn” stop. You will be directly in front of the new and modern funicular station on your right. Funicular trains run every 10 minutes.

Catalan Christmas Tradition of the Caga Tio or Poop Log

Two Dozen Christmas Traditions Around the World

Wherein we learn that Christmas traditions around the world are not always what we think they are going to be…because people are not always the same everywhere. That’s why we travel. To learn the differences!

You probably take the Christmas traditions of your family and your country pretty much for granted. I know I always did… before I started to travel internationally. Once I spent my first Christmas away from home, I realized that the Santa Claus of the Coca-Cola ads, turkey and ham on the table, and stockings by the fireplace were neither the universal nor the only ways to celebrate the holiday around the world.

When I lived in London in 1970, I learned about Father Christmas, stirring the Christmas pudding and Boxing Day. In Amsterdam, I learned about Sinterklaas and Zwaarte Piet and giving gifts to children on December 5th. When I moved to Mexico, the importance of the posadas was a new lesson, and then I learned about Three Kings Day on January 6th. All these new and different Christmas traditions enriched my life.

The celebrations of the holiday are rich and varied, and Christmas traditions around the world run a very wide gamut of food, fun and the frankly odd. Traveling is one of the best ways to experience them. But you can read about them too. Here is a round two dozen you may not have heard about:

1 – A Spicy Drink with a Funny Name in Chile

Cola de Mono, or Monkey's Tail, a delicious drink that is a Christmas tradition in Chile

“Cola de Mono” or Monkey’s Tail, is a spicy coffee drink that’s a Christmas tradition in Chile. Photo by Gloria Apara Paillas.

The most traditional and very popular Christmas drink in Chile is a smooth and creamy concoction called Cola de Mono, or Monkey’s Tail, and not even the locals seem to know where it got its name. It is made with coffee, milk, sugar, spices and aguardiente. Egg yolks are sometimes added. You can buy it pre-made in supermarkets all over Chile at this time of year, just like you can buy eggnog in U.S. supermarkets, but it’s easy to make from scratch at home. Cola de Mono is often drunk with Pan de Pascua, a special holiday fruitcake. You can find a recipe to make your own Cola de Mono on my friend Gloria’s blog, The Nomadic Chica.

2 – Fried Chicken in Japan

Ever since the mid-’70s, fried chicken from KFC has been THE traditional Christmas Eve meal in Japan. The chain’s holiday “Kentucky for Christmas” TV commercials feature pop stars and smiling kids in Santa hats dancing with full boxes and buckets of the holiday treat. The company does so much business on this one day that company execs have to leave their desks to help keep the lines moving in the stores. Many people reserve their buckets of fried chicken months in advance to avoid the waits of up to two hours in line.

3 – A Christmas Tradition of Books and Respect for Reading in the Icy North

In Iceland, it’s a wonderful holiday tradition to give gifts of books on Christmas Eve. And then of course you want to get right into them, so you stay up all night reading them. Of all these Christmas traditions, this one might be my favorite!

4 – Girls’ Luck for the Year Ahead?

The Czech people have a tradition or superstition related to Christmas: A young unmarried women will throw a shoe over her shoulder on Christmas Day. If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she will soon be married. If not, she is destined to remain a spinster for another year…. which I don’t actually see as a piece of bad luck myself!

5 – What a Web They Weave

In the Ukraine, the most common decorations for the Christmas tree are spiders and spider webs. This comes from a folk tale about a family too poor to afford any decorations for their tree so they had to go to bed on Christmas Eve with its branches bare. The spiders living in the house felt so bad for them that they worked through the night spinning their webs around the tree. When the children awoke on Christmas morning, the tree was covered with filmy webs, which then turned to gold and silver, assuring the family’s fortunes forever more. These kinds of feel-good Christmas traditions show up all over the world.

A Ukrainian spiderweb Christmas tree decoration.

In Ukraine, it is a Christmas tradition to decorate the tree with spiders and spider webs.

6- Heather and Driftwood in the Arctic

And speaking of Christmas trees…. In Greenland, Christmas trees have become popular, just like in so much of the rest of the world, but every single one of them has to be imported. No trees will grow this far north! Instead of imported trees, many Greenlanders decorate a driftwood “tree” with heather.

7- Home of the US Trees

And still speaking of Christmas trees…. In the U.S., the largest number of Christmas trees are grown in the state of Oregon. Of those, some 80% come from the Willamette Valley, south of Portland… which is also where most of the state’s best wines come from!

Christmas traditions mean Christmas trees. Here is an Oregon Christmas tree farm in front of a snow-covered Mt. Hood

An Oregon Christmas tree farm in Clackamas County with Mt. Hood in the background.
Photo Courtesy of www.MtHoodTerritory.com

8- Keeping the Goblins Away

In Greece, one of the oldest Christmas traditions is to keep a fire burning in the house for the entire 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). This is meant to keep away the killantzaroi or bad spirits. These little bad guys creep in through the chimney, only at this time of year, to wreak such havoc as making the milk spoil and putting the fires out!

9 – Apples for Love

In Croatia, it is a very old tradition for young men to give beautifully decorated apples to their girlfriends on Christmas Day.

10 – Mass and Hockey

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas, called Ganna, on January 7th. The people dress all in white, usually in a traditional toga-like garment called a shamma. The people begin arriving early for the Ganna mass, which starts at 4:00 am and can go on for hours. After mass, the men play a hockey-like game, still in their long white shammas.

11 – Unique Transportation

In Caracas, Venezuela, the normally busy streets take on a unique look early on Christmas Day. They are closed off to traffic before 8 am so people can roller skate to early mass! Yep, people don roller blades to glide through the streets to church by the thousands.

12 – Pooping Presents!

Sometimes Christmas traditions are downright silly and even a bit gross. In Catalonia, in the northeastern part of Spain, there is an ancient and popular tradition called Caga Tió, which translates as the “Poop Log” (and yes, it means just what you think it does). It’s a log, traditionally hollowed out, with a happy face on one end and wearing a bright red Catalan hat. Beginning December 8th, the log is pampered by the children and draped with a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Eve, they hit it with a stick while singing a special song instructing it to “poop presents” for them. Then the blanket is removed to reveal presents (stealthily placed by mom and dad) of candy, tourrón nougat and small gifts.

Catalan Christmas Traditions include the Caga Tio or Poop Log

In the Catalan Christmas Tradition of the “Caga Tió” or Poop Log, the log is pampered by the children until Christmas Eve then beaten with sticks and ordered to “poop presents.” Photo by Slastic

13 – Burning the Dirt Devils

Guatemalans want their homes really clean for Christmas. They also want to be very sure the devil is not allowed inside. So one of their main Christmas traditions is to sweep the houses very clean just before Christmas, pile up all the dirt and dust and bring it to a communal pile in the neighborhood. Then they add an ugly devil’s head to the top of the pile and burn that sucker up. Ah, the neighborhood is not only clean but safe for another year!

14 – Christmas Specials in a Muslim Land

Indonesia is 80% Muslim, but there are still 20 million Christians in the country and the spirit of Christmas has taken hold throughout the land. Santa Claus, called Sinterklaas, is a holdover from the days when the country was a Dutch colony, and all the kids quite expect him to bring them presents on Christmas Day. Oddly, Christmas music is broadcast on most Indonesian TV stations, and the state-owned channel always shows a big Christmas celebration put on by the Indonesian Government.

15 – Fancy Bread in Hungary

The main Christmas meal in Hungary is eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s a hearty meal of fish and cabbage and also features a special Christmas poppy seed bread/cake called beigli. Another very traditional Hungarian Christmas treat is gingerbread, often wrapped in brightly colored paper and decorated with Christmas scenes and figures.

16 – A Cleanse to Prepare

In Estonia, Christmas Eve is the big event, and it begins with a trip to the sauna! It is important to both relax and cleanse oneself for the celebrations ahead. Whole families will often go together. This is one of the Christmas traditions around the world I think I could really get into. After the sauna, you’re ready for Christmas Eve mass… for which the children will usually receive new clothes and shoes.

A group indulges in the Christmas traditions of saunas before Christmas Eve Mass in Estonia.

In Estonia, it is a long-time Christmas tradition to go to the sauna for a cleanse before going
to Christmas Eve Mass. ©Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

17 – Beach Party Holiday

In Australia, Christmas falls in early summer. The only chance for a “White Christmas” is on a white sand beach! And so on Christmas Day, many Sydneysiders do what they do so well… they head to Bondi Beach for the Sunburnt Christmas Festival. About 4000 party-goers will show up for a day of DJs and dancing, surfing, bikini contests and lunch from the barbie.

18 – The Rooster Mass

Most people in Brazil will go to a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster). It’s named for the bird because the rooster announces the coming of day and the mass doesn’t usually finish until 1.00 am. After the Rooster Mass, there are usually big fireworks displays in the larger towns and cities. Since it is summertime, and usually quite hot on Christmas Day, the best of all Christmas traditions often means a trip to the beach!

19 – Christmas Witches on Brooms

In Italy, the big day for presents is Epiphany (January 6th) and it’s a witch who brings them! La Befana, complete with hooked nose and long black shawl, rides around on a broom. On the eve of Epiphany, she slides down chimneys to leave candies and gifts in the stockings of good children and lumps of coal for the naughty ones. She will also often use her means of transportation to sweep the floor while she’s at it!

20 – Weird Radishes

In the city of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, December 23rd is known as the Night of the Radishes. For more than 100 years, the city has held this huge festival and competition, where artisans carve scenes and tableaux from giant radishes! The tradition started in 1897 as a way to attract customers to the city’s Christmas Market, held in the zócalo, the town’s main square. Now, the one-day event draws over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors every year and is one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Mexico.

Grand prize winner at Oaxaca's Night of the Radishes, one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Mexico

“Dulces Tradicionales Oaxaqueños” was the grand prize winner in the 2014 Christmas festival
Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia, CC license.

21 – Christmas Traditions for the Dead

Christmas Eve dinner in Portugal is the night to invite the whole family—including those who have passed on. Yes, inviting the ghosts of loved ones lost is a tradition there. Extra places are set at the table for these missing loved ones and some crumbs from dinner are also spread across the hearth to honor them.

22 – Eating Emperors???

A traditional part of the Christmas feast in South Africa is deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth. Since this is the season for harvesting the bug, which is preserved to eat throughout the winter, there is an abundant fresh supply at Christmas time. The caterpillars have three times as much protein, by weight, as beef! Munching on them is a beloved Christmas tradition. Well…to each his own, I guess.

23 – Lucky Santa

Although you may have grown up leaving milk and cookies out as a treat for Santa—and perhaps as a bribe so he will leave you lots of goodies, even if you’ve been naughty—in Ireland, the traditional Santa snack is mince pies and Guinness Ale. I’d say that was a pretty fine bribe!

Christmas traditions of mince pies to be left for Santa.

In Ireland, Christmas traditions include mince pies. They are left for Santa with a bottle of Guinness.
Photo by Christmas Stocking Images

24- Kissing Bough Christmas Traditions

The tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house figures in many Christmas traditions around the world. It also goes back many centuries, at least to the time of the Druids and the ancient Greeks. It has always been considered a sacred plant and was often believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. It has also been associated with fertility, since it remains green all year long. Kissing under the mistletoe may have come from the old Norse belief that it is a symbol of Peace and enemies can safely lay down their arms if they meet beneath it. Today, many countries maintain the custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe for luck and romance.

I hoped you’ve learned a couple of new things about Christmas Traditions Around the World. Have you got other Christmas traditions and stories to share? I’d love to hear them, especially things you’ve learned on your travels throughout the world. Leave them in the comments below and we can all learn more about how the world celebrates this magical holiday. The more we know about each other, the more we understand… and the more we are able to share, to care, to love. And then perhaps the world will know peace.

Merry Christmas!

Remembering Joy in San Miguel de Allende:
The Concheros Dancers

How the Concheros—the pre-Hispanic-style Dancers of Mexico–and all the movement, color, and joyous sounds they bring with them, rekindled remembered joy in a depressed heart.

When you live where every day is a holiday of some kind—an excuse for a fiesta always at hand—it’s easy to forget one. That day I had forgotten. But Mexico has a way of reminding us.

Conchero Dancers stomp, leap and spin their devotion in San Miguel de Allende

Conchero Dancers stomp, leap and spin their devotion in San Miguel de Allende

I’d had a bad night, full of dark images and lonely threats and deceptive might-have-beens. Still living the aftershocks of a destroyed 25-year marriage, financial worries, aging, and the accumulated weight of depression, I had no smiles left.

Walking blindly across the cobblestones, I trudged up one of the many hills that make up San Miguel de Allende, moving toward the Jardín, that central plaza that is the very heart of the town and functions as everyone’s public living room. My mind wandered too, dreading some errand to be run, some friend to be called, some smiles to be summoned up on demand from a well that seemed drained dry. Sore of feet and blue of spirits, all I really wanted to do was go back home and crawl into bed. But there was little food in the house, the library book was overdue, and finances urgently required a stop at the bank.

Lost in my thoughts, I saw but did not register the young woman dressed in the standard conchero costume of neon lamé and huge red and green feathers on her head as she passed me going down the hill in the sun.

The wooden sticks pound the hide skins of the concheros drums

The pounding of the concheros drumming vibrated up through my sandals.

The first thing to get past my funk was the vibrations. The thrumming rhythm of drums had penetrated the paving stones, crept down the hill and wriggled straight up through the soles of my sandals. Had I been paying more attention, I would have heard them before I felt them; their pounding was strong, deep, relentless. A reminder.

After years of living in San Miguel de Allende, I’d forgotten to check the calendar. It was the first Friday in March, one of my favorite feast days in a city that has more than its share and one of the best times to visit San Miguel de Allende. The day honors Our Lord of the Conquest and celebrates the arrival of Catholicism in Mexico. It is a day when many Mexicans honor the twin traditions of their indigenous roots and their deeply held faith in their Christ and their God.

Here in San Miguel, a magical colonial pueblo perched on the high plain of central Mexico, it is also called the day of the Concheros, dancers named for the “conchas”—shell-like seed pods—wrapped around their ankles to rattle as they dance, spin and stomp, jump and leap, mimicking the Aztec dancers of Mexico’s glorious past. A robust mix of pagan and Catholic, this show of their devotion is a highlight of the year. Every year on this day, they fill the Jardín with their fervor, color, movement. And sound. Lots of sound.

The conchero dancers of San Miguel de Allende are a blur of movement engulfed in color and sound.

The conchero dancers of San Miguel de Allende are a blur of movement engulfed in color and sound.

I emerged from the narrow street into the wide space in front of La Parroquia church. Its pink cantera stone spires glowed and shimmered in the spring sunshine, that elusive light that draws so many artists to San Miguel. A wave of sound—no, make that noise—almost knocked me over as the pounding of the concheros’ drums rolled over me. I felt assaulted by sound, color, movement. Settling onto a wrought-iron bench beneath the trimmed laurel trees, I let the exuberance take me.

The Concheros Engulf My Senses

The concheros’ flashy pseudo-Aztec costumes, heavy with Pre-Hispanic symbols, neon-colored lamé and fringe, and their two-meter long pheasant plume headdresses, undulated across the plaza, riding the wave of the drumming beat.

Copal incense smoke rises from a burner beside a conch shell and candle--symbols of the conchero dancers' devotion

Copal incense smoke rises from a burner beside a conch shell and candle–symbols of the conchero dancers’ devotion

From the center of their circle, the pungent bite of copal incense pricked my nose, wafting up from a pottery burner set beside a mandolin made from an armadillo shell, a conch shell, fragrant herbs and a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A low mournful note sounded as a senior conchero lifted the giant conch shell to his lips.

All around the Jardín, the celebration pulsed. Three separate groups of concheros twirled, jumped and lunged on the three sides of the square. No group danced or drummed in time with the others. The un-synched roar attacked from all sides.

Three photos of conchero dancers in full regalia in San Miguel de Allende

Conchero dancers in full regalia in San Miguel de Allende

The dancers and drummers were not alone in their push to summon the gods of music and joy. In the pretty kiosk centering the square, the town band played. A brassy Souza march rolled across the cobblestones, the notes slightly off-key but the oompah strong and enthusiastic. The tuba player looked to be at least 70 years old. The young drummer might have been his great-grandson.

In Mexico, no reason for a fiesta goes to waste, so preparations were being made to continue the concheros’ party well into the night, but to a different beat. In front of the church, a wooden stage waited for more festivities. A rock band sound-checked equipment to make sure it was sufficiently deafening. Then a guitarist launched into a ragged rehearsal, a weird counterpoint to the traditionally beloved oompah blaring a few meters away in the kiosk.

From the southwest, clouds of black, boat-tailed grackles rolled into the square to settle into the branches of the laurel trees where they roosted for the night. It always took them a while to settle in as they discussed their day, squabbling over favorite perches perhaps or crowing over fattest-worm bragging rights. Their raucous cawing rained down like sharp pebbles onto the paving stones.

A pair of conchero dancers feeling it in San Miguel de Allende

A pair of conchero dancers feeling it in San Miguel de Allende

I closed my eyes, feeling pleasantly assaulted by the noise surrounding me. It rolled up from all sides, like a big cushion determined to block out all thought, all pain, all sensation of anything but itself.

And then the bells began. The huge bronze bells of La Parroquia poured down their peals like waves from the high faux-Gothic spires. They were almost—but not quite—in sync with the throbbing drums, the concheros’ rattling seedpod anklets, the conch shell’s moan, the off-key Souza march, the wailing rock guitar and the grackles’ cackles.

The black mood that had engulfed me an hour earlier was fighting for dominance. And losing. The feeling of that heavy cloud of despair lifting from my shoulders was almost palpable, carried off on the enormous wave of sound and dissipated into the brilliant San Miguel light.

An image sprang to my mind, myself as a young girl with long red braids and freckles sitting in a Sunday School class, reciting and memorizing Bible verses. We were learning the opening of the 100th Psalm:

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

My eyes, my ears, my whole being swept around the square and took in the scene—the color, the movement, the vibrations… the SOUND.

A conchero girl danced herself into a trance of joy in San Miguel de Allende

A conchero girl danced herself into a trance of joy in San Miguel de Allende

And with a smile of pure joy, a heart light and clear, I thought… finally, I know what a joyful noise really sounds like.

It sounds like San Miguel de Allende on the first Friday in March.


If you go:

In San Miguel de Allende, the Conchero Dancers perform for Dia de La Conquista every year on the first Friday in March in the plaza in front of La Parroquia church. The dancing begins around mid-morning and continues throughout the day and often into the evening. Photographing the dancers is allowed.

San Miguel de Allende lies in the central highlands of Mexico. By car, it is nine hours south of Laredo, Texas, on highway 57. The nearest airport is Bajio International Airport (BJX) located in Silao, about an hour from San Miguel. International flights also fly into Mexico City, about 4 hours from San Miguel by bus or private shuttle.  For more information about visiting San Miguel de Allende, visit Experience San Miguel de Allende.

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Butter Crunch Sundae at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

The Best Thing I Ate in Las Vegas – Frozen Custard!

Luv-It Frozen Custard

Frozen custard? I went to Las Vegas and the best thing I ate there was… frozen custard? Yes. The best. Come on. I’ll take you there, and you’ll see for yourself.

Luv-It Frozen Custard sign, Las Vegas

Luv-It Frozen Custard – the BEST thing
I ate in Las Vegas

Of course, when it comes to good food in Las Vegas, there’s no shortage of yummy. Gambling, booze and sex aren’t the town’s only sinful delights. And those of us who’ve reached a certain age know that sometimes great food has an even stronger siren call than Vegas’ other sinful specialties—although you’d never think that if you’d watched my mom, who was still a mean slots player in her 90s.

But of good food in Las Vegas there is an abundance, and I’ve sampled more than my share. When I was a professional Tour Director, many of my tours started or ended in Vegas, so I had many chances to check out the culinary scene.

I’ve tested the prime rib at Caesar’s Palace, enjoyed a meal at Gordon Ramsey’s “Steak.” I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to finish off THIS mountain of chicken, and waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go and I easily polished off a plate of the best hummus I’ve ever eaten at Paymon’s Lebanese Restaurant on Maryland Avenue.

Chicken with waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go

Yes, that is a tree of fresh rosemary growing out of the top of the Chicken and Waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go in Las Vegas.

They were all good; some were great. But the jewel in the glitzy, over-tinseled crown of Las Vegas dining was mined at an innocuous little hut in a parking lot at the far north end of the Vegas Strip. There’s a reason that Luv-It Frozen Custard has been an institution for generations of Las Vegas families. And it’s certainly not the location. Or the service. It’s the custard. The rich, creamy, eggy, velvety, sweet, not-too-hard-not-too-soft frozen custard.

Come On, Let’s Go Try Some

Although we’ll find Luv-It Frozen Custard just one building off Las Vegas Blvd, this is NOT “The Strip,” at least not the glitzy part. Nor is it far enough north to be called downtown. It’s that in-between no-man’s land called “The Naked City”—not the most scenic or savory part of town, to be sure. But that hasn’t seemed to hurt its business in the 40+ years it’s been dishing up the good stuff here. We’ll very likely have to wait in line for our frozen treats. The mayor or some performer from the Strip might be waiting next to us.

Luv-it Frozen Custard Building

Located in a parking lot next to a strip club, Luv-It Frozen Custard is not quite what you expect… but it’s worth it!

Located at 505 East Oakey, Luv-It Frozen Custard is one light past the Stratosphere Hotel. If carless, we can hop on the double-decker bus known as The Deuce, get off at the Stratosphere, and walk.

You’re likely going to be surprised, maybe even disappointed, by this nondescript little blue-and-white shack dumped on a parking lot next to a strip club. Just pretend you’re back in the ‘50s, because it looks like something off an old calendar.

We can’t even go inside; there’s only a walk-up window, not even a bench or a table. Most people eat in their cars or lean against the building in the shade of the wide awning while listening to the squeals of panic and delight wafting down from the wild carnival rides waaayyyy up there on top of the Strat nearby.

List of available flavors at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Only 4–sometimes 5–flavors are available each day… because they are made fresh every morning.

Don’t let the lack of amenities stop you. Don’t even let the homeless folks who tend to hang around the parking lot pan-handling for change stop you. It’s not about them. It’s all about the custard.

It’s been about the custard since 1973 when “Grandma” arrived from Wisconsin, where frozen custard is traditional, and brought a load of dairy machinery with her. Today, her great-grandchildren are dishing up the scoops at Luv-It, in the same location, still made fresh every morning, with dozens of hand-cracked eggs and other real ingredients, using Grandma’s original recipes.

And it’s good. This frozen custard is very, very good. Luv-It regularly makes the “Best in Vegas” lists of local newspapers, websites and going-out guides. As one Yelp reviewer said, “It was howl-at-the-moon kind of good. It was ‘holy hell, all ice cream will taste watery from this day forward’ kind of good.” Another reviewer said, “Am I considering living down the road so I can stop here three times a day? I would be lying if I said no.”

Luv-it special sundae-with frozen strawberries and toasted pecans

The Luv-It Special – Vanilla frozen custard with frozen strawberries, salted pecans and a cherry.

If you’ve never had frozen custard, it’s like more-solid soft-serve ice cream but with egg yolks added. It needs less churning than ice cream, so it’s denser, with fewer air pockets where ice can crystallize. That also makes it smoother. You can taste the egginess, but it’s not, well, flanny. It’s just flat good.

Don’t be misled by the long list of delectable sounding flavors listed on the board. They won’t have most of them. In fact, they’ll only have a couple. Since the custard is made fresh daily, they can’t handle a Baskin-Robbins trick. They make vanilla and chocolate daily then add two other flavors. It’s the luck of the draw. You can check their website, where they list each day’s special flavors weeks in advance. If you discover they’re serving up maple custard, cash in your chips NOW and get moving. It’s better than the best poker hand.

I’ve also tried the peanut butter, the pineapple (with chunks of fruit) and the lemon. Once I mixed orange custard with vanilla, swirled it all around in the cup and felt like I was a kid again licking a creamsicle from the ice cream man on a hot summer day.

Butter Crunch Sundae at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Butter Crunch Sundae – Butterscotch topping and crushed candy that tastes like Butterfingers. Yum!

My personal favorite? The Butter Crunch Sundae. Thick butterscotch (the real deal) topped with crunch, which tastes like you took the inside of a Butterfinger candy bar and crushed it fine with a rolling pin. But maybe you’d prefer the Cherry Yum Yum, with black cherries and chocolate cookie crumble. Or chocolate malt. Or sprinkles. Or hot apples and walnuts. Or….

Are you getting the picture here? You’re going to find something to love. Believe me on this point.


Luv-It Frozen Custard is open every day from 1-10 pm, and till 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. Important note: It’s a CASH ONLY business and they don’t take bills over $20. There’s an ATM machine in the gas station next door, but the fees are killer. Bring money. For flavors of the day and any other questions, you can visit the Luv-It Frozen Custard website.

Big Shawl Cover-up-travel accessories

My Travel Shawl: The Best of All Possible
Travel Accessories

Big shawl as travel accessories

Me and my favorite of all travel accessories–my Big Shawl

How a Simple Bit of Fabric Became My Favorite Travel Companion

Wondering about travel accessories for experienced, mature women who travel? OK, you want fashion? You want usefulness? You want cultural respect? Well, listen up, ladies. I’ve got you covered on all fronts.

I think most of us here are old enough to remember that AmEx commercial with the tag line “Don’t leave home without it.” I can still see the face of Karl Malden sternly telling me to put that plastic in my handbag. I don’t have an American Express card, but I do have one of those go-to, always-ready travel accessories I NEVER leave home without. I don’t even think of heading out the door, carry-on at the ready, without a soft, over-sized shawl to accompany me on my trip, no matter the season or where I am going. It’s the most versatile travel accessory I own and the one thing I use almost every day on any trip, anywhere. It keeps me warm on chilly and changeable days; it’s a pillow or a blanket on trains and planes and buses. It’s a beach and pool cover-up, a towel, a cultural emergency solver and a fashion statement.

Recently, I even had a nice-looking young man stop me on the street in Paris to ask me where I bought my shawl because it was so beautiful. How’s that for making a statement? (And for making you feel young and sexy again!)

Why a Big Travel Shawl is Perfect for Older Women Travelers

Of all the varied and fashionable international travel accessories, I think such a shawl is the most useful for women travelers of any age. But for our age group, it is even more valuable. I don’t know about you, but I am a lot less likely than my younger travel sisters to want to walk around Paris in a hoodie on a breezy day attempting to keep warm or throw a gauzy, see-through cotton voile thing over a bikini at the beach to protect me from the sun. And as much as I love the idea of a sarong, my figure no longer gets so excited about them. I want to look good and hopefully fit in with the locals, at least a little. My travel accessory shawl does all that and more.

Your own big travel shawl might be a fine, expensive pashmina or one your mom knitted for you. It might be Neiman-Marcus expensive or street-stall cheap. But trust me, you need one.

Big Shawl Cover-up-travel accessories

A big shawl is great for covering up in a culturally sensitive area.

The big shawl I used as an all-purpose travel accessory on my most recent trip in Europe was made in India, though I bought it in one of my favorite shops in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (Chaski’s on Calle Juarez, if you want to know). It is made of viscous, a soft synthetic that feels like fine wool, is warm and drapes beautifully. It cost me about $16US.

The versatility of this garment/wrap/thing is astounding. I even used it one day to carry vegetables home from a street market in Amsterdam when the cheap plastic bag I was carrying broke. If I had a baby, I would no doubt use my shawl to carry the little creature slung on my back, like Mexican women do in their “rebozos.”

How This Came to be My Favorite of All Travel Accessories

I first discovered “the trick of the shawl” as the most perfect of all travel accessories more than 40 years ago. In college, I taught myself to knit. One of the results was an enormous shawl made with two strands of thick, nubby yarn—turquoise and black, as I recall—and knitted on giant wooden needles. It was both lacy and warm, but so bulky I almost didn’t take it. At the last minute, I grabbed it to keep me warm on the plane, thinking I wouldn’t miss it terribly much if I had to abandon it along the way.

I would soon change my mind about that.

That pile of black-and-blue knit became my closest companion in that first trip across Europe. It covered my head in a church in Barcelona. It was an acceptable blanket the night I had to sleep in a park in Paris because friends and I had arrived on Bastille Day and there was literally “no room in the inn.” It was a cover-up on the beach at Zandvoort in Holland, a pillow on a train to Edinburgh, and a dressy wrap for dinner with a very proper English butler friend at Claridge’s in London.

That shawl became my best friend, a physical and emotional comfort on long train rides and lonely nights, my own personal “security blankie.” You can’t say that about many everyday travel accessories.

From that first trip in 1970 until today, I have never traveled without some version of the trusty Big Shawl. And I doubt I ever will.

Keep in mind that women have been wrapping up, keeping warm, covering skin, hiding, and staying sacred in over-sized shawls for a long time, almost since time began. In virtually every period, every culture and every situation, the big shawl has been found useful for all sorts of reason.

vintage fashion plates show shawls in every period

In every period, every class, of culture, women have used big shawls to make a statement, among other things.

What to Look for in the Perfect Over-sized Shawl as a Travel Accessory

There are a few special requirements to make your over-sized travel shawl as useful and versatile as possible:

• Does not wrinkle easily. It’s going to be balled up and crushed and stuffed. A lot.
• Does not snag easily. I learned this with that first loose-knit one. You are going to put it through hell and back, and it needs to keep looking good.
• Made from a fiber that will hold in heat. You’ll use it as a blanket, a cover-up on cloudy days or even as a muffler when it’s downright cold.
• Large enough to cover most of your body when you are seated on a plane or train, as a blanket.
• A color or print you love, that makes you feel pretty, can dress up a simple outfit but also does not show dirt too badly.
• A fabric that drapes nicely so it makes an attractive shoulder throw or head scarf when you need to cover up for cultural reasons—or for rain!
• Does not take two days to dry! (I learned this hard lesson with that blue-and-black knit beauty, too.)
• Is not so expensive that you’ll be devastated if you lose it. Just remember the fun you’ll have haggling in a street market or souk for a new one.

So now, grab your big, comfortable, soft, pretty, multi-function travel shawl, ladies. Put it on the top of your suitcase, more easily reachable than all your other travel accessories put together. And sally forth! You are now ready for anything.

Many thanks to my friend Jim Knoch for taking the pictures of me in my travel shawl!

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