Sunday, 27 January 2019

Postcard from Antigua, Guatemala

Greetings! Earlier this month I visited Guatemala in Central America. My itinerary took me to four of Guatemala's prime destinations and included Antigua, Chichicastenango market, Lake Atitlán, and Guatemala City. It was a fantastic adventure from beginning to end.

Today I'm sharing my sightseeing experience in Antigua Guatemala (commonly referred to as just Antigua). Founded in 1543 by the Spaniards, Antigua was Guatemala's former capital until a major earthquake in 1773 damaged most of the city. Antigua was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. It is the perfect starting point to my Guatemala adventure. Feel free to click on the pictures to enlarge them.


Presently there are no direct flights from Canada to Guatemala so for this trip I took:
  • A non-stop flight from Toronto to Mexico City, about five hours.
  • A non-stop flight from Mexico City to Guatemala City, about two hours. 
  • A shuttle van service from Guatemala City to Antigua, about one hour.

  • Guatemala is the most populated country in Central America, with an estimated population of 17 million.
  • Guatemala's official language is Spanish. However, more than twenty Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas.
  • Guatemala's currency is the Quetzal.
  • Guatemala's capital is Guatemala City.
  • Antigua is located 40 kilometres (25 miles) south west of Guatemala City.


The Central Park and main square in Antigua is a good starting point to explore the city. Three main buildings that occupy three sides of the main square include Antigua's City Hall, the Captain General Palace, and the Cathedral.

Antigua Guatemala's City Hall

The Captain General Palace, Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala Cathedral

The Cathedral has suffered many earthquakes over the centuries. Much of the building was seriously damaged by the 1773 earthquake. Behind the front facade are the ruins.

Antigua Guatemala Cathedral ruins

A walk up to the second floor of Antigua's City Hall provides a good view of the main square. A fountain is located in the centre of the square. It's common to see local women selling crafts at the park.

Antigua's central park and main square

Guatemalan women selling crafts

El Tanque de La Unión is a public laundry washbasin, located three blocks from Antigua's main square. In colonial times, public laundry washbasins served as the places for people to do laundry, and as a community gathering place. These washbasins still work and are in use today in dry season when water is less abundant in local homes.

Public laundry washbasins in Antigua Guatemala

Within ten blocks from the main square, visiting Antigua is like stepping into a time-machine that takes you back over three hundred years. There are many religious buildings, churches and convents, between short distances from one another. Each has a different design. Many of the buildings had been damaged by earthquakes or seismic activity since Antigua is located between three volcanoes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango.

The Santa Catalina Arch is one of the iconic landmarks in Antigua Guatemala. Built in the 17th century, it connected the Santa Catalina convent to a school allowing the nuns to pass from one building to the other without going out on the street. A clock on top was added in the 1830s.

The Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua Guatemala

St. Joseph (San José El Viejo) church ruins: The church was built between 1740 and 1761. It suffered serious damages by the 1773 earthquake. The front entrance shows beautiful architecture. Most of the interior is in ruins and is not open to the public.

San José El Viejo church, Antigua Guatemala

La Merced church is Antigua’s most impressive colonial church. Construction began in 1548, and even though it was affected by earthquakes, it stands in great shape.

La Merced, Antigua Guatemala

Santa Teresa de Jesús church ruins: This edifice was initially built as a convent for the Carmelite order from Lima, Peru. Much of the interior was shattered by the 1773 earthquake and is not open to the public, but the facade remains standing.

Santa Teresa de Jesús church, Antigua Guatemala

St. Peter's (San Pedro) hospital and adjacent church: The hospital was founded in 1663. The adjacent church is dedicated to Peter of St. Joseph de Betancur.

St. Peter's church and hospital, Antigua

St. Francis (San Francisco El Grande) church was completed in 1702. It is one of the most visited churches by local people in Antigua because of the shrine of Peter of St. Joseph de Betancur.

St. Francis church, Antigua Guatemala

The Santo Domingo church and monastery was destroyed in the 1773 earthquake. Part of the ruins was transformed into the five-star hotel Casa Santo Domingo. It is well worth a visit to see the preserved architecture from the baroque period of ancestral America and a number of treasures from this period on display throughout the hotel.

Casa Santo Domingo, Antigua

Antigua is a compact city with a beautiful blend of ruins, restored colonial buildings, and modern colonial-style buildings. The city's main streets are rough cobblestone so sturdy and comfortable walking shoes are essential.

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

From Antigua, the Agua and Fuego volcanoes are clearly visible. Agua means water and Fuego means fire in Spanish. The most unexpected natural wonder that I witnessed in Antigua was Fuego volcano spewing plume of ashes every ten minutes or so. It is the volcano on the left as shown in my photo below. I later learned that its recent eruption on November 18, 2018 prompted a preventive evacuations of about 4,000 people from communities near the volcano.

Active Fuego volcano, Antigua Guatemala


I enjoyed exploring Antigua Guatemala very much. The best way to explore this city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is by walking. During my visit, the weather was beautiful with sun and clouds. The local people were laid back and friendly. I hope the city will be saved from further damages by active volcanoes and earthquakes so that visitors can come and enjoy this amazing and historic city.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Winter Fun List Update #1

Greetings! About a month ago I wrote my Winter fun list here for the period of 2018.12.21 to 2019.03.19. It's time to check in and provide an update on my progress.


1. Enjoy my family holiday party (on December 26): Yes! There were twenty-five of us in attendance. We enjoyed plenty of food, board games, and fun conversations. I talked to each of my nieces and nephews and listened to their news. They grow up so fast. We're now planning a get-together in February.

2. Start the New Year 2019 at home: Yes! On New Year's Day, we woke up later than normal, had a leisure breakfast, and enjoyed a relaxing day. My first cup of coffee in 2019 was so good, I made a second pot of coffee for us. It was a mild winter day, partly cloudy, with high temperature 6C (43F) so we went out for a 45-minute walk along the waterfront trail and enjoyed a beautiful view by the lake!

Lake Ontario on New Year's Day 2019

3. Visit the Winter Flower Show: Yes! I made this visit into a 'fit and fun' outing, and wrote about it here. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it. There were many beautiful and bright colours at the Winter Flower Show, except the winter 'blues' :)

Winter Flower Show

4. Explore Guatemala in January: Yes! I had a wonderful, wonderful time in Guatemala. So many fantastic experiences to share on my blog once I sort out my travel materials. Below is a sample photo that I took while watching the sunrise over Lake Atitlán which is surrounded by three volcanoes. Note the contrast in weather and scenery between this photo and my photo in #7 below.

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

5. Attend the Icefest event in February: Pending. This is an outdoor event that showcases incredible ice sculptures and live ice carving demonstrations. I hope the weather will cooperate on the event date.

6. Check out the Ice Breakers 2019 winter exhibition: Pending. The five winners of the Ice Breakers 2019 International Design Competition are installed outdoors and on display from January 19 to February 24, with the theme “Signal Transmission”.

7. Photograph snow-covered objects: When we barely had snow in December and the first two weeks of January, I began to wonder when I would be able to photograph snow-covered objects this season. Well, last Friday night into Saturday, Toronto had a major winter storm. By Monday morning it had stopped snowing and I was able to capture a few photos during my morning walk. I love the clear blue sky and green trees laden with fresh snow.

Fresh winter snow

8. Book a trip in the Spring with my sister: Pending. We've narrowed down our destination choices and will be going on a guided tour so that most of the logistics will be taken care of.

I counted five completed and three pending items. Stay tuned for my next Winter fun list progress update on February 21.

I'd love to hear about your fun activities this season.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Sunday Smiles 2019.01.13

Greetings! I hope 2019 has been good to you so far and your day is going well. I want to share five random things that are making me smile today:

1. Nature in sunshine: We woke up to a light dusting of snow on the ground and a bright, sunny morning. I went for a walk to enjoy nature. Blue skies, sunshine, sparkling snow, and the lake view, they all bring me happy thoughts. The pink umbrellas at the beach are cute, too. A simple walk always clears my mind and warms my body. I came home feeling energized and upbeat for the rest of the day.

2. Five VIP birthdays: My brother, my sister-in-law, my nephew, my niece, and one of my longtime friends since grade six are celebrating another trip around the sun this month. I visualize their smiles or laughs and the images make me smile. I'm happy to have them in my life. They are very important people (VIP) to me. I'm wishing each of them a wonderful birthday and a fantastic year ahead.

3. My upcoming trip to Guatemala: I pack one carry-on suitcase with light clothing in it since the daily high temperature there is around 24C (75F), low 12C (54F). Light packing means less to pack, less to carry, less to remember, less to lose, and less to unpack.

I look forward to exploring some of the main attractions in Guatemala such as Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Lake Atitlan, formed thousands of years ago in the crater of a massive volcano, and Guatemala's local villages and markets. Here's a photo of Guatemalan bills, 5, 10, and 20 quetzales:

Guatemalan bills

4. A frugal win: Speaking of money, we made reservations for our family outing in January and saved about 30% on the hotel room rate at time of booking, before taxes. The savings will go towards nice dining or future travel. Either way it will bring us more fun experiences. We plan to enjoy our time together, and be away from household chores for a couple of days. I bet the thought of no housework for a few days would make you smile, too.

5. A 'wide' challenge: I discovered the Toronto Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge on their web site. This is exciting and timely for me since one of my goals for 2019 is to read three books each month. I just finished Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (288 pages) and Holly Ringland's The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (400 pages). After I return from Guatemala, I plan to take on the Reading Challenge and see how widely I read this year.

What's making you smile today? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Wellness Post #1: A Fresh Start

Welcome to the first Wellness link up of 2019! I started this monthly link up last year with a fabulous group of blogger friends and now we're in year #2. My blogger friend, Leslie, and I worked together to come up with the new Wellness link-up graphic. A fresh start! Feel free to join in on the fun with your recent or past wellness-related posts every second Wednesday of the month.

THE OPTIONAL PROMPTS for our 2019 monthly Wellness link up are as follows:
  1. January 9: A Fresh Start
  2. February 13: Healthy Heart
  3. March 13: Indoor or Outdoor Fitness
  4. April 10: Healthy Mind
  5. May 8: The B.E.S.T. Care (BEST is for Breasts, Eyes, Skin, and Teeth)
  6. June 12: Mid-Year Review - How Am I Doing?
  7. July 10: Family
  8. August 14: Friends
  9. September 11: Sleep Hygiene
  10. October 9: Gratitude
  11. November 13: Healthy Holidays
  12. December 11: Year-End Review - What Went Well?
My post today has two main parts: (1) My Health goals for 2019 and (2) A Fresh Start where I combined fitness and fun in one outing, as fresh as winter flowers!


Last week, I posted my goals for 2019 here. I've started working on them and have been tracking my progress on a simple sheet. I'll provide a monthly update this year. My Health goals for 2019 include:
  • Meditate 15 minutes daily.
  • Find humour to smile or laugh daily.
  • Walk 45 minutes near nature 6x/ week.
  • Strength workouts 3x/ week.
  • Yoga 2x/ week.
  • Swim 1x/ week.


Today I want to share my first 'fit and fun' outing of the year because fitness and fun can and should go together. We're more likely to stick to a fitness plan when we have fun doing it.

So I planned an outing to the Winter Flower Show at the Allan Gardens Conservatory. The show was on from December 2 to January 9. We had no snow on the ground which made walking outdoors easy.

  1. Choose a point of interest: The Winter Flower Show at the Allan Gardens Conservatory.
  2. Bring what I need: Comfortable clothing, walking shoes, my purse, and camera.
  3. Go at non-peak time when it's usually quieter at the Gardens.
  1. Walk briskly for 20 minutes outdoors to arrive at the Conservatory.
  2. Walk in the gardens to view the flowers and took photos for about 1 hour.
  3. Choose a quiet spot in the gardens to meditate for 15 minutes.

1. Visual: Plants and flowers, mostly poinsettia for the holidays, were beautifully arranged at different heights, with different textures, colours, and shapes. They were a real visual treat as shown in my photos below.

Three reindeer among beautiful poinsettia

Heights, textures, shapes, and colours

2. Auditory: The soft sounds of a toy train circling the track built above a small pond, and the gurgling water at the Lena and the Swan fountain gave soothing effects. Both were nice spots for quiet meditation or contemplation.

A toy train circling above a small pond

Lena and the Swans fountain with koi fish

3. Olfactory: The mild smell of potting soil gave me a sense of closeness to earth and nature. The design of a house added to the feeling of comfort.

There is no place like home

4. Tactile: As I walked along the nice winding paths leading from one garden to another, I could feel the warm temperature in the gardens. I could touch and feel the textures of the plants and flowers.

Winding path in Allan Gardens

  • Raised heart rate from the brisk walk outdoors,
  • An enjoyable quiet walk in the beautiful gardens,
  • Positive sensory experiences,
  • A sense of mental clarity and calmness,
  • A time for reflection and contemplation.

OVERALL RATING - I gave this outing 5 out of 5 points, one point for each of the following:
  • Affordability: Admission to the Conservatory is free.
  • Elements that support wellness: Walkability and tranquillity in the gardens.
  • Fun: Beautiful and colourful flower displays.
  • New experience: It was my first visit to the Winter Flower Show.
  • Uniqueness: The Winter Flower Show is once a year and its design is unique.

I was pleased with how well my first winter outing turned out. I left the gardens feeling energized, joyful, and peaceful. A fresh start indeed.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.
Inlinkz Link Party

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Goals for 2019

Happy New Year 2019! It's so exciting to have a brand new year ahead of us and a fresh calendar to pencil in upcoming events and activities. Today I'm sharing my overall plan and goals for 2019.

My overall plan for the year is to create nice memories with my family and friends, to stay healthy, and to enjoy life. I group my specific goals in three categories: Family & Friends, Health, and Leisure.


  • Do four fun family outings, tentatively in January, April, July, and August.
  • Go on a trip with my sister in March.
  • Visit a cousin who lives abroad, tentatively in June.
  • Get together with my family clan, approximately every two months.
  • Meet up with my friends as many times as possible throughout the year.

  • Meditate 15 minutes daily.
  • Find humour to smile or laugh daily.
  • Walk 45 minutes near nature 6x/ week.
  • Strength workouts 3x/ week.
  • Yoga 2x/ week.
  • Swim 1x/ week.

  • View three art exhibits/ month.
  • Blog weekly, except when I travel.
  • Read three books/ month.
  • Listen to three concerts/ month.
  • Learn French and Spanish, 15 minutes/ day for each language.
  • Watch three movies/ month.
  • Travel to explore five new-to-me countries this year.
  • Try at least one new food dish in each of the countries I visit.

I'm motivated to achieve my goals. I expect to accomplish more in some areas when I'm at home than when I travel. I'm open to try something new that is not on the list as well.

To track my progress, I'm using a simple sheet. It makes it easy for me to see at a glance how I'm doing and to share my monthly summary on my blog throughout the year.

Before I end this post, a friendly reminder that our first Wellness link-up of 2019 is on Wednesday, January 9. Feel free to join in on the fun and share your wellness-related post. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Your turn...What are your goals for 2019?