25 Mar 2015

"Speaking of Travel" podcast posted!

Marilyn Ball in the studio.

UPDATE: Marilyn Ball's show with yours truly as a guest is now available on podcast here! And, as she mentioned at the end, Marilyn is going to have me return as a guest, likely in late May or early June. I'll let you know, when the date is set. ~ Jenny


I had a great little interview with Marilyn Ball today, for her radio show, "Speaking of Travel." I referred to it as a "little" show because it's only half an hour long and, believe me, that amount of time passes very quickly when you're chatting with a like-minded travel enthusiast!

We didn't get through all the questions and topics we had intended to touch on but we did cover a lot of ground nonetheless. I hope you will find it both entertaining and educational. Maybe it will fire up your enthusiasm for travel too – particularly to Cuba, and perhaps with me. 

Her website says this: "Travel with Marilyn each Thursday at 3:30 p.m. on Independent Asheville Radio WZGM, V-Radio WSVM and WRGC in Sylva." The site will also give you access to podcasts of her shows. She chats about a lot of interesting topics with a wide variety of people.

I'm sure you'll find the half-hour show slips past your ears very quickly! It passed so fast for us, in fact, that she's invited me to return and continue our conversation on another show in a month or so, which will be especially fun because I will have just returned from my April group trip to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, where a piece of my heart will always reside.

Here's a link to a topic we touched on in the today's interview… "I chose to walk through an opened door," a post on my original blog, Cubana de Corazón, which has more personal thoughts about Cuba, short stories and poetry, among other things.

24 Mar 2015

Review of a Cuban paladar: Don QKo is worth the drive to Cárdenas!

The following is a review I wrote that has been posted on TripAdvisor (here), along with eight of my photos and reviews by others who also loved this little gem of a restaurant, near Varadero. For your reading convenience, I've copied my review below and added a few different photos than you will find on TripAdvisor….


While visiting in the Matanzas province of Cuba recently, I had the pleasure of exploring Cárdenas and dining at an excellent paladar called Don QKo. This privately owned restaurant is billed as “an Oasis in the City of Cárdenas” and the title is quite accurate.

The original Don QKo, Alexeis' grandfather. 
Owned and operated by Alexeis Padrón and his family, this culinary oasis was named for his grandfather, whose nickname was “QKo” or “cuco,” which translates to “cuckoo.” Although the inference to most English speakers is that a person with such a nickname would be a little crazy, the Spanish word is used to imply that someone is shrewd, canny or a “wily bird.” In Spanish, of course, “Don” is a title of respect.

All of the tasteful decorations and furnishings of the elegant and charming restaurant have been personally chosen or created by Alexeis and his father Jesus Padrón (also known as QKo, like his father before him). Indeed, this father-and-son team takes a very hands-on approach to all aspects of their business; I found Jesus painting the baño when I went to make a pitstop!

Their attention to detail is apparent everywhere and, according to TV reporter Patricia Karina (Alexeis’ wife), the Padrón men have done much of the work themselves – not just the painting. The main areas of the restaurant are primarily done in yellow and black, with floral arrangements, interesting artwork and touches of red and green accent colors throughout. Most of the tables and chairs are classic black wrought iron but some of the other furniture was custom made.

Approximately 100 people can be seated at one time, outside on the patio or inside in the bar/lounge area or one of the small dining rooms, if a more intimate setting is preferred. The patio encircles a little pool and is dotted with lush plants. It also has a decorative fishpond at one side and affords a view of the kitchen, Alexeis pointed out, so people can see their food being prepared.

One of the inside dining areas, elegantly decorated.
The menu options range from traditional roasted pork (a specialty of the house) to a selection of seafood, all prepared and presented with great care. As I was speaking with Alexeis, in fact, I could watch one of his chiefs at work, carefully slicing meat to be roasted on the open-air grill. In addition to their delicious food – I had a sumptuous serving of roast pork with an excellent, savory sauce – the bar offers a nice selection of drinks, including another house specialty: a mojito with a twist. It’s quite tasty but I won’t give their secret away by telling you what the extra ingredient is; you’ll have to visit Don QKo to find out!

Founded in 1828, Cárdenas is not far from Varadero and could be considered a bedroom community for that bustling beach burg. It is one of Cuba’s most affluent cities and, with a population of close to 81,000, is the 15th largest in the country but, perhaps ironically, it has very little tourist accommodation. The city of Varadero, on the other hand, has less than 30,000 year-round residents, but tourists perpetually populate its many hotels and eateries.

Dining on the patio by the pool is a great evening option.
Those who want to escape the crowds, explore new terrain and give their tastebuds a true treat should plan a visit to Don QKo in Cárdenas, which is about 30 km from Varadero. Located at Ave. Céspedes #1001, esq. Calle 21 (at the corner of 21st Street), you can take a private taxi or, if you are feeling more adventurous, a public bus. If you wish to get more specific directions, call the restaurant: (045) 52 4572.

Meals are typically served from noon until 11 p.m., and they’re closed on Tuesdays. I was there for a late-afternoon lunch and it was quite quiet but, in the evening, when the lights go on and the live music begins, the place is much busier. Therefore, if you want to be assured of a seat, especially if you have a group, I would encourage making a reservation.

I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with the service, cuisine or ambience at Don QKo. It’s a delightful dining oasis that is definitely worth the drive to Cárdenas!

A copy of this famous painting adorns a wall in the lounge.
– Jenny Cressman

16 Mar 2015

Here's our updated agenda for the April 8 trip to Marea del Portillo!

AGENDA for “Jennica 2015” April 8-15 group

All departures are from the Marea Hotel lobby, unless otherwise specified, & all activities are free (included in your trip package) unless a price is noted.


Express check-in for group upon arrival


11:30 a.m. - Private group orientation session (meet in Marea lobby) – select an entrée for our Welcome Dinner, confirm participation in Las Coloradas Tour, etc.

6 p.m. - Welcome Dinner with music by Robertico & pals; part of your package.

8:30 a.m. to noon - Three Village Tour – one of the most popular optional excursions offered by the resort; sign up & pay on your own at resort, 20 CUC.

5 p.m. - Sunset Cruise - mainly for our group but not exclusively; part of pkg.

Las Coloradas Playa & Campismo
8:30 a.m. to approx. 4:30 p.m. - Las Coloradas Tour – features Cuban history, nature hike & beach party picnic; boxed lunch & drinks provided as part of pkg.

PLUS, a brief stop in Niquero on the return trip for a photography exhibit!

Sunday &/or Monday

9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. - Cayo Blanco – your package includes 2 trips to this lovely island & 1 lobster lunch; there will be other food for lunch too, freshly prepared.


5 p.m. – Art Show & Dinner at Ferlin’s – going to a home & restaurant in the Marea village by horse carriage; sign up with & pay Jenny; 20 CUC should cover carriage ride & dinner for us & artists (as our guests) …buying art is up to you!

Kayaking with Gord

8:30-11:30 a.m. - Guided Kayak Tour (meet at Dive Shop) – going in the mangrove to look for manatee; 6 people only & weather permitting - must be a calm day.


Say good-bye & try not to cry!

NOTE: Horse riding & other fun activities will be available throughout the week.

Those staying a second week will be on their own to sign up for excursions, etc.