World’s Highest Nativity: Panecillo at Christmas

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This lady rises above the city of city from the peak of her round hill. The hill reminded the Spanish of a bun, hence the name “Panecillo”. According to my history teachers, the hill was the former site of an Incan temple and possibly a burial ground when the Spanish laid eyes on it.

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Apparently she’s made of aluminum.

The woman on top crushes the head of a serpent which she drags by a chain. Some say she’s the only Madonna in the world with wings. According to a plaque on the statue, she’s supposed to be the woman of the Apocalypse from the book of Revelation.

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In any case, she’s the personification of the spirit of Quito, and whenever I arrive and spot her figure from the plane, I feel nostalgic.

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My favorite view

To get to the Panecillo, you wind up the tight spiral of road until the crest of the hill. There’s usually plenty of parking if you drive or a taxi will take you up for a couple of dollars.

You can get your tourist handicrafts at any one of the stalls.

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Or there’s always the option of lunch or dinner.

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As you can see, these are popular with the locals.

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Entrance to the area is free, but there’s a small fee to climb the old metal staircase that circles around inside the base of the statue. From there, you can take in views of the city from Mary’s feet. We usually skip that and opt for the equally stunning views from outside the statue.

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This year, there was a guy there with and iPad and a drone who would take a 30 minute video of you or your group at the top of the statue with Quito as your backdrop. For $8! What a unique keepsake. I totally would have done it had it not been a few minutes after sunset and the family dispersed all over the hill when I discovered the drone man. Also, I was kinda worried about one of the kids stepping on the drone.

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Pichincha thought it was a good time to let off some steam. The crater is that craggy area to the left of the smoke.

We were there because it was a few days before Christmas and the Panecillo was all decked out with a manger scene of lights. According to my sister, this is the world’s highest manger scene (nearly 10,000 feet or 3,000 meters above sea level).

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In all my years of living there, we’d never been to that particular event, though it’s entirely possible that it didn’t exist 20 years ago.

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That cell tower definitely didn’t exist 20 years ago.

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South Quito by twilight

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The evening mist creeping over the mountains toward the valley

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Our tour guides and chauffeurs

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Two of the “kings” from the nativity scene and the food area in the foreground.

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I already mentioned this deliciousness in the food post.

There were special food vendors on the south side of the hill, picnic tables and a stage set up under a tent with heaters and a choir singing Christmas songs.

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It also happened to be the night of the Christmas parade featuring men and women in traditional dress as well as Mary, Joseph and the baby on stilts. And a camel, I’m pretty sure.

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Why were they on stilts on cobblestone? We’ll never know.

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Side note: The manger scene took me a bit to figure out. There were 3 tall figures with crowns (aka: the wise men or kings). Strung between two poles was a hammock-looking thing that was the baby (see the second photo in this post). But I kept asking Kelley: “Where’s Joseph?”

“Right there!” she’d say, over and over.

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Finally, I got it. See the faint white round shape to the right of the statue, aka Mary? Yep, that’s him. As my sister said, “Smaller, subservient and pushed to the side.” The Madonna is the big deal in this country. Forget about the other characters.

Before long, it was cold and the kids were ready for bed. But it was a fun evening enjoying Christmas at the Panecillo with my beloved Quito in the background.

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El Galeon #FloridaForChristmas

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My dad commented the other day that he was sensing a theme in my photos – grumpy kid #1. And looking at these photos of our trip to the replica Spanish sailing ship, the theme sticks.

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All of us were happy, except for the kid in yellow. It must be a 4 years old thing. Or a he-was-sick-the-whole-time thing.

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At least we had one who was pleasant, although, sheesh! She is already demonstrating a strong will and a desire to have her way all the time. I didn’t realize one-year-olds would throw fits, but she does.

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The Galeon is a 1 to 1 replica of the Spanish merchant ships that sailed the seas in the 16th century, at the time when St. Augustine, the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the US, was founded.

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It is based in St. Augustine for several months and open for tours. Since my husband and I lived on a ship for a couple of years, we were interested to check it out.

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I’ll be honest, though, my favorite part was listening to the Spanish crew members talk to each other with their Spanish accents. But I didn’t take pictures of them, because that would be creepy.

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From the ship you have expansive views of the harbor, the bridge of Lions (which is a drawbridge! Exciting for little boys, even grumpy ones) and the history downtown with Flagler College towers.

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It was chilly out on the water, but nothing compared to the single digit temps we’d be experiencing just days later back in Oklahoma.

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Nights of Lights in #FloridaForChristmas

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The Bridge of Lions, which connects St. Augustine to Anastasia Island; the bridge is a drawbridge which opens to let taller vessels through.

 

St. Augustine is famous for it’s annual light celebration, where the downtown is lit with 2 million lights.

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Lightner Museum

 
I loved seeing the displays, but mostly I enjoyed the festive atmosphere and perfect weather walking the downtown streets.

 

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Plaza de la Constitucion

 

We went downtown twice in the evening, once with the kids (we stayed in the cars) and once after the littles were in bed. I loved exploring the streets at night. Everything was so magical.

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Plaza de la Constitucion

 

December really is an ideal time to visit, particularly if you are from a colder climate. The respite from cold and lack of typical heat and humidity made for a perfect environment to explore.

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Flagler College, the former Ponce de Leone Hotel

 

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Aviles Street by night

 

#FloridaForChristmas and St. Augustine’s St. George Street

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St. Augustine’s Saint George Street is pretty overrun with tourists, but after exploring the San Marcos fort on Monday morning, we were hungry and in search of a family favorite: the Spanish bakery.

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We found it and ate empanadas, sausage rolls, salads and fresh cookies.

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Empowered with more energy, we did more exploring on foot.

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I love Florida’s moss-draped trees.

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If I had a month with endless funds and no kids and naps, I could probably eat my way through the whole area.

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As it was, we settled for a quick gelato before heading back home to put the kids down for naps, as some people remained grouchy.

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We’d head downtown later that evening to enjoy St. Augustine’s Famed Nights of Lights.

#FloridaForChristmas

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This Christmas we traveled to St. Augustine, Florida to spend time with my grandfather. He and my grandmother moved here more than 20 years ago from Talahassee after he retired. He is originally from Miami, and my mom grew up there, too. So this side of the family is Florida-bred, through and through. As it turns out, it was a great opportunity to both spend time with extended family we rarely see, and explore St. Augustine.

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I’ve visited here every few years since they moved here some time in the 80s, and even lived here for four months in 5th grade (proud RB Hunt Elementary School alumni, holla!) (If one semester qualifies me as an alumni.) At that time, my grandparents had a mobile home over on Anastasia Island. When we visited, my sister and I shared the guest room while my parents slept in the Florida room (aka screened in porch, for you non-Floridians). For my 5th grade year, my parents rented an apartment around the corner from my grandparents. I remember that the apartment smelled like smoke, that I got a bicycle that year, that we made Christmas ornaments that we tried to sell to the neighbors, and that I rode the school bus to school. I was scared of the driver, because he would yell at the kids.

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I loved living near the beach, and would cycle my bike to my grandparent’s house, to the beach and to my friend’s house. The other distinct memory I have from that time is that a dead whale washed up on the beach that year. Authorities had to figure out how to dispose of the thing; meanwhile it filled the air with pungent dead flesh aroma. It was pink.

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About 14 years ago, my grandparents built a small, Victorian-style home on the mainland, just steps from the Matanzas River waterway. Though my grandmother passed away in 2004, my grandfather has stayed here in this cute little house, which we invaded this year with two kids, plus my parents.

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As it turns out, winter in Florida is an excellent time to explore America’s oldest inhabited city. To kick off our visit, we headed to the famous Spanish-built fort, Castillo de San Marcos.

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It’s practically a requirement if you visit the city.

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Views from the top of the fort of the waterway, the ocean and the city are expansive.

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The kids, and grandpa, enjoyed exploring and climbing on things.

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Certain people were stuffed into canons, making some happy and others grouchy.

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Grouchiness continued for one tired little boy as we went on to explore the nearby St. George Street.

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Snow Day

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My parents were here for two weeks over Christmas.

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It was a great time of hanging out together, eating, reading and watching my mom and dad play with the 3-year-old. And the timing ended up being perfect: mechanical difficulties caused them to be stranded in Salt Lake for a night on the way here, so the airline re-booked their return flight for free, and they were able to be here two extra days.

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They were here for a week, we celebrated Christmas and all that fanfare, and then the baby came Dec. 29, giving them exactly one more week to dote on her (and for my mom to stock my freezer with meals!)

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The day after they left, we were hit with a snowstorm, and school was canceled the following Monday and Tuesday. But that Sunday afternoon was full of fun. I left the newborn napping inside before venturing out to snap a few shots of this cute father and son duo.

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Whoever lived in our house before us left the most random things: four black salad plates that happen to match my dishes nearly exactly, a toy vacuum, a toy golf club set, and this sled. It’s like we were meant to live here.

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Two Toddler Madness

After Christmas there was more fun to be had. A smattering of phone photos helped capture the of-the-moment madness.

There were lots of good meals, more book reading and maybe a nap or two.

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There was couch jumping…

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Couch wrestling…

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And then their GRANDFATHER taught them to jump from the coffee table to the couch while we were out one day.

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My awesome sister was full of fun ideas to keep the toddlers entertained.
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And grandpa even made his famous pancakes one day.

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They aren’t famous because they’re the best, but they’re famous because if we had a friend spending the night he would often get up and make them. And also, I think it’s about the only thing he ever cooks for us. If mom was gone for some reason it was… breakfast for dinner! And in that case, the pancakes became waffles. Shortly after that photo was taken, the blender broke. RIP Cuisinart blender.