Dive Communist plane off the coast of Bulgaria

Fish are pretty and shipwrecks are cool to explore, but how would you like to dive a

Communist airplane in the Black Sea? A 1971 Soviet-made Tupolev-154 was submerged this week off the coast of Bulgaria to create an artificial reef for SCUBA divers. Orlin Tsanev, chairman of Black Sea Dive Odesos association, told Reuters: “The submerging of the plane aims to make it an attraction and (a place) for training divers.”

Made for former Bulgarian Communist ruler Todor Zhivkov, the plane’s engines and interior were removed and the body of the aircraft is now 22 meters deep, making it the largest plane underwater in the world. The plane has been grounded since 1999 but once also carried Communist leaders such as Fidel Castro. Zhivkov’s private yacht was previously purchased for cruises on the Danube River.

The new dive site is located near the resort town of St. Konstantin and Elena, just north of Bulgaria’s “summer capital” of Varna. Read more about travel in Varna here.

Photo courtesy AP

Camera travels 1,100 miles by sea… and turtle

I dropped my waterproof camera into twenty feet of ocean water once while snorkeling off the coast of Mexico. As I watched my camera drift slowly to the rocky bottom I knew I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to retrieve it. Luckily for me a free diver was in our party and rescued my electronic treasure. The thought of a losing a camera can be somewhat sickening. Once gone most never expect to see it again. Royal Dutch Navy sergeant Dick De Bruin never thought he’d see his camera after losing it at a dive site off the shores of Aruba. Yet after six months of travel the camera found it’s way back to him.

US Coast Guard officer Paul Schultz discovered the red Nikon camera, still in it’s waterproof case, banging against the rocks of a marina in Key West Florida. The camera wasn’t marked with any identification tying it to the owner so Schultz looked through the photos and video still preserved on the camera. The pictures held few clues. There were photos of two divers standing beside a truck with a blue roofed building in the background, a family on a couch, and a curious video. It appeared to have been taken accidentally by none other than a sea turtle. The footage shows the strap of the camera hooked on the turtles fin. In the five minute clip the camera is violently thrashed by the turtle’s fin then floats to the surface.

Schultz posted the photos to ScubaBoard.com and CruiseCritic.com and the mystery was solved. Members of the sites recognized a plane’s tail number and tracked it to the island of Aruba. Another site visitor recognized some of the children in a photo and pointed Schultz to Dick de Bruin. “I have a smile on my face. I can’t stop laughing about it,” de Bruin commented. “It’s really big news on the island.”
(Photo: Flickr/NOAA’s National Ocean Service)

My favorite Detroit dive bar: The Old Miami

The building at 3930 Cass Avenue in Detroit doesn’t look like much. A short, squat brick square with a green awning proclaiming it as “The Old Miami,” the space has actually had several different names throughout the years.

In the 40’s and 50’s it was called The Miami Lounge and was an after-work hang for car salesmen in the area. The 60’s saw it transition into Ken’s Lounge, a sleazy joint popular with prostitutes and pimps and the site of several shootings. It then did a brief stint as the New Miami, but a fire quickly ended that life.

In 1979, the building was purchased by a local Vietnam Vet, who created The Old Miami (Miami is both a nod to its former name and an acronym for Missing in Action Michigan) as a haven for all war veterans. Over time, as more young people and struggling artists have moved into the neighborhood, The Old Miami has stayed true to its roots as a veterans bar. Only now, the vets rubs elbows with the new crowd.

On any given day, you’ll likely find the older generation camped out at the bar, while the city’s younger residents sprawl across the beautiful backyard (complete with porch swing and fish pond) hidden behind the building. On summer nights, it’s the perfect place to catch one of the bar’s many live music shows.

The Old Miami gets my vote for best dive bar in Detroit because there’s no pretense here. It’s as much a space for veterans as is it for those fighting a different kind of battle, working to make Detroit a better city. It’s a true community bar, the kind of place where everyone knows your name, even if they’re likely to forget it by the next time they see you. Plus….all the drinks are served in plastic cups, and you just can’t get more dive-y than that.

How to tell a true dive bar from a fake

The term “dive bar” gets bandied about a little too often. Here in Chicago and in other big cities around the world, many bars that bills themselves as “dives” are really just hipster bars pretending to be dives (First clue: a real dive bar never calls itself a dive). Like a $75 trucker hat, it screams “Hey, look at me! I’m so unpretentious. Just one of the ‘regular old folks.” Don’t be fooled by these cheap imitations. At a real dive bar, no one cares who made your jeans, what your favorite Wilco song is, or if they can get your number. Here are a few other ways to tell the difference.

In a real dive bar:

one of the following things is on the “menu”: hard-boiled eggs, Jeppson’s Malort (a kind of Swedish Schnapps made in Chicago, it’s made with alcohol and wormwood), or shoestring potatoes (unshelled peanuts will also do). A real dive bar isn’t going to mess around with a bunch of different dishes. It does one thing and it does it well. If if it does offer food, it’s generally of the deep-fried variety. If if doesn’t offer food, you can order in.

cash is the only way to pay. Put your cash on the bar when you walk in. Tip well after every drink and somehow the bartender will make your meager pile of bills last as long as you want it to. Just leave any remaining cash when you go and you’ll always be welcome back.there is a screen door, or a secret buzzer gets you access. Dive bars don’t bother with AC, they just open the door and let the summer breeze inside. “Hidden” speakeasy bars may be trendy now, but secret dives have existed for decades. Regulars don’t want their favorite haunt taken over by hipsters, so staying under the radar is necessary.

there is an Old Style sign or some other large plastic/neon beer sign outside. Real dive bars advertise their best asset – beer – front and center.

whenever someone enters, practically the whole bar says hello. A true dive earns faithful regulars. It’s a place to drink and a place to meet up with longtime friends. If the bar is filled with strangers standing in groups, or worse, singles looking to mingle, you’ve walked into a faux dive.

Bonus points if the bar has a resident cat or dog known to all the regulars, or if the name of the person tending bar is the same as the name of the bar itself.

A real dive bar does not:

offer free wi-fi. If anyone inside is working on a laptop, turn tail and run. It’s not a real dive bar.

employ bartenders under the age of 40 years old. Especially heavily tattooed under-40 male bartenders who wear eyeliner. If the bartender, or the majority of the patrons, are wearing skinny jeans or look like they’re members of Fall Out Boy, it is most definitely not a true dive bar.

have a photo booth, especially a “vintage” one that charges $4 for pictures. The only acceptable forms of entertainment in a dive bar are tv (never flat screen), darts, and pool. Okay, and maybe a vintage table-top Ms. Pac-Man.

have a website. A real dive doesn’t have a website, hell it might not even have a phone. And it has no need for one.

have a digital jukebox. Especially one stocked with indie rock. A real dive’s jukebox will be the old-fashioned kind, complete with an un-ironic selection of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, or whatever music was popular at the time it opened (a real dive doesn’t care to update it’s selection).

And the surefire way to tell that what you have walked into is in no way a real dive bar: it has a martini menu.

In the Heart of Central America: Planning a wedding or honeymoon in Honduras

Imagine walking down a lush green aisle to a small open-air wooden structure where billowy white curtains frame a view of a valley spread below and blueish mountains in the distance. An intimate group of family and friends has gathered to watch you say your vows on this hilltop and after the ceremony, they’ll join you to celebrate as the sun sets and the lights of the village beneath you and the stars above begin to twinkle in the dark.

That fantasy, and several others, can come true in Honduras. Honduras is overlooked as a destination wedding or honeymoon spot, but the country offers just as many opportunities for romance as its Caribbean and Central American counterparts.

Whether you fancy yourself as a barefoot bride or want to go eco-chic, Honduras has a wedding locale for you. And because all-inclusive “wedding factory” resorts don’t exist here, brides can take comfort in knowing that their special day will indeed be special and private.

Those looking for an adventurous honeymoon in Honduras will find plenty of activities, like zip-lining, diving, horseback riding and white-water rafting here as well. Here are three location options to get you started planning a wedding or honeymoon in Honduras.

Hacienda San Lucas is situated on a hill just outside of the town of Copan Ruin as. From the hotel’s deck chairs, you can see the ruins of Copan and the town below. It’s a long walk from the Hacienda into town, but owner Flavia will arrange for pick up and drop off for guests. You can also hop into a moto-taxi for the $1 ride home.

The Hacienda was a labor of love, and it shows. Flavia was born in Honduras, but moved to Kentucky and lived there for three decades. She eventually returned home and took over the property that had been in her family’s name for a hundred years. It was in a sad state of disrepair, so Flavia set about restoring it piece by piece. As she says, she would sell one cow and have enough money to restore one wall. Another cow sold equaled another wall.

It was a long process, and by the time the renovation was complete, nearly ten years had passed, over 4000 native trees, including cacao and fruit trees, had been planted on the property, solar lighting had been installed in the rooms, and 50% of the employees were local Maya Chorti people, descendants of the indigenous Maya people.

When the resort first opened, it was just two rooms. Now it’s grown to eight rooms spread amongst three buildings. Rates for rooms that are basic but comfortable start at $125 for low season. Rooms don’t have A/C, TV, radios or telephones, but they do have hammocks and there is wi-fi at the main house. There’s also a restaurant where Flavia serves a four-course dinner ($30 per person) made of grown-onsite or locally purchased ingredients. Because she only buys as much as she needs each day, reservations are required.

On the night I dined by candlelight at Hacienda San Lucas, were were served a salad of cantaloupe and fresh cheese, a velvety cream of corn soup with chipilin flower and macadamia nut powder, and a rich creamy dish of chicken in lorocco (a native flower) sauce, baked in a corn husk and served with avocado and rice. For dessert: Kentucky rum cake. After tasting her delicious food, I could see why Flavia’s cooking retreats at the Hacienda were popular.

Hacienda San Lucas also has one feature that makes it perfect for a destination wedding. Gaia, the Hacienda’s yoga center (where Flavia also runs yoga retreats) is one of the most picture-perfect wedding locales I have ever seen. Perched at the top of a hill overlooking the whole valley of Copan, it feels incredibly intimate, romantic, and natural. As soon as I saw it, I told my husband that I’d found the spot where I’d someday like to renew our vows.

For couples who get married here, the planning couldn’t be easier – Flavia does it all. She’ll decorate Gaia and bring in chairs for guests (unless you want them to sit on pillows on the floor), arrange for flowers, a band, an officiant and a photographer.

Dinner will, of course, be served at the Hacienda restaurant. Afterward, guests can dance under the stars, relax with a view of Copan Ruins, or sit by the fire at the Hacienda’s firepit.

Rent out the whole place for your wedding, or just book a room for the bride and groom and then encourage guests to stay down in town. Flavia will arrange for round trip transportation for your party.

Pre- or post-wedding, spend a few days exploring Copan, venture off to visit an eco-lodge in La Ceiba or relax on the beaches of Roatan.

If getting married barefoot in the sand is more your style, head to Roatan, where resorts like eco-friendly Palmetto Bay Plantation allow you to get married on an empty beach on the shores of the Caribbean.

Divers looking for an intimate ceremony can say “I do” to their scuba sweetheart at Anthony’s Key. The resort will handle all details and offers several ceremony locations to choose from. The honeymoon package includes 7 nights accommodations, all meals, 3 dives per day, 2 night dives, all equipment, dolphin snorkel and open water dolphin dive, wine and flowers on arrival, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing and other excursions for $1789 per person.

La Ceiba
If you prefer a more traditional wedding reception but want a natural setting, try the Lodge at Pico Bonito, named for the mountain that rises over it. Rooms start at around $200 and there are 22 rooms onsite. Set on 400 acres of tropical rain forest, the resort is home to hundreds of species of birds, which you can see on guided hikes around the property. There are two nearby waterfalls for swimming and the resort features a restaurant, pool, butterfly house and serpentarium.

Rooms are wooden huts built on stilts. Clean, with soft beds and ceiling fans, each cabin has its own hammock for lazy afternoons.

The reception space is air conditioned, seats up to 200 guests, and serves dishes like coffee crusted beef medallions from the restaurant.

Spend your honeymoon days zip-lining through the jungle, white-water rafting, and wildlife viewing, or explore the rest of Honduras.

Requirements for getting married in Honduras
Most resorts will help you with the paperwork and provide an officiant for the ceremony. Generally the paperwork is due 14 days before the wedding will take place. You’ll need to provide a certified copy of your birth certificate, a certified copy of your police record and an affidavit of single status, as well as a valid passport.

If you’ve been married before, you’ll need a certified copy of either the divorce decree or your previous spouse’s death certificate. You’ll also need two non-related witnesses, who must have valid passports.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

You can read other posts from my series on Honduras here.