North Sea Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

First of all on this Monday morning, Happy Birthday to my co-writer, good friend and sister, Suzanne!  Like a good wine, you’re getting better with age, Sis.

Now that I’m not paying 95 cents/minute to access WiF, I decided to extend Suzanne’s writing vacation another week with what I believe are some of our more interesting photos from the trip – hope you think so too.  I might add that I’m thankful that the trip ended when it did, I was on my last belt notch!

The itinerary: The cruise embarked from Hamburg, Germany and we got off in Edinburgh prior to the ship returning to Hamburg.

A rare moment in Bergen, Norway when all six of us were upright on our Segways.

That one sunny day in Norway when the ship’s pools were use.

 

While cruising out of Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland through the Arctic Circle this photograph was taken at sunset. What makes it so unusual is that it was a little past midnight!

About 4 hours after that beautiful sunset was this beautiful sunrise

Double rainbow coming down hole #18 at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

That’s me having a glass of wine and smoking a Cuban cigar in the backyard at our VRBO in St. Andrews with all my friends.  Yes, that’s a bunker – there were plastic golf balls and sand wedges available to practice how frustrating it is to get out of a St. Andrews sand trap.

The last supper together with all 10 in our group.  A pleasure to travel once again with John & Mary Bellham and to meet their friends Steen and Sue, and a really special thank you to Jack & JJ and John & Judy for being such GREAT travel partners.

Thank you to all our blog readers for joining us and hope you’re looking forward to the next adventure, wherever that takes us.

 

Exiled to St. Andrews

by Bob Sparrow

Leaving the cruise early in Edinburgh

With two days remaining on our cruise, blindfolded and with hands tied behind our backs, we were forced to walk the plank once our ship had pulled into harbor at Edinburgh.  Actually it didn’t pull in, as there is not a deep water port, so with our luggage and golf clubs in hand we were summarily marched onto the ‘tender boat’ and into the port of New Haven two days before the end of our cruise, to spend the next four days at the home of golf, St. Andrews, Scotland.

JJ had secured a great VRBO just two blocks from the Old Course and as I mentioned, Linda and my ballot was selected to play the Old Course at 4:30 on Friday, the day we arrived. John and Judy decided to wait around the first tee to see if anyone didn’t show up for their tee time and sure enough they got on at 4:00. Jack and JJ, who had played the course a few years earlier, decided to be available when the owner of the VRBO was coming in to show them the house and give them the keys.

Six on the Bridge

Rain was in the forecast for St. Andrews everyday we looked for the last several weeks, but the golf gods were smiling on us this day as it was beautiful, a few clouds and a slight breeze – unbelievable!

We had a young man as our caddy, Matt, who was born and raised in St. Andrews and a very good golfer himself, so he was most helpful in getting us around this historic course. We did get some threatening clouds about mid-way through the second nine and I was actually excited to feel a slight rain begin. I mean what is St. Andrews without a bit of wind and rain? It only lasted a short while and when the sun came out again, there was a magnificent double rainbow arching over the entire course as we walked up 18 (to thundering applause in my mind!)

We finished around 9:00 p.m., still amazed at how long it stays light in this part of the world.

Rainbow coming up 18

Our Canadian traveling companions, John & Mary, Steen & Sue also departed the cruise early and were spending the next four days in and around Edinburgh. Jack, JJ, John, Judy, Linda and I moved our stuff into our new home for the next four days and found a great little place to grab a bite and a beer, Ziggy’s. The owner, Ziggy, came over to our table and entertained us and treated us to a gin-raspberry liqueur. She also suggested a ‘Crackin’ Rum, for my rum and coke – very good!

Exhausted after a rather full and fulfilling day, we walked back to our new digs and crashed.

Relegated to the Bench

My round at the Old Course on Friday was hampered by the reoccurrence of some sciatica I’d been fighting over the last few weeks, had I been anywhere else I would have stop playing, but it’s the Old Course! Unfortunately playing through that pain cost me playing any more golf for the rest of the trip. The Budds and VanBoxmeers played the ‘New Course’ (‘New’ is a relative term, it was built in 1895) on Saturday and then again on Sunday, joined by Linda, as tee times were most available there. I walked with them on Sunday wondering how and when I pissed off the golf gods. The weather was incredible – slight breeze, mostly sunny with only a few minutes of light rain.

The town of St. Andrews would be a place worth seeing even if there wasn’t a famous golf course there. It holds Scotland’s oldest university, has a picturesque coastline, lots of shops (not just golf stores), restaurants (especially if you love fish and chips) and plenty of pubs.  I even liked the haggis!  Most of all, I must say that the Scottish people are among the most gracious and friendly that I’ve found anywhere in all my travels. 

Heading for home on Tuesday; it’s been a great trip, thank you all for joining us and a special thank you to those who made comments along the way, it’s always good to hear from you – especially you, Maggie Ryan, my dear Scottish friend!

You Take the Lowlands, I’ll Take the Highlands

The Orkney Islands

Skara Brae

As we circle northeast around the top of Iceland through the Arctic Circle, there is an ‘Honorary Viking’ ceremony on board where one can be baptized with the waters from the Arctic Circle. Since I hadn’t been a Viking fan since the days of scrambling quarterback, Fran Tarkington, I decided to sleep in. As we headed to the Orkney Islands we were reminded once again that they are not part of Hawaiian Island chain, as the day was dark and gray with a slight sprinkle for good measure.

There are about 70 Orkney islands, of which 20 are inhabited and they belong to Scotland. It is mostly farmland for sheep and cattle where both trees and sunny days are a rarity, but they do have hairy pigs and all the school children are taught to play the fiddle. This is stuff you won’t find even in an Einstein edition of a trivia game.

The tour meandered through the gentle rolling landscape into the Neolithic Heartland of Orkney, stopping at the ‘Standing Stones of Stenness’ and the ‘Ring of Brodgar’ a huge ceremonial circle of stone dating back almost 5,000 years, Stonehenge-like structures built before Stonehenge, and oh yeah . . .

At Skara Brae there are dwellings half in and half out of the ground that were made of stone and inhabited between the years 3180 and 2500 B.C.!!   That’s older than the pyramids! It was discovered that these ground dwellings had furniture of stone which was placed in the exact same place in every dwelling. (I’m sure Linda would have changed the furniture out several times had she been living there), and oh yeah . . .

Amazing historical venues, great picture-taking opportunities, and oh yeah . . .

Stones of Stenness

We didn’t take that tour; we took the tour to the Highland Park Distillery! While Scotch whiskey does have an interesting and storied past here, I think we got on the wrong bus. As a result, I may not know much about the Neolithic period of this part of the world, but if you need to know anything about barley, peat or the whiskey aging process, I’m your man!

We were lucky to get back on the right ship before it sailed!

Inverness, Northern Scotland

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

We did get on the right bus this time and headed to see Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Our guide had confessed to seeing Nessie on several occasions and all but guaranteed that we would see her today. We drove through some beautiful countryside and some quaint little villages on the way Loch Ness. The trip was amplified by beautiful weather and trees, something we’d seen neither of for days. The Scottish Highlands were gorgeous on this day! At Loch Ness, we not only caught our glimpse of Nessie, but got to learn a good deal about Scottish history (we learned that both Braveheart and Macbeth took liberties with the historical facts). We spent a good deal of time exploring the grounds of Urquhart Castle, which is on Loch Ness, very interesting.

The Scottish people were extremely gracious, had a good sense of humor and didn’t talk so strangely that we couldn’t understand them. Loved Scotland!

Linda and I got a bit of good news as we were leaving Inverness, our name had been pulled for the lottery, which meant we have a tee time at St. Andrews for tomorrow!

Fore!!!

The Iceland Cometh

by Bob Sparrow

Linda looking for her ball

We woke up the next morning in the harbor of Reykjavik, Iceland and while the weather was still a bit overcast, we were excited about playing golf in Iceland. We had originally decided that we were either going to play at the northern-most golf course in the world or we were going to play the latest round of golf ever, teeing off at midnight, as it stays light almost all night long. We did neither of these, but we did play golf at a golf course that that was built in 1934. It was a rather blustery day, which apparently is mostly what they get up there, as JJ, Judy and Linda teed off first with Jack, John and me in the second group; we all walked the course under rather gusty conditions. We found that the high winds sometimes worked for us, for example when John, who can hit the ball fairly long, hit a 3 wood and a 7 iron to a 500+ yard par five and had a 15 foot eagle putt. When we were hitting into the wind, it required quite an adjustment, so instead of hitting a 9 iron, you had to hit a 4 or 5 iron! It spite of the wind we enjoyed the round immensely, as we didn’t get rained on. Scores really don’t matter . . . do they? We had big plans for an evening out in Reykjavik, but that wind beat us up pretty good, so we crashed early getting ready for tomorrow’s adventure.

Golden Waterfalls

Salmon escalator on the left

‘The beginning of the end of the cold war’

On Day 2 in Reykjavik we hired a van for the 6 of us for a 7-hour private tour of the ‘Golden Circle’, a well-known loop out of Reykjavik to several of the near-by tourist attractions. We got what would be called a ‘balmy’ day in Iceland, dark clouds, light winds and no rain. The landscape in many places was ‘moon-like’; there’s a joke in Iceland that goes, “What do you do when you’re lost in an Icelandic forest?” Just stand up! What trees they do have are only a few feet high. Our tour included at stop at Thingvellir National Park, a massive lava plain set between two separated tectonic plates, a visit to the geysers, similar to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, only older, but not as faithful. The highlight of the tours was the visit to the ‘Golden Waterfalls’, a spectacular two-tiered waterfall that thunders to the river bottom and shoots mist high into the air. We also saw the Faxi waterfalls, which normally would block the salmon from going any further upstream to spawn, however there was a series of man-made elevated pools built next to the waterfall that provided the salmon an escalator-like ‘detour’ up the river. We were unable to get into one of the most popular attractions, the Blue Lagoon – it had been booked for the week, but on our way back to the boat we toured ‘old town’ Reykjavik with its quaint shops, restaurants and pubs. We also went to the top of the ‘Pearl’ building which provides a 360-degree view of the city and harbor. Our last stop was at ‘Hofdi House’, which is where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held their summit meeting in 1986. That meeting was dubbed ‘the beginning of the end of the cold war’.

It was a full and fun day seeing Reykjavik and the surrounding countryside as we headed to our next destination, Iceland’s northern-most port, Akureyri.

 

Akureyri

Unusual Icelandic sunrise

The ship’s route from Reykjavik to Akureyri (Aock-coo-ray-ree) takes us through the Artic Circle, just in case anyone was mistaking the islands we’re visiting with the Hawaiian Islands. We awoke as our ship was being escorted into port by a pod of whales through the longest fjord in Iceland where we saw a most unusual sight . . . the sun. The picture of this unusually flat sunrise was taken by the Budds sometime around 3-4:00 a.m. – I didn’t ask them why they were up at that hour! It was a crisp clear morning where temperatures were predicted to be in the 70s. We tried to get a tee time at the ‘northern most golf course in the world’, but to our disappointment we found that 1) there were no tee times available, and 2) it wasn’t in fact the most-northern golf course in the world, it is second behind a course in Norway! But we had a great 3.5-mile walk through Akureyri to the golf course, where we sat on the deck overlooking the 18th hole and enjoy an after-the-round-beer . . . it was after somebody’s round, just not ours. We were told in the pro shop about the ‘Arctic Classic’ golf tournament, where every Summer Solstice (June 21), the longest day of the year where here the sun never sets and the first tee time for the tournament is at midnight.  We just missed it by a month!

Enjoying a ‘not-after-our-round’ beer

The picture perfect day made it ideal for walking the city and sitting outside at a sidewalk café and writing my blog. Another cruise ship was in port, so this city, which depends on tourism for a large part of its income, was basking in a sun-filled and tourist-filled day. We head back to the ship and left Iceland for our next destination. We found Iceland to be a bit expensive, OK very expensive, but the Icelandic people very friendly, as they haven’t yet learned to hate Americans – let’s hope we can keep it that way.

 

What Are We Doing in the Shetland Islands?

by Bob Sparrow

Our ship departs sunny Norway and heads west into a cold and blustery North Sea to our next port of call, the village of Lerwich, which is the capital of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. Search as I may, I couldn’t find the Shetland Islands anywhere on my bucket list of places I had to see before I kicked the bucket, but here we are licking our Segway wounds and headed for, literally, places unknown. There are approximately 100 Shetland Islands, of which only 16 are inhabited. There is no deep-water port in Lerwich so we ‘parked’ our ship off shore and took ‘tenders’ into the city’s main harbor, in a fairly heavy rain.

I must say I really didn’t know what to expect on the Shetland Islands, other than maybe a few Shetland ponies, although I really wasn’t sure that there was any connection between the name of the islands and the ponies. There is. We visited a Shetland pony farm where we learned that these horses were bred to be small so they could fit into mineshafts in order to haul coal carts out of the mine. We also learned that they could live to be 50 years old. Sounds like a great life doesn’t it, hauling coal out of a mine for 50 years! We learned that Lerwich provides more fish than any other port in Scotland and we got to explore a 16th century castle. We also drove by two golf courses on the island where there is not a single tree or sand trap on either course, but the wind was blowing so hard that the flagsticks looked like they were going to snap in two.

One of the most interesting stories about the history of the Shetland Islands occurred during World War II, when the Nazis invaded Norway.  Many of the heroic Norwegian sea captains became ‘bus drivers’ by using their fishing boats to take Norwegians away from the bombing to safety on the Shetland Islands.

For all its harsh landscape (there are only about six trees on all of the Shetland Islands) and windy and stormy weather, our tour guide, who had a great sense of humor, was extremely knowledgeable about the area, thus making it a uniquely enjoyable stop.

Our next day was fully at sea so my intention was to cut down on the eating and drinking for a day and get to the gym. I later realized that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions as I sat in front of a TV, had a few beers and I watched The Open golf tournament from Royal Birkdale, England. Hey, it’s vacation!

 

 

Doorway to Norway

by Bob Sparrow

First let me report that in the middle of the night before we were getting on board, we got a phone call informing us that my suitcase and our golf clubs have been located and would be at our hotel in Hamburg in the morning. Before we leave the subject, I just wanted to put in a word about British Airways; that word . . . unprofessionalcondesendingarrogantbastards! Not only did they cancel our original flight to London (probably because it wasn’t full!), but then wouldn’t give us the same up-graded seats we had already paid for on our original flight. Their attitude, displayed in hours of phone conversation with them just trying to get back what we originally paid for, was unprofessional, condescending and arrogant. Damn bastards! I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on them, I mean they did get 1 out of 4 pieces of our luggage to the correct destination on time.

Our first night on board and all of the following day out of Hamburg was on rather rough seas with a slight sprinkle. So the only reason to go on deck was to watch the surf-like waves crashing over the swimming pool. So we decided that that first day was a good time to acquaint ourselves with the ship, more specifically, the ship’s bars. My personal highlight of that first day was the celebration of my luggage arriving with a ‘burial at sea’ of the shirt I had worn for the previous two-an-a-half days. May it rest in pieces.

Our first port of call was Alesund, Norway, a relatively small city on the upper west coast and home to the legend of the Norwegian Troll. Linda and I took an all-day excursion to the Land of the Trolls, where we really didn’t learn much about the legend of the Trolls, although we saw a lot of them in gift stores, but we did see a lot of beautiful country, which featured the famous narrow switchback road that will test any traveler’s nerves. A slight sprinkle compounded the difficulty of navigating these cliff-hanging hairpin turns, but our bus driver had done this more than a few times and navigated the road safely. While low-hanging misty clouds covered the tops of the surrounding mountain peaks and much of the snow pack, all the recent rains had made the crystal clear rivers and the multiple waterfalls spectacular – it was like Yosemite on steroids. I have to admit that when we started out on this 6-hour bus tour I was a little concerned that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but the magnificent views and our incredibly informed guide made the trip a great way to spend the day.

Back on board for dinner and an evening of entertainment as we headed south to our next port of call, Bergen, Norway, where we had scheduled a Segway tour of the city. To say the Segway tour was a disaster is being too kind. We had malfunctioning Segways, no headsets to listen to the guide’s narration of where we were and a young guide who didn’t know where we were anyway or a single item of history about any of the places we were wheeling by. The malfunctioning Segways lead to 5 out of 6 of us crashing, luckily avoiding serious injury. We had such fun doing this in Copenhagen; we were really looking forward to seeing the city this way, but ultimately the only thing we were looking forward to was for it to be over.

After lunch in the ‘fishing district’ of Bergen, we decided to take the ‘On-Off’ open-air bus tour of the city. This too failed to meet expectations, as we never found a place where we wanted to get off and explore in more detail, so it turned out to be an ‘On-On’ bus tour for us.

The Norwegians were nice enough people and the weather was especially spectacular, this part of the world only gets about 50 days of sunshine a year and we had a cloudless 75 degree day, it just wasn’t that interesting.

I think the doorway to Norway has closed for good for this traveler.

No. Sea Cruise

by Bob Sparrow

Hamburg water statue in Alster Lake

The title seems to infer that there is no sea cruise – there is! The title is simply my way of trying to label our trip of cruising both the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea.  By the time you get this blog, we will have embarked from Hamburg, Germany, leaving all the local Hamburgers behind and will be adrift somewhere in the North Sea on a 12-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, Jade. It’s actually a 14-day cruise, but they’re throwing us off early – more about that later. What I can tell you now is that I’ve never been to any of the destinations we’re visiting, so Wi-Fi willing you’ll join us as we discover some new places.

The ‘we’ on this trip, joining Linda and me, is the same as our Baltic Sea Cruise gang (where you could always find a ‘john’), Jack & JJ Budd, John & Judy VanBoxmeer, John’s  sister and brother-in-law from Canada, John & Mary Billham, plus friends of theirs, Steen & Sue also from Canada (I believe Steen is Canadian for John).  Why so many Canadians?  Just in case we get called ‘Ugly Americans’ we can all say were from Canada, eh?

Getting to Hamburg, Germany

Our trip over started ignominiously with a European air traffic controllers strike, so our original flight to Europe was cancelled along with our up-graded seats, so we ended up in ‘steerage’.  The good news is that after 27 hours of airplanes and airports we did eventually get to Hamburg, so either the strike was settled or the pilot landed by

Jack, JJ, me, Linda, John & Judy prior to Copenhagen Segway ride in 2015

the seat of his pants. The bad news is that my luggage went to Dubai and our golf clubs went to Kuala Lumpur or at least somewhere other than Hamburg.  As of this writing I’m wearing the same shirt I started out with two days ago, no wonder no one wanted to sit with me at dinner!  Hamburg has been in the news lately as the recent meeting/protesting place for this year’s G20 Summit. All the leaders and protestors have since left the city, but the Putin-Trump “I Got You Elected Comrade” t-shirts were still available in the gift shops.  We only had one evening in Hamburg to scarf down some schnitzel and German beer, which we did as we were pretty sure we weren’t going to get much to eat or drink on the cruise.

The Ship and Her Measurements

Many of our blog readers are big cruise enthusiasts, so I don’t have to go into a great deal of detail about the Jade, but I will anyway . . .

  • 93,558 gross ton; I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds like a lot

    The ‘Jade’

  • 965 feet in length – over 3 football fields long, and while there is no football field on board (I don’t think!) there are tennis, basketball and volleyball courts. (May not get to all of those)
  • Passengers: 2,402 of our closest friends
  • 1,037 crew member (most of them will be down in the hold peddling to make the ship go faster)
  • Library (I may not find it)
  • Gym (I may not find this either)
  • On board chapel (where I will be praying that I don’t burst during the cruise from eating and drinking too much)

Dining opportunities

  • 2 Main Dining Rooms plus, O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, Cagney’s Steak House, Jasmine Garden – Asian, La Cucina – Italian, Le Bistro – French, Brazilian Steak House, Sushi & Teppanyaki (What, no fusion Thai food?!!)

They know how that salt air can make one very thirsty, so they’ve made it so you’re never too many steps away from staying hydrated.

Adult Beverage Opportunities

  • Atrium Bar, Bliss Lounge, Jade Club, Magnum’s Champagne & Wine Bar, Malting’s Beer & Whiskey Bar, Mixers Martini and Cocktail Bar, Sake Bar, Spinnaker Lounge, Sugarcane Mojito Bar, The Great Outdoors Bar, The Pit Stop, Topsiders Bar & Grill (Makes me thirsty just listing them!)

On Sunday we headed north out of Hamburg, which is pretty much the only direction you can go on a boat out of Hamburg, to our next port of call.  This is the maiden voyage of the Jade after spending the last six months in dry dock getting a total ‘face lift’ .  Wait a minute, isn’t ‘maiden voyage’ the same words they used to describe the Titanic’s historic journey?  I hope I don’t hear Celine Dion singing ‘The Heart Will Go On’ as we board. Thank goodness for global warming, the iceberg’s aren’t as big as they use to be!

It will be an adventure; welcome aboard, we hope you’re not on a diet and we hope you enjoy the journey. Thanks for joining us!

 

 

 

My ‘HOLLYWOOD’ Story (the hike)

by Bob Sparrow

Whoever said getting there is half the fun, never had to drive from Orange County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles during commute hours. Griffith Park, where my hike to the HOLLYWOOD sign would begin, is only 42 miles away, but it took me exactly two hours to get there. Yes, that’s an average speed of 21 miles per hour . . . for two hours!!!  I arrived with little time to spare before the hike began and with a little bit of road rage.  It was a harbinger of things to come.

Not our group!

Our small hiking group was made up of a couple in their 60s, we’ll call them Jim and Wanda, because I can’t remember their names, who just arrived the night before from England and planned to ‘do’ LA, Disneyland and San Diego in the next 10 days. Another younger English lady, Leanne, a videographer, who didn’t know Jim & Wanda, also arrived from England the day before and was headed to Vegas in a couple of days to video a wedding. Nice blokes all.  Our hiking guide, from the company of Hikes & Bikes, was Ryan, a 20-something aspiring actor from New York, who expressed his disappointment that Bernie Sanders isn’t our president.  Not a good start.

Our group

The hike started at 10:00 a.m. outside the box office of the Greek Theater; it was already beginning to get warm and the first part of the hike was all up hill. So it made it harder to realize that the tour itself was already rapidly going downhill.  We observed a humming bird close by and Ryan told us that its wings were flapping at a rate of 70 times per minute.  Not wanting to embarrass him, yet, as we continued up the trail, I sauntered up next to him and whispered that the hummingbird’s wings flapped closer to 70 time per second.  He was amazed!  As the trail meandered up the hill, the L.A. skyline came into clear view. OK, not clear view, this is L.A. but the air was not quite something you could sink your teeth into yet. I took a few photos of the L.A. skyline and as you can see, it looked a bit . . . hazy (the word ‘smog’ is not allowed within the L.A. city limits).  I went on Google Images to get a clear picture of the L.A. skyline for a comparison, but soon realized that there are no photos of a clear L.A. skyline!

L. A. skyline

The group was actually very fun, other than the fact that they were mildly interested in ‘Hollywood things’, (why else would they fly all the way from England to go on this hike?) so, once Ryan told them that he was in ‘the business’ the narration of the hike turn into the history of actors in Hollywood. Ryan was happy to field their questions as he handed out his business card with his ‘head shot’ on it and talked about his auditions and the encounters he’d had with famous actors and actresses, as well as how agents of actors source their talent and what certain movie stars were really like. This is stuff you typically won’t find when you search information about the HOLLYWOOD sign, and stuff that I wasn’t really interested in, but the Brits were, so I pretended to be amused that one of them told a story about seeing Tom Cruise get into a car.

The hike continued to the Griffith Observatory where we learned about the eccentric Colonel  Griffith J. Griffith. Yes his parents obviously had little imagination giving their son a first name the same as his last, and later he gave himself the title of Colonel as he was never in the military, much less earning the rank of Colonel.  To say the least Griffith was a ‘bubble off plumb’ as his history included a small incident of attempted murder of his wife.  One night while drunk, he shot her in the head.   She lived, although lost one eye, and after he served two years in prison (yes, that’s it, but don’t get any ideas about shooting your spouse, the laws have changed), she was there waiting for him when he got out and remained with him until his death 16 years later.  So her elevator didn’t exactly go all the way to the top.  But he made a fortune in the mining industry and gave the land for the park away with the condition that a bronze statue of him would be erected on the grounds – a small price to pay for the nearly 4,000 acres that now include the Griffith Observatory, Greek Theater and the HOLLYWOOD sign.

Griffith Observatory

During our brief walk through the Griffith Observatory we came upon a map of the LA area, where Waldo, er Ryan indicated some points of interest. Unfortunately being from New York and not really familiar with the territory, he moved Newport Beach somewhere between L.A. and Santa Barbara. I was going to correct him, but he was on a roll, and the Brits didn’t really care where Newport Beach was.

The entire hike took a little less than 3 hours and covered about 6 miles and if you were asking me for a recommendation, I’d say, do a little research – if you read Monday’s blog you already know as much as the guide – and do the hike on your own. The main reason is that this hike never really got very close to the actual sign. I thought it would be interesting to get a little scale of just how big the letters are.  The picture of our group above (not the one with no clothes on!) shows us at our closest point to the sign – if you squint and look closely into the upper right hand corner of that photo, you’ll see the sign.

At the end of the hike the English couple needed a ride back to their hotel, which I was happy to provide and even happier to turn the car towards Orange County and head home albeit through commute traffic.  The things I do for you readers!

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My ‘HOLLYWOOD’ Story

By Bob Sparrow

The acting bug bit me early in life. I remember as a child telling my parents stories with great enthusiasm that were totally fabricated. I remember just for fun pretending I was someone else and telling strangers that I was lost or abandoned by my parents, just to see their reaction. Basically I was a really good liar. I remember getting into my mom’s make up, but hey that’s another story. So from an early age I felt that I was a natural-born actor. After all my older brother, Jack Sparrow was destined to become a famous big-screen pirate and sister Suz, well, everyone said she was a drama queen, so it was in my blood. As a child I remember my parents discouraging me from acting; they wanted more for me. They wanted me to have the things in life that they could never have, they wanted me to be the first in our family to graduate with a degree from Truck Masters. I knew early on that I was going to end up in Hollywood; as a senior in high school, I remember sitting in my microbiology class or was it my molecular biology class? Whatever. I remember raising my hand to be excused to go to the bathroom . . . and I never returned.  I went down to the railroad yard and hopped on the Burlington Northern heading south to Hollywood and never looked back. It wasn’t easy for a kid in tinsel town in those early years, but after a lot of rejection and a few years of living under the freeway, I finally got my big break. The rest, as they say, is history.

OK, perhaps I’ve taken a little too much license with the ‘Bird’s Eye View’ philosophy of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, but I do have a HOLLYWOOD story, or more precisely, a HOLLYWOOD sign story. Last week I did the hike to this iconic landmark, but first a little history.

First put up in 1923

The sign rests on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains; the original sign spelled out ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’ and was erected in 1923, with the letters being hauled up the mountain by mule, as an advertisement for a new housing development. It was only going to be up for a year and a half, but with the Golden Age of Cinema and the movie industry booming in Hollywood, the sign, with the ‘LAND’ removed, remained in place.  In 1978, with the sign in need of much repair, the Chamber of Commerce got a number of Los Angeles celebrities to each pay for the restoration of a single letter. Donors included such luminaries as Hugh Hefner, Gene Autry, Andy Williams and singer Alice Cooper, who donated in the memory of his good friend Groucho Marx. The sign was restored with the letters increasing in size to 45 feet tall and all together 350 feet long – about the length of a football field.

As you are probably aware there have been a number of ‘alterations’ to the signs over the years, some authorized, most not. The sign has read, ‘GO UCLA’, ‘GO NAVY’, ‘CAL TECH’, ‘OIL WAR’, ‘FOX’ and several more, but the most recent was ‘HOLLYWEED’ which occurred in January of this year and was the second time the sign was changed to read like this, both commemorating passage of marijuana laws here in California.

It was time for me to see the HOLLYWOOD sign up close, so I booked a guided hike.

My HOLLYWOOD Story (the hike), continued on Thursday.

Stars in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

As I was sitting out in the desert this past week, well I was not actually sitting in the desert, I was sitting at our Marriott Desert Springs timeshare, anyway, I recalled the first time I ventured out this way. It was in the early 70s and brother Jack had just started working as the restaurant manager at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert. Although I lived in Orange County, it was a particularly cold January and dark clouds hung in the sky as I traveled southeast on Interstate 10 to ‘the desert’. As I entered the Coachella Valley I could see that Mt. San Jacinto and the rest of the Santa Rosa Mountain Range was holding back those dark clouds so there was not a cloud over the entire valley. It was not only my first time in the desert, but it was the first time I could drive for an hour and a half from my home and find a totally differ ecosystem.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the desert; my impression of deserts had come mostly from movies where people were crawling on the sand dying of thirst, seeing mirages of palm trees surrounding a watering hole or of camels trekking across the wind-blown sand with nothing in sight as their destination but more wind-blown sand. This was not like either of those visions, Palm Springs was ‘Home to the Stars’

I learned that there were many famous people who had a second home in the desert, such as Bing Crosby (You can stay in his house today for $3,000 a night!), Frank Sinatra, with a piano-shaped swimming pool, Dean Martin, whose pool was filled with martinis (Just kidding . . . maybe), Sonny Bono (excuse me, Mayor Bono), Gene Autry, Liberace and many, many more. I subsequently found out why the stars back in the day made the desert their go-to get away place.

‘Interesting fact #1’: Most actors had a clause in their contracts, called the ‘2 hour rule’ where they could not be more than two hours away from the studio. Palm Springs was just under a two-hour drive, but a whole world away, so that’s where they headed.

But I digress; those aren’t even the stars with which I was first impressed. During that first trip to the desert, I certainly noticed that the weather was warmer, but the real ‘a ha’ moment for me came that evening, when I was sitting out on the deck of an Ironwood Country Club condo feeling a warm desert breeze, which hardly moved the umbrella in my mai tai, and I looked up to see billions of stars that sparkled as brightly as I’d ever seen them. The Big Dipper was bigger and dippier, the Milky Way was less milky and Ursa Minor looked Major. I could see half the planets in our solar system with my naked eye (the rest of me was fully clothed).

Aside from the spectacular stars, my other most memorable recollection was, ‘There sure are a lot of palm trees around here!” I did notice that these palms were a little different from the King and Queen palms with which I was familiar, these were Date Palms and there were thousands of them.

‘Interesting fact 2’ – This desert produces 35 million pounds of dates annually, that represents 80% of the U.S. crop. You may not have been aware that there are male and female date palm trees and you also may not know that they typically have trouble reproducing, so date farmers must climb the male date palm tree, collect the pollen then climb a female tree and pollinate its flowers. Caution: don’t try this with your date!

I learned more interesting facts about the desert, to wit

     #3: The 50,000 swimming pools are the most pools per capita in the country.

     #4: The thousands of wind turbines make it the largest wind farm in America

     #5: Over 100 golf courses make it the ‘Golf Capital of the World’

     #6: In 1980 the Cabazon Band of the Mission Indians opened the first casino in the U.S. on an Indian reservation; it is now called Fantasy Springs Casino Resort & Spa. I’m proud to say that my contributions (involuntary) have helped make it what it is today!!

For me the desert is truly an oasis, tons of beautiful and challenging golf courses within a few minute’s drive, great bars and restaurants, the Marriott Villas are a great facility and the weather rarely disappoints.

There was a bonus on this trip; I was introduced to some different stars – tennis stars. We attended the BNP Paribas Open tournament, which draws the top players in the world to the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden. I had seen this facility from afar many times while driving through Indian Wells, but never been in it until now. It is ranked as one of the finest, if not the finest tennis facility in the world.  Watching Djokovic and Federer win their matches on a beautiful desert evening was something very special.

The stars in the desert just keep sparkling.