The Great Smokey Mountains – West

by Bob Sparrow

JJ, Linda, Judy and Louise

The two-and-and-a-half hour flight from LAX to Calgary, Alberta was uneventful, no crashes, no hijackings, but there was a bit of disappointment once we landed; the usually beautiful Canadian Rockies were covered in smoke from fires west of us in British Columbia. So it seemed that the Great Smokey Mountains had moved from North Carolina/Tennessee to Alberta/British Columbia. The typically picturesque drive from Calgary to Canmore, our home for the next week, was filled with Linda and me saying things like, “See that hazy outline of a mountain over there, usually that’s spectacularly beautiful” while the rest of the party squinted and smiled in faux amusement.

The next morning we leave our comfortable accommodations at Blackstone Mountain Lodge and travel less than a mile to our first golf destination, Silvertip Golf Course. It is a course carved out of the forest and mountains with lots of elevation and incredible views on every picturesque hole . . . usually. You would have thought that the smoke, dark clouds and rain would not only dampen the course, but also our spirits – not so much.   The light rain had stopped and had cleared some of the smoke away.  We enjoyed the course so much that we decided to play another round there on what was going to be a golf-free day later in the week. I have included a photo of the famous triple mountain peak formation, The Three Sisters, I took during the round and juxtaposed it to a photo probably taken by the Canmore Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber of Commerce photo

My photo of The Three Sisters

Golf the next day was at Kananaskis, a 36-hole layout that was completely washed out in a flood in 2013 and only fully restored and reopened at the beginning of this month. Kananaskis is in a valley with great edifices of granite peaks surrounding it – it’s like playing golf in the middle of Yosemite Valley, without the waterfalls – although I managed to find some water.

Chateau Lake Louise

Tourist day today, with breakfast in quaint downtown Banff, then on the see Lake Louise. We were fortunate that we arrived at the lake when we did as we took some pictures, went in to have a drink and by the time we came back out you couldn’t see to the other end of the lake due to clouds and smoke.

The next day’s golf was at Stuart’s Creek, the course was in great shape, but the normally beautiful vistas from each hole were non-existent due to a layer of heavy smoke. There are currently about 15 forest fires blazing in Alberta, but next door in British Columbia where the winds are coming from there are a total of 559 on-going fires – most caused by lightning. The golf was a little hazy too.

What our view was suppose to look like

What our view actually looked like

Our penultimate day in the usually picturesque Rockies was the worst in terms of air quality. You know those outlines of mountains we could see on the way in? They’re gone, nothing but smoke-filled skies. We’re told we shouldn’t even be outside, but we’ve committed to play Silvertip again and since we all live in Southern California, our lungs are used to bad air quality.

Final day of golf at Banff Springs Golf Course and a walk through the hotel – nice, but without the views of the mountains and the Bow River due to the smoke, it’s not quite the same.

The companionship was superb as usual and  the courses were in great shape, but it was a shame that we could not fully enjoy the views of one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

 

Not smoke, dark clouds, rain or bad golf could keep me from making a fool of myself.  Here I am following the sacred tradition of playing with my pants down having not reached the lady’s tee with my drive.

 

 

Beautiful Banff

by Bob Sparrow

I’m writing this before we headed off on Saturday for a week in Banff, Alberta, Canada, so unless you read about a plane being high jacked or crashed in the Canadian Rockies, we’re there now and probably enjoying ourselves. The ‘we’ is again our traveling companions, Jack & JJ Budd and John & Judy VanBoxmeer. John is a Canadian by birth, but now a U.S. citizen; it’s always nice to have someone along who understands the language.  

This will be Linda’s and my third visit to this area, all prepared by a company called Golf Canada’s West. If you’ve ever been to the Banff area, you will understand what I am about to say: this it is possibly the most picturesque place to play golf in the world. The courses we will be playing are either in, or surrounded by, the Canadian Rockies and are nothing short of breathtaking.

Banff Springs Hotel

Banff itself is a cute little town located in Banff National Park along the Trans-Canadian Highway, surrounded by magnificent mountains, populated by elk and grizzly bear. It got its name in 1884 from George Stephen, president, at the time, of the Canadian Pacific Railway, whose birthplace was Banff, Scotland. Early on in our first visit to Banff in 2004, I stumbled across an Irish pub, as I am apt to do in every corner of the earth I travel, St. James Gate; we’ll probably pop in for a pint or two.

Just up the road from the town of Banff you’ll find the strikingly beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It was built in 1888 as one of Canada’s grand railroad hotels and has since been updated from the original wooden structure to a magnificent building of cement and stone, standing tall in the surrounding forest. Adjacent to which is a beautiful golf course which we will have an opportunity to play during our visit.

Chateau Lake Louise

We will take a day off golf and visit the equally beautiful Fairmont Lake Louise Hotel, which is about a 40 minute drive northwest of Banff. Chateau Lake Louise, as it’s now called, was also built around the turn of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway and is also part of the Fairmont chain. It sits on one end of Lake Louise and at the other end is a massive glacier. Well it used to be massive.  On a quiet night, during our first trip here we stood by the lakeside next to the hotel and could hear the cracking of the ice in the glacier echo across the lake. Our subsequent trips have seen the glacier size decrease. We weren’t there in 1902, but take a look at the photos taken in that year compared to the photo taken in 2012. Sad to see.

       

Well, I’ve got to get packing, although that brings in a whole other set of obstacles. We’ve watched the weather there for the last two weeks and it’s gone from raining every day to sunny and highs in the 90s and lows in the 40s. It’s the mountains, so we can probably expect a little bit of everything. And if it’s too bad, we do have St. James Gate as a backup to any of our plans. Eh!

 

California Road Trip: Golf, Wine and . . . I Don’t Remember (continued)

Sonoma/Napa

Buena Vista wine cave

Tuesday – It’s a driving day from Paso Robles to Sonoma over the Golden Gate Bridge with a stop in Sausalito for lunch – a beautiful day in the ‘City by the Bay’. We arrive in Sonoma just in time for our private guided tour of the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma Valley. Buena Vista is the oldest commercial winery in California, founded in 1857. Our guide, who called himself ‘The Count’, portrayed himself as the original founder of the winery and regaled us with stories of how he had come to create the winery as well as his death by alligator in Central America. Dressed in 1850’s garb, replete with a knob handle cane, he took us deep into the Buena Vista caves that were carved out of solid rock many years earlier and was now serving as the ‘tasting’ and ‘barrel’ rooms for storing wine in a perfect temperature.

Our hotel was just off the Sonoma Plaza, which was buzzing with the ‘Every Tuesday during the Summer’ farmer’s market, including food trucks, fresh vegetable carts, cold beer and a live band. We hung there for a while, but opted to have dinner at the Swiss Hotel, a favorite of my parents who had retired in Sonoma. We were seated in the back patio for a delicious dinner on a delightful evening.

Silverado Golf Course

Wednesday – 9:30 tee time at beautiful Silverado County Club in Napa. Thanks to our golf pro Matt Kliner, we were able to get on this beautiful private golf course that is used for professional tournaments. Beautiful golf course, beautiful day. After golf we had most of the afternoon free to cruise around the Sonoma Plaza or just relax. I took this time to visit my dearly departed best friend, Don Klapperich, who now resides in the Sonoma Military Cemetery.  I reminded him of what a good best friend he was and how he was the person who most influenced my life, and still does. We had a great conversation, although I must say he was a little quiet.

For dinner, feeling very European, we bought some baguettes, cheese and wine and sat in our Sonoma Inn patio on a refreshingly cool summer evening and ate dinner.

Sterling Winery

Thursday – We started our day by driving north over the mountain range that separates the Sonoma from the Napa valleys and hit the northern-most town in ‘wine country’, Calistoga, where the ladies did some shopping, mostly for windows. First winery stop was Sterling winery, which requires a gondola ride from the valley floor to the top of a hill, where you can taste their delicious wine while enjoying a spectacular view of the Napa valley.   We stopped in the next town going south, Saint Helena for lunch, on our quest to find the Prisoner winery, as we wanted to get Ron, who gave us the Sprinter for the week, and his wife, Shelly, a case of their favorite wine. We were to learn that the Prisoner winery is temporarily shut down, but the wine is still available at Total Wine – where we got the case of wine.

Silver Oak

Being a collector of Silver Oak wine, Jack wanted to make sure we got to the winery, which was just a few miles down the road. We drive through the city of Napa proper and back to Sonoma.

Fresno?

Cocktail cruise on ‘Lake Spradling’

 

 

One doesn’t necessarily think of Fresno as a must-see destination on a California golf-wine trip, but we wanted to visit our good friends, Don & Marilyn Spradling, who moved from Yorba Linda to Fresno five years ago to be with family. Don reminded us that Fresno is the leading grape-producing city in the world; while there are a few wineries, most of the grapes are for eating and raisins. After dinner, our evening was spent on the Spradling’s boat on the lake their home sits beside – a beautiful evening. As for golf, the Spradlings belong to Copper River Country Club, which is where we played early on Saturday morning, to beat the 107-degree heat, prior to heading home after a great road trip with great friends.

California Road Trip: Golf, Wine and . . . I Don’t Remember!

The Central Coast

The ‘Roadies’

Saturday – Depart Orange County at 7:30 a.m.  Roadies included Jack & JJ Budd, John & Judy VanBoxmeer and Linda and me; Chuck and Linda Sager were scheduled to go on this boondoggle, but a death in the family prevented their attendance. A special ‘Thank You!’ to Ron Erickson, a local Mercedes dealer, who GAVE us a Mercedes Sprinter van to use. It was awesome, as it allowed us all to ride together and annoy each other every minute of the trip.

First stop, Alisal’s Ranch golf course, just outside the quaint Danish town of Solvang. The course was beautiful and well managed, unlike my golf game, which was ugly and mismanaged, but beautiful white oak trees provided plenty of shade on this warm summer afternoon and the cold beer at the end of the round tasted particularly good. Fortunately I still know how to play the 19th hole very well!

Solvang

We tried to get into ‘The Hitching Post’ for dinner, a

restaurant made famous by the classic movie, Sideways, but we ended up eating at another well-known restaurant in Santa Ynez, The Brother’s Red Barn – excellent beef and seafood in rustic surroundings.

Sunday – Up early for breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House in tourist-filled Solvang, then golf at the River course in Alisal. Scores are not important, although I should mentioned that I once again played the 19th hole particularly well. The evening was spent on ‘The Square’ in Paso Robles – a spot filled with great watering holes and restaurants. We ate at what was clearly the most popular restaurant in town, based on the waiting time on a Sunday night, Fish Gaucho, which loosely translates to ‘Fish Cowboy’ – excellent food, service and ambiance.

Candice in the ‘Peep Hole’

Prior to eating dinner we had stopped at another bar (surprise!) and were told by our server, Summer about a ‘Speak Easy’ in town. She said all you have to do is go down the street and around the corner, behind this building and look for a door with gas lamps over it and no name. There will be a doorbell to ring and then someone will open the ‘peep hole’ and maybe let you in. After dinner we did just that and Candice’s face appeared in the ‘peep hole’, we said, “Summer sent us”. She let us in. The place, called ‘1122’, because the address is 1122 Railroad Ave, has only been open for just over a month and is run by four young men who come from different parts of the country, bringing with them their special mixology talent that makes for a most creative drink menu, many of which required heat, smoke and/or fire. Mine, at left, required the harvesting of an entire mint farm.

Daou Winery

Monday – Breakfast at Joe’s Place, a restaurant that describes itself as a greasy spoon, hole in the wall – great breakfast, sassy waitresses. Then to Daou Winery, which offers great wines and even greater views of the Paso Robles valley. We were given a tour and history of the winery and then sat down for cheese and charcuterie (I didn’t know what it meant either, but I was embarrassed to ask – it’s chorizo, berries, prosciutto, pate, etc., served with cheese and ‘paired’ with various wines). Daou is a MUST if you’re visiting wineries in Paso Robles. In contrast to the 115 acre Daou Winery, our next stop was a the 11 acre boutique Pelletiere Winery that specializes in Italian wines – great tasting experience, where I found a wine combining my two favorite grapes, Sangiovese and Zinfandel – Magnifico!

Leaving the Central Coast for Sonoma/Napa.  To be continued . . .

Backyard Bucket List

by Bob Sparrow

Bridge to Nowhere

Summer brings me this year’s edition of Westways Backyard Bucket List just in time, as I was running out of places to take you. So let’s see what new and exciting things there are to do in SoCal this summer.

-‘Bungee Jump off a Bridge’ – It starts off with “Hike 5 miles into the Angeles National Forest (and you thought there were only freeways in Los Angeles) to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, which presumably inspired our governor to build a ‘Bullet Train to Nowhere’.  In the photo shown, due to recent droughts, the bridge no longer spans any water, so if something should go awry with the bungee, you don’t just fall and get wet, you hit the granite riverbed and die. I think I’ll pass on this one.

Visit the old abandoned zoo at Griffith Park – This zoo has not been operational since 1966, but we are told that it once attracted millions of guests. That’s great, if you were here in 1966, but what is there to do now? ‘Visitors can climb behind graffiti-covered metal cages and hike up deserted rock enclosures’. Yeah, that would be so much more fun than going to a zoo that has actual animals?  While you’re at it, since it’s not too far, maybe you could stop by Dodger Stadium when the Dodgers are out of town.  Check please!

Experience the Bakersfield Sound – I thought Bakersfield was in Texas; I guess it just wished it were. I am informed that there is nightly live music at Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace, but there’s more, you can see Buck’s red, white and blue guitar. Really? No way! Yes, way and there’s still more, you can see Buck’s ‘watermelon suit’ on display. Gosh, I wish it were closer, I’ve always wanted to see a watermelon suit. Honey, go start the car!

-Stop for a ‘Bucket List Burger’ – What better way to take a break from completing my ‘bucket list’ list than to visit ‘Bucket List Burgers’ in Riverside. I checked out the menu on line (the New Year’s Resolution Burger looks awesome, I’m getting it, even though it’s the middle of summer), I got directions and with my mouth watering, noticed that it was . . . closed for good! Apparently they weren’t on very many bucket lists.  Scratch.

-Visit Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway – The Palm Springs Modern Tour highlights some of the area’s best midcentury modern architecture, including the ‘House of Tomorrow’ where Elvis and Priscilla lived for a year, until Elvis’s nightstand was completely covered with half-eaten peanut butter, banana and pickle sandwiches. Elvis rented the house for a year in 1967 and the lease is framed and still hangs on the wall. The home went up for sale 3 years ago for $9.5 million, it didn’t sell and is now back on the market for . . . $5.9 million – guess those peanut butter, banana and pickle sandwiches are getting a little crusty.  No thank you very much!

-And speaking of bananas, here’s something I never knew even existed, the International Banana Museum, and it’s right here in southern California, well not exactly, it’s out in the desert in Mecca, which isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from there. This museum has over 20,000 banana-related items, some to eat. The photo at the left just makes you want to don an outfit and . . . go bananas!  Or not!

-Visit the Original McDonalds – the magazine says “the ‘unofficial’ McDonald’s museum is located on Route 66 in San Bernardino and provides a nostalgic peek at Golden Arches memorabilia.” Which begs the question, ‘Where is the ‘official’ McDonald’s museum?’   I don’t really care, since I haven’t visited a McDonalds ever, I’m not sure what would draw me to anything McDonalds now, unless I could get one of those plastic life-size statues of Ronald McDonald to put on my front lawn.  Super size this!!

To be fair, the magazine did offer some destination that I’ve either already visited or will visit, but my real ‘backyard’ bucket list, would start with a cool drink, some music, a spot in my own backyard while imagining I’m on a tropical island – it’s so much cheaper this way!

Happy Independence Day!

Another Side to D.C. – Fractured Fotos

If we didn’t laugh at some of the nonsense coming out of our nation’s capital we’d probably cry, so here’s some photos of our last trip that might at least put a smile on your face.

 

 

We couldn’t have asked for better weather . . . well, we could have, but it wouldn’t have done much good – it rained every day!

 

 

 

This is how close security let me get to the White House

 

 

 

 

This suspicious looking lady was posing as a concierge at our hotel, but after reading the Red Sparrow trilogy I was fairly proficient at spotting Russian spies and she was one.  I let management know of my discovery.  They weren’t amused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orangutang at the National Zoo: “Can you get me out of here?  I think I’d fit right in with the rest of the monkeys in D.C.”

 

 

 

 

 

I’m getting the latest Republican strategy straight from the elephant’s trunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a professional photo of the four of us after we snuck into the Oval Office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New California Land Rush

by Bob Sparrow

“There’s gold in them thar weeds!”

Welcome to Desert Hot Springs

Not unlike the California gold rush of ’49, there is a land rush going on in the northwest corner of Coachella Valley, now know as the Coachillin’ Valley.  To paraphrase an old saying from the ‘60s, if you can remember what you did in Desert Hot Springs, you weren’t there! I recently returned from a ‘trip’ to this windy city and was amazed at what’s happening there and what it’s doing to the local real estate market. For example, six months ago a gentleman bought 5 acres of brush-pocked desert for $200,000 and just recently sold it for $1,000,000. A recent real estate ad showed 2.85 acres of raw desert for sale for $1,544,325. So why does this hot, windy seemingly god-forsaken corner of the desert command these kind of prices? The land grab in Desert Hot Springs (DHS) is because it is the first Southern California city to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation. You won’t see the marijuana growing out in the open desert; the land that is being purchased will accommodate large warehouses, and I mean large, like 3,000,000 square feet, where marijuana plants are fed by hundreds of lights and an automated irrigation system. Giant tanks pump in CO2 while computers control air conditioners that regulate temperatures through the plants’ life cycle. It has clearly become the ‘Cannabis Capital’ of the country.  The locals now affectionately call their city Desert Pot Springs.

One of many spacious warehouses

For decades, Desert Hot Springs had relied on its ‘miracle’  mineral waters and nude spa resorts to lure tourists to this tumbleweed town. It is home to the largest collection of warm mineral springs in the United States, but the population of some 28,000 people have mostly suffered. A third of its residents lived in poverty and the city filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2001. A housing bust seven years later deepened the fallout. Now land values, the building industry and marijuana growing are creating jobs and starting to make this city rich.  To say the least, it’s created a buzz.

The mayor of DHS, Scott Matas seems to be fairly buzzed as the projected income to the city within the next couple of years will add approximately $10 million annually to the city coffers and upwards of $25 million within 8 years. The mayor actually gets giddy when he is reminded that California is voting this coming November on the legal use of recreational marijuana . . . and you know how we Californians love to recreate. The mayor may also be thinking of doing some creative advertising by reversing the engines on all those energy-generating windmills in his city and start blowing some of that wacky-tabaccy smoke toward Los Angeles.

While the tony neighboring cities of Palm Springs and Indian Wells have malls filled with expensive fashion accessories, DHS has malls filled with pot paraphernalia and brownie shops. Today the standard greeting in DHS sounds the same, “Hi”, but it’s spelled a little differently and asked as a question, “High?” It won’t be long before new streets around these mega-warehouses are given names like Pot Place, Cannabis Circle, Weed Way and Doobie Drive. It wouldn’t surprise me if they renamed a section of the freeway that runs by DHS in honor of former president, Bill Clinton, from I-10 to I-Never-Inhaled.

Soon when traveling on I-10 past DHS, all you’ll have to do is roll your window down and take a deep breath; but you’ll never be able to run for president.

 

 

 

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday

by Bob Sparrow

Not the breakfast of Champions!

Saturday – Breakfast at the Sun Diner where it was confirmed, with menu items like Crème Brulee Cinnamon French Toast (which I ordered – photo at left) and Banana Foster Pancakes, that we were not at a health spa eating kale and chia seeds. We also realized that beer for breakfast here is not all that unusual and we certainly didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by being the only ones not drinking a beer at 9:00 in the morning.

The streets filled quickly with people on this Saturday as we once again found great acoustical music coming from every bar on Broadway, which was virtually every door except those selling cowboy hats and boots. We discovered that Nashville is the Bachelor and Bachelorette Party capital of the world. And most interesting was these partiers’ various modes of transportation up and down Broadway. There was the ‘Fall Off the Wagon’ pulled by a John Deere tractor, there was the ‘Pedal Tavern’, the ‘Party Barge’ and a couple of other ‘boat floats’, one called the ‘Tip Sea’ and another called ‘Ship Faced’.

Our fear of not getting enough to drink prompted us to sign up for a late afternoon ‘Pub Crawl’, where we met up with other ‘crawlers’ from Boston, Michigan and Indiana. Our ‘Crawl Master’ gave us some history of whiskey, Nashville and Civil War General Joseph Hooker, where he perpetrated the myth that Hooker provided his men with loose women after a hard day on the battlefield and thus the name ‘hooker’ was coined. Not true, but makes for a good story, especially after a few of beers. Our crawl ended at a karaoke bar called the Wild Beaver Saloon, where Pam rode, but not for very long, the mechanical bull. All our ladies got on stage and sang Don’t Stop Believing – you won’t hear that rendition at the next Grammy’s ceremony.   We then decided we needed to get something in our stomach besides alcohol and found a place, don’t ask me the name of it, at that point I could barely remember my own name, but it had a great upstairs patio that overlooked the Cumberland River and Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. Most of us ordered brisket, which we still hadn’t had yet.  Shortly after we ordered our server returned and told us they were out of brisket. Out of brisket!! That should be a felony in Nashville. We ordered something else, I don’t remember what, I do remember that it wasn’t brisket. After dinner we hit Margaritaville and a few more bars on Broadway, because we clearly hadn’t had enough to drink, and finally made it back to the hotel and crashed. No, now I remember we had to have one more drink at the hotel – thank goodness the bar was still open!

As a switch, the bull slings Pam

Sunday – Up at the crack of 10:30 – 11:00 and met a friend of Patrick’s and his family for breakfast at the Southern. Yes, Patrick has a friend everywhere; this is the same Patrick who ran into someone he knew when we were in Kathmandu, Nepal! There was a slight sprinkle after breakfast, but not enough to keep Linda and me from doing one last lap around Broadway. We walked up to Printer’s Alley, which at the beginning of the 1900s was home to a thriving printing industry, with two large newspapers, 10 print shops and 13 publishers, and by the ‘40s it was the hub of the nightclub scene in Nashville, but now it’s pretty quiet.

Having finished a big breakfast an hour or so ago, Linda asks if I still want to get some brisket; we agreed that if we could find it somewhere before we leave, we’d have to force it down. She recalled the name of a spot that was recommended to her, called Martin’s BBQ Place.   We find it and there is a long line to get in. We say we are just going in to look around – which we were, honest, and squeezed by everyone in line and once inside climbed the stair to an upstairs patio and bar, which was not very crowded. We ask the bartender if we could order a brisket here, he says yes, so we waited for our brisket and ordered a beer from their interesting selection – Hog Wash and A Beer Named Sue to name a frew. After a four-day search, we finally got our brisket. It was delicious!!! We saved some and brought it back to Patrick and Pam, with whom we were flying home.

Nashville Travel Recommendations: If you’re over 40, absolutely get to the Grand Ole Opry for a radio show, cruise Broadway during the day, forget about the diet you’re on and have brisket early and often.

Nashville – Thursday & Friday

by Bob Sparrow

Nashville’s Broadway

Preface – Yes, I know I wrote a story a couple of years ago about going to Nashville, but it was really Linda and Dana who went and I wrote about it vicariously. And OK yes, my last blog was about a hot air balloon ride that I never took, but I really did go to Nashville this time . . . honest! Linda and I went with three other neighborhood couples, Patrick & Pam, Mike & Tanis and Bob & Jeanne, and had a ball.

Thursday – A direct flight from L.A. to Nashville got us into town with time enough to check into our hotel and get to the Predator-Duck hockey game which was at nearby Bridgestone Arena. The Ducks, who were hot, having won 7 of their last 10 games, ran into a Predator buzz saw that had won 8 games in a row. Make it 9 – they handily beat the Ducks 4-2. The most impressive part of the evening was the Predator fans – they were the most involved fans I’ve ever seen. After the Predators scored a goal they would all chant in unison, “Gibson (Ducks’ goalie), you suck, you suck, you suck, it was all your fault!” After the Ducks scored, you could hear a pin drop in the arena. After the game it was just a block’s walk to Music City’s main street, Broadway. One of the first things you notice here is construction cranes on every block, scaffolding on many building and sidewalks torn up – this city is growing in leaps and bounds.

In front of Grand Ole Opry

We stayed out for a couple of hours moving from bar to bar, each with a different singing group playing. To be honest, if this would have been my only exposure to Nashville, I would have

gone home disappointed, as the music was very loud (all electric, no acoustical guitar) and mostly commercial rock, not country, with wall-to-wall people in every bar, difficult to get a drink (that was over-priced) and impossible to find a place to sit down.

At the end of the evening we walked the four blocks back to our hotel and were spared the rain that was predicted, but it was bit of a chilly evening, getting down to 28 degrees. I went to bed hoping that tomorrow would be a better day – it was!

Friday – We walked a few blocks from the hotel and found a great southern breakfast place, Milk & Honey replete with Chicken & Waffles and Hodgepodge – a mix of . . . quite honestly I don’t remember everything that was in it but it was really good!

After breakfast we waddled back to Broadway and 2nd Avenue, where I found the Nashville I was looking for – acoustic guitars, songs where you could understand the words and groups with tight harmonies. Yes, music in Music City starts with live bands right after breakfast!  I was particularly impressed with two bands, both of which had female singers who played the fiddle and sang great harmony. That’s more like it!!!

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a good brisket for lunch, we headed out of town to the Grand Ole Opry. It used to be located right downtown in the Ryman Auditorium, in fact the Opry was there from 1943 to 1974 when it was decided it needed a bigger room with better parking, so it’s now about 20 minutes out of town. We booked a ‘Back Stage Tour’, which included a look at all the dressing rooms and pictures on the wall that tell the history of the Opry. It is quite a magical place. We all got to go on the stage and as you can see in the photo, I was given a special accommodation. OK, that’s bullshit, but everything else is true. After the tour we walked next door to the fabulous Gaylord Hotel; if you’ve ever been to any of the four Gaylord Hotels in the U.S. you know they are extravagantly fabulous, with a huge atrium in the center with a river running through it. We had dinner at the Jack Daniels Restaurant and felt obligated to order some Jack Daniels – just to try to fit in. Still no brisket, but a very tasty smoked prime rib! After dinner we walked back to the Grand Ole Opry for the Friday night radio show.

Darci Lynne

A radio show is broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry every Friday, Saturday and Tuesday night, it originated in 1925 as a one-hour radio ‘barn dance’ broadcast on WSM. You can still hear Friday’s and Saturday’s show on Sirius XM radio Channel 59 Willie’s Roadhouse. This night there were a total of 11 acts each singing 2-3 songs, featuring The Oakridge Boys, Riders in the Sky and Darci Lynne, the 13 year old ventriloquist who won America’s Got Talent last year, making her Opry debut. Of the 11 acts some had hits on today’s charts and some were from the country Jurassic period, but all were good. There was also a comedian Gary Mule Deer – hilarious!! Look him up on YouTube.

Nashville – Saturday & Sunday on Thursday

Hot Air Ballooning – Sunset in Palm Desert

by Bob Sparrow

(After Suzanne’s touching blog last week, I’m again responsible for taking us from the sublime to the ridiculous)

I had never taken a ride in a hot air balloon; no reason, the opportunity had just not presented itself, until last weekend when we were in Palm Desert.

My research uncovered three places in the desert that could facilitate my first balloon ride:

  1. HAVENFUN Hot Air Ballooning in La Quinta
  2. Magical Adventure Balloon Rides also in La Quinta
  3. Balloons Above in Bermuda Dunes

I decided that ‘HAVENFUN’ was not going to be my choice – I want my ballooning people to be very serious about me floating on the breeze thousands of feet above the earth. ‘Magical Adventure’ also didn’t appeal to me as when I think of magic I think of things disappearing and I definitely didn’t want to disappear. So I settled on ‘Balloons Above’ figuring that that is where balloons are supposed to be.

There were also options as to when I could take my first balloon ride, sunrise or sunset. I opted for sunset based on the chilling logic that if my balloon went down in a fiery heap that I’d have had one more day on earth.

The ad for the balloon ride read as follows:

See the sunset over Palm Desert from a hot air balloon – up to 3,500 feet in the air. Hot air ballooning at sunset brings a whole slew of new sensations and sites to see. (The sensation I was feeling wasn’t new at all; it was that old sensation of wanting to throw up)

Your pilot for the day is a seasoned veteran who’s flown countless hours and can almost seemingly control the wind. (Our pilot looks like he was seasoned with Jack Daniels last night. Control the wind? He could barely keep his hands from shaking)

Following your journey of about one hour, you’ll land for a Champagne toast – a common ritual of hot air ballooning that commemorates the wonderful flight. (I think our pilot was still recovering from his Champagne toast from his sunrise trip)

Bring a camera to capture every moment (as it could be your last!).

The preparation for a balloon flight is a bit unnerving; the balloon is lying deflated and lifeless on the ground, I was hoping this wouldn’t be what it looks like when we landed, until they bring over what looks like a ‘flamethrower’ and point it at the balloon and fire at it until it fills the balloon with propane.  My research into propane read as follows: Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but highly volatile. Highly volatile!!!!  I’m amazed that the whole thing doesn’t go up in flames, which to be honest I was secretly hoping for as it would then cancel the ride.

With the balloon fully ‘gassed’ and hoping our pilot wasn’t, I looked at the other people who were climbing into the basket and wondered, ‘Are these the people with whom I will be spending my last minutes on earth?’ My heart was pounding just thinking about floating on the wind in this wicker basket 3,500 feet above the desert floor.

So, what was it really like? I have no idea; although the balloon sites and information above is real, I never got close to a balloon. Balloons have no wings, no motor, no parachutes, you’re being held in the air by what amounts to nothing more than a large fart and you’re at the mercy of the wind.   And the only thing I would know about the pilot with whom I’m entrusting my life to is that he cannot control the wind.  You could take off in Palm Desert and end up in the Sahara Desert for crying out loud!

So I guess the only thing full of hot air was me. Maybe I’ll go someday . . . I’ll keep you posted.