Please Paso the Wine!

by Bob Sparrow

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”    W.C. Fields

Please pardon any split infinitives and dangling modifiers this week as there may be some residual sugar in my bloodstream having just returned from a tour of Central Coast wineries with some neighborhood winos – so I’m feeling a little Sideways.

Day 1

Wine Capt. Jack Sparrow

First stop was a visit with brother Jack at the Fess Parker Winery, established in 1988 when Fess bought 714 acres on what is now the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Los Olivos, he originally planned to run cattle, but grapes proved to be a bit more profitable. Jack did a great job of weaving stories about his friendship with Fess Parker around the pouring of some excellent wines.

Off to San Luis Obispo, but not before stopping at the iconic Madonna Inn, built in 1958 with unique architecture in each room and a giant waterfall as the men’s urinal.

Dinner in downtown SLO where every Thursday night they have the main street walled off for a farmer’s market and on this evening we saw the precursor of the up-coming holiday as many of the citizenry were regaled in Halloween attire. We enjoyed outside dining at Novo, a creek side restaurant on the main street.

Day 2

Gary Conway

Marian McKnight

After a night in SLO we’re off in the morning to Paso Robles for some ‘breakfast wine’; first stop Turley Winery, founded by former emergency room physician Larry Turley in 1993. They make 28 separate wines, mostly Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, but also a white wine, ‘White Coat’ named after his doctor’s frock.

Carmody-McKnight – Our next stop provides an interesting story of the owners. He was an accomplished artist, concert violinist, architect, actor (stared in Burke’s Law and several other tv shows and several movies) and screenwriter; Gary Conway, born Gareth Monello Carmody. His wife, Marian McKnight Conway was her high school valedictorian, graduated Magna Cum Laude and was Miss America in 1957. Together they became winemakers when Gary saw the idyllic beauty of this mountain valley aboard a helicopter moments before it crashed. Emerging from the wreckage, Gary dusted himself off and promptly announced to the real estate broker, “I’m going to buy this place”. Their story, in my opinion, was more interesting than their wine, but the winery provided a picturesque setting for our picnic lunch.

On to Adelaida Winery, a producer of grape varieties from the Rhone Valley in the south of France, but a fairly unremarkable winery especially when we compared it to our next stop – Daou Winery. While we didn’t taste the wine there, which is delicious, the view from the tasting room was nothing short of spectacular.

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in Paso Robles with, of course, a little wine, OK maybe more than a little.

Day 2

Tobin James Winery – In 1987 when a young Toby James was an assistant winemaker at a local winery that had 6 tons of grapes that it could not process, he asked if he could have it to make some homemade wine. The owner said, “Sure kid, knock yourself out”. In a year and a half Tobin (He was now called Tobin instead of Toby), leveraging his last name as being the same of the famous outlaw brothers, created a western theme by purchasing a building on the site of an old stagecoach stop and brought in an 1860s western bar in the tasting room, imported from Missouri and rumored to have a bullet hole in it from the days of Frank and Jesse James, although I was not able to confirm that, it does make for a good story.   We bought a lot of wine here and many of us joined the wine club, which, at 35,000 club members, is the largest wine club in the (Pick one) Central Coast, California, U.S., world.

After spending several hours there, we decided we should probably eat something, so we had another picnic on the grounds of Tobin James.

We visited two more wineries that afternoon, La Vigne, which I thought had better cheese than wine and Via Vega, which was in its ‘Day of the Dead’ mode, an annual event where people bring in pictures of friends and relatives who have passed and . . . I’m not sure what happens, drink wine I guess.   By this time we were pretty much ‘wined out’ and after some rest and relaxation at the hotel we went to an Irish Pub, Pappy McGregor’s and had some beer with dinner!

If you’re headed up to the Central Coast for some wine tasting any time soon, don’t miss Fess Parker, Daou and Tobin James. Cheers!

Circumnavigating Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe. Just the name brings so many great memories rushing back to me. As those who read here know, we have a long history wth ‘The Lake’ and usually try to get up there in October, when most of the tourists have gone home, to visit our parent’s final resting place. Brother Jack & Sharon and their families went up in July, but we were in Europe at the time so we figured we’d make it up next year, until Jack & JJ Budd, long-time travel companions, had a timeshare week they had to ‘use or lose’ at the Marriott Timber Lodge at the base of Heavenly Valley in South Lake Tahoe, and invited us to join them.  We happily accepted.

Sunnyside deck on a summer’s night

The weather was crystal clear; in fact we never saw a single cloud the entire time we were there. The air however was very crisp during the day and more than crisp at night as temperatures dipped into the 20s and high teens. We decided to take a drive around ‘The Lake’, starting the drive up the west shore. The first thing I noticed was the lake level; years of draught had lowered the lake so much that no water was going over the spillway that creates the Truckee River. Now, due to record snowfall in the Sierras last winter, the lake was as high as I’d ever seen it. As we drove past Emerald Bay I recalled the hikes we did from there up to Eagle Lake and the great views it provides. We weaved our way past Meeks Bay, where I could still smell the Coppertone sun lotion our mom use to put on us – in fact I can’t smell Coppertone today without mentally going to that great sandy beach at Meeks Bay. Just prior to getting into Tahoe City at the north end of the lake, we took a quick detour up Chinquapin Lane and drove by the cabin that Uncle Dick bought in 1951 (Suzanne, sorry to report that the picture of our ‘Aunt Marilyn’ is no longer on the cabin wall). As we drove by, so many memories were rushing through my mind. How lucky we were to have such a ‘Summer Place’ in which to play while we were growing up.

Lakeside lunch at Garwoods

We continued up the road less than a mile before we came upon Sunnyside Lodge – now a very haute destination, but back in the 50s it was a rustic lodge/bar with seven rooms and only two bathrooms, one at each end of the hall, a combination liquor store/bait shop and a small marina where Jack and I would fish using drop lines from the pier (and never caught anything!). Today, Sunnyside sports the largest deck on the lake and is the spot to be on a beautiful summer’s day or evening. Continuing our journey, we drove through Tahoe City, where Jack owned The Off Shore Bar & Grill right on the lake, and continued up to Rocky Ridge, which offers the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe I’ve ever seen and is the final resting place for mom and dad. We checked in with them, soaked up the amazing views and continued on our way. We stopped for lunch at Garwoods, which is one of the only places at the north end of the lake that offers lakeside lunch dining during this ‘shoulder season’. We sat outside on the deck in amazing weather and had the best fish & chips on the lake, or anywhere except Scotland as far as I was concerned.

Visiting Mom & Dad at Rocky Ridge

As we continue our trip, we leave California and enter Nevada and stop by CalNeva, a once very popular hotel and casino on the lake where Frank Sinatra was once one of the owners and the ‘Rat Pack’ made regular appearances. Mom, Dad and Uncle Dick would dress to the nines on a Saturday night and go ‘over the line’ (the California-Nevada border) for an evening of dining, dancing and gambling at CalNeva and come home way after we kids were fast asleep. Today there is a fence around CalNeva as it is in rehab, or rather reconstruction. I’m hoping it will, in time, return to its glory days.

We continued down the east shore, which is mostly Nevada State Park with very few signs of civilization, although it has several spectacular beaches. Between Zephyr Cove and Glenbrook is the Cave Rock Tunnel, created in 1931 and the only tunnel on the trip around the lake.

We pulled into Stateline, south shore Lake Tahoe completing our trip that covered not only the 72 miles around the lake, but the 65-some odd years of wonderful memories.  It was a good day!

Three Stand Up Guys

by Bob Sparrow

“Nothing in life is more exhilarating than being shot at with no results.” Winston Churchill

Bob, Terry, Ken & Joel at 2008 reunion

I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with three gentlemen, Ken, Joel and Terry with whom I attended Westminster College, where we played football together under the tutelage of future San Francisco 49er Super Bowl coach, George Seifert. We were Seifert’s ‘first team’ as a head coach, although he probably refers to us his ‘worst team’. The four of us have reunited on a few occasions since graduation, even one that Seifert attended, but it had been several years since we last saw each other, so it was time.

When you get four 70-something former football players together in Las Vegas, you’d expect a lot of stories under the heading of ‘The Older We Get, The Better We Were’. Not so with this group. While football was certainly mentioned, like during our first beer when we toasted to those players who are no longer with us, it was hardly the main topic of conversation. What was? To that in a moment.

Suzanne has done a great job each Memorial Day of writing about and honoring those from our hometown of Novato, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Viet Nam war; this story is about three guys that made it home, and I’m so glad they did.

Ken Poulsen

Ken and his ‘loaded’ A-6 aircraft

Ken Poulsen – Marine Lieutenant who was a Bombardier-Navigator in the A-6 Intruder jet. He spent 12 months in Viet Nam stationed in Da Nang where he flew ‘close air support’ during the day for troops on the ground and did ‘road wrecking’ of the Ho Chi Minh trail at night, where he was constantly under attack from anti-aircraft fire. Once out of the service, Ken went into education and ultimately became the Superintendent of Schools for a district in the Sacramento area. Ken retired several years ago and now lives with wife, Suzi in Chandler, AZ and when it gets too hot there, they head up to their second home in the mountains of Show Low, AZ. Ken was our cruise director for these couple of days together and put together a line up of shows, golf and meals that hardly gave us time to lose money in the casinos.

Joel and CH-53

Joel Hall

Joel Hall – Marine Lieutenant who earned both his Navy and Army wings and flew the CH-53 Sea Stallion and the UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopters at Marble Mountain, just outside of Da Nang, during his 13 months ‘in country’. He flew various ‘support’ and ‘medevac’ missions and when I asked him if he often came under enemy fire, he said, “Oh yeah, and I had the holes in my aircraft to prove it.” After getting out, Joel went to work for the 3M company and retired from there after a 32-year career. He now lives in Atlanta on a golf course and when it gets too cold to play golf there, he and wife, Gayle have a second home on the east coast of Florida where they spend five months a year. Joel can hit a golf ball further and straighter now than he ever could, and his cigar never gets in the way.

Terry Callahan

TC “making the girls thirsty”

Terry Callahan – Army, Spec 4, Medic. Terry was with both the 25th Infantry Division and the 1st Air Cavalry Division, two of the most decorated units of the Viet Nam war. Terry was in several locations throughout his 12 month tour, mostly in Viet Nam jungles near the Cambodian border. He’d do triage for soldiers brought into the first aid field tent as well as fly into ‘hot zones’ in a helicopters to pull out wounded personnel. It was ‘meatball surgery’, stop the bleeding and pain, sew up gashes where you could and get them to a hospital facility. He clearly saw the ugly underbelly of this war up close. After he got out, he did a little teaching and then spent most of his career working for the Justice Department; working cases for judges to determine sentences as well a working with parole officers. Terry and wife, Teri, who is a Delta flight attendant, were married about a year ago and live in Salt Lake City, and when it gets too cold there they have a second home in St. George, Utah. Terry is a humorous storyteller and a good one, whether he’s telling you about the time the hair under his arm caught fire or telling you how flat his home state of Kansas is when he says, “You can stand on a tuna can and watch your dog run away for two miles.”

Fortunately, all three of these veterans were shot at without results.

Terry, Bob, Joel & Ken

So the topic of conversation was about each of their personal experiences in Viet Nam; we touched on the Ken Burns documentary, The Viet Nam War, now playing on PBS, and the protests of NFL players in the form of sitting or kneeling during our National Anthem. We all felt that these NFL players can couch it any way they want, but make no mistake, by kneeling or sitting during our National Anthem they are disrespecting their flag, their country and the brave men and women who fought and the many who died, for them to have their freedom of expression. While those that lost their lives fighting for this country cannot be outraged at these demonstrations, these three veterans, who put themselves in harms way, can be and are.

I came away from my time with my former teammates humbled and thankful to be able to call these three men good friends and so very thankful that they made it home safely.

 

 

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!