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Four Seasons

by Bob Sparrow

Well with a title like this we could go anywhere – the luxury, five-star hotel chain who has Bill Gates as one of its majority owners; Jersey Boys backup group to Frankie Valli; the classical violin concerti by Vivaldi, or simply the four seasons.

All weighty subjects to be sure, but the oppressive heat in our part of the country over the last several days, begs the question, “Isn’t summer over?”

Unofficially, Yes; officially, No.

You see when I don’t travel I have to write about stuff like Mayberry, Margaritaville and the weather. Unfortunately, for you, I haven’t been anywhere exciting in the last couple of weeks (OK, I was in Vegas last weekend, but I was reminded that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – I know my money stayed there!), so now you get to read about the changing of the seasons. I can sense the anticipation building already!

I thought the subject appropriate since we’re just sobering up from the Labor Day holiday, which is the ‘unofficial’ end of a summer, which ‘unofficially’ started on Memorial Day. Officially summer begins with the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in terms of light in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer officially ends with the Autumnal Equinox, when days and nights are equal (almost) with 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of no sun; equinox actually means equal nights. Am I going too fast for those taking notes?

If you’re wondering, like me, whether we get more ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ days of summer, here’s the math:

Summer officially started on Wednesday, June 21th this year and ends on Thursday, Sept 21nd (at 1:02 PDT to be precise) – that’s 93 days. ‘Unofficially’ summer started this year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (perhaps some cheated and started early on Friday night), May 27th and ended on Labor Day, Monday, Sept 4th – that’s 101 days. So we took eight ‘unofficial’ days of summer this year that I suppose we’re going to have to give back at some point, aren’t we?

One would think that because we declared these ‘unofficial’ starts and stops of summer, borrowing several days from the end of spring and giving a few back during the dog days of summer, that summer would be the season that people like the most – that all depends.

A recent survey by YouGov was conducted on this very subject (are you on the edge of your seat yet?), and depending on your age group and the particular region of the country in which you live, the results vary. But if we’re looking at all age groups across the entire country, the results are as follows:

  1. 29% favor Fall
  2. 27% favor Spring
  3. 25% favor Summer
  4.  7% favor Winter

Favorite season by age group:

55+                Spring

35 – 54           Fall

18 – 34           Summer

While Winter didn’t score high enough to even rate a place on the chart, we all know that winter in Scottsdale, Arizona is slightly different from winter in Bemidji, Minnesota, so let’s look at favorite seasons by region. Isn’t this fun?!

In answer to the question, “I like the weather where I live” the results by region are as follows:

  1. West 66%
  2. South 59%

3.  Northeast 59%

  1. Midwest 47%

The ‘West’ is probably skewed by Alaska at 33% and Hawaii at 100% (my figures, not theirs)

But, those who DON’T like living in the:

West say it is too rainy (26%) or too dry (36%)

South say it is too hot (70%)

Northeast say it is too cold (68%)

Midwest say it is too cold (62%) or too hot (26%)

Ok, maybe what happens in a YouGov survey should stay in a YouGov survey.  Hope you’re enjoying these last ‘official’ days of summer.

 

THE END OF AN ERA IN MAMMOTH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

                        Horseshoe Lake

We just spent two glorious weeks in Mammoth Lakes, California.  Glorious because a) the house we were in was recently refurbished, which was a welcome relief from our TurnKey Nipomo nightmare, and b) Mammoth is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Just ask the Europeans – who were everywhere we went.  We thought we had outsmarted the crowds by going when school was back in session but we forgot about August being the “holiday” month for Europeans.  We met some delightful people from England, Germany and Holland but the downside was every restaurant, hiking trail and lakeside was packed with people shouting in a cacophony of languages.  Still, it is one of our favorite places to visit.  My husband has been going there since 1960, when the mountain only had five ski lifts and we’ve been going there together for 30 years.  The majesty of the steep mountains and peaceful lakes never fails to make us gape in awe at the gorgeous scenery.

 

                      Kittredge Sports

Over the years Mammoth has retained a small town feel.  Some might think it too rustic.  Mammoth is known for outdoors activities – fishing, mountain biking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.  Unlike many other mountain resorts in the West, it has had problems attracting and retaining high-end businesses.  For many years the local outlet mall was home to a Polo and Coach store, but both of those establishments have now closed and their spaces remain vacant.  The only new store this year was a sporting goods place that had the audacity (or bad luck) to open up directly across the street from Kittredge’s – an outdoorsman’s paradise that has been in business for 44 years.  We’ll see how long they last.  The largest employer by far is Mammoth Resorts, which runs all activities on the mountain and in the Mammoth Village complex.  The rest of the town’s population is made up of small business owners and those who are employed by them.  So one does not go to Mammoth to “see and be seen” or to rub elbows with the rich and famous.  Frankly, one of my favorite aspects about the town is that I only have to bring a pair of jeans and a casual shirt and I’m dressed to go anywhere.  In other words, it’s been a great place for slobs like me.  But all that is about to change.

On August 4th a deal was completed for the sale of Mammoth Mountain to the Aspen Company.   In addition to Mammoth, Aspen will now own Big Bear, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, as well as some smaller ski resorts in the Sierras.  They have big plans for Mammoth, although exactly what changes they’ll make have not been spelled out.  We were curious as to how the local population felt about the acquisition so we engaged in some conversations with people who have been around Mammoth a long time.  The opinions could not be more diverse.  For those who work for Mammoth Resorts – whether on the mountain, the Village stores and hotels or the golf course, they look forward to the infusion of money from Aspen.  They cited broken toilets, outdated facilities and general equipment that needs to be replaced.  Of course, they acknowledge that all of this “fixing” is going to come at a price and that price is going to be paid by the consumer. But hotel rooms and lift tickets are not the only thing that will be going up.  Since the announcement last spring that the deal was being struck, the housing market has gone berserk.  Normally one can find a plethora of deals on second homes that owners want to unload.  No more.  It’s a seller’s market in a big way.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin – the average person who wants to work and raise a family in Mammoth Lakes.  Rents have skyrocketed, forcing many people to find housing elsewhere.  One guy who manages the pet store said he felt fortunate to sign a three year lease, even if it was for a lot of money.  Many workers now are living in their cars.  Mammoth has pledged to build more affordable housing, but the sheer geographic limitations make that a remote prospect. We found many people worried about the effect of Aspen marketing to the “rich and famous”, driving out the very people who have made Mammoth such a relaxed and low-key place to visit.  It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

                  Schat’s Cakes

I’m hoping that some of our favorite “haunts” will not be affected.  Burger’s Restaurant offers the best burger anywhere – it’s always our first dinner when we arrive in town.  The Stove is a wonderful place for breakfast – assuming you can get in, as the lines are always long.  It’s the type of place that serves your water in a jelly glass and has wooden benches for seating.   And then there is Schat’s Bakery.  I don’t know how long they’ve been in business but I first salivated at their goodies 30 years ago.  They are renowned for their Basque Sheepherder’s bread and the fresh turkey sandwiches they make, carving an average of 19 large turkeys every day.  But somehow I’ve always been more attracted to their desserts.   To enter their pastry area is to enter Heaven itself.  The photo I’ve included is only one of six display cases.  I can gain weight just standing in line.

I don’t know how Mammoth is going to change in the coming years but I’ll say this: if they do anything that results in the closure of Schat’s they are going to have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Disneyland or Mayberry?

by Bob Sparrow

One claims to be “The Happiest Place on Earth” while the other just may have actually been.

Only read if you have nothing else to do.

(Cue the whistling of the Mayberry theme song)

Yes, I’m writing about Mayberry this week, or rather something I heard about Mayberry while eating in some international airport during my recent travels. I apologize if you may have heard what I’m about to write, as this kind of thing travels very fast, especially when it’s using international airports.

Let’s first examine the bios of the main characters from that nostalgic television program, The Andy Griffith Show, which took place in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina.

Andrew Jackson “Andy” Taylor: A pragmatic and genial sheriff and justice of the peace, who never wore a gun or a tie and didn’t have too much trouble keeping peace in this bucolic southern town. He was a widower, who had a son, Opie and a paternal aunt named Aunt Bea.  He had a polite charm and  generally keeps the peace with common sense.

Beatrice “Aunt Bea” Taylor: Aunt Bea was a spinster who raised Andy. She was living alone in West Virginia when Andy asked her to come and live with Opie and him when their current housekeeper, Rose, married and moved out of Mayberry.

Bernard (? middle name) “Barney” Fife: This wiry, high-strung deputy was a comic genius, who played the bumbling sidekick to perfection. He was single, but was seriously dating Thelma Lou. He did wear a gun and a tie, but the gun was never loaded. However he kept a bullet in his shirt pocket for emergencies. Most of the time when he pulled it out he ended up nearly shooting himself in the foot. Although Mayberry had little crime, Barney refers to the town as ‘The Gateway to Danger’.  Not as part of any plot line, there was some controversy over Barney’s middle name. In Season 2 he says his middle name is ‘Oliver’. In Season 4, his high school yearbook shows his middle name as ‘Milton’. In Season 5 he states his full name as Barney P. Fife. Sadly this is the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Gomer Pyle: Well Gollll-ly! Gomer is the dim-witted, sleepy-eyed, single, mechanic at Wally’s Filling Station with a toothy grin and a southern accent. He is sometimes deputized when Barney needs a hand at screwing up a case. Gomer leaves the show after Season 4 to start a new series, Gomer Pyle, USMC

Goober Pyle: When Gomer signs up for the Marines, he recruits his long lost single cousin, Goober to replace him as the mechanic at Wally’s Filling Station. Both were very good-natured and always willing to help, sometimes to a fault. The actors who played Gomer and Goober where both from Alabama, so the southern accents were real.

Helen Crump: Helen is single and from Kansas and moves to Mayberry for a teaching assignment. She is Opie’s teacher (he calls her ‘old lady Crump’).  When Opie asks his dad for help on a history assignment, Andy’s advice is misunderstood by Opie which leads to Helen marching down to Andy’s office and giving him a piece of her mind. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know Andy’s walking her home and they become ‘an item’.

Floyd Lawson: The fastidious, slow-paced, often absent-minded local barber who dispensed advice along with his haircuts. Floyd is single and his character is said to be based on Andy’s real barber from his hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, (sounds oddly similar to Mount Pilot the fictional neighboring town to Mayberry) where he owned ‘Floyd’s City Barber Shop’. Howard McNear, who played the character Floyd, had a stroke midway through the third season and could not stand for any length of time or move very well. But he returned to play Floyd as the writers kept his character sitting down most of the time.

Howard Sprague: The milquetoast county clerk with mustache and bow ties had a penchants for philosophy and culture, but was a repressed ‘mama’s boy’ who lived with his overbearing and manipulative mother. Due to is upbringing, he was socially stymied especially when it came to dating. In one episode Howard tries to be a stand-up comic, unfortunately people laughed at him and not with him.

Otis Campbell: The town drunk who was also sometimes deputized so he could let himself in and out of jail. Viewers meet Otis’ wife in an episode where Otis is jailed for assault, the first time he’s jailed for something other than drunkenness, because he threw a leg of lamb at his wife, missed and hit his mother-in-law. Otis stopped appearing toward the end of the series because sponsors raised concerns over the portrayal of excessive drinking. (Perhaps the beginning of political correctness??)

So what we’ve discovered, if you haven’t already realized it, it’s that all the characters, except Otis, who was always drunk, were not married. Perhaps this is why Mayberry was considered by many as The Happiest Place on Earth.

Hey, I didn’t make this up; I just heard it at the airport and am passing it along for your perusal and consideration.

 

THE MENTAL RENTAL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The view – its only redeeming feature

Here I am again…I hope you enjoyed Bob’s travel logs as much as I did.  While he was enjoying the midnight sun in Iceland and playing the Old Course in Scotland, I had planned to spend a month in Nipomo, a small community on the Central Coast of California where we have spent time over the past seven summers.  We have always rented through VRBO and have had wonderful relationships with the homeowners.  It was a good deal – they provide us with a nice house and we treat it as if it were our own.  A win-win for everyone.  But the Wall Street Journal ran an article this past winter cautioning against renting directly with homeowners.  They cited all manner of problems, from “phantom” houses where people would arrive at the given address to find no house at all, to owners who weren’t responsive to plumbing emergencies or insect infestations.  Instead, they advised, go through one of the professional rental agencies where you were assured 24/7 care and responsiveness.  So, since the house we normally rent had been sold, we rented a three bedroom condominium at Blacklake Golf Course through TurnKey Vacation Rentals.  We rented the unit for the month of July and eagerly anticipated getting the heck out of the Arizona heat and over to some cool, coastal fog.

                  Cups from 1985

We have been to Nipomo so many times that we had seen the outside of these condominiums countless times.  Our unit was adjacent to the fairway of the ninth hole and has a beautiful, expansive view overlooking much of the golf course.  Unfortunately, that is it’s only virtue.  As we entered the unit it all looked okay – dated, but comfortable.  Kind of like me.  It was only as we began to settle in the following day that we noticed how grungy the place really was.  Clearly the unit had been “glamour shot” on the TurnKey website.  The coffee pot was grungy and the coffee cups weren’t any better, as you can see from the photo.  The pots and pans were filthy and scratched, the potato peeler didn’t peel, and worst of all, the “pry open” wine opener had pried one too many bottles.  It took both of us 10 minutes to open a bottle.  I was getting so desperate I considred cracking the neck on the edge of the table and guzzling wine straight from the bottle.

     The sink that died 20 years ago

As bad as all that was, the sink was straight out of a horror movie.  In all of my rental apartments, as a starving student or poor working girl who could only afford bologna sandwiches on white bread for dinner, I have never had a sink this disgusting.  I tried to recall when we last had a tetanus shot.  So…what to do?  We decided to suck it up.  We drove to the local Ace Hardware to buy a coffee maker, pots, pans and coffee cups.  As for the sink, I scrubbed it within an inch of it’s life.  But cleaning it was futile…its life had been snuffed out long ago.  We made do and ate out.  A lot.  Four days after arrival the Wi-Fi broke down.  A representative from TurnKey came to fix it later that day and acknowledged that the unit was a bit “dated” and had the good grace to look embarrassed.  She said someone from TurnKey corporate offices would be in touch with us on Monday to discuss compensation to make up for the condition of the unit.

Of course, Monday came and went with no phone call.  On Tuesday I went to the mailbox as I was expecting a package and found a letter addressed to “Occupant” from the City of Nipomo.  The letter was pink.  I don’t know much about utility company billing but I’m pretty sure that pink is not a color you want to see.  I opened it, hoping that the city was simply notifying us of upcoming road work or utility repairs.  Nope.  The owner was delinquent in her payments so they were going to shut the water off within the next week if they didn’t receive their money.  So, again, I called TurnKey.  They were shocked, SHOCKED!, to learn of this.  It was going to be taken up with management and someone would get back to me.  Long story short, I finally heard from someone who said they would refund us $100 for our troubles and “not to worry” about the water bill.  Sure…these owners hadn’t replaced a coffee cup in 35 years but I was supposed to sleep soundly knowing they would pay their delinquent water bill.  Two days later I called again, raised hell, and they offered us another $300.

They specialized in LOUD

So now we had $400 to offset our “inconveniences”.  But we weren’t done yet. Every Wednesday evening they have band concerts on the lawn outside our condo.  Not real bands.  More like garage bands comprised of Baby Boomers who, “back in the day”, dreamed of becoming the next Beatles.  Now, they are just off-tune and loud.  But “loud” was redefined the following Saturday night when a wedding reception took place outside our window.  It featured a live mariachi band and a DJ who played heavy metal.  The windows (which of course were vintage 1985) had all the soundproofing capabilities of Saran Wrap.  For FIVE  hours the windows shook and the music blared.  Surely this is how we torture ISIS prisoners.  Needless to say, we were miserable.  We tried to put the best spin on it but our normally pleasing personalities were getting a bit testy.  Finally we realized that it was better to forfeit two weeks of rent and go home than to stay and be unhappy.  That is when, after 30 years of marriage, you know you’ve married the right person.  So we packed up and got out of there.   I called TurnKey to let them know we were leaving early.  The person had no knowledge of our previous calls.  Over the course of two weeks I spoke with seven different TurnKey “customer experience” people and – at their request – sent them photos of the unit.  Most never bothered to look at the email exchanges or the pictures of the unit.  To say the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing was an understatement.  The best example is when a manager called – at last, someone with some decision-making responsibility! – only to have him tell me he was from Florida and was calling about the water problem in the master bedroom.  Nope.  Not even close.

We ended up spending the remainder of the month in Scottsdale, where the weather was blessedly under 100 degrees.  Of course, the monsoons arrived which made my hair frizz and my thighs stick together.  But it was still better than looking at that sink.

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.