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Couch Potato Season

By Bob Sparrow

I can’t let this week go by without a salute to all our veterans on Veteran’s Day.  Thank you so much for your service!!!

Self portrait

This is the time of year where you should not expect my missives to come from the far corners of the planet; no Inca Trail treks to Machu Picchu, no Kathmandu capers, no summiting Mt. Whitney or Half Dome, no wine and pasta sampling in Tuscany and not even a visit to a local pumpkin patch or turkey farm.  So instead of holding a compass, trekking poles or a backpack, the only thing I’ll be having a death-grip on in the near future is the TV remote control. This is the time of year when I rarely even venture outside – I become the quintessential coach potato

As justification for this somewhat dubious moniker, I present the following:  In the past 13 days I’ve been able to watch:

  • Game 7 of the World Series (Congratulations to the Washington Nationals – what is a National anyway?)
  • NCAA football (my favorite sporting event) is in mid-season form with the LSU-Alabama game and Utah with it’s big win over Washington. Go Utes!!  For me, nothing beats the spirit of college football.

    A younger John Van Boxmeer

  • NFL football has my 49ers looking as good as they have in years! Notice that in past years it’s just been the 49ers, but this year it’s ‘my’ 49ers.
  • NBA basketball has started its regular season and already my favorite player, Steph Curry has broken his hand and is out indefinitely.
  • I know the NHL regular season has started as I don’t see my good friend and former NHL player, John VanBoxmeer as much – John is a scout for the Buffalo Sabres.
  • PGA golfer Tiger Woods won his 82nd golf tournament, tying the record of legend, Sam Snead.

There were even sporting events going on that I didn’t, or wouldn’t, watch, to wit:

  • The Breeders Cup, at Santa Anita, a track that has produced more broken legs that KFC.
  • For you Formula 1 fans, last weekend  the United States Grand Prix was held in beautiful Hawthorne; don’t ask me who won; don’t even ask me where Hawthorne is!
  • And for you MMA and UFC fans . . . I have no idea – not a fan, but I did read that the Sparta Cup was held on Oct 31 in Biysk, Russia – hopefully no one died or got sent to Siberia, although, for all I know Biysk is in Siberia.

The Magic Wand

Whether you are mashed, baked or scalloped, now is the time for all you ‘Potatoes’ to find your couch, along with a beverage of choice; and get those fingers working that remote control – get yourself in shape man! ‘Tis the season!

Yes, you’ll probably gain a little weight during this ‘season’, but that extra weight will come in handy for absorbing the extra alcohol that you’ll be consuming during the next ‘season’ – the ‘Holidaze’!  Another benefit of being a couch potato.

And ladies, we know this keeps the men out of your hair so you can start your shopping for . . . anything; they won’t even know you’re gone or what you’ve bought!  Or just maybe, you’re the couch potato in the family.  You go you little French fry!

HAPPY NATIONAL “COLOR THE WORLD ORANGE” DAY!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’m going to guess you were unaware that today is National Color the World Orange Day or that last Saturday was National Deviled Egg Day.  Really.  I wasn’t aware of it either until I saw a random post on Facebook about it.  Had I known I would have whipped up a batch to snack on.  Or not – they’re a pain in the neck to make and by the time I load in heaps of mayonnaise I’m not sure the nutritional value is all that great.  But it dawned on me that we seem to be celebrating some obscure item or event every day.  Turns out, there actually are “National Day” calendars that will keep you up on date on what you should be feting on any given day.  As one might expect, some days are better than others.  National Cupcake Day, for instance, beats the heck out of National Sauerkraut Day.  Frankly, I have enough trouble remembering the real holidays, you know, like President’s Day and Labor Day, without throwing deviled eggs into the mix.  But I find this time of year when I have already been bombarded with Christmas decorations everywhere I go, perhaps a little diversion isn’t a bad thing.  So here are some upcoming “days” that might be worth marking on your calendar.

November 14th is National Family Pajama Day. Frankly, I think the timing of this day is a bit suspicious.  After all, lots of families buy matching pj’s for Christmas and ordering them mid-November allows for delivery before the Christmas Tree goes up.  I suspect the pajama industry is behind this one.  November 22 is National Cranberry Relish Day, followed by Eat A Cranberry Day on the 23rd.  I think someone didn’t reach too far to come up with those “celebrations”.  Perhaps the “day” that makes the most sense is November 27th – National Tie One On Day.  It is celebrated each year on the day before Thanksgiving.  Anyone who has ever hosted Thanksgiving with battling relatives or, worse yet, people with 87 different food allergies/requirements needs to go into the holiday with as much fortification as possible.  Speaking of which, November 28th is not only Thanksgiving Day this year, but according to the “day” calendar it is also “National Turkey-Free Thanksgiving Day“.  What the hell is the point of that?

For those of you who work, November 30 is National Stay At Home Because You’re Well day.  The theory is if you’re feeling well then you should play hooky from work and go do something enjoyable.  My dirty little secret is that I used to do this every July. I highly recommend it.  As we swing into December you’ll be happy to know that December 1 is not only National Pie Day but, not so coincidentally, it’s National Eat a Red Apple Day so you can knock out two celebrations in one.  December 8th is National Time Traveler Day and I suspect there are many of us who would like to time travel our way right into the middle of January.  December 13 is National Make Friends with a Pathologist Day which they recommend observing by making friends with a pathologist or a coroner.  Sounds a little creepy to me. For those of you who watched “Seinfeld” you’ll be happy to celebrate December 23rd as Festivus – the holiday for the rest of us.

December 30th is National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, which seems like it ought to be observed either the day after Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day, but hey, I’m not the one making up the calendar.  In fact, the whole “day” calendar thing seems a bit goofy to me  I’m sure the trade groups are behind most of them.  So I’m going to go on celebrating the traditional holidays and give a nod to just one of the “days” – August 26th is National Love Your Dog Day.  Now that’s something worth celebrating!

 

 

Death of a Bachelor

by Bob Sparrow

Death of a Bachelor by Panic at the Disco was the first song that Jeff and Pam Sparrow danced to at their wedding.

Pam & Jeff

The ‘festivities’ started a week ago Thursday with the arrival of the ‘Minnesota Gang’ which included Linda’s 93 year old mother, Phyllis, Linda’s sister, Starlet, her husband Donnie and Starlet’s three daughters, Denise, Debbie and Melissa.  Melissa came in from her home in Houston and was glued to the TV watching ‘her’ Astro defeat the Yankees to earn a trip to the World Series.  Linda’s brother, Dale flew in from Florida. My brother, Jack and wife Sharon came in from Santa Maria on Thursday and our daughter, Dana dropped by to see everyone and to see what was going on.  My sister, Suzanne (you remember her from last week’s blog) and niece, Shelley came in from Arizona on Friday.  All arriving for the marriage of our son, Jeff to the now, newest Sparrow, Pam Lechtenberg (her last name is now so much easier for me to spell).

Some of the amazing Barnes-Sparrow ladies at rehearsal dinner. Missing: Shelley (Sparrow) Watson, Sharon Sparrow

Friday night was the rehearsal dinner at our house and daughter, Stephanie joined the aforementioned group as did all the out-of-towners from Pam’s side of the family, including Pam’s parents, Tom and Betty.  Jeff and Pam wanted a Hawaiian theme dinner, so I brought in hundreds of palm trees that had to be back at the nursery by Monday.  Just kidding, those who have been in my back yard know that it’s already has a fairly tropical theme.  We had 55 people coming to dinner and we worried about lighting and heating and wind and . . . almost everything else one could worry about, but all for naught – it was a perfect evening, not too cool and no wind – the Hawaiian gods were smiling on us.  The caterer’s food was very good and the open bar seemed to keep everyone happy.  Gosh, those young kids can drink!!

Addison pushing Will down the aisle

One of my favorite photo of the night: Jeff dancing with his grandmother, Phyllis Barnes

The Wedding ceremony took place on Saturday at sunset on the Hornblower’s Endless Dreamswhich cruised Newport Bay on a weather-perfect evening.  The wedding ceremony which was on the top, or third deck, commenced with Addison, the flower girl, pushing Will, Pam’s sister, Jen’s son, down the aisle in a small car, followed by the wedding party and finally Pam escorted by father, Tom.  The dinner was served shortly thereafter on the first deck and once the speeches and toasts were done, the party was adjourned to the 2nd deck where the DJ and bar were located and the dancing commenced.  The four-hour evening went by in a flash and the next thing I knew there were 25 people back at my house to finish off the evening.

For my short speech I welcomed Pam into our family and told her that she would add to the already-great legacy of the Sparrow-Barnes women.  I told Jeff that he reminded me of two people, my Dad and Linda’s Mom, two of the nicest, kindest, most caring people I know and reminded him that while his mother and I really aren’t all that nice and kind and caring, we carried the gene for all that stuff and passed it along to him.  You’re welcome!

Best Man, Chase Johnson giving his hilarious and heart-felt toast to Jeff & Pam

 

Linda, making sure her mother didn’t fall when dancing with Jeff

 

 

 

 

Sister, Suzanne, with empty cake plate in hand, ‘photo-bombing’ an otherwise classy picture of the ‘Barnes-Sparrow’ girls with Jeff

It was an exhausting and exhilarating weekend and it was great to connect to family members new and old.  Jeff and Pam are going to take a few months to rest up before heading to Thailand for their honeymoon in February.

Thanks to all who came and made it such a great event.

MY BROTHER IS IN A FOG

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Yes, it’s me again.  My brother has a good excuse for being absent this morning.  In fact, one could even say he has been in a fog.  This past week he was playing a special role –  Father of Groom. His youngest child, and only son, Jeff, got married over the weekend.  It was a fabulous affair but I’m not going to provide any spoilers.  My brother will be back next week with a full description of the festivities and pictures of the highlights.  Instead, I’m going to follow up on my post of last week because several of you (okay, maybe it was three) asked me for recommendations for the British shows I’m streaming in lieu of the news.  I’ll start with some of the ones I’ve already watched and then provide the results of my research on the subject.  Fair warning:  everyone has different tastes.  For example, Fleabag on Amazon’s Prime Video ran away with the Emmy awards.  I watched two episodes and just couldn’t get excited about it.  So, for better or worse, here are my recommendations.

  1. Downton Abby (Amazon) – This is first because it’s so obvious.  You need to watch this if you are at all interested in English lifestyles and good acting.  There’s a reason it was renewed for six seasons and now is a feature film.  It has some unexpected twists and the high-arch eyebrow of Maggie Smith’s tart observations.
  2. Victoria (Amazon and PBS) – This is still a current offering from the PBS Masterpiece Theater program, with Season 4 due out this winter.  But you can catch up on the first three seasons on Amazon.  Again, great history and the bonus of getting to see Victoria’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dash, for whom my CKCS was named.
  3. The Crown (Netflix and HBO) – Just when you thought this series couldn’t get any better they announced that the delightful and very talented Olivia Coleman is going to take over the role of Queen Elizabeth and the quirky Helena Bonham Carter will play Princess Margaret in the next season.  I can’t wait!
  4.  Broadchurch (Netflix) – speaking of Olivia Coleman, she co-stars in this murder mystery that carries on over three seasons.  Well worth watching.  In fact, I recommended it to a friend and she thanked me for it.  So…you’re welcome.
  5.  The Fall (Netflix) – hurry up if you want to watch this because it goes off of Netflix at the end of October.  Like Broadchurch, it is a three season series that continues the same storyline about a mass murderer in Belfast throughout all three seasons.  Okay, not exactly light viewing but it stars Gillian Anderson and she is reason enough to watch.
  6.  The Great British Baking Show (Netflix) – I needed something a little joyful after watching The Fall so what better to turn to than this wonderful show that features 12 bakers each season vying to become the best baker in Britain.  After all, there is cake involved.  Lots of cake.  The contestants are engaging and it’s actually interesting to compare desserts across the pond from what we typically serve here.  The first few seasons featured the lovely Mary Cherry (yes, that’s really her name) but frankly all of the hosts and comedians they feature on the show have been terrific.
  7.  Sherlock (Netflix) – This program aired on PBS for a few years but now you can stream all four seasons.  The plots are always tricky, as in hard to figure out, and Benedict Cumberbatch is so fun to watch.  There are rumors about a Season 5 – let’s hope so.
  8. Poldark (Amazon) – Again, this is a Masterpiece Theater program that is currently showings the fifth and final season on PBS, but you can catch up on the first four seasons on Amazon.  The series takes place in Cornwall and the stunning views of the cliffs and countryside alone make it worth watching.  The story is very compelling – good guys vs. bad, poor vs rich, workers vs dandies.  WELL worth watching.
  9. Call the Midwife (Netflix) – For a wonderful throw-back show you can’t do much better than this  The series starts in the 1950’s, featuring midwives in East London, still riding bicycles to their appointments and delivering babies at home.  This show is also still current, with the latest season taking place in the mid-60’s.  It is fascinating to follow the progression of societal norms and maternity practices, not to mention hairstyles and music, over that decade.

I could go on keep going but I do want to get to some of the shows that came up in just about every result in my research for “best British shows to stream”.  So, here they are in no particular order:  The Bodyguard (Netflix), A Very English Scandal (Amazon), Peaky Blinders (Netflix), Lovesick (Netflix), Happy Valley (Netflix), Luther (Netflix), The IT Crowd (Netflix), Father Brown (Netflix) and Doc Martin (Acorn).  

Finally, if you want to skip back to this side of the pond and feel good about yourself, Netflix offers Nailed It!, an American take-off on the British baking shows.  The contestants are shown a lovely dessert drawn from the impossible-to-replicate photos on Pinterest and then asked to create it.  There are three seasons ready for streaming and it’s worth watching for the humor and to see just how out of touch people are about their baking abilities. Honestly, by the end you’ll feel so much better about your lopsided birthday cake.

If you have any recommendations please share them in the “Comments” section here.  After all, we’re going into an election year and we need to get prepared.

 

ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO SPEW

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I met up with a friend at the gym last week and as she was whirling away on the stationary bike she tried to find an unbiased news report on one of the five TV’s in front of her.  “Where do you go to get unbiased news”, she asked, as she swiveled between CNN, Fox and MSNBC.   “Sesame Street”, I responded, “it tells me everything I need to get by in life”.  I was only half-kidding but it is a subject I’ve been thinking about in this increasingly divisive atmosphere we’re in.  As my brother correctly pointed out last week, we are Presbyterians so we don’t wade into the political fray in this forum.  However, I will observe that every network seems to have camped out on one part of the divide or the other and they’re all getting richer for it.  The networks obviously pander to their audience, grasping for ratings and ad revenue at the expense of our edification.

 

I know I’m not the only one who is disgusted by the news coverage.  Sure, I could watch C-SPAN all day long but that smacks of being a bit too nerdy, not to mention my tolerance for windbags is at low ebb right now.  I consulted my friend, Google, and found several charts that basically tell us what we already know – a few organizations (mostly print) try for impartiality, but most fall into either left-or-right leaning, and then there’s a whole category on the bottom of both sides that is garbage.  So, where DO we go?  I found a website, allsides.com, that provides articles on the same subject by left, center and right leaning print media.  That seems like a whole lot of reading for me.  I’m trying to think of a subject that would interest me enough to read three articles about it.  Outside of the Food section, I couldn’t think of one.   One could always go to mediabiasfactcheck.com but there are a LOT of ads and it’s a bit distracting.  Snopes, of course, has been the go-to for figuring out internet and Facebook claims but there are wide-ranging topics one has to wade through, such as today’s top question: Can the snakehead fish survive on land?  I’m sure that’s of great interest to the snakehead fish, but I venture it’s of limited interest to everyone else.

What I really long for are newscasts that present information in a factual way, and then have really smart people debate the issue in-depth so that I can sort through the facts and form my own opinion.  For those of us of a certain age, we can recall the 60 Minutes segment, Point/Counterpoint featuring Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick.  It was good old-fashioned sparring over a new topic each week and was always good entertainment as well.  So good, in fact, that it spawned the Saturday Night Live parody of it featuring Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin.  Its seminal line may have been, “Jane, you ignorant slut”.  Mark Shields and David Brooks do a political point/counterpoint on the Friday night edition of The PBS News Hour, but somehow, it just isn’t the same.

The upshot of all this is I barely watch the news at all anymore.  I read a bit and try to vary my periodicals so I get different opinions.  I’m saving my TV watching for Netflix.  I just looked up the 20 most popular British TV series, many of which have multiple seasons available for viewing.  The advantage of the British shows is that you get to hear that glorious accent and there aren’t any references to American politics.  I’m hoping these shows will keep me occupied though the 2020 election. If not, there’s always BritBox.

 

 

 

A Filler-buster: The Skinny Palms

by Bob Sparrow

Before: Notice brown husks and dead limbs

This blog is termed something that Suzanne and I have come to refer to as ‘ a filler’.  I haven’t gone anywhere in the last two weeks, except to the bathroom. Nothing interesting has happened to me, in fact nothing interesting has happened to anyone I’ve talked to in the last two weeks.  So if you’ve got something else to do or somewhere else to go, I’d suggest not reading the rest of this drivel and get on with the rest of your day.

The palm trees in the photos?  That probably tells you more about my last two weeks than you’d care to know.  In preparation for our son, Jeff, getting married and the rehearsal dinner at our house, I had all of my palm trees trimmed, more accurately, scalped.  There are 24 palms in my yard, 12 queen palms and 12 pigmy palms.  Some of my pigmy palms are 10 feet high, not sure why they’re called pigmies.  A crew of 5 came in over the weekend and blitzkrieged my yard – saws buzzing, limbs flying (tree limbs, no human limbs that I saw) and people hauling stuff out to the ‘chipper’ in the street.

After: skinny palms, even the sky looks bluer

You’re probably on pins and needles wondering what the trees looked like after the blitzkrieg.  Well, here’s a photo of those same three trees.  Looks like the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos for a weight-loss program, huh?  Actually it was similar to a money-loss program.

They also trimmed up two banana palms I have in my back garden, but I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo, so the ‘after’ photo wouldn’t really tell you the whole, thrill-packed story – you’ll just have to use your imagination . . . or not.  Are you still reading this crap?   I can guarantee you that it’s not going to get any better.

I’m a big college football fan and I could pontificate on the California law being run through the system currently allowing college athletes to profit from the use of their name or likeness.  Apparently a $100,000+ college education isn’t enough profit for a 19-20 year old.  On the surface it looks like it will only benefit the stars of the team, who would probably get a pro contract in another year or two anyway.  I’m sure there’s another side to the story, I just don’t want to hear it.

I understand we have an election year coming up; I’m sure the contests will be fair, civil and boring given the current atmosphere of political malaise in our country.  My sister and I will continue to stay above the fray and remain apolitical as we are both Presbyterians.

I’m guessing you hope I go somewhere, soon!  Me too, but with the approaching nuptials and the holidaze just around the corner (only about 11 more weeks to get that Christmas shopping done – nothing big for me this year, please!) I‘m afraid I’m house-bound for the remainder of the year, which could mean more ‘fillers’.

Hey, Suzanne, maybe we should just take the last quarter of the year off.  What are our readers going to do, ask for their money back?

 

 

FROM HEAVENLY TO HELOISE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

              What we’re missing

I hope you’ve all recovered from my brother’s trip to Italy.  It sounds like it was truly the trip of a lifetime and I’m so glad we could go with him on the journey.  I had hoped to take you along this week on our trip to Mammoth Lakes but, alas, my husband had a small procedure on his calf that prevented us from going.  So, the picture you see here is from our trip a few years ago just so you can see what you’re missing.  Actually, I was okay with cancelling our trip since I’m still on a mission to re-do every room in the house.  I have entertained myself this whole, long, hot summer by buying things and moving furniture around.  Neither Dash the Wonder Dog nor my husband are quite as entertained by this as I have been, what with their stumbling into things in the night and having to sniff out new napping spots.  I let you guess which one is doing what.

Sun Valley Escape

In any event, all my staying home and working on the house these past few months has produced some “Aha!” moments that I thought I’d pass along.  After all, we here at A Bird’s Eye View pride ourselves in providing lots of useless information just to add more clutter to everyone’s already overloaded memory.  The first product I found this summer is a game-changer for anyone who loves to hang, and then re-hang, pictures.  A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to get some great shots of our trip to Sun Valley and decided to blow about 10 of them up into canvas prints.  I also have a little room we use as a library where I had hung numerous family photos.  In my frenzy this summer I decided everything needed a new home but that left me with lots of little holes in walls.  I know, I could use Command strips but I once had a picture fall from one and ruin a baseboard so I’m not a fan.  Enter a little miracle worker – 3M Patch Plus Primer 4-in-1.

The four components of it are: spackle, primer, putty knife and sander.  YES!!  All in one tube.  You simply put a drop cloth down in case you’re a klutz like me, squeeze the tube to place a little of the spackle/primer in the nail hole, smooth it with the other end of the tube which is creatively fashioned like a putty knife, let it dry for a few minutes and then sand it with the end of the tube cap (which is covered with sand paper).  I was nervous the first time I tried it, but by the third hole I was walking around the house looking for things to spackle.  I repaired nicks in baseboards (see above comment about Command strips) and dents in door moldings.  It was like crack cocaine – nothing escaped my 4-in-1.  Then I broke out the paint cans and touched up when I’d spackled and – voila! – good as new.  It so far exceeded my expectations and was so simple to use that it made we wonder why more companies don’t come up with great products like this.  I’m thinking maybe the painter’s union wouldn’t like this because it certainly cuts into the amount of times you have to call in the reinforcements for nail holes.

The second product I found this summer is the Rock Doctor Cleaner and Polisher for natural stone .  I think I’ve mentioned that we had a travertine dining table sanded and resealed a couple of months ago so while I had the guy here I asked about doing my granite counter tops.  He told me he wouldn’t take my money (already I liked this guy) and referred me to the Rock Doctor brand of products.  Both Home Depot and Lowe’s carries it so it’s easily available.  I’ve been using it ever since and my countertops are as good as when they were new.  Ironically, you have to wipe down the counter before you use the cleaner, which to me is a bit like cleaning before the cleaning person comes, but I guess it’s to eliminate anything that might scratch the surface.  The Polisher sprays on like car wax and then you buff it in the same way – brings back memories of when I used to keep my car in better condition.

Anyway, those are my handy tips from the summer.  It’s not Italy.  Shoot – it’s not even Mammoth Lakes.  But I can guarantee that you won’t have holes in your walls or dull stone and that’s worth something!

Italy’s Foto Finish

by Bob Sparrow

As I recall the ride back from Italy went something like this: Sunday afternoon, van from Cinque Terre to Florence, dinner at sidewalk cafe, pick up at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning to go to Florence airport, fly from Florence to Paris, because of 6+ hour layover, we arranged for a tour of Paris, drove down the Champs-Elysees, drove by the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triumph, Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum, stopped for a French pastry then drove back to the airport for flight to LAX, arriving Monday night at 7:30. Time on the ground in Florence, Paris and L.A. all in one day – that was a long day!

I am finally able to download some of my photos, so here’s a few that will punctuate the end of our fabulous journey.

 

Here’s the ‘Dirty Dozen’ enjoying a drink at the beach in Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ‘moon shot’ of David

Pasta and tiramisu cooking class outside of Pisa

Restaurant high above Monterosso (I think we had wine that night)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob resting on a bed of rocks – and he wonders why his back hurts

 

 

 

 

 

 

A common sight – the girls ignoring us guys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Alderly Lane’ table

 

 

Patrick taking a small bit of his steak

 

 

 

 

The ‘Ridgeway Road’ table

Linda having 3 quick cocktails

Spooky Nazi bunker in Italy

Hilltop village of Montecatini Alto

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach in Cinque Terre

Coming down the funicular at night – a memorable experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone forgot to turn the light off on the Eiffel Tower

Doing one of his ‘stand up’ routine on the bus, Sergio turned a very good trip into a GREAT trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the sun sets over Tuscany, I’d like the thank our awesome travel partners, Mark & Kathy Johnson, Patrick & Pam Michael, Mike & Tanis Nelson, Bob & Jeanna Pacelli and Rob & Stefanie Warren, for helping to make this a most-memorable trip.

A final sunset in beautiful Tuscany

Italy’s Hilltops & Coastlines

by Bob Sparrow

Funicular

The dinner I had to rush off to after I posted on Thursday required us to walk about a mile and a half to the base of a funicular, which took us to the top of the mountain, via a nearly 40 degree climb, where sits the quaint little village of Montecatini Alto.  We had another perfect weather day so we could see for miles and miles – no foul weather gear needed here.  Just prior to sunset we walked the perimeter of the village taking in the spectacular views in every directions.  We then settled in at a bar (What a surprise!) on the town square and enjoyed a few cocktails before we moved next door where we had made dinner reservations.  We were seated on the patio on a beautiful evening, and while we were virtually alone at the restaurant at 7:30, when we left around 10:30 the place was packed.  We still haven’t adjusted to the late dining habits of the Italians.  With all the pasta I’d been eating for the last week, I decided to order a steak – it was delicious.

San Gimignano

Thursday morning we were back on the bus at 8:30, headed for the walled medieval town of San Gimignano.  Normally an hour and a half bus ride would not be very interesting, but Sergio did another ‘stand up’ routine about American TV shows, his comment about Murder She Wrote was something like, “If Angela Lansbury invites you to dinner, DON”T GO, someone is going to get murdered and it could be you!” He had us rolling in the aisles!  Before we hit this Tuscan city, we visited a cheese farm where we were given a tour by the owner, met the cows and goats and enjoyed some great cheeses.

Italian gelato

While wandering through town we found the award winning gelato shop that Sergio has directed us to  and got in line.  Great gelato!! We’re back on the bus (or Comedy Central as we now call it) and head back to our hotel to get ready for our ‘Farewell Dinner’ at another hilltop restaurant overlooking the Tuscany valley.  1st course: salami and other meats, 2nd course: bean soup (delicious!), 3rd course: pasta with cream sauce, 4th course: pasta with red sauce, 5th course: beef stew and potatoes, 6th course: desert (not sure what it was or how it tasted, my taste buds had checked out after the serving of the second pasta).  And, of course, the wine flowed freely.  We were all sad to leaving Sergio, but looking forward to the next stop on our own – Cinque Terre.

‘On-Off Boat’

These five towns built on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean are beautiful; we stayed in Monterosso, the largest of the villages and took an ‘on-off boat’ to visit the other four – actually only three as one village doesn’t have a port. It was another perfect weather day, as we strolled through each towns enjoying food, beverage and gelato.  We finished the day with a fabulous dinner, that lasted over three hours, at a seaside restaurant in our ‘home town’ of Monterosso.

Our trip home takes a few twists and turns which I will hopefully account with some of my own photos next time.

 

 

“Sorry, The Tower is Not Leaning Today”

by Bob Sparrow

(I’m still unable to download photos, but I’m using Google Images to come as close as I can)

View from hilltop Tuscan mansion

The dinner I was headed to before I had to sign off on Monday was FABULOUS.  It was at a Tuscany villa high on a hill overlooking the entire valley below.  It was a mansion that is rented out for special events.  The chef came to our outside dining area and showed us how he made the pasta he served us – interesting and delicious!  There was a DJ playing a variety of songs and the night had the potential of being a ‘sing off’ between guests from northern California, (insert photo of So. Call beating No. Cal singing ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ and our southern California gang singing, ‘I Love L.A.’ – even though we really don’t like LA all that much.  But we all ‘played nicely with others’ as we both did a great job of singing ‘Sweet Caroline’.

It’s Monday morning and we are off to Pisa, about an hour bus ride away.  We had a local guide, Vincehenzo, and he is a proud Pisan (or whatever you call people from Pisa) who was so well-informed and so articulate – he brought everything to life.  The bell tower (the one that’s leaning), as you might suspect, is still leaning although someone had sprayed a sign on a wall on our way to the tower that read ‘Sorry, the tower is not leaning today’.  It was explained to us that there is current technology that could straighten the tower fairly easily, but it brings in millions of dollars each year to the town of Pisa, so I don’t think we’ll see any straightening of the tower anytime soon.  After taking all the requisite photos of people pushing the tower over, we visited the adjacent church, Santa Maria Cathedral.  I don’t know whether it was the church or whether it was the fact that Vincehenzo was so good, but he made every aspect of the history of this church come alive.  We went into the Baptistry where over 100 people had to remain perfectly silent while a single voice sang out and demonstrated the awesome acoustics in the building.  I can still hear that voice echoing in that chamber.  Once outside the baptistery, Vincehenzo explained the ancient rivalry between the cities of Florence and Pisa – it’s was the L.A. and San Francisco argument all over again.

Cathedral Santa Maria

We got back to the hotel for a brief period of time before we were off to a local farm to make our own pasta dinner.  It was about an hour’s drive and we were greeted with a glass of wine (of course!) and the chef’s staff who immediately put us to work kneading the pasta, chopping the mushrooms, slicing the tomatoes and basically putting our somewhat dubious cooking skills to work.  We also made tiramisu – that was a big mistake as I’ll be making that way too many times when I get home.

Tuesday we are off to Siena, about an hour and a half bus ride from our hotel.  It’s another beautiful walled city, with a unique event that pits district against district and takes place every year.  It is called the Palio di Siena, and it is run twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th, where horses run around the Piazza del Compo (city square) where there are some 50,000 people that cram into the area to witness the race that lasts about one minute. What’s really interesting is that it is not unusual that the jockey falls off their horse, but it doesn’t matter if the horse finishes the race with or without the jockey!

Palio di Siena

On our way back from Siena, we stopped at a small, family owned winery and enjoyed several samples of some great wine – both red and white, along with some great charcuterie (that’s meat and cheese and stuff for those non-winers).

Dinner back in our local plaza and crash.

Wednesday is a ‘free day’, so we get to relax and just explore our magnificent base city of Montecatini Terme.  This evening for dinner we’ll be taking a funicular up to Montecatini Alto, a small village that sits on a nearby hilltop – more on that next time.

I’m going to need a vacation from this vacation, but it’s been an amazing experience.

More next Monday.