<

REDECORATING: A SLIPPERY SLOPE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Yep – you can do this in August

As I may have mentioned a time or ten, Arizona is hot in the summer.  I’m really okay with it.  In fact, over the past couple of years I’ve grown to love the empty streets, restaurants and shopping malls.  Against all odds, I’ve actually become a “summer person”.  That said, the only way to keep your sanity when spending so much time indoors is to have projects.  Or alcohol.  But the latter can lead to some disastrous outcomes so the past two summers I’ve focused on getting things done that seem too mundane to work on when the weather is 75 degrees.  In May I  “sparked joy” and organized my pantry and the cabinets in the laundry room.  Then in June we paid to visit to our kids up in Denver and our daughter’s gorgeous home and her talent for decorating inspired me to put a little refresh into our home.  Just a couple of chairs and some new pillows strewn about would do the trick.  That’s how it all started.

Redecorating, it turns out, is almost as fatal as our previous remodels.  Sure, we don’t have sheetrock dust everywhere and fireplaces being torn out, but the concept is the same.  It starts with one little idea and then the next thing you know, whole rooms have been transformed.  Actually, one of my favorite stories from brother Bob involves his friends, the Sagers.  You know them – you recently went on the Italian cruise with them.  Anyway, turns out they are in the middle of remodeling, with rooms and walls being torn out.  Recently, Chuck turned to Bob and said, “Gee, this started because we needed a new garbage disposal”.  Yep – that’s exactly how it happens.  The slippery slope of home projects.

New fabrics and rug. I’m not crazy – sofa and chairs are ivory – these are just accents.

In any event, I started with two chairs and some pillows for the family room.  I was going to keep our current sofa and rug.  But the more I thought about it, the color of the sofa just wasn’t quite right so I went in search of a new one.  The store where I bought our current furniture was having a sale – perfect!  The designer looked up our account and looked at me quizzically.  “You just bought this is 2014.  Most people keep sofas for 20 years.”  When I told her this would be my fourth sofa in 19 years she sidled right up to me – recognizing a pigeon when she saw one.  She came to the house ladened with fabric and leather samples.  Two chairs, one sofa and one ottoman later, she had a sale.  Just as she was closing the deal she mentioned that she thought the new furniture would look better with a more neutral rug.  I’d had my eye on a new hide rug from Ben Soleimani so not five minutes after she left I ordered it.  I was DONE…or so I thought.

Light fixture…not shining on beer bottle stains

The next day brought a new dawn and new redecorating ideas.  The carpet in my knitting room (aka Dash the Wonder Dog’s room) was in need of refreshing. Out came the carpet salesman and as long as he was at the house I decided maybe the master bedroom carpet was looking a bit tired so we’re reviving it too.  While my attention was in Dash’s room I took another look at the glass coffee table.  You know, they say glass is dangerous for senior citizens in case of a fall, so in the interests of safety I bought a new leather one that will provide a lot more cushioning for my klutzy self.  I next turned my eye toward the dining room.  Our beautiful travertine table had been etched over the years.  Mostly it was scarred from the bottom of beer bottles which, embarrassingly, were directly in front of my place at the table.  I was going to buy a new one but instead I consulted my friend, Yelp, and found a travertine refinisher.  He honed, polished and sealed the table and all evidence of beer pong games was magically removed.  He also told me about Rock Doctor Cleaner and Polisher (available at Home Depot or Lowe’s).  I used it on the granite in the kitchen and it’s awesome.  Anyway, now that I didn’t need a new table I decided that it might be time for a new chandelier.  We found a beautiful one that will be delivered some time in September and then I’ll just need to find a new art piece for the table.  Or maybe an interesting table runner.  Or…?

My inner Martha Stewart on display

Finally, I made a trek to our local upholstery fabric store.  Or, as I like to think of it, crack cocaine central.  The upshot?  Four dining chairs in the great room being reupholstered (after all, they have to match the new furniture) plus fabric for pillows.  And here is where I’m saving lots of money – or so I tell my husband.  I am a decent seamstress so I made new pillows for the living room.  Next, I knit a herringbone throw for the living room and I’m working on a more modern one for the new family room décor.  See?  I’m saving money left and right.

I thought we were done but last night my husband said, “As long as you’re in a furniture-buying mood, why don’t you get us some new nightstands?”.  God, surely there has to be a 12-step program for redecorating.

Ducks!

by Bob Sparrow

(Unfortunately these are the kind of stories you get when one is recovering from back surgery.  I’ll be back in action shortly!)

Shoulda ducked!

I most often hear the word “Duck!” when it’s yelled by the rest of my foresome after I hit a golf ball. But when I heard it from my neighbor it was even more scary. He called me when I was in Death Valley this past spring to tell me that a mother duck had just hatched eight little ducklings in my backyard. What?!!! How did they get there? How did you find them? Who can I call? Once I settled down, he said that since he had a mother duck give birth in his backyard a couple of years ago, that he’d be happy to take them off my hands since he was up to speed on the care and feeding of ducklings. Hell yes! I’m thinking, but I said something like, are you sure you want to do that? He said he had experience and was happy to do it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I gleefully accepted his offer.  So, in a effort that he described as akin to ‘herding cats’, he got eight baby ducklings as well as the mother to walk around the fence that separates our yards and created a home for them in his yard and pool instead of mine.

Stay close kiddies!

Once home and thankful that the ducks were no longer on my property, I found that my second-story home office window, which overlooks my neighbors yard and pool, offered me a bird’s eye view of the daily development of ‘our’ ducklings. First, I must say the mother duck was most attentive to her brood, keeping a constant eye on them and protecting them from birds of prey (mostly hawks) who were looking for a duck dinner. The ducklings obviously showed that they could immediately walk (something we humans take up to a year or so to do) and very quickly they were in the neighbor’s pool and the mother was teaching them how to swim. I think one of the lessons she taught them was to make sure that they looked like they were expending no energy at all, but beneath the water’s surface, they’re moving their little webbed feet as fast as they could. “Don’t look like you’re working hard kids”, I could hear her saying. . . or quacking. Swimming came very naturally to these guys – actually I couldn’t tell the guys from the girls, as at this age they all looked the same. It’s only later that the males start looking a little more colorful – in an effort to attract females.

“Kids, make sure you look like you’re not expending any energy”

Day by day, week by week the ducklings grew and the neighbor’s pool grew also, from blue to brownish green. Duck poop will do that! Our neighbor had Googled how long it would take before the ducks would leave – about 51 days. Under the mother’s tutelage, the ducklings would parade around the pool, jump in and swim a few laps, eat something then take a nap. The ducks were strutting proudly as if to say, “Hey, I can now walk pretty good, ok it’s a waddle, but I can swim really good, but how are we going to get out of this place?” Be patient by little duckling, I could hear the mother preaching.  Apparently a mother duck and her brood have some attraction to the opposite sex as both my neighbor and I spent much of our time scaring male suitors out of our pools.

Soon the ducklings started flapping their wings while they skimmed over the pool’s surface, never quite getting out of the water. Then one day, about 51 days into their life on earth, as I was looking out of my office window, I saw one of the ducklings, who was now as big as his mother, frantically flapping its wings, skimming across the pool and like a prop airplane rumbling down the runway gaining speed as the propellers spun frantically and then suddenly he become airborne. I could almost hear the duck say, “Damn, I can walk, I can swim and now I can frickin’ fly!”

“Look Ma, I can almost frickin’ fly!”

Soon all the ducklings and mother, had flown off and with a whole lot of chlorine, the neighbor’s pool returned to normal. While I was most happy that the neighbor took on the task of providing a first home for this brood, I must say I was impressed mostly with the mom, who never left the ducklings alone (our neighbor provided duck food and water for the entire family during their stay – more than the bed and breakfast they would have received at my place) and found it rather interesting to watch the progress of walking, swimming, diving and then flying. Unfortunately, next spring will undoubtedly bring some of the brood back to their old nesting place and will go through the same process with their own family. Ducks Unlimited!

I just hope my neighbor is still willing to take my ducks if they decide to nest here again. I’ll be happy to watch them develop in his yard from my office window.

 

 

DINE AND DASH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The outside of Pete’s, minus the waiting line

It’s long been said that the best restaurants are to be found in funky neighborhoods or strip malls.  Generally, I’ve found that to be true and we tested that theory on our return trip home from the Central Coast.  As it happens, our kids were vacationing at the beach in Oxnard so we made a plan to meet in Ventura for brunch.   I picked Ventura because it was a straight shot for us to get back on the freeway.  The older we get the more important that becomes – we get lost easily these days.  I have never been to Ventura but assumed they certainly would have a good place for us to meet so I consulted my expert friend, Yelp.  Yelp has been pretty reliable over the years – if enough people have given a place of business 4-5 stars then it has usually proven to be true.  (On the other hand, if it only has 2-3 you can bet the reviewers are related to the owner).  Sure enough, the #1 restaurant in Ventura is Pete’s Breakfast House.  And, since we were traveling with Dash the Wonder Dog it was a bonus that they allow dogs on the patio. Perfect!  Plus, their website indicated they had been featured on Food Network’s hit show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri back in 2012 .  I’ve never known Guy to pick a bad dive.  And I think Pete’s qualifies as a dive since it is right across the street from a tattoo parlor.  Okay…maybe not the highest end of town but then again, that bodes well for the food.

 

Dash getting served royally

Sure enough, we arrived at Pete’s and I was just slightly concerned with the neighborhood.  Not bad enough that I didn’t want to get out of the car, but enough so that I locked the doors while my husband went in to check the place out.  Once he got our table we ventured onto the patio, only to be met by a waitress who fell in love with Dash and immediately brought him a big bowl of water.  So far…five stars for liking my dog.  Once the family arrived and we perused the menu we mentioned to the server that one of our party has a dairy allergy and wondered if their bread had egg in it.  She not only went in to check with the cook but actually brought out a loaf of the bread so we could read the ingredient label.  Once our food arrived we learned why Pete’s is the #1 spot.  Not only was the food terrific but the portions were huge.  We all had different dishes – pancakes, omelets, French toast, breakfast burritos, avocado toast – and all of them were fabulous.  I decided to go with Pete’s signature dish, the Pancake Roll.

The gargantuan Pancake Roll

The Pancake Roll, as the menu warns, is a HUGE pancake filled with yogurt, and then topped with berries and home made granola.  When our server first brought it out I thought it was something for the whole table.  Even I, who eat pancakes almost every Sunday, could only eat one third of it.  But boy, that one third was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  When my husband went inside to pay the check he spoke with the owner about our great service and excellent food.  The owner’s reaction was one of gratitude and pleasure that we enjoyed it, even though I’m sure he must get that same compliment dozens of times a day.  Maybe his gracious attitude is why they are so successful.  In fact, when we left, there was a long line out the front door at 11 on a Monday morning.  I learned that is pretty typical.

In any event, if you’re ever within a 50 mile radius of Ventura I highly recommend Pete’s Breakfast House.  And, for that matter, so does Dash.

Some Parting Shots

by Bob Sparrow

While I’m still trying to adjust to my time zone, work the kinks out of my back, which was greeted by a physician’s scalpel upon my return, I’m not traveling too far from my house.  But knowing that you’re waiting for some kind of adventure, I’m giving you some photos, and salient comments, from the recent trip that didn’t make the cut for previous blogs.  For your review:

In the town of Marinella, prior to cast off, I ordered a large cup of Italian coffee.

I’m sure this was a very public toilet in the city of Pompeii

 

After seeing the lighting in the ship’s dining room, the Sagers decided to add it to the dining room in their house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our ship driving in the fast lane

Photo of Chuck just prior to getting thrown out of the cooking class for drinking

 

Just before I opted out of the sponge diving event in Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Death Stairs’ to THE WALL in Dubrovnik

We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t make ice cream like the Italians!

Jack & Chuck on a romantic gondola ride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love to travel, love to get home!

COPENHAGEN IN CALIFORNIA?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

While my brother was taking you on his magnificent cruise we were spending some time over on the Central Coast of California, as we do most summers.  This week we decided to venture down to Solvang, the quaint little town that is known for its Danish heritage and bakeries.  Bakeries?  Shoot, I’ve never been known to turn down a good bakery visit.

“Solvang” is a Danish word meaning “sunny field”, a distinction that will become important in a moment.  The town was founded in 1911 on about 9,000 acres by a group of Danish-American educators who traveled west to establish a Danish community far from the midwestern winters.  So, unlike the rest of the Scandahoovians who stayed up in Minnesota, the Danes sought out sunny fields.  The Swedes and the Norwegians can argue all day about who is smarter but I think we can all agree that the Danes take the pastry on this one.

Obviously the Danes were not the first to discover this beautiful area.  The original settlers were the Chumash tribe, whose members still live there today and, among other things, run one of the most successful casinos in California.  Solvang was also home to one of the original California missions, Santa Ines, which was built in 1804 and stood until an earthquake in 1812 destroyed much of the mission and the bell tower.  Over the years it was rebuilt and today is an important tourist attraction.

In 1914 the Danes established a “folk” school in Solvang, one of the few that existed in the US at the time.  The curriculum was designed to teach Danish-speaking students in their late teens how to lead more meaningful lives with an emphasis on lectures, singing, gymnastics, fellowship and folk dancing.  Sounds like a lot more fun than calculus and 4th year Latin.  But with the onset of WWI, Danish immigration to the US dropped and it became harder to support a Danish-speaking school.  In 1921 the building was sold to the Lutheran church and continued to host a wide variety of community functions until its demolition in 1970.

Solvang is now primarily a tourist destination – a million of them visit the town every year.  I think most of them were there the same week we were.  I heard accents from every part of the world and huge bus tours blighted the view of the picturesque buildings.  Most people come to Solvang to see what is advertised as an authentic Danish village reproduced in California – a miniaturized version of the Little Mermaid, a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and four windmills dot the main road through town.  Most of the businesses and homes in town are inspired by the Danish half-timbered architecture, which is what makes it such a unique attraction.  The center of town also features a Christmas shop and when we visited the outside of it was a mash-up of Christmas and the 4th of July.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Solvang also garnered much attention after the movie “Sideways” was released.  Many of the critical scenes were filmed in Solvang, including those at the Hitching Post restaurant which is just three miles outside of town.  The movie bought unprecedented interest to Solvang and the wines that are produced in the region.  Seriously, can you even look at a bottle of merlot and not think of “Sideways”?

But of course, I wasn’t there for the wine…I was there for the bakeries!  I sat outside Mortensen’s Bakery with Dash the Wonder Dog while my husband went to buy us one pastry to share.  After all, even Solvang isn’t worth totally blowing my diet.  A few minutes later out he came out with two HUGE chocolate-almond pastries.  And, well, not wanting to be impolite to the local Danish bakers, we devoured them both.  I don’t know what they do in Denmark to make the pastry so flaky and delicious – I’m sure it has to do with lots of butter or lard or something I just don’t want to know about.

All in all, it was a fun time, somewhat educational and definitely worth the trip.  I think I need to do more research next week and just might accidentally stumble into another chocolate-almond pastry.

Croatia, Slovenia, Venice & Home

by Bob Sparrow

“Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it”      George Bernard Shaw

Dubrovnik from the top of the cable car

I read the above quote with some skepticism – could this ancient city really be more like paradise than say, Bakersfield? But after being totally amazed by Montenegro, I was open to believe anything about this scenic Dalmatian Coast. I became a believer – Dubrovnik is beautiful. We had a tour guide here, but it was not a private tour (as we had become accustom to), rather there were about 18 of us in a ‘Cable Car/Walking Tour’ of the city. It was actually a fairly good walk just to get to the bottom of the cable car, but we managed to get ourselves into a gondola and up to the top of the mountain. The view was spectacular, as we took in the entire walled city of Dubrovnik as well as miles of beautiful coastline both north and south. We took the requisite photos, visited the gift shop and headed back down for a guided tour through the walled city.  After visiting a number of historical sites, we were left on our own to either ‘walk the wall’ or not.  As a group we decided that it was too hot and the wall provided no shade, so each couple went their own way.  The Wall kept calling me – it is the second longest wall in the world (behind China’s), so I decided that I wanted to at least walk a little part of the wall.  I paid 8 Euros and took the steep stairs to the top of the wall.  I decided I’d just walk out to the the part of the wall that was on the coast.  It was spectacular!  I continued around and by the time I was half way around I figured I’d complete the circuit around the entire city.  It was 3.4 miles, which felt like 13.4 on this hot, humid day, but I’m glad I did it . . . although I’m not sure why.  It’s hard to believe that this country just had its ‘War of Independence’ with Serbia in the 90s, yes the 1990s!

Game of Thrones King’s Cove

And yes, this is the location for much of the filming of Game of Thrones.

Dubrovnik, Split and Koper, Slovenia are only a few hours drive apart, but our ship took all night to get between them – I think we took a wrong turn.  In Split we took a golf cart tour of the city and surroundings, finding it to be a hip city with great beaches.  Koper, Slovenia, the home of our first lady, is another smaller, ancient city with old buildings that, at this point, we probably had our fill.

Our next and final stop on the cruise was due west across the Adriatic Sea to Venice.  We had arranged another walking tour of the city, where we had a very knowledgeable guide describing the many aspects of the city as we wound our way through the narrow cobblestone sidewalks.  The tour ended with a gondola ride and afterwards we found a great restaurant and enjoy a true Italian lunch of some of the best pasta we’d ever tasted along with a nice glass of Chianti.

Smile String Quartet

Meanwhile back on the ship: The best entertainment on board , in my opinion, was a group called Smile String Quarteta group of attractive Ukraine women who played violin, viola and cello.

Our travels home provided the longest 4th of July I’ve ever experienced.  We disembarked in Venice at 8:00 a.m. on July 4th and got to LAX at 8:00 p.m. – on paper it looks like 12 hours, but add the time change and it was a 21 hour trip home.  We were surprised that everyone here seemed very excited to see us – we were greeted with a fireworks welcome.

As those who read our blog know, I love travel; seeing new places and understanding how different people live is always interesting and educational, but I have to admit that one of the great aspects of travel for me is gaining an appreciation for our own country – it is always great to get home.

Thanks to Jack & JJ Budd and Chuck & Linda Sager for being great travel companions and making the trip that much more fun.  Thank you to wife, Linda who mostly puts up with my antics.  And thank YOU for coming along, especially thanks to those who made comments to let me know I didn’t leave you behind.

Get rested up as we have another trip planned with another group at the end of the summer – hope you can join us.

 

Malta, Greece & Ohhhh Montenegro

by Bob Sparrow

Malta

Malta – looks interesting . . . it’s not!

Malta’s history dates back to around 5900 B.C. – don’t worry we’re not going to start there. Because of its location, in the middle of the Mediterranean, it was a strategic island to have control of and was thus taken over in turn by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Aragoneze, French and British. During World War II the Germans wanted to add their name to the list, but despite the Luftwaffe leveling some of the oldest buildings in the world, they were turned back by Allied forces and now Malta remains as an independent country.

In Malta – just shoot me!

I think the day our ship arrived in Malta’s port city of Valletta, all of the above-mentioned nationalities were represented there, plus tourists from four cruise ships – it was wall-to-wall in this walled city. So a 10-minute walk to the ‘lift’ that took us up the walled city’s façade and a walk down the crowded main street filled with tee shirt and trinket shops was all the Malta we wanted to see. I’ll admit that I felt a bit like a shallow tourist, not really appreciating the history or the present culture of this historic country, but it was crowded and hot. I didn’t even stop to have a local beer!

Katakolon, Greece

Katakolon – yes, that’s it – really!

If you were looking to visit a Greek island and have imagined those stark white building stacked along a pristine coastline over azure waters; or if you were looking to stroll amongst the antiquities of ancient Greece’s structures like the Acropolis or Parthenon, don’t go to Katakolon. Its claim to fame is that it was the location of the very first Olympic games. We did not take the 30-minute drive to the original Olympic site, as we assumed most of the athletes had already gone back home. We did wander the main street of town (there was only one), which was about three short blocks long, and were subjected to old Greek men sitting outside their store like carnival barkers, trying to get us to walk in and buy something. The tour of the town was quick and uneventful, but Jack and I did stay long enough to enjoyed a famous Greek Gyro sandwich and a Mythos beer at a beachside café, which was quite good.  But I’m not checking Greece off my bucket list based on this visit.

A Day at Seas

Here’s what I discovered during our ‘Day at Sea’

  • The Budds and Chuck and I nearly flunked out of our ‘Pasta Cooking Class’

    JJ, Jack, Chuck & I just before we got thrown out

  • I couldn’t concentrate during the Zen ‘doodle art’ class
  • Two-piece bathing suits are not necessarily worn by thin, young women
  • After five days on board, I still had difficulty finding the way back to my room
  • Bingo is boring

Kotor, Montenegro

OK, this is more like it! Just getting to the historic, old city of Kotor was spectacular, as it requires the ship to traverse 17 miles of magnificent bay with high mountains on each side creating the ‘Montenegro fjords’. We docked and were greeted by our guide, Rajan (pronounced Ryan).  We wondered, Is he another Alfonzo or another Cammie? The big smile and warm welcome assuaged our fears immediately. We discovered that one of the keys to being a really good guide is to have been born and raised in the area you are guiding in – Rajan was. He was not only personable with a good sense of humor, but could speak intelligently on any subjects, from the politics of the country to cheese varieties in the farmer’s market.

Above Kotor with our ship behind us in port

Our tour had two parts, first a stroll through the fairly small walled city where Rajan pointed out some of the more interesting/historical sites, as he knew our ship was going to be in port until 11:00 p.m. and thus we had time later to explore the city on our own. The second part of the tour was a visit to the olive-producing region of the country, which was about a 45 minute drive from the port. We hopped in our van and headed up the mountains surrounding Kotor’s cove, providing us some amazing views.

When we arrived at the olive orchard, the owner, whose family had owned the business for over six generations, greeted us with a smile and brought us inside an old olive press room and served us a lunch of cheese, prosciutto, tomatoes, bread and, of course, olive oil, but first, a shot of brandy.  Yes, it’s a custom here and we certainly didn’t want to piss off the locals. We learned all about olive growing, pressing and tasting – we now know what ‘Extra Virgin Olive Oil’ means – to my surprise virgins have nothing to do with it!

We returned to Kotor for a stroll through the city as the lights came up allowing this city to show off yet another side of its beauty. Great city + great guide = great experience!

 Travel tip: Skip Malta and Katakolo and go directly from Sicily to Montenegro . . . and don’t play bingo!

Meanwhile back at the ship: A group of about 100 plastic surgeons were having a conference on this cruise and they brought along their ‘significant others’. Since the significant others looked significantly younger than the surgeons, we played a game trying to figure out if the doctors had performed surgery on their wives or just brought their secretaries to the conference.

 

Southern Italy & Sicily

by Bob Sparrow

(Editor’s note: Beautiful photos would not up-load due to limited bandwidth on board, so just use your imagination)

Positano and Pompeii

We anchored off the city of Sorrento and took a tender to shore where we were met by our guide for the day, affable Alfonzo Sorrentino. From that first smile we knew our day was going to be fun – the guide so makes or breaks the tour and he made it in spades! We hiked the steep road away from the dock to our private, 8-passenger van and wound our way through the town of Sorrento heading for picturesque Positano, which literally hangs off the cliffs on the shores of the Mediterranean. We walked the winding path down to the beach that passed by store after store – it was such an exhausting trip that we had to have a beer when we got to the bottom even though it was only 10:00 a.m. Back in the van, Alfonzo had selected a special stop for us at a ‘lemon factory’, where they made everything lemon, from lemon candy to Italy’s famous liqueur, limoncello. Alfonzo gave me a piece of the lemon rind and told me to eat it – surprisingly it was very sweet! We were then taken to a winery at the foothills of Mt. Vesuvius were we had lunch at the winery restaurant, Cantina Del Vesuvio, which was set in the middle of the vineyard – and what a lunch! First bread and olive oil, then bruschetta, then spaghetti with red sauce and then a lemon cake desert, all while tasting 5 different wine selections.  I think all those things were on my diet.

Due to a landslide next to a tunnel on our way to Pompeii, we got stuck in traffic, which caused about an hour delay in our schedule, but Alfonzo knew we were from southern California, so I’m sure he went that way just trying to make us feel at home. Once at Pompeii we hired a guide who promised to show us the whole place in an hour; which she did! I had no idea how big this city was or how many prostitutes worked there . . . not now, but back in the day prior to Mt. Vesuvius burying the city, along with the prostitutes, in ash and pumice in 79 AD. On our way back to Sorrento, Alfonzo asks if we like Frank Sinatra, we asured him we did, so he turned on his music and we all sang along.  We come to find out that Alfonzo’s other job is as an entertainer, where he sings and plays piano in a night club.  So all the way back to the ship he got us all singing Sinatra and Buble songs. A great time provided by a great guide

Catania, Sicily

With that great experience behind us, we were looking forward to our next day’s tour on the island of Sicily – The Godfather Tour.  But we found out that ife has a way of balancing out things, thus our amazing experience with Alfonzo was balanced out by our not so amazing experience with our next guide, Cammie, a young French woman who told us that she normally worked on her computer in the office of Viatour, but was now being asked to lead our tour. We were open to giving her chance, but her low voice with a bad French/English accent couldn’t be heard over the sound of the air conditioning fan, which the van driver, seemingly another neophyte, couldn’t figure out how to control. When she was talking at all, Cammie was basically reading something about the Godfather on her phone and then passing that information along to us. Otherwise it was a ride in the van with long periods of awkward silence followed by more long period of awkward silence. We walked around the beautiful setting in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean in the town of Slovoca where they filmed the movie The Godfather, had lunch in the town of Toarmia and then she made us an offer we couldn’t refuse when she asked if we wanted to go back to the ship early. 

Travel tip: if you want to revisit The Godfather . . . rent the movie.

Meanwhile back on the boat: We enjoyed the fantastic music of the Smile String Quartet, four beautiful Ukrainian women, who were amazing musicians!

 

Finding La Dolce Vita

by Bob Sparrow

A great lunch in the town square in Santa Marinella, Italy

Whoever said getting there is half the fun was on drugs . . . really good drugs. We left the house at 5:15 a.m. Thursday morning and arrived in Italy early Friday morning, around 7:00 a.m; scientifically speaking, Friday was the longest day of the year (the vernal equinox) and this year we had small airplane seats, a crying baby and an uneatable meal that I describe as ‘faux fowl’ to lengthen the already longest day. All this while you sat in the comfort of your home over the weekend sipping Mai Tais and channel surfing from your couch. Hey, I’m not complaining, I signed up for this, but just wanted to let you know what I go through to make sure you’ll have a good time.

We were met by our driver at the airport and traveled about 45 minutes up the road to the Hotel Villa Delle Palme, which was featured in the film, Las Dolce Vita. We spent two nights in the hotel that sits on the Mediterranean coast in the town of Santa Marinella. One afternoon we took the train into the port of Civitavecchia just to walk around and get our first taste of Gelato – no one does ice cream like Italy! We returned to enjoy a dinner at a top-ranked restaurant in our hotel. The next day we had a beautiful lunch in the quaint town square, mostly enjoying the people, who were smiling and accommodating, particularly the owner of the restaurant, who regaled us with stories we could hardly understand, but she told them with such enthusiasm that she had us all laughing as we dipped our French bread in their amazing olive oil and sipped our Chianti.

Villa Delle Palme Hotel

By noon the next day (Sunday) we were boarding the Riviera; it is magnificent. We made sure we got in line to sign up for the upgraded drink package (Just letting you know we’ve got our priorities straight).  We thought maybe we’d been black balled as word may have been passed around in the cruise industry that the ship will lose money on us before they hit their first port.  Our first meal is at Red Ginger, an amazing Asian restaurant – the sea bass is out of this world. After dinner we head to a magic show that, quite honestly, was very amateurish, but the drink package made it forgettable.

I’ll check in on Thursday of this week and keep you updated on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. Yes, it’s a short one this time, but I’m still trying to figure out what day it is and where I am.

Hang in there, it will get better . . . or not.

 

Cruisin’ Around Italy

by Bob Sparrow

Oceania’s Riviera

I’ll be leaving this week to cavort, literally around Italy on Oceania Cruise Line’s Riviera, along with Chuck & Linda Sager, Jack & JJ Budd and wife, Linda . . . and of course you guys, vicariously. We’ll be flying into Rome (You won’t have to endure that part!) a couple of days early and staying at the Hotel Villa Delle Palme which overlooks the Mediterranean and is just a few miles from our port of debarkation, Civitavecchia, where we will start our 11-day cruise.

Before I tell you the ports of call you’ll be visiting, let me give you a short description of our ‘boat’, the Riviera. It has 16 decks with a guest capacity of 1,250, served by a staff of 800. It is elegantly fashioned with interior architecture that features a spectacular spiral staircase (Don’t worry, you can take the elevator).  One of the ship’s specialties is food, and boy do they specialize! Aside from the Grand Dining Room, we will be eating at the Bistro and Jacques, both featuring quintessential French dishes, the Polo Grill, a classic steakhouse, Toscana, featuring traditional Italian cuisine and the popular Red Ginger, featuring contemporary interpretations of Asian classics. These are in addition to the numerous Cafes and Grills spread throughout the ship. Additionally we will be taking a couple of cooking classes offered on board, so I hope you’re hungry. Wow, I just gained four pounds writing about the food! And of course, we’ll be participating in some sort of drink package, so we’ll be needing a whole new wardrobe when we roll home.

Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast

The ship’s first stop is just a short jaunt down the coast to Sorrento on the magnificent Amalfi coast, where we will be taking a side trip to Pompeii, the city that was buried under more than 15 feet of volcanic ash and pumice from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD – it’s certainly taken a while to clean up, I guess the city workers have been on strike for a while. It’s just another short voyage to Catania, Sicily, where there has been recent activity of another volcano, Mt. Etna, we’ll try to avoid the falling pumice. It’s then another short trip to the island of Malta, known for . . . being a small island south of Italy. Not sure what kind of trouble we can find there, but we’ll find some I’m sure. We then motor over to Katakolon, Greece, where they held the very first Olympic Games, we don’t have tickets! We will then have a day at sea, where I’m sure I’ll spend most of my time in the gym or doing laps in the pool . . . OK, maybe I’ll just be sitting by the pool lapping up a cold one.

Bay of Kotor

We will then be heading up the Adriatic Sea with our first stop being Kotor, Montenegro, a picturesque city tucked behind a series of fjords. Like many of the cities we have seen and will be seeing, it is filled with lots of ancient cathedrals and other old stuff.  We will continue up the Adriatic to the country of Croatia, where we’ll visit Dubrovnik and Split, then to Koper, Slovenia and finally into Venice, where we will have two days to check out the canals, St. Mark’s Square and the millions of tourists.

Then, you of course will be spared the long and winding road home, while I must endure delayed flights, transfers, uncomfortable seats, airline food and a heavyset, chatty neighbor telling me all about her trip through Italy. What I don’t do for you guys!

That’s the plan; I’ll give you the real scoop as it happens, or at least a few days after it happens, depending on Internet availability. Hope you enjoy the trip.  Arrivederci.