Cruise Epilogue and a Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

 

 

After sailing all night on Friday night, we returned to New York harbor around 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, where I was able to get this great photo of our Miss Liberty and a full moon setting.  Great ending to a great trip!

 

 

 

As most of you know, I love to travel, so when Linda found this cruise and asked if I was interested in going, I said ‘Yes’ before she could finish the sentence.  But, as I previously mentioned, I was not that excited about spending a couple of days in New York and this cruise line was not my favorite.  Additionally, the northeastern coast of the US held no particular interest for me.  As I admitted, I was so wrong about New York and now I can say I was so wrong about the northeast coast; I would highly recommend this tour to all travelers.  My favorite part was probably the mansions in Newport, RI – the stories behind them and just how ostentatious they were is amazing!  The entertainment on board was marginal, other than the casino where I was a small winner at craps, and where Linda was a big winner on the slot machines.  The food, as mentioned, was improved and the staff was excellent, very helpful, friendly and professional.

I recently checked the weather back there and it’s VERY cold, with snow in some places!!  We were so fortunate to have such extraordinarily great weather during the whole cruise.

Following are some additional photos from the trip.

Linda enjoy the song . . . and the singer

In NY, our only day of inclimate weather

The triple treat – shopping bag, ice cream & wine!

Linda checking out a ‘new’ phone system

Pete

Monday Night Football Arggggggg!!!

I present you, the Marble House

Lazy Lamp posts in Halifax

“Better luck next time”

 

 

                                                “That’s All Folks”

Beautiful Oh Canada – New Brunswick & Nova Scotia

by Bob Sparrow

Pete in Kings Square

St. John, New Brunswick – Prior to this trip I couldn’t tell you the difference between New Brunswick and Old Brunswick.  Oh, there is no Old Brunswick?  So I really wasn’t that excited about getting off the boat in St. John, but now having been there, I’m very excited to tell you about it.  It is a great little town that we had shown to us on Pete’s Walking Tour, yes, the same Pete from Pete’s Pub.  Oh yeah, you don’t know about Pete’s Pub.  Let me start at the beginning.  I must say it again, our trip through Acadia National Park could have been much better, except our guide was a goof, this guide made the tour.  Aside from being one of those people that you just liked immediately, Pete owned a pub in St. John for 35 years, prior to Covid shutting it down.  He then found his real calling in life, as a tour guide to the city he grew up in.  Our walk through the city was two-and-a-half hours, but it was so interesting and informative that it went by in a flash.  Pete gave us names and dates of historical people and occurrences, in those two-and-a-half hours, without ever referring to any notes.  He also told us a few of his old pub jokes, like the time a couple of tough Irish longshoremen came into his pub at nine o’clock in the morning and wanted a drink; Pete told them that they didn’t open until ten; they didn’t move and looked at him rather sternly, he then said, “Would you like to have a drink while you wait?”

Kings Square Pavilion today

Kings Square Pavilion next month

St. John’s history includes a robust shipbuilding industry that attracted many workers, mostly Irish, and at one time made it the third most populous city in Canada, after Montreal and Quebec. St. John’s early history includes many battles between the French and the English, during the 17th century and in the 18th century St. John became a city inhabited by ‘Loyalists’ – those who left America, who were on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War.

Our walk on this beautiful day took us through picturesque Kings Square park, where we were shown a photo of this unique park in the winter.  We knew we were among the last cruise ships to stop here this year, as from this point forward, the weather gets mighty cold and windy.  It is really a great little city, although I just wouldn’t want to spend a winter there.

Hallifax, Nova Scotia (New Scotland) 

Peggy’s Cove

Our last stop on this cruise began with us getting off the ship in the morning and taking a walk on the Halifax waterfront on a picture-perfect day.  They were expecting the temperature to get up to the 70s (a record for this time of year here).  There was not a cloud in the sky, so it was a great day to explore this fascinating city.  Our walk on the boardwalk took us about an hour in a half – lots of tee shirt shops and restaurants.  We had to get back on the ship to meet up with our group so we could get back off the ship for the start our bus tour of Peggy’s Cove and the Titanic Grave Site.

We climbed on the tour bus and found that our guide was very well qualified, as he was raised in this city, worked in this city’s school district and retired in this city to a job of being a tour guide.  Our bus was going to take us to Peggy’s Cove, which was about an hour drive, but our tour guide filled that hour with many facts about the history of the British and the French fighting over this area, as well as the growth of industries based on beaver skins and lobsters.  Our guide told us the story of when he was a junior high school principal and his effort to help better prepare his students-athletes, who all thought they were going to play professional hockey.  He would ask them to make sure they had a Plan B.  When he asked seventh-grader, Sydney Crosby what his Plan B was, Crosby said, “Endorsements!”  Today, Crosby has been one of the premier players in the NHL and has plenty of endorsements – so ‘check’ for both Plan A and Plan B.

Our guide then related several stories about 9/11 and how airlines headed to the US from Europe at the time, were diverted to Nova Scotia, where local families took in the passengers for several days, until flights were once again allowed to enter the U.S.  He said that many of those airline guests still stay in touch with their Nova Scotia host family.

We arrived at Peggy’s Cove (there’s two stories about who Peggy was and why this is her cove, Google it if you care), which is a beautiful, rocky peninsula with one of those classic red and white light houses at the end – it is a spectacular day!  After exploring the area, there is a restaurant there where I decided I could get my full lobster lunch.  We wait in line to be seated and before she seats us we tell the hostess we have about 30 minutes before we have to get back on the bus, and if that’s enough time to have the lobster lunch?  She says that’s not enough time to cook and serve you a lobster – of course!!!

Titanic gravesite

Our final stop of the day was at the cemetery where 121 victims of the Titanic were buried in 1912.  Our guide walked us through the cemetery and pointed out gavesites, and had several stories about a number of the Titanic victims and their families.  Some of the victims are still unknown and thus the gravestones are marked only by a number, which was the number that the rescuers assigned to each body as they found them.

We learned about the booming lobster trade here, how expensive it is to get into the business, how limited the lobster licenses are – everything except actually getting to eat a lobster.

 

Lobster Update: This was our last stop and I’ve gone ‘lobster-less’ at every port!!!!

Bye Bye!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Monday: Cruise Epilogue and a Photo Finish (Finally!)

 

 

The Emerald Princess and Bar Harbor, Maine

by Bob Sparrow 

EMERALD PRINCESS

Emerald Princess – before we jump on a shore boat and head into Bar Harbor, I should probably tell you a little about the ship we’re on.  As I mentioned previously, the food on previous Princess cruises, in my opinion, was average at best.  Perhaps I was a bit harsh,  as we had dinner at the ship’s steakhouse, the Crown Grill, and it was excellent. So, I’d probably move the food a grade up, from a C to a B+.  The entertainment, which has been pretty good on previous Princess cruises, has dropped down a notch and in some cases more than a notch; like the big musical production, Magic To Do, a combination of a magic show and a Broadway musical, which failed at both.  There was a comedian who wasn’t very funny and a big soul music production with only one person of color.  Fortunately, there are plenty of bars on board and they do make great cocktails!  I will say that the staff of 1,200 was very efficient and friendly.  There were just under 3,000 passengers on board and as you might suspect, at this time of year, no kids and mostly older couples; the men’s hair is either gray or gone.  Going by ourselves afforded us the opportunity to meet other people at dinner at a ‘shared table’, so we would typically eat dinner with three other couples.  A few we wish we had never met, so we eat rather quickly and excuse ourselves, but most, who came mostly from the Eastern seaboard, were fun and interesting to talk with.

Bar Harbor, Maine – Bahh Hahhbahh, as it is affectionately called, is a cute little tourist town with lots of t-shirt shops and lots of bars and restaurants featuring lots of lobstahhs.  Let me get this out of my head and then we can move on.  I saw this on a tee shirt in one of the shops: “Khakis in the rest of the country are brown pants, in New England they are what you use to stahht your cahh”.    

Ivy Manor Inn, Bar Harbor

We have a bus tour scheduled for 1:00 in the afternoon, so we had time to shuttle in from the boat, poke around in some shops, wander past the picturesque and golden leaf-covered Ivy Manor Inn, but mostly have some lobster for lunch.  I figured I had plenty of future opportunities to have a full lobster, so when I saw a lobster roll, which I had never had, I order one.  Our server said they made some of the best lobster rolls on the planet (of course they said that, but did they really?) Having never had one, I obviously couldn’t compare it, but I can tell you it was heavenly!  I was really delighted with my choice, until I saw the couple next to us who each ordered a full lobster – which were about a foot long and looked delicious!  Our lobster roll cost $30, the full lobster that each of the couple next to us was feasting on cost $32!!!!  Back home that lobster would have cost over $100!!  I was certain I would be eating a lobster just like that one, in one of our next two stops.

View of islands and our boat from Cadillac Mt.

Our afternoon bus tour was to Acadia National Park; where the trees were not all resplendent in their fall colors yet, but some of them were.  This park, as is Bar Habor, surprisingly, is on an island, Mount Desert Island, and has everything from heavy woodlands to rocky beaches to glacier-scoured granite peaks, such as Cadillac Mountain, which our tour took us to the top of.  It is the highest point on the U.S.’s East Coast at 1,527 feet – a mole hill in California terms!  We were told that moose and bear run the woodlands and whales abound in the ocean, but the only thing we saw was a squirrel.  The park would have been beautiful if the plants and flowers that were now brown and dead were in full bloom.  Making things worse was our bus driver/guide.  As I’ve said before, the guide can make or break a trip – this one broke it!  It would have been fine if he just pointed out the points of interest, but he tried to be funny . . . and wasn’t – he could never get a job as a Boston Hop-On, Hop-Off driver!  But, it’s still a beautiful park which afforded us some spectacular views of the oceans and surrounding islands.

Off the bus back in Bar Harbor, we happened to pass Paddy’s Irish Pub on our way back to where we caught the shuttle boat, so, of course, we had to stop.  We had a bowl of clam chowder soup and a local beer and were told that we were in the Irish pub in the U.S. that was the closest, geographically, to Ireland.  It made everything taste just a wee bit better!

Lobster Update: OK, I didn’t have a full lobster here, but I checked the lobster roll box, and there’s still time, as they have excellent lobster in our next two ports.

 

Next Post – Thursday: Oh Canada! – St. John, New Brunswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia

 

Newport, RI & Boston

by Bob Sparrow

Marble House interior

Newport, RI – Our first port of call is Newport, and I have to say, I really didn’t know what to expect; I knew about Newport Beach, but not much about Newport, Rhode Island.  To fully understand the part of Newport we will be visiting, it helps to have an understanding of ‘The Gilded Age’ (roughly 1870s-1890s) when it was fashionable for high society of New York to get out of the hot city and show off their wealth by building an ostentatious  ‘second home’ in Newport, these second homes were called ‘cottages’ because their homes in New York took up a full city block!!  So, we opted for the ‘Newport Mansions Tour’ – it was fantastic!!!  We first visited the ‘Marble House’, built by William and Alva Vanderbilt in 1892.  It was called the Marble House because it contained 500,000 cubic feet of marble.  It had 50 rooms in the 125,000 square feet of the home and cost $11 million to build – that’s about $350 million in today’s dollars!  Its four acres sit right on the Newport coast and was used only about four to six weeks during the entire year!  Our tour took us through the entire house and grounds – we thought we had seen spectacular homes on the ‘left coast’ Newport, by comparison, those ARE cottages!  But, after visiting the Marble House, apparently I hadn’t seen anything yet!

The Breakers

Our next stop was ‘The Breakers’, so called because it sat right on the coast where the waves were constantly breaking.  It was just a short drive up the coast from the Marble House.  This home was built by William’s brother, Cornelius Vanderbilt, partly in an effort to ‘out do’ his brother’s place, which it does!  The Breakers has 136,000 gross square feet, where the five-story, 70-room house sits on 14 acres right on the cliffs overlooking Easton Bay.  The dining room alone is 2,400 square feet!    It was the largest, most opulent house in the Newport area upon its completion in 1895.  Truely mind-boggling to tour!

On the way back to the ship, our bus took us through the quaint little downtown of Newport and our guide relateed lots of interesting stories about life amongst the rich and . . .richer.  This was, and still is, an incredible place.

Margaritaville in Fanieul Hall closed!!! RIP Jimmy!

Boston – Our next port was the fabulous city of Boston, where we got off the ship and onto a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, where our bus driver could have just come off the set of Saturday Night Live – she was hilarious!  Our plan was to hit a few spots on the bus route, get off and walk part of the Freedom Trail, hop back on and see what else interested us.  We stayed on the bus longer than usual so we could hear more of the bus driver’s routine.  Apparently, everyone else had the same idea, after we made 8-10 stops and nobody got off the bus, the bus driver comes on the P.A. system and says, “Maybe you guys don’t understand the concept here, this is a hop on hop off bus, but nobody is hopping off!!!”.  Aside from the bus driver’s routine, the highlights along the way included, the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Cheers, the famous TV show’s bar, Chinatown and lots of other attractions humorously described by our bus driver.  We got off at Boston Common and walked a bit of the Freedom Trail, discovered the Bean Town Pub, where we had to try the clam chowder (DELICIOUS!) and a Sam Adams beer (also pretty good!), then continued down to Faneuil Hall – a great indoor-outdoor marketplace.  We got back on the next bus and found that our new bus driver had a better sense of humor than our first one.  Where do they get these guys?!!  A very fun and funny journey through Bean Town.  Once back on the ship we talked to various shipmates about what they did in the city and realized we missed two interesting sites: 1) Fenway Park, home to baseball’s Boston Red Sox; it is the oldest ballpark in all of major league baseball, built in 1912.  Tours of this venerable ballpark take you into the old locker rooms, rooftop seating and up-close views of the ‘Green Monster’ (the left field wall).  2) The other tour we missed, but should have done, was a reenactment of the Boston Tea party where visitors got to witness a fully-dressed reenactment of the tea party and even got to throw a box of tea overboard.  At dinner back on the boat we shared a table with two couples from England who had attended the Tea Party reinactment and said they enjoyed it, but of course, were looking at it from an entirely different perspective than we Americans do.  Interesting!!

Lobster Update: Too busy to have lobster for lunch, and our dinner is back on the boat, but we’ve still got three more ‘Lobster Stops’ ahead of us.  Besides, isn’t Maine the state really known for Maine lobster?

Next post, Monday: The Emerald Princess & Bar Harbor, Maine

 

Start Spreadin’ the News

by Bob Sparrow

We’re leavin’ today . . .

Times Square

Actually, we left a week ago last Thursday for New York, New York, on our way to jump on a cruise that goes to . . . well, you’ll see.  But first, about our time in the Big Apple.  I have to be honest and say I really wasn’t looking forward to our day and a half there before our departure. I had been there several times on business several years ago and a couple of times to see my daughter, Stephanie, when she was enrolled in the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA), aspiring to get on Broadway.  The city is big, impersonal, messy, crowded, crime-infested – generally, not where I wanted to spend any time.  I was soooo wrong!  This city is electric and we found the people to be most friendly!!  A cab ride, with a friendly cab driver, brought us from JFK to our hotel, the Edition, which was ideally situated on Times Square – we were in the heart of the ‘city that never sleeps’.  After getting to our room on the 27th floor, which gave us an excellent view of what was going on below in Times Square, we cleaned up and headed out to nice Italian dinner at La Masseria – walking distance.  Great dinner, friendly server!

911 Memorial

Friday morning found us on a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus that started in Times Square and had stops at the Empire State Building, the Flatiron District, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, Battery Park, and the World Trade Center.  We sat in the seats on the exposed upper deck of the bus, and while we did get a little rain, it offered us a great view of all the aforementioned sights.  We ended up spending 3-4 hours at the 911 Memorial Museum – what an emotional experience!

Us, listening to ‘Sinatra’

After hopping off the bus for good in Times Square, on our way back to our room to freshen up before finding a place for dinner, we stopped at one of my favorite places in any city, an Irish Pub.  This one was named the Playwright Tavern on 49th Street.  Our thought was to have a quick beer before we go back to the room, clean up and find a place for dinner.  With an engaging bar tender, who was actually from Ireland, one Guinness led to another and before we knew it, we decided to stay there for dinner.  “Fish & Chips please!”  After dinner, I asked the bartender where the stairs at the end of the room led; he said it was more of the restaurant and another bar.  It’s an Irish Pub, of course there’s another bar!  So, I went upstairs and found a quaint restaurant setting and the other bar, where there was a guy singing Sinatra tunes, and he was really good.  I ask a server, who is standing next to me, if this was a patron who just got up to sing or the regular entertainment.  It was the regular entertainment, but he was anything but regular, he had an amazing voice.  I went down and got Linda and we spent the next couple of hours listening to this guy, his name is Kurt Decker, belt out Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel tunes.  He ended up not only singing to us, but talking to us during his break and explaining his love of Sinatra music.  An incredible evening!!!

The next morning, we Ubered over to Brooklyn and got on the Emerald Princess.  I have to say that Princess is not our favorite cruise line, the ships are nice, but the food is average at best – says the guy who dined on Guinness and fish and chips the night before!

On Saturday we board and just before sunset we set sail, or whatever it is those big ships do when they leave port, and got a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline as we head out on our adventure.

Leaving Manhattan (that’s not our boat!)

An item from ‘It’s a Small World’  Once out to sea, the casino opens and while Linda is playing the slots, I sat down at the bar to watch the Utah-USC game.  I notice the guy next to me is also rooting for Utah and I ask him if he’s from there.  He said he was not from there but went to school and played football at a small school there that I’d probably never heard of, Westminster College. I told him I that I also went there and played football.  We had a great time talking about familiar people and places and watching Utah kick a final-play field goal to beat USC.

As we head North, I’m really looking forward to having a nice lobster dinner!!!

On Thursday: Newport, RI and Boston

Wanna Go to Vegas?

by Bob Sparrow

South Point Hotel & Casino

It was Monday, mid-morning, work was slow, the guests we had coming for dinner on Tuesday had canceled due to illness and I knew the answer to the question before I asked it, so I wanted to make sure I was ready when I said, “Hey, Linda, wanna go to Vegas?”  Without missing a beat, she said, “I can be ready in an hour.” She was ready in half an hour!  I had just filled the car with gas the day before, so off to Vegas we went.  Linda had called for reservations at our favorite hotel, South Point, but had rooms only for Tuesday night, but nothing for Monday.  She called around and discovered that this time of year was ‘convention time’, so not only were most of the hotels filled, but those that weren’t were charging exorbitant rates, but I assumed the ‘Ms Bargin Hunter’ would find us a place.

As we headed to Vegas, I was excited about placing a ‘real’ bet on the Monday Night game, since my brother and I place ‘pretend’ bets on both college and pro games every week – this year we’re making some ‘pretend’ money.  It was the Bills against the Jets, I liked the Bills to cover and the over, but called Jack on the way out and asked him to ‘research’ it and call me back with what he found.  We were about an hour out of Vegas when he called back, “parley Buffalo to the over”, he said; we were on the same page.  This was going to be fun!!!  We stopped at South Pointe to place the bet and watch the game, plus had a gourmet dinner of a hot dog and a beer. Jack & I were definitely on the same page, but we were in the wrong book!  Jets won and the score was under.  After the game we head further down the strip to Circus Circus, the only hotel with vacancies and a reasonable rate.

Circus Circus made my list

Recommendation #1: Don’t ever stay at Circus Circus.  It is very tired, the circus left town years ago; after waiting 40 minutes to check in, we had to walk across the street into a low-rise, low-rent building with no elevators to our second floor room.  Our room was possibly where they kept the elephants before bringing them across the street to the ‘Big Top’ during Circus Circus’ hey day.  We played some slots (they still had the kind with handles!). then retired for the evening.

On Tuesday morning we could not get out of Circus Circus fast enough, although we felt like we were abandoning the cockroaches that we had befriended there.  So far, our ‘spur of the moment’ get-away had included a hot dog dinner, a bad room at a bad hotel and $200+ in gambling debt.  A Denny’s down the street seemed like the appropriate place to stop for a gormet breakfast!

Checking into South Point felt like checking into the Ritz.  I found a craps table and had great fun and very nice winnings before we noticed a show in the South Point theater featuring The Bronx Wanderers, and thought how bad can they be after our Circus Circus experience, so we bought tickets.

Recommendation #2: If you ever get a chance to see The Bronx Wanderers – do it!!!  They are a father (Vinny Adinolfi, 65 years old) and son (Vinny Jr, 35 years old) band, both play the guitar, keyboard and are lead singers; they also have a great saxophone player and the group has awesome harmony.  They do rock and roll classics from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and do it very well – they killed Bohemian Rapsody!!  Vinny, the dad, was a successful record producer in New York and worked with, and had great stories about, most of the popular recording stars of the day.  We finished the evening with a nice dinner at the Silverado Steak House, gambled a bit more and retired to a much nicer room.

While this spur-of-the-moment escapade started out as a disaster, it ended with me thinking I just might ask Linda again, “Wanna go to Vegas?”

 

 

 

 

Hilary – Much Ado . . .

by Bob Sparrow

Flooding in Palm Springs area

Over this past weekend, while most people in southern California were preparing their homes and yards for the arrival of Hurricane Hilary, we, Mark & Kathy Johnson, Bob & Jeanne Pacelli and Linda & I, headed to San Diego to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of the Johnsons, who had rented a beach-front home on Mission Bay.  We were heading right into what was projected to be the teeth of the storm.

Hilary, at the time, was rated a Category 3 hurricane; I looked up the definition:

Winds up to 129 mph!  Devastating damage will occur: well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof, decking and gable ends.  Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads.

Road to Death Valley

The last time a hurricane of any category hit California was in 1939!  Undaunted, we headed down Interstate 5 to San Diego on Saturday morning and noticed that the freeway was packed . . . going the other way, out of San Diego.  We were clearly going ‘up’ the ‘down’ staircase?  We wondered, is this a smart move?  We concluded, “Ahhh, we’ll be fine.”

Before we left home, we made sure all of our outside furniture/umbrellas were secured or put away.  We did the same at the Mission Bay home on Saturday evening.  We were preparing for the worst, which we were told by local meteorologists that it would be Sunday afternoon through Sunday evening.  By the time we arrived at the beautiful bay-side home, Hilary had been down-graded to a Category 2 hurricane, meaning winds up to 110 miles per hours – still significant!

The group weathering the storm at Mission Bay

Once there, we got more news, Hilary had been further downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, and perhaps just a ‘Tropical Storm’ (winds 65 mph).  It was actually fairly balmy as we sat on our patio and watched volleyball and other various activities on the beach.

We could not have had a better place to watch the storm, in fact, once we got there and parked our car, we never got back into it until four days later when it was time to drive home.  Aside from a great pontoon boat ride, we had two dinners at the Oceana restaurant at the Catamaran Hotel, which was on the beach about 100 yards from our house.

An Oceana Hurricane!

We were getting a light rain most of the day along with mild winds, but nothing extraordinary – we kept waiting for Hilary to hit.  She did finally hit, but it was more of a playful slap than a hit.  Oddly enough, we were disappointed that we weren’t going to experience a once-in-a-generation hurricane/tropical storm in southern California.  As it turnd out, the most ‘catastrophic’ thing that happened was our power went out for an hour or so and we were forced to use a flashlight and candles to play some games at the house until the power came back on.  As it turns out, the deserts and the mountains got hit much worse than any of our coastal cities.  Rain is, indeed, unusual in southern California in August, and the Tropical Storm did cause some major flooding the desert and mountain areas, but it just seemed a little anti-climatic to us on the San Diego coast after all the hype.

As it turned out the closest we got to a hurricane was the one I ordered at the Oceana bar.

 

 

 

 

 

Mulligans in Michigan

by Bob Sparrow

Traverse City, Michigan

It had been thirteen years since I jumped on a plane in Orange County to Detroit on a Monday morning to go to work, and then flew home on Friday night – yes, I ‘commuted’ to Troy, Michigan, mostly every week for five years, so I knew the way to Michigan.  But this trip was not about work, it was about golf.  Actually, it turned out that golf was a lot of work!  The Sagers, Budds, VanBoxmeers, and us, headed to Traverse City in northern Michigan to enjoy four of the over 1,000 golf courses in the state of Michigan.  Those who have been to northern Michigan understand just how beautiful it is – lots of trees and everything is so green!  We got lucky with the weather, as it was not too hot, not too humid, but, as Goldilocks would say, “Just right”.  Our lodging for the first half of the week was in an awesome, four-bedroom condo at the A-Ga-Ming golf complex.

We traveled on a Sunday and had a tee time at the A-Ga-Ming Sundance course set for Monday morning, but the Sagers’ and VanBoxmeers’ golf clubs decided they wanted to spend some extra time in Dallas.  So, no golf on Monday; our free day of Tuesday was rescheduled for golf and on our golf day of Monday was rescheduled for a self-directed tour of Traverse City, where we had lunch on the roof top bar of the Hotel Indigo, that provided us a beautiful view of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay.

Happy to be playing the 19th hole

We took this free day as an opportunity to visit an old friend of Linda’s and mine, Shiela Nittman, who used to live in our neighborhood back in Orange, but she and husband, Helmut, were now retiring in their beautiful second home overlooking Torch Lake, which was only about twenty minutes from where we were staying.  It was a great visit, as Shiela regaled us with stories of the surrounding area.

Later that day we also visited a friend of John’s, Cindy, who lived in the area and used to own the Colorado Mining Co. restaurant in Denver and knew John when he played for the Denver Avalanche, NHL hockey team.  She had one story after another, either about the hockey players coming into the restaurant and causing havoc, or the night Elvis came in and they made him a huge peanut butter, jelly and bacon sandwich.  We ended the evening having some indigenous white fish and walleye at Gray Gables, a nice restaurant in Charlevoix.

Room from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

Looking for golf balls in a field of sunflowers

After another day of bad golf for me, we changed locations from our four-bedroom condo in Ag-A-Ming to the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, a nice, but dated, facility.  Our room looked like something right out of 50s.  We had a free day, meaning no golf, to just tour the area, so we went into Traverse City for breakfast, then stopped by a large field of sunflowers that we spotted along the road; there was a place to pull over and take photos, so we did.  Dinner on the 15th floor of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa building – beautiful view, just an OK dinner.

After three rounds of frustrating golf for ‘Double Bogey Bob’, that’s me, I can’t tell you how excited I was that we booked the Jack Nichlaus designed course, ‘The Bear’ for our last day of golf in Michigan.  Here’s the description of the course:

“One of the toughest golf courses in America, featuring Scottish terraced fairways, tiered greens, deep grassy roughs, moguls, mounds and deep pot bunkers, along with lakes, ponds, forests, streams and fruit orchards.”

Another broken club!!!

The course was about this friendly

Oh great, all that to deal with plus FRUIT ORCHARDS . . . on a golf course??!!  I didn’t sleep well the night before, wondering whether I had enough balls to get through even the front nine!  But, as it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded . . . IT WAS WORSE!!!  It took three hours to play the front nine!!!  Not wanting to miss our dinner reservation and being totally frustrated with ‘The Bear’, we quit after 12 holes and headed to the showers!  Travel tip: Don’t play this course unless you are a very good golfer, are in a very good mood and have plenty of time . . . and balls!

Our last supper was at the Turtle Creek Hotel & Casino, and it was probably our best of the trip, made better by the fact that Camus wine was half-priced, and after what we’d been through, we all needed something to help us forget that round, or two-thirds of a round, of golf.

Northern Michigan golf: Check

 

 

 

Spain/Portugal Epilogue and Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

Following are some final random thoughts on the trip to Spain/Portugal.

  • Those who have traveled on a planned tour, know that the ‘Tour Guide’ can make or break the trip. So, here’s our tour guide, Daniel.  The ladies thought he was good-looking.  But a pretty face really doesn’t get it with the guys, if you

    Daniel

    don’t have a brain, and a personality.  OK, Daniel was smart (had a law degree), funny, educational, and entertaining.  He made the trip so much more enjoyable!

  • The month of May is a perfect time to visit these two countries – earlier and you’re dealing with cold and rain, later and you’re dealing with extreme heat
  • Red, White or Beer? When asked, at a restaurant, what you want to drink, while some restaurants have a wine list, you’re typically asked, “Red or White?”  Or you may be asked if you want a beer, if so, there is no choice, most restaurants have only one brand of beer – it is good, but that’s it!
  • Bordering on both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, as you might suspect, there is lots of fish on the menu, some I was familiar with, Codfish, Dorada and Tuna along with specialties like Squid, Octopus, Sardines, Anchovies and Cockles. Then there’s Hake (the most popular), Dogfish, Dreamfish & Conger.  Lots of fish!
  • Don’t go to these two countries if you don’t like green olives. It’s one of their leading exports and a dish of them is put in front of you when and wherever you first sit down.
  • It is said that tapas is not a meal, it’s an activity. I have concluded that tapas is a great concept, it allows you to share a variety of foods within your group.  I probably wouldn’t have ordered deep fried egg plant with balsamic and honey, but it was one of my favorites.
  • You’ll find thin sliced ham and a variety of cheeses at breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Only 3 pounds. That’s what I gained in 16 days of eating and drinking lots of wine and beer.
  • 42 miles. That’s how far I walked in the first week.  I’m guessing that contributed to only 3 pounds of weight gain.
  • We were introduced to ‘El Camino Santiago’, or the ‘Way of St. James’, which is a pilgrimage that over 200,000 people take every year from various places in Europe to the northwest corner of Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Composteia, where tradition holds that the remains of the apostle of St. James are buried. We were shown a movie, called The Way, starring Martin Sheen that depicts this pilgrimage.  Daniel, our guide, had done the pilgrimage twice.
  •  The absolute highlight of the trip was traveling with great friends – so thank you Mike & Tanis Nelson, Bob & Jeanne Pacelli, Rob & Stefanie Warren and Marc & Lisa Webb – great neighbors and great travel companions

The photo finish . . .

Rub the ass of this statue in Madrid for good luck

The Three Stooges

 

Dinner or bait?

 

Andalusian ready to give birth

Travelers, not tourists

 

Passage to Portugal

by Bob Sparrow

Cascais

We leave the magnificent city of Seville and the beautiful country of Spain for Portugal.  I have come to learn that Spain and Portugal are like sibling rivals but without the brotherly love.  The fact is, they really don’t like each other much, but it doesn’t matter, we like them both.  Shortly after crossing the Portuguese border, we stop at a tile museum and tour through it; at the end of the tour is a glass of Portugal port wine waiting for us – so far Portugal is looking just like Spain – lots of wine!

We are staying three nights at a beach resort in the coastal town of Cascais (pronounced CASH–KAI-SH), our hotel is an old fortress right on the water, with a marina right next to us.  It is a short walk to town along the beach as we take in the sites, which include a ‘no-hands’ beach volleyball game, just like regular volleyball, but you can only contact the ball with your feet, your chest, or your head – very interesting; and the guys we were watching were very good.  We go to an out-of-the-way place (meaning it’s not in the middle of all the touristy area) for a chicken dinner – maybe the best tasting chicken I’ve ever had.  The next day we tour Lisbon, which is about an hour bus ride away.

No, not the Golden Gate

The parallels between Lisbon and San Francisco are amazing; both built on a hill, both have a ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ (see photo), both have cable cars and both had devastating earthquakes that reconfigured the city.  As we toured, we learn the extensive history of the many Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan – they literally ruled the world in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. After a streetcar tour of the city, we go to dinner and experience a Fado exhibition.  Fado?  I didn’t know either, but it is a form of Portuguese folk music that is typically mournful and melancholy.  The show we saw featured a singer, a stand-up bass player, a rhythm guitar player and the virtuoso of the group, a 12-string Spanish guitar player, who picked with a thumb pick and one finger pick and made the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard come out of a guitar – he was amazing!!  A very fun evening.

Fado musicians

The next day we head to the little town of Sintra, in a wooded area that has been a favorite summer residence of Portuguese kings for the past six centuries.  We explore a Disney-like castle, Quinta da Regaleira, with a Gothic facade and beautiful gardens.  We are back in Cascais in time to enjoy our ‘farewell dinner’, where we will say goodbye to our tour guide, Daniel and the ten ‘other’ travelers in our group.

Quinta da Regaleira

The ten ‘hood members stay an extra day for an excursion to Fatima, Nazare and Obidos.  We are now in a Sprinter van with a local tour guide for our first stop, Fatima.  Next to the Vatican, Fatima is probably the most revered place for those of the Catholic religion, as it’s the place where, in 1917, three Shepard children saw the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  One of the three children’s final resting place is in the church at Fatima – a pretty impressive place.  Our next stop is Nazare, a popular seaside resort known for its 100-foot waves – yes, one hundred feet high!!!   It is a surfers’ Mecca, although some have lost their lives to the huge waves.  The big waves come in November and December, so we have a great lunch and see a beautiful coast line.  Our final stop is at the ancient walled-city of Obidos, which was originally a Roman settlement (This is why you travel, we don’t have any Roman settlements in the US).  Interesting side note, the Church of Santa Maria in Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra in 1441, when they were both still children aged 9 and 10, respectively.  You don’t see that much in the US either!

Fatima

The next morning we are on our way to the airport and the bitter-sweet journey home – bitter for the end of our amazing adventure, but always good to get to home sweet home.

 

Thursday: Epiloge of Spain & Portugal Journey and perhaps a ‘Photo Finish’