Surfin’ Safari

by Bob Sparrow

Sandra Dee

As a native Californian, I was of course attracted to surfing at an early age. I think it was in 1959 when the first Gidget movie came out – OK, so maybe I wasn’t attracted to surfing as much as I was  attracted to Sandra Dee! I figured if MoonDoggie could get a girl like that by surfing, sign me up. But I was raised in a rural dairy community in northern California where surf is rarely up on the surrounding farms and ranches.  I will say that the iconic 1964 movie, Endless Summer, had some appeal to me as someone who’d been going to school for most of my life – I thought I was starring in the movie, Endless School. Even a move to southern California, or as my northern friends say, ‘the dark side’, didn’t get me interested in surfing, but I did feel closer to Sandra Dee.

Why then am I writing about surfing? Two reasons: 1) it’s only about a 20 minute drive from my house to surfing mecca, Huntington Beach or as it’s know to board riders, ‘Surf City’,  where the National Surfing Championships are held every summer, but more importantly (to me) it’s the home of my favorite restaurant – Duke’s!  2) I thought I would start an educational series on various museums in southern California; although after this trip to the ‘International Surfing Museum’, it may be a series of one, and not very educational at that.

Mid-bite at Duke’s

It was an unusual rainy May morning when I started my safari to Surf City, but those are the kind of days that keep people away from the beach, so I was happy for a little precipitation as I headed to the coast.  Before I hit the museum it was a must to get a burger and beer at Duke’s, which I enjoyed as I watched the surfers and volleyball players warming up for summer. The ‘International Surfing Museum’ is just a short walk from Duke’s down palm-tree-lined Main Street, which is bar & grill after bar & grill after bar & grill, with a Hawaiian-vibe. It wasn’t very crowded on this midday Thursday, but guaranteed it’s wall-to-wall during summer.

The museum is not large; in fact the space was an old doctor’s office and I’m guessing the doctor didn’t have a very large practice. The door was open, so I walked in and was greeted by Judy, the docent, who told me the museum was closed. I had just walked through the open door, saw the lights on and brochures out on a table and said, “It doesn’t look like you’re closed”. She said, ‘Well, we’re open, it’s just that we don’t have an exhibit up now” as she motioned to the adjacent vacant space. She encouraged me to take a look around and check out the surfing posters, the surf boards in the rafters and . . . the surfing posters. She gave me a quick history of surfing, starting with Duke Kahanamoku and continued to regale me with the upcoming surfing events of the summer. I feigned interest for as long as I could and then told her I wanted to get a photo of the Guinness record, largest surfboard in the world, which held 66 people and is hanging on the outside of the building next to their parking lot. It’s gnarly!

I drove home still relishing my burger and beer from Duke’s and having assuaged my guilt of living so close to the ocean and never hanging ten, or even one. But, hey Dude, it was still a bitchin’ day.

It’s Vegas Baby!

by Bob Sparrow

Bruno Mars

We all know the city of Las Vegas by several names, ‘Vegas’, ‘Sin City’, ‘Lost Wages’, to name a few, and we know, or hope we know, that ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ – except what I write in my blog.  It is quite a city!  While this desert oasis loves its reputation as a ‘Gambling Mecca’, a few years back it tried to sell itself as a ‘family’ destination, but the only family it attracted was the mafia. Recently, in an effort to look like other large cities in the U.S., it acquired an NHL hockey team, the Knights, and next season will have the NFL’s Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders – an apt place for this team and their irreverent fans.

But the reality is, Las Vegas, which means ‘The Meadows’ is like no other city on the planet, which I just witnessed last weekend. We were there to enjoy our annual golf trip, some great meals (diet starts Monday . . . again), some great friends and a blockbuster Bruno Mars concert.

Although I’ve been there too many times to remember (as well as times I don’t remember), the city never ceases to amaze me, as it might you as you read through these little known, and even less cared about, fact of ‘Sin City’.

  • There are an estimated 1,000 homeless people living beneath Vegas in underground tunnels.
  • In 1980, a Las Vegas hospital had to suspend workers who were betting on when patients would die. One nurse was even accused of murdering a patient so she could

    Celine Dion

    win.

  • It would take 288 years for one person (and a lot of luggage) to spend one night in every hotel room in Las Vegas.
  • Contrary to popular belief (and practice) prostitution in Las Vegas is not legal.  Now you tell me!!!
  • The Las Vegas strip is the brightest place on Earth when looked at from outer space.
  • Biggest game in Vegas, in terms of money per table, not blackjack, not craps, not roulette . . . baccarat. While the average blackjack table brings in around $500,000 each year, a baccarat table brings in an average of $4,000,000 annually.
  • Vegas’ favorite food: Shrimp – over 60,000 pounds of it are consumed . . . every day! That’s higher than the rest of the country combined.
  • Slot machine payout record? A 25-year-old software engineer invested $100 to win a jackpot worth $39,000,000.
  • Top performers: Back in the 70s Liberace made $300,000 a week! Today record holder is Celine Dion, who makes $500,000 per show.
  • There are over 300 weddings per day in Las Vegas, making it the top wedding destination in the US, but second in the world to Istanbul. Istanbul?!!
  • For all its gambling, you can’t buy a Lottery ticket in Las Vegas – it’s illegal.
  • A stack of pancakes and a quickie wedding may both sound like great ideas after a night of partying in Vegas; luckily Denny’s offers this great combo. For $199 you get a wedding officiant, use of Denny’s exquisite marriage chapel, a pancake wedding

    Denny’s Pancake Wedding Cake

    cake along with a Grand Slam breakfast. The pessimist would say that both the wedding and the breakfast could turn to crap by morning.

Hope you learned a little something about Vegas that you can pass along to a friend at lunch today.

Our Cinco de Mayo/Kentucky Derby trip is always fun, not so much because of Las Vegas, but because of the great people that go; I could tell you more about it, but you know, for the most part ‘What happens in Vegas . . .

 

Journey to the Valley of Death – Part 2

by Bob Sparrow

The Oasis at Death Valley

It was an auspicious beginning – Death Valley had claimed four people before we even got started, as two couples that had committed to go on this adventure were unable to for various reasons. Strike one.

Undaunted, the Johnsons, Pacellis, Linda and I set out on Thursday morning for Death Valley. Our research had told us that GPSs go crazy in the desert, but little did we know that it was going to start playing tricks on us so soon.  After we stopped for a great lunch at The Mad Greek in Baker, our GPS took us away from the correct route on a 30 minute detour – I was reminded of the German family that got lost out there and was never heard from again. Strike two.

Our group at its lowest

After about an hour and a half drive from Baker we came to our first attraction, Zabriskie Point. For my money, the best single place to see all the colors and rock/sand formations of Death Valley. We then traveled on to Badwater, the lowest place in North America at 282 feet below sea level; once there, you just sort of stand around and ‘be’ at the lowest place in North America. The road from there to our hotel has a nine-mile loop through ‘Artist’s Pallet’, which, at the right time of day and sunlight, shows off the magnificent colors of the rocks and mountains – we apparently were not there at the right time of the day! I was also anticipating seeing beautiful desert flowers following the rains we had this winter, but those rains came too soon, or too late, or they were too much, not sure which, but flowers were not in bloom.

Oasis pool

We checked into the Oasis at Death Valley and as the photo shows, it is truly an oasis. It is a four-diamond resort, where we have booked a casitas, which runs, including ‘resort fees’ about $600/night, but you get a golf cart to drive to go back and forth between the casitas and the hotel. What you don’t get are two sinks in a rather small bathroom, a corkscrew to open the wine we brought and Internet. I personally would take a couple of diamonds away from their rating.

We had dinner at The Last Kind Words Saloon, in ‘town’, Furnace Creek, which is about a mile from our hotel, and like the Oasis, the restaurant looks great, but the paper-thin, expensive steaks and generally bad food was only overshadowed by the poor service from a  “customer’s always wrong” wait staff. After dinner we went back to the hotel and to go up on the top deck to look at the stars, which we’ve been told are magnificent on a dark, desert night. Unfortunately there was a nearly full moon, a cloud cover and a slight rain.

Tamarisk trees – my golf ball is in there somewhere!

The next day, Friday, we played golf at Furnace Creek Golf Course, just a mile away from our hotel.  We thought we’d grab breakfast at the golf course before we teed off. But breakfast is not available at the golf course and the only breakfast available close by was a buffet, which we really didn’t want or have time for, so we grabbed a muffin and a cup of coffee at the General Store and headed to the course. The golf course was in surprisingly good shape; each fairway is lined with rows of Tamarisk trees, in which my ball came to rest on several tee shots (at least it was shady), although the greens were sort of like putting on a gravel driveway.  The weather and company was great and the burger and beer at the end of the round was most enjoyable.

Mark & Kathy looking for ghosts in Rhyolite

Dinner at the Oasis Hotel was OK, Linda didn’t like her Pork Belly – she was referring to her meal! After dinner we again went up to the top deck of the hotel to see the stars.  We ran into a professional photographer who had a laser beam gun to point out many of the constellations. He had a lot to say about almost everything, including Scotty’s Castle, which was the highlight of my previous trip here, but is currently closed for repairs to the road and the castle, due to flash flooding.

Saturday was our exploring day, according to Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael’s schedule, which he kindly put together, but didn’t get to experience. We stopped at Harmony Borax Works – a 120 year old operation that refined the borax (a mineral found in the salt flats of Death Valley which is used in soap/cleaning products) and loaded it on a 20-mule team wagon to haul it 165 miles to the nearest train station in Mojave – a 30-day trip! Our next stop, after about an hour’s drive on the lunar surface, was the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada – a town built on gold prospecting. It is the largest ghost town in the Death Valley area; at its peak had nearly 10,000 people, with 2 churches, 50 saloons, 18 stores, 2 undertakers, 19 lodging houses (which sometimes lodged prostitutes; OK, not sometimes, all the time!), 8 doctors, 2 dentists, a stock exchange and an opera house.

Cocktails at the casitas

We headed back to the hotel and sat by the spring-fed swimming pool and enjoyed a fancy cocktail – at least the price was fancy. As we were running out of places we wanted to eat, we decided to stop by the local taco shop, although these were not your traditional tacos.  The shop was on Indian land owned by the Timbisha-Shoshone tribe and featured ‘Native American Tacos’. They were quite large, a meal unto themselves and fairly tasty. We had tacos and wine as we sat in our casita’s patio on our last beautiful desert night.

I’d give the experience mixed reviews. If you go, wait until Scotty’s Castle is back in operation – sometime in 2020. So Death Valley is not dead to me, but it’s on a resuscitator.

 

Journey to the Valley of Death – Part 1 of 2 (hopefully)

by Bob Sparrow

Manson Family Death Valley Hideout

I’m writing this blog prior to heading to Death Valley with five couples from our ‘hood. I thought it would be important to provide a little history of this unique National Park as well as make sure I tell people where to look should our neighborhood safari not return – it is called Death Valley for a reason!

It actually got its name from a group of pioneers in Utah headed to California in search of gold in 1849. After listening to a guy who ‘thought’ he knew a short cut, but didn’t have a map (or too many living brain cells apparently), a group of pioneers split off from the main party (well, it really wasn’t much of a party) to take this ‘short cut’ to the California gold through what was to become Death Valley. After losing many weeks and members of the group, as they were leaving this valley, one of the pioneers looked back and said, “Goodbye ‘death’ valley.”

Death Valley’s underground city

Aside from the many gold-hungry pioneers that lost their lives taking the shortcut, the ‘valley’ has genuinely earned its macabre moniker. Mother Nature has played a role by taking lives with her cold winter nights with freezing winds, flash floods and of course the distinction of holding the record for the hottest place in the world – 134 degrees.

It is speculated that there is an underground city beneath Death Valley, where many people died digging and living in these subterranean tunnels. As late as 1996 a family of five visiting Death Valley from Germany disappeared, never to be seen again. But that’s not that unusual, there are many stories of people disappearing using their GPS to try and navigate the desert as there are many areas where cell reception is non-existent – it’s sort of like a black hole, the Bermuda Triangle and the Twilight Zone all rolled into one.

Borax Twenty-Mule Team

There’s more, California’s last lynching took place in Death Valley and there are several old mining ghost towns in Death Valley where ghosts still reside. The Armagosa Hotel and Opera House, once a hotel for the Pacific Coast Borax Company is now haunted. Close by, 100 pound rocks move across a dry lakebed by themselves, leaving a trail. Oh yeah and Death Valley was also a place that Charlie Manson’s gang hung out, so it’s got that going for it;

So why are we going to such a god-forsaken place of death? It’s a beautiful, interesting place; the colors of the rocks, sand, mountains and flowers are incredible this time of year; and we are staying in a four-diamond hotel and playing golf – so over the years there has been an effort to remove the ‘Death’ from Death Valley.

But still, if Suzanne’s next blog is about her missing brother, you’ll know where to start looking.

The Timeshare Two-Step

by Bob Sparrow

It was 1993, the kids were young and we had no money, when we got a call from the Marriott Desert Springs Timeshare folks offering us a free weekend in the desert in exchange for a mere 90 minutes of our time to listen to a presentation on timeshares. Like everyone else, we had gotten of number of these calls over the last few years, but because we had no money and couldn’t buy a timeshare if we wanted, we decided to take them up on their offer of a free weekend in the desert.

“Trust me”

We arrived and were warmly greeted while our two children we’re quickly escorted off to a ‘fun zone’ to be entertained for the next 90 minutes while we were locked in a windowless room where sat a guy with bad hair, a mustache and dimples. Small talk and big smiles ensued while he extolled the virtues of the Marriott name and their foray into timeshares, bla, bla, bla. We finally regained consciousness when he told us that for a week every year, we only needed $18,000. We didn’t even know how to spell $18,000! We looked at each other knowingly and in unison said, “No thank you, we really can’t afford it” and started to get up. We were quickly told to sit down and that with a small down payment we could make payment over time, enough time that we accepted.

As it turned out, it was one of the best investments we ever made, or had made for us. We’ve spent a week every spring at our Marriott timeshare for the last 26 years. Our kids graduated from the kiddy pool, the teen pool, to Costas’, the nightclub on property, to bringing their kids out. They know every inch of that property.

If you like vacations and you like clubs, Marriott has got a deal for you . . . bring cash!

About five years ago Marriott timeshares went to a ‘point system’ and we were offered two rounds of golf to listen to the advantages of converting our ‘week’ into ‘points’ and joining the Marriott Vacation Club.  Who doesn’t want to be in a vacation club?!  When we asked the salesman if we converted our week into points, would we have enough points to come out for our week every year like we’ve been doing? When he was finished calculating he looked up with a long face and said “No, you’d be a little short” and he knew he lost a sale.

Last week while at the Marriott Desert Springs for our week in the desert, we were again offered two rounds of golf to listen to a presentation on trading our two weeks (we bought another week on the ‘black market’ a couple of years ago) for more ‘points’ in the new BONVOY program’. We were told the program has really changed, that we wouldn’t have to exchange our week for points. Our salesperson must have just come off his shift at an Indio used car lot. Big toothy smile, dyed hair and a too firm handshake. Lots of small talk until we asked for the bottom line. We were told we could turn in our two weeks, along with an additional $42,000 and we’d get . . . I didn’t even listen after I heard the $42,000. “But you can put it on a 10-year payment program, and . . . ” he said as we headed out the door for the golf course. We gave him a hardy “Bon Voyage”.

I feel like I’ve earned an MBA in ‘timeshare’ (although it’s taken me 26 years), so if you have questions about ‘weeks’ or ‘points’ or fast talking salesman with bad hair – give me a call.

“Stay Active!”

by Bob Sparrow

Sharon & Jack

Officially Spring will not be sprung until 5:58 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, but this past weekend temperatures inched into the 80s and more importantly the rain stopped. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the rain, but enough already! If I liked rain that much I would have moved to Seattle.

Linda and I took off for Santa Maria on Friday morning to attend the 80th birthday party of my sister-in-law, Sharon.  Our first stop was at Dana’s bakery in Monrovia, for their famous blueberry pancakes and the best bacon ever. But the best part of breakfast was time with granddaughter, Addison, who never ceases to amaze us.

Addison

We took a detour on our way up through Simi Valley, were we visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to see an exhibit on Pompeii; as we will be visiting Pompeii later this year on our cruise around Italy. The exhibit included lots of information about life in the Roman Empire in the year 79 A.D. and in particular on the date of August 24th when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in a most dramatic style and buried the entire city of Pompeii under millions of tons of volcanic ash. With no planes, trains or automobiles to quickly get out of town, over 2,000 people were killed and fossilized in various positions trying to get out of the city.

While at the library, I took a picture of Linda with Ronnie and Nancy, who appeared a little stiff.

Our cloudless sunny drive continued over to the coast to Santa Barbara and lunch on the water at the Blue Water Grill, just across PCH from Stearns Wharf where we enjoyed the sun and salt air as we strolled the pier after lunch. We continued our drive up the coast and then inland to Santa Maria for a pre-birthday dinner at Jack & Sharon’s house.

Saturday morning we took a drive up the coast on another beautiful sunny day (it was almost like living in California) and had lunch at Wooly’s on the sand at Pismo Beach before returning to Santa Maria Country Club for Sharon’s birthday celebration which was attended by a group of 30 some odd family and friends, including both her children, Debbie and Brad, six of her seven grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. Sharon looks 65 and has plenty of spunk. When I asked her what her secret was she said, “Stay active!”

We’re just trying to keep up!

INTO THE TUNDRA

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

There are times in life when friendship becomes paramount.  Such was the case last week when one of my closest friend’s husband died after a three month struggle with pancreatic cancer.  The funeral services were planned for Minneapolis so a few of us did what good friends do – we made plans to go to Minnesota to support our friend.  It all sounded fine until someone asked me, “What is a California girl like you going to wear?”  Hmmmmm…good question.  I still have my ski socks and Ugg’s so I knew my toes would be toasty.  As for the rest of me, my good friend Patsy offered to loan me her sheared beaver coat for the trip.  Now that is a friend!  So off we went, bundled with coats, scarves and gloves, ready for the tundra.

My only other venture to the North Country was driving Interstate 90 from Chicago to Mt. Rushmore.  But that was in July, when our vistas were lush, green fields and wide open spaces.  In contrast, last week all I saw was white.  We stayed in Wayzata, a charming city on the north shore of Lake Minnetonka.  At least that’s what they told me. All I saw was white snow banks, tapering down to a very large expanse of more white.  They told me that was the lake.  In the middle of the “lake” I could see some huts and, unbelievably, a couple of pick up trucks!  How could that be a lake?  One of the locals explained that they were ice fishing huts and that people drove out to them.  In fact, at times when people have been over-served at the local pubs, they actually have drag racing out on the lake.  It gave me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it – what if the ice cracked?  My California was beginning to show.

But as I say, Wayzata is a cute little town and we were told that Maggie’s Restaurant was the place to go for breakfast.  So our first morning we put on endless pieces of clothing and ventured out to see what the excitement was about.  Maggie’s is a typical greasy spoon diner – linoleum floors, Formica table tops, and waitresses with attitude.  As the three of us nestled into a booth our waitress came over and asked if we’d like coffee.  My friend Terri, a former model who is always dressed to the 9’s, asked if she could have a cappuccino.  The waitress began to shake her head and said, “This is Maggie’s.  You can have coffee or you can have coffee.”  You just know she wanted to end that sentence with “princess”.  We moved on to food, something Maggie’s is famous for.  Knowing that we would not eat again until dinner, we ordered like we were embarking on a 10 day trek – eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes, French toast.  Our order came quickly, plates filling every square inch of the table.  The waitress came back to check on things and with a bemused smile, looked at Terri and asked, “Would you like some more cappuccino?”

That afternoon we went into Minneapolis for the services.  It had begun snowing in the morning and would continue until early evening.  A block from our destination two cars in front of us slid and crashed, adding to our anxiety.  Between needing to wear four layers of clothing (which is a hassle when one needs to use the rest room) and navigating the snow to go anywhere I wondered to myself why anyone would live in that climate.  Later that night, a large group of us ate at Gianni’s Steakhouse, a fabulous restaurant which I understand has a lovely patio out back.  All I saw was white.  Around midnight we decided to walk back to our hotel, a distance of four blocks.  After all, it was only -5 with the wind-chill.  But on that walk, with no traffic in the street and a crystal clear sky, I loved the quiet, peaceful feeling of crunching through the snow.  It seemed like the perfect way to end such a sorrowful day.

Back home in Arizona, I held a new appreciation for the warmth.  I guess I really am a California/Arizona girl at heart because I did learn this: if I ever have to live in that cold climate I’m going to learn to wear adult diapers.

A Special Visit With An Old Friend . . . Squaw Valley

by Bob Sparrow

Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley and I are old friends; I’m just 6 years older. We first met in 1952 when I visited the 3-year old resort and returned a few years later to learn how to ski. I remember that day like it was yesterday.  Brother, Jack and I went to Squaw Valley for our first attempt at skiing. The lift ticket for an all day pass was $6, which we thought was quite exorbitant – today it’s $179!  We had no ski gloves, but we didn’t think we’d need them as we both tolerated cold weather fairly well. What we didn’t realize is that our lift up the mountain initially would be a rope tow and after the first time we grabbed the moving rope with our bare hands and our hands started to blister, we realized we needed gloves. We could only afford one pair, so we each wore one glove on the hand with which we grabbed the rope. We were pretty good athletes, so we learned fairly quickly how to stay upright most of the time as we skied down the bunny slope. When we were ready to go on a chairlift for something a little more difficult, we didn’t realize that getting off the chair once we got to the top was the biggest challenge we would face thus far. I believe Jack got off the chair cleanly, but they had to stop the chairs and pull me out of the way after my face-plant exit.

While the day started with rope burns and face-plants, by day’s end we were exhausted from all the runs that we were able to get in – some without falling.

The Resort at Squaw Creek

I returned to Squaw Valley to attend the 1960 Winter Olympics there and ‘hit the slopes’ many times after that. When Jack was living in Tahoe after he sold his restaurant up there, he worked at the Inn at Squaw Creek when it first opened in 1990, and our last ski expedition together was to Squaw Valley in the mid-90s when we stayed at the Inn at Squaw Creek.

So attending a wedding at, the new name is The Resort at Squaw Creek, last weekend was like seeing an old friend. The wedding was for Blake Sullivan and Molly Ainsworth; we’ve known Blake’s parents, Rick and Kara for over 30 years; when they lived in the ‘hood; Rick coached our kids in soccer and baseball and learned how to rollerblade himself so he could help our kids become better roller hockey players.

We flew into Reno with other friends from the ‘hood and rented a 4-wheel drive with Mark & Kathy Johnson, for the one hour drive to Squaw Valley.   We actually drove past Squaw Valley into Tahoe City for a lunch at Jake’s on the Lake where we had a window table with a fabulous view of the lake.

Me, not having enough sense to come in out of a snow storm

We checked in to the beautiful Resort at Squaw Creek and that evening took a shuttle into the old Olympic Village to PlumpJacks restaurant for a gourmet food station dinner and open bar hosted by the Sullivans.

Sunday, the day of the wedding started out with a rain storm and ended with a snow storm, but didn’t detract from the wedding, which was originally scheduled outside, but weather conditions dictated a move inside.  The reception dinner was held at the Six Peaks Grille, where the full length glass walls afforded us an awesome view of the falling snow.

As of this writing we are hoping to get out of Squaw Valley to Reno airport on Monday, but if the storm doesn’t allow, we’ll just have to spend another day in this winter wonderland.

New Year, New Adventures

by Bob Sparrow

Cinque a Terre, Italy

I feel very fortunate that I have the wherewithal, time and health that allows me a good deal of travel. I was just reviewing my travels for the past year and realized that aside from annual trips to our timeshare in Palms Desert and to our Cinco de Mayo golf tournament in Las Vegas, last year, I was able to go crazy in Nashville, visit the crazies in Washington D.C., with a side trip to Gettysburg, feel crazy on wine trips to Paso Robles and Napa/Sonoma, play golf (or a vague facsimile there of) in beautiful Banff, Canada, although it wasn’t so beautiful due to the smoke that filled the sky from multiple forest fire throughout British Columbia and Alberta. We also took a trip in time as we traveled back to the ‘50s on our trip to Minnesota for Linda’s 50th high school class reunion, with the Mabel-Hesper Steam Engine Days parade thrown in as a bonus. On our trip to Laughlin, Nevada, my brother, Jack and I saw the creation, and the subsequent filing for bankruptcy of, ‘The Sparrow Brothers School of Fine Football Forecasting’. The year’s traveling ended with a visit to Seattle to attend our good friends, the Johnson’s son’s wedding. I should also include our trip to the famous restaurant, Dan Tana’s as any trip to L.A. is always an adventure.

And you got to come along on all those adventures, but I can already hear you asking, “What have you done for me lately – where are we going this year?” Well, I think you’ll like the itinerary we have planned for you as I start the year off with a trip to a familiar haunt, Lake Tahoe. We’ll be attending another friend’s son’s wedding at the Inn at Squaw Creek in Squaw Valley . . . in January . . . outside! Hope I can type with mittens on. While there, we’ll take some time to visit Mom & Dad’s final resting place overlooking ‘The Lake’.  In the spring I’ll be heading out to one of my favorite locations, Death Valley with some hiking buddies – hope we keep the death out of Death Valley. At the beginning of summer we have an Adriatic cruise planned that will afford us visits to Italy, Greece, Croatia and some other places missing some vowels that I can’t pronounce much less spell. In September we’re back in Italy, staying in Tuscany and taking day trips to the surrounding environs before heading to Cinque a Terre – those picturesque fishing villages hanging off Italy’s Mediterranean coast, which have been on my bucket list for some time – I hope I remember to come home.

I lay this itinerary out so that if anyone who’s been to any of the aforementioned destinations has some travel tips – I’m all ears.

I’m not sure where Suzanne’s travel will take her this year, but you can count on us to fill your every Monday morning with some travel highlights, some life observations, some tributes as well as some stuff you can just delete as spam.

Thank you for your readership and we hope your 2019 is adventurous . . . in a good way.

Restless in Seattle

by Bob Sparrow

Joe with Wedding Singer, Addison

I’ve been on enough airplane rides not to enjoy them, but on a flight out of Orange County last week heading up the coast, I was pleasantly surprised by what first appeared to be low-hanging clouds covering the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, but turned out to be 14,000 foot peaks poking through the clouds covered with a light dusting of the year’s first snowfall. It was a beautiful reminder that fall is here and winter is fast approaching.

My destination? Seattle, for the wedding of Chase Johnson, son of our long-time neighbors and good friends, Mark & Kathy – a great event. I had spent a good deal of time, years ago, working in Seattle creating a mortgage company within the offices of one of the largest real estate companies in the area, John L. Scott Real Estate. I remember traveling there nearly every week from October to April and never seeing the sun. But it’s a great city where one just learns to cope with precipitation.

View of Seattle from Salty’s Restaurant

We had a list of Seattle attractions that we wanted to see between the wedding and the rehearsal dinner at Salty’s, which itself is a Seattle attraction. Never, and I mean never, go to Seattle and not have dinner at Salty’s, which sits across Puget Sound from downtown Seattle and affords you a spectacular view of the city as the sun sets and the lights of the city come alive.

The morning we arrived, Seattle was showing off its beautiful, clear blue sky and a verdant countryside. We decided it would be a good time to go to the top of the iconic Space Needle, which sits downtown and was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and has been a major attraction ever since. Views from there of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, the lush neighboring hills and distant mountains, are spectacular! The ‘Needle’ also now has a revolving glass floor on top that, if you have the stomach, provides a feeling like you’re walking on air – a ‘Don’t Miss’ attraction!

Space Needle through Gilhuly’s Glass House

Directly below the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden & Glass Exhibit. If you’re not familiar with Dale Chihuly’s work, you may have seen it in Las Vegas at the Bellagio, Aria or the Wynn hotels – those spectacular glass chandeliers are his creations. His exhibit here features his work in a glass house and a glass garden – amazing! As long as you’re visiting the ‘Needle’, see Chihuly as well.

With the next day came a steady rain – OK, this was more like the Seattle I remember, complete with gridlock that makes L.A. traffic look like a drive down Main Street in Mayberry. It was a good day to do the ‘Underground’ tour. I didn’t know what to expect, other than it was going to be out of the rain and probably . . . underground. I’d been told that it provided some interesting insights into the history of Seattle. It did not disappoint. The docents were informative and hilarious as we wandered through the underground rubble and artifacts that was once downtown Seattle and now sits a story below today’s street level. Not for the claustrophobic, but a must for the history buff. Great experience! Not wanting to dally on our way home, we walked a few blocks to the Pike Place Fish Market and watched them throw some Halibut around as well as be amazed at the awesome array of beautiful flower bouquets all along this outdoor mall.

Flying fish at Pike’s Place Fish Market

Yes, we managed to squeeze all that into just a day and a half in the Emerald City – we were truly Restless in Seattle.