The Road Trip: The ‘Mother Lode’ Country and Back Home Again.

by Bob Sparrow

Murphys Hotel

With Dennis at Murphys Hotel Bar

We left Lake Tahoe around 8:00 a.m. on a beautiful Thursday morning heading south; we took Highway 50 to Highway 49 heading into the ‘Gold Country’.  We drove through a good deal of burned forest, caused by the fire in 2021 that scorched more than 346 square miles of the Sierra Nevada Forest, destroying 1,000 structures, with over 50,000 residences being evacuated.  A real blight on an otherwise gorgeous drive.

We eventually hit Angel’s Camp and Sutter’s Mill, the place where gold was first discovered in California, leading to the gold rush of 1849.  We fortunately arrived one week after the famous, Calvaris County Frog Jumping Contest, made famous by Mark Twain, so the place was not overcrowded with tourists, like us!  I had called an old friend from Yorba Linda Country Club, Dennis Despie, who had relocated to the Mother Lode County, and we agreed to meet him at Murphys Historic Hotel ‘Queen of the Sierras since 1856’; in downtown Murphys for lunch.  It is a classic old hotel, with a great bar and bartender, Kurt, where we sat and had a delicious lunch and a cold beer and heard about the history of the place.  It was so good to see Denise again as he told us all about the area and how he and his family were doing.  After lunch, Jack and I took a walk around this quaint little town and we had to buy a T-shirt.

Don & Barbara Stutzman back in the day

Susan (Stutzman) Scarth (Remember her from our Novato visit!) had set up another meeting for us in this area with Barbara Stutzman, Don Stutzman’s, second wife and widow, she owns and operates a wedding venue site that we understand to be one of the premier wedding venues in America.  It’s called Union Hill Inn, you can check it out online.  We met and talked with Barbara for about 30 minutes in her cottage on the property and then she asked us if we wanted a tour, we said yes and got in a golf cart parked near by, and went about 50 feet and then the battery died.  That was the end of the tour, so, like you, we’ll have to check it out online, but it looked spectacular!  We headed into the quaint downtown of Sonora, where we walked down the main drag and found, of all things, a bar, The Iron Horse Saloon, where the bartender liked the story of our road trip so much that he bought us a drink, maybe two.  We spent our last night on the road at the Hotel Lumber Jack in Sonora.

A five-hour drive the next morning got us back to Santa Maria and, just like our journey’s beginning, we had dinner with Sharon and Deb & Steve Rau, but this time at their newly remodeled home – beautiful!  I spent the night at Jack & Sharon’s and drove home early the next morning.  Happy to be back home to Linda and my own bed, but filled with some extrodiary memories.

Days on the road: 10

Miles covered: 1,987

Number of counties visited: 32

Number of clouds seen during the 10-day trip: 3

Spending 10 days with my brother visiting friends and some of the most beautiful and iconic places in California: Priceless!

 

 

The Road Trip: Lake Almanor to Lake Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Don & Marjie on their deck on Lake Almanor

Our drive from Alturas to Lake Almanor was magnificent on this perfect-weather day, although I must admit that part of the excitement was knowing we were leaving Alturas.  We have never seen so many pine trees, both standing and being hauled by the many logging trucks we passed along the way.  We headed south on Highway 395, following the South Fork of the Pit River.  The road weaved through beautiful pines and incredibly large green meadows.  We could have stayed on 395, but, hey, this is a road trip and we saw that by detouring just a few miles out of the way we could go by Eagle Lake.  So we did, . . . not worth the detour.  We arrived and drove the main drag of Susanville, which didn’t excite us too much, so we got back on 395 South and were shortly in Lake Almanor.  We stopped to have lunch in the lakeside town of Chester and were given all the scoop on the area from Kathleen, the bartender at The Mt. Lassen Club.

Don & Marjie’s home from their dock

We were not prepared for what was to come next, we had arranged to meet friends and fellow Yorba Linda Country Club members, Don & Marjie Fryer.  They gave us directions to their home in a gate-guarded community on ‘the peninsula’ of Lake Almanor.  Before entering ‘the peninsula’ we drove past a most beautiful golf course, Bailey Creek, of which, Don & Marjie are members.  We drove almost to the end of the peninsula driving past beautiful home after beautiful home, until we reached the beautiful home of Don & Marjie.  The photos don’t do it justice!  They welcomed us with open arms and a mango margarita, and then we got on their boat and cruised the lake on this beautiful afternoon, looking at all the spectacular homes on this perfectly sunny, cloudless day. We came back to the Fryer home and sat on their deck and probably, I can’t remember now, had a drink or two.  We went to dinner at a local Italian restaurant with the Fryers and their friends Rex and Jan.  We sat outside, told stories, and laughed all the way through dinner.  Back at the Fryer Estate, we had an after-dinner cocktail as we watched the sunset behind Mt. Lasen.  What an awesome day!!!!

Sunset over Lake Almanor

Sadly, we leave the Fryer home the next morning and head to Quincy.  We wanted to visit Quincy on our way to Lake Tahoe because we used to vacation there when we were kids.  Jack, who has an amazing memory, told me to drive seven miles out of town, tuned down a dead-end road that had a store on the corner and low and behold, we found the old house that we used to vacation in, which was owned by the Schieck family.  After a drive down a long, dirt driveway, we tried to get the attention of anyone inside the cabin, but to no avail, so we headed back on the road to Tahoe.

When getting to Lake Tahoe we were going to visit the site of our parents ashes on Rocky Ridge, but the road was partly closed, so we decided to go to lunch, first at Sunnyside, closed until 4:00; then Jake’s on the Lake, closed, We looked to see if there was still water in Lake Tahoe!!  There was, lots of it!  So we went to an old haunt, Pete & Peters Bar, which turned out to be the best choice, as Jack, who lived and operated a restaurant at Tahoe for 14 years, ran into four people he knew and talked to a fifth person on the phone.  I just quietly drank my beer.

Jack at Pete & Peter’s Bar & Grill in Tahoe City with old cronies Yates and bartender, Dana

After lunch and a couple of beers, we headed down the west shore of Lake Tahoe, and drove by the cabin that was owned by our parents’ best friend, Dick Schieck, where we vacationed every summer for many years, we also checked out the cabin right next to it as that was owned my college roommate Ken Poulsen and me.  As we drove along the west side of Tahoe, we passed familiar spots like Rocky Beach and Meek’s & Emerald Bay, finally arriving at Harrah’s at the south end of the lake.  We got a nice room with a view of the lake and headed to the casino, which was rather dark and dingy.  After a quick donation at the craps table, I joined Jack at the only black jack table in the casino, but it wasn’t really black jack, the dealer was still in the game if he got to 22!!  After the slow torture from a hot dealer, and $150 later, we decided that luck was not with us today in the casino.  A quiet dinner and to bed early.

We woke up early the next morning (another perfect day) and looked forward to our trip to the ‘Mother Lode Country’, home of Mark Twain’s, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calvarias County, which was just the weekend before.

Next blog: Road Trip: The Gold Country and Back Home Again

 

The Road Trip: Mt. Shasta City & Alturas

by Bob Sparrow

Snow and ice-covered Castle Lake

We left Novato fairly early on a beautiful Sunday morning, leaving Pete a note of thanks for the great hospitality, and headed north.  We found Highway 37 North closed, so we were detoured through Sonoma, which happened to be where our parents last lived.  Heading east, we connected to Interstate 5, and eventually hit the bustling town of Willows, which we wanted to get off the freeway and drive through as it was where our father was born.  It hasn’t changed much in the 110 years since then, but I did get a photo of Willows ‘International’ Airport (below).

We continued up Interstate 5 and amazingly we could see our destination of Mt. Shasta from 100 miles away!  Awesome!!  The landscape changed as the large Oak and maple trees outside of Redding gave way to majestic Pines, Firs and Spruce trees as we neared our destination.

Bartender Sharynne at the oldest bar in Mt. Shasta City

We arrived in Mt. Shasta City and were told we could not check into our hotel until later in the afternoon, so we went into town and found the Vet’s Club, ‘Mt. Shasta’s Oldest Bar’.  I thought I could get cheap drinks as a veteran, but it wasn’t an official Veteran’s bar, it was just started by a veteran many years ago, but the beer was great!  We surprisingly, somehow befriended the bartender, Sharynne (that’s how they spell Sharon up here), who told us about the history of the bar (it used to be a house of ill-repute), and she wanted to sign up for the blog.  We ended up meeting all the guys at the bar and having a great time.  We were told about a lake that we should see while we’re here – Castle Lake; so, we drove out to the mostly covered with snow and ice lake to take in this beautiful winter wonderland scene.  We knew we had a long road ahead of us tomorrow, and it was a long day today, so we went back to our hotel, checked in, had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and crashed.

McArthur-Burney Falls

We awoke the next morning to a cloudless, cool morning and started a drive that has got to be one of the most beautiful drives we’ve both ever taken, as the road is cut out of the towering pines, which ultimately give way to beautiful vistas of mountains and expansive valleys.  The Big Valley is indeed one of the biggest and most beautiful valleys we’ve ever seen.  We stopped at McArther-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and checked in with Ranger Mike at the gate and got all the info on seeing the park and the water falls.  Amazing!!  I seem to be saying that a lot this week!  It occurred to both of us that this drive alone made the trip worthwhile – the beauty is indescribable, so I’ll quit trying to describe it!

We ultimately arrive at our destination – Alturas, which was a little bigger than we had imagined, but a little deader than we hoped.  We cruised down Main Street, which seemed to be empty on this Monday afternoon.  We checked in to our hotel and asked the hotel manager, who was born and raised in Riverside, where we could get lunch and a beer.  He really couldn’t come up with much, but finally offered up the Desert Rose Indian Casino.  We drove through town to get to the Desert Rose and saw that many of the shops were shuttered.  We arrived at the Desert Rose Casino to find that it was like a boxcar in a wheatfield.  Luxurious it was not!  We had lunch and beer at the bar and found out the bartender was born in Orange, which was about the most interesting thing about the place.  We thought that maybe people come to Alturas because they are running or hiding from someone or something.  And, disappointingly, there were no turkeys, turkey farms or turkey pot pies to be found!

Our guide book on Alturas, OK, maybe just a small paragraph on Google, told us we should visit the historic Hotel Niles, so we did, but the restaurant and bar were closed and we saw no one in the hotel – although it looked like it might have been pretty nice in its day.  We were told the population of Alturas has been declining over the years.  We now understand why.  Most people come here not to live, but to hunt or fish and then leave town.  We got up very early the next morning and got out of town.

Willows ‘International’ Airport

 

Mt. Shasta from our hotel room

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alturas Main Street commute traffic

One of the only signs of life in Alturas

 

Alturas’ Glitzy Desert Rose Casino

Next Road Trip post: Thursday, June 6 ‘Beautiful Lake Almanor and Beyond’

 

Road Trip – Novato, Our Home Town

by Bob Sparrow

The Road Trip – Novato, Our Home Town

Spinnaker in Sausalito

I left Orange County mid-morning last Thursday, hoping to miss the L.A. traffic . . . NOT!  So, the three-hour drive to meet up with Jack in Santa Maria took four hours.  I spent Thursday night at Jack & Sharon’s where they invited Sharon’s daughter and son-in-law, Deb & Steve Rau over for dinner; a very fun evening.  Jack and I embarked on our road trip the next morning around 8:00, getting us to San Francisco in time for their commute traffic.  So, my first road trip accomplishment was to be stuck in both L.A. and San Francisco traffic within 24 hours.  Check.

Jack & I both enjoyed visiting San Francisco while we were growing up in Novato, however, we’d heard not-such-good things about it over the last several years, so we were afraid to see for ourselves what ‘The City’ looked like.  We took major streets through town, Van Ness and Lombard and we were very pleasantly surprised – we saw not one homeless person on the spotless streets and The City sparkled on this beautiful, sunny Friday morning.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went into Sausalito where we had lunch at The Spinnaker, a restaurant right on the water.  The last time I was at The Spinnaker was for dinner before my high school senior prom, just a few years ago!  We had a window seat which offered us a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay and the many boats out sailing on this perfect spring day.  I don’t think I’ve ever taken a photo of a meal I was eating, but this one looked and tasted so good, that I just couldn’t help myself.

After lunch, we continued into Novato and to the home of Pete Ferrarese, a former high school classmate and football teammate of Jack.  He is living in the house his parents owned and that he grew up in.  He invited his brother, Paul, who was a classmate and teammate of mine in high school, over for dinner as well as semi-retired lawyer and classmate, football teammate, George Gnoss, who brought a very nice bottle of wine.  Needless to say, the before-dinner conversation in Pete’s beautifully flowered backyard, the dinner conversation over delicious barbequed steaks, and the post-dinner/wine conversation was filled with stories about, “Do you remember when . . .”  A most entertaining and fun evening!

Saturday morning, we met the family of a dear friend of both Jack and mine, Don Stutzman, who passed away several years ago.  We met, Gwenn, Don’s ex-wife and two of his three children, Susan and Mark.  This trip is just beginning, but having the two-and-a-half-hour breakfast with the Stutzman clan will unquestionably be one of the highlights.  The conversation never stopped about adventures that we had with Don.  Gwenn looked great at 84 and the kids were chips off the old block, very nice looking, delightful and totally entertaining.  After breakfast Mark invited us over to his house to see his ‘Man Cave’.  It is unbelievable!  A large room, separate from the house, with a full bar and filled with 49er memorabilia.  The stories continued as we had a cold beer and a toast to Don.

Jack, Paul, Bob, Pete, George

Pete’s garden with 70 foot redwood tree

The Stutzmans: Mark, Jack, Gwenn, Susan, me

Saturday afternoon we visited all the houses (4) that we lived in while growing up in Novato as well as cruised down the main drag of town, Grant Avenue, saying, “That’s where (fill in the blank) used to be”.  We also went by Novato High School and sadly watched part of a soccer game being played on the football field – where Novato no longer has a football team.  We then visited ‘our brick’ at Novato City Hall.   Pete, Jack & I hit a very good Mexican restaurant on Grant Avenue for dinner, then called it a night.

The ‘Brick’ at Novato City Hall

Next week, Suzanne will post her traditional ‘Memorial Day’ blog paying tribute to the Novato men who lost their lives in Viet Nam.  I will return the following week with the rest of the ‘Road Trip’.

Mark’s 49er Man Cave!

Jack & my first home – upstairs on Grant Ave.

The Brothers Sparrow Road Trip

by Bob Sparrow

The famous Alturas Railway station

This week, on Thursday, Brother Jack and I will embark on a road trip that was borne out of some nonsense that Jack uttered years ago.  He and I like to bet on football, both college and pro; when we’re in Vegas we make actual bets, but most of the time we just make imaginary bets – granted you don’t win much with those, but you don’t lose much either.  One Monday after a not-so-good imaginary weekend of football betting, I called Jack to discuss our poor results.  After my reporting all the bad news, he said, “Maybe we should just go to Alturas and open a turkey farm” He then asked me, “Do you know how to make Turkey Pot Pies?”  What?!!!  I didn’t know where that came from, I didn’t know where Alturas was and I sure as hell didn’t know how to make a Turkey Pot Pie.  Jack explained that Alturas was a small town in the northeast corner of California and that he had never been there, but it sounded like a nice little town.  And so, Alturas and the prospect of getting into the Turkey Pot Pie business remained the butt of many of our jokes in the ensuing years.

At the end of last year, we decided, since we’re both California natives, and neither of us had not only never been to Alturas, but we didn’t even know anybody who had ever been to that booming metropolis; so it screamed, “Road Trip!”  So, earlier this year, we planned a road trip that would include some of the places in the state that are near and dear to us while also checking off Alturas, a town that surely is on most people’s bucket list to visit.

So, here’s what we’ve learned, and I’m sure you’re dying to know, about Alturas:

Fisherman’s Wharf . . . or Sausalito?

Alturas is Spanish for “Heights”, as it is at an altitude of 4,370 feet above sea level With a population of about 2,700 people, albeit one of the largest cities in the region!  It is located at the confluence of the south and north forks of the Pit River.  I’m sure that helped you pinpoint it’s exact location!  We searched for the possibilities of Alturas having a fairly large turkey populations, but to no avail.  We’re not even sure the concept of a Turkey Pot Pie has ever been introduced to the fine people of Alturas!  We shall see!

The trip will start with me driving to meet Jack at his home in Santa Maria.  The next morning we’ll head north and decide while driving through San Francisco, if we want to stop.  It was such a wonerful city when we were growing up in Novato, and we have many fond memories of ‘The City’; but given what we’ve heard, we’re just not sure what we’ll find.  If we don’t stop at someplace like Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, then we’d probably head over to Sausalito and grab a bite.  We’ll then continue up to Novato, the town where we were both born and raised.  We’ll do some drive-bys of the houses we used to live in and Novato High School, as well as cruise down the main drag, Grant Avenue, which, I’m sure, we’ll bring back lots of memories.  We’ll then head over to a classmate and football teammate of Jack’s, Pete Ferrarese, where he has offered us lodging for the night.  It’s the only night were we have secured accommodations, as we’re not sure how long we’ll stay in any one place.  We may even end up sleeping in the car!

Lake Almanor

We’ll then head up through the ‘Wine Country’, perhaps stop for a taste, then drive up to Willows, the small town that our father was born in.  We’ll keep heading north to Mt. Shasta, and then head east to Alturas.  Once we’ve looked for any turkey farms and quizzed the local barkeep about all there is to know about Alturas, (perhaps two drinks worth) we’ll hopefully find some adequate lodging.  We will then head south to Lake Almanor.  A lake that neither of us have ever been to.  We may connect with some friends of mine from Yorba Linda County Club, who summer in Lake Almanor, if so, we’ll stop and say ‘Hi’ and learn all about the lake.  We’ll continue heading south to the town of Quincy, where we spent a few summer vacations as kids.  We’ll then head to some familiar haunts of Lake Tahoe, where Jack lived for 14 years and owned a restaurant, and where I owned a cabin and where our family went every summer from 1952 to sometime in the ‘70s and beyond.  We’ll spend time at both the north and the south end of the lake possibly doing a bit of gaming at one of the casinos at the south end.  After a day or two at the lake we’ll connect to Highway 49 and visit California’s ‘Gold Country’.  We’ll visit one of the most famous towns there, Angel’s Camp, where, in 1865, Mark Twain wrote, ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’.  From there we will head home.

That’s the plan, but there will be much left to how we’re feeling at the time, so nothing is carved in stone.  But I can guarantee you this . . . we will get to Alturas!

 

 

Hollywood in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

Charlie Farrell and Dinah Shore

I spent last week in the desert . . . whining & dining, the whining mostly took place on the golf course.  Even though it was our 32nd year visiting our timeshare at Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert, I’ve found, unlike me, it never gets old.  But you won’t be hearing about my golf game (Thank God!) or the next great place to eat in the desert.  I have something even more mundane than that to discuss this week.

On our way out to the desert on Highway 10, as went by the road sign that read Bob Hope Drive, and it got me thinking about all the streets in this area that are named after celebrities, like Frank Sinatra, Burns & Allen, Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck, Danny Kaye, Ginger Rogers, Dean Martin, Jack Benny, Liberace and many more.

And I wondered, who started all this?  Well, a little research revealed that it was Charlie Farrell, the tennis playing movie star turned hotelier turned mayor and owner of the glamorous Racket Club in Palm Springs.  He saw value in recognizing celebrities, so he and fellow actor, Ralph Bellamy, realized that many actors took advantage of Hollywood’s ‘two-hour clause’ in their contracts, which stated, in the event a ‘re-shoot’ was needed, actors had to stay within two hours of Hollywood – Palm Springs is just under two-hours away.  For those old enough to remember the old television series, My Little Margie, Charlie played Margie’s father.  And yes, of course, there is a Ferrell Drive in Palm Springs.

Other notable ‘street stories’ . . .

Which door does Monty Hall live behind?

Monty Hall Street in 2000 former Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall had a street in Palm Springs named after him. Tourists were encouraged to guess which house he lived in. They were asked, “Does Monty live behind door No. 1, door No. 2, or door No. 3?

Fred Waring Drive – Another interesting resident of the desert was Fred Waring, an American musician, bandleader and radio and television personality.  Many of you, who have blended a Margarita, may have used a Waring Blender, and while he didn’t invent it, his name is on it because he was the money and marketing behind the product.

Gene Autry Trail – The “Singing Cowboy”, was a movie and TV star of the ‘40s and ‘50s and a Palm Springs entrepreneur.  He bought his first Palm Springs home in 1940, and a Palm Springs Holiday Inn in 1961, which he turned into the Gene Autry Hotel; his mid-century residence on the hotel grounds is an elegant guest suite.

Kirk Douglas Way – movie star Kirk Douglas, who passed away just four years ago at the ripe old age of 103, was a resident of Palm Springs for more than 40 years.  His house backed up to Dinah Shore’s house in the celebrity-packed Las Palmas neighborhood.

The ‘Singing Cowboy’

Dinah Shore Drive – the vivacious ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s singer, TV personality and avid golfer, put the LPGA on the map in 1972 when she founded the Colgate-Dinah Shore golf tournament at Mission Hills County Club (Now know as the Chevron Championship and it has moved to Houston).  Her Palm Springs house is now owned by Leonardo DiCaprio.  So look for a DiCaprio Drive soon!

As I thought about all these stars of the past, I thought that my kids would be somewhat familiar with most of the above names, but their kids will have no idea why these streets are named after these random people.  For me, it was an interesting trip down another street, Memory Lane; I hope it was for you too.

 

 

 

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