Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Carmel, CA to Home Sweet Home

2/17/2012 Carmel/Monterey, CA - I read a Doris Day biography once and was sad to find out that “the girl every man in America wanted to marry” had total bad luck with the four men she did marry. Clint Eastwood, in an interview, said he sees her in Safeway every now and then. So when we got to Carmel we staked out the produce section in Safeway, but had no luck. We went to her hotel, the Cypress Inn, but no luck there either. So Doris – if you're reading this – I apologize for my gender and commend you on your work for pet adoptions. (And Happy 88th Birthday!) We took the 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach. It's very pretty but very windy. Also very expensive – houses on the water were a minimum $12 million and a 750 sq ft bungalow that was inland with no view and a small yard was $750,000. Cannery Row is the setting of Steinbeck's novel of the same name. The fishery collapsed in the mid 1950's and when the famous marine biologist, Edward Rickets, was asked where the sardines went, he replied “They're all in cans.” Overfishing was originally thought to be the cause but now natural cycles is given the credit.

2/19/2012 Napa Valley, CA – We found out why they call it Napa Valley – after several winery tours and tastings you have to go back to the motel for a “napa”. Castello di Amoroso was envisioned as an 8500 square foot building but wound up a 121,000 square foot castle. The owner Darrio Sattui almost went bankrupt building it but finally emerged wealthy again. He started out by successfully reopening his grandfather's winery, V. Sattui, after prohibition closed it. In the picture Brenda is courageously sampling yet another wine at V. Sattui which has won more awards than any of the other wineries we visited. The tour at Sterling includes a gondola ride to their large elevated patio where you can look south and see most of the valley. The other picture is the Beringer Winery.

2/22/2012 Jelly Belly Factory, Muir Woods – On our way to San Francisco we stopped at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA. They have free samples of all their flavors – and no limit on how many times you can go through the line – we didn't eat lunch that day. I just wonder why - if they can make buttered popcorn, sausage and over a hundred other flavors of ultimately lethal sugar-loaded candy – they can't do the same thing with broccoli. After OD'ing on Jelly Bellies we stopped at Muir Woods, a national park set aside to protect a large redwood forest. It was named in honor of John Muir who worked for preservation of many areas of the nation. He is considered the “Father of our National Park System”. 

2/22/2012 San Francisco, CA – A warning – you can only travel clockwise in San Francisco. The roads were laid out many years ago without left turn lanes and the current level of traffic precludes blocking one lane for left turns. The view overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge towards the city is one of the most breathtaking sights I've ever seen. The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park was nice also. After a cable car ride to Fisherman's Wharf, during which we were attacked by zombies (teenagers having some kind of party), we saw these sourdough creations in a bakery. We drove down the second crookedest street in America – Lombard Street (the crookedest being Wall Street). The second time, I wanted to go down backwards but Brenda wouldn't let me. We were about halfway down when a kid on a skateboard zipped by us. We happened to be in China Town when a dragon ceremony was going on. There were so many fireworks that we had to evacuate due to the smoke.

 2/26/2012 Las Vegas, NV Our friend, Catherine, flew out to meet us and after about three pulls on a slot machine won $53 (and wisely quit while she was ahead). We saw Cirque du Soleil – Mystere, Comedian Magician Mac King and Jubilee - a traditional Las Vegas style revue (that Brenda and Catherine picked out - it wasn't my idea). The pictures are of Las Vegas Blvd, the Treasure Island outdoor show and inside the Venetian. There is a Dueling Pianos Bar in Harrah's where we stayed. They could play anything but every night “Red Solo Cup” was the crowd favorite. The Bellagio Fountains were pretty amazing - especially at night. We got a really good deal on the Buffet of Buffets. You get 24 hours of buffets at six different casinos. Normally it's $45 but if you book two or more nights at one of the casinos it's only $16. You can do a late dinner, a breakfast, lunch and an early dinner or spend the whole day grazing non stop as some reviewers on TripAdvisor said they did. The food and selection were really good.

3/2/2012 Grand Canyon, Tusayan, AZ – We had thought about visiting Hoover Dam while in Vegas but never got around to it. Then all of a sudden on our way out - there it was. The Best Western in Tusayan was the best place we stayed on the trip. It had interior terraces with southwestern sculptures and waterfalls – also a bowling alley and the best included breakfast buffet by far. I was surprised to see the walkways along the Grand Canyon had no guard rails (I'm sure this violates lots of OSHA Regulations). It is kind of scary, especially at one section called “the Abyss..yss..yss..yss...”. Many people have died in the canyon as documented in the book “Over the Edge”. A Darwin Award Winner backed over the edge after dropping off some friends at a trail head. An experienced woman hiker had fallen 300 feet to her death the week before we arrived. We had wanted to hike down Bright Angel Trail but there was snow and ice. People were hiking without spikes and they all came back with muddy backsides. It is a beautiful place and we plan to come back some time when we can hike and camp.

3/8/2012 Chesapeake, VA – After 8700+ miles (and 18 hotel rooms) it's good to be Home Sweet Home. (Lead me to the couch!)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

San Antonio to the Pacific Coast Highway

1/26/2012 San Antonio, Tx The Alamo is a lot smaller than you would expect. When Brenda saw it she said “They really were brave to make a stand there. You could almost jump over the walls.” The Riverwalk is a lovely place. It was originally a run down part of town and the city was going to fill in that offshoot of the San Antonio River. But citizens banded together and turned it in to a major attraction. Mariachi bands play all along the Riverwalk as well as at the Mexican Marketplace. The picture is with 2 members of Flor de Jalisco, a seven girl Mariachi band. The Mission Trail runs through San Antonio. The picture is of Mission Concepcion which dates back to 1731. Our GPS died when we were in downtown San Antonio. You don't realize how dependent you get, especially on a trip like this. We were staying about ten miles out and only had a vague idea of how to get to our motel. We finally found it but it was tense for a while. We got a better charging chord and that solved the problem.

1/30/2012 South Padre Island, TX Finally – a beach! As far south as you can go in Texas. Pictures are a view from our room and the heated pool with waterfall at Isla Grand Resort. Our room key stopped working three days in a row and they wound up changing out the lock. To compensate they gave us a $50 restaurant credit so we hit the Mexican and Seafood Buffets. We mainly hung out on the beach here but one day they had a kite festival with participants from all over the country. There were some amazing synchronized multi kite presentations (to the music “Stairway to Heaven”).

2/7/2012 Sun City, AZ It took a day and a half to reach Sun City during which time we learned that west Texas is basically a big pile of rocks and some windmills. Another Texas surprise to Brenda was crossing the Rio Grande River (“I thought Grande meant big. Drum Creek behind our house is wider.”) At least it did have water. Most of the “rivers” west of there only had weeds. We were happy to visit friends Barb and Doug who winter in Sun City. I like the lawns they have there - color coordinated rocks. Water is expensive and the dry climate would require lots of it for grass. Doug and Barb took us on a tour of Sun City, Phoenix and surrounding areas (and I mean all the surrounding areas). We were looking for the nationally renown Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix but our GPS gave us erroneous directions. We drove in large circles most of the day and accidentally stumbled upon it just a few minutes before it closed. Oh well - something to look forward to next time.

2/9/2012 San Diego, CA We finally put our toes in the Pacific Ocean – but only briefly since it was really cold. The idea for this cross country trip germinated from an invite to stay with Parrothead friends Jeff and Debb who had recently transferred from Virginia to San Diego with the Coast Guard. We went whale watching with them and saw several gray whales and dolphins in the ocean and sea lions in the harbor. On the way back I got to steer the 85' sailboat. We also toured a Russian Sub, the 1863 sailing ship “Star of India”, and the 1898 beautifully restored steam ferry “Berkeley”. A herd of harbor seals hangs out (relatively motionless) at a cove at La Jolla. They are a protected species so their population is rapidly increasing. Another benefit of going to San Diego was visiting a good friend of mine whom I hadn't seen since high school. Chick and his wife Debbie invited us to their home and took us to lunch at a roof top restaurant in La Jolla. They told us about Torrey Pines State Reserve so we went hiking there. The trails were very picturesque, leading down, down, down to a beach with high cliffs. 

2/14/2012 Los Angeles, CA The first night we went to see a studio filming of Tim Allen's “Last Man Standing”. They do it in about 3 hours after rehearsing the week before. They used 5 different sets across the studio. The best part was a comedian named Ron Pearson who did stand up and audience interaction between filming sequences. He was a riot. The next day we drove as far as you can to the Hollywood sign. There's a horse riding stable there and a trail that goes up, up ,up to the sign. It was drizzling when we started so we didn't overheat but we definitely got our exercise that day. We drove back through some exclusive neighborhoods perched in the Hollywood Hills. The streets were very narrow and winding. The houses were mostly not touching land except through supports into the mountain. The Hollywood walk of Fame is many blocks long. You have to pay a $25,000 maintenance fee to be on it so we decided not to pursue it. As you can see from the picture, Rodney Dangerfield still “don't get no respect”. All the other stars were in fine shape but his had a big gouge knocked out of it (maybe his $25,000 check bounced). In front of Grauman's Chinese Theater we found some of our favorite stars hand/footprints.

2/16/2012 San Simeon, CA The Hearst Castle is a captivating place. The house and grounds are amazing. The picture shows La Casa Grande, the Main Gathering Hall, the outdoor Neptune Pool (there is an indoor Roman Pool) and the bedroom of Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst's life-long mistress. But beyond the Castle, the life and times of Hearst and Davies are unique in history – a time more like a movie than real life. The roaring twenties, the advent of talkies, the birth of Hollywood and the Hearst empire of newspapers and magazines are a spell binding story chronicled in Hearst's biography The Chief. Hearst was a voracious art collector and the Castle was actually designed and sized to match the art items he wanted to decorate it with. He had warehouses in New York and California where his art acquisitions were stored. He was never particularly upset if a guest broke a Ming Dynasty vase. He would just have another one sent from a warehouse. The Castle was donated to California in 1957 and the 630,000+ yearly visitors actually return a profit for the state.

2/17/2012 Pacific Coast Highway, CA The pictures say it all. Nothing but gorgeous sights wherever you look. The first picture was taken in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We hiked down to this famous waterfall that lands on the beach. Before 1982 it fell into the sea but a massive mud slide filled the cove (and wiped out the PCH at that point for a year). We also hiked up the mountain stream that fed the water fall and saw other waterfalls and giant redwoods. I must offer credit to Brenda for driving the entire way (I think she was concerned about me siteseeing as I drove.) Some parts of it are pretty scary and several times the road was alternating one way due to maintenance on deteriorated sections.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Orleans, Breaux Bridge, Orange, Texas

1/18/2012 The Big Easy The weather turned sunny and warm as we rolled in to New Orleans. Our hotel was on Decatur Street right next to Jackson Square and Cafe du Monde.

There is music everywhere and Frenchman Street has displaced Bourbon Street as the place for good music. We did find a good Zydeco band at Turtle Bay on Bourbon Street one night and Brenda launched her career as a washboard player as revealed in the video below. We had breakfast at Cafe du Monde every day and the sugar high lasted well into the afternoon. We also toured the aquarium and took a trolley car ride.

We're putting most of our photos/videos on YouTube now because the quality is better so click on this link  to see our video blog of New Orleans.

1/20/2012 Breaux Bridge, Louisiana Breaux Bridge is the Crawfish Capital of the World where you can hear great Cajun/Zydeco music and meet some really friendly people (and of course eat crawfish – see video below). We went to Cafe des Amis for the Saturday Zydeco Breakfast – Crawfish etouffee omelets, Tabasco Boody Mary's and dance lessons (big shout out to Karen and Nicko). My high school friend, Ken, and his lovely wife Linda met us there.

Our last day in Breaux Bridge we went to Whiskey River Landing to hear Geno Delafose at the Sunday afternoon dance. Our GPS got us on a road with a river on our right and a 40 foot levee on our left. After driving a while she (GPS) said “Arriving at destination”. We looked around but there was nothing there. We made a U turn and noticed a narrow, steep shale road heading up the levee. We went up it and at the top could see Whiskey River Landing perched way down on the edge of the swamp – neat setting.

On our way to Orange we stopped at the Tabasco Plant at Avery Island. When we got out of the car you could actually smell Tabasco Sauce. They produce 770,000 bottles of Tabasco Sauce a day there. The gift shop had samples of some new products including Tabasco ice cream and Tabasco cola.

Click this link  to see our video blog of Breaux Bridge/Avery Island.

1/24/2012 Orange, Texas I grew up in Orange, Texas (Okay - some may dispute the idea that I actually grew up but that's a separate issue.) Thanks to Sandye and Van for setting up lunch where we could see who could come up with the most episodes of “Do you remember when......” It was fun to reminisce with Scott, Van, Ken, Katy, Cassandra, Judy and Sandye.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chesapeake to Nashville

1/11/12 Our first stop was Chattanooga. It rained all the way getting there but the next day it cleared enough to look out from Lookout Mountain. We were surprised at all the houses there. There were several large neighborhoods and a row of mansions along the rim. We visited Fairyland Country Club which we saw perched on the edge of a cliff as we drove up.    

I wanted to see how far I could hit my driver off the edge but alas they have no golf course. Note the sign indicating children are not wanted in the bar.

Rock City ROCKS!!. There are so many natural formations and narrow passages. 

The owners have added walkways and foot bridges. They decorated one of the long caves with scenes of children's stories. On our way down the mountain it started snowing. It must be exciting getting up and down that steep, windy road after a snowfall.

1/13/12 Lynchburg, Tennessee is in a dry county but happens to be the place where all the Jack Daniels  consumed in the world is distilled. Jack bought his first still at the age of thirteen from a minister whose flock didn't like him making devil's brew. Four stills pump out a continuous two inch stream of 140 proof alcohol. The distillate is blended with pure mountain water above their damn to bring it to 100 proof. They say the downstream water which has a duck pond and is inhabited by farm animals is diverted to Kentucky to make bourbon (ha, ha).

The whiskey is then put in 55 gallon barrels and stored in two large warehouses for 4 to 7 years. The federal tax that will be paid on these 20,000 barrels is around $13 million. They actually sell barrels of their top blend for $12,000 (Dave want to go halves?) and you get your name on a plaque in the “Hall of Fame”. There are 370 employees there and one third of them are quality control tasters. (I asked but they weren't taking applications.) On the third Friday of every month every employee gets a bottle of Old No. 7. Our guide told us that day always has 100 percent attendance. The sculpture is aptly named Jack on the Rocks.

1/13/12 We went to the Grand Ole Opry our first night in Nashville (we almost arrived an hour early because we didn't realize we had crossed a time zone). Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Riders in the Sky, Bill Anderson and other performers (including two new unknowns) were on the bill. 


The next day we toured Belle Meade Plantation, the birthplace of thoroughbred racing in America. Belle Meade was the scene of a Civil War battle with bullet holes still in the pillars. Virtually all of the top thoroughbreds in America can be traced back to Bonnie Scotland (the brown horse) who was purchased by  Williams Giles Harding in 1872.

Bonnie Scotland's descendants include Native Dancer, Never Say Die, Sunday Silence and Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. Gamma, the white horse, was the ultimate "Working Mom". She would birth a few future champions and then go out and win a few races. Horse racing was the national sport at this time with Nashville having seven race tracks. Belle Meade prospered until 1903 when a severe recession occurred. Also in this year the last two male descendants died leaving ownership to a young widow with four children. The property had to be auctioned off and horses whose siblings had sold for $30,000 the year before went for as little as $25.

The Opry Land Resort has nine acres of indoor tropical gardens. The flood two years ago put twelve feet of water in the lobby. There was no power for six months. You can see that it has recovered beautifully since then. (Click the arrow to play.)

Our last night in Nashville we went to the Station Inn to see the Doyle and Debbie Show. We laughed for two solid hours at their trailer trash country duo humor. A "tender" moment in the show was when Debbie sang "You Wrote My Name in Golden Letters in the Snow". They've really developed these characters and this hilarious show. If you're ever in Nashville go see them.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Key West Sunset

We return every year to the prettiest spot in Key West, the West Martello Tower. It's an old Civil War Fort that the Key West Garden Club has taken over. They've planted tropical plants and trees all through it and part of it overlooks the ocean. If you're in Key West, you should definitely visit it. It's on Atlantic Blvd between the Aids Memorial Pier and Higgs Beach – plenty of free parking. Here are some pictures ending with my favorite flower of all.

Speaking of Brenda – (this message is for Claudette and Jennifer) – when we get back, would you speak to your Mother. As you can see she's gone over to the wild side.

Maybe you can bring her back. Wait – on second thought I think I like it – uh, never mind - just forget I said anything. The upper right picture is at the award ceremony for our “Favorite Key West Bartender”. All the bartenders and especially the ones at Schooner Wharf are terrific, but somehow John has managed to beat out the competition for the second year in a row.

When we were at the Habitat for Humanity fundraiser in Big Pine Key, we met Bob and Theresa from Pennsylvania. When it was over, we suggested going to No Name Pub for Pizza. They countered with “come on over to our place for shrimp”. After they twisted our arms for a while we agreed. Theresa is a terrific cook. We met up with them a few more times before they headed back north. Some of their friends came down and we signed up for a bar stroll on Duval Street. Here are some of the places we went. In the upper picture, at Mangoes, left to right are Steve, Judy, Bob, Brenda, Woody, Theresa, and Janet. This was the double tequila shots stop – can you tell?

At the sunset celebration one night a performer asked for some backup singers to help with his version of “Daylight Come and Me Want to Go Home”. I was in the mood so I volunteered. At first, we couldn't get any other singers, but finally four lovely ladies who were also in the mood joined in. The lady to my left from Philadelphia was in the mood more than the rest of us and required some support.

We met Vic and Jeanette at the Conch Festival in Bayview Park. We got our picture taken with Miss Conch Republic. They had never been to the Turtle Kraals Tower Bar so we met them there for happy hour.

Marilyn was in front of the Tropic Cinema when we saw “The King's Speech”. The movie was good and I got an in depth review and explanation afterward from Brenda, the retired speech therapist.

Another one of our favorite spots is the Roof Top Cafe on Front Street. There's a nice view of that part of town and the food is good.

As we said in the last blog, we really lucked out when we moved in to slip #620 at Oceanside Marina. Here's a picture of our neighbor Bev with Brenda at the Pig Roast.

The last night we had a Pizza Party on the dock. We are really going to miss (until next year) our new friends from the marina. Top row, left to right – Max, Don, Gerry, Bev, Bob, Miho, Woody and Ed. Middle row – Tina, Barb, Brenda and Ryan. Front – Captain Bob with Vouve.

Well the sun has set on this year's “Go where it's warm” adventure so here are some sunset picture's from Fort Zachary Taylor Beach to close things out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Islamorada to Key West

Right next to our Islamorada marina is a restaurant with a giant Florida lobster out front. The rumor is a diver caught it and put it in an aquarium. He also happened to be a body builder. Well the word is he kept getting his steroids and the fish food mixed up until the thing got away.

The Theater of the Sea is the main attraction in Islamorada. They have a dolphin, sea lion and parrot show. The dolphin show is really good because you are very close to the dolphins during the show and you get to interact with them.

They do the usual dolphin tricks.

And they have a lagoon boat ride where they get the dolphins to jump right next to you. It seemed like they were going to land in the boat a few times.

The World Wide Sportsman store (really just an upscale Bass Pro Shop) has the original boat that Ernest Hemingway started fishing with in the keys. He liked it so much he had one built.

Inside you can see the desk and typewriter where he sometimes wrote. As you can see I'm finally writing the novel I've been telling you about. In keeping with our activities here I'm going to title it … To Have.... and Have Another.

The Doerfuls (family band with 9 boys and 1 girl from Buffalo) have moved to the keys (they were just coming down in the winters before). They are basically a bluegrass band but have widened their repertoire since last year. At the Habitat for Humanities fundraiser they did a heavy metal set. Howard Livingston (Livin' on Key West Time) was there also.

There is a bird rescue center near Key Largo. At 3PM every day they feed the pelicans by the water. Most fly in in a frenzy but this guy was rather laid back and just casually walked to the feeding.

The pelicans have a yellow neck until the first time they mate. Then the neck turns brown. How embarrassing that must be to show up that first day and and have everyone nodding and clucking about what you did last night.

We are actually in Key West now. The Oceanside Marina is nice. Many big boats.

And us.

The best thing about it is our neighbors on the dock. There are gatherings almost every night. A TV was set up on the pier to watch the Super Bowl and we've had several birthday parties and a pig roast. Many are full time residents and some are snow birds here for 6 months or so. Everybody is very friendly and helpful. This is Gerry and Bev, our next door neighbors. You couldn't ask for better neighbors. Gerry cut the stuck studs off my trailer wheel so I could remove it to replace the bearings.

Bob and Tina live a few boats down. Bob is a captain on the large Sebago boats which do the Sunset and other cruises. If you're ever down here sign up with Sebago. They're the best.

We did the Sunset Cruise with Bob and had an awesome time.

On the cruise we met Vicki and Cathy from Michigan and Crystal, Nathan and Mathew from Denver. We had a great time going out to dinner and partying with them that night after the cruise.

We have a new Top Ten in Key West entry. The upstairs Turtle Kraals Happy Hour has it all. Good drink prices, half price appetizers ($7 bucket of ribs, $5 deep dish nachos, etc..) and a view of the harbor like no other. You get to see all the sunset cruises go out and there's always interesting stuff happening like the blitzed girl in a bikini being taken out to her boat only to fall overboard and then taking a leak over the side as she finally got in and motored away. A guy she didn't know had offered her a ride in his dingy but he brought her back about 20 minutes later to a greeting party of police and EMTs. They took her out on a stretcher. Here's the view (minus the drunk girl).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Changes in Latitude

Latitude 36 degrees 50 minutes (Chesapeake, VA) December 26, 2010

Latitude 24 degrees 57 minutes (Islamorada, FL) January 2, 2011

What a difference 1100 miles can make. Fortunately the roads cleared off well enough for us to head south on December 29 and we pulled in to the marina on January 1, 2011. That's where the first problem popped up. The sign on the dock master door said “Closed Jan 1”. I guess they forgot about our reservation. No problem - I figured that I'd launch and tie up to an open slip and move where they wanted me the next day. Problem – they parked a large truck across the boat launch. No problem – the MacGregor works just as well as a camper – we'll just park in the trailer area and stay on the boat overnight. Problem – one of the people in one of the mega yachts said they patrol the area at night and we would probably be arrested. Dilemma – spend $100 to stay one night at a motel or risk incarceration? Most of you have probably guessed - we stayed on the boat. Fortunately the security here was somewhat overrated.

There are a lot of things to do when transitioning from trailering the boat to launching the boat. I remembered all of them but one. After we launched, I started the engine and backed off the trailer. When I turned the wheel so I could go forward I noticed that the boat was not turning no matter how hard I tried – well, I had forgotten to connect the rudder steering to the motor! Fortunately the boat I was backing toward didn't look too expensive and was motoring. After a lot of hand waving he realized that he should take evasive action. I backed all the way through the marina turning the motor by hand. When I had a lot of space I put it in forward and headed for our slip. It was difficult to steer this way but I only bounced off one piling and the end of our slip in a slow completely under control crash (I've got to make that checklist I've been talking about).

The marina is in a really nice city park with tennis courts, an olympic heated pool, a beach, dog park, botanical park, amphitheater and biking/hiking trails.Here's a birdseye view of the park and marina. If you put 87000 Overseas Highway, 33036 in Google Earth you can see the park and surrounding areas.

It didn't take Brenda long to relax.

Here's a shot of the moon rising over our stern.

The second day we were here brought an official welcome from the resident manatee.

He swam right over to our boat.

A family lowered a hose to him and he sucked it into his mouth drinking large quantities of fresh water.

However this should not be done (it's illegal) because it attracts them to marinas which is where they run the greatest risk of getting injured or killed by boat propellers.

We've gone to Anne's beach several times (MM 73.5). It's nice if you go at low tide when there's actually a beach. When you wake up from your nap and you are surrounded by water you know it's time to leave.