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.