I love lists! When it’s the end of the year and the magazines, newspapers, and websites are all featuring best-of lists, I am in hog heaven. This brings me to this page, where I will post my lists. I will also add them as posts on the Home page, but you will always be able to find them right here.
Places we have been together
This list is a personal one…countries that Kathleen and I have visited. To get on this list, we have to have visited this country on the ground (that means changing planes doesn’t count) and together.
- USA (of course, we were born here)
- Canada (Our home away from home. We have so many friends there.)
- Italy (Our first overseas trip to find my heritage)
- Vatican City (kind of a cheat, but it counts)
- England (Part of our second major trip in 2005)
- Scotland (Part of our second major trip in 2005–finding Kathleen’s heritage)
- France (Part of our second major trip in 2005)
- Aruba (Our first real cruise through the Panama Canal on Celebrity’s Infinity)
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic (One of our few Caribbean cruises on Celebrity’s Infinity)
- Greece (Part of an amazing “Exotic Mediterranean” cruise on Celebrity’s Galaxy)
- Spain (Part of a wonderful Western Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity’s Century)
- British Virgin Islands (One of our few Caribbean cruises on Celebrity’s Solstice)
- St. Maarten
- Singapore (Maybe my favorite cruise ever on Azamara’s Quest)
- China (Hong Kong)
- New Zealand (Part of a wonderful cruise on Celebrity’s Century)
- Belgium (Visited on our Baltic cruise on Celebrity’s Eclipse)
- Guatemala (Our second trip through the Panama Canal on Celebrity’s Infinity)
- The Netherlands (Almost a week here before our British Isles cruise on Celebrity’s Silhouette)
- St. Kitts & Nevis
- The Galápagos Islands (I know it’s not really a country but they stamp your passport there—really).
- Montenegro (Kotor is awesome)
- Croatia (loved both Dubrovnik and Split)
And, of course, we have been back to a bunch of these places numerous times. And there are many we would like to visit again (like New Zealand, Italy and Spain).
As the year ends, I have decided to make my Top lists again. Today—the top five things I ate in 2022. Later this week, the top things to remember (good or bad) and finally, the top ten photos I took this year. Let’s get started.
Number 5—The french fries at The Grand Dutch Cafe onboard Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam
One January day on our “Sail with Seth” cruise, we returned after lunchtime from a very nice shore excursion tour of Grand Turk island. We really didn’t want to go up to the buffet because it was less than four hours until dinner, and let’s be honest, buffets are just too tempting. I know, I always say I will “just get a salad,” but then, “Oh, that pizza looks good—I’ll just have one piece,” or “I’ll need a roll with this salad.” You get the idea.
As we were getting back on the ship, we walked by the Grand Dutch Cafe, which is located directly across from the Guest Services desk on deck three. They do sandwiches, croquettes, soups and desserts. We decided that would work best because we could each get one thing, and that was it. Besides, they had a superb selection of Dutch and Belgian beers. So I ordered the veal croquette and Kathleen a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and we sat down at a table (You order at the counter, but they bring the food to you at your table.)
A few minutes later, the server brought out my croquet and apologized to Kathleen that her sandwich wasn’t ready yet, but he wanted me to have my croquet while it was still hot. And to make up for it taking so long, he thought we should try their French fries, so he brought us a dinner plate full of nothing but fries. Well, we really didn’t want to eat that much, but we had to try them, so we each bit into one…gave each other looks of incredulity, and then ate another…and another…and another. In the meantime, Kathleen’s sandwich came, and we finished her sandwich and my croquette…and all the fries.
A few minutes later, our server came back over and asked if we would like something for dessert, and we looked at each other, smiled, and I told him, “YES! Could we have another order of those fries?” They were that good. I need to add that we had a week left on the cruise, and we had those fries (as a side dish and as a dessert) at least three more times.
Number 4—Lunch in Athens, Greece, with our guide George.
On our full day of touring Athens before we departed on our Viking cruise, we did a six-hour tour with the amazing George from Tours By Locals. George took us to a bunch of places, including the Acropolis, the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldiers and the original Olympic stadium. But the best place George took us was…lunch. Early in the day, he asked if we wanted to have lunch or tour all day. We all voted to finish up our tour with lunch; if he would recommend someplace wonderful to eat.
George (that’s him at left) said he knew just the place. He took us to a wonderful, family-run restaurant in a working-class section of Athens and said this is the place. We sat down at some tables pretty much across the street from the restaurant, and the owner came out and told us what was available for lunch. George recommended letting the owner bring us what he thought would be good. So that’s what we did, and that’s what he did—brought us some amazing Greek food. And he brought a TON of it. He kept bringing course after course after course. All of it amazing, all of it delicious. I wish I had photos of everything that he brought, but either we ate it too fast (at the start), or it was in another course that we forgot about. If you are ever in Athens and you want the ultimate Greek food experience, tour with George.
Number 3—Beer and pretzels at Valley House Brewing in Duvall, Washington.
This one happened by accident. My brother Steve and sister-in-law Jamie were here in June so Steve could help us do some stuff around our new home. One afternoon we decided to drive east to the little town of Duvall for lunch instead of into downtown Redmond. Duvall is a cute little town that is actually closer to our place (in the amount of time it takes to get there) than downtown Redmond is. We had looked online and found a winery that we thought would be great for lunch, but when we got to Duvall, we could not find the place, nor did we see anything else that looked interesting. One of the four of us found Valley House Brewing on their phones (not me, I was driving), so we went there.
Like the french fries I wrote about in Number 5 above, we found the world’s best pretzel. The beer itself was really great, but the pretzel was worth going back for. It came to the table HOT (burn your fingers hot 😜) and had just the right amount of salt. It tore apart perfectly and almost melts in your mouth. To top it off, it comes with two different sauces to dip it in; an outstanding honey mustard (my favorite) and a superb beer cheese. This is the kind of pretzel that you want to go back for again and again, and we have. But it’s been a while. Now I really want one. Guess I will just have to wait a couple of days/weeks/months.
Number 2—Pizza in Europe.
I was going to try and pick a specific place we got pizza, but two really stood out. First, I took a tour (Kathleen was too tired from COVID to go along) in Naples that was all about pizza and the pizza there was amazing. Of course, it should be; that’s the birthplace of pizza when we stopped at Solopizza, which has been in business making pizzas in Napoli since 1977. To be honest, I would have preferred we stopped someplace that had been there since 1797 but no such luck 😜. I did get to go into the kitchen and watch them make pizza which was eye-opening, and it changed the way I now make pizza. I also learned that in Naples, the rule is “one pizza, one person.” Everyone at the table for eight I was sitting with thought this was crazy, but when we finished the meal, we counted the pizza pans they had brought ours out on, and there were seven empties, so we got close.
After Naples, I thought that would be it for great pizza mostly because that’s where pizza was born but also because the pizza on our cruise ship was just OK. Nothing wrong with it but nothing great either. Was I ever wrong? About a week later, we docked in Monaco and were off on our longest tour of the cruise. We started in Eze and then went to Nice and finally wound up back in Monaco, where it was now almost 2:00 pm, and we still needed to eat since we left on tour at 8:30 am. Kathleen and I were famished, so when the guide stopped in front of the Monaco cathedral and just kept rambling on, we headed up the street to find food. There we found the simplest pizza you can buy and easily the best of the trip. We topped that off with our favorite beverage of the trip, an Aperol spritz, and we were in heaven. I can’t begin to describe how great this pizza was. It truly has changed the way I make pizza.
Before we get to my number one food of 2022, I want to honorably mention these dishes that didn’t quite make it into the top five: the incredible anchovies in Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy, the soft-shell crab, Norwegian waffles and seafood buffets on Viking Sky, the lemon-basil gelato in Vernazza, also in Cinque Terre, the lobster rolls at Tamarind restaurant on Nieuw Statendam, the pintxos open-faced sandwiches we had for lunch in Barcelona with our guide Olga and lastly, the ratatouille at Rudy’s Sel de Mer restaurant, also on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam.
My sister-in-law Jamie read this, and since they travel with us most of the time, she nominated some additional honorable mentions: Soppressata sandwich from Molinari’s deli in San Francisco (this was from our SF food tour—which was on a day I had completely blocked from my mind because later in the day, Kathleen tripped and fell on a bad sidewalk and we spent six hours in the emergency room), cannoli from the same SF food tour, the Peruvian chicken we had in the Club Orange Dining Room on Nieuw Statendam and the spicy arancini from Victoria, BC food tour. My brother was nice enough to include my Grilled Antipasto Vegetable platter (one of my summer specialties, pictured above).
Number 1 has to be the Dark Chocolate Amarone Cremoso onboard Viking Sky.
Let me first state here that I have never been that much of a dessert guy. I prefer carbs to dessert any day of the week. And when it comes to dessert, I (unlike my daughter) prefer fruit in my desserts. I love pies and crisps and cobblers. And I have never been that big a chocolate person—until now.
On our second night onboard Viking Sky, we visited their Italian specialty restaurant Manfredi’s. The food was fine. I was not too fond of the calamari appetizer, I thought the steak was poorly cooked and much too thin to be a true Florentine bistecca, but I did like the risotto with escargot. But then we got to dessert. My normal choice would have been the lemon cake they had on the menu, as I love almost any lemon dessert, but the name of the chocolate dessert caught my eye.
One of our favorite types of wine is a deep, rich red from the Veneto region of Italy—Amarone. When I saw that word in the name of this dessert, I thought it must be an ingredient, and I had to try it. This turned out to be both a great and a bad thing for me to do. Great, because it was the best thing I have eaten this year, and bad because I fell in love with this chocolate dessert and soon discovered that pretty much anything the pastry chef on Viking Sky did with chocolate was amazing, so I had to try it all. A few nights later, I found it on the buffet, and that’s where the photo came from. Suffice it to say, I had to have it again.
How much did I love it? So much so that when we got home, I did Google search after Google search until I found the recipe on another cruiser’s blog. She had begged the pastry chef on another Viking ship for the recipe (as I should have done) and was nice enough to share it. Since we returned, I have made it three times and still have two pieces in our refrigerator. It is incredibly thick and rich. Almost like a fudge (but definitely not!), it is very expensive to make. To do it right, you have to invest in some fairly pricey 70% cacao chocolate and a few other wonderful ingredients. But if anyone reading this wants to try it, I will happily send you the recipe. It’s going to become my go-to chocolate dessert for the rest of my days.
That’s it! My culinary adventures in 2022. Watch out later this week for more Top of 2022 lists. I hope to have the other two done by New Year’s.
Best small cities in the USA (from Conde Nast magazine)
This isn’t my list, but one I grabbed from Conde Nast (a pretty great travel magazine). I liked the list so much I decided to publish it and make comments below it because amazingly, we have been to all but four of them.
15. Santa Barbara, California
14. Newport, Rhode Island
13. Palm Springs, California
12. Napa, California
11. Portland, Maine
10. Key West, Florida
9. Greenville, South Carolina
8. Asheville, North Carolina
7. Monterey, California
6. Sedona, Arizona
5. Sarasota, Florida
4. Alexandria, Virginia
3. Savannah, Georgia
2. Sante Fe, New Mexico
1. Charleston, South Carolina
I see a lot of these lists. I don’t think I have ever seen one I agree with as much as this one. We have been to a number of these small cities and loved them all. I will make some notes about those. In the meantime, I need to add the ones we haven’t been to yet, to our list of future places to go. So far, we have not visited Alexandria, VA (other than a quick stop on the outskirts while visiting Washington, DC), Asheville, NC, Greenville, SC and Newport, RI. I have been to Sarasota (and loved it), but Kathleen hasn’t, so I never count a place as visited unless we both go.
Some thoughts on the other small cities:
Number 15–Santa Barbara, CA and Number 7–Monterey, CA. We haven’t been to either of these places in years. They were both part of our Mom-to-Mom tour we took years ago. We flew into Oakland and visited Kathleen’s mom in San Leandro (near Oakland) and then drove all the way down the coast (staying in both these towns) to visit my Mom in Number 13–Palm Springs, CA. We loved them all but haven’t returned to Monterey in years. Maybe it’s time.
Number 13–Palm Springs, CA. If you know me, you know this is where I grew up. Lived here from the time I was four years old until I graduated from high school (Palm Springs High Class of 1971) and went off to college, and then moved back for a couple of years after college to teach school in nearby Coachella. My parents lived there until they passed away a few years ago, so we have spent a LOT of time there over the last 20 years since I met Kathleen, visiting them. I suppose I see Palm Springs from an entirely different point of view than I would as just a place to visit. We were last there in March of last year when our Toronto buddies, Tim and Perry, were visiting for some sunshine, so we went to meet them.
It has also been a while since we visited Napa, CA (Number 12) and Key West, Florida (Number 10) but when we did, we had a super time. If I had to choose which one to go back to first, I would pick Key West. Our visit was only three days/two nights, but we really had a great time. But then we were visiting with our buddies Bob and Jude, so that may have been it.
Lastly, in the last two years, we have done some major touring in all of the top three. We did a week-long trip to New Mexico which included Sante Fe (Number 2) and also got to see Albuquerque as well…during the Balloon Festival…which was incredible and if you ever get a chance to attend—do it! Plus we have friends in New Mexico (Hi Mary and John) who took us to so many places and made so many great recommendations. If you ever go to Sante Fe, make sure you go to Meow Wolf. I wish I could describe it, but the morning we spent there was nothing less than surreal…and fun. Check out their website with that link.
Lastly, just a few short months ago (it seems like a few, but it was May 2017), we spent a week touring the Low Country and visiting Savannah, GA (Number 3) and Charlestown (Number 1) and would go back in a minute. Loved both places a bunch. Click the Low Country link and see what we did while there. We can highly recommend just about every single place we went to while we were there and we loved the food.
I just realized that I skipped Portland, ME (Number 11). I think that because we were really only there for about half a day on our New England cruise last October, and it was hot, humid and horrid. Kathleen almost wound up with heatstroke. Who would have guessed that it would be almost 90 degrees in Portland, Maine, in October? We need to give the place another chance. Just not sure when.
So, what small cities have you been to that you loved? What would you go back to? What would you have skipped? Where is the next small city you want to visit? Let me know in the comments.
Our favorite shore excursions
- Touring Amalfi with Marcello in 2006
- Touring Bangkok with Tong in 2010
- Touring Inverness with Ian in 2016
- Touring Nice, Monaco and Eze with Sylvie in 2007
- Touring the Panama Canal control room with Roberto in 2014
- Touring Akaroa, NZ, on our own in 2012, including a visit to a working sheep ranch
- Harv & Marv whale watching in Juneau, Alaska, in 2007
- Jet boating in Acapulco in 2004 on a Celebrity shore excursion
Travel Apps I love (that I discussed with Seth Wayne on Adventures Await, September 22, 2019)
- Packing Pro/Click here to get it
- Why I love it and have been using it for ten years+
- You can keep lists you have made for one trip and reuse them
- Synchs to different devices (phone and tablet)
- Suggests items in categories
- Splits by trip and individuals
- My favorite thing…lists more than the things you will take but also the things you need to do before you go.
- Buy tickets, stop the mail, take out garbage, turn off the water to washing machines, e-mail neighbors, etc.
- Why I love it and have been using it for ten years+
- Tripcase/Click here to see Tripcase
- The best app for being on the road—ever!
- Keeps track of every move you will make
- Flights—once you enter the info, it tracks the flight
- Restaurant reservations
- Anything else you want to keep track of
- Everything is in one place
- You don’t have to look up things in e-mails or anywhere else—it’s all in one place.
- It moves along as the days go by. When you open it up, it’s on the day and time that’s current.
- You can enter the info on your phone, your tablet or any computer that’s online, but you don’t need to be online to use it.
- I wouldn’t travel without this app.
- It’s FREE!
- CityMaps2Go/Click here to get it
- More than maps…maps you download before you go and can use without cell service or WiFi.
- Maps for just about every country, region and city in the world.
- Currency (that’s the name of the app)—if you go outside the USA, this is a must. Constant updates of the best exchange rate. Put prices of items you might be buying into the app and find out your investment.
- Flight tracker—great to see where your flight is if they are running late.
- Can send you alerts if things change about your flight, like delays.
- Transport Apps
- Uber, Lyft and, in Europe, MyTaxi for countries where ride-sharing is not allowed, like Ireland.
- Government Apps
- My TSA/Has wait times for all USA airports.
- Mobile Passport (gets you back into the USA faster).
- CBP Roam (currently testing—would eliminate your Customs stop at airports and cruise ports by allowing FaceTime/Skype interviews with off-site Customs agents.
- Translation Apps
- Google Translate (needs cell or WiFi) or any equivalent application.
- Specialty Destination Apps
- Cruise line apps:
- Most cruise lines have FREE apps
- They often act as your boarding pass
- Some act as room keys
- They have the Daily Planner for the ship.
- Allow non-internet texting between passengers. A great way to communicate while onboard.
- They have full deck plans.
- You can use them to reserve shows/shore excursions/activities.
- Airline apps:
- Almost all airlines have electronic boarding passes. Great for checking in when you are on the road and have no printer access.
- Many airline apps will text you about flight delays.
- Ticket Apps:
- Find tickets for excursions/Broadway/East End
- Many have electronic tickets
- Touring apps: If you are going to tour, see if there is an app for your tour.
- Rick Steves Walking Tours are WONDERFUL.
- Big Bus Tours in many cities have their own apps.
- Airport Apps:
- Heathrow, SeaTac and many others give you lots of info about the airport.
- They can help you find your gate.
- They can help you find food and shop.
- Heathrow, SeaTac and many others give you lots of info about the airport.
- Rental Car Apps
- Most of the major companies have them.
- The biggest advantage is a quick check-in.
- Use to book cars when things are busy. It helps avoid standing in line.
- Hotel Apps
- Some use apps for keys.
- Some apps give you discounts.
- Can get you hotel restaurant reservations.
- Cruise line apps:
Cities I love–part 1
Cities I love in North America
For my purposes today, I am going just to list our favorites in North America (I’ll be back soon with the rest of the world). We have been to many of America’s great cities, big and small. We have liked all of them, but the ones on this list are ones we have either been to more than once or would like to go back to someday. I am going to list them, not in the order of how much we like the city but in distance from home, which means we start with…
Yes, I know we live here, but it is a city we love. A little less than I did a few years back, but I still love the place. We live about 22 miles east, and before Kathleen retired, she worked right downtown (for most of her career) about two blocks from the Space Needle. At that time, one of us was in the city almost daily. We did theater, and concerts; spent the night at hotels after those concerts and above all, went in for some amazing food. Seattle has so many incredible restaurants, and we love trying them. I should point out (as I posted here not long ago) that the city is no longer as safe as it once was, and we think twice about when and where we go in the city. That’s sad, but I still love Seattle. I even have a completely separate website (My Seattle) that I created for friends coming here.
Vancouver, British Columbia
After Seattle, the city we have spent the most time in since we started traveling together in Vancouver, BC. We made our first trip back in 1998 when Kathleen took me there for a wonderful birthday weekend. Since that time, we have been back more than 50 times. We have gone less since 2005, when we met our best friends Bob and Judy, who live in Chilliwack, BC, about 120 km east of the city. Before we met them, we probably went to Vancouver three or four times a year, but since then, maybe only once a year. But every time we go, we love it. I LOVE taking photos there. Many of my favorite photos in the last few years were taken in YVR (the airport designation for Vancouver and a common nickname). We will go back many times in the future, and I encourage you—if you have never been there—go! Stanley Park, Vancouver Theater Sports, Granville Island, Gastown, Robson Street are all things we love and that you should not miss. Oops! I almost missed our favorite Italian restaurant—CinCin. We went there for our 20th anniversary last August and have eaten there at least ten times. A great restaurant.
San Diego, California
Growing up in Southern California, I spent a lot of time in the LA area (heck, I was born there—in Lynwood–near Compton) and Kathleen is from the Bay Area, right across from San Francisco, but for some reason, it turned out that our favorite California city is San Diego. I think the first time we went there together was for a business meeting I had to attend. We loved it. It’s a big city that’s really a bunch of small towns. From the Gaslamp District to Old Town, from Coronado Island to downtown, we love the whole place. Even after losing our friends who live there…we still love it and look forward to going back. Great restaurants, nice hotels (even though we got kicked out of our room the last time because the Secretary of Homeland Security wanted three whole floors), and we have had pretty good luck with AirBnBs as well. Of course, there is the world-famous zoo and wonderful Balboa Park that surrounds it. One of my favorite things about San Diego is its waterfront. We have sailed into and out of San Diego harbor a number of times, and it’s a great place to start or end a cruise. Besides, as everyone knows, the weather is always perfect.
Santa Fe (and Albuquerque), New Mexico
Once we leave the west coast, our next stop is New Mexico. Yes, we know we skipped Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas but even though we seem to visit them regularly, if you told me I could never go back, I would neither cry or die. If you ask me where I want to go between coasts in the USA, the first place that comes to mind is Santa Fe. We have only been to New Mexico twice, but both trips were favorites. The last trip was the best! Besides Santa Fe, we also got to see the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (worth the entire trip) with good friends and then spend four days in Santa Fe. If you have followed my posts for a while you know we love food, and we have done food tours and cooking classes with the Santa Fe School of Cooking while there and loved them. Lastly, if you visit, DO NOT MISS Meow Wolf. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s beyond crazy and a lot of fun.
One thing I pondered when I added Toronto to this list was this—do we really love the city or am I just listing it because we get to see our friends Tim & Perry when we are there? No, we love the city, and Tim and Perry are just a big bonus. We have visited three times and loved all of them. I love walking in the Beaches area where Tim and Perry live (on the shores of Lake Ontario), they have amazing food all over the city (especially when you have two foodies to take you to find that food), a super art festival called Nuit Blanche that we got to attend and some beautiful places to see within a short distance (Niagara Falls, Port Hope, the Thousand Islands). We have even flown out of the coolest airport in the world (Billy Bishop International Airport) on the coolest airline in the world (Porter Airlines). You should try both. Billy Bishop is on an island right in downtown Toronto and Porter Air is a HUGE throwback to the 1960s and golden age of air travel. The flight attendants still wear pillbox hats and they serve you actual food.
Charleston, South Carolina (and Savannah, Georgia)
Even though these two cities are in different states, it is only about a two-hour drive between them through some really cool country. And both of these cities exude Southern Charm. Why we even saw a performance by “the Southern Charmer” in Charleston. The entire area is known as the “Low Country,” and when we visited we found that their reputation as amazing food towns was well deserved. There are also lots of things to see (old plantations, giant oak trees, Fort Sumter, Hilton Head beaches) and do besides eating…but I liked the eating best. That and the awesome photos I got on my early morning photo walks. I would go back to both cities in a minute, but if I had to pick one thing to go back for, it would be the chicken and waffles at The Early Bird Diner just outside Charleston on the road to Savannah. They were absolutely amazing. I can still taste them in my mind. You can read about our trip to the Low Country on our website.
New York, New York
I debated about adding NYC, but we have so many memories there and I would go back at the drop of a hat that I just couldn’t leave it out. We have been three times, and I may be getting too old for the craziness, but when last we were there in the fall of 2018, I did have some great experiences. New York is not a place I need to tell people about. Either you already know or you don’t care. I will mention some of my favorite spots and memories, which include walking The Highline at dawn, taking an old yacht on an architectural tour around the island of Manhattan, doing a tour of the area around Ground Zero, and taking a food tour of Greenwich Village and of course theater. We have seen so many great plays on Broadway that it is hard to remember them all. And the food…don’t get me started. Too much variety, if that’s possible. New York is not a city I can’t wait to go back to, but I would be really sad if you told me I couldn’t go back there.
Cities I love–part 2
I thought I would come back to talk about cities I love internationally. There aren’t as many as in North America, but there are a few. If you didn’t see the first list then I will tell you that these are cities that we love, cities that we have either been to more than once or want to go back to again. They aren’t all the places we love. We have other places we love, but they aren’t cities. For instance, we LOVED New Zealand and can’t wait to go back, but we weren’t as impressed by Auckland or any other city there as we were with the rest of the country. We really want to go back, but that’s a really long flight 😀. Another good example might be the Yorkshire area of England. We loved visiting there and spending time with our friends but even though Leeds and York were lovely, they aren’t a city we yearn to go back to. Going back to Yorkshire is another story—we can’t wait.
We have been to Edinburgh three times. The first time was way back in 2003, again in 2016 and then again a year ago this month. Each time we have stayed longer. We just love Edinburgh. I like it so much; I could live there. It is a wonderful mix of history and modernity. There are miles of places for me to walk. Great restaurants and just a super small city. I want to go back again and again. Maybe part of the reason we love it is that Kathleen is of Scottish descent. Or that we love Outlander so much. We have just had a great time every time we visited Scotland.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We have only been to Amsterdam once, but WOW! We were there for almost a week before we sailed on our British Isles cruise in 2016 and we loved it. At least I know I did. A lot. Amsterdam is downright gorgeous to me. Walking the canals and really any part of the city is a great way to spend time. It is also a photographer’s dream. There are great photo opportunities in every direction. Good food, great people (who all speak fluent English), and we got to stay at the best hotel we have EVER stayed in, The Banks Mansion. I would go back in a minute, and when we look at European trips, if the cruise or the trip takes us near Amsterdam, you can be sure we will.
Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain
Like Amsterdam, we have only been in Barcelona once, but we were there (pre-cruise) for almost a week and it truly made an impression on us. I always tell people that Barcelona is like a city at a party—24/7. Again, great food, great people (who treat you wonderfully), a lot to do and so much to photograph. From the crowds on Las Ramblas to the incredible market, La Boqueria, to the free concerts in front of the cathedral on Sunday it rocks. When we talk to friends and clients about traveling in Europe I tell them the perfect vacation would be to spend a week in Barcelona and then take a cruise to our next favorite city and spend a week there. You would have a week of partying followed by a cruise to lots of Mediterranean ports and a week of peace in…
One of the people that most affected my life was my Uncle Jack. He traveled (not as much as we do) and he always told me that Venice was the least favorite city he had ever been to. So when we went to Italy for the first (and only) time in 2002 I was prepared to be unimpressed. But instead, I fell in love with this amazing place. When we returned I told him that I had loved it and he couldn’t understand why. Took me a few years (and talking to others who either loved or hated Venice) to figure out why so many people had this love/hate relationship with Venice. It all comes down to WHEN you visit this city. My uncle had gone in the middle of July, the HEIGHT of the tourist season. The place is jammed with people slammed together just about everywhere. Long waits at restaurants, higher prices, packed markets and the canals that smell from the summer heat.
We, on the other hand, visited in early November. The weather was still great (they had gallons of rain the week after we left) and there were no crowds. None. We walked the Piazza San Marco almost alone. No lines to go to the top of the Campanile. It was a city totally at peace, breathing a huge sigh of relief at the absence of visitors. But we were welcomed everywhere in restaurants and shops that were still hungry to serve visitors. We had an amazing time and would go back (at the right time of the year) at the drop of the hat. One reason I can’t wait to go back is that I had not gotten as involved with photography and early morning photo walks then, and I really want to walk the streets of Venice with my Nikon. What pictures I could take?
This is the city I refer to as the most photogenic city in the world. Everywhere you look there is something amazing to shoot. And the Opera House seems to be in all of them. It’s amazing how many of my shots of Sydney it is in. As you can see in the picture above, the cruise ship we were on (not the one in the photo) docked right next to that Opera House, so you get to start shooting it as soon as you get there. We were there for four days post-cruise in 2012 and it is a fantastic place. Again, great food, incredibly welcoming people and just plain fun, not to mention the best zoo we have ever been to (yes, better than San Diego). We had flown to Auckland for three days pre-cruise, sailed all along the southern coast of New Zealand, visiting small cities and towns and then crossed the Tasman Sea to Melbourne and finally Sydney. We would love to go back.
Hong Kong, China
We spent three days here after our 2010 South East Asia cruise on the wonderful Azamara Quest (I think this was probably my favorite cruise of our more than 25 cruises). This is the only city I really loved that I probably will never get back to nor do I now have any desire to go. When we visited, it was just following the transition from English rule to Chinese, and the place was a wonderful, bustling, interesting, photographer-friendly city. Nothing like the demonstrations you see from there today. We were able to get around and felt totally safe all the time. We stayed at the second-best hotel we have ever stayed in, The Langham. Road to the top of Victoria Peak (where the photo above was taken) and had lunch at a truly authentic Asian restaurant, Bubba Gump’s Shrimp 😜. Maybe someday it will be safe to go back to this amazing city. We hope so.
Top Ten 2021 lists
Food, Glorious Food!
My top five things I ate or drank in 2021
You know I love food and drink, so here they are in no particular order. I had two of them in one meal and three of them within two days, and the other two in the same week (Did you get all that?).
- Chicken Sandwich with slaw (Houston’s restaurant in Irvine, CA)
- Wood-fire grilled artichokes (Houston’s restaurant in Irvine, CA)
- Blue Coyote’s margaritas (Blue Coyote Grille–Palm Springs, CA)
- Sango De Camarón (onboard Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos)
- Fritada and Llapingachos (EB Hotel—Quito, Ecuador)
As you can see the first two things come from the same restaurant, Houston’s. This is a small chain (11 outlets) of restaurants across the US. I first heard about them while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Armchair Expert. The expert himself, Dax Shepherd, raves about them, and my brother and his bride had been wanting to take us to the Irvine, California location for a while, but we didn’t have a reservation the first time we went. But in April, when we went to visit them for a few days, we stopped there for lunch right after we got off the airplane, and based on the recommendation from Dax, we ordered the chicken sandwich.
Then, based on the menu description, we ordered the artichoke appetizer as well. Suffice it to say, these were both AWESOME! How much did we like them? Well, six days later when they took us back to the airport we had an early dinner ordered the same thing and when we went down to see them in October, we had lunch when they picked us up and dinner when they took us back to the airport and we ordered the same thing all over again. Yes, they do have other things on their menu but when something is this good and you don’t live nearby, get it! If you are ever in a place with a Houstons, go have these two dishes. You won’t be sorry.
I mentioned that I had three of my top five things within just a few day’s time. Well, the first two were at Houston’s, and the third was the next day after both our visits to Houstons. We stopped by the Blue Coyote for margaritas. Blue Coyote is a restaurant in Palm Springs (my and my brother’s hometown), and we first discovered it years ago and then took Steve and Jamie a few years later. When I was a kid, if you wanted Mexican food in Palm Springs, you went to Las Casuelas. They are still there, but the tourists have taken over the place, and it just isn’t as great as it used to be…so now we go to Blue Coyote.
We used to just order a round of margaritas, but the last few times when we have been there with Jamie and Steve, we have started getting a pitcher…they are that good. I do feel a little sorry for Steve because he is always driving, and that means he only gets one (but not too sorry 😜).
The last two items in my list of food are both from our trip to the Galapagos in July. I had the Fritada and Llapingachos at the EB Hotel in Quito, where we spent the night both before and after our visit to the islands. I ordered this the night before because it sounded good (it is a pork dish with potatoes and lots of other stuff), but it was so good; when we came back a week later, I ordered it again—yup, still just as good and since I don’t know of any place to get it besides Quito, ordering it again was a no-brainer.
Lastly, Sango De Camarón is a traditional seafood stew with a plantain base, and I ate that onboard the amazing Celebrity Flora while we were cruising through the islands. One afternoon Kathleen and I were looking at the menu for that evening outside the dining room, and I told her I was sad because there were no real Ecuadorian dishes on the menu that night. I had learned on the four previous nights (plus the night at the hotel) that I LOVE Ecuadorian food. The maitre’d overheard me saying this and asked if I really liked the food from Ecuador. I said, “Yes, I do!” So he said he would see what he could do. That night when we went to dinner—there was still no Ecuadorian food on the menu 😔. But the next night…I had already told our waiter what I wanted when the maitre’d walked up and said he was canceling our order (of an octopus dish I knew I would love), and the chef had made a wonderful surprise for me. Being an idiot and looking a gift horse in the mouth, I told him that this sounded great, but I loved octopus, and I really wanted to have that entrée. He said to wait a few minutes, and he would see what he could do.
About five minutes later, he was back with an appetizer that was not on the menu. It was a big salad with a HUGE portion of braised and broiled octopus on top and tons of avocado (the avocado in Ecuador is amazing!). After eating that, he brought me the regular octopus entrée I had ordered and set it down in front of me and then brought a huge bowl of something that smelled amazing. He set that down in the middle of our table (there were four of us) and said, “This is sango. It is a traditional Ecuadorian dish that is a seafood stew with a plantain and rice base.” So I had to taste it, and it was AMAZING. If there were a kind of local seafood that was NOT in there, I would like to know what had been left out. There was shrimp, clams, mussels, different kinds of white fish, calamari, scallops and…octopus. The stew/sauce part reminded me of a very good risotto.
Sadly, because of Kathleen’s allergy to shellfish, she couldn’t eat any of it. And the better half of the couple we were eating with (Jamie and Catherine) said she couldn’t eat anything with tentacles. So it was up to Jamie, and I to make that chef happy…and we did. We ate it all.
One of the main reasons I want to go back in 2024 is to have this dish again. The taste and texture were delicious, but the thing that really made it special was the fact that just because someone had overheard me talking about my new love for Ecuadorian food, the chef had made me this wonderful dish that represented his homeland. Food experiences don’t get any better than that.
The Top Ten Photos I Took in 2021
As promised yesterday, here are my Top Ten Photos that I took in 2021. I have been posting these on Facebook and Instagram for the last few days, but if you don’t follow me on either of those platforms, here are my Top Ten.
Number 10: The Wenatchee River in Leavenworth, WA
I decided to start with a photo I took in my old stomping grounds of Leavenworth, Washington. This shot of the Wenatchee River as it flows through the town was what I consider the best of the ones on my early morning photo walk.
Number 9: Blue-footed Booby on Española Island
Number nine in the countdown of my ten favorite photos I have taken in 2021 is this marvelous blue-footed booby I shot on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos. I am doing these in order of how much I love them. As you can expect, the majority will come from our trip to the Galapagos.
Number 8: A foggy field in Redmond, Washington
Number eight of my top ten photos of 2021 is the only one I took with my iPhone 12. I was out taking my daily walk when I saw this scene early on what would become a very warm day. The last vestiges of moisture were hanging low over this field and rapidly disappearing in the rising sun. I realize it’s not much of a travel photo as I was about three miles from our home…but hey, I was traveling.
Number 7: A Galapagos Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island
My choice for my seventh favorite photo I took in 2021 is this old guy I snapped while we were on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. He saw me and decided he was going to see just what the heck I was doing with that big, ugly camera. I love the look on his face.
Number 6: Heron Reflection in Olympia, Washington
Number six on my top ten photos I took in 2021 is this heron I shot on an early morning photo walk in Olympia, Washington. It’s all about reflection as far as I am concerned. The state capital of Washington was just a really nice bonus as the reflection.
Number 5: Blowhole landscape on Española Island
My Galapagos photos are mostly flora and fauna, but this shot I took on EspañolaIsland is my favorite landscape from the trip. The water you are seeing is from a blowhole in the rocks that shot huge amounts of water up into the sky whenever a wave came in. Between that water, the incredible sky and the clear and clean air, I just love this shot.
Number 4: Two Pelicans over Santa Cruz Island
Number four in my Top Ten Photos I took in 2021 is one that I did not like when I first saw it. In fact, my appreciation of it grows every day. Kathleen talked me into keeping it because I was going to throw it away. I didn’t like it because of the way the pelican on the left is cut off. But I did like the contrast between the birds and the sky and the incredible sharpness I got by using a 1250th of a second shutter speed and a 16 f-stop. The birds were fast, but every part of my shooting was faster except me. I just couldn’t turn quickly enough. BTW: 2021 is the year I learned to back-focus on my Nikon, and I will never go back. What a difference.
Number 3: Galápagos Sea Lion on Española Island
My number three choice is the best portrait I took this year. If you go to the Galapagos, probably the MOST amazing thing is that all the animals will let you get within feet of them. This shot was not a telephoto or zoomed. I was about five feet away. I chose it as much for the clarity and photo quality as for the awesome subject that I hope to shoot again one day…and the look on his face.
Number 2: Mount Rainier from Olympia, Washington
I got this shot on another of my pre-dawn photo walks. We were staying in Olympia at an AirBnB so we could have the grandkids all to ourselves. Had the best time ever. I got up and went to do an Olympia, Washington, photo walk. And lo and behold, the first thing I saw was Washington’s unofficial state symbol—Mt. Rainier. I guess the mountain is almost the official symbol—it is on our license plates, and you can just about see it from every part of the state. That morning, as you can see, the sky was on fire. No retouching here; this was straight out of my Nikon.
Number 1: A flamingo coming in for a landing on Isabella Island in the Galapagos
Did you know that when flamingos land, they walk on the water as they come down? Neither did I. But this shot from a morning walk on the Galapagos Isabela Island is what I consider my best nature shot ever. I am so glad I did a lot of research into shooting wildlife before we went, as it is not something I have done a lot of except in zoos. Learning to use back focus and shooting at 2000th of a second has enabled me to up my wildlife game. When I took this shot and the thousand others I took in the Galapagos, I felt like I have made up for a complete pandemic worth of non-travel shooting in seven days. How much do I love this photo? I believe it is the second-best shot I have ever taken…or maybe my third.
The worst things about 2021
Here are the bottom five worst things about 2021 from my perspective. We experienced some of them personally, and I know some of you have experienced them as well.
Number 5: The political divide in my country
I don’t think I have ever been political in these posts, but I have had it. Not with anyone in particular but with the extremists on both sides of politics in the country I live in who continue to drive us apart. From science to religion, from insurrection to health care, we are so divided. Talk of civil war is all the rage on social media. I am at a point where I just wish that all the red states would become one country and all the blue states another, and we could live happily ever after—but in my heart, I know that is crazy. And sadly, there are plenty of good, reasonable people who are either red or blue who live in the opposite type of state, so that won’t really work. I don’t know what the solution is to this, and to be honest, I am kind of glad I won’t be around in 40 years to see what happens (I’m being optimistic 😜). But I worry for my kids and grandkids.
Number 4: The pandemic drags on
This is one of those things that we have all had to experience. Will this damn thing never end? I remember coming home from our Mardi Gras cruise in March of 2020, and we were discussing how long it would last. At that point, we had major travel plans in May 2020, August 2020 and December 2020. We pretty much gave up on May immediately. We knew that trip wasn’t going to happen. But we had high hopes that COVID would turn out to be another version of the flu and could be contained, so we felt pretty good about our August 2020 trip to the Galapagos. In hindsight, I laugh at myself for thinking that. How naïve we were. But surely we would have no trouble doing our Viking River Cruise in December 2020? Would there be a vaccine by then? Everyone would take it, and we could move on. That would work, right? Not a chance.
And now here we are, a year later, and we have had a darned good vaccine that has been pretty widely available since early 2021, and we just canceled our second Viking Christmas Market Cruise. I am not sure why, but when we thought of that vaccine a year ago, we automatically assumed that everyone would rush to get jabbed so we could all move forward with our lives. But no! There is no accounting for stupidity and ignorance, so here we are, in the last month of 2021, and we are back in full-blown COVID crapdom. Get a damn shot, people. Science is real.
Number 3: The deterioration of my beloved Seattle
I wrote about this in-depth about two months ago. You can see that post here. But at least things might improve in the new year as the voters decided that the people running Seattle had gone too far in the wrong direction trying to be “good people” (I am a firm believer that no extreme viewpoint—either right or left—is a good one) voted in some who have some logic. I will keep you updated as things progress, but for right now, avoid Seattle. Cruising buddies—if you want to sail to Alaska this summer, leave from Vancouver (if Canada allows it—not even sure of that).
Number 2: Falling off a five-foot berm in Oregon
This one is just a personal thing. Back in August, on our annual beach trip with our kids and grandkids, I took a fall. I was walking in some high grass on a berm at the beach. There was about a 5-6 foot straight drop off to the beach itself. I was going to find a place to slide down on my butt until the part of the berm I was standing on (pictured from the top of the berm) collapsed underneath me.
Thankfully, I wasn’t badly hurt, but I did screw up my good knee (which still hurts from time to time), I landed on my Nikon (that repair bill was almost $500), and I think I scared the grandkids who had never heard Grandpa use that kind of language before. Suffice it to say that while I am pretty much fully recovered (as is my camera), there was about a three-week period that I had to give up taking my long walks…one of my favorite things to do.
Number 1: We have to cancel our December European trip
You may have read about this a few short weeks ago, but the biggest disappointment of 2021 was canceling a trip we had been planning for more than a year. You can read about the cancellation by going here. And you can read about all the things I had to cancel, get vouchered or refunded by going here. The best thing I can say about having to do this is that, in hindsight, we did the right thing as Omicron showed up a week after we canceled, and Europe shut down for travelers. The river cruise that was the centerpiece of the trip turned out to be a bust, with most ports missed, passengers who went complaining about it and worse, as I told someone who canceled a cruise today (for January 22) on FB, better a postponed vacation than a lousy vacation.
The Top Ten for 2021
Here are the ten best things I loved in 2021. BTW: Unlike my photos which I numbered, this group is in no particular order (except the NUMBER ONE which is down at the bottom).
Walking all year
It’s funny that I am choosing to write about this first. I guess it’s because I haven’t been able to do it for a week (as of today), and that’s killing me. Too much ice and snow outside kept me indoors. I am going stir-crazy, but I know if I slip and fall, then I might not be able to walk for weeks. It has been a big part of my life this year. So far in 2021, I have walked 1,466 miles (that’s 2,359 kilometers for our Canadian viewers). If I had just kept going and not come home, I could have walked to my childhood home in Palm Springs and then to my brother’s place in San Juan Capistrano. Or I could have walked back and forth to our friends in Chilliwack, BC, almost six times. Can you tell I love my walks? (BTW: I know how far I have gone because I use the wonderful app, Map My Walk from Under Armour. )
Going to Southern California twice to see Jamie and Steve
This was supposed to have been the year that the four of us went to Europe (for the third time) together and did a bunch of other stuff. But we “made do” with visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Southern California…twice. Great weather, lots of fun, family, food and superb activities organized by Jamie made these visits at least a good substitute for Europe. Not really, but we did have fun. We even went to the historic Musso and Frank Grille in Hollywood for dinner.
Stopping to see Mike and Meeting Cathy in June
We had so many schedule changes for our Galapagos trip in July that we were thrilled when it all finally worked out, and we ended up flying through South Florida to get to Ecuador. Thrilled because this gave us a chance to add on a couple of days to see one of our best friends and fellow Martini Mate Mike and to meet the new love of his life, Cathy, in person. We had an outstanding time; Mike even got up at 2:00 am to take us all the way to the Miami airport (WHAT A FRIEND!), and we LOVED Cathy. So it really stands out as a highlight for us. Even better, we get to see them again (I really hope) in three weeks.
Getting to go back to Canada in September
Over the last 15 years, we have spent a lot of time in British Columbia. Specifically Chilliwack, BC. That’s because that’s where our friends Bob and Judy live. And in case you missed it, since the start of the pandemic, Canada had closed their border. That meant that even though we could FaceTime to talk, we hadn’t seen them in person from the day we got back from our Mardi Gras cruise (March 2o, 2020) until we finally got to get tested, get the Canadian entry app, show our Nexus cards and get in to see them in September. That’s a long time not to see someone you are used to seeing at least every other month. If all works out and it doesn’t snow again, we may go up again next weekend!
Going to Seaside with family in August
Every summer (or at least the last three of them), we have rented an Airbnb type place with our grandkids (and their parents). This year we went to Seaside, Oregon. I can’t tell you how much I cherish that week with them. We play games, go to the beach, and local attractions, make meals together and watch special movies in the evenings (Star Wars!!!). I can’t wait until August 2022 to do this again.
I know. It’s a television show. But I love television, and it is the best television show ever made—in my somewhat humble opinion 😜. There is not a single episode where I don’t laugh, cry and exult in these glorious characters. I have watched each and every episode at least four times and some even more. We watched their Christmas show on Christmas Eve and will every Christmas Eve from now on. I listen to two podcasts about the show every week during the season. I still listen to Brett Goldstein’s “Films to Be Buried With” podcast every week. I follow all the actors on Instagram. I have downloaded every song Hannah Waddingham has recorded that wasn’t from a West End musical. I watch every YouTube video about the show that YouTube throws at me—and that’s a lot. I have my Richmond FC scarf, and I am ready to root for Ted and the Greyhounds again next fall. I am a total fanboy and completely obsessed. The show just speaks to me. When it comes to Ted Lasso, I am never a goldfish (you only get this if you have seen the show—go watch it!).
Getting fully vaccinated and staying that way with boosters
This isn’t the highlight of the year, but it led to everything else we did. Do you remember when the vaccine was first introduced, and so many people (like us) were clamoring to get our hands on our first shot…and then our second. We got our first one at the end of January and our second in mid-February. Then in mid-July, I was in our local Kaiser (our HMO) clinic, and they said they were throwing away the vaccine every day because it was defrosted and people weren’t showing up to get it. I just don’t understand the anti-vaccination crowd. We know friends and relatives of friends who are part of that group, and they are normally intelligent people. Please explain this because I can’t. I just know that I have had three full potency shots (I take an injected auto-immune drug weekly, so I got a full shot for my third and not a booster), and Kathleen is boosted.
Storyworth–all year long
I have mentioned Storyworth on this site before, but here’s a quick explanation if I haven’t. For Christmas 2020, my daughter gave me a one-year subscription to Storyworth. Since then, I get an e-mail every week with a single question about my life. Either my past, my opinions or my relationships. Each week I answer the question, and they keep them, and at the end of the year (now), I order a pre-paid, printed book of all of the stories so that my grandkids can know about their Grandpa and how he got this way 😜.
I am currently in the process of editing my book (that’s the cover above), and I will order the printed version for myself next week. Once I see my printed copy, I will order two more, one for each of the grandkids. This has been a wonderful experience. I have learned so much. Over my lifetime, I have been in therapy quite a few times, but writing these stories had been more therapeutic than any of that. It does get a little dark sometimes, but it’s really brought back some good and not-so-good memories. And yes, I guess I am verbose. The average Storyworth book is about 250 pages. I am over 450 at this point. Can you tell I loved the experience?
Retiring from Jostens Yearbooks after 39 years last June
To be completely honest, this was not supposed to happen until 2022. I love even numbers, and I really wanted to get to 40 years with Jostens and my own company, Koobraey Productions. But COVID did this as well. Yearbooks have been changing every year of those 40 years, and I still found things to write and teach about, but when the pandemic hit and things were NOTHING like they have ever been before, it was just enough to push me to walk away. Jostens and Koobraey have been a great place to be self-employed for those 39 years, and there isn’t much I would trade for the friendships I have made during that time.
It was a career I never expected (I was supposed to be a history teacher) but loved and did quite well with the yearbook. From the day I started in 1982 until last June 14, I loved it a lot. The six months since retiring (I am still in my “funtirement” job booking travel with Expedia Cruises) have been so busy I can’t figure out where I used to fit this job into my life.
Going to the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora in July
To be honest, this is number one. It was not only the BEST thing we did in 2021 it may be one of the five best experiences I have ever had. It is definitely the best trip/cruise/adventure we have ever done. We loved it so much we are going to do it again in 2024 to see the Inner Loop islands. I find it very hard to put into words what this adventure meant to us. Not only was it the first time we got to really travel after the shutdown, but it was also so much more than I ever thought it would be.
For me, the biggest excitement was photography. The Galapagos is a photographer’s heaven. After a year of not shooting much of anything other than grandkids (who I love shooting), it was like I got all caught up in a week. Certainly equal to the photography were the amazing people we met on Celebrity’s Flora. There is no way I would go again and not go aboard that ship. It made the trip so very easy, not to mention being the best place ever to come back to at night. Every single crew member we met was amazing. The guides, the crew in the dining room, the chef who made me sango, the officers and we were especially lucky to have been sailing the week that Celebrity’s resident scientist, Ellen Prager, was onboard. I was never much for science, but going to this incredible place and talking to Ellen and the guides she trains really got me excited about it.