2021 Top Ten (could be anything)

Over the last few days I have written about my five best food experiences of 2021, my 10 best photos I took in 2021 and my five biggest downers of 2021 so today, let’s get to the good stuff to close out the year. So here are the 10 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 keeps 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 kilometer 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 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, local attractions, make meals together and watch special movies in the evenings (Star Wars!!!). Can’t wait until August 2022 to do this again.

Ted Lasso–forever

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 summer. 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 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 think 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 a 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 have 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 in 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. From the day I started in 1982 until last June 14, I loved a lot of it. 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

Being honest, this is number one. I mean not only was it the BEST thing we did in 2021 it may be one of the 10 best experiences I have ever had in my life. 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, it was so much more than I ever thought it would be.

For me, the biggest excitement was the photography. The Galapagos are a photographer’s heaven. After a year of not shooting much of anything other than grandkids (which 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. I leave you with a special gift to close out 2021, a slide show of my best photos from the islands. Happy New Year!

 

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.

Art Buchwald

The Worst of 2021— From My Point of View

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way today and I will come back New Year’s Eve with the Top Ten of 2021. So here’s the bottom five worst things about 2021. 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 thinking that. How naïve we were. But surely we would have no trouble doing our Viking River Cruise in December 2020? There would 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 cancelled 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 month 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 (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 cancelling 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. I guess 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 cancelled 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 cancelled a cruise today (for January 22) on FB, better a postponed vacation than a lousy vacation.

Unless you have bad times, you can’t appreciate the good times.

Joe Torre 

My 10 Best Photos of 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 my countdown of my 10 favorite photos I have taken in 2021 is this marvelous blue footed booby I shot on Fernadina 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 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 photowalk in Olympia, Washington. It’s all about the 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 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 quick 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 flamingo’s 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.

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.

Ernst Haas

 

My End of the Year Lists Begin Today with Food and Drink

With the end of this mixed bag of a year, I am seeing all the Top Ten/Bottom Ten of 2021 lists in every part of the news. I usually read the ones about movies and photos (there are lots about the latest music but it makes me sad when I have never heard of anyone on those lists 😂). If you have been following me for a while you know I love lists. I even have a page of nothing but lists I have made. Most were posts first and then added to the list page. Check them out sometime if you are new to the blog. You can expect these new ones to be added to that page as well.

This year I have decided to do my own set of Top Ten Lists. I am already doing my Top Ten Photos I Took in 2021 on Facebook and Instagram (I will post them here tomorrow). In that spirit I have decided to do a post about my Top Ten Things That I Loved About 2021. Then, when I started listing that Top Ten, I also thought about a bottom 10…or maybe 5. Then I started thinking about other lists from 2021 like my favorite meals or my favorite just about anything. But I decided that this could just go on forever. So I decided to do four lists (including my photos). First, the aforementioned Top Ten and then a Bottom Five of 2021. That leads us to this post,  The Top 5 things I ate or drank in 2021. And I was going to do them all in one post but I knew that would get too long so I broke them into four posts (for today the next three days) so I hope you enjoy them.

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?).

  1. Chicken Sandwich with slaw (Houstons restaurant in Irvine, CA)
  2. Wood-fire grilled artichokes (Houstons restaurant in Irvine, CA)
  3. Blue Coyote’s margaritas (Blue Coyote Grille–Palm Springs, CA)
  4. Sango De Camarón (onboard Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos)
  5. Fritada and Llapingachos (EB Hotel—Quito, Ecuador)

As you can see the first two things come from the same restaurant, Houstons. This is a small chain (11 outlets) of restaurants located across the US. I had 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 days time. Well the first two were at Houstons 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 anyplace 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—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 cancelling 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 was 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 do 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 I think 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.

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.

Elsa Schiaparelli

 

 

 

Back to travel—Cities I love-part one

We have been having amazing weather so I have been out walking a lot the last couple of weeks. On my walks I try to come up with something to write and since it has been so long since I posted something good, fun and non-virus related, let’s get back to travel.

I have been seeing a ton of list making on social media: best albums, best songs, favorite food, etc. To be honest, I love lists. If you look up at the top of this page, you will see four menu items. One of them is Lists. Check it out sometime. It’s all the lists I have posted since I started this blog in December 2018.

Cities I love in North America

So, when I was out walking yesterday I was thinking about my favorite cities. For my purposes today, I am going to just 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…

Seattle SkylineSeattle, Washington

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 15 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, 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 have posted here not long ago) 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.

Downtown VancouverVancouver, British Columbia

After Seattle, the city we have spent the most time in since we started traveling together is 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 10 times. A great restaurant.

Panoramic view of the downtown San Diego skyline, CaliforniaSan 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 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.

Sunset in Santa FeSanta 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 awhile 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.

Toronto city skyline at night, Ontario, TorontoToronto, Ontario

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 gold age of air travel. The flight attendants still wear pillbox hats and they serve you actual food.

Aerial panoramic sunset view of Charleston, South CarolinaCharleston, South Carolina (and Savannah, Georgia)

Even though these two cities are in different states, they 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 photowalks. 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 City skyline from roof top with urban skyscrapers before sunset.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, 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.

That concludes my list of North American cities I love…and would go back to. I would LOVE to hear from you about the cities you love in the comments below. Make your own list. Pass mine around. See what people think and where they would go if they could go to any city on the continent. In the next post (or the one after that) I will list my favorites from around the rest of the world. Watch for it.

When you tour as much as I do, you’re always on the road, and you tend to gravitate toward cities where you’re like, ‘Every time I’m in that city, the shows are fun.—Tom Segura

 

Quarantine continues so let’s get Primed

As of 5:00 pm yesterday we here in Washington are officially quarantined. According to our governor that means that anyone other than about 300 occupations should stay home. And when we are staying home (like we know you are) we do lots of different things but we know we always end up watching television. In my last post I gave you my personal recommendations for the best on Netflix. Today—Amazon Prime.

First, a statement about Amazon Prime in general. I know a lot of people are either anti-Amazon or Amazon-ambivalent but we have been totally sucked into world of Amazon. Most weeks we will have at least four deliveries and many weeks more. So we would be nuts not to have Amazon Prime. That $119 we spend every year is probably the best value we know. Just the free shipping alone (for us) is worth the price of admission but when you throw in the rest of what you get (complete list here) it would be stupid for us not to have it. And that is before I even mention Amazon Prime video.

In doing these streaming lists it kind of surprised me that two of my absolute favorite shows are Amazon Prime originals. These are shows that we stream on the day they are available and when I say we stream them, I mean we totally binge(d) them. That d was in parentheses because one of them no longer has new episodes but it is still one of my absolute all-time favorites.

Our top three Amazon shows

If Amazon Prime was just a video streaming service, I would subscribe just to get these shows—I like them that much. I am sure you have heard of them, or you may have watched them but in case you haven’t, these three are worth having Prime for.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: What can I say about this show that hasn’t already been said? If you haven’t seen it, get Prime just to watch it. The adventures of Midge, Susie and the rest of the characters is a pure delight and when a new season is released (there are three seasons with a fourth on the way) we will usually watch all eight episodes in one weekend. It’s funny, poignant and just plain great. I envy those who have never seen it. I would love to be able to binge those three seasons for the first time.

Bosch: This is a detective show. But what a detective. And because Kathleen and I have both read every book Michael Connelly has ever written, we think Harry is one of the most interesting characters in fiction. We have been reading the Harry Bosch books by Connelly since before we first met more than 20 years ago. When they announced they were making a TV series from the books we were both excited and worried. Harry is a character we both love in books and we were worried they (Hollywood) would screw it up. After all, they let Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher (WORST CASTING EVER). But we were  very pleasantly surprised (and then thrilled) when this series premiered. Because the author Michael Connelly is closely involved and loves his character as much as his readers do, this show is VERY close to his books. Probably the best adaptation of a book into a show or movie I have ever seen. And Titus Welliver IS Harry Bosch. When I read new Bosch books, I see him in my mind and it works. If you like detective shows, these (there are currently five seasons with two more to come) are the best. But I watch shows for the characters, and this show has some great ones (including the entire city of Los Angeles). Give it a try.

Mozart in the Jungle: This show is no longer in production, but if you haven’t seen it go back and watch it. Don’t be mislead by the title. It’s the closest thing to Mrs. Maizel that we know. There are four seasons and they are all available so make sure you start from the beginning. A quick synopsis would tell you that this is the story of a philharmonic orchestra in NYC but that would be too simplistic. This is a comedy, a drama, a romance and one of our favorite shows ever. Go immerse yourself (this one is a great binge) in the world of “Hilee” and the Maestro.

The rest of our Amazon list that we watch together

Fleabag: If you haven’t heard of Fleabag after the year that the creator of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had, you must not be into TV. This totally irreverent, adult’s only show is a Brit classic. Just two seasons but they are funny ones.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: One of the most filmed characters of modern fiction, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is almost iconic (the character has been played by both Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin before this). This version with John Krasinski is a pretty good action series. There are two seasons with a third on the way. Decent show.

Goliath: Neither of us are big Billy Bob Thornton fans. We did like him in the first season of Fargo but that was about it, until this show came along. He plays a disgraced attorney who fights for underdogs. You get the idea but this show is from David E. Kelley who has made some of the most offbeat series on network TV, from LA Law to Ally McBeal to Doogie Howser, MD. and always gives you something interesting to watch. Goliath is a solid series and if you like lawyer shows with quirky stuff, check it out.

Modern Love: One of my favorite things to read in the NY Times is the Modern Love column. There is even a podcast which I also listen to. These are stories of love. All kinds of love. About a year ago, Amazon put a short series of eight of these together. This is an anthology so each episode is a totally different story but there is some crossover. This is a great filler series. Something you can watch an hour of and then come back to a week later. No need to binge this one. Lots of different people in it and it is almost always sweet and touching.

Catastrophe: This is another great comedy like Mozart or Fleabag. An American visiting London has a one week fling with a British woman and she gets pregnant. The hilarity continues from there. For four seasons. This series is also out of production but that still leaves you plenty to watch (or binge if you like). Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are really good as the couple in question.

Hunters: We just started this new series about a group of people hunting Nazis who have infiltrated the US in the 1990s. It has a decent cast led by Al Pacino with an accent that often makes him hard to understand. And there is a fair bit of violence but so far we are intrigued. Be warned, it is a little intense. We can only take one show at a time.

Amazon shows I watch when I am working out

These are shows that Kathleen doesn’t watch. That doesn’t mean that they are not for the ladies, just that they aren’t something she likes. I, for instance, do not watch the PBS show Call the Midwife with her. It’s a great show, just doesn’t appeal to me.

Hannah: There is one season of this show about a girl who is brought up in the woods by the man who killed her mother. It goes from there. There is only one season but it is pretty good action.

The Boys: This show with one season out already and another coming could be called the Anti-Avengers. What happens if super heroes were evil? This show tells you with humor and interesting characters. Also, my feeling is that any series with Karl Urban in it, is a great series.

The Expanse: My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law have been after me for years to watch this series. I tried a few times to watch but it just started too slow for me. When I am riding a bike I need to be distracted from the pain of the ride so I need something with some action. Recently I learned I was wrong. Before we went on our last cruise I downloaded the entire first season onto my iPad (did you know you could do that with some Amazon and Netflix shows?) to watch while I rode a bike in the ship’s gym. I got hooked! I am currently almost done with season three (there are four with a fifth coming later this spring) and I almost look forward to working out just to watch it. Can’t wait to see where it goes. If you like science fiction adventure, this show is great. I think it may be the best sci-fi series I have seen since Battlestar Galactica (not the original but the outstanding remake).

That about covers Amazon for us. Next up will be the other streaming services we stream shows on including Hulu, Disney+, Apple Plus+, CBS All Access and The Paramount Channel.

I was like, Amazon Prime? Who has Amazon Prime? It turns out everybody.—Gaby Hoffman

 

 

 

What are we watching?

In a previous post I mentioned binging TV during this quarantine and I got some texts and some e-mails asking what we are watching. I know that we have discussed this with some of you in person or by e-mail but I don’t think I have ever written down a complete list. And my oh my this is a long list.

First, for those of you who aren’t close, personal friends that we see all the time, you need to know upfront that we watch a lot of television. We have season passes on our TiVo (that means we record every new episode of those shows) for more than 50 shows. Don’t freak out—many of those are not on at the same time. Some happen once a year for ten to twelve weeks while others only come around every few years (Luther or Fargo come to mind), some sports are included (Seahawks and Formula 1)  but my guess is that we have about 20 regular shows at any one time.

After those are out of the way (which happens surprisingly often) we hit the streamers. Our first line streamers that we ALWAYS have subscriptions to are Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those are ones that people ask me about when we are talking and then later they say, “What was that show you told me about? I forgot to write it down.” So for the next couple of posts I thought I would list our favorites. Today: Netflix.

BTW: There are other streaming services we watch programs on at different times of the year. Before Kathleen retired two years ago, we had a cable subscription that charged us an obscene amount for things we could get for much less by streaming them. I called our cable company, cancelled all the premium channels (HBO, SHO, Starz, etc.) and we went to a cable lineup that is just basically the local network affiliates.) Now, once a year we will subscribe to one of the other services for a few weeks and catch up on all our shows on that service. For instance, right now we have a three month subscription to Starz so we can watch Outlander—one of our favorites. Next month we will get CBS All Access for a month so we can watch The Good Fight and I can watch Picard.

More about those later—on to Netflix. I have subscribed to Netflix since they first started. That was back in 1997. Of course at the start it was all DVDs and no streaming. In fact we didn’t cut out the DVD service until about three years ago. Can’t remember the last time we even turned on the DVD player. Guess it is about as worthless as our old VCR.

By the way, all the Netflix shows I am listing are Netflix originals. Some started as broadcast TV but were eventually taken over by Netflix after they were cancelled.

First thing you need to know about all the shows I list is that Kathleen does not watch all of them. I ride a stationary bike every morning for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and I watch shows that she isn’t interested in…mostly action stuff. So I will start with the ones we watch together.

First, let’s get the best shows (that you have probably seen but I need to mention) out of the way. They are the most famous and most viewed of the shows on Netflix and include:

  • Grace and Frankie: I shouldn’t even have to mention this–you should have already watched all six seasons but if you haven’t you should. It’s an awesome show and it’s not just for old people. Lily Tomlin is one of the funniest people who has ever lived and Jane Fonda is amazing for someone over eighty. Together they rock. And the supporting cast is superb.
  • Stranger Things: If you haven’t seen this I bet it is because you “hate” horror stories. Well I really HATE horror stories but this series is one of the best—all three seasons. Go binge it. We do on the day the new season comes out. It’s one of only two or three seasons we do that with every year. The other two are on Amazon.
  • The Crown: This is a another one of Netflix’s most well known series. The story of Elizabeth II, current queen of England. We are currently in season three with Oscar winner Olivia Coleman playing the queen. If you haven’t seen it at all, Claire Foy plays the Queen in the first two seasons and all three are great.

Here’s the shows that Kathleen and I watch together.

  • Queer Eye: This is not the old Queer Eye for the Straight guy. That show was just fine, but this one is AWESOME. We have loved every episode of all four seasons and we watch and listen for anything from Bobbie, Jonathon, Karamo, Tan and Antoni. Give it a chance. If you don’t love it, I will want to know why. This show is one of the ones that we binge every episode as soon as it comes out.
  • Sense 8: This is a very special series. There are two seasons and if you liked Lost, Fringe or maybe even the X-Files then try this an outstanding show made by the Wachowskis who made The Matrix. It is also one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen. And as a plus for travelers, it is filmed all over the world. Stick with it—it’s kind of science fiction, kind of action, kind of drama, kind of comedy—all good. Fantastic characters and a cool story.
  • Manhunt: Unabomber: This show is less of a whodunit than a how-we-caught-the-bad-guy. There is one eight episode season and there may be more someday.
  • Love: This a kind of a stupid series about a nerd who is in love with a very difficult cool girl. Not the best series but good when you need a mindless half hour show. We usually watch it at the end of the evening if we aren’t quite ready to go to bed.
  • Dead to Me: There is one season of this surprisingly good show. I wish I could tell you more but every single episode ends with a total game changer so just go watch.
  • Lucifer: This was originally a broadcast show and then it switched to Netflix. The story is totally ridiculous (the devil comes to earth to solve crimes) but it is a whole lot of fun. We love Tom Ellis who plays Lucifer and just makes the show. There are four seasons with one more coming.
  • The Politician: This is NOT about politics. It is made by the same creative team behind Glee and stars Ben Platt (BIG Broadway star) and Gwyneth Paltrow. Lots of fun and lots of singing.
  • Atypical: A great little half hour show about an autistic teen. There are two seasons and we have enjoyed them both.
  • Secret City: Two seasons of an Australian series that is full of intrigue and spy kind of stuff. It stars Australian Anna Torv that we loved on Fringe.
  • Sex Education: A very funny series about an English teenager whose Mum (Gillian Anderson from The X Files) is a sex therapist—so he becomes his high school’s sex therapist. There are two fun and heart-warming seasons of this one.
  • The Kominsky Method: A very funny show starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. Two seasons of eight episodes that are over way too soon.
  • Russian Doll: There is one season of this show. It is a take-off on Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day but different. Just take our word for it, it’s good. Different but good.
  • Travelers: This Canadian series is about time travel starring Erik McCormack (Will of Will & Grace) and is a fun diversion. 

Shows that I watch by myself when I ride my bike

  • Mindhunters: Directed by David Fincher (He did the movies Se7en, Fight Club, Social Network) this is the story of two FBI agents in the sixties interview the worst of serial killers (they use real killer’s stories) to help them catch others. The start of criminal profiling.
  • Altered Carbon: A dystopian science fiction piece set in the future and is really cool. My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law both told me to watch it and they were right, it is great.
  • All the Marvel series are excellent except Iron Fist (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher and The Defenders) Daredevil is my favorite but they are all good. Warning: these are violent. Kathleen has watched some of these as well.

I love a good Netflix binge!—Simone Biles

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we plan our travel

Travelling concept.Two men choosing place of vacation, exploring compromise on map, taking notes in notebookLately I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming trips. We are currently snowed in so that gives me time to catch up on a lot of things. Since I have been doing this I thought I would give you a little insight into how I plan travel.

First we decide where we want to go. Often this is spur of the moment. In the case of booking our next trip, our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we decided to do this trip almost three years ago when we were onboard Celebrity Solstice sailing to Alaska with our Martini Mates. We booked it because we wanted to go to New Orleans (one of the few US cities on our list that we haven’t been to yet) and going during Mardi Gras is a big bonus. So we started planning this that long ago.

When we first book a cruise or decide we are going to go someplace, I make a list of everything I need to do for that trip. I will usually do this in my packing program (Packing Pro)  that has a place for tasks as well as packing lists. This includes booking the cruise and flights to get there. Then I get on my Mac and go the King County Library website and search for all the travel guides they have about that place. I place them on hold and they ship them to my local library.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 4.20.52 PMWhen I tell people I do this, they ask why don’t I just buy the books in paperback or Kindle editions? Because nothing gets out of date like a travel book. That’s why people like Rick Steves and Fodors, Blue Planet, Top Ten and Frommers do a new/update about most places every year. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies all open and close so why should I spend money to buy them when our library does a great job of keeping up. I have about six books on the Galapagos, Portugal, Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the house right now and all of them are 2018 and 2019 editions. If I like one a bunch and want to refer to it again and again, then I will buy it. Usually the Kindle edition because then I can have it on my phone when we are traveling.

About this time is when I do my preliminary research. I am looking for the best part of town to book pre and post cruise hotels (or in the case of a land trip, just hotels) as well as trying to find out if we want to rent a car or rely on public transportation and if we need restaurant reservations to get into the places we would love. I will usually get books from the aforementioned Rick Steves (great for restaurants and tours but he and I never agree about hotels), Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Top Ten and Eyewitness.

I won’t read every page in the books but I will peruse all of them to see what they mention as top destinations, lodging and restaurants. If a few mention the same places as being great, they usually are. At that point if I am going to do hotels, I then check with friends who I know have traveled to that place. My first stop is ALWAYS the website of our good friend Mike Preisman. Mike not only picks great places, he does a great job of giving you his opinion of them and has really great photos of them as well. I know from experience if Mike liked a hotel, I am going to like it and it will be a good value. And I can be sure his photos will show me what a hotel room really looks like.

After checking with friends, it’s time to book hotels or, in some places, AirBnBs. Before I do that, I will have looked at every actual hotel website as well. Then I have my travel agent do the booking 😜 (that would be me).

11 months before we travel (especially true for international travel) I start looking for airfare. We have been very lucky in that up to this point when we travel internationally we have been able to use miles/points to buy all our tickets since our first two trips. Getting those can be a challenge because there is less and less availability than there used to be. More people with more miles competing for the same seats. That means I start as early as I can. We are going to Europe for a river cruise in December and the hunt for air will start in early February. In case you don’t know this, 11 months is usually the earliest you can book a flight.

Another thing we have to decide before we book a flight is where do we want to go before we go where we want to go. I really did mean to type that. Many times we are taking a cruise but we may want to go someplace else first. For instance, last summer we were taking a cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. But it was just an 11 day cruise and Europe is way too far to go and use our valuable miles to just take an 11 or 12 day vacation. Plus since we are semi-retired we can spend more time away from home. So as we planned this trip, we decided that instead of flying directly to Dublin, we would fly to Edinburgh, spend four days and then a train to York and six days with our Leeds buddies before we flew to Dublin for the cruise. We have to decide all that before we book air. Lots of research.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 3.58.18 PMOnce the cruise is booked (if this trip involves a cruise) and the airfare purchased and hotels reserved, I start with the sites we want to see. We do a lot of research on those as well using notes I made from the books (Kathleen and I share notes on our Apple devices about our trips), websites (especially Mike’s)  and other recommendations on what to see. Then I create a Google map. I have done one for every major trip we have taken. I put our lodging on the map first and then all the places we want to see while there. I use a different layer for every city on the same trip. So for instance on our Mardi Gras trip we are going to Sarasota and Boynton Beach pre-cruise and then New Orleans, Costa Maya and Cozumel. So each of those places has its own layer with all the places we want to see. To get an idea of this, you can click here to see this one.

Once we have seen where everything is, we start planning our day…or I do. Kathleen seems to like where I decide to go and she does contribute places she wants to see if I have missed them.

IMG_2284All the way through this process I have been adding these to my TripCase app on my phone. You can find the one by clicking here. It keeps track of everything I book. Some of it automatically. For instance, when I buy my air, I just send the confirmation e-mail to TripCase and the schedule is automatically added. It places everything in one place for that trip and,  when we are traveling, everything is in once place and as long as I have synched it while we have internet access, I don’t need to have access again to get to all my info. One of my favorite Canadian readers told me about it and I can’t thank her enough. It has been awesome.

All this time, if we are going on a cruise, we are posting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise trading info and getting suggestions about things to see and do and having people ask if we want to share tours and day trips.

At this point, we are just about ready to go. The only other thing I sometimes do (if we will be doing any driving) is stop by AAA and grab some actual paper maps (yes, I still use those—it gives me a better overview) of where we will be driving as well as put all the places we want to drive through into our Garmin GPS (yes, I still have one of those because I like it better than my phone).

I welcome your comments or questions on this process. I should add that we have lots of friends and relatives who travel with us who rely on us to plan the trips and we are happy to do so. The fact that I love doing this is one of the reasons I love being a travel agent. And I love planning travel for anyone and everyone.

My father’s plan was, we were going to grow up and travel the world.
—Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Coming soon…in 2020. A HUGE year!

Happy New Year!

Just want to say that I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. What I do believe in is New Year’s goal setting. So I have been doing mine this past week and things are looking good. Of course like everyone else I know—I would love to lose weight. And I have a continuing goal of learning new things. I want to be a better photographer, a better cook and to get better with technology. And I have to find a way to deal with logins and passwords 😜. They are my nemesis.

But the one goal both Kathleen and I have this  year is to TRAVEL! To lots of places. If you have been following this blog during 2019 you will know that we lost two of our beloved Martini Mates. After losing Carol and Sandra, Kathleen and I decided that we should not put off some of the travel we kept saying we would do…someday. So far this year we have the following planned:

New Orleans collageLate February/Early March—Sarasota, Florida and a Celebrity cruise to New Orleans for Mardi Gras

One of the few major cities we have not been to in the US is New Orleans. We were looking for a way to go there and spend a few days and see the city. When we heard about this cruise we thought, what a great way to see it. Then we heard that it was going during Mardi Gras. After our experience going to Edinburgh during the Fringe and Military Tattoo we thought AWESOME!

Just so you don’t think that we are nuts to go to New Orleans on a cruise ship, we are there for almost three full days, docked right downtown just blocks from the Mardi Gras parades. And yes, we fully realize that there will be crazy crowds and it will make it hard to get into restaurants but anytime we want to, we can head back to the ship and get away from it all. Besides New Orleans and Mardi Gras we also get two other ports, a cruise and we are going with a bunch of friends.

Pre-cruise we are going to Sarasota, Florida with our buddies Bob and Judy. The cruise is only 11 nights so we could not see just flying all the way to Florida for just those 12 days. Since we had been to the Keys a few years back pre-cruise we were looking for someplace else to explore. About five years ago I spent three days in Sarasota teaching a workshop and I was really impressed so we decided to go there first, then rent a car and drive down to the Fort Lauderdale area the day before the cruise. We will stay with our awesome buddy Mike pre-cruise and then he is coming with us on the cruise as well.

Holland America cruise ship Koningsdam in HelsinkiLate April—Pacific Coastal cruise from San Diego to Vancouver, BC on Holland America’s Koningsdam

You may remember that our good friend Seth Wayne (the guy who I did all the radio shows with). Well, he has left KOMO television and radio and taken a position with Holland America Cruises as their new Director of Communications/Brand Ambassador. In that new job he will be doing a lot cruising and this is one of the ones he will be on so we thought, why not run down to Southern California, see my brother and his wonderful bride (who is now RETIRED) and then sail to Vancouver and take the train home from there.

Besides the fact that we will be onboard with Seth, this will be a learning cruise for us as Koningsdam is an entirely new class of ships that we have never been on so we will love that part. It’s only a four night cruise but it should be a lot of fun. And I forgot to tell you all the exciting new ports we will visit between San Diego and Vancouver, BC. That’s because there aren’t any. On those four nights, we only stop once—in Seattle. LOL

The Galapagos Islands letter conceptLate July/Early August—Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

10B_ZODIAC-OPEN-WATER_4948_v4This is the BIG trip of 2020! We are flying down to Southern Cal again to see my brother and his bride for a few days before we fly Copa Air through Panama City to Quito. We are there for two nights before we fly out to the Galapagos Islands and board Celebrity’s tiny (only 100 passengers) ship, Flora. On Flora we will sail around the islands for seven full days, only getting off on Zodiacs with naturalists as our guides. I have started following Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She works on board Flora and take the MOST AMAZING PHOTOS of the ship and of the wildlife on the islands. If you want to see what we will be seeing and what I will be posting to this blog, check out her gorgeous photos.

EclipseLate September—Pacific Coastal cruise on Celebrity Eclipse with Bob and Judy

We are always looking for a chance to get away and a chance to get on a cruise ship. When it leaves from Vancouver or Seattle, that is really a big plus because we don’t have to fly anywhere. And we are always looking for a reason to sail with Bob and Judy. This five night cruise does stop in a few places—like Astoria, Oregon, Seattle and Victoria. But since we don’t have to fly at all, this one will give Bob and I a chance to get our tuxedos out of mothballs and formal around a little bit. We like that kind of thing. 😀

Early December—Our first river cruise on Viking to see the European Christmas Markets

This is one we have been planning for quite awhile. You have to if you want to sail with Viking because they do sell out quickly and early. We are going with our traveling buddies my brother Steve and his bride Jamie. Jamie’s brother and sister-in-law are also coming along.

We start with three nights before the cruise in Prague, then we join the boat (and it is a boat because it is small enough to go ON a ship) in Nuremberg, Germany where we will visit our first Christmas Market, the oldest of them all. Then it’s on to Regenburg and Passau Germany, Krems and Vienna Austria and finally we finish in Budapest, Hungary. We spend two nights after the cruise in Budapest and then we are deciding where to go next because we will NOT fly all the way to Europe for less than two weeks. It just isn’t worth it to us to go that far and spend that much on airfare and then stay for less than that. We are still debating between three days in Paris or three days in Lisbon.

We would love to have anyone out there who wants to, to come and join us on any of these trips. You can make your own arrangements or call your favorite travel agents (that would be us, right). We promise lots of FUN!

So that’s it! It’s quite the year and I am sure that in between these major trips we will fit a few smaller ones like a hockey excursion to Chilliwack, BC or a wine sojourn to the east side of the mountains. You know us, we hate sleeping in our own beds.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.—Confucius

 

 

The BEST and worst of travel in our 2019

Seasons Greetings to all! I have been working on this post for a few days now and I thought I would try and get it online before the new year. I am starting the actual post  on December 22 but probably won’t finish it today as we are headed to our Christmas tradition this afternoon—Seattle Men’s Chorus. The concert isn’t until tonight but we always get a hotel room downtown, go out to dinner and then hit the show—it’s our holiday tradition. We have done this now for more than 10 years. If you live near Seattle (or even if you don’t) you should get here around Christmas to see the Chorus.

Picking this up again on December 27. Looks like I will finally get it online tomorrow, the 28th. We had a super Christmas and we hope you did as well. Spent Christmas Eve with our adult kids here at our place and Christmas Day with my daughter, son-in-law and my grandkids. First time I have spent Christmas with my daughter in 20+ years. Long story.

But enough about now, let’s look at last year. Here they are, the best and worst of our travel year in 2019.

Best of Travel-2019

  • Best dinner companions—Our grandkids, Mason and Maylee on our Alaska cruise on Ovation of the Seas. Can’t begin to tell you how great it was to introduce our grandkids to cruising. In all likelihood, they won’t go on another cruise for quite a while…unless we take them. But every night (except one) we sat next to them in the dining room and had their undivided attention and they had ours. We kid that Kathleen’s arm was bruised from Maylee poking her and saying, “Grandma K, Grandma K, Grandma K”. That’s not only funny but pretty much a true story. I loved getting Mason to try new foods like escargot. He is not the most adventurous amongst us but by the end of the week he had moved totally to the adult menu and had escargot two more times.

  • Best cruise—Reflection from Dublin to Iceland and back. We had the best time on not only this cruise but on the almost two weeks that preceded it. From our four days in Edinburgh, to our week with Paul and Gail in Yorkshire, to our 11 night cruise from Dublin to Irish ports and to incredible Iceland, it was outstanding. We were thrilled that after the disappointments of our New England cruise in October 2018, Celebrity cruises came back big time with this one on Reflection.

  • BirkirBest tour guide you can hire that we used in 2019—Birkir Mar in Reykjavik. We found Birkir on Tours By Locals. If you need a guide in Reykjavik, let me know and I will get you Birkir’s info. He was outstanding.
  • Best tour guides you can’t hire that took great care of us this year—Our long-time Martini Mates, Paul and Gail who took us everywhere in Yorkshire and the Lake District of England. We have never had so much fun and toured some many places in one short week. It was the best part of our awesome almost-a-month trip in June. We would do the whole thing again in an instant…but sorry, you can’t. They only do tours for their close, personal friends. We are so glad they are ours.

  • Most incredible child we spent time with that was not our grandchild—Paul and Gail’s granddaughter Jemimah. This girl can write stories and then act them. She can even get her grandparents to play parts in them. Quite the accomplishment for one so young. Meeting her (after hearing so much about her) was a true highlight.
  • Best storyteller—Frank (Dobby the House Elf?) at Stirling Castle in Scotland. When we were in Edinburgh we took a bus tour north to see the Kelpies and Stirling Castle where were led on the castle tour by Frank (who we think looks like Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter books) and it was OUTSTANDING! If you are in Edinburgh, the Kelpies and this castle are well worth the trip. But ask if you can wait to take the tour with Frank, it will be worth the wait.

  • Biggest travel surprise—how much we liked the floating behemoth, Allure of the Seas on our FAM cruise in October. We were certain we would hate the BIG ships. Just didn’t think that cruising with 5,998 other people would work out that well, but it did. Royal Caribbean has figured it out on these BIG ships. Too bad they haven’t yet on some of their others.

  • Akureyri-072Best meal on a trip—lunch at the Porch on Reflection—amazing seafood. If you sail on Celebrity’s Reflection or Silhouette, you have to try The Porch. It’s a little outdoor specialty restaurant on the side of the Lawn Deck. just to the right of the Lawn Club Grille facing forward. The seafood is amazing and you can eat as much as you want. They have a seafood tower that includes so much shellfish you won’t believe it. It’s almost worth taking a cruise just to eat there. We are going back in February and can’t wait. Of course having the gang above with us made it that much more fun.
  • Best sangria we have ever had—during lunch at the Porch on Reflection. Maybe the food wasn’t that good 😂 (it was!) and it was just the Sangria talking but this was DELICIOUS and memorable! And they just kept it coming—so BEWARE! It sneaks up on you. Can’t wait to go back and get more of this as well.
  • Best video blog about a place we were goingThe Broonford’s video blog about Edinburgh. If you go to Edinburgh without seeing Tony’s YouTube videos, you are nuts. We learned so much from him before we went and we are still watching them sometimes because Tony is just a hoot. I wish he had them for every city we want to visit.
  • Best travel experience—climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh before dawn. One of the experiences I learned from Tony on The Broonford’s video blog was that a great thing to do in Edinburgh was to climb the mountain/hill known as Arthur’s Seat. Alright, at just under 900 feet, it’s really not a mountain but it does tower over downtown Edinburgh and to an average guy like me, it feels like a mountain. Hopefully you all know by now how much I love getting up before dawn (way before dawn) and going out to take photos. Especially when we are on trips. So I set a goal to climb Arthur’s Seat after hearing Tony Broonford talk about it. It was cold! It was windy! REALLY WINDY! And I had injured my knee just a few weeks before so I was wearing a brace…and shorts, but I did it! And I have some amazing pics as well. I would do it again in a minute.

  • Best cruise on a ship we hated—Ovation of the Seas to Alaska with our grandkids and their parents. Ovation just doesn’t understand Alaska yet. And they don’t understand taking 5,000 American to Alaska as opposed to sailing around in Asia with nothing but Asians on board. It’s an entirely different experience and last summer, this ship’s first in the Alaska market, they failed. Sold out, but failed. But the cruise was AWESOME for us because of the company we kept. Having the grandkids with us for an entire week was wonderful.
  • image0Best reunion—spending three days with our friend and fellow Martini Mate Mike at his place in Boynton Beach. We had not seen Mike since his wonderful bride and our dear friend (another of our Martini Mates) Carol had passed away earlier in the year. Although we have had some political differences in the past few years, we have been able to see past those and stay friends. When we decided to take the Allure cruise we e-mailed and asked if we could stay with him pre-cruise. Thankfully he said yes and we had three great days running around the Boynton Beach area with him (not to mention a bunch of great meals at some outstanding restaurants). We can’t wait to see him again when we spend one night pre-cruise with him in February and then he joins us on that cruise.

Worst of Travel-2019

  • IMG_1627Most disappointing evening: Going to a Mariner Spring Training game in March in Arizona and freezing so bad we had to leave after the third inning. I can still feel that wind blow. In Arizona! In March! Are you kidding me?
  • Biggest travel screw-up I did—booking a jeep ride in Sedona for the day after we we supposed to leave. We did get our money back but we missed the jeep ride. Then got stuck in traffic on our way to a horrid dinner. I knew being able to book the exact time we wanted to take the tour was too good to be true when I only did it online about three hours before the tour. I should have known better. I will next time. And we won’t travel again without dinner reservations. That’s about the only time we ever argue on trips—when we haven’t planned in advance. I know that some of you will think this ruins spontaneity, but we can always cancel plans if something else comes along but that night in Sedona, the restaurants were PACKED and we ended up in a place I would never have eaten in if we had planned it. (BTW: If you go to Sedona, plan a lot of extra time to drive to dinner. Around 4:00 pm, the traffic goes from bad to stopped.)
  • Getting the flu on Allure of the Seas, a cold at Paul and Gail’s and having a bad knee for all of it. After our Allure of the Seas trip, someone at our travel agency where we work remarked  that they wouldn’t cruise with us because I was always getting sick. And this year it felt like that really happened. The worst was the Allure version of the flu. At least four members of our Allure travel agent class came down with it and two had to be hospitalized. Thank goodness, that wasn’t me. It did seem like I caught everything when we traveled this year but I think that is because I am no longer spending a lot of time in schools (for my real job) and I don’t get exposed to as many germs until I travel.

Saddest experiences of 2019

  • Worst cruise ship we sailed on—Ovation of the Seas. They just don’t get it. See above under Best Cruise on a ship we hated.
  • Losing four traveling friends this year.
    • We lost two of our Martini Mates who passed way too soon. Carol and Sandra will be so missed. Our Martini Mates have been reduced by three (including our beloved Jude in 2014) in the last five years and much to our trepidation and consternation, they were all women. What’s up with that? Our travels will never be the same without these wonderful friends.
    • We also lost two of our closest friends who we had traveled many, many places with since 2016, who just stopped talking to us, blocked us on social media and cancelled future travel plans with us and we still don’t know why. We miss them but have no clue what we did to make them do that.

Try celebrating the best and not the worst. —Rob Manuel