Saturday morning, May 17, 2014 After the cruise, we struggled to get out of the boat like a bunch of cattle. I guess this is inevitable with 1,700 passengers and only one exit. We took our only taxi of the entire trip to the airport to catch our 45 minute flight from Denmark to Germany. Berlin’s Tegel Airport reminded us of Chicago’s smaller Midway Airport. We traveled on a bus and two trains to our apartment on Bernauer Straße in the very chichi neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. From the train, we had to walk about ½ mile dragging our luggage to the apartment over cobblestone sidewalks. A friend of the landlady was waiting and took us up to, what turned out to be, a brand new place. In fact, it looked to be only about 30% complete. There were construction workers in the building every day. Luckily, we were the second people to ever rent the place. We weren’t sure white floors, walls, cabinets and furniture would work out so well for the owner, Jana. From the picture window, we looked down on Bernauer Straße and Mauerpark across the street. The Berlin Wall formerly ran down this street. No Man’s land, the property adjacent to the wall is being transformed with new buildings. This Ost-West (East-West) Café was nearby, with a very interesting old Trabant parked out front. After choosing rooms in very orderly, Germanic fashion, we headed to the center of town to start the walking tour. The streets were packed with tourists and soccer fans. The German Soccer (Bundesliga) Championship Game between Dortmund and Bayern München was being played that evening in Berlin. The Dortmund fans wore Black and Yellow jerseys and the München fans Red and Blue. The three-hour free Sandeman Tour started at the Brandenburg Gate. Our guide was Franziska Storr. She actually gave up practicing law to become a tour guide. Made sense since she was quite a people person. This city has withstood the most incredible evils in recent history: The Nazis wiped out Democracy, disallowed independent thinking and began purging non-Aryans starting in 1933 The Wall was built in 1961 in one night and came down in 1989 And this history, with its pain so fresh, is embedded everywhere: statues, parks, buildings. AND remnants of the wall are still standing in many places — left in memory. This graffiti says it all. Madness indeed. Berlin’s painful history is not evidenced at the Hotel Aldon where Michael Jackson famously dangled his baby over the balcony. The Presidential Suite, at the “best flexible” rate, goes for the ungodly sum of €15,750 ($21,418) per night! Hello! The traffic lights are delightful. They were originally only in East Berlin, but became so beloved, they have become iconic. They are known as Ampelmännchen, which is German for little traffic light man. We toured the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. It is a thought provoking exhibit made up of huge concrete towers of all sizes. The architect never explained what he meant by it, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. It cost €27,000,000 to construct. Underground at this site is The Holocaust Memorial, in which you can hear a pin drop…or should I say, tears fall. There is much personal accounting of the horrors Hitler’s policies unleashed. Here are two of the things I read: one from a note recovered in a concentration camp, the other a summary of just one family’s journey. Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie, which, it turns out is well-known by the locals as a high-priced tourist trap. Near the end of the tour, and after hearing about Berlin’s sordid past, Franziska said “Now to something a bit more cheerful. Let’s see where Hitler shot himself in 1945.” A parking lot is built over the bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide – no monument there. We ate at a local Thai restaurant across from the apartment. There were many restaurants to choose from in the neighborhood. We then went to the beer garden across the street and watched some of the soccer match on the big screen TV with the German fans. The game went to over time with Bayern München winning so the Dortmund fans were pretty somber. Sunday, May 18 We toured of the Reichstag, a German version of the U.S. Congress. After passing through security, we met our Tour Guide, In May of 1945, the building was captured by Russian soldiers who wrote all over the walls. There are photos of the soldiers standing on ladders or the shoulders of comrades writing on the walls. The Germans have preserved these writings. Since nothing was in session, we actually got to go into the chambers where the members debate and vote. She wasn’t in today. But, according to the guide, she lives quite modestly in a local apartment. Those practical Germans! We then made our way up the spiral walkway in the famous glass dome atop the building. We had audio recorders that described what we were seeing as we walked up. Outside the entrance to the Reichstag was a monument in memory of 96 members of the Reichstag (Parliament) of the Weimar Republic who were murdered by National Socialists. We went to Typography of Terror Museum, which details the rise of the Nazis and the termination of the Jews. I was topped up with sadness, so only read some of the exhibits outside. We opted to move on. At this point, the lush green forests of the Tiergarten sounded appealing. This giant park, in the middle of Berlin, measures about one square mile, and has 14 miles of pathways. We walked down the main avenue which was lined with vendors and food tents because of a huge bicycle race that was being held – as in 15,000 bikes huge. Unfortunately, the intermittent rain, meant sparse crowds. From the top of the Victory Column located in the center of the park, we could watch the bicyclists coming around different streets through the park. A fellow spectator lamented “Many riders, not so many spectators.” We ended up at Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s Central Station. It is almost like an airport with all kinds of shops and restaurants on different levels. International and local trains, subways, and buses connect there. Very impressive. Right across from the station along the waterway, we saw people gathered along the water’s edge. Never did figure out what they were watching…a race? It was very inviting and picturesque, but we were on our way home, so there was no turning back to explore. We returned to the apartment and then headed out to hear this sweet guitar player sing in the park right across from us. And we never could figure out what this fellow was doing lying on the sidewalk next to his bike, bundled up in motorcycle leather. We sought treasures in the HUGE flea market in the park. No luck. Buncha junk! Never quite understood what this ad was about or for. But I got a kick out of it. Also in the park was a very lively, dusty dog park. Lots of romping, playing, chasing and humping. Monday, May 19th Today was Pergamon Museum day. We found it on Museum Island. Upon arrival, I was most amused and encouraged by this bird. I hoped he was a good omen. The critter certainly wasn’t flying anywhere. The Pergamon contained excavated Roman altars and friezes discovered in Turkey and brought to Berlin in the 1930s. The museum survived the bombings during WWII. But I have never been so tired in a museum in my life…and it had nothing to do with my clock. The audio recording we carried around was of a woman’s voice alternating with a man’s. It was downright hypnotic. I’m thinking my interest in antiquities of this kind is limited. Berlin is on-the-go. This vista, with seven cranes in view was typical of the horizon. Build, repair, build, repair. We found ourselves in a huge square in front of the Berlin Cathedral. They are putting in a new subway, which has caused some disruption. It was fascinating to see these diagrams of the plans and the massive drill doing the dirty work. We walked through the Alexander Platz and ate dinner at an authentic German restaurant. So authentic, the waitress didn’t even speak English. I ordered what sounded very German, but it turned out to be a couple of brats and BBQ sauce, sauerkraut and soggy french fries. Jack hit the jackpot (so to speak) with his enormous pork something-or-other. One thing was for sure, the German beer was divine! Wow! I hadn’t seen a cigarette machine in forever. I think Germans haven’t yet kicked the evil habit. Our day in Berlin ended watching the sunset from the Reichstag Dome. No clouds, just blinding light. Probably could have passed on this one, especially since it takes much prior planning to get permission to enter the dome. Tuesday, May 20th We wanted to visit our hometown’s namesake’s palace, so we headed to the Charlottenburg Palace. That’s how Mary, with her little lamb, was feeling with all that cruise food and German beer. We took a bus from there to the zoo. We decided German lions, camels, elephants and alligators probably weren’t much different from others we’d seen, so saved our $70 for later. Along the way, through the Tiergarten, we saw many homeless people and tons of graffiti. I wouldn’t have taken this picture, except he appeared to be sound asleep. These walkways were everywhere in Tiergarten. They are beautiful, but talk about labor-intensive. I saw a fellow laying these pieces one-by-one. Not as cost-effective as just pouring concrete, but certainly more beautiful. Never did figure out what this sign meant. It appears to say “No Tanks”. We visited the Kurfürstendamm, the Champs-Élysées of Berlin. In a square nearby, we were entertained by this middle-aged fellow doing stunts on a skateboard. Had Amaru and Paloma, my nephew and niece, been there, they most certainly would have been digging for pennies to press in this machine…or maybe Euros. They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! Near Kurfürstendamm was the burned out Kaiser Wilhelm church, currently being restored. We returned to Alexanderplatz and saw The Fernsehturm (TV Tower) up close and personal. The Tower is the tallest structure in Germany at 368 meters. It was pricey to go to the top and, reportedly, the restaurant was overpriced, so we only looked UP. In the same plaza, fondly known as Alex, we saw the World Time Clock, which continually rotates showing the time throughout the globe. We finally went into St. Mariankirch (with a statue of Martin Luther outside.) We’d seen this church the day before from the plaza, but were unimpressed. It was built with a variety of bricks and looked a little seedy. But it turned out to be beautiful inside. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an altar quite as ornate as this. Finally, we headed back toward our apartment and visited the Berlin Wall Memorial, which was right down the street. This area is where The Wall first went up. Again, the museum was full of horror stories…which is what it was: A Horror Story. We packed up and took off for the airport. Having missed her at her office, it was nice to see Angela Merkel saying goodbye as we dragged our luggage to the bus.
Monday, May 12th
Tallinn, Estonia, the first port-of-call is a lovely little city. We were able to walk to the city center where we joined the Free Tour with a group of about 30 travelers.
We passed Fat Margaret, an ancient defensive structure near the dock. I guess they thought a structure of that size would scare off any possible invaders.
Jack and I wondered about whether we’d see someone we knew on the trip. Long odds, yes, but we both believed it possible.
So, no one was surprised when I chased a woman into a tourist shop in Estonia. She looked familiar to me and turned out to be Andrea Doolittle, from Raintree, the country club we belong to in Charlotte! She was on the cruise…among 1,700 other passengers. I saw her only one other time from a distance. So sad I didn’t place a HUGE wager to win on that chance encounter.
Tallinn is small with narrow, winding streets.
Turned out I just missed a Swedish cousin of mine who had been there two days before. He said it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There certainly were enough cobblestone streets in lovely Tallinn to authenticate this.
Our tour guide was Mairi, a native of Tallinn. Here she is in front of a placard commemorating Boris Yeltsin, who was instrumental in granting Estonia their freedom.
In the Middle Ages, Tallinn was divided into two parts: the Toompea with its hilltop castle fortress and the Lower Town inhabited by merchants.
Estonia has managed to retain its charm through Swedish and Soviet rule. Estonia is a small country. And here’s how small it is: Mairi stood next to the President of Estonia at a rock concert, both with a beer in hand.
Tallinn is known for the following:
It is the birthplace of the first public Christmas tree display
Blood sausages are a favorite
They eat something called Kama, consisting of wheat powder, unflavored yogurt and sugar
Their best showing in the Olympics was 24th out of of 29 — but they have a mean fencing team
St. Olaf’s Church is the 3rd highest structure/thing in Tallinn. #1 is the TV tower, #2 some hill.
I shopped unsuccessfully for sweaters at the Sweater Wall. The ones I found were either itchy or felt like products of China…nothing to write home about, OR to take home.
On the way back to the boat, we stopped for a photo op near Fat Margaret.
And Tallinn wasn’t immune to graffiti…either that or that can of spray paint was burning a hole in Jack’s jacket.
We found out the next day a fellow passenger didn’t make it back to the ship. The pilot boat we saw zip up to the side of the boat the night before had to have been delivering him. A British gal told us he was probably was slapped with a huge fine. His bad!
Tuesday, May 13th
Today we visited St. Petersburg, Russia where you either need to be with a guide or apply months in advance for a visa. It was a long day and we needed to turn our clocks forward an hour – we’d sleep tonight!
Mr. Research (Jack) found tours and excursions that were not affiliated with the ship, saving us tons of money. Being lazy doesn’t pay. And that was never truer than in St. Petersburg.
We went on a private tour through T.J. Travel with only 12 travelers. The boat tours were comprised of, what looked like, hundreds. Our tour guide, Alexandra, was a lovely young mother, who really knew the drill.
Historical names: 1712-1918 Petrograd, 1918-1980 Leningrad, 1980-today St. Petersburg. (And a sordid history to accompany all those name changes.)
St. Petersburg is built on 42 islands and has over 500 bridges. There are places where bridges are hoisted all night to let ships pass at will. So, if you’re on that island and party too late, you’re not gonna get home.
Our first stop was to see two sphinx statues and two gold Griffins along the river. Missed the significance, but we were told rubbing the Griffin heads brought good luck.
This good luck paid off for the gal on the tour who left her camera in a gift shop along the way. AND for our driver, Vladim, who masterfully avoided a driver who weaved into our lane.
We paused at The 7-Bridges for a mandatory photo stop.
Saw the Church of St. Nicklas.
Here are a couple of the more impressive, really Russian-looking structures. Don’t remember the names:
And the Waldorf Astoria
I expected to see troops come marching down the street after I saw this huge billboard.
Next stop: The Hermitage. It is totally overwhelming and the crowds were incredible. Our tour guide knew how to snake through the crowds to the quieter rooms.
This is how big it is:
If you spend 30 seconds viewing each piece of art in the Hermitage, you will be there for SEVEN YEARS!!!
As I said before, I’m not too nuts about museums, so two hours of this was about all I could take.
Below are a few of the pieces of art we saw and some of the building.
To be expected, my favorite thing wasn’t the art, it was the bathroom. I must have a discerning eye, because it turned out Gianni Versace was the designer…of the bathrooms!
There were little ladies posted in every room wearing navy suits (military uniforms?) with walkie talkies. We found out that one of the passengers on the boat either didn’t “get” or see this universal “don’t touch” sign so got whacked by an elderly watchdog. His hand was still swollen the next day.
The next surprising, totally delightful, stop was to ride a couple stops on the subway. It is WAAAY underground, under the rivers. The escalators took forever.
And the underground stations are decorated like a grand ballroom. Ornate and clean.
A favorite stop for me was to the Church of the Spilt Blood, probably because of the gory name. It came by the moniker honestly. It was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 when revolutionaries threw a bomb at his royal carriage. It has mosaics outside and inside on the walls, the ceiling and in every nook and cranny.
Off to The Peterhof, Peter The Great’s summer palace.
The grounds were beautiful with tulips in full bloom. The multitude of water fountains are gravity fed, no pumps.
This was my favorite fountain. It sprayed when you walked on the stones a certain way. A couple very brave students took on the challenge and got soaked.
These signs were posted everywhere. That’s a dollar being pulled from the unaware guy’s pocket. Hmmmm, think they’re implying Americans are at all stupid?
Then the rains fell. So we ran to the van and were treated to a very plain-jane, vanilla lunch…but it WAS 3:00, so anything would have sufficed.
Like every good tourist attraction, the last stop was the gift shop. Here I got my only souvenir…some lovely blue Faberge Egg-like drop earrings. Last week, in a hurry, I put on one of those and another similar but different earring. My friends never said a word…thought I was just being artistic. Nah, just scatter brained.
At the gift shop, we just had to take advantage of the free sample of vodka. This must have been snapped BEFORE Kevin’s first sip. Whoa, did that ever burn going down.
My cousin, Jorgen, who we missed in Tallinn, was surprised we even went to St. Petersburg. He heard U.S. ships were avoiding Russia because of the strife between countries. Well, we Americans were a minority on the ship, so Royal Caribbean just didn’t seem to worry.
At this point, we could have opted for a small boat tour. It would have been wonderful to see St. Petersburg at night but it doesn’t get dark until very late that time of year, so we would just see what we saw earlier. So, no thanks, back to the ship.
Thursday, May 15th
After a day at sea, because of having to skip Helsinki due to heavy winds, we docked in Stockholm. These typical Swedish horses greeted us at the port.
We walked and walked and walked in this city. Jack and Lisa spent the day at the Vasa Museum, which houses the most fully intact 17th century warship ever salvaged. This boat, armed with 64 guns and 300 sailors, sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.
Since we were meeting another of my Swedish cousins and his girlfriend for lunch, we had limited time. We decided to skip the museum and explore Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old city. Being museum lovers, Jack and Lisa spent the entire day at the museum. I was happier being a bird out of its cage.
Here are a couple of shots of the lovely old city.
A mere 3 feet wide, Marten Trotzigs Grand is Stockholm’s narrowest street.
We took a boat back to the museum where we met Fredrik and his girlfriend Bee. We had a nice lunch at a breezy outdoor café, blankets on laps.
We got to go to their flat and meet Bee’s 16 year old son, Nitipon. Here is Fredrik, the giant, and tiny Bee.
Departing Stockholm, we experienced the most beautiful sail-away of the cruise because of the smooth, spectacular water and picturesque structures along the canal.
Not to mention, this departure was accompanied by the music of Tom the Pyper’s bagpipes for the very last time.
We were headin’ home to Copenhagen.
Next stop: Berlin
Here we be, on the Legend of the Seas.
This section, Part Two, covers the cruise itself, which we loved.
We’ve cruised before, but have never have had so much fun. Several factors prevailed to make this happen.
The cruise director, the maître d’ of ship entertainment, was Topi Ylonen from Finland. He knew how to get things rockin’ and rollin’ at the many events and dance parties held on the boat. Whatever Royal Caribbean pays him isn’t enough. He was masterful.
We had buddies on the ship — Jack and Lisa Hanrahan. During the time onboard, we all did our own things, Kevin putted, I wrote in my journal, Lisa walked the deck and Jack excelled at Trivia. But every night we dined together.
And when we dined we were served by Dario, from Croatia and an assistant, Carolina, from Chile. They were attentive, always pleasant and fun. This picture says it all.
Carolina wore a wedding ring and admitted to me that her husband was on the ship. She wouldn’t tell me who he was, so I searched name tags all week. In a crew of 700, I never found anyone who seemed a likely candidate. The last night she said “don’t you know who it is yet?” and looked at Dario. Right under my nose. Of course. They were so playful together, I should have known.
Our 2nd level cabin was in the bow, so if we hit a ridge, we could kiss all our body parts goodbye. It had a nice big window.
Our very sweet cabin-keeper was Noel from the Philippines. These cruise ships have discovered a unique way to make hitting the cabin at bedtime fun…folded towels.
Everyone got the same folded work of art in their room, but I venture to guess, not everyone got a monkey like ours. Noel cleverly used the rotting banana I saved just in case I got hungry (!?)
First things first: we bought a 5-bottle wine package. THIS is where they make a ton of dough! Our 5 bottles ended up costing $26 each…far cry from our $4.99 fare from Trader Joe’s.
In our explorations on board the first day, we found the gym, various restaurants, entertainment venues, the casino and Tom the Pyper. He played the bagpipes as we pulled out of port. Seems it’s good luck and Tom, a passenger, had his pipes with him.
His location, the 9th deck right outside of the spa, caused problems that first day. Seems the people having massages didn’t care for the music. But when they learned he was there with the Captain’s blessing, there was nothing they could do.
We were some of his biggest fans on the ship. We never missed him. The last night, he showed up in his full regalia.
The very first morning, we sat with a lovely couple from Australia: Gaena and Dave George. Although we tried to finagle having dinner with them later, there was “no table-changing allowed”. So we never managed that. We did have breakfast together a couple times anyway. She works in a private school and he is a school teacher.
The first day, I spotted a fellow carrying a small guitar. He told me it was answer to a mid-life crisis. Although there were many people we never saw on board, he seemed to show up all the time. But he wasn’t a bad penny, he was just Jerry.
On May 11th, our first full day on board, we went to the fancier restaurant to celebrate both Mother’s Day and Kevin’s 64th birthday.
I read a ditty I wrote to the tune of When I’m 64 and gave him two Elizabeth George paperbacks. (She was the marquis author at the writers’ workshop we attended in Eugene, Oregon.)
I didn’t have wrapping paper, so made use of the decorative barf bag from the flight.
We went to the first of many putting contests. There was a sweet putt-putt course on the top deck.
This was located right next to the Climbing Wall, to which none of us ever gave a second thought.
We entered the putt putt competition every single time. Once we won with Jack and Lisa.
Another time with a sweet Danish couple.
But the big individual winner was always Kevin, as demonstrated by his Mark Spitz-ish medals.
Not to be outdone, I entered the Wii Golf competition. Got paired up with Sieki, from Japan, who had never even held a golf club. Didn’t matter…we had fun.
We loved being on the boat. Topi made the dance parties fun with his wonderful singing and dancing.
For the 70’s Disco Inferno Dance Party he was John Travolta-ish with an afro and white zoot suit.
That night, he was accompanied by the Legendary Macho Men
I danced up a storm.
Another night it was Topi and the Top Dogs. A 50’s & 60’s Rock n’ Roll Dance Party
And, just before St. Petersburg, Russia, we rocked at a White Russian Dance Party.
These two cuties entertained all with their swirling and kissing.
They held a Parade of Flags to celebrate the International crew. Seventy-seven countries were represented.
There was also passenger singing…as in Karoke. Lisa and Jack were brave taking on a difficult rendition of Somebody I Used To Know
From time to time, the staff also got into the act…of course, on command. But it made for great pandemonium and liveliness in the dining room.
Here are the shakers and movers on stage the last night. If the staff wasn’t having fun, they were good actors.
Day five we were supposed to travel overnight from St. Petersburg arriving in Helsinki at 9:00 or so. Kevin woke up and was surprised we were already in port, since we could see the dock.
Un uh, we were still in Russia. Yikes! All the talk and speculation at breakfast was we were being held hostage since the US-Russian relations were so tenuous. In fact, a Swedish cousin of mine was surprised we were even going to Russia.
But it was just bad weather. In fact, pilot boats had to sit on both sides of the ship to keep it from banging into the dock. We were oblivious, sleeping through the whole event.
The shows were amazing. We saw:
String Fever play electric violins.
The Russian Military Folkloric Ensemble from St. Petersburg, Russia
Other dancers and musicians performed throughout the week.
But our favorite was Soul Satisfaction who sang a mean Motown.
Once on stage, one of the players said, “We were waiting on the dock at Helsinki. Where were you?” They were supposed to board in Helsinki but ended up joining us in Stockholm.
There was a Cirque De Soleil-type show that performed in the 9-story Centrum. But I never watched them perform, having just heard the horror story of the eight aerialists who fell, while hanging by their hair. No thanks!
Here we are on “Formal Night”
…and look what else showed up! Usually, there were at least a couple ships in view. The beautiful Baltic is busy!!
Cruises are an easy way to cover lots of ground, so we decided to float around the Baltic and visit six major cities. It was an efficient way to cover lots of ground and was cost efficient too, considering the weakness of the dollar vs. the Krone, Krona, Euro and Ruble.
We also decided to add a couple days in Copenhagen before the cruise and in Berlin post-cruise. Therefore, I plan to write four separate blog posts: Part 1 covers Copenhagen, Part 2 The Cruise Part 3 Estonia, Sweden and Russia and Part 4 Berlin.
We settled on Royal Caribbean, sailing May 10th, 2014.
I used to work with Jack at Leo Burnett, so we’ve been friends for years. It turned out to be a perfect match. We did lots of touring together, but they enjoyed museums – I prefer anything but. We would always meet for dinner to compare notes.
Jack was an intrepid planner (that’s what we were after all: Media Planners) which made for a well laid out trip. He also loves figuring out public transportation. We took a taxi only once. It was all trains, subways and buses. We were part of the fabric of each town we visited plus we saved a bunch of money…gobs actually. Without his penchant, I might not have been as adventurous.
Although we ate like sailors — this WAS a cruise after all — we shouldn’t have worried our little heads. We actually lost weight. No surprise. Lisa’s Fitbit calculated that we walked almost 90 miles! I didn’t leave Europe with a heavy heart…it was with tired gams.
I took 927 photos, but only have just about 300 total in each of the three recaps. I’ve minimized your exposure to the many buildings, cathedrals and parks we saw. Once home, I couldn’t tell them apart. They start to all look alike.
Buckle your seatbelt, the trip begins!!
Thursday, May 8, 2014
SAS takes 90% off the price of a ticket for babies. Need I say more? There was a young’un near us to the right and one a couple rows behind…stereo bawling, all night long.
It was empty, smooth and silent…the first of our many heavenly trips on public transportation.
After booking the cruise and flight, we THEN started looking for accommodations in Copenhagen. We had decided to go early to adjust our clocks and have time to explore the city. There was a dearth of hotel rooms — the only ones we could find were in the $600/night range.
Turned out the finals for Eurovision, a giant musical event, were taking place in Copenhagen that very weekend. In retrospect and given the enormity of the event, I’m amazed no one we’ve mentioned this to has ever heard of Eurovision.
Thirty-seven European countries hold their own contests and then send finalists to Eurovision to participate in two semifinal and one final round. The winning country becomes the host for the next year. Abba became famous after winning this completion.
This year’s competition was very controversial. On the boat we were able to watch the final 26 acts perform and the voting. The contestant from Austria was a lithe fellow, clad in a bejeweled gown. He had long painted nails, long flowing locks and a beard!
Apparently, a BBC announcer had dissed him/her so there were demonstrations and rallys calling for the announcer’s dismissal. So, the win may have been from sympathy votes. One thing is certain, his win caused great consternation in Russia. How dare they honor a transvestite! Oh so juicy.
Want to know more about the competition, which is a happening in Europe? Check out this link:
Fortunately we were able to find a reasonable priced two-bedroom apartment through AirBNB. It was easy bus ride north of the center city.
If there’s such thing as an A+++++ rating, she’s a deserving candidate.
Our first outing was a boat tour which originated from the heavily-photographed Nyhavn Harbour. Unfortunately, it ended up pouring. This was the worst experience of the whole trip, so in perspective, not so bad. We did get a good overview of the city.
We went past the Mærsk headquarters and the relatively new Opera House which is dubbed The Pencil Case, Cowboy, Pumpkin or Toaster. It was funded by Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, the founder of Mærsk Shipping and the richest man in Denmark. Some say the Opera House looks like the flag of the tax-evading, hippy village located across the water from Maersk Headquarters, so is a one-fingered salute to Mueller.
We walked along the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, known as Stroget. Because of Eurovision, it was especially lively, with various stages set up so everyone could sample some of the music.
A photo I sadly missed was of a display window with live mannequins. They were having fun waving at passersby (me).
At five o’clock, they were scheduled to have the Guinness World Record Longest Kissing Chain (in an effort to kiss prejudice goodbye) on the Stroget. The idea of staying to participate was vetoed by majority vote. But Kevin and Lisa did take a crack at it.
At the corner across from this government building, a fellow on a bike waiting to cross the street was staring at me and smiling. Finally I asked him what his problem was. It sounded like he said “you are ugly” and waved at his mouth as he smiled more broadly. Lisa was floored and I started laughing. Either a nut or he got his English wrong.
We found out the next day that he was saying I was “hygge leit” (pronounced hooglee). It is an overused expression in Danish that means “cozy” or “gives a warm feeling”. I’m not sure why, but the whole experience really tickled me. I can still see his earnest face.
We did a little grocery shopping but were intrigued by a small shop selling fresh-made Italian food. We stopped in and bought lasagna from a little old guy named “Mr. Terrible”. True to his name, the lasagna was indeed terrible. Turns out in Denmark it’s an insult to the cook to salt food, so they make sure there’s plenty in it during prep. ICK! We could hardly eat it.
The next day we took a free tour. These were offered in Copenhagen, Tallinn, Stockholm and Berlin. The strategy behind this business model is that the guides work hard for the tips, which are their only income. These tours ranged from 2-3 hours in length and were wonderful. Our guide in Copenhagen was Jane, an Irish citizen and immigrant from New Zealand. She was a treasure trove of information.
Because this blog post is partly so we can remember our trip and some of the interesting facts gathered along the way, I have put that learning in italics. Read only if you’re interested in finding out more about Copenhagen.
Taxes range from 44 to 77% in Denmark. Pays for everyone’s education and medical care.
There is a 200% excise tax on cars and motorcycles.
It is the happiest country in the world (according to who?) but has the highest divorce rate.
Although Denmark was a founding member of the EU it doesn’t use the Euro. Although, the Krone is tied to the Euro.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the Prime Minister. No one in the group knew her name. But, she was famous at one point when she took a selfy with Barack and David Cameron – Michelle glaring in the background. She is married to the son of a well-known UK politician.
Their beloved Queen Margrethe II is an over-achiever with three degrees and the ability to speak in five languages. Her son is Crown Prince Fredrik. His very down-to-earth wife, Mary, has charmed the nation. Their five children, including twin 4 year olds, attend public schools.
The Danes are progressive. The eldest CHILD gets the throne, not the eldest son.
Many Danes no longer go to church, which is why many of the building have been converted to other uses. There was a sign at the entrance of this church saying “I am not a church anymore. I am a museum.”
The major literary Danish hero is Hans Christian Andersen. Orphaned at seven, he begged to join the ballet as an actor. After repeated attempts, and no acting skill, he became a singer until his voice changed. He continued to hang around the theater where the manager heard him telling stories to the younger boys. Therein began his career. Apparently though, his original stories were quite violent…blood and gore and tragedy. What fun!
At the famous Nyhavn Harbour the buildings were houses of prostitution. In the 60’s, to drive out the prostitutes so the harbor could become a tourist attraction, the city dolled up the buildings by painting them the current colors. This alone didn’t work, so they decided to place picturesque ships in the port. Before that could happen they had to clean out the several feet-deep pile of empty bottles, wallets and similar detritus on the bottom of the harbor. The strategy worked so well, the tall-masted sailboats have resided in the harbor ever since.
The most expensive beer you can buy in Copenhagen is at that tourist-trap harbor. Our tour guide suggested just buying a six-pack and a bag of chips and sitting on a bench near the harbor. Seems there’s no law against public alcohol consumption.
The number one restaurant in the world is in Copenhagen: Noma. It has a five month waiting list. Although they serve 20 courses, Jane told us one of her customers told her he they left hungry. It had to be all about the presentation.
We did learn a bit of Danish history along the way. In Berlin, it was all you heard about — their past was indeed sordid. The Danes managed to save thousands of Jewish lives during the war. Of 8,000 Jews living in Denmark, only 42 died. There is a movie about Christian the 10th who was instrumental in this feat starring Pierce Brosnan. I’d put it on the Netflix list if only I could find it. Never got the name.
At the end of the tour, and armed with suggestions from Jane, we took off to explore more of Copenhagen.
There weren’t many homeless people on the streets. The couple we did see had prominent signs promising to do any work available. Seemed like a very Danish way to not beg while begging.
In all the European cities we visited, biking was huge. In addition to a sidewalk, there was a one-way bike lane, heading the direction of street traffic. If you mistakenly walked on that part of the pavement, you ran the risk of being run over. It didn’t take long to figure out where to walk.
On the way down from the top of the Round Tower, we stopped in to see an exhibit about hats. Who would ever know it could be so interesting? In fact, I’m going to contact our Museum of Modern Art about bringing the exhibit to Charlotte. I went a little crazy with the camera here because I loved this display. I hope you enjoy the following photos of costumes from the Royal Theater, various kinds of hats, creative hats of all kinds and Kevin modeling a couple in the “try one on” room.
From the top of the tower, we saw where the National Museum of Art was located. Jane recommended checking out their Free Friday Night event with music, dancing, drink and nibbles. Jackpot! The front of the museum was the old building. There was a new building on the back. This is where the music was performed (which we just missed) It was Queer Tango Night (their term). Queer of every flavor danced the Tango. Splendid fun!
Easy to catch the bus — not so easy to get into the building since we didn’t have a key and the buzzer from the ground floor didn’t work. This could have been a big problem since we didn’t have phones. But neighbors on the second level buzzed us in. Not understanding our explanations as we passed them at their door, they glared at us as we made our way up to the fifth floor. Catastrophe dodged!
Saturday, May 10th
Eva Marie delivered sweet rolls and walked to the grocery store with me so I could buy the two bottles of wine we were allowed to bring on board. Along the way, I told her I thought the candidate, Nicolai Poulsen, was particularly appealing.
AS a last kind gesture, she delivered us to the boat in the larger car she had borrowed from her sister. Didn’t I say she deserved an A++++?
Of all the cities we visited, I loved Copenhagen the most. It was probably a combination of the generosity and kindness of Eva Marie, the energy of Eurovision, the lovely, helpful people we met everywhere…and the fellow who told me I was “oooglee”.
A Dual-Purpose Trip: To visit the Palma Family and attend The Eugene Wordcrafters Fiction Writer’s Conference
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Easy flight but long. Meghan Danahey, a local weather forecaster, was on our first flight merrily basking in celebrity attention. Made me think of my buddy, Diane, who got her start as a weather girl in Lansing, Michigan. But her celebrity was tainted by having to endure her very own talking bird. One of Jim Gross, the station owner’s, worst ideas ever.
We ran like mad people to make the connection in Dallas. During our run we saw this mighty friendly Texas hello.
Our smiley and spirited Budget Rent-a-Car clerk was excited to tell us places to explore. We got a Ford Escape (SUV) for a slight upcharge, the perfect vehicle for Or’gun.
After floating around Portland a bit, we found the condo. I’d forgotten the AirBNB landlord’s instructions about where to find the key, so we were very fortunate that they answered their phone when we were trying to figure it all out.
We strolled around the very dead downtown area, and at 10:30 ended up at Wild Wings. The very place Melissa’s father, my brother-in-law, watched Michigan basketball just weeks prior.
Wednesday March 5th, 2014
We met my niece, Melissa and her two kids, Amaru ten and Paloma eight, at Mother’s Bistro for a late breakfast. http://www.mothersbistro.com/ It was a fantastic, cozy old place with multiple chandeliers overhead. Amaru got a funny face pancake. He must have liked pancake man too much – maybe ate an ear, but that was all.
We took them back to the condo so we could stash their car in our spot and then we headed out along the Columbia River Gorge — so big, like a long flowing lake — to see the Multnomah Falls. They are the second tallest in the U.S. Didn’t ask what the tallest was…Niagra?
Before reaching the giant falls, Kevin, Paloma and I took a little hike on a trail next to the road after stopping to see the smaller Wahkeena waterfall.
We slipped on mud and snow getting shoes soaked in puddles. Fun!
At Multnomah we met sweet Gareth Wilson, volunteer of the year who told us all about the area and the falls. I think he was also probably the longest-serving volunteer — he looked to be in his 80’s. http://www.oregon.com/Hike_Multnomah_Falls
After making our way up to the midpoint and back down in the blowing rain, we found refuge in the gift shop, where yet another squished penny was purchased for 50 cents. What a racket!
On the way back we stopped at The Vista House. http://vistahouse.com/ A vista-less vista because of all the fog. Dancin’ fools at the Vista House.
Yea, another gift shop. No pennies this time.
We ended our time with the Palmas at OMSI, The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It is a sprawling place full of wonder. Great Uncle Kevin fulfilled Paloma’s dream of going into the submarine. Not sure it was what she expected, but she’d been unable to coax anyone else in her family to go. What would you call this look? Befuddled?
Our favorite exhibit was the infra red imaging, where warm places on your body glow yellow and cold spots are black. I was the only one among us with a black nose. Had to be all the sun damage repair. Melissa and I had very hot crotches, which really cracked us up!
There is a beautiful new bridge going up over the Willamette River that goes thru Portland. It will be for public transport, bikers and walkers only.
That night we dined at Peacock, a wonderful Asian restaurant. Kids were fencing with each other using chop sticks until we distracted them with tic-tac-toe and a drawing game.
After dinner we went to Powell’s Bookstore – a true wonder of the publishing world. It takes up a full city block and has many checkout counters. Does a book-lovers heart good. http://www.powells.com/
Paloma had a Gap Kids gift card burning a hole in her pocket so Kevin kindly waited for us as went into the mall, found the store and tried to decide. So many choices!
They took off and we enjoyed lovely Portland from our condo window.
Thursday March 6, 2014
We wanted to experience a little more of Portland, so headed to the Visitor’s Center to see what we could do in a morning. The gal there was most enthusiastic giving us a map of martini road, and one for the breweries. So many choices.
This is a famous old part of the downtown. Note the wet streets. Note that most of the photos are wet. It’s wet there.
I went into the bathroom at the Visitor’s Center and saw one of the things Portland is famous for…its homeless. There were about five women, 30 to 60 brushing their teeth, combing their hair, and rolling up their sleeping bags.
I used the bathroom for the intended purpose and when I sat down saw the possessions of the gal in the stall next to me on the floor in front of her feet. On top of these things sat a little brown dog; probably a Chihuahua.
“Hi, little guy,” I said.
“Who are you? Do I know you?” the woman sitting on the throne next to me said.
“No, I don’t know you. I’m a visitor. But you have such a cute dog. I was just saying hello.”
“She’s my best friend.” The woman didn’t say it, she moaned it.
How easily I could be her. How easily she could be me. I never did get to meet her face to face but sitting next to her gave me pause — and made me grateful for my life. Life’s a crap shoot really, and I just got the lucky roll.
Rainy and cold, we decided to check out one of Portland’s most famous places of residence, the Pittock Mansion.
It was closed, but we had all our luggage so I would have been nervous to go inside for a tour after seeing this very ominous sign in the parking lot.
I was just as glad to look at the outside of this palace. We’d just seen the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach…so really had it up to here with opulence. Next move: downstate to Eugene.
We headed south on Highway 5 but decided to take a little scenic route on #214 along the way. Taking this jaunt, we passed through a couple villages, to get the flavor of small-town life in Or’gun.
First stop was Woodburn, a sorry little town. It felt like we were just north of our southern border. You want Hispanic food? Woodburn is the place.
Although small, there were many cars parked along the road into town. It looked like the whole town was in attendance at a burial-under-umbrella.
Next stop was Mt. Angel famous for its giant glockenspiel.
Finally, we stopped in Silverton. It was one thin dime for 24 minutes – actually all we needed to see the town. And to make sure we actually deposited that coin there was a parking fellow lurking across the street. Silverton is charming. Their claim to fame is the 24 gigantic murals positioned around the town.
One is of a hometown hero, Don Pettit, an astronaut who was on the space station when the Challenger went down.
Another was of Bobbie, The Wonderdog. Actually, there was much to-do about this little guy who lived in the 1920’s. He made his way back from Indiana to Silverton when he got separated from his owners. Another hometown hero.
I think I’m going to need to use the name of this Silverton lawyer in some future story…priceless!
There is a rushing river going right through town and under the oldest covered bridge in the state – a must see.
Even though it was rainy, we knew it was spring because the fields were full of baby lambies and their moms…the very green fields, that is.
On the way out of town, we gassed up the car, or should I say HE did. There are only two states that mandate gas pump attendants, New Jersey and Or’gun. NJ because people drive off without paying, Or’gun because folks there need jobs. This fellow got a kick out of me taking his picture. I was amazed that neither he nor his colleague (yes, there were two gas attendants!) had ever heard of Silverton’s hero dog, Bobbie.
We got to Eugene just in time for the opening reception of the writer’s conference I was attending. A bunch of really nice people. Seems writers are always nice people. We ended the day at the most over-priced restaurant in town. What did we know?
We wondered what the ear plugs were for on our night stands. Around 4:00 in the morning the train went by…right under our noses. Worst part is the horn blew the entire length of Eugene. Townsfolk told us this policy is very controversial and always on the table. So far the horn is winning.
Friday March 7, 2014
The writing conference was great with sessions all day long, including over lunch. It was the first time they had put on this conference, so the attendance was low at about 100 people. However, because of that, it was easy to meet people — nice people.
We had a break after the sessions and took a long hike thru lush underbrush and trees up one of the buttes surrounding the downtown. Beautiful views.
We went with a small group on a wine tasting mission. Next visit, the wineries themselves!
That night was The Introvert’s Ball. These nice people also know how to kick up their heels. We danced the night away!
Saturday March 8, 2014
Kevin volunteered to help at the conference and was a big hit with crime writers once they learned about his background. Diana Rodgers even invited him to attend “The Criminal Mind” session she taught.
But this morning he had other plans. Paloma’s ballet class was on his plate. What a grand Great Uncle!
After another wonderful day of learning the craft of fiction writing, the Palma’s joined us to hear the speaker and witness the young writers’ awards ceremony. Maybe Paloma and Amaru can enter and win next year!
We went out to a great place for dinner. It was Poppi’s, a Greek-Indian fusion restaurant. New concept. So Or’gun!
Kevin and I ended the night in the bar with some new, very nice writer pals.
Sunday March 9, 2014
Wouldn’t you know it we sprung forward overnight, so the 8:00 a.m. session was really 7:00 a.m. in our souls. Tough after closing the bar the night before.
There was a closing brunch which was especially lively since, by then we knew a slew of people.
One fellow even invited us to stay with him the next time we’re in Eugene. Talk about red carpet!
They held a 6-word story contest, which is right up my alley. Although my entries didn’t win, the thirteen 6-word stories I had written using the presenters’ names were read aloud prompting great hilarity. Like for Eric Wichey, who by his own admission takes Ritalin: “Is Eric twitchy? No just hyperactive.” For one of the headliners, Elizabeth George: “Her name, his name, Elizabeth George.”
Business cards exchanged and hugs all around, we were off. This photo is of the headliners holding a sign that says “Will Write For Food”: Elizabeth Engstrom, Terry Brooks, Elizabeth George, Susan Wiggs.
We went to the Palma’s lovely home in the hills and roused them. (It WAS a lazy Sunday morning, after all.) Across from their home is a stand of trees covered in moss, so their trees are green in the summer AND the winter. But if you are allergic to moss, watch out!
Got to see Mr. Lego’s latest projects.
We went to Yummi Bowls for a small lunch and then headed to the Eugene Library to hear Terry Brooks, one of the celebrity authors from the conference. He writes Young Adult Fantasy and has had over 25 best-selling books.
What better place to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon than the natural hot springs? We drove about an hour and then spent another hour lolling in the minerals. There is a screen over where the water comes up from the ground to prevent anyone from burning themselves on the water boiled by the molten rocks below.http://www.belknaphotsprings.com/
Quiz: Who’s hammin’ it up in this photo?
Back to the Palma ranch where the kids fixed us a taco dinner. Divine!
We went to The Sweet Life Patisserie, a dessert bakery in town. This sign made me think of Portlandia:
Our selections were way too big and way too rich, but all were luscious. I gave Paloma her birthday poem/riddle/skirt. Not a home run…but now I remember not appreciating clothes as a gift when I was a kid. Paloma was as gracious as an eight year old can be.
After the early wake up, busy day, hot springs and hearty meal, and in anticipation of our coastal journey the next day, we hit the sack early. (But not before I saw a strange contraption around the base of their toilet: a Squatty Potty. Read all about it here: http://www.squattypotty.com)
Monday, March 10, 2014
Our last day in Or’gun. We piled into two cars and headed out to the coast. Here’s a picture of the it-seems-like-they’re-always-laughing Palma family in front of their home before we took off.
Luckily, we had Rodolfo riding with us so we were able to hear all about his job. I never knew exactly what he did, so spending this time with him was excellent.
We saw all these orchards along the way, and of course I thought they were fruit trees.
Not so, unless Hazel Nuts are considered fruit. Big crop. So is Lavender. Probably also big business. Although I really don’t like the lavender infused cloths they pass out at the end of Yoga, it seems many do.
There are these amazingly tilted trees all along the coastline. It’s like they’ve been blown with a hairdryer.
We drove through Yachats (pronounced ya-hots) and then stopped at the Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Heceta is the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S. Folks at the Portland Visitor’s Center told us it showed up on a calendar of lighthouses in Maine…but was replaced in reprintings after a gentle cease and desist please, order.
The littlest one, who hadn’t eaten breakfast, had a meltdown…a regular occurrence for me when my tummy’s growling. So we found The Drift Inn, a restaurant with lots of history, and grabbed a bite, in the nick of time.
After this meal we parted ways. They headed back for Paloma’s hip hop class, we back to Portland.
We passed by Seal Rock at low tide so saw them looming. Apparently, at high tide, they are just small islands. It’s all about the timing.
Melissa told us about the sneaker waves. Sneaker Waves? These are rogue waves that come up without warning and can drag unsuspecting waders into the water. Since the water is freezing and the coastline rocky, those grabbed seldom have a chance.
Melissa met the mother of a teenager who died when caught up in one.
The Palmas always have one member on the lookout for these waves while they’re on the beach. To me, they’re more like Evil Sneaky Waves.
And, please be on the lookout for Tsumnami debris.
We went to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which is a National Park http://www.yaquinalights.org/
The ranger at the check in point talked us into buying a forever senior pass. Oh all right, we qualify, so fine!
Here’s the lighthouse and a keeper, if I ever saw one.
There we found tide pools filled with colorful starfish and anemone.
The beach is covered in these perfectly round little rocks. Lotsa wave crashing going on at the Or’gun coast.
We saw many other critters along the way. This stately guy:
A Banana slug:
Sea Lions (or are they Seals?):
More Yaquita Lighthouse views:
After enjoying the Or’gun coast we headed back inland and then up to Portland. When we went through Corvallis, we passed by a golf course with nearly iridescent green fairways. No wonder some of the most sought-after golf courses are located here. But, we did wonder if they give rainchecks in Oregon. Maybe not. They might lose their shirts.
I know Or’gun is a progressive state, but I was amazed — they even have a Bi-Mart.
In Portland we went to an area a gal at the Visitor’s Center clued us in on. It’s Restaurant Row on 21st Street. So many eateries we couldn’t decide. We stopped a couple on the street and they raved about Kell’s Pub. Sounded good…nearly St. Patrick’s Day anyway, so that was where we landed for our last Or’gun meal. Not disappointed.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Got to the airport way too early, so no pressure. We finally saw Mt. Hood as we flew above the clouds departing from Or’gun. Magnificent!
We’ll be back!
Last year, our January trip to Florida consisted of one week at a Marriott and the rest of the time on, what my dear brother calls, The Moocher March.
Well this year, we minimized the Moocher part by securing three different Marriott Vacation club condos; one in Riviera Beach (near West Palm), one in Orlando and the final one on Marco Island, just south of Naples.
(Incidentally, every time I hear the word “Orlando” I want to sing out “ORLANDO” the way Elder Price did in the musical The Book of Mormon. If you’ve seen it, you can relate, if you haven’t, be sure you do.)
I’ll try not to bore you in the blog post…reading what we did every day and what we ate can be very boring. That is, unless, of course, the activity was grand fun and the meal delicious. Don’t think you’ll be totally spared when this is the case.
Some pretty zany things took place during the trip. Those are in italics at the bottom of this blog post, should you care to indulge.
WEDNESDAY, JANURY 8th
Our first stop was to drop Harlem, Cailin’s cat who has lived with us for three years, with Brian. We are so lucky he agrees to this. Not sure what we’d do otherwise. I even took the bird feeder we suspend in front of our window to put outside his window (kitty TV).
She is one spoiled cat. (In fact, she’s lying on my desk right this minute as I type this. What a life!)
THURSDAY, JANUARY 9TH
We arrived at Donna and Wally Jawor’s home in Ponte Vedra, Florida, around 4:00. Donna is my big sister from Alpha Delta Pi days at Michigan State. We calculated that we’ve known each other well over 40 years. How’s that for a friendship with longevity?
After appetizers, we went out for a jolly gathering and had surf & turf (had to mention this one…it was delicious) at Pussers. Eleven of us shouted to each other over the loud dining room din. One highlight of the meal was a refresher course from Tony about how to make a bra using a dinner napkin.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 10TH
We then headed south to Riviera Beach to a 15 floor Marriott Vacation Club (heretofore noted as MVC). Note: We stayed at three different Marriotts, in 2-bedroom units. Luxury lap, for sure. In Riviera Beach, the balcony positioned on the side, afforded us views of both the ocean and the intercoastal waterway. Beautiful!
We dumped our belongings and, since we had a full equipped kitchen, off to Publix we went. Along the beach area, space is limited, so Publix creatively installed this mechanism to raise grocery carts from the store to the parking lot above the store.
We then learned how very lucky we were. Just the day before it had rained dinosaurs and rhinos…I mean, like 17 inches. It was as much as 24 in some spots. Timing.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 11TH
To, in part, make up for our Moocher March the previous year, we invited friends to stay with us at our condos, which were all two-bedroom units.
First to visit were Mary and Jim DeAngelo, friends who recently relocated from Charlotte to Naples. We ingested way too many delicious appetizers but still managed to eat dinner. As one would expect, we did a lot of eating on this trip…more than a body needs, that’s for sure.
We had one of the most delightful meals of the trip with them at Carmine’s. We got a primo table under a huge awning, overlooking the harbor filled with giant boats, and adjacent to the band and singer. This guy, an Andreas Bottacelli-sound-alike, was indeed a highlight. We later learned that he is a special import by the Carmine family.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 12TH
Since Jim and Mary were Charlotte golf buddies, it was fitting that we played with them at Abaco. I had an “on” day but it could have just as easily been “off”. That’s just the game.
Later that afternoon, a huge sail boat that had washed up on shore and was stranded for two days was finally hauled off. This boat with tattered sails, provided great speculative entertainment for everyone.
It turned out the sailor was plucked off the boat by the Coast Guard in rough seas a week earlier and hundreds of miles away. Amazing that it ended up nestled in the sand right in front of the Marriott for our viewing pleasure. There were groups of adults and families with children watching the salvage efforts which took about an hour. Great entertainment!
MONDAY, JANUARY 13TH
I went to outdoor yoga first thing. The class, surrounded by ocean breezes, took place on very comfortable Astroturf. Yes, it was resort yoga, but not resort yoga. Either Marriott pays well, or there is a plethora of available yoga instructors in Florida. No matter where I was, the Marriott yoga I joined in on was grand.
Interesting estuaries and a trail with most of Florida’s fauna noted with signage. I ended up racing through, only glancing at each sign. The rain has awakened the mosquito population, both Minnesota’s and Florida’s actual state bird.
Late afternoon we drove up to Sunrise, Florida to have dinner with an old friend – not old in the aging way, but in the history way. Marina Hernandez was a pal when I worked at J. Walter Thompson. She had transferred from the Caracas, Venezuela office and never left the U.S. Marina even joined my family one Christmas and enjoyed our giant run-around dinner. That’s a friendship-solidifying event if there ever was one.
Anyway, Marina married Dan Sablyak. We met him in Chicago, but had seen neither for 30+ years. Dan has his own business, True North Industries, and manufactures a medical supply system. He was about to meet with one of his biggest and best clients the next morning. Wonder if my crossed fingers that night had a positive effect. We’ve yet to hear. (But then, we haven’t asked.)
TUESDAY, JANUARY 14th
Next stop was Boynton Beach to golf with Wayne and Pattie Babler, our pals from Bois Blanc Island. It was an easy drive from Riviera Beach. Their club, Delray Dunes, is very nice…no Raintree Country Club. It’s not even ok to put your golf shoes on in the parking lot. You can change your shirt in the parking lot at our club! But it was nice to step up to country club golf in Florida.
This was a game-falls-apart day. But then, they just had 17 inches of rain, so maybe I can blame that. The course had just re-opened and Wayne and Pattie had to stay up all the night it rained to keep golf course mud out of their pool.
After drinks with sweet Sally Sperry, Wayne’s sister, who we also know from Bois Blanc Island, we headed back to the MVC in Riviera Beach. Wayne and Pattie followed us to our digs. We went to a restaurant our friends Chip and Helen recommended, Guanabanas, for some great, overpriced grouper. Best atmosphere award: it was all jungly and we ate outdoors under an umbrella.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15TH
Although we could have joined a tour led by this very dapper gentleman, Wayne, also dapper and very familiar with West Palm Beach, acted as our guide. We explored the vias just off the fabulous Worth Avenue and, in fact, had a divine lunch at a sweet, outdoor café.
As you can see, the food was delicious…everyone chewing so contentedly.
Of course, none of us could help noticing that our tour guide, Jack, was missing his left ear. Since, while on the boat I kept thinking of the movie My Left Foot, I was actually relieved that it didn’t occur to me until the next day that he wasn’t One-Eared Jack — get it? One-eyed, One-eared? Oh, I guess I didn’t give you enough credit. Although I’m sure he’s heard it before, that would have been one very embarrassing blurt.
A more pedestrian houseboat.
Here we are, all bundled up, enjoying a brisk January day.
I fully expected the likes of Robert Redford or Bill Gates to walk in. No luck. Only problem was that they cooked my tuna…I had to have them replace my $37 (!) piece of fish with one that was more rare. Chef didn’t get the memo that I like my tuna practically flapping on the plate.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 16TH
Henry Flagler, the man who developed the area (and actually was probably the #1 son of Florida) decided a walkway around the swanky residential area would be the bomb. So we first rode into the wind and then with it at our backs, while peeking at pools, gardens and statues. It was a bright and brisk day.
We ended up at the Palm Beach Publix. It’s the only grocery store I’ve ever seen with valet parking. Oh yea, that’s right, Wayne, Donald and, ust’a be, Bernie live here.
Since it was our last night at this lovely resort, we wrapped up in towels and headed down to the hot tub. So inviting were the sounds of the outdoor lounge singer, that, even though draped in wet towels, we joined the crowd for a glass of wine.
As usual, the Marriott crowd was ultra friendly. One fellow, a chiropractor from Port Huron, Michigan, bought a box of chocolates for a couple quite elderly ladies. These ladies started passing out the candies, getting to know everyone. Through the typical where-are-you-from conversations we learned that one of the grays was friends with the mother of one of Kevin’s fraternity brothers. Connections make life just way more fun.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 16th
After an early workout and packing scramble, we headed out to visit the Flagler Museum before heading to Tampa.
This huge, decadent museum, AKA The Whitehall, was the home of Henry Flagler. Almost lost to age and development, it was rescued and, who would’a guessed it, is now very well-endowed by Palm Beaches well-to-do residents. We went on a crowded, but free, docent-led tour. Well worth the investment of our time.
We took Highway 17 back across the state. It changes from divided to two lanes and back all the way across the state taking you through some pretty sad towns…like Zolfo Springs (no offense citizens of ZS.)
Next stop: Karen and John Rabbitt. These dear folks are related in a round-about way…through marriage. John’s blood uncle’s wife is the sister of Kevin’s blood uncle’s wife. Yea, confusing, I know.
We celebrated Karen’s birthday with a luscious meal of stuffed chicken breast and a wonderful fruit-stuffed chocolate cake, prepared by Chef John. He is a keeper. He got her new lines for their boat, thus the rope-bit she’s holding.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 18th
I thought Tampa’s big Gasparilla Days event (Mardi Gras on water) was that weekend, but I goofed. It was scheduled the following weekend. However, that day the week long events were kicked off by a Children’s Parade.
We took a 2-3 hour cruise on Karen and John’s sailboat. It was chilly and sunny with ample wind.
After another hot tub dip — we love using these at hotels and friend’s houses since we don’t have, and don’t want one — we went to their friend’s house for an amazing dinner. Saw fireworks over Tampa Bay on the way. The chefs, from Brooklyn, prepared a 10+ course feast showing off their culinary skills…and practicing for the launch of their business, “The Pixie and The Scout” ( thepixieandthescout.com )
We were at the right place, at the right time.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 19th
Thank you Jim and Mary DeAngelo for the wonderful lox you brought to Riviera Beach when you visited. We finally had them on fresh bakery bagels with cream cheese and capers this morning. My favorite meal of all meals.
Off to Orlando (ORLANDO!!) to our next Marriott. This one, The Cypress, was spacious with an inviting comfy L-shaped couch and screened in porch overlooking a large pond.
We finally put our feet up to watch the NFL playoff games. So now we know. It’ll be Denver and Seattle in the Super Bowl in two weeks!
MONDAY, JANUARY 20th
We slathered on sunscreen and headed out to play golf. We played a very crowded round (it WAS Martin Luther King’s birthday after all) at Hawk’s Landing. We could hardly find parking. The course conditions were abysmal…the greens were actually blacks. We couldn’t believe we paid $107 each. We both had a rough day too but the fellows we were paired up with were just fine.
But, another funny thing happened. Funny to me, anyway. After passing by their wives who yelled “hi” from their balcony, I hollered “I’m the chick they picked up for golf.” Ha, ha, ha. NOT. But, silly me, I didn’t actually realize this until the younger of the two handed me a pamphlet entitled 101 of the Word’s Funniest One Liners.
Movin’ on, we drove through the convention area. Traffic was very thick. We sat through numerous traffic lights countless times finally settling on Fish Bone, which was marginally ok.
Don’t even think about parking your own car there. Otherwise, the valets would starve. Every chain restaurant in the U.S. is represented along this strip…and they’re all crowded. Amazing how that happens!
TUESDAY, JANUARY 21st
The older of the two golfers from the previous day (not the one who handed me the you-need-savin’ brochure) went on and on about all the FREE things to do in Disney, so we decided to take his energetic advice. The weather was breezy and spitting. We drove to the Ft. Wilderness Camp Ground and caught a FREE bus to the lake where we took a FREE boat ride to the FREE monorail that took us to the FREE Polynesian where we had a great lunch…that, unfortunately, wasn’t free.
Our waitress was Ulia from Tallinn, Estonia. When we told her we were visiting there soon, she got a wistful look on her face. I think she probably misses it. Much of the help was from very far away. But this IS the Magic Kingdom.
After my encounter with that golfer the day before, I’m thinking I maybe should have visited The Holy Land alternative-to-Disney-park instead of Ft. Wilderness.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22nd
Needing another dose of nature, especially after Disney, we headed out to Merritt Island. It is on the east coast and is the home of a massive bird sanctuary on the North and Cape Canaveral to the South.
There were groups of nerdy bird watchers, one with binoculars more powerful than the next. Of course, of all things to forget, it was binoculars. However, a gal in one group handed me hers to watch a battalion of White Pelicans coming in overhead in formation. Spectacular.
We didn’t see any Roseate Spoonbills during this trip. But I always say you need to save something for the next time you’re back…so Rosey, we’ll be back!
Jamey is the son of Karen and John, who we sailed and partied with in Tampa. It was fun seeing Jamey and meeting Janel. Not many weddings on our calendar…but wouldn’t you know it, theirs is the same day as Peter Deery’s. Peter wins…he’s a blood nephew.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 23rd
Turns out I have only 22 miles in these legs so that last mile was a burn! We met a sweet couple, Barbara and Rubin, who told us about another trail called “Witalachi”. That is going on our agenda for 2015.
Halfway back, we stopped at The Cricket Moon Café in Winter Garden for sustenance. It is a cozy café/bar that serves hundreds of different kinds of beers and has the propeller of a blimp on the ceiling.
Our Marriott wine tasting, that had been so fun in Lake Tahoe, was just us and Wallace Vitek. It ended up being fun because of him. He was a character, just out of the JAG in the army, trying to reestablish his law practice in Baltimore. Kevin and he had lots to talk about. He gave us his card and invited us to stay with him if we ever found ourselves in Baltimore. Not sure when that would ever be, but thank you, Wallace.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 24th
Knowing Donna and Wally Jawor weren’t arriving until later in the afternoon, and to allow no grass whatsoever to grow under our feet, we scheduled a round of golf at the 9-hole course. I had my best round ever. And, another wonderful small world happening happened.
The fellow we were paired up with was wearing a wind shirt that said “Quarles & Brady – Milwaukee”. Kevin remembered that our friends we had just seen in Boynton Beach, Wayne and Pattie, used to live in Milwaukee and that Wayne had worked for that law firm. Bingo. Tom Wozny started when Wayne was a partner. He remembered being out-lawyered by Wayne when he was eventually on the opposing side. I took a photo and sent it to Wayne, who after some prodding, remembered the young upstart.
Donna and Wally rolled in. After participating in Marriott’s Iron Chef Competition (I won…ok there was only one other competitor) we had dinner at Vito’s steakhouse. Eduardo was a smooth, debonair waiter. Probably hauled in over $100G a year at those menu prices. Dessert was divine.
Today was a continuation of my ongoing computer chat with Jack Hanrahan. We’re cruising with him and his wife in the Baltic in May. Since we decided to add days to the trip — Copenhagen before and Berlin post-cruise — and time was running out, planning had to be done. Way back when, Jack and I met in the world of Media Planning at Leo Burnett. Crazy and wonderful to be planning our next trip while on this trip.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 25th
Today was Winter Park day. We’d heard so much about this lovely Orlando (ORLANDO!) suburb so got there in time to secure a ticket for the boat ride. The boat travels over three lakes, with a guide pointing out historical homes and sites. Good overview.
We lunched at Dexters, a trendy restaurant. I think that’s the only kind of restaurant there is in Winter Park. Then Donna and Wally shoved off…but that wasn’t going to be the last time we’d see them on this trip.
Home to watch the underdog, U of M, kick MSU’s butt in basketball.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 26th
Exercise, pack, drive…the every-7 day mantra of this trip. The price of fun.
Our Marriott condo at Marco Island wasn’t quite ready we strolled up and down the Crystal Shores. Where’s Don, as in Trump? Where’s Warren, as in Beatty? Where’s Waldo? Favorite pass time, it seems, sandcastles! I loved the American Oystercatchers, all facing into the wind…delightful!
As we unpacked the Rabbitts and Carl and Mary Burst arrived. We met the Bursts on a trip to Peru umpteen years ago. We stayed with them and went to his lavish 70th Titanic Birthday party last year, so were happy to see them again.
MONDAY, JANUARY 27th
After breakfast we headed south to the Everglades. We tried to drive the 15 mile loop through the park. Too bumpy and we’d seen enough alligators and even a manatee, so opted to turn back.