On a Vacation Primer

For those wanting some background music for the post, here’s some music from the land.

On to the post.

The image shows are 12-days of cruising. Keep in mind that we had 4 days in London before cruising, plus 3 days in Reykjavik, Iceland after the cruise. Both of these stops were independent of the cruise and done on our own.

I was struck by the fact that each of the major cities in the British Isles were quite different from one another.

  • The most grand: London, England
  • The most captivating: Edinburgh, Scotland
  • The most walkable: Dublin, Ireland
  • The most unexpectedly different: Liverpool, England
  • The most gut wrenching: Belfast, Northern Ireland

… and we didn’t just visit cities on the trip:

  • The most scenic countryside: Northern Scotland
  • The most solemn: American military cemetery at Normandy (Omaha Beach)
  • The most quaint: St. Peter Port, Guernsey
  • The most geologic diverse: Iceland

We walked a lot – averaging about 13,500 steps per day with over 25,000 being the most. When walking, my eyes are busy. For those who remember, when in Florence, Italy – I say “Look up!” Whether walking or passing by in a touring bus, these business signs on the trip caught my eye. Other than the obvious, any thoughts on what they sell?

 

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On Doors

Door – Old English duru, dor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch deur ‘door’ and German Tür ‘door,’ Tor ‘gate’; from an Indo-European root shared by Latin foris ‘gate’ and Greek thura ‘door’

Door – the entrance to a room or building

Door – a hinged, sliding, or revolving barrier at the entrance to a building, room, or vehicle, or in the framework of a cupboard

Door – a reference to the distance from one building in a row to another

Door – A structure that opens, closes, swings, slides, shuts, hides, protects, and symbolizes

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” (Milton Berle, comedian)

The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” (Confucius, philosopher)

I truly believe that everything that we do and everyone that we meet is put in our path for a purpose. There are no accidents; we’re all teachers – if we’re willing to pay attention to the lessons we learn, trust our positive instincts and not be afraid to take risks or wait for some miracle to come knocking at our door.” (Marla Gibbs, actor)

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” (George Washington Carver, scientist)

Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” (Coco Chanel, designer)

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.” (John Barrymore, actor)

Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.” (Emily Dickinson, poet)

Listen; there’s a hell of a good universe next door: let’s go. (e. e. Cummings, poet)

 

No matter if it’s old or new, elegant or simple, metal or wood, ornate or plain – a door is a door while being a wonderful symbol and metaphor. Any favorite doors above or below?

All images taken by me  (a nonphotographer in Italy.

On an Oh-My Meal

For a family gathering near the end of our trip to Italy this past October, my aunt wanted to take the entire family out to dinner. Well, actually a Sunday afternoon meal. Little did we know what to expect.

We drove about 45 minutes. Once we arrived I told my oldest cousin (in gist) that we passed 342 restaurants along the way, but they were closed – so this was the first one we could find that was open.

With the final part of the road being many twist and turns up a mountain, I knew that those who travel this road on this day must be going to the restaurant. In the image of the map, those familiar with Lucca (region of Tuscany) will see it toward the bottom. The restaurant is marked by the location icon.

The town is Fiano di Pescaglia, a small village with a population of less than 1,000 but a history that goes back to 847. On this day, the action centered on Ristorante da Valentino.

Note: I didn’t take any pictures of the meal, so you will have to rely on my descriptions. However, I want you to think about two important questions: How much did the meal cost (per person)? How long were we there?

RistoranteValentino

When entering the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the number of people throughout the numerous sections of this casual place. We entered one of the small rooms that had 3 other groups already seated. There was our table – actually several tables arranged end-to-end with 9 settings and a large bottle of red wine located at each end.

Each of us first received a small plate of appetizers: a slice of lunchmeat (Mortadella), fried polenta, 5-6 olives, and cheese.

Later, the server came by with a large bowl of mushroom risotto, and served a comfortable portion to each of us … returning after a reasonable time with a question: Would you like more? It was good, so both my wife and I accepted the offer.

Next, the server returned with a large bowl of tagliatelli in a wild boar sauce. Oh my, that was outstanding … and I can’t believe my wife ate it as she’s typically not accepting of dietary oddities. Surprisingly, I said no to the “Would you like more” question.

Later, the server returned with rolled lasagna that contained a filling of cheese and spinach with a different red sauce – yes, followed with “Would you like more” on which I passed.

Up next from the server with the big bowl was ravioli with a meat filling and a different red sauce that went into the same bowl that I’ve been using since the risotto. Of course, “Would you like more?” would follow later … I couldn’t pass on a second helping of this delight.

Attendants removed the well-used bowl, so the plate was now ready for the arrival of the next course: a platter of meat for each end of the table – small pieces of chicken, ribs, beef, lamb, and rabbit. The meats were especially tasty.

Before finishing the meat, the server made space at each end of the table for a platter of french fries and a platter with fried mushrooms and fried cauliflower.

Once it was obvious we were finished with this course, a small plate of salad appeared – an odd place as we Americans are used to eating salads early to prepare the way for the meal. But in this case, the salad was readying us for dessert!

The server delivered a platter of of variety of desserts for each end of the table. Pies, tarts, and cakes provided a delightful end to the meal.

Before describing the meal, I asked two questions: How long were we there? How much did it cost?

Sometime during this culinary extravaganza, I walked around the restaurant wondering about the number of people being served – and it was 165-190! Regarding the meal, my wife and I both agree that we were not stuffed until the desserts (we must have suddenly ran out of inner digestive space).

Finishing the 22 Euro ($24) meal 4 hours after starting, then we walked further uphill to the church … and the beautiful view of the valley.

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If you ever in this area of northwestern Tuscany near Lucca on a Sunday, I suggest you make a reservation at Ristorante da Valentino, then find your way to Fiano di Pescaglia.

On the Flora-Bama

I first learned about the Flora-Bama on our first trip to the Alabama coast in the early 2000s when we visited my in-laws wintering in that area. My father-in-law raved about it, so we went for dinner and music while not knowing what to expect.

“Honky tonk” is a good first-impression description. The weathered siding – floors probably hosed down at the end of the day. The room was full of patrons engaging in food, beverages, and conversation while listening to music in a room with many pieces of underwear hanging from above. I recall enjoying watching the patrons.

However, over time I learned that “honky tonk” isn’t applicable – after all, I introduced it to you in this past post as the Last Great American Roadhouse.

My in-laws would change locations every few years, so time passed between my visits to this local icon. The next would be between 2005-2007 they rented about 2+ miles away. It’s also easy to remember because in September 2004, Hurricane Ivan brought havoc to the area – including upon the Flora-Bama. National news even reported that Ivan devastated it.

Despite the fake news (I couldn’t resist), the legendary Flora-Bama would not die. Battered and sand-filled, it re-opened after cleaning and a bit of restoration that probably included nails and hammers.

We took this image dated 13 February 2005

I recall it seems more rickety than ever – but that was part of its charm. Refrigerated trailers were in front of the building for storing food and beer. A temporary shack sold souvenirs.

florabamatempentrance

The housing-financial collapse of 2008 delivered another crushing blow as the principal owners filed bankruptcy because of failing real estate investments. The long-time owners became minority owners and the new ownership restored the venerable venue.

The trailers and the souvenir shack are gone, but the rustic weathered look remains. The new Flora-Bama is a mixture of old and new that maintains the original character. The original area I first sat remains as another music area – as does the adjacent large tent area.

florabamadeckstage

Inside the new brick front contains a large area for merchandise with a main lounge and stage on the second floor. The decor is a display of pictures, framed news articles, fishing nets, underwear, musical instruments, license plates, and more to go along with the countless names written with a black marker onto the walls.

florabamamainbar

With 3 stages, music is plentiful at the Flora-Bama. Yep – there are times when three musical acts are playing at the same time! On this night, only Rhonda Hart and Jonathan Newton were performing. We enjoyed them so much, we heard them three times.

florabamamainstage

The Flora-Bama is alive and well. The colorful place with a colorful past that includes a large cast of colorful characters remains. A place for a wide range of ages from different places – from northern snowbirds to colors – from retirees to young adults. From low-key weekday afternoons to raucous weekend nights. If you are ever in Pensacola, Perdido Key, Orange Beach, or Gulf Shores, consider stopping by the Flora-Bama Lounge Oyster Bar and Package Store

Entering from the beach – Notice the tents to the right!

 

One of the opportunities to take a picture.

 

Because many enjoyed the Kenny Chesney song about the Flora-Bama in my previous post, it’s still appropriate here.

On a Slice about Americana

florabamabeach

There it is … sitting along a beautiful beach sandwiched between a high-rise condominium to its right and a parking garage of another high-rise condo to its left. A place where friends meet. A place where others become friends. A place for good times and good music.

It’s a local legend, yet a place well-known throughout the South. A place that northerners in the condos as vacationers or snowbirds came to know. The place actually straddling the Florida-Alabama state line – although it is mainly in Florida. A place that was a very short walk from where we stayed in January.

There it is – A place displaying a weathered look while sitting along the beach since 1964. A weathered look of normal wear and tear that beach side brings, plus the occasional hammering by storms and hurricanes.

The Flora-Bama -a colorful place with a colorful past that includes a long list of colorful characters.

The Flora-Bama – a place featuring music seven days a week by local and regional musicians songwriters. Some who made it to the national stage of hits and awards while others maintain their local craft.

The Flora-Bama – with its more than eclectic collection of artifacts adorning its walls and ceilings – plus walls with names of patrons written in permanent markers – let alone the framed signed pictures of visitors and performers – and yes, even there is even more to see.

The Flora-Bama – an institution to many, no wonder country music star Kenny Chesney wrote a song about it. No wonder he performed his only concert of 2014 along its beach to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Before I tell you more in another post, I’ll let his lyrics and his music video introduce you to this slice of Americana – the place its documentary called The Last Great American Roadhouse. Welcome to the Flora-Bama Lounge Oyster Bar and Package Store.

On Alabama Tidbits

Although I’ve been to the state of Alabama before, staying a month allows ample learning opportunities. I present tidbits you may not know about the state of Alabama.

1) These people are football crazy! During the month and no matter the day of the week, the newspaper’s Sports section features college football – even weeks after the season is over. Ohio is enthusiastic about football. Texas thinks they invented the game – but Alabamians are just bonkers over football.

2) Grapefruits and oranges in the store were of pathetic quality. I get better tasting citrus in Ohio. Being close to Florida, one would think the quality would be better. After all, Florida thinks they invented grapefruits. Why we couldn’t find pink grapefruits from Texas is beyond me.

3) We stayed in Orange Beach – where sales tax is 10% on everything!

4) The Alabama coast is only 100 miles (160 km) – but the beaches are very good.

5) Restaurant menus offer many fried foods – they may be willing to fry anything.

6) Politically, Alabamians are very conservative, therefore all troubles can be traced back to presidents who were Democrats – especially Obama and Clinton.

7) Alabama is home for manufacturing/assembly plants for Toyota, Airbus, Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz.

8) Alabama is home to the first Mardi Gras in the U.S. (Mobile).

Image from Tennessee’s Boll Weevil Eradication Program

Image from Tennessee’s Boll Weevil Eradication Program

9) The Atlas rocket that launched astronauts to the moon was built in Alabama (Huntsville).

10) Alabama is home to the monument honoring an agricultural pest – the Boll Weevil (Enterprise).

11) Alabamians described President Trump’s inaugural address as uplifting, refreshing, unifying, powerful, great, and amazing.

12) Alabama has the longest Constitution in the world: over 300,000 words and 775 amendments.

13) Alabama is the only state naturally possessing all the raw materials for steel. No wonder a statue of Vulcan sits on a hilltop above Birmingham.

14) I’ve never seen so many billboards advertizing attorneys – and the number of TV commercials for attorneys is very high. I saw this commercial 10 times in 45 minutes – while wondering about the content. Any thoughts?

On a Month Without

For us, January 2017 started with change questions. What would a month be like without ballroom dance, without handbells, without volunteering, without our friends, and without our normal routine?

Jan 1: We left Cincinnati on a cool, foggy morning for a day of driving, which included a light rain that occasionally became more – but not a constant rain. We noted the slow increase in the temperature.

Jan 2: The final 4.5 hour drive, again with intermittent rains of varying strength. Dry at the time of arrival, but the view of the surf while unpacking told a different story – the dangers of a nearby tornado – so down to the lower lobby we went. The evening storms off the coast provided an extraordinary light show that was worth watching – but the next morning would be a positive omen.

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Jan 3-5: Cool but comfortable days. Sometimes shorts, sometimes jeans, but always long sleeves and usually a jacket. Good enough to find our routine of breakfast, lounge, walk, lounge, lunch, lounge, walk, lounge, shower, dinner, cards/television, and sleep.

Jan 6: A stormy day that also brought falling temperatures – a good day for a movie (La La Land).

Jan 7-9: The northerly winds delivered quite the chill, yet no matter how cold, it was warmer than home. Walkable days, but shorter distances.

Jan 10-19: After the initial transition day, a string of days of sunshine and 15-20 degrees F (13-24 C) above normal. Perfect days to continue the routine. Days that would treat us to glorious sunrises, colorful sunsets, and brilliant nightly moons.

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Jan 20-21: Although temperatures remained above normal, unstable air delivered an angry sea and occasional storms – even tornado watches and warning severe enough to interrupt normal television. Good days for movies (Hidden Figures and The Founder).

Jan 22-25: The normal routine returns as storms are gone, but the above normal temperatures remain. It’s been quite a streak of warmth.

Jan 26-27: Normal temperatures finally arrive – 60 F (15 C) by day – 40 (4 C) at night. The breezes are cool. Sweatshirts and jackets are the order of the day. Some people in shorts, others not.

Jan 28-29: Noticing the temperature decrease during our return drive home – a home not along the sand and waves, but one of wonderful sunsets when the sky is right. Home – the permanent one, not the temporary. A home with colder temperatures and light snow in the air. Home – the place (while we were gone) that had 1 sunny day, 6 partly sunny/party cloudy days, and only 7 precipitation-free days in January (although overall temperatures were above normal). Home – the place for ballroom dance, handbells, volunteering, friends, and normal routines – just not the routine of January 2017.

That was our January in Orange Beach, Alabama. A time when we had a different routine – one of first-time snowbirds. A time when I drafted over 20 posts the old-fashioned way – on paper – so I now face the daunting task of getting them ready.

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